Taylor’s face lit up with a smile and his little sister clamored to extricate herself from his arms when she saw me.
“Gracie!” Little Reina scrambled off the bed and ran across the spacious room, jumping into my arms. I laughed as she wrapped her arms around my neck.
“Didn’t know I was missing a concert,” I said, leaning against the doorway of Taylor’s bedroom. I shifted the heavy five-year-old onto my hip.
The music stopped and Kade placed his hand across the strings of the guitar he was holding, silencing the reverb.
I’d let myself into Taylor’s back door through the kitchen like I always did and heard loud music from upstairs. No one was on the main level of the house. That was because they were all right here gathered around Kade.
“Did you know Kade is here?” Reina asked, as if Kade wasn’t right in front of me. “I haven’t seen him in years!”
“It’s only been a few months since you saw me, Ray.” Kade switched off the amp to stop the sound altogether.
“Don’t let me stop you from playing,” I said. “Nice to see that guitar getting some use. Tay never plays it.”
I carried Reina across the room and sat on Taylor’s bed next to where his older brother, Sean, sat on the floor leaning his back against the bed. Their younger brother, Clay, sat on the floor at Kade’s feet as if he idolized his cousin.
“Hey, that thing’s a collector’s item,” Taylor defended. “It’s going to be worth something someday.”
“It’s worth something now, idiot.” Sean turned around and shoved his brother playfully. “How many people in this world own a Paul Reed Smith signed by Ian Taylor?”
“Not many, I’m sure.” I glanced up at the poster above Taylor’s bed and his eyes followed mine. “How did you manage to get that guitar, anyway?”
“When Ian found out I was named after him, he gave it to me as a birthday present,” Taylor said, still gazing at the poster where the rock band, Buxton Peak stood in a pose worthy of a ninety’s boy band with a hint of rock god thrown in. They were a little younger in the photo then they were now, but it was a great poster. They’d had it matted and framed.
For the first time I realized the poster wasn’t just signed by the band members, it had personalized autographs written to Taylor. Dang. I set Reina on the bed and rose to get a closer look.
Happy birthday, little Tay. Love, Andy Smith. That was signed next the band’s bassist. Tay, thanks for screaming at our concert. Gonna git you some headphones! Love, Nathanial Jackson. That was next to their drummer. Love you, Tay. Happy first birthday. That was scrawled next to the band’s lead guitarist, Kai Burton. And last was a larger signature next to their front man, Ian Taylor, who must have been the guy who gifted the poster along with the guitar. So cool that your parents named you after me, Little Tay. Love you, buddy. -Ian Taylor
“A guitar is a pretty expensive first birthday gift,” I said, turning back to Taylor.
“Ian’s a billionaire,” Taylor dismissed my concern. “He can afford it.”
“It was probably a tax write-off.” Sean chuckled.
“Wanna hear me play it?” Kade asked me but looked to Taylor almost as if getting his permission. They glared at each other for a moment and I sensed more tension between the two of them.
“Whatever,” Taylor mumbled and looked away. He laid down on his bed and tossed a tennis ball in the air, letting it fall back into his hand. I wanted to comfort him but decided he and I could talk later when we could be alone. My best friend was having a tough day and I needed to find out why. As he continued tossing the ball in the air, I turned back to Kade.
“I’d love to hear you play.”
No one else seemed to notice the tension between Taylor and their cousin. We all settled into our spots and Kade turned the amplifier back on.
Without thinking about it I leaned back against Taylor’s headboard and pulled my feet up on the bed.
Taylor stilled for a second in response to me practically cuddled up by his side. He leaned his shoulder against my leg and glanced up at me, vulnerability in his eyes. I wondered if the tension between him and his cousin had anything to do with Kade flirting with me. Interesting.
I winked at Taylor then faced Kade as the sound of reverb filled the room. Taylor resumed throwing his ball.
Kade was seriously talented on the guitar. No wonder the family was gathered around to listen. I was caught up in the music as he played songs from Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Chuck Barry, Eddie Van Halen, Guns ‘N Roses, Carlos Santana, and Buxton Peak. He played Kai Burton’s solo from their most popular song, Passing through Eternity, so well that I’d swear I was listening to a recording.
That was Taylor’s favorite song, so he listened to it a lot. I guess if I were named after a rock star, his band would become my favorite band also.
After a little while of listening, a door slammed downstairs and Rhonda called up to us, “Kids, I brought pizza.”
“Pizza!” Clay hopped off the floor and headed out of the room. Sixteen-year-old boys were perpetually hungry.
“Pizza, pizza, pizza!” Reina slid down from the bed and followed her brother.
“Dang, you’d think they’d never been fed before.” Nineteen-year-old Sean hoisted himself off the plush carpet and brushed himself off.
As Kade turned off the amp and put the guitar in its stand, I caught Taylor’s tennis ball mid-throw.
“Wanna go hit some balls after dinner?” I asked Taylor quietly, speaking to just him.
“I would love that.” Taylor glanced up at me, his brown eyes smoldering. Dang, I wish he liked me as more than a friend. When Kade cleared his throat from across the room, Taylor sat up and pointed at him. “Don’t even think about it. You can have your date with Gracie another day. Tennis is our thing.”
“Yeah, tennis is our thing,” I teased as Taylor sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. I stood to get out of his way, helping him to his feet.
“Hey, have you figured out who you’re going to set me up with yet?” Taylor asked.
“Yes!” I realized I hadn’t told him the reason I came over. “My friend Hannah from the community center. She said she’s free on Friday night if you’re both up for some mini golf?”
“Whoever isn’t up for mini golf?” Kade asked with false enthusiasm. I wondered if his idea of fun on a Friday night involved something stronger than put-put golf. Something more like a rave party or rock concert. Something with scantily clad girls hanging on him. What had I gotten myself into?
“Yes, Friday sounds perfect.” Taylor put his hand on the small of my back, leading me out into the hallway. “Let’s eat some pizza and then head over to the courts, okay?”
Taylor was looking at me so intensely, like he was trying to communicate something he didn’t want to say in front of his cousin. This wasn’t like Taylor, and I hoped he would be willing to open up when we got to the courts.
“Whenever you’re ready Tay,” I responded, looking him straight in the eyes for several seconds, hoping to convey the message that I was ready to listen as soon as he was ready to talk.
Kade coughed from the doorway to Taylor’s bedroom. “So, gorgeous, I mean Gracie, I hear we have chemistry class together.” Kade’s emphasis on chemistry was purposely provocative.
Through nearly clenched teeth Taylor said to me, “I went ahead and shared our schedules with Kade.”
“That was very thoughtful of you, Tay.” I patted Taylor on the shoulder. “I’ll make sure Kade has a great first day at his new school.”
“I bet you will.” Kade’s suggestive comment earned him a punch in the arm from his cousin.
As I skipped down the stairs, I could hear Kade and Taylor talking aggressively to each other under their breaths. Maybe they weren’t working on their friendship.
When I walked into the kitchen, Rhonda offered me a slice of pizza, which I gladly accepted. She looked tired, and I marveled at how brave she was to take on one more mouth to feed when she was already raising four kids as a single mom.
There was a possibility that my mom might soon know how that felt and I wasn’t ready. My parents hadn’t officially split up yet, but the threat hung over our family like an ominous cloud. At least my best friend would be able to comfort me through my parents’ divorce, if it came down to that.
I didn’t want it to come down to that.
Book Club Discussion Question: What message do you think Taylor's trying to convey to Gracie? Please discuss in the comments.