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Episode 14 Part 44

By:  Lenady

“So the old guy just came up to her like that? Kind of a creep.”

 

Tilly grimaced, feeling a little guilty for her description of Mr. Burget. When she thought about it, he was probably only about ten or fifteen years older than her at the time. But somehow a venerable village elder seemed like a better character to approach ‘Hope’, rather than some twenty-some year old guy. So yeah, she felt a little guilty… but not much.

 

“There were other people in the village who felt the same way,” she answered, “but he was the one who started it.”

 

* * *

 

Tilly was too shaky, too raw after that to feel comfortable in close contact with anyone, so, as she walked down the halls, she did her best to avoid people and worked at maintaining the polite smile she’d plastered on as Mr. Burget talked about GPAs and incomplete assignments and probable talks with the principal. She knew they were probably expecting her in the lunchroom, and, thinking about that, the fake smile became half-way genuine for just a moment before slipping away suddenly, and completely. And yeah, that was the reason she didn’t want near anyone. She gripped the strap of her backpack a little tighter and bit her cheek, flooding her mind with sensation and thoughts that weren’t about graphs and parent teacher conferences.

 

As soon as possible she ducked into a bathroom. Thankfully it was mostly empty, with just a few girls milling around, touching up lipstick or complaining about how harshly the administration was cracking down on smoking on school grounds that year. Tilly was thankful she didn’t know any of them. Of course, she thought as she walked past the sinks, if she’d known them that would have been a few less people giving her that weird ‘hey that’s the new kid’ look. Tilly still couldn’t tell, after all the times she’d transferred schools, if it was a real look or if it was just something she’d made up due to paranoia. Whichever it was Tilly didn’t typically waste much time thinking about it anymore, at least not on normal days. Today though, she could feel their glances burning holes in her, even after she shut the stall door, long after they’d turned back towards their own conversations and reflections.

 

She stayed there until the room cleared out, free of gossip and running faucets, until her watch practically guaranteed her walking into history just as the bell rang.

 

She landed in her seat with a soft thump and Taylor glanced over then looked up towards Mrs. Johnson, who was busy passing out a blank map of Europe and facing the other direction. Taylor learned over across the aisle as Tilly was pulling out her history notebook and poked her arm with the eraser end of her pencil. “Where were you at break?” She whispered.

 

Tilly rubbed her arm, looking for any black smears, then shrugged, throwing on the same easy smile she’d worn through the hallway. “Just some stuff with math.”

 

Taylor’s nose curled in disgust. “Yuck. Don’t even say that word around me. That’s Andrea’s thing.”

 

Tilly couldn’t help the incredulous look that flashed across her face. “You’re in advanced algebra 2.”

 

“I never said I couldn’t do it. I just hate it. I mean,” she said, as she scratched at a carved out place on the desktop. “It’s not like math’s that hard. I think a lot of times people just don’t try. Just sit in class and look at the paper and then complain when they don’t get a good grade.”

 

And there was the dismissive look again, Tilly realized, as she watched Taylor’s eyes flit around the room a bit. It seemed to be a staple expression in her group. She was getting used to it, but she couldn’t help looking down at her notebook, letting her hair fall over her cheeks when she felt them warming. She wasn’t used to having it directed at her, even unintentionally.

 

“Yeah,” Tilly said, then paused. “I don’t know, I mean so-"

 

And then the p.a. system came on, drowning out the rest of Tilly’s words. It was probably for the best anyway, she thought, as the announcements were rattled off. Her face was probably still red, and didn’t think that conversation would have helped much.

 

She didn’t really feel at ease until the bell rang, kind of expecting Taylor to bring up the subject again. Walking out the door of the building she could feel the tension ease, for one glorious moment, before she saw her mom’s car and it crashed down on her all over again.

 

Her mom was looking through her purse when Tilly sat down in the passenger seat. She didn’t bother to look up. After a second she sat the purse to the side, restarted the engine, and pulled out of the parking lot.

 

The tension was thick, worse than usual.

 

Ordinarily Tilly would be trying to fill in the quiet cold space with words, reporting sometimes mechanically, others haltingly, how her day went. Instead however, that day she let the silence be, worried that maybe her mom would notice her mentioning everything except for math. She sat there, enduring the nearly prickling lack of sound, and gripped her purse, thinking about the note from Mr. Burget inside. She’d planned on waiting until she got home and opening it herself, but if it had to be signed… Tilly gripped her purse tighter. She didn’t know what to do in that case. She had no clue when her dad would be home that evening, if he’d come in sometime around eight or nine or whatever weird hour he decided on, or if his car would already be in the driveway when they pulled up. She didn’t want to mention it to them at all, but maybe if her mom found out about it first she wouldn’t-

 

“How was school today?” Her mom asked, glancing over with clear suspicion hidden under the smile.

 

“It was okay,” she said lightly, smiling as brightly as possible. She stared out the window as she searched for something, anything, to be cheerful about, to mention now that words had been said.

 

Her mom nodded, while staring forward through the windshield, then added without facing Tilly, “You’re a terrible liar.”

 

“I’m not-"

 

“You’re always quiet when you don’t want to talk about something. Either that or just too happy.” Her mom tapped on the steering wheel, then said, nonchalantly, “This is the first, with a little bit of the second thrown in. So it must be bad.”

 

Tilly shrugged, feeling irritation rising up within her. It was the first time she’d gotten this much attention in what felt like months and it was when she wanted it least. “I’m just tired. Was a long day.”

 

“Better rest up. Modern dance is tonight.”

 

Tilly settled back in her seat, not saying anything, content to keep looking out the window.

 

“But that’s not it.”

 

Tilly twitched, barely holding back a grimace.

 

“Which class is it?” Her mom asked. “Or is it another student?”

 

Tilly could feel the tension leave as she exhaled, silently cheering. ”There’s a couple of girls. Nothing too bad. They’re just…” and Tilly waved her hands around in the air, as if trying to pull the words out with the gesture.

 

Her mom’s eyes narrowed. “Do we need to-"

 

“No!” Tilly turned sharply towards her mom, as memories of offices, angry adults, vengeful glances, and choruses of ‘taddle tail’ ( haunting despite how juvenile the stupid words were) rushed up on her. “It’s really not that bad- like really,” she continued. “We’re just not…” Tilly made a motion with her hands, “meshing. But it’s not a big deal.”

 

Her mom nodded. “Just let me know if it doesn’t get any better. Things can be dealt with.”

 

Tilly nodded, smiling grimly.

 

Thankfully, or maybe irritatingly, Tilly couldn’t decide, the conversation died off after that, with just a few random questions (do we need milk? What was the name of that movie on tv a few days ago?) lingering in the stilted flow of words. A few minutes later they were pulling up in the driveway and suddenly the air was too thick and everything felt too-sharp and Tilly found herself rushing through the door and up the stairs to her room.

 

She closed the door shut behind her, not quite a slam but with too much vehemence for it to be anything but. Her backpack dropped from her hands and she walked across the room and flopped down on the bed.

 

* * *

 

“So she just decided not to tell anyone about it?”

 

“Yeah, pretty much. She didn’t want to go to any of the friends she’d made, because she was a little afraid that, underneath it all, they felt the same way. That she didn’t really belong there. And as long as her mother wasn’t having issues she didn’t want to bring it up. So she kept quiet about it, and tried to deal with it herself.”

 

“Well that was Dumb.”

 

Tilly looked up from her still mostly untouched spaghetti. After a moment she nodded. “Yeah,” she said, “It was.”

 

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