Keep Me Still

By: Caisey Quinn

I try not to live in the past. But sometimes the past lives in me.

-James Ford

I can feel them watching me. Warily. Wondering if something will happen that will cause me to snap like before. Some of the looks say they pity me, a few are intrigued, and the rest try to pretend I don’t exist because they don’t want to think about it. About how one second things can be perfectly normal and the next it can all be torn to shreds. Destroyed, ripped apart, and broken. Like me.

The hallway is crowded but no one bumps or brushes against me. An overstuffed backpack barely grazes me, and it’s the closest I’ve come to physical contact in years. This time last year, the steady hum of voices and shouts would have caused me to crawl inside myself and hide, but I can handle it now. I work on my deep breathing like Dr. McCalla taught me and it helps.

Even though I’ve made it through the first two weeks of my senior year without a single incident, everyone still avoids me. No one wants to accept that they have no control whatsoever and tomorrow they could be walking down these halls just like me. Stared at like a ticking time bomb about to blow. Or ignored completely.

What they don’t realize is I’m fine now. Mostly.

I raise my hand twice in Physics and Dr. Anders looks right through me both times. Even though I’m in the front row. Same thing happens with Mrs. Tatum in English. And Dr. Sands in Calc.

Maybe I should hold up a sign. I’M OKAY NOW FOR FUCK’S SAKE!

Then they couldn’t ignore me. Whatever. I promised Aunt Kate I would try, and try I did. For two long and painful weeks. I’m over it. On Monday I’ll sit in the back and sink down into myself like before. I’m invisible anyways.

“You’re not really wearing that?” my aunt asks as I pull the dark hoodie over my jeans. “For God’s sakes, Layla. It’s eighty-five degrees outside.”

I sigh and pull it back off, not really wanting to argue this early in the morning. And especially not with Aunt Kate. She’s tried so hard to help me. She’s been patient and supportive, and I know she spent a ton of money on designer clothes for my return to school. I’d get a job so I could pay her back but she’d just have to drive me to it. I know she wants me to be happy more than she wants money. Not much I can do for her in that department either.

Who knew trying to convince everyone you’re normal could be so freaking exhausting?

“Fine,” I tell her as I pull on a green short-sleeved plaid button-up over my black tank top instead. “Better?” I ask.

“Much,” she says with a smile and hands me a cup of black coffee. “Maybe put some eye makeup on. You look a little tired.”

“Thanks. You look fabulous today by the way, as usual,” I call out to her back as she and her designer suit and perfect raven-colored up-do saunter down the hall. Leaning over to glance in the full-length mirror propped against my closet door, I see that she’s right. I look tired. Probably because I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since I was thirteen. I scrub a hand over my face and look around for some eyeliner.

Poor Aunt Kate. She just doesn’t get it. It wouldn’t matter if I spent all morning getting ready, putting on makeup, straightening my hair, and picking out the right outfit. I could probably strut down the hall in my underwear and it wouldn’t make a difference. The image almost makes me giggle. And cringe. The last two weeks were hell. And here I was about to do it all over again. How did I get this far-gone?

“It’s just for a year,” my mom says, like that makes it better.

“Yeah, just my senior year. No big, right?” I feel a little guilty smart-mouthing her when I know it isn’t her fault. The sadness in her eyes keeps me from any further bitching I had planned. Taking the plate she hands me, I wrap it in newspaper before lowering into the nearly full box.

“Hope Springs is nice. It’s gorgeous actually. You’ll like it.”

“Yeah, I’m sure I will,” I mumble as I close up the box, folding the sides in to keep it closed without tape. “And if I don’t, I can always drop out and become a professional mover.”

“Landen,” she sighs, putting the bowl she’s holding down. My mom winces, and I lean over to hug her tiny frame. Lately she seems to be shrinking. At six feet, I’m average size for most guys, but she’s barely five feet tall. I don’t even hug her too tightly for fear I might break her. “Promise me, no more fighting when we get to Hope Springs. You’re eighteen now and—”

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