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Finding the Meaning of Life in the Janitor's Closet

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Teri currently felt embarrassed and panicked.

Her day had started out normal. She got out of bed, washed her hands, took a shower, washed her hands again, got dressed, and then made her way to school (making sure to grab her bag of sanitary items on the way out the door.)

However, the day started it's quick descent into horror when she discovered the bump on the back of her next in second period.

Alarm rushed through her body. This freight wasn't helped by the quick google search she did of her symptoms. WebMD had listed every type of cancer in the book, and she prayed the internet kept it's track record of false information. Still, she needed to find out

Her shakey hand shot up, and a mildly annoyed Ms. Simian allowed her to go to the nurses office. Teri could has sworn she heard the ape muttering something about "12th time the week," or something along those lines.

She walked down the halls she had roamed numerous times before until the was met with the sign outside the door that read "Ms. Markham."

Teri opened the door, and was met with an immediate sigh.

"What seems to be the problem this time, Teri?"

"Well, I felt this wierd sort of bump on the back of my neck, and I'm afraid it might be cancerous."

Ms. Markham walked around her desk and instructed Teri to sit upon the cushioned table. She reached for Teri's nec—

"Wait!" Teri screamed a little too loud,  surprising even herself. "C-Can you please pu-put on some gloves bef-before touching me..."

A look of annoyance flooded the nurses face, accompanied by an eye roll, but still, she complied.

Mrs. Markham pulled on some latex gloves and began examining the bump.

"Just as I suspected, it's only a pimple."

"Are you sure, because I real—"

"Yes, I'm sure!" the nurse rudely cut Teri off, sending her into immediate silence. "Listen, little girl! Every. Single. Day. you come to my office with a new illness, disease, or ailment. When are you gonna realize that you are just an insecure, delusional, fool who only wastes my time! You aren't sick, dead, or dying, so get to class."

Teri was absolutely dumbfounded. She was aware she irked the nurse to some degree, but she didn't expect she'd ever snap at her like that.

With tears brimming her eyes, legs shaking, Teri shuffled off the observation table and rushed into the hall.

She had no plans of returning to class. How could she, what with the way she was crying. With tears blurring her vision, she rushed into the one room in the school that made her feel safe: the janitors closet.

And that's where she found herself now, knees to her chest, still crying her eyes out.

Her thoughts swam with the nurses words. 'Am I really that annoying? Do I really just waste everyone's time?'

What hurt Teri the most, however, was that the nurse knew she had illness anxiety disorder. She knew she couldn't help it. It wasn't her fault she was constantly fretting over her health. She didn't ask to be born a hypochondriac.

Suddenly, the door to the closet started turning, snapping her out of her thoughts.

~~~

Ocho was currently angry and disoriented.

Just like Teri, Ocho's day started out fairly normal. He woke up still tired, grabbed a shower, put on some fresh clothes, waved his mother goodbye, and began his walk to school.

His day took a turn for the worse during 3rd period recess.

Ocho was minding his business, sitting in the grass drawing when he got hit in the back of the head with a football. He turned to find the perpetrator and saw Tobias and his friends looking at him, a few laughing.

He was hit with a wave of anger, but caught himself before he could act on it. He took a deep breath, held it for 7 seconds, and released it for 5. Just like his therapist taught him.

Setting his pencil and paper down, he grasped the ball and tossed it to Tobias who was running to retrieve it.

"Try to throw that thing at someone who's actually playing next time," Ocho quipped, hoping to lighten the mood.

"Sorry man, your heads so big it's kinda hard to miss" Tobias retorted with his signature smug smirk.

"What did you just say to me?" Ocho stood up angrily. Though Tobias was a few inches taller than him, Ocho more than made up for it with his scrappy nature.

"You heard me, beaner," Tobias pushed Ocho hard on the shoulder. "You and your entire family of freaks should just go back to where you came from!"

Rage gripped Ocho, and he saw red.

He didn't know exactly what happened. When he came to, Mr. Smalls had him by the shoulders, pulling him off of a now battered and bruised Tobias.

"Ocho, go to the principals office, now. Bobert, help me take Mr. Wilson to the nurse."

'Oh great, another detention.'

As Ocho walked towards the principal's office, he could still feel his teeth baring and his fists clenching and unclenching.

He knew that if he went to the principal without calming down first he would end up mouthing off to him, likely resulting in even more detention. So he decided to go to his designated area for cooling off: the janitors closet.

The chances of someone catching him in the closet were low given that hardly anyone goes in there. It was rare even for Rocky given how little he actually does his job, making it the perfect place for him to get a breather.

Ocho arrived at the closet, still angrily muttering to himself. He opened the door and slipped inside, shutting the door behind him before he finally realized he was alone.

When Ocho heard a small gasp from inside the room, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

"S-Sorry for scaring you! I didn't mean to!"

When Ocho heard that voice, he froze. He'd recognize that voice anywhere. When he looked at the girl sitting on the ground in front of him, his suspicions we're confirmed.

Teri was right in front of him, and he felt his cheeks heat up. For the past few months, Ocho had found himself developing an admiration for the germaphobe. He'd found himself on numerous occasions wishing to talk to her, know more about her, maybe even sit with her at lunch.

But alas, Ocho had a reputation. He was known all around Elmore as someone you wanted to steer clear of at all costs. He was a hothead; short-fused; explosive.

Nobody could see how hard he was trying, and by God, he was trying. He sought out therapy to help with his Bipolar diagnosis, he took 4 different medications to regulate his serotonin, he did meditation every night. But still, no one cared. Everyone saw his number, and apparently his number wasn't good enough.

"Uhh, are yo-you okay?"

The voice brought Ocho back to the present.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Ocho replied a little too quickly, as if he'd only now just remembered where he was. "What are you doing in here?"

"Oh, you know, just thinking about the meaning of life and other existential questions..." Teri jested with a small smile, hoping he didn't notice that fact that she was crying.

"Well I don't think you're gonna find the meaning of life in here. Unless you think it's—" Ocho grabbed a bottle off the shelf before holding it up, "—Windex."

Teri giggled a little, happy he went along with her charade. Ocho took that as a sign that he was allowed to take a seat next to her.

He wasn't stupid. Ocho knew she was crying, but he didn't consider himself to be the most emotionally equipt person to handle the situation, and he didn't even know how to begin in finding out what was wrong. He decided that maybe if he just talked to her, she might feel a little better, and he might even find out why she was crying.

"So, you come here often?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. This is where I go when Elmore High gets a little too frantic for my liking," Teri replied, gesturing around the room. "What about you?"

"Same really. I come here when I need to cool down. Wierd we haven't run into each other before."

Teri agreed, and the two fell into a comfortable silence.

Teri could hardly believe this was the same Ocho that everyone was telling her to be wary off.

Come to think of it, she'd never actually talked to him herself, and she felt a little guilty about judging him by his cover. Well, his cover and the SparkNotes summary the girls on her cheer team had given her.

The point being, he actually seemed like a nice guy. For some reason, she felt as if she could trust him. Teri raised her head to look at him.

"Can I ask you a dumb question?" Teri inquired.

"Only if you're okay with a dumb answer," Ocho smiled. 

Teri gave him a smile before it fell off her face.

"Do you think I'm annoying?"

"What?" Ocho was taken aback. He had no idea what she was gonna ask him, but he certainly didn't expect this.

"Do you think I'm annoying?" she repeated in the same dejected tone of voice.

"Absolutely not! Did anyone tell you that you that you were?" Ocho could feel the anger from earlier reviving, this time directed at the bastard that dared to make this sweetheart upset.

"Well, yeah—" Teri saw his fist clench, "— Ms. Markham pretty much said I'm annoying and that I waste everyone's time because I constantly think I'm sick."

Ocho was utterly appalled. How could someone – a teacher at that – call someone irritating because of their mental disorder.

"But it's not your fault! Illness anxiety disorder isn't something that can be turned off like a switch! Teri, look at me. Don't listen to dumbasses like her. How you feel is perfectly valid and you should be comfortable with feeling it. Anyone who says differently can fuck off."

Teri felt like crying again, but for a completely different reason than before. She'd never heard someone tell her that her feelings were valid. She was so used to being dismissed and brushed off, and it felt so good to be acknowledged.

"Thank you," Teri said, tears now falling down her face.

"No problem, I know exactly how you feel."

"What do you mean?"

Ocho gave a nervous glance in Teri's direction. He didn't want to scare her off, but he also wanted to be open and honest like she had been with him. He took a deep breath and decided to trust in her. To trust that she wouldn't run away on him.

"W-Well, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a while ago. I'm extremely prone to mood swings and fits of anger, as I'm sure you've heard. I don't mean to be so violent all the time, I just get ticked off and then I just...just explode," he said, exasperated.

"But I'm trying to get better," he added quicky. "I've been going to therapy, meditating, and I'm trying out different medications right now. I'm getting better, I swear!"

"I'm proud of you."

"Huh?" Ocho was sure he must have misheard her.

"I said I'm proud of you," Teri reiterated firmly. "It takes a big person to admit they have a problem, and it takes an even bigger person to actually do something about it. You are doing something and for that, I am proud of you."

Ocho had never heard those 4 words from anyone, not even his family. To have all the long, nauseous medication induced nights and all of the dollars he spent on his therapist be validated was sensational. He felt his blood rush to his cheeks and his heart skip a beat.

Oh yeah, he definitely liked this girl.

Once again, the two fell into a comfortable silence, just enjoying each other's company.

That was, until Ocho felt the strong, overbearing urge to hold her hand.

His right hand left his lap, and inched it's way closer to her left one resting on the floor. His hand hesitated just as it was above hers. 'Shit, it's probably a bad idea to touch the germaphobe without consent, huh?'

Ocho awkwardly retracted his hand, praying that she hadn't noticed his failed attempt.

A giggle interrupted his prayers.

"You really are thoughtful, you know that?" Teri laughed, reaching into her sanitary supplies bag and pulling out 2 latex gloves before tossing one over to him.

He watched dumbfounded as she slipped the glove over her left hand with ease only gained by frequency.

"Well I didn't just give you one so you could just look at it.

"R-Right, sorry," Ocho stammered, embarrassed as he fumbled with the glove.

Once he finally painstakingly put the glove on, Teri gentle took his hand. Their fingers interlocked, and despite Ocho's hand being nearly twice the size of Teri's, they oddly fit perfectly together. Almost like a lock and key.

They lost all notion of time that chemical fumed closet. Neither were aware of time passing as they sat in each other's company. It was just them, hands connected, large thumb grazing petite knuckles.

Staring at Teri, Ocho realized he was wrong earlier.

Because he'd certainly found the meaning to his life in this closet, and he was holding her hand.