Chapter 57: Caught Up In a Dream

Alley
June 25


One year. Amazing how just one year can make so much difference; how one year can change a person so much. Last June 25, Taylor suddenly appeared in my bedroom as I slept, becoming the catalyst for so many crazy events I couldn’t begin to name them all. We had become incredibly close – closer than even Louise and I, and I’d known her all my life. Taylor had become such a fixture in my everyday routine that I couldn’t imagine a life without him in it. I couldn’t imagine never again hearing his giggly laugh or his soulful singing. Or never again watching him primp in the mirror, deep into styling his shaggy blond hair while I stood by and laughed. But mostly, I knew, I would miss those eyes – sincere, warm, and incredibly blue.

I had avoided those eyes ever since the Alex incident, but during the last month, it took more and more effort to do so. I had been so horrified after the fight – he’d been a complete mess. I felt so guilty, being the indirect cause of his injuries, and I doted attention on him, spending all my time with him, making sure he was comfortable. Spoiled him, probably. And even after he’d completely recovered, he insisted on spending nearly every waking moment with me – he wanted to go see movies, go to dinner, go to the mall. I wondered if it was merely a result of being glad that nearly everyone could ‘see’ him now, but it still didn’t explain why he didn’t pester Louise to take him to these places. In fact, the only time I had to myself anymore was when he and Louise went for their morning walk… but usually I wasn’t even out of bed yet when they left, so it didn’t matter anyway.

A loud grunt to my left got my attention. Taylor was dreaming, I could tell by the way his lips moved ever so slightly. It sounded like he had just mumbled, “Strike two,” but I wasn’t entirely sure.

I rolled onto my side and studied him. His face and ribs had long since healed, so there were no startling imperfections anymore on his body. God, he was so beautiful. It almost hurt to look at him, as clichéd as it sounds. But he was just so… perfect. That long, soft blond hair. Clear, fair skin. A thin, lithe body, accentuated with just a little muscle. An adorable little nose, bow-shaped lips…. And those eyes. It was not hard to see why millions of girls had fallen at his feet during his career. Along with the looks, he just had a charisma, an unexplainable attraction that only strengthened his desirability. 

And he’s here… in my bed…. Snoring, and probably dreaming about baseball. And I’m here… in bed beside him… pining away, and wishing he was dreaming about me. The story of my life. Strike two? I was on strike three. One completely wrong man after the other. I should write a book: How to Fall in Love Not Once, Not Twice, But Three Times and Still Not Get It Right.

I really need to stop being so melodramatic. I rolled over on my back and stared at the ceiling. Maybe I could try to go back to sleep for awhile. It seemed the only time Taylor wasn’t on my mind was when I was sleeping – unless, of course, I managed to dream about him. Which had actually happened more times than I was willing to admit.

After many long minutes, it became evident that sleep simply wasn’t going to come.  So, despite the fact that it wasn’t even 10:00 AM, I got out of bed and went downstairs, gently covering Taylor with the comforter as I left.

I could smell strong John Conti coffee brewing downstairs, alerting me that Louise was already up and going. I considered turning around – I was beginning to suspect Louise knew what my problem was, and I knew that a rare moment sans Taylor would only encourage her to want to have a little “girl talk.” But I was hungry, and eventually my rumbling stomach won out over my uncertainty. I lurched down the stairs and into the kitchen. She gave me a startled look when I sat down at the bar.

“Morning,” I mumbled.

“Good morning… and for once, I can really say morning. What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “Is Sleeping Beauty snoring too loudly, or something?”

I coughed. “Something like that.”

She gave me one of her raised-eyebrow looks – the type of looks I seemed to be getting quite often these days – and turned around to pour some coffee.  I remained silent.

“So… did you sleep well?” she asked after a moment.

I shrugged. “Alright,” I lied. “Why?” I feigned a nonchalant attitude.

“Oh, no reason…” she trailed off.

That was bullshit. Louise was not one to waste words – everything she said had a point to it, unlike Taylor and myself, who had both inherited a tendency towards rambling. I narrowed my eyes, realizing what was coming.

She picked back up. “… no reason at all, except you seem to have started talking in your sleep lately. And tossing and turning quite a bit.”

“Oh, really?” I asked nervously. “Did Taylor say something?” I struggled to remember any recent dreams I may have had… dreams that I wouldn’t want anyone to know about…

“Oh, just that you had been restless in your sleep lately. Since, you know, he has to sleep in the same bed with you and all…”

“Just out of habit. He’s used to sharing a room,” I said, hoping she didn’t catch the small crack in my voice. “He sleeps better with someone next to him.”

“Hmmm.” I hated it when she did that. That was her Yeah, right response.

“So… how do you know I talk in my sleep? What did I say?” I tried to sound casual, but failed miserably. I picked up a napkin from the table and fidgeted with it.

“Oh, just when you’re napping on the couch.”

“What have I said?” I repeated.

“Nothing, really. Just a few things about Taylor.”

I knew my face must have been white as a sheet. “Oh, really?” I squeaked. “And… um… what might I have said, specifically?”

Louise turned and gave me a strange smile. “Does it matter?”

She was tricking me. If I said no, then she had the patience to immediately drop the subject, whereas she knew I would sit here dying of curiosity until I demanded more information. If I said yes, then I had to explain why it mattered so much… I chose not to answer.

“I don’t believe there were many actual sentences in what you said, Alley. Or words, for that matter. You just called out his name several times. And sighed quite a bit. Seemed to be a pretty good dream, from what I could gather…”

I was speechless, horrified. Oh, yeah…  I remembered that dream. Oh my God… please tell me he wasn’t around. Please tell me he didn’t witness that…

“To answer your unspoken question, Allison, no, he didn’t hear.”

I sagged with relief. Looking down, I realized that I had completely torn the napkin in my hand into dozens of little shreds. Louise looked at it, too, and sighed heavily.

“Is there something you would like to tell me, Alley?”

“What do you mean?” I asked nervously.

“You know exactly what I mean. Don’t play innocent with me. There’s a reason you broke up with Alex, and it wasn’t because he made you go roller-skating.”

My mouth went dry. I could never keep secrets from Louise. She always had this way of reading me, of knowing exactly what I was going through… and I hated her for it right then. “He wasn’t for me.”

“No, he wasn’t. But I know someone who is. You know him!” she said sarcastically. “In fact, he sleeps with you every--”

I wasn’t about to get into this. “I need to go shower,” I said, getting up to leave. In a flash, she had set down the coffee pot and spoon and jetted across the kitchen in record time. I suddenly found her standing in front of me, blocking my way out of the room. She fixed me with a steely glare.

“When are you going to start being honest with yourself? With me? With Taylor, for God’s sake?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I whispered.

She swore loudly. “Sshhhh!” I hissed. “You’ll wake him up!”

“Oh, and heaven forbid he overhear you admitting you have feelings for him…. Wouldn’t that be tragic?”

Ugh! How did she always know? And why was she being so… so forceful about it? I felt my lip tremble slightly. “I will admit nothing,” I whispered fiercely. “Just stay out of it, okay? And please… just stop yelling at me…”

She sighed heavily again and most of the tension went out of her shoulders. “Alley, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to yell. But it’s so obvious…. And I just don’t understand what’s holding you back.”

What’s holding me back? How about the fact that, oh, the Taylor up in my room isn’t actually ‘real’, per say… and even if he was real, he’s actually a famous musician adored by women around the world, and he could have his pick of any of them… and what’s more, he’s gorgeous. And gorgeous people date other gorgeous people. End of story. Why couldn’t Louise see that logic?

“He’s… it’s… no.” I gave up trying to deny it. Damn Louise and her intuition. “This can’t work, Louise. Even if, by some chance, he actually deigned to date me, it wouldn’t work.”

“Why not? He’s perfect for you. You’re perfect for him. You’re so perfect for each other, in fact, that it makes me sick.” Louise grabbed my shoulders. “I can not believe you would let this opportunity pass you by because you’re too scared to say anything. What kind of a woman are you, anyway?”

“I am not scared,” I said indignantly, which was a load of bullshit. “I just don’t want to waste anybody’s time. We can be friends, and I can live with that.” Friends… ugh.

“Oh, can you?” Louise was preparing to go in for a full-fledged assault – her nostrils were flared, her fingers were tightly digging into my skin. For a minute, I was almost frightened… what was her problem, anyway? Why did it matter so much to her what I did with my own love life… or lack thereof?

We heard a door slam upstairs, and Louise stopped. Several soft clomps followed – the sounds of Taylor making his way down the stairs. I looked at Louise, shaking my head slowly and giving her a beseeching look. “Please,” I whispered softly. “Promise me you won’t say anything to him. Promise me. Please.

She looked at me silently for a minute; I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. “Okay,” she said shortly. “Fine. I promise.” Stifling a sigh, she backed away from me and silently strolled back to her abandoned coffee.

When Taylor shuffled into the kitchen, we both gave fake smiles and greeted him in unison, like those fem-bots from Austin Powers. “Good morning, Taylor!”

He stopped, wary of our early-morning cheerfulness. “Uh… morning.”

Louise gave him a saccharine smile as she poured coffee into a mug and slid it across to table to him. “Alley and I were just talking about what we’re doing for your dinner tonight. I had a few ideas.” Ah, yes. Taylor’s “one-year anniversary” dinner. Last week he had demanded, only half-joking, that we fix a small feast in his honor. I had wholeheartedly agreed – anything that involved eating large quantities of home-cooked food was a fine idea to me.

While she and Taylor talked about food, I moodily stared at the day’s paper. I looked up once and caught Louise’s eye. Thank you, I mouthed to her. She responded by rolling her eyes and giving me an annoyed look. I shrugged to myself. Well, it was better than her running her mouth, I supposed. I trusted her. She had made me a promise, and wasn’t the type to go back on her word.

“Is that okay with you, Allison?” That was Louise speaking, interrupting my reverie. I looked up from the newspaper.

“What?”

“Letting me take care of everything tonight. I’ll go to the store, get everything, fix it. Is that okay?” Louise had a wicked, knowing gleam in her eye that I didn’t quite like.

“Well… if you really want to, okay,” I said. “But what are we supposed to do? I don’t want you to do all the work…”

“You and Taylor can just sit here and hang out; relax,” she said sweetly.  “I’ll keep him fed, you keep him entertained.”

“Sounds good to me,” Taylor said, sipping his coffee. He reached over and pinched my arm. “Hey, since Louise is going to the store, why don’t you walk with me this morning?” What was it with this boy and his ‘walks’ lately? I couldn’t figure out where his sudden fitness kick had come from.

“Walk?” I mumbled. “Only if you plan on ‘walking’ down to Sonic and buying me a Mini Banana Split.”

He didn’t find that amusing. “Come on… I don’t want to go alone.” He tugged on my shirt sleeve. “Please?”

I sighed and relented. “Alright. Just let me eat a little something real quick and change into different clothes.”

                                                                                      ******

“—so then, Isaac comes up front and center stage for his solo, right? And he’s all getting into it, he gets this crazy look on his face when he’s playing guitar… but anyway, he slips on something and falls totally on his ass. And when he hits the ground he yells out, ‘Awww, fuck!’ And there was this grandmotherly type in the front row, I guess she was with her granddaughter or daughter or something, and she looked so horrified, and--” Taylor had not stopped talking since we left the house.  I was informed, upon agreeing to take the walk, that it took about an hour to do the three miles. And apparently, that was just enough time for Taylor to tell every single funny concert experience he could think of.

“Taylor,” I said, exasperated. “How can you not be out of breath yet?”  I was out of breath just listening to him.

“Well, maybe if you would start getting up and walking with us every morning, you would be in better shape,” he said pleasantly. He laughed at my sour look. “Alright, alright. I’ll stop boring you.”

We continued along in silence for the next few minutes. I struggled to keep up with Taylor’s long strides – he was a good six inches or more taller than me, and most of his height was in his legs. It was no wonder I was already out of breath, when I was practically running and he was just ambling along. As we stopped at an intersection in the neighborhood, waiting for the cars to pass, he spoke again.

“So… what are you going to do after school? After you’re done, I mean.”

I snorted. “After I’m done? That’ll be never…”

“Don’t you just have a few more semesters to go?” he asked.

“Well, since I chose, like an idiot, to try and do two completely unrelated majors… no. I could graduate with an art studio major in a few semesters. But the science stuff…” I trailed off. Just thinking about going back to that science building made my brain hurt. “Let’s just say I’ll be well into my mid-twenties before any of that comes to fruition.”

He bent down to tie his shoe, looking up at me as he did so. The sun reflected brightly off his blond hair, and he had to squint a little in the light. “I already told you… you don’t need the science. You could easily make a living with your art. And you would be much happier.”

I shrugged. “That’s not what my advisor says.”

“Well, she’s an idiot. Or he, whatever.” He stood back up and carefully stretched his back. “Hey, we should run the last mile!”

“Run?” I sputtered. “You’ve got to be shitting me. What is your deal, anyway? When did you become the big fitness freak?”

He jogged in place, grinning. “Don’t be so lazy! Come on, you can do it.” With that, he latched on to my arm and forcibly dragged me along behind him.

The next ten minutes were sheer hell. I hated running. Hated it. Though, technically, what we were doing was probably closer to a jog.  It didn’t matter. Anything that involved me exerting this much effort was not worth doing. After much whining from me, we finally reached my street; my house was only about a football field’s length away. Gasping for breath, I grabbed Taylor’s shirt.

“Taylor,” I wheezed. “Stop. Time for the cool-down. You’re killing me here.”

He laughed loudly, but did stop. “Come on! We’re almost there. Just a little more. You can’t give up now!” Jeez, he sounded like Richard Simmons or something. He turned around, facing me, and grabbed both of my hands. He jogged backwards, pulling me forward. “Here, I’ll even help you.”

“Taylor,” I said, irritated. There were other joggers and walkers out this morning, and I noticed several nearby staring at us. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“I’m embarrassing you? HA!” He still didn’t let go. The harder I resisted, the harder he pulled. It reminded me of watching a yearling colt being broken – the trainers could pull and tug all they wanted on the halter, but the baby just planted its feet and refused to move.

After a minute or two of this tug-of-war, the mental picture of how stupid we must look got to me. I started giggling. Taylor gave me that adorable lopsided grin and laughed, too. “What’s so funny?”

“If you don’t know, then why are you laughing?” I bit my lip, trying to stifle the giggles.

“Watching you laugh is plenty funny enough.” He stopped pulling me and turned around. He looked at me over his shoulder. “Well, if you’re going to be too lazy to walk the last hundred meters, I’ll carry you.” He bent down and held his hands back, indicating for me to jump on his shoulders.

“What?” I stammered. The next thing I knew, he had grabbed my arms again and pulled me against him. My chest was pressed against his back, and he lightly held onto my wrists. I was horribly conscious of how sweaty I was, how bad I must have smelled, how greasy my hair was.

“C’mon. Jump on,” he said. I nearly choked. Hmmm… didn’t he say the same thing in that dream of mine  Louise was talking about? I thought crazily. Only in a much different context…

“Do you want a ride, or not?” he asked when I still didn’t respond. Ah, fuck it. I finally grabbed onto his shoulders and leaped onto his back. He laughed again, grabbing my legs and wrapping them around his waist. I snaked my arms around his neck, resting my chin on his shoulder.

“You’re not charging me fare for this, are you?” I teased, hoping that he couldn’t feel the furious pounding of my heart.

“Don’t give me any ideas.” We sauntered along, ignoring the strange looks from passers-by. Taylor’s long hair, grown out over a year with no haircuts, whipped around in the breeze, the ends tickling my face. His neck, his ears, his slightly-red cheeks were just inches from my lips… I concentrated on looking forward. Up ahead, closer to my house, I could see a figure sashaying down the sidewalk towards us… a voluptuous, scantily-clad figure….

“Shit,” I grumbled.

Taylor snorted. “Whispering sweet nothings in my ear, are you?”

“No, Tay… look ahead. Look what’s coming at us.” He directed his attention forward again and groaned. I squirmed. “Put me down.”

Instead of releasing me, he hitched me up and grasped my legs tighter. I yelped a small protest, but he cut me off. “Sssh. Let me do the talking. Last time I let you talk we nearly got killed.”

“Let me remind you that you’re the one who insisted on staying and fighting then, Taylor,” I whispered in his ear as our favorite neighbor approached. “Whereas I was willing to tuck my tail between my legs and run.”

“Shut up,” Taylor said sweetly. “And just watch.”

Jessica hadn’t noticed us at first, but once we got within about thirty feet of her, I saw recognition flash across her face. To my utter delight, she did not look happy to see us at all. There was no condescension in her gaze – just jealousy. I grinned evilly and tightened my hold around Taylor’s neck. He had told me about their brief encounter months before, when he was alone in the house... when she had tried to put the moves on him and failed.

When we drew closer it was evident that Jessica was planning on ignoring our presence entirely. Taylor, however, wasn’t about to let that happen.

“Oh, hello!” he chirped, walking until he stood directly in front of her so that she had to stop. She looked up, her face expressionless. “Jessica, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she replied neutrally, her gaze coolly surveying us. She refused to look directly at me, however. “How are you?”

“Great!” Taylor enthused. “Great. Alley and I were just going for a walk. We’re celebrating an anniversary tonight, so we figured we better get our exercise in early… long day ahead of us.” Wow, but he was laying it on thick. Anniversary? I resisted the urge to laugh, and instead snuggled closer against him for effect.

“That’s nice,” she replied, though her tone of voice directly contradicted her statement. She started to step around us. “I’m just gonna--”

“So, what have you been up to lately?” Taylor interrupted her. “We haven’t seen you around much.”

“Just busy,” she said. “Work, and all, you know. Now, if you’ll just--”

“Oh, yeah, work. That sucks. I had a little trouble at work, trying to figure out my vacation time--” Work? Vacation time? Where was he getting this stuff?  I buried my face in his neck, my shoulders shaking with laughter.  “—because Alley and I are going to Europe for our honeymoon…” Honeymoon? What? What was that all about? I was glad she couldn’t see my face – because I was sure it would completely blow our cover. Honeymoon?

Just go with it,
my inner voice said. Well, why not? Any opportunity to get in a small dig of my own. “He totally surprised me when he brought home tickets to Phantom of the Opera in London. Do you even know how hard those are to get?” I asked brightly. Hey, if we were blatantly lying about everything, why not go all out? I let out a girlish giggle and ran my fingers through Taylor’s damp hair, gently pushing it away from his face. Just to make sure she got a clear look at it, in all its glory. I suddenly felt very possessive. Leaning in close so that my lips were gently brushing against his ear, I murmured, “Thanks, sweetie,” and planted a soft kiss to his cheek. I glanced at Jessica from the corner of my eye. She was positively glowering. My inner bitch cheered.

“You’re welcome, hon,” Taylor replied, not even missing a beat. Then he gave Jessica a cheery wave. “Well, nice to see you! We’re gonna head on home now.” Hitching me up again, we continued down the sidewalk.

“Bye,” I cooed over my shoulder as we parted. I didn’t hear Jessica’s response; I didn’t need to.  I couldn’t shake the smile off my face as we reached my front door. Taylor opened the door and we went in, and at my insistence, he gently deposited me back on the ground. The door clicked shut and I exploded with laughter.

“Work? Vacation? Europe? Honeymoon? Where the hell did you think this stuff up?” I asked between guffaws. “You should be an actor, not a musician…”

“Well, seeing how I told her we were engaged when she stopped by to pay me a little visit… I thought it only fitting I bring it up again,” he said.

“You what? You told her we were engaged?” Engaged to Taylor…. Hmmmm…

“Yeah,” he laughed. “The look on her face was priceless. I wish you could have been there. But what about you?” he countered. “I thought I told you to be quiet. Phantom of the Opera? You’re too creative.”

I shrugged, feeling shy all of a sudden. “I had a good base to work from,” I replied lightly.

He slung his arm around my shoulder, pulling me in close, and directed me down the hall. “Yeah, yeah,” he said. “Oscar-winning performances all around. Let’s fix some lunch.”

                                                                                  ******

We were sitting on the couch, watching some shitty soap opera, when Louise returned from the store. She marched in the living room, holding blue Kroger bags in her hand. “Taylor,” she barked. “Come help carry in groceries.”

“Me? Why not Allison?”

I smirked at him. “I might break a nail.” He gave me a look that could have shattered glass. I snickered.

He rolled his eyes, grumbling, and got off the couch to follow Louise outside. I ambled over to the kitchen and sat at the bar, so I could watch them put everything away. It was late afternoon, and sunlight spilled into the kitchen, illuminating everything with a bright yellow glow. Louise and Taylor made several trips from car to kitchen, bringing in loads of bags. Jeez… she must have spent two hundred dollars, from the looks of it. I made a mental note to pay her back for half. When the two of them returned to the car for one last load, I got up and sifted through the bags. Might as well make myself useful. I started to put the groceries away.

Louise came back in and scuttled over to me. “Shoo, shoo!” she said. “I’ll do it. You’ll ruin the surprise.”

“Surprise?” I repeated.

She nodded. “Dinner is a surprise. Go back in the other room. And take Taylor with you.”

Taylor looked injured as he dumped several bags on the counter. “So you’re using me for manual labor, then getting rid of me? Don’t I even get to see what you’re making?” he asked.

“No. Get out.” She made shooing motions with her hands. Taylor and I exchanged glances, but obeyed. You didn’t mess around with Louise when she was in control of the kitchen.

I still hadn’t showered yet that day, so I headed upstairs. Taylor followed – he followed me up the steps, into my room, down the hall to get some towels, and into the bathroom. He was worse than my cat, shadowing my every step. I turned and gave him a quizzical look. “Can I help you with something?”

“What are you doing?” he asked.

I laughed uncertainly. “Well, I’m getting ready to shower… I kinda thought you’d figure that out by the towels and all…”

“Oh.” He looked as if he was contemplating that statement for a minute. “Sorry. Should I leave?”

“Should you--” I exclaimed, but then realized he was messing with me. “Taylor!”

He cackled, and finally left after I forcibly pushed him out into the hall. Once I was alone, I ran the water hot, undressed, and stepped inside. I washed my hair – twice, for good measure. I shaved. I lathered down with Victoria’s Secret Endless Love body gel. I even used some of the special St. Ives mud mask I’d bought ages ago and never opened. As I waited for it to dry (my face felt like it was encased in concrete), I felt somewhat mortified by my prissy behavior. What did it matter? Slightly smaller pores wasn’t going to change his mind at this point. Feeling discomfited, I scrubbed the mask off and stopped the water.

I stood in front of the huge bathroom mirror with my fluffy Martha Stewart bathtowel tied securely across my chest, like a strapless dress. I slowly towel-dried my hair, disgustedly eyeing my reflection. My nose is huge. My hair is too thin. My eyes are too close together. Do I even have a chin? I set the hair towel down on the sink. My hair, uncombed, stuck out in all different directions. I grabbed a pick and began combing through it. Unfortunately, shampooing it twice and not using conditioner had gotten rid of the greasy feel, but made it susceptible to tangles. After several frustrated efforts to pull one particularly bad snarl out, I gave up. Backing away from the mirror to get a broader view, I scrutinized my body instead. Too skinny. Not even pretty-skinny, more like gawky pre-teen girl skinny. Very little in the chest department. The only thing I liked about my body, in general, were my arms. For some reason, I actually had a little muscle definition there.

Suddenly the bathroom door creaked open. I leaped back, crossing my arms tightly over my towel-clad body. The door opened about 10 inches, and suddenly my cat Chester squeezed himself through. I realized, with relief, that I hadn’t gotten the door completely closed after Taylor left – if the lock didn’t click, Chester was fond of shoving the door open with his head so he could come inside. As he padded in and settled in a corner to nap, I stepped over to the door to close it.

“Hey, are you done? What’re you--” Taylor’s face suddenly appeared in the doorway. He put his hand on the door frame.

I screamed. “TAYLOR!” With my right hand, I quickly tried to slam the door shut – right on his poor fingers.

He howled in pain, shoving the door open out of instinct. I didn’t know what to do – I felt like a complete ass. Do I apologize or get dressed first? I stood frozen in the middle of the bathroom.

“Jeez, Allison, what’s your problem?” Taylor mumbled, rubbing his fingers. He looked up, and for the first time, noticed I was still in my towel.

“Are you okay?” I asked uncertainly, folding my arms across my chest. Well, at least he actually had the good grace to blush. “I’m naked, Taylor,” I said pointedly.

He smiled at that. “Not quite.” He stepped inside and squatted down, rummaging through the drawers below the sink.

“Taylor! Get out! I’m not done!” I knew my face was turning scarlet.

He scoffed. “And what do you have that I haven’t seen before? I’ve got sisters.”

I sputtered, unable to form a reply. The big, fluffy bathtowel suddenly seemed very skimpy and short…

“Taylor!”

“What? You’re completely covered.” He stopped his search to turn and look at me.

“Don’t look at me,” I mumbled. I snatched the towel I’d used to dry my hair and curled it up in a ball against my chest. “Please leave.”

With a haggard sigh, he rose to his feet and threw his hands up. “I’m going, I’m going!” Then, giving me a double-take before he walked out the door, he said, “What’s up with your hair?”

I reached up, feeling the stubborn tangle on top of my head that I’d given up on earlier. “Um… just a tangle,” I said.

He stepped towards me, grabbing a small comb off the sink. “Let me get it. You can’t really reach it.”

“Taylor, I can get it.” I snatched the comb away from him and shied away.

“If you could get it, then why haven’t you already?” he countered. “Come on. You helped me get dressed, for heaven’s sake, when I was hurt. You can let me pull out a tangle for you.”

Well, he had a point. Slowly, I held out the comb. He took it from my hand and stood behind me, gently pulling the hair apart and combing through, a tiny bit at a time. It made sense, really – he was taller, he could see it where I could not. I watched his expression in the mirror. It was quite cute; his face was scrunched together with concentration, and I could tell he was trying extra hard not to hurt me. And all the while I was terribly cognizant of the fact that only a towel lay between me and utter humiliation.

“You’re very good at this,” I said, for no other reason than it was too quiet in there.

He smiled. “You forget – I used to have very long hair, myself. We all did. And we got the worst tangles… you learn how to deal with them.”

“Ah, yes… how could I forget?” I watched as he undid the tangle, and gently pulled the comb all the way through. Then he gently combed out the rest of my hair until it lay smooth and flat against my head. “Thanks,” I mumbled.

He set the comb on the sink, and, standing behind me, firmly grasped me by the upper arms. He steered me in front of the mirror. “I don’t know what you’re so paranoid about. There is nothing wrong with the way you look. Nothing. Look at your arms and your shoulders! They’re perfect. Besides, I figured you would be used to me by now. You’ve seen me clothed less than that plenty of times before.”

Yes, I know… and did you have to remind me of that? I shrugged him off and busied myself with getting ready. “Yeah, well, some of us didn’t grow up in a house full of kids… I’m not used to being… like this… in front of others.”

He stood beside me and crossed his arms, watching intently as I powdered my face and applied some light mascara. “Well, I mean, you’ll have to get used to it someday. Are you gonna refuse to change or get ready in front of your husband?” He gave me a knowing grin.

I looked at him from the corner of my eye. “That’s different.” Then, under my voice, I murmured, “if I ever even get married, that is.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” I hurriedly finished my minimalist makeup and scurried out the door before he could protest. “I’m getting dressed. You should shower.” With that said, I quickly stepped into my bedroom and locked the door behind me. I sat down on the bed to recollect my thoughts, wondering how much longer I would be able to deal with Taylor without imploding… or doing something I seriously regretted.