Title: A Change of Grace
Chapter: 12 of 41
Excerpt: Josh felt exasperation settling on him again. Over and over again, a perfectly simple idea would set Taylor’s face into that puzzled, blank stare, and typical to form, the word “betrothal” had done it. “Yes Taylor, betrothal. Marriage? I assume you’ve heard of marriage? People DO marry where you’re from, don’t they?” “Well you don’t have to be so snotty about it. I didn’t know you were gonna get married, that’s all.” “Well… I don’t want to. And not to Grace, Good God, she’s all the fun of a heap of cow dung.” “Josh!” Taylor couldn’t stop the snort of horrified laughter.
Taylor sighed, impulsively slinging an arm around the boy’s shoulders, as they walked toward Josh’s home. “You’re scowling so bad it looks like the top of your head’s gonna just peel back and fall off.” Josh nodded, sighing himself, leaning a little into Taylor. “I know… you just… I just hate this, Taylor.”
He shook off Taylor’s arm and plopped down onto a bench. “I’m sixteen! It’s up to ME to decide what I want, Taylor, not HIM… Good God how can you sit like that?” “What…” Taylor had adopted a typical perch for him, sitting up on the back of the bench, feet on the seat. In 90’s NY, you never knew what might be on the seat… “What, it’s totally comfortable.” “If you say so…” “How come they want you to get a job so soon, anyway?” “Soon?” Josh shot him a puzzled glance. “It’s really not soon. It’s late, in fact. And a lot of it is Grace.” “Grace?” Josh rolled his eyes, and his expression grew, impossibly, even more gloomy. “They say her family is going to annul the betrothal if I don’t “show that I’m going to make something of myself”. I have to be able to provide for her, and they don’t think I can do that now. They won’t be happy until I’m slaving 12 hours a day behind an ink ball.” “Betrothal?”
“Mmm… oh, what Taylor?!”
Josh felt exasperation settling on him again. Over and over again, a perfectly simple idea would set Taylor’s face into that puzzled, blank stare, and typical to form, the word “betrothal” had done it. “Yes Taylor, betrothal. Marriage? I assume you’ve heard of marriage? People DO marry where you’re from, don’t they?” “Well you don’t have to be so snotty about it. I didn’t know you were gonna get married, that’s all.” “Well… I don’t want to. And not to Grace, Good God, she’s all the fun of a heap of cow dung.” “Josh!” Taylor couldn’t stop the snort of horrified laughter. “That’s not very nice, geez!” “Well it’s true!” “So if you don’t like her, why are you gonna marry her?” “Because she’s my intended! Taylor, what is it that’s confounding you?!” “Why you’re engaged to someone you don’t love…” “Love? What does that have to do with it? This has been arranged since we were children…” “Arranged?” “Taylor…” Josh’s face became stern. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to suggest someone have you put away as simple. These are basic facts of life, and you’re acting like I’m speaking Japanese.” Taylor’s discomfort was acute, now, and he felt a flush creeping into his face. He was blowing it, and blowing it bigtime. Shaking his head, he slouched down onto the bench seat, feigning fascination with a passing pigeon. “They just don’t arrange marriages around where I live, Josh. I’m not simple…” “Taylor, you live in a very strange place.” “Yeah… I guess some people would think so. I like it though… Josh, can’t you just tell them you don’t want to marry her?” “No… well yes, and I have, but it’s just not the way things are done. Although her family is outraged at my “outlandish behavior” and ready to call the whole thing off.” “Well then, if you don’t want to marry her, and her family is fixing to cancel, why are you so bummed out?” “What?!” “Why…” Taylor sighed, ready to rip his own tongue out, “Are you so down about it? You don’t want to get married, they’re going to annul it, you should be happy.” Josh’s face became incredulous, leaving Taylor to wonder what on earth he’d done now. “Happy? Happy?!?! Taylor! If they annul, I’m a disgrace. I shame my family, I become a scandal…” “Oh… oh well geez, sorry. I guess I don’t understand how you do things around here.” “I guess you don’t.” Brooding, the boys sat, each lost in his own thoughts, for a time. “Josh, what’s she like? Is she pretty?” “Who?” “Grace…” Josh pondered it, brows knit together. “To be honest with you, I don’t know. She’s just Grace. I’ve never really looked at her…” “Well why don’t you like her?” “She’s just… she’s just no fun, Taylor! She’s… she won’t smile, she won’t laugh, she does nothing other than cook, and sew, and embroider…” Taylor rolled his eyes, grinning. “How exciting…” “I know. She never goes out, won’t go anyplace I like to go, all she does is go to church. She’s so prim and so proper… and so, so, so decent! I can’t imagine spending my whole life with a woman like that! And even if I could, I’m not ready to be married and have children! I just don’t… oh hell.” Taylor shook his head, completely unable to empathize, full of sympathy. The very thought of having his life planned that way horrified him. “Come on Taylor, if we want to eat before the show tonight, we better start walking.”
Together, the boys fell into step, Taylor’s apprehension growing with every footfall. If it was this hard to talk to just Josh, how was he ever going to deal with his family?
Taylor looked around, confused. He’d felt pretty at home, on his trek through the city, en route to Josh’s. Oh, it seemed a woefully tiny NY, compared to what he was used to, and every step held a plethora of rude shocks. The absence of familiar landmarks continued to hit him like a fist in the gut, and he despaired ever getting used to it. How could so much he’d come to know just be gone? His rational mind, playing on very thin ice, knew that his beloved city was not gone, simply not built yet, but something more instinctive, more basic, screeched “GONE!” every time he blinked his eyes. Still, the streets were all where they belonged, and he wasn’t having any trouble finding his way around. He’d taken some small comfort in the knowledge that Madison Square Garden was still there, and Penn station. The trains all still ran. He’d felt on somewhat steady ground, until Josh halted him, proudly pointing. “That is the Knickerbocker, THAT is where I live. It’s the finest co-op in the city!”
Taylor gazed up, in stupefied wonder, and a sparkling, new, and very lovely building. A building he knew, in his own time, was not there. “How could it not last even that long, if it’s new now?” He felt uneasiness swarming over him, the sudden eerieness of the situation sinking in. This building that Josh called home, was so unabashedly proud of, that was obviously intended to be there forever, wouldn’t last three generations. New now, it would be long in its grave before Taylor was even born. And so, he realized, the fingers of uneasiness running up his back, would Josh be. “Oh God…” He glanced at the boy beside him, someone he was quickly coming to think of as a friend, alive and moving, animated, flushed, the prickle of nerves over dealing with his family showing in his manner… trying to banish the thoughts of “Dead and gone. He’s dead already…” Unreality made his head swim, and he grabbed the banister, suddenly woozy. “Hey, what is it? You alright?” Josh’s hand reached to steady him, and absolute horror, for a moment, sank into Taylor. He shook off the hand, backing up too quickly, bumping into the wall of the building that shouldn’t have been there. “Just don’t touch me, Josh, just don’t.” “What…” Concerned, Josh stepped toward him again. What was this? Taylor’s hand came up, warning him away. “Just stay there!” “Okay… I’m staying.” Josh’s eyes were dark with worry. What exactly was going on? Still, there was no doubt in his mind that if he went anywhere near Taylor, he’d be wearing one more bruise. Shaking his head, questioning the wisdom of ever having spoken to Taylor, he fished his tobacco tin from his pocket, and sat down on the steps, pretending to occupy himself rolling his cigarette. Taylor watched, struggling to calm down, to dispel the image of the walking dead that suddenly filled him. “He’s not dead. He’s right there, he’s alive… YOU are not born yet. You are the one who doesn’t belong here… God…” The panicky feeling wasn’t backing off, and he shut his eyes, fingers pressing into the rough block of the wall behind him. “It’s real, you can feel it. Here, in this time, it’s supposed to be here. You’re out of your time, just calm down…” He opened his eyes again, daring to look at Josh. “Ghosts don’t smoke. He’s right there. He’s alive, and he has his whole life to live. You have to get a grip.” He looked down at his hands, feeling them shake. “God I’m making a huge scene.” Taking a deep breath, fighting to dispel the adrenaline rush that had seized him, he stepped away from the wall, knowing that no matter what he may be feeling, he had to knock it off. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to sit next to Josh, not able to look at him. “You alright now?” He nodded, silent. He still felt the creepy sensation of being in a world filled with the dead. Added to that, he felt pretty stupid for freaking out the way he had. “What happened?” Taylor glanced sideways at his friend, shrugging. “I don’t know. Ignore me. My head fell apart for a minute.” “Yeah, I noticed.” He held out the smoke, and Taylor, for just a moment, was tempted to take it. The thought of Josh having to pick his choking form up off the sidewalk didn’t appeal to him, though, and he shook his head. “I’m really sorry about that… I just… I’m not used to it here…” “I know. You know Taylor… you’re very strange. Very odd. There’s just something about you…” Taylor looked up at him, their eyes met, and for just a moment a sensation of telepathy so strong it was palpable flooded Josh. In this strange boy’s eyes he could see, could feel, the enormous distance… so far from home… so alone… not only miles, but years, ages, apart from everything he knew and loved. Images filled his mind for a moment, of soaring buildings touching the very sky, glittering facades of glass and steel, smoke, noise… people. Shaking his head, suddenly dizzy, he struggled to pull his eyes away, unable to do it. Crushing loneliness, fear of failure, of consequences unknown and terrifying. In that moment, understanding took him over, and he felt tears in his eyes, for this person next to him, separated by a distance his mind couldn’t comprehend. An eyeblink later it was gone, the sudden odd images, the unearthly knowledge. His eyes, glazed and unfocused, cleared, and he shook his head again, not sure what had just happened. Sudden pain made him yelp, and he looked down, jumping, dropping the burning butt end of the cigarette as it touched the pad of his finger. “Oh my goodness, where was I?” Laughing a little at himself, yet taking care to hold the lingering afterimages of whatever had just happened, he stood up. “Alright Taylor, your strangeness is contagious. Let’s get inside before they come take us away to the lunatic asylum.” Taylor watched him for a moment, trying to get a grasp on what had occurred, pulled himself up on the railing, and trailed Josh through the front door. He had the feeling the stakes had just been raised… considerably.
Josh looked around the quiet kitchen. “Ma’s not in here… Taylor why don’t you sit down, you look a little unsteady.” He himself felt as queasy as Taylor looked, but he wasn’t about to give in to it. He nodded as Taylor sat, still looking dazed and sleepy, and moved to the doorway, finding himself loath to turn his eyes from the boy. “Ma..?” He heard nothing, and raised his voice a little. “Ma, could you come in here? I’d like you to meet my…” His eyes connected with Taylor’s again. “…my friend.” On the word friend, it happened again, that fleeting brush with he knew not what. Brief glimpse of a long haired boy with curly brown hair, flash of anger and sadness so acute it was pain. And then gone. Shaking, he sat across from Taylor, who’s gaze was vaguely guilty. “Your brother?” His voice was barely audible. Taylor nodded, unable to speak, unable to understand why this was happening. “How are you doing that?” Taylor shook his head, forcing his voice to work. “I don’t know.” “Can you stop it?” Ghost of a whisper now, “I don’t know…” He felt fear boiling up in him again, and dropped his head into his hands. This had to stop. Whatever it was, it had to stop.
Josh, who felt much the same, nodded, eyeing Taylor warily. The urge to bolt and simply leave him sitting there was almost overwhelming. “I just need a moment, just a moment, I have to collect myself somehow…” Inspiration hit a second later, and he shoved his chair back. “I’m going to go find my Ma, wait here, alright?” Taylor nodded, silent, and laid his head on his crossed arms. He knew he should leave, this was no good. Whatever was going on, it was beyond his control. Wondering, vaguely hostile in his pondering, if he were being somehow controlled by the two back at the Dakota, he started to push his chair back. It would be just as well if he weren’t here when Josh came back in. His motion ceased abruptly when he felt something grab his leg. “What in the…” He started to look under the table, wincing as the hand grabbed hold of pant material, and the skin underneath. “Ow! Hey who is that?!? He extracted his leg, looking down, seeing very tiny fingers, attached to an equally tiny arm. “Oh…” Grinning, his black mood suddenly lifting, he scooped up the infant, who’d taken it into her head to use him as a ladder. “Where did you come from?” The baby chortled delightedly, and made a playful swipe at his face. He backed away quickly, experience with baby nails having honed his reflexes. He twined a finger around in one of her blond curls, feeling tears welling up in his eyes. She was so much like Zoe… The tears in his eyes were abruptly those of pain, as the child, undaunted by the cap on his head, reached up and helped herself to a handful of hair. “Ow, ow, ow baby girl, lemme have my hair back…” He laughed, wincing. He’d no sooner untangle one little hand, when the other would take its place. The snick of the door behind him made him turn, one baby hand entwined in his hair, the other trying to remove his face. His eyes fell on a tightlipped, disapproving face, and he stood up immediately, still trying to extricate his hair from the child’s hand. His eyes met Josh’s, and he caught the other boy’s slight nod. Smiling, wincing, eyes watering, Taylor nodded. “Hi, I’m Taylor…” The woman’s lips whitened, and she held her arms out for her daughter. The very last thing she cared to do was meet another of Josh’s useless wastrel friends. Taylor laughed, helplessly, in spite of the woman’s obvious disapproval. “I’d give her back, but I’m sort of attached… she’s got my hair…” He tried again to disentangle himself, as the baby grabbed his lip with her free hand and pulled. Beside him, in spite of herself, Josh’s mother burst into laughter. “Oh my goodness, you’re in need of rescue. You get the lip, I’ll get the hair…” Mentally thanking the child for heading off a potentially unpleasant meeting, Taylor nodded, gently removing the tiny nails from his mouth, still laughing. God she was cute. Now keep hold of that hand, or she’ll just grab you again.” “I know, I have a little sister this age… thank you!” He laughed as she finally pried the babies fingers from his hair, and lifted her into her arms. “What’s her name?” “Ellie… I’m Sarah Gage, Josh’s mother.” He took the hand she held out, briefly, and sat back down at Josh’s signal.
Josh reached absently into the sack of beans, snapping them unthinkingly as he listened to the easy conversation between Taylor and his mother. His initial impulse, to jump in and stop her interrogation, had been deflected by an amused grin, and an “I don’t mind Josh” from Taylor. Now, he was glad he hadn’t. Taylor’s answers to her questions about his family, his brothers and sisters, were filling in a lot of gaps in the mystery that was this strange new friend. His mother liked him, he could see that. He wasn’t particularly deferential to her, instead rather absently polite and matter of fact, showing evidence of a completely different upbringing. His Ma had seemed puzzled at first, then charmed, at the boy’s odd mannerisms. His speech had her baffled though. Josh knew she was understanding perhaps a third of everything he said. Still, the conversation flowed easily, Taylor’s eyes showing his genuine interest in everything Sarah had to say. Sighing a little, wishing he could still talk to his Ma that way, Josh dropped his eyes. There had been a time… it seemed long ago… that the two of them had talked for hours, about everything under the sun. Now… she nagged, he defied. When had it happened? And why? Why had she changed? As the conversation flowed on, and the bean bowl filled, realization came to Josh. The things she was saying to Taylor, her manner with him, were as they had always been. “It’s not her who’s changed, is it?” The thought ran round his head. “It’s me who’s changed…” Sighing again, he ran his hands through his hair, and absently chewed a bean.
“Hey can I have one of those?” Josh jumped a little, and turned, the sight of his sister immediately annoying him. “Yeah, so what am I, your slave?” The girl rolled her eyes, and made a face. “You don’t have to be such a…” “Louise!” “Sorry Ma…” She reached over Joshua’s hands and took a bean, grinning at Taylor. “I’m Louise.” “I’m Taylor.” He reached to shake her hand, making her giggle. “That’s an odd name.” “Louise!” Her mother’s voice held a note of exasperation. “Well it is, it sounds like a surname. You have very long hair, don’t you?” Taylor nodded. He liked this kid, she spoke her mind. “Yep I do. I like it that way. You really think my name is weird?” She nodded, picking up the brush she’d carried in, resuming the struggle she’d been in, to fix her hair. “Yes I do. Very odd. Ma I can’t get this plaited… would you help?” Sarah looked helplessly around. Her lap was full of baby, her hands full of beans. Scowling, Louise circled around the table, determined her mother should help her now, regardless of how many new hands she had to grow to do it. Josh rolled his eyes and reached for the brush… “Lou she’s busy, go do your hair somewhere else.” “Well I can’t, can I, or I wouldn’t have asked! Will you help me?” “Me? Plait your hair?” He snorted, and tossed the brush to Taylor, in an effort to keep it away from his sister. “Josh! That wasn’t funny, Ma make him give it back!” Taylor, who had been entertaining visions of Josh’s mom dropping the baby into the bean bowl, while trying to brush hair, shook himself alert, and held up the brush. “Hang on, just chill a minute, what do you want to do to your hair?” He could see the full scale fight that was about to break out, and wanted no part of hostilities. “I already SAID I want to plait it.” Not quite knowing what she meant, he glanced, puzzled, at Josh, who groaned at the thought that there was another idea that Taylor just couldn’t grasp. “Plait it Taylor, plait it. You know, like that??” He reached across the table, earning a moo of disapproval from his mother, and tugged on Taylor’s tail. “You know? Plait it???” Taylor shook his head, laughing. “Oh… for crying out loud.” Lou, who hadn’t noticed the long braid in the boy’s hair, squealed in delighted amazement. “Oh my! Oh look at it!” He sighed, not sure any of this was a good thing, and plucked the brush back from her fingers. “Turn around.” She did, obediently, giggling as she felt his fingers braiding her hair. Joshua’s mother, far from giggling, stared open mouthed. “My goodness, you know how to plait hair!” Taylor nodded, eyes on what he was doing. “I have sisters with a lot of hair. We all learned how to do it, saves a lot of time in the mornings if it’s not just our mom who’s fixing hair. Oh and Lou…” His voice took on an amused tone. “My name’s actually Jordan. Is that better?” She giggled again, and nodded. “Why do you call yourself Taylor, then?” “My mom started doing that. It’s my middle name.” “Some sort of family name, then?” This from Sarah, who was still beside herself with wonder at the perfect French braid that was being created beside her. “I don’t know, maybe. But all the boys use their middle names. It’s just something my mother does… there…” He tied off the braid with the ribbon she’d handed back to him. “You’re done…” She smiled, thanking him prettily, stuck her tongue out at Josh, and flounced out of the room, her parting shot none to sweet. “Josh, I like your friend a whole lot better than I like YOU…”
Josh peered into the glass, smiling a little. This would do, yes… He ran a brush through his hair, thinking about Taylor’s. “I wonder how I’d look…” The image of the curly haired boy came back to him, and he realized that the boy had resembled him strongly. Taylor’s brother… how had he DONE that? That kind of thing just didn’t happen, not in the real world. Frowning, he straightened his collar, shoving the disturbing thought aside. Taylor had surely got on well with his family. Better than he did. Sighing a little, he thought about it. Taylor’s easy rapport with his Ma, his siblings, and even his Da, as impossible as he’d thought that, echoing the one he’d had at one time. Their questions, so intrusive to Josh’s ears, not bothering Taylor one whit. Their ideas, so boring and unimportant to Josh, endlessly fascinating to Taylor. He’d given what they had to say his full attention, as if it had truly been important to him. There was a time, he remembered, when his family had been important to him. He knew there had. Now though, they were only an obstacle, in his way, trying to cram their archaic ways of living down his throat. Or were they? He turned away from the mirror, looking for his boots. “Maybe I’m too hard on them…” The thought that his family meant well, and had his best interests at heart, floated through for a moment. Was it possible? Were they only concerned, rather than controlling him? He shook his head. He didn’t know. He did know that he missed them. He’d been close to his parents, and his brothers and sisters at one time… and watching Taylor, over dinner, he realized he wanted it back. But how to fix it? His eyes lit for a moment on the book on his nightstand, and he picked it up. Jules Verne. He laughed and flipped it open, the futuristic drawings of carriages without horses catching his eye. The future. Eyes darkening with suspicious knowledge, he looked toward the door. Taylor was out there, with his family. Was he from Oklahoma, as he had said? Here visiting friends? Or was he from… his eyes turned back to the book, and he snapped it shut, flinging it aside. That was stupid, that was. There was no such thing as time travel, and people didn’t read peoples minds. The whole thing had been an hallucination of some sort. That was all. Shoving the whole thing out of his head, he took one last look at himself, nodded in approval, and turned out the light. If they wanted time to rehearse, they’d better go soon.
The two boys made their way along the sidewalks, full of revelers ready for a night’s pleasure, each lost in their own thoughts. Taylor, replaying his time with Josh’s family, could easily see why Josh was always at odds with his Da… they had completely opposite outlooks for Josh’s future. He imagined if his dad felt that way, he’d be pretty frustrated too. Yet, he could see Mr. Gage’s point. In this day and age, making a living by singing wasn’t the thing to do, it was a dream at best. Heck, even in his own time, with enormous record company backup, and big money associated with the entertainment business, it was still a dream, and a risk. His own dad was always telling them to make sure they had a full education, you never knew what the future might bring, and look at the success they’d had! Sighing, he thought of Samuel Gage, tough, no nonsense, wanting the best for his family, yet clinging to the old ways… and he saw bits of Josh in there. Josh was a lot like his father, stubborn, opinionated, and positive he knew best. They loved each other though, he could see that. And he could see the frustration. Josh and his family had lots of issues to work out, that’s for sure. Shaking his head, his own part of the nights conversations coming back to him, he wondered how much damage he’d done. He knew he had to start thinking before speaking. Knew it, tried, but God, there was just so much he didn’t know! The whole family had stared at him, dumbfounded, as he made dumb comment after dumb comment. How was he to know that boys didn’t offer to help with dishes? His mom always threatened to skin them alive if they didn’t help. And he didn’t think he won any brownie points, by telling Mr. Gage that he sang too. And that he wasn’t betrothed. And that he didn’t have a job. “Man, I thought my dad was hard to get along with…” He shook his head, wanting to kick himself. He knew things were different here, why was it so hard to remember every time he opened his mouth? The only approving look he got all evening, from Josh’s dad, was when they asked him to say grace. At least THAT he could do without screwing it up. After giving thanks, he’d felt Mr. Gage’s eyes on him. Glancing up, he’d seen a faint warm light there. He guess people prayed the same no matter when you were. He also supposed it had been obvious that he was no stranger to it. “Well, it kept him from completely hating me, anyway…”
“Hey, Taylor, come back…” He looked up, smiling. “Sorry, I was thinking. Could you smell smoke?” “What?!” Taylor sighed, biting his lip. “Nothing. Oh wow…” They had come up on the same tavern they’d been in that afternoon, but the entire atmosphere had changed, the air charged with energy and the anticipation of a coming event. Amazed, Taylor took in the line, waiting to get in. “There’s a line Josh!” Josh nodded, amused at what he took to be Taylor’s naivete. “Yes there is. There always is.” “To see you guys?” Josh nodded again, pleased. “If my Da would just come with me one time, he’d understand. People don’t come out like this to see nobodies…” Taylor held his tongue. He understood how Josh felt, but he also knew the public was fickle. You could be a has been before you ever became anything. Still… it sure did look like Josh and his boys were popular. Grinning, finally feeling at home in the hub surrounding a show, he followed Josh in, laughing outright as Josh was admitted ahead of the patrons. He was… “in the band”. “Oh, man some things always have been and always will be…” “What Taylor?” Taylor mentally clubbed himself again. “Knock it OFF dammit” and smiled. “Nothing. This is very cool. Very cool.” Josh smiled faintly, not sure if that was a good thing or not, and led Taylor to the table occupied by the rest of the band. No longer intimidated by the environment, Taylor accepted the glass set in front of him, as he was greeted by name by the rest of the boys. At last, finally, he felt a little bit at home.