Chapter 10: I'll be your angel...

Her face was all I saw for the weeks that followed. On my doorstep. At the convenient store. We took adventures, music following in our footsteps - like it always had before. I was learning to cope with its emotional intensity. I ran to her for consolation - for a sense of understanding and love. She ran to me for safety. She kept my spirits high, I kept her concentrations away from her fears. We took trips into the woods on sunny days - dropping LSD-soaked sugar cubes on our tongues. It was on those days that the world was full of wonder and color. We'd stumble down the pathway in a drug-induced haze, talking to our friends in nature, watching the flowers dance. Other days we got our kicks from the powder snow and our tongues accepted colorful pills. The drugs filled up our bodies, and enabled us to forget.

I was running back to old comforts - to an older version of myself that I had tried to push away for Zac. It was he who saved my life when I overdosed. It was he who took me to rehab. It was he who brought me to help. Who guided me through It.

I didn't care. He was gone. He left me behind, this time. What I promised to him was now lost with his life. It just didn't matter, anymore. Who was I saving?

Everyday I would wake up to her smiling face, and we would test out the day's treats and return in the evening burnt out and tired. Always regretting it, but waking up the next morning, and repeating.

We grew close over these times. Replaying the albums, which quickly became my lifeline when she wasn't around. I played her Travis, while she played me Bjork. I played her Belle and Sebastian and she played me Ani Difranco. Radiohead, Mazzy Star, Catatonia, The Strokes, The White Stripes and Tricky. We ran away to our albums. Music was our emotional sanctuary.

The melodies floated softly over us. I shared with her my life - something I never entrusted with anyone. My secrets, my hopes, my dreams, my memories, and my silly pointless thoughts. She fell into the cushions - so good at comforting - so nice to hold.

I didn't see for a long while what she was running from - why she kept running to my arms. It wasn't until I asked where the bruises came from.

She came to me late that night and fell into my arms when I opened the door. I was shocked to see her so late, on my doorstep, crying out for my help. She sputtered and cried into my shoulder, and led her inside.

"Ani?" I questioned, using the nickname I had given her. "Ani, are you alright? What's wrong?" I brought her to the kitchen and pulled out a chair for her, where she sat with her face in her hands.

"Tay, I'm afraid." She said through her tears.

"Why? What's wrong?" I sat across from her at the dinner table. She raised her long sleeves and showed me her face. She was covered in bruises. My eyebrows knit, "What happened?"

"Daddy happened." She murmured, "If he finds out I'm here with you... I'm as good as dead."

"What? He hits you?" I felt my heart leaping in my chest. I was hurt that someone could hurt her; hurt that someone could make her cry.

She winced visibly at my words, "He found out that I had been seeing you... and... He wouldn't believe me that you were just a friend... and... he... and he went crazy." She shook her head, "He just doesn't know how to control himself, sometimes. I can't blame him."

I put my hand on hers, my eyes were filled with concern, my heart filled with anger. "That's no reason. He... He shouldn't hurt you. How could he?" I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it before. The bruises.

"Taylor, Don't worry about me... I've dealt with this, all right? Sometimes... I just can't stay at home, that's all. That's the only reason I'm here."

I shook my head, "There's going to come a day when he really hurts you... you need to get out. Stay with me. Stay with me tonight, stay with me forever. It's okay, we'll move back to L.A. together."

She shook her head, "Thanks... but... Trust me. You don't understand, Tay. You never understand these things until it's you. I can't leave him... He needs me... I know that sounds silly - a few years ago I would have said the same thing." Her manner was calm, and I stroked the backs of her hands with my fingers.

I shook my head, sincerely worried about her but not wishing to argue tonight, "Alright. Would you like anything? Do you need anything?"

"I'm fine... is it alright if I stay here?"

"It's perfectly alright - where do you want to sleep?" I asked and scanned the room for no apparent reason, "Zac's bed is empty in our bedroom," I mumbled, "And we have a guestroom down the hall from our room - and the couch if you're that type of person."

"Can... Can I stay with you?" She asked shakily.

"In my bed?" I raised my eyebrows.

"Yeah..."

"Alright, that's fine." I said, "It's only full size. Not too big."

"That's alright." I swallowed, feeling my face flush. My best friend, who happened to be a girl, was going to be sleeping in my bed with me tonight. I worried about the silly occurrences - morning erections, wet dreams; silly boy problems. I hated waking up with girls for all of these reasons - the things I couldn't control or plan. I stood up quickly not wanting her to notice my red cheeks.

I took her hand and led her up to my room, where Isaac was laying awake on his bed scribbling into his notebook.

He looked up. "What's goin' on?"

"She's staying tonight," I said, pointing at Ani, who was leaning against me, "She had a tough night."

"Alright," He said. He didn't ask questions, but returned to what he was writing.

I turned to her, "If you want to take a shower or use the bathroom - the bathroom is right there." I said, pointing at a door left open a small crack towards the corner of the room. "If you want I can lend you some clothes to sleep in... Is there anything else you want?" I asked cautiously.

She shook her head, "I think I'll take a shower - if you don't mind I'll borrow a t-shirt and some shorts to sleep in... if that's okay."

"Oh no, don't worry." I said. I headed to the drawer and pulled out a t-shirt and a pair of boxer shorts. She took them and smiled at me, stepping into the bathroom.

Isaac didn't speak until he heard the shower water start running, "So what's up with her?"

I shook my head, "She just needs a place to be tonight - she hasn't had the best night. Family problems."

Ike didn't bother pushing the question. I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling, "She wants to sleep with me tonight. I think she's scared... I'm nervous about it." I laughed shortly, "Nervous about sleeping."

"Do you think something's going to happen?" He asked.

I shook my head, "Absolutely not! Annissa... No... We couldn't do anything - she means too much to me."

He cocked his head to one side, "Perhaps... There will come a time in your life when you will have sex with someone you love."

I looked at him, completely baffled, "I am NOT going to have sex with her... Jesus. She's my friend - not my lover."

"Is she?"

I blushed, "Ike, she's like one of my closest friends... I can't... I can't do that."

"Maybe she's not the one," He said, "I was just commenting - maybe one day you'll meet a girl who will mean more to you than all those one night stand girls. Someone you won't fuck - someone you'll make love to."

"Not Annissa." I said, my face burning.

She emerged from the shower then, wearing my t-shirt and plaid boxers, her hair was dripping. "Can I borrow a hairbrush?"

"Ah, yea, hold up..." I said, standing up and shuffling through things on my dresser and retrieving a hairbrush for her. She smiled and ran it through her hair.

"Thank you."

I smiled and sat down on my bed making room for her on one side by moving my pillow over to the edge. I stood up once again and put one of Zac's pillows in her space on my bed. I shook my head and a small smile crossed my face when I saw Zac's old Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles pillow next to my boring old white one.

I lay down and made myself comfortable, closing my eyes and trying not to think about the day Zac bought those dorky sheets. The thought of it was pulling on my heartstrings but tonight was not my night to cry. She crawled in my bed with me and pulled the sheets over herself self-consciously. I sat up on my elbow and smiled at her.

"So, you feeling better?"

"A little." She said, softly.

"Good," I rubbed her shoulders with my hands and she yawned. "Tired?"

"Yes, very."

"Let's get some rest..." I yawned myself. Ike closed his notebook.

"Is this my cue to turn off the light?"

"Yes."

"Goodnight." He said, softly before leaning over and flipping off the light next to his bed.

I lay on my side with my arms tight against my chest wishing to not disturb her, but after a few minutes she was easing herself into my arms.

"Taylor," She whispered, "Please hold me tonight."

I wrapped them loosely around her shoulders and her face was pressed into my chest, and that's how we fell asleep. I could have sworn I woke in the night to her crying, but I was too used to waking up in tears myself to care. When I woke in the morning with her at my side I felt refreshed.

She rustled in the bed beside me as the sunlight crept over her face, disturbing her from sleep. Her eyes blinked open and I was smiling at her. As soon as she saw me her faced immediately contorted to an expression I couldn't read.

"Why are you so golden?" She said leaning into my chest, running her hands over my ribs.

"I'm not golden." I said, feeling my heart rate increase and a blush rise to my cheeks. I looked at her hands insecurely.

She laid her forehead against my chest, disregarding my signals, "I'm a horrible influence on you. You shouldn't have gotten yourself caught up in me."

"But I have." My hands were tangled in her hair, "You've helped me immensely. I love you for being my friend."

"You could make friends with anyone..."

I cut her off, "Not a friend like you. Never."

"What makes me special enough..."

"Stop it." I cut her off again, "You know. You know already... you know how important you are."

She fell silent.

Isaac shifted and rustled about in his side of the room and sat up. I saw him rub the sleep out of his eyes and he wore of a look of guilt - as if he'd heard something he didn't think he should have. He stumbled across the room and stepped into the bathroom for his morning shower.

He didn't think I could hear him when he sobbed in the shower, but I could. I just never told him. Annissa hid her face and began crying into my shirt. I held her safe in my arms.

"Shh..." I whispered in her ear, it felt odd being the comfort-er.

"It hurts," She cried, "It hurts so much."

"I know." I whispered, "I know it hurts. It hurts but you're strong." Her tears dampened my shirt. I held her close, letting her cry. She had been my shoulder for so long - it was my turn to stand strong now. She was shaking her head.

"I'm afraid to go back. I'm afraid to go back."

I stroked her hair, "Then don't."

She shook her head, "I have to... You don't understand... I just... He's going to throw a fit. I want to be safe with you... God, what am I blubbering about?"

"No, it's okay. Cry... feel better..." I sat up, and reached into my nightstand drawer and pulled out an extra pack of cigarettes, "Here, have a smoke."

She accepted and placed the cigarette between her lips, and I lit her up with a lighter that sat conveniently on the nightstand. "We all have our struggles," I said, softly. "Sometimes just living can be unbearable." I lit my own cigarette and pulled the ashtray I had between us on the bed.

She shook her head, "I'm just being petty... You have things you should be paying attention to and I've been no help to you what-so-ever."

"Ani! Don't say that!" I said, "If you hadn't come along I would be sitting in this room still starved to death!"

"Tay, you are starving to death!" She reached forward to touch my chest but I recoiled. "Stop it! You know I'm right, stop denying it to yourself. How much weight have you lost?"

"I don't know. We're not talking about me... We're talking about you."

"No," She said, "I think we need to talk about you. You have the symptoms of someone bulimic, Taylor. That should not be ignored."

"Your father beats the shit out of you." I shouted exasperated, "That shouldn't be ignored, either!"

Her eyes filled up and I immediately felt horrible. "No, I'm sorry." I said, and she turned her face down, "I... I'm just worried for you."

"Tay, you need to concentrate on your own coping right now, don't worry about me. You have a lot of things that need sorting, I'm no help to you."

"Stop saying that," I felt tears welling up, "Stop saying that! That's so untrue."

"Tay... I've been so worried for you ever since I saw you that first time in the store - then even more so when Ike brought me over... You're tearing at the seams."

I shook my head, "You saved me. You're saving me from my own self destruction - how could you think you've done nothing?"

"What was the last meal you ate?"

"One with you... A couple of nights ago."

"Did you throw up?"

I turned away.

"You did, didn't you. You threw it all up when I took you home." Her tone was becoming accusing and I couldn't help but feel extremely vulnerable to her. I squeezed my eyes shut, tight. "Taylor." She said, sternly, "Answer me."

I shook my head, a tear sliding down my cheek, "I threw it up." I said sadly, "I couldn't keep it in! I ... I didn't force myself to throw it up... I just can't handle... food in my stomach."

She shook her head at me, "See? You've got your own problems."

"That's something I can control!"

"No you can't!"

"What your father does is completely uncalled for! No one should ever hurt you, NO ONE. I mean it, it hurts me so much to see you hurt! I hate to see you cry - because you mean that much to me!"

"The point is that YOU are killing yourself and I have been nothing but havoc on your body since we met! Allowing you to do all those drugs. Allowing you to not eat. What kind of friend am I?"

I placed my hand on her shoulder, my cigarette was now burnt out, "You saved me." I said slowly, staring at her eyes. She finally gave up, words did not find their way out of her lips. I was then aware that the shower water had gone off and a burning nervous sensation swept over my body. Ike was probably listening.

I stared expectantly at the door, and Isaac cracked it open gently, stepping in with his arms crossed across his chest, looking at me. He didn't say anything, but I could tell by the expression on his face that he had heard every word of it. He now knew everything I had lied to his face about over the past few months. I ate at Annissa's. No, I'm totally clean, I promise. I'm tired, that's all. I have a headache. I heard the excuses over and over in my head. He stared me down and I looked away, "I'm going to take my shower." I mumbled, standing quickly.

"Tay, wait." She said. I ignored her.

I heard Isaac speak to me as the door was swinging shut, but I didn't catch his words.