When I walked through Taylor's bedroom door the next morning to tell him the good news too (not because I was bragging but because he'd feel jealous if I didn't tell him too…really…) I never expected to see him sitting on his floor with a beer bottle between his legs.
"Taylor, it's not even noon. Why are you drinking?" I ask him.
"Because I don't know what else to do Zac…"
"What? There's plenty else to do. You can take a shower, read some of your Stephen King crap, go outside. It's a beautiful day!" I bend down and squat in front of him, looking at him face to face. "Here, give me your beer, Tay. Get up."
He shakes his head and takes a big swig. "You can't fix it. Leave me alone."
"Want to call Anna?"
"No. I don't wanna drag Anna into it."
"My sadness. Keep Anna out of it."
"Tay, c'mon man. How long have you been up?"
He squints at the red digital numbers reading 11:24. "I woke up at four and couldn't go back to sleep. Crappy ass dreams…I didn't want to wake Jessica up."
I reach for the beer, paranoid of him hitting me. But he doesn't. He just lets me take it.
"Tell me about your problems, Zac. I don't want to think about mine anymore. But the alcohol didn't really help. It just doesn't anymore. I still remember it all."
"Well, I don't know Tay…"
"Tell me about your bullshit, Zac."
I sit down next to him and sigh. He reeks of alcohol. I wonder how my family has come to this. This is the last thing I want to be doing this morning.
"Well, want to know something I've been thinking about a lot lately?"
"Yeah, I do. Hand me that beer."
"No, listen first." I say, trying to distract him, "I've been thinking about how stupid I am. Did you know for a long time after she died I thought the phone might ring and she'd be on the other line telling me it was all a big practical joke and I was the chump? And I wouldn't be angry at her Tay, because I wouldn't want to lose her for a second time."
"That would never happen, Zac."
"I know. That's what I realized. How stupid I am for thinking that could happen. Miracles like that don't happen."
"You're right. Miracles don't exist."
I badly want to tell him about Prairie. I want to tell him about how I like her and I kissed her and I want to try to be in a relationship with her. But I can't. According to Taylor, she doesn't even exist.
"Does that make you feel better?"
"Well, sorry man. C'mon. Take a shower before Mom catches you and sends you to a psychiatric hospital for drinking before noon."
"Or an AA meeting."
"And God only knows which is worse."
He smiles, surprisingly, and rises with me to his feet. I walk with him down the hallway to the bathroom. I turn the water on for him and set a towel out. "Okay, take a shower okay? You'll feel better. You're not drunk. Just tipsy."
I'm hoping it'll be mind over matter, "You're fine." I close the bathroom door on him and sigh with exhaustion. Everyday a new battle.
Mom catches me in the hallway, "Hey hun. How's your brother? I went into his room this morning and he was just laying in bed. He said he didn't want to talk to me."
"Oh, he's just sad about something. Probably problems with Anna."
"Does he seem like he's getting worse Zac?"
"I don't know mom. I'm not an expert. He hasn't tried to beat me up lately or screamed at me to get out of his face, so I'm happy."
"I think he's getting better…slowly."
"Getting better from what though? Taylor doesn't know tragedy mom. He just sulks about his life in general."
She studies me carefully, "Always imagine your neighbors battle is harder than yours, Zachary. It's a good motto to live by."
"Yeah, yeah mom. I'm going downstairs for a pop tart…" I mumble, walking away. It's too early for idealistic quotes.
Talking about Ellie so early in my day triggered a bad pattern of memories. Everywhere I went I remembered Ellie. I sat for awhile at the kitchen counter eating my pop tart and all I could think about was Ellie.
"C'mon, Zac. It was your entire fault the juice spilled all over the floor and I am not cleaning it up on my own. You know how your mom is about sticky floors," She said with a mop in her hand.
"Ellie, I am trying to enjoy my doughnut here. I will get back to you when I'm finished."
She walked over to me and kicked me in the shin. "Zac Hanson get off your lazy butt and mop!"
I stuffed the rest of the chocolate covered doughnut into my mouth and grinned at her, chocolate decorating my teeth and lips.
"I can't believe I hang out with you…" She smiled, shaking her head.
For awhile I went into the basement to sit on my drum set. I haven't played around with it in so long but I figure I will give it a try this morning. But as soon as I pick up a drum stick Ellie is echoing in my mind…
"Zac, you better get on that stage right now. You're late!" Dad yelled at me, hurrying past me in search of Zoe who was waddling away.
"Kay, Dad!" I yelled after him.
"C'mon!" Ellie said, grabbing my wrist and running with me to the balcony of the venue.
"My dad is going to kill me you know!"
"Not to mention your brothers!" She giggled.
"Isaac is going to have an aneurism. I swear…"
"Just tell him you were picking out the perfect girl for his hotel room tonight. I'm sure he'll understand," She laughed, dragging me up onto the private balcony. Together we look down on the masses of girls in the crowd.
"Why do you want me to see this girl's sign so badly?"
"Because it is so funny!"
She searches the crowd looking for the girl she was telling me about moments before. "There!" She gasped, pointing to a girl in the middle of the audience. The girl's sign read, "I Sweat For Zac Hanson."
Ellie fell into a fit of giggles, reading it over and over to herself. I couldn't help but smile. It was pretty funny. "That was so worth dragging me up here for, Ellie," I rolled my eyes.
"But it was! That's classic Zac! Ooo…you make her sweat. She sweats for you." She laughed, glancing at the girl one last time.
Together we ran back down towards the backstage again, running right past my father. He grabbed my arm and looked me seriously in the eye, "Zachary, if you do not get on the stage your ass will be grounded for weeks when the concert is over."
We never took his threats of being grounded very seriously when we were on the road because he barely grounded us. But I remembered the time when Taylor was 15 or so and he snuck off one night after a concert. My dad was fuming. He didn't let Taylor off the bus for two straight weeks. I didn't want that to be me. I nodded. "Okay, Dad. I'm going."
He gave me one last glare before hurrying by me again. Ellie gave me an apologetic look.
"Go do your thing, Zac Hanson, superstar." She smiled at me, pushing me towards the stage.
"Yes ma'am," I told her, looking for my brothers.
Isaac glared at me, "Are you ready?"
I nodded and shoved my monitors into my ears. "Let's do it."
Together, the three of us ran on stage to greet the crowd. I took my spot behind the drum set and looked over at Ellie standing on the edge of the stage where the girls couldn't see her. Before starting our first song, I took a moment to laugh at her. She stood there dramatically pretending to sweat, pointing at me and telling me how hot I was. She was joking of course.
I've been going crazy with memories of Ellie all day long and I blame Taylor for it. Why does he have to pull everyone down with him? He doesn't even have a reason to be sad…not one I know of at least.
Avery calls down the stairs to me, "Zac! Your girlfriend wants to speak to you!"
"Okay!" I yell up to her, hurrying up the basement stairs and grabbing the phone from her. I take it into the bathroom and close the door, finding some of the only privacy in this house.
"El- I mean- Prairie?"
"Uhhh…hey, what's up?"
"Uhhh…not much. You?"
"So I'm your girlfriend now?"
I swallow and stare at the porcelain toilet, leaning against the bathroom wall. "I think we should talk about that."
"I'm just quoting your sister…I'm joking, Zac."
"I know. I know you are. But I need to clear something up." I cannot tell if I'm suddenly thinking rationally and before I was crazy enough to think I could handle a girlfriend at this point in my life- or if I am going crazy at the present moment. I feel like I'm making sense.
"Look, Prairie. I like you a lot. You know that. But I can't have a girlfriend in my life right now."
"I just…I can't. I'm sorry. You saw my brother. That would be me in a relationship. I just can't handle it right now."
"Well then I don't mind being them. I don't mind you being moody sometimes. I don't want anything real official, Zac. I like you though and I want to date you."
"I appreciate you putting yourself out there." I feel so mean. I feel like such a jackass, I swear… "I really do. I just am looking out for both of us here. I'm sorry."
She's silent on the other end. "How can you be so happy last night and so avoidant today?"
"I don't know, Prairie." The truth is I do know.
"Is there someone else you want to be with?"
Yeah. There's Ellie. I can't date Prairie because it's too soon. I cannot betray Ellie like that. She wouldn't do it to me and I can't do it to her.
"It's too complicated. I'm not planning to date anyone though, okay? I'm not looking for a relationship in my life right now. Friends I could do though…probably. We just couldn't be like…best friends." That's Ellie's role too. Stop trying to take Ellie's place. Stop trying to replace her, Zac.
"I don't think I like the sound of that…it doesn't sound like you'd be a very good friend, Zac."
"I'm sorry. I really am."
"I am too," She says quietly, "I've gotta go."
"I'll let you go then."
"Bye," She says quickly, hanging up. I know Prairie will be fine. We'd only spent time together a few different times. There was only one kiss and nothing too passionate. She wasn't in love with me and she didn't think she was in love with me. But I know that I played with her emotions. And I know that's unfair. Still, it would be more unfair to the three of us to continue a relationship. I have to try to look out for Prairie, Ellie, and me here.
I walk out of the bathroom to put the phone back, only to run into Isaac in the kitchen. "Was that Prairie?" He winks at me.
"Yeah. I told her I don't want to pursue anything with her."
He freezes and stares at me. He sets down the milk he was pouring and frowns. "What?"
"I broke it off. It wasn't going to work."
"Because it's not a good time in my life for me to pull someone else into my crap. It's too early to replace her."
"Zac, you're not replacing-"
"Stop! You don't know what you're talking about."
"I know exactly what I'm talking about! It doesn't take a genius to understand loss and regret Zac! You're going to regret this."
"Don't tell me what I'm going to regret…"
Isaac's eyes flash at me…anger almost spilling over.
"You're foolish to walk away from something just because it's scary."
"And you're foolish to give me advice on a situation you don't even get."
Isaac pours his milk and puts it away in the fridge. "Don't you forget I'm your big brother, Zac. Don't you start thinking you're so smart about life when you don't know crap. You don't know regret."
"I don't know regret!? Fuck you if I don't know regret!" I scream at him. I can hardly take it. I'm sick of everyone telling me about myself! Of course I know regret! As Isaac stomps out of the room muttering something about talking to me when I'm calm, regret is the only feeling I'm experiencing! I regret leading on Prairie, I regret yelling at Isaac, and most of all I regret not stopping Ellie!
"Zac, it's my birthday. You can't not be here for my birthday." She expressed. I could hear sadness in her voice.
"We have to stay an extra day here in LA, otherwise I'd be flying in this evening and taking you out for our traditional birthday bowling. You know I would."
"This happened last year. And I was fine. But you promised it wouldn't happen again."
"I'm sorry, El. I want to be there."
"If you wanted to you'd tell your brothers sorry this contract has to wait another couple days. I have a commitment in Tulsa."
"It's not like you're my girlfriend Ellie! You're just my best friend and I'll be home soon!"
"Oh now I have to be your girlfriend to be treated well!?" She hollered into the phone.
"Well there's a difference between loving you and caring for you! I'm not going to change my entire schedule to be there for someone I don't love!"
"You don't love me…?"
I froze, her words piercing through me. "Of course I care for you."
"I said, do you love me?"
"You're just my best friend. I don't love best friends."
"Get away from me. Don't call me back."
"Don't call me back! I don't want to hear from you. And don't come to Tulsa today! Don't change your schedule! Don't change your mind just because I'm angry with you! I'm going out with my other friends and I'm going to have fun on my birthday without you Zac!"
"Okay, well. Happy birthday! I'm sorry."
"Goodbye," She said coldly.
"You know I care for you right?"
"Goodbye, Zac…" she muttered, hanging up briskly. Furiously, I tossed down my cell phone. Since when do you have to love someone for them to not hate you?
It's going to be a long day…