Author's Note: Some triggers present—Self-harm or self-injury and depressed thoughts, but I'm doing my damnedest to stay clear of unnecessary details and focus only on the emotions Emma's living with instead. See the post on my blog for crisis resources and a note on Emma's problems and maybe some brief notes on my own experiences. I'll have the link in my FFnet profile because this site is being a butt about posting links in stories. Just click on my username and POOF, you're there :D Or, copy and paste without the parentheses and spaces: itsalostgirlthing .tumblr .com(/)post(/)147759710584(/)crisis-resources
Remember, you really aren't alone, darlings. A lot of us are either in, have been in, or keep finding themselves back in that place that hurts–and remember what all these stories are all about: Having hope and staying strong, my darlings.
And remember, you DESERVE to be happy. It's your RIGHT to not feel that way anymore and there are people out there who will do their damnedest and make it their job to help make it go away. You just have to find the one that works best for you. Keep on strong and going, lovelies.
Without further ado…
Chapter 1: Didn't See a Thing
It was hot outside. Pushing 90 degrees in the city was what Emma imagined Hell to feel like when you begin to descend. But here she was, sitting with some classmates who had stayed after their lab to all share answers and trying desperately not to break out of the little bit of shade she managed to find under the sparse tree above. Of course, sitting outside on the lawn next to the art building was all good and fun for anyone wearing airy skirts and shorts, but she wasn't because she couldn't. And now, every fiber of blue denim pressed any escaping warmth right back into her skin and god she just wanted to finish up this lab report so she could go home and peel them off.
Still, tomorrow would be the same and the day after that as long as this heat wave stayed around to torture her. And like today, she would have to answer the same questions with the same answer.
"Emma! What are you doing? We've got a heatwave," and, "Why are you dressing for the fog?" or, "Girl, don't you own a pair of shorts? It's hot as balls."
To which she'd reply, "It doesn't bother me."
But it did. Everything about it bothered her just like everything else seemed to do now. Because if she were to say, "Fuck it," and wear anything shorter, anything that exposed her, they'd all see it.
All the red scratches that felt just as angry as they looked.
They'd see how the fresh ones overlapped the old and wonder if they stung more than the others. (They did.) How some of them cut deeper, the only proof of how bad things could really get. Sometimes she felt her skin screaming while she walked, the material rubbing and sliding against her sensitive lines, reminding her of the dark little secret she refused to voice out.
Other times, she intentionally pressed her hand and dug her fingers into the side of her clothes in class or at work when she was feeling particularly miserable and all of a sudden, that new kind of pain would blossom in its place; one that drowned out the other. One evil for another.
And she was disgusted by it, especially on days like this. How sick it was—how sick she was. Maybe it was the sun today, baking her minute by minute, because it seemed like the heat was just stirring up all the relentless little demons inside her. All of them asking questions she could never really answer. Like, how did she become this way? Why wouldn't this thing festering in her chest disappear for good? Why did it keep coming back? Was it normal to feel this horrible? Was she being weak? Would she always be this screwed-up? Loads of people had it worse than her, why couldn't she just handle it like everyone else? Turn a bad thing into something good and pro-active like they did in the movies, on TV, in trash self-help books. Was she broken, the faulty cog in the manufacturing line?
Why couldn't she just not feel at all? Just turn it off like a switch.
Despite being the only person in her group to hate the sunny day today, she ended up being the last to leave. Which was good because it was getting harder to breathe, the prickling in her eyes made her panic grow, and worse, she could feel it in her hands; both beginning to tremor as she closed up her binder and slung her backpack over her shoulder. She took in a deep breath and tried to still herself while the anxiety of those questions demanded her undivided attention. She started thinking about what she had on her—her keys, maybe a pen cap if she looked through her bag long enough. She could manage to do some damage with either of the edges if she could only make it to the women's bathroom fast enough. She'd try. It was the only thing she managed to do right these days.
Her lungs started to burn, but there were too many sounds swarming around her. The surrounding people in the square suddenly felt like sharks, predators sensing the fresh wound on her leg she'd made yesterday after she'd gotten into a fender bender—her fault on a technicality.
And she thought of this, the bullshit processes she'd have to deal with on top of everything else. She thought of the people around her right then, that irrational fear that they somehow all knew, and how far she was from her room and the potential disasters of trying to get there. All the crap in her life—past and present—started to crash down at once. She could never understand how a simple thought, one bad little thought, could start a landslide of misery and anger at everything and herself; one that triggered a lament for the uneventful life she never had. A life where nothing bad ever happened to her, where she could just focus on getting back on track with the things she needed to do like everyone else.
And god, she could hear them now in vivid detail, the distant laughing of the other foster kids as one held her down and the other kicked her all because she was smaller and wouldn't give up her dessert that night. She could smell the stench of alcohol and stale tobacco on the carpet because hiding under her bed and pretending she was alone was better than crying in front of the other kids. She could feel the eyes on her, kids at school every year eyeing her strange fitting clothes or the little piece of duct tape on the left shoe of her favorite pair of blue Converse, a present from a foster mother she missed and a reminder of the husband that never thought she was worth 'all the trouble.' As a teenager, running away, getting into trouble, long nights trying to figure out math problems in a house of constant parties and inconsideration.
In this moment, packing up her stuff in the quad, her head clouding with evil visions and filling with vicious voices that mimicked everything she wished she could forget, there were no good times. She couldn't think of a single moment of happiness because it was all being vacuumed up while darkness pooled in from everywhere else.
She was drowning in it all. She needed to be in private. She needed to leave, to run. She needed to breathe—literally, she needed to let herself—
"Excuse me?" The voice jolted the breath right out of her. Her music had been on too low which was her mistake because if it weren't, she could've kept walking and pretending like she hadn't heard a thing instead of having to navigate through an unscripted conversation with a stranger while she still felt so raw and vulnerable.
It was some guy around her age, standing apart from a booth. She froze, her 'fight or flight' instincts going absolutely haywire because the normal half of her—the one that told her to be like she used to be, to just casually say, "Yeah? Hey, what's up?" and stop being whatever person she had become in the last year—was telling her to stay. That normal side said to calm the fuck down and that the guy in front of her was definitely cute and probably just wanted to say something about environmentalism or the upcoming election. The normal side of her said to appreciate his smile and just listen, or at least watch him speak because, again, he had very pretty eyes and hair that did its own thing and did it very well.
But the other part, the paranoid side that told her to resist all closeness and intimacy, noticed something flash across his features; some kind of fleeting expression she couldn't describe other than when you see something that you weren't meant to, and now you're pretending you never saw it. Did she have something on her face? She studied him as he was probably studying her and suddenly she felt irritated.
He smiled a nice friendly smile though, getting back into character for whatever charity or cause he was petitioning for, and she removed her headphones despite herself.
"Hi, I'm Ki—"
"Hey, I'm sorry, but I have a shift starting soon and I gotta go," she lied, still a little out of breath and rushed. He could probably tell. It wasn't her best effort.
"Have a flyer then?"
The bright neatness of the flyer and its perfectly square shape; the sun beaming down on her and the cool breeze that soothed it away; his dark hair and light eyes; the sound of an accent above the chatter around her; and even the damn birds chirping in an effortless chorus… She'd normally appreciate them if they weren't swirling all together and making her light-headed.
She took the little white square he offered, with its professional typing and picture of the school's seal on the top. It was school-sponsored.
"The march is still a bit away," he said and before she had a chance to read what the hell he was selling, he began to retreat. "But, we have meetings every week, sometimes twice. We need all the support we can get and if it's any more incentive to come, you get school credit for helping out, alright?"
"Sure," she managed. Eyes flitting from him to the paper and back again.
"Hopefully you'll stop by so I can catch your name," and he smiled so genuinely that for an instance she was absolutely drawn to whatever light he had. But then he was gone, back to the booth to gather more flyers.
She read the front. It was for a student-organized march to raise awareness of…
Mental Health Month.
"Of course it is," she mumbled to herself and was dead set on throwing it in the recycling so it wouldn't end up crumpled up and stuffed under the seat of her car, but by the time she made it to the parking lot and the bright blue bin was in sight… She held onto it.
She kept it and she told herself it wasn't personal. That it was just about the school credit to bump up her dismal GPA right now. That it was about the cute boy who looked at her like maybe she had spinach in her teeth. (Which she checked. All clear and she wasn't sure what he had been staring on about.) That she was bored on Thursday nights anyway. That it was a good cause. That they had refreshments and, best of all, "pastries galore," as it read.
Everything she could possibly think of except for that maybe she thought it would be good for her because she wasn't ready to think that yet.
And why would she be? For what everyone else knew, she was kind, quick-witted, resilient Emma. Strong, focused, determined Emma. Smart, hard-working, smiling Emma. But she knew what she was.
She was lost, pretending like she had direction, and Emma didn't know how to fix it.
In the week and a half following her first encounter with the boy whose name started with a 'K,' she had accumulated enough of those flyers from her car window every day to wonder if maybe that little square of paper was the map for her to follow. She believed in signs sometimes; albeit, usually the bad ones.
Two weeks from when 'K' first handed her the flyer, the sweet but reserved Elsa from her elective art course, a girl she loved making small talk with and laughing over their art blunders, entered the conference room in the Psychological Counseling department in the Administration building… with Emma in tow.
"Thanks again for coming with me, Emma. I know it was last minute."
"No worries, I've been getting tons of flyers. Good cause, right?"
"Definitely! You guys won't regret it at all," Elsa's sister, Anna, chimed. "We're pretty much just making buttons today and hanging out, but it'll be fun. I promise."
Anna was so up-beat in comparison to Elsa, and Emma suspected Anna's dedicated involvement might have something to do with the anxiety and panic attacks Elsa's briefly mentioned of her high school years. Emma wondered if she still got them now, too, and whether she would think that talking about her own anxiety would offend the girl. It's not like she's had a full scale attack. Just normal stress that she couldn't deal with because, who knows? Like she's written in her tear-stained journal many times before, maybe she's just broken, but at least she was amazing in hiding it. Even Elsa just thought her bad spells and quietness in class were due to school overload or coffee withdrawals, and that girl was perceptive as hell.
"Killian!" Anna called out. It was the boy.
"Hello, love. I see you've brought more recruits," he said, eyes lingering on Emma in surprise like he'd never expected to see her again. He didn't look disappointed, but still—
'Love.' It rang in her head. 'So, this must be Anna's boyfriend.'
"This is my sister, Elsa and her friend, Emma," Anna said quickly and, hell. She was waiting for Elsa to protest or counter with, "We're classmates." Her spike of dread stopped when she her eyes darted over to Elsa who only smiled unaffectedly at all of them then excused herself to do what she did best—study the art hanging on the walls, the previous winners of the Disability Resources Center's student contests. (Art majors.) And, honestly, Emma was shocked. Did that mean Elsa actually considered her a friend—not just some classmate she was randomly assigned to sit next to and obligated to chat with? The normal side wanted to high-five someone; the messed up side said she wasn't allowed to have any friends.
But she let her better half rejoice and felt a corner of her lips twitch up for a second in a smile before catching Killian's quick glance from her to Elsa, as if he were hyperaware of what had just happened for her.
"Well, I'm going to go help Kristoff with the button maker before he smashes his finger," Anna said and ran over to Kristoff who, on cue, let out a frustrated cry from across the room.
"Kristoff. What kind of name is that?"
"The kind that could only belong to someone like him," Killian replied good-naturedly. "He's unique, for sure. And don't mind his humor. He thinks he's funny because Anna always laughs."
His frankness made her smile. Anna was a lucky girl.
"So." She cleared her throat. "What first?"
"A donut run for me," he said, "but these little ribbons need hot-gluing if you'd like to try?"
He showed her how to do it. He sat across from her and patiently helped her twist them around, all the while down-playing his pain from her hot-gluing his finger to the ribbon to a mere wince.
"I thought they only did these ribbons for Breast Cancer Awareness. You know, the pink ones?"
"They have one for about everything now. Sometimes multiple causes, but I don't think that was intentional."
"So, green for mental illness?"
"Well, there's a few other green ribbons, but I suppose you can call this a true-green. A bit darker than your eyes are." And he said it without ever tearing his own from their task. She furrowed her brows—was that considered flirting? 'Girlfriend, Emma. Remember, he's got a girlfriend,' she thought and convinced herself he had made nothing but an observation.
It was quiet for a beat. Awkward even. Or, maybe she was just making it, so to fill in the silence, she asked, "Anything for non-illness related causes?"
"Loads," he began. "Yellow is for military troops. Brown for anti-smoking." He took over a ribbon she was struggling with and continued, "Even peace—white. Red is HIV/AIDS, but also substance abuse…" He paused for a moment. "There's one for domestic violence, too. Navy's child abuse." His lips pressed into a tight line after that. To anyone else, it'd look like he was just concentrated and maybe he was, but not on the ribbon. However, she wasn't just anyone. She was an orphan who'd grown up hyper vigilant to shifts in mood. A lot of the other foster kids were like that. A survival instinct.
"Anything for being repeatedly burned by someone incompetent with a glue-gun?" she threw out in practiced humor. They'd all learned growing up, the kids in homes like her, how to diffuse tense situations.
And it worked.
The distant storm in his eyes and expression began to clear and she saw that charismatic brilliance shining through again. She felt relieved and not just from making the mood light again, but because she made his mood light again. She helped out. She actually accomplished something positive.
"Not that I know of," he laughed, "but I'm sure we'll all band together and come up with something." She liked this easy conversation with him.
"Killian! Donuts. Now," Kristoff said sternly, but she knew it was all for show.
"I agree. I came for the donuts," she said with a smirk.
"Well, hopefully you stay for the company," and he looked her in the eyes so sincerely, it triggered something dark and troubling inside her. Maybe he saw it because he quickly added, "Like I said, Kristoff is an acquired taste, but once you get to know him, you can't help but love the bastard. And you know Anna, of course. Little ray of sunshine, she is. Not a bad way to spend part of the week, in my opinion."
When he left, taking orders from everyone with particular cravings for jelly, custard, sprinkles—only rainbow was acceptable for Anna's—on the way out, she bit her lip. And then pressed down harder. And harder. A guy like Killian, a friend like Elsa, even a friend like Anna, they didn't want someone like her lurking around. Someone covered in scratches and scars, full of secrets and despair that no one should share in; who thought of her own misery at least 50% of the day. All the self-pity that happened under her covers at three in the morning. The real her that wasn't worth a damn now that she could barely do the things she once easily did before.
A poster on the wall right in front of her caught her attention.
TIPS FOR PRACTICING MINDFULNESS:
1. Focus on the task at hand and only on that task to prevent…
She folded and glued each ribbon with precise movements. She'd never seen her fingers work so deftly and by the time every ribbon was glued, she did feel better about her current situation. At least, better than it could fall, as she knew from experience.
When Killian returned, a special donut with her in mind, too, all the ribbons were beautifully done with care and dropped in the basket on the table. Glue-gun wrapped up neatly and no trace that Emma Swan had ever been there. Just as she liked it.
"Where'd Emma go?" he asked, not bothering much to hide his disappointment from Anna.
"She left a little before Elsa. I think she was tired from all the ribbons, she got kind of quiet. I didn't get a chance to say bye, but I think she'll be back with Elsa next week, so yaaay! More people," she chatted contentedly while trying not to drop sprinkles everywhere.
"Huh." He looked at the last two donuts in the box, one for him and one for Emma. "She'll regret having left this behind. Make sure to tell her she missed out on an 'old-fashioned.' It might persuade her to stay longer next time."
"Oh, I'll take that." Anna snatched it from the box. "Thanks, Killian!"
"Hey! I wasn't offering, love. I made the run, after all."
"Snooze, you lose, buddy!" She ran to Kristoff, "I stole us another donut," she beamed.
"God, you're the best girlfriend ever," he sighed happily into his pastry.
They were a cute couple and complemented each other well, but Killian's mind wasn't on Kristoff and his girlfriend, Anna. It wasn't on Elsa or the ribbons, flyers, or donuts. It was on Emma who still remained a mystery despite all the little pieces he'd caught today. He liked her, but he wasn't sure she was interested in him. Something about the way she looked at Elsa after Anna introduced her as a 'friend' made him think that getting to know anyone wasn't really an interest.
Or, maybe it was in some way he couldn't understand yet. Something in her seemed lonely and it was like no one bothered to pry.
Later that night, when she was tossing and turning for the worst part of four hours, she got up and slumped to the floor, crawling underneath her bed and tried to wipe her face and dry her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt. She was alone in so many ways and she knew better than to try to surround herself with people because no matter what, she'd always be on the outside. Worst of all, she was the one that had to make sure it stayed that way.
She didn't go with Elsa the next week.
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