Title: A Change of Grace
Chapter: 16 of 41
Summary: Taylor ends up traveling back in time to New York in the 19th century. There he meets Kathryn, Benjamin, Joshua and Grace among many others. The story follows both Taylor’s adventures in the past and Isaac and Zachary’s search for him in present (1997/1998) time.
“Taylor, you’re in no condition to go anywhere.”
“Well, I’m going.”
Kathryn found herself more than ready to reach out and shake him. In the state he was in, he’d collapse before he had gone a block from the building. “You’ll not make it two blocks. You’re far too drained.”
Taylor shoved a foot into a shoe, nodding as he yanked on the laces. “Fine. Charge me up then. You did it before, you can do it again. But I’m going with him. And I’m not coming back.”
She snorted, crossing her arms. “You have no choice, we’re your only means of survival. You can’t live out there, Taylor, it’s not your time! It’s not your place! You’re acting like a silly, spoiled child.”
His laugh was bitter. “Right. Send me home then. I want to go. I don’t want to be here anymore. If you won’t send me home, I guess I have to figure it out on my own. If I can’t figure it out, I guess I have to stay, don’t…” His voice broke, and he swallowed hard, fighting it. He wasn’t going to lose control again, not in front of her. “…don’t I?” He jammed his cap onto his head, not bothering to tuck his hair in, and met her pained gaze with his flat stare. “If you had told me, right from the start, I would have stayed. You know that. Why didn’t you tell me? How can you ask someone to do something like this, to risk it all, to give up everything they have, and then not even be decent enough to make sure they know the rules? It’s your game, not mine. I don’t want to play anymore. I’m goin’ with Josh.”
“You’re determined to go?”
“I’m on my way…”
“You’d best wait a moment then.” She reached for his hand, wincing as he yanked it away. She’d lost so much ground with him, more, she was afraid, than it would be possible to regain. “Taylor, I’ll not stand in your way. But you were right about one thing, you need to replace some of what you lost. You’ll not last an hour in this condition.” “Not if it means you have to touch me.” “I’ll not have to touch you. Come with me.” She led him from the room, shooting a nervous glance down the hall. That other boy, Josh, waiting in the kitchen. She knew what he’d heard. How would they explain it to him? “Go wait with your friend. Do not leave until I return.” Eyeing her carefully, wary now, he nodded. “Don’t do anything weird.” “You need have no fear of me, Taylor…” Her voice, saddened as it was, touched a nerve, and he let his defenses step down a notch. “I wasn’t afraid of you before, Kathryn…” His eyes echoed the sadness in her voice, as he turned toward the kitchen, still holding onto the walls to steady himself.
Josh watched as his friend laid his head on folded arms. “If you’re ill, Taylor, please… don’t come out… I…” “You don’t want to pick me up off the ground, I know. I’m alright, I just need to catch my breath.” He stared into Josh’s eyes, knowing he’d heard, knowing he had to explain, waiting for the other boy to make the first move, knowing he would. What in the world could he have been thinking, to fling the door open like that? “Did I forget it’s 1883 out there? God…” He shook his head, sighing. What a mess this had all turned out to be.
“Are you really alright?”
The undisguised concern in Josh’s voice made Taylor smile. He was such a good guy, why did everyone think he was so bad? “I’m fine, I just hate to fight. Hate to. And I’m still hungover I think…” Josh grinned, tipping his chair back. “I wouldn’t doubt it!” His grin vanished as his head came up, eyes focused across the room. “Oh my…” Taylor caught the odd tone, and turned, on his feet immediately. Kathryn stood there, face parchment white, sweat soaking her hair, gripping the wall much harder than he had. Forgetting his loathing, the repulsiveness of her touch, he was at her side in an instant, arms around her. “What did you do?” His whisper was urgent, frightened. She looked moments from death. “Josh, go outside, I’ll meet you downstairs.” His voice was quiet, but Josh understood the command in it. He was not being asked. Nodding quietly, he slipped his cap from his pocket, slid it onto his head, and started from the room, hesitating at the door. “Can I help?” Taylor shook his head, desperate to get him out of the room. “No. It’s okay, I’ll be down in a couple minutes, wait for me…” Josh nodded again, and slipped from the room, careful to shut the door tightly behind him. Taylor would explain. Josh had no question of that.
“Kathryn, what did you do…” He led her to the table, most of his anger fading with the advent of his fear for her. And a very selfish terror. If she died, how would he get back home?
“I’ll not die, Taylor, you need not fear. Go into that cupboard, and bring down the brown jar. Add a spoonful to a cup, and fill it with water from the kettle. Do it now, and ask no questions. He nodded, doing as she asked quickly, spooning the vile smelling mixture, filling, plunking the cup in front of her.
“Kathryn…” “Be quiet Taylor…” Her hands shook as she grasped the cup, and downed half its contents, loose herbs and all. “Josh is waiting for me…” “And he will continue to wait! After that scene you have no thought he’ll leave, do you?!”
Scowling, he dropped his gaze. Of course this would all be HIS fault. If he’d been left alone in the first place it never would have happened.
“If you’d been left alone in the first place, you’d never have seen the inside of your beloved Dakota, would you? Nor the streets of this time you were so enamoured with.” “I wouldn’t have almost died, either.” “You did NOT die! You did not die, Taylor, and you will be in no danger of it again! You are no longer holding yourself here, you ARE protected. If it hadn’t been that you spent the evening in the BAR, Taylor, you would have been in NO danger!” “I can’t leave, either, can I? You’re holding me prisoner here, aren’t you?” She laughed, scornful. “Prisoner! Would you like me to release my grasp Taylor? Fine…” Her eyes met his, cool brown staring into icy blue. He felt himself sinking into those eyes, grabbing suddenly for a table that wasn’t there, as the world suddenly dropped from under him. Ice cold, falling, spinning, stomach clenching alarmingly, he stared into blackness, reaching blindly… “There, you see?” He gasped a breath, struggling not to gag as the vertigo subsided, hands clutching the edge of the table. “THAT is where you would be without my help. You are too weak, and too angry, to hold on. And you don’t know how to find your way home. Do you want me to let go again?” “No.” His mutter was ungracious. “I want you to send me home.” “I can’t do that, Taylor. Not yet.” “Why not?” “Because, dear, it wouldn’t work. Would you like me to try?” “Yes I would.” “Right now?” “Yes! Right now!” “And what of Josh? He’s out there waiting for you…” “I don’t care about Josh, I want to go home!” “Do you now…” Again her eyes pinned his, and again blackness rushed up to meet him, that same sickening clash of dizziness, and cold. Forever in a moment, black emptiness all around him, unimaginable pain as he felt himself suddenly pressed, crushed, against something so hard, so unyielding, so cold, he felt his bones splintering… the moment of forever ended, and he found himself again staring at Kathryn, swallowing nausea. “Do you see? It is impossible. Are you about to be ill?” He shook his head, rubbing his eyes. “No. I’m ok. Why…'” “Because, Taylor…” She took his hand, and this time he let her. “You do not really want to leave. And until you do, genuinely, in here…” She tapped his chest gently, “…there will be nothing I can do. Until you’re ready, and it’s time, I cannot send you back. What you felt crushing you, was you.” He looked up, eyes glazed, so tired, and she felt a welling of pity for him. He was so young. So tired, and lonely. “Taylor…” He let her hug him, not returning it, but not fighting. “I have to go, Kathryn…” “Yes… Josh is waiting. Here…” She reached for his wrist, and fastened around it what Taylor initially took to be a fine silver chain. As the two ends melded together, he realized the circlet wasn’t metallic at all, but something of the substance of the strands. “What…” “This will not fall off. I cannot be destroyed. It will give you the strength you need today, to recover.” “Can I take it off?” “Yes you can. If you do, it will immediately revert, and you will no longer have it. I don’t recommend it.” He nodded, feeling a warm tingle where the circlet touched his skin. “Please… Taylor. Do return.” He looked up at her, his anger abated to something sane. He was still mad, oh yes. But the murderous hatred had faded. “I’ll come back. Are you alright?” The woman nodded, not about to admit that procuring the material he wore around his wrist, had depleted her nearly to the point of collapse. At this point, she thought, he would have relished that knowledge.”Go, Taylor… do what you came here to do.” He nodded, shrugged, and left her, uneasy.
“Tay?” “Yeah…” He knew what was coming. Knew it. Dreaded it. “You feeling better?” Nice diversion, nice stall. Sure he was feeling better, he had the power of the universe wrapped around his right wrist. Sure. “Yeah Josh, thanks.” He knew he was going to ask, wished he’d get to it. Just get it over with. “Tay?” Here it came. No doubt about it. “What Josh.” He braced, knowing. “What did you mean, back there? When I opened the door? What did you mean you wanted her to send you back to your world?” There was strain in Josh’s voice. Serious strain. And fear. “He knows.” The thought wouldn’t leave him, as he looked up into his friend’s eyes. “He knows and somehow I have to make it okay…” Sighing, he shook his head. “I just want to go home, Josh, and she… she can’t send me back yet.” Nope. Wasn’t buying it. He could see it in his eyes. “Taylor, I’m not stupid. You didn’t say, “Send me home”, you said “Send me back to my own world.” Taylor, where is home? Where is your world?” Taylor averted his eyes. He didn’t want to lie. Knew he had to. “Oklahoma.” “Oklahoma… how’d you get here?” Taylor’s mind raced. How had he? Did they have trains across the country yet? Carriage? Coach? This was bad. “Benjamin and Kathryn brought me out.” He saw Josh nodding, and swallowed, feeling very much as if he were facing an execution. “Fine. How’d they get you hear? And stop that with your hair, you’re pulling it out. Nervous are you?” Taylor yanked his hands out of his hair, his agitated habit of pulling on it had betrayed his anxiety. How had he gotten here. How… Mentally shrugging, stabbing blind in the dark, he sighed. “I took the train, Josh. How do you think I got here, flew?” He was gratified to see the disappointed look on Josh’s face. Good. It had been the right answer. “Where in Oklahoma, Tay?” He felt his eyes go wide. Was Tulsa even there in 1883? Probably… hell… “Tulsa.” “Tulsa?” “Yeah, why? Why are you badgering me like this?! God!” He sped up a little, scared now. He couldn’t tell him. Couldn’t. But what if he guessed? He didn’t want to lie… “Taylor… I’m not stupid. You’re not right, you’re so damn STRANGE Taylor!” Josh’s frustration began to mount. He knew, KNEW, that there was something going on. Why wouldn’t Taylor just tell him? “Taylor are we friends?” Taylor’s eyes went to the sidewalk again. “I hope so, yeah.” “Well then why are you lying to me? Where did you come from? Who are those people you’re staying with?! Why do I feel so strange when I go near them? Why don’t you know anything?!” Taylor shook his head, sighing. He couldn’t tell him. “God, Josh, have a cow why don’t you. Look…” “There! THAT! You say all these things that don’t mean anything! Taylor who are you?!” Taylor winced, wishing Josh would stop shouting. His head ached abominably. “Josh, quiet down. My head’s killing me. I talk different because we talk different where I live. That’s ALL. I don’t know about things in New York, how can I? I don’t live here…” “You live in Tulsa.” “Yes Josh! I live in Tulsa! Do you want my street address? My ph…” He stopped, cutting himself off, realizing what he had been about to say. “My phone number. Oh good, that would have SO helped things along.” “Josh… I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I have a mom, and a dad, and yes we call them mom and dad out there in Tulsa. I have three brothers, three sisters, and a dog. I’m just Taylor. I’m not anything other than just Taylor.” “What’s your surname?” Taylor looked up at him. Hadn’t he told him before? He was sure he had. “Hanson.” “That’s it?” “Yeah… why should it be something else?” Josh found himself laughing. “No, I just thought it would be more unusual. How old are you?” “I’m sixteen, Josh, what’s up with the third degree?” “Who are those people you’re staying with? And what was wrong with the lady?” “Kathryn and Ben are friends. They needed my help with something.” “With what?” “None of your business.” “Was that lady ill?” “No. She sat up all night with me, because I was sick, and then the fight we had this morning really got to her. Josh, let it go. I mean it, let it go.” “But you…” “Let it go!” Josh pulled back, frustrated. If he only dared voice what he suspected. But no, he’d sound as crazy as Taylor did, if he did that. Might be well to just pass it off as the end result of a long night, and do as Taylor had said. Let it go. “Taylor…” He set a hand on his friend’s shoulder, looking into his eyes. “I… I’m sorry, it’s been a very long night, and morning.” Taylor nodded. It had been that, and this was his fault anyway. What was Josh apologizing for? “You haven’t done anything, Josh. Hey, there’s your boys…” He forced a smile, watched Josh do the same, and together, both uneasy, both unsettled, they headed for the group.
“Oh look who’s here!” The hostility in Andy’s voice was unmistakable. “Right! It’s the boss. What’s the matter, too good to practice now Josh?” Mick jumped in, tone petulant. “About time. So much better than us now, you don’t need any work.”
Josh shook his head, frowning at Pete. “No, I slept late…” “Not too late to go pick HIM up…” “You could have told somebody. Would have hurt you? You walk right by my house to get to his.” “Yeah, Josh, and besides… we’ve been thinking.” “Yeah we have. We’re thinking you’re not treating us right.” “You get all the money.” “You make all the decisions.” “You get all the women!” “You treat us like we work for you…” Taylor backed away and sat down. There was no way he was getting in on this. He watched, dumbly curious, as the boys came together. This had all of the earmarks of a mass lynching.
Taylor listened to the shouts around him. Josh was on a tirade, insulting the boys talent, intelligence, aptitude, hell he made it sound like they couldn’t draw a breath without him. Oh, he was justified, Taylor supposed, to a point. They’d really let him have it. Thing was, all their complaints were valid. And they were decent about it. Josh was being an ass. He’d pretty much gone around the group, telling each one of them in turn how little he thought of them, how little he needed them, and how much better HE was. He cracked an eye as he heard Josh get around to Andy. Taylor liked Andy, he reminded him of Zac. Friendly and open, whacked out of his head, funny, and bright, he was the one Taylor would have chosen, perhaps even above Josh, had he had the choice. He was the least likely of the boys to speak out, and had had the least to say to Josh. Andy, of all of them, seemed content with his lot. Now, as Josh turned his abuse on him, Taylor felt his temper rise. He’d done his best to stay out of it, it wasn’t his business, but Andy hadn’t done anything. He slid off the bench, moving to sit next to the boy, who looked, quite plainly terrified. Josh was his idol, his mentor. He’d never raised his voice to Andy, and Taylor could see how much it hurt. “It’s okay Andy, he’s just mad…” He patted his arm comfortingly, as Josh ducked into his face. “You can just shut up! You don’t know anything about it anyway! Who does he think he is?!” Taylor’s temper simmered a little hotter. “Oh Josh, go piss up a rope. He didn’t do anything, just leave him alone.” “What?!” “You heard me, lay off’n him. He didn’t say anything.” “Oh he didn’t?! Andy you agree with them?! Huh?!?! Do you?!?! You think I’m too bossy?! You think I try to run everything?!” Andy squirmed, uncomfortable, eyes everywhere but on Josh. “I didn’t say nothin’, Josh, I don’t care who runs things.” “You do, don’t you?! You agree with them!!” Andy shrugged, and glanced at his companions. “Well, yeah I guess, Josh, I mean you do kind of take over everything… and Taylor here… he’s right, I mean it’s like he said, we are important too… we’re smart enough to understand…” “You’re not smart enough to keep your mouth shut, are you?!” Josh’s temper boiled over, and he aimed a sharp cuff at Andy’s head, bringing a soft whimper from the smaller boy, and an outraged cry from the rest of the group. Ignoring them, he turned on Taylor, his hand connecting hard with the side of his head. “It’s YOUR fault! You’re the one put all these ideas in their heads! You! And I thought you were my friend!” “I am your friend!” He jumped to his feet, inches from Josh’s face. “I am your friend, and it’s your friends who will tell you when you’re fucking it all up!” “Oh and is that what you think I’m doing?! We were doing fine till you came along!” “Right, if you weren’t so Goddamned bossy, always havin’ to have your own way…” “You shut up!” “…always thinking you’re so much better than they are! You’re NOT! You’re as good as they are, MAYBE you’re as good as Mickey, but you’re NOT all that! You’re an ass is what you are!” Fuming, he gestured at the city around them. “You think you’re so IT because it’s YOUR group… because everyone bows down and kisses your ass. Big deal, you get the good seats, you get the girls. Lemme tell you bout those perks, pal, they’re for the flavor of the month, and when the people get sick of you, you can go sit in the dust. You think you get all the girls, right, take ’em! The girls will follow any pretty face, don’t be thinkin’ you’re something real special! New singer, new pretty face, comes along, and they’ll be walkin’ over your BODY to get to him!” Fuming, he started to pace, words flying out faster than he could stop them. “And a REAL man wouldn’t ditch his friends for some bimbo throwing herself at him! These guys have their own fair share of girls all around them, but you scoop up every single female in sight,and call them yours! You take everything, whether you’re entitled to it or not, and think you’re such a damn hot SHIT! You LET GO!” He yanked back as Josh’s hand grabbed his shirt collar, taking in the squinting eyes and deeply creased forehead. “You wanna hit me Josh?! Go for it! I don’t give a fuck! I’m right and you know I’m right, and beating the shit outta me won’t change a damn thing! Go for it!”
Josh’s fist came back, his intentions plain, as his other hand brushed up against the silver strand on Taylor’s wrist. A spark suddenly flew from his fingers, and he jumped back, yelping, rubbing his hand. “What the hell did you do?!” “Nothing…” Taylor sighed, the fire going out almost as quickly as it had flared. “Just kiss my ass, Josh… I’m goin’ home…” Josh flew at him before he finished the sentence, hands gripping the long hair on either side of his head. “You give me one good reason why I shouldn’t beat the tar outta you!” “I’m right.” Taylor had stopped yelling, an enormous sorrow suddenly emerging in his voice. “I’m right and you know it, and that’s why. I know…” He pulled away, truth dawning in him, more painful than any blow Josh could have dealt him. “You’re my friend, Josh, and you needed to hear that. So you don’t do what I did… I know I’m right Josh! I know I’m right because I do the same thing…” He choked off a sob, suddenly, as his throat closed, and yanked the rest of the way out of Josh’s grip. “I did the same thing to my brothers. And my brother wishes I was dead. He hates me. The last thing I ever heard him say to me was that I’d be better off dead. And for all I know I’ll never see him again… don’t do what I did, Josh. Don’t drive them away. They’re your friends man, they love you. Oh fuck off, what do I care…” He turned away, mortally tired. He’d had it. He was going home. He left Josh and the boys, staring in shock, as he made his way over the wall, turning to look back once. As he turned, he felt it. An enormous slippage, inside his head, vaguely painful… and realized what it was an instant too late. The images from his mind slammed into Josh’s head, random and uncontrollable, shaking them both.
Josh froze, paralyzed by the assault on his senses. Images of staging, bright lights, equipment, huge crowds, screaming girls, loving eyes in the face of a pretty blond woman, anger in the eyes of a boy who looked like him, grabbing hands, ripping hair out, pain, the giggle of an infant, the huge flinging sensation of being hurtled through space, shrieking laughter, feet hanging free, tears, shouted words from the image of a loved one… tastes flew across his tongue, unfamiliar, hateful, sweet… odors assailed his nose, acrid, bitter, stenches that made him gag… music, so loud it split his head, the screams again… and the bitter, defeated voice, phrasing round and round, you’d be better off dead, you’d be better off dead… “God stop it!!” He shouted, clutching his head as the rest of the boys looked on, watching him, watching Taylor, who was wiping blood from his nose onto the back of his hand. Watching Josh as he looked across the path, eyes huge, realization suddenly sinking into them. He approached Taylor, who simply stood, too shaken to move. “He told you he wanted you to die… he did… I don’t…” “Get away from me…” Taylor’s voice was guttural, almost inhuman. “Get away…” He spun and ran up the hill, climbing the wall. It wasn’t fair, he hadn’t meant to do it, he didn’t want Josh to know that, live that. It was his! Hating himself, hating Josh, he made his way through the trees.
Muttering, a scowl wrinkling his forehead, Taylor mentally beat himself. “That was so stupid! How could I have done that? That was MINE. Not his. I didn’t ever want *anyone* to hear those words. It was enough that I did…” Angrily swiping the tears from his eyes, he paced faster yet towards the Dakota, totally oblivious to all around him, seeing only look on Josh’s face, feeling nothing but the pain cracking in his heart, as those words rang through his head again and again.
Passing family groups, who looked at him as though he was crazy, he continued to talk to himself, battering his loss of control, ignoring the fact that it had been completely out of his hands. He hadn’t meant to do it, hadn’t had any control over it, the knowledge of this doing nothing to mediate his self loathing. An elderly couple stepped off the path as they saw him scowl ferociously at thin air, and wipe the blood from his upper lip. Not even the dogs running about came near him. He gave off an almost tangible air of melancholy, unbearable sadness, furious hatred… “I suck. HE sucks. I just wanna…” He exited the shade of the park, into the full sunlight of a hot summer day. Already spent, out of breath, and trying to hold back the tears of heartache, hatred, and stupidity, the humidity hit him like a brick wall. “Omigod… damn… stupid undershirt… *stupid* cap…” Taylor sank to the ground, gasping. Removing the cap, he shook his hair loose, letting the slight breeze whisper through. “That’s it. I gotta go home. I need to talk to Ike. Josh is a moron, he won’t take my help, I can’t force it. He’s probably crazy now anyway from what I just did to him. God I’m so hot, so tired…” He tried to breathe it out, settle his racing heart, quiet the pounding in his head. He had some little success, the feeling he would pass out if he moved finally backing off a little. “I have to do something. I have to fix this.” Getting to his feet, he headed once more for the Dakota, forgetting that the cap in his hand that should have been covering his head. The amused, surprised, and somewhat scandalized stares of passersby annoyed him. “Why are they staring, do I not have pants on? WHAT??” He looked around, catching the glances and discreet points all around him. Not until the driver of a passing wagon whistled at him did he realize the problem, groaning in frustration. “My hair. It’s always my hair. It’s only hair. What is the BIG deal about it?” Jamming his cap back on, Taylor quickened his pace. Too hot, he was too damned hot. “The tub, I wanna fill it with cold water, and soak for a year. Then me and Kathryn are due for a talk. A long talk…”
Wearily, he dragged up the front steps, reaching into his pocket for his key. His fingers found cloth and empty space. No key. “Oh no…” He quickly searched all his pockets, then searched them again. Sinking down on the steps, he tried to remember where he’d last seen the shiny brass key. “On the kitchen table. Yep. Beside Kathryn’s tea cup. Did I grab it? Did I bring it with me? Noooooo, why would I do that?” Taylor sighed heavily, this was all he needed. A bad night, followed by a fight with Kathryn. Then a fight with Josh, now he was stranded outside the Dakota. And of course, it had to be a hundred and fourty degrees outside, the sun beating down. A drop of crimson hit his leg, catching his eye, and he swiped at his nose again. “Damn, it’s really bleeding. Did I blow out something in my head just now?” He stilled for a moment, taking inventory. His head thumped and his stomach was queasy, but he didn’t feel as if he’d blown anything important. More than anything he felt disastrously tired. Just taking a breath seemed to require more strength than he had. “I have to get in, I have to cool down…” His eye fell on the harsh glare of the sun on the gateman’s stand. “Wow that’s bright. That hurts… must get so hot in there… George! He’ll let me in!! He knows me, he knows I’m staying here!” He hauled himself up on the railing, catching his balance, shaking his head, feeling like an idiot.
He limped to the guardstand, banging on the door with one hand, holding himself up with the other. “D’oh, I’m a moron. George?? You there??” “Here, what do you want, boy?!” He pulled back in surprise, almost biting his tongue off as he clamped his mouth shut. Who the heck was this guy? “Get along with you boy, we don’t need your kind around here! Be off, get!” The man, taller than George, similarly attired, but much younger, came stalking out at Taylor, and stared menacingly at the overheated, sweaty boy.
Taylor, backing away, gazed in shocked amazement at this total stranger in George’s guardhouse. “Where’s George? He was just here!” “George isn’t here right now, and don’t be trying to cozy up to him, to get past.” “But I live here, I just forgot my key!” “Yeah, I’ve heard that before. I’ve never seen you before, and I know all the tenants.” The man dismissed him out of hand. Sweaty, grimy, bloody… street urchin. What use did anyone here have for one like him? “Be off with you…” “I AM!!! Honest! I’m in the rooftop apartment, with Kathryn and Benjamin…” Taylor realized, at that moment, that there was no way he was going to convince this guard. He had no idea of their last name, if they shared a name, or if this guard even knew of their existence. He had the feeling that they weren’t ordinary tenants. “I said to get away, now leave, or I’ll call an officer!” Taylor, too exhausted to fight any longer, nodded in resignation. “Ok, ok… I’m going.” He started away, turned back, realizing he had no place to go. “Can I at least sit on the steps, while I wait for my friends to come back?” The hot sun was beating down on him in a way that was extremely nauseating. He could feel the sweat running down his back, and sighed heavily. He really only wanted to get inside. “Fine, but I’ll be watching you. Don’t try anything!” Taylor grumbled a response, and sat back on the steps. It didn’t take long for him to come to an inevitable realization. Kathryn and Ben didn’t realize he was locked out. They might not be back until dark. Or, it suddenly occurred to him, they could be IN there. Oblivious to his dilemma, in this age of no phones, there was no way for him to let them know. Deciding to give it one more shot, he walked back to the guardhouse, knocking politely. “Sir?” “You again, what did I…” “Sir, if you could just go up to apartment 806, they’ll tell you I’m supposed to be here.” The man eyed him carefully, and nodded. “You stand here. You do not move.” “Ok…” Taylor watched him enter, praying they were home.
“Nobody there, boy. Nice try…” The man went back to his stand, as Taylor wilted, still snuffling blood. Why wouldn’t it stop already? His thoughts ground out of a brain almost too numbed to function.
“Ok, what do I do now? They won’t be looking for me, I know that. Hungry. I’m hungry. I need food. I’ll go sit in the pub until later. George will be back.” He reached for his wallet, to see how much money he had, his hand coming up empty. Yes, the wallet, he could see it, on the kitchen table, right beside the key. No money, no food, his nose, the heat… Taylor sank down on the steps, resting his head on his arms, wondering how long it would take to die of heat stroke. “This just sucks…”
The three boys sitting on the grass had just about stopped breathing. “Oh my… GOD… what did he do?” Completely unaware of the images that flooded Josh’s mind, the pain that stabbed at his guts, all they saw was Taylor bleeding, eyes blank, not moving. And Josh… amazed, in pain, in shock. What had happened?
The things Taylor had said, the dark, hateful way he had spoken to Josh, it all rang true, as though Taylor DID know this behavior intimately.
Afraid, in shock, the boys kept their silence, unsure.
Andy, tears drying on his cheeks, the hurt, frightened look still in his eyes, slowly stood. “I’m going, this is too much… I’m going home. Mickey, come with me? Petey? Please?” The two older boys stood, and gave the young boy a rare hug. “Yeah, c’mon my son, we’ll take you home.” “Let’s go quiet, I don’t want to start Josh up again…” Quietly backing away, the boys scattered, as Taylor walked in the other direction. Josh was alone.
Josh sank to the grass, overwhelmed by the images, by the memory of the look of stark pain on Taylor’s face. The echo of that pain still lingered in his mind, stabbing at him inside. Throwing himself on his back, he looked into the deep blue sky, watching the clouds roll lazily past, feeling the soft breeze on his overheated cheeks. Those words, those awful hurtful words, how could Taylor have talked to him that way? Did he really see him that way? Did everyone see him that way? “NO!” Josh climbed to his feet, looking around. Alone. He was alone. His friends were gone. Taylor was gone. No one was interested enough, or cared enough, to make sure he was alright.
“Fine. Leave me. I can do without all of you!” Josh muttered, as he paced back and forth. “I don’t need anyone. NO ONE. I can live my life without any of you.” Flashes of his Ma, his siblings… “No, I need them. I do. But they won’t help me either! Everyone is against me…” Sitting again, Josh tried to corral his thoughts, and think rationally. His family loved him. He loved his family. But they wouldn’t let him do as he pleased with his life. They kept pushing respectability on him, telling him his dreams were foolish. And they kept pushing Grace at him, Grace, who would suck his dreams from his soul, and cast him into a life of dreariness, no color, no music. “NO. I cannot think about this. I’ll go insane. They’ll commit me to an asylum.” On his feet once more, Josh paced the small grotto. “My friends. Do they care about me, am I the dictator Taylor says I am? Of course they care, they’d be nothing…” He stopped, for once actually hearing what he was thinking. “They’d be nothing…”, unable to finish that sentence, either in his head, or verbally. They *would* manage without him. Likely quite well. Andy had a very sweet voice, he’d go far. Had he ever told Andy that? The boy was just thirteen, he needed the encouragement, he needed to know he could do it. He looked up to Josh. Had Josh ever given him what he needed? Had he ever told Pete that his mid range vocals added SO much to their sound? Had he ever told Mick that his accompaniment with the guitar gave them a special cachet? Had HE ever even realized all this before? He WAS a dictator. The scum of the earth. His friends deserved better than he. Would they ever speak to him again? Would Taylor ever speak to him again? He looked around again, for Taylor.
“Where did he go?” He recalled the way the boy had looked when he left, pale and bleeding.
“He didn’t look well…”
Sighing, he nodded.
“Ok, I’ll sort this all out later. I owe the boys apologies… but first…” His eyes drifted, and Taylor’s image came back to him… sending a sharp thrill of fear through him.
He didn’t catch the glances from the people near by, didn’t realize he’d spoken aloud. “I have to make sure he’s alright.” He started out of the park, his temper flaring flamelike, as his anger at Taylor’s words competed with worry over him. “Then, when I know he’s okay… THEN I’ll punch him for all he said.”
“What in the world…?” Josh looked at the forlorn creature sitting on the steps of the Dakota. If it weren’t for the hair, he’d have thought Taylor was a bundle of rags thrown out for trash. “Taylor? Are you dead? Or just stupid? It’s 100 degrees in the shade, and you’re sitting out here in the sun? That hair has sucked all the sense from your brain, my son.” Josh snorted in disgust, this boy had no common sense at all.
“Shut up. Go away. I can hear moronic comments from someone I like, I don’t need you being stupid around me. Buh bye.” Taylor didn’t even raise his head, he knew that voice, and he had no desire to look at Josh again. God knows what images he’d give him in his current state of mind. “Just go away, leave me alone. I’ve done enough to you, and you’ve done enough to me. Just g’way.” His speech was muffled by his arms, and by the blood that continued to drip slowly down the back of his throat.
“Well, aren’t you just too much for words. Telling ME to shut up. Telling ME to go away. After what you said to me? What you DID to me? Call me a few more names, Taylor. Go ahead, and when you’re done, I’ll give you the punch I should have given you before. You think you’re so good, so special. Turning my friends against me. Stand up, be a man, face me now!” Anger rekindled, Josh put his fists up, he’d had enough of this odd kid. Never answering questions, always putting it off, he’d played with Josh’s head long enough. No more.
Groaning, Taylor unfolded himself from his perch on the step. Raising his head, blood slowly dripping from his nose, skin pale, clammy, eyes dull, and feeling every bit as horrible as he looked, he was not in the mood for this. But if Josh wanted a fight, he’d get one. Taylor Hanson was NOT going to back down from some punk. “Fine, you want a fight, you got one.” He drew back his fist, landing a solid punch on the suddenly speechless boy in front of him. The boy who was now sitting on the sidewalk, holding his jaw, looking at him in astonishment. “Don’t mess with me, Josh. I’ve fought better than you. And won. I’m not in the mood. Don’t even *think* about coming at me.” Taylor sat back on the stairs, swiping at his nose, shaking out his hand. “Dammit, you have a hard jaw.”
Josh slowly got to his feet, still holding his jaw. “What’d you do that for?!” “Don’t yell at me. Because you had it coming. Because I’m hot, and sick and tired, and locked out of my house, and you come over here calling me names.” “You called ME names.” “Whatever.” Taylor laid his head down again, coughing a little on the blood in his throat. He knew he owed Josh some kind of explanation, God knew what it had done to him… “Josh…” Josh looked down at him, concern beginning to creep in around the edges of his anger. “What. Why do you sound like you’re drowning?” Taylor cleared his throat and spat out a mouthful of blood. “That’s why.” “Oh my God, Taylor, what…” “It’s my nose bleeding. I don’t know why it’s bleeding. It just won’t stop.”
“And you’re sitting out here why?” “Because I locked my key inside, and HE…” he jerked a thumb at the gategaurd. “Won’t let me in.” “Want me to tell him you live here?” “He didn’t believe me, why would he believe you?” Josh sighed, nodding. It was a good point. “You can’t sit out here all day, you’ll be ill. Hell, you already are.” “I’m fine, Josh, you can go home any time.” Snorting, more than a little hurt, Josh sat down next to him. “No, not and leave you out here like this.” Taylor looked at him sideways, rolling his eyes as another trickle of blood ran down his face. “Damn it all! Josh why do you care? Just go home, live your life, do your thing!” “Am I really that bad, Taylor?” “Yep.” “I’m not really that bad…” “What’d you ask for, then? If you weren’t gonna believe me… oh MAN” Taylor leaned back against the stairs, dizzy. “I feel SO damned rotten! Why won’t this moron let me in?!” Josh eyed him thoughtfully. As angry as he’d been, he was finding it hard to hold. There were too many things he needed to know, too many things that confused him… and the nake pain in Taylor’s eyes made him want to hug him, rather than hit him. “Goodness, I sound like his Ma…” Sitting next to him, he shrugged off Taylor’s moo of disapproval. “Taylor, what happened?” The boy shook his head, long hair flopping into his eyes. “I don’t know, Josh. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that to happen…” “What was I seeing?” “I don’t know… what I was feeling I think.” “How is that possible?” “I don’t know…” He choked out another mouthful of blood, and wound his hand into his hair, tugging on it. His head felt like someone was drilling through his skull. “Josh… that was my stuff. I didn’t want you to see it. Or know it… but… you gotta believe me. You gotta stop it. Or you’ll end up just like me.” “Your brother really said that to you?” “Yeah… yeah he did. Last time I saw him…” “You miss him, don’t you.” “Yeah. Yeah I do…” He took a deep breath, suddenly feeling as if there weren’t enough air, let it out, tried again. No good, he couldn’t catch his breath. He was just too hot. Josh watched him panting, understanding how he felt, he was a little queasy himself. Alright then, enough was enough. “Taylor… get up. You’re coming home with me.” Anger was all well and good, and they’d talk about all this, but Taylor was obviously sick and the heat wasn’t helping him at all. If he got much whiter, Josh thought he might just fall over. “I’m not going home with you, you don’t even like me.” “And you don’t like me. But you can’t sit out here and die, I’d feel too guilty.” Laughing a little, Taylor nodded. “Guilt will do it… I won’t make it to your house, Josh, it’s all the way across town.” “We’ll get a cab. Come on…” He reached down, deftly avoiding the silver bracelet on the boy’s wrist, and pulled him up.