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Episode 14 Part 60

By:  Lenady

“You’ve gotta’ slow down.” Erin was frowning down at Tilly’s practice test, practically buzzing with frustration, with a pencil gripped tight and hovering over the page.


“If I do that I won’t have time to get anything done,” Tilly sighed, leaning back in the library chair, wincing as her spine popped a few times as she stretched her shoulders back over the top of it. When she pulled herself back Erin was marking an X out beside a problem and writing a quick note to the side. There were a lot of X’s.


“What’s gonna be better?  A bunch that are wrong or less that are right.”


Tilly sat forward, putting her head down on the table. “You know, as accurate as that statement is, I don’t think that’s what you meant.”


Erin looked up, confused. “Huh?”


“The way that came out makes me sound pretty much hopeless.”


Erin rolled his eyes. “You can lecture me about English all you want after we get your test taken. And if you don’t stop talking like that you’re going to start to believe it.”


“Already do,” Tilly said, yawning. “I don’t think we’re talking big news here.”


“Yeah, well it’s not going to do you any good, so you need to cut it out. Now.” He looked back down at the paper again, frowning. “You do have a point though.”


Tilly blinked and sat up, a rush of anger and embarrassment flooding her system. “Excuse me?”


Erin didn’t seem to notice. “You need to speed up a little. Not like this. This was just plain rushing.” He tapped the eraser on the desk a few times, staring down at the paper, then added, “You got sloppy,” and marked off another problem. “What is it with you and systems of equations anyway?” He mumbled, almost to himself. “What they ever do to you?”


“Do I even have to answer that?” Tilly asked, with a look of disgust.


Erin waved his hands, dismissively. “Overall you just really need to work on… everything.”


“Thanks for you vote of confidence,” Tilly grumbled.


“What is with you today?” Erin shook his head. “I was just saying you need to work on both speed and accuracy. You’re getting better but-" and he stopped himself, blanching. “I thought you had these.”


Tilly sighed, rubbing her eyes.


“No, really,” Erin said, pointing at the paper in horror. “I mean, here,” he pointed out a line of problems without marks, “you did these just fine. But then these- They’re nearly the same. There’s only a tiny little difference right here, really, that’s not something we should have to go-" He studied the papers and dragged a hand through his hair, “And how did you-"


Tilly jerked the papers out of his hands before he could grimace again. “You know what? Okay, I get it. It sucks.”


He reached towards her and grabbed the papers, face tight, “Would you stop that?”


Tilly tugged back. “Well maybe if you’d stop acting like I was eviscerating small animals every time you see a mistake-"


And then a figure was looming over them. They both looked up, still firmly grasping the practice test. The librarian stared down at them, her normally gentle demeanor turned icy. “While I’m glad to see the study lab so well utilized, this is a quiet zone. You’re going to have to keep the volume in check,” she said, with the sweetest tone imaginable, which only made her more frightening.


Tilly let go of the papers and heard herself say, “sorry,” in a small voice, sliding down into the seat, her face flushing.


“Not a problem Mrs. Brooks,” Erin said.


She nodded tightly and walked away.


Tilly turned towards the tab and curled herself around her papers as well as she could, tightly wound. She stared down at the practice test, without really seeing it at all.


“Careful,” Erin said, after a moment, with a sigh, “You’re gonna burn a hole in it.”


She looked up at him, her glare withering.


“Hey. Don’t point that up here. Not a fan of bursting into flames.” He sighed. “What is it with you and teachers sometimes?”


Her glare continues, daring him to ask another stupid question.


“Okay, okay.” He held his hands up in surrender, and then pulled the paper back over towards himself. He studied them for a moment before pushing it back over towards her. “You know, maybe a break…”


Tilly nodded. “Yeah, that’s…” she paused, suddenly feeling drained in the worst way possible. “Yeah.”


“Okay,” Erin said, standing up beside the table. “Then meet you back here in…” He glanced down at his watch, “five?”


“You’re kidding right?” Tilly asked, not able to keep that little bit of whine out of her tone. “My brain feels like melted jello salad. Fifteen.”


“We’ve still got a bunch to get done and that’s not going to happen if we take all our time with bathroom breaks.”


“We’ve been sitting here for an hour and a half. I think we can spare fifteen minutes.”


Erin crossed his arms, “Ten and if you’re not back by then we’re doing drills.”


“Drills?” Tilly blanched.


“Yeah, Miss 85 mph in a 45 zone. If you’re gonna fly through the work I’m gonna make sure you at least get half of it right. So, drills.”


Tilly’s nose curled in distaste. “Yeah, see you in ten.”


“Hey,” he said, as Tilly picked up her purse. “I think I’m being very generous, so don’t go calling me a task-master anymore. I am a fair and just-"


“Dictator,” Tilly said over her shoulder as she walked towards the exit, smiling despite her own comment.


She sidestepped a couple of guys as they opened the door, and stepped out into the hall, squinting against the difference between the lower light of the library and the bright fluorescents of the hallway. Her head ached, a problem she’d been having over the past few days and against which no amount of pressing or rubbing seemed to make any difference.  


Things hadn’t necessarily improved in Mr. Burget’s class. She finally understood the current lessons, well, mostly at least, but to a degree the rest of the situation was worse. He’d been surprisingly understanding when she explained the situation to him, with Ms. Brown standing, a confident presence, at her shoulder. He’d made a face, but after a moment had told her that if her things didn’t turn up within a week then he’d print her off a new copy. Then he’d smiled and let her know he’d be upping the amount of pages, since he’d assumed she’d already worked her way through a good part of the work, and now understood fully how to do it. Unfortunately, that was the best she could hope for. If somehow the papers did turn up within the next week she’d still have the same deadline. She’d just nodded and gotten to work on studying for the next test, as well as going over the material in the previous chapters. She was staying up every night, meeting with Erin at the library, and pretty much taking any opportunity to go over the work, but even with all the effort it still felt as if she were spinning her wheels.


She was reaching for the bathroom door when laughter drew her out of her thoughts. Alison’s voice danced out of the partially-open doorway. “I swear it’s so stupid. Can you believe she’s still looking for it?”


No names had been mentioned. Alison could have been talking about any other girl in the school, or outside of school for that matter, but it still took Tilly aback, and she leaned against the wall, a few inches from the bathroom door.


“I mean seriously. As if anyone’s gonna turn that thing in. Made sure of that.”


“Well it serves her right. Really it does,” Tilly heard someone else say. “She’s been a pain since she got here.”


Alison hummed. “Don’t even know why Erin brought her over. Ever since she’s been an utter leech. And if I have to hear one more thing from Mrs. Brown about healthy competition I’m going to-"


It was at that point that they walked out the door, turning towards Tilly, surprise in more than a few eyes.


Alison smiled sweetly. “Tilly,” she greeted, then frowned, “Has your book turned up anywhere? Still looking?”


Tilly returned the sugary smile. “Alison,” she said, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”


“About what?” One of the girls asked.


Alison tilted her head to the side. “What the matter, Tilly?”


Tilly frowned at her. Maybe she was wrong. She really really wanted to be wrong. “Just,” she started, nervousness making her palms sweat, “I just need to talk to you a minute.”


After a moment Alison motioned for the other girls to move on. “I’ll see you in a few minutes.” Alison walked back into the bathroom with Tilly following behind.


Tilly leaned her hip against a sink, clutching the strap of her purse. “I think you might know more about my stuff than you’re letting on.”


Alison laughed, crossing her arms. “Yeah?”


Tilly winced, glancing down at the drain in the middle of the floor for a moment. “I mean-" But then Tilly glanced up, and there was something about Alison’s expression… The mask had came off, Tilly realized, and she shifted her own posture, straitening and tightening with weeks of pent up anger and frustration.  “Where is it Alison?” Tilly asked bluntly.


“Where’s what?” Alison asked, mock confusion written all over her face, and then, before Tilly could even blink, the act was completely gone. Alison smiled.


“Give it back.”


“Give it back,” Alison said, nasily, and suddenly any doubts Tilly’d had were gone. “Why should I?”


“Cause if you don’t I’ll-"


And Alison just laughed again. “You’ll what? Tell on me?” And then Alison stopped laughing and looked at Tilly for a minute, her eyebrows raising. “Really? That’s so fifth grade.” Then she shook her head, her face pinched with a rising anger of her own. “Okay, you know, I’m just going to go ahead and say it. Who are they going to believe? I’ve been here… three years now, and they’ve known you a few weeks. These are my friends you’re talking about here, remember? My team, my coach, my teachers.” Then she relaxed again, and smiled. “Not looking so good at this point is it?  Also, you don’t have proof” she said, putting emphasis on each word in turn. “So… you can try it. But I don’t think it will turn out all that well.” And with that Alison brushed past her, turning her head as she walked out the door, smiling. “Good luck.”


Tilly just stared at the door, then waited a moment to give enough time between her and Alison, and walked back towards the library, a storm raging in her head. She sat down in her chair and stared down at her paper.


It was a few minutes before Erin walked back in. He frowned. “You’re early”


Tilly shrugged, planting on a smile, then after a second let it drop. “What’s-" she paused, trying to figure out the best way around the question. “What do you think about Alison?”


“Alison? Why?” Erin asked, nonchalantly, but he glanced down, a little hint of red dusting his cheeks, and Tilly felt a little part of her wilt. ‘Well’, she thought, ‘that answers that easily enough.’


Tilly shook her head. “Don’t worry about it.”


He pushed the practice test away from her. “Yeah, no. Out with it.”


Tilly wanted to hit him. She shrugged instead, “Just. I think she might-" and she looked up at Erin for a minute, then looking down at her papers, thinking about outcomes and ramifications, and all sorts of embarrassing, depressing scenarios. She sighed. “I don’t think she likes me very much.”


Erin raised an eyebrow. “That’s it? You’re upset because Alison doesn’t like you?”


Tilly could feel the frustration rising up, making her clench her jaw, and her fist and- “You were the one who was talking about giving people a chance. Maybe I just-"


He sighed. “Alison’s Alison. Don’t get so worked up over it.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what you did to get on her bad side but…” and he laughed. “Don’t sweat it so much. She can be hard to approach sometimes, but she’s really nice, and confident, and-" and he had a far off expression for just a minute, before coming back to earth, “and lots of things you could pick up from being around her-”


Tilly winced, and he rushed forward, “Not saying you’re not nice or stuff, or that- God, that came out all wrong.” He tugged a hand through his hair. “Just- keep trying. She can be a really good friend, any of us could tell you that, and-" And he sighed. “And yeah, you’re right. Don’t write her off.”


Tilly nodded, pulling the paper over towards her. “Okay, so you were saying about this group up here?” She pointed at the questions that had made him nearly erupt earlier, thoroughly ready to make him just as miserable as herself.


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