Fifty Three: Rollerskating

Alley

My day wasn’t going quite as I planned.

We were in Beyond the Wall, a store that sold posters. Alex milled about, looking for some Jimi Hendrix poster he’d been wanting forever.  I checked my watch, rolling my eyes at the time. 6:07. I was bored out of my mind.

“Come on,” I said impatiently. “We need to get back to the restaurant. It’s been like 45 minutes. They’re probably calling our name as we speak.”

“Just a second,” he said cheerfully. “I found it.” I watched as he slid the poster out of its case and took it up to the register. He chatted animatedly with the clerk while paying. I crossed my arms and stared at the back of his head. At this rate, we’d never get to the restaurant. And I’d never get home. I mean, it was Taylor’s birthday, after all – I wanted to get home to spend some time with the guy. He was probably depressed, sitting home alone.

“I shouldn’t have even gone out tonight,” I told a rack holding some frames. I was sure other people were staring, but I really didn’t care. And I wouldn’t have gone out, if Alex hadn’t been so damn persuasive. ‘I haven’t seen you in two weeks,’ he’d complained over and over.  Finally I’d given in, but not without regret.

“What’s that?” Alex asked, walking up to me with a wide smile. He held the poster protectively under his arm. “Did you say something?”

“Nah,” I said. “Just thinking out loud. Let’s go.”

“You’re in a hurry tonight.”

“Just hungry, I guess. I have a headache. I haven’t eaten all day.”

We left the shop and walked back downtown to DeSha’s. Though it was almost spring, the air was chilly and still.  I shivered slightly and folded my arms even tighter across my chest. Alex glanced over; I could practically feel his gentlemanly smile as he took off his jacket and draped it over my shoulders. He wrapped one arm around me, pulling me close.

“Is that better?” he asked. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Only a month ago, I would have giggled like a lovesick schoolgirl and snuggled back into his arms. Now… Now, I was just annoyed. And I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why.

“Yeah. Fine,” I answered shortly. We reached the restaurant, and waited for a short time before being seated.

Dinner was delicious, as usual, and expensive.  I leaned back in my chair after we’d finished, groaning to myself. We’d ordered appetizers, soup, salad, entrees, and desserts.  I was feeling nearly nauseous, and whether it was because of the outrageous amount of food I’d put down or the equally outrageous bill we were about to receive, I wasn’t sure. I watched warily as the waitress tossed the bill down in the center of the table. I leaned over to pick it up, but Alex waved me away.

“I got it,” he said.

I suddenly felt insulted. “What? No, let me get it.”

“No, my treat,” he insisted. “I asked you to come eat with me. You’re my guest. I’ll pay.”

I opened my mouth to argue, then gave up. What is with me tonight?

Alex paid, and we trekked back out to his car. I fastened my seatbelt, letting my head roll back against the seat as he turned the ignition. I feigned interest in the downtown scene (which wasn’t much to speak of) as we drove, hoping to avoid conversation. Buildings began to blur together as I zoned out, all thoughts on Taylor. Ten minutes had passed before I realized we were not heading back towards my house, but to the other side of town.

“Hey,” I said suddenly. “Where’re we going?”

Alex grinned at me, obviously pleased with whatever it was he was about to say. “Well, I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise?” I asked warily.

“Yeah. You’ll see.”

We drove a few more minutes, and he slowed down, turning left into a parking lot. I looked up at the building we were approaching.

“Champs? Skating?”

He parked and practically leaped out of the car. “Come on! You told me you were a skating fiend when you were a kid. Let’s see what you got. I got all the crew together here to skate.” He laughed. “It’ll be middle school all over again.”

Dammit. Any other day, I would have jumped at the chance to try skating again. Apparently Alex had actually been listening whenever I reminisced about going to the rink and socializing back in the day.  But tonight? Not to mention “the crew” was his group of friends – most of them were nice enough people, I supposed, but I didn’t really know them that well yet. I opened my mouth to protest this turn of events but Alex was already well out of the car and high-fiving some of his friends.

I grudgingly got out of the car, scanning my brain for some sort of reasonable excuse to leave. “I don’t have any skates,” I said.

His friends all laughed. “That’s why you rent them,” said one girl, a petite brunette with hair to die for. I couldn’t remember her name, but I wistfully stared at her smooth brown locks, self-consciously reaching up to tame my impulsive curls.

“I….” I racked my brain. “I haven’t skated in years. What if I fall down? I don’t have kneepads or anything. Why don’t we come back another time, and I’ll be prepared.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “You’ll be prepared? With what? Are you going to strap a pillow to your butt and a helmet on your head?” he teased. “Come on, Al! You’ll be fine! I thought you would enjoy this. I’ve been planning it for weeks.”

Dammit, he had to go and make me feel guilty. I’d been bitchy all evening and he had suffered it without so much as a wince. Looking from face to face, I realized that if I backed out now, I would look like one of those sniveling, controlling girlfriends you always see in the movies. I scuffed a shoe against the ground and sighed. “Well….”

He took my hand and kissed it. “Well, if you really don’t feel like it, we can wait. I was just really wanting this to be a surprise.”

Why does he have to be so perfect and generous? I thought, feeling like scum.  “Okay,” I relented. “Let’s do it.”

He grinned and wiggled an eyebrow at me. “Great! And maybe you’ll feel better once we get going.”

Somehow I doubted that.

                                                                                        ******

An hour later, my fears were proved correct. I was tired and worried and getting crankier by the minute. Meanwhile, Alex and his friends were whooping it up and having a grand ol’ time. To his credit, Alex was trying everything in his power to get me to have a good time, but I resisted wholeheartedly. After awhile, even his famed patience was began to run a little thin.

“Allison,” he said, exasperated, “You’re not even trying to have a good time.”

I stood against the rail on my skates, gripping the cold metal tightly. I refused to move from my position, where I watched the rest of the skaters laughing and shouting as they skated by. “I told you,” I said. “I have a headache. It hasn’t gone away.”

“Do you want some Tylenol? I’m sure one of those girls has something--”

“No,” I said abruptly. “I just need to sleep.”

“Well, earlier, you said you just needed to eat,” he said crossly.

I folded my arms over my chest and glared at him. “Well, forgive me if I can’t control all of my body’s ailings with stuffed mushrooms and New York Strip. Besides, it’s loud, it’s crowded, I feel dizzy, and I fell on my ass earlier and now it’s really sore.”

He rubbed his face in his hands for a moment before replying. “Okay. I’m sorry, Alley. We’ll go here in a minute. Just last another few minutes or so, let me tell everyone we’re going, and we’ll leave. Alright?”

“Okay,” I mumbled. At that moment, one of his guy friends, possibly named David, skated by with a huge, mischievous grin on his face. I narrowed my eyes. David was tall, sandy-haired and blue-eyed, with perfect tan skin and an unbelievable set of arms. He was also a jerk, in my opinion. I knew immediately that he was up to something that I was not going to like.

“Come with me to the jukebox,” he shouted at Alex. “I’m gonna pump up some old-school jams.” He snickered.

Alex gave me a terse smile. “Be right back,” he said. I didn’t reply. The two of them skated over and began examining the choices. After a few minutes, David hooted with laughter and began digging in his pockets for change. Alex, laughing as well, quickly produced several quarters and inserted them. Curiosity piqued, I scooted closer, craning my neck to see what albums they were looking at. Hmmm. I could see a solid black CD with a thunderbolt… AC/DC, surely… the one below it looked like that Tom Petty Greatest Hits album… ugh, and N*Sync’s Celebrity album below that. I edged even closer as the previous song, some Shania Twain tune, faded out. Alex and David backed away from the jukebox, and another disc caught my eye. A bright orange one, with a now-familiar silver logo…

The guitar started up, and a soft, childlike voice crooned softly over it. “Oooh…”

Taylor’s
soft, childlike voice. I felt my face flush with anger as Alex’s friends gathered around and began laughing hysterically. I clenched my hands into fists and stared at the floor.

“I can’t believe they still have this shit in the jukebox!” shouted David. “How lame is that? Whatever happened to these pussies, anyway? Their record company drop them or something?”

“They made other albums,” I said quietly, though no one heard. “Good ones.”

“Probably!” said Alex, still laughing. I turned towards him, shocked. Why was he laughing? Why were they all laughing?

“Man, he sounds like a girl. What a wuss.”

“He looked like one too!”

“They all did! What was his name, the singer? Tad, or Thomas, or something?”

I couldn’t take it. I looked at all of their mocking, smirking faces and snapped. “His name is Taylor, he does not have long hair or look like a girl anymore, his voice has deepened, and he and his brothers became a respectable band who actually write their own songs and play their own instruments!” I shouted. “Just because you don’t like their music doesn’t mean you have to be so mean.

‘The crew’ stared at me. “Jeez,” said David. “Excuse us for having a little fun.”

“A little fun?” I hissed. “Well, do you think it’s fun that Taylor, this boy you’re making fun of, is in a coma? That he was in an accident and he’s been unconscious for almost a year?”

David finally looked a little uncomfortable, and I felt a small tug of satisfaction. “Whatever,” he mumbled, turning around to skate off. “I didn’t know he was your hero.”

I opened my mouth to fire off another scathing reply, but Alex grabbed my arm. “Allison,” he murmured as the crowd around us uneasily dispersed, “Calm down.”

I decided that I had to get the hell out of that rink before I hurt someone. I also realized that I had suddenly become completely irrational and inconsolable. “Take me home,” I growled.

“We’re going!” Alex said. “Let’s say our goodbyes to everyone and--”

“Well they’re all right here! Let’s say goodbye and get the fuck out of here!” I shouted.

He looked horrified. “Allison,” he said in a low voice. “What is your problem?”

“What is YOUR problem? You know that’s a horrible thing to say about a person! Especially when they’re hurt!”

He looked at me with disbelief. It occurred to me that he had yet to witness a full-on temperamental Alley-attack, unlike Taylor, who weathered them on a regular basis. “And what do you care? You don’t know the guy!”

“What if I DID?” I challenged. “What if he was my best friend? Yep, that’s right, what if *I*, self-proclaimed rock goddess, became best friends with the skinny middle kid in Hanson? Would you make fun of him then? Would you laugh at his misfortunes then?” I was getting out of control, I knew, but once the ball started rolling, it was impossible to stop. “WELL!??!”

“That’s absurd,” he said. “And you need to calm down.”

“Take me home. Right. Now.”

“Just wait a--”

“Forget it,” I said suddenly. I turned on my skates and rolled furiously towards the counter. “I’ll get a cab,” I shouted behind me as I skated away. I got to the counter and yanked the skates off my feet. “I need my shoes back,” I told the girl behind the counter.
“Sketcher sandals, they’re black with a white stripe.”

“Come back here!” Alex said as the song thankfully ended. I was near tears, so flustered and upset that I could barely contain them. I ignored him and took my shoes and marched towards the door. I pulled out my cell phone and furiously dialed the cab company.

I turned to Alex before I went out the door. “Don’t bother,” I said icily. “I’m calling a cab. I need to get out of here before I blow up. Sorry I ruined your evening.”

“I’ll take you home. Just… what are you doing? What is wrong with you? You’ve been acting weird all night and then you freak out about that little Hanson kid and--”

“He’s not a kid!” I shouted back at him. “You don’t even know him! I can’t believe you would condone saying such horrible things about another human being!”

“Oh, and I suppose YOU know him?” he shouted back, patience gone. But by that time, I was already out the door and on the phone with Jerry’s Taxi Service. Thankfully, Alex didn’t follow outside. Ten minutes later, I was in a cab heading for home.

The ride back to my house was short and silent. I was grateful the cabbie didn’t try to engage me in conversation, because I wasn’t sure I could complete a coherent sentence without bursting into tears. Maybe Alex had a point. What was my problem? I mean, I made fun of Taylor all the time. I teased him about being girly, about sounding girly, about his fashion sense, about basically anything I could think of. And Alex hadn’t even really said anything – David had done all the talking. If I hadn’t known Taylor, I would have laughed right along with them.

But Taylor is your friend.
True, I thought. But that didn’t warrant a screaming fit in the middle of the skating rink at Alex and all his friends. And it wasn’t just that – I’d been resentful of Alex all evening before we even went skating. Actually, I’d been somewhat avoiding him for weeks. He was a great guy and treated me like gold – so what was the problem? Confused and unsettled, I forced myself to stop harping on it.

When we arrived at the house, the outside lights were blazing and I could see the kitchen lights on inside. The garage door was open, with two cars inside – Louise was home. I shuffled up the sidewalk to the door, trying to compose myself before entering. I raised my hand to turn the knob, but the door suddenly jerked open and Louise stood there with a huge grin on her face. She was wearing a party hat on her head and there was cake smeared across her cheek.

“There you are! We wanted to wait on you but we got so hungry we decided to go ahead and start. We thought you’d be home by now! Taylor has been making a mess in the kitchen so you better hurry and get some cake before he destroys it and--” she stopped short, noticing my trembling lips. “What’s wrong?”

“Noth-nothing,” I stuttered. I didn’t want to get into it. I was feeling entirely too unsteady and emotional to start explaining things. I walked in and threw down my stuff. “So,” I said, shakily, “where’s this cake you’re talking about?”

Louise silently shut the door behind me as Taylor appeared in the hallway. He had cake in his hair, and carried a piece on a plate in his hand. He hesitated before speaking. “Hey.”

“Hi,” I said quietly. Wow, I thought. Way to drag down the party, Allison.

He smiled uncertainly, eyes concerned, and held out the plate. “We saved you some. A lot, actually. I know how much you like cake.”

I laughed softly. “Thanks, “ I said, taking the plate from his hand and digging in. We all retreated into the kitchen. Louise sat at the kitchen table, while I remained standing and robotically chewed my food. “It’s good,” I mumbled through a mouthful of icing. “As always, Louise.”

“Allison,” she said gently. “What’s wrong?”

I didn’t reply, just stared at my plate. I was getting this terrible, uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“You had a fight.” It was a statement, not a question, from Taylor. I looked up quickly, surprised at his adept reading. But then, he always seemed to know just what I was feeling… I nodded, licking my fork clean.

“It’s not a big deal,” I said. “And I’m sorry for depressing everyone. It’s nothing.”

“Oh, honey,” said Louise, getting up and giving me a ferocious bear hug.

My eyes began to well up. Dammit. “Stop,” I mumbled. “You’re going to make me cry.”

I felt another hand on my back. Louise let me go and stepped back, exchanging a glance with Taylor. He brushed an errant hair from my face before pulling me into his arms. “Sssh,” he murmured.

He was leaner than Alex, but taller, and my arms wrapped comfortably around his back. My face was pressed against his chest, and he rested his chin atop my head, gently running one hand comfortingly up and down my back. He smelled wonderful – a mix of strong cologne and sweet cream frosting.

“I’ll be right back,” I heard Louise say, leaving Taylor and I alone in the kitchen. After giving me a fierce squeeze, he stepped back, still holding me by my shoulders. He looked me right in the eye without wavering, and I struggled to do the same.

“It’ll be okay,” he said reassuringly. “He’ll probably call you tomorrow begging for forgiveness.”

I started to say that I was the one who should probably be doing the calling, and that I wasn’t even sure I wanted forgiveness anyway, but stopped. I found I couldn’t say anything. Not with Taylor right there in front of me, holding me in place, and staring at me as if he could see right through to my soul. Oh, no…

“And if he doesn’t,” Taylor continued. “He’s a loser.” He continued the pep talk – the usual stuff about how any guy would be lucky to have me, etc. The same speech most parents and friends give a brokenhearted girlfriend.

But I wasn’t listening. Because standing there in my kitchen, looking into Taylor’s bluer-than-blue eyes, feeling his warm hands soothingly massaging my shoulders, I suddenly realized what my problem was.