Title: A Change of Grace
Chapter: 39 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.
Isaac’s muttering preceded his entrance, as he struggled with his overfull hands.
Juggling several books, a notepad, two pens, a pencil, and a can of pop, knowing in some small corner of his mind that he couldn’t possibly avert disaster, he carefully inched his way across the cluttered family room.
“More toys than a toy store lying around here…” he muttered, as he avoided a
Furby, only to step onto a pile of playing cards.
“Good Lord… oh no…” His feet skidded on the slippery cards and he fought for balance, the books flying from his grasp as he frantically attempted to at least hold onto the pop, knowing he’d lost his axis and was going to go down anyway.
Hands suddenly grabbed him from behind, his startled jump almost overbalancing him in the other direction, as the popcan was plucked from his clutch, the helping hands steadying him once again. Isaac gasped, the adrenaline that had hit his system making his heart pound as he caught his balance and his breath.
“Man, that almost sucked! Thanks…”
He turned around, to see Taylor grinning faintly, holding his uncasted arm across his ribs, his expression immediately shifting from startled gratefulness to faintly reproachful concern.
“Geez, Tay, you could’ve hurt yourself! You should have let me go down!”
“No, one of us injured is enough, no way was I gonna watch you get concussed on a See N’ Say. Imagine the humiliation at the emergency room…” He grinned, scooping the books his brother had dropped with his one good arm.
“Can’t you see it? I stepped over a Furby and the damn thing tripped me, just reached out and grabbed me, and I brained myself on a baby toy…”
Isaac, disbelief warring the humor of the situation, just shook his head helplessly. This wasn’t Taylor, it couldn’t be. To risk his own injury to stop what had to be a hilariously slapstick accident… no, Taylor would have simply watched, laughing at his expense. Who was this kid?
This kid was kind, considerate, thought of others before himself… “He’s a damned boy scout!” He sighed, confused. “No, he’s the Tay he used to be, before he decided he was the Almighty. God, what happened to him that week?” He squatted down beside Taylor, looking at him curiously. Taylor flashed a grin at him, as he handed him the books, one at a time, and laboriously got to his feet. Looking down at his older brother, he grinned again, and moaned elaborately.
“Now I need to lie down, that just exhausted me, ya know, saving you from death by Furby.”
Isaac rolled his eyes, opening his mouth to answer, cut off by a sudden squeaky voice.
“MMMBop you suck”
The pair stared at the Furby at their feet, mouths hanging open.
“Who the hell…” Ike stared as Taylor exploded into giggles, holding his ribs, gasping between chortles. Joining in the laughter, Ike climbed to his feet, and picked up the furry toy. He turned it over and over in his hands, the silly thing squeaking, and repeating that one phrase.
Neither of them heard the footsteps crossing the room…
“Isn’t this one Jessie’s?”
“Of course it is” Taylor’s face had gone an alarming red as he tried to laugh and breath simultaneously. “Who else would teach their Furby to say that?”
“It certainly is mine!” Jessie took her toy from Isaac’s hands, cuddling the mumbling creature to her chest. “I taught him to say sensible things!” She crossed her eyes, and sticking out her tongue, she left the pair close to hysterical with laughter.
“God! She even looks like that thing now!” Taylor gasped out, shaking with humor.
Isaac glanced fondly at his brother, feeling good to be laughing with him again, seeing the old Tay there, the Tay who laughed with him often, and cared about him. His good humor was short lived, as his brother’s countenance suddenly shifted, the warm, happy expression exchanged for a sour, scowley, nearly scornful look, and his hart sank.
That look, that scowl, he’d grown to know it well over the past weeks… it usually preceded a smartass comment that would leave him hurting inside. “I knew it wouldn’t last…”
Sighing in resignation and defeat, he drew in again, neglecting, in his disappointment, to really look at Taylor.
Gasping slightly for breath, his ribs suddenly sending sharper flashes of pain with
each movement he made, Taylor’s face lost its smile. It was beginning to get to him, this constant discomfort. His forehead wrinkled, as he grabbed onto Isaac for support, grimacing as Isaac pulled away from his touch, forcing him to make do with the wall, before dropping, suddenly very tired, onto the sofa.
Isaac gazed distantly, cooly, at the boy on the couch, as he instinctively guarded himself from the hurt he anticipated. He’d not seen that side of Taylor in the two weeks since his return, but that scowl, he knew what followed… he was so confused, not sure what to expect from his brother anymore.
Gathering up his books, and his drink, he started out of the room, not seeing the confused look on Taylor’s face.
“Ike? What is it?” Taylor reached a hand out to Ike, knowing something was wrong, confused as to what it could be. He’d been trying to get him alone since he’d come home, hoping they could talk. So much had gone on, so much had happened to him, and it has always been Ike he’d turned to in the past. There was so much he wanted to tell him…
“He’s been avoiding me.” The realization hit suddenly, and he nodded, depression settling over him. “He just forgot for a minute…” Yes, it was clear now. Ike had avoided being alone with him since he’d returned, almost as if he were afraid of him. “Was I that bad?”
Taylor wriggled his way into the corner of the sofa, making room for his brother, and patted the seat. “Come on, sit down, talk to me, please? What’s wrong?”
Ike turned, looking at the boy on the couch. The scowl was gone, his face concerned and seemingly sincere. He wanted to go to him, wanted to be wrong about what he thought he’d seen, but the confusion in his mind lingered. He could still feel that spark, that glow of Taylor, could feel the innate goodness in it, knew it had always been there, buried perhaps, but always there.
He wanted to believe it, go with it, but he wasn’t sure what he trusted, or believed, or felt anymore. He needed time, time to think, reassure himself, let himself believe that maybe Taylor HAD really changed. The pain in his heart couldn’t be easily erased, and he’d SEEN Taylor give him “that look”.
He shook his head, sighing.
“No, I have stuff to do. By myself. Maybe later we can talk. If you still even want to.”
Not letting himself be swayed by the pleading look on Taylor’s face, he left the room, his thoughts swimming thick, sluggish, trying to remember what he’d been doing a few minutes ago…
“God… my mind is so not here these days.” Isaac wandered outside, leaving his books on the patio table. Seeing the big wooden swingset, he headed in that direction, fitting his narrow hips onto a swing. He leaned back, holding onto the rope supports, letting the breeze move lazily through his dark blond curls. Scents of distant pine trees mixed
with smells of food barbecuing, the fresh breeze carrying the distilled scent of late summer past the quiet boy on the swing.
His thoughts swirled round and round, as he replayed the past three weeks, like a movie, in his head. He started to move the swing, keeping time with the picture show in his mind. Taylor’s disappearance, his literal disappearance, right in front of his eyes. The days of hell, Zac’s accusations ringing even now in his ears. The FBI, the questions, the crowds wanting reassurance from a family close to collapse. The horror that MTV had shown to the world, the words they had used, causing untold heartache to a boy already guilt stricken, anguish leading him to contemplate a step he never thought he’d consider.
Isaac swung higher, the swing moving him up, then down, as his thoughts traveled the peaks and valleys of his memory.
That night, in the Dakota, did he really travel to the past? Did Taylor really do that, with his mind? Had it been real, the images he had in his head, in his memory? He could still see the old fashioned kitchen, lit by gaslights, shadows dancing as flames flickered, feel the smooth wooden table under his hands, taste the cold clean water, lack of chemicals giving it a taste he knew he’d never find again. He could still smell the slightly acrid smell of the lamps, the fresh untainted air from the window, the smell of horses in the streets. The sound of hooves ringing on cobblestones, the lack of sounds he was used to hearing. No horns, no TV, no music playing from all directions. It impacted all his senses, that one night, time unmeasured, that Taylor had touched his soul, and brought him back from the edge of total despair.
The swing whooshed, as he swung higher and higher, the wind whirling his hair into a twisted swirl, his thoughts moving as quickly as the wooden swing.
He lived again the frantic minutes on the plane, the power of joined minds bringing Taylor home, hurt, but back to them. The pain, the total exhaustion, but the overwhelming joy, as they realized that they were complete again. The glow again in his mind, the link healing the gaping wound, soothing the jagged edges caused by the abrupt fall into the void.
The past two weeks, here at home, unfettered joy at Taylor’s return tempered with recriminations of worry and grief. Confusion at Taylor’s almost fanatical devotion to his family’s comfort and well being.
Isaac’s brow wrinkled in concentration, thinking of all Taylor had done these past
several days, playing with the little ones, games he hadn’t deigned to play with them in months. The soft whispered conversations with Zac, late at night, something he’d refused to take the time for in a long time.
The swing slowed, the momentum lessening, as he considered the changes he’d seen in his brother’s attitude towards others. Changes that Taylor attributed to his week away, to his friends that helped him so much. Friends that helped him in ways his family couldn’t. Friends who lived a simpler life, with straightforward values, in a simpler time.
A simpler time…
The swing came to a stop, Isaac’s feet planted firmly on the grass.
“It DID happen, God, it did.” Clarity of thought was his again, confusion lessened, he saw how Taylor had changed his attitude, his manner, his whole way of being. He’d returned to the boy he had been, the boy who simply loved, without looking for motives, without making excuses.
Now it was up to him to accept these changes, and accept his brother again. He touched the spark that lived in his mind, unknowingly sending a message to his brother, the boy who wanted to talk to him… the brother even now crossing the patio, coming towards him, face uncertain…
He patted the swing beside him, watching as Taylor sat, an expectant look in
his eyes. “Tay, let’s talk…”
The sunporch was shaded by the full grown trees near the house, the interior cast with green shadows and flickering sunspots, by day, softly lit against the shadows by evening, occupants protected from prying eyes by the veil of green. The soft smells of summer flowed through the screens, combined with the scented candles burning on the low table, birdsong replacing the cacophony of a housefull of children, shut out by the heavy door.
Diana’s retreat, her haven, her sanctuary. Hers by unspoken agreement, no one entered unless invited, no one disturbed her here. The small, cozy room, enclosed on
three sides by windows, spoke of her, her tastes, her desires, and it was here she sought peace, gazing through the flickering branches that afforded her a one way view of her children playing in the yard, summer and winter.
In the soft glow of beginning twilight, she watched the shadows lengthen in the yard, and the boys on the swings grew indistinct. She’d watched them for some time now, watched their conversation pick up and slow with their slight back and forth motion. Watched the animation in their faces as they agreed on something, and saw the scowls when they disagreed, saw the love between the brothers, the respect obvious in their gestures, the genuine caring that had always been part of their very beings.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see that part of Taylor again.”
She set her coffee cup down gently, relaxing her head against the soft silk covered pillowback. Sighing softly, she closed her eyes, the purple shadows too deep now to see the boys as anything other than vague, unformed shadows. Too far from them to hear, she’d read their communication by their motion, and the inborn sense of them she’d always possessed.
Now, observance taken from her, the deep blue air fragrant with growing things, she inhaled deeply, sinking back, letting her thoughts roam.
Of course, her thoughts were full of Taylor.
Her second son had always been loving, considerate, compassionate. Always affectionate, he’d loved unconditionally, freely… yet, over the past months, those qualities had slipped away, seemingly before their eyes and beyond their control.
“It’s as if he morphed into one of those awful characters in a bad movie.”
His words turned harsh, his expressions scornful. No one could do anything right, only he had the correct answers to any question asked of them. His family no longer worth his time, an annoying obstacle to be gotten around, his affection for them replaced with annoyance, and hostility. The values and morals he’d been raised with, always
cherished, seemingly gone forever. He’d caused pain and heartache, possibly unthinkingly, she told herself, in each family member, even the little ones, who couldn’t understand why their brother no longer liked them, and especially in Ike and Zac. They’d always been so close, the abrupt departure of the brother they loved had tormented them.
But now… these past two weeks, she’d seen the Taylor she really new once again emerging from the cocoon of attitude and scorn, the loving boy who spent time with his siblings playing childish games from his youth. Who deferred to his brothers, acknowledged his mistakes openly, and seemed to be trying to make up for the pain he knew he had caused and openly admitted he had delivered to each of them.
Oh, it was no miracle conversion, he’d had his moments of withdrawal, and she’d seen him biting back obvious retorts more than once. There was still the odd outburst of temper, but no more so than any of his siblings, and so far, always quickly accounted.
She supposed she was grateful, a real blessing had given him a second chance, and in so doing given to all of them, but she found herself looking at it as a left-handed gift.
For all of his change, her son wasn’t happy.
There was a longing in him she could see, could almost taste, yet couldn’t understand. He pined for something, someone, the look in his faraway gaze telling her that it was a longing that could never be filled.
More than that, he seemed uncomfortable in his own skin, in his own environment. Everything seemed alien to him, the most normal surroundings making him jumpy. He avoided riding, spending necessary trips with his head down, muscles tense. The television had been a source of mild amazement, passing strange, for several days. Food made him wrinkle his nose and mutter, his answer to her one question about it being that “nothing has any taste, it’s all like cardboard…”
She thought back to the one trip into the city she’d talked him into, watching in fascinated wonder at the expressions that had crossed his face, mild shock at the sight of a scantily dressed summer crowd, brief and fleeting yet obviously there. Little things at home, the shower causing him to jump back, brow furrowed for a few moments, the nose wrinkled at the smell of shampoo, his odd habit now of washing his hair with Ivory soap, claiming the other smelled “too perfumed”.
The phrase “culture shock” kept coming to her, dismissed time and again by her logical mind that insisted it was impossible. This was the culture he was born to!
His confusion was puzzling to her, he was different in so many ways.
“He’s changed so much…”
What had happened?
Her thoughts touched lightly on that week of absolute anguish. Every mother’s horror, the disappearance of a child. The possibility of his death. The month-long days of uncertainty. “No, I can’t go there again, even though it turned out well, I just can’t think about that week…”
She shifted in the chair, drawing her legs up underneath her. The room was darker now, full night fallen, a few of the candles burnt out. She could hear her family in the kitchen, fixing some elaborate snack. She knew she should rejoin them, yet her
thoughts moved on…
The overwhelming relief, the unbridled joy in her heart, the unspoken prayers of thanks pouring to the heavens, on Taylor’s return.
The pain of having to choose which hospitalized child to stay near, resigning herself to the need to wait for him here, each day achingly long as she awaited his return.
The joy of his arrival, seeing his beloved face, in his home, where he belonged tempered by his pallor, his pain, his obvious confusion. His injuries hurt her as though they belonged to her… as did his vague answers to their questions.
“I suppose I’ll never know the truth of his week away from us. Friends. People we don’t know, and won’t ever see. What could they do for him that we couldn’t do? How could they help him in ways we couldn’t?” She sighed, pushing aside the edge of jealousy and resentment. Who could do more for him than she could? Who could ever love him more? “Ah, uncharitable, a blessing from above, Diana stop it…”
Still her mind wound on, heeding the voice of her conscience only slightly. “Where had he been? Who were they? And why won’t he tell us? And why does he cry, when he thinks he’s alone?”
He didn’t know she knew, her sense of his pride preventing her from going to him, wishing she could comfort him.
Her face a mirror image of Taylor’s, she scowled, not understanding what hurt him so. And why he looked at his baby sister so wistfully. She was right there, why did he look at her as though he missed her more than life itself?
The tears… he’d always cried easily, he was her emotional child, but why the forlorn look on his face? What, or who, did he miss so terribly?
And then there were the songs. Old songs, sung quietly, barely audible over the noise of the chaotic household. Where did he learn them? How did he know them? Why did
he sing them? And where did the strange expressions he used come from? “My son”, when talking to his brothers, his father.
Wherever had it come from?
He answered none of their questions, repeating only the same few sentences over and over. Noncommittal, discomfiting answers that told them nothing.
Relief and joy turned to hurt. The hurt, and the possibility that they had failed him in some way, slowly changing to anger. Anger at the grief he’d caused, “staying with friends.” After two days, they’d simply grounded him, knowing that they would forgive him, as would the city of New York, at some undeniable time in the future. And he didn’t seem to mind the punishment, spending time with his sisters, with his brothers, wandering through the house, looking at old family photos.
“He’s not even asked for the laptop, other than to e-mail his thanks to Nessa again. That’s just not like him. And this interest in family history, he’s never cared about that
before.” His behavior was strange to her, in the past, being grounded led to stomping away and slammed doors. But this time, he seemed only confused, distant, yet accepting of their dictates.
Bewilderment rang through her mind as the voices from the kitchen rang louder through her haven of peace.
The haven that hadn’t helped today.
Her confusion still high, persistent questions still unresolved, hours of soul searching for naught. but the two clear if useless thoughts that at least, finally, Isaac and Taylor had made some sort peace between them, and that her son was fundamentally changed in some undetermined way. All she could do now was hope, and pray for clarity at some point in time.
“It’s time to rejoin the real world, I suppose”, Diana sighed. She slowly straightened up, stroking the silk covering her soft padded chair, enjoying the sensation of the fabric under her fingers. “It’s highly impractical, silk is, but my… I do love how it feels…”
A loud crash, then a sudden absence of voices shattered the still of the evening air, causing a faint crease of annoyance across her brow, followed by a smile as she counted backward, silently.
On one, as if on cue, a whirlwind of sound reached her through the door, voices
claiming “I didn’t do it…” and “You must have…” and “Kids, do you want
your Mom in here? Hush up!” The din lessened slightly, followed by another crash, and Diana rolled her eyes. “I’d best be getting in there, while I still have dishes left…”
A soft knock interrupted her thoughts of the disaster in her kitchen, and her eyes scrinched slightly, as the door to her sanctuary opened, flooding the room with warm light.
Taylor, lit from behind by the soft lights, his hair shimmering, smiled gently, and shrugged, hating to disturb her. “You want to come out or do you want us to handle it?” He waited for his mother’s answer, mildly suprised at himself for asking her. She looked at him, loving him more than life, but baffled by him. A month ago he’d have burst in, her privacy unrespected, complaining that she’d better get out there.
Again, she sighed, and scooping up her cup, stepped over to the doorway.
“No, baby, I’ll come save my appliances from the Hanson wrecking crew.”
He laughed, impulsively reaching up to ruffle her hair, laughing again at the odd look she shot him, slipping an arm around her, his head resting on her shoulder for a second, whispered voice in her ear “Love you, mom…” He kissed her cheek gently and she hugged him back, her “I love you too” choked with tears of emotion hidden behind a smile.
Zac pulled the helmet from his head, wiping his sweaty forehead with a pass of his arm, flinging himself off the bike, into a patch of scant shade. Around him, the sandy ground, oven hot air and limp trees ticked and buzzed, the drone of insects and heat, the whisper of the faintest of breezes, barely kissing the overheated skin of his face. Tucking an arm under his head he lay back, sighing, finding the tick and whir ridden quiet vaguely creepy.
He wasn’t much on this riding around out here alone. He’d tried to get Tay to come out with him yesterday, considered the refusal an act of bad timing, and tried again today, only to receive what was becoming a Taylor standard. A blank gaze, followed by an equally vague shrug. Ike was just too busy, always too busy lately, so Zac had come on out alone, his enjoyment somewhat listless. He needed Tay out here, but what was up with him?
Yawning, he shut his eyes, thoughts roaming the last week, his brother’s odd behavior, his discovery of the list of names in the old family bible, mind flitting from one idea to the other with all of the steadiness of a firefly, lighting briefly, burning bright, taking flight, further and further from him, until finally, heat and the soporific hum of insects lulled him to sleep.
In his dreams they came again, the man and the woman. On his sleeping face, brows knit in concentration…
Taylor’s eyes opened, teardrops sparkling on half-mast lashes. The dream again, the last moments in the apartment of the Dakota… sleep was becoming less a welcome friend, and more a rude reminder, as the same dream woke him in tears, time and time again. It was coming, he could feel it. The longing, the sadness, the confusion about what he should feel were building, and critical mass was coming, coming, he knew.
“Why am I not happy? I’m home… I wanted to come home what’s wrong with me?”
He couldn’t have articulated it, not even to himself, the lack of closure, the sudden departure from friends he’d grown to love, solid in the knowledge that he would never, could never, see them again, cold grief at the dawning awareness of their deaths, before his existence had even been called in to question, his hopeless wandering wondering about their lives.
He’d braved the genealogy list in the back of the bible this morning, again, finding finally, as he’d known he would, Sarah Matthews marrying Samual Gage in 1866. He’d felt his heart race, scanning the list, eyes lighting on familiar names in the birth records. Josh in 1867, Louise in 1872, Ellie in 1882… all real, they were all real, and he knew at that moment that he’d been questioning, all this time, subconsciously doubting his own reality, submitting it to the dream realm. But here… all here. Right in front of him. Braced, he’d followed their line, and there she was. Grace. Married to Josh in 1883.
“1883…” He’d smiled a little, sighing softly. He missed them. Had they missed him? His eye had traveled, smiling at the lists of births, babies born to the two of them, 1884, 1885, 1887, the smile becoming an almost agonizing ache as the same children’s names appeared in the list of deaths, all in 1888.
“Oh, Grace your babies…” He’d shut the book then, unable to continue the story it told, knowing that their deaths were in there, unable to bear the thought of seeing them. He’d retreated to his room, desperate to find some way to escape it, his refuge in sleep rudely shaken as the dream returned.
There had to be something, something he could do, some way he could know…
Sighing bitterly, he sat up, bare toes curling in the nap of the carpet. He’d wandered the yard as often as he could stand, television held no charm… the dirt bikes given up after one attempt, the noise, smell and speed more than he could deal with.
Aimless, he shook off the dregs of the dream, noting absently that the pain in his arm was less, and his breathing easier. “Healing up finally…”
His roaming steps halted at the trapdoor to the attic. Had he ever even gone up there? Was there anything up there?
“Uncharted territory…” He grinned briefly, reaching for the pull ring, stepping back as the dusty folding ladder came into view, sneezing in the cloud of gritty dust that fell to the hallway floor. Waving it away, he pulled on the ladder, half expecting it to be time frozen in position, but no… it opened easily, bringing a delighted smile to his face. Who knew what treasures an attic as old as this could reveal?
He stepped up the ladder, feeling off balance with the casted arm, finally setting foot onto the dust thick attic floor, groaning at the obvious lack of electricity, awkwardly stepping back down to the ladder. This called for candles, or better yet, the oil lantern he’d liberated from the parlor. With a sense of high adventure, he ran to get it.
Zac dropped the bike, too exhausted to hold on, barely hearing the thunk as it hit the ground. Home, he could see it, only a few more steps. Swallowing desperately imagined spit with a throat tinder dry, he winced, coughed, forced himself not to gag, staggering on.
While in his deep sleep, the sun had shifted, falling full on him, the hundred degree rays beating onto his dreaming body. What had awakened him he didn’t know, but the raging sunburn, swimming head, nausea, and burning eyes told him it hardly mattered. He was way too hot and had to get inside… fast.
Riding the bike, however, was not an option. The first attempt had taken him into the broad side of a tree, his bloodied face proof, and he’d settled for pushing it until a moment ago, strength fading fast.
“Zac, what’d you do?!”
Isaac’s voice came from far away, and Zac giggled in spite of himself at the sudden picture, unbidden, of Ike’s words above his head in a bubble.
“You fell asleep in the sun again didn’t you?”
Isaac’s insults did little to mask his concern, as he looped an arm around his brother, propelling him into the house. Zac was averaging about once a week on this particular little stunt, and one of these times was going to just fry to death out there. Intent on getting Zac into an air conditioned room, and something cool inside him, Isaac barely noticed his other brother, scurrying past him clutching the oil lantern