Earworm: Part 40 — Hostage

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 39 — Dorm Life

Joel strolled into homeroom. Hope sat in her usual seat. Joel paused, noticing her drawn face, her eyes heavy with concern. Or was that fear? Joel smiled as he approached her, trying to spark a little life into her drooping body language, but his grin faded when Hope didn’t look up at him. She regarded her hands with the sad countenance of someone listening to a eulogy. Joel ducked into the seat behind her. “Hey,” he said, “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” she said without turning around.

“You okay?” He caressed a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. She flinched as if someone shouted, Look out. “Whoa,” Joel said, holding up his hands, “What’s the matter with you?” Hope turned in her seat to face Joel. She looked like a videotaped hostage pleading for ransom. “You all right?” Joel said, his voice a mixture of curiosity and concern.

“Just tired,” Hope looked down at the floor.

“You sick? Or… this isn’t because of those dreams still, is it?”

“I’m just not sleeping well.”

“You still dreaming all that weird stuff with your dad?”

“No, I… I’m just having nightmares.” Her tone was dreamy and defeated.

“Nightmares?” Curiosity buying out the concern in Joel’s voice. He reflected a moment and then said, “About what?” Hope shrugged. Joel leaned forward, “You’re all tense” he said, laying his hands on her shoulders. This time, Hope didn’t just flinch, she cringed, drawing in a gasp. Joel drew his hands away. “What’s the matter with you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Were they nightmares about your dad?” She shrugged. The bell rang. Joel saying, “C’mon, what were they about?”

“Nothing.” She gathered her books for first period.

“Nothing? You look pretty upset for it to be noth…”

Hope turned on him, saying, “Look, I just don’t want to talk about it now, is that all right with you?” She darted away with her books pressed to her chest.

“Okay.” Joel plodded after her.

They stopped in front of Ms. Bradford’s classroom. Joel peered into Hope’s face as if trying to decipher a map. “You gonna be okay?” he said. She looked at his sneakers and nodded. Joel said, “You sure you don’t want to…” Hope looked up at him with the expression of a do not enter sign. “Okay,” Joel said. He seemed searching for something to say, but when he came up with no comment, no sensitive sentiment, no word of parting encouragement, he shook his head and moped off down the hall.

Hope entered the classroom, her eyes springing at once to William Knight. William looked spooked for a moment, the same expression that always stole his face when first making eye contact with Hope. But then that expression fell away, replaced by a new expression. He regarded her like a barber assessing a butchered haircut. Hope rushed to her seat. She struggled against the urge to turn and look at him, but she stole several quick glances anyway. Luckily, the bell rang and the arriving Mrs. Bradford caught Hope’s attention.

The commencing class was a torturous progression of ambiguity. Hope performing the class’s tasks—opening her book on cue, handing in work, copying notes—but she performed them as if hypnotized, until mercifully the bell ending the period startled her out of a sleepy haze and she lifted from her seat to leave. Turning, she spotted William sitting in the back of the room. He stared at her. She stopped and glared at him. “What are you lookin at?” she sneered. She didn’t wait for a response as she stormed from the room.

At the end of last period, as the rest of the class filed out of the room, Mr. Grey said, “Ms. Ferretti, may I see you please.” Joel glanced back at Hope as he floated off on a tide of conversation with his buddies. Hope stood in front of Mr. Grey’s desk as he scribbled comments on an essay. He glanced over his reading glasses. “Would you care to sit down?” He nodded toward the chair beside his desk. Hope sat. Mr. Grey finished scribbling and looked up at her. “Hope, you look dreadful. And I refuse to be patronized by you telling me it’s nothin.” He said this last word in the moping manner known to teenagers. “I know my lectures are at times boring, but I don’t think I’ve ever bored someone to the brink of tears.”

Hope smiled. It was the first genuine smile she had all day, and the assurance that she could still smile lifted her spirits. But she didn’t know how to respond to Mr. Grey. Her dread was nothing she could articulate. “I’m fine,” she said. “I just don’t feel…” Well? Right? Right seemed the best word, but even that didn’t sum it up. “I’m just tired.”

“Is there something going on at home or at school that you would like to talk about? Maybe something with you and Joel?”

The mention of Joel’s name dropped her stomach like a gallows’ door. “No,” she said, shaking her head. There was nothing wrong with she and Joel. Or was there? “No. I just…” she shook her head again, “I’m just not sleeping well.”

“Does it have to do with the dreams you and Joel were talking about the other day?”

“Nnn—” she hesitated, but she changed the slow shake of her head to a reluctant nod, saying, “Yes.”

“Are you concerned because you’re dreaming about someone other than Joel?”

“I’m concerned because I am dreaming about Joel,” Hope muttered. But she suddenly wished she could retract the comment.

Mr. Grey cocked his head like a blind man hearing an alien sound. “Is everything all right between you and Joel?”

“Yes,” Hope said in a soft voice.

“Then why the concern over dreams about him?”

Hope shrugged, “I’ve just been having nightmares lately.”

“About Joel?”

Hope didn’t want to answer. She didn’t want to admit that for some reason her boyfriend gave her the willies. But she nodded, yes.

Mr. Grey leaned forward, eyes piercing, his voice a distant roll of thunder, “Hope, is everything all right”—these words took on a dire resonance—“between you and Joel?” Hope looked down at the books in her lap. She nodded. “I think it important to know if ill treatment has befallen one of my star pupils,” Mr. Grey said. “So you’re telling me everything is fine?”

“Yes. Joel’s great.” She held his gaze long enough to assure him. Mr. Grey leaned back in his chair. “I just…” Hope paused, “I keep having these horrible dreams. I mean, they haven’t always been horrible, but lately they have been. And they involve Joel, but I don’t know why.” She looked down again. “I just can’t make any sense of it. I mean, what do dreams even mean anyway?” She looked at her teacher. “Do you know?”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” he said. “Dreams are the most abstract of abstractions. They are defectors from the rooms of our souls. They’re beyond science. They’re beyond the imaginations of the masters of art and thought. But as I’ve told you, they are your dreams, you are in control of them.”

Hope nodded, validated by the sincere assurance of her teacher. Yet she felt foolish. Mr. Grey told her what she already knew: her dreams were only dreams, and in his eloquent way, he alluded to how foolish it was to allow something so trivial to shatter her emotional welfare. She felt ashamed. Mr. Grey said, “Does that make you feel better?”

“Yes.”

“Very well,” he said, “In the future, if you need to talk, please don’t wait for me to initiate the meeting.”

“Okay.” Hope stood and headed for the door. She stopped and turned to her teacher. “Thank you, Mr. Grey.”

“You’re welcome. Oh, and Hope, pleasant dreams.”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 41 — Seeds of Doubt

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