Thirty Seven: Seeing is Believing

Alley

“Oh my God,” I groaned loudly, throwing myself face-down on the couch. “I can’t believe we’re still alive.”

“Oh, stop whining. It wasn’t that bad.” Taylor collapsed next to me, the look on his face betraying the words he’d just said.

“The hell it wasn’t!” I rolled over and leaned my head back until I could see him. “I’m just glad we got out of there when we did.”

Taylor and I were just arriving home, after an excruciating five-hour mall trip. A mall trip that resulted in very few purchases. Too few, I thought, considering all the time we’d spent there, and the idiots we’d had to deal with. Oh, and let’s not forget the token Taylor-managing-to-get-himself-lost episode. Apparently that was becoming a tradition with all of our excursions. And from all that struggle, the only thing Taylor had bought was sheet music from one of the music stores, so that he could get used to playing again. Well, perhaps I should clarify that. I had to buy the sheet music.

“What time are we going to eat?” Taylor asked, staring off at something only he could see.

“Um, eight o’clock. We’re supposed to meet her there. She left a voice message on my phone.”

“Mmm.” He nodded slowly. “So, what are you going to tell her?”

He was, of course, referring to his situation. We’d both had high hopes that maybe this bizarre incident was finally normalizing, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. Our trip today had confirmed our fears. For some unknown reason, Louise was now ‘blessed’ with the ability that was previously only shared by the cat and me. However, it appeared that she was the only one who had gained this. That left us with the problem of having to explain it. And if I’d had a headache earlier in the day, it was nothing compared to the one I was feeling right now.

“I haven’t a clue,” I mumbled. “But whatever I say, by the time I’m done, she’ll be calling up the local mental institute and giving them my number.”

“Well…” Taylor struggled with words, more than likely looking for something positive to say. He was like that a lot. “I hear they allow TV privileges… wouldn’t be too bad….”

I couldn’t help but smile. “You’re such a dork. But you know if I get sent off, you have to come with me.”

“Of course.” He patted my head reassuringly and grinned. I was glad he was still able to have a sense of humor about all this. Mine was slowly but surely waning.

“We should probably get going. I don’t know how traffic is going to be,” I said, looking at the clock.

“Where are we going?”

“Damon’s,” I answered with a yawn. “Come on.” I stood up, stretching out my back.

“Alright.” He got up off the couch and followed me back out to the car.

We got in, driving mostly in silence to the restaurant. As we entered the city, Taylor glanced over at me nervously.

“So, have you thought about what you’re going to tell her?”

I practically growled. “NO, Taylor. I haven’t.”

“Sorry,” he said meekly, slumping down in the seat. I winced. When had I become such a bitch?

“Here we are,” I said a few minutes later, pulling the Jetta up into a parking space close to the door. Thankfully, it didn’t look very crowded. I checked the clock. “And we’re early, for once.”

We got out and walked inside. The smell of steak and ribs permeated the air, and I inhaled deeply. “God, that smells good.”

“It does.”

“I’m going to go ahead and have her seat us,” I murmured to Taylor. “Follow me.”

I walked up to the hostess stand. “Hi. I’m expecting someone here in a minute, but I was wondering if I could go ahead and get a table.”

“Certainly! Smoking or Non?”

“Non.”

“And there will be two of you?”

I resisted the urge to look at Taylor. “Um, yeah. Could we get a booth, though?”

“Sure. Follow me.”

A minute later, Taylor and I were sitting on the same side of a cushy red booth back in the corner. I was thankful for the location, it seemed a little more secluded back here. The fewer people that had the chance to overhear, the better. A petite young waitress walked up.

“Can I get you anything, miss?”

“Yeah… just a Coke. Well, make that two Cokes. I’m waiting on someone.”

“Alright, I’ll be right back with that.”

Sighing, I put both elbows up on the table and dropped my head in them. I should have been delighted that this turn of events had occurred – after all, it meant I really wasn’t crazy.  But everything was becoming increasingly more complicated, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I didn’t like uncertainty in my life. It made me nervous, agitated, and restless. And all I wanted to do right now was sleep…

“I’m sorry,” Taylor said quietly. “I really am.” He sat, arms wrapped around himself tightly, staring down at the table. His hair fell in front of him, creating a blond curtain so that I couldn’t see his face. I swallowed. Selfish? Yeah, there’s a picture of me next to that word in the dictionary…

I opened my mouth to protest but he cut me off. “I know you didn’t ask for this. You’ve done a lot for me, and maybe I haven’t been as gracious as I should have been--”

“Taylor,” I said very gently, interrupting him. “We don’t need to go through this argument again. No, I didn’t ask for this, anymore than you asked for it. Yes, you’ve almost driven me crazy several times. But you tell me that I haven’t done the same to you.”

He lifted his head up and looked at me, a small smile creeping up around the edges. I continued. “And I apologize for being such a bitch today. Because contrary to how I may have been acting, I actually like having you around.”

His smile widened, reaching his eyes. “Really?”

I chuckled softly. “Of course. I love you, silly. You’re closer to me now than anyone I’ve ever known.” I paused. “Even Louise herself.”

His blue eyes widened. “Really?” he asked again, shyly.

I had to laugh at his childishness. “Really.”

He didn’t say anything, just gazed at me and nodded his head, that hint of a smile still on his lips. Our gazes locked.

“Your eyes are really blue.” A dumb thing to say, perhaps, but anything to break the silence.

“So I’ve been told,” he replied, breaking the stare and looking over my shoulder. “And here comes Louise.”

I whipped my head around. She was just coming through the door. I waved my hand, beckoning her over.

“Hey, guys,” she said breathlessly, collapsing into the opposite side of the booth. She laughed. “You two look kind of funny, sitting on the same side like that.”

“Well,” I said haltingly, “Actually--”

I was cut off by the waitress’s return. “Here are your Cokes. Are you ready to order?”

“No,” I said quickly. “We need a few minutes.”

“OK.” She left.

Louise was flipping through the menu idly. “Well, I’m ready whenever you are, Alley.” She closed and looked up. “She forgot your drink, Taylor.”

“No, she didn’t,” he said quietly. Under the table, I squeezed his leg.

“Louise,” I said. “We have something very important to explain. Please, just listen, and don’t argue or interrupt.” I took a deep breath. Might as well go in for the kill right now. “You and I are the only ones who can see Taylor.”

Well, that was blunt, I thought. Her face didn’t change. “What?”

“No one else in this restaurant sees him. Hell, no one else, period. Just you and I.” I stopped, unsure of how to tread on. “It’s really an odd situation, very supernatural, at best, and I’ll try to explain it…”

“So, you all ready to order?” The waitress re-appeared. Damn her.

“Um, yeah.” I quickly ordered my steak and salad. Louise ordered a rack of ribs. The waitress left.

“Well,  huh. She didn’t take your order,” Louise said to Taylor.

“Louise, I just told you--”

She interrupted me. “Don’t you think you’re taking this joke a bit far? That I’m supposed to believe that this is really Taylor Hanson sitting here with us? Honestly, Allison,” she rolled her eyes. “I would have expected more from you. Besides, isn’t that kid in the hospital or something? I saw this thing on MTV not too long ago about how he’s been in a coma for a really long time. You really shouldn’t joke about stuff like that.”

“Listen, just listen,” I pleaded. “I’ll tell you everything.” And I did, beginning with the horrible moldy-cookie incident and ending with last night’s shenanigans. I described the all the major incidents and accidents Taylor and I had experienced, including shopping trips, going to class, the whole ‘Jay’ saga, and little things around the house.  I talked about Taylor’s accident, and what he had told me. I even gave her my far-fetched explanation about the ‘inner and outer’ man. It took nearly 30 minutes. Taylor kept mostly silent, although he confirmed everything with a nod or simple “Yeah.” When I was done, my mouth felt dry and I was a little out of breath.

She was silent. I didn’t know what else to say, and Taylor certainly wasn’t offering anything else.  We sat there, no one saying a word, for an eternity. Then our food arrived.

I dove into mine, ravenous as I was. Louise began eating as well, although with much less gusto, and still not saying anything.  I looked over at Taylor, who was eyeing my meal longingly.

“I’m going to order you a takeout dinner,” I whispered to him. He nodded ruefully.

“Here.” I shoved my Coke over his way. “If you get thirsty you can drink from mine.” I grinned. “I don’t think I have cooties…”

He laughed. “Thanks, Alley Kat.” He took a sip.

Louise looked up at that, something like surprising befalling her face. Then she cleared her throat.

“Well, I’ve got to hand it to you. This is definitely the most elaborate stunt you’ve ever pulled. The whole story, finding this guy here who was willing to go along with it, and don’t think I don’t know that you’ve somehow bribed the waitress to go along with it as well. How long did that take? I mean, to think of the whole situation…” She shook her head in wonder. “Very creative. In bad taste, perhaps, but creative.”

I gaped at her. My fork was suspended in mid-air; I was too shocked to move. I had expected resistance.... but she still thought this was a joke? Did she really think I was that crazy?

Apparently the answer was yes. I felt my blood boil a little.

“Louise,” I said very calmly. “You have known me forever. Have I ever lied to you?”

She rolled her eyes. “Allison--”

“No,” I said sharply. “Just answer the question, yes or no. Have I?”

She stopped, looking like she couldn’t decide whether to stab me with her steak knife or burst into laughter. “Well, yes, actually--”

“When?” I demanded.

“Well, there was that time that you and John convinced me that he had amnesia…. and then when we were in fifth grade and I asked Daniel King to the dance because you said you didn’t like him, but you really did and we ended up in a fight…. or the time I let you borrow my blouse, and you lost it but kept telling me it was at Sarah’s house…”

“Oh, those don’t count,” I said, waving my hand around. “The amnesia joke was ages ago, and it was John’s idea, anyway. I knew you liked Daniel so I didn’t want to butt in, and I found that blouse- I didn’t lose it, I just misplaced it.” I brought my hand back down and clasped it in my other one. “Louise,  listen to me. I’m dead serious here.”

“There’s a time and a place for everything, Allison.”

I sighed, exasperated. I didn’t know what else to say, so I stabbed angrily at the meat on my plate. The waitress returned for refills, and I ordered Taylor’s dinner while she was there. He wanted the ribeye.

“I’ll get that right out for you!” the waitress chirped cheerfully. I nodded and looked back at Louise, who was eyeing me.

“Please stop.”

“Stop what?! Stop making him invisible? Sorry, but I can’t do that, Louise.”

“You know ‘what’. I’m really starting to get irritated. This has gone on long enough. Kudos to you and your immense planning and patience, but it’s over.”

I banged my fist down on the table, surprising all of us. “Dammit!”

“Now, now, girls,” Taylor said nervously. I looked at him. “Calm down.”

“Taylor,” I barked. “Get up and go over to that table over there. The one with the guy in the red shirt.”

“What? Why?”

“Just do it. Go over there and say something to him. Anything. And speak loudly.”

Realization dawned on his face, and he complied. He walked over to the people at the table, which looked like a husband and wife.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said, his voice almost a shout.

Nothing.

“Excuse me!” Still nothing.

“See?” I said, looking back at her.

She rolled her eyes. “I’ve had enough of this.” Standing up, she grabbed her coat and purse, throwing some money down on the table. “I’m going home. I’ll talk to you later, when you stop acting like such a freak.”

“But--” I stuttered, staring hard at her. This was definitely not going as planned.

“Goodbye.” With that, she was gone.

I slumped down in the seat, staring at the table. Taylor returned and slid in beside me. “That went well.”

“It certainly did."

“I don’t understand,” he said. “I mean, she saw that, didn’t she? And the waitress…”

“I know. I guess some things are just so odd that even seeing isn’t believing.” I cocked my head to look at him. “I don’t know what else to do, though.”

“Me, either.”

“We’ll think of something.”

“Yeah,” he said with a rueful grin. “Because you’re full of harebrained ideas.”

I smacked him, and we settled into a companionable, albeit a bit brooding, silence. Moments later his dinner arrived.

“Here you go, miss. Is there anything else I can get you?”

Yeah, some sanity would be nice. “No,” I said finally. “Just the check, please.”

“OK.” She looked at me apprehensively. “Will they be separate, or together?”

“Just go ahead and put her meal with mine,” I said, gathering the money Louise had left on the table. “I don’t think she’s coming back.”

She nodded and left. A minute later she returned with the ticket, and I paid her in cash. With the to-go box in hand, Taylor and I left the restaurant. We drove home with the windows down and the radio blaring.

I pulled up to the house, noting Louise’s car in the driveway. Great. Taylor and I walked in and sat at the kitchen table. Thankfully, she was nowhere to be seen. He ate—well, let me clarify that, devoured—his meal while I stared off into space and wondered if God was getting a grand kick out of this. As if all the nonsense in my life before July 25 wasn’t enough entertainment for him.

“Mmm,” Taylor said with a mouthful of steak. “This is some good shit.”

I nodded absentmindedly. “Yep.”

“I mean, it was cooked just right and everything. Perfect.”

“Yep.”

“We should go there again.”

“Uh-huh.”

He paused for a moment. “I think you should dye your hair red and become a stripper.”

“Yep.”

Wait a minute.

I looked over at him evilly. “Bastard.”

He shrugged. “Had to get your attention somehow.”

I stood up, taking his dish from the table and rinsing it off. I loaded the dishwasher, but noticed we didn’t have any detergent.

“Damn,” I said.

“What?”

“We’re out of detergent.” I chewed my lip thoughtfully. “And I need more shampoo… and actually I don’t think we have any bread…. hmmm…” I picked my keys up off the table. “Let’s go to the store. I  need to get out of this house anyway.”

“This late? It’s almost midnight!”

“This is the best time to go! No one will be there.”

He nodded. “Alright.”

I headed toward the door and he followed. “Aren’t you going to tell Louise where you’re going? Maybe she needs something.”

“She needs a good kick in the ass,” I mumbled. “Nah, don’t bother. I doubt she cares what we’re doing anyway.”

“Well, true.” He slung an arm over my shoulder. “Come on. I know what will make you feel better. Let’s buy a shitload of junk food
and drinks, and then come back and stay up all night watching dumb movies like Spaceballs and Monty Python.”

  “So, basically, nothing any different?”

He pretended to rub his chin thoughtfully. “Hmmm… I guess not.”

I chuckled, and he whooped. “See! Laughter! The best medicine. Don’t you feel better already?”

“A little.” I put my arm around his shoulder. “But I’ll feel a lot better when I’ve got some Reese cups and Twinkies…”

“That’s my girl,” he said. He tried to kiss my cheek again, but I ducked it and got him in a headlock. Laughing, we wrestled around in the driveway for a few minutes. I did already feel better… I didn’t even care if anyone was watching. Let them think what they wanted.

“Get in the car, blondie,” I said, out of breath, after Taylor managed to wrench away from me.

“Give up already?”

“Nah… I just didn’t you to mess up your precious hair…” I leaped into the car before he could attack again.

“You’ll regret that later,” he said as he got in the passenger side.

“I doubt it.” I smirked at him, putting the car in gear and backing down the driveway. He didn’t reply. He was staring intently at the front of our house.

“What?” I asked.

“She’s watching us,” he said, a cross between confusion and wonder in his voice. "I can see her in the window."

I snorted. “So?”

He shrugged. “I dunno. Just kind of odd, that’s all.”

“Yeah,” I said with a grin. “You are pretty odd.”

He rolled his eyes. “Just shut up and drive.”

“As you wish, your highness.” I stomped on the gas. He turned the radio up, and we settled in for the short ride.