“Okay, I’ll be right there,” I told Mom on the phone before hanging up.
I went to get my wallet and keys, whistling a stupid tune, and headed to my front door. Shoes, jacket, and then I stepped out of my apartment into the empty hallway on the fourth floor. I checked my pockets before closing the door, hearing a neighbor stepping outside, too.
“Morning,” I said, peering over my shoulder, but when my eyes met Gilbert’s, I froze for a second.
He just glared at me. I felt insecure, just like I always did around him, so I decided to step back inside.
“Forgot my phone,” I said, giving a fake chuckle, before retreating back into the safety of my apartment.
I closed my eyes, feeling so glad I’d move out soon. I liked this place. I liked my home, but after my neighbors had seen me out on a date with a guy, things had gotten worse. This building was not for me. This state was not for me.
I heard Gilbert closing his door. I waited a few moments to let him get out of the building before I dared to open my door again.
I stepped outside. Gilbert suddenly stood right in front of me. I felt pain in my stomach, but I couldn’t understand why or how. Not until Gilbert stepped back, screaming at me, spitting on me in his anger.
I couldn’t hear his words.
All I could see was the big, red knife in his hand…
I gasped loudly when I woke up, drenched in sweat and my heart racing. In panic, I sat up and checked my surroundings, my eyes moving so fast it almost hurt. It took me a moment to realize it was just a nightmare, and that I was safe in my new home.
“For fuck’s sake…” I whispered, burying my face behind my shaky hands.
It had been years… But the scar was still burning on my side like it was on fire.
I peered at the clock on my nightstand and cursed the nightmare. I still had thirty minutes left before I had to wake up, but if I now lied back down, I’d fall asleep and be cranky when the alarm went off.
With a heavy sigh, I got up and went to take a shower. I tried to push the nightmare out of my head, but I was unsuccessful. Even in my safe apartment, my senses were on overdrive, and I started imagining the sounds of danger again: thumbs, creaks, footsteps.
“There’s no one in here,” I tried to remind myself, but I still hurried to wash my hair so I could turn off the water.
Once the faucet was off, I stood there, staring at my locked bathroom door. I listened so closely I could hear my anxiety. But I heard no one in my home.
“Keep it together, man…” I told myself, and stepped out of the shower, reaching for my towel.
I stayed in the bathroom to dry myself, taking my sweet time. But then I had to get out. I stared at the door, the lock on it. I had to take a few deep breaths before I could reach for it. I was still listening… My ears ringing…
The lock clicked open, and another few breaths later, I turned the handle, and pushed the door open, standing as far away from it as I could. Again, I just stayed there, listening…
“There’s no one here,” I muttered, hoping that hearing my own voice would calm me down a bit.
It really didn’t… Oh, how I hated silence…
I carefully stepped out of the bathroom, keeping my eyes and ears open as I made my way into the kitchen. I turned the radio on and turned the volume up, finally able to relax.
How annoying… It had been years since my anxiety had gotten this bad, but my therapist was probably right: I’d been under a lot of stress and pressure lately, so dealing with my anxiety had gotten harder.
I turned to look at a letter from my post office and smiled. My delivery was ready for pickup. Finally.
After all this time, after all the stress, hard work and jumping through countless hoops, my dream was about to come true.
That thought cheering me up, I went to make breakfast. I ate too much and way too fast, the excitement stealing the spot from my anxiety. I didn’t cry over lost sleep anymore since the post office would open very soon.
I got dressed and grabbed my wallet, keys, phone, and the piece of paper for the post office, and turned to face the front door. I took a deep breath. The nightmare was returning. No, I had my delivery waiting for me. I had to focus on that.
I went to put my shoes on, moving slowly and keeping my eyes on the door. I made sure I had everything I needed before stepping right behind the door, forcing myself to open the lock. I peered through the peephole, waiting for a few moments to make sure there was no one standing there in the hallway. There was no one, but my anxiety tried to assure me there definitely was someone in the corner where I couldn’t see.
“Don’t be stupid,” I scolded myself, and opened the door before my anxious thoughts would start running loose.
It usually wasn’t this hard for me. I always checked the hallway first, but now I was afraid to step out. All thanks to that nightmare. I’d thought I was over with those memories from my past, but I guess I was just under too much pressure.
There was no one in the hallway when I pulled the door open. I couldn’t hear anyone, either. Still, I took a few moments before stepping out of my apartment, and even longer before closing the door.
But after that, it got better. Easier. I hurried down the stairs and rushed out the door at the bottom so I could run around the corner and stop to stare at the big windows and the dark bar behind it.
My bar. My own beautiful bar.
I smiled at it. It really was happening.
“I’ll be right back,” I mumbled and turned around to hurry to the post office.
I got there a bit too early, so I had to wait for a while before they opened. I was nearly bouncing up and down while waiting. Finally, the clerk came to open the door and gave me a good morning with a smile on her face.
“I’m here to pick up a package,” I told her, showing her the piece of paper once we both were by the counter.
“Sure thing, just a moment,” she said, and vanished behind the shelves.
She returned to me with a package that looked a little too big for my mailbox. Of course. Oh well, the post office wasn’t that far away…
“Here you go,” she smiled.
I took the package from her with shivering hands. I wanted to open it right away, but I decided to wait until I was back in the bar. I waved my goodbye, left the place, and ran all the way back to my bar.
My bar. I loved the sound of that.
There was no one else in the bar – my bar – when I arrived, but I wasn’t surprised. I entered the place, locked the doors, and walked to the brand-new counter on the opposite wall. I stopped behind it, put the package down, and stepped back to take a good look around.
Everything was ready. After months and months of hard work, it was completely ready to open the doors. I never could’ve done it without help. My supportive parents who had helped me to get the loan, my amazing friends who gave me their time for free, and my kick-ass lawyer who had single-handedly dealt with the bureaucracy and the people who had tried to stop us. And of course, my psychologist, Vaughn, who’d made sure I stayed sane in all of this.
And finally, I was an actual bar owner. Over two years of dreaming and planning and hunting down the right location had brought me to this moment, and I couldn’t have been happier. And the best part was that I got the apartment with the bar.
I let out a deep, happy breath and turned to glance at the package. I so wanted to open it already, but I decided to wait until everyone was here. They had to be there when I opened it.
I had to wait for a few hours before my entire staff and everyone else who had helped me to make this happen were present. We celebrated our opening night with cake and music, having fun and sharing the excitement.
“Okay guys! It’s time!” I shouted over the music, taking the simple box from the counter where I’d left it this morning.
Someone brought me a pair of scissors, and I cut open the tapes around the cardboard with everyone peering over my shoulders. I opened the lid and stopped to stare at the rainbow colors inside it.
“The moment we have been waiting for,” I said, and smiled at the flag before taking it out of the box.
“Let’s go put it up already!” one of my bartenders cheered.
Everyone agreed, so we headed outside. I got the honors of pulling it up, and I did so with trembling hands. Once the rope was tightly secured, and the wind blew the colorful flag high above our heads, I stepped back to watch it in silence.
Once upon a time, I’d fought for my life. For months and years, I let my trauma dictate how I lived my life. I’d retreated back into my closet and lived there, wrapped in my fear, unable to even consider coming out again.
Not anymore. I was a free man once again, and I showed my true colors with pride, just like our new, beautiful flag moving in the wind above us.
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