Out of Order by Sheryl: Chapter 2

Title: Out of Order
Chapter: 2 of 2
Author: Sheryl
Rating: PG-13
Excerpt: It became a joyful routine for Zac. Every evening, when the others had gone to sleep, he pocketed his key, and journeyed to the basement employee lounge, to spend the evening with Tally.
That the situation was unexplainable didn’t bother either of them. They were children. It was magic. They were enchanted and delighting in every moment of it.
It wasn’t until several nights had passed that Zac began to notice.
“Tally?” He had his feet up on the face of the machine, idly wondering what housekeeping would think of the bootmarks on the plexiglas.
“Yeah Zac?”
“How come you sound like that?”
“Like what?”
“Well…” He paused, wondering how to word it. “Out of breath sort of. Like talking makes you tired.”
She paused, longer than he was comfortable with. He’d begun to wonder if she was gone, when she finally answered. “Zac, I’m tired a little bit. But it’s no big deal. How are things going on that end? Everyone in your family still down?”
He thought about it, surprised to find that he didn’t know. What was his family doing? How were they? He couldn’t remember.

Chapter 2

It became a joyful routine for Zac. Every evening, when the others had gone to sleep, he pocketed his key, and journeyed to the basement employee lounge, to spend the evening with Tally.
That the situation was unexplainable didn’t bother either of them. They were children. It was magic. They were enchanted and delighting in every moment of it.
It wasn’t until several nights had passed that Zac began to notice.
“Tally?” He had his feet up on the face of the machine, idly wondering what housekeeping would think of the bootmarks on the plexiglas.
“Yeah Zac?”
“How come you sound like that?”
“Like what?”
“Well…” He paused, wondering how to word it. “Out of breath sort of. Like talking makes you tired.”
She paused, longer than he was comfortable with. He’d begun to wonder if she was gone, when she finally answered. “Zac, I’m tired a little bit. But it’s no big deal. How are things going on that end? Everyone in your family still down?”
He thought about it, surprised to find that he didn’t know. What was his family doing? How were they? He couldn’t remember. For an instant, it occurred to him to wonder about that. But Tally’s next words drove the thought from his mind.
“Zac, you know, I may not always be here.”
“How come? What do you mean, where would you be going?” The anxiety in his voice touched her. “Now, Zac, you won’t spend the rest of your life talking into a candy machine and neither will I.”
The logic made him giggle, and he reached up into the cup on the table. “Here Tally…” He tossed the change over the barrier. “I cross your palm with silver for you words of wisdom. Buy yourself some chips, on me.”
“Well okay, but you’ll have to give them to me. No eating them either, and you still owe me 33 cents.”
“Damn…” He laughed again, as he handed her the chips, smiling as he felt her grip his hand. The smile became a yelp, as he yanked his hand back, the sharp rap she’d given it startling him. “What was that for?!”
“Quit your cussing. It’s not polite.”
He giggled again, rubbing at the back of his hand. “Geez Tally, get a ruler next time.”
“Oh, good idea!” She laughed, and the laugh turned into a cough, wiping the smile from his face.
“Tally?”
“Yeah Zac?”
“You’re sick, aren’t you.”
She paused again, and sighed. “Yeah Zac, but it’s nothing you need to worry about.”
“Well, tell me. I mean, I tell you all my problems, and you listen and you help me…” He stopped, the words backing up in his throat. She did. She listened to it all. She never criticized. She never complained. She never talked about herself. And he… he had never asked her.
Oh, God, I’m such a jerk. I’ve never even bothered to ask her about herself. Am I so stuck on myself?” He sighed and reached back through, taking her hand. “Tally, I’m not a very good friend, am I…”
He heard her cough, then laugh. “Zac, you’re an awesome friend.”
He snorted, feeling mildly guilty. “Hey Tally, you got a picture of you? Could I see what you look like?”
“Me? Uh, I guess so, I look kind of like road kill though. Lemme sneak back and get one.” A few minutes later he heard her giggle. “Okay, I guess I can pass this through.”
“Yeah… you want one of me?”
She laughed then, out loud. “Zac, you silly, I know what you look like.”
“You do? Can you see me or something? No fair…”
“No Zac! Duh! Zac Hanson? Who wouldn’t know what you look like?”
He felt himself blushing. “Oh. Oh yeah… I um… I guess I forgot”
“Forgot….” Her laughter felt good to him.
“Okay, okay, so I’m not stuck up.”
“Here, Zac…”
He reached in and felt the edge of a Polaroid snapshot. As he pulled it toward him, he gazed at it through the plastic shield.
Pretty, she was so pretty. Auburn hair, curls, beautiful green eyes… tiny face, so delicate. He felt his breath catch looking at it, and quickly pulled it out to see it more closely.
He’d looked for less than a moment, when the photo seemed to shimmer, and quickly dissolved into nothingness in his hand. “Whoa!!”
Tally heard the astonishment in his voice.
“What is it Zac?”
“It disappeared!! I took it out and it just disappeared!!”
“Oh… so you still don’t know what I look like?”
He laughed. “Yeah, I do, I looked before I took it out.” He sighed and his voice became wistful. “You’re so pretty Tally…”
“I’m not, not really, not anymore. But whatever, what happened to the picture? I know we can pass change and chips back and forth, how come not a picture?”
“I don’t know!” Zac’s eyes scanned the room. “Let’s see what else we can pass through”
The children spent the rest of the night discovering what would, and wouldn’t survive the trip through whatever their little portal was.
Their hands were fine, change for the machines, and the snacks from the machines themselves. Nothing else lasted on the other side of the gateway. Marveling, the two of them played until the sun began to rise, saying their dawn kissed goodnights, and hurrying away before they were missed.
Each night continued the same, but Tally’s nights were getting shorter and shorter, as she tired more quickly. Zac’s voiced concerns were brushed away, and always replaced with queries about his own health, his own frame of mind.
Finally, worried beyond belief at the weak, breathless tone of her voice, he lost his temper. “Damn it Tally, you won’t even let me care about you! I know you’re sick, and I know it’s bad, why won’t you tell me? Why do you worry so much about me?! I got not problems, my problems are SHIT!” Out of breath, angry, at who he didn’t know, he flung himself down onto the floor, kicking the machine. “I can’t even see you because this, this thing is in the way…”
“Zac…” Her voice, calm and steady as always. “Put your hand over the barrier for a second.”
He did as she asked, expecting her to take it, jumping to his feet with a yell, when instead something hit it, something that stung like fire. “Tally!!”
“Zac, I told you, no cussing. I did what you said I got a ruler. Now will you stop it?”
He sat back down, scowling, realization of how very little she asked of him, dawning in his mind. She gave and gave and gave, and refused to take anything back. Even when he had finally come down off his little self pity train, and tried to offer her some sort of support, she’d refused it.
“Zac…”
“What.”
“I don’t tell you about me because I don’t want to hear about me. I want to hear about you. I want to help you to sort things out, and be here to listen for you. It takes my mind off my own stuff.”
“Well what is your stuff. And where are you anyway? You never did tell me. Just that you weren’t near New York”
She laughed her tinkly laugh. “Zac you never give up. I’m far away from New York. And I’m not telling you my stuff. You don’t need to know that. But Zac…” Her voice became serious, soft.
“Yeah Tally?” He reached through again, and caught up her hand, alarmed at how thin, and frail her hand felt.
“I may not be back again. I know, please don’t say anything. But… I don’t think I’ll be able to. I just want you to know that this has been just…” She stopped. There were really no words to describe it.
He nodded, he understood. “I know… you won’t be back for sure?”
“I don’t know… I don’t think so. Maybe… I love you Zac.”
He felt her let go of his hand, and before he could answer, she was gone. Sighing, worried, he made his way back to his bed.
That was the last time Zac talked to Tally. He ran down the next night, but she never came. Dejected, worried, he waited until dawn, with no sweet, tripping voice coming to him. Again, and again, night after night, he ran down, to find an empty room, with no sweet friend waiting for him.
Finally, unwilling to accept it, but unable to deny it any longer, he acknowledged the unavoidable. She was gone. Whatever magic had been happening, for whatever reason, had ended.

Unable to sleep, wanting to talk to someone, but knowing nobody would ever believe that he had a friend who’s voice came from a snack machine, he wandered to the computer and signed on.
The net held little interest for him, and he leaned on one hand, idly checking bookmarks. Tulsaworld News. Ah the paper. “Might as well see what’s happening at home… wonder if anyone I know got arrested?” He surfed halfheartedly, finding most, if not all of the news, hopelessly boring. “Marriages. Yay.” Click. “Events… whoopee” Click. “Births and deaths… put those together why don’t you, mmmhmmmm…
He had barely reached for the mouse when a picture caught his eye.
A wavy haired, pale skinned, fine featured girl, brilliant green eyes reduced to white/gray in the black and white photo.
“Oh my God…” He read the name under the picture. “Talia… Tally… Oh my God…” Stunned, he read the page long article, relaying the life of a 12 year old girl, who had never lost hope in the face of insurmountable odds. He read of her volunteering with the very young kids, at the cancer hospital in which she’d spent the last six months of her life, never stopping even in the face of her own illness, reading to the little ones, playing with them, soothing their fears.
A quote from her was included in the article.
Oh, it’s not a hard thing to do, it takes my mind off my own stuff, and takes their minds off theirs… I just want to help them not be scared, ’cause I’ve been there, and it just helps to hold the hand of someone who’s been there.
He could hear her voice in his head, and glanced down at the date of her death. The night he’d run down and stayed until dawn. The night she hadn’t come back. The night after she’d told him goodbye.
Flashes of conversations blinked in his mind, while his tears fell onto the keyboard.
Her listening to his gripes and complaints when her own were so much worse.
Her lack of complaint, her complete refusal to mention her illness, while she gave total attention to his endless litany of trivial injuries, real and imagined. And what had she ever asked for in return?
“For me to stop cussing and I couldn’t even manage that…” Unable to hold together any longer, he laid his head down and cried, not caring who heard him, not caring about the questions he would be asked.

Isaac wandered out into the sitting room, smiling a little at the sight of his brother, asleep with his head on the keyboard.
“Zac…” He shook his head, and shook him gently. “Zac, bud, c’mon. You okay?” His voice became worried, at the sight of his brother’s tearstained face.
“What? Ike…?”
“Pretty sleepy buddy, huh? You fell asleep out here. Tay’s finally stopped throwing up, it should be quiet now, you’ll be able to sleep. Or you can have my room if you want… come on..”
Zac’s eyes took in the breaking dawn, and Isaac’s pale face.
“What time is it?”
“Just a little before 5 in the morning. You better go on to bed…”
“Ike, are you sick?? Why are you so white?”
“Well yeah Zac, you know that…”
“But… how come you’re still sick? What did you say about Tay?”
“That the pukefest seems to be over, and he won’t be keeping you awake anymore.”
“How come everyone’s still sick? It’s been over a week!”
“A week?” Isaac smiled fondly at his brother. “Zac, you went stomping out to get a coke just a little over four hours ago. Go to bed, bud”
“Bed…” Zac stood up, and staggered into Isaac’s arms. “Oh, whoa I think I’m a little tired…”
“Yeah, I’d say so….” Isaac helped him to bed, listening to Zac’s mutterings.
“But I don’t… every night… the coke, and the change, and I touched her hand Ike! The snack machine, Ike TALIA!!” He broke away from Ike’s grasp, and ran back to the computer, eyes skimming over the date again. “Oh my God, she died yesterday! Ike…” His legs gave out then, and he sank, crying all over again, to the floor.
Isaac was beside him in a minute, arms around him, as he listened to Zac’s incredible tale. More often than not, tears choked his words beyond understanding, but Isaac, and Taylor, who had joined them, hearing his brother’s distress, picked up most of it, eyeing each other over Zac’s head, each thinking that the boy had had one heck of an upsetting dream.
“Zac…” Taylor’s voice was soft, and Zac leaned into him, releasing Isaac for the moment.
“It wasn’t a dream Tay, you don’t understand. She only wanted to talk about me, never about herself… God I was so selfish, so selfish and I never will have the chance to tell her I’m sorry, or to make it up to her… She never told me, Tay, she never told me I was too selfish. I never even paid her back her lousy 33 cents…”
Shaking his head, looking helplessly up at Isaac, Taylor just hugged him, wishing he had some idea what to say.
“Well, Zac, she must have had her reasons…” Isaac’s voice cut through the hysteria, and Zac nodded, trying to catch his breath.
“Reasons, yeah… she did… God, I was too selfish for words… and she loved me anyway.”
“Come on Zac…” Taylor helped him to his feet, and led him into the bedroom. “You go to sleep, bud, you’re way too undone.”
Zac nodded. He felt undone. His brother’s hand rubbed his back gently and he drifted off.

He woke up a few hours later, to find both of his brothers sound asleep. One glance at their faces told him they weren’t feeling any too great. Sighing, he pulled a blanket over Taylor, and pulled one of a few too many off of Isaac.
Shrugging, knowing that at least they were asleep, he went into his mother’s room, his grief uneased, his heart heavy. He wanted to tell his mother, but he knew, knew, that what had happened to him wasn’t something anyone would believe.
He paused outside her door, hearing her trying to comfort one of the little ones. “She sounds so tired…” Knocking softly, he stepped inside, taking in the chaos of a vomiting sibling, and exhausted mother.
“Aw mom, I’ll take her…” He reached over and pushed sweat damp hair out of his sister’s face, and slid an arm around her. “Go on, go back to bed. I’ll take care of her….” His mother, unwilling to accept that this blond angel was her son, stared in disbelief. “Go, go on, I’m up, I’ll look out for these guys.”
She nodded and left quickly, afraid he would change his mind. Zac watched her go, and turned his eyes back down to his sister.
This wasn’t how he’d wanted to spend his day, but thoughts of another girl’s sacrifices were heavy on him, and his heart told him that while it was too late to make anything up to Tally, it wasn’t too late to start being good to his family. These people loved him unconditionally, and he knew the little girl in his arms would be the first one to come hold his hair back, if it were him.
His paranoia about catching it faded as he thought about it. “If I get sick, I get sick. They’ll all be here to help me…

They headed home a few days later, an inexplicably subdued Zac in tow. His help had been appreciated, but the sadness unnerved them all. He seemed to be grieving, but for who?
Taylor had found the printed out article about the little girl from Tulsa, and had taken it to his mother. “Mom… mom, read this, did Zac know her?”
Diana had skimmed the article, noted the area the girl had lived in, and shaken her head. “No, no Tay, I don’t think so, why? So sad…”
Taylor had only shrugged and tucked the article into Zac’s suitcase.

Zac wandered through the cemetery, eyes intent on the inscriptions.
The funeral home in the paper, had told him she was buried here. If he could just find it. It was so quiet here, normally he would have found it creepy, but for some reason it felt right.
He wandered for a while, never losing hope that he would find it, and finally, around a corner, there it was.

Talia Jane Martin.
1-12-86-7-6-98.

“That’s it. That’s you Tally.” He stretched out, back against the headstone, long legs stretched out along the length of the grave.
Somehow, he didn’t think she’d mind. “I gotta talk to you Tally. You listened, and listened and listened, and I said a lot of damn stupid stuff, but I never really said anything that meant anything, did I?”
He winced as a sharp pain lanced across his hand.
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, no cussing. Tally I’m just hopeless I guess. I was awful, I was selfish, I was a loser, I was a pig, and I just dumped on you something awful and you let me get away with it. Oh I know, I guess I’m not really selfish, just kind of caught up in myself, and I needed to talk and you were there, but… you needed more, and you never told me, and I was so stuck in my own shit…”
That pain again, and he caught his breath. “…Sorry, stuff, that I never even thought to ask you until it was too late. I wish I could make it up to you, but I know I can’t. The best I can do, I know, I know Tally, is to just make sure I listen to them, my family and the other people who love me, and maybe even the people who don’t, maybe just think more about what other people might need… I was so awful to Tay and Ike, they were so sick and instead of trying to help them, I tried to get away from them, because they were grossing me out, because I was afraid I would get sick, and you know what I did get sick and you know who was the first one there? Ike was, that’s who, and even after I’d been so awful to him… I need to be…” He stopped for a minute, waiting for the word to come to him. “…compassionate, even with them, especially with them, because they know exactly what I’m going through, ’cause they’re going through it too. No, no… I’m not afraid, I’m not afraid of you, I don’t want to be nice because I think a ghost is haunting me… I know I’d like it if you did though, Tally…”
His face lit in a smile for a moment, “But you just made me see, you made me see that all that sh… stuff I was worried about, and complaining about, it was nonsense. It didn’t mean anything Tally. It wasn’t anything. I was just spoiled that’s all. I thought nobody was there for me because nobody came running to make it silent for me and hand me a coke and entertain me when I couldn’t sleep, but when I really needed them, when I was sick and couldn’t even get up, they were right there, even though they got kinda messed up, they were there for me, even though I hadn’t been there for them… you showed me, Tally, you showed me what was important, and what it means to love somebody. To love somebody unselfishly, not for what they might do for you, but just because you love them. I wish I’d really known you, I mean, I know you’re here, you hit me two times already dammit… Ow! Three times, Tally… but I guess if I didn’t question a talking snack machine I won’t question this. And I won’t cuss anymore either, I’ll just really try hard not to because… I don’t mind if you haunt me, but I don’t want you smacking my hand anymore.”
He sat back, the flood of words drying up as suddenly as it had started. He blinked, knowing that something had just happened, not sure what it was. There was someone here with him though, someone he didn’t want to, wasn’t ready to, say goodbye to yet.
“If I ever really need you, though Tally, you’ll be there won’t you? It’s too late for me to do that for you, but for you, I’ll try to be there for the others. And if I really miss you, I’ll just swear. You’ll have to come back around to smack me.”
The breeze blew through his hair then, and the leaves above his head rustled, faintly reminiscent of a tinkling, musical giggle he knew well. That same breeze, softly touched his face, the feel of a kiss almost, and he thought, if he listened carefully, he could hear her voice… almost. Yes, it was time to say goodbye. He would never know why it had happened, and probably neither would she…but it had. He breathed out the word, “goodbye” and folded his arms onto his knees, laying his cheek on them, letting the breeze dry the tears that fell unheeded from his eyes.
His thoughts drifted easily as the motes on the wind, remembering, this time without all the pain. Out of order signs, he remembered all the out of order sings, and smiled a little. “Boy was someone trying to tell me something. It sure wasn’t those machines that were out of order, it wasn’t them that needed fixing. It was me.
Sighing, he wiped the tears from his face and shut his eyes, peaceful sleep taking him right there, safe under the trees.
He never heard the car drive up, or his brothers soft steps. He just knew that suddenly arms were around him, picking him up, and another soft and much loved voice came, a breath in his ear. “C’mon Zac, let’s go home…”

The End

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

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