“Huh?” I frowned, staring up at him until the song of a bird transformed into a high-pitched screech, then sat bolt upright in my bed, leaving the dream behind to a cold-slap reality. “Oh, shut up,” I said to the phone, flopping back down with my pillow over my face.
To my surprise, it actually did, and I once again drifted off to fantasyland, finding myself beside a tree, with warm beams of light wrapping around me again, but no David.
“David?” I looked behind me, above me, below me. He was gone. But where did he go? People didn’t just disappear from fantasies.
I turned slightly, seeing only my reflection in the glass of the phone booth behind me, disappearing with each flicker of a fluorescent light outside the corner store. “Mum?”
I felt the weight of the pay phone in my hand then and squeezed it. “I had a fight with Mike.”
“With Mike? What were you doing at Mike’s? I thought you went to Kate’s.”
“Mum?” I said, panic rising in my tone; I could see her face then, in the glass; she rubbed her forehead, washing away the weeks of sleepless nights. She looked tired and so worn. I knew I shouldn’t be doing this, but I didn’t care. “I’m scared.”
“Tell me where you are?”
“Who?” She leaned forward, her reflection showing the panic in her eyes. “Ara, tell me where you are.”
I looked over my shoulder at the dark shadows, stealing the light from the pavement as they fingered their way along—getting closer. “You need to come, Mum. You just need to come get me.” I kept looking over my shoulder, unsure what was out there; I couldn’t see past the street light over the booth, but I could feel them, knew they were lingering, waiting for me to hang up.
“I’ll come. Just stay there, Ara. Just stay there.”
“Hurry,” I said, feeling a coolness take the air. Then, the line went dead. “Mum.” I hung up the phone a few times, pressing all the numbers, but the receiver was empty—no static, no noise. Behind me, the lights in Ronnie’s store went out and the wind stopped; I touched a hand slowly to the glass, and another came up to meet it.
“Ara!” A deep voice snapped my mind back like an elastic band on a wrist; my eyes flung open.
“Ara, your phone’s been ringing every few minutes for the last twenty. Will you please answer it?”
I rolled over, rubbing the haze from my eyes. “The phone?”
“Yes,” Dad said and closed my door, leaving me in darkness.
I jumped up, grabbed the phone, tripping over the clothes and shoes on my floor, and landed in my desk chair. “Hello?”
“Yeah, how you doin’?” he asked, then took a quick breath. “Oh, yeah, the time thing. Sorry, Ara. I’ll go.”
“I…” I put the phone to my other ear. “I was dreaming about her, Mike.”
“Yeah.” My voice cracked. “I keep thinking she’s gonna come pick me up and I’ll go back home again, and—”
“Aw, Ara, please don’t cry, it—you’ll break my heart, baby.” He completely lost his voice then. ‘I just, you don’t know how much it kills me that I can’t be there with you right now.”
I smiled softly, sniffling. “I’m sorry I didn’t take your calls the last few months, Mike.”
“I know, baby girl. Okay. And—you know me, Ar. I’m always here for ya, no matter what. Okay?”
I wiped the mess of warm, salty tears from my cheeks. “I just—it’s been so hard without you.”
“Have you talked to your dad, yet—about what you told me? Have you told anyone?”
My head rocked from side to side.
“Ara, I can’t hear you when you shake your head.” He chuckled.
My sudden burst of laughter forced static down the phone line. “You always know how to make me laugh.”
“Look, you need to talk to someone.” His voice took on the serious note he seemed to have adopted over the past two months. “It’s not healthy for you to keep all of this inside, baby girl. You said you made friends? Why don’t you have a girlie night and do one of those big deep-and-meaningful things?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know them well enough, Mike. I’m just not ready to share that part of my life with anyone.”
“Well, what about that David dude. I bet he’d listen?”
“He might. But, I don’t want him to hate me if I tell him the truth.”
“Ara, grow up. You need to talk to someone about this. Now, I don’t care who—your dad, Vicki, Sam even, but—”
“I’ve got you to talk to.”
“You will be soon, right? My dad said you can stay here.”
“Yeah? Tell him thanks. And stop changing the subject.”
“I’m not. Look, I’ll talk to someone, okay. I do know you’re right. I just—”
“You’re just gonna bottle it up until you’re in a straightjacket.”
“I’m gonna call you the second my interview’s booked, Ara, and we’re gonna pencil in a day for me to arrive. Then, if you haven’t told David or Emily or someone what happened, I’m gonna do it for you,” he said. “Got it?”
“Okay, Zorro.” I laughed. “When do you think they’ll do your interview?”
“Cool. So, Mike, why did you call?” I asked, realising that he woke me.
“I was just thinking ‘bout ya, that’s all. The ice cream man came past, playing that stupid jingle. Made me remember the time he ran over your foot—when you chased him for your change.”
My left toes twitched. That stupid truck cost me six weeks off ballet and a permanently demented pinkie toe. “Well, I’m glad it brings you happiness to remember me in pain.”
“Aw, I really miss ya, kid,” he breathed the words out. “I’ll let you get back to sleep.”
“Of course I did.” He laughed, watching me cross the road, still pulling my shoes on. “Stayed in the shower too long, did we?”
“No, I uh—” I placed my bag in his outstretched hand, a little puffed. “My diary was begging me to write in it—I was compelled to obey.”
“Yeah, you know how it goes with these things,” I joked. “If you don’t do as the voices tell you, they just get louder.”
“Yeah. You do know what a joke is, don’t you?”
“Just when it comes from me it isn’t funny.” I nodded.
“Because you faze out all the time. If you’re hearing voices as well, it might mean there’s something wrong.”
“Oh.” I dragged the word out, nodding my head, then shrugged. “Makes sense, I suppose.”
“Yes, Dad,” I responded in the same tone.
“Sorry.” David laughed, shaking his head. “I’ve just noticed that you get a little…tempestuous when you haven’t eaten enough.”
Hm. “It isn’t my fault, you know. I have an ogre living in my belly. He makes me do bad things.”
“So…you faze out, hear voices, and blame your tempered outbursts on a fictional creature living in…” he looked down at my stomach, “—your belly.”
“Well—” he shook his head, “—one thing I can say about you, Miss Ara, is that never a moment passes where I am not entertained.”
Mon amie. I repeated the words to myself, unable to hide my grin. “Why do you speak French?”
“Yeah. I mean, what made you want to learn French?”
He looked forward, both of us slowing simultaneously as we neared the big brown building. “I uh—I grew up in a community that was inhabited mostly by the French.”
“Oh. Cool. Where did you grow up?”
“Not too far from here.”
I frowned. I couldn’t think of anywhere in New England that was grossly dominated by any one race. But, Mr I-Don’t-Elaborate had, indeed, elaborated. I wasn’t going to push for more. Not yet, anyway. I exhaled, looking up the stairs ahead of us, wishing it were Friday. “Do we have to go to school today?”
“Well, I think we need an evasive action plan for Her Royal Dictator-ness at rehearsals today.”
“Yeah. I mean, I know it’s just ‘cause she’s trying to get things done. And I guess, if it weren’t for Em, this benefit concert really wouldn’t be happening.”
“Hm, yes, but if she wanted to get things done, then casting the football team in a comedy skit was a terrible idea.”
“Yeah, but it breaks the monotony of all the musical numbers.”
“Yes. How many do we have now?”
He nodded, slowing his steps to match mine. “Good line-up too.”
“Yeah. But Emily should be letting us practice our songs at lunch; not spend the whole period separated like kindergarten kids, painting ticket signs.”
“Well, if we hadn’t joined the pencil throwing fight, she wouldn’t have separated us.” He smirked.
“She shouldn’t have anyway. We’re not children; we’re practically adults.”
“Then we should act as such,” he said with a nod.
“I don’t know about that.” He tilted his head almost bashfully toward one shoulder. “I kinda liked mucking about with you yesterday.”
I couldn’t help it; I giggled a little. “Yeah, me too.”
“Then, we shall endeavour to attempt discretion, today.”
He chuckled. “Yes, except, now that I know where your ticklish spot is, I don’t need to chase you; I can just poke you whenever I please.”
“Not in English class, though. You know how ticklish I am.”
His smile grew, his eyes small with thoughts I wanted him to share. “Yes, and your infectiously sweet giggle is at my disposal.”
I tensed, noticing his eyes on my lower ribcage. “You wouldn’t.”
He clicked his tongue and winked at me. “You can try to stop me.”
I hugged my ribs and bit my lip, grinning. “Maybe I don’t want to.”
Emily leaned forward on her desk, eagerly engaged in Dad’s lecture. I hoped she was getting an A for all the extra listening she was doing. Then again, her interest wasn’t companionless today—most of the class seemed to be paying attention. My listening skills needed some work, however. Then again, get David out of my head for five minutes and I might be able to function.
“Now, who here believes in God?” Dad asked, holding his hand in the air; stunned silence replied. “It’s not a trick question, people. Hands up if you believe there exists something bigger than yourself.”
Come on, Dad, as if anyone’s going to risk popularity to answer that question.
Emily’s hand shot up into the sky.
“Oh my God. You suck-up.” I elbowed her, but put mine up, too—to save getting in trouble from Dad later. A few other people followed; the rest of the class just laughed and pointed at us.
“Okay. Now, hands up who believes Jesus walked on water.”
Everyone in the class started laughing. My dad, with his own hand up, nodded, then started writing on the board: “Myths and legends—Religious History.” He read the words out, tapping each one, then popped the lid on his marker with a thud from his open palm. “Who can tell me what that suggests we might be discussing?”
“Emily?” Dad pointed the marker at her.
“It means, like you mentioned last week, that nearly everything we know about religion is based purely on some story or, like, Chinese whisper that’s been passed down from one generation to the next. Not too many cold, hard facts.”
“Right.” Dad wrote What is real? on the board. “Now, I’m not saying Jesus never actually walked on water, but what I am saying is that, like young Emily just said, nearly every story you’ve ever been told has been written by someone else. We don’t know the facts for ourselves. But there is a fact behind every story. Now, it’s my job to inspire freethinking, not encourage atheism, so, having said that—” He wrote something else on the whiteboard.