Twenty: All My Fault

Taylor

So this was college.

“Dude, you shoulda been at my party the other night. It was killer, man. People were puking all over the yard and shit... I was so drunk off my ass... ”

“Aw, yeah, that sounds awesome... when’s your next party? I’m so ready to hit the kegger and let loose, man... I ain’t been really drunk in a long time, like a month or something...”

“Oh really? Wow, man, that’s rough. I’m throwin’ another this weekend, you oughta come, I’ll hook you up...”

“Definitely, man, I’ll be there...”

I listened with much disgust to this highly intellectual dialogue between two large, broadchested guys with carefully highlighted bleached blonde hair. Hey, I may be towheaded as well, but that was going too far. And at least I’m a natural blonde...

I continued my walk behind the two raving drunks, not even sure why I’d chosen them to follow. Their conversation switched over from how much they enjoyed drinking until they spewed, to the fine art of 'picking up bitches'. Now, perhaps I’m a prude, but I felt a little ill at ease listening to this banter. I wondered what Alley would say if she were with me... I had the distinct feeling she wouldn’t have been able to keep her mouth shut.

Speaking of the devil.... where the hell was she?! When that dreadful professor had dismissed the class, she'd bolted towards the door like a bat out of hell. Not that I could blame her, I would have done the same thing if my damn shoelace hadn’t been tangled up in the seat. I had been trapped, struggling frantically to jerk it loose before she disappeared from my view. And, I might add, if she had just let me wear those sandals in the first place, that wouldn’t have happened... and I would have kept up with her... and I wouldn’t be in this predicament. This was all her fault.

Sighing, I decided to leave the guys and try a different tactic. I quickly walked over to a bench and sat down, carefully taking out my map when no one was looking. I glared disgustedly at it. Like anyone could understand the stupid thing, anyway... Maybe I should have listened a little better when she was explaining it. The campus had to be at least 20 square miles. AT LEAST.

I checked my watch and saw that it was nearly two o’clock. She would be getting out of that American Art class, or whatever the hell it was called, any minute... I knew what building it was in -- well, I knew the name of it. I could also see where this building was located on the colorful piece of paper in my hand. However, I really had no idea how exactly to get to it. Trying to figure out the map was like reading hieroglyphics or something. Just a bunch of gibberish and pictures. There was construction up all over the place, also, which meant that even if I did know how to get over there, I would probably have to figure out an alternate route anyway.

Damn you, Alley.

I sighed and rubbed my temples. What was the use in throwing blame around? It really wasn’t all her fault, anyway. She had tried to stop me from coming in the first place; she'd known something like this would happen. As a matter of fact, she had argued with me for the past two days, trying to change my mind. And then I had lied to her earlier about understanding the map... I was just eager to get out of the car and get going.

So really, if there was any blame to be placed... it was my own fault that I was sitting on this bench, alone and lost, in the middle of an unfamiliar college campus.

Well, Taylor, I thought to myself. We’ve established that, now we just need to figure out how to get out of this. Easier said than done.

I slouched down on the bench, deep in thought. The bright sunlight felt wonderful on my skin, as I hadn’t really been outside all that much since I’d been here. A soft wind whistled in my ear and blew shaggy strands of hair into my face. I raked it out of my eyes in frustration. Students passed by the bench, talking and laughing. I envied them. They were normal. They knew where they were going. They could see and talk to each other. They--

“Are you going to A1A this weekend?” one dark-haired girl said to another blonde girl. “It’s gonna be so fuckin’ wild. I can’t wait.”

“Seriously? Last time I went there I got so smashed... I woke up with this guy and couldn’t even remember his name....”

--were also raving drunks. Good grief. Was everyone in this town an alcoholic? I'd had a drink or two in my day, but nothing like this...

“So what are you going to wear?” the dark-haired girl asked.

“Oh, I thought I’d wear that new mini-skirt I bought last week... it comes up to here-” she indicated a section high on her upper thigh, “-and it’s got silver studs on it. I thought I’d wear my new pink tube top with it--”

Good Lord. Why not just go naked, and save some money, at the very least? I squirmed slightly, studying her. Well, she did have the body for it... probably look pretty hot on her... but still...

“Hey, why don’t we go shopping right now? Let’s just skip out on algebra!”

“Yeah! Come on, we can go in my car... let’s go...”

Car?

I bolted upright. Of course. She would have to come back to her car sometime, right? All I had to do was retrace my steps back to the parking lot and find it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Jumping up, I tucked the map into my back pocket and purposefully strode back towards the biology building.
I reached the front doors and stood for a moment in thought.

Hmmm... let’s see... we came in at this angle... I remember coming up that street right there... I took a few tentative steps towards a street called Washington Avenue. As I got closer, my footsteps became more confident as I began remembering the route we’d taken that morning.

OK, now we turned left onto this street when we came... so that means I need to go right... I reached the end of the short street and made a right. A sea of cars came into view, in the distance. The parking lot! I quickened my steps even more until I was practically running. I dashed past the people on the sidewalk, wondering briefly if they could hear my thundering footsteps. About five minutes later, I reached the edge of the parking lot; I slowed my pace and stopped to catch my breath.

“Thank God,” I muttered, out of breath. My eyes scanned the rows of cars, looking for the bright silver Jetta. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really remember what row her car was in and there were quite a few silver Volkswagens. I walked up to each one, carefully inspecting the backseat of each one. Gym bag? Definitely no. Pile of newspapers? Nope. Empty Coke bottles and CD jewel cases scattered everywhere? Bingo.

I leaned against the trunk. Another quick watch check indicated that it was nearly 2:30. She should have been here by now. She only had those two classes today... I shrugged to myself and sat down on the pavement, leaning my back against the bumper. Nothing more to do now than wait, I guess...

I rested my head against the warm metal and closed my eyes, letting the sun beat down on my face. I didn’t worry about getting sunburned. Why would I? My appearance hadn’t changed in months, why would it start now?

I softly hummed while I waited. I missed making music.... I missed singing, missed my piano, missed the studio... I sighed. Creative energy is a tenuous, fragile thing, and I'd always been able to handle it because I'd had tons of instruments and options at my disposal. If a new melody popped into my head, I could bang out a rough version, write it down, and move on... it was so frustrating to not have that outlet. Neither Alley nor Louise had any musical instruments in their home. Unless, of course, you counted spoons as a musical instrument.

Thirty minutes later, she still wasn't there. I felt so tired... The combination of my previously panicked state, my dead sprint to the parking lot, and the sun’s warm, gentle rays was finally getting to me... I gave in, lying down on my side, curling up in a ball. I slowly felt consciousness slipping away...

I dreamed of my family. We were sitting around a huge table, covered with dishes of food, in a scene very much like a typical Hanson Thanksgiving. Everyone was talking and laughing, passing the plates of food around in a circle. Zac was sitting to my right, and my mother to my left. A basket of bread was heading our way. My mother took a roll from it. I reached for the basket, but she handed it to Zac instead.

I looked at her, confused. “What are you doing? I wanted one of those, Mom.”

No response. She didn’t even look at me... I felt my blood pressure rise and looked desperately at Zac.

“Come on, man... quit joking around, this isn’t funny, hand me the bread.”

He continued passing it to the right. My throat choked up. They were celebrating Thanksgiving, laughing, joking, chattering, eating, just like old times... only without me...

It was as if I had never existed.

I awoke with a start some time later, relieved when I saw that I was sitting in a parking lot, and not at home at the dinner table. I was breathing rapidly, sweat beading up on my forehead. Oh, God, what a nightmare... I hadn't had a dream like that in months; since I'd arrived here, basically... I bit my lip, holding back hot tears, and forced myself to sit up. No more naps for today... there was no way I was going to let myself fall asleep again.

What a fabulous day. I'd annoyed Alley, gotten lost, had a nightmare, and now my ass was numb, my head ached, and I was depressed. Plus, my watch said it was 3:45, well after the time she said she'd be done for the day. Shit. Where was she? She was all I had for now; she was real to me and I was real to her. What if something had happened to her? I very much doubted anyone would try any foul play in broad daylight in front of thousands of people, but hey, there were a lot of crazy people out there... I'd met plenty of them in my lifetime. I stood up quickly, dusting off my pants, and debated whether to go hunt for her.

I paced back and forth, like a caged cat. On one hand, if I tried to go looking for her, I would probably get myself lost yet again, or possibly miss her and end up going in circles.... on the other hand, I would never forgive myself if she was kidnapped and tied up in someone’s basement somewhere...

SHIT!” I yelled out in frustration.

“TAYLOR!” I heard a shriek from behind me. I turned, whipping around with such force that I nearly lost my balance, staggering sideways into her car. Sure enough, a kinky-haired, scrawny girl was gaping at me from the edge of the lot... Oh, thank God. She was still alive and well... I could have cried with relief.

Her long blond hair flew wildly around her face and her backpack bounced from side to side as she scampered towards me.

“OhmygodwherehaveyoubeenI’vebeenlookingeverywhere!!” Her still-shouting voice came out in a rush of barely comprehensible words. I moved forward to meet her.

“Where have you been?! I was worried sick!” I exclaimed. As she approached me I noticed her eyes were slightly red-rimmed and her cheeks were puffy. Had she been crying? Awww... crying over me? That was sort of sweet...“OhmyGodI’msosorry!!!” She flung her backpack down and leaped on me, flinging her long arms around my neck and crushing me in a hug. I reeled backwards from the force, but returned the embrace, laughing.

“Where were you?” she gasped, her mouth right against my ear. She had managed to slow her speech, but not her rapid, uncontrolled breath. She spoke in short spurts.  “I’ve been looking... everywhere... all over campus... my feet hurt... I think I walked... five miles...”

“Alley...” I murmured in her ear. “People are staring.”

“I don’t care... They can stare... all they damn well please..." She took a deep breath. "Now answer me!”

I chuckled a little. “Well, my I kinda got stuck in the seat back in your first class... and you took off so fast I couldn’t catch up with you.”

Her grip around my neck tightened, and she buried her head into it, mumbling an apology.

“It’s okay, hon... I just decided that you would have to come back to the car sometime, so I retraced our steps and decided to wait on you,” I reassured her, patting her back lightly.

She finally released her grip and I held her at arm’s length. A tear slowly escaped and began rolling down her cheek. She hastily reached up to wipe it away, giving me an embarrassed look.

“You’re crying!” I laughed loudly.

“I’m not crying,” she shot back. Hmm, could’ve fooled me. "I’m releasing tension.”

“HA!” I pulled her back into a bear hug. “You’re so funny, Alley.”

She sniffled. “Well, I’m so glad you think so.”

I let go. “I do... so you’ve been hiking around this campus for almost two hours, looking for me?”

“Yes...”

“I was so worried -- I thought maybe you’d been kidnapped or something... I was thinking about going and looking for you, but I don’t know where I’m going or anything,” I said. “I kept imagining you, like, bound to a chair in some freak’s basement or something.”

She actually laughed, rubbing at her reddened eyes. “No, Taylor, you don’t have to worry about me. I can take care of myself.”

“Oh, everyone says that, Alley! But you never know when something is going to happen, or how strong the guy is, or --”

She cut me off, grinning. “Yeah, but does everyone have this?” I watched, amazed, as she picked up her backpack and pulled out the biggest can of mace I’d ever seen in my life. It was the size of a Coke bottle or something. I gaped at it.

“Where the hell did you get that?” I demanded. My God, that thing could take down an elephant...

“Oh, a friend of mine got it for me... it’s police-issue,” she grinned. “Any bastard who tries to take me on will regret it, you better believe that.”

I back away from her slowly and dramatically with my arms up. “Oh, I believe.”

She replaced the can into the backpack, satisfied. “Right... well, now that everything is okay... let’s go home. I'm fucking starving...”

As usual. “Yeah,” I agreed, reaching over and ruffling her curly hair. “Let’s go home.”