Back in the Swing of Things
There was nothing special about Taylor Givens. She was your normal, All-American teenage girl. Well, she was black, African American, a person of color but she was still All-American in dark blue denim shorts, a lime racer-back tee and white high-top converse. Two goddess braids sat along each side of her head hanging past the curves of her breast, as baby hair lay brushed down along her hairline. Her mocha skin sparkled with red undertones accentuating her bold arched eyebrows, long eyelashes and clear gloss on her plump lips. She was 5’5’’, played tennis but kept her full hips and derriere to match. She pulled in B’s and sometimes an A would make an appearance, had two best friends that were cheerleaders and an ex-boyfriend that’s a running back. She liked Gone Girl, The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars. She wasn’t special. Then again, her sister was away studying at Georgetown, her parents were pilots that were almost never home and her brother was also her twin. She paid the bills, bought the groceries, cleaned the house (Saturdays only), and cooked the meals. She was seventeen and held the title Head of Household while her parents were away. Well, I guess she is pretty spectacularly special.
“Dad, is gonna kill you!” Taylor spewed gawking at the black Audi A7 sitting in the stuffy garage under the luminescent overhead light as burnt rubber and metal hovered in the enclosure.
The three-car garage that housed her car, their dad’s car and their mom’s Audi Q7 was their dad’s favorite room in the house. It was where he spent his time channeling his inner Jesus whittling wood into bookshelves and end tables for anyone who asked. The shovel, hoe, shears, pitchfork (The twins were still trying to understand that one, since they didn’t live on a farm and didn’t have hay) hung on the wall with silver hooks along with their mountain bikes. The self-propelled red and black mover sat in the corner next to the black metal ten-drawer tool chest. His workbench was rolled back straddled along the horizontal wall in front of the cars. It was his place of refuge, they on the other hand left it as soon as their cars cranked.
“It’s not that bad. You’re over reacting. We just need to put some paint here and here.” Tyler pointed to the front bumper on the driver’s side, crooked and scratched like a sheet of used aluminum foil displaying the silver fiberglass underneath.
Tyler Givens, he was special, no doubt about it. He had the same mocha skin and brown eyes as Taylor. Deep waves coursed across his thick, soft hair. His hairline that was edged so perfectly it appeared like an artist drew it themself was underneath a crisp red backwards baseball cap. His red and black athletic shorts hung loose pass his knees as his white tee fell comfortable over his brood shoulders and washboard abs all tied together with his all red Air Force One’s. Being a pitcher on the Carver high baseball team and an Ebony Man in training he had clout, just enough to sustain him but not too much to blow up his ego. His life was never dull with his liking for parties, fast girls and lust for the thrill of the moment; hence his current problem.
“Paint won’t fix this! Tyler what did you do!” Taylor kicked the pieces of the bumper that hung on the whitewashed concrete.
“I hit something. We can fix this!” He assured her pushing the twisted bumper back into its rightful place. He brushed his hand along the wrinkled metal and released it. It stayed rooted in the position it was when his father drove it off the lot five months ago. Then, it cascaded scrapping the ground.
“Where did the we come from? There is no we in this. I was sleep last night, where you should have been.” She punched him in the chest.
He took the jab. He deserved it. He did something stupid. He should’ve stayed home last night but he had to go.
“There is a we because we are twins. We are two pieces of a whole.”
“We are not two pieces of a whole. We are fraternal not identical” Taylor walked over glass shards from the headlight. The alarm to her red 2010 Ford Escape chirped like Tweety.
Warm sand clinging to the bare soles of her feet; that was where Taylor’s head was last night snuggled under light blue and pale green psychedelic sheets. Blinded by sleep she walked out the taxi that dropped them off at eleven in the dead of night just back from a summer in the Caribbean’s . Taylor stripped to her red undies and fell into bed.
Taylor slammed the car door at the same time as Tyler unintentional. It was just a thing that they did sometimes. Once in a while their brains pick out the same frequency. Other times Tyler’s brain was on its own plane screwing things up.
“I sent you to get Pistol and Thunder from the McDowell’s.” Taylor slid the key in the ignition and turned it. The engine gargled as it turned over, warming up from sitting idle in the garage for two months.
Tyler tapped the garage door opener clipped to the visor. The cedar door rolled up across the ceiling. “I did. I just took them with me.”
“You took…” Taylor pulled the seatbelt across her body and clicked it into the buckle. “Where did you have to go that was so important on the eve of the first day of school that you had to take our dogs with you.” Taylor backed out the garage, sun poured over them as she cruised out the driveway. The car slid down onto the road. She shifted the gear into drive and jaunted down the pale tan paved two-lane street of Cedar Harbor.
“Jase’s end of summer party. I go every year.” Tyler pulled the seat belt out, and then released it changing his mind; school was just five minutes away. They could walk if it wasn’t so hot outside.
Taylor eased the car stopping at the stop sign She looked both ways. A woman with a stroller was jogging on the sidewalk but no car was in sight; just rows and rows of homes. Then, she took a right at the corner. “Why didn’t you take your car?”
“No gas.” He shrugged. His truck was a blue Ford F-150 that stayed on empty.
Taylor looked out her tinted windows at the brick two-story houses on every corner. She missed Cedar Harbor with its dark ridge bronze lantern light poles along the red stone sidewalks. The nosey neighbors peering out their windows cataloging everything you did from how many times you check your mailbox to when you cut your grass. Spending time with their pilot parents abroad taught her one thing; home is where the heart is but her heart lived in familiarity. Oak trees, pecan trees, hundred thousand dollar homes and friends on every street behind an iron gate was her familiarity; it was where her heart lived. Tyler’s heart rested in the spontaneity. He thrived in the unexpected.
Taylor’s brakes released stalling the rotation of the massive rubber wheels behind a line twenty cars deep.
“What’s the hold up?” Taylor leaned over peeping around the forest green Infiniti in front of them.
“You remember when you asked me what I hit.” Tyler scratched his temple, his heartbeats quicken, and his breath went faint.
“What did you do?” She looked inching her head a littler farther over bumping it against the window. She stroked her forehead. “You didn’t hit the gate?” She laughed
Tyler slid down in the chair, “See, what happen was….”
“You wreaked Dad’s car into the gate!” She slapped the steering wheel. “Lets not forget about how you forged ours parents’ signatures on the permission slip for school volunteering because of the prank you, Jase, and Corey pulled on the last day of school.” Taylor feed the car a little gas inching closer to the Infiniti. “You’re destined to get your ass whopped aren’t you?” She whipped her head. “I’m supposed to be in charge. You make me look bad.”
“I’m not making you look bad. We’ve been through worst. Remember, the cracked TV, Dad’s broken windshield, and the basketball hoop being ripped off the garage door. We fix them! We fix all of them before mom and dad even came back. They still don’t know it happened.” His bole eyes connected with her eyes channeling his shame, guilty, and anxiety into the depth of her heart awakening the same emotions he felt. “Taylor, I’m not asking for your money. I just want your help.”
“You’re a conundrum in my mind and an albatross around my neck sucking up my sanity and free time.” She knew he was remorseful. He didn’t mean for it to happen. It was the kind of thing that happened to him. If something could go wrong. The wrong thing would wait for Tyler to show up, things go left just for him. His affliction churned in her, awakening a pain so strong she had to look out the window.
“Is that a yes?” He clasped his hands into each other in front of his mouth.
“Yes.” She mumbled reluctantly lifting her foot off the brake and pressing down on the gas pedal.
He kissed her cheek. “You are the best twin in the world.” He sat back in the chair with a smile. He had Taylor; she was going to work it out. She always did, since the beginning of his time.
As soon as Taylor reached her seat in the middle classroom on the first floor of Meredith Carver High School, she dropped her bag on the oak desk and put on her yellow American Eagle hoodie. She plopped down into the Prussian blue plastic chair. She folded her arms and leaned back resting her foot on the crate on the desk in front of her. She was sitting in the middle desk in the middle row. She scrunched her mouth and tapped her other foot on the hard-carpeted floor. This was a downer! For two months she’s been having fun under the hot Caribbean sun with her hair smelling of salt water, mangos and coconut. Now she was back in the cold academic building, in an AP US history class, where the walls were covered in posters of American Presidents and motivational sayings. Two windows canvasing the overloaded student parking lot to her side teased her with the outside world she wanted to partake in. The teacher’s desk in the front of the room with a blackboard covered wall behind it was stacked with textbooks, worksheets and a nameplate that read, Mr. Palmer.
Clamors of laughing, girls squealing and boys shouting erupted in the brimming hallway outside the class. Friends were reconnecting, exchanging stories, telling a little tall tale here and there about this summer’s past. Taylor watched them outside the door. She wasn’t antisocial; she was just reveling in the quiet time. She was enjoying the last fleeting moments before the craziness started; the you have a test on Friday, studying all night, you stole my boyfriend, he liked me first, you’re wearing the same shirt as me craziness.
Mr. Palmer, a man kicking the hell out of fifty, with coke-bottle black rimmed glasses, a wrinkled white dress shirt crying at the seams from his beer gut and a four-string comb-over approached his desk with at stack of freshly printed paper. Her drama-free time was fleeting.
He sat the stack of papers on his desk. “Ms. Givens’ I see you are prepared for learning unlike your cohorts.” He pushed his sliding glassed back up his pug nose.
Taylor unfolded her arms, “This is an AP class, just trying to stay ahead.” She flipped over her bright, white Jansport backpack. Mostly every student at Meredith Carver High School had a Jansport backpack. Yes, they were a little label whorish.
“Good for you, trying to stay ahead because once this train starts, it’s not stopping for anyone.” He typed in his username and password into the generic gray Dell school laptop.
Taylor’s grace period from teenage melodrama was over, Cassandra Abbott entered the classroom. Her red hair was bone straight, each strand was in it’s designated place after she commenced her hundred-stroke ritual with a silver antique brush this morning. Her grey eyes sparkled on the first day of school. This was her favorite place. She was a lion and MCHS was her Serengeti. She had power. No, really. She had real power; a couple of idiots thought, hey let’s make her our class president. As if having her as vice-president last year wasn’t enough.
“Lookie, Lookie, Look, Look. Someone had an Island girl do her hair.” Cassandra teased in a red and white plaid skirt and tucked in white polo shirt that did nothing for her pencil thin figure that she thought was flattering.
“Cassandra, don’t start none won’t be none.” Taylor declared pulling a three-subject notebook from her backpack. She wasn’t going to let Cassandra disrupt her day. Cassandra was a nonfactor, a worker bee believing the misconception in her twisted mind that she was queen of the hive.
“Humph.” Cassandra lowered herself in the first desk on Taylor’s row. “Hi, Mr. Palmer.” She pulled a laptop out of her kelly green backpack. “Is student government still having that meeting after school because I put it in my calendar and I wanted to make sure it still holds.”
Taylor laughed taking a mechanical pencil from the small pocket of her backpack. Cassandra had already started being her annoying, perfectionistic, pharisaical self and the bell hadn’t even rung.
“I wouldn’t have placed it on the calendar if I wasn’t going to uphold it.” Mr. Palmer sleepily dictated walking out with his Best Teacher on the Hall mug, a teacher appreciation gift from Susie high school herself, Cassandra. She got them for all her teachers, self-made of course. Ironically some of them were on the same hall. Maybe this year she would just get American Express gift cards like everyone else.
“What’s up, Palmer!” Heath shouted with raised arms and a bright smile showcasing all the hard work his orthodontist put in as he entered the classroom.
Mr. Palmer slapped Heath’s hand in mid-air as he walked out the room.
“Heath, student government is having a meeting after school. You wanna meet up and walk there?” Cassandra shined a smile, twirled a lock of hair around her pointing finger while her eyes flickered like aluminum foil in a microwave. It was a symptom of being in the same air space as him. He made her knees buckle and her giggles uncontrollable.
“I know. I got the calendar in my email.” He stood in front of Cassandra’s desk tugging his backpack strap on his shoulder. “Between us two Cass, I’m pretty sure I can find my way back to this class at 2:30 but I’m not coming.”
“Not coming?” Cassandra’s smile vanished quicker than a plate of hot wings at a Superbowl party.
Heath shook his head, bouncing his hair sending waves of chamomile, passionflower, and strawberries circling around them. Utilizing his sister’s Herbal Essences shampoo was his quirk, then again the girls did like the fruity scent and he didn’t mind it. He didn’t have to buy shampoo, one less thing to worry about. “I never come to the first meeting. I have practice. Anyways, I’m the treasurer. I don’t need to come if there’s no money to add or subtract.”
“I’ll fill you in tomorrow then.” Cassandra eagerly offered.
“Okay.” He winked. He was prepared. It was the same conversation they had every first day of school since freshman year. The only shocker was that she waited until he got in class and not at his locker, through the front door or out of his car.
Heath Caldwell walked down the row next to Taylor with an air of ease. He was one of the guys every pimpled face freshmen boy wanted to be; quarterback on the winnest division four high school in the district, dated only MCHS’s girls of beauty, never failed a class and had more friends than one could count. His ecru tanned complexion complemented his chestnut locks that hung just above his eyebrows but not touching the collar of his brand new yellow and black t-shirt and hung over worn in blue jeans. His emerald gems that he called eyes helped melt many hearts around MCHS but commitment, um, wasn’t his thing. Not that he wasn’t committal; there was just no one he wanted to commit to.
“How was your summer?” Heath asked settling down in the desk on the left of Taylor. He sat his burgundy backpack on the ash carpeted floor. He turned his lean, sturdy body toward her and rested his chin on his fist.
“All good.” She turned her body toward him crossing her legs, her firm calf muscle flexing as she bobbed her dominant foot up and down. “Did some surfing, got a shade darker, ate some plantains, and conch fritters.”
“What’s conch?” Heath asked crumpling his straight-edged nose.
“Conch is a fish that looks like a chuck of fat sucked from someone’s thigh. I can’t believe you put that in your body.” Tatum quipped flying into the seat in front of Taylor. Her black ponytail fling in every direction her head turned.
Tatum McCoy was living the dream she made in seventh grade, be the real-life personification of Gabrielle Union in Bring it On, aside from living in the inner city an all. She was spirited, out-spoken, sociable, and a tad over-dramatic but hey what do you expect from a varsity cheerleader. She was the bronze beauty of the junior class that had a shopping addiction that Dr. Drew couldn’t fix. The blue and white striped, sleeveless dress, ladybug earrings and blue Sperry Topsiders she was wearing was yesterday’s shopping fix.
Cassandra threw her head up and swiveled around, “Actually it’s a mollusks, a gastropod.”
“Actually I didn’t ask you.” Tatum shot back looking at Cassandra from the side of her eye.
“Don’t be mean.” Taylor tapped Tatum’s arm resting on her desk.
Tatum turned to Taylor, “You give her an inch and she’ll take a kilometer; decorating your locker and changing your class schedule.”
“It’s one thing to be pretty, it another thing to be smart. You know, you could be both.” Cassandra spewed turning back around flicking her hair over her shoulder.
“ Did she just say I was dumb or ugly?” Tatum asked determining if she should be angry or perturbed.
“It doesn’t matter, don’t go there with her. You know you’re not dumb or ugly.” Taylor said trying to diffused the situation.
“I think she called you dumb and implied the ugly.” Heath smirked. A catfight was ensuing and he wasn’t going to calm the fire. Just feed it.
“It’s one thing to be a shrew, its another thing to be a shrew with a black-eye. You know you could be both.” Tatum picked up Taylor’s pencil, pulled her arm back, and narrowed her eyes on the back of Cassandra’s head.
“Gimme that.” Taylor grabbed Tatum’s arm and yanked her pencil back.
“Ah, man” Heath slapped the desk slumping in his chair. “I could picture it in my head, funny as hell.”
“Well live on the image because it’s one thing to be a boss, it’s another thing to be in detention and if you did that you would be both.” Taylor placed her pencil back on her notebook.
“True.” Tatum snapped her freshly manicured hot pink fingers. “See this is why you’re my best friend. You think about the consequences.”
“What happen with you two? You use to be friends in middle school.” Taylor inquired. She tried to stay away from the petty arguments spun up when they were Disney-watching tweens. That was her tomboy faze; climbing trees, no make-up, no boyfriend, skateboarding until sundown melodrama free life.
“She started hanging out with Kingsley, Becca, and Heath’s ex-girlfriend Jade and she thinks she’s the ish and really she the stuff that comes off the ish. We’re the ish.” Tatum twisted her neck and waved her finger.
“Why can’t we all be the ish? Why must the ish divide us?” Heath joked letting go of his wanting for a little morning combat.
“Not the ish!” Taylor flung her head back, raising her palms in the air.
“I’m surprise you look okay, calm.” Heath raised up an eyebrow, his signature move. His tactic that sealed the deal; picking up where his smooth-talking game couldn’t mainly because he didn’t have any. It’s the reason why his best friend dated Taylor and he’s stuck being the brown-headed boy that lives two houses down, the friend since fifth grade.
“I’m calm. I’m always calm. Should I not be calm?” Taylor asked her stomach started to knot. Her mind raced to all the limitless possibilities of trouble Tyler could get into. They were just back home for two hours and he managed to wreak a car and break a gate. “Did Tyler do something else?”
“I saw your dad’s car last night. I had to help him and Jase pry the gate open.” Heath pulled his clenched fist apart, sticking his head in the small opening like he was trying to bust out of jail. “That’s how we all got back home.”
“Oh, I already know about the gate and the car. Seen it, working on a plan.”
“A master plan; better be quick because Ron was pissed this morning after everyone was hollering at him because the gate wouldn’t open. He was madder than when ya’ll and Linden blasted him with water guns.” Heath informed reading Easton’s shirt as he walked across the class. Don’t read my shirt was printed on the black shirt in read letters. Heath’s mind wondered, then why wear a shirt with words on it. It was probably one of those things where you had to ask him and he would have some philosophical meaning behind it, we get it you read Aristotle.
“Speaking of Linden, where’s our third piece?” Taylor asked looking out the door. This was her class. They had five together; they arranged it last spring in her room over pizza and root beer.
“I haven’t seen her since July.” Tatum took her tote out her seat and sat it on her lap. She fished into it like she was digging for gold. She pulled out an iPhone in a pink and green case, tapped in her passcode, tapped on the screen three more times and held it up. “ See fourth of July.”
In the picture, Linden had her arm draped around Tatum’s shoulder in a white bikini top and denim shorts smiling from ear to ear. This was the happiest Taylor seen her since February.
The buzz of voices dwindled in the hallway and leaked into the classroom as students started to file in. Students in new clothes scattered around them trying to find the perfect seat to rest in for the semester before the bell rung.
“I haven’t seen Linden since June. I was in DC with my mom in July.” Heath pulled the firm-fitting tee off his chest. His mother still didn’t know what size he wore.
“She’s dead.” Kinsley chirped sitting in the desk in front of Heath. Her lose black jojoba oiled coils glisten around her apple face. “I was riding my bike down ya’ll street.” She lazily pointed to Taylor and Heath. “As I passed her dad in the driveway on the phone he said she’s dead.”
“Stop lying Kinsley. Linden Thomson is not dead.” Taylor affirmed emotions starting to swirl in the deepest corner of her stomach. She unconsciously started tapping her fingers on the desk.
“I seen her July she was one hundred percent healthy, one hundred percent stable.” Tatum flashed the picture in front of Kinsley’s face. Linden’s state of mind was her primary concern before she left after Independence Day to go to a family reunion in South Carolina. Linden had been going through a great lost and she wanted to be sure that Linden wouldn’t sink back into her hole of melancholy once she was gone.
Kinsley shook her head and waved the phone out her face. She knew what she heard. Linden was dead. “I heard it with my own ears. Death can happen after July fourth Tatum.”
“I believe Kinsley. If she heard from Mr. Thomson that she’s dead then she’s dead.” Cassandra harked swiveled around in her seat feeling welcomed into the conversation since her friend had arrived.
“She’s not dead” Easton refuted stuffing his drumsticks into his beat-up leather backpack.
“Thank-you Easton!” Taylor jumped up with a burst of excitement, finally some positive information. Someone that knows what they’re talking about instead of this loose mouth loonies.
“She’s on meth.” Easton continued dropping his backpack to the floor.
“What? Meth! Easton are you insane?” Tatum laughed at the foolishness he spun.
“Easton that’s stupid. Are you on drugs?” Taylor fell back into her seat. This news was making her restless. He was a loose mouth looney too.
“I saw her getting in her Aunt’s car with a duffle. Mr. Thomson said she couldn’t come back until she fixed her problem. We all know what problem means.” Easton looked around at all the puzzled faces in the class. “Drug problem and this is the suburbs ergo meth.”
“Or cocaine.” Cassandra raised her hand relying on a special report she saw over the summer on CNN.
“Or cocaine.” Easton added to his previous statement placing his knee in the desk next to Tatum.
Taylor stood up in the middle of the huddle of her fellow students. She looked each one of them in the dilated eyes fueled on drama and gossip. She had to nip this in the bud before rumors soared all over school. “In no way on God’s green earth is Linden Selene Thomson dead or on drugs. So stop speaking ill of things you don’t know.”
“I know. I heard she died.” Kinsley sounded sitting on the top of the desk in skinny jeans and a lavender blouse.
“I know. I heard she’s on drugs.” Trent spoke his truth sticking his long finger in Kinsley and Taylor’s face receiving an eye roll from Kinsley to his left.
Taylor slapped Trent’s finger out her face. “On drugs or dead I don’t care, stop saying it until we hear the story from her mouth.”
“Dead people can’t talk.” Cassandra stated checking the silver watch around her frail wrist; there were two minutes until the bell rung. She turned back around, Mr. Palmer would be back and she didn’t want to be seen lollygagging.
“Taylor can we talk? You’ve been avoiding me.” Donovan trotted up to her in the middle of the aisle. He bumped fist with Heath greeting his homie with a head nod.
Taylor froze looking into Donovan’s bistre eyes and smooth hazelnut skin. If Donovan Howell were a desert, he would be rocky road ice cream. A midnight craving you couldn’t deny and a treat on the tip of you tongue yearning to be devoured. He was what you wanted but knew you didn’t need. Because once you had it, once you tasted his sweet sugar and delectable goodness he would leave you brokenhearted alongside a rocky road. The pain he sent her through stroked down her flesh and her trance wore off.
“I’m not avoiding you. I just got back last night. I don’t have time to talk about your little high school drama. My friend is supposedly dead and on drugs.” Taylor looked at Easton and Kinsley agreeing with the statement about Linden’s whereabouts.
Tyler, with an egg and sausage muffin in hand, entered the class huffing and out a breath from running down the hall trying to beat the bell that blared overhead. He was out of shape from lounging on the beach all summer, turning down Taylor’s invitations to a morning run. Today’s afterschool practice was going to kill him.
“Linden’s not dead. She’s dying. She caught the same kind of cancer her mother had.” Donovan rubbed his hand over his smooth Ivy League haircut. The running back knew everyone that needed to be known.
“Cancer isn’t contiguous.” Tyler shuffling his way to the empty desk behind Taylor pushing pass Donovan unapologetically bumping his shoulder into Donovan’s back.
“It’s not contiguous but it’s hereditary!” Donovan glared at Tyler. They used to be friends, playing basketball in Tyler’s driveway on the weekends. “Josh told me.”
“Josh told you.” Taylor repeated with her hands clenching her small waist and her head cocked to the side.
Mr. Palmer walked in with his mug steaming more than a crockpot on a bonfire.
“Josh told me.” Donovan spoke slower dragging out each word, moving his head side to side like a seesaw.
Tyler bit into his muffin. Tatum turned around hugging her tote like it was a security blanket. Kinsley slid off her desk. Easton pulled his pants up and took a seat. Heath pulled a pen out of his pocket, Donovan hopped over the desk behind Heath and Taylor sunk in her seat like a deflated balloon. Topic over, discussion closed, Josh told him. Which meant Josh heard it from his father, Mr. Armstrong; better known as Principal Armstrong.
Taylor wrapped her arms around herself while Tyler patted on her shoulder with his muffin-free hand. This was an even deeper downer, deeper than a pit, farther than a ditch. Her heart was hurting more than when Donovan broke it. A pool of tears swelled in the well of her eyes. Could this be true, she was playing barefoot soccer in the warm Trinidadian sand when her best friend was sitting in the frigid office of an oncologist. If this were really true, Linden would’ve called. Wouldn’t she?