You rest your head against the bus window, briefly closing your eyes. The jolts and bumps making your jaw rattle aren't enough to distract you. The cool glass doesn't help, either. You can't stop thinking about the day.
Like usual, you arrive late. Mr. Vincent is halfway through the roll so, of course, you've missed your name. Everyone laughs as you rush in, red-faced from both running and embarrassment. Desperately looking round for somewhere to sit, you notice with a sinking feeling that all the seats are taken except on Edward's table. You'll have to sit next to him. This isn't new, but you can't help yourself hoping every day that maybe Kyle will have left you a space, or Harrison. Aren't they your friends, after all?
No, says a voice inside you. You want them to be your friends, but they don't want to be yours. No-one wants to be your friend.
Except Edward, of course. Edward wants to be friends with everyone. He beams at you in the way he always does, and honks "Want to hear a joke?" in his too-loud voice as you throw your bag under the table, shrug out of your jacket, and sit down, trying to get your breathing under control.
"Not right now, Edward," says Mr. Vincent calmly. "Everyone settle down. Now. Samantha Lopez?"
"Here!" says Samantha brightly. She is sitting at the table one away from you, and after answering the teacher, turns to look at you. You look away quickly, but she's seen you looking, and turns to Heather with a giggle, whispering something. You feel your face warming up again as all the girls on the table titter.
Edward is tugging at your arm. "Why did the cat cross the road?" he blares. "Because it farted! Look, I drawed a picture for you!"
If only you could sink under the desk. Already you can tell this is going to be the worst day.
You sit on one of the benches in a tucked-away corner of the playground at recess. Kyle and Harrison don't want to play with you. They said that their game of soccer already had enough players, and any more would be too many, but you saw that they were struggling against Brendan, Ray, and Reese. You swing your legs as you try to think what you've done to upset them.
"Hey!" You look up to see Samantha and Heather walking towards you, grinning broadly. "Want to play with us?" calls Heather.
This is probably a trick, you think to yourself. But you can't quite let go of the possibility, so maybe you should see what they want.
"We were going to play - achoo!" Samantha says, faking a sneeze.
"Bless you!" says Heather to Samantha, smiling. "Our - achoo!"
"Something - achoo! - is making me - achoo! - sneeze!" says Samantha. "Is it - achoo! - is it him?"
"It is!" shrieks Heather. "He's got - achoo! - he's got cooties!"
"Cooties! Achoo! Cooties!" sings Samantha.
"Quick!" shouts Heather. "Run away before you catch it or - achoo! - you'll sneeze your brains out through your nose!"
You shake your head as they skip away laughing and still pretending to sneeze. Why was that funny? Why you?
You slip down and sit on the floor with your back resting against the bench. The loose earth around the base of the bench has a few small stones scattered around, and you idly pick them up and start tossing them over the fence into the woods that border the school. You notice there's a leaf on one of the tree branches which is a different colour to the rest, and you aim your stones towards it. It's absorbing your interest, peaceful and fun -
"Hey, what are you doing?" Edward's thick voice intrudes upon you from right behind the bench. "Are you throwing stones? Can I have a go?"
The boy lurches happily around the bench and squats down clumsily to pick up some stones.
Grabbing a whole handful of little pebbles and grit, he flings them in the direction of the trees, still in a squatting position.
You're suddenly overcome with anger. You were almost starting to enjoy yourself, forgetting the rejection of the boys and the taunting of the girls. And now this idiot comes blundering in interrupting with his loudness and awkwardness.
You hurl the last stone you've been gripping with extra strength, and just at that moment, Edward, who has been shuffling backwards rummaging through the soil while still squatting down, stands up.
Horrified, you watch as the pebble, slightly larger than a marble, hits the boy in the forehead. His expression goes immediately from its usual wide grin into an open-mouthed look of pure shock. He can't quite believe it. His hand starts to drift up towards his head, and then the pain kicks in, and the corners of his mouth drop and he starts to wail.
Your stomach turns itself upside down. You didn't want that to happen. You didn't want to hurt him. You're going to get in so much trouble for this.
But a small part of you smiles, and is glad.
Quarter to three. School's nearly over, but while some of the lucky kids go home, you have to go to day care, like a baby. Mama and Daddy say you're not old enough to be in the house alone, and they have to work, but that's just not fair. You'd be fine by yourself.
Day care is almost unbearable. The other kids are bad enough at school, and there's the teachers there who can actually punish them. Under the well-meaning but useless gestures of Debby and the other day care women, it's hell.
You're just about to get on the bus when you hear your name called. You look back, and Mr. Vincent is beckoning to you from his class door. He's saying something about report, and your heart sinks. You kind of thought you'd got away with the thing with Edward, but now it looks like you'll be put on report, and then Mama will be sad again, and Daddy will just look at you with the disappointment in his eyes even worse.
Mr Vincent looks at you, and gestures to sit down. He doesn't look as stern as you'd feared; if anything, he looks anxious. You've never had any real trouble with Mr. Vincent: he's not your favourite teacher, but he's not angry like Mr. Lenny or nasty like Miss Debrah. You shift your weight about, wondering when he's going to begin speaking. He doesn't seem to know where to start.
"Look, I know it's difficult with Edward. He can be annoying, and you don't always want him around." Mr. Vincent holds up a hand to stop your explanation. "I don't think you hurt him on purpose. I know you don't like him, but I don't think you're the kind of boy to do that. I know how much it upsets you when Harrison and Kyle won't spend time with you, when the girls tease you. I wish I could do something. I don't know why no-one seems to want to be your friend - apart from Edward, and he just wants to be everyone's friend. I know what it's like to feel like - to feel like no-one wants you. To think you're nothing but an annoyance in everyone's lives."
Mr. Vincent is pacing around, talking quickly and stumbling a little over his words. You're almost a bit worried. Mr. Vincent doesn't seem like a teacher any more. He smiles suddenly, weakly.
"Now I'm scaring you. Teachers aren't supposed to be human, are we? We're adults - right? The enemy. No-one expects us to try to - to get close to you, to be real with you.
"But I - I think I need your help. There's something I'm trying to do, something I'm trying to make, and I need someone else to help me. I'm close now - real close, I'm about to get it. I really think I can do it!"
He stops walking and looks at you directly. "Will you help me?
The memories fade away as you climb down the bus steps, shaking your head. What an awful day. And now you're … you're at the local high school? What's going on? Weren't you supposed to be going to day care? Why are you back here? What happened after you left school? And why does the Mission High School look so… old?
Researcher Grant buries his face in his hands as the door closes behind the small boy carrying an orange jumpsuit over one arm. It never gets any easier.
With a deep sigh, he opens the tracking document and registers the arrival of SCP-1680 instance number 20,584.