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A stressful kind of day

5 DAYS LATER

Samantha

I walk into the zoology lab on the third floor while buttoning up my lab coat, my fingers fidgeting a little to try and calm my nerves.

Today’s practical lesson has got me on edge all week. I knew this time would come since the start of the term when I got the class’ curriculum, but I tried not to think about it. At all.

I didn’t really expect for it to affect me so badly, or maybe I didn’t realize it already had, until I woke up this morning with beads of sweat on my forehead after a weird nightmare.

I walk around the tall work tables and find my usual spot next to Nico. I grab a seat on the stool, almost knocking it over as I do.

“Morning Sam, how are you doing?”

Nico’s smile always gives me fuzzy feelings. Even when I was still with Brad, I would sometimes look at Nico and just feel like asking a thousand questions. He just seems like such an interesting person, with so much depth hidden behind his shy hazel eyes. But I never dared ask much, so even after knowing each other for over two years, I actually don’t know a whole lot about him.

“Not too bad,” I say with feigned nonchalance.

Nico turns around and faces me fully, his eyes darting around like he’s analysing my face. I blush, and for once in my life, I’m overly grateful for my bronze skin that hides the burning in my cheeks.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” I ask before the moment can become too uncomfortable.

“Oh, sorry. You just don’t look like yourself today, and I was wondering what looks different... I think your lips are a bit pale.” He says as he scratches his chin. “Do you want me to go grab you a drink or something? There’s still a good 15 minutes until the class starts, I can run down to the cafeteria for you.”

He sounds a little nervous, his voice shaky, but I don’t think much of it, he always sounds like that.

It makes me feel a little bit self-conscious being looked over this way, but at the same time, it warms me up on the inside. Nico’s got such a kind soul, and he always notices when I’m not at my best. He was the only one that realized something was wrong when I broke up with Brad.

So I smile widely, feeling grateful.

“It’s okay, I’m fine. But thank you!”

With that, Nico gets back to reading his textbook, and I start getting my belongings sorted on top of the work bench. I get my notebook out, line up a few pens on top of it, and then open up my own book and lean over to start reading.

I only manage to read the title and a bunch of words that don’t make it all the way to my brain before I completely space out. I’ve been so distracted the last few days, weird ideas clouding my mind.

What am I even doing with my life?

Rambling contemplation pushes my mind one way and the other for a few minutes: I’ve been studying day and night for over two years to get this title, which has been the only priority in my mind. So I can’t understand why I’m having second thoughts all of a sudden. Or maybe I’ve always had these thoughts, but I kept them to the back of my mind instead of listening to them. I take a deep breath, trying not to sigh too loudly as the air hisses out.

I always thought this was what I wanted; a normal and simple life, just what mum always told me to strive for. It’s like it was so drilled in my brain that I couldn’t think of any alternatives. But since breaking up with Brad, something started growing slowly inside of my mind: new ideas taking shape.

And now, after seeing Em this weekend, seeing how freely she feels and acts on the daily, and how well she’s doing with her business, it’s like I’ve been reminded that there’s a little part of me that always wishes to be like that too.

I shake my head and run my hands through my face.

No, I can’t do any of that. Em’s so much stronger than I am, and she has a security net I don’t have. What if something goes wrong, and I end up with no money? I’d put mum in even more financial stress. I could never do that to her. So I’ll stick with my plan, it’s the only way forward.

I don’t know if I feel relieved to come to a conclusion, or if I’m depressed because of the end result of that conclusion, but I smile a little to myself regardless.

I look back at my text book, and read about the anatomy of a rat, all the little organs we will be looking at. And I prepare myself mentally for the moment I will have to watch the dissection, which is creeping closer and closer by the minute.

I can do this, it’s just one rat…

And how many before that one?

My hands are undeniably shaking as I try to take notes on my little pad only half an hour later.

I’m standing all the way to the back of the group, fifteen other students that are gathered around one of the central benches, where professor Menendez is cutting up the rat’s chest with a pair of scissors. He opens its abdomen’s skin as if it was a little window, and pins the skin to the board underneath to keep the torso of the rat exposed.

I have to look away, so I look down at my palms, which are sweaty and visibly shaking. I wipe them on my lab coat and I breathe deeply, urging my stomach to stop churning.

I look back up, and see that Dr. Menendez has turned the rat around to show something to the students on his other side, and I can swear it’s tiny black eyes are now looking right into my soul. I look to the side, and find Nico standing only a couple of steps in front of me. He’s frowning as he concentrates to take every single one of the professor’s words in, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose and nodding at something that was just said. That’s when I realise I have no idea what Dr. Menendez is talking about.

The minutes and second tick by, and I just stand there, looking without seeing, listening without hearing. Taking notes without even knowing what I’m writing. Doodling on the page mindlessly.

“Well, I hope you all enjoyed today’s practice,” Dr. Menendez’s voice reaches me over the haze in my brain, “the class is almost over, and I understand a lot of you might have another class to head over to, but if you don’t -and if you want- you can stay to observe how I open up the skull and get into the-”

That’s it, I can’t listen to another word.

I rush back to my allocated bench, shove all my stuff inside the bag without even worrying about putting it away properly, and I’m out the door before Nico can even realise I’m planning to leave. I’ll text him later and make up some excuse for running away before discussing the paper we’ll have to write.

I dash out of the building as fast as I can, and head to my favourite spot on the bridge over by the river.

Sitting down a few moments later, I realise I’m still wearing the lab coat, so I quickly get back up, take it off and shove it in my bag in a messy ball. Three seconds tic before I take it out, fold it neatly and put it back into the bag. Then I take it out again, empty my bag onto the floor and put every single item away neatly.

Feeling better already, I grab my phone and start mindlessly scrolling through social media. Trying not to think about what I just saw. And then for some reason, a little voice in my head starts reminding me over and over again about Em’s words during the weekend. She looked so upset after I didn’t agree to go on that trip... but Em was pretty drunk and I think maybe she didn’t even mean it… maybe she doesn’t even remember she suggested it.

A trip like that is just a cute fantasy anyways.

I swing my legs, and lean back over an elbow. I take my new book out of my bag, the one I only just started reading this morning on the bus, and I let my mind carry me away into a fantastical and futuristic world where Cinderella is reimagined as a cyborg.


✢✢✢

Antonella

While still trying to wrap my mind around the news, I walk out of my room. I’m half-way up the hallway as I hear the door open and close again in the foyer.

Oh no, Sam is home too early. My hands are shaking slightly, so I hurry to the toilet to splash some cold water over my face, hoping Sam won’t notice the red rim around my eyes.

“Hi mum, I’m home!” She sings happily.

“Hi darling, I’ll be over in a minute!” I yell back from the bathroom, tapping under my eyes with a towel, and realising I can’t really make it look any better.

As soon as I walk out into the dining room, Sam comes over to me with a deep frown and worried eyes, obviously noticing what I was trying to hide. I feel so vulnerable and transparent all of a sudden.

“Mum... what happened? Are you crying?”

I hear the doubt and fear in Sam’s voice, and something twists so painfully inside me that I can’t help the tears that run down my cheek and all the way to the floor as I look at her.

Those eyes. Sam has the same beautiful green eyes that I fell in love with so many years ago. She even has the same brown hues shining bright in her irises. I know Sam’s got his nose, the same shape of his face, and his skin tone too. She certainly resembles him way more than she does me.

I need to tell her.

“Sammy, darling, there’s something I need to talk to you about.” I grab Sam’s hand and lead her over to the couch, where I sit down and wait until she does the same.

“Mum, you’re scaring me, what happened? Are nana and pops okay? Did something happen to one of them?”

How do I reply to such a question?

Yes, and no.

I look at the tears already pooling in Sam’s eyes, and all the years of keeping secrets from her suddenly fall down on my back like a huge weight crushing onto me. Before I can even realise what I’m doing, I hide my face in my hands and burst into tears.

I can tell Sam is probably thinking about the million worst case scenarios as she tries to help calm me down, but I don’t seem to be able to control the pain that’s constricting my chest, a pain I’ve been holding onto for so many years.

I hear Sam running to the kitchen, and shortly after she comes back with a cup of tea on her hands.

“So sorry darling, I shouldn’t scare you like that,” I say as I grab the cup and take a sip. I feel slightly more composed, but also ashamed. I feel like a teeneger all over again, with Sam acting the same way my own mother did when I returned to her broken, and she tried to help me put the pieces back together.

Sam sits back down and waits for me to begin talking.

“You don’t need to worry, nana and pops are okay,” I say, and then pause for a second, reassuring myself that it’s okay to open up, “at least the ones you know about.”

Sam looks mostly confused, but I can also see worry in her eyes. Taking one last deep breath, I decide it’s time to let it all out.

“I need to tell you a story,” I say slowly, “it’s about your father.”

Sam’s body tenses, but she doesn’t say a word, so I keep going.

“I’m sorry you caught me so upset, but I received word from your grandad... from your father’s side of the family. And I think it’s time I tell you a story,” I pause for another moment, waiting for Sam to say something, but nothing comes out of her mouth. “Your grandad passed away a couple of weeks ago, and they have finally made the connection all the way to you... There’s a sizable inheritance to discuss.”

Sam blinks, looks up at me, and nods a little.

“You know, when I was young, I always had a burning desire to travel the whole world,” and so I begin to tell the story of my life.

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