Kill Me Again by Rachel Abbott
12 years ago – May 7th
Sonia Beecham almost didn’t recognise the eyes staring back at her in the mirror. They were still pale blue, of course, but the pupils were slightly dilated with excitement, and the eyelashes were tinted with grey mascara – an unusual indulgence, but she wanted to look her best because today was special. In fact Sonia thought it was her best day since starting at Manchester University six months previously. She had always found it difficult to make friends, and the eagerness on her parents’ faces when she came home each night was painful to watch as they waited to hear whether she had met new people. She knew it was out of love for her, but they didn’t understand the pressure it put her under.
She was shy. Painfully, embarrassingly shy. If anybody spoke to her, she blushed bright red. It was an instant reaction, and one that made her turn away. Never in her wildest dreams could she imagine starting a conversation with anybody. She would rather stick her head in a vat of boiling oil, if the truth were known.
She had heard her parents talking once, a few years ago. They wanted to know what they had done wrong – why their daughter had grown up the way she had. So now she had that guilt to bear as well. If only she could make some friends so they would know they had done nothing – nothing, that is, except love her and shelter her from anything and everything that would be considered by most people to be a normal experience.
Now, though, things were changing. Her mum had been so concerned that she’d persuaded Sonia’s father to stump up for some counselling. Sonia had been horrified. The idea of sitting in a chair telling a complete stranger how embarrassed she was to open her mouth in company made her legs go weak. She had resisted for months, but after Christmas not only had her mum arranged the counselling sessions, she had insisted on going with Sonia for the first few meetings to be sure that Sonia was over her initial embarrassment and was happy to carry on alone.
Sonia had hated it to start with, but gradually her counsellor had given her some tools to help build her confidence. The best of these was the name of a website designed for people like her. She had heard of chat rooms but never been in one. Within a month she had realised that she had plenty to say as long as she could keep it anonymous and nobody could see her face. The best of it was, people wanted to listen. She didn’t have her own computer to access the site, but there were plenty she could use at the university, and that was better because nobody would know what she was doing. If she had had a personal computer at home her mother would forever have been looking over her shoulder.
What she hadn’t told a soul – because he had asked her not to – was that she had met somebody online who was as crippled with shyness as she was. He had told her he was surprised he could even type without stuttering, and that had made her laugh. That was his issue, the burden he had to bear. He couldn’t get a whole sentence out without this dreadful stammer halting him in his tracks. They had been talking online now for a couple of weeks, and he said that he thought he might possibly be able to speak to her. They had agreed that if she went red, or if he stuttered, it wouldn’t matter. They were both in the same boat. And tonight she was meeting him for the first time.
She had lied to her parents. She had never done that before, but Sonia had known what her mum would say: ‘Bring him home, first, love. Let me and your dad meet him – do it properly.’ Her mother didn’t seem to have any concept of how things were done now. Not that Sonia wanted to behave like some of the girls on campus, but having to be vetted before he could even go for a drink with her was a sure way to frighten a man off – especially one as shy as Sam.
Sam was a good name. Solid-sounding, reassuring. He had said it wasn’t a good idea to meet anywhere too public. Having other people around was sure to make them clam up and not be natural with each other. So she was going to meet him in a little park just off the Bridgewater Canal towpath. He said it would be okay there, because there would be people on the other side of the canal at the cafés and bars, but nobody would be able to hear if they made complete fools of themselves.
Sam had even told her which tram to get and where to get off. She had followed his instructions to the letter. The walk along the canal was fine to start with. It was quite pretty, and she thought it was wonderful the way places like this were being brought back to life. But as she walked further on it all changed. There was a lot of redevelopment of old mills, their blank windows facing onto the canal. There were no cafés and bars. And no people.
Sonia hurried along the towpath, ducking to walk through a long, low tunnel. She was nearly at the meeting place. As she neared the end of the tunnel, a tall figure stepped out onto the path and for a moment Sonia felt a jolt of fear, but he gave her a little wave so she carried on walking. She knew who he was. He was taller than she expected, and as she got closer, she could see him smiling at her.
‘Hi, Sonia,’ he said. ‘I’m Sam.’
He didn’t stutter once.
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