Forty Six: Take Me Back to Tulsa

Two days later
Taylor


“I’m bored.”

No response. I sighed, flipping myself over onto my stomach. I rested my head against the couch cushion. Louise sat across the room, trying her damnedest to ignore me.

“Hey. Louise. I’m bored.”

Louise looked up at me over the top of her magazine. “Um, OK.” She turned her eyes back to the article she was reading.

“Louise,” I whined.

“Well, what do you want me to do about it? I’m relaxing here. Go harass Allison for awhile.” She set the magazine down for a minute. “Hey, where is she? I haven’t heard a thing out of her in a long time. She’s not still studying, is she?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. Probably.”

“Well, why don’t you go see?”

I gave her a withering look. “The last time I interrupted her studying, she almost mauled me for breaking her concentration. I’m not willing to test her a second time.”

“Well, it was understandable that time. That chemistry class is a killer.”

“You should have warned me!” I scowled.

She grinned. “Nah. Too fun to watch.” She tossed the magazine aside. “Here, I’ll come with you. Let’s see what she’s doing. Maybe we can go get ice cream or something.”

My stomach rumbled. “Ice cream…. Sounds damn good right now.” I stood and followed her into the foyer.

“She’s in the study,” Louise whispered back to me as we reached the second set of stairs. “The light’s on.”

“Studying…. In the study,” I said. “Oh, the irony.”

“Shut up.”

We crept up the stairs until we could see in the doorway. Allison sat at the desk, her eyes intent on her desk and its contents. She was on the phone as well. I strained to hear her, but the air conditioning unit had kicked on and muffled her soft voice.

“I can’t hear what she’s saying.”

“Me either.” Louise craned her neck out. “But if she’s on the phone, then she can’t be studying too hard. Go in there.”

“You go in there!”

She cursed under her breath, but complied. Standing up, she ran up the rest of the stairs and into the room. I crawled further up the stairs until I could see all the action.

“Hey, what are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to be studying?” asked Louise cheerfully.

Allison looked startled, nearly dropping the phone receiver. “Nothing,” she said sharply.

“Oh, really?”

“Hold on,” she muttered into the receiver. “Yes, really. Do you need something?”

“No need to get huffy. Taylor and I were wanting some ice cream. Wanna come with us?”

She remained silent for a minute, thinking. “Well, I can’t come with you…. I’ve really got too much to do… but could you bring me something back?”

“I suppose. What do you want?”

“Um…. Strawberry sundae. Whipped cream, and lots of it.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Louise started to turn to leave.

Allison laughed, the first real smile we’d seen so far. “Tell Taylor that he’s not fooling anyone, I can see him over there lurking in the shadows.”

“Dammit!” I stood up and walked into the room.

“Nice try, blondie.” She grinned.

“Who are you on the phone with?” I asked.

“None of your business.”

“Well,” I said indignantly. “I see we’re not wanted here. Come on, Louise. Let’s go.”

Louise laughed. “We’ll be back in thirty minutes.”

“OK. Be careful.”

We trooped back down the stairs. Louise grabbed her keys and purse, and much debate over where exactly to go, we were on our way.

“Turn up the radio,” I demanded as we cruised down the highway.

“Demanding, aren’t we?” She leaned over and flipped up the volume. Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’ flooded the car. I softly sang along, tapping my fingers lightly against the door.

“So,” Louise said, glancing over at me. “Things going better?”

“Much better,” I replied.

She smiled. “I should have guessed that by your little episode the other night. But good. I was worried for awhile.”

“Me, too.”

We rode in silence a little while longer, letting the music fill the void. The car drew closer to the city, I could see the lights twinkling in the distance.

“So…” she began again, hesitantly. “Um, how are you? I mean, really?”

I took a long deep breath and stared mindlessly at the dark countryside that swished past us. “Well, I’m alright. I wouldn’t say good, but alright.” I shrugged. “I mean, I’m not going to say it doesn’t bother me to listen to her on the phone with him, or to watch them leave together… well, I try not to imagine much more than that, either.” I grimaced. “But I’m not angry. I can’t even be angry with him, you know? Because he seems like such a nice guy… I’m just…. Wistful. Yeah, that’s a good word.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “That’s definitely understandable.”

“Yeah.” I resumed my stares out the window. “But I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It will probably just depress me.”

Louise chuckled. “Sorry. Just wanted to make sure you were really alright. I know how you can be sometimes.”

“How I can be? You mean intelligent, charming, and devastatingly handsome?” I gave her a patented Taylor Hanson look. The one that usually sent teenage girls into screams of delight.

Louise snorted. What a disappointment.

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s what I meant, Taylor.” She shook her head.

We pulled up to Baskin Robbins. “Now what was it you wanted?” she asked, digging around in her purse for money.

“One of those mocha things. I can’t remember what exactly it’s called. You’ll know what I’m talking about.”

She rolled her eyes as she got out of the car. “Whatever. If I get the wrong thing, I don’t want to hear any whining from you. Now stay here, I’ll be back in a second.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I slouched down in the seat, watching her through the glass door of the ice cream parlor. There was a line of people in front of her.  I yawned, stretching my arms out in front of me, knowing it would be a few minutes. She’d left the keys in the ignition, so I leaned over and turned it until the radio came back on.

Several girlish giggles startled me, and I jerked my head around, looking for the source. Three girls were walking past the car toward the parlor. Two blondes and a brunette, all three wearing low, tight jeans and belly-baring shirts. They pranced up to the door, still giggling about something. Whew. For a minute there… talk about déjà vu.

The brunette glanced behind her before she entered the building, and I got a perfect view of her face. I nearly choked. It was our neighbor, Jessica. Allison and Louise’s favorite person. Her eyes darted about, and suddenly it seemed that she was looking right into the car and at me. I remained stock-still, afraid to move. Was she looking at me, or at something else? I didn’t know, and she swiftly turned and followed her friends.

“Weird,” I mumbled, straightening up and running a hand over my hair. I leaned over, trying to get a better view of what was going on inside. Louise had noticed the newcomers and looked none too happy to see them. Luckily, she was handed three items, and I had to laugh out loud when she jetted for the door.

“Oh, God, kill me now,” Louise grumbled as she practically leaped into the car. “Let’s get the hell out of here before that bitch tries to come over here and talk to me. Here, hold this.” She handed me my Mocha Chill and Allison’s sundae.

“Oh, you mean Jessica?”

“Yeah. And her little clones. How do you know her?”

“Well… I can’t exactly say we’ve met, but I’ve been acquainted with her.” I sucked on my straw. “And I can’t believe you’re not friends. You have so many interests in common.” I snickered.

“Yeah? Like what?”

“Um…. Giggling and hair-tossing?”

“If I didn’t have to drive this thing, I’d slap you right now.”

I let out a peal of laughter. “Oh, Louise. Calm down, I was only joking.” I eyed Allison’s sundae. “Man, this looks good. I should’ve gotten one of these.”

“You better not bother that. You know better than to mess with her food.”

“Just one bite won’t hurt…”

“Taylor,” she warned.

“Alright, alright.” I settled back in my seat.

We arrived at the house a few minutes later. Allison’s sundae had managed to make it there intact, so I carried it inside and set it down on the table.

“Hey,” I shouted up the stairs. “We’re back. Come get your ice cream.”

“Be down in a minute,” she yelled back.

I sat down at the table and waited for her. Louise sat across from me. “So, Taylor. What kind of cake do you want?”

“Cake?”

“Yeah. You’ve got a birthday coming up soon. Choose a cake. It’s tradition.”

“Who’s gonna be making this cake?” I asked suspiciously.

She laughed. “Me, of course.”

I relaxed. “Good.”

A few minutes later Allison came jogging down the steps. She smiled brightly as she entered the kitchen. “Mmmm… strawberries.”

“Can I have a bite?” I asked.

“You had your own!” she exclaimed.

“Please?”

“Okay, okay… just one bite.” I gleefully grabbed the spoon from her.

“We were just discussing Taylor’s upcoming birthday cake,” Louise said.

“Oh, really?” Allison leaned back in her chair and smiled.

“Yep. How old are you gonna be? Twenty years old?” Louise whistled. “No longer a teenager.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, how sad. My carefree teenage days are gone.” I scratched my left knee. “Not that I ever really had any, but you know…”

“Well,” Allison interrupted me. “I know your birthday is still a week away, but I have something for you.”

“What?

She produced a plain white envelope from seemingly nowhere and tossed it on the counter in front of me, watching intently as I picked it up. Her face was carefully expressionless. “Go ahead, open it,” she said.

I picked up the envelope, tentatively opening the flap. I pulled out several white pieces of paper and a pamphlet of some sort. Confused, I looked over at her. “What the hell are these?”

“You tell me.”

I held up the papers and studied them. Various words jumped out at me. Double bed. Three nights. I looked at the pamphlet. Stay at the Luxurious Doubletree Inn! the front of it proclaimed.

“Wait a minute. These are hotel reservations,” I said slowly. “For all of us?”

“Yup.”

“Where are we going?”

“Taylor,” she sighed. “Look again.”

“OK,” I murmured, scanning the pamphlet. Another word jumped out at me this time. Actually, two words. Tulsa, Oklahoma.

TULSA?”

“You said you wanted to go home,” she said quietly. “Maybe this isn’t exactly what you had in mind, but at least you’ll get to go back, and you know, check up on everyone…. Or something like that…”

I gaped at her. “You’re taking me to Tulsa? Why? What about school? How are we going to get there? How much is this costing you? What--”

“Don’t worry about anything,” she interrupted me. “I can afford to miss a few days of school. I planned to drive, because catching a flight with you would be difficult, I imagine. I can get us to the city, and hopefully you can get us around the city.”

I stared at the papers in my hand. “How long of a drive is it?”

“About 18 hours.”

I remained silent, contemplating. Did I really want to go back? I had been saying for months now how much I missed home…. But did I really want to go back and learn the truth?

“Well, do you want to do it?” she asked quietly.

I looked up into her wide-open eyes. She was such an angel. An angel with an extremely foul mouth, but an angel nonetheless. Always looking out for me.

“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

She grinned and squeezed my shoulder. “Great. What about you, Louise?”

Louise leaned against the counter, a lazy smile on her face. She didn’t look fazed at all by the announcement, which didn’t surprise me in the least, the little sneak. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Gotta keep you two out of trouble, you know.”

“Well, that’s it then. We’ll leave early Sunday and come back Wednesday or Thursday. That should give us enough time to…. Look around.”

“Yeah,” I murmured. The fact that she made sure we would be back before Friday, which was my birthday, wasn’t lost on me.

“Think you remember how to get around?”

“Yeah. Yeah, it’ll come back to me when we get there.” I nervously wrung my hands, then pointed to the pamphlet. “Was that what you were doing earlier?”

“Yep. Confirming reservations.” She smiled. “Didn’t mean to be rude when you asked who I was talking to. I couldn’t exactly give it away.”

“Yeah.”

She grabbed the sundae from me and took several bites. “We need to pack tomorrow. Alex is gonna feed Chester, so that’s all taken care of. I’ve already told me professors that I’ll be gone…”

“So have I.” Louise smirked. I narrowed my eyes at her.

“So…. I’ll take the car in tomorrow and get the oil changed and all that junk. Anything else you can think of, Louise?”

“Not at the moment.”

“What about me? Why didn’t you ask me?” I demanded.

She sighed. “Can you think of anything, Taylor?”

“No,” I admitted.

“Alright then.” She finished off her ice cream and stood up. “I think we should all go get some rest. We’ve got a long day tomorrow, and an even longer one on Sunday.”