Title: Lead the Dance
Chapter: 4 of 8
Other Info: Sequel to A Change of Grace
Excerpt: Walker spun at the snick of the door, overstressed nerves jumping, anger and relief in competition as his eyes finally rested on his missing son.
“Where have you been?!”
Zac’s face registered almost nothing, tearstained and parchment pale as he shook his head.
Walker spun at the snick of the door, overstressed nerves jumping, anger and relief in competition as his eyes finally rested on his missing son.
“Where have you been?!”
Zac’s face registered almost nothing, tearstained and parchment pale as he shook his head.
“No? What do you mean no? Where were you?”
“I don’t know, Dad… I… I don’t know…”
The bewildered confusion in his voice cut through at least some of Walker’s indignation, and he recognized the tears on his son’s face.
“Are you alright? Are you crying, Zac? What’s wrong?”
He shook his head again, shivering as the warm air penetrated his cold numbed body.
“I was just… walking. I have a really bad headache…”
“Just walking? In New York? Alone? Zac…”
“I don’t know, alright?! I don’t know! I don’t even remember leaving…”
“Don’t remember… Zac for heaven sake!”
His thoughts danced uneasily around suspicions of drug use and the perils of the music lifestyle as he helped the largely unresponsive boy out of his coat, noting with alarm that he was soaked to the skin.
“Zac, what were you doing? You’re soaking wet, come on, lets get you into something dry… are you sick?”
“Where did you go?”
Zac’s movements were mechanical, almost automated, as he slipped into the dry clothes his father handed him, his spaced out and vague mumbles beginning to annoy Walker as much as they concerned him.
“Zac, where did you go?!”
“I don’t know, some mountains somewhere…”
“Mountains… Zachary what exactly is going on?”
“Nothing… Dad… nothing.”
“Zac, are you stoned on something? Is that what you were doing?”
“Stoned… Dad… no. NO, you think I’m on drugs?”
“In all honesty I have no idea what to think, but you’re standing in front of me claiming not to remember leaving the hotel, and you’re obviously completely spaced out, so…”
“I’m gonna be sick…”
Sighing, he followed him into the adjoining bathroom, eyeing him with naked suspicion as he sat on the edge of the tub, head in hands.
“If you’re sick, maybe that’s not such a good place for you to sit, huh?”
“I guess I’m not. It went away, it went away… I only went for a walk.” Zac swallowed heavily, his eyes closed. “I woke up restless, and I had to move… it was like something was tying all my muscles in knots, I had to move. But all I remember is going outside… and then some guy driving me back.”
“I don’t… Nick. Nick, he was in the tattoo parlor. He drove me home.”
“Mmmhmm, down in the village… he brought me home.”
“Zac… some stranger drove you home? In New York, Zac?!”
“He’s not a stranger… I can’t think, don’t you understand I don’t know?! God, my head…”
“Look at me…”
He caught his son’s head in his hands, peering deep into his eyes. Clear, though weary, not bloodshot, not glazed over in the flat stare of a stoner. No smell of alcohol on his breath, only a face pinched with pain and exhaustion.
“Did someone hurt you, Zac?”
He sighed a little, leaning his head for a moment against his father’s shoulder.
“I just took a walk, and I guess I started to get sick or something… because the guy that ran the tattoo shop drove me home.”
“Do you feel sick now?”
“No, just my head really hurts and I’m tired…”
“Want something to kill the headache?”
“Yeah, you got something?”
Walker nodded, left him sitting there on the edge of the tub, fighting back the swirls of suspicion in his mind. He returned minutes later to find his son already in bed, in a fist clenched sleep, lines of worry etched deep into his forehead.
Isaac walked into the room, voice dropping as he realized his brother was asleep, taking in at once the concern on his Dad’s face.
“Is he ok?”
“I don’t know, he was pretty confused… said he had a headache.”
“Where’d he go?”
“I have no idea, all he said was some guy named Nick drove him back.”
Ike’s face registered naked surprise.
“You’re gonna let it go at that?”
“He’s out like a light, Ike, what do you suggest I do? He’s sick… he says he’s not, other than the headache, but he’s definitely warm, he’s shivering all over, and he said he felt like throwing up.”
“Think it’s a migraine?”
“Would he be asleep if it were?”
“Probably not… not like him to just take off. That’s more Tay’s forte.”
His eyes narrowed a little as he watched Zac’s face, the flicker of his eyelids combined with the tickle at the back of his own mind telling him that his brother was awake. Awake and playing possum.
“I’ll sit with him a while Dad, if you want.”
Walker’s expression of relief caused Ike a little twinge of guilt, and he dropped his eyes, hoping Zac wasn’t going to confess anything too heinous once he got him talking. At 13 it hadn’t seemed a big deal to cover for each other, now for whatever reason, it made him feel slimey.
He watched his dad’s tired slump from the room, and turned his gaze to Zac.
“He’s gone, you can drop the act now.”
Zac’s eyes cracked open, and Isaac’s concern rose. He looked like he hurt.
“You ok Zac?”
“How’d you know I was awake?”
“I don’t know, just did. What’s up?”
“Nothing. I’m freezing.”
“You’ve got about ten blankets. Where’d you go today?”
“I don’t know. Get off my bed.”
“N’uh uh, I’m comfortable. Where’d you go?”
“Just for a walk…” Zac’s mind drifted for a minute, and Isaac saw the memory play out behind his own eyelids.
He pulled a blanket from the shelf above the closet, wrapping it around his shivering brother’s shoulders, sliding in behind him to give him some warmth.
He waited while Zac settled, feeling the hectic heat radiating into him.
“Ike, get out of my head!” Zac pulled away, indignation clearing the fog from his eyes. “He’s my friend, what, you have to know all my friends? I’m not allowed to know people? You have to go snooping into my thoughts???” Zac sneered at him, scorn and pain in equal parts across his face. The outburst added to the shivers, and he hugged his arms tightly around himself, struggling to calm down.
“God, it was just a question, Zac. Are you ok?”
Worried, Isaac reached for Zac, wanting only to take his hand, but Zac pulled away roughly.
“Don’t touch me, why does everyone have to keep touching me?! Nick is my friend, he runs a tattoo place down in the Village.”
“You known him long, Zac?”
“Yeah Ike!! Yeah I’ve known him a really long time! You need an address? You want to do a credit check on him? How ’bout his blood type, you want to screen him for STD’s?! God, just leave me alone…”
Zac turned away from Isaac, impatient and angry, not knowing why, wanting simply to be left alone.
“Zac, you don’t know him at all do you?”
He could see it, right there in his brother’s mind, the lie he was telling, yet… somehow there was a conflict. It was a lie, he had just met this guy, but he’d known him too… as he’d said, for a very long time.
“Oh, Zac, what the hell…”
“I don’t know! I don’t know, just leave me alone!”
Isaac nodded, careful to keep his expression calm, reached another blanket down from the shelf and tucked it around his shivering brother, reaching to brush his hair from his face.
“I’m sorry, Zac, I didn’t mean to badger you… you get some sleep.”
He didn’t realize he’d blocked his thoughts until he was well down the hall, already ticking off ways to find this Nick, and find out just what was going on.
“The Village…” Isaac mentally mapped out the district, knowing without a doubt that any previous plans had just been pre-empted.
Hurrying, though he couldn’t have said why, he threw on a coat, and headed for the elevator, stopping only to tell Taylor he was going out.
Taylor’s amused tone halted him briefly.
“Like that? Don’t forget your disguise, you won’t make it ten minutes out there.”
He grabbed a hat from Taylor’s piled up clothes, crammed it onto his head, and sighed.
“Hardly, but hey, it’s your life.”
“You want to come with me?”
“No, got plans…”
“Yeah, just fine…”
He caught the mental shove, the unmistakable message to just go, and nodded.
He bypassed the elevator, the need to move too strong to stand still that long, and headed across the street, cutting across the park, aiming for The Village.
His conscious sense of what he was doing, where he was going, was vague, as cloudy as the smoggy New York sky, but deep, deep inside his mind, beyond any part of it he thought he could reach, neurons fired hot, reaching for and tasting the resonance of Zac’s passing, these unsuspected mental bloodhounds guiding Isaac’s steps into the heart of the streets.
Taylor watched Ike whoosh past him, and snickered quietly.
“He won’t get across the street like that, without someone stopping him. Oh well, he knows the routine.” He sat back for a minute, thinking about what he meant to do. He wasn’t at all sure it was a good idea, but the need was strong in him.
Zac was changing, waking up. He knew it. He also knew he was supposed to leave him alone, let him come to it on his own. No interference, he’d been told, and told, and told.
He didn’t want to violate that, but it ate at him.
His own nature wouldn’t let him sit quietly by, saying nothing, doing nothing. At the very least he had to talk to someone, anyone, who could, if not help him to help Zac, at least offer him some words of comfort. He knew of one person, and that person just so happened to be here in NY. He’d been told… told by people he knew now weren’t quite people, to leave the man alone… but he had to speak to him, had to hear what he thought.
Decision made, his hand hovered for a minute over the old burnished brass key, tangled in its chain. “Dakota key… I won’t need it…” Still, it made him feel better to have it.
Nodding, he slipped it into his pocket, missing the funny little liquid glow that slid over it at his touch.
That his decisions weren’t entirely his never occurred to him.
Isaac searched for hours, amazed at the sheer wealth of piercings and inkings available, his intrigue and charm at the odd people he met somewhat subdued by the anxious need to discover Zac’s secret.
Still, the people were surprisingly friendly and open, and he found some of his fear eased. He doubted Zac had come to any harm down here.
His “disguise” did him no good, and he laughed off more than a dozen offers of free ink, in exchange for advertising.
“Like Christopher would ever agree to a sign saying ‘We inked Hanson’, yeah
right…” He laughed to himself, wondering at his mom’s reaction to her oldest son coming home with a snake on his chest.
“That’d give a whole new meaning to ‘pissed beyond belief’, yes it would. Or maybe she’d go for it if it said “MOM” in giant letters…”
He shook his head, slipping into the doorway of a funky looking coffee house, absently placing his order, scratching up under the bill of the hat. God, he hated hats.
For a moment he thought she’d offered him fleas in his coffee, and felt his face sink into a moronic state of confusion, suddenly realizing in what he considered to be a brilliantly late flash of wit, that she was referring to his annoyed digging at his hair.
Feeling stupid, pondering the wisdom of carrying it into a joke, he just shrugged, taking the hat off and stuffing it into a pocket.
“It’s my brother’s, you never know…”
“I’m sorry, it was rude. It’s been quite a day. You’re Isaac Hanson, aren’t you?”
His heart sank slightly. He was sick of being recognized.
“Yeah… I am.”
“I’m Susie… do you think you could sign an autograph for me?”
“Um…” He sighed, wishing he had the guts to say no, and nodded, barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
“Great, I work across the street, I have something over there you can sign…”
“Across the street?”
“Yeah, do you mind? Hey, I could give you a free tattoo…” She looked him over shamelessly, not noticing the flash of interest at the word “tattoo”.
Her eyes settled on his backside, and she grinned.
“I could put a work of art right there on that work of art. Free of charge, watery say?”
She giggled at his blush, and directed him across the street. “Come on, the Purple Scorpion. Right out in the open, your virtue is virtually guaranteed.”
“You work there?”
“Maybe you could help me, I’m looking for someone…”
Taylor opened the door quietly, not wanting to wake Zac, gazing in at him, unaware that he was watching for breathing, monitoring color, eye motions. All he knew was that he was watching him sleep.
Poor Zac… this wasn’t going to be easy.
He felt a brief flare of anger, knowing it was going to cause pain, knowing he couldn’t do anything about it.
“Dad?” His voice was soft, yet still he glanced anxiously at his brother. Still sleeping, good. “Ike’s out, and I’m going… that ok?”
“Take your pager…”
“I have mine, I’m pretty sure Ike has his. See you later… you ok here with him?”
His dad’s voice held a trace of laughter. “Yeah Taylor, I think I can manage.”
“Page me if you need me, ok?”
He left on his father’s nod, sneaking one last glance at Zac, feeling a fierce determination surge in him. He wouldn’t let them hurt him. That was it, if they liked it or not.
Nodding to himself, he slipped out, winding his hair up under a wooly winter hat, wrapping his face in a ratty old scarf, pulling the old trenchcoat higher up on his neck. The last thing in the world he wanted was to be accosted by that herd across the street.
“Hey Mario…” He called out to the doorman, grinning beneath the scarf at the man’s laughter.
“…think this’ll do?” He spun around, letting the laughing older man check out the disguise.
“Yes, Taylor, just keep the hat over those baby blues, you’ll do fine. I hate to say this, but your brother was stopped twice before he even got to the street.”
His eyes rolling, Taylor just shook his head. “Mario, he’s got no brains, none at all. See ya!”
He pushed open the door, carefully exiting with a older couple, his eyes on the girls across the street. If he could go unnoticed by them, the battle was his.
Careful not to look at them, he turned up the sidewalk, bracing a little against the February wind, trying to look like just another cold pedestrian. No squeals or shrieks came to him, and he risked a glance back, smiling at the sight of the flock, staring as usual at the steps of the hotel.
Nodding, he hurried up the sidewalk, ten minutes of slush trudging later finding him gazing up at the facade of the Dakota, his once rapturous feelings for it now darkened with the shadow of memory.
Isaac’s words cut off abruptly, as Susie stepped through the door, shucking off her coat to reveal a skin tight sweater, showing off ample… assets.
“Like what you see? That tattoo offer still stands y’know, and I’d be happy to show you around town… think about it, night on the town, drinks, whatever”
She smiled, laughed, and handed him a scrap of paper.
“Uh, this has someone’s artwork on it?”
“Just Nick’s, turn it over, it’s not important.”
“Yeah, he owns the place.”
He signed the paper absently, handed it back to her, heart thumping from much more than the sight of her chest.
“I’m looking for a guy named Nick, is he here?”
“No hon, he’s not, he gave some kid a ride home a while ago… so what’re you doing here in NY?”
He opened his mouth to answer, closed it again as she cut him off, drowned out by inane gushing and frequent giggling propositions. He could feel his patience wearing thin.
“Hey, I have an idea. You got that great Hanson symbol, you should let me tattoo that baby right… there.”
He rolled his eyes, realizing she was back to his butt again, and for just a moment pondered the idea of letting her do it. Certainly would be an experience, and she had propositioned him at least twice. Might even make the pain worthwhile.
He looked across into her eyes, caught the gleam there, and shook off the thoughts, mentally slapping himself.
He wasn’t here to play with pretty girls or to get the Hanson symbol tattooed on his rear.
“No… um… no, it’s ok, I don’t really want a tattoo, I’m sure, no, I’ve never really thought of getting the Hanson symbol put on my… er… anything.”
“You sure? Well what about coffee? Dinner? A night to remember? How but some good old fashioned public relations, huh?” Susie moved in closer to him, pressing herself up against his body.
“No, no… thank you, I…” He heard himself beginning to babble and caught hold of it, taking a deep breath, and two steps away. “Listen… I really have to find someone, a guy named Nick, who runs a tattoo place down here somewhere…”
“Well, I don’t see what you would want with Nick when you could have me…” She pretended to pout, a new gleam taking place of the old. “Unless of course you swing that way, and then y’know it’s Jake in there you’d have to talk to, because he…”
He felt his temper snap at about the same time a male voice darted through the shop.
“Susie! I’m out of green, can you mix me up some? NOW?! Before this young man kills you and dances on your corpse?”
Taylor pulled himself away from his contemplation of the building, realizing that he’d not even looked at it since he’d lived in it in that long ago summer.
He’d always thought it was ageless, timeless, unchanged, but he saw now how mistaken he had been. The building looked shabby, and an entire wall was taken with the subway station.
Sighing, shivering a little in regret for the building he loved, and fear of what it represented, he moved to knock softly on the doorman’s shelter, smiling as the man recognized him, nodded his agreement that he was the same kid that had always come around to visit George, agreeing completely that he knew George had retired, staring in amazed disbelief as the man refused to give him George’s address.
“But…” He didn’t want to argue, didn’t want to make a scene, but couldn’t even begin to accept how unreasonably he was being dealt with. “…He gave me his address, before I left the city. He told me to stay in touch. I left my place without it, I know he’s at Tompkins Square, I just don’t know the number. Please???”
Begging, he was begging a total stranger for someone’s address. Taylor felt about five years old, pleading for a candy. This man was just not as nice as George, he wasn’t anywhere as pleasant, or accommodating. Kind and sympathetic face be damned, he wasn’t doing Taylor any good at all.
“I’m sorry, son, I cant give out anyone’s address. I know you were a favorite of old George’s, but I still cannot give you any information. How do I know you haven’t had a falling out and want to go harass the old guy?”
“Because I wouldn’t do that! Could you call him? Call him and ask him if it’s alright?”
“I”m sorry son, I can’t leave my post and besides… it just wouldn’t be appropriate. I’m afraid if you forgot to bring his address, you’re just out of luck.”
The new doorman dismissed Taylor with those words, ignoring any further outbursts from the infuriated boy.
Taylor stomped over to the stairs, and sat on the shoveled dry steps, frustration overwhelming him. Was he asking so much???.
For Gods sake, all it would take was one phone call. One… a flash of deja vu suddenly overwhelmed him, and he swallowed faint nausea…
He’d been here before, on these same steps, while another doorman refused him… he saw Josh in front of him, could almost feel his fist hitting Josh’s face, feel the heat of that summer day…
Baking him, drowning in sweat, hateful itching clothes, the blood dripping from his nose…
He felt the desperate thirst, the overwhelming urge to just go home… looked up, saw the hot summer sun, waves of humidity distorting his vision… lightheaded, as his mind carried him backward, forward, a shimmery energy filled his head, he could see Josh, hear his voice…
He stood up, turned away from the vision of time gone by, reached to touch the door handle, a weird juxtaposition of biting cold and blistering heat sinking into his hand, felt the give as the locked doors of the Dakota opened for him, the very building itself lending it’s timeless aid to a Traveler.
It let him go then, as he stood just inside the doors, eyes squinting at the interior of a building he’d never been inside of, in his own time. The building of his dreams, now oddly familiar and dauntingly strange.
“How in hell…”
He glanced back at the door, shaking off the dizziness, afraid to think too deeply about what had just happened.
“The elevators look different…”
It hurt a little, that change… he felt as if someone had taken apart his home while he wasn’t looking, but the double doors drew him.
“I’m going up… I don’t know why… but I’m going up.”
He entered the elevator, pressing the button for the seventh floor, not sure what was driving him, what force was taking him back to that very place where it all started.
“Do not wonder, do not even think. Just go.”
The voice rang in his head, and his mouth fell open in astonishment.
In his mind he heard a solid affirmation, not so much a voice as an ingrown knowledge.
“Ben… why is Ben in my head?!”