Earworm: Part 58 — The Meeting

EarwormContinued from: Earworm: Part 57 — The Visitor

Hope sat at a table in the library. Her books were open in an attempt to look hard at work. But this façade was lost on the babbling Suzanne Myers, who sat across the table from Hope. Nothing short of Hope taking off her shoe, removing her sock, and jamming it between Suzanne’s teeth would shut the girl up. Hope offered Suzanne a blank nod, and then she looked over at Joel, who sat two tables away with Guard. Hope made a pleading expression toward Joel that Suzanne didn’t notice. Joel’s laughter echoed through the library. The librarian, a hawkish figure, craned her neck and looked toward Joel with a frown. Guard turned in his seat to face Hope. He pantomimed hysterical laughter and pointed at Suzanne’s back. Guard had often threatened to stuff Suzanne into a locker or a dumpster or a trunk—depending on which containment was closest at hand—if Suzanne didn’t just shut the fuck up. Hope stole a final, pleading look at Joel, and then went back to her pretend work.

Joel and Guard had walked into the library ten minutes after Hope had. She feared they would sit with her, but Suzanne, already sitting across from her by that time, took care of any chance Joel and Guard would join her. Hope didn’t want Joel at the table while she talked to William. It would be awkward because… well, for obvious reasons. Joel thinking her nuts being one of them.

Joel had called her earlier that evening and asked if she wanted to go to the library. Hope told Joel she was already going to the library to meet William.

“What?” Joel stated in the tone of a fed-up parent. “You’re not really going to ask him about your dreams. Please tell me you’re not. Are you?”

“He’s helping me with a paper.”

“A paper about what?”

“Psychology.”

“I’ll help you with it.”

“No. I need William’s help on this paper.”

“What are you gonna do, write a paper about those dreams or something?” Joel said. When Hope didn’t answer, he groaned, “So you really are going to talk to him about those dreams?” More silence. “Don’t you think this is getting a little weird?”

The thought had crossed her mind. “Look, like I said, he’s helping me with a paper, that’s all.”

Now in the library, Suzanne prattled on. Hope scribbled down equations, but didn’t solve them.

“So Hope how could you do it after all these years and then just walk away tell me how Hope?” Suzanne said in one jumbled breath.

“What?” Hope said, looking up.

“Why would you quit cheerleading?”

“It’s just not my thing,” Hope said.

She glanced over Suzanne’s shoulder and saw William standing by the circulation desk, a backpack slung over one shoulder. It was as if he’d just appeared there, reminding Hope of her dreams.

Hope glanced at Joel, who had followed her gaze to William. Joel’s lips disappeared into a grimace and he shook his head.

William was scanning the library. His eyes fell on Hope. He took a step toward her table, but then stopped. He regarded Suzanne with suspicion, looking like a dog waiting to be released from a stay command. Hope smiled and waved to him. William lifted his hand in a half-hearted response. Hope gestured for him to come over. William pausing, again regarding Suzanne, and then walking to the table.

“Hey, William,” Hope said with forced, over-emphasized friendliness. Her heart picked up cadence.

William smiled.

Suzanne’s yapping fell dead. With a twisted, revolted mien, Suzanne looked at William and then at Hope. She let out an audible grunt.

Hope then informed Suzanne in a haughty tone, “William and I are working on a project together.” But to both William and Suzanne’s surprise, the haughtiness was directed at Suzanne.

Suzanne and William blinked, a bit dumbfounded.

“So if you don’t mind,” Hope said to Suzanne, “we need to get to work.”

“Okay—” Suzanne said, standing from the table. She shot William another revolted look. “Goodbye, Hope,” she said, sure to accent the Hope.

“Bye, Suzanne,” Hope said as Suzanne stormed off to another table. Hope then turned her attention to William, who still looked a bit dumbfounded. “I’m glad you came,” she said in a low tone, “I thought she’d never shut up.”

“You mean you didn’t want to talk to her?”

“No,” Hope said, cracking a smile. “She was rambling on about everything—which is pretty much nothing.”

William, still standing beside the table, shifted from one foot to another.

“You know, you can sit down if you want,” Hope said, gesturing to the seat across the table. Her heart nudged her sternum—Tap-tap-tap.

William dropped his backpack and nestled into the seat.

“So…” Hope said to him. But no words followed. Even though she had mentally rehearsed what she’d say to him several times throughout the day, now that the time had arrived, her brain decided to take the night off.

“I don’t think that girl likes me,” William said, watching Suzanne.

“Who? Suzanne? Ah, she doesn’t like anybody.”

“She seems to like you.”

“She was on my cheerleading squad,” Hope said. “She’s a big phony.”

A look of content shock washed across William’s face, as if not believing anyone would trash another member of the “in” crowd—like witnessing cannibalism with a strange, vengeful delight.

An uncomfortable silence followed. Hope’s heart now punched at her chest like a boxer on a heavy bag—Thump-thump-thump—“So… um…” Hope said, feeling the heat in her flushing cheeks, “this term paper I’m thinking of doing…”

“The one about your dreams,” William said.

“Yeah. You see… it’s, um… I’ve been having these dreams…” she started to say, but then she made the mistake of looking into William’s eyes. His pupils opened into a universe of space and darkness and night. “Why did you call me your Hope?” she said in a voice independent of herself.

“What?” William shifted in his seat.

“Earlier today, you said, ‘I’ll see you later, My Hope.’”

William shrugged. “Oh… uh… did I?”

Hope nodded, forcing a smile.

“Oh,” William said. “I didn’t realize I did. I was probably trying to say something else. You know how sometimes you think of more than one thing at a time while you’re talking, and two things come out?”

This was a logical enough answer.

Rational Hope begged her to accept it.

Irrational Hope responded with a snort.

She glanced at Joel. Joel raised his eyebrows and looked at his work. He shook his head and muttered something to Guard. Guard turned in his seat, looking over his shoulder and watching Hope for a moment, then he turned back to say something to Joel.

Hope could guess what they were saying.

Joel: Lookit Hope talking to that loser.

Guard: What’s she talking to that freak for?

Joel: I have no idea. Joel would never tell Guard the actual reason. How could he?

“So, um, anyway,” Hope said, “about these dreams. You’re in them. It’s pretty weird stuff.” She chuckled. “You have control over this whole other world. It’s like you’re causing the things that happen…” She broke into a smile, “Does that make any sense?”

William responded with a noncommittal nod.

“Yeah? Good,” Hope said, her voice a little shaky, her heart still boxing—Thump-thump-thump—“So I was wondering, for my paper, what you think of dreams?”

“Dreams?”

“Yeah, you know, what do you think dreams mean?” She chuckled abruptly, as if sharing a private joke with him, “I mean, you’re not actually causing my dreams, right?”

Thump-thump-thump.

William’s eyes narrowed. His head twitched like a pitcher shaking off a sign. “No,” he said with a forced chuckle of his own.

“So I thought it would be an interesting take on my paper if I got the opinion about a dream from the person the dream was about. Does that make sense?”

“Uh… yeah. That’s certainly interesting.”

“You think?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Good.” She glanced at Joel again. He regarded her like someone daring a magician to fool him. “So, then,” Hope said to William, “what do you think of dreams? Like, what do you think they represent?”

“What, like all dreams?”

“Uh-huh.” Hope opened a notebook like a reporter with a scoop.

“Well, dreams have always interested me,” William said.

“Oh, really? Me, too,” Hope nodded with false enthusiasm.

“I think dreams represent…” He paused a moment, as if searching his mind for a prewritten script. “I think dreams are your brain’s way of sorting things out, like a way to sort through life. I think dreams can guide you in the right direction, or warn you of the wrong decisions.” A slight smile spread across his lips. “Our mind knows what it wants, but there are so many emotions it needs to sort through to make decisions, so it reveals what it wants while we sleep, when our prejudices can’t interfere. Know what I mean?”

“Yeah. I guess that makes sense,” Hope said.

William perked in his seat, looking like an inventor whose invention showed signs of working.

Hope said, “So my dreams help me decipher questions I have in life?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” William was becoming more animated as he spoke. “I think dreams are full of symbols and we need to figure out how to decipher them.”

“So then,” Hope said, “let’s say I dreamt about a castle from this poster I’ve had since I was a little girl, that would mean—what?”

William tilted his head. “Well, let’s see, it could represent… maybe the loss of your childhood or something… maybe you’re scared of growing up.”

Hope nodded, content with that answer, too. After all, that same thought crossed her mind. Maybe she was nervous about heading into the end of her school career, and then picking colleges, having to move off the island she’s lived on all her life. “What about flying?” Hope said, “In one dream we were flying.”

“Flying is a common symbol in dreams,” William stated like a professor beginning a lecture. “In your case, it might mean you want to fly to something new in your life. Maybe a new friendship. A new romance maybe…” He stopped, recoiling. “Or something like that,” William said. His cheeks turning pink. “There are books and stuff that interpret the meanings of different symbols, but you should really try and decipher them on your own.”

“You seem to know a lot about dreams.”

“Yeah, well, I’m a pretty good dreamer. I try and learn a lot about them.” William’s voice took on the excited rambling of a person discussing his greatest joy, or obsession. “I mean, I dream all the time, you know? I’ve always dreamt a lot. When I was real young, before my mother died, I dreamt about her. I mean, I was too young to really remember these dreams, but still, somehow I do remember.”

Hope suddenly realized her connection to this boy. He’d lost both his parents—according to Jennifer Waltson, anyway—maybe that was her and William’s bond. Maybe she sensed his pain of loss.

“It was, I guess, more a feeling than memories,” William continued, “but still, sometimes I try to dream about her now, even though I only know what she looks like from an old wedding photograph. So I always try to figure out what these dreams about my mother might represent, you know what I mean? So it would be up to you to figure out what your father represents in your dreams, because it would be different than what my mother does in mine. I mean, he might just represent the one thing in the world that you want more than…” He stopped.

There was a moment of stifling silence. Hope heard only the sound of her heartbeat. “How did you know my father was in my dreams?” Her voice seemed to speak by itself, as if a ventriloquist was using her body as a puppet.

“Uh… what?”

“My father. How did you know I’ve been dreaming about my father?”

William’s face drained to an almost translucent dullness. “Uh… because you said it.” The excitement in his voice had drained with the color of his face.

“No,” Hope said, eyes narrowing, “I didn’t mention my father.”

“No,” William said. “No. Yeah. Yeah, you did, remember? You said something about how I called you My Hope like your father used to?”

“I asked why you called me My Hope. I didn’t say anything about my father.”

“No. Wait. Yeah, you did.” William looked at the ceiling like someone trying to remember a phone number.

Hope glanced at Joel. This time, instead of Joel returning to his work with a smirk, a look of concern crept across his face as he read the panic in Hope’s eyes. Hope’s heart was a jackhammer burrowing through her chest

Rat-a-tat-tat.

“William?” she said on numb lips, “do you know something about my dreams?”

“What? No. What are you talking about?”

Hope’s voice was strangely calm. “Both a friend and I have been having these weird dreams that you’ve been in. Bad dreams, like you’re trying to hurt us. Are you… somehow causing them?”

Hope’s stomach was freefalling. Talk about leaping into lunacy. She was a skydiver stepping out of a plane with no chute.

“Bad dreams? What are you talking about?” William said. His winding excitement reversed direction. “I mean, that’s crazy. How can a person even think that? Does Joel think this, too? Because he’s probably in your dreams because you’re afraid of him. This is so…”

“I didn’t say anything about Joel either.” Her voice vibrated as if she spoke while pounding on her chest.

“What? What are you talking about? You’re talking in circles. You just said that you and… you said it, a few seconds ago. You’re trying to trick me.”

“I never said Joel.”

Rat-a-tat-tat went her heart.

William’s voice rose, “You’re tricking me, making fun of me somehow.”

Hope glanced at Joel. William following her eyes, turning to see Joel and Guard sitting at their table. William then said to Hope, “Why do you keep choosing Joel instead of me?”

“What, William?”

William closed his eyes. He struggled to calm himself, holding his hands to his sides like a concentrating high-wire walker. “Look,” he said, “what do you want from me?” He opened his eyes and looked at her. “I thought you wanted help with a project, and then… then you make fun of me somehow.”

“William,” Hope said in her too calm voice, “I just want to know what’s happening. I mean, I had wonderful dreams of us becoming friends, and then they became nightmares…”

“No. The nightmares weren’t me,” William said, his voice winding up again.

Hope had the uneasy feeling of watching him gain and lose control of his emotions. It was like watching someone trying to hold onto a slippery, slithering eel.

He said, “If you remember correctly, those nightmares were all about Joel.”

In the mental rehearsals of this conversation, Hope tried to envision how William might react when faced with the notion of popping up in her dreams. In a few of those rehearsals, William admitted to causing the dreams. But Rational Hope was always there to assure her that William would leave the library with no idea what she was talking about, and that she, Hope Ferretti, prom queen, Mystic High School teen idol, would leave the library ready to sign up for Camp Cuckoo. But now, Rational Hope and Irrational Hope aside, Hope was faced with the reality of William Knight sitting across the table from her and telling her that he was responsible for the dreams. That was what just happened, wasn’t it? And although she imagined that the conversation could play out in this manner, there was no possible way to prepare for it. She felt like a tethered zeppelin looking down upon the table, her and William’s voices sounding as if reaching her through gallons of water, and all movement caught from the corners of her eyes—different library patrons scurrying about the shelves—was in slow motion and far off. Her father was going to sit down beside her, and maybe Joel could come over and shoot him in the face with a bazooka or dice him up with a chainsaw, or better yet, perhaps a fire-breathing dragon could smash through the library’s plate glass windows and grill everyone with flaming breath. Because this was just another dream. It had to be. So where was Joel wielding his butcher knife? Where was her father? Where was the tiny moon? Because this conversation wasn’t real and she awaited some horrifying fright, only to wake in her bedroom screaming, and her mother would rush in, saying, That’s it, you’re going to the mental hospital. “Damnit, William, will you stop it,” Hope hollered.

The room fell silent. Everyone turned to stare at Hope and William. A few students giggled before going back to their business with a murmuring current.

William’s eyes were saturated with hurt and despair. “All I wanted was for you to like me,” he said.

“But I don’t even know you.”

“Of course you do. I gave you everything.”

“William…”

“You’re a taker, Hope. I gave. You took. I emptied myself into you, and you poured all you had into Joel Fitch. All that was mine.”

If Hope had an anchor on reality, she might not have been swept into the tempest of her spinning emotions. But there no longer was any reality.

William said, “I built that world for you. And you shoved it back in my face.” His voice again rose in pitch and tone, and some of the library patrons glanced over with uneasy curiosity. “Then you invite me here, and I think that maybe you really do like me, but instead you trick me. You and your stupid boyfriend tricked me. Know what? You can take your stars and moon and you can shove them.” William stood and snatched up his backpack. He turned to walk away, but he stopped, coming face to face with Joel. Joel having wandered over from his table. William and Joel exchanged silent threats, staring at one another like gunfighters. William then brushed by Joel and stormed out of the library.

Everyone watched him go with slacked jaws. Hope and Joel looked at one another—Joel desperate for an explanation, Hope unable to give one. Everyone was now staring at the two of them, students and adults alike, even the toddlers running around their parents’ legs stopped to gape.

Joel took Hope’s hand and turned to Guard, who was now standing beside them, “We’ll be right back,” Joel told him.

“What’s the matter? She all right?” Guard said.

“Yeah, she’s fine,” Joel said. He led Hope away, stranding Guard to face the rest of the library like a police officer dispersing a crowd—All right, folks, nothing to see here, just a crazy girl, everything’s fine, you can all go about your business.

Joel and Hope walked out to the parking lot. He took her by her arms, steadying her to face him. “What the hell was that all about?”

Continued in: Earworm: Part 59 — The Rope

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