(IP) Mental Health Day

(IP) Mental Health Day

               The
four girls sat on the train, forming a little group on the right side of the
car. The early morning sun streamed bars of golden light, dappling their skin.
Despite their plain clothes and bored faces, something about them seemed otherworldly,
strange. Even wrong.

               One of
the girls stretched her feet out into the aisle, arms folded across her stomach.

               Her
three companions were seated in a cluster next to her, rocking with the motion
of the train as it roared through the city.

               A pair
of blondes sat in front of the windows, the sunshine making the girls sport a
halo of sorts. One had a cigarette tucked behind her ear, and the other stifled
a yawn, pulling her feet into her chest.

               But
these girls were far from angelic; they’d come into the city for a ‘mental
health day’. And everyone knew that Mondays just sucked.

               The
only brunette of the group sat next to the blondes, smiling distantly to
herself.

               “Is it
just me, or have we been on this train forever?” One of the blondes, Julie,
said, tilting her head toward her double.

               “It
hasn’t been that long, Jules,” The other blonde, Annabeth, replied, grinning
sleepily. “Besides, we’re almost there.”

               “Coffee.
I need coffee.  I feel like a zombie.”
The brown-haired girl, Ava, murmured. Of all of the girls, she was having the
most trouble staying still. Normally, this wasn’t like her, but she just didn’t
feel like dealing with school. Lately, she’d felt like a pressure cooker that
had been left on too long: stifled but about to blow. Driving herself to be the
best, constant studying of facts and figures, all to graduate pursue a degree
she wasn’t even sure she wanted. Yes, it was just easier to blow it off.

“Starbucks once we get to our stop?”
The brunette, Cat, asked hopefully, snapped out of whatever daydream was
playing in her head.

“We need to get some food, too,”
Julie said, shaking her head so her bangs fell to the side, uncovering her
bright green eyes. “I’m starving.” As if on cue, her stomach grumbled, and the
friends laughed.

Finally, the train ground to a
stop, causing all four girls to rock forward with the motion. Since they were
seated in the middle of the train car, they hurried to get to the front, all of
them holding hands, so as not to get lost in the crush.

Their giggles echoed in the station
as they exited, now single file, but all staying close, marching through the
crowd in search of food and frivolous distraction. Ava was leading, and when
they finally found a Starbucks on a street corner, they all clambered inside. She
found herself instantly calmed by the homey scent of coffee beans roasting and
sugary treats being baked.

The place was packed, but she didn’t
mind. All of the noise and controlled chaos, combined with the chatter of her
friends, distracted her from her own anxious thoughts.

They each ordered a giant coffee
drink, with the exception of Cat, who ordered a green tea latte. Ava also
ordered an array of different snacks; it wasn’t as if she didn’t have the money
to burn.

Soon enough, they were all seated
in a booth at the back of the shop, crammed together like sardines.

“You said you’d spill once we got
here,” Annabeth said, after taking a dainty bite of a muffin, licking her lips.
“Why the sudden need to ditch?”

Ava grimaced; she’d known this was
coming, but she still didn’t like it. Even with her closest friends, she didn’t
like talking about her problems. Especially when it sounded so ridiculous, in
her own head.

“I’m just… Stressed.” She said,
looking down into the swirling, dark depths of her huge macchiato.

To their credit, her friends did
not laugh, nor try to interrupt. They were just waiting through her silence,
knowing that she wasn’t finished.

“I don’t know what I want anymore,”
Ava admitted, at last, feeling a flush starting to climb up her neck. “And my
parents would freak out if I told them. They’ve got my whole life mapped out
for me. Graduate at the top of my class in high school and college, get married
to a nice guy and give them grandkids. But I feel like… I never got a choice in
the matter. School’s so stressful anymore.”

Cat reached across the table and
took Ava’s hand, her touch surprisingly warm.

“You should talk to them. I’m sure
they’ll understand. And even if they don’t, well. You’ll be eighteen in a little
less than six months. You’ll be an adult, and able to make your own decisions.”

**