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Chapter 1: 
Present Day

A steady staccato of raindrops sharpened the noises of the night. Silent shrieks of lightening danced a step ahead of the thunder’s beating drum, yet this rhythm was no match for the accelerating crescendo of Adrian’s beating heart. Ba. Dum. Ba. Dum. Ba-dum. Ba-dum. Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum! His fear-stricken eyes scoured past the row of mighty evergreens, lining the highway right and left, but still nothing. Nothing. Where was she? He aggressively pulled his car off to the shoulder of the road.

“Scarlett!” he called through his lowered window. “Scarlett!” Her name reverberated throughout the trees. But it was to no avail. The silence that met his calls haunted the darkest depths of his imagination. Tears began to roll down Adrian’s cheeks, his anguish manifested by the pounding of his head against the horn. Each abrupt honk sent a jolt of defeat directly to Adrian’s heart. And then, hopelessly, he cried into his steering wheel, completely oblivious to the horn’s incessant wail.

And with that, he knew she was gone. Again.

Chapter 2:
1 year ago

Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeep! BEEEEEEEEP! The alarm shrilled. Monday was here.

Get out of bed, Scarlett. This is getting ridiculous. Just toss off the covers, swing your legs over, and let your feet touch the ground. You can do this, Scarlett. Baby steps.

But when you take that first step, your foot will leave the inviting warmth of your bed sheets, the place where soft, puffy rectangles safely envelop your unique face, shielding you from the frigidly harsh Out There.

Maybe it would be easier if Out There wasn’t such a stark contrast to In Here. In Here is only you, protected, free. Out There is where everyone else awaits, a vast sea of unforgiving judgment and ridicule. Each decision you make is criticized, each word you speak weighing heavily into Out There’s rapid summation of you. Out There you are simply defined by basic gestures, and all of that pressure crumbles you into less than you. Out There you whither into blankness, nothingness. The burden of saying the wrong thing and looking the wrong way is too immense. Out There you stay silent and smile to pretend that all is well. Out There you are not even merely a shadow of you. Out There you are an image defined by perception. Out There is wrong. And your only choice is to endure.

Scarlett rolled over. She rubbed her eyes, crusty and dry from the tears she shed over night. It was just another day, but for Scarlett, just another day actually meant yet another day. Yet another day to not speak a word, yet another day to watch her peers laughing about how drunk they got together, yet another day to skip lunch and study at the library so she wouldn’t have to worry about who to sit with and what to say. Whenever she did speak, the uncomfortable glances she got from others made her skin burn. Her face reddened. Because she spoke so little, her words were always heard, and they never felt quite right. Timing was off or nobody really cared.

Apprehensively, she slid off of her bed and fumbled for the light switch. She could only sleep in absolute darkness; it was the sole time she had to herself, free of judgment from the people she saw at school. The light reminded her of the day, where she felt shackled to her role of social misfit, the puzzle piece that got mistakenly manufactured with the wrong puzzle.