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“And how long were you counting?”
Michelle looked up at the ceiling, performing what Jeremy took to be calculations in her head, before returning her attention to him and replying, “One year, one month, one week, and six days.”
Believing she was playing a joke, Jeremy started to laugh, but when he noticed she was only nervously grinning, he stopped. “I think you know what I’m going to ask next,” he said.
“You want to know why I was counting for so long.”
“That’s how long it took to count to twenty-five million.”
Jeremy looked around, wondering if she were playing a practical joke on him.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I must be freaking you out.”
She picked up her glass, and started drinking rapidly, which let Jeremy know that as soon as the glass was emptied she would get up and walk away. Knowing he only had a few seconds, he said, “No, no, you’re not freaking me out at all. It’s just not the typical thing you hear from somebody, in a bar, especially from a woman as beautiful as you.”
She stopped drinking, with only a few drops left in the glass.
“You think I'm beautiful?” she said.
“Yes,” Jeremy replied, “more beautiful than any of the other women here.”
“Would you like to know more about my counting?”
He wasn’t all that interested in the counting, but she was too pretty to let go, so he said yes.
She finished what was left in the glass, ordered another drink, received it, paid, took a sip, put the glass down, and said, “I was very stressed out over some good news I received, great news actually, and everything started moving so fast. I was overwhelmed.”
“What was the news?” Jeremy asked.
“It’s not important,” she answered. “Anyway, my mind was all over the place, so to calm myself I sat down and started counting. I don’t know why. I've never done that before. But that’s what I did.”
“Then what?” Jeremy said.
“It didn’t take long before the numbers got larger and more complicated, and the more I was concentrating on them, the less I was concentrating on the stress. Soon, all I could concentrate on was the count, especially after I passed ten-thousand.”
“How long did that take?”
Looking up again, doing the calculations in her head, she replied, “Just under three hours.”
“Impressive,” Jeremy said.
“By the time I reached forty-four thousand, three-hundred and twenty-two, I was too tired to keep track of the count, so I wrote the number down on a piece of paper, and went to bed.”
“Why did you write the number down?”
“I was proud of it," she said. “That’s probably why I still remember it today. I thought it would be something I could look back on.”
“So what happened when you woke up?”
“All the stress I had before I started counting came back, even more intensely, as if it was angry at me for not paying attention to it before.”
“So what did you do?” Jeremy asked.
“I rolled over in my bed, saw the paper with the number on it, and figured if it worked before, it might work again. I picked up from where I left off, and ended up counting the entire day right up until I fell asleep later that night. I reached over ninety thousand. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was definitely over ninety thousand. And the next morning I starting counting again, picking up from the number I wrote down before going to sleep the night before, and I just kept doing that, over and over.”