Mister Wexler read the note Hugo had given him, then looked up, scanning the room.
“Jolie Figg? You’re wanted in the counselor’s office.” Jolie rolled her eyes at Becca, who was writing up their latest lab work, retrieved the hall pass from Wexler, and followed Hugo out.
“Ms. Warren wants to see you,” Hugo said. “I don’t know why, so don’t ask me.”
Jolie fell in beside him. The halls were plastered with big sheets of poster paper bearing the slogans that students running for next year’s Student Council Officers had made up to campaign for themselves. Written in primary colors, the lame slogans were as laughable as they were untrue.
“A vote for Megan is a vote for you,” one proclaimed.
“Don’t fool yourselves; a vote for Megan is a vote for Megan,” Jolie muttered. Hugo grunted his agreement.
They came upon the next poster. “Vote Megan: she’ll put things right.”
“In her mouth,” Jolie added, sardonically.
Hugo chuckled. “How about that one,” he pointed. “Megan Washburn wants your vote,” he read.
“Cross out ‘vote’ and add ‘body.’”
“Megan Washburn wants your body.” Hugo nodded. “I like it. You should be her campaign manager.”
“In what universe?” Jolie scoffed.
“Too bad no one will ever see your improved versions, they’d be a big hit.”
“So, do you like this Lohan Kung Fu place?” Jolie changed the subject.
“Yeah. I think it’s a good school. It’s a temple school so they don’t just teach kicking and punching, they teach the spiritual stuff, too. Sifu talks about Qi: you know, the energy that is part of Kung Fu, and he teaches about using it to heal, and tells us to meditate; stuff like that.”
They entered the high school’s main office and parted silently as Jolie went to the door marked “COUNSELOR”. Ms. Warren’s office was open.
“Ms. Warren?” she knocked on the door frame tentatively. “What’s up?”
“Come in, Miss Figg.” Ms. Warren’s hair style had undergone a change since Jolie had last been in her office. It was smaller, and straighter, while her earrings were larger, and she was actually wearing makeup.
She’s seeing someone, Jolie realized, hoping she would not pick up anything more personal than that. All she needed was to get a kinky vision of her school counselor getting sweaty with some shirtless Mensa geek to make the week really special.
“I realized today that we haven’t talked in some time.” Ms. Warren’s smile looked forced. “So I thought I should check in to see how you were doing.”
“I don’t expect to be elected prom queen, but I think I’ll finish the year with a 3.5 or above. So, I think I’m doing pretty good,” Jolie answered.
“Your grades are not the problem, Jolie.”
So what is? Jolie wondered.
“You’re a good student,” Ms. Warren went on. “You work hard. You turn in your assignments.” She paused. “I was talking to Office Wrangler yesterday, and he mentioned that there’d been a death in the apartment above yours?”
Here it comes, Jolie thought. Had Wrangler looked into things after all and begun to wonder about how Axel had died? Did they suspect her? Jolie waited for the other shoe to drop.
Ms. Warren waited for Jolie to say something.
And there they sat, looking at each other across the desk, each waiting for the other to speak up, both refusing to be the first to give in.
“That must have been traumatic,” Ms. Warren caved. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Obviously not, Jolie thought. Did Ms. Warren really think that all Jolie needed was a verbal nudge and she’d open the floodgates of her life, pouring out all of her deep dark secrets? What bullshit. She did not want to talk about Axel, or how he’d died, or how it made her feel, or the nightmares she was having since it happened. Ms. Warren clearly didn’t get it; Jolie’s silence was her answer. Ms. Warren continued to look expectantly at Jolie.
“No,” Jolie finally defined her position, stating the obvious.
“You look...” Ms. Warren hesitated.
Jolie’s mind filled in the blank, Tired? Worn out? Distraught? Hell yes, I’m distraught. I have nightmares from the moment my head hits the pillow until I wake up in a grateful panic. What do you expect?
“...thin,” the counselor finished her observation.
“I have a high metabolism,” Jolie said, relieved that the counselor had missed the mark so thoroughly.
“So, you’re okay?” Ms. Warren prodded.
“Yes. Thank you for your concern.” The counselor was testing Jolie’s patience, but Jolie knew the value of not letting that get the best of her judgment.
The conversation was not going the way Ms. Warren imagined it would. Why do I always feel like I’m in a chess match with this girl and she understands the game better than I do? The counselor considered her next move.
“Okay then, good.” Ms. Warren mentally checked off the dead guy upstairs as a dead end and abandoned that line of questioning. “So have you had any more problems with the other students?”
Is this what she really called me here for? Jolie realized that the thing with Axel’s death could have been just fishing, prodded by Wrangler’s concerns, but that incident had been days ago: ancient history in the high school world. Whatever Ms. Warren was really after, had to be more recent.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Jolie replied, thinking about the half dozen tricks her fellow students had played on her since winter break: none of them significant. “People aren’t really my thing, Ms. Warren. I’m kind of a loner, as I’m sure someone with your education and intelligence has realized.”
“It’s just that I heard about an incident in the hall the other day, and I thought maybe I should give you a chance to tell me your version?”
My version? That sounded sinister.
“I didn’t see the event myself,” Ms. Warren explained, “but other students have reported that someone was dancing down the hall screaming: ‘I want to be naked, take me dark powers’.” It wasn’t a quote but it was close. “Do you want to tell me what that was about?”
“I’m the wrong person to ask,” Jolie shrugged.
“I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me, Jolie,” Ms. Warren prodded.
“What is it you want me to say, Ms. Warren? A girl danced down the hall shouting crazy stuff. It’s high school. Kids do dumb things all the time. You know that.”
“I do.” Ms. Warren nodded. “And sometimes it’s a cry for help.”
“And sometimes it’s just noise.”
Ms. Warren leaned over her desk and lowered her voice, “Was that girl you, Jolie?”
“Me?” Jolie gaped, blindsided. Why would Ms. Warren think that it had been “her”? The incident had been aimed at mimicking some twisted version of her, yes, but Jolie had been a witness, not a participant. “It wasn’t me. It was just some girl,” Jolie stammered.
“Some girl?” Ms. Warren leaned in.“Who?”
“I don’t know, some dumb chick that Megan got to do it on a dare or something. Ask her.”
Ms. Warren’s tone was studied. “You misunderstand Megan, Jolie. Miss Washburn has great compassion for you and how you carry on in spite of your difficult home life. She’s a thinking and caring person.”
“Yeah, she thinks about herself and carries a lot of shopping bags,” Jolie shot back. “It wasn’t me, Ms. Warren. There must have been fifty kids in that hall--and they all know it wasn’t me. And if you stopped interviewing the students who Megan conveniently remembers being there and talked to anyone that, I don’t know, maybe has a class nearby at that time, and therefore would logically have been present, you’ll find I’m telling the truth.” Jolie stood up. “Of course, if you do that, it will tarnish that gold star you’ve got pasted to Miss Washburn’s forehead. So, if you’re not ready for that, you should just accept my word and let this go. It wasn’t me.” Jolie didn’t ask if she could leave and go back to class. She would have choked on the words.
Jolie had finished dinner and done her homework before Remy called.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said today about Bodhi,” he started off. “I’m sorry. I understand that, because of your gifts, you see things that other people miss. If Bodhi really is struggling, and I’m any kind of a friend, I’d want to know so that I could help.” He sighed. “I guess it’s up to us to let him know that he has our support and he’s not alone, right?”
This was the point when Jolie would usually have run the other way, reminding herself not to get involved, because unless Bodhi’s friends were druggies as well, Bodhi “was” alone. But this was Remy talking--Remy saying “us”, like an inferred we, and she couldn’t walk away from him.
“You know, you’re turning out to be a lot of trouble, Remy Bishop.” she laid down, dangling her feet off the edge of the bed and staring up at the ceiling.
“Sorry. I promise I’ll try to be worthy of all the trouble I cause you and all of your efforts on my behalf. Who knows, maybe you’ll get a twofer and end up saving me and Bodhi both.”
“Great, more pressure, but right now all I can deal with is Wexler’s Chem final. See you tomorrow.”
“Sweet dreams,” Remy signed off.
Sweet dreams, Jolie thought, ruefully. Like that’s going to happen.
Jolie hung by her ankles like a spider’s dinner, not a baby Jolie, like before in the birth dream, but Jolie as she was today.
“Kill me?” Axel lashed her over and over again with arms grown long and boneless, ending in tentacles. “Kill me?”
Jolie’s body swayed and struggled while demon Axel opened gashes across her back. Usually, in the birth dream, Jolie was worried about Jessie Lynn’s lifeblood gushing away. Now, it was her own she felt slipping like warm honey across the gory red channels in her flesh. Her skin flinched with every breath of air, waiting for the sear of the next cut. The blood dripped off her body and into the mouths of black creatures crowded eagerly below: the creatures that Rory had called up. They had become fixtures of her nightmares since Solstice.
Jolie twisted around on her spider-web thread, scanning the pit below her. Where was their leader? The demon she had spoken to that night?
“Show yourself, you coward,” she shouted. “Stop hiding and show yourself!”
Axel’s face materialized in front of hers, his eyes burning with an unnatural glow.
“Oh, my God,” Jolie muttered, recognizing the demon’s essence inside the tortured man’s spirit. “Axel, what have you done?“.
She woke up with a gasp. Her tee shirt and unders wet through. Even the sheet beneath her was damp with sweat.
There was an evolution to her dreams. New characters with sinister motivations were beginning to emerge. The guilt of being born in her original dream had not been easy to live with, but being tortured and eaten alive was even more disturbing.
Jolie climbed out of bed and stumbled to the living room. The lights were on, but Jessie Lynn was fast asleep on the couch, still dressed in her work clothes.
“What’s wrong honey?” Jolie imagined her mom waking up and saying. “Come sit by me and tell me all about it.”
It would be nice to have someone care if you had a bad dream--nice to have someone listen to you while you told them about it--then, even though they couldn’t do anything, it would be nice to have someone say “Everything will be all right.” Jolie could really use a good pep talk and a reassuring hug right now, but this wasn’t a TV sitcom. Jolie turned off the TV, got a blanket and covered Jessie, being careful not to wake her.
“Good night, Mom,” Jolie whispered as she turned off the lights and went back to her room alone.