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Episode 14 Part 48

By:  Lenady

If there was one constant in schools, she’d found over the years, it was that bleachers sucked. These at least, she thought as she shifted her weight, were plastic, molded with a rounding curve to the front instead of the wooden ones at her last school which had tended to cut into the back of her legs. These bleachers were like overstuffed couches in comparison. She still found herself squirming every now and then, although, she acknowledged, that probably had less to do with a physical lack of comfort than the awkwardness of being the lone observer amongst the close-knit group. Well, somewhat close-knit at least. In the past hour she’d already seen one argument and two backhanded compliments.

 

The squad was small, only about nine girls coming today, but out of those nine she knew maybe three. There were a few other girls she recognized, but only vaguely, mostly from noticing them in the hallway on game days, dressed in their warm up gear and ribbon tied ponytails. The only one that had met her hesitant smiles with anything other than indifference had been Lauren.

 

Perhaps it would have helped if Ms. Brown had said anything at the beginning of practice. She’d acknowledged Tilly when she came in, directing her to a spot on the bleachers near their practice location, but beyond that ignored her. Tilly’d assumed then that she’d already told the squad why she was here, but she had no real way of knowing. Lauren had glanced over excitedly when she’d walked in, but she hadn’t seemed surprised, just happy. Of course, Lauren always looked like that. It was as if someone had bottled glee and told her it was coke, then given her a free lifetime supply. It was almost impossible not to smile when Lauren was around, partially because her energy was just so infectious, and partially because you hated to be the one to make her stop smiling.

 

At least, Tilly thought, that was one smiling face though. It could have been worse. She could have been facing down a group of people she didn’t know, with Alison and her group being the only known variables. If she’d been facing that, Tilly didn’t know if she would have even agreed with Ms. Brown to sit in on practice at all.

 

“Okay girls, take five minutes, then we’ll work on the new routine,” she heard Ms. Brown say loudly. Tilly shifted her weight forward, about to stand when she noticed everyone walking towards the doors, without even a backwards glance to her. She was struck with a moment of indecision. Should she follow or stay where she was. It was only a five minute break. She swallowed. Although she was tired of looking antisocial it would be even worse to be ignored after seeking people out. She sat there for a moment, staring at the gym doors before she sighed and pulled her math book up onto her lap and opened it up to that day’s assignment.

 

Suddenly she heard the echoing sounds of footsteps walking up the bleachers. Lauren plopped down on the seat below her, sitting sideways. “What’s that?” she asked

 

Tilly, smiling, closed the book and curled around it slightly, resting her arms on the cover casually. “Just some homework. Wanted to get a head start on it while it was still fresh.”

 

Lauren nodded, “I think it’s easier if you can get it done when it’s still in your head. Mostly I get mine done in class. Better than waiting to do it when I get home.”

 

Tilly smiled, although she felt a little as if she’d bit down on something bitter and foul. She glanced over to the cluster of girls now standing in the gym doors. “There aren’t that many underclassman on the squad is there?”

 

Lauren leaned back, laying flat on the bleacher while her legs hung off the end. “Nope,” she said and she shrugged, “Got an off year I guess. Or off couple of years. Alison and Cindy are the only sophomores on the squad, and then there’s only a couple of freshman this year. It’ll pick back up,” she said, then added after a moment, “plus this way we can focus more on working together more. Really know each other and stuff.”

 

Tilly glanced over to the group by the doors again, remembering the argument from earlier. “I could see how that would be a good thing.”

 

She was still looking over towards the group when she felt Lauren poke her ankle.
“You always do that?”

 

Tilly glanced down at her, eyebrows raised.

 

“Zone out like that.”

 

“I don’t zone out,” Tilly replied, frowning.

 

“Uh, yeah,” Lauren replied. “You so do. We totally need to get you back in the land of the living, cause you,” she grinned, poking Tilly’s ankle again, “half of the time I see you it’s like you’re somewhere else. Speaking of,” she continued, grinning up at Tilly. “How long you gonna stay up here, instead of joining the fun down here with us?”

 

Tilly smiled in response, but wasn’t exactly certain about how to respond. It kind of depended on how much Ms. Brown had told them. She couldn’t really go sign up right off the bat, even if she wanted to. “Don’t know,” she finally said, honestly, “figured I’d see how things went first.”

 

“Matilda’s gonna be our resident wallflower for the next bit,” Alison said, walking up towards Lauren. “Right?” she asked, glancing at Tilly with a sickly sweet smile.

 

Tilly nodded. “I’ve got to wait a while before I can join anything.”

 

“Parents,” Lauren groaned. “Don’t you hate it when they do stuff like that? Mine were really strict up until last year.”

 

Tilly grimaced. “Actually-"

 

“You should see the uniform they wanted for the squad a few years ago. My sister was on it that year and oh my gosh it was horrible. You saw it Allie, how bad it was. Oh,” and then Lauren suddenly sat up and looked Tilly straight in the eyes with a curious gaze so intense Tilly had to blink. “How many of the girls have you met so far?”

 

“Just the cafeteria crowd. You and Alison and Cindy.”

 

“Yeah, I hate how lunch was split this year. Seems like I hardly ever see some people at all. At least last year we had an afternoon break. Come on,” Lauren said and grabbed Tilly’s arm, pulling her up off the bleachers and starting across the gym before Tilly even realized what was going on. “You’ve got to meet everyone and there’s only a few more minutes.” Tilly walked as fast as she could, but still ended up in a jog by the time they reached edge of the gym. “Everyone,” she said cheerfully. “This is Tilly.”

 

“Yeah, Lauren we know,” said one tall girl, who had been leading the conversation. Her smile was relaxed, but there was something in her eyes that made Tilly think she wasn’t happy about the interruption. “Ms. B. told us, remember?”

 

“Yeah,” Lauren replied, rolling her eyes, “but she doesn’t really know a lot of people yet, so I figured I’d introduce her in person.” Lauren’s smile, her entire body in fact, was just as bubbly as ever, but there was an edge to her voice,

 

The two stared at each other for a moment, the atmosphere charged, before the tall girl turned to face Tilly, “Nice to meet you. I’m Eva, squad captain.”

 

“Hi,” Tilly said, and inwardly rejoiced when it came out normal and not a squeaky whisper. “Tilly. Awkward new girl.” She felt herself relax when several of the girls smiled along with her. “The squad looks good. I really liked that last cheer.”

 

Eva smiled and nodded. “Good. We’re not that used to an audience during practice.”

 

“Tilly’s got problem parents too. They’ve got her stuck on the bleachers for now,” Lauren said.

 

Tilly bit her lip. Lauren was obviously trying to help, but… “That’s no-"

 

“Okay girls, that’s five minutes,” Ms. Brown yelled from the side, and the group, save for Lauren walked back without giving Tilly a second glance. Lauren watched them for a moment, before glancing back at Tilly, apologetic, and followed behind them.

 

Tilly sighed, leaning back against the frame of the door. She had a feeling that things were about to get much more difficult. 

 

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