Eighteen: And She Was

Late August
Taylor

The world was moving and she was right there waiting, and she was,” Alley sang loudly and off-key as she scrubbed a blackened frying pan in the sink. She’d attempted to grill chicken, intending to make chicken sandwiches with the meat. At least, that’s what I thought it was. The result had been several charred, flaky lumps, which actually resembled lava rock in several ways. Now she was trying to remove the thick layer of burned chicken from the surface of the pan. It looked like it would take a while. A long while.

Joining the world of missing persons, and she was…” She abruptly stopped her rendition of the Talking Heads song, and she turned to face me. “Hey, can you go upstairs and grab me a new dishtowel?" I nodded, and she grinned. "Thanks, hon.” She turned back around and began humming the song again.

I trotted up the stairs, shaking my head, but smiling. I’d been here about two months, and in that time we’d gotten to learn quite a bit about each other. For all her proclaimed love of all things rock and roll, one major thing I’d discovered was her unusual fetish for 80’s popular music…  She was a closet 80’s fan. Go figure. She confessed this to me, reluctantly, one night after I’d caught her singing “The Safety Dance” while folding laundry. I grinned at the memory.

I found the linen closet and grabbed a dishtowel. Yeah, we’d managed to get past the point of being uncomfortable around each other, and now it felt like I’d known her for ages. Which, I guess, being around someone almost 24-7 for two months would do that. At first I’d been a little concerned about being around her so much. It always seems that when people are in close proximity for an extended period of time, they end up hating each other... especially in our situation, where I was literally trailing her every move. Luckily that hadn’t happened yet. The little quirks she had, which would probably annoy some people, I found quite endearing. Actually, the more I got to know her, the more I liked her...

I mentally chastised myself for that mental statement. I didn’t like her like that… I just meant that she was turning out to be a great friend, that’s all. I mean, I had a girlfriend at home…

I pushed all thoughts of girlfriends out of my mind as I headed down the stairs. I walked in the kitchen and tossed the towel at her.

“Thanks!” She smiled brightly and turned back to her work. Hmmm. She’d been awfully cheerful today. Something was up. I watched her work on the pans. The dishwater was a dirty, muddied brown, so she emptied the sink and ran some fresh water, dumping a ton of soap in with it. It foamed wildly as the sink filled back up. She screeched as the bubbles overflowed and started taking over the counter.

“Sorry about lunch,” she continued, a sheepish grin crossing her face as she looked back at me over her shoulder. She was frantically grabbing at the bubbles, trying to force them back into the sink. I laughed silently.

“It’s okay,” I replied. “I’m actually pretty used to it by now.”

She glared at me and threw the wet dishtowel back in my face. “Funny, funny. So… you want to order a pizza, or something?”

I groaned audibly. Another thing I’d learned was that pizza was her solution to everything. Ruined lunch? Order a pizza. Cables not working? Order a pizza. The Mariners lost? Order a pizza.

“Um, no. I’ll have to respectfully decline that offer…” I'd eaten enough pepperoni and cheese in the past two months to last a lifetime.

“What, you got a better idea?”

A lightbulb went off in my head. “Actually, I do,” I said eagerly. “Let me cook.” I hadn't cooked in ages, but hell, it had to be better than whatever she'd just attempted to make, right?

“You?!” she exclaimed, then chewed on a nail thoughtfully. “Well… alright. Have at it.”

I was a little surprised at her abrupt willingness to give me free reign in the kitchen.  Normally Alley would have protested, not necessarily because she didn’t trust my cooking, but merely for the sake of argument. She was like that. But then again, she had been acting weird today.

“Uh, okay,” I said. “What do you want?”

She studied the wall for a minute, thinking. Then she met my gaze and gave me another huge smile.

“Surprise me!” she said, clapping her hands together. She stepped forward and patted my arm. “You do whatever you feel like. I’m going to watch some TV.”

She trotted out of the kitchen, leaving me alone. I stood still, blinking several times, and wondered what had just happened.

“Who are you, and what have you done with the real Alley?” I muttered to myself.

I opened the refrigerator and contemplated its contents. I didn’t have a whole lot to work with. Most of Alley’s grocery shopping took place in the frozen food aisles. Though her roommate seemed to be quite the chef... Hmm. I wondered if Louise would get irritated, or suspicious, if some of her ingredients went missing...

“Good grief,” I muttered, opening the freezer and perusing through the TV dinners, frozen lasagnas, and pot pies. Maybe another pizza from Domino’s wasn’t such a bad idea after all...

“A-ha!” I exclaimed triumphantly. I’d found some frozen hamburger. Now, some cheese and buns, and we’d be all set. Maybe it wasn’t filet mignon, but at least it wasn’t pre-cooked and microwavable. I grabbed the frying pan she'd just cleaned and set it on the burner.

A little while later I’d completed the meal. I fixed two plates full of burgers and chips and carried them into the living room. Alley lounged on the couch, watching Kids in the Hall on Comedy Central. This was a prime example of one of her quirks. I thought the show was stupid and pointless -- I mean, a bunch of crazy Canadian men dressing up like women and chickens and performing nonsensical skits? Ridiculous. Yet, somehow, watching the show with her made it funny. Maybe it was her laugh...

“Here you go, ma’am,” I said snootily, bowing and handing her a plate. Her eyes widened a little.

“TAYLOR! These look great!” she enthused. She lifted up the edge of one burger. “Needs some mayo, though. Be right back.”

She disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a knife and the entire jar of mayonnaise. I watched her, feeling a little revolted. She ate mayonnaise on everything — burgers, French fries, potato chips, cheese sticks… anything. It was disgusting, really. Her cholesterol was going to be through the roof. She slathered her burger with it and took a giant bite.

“Mmm…. good job, Taylor,” she mumbled around a mouthful of food. “I think you’ll be cooking more often.”

“Thank God,” I whispered under my breath.

Watch it, buddy.” She grabbed her soda and took a long drink.

I bit into mine, chewing thoughtfully. Damn, this is pretty good, I thought smugly. “So does that mean you’ll let me go to the grocery store with you, and we can actually pick out some real food?”

For the first time all day, her face fell. It had been two months since that incident at the store with the guy she liked, but she was still too embarrassed to face him. She shopped at odd times, and never lingered in the store for very long, fearing she would see him. She also refused to take me with her, for some reason. I wasn't sure why, unless she thought I might distract her too much. Whatever. I thought she was crazy, and told her as much. She didn’t appreciate the comment.

“Well…”

“Oh, come on!”

“I don’t know…”

“You really need to get over this, Alley. It’s not that big of a deal, I mean, he’s probably already forgotten about you by now anyway."

She glared at me. “Oh, well, thanks a lot, Taylor!”

“I didn’t mean it that way. You know what I meant... Anyway, why don’t you just go to another store?”

“Because I happen to like that Kroger, and I’m not leaving it because of him.” She took another ferocious bite of burger, chewing furiously.

“So,” I said, slightly exasperated, "you’ll go to the trouble of shopping in the middle of the night just to avoid him, but you won’t do something simple, like going to a different store?”

“Something like that, yes. It's the principle of the matter.”

I sighed, and decided to change the subject. She was too stubborn for her own good sometimes. Just like Zac -- ornery to a fault.

“So…” I began, “What’s put you in such a good mood today?”

Her face lifted again. She tossed her plate aside and ran into the kitchen, returning with a letter in her hand. She handed it to me as she sat back down. I opened the letter and began to read.

“Dear Ms. Krzyzewski….we are happy to inform you that your portrait, ‘Celebration,’ has been chosen for this year’s Singletary Fine Arts Exhibit. Your portrait will be on display with other young talents on the weekend of September 6-8, 2002… oh wow, congratulations!!!”

She grinned happily, clapping her hands together. “Thanks! This is so awesome. I mean, this is one of those things that all art students try to get into, but only a few are chosen. I still can’t believe they chose mine!”

“That’s so cool... what was the portrait of?”

“The celebration after Kentucky won its last basketball championship... After they win, students, fans, everyone, gathers at the corner of Woodland and Euclid on the campus and celebrate with a big street party. I went to it both years… Dad took me in ’96, and I went with some friends in ’98. It’s really something. Crazy and jubilant... So, I basically tried to capture that feel, the whole ‘celebration’ atmosphere in the picture.”

I nodded. “So, do you win anything?”

“Well, just recognition, really. However, they also give out an award to the top piece. Whoever wins gets theirs put on permanent display on campus and wins a scholarship.”

“I bet you have a good shot at that.”

“Nah, not really… you should see some of the stuff that’s entered. Really unbelievable.” She threw her hands in the air. “I’m just completely shocked that I was chosen for the exhibit. I’m so happy!”

“You’re too modest,” I said, laughing. “But that’s really great. When did you get this letter?”

“This morning. I read it before you got up. Lou doesn’t know yet, I can’t wait to tell her. She’s the one who convinced me to submit the piece in the first place.”

“And rightly so,” I stated, licking grease off my fingers.

“Oh, stop it,” she protested, but she was blushing. I couldn’t help but grin at her. “And you can get that shit-eating grin off your face while you’re at it, too.”

I dropped my mouth open and widened my eyes. “Alley!" I said in mock surprise. "It’s really you! Whew, I was getting worried there for a while.”

She threw a chip at me and smiled. “Yeah, it’s me. I just get a little silly about art sometimes.”

“Apparently. Anyway, what now? I’m full.” And bored. I needed to get out of the house for awhile... even if it was just to walk around the block, or something...

“Well… I need to go to a few stores.” She leaned back, stretching her arms over the back of the couch.

“Shopping?” I asked, confused. “I thought you hated shopping.”

“Well, for clothes and stuff, yeah, I do. I despise it. But I have to go get some school stuff.”

“School stuff?”

She looked at me pointedly. “Yes, school stuff. I do go to school, remember? University of Kentucky? Remember?”

School already? I glanced up at the calendar, and was mildly surprised to see the date August 28 circled in red. Why hadn’t I noticed that before?

“You start school in two days?”

“Indeed I do. I need notebooks, pens, pencils... caffeine pills to keep me awake in biology...”

“You start school in two days.” This time it was more of a statement from me.

She sighed. “Yes, Taylor, we’ve established that.”

“What am I gonna do?!”

“What do you mean? You can stay here and mess around.”

Stay here by myself all day? Yeah, that sounded like a grand time.

“I’ll get lonely!” I protested.

“Chester will be here.”

“Chester hates me…”

She giggled. “He doesn’t hate you, he just has an inferiority complex.”

“Why can’t I go with you? I’ll be good, I promise.” Jeez, I sounded like an eight-year-old.

“Taylor…. UK currently has an enrollment of approximately 28,000… it’s not a good idea for you to go with me. It can be chaos there sometimes.”

“I don’t care… it’s got to be better than sitting here on my ass all day. I’ll stick with you. You can give me a map, and if I get lost, then we can decide on a place where you can meet up with me. Come on, Alley Kat! Have a heart!” I pleaded.

Her face relaxed slightly, and I knew she was going to give in. The nickname does it every time...

“I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this… but alright. We’ll give it a shot.”

“YES!” I jumped up. “A real college experience. I bet there are hot chicks all over the place.”

She was visibly irritated by this comment, which only made me laugh more. What was the big deal? It wasn't like I would be hitting on any of those girls, or anything... unfortunately.

“If by hot chicks, you mean sluts, then yes.”

I laughed, loving the aggravated expression on her face. “Even better!”

She rolled her eyes at me. “You’ll be bored out of your mind, Taylor, sitting through all my classes. I'm bored out of my mind. Besides, I thought you got your fill of girls from that little band of yours.”

I snorted. “Those girls are crazy, and half of them are jailbait. I need a mature woman.”

She laughed uproariously at that comment. “Mature woman? You’re too much, Taylor. Too much.”

“What?” I demanded. "Why are you laughing?"

“Nothing. But really, it’s not like you’re going to get anywhere with those ‘hot chicks’ anyway.”

“Well, I know, but it doesn’t hurt to look, does it?”

“Whatever." She stood up, dusting of her shirt. "Anyway, are you going to Office Max with me, or not?”

“Sure, let’s go.” I headed upstairs to put my shoes on, grinning.