Chapter Eleven: Chutes and Ladders

It’s one of those days where I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve eaten two bowls of ice cream for lack of nothing better to do, played a couple first person shooter games by myself, and sat here in my room for at least twenty minutes now, just staring at the wall. The rain has been pouring down all day. Just when we thought it was going to let up, another storm cloud settled above the Hanson Estate. The weather matches the mood in my house.

It’s pretty quiet in here. Taylor’s in the basement playing the guitar like always and probably drinking too. Mom and Dad aren’t home to catch him. Avery is working on some homework in the office and I don’t even know where Mackie is- who I’m supposed to be watching. Everyone else is either sleeping or not home.

I glance at my cell phone on my desk and consider calling someone- but there is no one to call. The only friends I would consider talking to are acquaintances, people who I suffer through awkward conversation with. “How are you?” “How’s your family?” “How’s your music?” Blah.

Without any other resort, I pull the covers over my body and lay down on my bed. I will pass the time by sleeping. Ding dong. Or not. Who the hell is at my house on a rainy summer day like this? I pull the covers off and hurry down the stairs to grab the door.

Outside is a girl about Avery’s age holding a yellow umbrella over her head.

“Hi! I’m Avery’s friend, Katherine.”

“Hi, Katherine…” I say, looking around for her parent. She is alone. She steps around me and closes her umbrella in our foyer.

“Why are you here?” I ask her, realizing how rude it sounds as soon as it comes out my mouth.

“Avery invited me over?” She says, in that typical edgy 12 year old tone. “Avery!” She calls up our stairs after taking her sneakers off.

Sure…make yourself at home…

“Katy, you forgot your backpack!” A voice calls from the drive way. I turn and see her standing there, running towards my door with a back pack in her hand. Katherine grabs the backpack from her and hurries over to Avery who has come downstairs.

The girl and I look at each other. I’d like to say we locked eyes and fell for each other- but that wasn’t the moment at all. We were lost.

“I met you the other day,” I tell her.

“Hi Zac.”

“Prairie, right?”

“Yeah…you seem confused. Are your parents home?”

“No. My brother and I are supposed to be watching everyone.”

“I guess no one told you that your sister invited my sister over.”

I shake my head and look at her. Suddenly I notice she’s drenched and still standing out in the rain. “Come in! Sorry!”

She hurries inside and looks around my house. “Is it okay if my sister stays? I think your parents know about it…”

I turn to question Avery, but the girls have already disappeared up the stairs.

“I’m sure they do but I should call my mom to make sure. I cannot tell you how many times my siblings have taken advantage of me in the past.”

She smiles and combs her wet hair with her fingers.

“Follow me into the kitchen. You should probably take your shoes off.” I head into the kitchen in search of the cordless phone. I finally find it right where it belongs- on the holder. When the phone is always missing, you never think to check the obvious spot. I dial my mom’s cell phone and listen to it ring. Voicemail.

When I turn to call to her, I jump at her presence. She is standing right behind me. “You scared me.”

“Jumpy much?”

“I can’t reach my mom. I guess its okay. I hope at least.”

“Alright well if your mom gets home and she has a problem with Katy being here just have Katy give me a call okay?”

I nod and follow her as she walks back to the door.

“Would you like to stay for a bit until I can get a hold of my mom? I have nothing to do so I don’t mind.” I don’t know where I found the courage.

She weighs the options, freezing in her bent position where she was picking up her shoes.

“Are you sure it’s not a hassle?”

“It’s not a hassle.” Suddenly I remember my attire. I’m still dressed in the sweatpants I slept in and an old t-shirt. “I’m going to go get changed though. Can you sit in the kitchen while I do?”


I hurry up the stairs and start digging through my drawers. I want to look decent. I want to look better than decent in fact. I want to look attractive again. I cannot tell you how long it has been since I’ve felt attractive. As I’m searching, I realize how awkward I am with girls. It’s been so long since I’ve spent time with another girl. Sure, I hang out with some of Taylor’s girl friend’s once and awhile and occasionally I will talk to an old friend of mine on the phone- but I certainty don’t have the charm that Taylor does.

After five minutes of trying three different shirts with my jeans, I finally decide on a fitted ZZ Top shirt.

When I enter the kitchen, she is sitting there looking through a garden magazine we received in the mail.

“Sorry about that.” I tell her, causing her to jump now.

I smile and say quietly, “Jumpy much?”

“Seriously…I didn’t even realize you were there. Who’s playing the guitar? I can hear it but I cannot tell where it’s coming from.”

“My brother. He’s playing in the basement. Probably writing some depressing song.” I sit on a kitchen stool next to her.

“Why do you say that?”

“He always writes depressing songs.”

“Which brother is this?”

“Taylor.” I watch her face for her reaction. Little to no reaction. “It’s probably about trouble with his girlfriend…” Still, she barely reacts. She isn’t disappointed at the mention of Taylor’s girlfriend? A part of me feels relieved. Someone who is not in love with Taylor! A part of me feels scared. She is probably freaked out by my entire family at this point- what with our almost naked meeting the other day and now seeing me in my pajamas.

We sit here quietly- both trying to pretend it’s not as uncomfortable as it is. I’m beginning to wonder why I asked her to stay in the first place. Am I actually somewhat interested in this girl? Me? Zac Hanson mentally healthy enough to have a small crush on another human being? It couldn’t be. My capability to like someone disappeared after Ellie. I’m sure of it.

“So what is there to do out here in the woods? You certainly live far enough into the hicks, Zac.” She breaks the awkwardness for us, and I am thankful.

“Well, it’s more private.”

“Away from the paparazzi,” She grins at me.

“Well, there’s no paparazzi anymore. Unless you count the creepy teenage girls with their disposable cameras.”

She tilts her head back in laughter, “Poor thing. Teenage girls lusting after you! However will you survive?”

“Hey, hey! It can get pretty brutal. We like our privacy!”

She smiles and shakes her head, “I’m sure. I would too if I were you.”

The basement door swings open and Taylor appears in a hooded sweatshirt- the hood pulled over his head. I smirk at his confused look when he sees Prairie in our kitchen.

“You’re the girl from the other day!” He announces.

I laugh and nod at Taylor, “He’s brilliant, really.”

She smiles, “You’re the guy from the other day too!”

“No way!” He exaggerates, “How come you’re in my kitchen?” He asks casually, pulling open the fridge. He is presented with the same awkward moment I was yet he seems to handle it so much more coolly. I am so jealous.

“Just stalking you.”

He grins and pops open a can of diet coke. “Yeah well you’re not doing a very good job. When girls stalk us they usually don’t let us see them.”

I sigh and sit back and watch the Taylor show.

“Damn…” She humors him.

“No but really, why are you here?”

“Avie invited her sister over and I asked her to hang out with me, Taylor.” I say clearly, looking Taylor in the eye. He takes a moment to study my expression before finally understanding what I’m implying: quit flirting.

“Cool,” He says simply. “Well, good. Anna’s coming over later. You can watch a movie with us.”

No! I was trying to tell you to stop flirting! Not to make this awkward for me. Do not try to turn this into a date Taylor Hanson. I am simply practicing human interaction.

“What movie?” Prairie asks.

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” He says, wandering back to the basement stairs. I roll my eyes in his direction and grab the phone as it rings.


“Hey, did you call me?” Mom asks.

“Oh, yeah. Was Avery supposed to have a friend over?”

“Yeah, I told her if she could find someone who could get their own ride she could have someone over for a bit.”

“Oh. Okay. I didn’t know.”

“Did her friend arrive safely yet?”

“Yeah, she did.”

“Who is it?”

“A friend from her soccer team. Katherine…” I look at Prairie for help. She whispers “Barber” at me. “Barber. Katherine Barber.”

“Oh. She has a sister your age, you know…” Mom takes on that teasing voice that I hate, a voice I hate even more when I know Prairie can hear everything she says.

“Yes, I know. In fact, she’s sitting right here,” I blush.

“Oh! Alright then, I’ll let you go.”

“Okay, Mom. Thanks…”

“Bye sweetheart…I love you very much…” I can hear her smiling on the other end, enjoying harassing me.

“Yep, you too.” I mumble, quickly hanging up the phone.

Prairie is just sitting there smiling at me. “So what’s the deal sweetheart? My sister’s okay?”

I blush more and smile faintly, “Yes, she is.”

“Alright, so I should go now right?”

We stand there looking at each other. Neither of us know what to do.

“Well, you could stay anyway?”

“Okay,” She says immediately, without thought.

I smile and meander towards the family room. “Wanna play a game or something? Sounds lame…but we have some pretty cool games.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?” She asks, following me.

“Oh, whatever game you can think of. My mom used to force us to have game night once a week when we were younger so we were constantly collecting games.”

“How…nerdy,” She smirks at me. “Well I’ve always been a big fan of Chutes and Ladders…”

I open the cabinet bursting of games and scan through them, pulling out Chutes and Ladders. “Chutes and Ladders it is then.”


Halfway into our second game of Chutes and Ladders, Taylor and Anna come into the living room- Anna in Taylor’s arms.

He spins her around in the living room before tossing her onto the couch.

She laughs and rubs her head, “Ow. That kind of hurt you know.”

He sits down next to her, “Pshhh…baby.”

“Hah! I’m a baby? You’re the one who cried when you…”

He jumps on top of her and covers her mouth- muffling her laughing.

Finally they quit fooling around and acknowledge Prairie and me on the floor.

“Hey, Zac,” Anna says, sitting up and leaning against Taylor.

I nod at her and spin the spinner, moving 5 spaces on our board.

“Are you going to introduce your friend to me?” She asks.

I am tempted to give her a hard time. If she is going to treat me like the little brother she never had then I should treat her like the older sister I never had. But I simply nod. “Anna, this is Prairie. Prairie, this is Tay’s girlfriend Anna.”

They smile at each other and I see Anna glance at Taylor and they have some kind of silent conversation using only their expressions.

“What movie did you bring?” I ask her.

She holds up My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a pretty new release.

“Sounds good,” I tell her and look at Prairie. “Can you stay for it?” I am pretty damn risky day, man.

“Uhhh…” Please say yes, please say yes. Don’t shut me down. “Sure.”

Together we put away Chutes and Ladders and climb onto the love seat together. Taylor gets up and starts getting the DVD all set up. Taylor and technology shouldn’t mix.

“What the hell, why won’t this thing open…” He frowns, trying to get the DVD player to eject.

I look over at the DVD player and shake my head in pity. “Because it’s turned off Tay.”

We all laugh at Taylor and wait until he finally has it set up. “Anyone want something to eat or drink? I can make popcorn if anyone wants…” He suggests, looking around at the three of us.

We all shake our heads and he settles in next to Anna again, sitting behind her, pulling her between his legs, and wrapping his arms around her. He reaches over and switches out the light.

Prairie and I sit here awkwardly, watching the start of the movie. There are a couple inches between us but I am not about to put my arm around her. I am just practicing social interaction. This is just a good experience for me. But I am certainly not putting my arm around her.


Halfway through the movie, Taylor is resting his cheek against Anna’s head. I can see his pure bliss. His body is relaxed for once. His eyes are soft. I feel bad for Taylor. I know how much he loves Anna- but how much trouble he has being a good boyfriend. Then again, I guess it’s his own damn fault, as dad would say.

Prairie and I have slowly inched a bit closer. My knee is actually barely touching her knee. Her hand rests in between us, and every once in awhile I can feel her fingers accidentally touch my leg.

All four of us turn to feet running down the stairs. Avery and Katherine appear in the middle of the living room.

“It’s five o clock and we’re hungry. If mom doesn’t get home soon, will you make us some dinner?” Avery asks.

Taylor looks at me. Of course, irresponsible Taylor cannot handle making his sister dinner.

“Taylor will,” I reply calmly, looking back at the TV. It’s hard to stop the smile that’s pulling at the corners of my lips.

“What? No way, Zac will cook for you. I don’t know how to cook anything good.”

“You’re older, Tay. Would it really kill you to cook for your little sister?”

“Would it really kill you?” He raises an eyebrow at me.

“It may.”

“Prairie and I will cook you girls dinner.” Anna says without even checking with Prairie, just gazing back at the television. Mom is always telling Taylor to marry Anna because she has maternal instinct. I think Mom’s right.

Prairie doesn’t protest and I think I could be wrong. I think I could be capable. You know…capable of liking someone. Even after Ellie.


Chapter Twelve