Ava walked through the grey-tiled halls as fast as she could without drawing attention to herself, her heart pounding in her ears. Her breathing was getting more and more rapid and she could feel herself starting to shake.
I can't do this. I can't-
Not here, oh god not here.
She broke into a run and sprinted as fast as she could past the featureless white walls and rows of grey classroom doors.
They're probably all laughing at me why do I always make a fool out of myself? Why can't I be normal like everyone else?
I'm such a failure oh god I can't be here I can't breathe I can't-
The bathroom door slammed open with the force of all of Ava's (albeit tiny) body weight collapsing onto it. She lay on the floor in a crumpled heap where she had landed, too exhausted and shaky to bother getting up, praying to god that she was alone in the washroom.
Why couldn't I just do the presentation like a normal person? What's wrong with me? I was-
Then they were all staring and-
I was so trapped and there was nowhere to go and I can't breathe-
I know what they were thinking I know I'm an eyesore and they were all staring and-
Why couldn't I have just done the stupid presentation? I'm such a failure I can't-
Her breathing was coming in short gasps now and she knew that if she didn't calm herself down at least a little she was going to faint and then someone would find her unconscious on the floor in the bathroom and oh god it would be so embarrassing and then she'd have to explain what happened and everyone would know what kind of a failure she was and-
Oh god oh god oh god
I'm a mess why am I such a mess? I can't-
I can't breathe why can't I breathe? What if-
What if I die because I can't-
Tears blurred her vision and Ava was still shaking like a leaf in a pathetic heap on the floor. Her reddish brown hair was strewn all over the place and she was sure her face was blotchy red and streaked with tears. She just wanted it to be over it was so exhausting and she was just so tired.
After what felt like hours, when her heart didn't feel like it might fly out of her chest anymore and her body stopped shaking long enough for her to move, she slowly rolled over and picked herself up. Brushing dirt off of her burgundy dress, she slowly walked over to the mirror, feeling like she hadn't slept in two days. Ava was a little terrified of what she might see when she looked up at her face, but took a deep breath and glanced at her reflection. Her eyes were swollen and red like she had expected, her hair was in a horrible knot, and streaks of her mascara were all over her face. She looked and felt awful, but she was okay now, she could breathe and she wasn't going to die. She was okay.
Ava turned the tap on slowly and leaned forward to splash some water on her face and maybe clean off the mascara, but when she looked back up to the mirror, she noticed a pair of feet in the second-last stall.
When Odin heard the door slam open, it had made his blood run cold. He'd thought that he would be pretty safe in the girls' washroom in the middle of class but clearly they had come after him, and now he had nowhere to run. He tried to quiet his crying as much as he could, though his tears were falling so quickly now that he wasn't sure he was very successful. Odin squeezed his eyes shut, bracing himself for his stall to be kicked open. He kept bracing himself, but the loud bang of a metal door hitting the brick wall never came. He tentatively opened his eyes and realized that instead of the taunts and sneers he expected to hear, all he heard was crying.
And for once, it wasn't his own.
Odin felt a pang of empathy for the girl (at least he assumed it was a girl, this is the girls' washroom after all) and he considered going out to comfort her, but he really couldn't risk being seen like this. There was a reason he always came to this washroom, and that was because it was the place he was least likely to be found. No one could know how much of a pathetic loser he was.
Get over yourself, no one cares how much of a pathetic loser you are. They barely even notice when you walk into a room.
You know what? They'd all prefer it if you would just disappear, no one wants to have to put up with an idiot like you.
He put his head in his hands. He wanted so badly to scream. How is it possible to escape your biggest tormenter when your biggest tormenter is yourself?
A strangled sob from outside the stall door shook him from his thoughts. He really wanted to help her, god he was such a coward. She was probably having a really hard time, and he was too afraid of what she might think of him to comfort her. He was selfish and a coward, why couldn't he just go help her?
What help could you possibly give her? You're so pathetic, you can't even help yourself.
Odin sank in his posture and hung his head, the voice in his head was right; even if he could muster up the courage to go out there, he wouldn't be much help at all. In fact, she'd probably tell him to go away. It was best to stay in here after all, away from those jerks who always taunted him and beat up on him, away from his siblings who never let him forget how much of a disappointment he was, and away from that girl who would definitely be better off without him.
He heard the tap running and desperately hoped it meant that she would be leaving soon, but then he heard the water turn off and footsteps coming cautiously towards his stall. They would've been dainty, quiet sounding footsteps had they not been in a perfectly silent, echoing washroom, but they were, and to Odin it sounded like an executioner coming to take him to his death.
Tap tap tap
Odin heard a faint knocking on the door of his stall and felt trapped. He didn't know what to do, there was no way to escape, but he definitely didn't want to come out. He also definitely didn't want to have to speak to her with his broken up, butchered sentences and he was sure his stutter would be worse than usual.
"Are you okay?" asked a soft voice from the other side of the door.
He didn't want to answer, but he could hear the anxiety in her voice and he wasn't sure if it was out of concern for him or worry that he had witnessed her having a breakdown, although the latter was way more likely. Maybe it was the pleading tone in her voice, or maybe it was the fact that he still felt extremely guilty for not helping her, but he took a deep breath and decided he'd better reply.
"U-um… I'm f-fine," Odin stammered shakily, wincing at how childish his stutter made him sound.
There was a pause, and then:
"Yeah right, why would you be skipping class to hide in a stall in the girls' bathroom if you were fine?" she asked, her voice full of skepticism. He would've been offended by her fiery words, but she lost some of the effect to the fact that her voice was still thick from crying and she was exhausted from her panic attack.
Odin let out a sheepish laugh, "I g-g-guess you're r-right," he breathed. There was something about this girl that made him feel at ease. Normally, he would barely talked to anyone, let alone a stranger, but here he was talking to a girl who had just had a breakdown and then clearly just caught him having a breakdown of his own.
"Are you ever going to open the door?" she said impatiently as she tapped her foot on the floor. It seemed to Odin that she was trying to come across as irritated and annoyed but the worry in her voice was impossible to miss.
Odin hated being seen as weak or pathetic, and he knew that if anyone saw him like this, he would be completely vulnerable. That was terrifying to him, but something about this girl made him want to open up to her. It was stupid, he barely even knew her, but…
"Don't make me come in there and drag you out!" the girl threatened, her voice getting stronger and sharper each passing second. Odin thought she was pretty feisty for someone who had been crying on the floor just a few minutes ago.
"Yeah? And how are you g-going to do that, f-f-firefly?" he taunted light-heartedly and smiled despite himself. How could someone he'd just met make him feel so calm and relaxed?
"Whadya mean how? I'm gonna kick down the door," she stated defiantly. Her voice was strong and firm, but he couldn't help but let out a small chuckle.
"L-like you'd be able to kick d-down anything," he joked, smiling even wider trying to imagine a girl with tiny Mary-Jane clad feet like hers attempting to break down a metal bathroom door.
"Excuse me! For your information I'm a dangerous girl!" Odin sighed to himself, she clearly wasn't going to leave anytime soon and he had to make a decision. He could stay, but that would waste both of their time and anyway who's to say that she would ever get tired of waiting and leave him alone. Or he could open the door, but then he'd have to experience the whole problem of watching the inevitable pity cross her face when she saw his shabby appearance.
"Please?" she begged, her voice barely audible now, hovering just above a whisper. He was still reluctant, but the plea was so desperate and honest that he knew he could trust her. Odin really didn't want to open the door, and almost every part of him screamed out in protest, but a tiny piece of him wanted to take the chance and put his trust into someone again.
He took a deep breath, pushing the air out with his cheeks. Slowly he lifted his right arm and slid the latch from the lock position so that the door was no longer blocked. It started to swing open lazily but he grabbed the metal door, stopping it, and used it to push himself up. When he was standing, he made sure he was steady and then walked out of the cramped stall.
He was at a loss for words when he saw the tiny, exhausted looking girl who was nothing at all like he was expecting.
Ava wasn't sure who she expected to walk out of that stall, but it definitely wasn't the bruised purple-haired mess standing in front of her. He was tall, though he would've looked taller had his posture not been so hunched and defeated, and his ruffled hair looked as if he spent a lot of time running his hands through it. He probably did. His clothes were a disheveled mess; a black t-shirt with a slash down the middle and pants that looked like they didn't quite fit. There was dried blood running down his face, presumably from his nose, and a small bruise blooming on his left cheekbone. Everything about his appearance made it obvious that he was falling apart, but the worst of it was by far his eyes. They were of course swollen from crying, but they were also sunken and dark underneath as if he hadn't slept in days.
When they had first started talking, she had been worried about him making fun of her or telling everyone about her panic attack, but now she was worried because he really didn't seem like he was okay. She had known him for barely five minutes but something about him made her feel comfortable and she couldn't just leave him.
There was an awkward silence in which they both stood there staring, studying each other, until he cleared his throat.
"Um I… I-I'm Odin," he muttered while rubbing his right hand behind his neck sheepishly, trying to break the tension.
"And I'm Ava, nice to meet you!" she exclaimed, smiling in a way that was way too fake. She knew that Odin could tell that her chipper voice and ear to ear smile weren't exactly genuine.
They continued to stand across from each other in the empty washroom, awkwardly avoiding each other's gaze until Ava sighed. "Come over here, let me help you clean the blood off your face," she said finally, walking closer to the sink as she spoke.
Odin couldn't understand why she'd want to help someone like him, but he reluctantly obeyed, walking over to where she was standing beside the sink.
"Sit." She said, pointing to the counter.
Odin might've protested had she not been so firm and had he not been so incredibly tired. He surprised even himself with how open he was being with a complete stranger and wondered if his exhaustion had also made it harder to stay guarded.
Ava grabbed a wad of paper towels and ran them under a light stream of water while Odin reluctantly hopped up onto the counter. When he was in position, she gently dabbed the bloody streaks near his nose with the paper towel and he wondered when she would finally ask him the dreaded question.
"Hey, Odin?" she asked, breaking the silence.
"Y-yeah?" he replied, bracing himself.
Oh no, he thought, his fear starting to creep its way up his spine.
"So um… why were you crying in the girls' bathroom anyways?" Ava blurted not quite as smoothly as she'd wanted to.
"You're o-one to t-t-talk", he stuttered, meaning to sound playful but utterly failing. Even though he had expected it, he was so flustered by the question that the reply came out as shaky and unsure.
Ava just shot him a look and said, "I'm serious, Odin."
He sighed and ran his hands through his hair, "It's s-s-stupid okay? These g-guys like to b-beat me up s-sometimes but th-they can't find m-me i-in here s-so…" He trailed away, staring at the white tiles on the floor. He already knew he was pathetic, he didn't need to see the pity in her eyes to confirm it.
"It's not stupid," she murmured, but Odin still wouldn't look at her. He seemed to be busy playing with a loose thread in the tear of his shirt while Ava continued to gently clean his bruised face.
After about five minutes of tense silence, Ava finished cleaning the blood as best as she could and tossed the now bloody piece of paper towel into the garbage can. She looked up at him and tentatively asked if he wanted to know why she had been crying in the washroom. Odin thought about it for a moment, he didn't want to pry or force her to talk about it, but he was curious and he did think that hearing about her problems would make him feel slightly less pathetic. He couldn't trust his voice right now, so looking up from the floor with eyes glazed by tears, he nodded slowly.
"So uh… I was supposed to do this presentation about ancient Egypt in front of my history class. Really short, five minutes or less. It wasn't even a big deal y'know?" Ava said, laughing nervously. Maybe this was a mistake, maybe telling him about this was a bad idea. She felt the tension in her muscles starting to build and her palms getting sweaty but when she looked up into his understanding eyes, she felt calm, the tension slowly melting away.
"I'd thought I was so prepared for this, I didn't want what happened last ti-" she explained, then stopped herself, closing her eyes for a moment and taking a breath, "I wanted it to be good."
"But when I got up there they were all staring at me and I felt like such an idiot and I know they all hate me but people just make me so nervous-" She rambled on, her heart rate rising again and her breathing quickening as she spoke, but just then she felt something warm on her forearm that made her pause. Looking down, she realized that Odin had placed his large hand lightly on her arm in an attempt to comfort her. Forcing a smile onto her face, she said, "So I ran out and came to cry in the bathroom like a loser".
"You're not an id-idiot you know," Odin mumbled awkwardly, and Ava's gaze floated back up at him when he said it. The shyness in his voice made it clear he cared about her and wanted to make her feel better. Ava's cheeks warmed at the thought and she felt a genuine, overwhelming smile plaster itself onto her face. Someone cared about her! She'd never imagined that her social anxiety would be what helped her make a friend, much less someone like him, but something about Odin made her feel comfortable, and even though she'd known him all of ten minutes, it felt like they'd known each other all their lives.
"W-wait a second I just realized you insulted m-me by calling me a l-loser!" he cried indignantly, but without any real anger. Ava giggled, she'd wondered when he was going to catch that.
"I w-was trying to be nice but I t-take it back. You are an idiot," jeered Odin. It would've hurt her feelings but his words had no malice behind them, so instead she just frowned and punched him lightly in the shoulder, "Jerk!" she huffed.
He finally looked up at her again, a smile so full of pure emotion on his face that Ava couldn't look away. The intensity of it entrancing her and drawing her closer like a moth to a flame. She had a feeling that he hardly ever smiled like that, but she wished he did, it was amazing and truly one of a kind.
"I bet you could still n-nail your pr-presentation," he mused, hope almost dripping off his words. Looking at him in that moment, she felt like she could do anything. Besides, she had worked so hard on that project, and with her new-found bout of courage she wasn't about to let her anxiety get in the way of her hard work again.
She looked right into his eyes, trembling slightly at the thought of returning to that classroom, "You know what? I think you're right," she agreed, fixing her hair and wiping her eyes. On any other day, she never would've gone back in there, but Odin gave her courage, he made her want to try. Once she was at least semi-presentable she turned back to Odin and hugged him.
Suddenly, Odin felt Ava's tiny figure crashing into him, her arms wrapped around his shoulders, her toes almost leaving the ground. He was stunned; he honestly could not remember the last time he'd hugged anyone. After the initial shock, he relaxed and wrapped his large arms around her back, squeezing her tightly. She was warm and comforting, and Odin could've stayed in that moment forever, but all too soon they broke free. Ava was smiling and waving, promising to meet up tell him all about her presentation after school. When she turned around to leave, auburn hair swinging behind her as she walked, Mary-Janes making click clack sounds on the white bathroom tile, he stared after her in disbelief. Even after she was long gone and the door had stopped swinging, he continued to stare at the spot where she once stood.
He knew, in that moment, that that day in the bathroom had been the best of his life, and Ava Ire was the best thing that would ever happen to him.