Thirty: Gypsy Woman

Taylor

I have a terminal case of  “foot-in-mouth” syndrome. A talent for saying things at the wrong time. This is what makes interviews so interesting, and oftentimes, embarrassing.  It also often made me feel like a complete idiot, and now was no exception.

‘So, how was the party‘?!??! Brilliant, just brilliant.
Judging from the look on her tear-stained face and her state of disarray, the answer should have been fairly obvious to me. She was a fallen gypsy. But like I said...

There was a brief silence after I asked the question and then she let out a loud wail. It sounded almost inhuman. For a moment I was actually frightened.

“Um... not that great, eh?” I patted her on the back, feeling foolish and completely insensitive.

“Okay, you were right. You were right. You were right!” She let out a loud sob before resuming. “Just don’t rub it in, please? I've learned my lesson... I’ve had a really bad evening.”

“What happened?” I let go, taking her arm and leading her into the living room so we could sit down.

“Where’s Louise?” she asked, ignoring my question.

“She left a note on the counter." I beckoned to a ripped-off sheet on paper lying next to a pen. "She won’t be home until later.”

“Oh, okay...” More sniffling. I watched as she rubbed at her face, smearing black makeup all across her cheeks. She looked so... desolate. Dejected. I suddenly felt incredibly protective -- I wanted to hug her close, wrap her in my arms, make those tears stop falling...

“So....?” I asked hesitantly, reaching out to carefully squeeze her arm.

She sighed shakily, wiping her brow with her forearm. “Jay....” She stopped and then covered her face with one hand. My eyes widened and I felt my blood boil.

“What did he do to you?” I demanded, feeling panicky. There was no telling what that jackass had done to her... “Did he attack you? Did he rape you? Oh, God, did he rape you?!" I suddenly leaned forward, grabbing her shoulders. "What did he do?!

She gave me a strange look, smiling at my outburst, and actually chuckled. “No... no, he didn’t, Taylor.”

I exhaled deeply, loosening my grip on her arms. I rubbed my neck, feeling the tension that had built up there. Thank God... I would have fucking killed that bastard if he'd done anything to her... well, that is, if I could actually touch him, but still...

“He did get a little frisky, though--”

“WHAT?” I snapped back to attention.

“--but that wasn’t even the bad part.”

WHAT?!” Worse than him trying to cop a feel, or whatever he'd done? Jesus...

“He--” she rubbed her face roughly with the palm of her hands, smearing more mascara streaks across her cheeks. I resisted the urge to laugh, knowing that now was really not the time to be joking around, even if she did look like one of those coal miners from the movie Maetwon.  “Do I have to talk about this?”

“Yes. Tell me.” I patted her knee comfortingly. “Here... let me go get, um, a few tissues.”

“Okay," she said softly. "Thanks.”

I walked into the kitchen, looking for a box of Kleenex. Surely there had to be some around here. A full inspection of the kitchen indicated that there were none anywhere in sight. I sighed and continued through the house until I got to the bathroom. I grabbed a spare roll of toilet paper and took it back to the living room with me. Well, it was a type of tissue, right?

“Here you go,” I said, handing her the roll. She took it, turning it over in her hands, and looked up at me, a smile gracing her features for the first time that evening.

“Um... I know I’m upset, but I don’t think I’ll need the whole roll.”

“Well, you know... better safe than sorry.” I grinned back at her, loving that sweet, vulnerable smile on her face. “Well, before we get started, you want anything to drink, or eat, or something?”

“An Ale8 would be great,” she said hopefully.

“I’m right on it.” I ran into the kitchen and grabbed one from the refrigerator, popping the lid from the top as I walked back into the living room. “Okay... here you go.”

“OK,” she repeated, taking the bottle from my hand and staring deeply into it. She appeared to be mesmerized by the amber-colored liquid. I coughed loudly and purposefully. It wasn't that I was trying to be rude... but it was driving me crazy not knowing what he did to her. I wanted to help...

She looked up from the bottle, her eyes dull. “I’m an idiot.”

“Alley,” I said in a scolding tone.

“You were right. So right. I should have listened to you. Why didn’t I listen to you? Dammit, Taylor, why didn’t you make me listen to you?!” She stared down at the couch, her lips pursing in that way that let me know she was about to cry again.

“Well, it’s not for lack of trying. Now, Alley, honey, I hate to sound rude, but please tell me what happened.” I scooted closer to her, speaking more softly. “I can’t try to help you feel better until you tell me.”

She laughed dully, leaning into me, and I carefully draped my arm around her shoulders. “I don’t think you can make me feel any better. Not this time.”

I remained silent, pondering this statement, so unusual from a usually upbeat girl. Sure, she was a little neurotic, and sometimes moody, and there were times where I considered calling in an order for Prozac, but she wasn’t the type to stay down for long... or to act so completely lost and despaired. It worried me. I decided not to push her any more; she could talk whenever she felt up to it.

Apparently she didn’t quite feel up to it at the moment. I sighed and hugged her closer, leaning my head on hers. We stayed there, not moving, for what felt like hours. Her breathing was slow and steady, punctuating only by the occasional sniffle. At one point I glanced up at the clock and saw that 30 minutes had passed.  I squeezed her gently, then got brave, gently kissing her temple in what I hoped was a brotherly, affectionate way.

“I feel so worthless,” she spoke up softly.

“Why?” My voice was barely above a whisper. I had the strange feeling that if I spoke too loud, she would break; crumble into pieces.

“The things he said...” she trailed off for a moment before continuing. “He was just using me. The entire time, the whole thing, wasn’t even real.”

I stared at the coffee table in front of us, feeling my body tense up in anger as she slowly recounted her hellish evening. He'd been cheating off her? Using her? I was furious. I knew, I knew that something was wrong with that bastard.  I knew he was up to no good. I knew he wasn't worth her time...

“Then, when he brought me home, he tried to kiss me,” she continued, her voice dull. “So I fought with him. I got out of the car and to the door, but I’d dropped my keys, and somehow he got them... he was coming at me with this crazy look on his face... God, I didn’t know what to do... I just kicked him.” She chuckled. “He went down like a ton of bricks.”

"Fucking bastard," I growled under my breath. God, if I ever met him on fair terms... I silently vowed to kick his ass. Beat him into a bloody pulp, as it were...

"Yeah..." she softly agreed. "I'm just glad to be home... and safe."

I smiled, letting my anger at Jay fade away for the time being. “Me, too... But why didn’t you call here to see if Louise could give you a ride home, instead of riding with that monster?”

“I couldn’t find the stupid phone in that house, and they were all assholes. No one would show me where it was.” She unrolled several sheets of toilet paper and fiercely blew her nose. It sounded like a foghorn, and I couldn't help but snicker.

“What?!” She rolled over and glared at me through bloodshot eyes, but the crinkles around them revealed that she was smiling behind her hands and tissue. Despite the smeared makeup, unruly hair, and wrinkled costume, she was still beautiful... to me, anyway. That Jay was a complete jackass.

“Awwww,” I murmured. She looked so pitiful, so needy... I turned, hugging her with both arms, and pulled her into my lap. “I’m so sorry, Alley Kat.”

“Taylor, I’ll squash you,” she protested feebly.

“No you won’t.” I firmly locked my arms around her waist, lightly rubbing her back.

“Okay.” She wrapped her arms around my neck and buried her face in it. God, it felt so good to have her in my arms... her hair tickling my face, her skin against mine... Just a crush? No... I swallowed, feeling an odd tugging deep inside my chest. I think I could love you, Alley... and I would never, ever break your heart...

“How did you know?” she asked after a few moment’s silence, interrupting my inner mush-fest.

“Know?” I repeated, feeling a little disoriented.

“Yeah. How could you tell, that something was wrong? I mean, you tried to stop me... and I didn’t listen.”

“Well...” I said slowly, wondering how to relate my discovery. I still couldn’t believe she hadn't recognized him. My mouth hung open slightly as I debated how to tell her.

“Taylor?” She picked her head up from the crook of my neck and looked directly at me, worry lines making small valleys in her forehead. “Hey... you alright?”

“Yeah....”

“Are you psychic?”

“What?” I snorted a little. Psychic?

“Well?”

“No, Alley, I’m not psychic. That’s crazy talk.”

“Well, I didn’t know.... me sitting here in your lap crying while you’re also sitting in a Tulsa hospital is crazy talk, too.”

Well, she had a point. I studied the wall for a moment, thinking. Finally, I just went right to the point.

“His name is Jay.”

She curled her lip up slightly and squinted her eyes. “Um, yeah. Obviously. What’s that got to do with anything?”

“He has horrible, dark, cold eyes. Dark complexion, dark hair. He’s rude.”

She scowled. “I know that NOW, Taylor!”

“Five years ago... I was walking down the street, and I was attacked by a group of guys.... A nice young girl named Alley Kat and her father saved me.... the leader of the guys had horrible, dark, cold eyes, a dark complexion, and dark hair....”

Her eyes widened slightly as I took a breath before finishing my sentence. "Oooooh..." she stuttered.

“.... his name was Jay. The same guy, Alley. The guy you just went out with was the same guy who attacked me back then.”

“But--” she stuttered, then stopped, a lost look on her face.

“I couldn’t believe you didn’t recognize him... but then I got to thinking, you know, it was really dark that night and maybe you didn’t see him all that well...”

“You know,” she said softly. “He did mention once that he used to live on High Street when he was younger.... it’s close to Maxwell... oh, my God.” She angrily dragged her fingers through her messy hair. “I can’t believe... Oh my GOD! I can’t believe I did that! I'm practically a traitor... Taylor.... that’s why you were so mad.... why didn’t you tell me!?”

“I didn’t know until he showed up tonight. I recognized him.... and you said his name was Jason, you never said Jay.... until that one night, and that kinda activated something in me.”

OOHHHHH!” she cried out angrily and leaned forward, hiding her face. “God, I’m so stupid, Taylor! I’ve had this bad feeling about him for weeks now but I wouldn’t let myself admit it!”

“Why?” I asked, bewildered. "Why would you keep hanging out with someone you had a bad feeling about?" As soon as the words left my mouth I knew I was acting like a hypocrite. After all, who was the one with a lame girlfriend he didn't even like?

She sniffled slightly and looked at me guiltily. “Well... because of you. Not really you, but... you know, what you said.”

Ah... the lovely, misunderstood speech I'd given her. “Sorry about that,” I apologized quietly.

“No, no. Don’t apologize. You were right. God, you were so right.” She leaned back against me once again and sighed. “See, you were telling me that his sudden interest wasn’t real... it just seemed like... I don’t know, for once I had a guy wanting to date me, and then you shattered that little fantasy... I got so mad, because I felt so ugly and worthless... a knee-jerk reaction, I guess."

"Alley... you're not ugly, or worthless. You're cute, and talented, and funny... you're one of the coolest girls I've ever met, seriously..."

The short laugh she barked out was enough to let me know she thought I was just joking around. "Thanks, Taylor," she said sarcastically. "But it turns out you were right. I guess I’m just destined to live my life alone.... and die an old maid. I’ll be one of those crazy old ladies with a hundred cats running around the house to keep her company. Everyone in town will talk about the crazy old Krzyzewski lady who never leaves her house and scares all the children when she goes outside to pick up the paper...”

She continued rambling on about her unsightly future for several minutes. I wanted to laugh -- what she was saying was completely ridiculous -- but at the same time I suspected she really meant it. She really thought no one would ever want her. God, she was naive. I wanted her... granted, that was probably not something that would make her feel better, but I was a red-blooded, heterosexual American male, and I found her completely attractive, in more ways than one. That had to count for something...

“Don’t you think you’re being a bit melodramatic?” I interrupted her.

“No.”

“Oh, come on.... yes, you are. You’ll get married, and have kids, and lead a wonderful life.”

“No, I won’t. I can tell, it’s just not going to happen. Look at me, Taylor. Do you know what I see when I look in the mirror every morning?”

"Don't you mean your crystal ball?” I suggested, pointing to her costume. She smacked me.

“No, stupid. I’m being serious here. I see myself as I am now, and then I imagine what I’m going to look like when I’m thirty, forty, fifty.... eighty.... and I’m alone. Who would want me? I’m ugly, gawky, clumsy, shy--”

I squeezed her tighter. “No, you’re not, I just told you... You’re being silly, and overreacting. You’re eighteen. You have years to worry about this. Actually, you shouldn’t worry about it at all.”

“Whatever.”

“Tell you what...” An idea formed in my head. Actually, I stole it from the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding. At first I was pissed when Jennifer rented it for us to watch... it was definitely not my kind of movie, but now I was glad I’d seen it, because it had just given me a great idea. “If neither one of us are married by the time we’re, um, thirty, then we’ll marry each other. Deal?”

She guffawed with laughter. “Oh, yeah, that’s a BRILLIANT idea, Taylor! And don’t pretend you thought of it yourself, I’ve seen the movie, too.”

Dammit.

“Are you being facetious, Miss Krzyzewski?” I asked indignantly. My pride felt slightly wounded. What was so wrong with that idea? It sounded pretty damn good to me...

“Of course I am! Taylor, what are the odds of you not being married when you’re thirty? You could have any damn girl you wanted. You could just point at her and she’d come running. You could get married anytime you wanted. That’s not going to work.”

“You don’t know that,” I replied evenly. “It's true that I've had many girls tell me they 'love' me, but they also say things like 'Fuck me, Taylor'... then they turn and say the same thing to Zac, or Ike... Is that love? Do you think I'm going to date someone like that? Someone who doesn't really know who I am? And I’m certainly not going to marry anyone who doesn’t even know me.”

“Still,” she emphasized. “My point is, you’ve got a lot to choose from. You can just weed them out.”

I shook my head. “You’re still not getting it....”

“Sorry. I guess you can add ‘stupid’ to my list of qualities...”

Alley!” I was starting to get frustrated with her. Part of me wanted to throw all caution to the wind, take her face in my hands, give her the hottest, sexiest kiss she'd ever had, and tell her exactly how I felt. She just had no idea. I was falling in love with her. She couldn’t rightly say that no one would ever love her, because I was well on my way...

“Sorry.” She lolled her head to the side and laughed quietly. “I guess I am being melodramatic." She sighed. "But there’s another reason that won’t work, Taylor.”

“What’s that?”

“When you get back to Tulsa.... I’m not so sure you’re going to remember me.”

Her words froze me. What? Not remember her? How could I forget her?

“What are you talking about?" I said uneasily. "You’re pretty unforgettable, Alley Kat.” I squeezed her arm affectionately.

“It won’t be because of that... you know how when you came here, you couldn’t remember what happened? You didn’t remember a lot from the other side?”

My heart pounded. She was right, but... “Yeah... but then I did remember, it just took a while!”

“You remembered when I found that article, telling us what happened. It triggered something in you that made you remember. When you get back to Tulsa, there won’t be anything of me, of Louise, or of Kentucky to trigger your memory like that.” Her voice was delicate and sad.

“Oh...” I felt a little speechless. No, no, no... We would definitely have to fix that... think of some sort of plan... “Um, well, we should do something about that. I don’t want to, uh, not ever see you again after I leave here.”

She smiled. “What do you have in mind?”

“Well, I don’t know, I’ll think of something.” Damn right I would. “But anyway... back to my original suggestion... thirty years old, OK? You call me up on your thirtieth birthday.”

“Taylor!” Her adorable grin widened, and she shook her head with laughter.

“Promise?” I held up my hand. “Pinky swear?”

She sighed, but that grin didn't leave her face as she locked her pinky with mine. “Promise.”

I laughed, giving her a tight hug. "Excellent. See? You have nothing to worry about now. You have a back-up plan." Although, ideally, I wanted to be her first plan, not her last resort... but hey, I would take what I could get.

"I guess I do," she said dryly. She hugged me back fiercely. "Thanks for listening... you're a good friend," she said. Then, she added, almost shyly, "Taylor... I'm really glad you're here."

"Me, too," I replied... and you know what? I really, truly meant it.