Chapter: 18 of 43
Other Info: Sequel to Walls
Warnings: Drug-usage, cursing, violence etc
Excerpt: “Mom…” He paused, gazing up at the treetops. “Did we do this?”
“What do you mean, baby? Did we do what?”
“Make Tay like this? I was talking to some people, and they were saying it must be something wrong with ‘the family’, so I was wondering…”
“Zachary, what on earth are you doing?”
Zac jumped, startled. “Nothing, I couldn’t sleep so I came out here.”
Diana took a seat next to him on the porch swing. “Baby it’s one in the morning. And it’s cold! Aren’t you freezing?”
He shook his head. “Look, I just put my clothes on over my pajamas. I’m warm.”
She sighed, and nodded. “Mind if I join you?”
“No, I kind of wanted to talk to you, anyway.” He toed the swing gently, the slight back and forth motion soothing. “Mom…” He paused, gazing up at the treetops. “Did we do this?”
“What do you mean, baby? Did we do what?”
“Make Tay like this? I was talking to some people, and they were saying it must be something wrong with ‘the family’, so I was wondering…”
Diana sighed, sitting back. “Zac, I’d love to be able to tell you that the person was wrong, but to be honest, I just don’t know. I don’t know what’s happened to Tay.”
“Then it could be us? It could be me?” He looked at her, eyes bleak.
“You? Zac, what could you have ever done to influence any of this? No, sweetie, it’s not you.”
He looked skeptical. “You just said you didn’t know. If you don’t know what did do it, how do you know what didn’t do it?”
“Zachary you’re giving me a headache. Why don’t you tell me why you think it was you, and I’ll tell you why you’re mistaken.”
He laughed a little. “You already are telling me I’m wrong, and you don’t even know what I’m gonna say.” He shivered a little, and slid over closer to her.
She smiled and pulled him close to her. “I told you it was cold. Want to go in?”
He shook his head. “No, I’m fine like this. Mom… I really do think this is my fault.”
She waited, listening to the sighing of the wind, and the creak of the swing. They’d meant to oil that hinge for ages, still hadn’t done it. She was glad, it was hypnotic, comforting. This swing had soothed a lot of troubled hearts over the years. She wasn’t surprised that it had drawn Zac. Now, head hanging, he looked so desolate it was all she could do not to stop him, tell him “No, no, just sshh, it’s all okay.” She held off the urge. He needed to get this out. He’d been remarkably silent throughout the whole ordeal.
His voice, when he did speak, was a harsh whisper, bitter and guilt ridden.
“I shouldn’t have ever followed him, back at the hotel. If I hadn’t done that, this wouldn’t be happening. It started the whole thing. I’m the one who made him so mad. I’m the one who made him want to kill himself. And now this. I’m the one that freaked him out, that made him take off and go get drunk. I’m the one who left him with Jessica, so he could run away. I never should have done that. I’m the one who was bugging Ike, and made him say that about Tay. It’s all me…” He ignored the tears that had started to trickle down his cheeks. He didn’t care. He looked up at her, heart and soul in his eyes. “I never meant any of it. I never meant to hurt him.”
She held him gently, for a few moments, fighting down anger. How could he be blaming himself? When she felt she could speak without shouting, she gently pushed him away a little, taking him firmly by the shoulders, looking directly into his eyes.
“Zachary Hanson, you listen to me. You are not to blame for any of this. You did not start anything by following him to that room. You were trying to help him. You did not make him beat you half to death, and you did not make him take drugs. You very likely did save his life, that night. If that hadn’t happened, for all we know he might still be doing it all. What you did make him do, was stop. And that’s the one thing that most needed to happen.”
She shook him a little. “You just shut up and listen to me.” Her words were harsh, her tone was gentle. “You did not make him want to kill himself, he made himself that unhappy, he owns that, Zac, not you.”
“No! He felt like that because of what he did to me!!”
“That’s right! Because of what HE did TO you. Zac, you were the victim there, not Tay. HE DID IT!! YOU DID NOT!!!”
Eyes wide, he simply stared. He’d never seen her eyes flash like that, he’d never seen her look so much like she meant anything. He could see that she wasn’t angry. He wasn’t sure what she was. His eyes never left hers, as she went on.
“Zac, you did not make him freak out and take off. He got upset that you were afraid of him. Fine. You have every right to be. Again, it’s something that belongs to Tay. Not to you. If he had any sense at all he’d have heard what you said, seen what you were doing and…”
She paused for a moment, the reality suddenly striking her, showing her what had been wrong all along.
“He’d have done what he could to fix it, if he was all that upset. Instead he ran away, to avoid having to cope. Zac, sweetie, it’s not you. You didn’t make Ike say that, Ike said that because he was frustrated with Taylor. He’d reached the end of his rope, and once again Taylor decided to run away, rather than face it. And as for Jess, well… I should have never left him with you. I made the mistake that time, you did the best you could, and it was plenty good enough. I left you in a situation you didn’t have a hope of handling. And it was my actions that sent him out of the house. My words and my actions. Zac, not you. Never you. Please, don’t try to take on everyone else’s stuff. You worry about things you did, not things other people did. Did you put the pills in Taylor’s mouth and make him swallow them?”
He stared, wordless.
“No.” He whispered, almost frightened at the glow in her eyes.
“Did you push him out the door, and tell him “Go find a party, Tay and get plowed?”
“Did you tell him to run out the door?”
“Or tell Ike to make sure and say something that would hurt?”
“No, I told him he shouldn’t have said that.”
“I suppose you must have given him the keys to Ike’s car and told him to run away then?”
He giggled then. “No, of course not. I see what you mean.”
“Yes. But I feel bad. I want it all to just… not be.”
She pulled him in tight, again. “Baby I want that too. But it is. And somehow, we have to fix it.”
He pulled away and looked into her eyes again. “We have to? Or we have to help Tay to do it?”
Smiling, she nodded. “I guess that’s right.”
His expression darkened again. “First we have to find him. He’s okay though, I know he is.”
“How do you know that, baby?”
He looked out at the stars. “I’d know if he wasn’t. I’d feel it. He’s…” He looked at her intently. “He’s here…” he touched his heart. “And I’d know, if he was gone. He’s okay. They just need to bring him back.”
He settled back against her again, wanting nothing more now than to sit there, with her arms around him, and watch the stars.
Ike drove slowly up the road, for the sixth time. They were on the last one… They’d gone back to what they considered the point of error, and driven systematically in each direction, seeing no sign of Ike’s car. They were tired, frustrated, and snappy with each other.
Tiffany gazed out at the now familiar terrain. “Ike?”
“We need to stop now. He’s not out here. Face it, we were wrong.”
He shot her a deathlook. “You just wanna give up, then?”
“No, Ike, I don’t, but we have been up and down this road six times!! I’m going to start to hallucinate soon. Now just quit! It was a good idea, but it didn’t work. We’re not going to find him this way. We were wrong.” Her fingers gripped the edge of the seat. It was all she could do not to just slap him.
“We were NOT wrong!” He slammed both hands down on the wheel, and the urge to slap him intensified. “He’s around here somewhere! I’m not giving up, Tiffany, I’m not.”
“Isaac…” She sighed, not knowing what to say. She knew how he felt. She didn’t want to give up either. But this was just crazy. “Well, can we get off this road, then? We’ve been up and down, over and over. There’s only two houses out here, it’s creepy. It’s too dark to make anything out anyway, everything looks black.”
He nodded. ‘Yeah, I guess so. No point in staying. But I want to check out those other two roads, one more time.”
She nodded, knowing she had no real choice. As they turned out onto the main road again, she noticed that someone had parked their car half onto their own lawn. Snorting at some peoples parking abilities, she turned her attention back to the road ahead of her.
Amanda leaned back against the couch, watching her toes wiggle in the moonlight. Every so often a car would go by, headlights splashing into the room. She hoped that once she started, Taylor would listen. Chances were, he thought he was the only one out there going through this. Would it help him to see that it happened to other people? And that they made it through? She hoped so. Maybe he’d feel a little less lonely. God knew, it was a lonely situation. She turned a little, wanting to be able to see his face.
“Taylor I know what you are going through because I went through it myself.” She searched his face for some reaction. His gaze never left the window, but she thought he was listening to her. “When I was sixteen, Taylor, I was in a really bad car crash. I ended up having a lot of surgery, had a lot of bones pinned. They put me on painkillers, that unfortunately turned out to be addictive.”
His eyes flickered to her face for an instant, then back out the window.
“I can’t speak for you, but I never knew it was happening. Not until it was way too late.” He nodded slightly, his eyes going far away, and she knew she’d triggered memory. “Taylor, I guess I’m trying to say that I know where you’re coming from. I understand what you’re feeling.”
He rolled his eyes a little, classic “Yeah right”, and she grinned.
“Roll your eyes all you want. You don’t have to believe me.” He turned to her then. “What’d you do?” His voice was soft, his expression open.
She turned a little more toward him. “Well, I didn’t tell anyone. At first, I didn’t understand what was happening. By the time I did, I just had to get the stuff, at any cost. I had to. It was terrible. I lied, I stole, I did whatever I had to do. And then I found street drugs. They worked just as well, some of them better, and I felt like my prayers had been answered. It was so hard to convince a doctor, six months down the road, that I was still in pain. Still needed meds. So street drugs solved that little problem.” Her voice became bitter. “I pushed my family away, the only thing that mattered were my friends. My friends with the pills and my friends with the pot and my friends with the coke and the booze… I was out of control, and I didn’t even know it. Or Care. Anyone tried to tell me, I just pushed away. To my mind, they just didn’t understand.”
She picked absently at the nap of the rug, wondering if this was doing anything other than stir up her ghosts. When she’d been silent for a few minutes, she felt his hand gently touch her shoulder. Smiling a little at the gesture, she reached up and took it in hers. He squeezed her fingers briefly, and took his hand away.
“What’d you do? You’re not like that now. Didn’t anyone even try to help you?”
She nodded. “Oh yes, my family tried everything. I just didn’t want to listen. Or sometimes part of me saw what was happening, and wanted more than anything to stop it, but… it never lasted. Know what it took?”
He shook his head. “Someone had to die.” A passing car reflected silver in his eyes, as he turned to her, startled out of the relaxed pose he’d been in. “Die?? Who??”
She sighed. “I was stupid enough to get behind the wheel, and the person who was with me didn’t survive what happened to us. I landed back in the hospital, and that was the beginning of clean and sober Mandy. I went through hell. But knowing that I’d killed someone, it was big enough to make me want it to stop. It made me want to die, many many times. But I guess I’m too important for that.” She laughed. “I have far to much to do, making people miserable right here on earth.” She gestured around her. “All the paintings on the walls, I did them. All the art, it’s all mine. I fill my days working with things I love, creating things. I don’t let myself brood, and I don’t let myself worry at it. But not a day goes by that I don’t miss it. That I don’t crave it. It won’t ever go away. But Taylor…” She looked him full in the face. “It’s only one part of my life that I don’t have. I have so much more. And that’s what I focus on.”
He nodded. He understood. “Amanda, what all stuff were you into?”
She sighed. “What wasn’t I? Pills, pot, coke, heroin…” At his shocked look, she nodded, and showed him her arms, scarred with needle tracks. “Not very pretty, is it?” He shook his head, mute. She smiled a little. “At least you never got this far. Going on what you’ve told me, it would’ve made you mean. You’d have been one of those kids who’s out killing people.”
He shook his head. “No, no not me. I’m not like that.”
“Really? Would your brother tell you otherwise?”
He sat upright at that, eyes flashing. “That wasn’t fair! I’m not doing anything to you, why are you…” He broke off, suddenly, too mixed up to know what he wanted to say. She continued, not willing to let him shut off. “It gets worse. Care to hear it?”
He only stared at her, and she went on. He didn’t settle back comfortably, the way he had been. He stayed leaning up on his elbow, tense and expectant.
“I have a brother. His name’s Michael. He went to MIT for computer programming. So bright, so much potential. But he got stressed, and kind of fell into alcohol, and then drugs. He couldn’t handle the strain, and the chemicals eased it up for him, I guess.”
Taylor nodded. That he could understand. “That was me, Mandy…” His voice was soft, and for a moment she wasn’t sure she’d heard the nickname.
“I know it was.” She settled back against the couch again. This was sapping what little energy she had left. “I couldn’t understand why Mikey would let that happen to him, after seeing what had happened to me. It caused a huge, huge rift between us. I was fighting to get myself back, and he was killing himself. My parents had long since written me off, so I couldn’t ask for their help.”
“Written you off? They just let you go?”
She nodded. “Why is that such a surprise? Look at your family. Look what they told you.”
He shook his head, emphatically. “No, no no. My family isn’t like that.”
She was smiling inside, despite the painful memories. “Taylor, you said that they didn’t want you. You told me that your mother…”
He waved a hand at her, cutting her off. “You don’t know them, she was just…” He stopped suddenly, realization dawning. His eyes went wide, and she saw his eyes fill up. “She was just mad. She didn’t mean it. Oh God…” He looked at her, unable to speak.
She reached up and touched his cheek. “You can call them. I’m sure they understand that you, too, were only mad.”
He sank back against the couch cushions, staring at her, incredulous. “Did you try to help him?”
She nodded, wrapping her arms around herself, shivering suddenly. “I went all the way out to Massachusetts to try to get him, and bring him home. I saw first hand what he was doing to himself. He didn’t even try to hide it, his dorm room was littered with beer bottles and rolling papers. I begged him to come home but he wouldn’t come. My parents were no help. They just left him at school. When I got home, I went to my parents and begged them to bring him home. They didn’t even want to talk to me, but they finally agreed and when he got home things only got worse. He found the drugs here. It didn’t matter whether he was at school or at home, he was a mess. It killed me to see him. He was so smart and could have gone so far. I tried reasoning with him, screaming at him, shaking him, nothing worked. He wouldn’t listen, kept telling me that it wasn’t happening to him, that I didn’t understand.”
“You couldn’t do anything?”
She shook her head, “What could I do, Taylor? It was his life, his choices. I couldn’t stop him, no matter what I might do, I couldn’t make him want to stop, I couldn’t make him save himself. The only one who could do that, was him. And he didn’t want to. My parents wrote both of us off.” Her voice broke then. She had a hard time accepting that her parents had given up on both of their children. She could accept it within herself but admitting it out loud made it real.
He heard the emotion in her voice, then, and reached out, pulling her near him. It was such an automatic response for him, to reach out to someone in pain, that he never even questioned it.
She let him hug her, for a moment, then pulled away, realizing that she’d been sitting and talking for hours. Her throat felt like someone was striking matches on it. She tried to clear her throat, made a horrid croaking sound, and laughed. He didn’t smile back, but he got up, padding to the kitchen, finding a glass, filling it up. He handed it to her, wordlessly, and crawled back into the sleeping bag. She’d given him a lot to think about, and his mind was whirling.
He watched her go out to the hall closet, and pull out another sleeping bag.
She threw it down on the floor, next to the couch, and eyed him questioningly.
“Do you mind if I just crash out here with you? I don’t really want to be alone.” He nodded his approval, and she crawled in, turning to face him. “Taylor, take what you can use, from what I told you. I don’t know that it will do you any good at all, but… I’d hate to see you go the way he did. I couldn’t help him. I’d like to think I could help you.”
He nodded. “What happened to him, Mandy?”
She sighed. “He got better for a time. A friend of mine, the one I was on the phone with, helped him out a lot. Eventually though, he went back to it. He died, Taylor, a year ago.”
Taylor saw tears in her eyes, and, not knowing what else to do, simply reached out and took her hand. Half an hour later saw them both soundly sleeping, hands clasped.