Chapter 6

He was about halfway down the hall when she snapped to her senses. Taking off after him, she grabbed him by one of his drenched shirt sleeves and pulled him towards her.
"Let me go!" He shouted, glaring at her.
"NO! You are turning your little fanny around, you are..." She held up her hand as he began to protest. "You are taking those filthy clothes off, and you are getting back into that shower. You're already up, you're already wet, so it won't hurt you one bit." She began to pull him back towards the bathroom.

"MOM! YOU CAN'T MAKE ME DO THIS! JUST LEAVE ME ALONE! I'LL TAKE A SHOWER WHEN I'M GOOD AND READY TO TAKE A SHOWER!" He tried desperately to pull away, but she held him tight. In desperation he lunged, but only succeeded in landing on his butt.
She stopped, arms crossed. "What are you doing? Get up off the floor, for heavens sake Taylor." She pulled him up by his sleeve. Reaching the bathroom door, she came up short when he stuck his legs out and pressed them against the doorframe, attempting to stop her. This antic landed him on the floor again. He was scowling, the stubborn look on his face beginning to severely try her patience.
"Taylor, you're being ridiculous. This is a shower, not a torture chamber, although I'm beginning to think it should be. Now come on. Get up."
Taylor crossed his arms over his chest and pouted, not moving.
Diana nudged him with her foot, "Get up right now." She was no longer yelling, she didn't have the strength. "Taylor, don't make me pick you up, that's likely to land both of us on the floor. Come on now, what's the problem?"

Sighing, Taylor dragged himself to his feet. He wasn't sure why he'd been fighting in the first place. Whatever his reason had been, he'd forgotten it. He'd been fighting with Ike, but couldn't really remember what that had been about either. He knew Ike had manhandled him though, and he was going to get him back. If he could just figure out why Ike had been mad at him... He was so sick of this, his mind wouldn't connect one second to the next.

He stood there, eyeing the shower. He vaguely wondered how long it had been since he'd taken one. His skin felt crawly. He'd probably forgotten. He forgot everything. Still he thought he knew enough to shower on his own, and this whole situation was pissing him off. Dragging him in here just wasn't right. He stood there, staring blankly, as his mind wandered...

"Out of those clothes right now."
Taylor jumped, having forgotten his mother was in here. He stared at her.
"What? With you in here? NO WAY!"
"Taylor, I am your mother. Believe me I have seen you naked before. Now you have two seconds to get out of those clothes, or so help me I am gonna take you out of them myself."
He gave her a disgusted look. "Can you at least turn around or something? I mean some privacy would be nice."
Diana eyed him, then slowly turned her back. She tried not to laugh as she heard him muttering some nonsense about being forced to take a shower and there should be laws against it as he shed his clothes.
He quickly jumped into the shower and slammed the stall shut.

"ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?" he yelled over the pounding water.
"Yes, I am," she replied smugly. "You clean up. I'm going to get you fresh clothes.

One hot shower and fresh set of clothes later, Taylor stomped out of the bathroom and down the hallway. He plopped himself onto the sofa and flipped the TV on. Restless, irritable, and mad as hell that his family had humiliated him that way, he couldn't begin to concentrate on the program.

"Not..." he thought "That I'd be able to concentrate on it, anyway." Finally giving up in frustration, he flung the remote aside, and sat brooding. He could hear voices coming from the kitchen, voices that were growing louder and more tense with each passing moment. Curious, he edged over, hoping to hear better.

"Mom, you don't understand. I'm not trying to say you don't know what you're doing..." Ike was getting frustrated. He was trying to talk to his mother, and it was all coming out wrong. "That's not what I'm saying at all. But he's just hiding from everything, going further and further in, and you guys are just sitting there letting him do it!!"

She eyed him, her face telling him nothing. "Isaac, we were told to let him alone. So we've been letting him alone. Do you really think that yelling at him, calling him names, and throwing him in a freezing shower, did any better by him?"
He slammed his hand down on the table, "Maybe not!! But I don't know what to do!! Mom, don't you even care what happens to him?!"
She leaned closer to him, she was getting angry. "Ike don't you even dare to insinuate that we don't care! We are every bit as worried about him as you are, probably more. But I'd like to know just what you think we should do! Drag him out?! He doesn't want to go, Ike! How would you feel if you were him?"
Ike nodded. "Yeah I know. I know. But he can't just lie there, he can't..." He was interrupted by the kitchen door banging open.
Taylor slammed into the room. He'd had enough. They had no business talking about him behind his back. He stomped over to the table and threw himself into a chair.

"Maybe you'd like to talk about me with me here, so I can defend myself."
The pissed off look on his face was the last straw for Isaac. He got up, sneering.
"Forget it, I've seen all of your face I can stand. Mom, I'll talk to you later. Do something about him." He stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Diana was near tears. He was right, but he'd never been like this with her. She glanced over at Taylor, dropping her eyes hurriedly. She didn't want him to see what she was feeling. He didn't need that. She got herself together, and spoke to him softly.
"Tay, I want to talk to you. Why don't you go get some shoes on. I'll take you out for lunch."
He shook his head. "No, I don't want to go anywhere, but you can talk to me here." The look on her face was rapidly diffusing his temper. She looked ready to cry.
Feeling responsible, and hating himself for it, he reached out for her hand. "We can talk, mom, if you want to talk."
She shook her head. "No, not around here. Not with Isaac and everyone else apt to butt in. I want to talk to you alone. Just us. Now go get something on your feet." He started to protest, but she cut him off. "I'm not inviting you, I'm telling you. Now go."
Seeing that there would be no point in arguing, he got up silently, and did as she asked.

Taylor watched nervously out the car window, at the people gathered at the foot of the driveway. She reached over and patted his knee... "Don't worry, they never bother us. I think they're just..."

He nodded. He knew. "They're all here 'cause of what I did... I know."
She shook her head. "You're giving yourself too much credit. Most of them are here because you're home, that's all. They're here because they like the band. But you're right, some of them are here because they're morbidly curious. It's faded a lot though. The numbers have dropped so much..." Her voice trailed off. There wasn't much to say really. They rode in silence for a while. She glanced over at him, wondering how he was feeling. His face didn't give much away.
He watched the familiar streets unwind before him passively. She couldn't tell if he was happy to see them or not. She pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant she knew he liked, and glanced at him questioningly. "Tay is here okay?"
His eyes flicked briefly to the sign over the door, and then away. "Oh whatever, I don't mind."
She laughed. "You don't mind? Is it okay or not?"
He nodded. "Sure it's fine. I don't really want to go in anywhere though."
"I know. But you're going to. You're hiding, Tay, and there's a world out here. It's time you rejoined it."
His response was a grunt, he wasn't buying it, she knew. But when she got out of the car, he followed.
Now, outside of their house, seeing him as other people saw him, her heart sank. He looked like someone who'd been through a war, and come out the losing side.

Pale, and much too thin, eyes sunken and black circled, he looked to her to be in the grip of some catastrophic illness. Worse than that was the way he carried himself. Formerly confident and outgoing, willing to make eye contact with anyone, a ghost of a smile always on his lips, he now clung to the shadows, eyes downcast, seemingly trying to disappear from everyone's sights.
Sighing deeply, she put a hand on his shoulder, guiding him inside. Hopefully he'd perk up a little in this familiar environment.

The argument had been going on for ten minutes and she was sick of it. Such a simple thing. "Taylor, look, you're in a restaurant for God's sake, now what do you want to eat?"

"Nothing. I'm fine."
She was ready to throw the menu at him. He refused to tell her what he wanted, she'd already sent the waitress away twice. Unwilling to give in to him and leave, the response she was sure he was looking for, she poked him in the chest.
"Look, it's not going to work. We're not leaving. Now what do you want."
He sighed. "If you really want to you can get me whatever you get."
She nodded, encouraged. It was a switch from "nothing" anyway. "Well Tay, what if I get something you don't like?"
He shrugged. "It doesn't matter, I'm not gonna eat it anyway. But if it's going to make you feel better, go for it."
Her irritation sharpened. She'd about had it with him. He was arguing for the sheer sake of it.

The waitress chose that moment to amble over, again. She was looking perturbed. All she wanted was the little punk to order, or else get out. She had a living to earn and him taking up a table and not getting anything was really irking her.

"Kid thinks 'cause he's famous the world should revolve around him," she thought bitterly as she stopped at the table. "Are you ready now?" she asked, not masking the annoyance in her voice.

"Taylor? Are you ready?"
"Mom, I already told you I wasn't going to eat. Why can't you comprehend that? I don't wanna eat. If you want to order for me I said that was fine. But you can't make me eat it. I won't eat it, so why waste the money?" He slumped lower in his seat and made a face at the table top.
Diana turned and gave the waitress a harsh glare. "Give us another minute, okay?"

The waitress raised her eyebrow and just stared at Diana.
"Hey lady, can you hear? She said give us another minute! It's English not Swahili," Taylor grumbled. He hated the way the woman was looking at his mother. He hated the way everyone was looking at them. He wanted to go home, there were just too many people here.
"Taylor! Enough! I'm sorry, but please, just a few more minutes."

The waitress stormed away, thoughts hostile.

"Damn kid. He looked like hell anyway, kid probably didn't want to eat because he felt as bad as he looked. Great, not only was he a pain in the ass, he was probably contagious as well. Wishing that people just knew enough to stay at home," she moved to check on her other tables.

"Taylor, why are you talking to her like that? That was totally uncalled for. I can't believe you were so rude. Where do you get off talking to people that way?" Diana was exasperated. She had no idea why he was making this so difficult. She didn't think to wonder why she had let it turn into a power struggle.

Taylor was starting to feel stressed. He just wanted out of here. He didn't have the words to explain why, his thoughts were too jumpy and unconnected for him to put what he was feeling into any kind of sense. He couldn't tell her that he felt too exposed, as if everyone was staring, that he felt as if every person in the restaurant must know what had happened, what he'd done. That they were all passing judgement as he sat there. All he knew was that he was scared, and confused, and needed to leave. Why was she making him go through this? What did she want?

He took her hand, and looked at her pleadingly. "Look mom, let's just go okay? Can't we just go? I'll eat something at home. I don't wanna stay here anymore! I just want to leave. Can't we leave? You said you wanted to talk to me, and you're not saying anything anyway!" Taylor's voice was rising with each statement, as his heart started racing, and adrenaline began surging through him. The people at surrounding tables were beginning to stare as his tone became near hysterical.

"Taylor, calm down. What's wrong with you?" Diana was baffled. He was being ridiculous. It wasn't as if she'd asked him to get up and perform for the room, all she was asking him to do was order his meal.

Again, it never occurred to her to wonder why it mattered so much that he do it.

"Well why can't we just leave? Why are you forcing me to do this?" He didn't understand, she'd never been so blind, couldn't she see he had to leave? Had to? "I don't want to be here! This is stupid! I already did what you asked me to do today, so why are you pushing me?" In his helplessness and anxiety, he resorted to the one statement he felt might have some power over this situation. "The doctor said to give me space! That's what he said! Now I want to leave! NOW!" He slammed his hand down on the table, making their water glasses jump.
Diana reached out quickly, catching one before it fell. Brow knit, she looked up at him.
"Taylor, you need to calm down. All you're being asked to do is sit here, like a normal human being, eat lunch, and talk to me. There's no earthly excuse for all of this... Now knock it off, or so help me God, you're walking home."

Taylor frowned. Why was she doing this to him? By now everyone in the small restaurant was looking at him and he suddenly felt very stupid, as well as completely defenseless. Pouting, he took the menu Diana shoved at him and glumly opened it up. Diana motioned the waitress over and said, "Taylor tell her what you want."

Defeated, and too tired to continue the fight, he crinkled his nose and flatly said, "I'll have a cheeseburger and fries." He threw the menu back onto the table and slouched even further into his seat, trying to hide his face.

Diana ordered and the waitress left. "There, now why did you have to make such a big deal out of that? Huh? Was it really killing you to order a burger?"
Taylor fought the urge to say yes, and just nodded his head, refusing to meet her gaze. He didn't understand why she was doing this to him. It wasn't as if he hadn't told her he didn't want to come here. Why was she trying to force him? She'd never acted like this before... He could feel the adrenaline surging in him again, and just prayed that this would all be over soon.
Diana didn't notice Taylor's increasing distress. Why he was acting this way was beyond her.

Some time later, tired of watching him push his food around on his plate, and feeling more that a little guilty that she'd let herself be caught up in a senseless fight with him, Diana spoke up.

"Tay, can't you eat just a little?" He shook his head, and she saw real unhappiness on his face. "Honey, why not?"
He only shrugged. "I don't know, I just can't. Please don't make me..." He sounded near tears, and she was baffled. His moods changed so quickly. Looking up, he caught her eye. "I'm sorry..." His voice was soft. "I didn't mean to be such a..."
She cut him off... "It takes two, hon, I could've shut my mouth as easily as you. Forget it." She glanced at the ice choked coke sitting next to him. "Can you at least drink that?"
He looked up at her, and favored her with a tiny smile. "Yeah, that would be fine." He sipped the drink for a few moments, waiting for her to tell him what was on her mind.


Diana glanced over at her son, dozing in the passenger seat. This just hadn't gone right. She'd hoped that getting him out would make some difference, that it would put a damper on the excess emotion he'd been plagued with, and let him really communicate. It hadn't happened. She had the feeling he'd really tried, but he'd just been too defensive. Every thing she'd said to him, appeared to strike him as an accusation, and he'd withdrawn further and further, throughout her attempts at conversation. By the time she'd finally given up, his responses had become monosyllabic grunts. He'd even stopped his incessant pleading to go home. Feeling more than a little like a bully, Diana had finally called a halt to the whole affair, and led him out of the place. Noting the way he kept his eyes averted, refusing to look at anyone, she felt a huge ache inside. The thought. "We have really ruined this boy..." cycled round her head infuriatingly. The one up point of the whole outing was the fact that, as he'd been avoiding with her questions, he'd been absently munching his fries. He didn't seem to realize he was doing it, and she hadn't told him. Now seeing him, wan and pale, sleeping beside her, she wondered how they were ever going to salvage this. She'd hoped that being home would somehow do it. But it was worse. Granted he wasn't spending all of his days in a chemical induced stupor, but he was every bit as withdrawn, more in fact. Sighing, she turned her attention back to the road, wondering.


Chapter 7

Taylor's eyes were closed, but he wasn't asleep. His nerves were too fired up for sleep. This whole thing had been horrible. He couldn't believe she'd made him go there with her, and then to bully him like that!! She'd never been like that, never. He and his mom had always gelled. She'd always just clicked into whatever wavelength he was on, he'd never had to deal with her "not understanding" him. At least not until today. He'd felt so bad, more than once he'd had to actually hold on to the table to stop himself just jumping up and taking off out of there.
He'd desperately wanted not to make a scene, but it had been terrible.
Everyone seemed to have been looking at him. He knew they weren't, but God help him, it was all he could do not to run. Added to that was the pressure she was putting on him to order food. He just couldn't. He couldn't decide, he couldn't think! How could he pick something from a menu when he couldn't even keep a thought in his head for more than 2 seconds. Besides food made him throw up. That was the last thing he needed, to get sick in public. Or in front of her. He'd caught himself nibbling on French fries, and was regretting it now. He just hoped he'd make it home. And she'd wanted him to talk to her!! Amazing, she just didn't seem to see what was happening.
He'd wanted to talk, he wanted to tell her, that he was tired, and scared, and confused, and afraid he'd lost his mind forever. That he sat around and did nothing because he couldn't seem to focus on anything long enough to function. that he couldn't remember anything. That he couldn't sleep. that he was sick all the time. That he was still so horrified by what he'd done to Zac, that he could barely stand himself. About the man in the hospital, and what he'd been told.
But he couldn't. He couldn't pull the words together. Every so often his mind would clear, and he'd get something out that made sense, but nine times out of ten, he lost the thread and had to fight to get it back.
By the time she finally decided to stop, he was too exhausted to do anything but grunt. Between the struggle just to stay there, and sitting, to not shout or cry or make any kind of scene, and the effort to figure out what she was talking about, and what he should say, he'd completely destroyed any reserves he had. He was exhausted, physically from the continuous adrenaline rush that had begun as soon as he'd walked through the door, and emotionally from the strain of holding himself together. The thought occurred to him, that for all his struggling, he hadn't done that good a job. He'd still managed to make a scene.
Sighing, he turned a little, trying to get comfortable. He felt her hand then, warm on his own, and smiled a little. It still felt like she loved him. He wished with all his heart that he was sure. The words he'd heard in the hospital, cycled around in his head, the words that made him so unsure, the words that, ironically enough, he wanted to forget, but couldn't, a secret fear deep around his heart, paralyzing him.


Chapter 8

Tossing and turning. Just couldn't get comfortable. He was so tired he wanted to cry. Why couldn't he sleep? Why couldn't he just close his eyes like everyone else and fall asleep? That's all he wanted to do, to go to bed and sleep like everyone else. He couldn't take it anymore. His eyes were red and puffy and huge dark bags had formed on top of days old ones. He was so tired. His head, which had ached when he'd gone to bed, now felt as if someone were driving a spike into it, just above his eye. It was faintly nauseating, and only added to his misery. He struggled, vainly, to get comfortable for a few moments more, and then, sighing, climbed out of bed.
"At least..." he thought wearily, "If I can't get to sleep, I can at least get rid of the headache."

Taylor got up from his bed and tiptoed his way to the bathroom.

Everything was quiet, so he assumed everyone was asleep. Good.
Once in the bathroom he closed the door and turned on the light. The medicine cabinet was huge and it contained all sorts of colored bottles of liquid and pills. He was looking for a particular one, though. He dug through the many bottles, cough syrups, stomach remedies, allergy pills. Where was the Advil? Two of those, maybe three, would knock the pain back, and take at least one obstacle out of his way. His frustration mounted, as quickly as the pain in his head. There just wasn't anything in here.
He started to shut the door, pausing when his eye caught the edge of a bottle on it's side. Was that it? He reached behind a box of alka seltzer, and some old razor blades, and pulled out a bottle, dusty and discolored. He instantly knew it wasn't the Advil he was seeking, this was a prescription bottle. Curious, he glanced at the label, almost too faded to read. Squinting to make it out, his breath suddenly caught in his throat.
No. It couldn't be. They wouldn't. He looked again, convinced sleep deprivation was causing him to hallucinate. No. Right there. Valium. The one thing, he was suddenly sure, was going to help him get to sleep.
Aahhh, there it is, breathed the small, not sane voice in the back of his mind. That's what you need. Just one. Sleep. Sweet sleep. He looked guiltily at the bottle, after all, it had been the culprit of all his troubles. He started to put it down, when the voice spoke again. Sleep. No more staring at the ceiling, listening to them breathing. Just one. To get to sleep. After the day you've had, you need it. He shrugged and opened the bottle. Temptation was big, he took one tablet in his hand and looked at it. Would one be enough? Probably not, better take two.

As he shook the second tablet into his hand, he felt his chin tremble. He stared at his reflection in the mirror. He looked horrible. Hadn't slept in so long it felt like. The face staring back at him, nearly made him sick. He felt nausea rising in his throat and choked it back. He closed his eyes and swallowed deeply, and the feeling passed. He sagged against the sink and again looked at the two white tablets that lay in his hand. "I can't," he thought. Angrily he grabbed the whole bottle and went over to the toilet. He lifted the lid and held the bottle poised over the water. He desperately tried to dump the bottle into the bowl, but he couldn't.

Insanity spoke to him again. It's all you've got, it's all there is. Do you want to die of exhaustion? He felt himself cry out, mad at himself, mad at the bottle, most of all mad at the small white pills that had such a hold over him. He felt himself begin to cry now, tears flowing freely over his pale cheeks. He crumpled to the floor and hugged his knees, the bottle still clutched tightly in his fist. Suddenly, just as quickly as the waterworks had started, they stopped. Taylor sat up and sniffed, wiping his nose on the back of his free hand. He climbed off the floor and stood on shaky legs. He left the bathroom, bottle still clutched in fist and headed for the one person he knew would help him.

As quiet as he could, Taylor padded into his parents' bedroom, and went to his mother's side of the bed. She was laying, her back to him. Hating to wake her, he just stood over the bed, staring. She looked so peaceful. He was about to leave, but when he saw the bottle still in his hand, he knew he had to wake her or he was going to down some of the pills. It was what he wanted. He wanted those pills so badly he could taste their bitterness sliding down his throat at that very moment. That was why he needed her. She was the only one who would understand.

"Mom," he whispered. He reached out and gently shook her.

Diana shifted slightly, but didn't wake.
"Mom," Taylor said a little more urgently. If she didn't get up and help him, in about two seconds he would down half the bottle so he could sleep.
Diana rolled over and wearily opened her eyes. "What, what is it Tay?" She muttered thickly.

"Mom, I need your help. Come with me, please?" Oddly, he felt clearer headed than he had in weeks. He knew if she didn't move, he was lost.
His pleading look caused Diana to frown. "What's the matter honey? What is it?" She noticed the bottle clutched tightly in his fist, and his tearstained face, and quickly got up. She took his arm and led him out of the room, not wanting to wake Walker.

She led him into the bathroom and flipped on the light, blinking at the harshness of it. Taking the bottle from him, she peered at the label, shock suddenly making her heart race. "Taylor, please tell me you haven't taken any of those pills, please."

"No I didn't. I want to. I have to. I can't sleep!!! I have to sleep. I really want to. But I didn't. I haven't. I need help. You have to help me. You have to help, please, I just I can't..." Taylor trailed off, losing all words. He just stared at her helplessly, tears welling in his eyes again.
"Okay, shhh, it's okay. What do you want me to do? How do you want me to help you?" She held him to her and he began to sob, wetting the front of her nightgown.
"I need you to get rid of these. I tried, I can't. I can't do it. I'm not strong enough. Please, you have to do this for me, I need you to do this for me," he was gasping the words out, near hyperventilating.
"Taylor, calm down, sweetie, calm down. You're ok, you're fine, shhh," Diana clutched him tighter, and fought back her own tears.
Taylor pulled away from her suddenly and grabbed her hand. Pressing the bottle into her fist, he implored her. "Do something with them, now! Please!"

Diana took the bottle and walked to the toilet, Taylor grabbing onto her again and clinging to her arm as she went. She turned the bottle upside down and dumped the contents into the toilet.

Taylor watched, transfixed, as the pills swirled in the current then just like that... were gone.
He looked up at her, relief and horror competing for room on his face. His mind was a whirl of conflicting emotions. Relief that they were gone, and no longer a threat.

Fear that now there was nothing to make this bearable. The horrible thought that he would never sleep, just lie there awake night after night forever, until he died or went crazy.
He grabbed for her, desperate, as his legs began to tremble. He was fighting to stay on his feet, struggling with he knew not what, a terrible searing pain that ripped through his head... Unable to stop it, his head fell back, and he screamed, incoherent and wordless, as his legs gave in to the shaking.
Diana caught him, and held him close to her, not speaking, there were no words to sooth this. She held on, not letting him fall, praying that this would end, that he hadn't just snapped for good.

Walker bolted upright in bed, Taylor's insane howl of rage, and grief having ripped through the wall of sleep like a knife. Not having any idea what was going on, he was out of bed and down the hall before he was even aware he was moving.
The scene that greeted him halted him in his tracks, and wiped the last vestiges of sleep from his mind.
Seeing Diana struggling to keep a limp and trembling Taylor on his feet, he stepped in swiftly, picking the boy up, and signaled his wife to follow him.
Walker bypassed Taylor's room, in favor of his own. He wasn't sure why he did this, instinct was screaming at him that this was crisis... to keep him close. He gently laid his son down on his bed, thinking at first that he was unconscious, so limp did he feel. He was surprised to see blue eyes staring up at him, wild eyes filled with fear, and tears. His hands moved to Taylor's hair, his face, somehow knowing that physical contact was what would hold him here. Something inside him was screaming that they were losing him, that whatever was going on here... unable to think, he started to look to Diana for an explanation, when his son's hands suddenly gripped his, the nails digging in, bringing blood.

Taylor was desperate. He just didn't know what to do anymore. He clutched his dad's hands, panicky, unaware that he was hurting him, and the words he'd been holding in, afraid to speak, tumbled out, uncontrollable.
"Dad, I'm sorry..." His voice was barely coherent, choked with sobs... "I didn't mean it, I swear to you, I didn't mean it, I didn't take any, I just couldn't sleep, I have to sleep, Please..." His words dissolved into hysterical crying, he couldn't keep going.

Not understanding what was going on, he looked to Diana. Wordless, she held out the empty valium bottle. The color drained out of his face, and she read the unspoken question there. She shook her head.
"He didn't take any. He woke me up. He was going to... He made me throw them away..."
Walker's eyes were huge, as he pulled Taylor up, holding him tightly. Wordless, his own heart breaking, he held the boy close. Taylor's arms went around him, almost painfully tight, and Walker heard whispered words.
Taylor didn't really know he was talking. Some wall in him had finally crumbled, and everything he'd been afraid of, everything he'd hidden, was spilling out. He grabbed out blindly, for his mother, and pulled her in close to him, holding them both, praying that they were really here. Unable to help himself, the words flooded out.

"I'm sorry, I didn't take any. You won't make me leave will you? Please don't make me leave, I love you, I won't do it again, I want to stay... God, I didn't mean it..."

Puzzled, Diana gently pushed him back a little, to look at him.
"Taylor!" She raised her voice, she wanted him to hear her. Her firm tone slowed his hysterical babble, and he managed to look into her eye. She continued, "Taylor what is this? Why would we make you leave? What is it you're afraid of?"
He shook his head, "No, no, they told me, they told me..."
Walker interrupted him this time. "Who Tay? Who told you what?" Taylor couldn't answer, his words dissolved again into sobs, and he clung to them.
Looking at each other, their eyes showing their helplessness and confusion, they sat with him, waiting.

Walker sat watching his son sleep. As his sobs had begun to taper off, Diana had laid down next to him, stroking his hair and singing softly. She'd sung him to sleep when he was little, and she still did whenever he was sick, or upset. True to form, it had worked this time too. When she'd been certain he was completely out, she'd quietly left the bedroom. Walker didn't know where she'd gone. He knew she'd want to be alone, and he respected it. He sat here, watching his son's uneasy sleep, and prayed that his dreams were more peaceful than the knit brow and restlessness let on.


Chapter 9

Taylor tossed and turned. unaware that a dream had taken over and he mumbled aloud as the scene played out in his plagued mind.

Lying in his own bed unable to sleep.

Pure torture.
Sitting up, near tears.
Standing in darkness. Cold tile, cold floor, switching from one foot to the other rooting through the medicine cabinet...
Dropping one more tablet from the bottle into his palm. When had he opened it? Where had it come from?

So cold. Why was he so cold?
Setting the bottle on the counter, clutching the two pills in his hand.

"What in the hell are you doing?"
That voice, slow and distorted, coming from out of nowhere. Startling... nearly dropping the whole bottle on the floor.

His father standing in the doorway...
Sudden light. Cold, still so cold...

Eyes shut, can't block the glare. In the few seconds his eyes were closed, feeling his father advance on him, bright stars danced in front of his eyes. Shake them away... only making himself dizzy.

Again the question. Again the voice, garbled, loud and deep, the words dragging grotesquely.
Trying to speak, but nothing coming out. No voice... Why couldn't he speak? Why couldn't he see? Clearing vision, anger in his father's face.
"You take any?"

God that voice! Why didn't it stop?
Slowly backing away. Hands grabbing him by the wrists, grabbing the bottle still held in his fist and slamming it onto the counter top. Pulling... hard on his wrists pain stabbing him from all over. His dad... shaking him, hard.

People. Now there were people here, everywhere, mom, Jessie, Avie, Zac, Ike, even Mackie... Why were they here?
"Leave, you have to leave!" But he had no voice. No voice, nobody was hearing him. His mother, his mother right there.
Desperately clawing the air, with bloodied hands, trying to reach her. She steps toward him, reaching, but Isaac in the way, stopping her, breaking his heart. His own brother betraying him, pointing to the brown bottle on the counter top. The label. The label. Watching his mother's face fall. Crying out as she backs off and lets his father continue to man handle him.

Taylor's hands balled fists, so tight. Thin streams of blood flowing down his clenched palms. Is this why his hands are bloody? Why are his hands bloody?

Walker. Rage. Taking Taylor's hands and slamming them as hard as he can on the counter top.
Taylor screaming... White pills falling hitting the floor.
Tears, immense pain, Isaac looking at him wide eyed. Helpless in his father's grasp as Isaac steps into the bathroom, picks up the pills and stands by his father, his eyes flaming.
"You coward."

Taylor prayed that he was finally sleeping and that this was all a nightmare, although, no matter how hard he tried to shake himself awake he couldn't.

It hurts so bad. Isaac staring him down. He can't tell them.

"Nononono, dad, please stop. It hurts, it hurts. I'm sorry, I only wanted to sleep, dad. I only wanted to sleep. Only wanted to sleep a little, I swear."
No voice, why can't he speak? Why can't they hear him? Wake up. Please wake up.
"Let me go! Let me go!" Screaming silence...
Why? Why are you looking at me like that, Ike?
Screaming in his head. "Nononono, please don't look at me like that. Please."
His own brother, his best friend, the sole bearer of every secret ever shared, the person he looks up to most, calls him a coward. Tears flowing harder. Averting his eyes. Look of disgust in Isaac's face. The doorway, Zac, his mom, everyone there. Eyes meeting Zac's, saw him mouth the words "I hate you."
God no, not Zac, not Zac.
A dream. A dream, it must be. God, please, have to wake up.

People now, strangers, a sea of strangers, faceless, they have no faces!!
Hands reaching out, grabbing him, chains, chains digging into his wrists.
"Sending you away, Taylor, taking you away."
"You're gone Taylor, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, never again, never never never again."
Screaming, screaming...
"None of you are real!!!! This is a FUCKING nightmare!!!!!!"
Crash of a fist in his face, hitting the floor, hitting the floor, falling, falling, how many times could he fall? That voice, that voice all around him.
"Get up. Taylor!! Get up!!! Taylor..."
Hands grabbing him, holding him, "Let me go!!!" Fighting, pushing at the hands, have to get away... "Get off me!!!"
Scrambling out of the bed, how did he get in bed? Where are they all?
Something tugging on his foot, falling...
"TAYLOR!!! WAKE UP!!!" The shout brought him the rest of the way up, as arms caught him, breaking his fall. "Taylor! Wake up! It's a dream! It's just me!"

Taylor grabbed desperately for balance, nails digging into the arms that held him, heart racing, gasping for air. What was happening? It took only a few seconds to register that he was awake, that he had been dreaming.

The arms had pulled him up onto the bed again, and were holding him tightly. Twisting around, he looked up into the face of his father.
Still partly gripped by the dream, Taylor saw his father's face, and felt his heart lurch in his chest. Panic took over, and he was scrambling backward, twisting out of Walker's grasp.
Walker let him go immediately, not wanting to risk hurting him, but quickly got up and shut the door. He didn't want they boy running out of the room, to possibly fall down the stairs. He sat quietly, watching his son, who was backed up against the far wall, face wary and frightened. When he saw confusion begin to replace fear, he spoke, quietly.
"Tay, it was a dream. It's okay. Would you like to come sit down, now?"
Taylor only blinked at him, the reality of his surroundings not completely replacing the reality of the dream. Walker tried again, careful not to raise his voice, or move quickly.
"Tay, whatever it was, it's over. You're okay."
He watched as Taylor backed the rest of the way up to the wall, then slid down it, coming to rest on the floor, head on knees. He looked up, once, glanced at his dad, his expression miserable beyond words. He shrugged helplessly, and dropped his head back onto his crossed arms.
Walker, realizing that the boy was finally awake, moved closer.
"Tay, you okay?"
Taylor sighed. "Yeah. I'm losing my mind, but I'm okay."
Walker sat down on the floor next to him.
"You think you're losing your mind?"
Taylor gazed at him, staring into his eyes. Walker had the disconcerting feeling that his son was staring into his soul.
"Want to tell me about it, Tay?"

Taylor sighed. More than anything, he did want to talk. The dream had shaken him badly, and he needed someone to tell him things were okay.
He nodded, slightly. "Yeah. But I can't, not now. I just feel..." He stopped, the words clogging in his throat. "I feel like the walls are closing in. It's like I can't breathe."
The sound of his sister's voice wafted in, past the closed door, and the dream flashed back at him. They'd all be staring at him. They'd all be accusing him. He felt his nerves firing up again, and clutched at his dad.
"I have to get out of here. I don't know what to do." He hated the tears that threatened, he didn't want to cry in front of his dad. He rubbed fiercely at his eyes, furious with himself. "I have to get out of here. Can we go somewhere? Can you just get me out of here? Before I go crazy?"
Walker watched him for a moment, then stood, extending his hand to his son.
"Come on, lets go"
"Anywhere. Out of here."
Taylor's eyes searched his for a very long moment, perhaps looking for some sign that he could trust him, before nodding, and reaching for his father's hand.


Chapter 10

Taylor rode in silence, listening to the hum of the tires. He wanted to talk. He wanted to tell his dad what was going on. He just didn't know where to start. It was so hard to sort out his thoughts. Things just jumped around, flashes of clarity followed by confusion. He didn't know what to do. It was all too mixed up. So, he sat, mute, as the road unfolded in front of them.

Walker glanced at his son, hoping he would say something. He had so much he wanted to say, but the thought that he might sound accusing, or angry, stopped his words. So many people, experts, had warned him. "Just leave him alone, he'll open up when he's ready," that he was truly afraid of doing real damage. Still, he knew there was too much going on for Taylor to cope with on his own. He watched the road, and his son, and waited.

The riding was beginning to get to him. He'd been ignoring the queasiness that had been building, but it was reaching the point of real discomfort. Sighing, he tapped his father's arm. "Dad, I'm starting to get kind of carsick, can we stop for a while?" He smiled a little, feeling silly. "Probably I should have taken a Dramamine, before we ran away."
Walker, surprised and pleased that the boy could make even so faint an attempt at humor, smiled back at him. "We'll remember that, next time. Okay, we'll stop for a while. Or we can go back home... it's up to you."

Taylor shook his head. "No, I don't want to go home. If we could just stop... do you mind?" Walker shook his head, and pulled the car over.

He looked at Taylor, his face ghostly white in the moonlight, and finally decided it was time to jump in. Careful to keep his voice neutral, he spoke softly.
"What happened tonight? Can you tell me? How did... What was it?"
Taylor sighed. "I don't know. I just..." He ran his hands through his hair, adrenaline beginning to run. There was no air, it seemed. "I have to get out of this car..."
He was out the door and headed across the parking lot before Walker could blink. He climbed out and followed, keeping a few feet behind. Taylor seemed hairtriggered, he didn't want to spook him.
They'd pulled into the parking lot of an elementary school, and Taylor was headed for the swings. He watched him plop himself down on one, and cross his arms. Typical Taylor brooding, to his eyes. He sat down on the swing next to his son.
"You know..." His voice was faintly amused. "We must look like something from a lifetime family movie, sitting in the playground here."
Taylor breathed a laugh, grateful for the tiny respite. "I guess we do." He kicked the gravel under his feet a little, and turned to look at his dad. "If I tell you, please... promise me you won't get mad." Fear, sounding in his voice, brought Walker's guard up. "No, Tay, no, I won't get mad."
Taylor gazed off across the parking lot... "This place looks haunted, doesn't it?" He had started to tremble, and his head was thumping with the beginnings of a stress headache. "Dad..." He stopped again, one last time, his eyes drilling into his father's. "Dad... I swear to you, I was only looking for some Advil. My head hurts, you have no idea..." His breathing grew ragged, and he fought to control himself. He would not cry. "I couldn't find any, but I found that old bottle... I haven't slept in so long, all I wanted was to sleep. I know, I know that if I'd taken one of them I'd be asleep right now." He gazed blankly into space, right hand twisting the fingers on his left. "I almost did it. I was so close. I even had them in my hand. But I knew. I knew that if I took them..." He trailed off again, voice breaking. "I went and got mom, and she threw them away. But... it was like... my last hope..." He sighed, shaking his head. "I don't know. I don't know." He toed the gravel again, and when he looked up, his eyes were flashing. "Why'd you even have them?!?! This wouldn't even be happening if they hadn't been there! Do you WANT me to just..."
"NO!" His father's voice cut him off more effectively than a slap would have, and suddenly strong hands were gripping his own. "No, Taylor, we do NOT want you to go back to that. I swear to you, to God, that we had no idea those pills were there. If we had had any idea, they would have been gone!"

The pressure of the hands on his overrode the words his ears were hearing. His traumatized, terrified, and exhausted mind suddenly flung him back into the nightmare, and the hands gripping his were those of an enemy. He jerked away, jumping to his feet, skittering backward away from the enemy that now stood in front of him. His voice, ragged and hysterical, cut Walker to the bone.

"You broke my hands!!! You broke my hands trying to get them away from me! But I don't think I was even doing anything. I think it was all... all a mistake! I think you... I think you wanted me to be... doing something... I don't... You broke my hands, and you hit me... and I don't think I even had taken any... Zac said he hated me. Ike called me a coward. I tried so hard to tell you all... and those people. Those people with the chains. you just let them take me. I begged and begged but you just let them take me. I love you!! How could you let them take me?? I tried so hard to tell you..." He stopped, too shaken to continue, unaware, for the moment, that what he was remembering was a dream.

Walker, understanding some of what was going on in his son's mind, reached out and took his face gently in his hands. "Look at me, Tay. It's me. I'd never hurt you. You must know that." He expected Taylor to pull away, but surprisingly, felt his hand being tentatively held. "Tay, what did you try to tell us?"
Now Taylor looked at him, deep into his eyes, and Walker was again stricken with how ghostly and insubstantial his son looked. His voice was as faint as his appearance.
"I tried to tell you that I didn't do anything. But none of you would listen. It was like, you had all already decided." His eyes, gazing into his father's, cleared suddenly, and he seemed to realize what he'd been saying. "I'm sorry. I know, I'm all mixed up." Walker nodded. He knew.
"Dad..." Taylor's voice was choked. "I really wanted those. I really did..."
"Why, Taylor? What's so bad? Can you tell me?"
Taylor shook his head. "No. I don't know. I'm tired. My head hurts. I just can't think anymore. I can't ever think!!" His tone took on a viciousness, a fury, that Walker found himself slightly afraid of. "No matter what I want to do, who I want to talk to, nothing makes any sense!! I try to get up and get a drink, and forget halfway there, what I'm doing. Go back, and then remember again. Halfway there... it's gone again. I can't remember anybody's name. I can't even remember to take a shower, or get dressed, or even get UP sometimes!!! I hate being like this!! I can't do anything, I can't talk to anyone. Ike wants me to go see people. How??? How can I go near anyone, when I can't even... Dad I..."
He broke off, the tears he'd been fighting finally overcoming him.
"Dad, I might as well not even be alive. And I'm so scared I'll always be this way..."

Walker found himself on his feet. "I might as well not even be alive" had chilled him to his very soul. He reached for his son's hand. He didn't know what to say. He looked at Taylor, who sat with silent tears streaming down his face.
It had to be terrifying, to have your mind be so out of control. Especially for someone who'd always been so sharp. He thought for a moment, then spoke up.
"Tay, you're pretty clear right now. And you have been, the whole time we've been out."
Taylor nodded, wiping his eyes. "Yeah, I know. It comes and goes."
"And it's no better than it was when you got home?"
"Yeah, it is, I guess. I just feel so stupid..." He sighed, gazing at nothing. "I guess I feel stupid. I don't even really know what I feel. Dad..." He had started to shake again. "Dad, can I tell you something?" He didn't pause, didn't seem to require a reply. "Tonight, I got up because I had a headache. I was just looking for some Advil. I found that bottle, and... Dad I almost took them. I had them out and in my hand. I... what would have happened to me, if I had?"
"Tay, you didn't."
"But if I had?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know... I haven't slept in so long. It would have been so nice to just sleep... that's all I wanted to take them for..."
"Tay... what exactly did you do? How did your mom come to throw them out?"
"I went and got her. I knew... I knew I was going to... I tried to throw them away, I couldn't do it. I went and got her. I wanted to just kill her, when she did it, though. It was like... she'd just thrown away my last hope. Why did you have those?!"
"Tay..." The compassion in his dad's voice penetrated.
He looked up into eyes he was sure would be filled with accusation, contempt, and hatred, and read concern there, and sympathy. He reached a hand out, eyes pleading.
"Dad? Please? Just tell me what to do?"
There was no answer, really, but the arms around him then.
But for the moment, it was the best they could do, and it was enough.