Chapter 2: Come Undone
June 10, 2001
“Where are you going?”
I looked up. Zac was standing in my doorway, his arms folded over his rapidly broadening chest. Puberty is really an amazing thing. And irritating. I wonder if Isaac was as bothered as me by the fact that our little brother was slowly but surely outgrowing us. Zac’s long hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and he was giving me a curious look.
“Out,” I answered. “Me and Kyle are going to go do something.” I stuffed my wallet in the back pocket of my jeans. “We’ll probably be back late.”
“Tonight? I thought you said we were going to see Swordfish tonight,” he protested. I closed my eyes, cursing. Of course – I’d promised to go with him to see that movie, as he wasn’t yet able to drive and had been pestering me about it for weeks. When I opened my eyes, Zac looked upset… no wonder, he had probably been looking forward to seeing Halle Berry take her shirt off…
“Are you sure?” I asked carefully. “I thought that was tomorrow…”
“Yes! You promised me, after last week when you were supposed to take me to Sarah’s, but you conveniently ‘forgot’ and went out with that idiot girl instead… and the week before last, you were supposed to--”
“She’s not an idiot,” I interrupted him, not willing to hear a grand list of my failures as an older brother. It amazed me that despite the fact Jennifer and I had been dating for nearly a year and a half, Zac still refused to call her by her name. His own way of protesting, I supposed. I sighed. “Jennifer is just…” I struggled for an appropriate word to describe her. I’ll be honest, there really aren’t that many flattering ones. I settled for a generic term. “…sweet.”
“Sweet?” He snorted. “She’s an idiot, Taylor. Speaking to that girl is like rubbing sandpaper across a wound. Painful and unnecessary.”
Well, I pretty much agree with that… but hey, I could do a lot worse... at least she’s hot... However, I didn’t voice that opinion to Zac, who I knew wouldn’t appreciate it. “Well, whatever, she’s not your girlfriend, so don’t worry about it. Now, listen, I’m sorry I forgot, Zac, but I promised Kyle I would go do something with him tonight. We’ll go see the movie tomorrow. I promise.”
Zac scowled. “Where are you going?”
“Rock-climbing… at New Heights. Kyle claims it’s fun, although I’m not sure I’m going to agree…” I sighed. Strapping myself to a wall and hefting my way to the top sounded like too much work for a Saturday night. Weren’t weekends supposed to be about relaxation and laziness?
Zac’s face lit up. “Take me with you!”
“Come on. I don’t have anything to do tonight, and I have to get out of this house. And since you managed to forget about me, yet again…”
“Zac…” I groaned. When did he get so good at laying the guilt-trip down?
“What? This will make up for your shortcomings as of late,” he said cheerfully. "Do I need to remind you about the shirt of mine that you wore to that party last week and somehow lost?"
"No," I grumbled, rolling my eyes. “Fine. You can come with us.” I would probably regret that later, but at least he wouldn’t be mad at me. Besides, I did feel bad for forgetting about him. “Are you ready?”
He grinned. “Let me change clothes real quick.” He dashed out of my room.
“I’ll be downstairs,” I called after him. I tromped down the steps and went into the kitchen, where my mother and Isaac were chatting. “Hey. I’m going out. Zac’s going with me. We’ll be back later.”
Isaac looked up, frowning. “Out? Where are you going? What time will you be back?”
I swear, Isaac is worse than our dad sometimes. He’s got the whole third-degree questioning down pat. “We’re going rock climbing. I don’t know what time we’ll be back. Calm down, Ike.”
“I’m just saying, we have to get up early and go meet the new producers tomorrow… I don’t want you and Zac falling asleep during the meeting.”
“Damn, Ike, give us a little credit,” I said, laughing.
“Taylor, language,” Mom cut in. “And Isaac’s right, you shouldn’t stay out too late.”
Of course he’s right. He’s Isaac. “Okay,” I sighed. “We won’t.”
“And be careful! It’s Saturday night, there’ll be a lot of not-entirely-sober people on the road… In fact, why don’t you call us before you come home?”
What was I, 15? Jeez. “Moooom…” I groaned. “You worry too much.”
“A mother can never worry enough, Taylor,” she replied, squeezing my arm affectionately. “Be careful, and have a good time.”
“I will.” There was a loud, thunderous noise coming from the stairs, and a moment later, Zac appeared in the kitchen. “You ready?” I asked him.
“Yep. Bye, Mom.” He kissed her cheek and gave her a quick hug. I did the same.
“See you later,” I called to them as we walked out the front door.
“I’m having second thoughts about this.” I stared down at the instructor, who was strapping me into a kinky-looking wide-roped harness. “This doesn’t look very comfortable…”
“Stop whining,” Zac said. He stood off to the side, waiting for me to be done so he could put his on. Kyle was already at the wall, ready to climb.
“Whining? Wait ‘til you get yours on. Then we’ll see who’s whining.”
“Sir? Can you lift your leg for me?” The instructor guy looked up at me. I obeyed, raising my foot off the ground as he looped the harness over my leg. “Thanks.” I stood perfectly still while he lifted the straps and tightened them around my pelvis.
“It doesn’t feel very tight,” I said nervously after he stood up and inspected me.
“Nah, it’s not, yet. I’m going to have to tighten it some more,” he said. “I just want to make sure it’s on correctly first.”
Zac laughed. “Not tight enough? Gain a few pounds, Taylor.” He smirked. “Maybe if you weighed more than a buck-o-five it’d fit.”
“Shut the hell up.” I grunted slightly as the instructor went back to work and yanked on the ropes. “Okay,” I said. “I think that’s good.”
“Alright. Just go over there where Jack is--” he indicated where Kyle was standing, talking to another instructor who worked there. “And he’ll get you hooked on.”
“Okay.” I lurched towards them – it’s really hard to walk when you’ve got ropes and whatnot tied between your legs. Especially when said ropes are sort of smashing your manliness. I resisted the urge to readjust the harness, figuring that I’d probably get kicked out for lewd behavior. After all, there were kids around.
“You ready, Taylor?” Kyle asked, grinning. “We thought we’d start you out on the bunny wall…” he beckoned to the small ten-foot wall in front of us. I rolled my eyes as he laughed – a five-year-old could have climbed it.
“Bunny wall?” I asked dryly. “Sort of like a bunny slope?”
I stared up at the wall, noting all the handholds and small ledges haphazardly affixed to it. “I think I could just jump and reach the top…”
Kyle laughed. “Probably.” He peered around me. “Alright, and there’s Zac. You ready?”
“Of course,” Zac said. He squirmed slightly. “This thing is mashing my junk…”
“See?” I said triumphantly. “I told you you’d be whining…” He scowled at me.
“Alright guys, let’s get you hooked up,” Jack said. We lined up and watched as he tied us all to top ropes with an impressive-looking knot. His hands flew through the motions. “Hold this,” he said, handing me the knotted rope. He pulled a large metal ring out of his pocket. I was startled when he suddenly hooked it to the front of my harness. Watch the hands, buddy! “Okay.” He took the rope from my hand and hooked it into the metal ring, too. “Alright, now just tighten the gate on that carabiner,” he said. “Make sure it’s good and tight.”
I hesitated. “On the what?”
“The carabiner… the metal ring.”
“Oooh…” I studied the carabiner, finally figuring out that the ‘gate’ was the piece that folded back when pushed… and it had a little ring that screwed to lock it in place when the ring was closed. I fixed it and waited patiently for him to tell us to get started. When he’d hooked up all three of us, he went over the rules of climbing – no swinging, no jumping, no pushing, etc. He also explained that each of us would have a ‘belayer’ who would assist us in climbing – I looked behind me to see another guy holding one end of a rope. Looking up, I realized that the rope I was attached to was strung through a pulley, and that this guy would essentially be helping to haul me to the top. Which was sort of embarrassing, really, but then again, we were beginners.
Once Jack was done with his speech, he clapped his hands sharply.
“Alright, let’s get started. Since you guys have never been climbing before--” He beckoned to me and Zac. “Take your time, and don’t stress. It’s rough the first time. You have to get used to it.”
Zac snorted, looking at the puny wall we were about to ascend. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
I tentatively reached out and grasped onto one of the handholds. “Well,” I said. “Here goes nothing.”
“Fuck,” Zac gasped. “My arms are burning…”
Rock-climbing, I have discovered, is actually pretty fun. And exhausting. After an hour of climbing on several different walls, we were beginning to get a little tired. Not that I would admit that to Zac, though. It was too much fun taunting him.
I smirked at his sweaty, flushed face. “You wimp. I don’t know what your problem is. I feel great.” I readjusted my grip on the handholds, fervently hoping he didn’t notice my trembling arms.
He eyeballed me, his knuckles white from the strain of holding on. We were about fifteen feet in the air, clinging to the side of the wall like insects. I could only imagine how stupid we probably looked. “Well, you have about 50% less weight to lift,” he said pointedly.
I scowled. “Shut up.” I slowly began to descend, carefully watching where my feet were stepping. I wasn’t worried about falling; so far, the belayers had proved to be more than strong enough to keep us from plummeting to the ground. Plus, I was pretty sure my guy could get me to the top with absolutely no effort on my part. Seriously, the guy was an ox… he looked like a bouncer from a nightclub, or something. “I’m getting down for awhile. Rest my arms,” I called up to Zac. He nodded and followed me.
When we’d reached the ground, we unhooked ourselves and walked over to sit on some soft, cushy benches next to far wall. I leaned forward, sitting with my elbows on my knees. As we rested, I noticed, from the corner of my eye, two girls whispering and staring at us. They looked to be about 13, maybe 14. I nudged Zac.
“Don’t look now, but I think those girls are checking you out,” I murmured, stifling back laughter when he made a face.
“Shut up, Taylor.”
“Why don’t you ask one of them out? I’m sure her mom would drive you all to the movies or something…” I snickered.
“Hmmm, probably… unlike a certain older brother that I know…”
“Hey, I said I would take you tomorrow,” I reminded him. Zac didn’t reply. He was staring at Kyle with something like awe. I couldn’t blame him – Kyle climbed as if he had arachnid blood in his veins. It looked effortless. He must have felt our stares, because he turned his head and noticed Zac and I were taking a break. He skittered down the wall and came over to sit with us.
“So, what do you think?” he asked when he came within earshot. “Fun, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But hard.”
“I guess it’s a way to spend a Saturday night,” Zac said. “Considering what the alternative was going to be.”
“You’re not done, are you?” Kyle asked. “We haven’t done the big one, yet.” He beckoned to a huge, looming wall in the back of the building. It looked to be nearly three stories high.
“You expect us to get on that?” I asked, incredulous. “Damn…”
“Come on! It’s the best one! We can’t leave without at least trying…”
“Really? Watch me…”
Zac stood up boldly. “I’m in,” he said. “What about you, Taylor? Unless, of course, you’re too chicken…”
“I’m not chicken.”
“I think you are…”
“I am not!” I joined them, rising to my feet. “Fine. Let’s do it.” Hell, you have to try everything once, right?
The three of us strolled over and waited for the climbers who were currently on it to come back down. As we waited, I eyed the wall a bit nervously. The way my arms felt, I doubted I could get much further than about ten feet up… I hoped those girls that noticed us earlier didn’t have a camera. I could just imagine finding pictures of my ass, crammed into this harness, all over the internet… with snide posts about my scrawny arms or my maladroit climbing abilities... Our fans would have a field day with that…
“Come on,” Zac said, poking me when I failed to notice that the wall was now ours. I walked up and waited on the instructor to fix the knot for me. When he had done so, I started to hook it into the carabiner like I’d done before. I was startled when I heard a shrill ringing. My cell phone. I fished around in my pocket and pulled it out, checking the caller ID. JENNIFER CELL.
“Shit,” I grumbled. I debated on what to do. I hadn’t talked to her since the last time we’d gone out, which was entirely intentional – Zac’s earlier point about painful conversation was right on the mark. Making out with her was one thing, actually conversing with her was another thing entirely… But I was sure she was pissed about me not calling… I didn’t want to answer and listen to her bitch at me. But then, if I didn’t answer, she would keep calling back repeatedly…
“Who is it?” Zac asked.
“Jennifer,” I muttered. Ah, hell. I pushed ‘Ignore’ and quickly put my phone on silent. I slid it back in my pocket and looked up. “I’ll call her back later.”
“I think you should call her back never,” Zac said. “You could do better, Taylor. Much better.”
“Better than Jennifer?” Kyle asked. “No way, dude. She is hot. Taylor, you are lucky, man.”
Zac rolled his eyes and muttered something unflattering under his breath. I managed a weak smile. “Yeah, I guess,” I said casually. Lucky? Sometimes I wasn’t so sure about that…
Kyle grinned and hooked himself onto the rope, quickly twisting the lock into place. “Race you to the top,” he quipped as we readied ourselves to climb.
Zac and I snorted at the same time. “Knock yourself out,” I said. “We’ll be right behind…”
He laughed and started climbing. I grabbed onto a handhold and stared straight up for what felt like miles. Just looking at it made me tired… sheesh. Taking a deep breath, I lifted myself off the ground and began to follow Kyle.
About twenty minutes later, I was outdoing my expectations.
Spurred on by a sudden energy rush, a second wind, I was high up off the ground. I couldn’t tell how much – 20 feet, 25 feet, 30 feet… it was all blurred together at this point. Zac was just below me, trying valiantly to match my pace. He didn’t like being outdone by a sibling anymore than I did.
“Slow down, Taylor! I can’t keep up!”
“It’s not a race,” I said. “If it was we’d have both lost to Kyle a long time ago.” I stopped and let him catch up to me. When we were side-by-side, he stopped.
“My arms are tired,” he whined. “Are you ready to quit yet?”
“Yeah, I guess.” I leaned back a little, letting the rope and my belayer below take some of the weight from my arms. Zac immediately began scampering back down. “You’re not in a hurry, are you?” I called after him wryly. Grinning, I reached down with one foot, feeling for the next little ledge. My toe touched something hard, and I put all my weight on it. Mistake. My sneaker slipped off and I sort of half-fell, slamming against the wall. I grabbed onto a ledge, my arms straining to hold my weight. I struggled to find a foothold, my feet kicking out, reaching for anything – the rope was pressed against my face, rubbing against it as I struggled. It jerked slightly, startling me.
“Fuck!” I shouted when I couldn’t catch my balance. I knew I must have looked incredibly stupid – sort of half-hanging on, my legs dangling, the belayer essentially lifting me with the rope. Flopping around like a trout pulled out of water, hanging from a fishing line.
“Taylor, what are you doing?” Zac yelled up at me. I didn’t answer, still kicking to find somewhere to rest my foot. Finally, my toe struck another hold, and I rested my foot on it, relieved. Jesus. My biceps were practically quivering from the exertion. Wiping my brow, I glanced down at my harness.
Oh, shit. Son of a bitch…
My carabiner was unlocked. It was unlocked, the gate was partially open, and slowly the top rope was wedging itself through. I swallowed. So that’s what that sudden jerk was… I suddenly realized that had I struggled much longer for a foothold, it would have completely come undone… shit! Had I forgotten to screw the lock down? How had that happened?
Jennifer called… of course. I’d been distracted. Fuck. What was I supposed to do? There was no way I was risking climbing down now, not with a half-unhooked harness on my body…
“Hey,” I yelled down to the people below. “I’m coming undone!”
“What?” Zac shouted back.
“My harness! It’s coming unhooked!”
They still couldn’t hear. What the hell was wrong with these people? Scowling, I turned my head and prepared to scream at the top of my lungs. Unfortunately, they say wherever your head goes, your body follows – and I can attest to that, it’s very true. My shoulders shifted as I tried to turn around, bumping against the wall. It was enough to knock me off balance, and my foot slipped yet again. I found myself flailing against the wall once more, struggling to grab onto anything. And then I heard, rather than felt, a loud clicking as the rope came off the carabiner and the gate slipped closed again.
Everyone’s had the dreams about falling – I know I’ve had plenty. It’s terrifying. I remember once, I dreamed I was in the Space Needle in Seattle, looking out over the city… it was storming, and a flying piece of debris broke out one of the windows. I was sucked outside – I don’t even know if that would happen, I mean, you see in movies how people get sucked out of airplanes, but that’s considerably higher in the air and the plane is actually moving… but regardless, the had wind sucked me out, and I fell towards the darkness, unable to see where I was going to land, with rain and lightning all around me. I remember waking up in a cold sweat, close to tears, relief coursing through me.
However, this time I knew the end result would be substantially different. There would be no relief this time… My senses were strangely heightened; the world was moving in slow motion. But it wasn’t a dream…
I saw the ceiling getting further away, the rope I’d just detached from dangling uselessly in the air. I could feel the rushing air whip through my long locks, the tight ropes of the harness cutting into my legs and back. I heard the startled cries below, Zac’s terrified voice screaming my name. I was falling, with nothing to stop me…