Chapter 51: Coffee Shop

Alley

Obviously, I’d never seen Taylor’s brothers in person. My only images of them came from internet pictures and the music videos Taylor made me watch on occasion. In those pictures, they were fresh-faced, a bit awkward, and so young and carefree. The two men who had just walked into Gypsy’s looked mature, although a bit haggard, their faces full of worry beyond their years. But their resemblance to Taylor was unmistakable.

Isaac and Zac chose a table and settled themselves in. I knew my mouth was agape, and it was only a matter of time before the two glanced over and noticed a psychotic-looking blond girl staring at them. Not that they weren’t used to it, but I’m sure they didn’t appreciate that sort of thing. Next to me, Taylor was tense, his jaw set, every muscle in his body taut. His blue eyes were wide, filled with some emotion I couldn’t quite name. I wanted to reach out and touch him, reassure him in some way, but he looked so vulnerable at that moment that I feared he would break if I pressed too hard.

Louise recovered from her shock enough to speak. “Well, things in here just got more interesting,” she murmured.

“I’d say,” I whispered.

Taylor was still silent. I was beginning to get worried. I thought frantically of something to say, anything, that would break the tension and maybe shake him back to reality. Across the room, at their table, the brothers examined their menus, quietly talking to each other. Zac set his down, apparently having made his decision, and stretched back in the chair, his arms above his head. His shirt, which was already quite snug to begin with, stretched even tighter across his chest. His broad chest. Jesus, I thought. He’s such a little boy in all those pictures...

“Wow, Zac is huge,” I said, more to myself than the others. “Look at that chest. How old is he?” Perhaps not the best time to start cracking jokes about robbing the cradle, but I was desperate for a distraction.

At that, Taylor snapped back quickly. “What?” he hissed, looking almost angry.

I hesitantly placed a hand on his arm. “Calm down,” I whispered. “But I was just used to seeing pictures of you guys when you were younger. He was so little then.”

Taylor calmed considerably at that, apparently relieved that I wasn’t developing a crush on his baby brother. “He’s seventeen,” he muttered.

“Seventeen?” I whistled. “Wow.”

“Yeah,” he said darkly.

“Jailbait,” I mumbled.

“Allison,” Louise hissed. “Enough.

Taylor started to jump up. “I’m going over there,” he announced. Louise and I exchanged a quick glance.

“Maybe you should just sit here awhile and calm down,” I offered, gently taking his arm and pulling him back into a sitting position. “I don’t want you to do anything rash.”

“You don’t want me to do anything rash? If that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black...”

“Just sit down for a moment.” He obeyed, and I scooted closer to him. “Let’s just watch for now.”

He didn’t answer, but glowered at me with those icy, hard eyes. Eventually we both turned and watched the two brothers, who surprisingly weren’t garnering a lot of attention from the other patrons. But, then again, Taylor had mentioned that they were regulars, so I figured most people had grown used to the sight of them. Except for us, of course.

“Let me go over there. I’ll just sit next to them and not say a word. Not touch anything. I just want to be with them, just for a minute, please…” Taylor pleaded. I opened my mouth to argue, but I could tell by his expression that it was useless. He was going to get his way no matter what it took.

“Alright,” I said with a sigh. “Louise?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, Al. This is your call.”

“Actually, it’s my call,” Taylor said, suddenly full of macho bravado. “And I’m going over there.” And with that declaration, he stood up and shakily approached his brothers. Louise and I followed him with our eyes, trying vainly not to pointedly stare any more at his brothers.

Taylor walked over and stood uncertainly in front of their table, watching them intently, his head cocked slightly to the right, hands clasped behind his back. We were too far away to hear what Ike and Zac were talking about, but it must have been amusing on some level, because Taylor was smiling. His face was lighter than I’d seen it in months, and I would have given anything at that moment, anything, to make him normal again.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before that happened. And before he was out of my life altogether.  I blinked, hard.

It was nearly 30 minutes later before Taylor finally left his brothers’ table. He walked back over to us, shoulders drooping and face drawn. I looked up at him, not sure what to say.

“I… I’m going to go outside for a bit. I need some fresh air,” he mumbled. With that, he swiftly turned and flitted out the door before we could see the tears in his eyes. Or so he thought.

I started to get up and go after him but Louise grabbed my arm. “I’ll go,” she said.

I furrowed my brow. “Huh? Why?”

“Because. I can handle this. I don’t need you getting all emotional, too, that’s not going to help matters. Just stay here. I’ll be back in a minute.”

I scowled. “Whatever.”

She gave me a small half-smile and went after Taylor. I sat back on the couch, quietly brooding and watching Taylor’s brothers with a careful and inconspicuous eye. I wished I could hear what they were saying.

The bathroom was only a few yards behind their table. I eyed it, ideas forming in my head. I could simply pretend to go use the restroom… walk slowly, try to overhear their conversation. Or maybe I could even hear it if I was inside the bathroom! I sat up straighter, carefully surveying the room. Things seemed pretty calm. No one was staring. I decided to make my move.

I stood up, carefully smoothing out the front of my shirt. I slowly but purposefully walked toward their table, averting my eyes so that I wasn’t looking directly at them. Instead I nonchalantly observed the pictures and décor on the walls. Unfortunately, my peripheral vision has never been the best in the world.

One minute I was admiring a bright green, leafy fern hanging from the ceiling, the next, I was in the floor. In the muddied moments that followed, I heard several bands followed by a loud crash as well as hushed gasps and even a few titters. I was lying on my side on the floor, staring at the tile. I sat there a moment, trying valiantly to collect my thoughts.

“Ma’am? Are you okay? Ma’am?”

Ma’am? What, had I suddenly turned 40 in the past few minutes or something? Whatever happened to Miss? I wasn’t that old…. “I’m fine,” I muttered.

“Are you sure? Here, let me help you up.” The gentle, masculine voice was soothing.

“I’m alright,” I insisted, climbing to my feet and shaking my hair from my eyes. Isaac Hanson gazed back at me. I choked.

He smiled, obviously trying to hold back laughter. “You’re sure.”

“Of course,” I managed to spit out. “Happens all the time. You know, bad equilibrium.” I stopped, realizing that I was making no sense whatsoever. So much for being inconspicuous.

“Alright. If you’re sure…” Behind Isaac, Zac was studying me with a bemused expression.

I nodded silently. The brothers turned to sit back down at their table. I suddenly thought of Taylor, standing next to them only moments before, looking so happy. “Wait,” I said haltingly. 

They both turned. Isaac’s face was open and questioning, Zac had one eyebrow suspiciously raised.

“I… well,” I said, not sure what in the world I was trying to tell them. “Your brother. I’m so sorry about your brother.”

Zac’s expression changed to one of stone. I winced. He’d heard all before, I was certain, and he was no fool. Isaac’s face fell for a moment, but he quickly recovered and gave the compulsory response. “Well, thank you.”

“I… I mean… I’m sorry to bring it up, I know it hurts. But I was just wondering…” I trailed off for a moment, and then the idea hit me. “I have something for you. For all of you. I have it with me, in my car. I made it. Can I give it to you?”

They were silent for a long while. Finally, Zac spoke. “What is it?”

I swallowed. “A painting.”

He sighed and looked over at Isaac. Isaac slowly nodded. “Alright. We were just getting ready to leave, anyway.”

They followed me out to my car. I walked briskly across the parking lot; Taylor and Louise were nowhere to be seen. I wondered about that briefly, but decided that was another worry for a later time. We reached the car and I opened the trunk. As I put the keys back in my pocket, I noticed my hands were shaking. Isaac and Zac were talking quietly.

“Mom called the hospital earlier… they were saying some freak was running around, looking for Taylor… security couldn’t catch her,” Zac was saying in a barely audible voice. I stiffened, hoping that neither of them noticed. Or that neither of them had a description of the “freak”.

Isaac snorted. “First time in a while that’s happened. God, I wish people would just leave it alone…”

The painting had been strategically hidden in a shelf-like part of the trunk, next to the tire, and covered with a blanket. I pulled it out, gently wiped off the dirt, and turned to hand it to Isaac. He looked surprised.

“Oh, wow…. Oh, this is really good,” he said in a hushed voice, taking it from my hands and holding it up. “You said you did this?” He gently ran his fingers over the gold frame.

I suddenly felt very shy. “Yeah.”

Zac peered over Isaac’s shoulder and his expression softened. “Wow, it looks just like him. Very realistic…” He looked up at me, the anger gone from his face.

I shrugged. “I… I like to paint. And I just thought…. I don’t know. I made it and I thought you all would like to have it.”

Isaac stared at me. “You came to Tulsa to give this to us?”

“Well, no…” I wasn’t sure how to answer that one. “I came to visit a friend. I just had it with me because I just got it done… and when I saw you all in the coffee shop…. I thought you should have it.” I smiled weakly. “And when Taylor wakes up, I want him to have it.”

They both smiled softly at my last statement. “Yeah,” Isaac said absentmindedly. “Well, thank you, uh…. I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“Allison,” I said. “Allison Krzyzewski.”

“Allison,” he repeated. “Thank you, Allison.”

“You’re welcome,” I said shyly. “So you’ll give it to him?”

He nodded. “Of course.”

Zac was staring at the ground. “Hey, Ike, we gotta go,” he mumbled after a minute. “Come on.”

Isaac bowed slightly at me. “If you’ll excuse us, Allison, we have to be somewhere. It was nice meeting you. And thank you. I mean that.”

I shrugged it off. “You, too. I’m just going to have some more coffee.” I walked back toward the shop, waving at them before I walked back in through the doors. Once inside, I resumed my place on the couch. Taylor and Louise were still gone. I sank back into the cushions, staring at the table and trying to absorb what had just happened.

“Miss? Would you like some coffee?” A waiter appeared, pen and paper in hand.

“Yes, please,” I said distractedly. “Love some.”

“Me, too, please,” said a voice behind me. I looked back to see Louise standing there, Taylor by her side and looking considerably calmer than before. The waiter nodded and disappeared.

“Sorry we were gone so long,” Louise whispered as they sat down next to me. I opened my mouth to tell her that I hadn’t even noticed, realizing that they had missed the whole fiasco meeting between his brothers and me. But something stopped me. Instead, I smiled and leaned over her to squeeze Taylor’s knee.

“That’s alright,” I said.

She glanced over at the table that had been occupied by Isaac and Zac. “So, did they leave?”

I nodded. “Yeah, they left.” I said no more, instead sitting quietly, lost in my own thoughts.