Continued from: Earworm: Part 44 — That’s It
Joel’s voice coming across the phone lines sounded distant and lost. “Why weren’t you in school today?”
“I didn’t feel well,” Hope said.
“Are you sick?”
No, just crazy, Joel, is that answer satisfying enough for you? I’ve finally snapped. And now the doctor says I need to be studied in a lab. Did you get that last part? A LAB. “No. I was just really tired this morning.”
Oh, yes, more nightmares. About who? About you still. But instead of peeing on Daddy’s grave, this time you tried to roast me alive like a pig on a spit. And there’ll be plenty more nightmares, know why? I’m crazy—Yippee—doctor even said so—in so many words, anyway. So could you talk to me in slow, easy to understand tones like I’m fragile and words will break me, because that’s how people will talk to me from now on. And they’ll whisper about me, even when there’s no one around to hear, fearing that their voices might unravel me somehow. “I’m just tired,” Hope said in a curt voice.
“So are you like sick?”
Could you please speak up, Joel? You’re competing with the voices in my head. “Nope,” she said, “just tired.” There was a brief silence. “Look, Joel, I don’t want to talk about this anymore, all right?”
“You know, Hope…” Joel’s voice the careful tone people use with lunatics—Hope wanted to scream—Joel saying, “If you’re getting sick over dreams…” He paused, then continuing in his stable, neutral, you nutcase, voice, “you should probably see a doctor.”
“What would a doctor do?” Hope said. She didn’t want to tell Joel she’d already been to the doctor’s. It would only lead to her having to admit that she was off to the lab. Hope said, “The doctor would just say, sorry, there’s nothing we can do for you, oh well, too bad.” Or they might allude to the fact that I’m nuts and cart me off to a loony bin. She could hear Jennifer Waltson’s voice: Did you hear? Hope Ferretti’s gone cuckoo. They’re giving her electric shocks, and she tried to bite off an orderly’s nose because she thought he was a giant fish stick.
“I didn’t mean that kind of doctor,” Joel said.
“What’re you soliciting for your father now?”
There was silence.
“Sorry,” Hope said. “Look, I’m fine. Just tired because I didn’t sleep well. So can we stop this? I really want to talk about something else.”
“Okay…” Joel said with the careful tone used with people whose heads are wired like car bombs. Now, careful, cut only the green wire—snip—okay…
“So what are you doing tonight?” Hope said. She tried to sound open to conversation, but she longed to hang up the phone.
“Nothing. Me and Guard are going to play football on his X-Box. You know, relax and rest up for the game tomorrow. How about you?”
“I’m not doing anything,” she said. She then filled the impending silence, hoping to move this interaction a little quicker to its end, by asking, “Anything happen in school today?” She found relief in taking control of the conversation.
“No, not really,” Joel said, but then he added in his spontaneous way, “Hey, I gave that Willy Knight kid a bloody nose.”
“What? You hit him?”
Hope summoned images from the shadows of her mind, visions of Joel and William battling for her—Joel wanting her burnt at the stake, William wanting to save her. Did they really fight for her in school? Did the real William Knight stand up and profess his love for Hope, and then Joel clocked him?
Of course not. This was where things blurred in her mind. The William in her dreams was not the William in her school, and separating the two entities was becoming as difficult as getting the chocolate out of chocolate milk. So then why did Joel hit him?
“No, I didn’t hit him,” Joel said. “Well, not with my fist, anyway. I spiked a volleyball in gym and it hit him square in the face. Blood was pouring out of his nose. I felt pretty bad.”
“Did you get in trouble?”
“Nah, it was an accident. Kid didn’t even have his hands up.”
“Was he okay? Did you break his nose?”
“He was fine. I even apologized afterward, but he…” Joel broke off for a moment, “…he wasn’t very forgiving.”
Again, the visions of her nightmares stole into Hope’s mind—Joel with the torch, the pyre, the crowd cheering, William offering salvation. It’s you behind the nightmares.
Like a plane in a downdraft, the bottom dropped out of Hope’s thoughts. “I’ve got to get going,” Hope said, “I’m tired.”
“All right,” Joel said in his tentative way. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Okay.” There was a brief pause. “Bye,” she said.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 46 — The Handoff
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