Forty: Promise

Taylor

Whatever the reason for the recent change in my life, I was eternally grateful for it. I used to spend my days in utter boredom, waiting anxiously for Alley to return home from class. Now, at least, I had two new distractions -- the keyboard Alley had bought me, which I practiced on every day while she was gone, and someone else to converse with. As much as I loved Alley's company, there were times when I wished for another opinion, or someone to talk to about her. Although Louise wasn't really home during the day all that much, on the days that she was, she was my entertainment.

And she was here today, so I took advantage of the situation. Alley wouldn’t be home for hours, so I basically followed Louise all around the house. After about an hour of this, I think she started to get annoyed.

“Don’t you have anything to do?” she finally asked, after I had followed her out to the garage, my hands stuffed in my pockets.

“No,” I admitted sheepishly.

“Well, why don’t you make yourself useful, then?” Louise turned and folded her arms tightly. "Earn your keep, as it were..."

I eyed her suspiciously. “Like how?”

“Like… Go collect the trash and put the bags in these bins here. I’ll take them out to the curb later.”

“Fine, fine… I guess I have to be the man around here.” I grinned at her as I grabbed one of the large black plastic bags and shook it open. “What would you two do without me?”

She rolled her eyes, but smiled. “I don’t know, Taylor," she said dryly. "How ever did we survive before you came along?”

“Especially Alley," I continued. "I’m surprised she didn’t starve to death. She can’t cook to save her life, poor thing...” I paused. “Did you cook for her all the time?”

Louise smirked at me. “As usual, you manage to steer the conversation in this direction.”

“What direction?” I felt my face growing hot.  “Just answer the question.” And don't ask me anything in return...

Yes, Taylor, occasionally I would cook for her, so she wouldn’t have to eat frozen pizzas or some shit like that.” Louise put down the bag she was holding and put her hands on her hips. “Now, I want you to answer something.”

I halted momentarily. Shit, shit, shit... “I need to go get the trash.” With that said, I whirled around and headed for the door.

“It can wait.” She grabbed my shirt and yanked me around so I faced her. “Look at me.”

I was staring at her feet, wondering how in the hell I'd ended up in this situation. “Why?” I mumbled.

“Taylor.” One word, spoken with such inflection that I dared not disobey. I knew Louise's major was education, and it was easy to see how she could become a teacher with that drill-sergeant commanding voice of hers... I finally looked up. She managed to pull off an expression that was both amused and irritated at the same time. Amazing, really...

“What?” I asked feebly. I had a sneaking suspicion of what was going to come next, and I was frantically trying to think of a response that would satisfy her.

Louise’s face softened a bit at my weak response, and she tugged on my sleeve, pulling me back into the house. “Come here.”

“Okay...” I followed her through the kitchen and into the living room. She pushed me down onto the couch, and then sat opposite from me and crossed her arms. Then, as the clock in the corner ticked away, she silently studied me for several minutes. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

“Is there a point to this?” I asked, trying in vain to sound nonchalant.

“Do you like her?” Her voice was flat, blunt.

There it was, the question I'd been expecting. Luckily, I was prepared. “Of course I like her,” I replied easily, sighing with impatience. “She’s like my best friend. Now, I have things to do...” With that settled, I stood up, with intentions of going to get the trash. And getting the hell away from this conversation.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Quick as lightning, she leaped up and blocked my way, shoving me back down into a sitting position. I gulped nervously.
“We’re settling this right now. Perhaps I should rephrase that.”

“I answered your question. Now let me go,” I demanded, horrified that my voice was beginning to rise hysterically.

Louise sighed, sitting down. “Taylor, please. I wasn't born yesterday.” She tapped her fingers together. “Tell me the truth. Does your ‘liking’ of Alley extend beyond friendship?”

I remained silent, letting my now blood-red face answer for me.

“Taylor?”

“Um…” I squeaked.

“The truth, Taylor.”

I saw no way out of the situation... Louise already knew what the answer was, she was evidently just getting some sort of kick out of watching me squirm. If I didn’t tell her the truth, she would harass me for the rest of my days here. I studied my knee intently, silently cursing her.

“Yes,” I finally whispered.

“What was that?” Louise cocked her head to the side.

I repeated my answer. "Yes..."

“Speak up, Taylor! Jesus.”

I looked up, scowled, and stared her directly in the eye. “Yes. YES! I love her. I LOVE HER.” I took a deep breath before leaning back, feeling like a huge weight had just been lifted from my chest. Oh, God, I just said it... the words I'd been so careful to avoid all year... "Are you happy now?"

Louise sat back with a huge, self-satisfied smile on her face. “I knew it. I knew it!”

“If you knew it, then why did you have to give me the third degree?” I muttered.

“Confirmation,” she replied easily. “So what are you going to do about it?”

“Do?” I repeated. “Nothing!"

She sighed. “That’s a shame.”

“Why?”

“Because. You all so obviously deserve each other.”

Personally, I thought so, too. “So?”

“So… now that you’ve realized that, it’s time we make her realize that.”

“No, no, no,” I said. “We’re not going down this road. If she likes me, that’s great.” Actually, that would be heavenly, if only it were true. “But I’m not getting involved in this stupid junior high stuff. She’s a smart girl. She ought to know by the way I act now how I feel about her.” I picked at a thread that had come loose from my shirt.

"By the way you act?" Louise repeated, incredulous. "You mean wrestling with her? Teasing her mercilessly? Wow, Taylor. Didn't you just say you didn't want to do 'junior high' stuff? Why don't you just go ahead and tell her she has cooties when she comes home? Yeah, that'll show her."

I scowled at her sarcastic tone. "Well, you figured it out, didn't you?"

"Because I know people, I can read them, Taylor... and I've been watching you. I knew it, I could tell the first night I met you..."

"How so?"

Her voice softened. "The way you looked at her... especially when she wasn't paying attention. I could just tell..."

"Oh," I mumbled.

“But... she’s pretty oblivious to things... I don’t know if you’ve noticed that... she's sort of a 'head in the clouds' type...”

“Yeah... but not that oblivious.” I smiled half-heartedly. “You don’t even know how close I’ve come to kissing her. She has to know.”

Louise laughed loudly. “Taylor… the other day she asked me if I liked you!”

I snorted. “Really?”

“Yeah... she's not used to this sort of thing, you know... it'll just take awhile for her to figure it all out..."

“Hmmm,” I said. My heart was racing. After so many months of keeping my feelings to myself, it was scary to know that they were on the loose. What if Alley did figure it out? What if she was disgusted? Or what if... what if she felt the same? Was that even possible?

“But seriously…” Louise interrupted my thoughts. “Taylor, you shouldn't wait.”

“What?”

“I mean… you need to tell her. Soon.”

“Louise,” I sighed, “I can’t do that.”

“And why the hell not?”

“Many reasons. For one, she’s too good of a friend to try that on. I don’t want to risk it... what would I do if she was totally disgusted?”

“That’s about the lamest thing I've ever heard, Taylor.”

“But it’s true!” I insisted. “I’d rather have her as a friend than not at all...”

“Bullshit.” She was on a roll, I could see, and there was no stopping her now. Alley had told me once that Louise should work for the FBI as an interrogator, and I could certainly see that now... “This is killing you, Taylor. I’ve only known you for three weeks and even I can see that. Now, if you don’t tell her how you feel, and something... happens... you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

“But--” I realized I couldn't think of a decent rebuttal. Damn her for making so much sense.

“Shut up," she said. "Now promise me you’re going to do it.”

“I can’t!” I held my hands up, gesticulating wildly. “Louise, I’m not even real.” She stopped talking, and I continued. “This isn’t me. The real me is back in Tulsa, lying in some hospital, waiting to wake up.”

“You have no idea how wrong you are… And I thought you were supposed to be a good Christian, Taylor.” Louise shook her head sadly. “As clichéd as it sounds, you should know that it’s the 'inside' that counts. If Alley’s harebrained theory is anywhere near correct, then you, the ‘inner’ Taylor Hanson, right here, right now, is all that matters.”

When I didn’t say anything, she spoke again. “Just because you don’t seem real to anyone else doesn’t mean you aren’t real to us.

I nodded slowly. Well, she had a point... Didn't that book Alley had, that Augustine whats-his-face wrote, say something about the soul being more important?

“So…” She said gently. “You promise?”

I swallowed hard, and rubbed my sweaty palms together. “Okay. I’ll do it.” I looked at her, and I was sure she could see the fear and uncertainty in my eyes. "Oh, God, I can't believe I just said that..."

She grinned, clapping her hands together sharply. Her enthusiasm at this whole ordeal was really odd, in my opinion. “That’s my boy.”