Taylor walked into the Sorority House realizing this would be one of the last times she would be crossing this threshold as a student. She had already begun the countdown to being alone in the world without Torrey. The two women tried not to talk about it much, but this was Taylor's last semester, with only a month before graduation and she already had a scholarship opportunity all lined up to get her Masters at Berkley. It was hard for the artist to find any excitement in going back to California. She knew that without Torrey in her life, she would revert back to her solitary ways. Always keeping to herself, never allowing anyone to touch the real person she kept hidden away.
She tried to tell herself it was all happening the way it was supposed to. That's what Torrey believed anyway. The young woman said everything happened for a reason. The young writer was always trying to explain to her friend about balance and harmony, light and dark, the yin and the yang. After two months of watching Torrey practice her Tai Chi every morning, Taylor finally worked up the nerve to ask the smaller woman to teach her the moves. The dark-haired woman admitted to her friend and herself that there was something to the relaxing movements, that seemed to add a certain focus to her life. Torrey used them as a way of losing herself to her thoughts and emotions, a way of letting feelings rise to the surface so she could examine and then release them.
Taylor repeated the words to herself on a daily basis, everything happens for a reason. She had to make a hard decision, and her answer was due by the end of this week. She could stay in Maine and take the job offer from Diamond & Allen, a cutting edge design firm that offered Taylor the moon to become their new Art Director. The position was full of incentives and prestige, and quite unheard of for a new graduate to be obtaining. They immediately saw the young artist's talent and liked her drive and no-nonsense personality. The job would afford Taylor the kind of living she only dreamed of previously. Most of all, it would allow her to stay by Torrey. Taylor even thought about coaxing the young woman out of the Sorority House and into an apartment they could share.
Then there was option number two. A paid education wasn't something to be sneered at, especially the chance to go back to California to do it. She would have three years to work on her Masters in Art, plus the opportunity to work with some incredible artists, all paid for by the State of California. The only catch would be that she would end up on the other side of the country from where Torrey was. Taylor thought about little else in the last month.
Torrey hadn't been seeing much of Stephen lately and Taylor worried that maybe it was because she monopolized so much of the young woman's life. It was almost as if the young woman were resigned to a relationship with the good-looking young man, though. There wasn't any excitement when Torrey talked about him. Of course, the last couple of weeks you couldn't say anything to Torrey without the girl flying off the handle or simply breaking down crying.
Taylor knew that even though her small friend loved her dearly, a real, committed relationship with the artist was something Torrey could never handle. So, Taylor made the heartbreaking decision that she would have to move on and let her friend get on with her own life as well. Maybe without Taylor in the picture, Torrey would begin to work on a future with Stephen. On Friday, she would notify Diamond & Allen of her decision.
Taylor started up the steps to the third floor, nearly running into Torrey's friend, Alicia. The young girl had obviously been crying.
"Hey, kid, you okay?" Taylor asked sincerely.
"Taylor, have you seen Torrey, I don't know if she's heard yet." Ally asked tearfully.
"Stephen...Stephen Townley is dead. He was killed last night outside of Bangor on Interstate 95. I guess he got hit by a truck while he was on his motorcycle."
Taylor dropped the jacket she had slung over her shoulder and headed for the door. She had no way of knowing if Torrey knew about the accident, but she didn't want her friend to find out from anyone else.
The dark-haired woman at least knew where to look first. On these warm spring days Torrey had been spending a great deal of time studying on a bench that was behind the Sciences building. The classes used a small lagoon as a simulated ecosystem and it began to rival a nature park, even though very few people knew about it.
When she came around the corner of the building and walked through a small copse of trees, she immediately heard Torrey's sobs. Taylor's heart could do no more than ache for her friend. When she stood over the young woman, Torrey looked up at Taylor. Once she recognized her roommate's face she began sobbing uncontrollably. Taylor scooped the smaller woman into her arms and held her, whispering soft words of tenderness.
Half an hour passed, but Taylor still couldn't get Torrey to talk to her. When the young woman tried, she got frustrated and cried all the more.
"I'm sorry, Tor. I didn't know what Stephen meant to you. I guess I didn't realize you were in love with him." Taylor said.
Torrey pulled a clean piece of tissue from her pocket and tried to settle herself enough to talk. She blew her nose and wiped her eyes that immediately refilled with tears.
"I'm so sorry this happened to him, but I wasn't in with love him. Oh, Taylor...I'm pregnant." Torrey began softly crying again.
Taylor was frozen. For her friend's sake, she prayed she heard wrong.
"You're probably disgusted with me too, aren't you?" Torrey sobbed at her friend's silence.
Taylor quickly knelt in front of the young woman, taking both the small hands in her own.
"Torrey that could never be true. Honey, you know I love you...I could never think anything like that about you." The dark-haired woman reached up a hand and tenderly caressed Torrey's cheek as salty tears wet the palm of her hand.
"Honey, are you sure...did Stephen know?" Taylor asked.
Torrey shook her head. "I just went to the doctor this morning. Taylor, what am I going to do?" She asked, the crying starting anew.
Taylor jumped up and moved next to the seated young woman, the older woman's arms wrapping easily around the familiar form.
"What do you want to do, Tor?" Taylor asked, stroking the woman's hair, gently rubbing her back in small circular motions.
Torrey let out a torrent of thoughts at once.
"I don't know where to go...if I'm pregnant, I lose my scholarship...I called my mother and she said I--I have to come home, but she said I have to get an abortion first! I can't do that, Taylor...I just can't, I don't have any where to go..." Torrey was unable to go on by then and Taylor didn't want her to. The dark-haired woman thanked the powers that be, that Torrey's mother wasn't in front of her now. Taylor would have laid the woman out.
The older woman held and rocked the young girl.
"Shhh, It'll be allright, Little Bit." Taylor tried to relax the young woman. She tenderly kissed her forehead, her wet cheek, and finally the artist leaned down and softly brushed her lips against her friend's. There was nothing erotic about the kisses; Taylor simply tried the only way she knew, to convey the power of her love and friendship to her frightened friend.
It worked, and Torrey eventually let her head fall into the crook of Taylor's shoulder. Torrey was heartsick and her body ached all over from the tension of the day. She could barely think anymore and Taylor's touch felt so reassuring, she gave in to the older woman's caresses and the tears began to subside.
"You know, I already have the perfect solution to all your problems, I just haven't been able to get a word in here." Taylor teased.
Torrey blew her nose again and looked up at her friend.
I already decided I was going to take the job at Diamond & Allen, so I'll be staying in Maine, just when you thought you'd be rid of me," she wiggled her eyebrows. "It'll work out perfect. We can get a place not too far from here and you can go to school. After the baby's born, you can take afternoon and evening classes, and I can watch the kid." Taylor smiled proudly at the plan.
"Stretch, if I stay here, I'll lose my scholarship. I don't think I can get a job that will pay enough to afford to raise my baby and go to school." Torrey replied.
"Job? No, you're not getting it, Tor. I work and earn the dough and you get to spend it."
"Taylor, I can't allow you to do that," Torrey said softly, speechless at the gift her friend was offering. "It wouldn't be right."
"Oh, but it would be right for me to move clear across the country when my best friend doesn't have a dime to her name, is pregnant, and soon to be homeless...that would be right?" Taylor asked gently.
"Tor, These people are paying a hugely obscene amount of money for a twenty-three year old right out of college. I think we should take advantage of it. After all, how much money can I actually blow on drink, drugs, and women?" Taylor intercepted her friend's look. "I'm just teasing." She added.
"Please let me do this for you, Little Bit. I like having you in my life. I'm not quite ready to give that up yet." Taylor admitted.
"How are you at changing diapers?" Torrey finally asked with a smile.
"I'm highly trainable." Taylor answered with a grin of her own.
"Thank you, Stretch...I love you." Torrey said as she wrapped her arms around the taller woman's neck.
When they separated, Taylor kissed the top of Torrey's head.
"I love you too, Little Bit. Remember, whatever you need, whenever you need it, all you have to do is ask and the answer will always be yes." Torrey replied.
Torrey pulled her address book a little closer, slipping on her glasses to read her own small handwriting. God, I can only hope she isn't home and I can leave a message for her to call me. I can't believe my palms are sweating.
The writer picked up the cordless phone and leaned back against the bed's headboard. Fourteen years had gone by since she'd heard her voice. They faithfully sent gifts for Christmas and birthdays, cards would be interspersed throughout the year and, with the advent of computers, e-mails were exchanged at least once a month. They never saw one another and they never called. Both of them understood the danger in that, even though each woman had her own reasons. Now, however, Torrey had to swallow her pride and put her emotions in a place where they couldn't hurt her. Just as her friend was willing to do anything for Torrey so long ago, so she was willing to do anything now; suffer any heartbreak or humiliation for her daughter. God, I know I always wanted her to be happy, but I hope she's not with anybody. That would definitely be too much.
Torrey punched in the long distance number and held her breath as the phone began to ring.
Taylor was covered in the dust the electric buffer threw around. Her long raven hair was pulled back into a braid while she worked, a filtered air mask covered most of her face. Between the sound of the equipment and the muffled air within the mask, she almost missed the phone. It was an odd sensation. Kind of like when you turn off the vacuum because you swear the phone is ringing, but there isn't a sound once everything is shut off.
She growled and ripped the mask off, reaching for the phone that was resting on a stool in one corner of the studio. She was sure it was Samantha. The gallery owner always got into a panic before a big show.
"Yea," she barked into the receiver.
"It's nice to hear that your phone manner is as pleasant as ever, Stretch."
Taylor stood in the middle of her studio, letting the mask quietly fall from her grasp. The sound on the other end must not have been real. But, then, only one woman ever called her that name.
"Taylor, are you there?" Torrey asked.
Oh, yes, the voice was definitely real. No one in the world said the artist's name quite like her old friend did.
"Torrey?" A feeling like the blood was draining from her body began to spread across her flesh. Her stomach suddenly became queasy and she started to sweat. Taylor sank heavily onto the stool.
"Are you okay...is Jess--" The artist started, suddenly alarmed.
"No, we're okay...in a manner of speaking." Torrey answered, not knowing where to begin. Taylor knew Torrey was having an occasional problem with JT, but she would never have guessed to what extent.
"Stretch, I need..." Torrey raised her eyes to the ceiling, willing the tears not to fall. They rarely obeyed her, even though she was making a valiant effort.
"What is it, honey?" Taylor asked, fourteen years disappearing into nothing as she felt she was seated on the floor of their room once again.
The sound of her friend's voice combined with the term of endearment opened the way as Torrey's tears fell.
"I need to ask you a huge favor." Torrey said.
"The answer is yes," Taylor answered.
"You don't even know what the favor is yet." Torrey laughed and cried at the same time.
Taylor grinned into the receiver. "You know that doesn't matter. What? You need to pay off a gambling debt? The answer is yes. You need a kidney? The answer is yes. You need--"
I need you to raise my daughter for six months." Torrey interjected.
"You sure you wouldn't rather have the kidney?" Taylor shot back.
Again, Torrey couldn't help but laugh at her friend. God, it's been so long since anyone could make me laugh like this.
"Talk to me, Little Bit. What's going on there?" Taylor asked with concern.
It was the nickname that not one other soul had ever called her, which broke her resolve to be strong. Torrey found herself pouring out the experiences of the past few years, the anger and the pain, along with the frustration over her inability to repair the damage that had already been done, without making it worse.
Three hours later, they still talked. Taylor was now seated in the high back leather chair behind the desk in her office. She ran a slender finger along the wooden base of a model jet that sat on one corner, listening and crying along with her old friend. Taylor knew the situation was much worse than Torrey was making it sound. Torrey never would have called if she weren't at the end of her rope.
It was like some bizarre, unwritten agreement they had. Taylor's love for the woman hadn't diminished with time. If anything, Torrey became an unshakable obsession to the artist. When they parted, Taylor knew the only way to let Torrey get on with her life was to never speak to her or even see her in person. Once they separated, her need for the young woman became so overwhelming at times the artist would spend hours with the phone in her hand, poised to dial Torrey's number, just so she could hear her voice. If she were ever to see her again, Taylor's secret, at some point would make its presence known. Thus, she distanced herself from what she so passionately desired, but would never be allowed to have. She assumed Torrey was simply acquiescing to her wishes all these years.
It would also have to be a desperate situation for Torrey to ask for help, from anybody. In Taylor's mind there was only one woman that suffered from being as proud and headstrong as she was, and that was the woman on the other end of the phone line.
Finally Torrey told Taylor about the previous day's battles. The writer was reduced to tears again as she told her friend how she's slapped JT in the face. Taylor's brows came together in a frown, her hands clenched and clenched. How she wished she could reach out and pull the younger woman into her arms and make everything allright, just as she tried to so many years back. Torrey secretly wished for the very same thing.
Lastly, Torrey related what happened when JT hit her.
"She did what?" Taylor's voice dropped low with an icy edge to it.
"It's okay. It just looks worse than it is." Torrey said repeating the words she'd used on Jessica.
Taylor was already flipping open her Rolodex. "I'm going to catch the next flight to Chicago."
"No, Taylor, I don't think that will help the situation much. Half of the problem are the friend's Jess has here. She can't seem to stay away from them and when she's around them, she can't seem to say no to them."
"So, what's the other half of the problem?" Taylor asked.
"I think it might be me." Torrey answered sadly.
"Tor, don't say that. You're a great mother, you always have been." Taylor said adamantly.
"You haven't seen me lately." Torrey started to cry again. "I hit her, for God's sake!"
"Yea, well," Taylor sneered, "sounds like she needs to have her ass kicked." Taylor leaned back in her chair and ran her hand across her face, realizing how that sounded.
"You know what I mean. Look, hon, I don't know if I'll do any better. She may push me too far and you know me well enough to know that I'm not about to let her hit me. I know she's got a lot of valid problems we need to address, but it sounds like she's got a lot of good old fashioned attitude going too."
"I know," Torrey said in defeat. "God, Stretch, I don't know if what I'm doing is right or not and you know how much I hate asking anyone for help, I only know I've run out of options. JT knows what she can get away with here...with me. I surprised her by what I did the other day, but I think she and I both know that I can't control her. I was hoping in a different environment, with someone other than me...I just think you could be good for her."
Torrey couldn't stop the tears after that. Taylor let her stay that way for a few minutes, running through her own gauntlet of emotions. She always thought of JT as her daughter too. Saying goodbye to the two-year-old was one of the hardest things Taylor ever had to do. Now she was going to have to put her money where her mouth was.
"Don't cry, honey. We'll get through this." Taylor said into the phone, and to both women, it was as if they were back on that bench on that warm day in April. Taylor's arms wrapped protectively around the smaller woman, promising that she could make everything better.