Fourteen: Drive

Taylor

I hate waiting.

I’ve always been an impatient person, I’ll admit that. I hate waiting in line at the movies, waiting for tables in restaurants, waiting on my little sisters to get out of the bathroom… and traffic? Shit, don’t get me started. But that was just trivial stuff. Totally pointless. Not anything to really get too worked up over.

This, on the other hand, was my life we were talking about here.

We were both still sitting on the couch at nearly six o’clock, having spent the remainder of the day conversing. Over the course of the day, we’d basically come to the conclusion that I had no choice but to stay with her. It would have been ridiculous for me to try and ‘live’ anywhere else… in my current condition, I was basically incapable of taking care of myself, so she would have to help me. So, once this was decided, we’d just sat around, talking aimlessly, trying to learn a little more about each other. Since I would essentially be living with her indefinitely, and all...

So far, I was learning quite a bit. I’d begun by asking her to take me through her yearbook – I figured the best way to get to know someone was to have a visual aid handy. She’d flipped through the book, showing me pictures of her and her friends, the clubs she’d belonged to, the teachers she loved and the ones she despised. Once we’d reached the end of the book, my curiosity won out and I had to ask her about the rude message left on her autograph pages.

“There’s this message from some girl named Jessica,” I said slowly. “What’s up with that?”

Her face immediately darkened, and I could see her visibly grind her teeth. “Jessica Smith… why, she’s my lovely next-door neighbor, why do you ask?”

Next-door neighbor? Sorority-type girl, by any chance? I thought, remembering the drunken girls screaming and waking me up the night before. “Because the note she left was a little… I dunno… rude?”

“Of course. It’s from her, what else would it be?” Alley was slowly growing livid, the more we talked about it… I hesitated before continuing.

“So… what’s the deal?” I asked. I felt a little nosy, pressing her about such things, but hey… it wasn’t like she hadn’t already discovered several unseemly things about me on her little search earlier, so it was only fair…

“What is there to say? She screwed me over.” When I kept staring at her, waiting for further explanation, Alley sighed angrily. “Basically, it’s this: I was going to go to prom with this guy, he was like a friend of a friend… I didn’t really know him all that well. I just needed a date, basically… but, like, a week before prom, she suddenly ‘broke up’ with the guy she was supposed to go with, and asked my date to go with her in his place.”

“What?” I repeated. “Why?! What did he say?!”

“He said yes to her, obviously, Taylor… so then I was left without a date. And it was so late, I couldn’t find anyone else… and I’d already bought a dress… so I just went alone. Actually, several of us just went as a big group… rather than coupling off into ‘dates’.” She sighed. “It was less embarrassing that way.”

I stared at her, admittedly feeling a little pity. “That’s terrible. Why would she do that? And what kind of jerk would back out a week before the prom?”

“A shallow one,” she muttered. “One who likes big breasts…” I hid my snort at that. “She did it, I think, because I caught her trying to cheat off me during a calculus test… and I told the teacher.”

I laughed. “So you tattled?”

“I did not tattle! I’m not letting that bitch get an A because she fucking copied off me!” Alley practically shouted. Whew, alright… time to find another topic of conversation. She was getting entirely too worked up.

“Sorry, sorry,” I said meekly. “I never really had to worry about that sort of thing… kind of hard to cheat when your mother is standing over you…”

Alley smiled then, and I was inwardly relieved. “Oh, right… you’re one of those home-schooled weirdos…”

“Good to know you think so highly of the practice,” I said dryly. “And for the record, I’m not weird, and neither are my siblings…” I briefly thought of Zac. “Well, most of them, anyway…”

“I guess I’ll have to take your word on that,” she said. She watched me as I stood up and stretched my arms high over my head, yawning. “Good grief, are you tired already?” She paused. “Do you still sleep?”

“Yeah… I still sleep. I told you, that’s how I ended up here… I fell asleep outside.” I paced across the room, trying to get some feeling back into my legs. They had gone numb from sitting there so long… “I just can’t sit still any longer. I need to get up and do something.”

“Well,” she said thoughtfully. “I guess we could go for a drive… I could give you a tour or something.”

An opportunity to get out of the house and do something normal? Fuck, yeah. “Let’s go,” I said immediately.

*****

Driving, I have figured out, must be something Alley does when she wants to relax. As we cruised down the mostly empty streets, her expression grew much softer, more relaxed. She had the radio set to a classic rock station, which I approved of, and she rolled the windows down, letting a warm summer-evening breeze flow through the car. The wind whipped through my hair, sending the strands cascading wildly all over the place, but for once, I didn’t mind. For the first time since I’d ‘woken up’, I actually felt… good. Alive. Normal.

She sang along with the radio – ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, Zeppelin – and I couldn’t help but laugh at her offkey Robert Plant impersonation. She seemed to be in a much calmer mood. “Are all those CDs down in front of the stereo yours?” I asked.

She smiled, leaning one elbow on the open window and resting her head against her hand. “Yep… all mine. Except for that Matchbox 20 CD…” She grimaced. “And seriously, I don’t know where that came from.”

I laughed. “Yeah… you don’t really strike me as the rock princess type. I was kind of surprised when I saw all those, and then saw you…”

She took offense to that. “Why not?” she demanded. “What did you think I looked like? Some prissy Britney fan?”

I laughed. “No, no, no… I don’t know. It just surprised me. You don’t really see a lot of girls who are into that sort of music… especially classic rock…”

She smiled. “Well, it was a learned behavior. Dad loved the Stones, Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, The Who… all of the great classic bands from the 60’s and 70’s… I grew up listening to it.”

Interesting; it was the first she’d mentioned of her father since I’d put my foot in my mouth earlier. “We played with the Dead once,” I said casually. She raised an eyebrow at me, and I corrected myself. “Well, with the remaining members of the Dead, anyway…”

“The Other Ones?”

“Yeah.”

“Really?” She seemed totally shocked by that. “Why?”

“What do you mean, ‘why?’ We’re fans… they’re fans… they asked us to come up and do a few songs with them…”

“Hmmph,” she said before turning her attention back to the road. I looked out the window again, at the tall, green trees that lined the double-lane road we were on. The city was sort of pretty, I guessed, although very small.  “What songs did you do?” she asked suddenly.

“’I Know You Rider’ and ‘The Weight’.”

“Are you serious? I love those songs…” She eyed me. “You better not have fucked them up.”

I snorted. “Believe me, we did our best not to ‘fuck them up’… it was fun. A good time.”

She nodded, going quiet again. I was dying of curiosity, to ask her about her living situation, which she hadn’t yet explained, other than to say that both her parents were no longer alive… well, she’d just talked about her father, hadn’t she? Maybe she was in a more receptive mood now. “So…” I started slowly. “Where… where did you live? After your dad… passed away…”

“Well… I moved in with Louise’s family. They took care of me. They’ve always been basically my second family, anyway… her dad and mine were good friends.”

“You don’t have any other relatives?”

“One… an uncle. James. Dad’s brother. My mom was an only child… and both sets of grandparents are gone.”

“Why didn’t you live with him?” She turned the car again, veering onto an exit ramp. We drove onto a road that looked similar to an interstate, but was inside the city.

She gave a sort of half-laugh. “Well… he’s 15 years older than Dad… never married… and he lives in Seattle. He wouldn’t even know how to begin taking care of a teenage girl… it just made more sense for me to live with Ellen and Thomas. They knew me already, they already considered me their daughter; I considered them my second parents… and that way, I wouldn’t have to move. Technically, he was listed as my legal guardian until I was 18… but he let me live here.”

I nodded slowly. “Well, do you ever talk to him?”

“Occasionally. He sends me money so that I can pay the bills… well, at least until I graduate… then I’m on my own. He pays my credit card bill… that sort of thing.”

Damn, must be nice to have someone else pay for everything… I immediately retracted that thought, realizing that no matter how nice having money was, it was a poor substitute for parents and family… well, I guessed she did have a family, though, just not a biological one. And she seemed fairly well-adjusted, for the most part… well, the cussing was a little extreme, and she was certainly a cynic, but that was to be expected.

“How old is Louise?” I asked. “Eighteen, too?”

She smothered a laugh. “Oh, jeez, Taylor… it’s a good thing she can’t hear you. If you ever told her that, she’d probably kick your ass.”

“Why?” I demanded.

“She’s older, Taylor… she’s 21, 22 in December. And sometimes a little sensitive about her ‘baby-faced’ looks…” Alley started cracking up. “She’s had bartenders refuse to serve her. Chewed one of them out pretty good, actually…”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, like you said, it doesn’t matter… since she can’t see me anyway.”

“Yeah,” Alley said, growing quieter. “I have the feeling things are going to get a little complicated.”

*****

When we arrived back home, Louise had already returned. Alley turned to me before we entered the house. “Just stay out of the way, and don’t talk to me,” she said.

“Well, aren’t you sweet?”

“You know what I mean…”

“Fine, fine…” I followed her into the house, feeling a little nervous, truthfully. Though I wasn’t sure why… I wasn’t the one who was caught in the middle. Alley strode quickly into the kitchen, and I lagged behind, uncertain of what to do, or where to go. Upstairs? Maybe… but my natural nosiness was present, as well, and I decided to stay and listen. See what girls really talked about when they were alone.

I tried staying in the other room and listening through the walls, but when the dishwasher kicked on, I couldn’t hear. Sighing, I walked into the kitchen, choosing to stand next to the wall, out of the way like she’d asked. Alley had asked Louise about her day, and I listened as she ranted about people standing her up for their meetings and getting a parking ticket for staying in the library lot too long.

Ten dollars!” Louise exclaimed. “For parking there, like, ten minutes too long! God, I hate those parking Nazis…”

“Yeah, that sucks,” Alley said. She abruptly switched subjects, grinning. “So… you hungry?” I couldn’t hide my snort at that. Another thing I was learning – the girl could eat like a horse. Before we’d come back to the house, she’d insisted on stopping at Dairy Queen and getting an ice cream sandwich and a Coke. I was seriously considering the thought that she might have a tapeworm, or something. 

“Alley! You weren’t even listening!”

“Yes, I was… you got a ticket. It sucks. I understand. So… pizza sound good?”

“Fine, fine…” Louise collapsed down at the kitchen table, sweeping her long hair off her neck. “If you call it in.”

“Alright… what do you want?”

“Ah, the usual.”

I perked up. Would I be getting some of this pizza, a little later when Louise was in bed? “What’s the usual?” I asked, forgetting that I wasn’t supposed to talk. “Hey, get mushrooms on it. I like mushrooms.”

Out of habit, Alley spun to face me, and nearly spoke back. She suddenly stopped, her mouth sort of hanging open, like a fish.

“Alley? You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I was just… thinking…” When Louise turned her head, Alley glared at me. Stop it, she mouthed. I shrugged apologetically. “Okay,” she said, speaking to Louise again. “I’m just gonna… get mushrooms on it, too. That alright?”

Louise looked surprised. “Mushrooms? I thought you hated mushrooms!”

“Oh – well, yeah, like… in salads and stuff,” Alley said quickly. “Raw mushrooms? Nasty. But maybe on pizza… you never know until you try, right?”

Louise nodded slowly. “I suppose…”

Alley gave her a cheery grin and picked up the phone. While she gave the order to the pizza place – pepperoni, extra cheese, sausage, black olives, and my mushrooms – I carefully walked to the other side of the room, sitting down in one of the bar stools at the counter. I was tired of standing. Louise got up moments later, saying something about going to the bathroom, and I waited until she was out of earshot to speak. Alley walked towards me, glowering.

“I hate black olives,” I said, grinning when Alley gave me a murderous look. Jeez, Medusa herself would have been jealous of that one. I fully expected to be morphed into a statue of rock any second.

“You can get over it… and pick them off. By the way, didn’t I tell you not to open your big mouth? Besides, I do hate mushrooms. So if I have to eat that nasty fungi, you can handle a few black olives.”

“Touché,” I muttered. “Fine. When’s it getting here, by the way?”

“Thirty minutes. Although… you realize you’ll have to wait and eat later…”

“Yes, yes,” I grumbled. “I already knew that. Eating your scraps, like a dog…”

She actually laughed at that, slapping me on the back. “Well, if it’s any consolation, Taylor, you’re the prettiest dog I’ve ever had.”

*****

Once dinner was over – well, once I’d watched them eat, my stomach rumbling the entire time – Alley and Louise remained at the table, chatting idly. I was getting a little irritated – I wished Louise would take herself elsewhere, and let me get a chance at what was left of the pizza. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like that was going to happen anytime soon.

I stood up, feeling a familiar, natural urge… dammit. I had to piss… what was I supposed to do? I started inching towards the stairs, creeping down the hallway.

“Hey, be right back,” I heard Alley say. The next thing I knew, she was right behind me, an expectant look on her face.

“I have to take a piss,” I grumbled at her.

“Well, unfortunately we don’t have a roof for you to use,” she whispered, and then clapped her hand over her mouth, hiding her hysterical laughter. I scowled.

“Just let me go in peace, jeez…” I started up the stairs, and to my surprise, she followed. “What are you doing?”

“I'm going with you.”

“What?! Why?” We’d reached the top of the staircase, and I stared at her. She sighed impatiently, shoving me towards the bathroom door. Once inside, she quickly turned on the tap, letting the water rush into the sink.

“What, is that supposed to help me go, or something?” I asked incredulously. “I can manage on my own, thank you…” I walked towards the toilet, sidestepping all the dirty clothes and shoes that were strewn across the floor. Jesus, no wonder she’d worn that hideous outfit. Judging from the pile on the floor, it didn’t appear she had much clean left in her wardrobe…

“No, I’m staying in here, and that’s so I don’t have to listen to you,” she said.

“WHAT?” I exclaimed. “No way. I have my limits.”

“Taylor, you’re gonna have to flush, you know. So… I had to come with you and pretend like I’m going. Now, I would stand outside the door, but there’s always the chance that Louise might come up here for something, and then she’d see me out there while you’re in here taking your piss, and that just wouldn’t work.” She gave me a challenging look, and I grudgingly had to admit she had a point. I fervently hoped that Louise worked a lot of extra hours at her job this summer, so she wouldn’t be around so much… a lot of extra hours. All this espionage-type of hiding would get old real fast. Alley smiled thinly. “Here, I’ll turn around. Better yet, I’ll turn around, close my eyes, cover my ears, and hum the Australian National Anthem. I won’t even know you’re here.”

I scowled, turning and fiddling with my belt. This was ridiculous. I was a grown man, for heaven’s sake, and I had to be escorted to the bathroom? How embarrassing. I finished my business as quickly as I could and pulled the handle. “There. I’m done.”

“Good.” She opened the door, beckoning for me to follow. Which I was in the process of doing, before I tripped over one of her enormous shoes and collapsed into the floor with a thud. Alley let out a little shriek and bent over at the waist, hiding her laughter again.

“Fuck,” I muttered, rubbing my elbow, which had taken the brunt of the fall. Twice in one day? Jesus.

“Alley!” I heard Louise call from downstairs. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Alley managed to yell back. “I just, uh… tripped over my shoes…” Turning back to me, she grinned. “Maybe you should just lie there awhile,” she suggested. “You might stay out of trouble then.”

I reached over and grabbed her leg roughly. “Help me up, woman,” I demanded. “It was your stupid, monstrous shoe that did it… jeez, for such a skinny little person, you sure have enormous Yeti feet…”

Her eyes widened comically. “You little asshole!” she said, sticking out her hand. I grabbed it and lifted myself up. “Taylor, you’re killing me. You’re absolutely killing me.”

*****

Later that night, the question of where exactly I would sleep finally came up. I’d sort of wondered about that, though I’d been hesitant to broach the subject. Alley informed me, around eleven o’clock when she was about to go to bed, that they had a spare bedroom upstairs. I was relieved – I really hadn’t been looking forward to sleeping on the floor, or even on the couch. A bed would be wonderful, especially as I didn’t know how long I would be ‘staying’.

I followed her down the hall to a room just down from Louise’s bedroom door. Alley opened it, and inside there was a small twin bed covered in a quilted white comforter. “Will this do?” she asked, closing the door behind her. She threw the extra blanket she’d brought from the closet onto the bed.

I nodded, surveying the mostly empty room. “Yeah, it’ll do,” I said. “I’m just glad to have a bed… I thought maybe I’d have to sleep in the floor, or on the couch…”

“Taylor!” She seemed surprised. “I’m not that mean.”

“I know… it’s just… nevermind.” I sat down on the bed, feeling of the blanket. It was soft and pillowy to the touch.

“Okay…” she said quietly, lest Louise overhear. “If you need anything, come get me… well… goodnight, I guess…”

“Goodnight.” I didn’t get under the blanket just yet. I watched her head for the door, getting ready to leave. Before she could reach for the door, however, it opened up, and Louise stuck her head in, looking bewildered.

“What are you doing?” she asked. Alley froze. “Are you sleeping in here?”

“Uh… well… I was thinking about it…”

“Why?”

“My room… is too hot…”

“Well, turn the air on. I’m hot, too.” Louise smiled at her, a little uncertainly. “Or open your window. Use that screen! That’s what I do when mine gets too hot. It’ll cool it down right away.”

“Oh—okay,” Alley stuttered. “Right…” Louise stepped back, said goodnight, and disappeared from my view. I bit my lip anxiously. Well, it looked like I was going to end up in the floor, after all…

“Come here,” she whispered, waving for me to follow her. I obeyed, trailing her into her own room. She closed the door behind her.

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” she said quietly. “She’s going to notice if you stay in there. Messed-up blankets, and all… or she might even see a lump in the bed, with no person there… I never even thought of that…”

I sighed. “Neither did I,” I admitted.

“I could fool her for awhile – I could sleep in there and let you sleep in here, for awhile – but she’d know something was up eventually if I wouldn’t stay in my own room…”

“Right…”

“So… well… I just now thought… my bed is really big. Actually, it’s two beds and box springs pushed together, with a king-sized mattress over the top… so, really, it’s kind of like you would have your own bed…”

“You want me to sleep in here?” I asked in disbelief. “Is this the same girl who accused me of getting fresh with her earlier?”

“You did get fresh, you bastard… I think you bruised my lip. I hope you kiss your girlfriend better than that.” I grimaced at the thought of Jennifer. Hmm… wonder what she thought about my new ‘condition’… if she had moved on by now… the thought was actually somewhat comforting. “And truthfully, Taylor, no, I don’t want you to sleep in here, but we don’t have a choice. I always keep my door closed, she’ll never know the difference. And I’m not making you sleep in the floor.”

“Well, thank you for that,” I said dryly. She was already dressed for bed, and so she flipped out the overhead light and crawled into bed.

“You get the inside, next to the wall,” she said.

“Okay.” I stood there, unsure of what to do. I had assumed I would sleep in my underwear, back when I thought I would have my own room, but I certainly wasn’t going to do that now…

“What are you doing?”

“I… I don’t have anything to wear. To sleep in.”

She sighed heavily. “Taylor… sleep in your boxers and a t-shirt. That’s what I’m sleeping in, if it makes you feel any better. And I’m not going to freak out when you take your pants off, I promise. I’m not one of your twelve-year-old fans. Here, I won’t even look.” She made a big show of covering her eyes.

“Most of our fans are older than that,” I replied haughtily. I reluctantly slipped out of my cargos and crawled over on my side of the bed, lying down. I sank down against a pillow, sighing. Actually, her bed was really comfortable…

“See? Was that so bad?” She flipped off the light and laid back, breathing softly. “I have the most fucked-up life of anyone I know,” she murmured.

“No… actually, I think that title belongs to me.”

She laughed. “Right…” She rolled over. “Alright, I’m going to sleep. And Taylor… if you roll over and hit me in any way during the night, and wake me up… you will pay dearly for it.”

“I might do it,” I said lazily to the darkness, smirking. “I’m a little asshole, remember?”

She snickered at that. “That you are, no matter what those twelve-year-old fans say…” I started to protest, but she cut me off. “Goodnight, Taylor.”

“Goodnight.”

Well, it had been an interesting day, to say the least.