Roads: Chapter 24

Title: Roads
Chapter: 24 of 43
Author: Sheryl
Rating: R
Other Info: Sequel to Walls
Warnings: Drug-usage, cursing, violence etc
Excerpt: “Tay, tell me what you don’t understand.”
Sighing, Taylor shook his head. None of this meant anything. He’d wandered the grounds for hours, seeing people in trees, and people in valleys, people building huge constructions, people painting murals on walls, inside and outside he’d seen dozens of busy, focused, and very involved groups, all completely devoted to whatever they were doing. He’d seen groups sitting and talking, and solitary beings writing quietly in journals. He couldn’t deny that everyone looked occupied, but the point eluded him.

Chapter 24

Daniel looked at Taylor, and burst into laughter. “Taylor, your face is so screwed up, you look like a demented owl! What’s wrong?”
Taylor scowled, deepening the V his brows had made, between his eyes, the inspiration for Dan’s comment. He flung himself onto the ground, decidedly sulky. “Quit it. I don’t get any of this.”
Dan plopped down onto the grass, next to him, assuming his usual languid sprawl. Eyeing Taylor, he swallowed his laughter. Taylor did look just like an owl, but he could see that his humor wouldn’t find a receptive audience.
“Tay, tell me what you don’t understand.”
Sighing, Taylor shook his head. None of this meant anything. He’d wandered the grounds for hours, seeing people in trees, and people in valleys, people building huge constructions, people painting murals on walls, inside and outside he’d seen dozens of busy, focused, and very involved groups, all completely devoted to whatever they were doing. He’d seen groups sitting and talking, and solitary beings writing quietly in journals. He couldn’t deny that everyone looked occupied, but the point eluded him.
Now, sitting on the grass, tired, hungry, and frustrated, his numbed mind refused to make any meaning out of the group before him. There were perhaps six individuals, of varying shapes and sizes, all talking at once. In front of them was a wooden wall, a shallow pit, and various pieces of rope, wood, and iron. Evidentially, the goal was to get over the wall, without touching the ground, without falling in the pit, using the various scraps available to them.
He watched them struggle for a while, marveling at the uselessness of it all.
“I just don’t get it, Danny, why don’t they just walk around that hole and jump over?”
“Because the rules say they can’t.”
“But why? I mean look, that girl?” He pointed a girl who’d fallen off the rope at least half a dozen times. An attempt to ride with someone else had also failed, landing her in the shallow pit of leaves. Laughing, she’d get up each time, brush herself off, and huddle with the others, presumably to plan another attempt.
“She’s trying to swing over that, she’s died like, six times, if they fall in that hole, they’re dead, right? Obviously she can’t do it, so why…” He shook his head. “Why waste all this time?”
“Taylor.”
He stopped, arrested by the exasperated tone in Daniel’s voice. Flinching a little, he glanced sideways at the other boy. He knew he was missing something.
“The goal is to find a way, by co-operation, to get everyone across, even the ones who can’t do it on their own. They’ll work, together, until they figure it out.” He eyed Taylor intently. The dubious look on his face said it all. Ah well, it took time. ‘You’re missing the whole point, aren’t you?”
Taylor looked away. He was tired, and beginning to be bored, as well as frustrated. He knew that he was supposed to be noticing something, here, but all he was seeing was a lot of people working very hard, for no discernable reason.
“Well what’s all this got to do with me? I mean, why am I here?”
Dan stretched out on his back, arm thrown over his eyes, to block the sun.
“We just thought you might like to see it. I live here, and I think it’s a pretty cool place. But if you don’t get it, you don’t get it. It’s no big deal.” He stayed quiet for a moment, then, reluctantly, loath to give up his spot in the sun, climbed to his feet, and beckoned to Taylor. “Come on, you’ve seen what there is to see, lets go find CC.”
As they walked away, a sudden silence sprang up behind them, as most of the participants at the obstacle field suddenly went quiet.
Taylor turned, and saw several sets of eyes, and various expressions, all trained on him. Eyes narrowing, a breath of anger stirring in him, he took a step back toward them. Dan’s hand on his arm stopped him.
“It’s okay, they’re just curious about you. Let’s go.” His voice was warm, and his face held a hint of amusement. “Subtle, they are not. Now lets go find CC. With CC comes dinner, and I’m starving.”
Taylor followed him, shooting the occasional suspicious glance back over his shoulder. The majority of the group had turned their attention back to their task, but one girl separated herself from them, jogging to catch up to the two boys.
“Danny! Dan, wait up!”
He stopped and turned, grinning. “Hey Ruby. You’re not supposed to run out on them. Had enough?”
Ruby, the girl who’d had so much trouble finding her way over the barricade, laughed, a laugh that rang throughout the compound, and lit up her entire face. “Baby, they need a break from me. I was wondering about your friend here.”
Her face, open and friendly, turned to Taylor, seemingly undismayed by his look of open suspicion and hostility. Daniel nodded, and gave Taylor a little shove, moving him slightly closer to the girl, and her wonderful grin. She smiled, wider if possible, and stuck out a hand.
“Hi, my names Ruby. You’re Taylor, aren’t you?”
His gaze, uneasy, flicked to Dan, and then quickly around, as if searching for help. Seeing no way out, he settled his eyes on her again, unsure, and very uncomfortable… “I… yeah. Hi.”
She took the half offered hand, and gripped it warmly. “Taylor, I have to tell you, I love your music. Gotten me through a lot of tough times. I’m real sorry about all the trouble you’ve been having. Are you going to be staying with us?”
He shook his head, more nervous now that he’d gotten a good look at her, and realized that she was in fact not a young girl, as he’d first thought, but a grown woman, and one who seemed to know all about him. His nerves began to fire as he attempted to answer her.
“I… I don’t know why I’m here.”
“Well…” She turned to Daniel, her hand still enfolding Taylor’s. “Dan, this poor boy looks about to have a breakdown.” She toned down her manner a little, looking back into Taylor’s eyes. “Don’t let it scare you. It’s a good place here. You’ll find a welcome.” He shook his head again. “Why would I be staying?”
Now it was her turn to look puzzled. “Well, if you’re not staying, why are you watching?”
His face closed up, at that. He didn’t know, and he didn’t know how to answer her. His walls went up, as he saw the friendly warmth in her eyes replaced by cold suspicion. Now her eyes narrowed, and she took a step back, dropping his hand. “This had better not be some ‘Famous Rock Star mixing with the rabble for publicity’ bullshit, because man, that rots!”
The contempt in her voice burned, she may as well have been holding a flame to him. He shook his head frantically. “No, no, I don’t even know!” He turned to Dan, who, he was alarmed to see, wasn’t doing anything about the situation.
Ruby advanced on him, slowly backing him against the fence.
“Well, Mr. Rock and Roll Star, if that’s what your game is, you can forget it! None of us here are gonna go for that media, heartwarming, human interest SHIT! We all have better things to do! So you can take your lily white, golden boy ass the hell out of here!” Her finger was relentlessly poking his chest as she shouted, shoving him backward.

He came up against the fence, now, and, having no choice but to defend himself, he stepped into her space, grabbing the hand that was shoving him. “I’m not here for any media shit!” He hadn’t meant to shout, somehow it had just come out. He was tired, edgy, and his head ached. Before he’d had any chance to think, his temper broke free. “I don’t know why I’m here! I don’t even want to be here!” He stepped closer, now forcing her to take a step away. “You can just step back outta my face! I don’t care about this place, and I don’t care about any of you! I’m sure as fuck not here with the goddamn newspaper! I don’t even want to be here! They brought me here, and if I’m lookin’ at you, it’s ’cause they said I had to, not ’cause I like lookin’ at you’re face!”
His hand squeezed hers, white-knuckled, and her face reflected pain. Two sets of eyes blazed into each other, neither willing to back down. Small bones in her hand had begun to grind, when a slight, dark, and very gentle hand pressed down on theirs, and a soft voice broke in. “That’s enough.”

The very quietness of Danny’s voice brought them up short. Two sets of eyes, chocolate brown and ice blue, stared into his. Those same eyes flicked to each other, and Taylor slowly relaxed his grip on Ruby’s hand.
Rubbing at it, eyes flashing, she backed away. Dan’s calm gaze took in both of them.
“Have some temper, guys, really.” He gave Taylor a gentle nudge, a step or two further from Ruby, and reached for her hand. “Is your hand okay?”
She nodded, scowling at Taylor. “It’s sore though. Pretty boy here is stronger than he looks.”
Taylor snorted and turned away. “Daniel, let’s just go, okay? I’ve really had enough.”
Ruby, unable to resist another jibe, stepped closer. “What’s the matter? The dregs here more than you can take?”
Daniel chided her gently. “Ruby, come on, you know how you felt when you first saw this place. You didn’t know what was going on, either. Why you being so mean, now?”
“Mean? You think I’m being mean? He didn’t deny being here to stare.”
Daniel understood her reaction. Feeling on display was never easy, and he knew that Taylor’s professional status probably made it even worse, the horrible feeling of being judged, and found inferior, by someone you looked up to. His soul ached, knowing, how hurt she must feel, friendly, open Ruby, to be saying these things, how wrong she was yet unable to tell her for fear of invading Taylor’s privacy… He wished Taylor would just say something.
Glancing at him, he was alarmed to see the other boy shivering violently, face pale. Whether with reaction, or cold, he didn’t know. Shaking his head, knowing it was past time to get Taylor out of here, he motioned Ruby back toward her group.
“Why don’t you go on back, we’ll talk later.”
She nodded, still scowling, and turned her attention to Taylor. Something in the boy’s face, and Daniel’s protective attitude toward him, was making her uneasy. She suspected she’d misjudged, and lashed out at him unfairly. Swallowing her anger, along with her opinions, she tried to smooth it over.
“Taylor, if I’m wrong about you, I’m sorry.” She started back toward her people, paused, and turned back to the boys. “If you are going to join us here, you’ll…”
He broke in, rejecting her offer of truce, tone petulant. “I already told you I’m not going to. I don’t like it here. I don’t like any of this.”
She smiled, slightly, and reached out to touch his arm, a gesture she intended to be comforting. His reaction was completely unexpected. His head flashed up, eyes blazing, as he flung her hand off of his arm. He backed up so quickly that for a moment Daniel doubted his own senses, questioning whether Ruby’s gentle touch had in fact been a blow.
Startled, Ruby jumped back, eyes filled with confusion, yet ironically, a bitter understanding. Nodding a farewell at Daniel, she started back to her people.
He watched her move dejectedly back into the group, feeling badly for her. When he looked again toward Taylor, the boy was already halfway back to the main building.

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

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