A/N: I decided what to do with this last bit, in consideration of how last chapter ended so perfectly! I've decided that last chapter was the final chapter. Making this an epilogue. It's perfect. (Because I say so). If I write anything else for this story, it'll be a one shot or a sequel. (Don't get your hopes up too much, though. If I do, it won't be for a while at least)
Well, folks, this is the end of the story.
"Fuck, Jackson, I don't think I can do this."
I blink a few times with surprise. For one, Taylor doesn't use the word 'fuck' very often. For another, well, I was a little surprised when the first thing he did after he walked into the lunch room was find me and all but collapse on me. I happened to be standing up, and he just sort of draped his arms over my shoulders and went limp against me.
"Our, um-" I try to think of a good way to phrase it- "overly persistent classmates?" I ask him sympathetically. It's the first day Taylor's been in school since the incident, and unfortunately, people really have been hounding him. They aren't quite as bad as they were with me, thankfully, but unfortunately that's not saying much. This time, I, with the help of Rowen and Archer, have been the one trying to fend them off, but ewe can only do so much, and of all of us, only Rowen has a class with him during the day. Thankfully, Lauren picked up on what we're doing, and has been telling people off for us, and apparently has been a big help to him thus far in his other classes.
It's so horrible we have to do this. I really wish people would just leave him alone. He's been doing a lot better, but still, he's definitely been through enough. I'm sure we'll be able to get them to back off, like with me. Hopefully within a couple days. But, right now, it's still day one.
"Well, yes," Taylor's answer is muffled into my shoulder. "But not just that…"
Some girl sneaks up from behind us without either of us noticing. I nearly jump out of my skin when I hear her annoyingly high-pitched voice, almost right next to my ear.
"Omigod, Taylor, what was it like? Is your father dead? Hey, are the two of you, like, a couple again? Uh, what's-your-name, Jack? I heard you were there too-"
This is exactly what I've been talking about.
"Please, not now," I finally cut her off, a slight pleading note in my voice.
"Oh, right, ohmigod, I'm so sorry, I wasn't thinking, you must still feel horrible-" She began prattling once again.
I sigh in exasperation. "Please, I don't want to be rude, but could you just…go away now?"
She looks like she's about to apologize again, and really, I don't like being rude, but under the circumstances… I cut her off again before she can say another word.
Finally, she nods contritely, and with one last, "Sorry," she finally walks off.
Yes, that was what I had to deal with all last week. And Taylor as well, all day today.
"Can we please go somewhere else?" Taylor asks plaintively. He still hasn't moved. "Somewhere I can actually talk to you, without-" He weakly lifts one arm in a vague gesture indicating the cafeteria.
"This way," I say immediately, making him let go of me, just so I can steer him out of the cafeteria. He does so reluctantly.
I stop briefly to tell Rowen where we're going; I figure she can let everyone else know. Then, I lead Taylor to one of the practice rooms in the hallway leading to the music room.
They're supposed to be for students who want to practice with instruments or singing individually, but they also work well for people looking for isolation. They have transparent glass windows, so it's not as though people can't see you, but generally, no one bothers you while you're in one. And generally, an added bonus, no one except chorus or maybe band students would think to look for someone in one of them. So, hopefully, we won't be disturbed.
"Okay, so what's up?" I ask, once I've closed the door behind us. I lean against the wall next to me. He takes a seat on the piano bench, sitting backwards from the piano to face me.
I don't feel the need to add "besides the obvious." Evidently, there's something else bothering him. I'd picked up that much back in the cafeteria.
Taylor sighs deeply and leans forward, clasping his hand between his knees. He doesn't speak immediately, but I'm long since used to that, and wait patiently for him to start.
"I don't think I can do this," he says again, finally. I'm not sure I follow, but I trust that he'll explain his statement. And surely enough, after a pause, he does. "By 'this'… I mean all of this. This life." He shakes his head, slowly. "I really don't think I can keep it up anymore."
I'm not entirely surrised by this statement. More relieved than anything, actually. I don't think anyone is capable of keeping up a lifestyle like Taylor's; not without hurting themselves. I'm just glad he's admitting to it. I've been waiting a long time for him to talk about this.
"Finally," I breathe, accidentally saying it out loud.
Taylor faces me with a puzzled frown. "Finally?" He repeats.
"Sorry!" I apologize quickly. "I didn't mean to sound- um- I-"
"Nevermind," Taylor cuts me off, a half-smile forming on his lips. "Actually, I think I have an idea of what you meant. And, well… you're right. You've been right. I just-" he exhales loudly, looking down at his hands. " I just don't see how I can alter this lifestyle, without breaking a lot of commitments, letting a lot of people down, and generally… making myself feel horrible."
I sigh now myself, searching for the words to say before I actually speak. "Honestly… I think most people will understand if you drop some of your extracurriculars. As for other things in your life, a lot of it is really up to you, anyway."
"But… where would I start?" Taylor asks, looking at me helplessly.
"Um…" I think on that. Where would I start, in his position? Where should he start? What could he do to make life easier for himself?
"Maybe… you should start by prioritizing things in your life," I say finally. "Like, what's absolutely most important to you?"
"You," he answers, without a moment's hesitation.
I try to push aside how ridiculously happy that statement makes me feel and focus on the task at hand. Not easy.
"Okay, well, you have me," I tell him, pleased to note that his outward reaction to my words looks a lot like mine probably did at his. "What else? Out of, say, your school activities?"
"Um…" he bites his lip slightly and stares at the ceiling, brows knit in concentration. "Basketball. That's important to me. Track, too, because I like being active. I could start competing less in track, though, or stop altogether, because that part's not important to me."
I nod. "Good start, I guess. What about clubs?"
He thinks for a moment. "Drama. I have fun with that. I definitely want to stick with that. Civil Rights, too, because it's important to me. And, well, I am supposed to be president."
"You don't have to be," I say abruptly. He looks at me, surprised.
"Seriously," I continue. "Think about it. You could step down as president and still be involved, and it would be that much more off your shoulders."
"Yeah, but-" Taylor protests, looking less sure of the idea than even I honestly am.
"Is there anyone who could take that over?" I ask. Taylor thinks a moment, but eventually, he nods.
"Then why not?" I continue. "Do you really need to be the president?"
"I- I guess not." Taylor still looks somewhat startled. "I guess I never thought of that. Um- okay."
"So, anything else?" I ask, continuing past that.
"Chamber Singers, although that's not really a club… and before you say anything, no, it's not just because of you, I really do enjoy singing."
I actually had been about to say something, just to make sure, but that shut me up.
"You know, I actually don't really like band," he continues on his own. "I think mayb I'll drop that. I don't think they'd really miss me; band isn't really my strongest suit anyway. Then I have, um… mock trial, key club, pep club, French club… I guess none of them are that important to me, but-"
"Then drop them," I interrupt. He again looks startled at my statement. "If they're not important, drop them," I insist. "I told you, if you explain it to people, I really am sure they'll understand. Everyone knows what you put yourself through. And, are any of your other clubs important to you? Other than the ones you've already said?"
Taylor thinks a moment. "No, not really. Maybe photography club…"
"Then drop everything else," I say simply.
"But-" Taylor protests. "I can't just-"
"Yes you can," I interrupt him. "And I think you need to."
I also think he probably knows a lot of what I'm telling him, but won't actually do it unless someone tells him too, which is why I'm being so insistent.
"All right," he says at length. "But I really don't think I can quit NHS."
"That I understand," I concede. Cult that the National Honors Society is. "Speaking of which… school work. I know you run yourself to the ground academically, too."
Taylor looks at me as though I've grown a third head. Clichéd expression, but believe me, right now, it applies. "…I thought the importance of schoolwork was a given?" he says, making it almost a question.
"Is it important to you?" I ask him seriously. Because I, personally, am of the opinion that his well-being is more important than his schoolwork.
"Actually, it is." Taylor responds, surprising me a little. "I really, truthfully like school. Academically speaking. I like learning things."
"Okay," I concede to that as well. I'm actually rather impressed. I mean, I don't get terrible grade, but I definitely couldn't say that I really enjoy school. "But you do take really advanced classes," I point out. "Next week's the end of the semester, so it'd be pretty easy to change your schedule. Are there any classes that you could drop to a lower level in? Or drop entirely? Like, classes that are hard for you, or give a lot of homework? Or electives that you don't really need, that you could switch to something easier?"
"Math," Taylor says instantly. "I could switch to an average level math class. That's actually a really good idea." He stares off a little, thinking it over. "I have a horrible time in that class. And, hmm…" he pauses, still looking thoughtful. "I don't really like economics, either, I just took it because it seemed like a more worthwhile class than, say, chorus. Or at least, other people seemed to think so. But really, I think I'd rather be in chorus."
"So switch, then," I say. Then, I smile as a thought occurs to me. "Besides, if you switched to chorus that block, we'd have a class together."
"Oh, you're right!" Taylor exclaims, grinning right back. "I forgot abut that. Well, I'll definitely have to switch that one, now!"
I love that's it's become easier for him to smile again, lately. He's been coping and recovering, physically, mentally and emotionally, quite well, from what I've seen. And I see him an awful lot.
Just then, the bell rings to signal the end of lunch, telling us we have five minutes to get to class.
"Thank you so much, Jackson," Taylor says, the smile remaining on his face. "I know I haven't actually done any of it yet, but- just thinking about it kind of makes me feel better. God, my life is going to be easier!" He leans back as much as he can without falling, hands interlocked behind his head.
"Good," I respond. "This is really what I thought you should have done long ago." I frown slightly at first, then quickly change my mind and match his smile. "We'd better get going now, though, or we'll be late."
"Yeah…" Taylor says, but he seems distracted all of a sudden. An odd expression has appeared on his face.
Before I can ask him about it, before I even have time to think, Taylor's mouth is suddenly meeting mine.
He takes my own slightly parted lips as an invitation, and slips his tongue in as well.
Not that I mind. Far from it.
I think I'm losing my mind as he steps forward, wrapping his arms around me and deepening the kiss. I respond eagerly, absolutely forgetting for the moment that we're currently in school.
Thankfully (I suppose), he apparently hasn't. He's the one to finally pull away, with no little reluctance on either of our parts, before we can go any further.
"See you later," He whispers in my ear, before we fully part contact. Then, with a contented smile, he slowly draws away from me and makes his exit.
I watch his retreating figure for a few moments, feeling glued to the spot. I swear if they could, my insides would be melting. I wonder if maybe they are anyway.
I love him. So much. (Not just because he's good at kissing. Though, for the record, he definitely is).
And as I stand there, watching him walk down the corridor, I feel that, for the first time, I really don't have any lingering doubts or worries.
For once, I really feel like everything's going to be okay.
Maybe not everything's perfect, but…
As long as we have each other, maybe it doesn't have to be.
Some final notes!
First of all, my sincerest apologies for not doing review responses. I really, really wanted to just get this final thing out.
Secondly, I'm sorry if this isn't written up to par. (And, for the record, I really don't like writing kissing scenes. Or anything even borderline smut. I feel awkward. Sorry if it was terrible). Anyway. I find that my inspiration tends to wane and wax over periods of time, and with it, my writing skill. I feel like I'm in a waning period right now, so I just wanted to get this posted, so I can take a bit of a break from writing.
Not to say I'm done with writing, or with Fictionpress; far from it, hopefully. I have other stories and ideas in my repetoire, and lots of great plans. (Not the least of which, the collaboration story I mentioned before!! We still don't have a title for it. Well, the first arc is called The Riddle. That's about it.)
You have to understand, this is the first major story I've ever written and completed. And on top of that, it's been read by more people than any other story I've ever written. It's really helped me to look at myself, as a writer, and honestly, to me, it's amazing that I was able to write something even this successful. Something that touched people in some way, as this story appears to have done for at least a few. To know that my writing, something I created, touched anyone at all, is an amazing feeling. This story, and my experience with it, including posting it and seeing how many people have read it, for me has been amazing.
I really love all of you who've reviewed this story. Seriously, truly, thank you so much. Thank you more than I could possibly say. You've all given me so much encouragement, throughout this story. Not to mention ideas, interesting perspectives, interesting commentary unrelated to the story in some cases, and even the random formation of a friendship.
I think one of the greatest things I've gained from my "Fictionpress experience", as it were, is the unexpected friendship it led me to develop with another FP author (that many of you reading my story, her story, or both, might have noticed, if you ever glanced at the review responses), Amateur Imaginationist. J, you are awesome, and I'm really, really glad to have met you. You've definitely made a distinct impact on my life. Happy birthday; and I really hope that it is, for you. (By the way, departing from the sappiness for a moment, you will have a present from me in the mail, hopefully soon. Within the next couple weeks. Birthday weeks, see? I'm carrying on the tradition!
All right, my apologies for that delve into the realm of utter sappiness. Suffice to say, I'm really proud of this story, the whole posting-and-getting-reviews thing has been very cool and much appreciated, I love all your reviews, J is awesome, and THIS STORY IS OVER!
(a short note to Sarah, before I post this, since you weren't in school today: Feel better soon, and I do hope you're actually resting. People say you have trouble doing that, apparently. Oh, and you missed a rousing grammar review today. Really.)