Chapter 21

        Fynn glanced at her watch.  It was almost 9:00, soon Zac would be here to pick her up.  She decided she had time for one more cigarette and reached for the pack in her purse.  As she lit it, she sat back on her bed and contemplated the night behind her and the night ahead.

        She was still hurt and angry about seeing Taylor with that woman the night before in the coffee shop.  It felt like a slap in her face, his flaunting of the petite blonde.  She wondered briefly if he'd slept with her and then quickly dismissed the thought.  Of course he did.  He was Taylor.

        Fynn then began to question her own behavior.  She never should have let the situation get this out of hand.  If she'd been rational and talked it out with him in the very beginning, likely they would still be friends, or perhaps lovers.  She mentally punished herself for being so weak, for not saying what needed to be said.

        How many times had her brothers discussed this with her?  She needed to be more assertive, they'd said.  She needed to show her strength.  She should say what she mean and mean what she said.  No one could understand how an only girl, raised with four older brothers, could have grown to be so timid.  She knew it was wrong, but instead of learning to fight for her place, she had learned to maneuver her way through life quietly, always coddled by the men in her life.  Those men had included not only her father and brothers, but Ike, Tay and Zac, as well.

        It was time to take the advice she'd heard over and over.  She would be assertive and take what she wanted.  Tonight, she wanted Zachary Hanson.

* * * * *

        The pounding rhythm of the music could be heard before Zac even parked the car on College Avenue.  People spilled in and out of the yellow house, talking and laughing.

        Zac took Fynn's hand and guided her down the sidewalk to the front door. Even after coming in from the darkness of the night, their eyes needed to adjust to
the blackness indoors.  Music, voices, bodies, the smell of alcohol and smoke greeted their other senses, and they stood by the door briefly to get their bearings.  Once a faint outline of the walls and furniture became clear, they uncertainly continued into the house.

        They found their way to the kitchen, where all manner of liquor was flowing freely. Zac was greeted heartily by several people and he politely introduced Fynn. No one seemed to really care who she was, but a tall guy teetering on unsteady legs offered her a drink.  The mere thought of drinking vodka made her feel ill.  She accepted a beer and vowed to make it last as long as possible.  She wouldn't make the same mistake she'd made with Taylor.  If anything happened tonight, she was determined to be fully aware.

        "Let's walk around and see if there's anyone else we know," Zac said as he again took her hand and led her out of the kitchen.  She saw a handful of familiar faces, people she knew from school, but she didn't really have much interest in talking with them.  Zac seemed to know almost everyone and chatted easily with anyone who stopped him.

        They headed in the direction of the music.  The walls pulsed in tempo with the bass.  The furniture had been pushed against the walls and several people crowded the living room floor, writhing with abandon to the inescapable sound.

        Fynn waited for Zac to ask her to dance, but knew he wouldn't.  A fondness for dancing was seriously lacking.  As much as he loved music, he swore he couldn't dance a lick.  They stood uneasily, watching the others.  Some moved with ease; others appeared as if they would fall over at any moment.

        The heavy dance-beat of the song ended and was replaced by a slow and sensuous melody.  Zac leaned closer to Fynn and began whispering in her ear.  "I'm not much of a dancer, but I think I can handle something slow," he said, hoping she heard him over the din.  She didn't bother responding verbally; she doubted he would be able to hear her. Instead, she took his hand and they wove through the crowd to an empty space near the corner of the room.

        At first Zac seemed tentative.  He clasped his hands around her waist, but didn't pull her into him.  Fynn's arms slid to his shoulders and her fingers twisted themselves in his hair.  She rested her head in the curve between his neck and shoulder. His skin felt warm and smelled of soap.  She breathed in his scent and let out a small, almost inaudible sigh.  She tugged lightly at his hair and pulled him closer.

        Zac could feel the softness of her skin against his cheek.  He felt her fingers weaving through his hair.  When she moved her body against him, his breath caught in his throat.  He held her tightly then, moving his hands slowly up and down her back.  He turned his head slightly and his lips found the smooth skin of her neck.  He hoped that she wouldn't pull away from him and she didn't.  Instead, she looked up at him and held his gaze.  She bit her lower lip coyly.  Zac interpreted this small action as an invitation to continue.  He leaned forward and placed his lips on hers.

        It didn't take long for the simple kiss to turn ardent.  Fynn had craved the feel of Zac's beautiful, full lips on hers.  She invited his tongue into her mouth and reciprocated by slipping her own past his lips.  He tasted warm and sweet.  His hands began stroking her back a bit more fervently and finally slid down over her ass.  She let him draw her hips against his own and she felt his erection.  She adjusted her position so that her leg was situated between his, her upper thigh causing friction and making him harder.

        Zac gasped slightly when he felt Fynn's hips grinding against him.  He knew she could feel his excitement; there was no way to hide it.  He ached for her to
touch him; to feel her bare skin against his.  She was licking his neck and lightly nipping at his ear.  His body shuddered involuntarily when her tongue flicked his ear and he felt her hot breath.

        "Let's go upstairs," she whispered, her voice raspy and seductive.

* * * * *

        The upstairs hallway was littered with people either talking, passed out or engaged in explicit foreplay.  Zac turned the knob of each door he passed, but found them all locked.  Just as he was about to give up, he noticed a thin line of light streaming from the doorway at the end of the hall.  The bathroom.  He started to turn around, but Fynn walked past and pulled him in behind her.  She hastily locked the door and spun to face him.  He grabbed her shoulders and pushed her against the wall.  His mouth descended on hers while his hands reached under her shirt to roughly grab at her breasts.

        Fynn immediately reached between Zac's legs and stroked him through his jeans. "Take them off, Zac."  She wanted him so badly.  She didn't want to think about it; she didn't want to stall.  She wanted to feel him inside her.  As Zac fumbled with the button on his jeans, she reached into his shirt and lightly pinched his nipples, now hard with excitement.

        "Oh God," he murmured, frantically sliding down his pants and boxers in one motion.  She reached down and clutched him in one hand, the other pulling up her skirt. Zac began tugging at the elastic of her panties, thinking it wouldn't take much to rip them off her body.

        "Hurry, Zac!" she whimpered, pushing him further toward the cliff. With her back still against the wall, he aggressively grabbed her legs and pulled them around his hips to position himself.  He entered her quickly and heard her gasp with pleasure. She moaned in response to his thrusting movements.  The sound of her voice and the feel of her hot breath in his ear sent shivers throughout his body.

        "I can't stop!" he cried, knowing it would end all too soon.

        "No, don't.  I don't want you to stop."  She felt the crescendo of excitement building to its peak.  "Talk to me," she said, knowing the sound of his voice would prompt her over the edge.

        "It feels so good...you feel so good!" he called out, louder than he intended.  His body trembled when she pulled his hair, grabbed onto him tightly.

        "Yes...yes...yes...!"  Her body tumbled into an abyss of pleasure.

        The feel of her pulling him deeper inside forced Zac to throw his head back and succumb to the most powerful climax he'd experienced.  With his eyes shut tight and his hands still gripping her thighs, he let out a deep, jagged moan and turned his body over to her.

.

Chapter 22

     Fynn and Zac felt no need to stay at the party after their encounter in the bathroom.  They quickly straightened their clothes, checked their reflections in the mirror for any tell-tale signs and then headed for Zac's car.         The night had turned chilly and Fynn rubbed her arms, trying to generate some heat.  "This heater sucks," Zac said, noticing the goosebumps appearing on her arms, as well as the erect nipples straining her shirt.  "It takes a while to warm up."

        Fynn, feeling inspired by the assertion she'd shown earlier looked at him with a knowing smile.  "I'm glad it didn't take you a while to warm up," she purred, leaning towards him and placing her hand between his legs.

        Zac jerked the wheel a bit, startled at the unexpected massage.  "Be careful. I'm gonna run off the road if you keep that up." His wry smile only encouraged her and she began to unzip his pants.

        He was still in a state of disbelief.  He'd finally gotten what he wanted, what he fantasized so many times before.  It hadn't gone exactly as he'd planned it, but he wasn't one to complain.  He had always imagined a more intimate and tender scene, but there was an air of neediness surrounding Fynn that he couldn't resist.  It looked, however, like he would get the chance for a replay.

        "Where are we going?" Fynn asked, slowly stroking him while he sped down the highway.

        "My place is closer than yours," he answered, a hint of desperation in his voice.

        "NO WAY!"  Fynn abruptly sat up and shook her head with determination. "Taylor is the last person on earth I want to see right now."

        "It's okay," Zac continued.  "He left about the time I did.  He and Jack are spending a couple of nights at Jack�s parents' cabin at the lake.  They've planned some big male bonding thing.  And Ike's at Melissa's tonight.  I don't expect he'll be coming home."  He placed his foot on the brake to bring the car to a stop at a traffic light.  He turned to look at Fynn, who was now gazing out the passenger window.  "We'll have the whole house to ourselves."

        The corners of Fynn's mouth lifted in a mischievous smile.  Her hand returned to the warmth between Zac's legs.  "That sounds nice," she whispered and leaned in to kiss his neck.

* * * * *

        Taylor wasn't at all surprised to see that Jack wasn't ready to leave.  "I thought you wanted to be on the road by now," he said, looking at Jack perched on the sofa.

        "I was waiting for you," he said absentmindedly.  "We need to stop at the store to pick up beer, food and smokes."  He slowly lifted himself from his position in front of the TV and began searching for his wallet.  "Then we gotta stop at my Mom and Dad's house for stuff."

        "What kind of stuff?" Taylor asked, exasperated that Jack hadn't planned the trip any better than this.

        "You know, sleeping bags, fishing gear, whatever food I can wrangle out of Mom. That kind of stuff."

        "What do we need sleeping bags for?  There's beds at the cabin."

        Jack looked at his friend with mock disgust.  "I know you're used to silk sheets and fluffy comforters at 5-star hotels, but the Beverly Hilton this ain't. You'll freeze your ass off."

        "Fuck you.  Can we just go?"

        "I said I was waiting for you..."

* * * * *

        Zac fumbled with the key to the front door.  He was having difficulty concentrating on anything other than Fynn's hands touching him.  When the door finally opened, he yanked her inside and began kissing her, again pushing her to the wall.  He wasn't sure he'd be able to make it to his room.

        "Zac, I want to see all of you this time," Fynn muttered between kisses.  She half-heartedly pushed him away.  "Let's go upstairs."

        "Okay," he said, again placing his lips on hers.  No attempt was made to move toward the stairs.  Zac pressed his body against hers and continued to kiss her in earnest.

        "Zac?"

        "Yeah, right," he mumbled.  "Upstairs..."  He couldn't seem to move his feet, though.  His hands were grazing her body and jerking at her clothes.

        "Not here.  I want to make love to you in your bed."  She took his hand off her breast and pulled him with her to the bottom step.  They began the climb
upstairs, stopping every few seconds to grope and lick each other.  Finally, they entered Zac's room where they staggered across the room and fell in a tangle onto the bed.

* * * * *

        Jack was scrounging around the basement of his parent's house.  Taylor stood near the bottom of the wooden steps and watched as his friend stumbled about the discarded furniture, tool chests, abandoned tires and old bicycles.  It was damp and smelled slightly musty.

        "It's here somewhere," Jack called over his shoulder.

        "What're you looking for now?"  Taylor stood impatiently, leaning against the stair rail with his arms folded across his chest.

        "The sleeping bag."

        "You already found the sleeping bag, Jack!  It's right here."  Taylor pointed to the dark blue bag rolled in a bundle next to the fishing gear.

        Jack straightened up and stared at Taylor.  "Well, Tay baby, unless you plan on sleeping in it with me, we need to find the other one."  He turned back to the boxes he was searching and pulled open another one.

        "Couldn't you have done this earlier?  You've been planning this trip for over a week," Tay muttered with disgust.  "Why do you always do this?"

        "It's who I am, my friend.  If you can't accept me...faults and all...then you need to move on.  It's too damaging to my self-esteem to have friends who don't love me unconditionally."

        "You�re so full of shit."

        "Hey!  My therapist says I need to be more in touch with my feelings!" Jack called out while climbing over yet another box.

        "You have a therapist?" Taylor asked with interest.

        "Doesn't everyone?"

        "I don't," Taylor answered proudly.

        "Yeah, well, of all the people I know, you're the one in most need of one," Jack shot back.  "You really need to come to terms with what your career has done to you."

        "My career hasn't done anything but make me a rich, narcissistic, conceited asshole who�s doomed to live my life alone, a bitter and lonely old man."

        "Now who's full of shit?" Jack laughed.  "You get more ass than a toilet seat!  I hardly think you're destined to be alone.  Hell, you've never been alone a day in your life, Taylor."

        "Okay, maybe not alone.  But definitely lonely.  My brothers and sisters will all get married and have families.  I�ll be 'crazy Uncle Tay' that lives in that old house in the woods."

        "Yeah, you'll be 'crazy Uncle Tay,' but not for the reasons you're thinking," Jack replied.

        "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"  Taylor�s voice sounded worried.

        "See?  This is precisely why you need therapy."

        "I do not!  You just think that because you're in therapy you're qualified to analyze everyone else."

        "Taylor, you were born with the words 'therapy bill' stamped on your forehead. Face it."

        "Shut up and find the goddamned sleeping bag!"  This conversation was hitting a little too close to home for Taylor.

        When the last box had been opened and produced no sleeping bag, Jack turned to Taylor.  "I guess we�ll just have to load up some blankets and....SHIT!  ZAC!"

        "What about him?"  Taylor couldn't imagine why his brother's name had suddenly come into the conversation.

        "Your little shit of a brother has the sleeping bag!  I lent it to him when he went on that camping trip about six months ago."  Jack climbed over the boxes he'd pushed all over the basement.  "With all the money you three are rolling in, you'd think you�d buy your own goddamned stuff instead of mooching off us lowlifes all the time and never returning anything!"

        "Shut the fuck up, Jack.  It's probably stashed in his closet.  We'll just stop by and get it.  Then we can get the hell out of this godforsaken town!"

        "Tay, you've only been back in this 'godforsaken town' about two weeks."

        "Well, it's been a bad two weeks," Taylor mumbled as he picked up the cooler and headed up the stairs.

* * * * *

        They had laid down, stood up and sat in a chair in the corner.  They had twisted, turned and rolled; licked, pinched and bitten.  Still, Fynn felt it wasn't enough. She wanted to devour Zac; to possess him completely.

        She roughly grabbed his hair and pulled him on top of her.  "Make me come again, Zac," she demanded, looking deep into his chocolate brown eyes.  A feeling of recklessness consumed her.  Her only thoughts were of his body; the feeling of him inside her and the urgent moans that escaped his lips.

        He began thrusting himself into her, quickening the pace with her encouragement. She tightly shut her eyes and concentrated on his weight above her.  She still
held his hair, pulling harder than she realized.  His face was buried in her neck, his mouth at her ear.  A guttural sound rose from his throat with each lunge of his body.  She wrapped her legs around his hips, pulling him closer as she approached orgasm.

        She tilted her head back into the pillow and cried out his name.

* * * * *

        Taylor pulled his Jeep into the drive and turned off the ignition.

        "This'll just take a sec," he told Jack.  "I'm sure I've seen the bag on the floor of his closet."  He opened his door and hopped out.  "I'll be right back."

* * * * *

        Zac was laying on his side, facing Fynn and studying her face.  Her eyes never left his and he wondered what she was thinking.

        "What�s wrong Zac?" she asked finally.

        "Nothing."

        Her brows furrowed in a look of puzzlement.  "Were you disappointed?"

        He opened his mouth and began to deny what he was really feeling.  Then, looking back over the past few hours, he realized he couldn't continue lying.  "I guess so," he replied.  "But not for the reason you're thinking," he added quickly.

        "I don't understand..."

        "Fynn, tonight was incredible.  I've never felt anything like it.  But..." he hesitated, searching for the words that would convey what he was feeling.

        "But what, Zac?"

        "You fucked me tonight like someone who's trying to forget someone else," he said sadly.  "It's just not how I wanted it to be."

        Fynn couldn't respond.  She knew in her heart he was right.  She turned onto her back and stared at the ceiling.  Zac reached over and wrapped his finger with her hair.

        "It wasn't me you were with tonight, was it?" he asked her gently.

        "Zac, that's not true.  I wanted to be with you tonight."

* * * * *

        Taylor quickly let himself in the front door and ran up the steps.  He turned the corner in the hallway and approached Zac's bedroom.  When he opened the door, he stopped dead in his tracks as he took in the scene before him.

        "WHAT THE FUCK.....?!?!?!?"

.

Chapter 23

        "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!?!?"  Zac and Fynn both looked up to see Taylor standing in the doorway, hand still on the doorknob.  His body was tense with absolute fury.  Fynn pulled up the sheet and held it to her tightly as she leaned over the side of the bed and grabbed some of her clothes.

        "Tay...let me explain..." Zac started to say.

        "Forget it!  I don't think any explanation is needed.  It's pretty clear what the situation is."

        Fynn had managed to pull on her shirt and panties.  She now stood next to the bed, eyes roaming the room, searching for the rest of her clothing.  "Taylor, listen to me..."

        "LISTEN TO YOU!?!??  Why?  So you can lie to me some more?" Taylor yelled in her direction, now moving away from the door.  "Did you want Zac all along?"  He was standing mere inches away from her, screaming in her face.  "Or are you just making your way through the whole family?  Do you want me to go get Ike so you can screw him, too? Hell...maybe DAD would be interested...it could be a fucking family get-together!!!"

        Fynn backed away from Taylor.  She noticed he was shaking with rage.  "That's not fair, Tay," she said quietly, her head down.

        "Not fair?" Taylor was incredulous.  "I'LL tell you what's not fair...fucking my BROTHER is not fair!!!"  He had raised his hand and was now jabbing his finger into her chest.

        Zac had slipped out of the bed, grabbed his pants and pulled them on.  "Tay, calm down," he said, walking slowly and quietly toward his brother.

        "NO!!!  I will not calm down!!!"  Taylor abruptly spun around.  His eyes fell on Zac's dresser where the stereo was softly playing.  He reached his arm out and, with one swift motion, pushed the boombox crashing to the floor.  Zac stepped back and watched helplessly as Taylor began quickly moving about the room, throwing everything within his reach.

        Fynn had backed into a corner, hoping to escape the objects flying from Tay's hands.  When his back was turned, she quietly moved toward the door, wanting nothing more than to get out of the house.  Just as she pulled the door open, Taylor lunged toward her and slammed it shut.

        "Don't you dare walk out on me!" he shouted down at her.  "I'm not through with you yet."  He forcefully grabbed her arm and pushed her toward the bed.

        "What're you going to do, Tay?  Hit me?" she asked him.  "Beat the shit out of me?"  She was pushing his buttons and she knew it.

        He stopped moving for a split second and then leaned into her face.  His voice lowered to an angry whisper. "DON'T...TEMPT...ME," he spit out.

        "TAYLOR!  Stop it!!" Zac came up behind him and pulled him away from Fynn.

        "How could you do this to me?"  Taylor's voice was full of rage, but also sounded wounded.

        "This has nothing to do with you!"  Fynn was now the aggressor, striding toward Taylor, taking his shoulder and turning him to face her.

        "The fuck it doesn't!  This has EVERYTHING to do with me, you lying bitch!" Before she knew what was happening, he had pulled back his arm and slapped her face. Her hand flew to her cheek, feeling the sting.  She let the tears slip from
her eyes.

        "Is that the best you can do?  Bitch-slap a girl???"  Zac was screaming now and pushing Taylor to the other side of the room, away from Fynn.  He heard his brother mumble something unintelligible and then felt Tay's fist connect with his stomach.  He stepped back, losing his balance and fell to the floor.  Immediately, Taylor was straddling him, his fists pummeling Zac with abandon.  Zac attempted to defend himself, but was pinned under his brother's weight and could do nothing but lift his arms in resistance.

        "What the hell is happening here?"  Jack, having tired of waiting for Taylor in the Jeep, had let himself in and run up the stairs when he heard the screaming. He ran to Taylor and pulled him off the bruised body of his brother.

        Taylor stood, Jack's arms holding him back, and looked from Zac to Fynn.  She had again moved to the corner, where she slid down the wall and sat crying, her hands over her face.  Taylor shook himself out of Jack's grip and bolted for the
door.

* * * * *

        Jack ran after Taylor, attempting to calm him down.  He hadn't succeeded. Taylor had again pulled out of his grasp and jumped into his car.  Gravel pelted Jack's legs as Taylor threw the car into reverse and screeched out of the driveway.

        Fynn slowly pulled on the rest of her clothes and now stood over Zac, inspecting the damage done by his brother.  His eye was beginning to swell and a gash in his lip was bleeding.  She was sure he would find bruises scattered about his upper body in the morning.  Other than that, she determined he was fine.  Nothing seemed broken...other than his ego.

        "Jesus, that hurt," he said, sitting up and gingerly touching his lip.  He winced when he pulled his hand away and saw blood.  "Ugh!  Does it look as bad as it feels?" he asked.

        "Um...yes.  I think you'll probably have a black eye and your lip looks pretty gross. I don't think it needs stitches, though."  Fynn gently pushed Zac's hair out of his face and traced her finger across his swollen mouth.

        "He's gone."  Jack stood in the doorway, looking at the two lovers, both sitting on the floor next to the bed.  "I don't think I have to ask what happened," he said slowly. Both Zac and Fynn lowered their eyes, not wanting to see the look on Jack's face.  "Zac, you've done a lot of stupid things in your life, but I think this has got to be the stupidest." He walked over to Zac and offered his hand, pulling him to his feet.  "Are you okay?"

        "Yeah, I think so.  I�m just gonna go clean up."  He cautiously walked across the room, stepping over his broken belongings on the way to the bathroom.  "He really did a job on my stuff, didn't he?"

        "Yeah," Jack replied, looking around the room.  "I hope that lamp didn't hold any sentimental value."  Zac tried to smile, wincing around the pain it caused in his lip.

        "Where did he go?"  Fynn was now sitting on the bed, her arms folded tightly around her.

        "I don't know.  He just took off."  Jack sat down next to her and placed his hand on her shoulder.  "How're you doing?"

        "How should I be doing?"

        "I guess if I were you, I'd be feeling like shit right about now."

        "Well, you'd be feeling better than I do."  She stood up and started to leave.

        "Fynn?"  She turned and looked at him.  "Why'd you do this to him?"

        "Why is everyone trying to make this about him?"

        "This isn't about trying to get back at him?  Or trying to forget him?"  Jack had felt for a long time that Taylor and Fynn were denying their feelings for each other.  He couldn't understand why they were both being so stubborn.  And now, it seemed Fynn had deliberately set out to hurt his friend.  He looked to her for an answer, but she only turned and walked out.

* * * * *

        Taylor's rage was beginning to subside.  Now all he felt was pain and he struggled to keep from crying.  He'd been driving aimlessly around Tulsa for a half hour.  He'd actually laughed to himself when he realized that, for someone adored by thousands of fans worldwide, he had no friends.  There was no one for him to turn to.

.

Chapter 24

Gina was awakened by an insistent knock on the door. She peered at the clock on her nightstand...3:00 a.m. Who in the world would be coming over this time of night?
She pulled the covers back and grabbed her robe from the foot of the bed. She squinted her eyes and put her hand against the wall to guide her down the hall.  Hillary, her roommate, had also heard the knock and stepped outside of her room. "Who in the hell is that?" she asked when she saw Gina trudging down the hallway to the living room.

"How should I know?" Gina replied.� The two of them walked together to the front door. Hillary leaned in to look through the peephole in the door and let out a slight gasp.

"Oh my God," she whispered, turning to her roommate. "Taylor Hanson is outside our front door!" Hillary knew Gina had gone out with Taylor the night before, but Gina had said it didn't go well and didn't expect to see him again. She peeked through the hole once more. "He looks like shit, though," she added.

 Gina pushed Hillary away from the door and turned the deadbolt. "Let him in, stupid," she said. She released the chain lock and opened the door, revealing a disheveled looking Taylor, staring back at her.

"Taylor?"

"I'm sorry." I didn't know where else to go," he said sadly, looking at his feet.

Gina stepped aside to let him in the apartment. He hesitated for a moment, looking at Hillary. "Taylor, this is my roommate, Hillary." Gina looked toward her friend and gave her an almost imperceptible nod. "She was just going back to bed."

Hillary took Gina's cue. "It's nice to meet you," she offered, "but I have to work tomorrow. I'm gonna go get some sleep." She turned and quietly left the room, leaving Taylor and Gina standing awkwardly by the door.

"Come on in," Gina said finally. Taylor stepped past her and sat down on the sofa. Gina watched as he leaned his head in his hands and began rubbing his temples, eyes shut tight against the light emitted from the lamp she turned on. She waited
patiently for him to speak; to tell her why he was there.

Several minutes of silence passed. Gina was becoming uncomfortable. "Taylor? I'm not a mindreader," she said finally.

"Huh?" He looked up at her for the first time since entering the apartment. He appeared dazed and unsettled.

"Why are you here?" she asked bluntly. "Not that I mind or anything, but...well...I'm a little surprised." She waited for a response, but again silence settled over the room. "Is everything okay? You're not in trouble are you?"

 Taylor leaned back against the sofa and closed his eyes. His brow furrowed as if he was in pain. "Are you afraid of being alone?" he asked.

"Well, I have roommate," Gina began, "and the locks are pretty secure..."

"No. I mean, are you afraid of living your life alone?" Taylor looked at her. His eyes seemed to be pleading with her for an answer.

"Um...no, not really." Gina wasn't at all sure where this conversation was headed, but he seemed to need to talk about it. "I guess I'm one of those naive people that believes in the cliche that there's someone out there just for me," she continued. "I just haven't found him yet."

"What if the person you feel is the one for you doesn't love you back?" he asked timidly. His voice sounded so sad. Gina wanted to reach out to him, but instead she stood up.

"I get the feeling this is gonna be a long conversation," she said. "Shall I put on some coffee and we can talk?"

A slight smile appeared on his lips. "Thanks," he said.

* * * * *

Zac had given both Jack and Fynn a ride home. He now lay in his bed, thinking about what had transpired there in his room. His eyes roamed the debris that littered the floor and reminded him of Taylor�s tantrum. The busted boombox still lay on
its side in front of the dresser. His collection of CDs was strewn about the room, cases cracked. The broken lamp and splintered mirror had left shards of glass on the floor that he would have to be careful to avoid in the morning. Even the blinds on the window had been ripped from their casing. The light from the streetlamp slipped through the glass and shed an eerie glow over the smashed ruins of his belongings.

He found it funny that he didn't feel angry. Instead, he felt he had deserved Tay's wrath. His body hurt; every movement bringing sharp pain. He knew the gash on his lip would heal and the bruises would fade. The shame he felt for hurting his brother, however, would take longer to diminish.

* * * * *

 Fynn stepped out of the hot shower she'd escaped to the moment she returned home. She quickly dried herself off and slipped on her pajamas. She wanted to drive the events of that night out of her memory forever, but knew it was impossible.
The look of hurt on Taylor's face when he stepped into Zac's room was imprinted on her mind. She lifted her hand and wiped the steam from the mirror. Leaning in to take a closer look at herself, she wondered what had driven her to act the way she had. Zac had easily seen through her motives...she was trying to forget. Why hadn't she been able to see it?

Stepping into the hall, she headed toward her bedroom. All she wanted now was sleep. When she reached her room, however, it felt cold and empty. She didn't want to be alone. She turned and reached for Scout's room. Turning the knob quietly, she pushed open the door and slipped inside. She walked over to his bed and looked down on his sleeping form. For a moment, she didn't say anything; she yearned for the peaceful sleep he possessed.

"Scout? she whispered, laying her hand gently on his shoulder.

"Hmmm? Fynn?" He slowly opened his eyes and looked at his clock. "What is it? Is something wrong?" He started to sit up.

"Do you remember when we were little and I�d sneak into your bed when I had bad dreams?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I'm living a nightmare tonight," she said, letting the tears slip out and fall down her face.� Scout pulled back the covers on the other side of his bed and patted the pillow with his hand.� She climbed under the warm blankets and nestled into
her brother for comfort.� He put his arms around her and closed his eyes, feeling her tears dampen his shirt.

* * * * *

Taylor looked up and smiled when Gina returned to the living room carrying two cups of steaming coffee.

"You're getting it black, she said as she handed the cup to him. After the incident at the coffee bar, I was afraid to ask if you wanted cream or sugar.You're so sensitive about your coffee, she smiled.

He looked down, embarrassed. "I'm sorry about that. I don't know what got into me. Anyway, I like my coffee black."

Gina settled into a chair, pulling her legs underneath her and holding her cup closely with both hands as if trying to warm herself. "So," she began, "have you found your someone?"

"Yes, I have." Taylor leaned forward and stared into the steaming coffee. Gina waited for him to continue, but he remained quiet.

"That's great," she replied. "So, what's the problem?"

"She's fucking my brother," he stated bluntly.

"Ouch...that hurts. Are you certain?"

"Um, yeah. I found them in bed together earlier tonight." He looked up at her, his face showing confusion and sadness.

"Oh Taylor," she continued, "that's awful. What did you do?"

"I did what any mature adult would do. I screamed and yelled, trashed his room and beat the shit out of him." He took a sip from his cup and set it down on the coffee table. He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. "Is it okay if I smoke?" he asked.

"Sure." He looked so tormented at that moment, Gina didn't have the heart to tell him he couldn't light up. "Let me get you an ashtray." She rose from her chair and retrieved a small bowl from the kitchen. "Here. You can use this."

"Thanks." He set the bowl down and lit his cigarette. She watched him intently as he took a couple of drags and let the smoke slowly drift out of his mouth. "I wanted to kill Zac," he said finally.

"You must've been pretty angry. What about...what's her name?"

"Fynn. Her name's Fynn." He closed his eyes when he said her name and Gina could tell that her image was floating around in his mind. "It's funny, but I can't seem to stay angry with her I was pissed at the moment..." He paused briefly,
looking toward Gina. "I said some awful things and...well...I slapped her." The look of shock on Gina's face was apparent. "I know it was wrong," he quickly continued. "I was just so hurt."

Gina's heart ached for him. He looked as though he might cry, but the tears never left his eyes. "Tell me about her," she said quietly, not knowing what else to say.

He seemed to glow when he talked about her. He told Gina the whole story...how Fynn had been his best friend since childhood, how she'd always been a part of his life. Silly, meaningless stories from his past with Fynn spilled out, painting a vivid picture of a relationship he'd come to depend on.

Then his expression changed. He told Gina about Fynn accompanying them on tour. The story of what happened in San Francisco came tumbling out and Gina realized how important this person was to Taylor.

"It had never occurred to me that she might be the one, as you call it," he said sadly. "She was just always there when I needed her."

"Maybe that should've been your first sign," Gina offered.

"Yeah, I guess so. I just took it for granted that she'd always be there. Then, when she wasn't, I was lost." He stopped speaking for a moment and Gina let the silence settle over them. There didn't seem to be much she could say. She thought it would be best for him to come to his own conclusion.

"Gina, she got under my skin that night," he continued after a while. "And now it's like she's holding my heart in her fist. Every time I see her, the grip tightens. It hurts so much." He rose from his seat and walked toward the window. He stood, looking out at the street, the faint light from outside throwing a golden glow over his face. "What should I do?" he asked.

"Can you say it?"

"Huh? Say what?" He turned around and looked at Gina, confused at her question. She didn't respond, only stared in his eyes. He knew what she meant. It was the same thing Isaac had tried to tell him. He looked out the window again, leaning his forehead against the cool glass. "I love her," he said finally, barely above a whisper.

Gina smiled to herself. She stood up and walked toward him. Lightly touching his shoulder, she turned him to face her. "I think you know what you have to do," she replied. She put her arms around his neck and pulled him into an embrace. He rested his head against her and cried.

.

Chapter 25

.Isaac pulled his car into the driveway and shut off the ignition. He was still thinking about his night with Melissa. They'd spent the night together several times, but each time he seemed to discover something new. He hadn't wanted to leave her that morning, but she was scheduled to work at the book store. They had said their goodbyes at the door to her apartment. Their kiss still lingered in his mind. He shook his head, determined to return from the dreamlike state in which he was currently residing. He opened the door and stepped onto the gravel drive. He slowly walked toward the kitchen door, images of Melissa still dancing before his eyes.

The kitchen was empty. He walked over to the counter and picked up the coffeepot. He and Melissa had skipped breakfast, instead opting to make love once again before she left for work. He smiled to himself, thinking about how beautiful she looked as she stepped out of the shower, her body covered with tiny drops of water.

"Hey." Isaac turned to see Zac, dressed only in sweatpants and still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, enter the kitchen. "Just get back from Melissa's?"

It took a moment for Zac's battered appearance to register. His left eye was swollen and discolored, his lips were puffy with an angry gash and his upper body was covered in bruises and welts.

"Zac!" What the hell happened to you?" Isaac watched as his younger brother carefully pulled out a chair and slowly sat down, cringing in pain.

"I'll give you a hint," Zac replied. "People think he looks like a girl, but let me assure you....he does NOT hit like one." He placed his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands.

"Tay did this to you???" Ike seated himself across the table from Zac and stared at him in disbelief.

"I got off easy." Zac looked up at his brother. "You should see my room. It looks like a war zone in Bosnia. Taylor's army of one hit us with a surprise attack and left no stone unturned." He leaned back in his chair and groaned, placing his hand over a particularly tender bruise on his ribs.

"Who's 'us'?" Isaac asked, wondering what could have possibly triggered this kind of aggression.

"Me and Fynn." Zac closed his eyes, waiting for Ike's response.

"Do I even want to know what happened?" Isaac had a pretty good idea what had transpired the night before, but hoped he was wrong.

"Probably not," Zac offered in a small voice.

"Jesus, Zac! What were you thinking?" He abruptly stood up and began pacing the kitchen. "Did you think he wouldn't find out?" He stopped for a moment and looked towards Zac, still seated with his head back and eyes shut tight. "Or did you want him to find out?"

"I don't know," Zac muttered.

"Is that all you can say??"

"Look, I know I fucked up. I don't need you to yell at me." Zac stood up and wandered down the hall to the living room where he carefully laid himself out on the sofa. Isaac wasn't about to give up that easily and followed him out of the kitchen.

"How did this happen, Zac?" he asked, sitting in a chair across from his brother. "Not even three months ago everyone was happy and excited about touring; Fynn was like part of the family. Suddenly it's like a goddamned soap opera with you and Tay at each other's throats and Fynn smack in the middle. What the hell is going on?"

"The shit with Tay started long before Fynn got involved," Zac stated firmly.

"Okay, maybe it did," Ike continued. "Look, I don't know what's going on between you and Tay, but you better figure it out and fix it." He stood up and walked across the room. Before stepping into the hallway, he turned and looked at Zac once more. "You're both being stupid, Zac, and not only is it affecting our working relationship, it's beginning to affect us as a family. Do something...before it's too late."

Zac remained sprawled on the sofa, his arm sheltering his eyes. He knew Ike was right. Somehow everything had gotten out of hand. His bitterness toward Taylor had escalated so quickly and now was out of control.

He turned onto his side, facing the back of the sofa and wept.

* * * * *

"Why is he still here?" Hillary whispered to Gina as she pulled a bowl from the cabinet.

"I told him he could stay," Gina answered, handing her roommate the cereal box and milk.

"Is that my blanket on him?"

"Yeah, I hope you don't mind." Gina settled herself at the table and began eating her breakfast.

"Mind? I just hope I can smell him on it when he leaves! I bet he smells great." Hillary pulled out the chair across from Gina and began sipping her coffee. "He doesn't look very comfortable on the couch," she said, leaning back to peer out the kitchen door into the living room. "Why didn't he sleep with you?"

"Hillary...don't start," Gina warned.

"What?"

"He's a friend...that's all." She stood and opened the refrigerator. "Do you want some orange juice?"

"No." Hillary continued to lean back in her chair, staring at the sleeping form in the other room. "God, he's so beautiful when he's sleeping," she sighed.

"Hil, you're gonna tip your chair over if you're not careful. Stop staring at him and eat your breakfast."

"How am I supposed to eat when Taylor Hanson is sleeping in my living room, on my sofa, under my blanket? I'm never washing that blanket again. It's touched every part of his body."

"You're pathetic! He's just a guy..." Gina started.
 
"And what planet do you live on?" Hillary finally returned to her cereal. "Ewww, it's all soggy," she said, dropping her spoon and pushing the bowl away from her. She picked up her coffee mug and took another sip. "So, is he gonna stay?"

"Nah. He just needed somewhere to crash," Gina said.

"Why couldn't he go home?"

"Uh, he and his brother had a fight."

"Really? Which one? The gorgeous older one with the wavy hair? Or the gorgeous younger one with those full lips?"

"Shhhhh! Gina hissed. "He's getting up."

Taylor indeed had begun to untangle his arms and legs from the blanket and lift himself off the sofa. His bare feet made a faint slapping sound on the hardwood floor as he strode across the room and into the kitchen.

"Good morning," he said quietly, looking at the floor.

"Good morning, Taylor," Gina replied. "Do you want some breakfast?"

"Um, no. Just coffee." He stood in the doorway feeling uncomfortable. He felt he was under a microscope, the two women studying every move he made.

"You can sit down," Hillary offered, patting the chair next to her. "So you fought with your brother last night?"

"HILLARY!" Gina yelled.

"What? You didn't say it was a secret."  Hillary stared at Gina for a moment then turned her attention back to Taylor. "So, which brother?"

"The gorgeous younger one with the full lips," he replied, taking the cup of coffee Gina offered him. Hillary's face immediately grew warm and she knew she was blushing.

"You heard that?" she asked, suddenly timid.

"Yep."

"You didn't hear the whole blanket thing, did you?"

"Yep." His mouth turned up in a small smile over the rim of the cup.

"Oh God..." She covered her face with her hands. "I'm so embarrassed!"

"You should be," Gina said as she took her place at the table. Hillary lowered her hands and stuck her tongue out at her friend.

"Well, now that you know how pathetic I am, can I smell you?" she asked, turning again to Taylor.

"HILLARY! Taylor, I'm sorry. She's not usually like this."

"Fine then. I'm gonna be late for work." Hillary pushed out her chair and stood up. She placed her cup and bowl in the sink. "Later!" she chirped. As she passed Taylor's chair, she stopped, leaned down and lifted some of his hair to her face. She breathed in deeply and sighed. "God, you smell good," she said, smiling wickedly at her roommate.

Gina merely rolled her eyes at Hillary and then returned her gaze to Taylor. "How're you feeling this morning?" she asked.

"Okay, I guess. I've felt better." He wouldn't meet Gina's eyes, instead staring into his cup as if looking for his reflection. "Thanks for letting me sleep here. I just couldn't go home."

"No problem," Gina offered. "You can stay as long as you need to." She stood and placed her dishes in the sink. She turned and leaned against the counter, arms folded in front of her. "What're you going to do?" she asked him.

"I don't know." He seemed so small to Gina at that moment. She was seeing a vulnerable side of Taylor she never would have dreamed existed. He had let her see him cry the night before and she was certain that was something that didn't happen often to Taylor Hanson. She walked over to him and placed her hand lightly on his arm.

"Tell her," she said simply. "She needs to know and you need to say it." Taylor looked up at her, tears again threatening to spill over the rim of his eyes.

"I know," was all he could think to say.

* * * * *

Taylor drove uncharacteristically slow that morning. He wasn't sure he wanted to go home, but couldn't think of anywhere else to go. He'd decided he couldn't hide at Gina's forever. He would have to face Zac sooner or later. He figured it was best to get it over with.

He let himself in the front door and quietly stepped into the foyer.� He intended to go straight to his room, but when passing the living room, he saw Zac laying
on the sofa. He entered the room and sat in a chair next to the fireplace.

"Tay?" Zac turned over when he heard someone walk in the room. He looked over and saw his brother sitting across from him, seemingly staring right through him.

"I'm not talking to you, Zac," Taylor said, showing absolutely no expression on his face.

"Then why'd you come in here?" Zac knew he was getting off on the wrong foot, but he couldn't seem to help it. Taylor hesitated a moment before answering.

"To tell you I'm not talking to you and I don't want you to talk to me, either."

Zac rolled his eyes and attempted to sit up. "You could've just not talked to me. I would've gotten the idea eventually."  He tried desperately not to show the pain his movements were causing him. "But since you're here, I assume you really do want to talk."

"I'm not hearing you," Taylor replied in a sing-song voice.

"Well, you know what?" I have something to say. Whether you hear it or not is up to you. Taylor leaned forward in his chair and, for the first time since entering the room, looked directly in his brother's eyes.

"Zac, what do you do? Do you sit up at night thinking of ways to fuck up my life?" he asked." I really want to know."

"Don't flatter yourself."

"C'mon, Zac! You know this whole thing is about me."

"Why does everything have to be about you?" Taylor could hear the hurt in Zac's voice. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I have feelings for Fynn?"

"I'm sure you do....I'm sure you were very anxious to get her into bed. You told me yourself you've fantasized about her.": Zac abruptly stood up from the sofa, flinching at the discomfort it caused.

"Fuck you! That's really the pot calling the kettle black, don't you think? You took the first opportunity..."

"I don't hear you." Taylor sat back in his chair, covering his ears with his hands. For an agonizing moment, the two brothers remained silent. Finally, Taylor
lowered his hands to his lap and spoke. "Did it ever occur to you that I might have feelings for her?"

"No, it didn't, because you've never had feelings for anyone but yourself!" Zac was now slowly pacing the room. He stopped and leaned against the wall for
support. "Taylor, I don't want to fight with you anymore," he said sadly.

"We wouldn't be fighting if you didn't take every opportunity to screw up my life!" Taylor's voice was beginning to rise. He took a deep breath, attempting to maintain his temper. He didn't want a repeat of the night before.

"You don't know what it's like to have you as a brother," Zac continued. "You don't know what it's like to always be in your shadow, to see everyone idolize you...the "golden boy." You've always gotten everything you wanted without ever having to do anything." Zac closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall. The tears were beginning to fall again and, as much as he didn't want Taylor to see him cry, he couldn't stop them. "Everything I've always wanted, you've gotten first. Everything I've ever worked for, you've stolen from me." The tears were streaming down Zac's face. He'd never spoken these words out loud. He had to stop and catch his breath. He opened his eyes and looked at Taylor. "Just once...just once I wanted to take something from you."

Taylor was dumbfounded. How could he not have known Zac felt this way? Had he been so self-consumed that he hadn't noticed? Or had Zac hidden his feelings so well, no one would have guessed what he was thinking? "How come you're telling me this now?" he asked. "You got what you wanted."

"No, Tay, I didn't." Zac slid down the wall to a sitting position, eyes still glued to Taylor. "She's yours. She's always been yours. I don't understand it, but it's true. Wanna know how I know?" When Taylor didn't respond, he continued. "Because it wasn't my name she called out when we were in bed."

Again silence settled over the room. Taylor's heart felt as though it would beat right out of his chest. "It wasn't?" Whose name did she call out?"

Zac looked at him with disbelief. "Don't be a moron, Taylor," he said. "Dr. Seuss...she called out Dr. Seuss during the throes of sexual ecstasy. Are you an idiot?"

"No, I just wanna hear you say it," Taylor said quietly.

"Well, I can't. It's humiliating enough that I had to hear it. I shouldn't have to repeat it, too." He paused before saying what he knew he had to say. "She loves you, Taylor. And you love her. Do something about it." He pulled himself up off the floor and turned to leave the room. "I've done my part. I'm gonna go crawl under a rock now...just shrivel up and die. I don't think I can ever face her again."

Taylor remained seated, frozen to his chair. Now that Zac was gone, he could let his tears fall freely.