Chapter 60: When You're Gone

Alley

I was having such a good dream. Me, Taylor, a bottle of Chateau Margaux, and a sunset-lit beach. Lots of kissing and touching. Lots…. Mmmm… the sound of the grandfather clock… wait a minute.

I jolted awake. The clock chimed 11 more times, letting me know that it was about my standard time to get up. My eyes were still closed, I lay there with a smile on my face. Taylor…

“I love you,” I said aloud, wanting to be the first to say it this morning. I opened my eyes then, expecting to see him sitting close to me, or at least be somewhere nearby. No response. I slowly raised up off the couch, pushing my wild, messy hair out of my face. “Taylor?”

Chester suddenly ran up to me, mewing furiously. I absentmindedly patted his head, yawning. Still seeing no sign of Taylor, I got up off the couch, wandering into the kitchen. He wasn’t there, either. Maybe he’s upstairs…

I checked all over the house – my room, the bathroom, the study, even Louise’s room. I called his name – no answer. The house was empty except for me… and my cat, who had been following me the whole time, rubbing his furry head against my calf.

“Where did he go, boy?” I asked, scooping him into my arms. A horrific thought suddenly occurred to me.  “I didn’t scare him off, did I?”

In response, Chester let out a wail and scrambled to be let down. I slowly walked downstairs, feeling a lump of panic in my throat. I hadn’t dreamed the last night, had I? It did actually happen, didn’t it?

Walking. I bet he’s walking! Relief washed over me. Of course. He knew better than to try and wake me up when I was sleeping… he must have gone out by himself. Satisfied with this explanation, I washed my face and teeth and changed clothes, then retreated into the living room and curled back up on the couch, wrapping an afghan around my shoulders. I turned on the TV.  Groundhog Day was on, and I loved Bill Murray, so I settled in to watch.

I had planned on waiting for Taylor to return before I had lunch, but 30 minutes later, I gave up. I wandered into the kitchen, searching for leftovers. I was standing in front of the refrigerator, debating my choices, when I heard the door slam.

“Taylor!” I shrieked, a little embarrassed at my enthusiasm. I scooted into the foyer, a huge smile on my face. “I was just looking for lunch, do you want--”

“Not Taylor, sweetie, it’s just me.” Louise appeared then, tossing her duffel bag on the floor. I tried to hide my disappointment, and apparently failed. “Oh, well, don’t look so let down.” She raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Someone’s in a good mood.”

I grinned wildly, unable to keep the laughter out of my face, as always. “Yeah…”

“So,” she said, eyes sparkling. “What did you all do last night?”

“Um… just… hung out. Watched a movie for awhile…”

“Mmm-hmmm. Is that all?”

I wasn’t fooling her a bit. I could only tolerate so much of that knowing gaze before I caved. “Well… He kissed me.”

Louise jumped in the air, pumping her fist. “YES!” she crowed. “God, it is about fucking time! How was it? Good?”

I blushed, remembering the way we’d practically devoured each other once we’d confessed… the way his lips felt on my mine, his hands sliding across my skin… suddenly I wished he would get back soon… very soon. “Ah, it was… good. Very good.”

“Very good?”

“Very…” I was sure my face was scarlet. Louise laughed again and gave me a hug. “Wonderful. Finally, all my work coming together. Where is he, anyway? I want to see the lovestruck look on his face this morning.”

I shrugged. “I think he’s out walking. He was gone when I got up.” I looked at the clock. It was after one o’clock. Where is he? “Louise… by the way… what exactly did you put in those drinks last night?”

She smiled sweetly. “Nothing the recipe didn’t call for.”

“And out of curiosity… did this drink have a name?”

“Hmmm. I believe they call them ‘Long Island Iced Teas’,” she said mischievously.

I gaped at her. “What? I thought those were practically lethal! You said it just had a little vodka in it!”

“It does have a little vodka in it. And a little rum, and tequila, and gin, and triple sec… oh, don’t give me that look, Allison. I didn’t make them that strong.”

I shook my head, smiling. “I can’t believe you resorted to getting us liquored up.”

“Well, I thought, ‘You know, if you put two teenagers who don’t even like each other alone in a house and give them a little alcohol, they’ll make out…’ so I figured, with the way you two were carrying on, it was a sure bet.”

I fiddled with a fork laying on the countertop. “You knew he liked me… Why didn’t you just tell me? It would have been a lot easier.”

“And would you have believed that? No, you would have accused me of lying just to get you to confess to him. You would have pitched a big fit. Besides, I figured it was better to let it happen naturally… with a little help from Jose Cuervo and friends…” She giggled at that.

I rolled my eyes, but laughed with her. “You’re insane.” I went back to the fridge. “I think I’m gonna eat some of the leftovers here… you want me to fix you some, too?”

“Yeah, sure.” She took her stuff upstairs to unpack while I busied myself with lunch.

A few minutes later, she ran back down, holding a package in her hands. “Oh, you have to see my pictures! Here!”

I set down the bowl I’d been holding and walked over. “Pictures? The same roll from last night? That was quick…”

“I went to the one-hour lab this morning and had them developed.” She shoved the package in my hand. I sat down at a barstool next to her and carefully opened it, trying not to put smudgy prints on the pictures. I flipped through the stack. There were some from the race track – blurry pictures of horses racing across the finish line, a few from around the house, of me trying in vain to hide from the camera, several of Louise and Steve on their recent trip to the aquarium… and the one picture of me sitting in Taylor’s lap. I stopped flipping, unable to stop staring at it.

Louise grinned at me. “Awwww… look at you two.”

It had actually turned out. Somehow, I had assumed that he would mysteriously not show up in the picture, much like how he mysteriously didn’t have a reflection in mirrors when he’d first arrived. But then again, he had slowly become more visible to the world as time went on, so I don’t know why I was so surprised. I felt my lips turning up as I studied it. It was a good picture – Taylor’s arms were around my waist, one hand hilariously clutching the green soda bottle I’d nearly spilled. I had my arms around his neck, leaning against his face, a soft smile on my lips. He was smiling, too – a genuine, blissful grin that spoke volumes. We do look like a couple, I thought. Like we belong together. Small numbers in the bottom corner caught my eye – the date: 06 25 03.

“It’s… good,” I said. That seemed to be my word of the day.

“Well, glad you like it… because I made you a copy.” From seemingly nowhere, Louise whipped out another picture and placed in it my hands. “I figured you would want one. I made one for Taylor, too.”

“Thanks… thanks, Louise.” I held the picture delicately in my hand, still mesmerized by it.

“Oh, you’re welcome…” she peered over my shoulder and studied it with me. “You all are so cute together.”

It occurred to me that it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that. “Yeah, that’s what the woman at the museum said… when she thought we were dating.”

Louise laughed. “See?” She collected her stack and pictures and replaced them in the envelope. I reluctantly set my copy down on the table and went back to making lunch… although not without sneaking a look at it every few minutes.

Louise dug around in the refrigerator, grabbed a Coke and disappeared into the living room. “What’s on TV? Anything?”

“I’ve been watching Groundhog Day,” I called back to her, pulling some plates out of the cabinet.

“Ugh, I hate this movie. Can I change it?” she yelled back to me.

“How can you hate anything with Bill Murray in it?” I asked, incredulous. “Alright. Whatever.” I could hear, just barely, the sound of the TV being channel-surfed from one station to another. Sighing, I shoved the first plate in the microwave.

                                                                                     *******

It was nearly 10 minutes later when Louise spoke again. “Allison?” she asked. I couldn’t see her, as she was in the other room, but I recognized that worried tone of voice. “Sweetie, come here…”

“I’m almost done. I’ll be in there with your lunch in a minute.”

“No, honey, come now.

Perturbed by her sudden change in demeanor, and by her motherly use of ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’, I obeyed, tentatively walking into the living room. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

She had a strange look on her face, her mouth hung open. The television was muted, leaving the room quiet except for the ticking of the clock. “Where did you say Taylor was?”

“I don’t know. I assumed he was out walking… I woke up and he wasn’t in here. I don’t know where else he would have gone…” I felt my heart begin to speed up, even as I said those last words. “Why?”

“Sit down. Here, next to me.”

“Why?” I asked again, my voice a step higher. She grabbed my hand, yanking me down onto the couch next to her. “What are you doing?”

She looked at me silently, then beckoned to the television. Picking up the remote, she unmuted it.

“…an MTV Breaking News Report. This just in: We now have reports that teen-pop idol Taylor Hanson, 20, of the band Hanson, has awakened from a coma of nearly two years. Hanson fell into the coma on June 10, 2001, during a rock-climbing accident in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Representatives of the band say Hanson is doing well so far and doctors have high hopes for a full recovery. So far his family and bandmates have declined to comment. Stay with us for updates throughout the day...”

I couldn’t breathe.

Couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. It felt like I’d just been kicked in the chest. I sat frozen, gripping Louise in one hand and the couch fabric in another. The same couch we’d spent all evening on just the night before… So that’s where he is. Not out walking… back home.

Louise flipped off the TV, for which I was eternally grateful. Kurt Loder’s voice suddenly seemed so mocking. “Oh, wow,” Louise said softly. “Hey. Alley.” She wrapped an arm around me and pulled me close.

“He’s…” I could barely get the words out. “He’s gone.” It was so unfair. So, so unfair… what had happened? Did he know he was leaving? Did he just disappear in his sleep? I wondered if he had woken up… he had complained of a headache… Hot tears started to burn my eyelids.

At the first sign of my breaking down, Louise finally snapped out of her shock and went into full-mother mode. “Oh, honey, no. He’s not gone. He’s alive, and doing well, and he’s going to be fine. You wanted this, remember?”

“But--  But… I didn’t even get to enjoy it!” I wailed. “I finally meet the man I love, the man I could see myself spending the rest of my life with and he—he disappears on me!” I was beginning to get angry – it felt better, at least, than being depressed.  I looked up towards the ceiling and shouted. “This doesn’t happen to normal people! Is this your idea of a joke? Do you hear me?!”

It occurred to me, in the middle of my rampage, how selfish I was acting… Louise was right. He was back to normal; he was free. What, did I think I was going to keep him as my little pet forever? Locked away in my house, unable to truly be a part of the real world, and instead relying on me for every need and want? Stuck in limbo forever? It would have been a miserable life for him… this was the best thing that could have happened.

Now if only my heart could agree with my mind. I childishly stomped my foot against the floor and buried my face in Louise’s neck.

“Sssshhhh….” She rocked me back and forth. “It’ll be okay. We’ll go see him. We’ll get it all worked out. The hard part is over, Alley. You already know how each other feels. Now you can actually have a normal relationship.”

“You don’t understand,” I mumbled, leaning against her for support. “He doesn’t remember me. Or this place, or anything in it. I know he doesn’t. It happened when he first came here. It took me forever to jog his memory.”

“And what makes you think it can’t be jogged now?”

“What am I supposed to do? Walk up to him and say, ‘Hey, remember me, we lived together for a year?’” I asked sarcastically. “‘We slept in the same bed, we even made out your last night there?’” Louise didn’t appreciate my facetiousness. “I can’t believe this is happening…”

“Stop acting like such a victim. This is the best thing that could have happened. He’s going to be okay.”

I leaned forward, putting my head in my hands. “I know. I know. But…” I sighed raggedly. “We were going to talk about it today, with you. What we could do if this happened, a plan to help him remember. Oh, why didn’t I insist? Why did I listen to him? He told me I worried too much…”

“Which you do,” Louise pointed out. “We’ll work out a plan, you and me. Okay?”

I wasn’t ready to be comforted. “How are we even supposed to get close to him? Do you realize the kind of security he’s going to have? How am I supposed to get any sort of contact with him now?” I asked, despaired.

She smiled gently. “We’ll have to be patient, that’s all. Wait for the right moment, after all the hoopla calms down. It’ll come, Alley.”

I was still inconsolable. “But what if, say, he actually does remember, but he decides he doesn’t love me anymore?” The thought horrified me. “What if he changes his mind? I mean, he needed me when he was here, I took care of him, but he doesn’t need me now, so what if--”

“Allison.” I shut up immediately at her tone. She turned and looked me straight in the eye. “I can tell you, with absolutely no uncertainty, that that will never happen. He adores you. I’ve never seen a guy so hopelessly in love before…” she shook her head. “There’s no way that would happen. Trust me, when this is all over, it will be worth it. You two will be ridiculously happy together. Sickening, even.”

I didn’t know yet if I trusted those words, but I sure liked hearing them. I sniffled. “You think?”

“I know. Just have patience. Everything will be alright.”

And so, in order to keep my sanity and my heart from completely breaking, I believed her.