Chapter 21

Blaire

"6. 'MMMBop' isn't even a word. What kind of moron makes up a word? Does he think he's Merriam Webster?"

I looked up from my "Reasons I'm Better Off Without Him" list and stared at the picture frame on my desk. A picture of me with some of best friends. All of them I had met at Hanson concerts. I sighed and crumpled up the list. I grabbed a new piece of paper.

"Reasons my life is crap," I read aloud as I wrote.

"Oh shut up."

I looked up. Jack was standing in front of my desk, hands on his hips. "Excuse me? What did you just say?"

"You're pathetic."

"Pathetic? Moi? Might I remind you that I am much bigger than you?"

"All you've been doing lately is sitting around, sulking because Taylor found out that you were a fan and freaked. You're acting like someone killed your horse or something."

"I really liked him, Jack," I said dully.

"I know that. Don't you think I know that? Anyone who's been around for the past three weeks knows how much you liked him."

"So I think I deserve a period of mourning. Take your unsympathetic ass away from me."

"That's the self pity talking. Where's the old Blaire? Since when did you become such a...a...girl?"

I picked at the bottoms of my jeans. They were starting to fray. Just like everything else in my sorry excuse for a social life. "I'm still here."

"So why are you just sitting here feeling sorry for yourself? Go out after him!"

"He doesn't want me to go out after him! If I went out after him, he'd probably scream and runaway. Shield himself with a silver cross or something. Try to drive a stake through my heart." I got up from behind my desk and walked out of my office. "And you know what?" I told Jack as he followed behind me. "He doesn't need me. He doesn't. Think about it. He's TAYLOR HANSON. He can have any woman in the entire world. Why he'd settle for little old me is beyond me."

"He'd settle for 'little old you' because you're...well...you're special."

"Oh thanks. Special. That's the adjective teachers use for the kids who are ordinary. 'Oh yes, Mrs. Whitney, Blaire is a special child.' Face it Jack...I'm boring. I'm unimaginative. I'm not pretty. I'm not exotic. I'm just Blaire Whitney who grew up on a ranch in Texas. I say 'ya'll.' Taylor Hanson should not date someone who says 'y'all'."

Jack shoved his fingers through his hair. "Have you ever seen the way Taylor looks at you?"

"You mean with hatred and fear?"

"No. He looks at you the way Isaac looks at Jill. As disgusting as it is to see Isaac look at my sister that way. Sometimes I just want to rip his eyes out of his head and tell him to keep his dirty thoughts away from..."

"Jack. Sweetie. We're talking about me here. Save your insecurities about Isaac and Jill for your psychiatrist, okay?"

"Taylor looks at you like he wants to buy you a house in the country to shelter you from all the evils of society. Like he wants to test all of your food to make sure it's not hot enough to burn your tongue. Like he wants to be with you for the rest of his life."

"So why, if he likes me so much, is he running away?"

"Because he's an idiot. The world's best kept secret is that all guys are idiots."

"It's not really that well kept."

"Yeah, well, we try."

"Blaire?" Lola's voice cracked on the intercom.

I sighed and walked over to the metal box hanging on the wall. "Yes?" I said, pressing the TALK button.

"Mr. Hanson is here to see you."

My heart stopped and I felt my face heat up. I stared at the box.

"Blaire? Blaire? Are you there?"

I threw my clipboard on the waiting table and ran like the wind to the waiting room.

I slammed the door open and skidded into the room.

"Taylor?" I panted.

"Nope. Sorry. Wrong brother."

I looked at the direction the voice was coming from. Zac was leaning against Lola's desk.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

"Zac? What are you doing here?" I asked, trying to resist the urge to curl up in the corner and cry.

"For starters, I'm sorry that Taylor is such a nancy boy and can't face his feelings."

"Yeah, I'm kinda sorry about that one too."

Zac grinned at me. "Now, for the real reason of my trek across the wild terrains of Tulsa...Cujo is missing."

"Missing?"

"Yeah. One of my brothers left the gate open..."

"Taylor?"

"No. Mac. I have other brothers, you know."

"You do?"

"Anyway, Mac left the gate open and she got out somehow. So if someone brings Cujo in, give me a call, okay?"

"How long has she been gone?"

"Since last night."

"And you aren't worried?" This was the same guy who was crying when Cujo had minor injuries? Since when did he become Mr. Macho?

"She's done this before. I'm going to make Taylor go on a walk with me later on tonight to see if we can find her."

"Taylor?"

"Yes, Taylor." He grinned at me again. "I'm working on him, okay? Give a man some time."

He waved by to Lola, who was blatantly staring at his ass. Not that I can blame her.

"Bye Blaire. See you later." The door closed silently.

"Wow," Lola said, still staring at the door.

"Yep."

"That is one fine hunk of man."

I sighed. "Yep."

"If I was 20 years younger, I'd..."

"Lola! You're married!"

"Me? Married?"

I smiled. Somehow, Hanson men had that kind of effect on people. Women wanted to do them and men...well, men wanted to do them, too.

.

Chapter 22 

Taylor

"Taylor, come on," Zac said sternly, leading me into the Tulsa Public Park. "Quit being such a killjoy."

I grimaced at his back. "Shut up. Keep in mind that I'm sacrificing my valuable time to be here with you looking for your stupid dog..."

"I'll try to make it quick so you can go back to collecting dust in the basement."

"Hey...I don't insult your hobbies..."

He sighed and continued walking through the park, his head moving from side to side, on the lookout for Cujo.

Welcome to the life of Taylor Hanson, Rock Star. Still lives with his brothers, hasn't gotten any since his last tour two years ago, and spends his Friday nights looking for his brother's dog, of which he isn't fond of anyway. He used to have a beautiful girlfriend, but he managed to lose her too, over a matter that happened 10 years ago, something that he got over a few days after he ran out of her apartment, but he doesn't have the balls to talk to her.

Doesn't it suck to be this guy?

"I should've brought my camera," Zac murmured, his eyes focused on the trees. "Look at the colors! The golds and reds against the sky..."

"Are you going to get all touchy-feely on me? Take a testosterone check."

Zac rolled his eyes at me. "Just because you're miserable without Blaire doesn't mean you can make everyone around you miserable. No...I don't want to hear it," he said as I opened my mouth to reply. "Your excuses are no good here."

I stared at my shoes as we continued walking through the park in silence, Zac occasionally yelling for Cujo.

Zac stopped short. "Taylor...look. Does that look like Cujo to you?"

I squinted into the distance in the direction Zac was pointing. A woman with long, curly, fire red hair was patting a brown Great Dane.

"Why are you asking me? All dogs look the same. Big shoe eating machines."

"Well, when half of the stuff in your closet is leather..."

"Jeez...wear leather pants a few times and no one lets you forget it."

"That's life, I guess," Zac said, not taking his eyes off the girl.

I stared at him expectantly. "Well?"

"Well what?"

"Aren't you going to make a big scene? Go over there and make a citizen's arrest? At least see if it's Cujo."

"I'm planning my move."

"Planning your...oh god. You're going to hit on her."

Zac's cheeks reddened slightly. "Shut up."

"What are you going to do? 'Hey nice dog. I've got one too', and then whip out the wallet pictures?" Yes, it's true. My brother has pictures of his dog in his wallet. Where most normal people have pictures of their family, Zac has his dog. It's quite sad, really.

He blushed even more. "Come on," he grumbled, yanking my arm in the direction of the woman and the dog.

Zac whistled as we approached the two, now engaged in a pseudo game of tug-of-war with a stick.

"Is that for the dog or for her?" I whispered. Zac smashed his heel on my toes.

I can take a hint.

"Cujo!" Zac called, kneeling down.

Cujo dropped the stick and ran to Zac's arms. I winced as Cujo licked Zac's face. Talk about unsanitary. This is the same dog who licks itself to get clean. I don't know about you, but to me that doesn't exactly say "good hygiene".

Zac stood quickly as the woman approached him, letting his hand rest on Cujo's head.

I'm surprised he didn't rupture himself.

"I guess this big girl belongs to you, huh?" she laughed, watching Cujo nuzzling Zac's legs. That's right...nuzzling.

"Yeah. This is Cujo."

Very smooth Zac. I rolled my eyes and reminded myself to enroll him in "Dating 101".

"She was just wandering the park when I found her," she said. I caught a glimpse of her eyes as she was talking to Zac. They were dark brown, almost black.

"Thanks for holding on to her. I'm Zac," he said, offering her his hand.

"I'm Meagan."

"So...do you live around here?"

Oh lord. I officially disown my brother.

"No, actually I'm just visiting my stepsister for a while. I live in Texas."

"Texas? You're kidding!" I entered the conversation, my head popping up from watching the leaves blow across the ground and focusing on Meagan.

"Yes, really." She gave me a curious stare. A sort of "who are you and why are you interrupting me you stupid, stupid man" kind of stare. I felt myself heat up under Meagan's eyes.

"No...no reason." Blaire's from Texas, I thought, moving dirt around with my shoe. I sighed. I'm getting pathetic.

"But I'm staying a few blocks away. I just walked over."

"Do you...do you want a ride back to your house? Well, not really your house, 'cause your house is in Texas, but your stepsister's house? If you're ready to leave, that is. And you don't want to walk or anything."

Poor boy. Rico Suave he is not.

"Sure. I'd love a ride."

"Really?" Zac grinned.

"Really?" I said, staring incredulously at her.

"Really," she said, smiling at Zac.

"Are you sure?"

"Taylor, shut up," Zac muttered through his teeth.

"Yes, I'm very sure," she laughed.

"Did you just hear what he said? Cause if I were you, I'd be running away right now and..."

"Taylor!"

"Sorry."



My shoulder is getting squished, I thought. I attempted to move from my position in the backseat of Zac's truck, but it wasn't working. I am way too tall for this.

Meanwhile, Zac and Meagan were chatting merrily with plenty of room in front of me. Great. I'm going to have a permanent upholstery burn on my forehead.

"That's it. There's the house," Meagan said, pointing out the window.

Thank god. Now maybe I can move some of my functioning body parts.

Zac laughed. "That can't be it. You must have the wrong house."

"Why can't it be it?"

"Because that's Sarah Johnson's house," Zac said, still accelerating.

"Yes. And Sarah Johnson is my stepsister."

SCREECH. The truck skidded to a halt and I was catapulted onto the floor of the truck, face down atop a pile of Zac's shirts that didn't smell too fresh.

That's it, I thought, pulling myself back on to the small back seat. I'm going to kill him.

"Ex...excuse me?" Zac stuttered."

"Sarah Johnson is my stepsister. The one I'm visiting."

My mouth fell open at Meagan's statement. Sarah Johnson? Zac's pregnant ex-girlfriend Sarah Johnson?

"Oh..." Zac said softly.

The truck door slammed. "See you around, Zac," Meagan said, waving.

"Yeah..." He sat staring at the steering wheel, then suddenly peeled away.

I groaned as I fell on the floor again.

"Zac! Warn me before you do these things!"

I climbed into the front seat.

"Z-man? You okay?"

"Yeah," he said softly. "I just need to think for a little while.

I sighed and stared out the window. I know exactly how you feel.

.

Chapter 23

Blaire

I hate being alone.

The hospital seemed quieter than usual. I was staying after to do some research on a surgery I was scheduled to perform tomorrow. I've never been alone at night in the hospital before, and frankly I was beginning to imagine that some psycho killer was going to break in here and chop me to bits.

I was sitting in my chair with a large book and various folders strewn across my lap. I had been here for a good hour and a half. And hating every darn minute of it.

"I WANT TO GO HOME!" I yelled to break the silence.

There. I feel better.

The phone rang shrilly on my desk. I sighed and shoved the papers and book to the floor. I rolled across my office and picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

I was answered with sniffling and coughing.

A prank call. Just what I need. I stay after so I don't maim/kill a poor unsuspecting animal, ignoring my growling stomach and gradually closing eyes, and I get a prank call.

"Listen, asshole. I don't know what kind of thrill you're seeking, but next time, kindly get your jollies by sticking your hand down your pants and yanking on what little..."

"Blaire?"

Uh oh. I felt my face redden and my shoulders slump as I recognized the masculine voice of a Hanson.

"Uh...yes..."

"It's Mac."

'Oh god. I'm corrupting children,' I groaned inwardly. I smacked my head.

"Mac...I am so sorry..."

"It's okay. All will be forgiven if you come to get me."

"Come get you? Why? Where are you?"

"At school."

"At school?!" I checked my wristwatch. "Mac, it's almost 7:00!"

"I know. I had to stay after to take a test, and no one showed up to get me, and I've been out here for two hours, and I can't get ahold of my parents or my brothers or my sisters, and..."

"Mac. You're at Nathan Hale High School, right?"

He took a shaky breath. "Yes."

"Stay right there. I'll be there in five minutes."

I slammed the phone down, grabbed my keys from the desk, ran through the hospital, and slipped on my jacket as I locked the door and ran for my truck, leaving lights on, research undone, and any inhibitions I had about seeing anything blonde and Hanson.



I slammed my truck door and ran across the parking lot. My shoes crunched against the fallen leaves and made soft thuds against the pavement.

I approached the school and my tired eyes fell on a figure huddled against the brick wall of the school, head resting against his knees, jean jacket clad arms wrapped around a thin frame, and shivering slightly.

I kneeled down and rested my hand on his shoulder. "Mac?" I said softly.

His head popped up, revealing windblown blonde hair and reddened blue eyes, a color blue that most people are only lucky enough to see in their dreams.

"Blaire!" he breathed. His body lurched forward and his arms wrapped around my neck in a hug.

And as usual, attentive little me was completely caught off guard and we both tumbled to the asphalt.

"A little happy to see me?" I asked, sitting up and setting my hat back on my head.

"I'd be happy to see you if you had just gotten a sex change and were trying to get me to call you 'Sweetie'," he mumbled, standing up and brushing himself off.

"I'll take that as a 'yes', then."

"Whatever."

I rolled my eyes at him as I stood up. He hoisted his black book bag onto his back and we started across the school parking lot to my truck.

"So who was supposed to pick you up in the first place?" I asked, fumbling on my key chain for the correct key.

He shrugged, shuffling his grubby tennis shoes. "I don't know. Usually Ave takes me home, but today she went off early to one of her cheerleader girlfriends to paint their nails and gush over how beautiful they are, and Zoe gets picked up by Mom, since she gets out earlier than we do. I'm used to this. I usually get forgotten. Ike, Tay, and Zac are usually off in California or New York or on tour, doing their music stuff; Jess is at college in New York. Dad and Mom are busy getting ready for Ave's graduation in May. Zoe's still dependent on them. I'm the middle one at home. I kinda get overlooked."

I gaped at the casualty he had while spouting off these occurrences. "You act like you don't mind," I said, as we reached the truck and I unlocked the door.

He shrugged and climbed in the passenger seat beside me. His bag was cushioned by a layer of junk on the floor. I really need to clean the truck out. "Do we have to talk about this?" he asked, impatiently running his fingers through his hair.

I twisted the key in the ignition and rapidly pulled out of the school parking lot. "Not if you don't want to. Whatever fills the silence."

"Okay. Avery and Zoe told Mom that you're coming for Christmas dinner. Are you?"

I swallowed nervously and avoided his accusing blue eyes in the windshield. I kept seeing Taylor's eyes when he ran out of my apartment, shadowed with anger and hurt. I'm beginning to hate the color blue.

"Well you know, when I told them that, I was still with Taylor."

"So?"

"It would be just a tad awkward if I was there and Taylor didn't want me there, now wouldn't it?" I focused on the road.

"So?"

"And...uh...it's a very delicate situation..."

"Taylor isn't locking himself in the basement anymore. His eyes aren't red anymore. He's smiling again. I think he's ready to see you again."

Yeah...but I'm not.

"You need to decide...Christmas is only in a week, you know..."

"I'll think about, okay?"

"Okay."

I watched out of the corner of my eye as his hands roamed all around the truck floor, picking up various items and examining them. A pair of jeans, a stethoscope, an unopened box of test tubes, a floppy disk with the DNA of some of my patients.

"Blaire?"

"Yes?"

"You've got to let Mom see your truck."

"Why is that?"

"It just might be even messier than my room."



I carefully pulled into the Hanson's driveway, careful not to park in any rain puddles. As I climbed out of the drivers seat I looked around at the number of cars for Taylor's SportsTrak.

"Taylor isn't here, if that's what you're wondering," Mac said, appearing beside me.

"Me? Wonder? About Taylor? Of course not..."

"He's with Zac looking for Zac's stupid dog," he nodded at the empty space usually occupied by Zac's Z-71.

We climbed the short staircase up to the front door, where Mac rang the doorbell repeatedly.

"They lock it because of fans," he explained. "They get past the security all the time."

"I didn't realize fans were still a problem."

"Yeah, unfortunately. The old die-hards, the one's convinced they were destined to marry Taylor, the ones who managed to get directions from someone and came up for a thrill..." He punched the bell.

"Oh..."

I trailed off as the heavy front door lurched open.

"Mac!" Mrs. Hanson breathed. "Where have you been?! I've been worried sick!"

"At school...since no one came and got me after I took my test...the one YOU wanted me to take," he said bitterly.

"I don't understand...Zac and Taylor didn't pick you up?"

"No...I had to call Blaire to pick me up." He hitched his thumb in my direction and I waved sheepishly.

I feel dumb.

"Blaire! How have you been? It's been such a long time since we've seen you," she said, pulling me in for a hug, enveloping me in her scent that smelled of chocolate chip cookies and laundry detergent.

"I've been okay, I guess," I smiled shakily. What's with these Hanson's and their uncanny resemblances to each other? I asked myself as I immediately saw Taylor in her face.

"Come in, come in," she opened the door wider, beckoning me to follow.

"No thanks...really...I need to get back to Andrew...he's probably blown up the apartment by now..."

"I don't care how perfect you say she was for me...she's Sarah's sister!"

"Zac and Taylor must be back from looking for Cujo," Mrs. Hanson told me, looking past me in to the dark yard.

"Stepsister, Zac...stepsister..." Taylor's voice laughed. "And I say that if you forget about the only woman who hasn't laughed in your face or ran away screaming when you were...well, yourself, than you're insane."

"You mean I'm you. Because you did the same thing to Blaire."

I froze when I heard my name. The crunch of shoes on sidewalk gravel got closer as Mac, Mrs. Hanson, and I strained to hear what was said next.

"...and look at what it's doing to me."

My eyes welled up with tears as Taylor's hoarse whisper reached my ears.

I turned and walked quickly down the stairs.

"I've...I've really got to go," I apologized to Mrs. Hanson.

My eyes were fixated on the ground as I ran rapidly towards my truck, ignoring everything around me.

Until I ran into a very hard stomach.

I stopped short and looked up into blue eyes that could only belong to one person.

"Blaire?" Taylor said, surprised. His hands automatically wrapped around my arms to steady me.

For once I ignored my emotions. The ones telling me to stay in his reach, to never leave, to always be by his side.

I was stupid.

My hand reached up and stroked his face, reminding me of the happiness I could be having if I stayed and talked to him, explained how his music touched me, how I never screamed at concerts, how I would easily abandon everything just to stay in his arms.

And I remembered the way the last time I reached to touch him, he winced and pulled away. And how much it hurt. And how many boxes of Kleenexes I had shredded before the pain had even begun to subside.

"I miss you," I whispered.

.

Chapter 24

Taylor

I was sitting on the stairs that led to our house, nursing my third cup of coffee that night. I was feeling a bit buzzed.

"So...tell me about Meagan, Zac," Isaac said, leaning back in the lawn chair he had set up in the yard.

Zac squirmed in the hammock, the ropes pulling taut under his weight.

"Be careful, Zac. We just got that hammock," I said, watching my brothers over the rim of my mug.

"I do believe, Oh Waifly One, that you were the one who broke the last one."

"Quit arguing," Ike rubbed his temples. "You two act like teenage girls."

Zac and I eyed each other.

"I do not act like a...teenage girl," Zac said witheringly. "Maybe Taylor when he's acting all estrogeny and stuff..."

"Estrogeny? Is that even a word?"

"Maybe...could be..."

"No wonder you got a 200 in verbal on your first SAT test..."

Zac's eyes widened. "Hey. That was a low blow."

"The truth hurts."

"I feel insulted."

"You should. I just insulted you."

Gotta love brotherly love, I thought as Zac threw a handful of leaves in Ike's direction.

We've been doing this for as long as I can remember, taking time at the end of each day to unwind and update each other about the events in our lives. It used to be while doing the dishes, spraying each other with the sink hose, then in our room late at night talking before we fell asleep. We would creep into the studios at night and sit in the emptied chambers until all hours of the night, sometimes falling asleep among the microphones and instruments that we had worked with the day before. And now we were sitting in the front yard of my parent's house, watching the sun go down and thinking about Blaire. Well...I was at least.

I was yanked from tracing Blaire's face in my mind and watching Zac and Ike throw pinecones at each other when Zac laughed. In a particularly un-manlike fashion.

"Zac...dude...did you just...giggle?"

"No. I laughed."

"You're 22. Maybe it was cute when you were 11. You could pull it off sometimes when you were 14. But not when you're 22," Ike said, picking leaves out of his hair.

"I bet Meagan would think it's cute."

"Tay-looooooor..." Zac growled menacingly, blushing all the while.

"You guys still haven't told me about Meagan..." Ike trailed off.

"There's nothing to tell," Zac sighed, sweeping leaves off of the hammock with his hand.

I raised my eyebrows as I sipped at the lukewarm coffee. "Nothing?"

"Well..."

"When we found Cujo in the park, a rather attractive young woman was with her."

"Taylor, I can tell it..."

"Shut up, Zac, you had your chance. Anyway...we find out her name is Meagan. Zac hit on her for a bit..."

"I did not hit on her."

"He did everything but ask what her sign is."

Ike rolled in his lawn chair and Zac covered his red face with his hands.

"Anyway...we gave Meagan a ride home, where we find that Meagan is Sarah's stepsister," I said, pulling my body off the steps.

"Sarah Johnson?"

"Yep."

"Zac's Sarah Johnson?"

"She is not my Sarah," Zac said angrily. "We broke up three years ago. I haven't seen her in three months, and I don't plan to any time soon."

"Isn't she pregnant?"

"Not with my baby."

I picked my mug off the wooden floor of our porch and walked inside. I walked past the pictures hanging on the walls, family portraits, pictures from Jessica and Avery's dance recitals, our old performances, Mac's Little League pictures, any momentous occasion that ever happened to a Hanson child.

I managed to avert my eyes from all embarrassing and unphotogenic captures of me and made my way through the house to the kitchen, stepping over school books, sports equipment, loose papers with pencil marks that could be deciphered as staffs, noted, and lyrics, and Zoe's kitten curled up in a pink laundry basket.

The kitchen smelt faintly of chocolate when I finally reached the back of the house. I pushed open the door and walked in.

"Hey Taylor."

I jumped about a mile in the air. Mac was sitting at the table, patiently dropping marshmallows in to a mug of hot chocolate.

"Oh god...Mac, what are you doing in here? I thought you went to look at the Christmas lights in the neighborhood with Mom and the girls?"

"I've decided I've shared my feminine side more than enough with this family," he said, stirring the chocolate with a spoon, watching the marshmallows melt.

"So go share it with some other family," I said, rinsing my mug out in the sink and refilling it with hot chocolate from the kettle on the stove.

"Tay?" he said slowly, ignoring me.

"What?" I said, tenderly sipping at the liquid.

"Why'd you break up with Blaire?"

"Ppppbbbbfffftttt!" The chocolate that was in my mouth suddenly got sprayed across the wall. "Excuse me?"

"Why'd you break up with Blaire?" he asked again, not taking his eyes from the white swirling in with the brown inside the mug.

"It's, ah...a long story." I muttered, wiping the combination of chocolate and spit from my chin.

"I have plenty of time," he said. He lifted his gaze from the mug to me. His blue eyes stared into mine.

I broke the gaze and stared deep into my mug, as if it were speaking to me. 'What is it, Mug? Timmy fell in the well? You want me to follow you?'

"You wouldn't understand..."

"What wouldn't I understand? I mean...I'm a guy, just like Zac and Ike. You guys are always talking and whispering about girls and stuff. Why can't I be included too?"

Great. I finally get Mac to talk to me instead of glaring from random pieces of furniture and we have to talk about me and my personal life. Or lack thereof.

"Mac...it's...it's hard to explain..."

"Would she not have sex with you or something?"

My head snapped up. "What?!"

He shrugged. "I just thought...you know..."

"Well, you thought wrong. Do you really think I'm that shallow?"

He shrugged again. "You used to be."

I stared back into my mug. 'This is really awkward, Mug. I'm not sure if I want to be discussing my sex life with my 14-year-old brother.'

"If it wasn't that...than what?"

"Mac, you're too young...you wouldn't understand..."

The chair flew backwards as Mac quickly stood.

"That is such bullshit, Taylor, and you know it!"

"Do not use that tone with me, Joshua Mackenzie!"

Good god. I sound like Dad.

Mac smirked at me. "I see why Blaire doesn't want to come over for Christmas. You really are the bastard the press always said you were."

He stormed out of the kitchen. I stared at the disrupted table, the fallen chair, his mug full of hot chocolate with a foamy white marshmallow cover.

There goes Brotherly Bonding Session Number 2.

.

Chapter 25

Blaire

"No way! Forget it."

"Blaire...come on!" Jack whined. He was standing in front of me as I weighed the fattest cat I had ever seen, Frisky. Frisky, my aunt Fanny's ass. This cat hasn't been frisky for a long time by the looks of things.

I glanced up at Jack, who had his hands on his hips and was attempting a stern look. I rolled my eyes at him.

"Look, Jack, I want to go. I really do."

"So come!"

"But they don't want me there."

"Of course they do!" he ran his fingers through his hair angrily as I kept Frisky from rolling off the scale. "The Hanson's are the ones who asked me! They told me...heck, they demanded that I ask you to come for Christmas."

"I'm sure the vote wasn't entirely unanimous," I said softly into Frisky's fur.

"Blaire, if you do not shut...up...about Taylor, I swear..."

I gaped at him. "Excuse me? Did you just say what I think you said?"

"Yes I did."

He oozed Frisky's side back on to the scale. "Blaire...you are one of my best friends. I love you like I love Jill. And I'm telling you this as a friend...you are becoming a whiny, annoying...bitch."

I glared my worst look at him, scooped Frisky off the scale and flung her over my shoulder as I stomped to the exam room.

"You didn't even get Frisky's weight!" he yelled after me.

"I'll just put 'a ton' on the form...it should be close," I mumbled.

It was December 22nd, and I was definitely not feeling the Christmas spirit. Andrew told me last night that he was flying down to Texas tomorrow to stay with our parents for the remainder of his Christmas break, leaving me all alone up here. In a town I still wasn't familiar with after a year of living here.

But there is no way I'm going to the Hanson's for Christmas. I'm still recovering from my surprise run in with Taylor. Why would I subject myself to that sort of torture on purpose?

I slammed the door extra hard behind me which did nothing to appease my anger since it was a swinging door and plopped Frisky down on the table. She glared up at me.

"What?" I challenged. She stared back up at me with unblinking green eyes. "Don't you think I WANT to go? Because I do. Spending Christmas by myself in an empty apartment full of...emptiness isn't my idea of Christmas cheer, you know." I busied myself fiddling with random instruments on the table. "And quit staring at me!"

"Blaire," Muffin said as she breezed into the room, her short spiked hair a festive kelly green with red tips for the holidays. "I'm pretty sure the cat -- and I use that term loosely -- is only staring at you trying to figure out what you are going on about..."

"That's it exactly," I said moving back and forth between the autoclave and the table where the lump of cat was perched.

"Ooh, I recognize that tone." Muffin said, fiddling with a necklace that looked an awful lot like Christmas lights. I leaned forward and squinted.

"Muffin...are you wearing Christmas lights?"

I didn't even want to know where it was plugged in. Muffin and her sense of what is fashionable never ceases to amaze...

"My fashion taste is not on trial here. You and your 'I-don't-want-to-talk-about-Taylor-tone' are. What happened? Did someone accidentally mention him in passing?"

"Muffin..." I said hoping my tone sounded mature and disapproving.

"Are you denying that your current state is somewhere between simply obsessed and stalker?"

"Yes, I am denying that!"

"Oh, okay... So, if I went and hit redial on your phone it wouldn't ring at the Hanson residence?"

"What?"

"Are you denying that you've been dialing his number and hanging up before it could even ring?"

"Yes."

"So, his cell phone would ring?"

"No, it wouldn't."

"Mind if I test my theory?"

"No." I said grabbing a bunch of the surgical trays and drapes.

"Okay, fine. I'll be right back."

"Muffin!"

"What?" Muffin said quickly pulling a bunch of gauze and surgical tape out of the cabinet. "Are you denying that whenever he-who-shall-not-be-mentioned is mentioned you run for the hills? Or change the subject?"

"No, it's just that I am no longer 15." I said putting my hands on my hips. "And my every thought does not necessarily revolve around Taylor Hanson and his brothers..." Technically, they do, but I'm trying really hard not to think of them.

"Sure it doesn't..." Muffin said pushing the swinging door open with her butt. "I guess as long as you believe it's true." She gave me a conspiratorial wink and then was gone. Sometimes having a conversation with Muffin is like trying to wrestle a tornado.

"Frisky, it really is none of her business who the last person I called was!" I said to the perpetually placid cat. "None at all.... And so what if it was Taylor's cell phone? I have every right to call him. I think I may have left my coat in his car... I mean, think of all the emotional turmoil I've been through because of him. AND, now I have to spend Christmas alone..."

"Dr. Whitney..."  Lola said through the crackling intercom. I dropped the tray I had just so carefully finished. "Are you talking to the animals again?"

"No."

"Good, cause I just sent one of those good-looking Hanson boys back with his little sister." Lola said, I could hear the rasp of her finger nail file through the tinny speaker. "He is good-looking, but a little too skinny for my taste...a boy has to have some meat to him, you know? Especially in the back. You need to fatten that boy up, child."

Oh no! The skinny brother was on his way? I hurriedly tried to smooth my wild hair and looked down at myself. Wow, had it been dark when I dressed? My socks didn't match and none of my clothes were color-coordinated. In fact, once might say I was a walking fashion disaster today. But, at least my shoes matched...sort of. They were both black Dr. Marten's, just not a matching set. I hefted Frisky off the table and quickly stowed her in her kennel. "Sorry, but you have to go back into your cage. Things could get a little wacky..."

"What could get wacky?" Ike asked as he led Zo� into the room.

"Oh, it's you..." I said feeling a surge of relief followed almost immediately by a wave of disappointment. "Hey Ike."

"Wow, I feel loved."

"Ike! Just the person I wanted to see! I've missed you so much!"

"That's better..." Ike said an enormous smile spreading across his face. "Be careful or I'll get an inferiority complex."

"A Hanson? Feel inferior? Never!" I said as I knelt down in front of Zo�. Both my knees popped like gunshots. "Hey Zoe, how's Niv doing?"

"Pretty good, but I think her stitches are bugging her." Zoe said offering me her kitten.

"Well, let's just take them out." I said setting the kitten on the table previously occupied by Frisky. "Could you hold her?"

"Sure." Zoe said. She watched studiously as I quickly snipped the blue sutures and pulled them through Niv's skin. "That's so cool. I wanna be a vet."

"Oh really?" I asked.

"Yeah!"

"Zoe, I thought you wanted to be a ballerina, like Jess." Ike said his eyebrow cocked.

"I can do both if I want. Mom said I can be anything I want." Zoe said her lip jutting out.

"Yeah Zo, you will be the first ballerina, firefighter princess, practicing veterinary medicine in Tulsa." Ike said, messing up Zoes carefully coifed hair. "So, Blaire, how've you been?"

"Good." I lied leaning against the counter.

"You're lying."

"I am not..."

"You so are." Ike said coming over to stand next to me. He put his arm around my shoulder. "Jill told me you're miserable."

"Well, I'm not..."

"Call Tay... He's miserable and making everyone around him miserable as well..."

"No! No way!"

"Come on, be the bigger person..."

"Nope, this is his mess, he started it."

"Blaire, he really misses you."

"Well then, he can call me."

"You are both so stubborn..."

"Hey, I'll gladly talk to him if he'll call me."

"So, are you coming over for Christmas?" Zoe asked from where she was sitting on the floor playing with the Chihuahua puppies someone had brought in for physicals so they could sell them for ungodly amounts of money.

"No, I don't think so, honey."

"Why not?" Zo� asked.

"You wouldn't understand... I hardly understand."

"No one understands." Ike said shoving his hands deep into his pockets. "Maybe you should cut Taylor some slack."

"Why? He freaked out over nothing. I was not one of those fans who jumped onstage. I never made a poster. I didn't scream." I said, glaring at the wall. Zo� turned and looked at me a puzzled look on her face.

"Okay, okay...." Ike said holding his hands in front of him in a gesture of surrender. "You weren't a fanatical fan, but Tay sees all the fans the same..."

"Fanatical freaks?"

"Something like that, yes..."

"Does he always back out of relationships, or is this a new development?"

"He just had to...adjust to the fan thing."

"Why do we always come back to the fan thing? Why can't we all just look past the fan thing? I mean...you're a Jonny Lang fan, right? And you guys are friends."

"Yeah, but I never kissed the guy."

"Really?"

"Yes, really..." he said, giving me a strange look.

"Because I had always thought...you know...you and him had a little...thing going on..."

"Blaire!"

"What?"

"I simply respect him as a musician."

"Who said that I don't respect you as musicians?"

"Well, you have the whole appearance thing, too..."

"So now you can't look at someone's ass and still respect their music? Not that I did, of course...look at your ass, I mean."

"Yeah...I got that."

"But really...a female's musical credibility is all thrown away by saying its based on whether the artist is good-looking or not. That is what's wrong with the world. As soon as you hit puberty, everything is blamed on hormones. Zoe...never grow up!" I told the blonde head that was fixated on the small wriggling animals.

"Quit changing the subject."

"And what might the subject be?"

"That you had an appearance thing to go on also."

"Come again?"

"You didn't think that Taylor was...you know..."

I shrugged. "Not really."

"What?!"

Zoe looked up from the puppies.

I shrugged again. "To tell you the truth...I thought Taylor looked like a girl at first."

Ike stared at me. "You aren't serious..."

"Yeah...just a little."

I have never seen anyone laugh so much in my entire life.

"Um...are you okay, Ike?"

"Yeah..." he wheezed. "Oh man..." he chuckled. "I cannot wait to tell Zac that..."

"No!"

"No?"

"No!"

"Why no?"

"Because...I would kill you. That's why."

"But...that isn't fair at all..."

"Sure it is. Unless you want Jill to know a few things...like a certain tape in which you oh-so tactfully check out Britney Spears and her plastic enhancements."

"That was years ago."

"That was last summer."

"Um...I respect her for her music?"

"Music...is that what the kids are calling it these days?"

"Calling what?" Zoe asked, picking up a Chihuahua and trying to get Niv to play with it.

"Nothing," Ike said quickly. He shot me a quick glance.

"I'll talk to Taylor..." he muttered. "I think you two...deserve each other."

I smirked at him.

I think he may be right.