Many, many months later…
“Ew.” I dangled a sock from my fingertips. By the looks of it, a whole ecosystem thrived on its insides.
“Sorry.” Taylor looked up from his sheet music. “I must’ve left it. It’s been missing for weeks now.”
“Okay, take it back to your place then.” I dropped it back on the floor. “And that goes for your pile of old records too.”
“Hey, they’re art! Don’t insult them.” He sipped his green smoothie.
I sighed and crossed over the huge living room window. From here, I could look way over Nashville. Often I could see all the way to the downtown area and the airport. But today rain drenched the city.
Taylor rolled over to his back. “Are you mad, Ali?”
Only Daddy called me Ali. “No,” I snapped.
“Cool.” He twisted back around to mumble over his sheet music.
I felt like gagging. How could one person be so lovable at first, then suddenly turn into a parasite? A kale-drinking, smelly-sock-leaving parasite. One of these days, I’d just put my foot down and insist he leave for good. And maybe I’d send Jacki out with him. And Luna and Sam and Chang and all the other ‘friends’ that hung out at my apartment too much. But, I told myself, they loved me. And I had the funds to support them and all their questionable quirks and shady addictions.
A cupboard door slammed in the kitchen. Jacki yelled, “We need to go grocery shopping.”
I pressed my fingers to my temples.
“Oh.” Taylor sat up. “Have you decided what we’ll wear for our Classy Cups thingamajig?”
“Right!” Jacki wandered into the living room. “We need new outfits. I’m thinking black and purple.”
“We have black and purple.”
She laughed at me. “Well, then let’s go with black and yellow. We don’t have yellow.”
Taylor laughed too. Then he saw my face. “What’s wrong, Ali? You’re the one who suggested buying a lot of matching outfits.”
“I know.” I dropped down on my new leather couch. “I just didn’t realize I’d end up paying for all of them.”
“Yeah, we all get surprises in our lives,” Taylor drawled. “I was surprised when my mom killed herself when I was twelve; you, you were surprised when your rich Daddy left you with millions.”
“Taylor, I’m sorry. I’m sorry about your mom. No kid deserves that.”
“I don’t know.” He pushed his music aside. “Maybe if I’d seen it coming…”
“No!” I reached down to touch his shoulder. “No, Taylor, no kid is responsible for their parent’s suicide. Don’t ever think it’s your fault.”
“Thanks.” He blinked back sudden tears. “You’re a gem, Ali. What did I do to deserve you?”
I stroked his hair, trying not to imagine the creatures nesting in the mat. “Taylor…”
He smiled at me. “Hey, that kinda puts stuff into perspective sometimes. Like, maybe getting pretty matching clothes for the concert isn’t that important. Though it would’ve been nice…”
How could I say no to those deep green eyes? “Taylor, let’s go to the mall and get us some clothes. Come on, Jacki, it’s shopping time!”
Two years later…
“Big Al from Classy Cups called.” I put down my phone. “They don’t want us to sing anymore.”
Taylor dropped his shaggy head into his hands. “Sorry, baby. It’s my fault.”
I swallowed hard. “It’s our third place cancelling on us in a month. We only have three left, Taylor!”
“I know. And I’m sorry.”
“You need to control your temper.” I stepped into my Gucci boots. “I’m going out. I need air.”
“You’re coming back?” Taylor sounded like a scared child.
“Of course.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “It’s my house.”
“Right.” Taylor pulled on his new leather jacket. “I’m going with you. I need air too.”
Now I did roll my eyes.
As we rode the elevator down to ground level, he suddenly looked at his phone and gasped.
“What now?” I demanded.
“My… my friend. Damian. You know?”
“Yeah, the one whose kid has cancer?”
“Yeah, that one.” Taylor hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. “The kid needs treatments again.”
“Again? Oh, no.” I closed my eyes for a second. “I thought she was doing better after the last round of chemotherapy.”
“Yeah, me too.” Taylor’s fingers flew over the screen. After a moment, he said, “Another couple of hundred thousands. But it’s more than Damian has. He’s just a city construction worker after all.”
We exited the building and walked down the street.
Taylor shook his head. “It’s crazy, eh? We’re living it up in a fancy apartment with all the good stuff money can buy while little Destiny is dying. As we speak.”
“How much does he need?”
“Oh, $600,000 would help a lot.”
I mentally checked my bank account. “The funds are beginning to run lower. I’ve donated so much to Damian’s little princess.”
Taylor glanced at me. “You don’t have to, you know.”
“I know. But I want to.” I squeezed his hand. “Can you send his wiring info again? I want Destiny to graduate from second grade.”
“You’re the best!” Taylor hugged me.
We bought coffee and slowly wandered the streets, talking. It was times like this that made all the chaos with Taylor worth it. I handed him my phone and let him transfer the money from my account to Damian’s. Taylor hugged me again. “Damian says thank you. He asks what he can do to repay you for all the times you came through for Destiny.”
“It’s all good,” I assured him. “But I would like to meet Destiny sometime. Let’s go see her sometime.”
“Yeah, sometime.” Taylor gave his head a shake. “Hey, let’s not spoil this lovely night by being all morbid. Why don’t we go look at those pianos at Steinway Gallery?”
“You and your pianos!” I laughed. “Sure, let’s go.” But something wasn’t quite right.
While Taylor drooled over all the pianos the gallery offered, I sipped my coffee on their lobby couch. I spilled a drop on my jeans and rummaged through my purse for a tissue, then came across Taylor’s phone. He preferred it being in my purse, because he didn’t like having weighed pockets.
Suddenly instead of finding that tissue, I wrapped my fingers around his phone. Which I’d bought for him.
Early in our relationship we’d agreed to be very open and honest with each other, but to also allow each other to have privacy. We’d both agreed that the other’s phone was off limits. And I’d honoured that commitment. Until now.
Feeling like a horrid thief, I entered the password, which was my birthday. I glanced at Taylor, who was playing Fur Elise with an attentive salesman looking on. Then I opened his messaging app. Damian.
Slowly I scrolled through the texts. Disbelief and horror enshrouded me. I pressed the return button and opened several other text threads. Fur Elise became Canon in D and still I scrolled. I flipped through his banking information, then his emails.
Canon in D ended.
I heard Taylor’s footsteps approaching. The toes of his boots appeared in my line of vision. His voice came to me as through a dense fog. “Ali?”
I lifted my head. “You dirty scoundrel,” I whispered.
“What-” His eyes dropped to the phone in my hand. “Alison. What have you done.”
I got up, slowly, deliberately, calmly, and headed for the door.
“Find everything okay?” the saleswoman chirped.
“Yes. I found everything.” I pushed the heavy glass door open, strode through, and let it slam on Taylor’s stupid lying face.
He caught up with me. “Alison! I can explain!”
I kept walking.
He grabbed my arm. “Wait!”
I turned around so suddenly he jumped. “Okay, explain!” I screamed. “Is Damian your loan shark and poor Destiny’s father or is he just your loan shark? And Ruby! Is your sister really too poor to afford good housing for her and her five-year-old twins? Oh, wait! You don’t have a sister. Ruby doesn’t exist! You took all that money for yourself! To pay off that stupid trip you took to New Orleans last Mardi Gras! You never went job hunting; you went gambling! And you never worked for that architect; you met up with your evil little friends and plotted schemes against me! What else do you want to explain?”
Taylor flinched. “It’s not what you think! It’s…” But his voice trailed off. “I wanted… uh, needed that money,” he finally said weakly.
The air grew chilly and I wrapped my arms around myself. “It was all a lie.”
“Not all of it. I love you, Ali. That was always true. And I’ll make this up-”
“How, Taylor? How? How can you make this up to me. Three wasted years. Millions of dollars. Tell me, please, how can you make this up to me?”
“Don’t do this!”
“We’re done, dirty little thief. Sooooo done.”
“No, let me-”
“I never want to see you again. Never.”
And then I ran. I ran until I couldn’t take another step. Then I sank into a city bench and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. And then I just sat there, staring at the world with empty eyes.
And darkness fell over the city.
Go to (part four)