A Change of Grace: Chapter 17

Title: A Change of Grace
Chapter: 17 of 41
Author: Sheryl
Rating: PG-13
Summary:
Taylor ends up traveling back in time to New York in the 19th century. There he meets Kathryn, Benjamin, Joshua and Grace among many others. The story follows both Taylor’s adventures in the past and Isaac and Zachary’s search for him in present (1997/1998) time.

Chapter 17

Sarah leaned against the doorjamb, watching the boy, asleep on her parlor couch, one arm thrown back above his head, the other resting on his chest, fingers clutching the fabric of his borrowed shirt, tense even in sleep. What had gone on today? Josh had stumbled in, all but carrying the boy, pale and bloodied, clothing soaked through, and barely on his feet. Between the two of them, they’d managed to get most of the blood and sweat off, gotten him into some of Josh’s clothes, and settled on the sofa. He hadn’t made it through one glass of lemonade before his eyes closed. Poor Josh wasn’t much better, complaining of headache, and looking nearly as white as this poor boy. He’d taken to his bed as well, and when last she looked, was sound asleep. Something had happened, had done them in. Neither was fevered, neither appeared to be actively ill, more they seemed to have overendured… something. But what?
She stepped quietly to the sofa, sat softly on the edge, and reached for his hand, gently disengaging it from his shirt collar, turning it palm up. Smiling softly, finding what she’d expected, she shook her head. The skin of his hands was smooth, soft, uncalloused. These hands had seen no hard work, nor any normal everyday work, for that matter, that she’d have expected in a boy his age. They’d never cut wood, they’d never hauled ice, they’d never done anything. Fine boned, nails completely smooth, unmarred by scar or scrape. Who was this boy, and where was he from that he could reach the age of sixteen without ever having done anything?
Still holding his hand, she reached up, moving a few strands of the long hair from his face. That hair. Who in her right mind would allow her son to wear his hair that long? And what boy would want to? She strongly suspected that this boy didn’t even have a mother. Yet… he had no look of neglect. In fact, he looked exceptionally healthy and well cared for. “Who are you, Taylor…” Her voice was soft. She didn’t want to wake him. Easing his hand down, she looked at his face. The resemblance to Louise was uncanny. Why, they could be brother and sister. Closer in age and she could have thought them twinned. Pondering it, she realized he resembled a goodly number of her siblings, including her brother Michael, who Josh also favored. Was this boy a relative? If so, why was he not saying? What was his surname? Hanson? There were none of them in the family that she knew of, but the resemblance was too strong to be coincidence.
She gazed on the face of the sleeping boy, frowning. There was none of the peace she was used to seeing on the faces of sleeping children. His brow was furrowed, mouth turned down in a frown. What was troubling him so, that even his rest was being taken by worry?

“Ma….”
“Hush Louise, do you want to wake him?”
The girl froze in the doorway, voice dropping to a whisper. “No Ma, sorry… Grace is here…”
Nodding, Sarah stood, careful not to jostle the boy on the couch. “You keep your voice down, you hear?”
Louise nodded, smiling as her mother left the room, anxious to get a closer look at the sleeping Taylor. She stepped closer to his side, giggles stifled behind a hand. That hair… she didn’t understand why everyone was so upset by it. In Louise’s opinion, it was quite lovely. And in fact, so was Taylor…
Her eyes slid over him, finding no fault. “I bet if Grace was to see him, she’d throw Josh out with the dump…” Her eyes lit on the silver chain on his wrist, and she reached for it gingerly. “How lovely…” She touched it lightly, jerking her finger back at the static charge that shocked her, shaking her hand, reaching for it again. “How very strange…” The second touch caused no shock, but the silver felt odd to her. Smooth, almost liquid… what kind of bracelet was it? Her entire hand felt warm, and the warmth seemed to be spreading up her arm.
His wrist moved slightly away and she jumped, eyes shooting to his face.
Blue eyes, sleep fogged and shimmering silver, stared into her own, and she giggled again, pulling her hand back. “I’m sorry. I woke you up. Do you feel alright?” He stared blankly, nodded slightly, and rubbed his eyes. “Do you know where you are?” She giggled again as he twisted around, looking over his shoulder, around the room, before nodding again. He was so confused. “Well do you remember me?” His eyes cleared a little, the glassy look dissipating, and he nodded again. “You’re Louise…” She smiled, delighted. “Yes! Are you okay? You’re not ill, are you?” There was a sudden urgency in her tone, and she shot a look back at the door. “No, I’m fine, why?” “Good…” she reached into her apron pocket and pulled out her brush. “You can fix my hair…” She pressed the brush into his hand. “Come on, sit up! Grace is here, and I want it to look pretty…” She pulled the kerchief from her hair, and perched on the edge of the sofa as he slid back, sitting up against the arm. Nothing shy about this one, he reflected, smiling a little, as he obliged her, running the brush though her hair. She was a lot like Jessica, forthright and outspoken, not afraid to make her desires known, fully expecting them to be obliged. “Y’know, my sister Jessie likes her hair this way. She puts beads in it, though….” “Beads in it!” she twisted around to look at him, longing in her eyes. “Oh, that would be so lovely! I don’t have any, though. Do you?” He laughed and gently turned her head around. “You have to hold still or you’ll look like your heads on crooked. I don’t…”

The door snicked open, cutting him off, as Sarah entered, followed by a young woman. “Oh, there you are…” Her tone turned accusatory. “Louise, did you wake him ?!” “No, Ma, I…” Taylor slipped an arm around the girls shoulders. “She didn’t, Mrs. Gage, I just woke up. She asked me to do this…” He grinned, waved the brush, and gave Louise a friendly nudge, as her mother burst into laughter.”Louise, that poor boy… Taylor, are you feeling better?” He nodded, turning his eyes back to Lou’s hair. “I’m fine, I just needed sleep… how’s Josh, is he okay?” “He’s still abed, but I’m sure he’s fine. This is Grace.” She gave the hesitant girl a tiny shove in Taylor’s direction. “Grace is Josh’s intended. Grace, this is Josh’s friend Taylor. He also seems to be Louise’s new hairdresser.” Louise giggled behind her hand, even harder when Taylor poked her in the back, laughing himself. The girl smiled shyly, ignored the joke, and gratefully took the seat Sarah offered. To Taylor’s eyes she seemed to be trying to dissolve into it. Smiling, he leaned close to Lou’s ear, whispering softly. “I’m not that scary looking, am I?” The little girl giggled again, shaking her head, thinking that Taylor was far from scary. “Grace…” Her clear voice peeled out. “Doesn’t Taylor have lovely hair? I wish I had such lovely…” “Louise, do leave off about his hair…” Sarah scolded very gently, and turned to Grace. “I’m sure Josh will be up directly. You visit…” The woman bustled from the room, dinner preparations underway, careful to leave the parlor door open.

“Grace, you should have him fix your hair too…” Louise’s bright voice filled the room. “He says his sister puts BEADS in her hair…” The longing in her voice was unmistakable. “It would be so lovely…” Taylor heard the disappointment in her voice. “Well, she likes beads, ribbons, anything bright… if you have hair ribbons, I could weave one of those in…” “Oh could you?!” She twisted around again, undoing his work for the second time, and he rolled his eyes, sighing. She was JUST like Jessica. “I’ll go get some, you’ll really do it?” “Yes, I’ll do it, go ahead…” She skipped from the room, stopping to give Grace a quick hug on the way out.
The young woman hugged the child warmly, and he smiled, the smile fading as she shot him an almost suspicious look. She certainly was uneasy. Still, she was awfully pretty, delicate, fine featured, lovely brunette hair. Josh could do worse. If she’d only relax a little.
He smiled at her, holding up the brush a little, pushing himself further upright against the arm of the sofa. “She had it in my hand before I was even awake…”
Grace smiled faintly, shaking her head. “A boy that knows how to plait hair…” There was a shadow of disapproval in her voice that made his brows come down. “Well, I have a lot of sisters.” “You want to put beads in her hair? You’ll make her a laughingstock…” “A what?” He absently undid the long braid in his own hair, redoing it smoothly. “Why would having some fun with her hair make her a laughingstock? Nobody’s ever made fun of Jessie…” “Well, it’s a bit improper…” “Yeah? Really? How come?” “Well…” She shrugged, at a loss. “I don’t know, it’s simply not done…” She sighed, and glanced out the door, watching for Louise. The look on her face was unreadable. What was it with this girl? Didn’t she ever smile? Was she really so wound up that she thought a hair ribbon was scandalous? “It’s only hair, Grace.” She shrugged again, and dropped her eyes to her lap as Lou skipped in, handful of ribbons in hand. “I’m afraid they’re all rather drab… I never go anyplace I need finery for…” He took the ribbons, eyed them, and made a face at her, nodding. “Yeah, they kinda suck… well what else is there around here? You got any ideas?” His eyes fell on Grace’s light summer shawl, woven through with shiny metallic threads. “Something like those…”
Louise’s eyes glowed at the thought. “Oh yes, oh how lovely… oh Grace, might I take just one or two of those?” Grace’s eyes widened. What in the world was Louise thinking? “You want to unsew my shawl? Certainly not!” “No, not unsew it, Grace, don’t be a goose. But I could pull two from the fringe, if I were very careful, and it would make no difference… oh please, Grace?” “I really don’t think so, Louise, my shawl might come undone, and it’s really not very appropriate to have things like that in your hair…” “Oh, of course it is, silly…” Louise’s good humor appeared unsinkable, as she searched the room for objects she might use. “Lou, what about those?” Taylor’s eye had fallen on a tray, set on a sideboard. Littered with fine flosses and beads, he could see a beautiful work in progress, and a plethora of completely suitable for braiding material. “Oh! Oh, that’s Ma’s embroidery. I’ll run and ask her…” She ran from the room again, followed by Grace’s disapproving stare. “Why are you encouraging her? It’s completely improper…” “Why is it improper? I’ve seen lots and lots of people with pretty things in their hair, why is it wrong for Lou?” “Louise.” “She TOLD me to call her Lou…” “She’s a young lady, she should act like one.” “She does act like one. Besides, she’s only 12, she doesn’t have to act all grown up yet.” “She’s hoydenish and… and a tomboy…” Grace was beginning to sound frustrated. Why couldn’t this boy see? Didn’t he understand what demands society made on a lady? Encouraging Louise to indulge in this kind of thing now, would only give her something she had to sacrifice later, when it couldn’t be overlooked because she was only 12. She sighed in frustration, shaking her head. He simply didn’t understand. It was different for boys. They could be… could be free. Could be themselves. Women… no, it was quite different for women.

Still, if Grace was exasperated, so was Taylor. “She’s a what????” This girl made no sense to him. “She’s asking to have her hair made pretty, that’s hardly acting like a tomboy.” “You’re a boy, you simply don’t understand what’s right for a lady, and what’s not…” He bit back the comment that suddenly rose to his lips, that in 1999 he wouldn’t have hesitated to fling at her. If a hair ribbon was scandalous his comment surely would be. Still, he dearly wished to know who’d tied her panties into such a knot. “Grace, if society says a pretty girl can’t put a bead in her hair, society needs to find something constructive to do. Because that’s just stupid.” “Well…” She clamped her mouth shut, suddenly. He was right, it was stupid, but it was the way things were. “You got nothing to say then??” His voice was amused, and she found herself wanting to throw something at him. His tone put her in mind of Josh, when they were children, goading her until she pelted him with peach pits. “These ridiculous boys… they never grow up…” Giving up, she rolled her eyes, and waved away all arguments. “Fine. Do it your way…”
He grinned, almost hearing the cut off comment “But I’m right and I know it…” Fired up and mad at him, she’d loosened quite a bit, her face taking on a nice flush, eyes sparkling. “She’s got some attitude, yes she does. All we need to do is get her going, that’s all…” He smiled as Louise careened back into the room, colliding with the couch hard enough to make his aching head thump. “Easy does it, kiddo, really… she must’ve said yes…” Louise laughed delightedly, and pulled a heavily embroidered box from under the sideboard. “She said not to take any from the design, but what was in the box wasn’t being used and to go ahead. Grace, come help me decide, please??” He could see the desire in her eyes, and knew she loved Grace, saw in her the big sister she didn’t have. He could also see Grace thawing, a hint of humor in her tone. “He can help you, he’s the hairdresser…” “He’s a BOY”. The contempt in her voice made Taylor laugh. “He doesn’t know what GIRLS like… please?” Sighing, acting quite a bit as if she were being led to the slaughter, Grace approached the couch, and pulled up a chair. “Alright, let me look.” “Now, mind you I want nothing drab and pigeony.” “No, no… it’ll be a peacock or nothing, I know.” Taylor watched the girls faces as they contemplated the flosses, beads, and crystals, and saw, much to his amazement, a longing similar to Lou’s, reflected in Grace’s eyes. “So she’s not so tightly buttoned after all… she want’s pretty things too. She just thinks she SHOULD be all prim and proper.” An inkling of why Josh was frustrated with her, began to sink in. “She’s truly no fun at all, and someone like Josh, who wants to LIVE…” He shook the thoughts off, as Louise presented him with a handful of brilliant blue strands, and half a dozen blue crystal beads. “Will these work?” He smiled down at her, nodded, and looked up at Grace, surprised to see her smiling warmly at the little girls delight. “Those will be great, but you have to hold still or you’ll end up with a bead braided into your eyelash.” Louise giggled and settled on the couch. “Grace, you find some you like, and let him do yours too! You’ll look so beautiful when Josh comes down!” “Oh I don’t think…” “Oh do! Do Grace! Taylor…” she turned to look at him, ignoring the eye roll as she pulled his work apart again. “Taylor you’ll fix Graces hair too, won’t you?” He smiled, and turned her around again. “Only if she holds still better than you do…” He didn’t for a moment think miss proper here would let him touch her hair. A boy doing her hair and putting decorations in it? Good heavens no… “Taylor! Taylor can I have one of these??” She pulled on his braid, and he gently extracted it from her. “I don’t know, I don’t know that your family would like that…” He smiled over her head, at Grace, who rolled her eyes, making him laugh. “Oh it’s just for fun, it’s not as if I’d be going anyplace with it! Ma won’t mind, please?!” He nodded, beginning to be a bit exasperated. “I will, but you have to hold still now, I mean it.” “Okay.” He braided by feel, watching Grace as she went through the box, eyes glowing with the crystals. She caught his glance and shrugged, smiling a little and he nodded. “She’s right you know. You’ll look great. And I KNOW he’ll like it” His bright smile inspired one of her own. “Do you think so?” “I know so…” He finished Louise, who hadn’t moved a muscle, and turned her around. “There. You’re done. Go look…” She giggled and ran to the glass across the room, squealing happily at her reflection. “It’s perfect! Grace, sit there. Let him fix your hair, please!” “My hair is fixed, Louise!” Taylor was gratified to see Grace laughing now, shy, withdrawn, over polite wall dropping a bit. “Do you want to look lovely for Josh? You do don’t you? Now come… sit here” She patted the edge of the couch, and smiled invitingly. “Josh will just MELT when he see’s you, I know he will…” Taylor saw Grace blush and drop her eyes, and wonder filled him. “She’s got it BAD for Josh. BAD. Why’s she so darned stiff then??” “Tell her, Taylor! Tell her he’ll love it…” “I already told her.” “Well TELL her again!” “She’s right, he will…” “It’s not proper! I can’t sit here and let some strange boy do my hair!” “I’ll go get Ma, then! She can sit here and make sure it’s okay! Ma…!” She was out of the room in a flash, leaving Taylor in helpless laughter.

“Oh Grace, that’s lovely.”
Sarah smiled, as she looked at what she and Taylor had done. Grace had insisted on wearing her hair up, so when Taylor had finished weaving the floss she’d chosen into a French braid, Sarah had stepped in and pinned it all up in an elaborate bun, leaving a few strands to curl around her face. Taylor had affixed a few crystal beads to the curls around her face, and the effect was ravishing. “You look absolutely breathtaking.” “I think she should have him do one of those…” Louise tugged on Taylor’s tail again, giggling. He’d taken a spare bead and tied it into the end, purely to be silly, and the sight of a boy with a bead in his hair was breaking her up, over and over again. “We’ll do that another time, then, Lou, I think…” Sarah shoed her daughter from the room, and picked up her embroidery box. Grace really did look lovely, and a good deal happier than she’d seen her in some time. “Now I know the secret to getting Grace to relax. Make sure Josh sleeps through her visits…”
“Taylor.” Sarah turned her attention to the boy, who while a good deal better, still seemed pale and washed out to her. “Are you feeling better?” He nodded, thinking about it. He felt okay. Tired. But okay. “Will you stay and have supper with us?” He nodded again, although the angry flip his stomach did at the mention of food didn’t thrill him. “If the two of you don’t mind, you can share a cab home… we generally put Grace in a cab at about 8:30. Will that do?” He nodded again, hoping Kathryn and Ben, or more importantly George, would be back by then. “That’s fine…” She nodded, and left the room, leaving him to stare awkwardly at Grace. With the exit of the other women, the bright warmth on her face vanished, and she became expressionless again. “Is she so cold? Or just shy??” He wasn’t sure. His stare was making her nervous though, and he sighed, rubbing his aching head,

Sliding back down, letting his eyes close again for a moment. Another six hours of sleep would have agreed with him just fine.
“Excuse me… are you ill?” He looked up into blue eyes, heavy with concern. “Oh… no. No, I just… it was a long night, and an even longer day. I’m fine.” She nodded, looked away, eyes toward the ceiling, then back to him again. “What about Josh?” He heard the worry in her voice, and shook his head. “He’s okay, he was just up late with me.” “Truly? He’s not ill…” “No, no he’s fine.” He forced himself to sit up again. “Have you known Josh a long time?” She smiled then, and he saw a dreamy kind of light come into her eyes. “I’ve known Josh as long as I can remember.” She grinned then, the first uncensored smile he’d seen. “We were playmates since birth I think…” “Is that why you’re getting married?” Her face clouded, and she scowled, the warm glow vanishing. “That is part of why we WERE to get married. My parents want to annul the betrothal.” “Because he’s a musician?” Her face turned haughty, and he saw the cold wall come down once more. “Hardly. Because he… oh why am I telling YOU? It’s quite frankly none of your business.” “Geez, sorry.” His eyes went wide at the obvious nerve he’d struck. “I was just wondering. I mean you look like you really like him…” Shrugging, seeing the closed off look on her face, he gave it up. Josh’s love life was none of his business. He smiled to himself, thinking about Lou and her beads and ribbons. She’d looked so happy. Some people didn’t ask for much… his gaze went to the box of flosses again, from there to the surface above. Funny, he hadn’t realized that people a century ago were as sentimental as people in his own time. But here, pictures, trinkets, mementos, letters… every available surface was covered, and very nearly every inch of wall. Even the top of the piano held candles, framed pictures, bric a brac… piano. There was a piano! Shaking his head in wonder and delight, wondering if it were tuned, he stretched, and climbed off the sofa. “Do you think they’d mind if I tried that out?” He directed his query at Grace, who shook her head, barely meeting his eyes. Sighing, exasperated and desperately glad HE wasn’t betrothed to this beautiful, but almost painfully uptight girl, he made his way to the piano, ruefully aware that his legs were shaking. “Really wiped out, REALLY wiped out, I need to watch that…” He ran his fingers lightly over the keys, ran down a scale, and lit up in a huge smile. Not only in tune, it sounded beautiful. “Oh… man…” His head spun and he leaned on one hand, letting the other play over the keys, snips of this, drabs of that, whatever he could think of that could be done with one hand. So enraptured in the sounds was he, that he never noticed Grace approaching.
“My goodness, if you can play that well with one hand, what can you do with two?”
He jumped, and laughed, feeling silly. “Sorry… uh… I play a lot, I was just a little tired… do you play?”
She nodded, and he slid over so she could sit down. “I’ve been playing since I was four.” Her face, minus the pinched, closed off look it had worn since her arrival, was truly lovely, and for a moment he forgot to breathe. “When I was a little girl I used to think I was going to be a famous pianist…” Her smile suggested that she had not quite outgrown that dream, and he slid over further. “Play something for me!” “What?” “Play something for me! You wanted to be famous, you must be pretty good. I want to hear you play…” “Taylor, I was four…” “Hey, were you good when you were four?” “Well yes, for four!” “So… play!” “And if I don’t want to?” “You want to…” “Oh, yes?” “Yes. You want to. You know you want to… unless you think I’m y’know… better’n you…” Laughing, eyes flashing at the challenge, she shook her head. “Alright, we’ll see. What shall I play?” He slid the book over, shaking his head. “I have no idea, whatever you like.” “What was that you were playing?” She thumbed through the book as he played it again, smiling. “Just something my brother wrote, a long time ago.” “You have terrible form, my teacher would have hit you with a stick…” “I know, my piano teacher hates me…” He grinned good naturedly, eyeing his own lousy form. “But it works for me, so y’know…” He sat back, and gestured at the keys. “It’s yours. Let’s hear your stuff” “My what?” “You’re stuff. Go for it. Lets hear it. Go Grace…” He laughed, suddenly giddy, eyes on her face. Yeah, she was alright. Her whole demeanor was relaxed and pleased. Her eyes shone on the piano with a very recognizable passion. She grinned at him once, and set her hands. As her fingers touched the keys he felt a smile break across his face. She was GOOD. More than good, she was wonderful! He listened, rapt, as she finished the song, nodding as she turned to smile triumphantly at him. “You like to play, don’t you?” She nodded, fingers hovering over the keys. “I love to play. Unfortunately there are many more important things in life than playing music…” Her face belied her words. He could see it. It fairly glowed out of her eyes. This was her passion, music, just as it was Josh’s. That whole prim and proper act was just that, he realized suddenly. An act. She was probably just as harassed as Josh was, to act right, and do what people expected.

He cracked his knuckles, laughing at her small sound of disgust, and set his hands next to hers.

“Show me something I can play, I don’t know very much of your music.” “My music?” “Uh… we listen to different music at home. So I don’t know too much of this… will you just show me something?!” She snorted, and returned his tone. “If you think you can learn it.” “I think I can.” “Oh do you now.” “I do… do your worst, go ahead.” “What do you play at home? Where is home, anyway?” His eyes dropped a little, and she saw his smile slip for a moment. “Oklahoma is home… I don’t know, it’s not the place that has different music, it’s my family…” He shook off the momentary melancholy, and smiled across the room at Louise, who was avidly watching every move he made. “We play all kinds of weird stuff… stuff like this…” His fingers tapped out… something. Something that certainly didn’t sound like music to her. “Good Lord, Taylor, do you call that music?” “I do… think I’ve got what it takes to learn your stuff?” She eyed him thoughtfully for a moment. Josh’s friend. So different from the rest of Josh’s friends, this boy seemed to think she had a use. He spoke to her as if she were an intelligent being, rather than a lowly woman. And he found her amusing! Well, he was obviously different, with that absurdly long hair and that ridiculous plait under it all. “Alright, what was your name? Tyler?” “Taylor. Taylor. You’ve said it six times. Taylor.” “Taylor. If you think you can keep up…” “I do… go.” She laughed, played a little, looked sideways at him, grinning as he copied her with that lousy form. “Now don’t do that… fix your wrists. Had I a ruler I’d crack you one.” “Oh yes ma’am…” He made a great show of correcting his hand position and played it again. She nodded approval. “Better. Now try this…”

Josh and Sarah watched from the doorway, each loath to disturb the two at the piano. They’d settled into a nice rhythm, and the music echoed throughout the apartment. “She’s quite good, isn’t she Josh?” He nodded. He’d forgotten Grace could play piano. She never played at all anymore, not even in church. Her eyes shone as she played, and her face lit in an enraptured smile. When was the last time he’d seen her look like that? Why couldn’t she unbend a little with him?
Sighing, he leaned against his Ma, still terribly weary, smiling as Lou came in and fell against his legs. He set an arm around her shoulders, and touched the shiny decorations in her hair. “That’s lovely, goose, who did that?” “He did.” ” Taylor?” “Yes. He did Grace’s hair too, wait’ll you see her… she looks so pretty…” She smiled up at him, and he found himself smiling back with genuine affection. “How’d you get him to do that?” “I just asked him, I did, and he sat right up and did it.” Sarah laughed, and shooed Louise toward the kitchen. “Go check dinner…” She watched her out of sight, and smiled at Josh. “His Ma has him well trained. I think she must be a very smart woman.” Josh rolled his eyes, flashed her a look, and shrugged off her laughter, heading into the parlor to join Taylor and Grace.

Taylor let his head rock with the motion of the cab, vaguely enjoying the jostling. His drowsiness hadn’t let up, and it was faintly pleasant to drift with the motion of the horses. Back and forth, feeling the wooden window edge digging slightly into his cheek. There were so many textures here… so much depth to everything. None of the smooth gloss of his own world, there was a gritty honesty he was rapidly falling in love with, this rough motion only the smallest fraction of it. Even the people… his thoughts wandered away with the thought… the people lacked the sugar coating too. He’d run into more open acceptance, spontaneous friendliness, and unabashed honesty… in his time, there would have been so many masks in the way. He’d made friends, actual friends, in the four days he’d been here. In his world, four days was only three minutes of the dance, time enough to decide whether or not you liked the mask enough to look underneath it. Here…
He glanced at the seat opposite him, at Grace’s face as she gazed out the window. She’d had a mask. I good one. It had taken only a few notes of song to shatter it, and let him see what really lay underneath. At least until Josh had come back in. She’d slammed shut like a safe, a wall of self consciousness covering up the bright, sunny girl underneath. But she liked him! It struck him as horribly ironic. They’d been best friends, played together as children, loved each other… until the word “marriage” had been spoken. Why had that ruined it? His own mom and dad had been married at 19…
“Grace…”
“Hmm? My goodness, you live so far uptown! This isn’t a cab ride, it’s a journey!”
He laughed, and nodded. “It’s a ways out. Grace, can I ask you something?”
He saw amusement warring wariness in her face. She wanted to say yes… didn’t dare.
“You see? Why are you so afraid? Grace I don’t understand you.”
Her brows raised, and she folded her hands in her lap. “Oh, is that so? What is it you don’t understand?”
“Well… you like Josh, right?”
She dropped her eyes, and turned her gaze out the window again, and he groaned. “Grace, c’mon, just answer the question! You like him, don’t you!”
“Well yes, Taylor, of course.” “You’re in love with him, huh.” Her eyes widened in shock, that he could say such a thing.
“Taylor, what a thing to say! That’s not…” “Not what? Proper? Grace, why are you so hung up on doing what’s right? You gotta have some fun sometimes, and be you, or you’ll go whacko…”
Ignoring the “whacko”, already accepting the fact that he spoke some dialect unknown to the rest of the world, she crossed her arms. “You think this isn’t me? Is that what you’re saying? You think I’m not having any fun, or being myself?”
“That’s exactly what I think, and you can drop the surprised look. I mean it, I saw your face while you were playing that piano, you LOVED it…” He saw the light in her eyes again, and nodded triumphantly. “You see? You love it… so why don’t you play? Why do you deny yourself?” “Because, Taylor…” Her sigh was exasperated. “There are more…” “Important things, yeah…” He waved her off. “What about Josh?” “Josh? What about him?” “You love him same way you love the music, and you’re denying that too.”
“I am not!” He jumped a little, surprised at the anger in her voice. “I have nothing to do with that! I’m everything I am supposed to be! I’m a decent, godfearing, proper lady! He is the one who is irresponsible and roguish. He’s the one who won’t…” “Won’t give up what he loves to do what society says he has to, Grace! Don’t you understand?!” “Understand what! That he’s a no good, worthless, jobless, scaliwag, who cares nothing for his family, or his future wife?!” He saw the anger in her face, but more than that, he saw bewilderment. This Josh was alien to her. She didn’t understand him. “Aw, Grace, no, he’s not worthless…” The gentleness in his voice surprised her. “He just… he just has a dream, Grace, and he’s fighting for it. He doesn’t want to be what society says he has to be, he wants to be himself. He wants to do what he loves. And it’s only unacceptable in certain circles anyway.” “Certain circles? Taylor, the man won’t work, won’t…” “He works. He sings.” “Won’t do any meaningful work, then. He drinks, he womanizes! Taylor, he fraternizes with tavern whores!”
“Yeah… yeah he does. But Grace, that’s only because they act like themselves! He doesn’t have to worry about impressing them… y’know I was watching him tonight.”
“Oh were you?” She smiled, slightly scornful, andhe kicked her foot gently. “Yes, I was. I saw the way he looks at you. He just drinks you in with his eyes.” “Oh, the way Louise does you, you mean?” He laughed, blushing. The little girls crush had not been lost on him. “She bolted her dinner in a MOST amazing manner, simply to run in and sit with you, you realize.” He nodded, still laughing. “I know, and she made me eat pie… but you’re changing the subject.” She turned her gaze out the window, studiously ignoring him. “Grace…”
She smiled, unable to help it, but refused to look at him. “Grace, I know you can hear me, so I’m just gonna keep talking.” She giggled then, eyes rolled up. “Somehow, Taylor, I knew you would. You think I’m wrong about Josh?” “I know you are. I know he loves you too. I saw the way he looks at you, he loves you!” “Then why won’t he talk to me?” He could hear the hurt in her voice, and had to agree, it was baffling. It had confounded him, the coolness, the indifference to her, in Josh’s demeanor. He’d seen him looking at her, seen the longing in his eyes, but he’d been cold, almost rude, to her. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I think… I have some ideas but I don’t really know.” His brows came down suddenly, an unexpected memory of home flashing into his head. Ike. Ike? Huh… weird. He shook it off, and turned back to the girl. “The only think I can think of is… he knows you find him unacceptable. He’s NOT you know… don’t even argue with me, I can see you getting ready to start. He’s no good in YOUR circle, in you’re view of society. But what’s more important, Grace? Being true to some set of strangers ideals, or being true to yourself? He’s trying to be true to himself, and to what he loves, and I think he’s afraid you’ll force him into a mold he won’t be able to live with…” He cut himself off again, his brother’s face swimming in his minds eye again. What the heck? “Taylor, are you alright?” He looked up, shaking his head. “I don’t know, I just keep getting these thoughts about my brother…” “You have a brother?” “I have three. And three sisters.” “You miss them, don’t you…” “Every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day. I want to go home so bad I can taste it…” He broke off again, rubbing his eyes wearily. He was just so tired… but why were these pictures of Ike coming? Ike crying in his mother’s arms, Ike squeezing the strings on his guitar until they broke, cutting into the flesh of his hand, Ike pulling at his own hair, stressed to the max… what was up with that?
“…did you?” “What?” He jumped realizing he’d missed a fair amount of whatever she’d said. “Never mind. Are you all right? Are you sure?” “Yeah…” He smiled a little, and dropped his eyes. “Thoughts of home, y’know…” “So you think I’m misunderstanding Josh, is it?” “Yeah… I do…” “The Dakota!” The drivers bark startled both children, and they jumped, giggling. “Wow, that went quick. I hope I’m not still locked out. Grace… it was great to meet you.” He grinned and gave her hand a squeeze, as he clambered out of the cab. “I know it’s probably not proper or allowed or anything, but if you want to talk more, I’m up in apartment 804. You can come on over tomorrow if you want to…” She laughed, and waved him away. “You’re correct sir, it is NOT proper… goodnight, Taylor.” He tipped his hat, and laughed, watched the cab out of sight, and tripped up the stairs, waving, with great relief, at George, who smiled from his accustomed place. “Hey, I forgot my key! Are they up there?!” “They are…” “Good!”
He ran through the front door, the thought of the bed waiting for him, spurring him on. God he was tired… His steps slowed as Isaac’s image came to him again, and with it a sense of forbodding so intense it froze him in his tracks, the coppery taste of fear suddenly heavy in his mouth. Ike. Something wrong, terribly, terribly wrong. “Oh no…” He ran then, headlong, up the stairs. He had to get to Kathryn, he had to find out what was going on. He knew, on no uncertain terms, that she could tell him.
“Kathryn, you have to tell me, you have to tell me what’s going on with him! I know there’s something wrong, I can see him!” “Taylor…” “Don’t Taylor me! I can see him! There’s something seriously going on!” He broke off, clutching his head, as his brother’s face filled his mind again, broken by flashes, flashes of a room, unfamiliar to him, a window he’d never seen before, a hand, gripping a bottle…” What was that? Was that pills? Pills? He wouldn’t…
That part of his mind, newly awakened, reached… seeking… finding! Yes! Ike… Taylor’s eyes rolled back as his mind moved out… connecting with his brother’s, understanding in an instant what a million words could never say. “Oh my god…” He blinked back tears and jumped to his feet. “You have to get me to him. Or get him to me. You have to do it now! Right now!” “Taylor…” “He’s gonna die, do you not realize that?! He’s gonna kill himself! I need to talk to him, I need to let him know… Ben! Ben tell her!” Benjamin nodded, not questioning the boy’s knowledge of his awareness. “The link between them is very strong. If he says it is so, it is so.” “Taylor, you’re barely recovered from yesterday…” “I don’t care! Kathryn…” The warning in his tone was unmistakable. There was much at stake and he held the cards now. Everything rested with him. They couldn’t afford to make him angry. Nodding resolutely, she led him down the hall. “We’ll look at the strands, and if, IF there is a problem with his, we’ll show you how to take care of it.” Nodding grimly, he followed her in.

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This story is hosted at The Gifted Ones,
with permission from the author, Sheryl.

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