I leaned back against my pillows and studied the screen of my laptop, thinking. “The Breakfast Club,” I replied after a few moments, before doing my best Judd Nelson impression. “Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”
Taylor’s laughter as it tumbled out of my laptop’s speakers was like music to my ears. “You and Jess should watch that movie together sometime. She loves it too.”
“What about you?” I asked, turning Taylor’s question back onto him. “What’s your favourite movie?”
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” Taylor replied immediately. “I love all of the Pythons’ movies, but Holy Grail is definitely my favourite. Got that off my mum.”
“Your mum’s a Monty Python fan?”
“Yep,” he replied. He sounded rather proud of this. “Has been since she was in high school. Anytime I was off sick from school, she’d stay home with me and we’d watch Flying Circus or one of the movies together to keep my mind off things.” Here he put on an exaggerated French accent. “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”
I burst out laughing at this, which earned me a smile from Taylor. “Okay, we’ve done TV, movies and music,” he said, bringing my attention back to our game of twenty questions. Right as he went to ask me another question (or so I figured anyway), a knock sounded at my front door.
“Hold that thought,” I said, doing my best to sound apologetic. “Someone’s at my front door. I won’t be long.”
Whoever it was I expected to be standing on my front doorstep, never in a million years would I have ever thought it to be one of Taylor’s brothers.
“Zac?” I asked, trying not to sound too shocked.
“Hey Ruby,” he said with a grin. “Can I come in?”
“Yeah, of course,” I replied. I unlocked and slid open the screen door, stepping aside so that Zac could come inside. “How’d you know where I live?”
“I know Taylor’s Hanson.net password,” Zac replied. I closed my front door after him, and darted over to the caravan so I could close its door – I had a feeling that Zac didn’t exactly want his presence advertised to his brother.
“I’m telling him to change his password after you leave,” I said.
“He isn’t here, is he?” Zac asked, sounding a bit anxious, and I shook my head. “Oh good,” he said, visibly relaxing.
“You can sit down Zac, I’m not going to bite,” I said, trying not to sound impatient.
At my words, Zac went over to my lounge and sat down right in the middle. I decided to sit down on the coffee table, facing him, and raised an eyebrow at him. “So we’ve established how you know where I live,” I said. “And I have a feeling that you want to ask me something. So spill.”
“You know how we’re going on tour in New Zealand in July, right? The week before you and Tay go back to TAFE after winter break?”
“I think I heard something about that, yeah,” I replied, wondering just where Zac was going with this.
“This is going to sound like a really weird question, but…you have a passport, right?”
“Yeah, but it expired about six months ago. I can probably scrape up the money to renew it.” That was when it clicked. “You want me to come to New Zealand with you?” I asked.
“Sort of.” Zac leaned forward a little and looked right at me. “Basically, if you can get yourself to Wellington by July tenth, I’ll make sure you have a ticket to our show that night.”
It didn’t take me long to catch on to what Zac was saying. “You want to surprise Taylor.”
“Yep.” He flashed me another grin. “He’s going to be all mopey and miserable seeing as his girlfriend is going to be over the Ditch for the week we’ll be in NZ. And to be completely honest with you, mopey-Taylor isn’t much fun to be around. So what d’you say?”
I didn’t even have to think about it. “I’m in.”
“Awesome.” His gaze flicked up to the door of my caravan. “Taylor isn’t here, but you’re still talking to him. Right?”
“Over Skype,” I replied. “He’s up in Newcastle – got that doctor’s appointment tomorrow.”
“Which he’s got absolutely nothing to worry about,” Zac said, sounding very sure of himself.
“Honestly, Zac? Keeping in mind that I only know what Taylor has told me himself, which is really very little, he worries about it because he almost died. I haven’t pushed him to talk about it because I know he hates it, but he told me that much at least. Therefore I can’t blame him one bit for being worried.”
Zac didn’t say anything in response to this at first. “I know he almost died,” he said finally. “You don’t forget something like that in a hurry. That was…it was the worst few weeks of our lives. I’d just rather focus on the fact that he survived, that’s all.” He shrugged. “I honestly don’t blame him for being worried, Ruby. Really, I don’t. None of us do.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear it.” I gave Zac a smile, one he mirrored almost right away.
After Zac left, I went back up into the caravan so I could continue Skyping with Taylor. “Sorry about that,” I apologised as I got myself settled again. “I’ve got this nosey parker of a neighbour across the road, she wanted to know where I’d been the last few weeks.” It was a blatant lie, and I felt terrible about lying to Taylor, but he wasn’t to know that.
“Those neighbours can be the worst,” Taylor said, sounding sympathetic. “I’ve got one like that a few doors down.”
“So you were saying before?” I asked, turning our conversation back to its former track.
We kept up our game of twenty questions almost until dinner time. “I only have one more thing I want to ask you,” I said, shifting my weight a little as I spoke. “And it’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.”
“You know I don’t mind it when you ask me,” Taylor said, his tone reassuring. “You’re my girlfriend, of course I don’t mind.” He cracked a small smile. “What do you want to know?”
“You told me back in March, just before your birthday, that when you were sick you almost died,” I said tentatively, and Taylor nodded. It wasn’t hard to tell that this was a particularly difficult subject for him – his eyes had gone dark, and I could clearly see that he had tensed up. “What happened?”
“Pneumonia,” he replied, and I sucked in a sharp breath. “It’s bad enough when you’re more or less completely healthy, but when your immunity is compromised, like mine was when I caught it…” He closed his eyes for a few moments. “I don’t remember much, really, only that I woke up in Intensive Care hooked up to a ventilator because I couldn’t breathe on my own. It took almost a whole week after I woke up before I was well enough to be taken off it.”
“Jesus Christ,” I whispered, and Taylor nodded. “I’m giving you the biggest hug I can manage when you get home on Tuesday. I think you need one.”
“I’ll be looking forward to it.” In the background I could hear Taylor’s mother calling out his name. “I’d better go – it’s dinner time.”
This seemed to be my stomach’s cue to start grumbling at me. “Yeah, me too. I need to feed Sadie as well. What’re you having?”
“Lasagne, I think. You?”
“Noodles, probably. Might even add some vegies to it if I can dig some out of the freezer.” I gave him a smile. “I’ll see you on Tuesday morning, yeah?”
“It’s a date,” Taylor replied with a smile. His next words seemed a little hesitant. “I love you, Ruby.”
“I love you too, Taylor.” I blew him a kiss through my webcam and grinned before closing the chat window.
The next day, May sixth, started with a text message from Taylor at around nine-thirty. Appt in half an hour. Think i might throw up from nerves if i don’t get this over and done with soon.
Don’t blame you, I texted back as soon as I’d read his message. I can be on the next train up if you want me there.
I’ll be ok. But thanks for the offer, appreciate it. :) Another text landed in my inbox nearly a full minute later. Do you want me to text you or something when i find out my results?
I had to think about my answer for a little while. The fact of the matter was that even though I was Taylor’s girlfriend, I hadn’t known him for all that long. We had really only just met three months earlier. As tempting as it was to find out almost straight away, he had family and friends who deserved to hear before me. Not to mention that I didn’t really want to find out in a text message – I wanted to hear him tell me.
Tell me when you get home tomorrow, I replied. I can wait until then.
Okay. :) I’ll text you when i’m on the train from central.
Now that it was going to be at the very least twenty-four hours until Taylor and I saw each other again, I knew I needed to find some way of distracting myself. And I knew exactly how to do that.
“Hey Gabbie,” I said when my little sister picked up her phone.
“Hey Rue,” Gabrielle said. “What’s up?”
“I need a distraction until my boyfriend gets back from Newcastle tomorrow,” I said. “Feel like going shopping?”
“Oh hell yes,” Gabrielle said, sounding excited at just the prospect of getting to spend a bit of money. “Wollongong, yeah?”
“I’ll meet you at the station,” I said, knowing that it was easiest for Gabrielle to get the train down. “What time do you think you’ll be getting in?”
“Hang on, lemme check…” There was a rustling of pages, and I knew Gabrielle was checking her copy of the South Coast timetable. “I can’t be arsed changing trains at Thirroul, so I’ll probably get the ten thirty-seven down. Gets into Wollongong at just after quarter past eleven.” She paused for a few seconds. “Lunch is my treat, okay? We’ll go to that Hideaway Café place in the Mall.”
“Sounds good to me. See you in an hour or so, then?”
“See you then,” Gabrielle said cheerfully, and we hung up.
The first words out of Gabrielle’s mouth as she got off the all-stops from Stanwell Park an hour and a half later were, almost as I expected, less than polite.
“You never told me you had a boyfriend!” she said, her tone almost accusing.
“Shh!” I shushed her. “Tell all of Wollongong while you’re at it why don’t you?”
“I’m your sister,” Gabrielle said petulantly. “You should have told me at least!”
“I told Taleah!”
Gabrielle snorted at this and crossed her arms over her chest, raising an eyebrow at me. “You told Taleah, right. I bet you told her to keep it in the vault, too.”
“No, but she’s kept it quiet off her own bat,” I snapped. “If I tell you can I trust you not to go telling the whole fucking world?”
“You know you can, Ruby,” she said, sounding almost wounded. “I know how to keep secrets.”
Instead of telling Gabrielle out loud who my boyfriend was, I dug my phone out of my pocket and opened Instagram. Taylor, as it turned out, not only posted on Instagram for the band but also had a private account that he had added me to at the end of the Victorian tour. “You do not tell anyone you’ve seen this,” I told Gabrielle as I found Taylor’s account in my followers list. “We’ll have all the nutcases in fandom after both of us if it gets out before either of us are prepared for it.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” Gabrielle promised – she knew I would rip her a new one if she did. Satisfied that my secret was safe with her, I found the newest photo of Taylor and I – a selfie that we’d taken during the flight from Albury to Sydney – and turned my phone around so that Gabrielle could see its screen.
It didn’t take long for the penny to drop.
“Holy fucking shit,” Gabrielle whispered. “You’re dating Taylor Hanson?”
“I am,” I replied with a grin. “Now do you see why I want you to keep it a secret?”
My sister nodded hard, curls flying every which way. “Bloody hell Rue, how the hell did you manage that?”
“It’s a very long story,” I said as we left the station, Sadie trotting along beside me as we walked. “But short version is that we go to the same TAFE, and I accidentally rammed into him with my wheelchair first day of classes this year.”
“You lucky bitch,” Gabrielle said. “He’s been one of Cleo’s most eligible bachelors for the last few years running, you know that right?”
“I’m disowning you if they find out,” I warned her. We were almost to my car in the Lowden Square carpark at this point.
Gabrielle held her hands up in front of her, almost in self-defence. “It’s in the vault, I swear.”
Instead of wandering through Crown Street Mall as soon as we got there, Gabrielle led us straight to the Hideaway Café. “You said on the phone that you need a distraction because your boyfriend doesn’t get home until tomorrow,” she said once we’d given our lunch orders to a waitress, and I nodded. “It’s eight years today, isn’t it?”
“Did everyone know about that except for me?” I groaned.
“You’re such a bad Hanson fan,” Gabrielle teased, and I gave her the finger. “Charming.”
“Yeah, it’s eight years today,” I replied. I reached over to the jar of sugar sachets that sat in the middle of our table and tapped it with my fingernails. “He’s up in Newcastle seeing one of his doctors today, and he won’t be home until tomorrow morning at the earliest. Offered to text me as soon as he found out how his test results turned out but I said I could wait until tomorrow. I’d rather hear him say it.”
“I bet you’re regretting that now.”
“Just a bit,” I admitted. “I’m kind of worried to be honest.”
“I don’t blame you, Rue. I think we all worry about him sometimes. But you have more right than most people, I think – you know him. Not many people can lay claim to that.” She gave me a smile. “I have to hope he’ll be okay. He’s managed to make it this far, right?”
“I’ll introduce you to him soon,” I promised. “This weekend, if he reckons he’s up for meeting more of us. He’s met Mum and Dad, and Ben’s even tried to intimidate him, but that’s it so far. I reckon he’d like you.” Gabrielle went bright pink at this, and I hid a smile. “I’ll ask him tomorrow and let you know what he says.”
But as it turned out, I wouldn’t have to wait until the next day to see Taylor. Right as Gabrielle and I were leaving the café after lunch, my phone chimed and vibrated in my pocket. “I’ll bet you ten dollars that’s Taylor,” Gabrielle said as we headed up Church Street toward the Mall.
“Don’t need to bet, I’m pretty sure it’s him anyway,” I said as we stopped walking next to the chess boards. I worked my phone out of my pocket and unlocked it so I could read the message that had just landed in its inbox.
Coming home early – need to see you, Taylor’s newest text message said. Planning to catch the 10:11pm from waterfall, gets into towradgi 11:03pm. Meet me at the station?
“It is from Taylor, isn’t it?” Gabrielle said slyly.
“Shut up,” I mumbled as I typed out a reply. Of course i’ll be there, I told him. I’ll see you tonight. :) <3
And that was how, at five minutes to eleven o’clock that night, I found myself at Towradgi train station waiting for Taylor’s train to arrive. There were a few people waiting for the same train, and I had retreated into the weather shelter on platform two almost as soon as I had walked down the hill that led down into the station. I didn’t want anyone to see how scared I was – because for the first time in my almost sixteen years in Hanson fandom, I was truly scared. I knew that fear wouldn’t go away until I heard for myself that he was okay. It wasn’t a feeling I liked.
Taylor was one of the very first passengers off the train once it had rolled to a stop alongside the platform, only a couple of minutes behind schedule. As soon as I spotted him I was up off the bench in the shelter and running as fast as my bad knee and my walking stick would let me.
“I missed you,” I said once I was sure I was within his earshot.
“I missed you too,” he said, drawing me close and wrapping his long arms around me. I leaned my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes for a few moments. He took in a shaky breath. “It’s all good, Rue,” he whispered in my ear. “All clear – no NHL, no other cancer. I’m good for another year.”
“Thank Christ for that,” I said in relief, and felt the first tears sting at my eyes. Damn you, don’t you dare cry now, I snapped at myself.
“You aren’t crying, are you?” Taylor teased me.
“I was scared,” I mumbled into his hoodie. “You can’t blame me for wanting to cry.”
“No, I guess not,” he agreed. I felt him kiss the top of my head. “Come on. You can crash at my place tonight if you like.”
“Best idea you’ve had in weeks,” I teased him back, and allowed him to lead me out of the station.
“Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
Unlike the last time Taylor and I had paid a visit to my parents’, the driveway of their house was packed with the cars belonging to Taleah and Troy. The little yellow hatchback I recognised as belonging to Gabrielle’s girlfriend was parked alongside the kerb. I’d pulled my Suzuki in behind it and cut the engine, but hadn’t made any move to get out of the car just yet.
“I’m positive,” Taylor assured me. It was the Saturday afternoon after his doctor had given him the good news he’d been hoping for – I’d invited him to my family’s monthly barbecue the next morning, an invitation he’d accepted straight away. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Meeting my parents over dinner is one thing,” I replied. “Having the rest of my family inflicted on you all at once – and that includes my nieces and nephews – is a different story entirely. We’re a bit nuts.”
“Can’t be any crazier than my family,” Taylor said with a shrug. “And you know what they’re like.”
“True,” I conceded, and checked my side mirror before popping my door open.
The first person I saw when I opened my parents’ front door was my oldest niece, Troy’s daughter Monique. “Ruby!” she squealed as soon as she spotted me. She stopped short of running full-tilt over for a hug, though, and it didn’t take me long to work out why. “Is that your boyfriend?” she asked me, studying Taylor a little warily.
“Yep,” I replied. “His name’s Taylor.”
Monique’s eyes lit up. “I have a friend called Taylor!” she said happily. “We go to netball together.”
“At least she didn’t say it’s a weird name,” Taylor said once Monique had run off. He untied his sneakers and toed them off, kicking them over to sit next to mine. “I get that more often than you’d expect.”
“Well it kinda is,” I teased, earning myself a scowl from Taylor. “Though don’t let Monique hear you say that.”
“Ruby’s got a boyfriend!” was the first thing I heard Monique yell when Taylor and I stepped out onto the back patio. All conversation ceased nearly straight away, and I could feel my face slowly turning bright red as roughly fifteen pairs of eyes fixed themselves on Taylor and I.
“Monique McCormick, that’s enough out of you,” Troy scolded, and I watched as he got up out of his seat and came over to where Taylor and I stood. He held out a hand. “I’m Troy,” he said. “You’re Taylor, yeah?”
“That’s me,” Taylor replied. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him take Troy’s hand a little tentatively – I figured he thought Troy might try to break his hand – and shake it. “It’s good to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Troy said, sounding cheerful, which might have had something to do with the open bottle of Carlton Draught he had in his other hand. He raised said bottle in the air as a sort of salute before going back to his seat.
“Well, he likes me at least,” Taylor said, sounding relieved.
“Yeah, Ben’s the one you need to watch out for,” I said as I looked for somewhere for the two of us to sit. I eventually found a couple of free seats between Mum and Taleah, and led Taylor over to them. “Hi Mum. Hey Leah.”
“Hello Ruby,” Mum said, before leaning forward in her seat and looking past me. “And hello Taylor,” she added with a smile.
“Hi Trish,” Taylor said. He sounded at ease around my family already, which I took as a good sign.
“What, not going to introduce us?” Taleah said from two seats down, and I resisted the temptation to roll my eyes.
“You know who he is, Leah,” I said as I reached for the bowl of chicken Twisties that sat in the middle of the table. “I told you like two months ago.”
“It was six weeks ago, and yes you told me but I haven’t met him properly yet,” Taleah retorted.
“Oh, fine. Taleah, this is my boyfriend Taylor – Taylor, my sister Taleah.”
“Nice to meet ya,” Taleah said, before turning her attention to my other two nieces. “Brodie, Zaidee, stop throwing sand at your cousin!” she yelled back over her shoulder.
“So what do you think?” I asked Taylor in a low voice as the various members of my family resumed their interrupted conversations. “Scared off yet?”
“Well, let’s see,” Taylor said. He tried to pinch a couple of Twisties from the pile in front of me, and I batted his hand away. “I haven’t had anyone try to break my hand just by shaking it, nobody’s started screaming in my face, and your older brother likes me.” He finally managed to steal a Twistie, and he popped it into his mouth. “I’m definitely not scared off.”
“Not yet you’re not,” Ben said from his spot near the barbecue, next to Dad. “You haven’t seen Ruby’s old photo album yet.”
“He knows I’m a Hanson fan, Ben,” I snapped.
“Oh that’s right, you’re a muso aren’t you?” Troy said, and Taylor nodded.
“Yeah, been in a band for the last twenty-one years,” he replied. This produced low whistles of awe from Troy, my sister-in-law Abbey and my brother-in-law Matthew. “We’re on a short break right now though – hitting the road again at the end of next month, during my winter break from TAFE.”
“What are you doing at TAFE?” Abbey asked.
“Working on my Cert Four in Design right now. Keeps me from getting bored between tours, plus it’ll be nice to have something other than my HSC under my belt.” He nudged me. “That’s how Ruby and I met. First day of TAFE for the year, she knocks me over outside the library with that wheelchair of hers.” Laughter rose up around the table at this. “We’ve been going out since St. Patrick’s Day.”
Taleah shifted her chair backward and leaned over to me. “Hey, at least he didn’t tell the story of how you fell on your arse right in front of him,” she whispered, and I stuck my tongue out at her.
“I still could tell that story,” Taylor said, his tone teasing. “But Ruby will belt me one so I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“Too right I will,” I said.
“All right, who’s hungry?” Dad called out, and we all looked over at the barbecue. Sitting on the low brick wall that halfway enclosed the barbecue were plates of sausages, steaks, chicken pieces, grilled tomatoes and fried onions. “Ben and Troy, help me get all of this inside,” Dad added, before picking up one of the plates and carrying it inside.
“Feel free to help yourself, Taylor,” Mum said as the rest of the adults got up from the table and began heading inside. She gave both Taylor and I a smile that we both readily returned.
Soon, I’d loaded a plate with various bits and pieces – a couple of sausages, some chicken, a generous serving of Mum’s potato bake and a handful of cherry tomatoes, among other things – and had gone back to my seat at the table outside. Taylor followed a few paces behind, his own plate laden with a bit of everything that had been set out on the kitchen bench and the dining table. “So where are you headed off on tour next, Taylor?” Mum asked as we all got started eating.
“Queensland,” Taylor replied. “New Zealand for a week after that – we’re planning on a longer NZ tour for the end of the year, probably sometime around the end of November.”
“Do you plan on going on tour again, Ruby?” Dad asked, and I nodded.
“If Dr. Marsden is okay with it,” I replied. “Not too sure about New Zealand yet, it depends on if I can get my passport renewed in time.” And if I can scrape together the application fee, I added silently.
“Better hurry up with that, then,” Taylor said. “It took nearly two months for me to get my new passport when I got it renewed last year.” He speared a cherry tomato with his fork and popped it into his mouth. “Their fault, not mine,” he added.
“It’s on my to-do list,” I assured him. “Along with a million other things, but it’s on there.”
Halfway down the table I heard Ben mumble something that I couldn’t quite make out, but that Taylor clearly did. The next thing I knew, he had stood up so fast that his chair had tipped over backwards, and he’d stalked off inside the house.
“Benjamin James McCormick, go to your room,” Mum ordered. “That was completely uncalled for and you know it!”
“No ‘but’s, young man! If I hear another peep out of you then you can forget about cricket training on Wednesday night!” Mum yelled. To me she said, “Go after him.”
It was clear to me who Mum was referring to, so I nodded and got up out of my seat. On my way to the front door I gave Ben a good hard whack to the back of his head. “You’re a real prick sometimes, Benjamin,” I snapped at him.
There weren’t many places to hide at my parents’, so it didn’t take me long to track Taylor down. He’d hidden himself away in the lounge room, not looking up from staring at his feet when I sat down on the lounge next to him. “I don’t think I like Ben,” he said after a few minutes of silence.
“I don’t like him much either, to be honest with you,” I said with a shrug. “What did he say anyway?”
“Fair enough.” I shifted myself around on the lounge so I was facing Taylor side-on, and studied him for a little while. “Ben’s going to be in his room for the rest of the night, if you want to go back outside,” I said cautiously, not entirely certain of how Taylor would react. “Or we can head off, it’s totally up to you. I don’t mind either way.”
“I don’t want to spoil things for your mum and dad,” Taylor started, but I shook my head.
“You won’t,” I assured him. “Ben always does this, it’s pretty much par for the course with him. Though I suspect this will be the last straw for Mum and Dad. I doubt they’ll tolerate this sort of bullshit from him for too much longer.” He looked over at me, and I gave him a smile. “Come on. I’m still hungry, and I bet you are too. Still haven’t worked out where you put it all, by the way.”
“Bottomless pit, remember?” he said as he got up from the lounge.
“Don’t say that around my mum. She probably already thinks you’re too skinny.” I let Taylor help me to my feet, reaching out to poke him in the ribs once I was standing. “Yeah, definitely too skinny.”
Ben was nowhere in sight, I discovered as Taylor and I returned to the backyard, and I let out a sigh of relief. “I apologise for my son’s behaviour, Taylor,” Dad said as he picked up my brother’s plate from the table. “He went too far this time. I’ll be having a word with him later on.” Taylor didn’t say a word, but merely nodded and went back to his seat.
“If Ben didn’t have half a foot and probably ten kilograms on me I’d belt him one,” Taleah said once I’d gone back to my dinner.
“Yeah, me too,” I agreed quietly.
I had just finished off the last of the potato bake on my plate when Troy tapped me on the shoulder. “Can I talk to you?” he asked quietly, and nodded toward the back fence. Without a word I popped the last of my cherry tomatoes in my mouth and followed him down to the end of the yard.
“What about?” I asked once we were out of everyone else’s earshot, and after I’d finished my tomato.
Troy didn’t say anything for a little while. “I approve,” he said finally. “He’s a good guy, Rue – I like him a lot.” He paused. “Even if he is a Hanson brother.”
“Don’t start that again,” I mumbled.
“I’m kidding, Ruby. I really do like him. He’s a lot different to what I expected. Just…be careful, all right?”
I didn’t even have to ask what Troy meant by this. Instead I nodded. “I will, Troy. I promise.”
Right as Troy went to head back to the table, I called after him. “Hey, Troy?”
He stopped walking right in the middle of the yard and looked back over his shoulder at me. “Yeah?”
Troy gave me a smile. “Anytime, Ruby.”