Twenty Five: Morphine and Chocolate

Alley

I sat nervously in my seat, waiting for the professor’s assistants to hand out the exams and answer sheets. A quick look at my watch indicated that we would be starting in less than two minutes. Jay hadn’t arrived yet. He better get here soon, I thought, tapping my pencil rapidly on the desktop. If you were late for a test in professor Tanenbaum’s class, then you could just forget it. He wouldn’t let you in to complete it, and you took an F. Harsh? I’d say.

“Excuse me,” an irked voice whispered in my ear. “Could you please stop that?”

I turned to see a pale, rail-thin boy with curly red hair glaring at me and my frenetic pencil-tapping. He looked like a cross between Carrot Top and Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons. I stifled a laugh. Poor guy. He had “psycho” written all over him. I decided to comply.

“Sorry, man,” I replied lightly, picking my pencil up and holding it tightly in my hand.

He leaned back in his seat, his face relaxing a little. “Thanks.”

Seems I wasn’t the only nervous one in here. Half the class looked like they needed valium or morphine.

I checked my watch again. He had approximately thirty seconds. I brought the pencil up to my mouth and bit the hard plastic tip. My security blanket: chewing on things.

A sudden woosh of air to my left announced someone’s arrival. I spun my head to the left to see Jay collapsing in the seat beside me.

“Hey,” he said with that beautiful smile. “How’s it going?”

“Pretty good. I thought you were gonna be late.”

“Almost, babe, almost.”

I shifted in my seat, somewhat annoyed at his last comment. I didn’t like being referred to as “babe.” Sure, Taylor sometimes called me “sweetie”, or “hon”, or something of that nature, but I didn’t mind that-- I often called him the same. We were just joking around. But babe? Maybe I’m too uptight... but I didn’t like it, not even coming from his mouth.

I coughed lightly. “So... you ready for this? Nervous?”

“Me, nervous? Nah... After all that studying we did? I’m fine.”

I nodded, smiling faintly. He sure was confident. And I was supposed to be the “smart” one here.

“Alright, everyone,” the professor bellowed. “The TA’s have handed out the exams and answer sheets.  If you didn’t get one, raise your hand.” He paused for a moment. “Use only a No. 2 pencil. Fill in all the required information on the back. When you’re done, come to the front of the room with your test, answer sheet, and student ID. There will be no talking during the test. If you’re wearing a hat, turn it around backwards. Alright, let’s get started.” He turned around and sat behind the table in the front of the room, apparently grading papers from another class.

I settled deep in my seat, took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I had to get into “the zone”. When I took tests, I was off in my own little world. I blocked out every noise, every distraction. Several seconds later, I opened my eyes, and the first page of the test.

It was much easier than I had expected. I breathed a sigh of relief as I calmly and quickly completed the test. Wonderful. All that worrying for nothing. I stood up, bringing my exam to the front of the room. After showing the teaching assistants my ID card (to prove that the person that took the test really was Allison Krzyzewski) I grabbed my bags and left the room.

The sun shone lazily over the mild October afternoon. It felt nice outside. Not too hot, not too cold. The leaves were just now beginning to turn, and the campus was a blaze of gold and red. I walked over to a nearby bench and sat down. I got out of the test earlier than pretty much everyone else, so I had some time to kill before I went to my next class.

I reached in my bag and pulled out a plain white pad of paper and a pencil. I focused my attention on the nearest building, deciding to sketch it. My fingers flew quickly over the paper. God, I haven’t drawn or painted anything in forever, I thought as I brushed my hair back from my face. It felt good. I’d been itching to do something, but just hadn’t had time recently. Drawing and painting were my creative outlets. Now I knew how Taylor felt, not being able to use his creative outlet.

I felt something brush lightly against my side and looked up, surprised to see Jay sitting next to me. Surprised, for one, that he followed me out here... and also surprised that he finished so quickly. He wasn’t exactly known for his intellectual achievements.

“How was it?” I asked.

“Ah, it was alright,” he replied unenthusiastically. “Listen, there’s something I wanted to ask you.”

“Uh.... OK... go ahead, shoot.” I dropped my hands in my lap and looked him directly in the eye. He stared back at me unabashedly. I cringed a little. I wondered why I hadn’t noticed that harsh gleam in his eyes before. Had it always been there, or was it simply a trick of the autumn sun? I had to look away.

“There’s a party coming up... a Halloween party, one of my friends is having it... you wanna go with me?”

Wow. A real date. Yet... for some reason I didn’t feel as happy as I thought I should. Actually, I didn’t feel the same around him, period. Usually by now I would have been feeling a little lightheaded, but instead, I felt slightly irritated that he was interrupting my drawing session. Taylor’s words echoed in my head. He was in a meaningless relationship. I certainly didn’t want that. Was Jay really who I wanted to be with? I had told Taylor that I would get out of it if there was nothing there to cultivate... but would I? Or was I already wasting my time with him?

You think too much, Alley Kat
. My inner voice was right. It wasn’t like I was wasting my time, not yet. I still barely knew him. I mean, during our meetings, we actually studied... we never really discussed ourselves much. This would be an opportunity to find out. I accepted his invitation, though not as enthusiastically as I would have if he’d asked me a week before.

Maybe it’s just PMS, I mused after Jay got up and walked away. What else could explain these sudden mood swings? I just had an incredibly hot guy ask me out on our first official “real” date, and all I could think of was my sketch pad and Taylor’s story from the night before? Sheesh... maybe I was cracking up.

Well, at least if I went to the party, I would get a chance to be social. Even if I didn’t have that good of a time... I would be able to say I went, and that surely counted for something. I hadn’t really been out of the house for any reason other than school, studying, or shopping in.... well... since before Taylor showed up. I felt a little guilty for thinking that, however true it may have been. He required constant care and supervision, like a young child; although lately I had started feeling comfortable enough to leave him alone.

I sketched for several minutes more, the whole time, my mind constantly re-running the same thoughts over and over. When did my life get so complicated? I was used to mindlessly going about my everyday activities... not worrying over boys. That was so... junior high.

I’ll just have another talk with Taylor when I get home
, I decided suddenly.  He sure was big on “talks” lately. Taylor and Louise both, although she wouldn’t be home until much later. I needed two different opinions on my current situation.

People began streaming out of the buildings and I realized that classes were letting out. I stuffed everything back into my bag and headed for my next class.

I loved my this class. The professor was so sweet and understanding. It was such a stark contrast to the unsympathetic attitude of Tanenbaum. I relished every minute of her class. It was inspiring and entertaining, and never failed to lift my spirits.

After the class ended, I slowly got in line to file out, as I always did. Dr. Ryan stopped me, making me recall the first day of class when Taylor went AWOL, and she’d been kind enough to ask me if I was alright.

“Hey, Allison,” she said smoothly, stopping me at the door. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

“Um... sure, I guess.”

I did an about-face and walked over to a nearby empty desk. She sat down next to me, smiling brightly.

“Well, dear, have you decided yet? We haven’t heard from you, so they asked me to ask you personally.”

“Huh? Decided what?” I was bewildered. “What are you talking about?”

Her face changed from one of inquiry to one of worry. “You didn’t get a letter?”

“What letter?” I must have sounded like a real dumbass.

“Oh, dear,” she sighed, then shook her head with a small laugh. “No wonder we didn’t hear back from you, it must have gotten lost
in the mail.”

“Um.. yeah. What, now?”

She threw one hand up, patting me on the arm. “Oh, yes, dear, I’m sorry. Well, we sent out letters after the art exhibit to announce the winners.”

“Oh, you did?”

“Yes.... yours must not have arrived. You didn’t win, dear--” she gave me a sympathetic look at this statement, as if she expected me to burst into tears at the news. “--although I, for  one, certainly think you should have, because it was amazing, but--”

I interrupted her. “I didn’t win, but what?” I hated to be rude, because she was such a sweet woman, but I was tired. And thirsty. And I really wanted to get home and talk to Taylor.

“--you were one of the finalists... I mean, it was a very tough decision. But anyway. Your notification letter was a bit different from everyone else’s. In your letter they asked if they could display your painting in the basketball museum downtown.”

“WHAT?” I barked, and then blushed. So much for refined manners. But this was... this was something!

“Yes, apparently some of the directors down there really liked it, and wanted to know if they could have it to add to their archives.” She raised one corner of her lip slightly. “Of course, if you don’t want to, that’s fine.”

“Don’t want to? Shit! I’d love to!” I winced immediately, scrunching up my face as I once again dazzled her with my impressive rhetoric. Luckily, she seemed to have a good sense of humor (or maybe just bottomless patience with teenagers) and chuckled.

“Well, that’s basically what I told them, but I knew we had to get your permission.” Her eyes twinkled as she answered. “So, I’ll call them and give the go-ahead, is that alright?”

“Oh, that’s alright. That’s more than alright.”

“Great!” She clapped her hands and stood up. “That’s all I needed, Allison. I’ll let you know when they have it up; they’ll call me.”

“OK!” I stood up as well, grinning goofily. Wow. “Uh, well, thanks. See you later.”

“Have a good day, hon.”

I ambled down the hall, beaming. Wow... Taylor would be happy to hear that. He was always going on about my stuff.  Could this day get any better?

On my way home, I opted to simply listen to the radio instead of fishing for a CD. I rolled the windows and sunroof down, letting the wind whip through my hair. It was invigorating. It was inspiring. It was.... causing a small tornado of papers to fly around the car. I yelped and then rolled the window up halfway to stop them.

My house appeared and I cheered silently. I whipped my car quickly into the driveway, not bothering to pull it into the garage. I’d let Louise have the garage tonight when she got home; I was feeling generous.

“Hey,” a slow, silky voice drawled as I leaped out of my car. I silently cursed as I turned around to face the only neighbor who could make one monosyllabic word sound like a porn movie.... Jessica. Ugh. She disgusted me. She stood with one hand on her hip, the other twirling a piece of shiny hair. An infuriating smirk graced her features.

“Hello,” I said as apathetically as possible. I grabbed my keys from the ignition and whirled around, heading for the door. I had no desire to make small talk with her. Not now, not ever.

“How’s Taylor?” she asked snidely. I jerked around to her, horrified. Taylor?? What did she know about Taylor??!

“Wh-what?” I stuttered, my face flaming.

“Your boyfriend, Taylor. Or have you all... broken up already?” Sarcasm dripped from every word. I exhaled deeply from relief when I suddenly remembered what she was talking about.

“He’s fine,” I replied snottily.

“Oh, that’s good, that’s good... well, when he comes over, you’ll have to introduce me.”

“Oh, I will,” I snapped back at her. The nerve of some people. I spun around and stalked into the house.

“Nice hair, by the way,” she called after me. I slammed the front door shut.

“AAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I took off my light jacket and threw it viciously in the floor. Whew. I felt better already.

Taylor suddenly appeared from around the corner, his eyes huge, a chocolate popsicle in his hand. He tentatively approached me, tucking his blond hair back behind his ears.

“Uh... you OK?” He scratched his nose nervously, then held out the popsicle to me. “I, uh, heard your car coming in, and I got this out for you... but if you don’t want it, that’s fine, I’ll eat it...”

I stood still for a moment, smiling at him. What a sweetheart. I ran up and hugged him fiercely.

“I’m so glad to see you, I’ve thought about you all day,” I said warmly, taking the treat from his hand and biting into it. “Just what I need.”

“Are you OK? Did you get in a fight?” he asked worriedly.

“I’m fine... no, I didn’t get into a fight. What makes you say that?”

“Well.... the screaming thing, for one... and your hair...”

“My hair? What’s wrong with it?” I raised my hand up and patted the top of my head, then tried to run my fingers through it. Yeesh. It was a mess.

“It’s, uh...” he stopped, probably trying to think of a politically correct to say It looks like shit, Allison. “Um, nevermind.”

I chuckled. “It’s a little messed up, isn’t it? I had the windows down on the way home, it just about blew me away.”

“And the screaming?”

I scowled. “Our dear sweet neighbor Jessica initiated conversation. She asked about you, Taylor.”

“Oh, she did?” He smirked. “What did she say?”

“Just wanted to know how my boyfriend Taylor was doing.... and that when he came to visit, not to forget to introduce him to her...GRRRRR. And then she made a snide comment about my hair.”

“Oooh...” he paused, grinning. “I see. Well, it is looking kinda wild right now.”

I finished up my popsicle, then walked down the hall to the kitchen and threw out the stick. “Well, dear, we all can’t be picture perfect like you all the time,” I called back over my shoulder as I washed my hands. “I’m not infallible.”

He approached the kitchen, hands resting low on his hips. “Aw, come on, that’s not fair.”

“Sure it is!” I chuckled, walking over to him and reaching up to mess up his hair. I started to run my fingers through it, then stopped.

“Taylor?”

“Yeah?”

“What have you been up to today?” My hand was still immersed in his hair. In his layered, blond, slightly.... oily hair. Like hair looks after it hasn’t been washed for a while.

“Um, nothing. Just watching TV and sleeping, mostly.”

“Your hair...”

He peered out at me from underneath my hand and rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright, Alley. I won’t make fun of your hair anymore.”

“No, Taylor, I’m serious.”

I grabbed his arm and pulled him all the way in the kitchen, turning on the bright lights over the bar. He stood directly in front of me, and I used both hands to carefully lift up his hair and move it around.

“What, are you checking for lice?”

I sighed impatiently. “No.”

“Well, then, what are you doing?”

“Lean over. You’re too tall. Put your head in your arms, on the counter,” I instructed him. He poked me in the ribs but obeyed. I leaned over his back, raking my hands through his hair. This was odd. His hair was dirty. It hadn’t looked like this at all since I’d been here... he never had to worry about it before.

“You know,” came a muffled comment from Taylor, “that feels pretty good.”

“I know, I make people play with my hair all the time. It’s relaxing.” I stood back up. “Taylor. You can raise up now.”

He straightened out his tall frame and saluted me. “Yes ma’am. What seems to be the problem, ma’am?”

“Your hair is dirty.”

He remained silent, eyeing me with a confused look. “And your point is what, exactly?”

“Taylor!!” I shrieked, slapping his arm. “Your hair is dirty. You need to wash it. Remember? You said that you never took showers. You’re supposed to be... you’re supposed to be, like, perfect... never-changing! Always the same!”

His eyes widened. “Oh, shit.”

“Indeed.”

We stood in the kitchen, both of  us biting our nails. Our eyes met for a moment, and he quickly averted his gaze. I noticed a slight blush on his cheeks.

“I wonder what it means,” I murmured.

“Hell if I know... you’re the smart one around here.”

The smart one around here.
That reminded me of Jay. I needed to talk to Taylor about Jay.

“Well,” I said slowly. “I don’t really know what’s going on, but I have an suggestion.”

“OK. What?”

“Go take a shower.”

“Well, aren’t you sweet,” he huffed. He reached his own hands up and felt of his locks. “It’s not that bad.”

I let out a loud snort. “Oh, no. You’ve been hanging around me too long! You're letting yourself go!”

“Hmmm, you’re right.” He nudged me with his elbow. “OK, I’ll go take your silly shower.”

“Great! And after you take it, we can have another talk.”

He cocked his head to the side, his eyes wrinkled with concern. His eyes.... wow. No harshness there. Just pure, angelic blue. I had noticed, from time to time, that they would occasionally darken with sadness, particularly when he spoke of his friends and family back home. Not so much darken, I guess, but it was like they would cloud over, lose their sharp brilliance.

“Talk? You actually have time to talk?” His tone was teasing, but kind. I grabbed his arm and dragged him down the hall and up the stairs.

“Yes, silly... I need to talk to you. It’s actually important, for once.”

“Really?” he questioned as we reached the top of the stairs. I ran to the towel closet and picked him up some fresh towels, then led him into the bathroom.

“OK, shampoo here, soap here, use whatever you want... and yes, you’ll smell like a girl, but I’ll be the only one who knows about it, don’t worry.” I rolled my eyes. He was really sensitive about that whole gay issue. “I’m afraid I don’t have any men’s products available for your use. Um.. you’ve got your towels... there’s a comb here you can use... alright, you’re all set. Hurry up, and don’t use all the hot water.” I turned to him and solemnly put a hand on his shoulder. “Honey, I know it’ll be your first time, so just take it slow, alright?”

He dropped his eyes and put a hand to his head, laughing silently. “You’re insane.”

“Maybe.”

“So what did you want to talk about?”

“You haven’t taken your shower yet! No talking until you shower!” I sounded like a mother again, scolding her child.

“I know... just tell me the topic. You know, so I can think of some ideas while I’m in there,” he wiggled his eyebrows at me.

“Alright. I was invited to a Halloween party today... “ I stopped. “It’s too long of a story. You’ll just have to wait.”

There. There it was, that murkiness. Except this time it spread from his eyes to the rest of his face. He set his jaw and cleared his throat.

“Oh, OK.”

I smiled tentatively at him, suddenly feeling hot all over. The urge to leave the room hit me, so I turned and headed for the door. I stopped in the doorway, twisting around to face him.

“Anything else you need before I head out?”

“No, I’m fine,” he murmured, leaning over to start the water. “See ya in a few.”

“See ya,” I said uncertainly. I felt so... odd. Unsettled. Worried. I hoped he wasn’t angry at me. But what had I done?