Continued from: Earworm: Part 23 — Finding Hope
Hope stood on the castle’s balcony, overlooking a gray sea and sky. It was the moment before dawn, when the world—William Knight’s world—welcomed the coming sun—William Knight’s sun—with silent serenity. A gleam caught Hope’s eye. She looked down to see the moon—William Knight’s moon—hanging from a thread of stars. She lifted the jewel from her breast, its energy tingling her fingertips.
“Wait until you see this,” William said, seeming to materialize beside her.
“William,” Hope gasped. Her face broke into a grin. “You surprised me.”
One edge of William’s mouth twitched in a semi-smile, and he said, “Seriously,” nodding toward the distant sky, “you don’t want to miss this.”
Like the heating coils of an electric range, the horizon began to glow orange-red. The few, thin clouds in the sky radiated a soft gold. Then the scarlet sliver of the sun’s crown broke the sea’s surface and a ribbon of crimson cut the lavender sea like a wound. The clouds erupted into brilliant silver, the sky exploding into countless shades of violet and pink and orange and yellow. The sun continued its ascent above the horizon, shifting from scarlet to gold. The ocean drained of its lavender color and deepened to a dark blue, millions of white flames dancing and swimming across its surface like flaming fish.
“Like it?” William said, reminding Hope of a child holding out a finger-painting.
Hope looked at him, still holding the moon in her tingling fingers, and the bright beaming smile—the one she offered her closest friends, the one she offered Joel Fitch—stole her face. “It’s amazing,” she said.
“I can give you something better,” William said, offering his hand with a sly grin.
“Oh yeah. Trust me.” William’s grin became an all-out smile.
“You’ve said that before,” Hope said.
“Have I disappointed you yet?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Okay, then. Close your eyes.”
“C’mon,” William said, “Close your eyes.”
“Fine.” Hope closed her eyes.
William stepped behind her. “All right,” he whispered into her ear—Hope felt the firmness of his hands on her shoulders and his warm breath tickling her earlobe—“Think about the one thing you want, the one thing you want more than anything else.”
Hope shifted her hips and scrunched her nose.
What’s the one thing I want? Of course, that’s easy, she thought.
Again, Hope felt the sensation of thoughts taking flight from her head. She closed her eyes tighter. “Well,” she said, “the one thing in the world I want, I can’t have because…”
“Hello, My Hope,” a voice said.
Hope’s fists clenched, her fingernails digging into her palms. “Open your eyes,” William whispered into her ear. “He’s really there.”
Hope opened her eyes. Her father stood before her, regarding her with his soft, brown eyes. He spoke to her with a voice that tickled her memory, using the same term of endearment he had always used for her. My Hope. “Daddy?” Hope said, barely able to summon air to work her voice. Her father spread his arms to receive her and Hope lunged into his embrace. Her body went limp, tears inundating her eyes. “I missed you so much,” she said, her voice catching on sobs.
“I know, My Hope,” her father said. “But I’m back now, and I’ll never leave you again.”
Hope sobbed harder as her father gave a series of, soft hushes. Something he’d always done when comforting her. “Shh-shh-shh. It’s all right,” he said.
She felt the rise and fall of each of his breaths, and she felt each soft knock of his heart.
He held her at arm’s length. “Now let me get a good look at you.” He wiped tears from below her eyes as if brushing dust from an heirloom.
She observed each of his mannerisms with a salient, nostalgic sense of déjà vu, and she felt a little lightheaded—memories fluttering off as if stolen—as she swam in the shock of the moment.
“You’ve grown to become so beautiful,” he said. “Now you’ve got to tell me, how is your mother?”
Hope sniffled, replacing a sob with a laugh. She wiped tears with the palm of her hand. “She’s good,” she said. “She remarried a guy named Ron. He’s good to us, but… we miss you so much.” Tears overflowed from her again.
“I know. It’s okay. I’m here,” her father said. “And how’s school? Meet anyone new and interesting? Any beaus for my belle?”
Hope’s tears faded. What about Karen? she thought, Why wouldn’t he ask about Karen? Hope looked into her father’s blue eyes.
Her heart took a stutter step. Are his eyes blue? She squinted, focusing on her father’s irises. His face distorted like a ripple through a pond, but then reassembled. Hope shut her eyes. Again, she felt woozy, something in her mind fluttering away. When she opened her eyes, she saw her father’s eyes were the same soft brown they’d always been.
“And Karen? How’s my beautiful Karen?” her father said.
“She’s great,” Hope said with a strange sense of relief. “But…” But, what? What does one ask one’s father who has been dead for six years? “How did you get here?”
“I’ve always been here. Remember? It was William that brought you to me.” He directed a proud smile toward William.
Hope turned to face William. “But, why?”
“I wanted to give you something special.”
“Does it matter?” William said.
Hope took William’s face in her hands and she drew his face close to hers. “I don’t know how to thank you,” she said. She kissed him tenderly on the lips.
After initially blinking, dazed from the shock of the kiss, William’s gaze leveled onto her. “You…” he began to say, but the grating sound of her distant alarm clock interrupted him.
“No,” Hope said.
“Hope,” a man’s voice called into the dream like the voice of God in a Cecil B. Demille film.
“No. Please. William, please, not now.”
“I’m sorry,” William said, a helpless look filling his eyes.
Hope looked to her father. “But, Daddy, I don’t want to go.”
“It’s okay,” her father said. “I’ll still be here for when you come back.”
The screeching continued. Hope lunged for her father, but passed through him as he faded into nothingness. The castle shook as the hall they stood in faded until there was only darkness. And the screeching alarm. And the voice. “Hope?”
Hope opened her eyes. Her alarm clock screamed. Ron stood over her, rocking her awake.
“Hope?” Ron said, “Are you okay?”
She looked at him for a long unflinching moment, and then she burst into tears.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 25 — Belonging