I remained in the hospital for an entire week. Every night, I went to sleep to the gentle strum of a guitar. When I would wake in the middle of the night it was never to an empty hospital room but to the dark, mysterious soul I’d grown attached to. He sat in the shadows and played a lullaby I’d decided belonged to me.
Every day Leif would come directly after his football practice with the food I’d requested smuggled inside his leather jacket. We would work on his homework, and then watch television and eat the food he brought. Being with Leif made me smile. I loved every moment we spent together.
However, at night when the soul sat in my room and played for me, music seemed to fill the lonely places. I had a need for the soul I didn’t understand. My desire for him scared, and fascinated me. My last night in the hospital his voice joined the strum of the guitar. He put words to my lullaby.
“The life I walk binds my hands
it makes me take things that I don’t understand I walk this dark world unknowing of what they hold true,
forgetting the me I once knew,
The life I walk eternally was all I knew nothing more held me here to this earth until you.
I feel the pain of every heart I take I feel the desire to replace all that I have grown to hate Darkness holds me close but the light still draws my empty soul
The emptiness where I used pain to fill the hole no longer controls me, no longer calls me because of you.”
As my eyelids grew heavy and sleep crept over me, my heart ached for the pain in his words. They were words I knew meant more to him than I understood. The song he’d filled my nights with was much deeper than anything I’d ever known.
Miranda ran up to me the moment Leif opened the front door of the school and held it for me as I walked inside. The excitement on her face caused her brown eyes to twinkle. I smiled, waiting on her to explain the cause for her joyous behavior on a Monday morning. My being back at school couldn’t be the reason for the euphoria on her face. Since I’d come home from the hospital she’d spent a good deal of time with me. My returning to school wouldn’t cause this response.
She stopped and glanced up at Leif. He cleared his throat.
“Um, I’ll see you in a few minutes,” he excused himself with a smile and headed toward my locker carrying my books.
“Okay, he’s gone. Now, tell me what has you in such good spirits this morning.”
She linked her arm in mine and leaned close to my ear.
“Dank Walker is here. Like, at our school. Like, as in, enrolled at our school. Can you believe it? I mean, I know he went to a high school in Mobile, Alabama up until last year when his band landed a hit song and started playing all over the United States instead of just the Southeast. GAH! Can you believe he is here! At our school? I guess if he had to go back to high school, our little quaint coastal town is preferable to somewhere in Alabama. But still, I can’t believe this.”
I couldn’t help but smile at Miranda’s excitement even if I didn’t have a clue who Dank Walker was. I’d never heard of him or his band before. I followed Miranda’s giddy expression when my eyes found the soul. Last night I’d fought sleep to see if he would appear in my bedroom and sing me to sleep. He hadn’t come. Seeing him now made me want to sigh in relief. The thought that I might not see him again had scared me. I smiled at him knowing I should act as if he wasn’t there but I couldn’t. Somewhere along the way, I’d come to rely on his presence. His dark blue eyes were pleased and less haunted than I remembered. I wanted to walk up to him and say something but I couldn’t in this hall full of people. He nodded as if answering a question but his eyes never left mine. A tight smile formed on his face to replace the pleased smile I’d received. Then, as if in slow motion, he turned his attention to the blond girl who stood giggling and holding up a magazine and a pen for him to take.
I watched as if lost in a strange dream as he smiled and nodded at the girl’s words. He signed the magazine she thrust into his hands and handed it back to her. I heard Miranda saying something beside me but it sounded as if she were miles away. Something was wrong. I took a step toward him unable to look away. He smiled at me with his sexy, crooked grin that produced his one perfect dimple. Suddenly his smile seemed apologetic as he once again turned from me to take something from the hands of another girl and signed it. I froze, trying to process what my eyes were seeing.
“Okay, Pagan, you’re really going to have to snap out of it.
Leif is coming and if he sees you looking at Dank Walker like you want to gobble him up there is going to be a problem.” I tore my eyes from the soul and stared over at my friend.
“What?” I managed to ask through the questions swarming in my head.
Miranda grinned and shook her head. “Jeez, girl, you’re worse than me. At least I didn’t go that whack when I saw him in the office earlier. Of course, he didn’t seem real bothered by your reaction either. Which is a good thing, considering you seem a might bit stalkerish.” I shook my head not understanding. “What?” I asked again.
“I’ve figured out the big news,” Leif said from behind me, and I knew I should turn and look at him but I couldn’t just yet. Everyone could see the soul. Nothing made sense. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and then opened them to see Miranda watching me with an amused expression on her face.
“You see him?” I asked in a whisper. Her gaze flickered cautiously behind me to where I knew Leif stood and then they darted over to where the soul stood.
Once her eyes came back to mine she nodded slowly.
“Um, yes, but what ‘him’ are we talking about?” she asked in a hushed whisper. I glanced quickly over to where the soul was still talking to students and signing things. Miranda leaned close to my ear. “That is Dank Walker, everyone sees him. Did you take some serious pain meds this morning?
Because you’re acting strange.”
Dank Walker. The soul, my soul, was Dank Walker the rocker? A hand rested on my shoulder and I turned slowly around to face Leif. His concerned frown was identical to Miranda’s. I shook my head to clear it and forced a smile.
“Mom made me take some of my pain pills this morning and I think they’re messing with my head,” I lied, grasping at the excuse Miranda had just given me. Leif smiled and slipped his arm protectively around my shoulders.
“Ah, well, I’ll take care of you. Come on, let’s get you to your first class. I’ve already got your books.” I walked beside Leif, relieved, yet disappointed we wouldn’t be walking past the soul. I kept waiting to see if I would wake up from this strange dream and hear the soul playing softly in my room.
I arrived at English Literature before I realized Leif had been guiding me to it. He turned me around to face him. “If you need me, text me and I will be here in a second, okay?” I nodded and he gave me a quick kiss before turning and leaving me at the door of my classroom. I walked inside, fighting the urge to glance back and see the crowd of people around the soul, whom they called Dank Walker. I sat down at the first desk I came to and started to open my book when a warm tingling ran through my body. Startled, I glanced up.
Dank was making his way toward me. I chanced a peek over at the other kids in the class. Everyone’s eyes were on him.
Girls were giggling and whispering. This had to be some sort of insane dream. He took the seat behind me and I fought the urge to shiver at the warming sensation his nearness seemed to be causing. This hadn’t happened before.
“I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Dank Walker.” His familiar, smooth drawl sure didn’t sound like I was dreaming.
I turned around to look at him. If I’d taken pain pills this morning I would be convinced I was tripping. There was no excuse for this hallucination. “I don’t understand,” I said simply.
An apologetic smile tugged at his full lips. Were his lips fuller now that he was flesh and blood?
“I know, and I’m sorry.”
Was it too much to ask for him to elaborate? If this was real then it would be awfully nice if he could explain to me how all of a sudden he could be seen by the rest of the living world. Better yet, why did they all believe him to be a rock star? He didn’t say anything else but his eyes never left mine.
Someone walked by and asked him for an autograph and he shook his head without taking his eyes off me. Everyone in the room seemed to be watching us. Talking to him here wouldn’t get me any answers. I tore my eyes from his warm gaze and turned back around in my seat. If I didn’t wake up soon then I’d worry about a better explanation than ‘I’m sorry’.
“Settle down, settle down.” Mr. Brown’s voice carried over the excited whispering and occasional giggles. “It’s very exciting, I realize, to have a,” Mr. Brown waved a hand in Dank’s direction, “young man among us, whose talents many of you enjoy. However, this is a time to learn the beauty that English Literature holds for us. We can moon and swoon over Mr. Walker during our lunchtime.
“Now, today we’re going to move on from our study of Shakespeare. We have briefly touched upon him this year because this was not your first exposure to Shakespeare and I feel it is important to focus on some other famous playwrights. The ancient Greek playwright, Aeschylus, was just as influential in his works. In fact, various ancient sources attribute between seventy and ninety plays to him. I believe on Friday I asked you all to read the chapter in your book concerning Aeschylus, and since it was the weekend I know this was a huge request. However, can anyone in here tell me something you learned from your reading?” Mr.
Brown clasped his hands together across his chest to rest just above his round stomach. The room remained quiet. I’d spent my weekend trying to catch up on all my missed schoolwork and reading about Aeschylus hadn’t been very important. Besides, focusing right now would be difficult.
“Only six of his tragedies have survived intact: The Persians, Seven against Thebes, The Suppliants, and the trilogy known as The Oresteia, consisting of the three tragedies Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides. ” Dank’s smooth voice carried over the room and Mr. Brown stared back at him surprised.
“Seven, Mr. Walker. You forgot Prometheus Bound.”
“Prometheus Bound’s authorship is disputed. It’s widely thought to be the work of a later author.” Dank’s voice held a tone of boredom.
Mr. Brown straightened his short, wide frame and stared down at Dank with a slow smile coming over his face. “Why, yes it is, but that information was not within your textbook.” He looked at the rest of the class grinning like someone had brought him a dozen doughnuts. “It appears that our musical friend is well educated.”
I heard a quiet chuckle from behind me and I glanced over my shoulder to see Dank’s eyes on me. Did he read minds? Did he have super powers? I turned away from him and closed my eyes, trying to get the questions lodging themselves in my head about Dank Walker pushed aside long enough to pay attention in class.
“Very good, very good indeed. Now, as stated on your syllabus for the year, you’re all to have purchased copies of The Oresteia: Agamemnon; The Libation Bearers; The Eumenides. We are going to begin our study on Aeschylus by reading his work, Agamemnon. Who brought their book to class as requested on Friday?” I stared down at my textbook and notebook. Leif hadn’t known to get the paperback from my locker. “Ah, and our new student surprises me yet again.” I glanced up to see Mr. Brown nodding toward Dank’s desk.
“That is the book on your desk is it not Mr. Walker?”
“Yes sir,” Dank answered and I involuntarily shivered. I thought I heard another soft chuckle come from behind me.
“Well, then would you please begin reading for me? Since it appears that the rest of the students in this room, who were in fact here on Friday, seem to be suffering from memory loss.”
Dank cleared his throat and began reading. “Dear gods, set me free from all the pain, the long watch I keep, one whole year awake...propped on my arms, crouched on the roofs of Atreus like a dog. I know the stars by heart, the armies of the night, and there in the lead the ones that bring us snow or the crops of summer, bring us all we have - our great kings of the sky, I know them, when they rise and when they fall...and now I watch for the light, the signal-fire breaking out of Troy, shouting Troy is taken. So, she commands, full of her high hopes.”
The class went by so quickly with Dank’s hypnotic voice commanding the room. The ring of the bell caused me to jump. I shook my head trying to get out of the trance his reading had put me in. I stood up and reached for my books, knowing Leif would be at the door waiting for me, ready to take my books to my next class. It took supreme effort not to glance back at Dank.
The sound of giggling girls and fawning fans allowed me to reach Leif without breaking down and turning to sneak a glance at Dank.
“Fun class?” Leif raised his eyebrows and nodded his head toward where I knew Dank stood surrounded by female admirers.
I shrugged. “Not really. Tragic Greek plays, you know, the usual.” Leif shot me one of his easy grins before reaching for my books.
“Glad I made my move before Dank Walker showed up,” Leif said in a joking voice that sounded forced.
I didn’t look up at him. “What do you mean?” Did he notice the pink flush on my cheeks when he said Dank’s name? God I hoped not.
“The dude can’t seem to take his eyes off you. Not that I can blame him.” Leif slipped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close as if he needed to hold onto me. Instant guilt swamped me. The way I shivered and melted when near Dank wasn’t fair to Leif. A strange pull inside me to turn around caused me to grab Leif’s arm for support. Maybe this was a dream after all. It was almost as if some iron-like hold was trying to force me to stop and turn back.
“Are you okay?” Leif’s voice was edged with concern. I knew he was thinking I’d lost my mind. Nothing about the way I was acting was sane.
I smiled up at him reassuringly. “I’m good.” Unable to fight the invisible tug, I glanced back and my eyes immediately found Dank surrounded by girls, but his eyes were on me. Even from this distance I could feel the warmth of his intense gaze.
“He seems to be a hot item,” Leif mumbled as his gaze followed mine. I jerked my head back around, furious with myself for giving in and searching him out. The concern in Leif’s voice said it all. I needed to get a grip.
“I don’t really do the whole rocker thing. I honestly haven’t even got a clue what he sings or what band he’s in.” Leif kissed the top of my head. “I wish the rock star had heard that.” He seemed to relax beside me.
“That’s not true, Pagan. You enjoy your own little private concert each night while you sleep.” I froze gripping Leif’s arm tighter. What the heck was that? Had Dank just talked in my head? God this had to be a dream! It was getting crazier by the minute. I let go of Leif’s arm and pinched myself as hard as I possibly could.
“What are you doing?” Leif asked with a look of confusion on his face. My face grew warm. Within seconds I would be bright red. I wasn’t sure if it was from the fact Dank had just somehow spoken in my ear yet he was an entire hallway length away from me or the fact I was pinching myself in the hallway like a nut case.
“Relax, Pagan, no one hears me but you. Wipe the lovely blush from your face. Your friend, who seems to think you belong to him, is going to think you’re crazy.” I turned around, this time needing to see where he was. It was Dank’s voice I heard. Just as clearly as if he were standing right beside me leaning toward my ear. Dank wasn’t right beside me. He was where I had remembered: standing on the opposite end of the hallway, listening to a red-headed freshman girl who seemed to be on cloud nine to have the rock star’s attention. His eyes left hers and found mine. He winked and gave me his wicked smile before staring back down at the girl at his side. I swallowed the fear running through me and turned away from him. Had he actually just spoken to me from across the hallway and no one heard him?
“Are you okay, Pagan?” Leif’s voice broke into my moment of panic and I managed to force a smile and nod.
“Yes, I just thought I forgot something, but I didn’t.” Leif chuckled. “The medication still messing with you?” he asked in a voice that helped bring me back to normalcy.
He was normal. He was real.
“Um, yes, I think it is.” If only I’d taken pain medicine this morning, like I kept claiming, then I could blame all this on chemicals. But I knew the truth. I hadn’t taken anything. I was going crazy all on my own.
* * * *
“I talked to Leif during Speech and I suggested the four of us go see a movie tonight to celebrate your return to school,” Miranda said from across the cafeteria table. I’d been so lost in my thoughts I hadn’t realized she’d sat down across from me. I glanced up. “That sounds like a great idea.” Miranda frowned, tilted her head, and leaned closer to me. “Are you okay?”
I forced a smile and nodded. Convincing my best friend I wasn’t internally freaking out was going to be difficult. As expected, she raised her eyebrows and gave me the ‘I don’t believe you’ eye as she sat back. Luckily, Wyatt chose that moment to join us so she wouldn’t get a chance to probe me further.
“Tonight after Leif gets done with football practice, we’re all going to the movies to celebrate Pagan’s recovery.” Wyatt glanced over at me with a concerned face. “You up for that?”
I nodded. “Sure, I feel much better. I need to get away and do something normal.”
Miranda’s smile returned. “Then it’s settled. Now, all that is left is to decide what movie we’re going to see.” Miranda’s eyes stared at something over my head. “Ugh, figures.” She said in a tone of disgust.
I glanced back to see what she found so irritating. Kendra walked in with her arm tucked inside Dank’s elbow, smiling coyly up at him while he talked to her. He obviously enjoyed her attention. He wouldn’t be the first male to fall victim to her attentions. Kendra made a complete package of perfect, if you left out her personality. I turned my head back around, hoping I could cover up the churning emotions in my stomach. The sight of her on his arm made me a little sick.
“It would be Kendra that got the rock star,” Miranda said in a disgusted tone before taking a bite of her salad.
“I hope I’m not hearing jealousy in your voice.
Considering that would be a blow to my ego,” Wyatt said teasingly and Miranda glared up at him.
“Of course not. I just wish Dank Walker hadn’t decided to give his attention to that skanky bitch. There are plenty of other beautiful girls in this school who would be much better choices.”
Wyatt chuckled. “Like who?”
Miranda shrugged. “I don’t know. Just someone who isn’t Kendra.” Wyatt laughed out loud and shook his head.
“What did I miss?” Leif asked as he sat down beside me.
“Nothing,” I responded a little too quickly.
Wyatt nodded toward where Dank and Kendra sat at a table alone. “It appears Miranda thinks anyone would have been a better choice for the rock star than Kendra.” Leif nodded. “She’s probably right. But as long as he has stopped ogling my girl, I don’t care who he gives his attention to.”
Miranda raised her eyebrows at me in surprise. “Really, he’s been ogling you?”
I rolled my eyes. “No.” My quick response didn’t even sound believable to my own ears.
“Yes, he has,” Leif said, reaching for my hand under the table. He gave me a gentle squeeze as if to reassure me. I sighed and relaxed. No point arguing with him. I knew Dank watched me more often than anyone else. I hadn’t realized how possessive I felt toward him until I’d seen Kendra getting his attention. He could go sing Kendra to sleep with his guitar and hauntingly beautiful music. I heard a low chuckle and turned to look at both Leif and Wyatt whose mouths were full of food. I froze and glanced back at the table where Dank sat in a private conversation with Kendra.
His eyes left hers and gave me an amused glance before turning back to the perfect blond beside him.