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Episode 14 Part 38

By:  Lenady

“What happened to her dad?”


Tilly froze, and the fork slipped from her fingers into the pot of pasta, sinking beneath the rolling surface. She hissed, grabbed the other fork off the plate and worked on fishing out the other utensil. Her lips were tight, she knew. Her whole face was tight, and at least this way she could focus down on something else instead of turning around to face Sanrook and her question.


“I mean she had to have a dad, right? That’s how humans work.”


Tilly breathed in, opened her mouth, closed it. Then finally, “She never met him.” Her mouth felt dry, and the words came haltingly at first. “All she knew was that he died, around the same time the curse was put on her mother. But she knew him, kind of. She never saw his face, or heard his voice. But her mother would tell stories, when they were sitting around a cookfire, or traveling down the road at night, during one of their moves. She’d talk about the great adventures they’d had, and the plans they’d made, and she’d sing one of his favorite songs, and then get this look in her eyes, and then she’d be quiet for a while, leaving the girl by herself.” And notes floated through Tilly’s mind, one melody mixing with another, soft rock guitar on scratchy records and humming 8-tracks: the soundtrack for living room dances and brownies baking and picture albums filled with a smiling face that seemed so different than the one that had scowled down at her that day as she carried boxes to her room.


“It had always just been her and her mother,” Tilly continued, “And while she would’ve loved to change that, loved to have known the person in those stories or stay in one place for more than a few months at a time, she was a little resigned to how things were and thus hesitant the next day, when her mother asked her to go into the village to buy supplies.”



*          *          *


The school loomed above her, early morning fog still settling above the top story of the old brick building. She stared up at it and wished she could walk back to the car, get her mom to order a bunch of books and let her take her classes from home instead, like she’d done so many times when they’d moved too late in the school year to reasonably start at another school, or to fill in the gaps left from one too many lessons on the battle of Gettysburg and some too few on long equation. But she knew better than to look back around, to seek out a look of encouragement. There were cars lining up past her mom’s, and Tilly’d done this too many times to be so hesitant. Instead, she shifted her weight, planted an easy smile on her face, and walked forward through the wide, heavy doors.


“Excuse me,” Tilly said to a woman sitting at a desk in the office, after weaving through a small wave of students and ducking into the room off to the left of the entrance. She looked for a nameplate amid the chaos on the desk, but, if it existed, it was covered with envelopes.


“Can I help you dear?” the woman asked distractedly, but with a smile.


“Um, yes. I just transferred. I need my schedule and stuff.”


“Right,” the woman said, pausing to stare up at Tilly for a moment. A look of recognition flitted across her face and she reached down into a drawer and pulled out a group of manila folders. “Matilda?”


Tilly reigned in a grimace. Her dad was the only person who actually called her that. “Yes, but I prefer Tilly, if that’s okay.”  


“I’ll make a note,” the woman said. Tilly could hope, but she had a feeling she’d be dealing with the name for the next six months or so.


The woman pulled out a sheet of paper and glanced over it before handing it to Tilly. “Sciences have second breakfast, so class starts in fifteen minutes. Can you find everything on time or do you need someone to help you?”


“I think I can get it, thanks. But if someone could point me in the right direction…” Tilly looked down at the sheet in her hands. Three floors, three sets of numbers… another beginning with A’s. The auditorium, Tilly realized, the separate fine arts building where she’d auditioned that previous summer. “Room 324 is…”


“Third floor,” the woman supplied. “This is technically the second, so go around the corner and up the stairs. It’ll be on the left. Sophomore lockers are just down the hall from there. The dark green ones. Oh,” she said, almost an afterthought, “that won’t do you too much good if you don’t know your number, would it?” She dug through the file again, “Here you are,” and handed a small slip over the desk. “Locker number’s at the top, combination’s right below that. They can be a little fussy sometimes, but I’m sure it won’t give you much trouble.”


If by ‘won’t give you much trouble’ the woman had really meant bordering on impossible then she would have been about right. Initially, when the lock had refused to budge Tilly had been paranoid that the numbers on the paper had been wrong. She didn’t know what would’ve been worse, having the wrong locker completely, or just the wrong combination. After a minute though she’d felt the familiar click and the lock had popped off. Of course, then the door had decided to stick, and she’d spent an additional few minutes kneeling in front of it (she wished agonizing things upon the person who came up with the idea of top and bottom lockers) before it popped suddenly and nearly sent her sprawling. If there was one good thing about them, at least they’d been hard to miss. The “dark green” had been a little less like dark and a little more like radioactive, standing out sharply against the white cinderblock walls.




The woman wasn’t wrong about them being close to her class though, she thought as she spied the number on the room across the hall. She walked over and looked in. A thin, graying woman in a denim skirt stood at the front, writing on the blackboard.


“Mrs…” Tilly asked, looking down at her slip as she moved forward out of the doorway, “Hudson?”


She nodded. “You must be Matilda.”


Tilly winced. And so it begins. “I prefer Tilly.”


Mrs. Hudson nodded again. “Go ahead and take a seat. There’s an empty place at that table,” and she pointed out the one in the back left corner, beside a file cabinet and a large model of a cell. A couple of girls already sitting there were talking with a couple of kids from the next table over. They paused for a moment as she walked over and a few more craned their heads around. ‘Brightest smile you can manage, Tilly’, she thought, as she approached. ‘Shoulders back, loose posture. Everything is fine, fine, fi-'


“Hi,” she said as she sat down. And her hand was not shaking as she set her purse down on the table. The two girls, one with a blond braid and the other with curling auburn hair, glanced at each other briefly. “Hi,” the one with the braid said, after a moment. Tilly vaguely felt like she was being picked apart piece by piece, as the girl looked her over.


“My name’s Tilly. Just transferred,” well duh, she thought, wanting to smack herself.


“Alison,” said the one who spoke a moment before.


“And I’m Cindy,” said the other.


Despite the smiles planted on their faces, there was a coolness to their tone that Tilly had previously thought impossible to gather from so little words. Her nerves ratcheted up a level, and she focused on pulling her backpack up onto the table to hide them.


“Nice bag,” Alison said, as Tilly pulled out a notebook. There was laughter in her voice. Not the good kind.


“Dumb rules,” she said, shrugging. “Part of a dress code change at my last school. Still haven’t dug out my old bag.” She glanced around the room, nonchalantly, and couldn’t help but notice the way the clear plastic stood out among all the other, normal looking, backpacks in the room, making her even more conspicuously the ‘new kid’. She grabbed a pen out of the front pocket and zipped the bag shut.


“That sucks. We don’t really have to worry about that here,” Alison said, still smiling that weird not-really-a-smile, and Tilly was getting to the point of wanting to ask her what her dang problem was, but didn’t dare.


“I heard the county schools were using them this year,” a guy from the next table over said, and his tone was a little lighter than Alison’s but it was impossible not to hear the faint sneer. Tilly swung the bag back over the side of the table, stowing it beside her seat, out of sight. “Hi,” he continued, looking over at her with a smile, “I’m Trevor.”


Tilly smiled and opened her mouth to respond but…


“Are you that surprised,” Alison said, looking over at Trevor, but glancing at Tilly. “They’re-"


“Oh don’t even start. You’re all just pissed ‘cause they beat us Friday,” said a girl at Trevor’s table.


“It was their refs,” a red-headed guy said at the next table down. “Every call they-"


“Oh yeah, and how many times did the refs make you drop the ball? Cause the way it looked to me-"


“So what was your last school?” Alison asked Tilly as the conversation went on at the other table, and it took her a moment to register the question.


“Um, Beckett county,” she said, and Alison was still smiling that stupid not-a-smile, and sharing another look with Cindy, who seemed a little bored with the whole thing. But before any more could be said the bell rang, a buzzing digital tone, and a small stream of students came in, Mrs. Hudson closing the door behind them.


“Okay everyone,” she said, holding up a piece of paper. “As some of you may have noticed we have a new face. Matilda Kaphtman just started today, so I want you to make her feel at home.” Tilly winced at the name, and her muscles went tense as she felt a dozen heads turn towards her, but then Mrs. Hudson continued on through the roll call and, although there were still a few curious onlookers, she couldn’t help but let out of breath in relief. No standing in front of the class, no having to introduce herself. Thank God.


After that things went relatively okay for a while. She’d, as usual, been dropped in almost halfway through a unit, but she wasn’t going to have to do much reading to catch up with the rest of the class. Unfortunately Mrs. Hudson had decided it would be a great idea to see how far along Tilly was by asking her as many questions during class as she did everyone else, maybe more, most of which she had no clue about. She’d distinctly heard low whispering giggles and comments behind her every time. At least Mrs. Hudson had done a lot of talking, so Tilly could mostly face the front of the room, and, aside from those few times, almost manage to forget about Alison’s existence.


She was actually starting to feel a little more positive about the day ahead of her by the time breakfast rolled around, but reality kicked in the moment she walked into the lunch room. Usually, on her first day she tried to find a few people in each class she could talk to at lunch or breaks. Usually she had an easier time with it when she’d been put in groups in class. Of course, usually she hadn’t gotten stuck with a group like Alison’s.


It occurred to her, as she stood there, looking around at the mostly filled tables, that someone up there might hate her.


There wasn’t a single friendly face in the entire room. Okay, so that was a gross exaggeration. There were plenty of friendly faces, they were just all friendly towards each other. No one seemed to give her a second glance. There were a few people she recognized from biology, but they were clustered with lots of different people, and she didn’t know if she felt up to introducing herself to that many at once. The guy from other day, Erin, was no where to be seen. After a moment, though, she spotted Trevor sitting with his group from class as well as a bunch of others. She made it halfway across the room before she saw Alison and Cindy there as well. A part of her had wondered if maybe she’d imagined some of the chilliness from earlier, or at least exaggerated it, maybe put more meaning behind the whispers than there actually was. Any illusions she had about that were swiftly erased though by the looks being leveled at her, warding her away from the table.


Tilly veered off to the right instead, and went to sit at an empty table in a back corner, pulling out a book she had brought along for this very reason and flipping to the dog-eared page. She didn’t know what was more uncomfortable, the chair itself or just sitting alone like she was. Her shoulders were tight, even while trying her best to look loose and casual and confident sitting there, instead of closed off and guarded, and, despite the fact that she didn’t expect anyone to approach her, not really, she couldn’t help but get a flutter in her stomach anytime there was motion near her. It was exhausting, really. It was such a relief when the bell finally rung, signaling the end of first period, and she didn’t even bother looking over towards Alison’s table as she gathered her stuff and made her way towards the fine arts building. She was going to forget about the beginning of the day. She had a dance class to look forward to and she was determined to not let anyone or anything spoil her mood for that.


She smiled as she pushed open the door to the dressing room, feeling a little lighter with her decision.


“So then they- Oh hi Matilda,” said Alison.


Yeah, someone upstairs hated her. She was sure of it.


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