Forty Two: The Answer

Taylor

“I’ll do it,” I repeated, the implication of those words hitting me like a Dodge Ram truck.

“Yes,” Louise said emphatically, gripping my arm. Jeez, where did she learn to grip like that? It was like a manacle. I weakly tried to pull away.

“What have I gotten myself into?” I mumbled aloud, attempting to ignore the frantic fluttering of my heart. I felt sick. Worse than sick. Terrified.

“Well,” said Louise, who looked quite pleased with herself, damn her. “I think you should tell her as soon as she gets home.”

“WHAT?” I screeched, yanking my arm away. “No, no, no. I have to prepare.”

“No, no, no,” she mimicked. “If you think too much about it you’ll screw it up. Or say something stupid. Or both.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I said dryly. “But I think I can manage the criticism myself, thank you.”

“You’ll do it when she gets home.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

This was getting us nowhere. Louise was a reasonably intelligent girl. So why the hell wasn’t she getting it? “For the last time, NO.”

Her face hardened into a scowl. “For the last time… YOU WILL DO IT WHEN SHE GETS HOME.”

I shrank away from her. That face…. Wow. It could turn a man to stone. I fully expected several snakes to suddenly rise up and slither out of her hair.

“Uh….”

“Taylor, don’t argue with me. I’m trying to help you here. Listen to me. Better sooner than later, believe me. You shouldn’t waste time when it comes to this stuff. And truth be told, you should have told her a long time ago.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, sighing.

“Just how long has it been?” she asked.

“How long what?”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t play dumb with me. How long have you felt this way?”
“I don’t know,” I lied.

“Taylor--”

“Alright,” I said, exasperated. “I dunno, like, September or something. Well, I think that’s about when I started realizing it, anyway.”

“September?

“Yeah.”

“God, Taylor. You’re so selfish.”

“What?!”

“If you had told her this in September, you would have saved her a hell of a lot of heartache.”

“You don’t know that. It probably would have just sent her running in his direction anyway, just to get away from me.”

Louise was obviously getting impatient with me. “Whatever. Anyway, you have the chance today to fix all that. See, Taylor? You owe it to her to come clean.”

“You have really twisted reasoning, you know that?”

She ignored me. “OK, now, since you’re being a baby about it, let’s practice.”

“Practice?”

“Yeah. You’ve got about…” she glanced at the clock. “Two hours. Two hours before she gets home. So let me hear what you’re going to say to her.”

I felt my face flame. “Um, no… I don’t want to.”

“Why?” she demanded. “A minute ago, you were whining about having no preparation. Now you’re whining because I’m giving you a chance to prepare.”

“I have no idea what I’m going to say to her. I can’t exactly just say, ‘Hey, I love you. I have for a long time. Can I kiss you?’”

“Why not?”

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. “Because you just can’t!”

“It works for some people.”

“Well, not people like me.”

“What, not famous rock stars like you? I imagine that if you asked a girl if you could kiss her, you’d get a lot more than a vocal reply. Hey, I heard Gene Simmons just goes up to women and says ‘I think you’re beautiful, would you share my bed with me tonight?’”

“Well, I’m not like that,” I said darkly. “And she’s most definitely not a fuzzy-brained groupie. Besides, I’m not trying to sleep with her!”

She raised an eyebrow and smirked. “You’re not?”

“No! I mean, not that I wouldn’t, you know, well… dammit, you know what I mean. This isn’t about that.”

She shrugged. “Well, at any rate…Get right to the point. You need to be very clear with her. Ambiguity is bad. It just leads to confusion.”

“This is giving me a headache.”

“Not nearly has bad as the headache I’m going to give you if you don’t do this today.”

“Louise,” I whined, “I can’t do this. Not now. Not yet. Besides, I’m technically not even single… I have a girlfriend. Back home.”

“Yeah, I know that.” Louise nodded and pointed her finger at me. “And I knew you were going to try and use that as an excuse, too. But, listen, you’ve made it abundantly clear that she’s not what you want. And tell me something… you realize it’s been close to a year and a half since your accident happened. Do you really think that she’s sitting there beside you in the hospital, pining away? Is she that dedicated?”

I remained silent, realizing that the thought had never occurred to me before.

She continued. “What I’m saying is….  I suspect that unless she’s an absolute saint, she’s probably moved on by now, Taylor… not out of disrespect, or anything like that…. I imagine that even your family probably encouraged her to move on with her life…”

“Well,” I said, “considering that none of them really liked her anyway, you’re probably right.” I nodded for emphasis.

“See? Don’t feel bad, Taylor. This isn’t cheating.”

“I know.” I sighed, rubbing my face with my hands.

“Well, it seems to me like you’re out of excuses.” She scooted over toward me. “Now, pretend like I’m her. I’ve just come in the door, and I’m sitting down on the couch.”  She sat up, looking at me expectantly.

I eyed her. “Allison doesn’t sit like that.”

She rolled her eyes before slouching down and propping her feet up on the coffee table. “Jesus.”

“OK,” I said, clearing my throat. I felt really, really stupid. “Um, well, you know, I’ve been here a long time. Since July. You know, the first time I met you—when you woke up that morning, I thought you were…. Well, a little crazy. But after a little while, I realized that you were really cool. And--”

“Stop, stop,” Louise interrupted. “Taylor, what the hell are you doing? Insulting her?”

“I’m just trying to show how our relationship has developed!” I said defensively.

“Well, don’t. Not unless you want to stay single for the rest of your life. I swear…. Men!” she muttered. “Telling her that she’s ‘really cool’ isn’t going to send her heart aflutter.”

“Well, smartass, why don’t you tell me what to say?”

“That’s the best thing I’ve heard out of that mouth of yours today. However, I’m not going to. It needs to come from you, Taylor.” She sat back up, doing irritated gestures with her hands. “Just tell her how you feel without being too wordy. Think of it as writing a song! You ought to know about that stuff. Just be honest,  put it out there, and get the point across.” She shrugged. “And then wait for the answer.”

“The answer…” I repeated softly, staring at the wall. And what would that answer be? I wasn’t too sure I wanted to find out. Sometimes it was better not knowing. Hey, having hope was better than nothing at all.

“Yeah.” Patting my arm, Louise stood up.

“Where are you going?” I demanded, pulling her back down. “You have to help me!”

She shook her head. “I have helped you. I got you to admit it, didn’t I?”

“That doesn’t count!”

She smiled. “I have a new suggestion. No practice. Don’t even think about it. Then, just do it.”

“But--”

The sound of the door opening and slamming closed interrupted me, and I felt a cold rush of panic flow through my veins. Was that her? What was she doing home so early? She wasn’t supposed to be back until after eleven! From the look on Louise’s face, I could tell I wasn’t the only one with a few questions.

“Hey guy! How’s it going?” Allison’s grin was a mile wide. I smiled weakly back at her.

“What are you doing home so early?” demanded Louise. Before Allison could answer, Louise turned back to me, giving me a very pointed look. I felt my face drain of color as she spoke. “Well, it’s a good thing, anyway. Taylor needs to talk to you.”

I nearly choked.

“Really? Oh, OK. But listen, the best thing just happened to me! You’ll never believe it!” she exclaimed. The words spilled out quickly, as if her mouth was trying extra hard to keep up with her thought process.

“What?” Louise and I asked at the same time.

“Remember that guy I was telling you that was in my chemistry class? The one who looked so familiar? Well, I figured out who he was today!”

Um, OK. “Who?” I asked politely.

“I met him at the mall! He was the one that helped me with all those bags that one time, Taylor! Remember? When we went shopping the first time? His name was Alex!”

“Ooohhh….” I stuttered. Alex? Alex? I remembered that name well. The love-at-first-sight Alex? Oh, no. Oh, no, no, please, no….

“Yes! I know! And guess what? He asked me out!!”

Silence. I knew my mouth was gaping open. I felt numb… so close, yet so far away. From the corner of my eye, I saw Louise sitting with a similar expression on her face.

Allison looked confused, and I couldn’t blame her. She’d just given us what she thought was wonderful news, and instead we were acting like we’d just heard a good friend had passed away. After a minute, she shrugged, a bit shyly, and focused all her attention on me.

“Well, what did you want to talk about, Taylor?”

I couldn’t move. I managed a forced half-smile and studied the girl who stood before me. The girl who was so many things—intelligent, yet clueless; awkward, yet beautiful; independent, yet desperately in need of the right man to come sweep her off her feet. And as I studied her, with a low, sinking feeling in my heart, I began to see that as much as I would like to think it was possible, that man would never be me.

I wasn’t sure I could talk. “I….well…” I swallowed hard. Crazily enough, part of me felt like confessing everything, right there. Just to get it off my chest. Just to see her reaction. Luckily, Louise intervened before I could do any damage.

“Well, it’s nothing, really,” she jumped in. laughing nervously.

“Yeah,” I said eagerly, nodding. “Nothing.”

“You guys,” Allison said. “Stop being dumb.”

“Well,” I said, hesitating. I needed to think of a good lie… quick.

  “We were just talking about what we were going to eat tonight,” Louise blurted out, glancing over at me for confirmation. I nodded vigorously. “And then Taylor had the idea that you all could like, pick a recipe out of a cookbook to try, then go to the store, get the stuff, and then you two could come back and cook it together. You know, so you could learn to cook for yourself, finally.”

Damn, she was a good liar. She thought of all that off the top of her head? “Yeah. Um, dinner,” I agreed. “Absolutely.”

Allison looked as though she didn’t quite believe us, but didn’t want to bother fighting anymore. She smiled softly. “Well, yeah, OK. That’s fine…. Is that all?”

“Yes,” we answered in unison.

“Alright then….” She clapped her hands together nervously. “Well, um, I guess I’ll go upstairs. Kinda tired, you know… I might take a nap or something.”

“OK.”

She looked upset, which made me feel even guiltier. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but quickly closed it, shook her head, and turned to go upstairs. I watched her back retreat longingly.

“Well,” I said quietly when she was out of earshot. "I guess there's my answer."

“Taylor,” Louise said, “Taylor… I am so sorry.”

“Don’t be. You were right, you know. Too late. I had my chances.” I stretched out across the couch, resting my face against my hands. “Too late.”

“No,” she said, trying to cheer me up. “I mean, this isn’t the end of everything. She might end up having a terrible time with him, and never want to see him again. A date doesn’t mean they’re getting married, you know.”

“You don’t understand,” I said gently. “This is a sign. It just wasn’t meant to be.” She was right about one date not meaning marriage… But I distinctly remembered the way she had acted after meeting the guy that first time. It didn’t matter whether or not I believed in love at first sight, because she did. And as far as she was concerned, she was already in love with the guy. I had the feeling that this date would lead to another…. And another. And…. I didn’t want to think about it anymore.

“Taylor, you don’t know that!”

“Louise, if she felt anything for me, anything at all, then she would not have been that excited about a date.” I shrugged my shoulders, trying to be calm for her sake.

She shook her head vehemently. “No… you don’t understand. Don’t give up yet. Just wait it out and--”

“No,” I practically yelled, standing up. “You’re just not getting it!” I wanted nothing more than to be left alone. My heart was broken, and I needed time to myself to brood and mope. And maybe even cry a little. “Why do you care so much, anyway? You act like the world is just going to end if we’re not together!”

Now it was her turn to get irritated. “Excuse me for trying to help!”

I snorted. Standing up, I started to walk out of the room. She jumped up and grabbed my arm as I walked behind the couch, heading for the stairs.

“I’ll tell you why I care so much,” she said evenly. “I know you believe in fate, Taylor, so you have to understand. That girl upstairs was made for you, as you were made for her. You need each other. She doesn’t have anyone else, Taylor, besides me, and you. And as much as I love the girl, I can’t take care of her forever. One of these days I planned to get married.” She paused for a moment to let the words sink in. “Which means I’ll be moving out. Which means she’ll probably still be here. Alone.”

I didn’t answer for a minute, staring hard at her. “Well, she won’t be alone,” I said brusquely, not bothering to hide my tears this time. “Because even when I’m gone, he'll still be here.” Turning abruptly, I stormed out of the room.