The next morning Taylor got up early planning to sneak out of the house unnoticed. Dinner wasn’t an all-out argument over her skipping school, but it was unpleasant. She threw on a grey dress and her favorite sandals, put her favorite necklace back on and pulled her hair up in a messy bun. She snuck quietly down the stairs not even looking towards the kitchen, where the smell of Elizabeth’s coffee filled the room.
“Taylor, I know that’s you sneaking out the front door.” Shit.
“Yeah, mama Liz you caught me.”
“You really threw me under the bus yesterday kiddo. What were you thinking coming back home?” Taylor looked Liz directly in the eyes. Taylor had always felt Liz understood her. She may not have been around her entire life, but it certainly felt like she had been.
Honestly, I was just so shocked about Dylan, my sense of self-preservation was all mucked up.” Liz nodded as she sipped her coffee and then handed Taylor her own cup.
“I promise not to come home, next time.”
“How about you try and stay at school for a while. Instead of planning how to skip classes without getting caught next time.” Elizabeth laughed. The two were so engrossed in their conversation they didn’t notice Kate was sitting on the bottom of the stairs just listening, but then again no one really noticed Kate. She loved to watch Taylor and Elizabeth talk. Elizabeth was a very handsome woman. She had shoulder length blonde hair and dark brown almost black eyes. She had expensive taste in clothes which usually meant an expensive suit. But, to anyone who met her, imagining Elizabeth in anything but a five hundred dollar suit seemed out of place. Elizabeth came from family money and some habits you just can’t unlearn. Papa had come in from outside and noticed Kate on the steps.
“Well little one, are we off to waffle house or shall we go to Bernie’s?” Kate jumped up and into her papa’s arms.
“I think Bernie’s today. I feel like today is a milkshake kind of morning and I know Bernie will make one even if it’s not on the breakfast menu.”
The two of them headed out the door thinking no one had noticed. Of course, Rebecca was at the top of the stairs watching. She never missed anything.
Rebecca walked downstairs hoping to catch Taylor and Elizabeth for breakfast, but Taylor was already walking towards the door.
“You are leaving early today, Taylor.”
“Well, Elizabeth reminded me I had a good deal of make-up work to do and thought I would grab Dylan and do our work over breakfast. You know me, ever the responsible one.” Rebecca almost laughed, almost.
“I’ll believe that when your papa stops going to church. Tell Dylan, hello.” Taylor grabbed her keys and walked out the front door quietly laughing. Taylor walked over to Dylan’s house. It was a good quarter mile, but she loved quiet walks. She walked up to the small home and saw Dylan’s mother sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette.
“Good morning, Taylor. I was wondering when you would be by to see me. Would you like a smoke?” Dylan’s mother was a bit of a mess. Life had not been good to her and it showed. Her dark black hair was mostly grey and she no longer cared to keep up the fashion of the times and mostly wore large muumuu dresses.
“I am trying to quit, but thanks anyway, Sarah.” Sarah and Taylor had been having this same conversation every time they saw each other since she was twelve. Of course, at twelve she had never smoked a cigarette. Now was a different story.
“Such a shame, a cigarette is a bad thing to waste, you know. Dylan is upstairs, probably still sleeping.”
Taylor had never been in this house. It was a small but beautiful home. There was a small fireplace in the main living space downstairs and a staircase behind the kitchen. She quietly made her way upstairs hoping that the first room she opened wasn’t Sarah’s. God only knows what she would find in there. Upstairs was a small hallway that had three doors. The first one she opened went to a large bathroom that clearly had not been cleaned in weeks. Slowly she opened the next door to find Dylan fast asleep. She tiptoed over to the bed and jumped onto the bed hoping to wake Dylan in surprise.
“Ow! Shit, what the hell!” Taylor jumped realizing that was not Dylan’s voice. She covered her eyes with her hands. Dylan sat up rubbing his eyes looking around realizing that Cartwright was awake and Taylor was in the room facing the door.
“Hey there, Tay. Didn’t expect to see you in my bedroom this morning. My boy here is adorable in the morning. Come to catch a look at him?” Taylor turned around quickly blushing.
“No, I did not come to stare at your half-naked boyfriend. Thank you very much. I came by to see if you wanted to get breakfast and your mom told me you were still sleeping. Does she know Cartwright is here, or is she screwing with me?” Cartwright was trying to pull the sheets over his head, but Dylan wouldn’t let him. He just threw him a shirt instead.
“Oh, she knows he is up here alright, she just wanted to give you a go because you haven’t come by to see her since you moved back. Your papa comes by once a week and your Elizabeth brought over some of Rebecca’s banana cake.”
“Maybe I should have taken her up on that cigarette.” Everyone laughed. Cartwright had finally decided to stop freaking out and had scooted over to make room for Taylor on the bed.
“So, now that you have seen me in one of my most awkward moments, you said something about breakfast?” Dylan ruffled Cartwright’s hair.
“For someone so skinny, you eat a lot.”
“I can assure you, I cannot compete with the mass amounts of food you consume, Dylan.”
“That’s because I am always building more muscle. Which I happen to know, from a reliable source, that you quite enjoy.” The boys started to wrestle when Taylor coughed hoping to interrupt them.
“Boys, I get that you are madly in love and all, but sitting in bed with two gay boys is not exactly one of my fantasies.”
“You know you want us, Tay. We are irresistible.” Dylan lunged forward and grabbed Taylor. Tickling her along her ribs.
“Oh, watch yourself there Dylan. You couldn’t stand to kiss me in the eighth grade and I don’t think you would enjoy it now. But, that won’t stop me, if you insist on messing with me.” And with that Taylor pulled Dylan’s face dangerously close to hers. Cartwright wasn’t sure whether he should laugh or be jealous, so he decided to go with both.
“Enough you too. I think you should go shower, Dylan. Taylor and I can have a talk while you are gone.” Dylan and Taylor looked at each other realizing that they were in trouble. Not wanting to make matters worse Dylan climbed out of bed and headed to the bathroom.
“Before you say anything, I’m sorry. Really, Cartwright, I promise I am just messing with him. I have no interest in him. But, even then, I shouldn’t have acted like that.”
“Look, I hardly know you. You have a history with Dylan I can’t compete with. I don’t think I would win if he had to choose between us. You don’t know how happy it has made him that you came back into his life.”
“We have a history, but you have things I could never give him. I promise I only want friendship. I … well… I kind of have a relationship going on. Well, I did in Seattle. I don’t know where we stand actually.” Taylor had gotten quiet and started playing with her necklace.
“Oh, I didn’t realize. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not yet. But, thanks.” Cartwright leaned over and gave Taylor a hug.
“Any chance you want to help me find my clothes in this mess? Or is that too weird.”
“Couldn’t get any weirder, let’s look.” The two started looking under blankets and pillows and stacks of papers and books.
“I found one of Dylan’s jerseys, why don’t you just wear this?”
“Ha. Ha. Very funny. I should have a bag of clothes around here somewhere.”
“A bag, so you stay here often then?” Cartwright blushed.
“No, actually I always keep a change of clothes in my car in case something happens to my clothes. I am a little particular about what I wear.” Taylor smirked.
“I hadn’t noticed. Is this it?” She held up a brown leather duffle bag.
“Yes, thanks. I’ll just go change.” Cartwright headed towards the bathroom. Taylor was about to sit back down on the bed when she thought, ‘I think now would be a good time for that cigarette.’
Five minutes later the boys came outside to find Taylor sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette with Sarah. Dylan smirked and asked Taylor for a few drags. Cartwright just looked shocked.
“Don’t even think about it Dylan if you want any kisses from me today.”
“Well, seeing as we are going to school and you can’t kiss me at school anyway…” He took the cigarette and took a long draw in. Cartwright stormed off towards his car. Dylan shrugged his shoulders.
“This day just keeps getting better, let’s go, babe. I’ll see you after practice mom.”
They decided there was not enough time to go out to eat and opted to run through McDonald’s drive-thru on the way. They had to take two cars since Dylan and Cartwright couldn’t be seen driving to school together, so Taylor opted to ride with Cartwright hoping she could get to know him better. She had a feeling he was starting to get a bad impression of her. Although was there really any other impression, after everything she had done in Seattle? She pushed the thoughts of the past out of her mind and kept reminding herself this was a fresh start. She would make the most of it.
“I’m not a big smoker, really. I just…well… I started smoking to impress this artist and well it’s a hard habit to break. But, I really am trying. Well, I keep telling myself I am.”
“I don’t care if you smoke. It’s Dylan really. It’s like since you walked back into his life, I realize there is this whole side of him I don’t know. I have seen him smoke with his mom before and I know he doesn’t want to end up like her. So, I am really trying to help him keep focused. If he were left to his own devices I think he would get lost quickly.” Taylor put her feet up on the dash of the car.
“You are probably right. That boy would just sit in his boat and fish all day if he could.”
“So… you are into artists then?” Cartwright hoped they could change the topic of conversation off of him and Dylan. Taylor started to squirm clearly uncomfortable by the topic.
“If you must know, I am into just one artist. But, I am not going to talk about it. If you want we can talk about my art. I suppose. I have an exhibition in December in Seattle. I’ve have been working on it for a year. I have been meaning to get more involved in the art community here, but with the move and school starting I just haven’t had the time yet.” Really she was just not ready to walk into a gallery and be reminded of Hayley every day.
“Wow, I had no idea. That is really incredible. Can I see your art? I mean, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure. I would be happy to show you. Just don’t go running around the school talking about it. I don’t really like a lot of attention. If you hadn’t noticed.”
“I think it is safe to say I can keep a secret.” They both smiled and laughed as they pulled up to the school parking lot. Taylor saw Zoe waiting by her parking space. She took a deep breath and walked over as she waved bye to Cartwright.
“I’ll see you and Dylan at lunch.”
“He eats with the team, so you will have to pick to eat with him or me.”
“Oh, in that case, I’ll eat with you.” Cartwright smiled at her picking him and walked towards the school.