All Becomes Clear When Darkness Falls
Even though tennis season didn’t start until late February, Taylor still had practice. Coach Kapur, who was also the chemistry teacher, was firmly against wasting perfectly sunny days. Anyways, the varsity team was already made; it had been since May.
Other than a sore elbow that was being anesthetized by some Advil, she was good to go. Unlike, an out of shape overly sore Tyler stretched out on the ivory couch. He was caught off guard and halfway out the door when Coach Griffin wrangled him and Jase back into his rigorous athletic regimen. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Coach Griffin would have practice although season didn’t start until March; rumor had it he and Ms. Kapur were caught flirting in the teacher’s lounge last year. Taylor still didn’t understand why Tyler had ice packs ace bandaged to his knees. It was just a two-mile run.
Tyler groaned like a wounded dog with every move he made. After Jase dropped him off he’d been knocked out with his face wedged between the pillow cushions in the living room that reminded them of their family. The L-shaped couch they sprawled on Saturdays watching the new movies Tyler loaded on their Netflix queue. The white vase Iris made in her freshmen ceramics class sat on top of the birch table Taylor and their mom sanded and stained in the driveway. The Prussian blue paint on the walls was a laborious chore being held captive at Home Depot one Sunday by their mom. Lastly, the mahogany floors their dad refinished that reeked of fumes so toxic they had to camp out in the backyard roasting marshmallows over the fire-pit telling scary stories under the moonlight.
Taylor was watching Higher Learning. More accurately Higher Learning was on. Her eyes were on the fifty-five-inch screen but her brain wasn’t there. Her brain was stuck on events that happened earlier that day; events in the school parking lot after practice. She was sweatier than a construction worker. Sweat perspired from her pores, glistening in the spots her navy sports bra and gray cotton shorts didn’t cover. She walked back to the student parking lot, the one all the way by the football field with the relaxation of a Zen monk. She pounded away all of her aggression, confusion, and worries as she whacked that yellow ball against the practice board.
The student parking lot was two-thirds empty; the cars that were still hanging around belonged to the athletes, the artist (Band, Choir, Drama) and student government. Her Escape was sitting in the middle of the lot, like an island floating in the Pacific: soothing and serene. Or maybe that was how she felt. Her muscles were as loose as a spaghetti noodle that stayed in the boiling water a second too long. A smile even started to etch its way on her face. Everything that agitated her this morning was gone. She was cool as a cucumber or any other out of date phrase you can think of. She let the sun kiss her bronze skin as she pounded her feet on the stonewash concrete. She felt in tune with her body, performing like a WD-40 oiled machine as she searched through her iPod for the right playlist—The I’m going home with a natural high playlist. She swiped her hands along her SUV’s hot backdoor humming the tune of the song she was going to play once she cranked up the vehicle.
“Taylor!” Donovan said standing between her and the driver’s door. “Can we talk?” He uneasily gripped his shoulder-pads as sweat poured down his copper face. He took advantage of the five minutes Coach Ross allotted them (That was demanded by Principal Armstrong) for a water-break, it being ninety-nine degrees and all.
And just like that Taylor’s natural high was gone. Four words. Five syllables, was all it took to steal her solitude, chase away her bliss and welcome in stress like a moocher popping up at your door step, raiding your fridge, don’t know when to leave house guest. Her muscles coiled like a cobra, tensing like an electric shock victim.
“We have nothing to talk about.” She reached behind him for the handle. “I said all I needed to say on the last day of school.” She nudged him with the door but he didn’t move. It must’ve been from all those drills Coach Ross put the football team through as he yelled, Hold My Line!
“All you said was we’re done.” Donovan cried. “You didn’t hear my side. You didn’t let me explain.” He pushed the door shut, pulling the handle out her hand. He wanted to be heard. He’d been trying to speak to her all summer; composing emails, sending texts and calling her phone. He even hit rock bottom writing a couple of letters.
“Explain!” She shouted riddled with confusion. “What is there to explain? You screwed another girl!”
“You said you weren’t ready! I didn’t want to pressure you.”
“Are you that moronic? You really formulated in your mind that since I wasn’t ready you had a free pass to screw any girl that was.”
“I have hormones that are raging.” He glanced over his shoulders at the field; Coach Ross was berating Randall’s capabilities to catch the pigskin. “I have needs that need to be met for my body but my heart belongs to you.” He held his chest.
“Liar!” Taylor yelled with a fury that made him jump. “If I had your heart, you wouldn’t have been where you were that night. Kissing her! Rubbing her!” She scowled. “If you loved me I wouldn’t have found a used condom in your car! How nasty is that?” She pushed him with all her strength but he didn’t lose his balance. “To leave a used condom in your backseat.”
“My mom called me.” He wiped a rip current of sweat off his face that went flying in the air. “I was about to be late for curfew. I had to hurry up. I was rushing. I thought I threw it out the window. You weren’t supposed to be in my car. How’d you even get in my car?” That was the one questioned that nagged him all summer, it was the one thing that made him lose everything: his girlfriend and his image.
“Your dad opened it because I was trying to be a dutiful girlfriend, fill your car up with sixteen silver balloons.” She pushed him again. “But you were too busy screwing—- What’s her name?” She slapped his shoulder pads. “What’s her name!”
“I’m not telling you.” He stepped back avoiding another push. “It doesn’t matter. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that’ll never happen again.” He reached for her face wanting to feel her soft cheek, the cheek with flicks of scarlet he used to stroke in his Dodge Charger in front of her house before he leaned in and stole a kiss from her supple pink lips. “I just want to move forward.”
She slapped his hand, “Don’t touch me!” A rage burned in her chestnut eyes that made her think about how she sounded. She sounded like a jolted, jealous girlfriend. It brought a bitter taste to her mouth, like twenty lemons being squeezed in on her tongue. “You know what?” A baffled Donavan shook his head. “Don’t tell me. I don’t need to know. It’ll only make it worst. Instead of being nagged by the idea of you cheating; I’ll be tormented by images of you and her and I’ve had enough.” She unlocked her door again after they automatically locked. “Get away from my door Donovan before I press the panic button and everyone will see you get rejected again.” He cautiously stepped back as she opened the door.
He held the door feeling like he lost everything all over again. He didn’t know what to do. He forgot the speech he spent all summer constructing and rehearsing. He didn’t factor in her words, her emotions. He just had his emotions; his emotions that caused every cell in his body ache. “I’ll wait until you stop being so angry.”
“You don’t have eternity.” She yanked the door away from him. She forgot the song she wanted to hear. It didn’t matter anyways. She wasn’t relaxed anymore. He’ll wait until she’d stop being angry. Wait for what? There was never going to be a them again. Or a Tayvan as Tatum dubbed them. Tayvan was dead. She cranked the car and sped off.
Taylor refocused her eyes on the TV as Omar Epps and Tyra Banks passionately kissed while Tone Toni Tony harmonized the name Deja in the background; that could have been them. They could have been going strong in college; she would have been ready then. Right? Instead, they fizzled out as high school sophomores.
Knocks banged on the door pulling her from her own problems. Thunder and Pistol frantically barked, drowning out the TV. The canine’s nails clacked as they stormed to the front door. Tyler jumped awake and rolled off the couch, thumped on the floor like a bowling ball. “SOMEONE’S IN THE HOUSE! GET DOWN TAYLOR! I’LL GET THE GUN!” He struggled to get to his feet; the ace bandages contracted his movements.
“Someone’s at the door.” Taylor said calmly walking around him.
“Don’t answer it!” He quickly unwrapped the bandage from his knee, the zip-lock bag of melted ice splatted on the rug. “It could be anyone at this hour. Don’t be a Becky!”
“We’re in a guarded gated community and we have these two.” Taylor looked at Thunder and Pistol standing between her and the door alertly listening to the breaths of the person on the other side.
Tyler gestured for her to open the door.
“Its probably just Tatum or Jase anyways.” The lock popped as she twisted it. She flung the door open. Her eyes widening and a smile grew, “Linden!”
“Aren’t you supposed to be—” Tyler stopped unwrapping the bandage around his elbow, another melted ice bag sloshed to the floor.
Linden glowed under the incandescent porch light. Her blonde hair shimmered with flicks of gold hanging over her shoulder in a fishtail ponytail. But it wasn’t her radiance that caught their eyes or caused their mouths to gap. It was the stomach on which her hand rested. “Can I come in?” Linden asked studying their surprised and confused voices. “It’s a long story.”