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Episode 14 Part 46

By:  Lenady

She’d spent over an hour staring, interchangeably, at the math book and her wall by the time her mom yelled for her from downstairs. She had a few marks in her notebook, all half done problems aborted when Tilly had realized that a. she’d done something wrong, b. didn’t know what to do next, or c. a mixture of the two. At least she’d started those though, there was another section that she’d left completely untouched, not being really sure of even the first step to take.


The letters and numbers had just seemed to cluster together in some impenetrable code she had no hope of cracking. She didn’t know what frustrated her worse, not knowing at all or those moments when she thought she knew how all of it worked together, only to have it fall apart on her partway through, or when she suddenly lost that small spark, the epiphany, completely before it was even fully formed. At one point she’d finally slammed her book shut and curled into herself on the quilt, trying to ignore the growing ache between her eyes. She’d only shut them for a minute she’d thought, but the next time she’d opened them the light was different in her room, not approaching dark yet, but not the same warm afternoon glow as before either.


Then when she made her way downstairs the regular stony silence between her and her mother had been firmly resumed. Her mom had said “here,” as she’d handed her a bottle of water and some crackers and that had been it the entire trip back to the school. She wasn’t really surprised, but it didn’t help her feel much better.


But oh, dance that night felt heaven-sent.


It didn’t matter if her unfinished homework was looming over her like a wall cloud, or if Alison kept giving her sour looks. Her stress melted away, for that small time, as she focused her bare feet on the cool floor, the forces pulling her down and around, and the music both in the air and in the moving bodies around her.


She felt, by the end of class, like she could finally breathe again.


Thus the reason she really didn’t think much of it when Mrs. Brown called to her as she went to pick up her dance bag. “Tilly, can I see you for a minute.”


“Lauren said you were interested in joining spirit,” Mrs. Brown said when Tilly made her way over.


“I… yeah,” Tilly replied, nodding after a moment.


The smile blossomed across Mrs. Brown’s face.  “Good,” she said. “I’d hoped that was going to be the case when I saw you audition this summer. You’ve been taking dance classes how long?


Tilly blinked. “Um… early elementary. Third grade? It was a little sparse sometimes, but…”


The teacher shook her head, waving her hand dismissively. “Stop doing that. It’s a bad habit. You have the experience, so don't try to make less of it. Have a little confidence. Anyway, we could use a few more girls with a dance background. The school has a pretty intense ballet focus and those girls tend to leave the cheer program after a bit. Have you done any tumbling?”


“Um… yeah,” Tilly said, “A little. Nothing big. I can do cartwheels. Just the normal recess stuff.”


“That’s at least some, and it can be worked on. I’ve had girls come in who couldn’t do a forward roll and had them doing handsprings in no time.”


Tilly started to smile, but then her mind drifted to the math problems at home and her mouth went dry. “Actually, Mrs. Brown, I don’t know if-"


“Your math grade, right?” Mrs. Brown asked, crossing her arms.


Tilly felt the color leave her face with the mention.


“Mr. Burget came by to see us earlier.” Mrs. Brown said, her smile and voice suddenly gaining a little more bite. “He said you were having trouble catching up with the class?”


Tilly nodded hesitantly, noting the growing tension. 


“I’ll talk to him and we’ll figure something out.”


And Tilly felt a cold chill rush through her, uncertain if that’s what she’d really want after all. Perhaps spirit wasn’t such a good idea if it meant being in the center of the apparent animosity between her teachers. She started to say something, but then Mrs. brown continued on before she could even open her mouth.


“Now, as far as the squad goes, your probation means you can’t technically join extracurriculars your first semester, am I right?”


Tilly nodded, again, starting to feel a little like a bobble head.


“Right,” Mrs. Brown smiled a little more and lowered her voice just a little, conspiratorially. “Now, that may be the case, but I think we can work out something. I want you to start staying here after school. We do cheer practice right before the evening dance class begins. You won’t be joining, or anything of that nature, but you’ll get used to how practices go, see the routines, all that stuff, before you start next spring. That way they’ll be less of a learning curve for you later on.”


“Yeah,” Tilly said, but the trepidation must have shown on her face, because Mrs. Brown’s smile dipped just a little, and her brow furrowed in thought for a moment.


“I really think you’d be an asset Tilly. And we do perform in competitions, which would just help you in the long run.” She paused, studying Tilly’s face for a moment, then continued, “How about this. At least stay after school tomorrow and see how things go. Then you can think it over Friday and let me know what you’re thinking on Saturday. Sound good?”


“Yeah,” Tilly said, “That should be okay.”


“Okay?” Mrs. Brown asked cheerfully, getting another nod from Tilly, “We’ll see you tomorrow then, twenty minutes after school in the gym. Oh,” she said looking up, “Allison, I wanted to speak with you a minute too.” Then she turned to Tilly and smiled nodding a dismissal, “See you tomorrow.”


Tilly tried to ignore the look Alison shot her as she passed. She didn’t do so good of a job. As she walked out to the parking lot she felt a little in a daze. The occasional raindrop that hit her head and the overly cool wind chilling her bare arms had little effect on it.


“Everything go okay?” Her mom asked when she sat down in the passenger seat.


Tilly glanced over in surprise. The expression on her mom’s face was unreadable, but certainly better than the indifference that had become standard recently. She stared for a moment before she realized what she was doing and looked away, biting her lip. The heat was on, blowing a dry dusty warmth out of the vents, she noticed. It made the goosebumps on her arms feel more pronounced, while adding a little drowsiness to war with her surprise. “Yeah. It was fun,” she said, reaching her fingers out towards the warm air for a moment before adding, “How ‘bout you? Do anything interesting?”


Her mom sat quietly, gripping the steering wheel a little to tightly, then shook her head. “Just worked on dinner.”


Tilly nodded, and then leaned back against the headrest, searching for something to say and coming up empty handed. Her fingers lowered to her side again, tapped against the velvety fabric of the seat, in rhythm with the occasional loud pit pat of intermittent raindrops. The silence was starting to stretch tightly and she could already feel the brief warmth from the exchange drifting away. She raced after it, grasping at it with the only thing she could think of.


“Mrs. Brown, you met her this summer, when I had my audition?” she said, quickly, “she- well she and some other people, they want me to try for cheer.”


And her mom turned her head around at that, a light coming on in her eyes, directed at her for probably the first time in more than a year. It caught Tilly off guard and she was left with her mouth gaping open for a moment, before she thought and closed it. Swallowed. “I don’t know if I’m going to or not,” Tilly said, “I mean, I’ve already got other stuff, but,” she licked her lips and pressed forward, “but it sounds like it would be fun and there’s some girls on the team who are pretty nice that I talk to at lunch, and…”


“Have I ever told you about my college squad?”


Tilly turned back towards her mom’s growing smile. She shook her head. “No,” she said, hesitantly, but with a small smile of her own.


“We were crazy. There was this one time-" Her mom began and Tilly felt a part of herself unwind that she hadn’t even realized was tight. The conversation lasted the entire trip back and a little after, full of words and smiles and laughs. And despite that, no she realized, because of that, Tilly felt a growing sense of dread, because she knew, even if the next day went horribly, she’d be going out for spirit squad.


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