Fear and I have known each other for a very long time. I have seen her throughout most of my life, usually lingering around the edges of wherever I am at the time. Ironically, we have never spoken. She seemed a little taken aback when I suggested we meet tonight. She initially asked me why, but before I could answer her question, she said she would rather not know. She agreed to sit down with me for an interview.
I arrived in the hotel lobby before she did, but I knew she was likely close behind me. I smelled her smoky perfume a millisecond before I sensed that she was standing behind me. I turned and there she was, her gray hair falling like wisps of smoke around her shoulders.
I pointed to the seat across from me and suggested she sit down on it. She frowned down at the small vinyl covered chair. She put a tentative hand on it, pushing down on the cushion. Apparently satisfied enough with it, she sat down on the chair. She adjusted the skirt of her long dark gray dress before she leaned back into the chair.
“How are you,” I asked.
Her eyes squinted as she answered me, “I’m fine. I’d like to skip the small talk though. I’ve never been good at it, and I would rather get straight to the real reason we are here.”
“Me too,” I admitted, giggling. I pointed to two bottles of water I had brought with me sitting on the table in front of us. “Would you like some water before we begin?”
“No, thank you. It may cause me to choke,” Fear said.
I reached over for one of the bottles of water, unscrewed the top, and took a long drink from it. Fear’s chin rose a few inches as I put the bottle back down on the table. “Okay, let’s begin then,” I said. I crossed my legs and leaned into the cushion behind my back. “How long do you think we’ve known each other.”
Fear considered her answer. Then, she said, “I met you in the delivery room. I wrapped you in the cold air, and you cried. It hurt my feelings.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. I meant it. “I’m sure if I had known differently, I may not have cried. The cold air surprised me.”
Fear frowned and stared behind me. “Let’s not talk about Surprise, please.”
I almost glanced behind me to see if Surprise had shown up too. I knew from the calmness of my pulse that she was not there though. “What would you like to talk about then? This is a bit of an unplanned conversation, so I’m not sure where to take this.”
“Why do you care about me?” Fear leaned forward slightly in her chair. “We’ve been near each other all these years and not once have you talked to me. You’ve mumbled about me, but not a peep of kindness to me.”
“To be frank, you’re scary,” I said.
“That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?” Fear ran her long fingers through her hair and smoothed it back behind her shoulders again. I thought about all the times I had seen her do that and how it had always made me want to touch my own hair. I realized that my hand was indeed stroking down the baby hairs at the top of my head that always went off in a different direction than the rest of the hair on my head.
“I guess you are right,” I said, purposefully putting my hand back into my lap. “So, why do I care about you, Fear? Maybe because you seem to be important. You are quite popular right now around the world.”
Fear sighed. “It’s been a hard year.”
“Yes, it has been,” I said. I reached down and picked up the glass of water. I was not sure that I liked the feeling I got when I had agreed with Fear. “Why do you do what you do?”
Fear looked at me. “Do what I do? What do you mean by that?”
I held up my hand. “Well, with me, you grab my hand often to stop me. You make my heart pound at times. You twist my stomach and cause all kinds of issues in my intestines. You have even stolen my breath.”
Fear moved her head so quickly that her hair swung forward from behind her shoulders. “I have never stolen anything from you. You sound so ungrateful. I have saved your life.”
“Yes you have,” I said, pointing my finger at her. My heart started to beat quicker. “You are doing it right now.”
Fear slumped back in the chair and her hand went to her mouth. “I can’t help that. My job is to warn you.” Her voice seemed more diminished. She stared at me and I stared back at her. “You decide whether you stop or not.”
I pulled my eyes away from hers. “I’m not liking you very much right now.”
“Why,” Fear said, sitting up straighter in the chair. “Because I am telling you the truth.”
I hesitated and then felt Courage nearby. I spotted her a few feet away watching me. I looked from her back to Fear. “Yes. I am arguing with you, Fear, and you keep pushing everything back on me. It can’t be completely my fault, can it? You seem to take it much easier on other people.”
Fear shrugged. She looked back over her shoulder toward Courage, and Courage quickly turned away from us. Fear faced me again and looked down at her lap. “Not everyone listens to me like you do. I kind of find it flattering that you are willing to give me a lot of attention. That’s why I hang around so much.”
I leaned forward in my chair. “So, I should be mean to you?”
Fear lifted her head quickly. “Try it. I dare you!” She drew each of the words out to twice their length. “The next time someone tries to take advantage of you, or you decide to go walking by yourself at night, I’ll just stay home.”
I scratched at my eyebrow. “But, there needs to be some kind of balance to things. I can’t live my life if you are constantly pursuing me.”
Fear smoothed her hair down again, and I copied her. “I don’t know that I can help you there,” she said.
We stared at each other without speaking for what seemed like two hours. Out of the corner of my mind, I saw someone join Courage. I turned my head so I could see the person better. I had no clue who it was, but I knew that I had seen her before. Fear took a deep breath in. I returned my full attention to her.
“You described me once to someone, and it was exactly who I am. The problem is that you distorted that image and made it who you wanted me to be. This is the truth.”
She stopped and looked longingly toward the carafe of water between us. I watched her lips part and then purse back together. She took another deep breath in.
“I am the wisp of smoke. When you smell the candle burning next to your bed, do you worry about a forest fire? I am the scent of a fire beginning. Do you rush to the grill with a bucket of water to put it out? I am the moment when a surface becomes just hot enough to singe your hand. Do you blame the stove when you touch it rather than put a pan on it like you should? I am the dark smudge where a fire has been. Does the memory of a fire burn you now?”
I lowered my head until I saw the movement of her dress as she stood up. I forced myself to look at least at the bottom half of the dress.
She leaned down so that her face appeared in my vision. “If you would walk with me instead of run from me, I would not have to yell. If you would listen and pay attention to me rather than assume what I am telling you, your heart would not beat so fast. I don’t want to pursue you anymore. I never did.”
Fear raised back up, turned, and walked away. She gave a small nod to Courage and the other woman as she passed them. I sat back in the chair and closed my eyes. I placed my hand over my heart and was surprised to find that thought it was tapping out quick messages, it was not telling me to run like it normally did. A few seconds later, Courage and the other woman appeared in front of me.
“Heather, I would like you to meet a friend of mine,” Courage said. She smiled at me and then at the woman next to her. “This is Peace.”
I instinctively shook the hand that Peace held out to me. The warmth of her palm against mine for those few seconds put my heart back into its normal pace. “It is nice to meet you,” I said to Peace.
My gaze went to the side of her face to where I had seen Fear disappear around the corner. I smiled at Courage and Peace and then said, “If you will excuse me, I need to catch up to an old friend of mine.”
Peace looked at Courage with the same look that I had seen on Surprise’s face many times. Then she laughed. “Of course,” she said, moving out of my way. “We’ll wait here.”
I took off running through the lobby. I could not bear the thought of never seeing Fear again.