Title: A Change of Grace
Chapter: 7 of 41
Excerpt: Josh stuck to the shadows, slipping off his cap to arm sweat from his forehead, grimacing at the wet curls. God it was hot. And the encroaching evening did little to ease it. Where was this kid going? Josh quickened his pace, careful to stay well out of sight. Who was this boy? He was so strange, his manner of moving so odd, his behavior so bizarre!
Purple shadows lengthened in front of him, drawing his gaze. “It’s really purple…” He’d read the description in books, had never seen it. He took a deep breath, smiling a little at the fragrance. Yes it smelled of horse, and metal, and people, yes it was just as noisy in it’s own way… but there was an honesty here that the New York of the 90’s lacked. The stink of horses was almost pleasant, he reflected. His own home held a bitterness, something under the odors of exhaust and pollution… he wasn’t sure what it was. A virtual innocent, the word “corruption” never suggested itself to him.
Sighing, he walked slowly, watching the daylight fade. He’d failed. He didn’t know how much time they were going to give him, but today had been a total washout. He’d lain there, on his bench, eyes closed to slits, and watched the boys who had come to park on the grass just a few feet away from him. They’d sounded so normal. Laughing, joking, swearing, making fun behind the backs of unsuspecting passersby. Breaking ranks to play ball with a stray dog, and to weedle some penny crackers from a young boy who’d happened upon them. He’d watched all these activities, feigning sleep, until the boys had begun to sing. His eyes had sprung open then, pure shock stealing any need for caution he might have felt. Not only were they singing… they were PRACTICING. Practicing scales, practicing harmonies, on lovely old hymns, so out of place in this group of young rowdies. And they were good! Delighted, he sat up, as the boys argued and bantered, switching parts, moving sections up and down the scale. Biting back the urge to speak, to join in, he’d sat quietly, inwardly thrumming. When the boys had begun their rambling wander out of the park, he’d followed, not sure why, only possessed of the need to keep them in sight. He’d spent the day then, hiding in the shadows, keeping to the side streets, paralleling their journey through the city, waiting in doorways outside of buildings, waiting in alcoves of bookshops and restaurant. Oh, the eateries were the worst, he reflected. Stomach snapping and snarling, mouth watering, he’d been afraid to step out and get himself anything to eat. Afraid the boys would see him, afraid he’d mess up the money, afraid he’d label himself “outsider” and be dragged off to the stock somewhere, afraid he’d get sick if he tried to eat again. It had been torture, and the hunger had become real pain by the time the boys had gone their separate ways, just as the shadows drew long. He’d learned, he knew that. It wasn’t a total bust, there were things it was probably smarter to know before he tried to interact with people. And he’d learned those things today. He’d learned the way boys behaved here. He’d learned how they moved, and how they wore their clothes, and the patterns their speech followed. He’d taken note of the phrases, the attitudes, the humor. He’d observed other peoples reactions to them, and seen all manner of class divisions. The poor working class, the upper middles, the socialites. He’d heard voiced political opinions, states of being, arguments of life. He’d tasted a day in the life of 1883, not just for these boys but for everyone. All important lessons, lessons he’d need if he was going to get by here. But not the most important lesson. No, no he’d learned something far, far more important. He’d learned that one of the boys he was following, was Joshua.
Josh stuck to the shadows, slipping off his cap to arm sweat from his forehead, grimacing at the wet curls. God it was hot. And the encroaching evening did little to ease it. Where was this kid going? Josh quickened his pace, careful to stay well out of sight. Who was this boy? He was so strange, his manner of moving so odd, his behavior so bizarre! Laughing a little, to himself, he shook his head. Did the fellow think they hadn’t noticed him? Davey had seen that he was following almost at once. Josh had wanted to go speak to him, something about the boy almost drawing him, and sighed now in frustration. The rest had put the nick to that, and so he’d settled for keeping an eye on him over the course of the day, deliberately throwing curves at him, to see if he would continue to follow. He had, right onto the EL, and off again, all the way downtown. Into and out of pubs and carriage houses, even going so far as to wait outside the door of Donovans mum’s house. Odd. It had also seemed pretty clear, early on, that the fellow was a greenie. “Probably never spent a day in New York in his life, before now…” but that didn’t explain his dogged persistence in sticking to them, all day. He’d not approached, nor made any effort to communicate with them, but he was obviously watching. It had been with some anticipation that Joshua had taken leave of his friends, an hour ago, hoping the strange young man would make a gesture, but no… he’d simply given them an odd, wistful look, and turned, leaving them, heading back uptown. Josh had watched him out of sight, turned his own steps back toward his home on Madison… and then suddenly stopped. No. He couldn’t let him go. He was just too enigmatic, there was just… something about him. He’d turned and jogged back in the direction of the park, making quite a spectacle of himself he thought, what with running down the walks and all. Still, it had paid off, and the corner of Broadway had brought him in sight of his quarry. He’d kept his distance since then, curiosity eating him alive, dying to know where this kid could possibly call home.
Taylor kicked at pebbles as he walked, annoyance building to a fine boil. It wasn’t fair, all this hiking around, and for what? He’d seen the kid. The kid looked fine to him. Okay maybe the crowd he ran with was a little wild, but they weren’t all THAT bad. Certainly not worth yanking him back a hundred years in time for. And what about this kicking him out into the city? He was starving! Sure he had money, but had anyone told him how to spend it? No. Of course not. And Josh. Pure, blind luck that he’d found him, now what was he supposed to do? Just follow him around for a month? He sighed, and grimaced as his stomach pinched. “Damn, I’m hungry.” He glanced across the road, recognizing the merchants gate, ready to duck when the girls came out, a split second before he remembered that none of those girls would be there. “Gone. Not born yet.” It occurred to him then, that not a soul had recognized him all day. Nobody here knew who he was. “And” he sulked, “they wouldn’t have cared if I’d stamped it on my forehead.” He hadn’t realized until now, how used to his fame he had become, how he took for granted the attention and adulation. How much he ENJOYED even the lack of privacy, and the need for bodyguards. After all, you don’t need protection if you’re a nobody. “Well… I’m a nobody here. A starving to death, failure of a nobody, who’s going to get his ass chewed for failing his “mission”, damn them anyway. Least they could have done is help me, and now I’m gonna get hollered at until tomorrow probably.” Feeling entirely too put upon, and suddenly very very tired, he stopped, leaning the side of his head against a lamppost, stealing a glance up at the empty air that should have housed the Trump. Homesickness flooded him, suddenly, and his breath caught for a moment, the actual physical pain of it acute and startling. He stared vaguely at the scraggling rooflines, and the days small irritants suddenly began to burn. It simply wasn’t fair. He was Taylor Hanson. He should be inside his suite, on the very roof, in air conditioned comfort, with sparkling windows, soft furniture, coke on ice whenever he wanted it, clothes that didn’t prickle and chafe, and a family that doted on him. Not standing out on the street, with no real home, hungry, tired, lonely, essentially broke, with suspenders digging into his shoulders, and a hat that made his scalp feel as if it were crawling with wildlife. He’d never kept a hat on so long in his life. Scowling, hearing Ben’s voice in his mind “You have to keep that hair covered. Can’t have that hair out there,” he felt a flair of hatred for the man. “Yeah, hell with you pal…” He tore the hat off, sighing with gratitude as the evening breeze blew through his hair. “God it’s soaking wet…” He shook it out, running his fingers through it, shaking his head hard. “I must look like a dog…” but relishing the feel of air on his scalp. Grinning, he scratched happily at the strip the hatband had pressed on, blandly eyeing the horse that was tethered to wagon, alongside the post he was leaning on. “What’re YOU lookin at? You don’t know me either, do you?” He reached out to pat the animals nose, noting the empty feed bag around it’s neck. “Hey, I understand what you’re goin through buddy, nobody fed me either today…” He tucked the hat under the hated suspenders, thought about unhooking them, and thought better of it. “I’d look like an idiot if my pants fell down… we’ll forget that.” He’d about made up his mind to head for the Dakota, and face the wrath of Kathryn and Ben, when a figure suddenly appeared in front of him.
Josh darted from carriages, to trees, to doorways, knowing he was too far away to get caught, enjoying the game nonetheless. This fellow had traipsed all the way from Madison to the end of Broadway, and showed no signs of stopping. Where was he going? And he acted funny, flinching away from people, shying away from the gate to the park as if he expected an attack. “Who’s he thinking is going to come through there?” He could hear the band starting, out on the lake, and toyed briefly with the idea of going to listen, abandoning the idea in favor of the current amusement. This boy was a mystery, and he was going to solve it. He watched him cross the street, and freeze, staring into the thin air. “What’s he see?” He strained his eyes, aware that he was catching up far too quickly to hide, not caring. He thought the time had come to perhaps say a few words. As he strolled up the sidewalk, he saw the scowl on the other boy’s face. “Oh my, he scowls just like father does. I certainly hope it doesn’t get stu…” The though cut off cleanly as his quarry suddenly removed his cap, shaking out an amazing wealth of blond hair. “Oh my…” Josh goggled for a moment, at first honestly confused. Was the boy, in fact, a girl? He certainly was delicately featured enough for it… but no. No, the fellow was obviously that, and Josh felt a delighted grin break out on his face. “Will you look at that hair! He looks just like Louise.” He snickered at the thought of the boy looking like his twelve year old sister. “Put a skirt on him, he’d pass at church…” Shaking his head, wondering where in the world this kid could be from, he crept quietly around the wagon, noting with approval the boy’s kindly behavior to the horse. One ill move toward the animal, and he’d have faced Josh’s fist up his nose, mystery or no. Clapping a hand over his mouth to hold in the giggles, knowing he was going to scare the poor bloke out of his wits, he moved quietly around the rear of the wagon, ducked past the horse, and quickly, quietly, jumped into the space in front of the other boy, grinning wildly, and snatching at the hat the boy had tucked into his suspenders. “Ah with that hair, you’d do well to keep this on. Did you think we didn’t see you following us?” His amused grin turned to stark amazement as the boy, whom he’d expected to merely jump, recoiled violently, head rapping with astonishing force against the lamppost, hard enough to send his eyes rolling back into his head for a moment. Alarmed, afraid he’d actually knocked himself out, Josh reached out quickly, gripping his shoulder. “Oh God, kid, did I kill you?! I didn’t mean…” “You get back!” Taylor’s voice was all rage, two years of constant attack coming to the fore. One hand shot out, connecting squarely with the other boy’s chest, shoving hard, as the other clutched his head in pain. “I’m here and you’re there, and you just STEP BACK!”