Chapter 9 – Dream
The first part of my dream is strange. I am the garbage man who found the twins in that little town on the outskirts of Zhejiang. I open the lid and throw the papers and trash aside. The litter floats noiselessly to the ground, like feathers in a windless space. I reach to the bottom but there is nothing there. I hear laughter up ahead and see two children playing in the street. The children are blurry. They look as if they are wearing fur coats. As I get closer I do not find children.
They stop playing and two pairs of grey eyes stare at me. Grey eyes of wolf cubs.
The dream changes, becoming dangerously familiar. I am flying. Soaring over the mountainous hills of concrete and steel that made the jungle I dwell in. I left my nest in search of someone. I head toward the warming breezes of the lush city jungle.
As grey turns to green I hear a boys’ voice screaming into the air. I could not understand what he was saying but he was in pain. I fly toward the wrenching sound and find myself in a small clearing. The boy is crouched in the middle. The air is shimmering around him.
We aren’t alone. Others are watching from the edge of the clearing. I hear the ground shake and the air explode. I turn my attention back to the boy, but he is no longer there. In his place a large tiger remains. The tiger looks up in my direction and makes to run.
As I perch on a nearby oak, I find that the crowd that had gathered around has altered too. There are no humans left. Five large bears split up and circle the outside perimeter. There are now about ten other birds. I see eagles and hawks fly overhead. A golden eagle drifts down and lands on my branch. She cocks her head at me. But the snakes steal my attention as they slither up tree trunks to get a better view. Three large cats draw near the tiger. One lioness steps forward and the tiger whines and growls. The tiger drops under the lioness stare. As the lioness draws nearer the air begins to shimmer again.
The golden eagle next to me nudges me with her beak.
I wake up.
“Last night the rules were broken by a few of your classmates. This will not be tolerated. Most of the persons involved have been suspended and their records will be marked. We know that there were a few witnesses who are located in the College and they have also been dealt with. Again. I stress that rule breaking, bullying and hurting your fellow classmates will not be tolerated.” Mr. Stiller sits down at his desk. “You all will use this time to work on your projects and reflect on your positive contribution to our society.”
I look at Mr. Stiller and he nods.
“So… I heard you had a run in with the snake. OUCH!” Rich reaches down to grab what I could only assume was his foot. Jennifer gives him a scathing glare. “Oww … that hurt! What did I say? What? I thought everyone knew.”
My face flashes warmly as I look around the class. Most students were working on the semester project but I notice that quite a few seemed to be checking out my table regularly. Did the whole school know what happened last night? I bury my head in my arms. I want to dissolve into the desk.
“Geez… Rich! Use a little tact!” The sound of metal scrapes against the floor as Jennifer pulls out her seat. “You two,” The rich English lilt of Jennifer’s voice is harsh, “go work on the computer or something.” The two younger boys rush away from the table. Jennifer sits next to me.
“Julia … it’s okay. Rich is just being a prick.” Jennifer pats my back, a little hard and awkwardly. I look up. Now all faces in the class were decidedly turned away from my direction. I shouldn’t have come to school today.
I look toward the front of the class. Alison and Caleb are sitting alone. Alison said Laurie would be in trouble but I didn’t realize they would all get in trouble. I meet Alison and Caleb’s stoic gazes. Caleb shifts in his seat a little, looking slightly uncomfortable. “The rules were broken by all of them. I spoke with Mr. Stiller and he said that they’ll be gone at least a week.”
“Hey! I warned you! Didn’t I? I told you to stay away from her.” I pick my head up off the desk and look up at Rich. His expression softens. “Crap… I’m being a dick, ain’t I? Shoot. Okay…” Rich takes a deep breath, “Let me try this again…”
“Why don’t you just shut it and we’ll all pretend you didn’t mention anything?” Jennifer’s hand grips my shoulder. I know she is trying to be comforting but if I let this go on, my back would be a series of black and blue bruises. Soothing back rubs were not Jennifer’s specialty. I touch her hand and try for a smile.
“Aw, Jen … can’t I just apologize.” Rich turns back to me, his brown eyes worried, “Look, that came out all wrong. I mean … when Caleb told me what happened…”
Astonished, I find my voice, “Caleb told you? How?” My head tilts towards the back of the room again. Now Caleb was looking down and Alison was furious. It looks like she is arguing with him. It was funny, kinda, because Caleb, from what I knew of him, didn’t talk.
“Um …well … he e-mailed me?” The last few words came out sounding more like a question.
“So … what? Am I a topic of discussion of some blog?” Unfortunately my anger just fueled my tear ducts. The waterworks were starting again. I look down at the desk and I blink them back.
“Just shut it already Richard! Why don’t you bugger off!” Jennifer seethes.
Grunting and stomping ensues as Rich goes away.
“Thanks Jen. I don’t know if I could have dealt with him.”
“Rich is just a big teddy bear once you know how to deal with him.” Jen looks at me intently, as if trying to gauge what to say next. “I was just wondering if you slept okay last night. I mean, what you went though… I could have clawed Laurie’s eyes out if it was allowed!”
“Ah… that’s okay… no need to claw anyone. I slept fine. Alison stayed with me.”
“Did you… shit, I might get in trouble for this… did you dream about anything?”
What a strange question. “Yeah. I dreamt about flying to Central Park and a bunch of animals. It was weird. I hate flying and heights and I’ve been having a lot of animal dreams lately.”
Jennifer almost jumps out of her seat, she’s so excited. “I knew it! You’re a Dreamer!”
Jennifer giggles, “I don’t know how you can do it now, without graduating, but…”
“Hi!!!” Alison smiles at me, interrupting what Jennifer was about to say. “You want to join us for lunch period? We usually grab our lunches and eat outside in the courtyard.”
“Sure! Of course!” I smile at Alison warmly and turn back to Jennifer but she is looking at Caleb who is shaking his head. “Jen, you were saying something about dreams…”
“Oh that? Oh don’t bother with me. Sometimes my brain goes cuckoo and I don’t know when to stop talking. I’ll see you at lunch, ‘kay?” And with that she hurries out of the room just as the bell rings.
“What was that?” I look to Alison. “She was saying some stuff about dreams. Whatʻs she talking about?”
Alison looks like she has a major headache. “Look, Julia… There is so much I want to tell you. And I… WE,” She looks at Caleb, “Can’t say anything.”
“The rules?” I ask.
“Yup… you’d better get used to them now.”
The entire week was a miracle in comparison to the few weeks of pain. I found myself laughing again, loving life again. It felt good to have such awesome friends in Alison, Caleb and Jennifer. Alison and Caleb joined up on the same table during study hall. It was a tight fit but I finally felt like I’d found some real friends. Even Richard wasn’t so bad.
Then, they came back.
It’s Monday morning and Laurie, Cami, Sam and Nicolas are at their front desk like nothing ever happened except that Nicolas looks different. I didn’t want to look but I couldn’t help it. For lack of a better explanation … he seems more defined.
The worst part is, Nicolas is even worst now then when he was just simply ignoring me. All through class I’ll catch him looking at me. I can’t read the expression there. Sometimes his face is a complete blank. Sometimes I see this pitiful pleading in his eyes. Sometimes I just see abject contempt. The worst is when he seems to be on the verge of saying something to me, anything would be nice, but he either gets distracted or thinks better of it and doesn’t say anything at all.
No. Actually, the worst part is, Laurie is still wrapped around him.
Can’t go there.
“You know what would probably piss him off?”
“What?” Rich caught me staring at the front of the room again.
“There is the Fall Dance coming up…and…”
The look on my face stops him. Was this boy serious? “No. Rich I am not going to a dance.”
“Hear me out! We could go together just as pay back. Come on Julia, I ain’t that bad!” Rich looks at me shyly, stumbling on his words.
“Oh … um … Rich…” Is Rich really asking me to go to a dance with him? I don’t know what else to say. I don’t have any experience with this sort of thing.
“Hey I know you’re sort of hung up on that clown over there and I really don’t know why after what he did to you. I don’t know what you or Laurie see in him but I figure we could kill two birds with one stone. I could get back at Laurie for leaving me for your man.” Rich lets a little pleading color his usually gruff voice.
“He’s not my ‘man’!” My cheeks heat up. “I am not hung up on him. He’s so different now…” I ramble.
“Whatever.” Rich turns back to the science project. “I just thought it might be fun.” He looks up as Laurie’s throaty giggled fills the room. My gaze follows his to the front corner of the class. Her fingers are intertwined in his golden hair. I feel my insides sizzle. I want to throw up.
“Maybe I’ll see you there.” I meet Rich’s eyes for a moment. He smiles. The bell rings.
As Sam, Cami, Laurie and Nicolas approach, Rich takes out a sheet of paper from his notebook and makes a huge show of giving me his number. Giggling, I blush at his audacity. Alison and Caleb look a little concerned but it’s a fleeting look.
Rich stands up right in front of Laurie and Nicolas, blocking their way. “So … give me a call.” He’s speaking a little too loudly to me. “Alison and Caleb are getting a ride from Jen. We could go with them … or we could take my car.” I give Rich the biggest smile I can muster as he hands me his number. Alison’s eyes bulged a little. She looks like there is something she wants to tell me. Cami’s mouth falls open and Sam looks as stoic as usual. Out of the corner of my eyes I try to read Laurie’s face. She’s looking straight at me, a sinister smile painted on her face. My smile disintegrates.
Was there something about Rich that I didn’t know about?
I slide my gaze towards Nicolas. There was something that flickers in his vacant eyes. Something close to disapproval. Must have been just my imagination.
Rich turns sharply and barrels into Nicolas and Sam. “Oh, dudes … sorry ‘bout that.” He smirks, “See yah later Julia.” Rich gives me a little wink.
I let another small giggle slip. For a brute, he wasn’t a bad guy.
Sam gets up in Rich’s face. “What bro?” Rich laughs in Sam’s face. Both guys are huge and the stare down lasts a few seconds until Sam pushes past him. “At least I’m still not following Laurie like some whipped puppy.” Sam looks back at Rich briefly, his face full of hate. He turns back towards the door and almost takes it off the hinges as he exits.
Laurie pulls Nicolas past our table. Now Nicolas looks straight at me. I turn away, memories of the night he let Laurie bully me… I need to remember that he is not my friend. He’s not my Nicky. I can feel his eyes try to bore into the back of my head. As much as I dread the thought of going to the dance, I am grateful to Rich. Maybe this is exactly what I needed to move past.
I turn to Alison and Caleb. Caleb was shaking his head and Alison let her tongue click in her mouth.
“What? Come on Alison! Spill it! You’re looking at me like I just signed up for kitchen duty. What’s up?” Exasperated, I really didn’t know what to expect from my new friends and I could really use Alison’s help right now. I had even less experience with boys.
“Are you sure you want to go with Rich? He’s kind of … ah. I’ve heard that he can sometimes lose his temper…” She pauses, choosing her words carefully. There was something she didn’t want to or couldn’t tell me.
“Alison!!!” Her silence was killing me.
She seemed to be playing with opposing comments in her head. Finally, “Well, I guess it’ll be fine as long as you’re with us. It’s just that Laurie used to tell me some awful things about him.”
“Laurie? Then they were probably all lies.” I grimaced, “What’s he going to do to me? Dance me to death? Also, I didn’t say I’d go with him … just that I’d meet him there.”
“Well then … I guess it’s set.” Alison brightens up. “We’ll all go together.” Caleb shrugs and focuses back on his video game.
We meet up with Jen after class. She gives me the same startled look when I tell her that Rich was coming with us as my ‘sort of’ date. But was also appeased when I tell her that we’d meet him there.
Jen laughs, “So Caleb … how about it? You wanna go with me?” Caleb blushes and nods furiously.
“Aw … Jen … why’d you have to go and do that for? Now I gotta find a date.” Alison whines. They all laugh and saunter off in the direction of her car. “You coming?”
Jennifer and Alison kidnap me. They’d set it up with my Aunt.
“You…” Alison began.
“… and your room…” Jennifer injects.
“Are in serious need of a makeover.” Alison finishes.
I grab my old alarm clock off my bed stand. It reads 7:02 am. I toss it back onto my nightstand, and missed. I didn’t care though, I was tired and the newest round of nightmares was not helping. I stuff my head back into my pillow. The dance was tomorrow night and I just wanted to hide. Alison and Jen had other plans.
“No,” I moan as they rip the covers off me.
They both laugh. Between my abject refusal to get out of bed, my tattered pajamas and the slight whimper that sounds out of my mouth; I admit that I was laughable. I throw a pillow at both of them. Alison sidesteps and Jen catches it before it has a chance to hit its intended target.
They sit on my bed. Alison places her hand on my head. “Look, we can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way. Either way we are not going away.”
“Let’s do it the hard way!” Jen laughs gleefully.
I didn’t want to imagine what ‘the hard way’ includes in Jen’s imagination. I flop over.
“At least let me take a shower.” I concede.
I step into the hot stream of water. I’m grateful … really I am. It feels awesome to have friends I can trust, people who care. Alison and Jen had quickly become close to me. I felt like I could tell them anything. Caleb, though a silent presence, was a much needed support. Even Rich … I cringe a little. Was I making a mistake by going ‘out’ with him to this dance? I thought he was cute, a little rough around the edges, but cute. It wasn’t even like that though. I was meeting him there. I didn’t want to lead him on but he did seem to like me. It was nice to be liked. He made me feel strange though. Every time he looked at me it seemed as if he was fighting something inside him. It was a funny thought, but he looked hungry.
I put that aside. Although we hadn’t gotten off to an amazing start in the beginning, Rich was filling a small part of the gaping hole that had taken over my being since the beginning of school. A flash of him hitting my back to save me from choking entered my memory. His toothy smile at the beginning of school. The water was scalding hot but I could feel a small blush steal across my cheeks anyway. He’d always been nice.
He was paying more attention to me because Laurie had slighted him and the attention was welcome. He’d begun to hang out with Caleb more instead of Sam, bringing himself closer to Jen, Alison and myself. Rich started to eat lunch with us in the courtyard instead of inside with Laurie and her cronies. Rich was a good guy once you got past his initial rudeness.
Maybe this wasn’t a mistake. Maybe it would be a little fun. My stomach did a little turn. It was my first real High School Dance.
I would turn into a prune if I didn’t get out of the shower soon. I shut off the water and step out. I give my teeth a fast but thorough cleaning and throw my hair into a quick pony tail. The ripped jeans and tank I had dragged out of my drawers before jumping into the bathroom looked ragged. They’re too big on me. I lost weight. I wipe the mirror. The girl looking back at me through the mist looks dejected. Her eyes, normally a kaleidoscope of color, had taken on a flat brown tone. There is a sickly olive hue to her skin, skin in bad need of a tan. Faint bluish circles rounded her eyes. She needs to get a life, I think. She needs a fresh start. I smile. The girl in the mirror smiles back.
There is a pounding at the door before it flies open. Jen coughs as the steam rushes out to greet her.
“Geez … it’s a sauna in here! Come on,” As she grabs my hand and before she pulls me out, I see the reflection of my eyes in the mirror. They’re bright green. I can feel the beginnings of a really good day begin to dawn. I giggle and let Jen drag me out of the bathroom.
“I thought you were going to stay in there forever,” Alison complained, “so we started without you.”
I look around my room, my mouth falling wide open.
“Your Aunt said you’d kill us if we attacked your closet, but we figured the rest was up for a turn around. Oh, and the bed is a present from your aunt. She said it was about time that you got rid of that old one. Too small and lumpy, she said. How long did you have that thing?”
I didn’t really hear everything that Jen was yammering on about. I search my room. In the half-hour that it took me to clean myself up, Alison and Jen had rearranged my entire room. A queen had replaced my small twin sized bed, the frame was beautiful dark unfinished wood. It was pushed up against the western side of the house facing my balcony. The garish purple plastic blinds had been taken down from the wrap around windows on either side of the balcony doors. My plants had been moved outside to breathe, they needed it. For all intensive purposes, my room was really a clean slate. A fresh start.
Tears well up in my eyes.
“Oh god, not the waterworks.” disappointment falls over Jenʻs face, “You don’t like it. We could always put those ugly purple things back on your window.” She sulks over to the bed and pouts.
Alison glares in her direction and grabs my hand. “Honey, what is it? What’s wrong? Did we go too far? Jen’s right … if you don’t like it, we can put it all back.”
I sniffle. “It’s not that, its just … this is going to sound really dumb but … why are you being so nice to me. I mean, thank you, but why?” I wipe at my face.
Jen snorts in reply, “Do you want us to be mean?” She laughs as Alison guides me over to the bed. The plastic is still covering it. “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re a cool person. You kick butt in Gym. I don’t need much else in a friend.”
Alison shakes her head. “You know… I’m not so sure. Jen’s right, of course, you’re a good person.”
“I said cool”
“Whatever… I don’t know,” she pauses, choosing her words carefully, “it’s kind of like we’re sisters.” Alison looks away for a moment. “When we found you in the gym with Laurie and she was threatening you I saw how you stood up to her. It takes guts to stand up to that girl. I should know. Being the smallest person in our house has made me come up with ingenious ways of standing up to her. I know her. You don’t, but you were still strong enough to hold your ground,” Alison snorts, “I’ve known her forever and she wouldn’t have tried so hard if she didn’t like you too.”
“What?” My mind couldn’t wrap around that bit of information. Laurie? Like me? No way.
“Oh … never mind about that, I’m just rambling now. Anyway, like Jen said … you’re cool and you kick ass. You’re strong and you seemed to really need a friend.”
Jen pipes up, “And we just happened to be around. So if you like, we’d like to stick around for a bit longer.” She pokes me in the ribs.
I chuckle, “I just have to warn you though… I’ve never been very good at this friend stuff.” I pause, a little uncomfortable. Could I talk about it with them? Yes. I needed to let it out.
Alison and Jen looked at me patiently, I hesitate. “Nicky… Nicolas … was really the only real friend I ever had. We both got into a … situation a long time back. We’ve been friends since the fourth grade. Losing him … to Laurie … was like losing part of myself.” I was going to start rambling on but I see the way Jen’s eyes widened just a fraction at the mention of my situation. I pause. Laurie and Cami had mentioned a few times that there were stories going around school about me. If they knew anything and wanted to talk about it they would have to go first. I had told Alison a little about what had happened… but not the full extent. This was not a closet I was ready to clean out.
Breathe in. Seconds tick by. Alison smiles. “Sweetie. You can talk or not talk about whatever you want with us. Trust me when I say it is okay to have your own secrets.”
Breathe out. Okay. Good. Not going there. “So with Nicolas I found my forever friend. So I thought. I don’t know how to react anymore. But having you two here and Caleb … and even Rich,” I added absently, noting how Jen’s eyes scrunch up for a sec, “Wait … is there something about Rich that I should know?”
Alison looks at me apologetically.
“Caleb told me that you were planning to hook up with Rich at the Dance.” Jen’s concerned look intensified, “Is that true?”
“Hook up?! I’m not hooking up with anyone! What IS Caleb … some kind of gossip? I’ve never heard the boy speak! Oh god.” I hid my head in my hands. “Rich saw how much Nicolas was upsetting me and thought it might be fun to make him jealous. I think he just wants to pretend he’s with me to get back at Laurie though.” Jen still looked concerned. “Look, I know Rich is an animal, but I think I can handle him. He’s been really kind to me.”
“Yeah. We’ve noticed. He didn’t used to hang out around us until you showed up. He used to run around with Sam a lot but then Laurie got involved. I don’t know exactly what happened but there was this weird love triangle between those three. Whatever. Rich does seem much calmer now. Maybe …” Alison looks to Jen for a moment, obviously trying to decide what to say next.
Oh. Oh! “I’m so sorry!” I blush profusely. I couldn’t believe how blind I was. “Do you like him, Jen?”
“Oh … god no.” Jennifer chortles, “There was a moment last year where we might have hooked up but then Laurie got to him first and moment came and went. I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting yourself into. Rich has been known to lose his temper in the past.”
“Well, if he is controlling himself more … maybe it’ll be fun.” Alison smiles.
We three sat there for a moment. Jennifer was the first to jump up. “Geez, enough of this wimpy emotional crap!” She went to my wall of music and whistled, “Wow, you really like your music. I didn’t know people still collected CDʻs”
“I like to be able to hold something in my hands. It makes me feel like the music is tangible and not just a piece of information on my computer. A lot of the collection is my Mom’s. I even have vinyl and cassette tapes. You can borrow anything.”
“Really?” Jen eyes scan my collection covetously. “You got an empty box?”
Alison pinches her arm.
“Ouch … geez …” Jen tears herself from my music wall. “ Later … first your bedroom.”
Alison smiled, “So, what do you want to do to it.”
We spent the better part of the morning planning our attack. The bed my aunt had gotten me took up more space. I pushed it a bit more center, more in line with the balcony doors. From the bed I could see the tops of the trees and into the clouds. I marveled that I hadn’t ever thought to move it here before. The bed was incredibly comfortable. The frame was a work of art. Alison said that it was made from reclaimed wood. It had large branches that the designer had formed to encompass the bed. Jen came up with a great idea. We would extend the frame up into a canopy. I had no idea how we were going to accomplish this feat, but I put the fate of my room in their hands.
It felt amazing to absolutely trust people again. I smile and laugh easily with these girls. I felt happy.
The morning turns into early evening with a happy swoop. Any misgivings I had about my friendship with either of them were long forgotten. After shopping for new curtains … I find a sky blue that reminds me of … the sky. Lying to myself, it reminds me of something else. Someone else. Jen and Alison try to convince me that the soft lighter green curtains will be better. I win them over. I also pick up some muslin to hang around the canopy.
After, we go down to the fashion district. Jennifer knew someone down there that was dismantling a set from a fashion show. There was a forest of beautiful wood that was going to the chopper for mulch. Jen and I choose the best pieces while Alison disappeared.
We meet back at the truck. I try to look at what she disappeared to get.
“NO! No peeking!” I pout a bit and she gives in. “I got you something for the dance”