"Cassandra? Cassandra McLaren, are you paying attention?"
Black curls jolted as if they themselves had been frightened by the woman's voice. The girl behind them blinked her large eyes at her teacher and remained silent. The teacher was persistent and waited for a response.
"Er, well, you see..."
"See me after class, Cassandra," the teacher said, before resuming her lesson.
The English lesson that Cass really wasn't paying attention to, in which her teacher spoke of some boring and long-dead poet, finished half an hour later. The other students had dispersed and Cass slowly made her way to her teacher's desk, waiting for yet another lecture about her interest and commitment to her work.
The woman in front of her looked up from her rectangular glasses and sighed, putting down the poetry book she held.
"Cassandra. Cassandra, what am I going to do with you?" Miss Stephens said in an exasperated tone.
The petite girl stood in front of her teacher and shrugged her shoulders, her hand moving to brush a piece of hair from her pale face.
"This is your last year at school, your last year to get the grades that could decide your future, and you're spending half of it daydreaming. I'm just worried that if you don't pay attention now, then it'll affect you later on."
Cass exhaled and said, "I understand... I really hadn't meant to daydream, I just do sometimes..."
"Yes, I know that Cassandra, but you need to focus more."
"I'll try my hardest, Miss. I really don't mean to..."
Miss Stephens nodded her head and told Cass she could go. She hadn't believed Cass, because she'd heard her say the same words before and it hadn't made any difference to where her attention lay. On her way out Cass grabbed her things and headed off to the Art Department; her favourite place. She sat in the corner of the room, away from the noisy gossipers, with her iPod plugged in. Cass shut out her world when she was working on her art. The hour long lesson ended far too early for her liking, but she took her sketch pad and packed away when her time there was up.
Art was her last class of the day, so Cass got into her car, a small silver thing that was perfect for only her, and drove away. She drove to the forest near the small village she lived in, taking only a canvas and her paints with her in a black shoulder bag. The forest crowded around Cass, but she didn't mind the closeness of the trees. The trees weren't like the people she knew, so loud and busy. She always thought that it was as if nobody ever paid attention to anything anymore, so she always felt apart from those she knew. The trees, though, whose own limbs intertwined with others, radiated a sense of calm; a strength or unity that Cass was always drawn to.
After walking a while, she found the perfect place for her painting, where the sun fell through breaks in the branches and illuminated the fallen leaves with spots of golden light. It was beautiful. Cass took her time over the painting, carefully mixing and applying paint to the intricate details of the picture. When she was done she noticed that the light was almost gone, and thought she'd better get home before she could no longer see.
Cass gathered her paints and slipped them into her bag, before throwing it over her shoulder and picking up her canvas. She turned from the spot she had so carefully captured in her painting and left it for good; she'd probably never find her way there again. The only problem she had now was that she wasn't sure how to find her way back. Cass sighed and walked off to her right, she was sure she'd found her spot from that direction.
Cass walked for at least an hour before finally stopping. She wasn't even sure if she'd been walking in circles, let alone if she was any closer to her car. She was well and truly lost. And that frightened her. The closeness of the trees was still a comfort, as it blocked most of the wind that traversed the forest, but the trees could do nothing for the chill that permeated the air on an autumn night. Cass shivered, glad that she chose to wear skinny jeans, boots and a hooded jacket instead of the skirt she had pondered on that morning.
Cass looked around herself. It was no use; the trees that she had loved hanging over her like a protective shield, were now barring her from the light of the moon, imprisoning her beneath their embrace. It had gotten so dark that she could barely see her own hands when she sat down with her back against a tree, its bark uncomfortably imprinting on her back. Cass wrapped herself up as well as she could in her jacket, using her canvas as a make-shift, and unsuccessful, blanket for her legs.
She wasn't sure what to do. She felt so tired, but wasn't sure she really wanted to fall asleep in a place where she was alone; and vulnerable. It took some time before her eyes finally closed, and that wasn't because of her choosing. Exhaustion and the bitter frost of the air took over her body, shutting her eyes to the outside world and to the darkness it radiated.