"I might be scared to actually meet someone face-to-face."
"You fear you won't be able to mask?"
"That's part of it." Masking was a nice word Katrina had learned from Andy. It covered what she did when she went out in the world and pretended she wasn't sweating over what her brain and body might do to her.
Fear of fear. That was what her very first therapist had called her panic disorder, and it was accurate.
"It's always an option to tell someone up front that you may have a panic attack, if you feel comfortable doing so."
She inwardly shuddered. That was an option, but only a select few people knew about her panic attacks. They made her vulnerable, and she knew how vulnerability could be used against her. "I don't think I'm there yet."
"You don't have to be. Only do as much or as little as you feel comfortable doing." Andy grinned. "I'm not telling you to be a serial ghoster, but don't beat yourself up."
Katrina picked at her cuticles, then stopped when she noticed the quick glance Andy shot her hands. "Got it." Andy's nonjudgmental face was calming, but Katrina didn't know if she'd ever be at a point in her life where she'd stop judging herself.
"It's one step in front of another. Downloading the app, texting, talking, having a coffee. You're in charge."
Find someone else. Anyone else. "Okay."
They spoke for a few minutes about other, more casual matters, until Andy discreetly checked her watch. "Is there anything else going on that you want to talk about?"
Katrina kept her face placid. When she exerted a small amount of effort, she was a stellar actress. "I'm good, thanks."
"Same time next week?"
"Absolutely. Thanks as always for meeting me here." She politely stood when Andy did and walked her to the door. Andy's leather jacket creaked when she grabbed the helmet from the coatrack. She and Andy had started meeting in person relatively recently. Before this, they'd conducted most of their weekly sessions via video.
"No thanks necessary." Andy embraced her and patted her on the back gently. "I can see myself out. Text or call if you need anything."
"I will." Katrina waited for Andy to make her way down the hallway to the back door of the building before heading in the other direction, toward the café's dining area.
The large place was usually filled with sun, but the blinds were still closed, giving it an intimate, quiet air. This street didn't get much foot traffic in the early morning, so the owner opened late and focused on brunch and lunch.
Katrina went straight to the counter. She avoided looking in the mirror behind the register that reflected the whole café.
And the tall, dark, and handsome man sitting motionless near the door.
Instead, she visually traced the sign hung above the mirror, made up of driftwood and rope, the kind of thing you could get at a stall on the beach.
Happiness is a radical act.
She mouthed the words to herself, as she had since the first time she'd come in here, pushing them into her soul.
A slight silver-haired woman bustled out of the kitchen and beamed at Katrina. Her face was wrinkled from sun, weathered by wind and the ocean. The eighty-year-old café owner remained an avid surfer. Every morning before she came to this shop, she hit the beach. "How was your visit with your little friend?"
"Lovely, thank you." Mona Rodriguez knew Andy was her therapist. For a year now, every Thursday morning, Mona had graciously provided the use of her back office before the business opened. She treated Katrina like her granddaughter and the sessions like they were playdates....