With each rendition of his Halloween party nightmare, the relentless audience increased the intensity of their ridicule. His mother sent him in a different post-costume outfit each time, curated from his sister's wardrobe. One particular outfit that burned into his memory was Shellie's maroon and black cheerleading dress, featuring purple socks and pink light-up tennis shoes. Taylor had long, curly hair with a flower barret. Mom had even taken the time to paint his fingernails fiery red.
Taylor woke abruptly as each rendition of his flashback played mercilessly through his dreams. In spite of the sweat encompassing his whole body, Taylor repeatedly forced himself back to sleep. Well into the morning hours, Taylor became more aware of the dampness of his pajama pants, followed by the puddle on his bed immediately beneath him. He came to the startling conclusion that it was not all sweat.
Taylor worked a part-time job as a computer technician. He preferred being in the back room, taking computers apart and wiping viruses from the machines to avoid interacting with customers. Unfortunately, while his boss was gone, Taylor was responsible for answering when customers came to visit. Erin Miller was one of the few regulars that were an exception to his aversion to people.
The Miller family moved to town a little under a year previously, in the middle of her senior year of high school. After graduating, she found a front desk position with the local printing shop. Her manager usually sent Erin to deliver and pick up misbehaving office equipment. While most of their interactions were professional, they could spend hours clogging up grocery store traffic, gabbing like school girls. She would have easily fit in with the small group of girls who befriended him in middle school, drug him out of his hermit shell, and carried him through high school.
Her visits were always the highlight of Taylor's day. Today, however, was an exception. Taylor dreaded the thought of Erin visiting today. He was not in a good state of mind. If she noticed something was amiss, she was sure to probe. His somber mood was not a can of worms he wanted to open with her. Twenty minutes before closing, the main door broke his already intermittent concentration. To his dismay, his suspicions were confirmed. Erin was coming up the stairs. He only had a brief moment to compose himself.
Taylor noticed an abnormally bright smile on her face when she saw him. Taylor hadn't even noticed, at first, that Erin wasn't carrying a computer. Instead, she was carrying a small package. Clearly, she had something important to share with him, but he could not bring himself to her level of optimism. Despite Taylor's meager attempt at converting his feelings with a forced smile, Erin stopped dead in her tracks.
“Is everything ok?” she asked. “Yeah, I suppose so; I didn’t sleep well last night, and it’s been a long day. I’m ready to go home.” Even such a short response consumed all his energy. “I’m sorry; I don’t want to bother you, but I do have some good news.” She replied more calmly. “I have been accepted to the college you attend. I know you had your heart set to stay here on the remote campus, but I was wondering if you would reconsider so we could ...” She had lost him entirely. Taylor could only muster: “That’s really great. I’ll think about it.” With that, she understood he was not in the mood to chat. "Well, I guess I’d better get going so I can close up the office. It’s always nice to see you. Let me know if I can help with anything". Erin placed a copy of her acceptance letter on the counter and slowly walked back down the stairs.