Chapter 26

"What do you mean, no?! Of course you're coming!" Puzzlement glared from Zac's voice. "We've had this set up all week!" Zac's heart was pounding, and he could feel adrenaline starting to run.
Not again. One by one, all of his friends were writing him off. It couldn't be happening again. And not Jay! All week they'd planned this, and now, at Zac's friendly shout of "You ready? You on your way?"
Jay had answered, "No, sorry. I'm not coming."
Zac felt himself ready to blow, and silently began counting. One, two, three, "Jay, why not? You said this morning you were all set." He fought to keep his voice calm. Four, five, six.
"Sorry, Zac, my mom said no way. Not with all the stuff going on with Taylor. She heard, today, that he beat up some kid the other day."
Seven, eight, nine. He kept his tone as far from honest as he could. He didn't want Jay to know how much this hurt. "No, he did not!! Where'd she hear that? That's just crap, Jay!" Ten. Breathing deeply, trying to hear any sound of regret in his friends voice, Zac listened intently, struggling to control his temper.
"Zac, some friend of hers told her. He went up to some school and beat some kid there up. She's afraid that he's too dangerous for me to go over there."
Zac sighed. How did people find out about these things? Annoyed, his tone was sharper than he intended. "Jay, it's not like he'd be camping out with us. For heaven sake, he never even leaves his room, he's not gonna go stalking out to the woods with a meat cleaver, and kill you in your sleep. Geez."
Jason's voice picked up some of Zac's sarcasm. "Well, that's pretty creepy, too, that he never leaves his room. If your brother's crazy, I'm not sure I want to go over there anyway."
Zac felt his temper slip a notch. "He's not crazy, Jason!" He could hear the shrug in the other boy's voice.
"Well, if he's not crazy, what's he seeing a shrink for?"
"Jay, he's not. He's not seeing a shrink. He barely sees me!!"
"Look, don't yell at me. I can't help it. My mom said no."
Zac twirled the phone cord, absently. "Six down, two to go, Jay. My friends are running away from me like fleas, off rats, off a sinking ship. And I didn't even do anything. I don't suppose that will change your mind, huh?"
Jay sounded truly regretful, when he replied this time. "Zac, honest, it's not me. I want to come over, even if I am a little scared of Taylor, but my mom said absolutely not. Hey..." His voice picked up a hopeful tone. "Maybe you could come over here!!! I'm gonna go ask. Hang on!!" Zac felt his mood lift, as he heard his friend clunk down the phone, his voice calling excitedly into the zone off the speaker. "Mom!! Mom, we have an..." His voice faded, leaving Zac to his thoughts. He wondered if it was Jay's mom, or Jay, who'd been afraid to come over. He rather suspected it was Jay. So far, half the town was afraid that Taylor was a psychopathic axe murderer. The other half thought he was a crack dealer. Since Jay knew darn well that nobody was doing anything with drugs, Zac rather favored the axe murderer theory. Sighing, knowing there was really nothing he could do about it, short of dragging Taylor, in his sleep, out to the car, driving far far away, and shoving him out, he resigned himself, once again, to the inevitable. Jay had just fallen under the same spell everyone else had. Who knew when it would all go back to normal. Eyeing the stairs, that led to his ruining everything brother, Zac found himself wanting to go up there and shake him. It wasn't bad enough that he'd messed up his own life, he was sucking Zac down with him. Scowling, Zac kicked at the baseboard. He could hear an argument, faintly, down the phone line, and knew that Jays mom wasn't about to let him go over. Whatever was attached to Tay, was also stuck to him. It was like living with a contagious disease. Nobody wanted to come near him. He was disappointed, then, but unsurprised, to hear Jason's voice, depressed and annoyed, come back on the line. "Sorry, Zac, she said no. I don't really get it, but... sorry, man." Zac nodded, forgetting for the moment that Jay couldn't hear the gesture, and hung up the phone, not bothering to comment. There was, after all, nothing he could say. Sighing dejectedly, he wandered out onto the porch, flinging himself into the swing. The wind, biting now, in early winter, jabbed cold little spikes through his sweatshirt. There had to be something he could do. There had to be. He couldn't just sit here, and pretend things were okay. If he couldn't fix it, he had to do something to bring himself away from it. Toeing the swing, back and forth, back and forth, the old familiar squeak soothing his heart, his mind led him down a road that, though he didn't know it now, would turn out to be the beginning of the end.

Zac eyed his brother warily. Nose in book, Taylor showed no awareness that Zac was even standing there. Creepy.
Granted things had been quiet, but Zac's mind wouldn't let go of the horrible events of the other night. Memory held him captive.
CC had taken Tay away for the day, and things had been great. Everyone had seemed to let out a collective breath, and relax. This wonderful relaxation had gone on until CC, at 10:00 o clock that night, had brought back a shaking, white faced, sweating, wild eyed Taylor, and a story that terrified Zac even now. He'd been sent to his room. Never one to disobey, this time, he'd been unable to control himself. He'd listened on the stairs, hearing a tale of violence and insanity, that made him wish dearly that he'd never eavesdropped. He'd spent that night, watching as his brother trembled in fear, nightmares, waking up screaming every half hour, shrieks that tore his throat to the bleeding point. Finally, unable to take it anymore, Zac, with Isaac, sought sanctuary in the only room they thought might drown out their brother's screams, the practice room in the garage. Curled in sleeping bags, clutching each other tightly, they'd pretended to sleep, neither wanting the other to know how scared they each were. Morning had brought a fragile peace. Taylor had gotten up, showered, dressed, wordlessly eaten breakfast, and gone quietly back up to his room. He'd come out for meals, with no arguments, and this routine had held fast throughout the week. CC came by most evenings, spending most of that time holed up either with Taylor, or with his parents. Zac supposed someone must be doing something, as Tay seemed the closest to normal he'd been in weeks. Of course, he was fairly sure that his folks didn't know that Taylor kept them awake, moaning and crying in his sleep, occasionally waking trembling from nightmares he refused to talk about. That they had no idea that all of the meals he ate, obediently and quietly, all came back up again, just about every night. Tay was quiet, and spend his days reading, or writing, or surfing the net, he took care of himself, and there were no outbursts. That he never left his room, except to eat, seemed of little concern to anyone.
"I'm missing something, aren't I?" Zac's clear voice rang through the bedroom, startling Taylor slightly. He jumped, looking up from his book, pushing the glasses he'd heretofore always refused to wear, further up on his nose. "Zac, what're you talking about?" Zac shook his head. "Nothing. Can I use your sleeping bag?" Tay looked over the top of his glasses, amused at the double image it gave him. "What for? You camping out somewhere?" Zac nodded. "Yeah. Jay was supposed to come over, and we were going to camp out in the woods, but SOMEONE, who's name shall not be mentioned, but who is crazy as a smokehouse rat, scared his mom so much that she won't let him come over." Taylor made a face, rolling his eyes. "I'm not crazy, Zac, get serious." "Yeah, I am serious. Anyway, I'm going over there. So can I use it or not?" Taylor nodded. "Yeah, I don't care." Zac yanked the bag out of the closet, dislodging a pile of clothes higher than his head. Raising his eyebrows at the heap that landed at his feet, he kicked ineffectually at it, finally throwing his body into the door, and locking it quickly on the mess. "Someone needs to do something about that." Taylor snorted. "It's all your stuff anyway." His eyes slid back to his book. He wondered if Zac knew how little he was following it. He looked up again, feeling eyes on him, and met with Zac, stood bare inches from him, staring into his face. "Tay?" "Yeah?" Zac sighed. "You know those families, from down on Memorial? The ones that mom and dad always aid were the ones who's kids you couldn't play with?" Taylor nodded, painfully sure he knew where this was going. Zac nodded back at him "We are those families now. We're the ones you don't let your kids play with. You think about that." He scooped up the sleeping back, tossed a few changes of clothes inside it, rolled it up, and started out of the room. Taylor stopped him, one foot into the hall. "Hey Zac." "Yeah?" "I love you, you know. I'm sorry." Zac nodded. "I know. I love you too." Turning his back on his brother, he slipped out the door. It was the last time any of them would see Zac, for quite some time.


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Chapter 27

Click. Click.
Jason's head snapped up. What was that? He listened closely, but the sound never repeated. Sighing, he went back to his brooding. His mom was driving him crazy. All week he'd planned to camp out in Zac's back woods, and all week his mother had smiled indulgently about it. Now, today, she suddenly told him she was "uncomfortable" about it. Didn't want him in the same vicinity as Taylor. He was too "unstable". Made no sense to him. Obviously Zac's mom and dad wouldn't have said it was okay, if it was in any way dangerous. Didn't matter to his mom. She'd decided no, and no it was. Frowning, Jason glanced at the phone. Zac had hung up on him. He knew why Zac was mad at him, knew that Zac more than likely thought it was him, Jay, who was afraid to go over, and not his mom. Maybe he'd call back, later, after Zac had had some time to cool off, try to explain that... click. The sound came again, cutting off his thought stream. Click click. The window. Something hitting the window? Frowning, he sidled over and peeked behind the curtain. Just as he looked, catching a glimpse of a familiar blond head in the yard below, an object struck the glass directly in front of his face. Click!
Yelping, he jumped back, then yanked the curtain open, grinning. Zac. He should have known. Opening the window, he leaned out as far as he could. "What're you doing? Y'think my mom's gonna be happy if one of those rocks goes through the glass?" Zac held a finger to his lips. "Hush. You think your mom's gonna be happy if she knows I'm here? C'mon down." Jason made a face. "You can go to the door, Zac, I'm sure it's okay." Zac shook his head, face uncommonly serious. "No. I don't want anyone to know I'm here. Come on down, please?" Sighing, thinking that his friend had gone weird in the head, Jason started down the stairs.

"Zac, we can't just take off. Are you crazy? My mom would have a fit!" Zac sighed. "Jay, I'm not asking you to run off and join the circus, okay? We were supposed to camp out, and I just am going to do it anyway. Are you in, or not?." Jason shook his head. "No. No way. I have to live here, if I take off for the night, and don't tell anyone, I've had it. Had it. I don't even want to think about what would be left of me." Zac eyed him, skeptically. "Jay, you're the kid who once jumped onto the back of a train and rode it six towns over. It took you almost two days to walk home, if I remember correctly. If they didn't kill you then, they are not gonna kill you for pitching your tent in the woods and sleeping in it." Jason stared at him, torn. Zac was his best friend, and this was the first time he'd seen him, face to face, since he'd come home. Sure, he wanted to hang out with him, but... wait. Shock suddenly hit him. This WAS the first time he'd seen Zac! How could that be? Thinking about it, he realized that he'd been met with one excuse or another, every time he had suggested hooking up with Zac. 100% of his requests to be brought over had been rebuffed, ditto requests to have Zac over to his house.They'd blamed it on everything. The media crush at the end of the drive, Zac's broken ribs, Taylor's illness, consideration of the fact that the family was in hard times. What it all came down to, was that they didn't want him to have anything to do with Zac. He hadn't noticed it before, but his parents had efficiently blocked any direct contact between them. "Zacko, listen. Does it seem to you that they've been making sure we don't get together?" "Who? What do you mean?" Zac plopped down, leaning against a tree. Jay was about to go long winded on him, he could see it coming. "My mom and dad." He explained the situation, eyes wide, voice amazed. Zac shook his head. He hadn't noticed, really. Time had a way of jumping around on him now, and he didn't really connect any of the disappointments together. Jay began pacing, clarity of the situation suddenly fueling his temper. "Zac, I call you all the time. That's okay. But every time I try to go over, of find a reason for you to come over here, they just shoot it right down." Zac shrugged. "Why do you even tell them? You never had to ask to come over before, you just did it." Jay nodded. "You didn't have half of the Tulsa press living at the end of your driveway. Why haven't you been over here?" "Same reason." "So, see? And my mom and dad... what do you think, Zac?" Zac dropped his eyes, hurt welling up suddenly. "Well, if they are, they're no different from everyone else in town. After the first two weeks I was home, nobody ever came over. It's like, as soon as everyone found out what had happened, they stopped speaking to us. We are definitely not the most popular people around right now. Everyone's avoiding us." He blinked back tears, hoping Jay wouldn't notice. Jason stood, staring, suddenly seeing the situation in a new light. Anger at his parents began to fade to pain for his friend. He'd seen his face, he'd seen the hurt there. "Everyone, Zac?" His voice was soft now, gentle. Zac nodded. "Everyone. Even..." He climbed to his feet, stepping closer to his friend, face close to Jason's, almost touching. "Even you, Jay." He stepped back, and hoisted his sleeping bag. "I don't want to get you in trouble. But I'm taking a couple days R&R. I just can't take any more of this. See you later." He turned, made it six steps into the woods, and stopped, grinning, when he heard Jason's voice call out. "Hold it! I can't go in and get anything, they'll catch me for sure. You got room for two in that thing?" He didn't turn, just nodded his head, and was rewarded with the sound of running footsteps. He looked beside him, as the other boy caught up, eyes questioning. "You sure you want to do this?" Jason nodded. "Hell yes! They think they can split us up? It's been me and you since we were three. The Terror Twins, remember? I'm in." Zac smiled, slightly shocked at the cuss, but happy to hear these words. Someone was finally, finally, sticking by him, and Jay had been his best friend forever. Terror Twins, indeed. He nodded, and pointed off into the woods. "Okay, then, an adventure awaits us!" The two friends struck a familiar path, and soon the darkness swallowed them, and the afternoon became quiet, save for the fading sound of boys laughter, on the wind.


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CC stared blankly at the paperwork in front of him, not really seeing it. His mind grappled with the problem represented in that paperwork, refusing to give up the task. Taylor. Taylor Hanson. That kid was eating up way too much of his attention, and his time, but for the life of him, he couldn't just let it go. He'd never been faced with someone like Taylor, before. Someone who was such an enigma. Something was happening with the boy, something bigger than any of them thought, and it was ruining him, yet nobody could find it! He'd spent hours and hours in Taylor's company, since the incident here at the center. That incident, which left no doubt in CCs mind that something very traumatic had happened to this boy, something he'd flashed back to, combined with Taylor's general guardedness, his distrust, and hostility, the look in the eyes that always hinted at an expected attack, pointed to a background much like those of most of CC's clients. Kids who'd been neglected, and abused, who'd had horrifying monstrosities visited on them by the very people they trusted to protect them. Starved for affection, unable to rely on anyone, with no skills to rely on themselves, turning to chemicals for relief. That was the puzzle, here. Taylor displayed every characteristic of one of these kids, but as far as CC was able to tell, had never experienced anything that would have caused those characteristics. His family was loving, supportive, and very very stable. They had never neglected him, never abused him. He was close to his family, loved them dearly, and readily called them his best friends. His childhood had been normal, better than average, in CC's opinion, and there had been no hardships. No betrayals. He understood trust, and responsibility, and had never, ever suffered at the hands of one he loved. In fact, it looked to CC as if Taylor had never really suffered anything. The only thing he could find, anywhere, was the natural death of a family member, several moves in a relatively short time, and stress related to a major lifestyle change. It didn't add up. Even throughout the death, and the changes, his family had been with him, the members mutually supportive. None of it made sense. An accidental addiction to tranquilizers, sure. It could happen. Did happen. But what on earth was he on them for in the first place? What had happened to cause such unbearable anxiety that it had been necessary to medicate him? And what about his claims that the Valium hadn't worked? That he'd turned to Marijuana, and ultimately many other drugs, to find relief. Relief from what??? Some kind of Acute Stress Disorder? But what would have triggered it? Whatever it was, it just wasn't here... So what on earth was going on with this kid???? He couldn't even be decently and predictably addicted! Once he'd gotten home, he'd denied ever really craving anything, other than one bad night when faced with the actual drug itself. He had no cravings, no urges to go out and use. His addiction, if indeed he had been addicted, had been more a psychological dependence on effect, rather than a physiological addiction to a compound. Oh certainly the Valium had caused physical dependence, based on the withdrawal he'd experienced, but he showed none of the behavior typical of a newly clean addict. He wasn't even getting therapy or peer support, and he was staying away from it just fine. No, there was definitely a bigger picture. Sighing, frustrated, he shoved aside his coffee cup, lit a fresh cigarette off the one he had just smoked down to the filter, and started over again, at the beginning.

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Chapter 28

"Hey!" Zac stopped, leaning his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. "Jay! Slow up!" Jay stopped, turned, and laughed at his red faced, gasping friend. "Out of shape, Zacko? See what a life in all those ritzy hotels will do to you?" He sauntered back, reaching around Zac, and into the backpack the other boy wore, pulling out a bottle of water. "Here you go, killer, drink up. You're all gone soft." Zac stuck his tongue out, all he had breath for, and threw himself onto the ground. Jason laughed again, and prodded him with a foot. "C'mon, you wimp. Get up. We still got a ways to go." Zac’s eyebrows hit the treetops. "Excuse me, what??? Obviously you have misunderstood something. I am not moving. Get it? This is camp." Jason shook his head. "Oh, no. We're way too far from everything cool. We've got at least two more miles to the clearing, come on. Up you get." Zac scowled, climbing, with exaggerated difficulty, and much groaning, to his feet. "Okay, but when I fall over and die, it's up to you to drag my body home." "Yeah, right, and you took acting lessons, out there in Hollywood, too, didn't you?" He gave Zac a friendly push. "Get going. Sooner we get there, sooner you can lay down and do nothing. Man, you got lazy." Zac laughed "Gimmi a break, I was out there working you know. So there's not much exercise involved. So sue me." "What about all that running from girls? Oh, oh watch it now..." He stopped, grabbing at Zac's arm, as the other boy lost his balance crossing a creekbed. "You okay?" Zac hung on to him for a minute, and Jason thought he felt his friends hand shaking. Yeah, I'm okay. I'm just really tired. Okay, so I went soft. Lets go." "Zac, if you wanna stop, we can. I don't mind, I was just messing with you." Zac grinned. "No way. You were right. There's nothing worth looking at here. Lets go." He shook off Jason's helping hand, and firmly set off along the trail.

Zac picked his way, wishing the entire time that he had never had this idea, over the loose gravel of the creekbed. He was beginning to be dizzy, and his head hurt a little. Tired, and ready to stop, he scowled at Jason, who was scampering ahead of him, energy unrelenting. He fought down the urge to peg him with a rock. It wasn't like there was anything mind blowing out here, that Jay was going for. Knowing that if he complained, he'd be in for another ribbing, he bit his lip, and trudged on, thinking now that being locked in the house with his crazy family, was infinitely preferable to this. His disgruntlement turned to horror, when he saw Jason gazing with glee, down the upcoming railroad track. The faint rumbling down the track had sent the boy into paroxysms of delight. "No!" He jogged to catch up with his friend. "No way, don't even think about it!" Jason spun, grinning. "Hear it, Zacko??? Trains coming." Zac shook his head. "Don't get any ideas." "Hear it?" "Yeah, I hear it. You just watch it go on by." Jason's grin turned to slightly manic laughter. "You ever jumped it, Zacko?" "You know I haven't, and I'm not going to. Now..." He laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation. Jason's penchant for train jumping went back to grade school, and never failed to scare him to death. "Back away from the tracks. I repeat, step AWAY from the tracks." Jason ran over to Zac, reaching around him, yanking the backpack off, swinging it onto his own shoulders. "You'll never make it with this on. Now look, all you do, is grab the bar as it goes by. It's fun. You know you want to." Zac shook his head, "No, no I don't." Jason's eyes shone with excitement. "Yeah, you do!! It's fun!!" "Oh, right, first Tay goes basket case on us, and then I get run over by a train. That should just finish my folks off. Perfect." Jason frowned, exasperated. "You are not gonna get run over by a train! Don't be such a wuss, Zac." Zac looked away. "I'm not, Jay..." His voice was soft, "But I'm tired, and I don't feel too good, and I don't think I can do it. " He looked at him, eyes serious. "Okay?" Jason smiled. "You feel fine. You're just bored. This will just jazz you right back up again. Unless you're just afraid." "Well, yeah, it is a train, Jay, I don't really want to get squished." "Yeah, yeah, big bad old Wacko Zacko Hanson, big superstar, big WIMP. C'mon Zac, you can do it." Zac's thoughts whirled. Jay had never pressured him like this before, and there was a mean shine in the other boy's eyes, that he didn't much like. It was weird, not like him. Unsure what could be going on, Zac finally nodded. He didn't know what else to do. "Okay, Jay, but if I get killed, you get to explain to my mom." Jason's eyebrows went up. "Cool. Just do what I tell you, when I tell you." Zac's dubious look shifted from the tracks, to his friend, back to the tracks. Steeling himself, he watched as the train, barely visible, loomed larger in his sights.

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Jason sighed, exasperated. "Zac, come ON!! What IS it with you?"

Zac kept his head down, eyes stinging, mouth grim, as he trudged along, struggling to keep up. Jason hadn't let up on him all afternoon. No matter what he did, it seemed to be wrong. He hadn't brought anything good to drink, nothing good for munchies, he wasn't walking fast enough, he was walking too fast... even jumping the train, which had nearly wrenched his arm from the socket, hadn't redeemed him in Jason's eyes. He didn't know what he'd done, but whatever it was, he was sick of it. Top it off, he'd landed badly, jumping down from the train, and twisted his ankle a good one. He was gamely trying not to limp on it, and show Jay that he'd hurt himself, but his stamina was fast caving in. His head was thumping away, and he was faintly sick to his stomach. They'd been walking up the side of this road, in the middle of nowhere, for hours. He wanted to stop. "Jay." His voice was ragged and hoarse, as he limped to catch up to the other boy. "Jay, wait up. I've had enough, lets find someplace and camp." Jason snorted. "Right. On the side of the road?" "Anywhere. I don't care. I've had enough." Zac’s tone told Jason that all the bullying in the world would do no good. Zac was done, and that was it. Forcing patience into his voice, he answered with a nod. "Okay, Zacko, but we better move off the road, huh?" Zac nodded, and the two boys worked there way down a short path, ending up on the edge of a small pond. "Jay, this is good. Where are we, anyway?" Jason shook his head. "No idea. We must have gone through three or four towns though." Zac nodded ruefully, rubbing at his shoulder. "I guess, feels like my right arm must be twice as long as my left." Jason's voice turned ugly. "There you go again. What happened to you, while you were gone, Zac?" "Happened to me? Whattaya mean?" Zac was baffled. What on earth was he doing? "All you do is complain, Zacko. You're tired, you don't feel good, you can't do it, you want to stop." He shook his head. "You never used to be like this. You used to be fun. You used to be cool. Now you're just a big baby." "I am not!! You haven't even seen me!! What are you talking about?!" Zac's temper was flaring now. "I don't even know what you're talking about!! This is the first time you've even seen me!!" "I know!!" Jason was standing, nose to nose, screaming in Zac's face. "No matter what I do, I have to get some kind of special permission, just to see you. Like you're just so all that!! You think you're some big superstar, like I really need permission from your "people" to get to see you. Ha!! I knew you when we were two!! Now you think you're just this big deal..." "Shut up!!!" Zac's hand connected with Jason's chest, shoving him rudely backward. "I never did anything to you!! It's not my fault I can't leave the house, do you think I like it?!?!" He was screaming now, relentlessly shoving his friend back toward the pond. "Well, why'd you do it then?!?!?!" Jason's voice revealed much more than anger. All of the hurt, and deprivation, the grieving for his friend of so many years, who now was so far removed he might as well be dead. "Why did you pick that stuff, over us?! You're always gone. Always. And when you are here, I can't see you!!" "I never picked anything over anyone!!" "Yeah right. You did too! None of you care anything about any of us anymore!" Jason wasn't sure where all of this was coming from, but he was helpless to stop. "You never called, you never even called! We're your friends! And you just totally forgot us!" Zac shook his head, backing up. "No, Jay, you don't understand, it wasn't like that!" He was feeling dizzier by the second, and Jason’s words had started to sound senseless. What was he so mad about? "Jay, we're just camping, right? There's no reason I'm fighting with you. I don't even know what's going on!!" Jason’s reply was a sudden low growl, and he lunged at Zac, shoving him back, his weight quite a bit greater, knocking Zac off balance. Landing hard, Zac's teeth clicked together on his tongue, exquisite pain watering his eyes. He spat blood, fighting sudden nausea. Swallowing hard, he glanced up at Jay, skittering backward suddenly to avoid Jason's fist, looping down at him. Shaking his head, words deserting him, he peered through weary eyes, up at his friend. "Jason, just stop" His voice was dull, tired. He couldn't fight. Not anymore. He pulled his knees up, resting his head on them, too tired, and feeling too sick, to carry the argument, not caring anymore if Jay just beat his head in. Let him go ahead. He just didn't care. Sucking blood from his bitten tongue, he spat again, then again, alarmed to see that the bright red didn't diminish. "Oh great..." His voice was a thick mumble. "I probably bit half it off." Jason stood, vacillating between regret, concern, and annoyance. His own actions were puzzling him, he hadn't been upset with Zac when they left, and he wasn't really sure why all of this was spilling out now. Confused with himself, and upset about Zac, he flung himself onto a fallen log, brooding.

Jason stared at the stars, mind refusing to let him sleep. Zac hadn't said a word to him, all evening. He'd sat, for hours, head on knees, at one point his even breathing suggesting sleep. Jay had tried, over and over, to apologize, but Zac had refused to even look at him. He'd maintained silence all through the meager meal they pieced together, with junk food from Zac’s bag, and, when finished eating, had turned his back to his friend, again resting his head on his crossed arms, refusing to move. Finally Jay had wandered over to the edge of the water, dejectedly skipping rocks, watching as the ripples spread to the far edges of the pond, and the shadows lengthened. When it became too dark to see, he'd turned back to Zac, surprised and baffled to see that the other boy had pulled out the sleeping bag, climbed in, and apparently gone to sleep, without saying a word. Now, lying next to Zac, warmth creeping in, drowsiness his touchstone, his mind poured over the days events. He hadn't meant to be so awful to Zac. He really didn't even know why he'd done it. He just lost his temper. He was so frustrated, he'd missed Zac so much, and Zac had never even written, or called. It felt to Jason, as if Zac had replaced his ten year friendship in a minute. Jason sighed. He knew he probably had it all wrong, but it hurt just the same. He rolled over onto his side, to look at his friend. Zac was sick, he could see that. He'd denied it, of course, claiming, with the very few words he'd condescended to speak, that he was "just tired, just leave me alone.", but Jay could see, even in the moonlight, the sheen of sweat on his upper lip, could hear how fast his breathing was, could feel the heat coming off him. He was worried. What if it was something bad? He didn't even know where they were. They were probably miles from anywhere. He wished they'd just stayed in the back woods. He hadn't really even wanted to jump that train, it had mostly been to challenge Zac, that he'd done it. If he'd listened to Zac, they could've just walked back, Zac could've gone home, taken an Aspirin, and that would've been that. Now though, here they were. Sighing, he shut his eyes, hoping for sleep.

Cold. God it was cold. Taylor turned over, pulling the comforter tighter around his neck. He could hear the heat humming, but the room felt icy. Sighing, he curled up tighter, arms tucked under his chest. No good. Still freezing. Shaking his head, he snaked an arm out, beating on the bottom of the top bunk. "Ike." No response from his sleeping brother. "Ike!!!" He banged a few times, in rapid succession, on the bottom of the bed. "Ike, wake up!" He was rewarded with the sound of motion above him, and a thick, sleepy voice. "Whaddisit Tay..." "Ike, go shut the window you left open. It's freezing in here!" Isaac grumbled, and turned over. "S'not open, shuddup." "Ike!!" Isaac gave up and looked over the side of the bed. "What Tay?! What're you wakin' me up for? If you're cold, go get a blanket." "I have one." "Well..." Isaac’s exasperation came out clearly. "Go get another one! And shut up!" Taylor scowled. In actuality, he wasn't sure why he'd wakened his brother. But God, it was cold! He got up, shivering a little as the air hit him, and padded across the floor, careful not to step on Zac. Zac. Zac wasn't there. Where was he? Confused, he stood and stared, blankly, at the spot where Zac should have been stretched out in bed. "Ike?" Isaac groaned. "What Tay!" "Where's Zac?" Ike sighed. "You're the one he told, for heavens sake. He went camping. God, get your blanket and go to sleep already. You're all messed up. Besides, it's hot in here, what do you need a blanket for anyway?" Grumbling and muttering, he pulled the covers up over his head, determined to ignore his brother. Taylor stared a moment longer, memory returning, but unease was strong in him. He suddenly wished Zac was here tonight. Brushing hair out of his eyes, and shivering lightly, he headed down the hall for an extra blanket. The feeling of unease was growing, and he wished he could shake it. Something was wrong, somewhere, if only he knew what it was...

.

Chapter 29

Zac's finger absently spun a small pebble, the rhythmic motion soothing. Over, smooth side, rough side, over, smooth side, rough side, over, watching the indent in the sandy earth grow larger. He could hear Jay's even breathing, and knew he was, finally, asleep. He'd thought it would never happen, but gradually he'd felt the tension in the other boys body relax, heard the breathing level out. Finally alone, he let himself relax, let the tears he'd been fighting all afternoon at last have their release. He didn't understand what had gone wrong. Jay had just turned on him. He'd finally managed to find him, to be with him for a while, and he'd acted like Zac was the enemy. Zac knew how it must look, to people outside of it all. It must have looked like they'd just forgotten all their old friends, but Zac had truly missed Jay. He'd wanted to call a million times, but he'd been vaguely embarrassed by all the attention, he'd felt, well... funny. It felt weird to call up Jay, from Indonesia or somewhere, and just shoot the bull as if nothing were different. He felt on stage, felt like a target. It was weird, and he didn't much like it, but in the end, he'd just decided to see everyone when he got home, and concentrate on what he was doing. There was just so much going on. And now look. Here he was, camping out with Jason, just like the old days, but nothing was right. Jay was mad at him, worse than mad, he'd outright turned on him. And he was getting sick, too. The thumping in his head, and the nausea licking at his throat, both getting worse rather than fading away, boded ill and he knew it. He was freezing, in the relatively mild night air, and knew he was running a fever. Added to that, he was lost, and nobody knew where he was. He'd never even said goodbye to anyone. Was Tay alright? What was happening with him? "God..." He was unaware that he was whispering to himself. "How could I have just taken off? They must be so worried..."

Silent tears gave way to sobs, and he bit down, hard, on his hand, to stifle them. He tasted blood, salty and slick, in his mouth, and nearly gagged. Still, he didn't let go. He didn't want Jay to hear him. Shivering with cold, despite the warmth of the down sleeping bag, and the boy next to him, he cried himself to sleep, alone.

"Zac. It's okay... it's okay..." The words faded as the dream did, and Taylor suddenly found himself staring up at the top bunk, the two words echoing in his head. It's okay... it's okay... what was okay? Sighing, he threaded his hands behind his head, thinking hard. Zac. He'd dreamed about Zac. Something was wrong, Zac was scared, and crying... Taylor'd had him in his arms, holding on tight, but all Zac would say was "I can't find you, I can't feel you, where are you?". Weird. Shaking his head, he turned over, hoping to go back to sleep. "Just a dream." He spoke the words to himself, part of him not believing it. It had felt so real. Was he so messed up that Zac spending the night with a friend undid him like this? Ugh. Terrible. He had to get his head together. Drifting, sleep creeping in, sudden burning in his stomach and throat tore him from his drowsing. Bolting upright, swallowing hard, he fought it down with everything he had. Not again. Not tonight. He reached for the water glass, set on a shelf just behind his head. Sip. Swallow. No good, still hurt, the burning in his stomach spreading up his chest, into his throat, even making his ears hurt. He knew it was only a matter of minutes before the pain was followed by nausea. Where was Zac? Zac was the only one who knew about this. Zac helped him. His mouth was watering, he wasn’t going to get away with anything tonight, he had minutes, at best, before vomiting started... He got up quietly, padding as quickly, and silently, as he could down the hall to the bathroom, praying nobody heard him.

 "Zac?"

Jay's voice, soft and filled with concern, floated out on the night. "Zac, what is it? Will you talk to me?" He'd listened to Zac's nearly silent sobbing, for almost an hour, feeling terrible. He'd never intended to say anything, not wanting to embarrass his friend, but he felt bad. Obviously something was really wrong. He had to say something. Now, praying Zac would answer him, he reached out, tentatively, gently setting a hand on Zac's shoulder. "Zacko, what's going on? C'mon. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be such a creep. Tell me what's wrong?" He sat up, looking down on the other boy. Zac looked terribly pale even in the moonlight, shivering, tears streaming down his cheeks. He turned onto his side, facing Jason, and fought to get his emotions back under control. "Jay, you don't even care, why should I even tell you?" Jason shook his head, furious with himself.

"I do care, Zac, I'm sorry! I don't know what I was doing today, I guess I was just mad. But I do care. Please tell me? Why are you crying? I've known you forever and you never cry about anything." Zac nodded, wiping his eyes. "I know, I just suck, don't I?" Jason shook his head. "No, Zac, but what's wrong?" Sighing, Zac sat up, sniffing, and rubbing at his eyes. He wanted to tell someone. Maybe it would make Jay feel better too. Who knew? Pulling the sleeping bag tighter around him, he stared up at the trees. "Jay, I'm really sorry that I didn't call or anything, while we were gone. It was just so weird. I felt really stupid, y'know? I knew I'd have to talk about it all, and I just felt... funny. I didn't forget you, I didn't forget any of you. But it was so much work, and I was so tired..." He trailed off, remembering. "There were days we did ten appearances in one day. Times I was sick, or someone else was, but we had to go anyway. And I had this thing, everyone thought I was so crazy, so wild and hyper, that I always had to act that way, or a hundred people wanted to know what was wrong. It was hard. I'd feel really tired, we'd have been up all night on a plane, and it's eight hours off of where it was yesterday, and I'm having trouble just keeping my eyes open, and they want me to run around and act like an animal. It was just... get through the day, get through the day, and you can sleep. I never even thought about missing anyone. I was just hoping I wouldn't die." Jason's eyes went wide. "Zac, whoa, I thought you loved it!" "I did. I do. But, it was really hard work. I never meant to blow you guys off, I just... got all caught in it." He sighed now, bitterly. "Then Tay fell apart, and Ike got sick, and it all just went really really bad." He shivered, hard, and Jay climbed out of the sleeping bag, reaching forward to tuck it up closer to Zac. "I'm gonna make us a fire, you keep talking." Zac nodded, smiling slightly. "You got matches? I didn't bring any." "No, but that's okay." Zac snickered. "You think you can make a fire without matches?" Jason looked down on him, hands on hips. "You think all that time in boy scouts didn't teach me anything? I think I know how to make a fire, Zacko." Zac watched silently, as Jason put together the makings for the fire. "What happened, around here. Jay, while I was gone?" Jason shrugged. "Nothing much. Things don't change much. Here..." He gestured toward the newly built fire. "Get in closer to it, you’re shivering, really bad." Zac made a face. "Yeah, Jay, I kinda did notice that." He slid closer to the fire, stretching his hands out toward its warmth. Jason sat down opposite him, absently dropping pine needles into the flames, watching them ignite. "Zac, what were you crying about?" He expected Zac to brush it off, so amazement struck when the soft voice answered him. "I don't really know. I guess I wanted things to be different." Jay looked up, curious. "What things? Zacko, what happened while you were gone? What was it like? What happened to Tay? And to you?" Zac sighed. His head was spinning, and he was fast approaching motion sickness. "Jay, you don't really want to hear it." "Yeah, Zac, I do. I want to know what's going on. I don't understand anymore, why can't we just be like we were?" Zac tossed him another handful of pine needles. "Here. Toys for you. How do you mean? Like we were?" "Zac, I have to ask to go see you. I can't get in your house unless my name is on some list..." Zac's head shot up at that. This was the first he'd heard of it. "List? What list? What do you mean you can't get in?" Jason nodded. "There's a list. If you're name's not on, and mine's not..." His scowl worried Zac. He had no idea what Jason was even talking about. "Then you can't go in the house." "Jay, just walk up to the door!" Jason laughed. "Zacko you have no idea even what's going on in your own house." Zac sighed again, and pulled the sleeping bag tightly around him. The fire wasn't warming him up any. "Jay, it was just crazy. You really want to hear it? How it really was?" Jason nodded, edging in closer to Zac. He reached into the backpack, pulling out the last two coke cans, wordlessly handing one to Zac, and popping the tab on his own. "I really do. I wanted to know the whole time." Zac nodded, sipping dubiously at his coke. The way he felt, he wasn't at all sure that swallowing anything was a good idea. "Jay, it was so cool, but it was crazy. We just never knew, from one day to the next, from one minute to the next, what might be gonna happen. It was like... where are we today?" Jason nodded. "I can see that, you guys went everywhere. I remember one day, you were in three countries in one day." Zac laughed at that. "I know, it was like... have some jet lag. We'd fall asleep everywhere. I was so tired. It was fun, though. Mostly." His expression dimmed now, the sparkle that had crept into his eyes, dulling. "It was fun for a while, anyway. But I don't know... I missed you guys. I wanted to come home." His eyes now went misty and far away. "There was no way to stand it, there were days that I just couldn't keep going. They'd talk me into it." "Why not, Zac, what was so bad?" "I don't know. I was just so tired. And I never knew where I was, or what time it was, or what day it was. It was fun, we did so much fun stuff, but you know, I don't even remember most of it. I know we went to Bali, but I don't remember it. We went to Tokyo. I don't remember it. It's like... it's all a big blur that doesn't even mean anything. Just screaming girls and planes and cars and vans and smells... and I was carsick the whole time. I just... I wish I could remember it. I wish that it was going to be something special forever, but really, it's all already gone. And it wrecked Tay. He's never gonna get better." His voice shook on the last words, and Jason moved closer, nudging him gently with his shoulder. "Zacko, you said yourself that he's better." Zac shook his head. "No. Jay, it was terrible. We didn't know. We had no idea." He stopped, swallowing hard as nausea suddenly backed up in his throat. Turning away from Jason, he fought it down, hoping it would work. He didn't want to be sick. Gulping air, swallowing repeatedly, his efforts succeeded, as the nausea settled to a non threatening level. Sighing, shaky and sweating, he turned back to Jason. "Jay, this sucks, I really don't feel good." Jason nodded. "No kidding, Zac, I figured that out. Maybe we better just head home." "Right" Zac snorted. "Middle of the night, and we have no idea where we are. We'd die of starvation in the woods, and hikers would find our skeletons next spring." He was surprised to hear Jason snicker. "Cool Zac. Gross..." Giggling a little in spite of himself, he backed away from the fire a little. "Jay, whatever I did that made you so mad, I didn't mean to. I really didn't forget any of you guys. It was just totally crazy, and now..." "I know." Jason reached out, pulling his friend a little closer to him. "I'm sorry, I was just being stupid. I shouldn't have jumped the train either. Tomorrow..." He trailed off for a moment, prompting Zac to nudge him. "Tomorrow?" "Tomorrow, we'll just go up to the road, and call someone, okay?" Zac grinned. "Maybe. Maybe not." He could feel his eyelids drooping. "Now, though, all I want is sleep. I'm gonna fade out and start calling you "mom" or something." Jason recoiled in mock horror. "No! Ew! Okay, okay, I'll shut up. Go to sleep, Zacko." His tone turned more serious. "You gonna be okay?" Zac shrugged, not at all sure how okay he was. "I don't know. G'night, Jay." Jason nodded. "Yeah, night." "You gonna get back in the sleeping bag?" Jay shook his head. "No, you'll just puke on me or something. I'll sleep out here. I'm warm." Zac laughed lightly. "Have it your way. Don't wake me up if you get cold, though." "No, I won't. "He settled back alongside the sleeping bag, reaching out to make sure Zac was covered completely. He wasn't too sure about any of this. Soon enough though, his breathing slowed to match Zac's, and both boys slept.

.

Chapter 30

Taylor eyed the toothbrush dubiously, hoping that sticking it in his mouth wasn't just going to start the whole thing up again. This was getting really old, and he debated the idea of telling someone, as he cautiously took a couple of swipes at his teeth. Noting no signs that brushing his teeth was going to gag him, he shrugged, and continued, thinking to himself that if this kept up, he'd have no teeth left. He'd brush them right out of his head. His mind wandered from the business at hand, to the weird ideas in his head. Zac. He couldn't stop thinking about Zac. Couldn't shake the idea that something was wrong. It was like he was hallucinating, he kept smelling things, pine, and wood smoke, and water. Weird. Maybe when he finished up in here, he'd wake up Ike and they could just go over and make sure Zac was okay. "Baby, why didn't you come get me?" Taylor jumped at the sound of his mother's voice, looking guiltily up, catching her reflection, in the mirror. "Come get you for what?" His voice slurred around the toothbrush in his mouth. Holding up a finger, "Wait a minute," he spat toothpaste into the sink, wincing a little. He spent entirely too much time here. Feeling her eyes on him, he made himself swallow half a glass of water, rinse out his toothbrush, wipe up the spattered droplets around the sink, and throw the towel in the hamper. Glancing uneasily up into the mirror, he hoped she'd taken his fussing around as a sign that he was okay, and gone back to bed. No good. She was still there. Knowing he couldn't stall any longer, he looked up and met her eyes. Until now, she hadn't known. He and Zac had hidden it from everyone. Sighing, he turned, leaning back against the sink, trying not to look defensive, or hateful. Damn it though, why did she have to come in? He hadn't asked for her help. Was there even such a thing as privacy anymore? Silent, they stared at one another. Finally, tired of the standoff, Diana stepped into the room, noting his crossed arms and wary gaze, keeping her distance. "Why didn't you come get me?" He smiled a little, but there was no humor in it. "You already said that. What could you have done? No reason to go get you. I'd as soon not have you in here just to stare." He started out of the room, gently pushing past her. "And besides, there was really no time." "Tay..." Her tone stopped him. He knew it well. She had something to say, and she was going to say it. "Mom, it's after midnight." She nodded, voice low. "I know. You sleeping? Come on." Sighing, knowing he had no recourse, he followed her downstairs to the kitchen. "So this has been happening every night, Tay?" Her eyes were wide with disbelief, and he could see glints of anger there. He'd told her everything, how long this had been going on, that only Zac had known, had been getting up with him every night, how bad it really was. As he'd expected, she was not pleased. "You vomit up everything you put in you, every single night, and you don't think to mention it? You hide it? What were you thinking?" He shook his head. "I was thinking that I don't want to see the inside of a hospital again in my life. That I don't want anymore doctors poking at me. That I don't want to be sent to some place..." Snorting derisively, Diana shoved her chair out and stood up. "Taylor, you're smarter than that. Certainly nobody would send you away because you're sick. Where did you ever get an idea like that? That's nonsense and we both know it. You told Zac, and you made him promise not to tell either... Tay, this is NOT okay. It's not normal." "I know that." "So, why on earth would you..." He slammed his hand down on the table, cutting her off. "I don't know!! I was afraid to tell you! I didn't have any idea what might happen!" Her arms crossed her chest. "Taylor, I find this incredibly difficult to understand." Her tone shifted suddenly, anger giving way to compassion. "Baby, why are you suffering this all alone?" He shook his head, blinking back sudden tears. Her anger he could take. Her sympathy he wasn't quite sure he could. "I just didn't want people fussing over me." He sighed and put his head down on the table, resting on crossed arms. "I wanted things to be normal. I guess I thought that if I didn't mention it... I just get sick of everyone looking at me, and fussing over me. I just wanted to be normal again." He felt her hand then, stroking his hair, and reached up, gently setting his on top of hers. As much as he hated to admit it, he was glad she knew. He wanted it to stop. Maybe she could help him. He'd begun to doze, enjoying the feel of her hand in his hair, when his senses suddenly fired, and his head shot up. Smell of pine needles and water, cool air and darkness, and then nausea slammed into him, sudden and overwhelming. Seconds later he was vomiting into the sink, his mother's arms the only thing keeping him upright.  

"Zacko, you okay?" Jason's voice, filled with worry, drifted over the crackle of the fire. No reply. Well, he hadn't really expected one. Zac had bolted out of the sleeping bag, and stumbled away from the fire a few minutes ago, pulling away from the hand Jay had reached out, replying to Jay's offer of help with only a ragged, and choked, "Get away from me." Jason had followed him, only to be roughly shoved away. Respecting his friends wishes, he'd gone back to the fire, anxiously eyeing the shadows Zac had disappeared into. Minutes of silence, he couldn't take this. "Zac?!" Still no answer. He paced the area around the fire. It was too dark to see, and he couldn't hear anything. Wishing he'd just stayed home, and had never met Zachary Hanson, Jason flung himself down, tears stinging his eyes.
Zac let go the branch he'd been hanging onto, gasping in a lungfull of air, finally. He'd thought he'd never be able to breathe again. Felt like his insides were coming up. Panting, feeling like he'd never catch his breath, he sank down onto his knees. Bad. This was bad, he hurt too much. Spitting, trying to clear his mouth and wishing with all his soul for a drink, he glanced back toward the fire. He knew he was in trouble. He'd never been this sick in his life. Cold chills ran up and down him, shaking him so hard it was difficult to stand back up, his legs threatening to go out from under him, while at the same time he felt he was on fire. "Really bad, really bad..." The thought spun in his head... Sighing, wishing he knew what to do, he made his way, holding onto branches and bushes, back to his friend, and the fire. His mind flashed on Taylor. God, he wanted him here. Wanted Tay. Didn't want Jason, he wanted to go home. Jay looked up at the sound of footsteps, relieved beyond belief to see Zac walking back toward him. Relief turned to fear when he saw how unsteady Zac was. Jumping to his feet, he ran over, taking his friends arm, supporting him as he led him back to the fire. "Zac, you okay?" Zac nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay, I feel better, I threw up." Jason grimaced, and helped him sit down. "Zacko, we really need to get you home." "I know, but not now. I can't hike around, not now. I'm too tired." He sighed, and curled up on his side. "Jay, I'm really sorry. I felt fine when we left, I swear to God I did." Jason shrugged. "It's okay. I know you didn't mean it. Wish I'd left you home though." Zac kicked out at him, connecting squarely with his shin, grinning. "If you'd left me home, you'd be home too." Jason nodded, rubbing his leg. "Yeah, and the problem with that is?" Zac giggled, and turned over, trying to find a comfortable spot. "It's an adventure, Jay. Look at it that way." His smile faded suddenly, and he sat up, sweat suddenly breaking on his brow. "Oh God Jay, I'm gonna do it again..." He started to get up, but Jason stopped him, grip tight on his arm. "It's okay Zac, just stay here. I'll help you." Zac looked up at him for a moment, nodding grimly, then turned away, holding onto his friends arm, waiting.  


Taylor felt like he was dying, retching up nothing, feeling like all of his insides were coming unanchored. The nausea wouldn't back off, wouldn't back down, his empty stomach trying to rid itself of something that wasn't there. Black began to invade his vision, and he held tighter to the sink, praying for it to stop... His mind was filled with images he couldn't explain, smell of smoke, and pine, water and growing things. Feel of earth, under fingers he knew were gripping the porcelain edge of a sink. Confused and frightened, he held on, praying. A few minutes later, as suddenly as it had started, the attack stopped. He drew a shaky breath, once again feeling his mother's arms around him, releasing the edge of the sink with hands that ached from holding so tightly. He accepted the water she held out to him, and let her help him wash his face. "Come on, baby, lets get you back to bed." Her voice was soft now, all trace of anger and irritation gone. He nodded, swallowing against the faint nausea that still hung in his throat, following her toward the stairs. Halfway there, he stopped, uneasiness building in him. "Mom..." He turned, gesturing toward the phone on the hall table. "Mom, I know it's late, but would you call Jason's?" Brow creased, she stared at him, puzzled. "What on earth for? It's very nearly one in the morning. Why would you want me to do that? You can get through a night without Zac, Taylor..." "No..." He shook his head. "It's not that. Something's wrong, I just think you need to check on him." "Baby, Zac's fine. I'm not waking them all up, you'll see him in the morning." "Mom..." She held up a hand. "He's fine. Don't you think that if something were wrong, they would have called us?" He stopped, puzzled. It did make sense. "Yeah, I suppose, but I can't shake it. I just feel like something's not right." "Tay, you're tired, and you're not thinking straight. I'm not waking up an entire household, because you've got a case of the jitters." Sighing, knowing she wasn't going to let him anywhere near the phone, he accepted her gentle hug, let himself be led into his room, quietly, so as not to wake Isaac, whom he knew instantly was only feigning sleep for their mother's sake. He climbed into bed and hugged her again, smiling slightly when she straightened his blankets. "Mom..." His voice was soft, and faintly amused. "You don't have to tuck me in, okay?" She smiled back at him, whispering softly. "Yeah baby, I know. I just may anyway..." She ran her fingers briefly through his hair, her eyes taking him in. "You alright now?" He nodded, thinking at that moment of nothing but how much he loved her. "I'm okay. I promise." "If it happens again..." "I'll come get you." Sighing a little, she stood back, looking down at him. Shaking her head a little, she reached down and squeezed his shoulder slightly. "Make sure you do. Sleep well, baby." "You too..." He watched her cross the room, close the door, listened to her footsteps fade down the hall, then flicked his gaze above his head. "You can come out now, Guido, she's gone." Isaac's head popped down over the side. "I thought she'd never leave. Did she really tuck you in?" Taylor grinned, and shook his head. "No, but she wanted to." "You okay to take a ride?" "What? Where?" Isaac jumped lightly to the floor. "Over to Jason's. I heard what you told her. I can't sleep either, I'm edgy too. You up for it?" Taylor sat up, nodding. "How you gonna get out without anyone knowing?" Isaac grinned. "How did Tiffy get in? WE, are going down the tree." He padded across the room, pulling clothes out of the dresser, and tossing them in his brother's direction. "Ike, they're gonna hear the car." Isaac paused, one leg in his jeans. For a few moments, as he thought, his face went blank, prompting laughter from Taylor. "Ike, you look like a stork. Where did you just go?" Scowling at his brother, Isaac finished dressing, thinking it over. "Tay, think you could make it over there, walking?" Taylor nodded. "Yeah, I'm not a cripple, y'know. I think I can walk four blocks." "Okay then. Hurry up." The boys finished dressing, anxiety and apprehension speeding their movements, and together, silent as smoke, they slipped out of the house.