Chapter 61: Pretty Good Year

Taylor

JULY

Physical therapists are the spawn of Satan. I know this for a fact.

“Come on, Taylor. Just a few more reps. You’ll be glad you did this later.” That was Michelle. Physical therapist, mother of two, personal cheerleader extraordinaire. She was tops in her field – my parents made sure they spared no expense for my recovery, awake or unawake – and that also meant that she was annoying as hell.

“My legs feel like Jell-O,” I seethed through clenched teeth. The leg press suddenly seemed like some evil S&M torture device. “Not even normal Jell-O. I’m talking Jell-O that hasn’t molded yet. Runny, disgusting gelatin…”

“Come on. You can do it!” What was even more annoying about her was the fact that she didn’t let herself be goaded into arguing. Just constant, unrelenting support. I groaned, cursing loudly as I managed to finish the last few leg presses. “See! I told you!” she chirped. “Excellent work, Taylor. You’ll be back to normal in no time.”

“Fantastic,” I muttered.

“It’s a good thing we kept you moving around while you were… indisposed.” For some reason, Michelle really disliked the word ‘coma’. It was sort of remarkable all the different ways she could come up with to rephrase it. “It’s amazing what the human body can do sometimes. The things it can withstand…”

“Yeah.” I brushed past her and headed into the locker room area. We were at Community Medical Group, Inc., in a private gym used specifically for therapy purposes. There were few patients working out today – I guess they figured I needed privacy. They would be right.

“So I’ll see you on Wednesday, Taylor. Remember, do some of those exercises I showed you earlier at home – they’ll make a world of difference. And don’t forget to…” I zoned out in the middle of her speech. I kept walking, nodding when appropriate, searching for some towels so I could shower off. “Okay, Taylor?”

I realized she was looking for a real answer. “Okay,” I said.

“Good. See you later. Good work today.” She left me alone to clean myself up.

Twenty minutes later, I was in a car, Isaac driving, heading for home. “How’d it go today?” he asked tentatively. He probably already knew the answer to that one.

“That woman is Satan incarnate.”

Isaac laughed. “Oh, Taylor. She’s just trying to help. And she’s done a pretty good job up to this point, I’d say – so you better listen to her.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered. We didn’t say anything else, then, instead riding the rest of the way in companionable silence.

According to my doctors, I was nothing short of a miracle. When I had first awakened, it had been chaos everywhere. Nurses, doctors, IVs, machines, people yelling and running around like chickens with their heads cut off. My own family circus had arrived shortly after – my parents, brothers and sisters had all crammed themselves into my tiny hospital room, each of them speaking a mile a minute and asking a hundred questions. My sister and my mother were crying their eyes out, Isaac looked a little shell-shocked, Dad couldn’t stop smiling, and Zac just stared at me as if I was a member of some alien race. I felt like part of a big carnival freak-show.

Eventually one doctor had taken charge, a tall, kindly man named James O’Brien, and managed to shoo everyone else out. He had sat down next to me and asked a series of questions, scribbling on a sheet of paper each time I answered.

“What’s your full name, son?”

“Jordan Taylor Hanson.”

“When is your birthday?”

“March 14, 1983.”

“What are your parents’ names?”

“Walker and Diana.”

“What’s today’s date?”

“Um…” I scrunched my brows, thinking. I couldn’t remember anything after the rock-climbing incident… there was no telling how many days I’d been in the hospital. “Um… I don’t know… taking a wild guess here… June 15?”

“Close. June 25.”

“I’ve been in here for two weeks?! Holy shit…”

He had looked at me then, taking off his glasses, his eyes sympathetic. “No, son. Not two weeks. This isn’t 2001. You’ve been out for two years. And two weeks, to be exact.”

To say I had started to feel a little faint then would have been an understatement. I was unable to respond, just staring at him listlessly. He had fetched a nurse, who brought a cold compress and some more water. While I lay in the bed, he had spelled out all the details for me. Then he’d run several tests, checking my vitals. After all that, he told me I was a wonder.

“We’ve been keeping up physical therapy while you’ve been ‘out’, Taylor. Oftentimes comatose patients are only unresponsive with regards to the mind, and not the body. It’s called a ‘persistent vegetative state’, as opposed to simply a ‘coma’. You were one of those. As long as someone was guiding you, you could get up, move, walk around, sometimes even speak words… that’s to your advantage. Your muscles have atrophied little, and your physical recovery will be much faster. Your voice is a peculiar thing. I’ve known patients who have awakened completely unable to speak. You only sound a little hoarse – that may go away in due time. And as far as your mental processes…” He had studied me carefully then. “You appear to be aware and surprisingly coherent, considering the situation. Basically, you’re somewhat of a miracle.”

“Wow,” had been all I was able to say. I suddenly wanted my mother, bad. And Mr. Snuggles, the stuffed rabbit I used to carry around everywhere when I was little… I needed something familiar to cling on to.

He gave me a knowing look. “Of course, there are more tests we need to run. And it isn’t going to be easy readjusting to society. There are a lot of issues you’re going to be dealing with. In addition to your physical therapy, I’m going to assign you a psychologist.”

“Okay…” He had the nurse bring in my parents, then, and I sat, dazed, as he explained to them what he had just explained to me. Mom was crying, her face swollen and red. She clutched my hand so tightly I thought it might break. Dad looked as dazed as I did.

When Dr. O’Brien was done, he stood up and shook their hands. Then he turned to me. “Welcome back to the real world, Taylor,” he had said before stepping out of the room.



AUGUST

“Tay,” Jennifer cooed, gripping my arm. She sidled closer to me on the couch, letting her hands wander from my bicep over to my chest. “You have no idea how much I missed you…”

“Really?” I asked neutrally. She was making me uncomfortable, though I wasn’t sure why. She was my girlfriend, after all… she seemed different to me, though, than what I remembered. Had she changed, or was it all in my mind? Whereas before I’d thought she was cute, now she seemed overdone and tacky. What I had thought of as a bubbly, outgoing personality was really just giggly idiocy.  I really wanted to be alone, or to just hang out with my family, but when she’d called, complaining that she’d barely seen me since I’d been out of the hosptial, I’d caved. I mean, she had waited two years…

“Yes…” She leaned forward, her lips brushing my face and making their way to my mouth. They were cold. I shrank from her slightly. “I was so worried, baby…”

Baby? I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes. “Oh…” I didn’t know what else to say.

I felt her fingers slide into my hair, lifting it up and inspecting it. “Your hair is so long… I thought you were going to cut it.”

“I did. But I kept it longer.”

She pursed her lips. “But it looked so good when it was short…”

“Well, I wanted to try it longer again.” She sniffed at that, but continued with the wandering hands. Meanwhile, I heard footsteps clomping closer to the living room. “Hey, um, let’s just relax for a bit, okay?” I suggested.

“I’ll help you relax…” her hand slid in between the buttons on my shirt, rubbing my chest. She was practically sitting in my lap now. I held her by the shoulders, trying in vain to restrain her. Funny how I used to enjoy it when she did this... but is she trying to make up for lost time, or what?

“Get a fucking room, you two,” came a snappish voice. Zac. I turned to see him standing there, looking sullen and irritated. Ah, yes… gone was the long-haired, sweet, crazy-hyper Zac I’d remembered. He had chopped off his locks and permanently adopted a surly expression. According to Isaac, he usually didn’t say much, and when he did, it was generally something along the lines of the statement he’d just made to me and Jennifer.

Jennifer eased up, sitting back on the couch, and looked at Zac coquettishly. Apparently she thought she could charm her way through his brusque exterior. “Hey, Zac. How are you?”

“And what do you care?”

She bristled at that. “It was just a question, Zac. You don’t have to get all hateful.”

“Yeah, well, forgive me if I can’t fake sincerity as well as you do.”

“Zac,” I mumbled. I really didn’t want to get into this… they both ignored me.

“You’re such a prick,” she snapped. “You have never been nice to me, and I have tried--”

“Maybe that’s because you’re a gold-digging skank,” Zac shot back. I felt my eyebrows raise, and for a moment, I thought I was going to laugh out loud. “Held onto him all this time, didn’t you? Figured it’d be worth it in the end.” He scowled. “I don’t know what you see in her, Taylor. She’s trash. Always has been. You sure know how to pick 'em.” With that statement, he stomped out of the room.

“Ugh,” she said. “God, I can’t believe you two are even related.” She snuggled back close to me, not missing a beat. “You’re so much sweeter…” Her hands began to roam again. Again with the hands! Chill out, woman!

“I—I’m not feeling so good,” I said suddenly, pushing her hands away. “I… need to go lay down.”

“I’ll come with,” she said cheerfully, standing up and pulling me up by the arm. “I could use a nap, too.”

“No,” I said quietly. “I think you should go. I… need some alone time.”

The insulted look she gave me said it all. “Well… whatever. I’ll call you later, okay?”

No, it’s not okay… why can’t you just leave me alone? “Sure,” I sighed.

She grabbed her coat and purse, flouncing toward the door. Before she opened it, she turned, appraising me coolly. “You’re different, Taylor,” she said, before stepping outside into the sweltering August heat.



SEPTEMBER

“Need some help, Mom?”

She turned to me, smiling. She was standing at the counter, sharp knife in hand, slicing up vegetables for a salad. The house was relatively silent – Isaac was out with his girlfriend, Zac was up in his room, Jessica and Avery were gone with Dad to the store, Zoe was asleep, and Mackenzie was playing with some friends. The lack of noise was wonderful. “Sure, hon.” She handed me another knife, and I stood next to her, slowly chopping carrots.

“So,” she asked after a minute. “How was your first voice lesson?”

I snorted. My voice had indeed gotten rid of the hoarseness the doctor had referred to, but singing… well, let’s just say I was a little rusty. We’d all agreed that if I planned on performing again, I would need a vocal coach to whip me back into shape. “Terrible. It was like I was thirteen years old again, cracking and squeaking.”

“Well, it’ll get better,” she said reassuringly. “We should be so grateful that you’re doing as well as you are…”

“Yeah. I’ve become Dr. O’Brien’s little poster boy, I think…”

She laughed, scooping up some chopped green onions and tossing them into a bowl with lettuce. “Well, it is pretty amazing, Taylor. You haven’t had any major problems. So lucky, really. God really is watching over us.”

I nodded absentmindedly, picking up another carrot. “Mom?”

“Yes?”

“Did you and Dad ever… you know… give up hope?” It sounded like a generic question, like a line from a bad movie. Or something my psychologist would say. He was fond of vague questions.

She sighed. “We came close, Taylor, I’m going to be honest with you. But as long as you were alive, and breathing, and still responding… we weren’t going to give up on you.” She smiled, leaning over and kissing my temple. “You’re a fighter.”

A loud, ear-splitting yowl outside the kitchen window interrupted us, followed by several shrieks. I stopped cold, carefully laying the knife down. The screams continued for several minutes before Mom rolled her eyes and ran over to the window. She rapped on it several times, apparently scaring away whatever was making that god-awful noise.

“What was that?” I asked when she returned to the counter.

She sighed heavily. “Oh, they’ve gotten a new cat next door… a female, she’s in heat. So of course that attracts every wild alley cat from around the neighborhood, and then they all fight over her and scream and carry on.”

“Alley cat?” I repeated.

“Yes, alley cats… strays… tomcats… whatever you want to call them. Someone needs to call animal control.”

I stared at the counter, suddenly feeling very tired, that same phrase mysteriously repeating over in my head. Alley cat… Was that the name of a song, or something? I closed my eyes briefly.

“Hey, Mom? Is it okay if I go lay down for awhile? I’m… feeling kind of weak.”

She looked at me, concerned. “Of course, Taylor. Go lay down. Let me know if you need anything.”



OCTOBER

The clapping and cheering seemed deafening to me. I resisted the temptation to peek around the curtain and look at the audience. I felt so… nervous. Nauseous, even.

“Can’t I just go back in the green room and let you all do the interview?” I asked Isaac anxiously. I was twisting my hands into knots, effectively wrinkling my coat in the process. Leather pants was a bad idea. Bad idea. I’m roasting to death here…

Ike laughed. “Hardly. You’re the one they want to see, Taylor. You’re the golden boy reawakened.”

“Don’t call me that,” I muttered. Maybe doing Leno wasn’t such a good idea, after all… I felt like I was about to hurl all over the floor.

“Boys? Are you about ready?” A stage manager appeared from around the corner. “It’ll be just a minute.” There was a flurry of activity, in which the harried makeup artists converged on Isaac and myself, armed with brushes and powder for last-minute touch-ups.

I scrunched my eyes closed as the makeup woman dusted my nose. “There,” she declared. “Shine-free. But I have to say, Mr. Hanson, I think you sweat more than anyone I’ve ever known!”

How was I supposed to respond to that? I heard Zac smother a laugh. “Uh… thanks,” I said lamely.

She giggled flirtatiously, as if I’d just said the cleverest thing in the world. I turned away from her, reeling, suddenly positive that I was going to throw up on her silk blouse. I can’t handle this. It’s too much, too soon…

“Hey. Hey, Taylor. You okay?” Isaac again. Apparently he was beginning to get alarmed at my sudden inability to stand up straight. “You look a little pale.”

“I’m fine,” I gritted through my teeth, closing my eyes. “Let’s just get this over with. Sorry.” He merely nodded sympathetically and clapped an arm around my shoulder.

“Okay, guys! Get ready!” someone shouted. We listened for our intro. I wasn’t paying attention for much of it – something about one of the world’s biggest bands, a miraculous recovery, and being in the studio. I was too busy concentrating on the floor tile, willing my nerves to go away.

—and welcome them back. Ladies and gentlemen, Hanson!”  Isaac tugged on my arm, leading me out onto the set.

If I’d thought the screaming was bad before… I resisted the urge to cover my ears. All those faces, screaming, watching, wanting… I was relieved when I finally collapsed into one of the chairs. The producers had insisted I sit nearest to Jay, as I would be getting most of the questions, which Isaac amiably agreed with. He was quite patient, Isaac. Too patient, in my opinion. Zac followed him, settling on the couch farthest from the host, picking at his nails. Come on, Zac… you could at least act interested…

I forced a smile on my face as Jay began talking. “So… wow… I’m not even sure where to start! Taylor, tell us how you’re you doing!”

“Good,” I replied easily, though that was a blatant lie. “I’m feeling great, all things considered.”

“Your life must be so hectic right now. I can’t even imagine…”

“Yeah,” I said. “A whirlwind. So much to do, so much to get caught up on… music lessons, voice lessons, physical therapy, plus the press…” Trips to the shrink, I thought to myself wryly. Insomnia, nausea…

He continued asking questions about the accident, about my recovery. I was beginning to get irritated. When are we going to talk about the music? We were working on an EP to be released early in the next year. A trial record, of sorts, just to test the waters. i wished he would talk about that instead... I was so sick of answering questions about the accident…

“So, did you dream about anything?” The question caught me off guard.

“What?” I stuttered. “Dream?”

“When you were… asleep. Do patients dream in those situations?”

My elbow was propped up on the arm of the couch, and I began rubbing my temples. I could feel a headache coming on. He was waiting for an answer, and the audience was staring at me, waiting for an answer… I just wanted to be home, in bed.

“Well, Jay,” I started, then stopped. The words felt odd, coming from my mouth. A phrase, a sentence popped into my head then, unbidden. Taylor, it’s not worth it! Come on! Please! I blinked, confused. Where did that come from?

I must have looked like a deer in the headlights, because Isaac suddenly stepped in and saved the day. “Doctors aren’t sure,” Ike said. “It’s hard to do studies on that sort of thing. It’s not like you could prove that a dream happened. It depends on the patient – if they can remember anything.” He laughed, and I gave him a grateful smile.

“So, do you remember anything?” Jay was looking at me, a friendly smile on his face. The small black streak in his hair was driving me crazy. I had the urge to grab it and pull it out. I blinked, ignoring the next phrase that bounced around in my head. Taylor, your eye…you're a mess... I lifted my closed hand to my eye then, carefully rubbing it.

“I… I don’t know.”

Ike to the rescue again. “We haven’t dwelled on the past too much, Jay. We’ve been in the studio, working on this new EP we’re going to release next year, so that has pretty much taken up all of our spare time…” It wasn’t too subtle of a hint, but at least it did the trick. I sagged in relief as we began to talk about the music… finally. I let Isaac do most of the talking, though, while Zac contributed the occasional monosyllabic answer. I was grateful when I saw a stagehand give the signal to wrap up.

“Well, we’re all so glad you’re doing so well, Taylor,” Jay announced, signaling the end of our segment was near. “I know your family has to be relieved. You glad to have him back, Zac? You haven’t said much tonight.”

“Yeah.”

I winced at the obvious lack of enthusiasm in his voice. I mean, I knew Zac hated doing these talk shows… and he fancied himself the “honest” one in the group… but he could at least make a little effort. “Ah, he’s just mad because we have a share a bathroom again,” I joked, hoping to clear the tension a little. The audience laughed appreciatively, and I sighed with relief.

Jay smiled. “Well, we’re glad to see you guys back in the studio, pounding away. Talk about dedication! You’ll have to come back and play something for us, when you’re ready…”

“Sure,” we answered in unison.

“Zac, Isaac and Taylor Hanson, everyone! If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of their last album, This Time Around, and keep an eye out for their new EP coming this spring! Stay tuned, David Bowie will be performing, right after this!”



NOVEMBER

Ah, Thanksgiving at the Hansons. What a circus.

It was sort of a relief, really – the holiday was just like I’d remembered. People everywhere, talking and laughing… lots of food and drink… except for one thing…

“Tay. Honey, you want something else to drink?”

I eyed Jennifer. We were sitting on the couch, surrounded by several of my family members, watching the Macy’s parade on television. Now, how did she end up here? I thought briefly. Oh, right. She invited herself. “Huh?” I asked.

“You want another drink, honey?” Why did she insist on calling me that all the time? It was annoying as all hell. She wasn’t a southern belle; it didn’t sound charming coming from her lips. Add that to the fact that I knew she was just being sweet to win points with my family. Not that it would have helped, anyway… they were all a little irritated at me for letting her come. Usually Thanksgiving was strictly a family affair.

“No, I’m fine,” I said shortly. I turned my attention back to the TV. From the corner of my eye, I could see Isaac looking at me curiously. I kept my eyes glued straight ahead, kept my body rigid even when I felt Jennifer’s hands slide around my shoulders.

“Well, I’m going to get another. Be right back.” She smacked a moist kiss on my cheeks. As soon as she left the room, I rubbed away her touch.

Isaac scooted closer, his voice low, probably so the younger ones wouldn’t hear. “Taylor,” he said. “What’s the deal here?”

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked dryly. “Apparently we’re still dating. Have been for almost four years, don’t you know.”

“Yeah, and you look like you’re really enjoying it. Why don’t you just break up with her? I mean, I know she… waited… for you, but I think enough time has passed… you don’t like her. We sure as hell don’t like her. And then she shows up here without being invited? I think Mom was a little pissed at that…”

“I know,” I sighed. “I know. I’m just… I don’t know. Waiting, I guess. For the right moment.”

“I think the right moment would be now.

I managed a short laugh. At that moment, she returned with a clear plastic cup and nestled back on the couch right next to me. “I’m back,” she said brightly. “What did I miss?”

“Nothing,” Isaac and I said in unison.

                                                                                  ********

“Oooh, your mom is such a good cook, Tay. It was all so yummy.” We were outside, walking around the block. For some reason, I found that walks helped to clear my mind. It was early evening, and the sun was beginning to set. The air was chilly, and I stuffed my hands in my pockets so that she couldn’t take my hand.

“Thanks,” I said, though I wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like I had cooked.

She didn’t say anything for awhile. We ambled down the sidewalks, lined with dead leaves and grass. I breathed deeply, noting the small white cloud that formed around my mouth. Across the street, several girls were walking, as well. I couldn’t help but notice their excited stares, the pointing, the giggling… they recognized me. Figures. I’d been getting more attention now than I had before the accident ever happened. Maybe we should have tried to release the record this fall, I thought sourly, and capitalize on all this free publicity. Wouldn’t have even mattered how shitty it was, they don’t care about the music…

Jennifer noticed the fangirls, too, and immediately grabbed my arm possessively. Ah, yes… can’t let anyone forget you’re the girlfriend of the famous musician… “Tay.” God, I wished she would quit calling me that. It annoyed me, somehow… “Are you still planning to move out? Out of your parents’ house?”

“Yeah. Not until next year, though. Our lease starts in January.”

“So… you’re gonna be living with your brothers?”

“Yeah…” I said slowly, wondering where she was going with us. If you ask to move in with me, I swear…

“Do you plan on living with them for awhile?”

I looked at her, confused. “I don’t know. Why?”

“Well… I just thought that maybe, you know… we should talk about our future.”

“Our future?” I repeated, incredulous.

“Yeah. I mean… we’ve been together so long, I just thought…” She looked up at me, opening her blue eyes as huge as she could manage. A small pout was on her lips. It dawned on me then that she was probably hinting about marriage. Marriage? What the hell?

“Why did you wait?” I asked abruptly. She seemed confused by this.

“Wait?”

“Yes. Why did you waste two years of you life waiting on something you weren’t even sure would… survive?”

She gave me a pouty, hurt look. “Because I love you, Tay. You’re the world to me. Don’t you love me?”

Her words sounded so false, so… calculated. I couldn’t help recall Zac’s angry words from a few months before… Held onto him all this time, didn’t you? Figured it’d be worth it in the end. Why was I wasting my time? I hadn’t felt so much as a spark from this relationship since I’d woken up. Hell… since before I’d woken up. Since it began, basically. “No,” I said simply. “I’m sorry, but I don’t.”

She looked horrified. “What? You don’t mean that… you can’t mean that! We’ve been together so long! I’ve done so much for you!”

“If you remember, I was asleep for two of those years,” I said sarcastically. “I wouldn’t call that being ‘together’.”

“But--”

“This isn’t working. I’m sorry. I don’t feel it. I know you don’t feel it. I don’t know why you’re clinging on…” Actually, I had a pretty good idea about that. It had a lot to do with that possessive behavior when those girls were looking…

“I can’t believe you’re saying this! After I waited two years for you!”

I disengaged myself from her. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you wasted all that time, but this just isn’t working.”

She backed away from me, eyes smoldering. “You’re such a bastard, Taylor.” Wow, what happened to ‘Tay’? “I can’t believe you would treat me this way!”

I shrugged helplessly. “I’m not being a bastard on purpose. I’m just telling you the truth.”

She made an angry noise, wrapping her coat tightly around her. “Fine. Just… fine.” She started to flounce off. I stood and watched her, unable to keep the amused look off my face. Suddenly she stopped and whirled around. “And just for the record, your hair looks like shit,” she shouted back at me. From the corner of my eye, I could see other walkers turning to stare.

I shrugged, eyeing her own bottle-blond tresses. “Can’t look any shittier than yours,” I called out to her gleefully. I didn’t wait for a reply. With that said, I did an about-face and headed back to the house.

Inside, Mom was finishing up the kitchen cleaning. Dad was sitting at the table, reading the paper. They both looked up when I walked in. I stood in the kitchen, indecisive.

“You okay, Taylor?”

“Yeah. I’m okay. More than okay.” I smiled. Who would’ve thought that breakups could feel so… good? “We, ah, broke up.”

My father’s eyebrows shot up, and though my mother did a valiant job trying to hide it, the relief on her face was plain as day. I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah. Sorry about her showing up today… she just sort of invited herself. Seems I don’t have the best taste in women.”

Dad smiled. “Perhaps not, but you’re young. You’ll get better at it; you’ll start to recognize the ones who are worth the trouble.” He winked at me. “Did I ever tell you that the first time I kissed your mother--”

“You knew she was the one for you,” I finished. “And vice versa. Yeah. I’ve only heard that story about a thousand times from you both…”

Dad laughed. “So you have.” He stood up and slapped me on the back. “She’s out there somewhere, Taylor. Just waiting for you to come sweep her off her feet.”

“Dad, that’s so corny…” I watched as he walked over to the refrigerator.

“Where’s the romance in your soul, Taylor?” my mother asked, joining the conversation. She smiled at me, eyes sparkling, as Dad kissed her cheek as he passed. “You’ll feel it one of these days, son. Don’t fret.”



DECEMBER

“What do you want for Christmas, Taylor?”

“Yeah, Tay… where’s your list?”

I opened one bleary eye. My younger sisters both sat perched on the end of my bed, staring at me. “Isn’t it a little early to be asking this sort of stuff?” I mumbled, closing my eyes again.

“No it’s not! Christmas is like two weeks away!” Jessica exclaimed. “And you’re not gonna get anything because you won’t tell anybody what you want!”

“Actually, I meant ‘too early’ as in ‘too early in the morning,’” I said grumpily. I reluctantly sat up, studying the little towheaded girls who sat next to me. Well, not so little, anymore. Jessica had practically become a woman in the time I was gone. “I don’t know. I can’t really think of anything I want.”

Avery seemed to think that was a travesty. “TAYLOR!” she shrieked.

I mocked her tone of voice. “WHAT?” I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I heard water running in the bathroom. I knew it had to be Isaac, as there would be no way Zac or the other siblings would be up this early. “Ike!” I hollered. “Help me out here!”

Isaac appeared in the doorway, then, smiling, toothbrush in hand. “They’ve got a point, Taylor. It’s your first Christmas back… surely there’s something you want.”

I shrugged. “I dunno.”

Jessica sighed, exasperated. “I swear, Taylor, if you don’t tell me what you want… I’m not going to waste my money on something you’re just gonna take back. I’m just gonna go out to the storage thing and give you something from there! And pretend it’s from me!”

“Storage thing?” I asked.

Isaac’s eyes shot up, as if recalling something. “Oh, yeah. We got…you got a lot of… um… presents, Taylor. So many that we didn’t have room to keep them here. Dad rented out one of those storage units to keep them all, until we could go through them and figure out what needs to go to charity… and what to keep, if anything.” He shook his head slightly. “I’d nearly forgotten about that.”

I stood up and briskly walked out of the room, leaving my little sisters pouting on the bed behind me. “Where is this storage unit?” I asked.

Isaac followed me into the bathroom. “We’ll go there later. You can help us go through it all, anyway.” He sighed. “I guess I’ll make Zac go. Technically, it’s his stuff, too.” He leaned forward, splashing water on his face. “It’ll probably take all day, though, so let’s eat something first.”

“Sounds good to me.”

                                                                                       *******

Isaac jiggled the key in the lock. “Damn lock,” he muttered. “Hang on.” After several minutes, the lock turned and he sighed, relieved. “There.” Pushing the plain gray door open, he stepped inside. Zac and I followed.

My first thought was dust, dust everywhere! The room, about the size of a garage, was dank and musty. It was cluttered with boxes – big, brown cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other, almost to the ceiling. I raised an eyebrow, surveying the mess.

“Did you say this would take all day? More like the rest of the year…” I murmured, turning to Isaac.

“Well, there’s three of us, so if we all tackle something different, it shouldn’t take too long,” he said cheerfully. Zac and I rolled our eyes simultaneously. Isaac and his infuriatingly sunny attitude… he was as bad as Michelle.

Zac heaved a huge sigh and grabbed a box, sitting down in the far corner. Ike and I followed suit, pulling down boxes of our own and pilfering through. We made three piles – a huge one for things we were going to trash, a huge one for things we were going to give to charity, and a very small one for things we were going to keep. It sounds terrible, I know… but you can only keep so many vintage t-shirts or handwritten poems. And some of the stuff people send…. Sheesh.

This went on for hours. Occasionally one of my brothers would hold up something they found amusing. “Hey, Taylor… check out this shirt,” Zac said, smirking. He was in a much better mood today, though it was possible that was because he was taking every opportunity to make fun of me. In his hands was a black t-shirt, obviously homemade, covered in glitter. It was a take on the Superman shirts… except instead of saying “Superman”, it said “Superhottie”.

I groaned. “Please burn that.”

They both laughed gleefully, and Zac tossed the shirt into the ‘trash’ pile. We’d gone through dozens of boxes. Cardboard lay in shreds all over the floor, and the ‘trash’ and ‘charity’ piles were ridiculously tall. And the dust! I sneezed several times, throwing down the picture I was holding. “This is ridiculous,” I mumbled. “Why would I want a picture of some strange girl I’ve never met?”

“Is she hot?” Zac asked.

“Zac,” Isaac reprimanded him. “He just broke up with Jennifer… he needs time to heal.”

Complete silence for a minute. Then we all howled with laughter. “Good one, Ike,” Zac gasped.

“I hate you both,” I mumbled, but I was smiling inside. I felt good. It was like old times, just sitting around, hanging out, having fun… I stood up, stretched, and wearily headed over to find another box. We had made progress, there was a huge dent in the stacks of boxes… but there were still many left to go. Sighing, I walked over to a stack next to the wall. As I got closer, I noticed something sticking out from behind the boxes. Something that had been wedged between them and the wall.

I bent down, studying it. It was the edge of a gilded frame. I couldn’t pull it out, though, it was stuck too tight. Frowning, I gripped the edge of the boxes and eased them away from the wall, trying not to topple the stack. “What’s this?” I asked aloud, gently tugging on the frame, hoping I didn’t scratch it.

Isaac appeared behind me, then, wiping his hands on his pants. “I dunno… let me see.” He peered over my shoulder. “Wait… I think that’s… oh yeah! Zac! We completely forgot about this!” He practically grabbed the frame out of my hand. I scowled. “Yeah, this one is really good.”

“Well, let me see it!”

Zac walked up, arms crossed. “Oh, yeah,” he said. He stood next to Isaac and they both admired it.

“Well, are you going to let me see it?” I asked, irritated.

“Where did we get this, Zac? From that girl… she gave it to us in person… what was her name…” Isaac pursed his lips, thinking. Figures. He’s never been one to keep up with names. “Outside the coffee shop, remember?”

Zac shrugged. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“It began with an ‘A’, I think…. Anna… Amy… Alice?”

“Well, duh, Isaac, her initials are down in the corner…”

“Dammit,” I said, grabbing the frame out of Ike’s hand. I started to turn it over so I could finally see this work of art they were babbling about. “If you’d just let me see – holy shit…”

It was a work of art, if I could describe an effigy of myself as such. A painting, done with such great delicate detail it nearly took my breath away. Nothing was spared – highlights in the hair, the small wrinkles around my eyes as I smiled, the gentle, curving smirk on my lips... I couldn’t stop staring at it – I was mesmerized. I slowly sank down in the floor, holding it by the edges, still staring.

“Wow…” I said softly. “This is… wow…”

“Yeah, we thought it was pretty unbelievable. I mean, it’s so detailed -- it’s like you posed for her, or something. I can’t believe we forgot about this, Zac.”

I didn’t hear Zac’s explanation of why they forgot, or basically anything else they said for the next fifteen minutes. I traced the canvas with one finger, feeling of the smooth oil-based paint. God, it was just… breathtaking. “How old was she?” I asked absentmindedly, running my fingers over the initials in the corner: AKK. Had to be a professional artist… someone experienced…

“I dunno… young. Twenty-five?” Ike guessed.

“No, she was younger than that,” Zac said. I turned to him, curious. “Because she was a doofus. She fell down in the coffee shop and Mr. Gentleman here had to help her up. She looked maybe twenty.”

“Twenty years old?” I repeated, incredulous. I returned my gaze to the portrait. How many hours did this take? How much time and money? This had to be such a labor of love… I felt my cheeks flushing hot then, though I wasn’t sure why.

“Yeah… so… I’m guessing we’re keeping this one?” Ike asked, smiling.

“Yeah…” I said softly. He started to take it from my hands, to place it with the other keepers, but I wouldn’t let go. “I’m gonna go put it in the car,” I said suddenly. They both looked at me questioningly. “Just so we don’t forget it…” Grabbing the keys from Ike’s hands, I dashed outside, clutching the frame close to my body.

That night, when we got home, I took the picture and propped it up in my room. Not because I liked to look at myself, really, that’s not it – but I liked having it close by, and I wanted to make sure I remembered to take it to our new place once we moved. Because seeing it, knowing the care that went into it, made me feel better, somehow. Lifted my spirits, made me feel… normal. Of course, I should have known that nothing was ever truly normal when it came to my life.

That night, the dreams started.

JANUARY (2004)

“So, Taylor. How is everything today?”

“Good, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“Yeah. I mean… all things considered.”

“All things considered? What things?” 

That was the annoying thing about psychologists. They liked to just run around in circles, repeating everything you say. Dr. Goldberg was a nice enough man, and certainly intelligent, but as I continued to go to his sessions, I found myself getting increasingly irritated. Didn’t he get it? Did I really have to define the “things” for him?

I shrugged. “Just stress. Dealing with my family, and my old friends, and working on this record, and media… it’s just stressful. I’m used to it, though.”

He nodded, but I could tell by the look on his face that he didn’t quite believe me. “I see.”

I squirmed in the plush velour armchair and busied myself with staring at his various degrees on the wall. Well, he certainly had enough of them. And he was recommended by Dr. O’Brien, so surely he knew what he was doing… but I just wasn’t at all sure if we’d made any progress since our sessions began last July.

He let me squirm, obviously in no rush to move things along. After several minutes of writing, he finally looked up at me, that strange half-smile on his face. “How has your insomnia been? Did you try any of those sleeping aids I recommended?”

“No,” I admitted. I was afraid to try them – I knew that drugs like that could be addicting. “I didn’t. But, uh, I haven’t had much trouble lately, actually.”

He peered at me over his notebook. “Really? For how long now?”

“About a month, I guess.”

“Why do you think that is?”

How am I supposed to know? I wanted to snap back, but I bit my lip. “I dunno. Just getting used to… life again, I suppose…”

“So you think it was nothing specific, just a matter of integrating yourself back into your lifestyle?”

“Yeah…”

“So do you feel that’s one part of your life that has returned to normal?”

See, here we go again… running around in circles. “Yeah,” I said absentmindedly. “Except…” I trailed off, realizing that I hadn’t meant to say that.

“Except what?”

I looked for the clock. Wasn’t it almost time to go?

“We have thirty minutes left, Taylor. Except what?”

I sighed heavily. “Just some weird dreams. I sleep fine, they don’t really disturb me, but I keep having the same ones and I wake up feeling a little odd.”

“What kind of dreams?”

“Weird ones.”

“Could you be more specific, Taylor?” Dr. Goldberg smiled. “I realize this is annoying you – I’m fully aware of that. But bear with me, okay?”

“Okay,” I mumbled, picking at a frayed thread on my jeans. “It’s just that it’s… stupid. It doesn’t even make any sense.”

“Most dreams don’t, at first.”

I waited another minute before replying, hoping he would drop the subject. No such luck. “Well… I can’t really remember much. There’s just one thing that sticks out in my mind, that I can remember when I wake up.”

“What is that?” he prodded.

“I see this…. bottle. A green one, like maybe a beer bottle or something. It’s on a table.”

“Go on.”

“And then it spills. That’s all I know. I don’t see what knocks it over, I don’t know where I am, who I’m with, I don’t know what’s going on… I just remember this green bottle falling over.” I shrugged. “Dumb, isn’t it? I bet you were hoping for something interesting… like a weird sex dream or something.”

Dr. Goldberg laughed loudly then, tossing his pen down and leaning back in his chair. “Oh, Taylor… all dreams are interesting.  And it’s not dumb. Everything can have meaning in a dream – shapes, colors, people, actions, objects… everything. They’re connected with your own reality, your own experiences and emotions.”

“So… what does it mean?”

“What do you think it means?”

I grunted in irritation. “If I knew what it meant, would I have asked you?”

“Touché, Taylor. I’m simply asking a question. Are you telling me you have no idea whatsoever?”

“No, I really don’t. I don’t drink beer, I’m not particularly clumsy…” Well, that last one was a bit of a lie, but still. “What was it you said about colors?”

“Well, for example, in dreams, the color green can represent growth and serenity.”

“So… basically, I’m growing up and becoming more comfortable with my life?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Things aren’t always that simple or cut-and-dried, Taylor.”

I was really beginning to hate psychology. “Well, what about the bottle, then? What’s that supposed to mean?” A sudden thought occurred to me. “Wait… it’s not phallic, is it? Please tell me it’s not Freudian in nature…” Dreaming about male-genitalia-shaped objects really wouldn’t be good for my reputation.

He laughed again, shaking his head. “It can be. But there are numerous meanings for anything in a dream.”

“Well, what are the others? Besides that one?” I asked impatiently.

“Well, a bottle can represent an unwillingness to be open. A tendency to push things down inside. The contents inside the bottle make a difference, too, whether it’s alcohol, water, soda, whatever. I’ve heard a full bottle can indicate prosperity. Conversely, an empty one indicates misfortune. There are many interpretations.”

“Well,” I mumbled. “That was helpful.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “I never said I had all the answers, Taylor. I’m here to help you find the answers.” He leaned toward me then, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I have an idea. I want you to keep a dream journal.”

“A dream journal?” I repeated. That sounded a little… fruity.

“Yes. You said you have trouble remembering what happened in them, and that bothers you. Get a notebook, keep it by your bed. As soon as you wake up in the morning, write down everything you can remember. Bring it with you to our sessions, if you want. I think you’ll find it helps.”

“Whatever,” I sighed. I looked at the clock again. Finally, the session was over. “Well, I need to get going. Thanks.”

He stood up and shook my hand. “Don’t forget what I said.”

“I won’t.” I shrugged my coat on and headed out of his office, into the biting winter weather.



FEBRUARY

I’m reasonably sure that Valentine’s Day is the work of the devil. What other force would condone letting us poor, single folk have to watch mushy couples coo and make out with each other? It's torture.

Take Isaac and his girlfriend, for example. They’re in the living room, doing who knows what, while I’m in here trying to fix a snack. I can hear them. I can hear her flirty giggling (and what’s causing her to do that, I really don’t want to know), I can hear him calling her his “little shining star”, I can hear it all. If I start hearing creaking and moans, I’m outta here. At least Zac had the decency to go to his girlfriend’s house to make out.

But then, I guess that’s the burden I have to suffer in order for a little freedom. As much as I loved my family, being almost twenty-one years old and still living at home just wasn’t doing it for me. My mother had cried when I told her I was moving out – “We just got you back, and now you’re leaving us again!” – and although I pointed out the major flaw in her logic (namely, that this time I wasn’t comatose), she wasn’t one to be consoled. That is, until she demanded that if I was leaving, I take Ike with me. His mooching, apparently, she’d had enough of. And naturally, if Isaac and I were leaving, Zac had to, too.

Sharing an apartment with your brothers is not as fun as it sounds. Especially not on Valentine’s Day, if you’re single and they aren’t. If they have elaborate plans and your plan consists of stuffing your face and watching Star Wars all night. I stared into the cupboard at our paltry supply of food. So much for the first half of my plan. Why the hell didn’t we ever have anything decent to eat?

I grabbed a loaf of bread and threw it on the counter. After inspecting the refrigerator, I discovered we didn’t even have lunchmeat. Irritated, I shouted into the next room, not caring if I was interrupting or not.

“Ike! Where the hell is the turkey I bought Sunday? I want a sandwich!”

A moment later, I got Isaac’s muffled reply. “Wha? Oh, uh, I think I ate the last of it.”

“What? I just got it two days ago! You ate it already?”

“There’s some cheese in there,” he called helpfully. “You could make grilled cheese.”

Scowling, I went back to the fridge and pulled out the butter and cheese. Figures. We could sell millions of records, sell out any concert hall in America, and yet we somehow couldn’t afford any real sustenance. Or rather, we could afford it… just not manage to keep it in the kitchen for more than 48 hours.

I grabbed a pan and slapped it on the stove, cranking up the heat. “Livin’ large,” I grumbled as I slathered the bread with butter. I threw two of the sandwiches in the pan and stared at it, arms crossed. I watched as the burner coil slowly turned red. As the pan heated up, the butter began to melt and simmer. I closed my eyes. As hungry as I was, it smelled wonderful… and so… familiar.

…standing in a kitchen, yellow and blue…


I breathed deeply, gripping the counter for support.

…stove’s on, something’s burning…. yelling and giggling…

My legs felt weak, I opened my eyes and stared down into the pan, though I wasn’t really seeing it.

…a woman’s voice, shrieking with laughter… “Help me, Taylor! Get the baking soda!”

“Taylor! TAYLOR! What are you doing?!” I was snapped out of my reverie by Isaac’s voice. “Your stuff is burning! What are you doing?”

I blinked several times, aware that my breathing had sped up and I was sweating. I shakily lifted a hand to wipe my brow.

“Tay? Tay… you okay, man? You look a little pale… here, let me help you.” Isaac shuffled over, taking the pan off the burner. The sandwiches inside were completely blackened on one side and practically smoldering. His girlfriend, Miranda, stared at me as though I’d just grown a second head.

“Taylor… say something, man. You’re scaring me.” I felt Isaac’s hand on my back. “Miranda,” he said in a lower tone, “Go get a washcloth.” She dashed out of the room, probably grateful for the distraction.

“I… I don’t know,” I whispered. “I just kind of blacked out for a minute…”

He looked alarm. “Jesus! Are you okay?”

“Yeah… I’m okay now.” Isaac grabbed a stool and forced me to sit down. “It was just…” I trailed off, leaning against the counter and resting my face in the palm of my hand. “… weird. Like a dream…”

“But you’re not asleep,” Isaac astutely pointed out.

I was too weary to even throw a sarcastic comeback at him. “I know… but it felt like one.”

“Well, what was it? Like a nightmare?”

I shook my head. “No…” No terror… just a sense of sadness, of loss…

Miranda reappeared then, and Isaac took the cloth from her and doused it in cold water. He handed it to me and I pressed it against my forehead, sighing. It felt good; relaxing. “It figures,” I muttered. “Just when I think things are finally getting normal, shit like this happens.”

“It’ll just take some time,” Ike said soothingly. “You’ve been through a lot. Just give it time.” He leaned down closer to me and spoke in a low tone. “Listen,” he said softly. “You need me to stay home tonight? You know… to make sure nothing else happens?”

And ruin his sickeningly romantic Valentine’s Day plans? I wouldn’t hear of it. “No, no,” I waved him off. “I’ll be okay. I’m just gonna eat something and lie down. I’ll be fine.”

“Listen, Taylor, if you need me to--”

“No,” I interrupted him firmly. “You go on. I’ll be okay. I’ll call the doctor if I feel like I need to.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.” With that, I slowly stood up, walking over to the phone. I picked it up, ready to dial. “So,” I said with forced cheerfulness, “I’m starving, and I don’t really feel like cooking anymore. What’s the number for Pizza Hut?”



MARCH

“Happy birthday to you… Happy birthday to you… Happy birthday, dear Taylor… Happy birthday to you!”

I sat in my parents’ house at the kitchen table, a huge white cake in front of me. My family all hovered around me, grinning and singing. Everyone clapped when the song stopped and look at me expectantly. The twenty-one candles on my cake danced and flickered.

“Make a wish and blow them out!” demanded Avery.

“Yes ma’am,” I replied to her, grinning. I stared at the candles a minute, thinking. What could I wish for? I had everything, really… I was alive, I was making music again, I had my family and friends by my side… it seemed almost selfish to ask for anything more. Maybe I should wish for world peace, or something…

“Hurry up, Taylor!”

“Ssshhh, Mack… he’s thinking.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I don’t need anything… I’m just glad to be here. Opening my eyes and smiling, I quickly blew out the candles.

“What did you wish for?” Avery asked.

“He can’t tell, Avery! Otherwise, it won’t come true!” Jessica had her hands on her hips, giving Avery a well, duh look. They began arguing then, and I turned to my parents, shrugging.

“Well, are we gonna eat this or listen to those two all night?”

Mom picked up a knife and started cutting the circular cake into small wedges, dishing them out among the kids. I began attacking mine as soon as she set the plate down. I got a few disapproving looks for my apparent lack of manners, but I didn’t care. It seemed forever since I’d had cake.

I had one bite left. I stabbed it with my fork, placing it in my mouth and savoring the sugary goodness. Mom always made the best desserts… I’d never met anyone who could top her. I slowly chewed, wishing I hadn’t eaten it so fast… I wanted more.

“Hey, can I have another piece?” I asked, licking my fork.

“Good grief, Taylor. Why don’t you wait awhile? You’ve got presents to open,” Mom said.

I gave her an exaggerated sigh. “Oh, well, if you insist.” I picked up my dirty dishes and took them to the sink.

We spent the next hour in the living room. I sat in the recliner, being the “star” of this particular get-together. One by one, my family members brought up their gift to me and watched anxiously as I tore it open. A new watch from Isaac (“So maybe you’ll get to rehearsal on time!”). A digital camera from my parents. Two Rolling Stones albums, Exile on Main St. and Sticky Fingers from Jessica. A homemade bracelet from Avery. A DVD from Mackenzie (which I’m fairly certain Isaac picked out for him). Finally, Zac trudged up, tossing me his red-wrapped box. “Happy birthday,” was all he said. I gave him a suspicious look and cautiously began tearing into the box. I opened it to find a t-shirt. Two, actually, and they appeared to be vintage. I tentatively started to lift the first one up to get a good look at it.

“Zac, if this is that ‘Superhottie’ shirt, I’m gonna deck you, man,” I mumbled. I breathed a sigh of relief as I held it up. The first was a bright red shirt, with a huge diamond drawing on the front. Sal’s Pawn Shop was emblazoned across the top. “Oh, cool. Thanks.” Zac nodded, acknowledging the thank-you. I set the first aside and reached in, pulling out the next one. It was solid black, with white decoration. Gettin’ lucky in Kentucky! it declared, with a picture of the state just underneath.

“I got them from the Goodwill downtown. I thought you might like them,” Zac said. “You won’t wear anything unless it’s leather or fifteen years old, anyway.”

“Thanks,” I murmured softly, carefully folding up both shirts and placing them back in the box.

“Well, that’s all we’ve got, Taylor,” Mom said, getting up and giving me a fierce hug. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks,” I repeated. Suddenly I had the urge to get up, to leave. The room felt stuffy; I wanted to get out. I surveyed the room – it was like a reenactment of birthdays past. Everyone sitting around, talking, admiring my new stuff, arguing over who got me the best present. I watched for awhile, as if from a distance. When I was sure no one would object to me leaving, I stood up.

“I’m just… uh… gonna eat another piece of cake.” I said.

I swiftly walked into the next room before they could reply. The cake was still sitting on the counter, and I immediately ran up to, grabbing the knife and sawing off another piece. Once I had it ready, I sat down at the table, glad for the distraction. The room wasn’t quite so hot in here, and it was nice to be alone, just for a moment…

I held my fork up and stared at it. I’d missed a bit of icing, it was smeared partially up the handle. My head began to feel a little swimmy. “Not again,” I whispered. I closed my eyes, only vaguely aware that I’d dropped the fork onto my plate with a loud clatter.

“…white cake! I’ve always had white cake, Taylor…”

I leaned forward, putting my face in my hands, shoulders trembling.

“…we saved you a some… a lot, actually…I know how much you like cake…”

I felt an arm wrap around me, shaking me. “Taylor! Taylor!”

I snapped out of it, looking around with wide eyes. Isaac, again. I met his gaze, not flinching.

“Hey,” he murmured, pulling up close and sitting right next to me. “Again?”

I nodded mutely. This was happening entirely too often for my tastes.

“Same thing?”

I nodded again, staring down at the table. You know what I said earlier about not wanting anything, God? I take that back. I’d give anything to figure out what the hell is going on.



APRIL

“So tell me about these blackouts, Taylor.”

“Well… they’re not really blackouts. I don’t know what they are. They’re like… I don’t know… dreams?”

“Waking dreams?”

“Sort of. I can’t see anything, though. I kind of zone out… I hear things, mostly. Sometimes I can practically smell things.”

“What sort of things do you hear?”

“Usually a woman’s voice. Sometimes there are words, too, but I can never really recall what’s being said.”

“What about the tone of this woman’s voice?”

“Laughing, usually. Playful.”

“Do you recognize it?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“Well, I don’t recognize it. I don’t know the voice. I can’t place it at all… but it just feels… familiar.”

“I see. How often do you have these episodes?”

“Not often. Just every once in a while, they’ll just… come out of left field. I have no idea what sets them off.”

“No idea at all?”

“Nothing. They’re just totally random… have you ever heard of anything like this?”

“Yes. It’s more common than you think.”

“Well, what is it then?”

“Well, I haven’t made a formal diagnosis yet, Taylor… but from what you’ve described, what you’re experiencing resembles Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, also called shell shock, in a number of ways.”

“What? I thought that only happened to war veterans!”

“It happens to those who have endured some sort of disaster. You’ve mentioned that you’ve experienced insomnia and the inability to concentrate before. But one of the major symptoms is something called ‘intrusion’. The individual experiences flashbacks or vivid memories, accompanied with intense, uncontrollable emotions. These flashbacks happen unexpectedly, and can be set off by almost anything.”

“Um…. okay… but how are these flashbacks, when I don’t know this person or what she’s talking about?”

“Are you sure that’s true?”

“What do you mean? I think I would remember at least some of it!”

“Not necessarily. The mind is an amazing thing, Taylor. It can repress nearly anything – something of a survival instinct. Think about all the times you’ve heard of people being in accidents, and later saying, ‘I have no idea what happened.’ It’s entirely possible that you do know this person, that you’ve actually experienced what you’re feeling… but you’ve stifled it, for some reason.”

“I just don’t see how that’s possible.”

“Tell me this. What about your night dreams?”

“What about them?”

“Have you been keeping the journal, like I asked?”

“Yes…”

“Has it helped you remember anything else from those dreams?”

“Yeah…”

“Such as?”

“Well… it happens in a house, in a den. It’s furnished really nice. Leather and cream. Cherry furniture.”

“Are you alone?”

“No…”

“Who is with you?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“Is it a female?”

“Yes… I think so. I’ve never seen who it is, I just kind of… feel that they’re there.”

“Is it possible, then, that the person in those dreams might be the same in your waking dreams?”

“Well, anything’s possible, isn’t it?”

“Don’t be sarcastic, Taylor.”

“Yes. Yes, I suppose it’s possible. So what about it? What about I supposed to do?”

“There are some issues here that you need to figure out on your own, Taylor. I can’t tell you what to do. All I can tell you is to have a little patience and understand that when incidents such as your dreams happen repeatedly, there’s a reason for it. It’s not ‘complete randomness’ as you say.”

“This isn’t helping me…”

“It will later. Have patience.”

“You keep saying that.”

“I keep saying it because it’s true. Now, let’s change the subject, because our session is almost up today. I’m sure you won’t protest too much about that. I understand that you all are planning to tour again soon.”

“Yeah, next month. In just a few weeks.”

“Do you feel ready for that?”

“Yeah… actually, I’m kind of looking forward to it. I miss performing.”

“Any anxiety?”

“No, not about that. Just a little worried I’ll have one of these freak-outs in public, or something.”

“Well, it’s possible. Should I write out a prescription for you?”

“No, no, no… I don’t need drugs. I’ll be fine.”

“Alright, if you insist… but I will tell you, Taylor, things aren’t going to get completely better until you confront them head-on. Until you take them seriously. It takes work.”

“Okay.”

“Are you listening to me?”

“Yes, I’m listening.”

“Good. Well, it seems our time is up for today, Taylor. I won’t see you again until after your tour. I know you feel like this is a waste of your time, but I think you’ve made amazing progress this year. You’re going to get this all sorted out. Just--”

“—I know, I know. Have patience.”

“Exactly. Good luck, Taylor.”

“Thanks, Dr. Goldberg.”



MAY

I was covered in sweat, breathing hard. My hair, wet and sticky, clung to my temples as I leaned over. The grin on my face was contagious – I looked over at Isaac and he met my gaze, smiling broadly before turning back to the crowd and hamming it up. God, I’d forgotten how good this felt. How being in front of a crowd made me feel so alive.

“Everybody doing okay?” I shouted into the mic. I was met with an unintelligible roar. “Alright! This next one’s a song you might know.” I set my hands back down on the keys of my Kurzweil grand, carefully playing the intro to This Time Around. The crowd roared again. I looked up, smiling. So far, so good. People were crammed in, jumping and singing along. I loved playing in smaller venues – it was just so much easier to get into it, to connect with the fans.

The tour had gone surprisingly well. It was a short one, only a month long, lasting all throughout May and concluding on June 1st. We were almost done – one more show to do. My feelings on that were a little torn. I enjoyed touring, because of the incredible high from performing, all the fun we had… but at the same time, I was exhausted. Four weeks of being on the road, dealing with overzealous fans, dealing with Zac and his moods, had taken its toll. Luckily, I hadn’t had another blackout episode, but I wondered if I’d been pushing my luck. Just one more show, though… then we could rest.

“Alright! Sing it with me! You’re going great! Come on!” I left the piano and walked to center stage, directing the crowd in a sing-a-long. They cheered and followed my directions.

The next hour was a blur. After our encore, the three of us trooped offstage, weary but exhilarated. Isaac slapped me on the back as we boarded the bus. I grabbed a towel and pressed it against my face, still catching my breath.

“How ya feeling, Taylor?” he asked, grinning.

“Great,” I said, wiping down my face and neck. “Amazing.” I put the towel down and appraised my gray t-shirt. “I’m soaked… I’m gonna jump in the shower.”

“Well, Zac and I are gonna go sign a few autographs, I guess… you wanna come?”

I sighed. Just when I thought the night was going to end perfectly… “Well… not really. But I guess I can sign a few.”

“Don’t strain yourself,” I heard Zac mutter. I narrowed my eyes at him. He’d been such a bastard for most of the tour – which meant that for four weeks, Isaac and I had been the fortunate ones to put up with his shit. I decided to ignore his comment and go on.

We walked back out into the brisk May air and were promptly met with screams. Swallowing a lump, I followed my brothers over to the fence, where a slew of scantily-clad young women were waiting. I have to be the only man in America who can’t appreciate this, I thought, sighing.

The screams intensified as we got closer. Isaac and Zac headed towards opposite sides, leaving me to take care of the middle. Dozens of wide-eyed faces stared at me.

“Taylor!”

“Oooh, come here!”

“Sign this for me, please? My name’s Karen!”

“Oh my God, you’re so hot…”

“Aren’t you single? I heard you broke up with your girlfriend!”

“Can I get a picture with you? Please? It’s for my little sister!”

And so on, and so forth… I stayed just out of reach, so their little hands couldn’t grab on to my shirt or hair like had happened in the past. I quietly signed several CD cases, a few shirt sleeves, ticket stubs, and a picture or two. I had figured out that it was best to say as little as possible – if I talked, they took it as a sign that I was willing to divulge information, and usually began asking questions about the accident, or about my single status. Both were subjects I was entirely sick of talking about.

Suddenly, one girl shoved her way to the front. She was wearing an extremely low-cut top, with ample cleavage to fill it out. She giggled, holding out a Sharpie.

“Sign me, Tay!”

I stared at her. “Excuse me?”

She pushed her chest up expectantly. “Will you sign here?” She cocked her head down, indicating her chest.

I wrinkled my nose and took a step back. “No offense, but I’d really rather not. It’ll just wash off, anyway. Why bother?”

“Why bother? I say why not?” she replied easily.

I’ve had enough of this… I just want to go back, shower, and get out of here. “I’m really sorry,” I said slowly. “But I just don’t do that.” Then, as quietly as I had come in, I walked away, back to the bus. I heard their cries of despair as I left, and knew my brothers were probably going to kill me. But I didn’t care.

                                                                                         *******

I stepped out of the shower twenty minutes later, carefully toweling off my hair. I swiftly dressed for bed and walked out of the bathroom. Isaac and Zac were sitting on the couch, eyes glued to the television.

“Hey. I guess I’m heading to bed.”

Isaac glanced up at me. “Okay.”

I walked over to my suitcase and retrieved my notebook. My journal – dream journal, to be exact, that dreaded thing Dr. Goldberg insisted I start keeping. I held the black-and-white speckled notebook to my chest, fishing around in my luggage for a pen. Once I grabbed one, I turned away and started to walk back to my bunk.

“Hey. What is that?” Zac asked casually.

I gripped the journal tightly. “Just a notebook.”

“What’s in it? You’re always writing in it. Is it full of songs or something?”

I blushed uncomfortably. “No.”

“Well, what is it?”

“It’s personal,” I snapped. God, why did he have to be so nosy? “It’s not something I want to talk about.”

“Well excuse me! Excuse me for showing a little interest in your life!”

“Being nosy, you mean?” I asked angrily.

Isaac sighed. “Guys… can we just cool it for awhile?”

Zac snorted. “Nosy? For asking you a simple question like that? I’m not asking you to read it out loud, Taylor. I’m just saying, it would be nice if you would bother to speak to us about certain things every once in awhile.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just nevermind. You don’t want to talk about it, like always, then I won’t make you. I’m just saying that you act like we are just completely incapable of understanding you and your issues. We’re not stupid, Taylor.”

“I know you’re not stupid, Zac, a fact which you keep reminding me--”

“Guys,” Isaac interrupted sharply. “Enough.”

We both shut up then, glaring at each other. I turned and walked swiftly to my bed, hopping in and pulling the curtain closed. I yanked the blanket up around my shoulders and shifted so I was lying on my side. I opened my journal, peering at the lines of writing in the dim light. It had seemed like such a stupid idea when Dr. Goldberg suggested it… but he’d been right. It had helped me. It comforted me, somehow. I flipped the pages, searching for my latest entry.

Woke up around ten-fifteen. Same dream as always – but this time I felt her beside me. Actually felt her skin – it was like silk, so soft. I felt content, happy, like I belonged there. I didn’t want to wake up. Still have not seen her face, but in my dream, I think we’re in love. I can feel it.


Incapable of understanding? Yeah. What was I supposed to tell them -- that I’d had the same reoccurring dream every night since January? That periodically, the dream would expand, I would see more of what was going on, understand more of what was happening? That I felt the benevolent, sweet presence of a young woman in those dreams that left me smiling even as I woke up? That I was beginning to fall in love with her… and she didn’t even exist, except in my head? That I actually looked forward to sleeping every night, just to be in her company, surreal as it was?

Yeah, try understanding
that, Zac. And you wonder why I keep so tight-lipped about everything… I knew he felt out of the loop. He felt like I talked more to Isaac about things than I did to him, which was true… but couldn’t he see I needed my space? That I couldn’t deal with the combination of their constant presence, the media scrutiny, the insanity of the fans, after all that I'd been through? During this tour, there were times when I thought that the journal and those loving dreams were the only things keeping me sane…

I felt a tap on my shoulder. Isaac. I hadn’t even heard him walking up.  “Listen, I know you’re not in the best mood right now… but you and Zac seriously have to work this thing out. You’ve been at each other’s throats for the past month.”

“Ike,” I sighed. “Can we discuss this later?”

“Why can’t we discuss it now?”

“Because I’m tired, and cranky, and all I can think about is sleep…” and what, or rather who, I would be dreaming about once I went to sleep… “and I might say something I’ll regret. There’s just one show left, right? After that, we can take a break, then come back once we’ve all calmed down and talk this thing out. But I just can’t deal with it right now.”

“But--”

“Isaac, please. Just drop it, for tonight, at least.”

“Fine,” he sighed, straightening up and starting to walk away. “Just one more show, you’re right.”

I rolled over, looking directly at him. “So where are we going tomorrow, anyway?” We’d been in so many different cities I’d completely lost track. I wasn’t even sure if I knew what side of the continent we were on.

He yawned, covering his mouth with one hand. “Lexington. In Kentucky. I think we’re playing at the Kentucky Theatre. We’re also doing a signing session tomorrow afternoon, don’t forget.” He smiled wryly. “Should be loads of fun.”