Fifty-Four: Weird

Taylor

Just when I thought Allison couldn’t possibly get any weirder, I was proven wrong.

Of course, I suppose she had a reason for it. But ever since she’d had her fight with Alex, she’d been positively different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. She didn’t show any classic signs of depression – she didn’t cry, didn’t mope around in her room, didn’t listen to melancholy Morissey songs. Nor was she angry – no man-hating rants, no temper tantrums, no destruction of public (or private) property. Instead, she seemed on edge, nervous. I would walk into a room, and merely say hello or ruffle her hair and she would nearly jump out of her skin.

Even Louise noticed the difference.  However, as much as she tried to weasel some sort of explanation out of Allison, it was of no avail. After a few weeks of this unorthodox behavior, Louise had had enough. She was beginning to get truly worried, and so was I.

“Has she talked to him lately?” I asked as I helped Louise fold up their spare bedsheets. “Because I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since that night.

“I don’t think so,” she said grimly. “At least, not that I’ve seen, either.”

“I wonder what they fought about,” I murmured. “Had to have been something serious.”

She shrugged, sighing. “Beats me. But it was definitely something serious.”

“Jerk,” I grumbled, tugging on the sheet corners to smooth out the folds. “I knew he wasn’t good enough for her.”

Louise gave me an odd smile. “And what makes you so sure it’s his fault? She’s not an angel, you know.”

My face burned. “I know,” I replied hotly. “But still! If I was him, I’d be groveling for forgiveness right now, regardless of whose fault it was.” I smiled wistfully.

“If you were him, you would have had the guts to ask her out in the first place,” Louise said bluntly. 

I winced. “Ouch.”

“But true.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I mumbled.

We heard the familiar sound of a door closing downstairs, and Louise gave me a warning look to shut up. We put down our sheets and walked into the hall, watching as Allison slowly climbed the stairs. She didn’t notice us standing off to the side – her expression spoke of a mind far, far away, lost in thought. Shooting a quick look over to Louise, I followed her into her room and closed the door behind us.

“Hey,” I said as the door clicked closed.

Predictably, she jerked in surprise and whirled around. “Oh! Oh, hi. Hi. What are you doing?”

I smiled, and moved closer. “Nothing. Where’ve you been?”

She ran a hand through her hair, her eyes warily watching me as I stepped towards her. “Oh, just… out. Errands.”

“Oh,” I said amiably, stopping a few feet before her and trying to hold her gaze. She refused to look me in the eye. In fact, she hadn’t been able to look me in the eye for weeks, instead choosing to stare directly at my chest. Which would have been flattering, had I thought she was admiring it.

She abruptly turned around and began fishing through a drawer in her vanity chest. I walked over and gently grabbed her arm.
“Allison,” I said, as softly as I could. She tensed up, but didn’t pull away. “Allison, please tell me what’s wrong. And don’t say ‘nothing’ because we know that’s bullshit – Louise and I. She’s worried, too. You’ve not been yourself lately.” There. The prepared statement I had practiced earlier flowed easily from my lips.

She sighed. “Just… stuff. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

“Want to talk about it? You’ll feel better.”

She gave me a crooked smile. “No. Not yet, anyway. Maybe someday…” she trailed off.

I backed off, disappointed. “Well… it goes without saying. I’m here. You know that. So is Lou.” That got a grin out of her, knowing that Louise hated to be called ‘Lou.’

“Good thing she didn’t hear you say that,” she said.

“Ah, she’ll get over it,” I said confidently. I slipped one arm over her shoulder and hugged her. “My roommates, Lou and Al.”

“You’re silly,” was all she said, before disengaging herself and going back to her drawer. I waited for a minute, to see if she would say anything else. Nothing. Deciding that it was best to leave it alone for the time being, I slowly walked out of the room and gently shut the door behind me.

                                                                                     ******

“Maybe we should have an intervention,” Louise suggested over our afternoon cup of coffee, days later. I smiled and chuckled, but deep inside a part of me wondered if perhaps that wasn’t a good idea. Allison was still in her funk – still rather quiet, still edgy, still refusing to elaborate on the details of her and Alex’s last date, or the status of their relationship. Which was extremely odd for a girl who routinely vented about any and every problem that came into her life.

“Perhaps…. Although with just the two of us, an intervention just wouldn’t be that forceful,” I said. “Don’t they usually  have like ten people or something in those?”

“Hey, don’t underestimate me when it comes to force, buddy.”

I snorted. “Oh, I don’t. Believe me, I don’t.” I gently stirred half-and-half into my mug. “Where is she, anyway?”

“Beats me. ‘Errands’, I think. She seems to be running them an awful lot, lately…”

The doorbell rang. Louise and I exchanged glances, the same thought running through our mind. Now who in the hell is that? She stood up and cautiously approached the door. After peeking through the curtain she turned to face me.

“It’s Alex!” she hissed. My eyes widened.

“What does he want?” I asked, whispering, though I wasn’t sure why.

“How do I know? I’m not psychic!” She peeked again. “Oh, shit! He saw me!” Taking a deep breath, she opened the door. I could picture her huge fake smile as she greeted him. “Oh, hi Alex! How are you?”

“Fine, thanks,” I heard him reply. “Listen, is, um, Allison home?”

“Well, no…. she said she had errands to run, or something, and would be back later.”

“Well…” he hesitated. “Oh. Will she be back soon?”

“I can’t really say for sure. She’s been gone awhile, and didn’t give a direct answer as far as when she’d be back.”

“Could I,” he started, pausing. “um, wait? Could I just wait on her? I haven’t been able to get ahold of her; I think she’s avoiding my calls or something, and I just really need to talk to her.”

“Well….” Louise hedged, obviously not sure what to do. I could sympathize – nobody likes being stuck as the middleman in a tense relationship. If she told him no, she would look like a bitch, and if Allison and Alex made up, he would always think of her that way. If she said yes, she risked Allison’s wrath for doing so.

In the end, Louise decided to risk the wrath. She probably felt Allison needed a little confrontation about the situation. “Sure, I guess. Come on in.”

Alex came in, tugging at his collar. He ambled into the kitchen, and stopped short when he saw me. When he saw me.

“Uh, hey,” he said, looking a little confused.

Oh, shit. “Hey,” I mumbled. Behind him, Louise looked shocked. I realized, that in my concern over Allison’s temperament in the past week, I had completely forgotten to tell them both about my Jessica encounter. So to Louise, the Taylor Visibility Count (as Allison liked to call it) still consisted only of her, Allison, and Chester the cat.

Alex turned to look at Louise questioningly, obviously expecting some sort of introduction. I smiled at her weakly. When his head was turned, I mouthed the words ‘he can see me!’ She rolled her eyes, mouthing back: OBVIOUSLY.

“Um, Alex, this is….” She fished around for a millisecond before deciding to use my real name. Well, my real first name, anyway. “Jordan. Jordan, Alex.”

I smiled stiffly and held out my hand. “Hi. Nice to meet you.” Which was a blatant lie, but my mother raised me to be polite.

“Hey, Jordan,” he replied smoothly. “You, uh, a friend of Louise’s?”

“Yes,” Louise said quickly, before I could reply. “A good friend of mine. Good friend.”

He nodded, carefully studying me. “Cool, cool. I’m Allison’s boyfriend.” I hate you. “But I’m surprised she hasn’t mentioned you. Are you new here?”

“No, no, he’s just visiting,” Louise stepped in again. I was sure he thought I was either mute, or unable to speak for myself. “He lives in the Midwest, and he’s just in for a visit. Aren’t you, Jordan?” she asked pointedly.

“Yup,” I said.

“So what brings you here?” Alex asked, settling in at the kitchen table. He eyed the coffee. “Can I get some of that?”

As Louise poured, I pondered over what to say. “Well, I dunno. Just felt like coming back here for a visit. Got family here, you know, just wanted to get away for awhile. Every once in a while, I’ll come back here and visit.” I stopped, realizing I was on the verge of babbling and saying too much.

“That’s cool.” He sipped his coffee. “You know, now that I look at you, you look really familiar. Did you ever go to UK?”

Oh, no. He thinks I look familiar. Well, of course – my face had been on every magazine cover just a few years ago. Shorter hair and a slightly bigger build couldn’t hide my facial features. “No, no. Never been there.”

He scrutinized me. “Ever been to New Orleans? Or in that area, like Lafayette? That’s where I’m from. Because I swear I’ve seen you before…”

I looked into my cup. “Oh, I get that all the time,” I said, using the same line I used whenever someone used to recognize me on the street. “Maybe I just have one of those faces.”

“Maybe,” he said, unconvinced. “Or maybe you just look like someone I know. Someone I’ve met, or seen. Or someone famous.”

I couldn’t help but grin. Ignoring Louise’s warning look, I decided that getting straight to the point would remove suspicion more than trying to deny it. “Well, you know…. I’ve been told I look like that middle kid in Hanson by a few people.”

He jerked to attention by that statement, a strange look across his face. “Oh…. Well…. Yeah. Yeah, I can see that… Yeah, you do. Taylor. Right? His name’s Taylor?”

Wow, he actually knew my name? I nodded casually. “Uh, yeah. I think so.” Louise was throwing me murderous looks.

He sat there silently for a second, staring into his coffee. I started to feel a little uneasy. What if I had just started something? What if he knew I was lying?

“That explains it,” he murmured after a minute. I gaped.

“Explains what?” Louise asked sharply. She mouthed more words at me: WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?

“It explains--” he started, then stopped. “Well, I shouldn’t get into it… it’s really between me and Allison.”

My heart sped up. “Did you have a fight?” Louise asked softly. Her voice spoke of understanding and compassion, but I knew she was needling for information. “She’s been acting strange all week,” she added. “We’ve been worried. What happened?”

“Well…” he hesitated, but continued. “Yeah, we had a fight. But it was over the weirdest thing. See, I took her skating on our last date--”

“Skating?” I interrupted. Louise glared at me again.

“Yeah, roller skating,” he said. “And she wasn’t really feeling well, but I thought she would enjoy it because she said she used to love to skate and I’d planned it for weeks. But we were getting ready to leave, and a friend of mine played that one Hanson song on the jukebox… What’s it called, the ‘Bop-a-Dop’ one--”

I cringed. Louise snickered. “MmmBop?

“Yeah, yeah, that one. Well, my friend and I were cracking on them – I mean, seriously, it’s Hanson! Who doesn’t make fun of them?”

If I thought I hated him before… I really hated him now.

He continued. “So, like, we somehow start talking about that one guy – Taylor – and suddenly she freaks out! She starts going off on all my friends and telling them off just for making fun of the guy! She said he was in a coma or some shit. Then she stomped out of there, called a cab and ran home. No explanation. I thought she’d lost her mind or something.”

Louise’s glares had softened, and she looked at me with sympathy. Suddenly, we had our answer for Allison’s erratic behavior – she was just taking up for a friend, in the only way she could. I bit my lip.

“But this explains it,” Alex said. “I didn’t know she had a friend who looked like the guy. I guess you get shit for it all the time, right Jordan?” I nodded, resisting the urge to strangle him. “I guess she got tired of it. If I had a friend who got made fun of all the time for looking like someone else, I’d probably get irritated, too.”

“Wow,” I said, unable to keep all the sarcasm out of my voice, “Just imagine if she really was friends with Taylor Hanson. Imagine the fit she’d throw then.”

He looked at me, amazed. “That’s what she said! She was all like, ‘What if I really was friends with Taylor Hanson, would you be making fun of him then?’” He snorted. “Which is just ridiculous, anyway.”

I was about ready to fire back with a And-Why-Would-That-Be-So-Ridiculous response when Louise interrupted, noting the tension growing in my face. “More coffee, Jordan?” she chirped, leaning to pour more of the black brew into my mug.

Alex stood up. “Running to the restroom real quick,” he said, still lost in thought as he wandered down the hall toward the bathroom. As soon as we heard the ‘click’ of the door shutting Louise turned to me and pointed her finger right in my face.

“You are INSANE!” she barked. “What if he had really recognized you? How in the world would we explain this without being sent to the mental asylum?”

“He knows Taylor is in a coma,” I said pointedly. “He just said so! He knows it’s impossible to be in two places at once.” I paused.
“Although, in reality, as we’ve discovered, it isn’t impossible, and weird things do happen, and--”

She interrupted me. “And did you know that before you opened your big mouth? Noooo. And you realize that you’ve opened up a huge can of worms, right? Because now Alex is going to be talking to Allison about you, and probably asking questions, and she’s going to have to make shit up as she goes along.” She rinsed out the coffeepot in the sink. “Fuck, and we won’t get the chance to warn her. He’s here and--”

We heard the front door open. Speak of the devil. Louise instantly shut up, and ran into the foyer. I followed, keeping an eye out for Alex.

“Allison,” Louise hissed. “We have a situation.” Allison raised one blond eyebrow. “Okay, Alex is here. He’s in the bathroom.”

Allison’s eyes darkened. “Shit,” she mumbled, getting ready to turn around and leave. “I’ll hide out.”

“I’m not done. He’s here, and he can see Taylor.”

“What?!

“Still not done,” Louise said breathlessly. “He’s here, he can see Taylor, AND Taylor went and opened his fat mouth and now Alex thinks Taylor’s name is Jordan  but he knows that he looks just like the real Taylor Hanson and he thinks that’s why you all fought the other night and he’s probably going to be asking you all sorts of stuff or--”

Allison looked horribly confused. “What the fuck--”

“For the record,” I said. “I do not have a fat mouth. I was just trying to diffuse the situation. He kept telling me I looked familiar!”

“You talked about me? I mean, he talked about me? About the fight?” Allison asked uneasily. We nodded. “Dammit.”

We heard a toilet flush, and footsteps ambling  back down the hall. Allison looked like a deer in the headlights. Before she could bolt, Alex stepped around the corner and saw the three of us standing there in a huddle, a quizzical look on his face.

“Alley,” he said softly, giving her a gentle smile. “Hey.”

I watched her swallow, wondering at her trepidation. “Hi,” she said.

“Well,” Louise said, eyeing the two of them, “we’ll just be leaving now. Going… outside. Nice day, isn’t it?” She grabbed my arm.
“Come on, Jordan.” She dragged me back towards the entrance to the patio. Alex and Allison still stood in the hall, staring at each other. As Louise and I tumbled out the back door, Allison beckoned Alex to follow her into the living room. I watched them disappear around the corner.

We stood outside, not moving. "So," I said.

"So," she replied.

I waited all of five minutes before crumbling.  "We should go listen," I whispered. "But I don't think we can hear out here."

She pursed her lips and snuck around to the side. “Well, maybe we can. Didn’t you put up a window screen in the living room earlier today?”

It was like a lightbulb appeared over my head. “Why, yes…. Yes I did.” We exchanged a guilty look for what we were about to do. Then I shrugged.

“Hey, we’re just trying to help. And we can’t help if we don’t understand. And we’re not going to understand if we don’t listen. So, you see, really, the bad thing to do would be to not listen.” I nodded stoutly after making this statement.

“I like your logic,” Louise said. “So let’s go. Just don’t make any noise.” She glanced around. “And those bushes should shield us.”

We snuck around the side of the house towards the open living room window. We settled ourselves down, leaning against the brick, sandwiched between the air conditioning unit and an extremely large bush. Luckily, the streets were not busy, and no one was mowing their lawn, so we could easily hear the conversation inside. Apparently they were arguing about the incident on their last date.

“—I’m just saying, I wish you hadn’t freaked out like that at the rink. You made everyone feel bad. I mean, just because your and Louise’s friend looks like Hanson doesn’t mean--”

“That has nothing to do with it.” Allison sounded cold. “I just didn’t think it was appropriate. And I’m not sorry I made your friends feel bad.” She paused. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

“Well we need to talk about something! Something’s been bugging you  these past couple of weeks.” He laughed. “And I don’t think it has anything to do with Taylor Hanson.”

Her response was sharp. “I told you, just drop it!”

“Allison…. I’m going to be blunt. What is your problem? You’ve been avoiding me. You won’t take calls, you’re always busy, you’re never home. Have I done something to piss you off, other than Friday?”

“No… no… it’s just…” Now she sounded unsure. “I don’t know.”

“Are you angry at me?”

“Not angry… I was irritated, that’s all. I blew it out of proportion. But I can’t explain it. I just feel… weird. I need some alone time.”

He continued to press her. “I’m willing to grant you that, if you really think you need it. But I’m just not sure you mean that, Allison.”

She didn’t respond.

“Allison. Look at me.”

I shifted uncomfortably on the grass. A twig was digging into my butt. I leaned forward to roll off of it, but Louise grabbed me.
“Sssshhhh.

“Allison…. I’m going to ask you something, and I want you to be honest.”

“Uh-oh,” I murmured. That didn’t sound good.

Alex’s voice got very low, hard to hear. Louise and I craned our necks as close to the window as we dared as he spoke. “Do you love me?”

Silence. I gave Louise a wide-eyed stare. She returned the favor.

“Allison?”

“I--” she said. “I don’t.” Then she breathed an audible, ragged gasp. Which was good, because it hopefully covered up mine.

“What?” he whispered. I almost felt sorry for the guy. Almost.

“I just… I thought I did. But… I think it was just infatuation. I don’t. I’m so sorry.” She sounded near tears. “And it’s not because of Friday. I’ve been feeling it for awhile, but I just thought… I thought maybe I was just scared, or stressed, or something.” She sniffled. “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.”

“Well,” was all he said.

“I feel horrible,” she said. “Please don’t hate me.”

“If you felt that way, why didn’t you tell me sooner? Why did you string me along, keep me waiting?” He was relatively calm, but couldn’t keep all the hostility out of his voice.

“I thought I would snap out of it. I thought it was just a phase! Cold feet, or something. But…” she trailed off. “Something happened recently, and it made me realize… I like you, Alex. I think you’re a great guy. I think any girl would be lucky to have you… and I wish that girl was me, I really do… but I don’t love you. And I don’t think I can.”

“Well,” he said evenly. “I guess this means we should go our separate ways.”

“Yeah,” she said shakily. “But we can still be friends--”

“Don’t give me that ‘friends’ bullshit,” he snapped. I scowled at his angry tone. “Let’s just leave it. Alright?”

I heard her sigh. “Alright,” she said quietly. “And please, Alex… please believe me… I’ve acted like a horrible bitch, and I’m so sorry. I hate myself right now.”

“I should be going.”

“Oh—Oh, okay,” she said softly. “Okay.”

“Just tell me one thing,” he said sharply. I could picture him, in my mind, walking towards the door, stopping suddenly, and then whirling around to talk. “Is it someone else?”

She sounded startled in her reply. “Well…”

Louise gripped my arm so hard I was sure there were going to be bruises. “Why are you breaking my arm?” I whispered, trying to wrench free from her grip.

“Shut up, Taylor! Shut up and listen!”

We both craned our necks again. At unfortunately, the air conditioner next to us chose that moment to come on. The loud buzzing shocked us both, and by sheer reflex I managed to slap my hand over Louise’s mouth before she screamed. We slumped down low against the house. My heart was pounding, and my breathing erratic. Louise whimpered slightly, and I slowly released her, glaring at the unit next to us.

“Sorry,” I whispered. “Reflex.”

“It’s okay,” she whispered back. “I was about to cause a scene.” She sighed. “Fucking air conditioner. Now we can’t hear anything.”

“Well, I think we heard enough,” I said uneasily. “And I feel… dirty. Like we violated her privacy or something. Which, I guess we did.” I rolled over to a crouch, and crawled away from the window.

“Where are you going?”

“To the patio,” I said. “I would rather they not come outside and see us sitting in the bushes.”

We snuck back onto the patio and sat down, trying to be nonchalant. It was only later, when we heard the rev of an engine, and the subsequent driving off, before we dared to venture back inside.

Allison leaned against the wall in the foyer, her profile lit up by the afternoon sun. Her arms were crossed loosely, and presumably, she was watching Alex leave through the window. Hearing us reenter the house, she slowly turned to face us. Her eyes and nose were red from crying, but surprisingly, she looked otherwise calm.

“Hey,” she said, breaking the silence.

“Hey,” Louise and I answered in unison.

“We broke up,” she said bluntly.

Louise and I immediately broke into a barrage of apologies: “Oh! Sweetie!” “I’m sorry, Alley.” “You’ll be better off without him!” “Yeah, he’s a loser anyway.”

She smiled, the first real smile I’d seen in weeks. It was glorious. “Yeah. Thanks, guys.” She walked over and slung her arm over both of our shoulders and drew the three of us into a hug. “I love you both.”

Needless to say, my heart was sent crazily aflutter after that last statement, and I inwardly chastised myself. We pulled apart, and I carefully studied Allison’s face. In spite of the slight swelling around her eyes, she looked somehow lighter. Relieved.

“Let’s go out for dinner,” Louise suggested. “Somewhere nice.” She continued planning the dinner aloud while I continued to study Allison’s expression.

“It’ll be okay,” I reassured her quietly. “Things happen for a reason.”

“I know,” she said, “I know, Jordan.” She grinned mischievously, sounding like her old self again. But I couldn’t help but notice the way the redness spread to her cheeks, and how she still refused, for whatever reason, to meet my gaze.