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Defending Taylor
Author: Miranda Kenneally



   When I was a little girl, Dad installed a gumball machine in our house. But instead of just giving me the candy, I had to pay for it by doing chores.

   Now I’m seventeen, and Dad hasn’t changed one bit. If I want a new purse, I start saving my allowance. My father made his own way in life and expects the same of me. He loves drilling mantras into my head: I will work hard at everything I do. I will model integrity and compassion. I will lead by example.

   I will fully support his Senate reelection campaign.

   To be honest, I don’t see him much. Only on parents’ weekend and holidays. His secretary schedules his rare visits to St. Andrew’s, my boarding school, so I know when my parents will be rolling onto campus. I know in advance to yank my plaid uniform skirt down a few inches and pull my sock up over my bluebird ankle tattoo.

   I tell Ben not to hang around.

   He is here on scholarship, and my mother never hesitates to let me know I can do better. Taylor, why don’t you spend time with Charles Harrington? The governor speaks highly of his nephew.

   Mom wants me to date somebody with “proper breeding,” as if I’m a horse or we live in Regency England.

   But it doesn’t matter what she thinks. I adore the boy who came over to congratulate me after I scored the winning goal against Winchester and then asked me to homecoming.

   I love my school in the mountains surrounded by thick green trees and blue skies. I love Card House—the dorm I share with the fourteen other girls on my soccer team—where every night, I sit down to lasagna or beef stew with a black lab named Oscar curled up at my feet.

   I won’t lie—this school is tough. It kicks everybody’s ass. I study and study and study. I probably spend more time on homework than sleeping.

   But who cares? St. Andrew’s is my favorite place in the world.



After I Fall

   Mom hates coffee.

   She won’t keep the stuff in the house. She claims it will make my skin sallow and my bones brittle, but I can’t function without a cup every morning. So I stop for a fix on the way to my new school. The windows are rolled down, the cool wind is tangling my hair, and I pretend I’m driving to the beach for a vacation.

   I smile at the dream, but my body knows the truth. My fingers are clenched around the steering wheel.

   Last week, I was worrying about normal stuff: homework, a soccer game against Hamilton County, college applications, a tough math test. The list went on and on and on.

   This week? Everything’s changed.

   I park my Buick in the lot of Donut Palace. After everything that’s happened, I’m surprised my parents let me keep the car. Dad wanted to take it away, but Mom defended me, saying, “Edward, she’s a senior! It would embarrass me if Taylor had to walk to school or take the bus.” Mom shuddered at the idea of public transportation, while Dad rolled his eyes.

   At least my car probably won’t stick out at my new school. Although other kids at St. Andrew’s drove Porsches and Bimmers, Dad bought me a used car that was older than the dinosaurs. With its dark-green paint, it even looked like one. Everyone teased me, calling it the Beastly Buick or the Beast for short. I laughed and shrugged it off because that’s my dad.

   Yeah, he’s the senior senator from Tennessee, but he’s all about being true to his roots.

   He expected that of me too, and I let him down.

   I climb out of the car and open the door to the little café. Intoxicating scents of coffee and cinnamon lace the air. I examine the menu. Dark roast or hazelnut? I normally drink lattes, but it’s going to be a long day, and I need as much help (caffeine) as I can get. I decide on dark roast.

   The barista takes my order and fills a paper cup with steaming coffee, then hands it to me. I walk to the sugar station, and as I’m slapping a Splenda packet against my hand, a Hispanic guy wearing a Santiago’s Landscaping T-shirt walks up and begins pouring skim milk into his cup. I watch him out of the corner of my eye, admiring his buzzed dark hair, easy smile, and lean, muscular body that must spend a lot of time hauling big bags of mulch. He catches me checking him out.

   “Hi,” he says.

   “Hi.” I don’t meet his eyes because I don’t want to give him the impression I’m interested. I reach for the half-and-half and start pouring it into my cup, accidentally knocking my plastic lid on the floor.

   “Want me to get you a new lid?” the guy asks.

   I bend down to pick it up, then wipe it on my jeans. I shake my head. “No need. Five-second rule.”

   That makes him smile. “I haven’t seen you in here before.”

   “I never come in here.” Because I haven’t lived in Franklin in years.

   “What’s your name?”

   He leans toward me, and I inhale sharply, ignoring his question. I can’t lie to myself. Landscaper Guy is completely my type—well, he would’ve been my type when I was dating. After Ben, I am not anxious to get involved with a guy again.

   Love is just not worth the pain.

   “I’ve got a little time,” he starts. “Do you want to sit—”

   “Gotta go.” I rush out the door, careful not to spill my hot coffee. Tomorrow, I’ll have to pick a different café so I don’t risk running into the cute landscaper.

   Maybe I need a mantra. No. More. Boys.

   • • •

   I now understand culture shock: it’s me experiencing Hundred Oaks High for the first time.

   A lot of kids go here. Five hundred? A thousand? There are so many I can’t tell. At St. Andrew’s, there were only forty kids in my entire class. We lived on a calm, sprawling, green campus. Walking down the halls of Hundred Oaks feels like last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall.

   Two guys wearing football jerseys are throwing a ball back and forth. It whizzes by my ear. A suspender-clad male teacher is hanging a poster for the science fair, while a couple is making out against the wall next to the fire alarm. If they move another inch, they’ll set off the sprinklers. At St. Andrew’s, kissing in the hall was an über no-no. We snuck under the staircase or went out into the woods. Ben and I did that all the time.

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