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Episode 14 Part 40

By:  Lenady

“The second girl sounds like quite a case,” Sanrook said.


Tilly nodded, “And no matter what the girl did she just kept running into her. She’d just walk around a corner, or come out of a shop and Alison would be sta-"


“Alison?” Sanrook interrupted, and Tilly froze. “How come she gets a name and the others don’t?”


Tilly shrugged, partially to hide her tense shoulders, “Just hard to keep track when you’re using multiple ‘she’s’”.


“Oh,” Sanrook said. “So what’s the other girl named.”


“Hope,” Tilly said without thinking, the name popping into her head out of nowhere. She paused, for a moment, with the suddenness of it. And for a moment there was a tugging. Something about the name that made her want to sit with it and pull on the strings she could feel attached. Something so tangible she could almost see it, something…


And then it was gone, as quickly as it came. It was a maddening sensation she was becoming all too accustomed to, but it still made her want to throw a plate in frustration.


“Tilly?” Sanrook asked, and Tilly realized she had gone silent.


She turned around with a smile. “Sorry,” she said, “Just trying to remember the next part. It’s been a while.”


*          *          *


Tilly stared down at the tray sitting before her, poking at the piece of pepperoni pizza with her fork and watching the small pool of orange grease sitting on the surface drain off the side and onto her plate. Her salad sat off to the side, still covered in plastic wrap. After the events of the past few hours she just wasn’t very hungry.


Dance hadn’t gone as horribly as she might have expected after seeing Alison in the locker room. It still hadn’t gone well, but it hadn’t been the nightmare she’d been dreading. Evidently teachers putting you on the spot on the your first day was par for the course for this school, because practically as soon as they started center work Mrs. Epstein had singled her out, to see how fast she could pick things up according to her teacher, but Tilly had to wonder if there was something else going on. Alison and a few other girls had watched intently from the side with tight expressions as Tilly studied her teacher’s movements. The routine hadn’t been so bad, and she’d managed to make it about half of the way through without noticeably slipping up, despite it having been demonstrated at close to normal speed, but after she was done she could see the glances exchanged in that small group, and the one between Alison and Mrs. Epstein.


There hadn’t been much said to her after class. Her smiles had been largely rebuffed by Alison and her group, who seemed to be the stars of the upper intermediate level class, and everyone else followed suit.


After that she didn’t really feel like making small talk in the lunch line, especially since the people behind her were already talking with each other and her one attempt at saying hi to anyone else had been met with a quiet response and then a turned head. Finding a group to sit with at that point just felt like a chore, so she instead took her tray and found the same table she’d sat at during breakfast. She didn’t care anymore about looking friendly, or smiling at people as they walked past. At that point it just didn’t feel worth it.


Bam! Her table vibrated with the loud thump. ‘God,” she thought with a wince,’ what now?’


“Hey, you asleep?” A somewhat familiar voice asked. She craned her neck up and back to see Erin standing above her, looking down with a grin.


“Do I look asleep to you?” She asked, head still tilted back. She forced on as pleasant of a smile as she could stomach.


“Well,” he said, as he plopped down into a chair, “This is lunch. And that food hasn’t really been touched, not that I can really blame you. I mean you didn’t even get any ranch and the pizza’s pretty much inedible without it.”


“Huh?” she asked.


“Not that I’d actually expect you to be eating pizza to begin with. I mean most of the girls stay away from it and all, or pick everything off and just eat some of the crust and the salad-“


Tilly blinked, looking around and noticing plenty of girls eating un-dissected pizza, but not arguing.


“But anyway, lunch is for eating, and you’re clearly not, and you’re not really doing anything else either, so I figure, hey maybe you’re asleep, cause otherwise why would you be sitting over here by yourself when you could be spending time with yours truly.”


Tilly rolled her eyes and laughed. “Has anyone ever told you you’re impossible.”


“I get that a lot. But I got you to laugh,” he said and stood up, then to Tilly’s surprise he grabbed her tray. “Come on.”


“Huh?” she said.


“Anyone ever tell you you say that a lot?” And he was already walking towards the center of the room so Tilly grabbed her bags and got up. She winced at how the chair scraped loudly against the floor, drawing attention once again, but did her best to ignore her discomfort as she moved to catch up with Erin.


“You need to be more outgoing,” Erin said as they walked across the room.


Tilly shrugged, her cheeks burning, “Yeah, well you need to be less blunt.”


“It’s a gift.” He turned around and smiled good naturedly, “But seriously, don’t write people off so quick. Hey!” He said, as they approached two tables which were nearly pushed together and which were surrounded by clusters of students. The amount of noise coming from that area was astounding. “This is my new buddy. Make room, Carrot,” he said, pushing over the tray of the red haired guy from first period.


“Ah, yeah,” the guy said, “Hey…” and his eyebrows creased for a second and he did a motion with his hands.


“Tilly,” she said, smiling.


“Yeah, that’s it!” He exclaimed over the clamor and pointed his finger excitedly.


“Hey,” said a brown haired girl in a pink t-shirt from across the table. “Why sit her over there with all you guys. She doesn’t want to hear about your 4 wheelers.”


“Hey,” said the girl sitting beside her, “I like 4 wheelers.”


“Yeah,” the brown haired girl said again, “but you don’t talk about them all the time. If I have to hear about Big Man’s Ridge one more ti-"


“Oh God, quit calling it that. Do you know how bad that sounds?”


“Yeah, like Bingham’s Ridge is all that much better,” the brown haired girl said, then reached her hand over the table towards Tilly, “Name’s Taylor.”


“Andrea,” the girl beside her said.


“Okay,” Erin said, as he poured a dollop of ranch dressing onto Tilly’s plate. “Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way right now.” He took a deep breath and then, “Andrea, Taylor, Ben, James, Chris, Jess, Amy, Justin, Lauren, Trevor, Erica, and me.” He motioned to everyone as he went, but he went through them so fast that trying to actively remember them all would have left Tilly’s head spinning.


“You said those, like, randomly you doof,” Andrea said. “And don’t pour that junk on her plate. Just cause your taste buds are all messed up doesn’t mean everyone else’s are.  You really don’t have to put up with him you know,” she said, turning to Tilly.


Tilly shook her head, “Don’t worry. I like trying new stuff.”


“Try too much of that and you’ll have to get a new leotard.”


The bottom dropped out of Tilly’s stomach when she heard the voice. She smiled and turned around, “Hi Alison,” she said, cheerfully.


“Well,” Erin said, “I see you two have already met.”


“We’ve got…” Tilly thought for a second, “Everything together so far?”


“Yeah,” Alison said, with a tight smile.


“Oh yeah,” Trevor said, turning to Tilly. “You didn’t sit with us at breakfast…”


“I needed to check something,” she said, patting her backpack, “So I sat by myself.”


“Aw,” said a girl with her hair pulled back tightly with a red ribbon. “Come over here tomorrow.”


“Maybe she didn’t want to sit here Lauren,” Alison said, looking meaningfully at Tilly as she sat down, “You can’t just force someone to hang out.” 


“No,” Tilly said, “I mean. I was busy this morning, but I’d like to sit with you tomorrow.” She smiled over at Alison.


“Alison,” Erin said, while stuffing a ketchup coated french fry in his mouth, “Tilly talked about trying out for the spirit squad.”


“The what?” Tilly asked. She ignored the brief horrified expression on Cindy’s face.


“Cheer, dance, a little bit of both,” said Lauren. “It’s mostly cheer, but with having the dance program here they didn’t want to ignore that, so we’re sometimes more like a dance team. You’re in the program, right? If you’ve got class with Alison then you have to be! That would be great. A lot of the junior and senior dancers dropped out of spirit this year, so we’re down a bit.”


“Yeah,” Alison said, “There’s a reason they dropped out. It’s a lot of work doing both. I don’t know if she’d want to make the-"


“Don’t be such a downer. You’re doing it.”


“Yeah, well…”


“You really should. Think about it okay,” Lauren said to Tilly, smiling.


Tilly smiled in return, feeling more relaxed than she had all day. There were people talking around her, and every now and then to her, and she could ignore the fact that most of the conversation over the next twenty minutes or so revolved around stuff she really had no interest in and the fact that she was surrounded by a sea of Abercrombie and cheer t-shirts and football jerseys, and the horrible feeling like she was being an imposter and would be found out soon and be sent into exile to sit with the ‘weird’ kids (if that group even existed) even though she was pretty sure she might just feel more herself with that hypothetical group anyway. Okay, so maybe she didn’t do such a good job of ignoring it. Alison’s occasional sideways glances and a few backhanded compliments from her contingent had thrown her off a bit too, but then there’d be a genuine smile, or someone purposefully trying to include her in the conversation and she’d been able to forget about feeling like a fish out of water for a while.


For the first time in she couldn’t remember how long, when her mom picked her up after school that day and mechanically asked how her day went, Tilly smiled.


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