Free Me

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Dark Side

For almost a month now, Zayne has been on edge, terrified his father will send him to a conversion camp. Knowing the closest one is in Dallas doesn’t help either, the distance almost scares him more than the camp. He hasn’t been sleeping and he’s been struggling to not cling to me in public. Both of us have been struggling with that.

While he’s struggling with the fear of being sent away, he’s been trying hard to eat more and has made a little bit of progress. Some days are harder than others, especially with Conrad around.

Conrad and his girlfriend broke up two weeks ago, giving Tempe the opportunity she wanted. It’s because of this that I now spend every day at lunch with my sister wishing I could strangle him with his own ego.

Zayne usually sits in the bathroom by the office at lunch just to get away from everyone. We take advantage of no one going in there to have a little bit of time to ourselves in the chaos of our school.

Every night I’m at his house, comforting him and giving him the sense of security he needs. His father is coming home later and later, and talks to him less and less.

This is my seventh night in a row I’ve snuck out to see him, I must be breaking some record. Deep down I’m nervous, tonight his parents will be out until really late trying to get some private time so it’ll just be me and Zayne.

We’ve been texting most of the day, he doesn’t seem to be doing well.

I could bring a movie and some food? My mom made truffles

I don’t know Josh. Tonight I think I just want to enjoy us being alone, after everything the past couple months has dropped I think we need just one night

Conrad has been giving him a really hard time at school, especially in first period. It’s hard to start every day by being tormented, and it’s hard to watch. He’s upped his game in finding new ways to torment Zayne. Over the weekend he had someone gotten into Zayne’s locker and stuffed it full of tiny stress balls shaped like the shit emoji and cupcakes. He’s been tripping him on the way to his desk in Physics when Mr. Roe isn’t looking. He jumped Zayne on his way home last week giving him a massive black eye.

Part of me is afraid Zayne won’t be able to handle it much longer. At lunch I’m proven right.

Zayne has been trying to get lunch in line, he’s been trying hard to eat three meals a day. The downside, being in line makes him an easy target.

I’m sitting at a lunch table with Arriana, Tempe, Caira, Conrad, and his friends writing in my journal trying to ignore them. Conrad whispers something to Tempe causing her to laugh and run her hands all over him. I debate whether or not I should puke as he scoots her off his lap, gets up and marches over to Zayne.

The table we’re at is rather close to the lunch line and I hear everything.

Conrad puts his hand on Zayne’s shoulder, as if they’ve been friends forever, “You know Cupcake, I really just want to extend my condolences. I can’t imagine what your parents are going through, being forced to deal with your perverted ass every single day. They must be so embarrassed, feeling responsible for your sickness.”

Arriana grabs my hand and loses all color in her face. Even Caira is taken aback and looks disturbed.

All I see is the last wire in Zayne get cut. Suddenly in front of everyone, Conrad is on the floor holding his nose. Before anyone can react, Zayne is on top of Conrad hitting him and swearing and screaming.

“Don’t you ever talk about my parents like that!” His fist meets Conrad’s cheek, “I have put up with you and your shit for four years! I am so fucking sick of it!”

Conrad tries to cover his face and get away but Zayne has absolutely snapped. Me and a few other guys jump up to break up the fight. Me and one other guy grab Zayne and pull him back off Conrad who is bleeding.

The football coach comes up and grabs Zayne, pulling him out of my grasp.

“You call me the sick one you fucking ass?” He screaming at the top of his lungs, his face is bright red, “You’re the one who can’t survive one day without laughing at making someone’s life a living hell! And for what? I’ve never done anything to you! I just want to be me but all you want is to make me hate myself! You’re the sick one!”

He gets dragged out of the lunchroom as everyone crowds around the scene.

Conrad struggles to stand up, his shirt stained and hair tousled, “What a fucking freak show.”

For the first time since I met Conrad, I see the whole school turn on him. Starting with my sister and Caira.

“You might have taken it too far Conrad,” Caira gives him a disgusted sneer, “Yeah he’s weird and gross but what you said was bullshit that no one deserves.”

Arriana actually spits at him!

“I hope you’re happy,” she barks, “You have successfully destroyed him. And for what? Because he’s different? Because you could? Because he dared to be himself? He’s right, you are the sick one.”

People mutter commentary, some siding with Zayne some with Conrad, some even go as far to say they should both be expelled.

I take my chance in the midst of the chaos to run after Zayne and to try and defend him to the school. People like Conrad have gotten away with this shit for far too long.

I spend an hour in the office with a bunch of other kids picked at random to find out what really happened. I sit down with the counselor who writes down everything I say as I describe everything that Zayne said, and all he’s done since freshman year.

As I leave the office I see Zayne in the principal’s office, his head in his hands crying as our principal, Ms. Jennings, gently rubs his back and keeps talking to him.

Tonight is going to be really rough.

I spend every second of class watching my phone hoping to hear from Zayne. Silence.

I check when I get home. Nothing.

When my parents go to bed. Not a single text.

I call his mom, “Mrs. Daveen? It’s Josh, is Zayne ok? I haven’t heard anything, and I’m really worried. I don’t know if I can still come over but I at least want to make sure he’s ok.”

Her voice is stressed and sad, “It’s not looking good Josh. The school isn’t sure what to do, no one ever actually reported this Conrad boy for what he did and while Zayne has been bullied nonstop he did attack someone. I don’t even really know what happened, he won’t talk to us. I’m still going out with his father tonight, he’s steaming over this whole thing. If you want to come over you can, I think you’re the only one he’ll talk to right now.”

I slide out my window and take off on my bike minutes after I hang up. I’m over there just as his parents start to get into their station wagon.

His mom hugs me, “Thank you Josh, he needs someone right now. I’m afraid that if we push we’ll drive him farther away. We don’t even know how the fight started.”

His father stands there, firm and stoic as I tell them what happened and what Conrad said. His mom covers her mouth as tears start falling, his father closes his eyes and drops his head.

“Tiffany, get in the car,” his voice booms over us, “I need a minute.”

She nods, climbing in while wiping away tears. Mr. Daveen walks around the car and stands in front of me, towering over me. I try to stand my ground.

“I haven’t taken the time to meet you,” he glares down at me skeptically.

“I’m Josh, it’s nice to finally meet you. Zayne will never admit it but he really values your opinion and looks up to you.”

Nothing on his face changes.

“Do you care about my son?”

“Yes sir.”

“Do you truly care? Or is this some sick joke like the crap pulled today?” His voice gets heavier and louder.

“With all due respect sir,” I take a step closer, “I’m the one who’s been making sure your son eats because he’s been too disgusted by himself to do so since you can’t seem to eat dinner with him.

“Now you listen he--”

“I’ve been here holding him while he cries in fear of you sending him to a conversion camp. I’ve held him until he’s finally calm enough to sleep after the torture he endures every day at school. I’ve always respected his wishes even when it kills me, like when he begs me to hide our relationship for the sake of my and my sister’s reputations. I care more about your son more than he thinks you do.”

He tightens his jaw, “I would never send my son to a group like that! I didn’t know what they really were, as soon as I found out I shredded that paper. I love my son, and I would never willingly be the reason he hurts himself. If you care about him as much as I do, as much as his mother does, as much as I hope you do, you’ll get your ass in there and help him. You’ll stand for him, and you’ll protect him with all you have.”

“Sir,” I finally meet his eyes, they look so hurt as tears threaten to spill, “If I could I would never leave his side.”

He reaches out his hand and shakes mine, his eyes still like daggers as he glares at me, before he gets in the car with his wife. I stomp up the stairs, looking back to see them both crying, holding each other.

I so badly want them to heal, god knows they need each other.

I knock on the door, quickly greeted by a very hellish looking Zayne. His shirt hangs off him, clearly about ten sizes to big, his entire body limply getting dragged along as he pulls me inside.

I don’t get a single word out as he pushes me against the now closed door and slams his lips on mine. He holds the sides of my face and I can feel the heat radiating off of him.

I hold his waist tightly as he starts biting my lip and breathing heavily. I so badly want to talk to him and find out what happened, but part of me wants this to go on.

He moves his hands into my hair, now longer than when we first kissed, and starts grabbing it. He pulls back to grab my hand and pull me into his room.

Zayne won’t meet my eyes as he pushes me back onto his bed and angles himself above me. He starts biting and kissing my neck.

“Zayne,” his hand goes up my shirt, “Zayne calm down. What’s going on?”

He doesn’t seem to be listening, his breath is hot and heavy on my skin. He yanks his shirt off, revealing the many bruises in different stages of healing. He starts making his way to kiss me again but I press my hands on his chest.

“Zayne! Please talk to me,” his eyes are shining with tears, “Please.”

“Josh,” he falls back and sits facing away from me at the foot of his bed, “I’m sorry. But please, for once don’t ask questions, don’t try and fix things, he went too far today. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

I prop myself up and sit behind him. I carefully place my hands on the sides of his arm, placing a soft trail of kisses on his shoulder.

“You shouldn’t have to go through any of this Zayne. If I could make it stop I would, I would happily announce to the world that we’re together if it would take the heat off you.”

He jumps up and turns to face me, “No! You’re not telling anyone, I’m not letting you go trough any of this for me. You and Arriana don’t deserve the shit I go through!”

“Zayne, I just--”

“No! Now please just shut up for one night,” He comes over and pulls my shirt over my head as he starts to kiss me again, his hand cupping my cheek.

I reach up to grab his wrist to pull him back. His skin feels rougher than I remember, he starts trying to pull his hand away.

I back away from his kiss and look at his wrist. It’s covered in deep, red cuts. He still fights to pull his arm away from me.

“What the hell is this?” I yell at him as he finally pulls away.

He doesn’t say anything. He stands a few steps away and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so damaged. His shoulders are slumped and he’s covered in bruises, I’m now seeing a small amount of blood smearing on the inside of his wrists.

I come up and grab both his arms, facing his wrists to the ceiling. They’re both incredibly cut up.

“Zayne. Why would you do this?”

“What else can I do? Nothing’s going to change, and I’m so sick of bottling up how much it hurts. I hate how much it hurts and how often I feel what they say is right, at least this way the pain is real and valid!”

“Zayne! Stop!” I hold his shoulders, “None of what they say is true! There is nothing wrong with you! You don’t deserve any of this, you don’t deserve to hurt in any way! Your pain is valid, even if it shouldn’t even be here, it is valid.”

I pull him close and hug him. He and I drop to our knees as he tightly holds me, burying his face into my shoulder.

I get him into bed and hold him in my arms until his parents come home. By then he’s calmed down and is asleep.

I sit with them and explain everything that happened and everything he’s going through. You can see in their faces they think they’ve failed. I tell them that none of it is their fault.

“I think I might have something to help,” the look at me confused and hopeful, “I need your permission to take Zayne for the day on Saturday.”

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