Diana gazed at Isaac, dozing in the chair, Avie on his lap, sound asleep. He'd been a huge help, keeping the little ones under control. God knew, she was barely under control herself, she'd have never been able to do it alone.
Walker had been gone, for what felt like years, talking to the police, trying to get some sort of grasp on where Taylor might have gone. They'd given the plate number, and the car's description, but so far nobody had seen anything. The one comfort was that the car hadn't been involved in any accidents, as far as anyone could tell.
Sighing, she thought about waking Ike, telling him to go to bed, where he could at least be comfortable, but in the end thought better of it. Sleep wasn't easy to come by, she was sure, she wouldn't wake him unless she had to. Smiling a little, the thought "He's an angel" flitting through her mind, she smiled at her sleeping son, and reached to take the little one off his lap. She'd barely touched her, when his eyes opened. "She's okay, you can leave her if you want to..." He spoke softly, not wanting to wake his sister.
Diana shook her head, "No, I'll put her to bed. Why don't you go on to bed too, try to get some good sleep?"
He shook his head, mute. His eyes spoke voluminous, and she nodded.
She understood. There would be no real sleep for her tonight, either.
A few minutes later, Avie safely tucked into bed, beside her sister and brother, the three of them sharing their mom and dad's big bed, in hopes of mutual comfort, Diana sank down on the couch next to her eldest son.
He reached for her hand, squeezing it gently. "He's gonna be back, mom, he's gonna be fine. You know that, don't you?"
She smiled. "Thank you, baby, I hope that's so."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, pretending to watch TV, then he nudged her gently. "Mom, when I fell asleep, just now, I kept..." He stopped, voice breaking, and she saw a glimmer of tears in his eyes. "I kept dreaming he came back... then I'd wake up, and he'd still be gone. Over and over. Mom... I can't even start to tell you how sorry I am. This is all my fault" He rubbed hard at his eyes, she didn't need to see him crying. "I never should have said that."
She shook her head, slipping an arm around him. "Isaac, you may have said an unfortunate word, but I... no, honey, no blame lies on you. Trust me. We all said a lot of things we didn't mean."
He nodded, disengaging himself gently from her embrace and settling back against the couch cushions. "So," He turned to her smiling gently, "We sit up together, do we?" She smiled back. "Yes, I guess we do."
They sat back, both lost in their own thoughts, both keeping silent, each, for the sake of the other, pretending everything was okay.
Zac lay staring at the ceiling. He couldn't sleep, no matter how hard he tried. His mom had even given him a Benadryl, and he still couldn't sleep. Somehow, it seemed to him, that this was all his fault.
He'd been the one to get all weird on Taylor, he'd been the one that made him feel so bad he had to run out and get into trouble. He'd left Taylor with Jessica, he should have known better. He'd been the one who started it. It was even him that had gotten into Taylor's stuff, back in that hotel. If he hadn't followed him, none of this would have ever happened.
He refused to listen to the tiny voice in his mind, the voice of reason, telling him that none of it was his fault. The many tones of guilt drowned out that one tiny voice. Taylor was gone. The police couldn't find him. His dad couldn't find him. He had to be somewhere.
Sighing, he closed his eyes again, snuggling closer to Mackie. He'd moved in here with the little ones, his own room too empty without Tay, his vacant bed seeming to stare accusingly at him. Mackie slipped an arm around him, cuddling close, and Zac felt a smile creeping onto his lips in spite of his misery. He thought, that with Mac here, he might even be able to sleep.
Isaac paced, alone in his room, for the first time sharing it with no one. Zac was in with the little ones, Tay's absence having seriously gotten to him. Isaac knew better than to even try to sleep.
His mom had finally sent him to bed, claiming no good reason for everyone to sit up. Ike knew she'd sent him away for an entirely different reason. He'd heard her crying before he even made it up the stairs.
Feeling terribly guilty, as if it all rested on his shoulders, he'd crept the rest of the way to his room. His fault. All of it. No matter that she had told him differently, it was his words that had sent Taylor running. How could he have even thought such a thing? Let alone said it. Frustrated and scared, he couldn't sit down. Somehow, some way, he had to find his brother. He'd been driving. Where could he be? He didn't have money, Isaac knew that. And the car had been on a quarter of a tank. He could only have gotten so far. But in what direction?
He glanced at the clock. After midnight. He couldn't call anyone. Nobody needed him waking them up because he was too edgy to sleep. He'd have bet money that Tiff was up, though. Maybe she was online. She lived online. Nodding, he switched on Taylor's computer, and signed himself on. Sure enough, there she was. The seed of an idea forming in his mind, he began to type to her.
Amanda too, lay sleepless, listening through her open door to the even, heavy breathing of the boy, asleep on her couch. She'd mulled over the story he'd told her, for what felt like hours, curled up in a chair, watching him sleep. He certainly looked ragged, and she didn't doubt for a minute that he'd been through hell and back. But from what he'd told her, all he was doing now was hiding.
He'd given up. His lack of effort was what was driving his family insane. Not the drug problem, not what he'd done to Zac, they'd already gotten through that, judging by his words. It was his apathy, his lack of any motivation that was sapping their patience and strength. He was becoming a burden. She could understand their short tempers and frayed nerves. Watching someone you love die by inches was horrible, and the helplessness you felt easily translated itself into anger. Especially when the person in question was letting themselves die, and making no effort to stop it.
She knew. She'd been right where they were now. Sighing, she thought back to what she'd said to him. He'd rapped out the story, mechanically, robotically, as if all the meaning had been leached out of the words. She didn't doubt it had. He didn't appear to care about much, least of all himself. She'd listened carefully, letting him finish before saying a word. She knew that her response wasn't what he'd been looking for. He'd been looking for sympathy.
What he got was practicality. "Taylor, sounds to me like you're doing a wonderful job feeling sorry for yourself."
He'd looked at her, wide eyed, shocked. "What's that supposed to mean?"
She'd noticed he was shivering, whether with cold, or reaction she didn't know, but she had reached up behind him, pulling the quilt along the back of the couch over him. "Means that it sounds to me as if you've been going along expecting everyone to cater to you, coddle you, and take care of you, but you're not doing a damned thing to help yourself. Can I ask you something?"
His eyes had narrowed, and a decided crease had formed between them. He was mad. Still, he nodded. "Go ahead."
"Well, Taylor, how long has it been? Since you got home?"
He scowled at her. "Couple months."
"Okay, how do you feel? I mean physically? Are the aftereffects of coming off the Valium gone?"
He'd nodded. "Pretty much. I still get sick when I ride."
"Okay, carsickness. How's your head feel? Can you remember things?"
He'd nodded again, cautiously. "Pretty much."
"And how's the confusion?"
"So..." She'd paused for a minute, trying to judge his mood. "You feel pretty good, overall?"
"No, I don't feel good. But I feel better."
"So is there any reason you have to sit in the house and stare at the walls?"
He'd simply looked at her, for what felt like an age, and then turned his face away. "You don't understand."
She'd let it go, preferring to remain silent. She did understand. She understood exactly. But at this point, she didn't feel he needed to know that. Instead of pursuing it, she tapped him on the shoulder. "It's getting late. Have you eaten at all today?" He'd told her no, and although balking somewhat, had let himself be talked into eating a little. It hadn't been the best idea, an hour or so after he'd eaten, it had all come back up.
She wasn't sure why, he didn't seem sick to her, she suspected it was either nerves, or habit. She'd eyed him critically, from the bathroom doorway, noting his lack of surprise, or real distress. Shaking her head, she'd tossed him a washcloth, handed him a glass of water, and remarked curtly, "When you're done, come on out to the kitchen. I want to talk to you." She'd felt a little like a bully, but she couldn't shake the suspicion that it was all some sort of play for attention.
Tossing and turning, now, she replayed those events and more. What was she going to do with this kid? His family must be frantic. God knew what kind of trouble she could get into, having him here. She didn't need this. The talk she'd had with him hadn't helped much. She'd asked him to call home. Flat refusal. She'd asked him to let her call his home. Flat refusal. She'd tried to find the number, and was triumphantly told that it was unlisted, and she'd never find it.
Wanting to smack the smug look off his face, she'd struggled to keep her voice even. "Taylor, I could call the police and tell them you're here. I'd bet cash money that they're looking for you." That had given her the first real glimpse of the boy inside the attitude, that she'd seen all night.
His eyes had gone far away for a moment, and then he'd looked into her eyes, with an expression so lost, and so hurt that it was all she could do, at that point, not to hug him.
He'd smiled a little, and told her softly, "Amanda, I really wish you wouldn't. I honestly don't want to know that they never even called. I don't think I could take that. Amanda, they don't want me. My mother told me. She TOLD me."
She'd had no words for him then, but had put the phone down, and led him back into the living room. He'd fallen asleep a short while later. She wished it was as easy for her.
Isaac ran when he heard the doorbell, intercepting his dad, jumping to rip open the door. He grabbed a very startled Tiffany by the hand, and literally dragged her into the room. Planting himself, Tiffany in tow, in front of his dad, Ike blurted out his plan. "Dad, we think we can find him. You have to let me take the van, we KNOW we can find him."
Walker's eyebrows danced somewhere at the level of the ceiling lights. "How do you come up with that? You can't know where he went."
Isaac nodded at Tiffany, who pulled from her bag several sheets of computer paper.
"Look. We've been talking, and knowing what kind of condition he was in, plus the fact that he can't really drive well, and how much gas the car had, we think we can narrow it down."
Walker waved them away. "Playing detective won't do it, kids. This isn't a game. Tiffany..."
Sensing that she was about to be sent away, Tiffany shoved the paperwork in front of his face. "Just look at it! Give us a chance, we've been working on this for hours. YOU haven't found him, the police haven't found him, we think we can. At least listen to us!"
Walker gazed at the children's faces for a moment. They certainly didn't look as if it were a game they were playing. They looked dead serious. Nodding, he gestured to the table. "Let me get your mom..."
Ike and Tiff exchanged a look. It had all seemed perfectly reasonable over the net, would it now, in the harsh light of reality?
"Ike, honey, you can't expect this to work!" Diana was frustrated. It sounded to her like the kids thought some form of telepathy was going to find Taylor. They seemed to be judging his whereabouts by what was going through his mind. The whole thing sounded like a bad TV movie, to her.
Isaac sighed, opened his mouth to try again, but Tiffany beat him to it.
"Diana, listen. Please. Don't just hear us, listen to us! Taylor was so upset, you didn't see him. I did. Look what he did to me! Think about it. He was completely irrational. He wasn't making any kind of decisions, he couldn't have been. Think about it." Diana nodded cautiously, and Tiff went on. "Add to that, he can't drive! Oh Ike's let him drive a little, but he doesn't know how to make choices, he doesn't know how to judge distance, or angles, or turns. He can't really do much but drive in a straight line, and not even that very well. We figure, he'd go for the easiest route possible. He'd be making choices way back in his mind, not really thinking about what he was doing. I know he wasn't thinking, if he had been, I wouldn't have a fat lip. We know what direction he took off in. We think we can pick out the path he'd have taken. I don't think he'd have been looking to lose anyone, he was just running."
"You can't know that."
"I think I can. He's my best friend in the world, I think I can second guess him, and Ike's even closer than I am."
"Mom..." Isaac broke in gently. "We really think we can find him. At least let us try. Look..." He tapped the huge printout of the Tulsa streetfinder, spread out on the table. "Just look at our reasoning." Diana sighed, nodding reluctantly. "We think that given his state of mind, and his lack of driving ability, he'd go for the straightest, least intrusive on his head, path. We know he went this way. He'd have come to this..." He indicated an intersection. "If you were Tay, and you were hysterical, didn't know what you were doing, where you were going, didn't even know really how to drive the car, which way would you go?"
Diana, finding herself following their reasoning in spite of herself, reached out and tapped a road. "This one."
"Yeah, you see? We have it marked off. We did that for every turn, and we think he'd have ended up around in here about the time he ran out of gas."
"Well how do you know he didn't get more?"
Tiffany broke in. "Because he was wearing my clothes, and they had no money in them, and he sure didn't have any of his own."
Ike frowned. "The only thing is here... if we're right, when he got here he could have gone any number of ways, but we want to at least try. We think we can at least find the car, if he ditched it."
"And for all we know, he could just be sleeping in the car waiting for morning."
"Just let us go look. It can't hurt, we COULD find him, and even if we don't, at least we're doing something, not just sitting around here going crazy."
Diana pulled out her last weapon. "Ike, it's after midnight."
"So? We're up. We'll be together. We'll lock the doors. If we find the car, and Tay's not in it, we won't get out. We'll come right back and tell you where it was."
The look on his face was indescribable. He needed to do this, she could see it. Sighing, glancing at her husband, who had remained silent throughout the entire exchange, she finally nodded. "If it's alright with your father."
Walker was tossing Ike the keys before she'd finished the sentence. "Turn on the phone in the van."
Ike nodded. "We will."
He started out the door, and nearly fell over Zac, who appeared silently as a ghost. "Ike."
"You're going to go look for Tay?" His voice, barely a whisper, and very near tears, broke Isaac's heart. He pulled Zac out onto the porch with him, and they sat together on the steps. "Zac, I don't know if I can find him. We're gonna try though."
"Will you take me with you?"
Tiffany shook her head, silently. They'd already discussed this. They had no way of knowing what they might find, the worst had occurred to both of them.
"Zac, sweetie, that's not such a good idea."
"Don't talk to me like I'm four, Tiffany. Why not?"
Isaac looked over his brother's head, and into Tiffany's eyes, and she knew he was going to tell Zac the truth.
"Zac, because we don't know we're going to find him. And if we do, we don't know what he might have done." Zac's already pale face turned a horrible bleached white, and for a moment, Isaac thought the poor kid was just going to faint dead away.
Zac looked up at him, eyes tear filled, but when he spoke, his voice carried an edge.
"Ike, Tay's not going to have done anything. He's tough. He's okay."
The conviction in his voice was unmistakable, and contagious. Isaac found himself looking into eyes that suddenly seemed very wise, and nodded his agreement.
"I know I am. But I don't want to go with you. You better go."
Ike nodded and stood up. He and Tiff started for the van, only to be stopped one last time by a call from the porch.
"You guys!!" They turned, and Zac shot them both a look that cut to their souls. "You guys find him. You find him, and you bring him back." He turned on his heel then, and vanished into the house.
Amanda had finally achieved an uneasy doze, when the sounds from the living room brought her to a muddy alertness again. Mumbling to herself, she got up, intending to shut the door.
Kid didn't only show up on her doorstep in pieces, he also talked in his sleep. Perfect. Her hand was on the knob when the mumbling suddenly became a screech, the sound so filled with pain and fear that she was nearly afraid to move, for one foggy moment believing that someone was actually killing the child. A second scream pulled her from her sludgy semi consciousness, and sent her flying into the living room.
Freezing for a moment, at the sight that met her eyes, she quickly assessed the situation.
Taylor wasn't still on the couch, he was up and at the window that ran along the wall behind it. Hands beating the glass, wordless shrieks tearing out of him, over and over. Afraid he'd put his fists through the window, she ran over, edging in between him and the glass, his fists now landing on her. He seemed not to see her, the wordless cries going on and on. She caught his hands in her own, none too gently, and pushed him, struggling wildly, away from the window.
"Taylor!!!" Her voice, despite the fact that she'd nearly shouted, had no effect and he fought her, nails ripping at her face, going for her eyes. Now struggling to protect herself as well as prevent his going through the window, she resorted to the only thing she could think of. Shouting his name one more time, as loudly as she could, she swung out at him, her fist catching the side of his head, knocking him onto the floor. She was beside him in an instant. "Taylor wake up!!"
She knew this kind of nightmare, she'd been through this before. His eyes, still blank, still wild, held hers, and she knew he wasn't out of it yet. Hating herself, she shook him, hard, and shouted his name again, once, twice, a third time, and finally his eyes cleared, and he caught a breath, shoving himself back away from her.
She nodded. "It's okay, it's only me. Are you awake?" He only stared, gasping for breath, dripping sweat, body trembling. "Taylor!" Her voice was firm. She scooted closer to him, and this time her touch and tone were more gentle. "Taylor it's okay. It was just a dream. It's only me. Look around you."
His voice shook when he spoke. "I don't know you... I don't know you."
She nodded. "I know, I know how it seems. I'm going to turn the light on, okay?" Slowly, careful not to scare him anymore than he already was, she moved to a small table lamp, and switched it on. Soft golden light filled the room. He looked up then, truly awake now, and she saw confusion in his eyes. She reached a hand down to help him up, noting that from head to toe, he was soaked. His hair was literally dripping. He also looked as if, at some point during the ordeal, he'd vomited. He took her hand, his glance voicing his confusion and fear.
"Taylor, you don't know what's going on, do you?"
He shook his head, "No... Oh God..." He was looking down at himself. "Amanda..."
She led him down the hall to the bathroom. "It's okay. You had a nightmare. Happen often?"
He nodded. "Often enough, but what..." He held out his hands, and she saw that they were swollen, red, bleeding.. "I don't..."
She sighed. "You were pounding on the window glass. Do you know what the dream was about?" He shook his head. Now that he'd stopped sweating, he was shivering. She opened a small closet door, took out two towels, and handed them to him.
"Showers right there. You're a total wreck. Run it hot, get warmed up. I'll find you something to put on." He hesitated, and she stopped. "You okay? Can you manage this?"
He looked over at her, eyes wary, and nodded. "I can manage."
"Go on then. I'll just put some dry clothes right inside the door. So don't lock it."
He nodded again, and slipped into the little room, shutting the door behind him. A moment later she heard the shower come on. Satisfied, she rummaged around her things, finally finding some old sweats and a t that looked like they wouldn't fall off of him. She cracked the door open, setting the clothes down on the edge of the sink. Over the sound of the running water, she could hear him crying, softly. Feeling bad, she quietly shut the door. Maternal instincts were telling her to go in, and see if she could help. Common sense, and the wisdom of experience were telling her that he could, and should, calm himself down. Babying him wouldn't do a damn bit of good, and was probably largely responsible for the situation he was in now.
Wandering the living room, inspecting the damage, she was relieved to note that when he'd gotten sick, it hadn't gone anywhere but all over him. She pulled the wet blankets off the couch, threw them down the stairs to the laundry room, dragged a sleeping bag out of the hall closet, and laid it out on the couch. That done, she sat down and dialed up the phone. It picked up on the 11th ring,
"H'lo, and this better be good."
She laughed a little. "C.C, you never change. It's Amanda."
"Amanda!" The voice was instantly alert. "What's wrong, are you okay?"
"Relax C.C, I"m fine." Her tone changed then, some of the worry she felt coming out, finally. "C.C, I have someone here, he's just a kid, but he's right up your alley. I don't know, he seems to be a lot like Mikey was and I'm really... you think you could come out?"
"What, now? It's twelve thirty!"
"Yeah, I know what time it is."
"Mandy, tell me what's going on."
"Okay, Mandy, where is this boy now?" She heard the alarm in his voice, and couldn't blame him, after what she'd just filled him in on.
"He's in the shower."
She laughed. "Yeah, C, I'm not taking a shower with him."
"Well is it safe, Mandy?"
"Hell yes." Her tone turned sarcastic, "This is my house we're talking about, he won't find so much as a baby Aspirin or a safety razor in there. The most he may find is a bottle of Flintstone vitamins from 1992, and if he wants to try to overdose on those, he's more than welcome to chow down the whole bottle. I don't think he's suicidal anyway. But he's surely one fucked up little boy, and he could use someone to talk to. Face it CC, he needs you."
The voice on the other end sighed. "Thanks Amanda, you always find me strays. I'll come out. What's his name, anyway? You're just calling him 'the kid'."
She laughed. "His names Taylor. You'll come out in the morning?"
There was an uncomfortably long pause, and then, "Taylor what."
She heard the suspicion in his voice. "Taylor Hanson. Now will you come out, or not?" "Mandy! " He all but shouted at her. "You have that missing Hanson kid in your house?!?!"
"Well yeah, I told you what happened, what was I supposed to do, leave him outside to freeze?"
"Well for God sake, did you at least call somebody?"
"Why not?! Amanda, half the county is looking for him! You can't just hide him!"
"I'm not hiding him, CC, he asked me not to call anyone, and promised me he'd call his mom in the morning. I'm just giving him a night to try to screw his head back on, a little bit." She heard him groan.
"Mandy, tell me I'm hearing you wrong. You didn't call the cops because he asked you not to."
"That's absolutely right."
"Mandy... Okay." She heard defeat in his voice, he knew her well. "I'll be out in the morning, if you're not in jail by then, for kidnapping or something."
She giggled a little at that, the thought had also occurred to her. "Don't you call anyone, CC, I mean it."
His reply was terse. "I won't. I'll see you both in the morning. Be careful, Mandy."
He hung up without another word, and she put the phone down, just as Taylor wandered in. His eyes instantly clouded with suspicion. "Who were you calling?"
She snorted. "It's my phone, I'll call anyone I please, and it's none of your damn business. But if you're afraid it was the police, or your parents, relax. It was a friend of mine."
"At one in the morning?"
"He's a very GOOD friend."
Taylor curled back up on the couch. "Amanda?"
"I'm sorry about this."
She nodded. "It's okay. What were you dreaming, do you remember?"
He shook his head. "No. Whatever it was, it's gone now." He stretched out on the sofa, gazing out at the stars. "Hey there's blood on the window. Did I do that?" He gazed at his hands again, as if they belonged to someone else. They were certainly banged up, that was sure.
She nodded at him. "Yes you did, and there's Windex and paper towels under the sink, in the kitchen. Feel entirely free to wipe that blood off."
"You. You're the one got it there."
Looking sideways at her, as if he expected her to do something crazy at any moment, he got up and went into the kitchen. She noted with some relief that he was moving better, there was a fluidity that hadn't been there earlier. She watched him effortlessly reach down under the sink for the spray bottle, and straighten back up without a flinch. Whatever injury he'd done to himself, falling on the stairs or so he'd said, seemed to have been minor, and well on the way to healed.
Watching him spray Windex on a paper towel, fold it up, spray it again, and then put the bottle back, she was also taking note of how his mind was working. There was no hesitation in anything he did, and his actions were efficient and deliberate.
She herself would have hauled the whole bottle in, so he was thinking more efficiently than she was, she thought with a mental chuckle. She watched him wipe off the small bloodstains on the window, toss the paper towel with unerring accuracy into a small trashbin, and then climb OVER the back of the couch, to plop back down on it. Catching her surprised stare, he grinned, somewhat embarrassed.
"Sorry. My mom gets on me for that. Sorry."
She only nodded again. He was quick thinking, quick reacting. There was no drug haze left in this boy. Whatever was wrong with him now, was pure emotion. Sighing, not sure whether she was glad of that or not, she flicked off the light.
"Try to go back to sleep, Taylor. I"ll be right here."
His voice, in the dark, was surprised. "You're sitting up?"
"Yeah, I am. If you slide into another nightmare, I'd like to wake you up before it reaches the climbing the walls stage."
He laughed. "Well, if you're gonna be up, would you talk to me?"
"Anything. Being alone in the dark really doesn't thrill me."
She chewed it over for a moment, decided, and got up, to sit cross legged on the floor, back leaning against the couch.
"Okay, Taylor. You told me all about you. Want to hear about me?"
There was an odd tone to her voice, one he was quick to understand.
"You have something to tell me?"
"I do, if you're willing to listen."
Nodding, she began to speak.
Isaac and Tiffany didn't realize it, but they'd followed Taylor's route almost exactly. True to their suspicions, he'd followed the path of least resistance, all the way out of the city. And true to their worries, they'd veared away from his path right where they'd feared they might. Now, having driven considerably further than they'd felt necessary, a fight had broken out.
"No we're NOT going to keep going! Ike, we've gone miles and miles past where we said we'd turn back. We did it wrong! Will you stop being so stubborn?"
Isaac hissed, exasperated, and pulled the car over. "Tiffy, what do you want to do? Go back and start all over???? Don't you understand, I have to find him!!!"
"I think you'd better calm down, because if we keep going this way, all we're gonna find is TEXAS!!"
"Don't you shout at me!"
"Then don't you shout at me!" She slammed the door open, and stomped out. Another minute and she was gonna just pop him one. Why he had to be so pigheaded was beyond her.
Isaac, thinking much the same about her, brooded from the drivers seat. What neither of them knew was, they had gone far less off course than they realized, and less than a mile away, the object of their search was just stepping into the shower.
"Zachary, what on earth are you doing?"
Zac jumped, startled. "Nothing, I couldn't sleep so I came out here."
Diana took a seat next to him on the porch swing. "Baby it's one in the morning. And it's cold! Aren't you freezing?"
He shook his head. "Look, I just put my clothes on over my pajamas. I'm warm."
She sighed, and nodded. "Mind if I join you?"
"No, I kind of wanted to talk to you, anyway." He toed the swing gently, the slight back and forth motion soothing. "Mom..." He paused, gazing up at the treetops. "Did we do this?"
"What do you mean, baby? Did we do what?"
"Make Tay like this. I was talking to some people, and they were saying it must be something wrong with 'the family', so I was wondering..."
Diana sighed, sitting back. "Zac, I'd love to be able to tell you that the person was wrong, but to be honest, I just don't know. I don't know what's happened to Tay."
"Then it could be us? It could be me?" He looked at her, eyes bleak.
"You? Zac, what could you have ever done to influence any of this? No, sweetie, it's not you."
He looked skeptical. "You just said you didn't know. If you don't know what did do it, how do you know what didn't do it?"
"Zachary you're giving me a headache. Why don't you tell me why you think it was you, and I'll tell you why you're mistaken."
He laughed a little. "You already are telling me I'm wrong, and you don't even know what I'm gonna say." He shivered a little, and slid over closer to her.
She smiled and pulled him close to her. "I told you it was cold. Want to go in?"
He shook his head. "No, I'm fine like this. Mom... I really do think this is my fault."
She waited, listening to the sighing of the wind, and the creak of the swing. They'd meant to oil that hinge for ages, still hadn't done it. She was glad, it was hypnotic, comforting. This swing had soothed a lot of troubled hearts over the years. She wasn't surprised that it had drawn Zac. Now, head hanging, he looked so desolate it was all she could do not to stop him, tell him "no, no, just sshh, it's all okay." She held off the urge. He needed to get this out. He'd been remarkably silent throughout the whole ordeal.
His voice, when he did speak, was a harsh whisper, bitter and guilt ridden.
"I shouldn't have ever followed him, back at the hotel. If I hadn't done that, this wouldn't be happening. It started the whole thing. I'm the one who made him so mad. I'm the one who made him want to kill himself. And now this. I'm the one that freaked him out, that made him take off and go get drunk. I'm the one who left him with Jessica, so he could run away. I never should have done that. I'm the one who was bugging Ike, and made him say that about Tay. It's all me..." He ignored the tears that had started to trickle down his cheeks. He didn't care. He looked up at her, heart and soul in his eyes. "I never meant any of it. I never meant to hurt him."
She held him gently, for a few moments, fighting down anger. How could he be blaming himself? When she felt she could speak without shouting, she gently pushed him away a little, taking him firmly by the shoulders, looking directly into his eyes.
"Zachary Hanson, you listen to me. You are NOT to blame for ANY of this. You did not start anything by following him to that room. You were trying to help him. You did not MAKE him beat you half to death, and you did not MAKE him take drugs. You very likely DID save his life, that night. If that hadn't happened, for all we know he might still be doing it all. What you did MAKE him do, was stop. And that's the one thing that most needed to happen."
She shook him a little. "You just shut up and listen to me." Her words were harsh, her tone was gentle. "You did not make him want to kill himself, HE made himself that unhappy, he owns that, Zac, not you."
"No! He felt like that because of what he did to me!!"
"That's right! Because of what HE did TO you. Zac, you were the victim there, not Tay. HE DID IT!! YOU DID NOT!!!"
Eyes wide, he simply stared. He'd never seen her eyes flash like that, he'd never seen her look so much like she meant anything. He could see that she wasn't angry. He wasn't sure what she was. His eyes never left hers, as she went on.
"Zac, you did not make him freak out and take off. He got upset that you were afraid of him. Fine. You have every right to be. Again, it's something that belongs to Tay. Not to you. If he had any sense at all he'd have heard what you said, seen what you were doing and..."
She paused for a moment, the reality suddenly striking her, showing her what had been wrong all along.
"He'd have done what he could to fix it, if he was all that upset. Instead he ran away, to avoid having to cope. Zac, sweetie, it's not you. You didn't make Ike say that, Ike said that because he was frustrated with Taylor. He'd reached the end of his rope, and once again Taylor decided to run away, rather than face it. And as for Jess, well... I should have never left him with YOU. I made the mistake that time, you did the best you could, and it was plenty good enough. I left you in a situation you didn't have a hope of handling. And it was my actions that sent him out of the house. My words and my actions. Zac, not you. Never you. Please, don't try to take on everyone else's stuff. You worry about things you did, not things other people did. Did you put the pills in Taylor's mouth and make him swallow them?"
He stared, wordless.
"No." He whispered, almost frightened at the glow in her eyes.
"Did you push him out the door, and tell him "Go find a party, Tay and get plowed?"
"Did you tell him to run out the door?"
"Or tell Ike to make sure and say something that would hurt?"
"No, I told him he shouldn't have said that."
"I suppose you must have given him the keys to Ike's car and told him to run away then?"
He giggled then. "No, of course not. I see what you mean."
"Yes. But I feel bad. I want it all to just... not be."
She pulled him in tight, again. "Baby I want that too. But it is. And somehow, we have to fix it."
He pulled away and looked into her eyes again. "We have to? Or we have to help TAY to do it?"
Smiling, she nodded. "I guess that's right."
His expression darkened again. "First we have to find him. He's okay though, I know he is."
"How do you know that, baby?"
He looked out at the stars. "I'd know if he wasn't. I'd feel it. He's..." He looked at her intently. "He's here..." he touched his heart. "And I'd know, if he was gone. He's okay. They just need to bring him back."
He settled back against her again, wanting nothing more now than to sit there, with her arms around him, and watch the stars.
Ike drove slowly up the road, for the sixth time. They were on the last one... They'd gone back to what they considered the point of error, and driven systematically in each direction, seeing no sign of Ike's car. They were tired, frustrated, and snappy with each other.
Tiffany gazed out at the now familiar terrain. "Ike?"
"We need to stop now. He's not out here. Face it, we were wrong."
He shot her a deathlook. "You just wanna give up, then?"
"No, Ike, I don't, but we have been up and down this road six times!! I'm going to start to hallucinate soon. Now just quit! It was a good idea, but it didn't work. We're not going to find him this way. We were wrong." Her fingers gripped the edge of the seat. It was all she could do not to just slap him.
"We were NOT wrong!" He slammed both hands down on the wheel, and the urge to slap him intensified. "He's around here somewhere! I'm not giving up, Tiffany, I'm not."
"Isaac..." She sighed, not knowing what to say. She knew how he felt. She didn't want to give up either. But this was just crazy. "Well, can we get off this road, then? We've been up and down, over and over. There's only two houses out here, it's creepy. It's too dark to make anything out anyway, everything looks black."
He nodded. 'Yeah, I guess so. No point in staying. But I want to check out those other two roads, one more time."
She nodded, knowing she had no real choice. As they turned out onto the main road again, she noticed that someone had parked their car half onto their own lawn. Snorting at some peoples parking abilities, she turned her attention back to the road ahead of her.
Amanda leaned back against the couch, watching her toes wiggle in the moonlight. Every so often a car would go by, headlights splashing into the room. She hoped that once she started, Taylor would listen. Chances were, he thought he was the only one out there going through this. Would it help him to see that it happened to other people? And that they made it through? She hoped so. Maybe he'd feel a little less lonely. God knew, it was a lonely situation. She turned a little, wanting to be able to see his face.
"Taylor I know what you are going through because I went through it myself." She searched his face for some reaction. His gaze never left the window, but she thought he was listening to her. "When I was sixteen, Taylor, I was in a really bad car crash. I ended up having a lot of surgery, had a lot of bones pinned. They put me on painkillers, that unfortunately turned out to be addictive."
His eyes flickered to her face for an instant, then back out the window.
"I can't speak for you, but I never knew it was happening. Not until it was way too late."
He nodded slightly, his eyes going far away, and she knew she'd triggered memory. "Taylor, I guess I'm trying to say that I know where you're coming from. I understand what you're feeling."
He rolled his eyes a little, classic "Yeah right", and she grinned.
"Roll your eyes all you want. You don't have to believe me." He turned to her then. "What'd you do?" His voice was soft, his expression open.
She turned a little more toward him. "Well, I didn't tell anyone. At first, I didn't understand what was happening. By the time I did, I just had to get the stuff, at any cost. I had to. It was terrible. I lied, I stole, I did whatever I had to do. And then I found street drugs. They worked just as well, some of them better, and I felt like my prayers had been answered. It was so hard to convince a doctor, six months down the road, that I was still in pain. Still needed meds. So street drugs solved that little problem." Her voice became bitter. "I pushed my family away, the only thing that mattered were my friends. My friends with the pills and my friends with the pot and my friends with the coke and the booze... I was out of control, and I didn't even know it. Or Care. Anyone tried to tell me, I just pushed away. To my mind, they just didn't understand."
She picked absently at the nap of the rug, wondering if this was doing anything other than stir up her ghosts. When she'd been silent for a few minutes, she felt his hand gently touch her shoulder. Smiling a little at the gesture, she reached up and took it in hers. He squeezed her fingers briefly, and took his hand away.
"What'd you do? You're not like that now. Didn't anyone even try to help you?"
She nodded. "Oh yes, my family tried everything. I just didn't want to listen. Oh sometimes part of me saw what was happening, and wanted more than anything to stop it, but... it never lasted. Know what it took?"
He shook his head. "Someone had to die." A passing car reflected silver in his eyes, as he turned to her, startled out of the relaxed pose he'd been in. "Die?? Who??"
She sighed. "I was stupid enough to get behind the wheel, and the person who was with me didn't survive what happened to us. I landed back in the hospital, and that was the beginning of clean and sober Mandy. I went through hell. But knowing that I'd killed someone, it was big enough to make me want it to stop. It made me want to die, many many times. But I guess I'm too important for that." She laughed. "I have far to much to do, making people miserable right here on earth." She gestured around her. "All the paintings on the walls, I did them. All the art, it's all mine. I fill my days working with things I love, creating things. I don't let myself brood, and I don't let myself worry at it. But not a day goes by that I don't miss it. That I don't crave it. It won't ever go away. But Taylor..." She looked him full in the face. "It's only one part of my life that I don't have. I have so much more. And that's what I focus on."
He nodded. He understood. "Amanda, what all stuff were you into?"
She sighed. "What wasn't I? Pills, pot, coke, heroin..." At his shocked look, she nodded, and showed him her arms, scarred with needle tracks. "Not very pretty, is it?" He shook his head, mute. She smiled a little. "At least you never got this far. Going on what you've told me, it would've made you mean. You'd have been one of those kids who's out killing people."
He shook his head. "No, no not me. I'm not like that."
"Really? Would your brother tell you otherwise?"
He sat upright at that, eyes flashing. "That wasn't fair! I'm not doing anything to you, why are you..." He broke off, suddenly, too mixed up to know what he wanted to say. She continued, not willing to let him shut off. "It gets worse. Care to hear it?"
He only stared at her, and she went on. He didn't settle back comfortably, the way he had been. He stayed leaning up on his elbow, tense and expectant.
"I have a brother. His name's Michael. He went to MIT for computer programming. So bright, so much potential. But he got stressed, and kind of fell into alcohol, and then drugs. He couldn't handle the strain, and the chemicals eased it up for him, I guess."
Taylor nodded. That he could understand. "That was me, Mandy..." His voice was soft, and for a moment she wasn't sure she'd heard the nickname.
"I know it was." She settled back against the couch again. This was sapping what little energy she had left. "I couldn't understand why Mikey would let that happen to him, after seeing what had happened to me. It caused a huge, huge rift between us. I was fighting to get myself back, and he was killing himself. My parents had long since written me off, so I couldn't ask for their help."
"Written you off? They just let you go?"
She nodded. "Why is that such a surprise? Look at your family. Look what they told you."
He shook his head, emphatically. "No, no no. My family isn't like that."
She was smiling inside, despite the painful memories. "Taylor, you said that they didn't want you. You told me that your mother..."
He waved a hand at her, cutting her off. "You don't know them, she was just..." He stopped suddenly, realization dawning. His eyes went wide, and she saw his eyes fill up. "She was just mad. She didn't mean it. Oh God..." He looked at her, unable to speak.
She reached up and touched his cheek. "You can call them. I'm sure they understand that you, too, were only mad."
He sank back against the couch cushions, staring at her, incredulous. "Did you try to help him?"
She nodded, wrapping her arms around herself, shivering suddenly. "I went all the way out to Massachusetts to try to get him, and bring him home. I saw first hand what he was doing to himself. He didn't even try to hide it, his dorm room was littered with beer bottlesand rolling papers. I begged him to come home but he wouldn't come. My parents were no help. They just left him at school. When I got home, I went to my parents and begged them to bring him home. They didn't even want to talk to me, but they finally agreed and when he got home things only got worse. He found the drugs here. It didn't matter whether he was at school or at home, he was a mess. It killed me to see him. He was so smart and could have gone so far. I tried reasoning with him, screaming at him, shaking him, nothing worked. He wouldn't listen, kept telling me that it wasn't happening to him, that I didn't understand."
"You couldn't do anything?"
She shook her head, "What could I do, Taylor? It was his life, his choices. I couldn't stop him, no matter what I might do, I couldn't make him want to stop, I couldn't make him save himself. The only one who could do that, was him. And he didn't want to. My parents wrote both of us off." Her voice broke then. She had a hard time accepting that her parents had given up on both of their children. She could accept it within herself but admitting it out loud made it real.
He heard the emotion in her voice, then, and reached out, pulling her near him. It was such an automatic response for him, to reach out to someone in pain, that he never even questioned it.
She let him hug her, for a moment, then pulled away, realizing that she'd been sitting and talking for hours. Her throat felt like someone was striking matches on it. She tried to clear her throat, made a horrid croaking sound, and laughed. He didn't smile back, but he got up, padding to the kitchen, finding a glass, filling it up. He handed it to her, wordlessly, and crawled back into the sleeping bag. She'd given him a lot to think about, and his mind was whirling.
He watched her go out to the hall closet, and pull out another sleeping bag.
She threw it down on the floor, next to the couch, and eyed him questioningly.
"Do you mind if I just crash out here with you? I don't really want to be alone." He nodded his approval, and she crawled in, turning to face him. "Taylor, take what you can use, from what I told you. I don't know that it will do you any good at all, but... I'd hate to see you go the way he did. I couldn't help him. I'd like to think I could help you."
He nodded. "What happened to him, Mandy?"
She sighed. "He got better for a time. A friend of mine, the one I was on the phone with, helped him out alot. Eventually though, he went back to it. He died, Taylor, a year ago."
Taylor saw tears in her eyes, and, not knowing what else to do, simply reached out and took her hand. Half an hour later saw them both soundly sleeping, hands clasped.
"Daniel!! GET DOWN!!! Come on, I haven't got all day!!!"
The boy on the rope bridge looked down, laughed, and scampered to the other side, tripping lightly down the ladder. He jumped from about six rungs up, landing lightly on his feet, in front of the man who'd called him, a man who stood, smiling and shading his eyes from the bright morning sun.
"What're you doing up there so early? I can barely walk, let alone swing from ropes. Didn't I tell you we had to leave early? Come on, let's get going."
The boy, Daniel, nodded, grinning. "You did. But you wouldn't want anyone breaking their neck on the ropes course would you? Endy told me there were ropes out up there."
"Oh. Got 'em fixed okay?"
The ropes course was Dan's baby. He took immense pride in maintaining it in tip top condition. "Yeah, it's all good. So..." He grinned again, picking up his pace "Where we going, CC? So God awful early?"
CC sighed. "We are going..." He paused, rubbing his forehead. "To see Mandy."
He laughed at Daniel's crow of delight. "I think things are about to get interesting." Dan paused, his good humor dimming under a look of concern. "She's okay, right?"
"She's not in trouble..." CC smiled, "She's fine. Here..."
Approaching a rather large van, he tossed the boy the keys, "You drive. First stop, coffee, next stop Mandy. You remember the way to her house?"
A grin and a nod was his answer, as together they set off along the road.
Zac's reproachful stare was making Isaac acutely uncomfortable. He refused to look up from the book he was pretending to read, but he could feel the kid's eyes boring into him. It was giving him a decidedly crawly feeling. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, he snapped the book shut.
"Zac! Would you cut it out!?!"
Zac, who didn't realize he'd been doing anything at all, leaped about a foot out of his skin. "What??! I'm just sitting here!" His raised voice piqued Ike's temper, and his tone became unpleasant.
"Yeah, well you're staring at me!"
Zac slapped the back of his brother's book knocking it over.
"How can you tell, you've got your nose in a book!!"
"Zac, just cut it out."
"I'm not doing anything"
Isaac glared. "Well go in the other room or something!"
"No. I have just as much right to be here as you do."
Ike was just opening his mouth to retort, when Zac, with no warning, suddenly shoved his chair out, jumped up and flung himself headlong into his brother, flinging his arms around him.
Eyes wide, shocked and completely baffled, all of the evil temper draining at once, he hugged Zachary back, feeling the younger boy's body trembling. Gently releasing Zac's arms, he pushed him away a little, brushing tears from his cheeks. "What's the matter, Zac, why are you crying?"
Zac shook his head, rubbing his arm across his face. "I don't know. I don't know. I just thought I'd wake up and he'd be back."
Isaac sighed bitterly. "I know Zac, so did I. I just don't know where he is. We really thought we'd find him." His eyes glazed over, then shut, as his mind drifted.
He was startled back to reality by a touch on his face. His eyes flew open, and met Zac's, bare inches from his own, a stare so intense it sent chills down Isaac's spine. Zac had gently places a hand on each side of Ike's face, and was pulling him close, until his mouth was nearly touching Ike's ear.
"You tell me..." his voice, a breath of a whisper brushing the side of his face, "You tell me the truth. You tell me if he's ever comin' home again."
Taylor's sleep was deep, and dreamless. An end to a bone deep tension had somehow been achieved, replaced by a relaxation that was near complete, and a stillness nearly as complete, the only motion an even rise and fall of breathing. A peace had settled into him, somehow, and he felt warm, and truly safe, here in a stranger's house, for the first time in months.
Sound of crying. The high wall of sleep, crumbling, to the sound of sadness.
Who was crying? Nobody, nobody, soft arms of sleep, gently drawing him back down.
Sun, slanting through the window glass, into his eyes, woke him. Blinking up at the unfamiliar light, for a moment he didn't know where he was. Not his room. Not his ceiling, his window, his sounds, his smells. He lay for a moment, while his sleep fogged mind cleared, and realization set in.
Sudden apprehension claimed him. What would happen now? Nothing. His heart told him what his soul needed to hear. This woman who had helped him, would not just abandon him. Somehow he felt sure of that.
For the first time, he felt that things might be alright. Not questioning why he felt that, he stretched, wincing at the screaming of abused muscles, and turned over onto his belly, dismissing thought, sleep already licking at the edges.
A soft sound from the floor, opened his eyes again. His gaze lit on Amanda, curled on the floor, in her sleeping bag. He really saw her, now, as he hadn't before, and for the first time thought to wonder about her. How old was she? Did she live here alone? She seemed to, but how could he know? His eyes took in her blond hair, so much like his own, but curling softly around her face, a face that was troubled, even in sleep. A closer look showed him tears. She was crying. In her sleep. Alarmed, all thoughts of sleep banished, he sat up, too quickly from the screaming in his back, and slid down to the floor. Once there, he froze. If she were Ike, stuck in a bad dream, he'd have acted immediately, but now he wasn't sure what to do. He didn't know her. Didn't know if it was alright to touch her... sighing, he watched as her distress became more apparent. She was actively sobbing, sounding as if her heart were breaking. He vaguely remembered a dream of someone crying. Had it been her? Feeling guilty, he reached out, very gently shaking her shoulder. Guilt became a frantic rush to escape, when with an unearthly shriek, she bolted upright, her hands suddenly coming at his face, and taking him by the throat.
"Look at them out there." Isaac's voice was bitter. "You'd think we were in a zoo. How can they just come to stare at us, like that?"
Diana gently pulled him away from the window. "Don't even look at them."
"We'll have to say something. Tell them something. You heard what they were saying on the news."
She nodded. Taylor had been seen, by quite a number of people, staggering from home, bruised and bloodied. No one had seen him come back, and the speculation as to his runaway status was big news. As if the nearly superhuman observational skills of the assorted vultures weren't enough, the police department "regretted having to tell them that" one of their officers had already made a statement to the press, as well. Walker was currently in debate with management over what sort of statement the family should make.
Diana's view was that they should state clearly and concisely that all of the media hounds should have a missing child, and see how it felt. Maybe that would show them that badgering a family in crisis was, at the very least, inconsiderate.
Sighing, feeling guilty at her uncharitable thoughts, and wishing they would all just go away, she turned her attention from the window, to her son, who, she was alarmed to see, was developing the "look". The "look" was the expression Isaac's face tended to adopt when he had a plan brewing.
Fearing the worst, she crossed her arms, leaning back against the wall. "Okay, spill it. What're you thinking?"
"That I need to go back out."
"Ike, why? You and Tiffany exhausted..."
He stopped her. Something was niggling in the back of his mind, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. "Wait. Just wait."
He picked up the phone, brow knit, and dialed Tiffany.
"I don't see it, Ike. What are you talking about? Can't you just tell me?" Tiffany was tired, and not in the mood for guessing games. "I don't see anything out there that makes me think anything at all, except that I wish I had a shotgun." Ike had asked her to look, carefully, at the flock of people at the end of the drive, and tell him if anything made her think anything. She'd looked. She had no idea.
Now, impatient, exhausted, and beyond worried, she turned on him, voice harsh.
"Just tell me what you're thinking. I don't have time for this."
Stung, he backed away a little, voice dropping. "That's the problem, Tiffy, I don't know. I keep looking out and something's making me think of last night. That we need to go back out, I almost know what it is, but..."
She nodded, and pointed. "That car. That's what you're seeing. We drove by one like it, parked on someone's lawn. Six times, I believe, but I only noticed it clearly as we were finally leaving. I only remember it 'cause it was parked weird."
He stared out at the car she was pointing to. Big, black, nondescript. Why would that make him think he had to go back out?
He sighed, defeated. "No, I don't think that's it. But something... God I hate myself! Why am I so stupid!? I don't even know what I'm thinking!!"
He flung himself away from the window, heading out the door, when Tiffany's voice, now shaking and extremely strained, stopped him.
"Ike? Ike, come back here, come here now!"
"What is it, Tiff? What's the matter?" He glanced out the window, looking for what could have upset her so.
"Ike? Ike, that car. That's what you're seeing, that's what you're seeing! It is that car. IKE!!"
He shook his head, confused. "What about it, Tiff? Tiff, calm down!" He hurriedly reached his arms around her, she'd gone so white, and so breathless, she looked about to keel over.
She nodded, trying for all she was worth to slow her breathing down. "Ike," She was gasping, suddenly short of breath. "On a dark night, on a road with no streetlights, to two people too tired to see straight, what do you suppose your car might look like?"
She nodded, still trying to get her breath back. "Your car."
"Well, I suppose it might look..." He stopped as her finger came up, pointing out the window. He followed the point and nearly screamed. Breath catching in his throat, body suddenly trembling violently, he turned and ran.
"Stop it! Will you just stop, it's only me!!"
Taylor shoved Amanda's hands away from his face, desperately trying to keep her nails away from his eyes. He didn't want to hurt her, he didn't know what was happening, but something in him knew it wasn't her fault. Fighting tears, and the urge to hit her back, he frantically tried to pin her hands, all the while backing away.
"Amanda, it's okay! Just stop, it's okay!" He knew his words were doing no good, she wasn't hearing him. Whatever this was, it had taken her over. He felt his back bump up against the wall and groaned. He'd backed himself into a corner.
Panic beginning to set in, face and neck already bleeding, hands coming at his eyes and throat, again and again, faster than he could fight her off, reaction took over, and before he could think, his hand flashed out, connecting squarely with the side of her head, knocking her backward. He jumped away from the wall, as she began to come at him again, and he was on her in an instant, grabbing her and pinning her where he had been. No longer worried about hurting her, he gripped her wrists, hard, feeling small bones grind in his hand, and shoved those wrists against the wall.
"Amanda!!!" He shouted the name, no longer caring if he scared her awake. She had to come out of this. "Amanda!!" He stopped, ducking as one of her hands came loose, and went again for his face, "Amanda stop it!!! It's me!! For God sake, WAKE UP!!" Her nails dug into his cheek, bright flash of pain, and he felt blood, warm on his face. "Stop it!! You have to wake up, Amanda! It's okay, it's just me!"
He was using all of his weight to pin her to the wall, and still she was getting free, her strength was enormous. Knowing he couldn't hold her without hurting her, and thinking that if he loosened up a little she might calm down, he backed away from her very slightly.
Fighting to lower his voice, he said her name softly, "Mandy, it's okay, it's okay. It's only me. You just have to wake up, now."
His words, far from calming her, seemed to fuel some inner fire, and her struggles became more intense. Screaming obscenities, and yanking her arms from his grip, she threw him off her, and ran for the kitchen. He started after her, coming up short when she whirled around, in her hand a fillet knife. He froze then, eyes wary, unsure what to do, every nerve in his body singing.
"You son of a bitch." her voice was cold. "This is the last time, the last time I let you hurt me."
He backed away slowly, knowing now that whoever she was seeing, it wasn't him, and there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop this. Swearing softly, knowing the stakes had just been raised to the level of one of them being badly hurt, perhaps killed, he watched her coming at him.
"No, no, I know where I'm going! Just stop, please!" Isaac's temper was short. His mother's endless stream of questions was getting to him.
She'd badgered him about where he was going, did he really remember? It had been so late, was he sure he was going the right way? Was he sure he was supposed to turn here? He knew she was nervous, but he was about to go off the road. He'd been driving.
Listening to this, for over an hour, and his patience was stretching thin. Now feeling guiltily because he'd snapped, he gently took her hand.
"I'm sorry. But I do remember."
They drove in silence then, apprehension stealing words, anxiety the only touchstone for each of them.
"Let her go!" The voice came out of nowhere, full of menace, and Taylor's heart almost stopped. He had her hand, and the knife along with it, but she'd already cut him more than once, and the blood was making it too slippery to get a good grip. Afraid to let go, terrified that she'd stab him, or somehow herself, and now faced with someone he couldn't even see wanting to kill him, by the sound, his control snapped completely.
"I can't let her go!!!" His voice was an outraged scream. "If I let her go, she's gonna fucking stab me!!! Get the knife away from her!!!"
CC, now accurately seeing the situation, quietly slipped behind her, and without warning, took her in his arms, pinning her tightly.
Shrieking her rage as Taylor finally wrestled the knife away from her, she fought desperately, this time unable to get away. CC, much stronger than Taylor, had her in a grip she couldn't break out of.
He looked at Taylor, saw how scared the boy was, and made every effort to keep his voice calm. "She's not seeing you. She thinks you're someone else. You have to get out of her line of sight." He directed instructions to Daniel. "Take him in the kitchen, make sure he's alright. I'll take care of Mandy."
Dan nodded, reached for Taylor's arm, but pulled back when he saw the boy flinch. Instead, he gestured for Taylor to follow him. "Come on. It's okay, it's gonna be alright. This has happened before. Come with me, if you want him to be able to calm her down. Which one of you is bleeding?"
Taylor, shaking now, followed him into the kitchen, his eyes staying on Amanda until the wall blocked his view.
"Hey." Taylor jumped, at Daniel's voice. Dan smiled, tone apologetic. "I'm sorry, I don't know your name. Who's bleeding?"
Taylor's attention snapped to the boy in front of him. "I... I don't know. I think I better sit down."
Daniel nodded, "Good idea. Lets see your hands." Taylor held them out, mute, and Daniel whistled, astounded. "Man, oh man she got you good. Just sit there and don't move."
He reached under the sink, as familiar with Mandy's kitchen as he was with his own, and pulled out a basin. Filling it with warm water, and helping himself to a washcloth, he gestured to Taylor.
"This is gonna hurt like hell, but you have to rinse the blood off." Taylor nodded, and slid his shaking hands into the water, hissing a little as the warm water hit open cuts. Daniel eyed the boy in front of him. Something about him was ringing some bells.
"I'm Daniel. Don't be scared about Amanda, CC's gonna bring her out of that just fine. Do you know what started it?"
Taylor shook his head. "No, she seemed like she was in a nightmare, and I tried to wake her up, and she came at me."
"You scared her, and she got stuck in it."
Taylor shook his head, baffled. "Did I do that? Did I do that to her?"
Daniel shrugged. "I don't have any idea what triggered it. You'll have to talk to Ceec. Let's see your hands."
He eyed the cuts along the back of the other boy's hands, relieved to see they were shallow... Seeing blood dripping from underneath, he winced.
"Turn your hand over" and groaned at what he saw. Taylor's palm was laid open, deeply enough that he could see far too much of the inside of his hand.
"That one's gonna want stitches. Here..." He folded up a dishtowel, and handed it to Taylor. "Press on it hard, and don't let up."
He eyed the trembling boy, sitting across from him, wondering what on earth had been going on here, and how they were going to fix it.
CC had his hands full with Amanda. He held on, voice soft.
"Mandy, Mandy it's okay. It's me. It's Ceec. You're okay."
His words went on and on, meaningless soothing, and he felt the tension begin to go out of her body. When she began to relax into his arms, he gently led her over to the couch.
"Mandy." His voice was now firmer. "Mandy!"
She looked up at him, eyes glazed, and he sighed. She was really stuck in this one. Not really sleeping, but also not quite awake, she was trapped in dream images. The real world couldn't penetrate, and she was lost in her past. She hadn't had one of these spells in over a year. She'd sounded fine on the phone last night, what could have set it off?
His eyes narrowed. That kid. Something must have happened with the boy. Hoping there was something salvageable about this whole thing, he gently continued his efforts to bring Amanda back into reality.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Daniel watched, with no little concern, as Taylor, hand shaking, struggled to drink the tea that Daniel had made him.
Taylor's nod was shaky, his gaze suspicious. In all honesty, he felt like throwing up, and the last thing he wanted was to drink anything. Or to talk to whoever this was.
His eyes flicked continuously to the living room, and Amanda. He didn't understand any of this...
"What happened to her? I didn't do that, did I?"
Daniel shook his head, "I already told you, I don't know. What exactly happened?" Taylor shook his head. "You saw." "I didn't see what happened."
Taylor sighed, shoved the mug away, and craned his neck around, to see into the living room. "Look, why are you making me stay in here? Is she okay?"
He saw Daniel's glance move to a spot above his head, expression suddenly very concerned, and turned, to see Amanda standing behind him. She sank down into the chair next to him, and sighed.
"Taylor, I'm so sorry. If I'd had any idea that was going to happen, I'd have made sure you were somewhere else."
He shook his head, he didn't want to hear that. "Mandy, you're okay? What was that?" She sighed again, bitterly, then smiled slightly as CC pressed a mug into her hand. "Thanks Ceec, your cure all for everything. Apple tea." Sipping from her mug, she turned to Taylor. "We owe you an explanation. An honest one. But let me catch my breath first, okay?"
He nodded, confused. She seemed perfectly normal, now, to him.
"We owe him a couple stitches, too." Daniel's voice brought their heads up. "Look at his hand."
"Show me, Taylor. Oh, by the way, I'm CC."
Taylor nodded his acknowledgement of the introduction, and held his hand out. Amanda winced, seeing the cuts on his hand, and the scratches and gouges on his face and throat. Past the point of hating herself for something she couldn't help, she still felt badly that this boy, fragile in his own right, had caught the brunt of it.
CC was shaking his head. "No, I have butterflies in the car. This isn't bleeding any more. It's deep, but its narrow, no, I don't think it needs stitches. Danny, would you run out and get the first aid kit?"
Dan jumped up, trotted through the living room, then halted as he opened the front door. "Hey, guys? There's a van pulling up out here. Looks like we've got company." Taylor's head snapped up. "Van? What color is it?"
"White. I'll be back in a minute."
Isaac had rounded the bend, and felt his heart leap at the sight of his car, canted sideways across someone's lawn. He pulled the van up behind it, and started to get out, when his mother stopped him.
"Ike, we don't even know if he's here. Why don't you think before you go running in?" "I'm not going to run in, but even if he's not there, they must have noticed the car in their front yard. I'm going to see if anyone's home."
Just as he spoke, the front door opened, and they saw a boy looking out. He turned to speak to someone inside the house, then continued on his way out the door.
Isaac, out of the car quickly, moved to intercept him.