Haley and I became inseparable. If we weren’t in class together, we were catching up at lunch, usually in the music room, and we always sat next to each other on the bus home. We started writing songs together, playing music and goofing off. Sometimes Jared would join us on bass, but it wasn’t until senior year, when we were playing open mic nights around Nashville that we realised we had a good thing going.
Haley practically lived with us, especially over the summer months. It was becoming tradition on the last day of school to walk home together instead of take the bus. Mom and Dad would be waiting for us and we’d have a barbecue that evening. It was always sunny on the last day.
Tim would make a fire and we’d sit around, cook sausages, toast marshmallows and eat s’mores, and talk about how much fun we were going to have over the summer. For Haley and I, that usually meant writing more music.
Afterwards, we would all set up camp in the basement, watch movies until the early hours of the morning and eat chocolate, just because there was no school the next day. Tim would fall asleep eventually, but Haley and I would always stay awake to watch the sunrise from the roof of the garage.
We sat there quietly, the red tones of Haley’s hair illuminated in the sun’s glow. She caught me staring and smiled.
“We’re not going to be able to do this next year,” she said.
“We will, it’ll just be…”
“Different,” she finished and forced a weak smile.
“We’ll be thinking about our future, and making the most of the time we have left.”
She sighed. “Mom is really against us going to college together.”
“Whatever,” I shrugged. “That’s our decision.”
“I just feel like I’m not ready, you know?”
“I know.” She looked out at the rising sun again, and I wrapped my arm around her tightly. “I bet you wouldn’t mind getting away from your mom and John though?” I said.
“Yeah,” she whispered.
“It’s not fair that he treats you the way that he does. I know you don’t think so, but believe me he treats you like shit.”
“He doesn’t hit me,” she replied.
“It’s not about that.” I kept quiet because I didn’t want to argue with her. I didn’t want to ruin the moment. “I just hate him hurting you,” I muttered, picking at the holes in my jeans.
Haley laid her head on my shoulder, and I rested mine on top of hers. Haley was right, leaving wasn’t easy no matter what we had to face. Leaving meant change, just when everything was starting to make sense for us.
We stayed like that for a while. We would be thankful for another year in Franklin, pushing the thoughts of the last “last day” from our minds.
Mom closed the lounge door. I felt suffocated, smuggled blind, kicking and screaming into a situation that I had been trying to avoid. I hated confrontation, especially now. Haley and I had argued so much recently that I was sick of it. Haley paced the room, and I could see the rage in her eyes.
“You didn’t say anything, you just left.”
“I couldn’t do it, I thought you of all people would understand that,” I cried.
“I do, Taylor, but I thought something had happened to you.”
“I buried my father, that’s what happened.”
“I know this has been really tough for you, but if you had just… left a note… or -?”
“I just had to take some time out,” I insisted. My eyes were burning into hers, but not the way they usually did. “Things were getting… too hard.”
“I know that.”
“So why don’t you get off my back?” I could feel the heat rising from me.
“I’m not on your back.”
“Well, it feels just like that.”
“I know we’re not the same kids anymore, Taylor, but don’t treat me like a stranger.”
“I came down here because my boyf… my friend, my best friend, isn’t okay and that’s what friends do. What happened to night time walks around campus, or studying together after class or just playing music, like we used to.”
“We’re not those people anymore, Hales.”
Tears started welling in her eyes. “You haven’t called me that in a long time.”
“Jesus – I can’t do this -,”
“Why can’t you write music in front of me anymore, Taylor?” She asked. I couldn’t give her an answer no matter how hard I tried. “Is it because the songs are about me? The songs that we used to write together about our identity and friendship, about Franklin and us – do you remember that?” I avoided her gaze. “Are those songs we used to write now about me? Why did you push me away?”
“I don’t write music in front of you anymore because I can’t bear to – because everything has changed since then, Haley.” I took a breath, trying to work out everything that was going on in my mind.
“I didn’t mean to push you away.”
“I think ‘cut me out’ is a more appropriate phrase.”
I thought I hated her for that.
“It’s because I care about what you think of me,” I cried. “I care if I fail in front of you. For so long I’ve spent my time looking after you, and I cannot accept the fact that I need looking after too.”
Haley closed her eyes, and let a small tear fall onto her cheek. “I know that.” Her voice was dry, and she sniffed loudly. “I’m here for you.”
“I’m not okay…” I resigned myself to it. I couldn’t pretend anymore. “I needed to come home and be with my Mom. I can’t settle at college knowing she’s here on her own.”
“She has Tim.”
“I know, but Tim has his own family to think about.” I saw in Haley’s eyes that she knew how I felt. “I thought I could go back to college but I don’t think I can,” I said.
She nodded. “If you think the best thing to do is come home then…”
“I know,” I reassured her. “I never thought we’d be having this conversation either.”
“It just scares me that I have to do this without you,” she whispered, and stepped forward to wrap her arms around my waist. I rested my chin on the top of her head, inhaling her scent all over again. I felt a stab of guilt, but I couldn’t decide what was right. “Where are we now?” She asked, looking up at me.
“I’m always going to love you, Hales. That’s all I’ve got.” She nodded, and I kissed her forehead, then looking down at her. “I’ll take you home?”
Haley looked up at me again with her big eyes blinking back tears. A ghost of a smile crept onto her face.
“Alright,” she said.