Some time passed.
Let's not talk about how much.
You were patient and understanding, and now here it is...The next instalment of BLAME.
Friendly reminder that this story comes with a TRIGGER WARNING. Please stay safe.
If you need to get caught up, you can do it here.
Happy reading. Xo
“Autumn Matthews,” she says, shifting uncomfortably on her feet. The woman behind the counter taps on her keyboard, peering over her turquoise rimmed glasses at the screen.
“Oh, now I see you,” the woman says, smiling. “You just transferred in from Minneapolis, right?”
Autumn nods, reading the signs pinned to the boards above the woman’s head. One of them is for a driving school and she drops her gaze, focusing on the disarray on the woman’s desk instead.
“Here you are,” the woman says, standing and walking towards the back of the room. A piece of paper is spat out of the printer and she takes it, returning to the counter. “Your class schedule. You’ve got quite a few advanced courses there! You’ll be busy!”
Autumn nods numbly, taking the sheet from her. “Thanks,” she says quietly.
“You’re most welcome,” the woman says, sitting down. “There’s a map on the back of your schedule, but you just come right on back if you have any trouble finding your classes. Welcome to Washington High.”
Autumn gives the woman a weak smile and turns to face the brightly lit hallway that waits on the other side of the glass doors. She takes a deep breath and exits the office, keeping her gaze firmly fixed in front of her as she trudges through the sea of unfamiliar faces. The students around her seem to blur into one nameless, shapeless monster and she holds her breath, trying to stay above the wave of anxiety that is threatening to consume her. She paces through the corridors endlessly, searching for her first class. Everyone seems to be staring at her and she adjusts her sweater nervously, pulling the sleeves down and curling her fingers around the bottom of the material. Eventually she comes across the required room and she stumbles inside, feeling dazed and anxious. Her stomach twists and she glances at the teacher, who is writing on the board with his back to the students.
“Hello,” the teacher says pleasantly, turning to face her. “You must be Autumn Matthews. I’m Mr Harrison. Welcome to AP Calculus. There’s a spare desk at the back if you want to take a seat; we’re about to get started.”
She nods and shuffles towards the back of the room, sitting down in the vacant seat and dropping her backpack onto the ground beside her. The noise causes a few students to turn towards her and she cringes, pretending to be absorbed in searching for her notebook in her bag.
“So,” says Mr Harrison from the front of the room, “for the next few weeks we’re going to be working on limits. Can anyone tell me what a limit is?”
Several hands shoot into the air and she tunes out, doodling on the cover of her notebook instead. She knows what limits are. There had been a test on limits on That Day, before That Day became That Day. She’d gotten a perfect score. She swallows, chewing the inside of her lip and concentrating on the interconnected series of circles she is drawing. Her mind insistently strays towards the things she is forbidden to think about and she bites her lip harder, pressing her teeth into her flesh. Her hand trembles, missing one of the circles and ruining the design.
“That’s pretty cool.”
She looks up, surprised to find the girl sitting next to her staring at her notebook.
“Are you an artist?” the girl asks, tracing the pattern with her eyes.
Autumn shakes her head. “It’s just a doodle.” She puts down her pen and self-consciously curls her fingers over the ends of her sleeves.
“Well, it looks cool,” the girls says, smiling. “I’m Mya. You just moved here, right?”
She nods, looking down at her notebook. “Yeah. I’m Autumn.”
“Autumn…That’s a very cool name. Were you born in Autumn?”
She cringes. She hates this question. “No, I was born in spring, but my m…” She hesitates, unable to say the word. “…Parents thought that Spring was a silly name.”
The girl laughs, catching the attention of Mr Harrison.
“I’m sorry, Miss Bradford; I didn’t realise that limits were funny. Please, share the joke with the rest of the class so that we can all enjoy the humour.” He raises an eyebrow and waits, folding his arms. Mya blushes and drops her gaze, staring at fluffy pink pom-pom stuck to the end of her pen.
“Sorry, Mr Harrison,” she mumbles, avoiding the amused stares of the people around her. Mr Harrison clears his throat and returns his focus to the board.
“Sorry,” Mya whispers, glancing at Autumn. “Don’t want to get you in trouble on your first day.”
Autumn gives her half a smile before picking up her pen and concentrating on balancing her now lopsided doodle. After a few more minutes of explaining the task Mr Harrison writes some page numbers on the board and the students open their textbooks, starting the activity.
“Here,” Mya says, pushing her textbook towards Autumn. “You can share with me.”
Autumn smiles gratefully, opening her notebook and ruling up her page. She completes the set questions with ease, finishing well before the end of the lesson. She looks around at all the students still working and closes her notebook, returning to drawing on the cover. The predictable pattern of the circles helps to keep her mind occupied and she allows herself to go numb, shutting out everything else around her. It takes her a few minutes to realise that Mr Harrison is standing over her, staring at her sketch disapprovingly.
“That doesn’t look like the task I set.” He narrows his eyes and folds his arms across his chest.
Autumn blushes, dropping her pen. “I’ve finished the task,” she says quietly, looking up at him. He looks mildly surprised.
She nods, opening her notebook and handing it to him. He takes it, scanning it for a moment before returning it to her.
“You’ve done limits before?”
She nods again, keeping her eyes on the textbook in front of her.
“Well then. I might see if I can rustle up some extension questions for you.” He smiles like he’s giving her a gift and continues walking through the rows of chairs, checking on the progress of the other students. She releases a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding and sinks further into her chair, wishing for the day to be over already. Mya flashes her a sympathetic smile.
“You should never let the teachers know when you’re done,” she whispers, glancing at Mr Harrison. “That just makes them find you something harder to do.”
Autumn smiles weakly and puts her hands underneath her desk. She surreptitiously slides her right hand into the left sleeve of her sweater and curls her fingers around the stiff gauze wrapped around her forearm. She squeezes, increasing the pressure until she feels her flesh shift and tear under the protective material. Mr Harrison returns with a sheet of paper.
“See how you go with these,” he says, smiling at her. “They are slightly harder than the examples in the textbook, so give me a shout if you need help.”
She nods, removing her hand from her sleeve and reaching for the sheet. She stares at the examples on the page, struggling to read them as the room sways gently around her. She feels a twinge of panic but she tries to ignore it, chalking her light-headedness up to the fact that she didn’t really eat breakfast. Or dinner the night before, for that matter. She takes a steadying breath in and picks up her pen, concentrating on the first question. She tells herself that she can do this. She can make it through the day. She is an action figure, limited edition in mint condition.
She is untouchable.