The Taylight Zone - Anthology Four

08 - Out of Order - Dreamtied

"No, Zac, just go away!!"

Zac sighed, and slunk out of the bedroom. He hadn't meant to turn the radio
up too loud. Geez. Was it his fault he couldn't sleep? It was Ike's fault he
couldn't sleep, all his moaning and groaning about his virus. So he didnt feel
well, did that mean he had to yell? Zac didn't think so.

Trying to keep quiet, he wandered into the room he shared with Tay, and turned on the tv, softly, so not to wake him. The virus ripping through the family was vicious, and Tay had it worse than Ike. If Ike had yelled at him, Tay would most likely kill him.. He settled back, grinning as a familiar, cheezy, terrible movie he loved appeared before his eyes.

"Zac...c'mon, quiet down..." Taylors voice was rough, and almost whiny. "Can't you just go in the other room?"

Zac sighed and his smile vanished. He guessed he'd been laughing too loudly.

"Sorry Tay, it's just that its....." He broke off as Taylors face went white, and he grabbed for the bowl on the bedside.

Grimacing, he shook his head and left quickly. The last thing he needed was to see or hear any more of that. He was about ready to be sick himself, just from putting up with it all night.

He plopped down onto the couch in the sitting room. How did anyone expect him to sleep with all this coughing, gagging, hacking, sniffing, wheezing, puking, moaning going on? "Is it my fault I'm not sick? I don't think so...." He
rolled his eyes as Taylors voice croaked from the bedroom. "Zac, thanks for
shutting of the tv, really...."

"So I forgot the tv, so sue me....."

First Ike, now Tay. He knew things were no better in his mom and dad's room, all of the little kids were down sick with this too. Everyone wanted to be
left alone, and nobody seemed to care much what he did, or that it was the
middle of the night and he still couldn't sleep. The radio was bugging them.

The tv was bugging them. He was bugging them.

"Not my fault I'm still'd think they'd at least spare a breath to speak to me...but noooo...what time is it, anyway?" Knowing he was talking to himself, not really caring, he wandered back into the bedroom, glancing at
the clock. One AM.

"God, why am I up?"

He wandered the suite, knowing the answer.There was no way to sleep with all that racket going on, and did they care? Noooo....

Feeling more than a little abused and unappreciated, he roamed his way into the hallway.

"I could go get a exciting."

His steps took him to the elevator. Why get a coke on his own floor when he
could kill some time invading someone elses? He rode down a few floors,
humming to himself. At least out here the air wasn't contaminated. The doors
opened and he wandered down the hall to the vending machines. This floor, a carbon copy of his own, left little in the way of adventure.

"Out of order....perfect."

Sighing, he headed back to the elevator. Figured. Well, there was always the next floor down.

By the time he'd reached the lobby, Zac began to suspect that someone was
messing around with him. How could every single coke machine be out of order?

There were 42 of them in the hotel. And as far as he could tell, at least 39 of them were out of order. He hadn't tried the top three floors yet, preferring to go as far away from germ central as he could. Scowling, he headed for the lobby.

"Hey, excuse me...I got a question"

The desk clerk jumped, surprised at a voice at this hour of the morning.


"Where can I go to get a coke? All the machines are busted...."

The clerks face became puzzled. "They are?"

"They are. Every single one of them. Out of order signs on 'em all."

The young woman thought about it, and shook her head.

"I'm afraid I don't know.....if you go back to your room, you can order one
room service."

Zac shook his head.

"Nah.....I just wanted to get one out of the machine. Forget about it."

He headed out of the lobby, pausing suddenly, patting down his pockets.

"Oh man....." He went back to the desk.

"Hey, ma'am excuse me, but...I forgot my key upstairs. Could I have another

The clerks face became suspicious. She'd never seen this boy before. And why would he turn down room service? And a forgotten key??? Eyes narrowed, she picked up the phone. "What room are you in, young man? I'll have to call up and make sure it's alright to give you a key"

Zac's eyes went wild. "No!! God, don't call! You'll wake them up and they'll
kill me!!"

" don't have a room here do you?"


Zac was beyond surprised. Don't have a room?

"What're you talking about?! Of course I have a room, I've been here for a
month!! Now can I just have a key please?! It's10510 ! Don't have a room....."

He trailed off, grumbling, eyes suddenly shadowed at the smug look on the
clerks face.

"Well now, you see, I happen to know that that entire area has been reserved for a particular group, so there's no way that's your suite. Where do you live? Who are your..."

Zac's hand slammed down on the desk, and his eyes flashed.

"Now look! I know the floor is reserved, its' MY family that reserved it!! Now
are you gonna let me into my room or what?!?!"

"Don't shout at me. If that's your room, we'll just call there right now..."

Sighing, knowing there was no other way, and struggling to bite back his
temper, Zac shook his head.

"No, if you're just gonna wake them up with the phone, I may as well just go
up and bang on the door. Never mind."


The womans voice was sharp and firm.

"You will stay right there while I call upstairs."

Sagging, Zac sank down into the nearest chair. All hell was going to come down around him now, he knew it.

"But mom, I...."

"Don't you ' but mom' me! You know everyone is sick, you know we've all been up all night, and you do something STUPID like this? That phone call woke up everyone in the room, now all four of them are awake again. Do you know how long it took me to get them to sleep?! Do you think I don't need to sleep sometime tonight? What are you all gonna do if I get sick, Zac???"

Her voice was rising with every word, and Zac backed away, scowling. He
hadn't meant to get locked out.He hadn't wanted the clerk to call. None of
this was his fault.

"Mom, I didn't mean to, I just needed to get away! Ike was yelling at me, Tay
was yelling at me, I couldn't sleep, listening to them was making me sick! All
I wanted to do was get a coke! God, you'd think I committed a crime!"

Diana's face was disgusted.

"You know, Zac, if you were already up, and so bored you had to be running the halls , maybe someone could have used your help! Have some compassion. Or if you can't manage that, have some consideration!"

"Well what about consideration for me?!?! I couldn't sleep either! Everyone
was yelling at me, what was I supposed to do?! It's not my fault you guys are
all sick!"

Barely resisting the urge to slap him, his mother turned him by a shoulder,
and propelled him through the connecting door to his own room.

"Zac. Go to bed. Do not watch tv. Do not turn anything on. Do not leave the
room. Just go to bed. And be quiet."

"But Tay's in there, he's all puking and stuff, mom I don't want to sleep in



"Go to bed. NOW."

She shut the door firmly, and he heard the snick of the lock.

"Oh, this just isnt fair...." He stretched out on the couch, looking out at the stars, through the glass wall. He didn't understand, why was everyone so
down on him? What had he done? Nothing, just a mistake, like they never made mistakes? Were they perfect or something? Turning on his side, he pulled the folded afghan over himself, and tried to relax. Warm drowsiness had just begun to steal over him, when the light across the room suddenly flashed on, and he heard the slam of the bathroom door. Groaning, trying not to hear the sounds from the other side of the door, he pulled the pillow over his head.

"I'm gonna wake up with it, I know I am........I have to get out of here."

Sneering at whichever brother was in the bathroom, and had woken him up, he pocketed his key card, and quietly unlocked the door. He'd go sit by the pool, that was it. Get that coke and go sit by the pool and maybe catch some sleep down there. Nodding to himself, he started out of the room.


He jumped, Isaacs voice completely unexpected. Isaac. So it was Tay in the
bathroom. Figured.

"You in line? Or were you just gonna puke right on the rug?"

Isaac sighed, and frowned at his brother.

"Zac, c'mon. That's not fair. Where are you going? I just heard mom tell you
to stay put."

He leaned back against the doorjamb, feeling the strength draining out of him.

Why did Zac have to be such a pain, and why now? He just wasn't up to it.

"No way."

Zac's annoyance level had maxxed out.

"You're all coughin on me, sneezin on me, pukin on me, every time I even think about falling asleep, the barforama starts again, and you're all wakin me back up. I'd have to be nuts to stay here, the air is crawling with stuff...I'm

He slipped out of the room, and locked the door behind him, unmindful of the
hurt expression on his brothers face.

Behind him, Isaac sighed, and turned back to his bedroom. Zac's words stung, , but he didnt really have the energy to spare to dwell on it. He'd worry about Zac in the morning.

Zac dragged his toes as he made his way to the vending machines. He really was tired, more than anything now, he wanted to sleep. Drink a pop, and find
someplace quiet to sleep. It wasnt' right. He shouldn't have to go to all this trouble just to find a place to sleep. And what was up with these stupid pop machines?!?! He kicked ineffectually at the machine, proudly displaying yet another "out of order" sign.

"What is up with this, this just sucks!

I'm Zac Hanson, for the love of pete, and I can't even get a pop?! Where is
everyone?" He mumbled to himself as he trudged from the room, heading to the elevator to try the next floor. "There's always someone around, all I ever
have to do is ask, how come all of a sudden Zac doens't exist? Is that right?

I don't think so. Everyone's all over THEM, do they need anything, are they
OKAY, well geez, just cause I'm not sick doesn't mean I'm not'd
think I could find someone to get me a freakin pop...." His mutterings
followed him out of the elevator, cut off as his unbelieving eyes took in yet
another out of order sign. His vague craving for the coke had suddenly become an unbearable thirst.

"Okay that's it. I'm trying one more floor, and then I'm hitting management.
This is stupid. What kind of stupid trashy place is this..." He stepped back
onto the elevator, randomly punching the keypad with his thumb, closing his
eyes as he slumped against the wall. He'd almost slipped into a doze, when
the doors opened. He stepped out onto a floor he'd never seen before. Plush carpeting had given way to industrial tile, brass and gold light fixtures to utilitarian bulbs in plain glass holders, silk wallpaper to plain cream paint.

"Where the hell..." He glanced up above the elevator.

"B. Great, I'm in the basement. That figures...."

He was about to step back on and go up, when a sign caught his eye. "Employees only.....wonder what's in there?" He wandered over, curiosity overshadowing irritation for a moment, and his face lit in a grin. There. Perfect. The employee break room, boasting a fridge, microwave, two drink machines and a snack machine. And none of them sporting the hated "out of order" sign.

Nodding satisfaction, he stepped into the room, ignoring the fact that he was
not an employee. His family was paying enough to stay here, they could spare him a staff coke. It wouldn't ruin anybody's life. He dropped his change into the machine, smiling contentedly at the thunk of the can into the retrieval bin. He took his drink with great relish, and curled himself up on the small sofa in the corner, thinking for a moment that he might just have found his quiet place to sleep for the night. His eyes wandered the room as he sipped his drink, taking in notes tacked to a bulletin board, "Anyone working

Saturday 7-3, I need to switch shifts. If interested call Kate, 555-8932, or
leave a message with Linda in housekeeping." "Avon orders due in Monday, so bring that cash folks!!" "You are invited to...." "Family and Medical Leave


His eyes wandered away, lit on someones sweater draped over the back of a
chair, a tattered deck of cards , stacks of magazines, none more recent than
three months ago, Readers Digest, newspapers, coffee pot, a peg board from which hung numerous mugs, a cup of random change, bearing a taped on note.

"Take what you need, leave some when you have some extra..." Hmm. He looked over at the snack machine, and reached into his pocket. Nothing. No more money. Well, it said take what you need...

He fished a few quarters from the cup, and wandered over, eyeing the junk food inside. Nothing looked all that great, but he supposed chips would do. Reaching to plug the change into the slot, he came up short. Where was the change slot? "Where in hell......"

He checked carefully, eyes and fingers running over the face of the machine.

Where did you put the money in? "It's not free is it?" He tapped the button for the bag of chips. Nothing. "Nope...not free, so where the hell is the coin
slot?" Smiling, puzzled, he poked around the bottom of the thing, intrigued.

This was plain weird.

Zac's head was starting to ache with the strain. It just shouldn't be that

hard to figure out. It was probably right in front of his nose.

"Geez louise.... no coin slot, but there has to be one, I'm just missing it
somehow. I'm hungry, how do Iget a bag of chips?" That he could just go back upstairs, and find all the chips he wanted, in his own room, never occurred to him. Suddenly, the only thing in his concsiousness was this machine, and that bag of chips. As he stared, his brown eyes glazed over and reality drifted away.

"Ok, i put in my money, where's my chips? All Iwant is a bag of chips, there's no place to reach for them, dumb machine"

Zac jumped, looking around wildly.Where had that voice come from? It sounded as aggravated as he felt.

"Who said that? Where are you?"

"Huh? Who are you?"

The voice was young, female, distracted.

"Who am I? Who are you? WHERE are you? What the hell is going on?" Zac's voice had taken on an edge. The voice seemed to be coming from behind the machine or......inside the machine? "Where the hell are you?"

The voice took on an air of scorn. "You stop the cussing, that's not nice. I
never get a chance to have chips and now that I finally can I can't reach in
and get them, if anyone should be cussing it should be me. But I have some

Zac's eyes were huge. What was this??? The voice was definitely coming from inside the machine. He stepped around it. Nothing. Just a plug into the wall.

Stepping back, he eyed it warily. This was beyond weird.

"Okay Zac...." His own voice startled him for a moment, and he jumped.

"Geez...cut it out. Don't spook yourself. Be logical. Obviously this is a dream, and to prove it...." He gave his cheek a vicious pinch, expecting to feel nothing.

"YEOW! Oh damn that hurt!"

"Are you okay? What happened?" The voice came again, full of concern, and Zac's fear began to fade. This was weird, but it didnt' feel....dangerous.

Feeling remarkably stupid, he grinned a little and answered. "I um...pinched

A giggle came from the machine. "I did that too. It hurt! I guess we're both

"I guess we are. Hey, I'm Zac. Who, and....and WHERE, are you??"

The voice was amazed. "I'm Tally, and I don't understand this at all. I mean,
we seem to be talking through a snack machine...."

Zac nodded, thouroughly enchanted. "I know. Kinda cool, isn't it? I'm in NYC, where are you?"

The voice hesitate slightly. "Oh, nowhere near there. This is just wild."

"Yeah it is...." A crackle caught Zac's attention, and his eyes lit up. A bag of chips, the bag he'd wanted, had just fallen into the bin.

"Oh so cool...." He fished them out, and opened them, munching happily.

"Wha'tre you eating Zac?" Tally's voice sounded suspicious.

"Oh, well a bag of chips just fell over here, I was starving to death....I
couldn't figure out how to get the money in...I don't know, I guess you don't
need any?"

"Oh great. Great. Chips are the one thing out of this machine I can have, and now YOU are eating them." "Huh?" He looked at the bag, and back at the machine. "Exactly how would these be your chips?"

"Well...." She stopped , then laughed. "This is weird. Okay, tell me what's
wrong with YOUR side of the machine. "

Zac grinned. "Theres no place to put the money."

"Okay, there is here, but there's this....this shelf thing blocking the bin.

So my chips fell BEHIND it, and I bet thats them you are talking around, over

He stopped eating and looked at the chips, then at the machine. There was a freaky looking kind of black thing at the back, it almost looked like it  went......nowhere. "Let me get this right, I can't put money in, you can, you're stuff falls down, but it falls over here."

"I guess so, I think so, yeah....."

"Well put some more change in, and get some more chips, and I'll see if I can hand them over that...that you." He stuck his hand in, hesitantly, wondering if something were going to bite it. Yep, he could reach over the barrier just fine. And nothing weird happened to his hand. "Yeah, Tally, it'll work"

"No it won't I dont have any more change."

"Well can you ask someone for some?"

"Who'm I gonna ask for change at 1 am??"

He sighed, and looked at the cup on the table. He could pass her through some change or....he could just share the chips.

"Tally, if you dont mind that I ate some, you can have the rest of these, I'll
just pass them back to you."

She giggled, and her voice took on a playfull tone. "Okay, but you owe me 33 cents for your half." His laugh rang in the room, and he looked around
guiltily. He didnt' want to get caught, not now, not when something like this
was going on. He carefully folded over the top of the bag, and tentatively
stretched his hand over the barricade. A moment later, he yelped as he felt
something touch his hand. Yanking it back, hearing her matching cry of
surprise, he stared at his hand. "Oh my god, you touched me!" "I know!" Her
voice was as strained as his was. Slowly, not sure he really wanted to do
this, he reached back through. "Tally, touch my hand...." He waited a moment, and felt soft fingers slide around his, sending a jolt of pure electricity through him. Delight dawned in his eyes as he let his fingers explore her hand, and felt hers exploring his. "My god...." her voice was hushed.

"You're really real......I can touch you..." "I know...." He barely breathed

the words, too caught up in the wonder of it all to react much more. It became a joyful routine for Zac. Every evening, when the others had gone to
sleep, he pocketed his key, and journey'd to the basement employee lounge, to spend the evening with Tally. That the situation was unexplainable didn't bother either of them. They were children. It was magic. They were enchanted and delighting in every moment of it.

It wasn't until several nights had passed that Zac began to notice.

"Tally?" He had his feet up on the face of the machine, idly wondering what
housekeeping would think of the bootmarks on the plexiglass.

"Yeah Zac?"

"How come you sound like that?"

"Like what?"

"Well...." He paused, wondering how to word it. "Out of breath sort of. Like
talking makes you tired." She paused, longer than he was comfortable with.
He'd begun to wonder if she was gone, when she finally answered. "Zac, I'm
tired a little bit. But it's no big deal. How're things going on that end?
Everyone in your family still down?" He thought about it, surprised to find
that he didn't know. What was his family doing? How were they? He couldn't
remember. For an instant, it occurred to him to wonder about that. But Tallys
next words drove the thought from his mind. "Zac, you know, I may not always be here."

"How come? What do you mean, where would you be going?" The anxiety in his voice touched her. "Now, Zac, you won't spend the rest of your life talking
into a candy machine and neither will I."

The logic made him giggle, and he reached up into the cup on the table. "Here Tally..." He tossed the change over the barrier. "I cross your palm with
silver for you words of wisdom. Buy yourself some chips, on me."

"Well okay, but you'll have to give them to me. No eating them either, and you still owe me 33 cents" "Damn..." He laughed again, as he handed her the chips, smiling as he felt her grip his hand. The smile became a yelp, as he yanked his hand back, the sharp rap she'd given it startling him. "What was that for?!" "Quit your cussing. It's not polite" He giggled again, rubbing at the back of his hand. "Geez Tally, get a ruler next time." "Oh, good idea!" She laughed, and the laugh turned into a cough, wiping the smile from his face.

"Tally?" "Yeah Zac?" "You're sick, aren't you." She paused again, and sighed.

"Yeah Zac, but it's nothing you need to worry about." "Well, tell me. I mean,

I tell you all my problems, and you listen and you help me...." He stopped, the words backing up in his throat. She did. She listened to it all. She never
criticized. She never complained. She never talked about herself. And he....he had never asked her. "Oh, God, I'm such a jerk. I've never even bothered to ask her about herself. Am I so stuck on myself?" He sighed and reached back through, taking her hand. "Tally, I'm not a very good friend, am I..." He heard her cough, then laugh. "Zac, you're an awesome friend." He snorted, feeling mildly guilty. "Hey Tally, you got a picture of you? Could I see what you look like?" "Me? Uh, I guess so, I look kind of like road kill though.

Lemme sneak back and get one." A few minutes later he heard her giggle. "Okay,

I guess I can pass this through." " want one of me?" She laughed
then, out loud. "Zac, you silly, I know what you look like." "You do? Can you
see me or something? No fair...." "No Zac! Duh! Zac Hanson? Who wouldn't know what you look like?" He felt himself blushing. "Oh. Oh yeah...I um...I guess I forgot" "Forgot...." Her laughter felt good to him. "Okay, okay, so I'm not stuck up." "Here, Zac...." He reached in and felt the edge of a polaroid
snapshot. As he pulled it toward him, he gazed at it through the plastic
sheild. Pretty, she was so pretty. Auburn hair, curls, beautiful green
eyes....tiny face, so delicate. He felt his breath catch looking at it, and
quickly pulled it out to see it more closely. He'd looked for less than a
moment, when the photo seemed to shimmer, and quickly dissolved into
nothingness in his hand. "Whoa!!" Tally heard the astonishment in his voice.

"What is it Zac?" "It disappeared!! I took it out and it just disappeared!!"

" you still don't know what I look like?" He laughed. "Yeah, I do, I
looked before I took it out." He sighed and his voice became wistfull. "You're
so pretty Tally...." "I'm not, not really, not anymore. But whatever, what
happened to the picture? I know we can pass change and chips back and forth, how come not a picture?" "I don't know!" Zac's eyes scanned the room. "Let's see what else we can pass through"

The children spent the rest of the night discovering what would, and wouldn't
survive the trip through whatever their little portal was. Their hands were
fine, change for the machines, and the snacks from the machines themselves.

Nothing else lasted on the other side of the gateway. Marveling , the two of
them played until the sun began to rise, saying their dawn kissed goodnights, and hurrying away before they were missed.

Each night continued the same, but Tallys nights were getting shorter and
shorter, as she tired more quickly. Zac's voiced concerns were brushed away, and always replaced with queries about his own health, his own frame of mind.

Finally, worried beyond belief at the weak, breathless tone of her voice, he
lost his temper. "Damn it Tally, you won't even let me care about you! I know
you're sick, and I know it's bad, why won't you tell me? Why do you worry so
much about me?! I got not problems, my problems are SHIT!" Out of breath,
angry, at who he didn't know, he flung himself down onto the floor, kicking
the machine. "I can't even see you because this, this THING is in the way..."

"Zac..." Her voice, calm and steady as always. "Put your hand over the barrier for a second." He did as she asked, expecting her to take it, jumping to his feet with a yell, when instead something hit it, something that stung like
fire. "Tally!!" "Zac, I told you, no cussing. I did what you said I got a ruler. Now will you stop it?" He sat back down, scowling, realization of how very little she asked of him, dawning in his mind. She gave and gave and gave,
and refused to take anything back. Even when he had finally come down off his little self pity train, and tried to offer her some sort of support, she'd
refused it. "Zac..." "What." "I don't tell you about me because I don't want
to hear about me. I want to hear about you. I want to help you to sort things
out, and be here to listen for you. It takes my mind off my own stuff." "Well
what is your stuff. And where are you anyway? You never did tell me. Just that you weren't near New York" She laughed her tinkly laugh. "Zac you never give up. I'm far away from New York. And I'm not telling you my stuff. You don't need to know that. But Zac....." Her voice became serious, soft. "Yeah Tally?"

He reached through again, and caught up her hand, alarmed at how thin, and frail her hand felt. "I may not be back again. I know, please don't say
anything. But....I don't think I'll be able to. I just want you to know that this has been just...." She stopped. There were really no words to describe it. He nodded, he understood. "I won't be back for sure?" "I don't know...I don't think so. Maybe....I love you Zac." He felt her let go of his hand, and before he could answer, she was gone. Sighing, worried, he made his way back to his bed.

That was the last time Zac talked to Tally. He ran down the next night, but
she never came. Dejected, worried, he waited until dawn, with no sweet,
tripping voice coming to him. Again, and again, night after night, he ran
down, to find an empty room, with no sweet friend waiting for him. Finally,
uwilling to accept it, but unable to deny it any longer, he acknowledged the
unavoidable. She was gone. Whatever magic had been happening, for whatever reason, had ended.

Unable to sleep, wanting to talk to someone, but knowing nobody would ever
believe that he had a friend who's voice came from a snack machine, he
wandered to the computer and signed on. The net held little interest for him,
and he leaned on one hand, idly checking bookmarks. Tulsaworld News. Ah the paper. "Might as well see what's happening at home...wonder if anyone I know got arrested?" He surfed halfheartedly, finding most, if not all of the news, hopelessly boring. "Marriages. Yay." Click. "Events...whoopee" Click. "Births and deaths...put those together why don't you, mmmhmmmm...." He had barely reached for the mouse when a Picture caught his eye. A wavy haired, pale skinned, fine featured girl, brilliant green eyes reduced to white/gray in the black and white photo. "Oh my God...." He read the name under the picture.

"Talia....Tally....Oh my God..." Stunned, he read the page long article,
relaying the life of a 12 year old girl, who had never lost hope in the face of insurmountable odds. He read of her volunteering with the very young kids,
at the cancer hospital in which she'd spent the last six months of her life , never stopping even in the face of her own illness, reading to the little ones,
playing with them, soothing their fears. A quote from her was included in the
article. "Oh, it's not a hard thing to do, it takes my mind off my own stuff, and takes their minds off theirs...I just want to help them not be scared, cause I've been there, and it just helps to hold the hand of someone who's been there" He could hear her voice in his head, and glanced down at the date of her death. The night he'd run down and stayed until dawn. The night she
hadn't come back. The night after she'd told him goodbye. Flashes of
conversations blinked in his mind, while his tears fell onto the keyboard.
Her listening to his gripes and complaints when her own were so much worse.

Her lack of complaint, her complete refusal to mention her illness, while she
gave total attention to his endless litany of trivial injuries, real and imagined. And what had she ever asked for in return? "For me to stop cussing and I couldn't even manage that...." Unable to hold together any longer, he laid his head down and cried, not caring who heard him, not caring about the
questions he would be asked.

Isaac wandered out into the sitting room, smiling a little at the sight of his
brother, asleep with his head on the keyboard. "Zac....." He shook his head,
and shook him gently. "Zac, bud, c'mon. You okay?" His voice became worried, at the sight of his brothers tearstained face. "What? Ike?....." "Pretty
sleepy buddy, huh? You fell asleep out here. Tay's finally stopped throwing
up, it should be quiet now, you'll be able to sleep. Or you can have my room
if you want...come on.." Zac's eyes took in the breaking dawn., and Isaac's
pale face. "What time is it?" "Just a little before 5 in the morning. You better go on to bed...." "Ike, are you sick?? Why are you so white?" "Well yeah Zac, you know that...." " come you're still sick? What did you say about Tay?" "That the pukefest seems to be over, and he wont be keeping you awake anymore." "How come everyone's still sick? It's been over a week!" "

A week?" Isaac smiled fondly at his brother. "Zac, you went stomping out to
get a coke just a little over four hours ago. Go to bed, bud" "Bed...." Zac
stood up, and staggered into Isaacs arms. "Oh, whoa I think I'm a little
tired...." "Yeah, I'd say so...." Isaac helped him to bed, listening to Zac's
mutterings. "But I don't.....every night..the coke, and the change, and I
touched her hand Ike! The snack machine, Ike TALIA!!" He broke away from Ike's grasp, and ran back to the computer, eyes skimming over the date again. "Oh my god, she died yesterday! Ike..." His legs gave out then,and he sank, crying all over again, to the floor. Isaac was beside him in a minute, arms around him, as he listened to Zac's incredible tale. More often than not, tears choked his words beyond understanding, but Isaac, and Taylor, who had joined them, hearing his brothers distress, picked up most of it, eyeing each other over Zac's head, each thinking that the boy had had one heck of an upsetting dream. "Zac...." Taylors voice was soft, and Zac leaned into him, releasing Isaac for the moment. "It wasn't a dream Tay, you don't understand. She only wanted to talk about me, never about herself....God I was so selfish, so selfish and I never will have the chance to tell her I'm sorry, or to make it  up to her...She never told me, Tay, she never told me I was too selfish. I never even paid her back her lousy 33 cents..."

Shaking his head, looking helplessly up at Isaac, Taylor just hugged him,
wishing he had some idea what to say. "Well, Zac, she must have had her
reasons...." Isaacs voice cut through the hysteria, and Zac nodded, trying to
catch his breath. "Reasons, yeah...she did....god, I was too selfish for
words....and she loved me anyway" "Come on Zac...." Taylor helped him to his feet, and led him into the bedroom. "You go to sleep, bud, you're way too
undone." Zac nodded. He felt undone. His brothers hand rubbed his back gently and he drifted off.

He woke up a few hours later, to find both of his brothers sound asleep. One
glance at their faces told him they weren't feeling any too great. Sighing, he
pulled a blanket over Taylor, and pulled one of a few too many off of Isaac. Shrugging, knowing that at least they were asleep, he went into his mothers room, his grief uneased, his heart heavy. He wanted to tell his mother, but he knew, knew, that what had happened to him wasn't something anyone would believe. He paused outside her door, hearing her trying to comfort one of the little ones.

"She sounds so tired......" Knocking softly, he stepped inside, taking in the
chaos of a vomiting sibling, and exhausted mother. "Aw mom, I'll take her..."
He reached over and pushed sweat damp hair out of his sisters face, and slid an arm around her. "Go on, go back to bed. I'll take care of her...." His
mother, unwilling to accept that this blond angel was her son, stared in
disbelief. "Go, go on, I'm up, I'll look out for these guys." She nodded and
left quickly, afraid he would change his mind. Zac watched her go, and turned his eyes back down to his sister. This wasn't how he'd wanted to spend his day, but thoughts of another girls sacrifices were heavy on him, and his heart told him that while it was too late to make anything up to Tally, it wasn't too late to start being good to his family. These people loved him
unconditionally, and he knew the little girl in his arms would be the first one to come hold his hair back, if it were him. His paranoia about catching it
faded as he thought about it. "If I get sick, I get sick. They'll all be here to help me...."

They headed home a few days later, an inexplicably subdued Zac in tow. His
help had been appreciated, but the sadness unnerved them all. He seemed to be grieving, but for who? Taylor had found the printed out article about the little girl from Tulsa, and had taken it to his mother. "Mom....Mom, read
this, did Zac know her?" Diana had skimmed the article, noted the area the
girl had lived in, and shaken her head. "No, no Tay, I don't think so, why? So sad..."

Taylor had only shrugged and tucked the article into Zacs suitcase.

Zac wandered through the cemetary, eyes intent on the inscriptions. The
funeral home in the paper, had told him she was buried here. If he could just
find it. It was so quiet here, normally he would have found it creepy, but for
some reason it felt right. He wandered for a while, never losing hope that he
would find it, and finally, around a corner, there it was. Talia Jane Martin.
1-12-86---7-6-98. "That's it. That's you Tally." He stretched out, back
against the headstone, long legs stretched out along the length of the grave.

Somehow, he didn't think she'd mind. "I gotta talk to you Tally. You listened,
and listened and listened, and I said a lot of damn stupid stuff, but I never
really said anything that meant anything, did I?" He winced as a sharp pain
lanced across his hand. "Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, no cussing. Tally I'm
just hopeless I guess. I was awfull, I was selfish, I was a loser, I was a pig,and I just dumped on you something awful and you let me get away with it.

Oh I know,I guess I'm not really selfish, just kind of caught up in myself,
and I needed to talk and you were there, needed more, and you never told me, and I was so stuck in my own shit..." That pain again, and he caught his breath"....sorry, stuff, that I never even thought to ask you until it was too late. I wish I could make it up to you, but I know I can't. The best I can do, I know, I know Tally, is to just make sure I listen to them, my family and the other people who love me, and maybe even the people who don't, maybe just think more about what other people might need....I was so awfull to Tay and Ike, they were so sick and instead of trying to help them, I tried to get away from them, because they were grossing me out, because I was afraid I would get sick, and you know what I DID get sick and you know who was the first one there? Ike was, that's who, and even after I'd been so awfull to him....I need to be...." He stopped for a minute, waiting for the word to come to him 'Compassionate, even with them, especially with them, because they know exactly what I'm going through, cause they're going through it too. No, no...I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid of you, I don't want to be nice because I
think a ghost is haunting me...I know I'd like it if you did though, Tally..."
His face lit in a smile for a moment, "But you just made me see, you made me see that all that sh....stuff I was worried about, and complaining about, it
was nonsense. It didn't mean anything Tally, It wasn't anything. I was just spoiled that's all. I thought nobody was there for me because nobody came running to make it silent for me and hand me a coke and entertain me when I couldn't sleep, but when I really needed them, when I was sick and could'nt even get up, they were right there, even though they got kinda messed up, they were there for me, even though I hadn't been there for showed me, Tally, you showed me what was important, and what it means to love somebody.To love somebody unselfishly, not for what they might do for you, but just because you love them. I wish I'd really known you, I mean, I know you're here, you hit me two times already dammit....Ow! Three times,
Tally.....but I guess if I didn't question a talking snack machine I won't
question this. And I won't cuss anymore either, I'll just really try hard not to because....I don't mind if you haunt me, but I don't want you smacking my
hand anymore." He sat back, the flood of words drying up as suddenly as it had started. He blinked, knowing that something had just happened, not sure what t was. There was someone here with him though, someone he didn't want to, wasn't ready to, say goodbye to yet. "If I ever really need you, though Tally, you'll be there won't you? It's too late for me to do that for you, but for you, I'll try to be there for the others. And if I REALLY miss you, I'll just swear. You'll have to come back around to smack me." The breeze blew through his hair then, and the leaves above his head rustled, faintly reminiscent of a tinkling, musical giggle he knew well. That same breeze, softly touched his face, the feel of a kiss almost, and he thought, if he listened carefully, he could hear her voice...almost. Yes, it was time to say goodbye. He would never know why it had happened, and probably neither would she...but it had. He breathed out the word, "goodbye" and folded his arms onto his knees, laying his cheek on them, letting the breeze dry the tears that fell unheeded from his eyes. His thoughts drifted easily as the motes on the wind, remembering, this time without all the pain. Out of order signs, he remembered all the out of order sings, and smiled a little. "Boy was someone trying to tell me something. It sure wasn't those machines that were out of order, it wasn't them that needed fixing. It was me." Sighing, he wiped the tears from his face and shut his eyes, peaceful sleep taking him right there, safe under the trees.He never heard the car drive up, or his brothers soft steps. He just knew that suddenly arms were around him, picking him up, and another soft and much loved voice came, a breath in his ear. "C'mon Zac, let's go home...."