Stop! Before you go any further, you're gonna want to go back and read Part One of Erynn's Challenge. Oh, and my apologies to Erynn. She pointed out that her original challenge gave me the name Traylor, not Taylor. Oops... Also, I'm sorry about this taking so long to get around to part two. There will be a part three. And I promise I won't wait another four months to deliver it. Anyway, without further ado, Part Two...
Name: Taylor Steele
Location: Route 66
Object: Magic 8-Ball
Taylor awoke to the sight of sunlight streaming through the living room curtains. She could barely open her eyes. They hurt; dry and burning from the overproduction of tears as she drifted off to sleep the previous night.
She didn't feel like moving. She was curled into a ball under a quilt on the couch and she had a mind to remain that way all day. But the call of nature was too strong.
Taylor cast aside the blanket and slowly stood. Her body ached as she stretched out for the first time in hours. She silently reminded herself that most of her actions would be forced for a while. Even walking upstairs to use the bathroom.
That was her first step to making it through her day. Moving like a zombie, she took the stairs one by one. With each footfall, she felt that she won a small victory. After what felt like an hour, she made it to her bathroom. It was the one that connected to her bedroom, the room she couldn't bring herself to sleep in.
Once she had used the bathroom, she stood at the sink and stared at the wreck of a woman in the mirror. She couldn't help but laugh at herself a little. Her eyes were red and puffy. Her hair was all over the place. She bent down and splashed water into her face, hoping it would miraculously wash away the emotion that was still so evident. When she looked back in the mirror, she was disappointed to find it hadn't worked.
Taylor moved back into the hallway, pulling her hair back into a ponytail as she walked. She had no idea what she should do next, but figured breakfast was as good an idea as any. At the top of the stairs, she glanced over at the office. She had the nagging feeling that she was forgetting something, but she shrugged it off and descended the stairs.
When she reached the fridge, she stared blankly at the many plastic containers filled with leftovers provided by friends and family. With no thought of what makes for an appropriate breakfast, she reached for a pan of lasagna and cut out a piece from the corner.
She watched the lasagna rotate as the microwave heated it up. Even this small thing served to remind her of Mason. But this time, instead of bursting into tears, she smiled. Mason always hated the edge pieces. It didn't matter if it was lasagna or brownies. He didn't like how the sides and corners got crisp and crunchy. Taylor loved it.
The microwave beeped loudly. She pulled out the plate and devoured the hot lasagna as if she had not eaten in days. She was certain she had eaten at some point, but it had been a long few days.
Taylor set her plate and fork in the sink and slowly moved toward the living room. She resumed her comfortable position on the couch and began absentmindedly flipping through the channels. She was in a complete daze. She watched the television without actually seeing what was on. The sound of her phone ringing caused her to jump.
She reached for her cell and saw that it was Leslie. Taylor rolled her eyes, but was still touched when she thought about her friend checking up on her. "I thought I said I'd call you," she said as she answered the phone.
"I know," said Leslie, "but I worry."
"Well, you don't need to. I'm fine," Taylor said, "relatively speaking."
There was a moment of silence before Leslie spoke again. "Did you see what's on the flash drive yet?"
"Ugh!" shouted Taylor. "I knew I was forgetting something!" Keeping the phone to her ear, she made her way back up the stairs. "Wait, how did you know about it?" she asked as she climbed.
"Please! Rob can't keep a secret to save his life. Especially from me."
"Do you know what's on it?"
"Not really," said Leslie, "Rob could only guess. He thinks it's a video. Some kind of message from Mason left for you. That's why I really called. If it's a video of Mason, I'm worried about your reaction."
"Why? You think it's a bad message?" asked Taylor.
"Not at all. You just never know how seeing and hearing him might affect you."
Taylor almost told her of the effect that watching her wedding video had on her the night before. But she held back. She wasn't sure why she had a hard time letting her best friend know she was allowing herself to have real emotions. She did, however, know that she did not want to appear needy. She wanted to deal with the beginning of this new life on her own.
"Really, Les, I'll be fine," Taylor said as she powered up the laptop. "I'll call you later to let you know Mason's message from beyond the grave." She flinched as she said the words. She had been attempting humor, but regretted it immediately.
"Funny," Leslie said. Her words dripped with sarcasm.
"Seriously, though, don't worry so much. We'll talk later."
Leslie sighed on the other end of the line. "Okay. Talk to you soon."
Taylor hung up the phone and set it down on the desk, right next to where the flash drive lay. She reached for the drive and plugged it into the computer. While she waited for the folder to open automatically, she put her head in her hands.
She wasn't ready to cry again. But Leslie was right when she said there was no way of knowing how watching this thing would affect her. After all, seeing him in his tux and hearing him say, "I do," had caused her to lose control of her emotions until she lost consciousness.
Taylor looked back at the screen and took a deep breath before clicking on the only file on the drive. It was labeled For Taylor. It was password protected. Taylor smirked at the thought that Mason couldn't trust Rob not to snoop. She sat back and stared for a moment at the blinking cursor inside the little box on the screen. Her smirk grew into a smile as she typed the word Paradise, then clicked OK.
It wasn't an uncommon word for a password. Anyone could have figured it out if they had bothered to dig a little bit. But no one ever did. For Taylor and Mason, Paradise was a reminder of their first date. But it wasn't the first date that all their friends knew about. This was the first date that happened before their first date.
Taylor had been looking forward to a night alone at the theater. The Paradise was showing a marathon of 80s movies all weekend and tonight they were showing The Goonies. As a kid, it was one of her favorite movies. She was pretty sure that she had watched the old VHS copy so many times that it eventually wore the tape out. Taylor never got tired of hearing how Sloth loved Chunk. As fate would have it, alone was not the way she would be spending her night.
"I know you, don't I?" said the guy sitting in the row in front of her.
Taylor squinted, trying to make out his features in the very dim light before the movie started. "I don't think so. I'm pretty good with faces," she said.
"Yeah, I do. You're Leslie's friend," he said as he stood up.
Now she was a little scared. Did she have a stalker? Who was this guy and why was he now standing up to talk to her?
"Sorry," he said, as if he realized he was giving off a creepy vibe, "I'm Mason. Rob's roommate? Rob is Leslie's..."
"...Boyfriend," Taylor finished his sentence for him, "Yeah, I remember now. Leslie's mentioned you a couple times. Aren't we supposed to meet next weekend at some awkward get together that she's arranging?"
"Yeah, I think so," said Mason. He pointed to the empty seat beside her, "Do you mind?"
"By all means," she said. He is kind of cute, she thought. Why not get to know him a little before officially meeting him? He hopped over the back of his seat and into her row, spilling some of his popcorn in her lap in the process. "Seriously?" she said, a little annoyed. Great first impression, dude.
Before taking his seat he looked down at her. "I am so sorry, I really didn't think..." he cut himself off. Taylor just looked up at him, clearly irritated. She brushed the popcorn off her lap and onto the floor. "I'm really, really sorry. It's just that, when I get nervous I get kind of fidgety and tend to do stupid, spontaneous things without thinking."
"I guess it's all right," she said. "It could have been worse. You could have spilled your drink on me."
"I was saving that for after the movie," Mason said, flashing the smile that Taylor would soon fall completely in love with. She couldn't help but laugh, and it was as if the popcorn incident never happened.
They watched the movie together. There was no hand holding, no arm around her shoulder. They just sat together watching a movie they both loved, occasionally whispering some profound insight about a deleted scene they had read about somewhere or talking about where certain actors are now. After the credits finished rolling, they both stood.
"Thanks for not actually pouring your Coke on me," said Taylor as she put on her jacket.
"I was happy to not do it," said Mason as he stretched his legs. "Let me walk you to your car."
Taylor nodded and walked beside him as they left the theater. He held the door for her as she exited the building, giving him a couple bonus points in her eyes. They walked slowly down the sidewalk making their way to her car. It was as if neither of them wanted the walk to end. She looked over at him. "Aren't you cold?" she asked, watching her breath float away with each word that escaped her lips.
Mason just shook his head, "Nah, it's not so bad out here." She would later find out that he had been lying. He just didn't want her to know that he was freezing.
"How should we deal with Leslie's not so subtle set up next week?" asked Mason while Taylor fumbled for her keys.
"Well, I say we fake it," she said, unlocking her car door, "Pretend like we've never met. I think it could be fun to just keep tonight between us." They stared into each others eyes for a long moment, sharing an attraction for one another that was almost instantaneous.
"I like that," Mason said. She was nervous. It was a feeling she had not felt around a guy in a long time. Part of her wanted him to kiss her, but she wasn't sure if she was ready for that. She could tell he was nervous too.
"So, I guess I'll see you next week," she said, then sank into her car.
"I can't wait," Mason said. He closed the door for her, then he stood at the curb until she drove out of sight.
Taylor shook herself from her memory as the image of her husband appeared on the computer screen. She took a deep breath and clicked play.
"Hey, beautiful," Mason said in a hushed voice. She recognized the room behind him as the same room in which she now sat. It was dark in the office, the only light came form the glow of the screen in front of Mason.
He must have snuck in here while I slept one night, she thought. Mason continued, "I knew you'd have no trouble figuring out the password. "And I knew Rob would have no clue. I'm sure he's tried at some point. I love that our first date is still a secret between us."
"Mason?" Taylor heard her own voice in the background.
"I'm in the office, hun!" he called back over his shoulder.
"Is everything okay?" It felt weird hearing herself in the distance.
Mason winked into the camera and said, "Yeah, I just can't sleep. Playing the Sims 'til I get sleepy again."
There was no response. "You must be asleep again. Sorry about that little fib. I could sleep just fine if I wanted to. But I want to get this done while I still look the way I want you to remember me."
"Okay," Mason started again, taking his own deep breath, "I don't know how much time I have. Tonight, I mean. I know we still have a few months together, and I hope they're wonderful. I just mean that you could wake up again and get nosy. I love your inquisitive nature, but I need you out of the loop for a while.
"First, I want you to know just how much I love you. I loved you the night we met, I just didn't have the nerve to admit it right away. Each moment that's passed since that night has only made me love you more. Cheesy enough? Good."
Taylor smiled but wiped a few fresh tears from her cheeks. "Hey, if I just made you cry, I'm sorry. But I do hope you're letting yourself cry. I know you're gonna try to be strong for me and our families over the next few months, because that's who you are. But you're allowed to be sad. I'm pretty awesome. That's a lot to deal with not having around anymore.
"You know the bucket list we made together? From my perspective it was just yesterday. There are plenty of things on there that we'll be able to do before I'm gone." Mason was right. They crossed a lot of events off his list before he passed away. "But I know for sure that there's one thing we won't be able to do: the road trip."
Taylor thought about the list. She had known when they made it that the road trip would be unlikely. Not that she wouldn't have loved to drive across the country with the love of her life. It was just difficult with his declining health and the fact that she still had to teach throughout that time.
"I want you to take that trip," Mason said. "If Dr. Trapp is right, I'll be gone around the time school lets out. That gives you plenty of time to make a long drive. Take Leslie with you. Have fun. Enjoy the life that you have in front of you. Don't make a plan. Just go.
"Actually, you don't even have to plan. I've done that part for you. The first thing you need to do is get into our safe deposit box. Hopefully you haven't needed to get in there before now. I assume you'll drop the death certificate in the box at some point, but I hope Rob is on the ball and gives the flash drive to you before you've gotten around to it. You're next step is in that box."
On the screen Mason stifled a yawn. "I better get back to bed before you start to miss me too much. Good night, sweetheart. I love you forever."
Taylor watched her husband blow her a digital kiss and reach to end the recording. She blinked a few times, then grabbed her cell phone. Finding Leslie's number, she hit send and waited for her best friend to pick up.
"We need to go to the bank."