Twenty Two: Loneliness is Worse

Taylor

I flipped idly through the myriad channels on the TV. There was absolutely nothing worth watching -- though I didn't know how in the world that was possible with 300 television channels -- and I was bored out of my mind. Alley had only been gone for a few hours, but it felt like forever. Time always seemed to drag on when she wasn't around. Of course, that was probably because I had nothing else to entertain me, but still...

After deciding against suffering through another Real World marathon, I tossed the remote from hand to hand, humming softly as I tried to decide what to do to pass the time. I looked at the clock for the fifth time in ten minutes. Almost nine o’clock. Louise would be home soon, and I would have to go upstairs and hide when she arrived... it was best just to stay out of the way. It kept me from knocking things over or any other incidents that she would be freaked out by.

I stood up and stretched, pulling my arms up over my head to ease my tense muscles. Well, I hadn't eaten dinner yet... that could waste a few minutes. I decided to hurry and fix something before Louise returned. Shuffling into the kitchen, I flipped on the light. Chester, who had been laying on the floor next to the refrigerator, glared up at me and sprinted from the room. I scowled. The damn cat still hated me. I followed him into the next room to plead my case.

“Come on, boy,” I said loudly. “I just wanna be friends.”

He stood on top of a gigantic carpeted scratching post, with a small enclosed space at the bottom and several flat levels at alternating heights for him to climb on... Alley called it 'the kitty condo', though it actually looked more like a fucking house, or something... it was an atrocity. Alley claimed it kept him from scratching the furniture.

He had perched on a level was that nearly even with my chest. I warily walked towards him. His eyes were wide and his fluffy tail swished dangerously back and forth.

“Are you jealous of me?” I asked him. He meowed angrily, the sound low and deep in his throat, and I took that as yes.

“Oh, don’t worry, boy. You know you’ll always be number one in Alley’s book,” I reassured him. “I’m not trying to take over your territory, I’m just staying here temporarily.”

I reached my hand up tentatively to pet his fur, hoping he wouldn't take a swipe at my skin. Would I even bleed, if he did that? I wondered suddenly. I wasn't so sure I wanted to find out... Luckily, he didn't move. He eyed me suspiciously, but relented, his tail swishing furiously the whole time. I gently stroked his back, smoothing down the long, soft fur.

“See? Not so bad, eh?”

He meowed again, this time not sounding quite so upset. Ah, progress... I decided not to press my luck.

“Well, Chester, I’m going to fix some chow.” I turned and walked back into the kitchen.

“Jeez, I really must be bored if I’m trying to make friends with the fucking cat,” I muttered to myself as I explored the cabinets. There was plenty to choose from -- Alley and Louise kept the place stocked like a warehouse for the Salvation Army, but nothing inside immediately interested me. In the end, I settled on just making a turkey and cheese sandwich; it was quick and easy to make, and to clean up.

As I mechanically fixed the sandwich, I let my mind drift. Mostly wondering what Alley was doing, and when she would be home. I missed her... It was amazing how boring the house was without her there. And it wasn’t often that she left me home alone to fend for myself -- she regularly turned down invitations from her other friends to go out, choosing instead to keep me company. She was pretty patient in that way, I guessed, even if she did get irritated with me at times.

She’d looked awfully pretty tonight... I had intended to tell her that before she left, but her sudden exit didn’t leave any time. I’d never really seen her fixed up before. It was usually jeans and a t-shirt, and messy blond hair with no makeup. Amazing what a little mini-makeover can do for a person. She looked very classy, I decided. And professional. I made a mental note to tell her that when she got home. She probably would just laugh it off, but it was the least I could do... girls like compliments, right? Especially girls who'd had their hearts broken...

I took an absentminded bite out of my sandwich and glanced at the clock again. Wow, a whole ten minutes had passed. I finished off the turkey and cheese and stood in the middle of the kitchen, indecisively biting my lip. Did I mention that I was bored?

Headlights flashed in the window and I jumped excitedly, hope filling my chest. After a minute or two, the door opened and slammed shut and I caught sight of dark hair around the corner. Damn. No offense, Louise, I thought. She seemed like a decent girl and all, but she wasn’t Alley.

“Hey, baby,” Louise cooed to Chester, who meowed happily at her. I scowled, watching his furry face practically light up. I’d win him over yet. No one could resist the infamous Taylor Hanson charm.

She dragged herself into the kitchen, throwing her coat and purse on the table. I watched as she brushed her layered black hair from her forehead and sighing heavily. She looked tired, and no wonder. Alley had told me Louise went to classes and interned as a sort of teacher's aide at a private school, and had somehow gotten conned helping with the extra-curricular clubs in her spare time, which was one reason why she was never home. She marched over to the refrigerator and searched through its contents, her back to me. I took that opportunity to make my escape.

I carefully left the kitchen, trying not to make too much noise. I crept up the stairs, stopping halfway to spy on her from between the banister legs. She was fixing some sort of pasta, with a thick, creamy alfredo sauce. I smiled to myself. Alley would never be able to pull that off. The noodles would be stuck together and the sauce burned into the pan...

I sat on the stairs for several minutes, pondering the extent of my social life nowadays. Wow, first talking to the cat and now spying on Alley’s roommate. This was sure turning out to be an exciting night. I stretched my legs. Hmmm, what to do now. The stairs creaked quietly. Louise didn’t hear, but someone else did.

Mmmrrrrrr!” A loud meowing wafted up the stairs. I peered over the edge to see the cat staring me down.

“Shut up!” I hissed at him. So much for making progress. Now the little snit was trying to rat me out...

He continued his verbal assault, wailing and whining while pacing back and forth in the hallway, just below me. Louise looked up from her cooking and walked over to the stairs, curious.

“What is it, boy? Do you see a bug or something?” She chuckled, picking him up and squeezing him. He squeaked loudly. “Come over here, I’ll give you a treat.”

Treat? That cat didn’t need any more treats. He was already the size of a freaking Doberman... Well, at least he was out of my hair for the time being. I slowly crawled the rest of the way up the stairs, praying that the house floors wouldn’t betray me again.

I walked into Alley’s room and plunked down on the bed, studying her choice of decor. Her room was obscene, really, when you got right down to it. The original wallpaper wasn’t even visible for all the crinkled posters and and dog-eared concert flyers she had strewn up. I stood back up and walked over to a large poster of Robert Plant, in his infamous sexed-up rock star pose -- holding the mic in one hand out to the side, head down, curls falling in his face, legs spread, pelvis thrusting out, and shirtless.

“That’s a cheap crotch shot,” I’d scoffed one day earlier this summer, slightly appalled by the poster. I mean, the man obviously stuffs his crotch... normal men don't look like that...

“I don’t care,” had been her sugary sweet reply. “That man is pure, raunchy sex on legs. Look at him! LOOK AT HIM!”

“I’m looking!” I’d said. “And I’m not impressed.” Although... he did look pretty cool... I tried to imagine the sort of reaction I'd get if I pulled that stunt onstage... probably a small riot. Girls were such strange, groping creatures... but damn, a shot like that would look badass in Rolling Stone or something...

She’d smirked at me. “Whatever. You know you love it... I fully expect to see a picture of you like this on a copy of some music magazine one of these days...” I, of course, had snorted... but laughed. It was as if she'd read my mind... I chuckled at the memory. Dammit, Alley, hurry up and get home.

I wandered out of the room, aimlessly trekking down the hallway, passing the bathroom in the process. I paused uncertainly. Hmm... Louise was home, but now that I thought about it... I really had to piss. Well...  they had separate bathrooms. I could just flush later. It sounded sort of disgusting, but what else was I supposed to do?

I walked in and did my business, mindlessly tracing the wallpaper pattern with my eyes. The wallpaper in the bathroom was very modern and geometric. All sharp lines, no curves, simple maroon and white scheme. It was mesmerizing, really... Without thinking, when I finished, I reached over and pulled the handle. Damn! No matter how hard you try, a habit that’s been with you since you were barely out of diapers is too hard to break...

I jumped back in horror as the toilet flushed, the water swishing and swirling down. I gaped at it, swearing and cursing. Shit! I should have just held it in and waited for Alley to get home... I dashed out of the bathroom and my first instinct was to hide, which was a ridiculous enough idea in itself. I sequestered myself behind Alley's door and peeked out.

I heard a loud clatter from downstairs. Hesitant footsteps approached the stairway that led to Alley’s room.

“He-hello?” Louise’s voice shook slightly as she questioned the silence. “Who.... Who’s there?”

I didn’t answer. Hell, I couldn’t. I gnawed on my fingernail nervously. Sorry, Louise...

“Hello?”

The footsteps quickly retreated, and I heard the sound of a door opening and slamming shut not once, but twice. Minutes later, Louise reappeared at the bottom of the stairs, baseball bat in hand.

“Who’s there, goddammit?” she swore loudly, forcefully, and I clapped my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing. Louise didn't seem to be the cursing type, at least from what I'd seen of her, and the words sounded so... funny, coming from her deep, smooth voice. It amazed me, really, seeing how her roommate often took to cussing like a sailor when things didn’t go as planned.

“I’m calling the police!” she shouted at the top of her lungs, and dashed back into the kitchen. I sighed. How many times had I caused people to threaten to call the police? First Alley, twice, and now her... You can call them, I thought. But it won’t do any good.

I heard her pick up the phone and begin dialing. Luckily, then I heard the door open and slam shut again... Finally! Alley was home! I leaped out from behind the door and almost dashed down the stairs, before remembering that it might not be the best idea. Instead, I just sat at the top of the stairs and listened. She was chattering away about something a mile a minute... she was cut off, though, by her roommate.

“Alley, Oh my God, someone’s in the house... we’ve got to get out, NOW,” Louise said frantically, interrupting Alley’s rapid-fire speech.

“What? What? Where? Huh?”

“I was just sitting here, and suddenly I heard the toilet flushing, and you weren’t home, and COME ON! Let’s get out of here! We have to call the police!”

Alley laughed loudly. “Oh, Louise! Calm down. It’s nothing. That toilet does that all the time. Sometimes it flushes by itself. They're something wrong with it.” I nodded in approval. She was getting quite good at all these little white lies...

What?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve seen it do that a lot. No big deal. It's annoying, but I just haven't gotten around to calling a plumber yet.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before? And what's the deal with it?”

“Well, I didn’t want to freak you out... it could just be something in the plumbing, I think there's a leak... remember when yours did that? When the water in the back leaks out, so the thing starts running to fill the tank back up?" Alley said. Damn, she was getting really good with the white lies. I nearly snickered at her next theory. "Or... maybe, Louise, it could be a ghost...” Alley laughed merrily. There was a click as Louise hung up the phone and sighed loudly.

“Alright... well, next time, you tell me these things, okay? I was about to go crazy... scared the shit out of me.”

“Sure, sorry about that. OK, anyway, on to more important things. As I was saying... He was there! He was THERE, Louise!”

"He?" Louise repeated, sounding confused. I blinked. Good question... Who was 'he'?

"You know who!" Alley insisted. “I was just sitting there, like, rubbing my feet ‘cause they really hurt and--” She continued with her story. I listened, rolling my eyes. Girls. Always so flighty and boy-crazy... Something about some guy coming up and commenting on her painting. Oh, and he was looking really hot, too. Oh, and then.... then he said--

“--he said that my ripped pantyhose were SEXY!” Alley burst out laughing. “I thought I was going to die! But I mean, he was so nice tonight, and attentive, and he was acting interested... Shit, Louise, I don’t know what to think! I wanted to just forget him but now... maybe I have a chance!”

“So... he has biology with you?” For some reason, Louise didn't seem to be nearly as enthusiastic as her roommate. Which was sort of odd, as Louise always struck me as being almost motherly towards Alley... I figured she'd try to be happy for her, or something...

“Apparently so! But that class is so huge I would have never known it anyway.” She sighed dramatically. “How am I supposed to act normal in there, knowing he's in there watching me?”

I sighed. Here she goes again, being all lovestruck over some guy... She was worse than my little sisters. Or Isaac. Not that he likes guys or anything... I'm just saying, you know, he gets all worked up over girls sometimes... nevermind. Back to my listening.

"Why would you have to make the effort to act normal? You ought to just be able to be normal, and be yourself, Alley..." An excellent point, in my opinion, but Alley seemed to disagree.

"Louise! You're not being supportive! This is huge!"

"I know, sweetie, I'm sorry. I guess I'm just tired..."

“Well, me too... and on that note, I think I’ll go change... I think I could just fall asleep right now.”

“Well, Steve and I were gonna go out later for dessert at Applebee's... do you want to go?”

"Uh, well, no, that's okay... thanks." What? Alley, turning down dessert? I resisted the urge to dash to the window to see if the moon was turning crimson red...

"Oh, come on, you should go! You've turned me down every weekend for the past two months! I feel like I never see you!"

"I know... but I'm just really tired tonight. We'll go do something next week... I promise."

Louise reluctantly agreed, and moments later I heard Alley approach the stairs and shrank back into her room, waiting for the lecture on appropriate toilet usage that was sure to follow. She bounded up the steps and appeared in the doorway, her face flushed, hair slightly wild, and her shoes in her hand. She closed the door behind her.

“Well, hello there, poltergeist,” she said sweetly.

“Shut up,” I mumbled. “I just forgot, it wasn’t intentional.” I took a breath, preparing to give her a speech about how sorry I was, but she cut me off.

“Ah, it’s fine, Taylor, I took care of it. You’re in the clear.” She grinned at me. Whoa. There was that strange cheerfulness again.

“Well, aren’t we in a skippy mood?” I asked dryly.

“We are.” She sat down on the bed and reached up under her dress, yanking her pantyhose down. What was this? Before she left she was all paranoid about me seeing her upper thigh, and now she’s stripping in front of me?

And why was I unable to look away?

“Oh, sweet relief,” she groaned as she pulled them off her feet. “So much better.”

“May I ask, what has inspired this sudden change of mood? Or, maybe, more specifically, I should ask, who? What’s his name, Alley?”

She grinned and giggled. Oh, God... actually giggled. “His name,” she said, pausing dramatically for effect, “is Jason.... Edward.... Blanding.... Jr.”

Edward?” I snorted. She liked a guy whose middle name was Edward? PLEASE!

She glared at me. “Oh, and I suppose ‘Taylor’ is so much better!”

“Well, since you brought it up, YES!”

“Whatever!” She picked up a pillow and heaved it at me. “I think I’ll go put on something more comfy.”

She retreated to the bathroom with a shirt and shorts in her hand. A few minutes later, a pajama-clad Alley walked back into the room, still grinning ear to ear. Her skinny legs stuck out awkwardly of the short cotton shorts and the huge Grateful Dead t-shirt engulfed her upper body. She looked so...

Cute.

I blinked, suddenly feeling uneasy. “Stop grinning like that. You’re starting to scare me,” I lied.

Her eyes widened. “What?" she demanded. "Am I not allowed to be happy?”

Well, yeah... but I’d rather you were happy with me...

What the fuck?! Where the hell did that come from? I shook my head briskly, clearing out that odd, shocking thought. No, no, no... no way we were going down that road. I was just glad to see her after being alone all night, that’s all. I was just feeling a little forlorn.... After all, loneliness was worse than... well, nothing. It made you think crazy thoughts...

“Sure you are,” I replied uncertainly. “I, uh, just want to make sure that this guy is good enough for you, that’s all.”

“HA! You’re so sweet, Taylor. If you’re good, I might let you ‘meet’ him sometime.”

“I can hardly wait,” I mumbled to myself. We needed to change the subject, quick. “Come on,” I said hastily. “Let’s watch a movie. Um, let’s watch The Holy Grail. Hey, never can get enough of Monty Python, eh?”

She shrugged, looking a little confused at my sudden change of pace, but not protesting. “Alright. Sounds good.” I quickly went and sat on my side of the bed, leaning back against the headboard.

She popped her ancient copy of the movie in the VCR and settled back on to her bed beside me, another grin lighting up her face as the ridiculous opening credits began to roll. I tried to ignore the way she smelled, the softness of her skin, and the heat of her body against mine as the movie began.

Don’t do it, Taylor,
the reasonable side of my mind warned me. Don’t even think about it. Not even for a minute...

Unfortunately, I've never been one to listen to reason.