Chapter 56: The Good Fight

Taylor
The following morning


Once, when we were younger, Isaac and I had been riding with our parents to some event – a wedding, or a funeral, or something of the like – I don't remember exactly what, I just remember being dressed up. We hadn’t had time for a proper lunch, so my parents had grabbed something we could eat on the way, namely, fruit. Ike had gotten a banana, I had an apple. Ike didn’t like bananas, a fact I knew well, and so I mocked him as I slowly bit into my apple, ostentatiously savoring each morsel. He didn’t like it, not one bit. In fact, he had gotten so pissed that he grabbed the apple from my hand, rolled down the window, and chucked it onto the highway. The apple had smashed into hundreds of juicy bits and smeared all over the pavement.

I felt a lot like that apple.

In fact, since we’re comparing things to fruit here, why not go all out? The left part of my face was puffy and red, with black and purple lining the eyes. Kind of like a rotting tomato.  I had huge bruises on my thighs that had formed knots underneath the skin. The lumps felt kind of like…. Hmmm, oranges.  And the huge scratches that lined my ribcage? They looked like strawberry birthmarks. Yup, waking up had never felt (or tasted?) so good.

My hand was asleep – it had gotten hooked under my leg somehow during the night. I tried to roll over to relieve it, and groaned loudly. And let out a few curses.

“Taylor?” Allison suddenly sat up in the bed and faced me. “Are you okay? Do you need anything? Does your face hurt? Here, drink some water.” She grabbed a glass off the nightstand and shoved it in my face, hovering over me.

“Thanks,” I murmured, struggling to a sitting position. I held onto the water while she fluffed a pillow and set it behind my back, against the headboard. I scooted back and leaned into it, giving her a grateful smile. I could get used to this sort of thing – being coddled and spoiled by the woman I loved. It almost made the whole my-head-feels-like-a-bass-drum pain worth it.

She curled up next to me, Indian-style. After I drank my fill of water, she carefully set the glass back on the stand. She brushed my dirty bed hair out of my face, smoothing it back so she could see the swelling. She clucked softly. “It looks even worse today.” With one hand, she gently massaged my scalp. With the other, she reached for an ice pack Louise had left on the nightstand and gently pressed it to my face.

You know, on second thought, this
does make the bass-drum pain worth it. I sighed and closed my eyes, relaxing under her ministrations. She continued for a few minutes, then stopped. “Let me see your bruises,” she said.

We set the ice pack aside and I slowly lifted my shirt up. She grimaced at the sight. She gently traced the long red marks with the tips of her fingers, shaking her head softly. Her hands were soft and cool. “Jesus, Taylor,” she whispered sadly. “You’re a mess.”

“Was there ever a time when I wasn’t?” I asked, trying to crack a joke. Surprisingly, she didn’t laugh.

“Taylor! I can’t believe you’re being so nonchalant about this. Seriously. Do you need anything? Are you tired? Hungry? Do you want something to eat? I’ll get Louise to fix you something good…”

“Well,” I hedged. Food did sound good; it was well after noon, and I’d had no breakfast… and the meal at Cheddar’s seemed a distant memory.

“Did I hear my name?” Louise suddenly appeared in the doorway, toweling her hair dry. Allison and I both stopped and looked back at her, surprised. Louise looked at me, raising one eyebrow. I realized that I was still holding my shirt up, and Allison still had one hand on my stomach. She quickly pulled her hand away, and I hastily dropped the shirt down and smoothed it out.

“Yeah,” Allison said swiftly, not missing a beat. “Will you make Taylor some lunch?”

“Me? Can’t you do it?” Louise asked, knowing full well the answer to that. “And what I think you really mean is ‘Will you make Taylor and I some lunch?’” She gave Allison a pointed look.

Allison smiled sheepishly. “Well, it would be nice…. Besides, Taylor’s been through enough the past 24 hours. He deserves more than burned grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

“Yes, please,” I mumbled. Louise smiled and said she’d get started. Giving me one last sympathetic look, she retreated back into the hallway. Allison remained perched beside me on the bed, looking intently at my hands, which were a little banged up, as well. She gently picked up one hand and examined it, turning it over, looking for scratches.

“Taylor?”

“Mmm?”

“I understand that there’s a certain revenge factor going on here…. With the incident that happened the night we first met, all those years ago… but you can’t tell me that’s your sole motivation for going ape-shit last night. So why?”

A simple question. With a not-so-simple answer. It was something I’d thought about all night – and believe me, I’d had plenty of time to think as my numerous fight injuries had kept me awake most of the night and morning. And actually, I was surprised she’d waited until morning to ask it – but I guess she figured last night, with emotions running extra high, just wasn’t the right time. Although, truthfully, my emotions were still running pretty high…

“Well…” I hedged. What could I tell her? Last night I’d given her that crack about rescuing a girlfriend, but she didn’t find it all that funny. I imagined the conversation: Well, Alley, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m crazy about you. I’d do anything to keep you from being hurt. So when I saw that he had gone so far as to mar your fair face, I lost control and wanted to beat the living shit out of him. Which I was in the middle of doing, before you made me stop. And yes, I’d do it again in a second.

Yeah, somehow I didn’t think that would quite work.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just… well, he had no right to do that to you. I was just trying to keep you from getting hurt.” I beckoned to her bandaged face. “Which, apparently, I didn’t do so hot a job at that. But I didn’t mean for it to go so far. But… he’s such an asshole!”

“That he is,” she agreed. “And believe me, it does give me a great deal of pleasure to imagine the agony he’s in this morning… not to mention the humiliation of having to explain what happened. But as much as I appreciate it, you shouldn’t have done that, Taylor.”

“He deserved it!”

“I know. But it wasn’t worth it. You’re a mess this morning – look at you! And I’m sure he hasn’t learned a lesson from this.”

“Well, he’ll think twice before trying anything on you again,” I growled. “Stupid prick – I can’t believe he hit a girl!” I smiled, remembering the look on Jay’s face when I’d punched his solar plexus… “Dumbass. He may have beaten me up once, but that was years ago, and he had a whole crew behind him. He’s not so tough anymore!” I was suddenly full of bravado. “Seriously, Al, if he tries to start any more shit with you--”

“Taylor, sweetheart, he was drunk,” Allison said. “And no offense, I know how, um, manly you are, but he’s twice your size. Drunk, he gave you a black eye and nearly broke your ribs. Sober, he could do much, much worse…”

I felt slightly insulted. “What? I can’t believe you! I defend your honor, I put my life on the line to protect you, and you respond with this?

She gave me a stricken look. “Taylor! Don’t be mad at me! I’m just saying… well, nevermind. Just promise me you won’t do it again. Okay? Because it worries me – What if something had happened to you, and it jeopardized your chances of… waking up? I don’t even know how all that would work… but do you see what I’m saying?”

I stopped, amazed that the thought had never occurred to me before. What would have happened, if I’d been severely hurt? It’s not like she could have taken me to the hospital… the more I thought about it, the more I realized how stupid it had been to act like that. To try and act like a big shot and protect my girl…. Who actually wasn’t really my girl, but anyway…

“I see your point,” I said casually.

She gave me a thin smile. “Good. Next time, Tay, we’ll just call the police.” She stood up from the bed and offered a hand. “Come on, get up. Lunch will be ready soon, God willing.”

I accepted her hand and slowly stood up, cursing loudly. My legs felt like rubber, my back ached… Allison offered her arm for support and I gladly took it. I hobbled my way into the bathroom, with her at my side, and slowly started the morning routine. God, it hurt just to stand there… When I mentioned this aloud, Allison ran from the room and came back with her desk chair.

“Sit here. Let me help,” she said. I obliged, especially since it helped eliminate the need to bend over at the waist – another move that was excruciating.  First we washed my face – she wet it with a washcloth, then I gingerly scrubbed it with her Neutrogena foam and rinsed. Next I brushed my teeth, still sitting in the chair. After assuring her that I would manage to go to the bathroom by myself, she left to find me some fresh clothes. I finished my business, took the clothes from her, and closed the door again, preparing to change. However, I discovered there was no way I could get dressed alone – just lifting my arms over my head was difficult. After struggling to switch into a new pair of boxers, I swore loudly and called her back in.

“Shit… Alley… Alley!” I called out, gripping the sink. My whole body felt like Jell-O… “You still there?”

“Right here.” Her voice was right outside the door.

“Can you come in…. and help me?”

She pushed the door open hesitantly, probably afraid I was lying naked in the floor or something. Well, I was close – leaning against the sink in my boxers. I looked at her sheepishly. “I barely managed to get these on. Can you help me with the rest?”

I was surprised when she didn’t laugh. “What first?” she asked.

“Um… jeans, I guess.”

She pointed to the chair. “Sit down.” When I was seated, she had me lift my legs, one at a time, and carefully slid each jean leg up when I did so. When she had both on and the waistband up at my knees, she helped me to my feet again. I straightened up, with difficulty, and she carefully slid the jeans all the way, careful to avoid touching my bruises. I watched her face as she did so, noticing the light red blush forming as she pulled them up. I swallowed, realizing how kinky this would look to anyone watching. And realizing that I was probably enjoying it a little too much.

“There,” she said lightly. “I’ll let you, um, zip them.” Probably a good idea. I hastily buttoned and zipped up. She had me sit back down, and picked up the shirt. She slid it over my neck and I put my arms in one at a time so I wouldn’t have to lift them so high. While I pulled the shirt the rest of the way down, she gently fluffed out my hair where it had been smashed down.

“Is that all? No shoes?” she asked. I shook my head. She helped me stand up, and instead of letting me follow her out of the bathroom, she stood directly in front of me, hesitant.

“Well, ready to go downstairs?” she questioned. I nodded. Neither of us moved. Finally, she gave me a bright smile. And hugged me, very carefully. I relaxed into it, leaning heavily against her, and wrapping my arms tightly around her back. I rested my right cheek on top of her head and sighed. I felt her start to pull away, but I didn’t move; wouldn’t let her. I was really in a state of pain and pleasure – it just felt so good to be leaning on her, her hands slowly and carefully running up and down my back… Without thinking, I gently brought my right hand up and ran my fingers through her hair. Then I planted a slow, tender kiss on the top of her head, where my cheek had been resting...

“Guys! It’s ready! Hurry before it gets cold!” Goddamn it, Louise, I thought as we broke apart. I stared intently at her face, but like she was prone to do lately, she avoided my gaze. After a moment, she took my arm and led me out the door.

“Come on… we’ve got stairs to descend,” she said cheerfully, as if nothing had happened.

“Shit,” I complained loudly, fervently hoping that she mistook my trembling as a result of my injuries.