Zayne isn’t at school the next day, he technically isn’t suspended because the school is afraid of a lawsuit, but the principal and his parents agreed he needs a few days away from the people at school
I walk into Physics and am shocked to see Conrad and his bandaged nose sitting in his seat.
“What are you doing here?” I ask fighting the urge to hit him.
“Well most teenagers come to school five days a week in an effort to learn, so I thought I’d take part,” he gives me a smug smile.
“You treat someone like crap everyday for four years and you still aren’t even suspended? You still dare show your face after the well deserved ass kicking you got?”
He gets up and gets in my face, “You got a problem with me Notes?”
“You know what Conrad? I do, I really do. Zayne did nothing to aggravate you, he did nothing to deserve your shit, but you still made his life a living hell. I do have a problem with you!”
“What do you care about that freak? He brought this on himself when he decided to be a disgusting fag!”
I grab his shirt, “Don’t call him that! He’s twice the man you are!”
Conrad looks scared for a second, but once the flip switches in his head, I know I’ve fucked up, “Wait a second,” he smiles, “Are you... And Cupcake... No way.”
His voice is low as I stare at him, seeing nothing but red.
“Conrad I will say this once. If you treat Zayne or anyone like that ever again I will kick your ass so hard you’ll need a hospital. I’ve seen you walk the halls like you own them for far too long. Your reign is over.”
His eyes get dark and I feel him shake a little as I drop him and head to my seat. I look up and see Mr. Roe watching from outside the classroom, he comes in and acts like nothing happened.
He starts teaching and I just stare out the window. Today is Friday. Tomorrow is Saturday. Today needs to end faster.
Conrad looks back at me halfway through class, I elect to pretend I don’t notice. I know it’s a very real possibility I might get outed before lunch. At this point though, I don’t think I care.
The day drags on, and Conrad keeps his mouth shut for all of it. Now he’s the one alone at lunch, even Tempe ditched him. It feels good seeing him get a taste of his own medicine.
I dart through the day so I can get home and prepare for tomorrow. I brief Arriana on what’s happening and ask her to cover, she agrees and says she’ll tell mom and dad that I’m with her and Tempe. Tempe has moved on from Conrad back to me, so we’re certain she’ll tell people she was with me if she’s asked.
I spend an hour on the phone with Zayne telling him to be ready by ten tomorrow morning, that we’re borrowing his dad’s car and going on a small trip. He begs to know what’s going on but eventually gets tired and goes to bed.
By ten thirty I’ve followed his lead. I go to bed, and pray my plan works. It has too.
I wake up to the sound of Arriana rummaging through my closet.
It’s eight in the morning, “Can I help you?”
She straightens up and turns quickly, smiling, “I want to help you get ready! I’m thinking the red dip dye shirt and your black jeans.”
“Arriana it’s not a fashion show,” I climb out of bed and she starts fussing with my hair.
“I know but it is still really important. You should try to look nice, maybe shower,” she cringes at my messy hair.
I smirk and push her hand away before laying back down. I fall asleep again easily enough even with her babbling on about my clothes.
After waking up again an hour later I finally pull myself out of bed. I can hear Arriana in her room next to mine, our two rooms share a bathroom so every time she does any part of her thirty part morning routine, I hear it. It’s part of why I wake up later, I just shower and I’m done, I don’t want to wait and listen to her for an hour.
I see she had a field day with my closet, as now all my clothes are folded, on hangers, and organized. I actually don’t mind.
Hopping in the shower, I can’t stop smiling. Today is really important, it could be a really big stepping stone for Zayne and helping to accept himself and let go of all the pain he’s holding.
I step out of shower to grab my jeans and find my sister on my bed.
“Holy shit!” I put my hand over my heart to keep it in my chest after her sudden appearance, “Ever heard of knocking? You’re lucky I’m wearing a towel.”
She smiles wide, “Zayne called, he’s ready whenever you want to go get him. I emptied your backpack and filled it with snacks since you guys will probably be gone all day. Get dressed! You got to get going!”
“Arri, we don’t need to be there until eleven, if he and I leave in half an hour we’ll still get there with time to get breakfast,” I grab my clothes off the chair by my closet before locking myself in the bathroom again. I quickly toss the clothes on and come out to grab my shoes.
“Are you ready?” Arriana takes my hand and smiles at me.
“I’m so much more than ready. So much is riding on today going well.”
I slip on my shoes and grab my bag, running down the hall to meet Arriana in the yard. I give my mom a kiss and wait for her to go inside before mounting my bike and leaving.
I make it to his house by nine twenty, his parents are already there with Zayne and the car keys.
Mrs. Daveen is talking to Zayne in the car while his dad waits for me to approach. I lock my bike on the stairs before I stride over to see them.
“You scratch my car and I’ll beat you. Here’s $50, make sure he eats and call us when you’re on the way back. We’ll wait up for you two.”
I nod, taking the money and the keys I make my way to the car and say a quick hello to Mrs. Daveen. She looks as excited as I feel. I get in the drivers seat next to Zayne, who needless to say, looks tired and annoyed.
“Where are we going?” He has a blanket in his lap and he gives me a frumpy pout.
“It’s a surprise,” I turn the engine over, driving off with a wave to his parents.
“Is this the part where you kill me and ransom my corpse to my family?”
“Zayne what the hell?” I start laughing, only slightly disturbed.
“Murder shows, I couldn’t sleep,” he pulls the blanket up past his shoulders, “My parents were up last night talking about what happened at school. I guess the principal wants to help us fight what happened these past few years, but my parents are wondering if it will do more harm than good. Like, why poke the sleeping bear?”
“Zayne, babe, I hate to break it to you but you and Conrad already kind of poked the bear a bit.”
He puts his forehead on the window. The past two days have been really hard, not just on him. At school people are talking about Zayne, rumors are spreading that he got expelled or he did get sent away to a camp. Zayne’s just sat in his room in bed, he’s been so quiet. His mom and dad have been alternating who’s home so someone is always there with him. Finding out he hurt himself really took a toll on all of us.
“Why don’t you try and rest some? We’re going to be driving for close to two hours,” I reach over and place my hand on his knee, giving him a gently squeeze, “It’ll be ok.”
He closes his eyes and I pull out a CD I made a couple weeks ago with all of Zayne’s favorite songs including Everybody Talks by Neon Trees and some Linkin Park songs. The first song to play is Heavy, a song by Linkin Park and Kiiara.
About half way through the song, Zayne starts muttering in his sleepy, low voice, “Words can’t express just how heavy everything really is.”
My heart aches hearing how hopeless his voice is becoming, we keep driving and soon the gently movement puts Zayne to sleep. I pull out a granola bar from my bag and try to drive just a little faster.
It takes a little less than an hour and a half before we hit Dallas. As we approach the community center I start to shake Zayne awake.
“Are you hungry?” I ask as he straightens up and stretches.
“Kind of,” He looks around and tries to wake up, “Where are we?”
“Dallas, how do waffles sound?” I see a waffle house close by and head in that direction when he starts nodding.
I let him pig out, I’ve saved ever penny from my job since his birthday is coming up in three weeks, but I think letting him splurge will really help his current state.
We kill time with hot chocolate and small talk until a quarter to eleven. At that point I drag him away from his sugar and head down the street to the community center. I take his hand and walk inside. The first thing we see is a sign reading ”Love Yourself Support Group for LGBTQ+ 11 am-1 pm“.
“Josh what is this?” Zayne looks nervous.
“I found this group over a month ago, I was planning to come after graduating, I think it could help. Will you try it?”
He pulls his arms in close to himself and bites his lip, “You’ll stay with me?”
I nod and we walk in together along with close to seventeen other people, all of us taking a seat in a circle of fold out chairs.
Everyone mingles while I try and calm Zayne down, he’s terrified to talk about what’s happened and what he’s been through. I pull my chair closer and hold his hand as a tall woman in a t-shirt and jeans comes to join us in the circle.
“Welcome everyone to the Love Yourself Support Group. This is a safe place to discuss and share your stories and receive support and resources. If you choose to share, please tell us your name, sexuality and or gender identity. My name is Marissa, I’m bisexual and have been head of our outreach program for six years now,” she tells her story of getting caught with a classmate and kicked out of her house at sixteen and how she almost OD’ed on the street before finally coming to accept herself. When she’s done another person raises their hand.
“My name is Devin, I identify as non-binary and I came out two years ago. My family supported me as best they could but they didn’t know what it meant to be non-binary, and at school and in town I wasn’t met with much kindness. Kids would yell at me and tell me I was stupid, older people would try to scold me and say ‘there’s only two genders’. For a while I was confused and thought maybe I was gender-fluid, but I didn’t really feel male or female. Last year I came into my school to find everyone had shoved bible versus and conversion camp pamphlets in my locker. I felt really isolated and even tried to kill myself to avoid the bullies. My parents have since put me into therapy where I was refereed here. I know I shouldn’t have tried to kill myself but at times it is really hard to deal with the cruelty I face regularly.”
Marissa turns to face Devin and expresses that we live in a world still struggling to accept the LGBT+ community and that so many people will have hurtful things to say. She expresses that in reality, these people and their opinions have no power over how we choose to love and identify ourselves.
A few more people share including a gender-fluid person who was attacked in a library bathroom because they chose to use the bathroom they identified with instead of “what was in their pants”. Zayne squeezes my hand throughout all the stories; during the short break I encourage him to share. He hesitates and asks for some space.
I go talk to Marissa, explaining why we’re here and what I hope to accomplish. She recommends I share in an effort to make Zayne feel secure. After we all sit she looks to me and I nod.
“My name is Josh, I’m gay and still haven’t come out to anyone but my sister and obviously, my boyfriend,” I look at Zayne and meet his shocked gaze with a careful smile, “I’ve been afraid to come out because of how people treat us where I live, but seeing how awful they treat someone I really care about... Someone I think I love, it makes me want to scream from the rooftops just so maybe I can finally defend him and take some of the pressure away.”
Zayne looks speechless.
When asked why I haven’t come out and revealed my relationship I talk about my family and how he doesn’t want to put me in that position. I stop sharing but my mind doesn’t stop going. I see Zayne slowly sit up and lean forward in his seat. He raises his hand and waits for Marissa to acknowledge him.
“My name is Zayne,” his voice wavers a bit, “I’m gay and came out in seventh grade...”
He tells the group everything he’s been through, even his eating disorder and his recent fight with Conrad. When he starts talking about his dad or what Conrad said, he starts looking ready to cry, I reach out for his hand and hold it tightly. He’s met with all types of support from group members, all telling him that none of what they say is valid and that they’re just ignorant. Marissa tells him to focus on the good, to focus on those in his corner rather than those against him; she looks at me as she speaks. He starts crying a little as she provides kind words of encouragement and commends him on his strength through the years.
After the group disbands, a lot of people come up to us and tell us they are proud of how strong we are and offer Zayne hugs and words of understanding and validation.
The car ride home, Zayne just watches out the window, I don’t know what he’s thinking but don’t ask. He’s had a long day and I think he needs to just clear his mind.
I take him home and put him to bed. I fill in his parents and head to the mall where I meet Arriana. I text Zayne telling him to call me whenever he feels ready and go enjoy some time with my sister.
Monday is going to be special. Everything is going to change.