**transferred from AI profile
Ever have one of those days? You know the kind, where you don't hear the alarm go off, then you run out of gas on the way to work, you forget your lunch and don't have a penny on you, because you had to use it to buy gas, then 15 minutes before quitting time, your boss asks you to finish something before leaving that will take an hour to do properly ... yeah, we've all had those kind of days ...
Well, you just had one of them. You stagger into the house, feeling like you just went 12 rounds with the heavyweight champion. Your hair is standing on end in all directions, your makeup (remember the lipstick you scrawled across your mouth at the first stoplight this morning?) is history and your clothes look like you rolled home from work in the gutter. Now, you think as you drop your jacket and purse on the table, all you have to do before you can call it a day is prepare a meal to feed your family, clean up the kitchen, help with homework, make lunches, iron a blouse for tomorrow, feed the cat and clean the litterbox. You sigh in resignation as you head upstairs to change into your oldest sweats.
As you make your way back downstairs, you find yourself straining to hear the usual sounds of chatter from your family, but the house is eerily silent. Entering the kitchen, you notice the blue notepaper fluttering on the front of the fridge. Oh joy! Your parents have taken your family out for pizza and a movie. That means the whole evening is yours! You look again at the bottom of the note where an additional message is scrawled, along with a phone number that you are directed to call as soon as you arrive home. You toy with the impulse to ignore it, but your overdevelopped sense of responsibility will not permit this. With another sigh, you take a diet coke out of the fridge, pick up the cordless, carry it into the family room and collapse on the sofa before dialing the number.
It rings and rings, and you are about to hang up when a deep, drawling voice comes on the other end of the line. "Hello?" You wrinkle your brow in concentration, because it seems to you that the voice is familiar somehow.
"Hi," you reply. "I was given this number to call. Who am I speaking to, please?"
"Is this Dana Silver?" the voice asked excitedly. At your affirmative reply, the person on the line covers the phone with his hand and you hear him yelling, the sound muffled, calling someone to the phone. He comes back on the line, no less excited. "Don't hang up, ok? He'll be right here."
"Who IS this?" you demand, a little put out by al the subterfuge.
"It's Bucky, Dana." comes the voice. "Hang on. He's been waiting for you to call and he'd 'bout skin me alive if I let you hang up."
Confused, you look at the phone. You don't know a Bucky ... except ... and it was beyond possible to imagine ... nah! You bring the receiver back to your ear as you hear shouting from the other end.
"You still there?" Bucky was yelling into the phone. "He's on his way up now. Dang, girl, you got timing. He sits by the phone all afternoon, then just when he heads downstairs for a bit, that's when you decide to call!"
You open your mouth to voice a sarcastic reply to this idiocy, when you hear another, deeper voice come over the line "Dana? I'm so glad you called me back" The smooth, husky voice is as familiar to you as your own. Instantly, your mouth dries out, your fingers grow numb and your mind emptied of all thoughts but one: Taylor! Then you drop the phone.
It clatters to the floor, as you scramble to retrieve it. As you grab the phone and listen again, you are stricken by two thoughts. First, HE CALLED YOU!!! and second, you MUST not waste this opportunity, even though your tongue feels like it has been frozen to the roof of your mouth.
Taylor is speaking as you tune back in, asking if you are ok. You manage to answer that you are fine, a little surprised (gross understatement!) and very happy to hear from him. He chuckles warmly and drops a bombshell. Are you available to come to the hotel for a late dinner and a nice long chat with him? You stammer a shy acceptance, listen to his directions (dress casual because you'll just be ordering room service, and he'll send a car in 30 minutes) and then say goodbye, all in a daze of disbelief. As you stand up to return the phone to its cradle, you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the front window. You shriek, drop the phone and race for the bathroom.
Twenty-eight minutes later, freshly showered, you are pacing nervously by the front door, dressed casually in a pair of deep purple capris, a crisp white sleeveless blouse and a pair of white tennis shoes. Your heart is pounding as you open the door on a uniformed chauffeur. He escorts you to the curb, where a gleaming black limo awaits. You feel a little out-of-place in your casual clothes, but you forget everything when he opens the door and assists you into the back seat. For there, sprawled across the seat, dressed in worn blue jeans and a black tee-shirt, sits Taylor. And in his hand, your manuscript.
You collapse into the seat across from him and stare, speechless, as he grins at you and speaks "I couldn't wait to meet you, Dana, so I decided to come along for the ride." He sits forward in his seat, motioning with the book you had no idea he had received. "I had to meet the woman behind these stories." He smiled a slow, killer smile. "All the other guys are green with jealousy. See, we all get tee-shirts and flowers and candy, but I'm the only one who got anything like this. This is special, Dana. It's so personal. And it tells me a lot about the lady who is responsible for it." Then, realizing that you haven't yet spoken, Taylor slouches back again and just smiles at you, his eyes warm and sparkly.
Reminding yourself that this is the opportunity of a lifetime, you take a deep breath, praying that the first words you speak won't be gibberish, or too fan-girly. When you start to speak, you have no idea what you are saying until you hear the words. "I'm not sure if the ability was always in me, but something about you inspired me to start writing, and I got such approval from the other Soul Patrollers that I gained confidence and wrote more. I'm just happy I'm getting the chance to thank you in person for being the catalyst."
During your speech, Taylor has listened intently to every word, and begins slowly to shake his head. "Don't give me any credit, hon." he stated firmly. "This kind of creativity comes from within and, although you may have been inspired somehow, it could just as easily have been something else to trigger it. I'm flattered that I became the focus, though." Fluidly, he switches seats, plunking down next to you, his shoulder and leg pressing against yours. "Now, I'm hoping you can go through and explain some of these things to me. I feel as though I'm missing some inside jokes or something." He opens the manuscript and lays it across your lap, leaning slightly against you to point out a caption. "For example, what exactly is the Church of the Holy Onion?"
Taylor's proximity had frozen you in place momentarily, but the question surprises a laugh out of you, and you relax, realizing that, after all is said and done, he's just a guy. The remainder of your limo drive is spent with you attempting to explain your stories, life on the AI message boards and chat, and lots of laughter from both of you.
The ride seems way too short, and you look up in surprise when the limo pulls to a stop. "Dang," says Taylor. "I should've told him to take the scenic route." You both laugh, then Taylor climbs across you to open the door just as the chauffeur reaches for it. "Sorry, Mike - I always forget about that." Taylor turns to you, practically sitting on you. "I can't get used to having things done for me." he confesses with a rueful grin. He climbs out of the limo, giving you a close-up shot of the world's greatest onion, then turns and reaches in to assist you. His hand is hard and warm and he has callouses on his fingertips. It is also so big that your hand seems swallowed up in it. A little shiver travels up your arm and down your spine as he effortlessly pulls you out of the limo, steadying you with an arm around you as you stand up.
"OK, let's move!" he mutters into your ear, then, without warning, you are swept off your feet as Taylor, his burly security guard and the chauffeur race for the entrance of the hotel. Taylor has literally picked you up and is running with you tucked under his arm. You get a vague impression of screaming girls and flashing lights, and then you are set gently on your feet in the lobby.
"Sorry, Dana." Taylor sighs "It's not always that crowded out there. Are you ok?" He puts a concerned arm around your shoulders.
"I'm fine," you whisper. "but I never realized what it must be like for you sometimes." Taylor leans down to hear your response, his ear a mere inch away from your mouth.
He straightens and begins to guide you to the elevators. "You know, I never imagined it would be like this." he said conversationally. "I'm just an ordinary guy who plays music. But it's worth everything to get my voice and my band noticed out there."
"Well, you've certainly managed to do that!" you replied in a withering tone, surprising a big laugh out of him.
"Dana, you are a pleasant surprise to me." he chuckled, giving you an affectionate squeeze. You stand together, waiting for the elevator to arrive, and a surprisingly comfortable silence falls between you. As you step onto the elevator together, Taylor lets out a loud sigh. You look at him in question, and he grins at you. You raise an eyebrow at him, and he laughs. "Do you know how rare it is to meet someone who doesn't need to fill every silence with inane chatter?" he asks. "Or how refreshing it is?" It's your turn to laugh, because he has no idea that you had just been thinking the same thing of him.
He steps closer and slings an arm casually around you, and starts to hum. It's one of his songs and, unthinking, you join in softly with the words. Startled, he looks down at you. "You know my songs?" You look up into his warm brown eyes and nod, suddenly self-conscious, until his whole face lights up and he hugs you to him, tightly. "Thank you." is all he says, but he continues to hold you until the elevator stops. As the doors open, Taylor steps back, bends down and lightly kisses you on the cheek. "That's the nicest thing that's ever happened to me on an elevator." he whispers softly.
As he leads you down the hall, you can hear music playing, interspersed with laughter and conversation. Someone starts playing a bluesy piano riff, and a guitar joins in. Taylor drops your hand and automatically reaches into his back pocket, pulling out his harmonica. He gives you a sheepish look, then brings the harp to his lips and begins to play. Unconsciously, his strides lengthen and slow, to match the beat of the music. You trail along beside him, captivated by the immediate transformation. You realize quickly that he's no longer completely aware of your presence but strangely, you don't mind. With Taylor, the music has to come first.
You arrive at the open door of a large suite slightly behind Taylor. You hear the chorus of voices greet him and suddenly, your shyness returns and you linger outside, to one side of the door. A hand reaches out, snags you and pulls you inside, where you find yourself holding hands with Ace. He gives you that ear-to-ear grin and hugs you. In his gentle voice, he states "We've all been waiting to meet you, Dana." Anything else he says is drowned out in the clamor of voices as the rest of the Idols surround you, greeting you warmly. You are passed from one pair of arms to another, receiving hugs and wonderful words of appreciation about your stories. It had never occurred to you that the other Idols would be interested in your writings but now, as they absorb you into the group, that fact becomes evident.
The next hour flies by, as you become immersed in conversation with this wonderful group of people. Occasionally, at random, someone begins to play music, and others join in. Taylor is always there, with his harp, or his guitar, singing or humming along. You are acutely aware of his eyes on you, although you miss the exchange of approving glances between the others.
Eventually, Taylor rises to his feet and places his guitar gently on its stand. "Well," he drawls "don't you think it's about time you and I order up a bite to eat, darlin'?" He ambles over and holds out his hand to you, pulling you up off the sofa and tucking you under his arm, anchoring you to his side.
Amid a chorus of goodbyes and thanks from the other Idols, you and Taylor head back down the hallway to his room. He slides the keycard out of his back pocket and opens the door without releasing you, then leads you into a spacious, comfortably messy sitting area. You smile as he scoops up clothes from the floor and tosses them through the open bedroom door. "Sorry," he mutters, glancing shyly at you, then away. "I was in a hurry before I went to pick you up." It makes you smile, because he looks exactly like a little boy who knows he's been bad.
Rather than dwell on his obvious discomfort, you change the subject, saying brightly "So, what's for dinner?" It is the right thing to say, because Taylor instantly relaxes, grabs a card from the bar and hands it to you.
Standing slightly behind you, he leans over and points out the items on the menu that he had already tried, critiquing each one. You try to concentrate, but his breath is tickling your ear, and his chest keeps bumping against your back, causing your vision to blur and your heartbeat to speed up. You realize that he has asked you a question, but for the life of you, you can't catch your breath enough to reply. The buzzing in your ears gets louder, and you begin to understand that you might be about to faint. The world tips crazily as Taylor lifts you into his arms, cradling you against his chest, his eyes clouded with concern. You let your head lean against his shoulder, and your eyes drift shut. The only coherent thought in your mind is "God, he smells so good."
When you come back to your senses, you are lying on the bed. Taylor is propped on one elbow, leaning over you, gently dabbing a cold, dripping facecloth on your forehead and smoothing it down your cheeks. "Brrrrrr" you shiver as the cold water dribbles into your hairline and over your ears. Then you start to giggle. He's so danged sweet, with this earnest look of concerned concentration on his face.
"I take it you're feeling better?" he comments drily, sitting up. You start to follow suit, but he presses his hand against your shoulder. "You should rest a bit." he states firmly. "You just fainted, and that can't be good."
You giggle harder because, truth is, you had simply gone to a happy place for a while, accompanied by the scent of Taylor's skin and the feel of his arms holding you. However, his concern is real, and it touches your heart. What a sweet man. "I'm fine, Taylor." you smile at him, but he looks at you hard before relenting and helping you to sit up.
"Your family wouldn't thank me if I let anything happen to you." he mutters, his eyes watching you carefully. "It took a fair bit of convincing to ..." His voice trails off as your eyes widen. Had he talked your parents into going out for dinner? And if so, how? It was a rare treat. Not something for every day, and never spur-of-the-moment. You narrow your gaze on Taylor suspiciously. "OK, spill." you order him. "Did you have something to do with my family not being at home tonight?"
Taylor suddenly finds something of interest on his shirt front, toying with the buttons self-consciously. He has a cute little double chin when his head is tilted like that, but you refuse to let it distract you. You reach over and with your index finger under his chin, you force him to meet your gaze. "Ummm ..." he stalls. "Well ..." You give him the look, the one that says "I'm waiting and this had better be good."
Suddenly, he grins a crooked, boyish grin. "I don't suppose I could distract you if I kissed those cute, pursed lips, huh?" The corners of your mouth quiver into the beginning of a smile. He's so hard to resist in this mood. But stubbornly you firm them again and give a brief shake of your head. "OH, well," he begins slowly, then swiftly running the words together "I-sent-a-limo-for-them-and-invited-them-as-my-special-guests-to-dinner-and-a-movie-premier-that-we-got-invited-to-but-didn't-have-the-energy-to-attend-and-they-wanted-you-to-get-to-meet-me-so-they-agreed-and-I-got-to-speak-to-your-daughter-on-the-phone-and-she-told-me-how-much-you-did-for-the-Soul-Patrol-and-it-made-me-want-to-meet-you-even-more-than-I-already-did-because-of-the-stories-you-wrote-and-it's-been-even-better-than-I-anticipated-Dana-and-that's-the-whole-story."
By the time he finishes, you are laughing again and after a second, he joins in. "I've laughed more with you tonight than I have in the past week." you wheeze. "Somebody should have warned me what a funny man you are."
Taylor wraps his arms around you in a warm, cuddly hug. "So you're not mad that I ... manipulated ... the circumstances?" he asks softly against your ear.
"How on earth could I be mad?" you laugh, mildly astonished. "This is a wonderful experience for me. I never expected to meet you, much less spend this much time talking to you. It's been incredible."
"You're talking like it's over," Taylor reproaches gently "and we haven't even had dinner yet." Hand in hand, you stroll back to the lounge area of the suite. Quickly, you decide on your orders for room service, and Taylor calls it in.
While you wait for the meal to arrive, you sit side by side on the sofa, reading the stories from your book, chuckling over some of the silliness. Almost absently, Taylor lifts your legs across his knees, removes your tennis shoes and starts rubbing the soles of your feet. After the day you have had, it is the most heavenly feeling you could imagine. Your head falls back and you almost purr with pleasure.
"You were late coming home from work, weren't you?" Taylor asks casually as he begins to knead each toe individually. "Did you have a rough day?" You nod your head weakly, as all your muscles seem to have melted, and you're not sure your voice will work. This, you think dazedly, is what a relationship should be like between a man and a woman. This ease of speech, the non-verbal communication, the laughter and sense of friendship ... His hands are so large and strong, yet so gentle as he begins to massage your calves.
You open your eyes and find him gazing at your face, his eyes a rich, intense, chocolatey brown. He leans over you and pauses, his mouth a breath away from yours, waiting for your assent. Your breath catches in your throat, which he takes as a response to his unspoken question. His lips feather lightly across yours in the gentlest of kisses before he draws back again, gazing into your eyes without speaking. Mesmerized, you stare back, drowning in those deep bedroom eyes. He starts to bend to your lips again when a firm knock comes on the door. Room service. Taylor blinks and glances away, which seems to break some invisible connection which has held you both entranced. Gently, he lifts your legs off his knees and strides to the door.
The room service waiter wheels in the cart and discreetly sets up the meal in the dining area. It smells heavenly, and both you and Taylor take deep, hungry gulps of air. The waiter has barely closed the door when you are both at the table, lifting the domes and sniffing appreciatively at the culinary treasures underneath. Rather than sit across from you at the table, Taylor slides his chair to sit next to you. You share samples of each other's meal with delightful abandon, like enthusiastic children, until Taylor slips a deliciously seasoned bite of ribs into your mouth, brushing his fingers inadvertently against your lips.
Just like that, the mood shifts. Suddenly, the air is static and every movement seems heavy with sensuality. Almost in slow motion, Taylor brings his hand to his mouth and sucks the barbeque sauce from his fingertips. You watch him, not breathing. He reaches down and snares another morsel of the savory meat and lifts it, never breaking eye contact with you. This time, though, his fingers enter your mouth as he places the bite between your lips. He holds it until your teeth sink into the meat, then his fingertips glide softly against the tender inner surface of your lips as he withdraws them. "My turn." he murmurs softly in a husky voice.
Trancelike, you carry a bite of meat to his mouth, and watch in fascination as he cups your hand in his, holding it steady. His tongue emerges and licks the juices from the food before envelopping it between his lips. When you try to remove your hand, his grip tightens gently to prevent your withdrawal. "Not yet." he murmurs, holding your eyes with his intense gaze. Taylor guides your fingers to his mouth and proceeds to lick and suck every drop of bbq sauce from your fingertips, not releasing your hand until he is completely satisfied that your fingers are clean. Your hand drops limply into your lap, bones melted and muscles useless for the moment, while your fingertips tingle.
Taylor leans forward again, as if to kiss you but instead, he licks the corner of your mouth, removing a trace of barbeque sauce. Your lips part on an indrawn breath, inhaling his scent and his heat into your very soul. He growls very softly, then envelops your mouth in an all-consuming kiss, using his lips and his teeth and his tongue to torment you into surrendering more than you imagined possible. One hand slides into your hair, supporting your head as the pressure of his hungry mouth tips you back. An endless moment later, he drags his mouth away from yours, across your cheek till you feel his breath against the sensitive spot below your ear.
His breathing is unsteady and deep in your ear, as he groans "I didn't mean for that to happen, Dana. You are just so sweet, and I've been crazy to meet you since my Grandma read me that Bunny story." He feathered his mouth up and down the side of your neck for a moment before continuing. "You are so much more than I expected. I don't expect you to understand this - but meeting you and getting to spend time with you tonight has been ... life-altering ... for me." His arms tighten around you as he pulls you against him for a full-body hug.
You permit yourself the luxury of leaning against him, absorbing the warmth and strength of his body but, contrary to what you might have expected at a moment like this, your mind is whirling with confusion at his words. What could he possibly have meant by them?
With a sigh, Taylor reluctantly releases you, stands and moves into the bedroom, returning a moment later with a small, battered guitar. He sits at the end of the sofa, and begins strumming what seems like random chords. Then he begins to play a song and sing very softly, almost under his breath:
I will watch you in the darkness
Show you love will see you through
When the bad dreams wake you crying
I'll show you all love can do
All love can do
I will watch by the night
Hold you in my arms
Give you dreams where no one will be
I will watch through the dark
Till the morning comes
For the lights will take you
Through the night to see
All love, showing us all love can be
I will guard you with my bright wings
Stay till your heart learns to see
All love can be
(not an original song, Dana - sorry)
As the final notes fade away, he sits, head down, fingers moving, aimless again now on the guitar. "After I heard the Bunny story," he speaks absently, gazing blindly at his fingers,"I looked for you on all the websites. You had already pretty much left the American Idol site, but I saw you other places: TaylorHicksFan, and FuzzyBunnyBelly. I found your blog, and I read it. And I got to know you. Dana," he glances up shyly out of the corner of his eyes, the gaze beseeching, "I loved everything I learned about you. You are so good and so true; so loyal and giving to your friends; so kind and generous to everyone." He shrugs, self-conscious. "The first time you greeted me and talked to me on FBB, without even knowing who I was, I knew I had to meet you. I started writing songs for you ... that was one of them."
For a minute, you don't know what to say, shocked by the intensity of the emotions flooding your heart, then the words began to flow. "Taylor, isn't this a little bit like my stories? The things I learned about your character inspired me to write them. Those stories exist because I felt a connection to you that I couldn't explain. I had to express it." The dawning realization on his face encourages you to continue. "Our media is different, but neither is less creative or less valuable. I am so incredibly touched that you thought enough of me to write that beautiful song. This is a memory I will always treasure." A crazy thought enters your mind, frightening you, but you dismiss it before it can take root, and you continue to speak. "This whole evening has been like an amazing dream for me, but it's getting late, and I really should let you get some rest. Don't you have a concert tomorrow night?"
Taylor's eyes widen, and you realize you have taken him by surprise. He sets aside his guitar and sits forward. "I was hoping you could stay longer ..." he begins, hesitantly, but you cut in.
"That would be wonderful," you smile brightly, "but I would never forgive myself for jeopardizing your performance tomorrow night." You stand and begin moving towards the door. For a moment, Taylor seems frozen in place, then abruptly, he leaps to his feet and follows you. When you reach the entryway, you turn and extend your hand. "Thank you for one of the most exciting evenings of my life."
Taylor clasps your hand automatically, even though he seems at a loss for words. You turn to leave, but he is still holding tightly to you. You look down at his fingers wrapped around yours, then up into his face. He is staring at you with a quizzical expression, a quirky smile playing at the corners of his mouth. You raise an eyebrow in query.
"You think I'm going to let you go that easily?" he murmurs, using your captive hand to pull you up against him, wrapping his other arm around you firmly. "What spooked you, anyway?" He shook his silvery head ruefully. "Do you always run when things get too intense? I suppose it's good to find that out now." Gently, he leaned and nibbled at your ear. "You have to learn to trust in the good things, Dana." He pressed a brief, open-mouthed kiss against your neck. "And I intend to be very good to you." Then, surprising you with an abrupt change of mood, he tucks your face into his neck and cuddles you, resting his chin against the top of your head. "Let's get you home now, sweetheart."
The return drive is a blur to you. The entire way, Taylor holds you close against his side, his arm around your shoulder. Neither of you speak, although you suspect he is composing again, as he keeps singing under his breath. The contentment you feel is overshadowed by the sadness that this interlude is nearly over. When the limo pulls up outside your home, you remain motionless for endless minutes, reluctant to destroy the illusion.
Taylor is the first to move. He turns to you, cupping your face tenderly in his big hands, gazing down at you with a strange expression. Your breath catches in your throat as he lowers his lips to yours. This kiss is barely a whisper across your waiting lips, but so much sweeter for its gentleness and brevity. A delicate brush of his mouth across each of your eyelids, and he is moving again. The limo door opens and he slides across the seat to get out.
"Wait, Taylor." you manage to choke out, thinking you may die of this impossibly sad moment of goodbye. He looks back at you, a question in his eyes. Bravely, you continue, even though you feel your heart tearing to shreds inside you. "You don't have to walk me up."
"Darlin' ", Taylor drawled, "My grandma would whup my ass if I didn't remember that a gentleman always escorts his lady to her door." This being said, he climbs out of the limo and turns, holding out his hand to assist you. It takes all your will to refrain from bursting into tears as you are lifted out and set on your feet.
You and Taylor walk hand in hand up the sidewalk. At the door, Taylor faces you, but his eyes are downcast, examining your hand, which he is holding captive in his. He laces his fingers with yours and speaks softly. "This has been a special evening for me, Dana." He raises his eyes to your face, in time to see you lose the battle with your emotions, as tears begin streaming down your cheeks.
He gathers you against his chest, rocking you side to side, one hand tangling in your hair. "Shhhhh, baby girl," he soothes in a husky voice, "I'm right here. Don't cry, sweetheart."
A ragged sob escapes you as you pull away from him. With a visible effort, you control your tears. "This has been like a dream for me, Taylor. I wish it could go on, but I know it's time to go back to my real life." Distantly, you hear him speaking, his hands urgent on your upper arms.
"No no no no no!" Taylor exclaims. "Did you honestly think this was it?" He shakes you gently. "You have tickets to the show tomorrow night, and the gig with my band afterward." He hugs you against him tightly for a minute, then pushes you away, stepping back. "It would be the dumbest thing I've ever done if I let you slip through my fingers, Dana." He bends down and kisses you quickly but firmly on the mouth. "The limo will be here to pick you all up an hour before the concert. It'll be a late night, so get some sleep, darlin' girl."
You sag against the wall as you watch him jog back to the limo, slide into the front seat beside the driver and wave as the limo pulls away. It is only then your knees give out and you slide into a heap in front of the door. What a story you'll have to tell your friends!
The next morning at work, you feel like the wrath of God, having run the gauntlet with your family, then passing a sleepless night tossing and turning in your bed, reliving every instant of the evening with Taylor, mulling over every word and every action. Your co-workers have been glancing at you strangely, as you look alternately manic and depressed. Coffee break arrives, and you abandon your desk in the hopes that you have enough time to clear your head. You head to the ladies' room, oblivious to the commotion by the elevators. Suddenly you hear someone calling your name "Dana Silver!!" one of your colleagues is shouting at you, waving her arms to get your attention. You blink in astonishment, because as she moves toward you, you see a ... Behind her is a ...
A clown! An honest to goodness, big shoed, red honk-nose, curly-wigged, makeup-wearing clown. And he (she?) is holding the biggest bouquet of heart-shaped balloons you could imagine. As the crowd of your co-workers and the clown approach you, though, you notice that there's something very very familiar about this particular clown ...Amy and Kamala are laughing as they reach you. Tammi is next, chortling "Dana has a secret admirer!" You say nothing, just look up into two dark brown eyes that are crinkling at you from behind a very thick layer of clown makeup. The clown bows deeply, and presents you with the balloon bouquet. The smile that spreads across your face is irrepressible, because you spot a trace of silver gleaming through the rainbow wig on the clown's head. When the clown straightens, he responds to your big happy smile, and gives you one of his own. Then he speaks.
In a comically disguised voice, he peeps "There is a singing telegram with this, Ms. Silver." Clearing his throat, he sings in a falsetto voice
"Out of the tree of life I just picked me a plum
You came along and everything's startin' to hum.
Still, it's a real good bet, the best is yet to come.
Best is yet to come and babe, won't that be fine?
You think you've seen the sun, but you ain't seen it shine -
Wait till the warm-up's underway
Wait till our lips have met
And wait till you see that sunshine day
You ain't seen nothin' yet
Come the day you're mine I'm gonna teach you to fly
We've only tasted the wine We're gonna drain the cup dry
Wait till your charms are ready for these arms to surround
You think you've flown before, but baby, you ain't left the ground -
Wait till you're locked in my embrace
Wait till I draw you near -
Wait till you see that sunshine place
Ain't nothin' like it here.
The best is yet to come, come the day you're mine
Come the day you're mine And you're gonna be mine."
"Oooh!" squeals Amy, "That's an old Sinatra song - I love it!!"
"Who's it from, Dana?" demands Kamala.
"This is sooo romantic ..." gushes Tammi.
You hear none of this, because your eyes are locked with his. "Tonight." he mouths silently, and starts to turn away. Impulsively, you reach out and grab his big, warm hand. He turns back, scoops you up, crushes you against him and kisses you thoroughly in front of your bewildered co-workers. As he strides away, leaving you leaning weakly against a desk, your face smeared liberally with face paint, he hears a confused voice asking plaintively "Is Dana dating a telegram delivery man?"
The rest of the workday flew by in a lovely haze for you, once you got the clown makeup off your face. You didn't even notice the curious glances and the outright stares ... You don't remember the drive home, but when you arrive, Bethany is waiting on the front steps for you. She jumps up and down, clapping her hands. "He did bring them!!" she squeals happily, and races to claim the colorful balloons. As you enter the house, it seems everyone is smiling, even the cat.
"Hurry up and get ready, mommy," calls Bethany. "You only have an hour to get ready." As you prepare to take a shower, your daughter bounces into your room, chattering about Taylor. It seems that Taylor had called Bethany that morning and talked to her for almost an hour. She knew about the balloons, the clown, everything, before you did. Bethany casually reveals to you that the whole family is going to the concert as guests of Taylor's. "Is there no end to this man's thoughtful generosity?" you think in amazement as you get into the shower.
The sense of unreality stays with you when the limo picks you up, throughout the brief drive to the arena, and up until you are greeted and escorted to your private box like VIP's. Suddenly, it hits you how incredible this whole experience is, and you start to feel the excitement welling up inside. Your whole family is here with you and, if the smiles on their faces are any indicator, they are feeling the thrill of it, too.
By the time the lights go down, you are breathless with anticipation. So far in this surreal event, only one thing has remained constant: Taylor's ability to surprise you. You wonder briefly what he might have in store tonight, before giving yourself up to the music. To your surprise, each of the Idols acknowledges your presence by waving, or singing directly to you. Elliot gives you a shout-out and dedicates "Moody's Mood for Love" to you (hey Dana - I blogged the lyrics to this song a long time ago - read them, they're beautiful).
When the blackout occurs before Taylor's appearance, you grow suddenly nervous and don't really understand why ... until the instant you hear the music cue for his entrance, and hear him singing. He's standing right behind you! Involuntarily, you turn to him as he steps down beside you. He is singing to you! And contrary to the usual programming, he is not singing Jailhouse Rock!
"Don't let me down, don't let me down.Don't let me down, don't let me down.Nobody ever loved me like she do me,oo, she do me, yeah, she does.And if somebody loved me,like she do me,oo she do me, yeah, she does.Don't let me down, don't let me down.Don't let me down, don't let me down.I'm in love for the first time.Don't you know it's gonna last.It's a love that lasts forever,It's a love that had no past."
His eyes hold your gaze endlessly as he sings these words to you. He takes your hand and lifts it to his mouth as the music segues into Jailhouse Rock, and then he's gone, racing down the aisle, performing for the rest of the crowd.
Your mind is reeling at the public display, and you are sure your cheeks are scarlet from the attention, but you can't stop smiling, even when you notice several envious stares directed at you. Your eyes never leave Taylor's gleaming presence as he takes the stage and makes it his home. He sings better than you have ever heard him sing, he dances, plays his harp and guitar with so much enthusiasm that no one in the audience takes a breath until he leaves the stage in preparation for the finale.
When all the Idols are assembled on the stage for the final number, Taylor once again breaks with tradition. He steps forward and begins to speak. "Tonight, we have a guest who is very important to me." he tells the audience earnestly. "So my friends and I would like to dedicate our last song of the evening to a very special lady: Queen Dana of the Soul Patrol!" To your amazement, the audience erupts in a round of applause and cheering, as the music begins. As one unit, the Idols turn to sing for you. You aren't sure whether to be embarrassed or proud but, either way, you can't stop smiling. You have never liked being the focus of everyone's attention before, but this is different. You can feel the waves of love and approval directed at you from the audience AND from the Idols themselves. You hear someone in the audience scream "We love you, Dana." and the crowd roars. It's an incredible sensation.
Following the concert, your escort arrives to guide you to the Meet and Greet and, to your surprise, Taylor has arranged for you to be part of the group, with a chair placed at his side. The 45 minutes fly by, as Taylor introduces you to each person in the line. You are treated like a celebrity, but you aren't sure you like it. When you whisper this into Taylor's ear, he responds with a big belly laugh, eliciting demands from the other Idols. "What's so funny?" The two of you exchange an amused look and grin, saying nothing. It strikes you just how surreal it is that you are sharing personal jokes with Taylor.
"One of the things that surprises me most," you confide to Taylor as you both move away from the table after the Meet and Greet, "is how friendly and sweet the others are." You look back as Ace slings his arm around Bethany's shoulders and strolls down the corridor with her, smiling and listening intently as she chatters. Your parents are engrossed in a conversation with Bucky, Elliot and Kelly, and haven't yet started after the rest of the group. Confident that your family is in good hands, you concentrate on Taylor. He looks tired, and there is still the concert with his band.
"Wanna go on the bus with me?" he murmurs against your ear as you reach the exit. "Then Mike can take your parents and Bethany home in the limo." You nod, as this makes total sense. "Do you want to come out and see the fans? Or would you rather just wait for me?" He leans his head against yours for a minute, obviously exhausted.
"What would you prefer?" you reach up and rub the side of his neck. Taylor arches against your hand and groans "That feels fantastic. I'd like you to come with me and meet your Soul Patrol." You laugh lightly as you continue to massage the tense muscles at the back of his neck and up into his hair. "In case you haven't noticed, Taylor, that's YOUR Soul Patrol." He lifts his head and looks directly into your eyes with a small smile playing at the corners of his lips. "Would that make you my queen, Dana?" You blush and look away, afraid of what your eyes might disclose.
The rest of the Idols approach with your family, and Taylor briefly explains the change in transportation plans for taking your family home. He seems very at ease with your parents and Bethany, laughing as they chatted and hugging them goodbye. He and Bethany have a serious moment of conversation, then she smiles brightly at him and hugs him again. Bethany kisses you goodnight and then looks for Ace, who has captured her soft little pre-teen heart with his gallant behavior. He escorts her to the limo, where your parents are waiting, and picks her up in a big bear hug, which she adores.
Then, in a group, you all head for the wall of fans waiting for that instant of contact with their idols. "Stay with me." Taylor growls as you instinctively lag behind. He links his arm with yours, making certain that you remain close. He approaches the SPers at the chainlink fence, smiling and greeting them. It surprises you to hear some of them calling your name along with the shrieks of "Taylor", "Ace" and "Chris". You smile and chat with some, whose names you recognize from the AI forum. A few even ask to take your picture. Everyone is very sweet and you find yourself relaxed enough to allow the space to widen between you and Taylor.
Suddenly, he's back beside you, his hand on the small of your back. He lingers with you, listening to you chat, and even conversing a little himself. He mentions stories from your book several times, and you realize that he must have almost committed them to memory. You don't have time to dwell on the thought, though, as the bus starts its engine, and the Idols have to hurry back. You wave goodbye to your friends at the fence, as Taylor hustles you onto the bus ... the guys bus.
He herds you about halfway down, to an alcove with long bench seats, and a storage cupboard containing a guitar. He collapses onto one of the seats, pulling you down on top of him. When you squirm to get off, he tightens his hold on you and shakes his head, with a naughty little smile. "Uh uh, darlin'." he nuzzles his lips just below your ear. "Not unless you promise to get back to that fantastic neck massage ..."
You grin down into his tired face and tease "Hey, last time I checked, it was one per customer, bub." He laughs out loud and digs his fingers into your ribs. You shriek in protest, squirming even more to escape the torture. "Say Uncle." he commands, tickling you mercilessly. "Uncle!" you gasp in surrender. He pops a swift kiss on your lips, and flips you upright on his lap. "I can't give you a massage from this angle, you imbecile." you exclaim, laughing. "So, where do you want me to sit?" he chuckles as he gently bites the side of your neck in retribution. "On the floor." you command.
No sooner have the words been spoken than he slides out from under you and plops onto the floor. Shifting to straddle his wide back, you dig your thumbs into the tense muscles at the base of his neck. With a long groan of pleasure, Taylor lets his head fall forward. Your fingers work the tension from his neck muscles behind his ears, then move to the knot between his shoulder blades, and up onto his broad shoulders. His breathing grows deep and steady as you feel the tension leave his body. Eventually, he leans back against you, tipping his head up to look at you, upside down. You smile at him and he smiles back, an intimate exchange. Then his eyes drift closed and you gently circle your fingertips behind his ears, moving gradually to his temples. You then stroke your fingers through his hair, from the temples back, over and over, gently massaging his scalp. Unconsciously, you bend down and place a delicate kiss in the middle of his forehead, and hear him sigh contentedly.
"Awwww, now isn't this cozy." teases Chris, peering over the back of the seat. Taylor grins lazily, without bothering to open his eyes. "Go phone your wife, Daughtry." he jokes. "I got me a woman who knows how to give a massage, and I ain't sharing!"
"Massage?" Chris sputters. "We're brothers in arms, man. It's your duty to share." The rest of the guys crowd around. "Dana gives massages? I love massages." Elliot asks in a near-reverent tone. Bucky groans, rubbing his side in exaggerated pain. "I got me this muscle spasm right her, Dana. Think you could take a look at it for me?" Ace grins at you, rotating his shoulders and grimacing in mock agony.
"You boys have been alone on this bus too long." you laugh as you sit up. Taylor grunts his displeasure as his head is dislodged from your lap, and he turns, as if to push you back down into the cushioned seat. But you see the glimmer of amusement in his eyes, and you rumple his hair affectionately. He grabs your hand and brings it to his lips, kissing your palm before laying his cheek against it tenderly. "Do I have to share you?" he questioned a little petulantly. You hide a grin as you respond. "I think it would be the right thing to do." He sighs and releases your hand reluctantly. "Well, just don't enjoy it too much, ok?"
"Woooooooo!" Bucky hollers. "Gonna get a massage from queen Dana! Me first!" All the guys push and shove at each other, clamoring to be first. You get jostled in their enthusiasm, and Taylor grabs you, pulling you back against him, out of the way. He wraps his arms around you tightly and whispers in your ear "You don't have to, y'know." You lean your head back against his shoulder and whisper back. "I know, but it's a small enough thing to do for them."
"You're a sport, aren't you." Taylor nuzzles his lips against your temple. "They're acting like idiots - let's find somewhere else to sit, where they won't find us." The silliness of that statement surprises a laugh out of you. Where could you possibly go on a bus? The point is moot at any rate, because just then, the bus pulls into the underground parking of the hotel. Everyone piles out, laughing and shoving. You and Taylor hang back a bit, just to stay out of harm's way. The whole gang, from both buses, troops to the elevators, filling both. "We'll wait for the next one." Taylor calls out as Elliot beckons to you. "See you in a few minutes."
"Want to wait on the bus?" he asks you, with a serious expression on his face. You hesitate a second and then nod your head, a little apprehensive. Taylor is a gentleman, you remind yourself firmly. All the small intimacies have accumulated in your mind, though, and you wonder what he could possibly be thinking. Maybe this will be an opportunity to get things out on the table. No, you realize. There's not enough time before the Lmbo concert to get into a serious discussion. You smile at him encouragingly as you re-enter the bus. He is looking very pensive, and a bit distant. This is not an expression you have seen before, and it worries you a bit.
Taylor collapses onto a seat. Reaching out, he grabs your hand, dragging you onto his lap. "C'mere, baby." he growls, wrapping his arms around you and snuggling you close to him. It's a perfect fit. He sighs deeply and you feel his muscles melt back into the cushiony sofa. The two of you relax together for several minutes, absorbing the peacefulness brought on by the unexpected comfort of your embrace. Soon, one of his hands begins absently stroking your hair, his fingers weaving through it. It feels so good that you forget to breathe for a minute, and when you remember to, it comes in a gasp. "You ok?" he murmurs against your cheek. All you can manage is a small nod. He is so relaxed now, you can feel sleep overtaking him. His hand stops moving, but remains threaded in your hair, resting on your shoulder. His breathing is deep and steady, and his head is sagging against yours. You shift slightly and his arms tighten around you. His lips move against your temple in a wordless murmur, and then all is quiet again. Your eyes drift shut and soon you are both asleep.
Sometime later, you awaken to the feel of the bus bouncing as someone enters. "Shhhhh ..." you hear someone whisper, "Looks like they fell asleep." Another voice chimes in a little louder. "Well we have to wake him, or he'll be late for the band's show." Then unmistakeably, Bucky's twang "Awww, ain't that sweet. S'pose we oughtta get 'em up, though."
"I'm awake." comes Taylor's soft, sleep-husky voice. "I'm awake. Hush though. Don't wake Dana. She must have been tired." The world tilts as he stands up, still cradling you against his chest. Instinctively, you snuggle closer, still more asleep than awake. You grow more aware as he walks toward the back of the bus, perhaps intending to lay you down on one of the bunks. "Taylor?" you mumble sleepily. He croons your name against your cheek, his lips soft and mobile against your skin. "I'm awake now." you murmur. When his mouth brushes against yours, your defenses are still sleeping, and you turn your head slightly, granting him better access. He groans softly and deepens the kiss, tracing his tongue across your bottom lip.
Before either of you can forget where you are, Elliot calls out that the car has arrived to take you to the club. Reluctantly, Taylor lowers your feet to the ground, his arms still supporting you. A little embarrassed, you press your forehead against his shoulder. He runs his hand smoothly down your back in a gentle caress. "You ready to go?" he questioned, his lips against your ear. A shivery thrill runs through you, but you nod against his shoulder, then lift your head and meet his eyes. He smiles down at you, but his eyes have a strange expression in them that you can't decipher. Together, you head to the front of the bus, disembark and climb into the waiting sedan.
Arriving at the club, you can hear the band playing. It is your first LiMBO show, and you are perhaps more excited about this than you were about the AI concert. The guys are teasing you that they will get you up on stage to sing with them, but you scarcely pay them any attention as the car pulls to a stop. Foremost in your mind is, will you meet any Soul Patrol friends here. And you've heard so much about the difference between the LiMBO gigs and AI that you can barely contain your excitement.
"Dana," Elliot warns you kindly, "it may be better if the crowd in there doesn't know you are here with Taylor ..." Taylor turns to him swiftly and retorts "Who the hell do you think she's going in there with?" He continues "I won't hide things from people just because they might not like it. Dana is here with me, and I sure as hell won't be letting anybody else escort her."
He opens the door abruptly, climbs out, turns and reaches for your hand, almost yanking you out of your seat. "Careful, Taylor." you admonish in a soft voice "Your temper is showing." The irritable expression on his face softens and fades as you speak. He wraps his arms around you and hugs you, rocking from side to side with you for a long moment. "Sorry, baby." he apologizes. "I am who I am. I can't be what everyone wants me to be." "Oh Taylor," you sigh in amused exasperation. "I don't want you to be anyone but exactly who you are." At your words, he squishes you tight against his chest for a long time before releasing you. Hand in hand, you enter the building. "Let's take it to church tonight, honey!" he shouts at you as you are envelopped in the atmosphere and the crowds of the club. Ace, Bucky and Elliot are right behind you, and they act as a human buffer between you and the surging crowd. It melts your heart when you realize they are purposefully protecting you from being buffetted about, taking the shoves and grabs of the audience upon themselves. "VIP lounge!" shouts Elliot over the din of what seemed like a thousand screaming women. The guards and the idols, with you at their center, make their way through the crush to the relative quiet of the lounge to one side of the stage.
You look at Taylor and the others, seeing the glow on their faces that was missing at the Idol concert. "It's a live one tonight, boys!" laughs Ace, peering through the smoked glass. "Hey E, there's a couple of ladies out there with E-Train teeshirts."
Elliot rushes to the window, gazing out. "Hey - they're pretty cute, too!" Everyone laughs, because the ladies in question were at least 60. This is so different from the AI function that you blink, wonderingly. They vibrate with suppressed energy; their excitement is almost tangible. Taylor is still holding your hand, not speaking, but his grin stretches from ear to ear. "Now you're gonna get a show, Dana." promises Bucky enthusiastically. You laugh in anticipation, the joy in the room contagious.
Moments later, the band leaves the stage and enters the lounge area. For a few minutes, there is an exchange of man-hugs, punches and good-natured insults. This is the first time Taylor has released you since entering the club, and you feel a little extraneous for a minute and try to fade into the background as much as possible. On the other hand, you are fascinated by the affection and mutual respect that are obvious between the band members and all 4 of the Idols.
Finally, Taylor turns and pulls you against his side. "I want you to meet Dana." As he smiles down at you, you suddenly feel as though he is giving his closest friends a message with the expression and the introduction.
"Queen Dana of the Soul Patrol." Brian reaches out and hugs you. "This is truly an honor." All the other members crowd around, introducing themselves and expressing their admiration for your writing. You are a bit taken-aback that they seem to have all read the book you sent Taylor, never imagining that he would share it. You glance at Taylor and he is beaming with pride ... for you? So it would seem, but there is no time to pursue the thought.
The band members get a drink, and are back on the stage. This time, Brian leans into his mic and, instead of introducing Taylor, he introduces YOU. The 4 Idols pull you onto the stage with them, as some people in the crowd begin to chant "Dana! Dana! Dana!" It's all a bit overwhelming, but you smile and wave, then head for the lounge. In the few steps it takes you to get there, a small group of people stop you and introduce themselves. Canadian Soul Patrol! These are the people you were hoping to see.
But before you can do more than hug and squeal a bit, Taylor slings his red guitar around his neck and steps up to the mic. Nothing else matters now. It's all about the music. And, BOY! Is there music. This is a side of him you couldn't have imagined. He growls, he croons, he prances, he shakes that everlovin' booty until you feel faint. This is the consummate performer, you realize. The one you sensed, but hadn't seen until this moment.
After the third song, he leans into the mic, wiping the sweat off his neck with a hand towel as he speaks. "This is my favorite girl's favorite song of mine, so I'll send it out to her." The band segues into the intro of "Hell of a Day". Taylor's eyes find you in the crowd, and he directs every bit of his energy and charisma at you. You are vaguely aware of people holding you up when your knees start to buckle, but you are impaled on his dark, emotion-laden gaze. You struggle to decipher what his eyes are telling you, to no avail. Your consciousness is filled with the song, with Taylor's voice and with his presence, which suddenly seems larger than life.
Song after song follows, but you still see the vision of Taylor singing your favorite song to you, still hear the echo of it in your ears. Not until they take a break do you snap back to the present. You decide to give Taylor some space and instead, spend the intermission talking to your friends. Someone brings you a Coke, and you get settled at a table with the girls, chatting and reminiscing. You thoroughly enjoy your time with them, but you are not sorry when the band takes the stage for the next set. The crowd surges forward and you are pushed to the front.
Taylor is on the stage, scanning the audience with a little frown. When you appear at the foot of the stage, he smiles in relief and mouths something at you. You can't decipher it, so you just give him a big smile and that seems the right response. He immediately cues the band and they roll into the next number. The set flies by, with the other Idols joining Taylor on the stage.
Before you realize it, the show wraps up and the club begins to clear. Your friends hug you, exchange numbers and linger a bit, chatting. Suddenly you realize they want an introduction. How am I supposed to do this? you wonder in embarrassment. I can't ask Taylor and the others ... But you don't even get the chance to worry about it. Taylor bursts out of the lounge and strides directly to your side. Casually, he slings an arm over your shoulder and leans into you. Instantly, you are enveloped in an aura of overheated man. Instinctively, you inhale his musky scent, then blush as you notice your friends watching enviously. As relaxed as you've ever seen him, Taylor reaches his hand out and says to each person in the group "Hi, I'm Taylor Hicks. It's nice to meet you."
You gather your wits and introduce your Canadian friends (I just had to, Dana - it seems like we're the only ones who don't really have a shot at meeting the man) who have all made the trip together for this concert. "Taylor," you begin, "these are my Canadian Soul Patrol friends, Meri, Coco, Anndi and Jo."
Before anybody could say anything else, Taylor quickly jumps in "Would you all like to join us in the lounge for a drink and a bite to eat?" You beam as the excitement registers on your friends' faces. "What a sweet thing to do." you whisper into Taylor's ear as you turn toward the lounge. He whispers back "I knew you'd be meeting up with some friends here. This will give you a little more time with them." Then he kisses your ear lightly and opens the door. The members of LiMBO and the other idosl greet your friends warmly, sign autographs and pose for pictures.
Once things have settled down, you find yourself the focus of Brian's attention. You glance around, see that everyone seems to be having a good time, then sit back to enjoy your chat with one of Taylor's best buddies. Not surprisingly, he seems to be interviewing you but, rather than being affronted by his probing questions, you are touched that he is looking out for Taylor this way. When you state this, it is as though you had passed some sort of test, for Brian relaxes and begins to speak enthusiastically about your involvement in the Soul Patrol, and specifically about your writing. The time passes swiftly, and when Taylor perches next to you, on the arm of the sofa, you are surprised to see that an hour has gone by.
Taylor leans over and murmurs softly against your ear "The manager wants to close up, so we've got to move on out shortly. Can I talk to you alone for a minute?" You look up at him quizzically, but his expression gives nothing away. You nod, then excuse yourself from the conversation. Taylor draws you up off the couch and leads you out into the main club, away from everyone.
His expression turns serious as he takes both your hands and faces you. "The bus is heading out first thing tomorrow morning, Dana." he states bluntly. For a moment, you feel nothing, and then a wave of sadness and loss swamp your senses. You close your eyes and try to keep breathing through it. When you open your eyes, you see that his face is filled with the same pain and regret. You try to smile reassuringly at him, but your lips quiver and you find you cannot turn the corners upward. It is no comfort to you that Taylor also seems unable to smile.
"Look, " he says urgently, "my first instinct was to ask you to stay with me tonight." He shakes his head sadly. "But that's not how I want things to proceed between us." He gives a short, humorless laugh. "I find that, when it comes to you, I want more." He looks down at your joined hands, lacing his fingers with yours as he continues. "Dana, I know I have no right; I know we've technically only known each other for a little over 24 hours, but," his eyes hold your gaze, "I think you and I have a real connection between us." He lifts one hand and strokes his thumb gently down your cheek. "I have feelings for you that I haven't had for anyone in a long time, and I'm hoping that you'd be willing to give them a chance to grow."
He watches you as you struggle to form words for a moment. Breathily, feeling for all the world as if you'd been punched in the stomach, you speak. "I've felt the last two days as if I've been living in a dream world." you begin. "Sometimes I thought there was something special here, and sometimes I wondered if you were just toying with me. Either way, it was better than I ever imagined it could be." You lift an incredulous gaze to his eyes. "Are you trying to say that you meant all those things? That it was really special, and not just my imagination?"
"Oh Dana." he groaned, pulling you into his arms. "I've been looking all my adult life for someone who makes me feel the way you do. When I look at you, I see the future. I don't want to scare you off," he continued, as he begins to press gentle kisses against your temple, "but I'm pretty sure you and I could be the real deal." You feel his lips curve upward against your skin. "I've been ashamed of my inability to keep my hands off you since the moment we met." You laugh and pull back to look up at him. His eyes are shining with such joy, you find it hard to focus on your thoughts. "I really haven't minded too much, Taylor." He laughs delightedly and pulls you to him, kissing a trail down the side of your face.
"Sorry to interrupt," Elliot calls from across the room, "but we have to pack this up and get on the road." Taylor stops, his lips resting just below your ear. Reality crashes hard into the euphoria you both have so briefly felt following your recent disclosures. He lowers his head until his face is pressed against the curve of your shoulder. He draws a deep, shuddery sigh.
In an attempt to comfort him, you thread your fingers into his thick hair, stroking through it over and over. You trace the smooth, velvety contours of his ears with your gentle fingertips, then cup your palms against the stubble-roughened line of his jaw. He lifts his head and looks down at you, his eyes glazed with sensual pleasure. "I've been having dreams about how you would touch me," he rasped, "but my imagination hasn't prepared me for the real thing."
Lowering his mouth, he nips sweetly at your lips, then presses a series of soft, open-mouth kisses against yours. It's all you can do to keep from sliding to the floor in a heap of melted goo. His fingers encircle your wrists and he guides your hands back to his hair. You need no further encouragement to continue. Your thumbs brush lightly against his earlobes, and your efforts are rewarded when he shivers ecstatically. He lowers his forehead to your shoulder once again and you discover that if you turn your head slightly, his ear is at the perfect level for the exploration of your mouth.
Hesitantly, you touch the tip of your tongue to the outer curve. He gasps your name and, encouraged, you take the initiative, tracing the shape of his ear and then delicately feathering your lips against the satiny warmth of his earlobe. It snaps his already-wavering control. One large hand tangles into your hair, supporting the back of your head, even as his mouth comes down on yours in a deep, wet, hot kiss. His lips pluck at yours, opening you to his quest, then he deepens the kiss even more. "Dana." he moans into your mouth after an eternity of heaven, reluctantly dragging his lips away, across your jaw, in an effort to regain some vestige of control.
His arms wrap around you, one hand still curved to the shape of your head, pressing your face into the juncture of his neck and shoulder. Your bodies are pressed together from head to knees, and you can feel the change in his profile indicating how far he is from control. Taylor's breathing is ragged and swift and shaky, and he mutters against your temple "Don't move. Just don't ... move." You are no less affected by this encounter than he, and you can't control the fine tremors that shudder through your body from head to toe. Nevertheless, other than tightening your hold on him, you remain as still as possible in his embrace until you feel the slight slackening of tension in the taut muscles of his shoulders and back.
Drawing back, you attempt to disengage, but he continues to hold you. "Just give me a minute more." Taylor shakes his head slightly at you. "I've never been that close to out of control, sweetheart." His eyes are dazed, slightly unfocused and, perversely, it fills you with a sense of pride that you have this affect on him.
"Taylor," someone calls out. "the car's waiting." Horrified, you realize that the rest of the crowd had filed past you and Taylor while you were locked together. You feel the heat rising in your face, shading your cheeks a rosy hue. What must your friends think? And the band members? You turn your face away from the door, knowing that your embarrassment must be glowing like neon across your cheeks.
"Dana?" Taylor tips your chin up. Your eyes fill up. "What must my friends be thinking? And yours?" Your lips tremble as you fight the urge to cry. "Oh, Dana." Taylor smiles gently at you. "Maybe they have it figured out. Didn't you tell me that these ladies know you very well?" You dip your chin in a tiny nod. "And I know my boys won't judge you for this. As a matter of fact," he continues, "they have given you their unequivocable thumbs-up."
You shake your head mutely, refusing to meet his eyes for the first time since you'd met. Taylor sighs raggedly, then bends his knees, places his shoulder against your belly and lifts you. You squeal in shock! "What are you doing? Are you crazy? Put me down!!" You are helpless, hanging there, staring down at ... oh MY! You decide suddenly that this is not such a bad position to be in. You continue to squirm and struggle, but your objective has changed. Only another couple inches and you ... can .. reach ... his ...
"What are you doing back there?" laughs Taylor as he reaches the outer door. You realize that your fingers have been walking down over the small of his back and, in their stretching and reaching, had begun to pull up his loose black cotton shirt. Your fingertips are a fraction of an inch from bare flesh now. You blush profusely, and try to release the fabric, but your fingers have suddenly developped a mind of their own and are resolutely gripping the hem of his shirt. Taylor bends and sets your feet on the floor, standing you upright. Even so, you pull his shirt half over his head before your fingers obey the command to release.
"Oh Geez, get a room!" you hear from behind you as Taylor begins to shimmy his shirt back down. "Can't you two at least wait until you have some privacy?" You look at Taylor to see how he's taking this, and nearly laugh aloud at the gleam of mischief in his eyes. He mouths at you "Watch this!"
"You don't want to see stuff, close your eyes." Taylor flings the words at Elliot. "Or better yet, learn to ignore it, because we're practicing for the main event." A stunned silence follows his words as you gape at him in astonishment, followed by an explosion of gutwrenching laughter from your audience. You whirl around and see that nearly the entire group had been standing right outside the door when Taylor spoke, and had overheard his words. Your friends were laughing, and applauding, watching your reaction. You smile weakly, wondering if people actually die of embarrassment.
"No shame, Dana." Taylor's voice whispers softly into your ear as he nudges you from behind toward the exit and the waiting car. You force yourself to take a step, then another. Your eyes nervously scan the expression of the people waiting for you, but you see nothing but signs of loving approval.
Taylor takes your hand and squeezes it gently before speaking again. "I think Dana and I will walk back to the hotel. Since the bus is leaving in a few hours, I'd like some time alone with her to talk."
Mitch looks at Taylor in concern. "Do you think that's safe, bro?" The others nod, looking worried. Taylor shakes his head. "It's 3 am, and we're only about two blocks away. I think we need some normality here. I'm gonna give it a try."
As the others pile into their cars and drive away, worried expressions etched on their faces, you peer up into Taylor's face and ask "Are you sure this is ok?" He smiles gently down at you, hooking your arm into the crook of his elbow. "I want the rest this night with you to be as normal as possible, sweetheart. I can't think of anything more average than a man walking a lady home after a show." With that, he guides you to the sidewalk, and you begin the trek back to the hotel.
At first, your eyes shift nervously at every movement in your peripheral vision, but after a few minutes, you begin to relax. The streets are nearly deserted at this hour and the peaceful blanket of the night wraps itelf around you. Taylor drops your hand and drapes his arm around your shoulders, pulling you snug against his side. He begins to hum, softly at first, then singing low: "In the still of the night, I held you, held you tight. 'Cause I love, love you so. Promise I'll never let you go, in the still of the night. I remember that night in May. The stars were bright above. I'll hope and I'll pray to keep your precious love. Well before the light, hold me again with all of your might, in the still of the night ... "
Before the song is halfway through, he has pulled you into his arms and sways with you, slow dancing with you on the sidewalk like in some romantic old movie, singing down to your upturned face. Then, just as suddenly, he releases you, takes your hand and begins walking again, slowly, still humming. For some reason, this strikes you as funny and you giggle quietly to yourself.
"What's so funny?" he asks casually, not checking his strides. "You said you wanted us to be like a normal couple for the rest of our time together." you reply in an amused voice. "That was NOT anything like normal ..." He grins, not turning his head. It's another hundred yards before he speaks again.
"Dana," he leads you to the park bench at a bus stop. "We need to talk about what happens after this." He sits, pulls you down and turns to you, threading his fingers between yours in an unconsciously nervous gesture. rather than speaking, you watch him, memorizing every fleeting expression, every curve and line of his face. The moment for you is poignant and heart-breaking, because you know that in about four hours, the Idol tour bus will pull out, taking Taylor and, you suspect, a good-sized chunk of your heart with it.
"Taylor," you begin hesitantly, "the past two days have been so wonderful. I can't begin to express my thanks to you. These are memories I will carry with me forever." Seeing his expression darken, you talk faster, trying to imagine what he is thinking. "I know your life has changed because of American Idol. It's what you always dreamed about, and now your dream has come true. I can't be anything but happy about that. Anything else would be selfish of me." His look changes to one of confusion as you continue. "I mean, who am I to even hope that Taylor Hicks could ever be really interested in a woman like me? That's silly." You force a laugh that you really aren't feeling, as you watch storm clouds gathering on his face. But as you draw in a breath to continue, he holds up one hand and half turns his head away, in a clear signal for you to stop.
You hold your breath, fearing you have revealed too much. Taylor remains silent for a long time, then turns back to you,obviously controlling his temper by the skin of his teeth. "You," he grits through a clenched jaw "haven't a clue what you're saying, do you?" He stands and takes a couple of steps, his back to you. "Have I EVEN ONCE ..." he stops, takes a deep breath, controls his voice, then begins again. "Have I ever caused you to feel that you were unworthy of me? Somehow inferior? Have I acted as though this encounter between us WAS EVER ..." his voice rises again and he controls it with a visible effort before continuing, "... was ever unimportant? That YOU were UNIMPORTANT? Do I strike you as a man capable of such CALLOUS actions?" he spins and glares at you, anger and hurt reflected in his expression. "WELL? DO I?" Turning once again, he stomps several feet away then stops, his silvery head bowed and his hand over his eyes.
Everything in you urges you ... commands you ... to go to him, but those old insecurities rear their ugly heads and stop you. Thinking it through, you realize you have two choices: you can let the old habits of feeling unworthy keep you from Taylor, thus hurting him and most definitely ruining some beautiful memories ... or you can throw caution to the wind and take the plunge. Sure, you might embarrass yourself, but what if ... "What if ...?" you whisper to yourself as you rise and move toward him.
He squares his shoulders and stiffens as he senses your approach. Timidly, you place your hands on his back, just below the shoulderblades and slide them ever-so-slowly upwards, over his shoulders. A tiny shiver courses its way down his spine, but he doesn't move. "Taylor, I'm sorry." you apologize, not knowing what you should say to make this better. "I know there's no excuse for saying those things to you. I never intended my words to be applied to you. You're a wonderful, caring man, and your heart is pure gold." You hesitate painfully over the next words before blurting them out.
"I haven't allowed myself to think that you could feel for me what I'm starting to feel for you. I'm afraid to, because the last time, I got hurt." His shoulders slump at your words. "I'm afraid to trust what my instincts are telling me."
Taylor starts to turn around, but you stop him with a single word. "Wait." You sigh and rest your forehead between his shoulder blades before continuing. "If you look at me, I might not have the courage to say what I need to. It's going to be difficult enough as it is." You slide your hands down his back, to either side of your face, turning your head so that your cheek is pressed against his spine, hearing his heartbeat echoing inside his chest. You hear him murmur your name. It vibrates against your face, and feels like a lover's caress. You sigh deeply, knowing you have to speak what's in your heart to this man while you have the chance.
"Taylor," your voice breaks, but you force yourself to continue. "The past two days ..." you stop briefly and marvel at the fact that it has been such a brief time since this man entered your life. "The time we've spent together has been like a fairy tale." You draw a shaky breath and plow on. "But fairy tales don't happen to girls like me." You shake your head, not lifting it from its resting place. "I write them, but I don't really believe ..." Taylor is holding himself so still that you don't even hear his heartbeat for a minute.
"It's just that I could so easily fall in love with a man like you," you falter. A huge rush of air escapes Taylor, and you can hear his heart pounding against your cheek. That is, until he turns around. His big hands grip your upper arms and he stares intently into your eyes.
"A man like me?" he rasps, "Or me?" You try to look away, but find it impossible with his eyes burning into you in this way. "Dana," he says raggedly, "you have to answer me. We have only a couple of hours left together right now."
Knowing that he's right doesn't make it any easier to answer, but you garner your strength and take a leap of faith. One word. "You."
As soon as the word escapes you, his eyes slam shut and his head falls back. "Thank God, Dana." he breathes. "Oh, thank God." His arms gather you against him, and he drops his cheek to the top of your head. One hand begins to stroke your hair, fingers feathering through it almost absently. "I was so afraid we were going have to part without resolving this thing."
It feels as though your mind had taken a brief vacation, and is having trouble catching up. "What do you mean, Taylor?" you ask him, confused. He pulls back and looks down into your face, and that expression is back, the one you've seen periodically over the past two days.
"Dana," he finally manages. "My sweet, darling, oblivious love." He shakes his head, much in the way you remember from YASB on AI. "I'm so crazy about you, I can hardly see straight." He brushes a light kiss across your lips. "My focus has been shot to hell ever since I got to know you, and it's actually gotten worse since we met in person. The ONLY time I'm able to concentrate now is when you are with me. If this isn't love, Dana, it's damned close to it. And I'm more than ready to go the rest of the distance, if it can be with you."
Speechless, you look up at him, trying to remember a time that your heart contained this much joy. Tears tremble at the corners of your eyes, and when he notices them, Taylor kisses them away. Unable to stop himself, he then begins to press random kisses all over your face. His hands tangle restlessly into your hair, his thumbs gently stroking your ears. He finally lifts his head, passion-glazed eyes drifting lovingly over every feature of your upturned face.
Both of you had forgotten that you were, essentially, standing on a street corner during this exchange, but as awareness of your surroundings seeps back into your consciousness, you find yourself unable, or unwilling, to be embarrassed by the public nature of your display. There is no room in your spirit for negative emotions now. Taylor's eyes have always held that expression when he looks at you, but until now you had not been able to identify it. Now, as you absorb the look into your heart for the first time, it renews you as nothing in your life has ever done. You've done no more than simply be yourself and although that had seemed never to be enough in the past, with this man who has the world by the tail, it was all that was needed.
Now, with Taylor's declaration ringing in your ears, you can be honest with yourself and, subsequently, with him. "There is nothing that would make me happier, sweetheart." you say simply, looking into his eyes, watching the beautiful smile dawning there. He seems unable to do anything at the moment but look at you and beam that wondrous, joy-filled smile down at you, mending the rift in your heart and filling you overwhelmingly with a sense of fatedness. Perhaps things DO happen for a purpose, you muse as, finally, you and Taylor resume your trek towards the hotel.
It seems your feet barely touch the ground before you arrive back at the hotel where, after noticing a small group of people waiting across the street from the main entrance, you and Taylor decide to brazen it out. You reach the doors before it registers with the fans that it is Taylor walking up the street. He looks down at you with an apologetic grin, and you shrug, smiling back at him, knowing that this is forever more going to be part of his life. He turns and faces the approaching women, who seem fairly calm.
After about 5 minutes of signing various articles and posing for pictures, he excuses himself graciously, expressing his exhaustion. You are aware of the envious expressions on their faces as he turns back to you and reaches to take your hand, but it doesn't really touch you through the warm glow of Taylor's obvious affection. He raises your clasped hands to his lips and kisses your knuckles as you move throught the hotel lobby together.
"Dana", he murmurs as you approach the bank of elevators. "Will you stay tonight?" your eyes widen in surprise at the question, but you wait to respond until the elevator doors have slid shut, isolating the two of you from the world. "I don't understand what you are asking me." you speak slowly, hesitantly, watching his face carefully for some clue.
"I don't want to waste a minute that I can be with you." he tried to explain. "And whether we sit and talk, hold each other and sleep, or ..." Taylor ducks his head bashfully, a deep blush staining his cheeks, "... well, I just want to spend this time with you." Earnestly, he gazes into your eyes. "We've had so little time, and I want more than a few hours, but I'll be happy with what we've got, as long as we can be together."
For a minute, you feel dizzy. Your logical side tells you that staying these last few hours will make the parting that much more painful but, with all your heart, you want this time with him, so when you speak, there is no hesitation, only certainty that this is the right thing to do. "I want that, too, Taylor." you whisper shyly. His eyes seem to grow as he looks at you, then he pulls you against him, cradling you like a fragile piece of glass as the elevator rises to his floor.
Before it seems possible, he is sliding the key card out of his pocket and opening the door to his room. You enter without turning on the light, as someone has performed turn-down service and left the bedside lamps shining palely in the dark. You feel rather than see Taylor tilt as he kicks off his shoes, and you follow suit, breathing a sigh of relief as your feet sink deeply into the soft carpet.
Taylor precedes you across the room, then turns and watches you in the dim light. Unable to help yourself, you hover uncertainly in the entrance, unable to make yourself take those few steps. He sighs deeply, turns and goes to the closet. A minute later, he returns, carrying a small stack of clothes. "Here," he says gently, "these should be more comfy." Stunned, you take the proffered bundle and watch as he goes to the couch, sits and grabs the remote.
A little confused, you head into the bathroom to change. A few minutes later, you stare at yourself in the mirror, dressed in one of Taylor's white teeshirts that hangs almost to your knees and a pair of boxers that extend only an inch or so lower ... you don't think you can go out there looking like this ... but just then, Taylor taps on the door and asks in a low voice "Is everything ok?"
Abashed, you open the door, and stand there as his eyes travel over you. He takes a deep breath, turns and walks back to the couch, saying "I thought we might watch a bit of a movie before trying to sleep." For a minute, you just stand there, but then he looks up and pats the seat beside him, smiling at you. There is something wrong, but you can't quite put your finger on it, so you simply go to him and sit, curling automatically into his side. He puts his arm around you, but doesn't seem quite relaxed. You make a pleased sound as you recognize the movie playing. "Casablanca." you murmur, smiling. You snuggle closer and get comfortable, before immersing yourself in the timeless romance of the movie.
After a few minutes, you become aware that Taylor isn't exactly relaxing. His breathing is shallow, and his muscles are trembling slightly. You shift around until you can see his face. His eyes are shut, and there is a sheen of perspiration on his forehead. "Are you all right?" you asked in concern, reaching up to gently stroke his cheek. He tilts his face against your palm, then opens his eyes and looks down at you. His dark eyes glitter oddly in the reflected light of the screen.
"Dana," he whispers on an indrawn breath. He bends down and kisses your mouth, softly at first, then with swiftly increasing hunger. His arm tightens around you, supporting your head as he leans over you. His free hand arrows into your hair, his thumb gliding against your cheekbone. He groans softly as his lips and tongue savour the sweetness of your mouth as you open to his kiss. Dazedly, you register the fact that, although you had been married and had a child, you had never known the existence of these sensations, burning their way through your nervous system at this moment. And these from only a kiss!
That thought shocks you into an instant of stillness, enough that Taylor senses the change. With a visible effort, he pulls away, releasing you to the cool embrace of the cushiony couch. He drags one shaky hand down his face, then turns to you with a self-deprecating grimace. "What just happened?" you ask unsteadily, foregoing any attempt to sit up until you have the trembling under control.
"I wasn't going to do that," he begins, looking away from you. "I had it all in hand." Abruptly, he turns to you and fixes you with a steady gaze. "But seeing you dressed like that," he draws in a deep, shuddering breath, "in my clothes, and looking so ..." he runs one hand over his face again, "I just ..."
Agitated, he rises and strides across the room to the window. "Damn it, Dana," he swears, his back to you, "I've never been so out of control. It was all I could do to stop myself from taking you against the bathroom door when you opened it, and then when you curled up against me on the couch ... you are so soft and you smell so good, I ..." he stopped suddenly and turned, taking a step toward you. "I promise you, all I want is to spend these hours with you, holding you, maybe talking. Sleeping." he nodded, almost to himself, reaffirming his words. "We need to sleep. If you like, I'll sleep on the couch and you take the bed."
Doubtfully, you look first at the loveseat sofa, then over at the king-size bed. Looking at him, you raise a quizzical eyebrow and then shake your head. "Taylor, you're over-reacting." It stops him in his tracks, surprising a laugh out of him. You shake your head at him again and chuckle, "Neither of us would do any sleeping if those were the arrangements. You would be hanging off both ends of the couch, and I would be so stricken with guilt for putting you out of your bed, I'd never sleep. Besides," you continue logically, "I don't want to spend our last hours together across the room from each other." You blush, but finish, "I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be with you, now would I?"
In an instant, Taylor is at your side again, your hands gripped in his as he lifts first one, then the other, pressing ardent kisses into your palms. "You are so good for me." he murmurs, leading you to the bed. "Will you always be this pragmatic, my darling girl?" He doesn't even let you climb onto the high bed, but lifts you into his arms and lays you back against the deep, luxurious pillows before throwing himself down beside you. Before you can even move, he has you wrapped in his arms, his legs tangled with yours, the embrace all-encompassing.
"I want to fall asleep with you in my arms tonight, Dana my love," he whispers into your ear, "and I want to wake up tomorrow morning with you snuggled against me all warm and drowsy. That," he mumbled sleepily, fading, "would be my idea of heaven ..." His lips continue to move against your ear for endless moments, wordlessly, as you feel his body relax into the plush bedding. His hands, splayed across your back, knead your muscles gently, exploring only so far, and never straying past the invisible boundaries he had set for himself.
Your eyes drift shut in the quiet contentment of the moment, until you feel him draw back. Opening your eyes, your view is filled with his beautiful, tender face. From this proximity, you can count every eyelash. In silent wonder, you look at every aspect of his face: the whiskers, the laugh lines, the flecks of green in his beautiful eyes, the beautifully defined cleft of his upper lip and the sensuous fullness of his lower lip ...
"Touch me, Dana." he rasps pleadingly. "When you look at me like that ... touch what you're seeing, love." You reach up with both your hands, then hesitate. Where should you start? Almost before you've asked yourself that question, your palms fill themselves with the slightly grubbly curve of his jaw. Your fingertips skate against his cheekbones, then up into his hairline. You let your thumbs smooth the arch of his brows, and then the faint worry lines between.
His eyes drift shut as you feather your lips against his eyelashes, then across the bridge of his nose. Playfully, you nip the end of his nose before discovering the exquisite bow of his upper lip. You take all the time in the world exploring this temptation before moving to the luscious fullness below.
By now, you are both breathing audibly, and the shudders wracking his body are shaking the bed, but he lets you take the lead. All this time, your hands have not been still, rather, they have been memorizing the shape of his face, the texture of his skin, the silkiness of his hair, all until your fingertips inadvertently brush against the softest, most satiny treasure of all.
Using both hands, you gently cup his jaw and coax his head to the side. You inhale the scent of his skin before reaching up and touching your lips to his earlobe. You brush your mouth over the delicate flesh, marvelling at the incredible texture. You can't resist tasting that delicious morsel, sucking it between your lips, rolling your tongue over it. Taylor's arms are like steel bands around you, but still he permits you to explore. "You're killing me, darlin'." he tries to joke, his voice hoarse. You barely even register it. You are completely absorbed in the sweet taste and velvety feel of his ear against your lips and tongue. Finally, you draw away, only to tip his head to the other side and continue the torture on his other ear. In the process, you discover something that catches you offguard ... Taylor has incredibly sensitive ears, but when you slide your fingertips delicately down the sides of his neck, it snaps his control.
Before you know what is happening, he has you imprisoned beneath him, your hands pinned on either side of your head. One thigh has your legs trapped, and he rolls slightly, so that the weight of his torso presses you deeper into the plush duvet blanketing the bed. Darkly, he scowls down at you, letting you begin to worry until a glimmer of mischief appears in his eyes. "My dad always told me I should give as good as I get ..." he warned, just before his mouth feathers down the bridge of your nose. As his lips explore your cheeks, your eyes, your jawline, his breathing grows more and more ragged.
After only a couple of minutes, he draws back again and growls, apologetically, "I can't take much more of this, honey." Without thinking about the consequences, you reach up and press your mouth against his, your lips slightly parted and moist. Instantly, his body slams down onto yours, crushing you into the mattress, as his mouth slants lusciously over yours, deepening the kiss, nearly devouring you in his intensity. His hands release yours, only to stroke urgently down your sides, their uncontrolled tremors multiplying the sensations streaming through you.
Gasping for breath, you wrench your mouth away, turning your head to the side. Undeterred, his mouth fastens itself to the side of your neck. He mutters something unintelligible against the soft skin just below your ear, as his hands caress you. His entire body quakes as his fingers touch the warm soft skin of your waist, and he pushes both hands beneath your loose teeshirt, gliding his palms up onto bare flesh, his mouth suddenly savage against your throat.
Mindlessly, you curl your fingers into his silky hair, tipping your head back to allow him better access. "Taylor," you whimper, trying to regain some control at the same time you press yourself against him. His guitar-calloused fingers slip under you to your back, lifting you against him, his big hands splayed across your skin. "Dana, darlin'," he mutters thickly against your whisker-sensitized neck,"we've got to stop now."
Reluctantly, he slides his hands out from under the white shirt, and smoothes it gently over you, setting off a whole new series of tremors in your nerve-endings. His arms wrap securely around you, holding you so close you can feel the pounding of his heart. Gradually, his muscles relax and his pulse slows. His hand strokes your back gently, hypnotically, and you feel yourself begin to drift off ...
What seems like only a few minutes later, you awaken in the wide bed, alone. Your heart stops, momentarily, until you realize that the sound you're hearing is the shower. It is still dark out, but you know that doesn't mean anything. You roll towards the center of the bed, burying your face against the pillow, inhaling Taylor's scent on it. You discover you are wrapped in the soft blanket that had been folded at the foot of the bed. Squinting in the dim light, you can just make out the silhouette of luggage by the closet door and you realize that Taylor has probably been up for a while, getting ready to leave. Against your will, tears begin to seep out of the corners of your eyes. The aching in your heart is bearable, though, because you know that Taylor doesn't intend for this to be the end of your association.
The shower stops and you hear him moving around in the bathroom, obviously trying to be as quiet as possible. You grin to yourself, appreciating his efforts even more when you hear a thump, followed by a muffled curse. Briefly, you debate the merits of letting him know you're awake, then decide not to disturb him and let him finish getting ready. You roll to your side again, curling up inside the warm blanket, hugging his pillow to your chest, when the sliver of light from the bathroom widens and Taylor slips out into the bedroom, wearing nothing but a towel around his hips.
Your pupils dilate as you take in his broad shoulders, his strong chest, his powerful arms, his fuzzy belly ... he turns and your eyes trace the line down the center of his smooth, wide back. As he moves across your line of vision towards the closet, your eyes devour the poetic symmetry of his body. He moves so well, so gracefully, you remember thinking absently, just before every thought is chased abruptly from your mind as the towel drops unceremoniously to the floor. Your mouth dries instantly as you gaze upon nature's perfection. Two rounded, firm globes of flesh gleam palely in the dim light, directly in front of your eyes.
As he bends to step into his black boxer briefs, the muscles in his glorious backside bunch and stretch with a supple strength that has your heart skittering in your chest. He shimmies a bit, pulling the smooth brushed cotton up over his strong thighs. You moan in protest as your view is covered, then slam your eyes shut as he glances at you over his shoulder. You struggle to breathe normally, even with the recent images seared into your brain. It must have worked, because Taylor doesn't seem to notice anything unusual, and goes back to dressing.
You peek at him through your lashes, then your eyes snap open wide. He's facing you now, a little grin curling his lips slightly at the edges as he meets your gaze. "Busted." he drawls, laughing slightly as colour floods into your cheeks. He continues to watch you, amused, as he steps into a pair of faded, well-worn blue jeans. You can't seem to look away and, anyway, there seems no point in hiding your fascination now, does there?
He wriggles those snug jeans up over his narrow hips and zips them only partway, leaving the top slightly gaping. You lick your lips unconsciously, and his gaze drops to your mouth, darkening slightly. "Dana," he warns "we can't ..." and the sudden sorrow hits you, just like that. You turn away, trying to hide it from him, but he sees it and responds to it. "Aw, honey," he groans, restraining himself from going to you with enormous effort, "It's not going to be forever; it's not even going to be for long."
You nod your head, biting your lip, staring down at your tightly laced fingers. He sighs "Would you please look at me?" You force your eyes up, afraid that all the naked longing would be displayed on your face but when you meet his eyes, you see everything in your heart reflected there and you realize that, if the parting would be painful for you, it was going to be equally so for him.
He pauses in the process of donning a dark red Soul Patrol teeshirt, then hauls it unceremoniously over his head, strides to the bed, lifts you into his arms and kisses you fully, tenderly, putting his heart into it. You wrap your arms around his neck, revelling in the simple liberty of doing this. He sets you on your feet and rests his cheek against your temple. " I love you, Dana."
Unconsciously, you stiffen. A part of you is overjoyed to hear his declaration, but something inside you violently rejects the possibility. You pull back from Taylor, shaking your head slightly. He looks at you in surprise and maybe a bit of dismay. "How can you say that after only two days, Taylor?" You can't bring yourself to meet his eyes. "How can you know after such a short time?" You pull away, suddenly feeling unreasonably upset by his statement. "It's too soon. You shouldn't have said it. There's no way you can be sure this quickly." You back away from him, your head down, denial in every line of your body.
Taylor reaches out toward you "Dana ..." he begins. "No!" you interrupt him, warding off his hands. "Don't touch me!" You turn away from him and walk out into the sitting area. It's almost like you are outside yourself, watching it happen. Taylor trails after you, a bewildered, hurt expression on his face. Your heart aches for the pain you are creating, but you are unable to stop yourself.
"I have to go now." you announce, almost to yourself. "It's very late. My family will be worried about me." The fact that the sun is rising as you speak completely escapes you in your agitation. Taylor watches you as you gather your things, stuffing them carelessly into your handbag.
"Dana ..." he tries again, but to no avail. "Thank you for the great experience, Taylor." You interject before he can say anything further. "I will never forget it." You race towards the door, stumbling in your haste. Your hands can't seem to manage the door handle until Taylor's hand reaches past you to release the deadbolt. But before he does, he speaks, very softly. "I'll never forget you, Dana. No matter what you may think, this was real."
You bolt from the room as if barely escaping with your life. Your momentum takes you to the elevator, where you stand, waiting, trembling. You don't even feel the tears as they course down your face. You don't feel anything except this unreasoning panic overwhelming you. You don't even hear Elliot speaking to you until he touches your arm, causing you to jerk around in alarm.
"Dana? What's the matter?" he asks in concern, catching you as you disintegrate in front of him. "What happened?"
"Chris!" he yells down the hall. "Check on Taylor! Something's wrong!" He supports you, leading you to a bench in the alcove across from the elevators.
"He's not answering the door, E." Chris' anxious face peers around the corner of the alcove. Ace arrives seconds later, silently handing Elliot a terry bathrobe, which he wraps around you like a blanket. You are completely unaware of the fact that you are still wearing Taylor's boxers and teeshirt, huddled in miserable solitude on the upholstered bench. "Bucky's gone to get the keycard, though." Elliot puts his arm around your shoulders, trying in vain to comfort you. The tears just keep coming. You don't sob; you don't make a sound: just the tears rolling endlessly down your face. E looks up as Bucky quietly leans around the corner and gestures to Chris with the key card. Chris glances at you in concern before slipping quietly away.
"What the heck d'ya think happened?" Bucky murmurs as he fits the keycard into the slot. "Can't imagine." Chris responds, a worried crease between his eyebrows. "But it's not looking too good if the Tayman isn't answering the door." They push the door open, straining to see into the gloomy interior. "Taylor?" Bucky calls. "You in here, man?" Both Bucky and Chris jump when Taylor appears suddenly from the deep shadows by the window.
"I'm just about packed." Taylor says in a too-hearty voice. "Another five minutes should about do it." He presses past them both without meeting their eyes, moving swiftly past them into the bedroom, a strained smile pasted on his face. Chris and Bucky exchange wary glances, then Chris speaks, very low-key, "Dana is out by the elevators in quite a state, Taylor." He watches as Taylor stops moving and his shoulders slump for an instant.
"It was her decision." his voice is abrupt and cool. "She'll be fine. She was just leaving." Then he continues to rummage through the closet, as if no one had spoken. "I'll be out in a couple minutes, guys. See you on the bus, ok?" Thus dismissed, Chris and Bucky have no choice but to leave the room. Once outside, neither speaks for the length of time it takes to return to the alcove by the elevators. Elliot lifts a questioning brow at them and they shake their heads and shrug, not knowing what to say.
Taking matters into his own hands is a relatively new experience for Elliot, but he knows he can't leave things as is. "Come on, Dana." he urges you to your feet, keeping one arm protectively around your shoulders. "Let's go find Mandisa and get you warmed up." He leads you down the hall to Mandisa's room. Ace snags your bag and trails along behind, an uncharacteristically somber expression on his face. The others stand and watch until you are safely inside Mandisa's room, and Elliot and Ace return.
"Mandisa's going to get her dressed and calmed down." Ace announces as he reaches Chris and Bucky. Elliot says nothing for a while, a pensive expression on his face. Instead, he heads directly for Taylor's door. Stopping, he turns and asks "What did Taylor say?" Bucky shakes his head and shrugs. "He didn't say nothing that made any sense, man." Chris stares at the door for an instant, then adds "He did say it was her decision, whatever that means ..." At that, Elliot turns and hammers on the door, yelling "Taylor! Get your butt out here!"
Only seconds pass before Taylor opens the door with a cool, distant expression on his face, one Elliot immediately recognizes as the one signalling the end of Taylor's ability to cope. Uh oh, he thinks, I need to take a step back. "Time to get on the bus, Tay!" he announces cheerfully, earning an astounded glare from the others. Woodenly, Taylor reaches back into the room and grabs the backpack that he never lets the guards carry for him. Without saying a word to the others, he leads the way to the elevators, punching the down button with a lot more force than necessary.
"What the heck you thinkin', man?" Bucky grabs Elliot's arm as he follows Taylor down the hall. "Look at his face." Elliot replies simply. "This is not the time to try and get through to him. There'll be lots of time," he continues, "to work it out on the bus." Bucky stares at Taylor's profile for a minute, then nods abruptly, coming to the same conclusion.
Silently, they follow Taylor to the elevator, standing awkwardly, staring at the arrows above the elevator door, then at the numbers as they descend swiftly to the parking garage beneath the hotel. For a group that has been together as brothers in arms for so long, this is dismaying to all members except the one who is so immersed in his own misery that he doesn't notice.
Taylor climbs aboard the bus, wondering how he is going to survive the remainder of this trained monkey act without the hope that had sustained him for so long. He had gambled and lost, but at what cost? He felt as though the music had drained out of him at the moment of Dana's rejection. He bypasses his usual seat, where the guitar and harmonicas are carefully stored in a locker, and goes to the sleeping area. He drops into his bunk, fully clothed, turns his back on the world, and closes his eyes wearily. He can't ever remember feeling this tired ...
His four friends watch his progress with worried expressions. Chris turns to the others. "That girl has a lot to answer for." he snarls softly. Ace shakes his head. "No," he contradicts. "Whatever happened hurt her just as badly as it did Taylor. You saw her. That wasn't the face of an uncaring woman." The others nod their agreement. After a moment of consideration, even Chris relents and sighs his consensus. Something beyond their understanding had happened in that room, and each silently hopes that it will resolve itself swiftly and positively for the couple that had become dear to them all. For the first time since the tour had begun, they begin the next leg of their journey in quiet contemplation.
Mandisa and Kellie surround you with their caring, warm spirits, but it barely touches you as you stand in the center of their room, tears dripping off your chin. Common sense has no place in your thoughts at the moment. Your nerves are raw with the memories of what has just transpired between you and Taylor. Your muscles feel weak and you literally cannot move from the spot. Taylor is gone! is the only thought in your tortured mind. And, as the thought absorbs you, you begin to shake.
"Dana," Kellie croons, wrapping you in a gentle hug. "Y'all have got to stop this, or you'll make yourself sick." She guides you to the sofa, wrapping you in an afghan blanket that is draped over the back. Mandisa comes back with a cup of tea, hot and sweet. You look at it blankly, before turning your head away in mute refusal. You don't feel as though you could swallow past the huge lump in your throat. "I'll take it, Mandy" Kellie thanks her gently, reaching up and accepting the steaming beverage.
"I know y'all don't feel like talkin' right now, Dana." Kellie curls up beside you on the sofa. "But it will sure help us to help you if'n we know whut's goin' on." You shake your head mutely, unable to share the horrible truth.
"I'm sorry," you finally manage, "Is there somewhere I can change into my clothes?" You feel suddenly as if you can't draw breath, because as long as you are wearing Taylor's clothes, his scent surrounds you, permeating your very soul with the memories of how it felt to be with him, and all you want right now is to forget.
"Oh, sugar," Mandisa sympathizes. "We should've thought of that. Come on," she beckons, "and I'll show you the bathroom." You rise, leaving Kellie on the sofa. "Would you like to take a nice hot shower, dear?" Mandisa asks. "We can get some more towels for you if you like."
"No, thank you." you murmur, suddenly intent upon making your excuses and getting home as quickly as possible. "I'll just get changed. and be out of your way."
Mandisa rushes back to the sitting area as soon as the bathroom door is closed. "Kellie!" she gasps, "she's going to leave once she's dressed. Should we let her? What if Taylor comes back for her?"
Kellie looks up at Mandisa thoughtfully for a moment, then she smiles. "We'll call her a cab." she pronounces in satisfaction. "It won't hurt for Taylor to learn she's not going to hang around waiting for him, will it?" As Mandisa considers this, a smile grows on her face. "No," she agrees, "it won't hurt a bit."
The morning creeps by on the bus. No music is played, no jokes or insults exchanged. Mostly, the passengers sit, looking out the windows, contemplating the passing miles. Taylor never leaves his bunk, unable to stop himself from reliving that moment over and over in his head. In time, it occurs to him to wonder if his memory is exaggerating the rejection, but the hurt and the sadness override the thought before it sees daylight.
Eventually, he supposes, he will have to face the others, tell them what happened. He winces at the thought. Not today, he thinks forlornly. I can't talk about it today.
Around noon, the bus pulls into the next hotel parking, and the guys haul themselves out once again, stretching and blinking bleary-eyed in the pale sunlight. Taylor stands separate from the others, wrapped in solitary misery. He obviously doesn't see the line of fans squealing and waving by the barricade about 100 yards away. Instead, he enters the hotel without acknowledging them in any way. The others exchange glances, then wave before following him inside.
Rehearsal that afternoon worries the guys even more. The girls' bus had arrived an hour after the guys, with no word from Dana. Taylor's heart just wasn't in the music, and they all silently wonder what would happen if he didn't snap out of it before the concert. For the first time, Taylor forgets lyrics, stumbles over melody lines and walks off stage before the group number is finished.
That evening, it is even more horrible than they had imagined. Taylor wanders across the stage, barely going through the motions of performing. At times, his voice can hardly be heard, and the audience is obviously puzzled by the transformation of the riveting performer they are accustomed to seeing.
The next night is, if anything, worse. Taylor walks off the stage after three numbers and disappears. The Idols finish the concert without the star attraction. As a unit, they go looking for him. An hour later, discouraged, they return to their rooms, only to hear Taylor, singing and playing guitar in his room. It was a song they had never heard before.
I will watch you in the darkness
Show you love will see you through
When the bad dreams wake you crying
I'll show you all love can do
All love can do
I will watch by the night
Hold you in my arms
Give you dreams where no one will be
I will watch through the dark
Till the morning comes
For the lights will take you
Through the night to see
All love, showing us all love can be
I will guard you with my bright wings
Stay till your heart learns to see
All love can be
They look at one another. The girls have tears in their eyes. "He's in pretty rough shape over her." Ace whispers. Lisa and Paris exchange wistful glances and sigh, nodding. "We have to do something." he continues. It is generally known that Ace is the groups' closet romantic, but this time, everyone is in agreement.
The next morning, the campaign begins. Although no one speaks of Dana directly to Taylor, many mentions are made of her state of mind when he is within earshot. Once, Taylor happens to overhear Kellie and Mandisa, speaking softly in the corner, about the morning she had ended up in their room. He comes to a full stop, then passed them as quickly as possible, glancing at them with a distraught expression on his face.
Another time, Elliot leans over Taylor's shoulder while he was reading his email, boldly opening up the address book. "What's Dana's last name?" he asks as he scrolls down the lengthy list. "Nevermind, here it is." he interrupts before Taylor could respond. "Hey Chris!" he shouts back over his shoulder. "Taylor has it! I'll send it to you from here, man! Thanks, bud." he says casually, turning back to Taylor and quickly copying and sending Dana's address and email through to Chris.
The same afternoon, Taylor notices Ace scrolling down what looks to be an article about flowers. Curious, he wanders closer.
Meaning of the Colour of Roses
The creative spirit of love. True love stronger than thorns.
In Victorian times the rose meant jealousy. Today it is given as a sign of friendship.
Loyalty, penetrating and platonic love.
The rose of sweet thoughts.
Purple adds enchantment.
A warm color that says, I am proud of you.
Fantasy and impossibility. Hoping for a miracle and new possibilities.
"Isn't this cool?" Ace speaks as Taylor passes behind him. "A rose for every occasion. Do you ever send roses to a lady, Tay?" Taylor has to remind himself to breathe deeply as he does an abrupt about-face and returns to his bunk, curling up in a desolate heap. He is so sunk in his despair, he isn't even aware that he is being conspired against.
An hour later, you receive an anonymous bouquet of flowers - 28 blue and 28 red roses - 56 all together, for the 56 hours you and Taylor had spent in each other's company.
By the end of the day, Taylor is barely holding it together. At rehearsal, Paris and Lisa joke around, harmonizing on "Don't Let Me Down". During the afternoon rest period, Kellie is curled up on the couch with a big black and white stuffed cow. When he goes to supper, Bucky is reading the book he had hand-delivered to you.
For the first time in his life, Taylor doesn't want to perform. He can't force his voice past the constriction in his throat: he can hardly even swallow. When he makes his decision, he tells no one. In the relative privacy of his room, he makes three phone calls, then grabs his backpack and slips away, unnoticed.
You sigh, staring blindly at the tv screen which is displaying a video of Taylor's Idol performances, for perhaps the 30th time in the past three days. Reliving those moments with Taylor is about all you can do these days. With a bitter smile, you recall the expression on Bethany's face when you confessed to her that you had walked out on Taylor: that half-contemptuous look that only a pre-teen can produce; the look that says "I can't believe how lame you are, mother!" She has barely spoken a word to you since then, except to say that she misses Taylor, Ace and everybody, and hopes they don't hate HER because she has a crazy mother. Saddest part is, you are starting to think she may be right. Whatever your reasoning had been, it seems to make less and less sense as time creeps by.
You had just about given up on ever hearing from Taylor again when those roses arrived this morning. For a brief, shining moment, you actually believed they had been sent by him, and the world miraculously righted itself. Your tears of joy had swiftly changed to bitter disappointment, however, when you read the message on the card. "Please forgive me. I love you." Whoever sent them had no inkling of what had passed between you and Taylor that morning. Taylor would NEVER have apologized for what he said, and you seriously doubted that he would ever repeat the words when they were so poorly received the first time around. Furthermore, if you remembered correctly, roses were not his style. No, this was most likely Ace's handiwork, although you could not fathom WHY he would be attempting a reconciliation on Taylor's behalf.
You sigh again, wondering for the millionth time if you could be brave enough to ask Taylor to give you another chance. Deeply immersed in your thoughts, you don't even hear the doorbell.
Taylor stands in the doorway, drinking in the obvious signs of your depression: it's four in the afternoon, and you're in rumpled pj's, hair uncombed, a little nest of wadded Kleenex surrounding you in your unmade bed, and you are watching a video of "Something" from American Idol. His heart breaks a little as he hears you give a shuddery, tearful sigh as you rewind the video.
"I don't know what your reasons are for doing this to us," he begins conversationally, leaning casually against the doorjamb, "but I'm hoping you will reconsider your actions and let us get on with our lives, because you've pretty much wrecked my career, as it stands."
For a minute, you believe you are imagining this, as you have so many times in past days. Not wanting to end the dream, you bow your head and close your eyes, willing his voice to continue. It never does, but that doesn't stop you from hoping. Only ... this time, it's different. This time, the voice DOES continue.
"Dana," Taylor's voice croons, "if you look deep inside, I think you know what I already know. What I've known for months now. Just let yourself believe it, darlin'. We belong together. Don't throw this chance away. Please."
A sob catches in your throat as you look up and see Taylor standing there, just as you dreamed ... well, almost. In your dream, you had always been well-groomed. But somehow, it doesn't seem to matter to either of you anyway.
"Come to me, sweetheart." he urges you, holding out his arms. "It has to be your decision this time."
There is no hesitation in your heart. Knowing full well what the past days have shown you, you scramble from the bed and run to him, feeling his arms close around you, so tight and so strong. You don't even realize that you're crying, as you feel the shards of ice embedded in your heart melt away.
Taylor presses his face against your neck, breathing deeply, finally letting the dammed-up tears fall. But these are tears of relief and joy. In that first endless moment, when you had refused to look up at him, he had wondered how he would go on living if you hadn't changed your mind.
"You're not leaving my side ever again." he mutters into your neck. You shake your head, not lifting your face from its haven against his shoulder. Your arms tighten unconsciously around him, at the thought of releasing him, even for an instant. The two of you stand, locked together, for a long time, until Bethany's curiosity gets the better of her, and she comes timidly into the room. Instead of resenting the interruption, Taylor gathers her into the embrace.
An hour later, the Idols stand, backstage, wondering what to make of Taylor's absence, hoping for the best, but suspecting the worst. In only minutes, the show will begin, seemingly without Taylor. No one seems to have a clue as to his whereabouts, and the show's producers are understandably perturbed.
"If he'd just let us know where he was going ..." Paris whispers to Mandisa, who nods sagaciously. "maybe we could've covered for him. But we didn't even know he was gone."
"He's with Dana. I know it." pronounces Ace. Nobody looks at him, though, because they are staring in amazement at Taylor, who has just walked calmly in the door as if he hadn't almost brought the show down on them. Silence descends on the group, as they wait for Taylor to say something.
"What?" Taylor asks, a little too innocently. There is a sudden movement at the door, and first Bethany, then you, pop your heads in. Taylor grins broadly, as the entire group rushes to greet you, chattering excitedly. You duck your head, self-consciously, as the group fussed over you and your daughter. Taylor catches your eye and mouths the words that thrill your soul and, without any prompting, your head comes up as you gladly accept the overtures of friendship from the group.
It is a new day for Dana Silver, you think to yourself, feeling the love of this wonderful man envelopping you, much as his ring encircles your finger, the ring you accepted only moments ago, with the whole-hearted approval of your daughter. You meet Taylor's gaze and, as your lips form the words that brought tears to his eyes the first time you said them, you can't believe that it all started only a few days ago, with a simple phone call.