Three, Two...Speak

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
There were exactly five clocks in the room where I couldn’t talk.

Three of them were placed on the numerous walls and around corners where I couldn’t see, but the last two were on the wrists and in the hands of the teenagers I now hid from.

One, two, three...ten chairs in the row ahead of me.

Maybe you should go talk to them.

Five, ten, fifteen; there are seventeen brunettes at this youth group meeting.

Maybe they’ll reject me, like everyone else has.

One in five. One in ten. One in twelve. The likelihood of another white car pulling into the parking lot is decreasing as more adolescents pour into the room and I squish deeper into the chair. It does not swallow me nor does it shield me from the two, five, seven pairs of eyes that fall on me. Maybe they will be friendly. I try to summon a smile, but by the time I manage to get the vaguely hopeful expression on my face, they are gone. My one in fourteen chance is gone.

I reach into my jacket pocket and pull out a marble. Five different streaks, one of thirteen I always have on my person. Back into the pocket, out comes another, this one with three rosy stripes. This is the only one of the thirteen still from my one - single, solitary - best friend. We were friends for one, two, three, years. But she realized I was weird only a few months before I was diagnosed. It’s been three, four, five years since
I’ve had a friend.

And tonight I must force myself to take a one in thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two chance.

Tonight I must talk.

I look over to where a table composed of six, now seven, teenagers are playing a large game. There is a one in seven chance that each one of them will agree to let me sit. There is an even smaller chance one of them will become my friend. Fourth marble goes in, then goes out, replaced by number five. I’m onto marble number six by the time the last of fifty-three teenagers had filled up this youth “get-together”-. My mom’s term, not mine. She has exactly four terms for this sort of occasion and none of them I’d use.
Torture, maybe. A direct confrontation of my condition is perhaps most accurate. I like to use terrifying, but that’s too dramatic.

So I wait.

I count three minutes to seven, then two, and then one. I wait, crack my knuckles, remember the data number on the spreadsheet where I first saw my diagnosis. I will have to talk to them if I want even a one in seven-point-five billion chance that anyone on this earth will become my friend.

So I stand. Then I sit. I do this three point five times, because the fourth time I try to do it, someone walks by and I freeze.

When I have caught my breath and pulled out marbles eight and nine - twice each - I take ten steps towards the table where seven teenagers are playing. I pause and take three steps back.

What if they find out? What if they know the way I’m counting in my head and the fact that I obsessively keep my marbles. I finger ten and eleven, each a different shade of blue.

One chance in seven-point-five billion.

Two breaths in and then out.

I raise my chin and take twelve steps toward the table, reaching the corner. They have shuffled and dealt five hands. Two of the girls sit out, offering commentary instead.

Seeing me stand there, they look up.

“Hi,” they say.

My mouth turns to cotton.

Five years since my last real friend. I have one shot.

“Can I play?”

The boy dealing the cards, third from right, fourth from the left, looks up with a smile.

His two front teeth have a slight gap as he smiles at me. I estimate about three millimeters in that space. The two girls continue to look at me as I stand there. There is a one in two chance my palms will become damp any moment right now.


One word. One syllable.

One hundred percent finality.

Three words. Three syllables. One sentence with one hour of terror forcing it out. For once in my sixteen, seventeen years of life, I don’t care about the diagnosis.

I take a seat. Seven faces look back at me. I can’t calculate what they’ll say or how many will become my friends. But I can increase my chances.

I take two breaths.

And smile.