Continued from: Earworm: Part 22 — Bats
Hope sat up in her bed, her brain doing a loop-de-loop in her skull. She fought through a brief moment of nausea as she recalled the party, and the too many beers she’d had. She remembered Joel and her friends hanging out, watching the Beer Pong game, the conversation with Katie Adams about Joel and Tara, and she remembered something else, something seemingly important. A voice she didn’t quite recognize speaking in her memories. Scolding her.
Have you been drinking?
Did her parents catch her drunk last night?
She took a moment to piece together the evening. She remembered hanging out at Katie Adams’s party, finding herself drinking more beers than she intended to, and then Joel had dropped her off at home. She had let herself in through the front door—the house quiet, hall light on—and she ascended the stairs to her room, going to bed without incident, right? Yes, because she remembered lying in bed, floating on her buzz, thinking of Joel and Tara, and what Katie had told her about them. Then why did she feel as if she was scolded for drinking?
She regarded her bedroom, gathering her thoughts and clearing the cobwebs from her tired mind. Her eyes fell on the poster of the castle on her wall, and that’s when the missing pieces of her night fell into place. The scolding
Have you been drinking?
was, not from her mother or stepfather, but from William Knight, his eyes filled with parent-like disapproval.
But where had she seen William? Was he waiting in her house, arms crossed, foot tapping, Where have you been? No, that wasn’t it. He was waiting for her in her dream, arms crossed, foot tapping, Where have you been? Did she really dream that a classmate reprimanded her for coming home drunk? She tried to recall the entire dream, but all she remembered was William’s disapproval of her state. And when she looked at the parent-like disappointment on William’s face, she couldn’t help herself, she broke into laughter. William shook his head, saying that there was something important he wanted to give her—“But forget it now,” he said.
“Aw, c’mon,” Hope said in the dream, still laughing and stumbling a little. She actually felt drunk in the dream.
“We can try again tomorrow night,” William said. And then Hope woke up, looking around her dark bedroom for a moment before dropping back to sleep.
Now, sitting up on her mattress, the morning sunlight peeking through her blinds, Hope shook off the thoughts of her dream and she climbed from her bed, shuffling off to the bathroom to start her day.
As Hope shuffled off to the bathroom to start her day, William Knight was lying in his bed. He rolled over, pulling the blankets close to his chin and glancing at the digital readout of his clock. The clock’s fading, battery-powered, digital readout was framed by the sprawling figure of Spiderman about to fire his webbing from his wrist. The clock was the only relic from his former life here on the island. Apparently, when the police officer took him from his crib, the officer took the clock from the bureau and handed it to the screaming toddler to calm him. And the clock had done the trick—or so Greta told him—and Spidey had adorned his bedroom ever since. The readout on Spidey’s chest read: 9:06am, and a few miles away, Hope climbed into the shower. But William wouldn’t know that. He couldn’t find her when she was awake, which was why he didn’t find her until late last night. And when he did finally find her… well, what a disaster that was. She had been drunk, and he didn’t want to show her what he had for her if she was drunk. But, no matter, there were other people to visit.
William figured it was time he got up to start the day. But the coming hours were a long, flat, empty highway to his desired destination. Sleep. And dreams. Just like Spidey, stopped mid-web-shoot, William felt as if time was frozen for him, too. It was over twenty-four hours since he last “saw” Hope. Not, of course, considering their brief encounter last night. And he longed to see her again. Where was she at that moment? Was she thinking about him? Did she want to enter her castle again? He glanced at his clock. Spidey still insisting it was only 9:06.
By the afternoon, Hope figured she’d give her English homework a shot. But Shakespeare’s words, which she found impossible enough to read, were washed away by the distraction of Joel and Tara—Joel and Tara—Joel and Tara—“Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell content!” she read, but—Joel and Tara—Joel and Tara—Joel and Tara—ran through her mind like a locomotive’s rhythm. Her phone rang. She looked at the Caller I.D. Joel. She answered it.
As Hope answered her phone, William was kicking at the drifting, dying leaves in the woods behind his neighborhood. He heard the sounds of a role-playing preteen’s voice in the distance and a slight smile slipped across his face. William found David dashing about with his stick. And judging from the humming sounds David made, it was obvious he’d traded Tolkein for Lucas. The boy was in the midst of an epic battle, deflecting laser blasts and swinging his light saber. David’s imagined foe knocked his weapon from David’s hand, the stick dropping to the ground. David rolled across the ground, popping up onto one knee and flinging out his hand as if trying to recall his weapon by using the Force. A stick landed beside him. David stared at the stick with comical wonder, as if believing for a moment he’d actually harnessed the Force.
William laughed at David’s expression. “Howdy, Frodo Baggins,” William said. “Or, today is it Obi-won?”
David’s eyes were enormous, his mouth hung open.
“Sorry,” William said, cutting short his laughter. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I almost had a h-h-heart attack,” David said, his eyes returning to their normal size, his body relaxing.
“Yeah, I said I was sorry,” William said, looking around the woods. “You come out here every day or something?”
“No, I was j-j-just bored.”
“Yeah, me too,” William said. He picked up a stick and made his own buzzing, humming sounds, waving the stick back and forth.
David looked on with a blank expression.
William made a quick motion with the stick and then groaned as if grabbing hold of a hot iron.
David furrowed his brow.
William held up his arm, his hand tucked into his sleeve. “Uh-oh,” he said, looking into the cuff as if searching for his missing hand.
William looked at the stick as if inspecting it. “They should put warnings on these light-sabers,” he said. “Caution: may cause appendage removal. Please do not use if you are tired, drunk, or if you are a clumsy Wookie.”
David laughed harder. He picked up a stick of his own. “Aargg-aaarh,” he growled in his best Wookie voice. Then, pretending to sever his own hand, he growled, “Rrrutt-rrroe,” in a voice more Scooby-doo than Chewbacca.
William dropped the stick and held up his other hand tucked into his other sleeve. “Oops. Please do not use light-saber if distracted by Princess Leia in a slave-girl bikini.”
David bent over, holding his stomach, and said, his voice cut by both his stutter and his laughter, “Or Queen Amadalla’s c-c-c-clown m-m-makeup.”
William joined David’s laughter, the two of them laughing in the empty woods.
As William and David laughed, Hope hung up the phone. Her mind was none the less distracted. She had asked Joel about hooking up with Tara. His response was little comfort. “What?” he said, the surprise she had somehow found out betraying his voice, “Where did you hear that?”
“Oh,” he said, as if he meant to mount an argument, maybe even deny the accusation, but when he heard the source, he knew denial was futile.
“So it’s true?”
“Kind of, I guess.”
“Kind of, you guess? What does that mean?”
“It means, yeah, Tara and I hooked up, but nothing really happened.”
“Why didn’t either of you tell me?”
“There was nothing to tell.”
Hope had no response to that. After all, it happened before she and Joel began dating. It was none of her business. Or was it? No, it’s not. So she decided to drop it. But when she hung up the phone, her train of thought still ran along the tracks of Joel and Tara—Joel and Tara—Joel and Tara—
As Hope fought to focus on her homework, David asked William, “What’s h-h-high sc-school like?”
“It’s all right,” William said, tapping his stick on the tree trunks he passed like a prison guard running his baton along bars.
“Are you p-p-popular?” David tapped his own stick, mimicking William.
William paused a moment. “Yeah. I mean, I’ve got a lot of friends.”
“I don’t h-h-have any f-f-f-friends,” David stammered with his eyes lowered in shame. He paused a moment, as if allowing William to respond.
William didn’t say anything.
“I get m-m-m-made fun of for my st-st-stutt-sstutt—my voice.”
A cloud passed over William’s face, and not looking up from his own feet, he said, “Yeah, well, some kids can be assholes.”
For about a hundred feet, the only sound was the tap-tap-tap of their sticks against the tree trunks. David then asked, “Do y-y-you have a g-g-girlfriend?”
“Is she p-pr-pr-pretty?”
“Of course she is. She’s beautiful.”
“What do y-y-you two do?”
“All kinds of stuff.”
“Have y-y-y-you had s-s-s-sex?” David said with vicarious hope in his eyes.
William swung his stick, striking David on the shin.
“Ow,” David said, rubbing his shin and walking in a galloping, lunging motion.
“That’s my woman you’re talking about. She’s not like that.”
Later that night, Hope typed the final paragraph of her essay:
Now, as I head into the eve of my childhood, I reflect on the past 16 years. I reflect on a family’s support and love, the companionship of friends, the dedication of teachers, but most of all, I reflect on how much I’ve grown and what I’ve accomplished. I can’t pick one moment that changed my life. I can only reflect on the many moments that shaped it.
Hope reread the paragraph, and thought, It may be bull shit, but it’s gonna have to do. She hit the print icon on her computer screen. The paper ran through the printer.
The paper slid out of the printer with its jerky, robotic stutter. William picked it up and proofread his heading. “The Moment That Most Shaped My Life.” He then read the one sentence centered below it—which was not about the island’s most famous murder-suicide, or the time his stepfather tried to murder him. Instead, the sentence read: “The moment that most changed my life was the day I found Hope.”
Continued in: Earworm: Part 24 — The One Thing