Chapter 58: The Power of Positive Drinking

Alley

Something smelled wonderful.

Not just good. Wonderful. Thanksgiving dinner wonderful. Early Christmas brunch wonderful. Southern Living’s Best Recipes of the Year wonderful.

After locking myself in my bedroom for nearly an hour, I deemed that it had been sufficient enough time to recover and control my hormones. My hair had been dried and curled, and I had put on my favorite jeans – the kind that fit you perfectly, and are worn and soft in all the right places – and a tank top Louise had given me. It was a light blue camisole-type shirt, with thin spaghetti straps and a built-in shelf bra, that she herself had received as a birthday present last year. But Louise, being a girl with more than adequate assets, couldn’t wear it by itself. “No support,” she’d said. So naturally, she gave it to her most flat-chested friend. Me.

Nevertheless, it was a cute shirt, and I wore it just to spite Taylor. He thought I was too self-conscious – so in an effort solely to show him how wrong he was, I decided to show a little more skin than usual. Ah, who was I kidding? Taylor had said he liked my shoulders and now I was going out of my way to show them off. Another blow to feminism.

I quietly unlocked the door and slinked into the hall. I passed the bathroom, where Taylor was standing in front of the mirror, running his fingers through his long locks and frowning. He didn’t see me – so I slipped on by and raced down the stairs. The wonderful smell only increased in potency as I neared the kitchen.

“Oooh, heavenly,” I said dreamily as I walked in to see Louise, her shirt covered in flour, stirring something on the stove. “When will it be ready?”

“Very soon. As in, ten minutes. Here,” she handed me the spoon and beckoned me to take over. “Keep an eye on this. Don’t stop stirring. That’s all you have to do, okay? Just try not to burn it. I’m going to change shirts.”

I saluted her. “Got it.”

She gave me an appraising look, her hands on her hips. She smiled, and pushed back an errant curl that had escaped from behind my ear. “You look cute, Alley Kat,” she said, and then went upstairs to change.

I stood and absentmindedly stirred the pot – which appeared to be filled with thick sawmill gravy. My mouth watered just thinking about it. I dipped into it with my index finger and licked it, just to get a taste. Delicious.

“Hey, no fair. No tasting before it’s ready.” That was Taylor, having just come down the stairs. He came to stand beside me, peering into the dish. “What’s this?”

“Gravy,” I said. I lifted the spoon out of the thick sauce and licked it. “Mmmm…. I think I could probably just eat this plain. Just drink it.”

He scooted closer to me then, until he was nearly standing behind me, and put his right hand on my right shoulder. My skin burned at his touch. He leaned over my shoulder. “Let me taste.”

I obliged, getting a bit on the spoon and handing it to him. He didn’t take it from me, however, and just opened his mouth, indicating that I should feed it to him. So I did. Damn you, hands, quit shaking! He licked his lips once he’d tasted it.

We were startled by someone clearing her throat. Louise. “Okay, if you two will just set the table, we’ll be ready,” she said. Taylor and I set out some dishes while she brought the food into the dining room.

“I’m starving,” I complained as we finally sat down to eat – Louise across the table, Taylor beside me on the left.  I eyed the spread with an eager eye – it was a true southern meal. Slow-cooked green beans, mashed potatoes, biscuits with the aforementioned gravy, country-fried steak… and instead of Coke, as I’d requested, there was an amber-colored liquid in my glass. I picked it up and sniffed it. “What is this? It smells like it has something in it.”

“Oh, just something I whipped up,” Louise said sweetly. “It’s got a little vodka in it… don’t worry. Not a big deal. Besides, none of us are planning on driving anywhere tonight. Taste it!”

I knew nothing about alcohol, since I rarely drank, so I shrugged and took a tentative sip. It was sweet, and slid down my throat easily, unlike most hard drinks. “Hey. This is good!”

“I knew you’d like it,” she said with a satisfied air. “Now, Taylor, since this is your dinner and all… I think you should say a few words.”

Taylor, who had been sipping on his own mysterious vodka drink, looked startled. “Me? Say what? Like, a prayer or something?”

“Well, that’s not actually what I had in mind… more like a toast.” Louise grinned. “To us. For putting up with you for an entire year.” Louise and I both laughed.

“You girls are so arrogant,” he grumbled good-naturedly. “If I have to say something, both of you should have to, too.”

“Fair enough. Allison, you go first.”

“Me?” I squeaked. I had no idea what to say. I suddenly wished I watched more of those Friars’ Club roasts they have on Comedy Central… where everyone is clever and witty and always knows just what to say… I pursed my lips, thinking. They were both looking at me expectantly. “Well…” I took a deep breath. I was never one for extemporaneous speaking… “Taylor.” He raised both eyebrows and nodded, barely concealing his mirth.

I smiled and continued. “I don’t know what I could say about you that hasn’t been said before. Despite your occasional brattiness, your tendency to primp, your sudden obsession with cardiovascular fitness--” he opened his mouth to protest, but I held a hand up and shooshed him. “Let me finish! Despite all that… this has been a hell of a year. You’ve changed my life… I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know you. Though granted, this is an odd way to meet someone.” We all laughed. “But seriously… I know we tease you a lot, and I know we’ve had our fights… but…” I blushed furiously and had to look down at my lap. He was giving me such a beautiful, sincere smile… “But… I love ya. I can’t imagine life without you around. It would be so boring.” I looked up, expecting to see Taylor laughing at me.

“Awwwww,” he said, with a truly appreciative look. There was no mockery in his expression, just affection. “That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard you say, Alley. I didn’t think you had it in you.” He grinned wildly and suddenly leaned over and crushed me in a hug. “And I love you, too. You’re my best friend… I can trust you with anything. I’d do anything for you. When this is all over, you’ll have to come stay with me – because I’ll miss you so much.” He kissed my cheek. God, what a sapfest, the cynic in me thought, but at the same time, I was nearly delirious from his words, from his touch. I squeezed him tightly, not wanting to let him go. Those five words, probably just a reflex to him, probably meant nothing, kept running through my head. And I love you, too. And I love you, too... It was rapidly becoming my new mantra.

We finally pulled apart. Taking a deep breath, I looked over at Louise, who was smirking. “Well,” she said. “Taylor, you’re a helluva guy, and I hope you get everything you’ve always wanted. In life, in your career, in love.” She tapped the side of her glass with a fingernail, looking thoughtful. “And while I’m thinking about it, the same goes for you, Allison.” 

My face heated up again, annoyingly, so I quickly raised my glass to change the subject. “To unusual friendships,” I said, which sounded terribly corny, but like I said, I’m not that quick on the draw.

“To crazy Kentucky girls,” said Taylor, raising his glass in similar fashion.

Louise laughed. “To the fucked-up supernatural being that brought you to us… cheers.”

“Cheers,” we repeated in unison, before clinking glasses and taking a deep drink. Damn, this tastes good, I thought. Before I set it down, I took another deep gulp, emptying nearly half the glass.

“Let’s eat,” crowed Taylor, piling food high on his plate. I screeched when I saw the amount of potatoes he was dishing out for himself.

“Hey, leave me some!” I grabbed for the bowl, but he laughed as he held  it out of reach, blue eyes sparkling.

                                                                                          ******

The rest of dinner played out much like that – lots of good food, laughter, and reminiscing about the past year.  My cheeks hurt from laughing, my voice was beginning to grow hoarse. And as the evening wore on, I began to feel… lighter. Looser. More relaxed; the tension I’d felt earlier in the day had virtually melted away. Possibly because I was currently on my second mystery drink… but it just had a little vodka in it, according to Louise.  Not enough to really affect me...

Taylor leaned back in his chair, puffing on cigars Louise had bought for him that day (per his demand). We’d just finished dessert, a delicious cake that had come from Magee’s, a local bakery. I was so full, I was on the verge of being physically ill. I turned, sitting sideways in my chair, and leaned my head against the back of it. I wrinkled my nose as Taylor smoked.

“Tay,” I murmured. “That’s disgusting.”

He glanced at me in his peripheral vision. “Oh, is it?” he asked, cigar still between his teeth. Then, with a mischievous grin, he plucked it from between his lips and handed it to me. “Here, try it.”

“Eww! No!”

“Come on… just once… it won’t kill you…” he wheedled. “For me?”

“For you?” I snorted, but gingerly took the cigar from him. I lifted it to my mouth and managed to inhale once, way too deeply, before nearly choking to death. Taylor tittered with laughter.

“Okay, okay. It’s not for everybody.”

“It shouldn’t be for you, either. You’ll ruin your voice.” I stood up, preparing to help Louise clean off the table. I felt a little odd, almost as if I was moving in slow motion. Not bad… just... odd. I started to walk out of the room, but Taylor suddenly grabbed my arm and pulled me back.

“Where’re you going?” he asked. “Stay here and talk to me.”

“I’m gonna help clean up. This table won’t do it by itself, you know…”

“Here, I’ll help, too.” He tossed the rest of the cigar on his plate and stood up. I leaned over the table, collecting plates and stacking them in a pile. Taylor assisted me, picking up the silverware and napkins. His hair cascaded across his face as he reached over, obscuring his features. I gripped the stack of plates hard, resisting the urge to brush his hair back behind his ear. He turned to look at me, and noticed my white knuckles. “You okay there, Alley?”

“Yeah, yeah. Just… afraid I’ll drop them,” I said. He chuckled. Well, at least that was a believable excuse.

We brought all the dirty dishes in and set them by the sink. Louise was rinsing them off and laying them in the sink, so they could be put in the dishwasher later. I started to help her but she waved me off. “Just leave ‘em. We’ll get it done tomorrow.” She glanced behind me and saw Taylor standing there. “So, what’d you think, Taylor? Was it good enough for you?”

He draped himself across my back, his arms hanging loose over my shoulders. He rested his chin on my head. I wanted to just lean back against him and relax…“Perfect. Thanks, Louise,” he said. He stepped back and his warm hands gripped my shoulders. “Hey, Office Space is on TV tonight… come in here and watch it with me.”

Office Space? We’ve seen it a hundred times…” Too late, he was already dragging me into the living room. “Wait. I want another drink.” I shrugged Taylor off and waltzed back into the kitchen.

“No, no more drinks for you, honey. I don’t need a drunk on my hands.” Louise eyed me carefully.

“I only had two drinks! I’m not drunk,” I declared. Louise smiled.

“Not yet. And I want it to stay that way.”

I scowled and sauntered over to the refrigerator. “Fine. Taylor!” I  yelled into the other room. “You want an Ale8?” He replied that he did, so I picked out two icy cold ones and took them into the living room.

I heard the phone ring, and Louise picked up. Meanwhile, Taylor and I threw ourselves down on the L-shaped couch. He sat right on the end; I curled up directly in the hooked part and lay on my side, my body concentric with the shape of the couch. From where I was lying, I had a perfect view of the TV… and of Taylor. He flipped on the TV, tossing the remote down on the floor.

We watched the opening credits in silence.  Well, to be technical, Taylor watched the opening credits, and I watched Taylor. During the first commercial break, he looked over and caught me staring at him. “What?” he asked.

“Nothing.” It had grown dark outside. Through the window, I could see the fluorescent haze of a streetlight, the passing flashes of car headlights. “Nothing,” I repeated. I reached for my soda, taking a slow sip. I had never felt so relaxed, or warm, or comfortable… I could almost go to sleep… I suddenly heard the doorbell. I sat up, confused.

Louise strolled into the room. She had changed clothes again, and fixed her hair a bit. She had her purse over one shoulder… and a duffel bag over the other. And her camera in one hand. “Where are you going?” I asked, confused.

“Out. Steve and I are going to the Red Mile racetrack to watch some racing. Hopefully I can use up the rest of this film so we can get these pictures developed, finally. Oh, and I’m spending the night with him.” She beckoned to the door. “He’s here to pick me up.”

“Huh? But you said none of us were going out tonight…”

“No, dear, I said none of us were driving tonight.” As I sat there and chewed on that thought for a minute, she readied her camera and pointed it at us. “Here, let’s take a picture. Pose for me.” When neither Taylor nor I moved, she scowled. “Allison! Scoot over here next to Taylor, I can’t get you both in the frame when you’re on opposite sides of the room.”

I rolled off the couch and shuffled over to Taylor. He held his arms open wide with a big, silly grin. “C’mere,” he said. Grabbing my arm, he yanked me into his lap, startling me. My arms flailed as I collapsed onto his legs.

“Oof!” I muttered. “Watch it, Taylor. I almost knocked over your drink.”

He grabbed his bottle, holding it protectively. Louise lifted her camera again. “Okay, smile. Ready?” she asked. I felt Taylor’s long arms snake around me, holding me in a hug. He still held the Ale8 in his left hand. I draped my arms over his shoulders and leaned against him, the sides of our faces touching. We were blinded by a flash, then Louise smiled, satisfied. “Perfect.” The doorbell rang again. “Well, I have to go. You two have fun.” She blew me a kiss and winked before flitting from the room.

“Bye,” Taylor called over his shoulder after her. Well, he didn’t seem bothered or insulted by her sudden departure. Slowly I disentangled myself from him and went back to my original position on the couch. He just settled back, loosely crossing his arms across his chest. I heard the door slam, and the house was quiet. I shrugged and sighed.

“Looks like it’s just you and me now, Alley,” Taylor said thoughtfully.

I yawned. “Yep,” I murmured. I was fighting to keep my eyes open. I thought alcohol made people do crazy things… not fall asleep. I snuggled up with a pillow and settled in to try and watch the rest of the movie.

                                                                                     ******

Which failed miserably, by the way. My eyes, whether I wanted them to or not, kept drifting over to Taylor. God, I wanted him so much, it pained me. The hormonal, lovesick urges I had managed to banish earlier in the day returned full force, with no foreseeable way to stop them. He seemed so far away from me, on that side of the couch. I longed to scoot closer to him. What’s he thinking about? I wondered, watching his expressionless face. I wasn’t even sure that he was really watching the movie – usually we were both laughing uproariously at Milton and Lumberg, but so far he hadn’t even cracked a smile. Family? Friends? Girlfriend?  Music? Is he mentally composing a song? Is he planning the first thing he wants to do when he wakes up?

I closed my eyes, weary from all the thinking and worrying. I almost wished he would leave soon. Just so I could get a little peace of mind… just so I could accept that he would never be mine, and get on with my life… I opened my eyes briefly and let them roam over his lithe figure yet again. Almost.

“Hey,” Taylor murmured. I felt a light tickle on the bottom of my feet, and squealed, jerking my feet away. “Don’t go to sleep.”

“I’m not,” I lied. I rubbed my eyes, yawning.

He laughed huskily. “Listen to you! Liar! Wake up!” He leaned over and attempted to tickle me again. I shrieked, curling up in ball to get away from him.

“Taylor! Stop it!” I was giggling, I couldn’t help it. Suddenly he was on his knees, crawling towards me, a childish grin on his face. “You’ll spill my soda!”

“Come here!”

I began scooting away from him, still laughing. He reached out and managed to grab my feet, pulling me towards him, aiming for my ribs. I was on my back, playfully trying to kick him away. Then, suddenly, he was right above me, face inches from mine. His hands were planted on either side of my face; his legs straddled my waist. The ends of his hair tickled my face.

I was now wide awake.

He was out of breath from laughing. “Awake yet?”

This wasn’t the first time I’d been in this position, as Taylor loved to prove how strong he was (although pinning me down wasn’t really that big a test of strength), and being a boy, he was generally rambunctious in nature. "Yeah," I answered, equally breathless.

I didn’t know what else to say. Apparently, he didn’t either. But he didn’t move, just remained hovering above me like some sort of angel. Which he was, in a way, I supposed. I mean, he was obviously sent here by a higher power for some reason… he was fair, and blond, and beautiful… he could sing like none other… I wondered, for a moment, if he also knew how to play the harp, and nearly sniggered at the thought.

I don’t know how much time passed. It felt like an age – a century, a millennium. I never tore my gaze away from him, taking the time to memorize every nuance of his face. The sharp curve of his eyebrows. The small moles on his cheek and his chin. The long, black lashes that lined his eyes.

What are you thinking, Taylor?


I couldn’t concentrate. The world around us had become surreal, had nearly disappeared. I was only somewhat aware of the soft couch fabric pressed against my back. I reached up with one hand, smoothing back his hair so that the light from the television illuminated his features.

“You’re so beautiful.”

The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop them, like water gushing from a dam. I had been thinking them, of course… but some connection in my brain was lost, the connection that usually censored my speech and kept me from doing things I regretted. It was gone. I realized, in a millisecond too late, that I had said them out loud.

“What?” Taylor asked uncertainly. He didn’t pull away.

Alcohol, it’s the alcohol! Blame the drink! Blame Louise! Blame the CIA for putting a chip in your brain! Blame something! But I could do none of those. I had no defense. Nothing. He knew what I had said. There was no use in denying it. And besides, it was true.

“You’re beautiful,” I repeated, rubbing his cheek gently with my thumb, my hand still splayed across his face. “So beautiful.” I felt my eyes begin to water. I took a ragged breath, not believing what I was saying. “It hurts me to look at you.”

He said nothing. Which, I supposed, was better than him screaming and running away. But the fear, the ever-present fear of rejection that lived deep in my soul, began to stir. I’ve just fucked up. I have royally fucked everything up… he’s trying to figure out the best way to let me down easy… I lowered my hand. I desperately started to squirm, to try and scoot away.

He was having none of it. His hands stopped me from escaping by grabbing my shoulders. I grabbed his arms and tried to push him off, nearly blinded by tears. “No,” he said so softly, I almost didn’t hear. I stopped struggling. “Don’t go.”

I could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock, the slurred, hapless speech of Milton in the movie, the dishwasher gently humming. But I was sure that none of it could possibly be louder than the hammering of my heart. My breath caught in my throat; I couldn’t breathe.

He spoke again. “Kiss me.”

I couldn’t have just heard him right. There is no way he just said that… “What?” I whispered, my voice shaking.

“Kiss me,” he repeated gently. So I had heard him right…

The fingers of his right hand were lightly tracing a path down my cheek. With a soft smile, he bent his head towards mine. A million reasons flew around in my head, some rational, some not, all screaming at me not to do it – he’s drunk, it’s out of pity, Louise paid him to do it – but I ignored each and every one of them. Ah, hell… no matter what the reason is…. Why not? I grabbed the back of his head, tangling my right hand in his hair, and pulled his lips to mine.

Jay had been a terrible kisser. Naturally, part of that could have been because he didn’t really give a damn about me, but I liked to imagine that he was just naturally horrific in that field. Alex had been a good kisser – great, even, by someone else’s standards, but he didn’t set a fire in my soul. Taylor…

… was indescribable.

It started slow; sweet. He didn’t jam his tongue down my throat, or bruise my lips, or slobber all over my face, which had been my usual experience with guys. Instead, he took his time, first brushing his lips lightly against mine before deepening the kiss. He smelled faintly of the cigar he’d smoked, and of the alcohol we’d consumed. One of his hands carefully snaked around my shoulder, coming to rest under my back, his palm against my bare skin. The other stroked gently through my hair, and traced soft lines down my face and throat, sending shivers down my spine. My left hand was balled into a fist, clutching the front of his T-shirt. His lips continued to undulate with mine, still moving at that maddeningly slow, yet satisfying pace. I couldn’t breathe. Didn’t want to. I realized that I could have happily died just then, lying in his arms, with his body pressed so close to mine.

He pulled away slightly, nearly gasping for breath. Apparently I wasn’t the only one suffocating. I kept my death grip in his hair, refusing to let him get away… afraid that once he pulled away, he would start talking; start apologizing for the mistake he’d made. He began kissing my face – my nose, my forehead, each of my eyelids, before making a path back down to reclaim my lips. I relaxed my hands then and tentatively let them roam over his back and neck, feeling the tightly wound muscle just under the shirt and skin.

I’m dreaming… this isn’t real…

But it was real – the sharp pain in my side from his belt buckle was proof of that, akin to someone pinching themselves to prove they’re awake. The cold metal jabbed into my ribs, but I refused to move. I didn’t want him to pull away; I was willing to risk being bruised in the morning as long as he kept doing what he was doing.

He paused again, briefly, bringing both of his hands up and resting his palms against the side of my face. His nose nuzzled against mine; I could feel his hot breath sweeping across my skin. He opened his eyes, looking squarely into mine – I had never seen them so intense, so dark. “Allison,” he murmured, his voice soft and breathy. My name had never sounded so beautiful.

I swallowed, unable to form a coherent reply. Instead, feeling bold, I let my hands roam up under his shirt, feeling the silky, warm skin of his back. He shuddered slightly at my touch, closing his eyes and pressing his forehead against mine. Then I felt his hand sneak behind my neck, lifting my head slightly so that our lips connected again, this time with even more intensity.

I couldn’t tell you how long it went on – I lost all track of time. My thoughts, which had been whirling madly when he’d first kissed me, dissipated, until I was completely blank. It was a welcome relief, really – I stopped worrying, stopped wondering, and just enjoyed the ride. And what a ride it was…

I felt the couch fabric sliding against my back. Taylor had shifted so that he was more to the side, rather than directly on top of me, and in doing so, had unwittingly pushed me further toward the edge. I flailed my left arm, trying to keep my balance or grab onto something to steady myself – I failed. With a shriek, I collapsed into the floor, bumping hard into the coffee table. My Ale8 overturned, spilling sticky soda all across the tabletop and into the floor. I sat in the floor for a moment, stunned. Now that our connection was broken, the doubts in my mind came rushing back. Oh, God, what have I done…

I looked at Taylor, my mouth slightly agape. He was lying sideways on the couch, his lanky body spread across the cushions. His shirt was twisted up above his waist, revealing most of his flat, smooth stomach. His hair was disheveled, tangled, and he raked it out of his dancing blue eyes. I realized, after a moment, that he was laughing.

“Alley,” he said. “Alley. Are you okay?” He leaned over, reaching one hand out towards me.

Why was he being so calm? Couldn’t he see what I had just done? Didn’t he realize that he was supposed to be disgusted? “I--” I stuttered. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…” It was the only thing I could think to say, so I repeated it over and over.

His laugh disappeared, and he looked confused. Fighting the lump in my throat, I jumped to my feet, nearly tripping on the overturned Ale8 bottle as I did so. I had to get out of there. “I have to clean this up,” I mumbled frantically, before dashing out of the room.