Austin wasn’t going to take the stage for another 45 minutes, but as I peeked out from stage left at the seats of Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, there were thousands of fans out there already, a sea of red dotted with waving signs and sparkly dresses, the crowd kaleidescoping into new patterns as I watched. All of these fans, these friends, were the ultimate homecoming to Pennsylvania.  

I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see my mom. “Taylor, I want to introduce you to someone.” 

Mom motioned to two people, a woman and a girl who looked about 11, and had a short blondish-brown pixie cut. She sported a red and white polka dot dress, cowboy boots, and a huge smile. “This is Aimee Hurlock and her mom, Adriana.”

“Hi Aimee! Thanks so much for coming out to the show tonight. I’ll try to make it a good one.”

“Aimee is a musician too,” said Mom. “She told me she was in the hospital for Leukemia treatment for six months, and her musical therapist helped her write a song for you.”

“It’s like ‘Love Story,’” piped up Aimee. “And it’s about the time I almost got to hug you at a concert, but someone pulled my hair so I got out of the way and so I missed you when you went by.”

“Yikes! Well, you should definitely come get that hug then,” I said, holding out my arms. “It’s long overdue.” I squeezed her as tight as I could.  

“Are you going to play ‘The Last Time’ tonight? I know you don’t normally, but maybe for the special song?” asked Aimee.

“’Fraid not. It feels a bit weird doing that one onstage without Gary, since he was such a big part in writing it. But you know what, I think we could play it now.” I grabbed a backup guitar and played the opening notes, then stopped. “But this is a duet. Do you know the words?"

Aimee beamed. “Every single one!”

I played the opening notes again, and gave her a nod, and Aimee began:

Found myself at your door,
Just like all those times before,
I’m not sure how I got there,
All roads they lead me here
.”

Hearing Aimee, a small 11-year-old girl, sing the words was somehow startling — so sweet, so vulnerable. It reminded me of how I felt hearing the words for the first time, when Gary Lightbody sang them to me.

***

We were at Jacknife Lee’s house, and I was staring out the window at the riot of mountains and trees, trying not to be incredibly nervous. Here I was at the house of the guy who produced not only Snow Patrol, but U2 and R.E.M. Bono could have stood in this very spot and looked out this very window. And while I usually liked to come to a meeting prepared, this time I’d come without any ideas. I didn’t want this to be a Taylor Swift song featuring Gary, I wanted it to be a real collaboration. But what if I couldn’t come up with anything on the spot? Would they think I wasn’t serious enough? I should have tried harder to get Ed to come — he’s the one who knows Gary, not me.

“Hey Taylor, why don’t you come in and we’ll get started,” called Gary from the living room.

I took a deep breath. This wasn’t that different from writing on my bedroom floor. And Gary had asked to write for the record, after all.

When I entered the living room, Gary was at the grand piano, that, you know, everyone’s casually got in their living room. Jacknife had his feet kicked up on the oversized cream couch and was cleaning his glasses on his shirt.    

 I sat down on the floor near Jacknife, stretching my long legs out and leaning against the couch. One floor was as good as another, right?

“So I’ve been playing around with this progression, and I like it,” said Gary, playing a through a G, A, B-minor, D progression a couple times.

“It’s good,” said Jacknife, scribbling the chords on a notepad. “Reminds me of a slow march — like when every step seems heavy, slow-motion. A good opening. You could reverse it for the chorus, maybe kick it up a bit with some drums and electric, maybe some violins for extra drama.”

I almost didn’t hear what he was saying though, since my own heart had started racing: I had an image in my mind that just might work. It started with a door.

“You know what those chords make me picture?” I stood up, and started walking across the room, staring at the hardwood floor. “A guy kneeling in the snow in front of a door. He’s begging his girlfriend to take him back. But not for the first time. He’s saying, ‘This is the last time I’m going to do this to you.’ And on the other side, the girl is leaning against the door, listening, wondering if she should give him just one more chance.”

“Like the inside of a tiny, sad snowglobe,” said Gary. “But in a good way. Fragile, but beautiful too. I like it.”

Gary played the opening chords again, and each one felt like a slow, thudding heartbeat. Hearing them snapped me back to Jake, to L.A., to all the second guessing and second chances, to those long, agonizing moments of doubt, when all I wanted was to take him back, but I didn’t know if I’d even be able to. Love always seemed to deserve one more chance, but sometimes people didn’t.

As Gary started to play the progression again, those memories and feelings turned into words and I sang,

“You find yourself at my door,
Just like all those times before,
You wear your best apology,
But I was there to watch you leave.”

“We could have the guy and the girl each sing a verse,” said Gary. “The two sides of the door, you know?”

“With some nice duets for the chorus,” added Jacknife, “and some call and response to get the back and forth.”

“I love it,” I said. “Jacknife, can I borrow your notepad?” The lyrics were close. I just had to go back and let in all the hurt and confusion and the love, especially the love. Just one last time.

***

We finished the song and the few dancers and roadies who had come to watch all applauded. Aimee grinned. I gave her a huge high five and we posed as her mom took a picture on her iPhone.

Mika, my tour manager, turned the corner, said “Found her” into her headset, and then turned to me. “Taylor, we need you in makeup, asap.”

“Be there in a second,” I said. I took Aimee by the hand and guided her to where I’d been watching the crowd. I leaned down and said quietly, “When I was your age I sang the anthem at a 76ers game, right here in Philadelphia. And now I get to look out every night and see this. Keep writing songs, Aimee. Anything can happen.” I gave her one more hug, then left her still staring out at the audience, dreaming.

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