Chapter 59: Crazy Love

Taylor

Wow. Just… wow.

Last year, on this very same day, I had kissed her. She had been yelling at me, accusing me of being some sort of drug-induced hallucination, so to prove to her that I was very much real, I had jumped up, grabbed her face, and kissed her hard on the lips. She came close to slapping me in the face. We had laughed about it since then, of course. But in the months that followed, when I began to understand my growing feelings for her, I had imagined that kiss, as unpassionate and unreal as it had been, over and over. Replaying it in my mind. Wishing I had done it better. Wishing it would happen again. And now…

I couldn’t believe it was happening… after untold months of wanting it more than anything, I couldn’t believe that she was right there, right underneath me, accepting my kisses and responding. Roaming her hands all across my back and shoulders. Enjoying it. I ran my fingertips along her jaw line, tracing an outline around her face, before following my hands with small, slow kisses. Her eyes were almost closed, and she let out a soft, heavy sigh, her arms tightening around me, her short nails digging into my skin. The sound was enough to make my blood run hot.

I wasn’t in the most comfortable of positions – it was hard to balance on my knees without using my hands for support – but I couldn’t stop touching her. I had been afraid to move before, lest we break our connection and she push me away, but when I leaned in to kiss her the second time I knew. I knew.

My mother had claimed, all my life, that she had known Dad was the one for her the first time they kissed. “I knew right then that I loved your father, Taylor,” she had told me more than once. “And I could tell… I knew right then that he loved me, too.”

To me, that had always sounded corny and a little stupid… like that silly Cher song, the one about the kiss. Good kissing was all about technique, right? Anyone could learn if they just practiced. So one good kiss didn’t necessarily equate love. And it had always seemed dumb to me that you could tell something like that without using words. Words were communication! Words were essential! People do a lot of things that can be misinterpreted without some sort of verbal explanation. I had scoffed at my mother… all my life.

Until now. Mom was right. I knew.

She loved me.

The pieces were falling together, so to speak. I had seen the way she behaved around other men. She was never able to be herself – shy, self-conscious, sort of wound up. Always holding back. Once, I had spied on her when Alex had dropped her off after a date. He’d tried to kiss her then, and she’d brushed him off. She wasn’t comfortable with it, it seemed, even though the man in question had undoubtedly loved her. Because she didn’t love him back…

She loved me. She hadn’t said a word the whole time, but I could feel it. It was in her half-lidded eyes, in the way her lips reacted to mine. She was completely relaxed, welcoming, urging me on without speaking. I pressed my mouth against hers one last time, hard, before reluctantly backing off a little. I carefully shifted my weight, lifting my right side and scooting over so that I was lying on my side, facing her. I reached to pull her back closer to me, to continue this amazing thing we’d created, when all hell broke loose.

She was getting further away from me, and in a split-second I realized she was sliding off the couch. Her arm let go of me and flew through the air, looking for something to brace against. I wasn’t quick enough to provide any help, and the next thing I knew, she had crashed into the coffee table, spilling soda everywhere.

She sat there for a second, wide-eyed and disoriented. Her hair was a tangled, straw-colored mess, the curls sticking up in all directions. I felt laughter bubble up in my throat; she was so adorable, so sweet… so mine. Grinning lazily, I reached out a hand to help her up.

“Alley. Alley, are you okay?” I asked.

She didn’t reply. She slowly turned to look at me, her expression still shocked and frozen. She looked… panicky. After what seemed like eons of staring at each other in silence, she finally spoke, her voice quivering.

“I—I… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Oh, my God… I’m so sorry… I--” Her speech was stilted, bewildered. She shut up abruptly, her features suddenly pinching together. I realized that she was trying not to cry. I immediately propped myself up, all trace of laughter gone. I started to speak, to reassure her, but she jumped up awkwardly, staggering as she kicked the empty bottle away. “I have to go clean this up,” she said hastily. Before I could respond, she fled from the room.

I sat on the couch for a moment, stunned. The TV suddenly seemed too loud; obnoxious, even, and I grabbed the remote and turned it off. I sat up slowly, absentmindedly tugging my shirt back down. I drew my fingers through my messy hair, taking a deep breath.
What just happened? Why did she run?

Maybe I’d been wrong. Maybe she didn’t love me, maybe she didn’t even like me. Maybe I had just been too bold from the drinks… maybe I should have just kept my damn hands to myself… I leaned forward, rubbing my face furiously. I could still feel her skin against mine, her lips against my lips…

I sat up, my back ramrod-straight. No. There was no way. She had felt it, too. She had been caught up in it just as much as I, wanting it just as bad as I had. I knew it… and Louise had known it too. All those months of pep talks and hints… she’s just oblivious, Taylor, her voice ran through my head. Too paranoid, too self-conscious, too worried about everything else to see…too scared…

Too scared… yes. I was scared, too; I’d never felt so strongly about someone before. Never put my heart on the line the way I had, just minutes ago… it felt a lot like falling.  It was thrilling, a rush, your heart was pounding and you felt like screaming, and you just prayed that there was something, or someone, down at the bottom to catch you, to break your fall…

I stood up, looking over my shoulder at the dim light coming from the kitchen. If she was going to be scared, I was going to be scared with her. We were going to work this out. I set my shoulders and marched into the kitchen, marveling at my newfound audacity, and feeling a sense of self-assuredness I’d never experienced before. I love you, and you love me, Alley… and I’m not going to let this fall apart, not now. Not when I've waited this long...

I walked into the kitchen on silent, bare feet. She stood in front of the sink, her back to me. A roll of towels was in her hand, but she was just staring out the window. Her shoulders shook slightly, and as I stood there watching, she tore off one of the towels and wiped her face with it – presumably, wiping away tears.

“Allison,” I said softly. She froze. “Look at me.”

At first, she didn’t comply. I stood silently, patiently, waiting for her to answer my request. Finally, her shoulders sank down, as if admitting defeat. As she turned, she leaned against the countertop. In one hand she clutched the towel. Her eyes were red-rimmed and slightly puffy; there were huge black rings under them from where she’d smeared her mascara. She met my gaze and I could see her visibly swallow. I moved toward her gradually, as one might approach a frightened animal.

“Your makeup,” I said dumbly. “It’s… um, messed up. Here.” When I’d gotten close enough, I lifted my hand, intending to wipe away the black smears with my thumb. She jerked away, rubbing under her eyes with her fingers. “You got it,” I said when all the black was gone. She nodded, looking down at her feet.

“Allison,” I said again. I wasn’t sure where to start. It was kind of hard to start a conversation when the other person refused to verbally respond. I was standing about a foot away from her, our arms locked to our sides. It felt like we were miles apart. What are you thinking? Though I was pretty sure I could identify the answer to that question. I knew her so well, I could just imagine the thoughts flying through her mind at that moment. Speak to me. Say something, anything. I need to hear your voice…

Her hands were shaking, I noticed. I understood, then, that I would have to be the brave one. Those who take the biggest risks, though, get the biggest rewards… and I was definitely ready for my reward.

“What just happened in there… it was…” I struggled for the right words… for the perfect words. ‘Awesome’ or ‘really hot’ wasn’t going to cut it. “It was--”

“It was a mistake,” she said suddenly, speaking for the first time. “I didn’t mean to--”

“It was not a mistake,” I corrected her. “Please, don’t interrupt me. Let me say what I have to say.” If I can get it out… I took a deep breath. I was sure that I was going to say something completely cheesy and laughable.

“You… I… it was amazing, Allison. Amazing and terrifying and wonderful. And right.

She shook her head, sadly. “You’re drunk, Taylor. You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I am not drunk, and neither are you. And what did I just say about letting me finish?” She remained silent, point taken, and I continued. “And just so you know – what just happened, at least on my part, was not because of alcohol, or hormones, or pity. Allison, I have been.... dreaming of this moment for so long now…”

The stunned look on her face almost made me laugh out loud. Instead, I inched closer to her, smiling, until our bodies were nearly touching. “Yeah. I have never, ever been kissed like that… never, ever felt anything remotely close to that. It just confirmed something I’ve known for along time now.” I lifted my hand, cupping the side of her face. This time, she didn’t flinch. I lowered my voice to a whisper. “I’m not drunk. I’m not lying to you, I’m not saying this as a sick joke. This is me being more honest than I’ve ever been in my life. I felt it... I felt it. I know you felt it, too.” She sucked in her breath sharply.

The air in the room seemed to grow hot and tense… or was it just me? I wasn’t sure. All I saw was her. For all I knew, we were standing out in the middle of the Sahara, and not in her kitchen. Blood was pounding in my ears, and my breath caught in my throat as I became conscious what I was going to say next.

I leaned closer to her, my voice softly pleading. “I want to hear you say it, Allison… please. I’ve waited so long for this… I have wanted you for so long….” I wiped away a stray tear that was beginning to spring from her eyes. “I’ll even say it first. I love you.”

There. The words were out there, hanging in the air, waiting for an anchor. The same words I’d said earlier in the night, only this time, laden with extra meaning. Amazing how the context of a conversation can change the significance of a phrase or sentence. Her eyes widened then; she truly looked amazed. God, how could she not have known? How could she not have had any idea? Totally oblivious…

“I love you.” I said it again, just for emphasis. There would be no ambiguity this time. No close calls, no misunderstandings. I had just spelled it out for her. Say it. Please, just say it…

Talk about time standing still… I was immobile, my hand still cupping her cheek, still staring down into her eyes. I couldn’t move. Waiting…

“I--”Slowly, she brought her hand up to her face, covering mine with her own. “--I love you, too.”

I closed my eyes, relief, desire, and joy washing over me in a tidal wave. I collapsed against her, my arms fiercely around her neck and waist, crushing her close to me until I was sure neither of us could breathe. I buried my face in her neck. Her arms were wound tightly around my waist, her face smashed against my chest. “Thank you,” I murmured into her neck, kissing it. “I have been waiting so, so long to hear that…”

She relaxed her arms a bit, turning her face to look at me. Her voice was filled with disbelief. “You have?”

I ignored her obvious attempt to get me to start explaining myself, as I had other things in mind… Talk could come later. Much later. I continued kissing a trail along her collarbone, not bothering to stop while I answered. “Yes…”

This seemed to astonish her. I loosened my hug and she leaned back, allowing me to maintain my lip-to-skin contact with her neck. Her hands loosely grasped my shoulders. “Taylor,” she said. “How long?” I started up the center of her neck, grinning as her head reflexively rolled back, exposing her smooth, pale throat. I reached her chin, and continued moving around her face. “Taylor,” she said again. “How long have--” I stopped her question with my lips. When I broke contact, she quickly clapped a hand over my mouth, determined to get an answer out of me. “Taylor,” she said pointedly. “How long?”

I kept my arms loosely around her waist, cocking my head to the side. “Does it matter?”

“It matters to me.”

“Why?”

She sighed. “So I can know exactly how long I’ve been an idiot.”

I couldn’t resist the obvious tease. “All your life?”

She glowered at me through lowered lashes. “Taylor.

“Okay, okay… I don’t know… last fall sometime… maybe earlier…”

“Last fall? Last fall!? And you didn’t say anything?!” She actually looked upset. “Taylor! How could you!”

“How could I? Allison, you had a boyfriend… well, I don’t think Jay really counts… but then you started dating Alex… I just couldn’t. I had no idea you felt the same. Besides, in my… condition… it just seemed ridiculous. You deserved someone who was… well, real, for starters.”

She shook her head slowly. “You are real,” she said softly. “And I’m so sorry, Taylor. For being so stupid and so blind. And so scared. Forgive me.”

“I’ll forgive you if you let me kiss you again.”

The mood in the room changed then, with my playful but entirely serious request. It felt lighter, brighter. We stood and grinned at each other like fools for several long seconds. Then the giddiness of discovering a new love waned ever-so-slightly, making way for a new emotion. One that I’d spent the last year forcing down and restraining . I realized, watching her cheeks flush with pleasure at the thought of kissing me again, that I was going to have a very hard time controlling myself…

She bit her lip, fighting off a wicked grin. “Well… if you insist…”

“Oh, I insist…” Laughing, I backed away from her, grabbing her securely around the waist and lifting her to sit on the counter so that we were equal in height. She squealed in surprise. I moved forward, pushing her knees open so I could be closer to her. She wrapped her legs around me, crossing them behind my back. We embraced again, aggressively kissing and touching with a passion that had been held in check for far too long.  It was like the floodgates opening; uncontrollable. Her chest was smashed against mine, her hands raking through my hair as I attacked her bare shoulders, her throat, her jaw, her lips, anywhere I could reach. Calm down, Taylor… take it slow… yet I couldn’t. And judging by her actions, neither could she.

We were gasping, breathless, yet unable to sate ourselves. “I love you,” she breathed raggedly into my ear as I nibbled on her neck. “Oh, God, I love you so much…”

“And I love you…” I murmured against her lips. “So, so much.” We kept on in this fashion, repeating the elusive phrase over and over between kisses – the kind of behavior, that, when I witnessed it happening between two other people, made me want to scream and tell them to get a room. Or get a grip. But we couldn’t help it – in fact, we deserved an indulgence in lovey-dovey conduct, I thought. Making up for lost time, as it were. I was pondering this last thought when we were suddenly interrupted by the shrill ring of the phone, which rested on the wall mere feet from us. We leaped apart, startled by the disturbance.

She relaxed her legs, releasing me, and crawled down the counter and sat by the phone. I wiped my brow, discovering that I was both sweating and shaking. She looked at the phone with irritation as it rang once more. She jerked it off the hook, still panting. “Hello?!”

I moved down the length of the counter closer to her as she narrowed her eyes and made a disgusted face. “Yes, I was busy, and no, I don’t want to change my fucking long-distance plan! Stop calling me!” She slammed the phone back down. “Ugh! Telemarketers!”

I gave her a Cheshire-cat smile. “Calm down. They’re just trying to make a living.”

“Well, do they have to be so damn annoying?”

I laughed. “You know, people have asked the same thing about my career choice, too, Alley.”

She smiled at that. “With good reason.” She reached her hand out to me. “Come here.”

Slow, I reminded myself. I took her hand and kissed it before pulling her close again. We folded our arms around each other in a loose, comfortable embrace, letting our breathing soften, our desire cool down. I rested my head on her shoulder, unable to stop my lips from curving upward.

“Oh, Taylor,” she sighed. “What are we gonna do?”

“Do?” I repeated. The hard part was done, could she not see that? “What do you mean?”

“It’s just… this is only temporary.” She leaned her face against mine. “You’ll be returning soon. Back with your family and friends, back to your old life. You’re not going to remember me, or any of this, I know you’re not. I don’t know what I’m going to do without you…”

I just didn’t see how that was possible in any way, shape or form. How could I not remember the love of my life? “You worry too much.” I kissed her brow. “Let’s just enjoy this for tonight. We’ll talk about it tomorrow, when Louise gets back, and work out some kind of scheme. She seems to be pretty good at coming up with those…”

She laughed quietly and nodded. “Indeed she is. Okay.”

“As for what we’re gonna do now, hmmmm…. we could move back into there…” I beckoned to the living room.  “Because I don’t know about you, but I was having quite a good time in there, before you took off…” I hinted mischievously. I gave her my best doe-eyed, begging expression.

She chuckled. “Men… all you ever think about is sex…”

I kissed her cheek. “Not sex,” I said, which wasn’t entirely true… “Just you.”

“Mmmm-hmmm.” Then, apparently, thinking about the living room furniture and not me or sex, she exclaimed, “The carpet! The table! Oh my God, Louise is going to kill me!”

She pushed me away and leaped off the counter. “Dammit,” she muttered, grabbing the forgotten roll of towels on the counter. “Taylor, will you find the carpet cleaner? Oh, Jesus…” With that, she scuttled out of the kitchen.

                                                                                   *******

We finally managed to get the mess cleaned up a little later. It was difficult, since I insisted on getting in the floor and helping her scrub, which inevitably led to us brushing against each other, which led to a kiss, which led to another, which eventually led to a make-out session in which I held her to the floor and left her short of breath.

After the second time this happened, she shoved me away. “Taylor,” she said, catching her breath, “this is ridiculous.”

“What? Aren’t you enjoying it?” I gave her a sly smile. I slipped my hand into the leg of her jeans, running it up her calf, tickling her behind her knee. She smacked my hand, trying not to laugh.

“Well, yes, but that’s beside the point. It’s like we’re freaking dogs in heat or something… I can’t even get the damn carpet cleaned up because of you!”

I gave her an injured look. “Well, can you blame me? Forgive me for wanting to finally show you my undying affection. I’ve spent the last year pining away for you while you’ve been off gallivanting with other men…”

“Taylor.” She pouted slightly. “I told you, that could all have been avoided if a certain someone had spoken up at any point… and saved me a lot of heartache in the process.”

Well, she had me there. I squeezed her knee and backed away, letting her finish cleaning up the soda that had soaked into the carpet. When she was done, I picked up the dirty towels for her and threw them away. She followed me into the kitchen, tossing the carpet cleaner on the table. My hands were sticky from the soda, so I walked over to the sink to wash up. I was absentmindedly drying off with a yellow and blue handtowel, daydreaming about the future days to come, when I felt two warm, slim arms slide up around my waist. I smiled lazily and leaned back against her, covering her arms with mine.

“And what was all that earlier about me not being able to keep my hands off you?” I teased. I laced my fingers through hers and pulled her closer, until she was pressed up against my back.

“Shut up,” she said, nuzzling her face against my neck. I felt her push my hair to the side, gently kissing the sensitive skin underneath. Oh, she was driving me crazy. “And quit complaining, Taylor.”

“Mmm, how romantic… ‘Shut up and quit complaining.’ Glad to see this hasn’t changed your eloquent way with words…”

She giggled at that, and I released her arms so I could turn to face her. She readjusted her arms and linked them loosely behind my back. “We’re two of a kind, you know that?” I asked. “I don’t know how I made it before you came along.”

“Me either.” More laughter. I bent down to give her a quick kiss before suddenly hoisting her into my arms. “Taylor! What are you doing!?”

“Continuing this somewhere more comfortable,” I replied easily. We returned to the living room, now thankfully free of any carpet distractions. The grandfather clock clicked and whirred before chiming loudly eleven times. Eleven  o’clock already? Where has the time gone?

“Mmm-hmmm. You know what I think?”

“No, princess, what do you think?” I walked us over to the couch and collapsed on the end, pulling her into my lap. As I yanked the lever to unfold the recliner, she snuggled against me and smirked.

“I think you just like to show off how strong you are.”

“Oh, really?” I asked. She rested one elbow on my shoulder, playing with a lock of my hair, and nodded. I gave her a lazy grin. “Interesting. Why would you say that?”

“Carrying me around everywhere! You would carry me upstairs when I was tired… you gave me a piggyback ride today in front of the whole neighborhood… plus wrestling and tickling me all the time…”

I smirked back at her. “Nah. Those were just excuses to touch you.”

“What?” She looked appalled.

“I can’t believe how ignorant you are, Allison. Did you ever see me carrying Louise around? Hugging on her, rubbing her back, anything?

She shrugged. “I just never thought about it… I mean, she does have a boyfriend.”

I rolled my eyes. “Silly,” I murmured. I tickled her ribs a little. “But I don’t need an excuse to touch you now, do I?”

“Not at all.” She smiled then, a bit shyly. “While we’re on confessions… you see this shirt I’m wearing?” I nodded. “I wore it for you. You said you liked my shoulders, so…” She looked at me askance, gauging my reaction.

“Hmmm, I see. Well,” I said, gently running my finger under one thin strap of the shirt and slowly pulling it off her shoulder. “I like it very much.”  I began kissing her bare shoulder then, impressed with my own smoothness. I reached for the other strap, intending for it to join its twin.

“Taylor.  It’s your turn.” She gently guided my face away, looking at me expectantly. “Tell me something you’ve never admitted to me before.”

I gave her a chagrined look. “Women! Always wanting to talk…” She raised an eyebrow. “Alright, alright… let’s see… okay. You remember after the fight, when I was hurt, and I couldn’t get dressed by myself… I asked you to come in and help me.” She nodded, lips curving up at the memory. “I came so close to kissing you… I probably would have, just not able to help myself, if Louise hadn’t interrupted us.” I smiled. “Your turn.”

She slowly drew her fingers down the side of my face. “Do you know why I broke up with Alex so suddenly? Because when we were out, he made fun of you… he made fun of MMMBop. And I actually defended it! MMMBop! I hate that damn song! Can you believe that?” We both laughed. “And afterward, I couldn’t figure out why it had bothered me so much. Why I was making such a big deal about it, when I would have made fun of it right along with him only a year ago… that’s when I realized it wasn’t about the song, it was about you. That I loved you, and I couldn’t go on pretending for Alex anymore.”

“Mmm. Remind me to thank him for hating my music…” I leaned back, closing my eyes. My head ached, a slight, almost imperceptible throbbing that I was sure was going to intensify. What a time to get a headache, I thought. Must have been the alcohol. “Lemme think… oh, here’s a good one. You know all those walks I’ve been taking? That Louise usually goes on?”

“Yes… I’ve been wondering about that, by the way.”

“It was basically an excuse to talk about you. Like confessional. I needed somebody to talk to about it. One day, she actually told me to shut up because she was tired of listening to my shit if I wasn’t going to do anything about it…” We both burst out laughing at this. “Ah, we owe her, don’t we?”

“Yeah,” she murmured. “She’s put up with a lot this year.” Then, looking at me slyly from the corner of her eye, she added, “but then, so have I.”

“Ungrateful,” I growled playfully. I rubbed her back absentmindedly, suddenly aware of how tired I was. I settled deeper into the cushions and sighed, pulling her against me. We stayed like that for what seemed like forever, just resting and listening to each other breathe.

This is what love is, I thought. Being best friends. Supporting each other, teasing each other, just being there for each other. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Despite the circumstances, despite the fear of uncertainty, of what would happen when I returned to Tulsa, I knew that I hadn’t been this happy in a long, long time. And it could only get better… I began daydreaming about what we would do together once everything was normal again. She would have to meet my family, definitely. She could go on tour with us… and the thought of someone keeping me company other than Isaac or Zac was definitely appealing. I unsuccessfully stifled a yawn, my head somewhere in the clouds.

“Tired?” she asked. From the tone of her voice, I guessed she was, too.

“Yeah, a little sleepy. But I don’t want to go to bed yet.” I rubbed my forehead, in the spot between the eyes. Ugh, it was getting worse.

“Me, either.” She raised her head to look at me. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah… just getting a little headache.”

In a flash, she was sitting up. “Do you want something? Tylenol? Excedrin?”

I started to refuse it, but a sharp pain shot through my left temple just then, changing my mind. “Um… yeah. Thanks.”

She gave me a sweet smile as she got up to retrieve medicine and a glass of water. She returned quickly, handing me two Excedrin Migraine caplets and the water. I gulped both pills in one drink.

“Maybe you should lie down,” she suggested. It sounded like a good idea… no, a wonderful idea.

I stretched along the couch, pushing pillows around to make more space. I beckoned for her to lie down with me. “Here. You should lay on the inside,” I said, grinning. “Since you seem to have trouble around edges…”

Laughing, she crawled over and stretched out beside me. We lay facing each other, eye to eye. She was definitely sleepy, I thought, noting the way her eyes fluttered gently as they tried to stay open. I reached out and gently stroked her face, smiling as she sighed in pleasure at my touch.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked.

“You. Us. And all the crazy things we’re gonna do together in the future.” I yawned again. “I can’t wait for you to meet my family.”

“Mmmm.” She closed her eyes and remained silent for a minute. “Taylor, I have another confession. Since we’re being completely honest now.”

“Okay…”

“Remember when we were in Tulsa? In the coffee shop? Your brothers came in?”

“Yeah…” God, they had both looked so haggard then…

“I met them.”

“What?!”

“When you and Louise left for those few minutes… I met them. I went over to spy, trying to hear what they were saying… and, well, I tripped and fell in the floor right in front of their table. Isaac helped me up and spoke to me. And… well, I had something for you, it was supposed to be for your birthday. I had it with me in Tulsa. But I ended up giving it to him, to give to you when you woke up.” She opened her eyes and met my gaze. “I thought… at the very least… if I never saw you again… you would have something of mine with you.”

“What was it? Was it something you made?”

“Yeah. A painting.”

“Really? Awww…” How in the world did they hide an entire painting from me in that car? I wondered. I leaned forward, grazing my lips against hers. “Thank you. What was it of?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see.” She nestled closer to me.

“Ahhh… I see how you are. Well, thanks again, in advance… and I intend to thank you later, in person, too, after I receive it.” I felt her smile against my lips. “So… what’d you think? About my brothers, I mean…”

“I can definitely see the resemblance. Though you’re the best looking by far, of course…” I could hear the laughter in her voice.

“Of course.”

“Isaac was very nice. Very polite. Politician-like, actually. Zac…. Well, I don’t think Zac really liked me all that well. He seemed irritated.”

“Sounds about right. He’s probably in the throes of sulky teenage angst at this point…” I sighed. “I can’t believe I’ve missed two years of his life…”

She linked a hand through mine and squeezed it. “It could be worse. You could have missed all the rest of the years of his life.”

“True,” I said softly. “I guess, in retrospect, I’m pretty lucky.” Lucky to be alive, lucky to have found you…

She kissed my hand but didn’t reply. Her eyes were closed again, her breathing slow and rhythmic… and so was the pounding in my head, which, as I had predicted, had intensified despite the medicine. I was irritated. I haven’t had one of these since… since when? I thought back… since she broke up with Alex… interesting. I considered telling her about it, to see what she made of that fact, but judging by the calm, relaxed look on her face, I deduced that she was nearly asleep. I decided to let her be, but not without getting in one last declaration.

“I love you,” I said softly. As if I hadn’t said it enough that night.

Her lips arced up, barely, at the corners. “Mmmm… love you, too,” she murmured. I closed my eyes, satisfied, and didn’t fight it when I felt my mind wandering into dreams.

                                                                                  ******

I woke with a start, gasping.

Sweat was pouring down my face. My head was killing me… it felt like someone was taking a drill and boring holes in my skull. Unaware of my surroundings, I tried to roll over… and was promptly met with the floor, effectively knocking out what breath I had left. I sat up, struggling to remember what was going on.

The living room… I had been on the couch… I looked up. Allison lay stretched out on the cushions, fast asleep. Her mouth was parted slightly, her breathing steady. In spite of my splitting headache, I smiled, recalling how we’d spent our evening. She was exhausted, I knew… so much had happened. Better not to wake her, just yet.

I managed to get to my feet. Where was that medicine? Hadn’t I taken enough? A series of sharp pains ran through my brain, and I struggled to keep from crying out. Glancing back at her sleeping form reluctantly, I made my way into kitchen, searching for their medicine cabinet. Where is it? She told me where they keep everything…

I made my way into the bathroom, turning on the faucet and splashing icy water on my face. Every second it grew greater in strength… God, I felt terrible, like I was dying…unbidden memories surfaced then – memories of an event I had pushed out of my mind, a feeling of falling, a jolt of pain… I felt just like I had when-- Wait a minute. No, no…. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly.

My legs began to feel weaker, and I slowly allowed myself to sink into the floor next to the sink. I rested my head against the wall, praying. Please, God… no. I forced my eyes open. It was happening. My vision was filled with hazy white clouds, obscuring part of my surroundings. I gasped for air, nearly choking. I felt hot tears form and slide down my cheeks, partly because of the pain, and partly because I knew what was about to happen… and I wasn’t ready. How is it possible that reuniting a soul with a body could hurt as much as ripping them apart?

I crawled back into the hall as fast as I could manage. She was all the way on the other side of the house. She slept like the dead, I knew that nothing short of a major natural disaster would wake her up at this point. I stopped crawling, utterly exhausted. The white haze was increasing, getting brighter. I laid down in the floor, closing my eyes in defeat. Why didn’t I wake you up before I came in here? I don’t want to be alone…

I took a deep breath, preparing, as a last-ditch effort, to shout for her. But I stopped, when I realized, with horror, that I couldn’t remember her name. She said this would happen… why didn’t I listen? It was on the tip of my tongue, begging to be spoken, but the sounds wouldn’t form. I let out a sob then, as pain and calamity meshed and wilted the last of my strength. The last coherent thought I had, before passing out, was the heartbreaking realization that I would not even get to say goodbye.

                                                                                     ******

Something was beeping. And it was driving me fucking crazy.

I struggled to open my eyes, to no avail. My limbs felt like lead; immobile. I opened my mouth, trying to speak, but it felt like it was stuffed full of cotton. I made a gurgling, croaking noise, and began coughing. It took several minutes to subside. Summoning all the strength I had, I forced my eyelids to open.

White, blindingly white. Lights everywhere… I groaned and shut them again, quick.

It took several minutes before I adjusted to the brightness of the room. Slowly I looked around, taking in the environment – one window on the far wall, covered with a tacky blue paisley curtain. White, plain walls. A table, in the far corner, covered with medical instruments. A white, porcelain sink over on my right. Some strange machine, with criss-crossed tubes and wires was the source of that annoying beeping. The bed I was lying in was also white, lined with smooth, steel bars. A hospital? What was going on?

I spent the next half-hour struggling into a sitting position. I felt physically and mentally exhausted, like I’d just run a two-hour marathon. I managed to get pillows behind me, and I leaned back, breathing hard. I was dying of thirst, but the sink seemed so far away…

I cleared my throat several times and had another small coughing fit. I attempted to speak again. “Mom? Dad?” My voice sounded strange to me. “Hello?” No answer but the incessant beeping.

Where was everyone? What happened? Where was I? My mind was spinning. I didn’t want to think, couldn’t think about it right now. I didn’t have the strength. I rolled my head back, closing my eyes. I was about to nod off when I heard the sound of footsteps coming into the room. I opened my eyes.

A pretty young nurse had entered, checking a clipboard in her hand. She walked straight over to the table and sat down, flipping through several pages and scribbling. She hadn’t noticed me yet. After some hesitation, I spoke.

“Miss…” God, I sounded like a frog. “Could I get some water?”

She dropped her pen and whirled around, eyes and mouth open comically wide. She let out a shriek. “You!” Then she scrambled out in the hall, still screaming. “Doctor! Doctor! Come quick! He’s awake! He’s awake!”