Author's Note: See part 1 for disclaimers and notes. This is part 4/4.
Feedback: Please! I'd really like to know what you think.
I follow Maria to a table in the lunchroom. Part of me is almost grateful Isabel bumped into me. That rush of pain provided a focus of sorts. It anchored me, for the time being at least, in the here and now. I need that.
I slide into a seat at a table and close my eyes. I hadn't realized how much of a struggle the morning had been until this break. My fingers press to my temples, rubbing in circles.
A hand touches my arm. "Are you ok?" It's Maria; the concern in her voice is evident.
"I'm fine, just a little, uh, tired." It's mostly the truth. I'm tired of trying to separate the present from the past. Tired of trying to remember what is real and what isn't. I thought I could escape that by coming to school. I was wrong.
When I was in the hospital, I wanted to go home. Staring at the white walls, all I could do was relive the memories in my head. When I got home, I wanted to go to school because everywhere I looked, I saw reminders of what had happened. And what hadn't.
Now I'm in school, and there isn't anywhere left to go. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to escape the memories. Somehow, I need to face them, once and for all, or I'll spend my future fighting a past that doesn't exist.
Maria interrupts my thoughts. "Do you want to leave early?"
Oh, no. I'd forgotten how nurturing Maria could be. By telling her I was tired, I've aroused her protective instincts. I open my eyes and cover her hand with mine. "I'm fine, Maria. I'm sure I'll perk up after I get some food in me."
"Then at least have a little whiff of this." Maria thrusts a vial under my nose; my eyes cross as I try to read the label. I can't. She waves the vial below my nostrils and I don't really have a choice about "having a little whiff." Cypress oil. Known for its restorative, as well as antiseptic and astringent properties. Maria and I have been friends for a *long* time; you pick things up. The oil has helped before. I inhale its familiar spicy-sweet scent.
"Thanks." As I unwrap my sandwich, I wonder what little vial she would offer me if I told her about my extra memories. Rosemary oil works as a memory aid. But I don't want an aid; I want something to make them go away.
Alex slides into an empty seat at the table. I smile at him. This is why I want to find a way to stay in the present. I want to enjoy the presence of a friend I had thought lost forever. I want to eat lunch like normal kids, like we did freshman year. I want to stop this double vision I have.
I was doing okay when I walked into geometry class this morning. Took an empty seat and prepared to take notes. Right triangles, equilateral triangles, isosceles triangles. And then I heard Topolsky's voice.
"And we know that the sum of A, B, and C equals 360 degrees."
My knuckles tightened on the desk; I didn't dare look up. I couldn't breathe. Couldn't think. I forced myself to fight that reaction. Topolsky wasn't there. She was dead, killed by Pierce and the Special Unit. We didn't need to worry about her. I needed to pull myself together.
At the sound of my name, I cautiously raised my head. A man was looking at me with concern. I searched for a name. Mr. Singer, the geometry teacher. The rest of the class was staring at me, too.
"Are you ok?"
I nodded slowly, searching for my voice. "Yes," I rasped out. "Just a little twinge of pain."
I made it through the rest of the class with no further unpleasant side effects. I could only hope my next class would be better.
I didn't totally lose myself like that in my other morning classes, but there were reminders. Like the star charts and space photos that decorated the walls of Mr. Seligman's astronomy class. My stomach clenched as I remembered racing through the stars in Max's kiss.
When lunch ends, I walk slowly down the hall toward biology class. After what happened this morning, I'm scared. Actually, I'm beyond scared. Max and I were partners here. I wonder who my lab partner will be this time. How will I manage if it's not Max? How will I manage if it is?
I stall until the bell rings then slip through the door. My eyes scan the tables. I see his dark hair -- next to someone else. Disappointment rips through me, but I know it's for the best.
The teacher looks up from her desk and spots me lingering by the door. "Liz Parker?" Heads swivel around. I think Max looks at me; I look away, just in case.
I nod. I've been doing that a lot lately.
"Glad to see you back on your feet. Go ahead and take one of the empty seats; I'll assign you a lab partner later."
I take the farthest seat from Max Evans that I can find. Maybe distance will help.
I only lose focus once in biology. And only for a brief moment. I know it's happening and I try to stop it. I brush my hand over my side, feeling the bandage. I press a little harder, triggering a flare of pain. I'm back in the here and now. I hope this doesn't become a habit; I don't know what I'll do after I heal.
The bell rings and I gather my books.
"Liz?" The teacher calls my name. "Would you stick around for a moment? You, too, Max."
My palms start to sweat as I grab my backpack and approach her desk. What's going on? Why does she want to see both of us?
"Liz, you've missed three labs so far. I don't want to rush you, but I also don't want you to fall too far behind. Our first one, looking at the differences between species, is pretty easy. And short. Are you up to staying after school today to make it up?"
"Yes." The word whooshes out of my lungs as I try to process this.
"And, Max. You missed that lab as well. Can you stay today?"
I let my hair fall forward and peek through the curtain. He hesitates, then nods.
Why did he hesitate? What does it mean? I don't have time to ponder because she adds, "Great, I'll see you both later this afternoon. Now you'd better hurry, you don't want to be late for your next class."
Maria is waiting for me as I leave the classroom. "What's up?"
"I have to stay after school to make up a lab."
"Oh, ok." Maria starts to walk on, then stops. "I can't stick around to give you a ride home, Liz. I have to work after school."
"That's all right. I'll see if Kyle can give me a ride home after football practice."
Maria nods and turns into our next class. We slip into our seats just as the bell rings.
Having something new to worry about helps me survive the rest of my classes. If nothing else, today I've learned that worry and pain can help me focus on the here and now. Sounds really healthy. I need to find better answers.
Kyle agrees to give me a ride home. He gives me a careful hug before he heads to practice. For the moment it feels good to be in his arms, safe and sound. I wonder if maybe I should reconsider my plan to break up with him. Preoccupied with my relationship with Kyle, I'm a little less nervous as I approach biology this time.
Max is already there, seated at a lab station covered with a microscope and other equipment. He's got a pencil dangling from his lips and his fingers are tapping on the desk. I gingerly take the stool next to him. I don't know what to say. What if I say something stupid? What if I start babbling about aliens?
He breaks the silence. "Hi."
"Hi." That's pretty safe.
"How are you, uh, you know, feeling?"
I miss you like crazy. "Better than I was a couple weeks ago."
He laughs a little and my heart races. Why couldn't he have healed me? Why did the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me have to not happen?
Afraid I might throw myself into his arms, I force my thoughts back to Kyle and whether I want to stay with him or not. I start doodling on my notebook. Fortunately, the biology teacher arrives before I finish. I'm not sure whose initials I would've entwined with mine in the heart I drew.
"Great, you're both here. This lab is relatively simple." She hands us each a Xeroxed packet. "I think it's pretty self-explanatory. I'm going to the office, but I'll check in to see if you have any questions. Okay?"
Max and I both agree, and she leaves the room. I read over the first page; it's covered with a diagram of a cell and its parts.
We work in near silence, looking at ready-made slides and slivers of onion cells we prepare ourselves. Easy enough. The next part of the lab requires us to scrape our cheek and look at our own cells.
"I've got to use the bathroom. Can you start this one? I'll be right back." Without waiting for an answer, Max is off his stool and striding out of the room.
A feeling of déjà vu washes over me as I watch him walk away. When I turn back to the lab table, I see his pencil lying there.
My breath catches in my throat. Do I dare? How can I not?
I want to know if I'm slowly driving myself crazy. I want to know where these memories came from. I just want to know. Maybe then I can focus on the future. Any future. My future.
I pick up his pencil carefully, sliding a toothpick over the bite marks. I prepare the slide, following the instructions in the manual exactly.
I place the slide on the microscope stage and lower my eyes to the eyepieces. My hand reaches for the knob. I turn it ever so slowly. Focus focus .
Perchance: 1 - Awakening / 2 - Time / 3 - Strangers / 4 - Focus
|DC Slash||Harry Potter||Ros. Hetero||Ros. Slash||Ros. Other|