Earworm: Part 49 — Dazed and Confused

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 48 — The Crypt

Bands of late afternoon light fell in blotched shapes on the carpeted floor. Neither Hope nor Joel—sitting in a booth in The Whale’s Tale—touched the food set in front of them. Joel stared at the table with the concentration of a chess master pondering a move. Hope watched him in much the same way. “You okay?” she said to him.

“Huh?” Joel looked up at her.

“You look a little dazed and confused,” Hope said, using an expression her stepfather sometimes dropped—she suspected it had something to do with an old rock song, but she was unsure what the name of it was.

“Uh… no, just thinking.”

“About?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Doesn’t surprise me.” Hope grinned, but Joel’s deadpan expression told her the joke skimmed over his head. She changed her expression to one more serious. “You want to talk about it? Everything okay?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged, picking up a fry from his plate and poking at the rest of his food.

“I don’t know, meaning yes?” Hope said. She tried to keep an inviting expression on her face, but she realized that Joel had probably had it with her recent neurosis. And now that she has had no bad dreams for two nights, and her nightmares were hidden beyond the horizon of her rearview mirror, she saw in hindsight just how strange she’d been acting. Joel had every right to say, You know what? You’re a nutcase, and I’m moving on. Hope fought the urge to blurt out the phrase Joel often uttered during uncomfortable silences, Are you gonna dump me?

“I don’t know, meaning I don’t know,” Joel said. He ate the fry and picked out another one to continue his food poking. “You’ve been kind of…” he shrugged, not looking at her when he spoke, “I don’t know.” He finished off the fry in his hand and picked up a new one.

“A bitch?” Hope said.

“No,” he said, as if the thought never entered his mind, but Hope knew better.

“Look,” she said, “I know I’ve been acting a bit off lately. I’ve just been feeling… weird with all these dreams. I haven’t been feeling well. I haven’t been sleeping well. But the last couple of nights, I haven’t had bad dreams. It felt good to finally sleep. I just wanted to get some rest. That’s why I didn’t go out the last couple of nights. It had nothing to do with you.”

“Maybe it’s because I haven’t been around that you haven’t had bad dreams,” Joel said. He tossed down his fry and took a sip of his Coke.

“No, it has nothing to do with you,” Hope said in a definite tone. Although, that thought did cross her mind a few times. After all, she hadn’t seen Joel for two days, and those two nights did happen to be nightmare-free.

“Yeah, well,” Joel said, shrugging again, “just because you’re having bad dreams, it doesn’t have to affect your life.”

“I know it sounds stupid,” Hope said, “but… You just can’t understand how real my dreams have been.” Joel, sitting in silence and staring at his food, raised his eyebrows in an, if you say so, expression. Hope said, “They really affected me. I mean, just the memories of them popped up at the weirdest times.”

Joel picked up another fry. “Well, you didn’t have to take it out on me.”

“I didn’t.”

“Well, I mean, I was trying to be all supportive and everything, and you start telling me you’re having nightmares about me.”

“But I was having nightmares about you.”

“Yeah, but… I don’t know, it just made me feel bad.”

“Sorry,” Hope said. “You asked me what was wrong, and… What did you want me to do, lie to you?”

“No, I just… I don’t know.”

“Next time I just won’t tell you.”

“Next time?”

“I can’t control my dreams, Joel,” Hope said. Joel didn’t respond. The quiet hung almost tangible between them. Hope, watching a waitress take another table’s order, said, “Is there something else the matter?”

Joel tossed the fry onto his plate and reached for his soda. “Just tired,” he said.

Continued in: Earworm: Part 50 — The Locker Room

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