A Nightmare

Click. Click. Click, click, sigh.

Lily leaned back in her chair and stared up at the ceiling for a second. It was awful. It hadn't been difficult, exactly, to find what she was looking for. Some of it was easy, some of it was more of a chore, and all of it was unpleasant. She had had no idea so many people were missing, that cases were so common, it was horrifying. With the subject matter any number would be awful, but the sheer scale of it... She rubbed her hands on her forehead.

It wasn't productive to wallow in it. She wanted to actually fix a problem, not sit and let her gut curdle at the scale of all similar problems in her state, county, city... But trying to analyze the information wasn't helpful either. She had thought she might be able to find a pattern, or some correlation with area or timing that could give her a clue. But no. It wasn't that there was nothing, but the baseline was so high, and there was so much variability, she couldn't do anything with it. Even if she knew what to do with it, which she didn't. And she didn't have granular data on the places or times to make useful conclusions if she had found a pattern anyways. And if there was something a non-expert could figure out from public records, surely the police would have found it themselves. What was she doing?

She was just wasting time. Worse than that, spending time on making herself feel upset and failing to do anything helpful. Was there really nothing she could do? Lily shut off her computer and stood up from her chair. She started to pace around the room, and then stopped. She took several deep breaths, and tried to force herself to calm down. It didn't really work, but at least it pushed that strange feeling back to the back of her mind. She had too much to deal with as it was.

She glanced at her backpack, and then rolled her eyes. She could get to the homework later. She left the room, and started making her way to leave. Her grandparents were sitting down, watching something on the television, and looked up at her. She made sure to keep her voice calm.

"I'm going to go outside."

"It's too late to go out on a whim, young lady. And you have nowhere else to be right now except here."

"I need to clear my head."

"Lily, I said no."

"And I said—"

"Lily, don't take that tone of voice with your grandmother."

Lily turned her head to his chair to stare at him for a moment, and his stern expression doused her temper. She took another deep breath and got ahold of herself. She turned back to her grandmother, and met her eyes.

"I'm sorry. And I mean that, I'm really sorry. I got angry and snapped but that wasn't okay. It's just, it's hard."

"It's okay. I know."

"Yeah. ...This is why I want to clear my head."

"But it's not a good idea."

"Dahlia, it's fine. Lily, do you think some fresh air would help?"

"Yeah. And maybe a little walk, too. If that would be okay."

"Okay then, you can go out for a walk. But stay in the neighborhood, and be back before dark. Not at dark, but before dark, okay?"

"I've got it. Thanks. And I'll have my phone if you need me or I need you."

"Alright. Sorry, Lily. I just want to be sure you stay safe. I know we're in a good neighborhood but..."

"I understand. Believe me, I understand."

Lily smiled, put her shoes on, and headed outside. She took a deep breath of the fresh air. It didn't immediately help. She started walking.

She couldn't keep her thoughts straight. Just what was wrong with herself? Why was she getting so angry with her grandparents, for no good reason? It was a stupid question, and it had a stupid answer. She was upset, for the obvious reason. She was angry she couldn't do anything about it. And they were the nearest people for her to be angry at, the nearest authority to rebel against, as though either accomplished anything for her. Getting testy at school was the same problem, although it mattered less. She knew she was doing it, she knew why she was doing it, and she knew it was stupid. So why couldn't she just stop it?

She turned at the corner of the block. A square would be good enough. It wasn't like there were really sights to see in the little city of Wade, so why bother moving out of her grandparents' extra-sleepy corner of it? And it was better to be safe than sorry. Her grandmother was being overly cautious about it being too late to go out, she hadn't even been home from school for too long. But she understood the worry. The last thing anybody wanted to happen was for her to go missing, right after her mother.

Lily started laughing. The image popped into her mind, of someone trying to take her, and getting surprised by the tentacles. It wasn't actually very funny, but it was cathartic. If only they could be so useful for anything actually relevant. ...If only she could be useful for anything. If only she wasn't a miserable useless waste, abandoned by her father, already driving a wedge between herself and her grandparents, and maybe even her mother had left her on purpose⁠—

She balled her hands into fists and groaned. The walk wasn't helping at all. How could it, anyways? Maybe she needed to talk about this with someone. Not just what was on her mind just then, but all of it. Maybe that wouldn't help either, but short of finding her mother, what else could? Bottling it all up definitely wasn't working.

But it couldn't be her grandparents. They wouldn't—No, they would probably understand. But they were part of it, and she couldn't properly explain it all to them. And... They weren't exactly who she wanted to spill her guts to, anyways. They would worry too much and not be supportive enough. She wished she had actually talked to her mother about it all when she had the chance. She had to hope she would get that chance again. But that wasn't much help now.

She could talk to Aster about it, maybe. But it was a lot. It wouldn't really be fair to just dump it on her, especially because it wasn't problems Aster could really help her with. And would it even actually help? It felt like it would be a solution, but maybe that was just because it would be doing something, not because it actually would help. Maybe telling it all to someone else would just make her feel worse to have spewed it all out, and then not even take out any of the sting from her stupid thoughts. Or worse, reinforce it all in her mind by actually vocalizing it. And seeing a professional would just be a headache she didn't want to deal with.

So maybe she was right in the first place, and shouldn't really tell anyone. Not yet, at least. It wasn't satisfying, but would the right answer in a situation like this be satisfying? Lily sighed. At least she was less angry now, if maybe not happier. She finished her lap around the block and went back inside.

She mumbled hello to her grandparents, still watching whatever it was on TV, and headed back to the room where she was staying. She just had to find something to do to take her mind off things.

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