Title: A Change of Grace
Chapter: 28 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.
Josh shifted a little, pulling his head away from the edge of the sill. Numbness had crept in and he shrugged absently, getting the circulation going again. “Getting light…” His eyes took in the play of faint silver light on the floor, glinting off the hair of the boy sleeping there. Sighing, crossing his arms over his knees, resting his chin on his arms, Josh watched him, wondering. His awakening had been rude, Taylor’s arm falling across his, and a sudden flash of burning pain that pulled him from sleep in an eyeblink. That bracelet, that thing on Tay’s arm. Glowing, shifting, it had burned him in the infinitesimal moment it had been in contact with his bare skin. He glanced down now at the angry red wheal. “What IS that thing, and why isn’t it hurting him?” He’d skittered away, fetching up under the window, curled as tightly into himself as possible, waiting for something to happen. His eyes had refused to leave the glimmering silver band on the boy’s wrist, the uncanny MOTION it seemed to be in. “What IS it, and what is it DOING??” His distress was acute, his fondness for Taylor transmuting into something akin to fear. Hours of observation had assured him that for all of it’s shining, melding, shimmering activity, the thread, whatever it was, was not going to come after him, and he’d relaxed, finding himself talking to the somnolent form, mindless of the fact that the boy couldn’t hear him. After last night, he knew, KNEW, that Taylor was not just some kid visiting from Oklahoma.
“Oh, you may live there… in fact I’m sure you do, because for some reason I get the feeling you can’t lie… but that’s not the whole story, is it Taylor?” His eyes wandered over this strange new friend, wonder and awe mixing with remnants of fear. The things he’d said… those photographs! Unreal! “You were right, that boy does look like me… but where did you get such pictures, Taylor? WHEN did you get them? You’re here for a reason, aren’t you?” He thought it over, shifting again as the windowsill dug into another area of his neck. The breeze slipping through his hair was noticeably warmer than it had been, and he turned his eyes to the window above him.
“Morning… Taylor what happens now? What happens today? Why are you here?” He sighed again, thinking back. “You’re here for me, aren’t you? For me, and for Grace. I don’t know how I know that, but I do know that. You came here to show me… to show me that I was… was what? Nothing’s changed about me…” Yet even as he said it, he reached into his soul and touched his feelings, finding the attitude, the attitude that for as long as he could remember had been sore, like a rotten tooth, now no longer painful. It seemed a lifetimes frustration and anger had suddenly shifted into it’s proper spot, becoming drive and ambition. “I know now that I can do this… that fighting everyone was getting me nowhere… that I can make them see, I can show them, and I can be everything they want me to be… on my own terms.” How did he know that? He thought about it. There was no answer, he just felt different inside. The petty tyranny, the contempt, the sense of beating his head into the side of a brick wall… all of those things, so much a part of his makeup… why had he felt like that? He looked at it with new eyes, thinking of the things he’d learned. That he was intimidating, intolerant, impatient, condescending, stubborn. That he trod on other people’s feelings in pursuit of his own gratification. That he was quick to judge and equally quick to condemn. “How is it I got that way? How?” He shook his head, staring at the sleeping boy, wondering now how those things had changed. “Just his words? People have been telling me for years… what is it that happened? What did you do to me?” He couldn’t pinpoint it, and it galled him. Taylor had shown him himself, more accurately than any mirror, and Josh hadn’t liked what he’d seen… but how had he done it? How had he accomplished what nobody else had been able to? And what about Grace? How had he done THAT?! “She was out there like a regular girl, having herself a grand time, Taylor, and dressed to the nines! How did you do that? How?” He grinned, thinking about it. Grace in that dress, Grace tipping a beer, Grace punching his face off. He chuckled, rubbing at the sore spot on his jaw, gingerly fingering his bruised eye. “Girl throws quite a punch… Oh, Taylor, how did you DO it?!” Sighing heavily, he leaned his head back, the whisper of a breeze now falling across his face. Felt good… soothing.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter, the fact is, you did it. You came here to help us, and you did help us… I wish I knew how to thank you. Something inside me feels right now, and it felt so wrong before… I know I can do this, Taylor. I know I can do this and I don’t have to hate everyone who disagrees… I know I can make them see, Taylor! How do I know that? And you brought Grace back, MY Grace, my friend. God, I missed her so, all this time. We used to steal peaches from that same tree I stole them from with you.” He chuckled again. “And she used to beat me at stickball… all the time… and I hate to admit it, but she could always win in a fight.” His gaze turned shrewd for a moment. “You did this on purpose, Taylor Hanson. You came here and did all this, and you meant it all, didn’t you? And somehow I’m not supposed to know. Well I do know. I know.” The hard look softened, as he thought back to the pictures, and Taylor’s tears as he looked at them. “God how you must miss them… and how they must miss you! So when do you go home, my friend? And how on earth do you get there? What is it you’ve been showing me? Those buildings, those… those things… is that where you live? Is that your world? I recognized some of it, you know. It’s here, isn’t it? It’s New York, but… not now. That’s what you meant when you told me we were already dead. In your world, we are long in our graves…” He sighed, shaking his head at the insanity of it. It couldn’t be true, it was sheer folly, like that absurd building Taylor called home. Complete fantasy. “You didn’t travel in time, did you Taylor. I’m just inventing. Maybe I have the gift of the tall tale in me, hmmm?”
A thump from above caught his attention, pulling his stare to the ceiling. This, this was reality. This was what there was. Whatever he was thinking, it was absurd. His eyes went back to Taylor. Just a boy, a young man. Different, yes. Unconventional, most decidedly. “Downright revolutionary you are, my son… but a time traveler?” He laughed away his uneasiness, and shook his head. “I guess a time traveler would be a bit better at hiding it than you are…” He jumped, then, as the parlor door opened, and an influx of children invaded, gleefully carrying out their orders to “wake those boys in the parlor”, landing with joyful abandon on their targets.
Grace groaned as faint dawn light sliced through her cracked eyelids, directly to her aching brain… She squinted her eyes shut, groaning against the pain of her lashes touching her cheek.
“I’m dying, I must be… I hope so…” Any further thought required completely unreasonable amounts of energy, and she resolved to wait to die in mental silence. As the minutes passed, and Death was an inconsiderate no-show, she began to consider the unpleasant possibility that she was going to have to live. Carefully turning over, she buried her aching head in the pillow, the faint scent of hair tonic and cigar smoke making her already queasy stomach turn. This was not her pillow. Her pillow did not smell like cigars. Her eyes snapped open again, pain lancing once more into her head. “Where am I?” Her aching brain obstinately refused to reconstruct the evening with any clarity. “I went out with Taylor… I saw Josh sing… what in the world else happened? Where am I sleeping?” She sat up slightly, resting on her elbows, looking around the shadowed room. The motion set her head spinning and her stomach rolling, and she winced, wondering what on earth was wrong with her. A moment for everything to regain equilibrium, and her eyes finally focused on her surroundings. Smaller bed than she had, narrow and boxy. Unfamiliar quilt at the foot, strange, masculine furniture, and male clothing strewn about, floor, chair, dressing table. There wasn’t an uncluttered spot to be found. “Good lord… I’ve spent the night with someone’s soiled laundry.” Her gaze lit on a shirt, a shirt she recognized. “Well…that’s Josh’s…” Her eyes widened as the fog cleared and memory came crashing back. Taylor and a girl, and… “I kissed Josh! I did, didn’t I?! Oh my…” Grace sank back into the pillow, hands covering her eyes again. “Oh no… ” She groaned again, adding up her sins. That dress. Lip paint. Drinking beer. “A lot of beer…” Lying to her mother. Mr. Gage lying to her father. Fighting with Josh and Taylor… “Good Lord God in Heaven I was in as good as a street brawl. Given that it was in the alley, I actually WAS in a street brawl! Heaven help me…” She continued her catalogue of misdeeds. Sneaking out, NOT GOING HOME! “Oh this is not good, Grace…” She fell back onto the pillow, ignoring the protest from her hangover. “How in the world can I ever go home again? I can’t… it’s impossible. I’ll never be forgiven for any of this. Completely beyond redemption…” Redemption. Sighing, looking around reluctantly, she raised her eyes heavenward. “And Lord, forgive me, I’m in Josh’s bed! He sleeps on these very sheets!” The thought made her giggle in spite of herself, as she ran her hands over the faintly rough cotton, her mind drifting to Josh doing the same. “He sleeps with his head on THIS pillow.” She shivered with delight, remembering Josh’s kiss, the feel of his body against hers, the comfort of his arm around her. It occurred to her that were she to marry Josh, they would share a bed, and she felt her face flush. “Don’t think about that now, Grace, in your condition it will do you in…” Still, her mind wouldn’t slow down. He’d confessed to her, in the club, in a whisper, that he really did love her. “Does he? Or was he drunk?” It had felt genuine, she remembered. He’d made her feel safe, and cherished. “Still, Grace…” She scolded herself sheepishly. “You too were drunk… you’re hardly the best judge of what was genuine… but… perhaps this all happened for a reason, and for Josh and myself there is hope… he IS a good man, and he DOES have a means to provide… he is not, after all, living in the streets…” Her face lit in a grin as her mind continued its trip through the events of the night before. “I had fun! I’ve not had so much fun since I was a child. I refuse to be ashamed, or guilt ridden, for having fun. But Lord above, you and I both know I’m going to have to pay for it… heavily.” The thought of facing her parents erased her grin. Could she convince them that Josh was a good man? Could she talk them out of annulling the betrothal, and make them see what she could see so clearly now, what Josh wanted for his future, for their future. “He’s so good at what he does, Taylor was right about that. Taylor was right about so many things. I didn’t realize, didn’t know, not until I saw him. A good living can be made Josh’s way. Why did I ever doubt that?” She wondered if she were brave enough to face such an unconventional future. It was one thing to dream of playing the piano, as Josh sang, when they were children. But to live the rest of their lives that way? Could she do that? Give up the society, and the rules, that governed her life? “Can I NOT do that? Can I live without Josh?” She admitted with some reluctance that she probably could survive without Josh, but damn she didn’t want to! “I can do this. I had fun. I feel so free. I love him.” She sighed, wondering how she could convince her parents of that, convince them to give Josh a real chance at being who he was. “Convince them not to pack me off to the nunnery…” Grace turned onto her side, snuggling into Josh’s pillow. All this thought was not helping her headache, but she was powerless to slow it down. So much had happened to her in the past few days. Her life had been turned upside down and inside out. “Since Taylor came here. Taylor…” He was so different, so strange, but so knowing. So right. “Those pictures… HOW did he do that? His strange words, and actions, and appearance. He’s not from here…” Vague thoughts of time entered her mind. “I must talk to Josh about this. Why do I think…” Knowing that Taylor was a puzzle she’d need help solving, Grace shelved that line of thinking, now coming to another problem, one that sent her bolting upright in bed despite her head. “How can I face them? Josh and Taylor, after everything I did last night, oh how humiliating…” She covered her face with her hands, thinking about her loose behavior. “And Mr. and Mrs. Gage! Oh my dear Lord… was it worth it? Never being able to look anyone in the eye again?” She thought hard, taxing her already pained mind. “YES. It was worth it. I had fun.”
Josh watched in high glee as his raucous siblings converged upon the hapless Taylor. His prone form seemed to suggest to them an optimal jumping surface, as opposed to Josh, who was sitting upright, and Josh laughed as he watched him futiley trying to get out from under them. Taylor, for his part, had no idea what had hit him. One moment he was peacefully asleep, the next, Tay and all of his minions had begun leaping and twirling about on his head. A head that, now that he was aware of it, was having enough trouble all on it’s own. Groaning, he extricated the baby’s hands from his hair, wincing a little as he encountered a fair amount of infant spit, and attempted to sit up. No go, there were just too many of them.
“Oh, c’mon you guys, what’re y’doin’?” He moaned more than spoke, the pain in his head rivaling only the roiling in his stomach. “Get off’n me, this isn’t funny…” Hearing the genuine discomfort in his voice, Lou clambered away from him, calling a halt, rather loudly, to the Taylor romping. Laughing, she shooed her little brothers from the area, leaving the baby, who had sprawled herself out on the boys chest. Taylor stared up at her, eyes glazed.
“What’d you guys do that for?” Giggling, Lou plopped down next to him. “Ma told us to. She told us “get ’em”. She thinks you should go to church and pray for forgiveness…” “What was this, penance?” Taylor frowned disagreeably and nudged the baby off of himself, sitting up painfully. Man did his head ache. His eyes fell on Josh, who tried not one whit to hide his amusement. “It’s one of the pitfalls to Ma knowing you’ll have a hangover. She sets the little ones upon you. Be grateful she didn’t greet you with a panful of bacon and stories about her Da’s life at sea. Wave’s y’know, UP and DOWN…” He giggled as Taylor paled slightly. “Thanks Josh, I’ll get you for that. Lou what?!” Her unbroken stare was making his eyes water. “Well you needn’t be so grumpy. Ma said to tell you there is coffee in the kitchen if you want it, and she really thinks you should think about getting yourselves to church. You have about three minutes before we all leave.” She continued to stare, her eyes taking on a definite ‘cat that ate the canary’ look. “Lou,what…” Taylor wasn’t in the mood. His head was killing him, and he felt decidedly seasick. And what was this? The pleased, “I got away with something” look on the little girls face, was giving way to a flush that looked unmistakenly guilty. “Lou…” Josh’s eyes widened. He knew his sister. “Louise, what did you do?!” “I didn’t…” She stopped, sighed, and shook her head, refusing to look into Taylor’s face. “Well, I just… Ma said I had to tell you I did it, even though I didn’t think you would notice. Please don’t be too angry…” Taylor shook his head, eyes narrowed in confusion. What on earth was she talking about? His question was answered as she reached into her dress pocket, something clutched in her hand. She opened it, palm out, exposing the object that lay within. It took Taylor’s sludgy brain a few moments to identify the item. He reached out, picking up a three inch section of braided blond hair, bead knotted into the end. Almost absently he reached back, pulling his tail forward, noting the missing length and the neatly tied off cut end. Completely confused, he looked back up at her. “You cut my hair?” She nodded, scarlet faced, eyes on the floor. “Louise look at me. You cut my hair off? Why’d you do that? WHEN did you do that?” Too baffled at the moment to be angry, he just shook his head, aiming a look at Josh. His response was a helpless shrug. “I don’t know, Tay, I gave up trying to figure her out when she was three. Louise what were you thinking, to do such a thing!” Lou shot Josh a venomous look. “You don’t know anything about it! You mind to your own!” “Lou…” Taylor, some vague vestige of mad stirring around in his snowed mind, got up off the floor and gestured to the sofa. “Go sit down, I want to talk to you…” He didn’t really. He wanted to go back to sleep. She hadn’t shorn him bald, and he was just too tired to care about a lousy couple inches of hair. “Louise, when did you do it?” “I came in while you were sleeping, you and HIM.” She shot her brother another look. “I… you’re leaving, aren’t you?!” He nodded, not sure how she’d known, but unwilling to lie. “Yeah, I think so. Pretty soon.” “I… I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have done it! But I wanted something to remember you by! I didn’t think you’d notice…” “I would have noticed. Lou…” He shook his head, beginning now to be more than a little pissed off. Just like all those teenies, begging for locks of his hair… “Why does everyone want a piece of me?! This kid just came in and hacked off my hair, who does she think she is???” His eyes met hers, saw hers drop as his anger flashed out at her, and sighed, taking his temper in hand. She just looked so miserable. And she was just a little girl. And she had come in and owned up to it. After all, it was only hair, and as he’d felt a moment ago, it wasn’t as if she’d shorn him bald. “Lou…” He took her hand and pressed the bit of hair back into it, gently closing her fingers. “If you had asked me, I would have given it to you.” “What?!” Her eyes widened. He wasn’t going to yell at her? He wasn’t angry? He was angry, she’d seen it… “You’re not angry with me?!” He shrugged, sighing. “Yeah, I kind of am. That was a really rotten thing to do, sneak up on me and cut my hair off. All you had to do was ask…” She dropped her eyes again. “But… I can keep it?” He laughed then. She didn’t care if he was mad at her, she just wanted her trophy. “You are just like my sister, do you know that? Ok, do you really want to keep that?” She nodded wildly, and he raised his eyebrows. “I don’t really understand why… but you can keep it IF…” “If?” “If you promise me that you won’t sneak up on anymore helpless sleeping people… or cut anymore body parts off anyone… or take anyone’s stuff without asking…”
Josh laughed and plopped down next to Taylor. “That’s a pretty high price for a little bit of hair, isn’t it?” “Shut up!” Taylor elbowed him in the ribs, and looked at Lou, who was watching him seriously, oblivious to her brother. “I promise, I won’t do any of those things…” She tucked the treasure back into her pocket, and impulsively threw her arms around him, resting her head on his shoulder. “Do you really have to leave?” He hugged her back, thinking how much he’d miss her, all of them. “Yeah, I do… I gotta go home, y’know?” She nodded and pulled away from him. “I’m sorry I snuck in and cut your hair. But I’m glad you let me keep it.” She giggled, and the cat/canary look came back as she spun on her heel and ran out the door. Her shout carried back to them. “Ma! Ma I told him and he isn’t even mad! He even let me keep it!! Ma!!” Josh collapsed back in helpless laughter, as Taylor ruefully surveyed the remains of his tail. “Josh, shut up, your sister is evil…” “Yeah, I know… you want to go get some of that coffee? Think you can handle it?” “I don’t know, is anybody else in your family gonna do strange things? I mean, your mom sicced the kids on me, your sister cut my hair… I’m a little nervous here.” “I make no promises for your safety. Come on…”
Grace’s eyes opened slowly, the sounds of activity in the house waking her again. She was disappointed to find her headache not the least bit improved. Still, she was beginning to ache, the familiar feel of having lain in bed much too long. Always an early riser, on the days she “slept in” she tended to awaken stiff and sore.
“I have to get up… good heavens…” She stepped gingerly from the bed, reaching for her dress, draped over a chair. “Oh I can’t wear THAT today! It’s beyond filthy and I certainly couldn’t wear it even were it clean…” She sat on the edge of the bed, pondering. She couldn’t go out in Sarah’s nightdress, to ask for help with her problem, what could she do? For a moment, her mind warred with itself. Propriety demanded she sit here until someone appeared with her things. She could not go out in her nightdress, she could not be seen in that… that OTHER dress, and she could certainly not pull on Josh’s clothes and saunter out into the kitchen. However… she was unwilling to sit here all day. If propriety demanded she be prisoner in this messy room all day, propriety could take itself on holiday. The previous nights sense of self flooded in with a vengeance, and she nodded determinedly. “I’m not sitting in this room all day.” So decided, she took herself to Josh’s dressing table, pulling drawers open. Grace stomped her foot in anger, regretting the action immediately, as pain lanced through her head.
“I just cannot wear this corset, not without someone to lace me!” She had tried and tried, practically dislocating her arms in her attempt to lace the thing up the back, and just couldn’t manage it. “Who’s idea was such a garment anyway? Who would invent something you must have hands growing out the back of your neck to put on?” Realizing that the only other people there were the boys, knowing that no matter how rebellious she was feeling, she was NOT going to ask one of them to lace her, she promptly relinquished the idea of wearing the feminine undergarment. “I’ll just have to go without. I’ve already become completely unredeemable, what have I got to lose?” “Well… I guess it will have to do…” Grace eyed her reflection dubiously.
White cotton shirt tucked into soft brown trousers. “Well, it’s interesting, I’ll give it that…” She sucked in her stomach a little, pulling on the waistband of the pants. “Josh, why are you so inconveniently thin… did you not know I would be borrowing your clothing?” She laughed ironically at the thought, and picked up his brush, running it through her hair. The smell of smoke, clinging to it from the pub was disagreeable to her, and she found herself longing to bathe. “Ah well, there’s not help for it now. I’ll have to wait until I get home. Perhaps the sound of the water will drown out the sounds of shouting…” She eyed her reflection again. “I feel indecent. But free. It’s so easy to move in trousers!” The young lady that looked back at her, in snug pants, and a fine white shirt, looked defiant, and Grace laughed as she stuck her tongue out at herself. “I have to do something about my hair.” She scrounged around her clothing of the night before, pulling one of the ribbons, yanking her long hair back. Tying it off, she paused, remembering Taylor’s advice of the day before. “He was right…” She loosened the tie and pulled a few strands out, curling them around her fingers, to frame her face. “There… that’s better.” Digging into her handbag, she pulled out the lip paint, frowned… then grinned. Touching the pad of her finger to the paint pot, she rubbed a trace of color into her lips. “Very nice. I look like a demented tavern whore. Who would have thought?” She dabbed a bit of cologne to her throat, squared her shoulders and looked once more. “I believe I’m the best I can expect. Certainly I’m a spectacle. Grace, I do believe it’s time to leave this room.” She gathered her courage, knowing it was time to face her intended, and their new friend. “In Josh’s clothes, in TROUSERS, no undergarments, I’m on my way to Hell. At least I’ll show up in style… some sort of style, at any rate…” Opening the bedroom door, she headed for the kitchen. “Well, all they can do is laugh at me, I suppose…”
Taylor pulled mugs from the cupboard, trying to set them down as quietly as possible, not wanting to stir up the hangover gods. “This is bad, this is THE hangover… I want to go to bed…” Sighing, hearing a gunshot behind him that was only the snick of the door, he looked over his shoulder.
“Oh, hey Grace… OW! Josh!” He yanked his hand away from the flood of scalding coffee that had suddenly washed over it.
“Josh watch what you’re doing?!”
“What?” Josh set the pot down, oblivious to Taylor, eyes fastened on Grace.
“Josh, for God sake! It’s Grace. Y’know, Grace?!” Irritated, he threw a towel at the puddle on the counter and dropped into a chair at the table.
“I’d offer you coffee but he just poured it all over my arm… Josh what are you staring at?”
Josh shook his head, reached for the pot… became confused as to why he was no longer holding it, turned back to the table and froze, prompting a snort from Taylor. “God, reboot him, he’s got errors… JOSH! What’s the matter?” He winced as his own raised voice sliced off a goodish section of gray matter, and put his head down on folded arms. “I give up…”
Grace giggled, and glanced up at Josh, blushing. “I had to find something to wear, I hope you don’t mind…” Josh shook his head, mute. Mind? MIND? No, he didn’t mind. He stared at this Grace, this relaxed and easy looking Grace. This Grace in HIS clothes! “Grace you’re wearing trousers!” Rubbing her own aching head, she nodded. “Yes, I am. I thought it more appropriate than coming out here with no clothing.”
“I don’t know about that…”
“TAYLOR!” He sniggered, didn’t apologize, and looked up, paying attention now. He could see why Josh was stunned. Not only did she look absolutely great in those pants, but the sunlight filtering through the white shirt rendered it completely transparent. “Yep…” Taylor sniggered again at the thought. “That is a really good look for her.” Grace’s gaze drove spikes into his skull and he quickly averted his eyes, blushing. It would only be the decent thing to do to tell her… He glanced back at Josh, who seemed to have reverted back to complete shutdown.
“God… Grace? Want to reach behind you and pull that shade? It’s a little too… bright… in here.” He glanced back at Josh, scowling.
“You could sit down you know, you look like someone unplugged you.”
“Like what?” Josh, the spectre of Grace’s body now dimmed, was regaining some modicum of self control.
“Never mind, if there’s anymore coffee that you didn’t pour on my hand, could we have it?”
“Coffee? Oh… yeah… oh my God I spilled it on you?”
Taylor rolled his eyes, wondering what Josh would ever do if he saw a girl in a bikini…