Stay calm, keep it casual.
Despite the mantra playing in my head my heart is hammering away in my throat and my stomach is threatening to send my breakfast back up.
No good, we don’t like it. Toast and eggs! Send it back!
I squeeze my eyes shut and press them until the darkness erupts into a thousand colors. Reds and yellows swirl through halls of blue and purple. I know once I open them the colors will be replaced with dread, total dread written across the faces of everyone else in the room. My face must be contorted in fear too but it’s so normal in this room that no one will spare more than one glance.
A loud buzz rips through the halls. One would expect some emotion but instead everyone remains still, statuesque.
Stay calm, keep it casual.
One of the pristine steel doors slides open. A perfectly manicured assistant taps her foot impatiently.
“Lake.” Her voice falters on my name, I can practically hear her thoughts. I’ve heard them frequently throughout my life.
What kind of name is that?
I shuffle through the lobby towards her as she eyes me with skepticism. I can’t help but notice her pen moving across the paper already.
Nope, don’t count me out yet.
“Room 12. Remember, calm, casual. This is a good experience.” Her robotic instructions do nothing to ease my heart back into my chest or calm my stomach.
The hall is silent except for an occasional muffled sob or giggle. My mind wanders to the kinds of favors that are being traded behind those doors. Surely for a giggle the favor must be great. Despite what the assistant claimed this was not a good experience.
Room 12’s door sat slightly ajar. For some reason it only made my nerves worse. Had the assistant already communicated her notes about me? Were they so sure I would be dispatched that there was no longer any need for formalities?
“Come in.” A low, quiet voice beckoned.
A middle aged man with graying hair and glasses perched on the edge of his nose motioned to a chair in the middle of the room. He made no move to clear the clutter of folders from his desk, instead plucking one from a carton on the floor by his feet and plopping atop the others. His computer pinged relentlessly.
“Lake.” His eyes ran through the pages in the folder.
“My mom named me after …”
“I don’t care.” His eyes finally left the folder and settled on me. “You have a pretty extensive … record here.” My face grew hot.
“I can explain.”
“No, you can’t.”
“I can do better?” It was a lame response said with all the flatness of someone who would never mean it. To my surprise the man almost cracked a smile.
“No, you won’t.” He grabbed a stamp from the corner of his desk and smashed it down on my folder. “But that’s why you get to stay.”