"Merry Christmas!" Jack shouted obnoxiously, opening the front door of the Hanson's house and walking in.
Well, I can now add breaking and entering to my Permanent Record of Life.
"Can you just walk in like that?" I asked.
He shrugged. "No burly security guard has held a gun to my head yet."
"Quit talking. It's freezing out here," Jill demanded, pushing us in and closing the door behind her.
"Merry Christmas!" Zoe yelled, bounding down the stairs, Cujo chasing after her, barking loudly. "Shut up, Jo."
"Hey, Zoe," Jill said, embracing Zoe as she hung her coat up on the coatrack by the door. "Where is everyone?"
"Mom is upstairs, approving of Avery's outfit for today, Jessica is on the phone, Dad and Mac are setting up Mac's new stereo in his room, Zac went to pick up Meagan, and Isaac and Tay went to the store to get things Mom forgot to get for dinner."
It amazes me how everyone in this family knows where the others are. In my house, when Mom or Dad asked where Andrew was, the usual answer was "I don't know, but I hope he got gored by a bull somewhere and is dying a slow and painful death."
"Hey!" Zoe exclaimed, her eyes brightening. "Do you want to see what I got for Christmas, Jill?"
"Lead the way."
I settled in the pastel yellow leather sofa as Jill and Zoe disappeared up the stairs. I could hear Zoe's chatters about the clothes and books she got, interjected with an occasional, "Uh huh...how cool!" from Jill.
And to think, when I was 11, all I wanted was an EZ Bake Oven.
"So, how you doing?" Jack asked, plopping down beside me.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, fine...fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional."
"Don't be crude."
He folded his arms on his chest and leaned back on the couch.
"Hey, Blaire!" Avery said, running downstairs, Cujo running after her, barking loudly. "Shut up, you stupid dog."
"No one told me you were coming!"
"No one told me either."
"Well, I'm glad you came," Avery said, grinning at me.
Cujo laid down in the middle of the room and crossed her paws. Avery scowled at her.
"She's been barking all day long. You want a biscuit, you loud, stupid dog?" She sighed as Cujo scrambled to her feet and barked. "Come on then, you big mutt..."
"I'll go with you," I said, scraping myself out of the couch I just wanted to curl up and sleep for hours in.
"And I'll stay here...hold down the fort," Jack said, waving his hand at us from the couch.
"You do that," Avery said, snapping her fingers at Cujo, who trotted at her heels.
"This is your kitchen!?"
"Yeah...why?" Avery gave me a strange look as she pulled the bright red Milkbone box from the top of the refrigerator.
"Because it's about the size of my entire apartment building, that's why."
"Sit, Cujo," Avery demanded, digging in the box.
Cujo cocked her ears and remained standing.
"Cujo. Sit. No, sit. On the floor. No...don't walk to me...no...SIT DOWN, YOU DAMN DOG!" she yelled, a bone snapping in her hand.
I was nice enough to cover my mouth as I exploded with laughter.
"Yes?" I turned my head to see Jack running at me.
He grabbed my arm and yanked me through the sliding glass door to the backyard.
"What are you doing?"
"Taylor and Isaac just got home."
"So I have a plan."
"This is the dumbest idea you've had in a long time."
"Oh, shut up. I'm a genius."
"This just might be worse than the time you tried to scare me by hiding in the stable and the horse kicked you and broke your arm."
"I should have sued."
"You deserved it."
Jack smirked at me. "Watch yourself, Blairey. I am the one scheming to get you and Taylor back together."
"For your own personal gain!"
"How is getting two people together for MY personal gain?"
I coughed and rubbed my nose. "'God, Blaire, you are such a whiney bitch. I'm going to get you and Taylor back together so you'll quit mourning your three week fling,'" I said in a deep voice.
Jack blushed slightly. "Yeah, well..."
Jack and I were standing in the middle of the Hanson's backyard. Our idea wasn't exactly mission: impossible. More like mission: don't get Jack to blow this.
"So I'm going to go in, and after all of the gifts are given out, I...hand this envelope to Taylor...pretending I don't know what it is...and then at the signal..."
"Yeah...two flashes of light for 'he's coming' and three flashes for 'he isn't coming' and four flashes for 'the turkey is really good' and five for 'hope you aren't cold' and..."
"Not even a little one?"
I peered past Jack's face and stared into the Hanson's window. Maybe if I'm really still...I can make out body silhouettes...
I heard Jack talking, but I tuned him out. I've gotten rather used to tuning him out over the years. Ignoring people is a very fine art.
"I know that once you and Taylor get back together, there's going to be no breaking you apart..." I heard him say about five minutes into his speech.
I blinked. "Huh?"
"You were ignoring me, weren't you?"
"No! Of course not!"
"Blaire! You always do that!"
"What were you saying?"
"Well, I don't remember now..."
"I just...I've known you for a long time, Blaire. We've been best friends since we were kids. And...I don't know if I've ever told you..."
"Told me what?" I asked absently, peering into the window again. Yes, I was ignoring him again. It's a disease.
"And now that you and Taylor are getting back together, I KNOW I won't be able to tell you..."
"Just tell me, Jackers."
He shoved his hands in his pockets nervously. "It's...kind of hard to say..."
"So show me."
I don't know what happened. One moment, I was staring into the Hanson's window, trying to get a peek of Taylor and the next...
Jack cupped my chin with his gloved hands and I felt the warm pressure of his lips against mine.
Dear god. I've turned into a whore.
"I'm coming, I'm coming, I'm...ARGH!"
A loud thud as I fell to the floor disrupted my journey between the piano and the front door, where the doorbell had been ringing repeatedly, a little louder and more annoyed with each chime.
Falling flat on my face...that's what the day has been like so far. After the gift receiving part of the day, Isaac and I were sent off to the grocery store. More like 5 grocery stores. Lines longer than the ones at Disney World and an absence of the specific pumpkin pie filling Mom wrote down on her list sent us to stores all over downtown Tulsa.
Two hours later, we returned to the house to find Cujo asleep on all of my new clothes. The hairy oaf growled and bared her large, sharp, pointy teeth to anyone who tried to disrupt her from her nest, so I was stuck in the sweater and jeans I had thrown on in the wee hours of the morning when my color coordination skills are none too sharp.
I had been sitting at my piano, tinkering with a combination of new songs and Christmas carols, hoping no one would comment on the advanced state of ugly my sweater was in, as the rest of the family occupied themselves elsewhere. Jess was on the phone with her tights-wearing boyfriend. Avery was polishing the Snow Queen crown she had won earlier that month to the point where the false silver was starting to rub off. Zoe and Zac were pillaging the kitchen for small bits of food Mom left unwatched, and Isaac and Jill were taking a walk around the neighborhood.
I pushed myself off of the floor and stared at the jacket tangled around my feet.
"I JUST TRIPPED OVER YOUR DAMN JACKET!"
"Language, Taylor," came the motherly reprimand from the kitchen.
"IS MY JACKET OKAY?"
"'Is my jacket okay'...I'll give you a jacket," I muttered, kicking the offending material aside and stomping on. "I'M COMING!" I screamed at the door.
I yanked the door open.
"DO YOU HAVE TO RING SO MANY...what are you doing here?"
The red haired girl from Zac's bed was standing on the steps. Fully dressed this time, and hugging her coat covered torso.
"Um...Zac invited me...is this not a good time?" she asked, timidly, turning to go.
"No, no, come in...Zac will be...excited to see you," I said, grabbing her elbow and leading her in the house.
She hung her coat silently on the coat rack, avoiding my face.
Awkward situations are my specialty these days.
"Hey Zac! Come in here for a minute."
A few seconds passed and red haired girl got continually redder in the face until Zac entered the living room, an apple in one hand and a cookie in the other.
"What do you...Meagan!"
His face brightened as his eyes fell upon her face. And other places on her body.
"Come on in," he said, taking her hand and gently leading her towards the living room.
I think this is the first time Zac's gently led anyone anywhere. If she gets out of the house without being grunted at and offered beer nuts, she's a keeper.
"Hey, Taylor, I think Jack wants to talk to you," he called over his shoulder.
"Where's he at?"
"Where do you think he is?"
I carefully avoided tripping over any foreign objects as I walked to the kitchen. I'm already feeling the rug burn on my chin.
Jack was standing at the counter, playing with a vegetable platter.
Ah, the ever present vegetable platter. It seems that every major event in my life has been accompanied by that damn platter with the fading yellow flowers and those damn vegetables. Every baby shower Mom has ever had, every birthday that was ever celebrated in the Hanson household, every get together of the relatives that was thrown here was accompanied by that platter and those vegetables.
I hate that platter.
He looked up from using a carrot stick as a sword against a bottle of soda.
"Oh, hey Tay. What's up?"
"Zac told me you wanted to talk to me...?"
"Oh yeah..." he stared down at the carrot stick he held in his hand and swished it one last time against the bottle.
Jack, 1, Dr. Pepper, 0.
"Want a carrot?" he asked, holding out a plate.
I stared at it. "You brought me in here to offer me vegetables?"
"Yes. Well...no." He set the platter on the counter. "Look out there," he said pointing at the kitchen window.
I pushed the blue checked curtains aside and stared into the backyard, past the flowers and bushes, past Mac's sports stuff, past Avery's fallen easel, to the large oak tree and the wooden swing that hung from the depths of it's branches.
Blaire was sitting on the swing, swishing her shoes through the melted snow and staring at the ground.
"Oh no," I said, shaking my head and backing away from the window. I fought off the slightly panicked feeling I got every time I thought of her. "I can't. Jack, don't do this, Jack, not now, not ever."
"Just talk to her." He peered out the window. "She deserves that much."
"She doesn't deserve anything from me."
Jack sighed and looked down at the sink.
"I hate to do this, Taylor, because we're almost family and all..."
In a fluid movement, he had sprung across the kitchen and had me by the shirt collar. He narrowed his green eyes at me, his face an inch from mine.
"Blaire is my best friend. She has been my best friend for a long time. Nothing bad has ever happened to her. This is the worst that has happened in a long time. And that did not make me happy. You broke her heart...and now you are going to fix it. You WILL go talk to her or I WILL kill you." He smiled, loosening his grip slightly. "Do we understand each other?"
"Perfectly." I wrenched my shirt out of his fist. I can't believe I was just intimidated by Jack. I'm ashamed of myself. I pulled the door open and stomped outside.
Blaire continued watching the ground as I shivered and walked through the slushy snow. I stood in front of her and pushed the toes of my boots against hers.
"Well?" she asked softly after a few minutes of shivering, sniffling, and silence.
I tapped the side of her shoe, causing an avalanche of snow from her shoelaces.
"Why are you here?" I finally asked, shoving my hands into my jean pockets.
"I'm here because I was forced against my will. Because everyone seems to know what's best for me except for me. And because I was promised food."
"You were promised food? I wasn't even promised food."
She looked up at me, her eyes lasering into mine. "Look, Taylor...I know that this is probably uncomfortable for you. I know it's uncomfortable for me. So I guess I'll just leave."
She brushed off the seat of her pants as she got up from the tree swing and walked towards the gate.
I watched her walk away. I watched her turn and walk out of my life. And I suddenly realized what everyone was telling me about.
Blaire was my match. She was my other half, the one that made me whole, the one that would be my fan, MY fan, not Taylor Hanson's fan, but Taylor's fan. Hearing her voice made me realize that hers was the last one I wanted to hear at night at the first one to hear in the morning. I wanted to spend the rest of my life memorizing every curve of her body, every angle of her face, every fleck of gold in her eyes. I wanted to kiss the tears in her eyes away. My arms ached from the longing for her body to wrap themselves around. And every step she took away from me seemed as though she was putting a chokehold around my throat and tightening it every so slightly.
I started walking after her, slowly at first, then quickened my pace until I was running after her.
The bulky boots on my feet tangled together, and before I knew it, I had a mouth full of snow sludge.
I lowered my forehead to the ground and hoped the snow was deep enough to drown me.
I felt a hand rest between my shoulders.
"Please, leave me alone to die like a man..." I mumbled through the snow.
"I don't think dying a virgin is dying like a man."
Without looking up, I knew it was Blaire. Only she can insult me like that and still send a shock not unlike electricity through my body.
That, or the snow is seeping through my pants.
I didn't trust myself to try to talk to him and I didn't trust him to not try to talk to me.
It was the day after Christmas, the day after Taylor's nosedive into the snow, the day after we never really got to talk because as soon as Taylor stood and brushed himself off, Zac was calling for us to join the annual carols around the piano. Jack, Jill, and I had left soon afterwards.
As I was hugging everyone goodbye, Taylor held me tight and whispered "I'll talk to you tomorrow," into my ear, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
Now it was tomorrow and I didn't know what to expect.
Jack hadn't been any help, either. He was silent on the ride back to my apartment, leaving Jill chatting about the plans she and Isaac had for the wedding in June and me brooding in the back of his Explorer, staring a hole in the back of his head. Visions of Jack leaning in to kiss me kept floating in front of my eyes. And it was rather disturbing.
That had come as a complete shock. Jack has always been my best friend. We used to terrorize the playground together, then moved on to terrorizing the public school system. This was the guy who was there with me for every major event in my life. He was the one who cleaned me up when I fell off the rope swing in our barn, busting my lip and breaking my wrist in the process, the one who watched old Gene Kelly movies with me every Friday until 5th grade, and the one who stayed up all night with me sitting on my roof and just talking when my date for senior prom left me at the dance and went home with another girl.
I've never not known what to say to him. It's always been Jack and Blaire, the two musketeers. My partner in crime. But you usually don't see Watson kissing Holmes.
Jack had pulled into the parking lot of my apartment building and parked haphazardly.
"I'm going to walk Blaire up to her apartment, okay Jill?" he said, opening his door.
Jill shrugged and changed the channel of the radio. "Whatever. Bye, Blaire. Merry Christmas!"
We walked wordlessly through the emptied lobby and straight to the stairs.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly as we ascended the stairs to the top of the building.
"You know what for. Don't make me say it."
"Why did you do it?" I asked just as quietly.
He stopped. "I don't really know."
I stopped too, a few steps ahead of him. "How can you not know why? It's not like it's something that happens on accident, Jack. You don't just stumble and fall on someone's lips. Brain cells are actually used. I know it's not something you're used to doing, this whole thinking concept, but..."
"Shut up, Blaire." He sat heavily on the stairs, propping his head in his hands. I quietly sat next to him.
"I don't know why I kissed you," he said even quieter. "Maybe just a male thing? To prove something?"
"Prove what? That makes it sound like I'm some sort of prize. Something you can win."
"No! God, no!" Jack shook his head furiously, his auburn hair whipping wildly. "You're my best friend, Blaire." He laughed bitterly. "One of the only friends I have. I guess that I was feeling...threatened by Taylor. Or jealous. Cause you were spending so much time with him. Something. I don't know." He rubbed his nose roughly. "And I know that now you and Taylor are probably going to get back together so you'll be with him even more, and...I guess in the back of my mind, I thought that if I kissed you, you'd...I don't know...be swept off your feet by the infamous Jack Monroe charm and not be so Taylor obsessed anymore."
"Jack. Jack. Look at me. You are the brother that Andrew will never be." I wrapped my arms around his shoulders as he laughed softly. "And I love you. I do. I love Taylor, too. And I will NEVER let Taylor come between us. Okay? Because we've got major history, man. No guy will ever replace you. You dressed up as a woman for my theater arts project sophomore year when Audrey was sick. You don't forget things like that." I stood up and pulled Jack to his feet.
"No wonder I had no friends in high school."
We started walking up the stairs, his arm thrown around my shoulders.
"You know, we never would have worked out, you and I..." he said.
"Oh yeah? And why is that?"
"Yeah. It sucks."
"I've never met anyone who can make peanut butter and jelly taste like shit."
"Like your cooking is any better!"
"Sweetie...I'm Italian. Of course my cooking is better." He grabbed my keys from my hand and unlocked the door to my apartment, swinging it open and ushering me in.
"Italian my ass. What Italian do you know of that makes Chef Boyardee ravioli and spaghetti sauce from the jar?"
"An Italian on a tight budget."
He leaned over and gave my waist a squeeze before he turned to leave. "We cool?"
I shot him the thumbs up as he turned to go. "Cold as ice."
He shook his head as he headed for the elevator. "That is so sad..."
The rest of the night was spent talking to family, convincing my mother that I was surviving by myself, my father that no, I didn't think I needed anymore cans of Mace, and Andrew that I was telling any girl that called for him that I was his sister and nothing else, and giving Audrey and Charlotte the Cliff's Notes of Blaire's Life So Far. Then I did what any red blooded American woman living by herself would do: I made hot chocolate, curled up in a huge quilt, and watched TV in the dark until I could no longer prop my eyes open to watch 'I Love Lucy'.
Now it was morning and I was putting a few of my new gifts into use. I had taken a shower using the new bath products Jill had given me, and was now dancing around the apartment with a towel courtesy of Christian wrapped around my wet hair, singing loudly and rather off-key to an old Train album.
"THEY CALL ME FREE-EEE...BUT I CALL ME A FOOL!"
I danced around the coffee table and whipped stray pieces of wrapping paper off of the couch. I boogied my way to the door at the urging of the loud knocking.
"Yes?" I said, swinging the door open and propping it against my hip.
"I'll be calling you more than a fool if you don't keep it down! Here's your mail. It got delivered to my apartment by mistake. Now shut up before I call the landlord!"
My neighbor. The neighbor who keeps the entire apartment building up with her loud fights with her husband, and the making up late into the night. I made a face at her robed back as she retreated back to her apartment.
"Hypocrite," I muttered, slamming the door. I turned the volume of my old stereo as high as it would go without falling apart. I grabbed my hairbrush and used it as a microphone.
"MEET VIRGINIA! I CAN'T WAIT TO! MEET VIRGINIA, YEAH-EE YEAH, HEY, HEY, HEY!"
I grinned triumphantly as the door rattled with the force of loud and violent knocking.
I danced my way the few steps to the door and swung it open.
"YEAH, SHE WANTS TO BE THE...hello."
Taylor was standing in my doorway, holding a box wrapped with blue angels, and smirking at me.
"Ever consider a career in music?" he asked over the blaring music.
I sheepishly pulled the towel from my head and felt the damp locks of hair hit my shoulders.
"Can I come in?" Taylor asked. He held up the box and shook it slightly. "I come bearing gifts."
I shrugged my shoulders, trying hopelessly to regain a little bit of my dignity. I stalked to the stereo and punched the power button.
Taylor closed the door quietly behind him and walked over to the couch. He set the box on top of the stacks of books on the coffee table.
"I'm going to go...uh..."
"Get dressed?" Taylor offered.
I slammed the door of my room and banged my head against it.
"Do you need some help in there?" Taylor's disembodied voice asked from the living room.
I pulled on a pair of jeans as I hopped across my room to the mirror. My cheeks were bright red, my hair was hanging in wet chunks around my face, and my bare shoulders made my white tank top look tan.
This would be a great time to own a shotgun. Or a really big tranquillizer.
I have never felt so naked while wearing five layers of winter clothes.
I glanced casually around at Blaire's apartment. Yep. Everything pretty much looked the same as the last time I was here. Considering I was here all of a few weeks ago, that isn't at all surprising.
I got up from my position on the couch and decided to take my own 50-cent tour of her apartment. I'd already seen the embarrassing childhood photos. It couldn't get much worse.
I walked into the kitchen and studied the refrigerator. It was an olive green color.
Who in their right mind has an olive green refrigerator?
I leaned closer until my nose was almost touching the surface.
Yep...it is definitely olive green.
I gripped the silver metal handle and pulled the door open, surveying it's contents. A carton of milk, a six-pack of Dr. Pepper with two cans missing, a box of veggie burgers, three slices of cheese pizza wrapped in plastic wrap on a paper plate, a container of tofu, and half a chocolate cream pie stood alone in the olive green refrigerator.
"How does she live?" I muttered to myself.
"On the kindness of strangers."
I straightened quickly, smacking the top of my head on the refrigerator.
"What are you doing?" Blaire asked, her hands on her hips.
"Gaining a concussion."
"Why are you peering into my refrigerator?"
"I got bored."
"So you decided to look in my refrigerator?"
"Well, not exactly..."
"I suppose that makes sense. I know that's what my character analysis relies on. 'Is this guy a good person or not? Well, let me check his fridge...'cause if the fridge isn't satisfactory, then he is a mass murderer for sure!'"
Okay, now I know I really missed Blaire. That made perfect sense.
I shook my head. Her hands had gone from perching on her hips to gesturing wildly in the air. She reached over and shut the door.
"And is standing in front of the refrigerator really that cold? What's with the StayPuft Marshmallow Man look?"
I looked down at my slightly puffy jacket.
"I like this jacket."
"You also like Barry Manilow."
"Oh, yes. I know about the time when you were 12 and you listened to Barry Manilow's 'Mandy' for weeks on end."
"That's it. You are never speaking to my family again."
She folded her arms over her chest and smirked at me.
"Don't tell me you haven't missed this."
She sighed and opened her mouth to speak.
I held my hands up. "I brought Zac's present over."
"Why did you bring Zac's present over? Why didn't Zac bring Zac's present over?"
"Well, we've all heard the horror stories of you in the morning, and-"
"You are never allowed to speak to my friends again."
We stood for another moment.
"It's in the living room," I said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
She turned on her socked heel and walked into the living room.
I sat silently next to her on the couch as she lifted the box into her lap.
"What is it?" she asked, shaking it slightly.
"I don't know. Open it and find out."
I did know. Zac told me. It was a framed copy of the picture he had given me, the picture of Blaire and I in the yard.
She tore the paper off quietly and let it drift to the floor as she lifted the top of the box and peered inside.
I bit my lip as Blaire squinted and leaned towards the picture.
She looked up at me.
"When was this taken?"
"A couple of weeks ago...after you came to check on Cujo."
She nodded and continued looking at it, brushing her fingers over the glass.
"I'm guessing that this was before...?"
"I like this picture. I look good."
"You always look good."
She flashed a 60-watt smile at me. "Right answer."
I casually let my arm rest on the top of the couch, lowering slowly around her shoulders.
"What are you doing?" she asked the picture.
"What do you mean?" I asked, feigning innocence. I felt like a 10 year old again, when Mom had found me on the church playground, chasing girls and trying to kiss them. Only now I couldn't use the "I was playing tag, Mom. Girls have cooties! Girls are gross!" argument. I'm pretty sure Blaire wouldn't believe that as readily as Mom did.
"Don't think I don't know what you're doing."
"And what exactly am I doing?"
"I can feel your arm moving, Taylor. I've had this move pulled on me once or twice, and none of the guys had innocent intentions."
"Are you inferring that my intentions are deceitful?"
"I'm saying that every guy I've had put their arm around me like that, like their arm is a snake trying to strangle it's prey before it bites it's head off, has had the intention of getting into my pants. That is a slimeball move."
"That is not my intention."
"No. I would never try to get in your pants. Down your shirt, maybe, but never in your pants."
She rolled her eyes and swatted my chest.
"Is that a no?"
"So does this mean...that if I do this...you won't freak out?" she asked, getting off the couch slowly and picking up a tube of chapstick that was lying on the coffee table.
I eyed her warily. "What are you doing?"
"Just a second..."
She uncapped the tube and pursed her lips at me, biting slightly at the bottom one, and staring fire into my eyes and lower extremities.
For a second, I thought I was in a porno come to life.
She moved to rub the gloss onto her lips...and missed.
"I think you're getting a little carried away with the makeup, babe."
She started writing on her forehead, then moved down to the rest of her face. Illegible pink words formed on her face.
I squinted at her face as she grinned through the globs of chapstick sticking to her face.
"That better not say what I think it says."
I grabbed her wrist and pulled her on to my lap.
It said what I thought it said.
IKE, TAY, and ZAC were scrawled on her forehead and cheeks.
"Jesus H. Christ..." I mumbled, burying my face in her hair.
The back of her head rested against mine as she threw her head back in laughter.
"You can do that only if you wear one of those spaghetti strap tank tops with no bra and jump around while screaming at the top of your lungs."
"Oh, the degradation..."
I twisted my neck around to kiss her cheek gently, only to get a mouthful of chapstick.
"You are so good to have around," I remarked as she slid from my knees.
"Now my lips will be permanently soft and moist!"
"Glad I could be of some service," she said, leaning back on the cushions and plopping her legs in my lap.
"You know...I never thought you'd ever be sitting on a couch with me again. Unless it was during therapy."
"Maybe we can get one of those group discount sessions. We're screwed up enough for an entire family, don't you think?"
"I don't know. Can therapists cure emotion sickness?"
"I guess we'll find out, won't we?"
"I guess we will."
I pulled Blaire closer to me and kissed her toothpaste-flavored lips.
I guess we will. Whatever we find out, it will be together.