Robin tapped her fingertips on the faded blue Formica table. Tap tap tap. She absentmindedly took a sip of her lukewarm coffee. Tap tap tap. She’s been here too long already. She was going to be late, she knew, but she hadn’t counted on the café being so busy this morning. She’d had to wait fifteen extra minutes for her booth to be available. That wasn’t in the plan either. Tap tap tap. Not sitting at her booth wasn’t an option. She’d really have to reschedule everything then.
It was at that moment she noticed him. That’s that Evan guy from the women’s meeting last night. She instantly felt exposed. She yanked up the zipper on her faded orange track jacket. She looked around, worried. Calm down, she instructed herself. There is no way he could possibly know what you are planning to do.
Tap tap tap.
She glanced down at her watch. 9:45. She tugged at her hair. Tug tug tug. If she stayed much longer she was going to get so caught up in her counting that she’d never get out of here. That’s how it had always been – she was a slave to the counting.
She swallowed the last of her coffee and licked the crumbs of the blueberry scone off of her fingers. The cash register chimed. Ding ding ding. This was the last safe place in town. She knew what to expect here – always the same customers, the same sounds, the same smells. Three moose heads hung on the far wall, perfectly spaced apart. One two three. The one in the middle was a tacky gold color, but she didn’t care. This was her place. It had always been her place, even as a young girl. She would come here after school when the counting would become unbearable and she would buy a lemon bar and Ms. Potters would always throw in three hard candies for free. She’d squirrel those candies away somewhere in her room, so she’d have something to eat when she was banished there on the days Mother would drink too much and get friendly with the neighborhood men.
At first the counting had seemed fun. Something to do on endless days locked away in her room. She’d paint her finger nails, perfecting the art of covering each nail with exactly three brush strokes. It was such a rush when she’s get it exactly right. When she didn’t…. well she didn’t like to think about what would happen when she would mess up. She’d toss wadded up socks against the wall. One two three. Open and close her favorite books. Whoosh whoosh whoosh. Brush each section of her hair. Brush brush brush. Eventually, everything had to be done in threes. Bushing her teeth, washing her body, zipping up her jeans. Zip zip zip. The kids at school stopped inviting her to play hopscotch and tetherball because of her instance on repeating everything in such an unyielding manner. “Rigid Robin” they’d taunt her as they ran away laughing.
She grew up and eventually just accepted her counting as a way of life. She’d didn’t know what it was like to not wake up at 3:33 am so she’d have enough time to do all of her morning rituals and still make it to the bus stop by 6:30. It wasn’t until she’d had her first serious boyfriend at the age of 25 that she’d even considered the fact that her “quirky habits” might be more disruptive than she’d imagined. She couldn’t understand why Robert minded that they did everything three times. You would have thought she was asking him to assassinate the president, by the look on his face when she explained they’d have to repeat everything they’d just done two more times.
“Any more coffee for you today, sweetheart?” Steph asked, jolting her back to reality. Shit. She glanced down at her watch. 10:15.
“No thanks, Steph. Just the check please. And hurry, I need to leave.” She started to gather up her things.
“Sure thing. I’ll be right back” Steph started backing away and turned around too quickly, knocking into a man wearing a dark suit. In seconds the man was covered in coffee. Robin watched in mild horror as the man covered in coffee punched the man who’d been waiting on her every day for years. She scooped up her jacket from the seat next to her, forgetting momentarily that she wouldn’t need it where she was going. She was too worried that the commotion would cause Evan to see her. She slapped three five dollar bills on the table and rushed for the door. She only had fifteen minutes if she was going to make the 10:30 before it stopped at the station.
In her haste, a pamphlet from last nights’ event fell from her bag – Surviving OCD: A Presentation by Evan Zest. Not to worry, she wasn’t planning on surviving anything for much longer.