Continued from: Earworm: Part 33 — Rats
Hope stood at the fence surrounding Price Field. Joel trotted up to her, his uniform doused in mud, his battered helmet in his hand. “Hey,” he smiled.
“Hi,” Hope said, returning his smile—with her mouth anyway.
“Yeah, just tired.”
“Nice game, Jo-el,” Tara sang with a playful, seductive look over her shoulder as she walked by them. She then called to Hope, “Hope, you still want a ride home.”
Hope nodded, saying, “Okay.”
Tara said, “Meet me at my car when you’re done with lover-boy, there.”
A wave of nausea turned Hope’s stomach. She felt as if she’d actually caught her boyfriend and her best friend in bed together—in her own bed, no less, right beside her. And why did Joel jump away from her on the beach last night?
Or was that a dream too?
“You sure you’re all right?” Joel said.
“Yeah. Really, I’m fine. Just tired. Didn’t sleep well.”
“You wanna do something tonight? There’s a party at…”
“I’m not really up for a party. Maybe we can just watch a movie or something.”
“A movie or somethin,” Joel said in a dimwitted voice.
“What was that for?”
“Remember? You said movies are for people with nothing else to do?”
“Well I don’t want to do anything else.”
“Okay,” Joel said.
“I mean, you can go to the party. I’m just tired and want to lay low.”
“No,” Hope lied. “Those seem to be over.” The latter part of her statement was true, the dreams of her father and the castle and of William Knight did seem to be over—only to give rise to dreams of Joel and Tara performing a naked tango. Hope could almost hear Tara screaming Joel’s name—Yes, Joel. Yes, Joel—as she and Joel engaged in Tara’s favorite word. Hope’s stomach did another roll. She tried comforting herself with the thought, It’s your imagination, Hope. Remember? It was only a dream. But then her thoughts countered with, But it wasn’t a dream when Joel and Tara were together. Her thoughts now arguing, But you don’t even know what happened that night. Is that better or worse?
“You sure you’re all right?” Joel said.
“I’m fine. Give me a call later.”
But that night, Hope dreamt Tara and Joel were together in her bed again. They laughed at her, their faces sneering in the pale light coming from Hope’s chest. Hope leapt from the bed, turning on them, shouting, “Stop it. Stop it.” But they continued as Hope stormed around the room, hollering, “Stop laughing. Stop doing that.” But their laughter continued, and Tara screamed, “Yes, Joel. Yes, Joel,” her screams following Hope out of the dream.
The next day, Sunday, Hope called Joel, asking him to go for a walk. They needed to talk. As they strolled along the beach, Joel, half jokingly this time, but still a little unsure, asked Hope if she was going to dump him.
“No,” Hope said.
He relaxed a little.
“It’s just…” she said.
He tensed again.
“I can’t stop thinking about you and Tara,” she said. “I keep having dreams about the two of you.”
“We need to find the off button for your dreams.”
“Tell me about it. But unlike my other dreams, this really happened.”
“But you two did….” Hope didn’t want to, or know how to, finish the sentence.
“It really was nothing,” he said.
“It’s enough of something to bother me.”
“What can I say to make you feel better?”
Hope shook her head. “I don’t know.” They walked in silence. When Hope spoke again, her voice was distant in her ears, “Did you sleep with her?”
Joel shook his head in a slow, deliberate motion. “No.”
“I wouldn’t lie to you.”
Her voice still sounding distant, she said, “Did you do anything else with her?”
Hope shook her head, “I don’t know… you know…”
“Why are you asking me all this? Why are you doing this to yourself?”
“I just need to know.”
“Look, we just kissed. It was nothing. No more than what you and I have done.” He winced. “I don’t mean, like, feeling-wise. It’s just that Tara and I… you know, kissed, that’s all. PG rating the whole way. No body parts touched that shouldn’t have. Scout’s honor.” He held up two fingers.
“Isn’t the Boy Scout salute three fingers?”
“How would I know? I was never a Boy Scout,” Joel said, grinning. But the grin became unsure. “Look… I really do like you… a lot. I mean, I really do care about you.”
“I care about you, too.” Hope said, feeling suddenly foolish, unnecessarily jealous. And that night, she cuddled into her bed for hopefully a good night sleep. But she woke to find Joel and Tara laughing at her again, their grinning faces lit in a soft, pale glow. Again, the glow came from Hope, and she looked down to discover the source of the light. A tiny, glowing moon hanging from her neck on a string of stars.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 35 — A Little Advice from a Friend