Chapter 11

"Don't they ever go away? You'd think they have lives, or something." Isaac sighed as he ruefully watched the group of assorted press standing near the end of the house's long driveway, shadows long in the evenings sunset. "Hey, you guys wonder if they sleep out there all night? Think they have like beds and stuff in those vans? Maybe on weekends they get together and have little picnics and set up volleyball games. Channel 5 vs the Tulsa Star Press." When he heard nothing out of his brothers he turned around. "Guys you..."

He frowned as he realized half of his audience had left the room and the other half was snoring. "Fine then," he muttered. Taking one last glance at the fiasco at the end of the drive, Isaac closed the blind and walked over towards Taylor's bed, where his brother was laying, one arm hanging off the side of the bed, mouth open. Isaac plopped on the floor next to the bed. He sighed. Taylor was only marginally better company when he was awake, anyway. He was so apathetic, it took a major act of God to get him to move. Well, maybe waking him up would motivate him to do something, even if just yell.


"Hey," he said. Leaning back on his hands, he used his foot to jiggle Taylor's limp arm. "HEY!" he called louder. He began to lightly smack at the arm with his bare foot, watching, somewhat amused as it flopped back to it's original position.
"Taylor, wakie wakie," Isaac sang in a high pitched voice.

Suddenly the arm was pulled onto the bed and Isaac found himself looking into a pair of glaring blue eyes.

"Ike, I swear to God. Touch me one more time and I am gonna have to hurt you." Taylor punctuated his statement by rolling onto his side, his back facing Isaac.
"All right, geez." Isaac rolled his eyes. "Oh hey Tay? While you're awake can I ask you something?"
"What?" Taylor grumbled.
"Did you ever call Tiffany back?"
"No."
Isaac sighed. "Tay, she's called asking for you like four times today. The least you could have done is call her back."
"Isaac..."
"What?"
"Go away!"

Isaac contented, undaunted. "Tay, don't you think you should call her? She's your best friend, and you haven't even spoken to her, since you got back. You haven't spoken to anyone since you got back, but this is Tiffy. You really should call her."
"Go away!"
"Tay, she's worried about you!"
Taylor rolled over to face his brother. "Ike."
"What"
"If you don't go away, right now, I will become violent. I'm not calling her, I'm not talking to her, I don't want to know what she thinks of me. Can you see this?"
"But Tay, she doesn't..."
"Ike!!! Just shut up and go away!!!" He turned his back on his brother again.
Isaac made a face and stuck his tongue out at his brother's back. "Fine, but where might I ask, do you suggest I go? Hmmm? It's not like I can just leave the house or anything. Not with the mob squad hanging around on the lawn."

"Ike, there're eight other rooms in this house. I'm sure there's something to do in one of them. Now lemme alone, I'm trying to sleep."
"I'm sure there's something to do in one of them," Isaac mimicked Taylor's voice sarcastically.
"IKE!"
"Sheesh, sorry. You're a big help, you know that? I'm dying of boredom, and it's only 8 o'clock, why can't you get up for a while? You've only been lying there all day." He kicked his brother's bed a couple of times.

A hand crept up from the shadow of the bed and gave Isaac the bird. Isaac felt his heart leap triumphantly. Being flipped off was rude, but it was a sign of life. It was easier and easier to invoke those, lately. Patting himself on the back, glad he'd inspired a reaction in Mr. Apathy, he snickered and left the room, heading for the living room. The TV was on and he figured maybe his parents would be doing something of interest. Maybe Zac would be in there.

As he walked into the room he found his parents and Zac. However, interesting would not be a word to describe what they were doing. Zac had fallen asleep in front of the fireplace, and his father was at the table, apparently doing some sort of paperwork. His mother was watching a stupid made for TV movie. One of the 8 o'clock on Monday night things. He hated those.
He stood in the doorway watching for a moment. No one acknowledged his presence. Crinkling his brow, Isaac walked into the room and flopped onto the end of the couch by his mother's feet. She briefly looked at him and flashed a small smile, then continued watching the movie. Hoping to get his point across he sighed loudly. Nothing. Isaac frowned. He sighed a little louder, waiting for a reaction. Either his family was ignoring him or... no there was no or, he thought. They are ignoring me. He raised an eyebrow and began to hum the Miami Vice theme loudly. That got a reaction.

"Ike?" His father looked over at him.
"Yeah?"
"If you're going to do that go into another room. I have to concentrate and your mother is watching TV." Walker returned his attention to his work.
Isaac threw his hands into the air. "Fine," he grumbled.
"Honey, if you're bored, why don't you read a book or something?" his mother suggested.
"Mom, I've read every book I own... twice. What do you think I've been doing cooped up in this house for the past month?"
Diana sighed. "Well, I don't know what to tell you then. I'm sorry you can't go anywhere. You could go to sleep..."
"Mom, it's not even 9 o'clock"
She shrugged. "Sorry, I wish I knew what to tell you."
"Whatever," he mumbled. He walked out of the room. Standing in the dark hallway for a moment, he contemplated going into the garage and fooling around on his guitar for awhile, but then decided against it. They would probably tell him to be quiet in there too.

"This sucks," he said aloud. "Wait a minute," he thought. "Why am I letting these stupid people keep me locked away in here like some prisoner. I'm not in jail. I can leave this house if I want to. The worst they can do is follow me."
With a determined air about him, he walked to the front door. Opening it, he stepped onto the front walk. The flurry of action from the vans shocked him. Cameras were hoisted. People began to shout questions. Isaac gave a small yelp and jumped back inside, slamming the door.

"Ike? What are you doing?"
"Nothing mom! I just wanted to get some fresh air. I think I'm gonna go back in my room now."
"All right. Check on the girls while you go up would you? Make sure they're sleeping."
"Yeah, yeah. I will." Isaac dejectedly walked back upstairs, pausing to look in his sisters' room. They were sleeping peacefully. He smiled and shut their door again. He decided to check on Mac too, and after making sure his brother was fine, he went to his bedroom. Taylor was still on his side, breathing deeply. Every once in a while his breath would hitch and come out like a jagged sigh.

Isaac sat at the computer desk and sighed. flipping on the small desk lamp, he decided to go online and see if any of his friends were signed on. As he waited impatiently for AOL to connect he absently fiddled with Zac's collection of bottle caps that were supposed to be in a box, but somehow always seemed to be scattered on the desk and floor. Why Zac collected such useless things was beyond him, but it seemed to make the kid happy so who was going to argue. Finally, after having to re-sign on because he had been punted the minute it had connected, Isaac was finally able to check his e-mail. As he read a few messages from his friends asking where he had been lately, he was IM:ed.

Hey Ike. It's Tiff. How ya doing?
He smiled and typed back. Bored out of my skull. You?
LOL! I feel the same! Just surfing around. How's Tay? And that little punk Zac?
Okay, I guess. They're both sleeping.
At 8:30? Kids... hehe.
No kidding. Hey look, sorry Tay didn't call you back. I gave him the message, but...
Well... I guess I understand. I don't know why he's shutting me out, but he just needs space now. I can wait.
Space? HA... What he needs is a good swift kick where the sun don't shine. I swear sometimes he acts like he's the only one this whole thing effects. But since it's mainly centered on him, I guess he has a small point. It still gets annoying at times though. It's not you though, it's not that he's shutting you out. He's just ignoring the whole world. Makes me want to just take him and shake him.
I can understand how you feel. Well, no... actually I can't. But I sympathize with you... how's that? :-)
Thanks, appreciate it.
Well, look, tell him to take his time. I'm sure he'll talk to me when he's up to it.
No, you know... forget that. It isn't fair to you. You've been friends with us for too long. I'll get him to talk to ya... never fear.
Well, don't force him... Like I said... I don't want to piss him off or anything. Want to stay on his good side.
I don't think he has a good side anymore... j/k. I'm sure it's in there somewhere. Suddenly Isaac had an idea. Hey, mind if I came over for awhile? Is it too late?
No, that would be fine. Are you going to be able to get out of the house? I saw all the vans and stuff when we drove by earlier today.
>=) I have my ways.
All right evil one. See ya in a few?
Sure thing.

Isaac quickly signed off. He grabbed his shoes and hastily put them on. Taking his jacket from it's spot on the floor, he walked over to the window that faced the front of the house. Still surrounded. Walking over to the windows that faced the backyard and woods, he opened the blinds. Not a soul in sight. Isaac grinned.

He glanced at Taylor, and mumbled softly, "Fine. If you won't go to her, I'm bringing her to you. And you have nothing to say about it, pal. Nothing."
He pulled the blind up and opened the window. Carefully sliding the screen up, he checked once to make sure Taylor was still sleeping, then he eased himself out of the window, and grabbed onto the huge, old maple tree that stood next to the house. Wrapping his legs around a thick limb, he closed the glass and screen again. For a moment, he hung, the gentle breeze making the leaves around him rustle. He took a deep breath, savoring the fresh air. Then remembering he had a task at hand he quickly scaled his way down the tree and dropped to the ground. Sitting crouched for a minute, he listened to see if the group out front had managed to hear him. Apparently not, for he couldn't hear anything but the gentle sounds of a quiet Tulsa night. He smiled and lightly patted himself on the back for getting out of the house undetected. Making sure to stay along the edge of the house, he inched his way along until he reached a batch of trees. Jumping behind them, he took a second glance over his shoulder to confirm that he was going to be able to get away without anyone knowing. Satisfied that he was in the clear, Isaac took off at a slow jog, making his way through the woods, heading towards the road that lay behind his house.

The walk to the Brody's only took Isaac fifteen minutes. He rang the doorbell and waited until the French doors were opened. He looked up at Ellen Brody, and grinned.

"Hey."
"Isaac!" Her voice was surprised, pleased, and a little reproachful. "It's about time you got on over here. But..." She peered past him, only half joking. "Nobody followed you, did they?"
He laughed. "No, no nobody followed me."
Smiling, she stepped back. "Come on in here, you. I want to get a look at you, go stand where I can see you."
Mrs. Brody opened the door and Isaac stepped inside the cozy home. He let himself into the living room, and obligingly stood in the light.
Ellen looked him over, arms crossed. "Well... you've looked better. How are you doing? And the rest of the family? None of you ever called us..." Her tone became faintly accusing, "So we haven't had any idea. You doing okay, Ike?"
He nodded. "I'm okay. Thanks. How about you?"
"We..." she glared at him pointedly, "Are just fine. But tell me, how is it at home? How are things going?"
His smile faded. He'd known she'd ask. Still wished she hadn't.
"It's tough, but you know, we're hanging in there."
"Ike... Let us know if we can help. I mean that."

He nodded. "I will."
Again her crossed arms. "And you can stop being polite. If you want to stop talking about it, all you have to do is say "Ellen, I don't want to talk about it."
He smiled. "Ellen? I don't want to talk about it."
Laughing she cuffed him lightly. "Fresh kid... Well, Tiffany is up in her room, still on that computer. I don't know how she can stay on that thing for hours at a time."
Isaac laughed. "Just like Tay. I have to force him at gunpoint to leave the chair if I even want to get close to our desk."
"No wonder he and Tiff are such good friends."
Isaac sighed. "Yeah."
"Well, go on up. I don't want to keep you."

Isaac thanked Mrs. Brody again and headed for Tiffany's room. Knocking, he slowly opened the door and let himself in. Tiffany was still online. "Hey," he said.
She turned around, "Hey, that was quick."
Isaac was once again taken aback by how much she resembled Taylor. Down to the long blond hair and sparkling blue eyes, they could almost be twins.

"Yeah, well, I'm amazing, what can I say." He walked over and sat on her bed. "Look, I have a small favor to ask you."
Tiffany furrowed her brow. "What kind of favor?"
"This is a good favor, I swear."


Tiffany scrutinized him. "I don't know Ike. The last time you asked me to do you a small favor I remember being grounded for almost two weeks."
Isaac laughed. "I swear, this has nothing to do with wanting to earn extra money by setting up a kissing booth and making all the neighborhood kids pay a dollar for a real kiss with a genuine girl. I can't believe you still bring that up anytime I ask you for a favor. That was years ago. And, if I might add I still think it was a good idea for an twelve year old."
"Yeah, well my parents weren't all that thrilled about seeing their ten year old daughter play Traci Lords to half the neighborhood."
"I thought my parents were going to kill me. I had Taylor and Zac parading up and down the street with sandwich boards advertising to all the kids. I think my mother turned about ten shades of red that day."

They both laughed at the memory. Suddenly Isaac was serious again.
"But really. I want you to come with me back to my house. I think you need to talk to Taylor. I've tried but he doesn't want to listen to me. Figures he can snap at me all he wants 'cause I'm his brother. I don't think he'll be so quick to snap at you."
Tiffany sighed. "He isn't doing to hot is he?"


Isaac shook his head. "That's just it. I don't know. He doesn't talk to us. He either grunts a response, or is like huh? I've taken to calling him the thing, because he's just like this lump that sits there and doesn't do anything. It's really disturbing. I thought maybe if he talked to you..." He paused and just shrugged. "I don't really know what I thought. I'm willing to try anything at this point. I'm this close to losing it. I really am. I can't deal with this anymore. My parents have just sort of accepted it and say to give him space blah blah blah. Zac just sort of tiptoes around him like he's afraid Tay's gonna explode at any second. The little ones... geez... I don't even know what they think about this whole thing. It's gotta be weird for them too. Tay used to always play with them. Now, nothing." Isaac took a deep breath. "He talked to my dad, all night, a few nights ago, and we thought he'd be better, but it didn't seem to make any difference. I've tried and tried to get him to call you, but he just looks at me... I don't know. Sometimes I think he's better, he gets attitude with me, and stuff, but it always goes away." He looked bleakly up at her. "I know he misses you, I know he wants to see you SOOO bad, but he's too ashamed to call you..." He trailed off, not sure what else to say.

Tiffany listened to him intently and when she was sure he was done she stood up. "Let's go, then, no sense hanging around here." She grabbed her coat. Ike followed, heading down the stairs.
"Tiff? Where're you going?"
"I'm going to the Hanson's mom. Ike asked me to help him with something.."
"You're going to walk? This late?"
"Mom, it's barely 9 o'clock. Ike is with me, we'll be fine."
"Well, all right, but don't stay to late. And don't walk home alone. I'll come pick you up if I have to."
"I won't, thanks mom."

They walked in silence, Ike wondering what kind of explosion would greet him, when Tay saw Tiffy, and Tiff wondering what she was going to find when she got there.
When they got to the back road, TIffany stopped. "Where are you going?"
"We have to go through the back yard. To many people out front."
"Oh, that's right. How could I forget."
They made their way to the back of the house, but when Isaac bypassed the back door and headed for the maple tree, Tiffany stopped again.
"Umm, Ike?"
Isaac, who was already starting to climb the tree, halted. "What?"
"Umm, what are you doing?"
"I'm going into my house, what does it look like I'm doing?"
"Well, call me crazy but from where I'm standing it appears as though you are climbing a tree."
"Well, yeah. We're gonna go in through the window."
"What!!"
"Shhh... geez, want them to hear you? I didn't tell anyone I was leaving. I don't want to get in trouble." He made his way easily up through the branches, but paused again when he realized Tiffany was still on the ground. "Are you coming?"

Tiffany really didn't understand Isaac's pressing need to force her up the tree, but resigned herself to the fact that he wasn't going to let her go through the door and began to slowly climb.

"Ike, if I fall and kill myself, you are going to be so sorry, because I will come back from the dead and make your life a living hell."
Isaac laughed. "You're not going to fall. Don't worry." As he spoke, he slid the window open, and began to slip inside.
"You could at least wait to make sure I get up this stupid tree before you go climbing inside, geez."
"All right, all right." Isaac waited, one leg in the window, the other stretched and resting on a tree branch. When Tiffany was right below him he climbed in the window and then reached out, to help her in. It all would have gone well, if he'd looked at where he was putting his feet.

"Ike?" Tiffany held her spinning head. If he didn't stop laughing, she was going to pop him one. "Ike!!"

"What?" He was laughing so hard he could barely speak.
"Ike shut up... I have a concussion here..." He tried with every ounce of energy he had to stop laughing. For a moment, his face was comically twisted, in an attempt not to smile, but it was too much for him, and he fell over again, hysterical. It had just been so funny. He'd been reaching back to help her into the room, slipped on a magazine, and fallen over, yanking her headfirst into the room, through a chair, and onto the floor. The crash had been astounding. Now the pissed off look on her face was just taking him apart. It was just too funny.
Tiffany watched him for a moment. The thought of smiling was so far from her mind it wasn't funny. She was going to kill him. That was it.

"Ike?"
"Yeah..."
"You suck..." She swung as hard as she could, belting him right in the head. He yelped, grabbing his head, still unable to stop laughing.
He sat up, one hand out to block her... "Tiffy, Tiffy, cut it out..." His continued laughter prompted another smack, this one hard enough to knock him back down...

Taylor had slept through the spectacular crash of Tiffany and Ike's entrance to his room. With all the people in the family, crashes weren't at all uncommon. The brawl was beginning to penetrate though, and the constant jostling from bodies striking the foot of the bed, finally woke him up. Blinking stupidly at the forms careening around the room, he attempted to speak.

"Waha djo gsy daoing... WHAT TAYLOR???" He stopped himself and shook his head, knowing his mouth and brain hadn't yet connected. Untangling his tongue, he tried again. "Hey! What are you guys doing?! Could you take it someplace else?"
Getting no response, he sat up, and raised his voice. "Hey!! Want to cut it out please? People are trying to sleep here." Leaning on one hand, he squinted into the murk, trying to make out just who he was yelling at.
"What's going on, anyway?" Tiffany gave Ike one last shove, and ambled over to Taylor, still holding her head. "Sorry, Tay, but you're brother tried to kill me just now."
Taylor jumped a little at the voice. "Tiffany?"
"Yeah, who else would you expect to find beating up Ike in your bedroom?" She reached for the bedside lamp. "Watch your eyes, Tay..." and flipped it on. Perching on the edge of his bed, she eyed him critically. "Well I guess I wasn't missing much. You look like hell..." Her voice trailed off. He didn't exactly look thrilled to see her, and she was wondering if she should leave. Her eyes stated her confusion, and he read her easily.
"No, Tiffy, it's okay. I'm glad to see you." He reached up then, and pulled her down for a hug, surprising her. Taylor had never been particularly touchy with her, unless you counted wrestling.
She returned his embrace, absurdly touched, and more than a little worried. He wasn't just hugging her, he was clutching her, there was a certain desperation to it.

"I really missed you..." His voice was a faint whisper in her ear.
She disengaged herself gently. "Funny way of showing it, Taylor..." She chided softly. "I've only been trying to see you for a month. I missed you too..."
He smiled then, and she relaxed a little. A gentle tap on her shoulder made her turn, and she shoved over to give Ike room to sit down.
"Tay, sit up so we can fit, would you?" He complied, and Ike climbed over him to lean against the wall. "Well, this is cozy. Tiffy, you gave me a fat lip."
She laughed, as Taylor examined his brother. "Hey Tiff, you really did!! Were you guys really fighting?" His voice was vaguely worried, and she laughed...
"Maybe I was. He made me climb the tree to come in here, and tried to cave my skull in..."
"Climb the tree? Ike why'd you do that? Are you nuts? Why were you climbing the tree?" He turned to Tiffany, dead serious, "He fell out of that tree once. We thought he busted his leg. You'd think he'd learn." He made a face at his brother, and gave Tiffany a nudge... "Lemme up Tiff..."
She slid aside, noticing as he climbed over her, how much weight he'd lost. She saw him stagger slightly when he stood up, and jumped to her feet, steadying him with a hand on his shoulder.
He smiled faintly. "It's okay Tiff, I just got up too quick. I'll be right back."
She watched him walk out the door, and turned to Ike, a question in her eyes.
He shrugged. "He's in pretty tough shape, Tiffy, he went through a lot. We all did." He laid back onto Taylor's pillow. "That's part of why he wouldn't see you Tiff, he didn't want anyone seeing him like this."
She snorted. "Ike, it's just me for heavens sake. It's not like I care how he looks. Well, I do, but not 'cause it matters, just 'cause I worry about him... I am just not making sense."
He laughed, "Sure you are, I know what you mean. Part of it is he's so ashamed of himself. He's really convinced that all of his friends are going to think he's just useless. He's scared Tiffy, y'know?"
She nodded. "I can see why, but most of us are just worried him. Worried about all of you guys. You're like prisoners here, it's really not fair. And..." She stretched out next to him, "We never get to see you."
He smiled and slid an arm around her. "Well, we're working on getting rid of the..." He broke off as Taylor came back into the room.
Ike's eyes narrowed. Taylor looked a little funny to him. A little pale, eyes a little watery. Taylor caught his look.
"What Ike? What are you staring at?"
He was sniffing and swallowing more than normal, and Ike nodded.
"You got sick again, didn't you? Tay you have to say something about that..."
Taylor shook his head, "No, I'm fine, you worry too much."
"Like hell, look at you. You did, didn't you? "
"NO, Ike, I'm FINE..." He scowled at his brother. "Zac's on his way up, and mom says Tiffy has to go downstairs if we want to visit..." He was smirking a little. "Guess you're not as smart as you thought you were. You want to come downstairs Tiffy? Or did you want to just climb back down the tree?"
Tiffany laughed, "I'll go down and hang out a while if it's okay with you guys... and it had better be..." She glanced pointedly at Ike.
He shrugged, looking sheepish, and pushed his way past Tay. "You coming too? Are you really gonna venture from the room?"
Taylor shoved him, "Shut up. I leave the room all the time. Tiffy, come on..."
Ike laughed as he watched them go, Tay was more animated than he'd been in a long time.

.

Chapter 12

Taylor yawned and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The sound of a cartoon blaring from the TV in the living room had awakened, and surprised him. His mom had said everyone was going out. She had asked him to go, but he declined saying he wanted to take a nap. He'd gone from total insomnia, to sleeping all the time. He wasn't sure that was an improvement, but he did know he felt better. Seeing Tiffany, and seeing that she wasn't judging him, had made a big difference in him. Thoughts of rejoining the human race now sounded bearable, almost appealing, rather than terrifying. If he could just stay awake for more than half an hour at a stretch. He stumbled into the living room, still a little groggy from his nap. To his surprise he saw Zac slouched on the couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table, watching Anamaniacs. He was glad, he hadn't really seen much of Zac since they'd been home. Somehow they never seemed to be in the same room at the same time, unless they were asleep. He missed hanging with Zac.

"Zac, what are you doing home?" Taylor asked as he made his way over to the couch.

The sound of Taylor's voice startled Zac and he jumped slightly, his feet falling to the floor. Taylor. Taylor was here. He'd forgotten.
"Oh, Tay. Umm, I didn't feel like going," Zac replied slowly, now wishing with all his heart that he had gone. He didn't want to be alone with Taylor.
He knew it was silly, but just thinking about it made his heart race. He'd noticed it as soon as they got back. He found himself in a panic, any time he was alone with Tay. Something in him just wouldn't let go of it. He knew his brother wouldn't hurt him. He'd thought he was fine. But since they got home, he'd avoided ever being anywhere alone with him.
He sank down lower into the couch cushions, hoping Tay would just go back upstairs, until whatever weirdness this was, went away.

Taylor, having no idea that his brother was upset, yawned and flopped down on the couch next to Zac. "Ohh, how come?" He crinkled his brow and frowned though, when he realized that Zac had scooted away from him, almost to the end of the couch, practically smashing himself against the arm rest.

"Geez Zac..." Sarcasm was heavy in his voice. "Thanks for the space, but you know, I'm not really taking up all that much."

Zac sighed. "I just don't want you to jostle me or anything. I'm a little bit sore."
"Oh. Well why are you home? How come you didn't go with everyone else?"
Zac sighed. "You already asked me that. I'm a little bit sore," he whispered.
"What?"
Zac cleared his throat and spoke a little louder. "I was sore. Mom gave me a Tylenol and said I could stay home." He couldn't take his eyes off of Taylor.
"Oh... okay." Taylor didn't quite know what to say to that so he simply began to watch the cartoon. Unable to follow, and so become absorbed in the show, he realized that Zac was not watching the TV, but staring at him very intently.

Turning to look at his brother Taylor reached for his hand. "What's up? Are you okay?"
Zac jumped again, almost as if he hadn't expected his brother to catch him staring and quickly yanked his hand away, averting his eyes. "Umm, nothing. I'm fine."

Taylor just gave Zac a weird look and returned his attention to the TV. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he didn't think it had anything to do with him. If Zac wanted to a freak, so be it.

"Umm, I'll be right back," Zac suddenly said, getting off the couch.

He couldn't stand it anymore. He wasn't sure why, but Taylor was giving him a real case of the screaming horrors. Calling himself every name in the book, and wishing it was possible to really kick himself, he headed out of the room, wishing he could run.

Taylor winced as he watched his brother slowly walking out of the room, one time putting his hand near his ribs and rubbing furiously at his side. Knowing there was nothing he could do about it,

Taylor's attention went back to the cartoon, this time having more luck keeping track of it... It wasn't until Anamaniac's was over and he was halfway through Tiny Toons that he realized Zachary had never come back.
Wondering if Zac was alright, he turned off the TV and listened for a moment. He could hear shuffling from upstairs. He frowned, unable to identify the sounds, and went to see what Zac was up to. He climbed the stairs and headed for his bedroom. The door was partly and he stood in the doorway watching as Zac, his feet sticking out from underneath the bed, rummaged around, occasionally tossing an item out that had mysteriously disappeared months before and was now being recovered as Zac scrounged.

Zac had no idea what he was doing, it was killing his chest and side to be under here. But he had to do something. He had to forget that he was here alone with Tay. He knew it shouldn't bother him. It never had before. Feeling like he was losing his mind, and quickly, he threw himself into cleaning out under the bed, and gradually his fear faded...
"I haven't seen that shirt in ages," Taylor commented as a green and blue striped t-shirt came flying out from under the bed.
Zac sat up at the sound of Taylor's voice, heart jumping into his throat, bouncing his head as he realized he was still underneath the bed.
"Owww," he grumbled slowly. Scotching out from under the bed, he rubbed at his sore head, then at his side, which was screaming at him from all of the extra activity.
Taylor watched as his brother scooted out, his shirt riding up to his chest. Most of the bruises were completely gone, and the worst ones had faded to a pale yellow. He wondered when the actual pain was going to go away, and felt guilt stabbing at him.
"You okay?" Taylor inquired.
Zac glanced over, saw Taylor looking at him and quickly fixed his shirt. "I'm fine," he mumbled. He felt like Tay was looking right inside him, and he felt terrible.
Taylor, who was oblivious, continued trying to engage his brother in any sort of conversation. "Tiny Toons is on. You're missing it. What the heck is possessing you to clean out under the beds?"
"I don't know. I just felt like it. That's all." Zac stood up and looked at the pile of missing treasures he had recovered, frantic to find an excuse. "I wanted..." he kicked an old shirt aside and picked up a book. "I wanted to read this again."
Taylor raised his eyebrows. "The Scarlett Letter? I didn't know you ever read it a first time."
Zac frowned. "Well, okay, so I didn't'. But I want to read it now, okay? So I'm gonna go read it." He clutched the book to his chest and hurried out of the room.

Taylor just stood there stunned. "What the hell is up with him today?" he wondered aloud. He sighed and wandered back downstairs. Flopping back on the couch he watched the end of Tiny Toons.

When he heard Zac open the refrigerator his stomach growled. "Oh man, I'm hungry." He got up and went into the kitchen, a little annoyed that it took a cue, the sound of the fridge, to make him see he needed to eat. "I'd probably just starve to death, because I'm too stupid to remember," he thought "if things like this didn't happen to remind me. I am so pathetic."
He came up behind Zac, as he entered the room.
"Did mom buy any of that cereal," he asked Zac, who was holding a bottle of apple juice.

Taylor's voice sent a bolt of blind panic through Zac. He jumped, dropping the bottle, which shattered when it hit the floor, apple juice and broken glass spraying all over the kitchen. Zac froze, unable to believe what was happening. He was beginning to lose the ability to think, adrenaline was driving coherent thought out.

Taylor couldn't take this anymore.
"Zac what the hell is your problem? Every time I open my mouth you jump a mile! Why? What the hell is up? Look at this, now..." He stepped toward Zac, his intent to reach behind him for something to clean up the mess with.

Zac evidentially thought he had other ideas, and jumped back out of reach, colliding with a kitchen chair, toppling both the chair, and himself, to the floor.
Taylor's eyes were huge. Zac had startled him out of his wits, jumping back like that, and now here he was on the floor, all wrapped up in a chair. What on earth was wrong with him? He walked over and held out a hand.
"Come on, Zac, get up."
Zac shook his head. "No, I'm fine."
Taylor scowled at him, "Zac, you are all tangled up in a chair, covered with apple juice, and lying on the floor. This is some new meaning to the word 'fine' that no one has told me about. Now will you get up please?"
His sarcastic expression turned to worry when Zac continued to hesitate.
"Zac you're okay right? You're not hurt, are you?" He reached down and took Zac's arm. "Come on, lets see..."
Zac pulled away, and climbed to his feet.
"I'm fine, I'm not hurt, I... I have to make a phone call."
He backed out of the room, not turning his back until he had the door between himself and his brother. Taylor stared at the empty space of his leaving for several minutes, finally beginning to catch on. The blind panic in Zac's voice had been pretty hard to miss. He stood there, unable to decide what to do.

Zac paced, twirling the phone cord between his fingers. He felt so stupid. He was being ridiculous, he knew he was, but he just couldn't help it. He listened to the ringing at her end, heart racing. She had to be home. He didn't know who else he could call. She had to be home. 35 rings later, he was about to give up when the phone on the other end was finally picked up.

Tiffany heard the phone over the sound of her shower, but she ignored it. Whoever they were, they'd call back. She was more than a little annoyed when the phone continued to ring, and finally jumped out to answer it.

"Hello? This better be good." Her voice plainly showed her irritation.
"Tiffy? I'm sorry, I'm really sorry, this is Zac..."
Hearing the panic in his voice, her annoyance drained away immediately.

"It's okay, Zac, what's going on?"
"I don't know Tiffy, can you come over here? I really need to not be alone here. I don't know who else to call."
She wrapped her towel a little tighter around herself, shivering lightly.
"Zacky, I was in the shower. What's wrong?"
His voice came back, shaky and shrill... "Tiffy, you have to come over! I can't stay here alone! What are you doing that you can't come over?"
She sighed, and began toweling off one handed. "If you must know, Zac, I'm trying to dry off and talk to you at the same time. You sound all freaked out." She expected a giggle, and when it didn't come, she understood how upset he really was. "Okay Zac, let me get dressed, I'll be right over. But isn't Tay there with you?" She wasn't sure, but it sounded like he was crying.
"Yeah he is Tiffy, that's why I can't be here alone. I can't be alone with him, I'm getting sick, please, please come over..."
She sighed, not knowing what was going on, but realizing that it was serious.
"Okay honey, I'll be about ten minutes." He hung up without another word, and she shook her head. This was not going to be pleasant.

Zac never saw Taylor standing in the doorway. He listened quietly to the whole thing, feeling his soul dying with every word his brother spoke. When he heard his brother's tear choked voice utter the words "I can't be alone with him, I'm getting sick..." he felt all of the defenses he'd been hiding behind crash down on him.

Zac was afraid of him. Still. There was never going to be a way to fix this. He'd thought that things were finally returning to normal. Things had felt better, lately.
"Guess I'm just too far gone to even look at what's in front of me," he thought, sighing. He turned, silently, and crept out of the back door. He didn't know where he was going. He just couldn't be there anymore. Maybe the doctors had been right. Maybe he should have been taken away. He didn't know. But he couldn't deal with this. He ran across the backyard and into the woods. Six steps in, shadows claimed him and he disappeared.

.

Chapter 13

It was starting to get dark, and the first few stars of the night were already shining up above, when Taylor finally decided to head home. He had been aimlessly walking through the woods for at least and hour, maybe more.
Finally, tired and feeling worn, he had found a rock and just sat, hugging is knees, thinking about what he had heard Zac say. "I can't be alone with him. I'm getting sick..."
The words rang over and over in Taylor's mind, and once again he had to bite his lip and clench his jaw to keep the tears that threatened in the corners of his eyes from spilling over. He'd replayed the scene over and over, never getting past the hurt he'd felt. It never even occurred to him to try to solve the problem. Despair, and self pity drowned out everything else. His brother's words had set up an insane echo in his head, and all of the hope he'd felt was drowned out by it.
He gently rocked himself back and forth, his baggy sweatshirt doing nothing to keep him from feeling the chills of the cool, Tulsa night. Briskly rubbing his arms he stood and stretched. Glancing at his watch, his eyes grew wide when he realized he had been gone nearly six hours. "Did I really sit here that long?" he wondered. "I must have. I'm gonna be in such trouble." He quickly took off heading towards home. He really didn't want to go there, but another destination failed to suggest itself to him. He was tired, and cold, and home was the only place he had to go.
He had been walking twenty minutes when he realized he had no clue where he was. Stopping, Taylor glanced all around searching for a familiar landmark. All he saw was dark woods.
"This is so stupid..." he spoke to the trees, "I totally know my way around out here, how can I be lost?" Disgusted with himself, he wandered a little further, still finding nothing that looked familiar. Panic began to set in and he started walking again, faster this time, as he desperately swept his eyes back and forth hoping to see something that looked familiar.
When he heard the sounds of people talking he drew a great sigh of relief and headed towards the sound of the voices. He burst clear of the woods and found himself in someone's backyard. Frowning he made his way to the front of the house, where he could hear what sounded like a group of boys talking. As he emerged from the side, he could see a group of about ten boys ranging in age from maybe 16 to 20. They all gave him curious looks as he walked slowly across the lawn.

"Hey kid? You lost?" One of the boys called.

Taylor stopped and turned to face the group.
"Umm, I don't really know. I was walking in the woods behind my house when I sort of ended up here."
"Well what street do you live on?"
"West 78th."
"Shit, that's like three streets that way," one boy jerked his thumb over his shoulder, indicating that Taylor was walking in the opposite direction.
"Okay, thanks." Taylor began to head in the direction the guy had pointed when someone else called out to him.
"Hey, ain't you that one Hanson kid?"
"Yeah, why?"
Sensing Taylor's unease, the guy replied, "No reason, just recognized you is all. You wanna drink?" He held up a beer can and plastered a huge smile on his face.

It was then that Taylor noticed most if not all the guys were drinking beers and other assorted drinks. Temptation began to rear its ugly head. He took a step closer to the house, then stopped.

"Umm, nah, I better get going. I should be home by now."
"Come on man, one beer won't kill ya. You look dead, it'll revive you"

The group all laughed at that.


Taylor took another step, then hesitated. The front door of the house was wide open and he could see more people inside. He walked closer until he was next to the porch. He hesitated there, even when he'd been right in the middle of it with Mike, he never drank. It was the one thing Mike wouldn't let him do.
Perhaps taking his silence for acceptance, the boy on the porch pressed the can into Taylor's hand, and smiled engagingly. Refusing now would probably make him look stupid. Besides, what difference did it make?
Look at what was going on at home. Couldn't really go out, own family was afraid of him. Hurt welled up inside him, overriding the frantic voice of reason, that was screaming at him to leave, and leave now.
"Well, maybe one drink won't hurt," he said.
He popped the tab, taking a long gulp.

"Here, come sit down, get comfy. We're all just sort of chilling out." Someone indicated to a spot near the front door. Taylor climbed the steps and sat, leaning against the door frame.

The guys began to banter back and forth, talking music, girls, parents, school, anything they could think of to rave or complain about and before he knew it Taylor had polished off two beers, and was feeling remarkably relaxed.

When a familiar smell drifted from the house out the open door, Taylor sat up straight. Looking inside, he could see a group of kids sharing a bowl in the living room.
He stood and asked, "Hey, okay if I go in to use the bathroom?"

One guy waved him in, "Yeah g'head," he mumbled.

Taylor stepped inside and walked towards the living room. As he stopped and stood in the door way, one of the stoners looked up. "Hey man, want a hit."

Taylor never even thought about refusing. It never even occurred to him. He was too depressed, too angry. The voice of reason, thoroughly cowed, never even whispered to him.
Two hours later, Taylor had the group steadily through their stash. He had been alternating between smoking inside and drinking outside. Now with a major buzz going, he was back in the living room, sprawled on a couch, laughing his fool head off when he happened to glance at his watch.


"Oh man... I gotta home, gotta, home I mean."
"What?"
"I have to go, as in bye, leave, yep," Taylor stood, with some difficulty and aimed for the door.
"Where ya going man? We still got some stuff left."
"No, no... I gotta go... now... home..." Taylor stumbled out the door and down the porch steps.

A hand grabbed his arm as he was walking and he turned to see one of the guys staring at him.
"You gonna be okay getting home? I don't need to be arrested for getting one of the Hanson's killed."
"No, I'm cool... really..." Taylor shrugged the guy off, called bye over his shoulder and headed in what he figured was the direction of home.


Isaac had fallen silent over an hour ago. He was just too worried for idle chatter.
Taylor was gone, and nobody had seen him. Where on earth could he be? It was getting late, and Ike was getting tired. He'd arrived home to find Tiffany entertaining Zac, and no clue that anything was wrong.
It wasn't until several hours had gone by, that he'd gone up to his room and noticed Taylor's absence. He's quizzed Zac and Tiff, and finally dredged out of Zac, the faint memory of seeing Taylor out back. Zac had filled him in on the events of the day, and Isaac had become concerned.
If Taylor knew how Zac had been feeling, he was probably pretty upset. The thought of him, in the confused and muddled state he'd been in lately, out running around town, was making him decidedly uncomfortable.
He'd called his parents, who'd asked him, and Tiff, to go see if they could find him. They would do what they could from their end. He'd gone, but he had no idea where to look. He'd asked all of Taylor's friends, but not surprisingly, they'd all commented that not only had they not seen him today, they hadn't heard a word since he'd been back.
Frustrated, he was beginning to be tempted to just go home and leave it to Taylor to find his way home. He turned to Tiffany to tell her this, but her attention was elsewhere. She was looking up the street. He watched her face, amused. She was certainly intent on something. Following her gaze, he spotted a flash of blond hair in the distance. Glancing at each other, they sped up, hoping to catch up to whoever it was.

Taylor was getting annoyed. He'd left his new friends and started home, only to find the world behaving oddly. Every step he took caused the ground to tilt alarmingly, in no predictable direction.

"At this rate..." he thought, "I'm gonna land on my butt." He had never found just picking up one foot and putting it back down, to be so difficult. He suspected he was more than a little drunk. He wasn't sure, he really felt alright. Things just wouldn't hold still! Pausing to try to get his bearings, he took a moment to look around. He wasn't at all sure where he was. Home might lie in just about any direction. He giggled at that. "I'm lost in my own town." And resumed stumbling in the direction, he hoped, of home.

Isaac looked at Tiffany, eyes wide. "OH MY GOD."
She nodded, she couldn't think of anything any more intelligent to say.

"Tiffany, LOOK at him!!! Oh Jesus!!" She was taken aback by the cuss... it was very un-Ike-like. Still, he had a point. Taylor was staggering all over the sidewalk, giggling maniacally even thought he looked as if falling down and breaking something was a given.
She shrugged and glanced at Ike. "Well, we found him."
He nodded, "Oh yeah we did." He sped up to a slow jog, catching up to his brother in a few moments.

Isaac was devastated. Taylor was a mess, even from a distance it was obvious.

How could he have done that? Weren't things bad enough? After all he'd been through, how could he have done this? Unsure how to feel, what to think, or how to deal with this, Isaac reached out and took hold of his brother's arm.
"Tay? Slow up..."
Taylor jumped about a foot in the air, stumbling into Isaac. He giggled at him blearily, swaying slightly, trying to keep his balance.
"Hey Ike..."
Isaac winced, Taylor's words were slurred and foggy.

"Tay, what'd you do?"
Taylor looked puzzled. "Wha'd I do? I'nt do an'thin'. Hey issat Tiff?" He squinted in her direction, struggling to focus his eyes.
Ike was afraid to let go, Taylor looked about to keel over.

"Yeah Tay, that's Tiff. Come on, you're going the wrong way."
Taylor grinned. "I thought I was, because I'm not sure where I live Ike." This struck him very funny, and he giggled again.
Tiffany took his other arm, "Come on laughing boy, lets get you home." She wasn't finding this anywhere near as amusing as Taylor seemed to be.
He shook her off. "Lemme go, I can walk jus' fine on m'own. Y'don need to be holdin' m'arm"
She shrugged. "Whatever Taylor, Ike what are we gonna do with him? You can't bring him home like this."
Isaac was running his hands through his hair, intensely nervous.
"Geez Tiff, I just have no idea. You're right, I can't take him home, not now, not like this. It would scare Zac to death."
Taylor pulled out of he's brother's grasp, and plopped down cross-legged on the grass. "When y' all get done talkin' 'bout me, lemme know."
Ike looked panicky. "NO! NO! don't sit down!! Tiffy help me here..."
She sighed and they each took one of Taylor's hands, pulling him back to his feet. "Come on, we'll go to my house and figure this out."
Ike nodded, and steadied his brother, who looked about to pass out.
"Wake up Tay, so you can get where you're going."
Taylor giggled. "Y'right Ike, where'm I goin'?"
Ike just stared. There seemed to be a lot to the question. He really didn't think he could even begin to answer it.
Taylor shook himself out of their hands, as they began to walk.

"I'm okay, y'don need t' hold m'hand". He couldn't really figure out what their problem was, he was fine.

"Tiff, how are you gonna get him..." he gestured at Taylor, who was happily talking to himself, as he stumbled behind them, "past your mom?"
She shook her head. "I'm not. I'm telling her what's going on."

"Tiff!! You can't!! What..."
"IKE!!!" she cut him off. "My mom will be fine. We will figure this out, just don't worry about it now. Worry about getting him to my house, and sobered up. That's all you need to worry about. Hey Tay..." She turned to walk backward. "You doin' okay?"
He nodded, then stopped as the world suddenly jumped out of his sights. "Wow, tha's really freaky."
Tiffany sighed. He was really a mess. "Tay, you are gonna get so sick, do you realize that?"
He laughed, "And I'm fine."
"Suit yourself, but don't say I didn't warn you. Ike, this is gonna be a long night."
He grunted, not at all happy.

Taylor watched the ceiling spin, wondering how much faster it could go. It was making him dizzy. Somewhere, someone was talking to him, their words ebbing in and out, keeping time with the spinning ceiling. He couldn't understand them, really, why wouldn't they just shut up? They seemed to want a reply. He didn't know WHAT reply, just that they wanted one. Annoying. Where was Tiffy? She'd been here a few minutes ago. Or a few hours. He wasn't sure. The spinning was beginning to make him sick. He wished it would stop. Thinking that sitting up might help, he dragged himself upright, immediately regretting it. He froze, as nausea slammed into him, waves of it crashing over him, head spinning...
Tiffany was on her feet in an instant. She'd seen his face right before he sat up, she knew what was coming. She grabbed for a trashcan she'd brought over, knowing what was going to happen.

"Ike! Help here..." Her tone snapped him out of the daze he'd been in, and he had hold of Taylor in a second. "I've got him Tiff, just hang on to that..." She nodded, feeling pity and rage warring inside her, as she watched her friend vomiting. He had to have known. After all that had happened, to put himself in this situation again. Biting her lip, she glanced at Isaac, wondering how he was holding up.
Isaac was seconds away from tears, and he hated himself. He didn't cry. Not in front of people. Certainly not in front of Tiffany. But this was straining all of his self control. He held his brother up, keeping his hair back, waiting for this to spend itself. He'd never seen anyone get so sick, so fast. Taylor couldn't even take a breath.
Glancing at TIffany, he was reassured. She looked vaguely annoyed, but not worried. Catching his eye, she smiled slightly. "It's okay, Ike, it's bothering you more than it's bothering him, he's so out of it he probably has no clue what's going on."

Isaac only shrugged and held his brother tighter.

"TIff, what did your mom say?" Ike was scared. It was late, and he didn't know what was going on. "Did she say..."

TIffany cut him off. "I told her what was going on, she said she was calling your mom and explaining."
"Explaining what?"
"What's happening, and why we don't want to bring him home" He was amazed. "She's TELLING them?"
Tiffany nodded. "Did you want to hide it?"
He frowned. "No, last time I didn't tell them... but I thought... what reason did you..." He broke off, confused.
She smiled, and hugged him gently. "My mom took care of it. She told your mom that she thought he should stay here until he sobered up some, so he wouldn't freak Zac out."
He snorted... "And my mom bought that?"
Tiff shook her head, laughing softly. "No, so we told her the truth. That you were afraid to bring him home, and having a breakdown thinking what might happen. That we thought you needed time to calm down, and he needed time to COME down. I don't know about the rest of the conversation they had, but the upshot was, you guys could stay."
He nodded, and his gaze shifted to Taylor, who'd spent the better part of an hour throwing up, and had then passed out. He was sprawled out on his belly on the floor, and appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Ike reached down and pulled the blanket Tiff had thrown over him, a little higher up, gently brushed some golden hair from his face. "Why do you suppose he did this, Tiff? After everything that he's gone through..."
She shook her head, "I don't know Ike, I really don't know." Peering at him more closely, she could see how troubled he was. "Isaac, can I help? What is it?" Her arm was around his shoulders again, and something in her tone, some sincerity, some absolute loyalty he could hear, finally broke down the wall he'd been barricading himself behind.

He looked up at her, eyes full of tears... "You just don't know Tiffy, you just don't know... You don't know what it was like for us... for him..." He dug furiously at his eyes, angry with himself. He felt her hand, stroking his hair, and when he looked at her, the look in her eyes said it all. He could talk to her, and she wouldn't judge. She wouldn't criticize, she wouldn't blame... she wouldn't condemn. She loved him and she loved Tay, and that was all that mattered. The last of his control slipped away then, and he let his head fall onto her shoulder, no longer trying to fight the sobs that were suddenly shaking him...
Tiffany waited for Isaac's tears to play themselves out. She's never known him to cry, the pain he was in must have been enormous. She knew he needed to talk, and she knew he would, when he was able. They weren't going anywhere, Taylor was out. She sat and let her friend cry on her shoulder, waiting...

The pitch black surprised him. Sitting up quickly, he immediately regretted it for his head spun and bright red stars exploded in front of his eyes. Moaning, he grabbed his head. He felt horrible. Could horrible even describe it? Probably not.

As he waited for his vision to clear, he tried to orientate himself. Glancing around, he was finally able to make out a dresser and nightstand. He was in a bedroom. But where. Panic set in and for just a moment, he had the absurd thought that he had been kidnapped. "Don't be stupid," he scolded himself.
He peered through the darkness and nearly jumped a mile when a computer screen suddenly came to life, lighting up a corner of the dark room. Heart thudding in his chest, Taylor forced himself to take deep breaths and slowly let them out. The screen lit up enough of the room for him to recognize where he was. Tiffany's room.
"How did I get here? And why am I sleeping here? Oh man..." his memory crashed into him and without realizing it a loud whimper escaped his lips. "What have I done?" He tried to stand, but with his enormous headache and the fact that his feet had become entangled in the sheets on the bed, he only succeeded in tripping, and falling with a crash... The world of darkness was spinning and when the overhead light flashed on, Taylor nearly screamed.

"You okay?" Tiffany was kneeling on the floor in front of him, concern etched on her face.
"No... no I am not okay," Taylor grumbled. He rolled over and sat, leaning against the bed. "I'm stupid. I can't believe I did this. How could I do this?" His head dropped into his hands. He wasn't going to cry. No way. He was too angry to cry. He felt more like beating something... hard. So he sat, rocking, his hands clutched fistfuls of his hair and muttered under his breath. Tiffany watched him for a moment, and gently reached out. She tried to move his hands from his head, but he only pushed her away.
"Taylor, stop it. Now." She spoke harshly as she once again reached for his hands. This time he let her take them. Once she had his hands away from his head, she sighed. "Tay, look, you made a mistake, okay? Everyone makes mistakes. It's just something to learn from."
"Tiff, you don't understand. I can't do this. I can't afford to make a mistake this big. I've already asked so much of my family. I don't know how they could find it in them to forgive me for all that I've done. I know they don't trust me. They just sort of tolerate me. And now... now I've just wrecked any sort of reconciliation they had building. I've just ruined it all. Why do I do things like this? Why aren't I strong enough? Why can't I be like them? They're all so strong... all of them. Mom, dad, Ike... Zac. Oh God, Zac. He already hates me. He is gonna never forgive me." Taylor looked over at Tiffany, eyes wide, the fear showing in his pale face.
"Tay, Zac does not hate you. He..."
"Yes he does! He does. I heard him. I heard him tell you. He said he couldn't be alone with me and he was getting sick. He hates me."
"Oh, Tay..." Tiffany reached over and embraced him. He clutched her, holding so hard, it almost hurt. She could feel him trembling. His hand gripped her hair, pulling it in his panicky intensity. She winced, and gently disengaged him. She expected tears, when he looked up at her, but his eyes were dry. He looked scared, but he wasn't crying. She was a little afraid to know what he was feeling.


Taylor stared into her eyes, wishing he could tell her what he felt. He didn't know what to do, he'd really blown it. He knew he was just steps away from being sent to some home somewhere, why had he done this? God, his head hurt.
"What's wrong with me," he thought "Did I miss this?" He couldn't take his eyes off of hers, they were holding him, transfixed. What would she say, if she knew? She was his best friend. She loved him. He loved her. Would she still if she knew? Would she still be here, ready with a word, or a touch, when he needed her? Would she still come to him when she...
He sighed. He'd lied to so many people. He'd hidden so many things. He'd built walls so high even HE couldn't see over them. He'd thought it was over when they came home, but no... obviously it wasn't. He watched her, marveling at the way the light sparkled off her hair. She was so beautiful. He loved her so much. He had to have someone to talk to about this. Someone who hadn't been there. Could he tell her? He certainly trusted her, but would she still... would she hate him?

He reached around her neck again, resting his cheek on her shoulder.
"Tiffy..." His words were muffled, spoken into her neck, but she heard him.
"What is it Tay?" She held him gently, knowing he needed it. He held her tighter, almost to the pain level again.
"Tiff I... I need to..." He sighed, and pulled away, staring at her with frightening intensity. Searching. She had the unsettling feeling that he could see into her soul.
"What is it Tay? What is it you need?" His gaze went distant then, far away and dreamy. He appeared to be focused on a spot just over her head. He took her hand, running his thumb absently over her fingers.
"Tiffy, it's just... I..." He stopped, visibly struggling. His eyes flicked back to hers for a minute. "Tiffy, I'm so scared... I want to tell you, but I don't want you like Zac. I don't want you to hate me. I've just ruined too many people I love." She waited, knowing he'd tell her, and that any words from her now would be meaningless.

Tiffany watched Isaac sleep, as she waited for Tay to get out of the shower. The story he'd told her was incredible. How any of them had survived it in any way intact was beyond her. She'd known already of course, but she'd never been given all of the details. He had said he'd explain it all to her before, but had managed to avoid her. She'd had no idea it was as bad as this. He'd started talking, and it had all just spilled out. He'd cried when he told her, but she didn't think he'd even realized it. It was as if something had surfaced from the depths of him, and wouldn't stop until it had made itself known. He'd just told her and told her, all of it, oblivious to his own tears. Or hers. He'd cried himself sick twice, telling her what had happened, and she'd simply waited, both times, for him to come back into the room, and take up his spot next to her on the floor. She'd felt paralyzed, unable to go to him, even though she'd wanted to. Finally, his tears, and his words, had tapered off, and he'd leaned back against the bed, exhausted, one finger tracing idle patterns along her arm.

His voice, when he spoke, was a hoarse whisper, "Well do you hate me now too Tiffy?" He didn't look at her, He was too afraid of what he might see in her eyes. She felt herself starting to cry again. How could he think that she, or anyone else, hated him? Didn't he realize how much they all loved him? She shook her head, and answered him, her voice as ragged as his. "No, Tay, no, I don't. I don't hate you. I love you..." She stopped, unable to go on. Her tears finally penetrated the fog of hangover, exhaustion, and trauma that blanketed him, and he really looked at her for the first time since he'd started talking to her.
Alarmed, never having seen her cry before, he reached over and pulled her over to him, his embrace this time one of worry, not of desperation.
"Tiffy..." Still hoarse, still a whisper, but now focused away from himself. "Tiffy, don't cry, please..." He'd held her like that for a long time, not knowing what he could say to make her feel better. In the end he'd simply done as she had, for him, and waited with her. Finally, her emotions under some sort of shaky control, she'd pushed him away.
"Tay, I love you..." Her voice was slightly sarcastic, "but you really smell funny. Could you push over?"
He'd stared at her, eyes huge, and suddenly laughed.
"You know I'm not surprised... Tiffy, what would I do without you?"
She snorted. "I'm sure I don't know. Go get cleaned up Tay, and then lets try to catch some sleep?"
He'd nodded, and gone to do as she asked. Now she waited, stretched out across the foot of the bed, watching Ike sleeping soundly, curled up on a borrowed sleeping bag. He'd picked Taylor up from the floor and put him on her bed, then just passed out himself. She'd never seen anyone go from alert to out cold so fast. She suspected the stress had a lot to do with it. He'd just finally caved in. Now, watching him she wondered what all this was really doing to him.

.

Chapter 14

"Ike what are you doing?"
Ike paused, jingling the keys in is hand. "Getting the car. I'm not walking Taylor home."
Diana sighed. "And just why can't he walk? It's all of five blocks. He managed to get himself there, he can get himself home."
He shrugged. His mother was mad, and nothing he said would really matter. "I'll be right back, mom." She stepped in front of him, and the look on her face made him cringe. He'd seen her this angry only once, and there hadn't been much left of the person who had caused it, when she'd finished with them.
"Isaac answer my question. Why are you making a special trip to get the car to drive him?"
He looked at her for a few minutes, tempted to just go around her. He knew there was little about her that was rational now. Deciding that an answer would be less hazardous to him, he nodded toward the end of the drive.
"I'm not bringing him through them. Not in the shape he's in right now. And I'm too tired to muck through the woods. We'll be right back. Okay?" He kissed her cheek, and scooted around her before she could get hold of him. He was very glad he wasn't Taylor right now. He backed the car out of the drive, fairly heedless of the people in his way. The way he felt this morning, they could get out of his way, or he'd just back right over them, he really didn't care.

Ike pulled up in front of Tiffany's house, surprised to see Tiffany waiting alone on the porch. He'd left her and Taylor together, Tiffany's mom being none too thrilled with Tay, and just as happy to have him wait outside. She'd made it so clear that she wanted him out, that Ike was instantly nervous...

He jogged up the steps to a frustrated looking Tiff. "Okay, did he run away? Where'd he go?" He could feel adrenaline surging, and had to fight to slow down his breathing. Had Taylor really taken off? Where was he?
Tiff saw what he was thinking immediately. "No, he's inside. He started to get sick, I didn't really want him to make a spectacle of himself. My mom's with him. I really hope she doesn't hurt him. She's pretty mad."

Ike shook his head, the anxiety draining off. "I'm sure she'll wait so my mom can kill him Tiff. I'm gonna go get him, okay?"
She nodded listlessly, her expression so downcast that he had to stop. Kneeling down next to her, he tipped her face up to him. "What's the matter, Tiffy, you okay?"
She shook her head, feeling tears prickling in her eyes. "No, Ike I'm not. Just go get him and take him home, okay?"
He stroked her hair gently, wanting to help her, but not sure how. "Can you tell me what's wrong Tiff?"
She pushed his hand away. "I'm tired, my head hurts, and my best friend... just go get him. I'm okay."
He straightened up, gave her a quick pat on the shoulder, and let himself in.

Isaac tapped softly on the bathroom door, not wanting to startle Ellen, who was kneeling beside his brother, holding his hair out of his face with one hand, and rubbing his back with the other. A fair amount of the mad seemed to have left her.

She looked up at him and motioned him in. "Not letting up, Ike, I don't know."
He nodded. It was usually that way with Taylor. "I know. Want me to sit with him?"
She shook her head, "No, no, it's alright." She looked worried, and he sat down to wait with her, reaching down to touch his brother's shoulder. Poor kid couldn't even catch a breath. It just wasn't fair, especially considering what was waiting for him at home. After this, he'd be way to tired to cope with it. He leaned back against the wall, stretching his long legs out next to his brother, putting himself within reach. He wished he could convince himself that this was because of the drinking but he knew better. The sickness last night had been from that, this was just Taylor. It happened so often now... sighing, he absently ran a thumb over his brother's wrist, wanting some kind of contact. He'd had hopes that they would all get through, things had seemed so much better lately, but now... he was startled from his brooding by a sudden grab of his hand. He looked up, into Taylor's pale eyes, eyes that were bloodshot and swimming with tears.
He smiled gently. "What is it Tay? Is it better yet?" He noted peripherally, that Ellen was up, running water, and fussing with things.
Taylor laid his head down on his crossed arms. "Ike I'm gonna die, I really think I am. That was so bad..." His voice trailed off, still out of breath.
Isaac looked up at a tap on his leg, and reached up to accept the water that Ellen was holding out. Nodding his thanks, he passed it to Taylor, who seemed almost too weak to hold it. He climbed to his feet while Taylor got himself put back together, and reached down to help him up. "Come on. I hate to do this to you, but you have to go home now."
Taylor looked bleakly up at him, nodded, and let Ike haul him to his feet. Ellen patted his back sympathetically. "Take care honey, let us know if we can help." He nodded, and eyed Ike apprehensively. Isaac just shook his head, unable to offer him any encouragement.

Tiff was gone when they crossed the porch. Wordless, they climbed into the car, and headed home.

Taylor straightened up and his knuckles went white on the door handle. His mom was sitting out on the front steps, and she did not look happy. Feeling his heart racing, he reached out for Ike. "I can't do this Ike, I can't..."

Ike glanced at him sharply, hearing flat panic. "Tay, it's gonna be okay. You have to calm down." He thought Taylor looked about to have a heart attack, pale and shaky, eyes huge, breath rasping in and out, with frightening rapidity. He slid an arm around the trembling boy, and pulled him close. "Tay, she's not gonna do anything. She's mad, but she's been mad before."
Taylor shook his head. "I hope she hits me, I hope all she does is hit me, 'cause I don't want to leave."
"Leave? what're you talking about? Where do you think you're going?"
Taylor shook his head. "I don't know, I don't know. Ike..." He was clutching Isaac's sleeve, nails digging through the fabric. "Ike, you can't let her send me away."
Isaac stared at him, bewildered. Where did he get the idea that they were sending him anywhere? He shook his head, convinced the stress had finally driven his brother over the edge. Before he could utter so much as a word, the passenger door flew open.

Taylor literally felt his heart stop. Hands suddenly had him, bright flash of pain as his head hit the door, and then he was out, and all he could see were her eyes. Struggling to stand, to breath, dizzy and shaking, beyond terrified, he was helpless. The hands gripping his shirt moved up to the back of his neck, taking hold of the hair there, yanking him forward. Her voice was a hiss. "Inside! Now! NOW!"

He stumbled as she shoved him toward the house, struggling to stay on his feet. He couldn't take his eyes off her. He felt someone gripping his arm, pulling him toward the door, and looked up at a grimfaced Isaac, who only shook his head.
The door slammed behind him and before he could breathe he was spun around, shoved hard against the wall. Wide eyed, he could only stare. Diana's hand, raised as if to slap him, was poised only inches from his face. Wordless, he waited, praying that all she did was hit him.

Diana was beyond angry. All they'd gone through, and he had done this. She'd sat up all night, pacing the floor, raging at him, telling herself that she had to calm down before she saw him. That the Brodys were right, letting him spend the night there was the right thing. She'd cool off. He'd come down. That they could work it all out. She'd felt relatively calm, sitting out in the sun waiting for him, but one look at his face had shattered her. She knew that look, the bloodshot eyes, the stupid glazed over expression, she could see it through the windshield. Now, looking at him standing against the wall, shaking and weak, it was all she could do not to just put his head through it. Knowing she was losing control she stepped back, bringing her hand down.

"Get him out of my sight!" She barked, shooting a look at Isaac, and turning her back on her middle son. "Just get him away from me before I kill him."
Isaac gently took Taylor by the shoulder, and led him upstairs, shaken to the core. What was going to happen now?

Taylor lay on his bed, as he had for hours. Ike had stayed for a while, not wanting to leave him, but getting no real responses from Tay, he'd given up and, not particularly wanting to be around his mother either, gone back to Tiffany's.

Taylor wished he'd stayed. He really could have used the support. Sighing, he listened, as he had been, to his mother venting her rage at him, on everyone else in the house. She'd been more or less yelling at everyone, since he'd come up here. Twice she'd come into the room, looked at him with something akin to utter loathing on her face, and fled the room again.
A short time ago, he'd overheard a heated phone call, he knew not with who, that had destroyed him. He'd heard, with his own ears, his mother, who he loved beyond all, telling someone that she couldn't handle him, that she'd done everything possible, everything she'd been told to do, and yet he had done this.
Three words out of her mouth had ruined him. Those words had been "I give up."
Now, hopelessness having stripped most of what was left of emotion from him, he simply lay there apathetically, letting the sounds of her hate wash over him.
That doctor had been right. He'd told him, and Tay hadn't listened. Why hadn't he listened? Lying there, hooked to tubes and wires, barely able to see straight, he'd heard this man telling him that there was every likelihood that he would be sent away. To some "facility" somewhere. That lots of kids slipped and used drugs, but most kids didn't try to kill their younger siblings. That there were serious doubts that he would even see his family again.
At the time, sick, in pain, and wanting to die, he hadn't cared. Later, when his family hadn't shown up, he'd been afraid, but still so numb and dazed that the fear had seemed remote. He'd put the doctor's words from his mind when his family had finally been there, and had said they were taking him home. He'd never told them what had been said to him. As he'd never told them that the man had approached him again, the day before he left, to tell him of the media circus that had fallen upon the hospital, and that in his opinion, if he cared about his family, he wouldn't go with them. Unable to accept that as in any way reasonable, Taylor had brushed him off, only to be told, "You should make sure you're on your best behavior young man, because they have options. Be aware of that."
The following morning, waiting for his dad to pick him up, the same doctor had sat down opposite him, and told him, plainly and bluntly, that a recommendation had been make to them, for placement. That the "pressure was on" for his parents to send him somewhere with "professionals" who could "help him learn to cope with his problems." A place where he would be to "minimize the risk to the rest of your family". And again, the repetition, "They have many options."
Options. Those words had sunk into his soul, trapped there, cycling. "Options, they have options..." Those words had been the source of weeks of low key terror, the constant underlying anxiety caused by the thought that they might not want him.
That he was here only because they felt he had to be. That if he messed up at all they might send him away. That perhaps they were just waiting for one of those "places" to have room for him. That he was on borrowed time in his own home, that the people who loved him, really didn't want him.
Those words, the source of a bone deep depression he never even knew he had, draining his energy, sapping his strength, making it impossible to be interested in anything, find any joy anywhere, denying him escape even in sleep. "Options."
A cloud hanging over his head, constantly, blocking all light and warmth. And now she'd given up.
He sighed, gazing dry eyed at the light above his head. He'd spent so much time, trying to feel her out. Did she still love him? He thought she did. He trusted that she did. But how could she not hate him? Look at what he'd done? Look at poor Zac, still bruised, still aching, even after all these weeks. And still afraid. Look what he'd done to him. And to Isaac. Poor Ike, non-violent and peaceful Ike, punching holes in the walls. She'd be right to send him away. For all of their sakes. Right or wrong, she was going to. He'd heard it himself.
The thought terrified him, but he wasn't feeling it. All he felt was numb. Something inside him had died at her words. "I give up, I give up, I give up..."
He couldn't stop hearing them. And so he simply lay there, unaware that somewhere deep inside him, things were peaking, approaching critical mass.

Adrenaline fading finally, exhaustion overcoming even this fear, he'd begun to drift, finally losing himself into sleep. His mother's voice, loud, shrill, still reached him, wafting past sleep dimmed ears, becoming part of his dreams.
The noise startled him awake. Zac's entrance into the bedroom had barely penetrated his ragged sleep, but now Zac was slamming things around. Taylor sat up and looked at his brother, faint concern all but eclipsed by apathy... Watching, Taylor didn't say a word. Zac had now grabbed a book and nearly threw himself into one of the chairs at the small table in the corner of the room. He put the book on the table with a satisfying slam, and nodded his head at it for emphasis.

"You okay Zac?" Taylor found words, and slowly got up from the bed, walking towards Zac. Something in Zac's manner was forcing his hand. He couldn't just let him sit there.
Zac just stared at Taylor as if he was seeing a ghost. His eyes were wet and rimmed with red. Taylor could see he had been crying.
Taylor sat down on the edge of the table, reaching for Zac's hand.
"Why you crying? Did something happen?"
Zac angrily swiped at his eyes with the back of his wrist. "I'm fine Taylor."
"Are you sure? I mean, I heard mom yelling..." Taylor trailed off, watching as Zac's eyes narrowed.
"I think the whole block heard her. Thanks to you. Now leave me alone," Zac snapped, getting up and jumping onto his own bed, burying himself beneath the covers.

Taylor closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Zac, what happened?" He'd seen the fresh tears as Zac ran across the room, he was worried. "Zac, please, just talk to me!"

Zac stuck his head out, anger stamped throughout his face. "She told me that I was... never mind. But it's your fault. I tried to leave to go to Billy's, and she told me that I was probably just going to go out and get into trouble, that I was just like you. I never even did anything. She's just crazy, you've just driven her crazy, just like you did Ike. You just get out of my face."
He turned away, and, stung by his words, Taylor left him, plodding back over to his own bed. This was ridiculous. She was mad at him. Only him. There was no reason to take it out on anyone else, least of all Zac.
He stared back up at the light again, losing himself in its hypnotic glow.
He'd almost drifted off again, when Zac's tearful voice roused him again. "Tay?"
He turned to his brother, alarmed to see that Zac seemed to have slipped out of anger, and into despair. He was openly sobbing, gazing pleadingly at his brother.
"Tay, why would she say that to me? What did I do wrong?"
Taylor shook his head sadly. "Zac, you didn't do anything. She's just mad at me..." He sighed bitterly, shutting his eyes. He was just so tired. His eyes flew open again, at a sudden spate of evil tempered shouting from down the hall. When he opened his eyes, there was anger storming in them. Enough was enough. He had to take care of this. He stalked out of the room and headed down the stairs.

He found her in the kitchen. She was making just as much noise as Zac had, if not more, slamming cupboards, dishes, just about anything she could get her hands on. His own temper flared, seeing her acting this way.

He left before she could see him, and went looking for the little ones.
It never occurred to him that his mind was clear, and that he was making thought out, rational decisions, regarding other peoples welfare. He never even noticed that the withdrawal induced, and traumatic fog had lifted. He just wanted to find the kids, and make sure they were okay.
He found them in the living room, sitting about three feet from the TV, in a tight, nervous looking little huddle.
He went over, scotching down next to them. "You guys okay?"
They looked apprehensively at him, but Jess found her voice. "We're okay. She's screaming at everyone though. Taylor..." Her eyes grew huge, and he saw something that almost looked like enthusiasm in them. "What did you do?" He almost laughed then, she looked so impressed. "I've never made her yell like that, ever. It must have been really bad!"
He nodded, face serious. "It was bad, Jessie, really bad, and I'm really sorry she's yelling at you guys. You know what you should do? You should go on up and watch the TV in our room. Tell Zac I said it's okay. I'm gonna go talk to her, and things could get kinda loud. You might not be able to hear what you're watching, if you stay down here."
Jessie looked at him, searchingly, for a moment, and then nodded. She understood. He wanted them gone, in case there was a fight. Nodding again, she flicked off the TV. "C'mon you guys, let's go upstairs."
Knowing something was amiss, clearly picking up on the tense atmosphere in the house, the two little ones silently complied.
Jess, on her way up behind them, turned back to her brother. "Hey Tay... good luck." He nodded. "Thanks. I'll need it."
"You sure will." She watched him for a moment more, then turned and followed the others up the stairs.
Sighing, he listened for a moment to his mother's muttering and swearing in the kitchen. When he heard a crash, his own temper flared up.

"MOM! Cut it out!" Taylor stormed into the kitchen and up to his mother, grabbing her arm. "Just stop throwing things around, and say whatever you have to say! You're scaring everyone half to death, just stop it!"

"You... you just get out of my sight! I can't even look at you! It makes me sick to look at you! Who the hell are you to talk about scaring people?!" She yanked her arm away, turned away from her son and started to walk away.

If she looked at him, she'd kill him, she knew it.
Taylor, however, was having none of it.

"Don't you dare walk out on me!" Taylor shouted. She wasn't going to do this to him. If she was mad at him, well then she was going to deal with it right here and now. No more of this, I can't handle it and walk away crap. He went up to her and got in her face. "SAY IT! I want you to say it!"

"Say what?!" She turned back to him, barely controlling the urge to slap him. "What do you want me to say?! I have nothing to say to you. I'm sick of wasting my breath. Just go somewhere with yourself and get out of my sight!!!" She was staring at him, at his face which was flushed with anger, his eyes which were nearly rolling in his head, listening to his breath, coming out in hitching gasps, he looked... insane.

Too angry herself to give it any credence, she shook her head, brushing him off.

"Cut the out of control act, Taylor, I'm not buying it." She started out of the room again, and again, he grabbed her, this time roughly enough to hurt.

"Just say it! Stop taking it all out on everyone else, and just say it!! You're making everyone crazy!! It's all because of me, we both know it, so just say what you have to say!! Tell me you hate me! I know you do! I can see it! You hate me and you want to send me away! Well do it then! I can't take this anymore! I can't take sitting around this house, knowing what you think of me, and waiting for you to one day say that's it you're gone! So do it! I dare you! Send me away! I know what you think of me, I know I'm only here because you think I have to be!! I know you don't want me!!!!" He shifted his grip from the tenuous one on her arm, to a more secure hold on the front of her collar, yanking her toward him.

"What are you TALKING about?!"
Diana pulled away from her son, and shoved him, none too gently, away from her. "Have you totally lost your mind?! You have, haven't you?! Not only are you selfish, inconsiderate, irresponsible, reckless, and completely uncaring, you're also raving out of your mind!!! You want to be sent away?! Great! Glad to hear it. Let me help you pack!!!" Furious, her sarcastic tone turned vicious. "You're evidentially as stupid as you're acting, if you think anyone sending you away. You were born into us, and like it or not, we have to keep you.You're completely right that I don't want to, but I have no choice. I don't even know you. You are not my son. But guess what? You get to stay anyway, just to make my life hell. Just get out of my face."

"Don't lie to me! You know what I mean! I'm not stupid! You think I don't know? They TOLD me!!! I've know all along!"

Something, either his tone, or his words, penetrated her anger, and she began, finally, to really hear what he was saying. And to realize that she'd heard these words before, once. He'd spoken them to her, at the edge of a nightmare.
Taken aback, she fell silent, staring at him. When she trusted her voice enough to speak, her tone was wary.
"Why don't you tell me just what you're talking about, please?"
He snorted impatiently. "Just quit pretending, give me at least that much respect and tell me the truth."

She shook her head. "Taylor, I have no idea what you're talking about"

Unable to believe that she would carry this on, even when he'd heard her, his frustration, and temper, got the better of him. He turned to leave, too angry to stay near her, and she reached out, perhaps to stop him. To his heightened and over reactive senses, her hand was coming at him, and his hand flashed out, perhaps only intending to deflect her arm, instead connecting with the side of her head. The moment froze.
Taylor, speechless, unable to believe that he'd just hit his mother.

Eyes wide, he shook his head, and attempted a defense. He got nothing out.
Diana, mute, shocked, reeling from an emotional blow far far greater than the physical one. He never saw it coming, one moment he was starting to apologize, and the next he was crashing into the wall, hard enough to knock him off his feet.
Staring up at her, horrified, his voice failed him. Mute, he watched her advance on him, closing his eyes at the last minute, when her hand reached down to him.
Diana grabbed her child by the first available handle, his hair. Yanking him to his feet, she shoved him, limp and unresisting, into the wall, shocked rage hiding from her the sound of his head striking the doorjamb, blinding her to the pain on his face as her hand lashed out once, twice, a third time, connecting with his face and head. Too furious to scream at him, too hurt that he would have hit her to think at all.

Taylor accepted her attack numbly, shock, for a moment, rendering him powerless. Wracked with guilt, he barely felt the blows, delivered by hands that had always touched him lovingly.

Then the moment was gone, and survival instinct kicked in. Eyes flying open, he pushed himself away from his mother, hands coming up to cover his head. Off balance, the sudden movement bringing on a spate of dizziness, he fell sideways, ripping out the handful of hair she still clutched, freeing him from her grip.
Scrambling backward away from her, he hauled himself to his feet by the back of the couch, and ran, his mother on his heels. He ran blindly, not knowing where he was going, and found himself starting up the stairs. Three steps up his foot slipped, sending him tumbling, pain crashing into him as his body twisted on the stairs, and for a moment he was unable to move. His head hit the step, leaving him dazed, paralyzed by pain, looking into hate filled eyes. Defeated, he lay there, looking up at her, praying she'd just kill him. He couldn't live with the hate in her eyes.
Diana, poised to strike, stood above her son, loathing the only emotion she was capable of. None of her children had ever raised a hand against her, and the fact that it was Tay, the one she'd always been closest too, was killing her.

Hand fisted, ready to crash down on him, the sight of blood on his face suddenly penetrated the insane rage that surrounded her. His mouth was bleeding. Bleeding badly. She'd made him bleed... Rational thought crept in as she stared at him, and slowly her raised fist lowered. She stared at him for a moment longer, and then nodded.
"Taylor." Her voice was a hoarse croak. "You're right. You are not any longer living in this house. Because I will kill you. Do you understand me? I will kill you." Not waiting for an answer, she left him there, screaming up the stairs, "Zachary get down here now!!!" as she slammed out of the front door. A few minutes later the sound of tires screeching out of the drive filled the house.

Zac pounded down the stairs, scared beyond belief. He'd never heard his mother's voice sound like that before. He came up short, at the sight of his brother, curled on his side, halfway up the stairs, trembling violently. Freezing, Zac was almost afraid to go near him. Taylor was shaking so badly he almost appeared to be in the grip of a seizure, and Zac was terrified of what he might find. Advancing slowly, every step torture, he crept toward his brother.

"Tay?" His voice shook, and he prayed Taylor would answer him . "Tay, say something!" Fear for his brother overriding fear OF him, Zac suddenly dropped down next to him, reaching out and giving him a shake. "Tay!! Tay, please, say something!" Taylor's eyes opened, pain filled and despairing, and reached a shaking hand out for his brother. "Zacky, go call dad. Go now." He whispered the words, unable to do more. Zac nodded "I will, I will, what is it? Get up Tay, come on..." He took his brother's arm and tried to pull him up, jumping back at an ungodly screech from Taylor. Eyes huge, never having heard anyone scream like that in his life, he grabbed onto the banister for support, feeling himself beginning to gray out. Biting his lip hard, he managed to bring himself to some sort of alertness, and knelt down again. "Tay tell me what happened."
Taylor's voice was nearly inaudible. "Call Dad Zac, I can't move. I can't move, I really hurt something, you have to call him..." His voice trailed off, as his eyes closed, and Zac shook him again. "NO TAY!! Stay awake! I'm calling him right now! Just stay awake!! Jessie!!!" He called out to the house at large, bringing his sister running.
The sight of one of her brothers collapsed and bleeding on the stairs, and her other brother pacing wildly, eyes frantic, froze her to the spot.
Zac shook her roughly, making her jump. "Talk to him Jess, just keep him talking!! Just do it!!" He ran into the kitchen, to call his dad, leaving Jessie alone with Taylor. Confused, she shouted after him. "Zac what happened to him?!"
Zac, who was afraid he knew only too well what had happened to his brother, hollered back to her. "I don't know, I guess he fell down the stairs!! Just talk to him!!"
Satisfied that this was what had happened, Jessie sat next to her brother, shaking him gently. "Tay, you awake?"

He opened his eyes, struggling not to scream at the pain her gentle touch had caused him. "Yeah Jess. I'm awake. Don't do that, it hurts."
She nodded. "Did you fall down the stairs?"
He glanced up at her face, knowing he couldn't tell her the truth. "Yeah Jess. Hush now. Please."
"Zac said to keep you awake."
He sighed a little. Nausea was licking at the back of his throat, he was afraid an extra word might tip him over the edge. "I'll stay awake, I promise, but don't make me talk."
She nodded, noticing he'd gone considerably greenish.
"Tay you look like you're gonna throw up. You're not are you?"
He whispered faintly, "I don't know" and fell silent, knowing that if he uttered one more word, her question would be answered.
She sat with him, absently playing with his hair, waiting for Zac to get back.

Taylor's mind wouldn't let him go. Over and over, playing itself out in his head, all of the words between him and his mother. The pain in his back and neck as unrelenting as the nausea welling in his throat, his thoughts giving him no rest, he suddenly just couldn't take it anymore. Shoving his sister away, he hauled himself upright, unable to suppress the shriek that suddenly ripped out of him. He'd never felt pain like this... God, how could this kind of pain not mean he was dying?

His eyes met Jessie's, and he saw the fear there, that fear making up his mind. He was doing it to her now. Now it wasn't just him, and Zac, and Ike, and his mom and his dad, it was everyone. He was ruining everyone.
Zac was calling his dad. Why had he asked him to do that? Dad would agree, he had to go. This was all too much. He pushed away Jessie's concerned hands, and dragged himself to his feet. Not sure he'd be able to walk, and not really caring, he stumbled the rest of the way down the stairs, continuously brushing off his sister as she attempted to restrain him.

"Zac!!!" Zac heard his sister yell, and stuck on finger in the ear not already blocked by the phone. The hold music was beginning to get to him, and he didn't need to hear her too. "Zac!! Zac get in here and help me!!"

Sighing, he hollered back in to her. "Jess, just hang on! I'm on hold!!"
"Zac!!!!" Panic in her voice suddenly brought him to attention. "Zac he left!!! Help me!!"
Zac dropped the phone, and ran, but by the time he got to the front door, his brother was already gone.

He really didn't know where he was headed. No particular destination in mind. He only knew that it seemed like it was taking forever to get there. Wherever there was.

He had to stop once to throw up, and it had left him shaking, on his knees, gasping for air, his breath coming in short bursts and whistles. His chest felt like it was caving in, and he was pretty sure his eyes were going to swim away, they were watering so much. His head pounded, and he rubbed desperately to try and rid his vision of the stars that sparkled on the edge of his vision, not realizing that the rubbing was only worsening the condition. He felt so weak and was almost afraid he would collapse before he reached his destination.
As it neared closer, he suddenly knew exactly where it was his body was leading him. The house was only a few hundred feet away, but each step he took towards it, he felt like it was getting further away. He stumbled in the driveway, and very nearly didn't make it back onto his feet. The struggle to make his limbs work, was almost shutting off his breathing. God his back hurt, had he broken something? He could barely breathe.
He reached the door, and weakly pounded with a limp fist. He rested his forehead on the door, and nearly fell inside when it was pulled open. She looked down at him. He was panting, literally. His tongue was slightly hanging out of his mouth and his breathing was shallow and labored. Shocked at the dried blood around his mouth, down his chin... the bruises forming in bluish patches on his face, she didn't say a word. Merely grabbed him by his arms, and pulled him to his feet, dragging him inside.
Taylor fell against her, whimpering at the pain in his back, aware that she was taking all his weight, but unable to help it. It hurt too much to stand upright.

Tiffany looked over his head toward Isaac. What she saw scared her. The shock on his face had flitted briefly to anger, and then to nothing at all. As she watched, he sank down onto the sofa, and dropped his head into his hands. Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to Taylor. She'd deal with Ike later on. Stepping back slightly, she made him look up at her.
"Come on, Tay, lets go get you cleaned up, and you can tell me what happened."
He nodded mutely, and let himself be led into the bathroom.

"Tip you're head back Tay, a little bit... There you go..." Tiffany watched water from the hand shower sluicing the dried blood away from her friends face. The marks underneath all the grime were clearly fingermarks. Sighing, she tried once again to find out what had happened. "Tay, c'mon, who did this to you?"

His answer, delivered in a monotone, devoid of all emotion, was the same one he'd been giving for ten minutes. "Nobody, I fell down the stairs."
He curled himself up tighter, arms around knees, head on arms. It wasn't making it very easy to get him cleaned up. She'd tried to go with a wet cloth, but the dried blood in his hair, and the fact that he'd, at some point, thrown up all over himself, had convinced her to just put him in the tub and shower him down. She'd tried to get Isaac to come help him, but Isaac had just waved her away.
Taylor had finally told her. "Tiffany, I really don't care..." and had pulled off his clothes. Or tried to. Moving at all made him cry out, and she wondered if something was badly enough injured to warrant a doctor. She'd helped him out of his clothes, and into the tub, where he'd discovered that he couldn't reach up over his head to wash the blood out of his hair.
Finally she'd taken the shower away from him, and snapped. "Just don't even move, I'll do it." Now, trying to get the soap out of his hair, with him curled in a ball, the last dregs of her patience washed away. "Taylor, for heaven sake, sit up!! How am I supposed to do anything for you if you're all in a knot?" He glanced uneasily at her, and uncurled himself very slightly. She sighed, feeling bad. Being yelled at was probably the last thing in the world he needed. She finished rinsing him off quickly, and shut the water off. "Can you dry yourself off, or do you need help?"
He shook his head, "Tiff, I don't even know if I can stand up."
Frowning, she took his arm, now wet and slippery, and hauled him to his feet.
"Come on, just hold on to me, last thing you need is to fall and bash something open on the tub."
He started to step up, then froze, attention riveted behind her.
Before she could turn, Isaac was standing next to her, reaching past her to grab hold of his brother, much more securely than she had been.
"I've got him Tiff, can you find him something to put on?"
She nodded and took off out of the room before he could change his mind.

"Lemme have y'foot Tay" Isaac waited while Taylor got his foot off the floor, and stuck it out for him to dry off. "It's taking you longer and longer to move, Tay, you really need to get checked out"

Taylor shook his head. "No. I'm okay. Can you hurry up? I'm freezing."
"I could let you do it yourself, you'd be a lot colder then." He stood up and reached for the clothes Tiffany had brought in. "Here, get your arms up." He stopped at the gasp of pain from Taylor, when he'd tried to co-operate. "Aw, Tay, damn it! I know, it really hurts... just move really slow and easy, you have to get something on, you can't walk around naked."
Taylor nodded, and together they managed to get him dressed, although the effort had caused enough pain to gray him out more than once, and to bring back nausea.
Seeing him go white, Isaac had cautioned him. "Breath it out Tay, if you get sick now, we have to do this all over again. Don't give in."
Taylor had nodded, fighting it off, and finally looked up into his brother's eyes. Isaac smiled slightly and reached down to help him up. "Come on, Tay, we need to figure this out." Taylor winced, but followed his brother into the other room.

Isaac paced, phone pressed to his ear. Zachary's hysterical ranting went on and on, he'd long since given up trying to break in. He would just have to wait for the flood to taper off on its own. He'd just sat down to try to talk to Taylor, when the phone had rung, and he'd picked it up to hear his brother's voice, raving at him. He'd listened while Zac relayed his opinion that their mother had lost her mind, that she'd tried to kill Taylor, that she was gone and he didn't know where she was, that Taylor had run off and nobody knew where he was, that Taylor was hurt and someone had to find him. In the background, he could hear yet more hysterics, one of his sister's, sobbing her heart out, scared to death. Thoroughly sick of it all, he glanced at his brother, wishing for the moment that he'd never heard of him. Taylor's idiocy had uprooted and scrambled the entire household. Turning his attention back to Zac, he broke in, loudly, "Zac!! ZACHARY!!!!"

"What!"
"It's okay, he's here."
The flow of words cut off.
"He's there? Oh God Ike, is he okay?!"
"I don't know Zac, but he's here. We'll take care of it."
"I'm coming over."
"No!!" Not meaning to shout, he lowered his voice. "Zac, you have to stay there with the kids, don't come over here. We'll be home soon."
Zac wasn't pleased about this, and Ike tuned out the rash of complaints, again looking over at Taylor, who was watching him fearfully. What the hell did he have to be afraid of? What was up with that?
Ike's patience slipped another notch. First he was sick, then he was scared, then he was in some sort of breakdown, now this, it was just too much. God how he wished they'd just left him in some hospital someplace. He'd just had it.
"What Ike?" Zac's voice was puzzled, and so was Ike.
"What? I didn't say anything. We'll be home in a..." He was cut off by a vicious cuff to the head, hard enough to make his ears ring, and, shocked, he dropped the phone, turning to stare at Tiffany, who's eyes were flashing.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!"
He shook his head, baffled, "What? What did you hit me for?!"
"Why'd you say that?!" She started out the front door, shooting him a death look. He stared after her, retrieved the phone, and found Zac frantically asking him the same thing. Clueless, he broke in again.
"Zac, what are you talking about?" Zac sighed, exasperated.
"You can't mean that Ike, he's our brother, you shouldn't say things like that. What if he heard you?"
"Said WHAT?!?!?!" He was by now thoroughly sick of all of them.
"That you wished we'd left him, Ike, that!"
Ike suddenly felt sick. Had he said that? He'd thought it.
"Oh my God, Zac... Did I say that?"
"Yes you did."
Without another word, Ike slammed the phone down and ran after Tiffany. He hadn't realized he'd said it out loud. He found Tiffany standing on the front porch, furious. "Tiffy, where did he go?! I swear to God, I had no idea that came out of my mouth, I was thinking it... where is he?!?!"
She nodded down the road. "He took your car. I tried to stop him. See what I got for my trouble?" She turned to him and he saw her lip was gashed open.
"He hit you?"
She nodded. "I tried to take his arm, he hauled off and belted me one, and took off with your car. Now what the hell do we do? Why'd you say that?! Ike, how could you have said that?? He's already so scared..."
"I know, I know, I didn't mean to, it just came out, I was thinking out loud..." Panic set in as he realized what he'd said, and what condition his brother was in. "Tiffy, we have to find him."
She shook her head. "No, not us. I'm calling the police. You better get home, and get your parents... No. No don't. The police will want to talk to you. Go call them from the cell phone. Damn it Ike, that was the stupidest thing you've ever ever done!"
She stalked into the house, stopping to grab, and throw him, the cell phone. He caught it, and started to dial, thinking only that this time, they were going to lose him forever, and it was his fault.

.

Chapter 14

"Ike what are you doing?"
Ike paused, jingling the keys in is hand. "Getting the car. I'm not walking Taylor home."
Diana sighed. "And just why can't he walk? It's all of five blocks. He managed to get himself there, he can get himself home."
He shrugged. His mother was mad, and nothing he said would really matter. "I'll be right back, mom." She stepped in front of him, and the look on her face made him cringe. He'd seen her this angry only once, and there hadn't been much left of the person who had caused it, when she'd finished with them.
"Isaac answer my question. Why are you making a special trip to get the car to drive him?"
He looked at her for a few minutes, tempted to just go around her. He knew there was little about her that was rational now. Deciding that an answer would be less hazardous to him, he nodded toward the end of the drive.
"I'm not bringing him through them. Not in the shape he's in right now. And I'm too tired to muck through the woods. We'll be right back. Okay?" He kissed her cheek, and scooted around her before she could get hold of him. He was very glad he wasn't Taylor right now. He backed the car out of the drive, fairly heedless of the people in his way. The way he felt this morning, they could get out of his way, or he'd just back right over them, he really didn't care.

Ike pulled up in front of Tiffany's house, surprised to see Tiffany waiting alone on the porch. He'd left her and Taylor together, Tiffany's mom being none too thrilled with Tay, and just as happy to have him wait outside. She'd made it so clear that she wanted him out, that Ike was instantly nervous...

He jogged up the steps to a frustrated looking Tiff. "Okay, did he run away? Where'd he go?" He could feel adrenaline surging, and had to fight to slow down his breathing. Had Taylor really taken off? Where was he?
Tiff saw what he was thinking immediately. "No, he's inside. He started to get sick, I didn't really want him to make a spectacle of himself. My mom's with him. I really hope she doesn't hurt him. She's pretty mad."

Ike shook his head, the anxiety draining off. "I'm sure she'll wait so my mom can kill him Tiff. I'm gonna go get him, okay?"
She nodded listlessly, her expression so downcast that he had to stop. Kneeling down next to her, he tipped her face up to him. "What's the matter, Tiffy, you okay?"
She shook her head, feeling tears prickling in her eyes. "No, Ike I'm not. Just go get him and take him home, okay?"
He stroked her hair gently, wanting to help her, but not sure how. "Can you tell me what's wrong Tiff?"
She pushed his hand away. "I'm tired, my head hurts, and my best friend... just go get him. I'm okay."
He straightened up, gave her a quick pat on the shoulder, and let himself in.

Isaac tapped softly on the bathroom door, not wanting to startle Ellen, who was kneeling beside his brother, holding his hair out of his face with one hand, and rubbing his back with the other. A fair amount of the mad seemed to have left her.

She looked up at him and motioned him in. "Not letting up, Ike, I don't know."
He nodded. It was usually that way with Taylor. "I know. Want me to sit with him?"
She shook her head, "No, no, it's alright." She looked worried, and he sat down to wait with her, reaching down to touch his brother's shoulder. Poor kid couldn't even catch a breath. It just wasn't fair, especially considering what was waiting for him at home. After this, he'd be way to tired to cope with it. He leaned back against the wall, stretching his long legs out next to his brother, putting himself within reach. He wished he could convince himself that this was because of the drinking but he knew better. The sickness last night had been from that, this was just Taylor. It happened so often now... sighing, he absently ran a thumb over his brother's wrist, wanting some kind of contact. He'd had hopes that they would all get through, things had seemed so much better lately, but now... he was startled from his brooding by a sudden grab of his hand. He looked up, into Taylor's pale eyes, eyes that were bloodshot and swimming with tears.
He smiled gently. "What is it Tay? Is it better yet?" He noted peripherally, that Ellen was up, running water, and fussing with things.
Taylor laid his head down on his crossed arms. "Ike I'm gonna die, I really think I am. That was so bad..." His voice trailed off, still out of breath.
Isaac looked up at a tap on his leg, and reached up to accept the water that Ellen was holding out. Nodding his thanks, he passed it to Taylor, who seemed almost too weak to hold it. He climbed to his feet while Taylor got himself put back together, and reached down to help him up. "Come on. I hate to do this to you, but you have to go home now."
Taylor looked bleakly up at him, nodded, and let Ike haul him to his feet. Ellen patted his back sympathetically. "Take care honey, let us know if we can help." He nodded, and eyed Ike apprehensively. Isaac just shook his head, unable to offer him any encouragement.

Tiff was gone when they crossed the porch. Wordless, they climbed into the car, and headed home.

Taylor straightened up and his knuckles went white on the door handle. His mom was sitting out on the front steps, and she did not look happy. Feeling his heart racing, he reached out for Ike. "I can't do this Ike, I can't..."

Ike glanced at him sharply, hearing flat panic. "Tay, it's gonna be okay. You have to calm down." He thought Taylor looked about to have a heart attack, pale and shaky, eyes huge, breath rasping in and out, with frightening rapidity. He slid an arm around the trembling boy, and pulled him close. "Tay, she's not gonna do anything. She's mad, but she's been mad before."
Taylor shook his head. "I hope she hits me, I hope all she does is hit me, 'cause I don't want to leave."
"Leave? what're you talking about? Where do you think you're going?"
Taylor shook his head. "I don't know, I don't know. Ike..." He was clutching Isaac's sleeve, nails digging through the fabric. "Ike, you can't let her send me away."
Isaac stared at him, bewildered. Where did he get the idea that they were sending him anywhere? He shook his head, convinced the stress had finally driven his brother over the edge. Before he could utter so much as a word, the passenger door flew open.

Taylor literally felt his heart stop. Hands suddenly had him, bright flash of pain as his head hit the door, and then he was out, and all he could see were her eyes. Struggling to stand, to breath, dizzy and shaking, beyond terrified, he was helpless. The hands gripping his shirt moved up to the back of his neck, taking hold of the hair there, yanking him forward. Her voice was a hiss. "Inside! Now! NOW!"

He stumbled as she shoved him toward the house, struggling to stay on his feet. He couldn't take his eyes off her. He felt someone gripping his arm, pulling him toward the door, and looked up at a grimfaced Isaac, who only shook his head.
The door slammed behind him and before he could breathe he was spun around, shoved hard against the wall. Wide eyed, he could only stare. Diana's hand, raised as if to slap him, was poised only inches from his face. Wordless, he waited, praying that all she did was hit him.

Diana was beyond angry. All they'd gone through, and he had done this. She'd sat up all night, pacing the floor, raging at him, telling herself that she had to calm down before she saw him. That the Brodys were right, letting him spend the night there was the right thing. She'd cool off. He'd come down. That they could work it all out. She'd felt relatively calm, sitting out in the sun waiting for him, but one look at his face had shattered her. She knew that look, the bloodshot eyes, the stupid glazed over expression, she could see it through the windshield. Now, looking at him standing against the wall, shaking and weak, it was all she could do not to just put his head through it. Knowing she was losing control she stepped back, bringing her hand down.

"Get him out of my sight!" She barked, shooting a look at Isaac, and turning her back on her middle son. "Just get him away from me before I kill him."
Isaac gently took Taylor by the shoulder, and led him upstairs, shaken to the core. What was going to happen now?

Taylor lay on his bed, as he had for hours. Ike had stayed for a while, not wanting to leave him, but getting no real responses from Tay, he'd given up and, not particularly wanting to be around his mother either, gone back to Tiffany's.

Taylor wished he'd stayed. He really could have used the support. Sighing, he listened, as he had been, to his mother venting her rage at him, on everyone else in the house. She'd been more or less yelling at everyone, since he'd come up here. Twice she'd come into the room, looked at him with something akin to utter loathing on her face, and fled the room again.
A short time ago, he'd overheard a heated phone call, he knew not with who, that had destroyed him. He'd heard, with his own ears, his mother, who he loved beyond all, telling someone that she couldn't handle him, that she'd done everything possible, everything she'd been told to do, and yet he had done this.
Three words out of her mouth had ruined him. Those words had been "I give up."
Now, hopelessness having stripped most of what was left of emotion from him, he simply lay there apathetically, letting the sounds of her hate wash over him.
That doctor had been right. He'd told him, and Tay hadn't listened. Why hadn't he listened? Lying there, hooked to tubes and wires, barely able to see straight, he'd heard this man telling him that there was every likelihood that he would be sent away. To some "facility" somewhere. That lots of kids slipped and used drugs, but most kids didn't try to kill their younger siblings. That there were serious doubts that he would even see his family again.
At the time, sick, in pain, and wanting to die, he hadn't cared. Later, when his family hadn't shown up, he'd been afraid, but still so numb and dazed that the fear had seemed remote. He'd put the doctor's words from his mind when his family had finally been there, and had said they were taking him home. He'd never told them what had been said to him. As he'd never told them that the man had approached him again, the day before he left, to tell him of the media circus that had fallen upon the hospital, and that in his opinion, if he cared about his family, he wouldn't go with them. Unable to accept that as in any way reasonable, Taylor had brushed him off, only to be told, "You should make sure you're on your best behavior young man, because they have options. Be aware of that."
The following morning, waiting for his dad to pick him up, the same doctor had sat down opposite him, and told him, plainly and bluntly, that a recommendation had been make to them, for placement. That the "pressure was on" for his parents to send him somewhere with "professionals" who could "help him learn to cope with his problems." A place where he would be to "minimize the risk to the rest of your family". And again, the repetition, "They have many options."
Options. Those words had sunk into his soul, trapped there, cycling. "Options, they have options..." Those words had been the source of weeks of low key terror, the constant underlying anxiety caused by the thought that they might not want him.
That he was here only because they felt he had to be. That if he messed up at all they might send him away. That perhaps they were just waiting for one of those "places" to have room for him. That he was on borrowed time in his own home, that the people who loved him, really didn't want him.
Those words, the source of a bone deep depression he never even knew he had, draining his energy, sapping his strength, making it impossible to be interested in anything, find any joy anywhere, denying him escape even in sleep. "Options."
A cloud hanging over his head, constantly, blocking all light and warmth. And now she'd given up.
He sighed, gazing dry eyed at the light above his head. He'd spent so much time, trying to feel her out. Did she still love him? He thought she did. He trusted that she did. But how could she not hate him? Look at what he'd done? Look at poor Zac, still bruised, still aching, even after all these weeks. And still afraid. Look what he'd done to him. And to Isaac. Poor Ike, non-violent and peaceful Ike, punching holes in the walls. She'd be right to send him away. For all of their sakes. Right or wrong, she was going to. He'd heard it himself.
The thought terrified him, but he wasn't feeling it. All he felt was numb. Something inside him had died at her words. "I give up, I give up, I give up..."
He couldn't stop hearing them. And so he simply lay there, unaware that somewhere deep inside him, things were peaking, approaching critical mass.

Adrenaline fading finally, exhaustion overcoming even this fear, he'd begun to drift, finally losing himself into sleep. His mother's voice, loud, shrill, still reached him, wafting past sleep dimmed ears, becoming part of his dreams.
The noise startled him awake. Zac's entrance into the bedroom had barely penetrated his ragged sleep, but now Zac was slamming things around. Taylor sat up and looked at his brother, faint concern all but eclipsed by apathy... Watching, Taylor didn't say a word. Zac had now grabbed a book and nearly threw himself into one of the chairs at the small table in the corner of the room. He put the book on the table with a satisfying slam, and nodded his head at it for emphasis.

"You okay Zac?" Taylor found words, and slowly got up from the bed, walking towards Zac. Something in Zac's manner was forcing his hand. He couldn't just let him sit there.
Zac just stared at Taylor as if he was seeing a ghost. His eyes were wet and rimmed with red. Taylor could see he had been crying.
Taylor sat down on the edge of the table, reaching for Zac's hand.
"Why you crying? Did something happen?"
Zac angrily swiped at his eyes with the back of his wrist. "I'm fine Taylor."
"Are you sure? I mean, I heard mom yelling..." Taylor trailed off, watching as Zac's eyes narrowed.
"I think the whole block heard her. Thanks to you. Now leave me alone," Zac snapped, getting up and jumping onto his own bed, burying himself beneath the covers.

Taylor closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Zac, what happened?" He'd seen the fresh tears as Zac ran across the room, he was worried. "Zac, please, just talk to me!"

Zac stuck his head out, anger stamped throughout his face. "She told me that I was... never mind. But it's your fault. I tried to leave to go to Billy's, and she told me that I was probably just going to go out and get into trouble, that I was just like you. I never even did anything. She's just crazy, you've just driven her crazy, just like you did Ike. You just get out of my face."
He turned away, and, stung by his words, Taylor left him, plodding back over to his own bed. This was ridiculous. She was mad at him. Only him. There was no reason to take it out on anyone else, least of all Zac.
He stared back up at the light again, losing himself in its hypnotic glow.
He'd almost drifted off again, when Zac's tearful voice roused him again. "Tay?"
He turned to his brother, alarmed to see that Zac seemed to have slipped out of anger, and into despair. He was openly sobbing, gazing pleadingly at his brother.
"Tay, why would she say that to me? What did I do wrong?"
Taylor shook his head sadly. "Zac, you didn't do anything. She's just mad at me..." He sighed bitterly, shutting his eyes. He was just so tired. His eyes flew open again, at a sudden spate of evil tempered shouting from down the hall. When he opened his eyes, there was anger storming in them. Enough was enough. He had to take care of this. He stalked out of the room and headed down the stairs.

He found her in the kitchen. She was making just as much noise as Zac had, if not more, slamming cupboards, dishes, just about anything she could get her hands on. His own temper flared, seeing her acting this way.

He left before she could see him, and went looking for the little ones.
It never occurred to him that his mind was clear, and that he was making thought out, rational decisions, regarding other peoples welfare. He never even noticed that the withdrawal induced, and traumatic fog had lifted. He just wanted to find the kids, and make sure they were okay.
He found them in the living room, sitting about three feet from the TV, in a tight, nervous looking little huddle.
He went over, scotching down next to them. "You guys okay?"
They looked apprehensively at him, but Jess found her voice. "We're okay. She's screaming at everyone though. Taylor..." Her eyes grew huge, and he saw something that almost looked like enthusiasm in them. "What did you do?" He almost laughed then, she looked so impressed. "I've never made her yell like that, ever. It must have been really bad!"
He nodded, face serious. "It was bad, Jessie, really bad, and I'm really sorry she's yelling at you guys. You know what you should do? You should go on up and watch the TV in our room. Tell Zac I said it's okay. I'm gonna go talk to her, and things could get kinda loud. You might not be able to hear what you're watching, if you stay down here."
Jessie looked at him, searchingly, for a moment, and then nodded. She understood. He wanted them gone, in case there was a fight. Nodding again, she flicked off the TV. "C'mon you guys, let's go upstairs."
Knowing something was amiss, clearly picking up on the tense atmosphere in the house, the two little ones silently complied.
Jess, on her way up behind them, turned back to her brother. "Hey Tay... good luck." He nodded. "Thanks. I'll need it."
"You sure will." She watched him for a moment more, then turned and followed the others up the stairs.
Sighing, he listened for a moment to his mother's muttering and swearing in the kitchen. When he heard a crash, his own temper flared up.

"MOM! Cut it out!" Taylor stormed into the kitchen and up to his mother, grabbing her arm. "Just stop throwing things around, and say whatever you have to say! You're scaring everyone half to death, just stop it!"

"You... you just get out of my sight! I can't even look at you! It makes me sick to look at you! Who the hell are you to talk about scaring people?!" She yanked her arm away, turned away from her son and started to walk away.

If she looked at him, she'd kill him, she knew it.
Taylor, however, was having none of it.

"Don't you dare walk out on me!" Taylor shouted. She wasn't going to do this to him. If she was mad at him, well then she was going to deal with it right here and now. No more of this, I can't handle it and walk away crap. He went up to her and got in her face. "SAY IT! I want you to say it!"

"Say what?!" She turned back to him, barely controlling the urge to slap him. "What do you want me to say?! I have nothing to say to you. I'm sick of wasting my breath. Just go somewhere with yourself and get out of my sight!!!" She was staring at him, at his face which was flushed with anger, his eyes which were nearly rolling in his head, listening to his breath, coming out in hitching gasps, he looked... insane.

Too angry herself to give it any credence, she shook her head, brushing him off.

"Cut the out of control act, Taylor, I'm not buying it." She started out of the room again, and again, he grabbed her, this time roughly enough to hurt.

"Just say it! Stop taking it all out on everyone else, and just say it!! You're making everyone crazy!! It's all because of me, we both know it, so just say what you have to say!! Tell me you hate me! I know you do! I can see it! You hate me and you want to send me away! Well do it then! I can't take this anymore! I can't take sitting around this house, knowing what you think of me, and waiting for you to one day say that's it you're gone! So do it! I dare you! Send me away! I know what you think of me, I know I'm only here because you think I have to be!! I know you don't want me!!!!" He shifted his grip from the tenuous one on her arm, to a more secure hold on the front of her collar, yanking her toward him.

"What are you TALKING about?!"
Diana pulled away from her son, and shoved him, none too gently, away from her. "Have you totally lost your mind?! You have, haven't you?! Not only are you selfish, inconsiderate, irresponsible, reckless, and completely uncaring, you're also raving out of your mind!!! You want to be sent away?! Great! Glad to hear it. Let me help you pack!!!" Furious, her sarcastic tone turned vicious. "You're evidentially as stupid as you're acting, if you think anyone sending you away. You were born into us, and like it or not, we have to keep you.You're completely right that I don't want to, but I have no choice. I don't even know you. You are not my son. But guess what? You get to stay anyway, just to make my life hell. Just get out of my face."

"Don't lie to me! You know what I mean! I'm not stupid! You think I don't know? They TOLD me!!! I've know all along!"

Something, either his tone, or his words, penetrated her anger, and she began, finally, to really hear what he was saying. And to realize that she'd heard these words before, once. He'd spoken them to her, at the edge of a nightmare.
Taken aback, she fell silent, staring at him. When she trusted her voice enough to speak, her tone was wary.
"Why don't you tell me just what you're talking about, please?"
He snorted impatiently. "Just quit pretending, give me at least that much respect and tell me the truth."

She shook her head. "Taylor, I have no idea what you're talking about"

Unable to believe that she would carry this on, even when he'd heard her, his frustration, and temper, got the better of him. He turned to leave, too angry to stay near her, and she reached out, perhaps to stop him. To his heightened and over reactive senses, her hand was coming at him, and his hand flashed out, perhaps only intending to deflect her arm, instead connecting with the side of her head. The moment froze.
Taylor, speechless, unable to believe that he'd just hit his mother.

Eyes wide, he shook his head, and attempted a defense. He got nothing out.
Diana, mute, shocked, reeling from an emotional blow far far greater than the physical one. He never saw it coming, one moment he was starting to apologize, and the next he was crashing into the wall, hard enough to knock him off his feet.
Staring up at her, horrified, his voice failed him. Mute, he watched her advance on him, closing his eyes at the last minute, when her hand reached down to him.
Diana grabbed her child by the first available handle, his hair. Yanking him to his feet, she shoved him, limp and unresisting, into the wall, shocked rage hiding from her the sound of his head striking the doorjamb, blinding her to the pain on his face as her hand lashed out once, twice, a third time, connecting with his face and head. Too furious to scream at him, too hurt that he would have hit her to think at all.

Taylor accepted her attack numbly, shock, for a moment, rendering him powerless. Wracked with guilt, he barely felt the blows, delivered by hands that had always touched him lovingly.

Then the moment was gone, and survival instinct kicked in. Eyes flying open, he pushed himself away from his mother, hands coming up to cover his head. Off balance, the sudden movement bringing on a spate of dizziness, he fell sideways, ripping out the handful of hair she still clutched, freeing him from her grip.
Scrambling backward away from her, he hauled himself to his feet by the back of the couch, and ran, his mother on his heels. He ran blindly, not knowing where he was going, and found himself starting up the stairs. Three steps up his foot slipped, sending him tumbling, pain crashing into him as his body twisted on the stairs, and for a moment he was unable to move. His head hit the step, leaving him dazed, paralyzed by pain, looking into hate filled eyes. Defeated, he lay there, looking up at her, praying she'd just kill him. He couldn't live with the hate in her eyes.
Diana, poised to strike, stood above her son, loathing the only emotion she was capable of. None of her children had ever raised a hand against her, and the fact that it was Tay, the one she'd always been closest too, was killing her.

Hand fisted, ready to crash down on him, the sight of blood on his face suddenly penetrated the insane rage that surrounded her. His mouth was bleeding. Bleeding badly. She'd made him bleed... Rational thought crept in as she stared at him, and slowly her raised fist lowered. She stared at him for a moment longer, and then nodded.
"Taylor." Her voice was a hoarse croak. "You're right. You are not any longer living in this house. Because I will kill you. Do you understand me? I will kill you." Not waiting for an answer, she left him there, screaming up the stairs, "Zachary get down here now!!!" as she slammed out of the front door. A few minutes later the sound of tires screeching out of the drive filled the house.

Zac pounded down the stairs, scared beyond belief. He'd never heard his mother's voice sound like that before. He came up short, at the sight of his brother, curled on his side, halfway up the stairs, trembling violently. Freezing, Zac was almost afraid to go near him. Taylor was shaking so badly he almost appeared to be in the grip of a seizure, and Zac was terrified of what he might find. Advancing slowly, every step torture, he crept toward his brother.

"Tay?" His voice shook, and he prayed Taylor would answer him . "Tay, say something!" Fear for his brother overriding fear OF him, Zac suddenly dropped down next to him, reaching out and giving him a shake. "Tay!! Tay, please, say something!" Taylor's eyes opened, pain filled and despairing, and reached a shaking hand out for his brother. "Zacky, go call dad. Go now." He whispered the words, unable to do more. Zac nodded "I will, I will, what is it? Get up Tay, come on..." He took his brother's arm and tried to pull him up, jumping back at an ungodly screech from Taylor. Eyes huge, never having heard anyone scream like that in his life, he grabbed onto the banister for support, feeling himself beginning to gray out. Biting his lip hard, he managed to bring himself to some sort of alertness, and knelt down again. "Tay tell me what happened."
Taylor's voice was nearly inaudible. "Call Dad Zac, I can't move. I can't move, I really hurt something, you have to call him..." His voice trailed off, as his eyes closed, and Zac shook him again. "NO TAY!! Stay awake! I'm calling him right now! Just stay awake!! Jessie!!!" He called out to the house at large, bringing his sister running.
The sight of one of her brothers collapsed and bleeding on the stairs, and her other brother pacing wildly, eyes frantic, froze her to the spot.
Zac shook her roughly, making her jump. "Talk to him Jess, just keep him talking!! Just do it!!" He ran into the kitchen, to call his dad, leaving Jessie alone with Taylor. Confused, she shouted after him. "Zac what happened to him?!"
Zac, who was afraid he knew only too well what had happened to his brother, hollered back to her. "I don't know, I guess he fell down the stairs!! Just talk to him!!"
Satisfied that this was what had happened, Jessie sat next to her brother, shaking him gently. "Tay, you awake?"

He opened his eyes, struggling not to scream at the pain her gentle touch had caused him. "Yeah Jess. I'm awake. Don't do that, it hurts."
She nodded. "Did you fall down the stairs?"
He glanced up at her face, knowing he couldn't tell her the truth. "Yeah Jess. Hush now. Please."
"Zac said to keep you awake."
He sighed a little. Nausea was licking at the back of his throat, he was afraid an extra word might tip him over the edge. "I'll stay awake, I promise, but don't make me talk."
She nodded, noticing he'd gone considerably greenish.
"Tay you look like you're gonna throw up. You're not are you?"
He whispered faintly, "I don't know" and fell silent, knowing that if he uttered one more word, her question would be answered.
She sat with him, absently playing with his hair, waiting for Zac to get back.

Taylor's mind wouldn't let him go. Over and over, playing itself out in his head, all of the words between him and his mother. The pain in his back and neck as unrelenting as the nausea welling in his throat, his thoughts giving him no rest, he suddenly just couldn't take it anymore. Shoving his sister away, he hauled himself upright, unable to suppress the shriek that suddenly ripped out of him. He'd never felt pain like this... God, how could this kind of pain not mean he was dying?

His eyes met Jessie's, and he saw the fear there, that fear making up his mind. He was doing it to her now. Now it wasn't just him, and Zac, and Ike, and his mom and his dad, it was everyone. He was ruining everyone.
Zac was calling his dad. Why had he asked him to do that? Dad would agree, he had to go. This was all too much. He pushed away Jessie's concerned hands, and dragged himself to his feet. Not sure he'd be able to walk, and not really caring, he stumbled the rest of the way down the stairs, continuously brushing off his sister as she attempted to restrain him.

"Zac!!!" Zac heard his sister yell, and stuck on finger in the ear not already blocked by the phone. The hold music was beginning to get to him, and he didn't need to hear her too. "Zac!! Zac get in here and help me!!"

Sighing, he hollered back in to her. "Jess, just hang on! I'm on hold!!"
"Zac!!!!" Panic in her voice suddenly brought him to attention. "Zac he left!!! Help me!!"
Zac dropped the phone, and ran, but by the time he got to the front door, his brother was already gone.

He really didn't know where he was headed. No particular destination in mind. He only knew that it seemed like it was taking forever to get there. Wherever there was.

He had to stop once to throw up, and it had left him shaking, on his knees, gasping for air, his breath coming in short bursts and whistles. His chest felt like it was caving in, and he was pretty sure his eyes were going to swim away, they were watering so much. His head pounded, and he rubbed desperately to try and rid his vision of the stars that sparkled on the edge of his vision, not realizing that the rubbing was only worsening the condition. He felt so weak and was almost afraid he would collapse before he reached his destination.
As it neared closer, he suddenly knew exactly where it was his body was leading him. The house was only a few hundred feet away, but each step he took towards it, he felt like it was getting further away. He stumbled in the driveway, and very nearly didn't make it back onto his feet. The struggle to make his limbs work, was almost shutting off his breathing. God his back hurt, had he broken something? He could barely breathe.
He reached the door, and weakly pounded with a limp fist. He rested his forehead on the door, and nearly fell inside when it was pulled open. She looked down at him. He was panting, literally. His tongue was slightly hanging out of his mouth and his breathing was shallow and labored. Shocked at the dried blood around his mouth, down his chin... the bruises forming in bluish patches on his face, she didn't say a word. Merely grabbed him by his arms, and pulled him to his feet, dragging him inside.
Taylor fell against her, whimpering at the pain in his back, aware that she was taking all his weight, but unable to help it. It hurt too much to stand upright.

Tiffany looked over his head toward Isaac. What she saw scared her. The shock on his face had flitted briefly to anger, and then to nothing at all. As she watched, he sank down onto the sofa, and dropped his head into his hands. Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to Taylor. She'd deal with Ike later on. Stepping back slightly, she made him look up at her.
"Come on, Tay, lets go get you cleaned up, and you can tell me what happened."
He nodded mutely, and let himself be led into the bathroom.

"Tip you're head back Tay, a little bit... There you go..." Tiffany watched water from the hand shower sluicing the dried blood away from her friends face. The marks underneath all the grime were clearly fingermarks. Sighing, she tried once again to find out what had happened. "Tay, c'mon, who did this to you?"

His answer, delivered in a monotone, devoid of all emotion, was the same one he'd been giving for ten minutes. "Nobody, I fell down the stairs."
He curled himself up tighter, arms around knees, head on arms. It wasn't making it very easy to get him cleaned up. She'd tried to go with a wet cloth, but the dried blood in his hair, and the fact that he'd, at some point, thrown up all over himself, had convinced her to just put him in the tub and shower him down. She'd tried to get Isaac to come help him, but Isaac had just waved her away.
Taylor had finally told her. "Tiffany, I really don't care..." and had pulled off his clothes. Or tried to. Moving at all made him cry out, and she wondered if something was badly enough injured to warrant a doctor. She'd helped him out of his clothes, and into the tub, where he'd discovered that he couldn't reach up over his head to wash the blood out of his hair.
Finally she'd taken the shower away from him, and snapped. "Just don't even move, I'll do it." Now, trying to get the soap out of his hair, with him curled in a ball, the last dregs of her patience washed away. "Taylor, for heaven sake, sit up!! How am I supposed to do anything for you if you're all in a knot?" He glanced uneasily at her, and uncurled himself very slightly. She sighed, feeling bad. Being yelled at was probably the last thing in the world he needed. She finished rinsing him off quickly, and shut the water off. "Can you dry yourself off, or do you need help?"
He shook his head, "Tiff, I don't even know if I can stand up."
Frowning, she took his arm, now wet and slippery, and hauled him to his feet.
"Come on, just hold on to me, last thing you need is to fall and bash something open on the tub."
He started to step up, then froze, attention riveted behind her.
Before she could turn, Isaac was standing next to her, reaching past her to grab hold of his brother, much more securely than she had been.
"I've got him Tiff, can you find him something to put on?"
She nodded and took off out of the room before he could change his mind.

"Lemme have y'foot Tay" Isaac waited while Taylor got his foot off the floor, and stuck it out for him to dry off. "It's taking you longer and longer to move, Tay, you really need to get checked out"

Taylor shook his head. "No. I'm okay. Can you hurry up? I'm freezing."
"I could let you do it yourself, you'd be a lot colder then." He stood up and reached for the clothes Tiffany had brought in. "Here, get your arms up." He stopped at the gasp of pain from Taylor, when he'd tried to co-operate. "Aw, Tay, damn it! I know, it really hurts... just move really slow and easy, you have to get something on, you can't walk around naked."
Taylor nodded, and together they managed to get him dressed, although the effort had caused enough pain to gray him out more than once, and to bring back nausea.
Seeing him go white, Isaac had cautioned him. "Breath it out Tay, if you get sick now, we have to do this all over again. Don't give in."
Taylor had nodded, fighting it off, and finally looked up into his brother's eyes. Isaac smiled slightly and reached down to help him up. "Come on, Tay, we need to figure this out." Taylor winced, but followed his brother into the other room.

Isaac paced, phone pressed to his ear. Zachary's hysterical ranting went on and on, he'd long since given up trying to break in. He would just have to wait for the flood to taper off on its own. He'd just sat down to try to talk to Taylor, when the phone had rung, and he'd picked it up to hear his brother's voice, raving at him. He'd listened while Zac relayed his opinion that their mother had lost her mind, that she'd tried to kill Taylor, that she was gone and he didn't know where she was, that Taylor had run off and nobody knew where he was, that Taylor was hurt and someone had to find him. In the background, he could hear yet more hysterics, one of his sister's, sobbing her heart out, scared to death. Thoroughly sick of it all, he glanced at his brother, wishing for the moment that he'd never heard of him. Taylor's idiocy had uprooted and scrambled the entire household. Turning his attention back to Zac, he broke in, loudly, "Zac!! ZACHARY!!!!"

"What!"
"It's okay, he's here."
The flow of words cut off.
"He's there? Oh God Ike, is he okay?!"
"I don't know Zac, but he's here. We'll take care of it."
"I'm coming over."
"No!!" Not meaning to shout, he lowered his voice. "Zac, you have to stay there with the kids, don't come over here. We'll be home soon."
Zac wasn't pleased about this, and Ike tuned out the rash of complaints, again looking over at Taylor, who was watching him fearfully. What the hell did he have to be afraid of? What was up with that?
Ike's patience slipped another notch. First he was sick, then he was scared, then he was in some sort of breakdown, now this, it was just too much. God how he wished they'd just left him in some hospital someplace. He'd just had it.
"What Ike?" Zac's voice was puzzled, and so was Ike.
"What? I didn't say anything. We'll be home in a..." He was cut off by a vicious cuff to the head, hard enough to make his ears ring, and, shocked, he dropped the phone, turning to stare at Tiffany, who's eyes were flashing.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!"
He shook his head, baffled, "What? What did you hit me for?!"
"Why'd you say that?!" She started out the front door, shooting him a death look. He stared after her, retrieved the phone, and found Zac frantically asking him the same thing. Clueless, he broke in again.
"Zac, what are you talking about?" Zac sighed, exasperated.
"You can't mean that Ike, he's our brother, you shouldn't say things like that. What if he heard you?"
"Said WHAT?!?!?!" He was by now thoroughly sick of all of them.
"That you wished we'd left him, Ike, that!"
Ike suddenly felt sick. Had he said that? He'd thought it.
"Oh my God, Zac... Did I say that?"
"Yes you did."
Without another word, Ike slammed the phone down and ran after Tiffany. He hadn't realized he'd said it out loud. He found Tiffany standing on the front porch, furious. "Tiffy, where did he go?! I swear to God, I had no idea that came out of my mouth, I was thinking it... where is he?!?!"
She nodded down the road. "He took your car. I tried to stop him. See what I got for my trouble?" She turned to him and he saw her lip was gashed open.
"He hit you?"
She nodded. "I tried to take his arm, he hauled off and belted me one, and took off with your car. Now what the hell do we do? Why'd you say that?! Ike, how could you have said that?? He's already so scared..."
"I know, I know, I didn't mean to, it just came out, I was thinking out loud..." Panic set in as he realized what he'd said, and what condition his brother was in. "Tiffy, we have to find him."
She shook her head. "No, not us. I'm calling the police. You better get home, and get your parents... No. No don't. The police will want to talk to you. Go call them from the cell phone. Damn it Ike, that was the stupidest thing you've ever ever done!"
She stalked into the house, stopping to grab, and throw him, the cell phone. He caught it, and started to dial, thinking only that this time, they were going to lose him forever, and it was his fault.

.

Chapter 15  

Taylor just drove. He didn't know where he was going, and he didn't care. Just away. Away from all of them. The feeling in his gut, when Isaac had said that, he'd never felt anything so horrible. Something inside him had died, he'd felt it. Not even knowing what he'd done to Zac had felt as horrible as hearing those words had felt.
Unable to think, unable to reason, eyes blinded by tears, he just drove, not caring where he went, not knowing if anything was in front of him, an incoherent plea in his soul, to whatever God was listening, to take him out of this, to finally end it, once and for all.
Whatever God was listening, was looking out for Taylor, because two hours later, when the car ran out of gas, he was still alive. Miraculously he'd avoided hitting any other vehicles, stationary objects, or people, and had stayed on the road.

As the car sputtered to a halt, he surfaced from the traumatized daze he'd been in, realizing that he'd been driving the car, that he was no longer driving the car, and that he had no idea where he was.
He managed to get the car pulled over, just as it rolled to a halt, and then sat, head splitting, back and neck screaming agony. How long he would have sat there, head back, eyes closed, wishing he were dead, he didn't know. The world had narrowed to a pinpoint of pain, coherent thought had left him.
He never noticed the creeping cold, or the fact that his hands and feet had gone numb. He very likely would have frozen to death, but for the sudden nausea that welled in his throat, jerking him upright with a scream of pain in his shoulders.

From her seat at the kitchen table, Amanda could see the car careening wildly down the road. Largely ignoring the buzzing of her friends voice from the phone she held to her ear, she watched as the car sputtered, stalled, and veered off to finally stop, on her front lawn. Amazed, she remarked into the phone.

"Kim, some car just drove up onto my lawn."
"What? What happened?", Kim wasn't sure of what was going on.
"I don't know. it looks like a young kid. He looks like he ran out of gas. He's just sitting there in the car. Should have seen him a minute ago, he was all over the road. I wonder if he's alright? Hang on, I'm going to go see."
"Don't go out there Amanda, the guy could be dangerous."

Amanda wasn't really listening to her friend, she was too busy looking at the boy in the car. She couldn't really see him clearly but he looked like he was in pain. The expression on his face told her that he was hurt.
"Kim, he's just a kid, what's he gonna do?"
"Just hang up and call the police to come get him. You don't know who he is or what's wrong with him."

"Mmmm..." Was the absent response.
She continued to watch him, leaning toward Kim's suggestion of calling the police, when she saw him suddenly open the door and fall out onto the ground.
Eyes wide, she watched him haul himself partway up on the open door. From her vantage point she could see clearly that he was very young, and definitely sick. Without another word to her friend, she dropped the phone, and ran out the door.

He pushed himself out of the car, more in a panic to get away from the feeling than to avoid making a mess, and grabbed onto the door as his numbed legs gave out. Holding on for dear life, helpless in the grip of the sickness that had claimed him, he never heard the footsteps coming up behind him.

When an arm suddenly slipped around him, he screeched, leaping back, lashing out, the blow knocking the other person into the car, and knocking him backward onto the ground. He scrambled frantically backward, animal terror driving him, still retching violently. Strong arms reached out and stopped him, this time pinning his hands, holding him tightly, and adrenaline surged. He had to get away. His struggles were futile, he was too weak, even with the rush of panic, he couldn't escape the arms that held him. He struck out again, connecting with what he didn't know, but this time the blow was returned, a hand connecting with the side of his face, pain shocking him into sudden stillness.
"Stop it!! Just calm down! I'm not gonna hurt you!!!" The voice was anything but gentle, and he tried to shove himself away. The hands tightened on him. "It's okay!! It's okay, just calm down!! Just calm down..."

Calm he wasn't, but exhaustion was quickly replacing adrenaline, and he found he was beginning to relax into the arms of whoever had him, in spite of himself... As the tension went out of his body, the grip on him loosened, letting him find his own position. Cold and uncomfortable, he pushed away, hauling himself to his feet on the car. Dizziness and nausea swept over him, and black began to fill his vision.
Again an arm slipped around him, and the voice spoke again, this time close to his ear.
"Come on, come inside..."
Startled again, he tensed and his hand came up, only to be roughly grabbed and held.
"Don't! Don't hit me. I'm trying to help you. If you stay out here you're going to freeze. Now stop that, and just walk. You won't fall, I've got you." He resisted briefly, and the voice raised a little. "I'm not going to hurt you, but you will freeze if you stay out here. Your car's out of gas, you don't have a coat, you're obviously sick and I'm not gonna talk about it anymore, I'll pick you up and carry you in if I have to. Now let's go." Too weak to resist any longer, Taylor let himself be led up the drive.

Warmth hit him the second the door opened. Grateful for it, he sank down onto the couch, head in hands, praying that whoever she was, and whatever she was going to do, at least she would let him stay inside.

Dizzy and drifting, he jumped out of his skin when something touched his face. His eyes flew open to see an object rushing at him. The hand he raised to defend himself was instantly grabbed, hard, and held.
"Don't. Just don't. One more time and you lose the hand. You hit me once and got away with it. Do it again and you'll never have to strain to hit a high note again. Are we clear on this?" Her voice was firm, and he didn't doubt for a moment that she meant what she said. Shocked, he yanked his hand away, mumbling under his breath. She nodded. "Did you call me a bitch? Well I've been called that before. Now look at me for a minute." He complied, almost afraid not to.

Amanda saw him flinch when she approached again with the warm cloth she held in her hand, and felt a little guiltily for having snapped at him. "It's okay, I'm not gonna hurt you. It's only a washcloth."

He nodded his head slightly, still edgy.
"What are you going to do with me?"
She knelt in front of him and started wiping away dirt, sweat, and blood from the lip she'd split when she hit him. As the grime washed away, evidence of existing cuts and bruises came into sight. Someone had already been at this kid, and at him good. She felt a chill down her spine. What had she gotten herself into? Added to that, she was very much afraid she knew who he was.

"I'm not going to do anything to you, Taylor. You are Taylor, right?"
He just stared at her, not quite understanding her, "Yeah I am. Who are you?"
"My names Amanda. Hold still now."

Taylor looked at her, waiting for more information, but she had fallen silent. His eyes flitted around the room, looking for what he didn't know, his thoughts racing.

"I've really done it now, who is she? God, I don't know where I am... So cold, why can't I get warm? God everything hurts..."
Amanda's hand came at his eye and he flinched a little. Her voice came again, the hard edge gone now, soothing, "No no, it's okay..."
He looked into her eyes and wished he could believe her. "It's not okay. It won't ever be okay." He looked away, his mind refusing to give him peace. "God I want to go home, I don't even know where home is, who is she anyway?" Taylor accepted her ministrations wordlessly. Somehow the warm cloth against his face was soothing. Something had to be, his mind was jumping all over the place. "I want to go home, God I want to go home." It was very nearly a prayer, replaying in his head. He was pulled from his reverie by a voice.
"...anyway?"
"What?"
"I said... are you even old enough to be driving? Whose car is that, anyway?"

His eyes narrowed, irrational anger suddenly swelling in him. What business was it of hers? He was already in more trouble than he could stand. Thinking she was berating him, the anger in him took control.
"How is it any of your business!!! Think I stole it? It's not bad enough that I'm a drugged out freak, now I'm a car thief?! Where the hell do you think you're coming from?!" He had moved forward toward her, fists clenched, and she scooted back, out of range if he should strike out.
She was completely taken aback. He had been all but comatose two seconds earlier and now he was yelling at her, looking for all the world as if punching her lights out was the thing he most wanted to do.
She felt herself being sucked into his anger and snapped back, "I'm coming from my front lawn, the one you just crashed into remember?! You pull up here, fall onto my lawn, practically pass out out there, and it's none of my business how you came to be here?!?!"
"Don't pull that with me, you're the one that brought me in here. I didn't have anything to do with it. You should have just left me there!!"

Exhaustion suddenly replaced the fury in him, and he fell back against the couch cushions, too drained to continue, unsure even what he was yelling about.
She was too stunned to speak. Not suffering Taylor's exhaustion and trauma, her anger was far less quick to back off and drain away.

Knowing that she was inches away from just smacking him one, she climbed to her feet, storming into the kitchen, her mind a whirl.
"What the hell did he get himself into? What the hell have I gotten myself into? He's insane, he has to be, people don't just go off like that. God, what happened to him? There must be people looking for him, this is just great Amanda, just great. What the hell are you going to do with him?" She sat, brooding, on her counter, raiding her memory for anything she knew about him.
She had heard a few rumors about the band and Taylor's emotional stability or lack thereof. She didn't really pay attention to the rumors but now wished she had. It was something about Taylor and Zac and a drug problem but other than that she wasn't sure.

The severity of the cuts and bruises on him pointed to some sort of abuse. He was obviously very unstable. The last thing she needed was another strung out junkie on her hands. Especially one that was world famous, probably worth quite a bit of cash, and just as probably being hunted for high and low by parents, police, the damnd FBI for all she knew.
She let her gaze fall on him again. It was hard to look at the boy sitting in her living room, and see him as the Taylor Hanson everyone knew. He was not the star that was world famous, the object of rumor and mystery. He was a broken child. And now, he was a child who was indeed her problem. Whether she liked it or not, he was here. And he was right, SHE was the one who had brought him here.
Sighing, she went back into the living room, approaching slowly. Despite her care, he still startled, this time cringing back into the couch, instead of striking out. Frowning at how erratic he was, she knelt in front of him. "I'm not going to hurt you but I need to put something on those cuts. They're going to get worse."
When he spoke, his face and voice were insolent.
"Oh why do you care? Why don't you just leave me alone?"
"'Cuz, I don't want you bleeding all over my living room, thank you."

There was a tinge of self pity in his tone that brought out irritation in her. Whatever his problems were, they weren't going to be helped any by falling into "Nobody cares" syndrome, and worse, it would stand right on her last nerve.
"I'm going to get something for you to put on them. If you'd rather do it yourself, since I don't care and all..." He winced at the sarcasm. "...that would be just fine, since it doesn't look as if your hands are in any way broken. I'll be right back."
She headed down the hall to the bathroom, absurdly close to laughter. Something about the annoyed look on his face when she dared to speak to him as if he were human. As she piled peroxide and band-aids into her hands, she wracked her brain for a way to get him talking. She really was curious to know how Taylor Hanson came to be on her front lawn, beaten and broken, driving a car that she knew damn well wasn't his, but she didn't think he was likely to come right out and say it.

Taylor didn't know what to make of her. One minutes she was threatening to deck him, the next she was soothing, then she was making fun of him. He knew part of his confusion was his own rattled brain, and it really bugged him. Somehow he knew that holding his own with this woman was going to be hard, and he wanted his wits about him. He watched, amazed, as she trooped into the room and dumped an armload of first aid supplies in his lap.

"Here." She handed him a small mirror. "Clean yourself up, so you don't have to deal with my hands coming at you, and give me your phone number. I want to call your parents."
She was unprepared for the reaction she got. She was suddenly showered with band-aids, first aid cream and peroxide, as he jumped to his feet, halfway to the door before she could get her act together to stop him. She caught him with his hand on the doorknob, grabbing him around the waste with a wince, knowing the contact was probably going to get her belted again.
"Come on, Taylor, it's okay, I won't call anyone."
He pulled away from her, yanking the door open. "No you won't because I won't be here. I'm sorry, this is not your problem." He tried to move through the open door, but met an obstacle that was Amanda.
She stood there, unmoving. "Nope. Go sit down."
His frustration mounted, rapidly turning to anger.
"Get out of my way!! You can't keep me here! This is kidnapping or something!!!"
She found herself laughing. "Good! If you think you're being kidnapped, go call the cops and tell them where you are. Phones right over there. Otherwise go sit back down."
He stood there, indecisive, her laughter having taken the edge off his panic and anger.
"Amanda, you can't call them. You can't. You have no idea what's going on. Please. I know I can't leave, I don't even have any place to go... but please, don't call them?" He was hanging on the door handle now, no longer trying to escape, but using it for support. She saw how close to collapse he was, and gently took his arm.
"Come on then. Sit down and tell me what I've gotten myself into. I won't make any decisions until you've told me what's up."
Defeated, he nodded, and let her help him back into the living room. He settled back onto the couch, picking up the mirror and the peroxide, and silently set about patching himself up. Knowing he was stalling, Amanda sat on the floor in front of him, and plunged in.

"Listen, I've heard some stories and..." Amanda stopped for a second, "What happened? I don't mean to pry but you look horrible. All I know is what I've heard on the radio, and to be honest, I wasn't interested enough to pay much attention."

He snorted derisively. "Well thank God I'm not shattering any illusions." He took a deep breath in, "The stories you've heard are probably not that far from the truth." He fell silent for a few moments. "A couple of months ago, I was on top of the world."
She nodded. "And now?"
He laughed, but there was no humor in it. "Now I'm not."
"Well, no offense sweetie, but that's pretty obvious. Tell me what happened."
He stared at her, eyes drilling into hers. He wanted to tell her. He didn't know why, but the thought of getting it all out, to someone who wouldn't be shattered by it, who might actually be able to say something that made sense, who wouldn't cry... Suddenly it seemed of incredible importance, telling this woman. He silently set all of the first aid supplies on the floor, never breaking eye contact, and curled himself up on the end of the couch. He gestured for her to sit on the other end, he wanted her on his level. She got up and situated herself, careful not to touch him.
"I'll tell you. But don't say anything, okay? Not until I'm finished?" She nodded, and he sighed deeply. "Okay. This is what happened..." Playing absently with a string hanging from the quilt that was thrown over the back of the couch, he told her.