"You know, somehow I don't get a real big metal vibe from Jess." Blaire pointed at the Ozzy's Greatest Hits album I held in my hand.
"I think it could work. I was figuring she could do one of those dances she's so fond of. Leapy thing here, turny thing here, let's all worship the devil and kill people a few times. Besides...it's on sale."
She smiled at me. "No."
"She'll love it!"
I slapped it back on the rack. "Fine. Hey, look...the Best of Yanni!"
"Your musical knowledge is slowly but surely going to crap."
"Does that mean no Yanni?"
"You're catching on."
I turned away from the c.d. rack and looked around the Sam Goody. Blaire and I had been at the mall for almost an hour looking for gifts for my sisters. I haven't realized how bad commerce has gotten. I mean, really. Who wants...Elevator Music for the Soul? Then you can get it for $11.95. The only good thing that's come out of this whole trip was to be able to spend time with Blaire.
"I don't think you're going to find anything here," Blaire said, shoving her hands in her jeans pockets.
I sighed. "Yeah, I guess, but what am I going to get them? I can't just...give them an IOU. 'Yeah, sorry, I would get you a present but our mall sucks ass, so I'll get you one later' doesn't really have that feel good Christmasy feeling to it."
"I'm sure there's something you can do?" she trailed off. We headed for the exit. "Make something. You're an artsy kind of guy. Do something...creative."
"Maybe write a song for them. Record a tape of songs your mom likes...maybe get Isaac and Zac to help you sing them. I don't know! Why are you asking me?"
"I'm just out of ideas, I guess," I shrugged.
"You know them a lot better than I do, Taylor. You live with them. Ask them what they want."
"You mean...you didn't ask them what they wanted for Christmas?" she asked in a low voice.
"Taylor! You moron!"
"Yes, moron. Genius. You don't even know what they want, that's just classic..." she said, shaking her head and starting to laugh.
She seems to be missing the point here. The whole 'moron' act is just part of the Taylor Hanson charm. But I soon forgot my hurt pride as I watched Blaire's jeans curve around her long legs as she walked.
I glanced around the mall for any other stores that could have possible present selections. I really have no idea what I can get for my sisters. The tape idea for my mother is a pretty good idea, I must admit. But what else can I do? My artistic skills aren't that much to brag on. I've been dabbling in pottery a bit, but all I've been able to produce is something that resembles the little ashtrays we used to make out of Play-doh. And not even good ashtrays. The ashtrays that are lopsided and ugly and look like an ashtray on crack.
"Oh look! A picture booth!"
I glanced up and looked at what Blaire was pointing at. One of those booths that you sit in, close the curtain, and take a picture.
"Yes it is Blaire...what gave you that hint, the fact that it has pictures on it in big, bold letters?"
"I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."
"Who's the genius now?"
"Kindly remove your head from your ass and we can continue."
"Yes. It's sort of a tradition with me and my friends that every time we go to the mall we take pictures in the booth."
"And this concerns me?"
"There seems to be an absence of my friends, so you're going to have to take it with me, you poor, poor boy."
We climbed in the photo booth. I sat on the little stool and eyed the screen in front of me warily.
"What's the little screen for?"
"It's takes the...have you never done this before?"
"Oh. Well, it takes the little picture. Now scoot over."
"Yeah. I've got to sit down too, you know."
"There's plenty of room right here," I said, patting my lap.
Blaire smiled slightly. "No offense...but I'm afraid I'd break you."
"Look at you! You have a negative amount of body fat! I'd probably snap your legs!"
"You would not...snap my legs. And I do not have a negative amount of body fat." I reached around her waist and pulled her into my lap. "So there."
"Yeah, but your bony knee is poking into my..."
"Oh it is not. Just take the picture."
Blaire pressed the button and leaned her head against my chest. I smiled as the screen counted down from 5 then flashed.
"It takes 4 pictures," Blaire murmured.
I wrapped my arms around her waist and squeezed gently, smiling as her hair brushed against my face. She reached a hand into my hair and twisted a lock around her fingers.
As the last picture counted down, I turned her head towards me and kissed her.
I couldn't tell if the flash was from the camera or from us.
"Oh, look who's back! Our resident love slave."
I smirked at Christian, who was writing the day's patients on the large dry erase board.
"Only for a little while. I'm leaving later on, to take Zoe shopping with Taylor."
"Well, it's so good of you to grace us with your presence."
"Yes, I like to keep up with my personal appearances. Visit the little, unimportant people." I pulled a clipboard out off of the rack. "So what's going on today?"
"Not too much. Muffin is in surgery with the Cebenko's poodle Otina, removing the tumor on her stomach. Jack is at the high school, doing a presentation and then he's going to stick around and help Jill clean out her choir room. And I'm working myself to the bone, since this is the only time you've been in this week."
"What a baby," I mumbled under my breath. I shuffled through a sheaf of papers. "Oh, the Blaha's dachshund is in? Good, I haven't seen her in a while. Where is she?" Daisy is a personal favorite of mine. She used to perform in miniature circuses and whenever I examine her, she performs tricks for me. It's the cutest thing.
"Daisy? Oh, she went home."
"What? Christian, she's my patient. Why did you send her home?"
"She just came in for a checkup. You weren't here. Why should the Blaha's have to leave Daisy here until you decide to waltz in to perform a checkup that takes fifteen minutes? Will checked her up, and she went home."
I slowly set the clipboard on the counter. "Christian..."
"It would've been very unprofessional, to keep them waiting."
"Christian...Daisy is my patient. You had no right to..."
"To what? Blaire, you didn't even call to tell us that you weren't coming in. You haven't been in since last week. It's Friday, Blaire. Daisy came in on Wednesday. We were supposed to keep her in a kennel for two days just to suit you and your special patients?"
"I haven't been out all week...I was in on...on..."
"On last Friday. That was the last time you came in."
"Oh my God." I slumped down against the counter. "I'm so sorry. I didn't realize..."
"Christian, I finished Otina. She's now tumor-free and sleeping like a baby on codeine," Muffin laughed, walking into the room. "Blaire! I was beginning to think something happened to you!" She pulled at the latex gloves that were streaked with iodine and droplets of blood and through them in the trash can at my feet. "Where've you been, Blaire-bear?"
"Don't call me Blaire-bear."
"Where do you think she's been? She's been with Taylor. And now she has the nerve to come in and yell at me for letting someone else-"
"Shut up Christian. I said I was sorry."
"Yeah I know. But you've admitted you were wrong and I was right, and I'm not planning on letting you forget that any time soon."
I rolled my eyes and picked the clipboard back up again. "I'm going to go check and see if any of MY patients are in the kennels. So I can work on MY patients."
"Knock yourself out," Christian said, turning back to the dry erase board.
Muffin followed me to the kennels.
"What do you want to know this time?" I sighed, unlocking the door.
"Where have you been?" she demanded, pulling her blue hair into a rubberband.
"Just like Christian said. I was with Taylor. Most of the time. I didn't even realize I was gone the entire week, and I am so sorry..."
"Cut the apologizes. I want details. What did you manage to do for an entire week?"
I shrugged and pushed the door open with my hip. "I don't know. Stuff. Mostly worked on Christmas gifts for his family. He has this weird idea that if he doesn't get everyone the perfect gift they'll hate him or something."
"You know, I think this is the longest you've ever been interested in a guy, and I've known you for 8 years. This calls for a celebration. Or something."
I smiled, and started peering at the nameplates above the cages. "Taylor is the only guy I've met that's been worthy of my interest."
"Worthy? Than I guess I should feel privileged that you're even talking to me."
"You should." I leaned over to a bottom cage, and opened the lock on the door. "What's Kilima doing in here?" Kilima was one of my patients. I was the first doctor to work on her, and when anyone else does, she scratches the crap out of them. Or maybe she just doesn't like Christian or Jack. God knows I want to scratch the crap out of them sometimes.
"She came in Tuesday for a checkup. Christian found that she has a cold, so she's on antibiotics."
I opened the door. "Hey sweetie," I whispered, rubbing her under her chin. "Haven't seen you in a while. I guess I should come in more often, huh?"
"Yes, I think so."
I sighed. "I don't know what got over me. I'm usually not like this."
"I know what got over you."
"You like him!" She shoved my shoulder. Being the ever so graceful one that I am, I fell over.
"Really. I guess I hadn't noticed."
"Quit being such a smart ass. I've missed your sarcasm, but not that much."
"Sorry." I stood up, and brushed myself off. I slammed Kilima's door shut. "Hope you feel better sweetie."
The intercom on the wall crackled to life. "Dr. Whitney, Taylor just pulled up in the parking lot," Lola's voice said.
I smiled to myself.
"What? You're leaving again? But you just got here!"
"Don't whine Muffin. There's enough of me to go around."
"Not when Taylor keeps taking you away," she muttered, looking down at the ground.
I wrapped my arm around her shoulder as we walked out of the kennel. "Listen. We'll do something together soon. I know! I'll actually come to work next week! You know, so I can get paid. Wow. What a concept."
She laughed. "I guess the years of me having you all too myself have spoiled me. My little Blaire is growing up...going on dates..."
"Hey. Bite me."
"Well Blaire, it was a nice five minutes," Christian said when we exited the kennel.
"Muffin, did you hear something?"
"I didn't hear anything Blaire."
"Just leave. I've decided you're annoying me," Christian said, throwing a marker at me.
"Such violence. I get the feeling I'm not wanted."
"Go make out with Pretty Boy, or whatever it is you do to pass the time."
"I'll be thinking of you the whole time, Chrissy baby."
I walked to the front waiting room, leaving Muffin and Christian. I think they can fend without me for a little while. I pushed the double doors open and caught sight of Taylor walking in the building. His windblown hair was swirling around his face, and the cold had turned his cheeks pink. He was clutching a jacket tightly around his body, and rubbing his arms. I suddenly felt awkward and inadequate, with my hair in a simple bun, a pair of jeans with holes in the knees, and an old shirt that read "Don't Mess With Texas".
"You know, you're really going to have to stop getting dressed to be seen with me."
He looked up at me, a grin spread across his face. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. I refuse to be seen in public with a guy who looks and dresses better than me. So...just stop wearing clothes. Solve all of our problems."
"I have a feeling that me running around naked would solve more than one of your problems," he said, wrapping an arm around my waist and leading me out the doors.
Ooh. Score one for Blondie. The problem is...he didn't know how right he was.
"This is it," Blaire said, opening her arms wide, and gesturing to the apartment. "This is where I live."
My eyes flicked around the room. It looked a lot like the apartment my brothers and I shared in L.A. The walls were adorned with reproductions of popular pieces of artwork, like Munich's "Scream", Warhol's "Campbell's Soup", Van Gogh's "Starry Night", and numerous others. A creamy leather couch sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by a coffee table stacked with piles of books. I picked one of them up.
"'Anatomy of Small Animals'? Jesus, Blaire, this thing probably weighs more than a small animal."
She smiled. I skimmed the titles of the top books. A book with a quilted cover caught my attention.
"Is that a photo album?" I asked, picking it up.
"Yeah, of me when I was a teenager," she said, throwing her keys on the counter behind me. "You can look through it if you want. I'm going to go change. Give me five minutes."
I wondered if I should follow her. I had a feeling that there were some interesting things in her room. Like a bed. And Blaire. But my curiosity got the best of me, and I plopped down on the couch, pulling the photo album on my lap.
The first picture was a young Blaire sitting on a branch high in a tree looking down at the camera. Her hair was cut to her chin and she had Band-Aids on her knees. I smiled at the familiar grin gracing her lips, despite the braces criss-crossing her teeth. 'Blaire at 11, hiding from Dad' read the caption. I turned the pages, revealing equally beautiful pictures of Blaire. Some of her at the beach, in front of a Christmas tree, posing with Andrew, working on the ranch, riding horses. I flipped to the middle of the book, looking for the later years. My heart stopped as I gazed at the picture on the page, and I felt the blood rush out of my face.
Blaire. Blaire and four other girls. Blaire and four other girls in front of a theater. Wearing Hanson shirts.
The caption read 'Audrey, Charlotte, Blaire, Skylar, Nikki at the Woodlands, Sept. 1998, Hanson's Albertane Tour'. I leaned closer to the page, studying it.
Blaire's grin was there. The same long legs. The same deep blue eyes. The same wavy dark brown hair, only in this picture brushing just past her shoulders. Yes, this was definitely Blaire. But...why?
Disgusted at seeing my face looking back at me from the torsos of Blaire and her friends, I shoved the book off of my lap. All this time...all this time spent thinking of her, and wishing that I was with her, and hoping that she'd just direct that smile at me one last time so I could die happy...all of this time I've been in love with a fan?
"I am now truly ready to spend my money on trivial items no one really wants and will probably return anyway," Blaire laughed, walking from her room. I stood quickly.
"Are you ready, Taylor?"
I backed up as she advanced, holding my hands up.
"Stay away!" I choked.
"What are you doing? Come on, let's go," she said, a confused look falling over her face.
"Why...why didn't you tell me?" I whispered, feeling my breath hitch in my throat.
"Tell you what? Taylor...sweetie...what's wrong?"
"Why didn't you tell me you were a fan?"
"Does it really matter that I was a fan?" she asked, reaching for me.
I jerked my hand away. After all of the nights I had spent lying awake, imagining myself lying with her, I suddenly was disgusted at the thought of touching her.
"It matters. How long have you been dreaming of this? Did you write stories about a relationship with me?"
"Of course not. I wrote about Zac."
"Damnit Blaire, this is not a game!"
"Why does it bother you that I was a fan? That I enjoyed good music? That I knew how to expand my musical horizons?"
"That you wore shirts with my face on them, screamed at concerts, and made signs that read 'MMMBop Me, Tay'?" My hands were shaking.
"I did not scream."
"So how long have you been fantasizing about meeting me? Planning what you'd say, hoping that I'd glance at you or say something to you so you can brag to your friends about how you met THE Taylor Hanson."
"So I can tell them what a bastard you're being?"
She sighed. "I can't believe we're even having this conversation. I liked a lot of different music, Taylor. Wouldn't you rather have fans than not?"
"I can't believe I was in love with a fan," I muttered.
"Can you not see past this fan thing? How does it change anything?"
"It changes everything."
"What Taylor? What does it change? I'm still Blaire, the same person I always was. The same person you were kissing 10 minutes ago."
I suddenly felt nauseated. I kissed a fan? I fought the childish impulse to wipe my mouth with my hand.
"No. You're not." I grabbed my jacket from the back of the couch. "Because now I know why you're really interested in me. You're just fulfilling a sick wet dream you once had as a teenager."
I slung the jacket over my shoulders and walked out the door, ignoring the hurt and confused expression on Blaire's face.
I stared at the closed door. I don't know how long I stood there, studying the wood and the assorted locks, and the white paint that was starting to chip off the base boards, a result of Andrew slamming the door too many times in a hurry to get inside. But I stood, in the middle of the living room just staring at the door and daring Taylor to walk back in.
I turned on my heel and walked numbly to my room. I reached into the back of my closet and pulled out a cardboard box that was tearing at the edges and had "Blaire Rhiannon Whitney-'97 to Forever!" written in bold black marker and adorned with various doodles. I held it underneath my arm, walked back to the living room, grabbed my truck keys off the counter, and left the apartment.
Everything reminded me of Taylor as I drove across Tulsa. The billboard advertising the club I watched Hanson perform at, that tree across the street that we sat under trying to escape the rain, the way that couple over there are holding hands.
I tightened my grip on the steering wheel and watched my knuckles turn white. That's right, Blaire. Take it out on the steering wheel. What did it ever do to you?
I pulled into the driveway of my destination and yanked the keys out of the ignition. Forget mournful. Forget hurt. Forget sad. I was now pissed.
I grabbed the box off of the seat beside me, balanced it against my hip and stalked up the sidewalk.
I banged my fist against the door. "I know you're in there!" I yelled. "Open up!"
A few seconds passed and the door slowly opened.
"Blaire?" Jill asked as she held the door. "Are you okay?"
Her curly hair was in a messy ponytail. Taylor used to wear his hair in a ponytail. She was wearing a sweatshirt that had "Nathan Hale Choir" emblazoned across the front. Taylor sings. Her jeans were splattered with dry flecks of paint. Taylor wears jeans.
"Yep. I'm great. I'm in dire need to use your fireplace," I said, shifting my weight from one leg to the other.
"Um...okay..." she said hesitantly, widening the doorway. I stepped into the living room and made a beeline to the brick fireplace, throwing the cardboard box down with a satisfying thud. I propped myself up with my knees as I tossed logs on the rack.
"Hey Blaire!" a cheery familiar voice said. My eyes narrowed. One of...them.
"You remember Isaac, right Blaire?"
"Yep. I remember. Got any matches?"
"Matches?" I heard Isaac whisper to Jill.
"Just go with it," she hissed. I heard Jill's shoes click on the wooden floor as she walked to the shelf above me and handed me a box of kitchen matches.
"Not to be intrusive or anything, but...what are you doing?" Isaac asked.
"Sacrificing my childhood memories to the devil."
"Oh. I see."
I ripped the tape off the top of the box and removed the top. Inisde was every little piece of Hanson paraphernalia I had accumulated over the years. I removed a plastic binder. Oh look, early Hanson teenybopper magazine pinups. I angrily tore them up and threw them in the fireplace.
"That's not some weird voodoo thing, is it?"
"Isaac! Shut up!"
"I hope he can feel it," I muttered.
"He? Oh Blaire. What happened?" Jill sat at my elbow, staying clear of the arm that was chunking items into the fireplace.
I felt my eyes fill with tears. I angrily rubbed them away. 'No,' I told myself. 'Don't let him be worth this.' "Nothing. Some people just can't handle having people like their work. And Taylor's a big insensitive jerkwad who doesn't deserve fans." There. I bet that hurt him.
"Yeah, Taylor is..."
"Wait a minute, you're a fan?" Isaac interrupted Jill's consoling words. I could almost feel the heat emitted from her glare. I'd hate to be him when I leave. "Even after you saw us perform three weeks ago?"
I gritted my teeth and shredded a particularly pretty picture of Taylor. "Yes. I was. A fan. Get. Over. It."
"And you told Taylor?"
"I didn't tell Taylor. I don't know how he found out. But one minute he was fine, just sitting on the couch and the next he was practically condemning me to hell for buying an album or two." Or six. My head fell to my hands. "Why is he so...afraid of fans?"
Isaac sat beside me on the floor. "Taylor's always been more vulnerable than Zac or me, I suppose you could say. Ever since he was 14 he's had millions of girls confessing their love for him. He loved it for a while. But it just changed one day. He realized that all of the girls screaming at concerts and writing his name on their faces didn't know him. We all realized that," he said softly. "It changed everything. Tay started thinking that no one loved him except for the fans, who only liked his outward appearance and not who he was as a person. And then the abuse started. Fans started jumping onstage, trying to grab us, trying to kiss us, refusing to let go of whatever body part they had latched their hands on, yet still convinced that they loved us. Most of the fans who jumped onstage were directed towards him. He got really paranoid about most of the fans. He started having panic attacks, and would hyperventilate every time a group of people started screaming. He went into bouts of depression, periods where he couldn't talk to anyone. He was just a shell of a person. The fans really stole a part of him in 2000, and he just never got it back."
I felt my cheeks and was surprised to feel wet skin. "I had no idea," I whispered.
Isaac smiled sadly. "No one ever did. Tay started sleeping with women to try to fill the gap inside him and that's what the magazines wrote about. Not how he wouldn't talk to his own family members about how he was afraid of teenaged girls. Not that he almost always got suicidal if we had to do promo tours where fans could easily get to us. But how he slept around, of all his recent lovers, of how the infamous 'MMMBop Boy' couldn't find love so he had to settle for whores." He took a shaky breath. "I guess he felt that if people loved him in a shallow fashion, then he could love women the same way. One night stands."
I stared at my hands. That would explain why he was so afraid of me when I tried to hold him.
I shook my head. "No."
"No. He should know me. I would never hurt him. I would bite off my right arm to keep him from getting hurt. I went Christmas shopping with him, for God's sake. How would his finding out that I was a fan years ago change his feelings?" I angrily tore a match out of the book. "I love him. I love HIM, every single part of him, every weird quirk, every small imperfection." I struck the match.
"I guess he doesn't love me as much as he said," I said softly. I threw the lit match into the fireplace. I turned quickly and left the house, avoiding watching pictures of the love of my life go up in flames.
"Taylor?" There was a soft knocking at the door. "Taylor? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I called from my position behind my piano in our basement. I looked over the keys at the door. My eyes were sore from holding back tears that were begging to be shed. I wiped my eyes harshly.
The door creaked open, and Zac poked his head in the room formerly known as the basement, the room we had dubbed "the music room" from the time Isaac was 8. I turned my head to the wall and began studying the wall we had graffitied with drawings and Polaroids.
"Taylor?" he walked in hesitantly.
"What?" My voice startled me. It was shaky and hoarse.
He sat slowly on a stool beside my piano. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?"
"Taylor. Don't do this again."
"Don't do what?"
"I'm not stupid. I can tell something's wrong."
I rested my forehead against the top of the piano. "Blaire's a fan."
"Blaire? A fan?"
"Yeah," I said softly. "A fan. I saw a picture of her from a concert. She was wearing a Hanson shirt."
"I'm...I'm sorry, man."
I shrugged his hand off my shoulder. "No, I'm fine. Really."
Zac sighed. "Taylor, please...talk to me. Don't do this again. Don't shut me out."
I started playing a song softly. "I don't really know what to say. I'm just...shocked. And hurt. Blaire lied to me, Zac. She lied." I stared down at my fingers, which were randomly hitting keys, functioning without my brain telling them what to push.
"You know, fans aren't really all that bad..."
My fingers stopped short as they hit a sour note. "What?" This is coming from the guy who used to avoid fans at all costs?
"Do you know what we'd be without fans? People who supported us and bought our albums, and financed our every move?"
"We'd be a lot happier," I mumbled, pushing my hair out of my eyes with a shaky hand.
"I don't think so. You love performing for people, Tay. You wouldn't be the same person if you weren't singing for people. You know that you'd never give that up. So you found out that a girl you really like listened to our songs when she was younger. So what?"
"So what? So what?!" I shot up from the piano bench, forcing the bench to fly out from behind me. "The fans destroyed our childhood, Zac! Everyone's life was affected by the fans. Zoe's first words were 'No pictures'! Avery had nightmares that fans attacked us and woke up screaming every night while we toured! No one could go outside without being blinded by camera flashes! How can you praise the people that forced us to move out of the house we'd lived in since we were born, who made us check into hotels under false names, people who were so possessive that they'd harass anyone rumored to be dating one of us?"
"Because I know that if we didn't have fans, we would be right where we started, three poor boys from Oklahoma with long hair getting laughed at on the playground, living through bruises and pinches and dirty looks from the kids in Sunday School whenever we sang in church. We were living in hell and you know it. Don't try to tell me that getting that contract and getting out of Oklahoma wasn't the best thing that ever happened to you."
I was silent.
"Okay, so Blaire was a fan. Big deal! Maybe she was a good fan, one who listened to the music, and didn't scream, and didn't rush the stage, and gave our family privacy. There were some cool fans, Taylor. You know that. We met plenty of them." He turned and started walking up the stairs. At the last minute, he turned back to me.
"And if you don't come to your senses and take her out again, well...I will. Don't give up on Blaire, who truly loves you, just because of a few people. You both deserve a lot better."
I sighed. I leaned my head up against the wall, a picture of Isaac, Zac, and me scowling at the camera after one of our first recitals at the church, and felt the tears I had been holding back for hours slide down my cheek.
Big boys do cry.