Chapter Ten

Ashley pulled her legs up to her chest and stared at the pavement.

"Okay babe. What's going on? For the past few hours, you've been acting like you don't want to be with me. What's wrong?" Taylor turned his body so that he could face her.

She laid her chin on her knees, trying to ignore the hurt look on his face. "I do want to be with you Tay. I love you. I...just...I don't know what's wrong with me," she lied in a hushed voice.

He put his arm around her shoulders. He heard her wince slightly and withdrew his arm from her shoulders quickly and picked at the grass growing between the tiles. "You don't even like me touching you anymore. What's goin..." he stopped when he noticed a dark spot on her shoulder.

"Zac, where did Ash and Taylor go?" Dawn whispered, looking around the dark theater.

Zac shrugged. "I don't know. I didn't see them leave. Maybe they're on the floor...hey, let's follow the leader," he grinned.

Dawn slapped his shoulder and stood up. "Behave."

His grin widened as he followed her out the double door. "Do I have to?"

She rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand, leading him out of the lobby of the theater. They walked outside and looked around.

"There they are." Zac said, pointing.

They walked over to their siblings.

"What's going on?" Dawn asked as they approached.

Taylor looked up at them. "Um, I'm going to walk Ashley home. You two go back inside and finish the movie. We have to talk."

Dawn looked over at her sister. She bit her lip when she noticed the tears in her eyes. Oh no, she thought, he must be going to break up with her. "Uh, come on Zac. Let's go."

He nodded, feeling awkward. He grabbed her hand again and walked her back inside.

Taylor waited until they were gone before he spoke again. He stood up and reached for her hands to help her up. "Come on. I'll walk you home," he whispered.

Ashley gently took his hands and let him pull her up and tightened her grip on his hand.

He was surprised, and very much relieved, when he felt her fingers intertwine with his. Maybe she does still love me after all, he thought hopefully as they headed in the direction of Ashley's home.

"Do you think they're going to break up?" Zac asked as they walked back to their seats.

Dawn sighed. "I hope not. Ashley loves him so much. I don't know what she would do if he broke up with her."

"Same for Taylor. He drove me crazy while we were in Europe talking about her. Of course, I probably drove him crazy talking about you, too, but he deserved it. Besides, I have to talk about you if I'm not talking to you."

Dawn smiled and kissed his ear. "Shh. Let's watch the movie."

Taylor and Ashley walked down the dark, familiar streets, hand in hand.

"I'm sorry for how I've been acting lately." she whispered, feeling guilty. This is all my fault.

"What's been going on?" he asked her gently.

She sighed. What can I tell him? I can't tell him the truth. "Well for one, my 'friend' is here."

He groaned, interrupting her.

She stopped walking and stood in front of him, causing him to almost run into her. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Tay." she leaned her head on his chest and cried softly.

Taylor closed his eyes and held her to him tightly. He rubbed her back slowly, trying to calm her. Opening his eyes, he noticed the bruise on her shoulders again. "Where'd the bruise come from?" he asked again, moving the shoulder of her shirt so he could get a closer look at it.

Ashley thought quickly. "Cheerleading practice. Kelley was standing on my shoulders."

He lightly kissed her shoulder and moved the shirt back in place. "But she's like way bigger than you. She weighs like twenty pounds more than you. I thought the lighter girls were supposed to be on top."

She shrugged and leaned against him again, closing her eyes, hoping Taylor wouldn't see the pain in them. "It doesn't matter. It's whoever Coach Stephenson chooses. We have no say," she leaned her cheek on his chest and listened to his heart beat. She was starting to feel safe in his arms again.

"I love you Ashley." Taylor whispered in her ear, just before lightly kissing the soft skin of her earlobe.

Hot tears sprang to her eyes. He had said I love you to her many times, but the way he had just said it made it seem different, more special. Maybe it was the way his voice slightly squeaked, or maybe it was the way he was holding her, like if he let go, she would disappear.

"I love you, too, Taybear."

He smiled and wiped the tears from her eyes with his thumbs. "Come on," he whispered. "let's go to your house."

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