Roads: Chapter 38

Title: Roads
Chapter: 38 of 43
Author: Sheryl
Rating: R
Other Info: Sequel to Walls
Warnings: Drug-usage, cursing, violence etc
Excerpt: Blink, and the scene changed, and Zac was sitting up smiling at him.
It’s about time, Tay.
Where are you? What is this place?” He walked up to the bed.
Watch out, don’t step in that.
He looked down, and saw a floor puddled with blood. “Zac…
That’s yours Tay, I’m not the one bleeding here. You’re putting your own self into this. Listen to me.” Zac’s voice, suddenly almost angry. “I can’t do this much more. It hurts, and I’m already sick. You’re going crazy, you can’t help me much longer. I told you where I was, you never came to find me. You’re bleeding all over my bed, Tay.
Taylor stepped back. “Sorry. Where are you? I’ll come get you.
I don’t know. But I’m okay. All I wanted to do was tell you I’m okay.
Is this where you are, or where I am?
Zac looked around, “The hospital?
Yeah.
It’s where I am. Where you should be. I got a really nice nurse too.” Zac grinned, and Taylor saw he had teeth missing. “What happened to your teeth?
My teeth? Nothing. Tay, you need to get out of here and wake up. Things aren’t good for you right now. Tell them that I’m okay.

Chapter 38

“This is my house.” Jason’s soft voice startled Brian, who’d nearly forgotten the boy was in the car. All he’d needed was Jay’s address, to find the house. He knew Tulsa. Missed it. Sighing, he nodded and pulled over.
“Nice house. Nice neighborhood. And you ran away from this? What’re your parents creeps or something?” Jason shook his head, puzzled.
“We didn’t run away. We went camping.”
Brian grinned. “Oh yeah, camping. Right.”
“What, you don’t believe me?”
“Well…” Brian’s eyes held an amused gleam. “To be totally honest, um… nope.” Jason shrugged, dismissing him. What did it matter? “Kid, you going in?”
“Huh? Oh…” He started from the car, stopped, looked back in. “Will you tell me where Zac is? Please? I have to tell his mom and dad.”
“My dad took him to the hospital.”
“Yeah, but which hospital?” Brian shook his head.
“I don’t know which town he drove into. I have no idea.”
Jason’s voice raised with that. “You have to tell me! He was so sick, they need to be able to get to him!” Brian shook his head again, unperturbed.
“Kid, I don’t know. I’d tell you if I knew, but I have no idea where he took him. Don’t worry though, whichever hospital it is will call his parents. I think they have to do that before they can even take his temperature anyway.”
Jason eyed him doubtfully. “Really?” Brian nodded, anxious now to be away.
“I’m sure of it. Now go on in and tell mommy and daddy you’re home. I’ll see you later.” He started backing the car out, watching the boy jump back. He was feeling hostile, jealous even. Look at this place, and the kid runs away. Didn’t know how lucky he was. Thinking he’d give anything to be in the kid’s shoes, he pointed the car back toward home.

Jason went in quietly. He was in so much trouble, he knew. The last time he’d done this, he’d been gone for three days, and pretty much been told that if it happened again, there was no punishment other than death suitable for making them worry like that.
“Mom?” Nothing. Not up yet? Well, it was still pretty early. Maybe they weren’t as upset as he’d thought. No, that didn’t make sense. They hadn’t even known he was going, and it had been two nights. They had to be mad.
“Mom?!” Still nothing. Silence. How weird. His eyes swam a little, and he reached for the edge of the desk. Dizzy. “God I’m still so tired.” He waited a moment until the room stopped spinning, and stumbled over to the couch. He knew he should find his mom. He knew he should call Zac’s parents. But he just needed to close his eyes for a second. Just a second, so that they’d stop burning, and then he’d call. He sat for a few minutes, head spinning, waiting as the vertigo deepened and he began to feel slightly motion sick. Wondering if he was coming down with whatever Zac had had, or if he was going to throw up or what, thinking he should be near the bathroom just in case, he sighed and stumbled upstairs, phone call forgotten.
In his exhaustion he never even saw the note next to the phone, his own name glaring out in large red letters. Never saw the flashing of the answering machine that signaled a message. His pounding heart and spinning head drove all thoughts of phone calls and worried parents from his mind. Bypassing the bathroom, the nausea too faint to worry him particularly, he all but fell into his room, collapsing onto the bed. He knew he needed a shower. He knew he needed to tell someone he was home. He would. In just a moment, as soon as the dizziness went away. In just a minute. He’d get right up. Within seconds, Jason Elliot was fast asleep, safe inside his own room, while beyond the doors, the search went on.

********************

God that hurts!” Zac’s eyes opened as a sudden coughing spell tore through his chest. Wincing, at both the pain and the terrible taste in his mouth, he turned over a little, looking for someplace to spit out the mouthful of stuff he’d brought up. “God this is gross…” The thought flitted through his head, in and out, gone almost before he recognized it. Finding no place to spit, and forgetting for the moment that that was what he was looking for, he swallowed, grimacing, and looked around him. He wasn’t connecting and he knew it, nothing he saw seemed to be related to anything.
White ceiling, something on it, something bright. Soft hissing, cool air on his face. Aching, burning in his chest. Something in his face, he could see it, feel it, what was it? He brought his hand up, intention to touch the object on his face diverted by the sight of his hand. Tape, tubing, what? What was stuck in his hand? He knew what it was. He knew he did. Couldn’t think of it. Didn’t matter. His other hand came up, and touched the object on his face. Mask? Suddenly feeling it was stifling him, he pulled it off, something instinctive making him take a deep breath as it left his face. The breath became another bout of coughing. He had to sit up. He grabbed onto the bedrails and hauled himself up, hand aching fiercely. Why did his hand hurt? Bad idea, as soon as he was upright a monstrous bolt of pain slammed through his head and his stomach turned over, nausea sweeping through him, making him whimper.
“Here, that’s alright, let go of the rail. Let go of the rail.” The voice was firm, and arms just as firm as the tone went around him then, and he let it go, hands moving to his chest, as if somehow that would stop the pain. The coughing went on and on, and he’d begun to feel himself graying out, when it finally ended. “Here, spit that out. That’s good, you want to clear that out.”
He did as he was told, and looked up, panting slightly, into the face of a stranger. Who was she? Where was the other one? Hadn’t someone been here? Someone… the thought drifted away, and he let himself be settled back against the pillow. The woman in the room pushed a button and the head of his bed raised, startling him at first and then suddenly making a connection.
Hospital bed. Hospital? “I’m in a hospital?” He croaked out the words, throat sore, but she understood him.
“Yes you are. Hush for just a minute now…” She smiled, but there was no real feeling in it. He watched, face serious, as her fingers grazed his wrist. “Taking my pulse…” He looked around a little more.
Row of beds, most of them empty. Desk in the corner. Did hospitals always put the nurses in the rooms? He didn’t think so. Never seen that happen before. Feeling more alert, he looked back at what she was doing. Checking his blood pressure. She didn’t have to make it so tight did she? Wincing and frowning at her, he waited for some sign that she would speak. Nope, not yet, she pulled the covers back slightly, and moved aside the hospital gown he now realized he was wearing. Confused, wondering why he was here, he watched her place her stethoscope in her ears, and set the bell on his chest. Cold!
“Hey!” He pulled back a little, his raised voice bringing on another spate of coughing. “That’s cold…”
She smiled tightly. “Sorry.” She warmed it in her hand for a moment, repeated her instructions, “Sshh now, for a minute…” Listened, noted, and moved on to his hand. Frowning, she examined what he now saw was a needle, connected to tubing that ran up the side of the bed. IV feed. He knew what that was. He’d had that before. Visions of another hospital darkened his thoughts for a moment. Sighing, he looked at her again, watching her working busily around his bed, wishing she’d say something, anything.
Someone had been talking to him. He remembered a voice, low, sweet, and musical. Soothing, almost like his mom’s. He’d felt safe, hearing that voice. Who had it been? “Probably a dream…” He hadn’t meant to speak aloud, and when the woman’s eyes shot to him, he felt absurdly as if he’d misbehaved. “What’s that?” He shook his head, and dropped his eyes. Nodding, the woman reached beside him, picked up the mask he’d flung there, and slipped it over his head again, settling it in place, and giving him a no nonsense look.
“You leave that on now.” He nodded, almost afraid, and watched as she took the clipboard she’d been busily scribbling on, flew to the nurses station, handed it the woman behind the desk, and dashed to someone in another bed.
“Wow…” Zac’s whisper was impressed. “She moves fast.” He laid back again, sleepy despite the fact that he’d just awakened. He felt pretty lousy actually, and he seemed to be too connected to things to actually get comfortable. He knew now that the thing on his face was oxygen. Good, he felt pretty out of breath, he wasn’t about to argue. Still, it felt like it was smothering him. Just having something over his face like that. “In my way…” Sighing, he looked at his hand. It ached terribly. He’d had IV’s in before and they hadn’t hurt. Why did this one? He tried to turn over and something jabbed him, under his arm. Reaching over he felt something taped there. God only knew what that was.
Every time he shifted, something else tugged at him. Eyeing the side of the bed, he could see tubing snaking out from under the covers. Very much afraid he knew where the other end of that was connected, he shut his eyes, feeling tears start. He fought them off, not wanting to be laying here crying. This just sucked, he felt awful and he had things stuck in him where things just shouldn’t be stuck. Top it off he was freezing to death, his chest ached, and there wasn’t a familiar face in sight.
Where was everyone? Where was his mom? Jason! Where was Jason? How had he ended up here? Unsure who, if anyone, he should ask, he opted to keep quiet, watching people bustle around, finishing paperwork, checking dials and gauges, adjusting beds, a million little tasks. While it was faintly interesting, it didn’t do much to make him feel any better.
Confused, and lonely, wondering why his mom wasn’t here, missing the voice of his friend, whoever she had been, he felt himself starting to cry again. Unable to help it, he curled up onto his side, hoping nobody would notice him. Trying to be quiet, brushing tears away as unobtrusively as possible, he never heard anyone approach the bed. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the friendly voice spoke in his ear.
“Now, now, all that’s going to do is stuff up your nose on top of everything else. Turn over here.” The voice was friendly, but brooked no argument. He turned over, looking up into the sympathetic face of the nurse who had been standing behind the desk.

********************

CC’s head buzzed. He had it. He knew he had it, the suspicion that had been growing in him had just been confirmed, as far as he was concerned. He ticked the selling points off in his head, as he drove. Obviously something had happened to set off stress severe enough to be medicated. Nobody knew what it was, but there had to be something. Over the months, even with medication, symptoms of stress got worse, leading to drug abuse, violence, and attempted suicide. After intervention, there was no real improvement. Sure he was clean, but he was housebound. The stress was still there, despite being back in his home environment. The violent outbursts continued, alternating with periods of withdrawal, depression, and elation. He’d run away.
Obviously something was not only still going on, but getting worse. Obvious attempts to “act normal” failed, frustrating him. He didn’t sleep. He couldn’t keep food down. He didn’t see his friends, or associate with his family. He had nightmares. Occasionally he’d break down, and become emotional with a family member, but those emotional outbursts didn’t seem to affect anything, and he never felt any better for them.
As far as anyone knew, random events seemed to trigger outbursts, but CC had just felt the puzzle piece he’d been searching for click in. He glanced at Taylor, who was sitting, hands clasped between his knees, head down. He hadn’t spoken a word. CC hesitated. He wanted to try to get the boy to talk, but he didn’t want to have to deal with an explosion in the car.
Turning back to the road, he ticked off the clues. Taylor reportedly had a serious reaction to being looked at in public. He couldn’t stand to go out of the house during the day, and outings were tense, and usually ended with him being sick somewhere. He would only go outside at night, and then only out back. He had no problem with people coming over, or coming in, and talked to them readily, but wouldn’t allow himself to be seen out front, or go anywhere the media could see him. He’d refused to leave the house even to look for Zac, and he’d been desperate to look for Zac, and CC now realized that there had been a load of press at the end of the drive.
He’d come along willingly now, an oddity that had puzzled him until he realized that the press was not there. The impending press conference/statement had called them all back to their various home bases to prepare. As soon as they were gone, Taylor was more than willing to get in the car and go. How had he missed this? It was so clear. Twice now, he’d seen cameras cause violence. With Diana, earlier, and poor Elly just a few minutes ago. Taylor’s outburst earlier in the car had been accompanied by various mutterings about being photogenic, and he’d noticed the boy rubbing rather frantically at the back of his neck, as if trying to dislodge something.
Thinking back, he’d realized that Danny’s fight with Taylor, or more properly speaking, Taylor’s attack on Dan, had been prompted by touch, as reported by Dan. Isaac had reported to him that Taylor had “gone off on” Sandra Elliott as well. Isaac said she’d “come up behind him, she wanted to make him feel better. She put her hand on his neck and he almost punched her lights out.”
CC was pretty sure he had the whole situation pieced together pretty well. Taylor was not touch aversive. He sought out physical contact from his family members constantly, and had even done so with CC.
CC had seen him being very physical with his friend Tiffany, and with Amanda. He’d hugged the other Elliott boy, whatever his name was, and it had caused him no problem. But what if it were a certain type of touch? One that brought back a memory? The neck rubbing, almost an automatism during that outburst, that was the clue.
Sighing, CC made his decision. “Taylor.”
Taylor turned his face away. “Leave me alone, CC.”
“Tay, I’m not gonna leave you alone. You hurt that little girl, do you realize that?”
“I didn’t mean to.”
“Whether you meant to or not, you did.”
Taylor sighed, the tightness in his skull intensifying. He knew he’d hurt her. He hadn’t meant to. He hadn’t actually been… seeing… her. Shaking his head, feeling his heart start to pound, he shifted in his seat, turning to look at CC. “Ceec, can you tell me if I’m crazy? I mean, for real. Are you…” He stopped, unsure of the word he wanted.
“Am I qualified, Tay?” Taylor nodded, eyes on the floor. “Yeah, I’m qualified. Got my P.H.D. I’ll show it to you sometime. But Taylor, you’re not crazy.”
“I just don’t know what’s happening to me. I don’t know… I keep hearing things, seeing things, remembering things, but they aren’t real Ceec. They can’t be!” CC heard the boy’s breathing speed up, and had to remind himself to keep his hands off. “Why don’t you tell me what it is you think you’re remembering, Tay.” Taylor tapped the dash, agitated.
“That’s just it Ceec, I don’t know what it is. It’s all in flashes.”
“Well…” CC paused, swallowing. He wasn’t sure the car was the best place for this. “When we get back to your house, why don’t we sit down somewhere, and I’ll tell you what I think.”
“About what?”
“About what you’re remembering.”
“How can you have any thoughts about it?” CC sighed. “Because I think I know what happened.”
“Well…” Taylor stopped and reached for the window crank. He’d been cold. Suddenly he was roasting. He rested his head on his arms, letting the wind blow through his hair. “If you think you know, why make me wait until I get home?” CC remained silent, digesting the question, wondering how to answer it. Taylor laughed, humorlessly, and turned back toward his friend. “You’re afraid I’ll freak out in the car, and jump out or something, or run us off the road, right?” CC, knowing there was no point in lying, nodded.
“Yeah buddy, I’m afraid that’s exactly what will happen. So why don’t you just relax, and shut up, and enjoy the ride. We’ll be back soon enough.” Taylor eyed the man for a few minutes. CC didn’t look afraid. Serious, but not afraid. Something about that was a comfort to him. Nodding, he rested his head back on his arms. He could wait.

********************

“Think you’re alright now?” Doreen’s voice was sympathetic, but no nonsense. He’d turned over, taken one look at her face, and gone completely to pieces. He’d rejected any physical comfort from her, so there hadn’t been much for it but to sit with him, until he’d cried it out. Now, though, she could see the hysteria was gone, his tears having tapered off into intermittent, hitching sobs. He was sick, and he was tired, but he was back in control. She handed him a tissue so he could blow his nose, and sat down in the rocker. “Mind if we talk for a few minutes?”
He shook his head, unable to meet her eyes. He felt foolish, crying like that. Wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his gown, he tried to regain a little composure. He didn’t even really know what was wrong with him, just that one look at the woman’s kind face, and he’d lost it. Hadn’t helped his headache, either. Her comment to him had been on the money, all it had done for him was stuff up his nose. Great. Sniffling, he looked up at her, embarrassed by the fuss he’d made. “I don’t want to talk. My throat hurts.” More than hurt, it felt like it was on fire, and there was a taste in his mouth that was making him vaguely nauseous. “Could I have a drink?”
She nodded, faintly exasperated. The cranky look on his face boded ill for any sort of reasonable communication. Well, he felt pretty cruddy, and he’d been through a lot. He was a big kid, and probably humiliated about crying in front of her. She supposed he was entitled to a bit of ill temper. She started out of the room to get him his water, a sudden idea halting her in her tracks.
“Zac…”
“Huh?”
“Want a Popsicle instead?” She was pleased to see his eyes take on a little gleam at the offer.
“Yeah, okay.” She smiled, and the wicked thought, “Wait till he sees he’s wearing giant mice on his PJ’s…” floated through her mind. This kid was going to be a tough sell, and she was glad she was on her way off shift.

********************

“CC, would you pull over?” Taylor’s voice was soft, and held no urgency. Just a weariness beyond his years.
“Sure, what for?”
“I just need to stop riding for a little while.” CC’s glance took in the pale face, whitish lips. “You feeling sick?”
Taylor nodded slightly. “Just a little, but it’ll go away if we can stop for a few minutes.” CC thought about it. The boy seemed calm, and his pallor seemed to verify what he was saying.
“Okay, but just for a few minutes. I’ve got some coke in the back, think one of those would help?”
“Might. Stop though, okay?”
“Mmmhmmm.” CC pulled over, and watched as the boy got out, making his way slowly up the embankment, to sit in the shade. Looked like a good idea and any errant breezes would be easier to catch up there. He shut off the car, pocketed the keys, separated two cans of coke from the six-pack in the back, and followed him, wondering if he was being huckstered. He strongly suspected that this was a stall tactic, to avoid getting home anytime soon. He crouched down next to Taylor, eyeing the ground suspiciously.
Taylor accepted the coke he was handed, popping the tab, and laughing a little at CC’s canvassing of the area. “Ceec, I don’t think anything’s going to open up and swallow you. Just sit down.” CC shot him a sour look.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to make sure I’m not sitting on anything hungry.” “Hungry?” CC nodded.
“Few summers ago, I went hiking with some friends. You like to hike?” Taylor nodded, eyes amused. “Well, we stopped to rest, in a place a lot like this. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Thing was…” CC stopped, smiling ruefully, as he sat, tentatively, next to Taylor.
“Thing was?” Taylor prompted him, genuinely curious. He’d never heard Ceec talk about himself, or anything he’d done, before.
“Let me tell my own story, if you don’t mind?” CC popped the tab on his coke, helped himself to a drink, and leaned back against a tree. “Always look where you’re sitting, Tay. Seriously. I’d been there no more than ten minutes, when something sort of stabbed my leg. Little bug. I smacked it, y’know?” Taylor nodded, fascinated. “Happened again, then again, then suddenly there were a thousand little hot needles stabbing me all over. Hurt like a bastard.” Taylor’s eyes widened a little at that. “Geez, Ceec, what’d you sit in?” CC looked at him solemnly. “Fire ants.”
“Fire ants! CC, for heaven sake! Those things will EAT you!”
“I know. There I was, hopping around, stripping clothes off, be damned to the people watching.”
“Stripping clothes off?”
“Yeah. Yelling, jumping, slapping myself black and blue and dropping clothes as fast as possible, while I headed for the creek. By the time I got there I was naked as a jaybird, and completely covered with red ants.”
It was all too much for Taylor. The image of CC, imperturbable, sensible, unshakable CC, running through the woods naked, screaming and slapping himself in front of God knew how many people, was one he just couldn’t handle. He burst into laughter, laughter that became more and more uncontrollable as the image in his mind intensified. Not many minutes had passed before he was doubled over, tears streaming from his eyes, as he gasped for breath. “Oh god, C…” He tried to stop laughing and failed. “I can just see you…” His hysterics accelerated with every glance in the man’s direction.
CC watched, vaguely annoyed that his story of pain and humiliation was causing such mirth. “Laugh yourself sick why don’t you?”
“Oh God…” Taylor wiped his streaming eyes, and struggled to get himself under control. “I’m sorry. Oh God I’m sorry…” He swallowed, pulled himself together, and made the fatal mistake of looking back at CC.
CC sighed, as Taylor went off again. He hadn’t really meant it to be this funny. He’d never seen it as humorous, the sting of hundreds of fire ants having leached the humor from it rather nicely. Still, the laughter was contagious, and he found himself chuckling. He supposed it had been quite a picture. At least the kid was laughing. God knew it had been a while. Smiling, he leaned back, sneaking a quick glance at the ground for any suspicious wildlife. He closed his eyes, listening as Taylor fought to stop laughing, minutes of relative calm suddenly interrupted with bursts of giggles. He’d almost dozed off, when he felt a hand on his arm, and heard Taylor’s voice, now quiet and thoughtful.
“Ceec, listen.” He opened his eyes, and saw, for the first time since he’d met him, a completely relaxed Taylor. His eyes were calm, and his face easy. There was no tension in him, anywhere.
“What Tay?” He spoke softly, not wanting to break the mood.
Taylor smiled, and shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t know what I want to say.” They looked at each other for a few moments, blue eyes meeting brown, and then suddenly, impulsively, Taylor leaned in and put his arms around the man, hugging him tightly. CC smiled, touched, and hugged him back. He understood. Taylor pulled away then, and settled into the crook of CC’s arm, leaning back. Something in him had opened, something that said it was okay to trust this man. CC had given him something. He didn’t know what it was, exactly, and he didn’t quite understand why he felt the sudden rush of affection for him. But he knew it was real, and he knew now that this man was really his friend. Whatever caution, whatever suspicion he’d had had dropped away, and for the first time in months, a fragile peace had settled into his soul.
He knew it wouldn’t last. This was the eye of the storm, at best. This calm would shatter, and it would happen soon. But for now, it was here, and he would keep it as long as he could. The man and the boy sat together, each gathering strength in his own quiet way. The breeze blew, cool and fresh in their faces, and they waited. They didn’t, after all was said and done, have anyplace to be.

********************

“Well, you’re back. You made it.” Doreen smiled at Karen, as she passed her on her way through the lobby. Karen smiled, and yawned behind her hand.
“I made it, but it’s going to be awfully hard not to snooze through my lunch break.” Doreen nodded sympathetically. She’d pulled plenty of doubles herself. “Well, it’s slow up there now, so it won’t be a hard night.”
“Well that’s good. How’s Zac?” She hadn’t been going to ask, but she found she couldn’t wait until she got upstairs. Her rest had been uneasy, thinking about the little lost boy, who was so sick, up on the unit.
Doreen grinned, and shook her head. “He’s awake. He’ll keep you busy, I’m sure.” Karen felt something loosen up then, and realized how worried she’d been. Doreen, seeing the relief in her eyes, smiled gently. “You can relax, your little one’s doing fine. You’re a good nurse Karen, you care. Have a good night now.” She left before Karen could reply, leaving her to make her way to the unit, a little bit lighter, and a lot more thoughtful.

“Well… that’s pretty much it.” Karen looked toward Zac’s bed, where he lay, curled on his side, back to them. “He’s awake, and he’s grumpy.” Karen fingered the chart in her hand, as she listened to Christine’s brief report. “He woke up, Doreen tried to talk to him, but she didn’t get too far. He was very upset, but wouldn’t let her near him. Won’t tell us how he’s feeling. Won’t pay us any mind at all. She did try to sweet talk him with a popsicle…”
Chris smiled gently at the memory. “He took the Popsicle. Of course, it was the wrong flavor, and we had to change it. Then he said it made his stomach hurt, and we had to wait for twenty minutes while he decided whether or not to throw up.”
Seeing Karen’s brow furrow, she chuckled. “He decided not to. But the whole Popsicle incident seems to have soured him on us. As soon as you’re all a bit more organized, he’s going down on the floor. He doesn’t need to be up here anymore. It’s all in the chart.”
She nodded brightly at Tracey. “You’re actually overstaffed tonight. Isn’t that a luxury. Oh! I almost forgot. We still need a phone number, but we did get a last name.”
“Oh, what is it?” Chris nodded toward the chart. “It’s in there.” She turned then, to Tracey and continued talking.
Karen tuned them out, and quietly carried Zac’s chart over to the chair by his bed. Eyes closed, breathing even. He may have been awake earlier, he certainly seemed to be asleep now. Smiling, she sat, and opened the chart. Yep, right there. Zachary Hanson. Well, at least they’d gotten that much out of him. It was a start, anyway.

Zac’s sleep was light, and the soft rustle of paper brought him up out of it. Who was here? His mom maybe? He turned over, hope high in him, and felt his heart sink at another strange face. Where was his mom? Why wasn’t she here? Sighing, he looked at the person in the chair. She looked familiar. Did he know her? Karen heard his sigh and looked up into a pair of suspicious brown eyes. Well, she supposed she’d be pretty wary in his shoes, as well. Smiling, she closed the chart, and set it aside.
“Well Zachary Hanson, you decided to wake up.” Her voice was warm, and musical, and his eyes widened. He knew that voice.
“I didn’t decide, I just did it. You were here before.” She nodded, surprised.
“Yes, I was here all day. How do you know that?” He sat up, coughing a little, and wincing. “I heard you. I thought I dreamed you.” He stared into her eyes. Had he seen her? Had he talked to her? He almost thought he had. No matter, she was the one. She was the voice he’d been looking for, the one who’d been with him. He almost knew her name…
She saw the chocolate eyes go far away, and the brows meet in the center of his forehead. What was he thinking? “Zac?”
He held up a finger. “Just a minute.” Smiling, puzzled, she sat back, watching him. He was sure working hard for something. Finally, suddenly, the furrowed brow relaxed, and he smiled. “Karen. You’re Karen, right?”
She nodded, pleased. “Yep. I’m Karen. And you’re Zac?”
“You already know my name”
“Humor me.” His expression became a little sulky.
“You already know my name. Why do you all keep asking me the same things?”
Sighing, she sat back, arms folded. “And you’re not the least bit crabby, are you Zac?” His face became indignant.
“Well wouldn’t you be?”
“I don’t know.” She leaned forward, resting her chin in her hands. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on? How are you feeling?” He shook his head.
“I don’t know what’s going on.” He broke off, coughing, holding his chest. She frowned sympathetically. It hurt like hell, she knew. He looked up, when his breathing eased, and his brows went up. “That, for one thing. It hurts! And so does this!” He waved the hand with the IV in her face. She knew it hurt, it was in the chart. It’d gone bad, and they’d wanted to change it, but he’d pulled his hand under the covers and refused to let them touch it. Putting a sympathetic expression on her face, she gestured to him to go on. He frowned, and slouched down in the bed. ” I don’t know what you want me to say. My head hurts.”
“I know. You’ll have something in a few minutes to help that. Does anything else hurt?” He nodded, and curled back up again, this time facing her. “Everything hurts. I feel all achy. And I’m hot.”
She nodded, “Yeah, your running a fever.” He nodded, he knew.
“My throat hurts a lot, and it hurts to breathe. And when I cough it feels like all my insides are ripping up. I’m all dizzy, and my stomach hurts.” He was pouting, and she had to bite the inside of her lip to keep from smiling. “And these people…” He gestured at the mostly empty unit, “don’t even care.”
“Oh, Zac, they care. Why do you think they don’t care?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. They won’t listen to me.”
“How won’t they listen, Zac?” He frowned, and shook his head again, impatiently. “I don’t know. Just forget it. Can I have a drink?”
“Yep. Let me find out what you can have.”
“Just water is okay, that’s all I want.”
“You sure?” He nodded, huddling under the blankets a little. “My stomach’s kinda queasy.”
She nodded, unsurprised. “You want ice?” He nodded, face sullen, and she reached down and tapped his shoulder gently. “You’re not moody or anything, huh?” She smiled , and went to get his water, again biting the inside of her lip to keep from laughing.
For a kid who wouldn’t tell them anything, he’d managed to reveal pretty much his entire physical status, head to toe, in about two minutes. Noting the time, she gathered up the medications he was due for, on her way back with the water, as well as the makings for a new IV. She was pleased to see the avid curiosity in his eyes, as she set up the equipment at his bedside.
“What is all that?” She smiled, and handed him his water, along with a tiny paper cup containing two tablets.
“Well, this is water, and these are Tylenol. You go ahead and take those.” He eyed the tablets in the cup doubtfully.
“Doesn’t look like any Tylenol I’ve ever seen.” He set it down firmly, and turned his eyes up to her.
Folding her arms, Karen looked back at him, this time unable to keep her laughter completely in check. “Zac, you’re too much. They look different to you because they are Tylenol with Codeine.”
“Well what’s that other stuff for?”
“It’s for the pain, and it helps with the cough.”
“Oh. It won’t hurt me, will it?” Suddenly serious, she sat on the edge of the bed, taking his hand in hers, squeezing it gently.
“Zac…” Her voice was soft, but there was no missing the seriousness. “I am not going to give you anything that will hurt you. You have my word.” His eyes met hers, searching again, and she didn’t look away. Finally, satisfied perhaps at whatever he’d read there, he nodded, and held his hand out for the pills. She watched as he swallowed them, noticing the grimace as they went down. “Bad sore throat, hon?” He nodded, and finished off the water. “Ice feels good though.” She smiled, and took the cup from him.
“Lets see your hand, sweetie.” He shook his head. “No, it hurts.”
“I know it hurts, I’m going to fix that.” Again, he eyed her suspiciously, half holding his hand out. “Why does it hurt? I had one of these before, and it didn’t hurt.” Karen pulled her equipment closer, and instructed him.
“Put your hand up here, and I’ll show you.”
“Don’t touch it.”
“I won’t touch it. Do you know what an IV actually is?” He nodded, slightly annoyed. “I’m not stupid, you know.”
“Oh, I think I figured that out, Zac. This is penicillin. You need that to knock out the germs.” He nodded again. “Obviously when you came in, you couldn’t swallow pills, and even though you can now, this is still the best way, the most effective way, for you to have this medication. It will be, for another day probably.”
“Why?” She folded her arms again.
“Zac, when I finish here, I’ll go get you a big old stack of medical books, and you can just look it up.” He grimaced, and looked away.
“Geez, sorry. Guy can’t even ask a question…”
She saw the glint in his eye though, and smiled. “The fluids in here run through this tube, then through this needle, into your vein. What’s happened now, is the needle’s either slipped out of the vein, or poked through, and the fluid is just pooling up in there.”
“Well, what’s that do?”
“In a nutshell, Zac, it hurts. And it’s making the IV pretty useless. I have to give you this…” She indicated the penicillin, “But I can’t until I change that. And it won’t stop hurting on it’s own.”
Sighing, he eyed his hand. He couldn’t see much for all the tape, but it looked red, and it was hot. “Okay. But be careful.”
“I will. When did you have one of these before, Zac?” She was gently removing tape as she talked. “I was in the hospital back in the winter.”
“For what?” He paused then, and she glanced at his face, concerned suddenly at the troubled look she saw there. Wisely choosing not to pry, she continued with her task. She was surprised to hear his voice, soft, sad.
“I got in a fight. I got really messed up. Not as messed up as he did, though…” His voice drifted off, and she saw immediately that he wasn’t talking about a schoolyard brawl. His eyes were sad, glimmering with tears. Whatever had happened, it had been personal. “You okay, sweetie?”
He pulled himself back to reality, and nodded, though his eyes still looked unhappy. “I’m okay. You gonna take that out now?” She smiled, made sure everything was shut off, and slipped the needle out without further ado.
He caught his breath, and shot her a reproachful look. “Hey, that hurt!” Her voice was apologetic. “I know sweetie, but there wasn’t really anything else to do. Now…” Her tone dropped into a no nonsense range he didn’t much like “I have to restart this.”
“What?!”
“Yep. You still have to have it, soooo… if it’s any consolation, it won’t hurt nearly as much going in, as it did coming out.” His eyebrows raised at that, but he sat back, and offered up his other arm for sacrifice. Laughing at the look on his face, she quickly bandaged the injured hand, and set about restarting it in his other one. As she checked first his hand, then his wrist, she chided him gently. “I read your chart, Marylou thinks you wrecked the site when you grabbed onto the bed rails, to sit up. If you need help sitting up, yell to someone, don’t squeeze real hard onto a bar, with a hand with a needle in it.”
“Oh, like I’m supposed to know that?” She snorted at the tone he’d used.
“You know it now. Do it again, I just might have to restart it in your foot” She wiggled his toe gently and he yelped, and giggled, pulling his foot away.
“No way, my feet are ticklish, and besides, I get it.” He watched with interest as she restarted the IV, marveling at how little it hurt. “Whoa, you’re good at that, I never even felt it.”
“Told you. Now, remember what I said. You can use your hand, but be careful. No grabbing hard onto things.”
He nodded. “I know, I know, or I get it in the foot.” He laid back, swallowing a little, and she saw his lips go whitish.
“You feeling sick, Zac?” He nodded.
“Yeah, it comes and goes. Is that okay?”
“Yep. How bad is it?” He shook his head. “Not very. It was for a second. It’s weird, I feel queasy, but I think I’m hungry. I’m a weirdo.” She shook her head,
“Actually Zac, hungry can make you feel sick. Let me see what I can find for you, alright?” He nodded, and settled back. All this talking tired him out.

********************

CC looked at the boy sleeping next to him. He had to bring him back. He knew he did. Damn it, he didn’t want to. This was probably the first good sleep the boy had gotten since the whole crazy mess had started. The thought of waking him and bringing him back home was abhorrent to him. Oh, it wasn’t that it was a bad place. It was a beautiful place, and the people there loved Taylor desperately. But they were so close to it all. CC’d seen it before. Kids who wanted to tell their families, but lived in fear of being judged, of being found unworthy, of being sent away. Nine times out of ten they didn’t even realize they felt this way. They only knew that some deep, primitive survival instinct screamed at them to cover it up, to never let anyone know what was wrong. And plain old human nature then kicked in, causing them to resent, and sometimes even hate, the very people they most wanted to have with them. For not knowing. It was a vicious cycle, but it could be broken. What hell to go through though, and this family had already been through so much. On top of it all, Taylor didn’t trust them. In his mind, they’d already betrayed him a million little ways. With time, he would come to see that his family’s reactions were not betrayals, but for now… Sighing, he watched the shadows grow longer, and the boy in his arms slept on.

Taylor’s sleep was not as easy, or as peaceful as it looked to CC. He’d slipped into a dream, a dream of echoing corridors, gray, cold. People’s faces hidden behind blue masks, eyes blurred and dim. Where was he? All around him the echo of footsteps, slamming doors, rubber wheels against cold tile, beeping, ringing, hissing, a voice, harsh, electronically grating. Couldn’t make it out. Where was he going?
Fear began to set in then, cold fingers up his back. His head was thumping, aching, and his stomach started to roll. “Working too hard, but I have to find him.” Find who? What was he here for? A giggle, suddenly, and in his sights, only a door. That door. He’s on the other side of that door. The giggle again, behind the door, and a tugging on his mind, a feeling of “Hurry up.” His headache suddenly worse, he pushed the door open, to see his brother, stretched out on a bed, eyes rolled back, filthy, shaking in the throes of some horrible seizure.
Blink, and the scene changed, and Zac was sitting up smiling at him.
It’s about time, Tay.
Where are you? What is this place?” He walked up to the bed.
Watch out, don’t step in that.
He looked down, and saw a floor puddled with blood. “Zac…
That’s yours Tay, I’m not the one bleeding here. You’re putting your own self into this. Listen to me.” Zac’s voice, suddenly almost angry. “I can’t do this much more. It hurts, and I’m already sick. You’re going crazy, you can’t help me much longer. I told you where I was, you never came to find me. You’re bleeding all over my bed, Tay.
Taylor stepped back. “Sorry. Where are you? I’ll come get you.
I don’t know. But I’m okay. All I wanted to do was tell you I’m okay.
Is this where you are, or where I am?
Zac looked around, “The hospital?
Yeah.
It’s where I am. Where you should be. I got a really nice nurse too.” Zac grinned, and Taylor saw he had teeth missing. “What happened to your teeth?
My teeth? Nothing. Tay, you need to get out of here and wake up. Things aren’t good for you right now. Tell them that I’m okay.
Why are you in the hospital?
I got sick.
I wanted to come find you.
I know, I wish you had.
What was that I saw when I came in?” The scene changed again, and he saw his brother, helpless and dying, surrounded by shouting, rushing people.
Was that you? Is that how sick you are?
No, I’m better than that, Tay. There’s stuff coming out your eyes, and you’ve already messed up my bed. You better go. You’re not good for anything anyway.
Taylor touched his cheek, and brought his hands away, sticky and wet. What was going on? “I am too! I’m good for something, how can you say that?” Zachary’s face became gentle, sympathetic. “I didn’t say it, Tay, you did. You brought that here along with all this stuff. You think that. I don’t.
I’m falling apart, Zac.
I know.
Taylor closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them, the scene had changed again. Brightly lit corridor, glass window. He was looking through a window, at his brother again, but this time Zac was laughingly flinging his arm around the neck of a woman. A nurse. She was laughing too, and appeared to be whispering something in his ear.
For just a moment, Zac’s gaze shifted to the window, and his smile slipped, as his eyes met Taylor’s. He gazed intensely into those eyes for a few moments, then something, wind, air, a vacuum, a noise, what he didn’t know, gripped him, steel embrace, and pulled him away. Spinning, everything was spinning. His eyes flew open on the brilliant Oklahoma evening, and he pulled out of the arms that held him, turning away, retching onto the grass. That fragile peace, such as it had been, had ended.

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

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