01 - strangers and hallways

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Preservative chemicals stained my white gloves as I wedged the scalpel deeper into the heart's gaping chambers

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Preservative chemicals stained my white gloves as I wedged the scalpel deeper into the heart's gaping chambers. It was almost therapeutic—mutilating something that had once been alive, that once stimulated an entire living organism. That once beat with excitement, with fear, but now lay completely still in my hands. Victim to my will.

How could something so small cause so much pain?

I compared its stillness to the way my heart beat within me. Hollow. Broken. Betrayed. I wanted to tear it out and place it alongside the others. Maybe then, I could concentrate.

"Oh dear." Professor Locksley chuckled, reaching out to place a calm hand over my shaking arm. "The aim is to dissect the lamb heart, Miss Watson, not mash it as one would a potato."

I stepped out of my head long enough to survey my desk in the lab. Heat blossomed on my cheeks. Yeah. I'd made a mess. A few of the other students in the classroom turned to get a good look as well, making little effort to hide their sneers. Almost as though they'd expected me to screw up.

I was used to people underestimating me. They had my whole life. But normally I'd exceed those expectations. I was usually so careful, so precise. How had I let myself get so distracted?

I ducked my head, moving off the bench to grab some paper towels. "I'm so sorry."

My professor threw me a knowing wink. "It happens to the best of us. The mind can carry us to odd places. The trick is not to linger there for too long, lest we forget to return."

My very own Dumbledore, perhaps. I sponged up the slimy residue on my bench, apologizing again as I dumped it into the trash. "Really, it won't happen again."

Professor Locksley nodded simply. "I'm sure, Madison." And from the gleam in his kind gaze, I had a feeling he believed me.

I just wished I could believe it, too.

I trudged to the basin at the end of class, queuing up to rid my hands of the foul smell that had tarnished them. My peers laughed and joked around me, but I felt so far from them. From anything light and fun and golden. My world was just ... gray.

I'd been at college for two weeks, but I was yet to feel at home within the place's impressive buildings and sprawling gardens. It was already easy enough to feel like an outsider in a place as prestigious as Camden, where the classrooms and halls had been graced by politicians, celebrities, and entrepreneurs alike. It certainly didn't help that, in the state I was in, and with the way my life had unraveled like thread from a spool, I didn't want to socialize. I didn't want to meet new people. It was like a flurry of rain clouds had settled over my head, like the blood in my veins had chilled into solid ice. But instead of feeling cold, I felt eerily numb. I was tired. And alone. And I didn't want to move back into the sun; I wanted to wallow in the dark for a while.

Or maybe forever. Theatrics was my specialty.

I gathered my stationery and books, walking out into the crowded corridor and heading back through the quad to my dorm. I had one class later in the afternoon and a bunch of readings to get through, but my entire body was aching for a nap.

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