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Episode 14 Part 52

By:  Lenady

“Hope didn’t know what to do. The tasks the elder had given her, they were…” And Tilly tapped her fingers slowly against her leg, searching for the word. “Antiquated I guess. Even if she would have had any frame of reference for them, they were things that probably even the people in the village weren’t aware of. They’d never had to deal with them themselves, since they’d been born there, as had their parents, and grandparents, and probably great-grandparents. It was doubtful that anyone had even seen the book in years. You see, the law was one of those things that just got lost with time, maybe not brought out once when a new family settled because they had relatives there, and then another time because this old woman wouldn’t be a threat, and was already making herself such a part of the community anyway, and then again because maybe the situation, maybe the weather or something, just wasn’t right, and then anther time because, well, they just forgot. And slowly the times they forgot outnumbered the times they remembered and really what was the point to this old ritual anyway? Things went just as well without it. Unfortunately for Hope though, it was still a law. Even if hardly anyone remembered it.”

 

Tilly looked up then and noticed the plate of spaghetti still sitting on the middle couch cushion. She nudged it towards Sanrook, who glanced down at it and then towards her, question dancing across her face. Tilly just nodded and nudged it again. Sanrook took it up readily and Tilly relaxed back against the couch, pulling her legs up onto the couch and claiming the middle cushion.

 

“So,” said Sanrook, in between bites. “What’s she gonna have to do, like go slay a wild beast, or throw a maiden into a volca-" And suddenly her eyes grew large and she sat up straighter, staring intently at Tilly. “Is she gonna throw Alison- oh my goodness!”

 

Tilly paused at that, soaking in Sanrook’s self interrupted exclamations, before the image began forming in her mind, pulling the corners of her mouth upwards into a grin. She reached up and covered her mouth, pulling downwards just slightly, because that image… she really shouldn’t be smiling at the idea of someone being melted with lava, but somehow she couldn’t help it. She shook her head and let her hand drop, finally done with fighting the reaction. “No. She doesn’t get to throw her in. That probably would’ve been great, but no. Um… something a little more tedious than ritual sacrifice. 

 

*          *          *

 

She’d been working on the ‘tome’ as she’d started calling it, for five days. So far she guessed she was maybe about an eight of the way through, despite the hours she’d spent with it over the weekend. Arguably, she still had a chance, she kept telling herself. Maybe some of the other sections wouldn’t be as bad as the one that had held her up Sunday afternoon. Maybe. She didn’t think her odds were looking that good though. Tilly leaned forward against the library table, resting her head against the math textbook. She had… well, too much of it left to do, and nine days left to do it. She had about three hours a night she could spend on homework, but if she cut down on her sleep then she could add in an extra hour or two, and arguably quite a bit of time the next weekend. She still had to do her regular homework though and that took maybe an hour a night, all according to what the subjects were. But there were bits of time she could steal during the day, so that might even things out. Still, with a completion rate of… she didn’t even want to think about it… and an accuracy rate of sucktastic. She closed her eyes, blocking out the stack of paper that had become her worst enemy. Holy cow she was screwed.

 

With her forehead still pressed firmly into the cool cover of the textbook she reached up and dug her fingertips into her scalp, pressing and pulling, threading her fingers through her hair and tugging at the roots. She liked to imagine it was doing some good, but she was probably past the point of effectiveness at that point.

 

“If you push any harder those are going to go straight through your brain.” The voice came from right beside her ear and she shot up, blinking as she tried to push through the fog that her mind had turned into. Erin chuckled and sat down beside her. “Either that or your head’s gonna explode considering how red your eyes are. Might wanna lay off either way. I know the janitor and as nice of a guy as he is I don’t think he’d go for cleaning up blood and brain matter.”

 

Tilly rubbed at her eyes and looked back down at the tome. “Kinda busy right now.”

 

“Yeah, giving yourself an aneurism for some reason. So’d you hear about lunch? Rumor has it their gonna start cutting down on portion sizes. The guys are-"

 

“The lunch ladies are gonna quit giving the guys triple servings of french fries you mean. And don’t you have anything better to do right now?”

 

“The normal amount of fries couldn’t feed my cat. And what, you mean not bug you? Haven’t you heard? It’s national bug your overworking friends day.

 

“Well, you’ve succeeded. Go bug someone else.” Tilly paused for a moment. “Aren’t you suppose to be in history?”

 

“Yeah, but I’ve been sent out on a mission,” Erin said, grinning.

 

“So go take care of your mission.” Tilly stared down at the question in front of her. It was the last one in a section that had been driving her nutty since the previous night.

 

“Mission already accomplished. Had to go deliver a box of stuff to English. But speaking of which, isn’t that where you’re suppose to be. And you get onto me about skipping.”

 

“Never said anything about skipping. And the class is reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Like literally reading today. And I did it in school last year, so I got to work on other stuff if I wanted. And I have other stuff to work on, so you need to-"

 

And he just laughed. He actually had the nerve to laugh and smile at her and tip his head to the side and actually sound curious when he asked, “What crawled up your butt and died?”

 

Tilly just shook her head and forced her eyes back down at her work. She was not going to get distracted. She was not going to get angry. She wasn’t. But all that day it had been one thing after another: losing her calculator, being late for school, forgetting an assignment for science and having to try to do a rush job that morning before it got taken up in class. Then she’d been too tense and distracted in dance and had managed to trip over herself at one point. And she hadn’t gotten nearly enough done on the stupid tome that weekend. What with dance practice and her mom interrupting her, cause how could Tilly ignore her mom when she was finally talking to her again, and the assignment she’d had to finish for English. But she’d gotten an extra hour to work on it and she’d been so lucky, but then this asshole had shown up, and he was looking at her again. Why didn’t he just leave her alone?

 

“Well, miss grumpyass it’s your lucky day cause-"

 

“Erin would you just shut up for-" And she realized she was digging her thumbnail into her eraser. A small chunk fell off and landed on her lap. She loosened her grip on the pencil and moved her hand, feeling the joints crack painfully. “I don’t have time today” she growled, “so you need to get out of my face.”

 

They stared at each other for a minute, and his smile was gone now, although she wasn’t sure when it slipped off. He shrugged then glanced down at her paper. “That’s wrong,” he said, pointing at last problem she’d managed to finish.

 

“But,” she said, staring at the problem and biting her lip. She’d spent fifteen minutes on that thing. “How’d you?”

 

He shrugged, “Easy to see when someone can’t add. That’s one’s wrong too,” he added,  pointing at another question. “That one too, and that one.” Then he looked up at her and smiled an entirely different smile than earlier. “Someone’s got some work to do.”

 

And all of a sudden Tilly couldn’t breath. Or she wouldn’t breath. Her throat was tight and hurting and Erin’s face was blurring and-

 

Tilly stood and grabbed her stuff up in her arms, not bothering to put anything back in her backpack, focused instead on getting out and keeping her head down so no one could see the way her lips were moving against her will, trembling no matter how much she tried to still them. She swiped at her burning eyes, wiping the wetness on pants as she walked out the door of the library just in time for the bell to ring.  

 

Then students were all around her. Other people crushing and bumping and being so so loud in that tiny hall. She kept her head down as much as she could and ignored the voice she vaguely realized was calling her name, somewhere behind her in the crowd. She somehow made it to the cafeteria before it caught up to her. And then she winced when the warm hand lightly latched onto her arm, because she was almost okay. She was finally gripping all those loose pieces of herself that were shattering apart and pulling them back so they were almost touching, but that touch threatened, like a club, to break everything apart again. She shook it off, wrenching her arm away, and she didn’t know if that felt like victory or defeat, but then she felt a slip, not down inside, but under her feet, or a foot rather, and for one sick agonizing moment nothing was holding her up and her body tensed subconsciously for the shock.

 

Then she was on the floor, on her back, and she couldn’t breath, but for an entirely different reason than before. And she was panicking, she knew she was as she fought with her own diaphragm to just let her breath. To fuction normally. Because couldn’t she ever be normal? Just for once? And then it felt as if something broke lose and air rushed in. And oh, air is something you never appreciate until it’s just not there anymore, but then when it is… She breathed in deeply, ignoring the sick twist of her gut and the wrenched pain in her shoulder. It was only then, that the rest of the world started to come back into focus. There were panicked faces gathered around her, asking her something, there were too many, but she waved them off with a shaking hand, sitting up. She pulled in another breath and focused on breathing and ignoring the laughing, ignoring the smears of pudding on her pants and shirt, ignoring all the eyes bearing down on her.

 

“I’m okay,” she said softly, shakily. She swallowed, and tried to keep her throat from tensing again, her mouth still and her eyes dry. But things were too quiet, and there were too many hands, on her shoulder and her back and-

 

“Hey Tilly,” Erin asked. And she turned her head towards him, and suddenly felt sick, because he was picking up he loose pieces of the ‘tome’, which had scattered all around. “What is all this stuff?”

 

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