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Episode 14 Part 58

By:  Lenady

This was not happening. It just wasn’t. Tilly face remained impassive as Lauren glanced back at the crowd of girls clustered around Alison, who looked panicked, hand wringing and anguished expression and all, which… Tilly didn’t completely get. It was her bag and she wasn’t freaking out like Alison was. Maybe she should have been.


“I mean,” Lauren said, breaking through the haze that seemed to have wrapped around Tilly. “I don’t know what happened.  A bunch of us came in a couple of minutes ago with Ms. Brown and they were already freaking out, so…”


Tilly could hear Ms. Brown speak soothingly to Alison as they made their way over. “Alison it’s okay, calm down,” she was saying, a hand placed on Alison’s shoulder. And Tilly felt just a little twitch at that, at the whole scene, before she could stop herself.


“Tilly,” Ms. Brown looked at her, “We’ve had a bit of a…” and she trailed off, looking pained. She shook her head. “Before we go further with this would you mind telling Alison you’re not…” and she stopped again, studying Tilly’s face with a puzzled frown, as if searching out the obvious and finding nothing instead  “Well you should be upset-"


“I’m not mad,” Tilly said, smiling slightly, although she didn’t know if she was actually telling the truth or not, and the smile never got higher than mid-cheek. Not that she’d have said she was mad anyway at that point, not with the way the entire team was clustered in a protective ring around Alison, but it seemed to be the right thing to say anyway, as the tension seemed to ease a bit out of the group. “Can we just...” Tilly motioned out towards the gym, sighing, “the longer-"


And Tilly really didn’t want to finish that thought, because her bag wasn’t missing. It had probably just fallen over in the bleachers or something and she didn’t really even want to consider the alternative. Thankfully she didn’t have much of an opportunity to anyway, as the moment she suggested getting started Ms. Brown perked up, gearing towards action, and interjected, “Of course,” and turned towards the other girls, determination gleaming in her eyes, “Okay. Let’s get to work. Don’t just cluster up either, well get things done better if you spread out a bit,” and the girls were going in about five different directions, none of them addressing Tilly.


She frowned, biting her cheek as she watched them walk away, a little confused, and a little hurt, and a little-


She turned towards Ms. Brown, who, to her credit, seemed as off put as she did. “I’m going to go look in the bleachers.”


“Good idea,” Ms. Brown said, her hand coming up to push a lock of hair behind her right ear. “I barely got any information out of them, so I don’t know if they’d already looked.”


Unfortunately for Tilly and her denial when she got to her spot on the bleachers nothing was there. She stood there for a moment, looking down at the seat, then walked calmly back down to where Ms Brown was still standing She didn’t know where the calm was coming from, because the bag wasn’t there and she really should be as panicky as Alison looked, but there was this odd sense of calm and she was gripping it tightly. Once it was gone she had no clue what would be on the other side.


“No sign of anything,” Tilly said, and that was such an obvious statement she could have hit herself, but she shrugged it off.


Ms. Brown just nodded and sat on the bottom bleacher. She was holding a yellow legal pad in her lap. She patted a spot next to her and smiled. “Why don’t you give me a full description Tilly. What your bag looks like, any distinguishing marks.”


“Kind of hard to miss, isn’t it?” said Cindy, with a laugh. “It’s like those ugly things the county kids use.” Tilly felt herself flush, hot and prickly and with the urge to pull her jacket up over her head and never pull it off again.


Ms. Brown frowned at Cindy, face tight. “Why don’t you go to the parking lot and look there. Take Lauren with you.”


Cindy made a face, but didn’t argue, turning on her heal and walking down the gym towards the parking lot entrance.


“Now,” Ms. Brown said with a sigh. She turned towards Tilly, raising her eyebrows and motioning with a nod for her to continue.


“Um,” Tilly said, “It’s kind of plain. Clear, with black straps. I’ve got a red binder that’s in it though, so that’s pretty visible.” And she rattled off as much as she could remember, afterwards listing off the content, anything that was recognizable hers. There wasn’t much. Most of her supplies were pretty generic. She typically tried not to carry stuff that would set her apart from the norm, or stuff that she was overly fond of.


“It’s here,” suddenly Eva yelled from across the gym as the locker room door swung open. She was holding up a bag with her arms stretched away from her as far as she possible could. Mrs. Brown and Tilly stood up and walked towards Eva.


“Where was it?” Ms. Brown asked her as Eva sat the bag down on the floor gingerly.


“The trashcan,” she replied, her lips and nose curled.


“Ugh,” someone else said behind them. Tilly didn’t pay any attention, and knelt down in front of the bag. The zipper was pretty messed up, but that didn’t really matter. She could probably thank whoever did that actually. She’d finally have an excuse to get rid of the thing… except… She frowned as she pushed through the books and papers. She pulled the books out and set them down on the floor, lips tightening as the familiar, hated, orange cover didn’t appear. She shuffled through the loose papers looking for any…


She breathed out, shoulders sagging, and put the books back in the backpack, then pulled the zipper up as much as she could. “Thanks,” she said, standing up.


“What’s wrong?” Lauren asked.


“Missing book,” Tilly said.


“Oh is that all?” Ms. Brown asked, shaking her head, “We can get you another. That’s not a problem at all. Now since that’s all cleared up let’s get on with practice. We can still get a bit of work in today I think.”


Tilly lifted the backpack and someone handed her a handful of paper towels from the bathroom. She nodded her thanks with a smile and turned towards the bleachers. Lauren, Tilly realized after a moment, trailed behind.


It was a moment before she said anything. “That wasn’t all, was it?” she asked, finally, as Tilly sat down on the cool plastic. Tilly looked up at her, uncertain, then shook her head, and then shrugged. ‘oh,’ she realized after a second, after Lauren had run back over to the group practicing on the mats, ‘so that’s what’s on the other side.’




*          *          *


Suddenly everything she’d done- all the cuts and rips and tears. None of it mattered.


Even if she could find everything on time there just wouldn’t be enough time to get everything finished. There just wouldn’t be. She was certain.


She stayed for a while and watched the other girls as usual and afterwards walked back towards the edge of the village. She walked as slowly as she could through the overhanging trees.


Then she heard Erin as he followed, running down the path towards her.


*          *          *


Maybe it wasn’t apathy after all, she mused. She didn’t know and really didn’t care for analyzing it much. At that moment she didn’t really care about anything.


All she knew was that it was dark and quiet and she wanted it to stay like that, but the phone was ringing obnoxiously, just a few inches away from her ears. She rolled over, pulling the pillow over her head. After a moment it stopped, leaving her in blissful silence for a moment, but then she heard footsteps on the stairs and a knock on the door.


“Tilly,” her mom said after a moment, then knocked again. “phone.”


Tilly pushed herself up and trudged over to the door. She opened it just enough to reach a hand out and grab the phone, muttering a quiet “thanks,” before closing it back with a soft click.




“Thought you were going to call?” Erin asked, sounding just a little irritated, but mostly curious.


“Didn’t see much point.”


“Ouch,” he hissed, “That hurt.”


“Why?” She muttered, “didn’t they tell you?”


“Yeah, but…”


“So what’s the point now?”


“Hey, hey. Okay, so I’m gonna go with ignoring the whole ‘being used for my awesome mathiness’ thing and just-"


“That’s not-" Tilly said and her voice cracked, and she had to fight down the urge to kick something, because she was not going to be betrayed by her own darn body. She swallowed, and cleared her throat, pushing down the urge to kick something. “I didn’t mean-"


“Yeah, I know. Don’t worry. Just trying to get a rise out of you. Figured maybe if…” and he sighed, “Look… we’ll keep looking okay. And dude, I know you said he was an ass, but Mr. Burget’s not that bad. Surely he’ll…” Erin paused. “Okay yeah. I don’t know, but… you can’t give up yet okay? There’s still time, you know? You can… You’ve been doing better right?”


Tilly nodded, and he couldn’t see her, so that really shouldn’t have told him anything, but Erin somehow got it anyway and continued on. “Yeah okay, so, if we can’t find it in a day or so you’ll ask him for an extension on the handout. But” he added after a second’s pause, “You’ll study the hell out of the current stuff and blow that test away. He wants proof that you can keep up, right? That’s what all this is about, right?” And the sudden passion in his voice took Tilly by surprise.  “Well, show him! Don’t just,” and he let out a breath, voice lowering down to normal levels. “God, don’t just lay over and die, okay?”


“I’m not.” Tilly said, flopping down onto the floor, her back pressed against bed railing.


“So what’s all this, huh? Cause all that sounded a heck of a lot like giving up.”


She sat there for a moment, uncertain what to say. Cause yeah, he was right.


“You know,” he said, tone low and even and still without his usual jokes, “if you ever want to talk it doesn’t have to be the math stuff. You can just call if you need to or if you’re just bored or-"


“Erin, you don’t hav-"


“It’s cool,” he interrupted, voice louder again, insistent. “I like talking to you,” and then with a laugh, “And you know me. I can’t keep my jaw from flapping so it’s good to have someone else’s ear to wear out.”


They both laughed at that, but Tilly’s felt forced, and wasn’t much comfort to either of them.


“Hey,” Erin soothed, “Don’t sweat it so much. We’ve got a plan. We’ve got something to do and you never know. It’s just some math book and worksheets. Who in the world would want that?”


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