“What did you do all weekend? Leif said you hadn’t felt well after the concert. I thought I would hear something from you. But I got nothing, nada. Cold Soul was rocking awesome. You should have stayed afterward. We met the band, well except for their lead singer, Dank. He left earlier or something. I didn’t care, it was amazing! I could have kissed Daddy’s face for that one.” Miranda hooked her arm in mine as she babbled on. I scanned the hall, needing to see Dank somewhere in the sea of faces. “Who’re you looking for?” There was a touch of interest in Miranda’s voice. Dank was nowhere in the crowd, however, Kendra was and she was flirting openly with Justin. That seemed strange.
“Have you seen Dank this morning?” I asked, looking at Miranda and praying she didn’t read any more into my question.
Her forehead wrinkled in a frown. “Dank as in Dank Walker, the lead singer of Cold Soul?” I nodded and scanned the lockers. “Yes, Dank,” I repeated. The confused frown on Miranda’s face triggered an alarm bell in my head.
“Um, are you taking those pain meds again, sweetie? Why would the lead singer of Cold Soul be here?” Something was very wrong. Panic swelled in my chest.
“Good morning,” Leif said as he walked up to me and slipped his arm around my shoulders.
Miranda glanced up at him with a worried smile.
“Morning, Leif. It’s so sweet that you go get all her books the minute you two arrive. Would you think of giving Wyatt some pointers?”
“No way.” Leif chuckled and squeezed my shoulders gently. Normally having him close helped me when I was on the verge of panic. However, right now I needed to know where Dank was and why Miranda didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.
I glanced up at Leif. “Have you seen Dank?” The same confused frown came over his face.
“Who?” he asked, equally confused.
“She asked me the same thing. I’m thinking she might have had to take some pain meds again this morning. Are you still hurting? Does your mom know? ‘Cause, girl, you are a trippin’ on something if you think that Dank Walker is at our school.” Miranda and Leif were both looking at me as if I was a need for concern. I glanced over at Kendra, who was draped around Justin.
“Is Kendra dating Justin now?” I asked in a tone I hoped was conversational and didn’t betray the panic raging inside me.
Leif’s frown deepened. “They’ve been dating for months now. Are you okay, Pagan?”
I forced a smile and nodded. “Oh, um, I forgot. No, I’m fine. I just need to make a stop into the restroom before I go to first period.” I stood on my tippy toes, kissed Leif quickly on the lips, and headed off the other way. I needed to escape their scrutiny so I could think. Dank was gone and no one remembered him.
The restroom was blessedly empty. I dropped my books down on the damp counter and leaned against the wall for support. My heart contracted so painfully in my chest I feared it might just stop working. Someone came inside and I turned to walk into a stall. I needed privacy for my mental breakdown. But after only two steps it dawned on me the door to the restroom had never opened. I froze, took a deep breath, and then peered back at the other occupant. A dark-haired teenage girl had drifted through the wall. I turned and took a step toward her and she noticed me. She seemed surprised I could see her and a smile broke out on her face.
“Who are you?” I asked, but she only watched me. “Can you talk to me?” I was no longer worried about ignoring them. Maybe they held the answers. She shook her head and her smile turned sad. She drifted closer to me and reached out and touched my hair. Nothing. No shiver or chill. It was as if she wasn’t there. This was what I’d always known of souls. “Why can’t you speak?” I asked and she moved until she was standing in front of me. She shook her head at me as if correcting me from asking that question. “You aren’t allowed to talk to me or you can’t?” I wasn’t scared of her. I knew she had no power to hurt me. Her frown grew agitated and she shook her head again and backed away from me slowly.
I took a step closer to her. “Please, I need some answers and I think you could help me.” Her frown turned fearful and she continued shaking her head and backing away from me as if I were something to be frightened of. “Please,” I begged and at my last plea she turned and vanished into the wall.
I stared at the wall until the restroom door opened and a freshman girl walked in. She stopped and studied me. I must have looked like an idiot standing there staring at an empty wall. I smiled at her reassuringly. Maybe this incident wouldn’t make it all over school. Not that I cared if people talked about me. I just didn’t need Miranda and Leif worrying over me anymore. Besides, I needed answers and I was so tired of waiting around for Dank to tell me. The young soul hadn’t been able to help me for reasons I couldn’t understand. However, I had a feeling that if I kept searching I would soon find one who was ready to talk or could talk.
The hallways were already empty which meant I was late for English Literature. The ache returned as I thought about facing class without Dank. Even when he’d been ignoring me I was able to hear him talk and feel the heat from his gaze.
Now, I wasn’t even going to have that small bit of comfort.
What hurt even worse was how no one seemed to remember him. It was as if he had never existed. I stopped right outside the door. Going inside seemed unbearable. I wrapped my hands around my stomach to hold in the pain tearing me apart and leaned up against the wall. I stared down the empty hallway, wishing another soul would wander through.
Instead, the empty silence remained. For the first time in my life I wanted to be bothered by the presence of souls and there wasn’t one around. If I could just go somewhere that was infested with wandering souls then I could ask them all.
I could ask and ask until I found one could and would speak to me. Something about the young soul in the bathroom told me she could have spoken had she wanted. She was scared.
Scared of what? What did souls have to fear? They were dead after all, or at least their bodies were.
“The hospital,” I whispered aloud, remembering that the one place I’d seen endless wandering souls had been the hospital. I turned and headed toward the front doors to the school. I would go there and start asking every soul I found.
One of them was bound to talk back. I would figure out how to find Dank. He was real. I’d known him. I loved him. I would find him.
“Miss. Moore? Our class is this way,” Mr. Brown’s voice cut through my thoughts and I stopped and sighed in defeat before turning around and facing my round English Literature teacher.
“Yes, sir, I was, um, just going to get a late pass.” He smiled and shook his head, “No need, but do hurry up please we’re just getting started on the beauty that is fiction. Come along now.” He stepped back, waiting for me to enter first. I walked back toward the class, wanting to turn and take off running in the other direction. I knew if Mom got a call that I’d jumped ship she would be furious and my chances of finding Dank were slim to none once I was locked in my room for the rest of the year.
I stepped into the classroom and walked over to my empty seat by the window. The chair behind me sat empty. I glanced back at Kendra and the chair behind her was full of Justin. He’d just stepped in and taken Dank’s place.
Disgusted, I turned back around. How could she have been touched by Dank and kissed by him and so easily forgotten he existed? I hadn’t forgotten. How had she? How could she not feel the pain of his absence? He was too good for her.
Why had he wasted so much time with her? I sank down into my chair and swallowed the lump of emotion welling up inside me. I couldn’t sit through this class without him here.
“The reading assignment today is to be done quietly at our desks. Do not talk to your neighbors. I want complete silence as you inhale the beauty of the written word. Take it in. Let it soak into your veins and fill you with such glorious wonder that you are positively glowing.” Moans erupted over the room. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Let us be excited about the word.
Excited about its beauty.” Grumbling continued as the sounds of shuffling pages filled the room. This would be a time for most of the students to take a nap behind their textbooks. I opened mine, wanting to find something to get my thoughts off of Dank. When the day was over I would go to the hospital and I would begin asking questions. Some soul somewhere had answers.
“Ugh, this is poet stuff,” a grumbling voice came from the back of the room.
Mr. Brown looked up from the book in his hands. “Ah, yes it is Mr. Kimbler, so nice of you to notice.” More groans erupted and I found the page directed on the board. It was William Wordsworth’s work. I felt the urge to moan in despair myself. Studying the beginning of the Romantic Age was not something I needed right now. Where were the tragic playwrights when you needed them?
“How does this mess help us in the real world?” Justin said in a cocky voice. Sniggers erupted across the classroom.
“Hear, hear,” someone called with a tap on their desk.
Mr. Brown glanced up once more with a slightly annoyed expression on his face, “Gentlemen, if one does not study the words of famous romantic poets how will one ever learn to woo the woman they will one day love? I can assure you that P Diddy has no words of instruction in his lyrical creations.” His words caused a few chuckles. I would have found this all very amusing if the concept of reading P Diddy lyrics didn’t seem so appealing at the moment. I glanced down at the poem we were to read and write a two-page paper on. To a Young Lady by William Wordsworth. I could only hope it wasn’t a poem of enduring love.
“Dear Child of Nature, let them rail!
--There is a nest in a green dale, A harbour and a hold,
Where thou a Wife and Friend, shalt see Thy own delightful days, and be
A light to young and old.
There, healthy as a Shepherd-boy, As if thy heritage were joy,
And pleasure were thy trade,
Thou, while thy Babes around thee cling, Shalt shew us how divine a thing A Woman may be made.
Thy thoughts and feelings shall not die, Nor leave thee, when grey hairs are nigh, A melancholy slave
But an old age, alive and bright, And lovely as a Lapland night,
Shall lead thee to thy grave.
"--_Pleasure is spread through the earth In stray gifts to be claim'd by whoever shall find_."
My shattered heart throbbed. I began to write. The pain inside me poured out onto the paper. It felt almost as if I were bleeding with each word I scrawled. Lost in my need to express to someone the pain inside, it startled me when my paper was taken from under my hand. My head snapped up.
Mr. Brown gave me a small nod and cleared his throat.
“Ah, it appears that Miss. Moore knows William Wordsworth or has already read her homework.” He peered over his half-moon spectacles at the class. “Which is much more than I can say about the lot of you.” He stared back down at my paper and straightened his short, round structure.
“Wordsworth was remembering his sister whom he’d been reproached for taking long walks with in the country.
He was thinking of her life and the fullness she would experience. He congratulated her or praised her in her efforts to enjoy the beauty around her rather than follow the rules.”
The bell rang and students began scrambling to get out of the classroom for fear Mr. Brown was going to force them to listen to more of my paper, or worse, snatch theirs up to read aloud. He laid my paper back down on my desk and smiled at me. “You are truly a delight, Pagan. I look forward to reading the rest of this in the morning.” He turned and headed back to his desk with a waddle.
Leif walked into the classroom grinning at me. “You coming, gorgeous? I know you like English Literature but it’s over for the day.”
Mr. Brown beamed at me. “Ah, yes, but anytime you want to stop in to discuss its beauty, please feel free.”
“Thank you, Mr. Brown.” That wouldn’t be happening but he really was a sweet, old man. A tad eccentric, but sweet.
“Don’t give her any ideas, Mr. Brown,” Leif teased as he took the books from my hands.
“Ah, the handsome man who owns her heart does not want to share,” Mr. Brown said with a grin that pushed his thick cheeks back only slightly.
Leif chuckled. “You’re correct.”
* * * *
“Now, tell me again what it is that you’re going to do that’s more important than shopping for the perfect winter boots?” Miranda’s right hand perched on her hip as she gaped at me as if I’d just spoken Spanish. I slipped my book bag up higher on my shoulder and kept my eyes on the parking lot.
“I’m going to go sign up for volunteer work at the hospital.” I didn’t have a real moral explanation for this. I couldn’t bring myself to tell Miranda how I felt the need to give of myself or whatever one would say that feels the need to go volunteer to help the sick and dying. The truth was I hated hospitals and Miranda knew this. She didn’t know why I hated them. She just knew I did. I’d never been able to explain to her how the wandering souls who filled the halls of the hospitals bothered me.
“So, you’re over the hospital dislike thingy now that you’ve spent a week in there?” she asked curiously. I shrugged because my stay had nothing to do with it.
“Guess so.” It was as good an excuse as any.
“Alright then, if you must go do something for the greater good of others while I go do something for the greater good of my winter wardrobe then I guess I’m good with that.” I flashed her a smile and then headed toward Leif’s car.
He’d left me his keys and said he would get a ride home with Justin. I’d fed him this “I want to go volunteer” stuff too. It wasn’t a total lie. I’d decided this was the best way to see enough souls without someone admitting me into the crazy ward for wandering the halls talking to myself. This way I had a reason to be there and I would find plenty of souls to speak to. Eventually, I would come across one that spoke.
“Call me when you get home from your good deeds and I’ll bring over my purchases and show you.”
“Okay, good luck,” I called as I unlocked the car door and slipped inside. For the first time in three days I had some hope. I kept remembering the look in Dank’s eyes Friday night as he held me. He’d been very real. The fact that no one seemed to think he’d ever walked the halls of our school didn’t mean I was going crazy. The fact was I had been seeing people no one else could see since birth. Something was different about me. This wasn’t breaking news. Dank had secrets and I was going to crack them. I needed to know because I needed him. The answer behind his leaving lay within his secrets and I knew if I could figure it out then I could find him and bring him back.