Continued from: Earworm: Part 26 — Boxers at the Bell
Joel and Hope walked along Demon’s Point. Hope had asked Joel if he wanted to go for a walk. She said they needed to talk. Ding-ding-ding, went the warning bells. In relationship terms, needing to talk meant one thing: someone was about to get dumped. Now, this conclusion may seem a little paranoid on Joel’s part—to think he was about to get dumped simply because Hope said they needed to talk—but it was more than that. She seemed a little off all day. As if distracted. And it was at the end of the day, minus her customary smile, that she told Joel that she needed to talk. But she didn’t say why. All Joel could come up with was that Hope was still upset about this Tara thing. So after football practice, Joel borrowed his mother’s car to pick up Hope. He should have tried for his father’s T-Bird—at least that way, should she dump him, he could drive away with some kind of dignity. Instead, he would have to sulk away in mom’s Volvo station wagon.
The beach’s dune grass danced in the breeze as the ocean pursued the beach, tiny waves rolling and crashing and retreating with soft, hypnotic thunder. The beach had an overstated emptiness in the low, autumn sunlight. It seemed desolate, abandoned, somehow worn. Two seagulls argued over something hidden in the dunes, and in the distance, a woman walked a black dog.
“Hard to believe this is the same place that was so packed with people, swimming and stuff, only a month ago, huh?” Joel said, needing to break the overwhelming silence. “It seems so…”
“Lonely,” Hope finished.
“Yeah,” Joel said. He then blurted out, “Hey, are you gonna dump me or something?”
Hope turned and looked at him, too startled to hide the shock in her eyes. She burst into laughter. “No. Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know,” Joel shrugged. “You just, you know, had this look in your eyes all day, and then you tell me you wanted to go for a walk, and that we needed to talk…”
“I didn’t say we needed to talk. I said I wanted to talk.”
“I like talking to you,” she said.
Hope laughed, “Because I like you.”
“Yeah? Good. Because I like you too,” Joel said, picking up a long piece of driftwood and swinging it in small arcs like a batter warming up. “So what is wrong?”
“I just had a weird day.”
“Why was it weird?”
“I don’t know.” Hope said, looking at the ocean as if expecting something to occur over the blue waters. She shook her head slightly, shaking off a distant memory, and turned to Joel. “You want to sit down?” she said, motioning toward the sand like a doctor about to deliver bad news.
Joel paused and peered at her over his bat.
She smiled. “I promise I won’t dump you.”
Joel grinned and flung the stick end over end. It came to rest in the sand. They sat on the beach. Hope leaned forward with her hands clasped across her shins. Joel sat with his heels dug into the sand, his fingers searching for pebbles to toss toward the sea. “So why was it such a weird day?” he said, tossing a small stone. The stone disappeared into the foam of the incoming tide.
“I don’t know,” Hope said. She looked at her knees. “I’m just like, over-tired or something.”
“Maybe you have mono,” Joel said.
“I hope not.”
“Me too.” Joel smiled.
Hope smiled wearily. “No. I’m just not sleeping well at night.”
“What, like insomnia?”
“No, it’s not that I’m not sleeping.” Hope looked out over the ocean with that look again, as if expecting something to pop up over the distant horizon. “Joel, what do you think about dreams?”
“I don’t know,” Joel said, tossing another rock into the foam. “What kind of dreams? Dream-dreams, or like, what you want to do with your life or something?”
“Dream-dreams. Nighttime dreams.”
“I don’t know,” Joel said, a little unsure. “They’re good, I guess.”
“C’mon, Mr. Son-of-a-shrink.” Hope nudged Joel with her elbow and looked at him with her weary smile.
“Son of a what?”
Hope smiled, “Son-of-a-shrink. Your dad runs Ward 6. Didn’t you inherit any of his analytical talent?”
“Well, I don’t really get what you’re asking me.”
Hope looked at her knees again. “I’ve been having really weird dreams lately.”
“Weird, like how?” Joel tossed another stone.
“Weird like….” Hope took a breath. “It’s like a recurring dream, but it’s not the same dream over and over. It’s like a story that progresses each night. Like a movie that keeps pausing when I wake up. Do you get what I mean?”
“I think so,” Joel said. “What kind of dream is it, like a nightmare or something?”
“No. It’s about…” Hope paused. An embarrassed smile snuck onto her face. “It keeps involving… William Knight.”
Joel stared at her for a long moment.
Hope glanced at him sideways, shrinking back as if just admitting she had some bizarre fetish.
Joel burst out laughing, “You’re having erotic dreams about that new kid?”
“No,” Hope squealed, “They are not erotic.”
Joel laughed harder, “No wonder you were asking about him the other day.”
“Stop it. They’re not erotic dreams. Stop laughing. I assure you, I am not having erotic dreams about that new kid.”
Joel pursed his lips like someone trying to hold a spit-take, saying, “Uh-huh.”
“Sure, whatever you say.” He let out a nasal chuckle.
“Forget I even said anything.”
“C’mon, I was just kidding. Really, I’m only teasing. Okay, so what about these dreams? My inherited psychiatric skills are at your service. Because it certainly sounds like you’ll need them.”
“That’s it.” Hope shook her head.
Joel straightened his face. “Sorry. Really. I’ll be serious.”
Hope watched him for a moment. “Well…” she paused to read his face again, “he keeps bringing me to these incredible places…”
“Yes, William,” Hope groaned the answer. “And I don’t mean anything sexual.”
“C’mon, I said I’d listen. I’m not gonna make fun of you.”
“Okay,” Hope said, glancing at him with another sideways look. “So, anyway, it all starts out by him taking me to these places. Like, in one dream we were flying, and in another we’re in this castle, and… why are you looking at me like that?”
“Nothing,” Joel wiped a smile from his face. “I’m listening.”
“Well, I have this poster of this castle. I’ve had it forever, like, since I was a little girl,” she added, as if expecting another smile to crack Joel’s intent demeanor. He offered nothing more than an arched eyebrow. “And William brought me there, and…” Hope paused, taking a deep breath, “last night, my father was there.”
Joel’s face starved for an expression, but none came. He searched for something appropriate to say, some way to appropriately act. He remembered the day Hope’s father died. Joel was in Hope’s class at the time. Jesus, how long ago was that? Fifth? Sixth grade? They were in elementary school, he knew that. Man, it seemed like only yesterday. Her father was sick, cancer or something, and Joel remembered the day Principal Patrick came to excuse Hope from Ms. Jackson’s class. There was pity in Ms. Jackson’s eyes, and he remembered the other students seemed confused by the sudden weight in the air, everyone’s emotional barometer plummeting. And it was evident on Hope’s face, as she slowly and shakily rose from her desk, that she understood what had happened, as if the Angel of Death stepped into the room to personally tell her what he’d done. Even before Mr. Patrick brought Hope to his office for her mother to break the news, Hope knew her life had changed, her father was dead.
“Strangest thing is,” Hope said—a relief to Joel that she said something first—“I rarely dream of my father. I thought I buried him long ago. But this was so life-like. Like he was really there with me.”
“Did you talk to him?”
“Yeah, I talked to him.”
“What did you say?”
“It was like a real conversation. It wasn’t like a dream at all. It was what I’d actually say to him if he stood here now.”
“What did he say?”
“He asked how my family was and how I’ve been… and he said that William Knight returned him to me, or me to him, or something like that.”
Joel sat in silence for a moment. He then said, “Does William look like your father, or remind you of him or something?”
“No. Not really, why?”
“I don’t know. Maybe William like subconsciously reminds you of your father, and that’s why you’re dreaming that he reunited the two of you.”
Hope stared at Joel. “Wow, that was pretty good.”
“Yeah, well, that’s what happens when your pop’s a shrink. That’s what he’d say your dreams mean, if you believe in that dream-analysis junk.”
“So then, Dr. Fitch, what is it you believe dreams to mean?”
“Well, Miss Ferretti,” Joel said, “I once saw this show about dreams, and on it, this doctor said that during the night, while you’re sleeping, your brain fires off random thoughts, and your brain can’t understand these thoughts because it needs order, you know? So the brain laces these random thoughts together into a story it can understand. That makes more sense to me, rather than people believing dreams are secret messages from beyond and that you can interpret them to tell life’s secrets. When you dream, all the parts of your brain light up except for the part controlling reason. That’s why dreams feel so believable, but it’s also why they’re so weird.”
“Well there’s nothing random about these dreams.”
Joel dug another small stone from the sand and tossed it toward the ocean. It tumbled and jogged into the crashing water. “Do you like this William kid?” he said.
“What do you mean like him? Do I like-like him, or just…”
“You know, do you talk to him, are you friendly with him?”
“I feel somehow drawn to him.”
“Like what? Like, do I want to go out with him or something?”
“You did say you’re drawn to him.”
“I think you’re safe,” Hope said. “For now, anyway.”
“Good to know,” Joel grinned.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 28 — On the Edge