Chapter 17 - The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round
"....where are you taking us....?"
"....just wait and see...." Ike said mysteriously.
Yes. Ike the Mysterious Scorpio. That brown shirt of his just smelt of mystique (mystique, B.O., same difference). Unfortunately, being a Hanson didn't stop you from smelling as bad as the general population in a Californian summer.
He came to a halt in a No Parking Zone on the side of some boulevard that gave me that annoying feeling of deja vu.
"....that's her...." he announced, gesturing with his head towards the bus stop on the other side of the road.
"....ahhh, the one...."
Tay, Anna and I nodded in understanding. Then Tay and Anna exchanged a sappy look that, if converted into words, could probably make a good Hallmark greeting for their Valentine's range.
We all peered out of the tinted windows at 'the one'.
'The one' was wearing a pink skirt, pink top and was very....pink. Ike always did go for girly girls. She had short straight dark hair and...a face (so I couldn't see that well over the street). I'm sure that face of hers was nice though, for those who could see it.
She was sitting at the bus stop looking conspicuously like she was in a certain scene from a certain filmclip from the Summer of '97.
"....hey, isn't that---"
"----the bus stop from the MMMBop video....?!" Taylor ended for me.
"....it is too....." Ike cocked his eyebrow.
"....we could go on a sightseeing tour, you know, and show Anna the yellow house while we're at it....." Tay said enthusiastically.
"....or...." I said excitedly "....we could not...."
".....she catches the same bus every morning...." Ike sighed.
"....wonder where she goes....?" I said innocently, redirecting my attention towards my McDonalds chocolate thickshake, which was a bad choice of refreshment for the simple reason that it took me half an hour to suck any liquid mush up the straw. Funny how that since I found out Rachael worked at McDonalds my day was now incomplete with some kind of plasma filled fast food product. It was also funny that someone could actually manage to look attractive in maroon stripes and a green visor, but that was Rachael for you.
"...yeah...." Ike sighed again, resting his chin on the steering wheel and staring at The One pensively.
".....guys, no offence, but right now you look at though you should be in a white van disguised as a diaper delivery service with a satellite on the roof...." Anna leaned between the seats.
"....what if we follow the bus....?" Tay squished his head next to Anna's.
"....we are not following the bus !! Have you taken leave of your senses...?!" Anna waved her arms around in the air like a mad woman. And she thought we'd lost our senses.
"....she got on the bus Ike...! Go!" I yelled, pointing at the swiftly departing vehicle.
"...Anna's right, we can't follow the bus...." he said sadly.
".....when has Anna ever been right....?! Step on it.....!!"
It was worth that smack on the back of my head to see Ike turn a very illegal u-turn and chase that bus down with a blatant disregard of road rules.
(CUT TO MUCH LATER THAT EVENING)
UCLA. She was a college girl. Well that was nice. She could be taking a music major. Hm. That could be bad. She'd probably be a better musician than me. That could definitely be bad.
She could be taking anthropology. Or physiology. Or microbiology. Or maybe even something not ending in 'ology'.
I strummed my acoustic discordantly.
Maybe I should just leave it at this. You know, like that actress in 'The Truth About Cats and Dogs' says - "rejection kills, disappointment just maims". I could handle being maimed, really I could. Being killed on the other hand, that could just leave me....well, dead, basically.
Why is it that my life imitates my art instead of the other way round? The next thing you know I'll be lying in a ditch pondering my rapid advancement towards old age.
Anna sniffed, rubbed her eye and sat down on the other sofa "....what are you still doing up, Ike....?"
".....thinking about 'the one'....."
"....there's nothing I love more about infatuation than insomnia...." she reflected philosophically.
She grinned at me "...she looks really beautiful Ike....I hope she's as nice inside as she is on the outside...."
"....you're not the only one....the last thing I need is another Liesl...."
"....insulting the girlfriend, we've reached the first step towards relationship freedom....so when's the big phonecall going to take place.....?"
"...tomorrow maybe....I figure I should begin the process as soon as possible since by the time I reach her it'll probably be sometime next month....it takes her that long to return my calls...."
I strummed the guitar again. A bad G# minor. Not that G# minor was ever a nice sounding chord.
"....out like I bludgeoned him into unconsciousness...." she smiled "...the boy wouldn't wake up through armageddon...."
"...Anna, this is probably a retarded question, but when did you know you and Tay were....I don't know....meant to be...?"
"....when he told me he'd autograph my breast I think...."
"....somehow I don't think that would work a second time around...."
"....neither do I....."
(CUT TO THE NEXT MORNING)
I was woken the next morning by Zac screaming "....IKE....phone for you...."
Then the cordless phone hit me in the head.
"....urrrrrgh is nice, but hello is customary...." I managed to hear a tiny voice say from the phone receiver which had deflected back into my comforter.
I knew that voice.
"....Matt dude, how are you....?" I croaked. Mm. Dry mouth and stale breath, what a way to start a morning.
"...I'm great, man....but I'm just wondering how it's possible that you've been in LA for four months and we still haven't gotten together...."
"....will the work excuse do it for you....?"
"...only if it comes with an appearance at this party tonight..."
"....what kind of party....?"
"....a large summer piss-up kind of party...."
And I'd really want to go, because I'm such a summer piss-up party kind of guy.
"....sounds....fun....." I said hesitantly.
"....you're not backing out on me Ike..." he warned.
"....fine, fine, I'll be there.....just, I don't know, give me the time and place and I'll be there...."
"....got a pen.....?"
I fumbled around under the bed. There was one under there I'm sure. I always keep a pen and paper under my bed just in case in got one of those midnight song inspirations (just thought you'd want to know the finer details of my life).
"....aha....." I grasped on to it ".....yeah, got one....."
"....okay, it's on the rooftop of 2/14 Landfair Avenue....just behind UCLA.....at 9:30....."
"....2/14 Landfair.....9:30...." I repeated, scribbling it with much difficulty on the back of my clammy hand.
"...you got it...."
"......well I'll catch you there dude....."
".....awesome.....see ya...." I replied unenthusiastically.
(CUT TO THE ROOFTOP PARTY THAT NIGHT)
"...well, this is nice..." I commented, looking around the apartment rooftop.
There's nothing I like better than a party full of people I don't know, in a setting which doesn't allow for a quick and painless escape. I was already breaking one of the first commandments of being a Hanson - Thou shalt not enclose thyself with large numbers of people.
"...beer...?" Matt asked, diving his hand into the makeshift fridge (vat of ice) and pulling one out before I agreed to anything.
I scanned the crowd, the chilled can of beer so cold against my palm it could genuinely have fused the two surfaces together. I knew this could actually happen because I managed to get my hand stuck to the inside of a freezer at the supermarket when I was five. My hand has never been the same since that fateful day.
Was that who I thought it was?
It was she. It was 'the one'.
She was standing with a blonde girl, laughing, tossing her short dark hair back every so often and taking sips from a bright pink coloured drink.
This was perfect. This was my chance to woo her with my debonair attitude. 'Debonair'? Jesus, I sound like Lumiere from 'Beauty And The Beast'.
"...it's....it's..." I babbled "...you know that girl....?"
"....the one in the orange dress....the gorgeous one...."
".....Kent? Yeah, I know her.....I'm dating her....."
"....you're kidding me.....?"
My heart just plummeted down to my feet and then kept going towards the earth's core, where I guessed it would fry to a crisp.
"....yeah, you're kidding me....or yeah, you're dating her...."
He pondered his beer can thoughtfully "....the first one..."
My heart shot back into my chest. I sighed with relief (for both my returned vital organ and the fact that 'the one', Kent, was unattached).
"....you want me to introduce you to her don't you....?"
(CUT TO FIVE SECONDS LATER)
"....Kent, this is Isaac.....Ike, Kent...."
"....Isaac of MMMBop fame...." she nodded, grinning ".....nice to meet you....."
Did you hear that? She said it was nice to meet ME !
My heart skipped a beat. Actually it was skipping double dutch at the moment.
"....nice to meet you too.........so you're at UCLA.....?" I choked out.
"....starting after the summer......I'm getting myself acquainted with the place over vacation....."
"...well, I'll just leave you two to get aquainted..." Matt rested his hands on our shoulders "....pine my absence won't you..?"
I ignored him. It was generally the best way of dealing with the trauma of Matt's presence ".....so.....you're not a native Californian then.....?"
"....nope, I'm all the way from exotic Maine....."
"....Maine? They have a lobster festival in Maine, don't they.....?"
I didn't actually say that. Please tell me I----
She laughed loudly "....in Rockport, yeah......I lived in Union, it's only half an hour away....we held the blueberry festival in Union, it was much better than anything Rockport could put on....." she laughed again, pushing back her hair behind her ear.
".....so how did you meet Matt.....?"
"....well, actually.....he's our landlord, or the co-landlord, something like that.....he's relatively young and irresponsible as far as landlords go. I was expecting someone......older......but don't get me wrong, I just adore him....." she said, with a hint of sarcasm wavering in the air.
"...Matt....? Young and irresponsible....? He's just the picture of responsibility....." I waved my hand in mock disbelief .....he won awards for it in kindergarten...."
She laughed and I continued on with my very own version of Twenty Questions. At least this way I had enough information to stalk her if the need arose.
".......so why did you come to a West Coast school if you were so close to East Coast colleges......?"
"......well, I figured as long as I was getting some academic qualifications I might as well also be getting a tan....."
"....I see your point....."
Actually, I didn't. My gaze drifted down her perfectly gleaming skin.
"....so why are you in LA....?" she stirred a strawberry around in her drink (which looked suspiciously like a radioactive strawberry dacquari), before popping it into her mouth.
".....we're recording a new album...."
She swallowed the strawberry quickly "....wow, that sounds exciting....."
"......yeah, it is.....you should---maybe come by the studios sometime....."
"......oh....I'd be intruding......"
".....no, seriously, come by whenever you want....I'll give the receptionist your name.....it's Kent, right.....?"
"....well actually....." she paused for a minute ".....er, yeah.......Kent.....Kent Gelsthorpe....."
"......HEY PHOEBES......WHERE'S JEREMY.....?" She turned around, and I followed her gaze, to look at the guy yelling over the group, doing the drunk thing overzealously.
"....have no idea, Josh...." she yelled back.
"....ditto....." she rolled her eyes at me as if to tell me exactly how tedious she thought Drunk Guy was, then turned her back to him.
"....Phoebe......? You have two names....?"
"....for two personalities...." she snorted "....my parents and people who handle my finances---"
"---like Matt---" I interrupted.
"---exactly like Matt..." she nodded "...well, they call me Kent and everyone else goes by Phoebe, the middle name...."
"...my family's big on that kind of name setup too..."
"....yeah, it's Clarke isn't it....? I read too many of those bad teen magazines of my sisters during my high school years...."
"....well, you've recovered fairly well......there's usually a huge amount of psychological damage from reading Tiger Beat...."
"....yeah, I came out of the experience relatively unscathed.....my sister on the other hand---" she trailed off, laughing.
"....so when do you think you might make an appearance at the studios....?"
"....oh, I could probably make it tomorrow...." she looked up from her drink and smiled.
".....sounds good, Kent slash Phoebe Gelsthorpe....."
"....I'm glad, Isaac slash Hanson....." she flashed me a smile and gestured towards an ancient bath tub filled with ice (the makeshift fridge) ".....now how about a refill.....?"
(CUT TO THE NEXT MORNING)
"....so where are we off to today....?" Jeremy asked cheerily over his Frosties.
"....well, I was thinking about going down to Music Grinder Studios...." I replied into my toast.
"....someone met a Hanson last night...." Mish sang, opening the fridge. Our fridge was one of those artistic looking 50's contraptions which required a superhuman effort to open. I normally end up flying a circular arc through the air when it does happen to open on me. This is what happens where you share an apartment with two art majors. Being a science major myself, I tended to like my appliances to have less aesthetic value and more functionality.
"....ooh, could this someone be..." he performed a drum roll on the laminex tabletop "....Phoebes...?"
".....that someone could...." I smirked, taking a savage bite of my toast.
"....so which one was it? The goofy looking older one, the hot middle one or the funny little one....?"
"....the older one...whose name is Isaac, not 'the goofy looking older one'....."
"....do I trust you? Going to meet all these attractive males....I don't know....." he put on a mock expression of indecision, shaking his head.
"....of course you trust me Jeremy, I could never find anyone as utterly attractive and witty as you...."
"....you jest, my darling...."
"....I do, my dear....."
We blew kisses at each other over the table.
"....get a room, will you....?"
"....we've got a room Mish, the kitchen....we always like a good screw on the benchtop....."
"....ergh...." she gurgled, a sour look crossing her face which was already bulging at the cheeks with that mouthful of cereal she'd just taken.
"...well, au revoir....they're expecting me early...." I leapt into the old-fashioned elevator and closed the concertina frame.
"....get an autograph for me......make sure they address it to Jeremy.....J-E-R-E-M-Y.......Kent Gelsthorpe, are you listening to m----"
And the elevator doors closed. The sweet sound of whirring drowned out Jeremy's high-pitched voice.
(CUT TO HALF AN HOUR LATER)
I hate meeting new people. And new famous people? I hate meeting them more.
"....guys this is Phoebe.....Phoebe, this is Tay, Anna, Zac and Rachael....."
I stuck up my hand in a stiff wave and smiled nervously.
"...hi...." "...hey..." "...how're you doing..?" "...hello..."
I looked around the room. Yes indeed. There was the famous Taylor Hanson, looking possibly more beautiful in reality than in the magazines (was that humanly possible?). He was sitting indian-style on the floor opposite a Japanese looking girl with amazingly long legs wearing a candy pink shirt. They were obviously in the middle of a not so discreet argument. A few loudly whispered 'Harvard's' and 'not a good idea's' travelled our way and the glares were bouncing off the walls with all the intensity of hot rubber racquetballs. If they weren't just an old married couple.
Then there was Zac Hanson who looked like he'd been taking steroids daily since MMMBop was released and they'd only just begun to take rapid effect. He had turned his attention back on a group of miniature dinosaur figurines on the floor. He was kneeling over them with a girl holding a video camera who had the most amazing set of facial features ever thrown together. She had dark Felicity hair, startlingly blue eyes which must have been the templates for colour contacts and red lips that could probably keep her afloat in water. Her skin was naturally olive with a smattering of tiny freckles over her nose and cheeks. I mean, the girl made you want to dissect her face and run off with the pieces.
"....so who's dating and who isn't....?"
"....Anna and Tay are....obviously.....Zac and Rachael want to be, and me...I'm unattached...."
".....a nice guy like you....?" I said sympathetically. To tell you the truth I was pretty surprised. The boy really did appear to have everything.
"....who was it that said nice guys don't get any....?"
"....probably a guy who thought he was nice and didn't get any.....the reality of the situation was probably that he was a bastard and really ugly...."
"...well, that was really reassuring, Phoebe..."
".....hey so are we going to the movies or not.....?" he directed the comment to the room which suddenly hushed.
He looked over at me.
I shrugged lightly "...okay..."
"...cool...." Zac Hanson exclaimed.
'Anna' and Taylor Hanson shrugged nonchalantly and glared at each other.
"....well, I'll give Phoebe a quick tour around here and then you'd better all be ready to go, okay...?"
Phoebe dressed like...a girl. Which was a surprise considering, well, considering Rachael and Anna.
If you stood Phoebe, Anna and Rachael next to each other you'd represent the three major genre's of female dressing.
Anna represented the Outlandish. Whatever she wore managed to make an impact (even if it was a questionable one). Her wardrobe tended to blind you and was filled with fabrics none of us knew existed. She could pull off anything, no matter how badly coordinated it was. She was a female Taylor.
Phoebe, on the other hand dressed half as if she was going to meet your parents by chance and wanted to make a good impression, and half as though she wanted to distract every guy on the block she was walking down. Did she ever wear pants? I didn't know.
Rachael epitomised the I-Just-Don't-Care girl. She wore jeans and shorts the way Phoebe seemed to wear skirts and dresses - without exception. Her shirts were mostly weird and funky vintage ones (between her and Tay I'd be surprised if there were any left in the LA metro area) and she typically wore a pair of black Converse One-Stars or Doc Marten sandals.
Too bad Vogue magazine hadn't picked up on this yet.
(CUT TO THE CINEMAS)
Was this supposed to be comedy? They couldn't seriously think this was scary. They obviously mistook the genre for horror. After all, comedy and horror are usually synonymous with each other. Take for instance I Know What You Did Last Summer. That was comedy. And Ace Ventura 2. That was horror. A horror to watch.
Rachael, Tay, Anna and I were going to pee our pants we were laughing so hard. Ike on the other hand was watching the movie with a determined but nervous look on his face and that Phoebe girl was all enthralled. See, that's what you get when you date girly girls - ones that actually get scared in cheesy 'horror' movies. Boy, was I glad Rachael wasn't like that. Although her laughing in this situation had its bad points (ie. her spraying soda out of her nose during the close-up nose drip scene). Even then I thought it was kinda cute though. Cute enough to forget my face probably now had a mixture of snot and Coke on it anyhow.
I wonder when Ike was going to make his move. Rachael and I were taking turns on lookout.
He's. Yep. He's going in for the kill.
"Go Ike" I whispered, turning back towards the screen.
Well, come on, I needed to give the guy a little privacy to work his special Ike magic.
".....IKE......I'm dating someone......"
"...dating, having a relationship, seeing someone......I have a boyfriend......!"
".....why didn't you tell me.....?!" I hissed
"...I've known you for a God damn day.....and I don't introduce myself to people by saying 'Hi, I'm Phoebe, I have a boyfriend'...." she hissed back.
"...you didn't introduce yourself by Phoebe either...!"
"...don't be pedantic...!"
(CUT TO THE CAR RIDE HOME)
If I could have taken back those three little words I would. Because those three little words had got me stuck in possibly the most uncomfortable car ride I'd ever experienced. And do you know how many uncomfortable car rides I'd endured in my lifetime? A third of my life was uncomfortable car rides. And this one was worse than the time we drove to Minnesota when Tay threw up on an interval schedule of fifteen minutes for the whole trip (which was made during a sweltering summer when the air conditioning in the van had conveniently broken down). We also got two flat tires, hit some kind of furry native animal (we think it was a moose after inspecting the mark it made in the bumper) and found ourselves on the wrong turnoffs five times.
This was worse than that Minnesota trip. And all because of three little words - 'I'll take you'.
Public transport wasn't all that bad. And I'm sure she liked catching it since she did it every day. It's not like I would've got hit with a bolt of lightning the minute I didn't escort a date home.
This is the kind of thing they should warn you about in grade school when they teach you about manners and chivalry.
"....well, this is it.......thanks for the ride...."
"...oh God..." she whispered, covering her forehead as two people came into sight.
One, I recognised as the blonde girl from Matt's party, the other one, a guy, I surely recognised from some Abercrombie and Fitch ad campaign - he was all longish dark hair, big lips and square jawline. And people called us pretty boys. We had nothing on this guy.
They waved and smiled widely as if they were long lost cousins (for all I knew they could be - who knew with our family's mating record).
Did that voice come out of the girl or the guy? Because it looked like it came from the guy, but it sounded like it came from the girl.
Unless I was mistaken and this was a well rehearsed miming routine, that voice belonged to that guy.
I looked between the two suspiciously, trying to work out what kind of deal they were pulling here.
"...And I'm Michelle.....Mish.....I was at the party the other---"
"....yeah, I remember...." I smiled at the blonde girl, shaking her hand and then turned to 'Jeremy' "....I'm, uh, Isaac...." I extended my hand.
"....this is....wow....it's great to meet you...."
"...it's nice to meet you too...."
"...we're Phoebe's flatmates..." the blonde girl explained.
"....I kind of guessed...." I smiled. It was becoming one of those reflexes for me now. Like scratching an itch.
"....so what did you guys get up to today...?" he looked between Phoebe and I, resting his arm across her shoulders.
This was the boyfriend?
Well, I kissed your girlfriend at the movies.
".....Isaac showed me around the studios and then we went to a movie theater downtown...."
"....sounds cool...." he nodded.
"...well, I'd better get going....we've got some recording to do and stuff...."
"...oh yeah, of course..." said Jeremy in his female voice.
"....thanks for today, Isaac....it was nice...." Phoebe looked at me and smiled a blushing smile.
What was with this girl?! She was like a faucet, running cold one minute then hot the next! Sheesh. Women!
"....cool.....well, I'll see you guys later...."
"....bye...." they all waved happily through the window.
It's amazing how easy it is to make friends when you're famous.
(CUT TO CAFFE LATTES AT A CHIC AL FRESCO CAFE [it's amazing how much cooler things sound when they're said in a foreign language] two days later. KENT AND ISAAC ARE TALKING ABOUT....JEREMY OF THE GAY VOICE)
I wondered how to put it.
"....gay.....? No." she sighed and rolled her eyes as if this were a conversation she's gone over numerous times. It was the kind of sigh we'd do in answer to a "do you have girlfriends" or "will your siblings be joining the band" question.
"....Isaac, get this straight.....I'm dating the boy. I am a girl. Therefore, the boy cannot be gay because he is dating A GIRL...me...."
"....okay....I was just asking....."
".....just because someone has immaculate dress sense and a gay voice, it doesn't mean they are gay....."
".....I know....he just sounded....and looked....."
"....so.....how long have you been.....you know....."
".....dating? It's not a crude word, Ike, you can say it out loud without mommy telling you off......"
Someone was obviously still pissed.
".....we've been dating two years actually......"
"....so it's serious then.....?"
".....us or the relationship.....?"
".....well you can branch off in two directions after sex - non-existent or serious....we opted for serious.....but me? Serious? Not really....."
".....so you're having a serious relationship with someone who people think is gay.....? Sounds like a Kevin Kline movie if you ask me....."
".... I didn't....." she said dryly.
(CUT TO RACHAEL'S HOUSE THE NEXT DAY)
"....Zac, I was just thinking....."
"....well.....I was thinking, what if.......what if we.......kissed.......and you know......got it out of the way......."
"......got it out of the way......?" I repeated slowly.
"....well, not so much get it out of the way....." she said hastily ".....as.....you know.......just testing the waters....."
".....just testing the waters....? We're not taking a bath here....."
"....it was just a suggestion....."
"....well, I don't want to kiss you if you just want to to get it out of the way....."
She squinted at me for a minute ".....does that mean you want to kiss me usually.....?"
"....I don't know....." I shrugged.
".....well, what if I wanted to kiss you not to just get it out of the way but because I think you're funny...?"
She narrowed her eyes at me.
I smiled "....you think I'm hot.....?"
"....maybe means yes....."
"...so that's kinda good, isn't it....?"
".....I like you a lot Rachael......"
".....I like you too Zac....." she said cautiously.
".....and not just in a friend kind of way, I mean in a girlfriend kind of way......"
".....a girlfriend kind of way....?" she repeated slowly "....well, that's good, I wouldn't mind being a girlfriend....."
"....that too...." she grinned.
".....so....maybe we should kiss now....."
".....maybe we should......"
"....um.....do you want to close your eyes....?"
"...I can do that...." she closed them and chewed a little on her lower lip.
I leant forward and pressed my mouth to hers. She tasted like apples.
Hey. What do you know? This kissing thing isn't too bad at all.
In fact, I kind of like it.
We pulled back.
".....that felt nice....." Rachael's cheeks tinged pink.
".....should we try it again.....?"
"...okay....." she shrugged "...this time you close your eyes...."
I sat back and closed my eyes. A moment later I felt Rachael's lips on mine.
Are you supposed to open your mouth? Or are you supposed to be older before you try that kind of thing?
Well. We are trying this out. Kind of like a test drive. Not that I have a drivers permit, but you know.....C'est La Vie, I say.
C'est La Vie? I don't even know what that means.
(CUT TO HALF AN HOUR LATER AT THE MUSIC GRINDER STUDIOS)
Rub. FLICK. Pause. Rub. FLICK. Pause. Rub. FLICK. Pause.
I gritted my teeth.
My magazine is being ruined at the hands of Taylor Hanson.
Taylor is an annoying magazine reader. For starters, he barely ever stops on one page for more than two seconds. Then he flicks the pages so hard that I can almost hear them being torn from the middle staple. Because he doesn't just turn the page, he yanks it. As if he had to use brute strength to turn a page. He also grips on to the sides of the page when he turns it, dragging his wet, oily fingertips across the glossy paper so it leaves big streaks across it.
Now I wouldn't mind if this was Cosmo (not that I buy Cosmo), but this was an extremely good copy of Interview magazine for which I'd awaited an entire month. What makes the entire thing worse (besides the fact my Radiohead interview was surely ruined) was that the paper Interview magazine uses is extremely flimsy.
"....the pages....you're ruining them by sticking your hands all over them and flicking the pages like that....."
".....excuse me for my flicking action....." he rolled his eyes.
Rachael and Zac entered the room hand in hand.
Taylor and I glanced at each other and shared a knowing grin.
".....hi guys......" we chirped in unison.
"....hi......" Zac said warily, looking at Rachael ".....we're just going to play ping-pong...."
"......sure......you two have fun in there.....playing ping-pong......"
Zac scowled at Taylor before they exited the room.
He grinned widely "....I think someone's got a girlfriend....."
".....calm your hormones, sweetie....."
(CUT TO LATER THAT NIGHT)
Anna stalked into my room, all tanned glowing skin and long legs - encased in a dress that had to be seen to be believed. The fabric was soft and flowing and looked like a cream canvas on which someone had randomly streaked watercolours of red, yellow, orange and mauve. It fell to just below her knees exposing her calves, while her equally bare shoulders shone in the fluorescent light of the bedroom.
".....can you tie this for me......?" She held up the two ends of a strap which, I guessed, had to be tied at the back of her neck.
"....I feel so....." she wriggled "...uncomfortable....."
"....you look so.......great......"
I tied the strap neatly behind her neck.
".....thanks.....you look pretty great yourself...." she fiddled with my blue silk tie ".....I really like the shirt....."
I looked down at the sleeve of the hot pink shirt "......well, that's reassuring since Zac now thinks I'm gay....."
"....gay.....? Wouldn't you have to....date boys for that.....?"
"....see these....?" she grabbed my hands and put them on her breasts "....boys don't have these....."
"....I.....ah......kind of realised that....."
I think I was blushing. At the same time I was really.....well, aroused.
"....okay, you can let go now Taylor....."
(CUT TO FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER IN TAYLOR'S CAR)
Anna gripped on to my hand on the gear change, nearly crushing all the delicate bones in my hand.
"....I kind of need that to drive, An...."
"....I think we should turn back now...."
"....you do....?" I raised my eyebrow, glancing at her before looking back at the road.
"....bad luck....." I said, focused on the road ahead.
".....excuse me? You're going to force me to have dinner with my dad and his third wife....?"
"......you want to go, you just......don't know it....." I shrugged.
"....that is possibly the lamest justification ever made...."
"....look, I'm not wearing hot pink for nothing Anna McLaren....we're going to go there, you're going to meet your dad and you're going to be your charming, if not polite, self.....OKAY....?" I emphasised my words by bashing every so often on the steering wheel.
"...okay..." she said meekly, sinking into her seat.
Wow. I'd won.
(CUT TO AFTER DINNER, BACK AT THE HANSON HOUSE)
After a good fifteen minutes of searching the house for Anna, I peered out of the sunroom windows which backed out on to the patio. Of course, she was in the first place I'd thought of, but hadn't bothered to check.
She was sitting outside in that rainbow dress of hers on the edge of the pool, her legs making whirlpools in the water. What seemed like stars that had dropped straight from the sky - but were actually a swarm of not-so-magical fireflies - circled around her in nature's own little light spectacular.
I pulled open the sliding door and stepped out on to the patio. She turned around at the sound of metal sliding on metal, and then returned to gazing at the fireflies.
"....what are you doing out here....?"
"...thinking...." she said quietly "...I thought I should do it outside in case of any dangerous implosions which may occur as a direct result...."
"...less mess to clean up that way..." I agreed, sitting down beside her. I put my feet in the water only two seconds before realising that I was wearing a pair of sandals.
"...you do know you're wearing shoes, don't you, Taylor...?" she was now staring peacefully at the reflections of light on the water.
"....yeah...." I shrugged it off nonchalantly, trying not to think of the time when I'd have to take my feet out of the pool and walk in them.
I took her hand and laced my fingers with hers.
"....so what are you thinking about....?"
"....the destruction of South American rainforests via large fast food conglomerates who see it a worthwhile pastime to destroy a finite natural eco-system in order to provide grazing land for their genetically modified cattle stock and wrap their burgers in the paper made by million year old trees so that we all think our Big Mac's look pretty...."
Translation - she's thinking about her dad.
"....he seems like a nice guy, An....."
"....he is not a nice guy.....nice guys help rear their daughters, nice guys don't leave their wives and daughters, nice guys don't ignore the existence of their child for 17 years....." her eyes flashed angrily.
"....right, but even nice guys make mistakes......and Anna, he knows he made a mistake....a huge one....in not knowing you...."
"....Taylor, you don't know that...."
"....maybe not, but I do know you and I know that anyone that had the chance of knowing you but passed it up is a complete idiot....."
She stared at the pool in silence, swirling her legs around in its dark waters.
A second later she was hugging me with so much force I wouldn't have been surprised if I'd been on my way to an emergency room later that night because of ruptured internal organs.
But though the future functioning of my kidneys and lungs was questionable, my heart could keep pumping steadily for a century or more.
You know how I could tell? Because right then, holding each other that close, I could feel her heart beat and it didn't beat to the same rhythm as mine, it beat to an accompanying rhythm. It filled in the gaps and smoothed things out like a beautiful harmony of voices.
It was like they were singing a duet. And a Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald duet at that.
And I knew, from the moment we met, that as long as we were both on earth we would be together. And that our hearts would make music that not even the greats could rival.
And I'm collaborating with Nora Ephron on the next Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks romantic comedy.
(CUT TO FIVE MINUTES LATER IN THE UPSTAIRS BATHROOM)
The sound of Anna's electric toothbrush always made me nauseous. I think it could have been a result of the first and only time I tried using it where it vibrated my head so much I nearly passed out.
She switched off her toothbrush and looked at me via the mirror, with a rim of white toothpaste foam around her mouth "....do you think we'll be doing this forever....?"
She spat some foam into the sink.
"....probably, if you want to avoid tooth decay and plaque buildup...." I gesticulated with my toothbrush in the air and spat our my toothpaste foam in the sink.
"....I didn't mean that....." she slurped some water into her mouth, gurgled it and then spat it out into the sink "...I meant us, brushing our teeth together...sharing a bathroom...."
"...oh...." I paused in the middle of brushing the back of my front teeth "....you mean getting married and stuff....?"
"...yeah...." she inspected her teeth closely in the mirror.
"....I think so...."
Anna turned around and grinned at me "....you sure....?"
"...only if you get rid of that toothbrush...."
She looked at the toothbrush thoughtfully for a few moments "....it's a deal...."
(CUT TO 2AM THAT NIGHT)
Mackie whispered with all the quiet of an elephant trying to escape a zoo (ie. none) as he ran into our room.
"....what Mack....?" I grunted.
"....the alphabet was chasing me...."
Anna yawned next to me and sat up.
".....you and Anna are sleeping in the same bed....?" he looked at us with eyes as wide as saucers "....Tay....." he gasped "....you're gonna have a baby....."
"....Mack, we are not having a baby...."
"....but you're sleeping in the same bed...." he urged "....when a boy and girl sleep in the same bed they have babies, Tay...."
"....can't we talk about this another time, Mackie....?"
"...but the alphabet....." he looked at me wide eyed "....it'll get me....."
"....Mack, it was just a bad dream...."
".....can't I sleep with you Tay....?"
I looked over at Anna, who'd already fallen back asleep with the side of her face smushed uncomfortably in the palm of her hand.
"...fine then..." I sighed, pulling up the blankets so he could get in.
Well, this was as romantic as all hell.
(CUT TO NEXT WEEK AT THE CALIFORNIA YACHT CLUB)
"....oh, he's going topless...." Anna announced as I removed my shirt "....take it all off baby...."
She started humming that striptease tune as I mockingly swung the shirt a few times over my hed and tossed it a metre behind me on the pier.
I retrieved it before sitting down next to Anna and swinging my legs over the end of the pier.
"....where did Zac and Rachael go....?"
"....to get ice-creams apparently.....a foolhardy idea if I ever heard one...." she mused pretending to suck on a pipe and stroke an imaginary moustache, before sighing loudly "....what is with this weather....?" she wiped her brow.
"....I feel like a boiled chicken...."
"....funny, you don't look like one...." she winked and nudged me in the side.
Anna has a tendency in extreme heat to make bad cheesy jokes and be excessively hyperactive. On second thought, the normal Anna suffers from both of those conditions.
"...I didn't know you knew how to sail...."
"....you don't know a lot of things about me...." I said with an air of mystery, lying back on the pier and closing my eyes.
She snorted loudly "....I know everything about you Taylor Hanson.....all I had to do was read a poorly proofed semi-fictional quote novel unquote written by a Tulsa ex-pat....."
"....thankyou for just demeaning my life like that..."
"....well, it's the least I could do, Taylor, you're taking me sailing after all...."
(MEANWHILE AT 2/14 LANDFAIR AVENUE, SINCE ISAAC AND KENT HAD BY NOW STRUCK UP QUITE THE FRIENDSHIP)
"....oh, hi Isaac....." she squinted through the weird metal concertina elevator frame.
"...you're not busy or anything....?"
".....if you call busy sitting in front of a fan and getting up maybe twice per half hour to get a glass of ice, then yes.....but otherwise no....." she yanked open the frame and ushered me inside the apartment ".....come in......Jeremy and Mish have gone to fry at the beach...."
She was looking so....real. Not that she wasn't real before, but she always seemed - to me, at least - to be this very surreal object. She was just so perfect in every respect. Her hair never looked bad (but I guess you get that with short, straight and dark hair), her skin always shone and her clothes always hung like some little clothes angels had draped them in exactly the right places.
Today though, the clothes angels had taken annual paid leave. She wore a pair of navy shorts and a yellow tank top which had obviously been slept in numerous times. The hot pink straps of a bra were clearly visible. Her hair was sticking up at weird angles and she was red, with that thin sheen of sweat glistening on her. She was wearing glasses. I didn't even know she wore glasses.
But she still managed to look beautiful.
It kind of pissed me off, because just looking normal was a struggle for me and here was a person that looked gorgeous with the characteristics that usually defined ugly.
"...Ike...was there any point in your visit or were you just going to sit here mute for the afternoon....?"
"....mute is good...." I grinned.
She looked at me and shook her head laughing "....drink....or just ice....? I've resorted to sucking on ice personally but whatever takes your fancy...."
"....well, whatever you're having....ice, I guess...."
"....okay, two glasses of ice coming up...." she wandered over to the fridge "...so what have you been up to....?" she called over her shoulder.
"....uh, just recording mainly.....you know how things are...lead vocals, back-up vocals, instrumentals, it's an endless cycle...." I looked at my hands which were gesticulating violently and clasped them tightly in my lap.
"....actually I have no idea 'how things are', but I'll take your word for it...." she set down the glasses of ice on the little coffee table, then picked up one herself and settled down on the sofa next to me with it and an accompanying groan "....I hate this weather....."
A gust of air from the revolving fan passed across my face. Two seconds later it hit Phoebe blowing back her hair from her forehead. Some of the little damp strands still stuck to her temples.
"....I feel your pain....."
"...you're very untalkative today....that kind of comment would have usually caused a torrent on paragraphs about Californian weather patterns...."
"...just hot, I guess...."
"...mmhm...I'm just happy for once that we've got the basement apartment and not any up there....." she pointed her finger up in the air.
I peered at the text books buried in the sofa. Asking About Cells. Microbiology and Nanotechnology.
I picked up 'Asking About Cells' and flicked through it disinterestedly "....this looks just....fascinating....."
"....actually, it is just.....fascinating...." she smirked, snatching the book from me and tossing it on the coffee table. It slid straight across its surface and hit the polished wood floor with a dull thump.
She grabbed two pieces of ice from her glass, putting one in her mouth and rubbing the other one across her collarbone, leaving a long wet streak across her skin. I watched, fascinated by the water which condensed on her skin into droplets and then began a slow gravitationally-influenced descent downwards.
She looked up at me and pulled the front of my wifebeater out, dropping the same piece of ice down the front of my chest.
She grinned, biting on her lower lip.
"...thanks for that..."
"....you're welcome...." she smiled widely.
I grabbed a piece of ice from my own glass, but before I could drop it down her tank top in retaliation she shrieked and grabbed her chest.
"...I'm sorry, but you have to pay...." I gave her my best sweet little boy smile and attempted to wrestle her arms away (to no avail).
As fate would have it, it ended up that Phoebe was lying curled up on the sofa shrieking and I was basically sitting on top of her, gripping on to her forearms.
The shrieks paused.
"....we are presently in an extremely compromising position....." she stated, her brow furrowing.
"...so we are..." I commented, releasing my grip and moving to get up.
".....no......" she shook her head faintly "...I didn't mean...." she sighed, rubbing her hand through her hair "....I don't know what I mean...."
"....you mean you want me to go....?" I was crouching over her shins.
"...I mean I want you to stay...."
"....you want me to what....?"
".....I'm throwing caution to the wind, okay? Don't question it....."
".....no questions from this corner....." I held up my hands in surrender "....but what does 'staying' involve.....?"
"....you mean boundaries....?"
"...right....boundaries..." I agreed.
".....there are none.....besides anything to do with animals or bondage....."
"....so....." I crawled back on top of her "....I could do this...." I kissed her softly "....and you wouldn't object....?"
"....but if I had a turtle in my pocket it would be outside the boundaries...."
".....you have a....turtle...in your pocket....?" she said slowly.
"....no....but if I did have you wouldn't like it right....?"
"....Isaac....." she squinted at me and shook her head; and those were the last words we spoke for the next two hours.
(CUT BACK TO ANNA, TAYLOR, RACHAEL AND ZAC, TWO HOURS LATER AFTER CRUISING THE SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL)
"....that was so not a shark...."
"....it could have been....how did you know it wasn't...?" Taylor replied defensively.
"....how did you know it was....?!" I maintained.
"....pointed fins usually mean shark....didn't you ever see Jaws....?"
"....I prefer my stunt animals to actually appear to be real...."
"....I am starving...." Zac interrupted, emphasising his plight by staggering across the pier holding his stomach.
"...maybe we should grab some pizza....?" Taylor suggested, looking around at all of us for a reply.
"...whoa, flashback to the last time you made that suggestion..." I cringed at the thought.
We'd managed to be chased by a screaming mob from the pizza house before we'd made it as far as the counter to actually order our 3/4 pepperoni, 1/4 vegetarian. Needless to say, we'd ordered in since then.
And this was in off-peak Hanson season. I wondered briefly about what a relationship with Taylor would have been like in 1997.
"....that was ages ago....."
"...well, you're fairly well disguised...they'll never believe that well-roasted, lobster red specimen before me is the famous Taylor Hanson....you look positively human, my dear...."
"....I'm checking the weather report before unleashing you on the world next time...."
(CUT TO 2/14 LANDFAIR AVE, ONCE AGAIN)
"...Ike, stay the night....." she whispered into my ear.
"....and do what....?"
"....well, I thought we could stay up 'til midnight and talk about boys and paint our toenails...."
Was that sarcasm?
".....sex, Isaac....that's what 'stay the night' generally entails, 'come up for coffee' is another similar phrase....."
My mind flashbacked to Juliet and that particular coffee-related situation earlier this year.
"....isn't Jeremy coming home....?"
"....aren't you 'dating'? It generally entails not having sex with people other than your partner when the partner in question is in the same apartment...."
I could play that sarcastic game, baby.
She looked at me for a few, very silent, moments before speaking quietly "....you don't have to be here if you don't want to be...."
"....look, I want to be here....but I like you too much to risk things by having sex with you now...."
".....so, let me get this straight....girl offers guy sex, guy refuses....?"
"....right first time...."
"....so do you want some coffee then...?"
"....what kind...?" I said suspiciously.
She looked at me with amusement on her lips, her eyes crinkling at the sides "....a mocha blend, that okay...?"
"...as long as you mean caffeine and you're not propositioning me again....."
(CUT BACK TO RACHAEL, ANNA, TAYLOR AND ZAC AT THE PIZZA HOUSE)
Was this really a good idea? I hadn't fully recovered from the last mutant zit attack and here I was eying an oversized slice of cheese pizza dipped in oil.
Maybe I can quell my stomach's rumblings with multiple litres of mineral water.
Yeah, that could work.
And on the Eighth Day He made pepperoni pizza. And all rejoiced for here was some damn tasty food.
There's nothing I like more than American pizza. America feels the need to convert any foreign food to something recognisably stars and stripes by the addition of one particular ingredient - grease.
America has a fascination with deep frying. I'm yet to discover the psychological or historical reasoning behind this obsession, but it certainly is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of this wide country.
I picked up a slice of oily pizza, leaving behind a triangular darkened mark on the cardboard case where the grease had seeped into it.
It was like eating a sheet of elastic the way I had to stretch the slice an arms length away from my body because the cheese just wouldn't break off.
"....I don't know how you can drink milk with a savoury food....milk goes with desserts...."
He looked at me and took a huge bite of pizza, followed by a gulp of milk (before he'd chewed or swallowed the pizza), giving me a wide closed-mouth smile.
I wonder if the rest of the world knew what a dork he really was.
Rachael started laughing and Zac covered his face with his hands, probably more as a safety precaution than a reflex to embarrassment.
I leaned across and wiped Taylor's face with a napkin.
"...what...?!" he appealed, opening his mouth to expose the soggy remains of half-chewed pizza.
"....you can give them money and talent, but you can't give them class...."
"...that you can't..." he smirked at me "....you have cheese on your chin, Annesley...."
Chapter 18 - Would You Like Fries With That?
Dating Rachael was bad as far as mom was concerned. My health was apparently going down the drain with all the McDonalds I was eating. I say bring on the hormones - if I can eat burgers and get buff at the same time, I have no issues with a fast-food chain.
I sat opposite Rachael in a red vinyl covered booth. She slid the brown plastic tray across the table top and I plucked a french fry from the packet as it came to a halt.
Rachael played with her drink, pushing in the little bubbles in the plastic top labelled 'diet' and 'sprite'.
"....so I was at work yesterday and I served this girl that looked exactly like you....except with a better tan and dark hair...."
"....are you sure it was a girl....?"
"...of course I'm sure, she had breasts...."
"....I know of many a guy with breasts...."
"...she was wearing a God damned skirt, Zac..."
"...I know of many a guy who wears---"
"Who cares if she was a girl?!" she threw up her hands in dramatic surrender "You're prettier than her anyway! And you do not know of many guys who wear skirts! You only know of one which is Steven and he only wears one because he's Scottish and they're not called skirts they're called kilts! You should get your facts straight before you start making random statements about the fashion preferences of the larger male population!"
She usually had a higher tolerance level than that. Maybe I should stop being annoying.
"....was that supposed to be a compliment? Because being called pretty isn't exactly something that brings me great joy..."
"...oh, go away..." she shot at me, returning her attention to her Sprite.
"....not before you tell me what she ordered.....did you give her 'fries with that'...?"
She recoiled and looked at me smugly "....I did....and she ordered a large Big Mac Value meal plus a caramel sundae..."
"....there you go...that proves he...she...it wasn't a girl......girls don't eat Big Mac's, they eat McChicken's...."
"....Taylor eats McChicken's...." she paused "...oh okay, point taken..."
"....so I bet you don't remember what I'd usually order...."
"...Zac, I served you two days ago, of course I know...."
"....go on then....hit me with it...."
"....a large Quarter Pounder with the pickle, large fries and a large caramel thickshake....with an apple pie on the side...."
"....close but no cigar....always the regular thickshake...."
"...you annoy me..."
(CUT TO FIVE MINUTES LATER OUTSIDE MCDONALDS)
"....is it just me or is that Ronald McDonald lacking...eyebrows....?"
Rachael and I peered closely at the fibreglass Ronald statue. The lack of eyebrows made him look kind of deranged.
".....by Jesus, I think he is....." Rachael shuddered.
".....that's too freaky....."
".....freaky is the word......" she nodded in agreeance.
"....maybe he wanted to shave them off...I remember this kid we used to know that got home schooled who like shaved off his eyebrows to see if they'd grow back...."
".....of course I'm serious, when am I ever not serious....?"
She looked at me with her eyebrow raised.
"....he said it was for experimental purposes.....all for the advancement of science...."
"....see, that's what happens when you're homeschooled.....you become maladjusted...."
"....are you calling me maladjusted....?"
"....why yes, yes I am...."
(CUT TO LATER THAT DAY AT THE STUDIO, AFTER THE MCDONALDS OUTING)
"....why is it you always find someting unwanted down the side of this sofa...?" Anna's hand was fossicking down the cracks between the sofa pillows, her face grimacing with every new find.
She pulled out a half chewed baseball.
"...this is disgusting...." she picked it up between the fingernails of her thumb and index finger and tossed it across the room.
"....hey, that could have been Babe Ruth's favourite ball...!" I cried "...it could be worth a fortune....!"
"...which is why its home has been the side of this grotty looking piece of furniture for the past fifty years and not the Baseball Hall of Fame...."
"....you never know...."
"....baby, you never know, baby....you never know, baby, you never know....."
"...you know I'm beginning to wonder if that really was you singing on your graduation, because you know Anna....your voice sucks...."
".....I don't know how Rachael puts up with you...." she said snottily, putting her arm back down the great canyon-sized crack in the sofa "...I sure as hell wouldn't...."
"....ah, my buff body is reason enough to keep her coming back...."
"....Anna, what are you looking for exactly....?"
"....the remote control.....what else....?"
"...well, since I'm holding it---" I waved it in her face "---I figured lint balls maybe..."
She looked at me dryly "....when I return from disinfecting my arm, I expect that TV screen to exhibit a 'That 70's Show' marathon.....in the case of it not being so, there will be dire consequences...."
"....what'cha gonna do? Sing me to my death...?!" I called after her.
Before she exited the room, I saw her hand had crept behind her lower back and her middle finger slowly raised to attention.
(CUT TO THE NEXT DAY AT THE HANSON HOUSE)
".....where's Anna gone....?"
"I don't know! It's not like I implanted a tracking device in her nose and watch her on radar constantly to track her every move!" Tay cried, his hands flying around wildly. If I wasn't careful, I was going to get smacked in the head with one of those uncontrollable devices.
I pressed myself as far back as I could into the sofa, holding a cushion to me for safety reasons.
Someone's been drinking a little too much coffee.
And someone's probably a little pissed that Anna didn't tell him where she was going.
Or maybe he was jealous. Because, you know, I get jealous of that sometimes - of people being able to go somewhere without telling anyone. I couldn't even go pee without telling someone.
"...I'm guessing this might be her...." I commented, hearing a key turning in the front door.
Tay jumped up and strode towards the front door. Before he got even halfway across the room, Anna appeared in the doorway.
She tossed her keys on the benchtop and pulled the strap of her satchel bag over her head, dropping it on the floor.
"....oh my God...."
"....oh my God....."
"....Sweet Mother of God...." Ike said, walking into the room and stopping dead in his tracks.
".....your language, boys.....oh my.....dear......" mom said, walking in behind Ike.
"....I take it this...." she gestured at her head "...was a bad choice then...." Anna grinned, more amused than crestfallen.
".....oh no, honey, it looks very.....individual.....that's the word for it.....individual....."
"....what did you.....it's.....oh my God......it's pink....."
"......well, that's reassuring, I was beginning to think it was a fluorescent green mohawk....." she reached up and touched her hair, which was no longer simply black but streaked with a violent shade of hot pink and cut to her shoulders with the kind of Audrey Hepburn bangs that were swept over one side of her forehead.
It actually looked very cool. I was impressed.
"...I like...." I grinned at her.
Mom sent me a don't-you-get-any-ideas-mister glare.
"...it'll grow out, won't it....?" Taylor said worriedly.
"....no, it's permanent....on my 50th I'll still have pink highlights...." Anna said dryly.
"...but why...?" Tay cried plaintively as if she had stuck a dagger in his heart and twisted it.
"....because it's my hair and I felt like it...." she imitated him, emphasising her last words and making a face ".....it's exactly like you wearing large ugly belt buckles...and you don't find me making a big deal out of them....."
"....you're making a big deal about them now....!" he yelled melodramatically.
"....that was not making a big deal about them.....that was utilising them in a related conversation to make a point...."
For once Tay was lost for words ".....fine......keep your hair pink then....!"
"....I will....." she smiled triumphantly.
(CUT TO THAT AFTERNOON, AS ANNA AND TAYLOR ARE BABYSITTING HIS YOUNGER SIBLINGS)
"...my goldfish died...." Mackie sobbed.
"....which one? You have ten...."
"...Mr Snoogles....?" Taylor began to chuckle.
I nudged him in the side, mouthing "stop being so inconsiderate" at him.
"...maybe we could have a funeral for the gold--Mr Snoogles...Mackie, how about that...?"
"...we could....?" he turned his tear stained face upwards hopefully.
"....well, I think we should really give him a water funeral, you know, return him to his true home....."
(CUT TO FIVE MINUTES LATER)
"....when I said a water funeral I did not mean the toilet bowl..." I hissed at Taylor.
"...well, you tell me where we're going to dispose of a dead goldfish...." he hissed back at me.
We stood around the toilet bowl with heads bowed.
Mackie looked over at Taylor expectantly.
".....your turn, Tay....."
"....my turn for what...?"
"....you have to say something....about Mr Snoogles....." Mackie glared at him. That was one particularly nasty look. I wonder who he'd inherited that from?
Taylor looked over at me frantically.
The boy was asking me for help? The King of Bullshitting was asking me for help on a eulogy for a goldfish?
".....um, Mr Snoogles was a great goldfish, the coolest in his.....school.....um, he was known for his, er, swimming and his five second memory...."
I covered my face with my hand. To the outside it appeared as though I was inconsolable with grief. In reality the laughter was rising like a half digested meal in my throat.
"....we will remember him fondly.....Mr Snoogles, Rest In Peace....."
"....now sing something...."
"...'With You In Your Dreams'...."
"...I am not singing 'With You In Your Dreams' for a goldfish...." Taylor looked at Mackie warningly.
"....'Amazing Grace'....?" Mackie asked hopefully.
Then the beautiful voice rang forth, sounding significantly more beautiful for the bathroom acoustics.
Mackie slowly picked Mr Snoogles up by the tail and on the final soulful note dropped him head first into the toilet and pressed 'flush'.
He then walked sorrowfully from the bathroom clutching Mr Snoogles' temporary coffin (a matchbox).
Taylor buried his head in my shoulder.
"...but I loved him so much...." he wailed.
(CUT TO LATER THAT NIGHT)
"...are you wrinkly yet....?"
"....nope....." Mackie held up his fingers triumphantly. The kid had skin like a rhinoceros.
Out of all four of us guys, Mack was the only one that enjoyed bathtime. Ike, Zac and I always went out of our way to avoid it.
His attention wandered back to the toy submarine. But only for five seconds.
"....yeah....?" I was pushing the floating tortoise to the bottom of the tub and watching it float back up to the top, where the arms and legs and head would spring out of the shell. Oh, the hilarity of bath toys.
"....are you an' Anna gonna get married....?"
"....I hope so....."
"....I don't know....why don't you ask her....?"
"...I like Anna...."
"...that's good...." I stuck a mutant Frog Man with suction caps for hands and feet to the bathroom wall.
"....are you gonna have babies.....?"
"...I highly doubt that...."
"...are you having sex....?"
"....do you know what sex is....?"
"....what is sex, Tay....?"
"...I think we need to dry you off...."
"...but I'm not wrinkly yet....!" he complained.
".....wrinkly or not wrinkly, this bath is over dude...."
"...don't let mom catch you saying that..."
"...mom's not here...!"
The bathroom door flew open and Anna appeared, with arms extended in front of her. Arms which were covered in yellow and red acryclic paint hand prints.
".....aaargh....." she shrieked, and covered her eyes with her hands.
"....Anna....." I stifled my laughter "....I'm only naked, it's not like you haven't seen it before...."
"....well, I thought I should be suitably shocked for Mackie's sake...." she muttered, taking her hands from her face.
She had now smeared a murky orange coloured paint all over her cheeks and forehead.
"...you have a very talented make-up artist there...."
She smiled at me sarcastically.
I gestured for her to come to the tub, peering at her face with mock interest.
She looked at me with a mixture of indecision and wonderment, but walked over anyway.
I used my wet hand to wipe some of the orange off her face, showing her my now orange fingertips as evidence.
"....oh, I see...." she commented, sticking her hand in the bathwater and wiping across her forehead.
I took the opportunity to grab her waist and pull her fully-clothed into the tub.
She let out a loud squeal as the water overflowed on to the floor.
Ah. Revenge is so very sweet.
"...you....suck...." Anna spluttered.
"....don't let mom catch you saying that...."
(CUT TO THE NEXT MORNING)
Since Taylor had gotten me addicted to coffee, I wasn't truly awake until I'd swallowed a cup of the warm, bitter tasting liquid every morning before work and after swim training.
Thus, it took me about five seconds to compute Sass' greeting as I entered Book Soup.
".....Jesse's home, he got home last night...."
"....but he only left two weeks ago...." I looked at her over my coffee.
"....well, apparently while he went to Nepal his luggage went to Antigua or Nicaragua or somewhere completely unrelated....so he trekked for about a week and then decided to come home to track down the whereabouts of his $300 pair of boots...."
"....as you do....."
Sass shrugged "....Jesse's Jesse...."
What an explanation.
"....right.....how did he say it was though....?"
"....oh, you know, it's Nepal....amazing, I'd guess..."
(MEANWHILE AT THE MUSIC GRINDER STUDIOS)
"....Tess, who's that psycho woman...?! She's trying to get me to wear pink, and no one tries to get me to wear pink...!"
"....that's Crispian, she's my assistant stylist....and niece....but let's keep the family relationship out of it for the time being...."
"....we need another person to tell us what to wear....? As if I couldn't already dress myself...." I said scornfully.
Tess raised her eyebrows slowly until they nearly receded into her hairline.
"...okay, so I can't dress myself.....but you can dress all of us pretty good....."
"....she needs to get trained somewhere, Zac...."
".....well train her somewhere then, just not here...."
"....that's completely impractical, Zac...." she paused "...what if I tell her expressly that she can't force any pink items of clothing on you again..?"
I shrugged and scowled in 'Crispian's' general direction.
"....what if I let you take that vintage Grateful Dead t-shirt I had here the other day...?" she wheedled.
I grinned "...really....?"
"....that's my little pot-belly boy...." she patted the belly and walked off.
What kind of a name is Crispian anyway?
"....we have a new stylist...." Zac announced "....and I think her style stinks...."
"....well, it sounds like she'll be great then...."
Zac glared at me.
"....what.....?" I looked back and forth between him and my nachos.
"....are you saying you don't like my style, Tay....?"
"....I'm just saying that not everyone in this band likes orange...." I stuffed two corn chips laden with melted cheese and salsa in my mouth.
"...while we're at it, I'll just say that not everyone in this band likes skin-tight pants, 'interesting' aka ugly belts or leather....."
"....yeah, you get that..." I said, shoving another couple of nachos into my mouth.
(CUT TO FIVE MINUTES LATER)
The new stylist already had a reputation for being weird.
So when I arrived for my fitting I had preconceptions. Preconceptions of weirdness. And I wasn't disappointed.
She was 6'0. Weird. Had bright red hair. Weird. Wore clogs - like red painted, Holland-made ones that clomped when she walked, not anything usual like Birkenstocks. Weird. Wore a skirt and top that had to be seen for its existence to be believed. Weird. And her name was...Crispian. Definitely weird. But there was something likeable about her weirdness. Actually, she was kind of hot in her very weird way.
"....I really think we should get you out of brown...."
She pulled off the brown overshirt I was wearing.
"...now we're going high sophistication or thrift shop chic....?" she made a square out of her fingers and peered at me through them.
Was she being serious?
Obviously not, since she'd now collapsed in laughter.
"...how about you try this on...." she tossed a white shirt with orange and yellow pinstripes at my head.
"Hey! Watch where you're throwing that thing!"
"...what? A button hit you in the eye? Oh, the physical dangers of fashion styling..."
Oh, nice going Ike. I could hear my Mental Mom. She was saying 'Clarke Isaac, it isn't nice to call people weird'.
"...don't turn your hair grey over it, I'm taking it as a compliment...." she smiled amusedly, fossicking through the rows of clothes "....you'd look great in red, you should wear it more often...." she threw a red t-shirt at me, followed in quick succession by a pale yellow shirt, a pair of camel coloured pants, a pair of black pants and a navy v-neck sweater.
"....so how old are you....? Just a rough estimate or something...."
"....19, if it's an innocent question....15, if you're cracking on to me...."
"....it was an innocent question....." I eyed her strangely. I kind of felt the need to defend myself in front of her, like I wanted her to think I was mature ".....and I don't find you attractive.....I'm seeing someone...."
"...well that's nice, isn't it....?" she said disinterestedly, musing over a blue shirt.
"...her name's Phoebe...."
"....I had an iguana called Phoebe...." she looked up at the ceiling above my head thoughtfully then looked back at me "...well, are you going to try them on....?"
"....try telling me where to change and I will...."
On the one hand I wanted to make a quick escape before her weirdness corrupted my sanity, but on the other hand I was beginning to like the fact that she really didn't care that I was the Isaac Hanson. Because I knew that being the Isaac Hanson mattered to Phoebe a whole lot. And I didn't quite like that.
(CUT TO THE NEXT DAY)
I think I have a phobia about seeing myself naked.
You know, whenever I pass a mirror before getting in the shower I'll close my eyes. Which is bad, I'm sure considering seeing yourself naked is apparently one of those first steps on the road to self-acceptance (according to the Holy Scriptures of Cosmopolitan magazine).
Unfortunately I feel as uncomfortable seeing a naked Anna as I do reading about the normalcy of masturbation. I mean, I get that all guys do it and I get that some girls do it, but frankly the entire issue makes me feel...uncomfortable. Extremely uncomfortable.
Perhaps it's the result of my sexually repressive background. God knows, I've never talked to my mother about sex. Maybe because conversations about sex inevitably lead towards my (until now) illegitimacy and that's never been something my mother has handled very well.
My illegitimacy, my father and sex are the conversation equivalent of a jar of outdated curry powder from 1983 which lurks somewhere in the back of the pantry with a price label of a supermarket chain that doesn't exist anymore.
Sex frightens me actually. It frightens me because (a) I can't control it and (b) I'm not an expert on it.
It frightens me because there's not only a risk of my contracting some really disgusting venereal disease (the symptoms of which we were shown in graphic photographic detail by one of Harper's 'fascinating' Honours Biology texts) or getting pregnant and bringing another illegitimate child into the world, but because my pride is at stake.
I don't know if I'm normal. Are my breasts normal? Are those two pimples between my breasts right now normal? Will I physically be able to have sex? What if things don't...fit? What if I hurt him (or myself)?
At least with my brain I'm sure of things. With my body I'm anything but sure.
And that scares me. It scares me a hell of a lot.
(CUT TO LATER THAT DAY)
I'm never going shopping with Harper again.
Why is it that with her I buy items of clothing ridiculously expensive, low of area of fabric (translation : skimpy) and that I'll never wear again?
I sat on the bed and played with the little part of belly that appeared to be the beginnings of that menopausal faux-pregnancy look. I prodded it for a moment thoughtfully and then used both of my hands the squeeze the roll of fat away from my body. Well, that was attractive.
I looked down at myself, clothed (or not clothed as the situation had it) in a red string bikini. You know one of those ones which resemble three triangles held together only by lengths of string? Harper coerced me into buying one. A $110 one. The amount of material on that thing couldn't have ever amounted to one-twelfth of that price even in a fabric market recession.
I felt practically naked. I was practically naked! And I have issues with nakedness!
I grabbed the curtain and tried in vain to shield as much as my bare skin as possible from my visitor.
"...weren't you taught to knock before you enter someone's room....?" I screeched.
Taylor's jaw dropped.
He looked at me, mouth ajar, for no less than 30 seconds.
"...what....?" he shook his head and regained consciousness.
"....what are you staring at....?"
"....um....when.....when did you get that....?"
"....this morning...." I looked down at my bikini-ed body again and didn't like what I saw "...with Harper, but I'm returning it...or giving it to Goodwill or something...."
A strangled sound came forth from Taylor's throat.
"...you can't give it to Goodwill...!"
"...why on earth not....?"
"...what a persuasive argument....you should think about a career in law...." I replied dryly.
"...Anna, you look hot...." he said matter-of-factly, walking towards me.
I felt like a barbecued chicken trussed up in a charcoal chicken - a hungry, drooling man was walking towards me with one thing on his mind.
I looked down at the front of his shorts.
"....at ease, soldier...." I barked, standing to attention.
Hi gaze followed mine and he had the courtesy to blush.
"...Anna....seriously, keep it....it loks like it cost a lot anyway....and you'd regret it if you gave it away to Goodwill..."
"...I'd regret it or you'd regret it....?"
"....both...." he smiled winningly"....you look really gorgeous in it...."
"...well, thanks..." I admitted "....but still....."
"....'but still' what....?"
He was now standing right before me, tracing around my navel softly with his index finger.
"...but still---" I began, but finished only with a sharp intake of breath as his hand moved downwards.
This was going down a different path than I'd imagined. Both his hand and the situation. Hm.
"....Taylor......your....parents...." I managed to croak.
"...my parents are outisde, they'll never know...." he whispered.
The boy had me completely. I was like that green Halloween carnival goo in his hands.
He manoeuvred us over to the bed, removing his shirt and shoes and kissing me all the while. I always knew Taylor was multitalented, but really, who knew?
I felt him tugging almost desperately at the strings holding the bikini pants on.
So easily I could be completely naked. So easily I could be having sex.
With one foul swoop I was going to be in a situation which confronted two of my greatest fears.
I bit down hard on my lower lip to stop a moan from escaping.
I think my body and my mind were bipolar at that point. My body was arching and entirely on edge with pleasure, but my mind was sending out blaring neon-lit warnings about the extreme bad timing of this situation.
"...Taylor, honey, where did you put the---"
His parents were 'outside'? No, they weren't.
They were definitely inside.
They were definitely in the doorway and the shit had hit the fan (to put it politely).
"....you two....clothes on and in the kitchen......now....."
(CUT TO TWO MINUTES LATER, FULLY CLOTHED AND IN THE KITCHEN)
Was this.....the sex talk?
Because it looked like the sex talk.
Just, the way they were standing and the look on their faces.
It had 'sex talk' written all over it.
Anna and I sat at the dining table with heads bowed, avoiding my parents' eyes. Anna's foot was clamped on mine, probably as some kind of gesture of reassurance, but since she was just about crushing it into the ground with the pressure, it wasn't really reassuring. Just painful.
"...now we know you two are well past the birds and the bees speech, but you are not too old to be past some good common sense sex talk, okay....?" Dad began.
We nodded mutely.
Mom took over from where Dad left off "....we understand that the both of you have....urges....and we know what it was like to be your age. Shockingly enough, we were teenagers ourselves once. But, that said, there is going to be no sex under this roof......we are responsible for Anna while she's here, and we're more than simply responsible for you Taylor....I am also entirely too young to be a grandmother yet...."
"....we trusted you both enough to sleep in the same room, and we're going to trust you when you look at us with those too innocent faces and swear you're not having sex yet, but you hear this loud and clear.....anything remotely more sexual than kissing that we catch you two doing and Anna is on a plane back to Tulsa and you, my boy, will endure some work experience at your uncle's practice...."
I think my face probably reflected the horror I felt at that moment. Uncle Bob was a gyneacologist. There was just something about seeing vagina after vagina that turned you off having sex or doing anything remotely sexual for the rest of your life.
"...yes, Uncle Bob's.....so calm those rampant hormones the both of you...."
(CUT TO OUTSIDE)
"...I'm completely and utterly embarrassed...." Anna moaned, covering her face in her hands.
"....you're embarrassed? They're my parents...."
"...you win..." she grinned halfheartedly and rubbed her eyebrow "....I feel the need to jump in the pool....."
She dove straight in, regardless of being clothed in a pair of my shorts and a wifebeater (also mine). She resurfaced, flicking her wet hair out of her face.
"....next time you do that, can you wear your own clothes....?"
"....nope...." she smiled "....come in Tay Boy, it'll cool the embarrassed blush from your cheeks...."
After a second-long debate I took a running jump towards the pool, gripping my knees to my chest, to make a finely crafted dive-bomb entrance.
"....you know every time you do that, the volume of water in this pool drops another ten percent...."
"...I'm aware...." I nodded "...but I just don't care..."
"...right...." she shook her head to one side tapping her ear.
".....what are we going to do....?"
"...about the groping ban....?"
"....yes, about the groping ban....what else....?"
"....you might have to control yourself, Taylor...." she gave a mock gasp, covering her mouth.
"....keep mocking me like you do.....but I wasn't the one up there lacking self-control...." I smirked, pointing at the upstairs bedroom window.
She looked at me coolly "....I could, and do, make you lose control of yourself in less time than it takes to slip into or out of, a string bikini, Taylor Hanson....."
So she was probably right. But like I was going to admit to it.
"....I have tonnes of self-control...."
"....obviously your talent for metric conversions are severely lacking...." she said disdainfully, shooting me a look which managed to somehow turn me on.
I pulled her to me and kissed her, momentarily forgetting that it was pointless starting anything we couldn't finish.
Uncle Bob's gyneacology practice was looking a sure holiday hangout.
(CUT TO VERY EARLY THE NEXT MORNING)
"....Anna.....honey......what are you doing....?"
"...um.....baking.....?" I replied uncertainly. I mean, I knew I was baking, I wasn't uncertain about that, but I was uncertain about doing it at 3 o'clock in the morning. I just felt this compulsion. I think it must have been something in my genes that made me bake whenever something frustrated me. It tended to make things feel right. It could just be the fact I related baking to Betty Crocker ads, which I in turn related to sunny, oven-mitted life complete with a catchy jingle.
"....I can see that....." Diana smiled, sitting atop one of the breakfast bar stools.
"....I borrowed some of your flour and eggs, I hope you don't mind....."
I focused on kneading the pastry dough. Although rather than kneading it, I felt like pounding the hell out of it.
".....honey, you're asking me if I mind that you bake? I know it's early in the morning, but still....."
I let out a little laugh and smiled at the dough. I couldn't meet her eyes. Not after today. I felt so....easy. She must think I let him do whatever he wants with me.
"...Anna...." she reached across the bench and gently lifted my chin so my gaze met hers "....don't be embarrassed...."
That was believable, Anna. You'll be up for an Oscar with that performance.
"...you know what? When Walker and I were dating the exact same thing happened to us.....except my mom was even less impressed with seeing her daughter in such a light. That isn't to say I'm less than impressed, it's just very difficult to handle when it's one of your own children....the only way I can really explain it to you is by telling you to tap into the kind of feeling you get thinking about your mom having sex....it's the same thing but in reverse with Walk and I and probably your mom too. We just don't want to think about Tay being all grown up and ready for sex......it means that the beginning of the end has come, and that soon his life will be out of our hands completely...."
"....we haven't you know.....not yet....."
She let out a huge sigh and then covered her mouth girlishly, laughing "....the feeling of relief just overcame me, honey, I'm sorry...."
I laughed, stretching out the pastry like my mother had taught me.
"....so the same thing happened to you and Mr Hanson....?" I could hardly contain the smile from my lips, although the thought really did make me feel violently ill.
Parents having sex. That's just a really disgusting thought.
Isaac Hanson was following me around with a kind of dogged determination. He'd been doing so for the past week. Not that I had a problem with that considering he was the infinitely cute boy he was, but wasn't he dating someone? A someone called Phoebe who'd arrived at the studio earlier this week in all her pink princess glory, and who I'd tried to feign indifference over.
It must have been obvious to the entire world that I liked him. The way the blood rushed to my cheeks every time I was in his presence. The way the most idiotic things came shooting out of my mouth whenever we were in conversation. My brain/mouth filter never worked around him.
But nevertheless, here he was standing in front of me, asking me out on a date. The world is a strange place.
"....Isaac.....you are basically a creature I want to hug and kiss and ruffle the hair of, but I'm sure a good 60% of the female population would also like to do that....what I'm saying is, yes, I find you attractive, no, I'm not looking for a relationship with you.......you have unconquerable issues with me...."
Lie 1 - I'm definitely looking for a relationship with him.
Lie 2 - He has unconquerable issues with me? Maybe. But for the most part the unconquerable issues were mine.
"...I do not have unconquerable issues with you....they are very conquerable..."
"....oh please.....you think I was transported from another planet because I have an individual dress sense.....you don't like the fact I actively don't endorse your music.....you hate my hair...."
"...I love your hair.....you have nice hair....."
"....and I make an annual pilgrimage to the Star Trek convention....." I said dryly and then let out an exaggerated sigh "....don't you see? I say things like that and you think it's weird......actually, I could quote you calling me weird........that's it!" I latched on to the only thing I could think of. I was going to save myself from future heartbreak with this argument. The future heartbreak of him realising I was just Crispian and nothing special in particular ".....I'm generallytoo weird for you, Isaac......you want someone normal like.....like that girl you were dating - the pretty in pink one...."
"....I never have and never will endorse large intakes of Molly Ringwald...."
I couldn't help laughing, but then refocused "....I don't think you know what you want really.....you can't choose what shirt to wear for God's sakes, this decision is like having a thousand of the shirts you always wanted to wear and having to choose which one you really want....."
"....I want the Crispian shirt....."
I'm melting into a puddle on the floor. A Crispian shirt? That is so....cute.
"....you can't have the Crispian shirt.....it's not for sale....."
"....why don't you want me, Cris.....?"
In the space of five seconds I have been converted from a solid to a liquid to a gas. I was now floating on air. This was possibly a scientific breakthrough.
"....because you don't really want me.....you don't, so don't look at me like that....." I wavered ever so slightly.
"...you don't know that, you don't know me...."
"....you don't know me either...."
"...but I want to get to know you....you just won't give me a chance! How fair is that?!"
My eyes flicked around the room trying to find some physical and emotional escape. There was none (he was standing in front of the door).
"....fine....one date....and I promise you you'll regret ever asking me...!"
His face broke out into an ecstatic grin.
"....tomorrow night, 7pm, I'll pick you up...." he stood and moved closer to me indecisively, then grinned and dashed off.
The boy really was in for a letdown.
(CUT TO THE NEXT DAY AT TESS AND CRISPIAN'S APARTMENT)
"....wow, who are these from....?" Char sent me a look of surprise from across the room.
"....someone likes you...." she cooed, burying her face in the mass of red roses and camellia leaves.
"....good observation, Tess...." I said dryly, returning to my book.
"...what's your problem? A cute, talented guy sends you roses and you couldn't care less? You need a medical examination, sweetie...."
"....look, I loved the flowers.....I lo---I like Isaac.....it's just----"
"---there's nothing else to it....you like him, he likes you.....let there be you, let there be me, let there be oysters under the sea...."
"...please don't mention seafood, I'm feeling nauseous enough...." I shut the book and sighed dramatically, resting the book on my forehead ".....I'm going on a date with him tonight and I have nothing to wear...."
The pumpkin coach drawn by six white mice will arrive at eight and the glass slipper will be left on the step at 12.
".....you? Nothing to wear? Come again...?"
"...nothing to wear that is remotely usual....and that he'll, you know, like...."
"....I have a bunch of dresses left over from a shoot I did.....they're all relatively sedate....."
"...relatively sedate is going to have to do then...."
"...cheer up, Crispy, you're going on a date with a Hanson...."
"....forgive me if the thought doesn't send me into fits of rapture...."