Chapter Four

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As I walk out the door of the coffee shop, I see Penni is starting to get out of the car, but I motion her to get back behind the wheel. I am in no condition to drive right now. She starts to apologize for running late, but I just wave her away. It looks like she's been crying and I want to help her, but I have too many things going on right now. I tell her how to get to Fredo's place and then sit back to think about what the hell just happened.

It would appear that Locke and Emma were somehow communicating telepathically. That's impossible, but there is no other way to explain it. Emma was "thinking" back to Locke, so she knows how this "mind thing" works. Locke "said" that I might need their help. What could he have meant by that? He was able to detect my intrusion and force me out, but he was looking around like he didn't know who it was. That means he must be pretty good at this, but I am too weak for him to notice. All of this doesn't explain a damn thing to me; it only leaves me with more questions.

We pull up in front of Fredo’s house, interrupting my thought process. He's waiting by the mailbox and jumps in the back seat as soon as Penni stops the car. "What the hell took you guys so long? We've got seven minutes to get to school, let alone get to class."

"It's all my fault." Penni says, pulling away from the curb. "Tommy let me borrow the car to go home and get ready for school. Traffic was pretty bad and there was a line at the store when I was getting cigarettes for Tommy. Speaking of which, the bag is under your seat, Tommy, with the change in it." I just grumble and we drive the rest of the way in silence. I can tell there is more to Penni's story, but she probably didn't want to say anything in front of Fredo.

The last bell rings as we are parking. Penni tosses the keys to me and runs to class. Fredo just shakes his head and walks off. I don't care if I'm a little late, so I take the time to finish my cigarette, gather my things, and lock up the car. As I start to get out, I see that we weren't the only ones to get here late. Locke is just now walking into the building. I hope he didn't see me, but I still have class with him after lunch. I don't look forward to it.

I usually have no problems with school, but after the events of this morning, I'm barely able to fumble my way from class to class. I don't pay attention in any of them and I'm relieved when it's time for lunch. Fredo is already sitting at our regular table when I get there and I see Penni has decided to join us. Fredo is excited about his basketball game tonight, and won't stop talking about it. I sit down next to Penni and notice she's just pushing her food around, not really eating. I'm not too hungry either and after listening to Fredo babble for about ten minutes, I pick up my tray and Penni's. I think she needs to talk to someone, and I was a bit of a jerk when I got in the car this morning. "Hey Penni, let's go smoke until lunch is over." She just nods in agreement and follows me over to the trash, then out the side door.

We go behind the gym and light up. She stands there for a moment, letting the nicotine calm her, then looks at me. I put my arm around her and decide I need to start things off. "Listen, I'm sorry I waved you off this morning. Emma was being a real pain, and I didn't sleep well last night. That's not a good excuse for me being an asshole, but I'm here to listen now. What's going on? You can tell me." I smile at her and give her a little squeeze.

She does the last thing I wanted her to do; she starts crying. I hand her a napkin I saved from lunch and she wipes her eyes before telling me what's going on. "Ok, when I got home, I heard the shower running. I figured Suzy must have overslept and I decided to surprise her by joining her. I went into the bedroom to undress, and Suzy was lying in bed. I was confused. I mean, if Suzy was in bed, who was in the shower? I'm just standing there dazed and the shower stops. Some guy walks out draped in my towel and asks if I'm Suzy's roommate. Her roommate! Can you believe that?"

Suzy wakes up then and sees what's going on. She starts crying and tells me that her and this guy, Gary, used to be engaged. I knew she used to be straight, but she said that was eight years ago, and she never told me she had been engaged. Suzy said that we'd talk when I got home but I don't know if I can handle it. I couldn't take all of that at once, so I just blocked it all out and got ready for school. I'm not sure if we can talk things out after all this. We've only been together for four months, but I've already come too far to go back to where I was. My parents won't even speak to me, and if I have to move out, I don't have anywhere to go."

At this point, Penni just breaks down crying, holding on to me like a drowning woman. I thought I was having problems, but she seems to be losing everything she has. The only thing I can do for her is to be here for her and support her.

I take her chin in my hand and hold her head up so I can look her in the eyes. "Hey listen, I'll help you figure all this out. Meet me at the car after school, and I'll go over to the apartment with you. If you want me to stay, I will. If not, I'll go back to The Grind and wait for you to call. I'm at your disposal. We'll take care of this together. I'll be there for you."

"Tommy, why are you so nice? You helped me move in with Suzy and lend a hand around the shop whenever I need one. You're like the big brother I never had, even though you are younger than me." She gives me a big hug and buries her head in my chest. This feels really good, helping others. It almost makes me forget my problems.

The bell rings, signifying that lunch is over. We hug one more time and go to our separate classes. I head to Locke's class with a small sense of dread. I'm still very confused about this morning and am unsure of what he might have to say to me. I take my time, not wanting to be the first one there. I want to make sure I go in with a group of students so he doesn't have a chance to single me out. He isn't even back from lunch when I get to class, so I take my seat and try to relax.

Locke walks in right as the bell is ringing. "Sorry about that, guys. I had a phone call in the office." He walks over to his desk and removes a sheath of papers from his briefcase. "I have finished grading your tests and have to say that there will be no curve this time around." The majority of the class groans at this. "Now, it's not that bad. It seems there were two perfect scores, and the rest of you did pretty well. You all just might learn something after all."

He begins handing them out, making small comments to each student about their grade. As he hands me mine, he stoops a little closer than he did for the other students so he won't be overheard. "Well Mr. Henning, you were one of the hundreds. It seems you are good at something besides frightening people at coffee shops." He grins and winks at me as my entire body breaks out in a cold sweat. My stomach tries to make a quick escape, but is scared away by the jackhammering of my heart. I can feel the blood draining from my face. Lock sees what is happening and with a worried but knowing look, puts his hand on my shoulder. "Thomas, are you feeling ok? You know what they say about school cafeteria food. Maybe you should go see the school nurse."

Grateful to escape that situation, I'm out of my desk and out the door as quickly as my body will allow. I barely make it to the bathroom before my stomach screws up enough courage to vacate the area. After I rinse my mouth out, I shuffle to the nurse's office. I explain to him that I ate something that didn't like me very much, and he tells me to lay down on the couch and to see how I'm feeling in half an hour. I comply and almost immediately fall asleep.

I am having the same dream as last night, but things are going much faster. I know what's going to happen next but can't control my actions. The only thing different is the end. Instead of running into Mr. Fenney, I make it to class late. Locke takes me out into the hallway to reprimand me. He grips both my shoulders, leans down, and draws his face inches from mine. "Thomas, I know what is happening. You need to stop this and open your eyes." He starts shaking me. "Wake up and see what's real. Wake up, Thomas. Just wake up. wake up. wake up....."

The nurse is standing over me, nudging me in the shoulder. "Hey Thomas, you need to wake up. I let you rest too long. Your class is almost over. You'll be just fine now. Get more sleep at home and you won't feel so sick. Get to class." He writes me a note to get back into class and I leave.

I know I only have three more minutes before class is over, so I drag my feet. This is just getting too weird. I'm slowly losing my mind. I don't know how much longer I can hold on to what I have left before it too leaves me in this madness. This must be how Sarah felt...No. I'm not going to think like that.

I get to the door just as the bell rings. I squeeze in right before the stampede for the door begins. As I'm gathering my things, Locke sees me. "Feeling better, Tommy? Come over to my desk so I can give you today's notes." I'm rather apprehensive about this, but I need to get to the bottom of all this. I follow behind him to his desk and as he hands me the notes I need, he looks around to see if we'll be overheard. "Tommy, I'm sorry about this morning, but you took me by suprise. I know what you're going through right now. You have nothing to worry about. You must have a lot of questions, but this is neither the time nor the place. Meet me at The Grind at seven. All your questions will be answered. Just remember this..."

You are not alone anymore."

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