Chapter 16

Taylor's red Jeep seemed to fly down Winslow Avenue. He came to an abrupt stop in front of Fynn's house and jumped out the driver's door, slamming it forcefully. He quickly trotted down the sidewalk and onto the porch. There was a slight pause, long enough for him to catch his breath, before he opened the front door and followed the stairs to her second floor apartment. Just as he lifted his hand to knock, the door was flung open.

"Tay! Didn't expect to see you here." Scout was standing in the doorway, keys in one hand, basketball in the other. "Fynn mentioned you were back. Good to see you."

"So kind of her to notice," Tay mumbled before looking up at his friend. "Good to see you, too."

"I was just leaving for a pick up game at Trent Hill Park. Wanna come along and shoot some hoops?" Scout bounced the ball against the hardwood floor a couple of times to demonstrate.

"Nah, I'm gonna pass. But let's get together later this week. I could use some serious exercise," Taylor replied.

"What's wrong, buddy? Running from women isn't aerobic enough?" Scout laughed and tapped Tay's shoulder a couple of times in a friendly gesture, then made his way into the hall towards the steps. "She's in the kitchen," he called back as he disappeared from view.

Taylor stepped into the apartment and quietly closed the door behind him. Walking directly across the room, he stopped when he reached the kitchen and leaned against the doorframe, arms folded rigidly in front of him, not saying a word.

It was several moments before Fynn's peripheral vision caught sight of him. When she turned in his direction, she shook her head slightly, thinking how stupid she was to have thought she might be falling for him. She noticed his normally light blue eyes were dark and held a menacing look.

"What the hell are you doing?" he asked, seething.

"I'm drinking coffee and reading the paper. What does it look like I'm doing?" she answered, sarcasm leaping out of her mouth. She turned her back to him and picked up the article she'd been reading.

Taylor quietly crossed the space between the door and the table, reached over her head and, in a flash of movement, ripped the paper from her hands. "Look at me when I'm talking to you!" he yelled.

Fynn was momentarily startled, but recovered quickly. "I didn't know you were talking to me." She looked at him through narrowed eyes, conveying her current state of hatred for him.

"You were supposed to meet me for breakfast," he continued angrily. "You couldn't have forgotten since you were the one who set it up."

"I didn't forget. I chose not to go." She pushed her chair back and stood. She was trying desperately to remain calm; she was determined not to let him get to her. When she left the kitchen, he followed her, grabbing her upper arm and roughly turning her to face him.

"Don't you walk away from me," he spit out. "We're not finished."

"Yes we are. Now let go of my arm." She attempted to break away from him, but his grip tightened and he pulled her closer. She could feel his hot breath on her face when he spoke.

"Maybe you didn't hear me," he hissed. "We're not finished." Using his body to guide her, he pushed her against the wall. He released her arm, but now pointed his finger in her face. "You stand right there and tell me what kind of fuckin' game you're playing with me! I'm not leaving until you tell me the rules."

She reached up and slapped his hand away. "Get your goddamned finger out of

my face!" she yelled. "I'm not playing a game, Taylor."

"Not anymore. When I leave here, game's over - one way or another." He'd

moved a few steps away from her, but was still within arm's reach. A part of her was worried. Fynn had witnessed hundreds of Taylor's temper tantrums over the years, but she'd never seen him quite this angry. Still, she couldn't seem to control her tongue.

"Who the hell do you think you are? You think you can just fuck me and then go out and boast about it to all your friends? You really think you're above everyone else, don't you? If you haven't noticed, there's a whole world out there that could get along just fine without you in it!" She was shouting now, her voice rising with each syllable.

She moved away from the wall and took firm position by the front door. "You took advantage of the fact that I was drunk, you prick."

"Cut the 'poor victim' crap, Fynn. It may work with Zac, but it doesn't work with me. I was there and I know what happened. I remember every detail of that night and you know what? Not only did you want it, you enjoyed it!!! You're not a victim here, Fynn. You just don't want to admit that maybe you felt something."

Fynn was speechless. She wasn't sure how to respond. "Don't cry. Don't cry.

Don't cry," she told herself over and over, but still the tears threatened to spill. "I didn't

feel anything, Taylor," she insisted. "I don't even remember it." She placed her hand on the doorknob and slowly turned it.

"Goddamnit, Fynn....."

"I think you should leave now," she said, with as much conviction as she could muster. She wouldn't look at his face, but she saw his fists clenched at his sides. She wasn't sure if he was capable of hitting her or not, but she opened the door just in case.

Again he placed himself close enough for her to feel his heat. It was clearly a gesture of control; a way to communicate his dominance. He was a few inches taller and made sure she felt him towering over her small frame. "If you ask me to stay," he said through clenched teeth, "maybe we can work this out." He waited an instant before continuing. "But if you ask me to leave, it's over.....everything is over. You'll be throwing it all away, our friendship will be ended. I'm not letting you jerk me around anymore." He reached for her chin and forced her to look up. His fingers were digging into her jaw. "Look at me! Tell me to stay."

For the first time that morning, she looked him straight in the eyes. She was truly frightened of him, thinking it wouldn't take much for him to strike her.

"Leave," she whispered softly and stepped back from the door.

.

Chapter 17

Taylor was stunned.  He sat in his Jeep, still parked in front of Fynn's apartment. He draped his arms over the steering wheel and leaned his head on his hands.

"I'm so stupid," he muttered to himself, upset for having lost control.  He hadn't intended to give Fynn an ultimatum.  He'd gotten lost in his anger and the words had spilled out before he could stop them.  He had called her bluff and she hadn't responded in his favor.  When she had asked him to leave, he searched her eyes, hoping to find doubt.  Instead, he had seen conviction - a determination Fynn had never shown before.  He couldn't understand how this had all happened.  Just over two months ago, he and Fynn were the best of friends.  Now, after one night of passion (that he didn't feel was a mistake), their relationship was over.  Ended.....just like that.

He lifted his head, turned the key in the ignition and pulled away from the curb.

* * * * *

        Fynn sat on her bed, staring out the window.  She watched Taylor sitting in his car, wondering what he was thinking.  She had cried when he left, partly because she had been so frightened and partly because she couldn't bear to see him leave.

        Her tears had ceased, but her heart was still filled with pain.  Had she made the right choice?  At the time, she'd felt she couldn't ask him to stay.  He'd been so enraged; she truly believed he had wanted to hurt her.

        The telephone next to her bed began ringing.  She reluctantly reached over
and
lifted the receiver to her ear.  "Hello?"

        "Fynn, it's Zac."  His familiar voice sent a shiver through her.  Zac was beginning to present a whole new set of problems that she wasn't prepared to deal with. "I wanted to talk to you about last night" he continued, his voice soft with apprehension.

        "I can't talk about that now, Zac," she said.  "Taylor was just here."

        "Oh.  How did it go?"

        "I'm still reeling from the encounter."

        "Is that bad or good?"  Zac held his breath, waiting for her to respond.

        "Bad.....really bad.....extremely bad.  It couldn't have been worse."

        "Whoa, sounds.....well.....bad," he replied, trying not to convey his
satisfaction. He felt the tiniest tinge of guilt for taking joy in his brother's misfortune, but he also felt it was well-deserved.  "So where do things stand?"w he asked.

        "As of now, you'll never see Taylor and I in the same room together again," she said sadly.  Zac?  Can I ask you something?"

        "Sure."

        She didn't know exactly how to ask the question that was foremost in her mind at the moment.  She decided that being direct was her only option.  "Has Tay ever hit anyone?"

        "What do you mean?"  Zac had no clue where this conversation was going, but suddenly his stomach began to turn.

        "Just what I said, Zac," she said, her tone telling him not to play games.

        "Well, we've had the normal sibling knock-downs over the years, I guess."

        "Forget it."  She wished she hadn't brought it up.

        "Fynn, what are you talking about?  Did Tay hit you?"  Zac couldn't begin to comprehend such a scenario, but what else would prompt Fynn to ask that question?

        "Of course not," she replied quickly.  She realized this was dangerous territory she was entering.  Zac obviously harbored bitter feelings toward his brother. This bit of information would only add fuel to the fire.  She couldn't bring herself to give him more ammunition. 

        "Just forget about it, Zac.  Look," she continued, "I've gotta go.  I'll talk to you later, okay?"

        "Um, sure, I guess.  But Fynn.....?"  He was too late.  All he heard in response was the dial tone.

* * * * *

        Taylor sped down the familiar streets of Tulsa, not paying much attention to
basic
traffic laws.  When he reached his street, Barrington Road, he made an abrupt
left turn,
not bothering to signal the driver behind him.  The resulting screech of
brakes and cursing
from the other car didn't phase Taylor in the least.  He stuck his hand out
the window and
nonchalantly flipped the guy off.

        He pulled into his driveway, spraying gravel behind him.  Leaping out of his
Jeep,
he turned to see that both Zac's and Ike's cars were still parked next to the
house.  His
boots made a crunching sound as he walked across the drive to the kitchen
door.  As he
suspected, it was unlocked.  Zac could never remember to lock it.  He turned
the knob and
stepped inside onto the tile floor.

        Ike was sitting at the table, intent on one of many sheets of paper strewn
about the
surface.  He looked up when Taylor opened the door.

        "Hey," he said, looking back down at the paper in his hands.

        Taylor said nothing, but instead turned to the refrigerator and took out a
bottle of
juice.  He lifted the bottle to his lips and gulped down the orange liquid.

        "God, Tay!"  Ike gave him a disgusted look.  "Can't you ever use a glass? The thought of swallowing your spit for breakfast doesn't exactly appeal to me."

        "Sheesh, sorry.  I didn't realize it bothered you so much."  He obediently reached to the cabinet and grabbed a glass.  After pouring himself some juice, he pulled out a chair and sat down.  He looked toward his brother for a few moments, noting the serious look on his face as he studied the words on the paper before him.

        "I need to talk to you, Ike," he said, finally realizing Ike was paying absolutely no attention to him.

        "Can't it wait?" he asked, not raising his eyes.

        Taylor leaned forward and grabbed the paper from his brother's hands.  "No, it can't wait.  It's important."

        "Tay, everything involving you is important.....to you, anyway." He spread his fingers over the papers on the table.  "But this is important to me, so you're just gonna have to wait."  He attempted to reach for the paper in Taylor's hand, but Taylor threw it to the floor in disgust.

        "Oh, I get it," he said.  "My crisis means nothing to you."

        "Taylor, you have a crisis every 10 minutes!  It's hard to get excited whenever you lose a pair of shoes or don't get laid!!  These are NOT emergencies, Tay." Isaac looked at his brother and saw that he looked truly upset.  Perhaps there really was a problem.

        "Does this have something to do with Fynn?" he asked.

        "It has everything to do with Fynn," Tay replied softly, looking down at the table.
 
He paused for a moment, not sure what to say.  When he finally looked into his brother's eyes, he knew Isaac was the only person in whom he could confide.  "I almost hit her." His voice was close to a whisper.

        "You hit her?!?!?!  For not showing up for breakfast?  Jesus, what the hell is wrong with you, Tay?!?!?"

        "I said I ALMOST hit her," Taylor reiterated.

        "What do you mean, you 'almost hit her'?" Ike asked.  "Either you did or you
didn't."

        "Okay, then.  I didn't," Taylor stood up and walked to the counter where he leaned against the sink, "but I wanted to."  He was feeling fidgety and nervous, wondering what Ike would think of his confession.

        "Tay, you've lost me.  I don't understand what's going on with you and Fynn. If you want me to help you, you've got to tell me what happened in L.A. Ike had known for weeks that something was going on, but figured Taylor would tell him when he was ready.  If things had gotten this serious, though, he needed to tell him now.

        "It's a long story."  Taylor was still hesitant to explain everything, but also realized that he'd lost control of the situation and needed his brother's help.

        "I'm listening," Ike said and sat back in his chair, arms folded in his lap, waiting for an explanation.

* * * * *

        Outside the kitchen door, Zac stood against the wall, listening to the
conversation unfolding.  He'd come downstairs for some coffee when he overheard his brothers talking. He knew that if he walked in now, the dialogue would end.  His relationship with Taylor had been antagonistic lately.  Taylor would never knowingly share this information with him.

        He could hear just fine in the hallway.

.

Chapter 18

       Taylor didn't tell Isaac the same abbreviated, vague, somewhat untruthful version of events that he had told Zac.  He decided to come clean and tell Ike the truth about what had happened.  He told him not only the facts, but how he felt about everything.  How confused he'd been at Fynn�s reaction to their sleeping together; how hurt he�d felt when she left him; and how angry he was that she'd turned her back on him. Isaac listened attentively, shock registering on his face as the story was revealed. He would never have guessed that Taylor fostered such feelings for Fynn.  He was also more than concerned that Tay's temper seemed to be veering out of control.
        "So, what are you going to do?" Isaac asked after Taylor finished reciting his version of the affair.

        "I don't know.  What can I do?"  Taylor remained standing, his hands propped on the counter behind him.  He looked to his brother for help.  Isaac had always been there for him, not only getting him out of sticky situations, but helping him to sort out his feelings on several occasions.

        "Tay, you know I can't tell you what to do.  Only you can decide that." Isaac leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table.  He wasn't sure how to broach the subject of his brother's increasingly violent temper, but knew something had to be done to rein it in before someone got hurt.  Evidently, Fynn had been the victim this morning.

"What I'm really concerned about, Tay, is all this anger you seem to have. What's that all about?" he asked.  "And why is it directed at Fynn?"

        Taylor looked down at the floor.  His hair hung in his face, effectively blocking his view of Isaac.  "I want her," he said finally.  "And when it became clear that she didn't want me, I just.....I don't know.....flipped out."

        Isaac could sense no emotion behind Taylor's words.  Perhaps he was feeling drained after the fight with Fynn, but Isaac didn't think that was the problem.  The problem, he well knew, was that Taylor didn't feel much of anything anymore. Anger and lust seemed to be the only passions his brother ever experienced.

        As Isaac studied Taylor's face, he looked for the person he'd known before Hanson.  That person had been sensitive and caring, tender and affectionate.
The years had taken their toll, however, and fame had left Taylor empty and jaded. Everyone had joked in the early years that Tay would be the one to fall hopelessly in love and ride into the sunset with his beloved to live happily ever after.  Instead, to everyone's dismay, the past few years had been an endless string of one-night-stands with women whose names were never remembered, if known in the first place.

        For whatever reason, the episode with Fynn had been different.  Taylor admitted that it had been an incredible sexual experience, but Isaac thought there was
more.
Something had grabbed onto Taylor that night.....something he couldn't seem to shake loose.

        "Tay, do you want her because you love her," Isaac asked carefully, "or because you want to own her?"  The question seemed to startle Taylor.

        "Why would I want to own her?" he asked, completely puzzled.

        "So, you love her?"

        "Well.....no.  But I don't want to own her, either."  His voice was becoming indignant.  "Why on earth would you ask me that?"

        "Because that's what you do, Taylor."  Isaac was determined to be completely honest.  "And it sounds to me like you're appalled that Fynn didn't fall easily into your trap.  You can't control her, can you?  Not like you control all the others. That's why you lost it this morning."

        Taylor was speechless.  He was offended that Isaac thought so little of him. "You are so wrong," he said as he headed for the door.

        "Taylor, wait....."

        "I'm not talking about this anymore," he called over his shoulder.  "I'm going upstairs."

        Isaac sat alone at the table, shaking his head.  He was right.....there was something more.

* * * * *

        When Zac heard Taylor�s footsteps cross the kitchen floor, he slipped quietly into the dining room.  He stood, leaning against the wall, feeling completely justified.  Taylor was using Fynn.  He'd heard it very clearly.  His feelings of guilt were pacified; the lies he'd told hadn't really been lies at all.  Taylor simply couldn't accept the fact that Fynn  didn't want him.

        Ike was still seated at the table when Zac came in search of coffee.  "Any caffeine left?" he asked.

        "Little bit.  You'll probably have to make more."  Ike had resumed studying the papers spread in front of him.  Zac reached for a cup and poured the remaining coffee. After starting another pot, he pulled out a chair and sat down.

        "So, what's with Tay?  Why's he stomping around up there?"  Zac eyed his brother over the top of his cup.  He wondered how much of the conversation Ike would share with him.

        "Fynn," Ike said simply.

        "What about her?"

        "I think he loves her."

        Zac sat back in his chair, dumbfounded.  That was not the answer he had expected.

* * * * *

        Taylor sat on the edge of his bed, unlacing his boots.  He couldn't believe what Ike had said to him downstairs.  What the hell was he talking about?  If Fynn
wasn't interested in him, then so be it.  He could live with that.  He didn't need to own her or control her or.....

        "Aaaarrrrgggghhh!!!"  He threw himself back on his unmade bed.  The truth was, he didn't understand what he'd done wrong.  He didn't understand why the only woman he wanted had just kicked him out of her life.  Maybe Ike was right.  Maybe that's why he wanted her.....because he couldn't have her.

        He needed a cigarette.  The pack he pulled out of his pocket was bent and wrinkled, but the cigarettes were intact.  He reached in again for his lighter, but found it empty.  Where the fuck had he put it?  He sat up and looked around the room. His eyes stopped at a blue bowl on his dresser that had become the repository for all the junk he normally carried around in his pockets.

        He unwillingly lifted himself off the bed and shuffled across the room.  His fingers reached into the bowl and started picking through its contents.  There was
loose change and miscellaneous receipts, an empty book of matches and his ATM card.  The unopened pack of gum he thought he'd lost was at the bottom of the pile, along with a condom wrapped in gold foil.

        Just as his fingers grazed the silver lighter, he noticed a folded  napkin. He picked it up and opened it.  "Gina.....555-8932" was written across the front in blue ink.  He closed his eyes, trying to remember who, exactly, Gina was.  His memory drawing a blank, he tossed the napkin back on the dresser and lit his cigarette.  As he took the first long drag of smoke into his lungs, his eyes were again drawn to the name and number scrawled underneath the red "Torpedoes" logo.

        "That's it," he thought.  "Torpedoes" was a downtown nightclub that he went to occasionally.  The last time had been with his friend, Jack, just before he and his brothers had gone on tour.  He vaguely remembered drinking too much and flirting with a woman wearing a short, black dress.  Jack had dragged him out before he'd been able to move on her, but not before she gave him her number.  Gina.....he remembered she was pretty and petite, only about 5'5" tall.  Her blond hair had been about shoulder-length and, if he recalled, she had lovely blue eyes.

        Again he glanced at the napkin.  He picked it up and moved to throw it into the wastebasket next to his bed.  Instead, he stopped in mid-throw and tucked it
back in his pocket.

.

Chapter 19

Gina was still shaking ten minutes after the call. She sat on the sofa in her living room, her knees bouncing and hands sweating. "Oh my God," she thought. "THE Taylor Hanson just asked me out! "She hadn't expected to ever hear from him. There had been some minor flirting that night at Torpedoes, but she figured that hers was just one of many phone numbers he had stashed in his pocket. And now, months later, he'd called and asked her out. At first she hadn't thought it was really him. It wasn't long, however, before his familiar, slightly raspy voice convinced her that it was, indeed, the object of her dreams.

She was technically going out with Matthew, but hell, even he would understand! Would he turn down a date with Cindy Crawford? She thought not. Besides, he would never have to know.....unless, of course, Taylor wanted to see her again.

She quickly grabbed the cordless phone laying on the coffee table and punched speed-dial.

"Hello?"

"Emma? You'll never believe what just happened...."

* * * * *

Fynn closed the cover of her psychology book and reached her arms over her head to stretch. She'd finally finished reading the assignment and felt fairly
confident that she understood it well enough to bullshit her way through a class discussion. Her mind hadn't been completely focused on the text, however. Her eyes had scanned the words and certain phrases had registered, but her thoughts kept drifting elsewhere.

Zac had called her earlier that day. She'd been pleased to hear his voice; happy to think of anyone but Taylor. Pushing thoughts of him out of her head had been more difficult than she had anticipated. Even after their confrontation and his mistreatment, wayward images of him persisted in rambling about, free to enter her mind at will. Zac's call had fortunately broken the cycle of obsession.....for the time being.

He'd asked her out. At first, she'd been taken aback, not sure how to respond. Then she remembered kissing him and how nice it had felt. She'd never thought of Zac in a romantic way before, but perhaps now was a good time to explore the possibilities. If nothing else, it would certainly relieve her preoccupation with Taylor. She accepted and they made plans to go to a party together Saturday night.

She heard Scout's key in the door and turned to see him stumble into the apartment.

"You're home early," she said, smiling at his unkempt appearance.

"Yeah, I blew off my last class today, he mumbled.

"Stay out a little late last night?� she asked, shooting him a bemused look.

"Uh.....yep. My head's gonna fuckin' explode."

"Just don't get blood on the carpet."

Scout lurched down the hallway to the bathroom. Opening the medicine cabinet, he scrutinized all the tiny bottles and jars Fynn kept neatly lined up. For a moment, he wondered if Midol was stronger than Tylenol. Did it work on headaches? He wasn�t sure, but decided not to risk messing with his masculinity. He snatched the bottle of Tylenol and emptied four tablets into his palm. Hell, if four was good, then five would be better. His head was pounding. Shit, he'd take six for good measure.

"So, where were you last night?" Fynn asked as her brother gulped down the pills with a glass of water.

"Joe's. We were just gonna watch the game, but it ended up being a free-for-all of booze and dope. Luke got so trashed, I don't think he realized he offered to throw a party at his place on Saturday." Scout smiled at the memory of Luke, practically falling over his own feet, promising a huge bash with plenty of liquor and controlled substances. "Wanna go check it out with me?" It had been a while since he and his sister had hung out together.

"No, I can't. I have plans on Saturday." She hoped Scout wouldn't press her for details, but knew he would.

"A date?" he asked.

"Yes." She wasn�t going to offer more information than he asked for.

"Taylor?"

"No."

"Well, are you gonna tell me?" he persisted.

"Zac," she said, her head down, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Zac who?" Fynn didn't look up and didn't answer him. After a moment of silence, Scout realized who she was talking about. "Are you nuts?!?!?!?" he asked her.

"What is so wrong about going out with Zac?" Her voice was bitter and defensive.

"Don't you think you should clear up all the shit with his BROTHER first?"

"That's finished. Over. Done with. End of story," she replied. "I already told you that." She was dismayed to find that Scout didn't find her words convincing.

"It's not over, Fynn. I can tell by the look on your face every time you hear his name. You're gonna make things worse if you start dating Zac." He paused and looked at Fynn. No response seemed forthcoming, so he knew he was right. He leaned down and kissed her softly on the cheek. "You love him," he said and walked to his room to crash.

* * * * *

Isaac sat on the front step, enjoying the cool, crisp air. Autumn was approaching and the Tulsa heat was finally dissipating. He had some time before he was supposed to pick up Melissa for dinner. He'd missed her desperately during their tour and was now anxious to make up for lost time. They'd spent almost every day together, sometimes just meeting on campus to talk between her classes. They'd been together close to two years. Their relationship had developed slowly, but now Isaac wondered if he could survive without her. Melissa was everything he wanted: a friend, a lover, a confidante. He imagined them together forever, married and raising a family. He hadn't realized it was possible to feel that connected to another human being.

The screen door opened and slammed shut, startling him out of his trance. He looked up at Taylor whose boots struck the steps with a thud.

"Where ya going?" Isaac asked, not particularly interested in the answer.

"Out." Taylor's voice was sharp and his answer clipped. "I've gotta a date."

"Taylor....."

"Just shut up, Ike. I don't wanna hear it." Taylor stood on the sidewalk, looking down at his brother with a look that dared him to continue. Isaac hesitated, staring into Tay�s empty blue eyes.� Thoughts of Melissa rushed back and suddenly he knew what he needed to say.

"You've never connected with a woman, have you?" he asked.

"You're kidding, right?" Taylor's vacant response angered Isaac. How could he make him understand?

"I'm not talking about fucking, Tay!" he shouted. "I'm talking about an emotional connection.....something more than sex. Do you even know what that's like? He wanted to slap Tay's face, startle him into reality. "Have you ever actually spent the night with a woman? Held her until she fell asleep? Watched her while she dreamed? Woken her the next morning with kisses? Have you ever wanted to spend every waking and sleeping moment with anyone, sharing all your dreams and fears?"

Taylor's blank stare gave Isaac the answer he already knew. He watched as Tay's expression softened and he lowered himself to sit on the step next to him. "I can't," he said simply.

"Why? What's made you so indifferent, Taylor?"

"I just can't share my.....I don't know.....space."

"That's ludicrous," Ike mumbled. "You can't share yourself."

Taylor picked up a small stone and rolled it around in his hands. He didn't know what to say, how to respond.

"Are you telling me you've NEVER spent an entire night with someone?"

"No, I make them leave. Or I leave." He looked up, tossed the pebble onto the lawn and turned to look at Isaac. "I know you don't understand."

"Did Fynn stay the night?" Isaac thought that perhaps he'd stumbled onto the reason Taylor was having such a struggle coming to terms with her.

"Well, yes.....but....."

"Taylor, stop. Think about it," Ike looked directly into his brother's eyes, willing him to grasp what was so obvious.

"You and Fynn have known each other forever. You trust her, you rely on her. She knows your strengths and your weaknesses. She's seen you at your best and at your worst. She's always been there." He stopped speaking for an instant, waiting for an indication that Taylor was hearing him. "Do you remember when you were six and you gave her that ring from a bubble gum machine? You announced to both families you were in love and had gotten married." Taylor's lips formed a smile, remembering the cheap, plastic ring and how he'd slipped it on her finger.

"If you'll recall, she divorced me later that day after I pulled her braids," he said.

"TAYLOR! You're missing the fucking point!!" Isaac was aggravated at Tay's refusal to really hear him. "YOU LOVE HER! You've always loved her. She's the only one you've ever let inside your shell."

Silence enveloped them as they both stared into the night. Isaac waited for Taylor to digest his words. He could only hope that he had pierced his brother's stubbornness. Taylor remained quiet as he stood and pulled his keys from his pocket.

"I'm late," was all he said. Isaac shook his head, wondering what it would take to break through the barrier.

"For God's sake, Tay," he pleaded. "Let yourself feel something."

.

Chapter 20

Gina was still shaking ten minutes after the call. She sat on the sofa in her living room, her knees bouncing and hands sweating. "Oh my God," she thought. "THE Taylor Hanson just asked me out! "She hadn't expected to ever hear from him. There had been some minor flirting that night at Torpedoes, but she figured that hers was just one of many phone numbers he had stashed in his pocket. And now, months later, he'd called and asked her out. At first she hadn't thought it was really him. It wasn't long, however, before his familiar, slightly raspy voice convinced her that it was, indeed, the object of her dreams.

She was technically going out with Matthew, but hell, even he would understand! Would he turn down a date with Cindy Crawford? She thought not. Besides, he would never have to know.....unless, of course, Taylor wanted to see her again.

She quickly grabbed the cordless phone laying on the coffee table and punched speed-dial.

"Hello?"

"Emma? You'll never believe what just happened...."

* * * * *

Fynn closed the cover of her psychology book and reached her arms over her head to stretch. She'd finally finished reading the assignment and felt fairly
confident that she understood it well enough to bullshit her way through a class discussion. Her mind hadn't been completely focused on the text, however. Her eyes had scanned the words and certain phrases had registered, but her thoughts kept drifting elsewhere.

Zac had called her earlier that day. She'd been pleased to hear his voice; happy to think of anyone but Taylor. Pushing thoughts of him out of her head had been more difficult than she had anticipated. Even after their confrontation and his mistreatment, wayward images of him persisted in rambling about, free to enter her mind at will. Zac's call had fortunately broken the cycle of obsession.....for the time being.

He'd asked her out. At first, she'd been taken aback, not sure how to respond. Then she remembered kissing him and how nice it had felt. She'd never thought of Zac in a romantic way before, but perhaps now was a good time to explore the possibilities. If nothing else, it would certainly relieve her preoccupation with Taylor. She accepted and they made plans to go to a party together Saturday night.

She heard Scout's key in the door and turned to see him stumble into the apartment.

"You're home early," she said, smiling at his unkempt appearance.

"Yeah, I blew off my last class today, he mumbled.

"Stay out a little late last night?" she asked, shooting him a bemused look.

"Uh.....yep. My head's gonna fuckin' explode."

"Just don't get blood on the carpet."

Scout lurched down the hallway to the bathroom. Opening the medicine cabinet, he scrutinized all the tiny bottles and jars Fynn kept neatly lined up. For a moment, he wondered if Midol was stronger than Tylenol. Did it work on headaches? He wasn't sure, but decided not to risk messing with his masculinity. He snatched the bottle of Tylenol and emptied four tablets into his palm. Hell, if four was good, then five would be better. His head was pounding. Shit, he'd take six for good measure.

"So, where were you last night?" Fynn asked as her brother gulped down the pills with a glass of water.

"Joe's. We were just gonna watch the game, but it ended up being a free-for-all of booze and dope. Luke got so trashed, I don't think he realized he offered to throw a party at his place on Saturday." Scout smiled at the memory of Luke, practically falling over his own feet, promising a huge bash with plenty of liquor and controlled substances. "Wanna go check it out with me?" It had been a while since he and his sister had hung out together.

"No, I can't. I have plans on Saturday." She hoped Scout wouldn't press her for details, but knew he would.

"A date?" he asked.

"Yes." She wasn�t going to offer more information than he asked for.

"Taylor?"

"No."

"Well, are you gonna tell me?" he persisted.

"Zac," she said, her head down, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Zac who?" Fynn didn't look up and didn't answer him. After a moment of silence, Scout realized who she was talking about. "Are you nuts?!?!?!?" he asked her.

"What is so wrong about going out with Zac?" Her voice was bitter and defensive.

"Don't you think you should clear up all the shit with his BROTHER first?"

"That's finished. Over. Done with. End of story," she replied. "I already told you that." She was dismayed to find that Scout didn't find her words convincing.

"It's not over, Fynn. I can tell by the look on your face every time you hear his name. You're gonna make things worse if you start dating Zac." He paused and looked at Fynn. No response seemed forthcoming, so he knew he was right. He leaned down and kissed her softly on the cheek. "You love him," he said and walked to his room to crash.

* * * * *

Isaac sat on the front step, enjoying the cool, crisp air. Autumn was approaching and the Tulsa heat was finally dissipating. He had some time before he was supposed to pick up Melissa for dinner. He'd missed her desperately during their tour and was now anxious to make up for lost time. They'd spent almost every day together, sometimes just meeting on campus to talk between her classes. They'd been together close to two years. Their relationship had developed slowly, but now Isaac wondered if he could survive without her. Melissa was everything he wanted: a friend, a lover, a confidante. He imagined them together forever, married and raising a family. He hadn't realized it was possible to feel that connected to another human being.

The screen door opened and slammed shut, startling him out of his trance. He looked up at Taylor whose boots struck the steps with a thud.

"Where ya going?" Isaac asked, not particularly interested in the answer.

"Out." Taylor's voice was sharp and his answer clipped. "I've gotta a date."

"Taylor....."

"Just shut up, Ike. I don't wanna hear it." Taylor stood on the sidewalk, looking down at his brother with a look that dared him to continue. Isaac hesitated, staring into Tay's empty blue eyes. Thoughts of Melissa rushed back and suddenly he knew what he needed to say.

"You've never connected with a woman, have you?" he asked.

"You're kidding, right?" Taylor's vacant response angered Isaac. How could he make him understand?

"I'm not talking about fucking, Tay!" he shouted. "I'm talking about an emotional connection.....something more than sex. Do you even know what that's like? He wanted to slap Tay's face, startle him into reality. "Have you ever actually spent the night with a woman? Held her until she fell asleep? Watched her while she dreamed? Woken her the next morning with kisses? Have you ever wanted to spend every waking and sleeping moment with anyone, sharing all your dreams and fears?"

Taylor's blank stare gave Isaac the answer he already knew. He watched as Tay's expression softened and he lowered himself to sit on the step next to him. "I can't," he said simply.

"Why? What's made you so indifferent, Taylor?"

"I just can't share my.....I don't know.....space."

"That's ludicrous," Ike mumbled. "You can't share yourself."

Taylor picked up a small stone and rolled it around in his hands. He didn't know what to say, how to respond.

"Are you telling me you've NEVER spent an entire night with someone?"

"No, I make them leave. Or I leave." He looked up, tossed the pebble onto the lawn and turned to look at Isaac. "I know you don't understand."

"Did Fynn stay the night?" Isaac thought that perhaps he'd stumbled onto the reason Taylor was having such a struggle coming to terms with her.

"Well, yes.....but....."

"Taylor, stop. Think about it," Ike looked directly into his brother's eyes, willing him to grasp what was so obvious.

"You and Fynn have known each other forever. You trust her, you rely on her. She knows your strengths and your weaknesses. She's seen you at your best and at your worst. She's always been there." He stopped speaking for an instant, waiting for an indication that Taylor was hearing him. "Do you remember when you were six and you gave her that ring from a bubble gum machine? You announced to both families you were in love and had gotten married." Taylor's lips formed a smile, remembering the cheap, plastic ring and how he'd slipped it on her finger.

"If you'll recall, she divorced me later that day after I pulled her braids," he said.

"TAYLOR! You're missing the fucking point!!" Isaac was aggravated at Tay's refusal to really hear him. "YOU LOVE HER! You've always loved her. She's the only one you've ever let inside your shell."

Silence enveloped them as they both stared into the night. Isaac waited for Taylor to digest his words. He could only hope that he had pierced his brother's stubbornness. Taylor remained quiet as he stood and pulled his keys from his pocket.

"I'm late," was all he said. Isaac shook his head, wondering what it would take to break through the barrier.

"For God's sake, Tay," he pleaded. "Let yourself feel something."