Chapter: 43 of 43
Other Info: Sequel to Walls
Warnings: Drug-usage, cursing, violence etc
Excerpt: As she gathered up the old linens, her mind drifted back to that afternoon, six months previously. Poor Zac, curled on a ball on the couch, coughing and feverish, smoke from CC’s cigarette burning her eyes, shouting voices, people crying, Taylor’s voice, hurling accusations, her own voice, raised in anguish. “That’s not FAIR! How can you…” Flash of remembrance of the horrible feeling of knowing someone had hurt one of her children, and she hadn’t been there to protect him. Guilt… Sighing, she shook it off, and started the washer. Water under the bridge, and the sessions with CC and the staff at Livingston had put a great deal of it into perspective. Wandering back upstairs, the echo of a question, recently asked, in her head. “Are you ready to have him come home?”
What on earth… Banging, pounding. Ugh. Taylor turned over, stretching blissfully, blankets soft around his face. So comfortable, if only that noise would stop. What was that? Construction? He turned back onto his belly, snuggling into the pillow. There. Whatever it was, it had stopped.
“Sleep. Sleep is good.” He’d started to drift off again, when the pounding started once more.
“Hey! Golden Boy! What’re y’ doin’ in there?!”
Reality asserted itself, and he groaned. Ruby. Morning. He’d slept through the alarm again. “She’s gonna shoot me.” Yawning, scratching his head, he sat up. “Yeah, yeah, keep your shirt on, I’m coming.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that before Blondie, haven’t I? Don’t make me come in there after you.”
Taylor grinned. “Last thing in the world I want, I’m on my way!”
“Yeah, I’m waiting right out here, I have the key, and if you’re not out in five minutes, I’m comin’ in after you.”
He laughed, and pulled on jeans, padding to the door. Opening it, he leaned against the doorjamb, grinning. “You want to give me time to take a shower first, or should I just head down there like this?”
She wrinkled her nose. “House meeting, you got ten minutes, we’re waiting on you. Go, go, last thing we want is you stinking out the room.”
Sticking out his tongue, he shut the door on her, smiling to himself. He loved Ruby. She was tough, but she cared. He gathered up clothes and headed into the bathroom. She’d be sitting on his bed waiting when he came out, he knew. Nothing knew about this scenario. His smile became thoughtful. She made a lot of jokes, and a lot of them cut, but that blade didn’t really bite. It was a sham, like the rubber knives kids carried at Halloween. For all her brashness, when he’d needed her, she’d been there, and he loved her. “Man, I’m gonna miss her…” He started the water, and stepped in, hissing a little in the heat. Felt good. Hot water streaming over his face, he shut his eyes. Hypnotic, beat of water against skin, soap silky, soft, smell of shampoo, homey, cozy scents and sounds.
Eyes shut tight against the suds, his mind drifted.
Home. Flashes of another shower, cold water, angry voices. Days spent sitting, just sitting. Inertia. Pain. Fear.
His breathing sped up a little, and he knuckled soap and water out of his eyes, trying to break the spell. “Just count, just count…” He took a breath and held it, counting back from ten, the way he’d been taught, letting it go on one, breathing out the tension.
Six months here hadn’t been for nothing, at least he wasn’t at the mercy of the panic attacks. Feeling himself begin to relax, he shook his head, smiling a little under the water. “Get a grip Tay, you’re going home, not to San Quentin.” He ran his hands through his hair, enjoying the sensation of the steaming water down his back.
“Move it or lose it, Golden Boy, you think we got all day?”
“Ruby!” He yelped, frantically looking for something to cover himself, completely forgetting a curtain separated him from the bathroom. “Ruby, get out! For God sake! Privacy, huh?!”
He heard her snicker. “You think you got something special there, Barbie? Diamond studded maybe?”
He sighed, exasperated “Ruuuby…” He could hear her fussing around with something. “What’re you doing? Ruby, why are you in here?! Get OUT…”
“Nope. You been in there for half an hour, and we’re all waiting.”
“Too much information, blondie, too much information.”
“Arghh! That’s not what I meant!!” He heard her small “moo” of satisfaction a second before the water turned to ice. “RUBY!!”
He jumped back, hand on the curtain,
“Watch it Blondie, don’t jump out too quick, or I’ll be looking at your great pride and joy…”
His hand flashed on the shower curtain, and she scurried out, smiling at his parting shot. “Big talker, that’s all you are, lady…”
She let herself out into the hallway, leaning against the wall to wait for him. Time was, she remembered, that she’d never have been able to joke with him like that. Just walking into the room would have thrown him into a panic attack that would have lasted hours.
She could remember whole nights spent holding him, rocking him, hysterical, sick, shaking, scared senseless of everything and nothing, triggered by a step on the walk outside the window, or a laugh from the hall. Weeks of walking on eggshells, knowing the slightest thing could set him off.
Not wanting to coddle him, but wanting him to know he was safe. Long, hard, bumpy road, they’d traveled with him, and there had been one hell of a lot of roadblocks. “Come a hell of a long way, baby…” She smiled at the cliche, grinning as the door snicked open, and he came up behind her and slung an arm around her shoulders, planting a kiss on her cheek. “Hey, hey none of that, Blondie, familiarity is against the rules.”
“Yeah, yeah, what’re they gonna do, kick me out? I’m leaving on Friday anyway. God Ruby, what’ll you do?”
“You won’t have anyone to torment with blond jokes, you’re head will explode or something.”
“I got your number, Golden Boy, I’ll just call you up.”
“That was a dirty trick, shutting off the hot water.”
“Yeah, well, I had to use extreme measures, some of us have lives to get on with, y’know.”
He laughed as they entered the common room, where the rest of the house sat waiting. “Yeah, well next time I’m barricading the door, I about froze my ass…” He broke off, flushing crimson as laughter erupted in the room.
“Whooo Taylor, you takin’ community showers now?”
“Hey, showering together’s against the rules!”
“Ruby didya wash his back for him?” He rolled his eyes, and grinned, blocking his ears against the whistles and catcalls. “Hey Ruby, we always knew you liked him!”
“Even if you did try to kick his butt the first time you saw him…”
Ruby laughed and waved them off. “Now I am not proud of that…” A few more minutes and the laughter faded, as people settled into the business at hand.
Taylor leafed through the sheaf of papers in his lap, trying to situate the schedule. Lot to do, not a lot of time. Maximum usage. He grinned as yet another of CC’s phrases flitted through his mind. He suspected those would stay with him for life.
He listened with only half an ear as the others detailed their day plans. He couldn’t even find his, lost amid the pile of scrawled notes in his hands. Keeping detailed day planners was one of Livingston’s rules, and one he admittedly sucked at. Well, he was leaving in a week, too late to change bad habits now.
He glanced up, sheepishly, at Karen, as she gently chided Brian for not having written anything down. Her gaze caught his, and she smiled slightly. She knew. Yeah, she sure did. Knew him pretty well too. He smiled, remembering his surprise when she’d come to work here. Zac’s nurse, working here at Livingston. Small world. It hadn’t taken him long to open up to her, and to understand why Zac, weeks past his illness, had continued to talk about her, and send her email. “She’s just awesome…” The thought, old and well worn, floated through again. He’d met a lot of awesome people here.
Sighing, he sat back, listening as people reported their plans, their goals, their accomplishments and failures. Listened to Karen dole out praise, advice, recriminations, suggestions. A familiar wash of sound, after six months, one he easily let run over him, lost in his own thoughts. This place had become home to him. He was happy to be going back to his family, but he found himself not wanting to leave. Safe here. Safe and happy, for the most part.
“Taylor…” He looked up, suddenly aware that he’d been hearing his name for a quite some time.
“I can see that.” She smiled gently. “I need you to pay attention now.”
He nodded, and sat forward, hands clasped between his knees. Something new going on. He could see it in her face. Fleeting thrill of old anxiety, there and gone almost unrecognized, unfamiliar no longer synonymous with danger.
“Okay, we have a new boy coming in, who needs a one on one. Pretty much a been there done that, for most of you. Lot of big changes, not a lot of coping. Drugs, booze…” The murmur in the room said it all. Most of them had, indeed, been there, done that. “He’s clean now, but he can’t stand more than one or two people around him, strangers throw him into panic, it’s gonna be tough.” They all nodded, the murmur growing to a rumble.
“Won’t Ruby take him?” Eyes turned to Ruby, who was shaking her head.
“No way, I’ve got six new birds on the ropes.”
Dan sat up and stretched. “I’d do it, but I’m in Muskogee all day, with Ceec.”
Taylor sat back again, coming off alert. It didn’t apply to him. He’d never taken on a new kid, hadn’t been here half as long as some, no, he wasn’t qualified for this. Still, the more he heard, the more he found himself wishing he could do it. The kid sounded like him. He remembered the first time he’d ever been here, how confused he’d been, unsure if he was only here to see it, or if he was going to be made to stay, scared, threatened, freaked out by all the strangers, head pounding, stomach twisting, and it had all come out as hostility. Ruby truly had tried to kick his butt, they’d actually gotten into the beginning of a fistfight, before Danny had broken it up.
Sighing a little, he shook off the memory, still listening to Karen’s comments on the new boy. Mark. His name was Mark, and he’d be here at ten. Murmur of voices as the rest shuffled through their schedules, occasionally shooting remarks to Dan and Ruby, that this was their job. He could see annoyance building on Ruby’s face, and slid his arm around her again, poking her in the ribs. “Don’t get all ugly, woman, you’ll be throwing people in the pit.”
She snorted and shoved him back. “You got that right, Barbie.” Standing up, she turned to the room, bowed comically, and exited, before her temper could get the better of her.
Grinning, shaking his head, Taylor eyed his list for the day. “Karen?”
She glanced over, “So you’re with us. You’ve been quiet…”
He nodded. “I’ll take him, if it’s okay. I mean, if I’m allowed…”
“Oh, you’re allowed. What’ve you got scheduled?”
“Nothing I can’t change, I’ve got a session with June, but it’s just a wrap up. Ruby, but I don’t wanna be around Ruby when she’s mad anyway…” Dim rumble of laughter at that one, and Karen waved them off.
“D’you mind, you guys? That’s all, Tay?”
“And Zac’s supposed to come up this afternoon. But he can come just as easy tomorrow.”
“Oh, remind me to be off tomorrow…” He grinned. She’d not only not be off, she’d be waiting at the gate.
“Okay Tay, you got him, why don’t you go let June and Ruby know you won’t be around, call Zac, and head down to CC’s office. He’ll fill you in.”
“Man… Tay…” Zac sounded exasperated. “It’s not exactly easy for me to get a ride out there, you know.”
“I know, I’m sorry, but this is important.”
Zac sighed. “What’re you gonna do with this kid, Tay?”
Taylor stretched out on the floor, under the pay phone, long legs sticking out into the corridor. “I don’t really know. Show him around, help him get the feel of the place, keep the hordes from descending. Hopefully avoid any fistfights, freakouts, or murders.”
“That’s not that funny, Tay.”
“Aah, lighten up. So can you come up tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to see if I can get dad to drive me. It’s not like you’re not coming home of Friday anyway, I could just skip it.”
“Yeah, you could, but I don’t really want you to…”
He broke off and winced as pain suddenly jabbed up his leg, looking up to see Karen standing there, hands on hips.
“I almost broke my neck, Taylor, could you reel those in?”
Giggling, he pulled his feet up. “Hey Zac, Karen ’bout just fell over me.”
“Yeah, wanna say hi?”
“Yeah…” Taylor wordlessly handed the phone up to Karen and climbed to his feet. “Talk him into coming up tomorrow. I’m heading over to Ceec.” She nodded, grinning as he wandered down the hall, absently rubbing his leg, where she’d tripped on it.
Diana shook out a sheet, narrowing her eyes at the thought of climbing over the bed to tuck it in. “I should never have put these beds against the wall.” Groaning, she knelt in the middle, struggling to get the corner of the sheet over the mattress. “Damn it…”
“What’re you cussin’ for mom?” Zac’s voice startled her, and she yelped.
He giggled. “Sorry, want some help?”
“If you don’t mind.”
He stepped to the head of the bed, and tugged the sheet into place. “How come you’re doing this? It’s not like anyone’s used his bed…”
“No… thank you baby, can you get the foot too? No, but I didn’t think six month old sheets and blankets would be particularly pleasant.”
He shrugged. Didn’t much matter to him, they looked clean enough as far as he was concerned. “Can you drive me out to see Tay tomorrow, mom?”
“Tomorrow? I thought you were going out today? Zac, get on over there and help me with the rest of this.”
He smoothed the blankets out, nodding. “I was going today, but he told me not to. He’s helping some new kid today.”
She shook her head, and shot him a helpless look. “I can’t baby, I have Jessie’s doctors appointment, and Mackie has the dentist. Maybe your dad…”
He sighed, tucked in the last of the corner, and wandered out of the room. Diana watched him go, frowning at the dejection in his face. Ah well, Tay would be back home soon enough. Soon enough…
As she gathered up the old linens, her mind drifted back to that afternoon, six months previously. Poor Zac, curled on a ball on the couch, coughing and feverish, smoke from CC’s cigarette burning her eyes, shouting voices, people crying, Taylor’s voice, hurling accusations, her own voice, raised in anguish. “That’s not FAIR! How can you…” Flash of remembrance of the horrible feeling of knowing someone had hurt one of her children, and she hadn’t been there to protect him. Guilt… Sighing, she shook it off, and started the washer. Water under the bridge, and the sessions with CC and the staff at Livingston had put a great deal of it into perspective. Wandering back upstairs, the echo of a question, recently asked, in her head. “Are you ready to have him come home?”
“Hey CC…” Taylor slid down the bench a little, sliding his breakfast over with him, to make room for his friend.
“You’re taking on a fledgling, huh?”
“Don’t cut to the chase or anything, Ceec…” CC laughed, took out a cigarette, and caught Taylor’s scowl. “Want to wait till I’m done eating before you light that thing, please?” Rolled eyes, pained expression, it didn’t cut any ice with Taylor. “Cc…”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m putting it away. So, you up for this?” Taylor eyed him over his orange juice, swallowing hurriedly. “I don’t know. Whatta you think?”
CC shrugged vaguely. “I think you’ll be fine. As long as he doesn’t try to rip your head off, the way you did Danny’s.”
“Funny. What all do I have to do?” CC handed him a sheet of paper.
“What’s on here. Take him around, show him where everything is. Be alert to how he’s feeling. If he starts to whig out, get him away from people. If he’s stressed, keep him quiet. He’s checking in today, so show him his room, and if he wants to just go sit in it, let him. Go with him though. Don’t leave him alone. Try not to let him sit and veg though, keep him moving, keep him active. Keep him away from the phones, don’t let him use them.”
Taylor frowned. “Well, Ceec, what if he wants to?”
“Throw your body in front of it and don’t budge.”
“CC…” Sighing, he finished off the juice, shoving his tray away. “Alright. When, where, and how do I find this kid?”
“That all you’re gonna eat?”
“Yeah, I don’t use two forks like some people I know.” His glance was pointed, and CC chuckled. “That’s why I’m not a beanpole.”
“Keep him away from Ruby. We don’t want any casualties.” Taylor grinned, pulling CC’s hand away from his leftover breakfast.
“Yeah, you know it. Get outta that, you’re gonna be late. Where do I go to get Mark?”
“Meet him at the gate. Oh, Tay?” Taylor turned, shrinking a little from the tone of voice. Up to no good, no question. “How long you and Ruby been showering together?”
Taylor groaned, but shot back quickly. “Not as long as Karen’s been blushing when she hears your name.” Grinning, he waved at is open mouthed friend, and headed down the stairs.
“Barb…” The secretary looked up, and smiled.
“Sweetie, they’re coming. You’re so impatient.”
“Barb, it’s ten thirty. Ceec said to meet him here at ten.”
“I know, but people are always late. Traffic, school busses, lights, police chases…” She was rewarded with a fleeting smile, and patted his hand gently. “Taylor, they’ll be here.”
He nodded, shrugging. “I don’t wait well, what can I say?”
“Want me to put you to work filing?”
He grinned, shook his head good naturedly, and slouched back out to the front step, settling himself back in a sunny spot. They’d be here soon enough. It was nice out here, warm. His thoughts drifted a little, then, as his eyes followed a stray thread of shadow on his legs. Drift soon replaced thought, as the hypnotic combination of light, shadow, and warmth worked their magic, and he lost himself to the rhythm.
“Tay… Tay!” Voice breaking into his thoughts.
“What?” He squinted up at Barbara, caught her gesture, turned his gaze outward. There they were. Just pulling in.
Frowning, he struggled to focus, climbing to his feet, drowsy and sluggish. “Barb I’m a lizard, the sun makes me dozy.”
“Well, I’d wake up quick if I were you, things look a little tense. Good luck, sweetie.” She hugged him quickly, and scurried back into the office.
“Oh, thanks Barb, just leave me here…” He smiled at her retreating back, and took a few steps toward the car. They were arguing. Great.
“I’m not going in there.”
“Mark…” Amy sighed. Days like these made her wish she’d never gone into social work. “You very well are going in there, now come on.”
“No, and you can’t make me.”
“We’ve had this conversation, Mark.” She let herself out, trudging around to open his door, eying the blond boy standing by the steps. Slight looking kid, pretty almost. Great. Mark would eat him alive. Glad she wouldn’t be around to witness it, she reached in and hauled on the arm of her passenger. “C’mon. You’re not staying in my car all afternoon.”
Sighing, knowing he had no choice, the boy unfolded himself from the back seat, sunlight glinting off copper hair. Bottle green eyes, clouded with suspicion as he gazed at the boy waiting for him. Blond, girlish, eyes distant, face expressionless. “Oh he’s real happy to see me.” Dejection, already ingrained, surged in him, and he felt a wash of dislike for his would be companion. “I get to hang around with pretty boy there, huh?”
Amy shook her head, wordless. She’d about had it with him. Plucking his bag from the trunk, she took his arm, heading for the steps, pulling her unwilling charge with her.
“Hello, I’m Amy, and you are?” Taylor jumped slightly. He’d seen them coming, but the sleep dazed part of his mind had failed to register it completely. “I’m Taylor.”
He shook the proffered hand, and stepped back as she pulled Mark forward. “This is Mark.” Mark dropped his eyes, grunting a little.
“I ain’t goin’ t’ shake with you, so don’t even bother.”
Taylor nodded. He hadn’t been going to try. “Okay. That’s fine.” He picked up the other boys bag, and gestured slightly. “Come on, you don’t need to hang around for her to do your paperwork. Unless you think you want to…”
Mark snorted. “Not hardly.” He glanced back, uneasily, at Amy. He’d given her a hard time, but she was really all he had. She smiled then, and nodded. This was it, he was here. Sighing, he turned back into the shadows of the hall. That kid looked familiar.
“Hey, what’d you say your name was, Taylor?”
“Yeah…” Taylor shook his hair out of his eyes, and smiled at the boy next to him. “And you’re Mark, right?”
“Yeah, you can hear, huh? Ain’t you that Hanson kid?”
Taylor’s eyes clouded a little. “Yeah, one of ’em. We gotta go upstairs…”
Mark snorted, and planted himself in the middle of the corridor.
“Nope. Don’t want to. I want to leave.” Taylor smiled faintly, and gestured back out the door. “Go…”
Mark scowled, knowing he couldn’t do that. Where would he go? Sighing, hating the horrible out of control feeling, he followed his guide. Hanson kid. This Hanson kid. Pissing him off, he hated when big stars did this slumming with the druggies thing, making themselves look good.
“Hey Mr rock star, this your fifty free hours seein’ how the other half lives?” Taylor shoved his hair back again, and looked into the other boy’s eyes. His voice, when he spoke, was quiet enough that Mark had to strain to hear.
“No, Mark, I live here.” Speechless, Mark stopped walking, eyes suspicious.
“Why. You doin’t research or somethin?”
Taylor sighed. “No. Come on, this is heavy.” Following, Mark tried again. “Well, how long you been here?”
Eyes wide, Mark continued following, wondering what could have turned this pretty boy rich kid, into enough of a mess to have to live in a place like this. Wanting to ask, not quite daring, his own anger forgotten for the moment, he stared, chewing it over. Should he ask? He jumped a little, when Taylor turned and looked over his shoulder, grinning.
“Unless you want to carry this yourself, you better speed up. I’ll tell you about me later, if you want.” Mark stepped forward, and took the suitcase away from Taylor. “I got it. Show me where to go.” There was more to the statement than he knew.
Zac wandered outside, preoccupied. He wanted to go see Taylor. He didn’t want to wait. He pouted a little, wondering how on earth he could get there. His ear caught a familiar sound, and he wandered around the side of the house. Isaac.
Singing. Smiling, he wandered over, liking the sound of his brother’s voice. Happy. Sounded happy. His world of new car, sponge, hose, bubbles and song. “You’re gonna wash the paint off that, Ike…”
Isaac grinned and tossed him a sponge. “Right. What’s up?”
“Nothing.” He squirmed at the feel of water running up his sleeve, and giggled. “Hey Ike, whatcha doing tomorrow?”
“Well, you want to take me up to see Tay?”
“Tomorrow? I thought you were going up this afternoon?”
Zac ran the sponge over the windshield, watching the bubbles reflect multi-colors against the glass. “I was, but he called and cancelled. He’s doing something with some new kid.”
“New kid….” Isaac’s eyes went wide. Must be doing pretty good, to be helping out kids coming in. Big change. That place had helped him so much. Saved his sanity. Saved all of them.
His mind took him back, remembering a Taylor who couldn’t even manage to take a shower on his own. Big, big changes. His own guilt so much less, just from talking to people who understood, who could tell him why. Why. Biggest question. And they’d answered it.
“Ike? Hey, wheredya go? Come back! Speak to me Ike!!”
Wet, soapy hands closed on his shoulders, shaking him slightly. Grinning, ducking back to avoid flying soapsuds, he pulled himself back to reality, and pushed his brother’s hands away.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll take you up. What time you want to go?”
Smiling happily, Zac rung out his sponge, absurdly delighted with the sound. “Any time you want to, he told me to come up whenever I could wrangle a ride. Can we go before lunch and eat on the way?”
“You got a thing for fast food, Zac. Yeah, that’s cool, whenever you want. Now either help me, or get outta here before I use you to wash the car.”
Giggling, Zac dropped the sponge into the bucket, jumping back from the splash. “Ike, you just rock.”
“Yeah, yeah…” Isaac went back to his song, grinning, and Zac, happy now, struck off across the yard to report his success to his mom. Concentration on his feet, in a cheerfully futile attempt to step on his own shadow, he almost ran into Tiffany before he saw her.
“Hey, Zacman, whatcha doin?”
He grinnied, and hugged her. “Nothin’ lady, you?”
She shook her head. She loved the kid. “I’m going up to see Tay tomorrow, I wondered if you wanted to go.”
Zac’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Whoa, first I got no ride, now I got two. Ike’s takin me up, you want to come with us? But you gotta be here before 11, we’re goin’ early. Ike’s buying lunch!”
Tiffany laughed, wondering if Ike knew he was springing for food, and reached out to ruffle Zac’s hair. He grinned and shoved her hand away.
“Hey, watch the do!”
“Yeah, you got a do, Zac…” She laughed, and headed behind him, into the house.
“Oh my God, I’m tired.” Taylor groaned a little, leaning against the wall. Staff had finally taken Mark off his hands, and all of his energy, it seemed, along with him. He’d had no idea how hard just hanging out with someone could be. The struggle to keep his temper, alone, had about undone him. Man, that kid had attitude. Sighing, he dragged to the day room, and flung himself onto the couch, arm across his eyes. “Five minutes. Just five minutes… My God, my brain hurts. Eat. I didn’t eat. I should go eat. What time is it?” Groaning again, he sat up. This wasn’t good, he wasn’t even thinking whole thoughts. “Food. I need food.” He started out the door, feeling his heart pounding in his head. “Man, I am so tired…”
“Hey, hey slow up!” He turned, grinning as he saw CC trotting up the hall.
“Hey Ceec, how was Muskogee?”
“Dull. C’mon, time to pick your brain.”
“To what??? C, c’mon, I’m starving to death.”
“You didn’t think you’d get off this easy did you?”
Taylor shook his head, completely confused and too tired to figure it out.
“CC, what are you talking about? I’m tired, I’m not in the mood, okay?” He turned and headed back toward the cafeteria, determined to ignore CC, and whatever nonsense he was spouting.
“Taylor!” Stopping, he sighed. That was CC’s “I mean it now” tone.
“What Ceec, I’m really tired, and I’m hungry!” He knew he was whining. He could hear it. But damn it, his head ached, his stomach was snarling and snapping at him, and CC just wasn’t making any sense. CC laughed at the irritated expression on Taylor’s face.
“Tay, I know you’re tired. Come on with me. We have to ask you some questions, but no fear, we’ll feed you. Danny went to McDonalds. There’s a Big Mac with your name on it. Lets go.”
Taylor turned up the volume a little, settling the headphones a little more firmly, and stretched back out on the sofa. Up past curfew, he was asking for trouble, but he couldn’t lie in bed any longer. Too tired to sleep, his mind wouldn’t stop working, and frustration had driven him to wander the halls. He’d made it as far as the day room, before his spinning head convinced him to just sit down.
Now, eying the shadows of leaves outside the window, feeling the breath of air against his face, he let his mind wander. The whole day had been so confusing, Mark going hot and cold, agreeable one moment, hostile the next. The kid was on a hair-trigger, and Taylor’d had no idea what was safe, and what wasn’t. Almost afraid to speak, for fear of setting him off, he didn’t want to seem like he didn’t care.
It’d been hard, and the murky depths of memory had been stirred up, muddying the clarity of thought he’d enjoyed for so many weeks. He understood the kid, remembered his own first day here, his fear, and confusing and uncertainty, all coming out as hostility. He’d hated Danny, hated him! He wouldn’t say anything, wouldn’t respond, wouldn’t fight back. Now, he understood. He’d done the same thing to Mark, let him rant and carry on, and refused to let himself be dragged into argument or debate. Why argue with someone who was so confused they had no idea what their point was?
Sighing, he rubbed at his eyes. So tired. Regret shot up, suddenly, out of the whirlpool in his mind, flashing to the surface, dragged down again.
Regret for so many things, as he followed that current. He’d hurt Danny, his first time here. Hurt him physically, and hurt him mentally, Danny’s well meaning touch triggering a flashback, triggering an attack that had caused Danny to flashback to his own stuff. He’d shut down, CC told him, shut down for days. “I never meant that, not for a minute.”
Regret for the things he’d said to his family, blaming them, putting it all on them. Why hadn’t they stopped him? Why hadn’t they known? Known things he was afraid to tell them… not fair. Not fair at all.
Zac, poor Zac, bruised, bleeding, staring back at him in fear, vomiting blood onto muddy ground, broken inside, and at his hand… The wave of memory surged on, relentless as the tide. So many people he’d lost, so many thing’s he’d ruined. His career, his brothers career. Over. Zac’s trust in him, and his carefree life. Gone. He’d never completely lose the memory of Taylor doing that to him, no matter how much therapy he had, no matter how many times he said he understood. Some things were there forever, he understood that. Sighing, he turned over a little, away from the moonlight, suddenly intrusive. Ike, losing the music, his love, his passion. Because of him. “I wasn’t there…” Another current, tugging him along, the times he’d not been there. Ike’s friend Michael, dying in that crash. Ike, alone, dealing with it without him. Calling him, crying, “Talk to me, Tay, I just need somebody to talk to,” and him hanging up, too fragile, too strung out, to sick, to cope with it. Too caught up in the disintegration of his own sanity to even care.
“You’re leaving now, you’re going back,” there it was, the worst thing, spewed up out of the waters of memory, hitting him like a stone. He was leaving, and he didn’t know if he could. Didn’t know if he dared. He loved them all, missed them all so much, but could he leave this place? This place where he had a place, where he fit. They loved him here, and he’d never hurt them. He’d never hurt any of them.
The song on the radio, pulsing into his brain, changed suddenly, breaking the hold of memory, as his consciousness arrowed in on the words… “So please hand me the bottle, I think I’m lonely now…” catching a breath that felt like glass, he felt his control sliding along a razor edge, cutting it off… Please give me direction, I think I just caved in… “Oh God.” The pain in his heart broke free, then, as the song played out, louder in his ears than his own sobs.
Forgetting where he was, forgetting anyone could hear him, not even completely aware that he was crying, he fell into it, barely registering the strong hands that suddenly slid under his arms, pulling him up, pulling him close, hands that tore the headphones from his ears, letting in the voice that floated by his head, a voice unfamiliar in its gentleness, yet too familiar. Memory of a million nights, crying in these arms. He let himself be held, let it come out. Moonlight fell in on them, woman and boy, reflecting off the tears on both faces.
Ruby’s hands shook, as she poured water into her teacup, and she laughed softly, at herself. Lord God, but that had scared her, and damn badly, walking into the day room and finding him like that. The sound of someone crying had drawn her from her room, and she’d expected completely to find the new boy. But no, it had been Taylor, sobbing as though his heart would break, hands whiteknuckling the cloth of his shirt. Her heart had jumped to her throat, as six months worth of memory crashed in on her. Six months… she stirred honey into her tea, and settled at the table, mind filled with images of the past.
Taylor, angry faced and stubborn, refusing to listen, refusing to understand. Everything was “stupid,” everything “pointless.” The activities, designed to build trust, demonstrate co-operation, teamwork, and problem solving were “dumb” and he’d refused to participate. How many days, the two of them, nose to nose, each trying to shout the other out. It had come to blows on more than one occasion, spurring talk of separating them permanently, and moving him into another cottage.
Thank God for CC, he’d vetoed the idea, not wanting Taylor to become a pinball. “Stability, stability, he needs things to stay the same, and if one of those things is Ruby’s desire to kick his behind, well so be it.” Not that he hadn’t told Ruby, in no uncertain terms, not to touch him. “Don’t you get into it with him, Ru, you know the consequences.”
Yes she had, and it had been good for her, learning to sit on her temper like that. Oh, but she’d hated him, and he her. Laughing again, she thought about it. Hated her so much that the first time things had crashed on him, it had been her door he’d been banging on. She’d been sound asleep, awakened by hysterical pounding, and opened the door on the first of many sleepless nights, nights spent holding him while he clutched at her desperately, begging her, “Make it stop, Ruby, make it stop, I can’t stand it…”
There had been insanity in that, desperation, a mind coming apart, unable to come to grips with itself. Nights he’d cried himself sick, and she’d held him, on the ragged edge of collapse, over the bowl, her voice an ongoing repetition that it was going to stop, it was going to stop. Nights of dreams, waking with screams, edging into panic, screaming rages he hadn’t been able to control, attacks he’d been helpless to abort.
Night after night, seemingly unceasing. It’d been terrifying, for him, and for her, and her first thought tonight, as she’d grabbed him, limp and unresisting, up off the couch, had been “Oh God, baby no…” But no, it hadn’t taken her long to see that these were only tears.
No hysteria. No, just a boy, with too much on his mind, too tired to think about it. Only tears.
Taylor hung up the phone, leaning his head against the wall. Drained, almost out of breath, he eyed the couch. He could spend the night there, it was a much shorter walk. Not too comfortable though. “Hell with it.”
He turned his back on the dayroom, and the light glimmering from the kitchen. He knew Ruby was in there, but he’d had it. Crying by himself, crying on Ruby’s shoulder, crying on the phone to Tiff, he couldn’t take the chance that talking to Ruby would lead to more of it. His head already felt stuffed with cotton. “Damn, I better just go to bed, if I ever want to breathe again.”
He let himself into his room, and sprawled out on the bed. No good. Nerves singing, head pounding, there was no way he was ever going to sleep.
“Maybe, idiot, if you took off your clothes and got in the bed…” But no, stripping down made him shiver, and he sighed. “Good, now I’m cold.” He carried the clothes to the hamper in the bathroom, fleetingly grateful that he no longer had a roommate to laugh at him padding around naked. Dumping the clothes in the hamper, his eye was caught by the bathtub.
Hot water. Hot bath. Relaxation. What the hell time was it? He leaned back into the bedroom. Midnight. Not too late. Nodding, decided, he cranked the water over all the way, and waited as steaming water filled the tub. He eyed it, a little leary. “Nothing like adding some cold there, Tay…” Shaking his head, he stuck a toe in. “Yeeeaaahh, it’s hot.” Giggling a little, at the image that came to him, of Bugs Bunny, repeatedly trying to lower his fuzzy butt into a tub of steaming water, he slid down in, sighing blissfully. “Yes…” Relaxation finally within his grasp. He let himself go then, mind drifting on its own, breathing in steam, feeling the headache begin to back off, as his head cleared, and heat worked its way into overtensed muscles.
It had been nice to talk to Tiffy. He missed her. She hadn’t minded at all that he’d gotten her up, and she’d been more than willing to listen to him. She was so awesome… He smiled to himself and ducked under the water for a moment. He was so lucky to have her. Swiping water from his eyes, his thoughts blipped along on their own, no connecting thread.
His mom, his dad, his brothers and sisters. Isolated incidents, good times, bad times, some sort of spilling out had started, and he went with it, vaguely focused, unaware that he’d begun to tense up again, even as he drifted toward sleep, and dreams crept in.
Smell of baking, good things, cinnamon, vanilla. Sound of singing, his mother, singing as she cooked. Sweet, happy. Reaching into the oven, turning to speak to him, something hot, oil? Flowing like lava up her arm, burning. Cry of pain, and the soft smile on his sleeping face twitched into disturbance. Eyes flickering, taking in the tub, the tile…
“Fell asleep, better get out,” the thought too unformed, to far below the edge of sleep, as another dream crept in.
Zac and Jeremy, head butting soccer, man they were good. Laughing, watching them cheerfully competing. Zac, eying him laughingly, waving. Oh, look out, Jeremy’s body falling onto Zac’s, pushing him into the goal. Scream of pain, white bone poking through bleeding skin. His eyes cracked open again, surroundings no longer penetrating the dreamscape.
Jessica, running, laughing, twisting around to talk to him, he could catch her, his long legs, she couldn’t outrun him. Laughing, shrieking, sudden silence as her head hit the stairs, limp body carried away by white coated strangers.
Isaac, new car, beautiful blue, such a cool car, gesturing to him to come on, side of the road outside the house. What house was this?
Questioning glance, question voiced, “Where are we?”
“Home, Tay, this is the new house, you’ve never seen it.”
“New house?” Isaac’s mouth open to answer, screech of brakes, metal on metal, fire… heat. Standing on the sidewalk watching the car burn. Where was his brother? In the car?
“Tiffany, where is he?”
“Gone Taylor, too busy answering you to watch the road.” Dark, dreamy terror, running through the house, looking, searching, what house was this? He didn’t know his way around,
“Tiffany what is this place? Where are they all?”
“Not your place, Taylor. They moved on. Sorry they forgot to give you a room, but you weren’t here. You see what happens anyway, everytime they try to deal with you.”
“No, I didn’t do anything.”
“You ruin everything for everyone, Tay, you always have… wherever you are, it all goes bad.” Blue eyes flew open, staring blankly, the cry from his lips echoing off the tiled walls.
“Oh God…” A dream, all a dream. Sweat slicked, even in water now grown cold.
Too hot, he was too hot, breath rasping in his throat. Scrambling from the water,
“Dream, just a dream, damn it, calm down!” Yelling at himself, trying to dry off, pulling on old sweats, viciously reaching up to pinch his own cheek, eyes watering.
“See it hurt, you’re awake! You’re awake, just a dream.” Count backward, just stress, that’s all, stress. Nothing’s ruined, nobody’s hurt, just stress, calm down! Struggling to slow his breathing, counting backward, he felt his heart speed up, as adrenaline surged through him.
“Not working, not working, God I’m so hot…” His control began to skitter sideways, he could feel tears beginning again. “Hold on to it, hold on to it!”
He paced the room, out into the bedroom, around, skirt the bed, back into the bathroom, out into the bedroom, around, skirt the bed… images flashing in his mind. Crying, screaming, bleeding, dying, “Because of me?!” Shaking his head, counting, “Just stress, nobody died, calm down…” Too hot, much too hot, sweat sticky and shaking. He looked in the mirror, groaned, face flushed, wet, eyes wild
“Stop it!!” The shouted command no good, too hot, he ran water, soaking his hands, his face, swallowing glassful after glassful, “Gotta stop this…” Sudden nausea, throat closing. “No, no…” He tried to breathe it out, head and hands tingling, face numb, horrible sick feeling in his throat. “Gonna pass out, God, stop it!” Gagging suddenly, dropping to his knees over the toilet, hot forehead resting on forearm, he could smell the water, eyes caught by the glimmer. “Don’t! Don’t get sick, don’t get sick, don’t, don’t…” Swallowing over and over. “No. No no no, I won’t…” Trembling, crying out miserably, fighting it. Terrible numbness sweeping over him, black spots bursting in front of his eyes. “I can’t do this… Lord help me…” Struggling again, to slow his breathing, to not be sick. “I can’t do this on my own, God help me, I don’t have the strength…” Unaware that it had taken on the overtones of prayer, the plea in his mind. “Help me, God help me, make it stop, I can’t do it on my own…” Thoughts knifebladed on the words, “Help me, just please help me, please help me, I’m not strong enough to do it on my own, please help me…”
Slowly, almost unaware it was happening, he felt his breathing begin to slow. Everything in him focused on the words in his mind, leaving panic behind, and CC’s training kicked in, muscles consciously relaxed, adrenaline surges counted down, breathing held steady. The cycling, hypnotic phrase in his mind shifted. “Doing it, I’m doing it, thank you, going away, I’m doing it, thank you…” Eternity, kneeling there, head on arm, waiting for things to come back to normal. Finally, nausea reduced to a faint ripple in the back of his throat, breathing slowed to normal, he pushed himself back against the wall, eyes closed. “Oh God, that was bad… that was bad.” His eyes flickered up to the ceiling, around the room, and he uttered a shaky laugh. “We have normality. Repeat, we have normality, at a probability factor of two gazillion to one against. Oh God, I’m out of my mind.”
Shaking his head, he grabbed onto the towel rack, pulling himself to his feet. All sweaty, he’d have to take another whole shower. “Nothing like staying up all night.” He stepped in, running it almost cold, rinsed off quickly, and stepped out. He’d do a better job in the morning. Sleepiness threatened to overwhelm him, if he didn’t hurry up, he’d land right on his face on the floor. Stumbling to the bed, his eye caught the clock. WHAT?!?! The shock drove him awake again. “One fifteen?” He thought back for a minute.
He’d climbed into the tub a little after midnight, and fallen asleep. He’d slept long enough for the water to get cold. Must have been at least 40 minutes.
Laughing softly, he laid back. It had felt like an eternity, that horrible, out of control panic, he’d thought the sun must be at least on it’s way over the horizon.
“Not even fifteen minutes, I bet. Man…” His eyes flicked to the ceiling again. “I don’t know whether to thank you, or thank CC, but if anyone ever tells me there is no God, I’ll punch their lights out.” Sleep took him quickly then, and this time, there were no dreams.
“And your problem is what?” CC’s flat, unemotional tone was throwing Taylor. What was he missing, here? “Ceec, did you hear anything I said?”
“Yeah. I’m wondering what you’re so upset about.”
“CC, I haven’t had that happen in weeks!”
CC sighed, and shook his head. “You are so hard on yourself. What do you think you are, Taylor, a robot? Programmed to be good, and stay even?”
CC got up, lighting his cigarette, cracking open the window. “Tay, step outside the situation, and look at it. Yesterday you spent the day with a new kid, a kid who is one hell of a lot like you used to be. Brought back all kinds of memories, all kinds of old feelings. You did a complete reversal, and functioned on the flip side of that coin. You held it together, even though you probably felt in two places at once all day, and being around him was making you nuts. Am I right?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“Hold on. My turn. You had to look at a lot of old shit yesterday. You skipped every single routine you’ve come to depend on at the same time. You handled all of his reactions, your old reactions, looked at him and saw yourself, probably did one hell of a lot of soul searching, and all without the slightest shred of the rituals you’ve been depending on. You functioned, more or less in free fall, with no staff to guide you, all day long. You stayed up later than you’re used to, ate at weird times, you disrupted everything you’ve come to know. Add to that, you’re going home in four days! That’s stressful as hell. You miss them, you love them, you’re dying to go home, but face it, the last time you lived there you were in merry damned hell! A lot of hard words have been said, a lot of people have been hurt. Those things won’t go away if you all stay in therapy for a hundred years! Like it or not, all of this is something you’ll always have to deal with, all of you, for the rest of your lives. You’re leaving here, and of course you want to! Who want’s to live in an institution? But at the same time, you’ll miss us, you know we’ll miss you, and you’re safe here! Nobody here has any grudges against you, nobody here has any blood with you, and you haven’t done any damage to anyone here that they couldn’t just shrug off and forget about. And they’ve done none to you. So of course you don’t want to leave here! This transition is stress beyond measure, you think we don’t know that? Did you expect to go through it and feel nothing? If you did that, Taylor, you wouldn’t be human.”
“I am not done yet. Willya kindly shut up?” Taylor scowled and sat back. He would. Be no use arguing. “You’re all upset because last night, way past the time you’re usually in bed, you were up, unwinding, and you went into a crying jag. Big fat hairy deal. Beat yourself up for being human why don’t you? Tell me something, Taylor.”
“Before any of this ever happened to you, did you ever do that? Did anyone you know ever do that?”
“Well, yeah, of course, but I…”
“You reacted the way anyone who was overstressed, overtired, and shaken to the gills could have reacted. There was nothing abnormal, or crazy about it.”
“Yeah, well I should have held it together.”
“Oh yeah, sure. And I can throw these butts out today with never a twinge.”
“But what about later?”
“Later? You said you had nightmares. Stress will do that. And judging by what you said they were, it’s very reasonable. It’s guilt, Tay, those were guilt dreams, and fear dreams. You’re afraid you’re gonna royally fuck something up again. Well big deal, aren’t we all. You’re afraid they’re going to blame you, even though what happened to you was in no way your fault. You’re dreading having to face people who know about it, you’re ashamed, and embarrassed, and nervous as hell about it… and so you had an anxiety attack. Did you wreck anything?”
“Did you throw up?”
“No, but it was close”
“Close don’t count. Did you hurt anyone, yourself, anyone else?”
“Did you go flying to wake someone up?”
“Did you need meds, or intervention, or anything at all? Or did you just recognize it, calm yourself down, and go to bed?”
“See?” CC sat back, hands behind his head. “You had a garden variety attack of nerves, and it was miserable as hell, but you got through it, on your own. It felt like forever, but you said yourself it only lasted about fifteen minutes, near as you could tell.”
“Yeah well I prayed one hell of a lot.”
“That’s fine, that’s great. Whatever works. God ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
“Will you stop? Taylor, you’re ok.”
“So what if it happens again?”
CC’s eyes went wide, and he reached for another smoke. “What if??? Taylor, my friend, it will happen again. As long as you’re a living, breathing, thinking being, it will happen again. You’ll worry about things, you’ll stress about things, you’ll have anxiety, you’ll cry… but you’ll also get over it, and you’ll do it on your own.” CC watched him for a minute, struggling not to laugh at the peeved expression on the boy’s face. “Taylor, the only way to make sure it never happens again is to yank your brain out. Or maybe your soul. Don’t stress over being human.”
Sighing, eyes uncertain, Taylor looked at CC. “You really think I’m ok, Ceec?”
“Yeah. I do. Wouldn’t be sending you home if I didn’t.”
“I don’t really wanna go, CC.”
Brief nod, as he tamped out his cigarette. “I know. The real world is a scary place. But you were in it a hell of a lot longer than you were out of it. You’ll do fine.”
“It’s not gone, CC.”
“Nope. Won’t ever be gone. You got company coming today?” Unbalanced by the topic shift, Taylor frowned. “Yeah, Zac , Ike, and Tiffy.”
CC’s eyebrows went up. “Tiff, huh? Well…” He stood up, and opened the door. “Get the hell out of my office, and go make yourself presentable. You look like you were up all night.”
“For heaven sake, has he always been like this?”
“Shut up Ruby!” Taylor laughed, swiping tears off his cheeks. “Here I go again, okay? I suck… But I’m gonna miss you.” He flung an arm around her again. Of all the good-byes today, this one was the hardest. He knew he’d see CC. That was a friendship that would continue. Karen too. She wasn’t going anywhere, that was solid, and she was pretty well an item with CC. Where you found one, you pretty much always found the other.
Ruby though, he didn’t know. Irrevocably part of Livingston, he couldn’t picture them seeing each other again. “Yeah, Barbie, I’m gonna miss you too, but for mercy sake, look at you! Look at him!” She gestured to Diana. “He just does this, did he always?”
Diana grinned, nodding. “Pretty much, yeah.”
“Ah, Barbie, look at you.” She pushed him away gently, taking his face in both hands. “Eyes all red, nose all running, you got me all wet, what’re we gonna do about you? Your pretty girlfriend over there’s gonna run when she see’s you.”
“She’s not gonna get too far.”
Ruby stepped back, and waved him toward the car. “You get going. I don’t want to see you back here, either.” He smiled, feeling tears start again, shocked to see her eyes glimmering too.
“Ruby, look at you. And you talk about me.”
He picked up his bags, and nodded to his mother. “Go ahead, I got these.” He watched her head back to the car, and open the trunk, leaning into the back to yell at someone. Some things never changed. He followed her, dumping the bags in, slamming it shut. He stepped to climb in, turned for a minute, expecting to see Ruby. Where was she? Frowning, he held up a finger. “Just a sec.” Not waiting for a reply, he ran back across the parking lot, up the stairs, and down the hall. Ruby moved fast, but he knew where she was going. Cutting up the back stairs, against the rules, but what the hell, they could just throw him out, he hit the kitchen a step ahead of her, running full tilt into her arms, holding tight around her neck. He felt her arms around him then, without the watching eyes of his family to make her edgy. They stood there for few minutes, holding each other tightly. They’d learned a lot from each other, given one another so much. This parting needed more time than they’d given it. Finally, on his own, he kissed her cheek, and stepped back. Blue eyes gazed into brown for a moment, and he hugged her again. “I love you, you know.”
“I know Taylor. I love you too.” She stepped back, and smiled. “Now you go.”
“You gonna be okay?”
Surprised, she broke into a grin. “Aren’t you just something. Yes, Taylor, I’m gonna be fine. Once you get outta here so I can cry into my tea in privacy.”
Rolling his eyes, he kissed her again, and without another backward glance, pounded back down the stairs to his waiting family.