Chapter 26

Taylor slowly climbed the stairs and started for his bedroom. Upon passing Isaacs room, however, he stopped and softly knocked. "Yeah?"

"Can I come in?" Taylors voice was unusually meek.

"Sure," Isaac answered, turning toward the sound of his brothers voice.

Taylor turned the knob and stuck his head into the room.

"Are you busy I can come back later.... Ike quickly turned off his computer and motioned for Tay to enter.

"I guess you heard about last night, he said, taking a seat on the edge of the bed.

"I heard enough, Ike replied, looking for physical signs of the fight that had taken place. There were none. You did quite a number on Zac. Doesnt look like he fought back much, though. Tay detected a faint tone of disgust in his brothers voice and lowered his eyes, not able to meet Ikes piercing stare.

"I know. I cant explain it, he started. Ike leaned back in his chair, waiting for him to continue, but he didnt say another word.

"Taylor, you hurt him. Taylor looked up and took on a defensive posture.

"Well, he hurt me! Ike rolled his eyes and sighed with disgust.

"Im not gonna listen to this. You sound like a five-year-old.... He began to mimic his brothers as toddlers. He started it! Did not! Uh-huh! Didnt! Did so! Its tiresome, Taylor. You and Zac have some issues to work out. He leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees. Is it too much to ask for the two of you to act mature for once

Taylor quickly stood and walked to the door. Well, I can see whose side youre on, he hissed as he stepped into the hall.

"Im not on either side! I think youre BOTH being idiots!

* * * * *

Scout quietly opened the door and stepped inside his room. He padded over to the bed and sat on the edge.

"Fynn," he said, placing a hand on her back and gently shaking her. Wake up, sleepyhead. He began waving the cup of coffee he held under her nose. I
made java...
She slowly began to stir, pushing her hair out of her eyes.

"Mmmmm, she said, sitting up and gratefully accepting the cup her brother offered her. Thanks. I really need this. She took a long sip and savored
the earthy flavor. Leaning her head against the headboard, she closed her eyes. It didnt take long for the events of the night before to creep into her consciousness. A small frown tugged at her mouth.

"Are you gonna tell me Scout asked, settling onto the bed next to her.

"No.

"Okay, he continued, be that way. I can guess what happened anyway. He smiled smugly. Something happened between you and Zac last night and Tay
found out. He looked at her, anticipating her reaction. When she didnt he respond, he waved his hand in her face. Fynn Wake up! Am I right

"Im not talking about it, she stated emphatically.

"I am right.

"I hate it when you do that!

"Do what
 
"When you...you...KNOW everything! He laughed and placed his hand on hers.

"I cant help it. Were twins...we share the same brain cells or something.

Fynn sighed and scooted closer to her brother. She leaned down and rested her head on his shoulder. I really screwed things up, Scout, she muttered
softly. And I dont know if it can be fixed this time. He placed his arm around her and pulled her closer to him.

"If you really love him, youll figure out a way.

* * * * *

Taylor woke up, lifted his head from the pillow and stared at his clock. 2:00 p.m. He hadnt intended to fall asleep, but he was exhausted. Ginas sofa hadnt
offered much comfort the night before.....not that he would have been able to sleep anyway. His mind had been racing, his thoughts switching back and forth between anger and sadness.

He pulled himself off the bed and made his way down the stairs. Deciding he was starving, he walked into the kitchen. There was a note lying on the table.
Upon closer inspection, he recognized Ikes sprawling script:

T -Went to Mom and Dads to help with some painting. Be back later tonight. Come over...we could use the help. - I

He crumpled up the small piece of paper and tossed it into the wastebasket. There was no way he was going to his parents house. He was simply not in the mood to deal with his family.

He was rummaging through the cabinets, searching for something edible, when the phone rang.

"Hey, he said into the receiver.

"Taylor It was Zac.

"Ikes not here.

"I didnt call for Ike. I called for you, Zac told him. We need to talk.
Taylor pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at the mouthpiece as if he would be able to see his brothers face.

"We already talked.

"Cmon Taylor, we need to work things out. This is important to me. Zac was trying to sound sincere, but it was difficult. He really wanted to work things out with his brother, but it was hard for him to admit hed been wrong.

"I dont wanna talk, Taylor replied in a disgusted tone.

"PLEASE Tay He was begging now and he didnt like it. Why did Taylor have to make everything so difficult

"Im not talking about this over the phone, Zac.

"I know. I thought maybe we could meet somewhere. How about the diner Its neutral territory and its public, so we cant beat the shit out of each
other.

"I guess so, Taylor replied hesitantly. Where are you anyway

"Uh...Im at...uh...Tims house, Zac answered. I can be at the diner in fifteen minutes.

"Make it thirty.

"Okay. But Taylor Dont primp.

"This is not a good start, Zac, Taylor warned.

"I know. Im sorry. See you in half an hour, he said and hung up before Taylor could change his mind.

* * * * *

After hanging up the receiver, Zac looked across the table at Isaac. He agreed. Hell be there in 30 minutes, he said.

"Good. Just one more call to make, Ike replied.

They sat in their mothers kitchen, the telephone on the table between them. Diana stood at the sink, rinsing off lunch dishes. She grabbed a towel off the
counter and turned, wiping her hands.

"You two arent playing a joke on Taylor, are you she asked. Zac looked up at her, an expression of absolute shock on his face.

"OF COURSE NOT! Why would you think such a thing His attempt at sounding innocent failed miserably.

"Because I raised the three of you, she said, smiling and tugging on a lock of Zacs hair. Ike, I expect this kind of thing from Zac, but Im counting on you to be mature.

"Mom...really...were not playing a joke on Tay, Ike answered, not exactly meeting his mothers eyes. Its a long story...

"Okay, she replied, striding toward the door. Im trusting you. I dont want to have to listen to Taylor...uh... She hesitated for a moment.

"Whine, Zac chimed in. He whines. God, hes such a baby!

 Diana smiled at her two sons and left the kitchen, hoping to catch a bit of rest before dinnertime.

* * * * *

Fynn leaned forward and switched the radio station, searching for something that fit her mood. She sat at an incessantly long traffic light and was impatiently waiting to cross the intersection. She didnt know why she agreed to meet with Zac. His call had come as a surprise. She had figured theyd both give things a few days to settle down before talking, but Zac was insistent. The light turned green and she eased across the road, heading toward the diner.

* * * * *

The phone behind the counter rang shrilly, its tone breaking the normal din of clinking dishes and mild conversation.

"Sams Diner. May I help you

"Shirley Is that you Its me....Zac.

"Zac, baby! Howre ya doing Whenre ya gonna come see me Shirley answered happily. Zac held a special place in her heart and she hadnt seen him in quite some time.

"Soon. I promise, he replied, smiling to himself. In his opinion, Shirley WAS Sams Diner. Shed been working there since he was a kid and always had
something kind to say...even when he and his brothers and sisters were throwing food or unscrewing the tops of salt and pepper shakers. She knew all his favorite foods, usually concoctions not found on the menu, and made sure he got them.

"Shirl Is Taylor there

"Yep, honey. He just walked in a minute ago, she said, looking toward the booth where Taylor sat sipping some coffee. You wanna to talk to him

"NO! Just do me a favor...

* * * * *

Fynn pulled into the first available parking spot and turned off the ignition. She took a deep breath before opening the door and stepping onto the pavement.

As she entered the restaurant, she saw Shirley behind the counter, filling ketchup dispensers.

"Fynn, darlin! How are ya she asked as she grabbed a menu off the counter and walked to the front.

"Fine, Shirl. Thanks. Fynns demeanor proved she was anything but fine. Shirley just smiled and came out from behind the counter.

"Is Zac here yet Fynn asked. Shirleys expression was puzzled.

"Zac No, hes not here. But Taylors been waiting for you, she said as she led Fynn toward the back of the dining room. Fynn reached out and grabbed
Shirleys arm.

"Wait! Taylors here she asked anxiously.

"Yep.

"Waiting for me

"Thats what I was told, Shirley replied, not wanting to lie, but remembering her promise to Zac. She handed Fynn the menu and pointed toward a booth in the back. Hes right over there, she said and winked at Fynn knowlingly as she walked away.

Fynn cautiously stepped over to the booth where Taylor sat, absentmindedly smoking a cigarette and staring out the window. He didnt see her at first, but then caught sight of her when he turned and reached toward the ashtray.

"Whatre you doing here he asked her.

"Um, Shirley said you were waiting for me, Fynn responded quietly.

"Wrong. Im waiting for Zac, he said, pretending to be disinterested in her sudden appearance.

"Really I thought I was supposed to meet Zac here.

Taylors eyes narrowed. So Im here and youre here...but Zacs not... He was beginning to realize hed been set up. Why do I get the feeling Zac isnt
gonna show

Fynn still stood next to the table, nervously fingering the menu she held in her hands. I guess this was a waste of time for both of us, she said, trying to
gauge Taylors mood. When he didnt respond or even give her the courtesy of looking up, she continued. Well, she stammered, I guess Ill go. She turned and made her way through the maze of tables. She passed Shirley on the way, coffeepot in hand, but didnt say anything.

"Taylor, baby He looked up when Shirley approached the table. What he saw was a genuine look of concern. Dont let her go.

..
Chapter 27

Taylors emotions were running rampant. He stared at Fynns back for an instant, watching her walk out of the diner. He then looked over to Shirley, who still stood next to his table.  You cant keep letting her slip through your fingers, doll, she said sweetly, her hand on his shoulder. One of these times, shell be gone for good and youll never get her back. She looked down into his cloudy blue eyes and saw the confusion there. GO! she said firmly, pulling on his arm.

Shirley was right. He couldnt let her go. He quickly slid out of the booth, bumping the table with his leg. What remained of his coffee spilled onto the placemat and began dripping over the edge of the table, puddling on the floor.

"Oh God, Im sorry, he said, reaching for a napkin in a vain attempt to sop up the mess. Shirley waved him away.

"Go, darlin. You gotta catch her, she said, pushing him away from the booth. Ill take care of this.

"Thanks, Shirley, he said sweetly and leaned in to give her a quick peck on the cheek before running out of the diner.

* * * * *

He saw her slowly walking across the parking lot. Still standing at the entrance, he cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled.

"Fynn! Wait! She didnt look up. She didnt respond in any way. He figured she hadnt heard him. He shouted after her again.

"FYNN! WAIT UP!!! She had to have heard him that time; everyone else on the street had. Still, she continued walking toward her car, never breaking her stride. Damn! She was ignoring him!

He jumped down the steps and began to run toward her. He easily caught up to her and positioned himself in her path, successfully blocking her progress. She tried to dodge him, but he was too quick. He wasnt going to let her pass.

"Fynn...please, he said. When she finally looked up, he attempted to decipher her expression. What was that Anger Hurt Confusion Sadness Whatever it was, it wasnt positive, of that he was sure.

Now that he was standing before her, close enough to touch her, he didnt know what to say. Should he tell her how angry he was How hurt that shed slept with Zac Should he berate her for lying to him How about...

"I LOVE YOU," he blurted out before he had a chance to think about what he was saying. Shit! Had those three words really slipped past his lips He couldnt believe how stupid he was. He stood motionless, waiting for the earth to open up and
swallow him whole or lightening to strike that very spot. Certainly there was some punishment for uttering the words hed sworn he never would.

 Fynn merely stared at her feet. Her silence was maddening. His heartbeat was racing now, anticipating her response. After a few moments, however, it seemed as though none were forthcoming.

 You know, this is all new to me, he said. Ive never said that to anyone, but I think I heard somewhere that its customary for you to respond in some way. His aggravation was evident in the sarcastic tone of voice he used. She looked up
at him, confusion clouding her green eyes.

 What do you want from me she asked quietly.

 How about the truth he asked, nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot.

 The truth Her look was incredulous. Is that a concept you understand, Taylor Now she was staring him down...easily turning the tables and taking an offensive stance. I just dont know what to say.

 Say you feel the same way, he said, his eyes pleading with her.

 I cant. Her voice was almost a whisper.

 Why are you being this way Taylor threw his hands up and began roughly running his fingers through his hair in frustration. He was trying desperately to contain his emotions. Fynn stared at him with disbelief.

 Have you forgotten last night, Tay You hit me! She had raised her voice and Taylor nervously glanced around the parking lot to see if anyone stood close enough to hear. Seeing that no one was in the vicinity, he leaned forward until his
face was a few inches from hers.

"You fucked my brother! In his mind, her behavior rationalized his behavior. How had she expected him to react

"Look...Im not condoning what I did, she said. It was wrong and it was stupid. But that doesnt give you the right to react violently. She wasnt going to let him off the hook this time.

"You dont understand how hurt and angry I was.....still am.

"You know what Life sucks sometimes. You need to find a different way to cope because I guarantee thats not the last time youre gonna feel angry or hurt. Violence doesnt become you, Taylor. She stepped around him and began to walk
toward her car.

"But...

"NO! There is no excuse you can give me that Ill accept! No one has EVER hit me before. She reached for the handle and pulled the car door open. She could sense Taylor standing behind her. He extended his arm and placed his hand over
hers.

"Itll never happen again, he told her. She wanted to believe him; his words sounded sincere, but she knew it wasnt that simple.

"Thats easier said than done. She attempted to lower herself into the drivers seat, but he held her shoulders and turned her body to face him. He looked tormented and desperate.

 Trust me. He was begging now and he didnt like it. Hed never had to beg for anything in his life.

 I dont know how, she told him, feigning sudden interest in her shoes. She felt his grip on her shoulders tighten slightly.

"God, Fynn! Youre not listening to me! Im telling you that I love you! Do you know how hard that is for me Look at me! Isnt that enough! He was frantically holding onto his last shred of dignity.

"No, it isnt."

The muscles in his body were tensing and his heart was racing. Anger was bubbling just below the surface. His attempt to remain calm was failing miserably

"Well, if you can keep from jumping all over Zacs dick, then I can control my temper!

"Taylor, you need to know that Im sorry.....

"No.....I need to know if you love me. His eyes were piercing and she shivered. She wanted so badly to say what he wanted to hear, but the feeling of his fingers digging into her shoulders and the cold stare of his eyes convinced her to tell him the truth.

"Im scared of you, she mumbled.

"What!! Her words were like a slap to his face. He couldnt conceive that she was actually frightened of him. He dropped his hands, releasing his grip on her shoulders and took a step back. He was speechless.

"How do I know youll be able to stop yourself next time And there will be a next time, Taylor. Im sure to do something to piss you off. How can I be sure you wont hit me again And will once be enough next time

"AAARGH! You are so infuriating! The need to lash out was overwhelming. He wanted to grab her.....shake her until she understood. Instead, his fingers clutched at the fabric of his pants and he turned away from her; his final attempt at
composure.

"See Ive already made you angry. He closed his eyes briefly, taking in a deep breath and turned back to face her.

"Im beginning to think that night in San Francisco was a mistake, he spit out. The moment his tongue formed the words, he regretted them. He didnt mean what hed said, but the damage was done.

"I think youre right, she replied, her eyes now damp. She got into her car and placed the key in the ignition. Before she could slam the door, however, he took hold of the handle and leaned toward her.

"Wait.....I didnt mean that, his voice trembling. If it was a mistake, it wasnt BECAUSE it happened, but the WAY it happened. Our first time together couldve been so different.

She pried his fingers from the door and pushed him away.

"Youre right. I couldve been conscious, she said softly.

* * * * *

Fynn sat behind the wheel of her car. Shed felt empty as she watched Taylor drive out of the parking lot. Finally, she reached over and cut the engine. She didnt feel like driving, instead remaining in the parking lot, watching people walk in
and out of the diner. The sudden rumbling in her stomach reminded her she hadnt eaten anything. Some comfort food from Sams would be just right. She grabbed her purse from the passenger seat and stepped onto the pavement.

Soon after seating herself in a booth somewhat removed from the other patrons, Shirley ambled by and slid into the seat across from her.

 You dont look happy.

 No, thats not the word Id use to describe my current state of mind, Fynn told her. Shirley reached across the table and took her hand.

 Im on break. Do you need to vent

 I dont think you wanna hear all the sordid details.

 Shirley chuckled to herself and patted Fynns hand. Honey, Ive done a lot of livin in my 40 plus years, she said. Im pretty unshockable. Besides, Im a good listener.

 Fynn looked up into the waitress sweet face. The opinion of an objective third party certainly couldnt hurt her situation, and might actually help her see things from a different perspective. She leaned back against the booth and took a deep breath. Her voice was quiet, but steady, as she began to tell Shirley about the past two months.

* * * * *

 Shirley listened intently as Fynn recounted her story. The girls eyes were moist and her voice was dispirited when she brought things to a close by describing the encounter with Taylor in the parking lot.

 So, that about wraps it up, she said, looking at Shirley for the first time since shed begun her narrative. She leaned into the table and fingered her coffee cup. Do you think Im wrong, Shirley she asked meekly. I mean, I cant believe he hit
me. If youd seen him last night, you wouldnt have recognized him.

 No, darlin. I dont think youre wrong, Shirley offered. You have every right to be concerned. But maybe you should give him a chance to change.

 Change isnt that easy.

 No, it isnt. But some people need a reason to change. She paused for a moment until she was sure Fynn was looking at her. Let me ask you this.....do you love him Fynn turned away from Shirleys inquisitive stare. Her voice was barely audible. Shirley had to lean forward to hear her.

 Yes. Yes, I do, she replied meekly.

 Then maybe youre his reason.

 It shouldnt be my responsibility to change him.

 Thats not what Im sayin. No one can change another person. But maybe knowing that you love him and having you in his life would give him the strength to do it for himself. She rose from her seat and gazed down at Fynn. Just somethin to think about. I know youll do the right thing. She walked away, leaving Fynn to mull over her words.

* * * * *

 Could this be the worst day of his life Taylor wondered as he slammed the kitchen door. No, that was yesterday.....the day hed found Fynn and his brother in bed together. He pulled out a chair, sat down and placed his head on the table. This would definintely classify as the second worst day, he decided.

 Zac sauntered into the room and stopped when he saw Taylor face down on the table. Hed heard the slamming door and came to investigate his brothers emotional state. He had hoped his plan of throwing Taylor and Fynn together at the diner
would have positive results. From the looks of things, though, that wasnt the case.

"Hey, Taylor. You still mad at me he asked, standing in the doorway. Taylor neither moved nor responded to his inquiry. Patience not being one of Zacs strong suits, he moved closer and yelled in his brothers direction. TAYLOR! I asked you a question!!!

"Shut up, Zac, Taylor mumbled into the wood surface of the table.

"So whatre you saying Do I need to sleep with one eye open tonight

"Shut up, Zac!

"Geez, I just wanna know.....

"ZAC! Shut up!! Taylor sat up and threw an evil stare across the room. Im not mad. Im not happy. Im not confused, excited, sad or cheerful. Im not fucking ANYTHING!!! It takes too much goddamned energy to feel! Taylors outburst brought Isaac from the family room. He looked from Taylor to Zac and back again.

"Thats a pretty strong statement, Tay, he said in his perpetually calm voice. Taylor looked at Ike, perturbed that nothing seemed to bother him.

"You think thats a strong statement If you only knew what I REALLY want to say! He pushed away from the table, the legs of the chair scraping against the tile floor. He stood and began pacing the confines of the small kitchen. I took your stupid advice, Ike! I finally opened myself up and.....and.....it turned out exactly the way I thought it would!

"I take it you talked to Fynn Zac asked, himself now seated at the table and munching on stale potato chips hed found in the dark recesses of the corner cabinet. Taylor placed his hands on the table in front of Zac and leaned into his face.

"State the obvious, why dontcha, Zac Youre the one who orchestrated the whole miserable fiasco! Will you ever stop Zac looked vaguely hurt that his plan had apparently backfired.

"I was trying to help, he said.

"Newsflash, Zac: IT DIDNT FUCKING HELP!!!!

"So, are you gonna tell us what happened or should we just assume the world is coming to an end Isaac reached into the bag Zac was eating from and tossed some chips in his mouth. Uuuuugggghhh! Zac! How can you eat those he asked,
hurrying to the sink. After rinsing his mouth out with water, he turned back to Taylor. Did you talk to her or not

"Not only did I talk to her, he stated, I was stupid enough to tell her I love her.

Silence settled over the room as Isaac and Zac stared at their brother. Taylor continued to pace back and forth, his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. He suddenly noticed the absolute quiet and looked up.

"What!!!

"Nothing, Ike replied.

"No, youre thinking something. Just say it. Zac and Ike looked at each other, wondering who would be the first one to speak. Zac, never one to tolerate quiet, finally broke the silence.

"I didnt think you knew how to pronounce the L word, he said. The F word, maybe, but definitely not.....

"Zac! Enough. Isaac could see where this was going and decided to stop it before things got out of hand. What did she say, Tay he asked, holding his hand over Zacs mouth.

"She doesnt love me. She doesnt trust me, he said sadly. He lowered his voice and looked at his hands. She said shes scared of me. He hesitantly looked at Isaac.
What the hell am I supposed to do with that

"Maybe you need to earn her trust.

"How His voice was pleading, desperate for some answers.

"I dont know, Tay. But if you really love her, you wont let it end here.....not without trying.

A sound from outside caused all three brothers to turn toward the kitchen door. They heard faint mumbling just as the door swung open and Jack strolled in..

"Hidey-ho, neighbors! he called out cheerfully.

"Were not your neighbors, Jack, Zac reminded him, rolling his eyes.

"I know. I just like sayin that. He promptly walked to the counter and poured himself a cup of steaming coffee. I came to see how my favorite dysfunctional family was doing. He eyed all three and then settled his gaze on Zac. Um....Zac
You look like hell, he said smugly.

"Why thank you.

Jack pulled out a chair and sat down. He took in the uncomfortable silence and looked up at Taylor, standing at the sink, eyes cast downward.

"Did I stumble in at a bad time he asked. No one seemed willing to comment, so he stood and placed his cup in the sink. Okay. I can take a hint, he said and started to leave.

Taylor finally looked up at his friend. Realization swept over him and he suddenly knew what it was he needed to do.

"Jack, wait. Jack turned to look at Taylor. Hed never seen him look so tired and morose.

"Yeah"

Taylor struggled with what to say next. Three pairs of eyes were on him and he felt embarrassed. He looked at the floor and silently debated whether to continue.

"Is your therapist taking any new clients he asked as quietly as possible. Jack sensed that whatever was going on, it was serious. He resisted the urge to make a smart-ass comment. Instead, he looked at his friend with empathy.

"Im sure he is, he said simply.

"Can you give me his number I think I need help."

.
Chapter 28

The whistle of the tea kettle lured Fynn back into the kitchen. She turned off the burner and carefully poured the boiling water over a bag of jasmine tea. After dropping in a thin slice of lemon, she picked up the cup and let the heat warm her hands.
She pulled her sweater tightly around her nightgown and stepped onto the front porch. The night was cool, but comfortable. The porch swing beckoned to her.  She glanced at her watch....3:16 a.m. Shed spent hours tossing and turning, sleep never quite overcoming her. Shed finally pulled herself out of bed, pulled on some socks and grabbed her sweater. The sound of Scouts steady breathing had drifted past his open door as she crept down the hallway. She stopped briefly and watched him sleep before continuing toward the stairs.

 Now she was nestled into the porch swing, taking in the odd silence of the early morning. Far in the distance she could hear the faint rumbling of trucks on the interstate. Other than that, the quiet enveloped her. She lifted the cup to her lips and
sipped the aromatic tea. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back as the warmth spread down her throat.

 Her conversation with Shirley that afternoon would not leave her thoughts. Deep down, she knew Taylor deserved the opportunity to prove himself. Shed been raised to believe everyone deserved a second chance. She supposed he shouldnt be an exception. Besides, she thought to herself, the truth was something she could no longer ignore.

 She was in love with Taylor Hanson and it was time for her to admit it....to herself and to him. The fear of losing him completely was so close to the surface of her consciousness. If she didnt act soon, he could easily decide that a relationship with her was impossible. She needed him to know that she wanted him in her life, even if that thought frightened her.

 The chains holding the swing in place creaked slightly as she swayed back and forth. She watched as a delicate breeze rustled the fallen leaves that covered the lawn. They would need to be raked soon, but that would have to wait. As soon as
darkness turned to light and a decent hour arrived, she would go to Taylors house.
* * * * *

Taylor lay in bed staring at the ceiling. He kicked off the comforter, turned on his side and bunched the pillow up under his head. First he was hot; then he was cold. He was exhausted, but not tired. He couldnt seem to get comfortable.

Isaacs words echoed in his mind. He knew his brother was right; he was afraid to share himself. He had lived the past few years of his life not knowing what people wanted from him. Whenever he met someone new, he didnt know who he was...Taylor Hanson, the Celebrity or Taylor Hanson, the Person. After being burned several times early on, hed quickly learned to hide himself and act like a star...selfish, ruthless, manipulative and dishonest when he had to be. He perfected the art of getting what he wanted, when he wanted it and not caring if anyone was hurt in the process. He was convinced he neednt
feel guilty; he was merely watching out for himself.

It wasnt really him, just someone he created. The creation, however, had begun to control his life. It was becoming more and more difficult to let down the facade and allow people in.

* * * * *

Fynn forced herself to wait until until late morning before leaving for Taylors house. She'd had four cups of coffee during the interminable hours preceding 10:30. She sat on the sofa, her legs tucked tightly underneath her. She had attempted to read, but couldnt concentrate on the words swimming over the page. The remote to the TV lay abandoned on the coffee table, tossed there after several minutes of channel surfing. She simply couldn't focus.

Her heart was racing as she finally raised herself from the sofa and grabbed her purse and keys from the small table next to the door. She quietly let herself out and raced down the hallway toward the stairs.

"Morning, Fynn." She turned to see Amanda, another student resident, picking up her newspaper. You seem to be in a hurry this morning. Late for class

"Not exactly, she said. "Im about two months late for something much more important. Amanda looked curious, but Fynn hurriedly made her way down the steps and onto the porch.

She stopped for a brief moment, taking in the cool, fresh air. For reasons she didnt understand, she closed her eyes. Please let me be doing the right thing, she silently told herself.

* * * * *

Zac heard the doorbell but ignored the sound. He turned back to his computer screen and continued reading an e-mail that he was only half interested in. The bell rang again and he stopped for an instant, straining to hear Ike or Tay moving to
answer it. He wasnt expecting anyone, so didnt feel a tremendous need to rush downstairs. With the third ring, however, he roughly pushed his chair back and began the trek downstairs.

 Cant someone answer the goddamned door he yelled as he tripped down the steps. As he passed the family room, he saw Taylor sprawled on the sofa, eyes closed and his Discman laying on his chest. He was deeply entranced in whatever he was listening to and clearly hadnt heard the insistent ringing of the doorbell. Evidently, Ike had left earlier, because his keys were missing from their usual spot on the hall table. I have to do everything around here, Zac mumbled to himself.

 He impatiently reached for the deadbolt on the door and turned it forcefully. He yanked it open, curious to see who was disturbing his already crummy morning.

 Fynn She was standing before him, her hands clasped nervously in front of her.

 Hi Zac, she murmured, head down.

 Several moments passed, both of them unsure what to say to the other. Zac stared at her and wondered how things had gone so wrong. She was one of his best friends. He had tried to force something more out of their relationship and now risked
losing it all.

 Fynn, he said finally, Im so sorry. It was all he could think to say.

 Im sorry, too, Zac. She looked at him then, hoping for a sign that their friendship could be saved. He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close to him.

"Itll be okay, he said quietly. He then released her and stepped back into the front hall, motioning for her to enter. You didnt come here to see me. Taylors in the family room. Fynn watched as he reached for his keys and tucked his wallet
into his back pocket. He left then, quietly closing the door behind him.

* * * * *

She stood there for a moment collecting her thoughts. She still wasnt sure what exactly she intended to say to Taylor. Its now or never, she thought to herself. Taking a deep breath, she slowly walked toward the family room.

Taylor remained on the sofa, his body laid out to its full length. His eyes were shut tight and Fynn noticed the headphones tightly hugging his ears. He was singing along with whatever CD he was listening to. She stood still, taking the opportunity
to watch and listen. His voice was full of emotion as he mouthed the words to the song. It took a few moments, but then she recognized the words. She smiled to herself as she realized how appropriate the song was to their situation. Have a little faith in me, he sang. She wondered if he realized the irony in those words.

She couldnt bring herself to interrupt him. Quietly she stood, savoring his soulful voice. When the song ended, he opened his eyes and began to sit up.

"Shit! he yelped, pulling the headphones off. You scared me!

"Sorry, was all she could manage to say.

"How long have you been standing there

"A few minutes. She entered the room and placed herself on the sofa, next to him. That was beautiful, she said.

"Oh, well...Ive always liked that song, he replied softly, looking down at his lap and turning the disc player over and over in his hands. He paused and then added, I didnt expect to see you here.

"Im sure you didnt...not after some of the things I said yesterday.

"I deserved it.

"No, Taylor, you didnt. She turned to look at him. You were trying to tell me something and I wasnt listening. I was too busy trying to justify my behavior. He wouldnt look at her. He kept his head down, his only movement to lift his
hand and push his hair behind his ear. I did something terrible and I hurt you. She reached for his hand, silently pleading with him to hear her. Im so sorry.

He pulled his hand away and abruptly stood up. Wait right there, was all he said as he left her sitting in the room alone. Moments later, he returned and handed her a small card. Here, he said as he returned to his seat next to her. She looked at
the card:

Joseph Martin, Ph.D.
Psychotherapy
Personal and Family Counseling
555-9304

"Whats this she asked, puzzled.

"I have an appointment with him on Thursday, he stated, waiting for her reaction.

She leaned back against the cushions, still staring at the card she held in her hand. She didnt know what to say. Taylor stood up and began pacing the room.

"I know you dont trust me, Fynn. I know youre scared of me, he said sadly. I want to earn back your trust, but I dont know how. He stopped and looked directly at her. Im hoping this guy can help me figure out what the hells wrong with me...why Im so afraid of being close to anyone. When she didnt respond, he continued.

"Fynn, you did hurt me. He was about to open up more than he ever had before and it scared him, but now that hed started, his emotions came tumbling out. He took a deep breath before continuing. You hurt me more than Ive ever been hurt
before. Seeing you with Zac...I cant describe how it felt, but the thought that I might lose you... His voice trailed off as he searched for the right words. It made me realize how much I need you...how much I love you.

Fynn rose from the sofa and walked toward him. She handed him the business card. Im glad youre getting help, Taylor. But I need to know that youre doing it for the right reason. She looked up at him, studying his face. Are you doing
this for me she asked. He hesitated slightly before answering.

"No. Im doing it for me, he said. But youre the reason I made the call.

A wry smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she recalled Shirleys words of the day before. Some people need a reason to change. Maybe youre his reason, shed told her. She lifted her hand and placed it gently on the side of his face.

"I love you, Taylor.

He hadnt realized hed been holding his breath until then. He slowly exhaled. Hed been waiting so long to hear her say those words. When he looked in her eyes and saw the truth they held, he knew everything would be okay.

He reached out and pulled her close to him. For the first time since that night in San Francisco, he leaned down and placed his lips on hers. Never had a single kiss felt so right.

.
Chapter 29

          Ive waited so long to do that.   The feeling of Fynns lips against his had sent a shiver through Taylors body.  He held her close and nuzzled her neck,
  intoxicated with her smell.  Its so different than last time, he whispered into her ear.  She pulled back from his embrace.

          You really do remember that night, dont you she asked.  She studied his face, wondering at the memories she was certain were floating through his mind.

          Yes, every detail.  I remember how I felt the moment I saw your body for the  first  time.  I remember how you looked as you laid back on the bed.  I remember your  voice when you said you wanted me.  He paused for a moment, relishing the feelings his memories stirred deep within him.  It was wonderful, but I can see now how it couldve been so much better.  At that moment, he felt a tenderness hed never experienced before.  He knew instinctively that this was the connection Isaac had been talking about. He wanted to love her, protect her, devote himself to her.  It wasnt just about sex anymore.  It was about loving her.

          Fynn reached out and placed her hand on his chest.  He placed his own over hers and directed it to the spot over his heart.  She felt his racing heartbeat and
  smiled.  Her fingers inched upwards over his shoulders and around his neck, drawing him to her again. She wanted nothing more than to feel his body against hers, to feel his warm breath on her face.  Their lips met again.  The intensity of the kiss, the taste of his tongue as it gently explored her mouth, made her whimper softly.  His hands traced an abstract pattern over her back as they moved down and pulled her hips into his.

          Taylor guided her to the sofa, never breaking their embrace.  He gently urged  her  to lean back into the overstuffed cushions.  She could feel his erection as he
  lowered  himself onto her.  He became lost in her, in the feeling of her.  His hands  began caressing  her body as his excitement built.

          Not here, she said breathlessly, breaking away from his kiss.  His lips  moved  from her mouth to her neck.  He licked her skin, tasting her sweetness.

          No ones home, he mumbled, taking an instant to lightly nip at her ear.  Were all alone.

          Its not that, Taylor.  She pushed him away and he sat up, pushing his hair  away  from his face.

          What he asked, trying to understand her reluctance.  She looked at him and  reached for his hand.

          I want it to be right.  I dont want this to turn into an urgent groping  session,  Taylor.  I dont want to fuck you on the couch.  I want to make love to you,
  she  hesitated slightly before continuing. In your bed.

          The moment the words departed her lips, she knew what his response would be.  Theyd had this conversation several times in the past. Taylor didnt share
  his bed with  anyone.  Shed never given it much thought, other than thinking it slightly  odd.  But this  was different.  This wasnt one of his infamous one-night-stands.

          He didnt look at her, but stared down at his hands, wringing them tensely in  his  lap.  Um...my room, he began, laughing nervously, its really a mess.  You
  wouldnt  believe it.  As a matter of fact, Id be embarrassed for you to see the way I  really live.

          If you want me to trust you, youve got to trust me, too, she replied,  reaching  for his hand and holding it gently in hers.

          What

          I know what youre thinking, Tay.  Ive been in your room before.  I know  what  it looks like.  This isnt about that, is it  She longed for him to look at
  her, but his gaze  never shifted.  He pulled his hand from her grip and stood up.

          Do you want something to drink he asked as he strode from the room.
          Shed expected resistance.  That was no surprise.  She hadnt, however,  expected  him to completely ignore her.  She followed him into the kitchen where she  found him  facing the sink, his hands gripping the edge of the counter.  His head was  lowered, hair  hanging limply, obstructing his face.  He didnt hear her as she slipped up  behind him.

          Talk to me, she said quietly.  Help me understand.

          He turned abruptly to face her, an anguished look washing over his face.  Do  you  know what its like he demanded. He paused as if he fully expected her to  answer.  She  opened her mouth to speak, but didnt know what words he wanted to hear.  No,  you  dont, he continued.  You couldnt possibly know.  He looked towards the  ceiling,  searching for the right phrases...the words to define how he felt.  Taking in  a deep breath,  he stepped away from the counter and pulled a chair out from the table.  He  sat, placed his  elbows on top of the morning paper and rested his head in his hands.

          When he finally looked up, he saw her sitting across from him.  She was so  beautiful and kind and compassionate and...  He knew he loved her.  He knew he
  needed  her.  She reached across the table and again took his hand.

          Trust me, she whispered.  He gripped her hand a little tighter and  hesitantly  began to speak.

          My entire life Ive been surrounded, he began.  First my family, all 300  of them.  Then, when the music thing began, there were agents, managers, producers,  fans,  bodyguards...  His voice faded as he struggled to make her understand.  Its  been  constant for six fucking years, Fynn!  Im never alone.  I cant get away.

          The only time Im truly alone is when Im in my own home...which isnt  often...in  my own room, in my own bed.  I dont expect you to understand.  Im not sure I  understand it myself.  Its like...I dont know...my coccoon...the only place  where I can  cut off the rest of the world, where no one can get to me.  Even Ike and Zac  have their  expectations, their idea of who I should be, how I should act, what I should  say. Ive never shared my bed with anyone, Fynn.  I just cant.  I feel safe  there.  Its  the last piece of me and Im afraid of giving that up.  Im afraid Ill end up  completely  losing myself.

          He stopped and looked at her.  He felt drained of emotion.  Suddenly, he was  afraid.  Would she think he was crazy  Did he sound paranoid  Unstable  His  eyes  pleaded with her to understand.

          I cant make you not feel those things, Taylor, she said.  Im not trying  to take  away your safety net.  I want to *be* your safety net.  She lifted his hand
  to her lips and  gently kissed his palm.  I love you, she continued, but I want things to be  right between  us.  Ill wait.

          Wait he asked, not certain he understood.

          Until youre ready to give yourself to me...completely.  She released his  hand  and stood up.

          Are you leaving he asked, a sense of panic beginning to overtake him.

          Maybe were rushing this, Taylor.  Lets take some time to think it  through.  She  turned to walk out of the kitchen.  She was hurting, but she also knew she
  wasnt willing  to accept what he was willing to give at that moment.  Waiting for him was all  she could  do.

          He watched her walk out.  A feeling of intense grief welled up inside him.  How  many times had he watched her walk away  Too many.  He wouldnt let her go  again.  He heard the front door open.  In seconds, it would be too late.  He rose from  the table  and hurried to catch her.

          She was stepping onto the front step when he reached for her arm and drew her  into his embrace.

          Dont go, was all he could manage to say.

  * * * * *

          The late afternoon sun peeked through the curtains framing the windows,  bathing  Taylors room with magical shadows.  The light created a gentle warmth that  surrounded  them as they stood near the end of his bed.

          He lifted her face to his and tenderly kissed her, caressing her smooth, pale  skin.  Let me look at you, he said quietly, stepping back and taking her in with
  his eyes.  She  stood motionless as he began to undress her, slowly peeling her clothes away  and  dropping them to the floor.  She thought she would feel uncomfortable standing  under his  gaze, but she didnt.  All she felt was his love for her.

          Youre so beautiful, he murmured, his voice filled with awe.  His hands  slid over  her bare skin as he explored her body.  Every curve, every angle seemed new  and perfect.  She closed her eyes and concentrated on his touch.  It was so soft, so tender.  It felt like a  whisper gliding over her skin.

          Fynn felt her body grow warm under his hands.  She opened her eyes and  watched  as his fingers traced the lines of her body.  He lifted his head and his eyes
  locked with hers.  She took in a slow, deep breath as he cupped his hands around her face and  drew her  mouth closer.  She expected a kiss, but instead he lightly licked her lips  with his tongue.  She reluctantly stepped back.

          Taylor...  Her voice was pleading, but she found she couldnt speak more  than  his name.  She reached out and began to unbutton his shirt.  It slid easily
  off his lean body  and fell to the floor.  Her fingers skimmed over the muscles of his chest,  stopped to circle  his nipples, then continued down to his stomach.  The ridges of his abdomen  fascinated  her, as did the faint line of soft hair that started just beneath his navel  and created a path to  the waist of his pants where it disappeared.

          His remaining clothes were quickly shed.  She explored the rest of his body,  memorizing every part of him.  Her hands roamed down his back and rested
  briefly on his  hips.  He flushed with anticipation as she circled around to the front and  delicately grazed  his penis with her fingertips.

          He felt a sense of deep hunger for her.  He led her to the edge of his bed  and, as  his arms closed around her shoulders, they tumbled onto the crisp sheets.
  Fynn took in the  smell of him...his essence...as her body conformed to his.  A tingling  pleasure rushed  through her when she felt his erection and reached down to caress him.  He  brushed his  lips across her chest and took a nipple into his mouth.  His sucking caused  her to squirm  beneath him, the tremors building up inside her becoming stronger.
          They swayed in unison, rolling from one side of the bed to the other.  He  shuddered expectantly when she stopped their movements, her body hovering over
  him.  She nuzzled his neck, running her tongue along the curve of his shoulder.  With a  shivering lightness, she began to kiss a path down his chest to his hard, flat
  belly.  Her hair  trailed down his torso, causing him to sigh quietly.

          Taylor could feel her warm breath on his cock.  Waiting for her to touch him  was  agonizing.  She looked up at him with longing and opened her mouth to receive  him.  His  back arched violently and he called out her name with a groan.  He strained  against the  impulse to thrust for fear he would lose control.  She continued to stroke him  with her lips  and tongue, stopping occasionally to lightly kiss the tip of his hardness.

          He shuddered when he felt the familiar pulsing deep inside.  His body went  rigid,  warning her to stop.  His hands moved to raise her, pulling her up against his
  body.  In a  fluid movement, he laid her back against the pillows.  He held her arms  slightly above her  head and kissed her deeply.  He licked his way down her body and Fynn slowly  opened  herself to him.

          The first languid stroke of his warm tongue against her sex caused her to  gasp.  She mindlessly rotated her hips as he brought her ever closer to climax.  The
  flickering of  his tongue caused a spinning sensation.  She reached over her head and firmly  grasped the  posts of the bed.

          In an unguarded moment, she cried out to him.  Oh God...Taylor...youre  making  me come...aaaahhhhh.  He didnt pause his movements, but continued to lick  and kiss  her.  She felt she was melting into him.
          When her orgasm subsided, he slowly rose and positioned himself above her.  He  looked deeply into her eyes, his face filled with wonder, passion, love.  His
  hands found  the hollow of her hips and he held her steady as he entered her.  With  measured strokes,  they synchronized their rhythm, moving against each other with the raw  intensity of need.

          He drove himself deeper into her...to the very center of her being.  This man  is  home, Fynn thought to herself.  Everything about him the center of her
  universe.  She  clung tightly to him, listening intently to the sound of his voice as he  moaned in pleasure.

          I belong inside you, he whispered.  Its where Im meant to be.  He felt  a  sudden exhiliaration and quickened his thrusts.  Again his body tightened.  He
  held himself  perfectly still, locking his eyes with Fynns, as if asking her permission for  release.

          Give yourself to me, Taylor, she said.  He tossed his head back and  abandoned  himself to her.  He cried out as he spilled himself inside her, her warmth
  closing in around  him...keeping him safe.

  * * * * *

          Fynn slowly opened her eyes.  It took a moment for her vision to adjust to  the  darkness surrounding her.  Taylor slept soundly next to her, her arm flung
  over his chest,  rising and falling with his every breath.  She carefully lifted her head and  peered over at  the clock sitting on the bedside table.  It was late, and as much as she  wanted to burrow  into the covers next to Tays warm body, she knew she shouldnt.  Being here  in his room  at all seemed to be pushing the limits as it were.  She was treading on thin  ice and she  knew it.  One step at a time, she thought to herself.

          She lifted the covers and quietly slid out of bed.  She began to feel around  the  room for her clothes in the dark, not wanting to wake Taylor.  He shifted in
  his sleep and  let out a low sigh.  She stepped closer, unable to resist the urge to watch  him.  Shed  never seen him at such an undefended moment.  He looked so peaceful and calm.  None of  the anxiety, stress or anger that had become such a part of him, was evident.  She smiled  down at his sleeping form, wanting to reach out and touch him, but instead  blowing a  silent kiss toward his lips.  She turned again to retrieve her clothes.

          Taylor was nearing the edge of wakefulness.  Hed been sleeping so deeply  when  he suddenly felt cold.  He struggled to open his eyes and look around the
  room.  It took a  moment for him to grasp exactly where he was.  Then his eyes settled on Fynn  in the  darkness, sitting on the edge of the bed, her back to him.  He reached out and  placed his  hand on the smooth skin of her back.

          Are you leaving he asked quietly.  She jumped, startled at the sound of  his  voice and the feel of his hand.

          Yeah, its late.  I should go, she replied, turning to look him in the  eyes.  He  didnt move, but offered a faint smile.  I didnt mean to wake you up.

          You didnt, he offered.  I felt cold.

          His words were followed by an awkward silence.  Fynn, determined not to push
  him, stood up and began to pull on her pants.

          Scout will wonder where I am, she said, simply trying to fill the void with  meaningless words.  And I have studying to do tomorrow.  I should get some
  rest.  She  struggled momentarily with the zipper of her jeans.  Maybe when Im done we  can go get  some coffee...or something...if you want to, that is.  She was silently  willing him to say  something...anything...but he simply laid there, intently watching her dress.
  Another smile  played across his lips and she looked down to see that she had buttoned her  shirt wrong,  leaving it to hang crooked on her frame.  She unbuttoned it again and with  shaky fingers  began to carefully match button to buttonhole.

          I mean, if youre busy tomorrow, thats okay, she rambled, not able to stop  herself.  As a matter of fact, maybe tomorrow isnt so good after all.  I
  really need to  jump on Scouts ass and get him to help me clean the apartment.  You wouldnt  believe...

          Fynn he interrupted her pointless train of chatter.

          Yes

          Stay, he said simply, reaching a hand out for her.  Stay with me tonight.

          But, Taylor... she began.
 
          Ssshhhh, he whispered, stopping her.  She took his hand and he pulled her  down  next to him.  Stay.

  * * * * *