Porcelain Skin

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Wake Up Call

The room is buzzing with light chatter when Ms. Garrison announces her arrival. “Find your partner. Today we discuss our dreams, so I hope you remembered to record them in a journal or computer, or however you kids do it these days.”

She sets her stuff down on her desk and gives us a few minutes to get situated. I’m biting my nails because today is the day that I have to tell Trevor my dreams, and I’m dreading it because one of them happens to be about him. Kissing dreams are the ones you never confess to anyone because a dream is where all your wildest fantasies come to life; the fantasies you claim you know nothing about when awake.

I grab three yellow M&M’s from the bag in my hand and stuff them in my mouth.

“Now, I’m not going to make you dissect each dream because we’d be here until Christmas,” she goes on to explain and my lungs instantly suck in a relieving breath of air. “Just choose two.”

And a lung has collapsed. Deflated. My hope has died, because I only had two dreams that I was able to recall, and the star of one of them is sitting right next to me.

“Okay, M&M, you go first.” The nickname triggers something deep inside me, like someone picking at a scab.

I suck in a breath to cover up just how painful it was to hear and focus on our projects. I know Trevor senses something, but I speak before he gets the chance to question my reaction.

“Fine,” I huff as I flip open my notebook to review what I wrote. I honestly don’t need to because I can recall every detail of the dream to perfection, but in order to get my thoughts in order, I need the extra few seconds.

“So,” I begin. “I had a dream that I was in a creepy, dark room. Kind of like a cellar or an old castle room. Not sure. Anyway, I’m sitting at a table and I’m surrounded by this black fog. Then this old man appears with shackles around his ankles, and he’s yelling about regret and how he wishes it was me. It’s strange though because I can’t actually hear him, and yet I know exactly what he’s saying. As he’s screaming at me, he’s suddenly pulled back into the darkness and there’s a shift in scene. I’m still at the table, but now the man is forgotten and instead I’m surrounded by loads of food. It’s basically Thanksgiving with the amount of food laid out for me, but as I reach over to start eating, all these bugs start falling out of my hair. I wake up when I start screaming.”

“Uh, creepy?” Trevor’s eyeing me with a mix of disgust and concern on his face. “Any idea what it means?”

“I don’t know.” I lie with a shrug.

He taps his pencil against the edge of his desk while he thinks. After a minute he perks up and turns to me.

“Okay, so maybe it’s saying that you’re too absorbed in yourself.” He sounds excited, and I’m wondering if I should be insulted that he’s labeling me as selfish on his first attempt at interpreting my dream. “So the old man represents the people in your life, and they’re screaming at you for attention, but you’re only interested in satisfying your own needs, hence the food.”

He’s rattling on as I sit with my arms crossed over my chest. “You think I’m selfish?” I ask. I’m more curious than offended. Is that actually how people see me?

“No,” he responds as if in deep thought. “I think that’s how you view yourself. Maybe you feel like you’re not giving other people enough of your time.”

I pretend to think for a moment, but I’m pretty sure I already know the real meaning behind my dream, and I’m not yet ready to reveal something that I’ve had buried for so long.

“Either that or you were just really hungry.”

“Maybe.” I laugh as I flip backward in my notebook to my first dream. “Okay, your turn, and then I’ll tell you my other dream.”

“Okay, well, I was in this huge room,” he begins. “Like, the feeling I got was that I was in some kind of stadium or maybe a circus. That’s about the size of the room. It was dimly lit. Basically, the only light in the room was on me, but somehow I knew that the room was big, even though I couldn’t actually see it.” Trevor’s relaxed in his chair, twirling his pencil between his fingers as he recalls his dream. “I’m running from something, but I don’t know what it is. The running part lasts for most of the dream, and it’d be boring to go into detail, so I’m going to skip over that part.

“Anyway, then the dream just kind of switches on me, and suddenly I’m in this empty field. It’s night and the moon is freaking ginormous, and I’m surrounded by a crapload of these creepy rocking horses. What makes it worse is that they’re all just scattered around me, rocking on their own.” He stops to look over at me where I’m sitting with elbows on the table and the backs of my hands propping my head up. I’m completely enthralled by his story. “Sorry, my dreams tend to be pretty wacky.”

“No way, I’m totally intrigued.” I offer him a smile and wave him on. “Continue, please.”

“Alright.” He takes a deep breath before beginning again. “So, as I’m standing there, I suddenly get this strange feeling that I’m being watched, so I’m looking out across the field but I see nothing. That’s when I realize that one of the rocking horses has started to transform. As I’m watching, I realize that I’m surprisingly not concerned at all, more curious I guess. And then it steps into the moonlight and it’s no longer a wooden horse but a live cougar, beautiful and sleek.

“I watch as it comes closer to me, and when it gets about three meters in front of me, it stops and stands on its hind legs. And this is where it gets really strange,” he warns with an apologetic smile. “Suddenly, its bones start to shift. Kind of like you would imagine a human shifting into a werewolf. Like all those chick movies, Twilight and that werewolf show, whatever. So, this cougar starts popping and groaning, and I can see that it’s slowly shifting into a human, and I somehow know it’s a woman. The woman starts walking towards me, and,” He pauses to rub the back of his neck and then laughs with a hint of embarrassment, “the dream kind of takes on this like strange, somewhat seductive vibe; I don’t know, but before I can get a clear view of her, she’s gone. She just disappears and then I’m awake. The end.”

“Hmmm?” I sit straight up from my relaxed position so that I can think better. “Are you secretly crushing on an older woman?”

His eyes snap to me, widening with horror. “What?” he hisses.

I wish I had a camera to capture the look on his face. You’d think that I’d just announced that I had a hundred dollar bill hiding in my underwear. I laugh at his reaction while he sits there looking uncomfortable.

“Well, don’t they call older women who seek out younger men, cougars?” I’m obviously joking because if Trevor really did have a thing for an older woman, I would first be forced to vomit up my morning granola bar, and then have to tape back the broken pieces of my delicate heart. To have him choose an older woman over me would be humiliating.

“Ha. Ha.” He laughs, but it lacks any hint of humor. “Never. That will never happen.”

“So... ” I inquire sneakily while giving him a playful smirk. “Who you crushin’ on?”

Trevor just laughs at my attempt to pry.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Oh, so there is someone?” I wiggle a bit closer to the edge of my seat and focus all my attention on reading Trevor’s facial expressions. I’m doing my best at acting excited and giddy when, in reality, I’m dying because he didn’t deny having a crush on someone and that someone is most likely not me.

“I believe it’s your turn,” he says, while completely ignoring my question and the pout on my lips.

“Alright, alright.” I’m wondering if maybe I should have just gone with the other dream first so I could have gotten it out of the way, but it’s too late now. I scoot back in my chair and turn my attention to my poor mutilated fingers. I really needed to work on not picking the life out of my cuticles.

“It starts off where I’m running through the forest in a red robe, and the only feeling that I have is desperation. I finally make it to the edge of a lake. The waters are calm as I stand there waiting for something. Suddenly, a man appears from the water,” I’ve decided to leave out the details about the man actually being Trevor, and I’m praying my heart out that he doesn’t ask. “He comes towards me, and I don’t know why, but for some reason, I have this uncharacteristic courage that takes over me. I guess we’re not always ourselves in our dreams, right?” I pause briefly to pull in a lungful of air.

“I think we’re who we want to be in our dreams,” Trevor answers, even though I wasn’t really looking for an answer.

I consider his words and realize that it makes perfect sense. I wish that I could be brave around Trevor and just make a move, but the possibility of rejection is too real, and I’m too fragile for the disappointment and pain of being denied again.

“That’s true,” I agree after a couple seconds. “Anyway, we walk towards each other until we’re really close and then...“I peek up at Trevor to see him watching me closely. “And then I kiss him,” I tell him quickly, and then hurry on before he can make any comments. “Then suddenly there’s like a tornado around us and he’s pulled back into the lake and then it’s over. Everything is calm again.”

There. Done. I survived.

I take another glance at Trevor to find that he doesn’t seem at all concerned about my humiliation. Instead, he actually appears to be thinking about the dream. What, no jokes about having a passion-filled dream? I’m so relieved that he doesn’t seem to care.

“So, I’m going to ask you the same question you asked me.” I eye him warily because I’m pretty sure I know what he’s thinking. Dreams are the one place that your mind can release all of its desires, right? So much for him not making a joke out of it.

“Emma?”

“Yes?”

“Who you crushin’ on?” And there’s that smirk.

He’s messing with me now. And for real? As if he doesn’t know who I’m crushing on. Unless he’s got short-term memory loss and can’t recall the private messages that he read on my computer.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” I say, repeating his answer. “Now it’s your tu—”

“Do I know him?” He cuts me off.

“What?”

“The guy you like, do I know him?”

“Come on, Trevor. Stop messing around.” I’m irritated by his stupidity at the moment. I glare at him, but all he does is smirk back and I want to jump on his head like a mad cat woman and start yanking the hair from his scalp.

“Well, I may have an idea, but there’s no way for me to actually know unless you tell me.” He wiggles his eyebrows at me, and in that moment I have violent urge to shave them off.

“No.”

“Okay, is that ‘no’ I don’t know him, or ‘no’ you’re not going to tell me.”

Wow, I have never witnessed Trevor’s annoying side, and it’s really dragging down his points.

“Yes, you know him. No, I’m not going to tell you, so just drop it.” I’m rubbing my temple while I quietly yell at him. I notice another evil smile on Trevor’s lips, and I just can’t take it anymore. My shoulders sag and I turn to him with pleading eyes. “Please, Trev. Just stop.” The smile immediately falls off his face, and I’m wondering if I’ve said something wrong, or if there’s something in my expression that makes him realize how serious I am.

“Yeah, Okay,” he says, but there’s a gravelly quality to his voice. He sounds... emotional.

I try to get a better look at his face, but he’s no longer facing me. Instead, he’s looking straight ahead towards the front of the classroom. His entire demeanor has changed. All joking has evaporated and been replaced with, what, insecurity? Sadness? Pain? I can’t tell, but for some reason, I feel instant guilt. If I could just be like my dream self and have some courage, admit my feelings to him, he wouldn’t look like an abused puppy right now.

I swipe a hand behind my neck and rub away the tension. How did this conversation get so heavy and stiff? I’m about ready to apologize and just admit my feelings for him when he clears his throat and begins recounting his second dream to me.

“I’m home in Colorado at one of my favorite parks,” he begins. “It’s not a normal park with kid swings and sandpits. I’m talking, like, a national park with bike trails, waterfalls, cliffs. So I’m actually climbing one particular part of this cliff that I used to always climb, only for some reason this cliff is like a mile high instead of just a few feet. So I’m way up there. Looking down is terrifying. It’s one of those dreams that just feels so real after you wake up that you just lay there thinking about it for forever before you feel like you can even move.

“Anyway, I’m climbing and everything’s normal until I notice that my hands are covered in blood. I’m about halfway up this enormous wall, and suddenly my hands are slick with blood, and I’m struggling to keep my grasp but the hand holds are so minuscule that I’m literally holding on by just the tips of my fingers. My arms are shaking. I’m sweating and fighting, but the closer I get to the top the further I have to keep going. It’s like the cliff is growing as I climb. So it’s one of those never ending dreams, which are the worst. Anyway, that’s basically the end of the dream. I reach for my next hold but my grip slips, I fall, and that’s it. I’m wake up.”

“Your dreams are creepy,” I say, after eyeing him for a moment. “Couldn’t you have chosen a more lighthearted dream?”

“Those were the lighthearted ones,” he responds nonchalantly.

I watch him for a moment. “How many dreams did you have during the week?”

“Six,” he tells me as he turns and looks me directly in the eyes. I just stare back. He dreamt every single night, except for one, and they were all nightmares. What has this guy been through to make his sleeping mind so disturbed?

“Do you—” I’m not sure if I should ask the question that’s burning a hole into the tip of my tongue, but it slips out anyway. “Do you have nightmares often?”

His eyes flicker between one of my eyes and then the other like he’s trying to see something in my gaze. I’m wondering if he’s even going to tell me as the seconds tick by, and then he nods. It’s a stiff movement, but there’s no denying it.

“Listen, Emma.” He turns towards me and rests his elbows on his knees so that he’s blocking the aisle. He’s so close to me, but his eyes are so far away, as if he’s recalling some distant memory. “I haven’t always been the guy I am now. Before I moved to Illinois I was messed up; lot’s of issues, horrible friends, bad decisions. That’s one reason why we moved here. My parents wanted to get me away from that lifestyle. So, yeah, I have a lot of nightmares. Things that I don’t necessarily want to remember, but they’re there. I hate it because all I want to do is forget. I hate who I used to be. I was a punk, a deadbeat. My life was leading me nowhere, and I just—” He drops his head for a moment and I look at the back of his neck; a neck that seems to carry a lifetime of burdens that he’s kept hidden for so long.

“What happened?” I ask, and he slowly brings his head up to look at me again. “How did you get out of it?”

“My best friend died.” He says it so bluntly that I’m forced to take in a soft gasp of air. “I guess that was my big wake up call.”

I’m watching him closely, but his facial features give nothing away. I can’t read what he’s feeling at all. He’s got his mask in place, and though he’s just let me in on a large aspect of his life, it’s still tightly in place. I’m wondering how long I have before he puts the walls back in place. Knowing that this might be my only glimpse into who the real Trevor is, I take a bit of a risk and ask a question that I would normally feel is inappropriate.

“How?” It’s a simple question, and yet, the look that crosses over Trevor’s face makes me feel like I’ve just poisoned his dog and then lit it on fire.

There’s a crack in his features, and I’m shocked to see the level of anguish that hides behind his green eyes. Eyes that normally seem so strong and intense, at this moment, seem dull and tortured. He looks directly at me, so I get a full view of every emotion swirling beneath the surface of his carefully placed disguise, and says,

“I killed him.”

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