One: Anxiety

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Ada looks at her phone dazedly. It’s 7:35 now and reading about how overconfident she was isn’t helping the knot in her stomach. That, and no response from Emily yet.

Everything was going fine. Her capstone marketing project was a deconstruction of an ad for Libilify – RSQ Pharmaceuticals’ erectile dysfunction drug. She tore apart its indulgence in cheap sexual innuendos and airbrushing. She made suggestions that might help reach their audience, ways to build bridges for those dealing with the shame and awkwardness of ED.

The project earned her full marks and a personal commendation from the professor. With that kind of success, the final should be a breeze, right?

Turns out the exam wasn’t about how well she understood image. A savant reading of the textbook would have served her better.

Faster footsteps than hers catch up behind her. Ada turns but it’s no one she knows.

“Just finished,” says the girl into her phone, “I’m on my way.” She walks by Ada without making eye contact. “Yeah, no, it was easy. B for sure.”

How could you have been so confident? What made this exam different?

Deep breath. Everything is fine, isn’t it?

Ada inhales but there’s no relief. She begins to sweat.

If you can’t handle exams, what else might you not be able to handle, Ada? I don’t want you to have to rely on a man for everything.

When she’d heard those words for real, they’d been accompanied a catch in Mom’s voice that usually precedes one of her naps.

Four internship rejections and now you’ve failed an exam. This is starting to be a trend. The world doesn’t operate on your terms, Ada.

The end of the hallway seems further away. She makes brief eye contact with a passer by in hopes that it might be interpreted as an SOS. Footsteps echo, and the moment breaks.

Ada’s alone again.

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She stops and leans up against the wall to breathe for a moment. Opposite her is a bulletin board with a mirror tacked to it. She winces at her reflection. It’s no surprise nobody is coming to her rescue.

She puts incredible effort into making her life look effortless. Neatly styled hair frames the pretty, fine, carefully accented features. Sensible, stylish clothes and a designer handbag complete the look.

Even with the hell brewing in her head, she looks like whatever her troubles might be, they couldn’t be worse than yours.

She glares at herself in the mirror and a traitor looks back. The only thing worse than the dishonesty would be to let everyone see her fall apart.

Ada moves towards the bulletin board and fidgets with the mirror, digging the thumbtack holding it up into the cork. The grinding of the soft material gives some satisfaction.

Her phone buzzes and rattles the zipper on her bag. Ada’s stomach turns.

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Ada bursts into the bathroom. The air is frigid here and there seems to be less oxygen than in the hallway.

One by one she pushes her forefinger against the stall doors. Each gives way, and at the last one, she steps in.

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Deep breaths, Ada, it’s going to be fine.

She pulls down her jeans and sits.

You’re going to end up like Mom.

Ada reaches into her pocket and pulls out a yellow thumbtack she stole from the bulletin board. She breathes in sharply before closing her eyes tight and jabbing the tack into her thigh.

Her nerve endings light up like electricity and she flinches.

A red meniscus forms around the pin, breaks, and trickles down her leg.

She presses the pin into her leg further with one hand. The other covers her mouth.

Pain radiates. The choir of voices in her head begins to subside.

Her heart beats and the ceiling fan hisses.

For a moment she forgets what the opposite of success is. Her body quivers. Tears smudge her mascara then run down her cheeks onto the hand clasping her mouth.

When the relief has permeated her body, she uncovers her mouth and sniffs. She wraps the pin in toilet paper and begins the process of cleaning herself up.

Ada takes out a compact and begins to fix her makeup, avoiding her own eye contact as much as possible in the process. Her phone buzzes.

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Deep breath, it’s only Emily.

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Ada sniffs and checks over her face one more time in the compact, avoiding eye contact. Her makeup looks good.

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