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Every molecule of oxygen evaporates from the room. My mouth collapses in on itself, unable to form words to admit what she already knows. How could I be so stupid? The syllables claw at my throat, desperate for release, but years of practice clamp my mouth shut.
Livi reaches out to touch my hand, but I recoil and grip the arms of the chair tighter. My fingertips are numb. The room’s unbearably hot and my heart beats way too fast. I consider throwing up again, but this time it’s not because I want to.
“It’s okay. No one’s going to hurt you.”
I glance up at the abominable officer, and I’m not so sure about that. What I wouldn’t give for him to be my father, here to take me away from this mess. He turns his head and rolls his shoulders back, his face contorting into a mask of contempt. The air in the room thickens and I squint my eyes shut. My face goes completely numb, like someone has punched me with a fistful of Novocain.
“Can you hear me?” Livi asks.
I slide from the chair to the floor, pulling my knees to my chest. I blink again, and my back isn’t against the chair but an enormous boulder, cold and covered with dew. I arch my spine, fitting the curve of it against the stone, trying to ease the prickling sensation that makes me want to rip the clothes from my body.
Livi’s voice pulls me back again, but her sentences are broken. Maybe it’s because she’s so far away – still in the conference room, but I’m here. Wherever here is. A hyacinth-scented breeze tickles my cheek as I let my hands trail through the grass so that it sticks up through my fingers. I turn my face into the breeze to find a young girl, maybe twelve or thirteen, racing toward me from about thirty yards away. The girl screams, her fear raking against me.
“Princess!” she wails. Not once, but three times. She hikes up her long skirts, her hair tumbling free from the top of her head and spilling around her shoulders. Her arms pump at her sides as she digs harder into the run.
This can’t be real.
Livi’s voice cuts through the distance again. She says things like “panic attack” and “shock.” The truth of it punches me in the gut and leaves me desperate to find my way back to her voice.
The girl looms over me. Her face fades in and out of focus, as if she’s made of oil on water.
“Princess. Please don’t leave us again. Knights march toward the castle. We are in danger. Your father—you must remain with us.” Her fingers dig into my shoulders, yanking me toward her. Another breath, and the grass slips from between my fingers; the edge of a chair pressing into the back of my head replaces the coolness of the stone.
I blink again, swallowing back my own puke, and the conference room snaps into focus. They’re both hovering over me, concern on Livi’s face and confusion on the officer’s. They lean back so I can sit up.
Nurse Anne hurries back into the room, pushing through the space they’ve made, and presses a cold towel to my head. “It’s okay, deep breaths.”
The kindness in her voice overwhelms me so much I start to cry, no matter how hard I try not to. At first, my tears are hardly noticeable, but soon they turn into horrible, choking sobs. My heart stutters at an alarming pace and sweat coats my palms, making my grip on the chair’s legs slick. I uncurl my fingers and press my hands into the carpet, pushing the tips of my fingers into individual loops in the pile.
The reality of what’s happening slams into me. My pulse quickens and the tingling sensation spreads from my face and down my arms into the tips of my fingers. Blackness closes in from the edges of my vision, creating an elongated tunnel of the central part of the room. Livi hovers over me, her face distorted by the shift in my vision.
I grapple for the seat, anything to ground me in reality. Father’s face flickers in my mind. I’m unable to even consider what might be happening to him at this same moment, not to mention the only plausible explanation for me believing, for even a second, I was sitting in a field of some sort with my back against an imaginary stone. And the girl, so lifelike.
I am my father’s daughter. And I am terrified of that fact.