Free Me

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Let Go

I woke up Friday morning in bed and with Zayne gone. Our parents had come home and put us to bed while Zayne’s family had gotten him home to do the same. We all spent Friday as slugs, Caira and Tempe even fell asleep in class at one point because they were too freaked out to sleep when they got home.

Normally after school I would have hung out with Arriana or Zayne, but we all kind of had the same idea and ended up going to bed when we got home. None of us did anything until Saturday and even then only Zayne and I went out to do anything.

I took him out to lunch at a small Chinese place and let him order whatever he wants in an attempt to create a nice lead up to an awesome birthday in a couple days. Arriana and I have been working on perfecting our gifts, Arriana and I spent an hour in Target picking wrapping paper, bows, and cards the day after I told her about his birthday.

He has no idea I’ve planned anything or gotten him anything, and I know he wouldn’t want me to but he’s made a lot of progress and deserves an awesome birthday to celebrate. His mom and my mom are even making him a cake together.

I take him to the mall after lunch and we wander around, spending a lot of time in Hot Topic, given how secure Zayne feels there. I listen to him jabber on about bands and Disney characters, including the little blue thing I saw him with before school started. He tells me about his little cousin, related to the one he stayed with in Seattle, who loved this stuff; they bonded over this stuff and a love for the color pink. He died his hair after she died in a car accident not long after he came out. The little blue character he has was her favorite, the movie it was in was all about family and unconditional love, I can understand why Zayne is so drawn to it.

“Maybe tonight we can watch it together,” I put my arm around his shoulder and smile.

While he wanders the store, I find something I really like and buy it to add to his birthday box.

We walk around a little longer, find the movie for him, and head to my place to settle in for the night. He watches the movie so intently and so do I, I was never into Disney but this one I really like. I take a second to look at the DVD box and check out the title to find it online later and maybe even put some stuff from it in his birthday box. Lilo and Stitch, I need to remember that.

He stays for dinner and gives us all a quick “thank you” and “good night” before meeting his mom in the car to go home. I help my mom clean up and then head to bed.

Waking up on Sunday, I feel very sluggish, like I slept but didn’t actually sleep. Zayne is out with his family all day, meaning I don’t hear from him at all.

I spend my day doing homework and hanging out with my family. Arriana and I finally wrap our presents and everything that night so we can focus on giving him a small party.

Before climbing into bed after dinner that night, I send Zayne a quick text.

I love you. I hope you had a good day and I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.

I put up my phone and close my eyes, feeling like my alarm is already ringing a second later. I drag myself out of bed and stretch in agony as I feel the Monday slump settle into me. Arriana is already bouncing around while I sit there dragging my feet and slipping into clothes. I take so long getting ready and eating that my mom insists on driving Arriana and me the short distance to school.

As soon as we get in the front doors I see Zayne. Suddenly I’m wide awake, and not for any good reason. Zayne stands at his locker looking like death warmed over, pale and covered in fresh, still red bruises, a new split in his lip, and dried blood peaking from his nose.

I’m next to him in what feels like half a second, “What the hell happened to you?” I’m steaming mad.

“Josh, I don’t--”

“Zayne what happened?”

He drops his head and tells me that on his way to school he got knocked to the ground and a group of people put a pillow case over his head and started holding him down to beat him and yell at him, leaving him in the dirt and gravel as they ran.

“Josh, please,” his lips are turned down and his head is tilted to the side, “I don’t have the energy to fight this today.”

“Mrs. Jennings is going to check on you and find out!”

“It didn’t happen at school, she can’t do anything.”

He looks so tired and desperate. I hate the thought of him covered in bruises on his birthday, I quickly pull him into a tight hug, clenching my jaw as tight as I try to keep quit.

We get to first period to see Conrad, back from his suspension, with a smug grin, “Got a bit of a boo boo there Zayne?”

I start to charge at him, Zayne holds me back and begs me to just sit down. I begrudging listen, wanting to support him somehow. My eyes never leave Conrad though and I feel my temperature rise in my anger.

Zayne and I part ways at the bell, and he hides in the bathroom during lunch. He promises me he’s eating and asks to be left alone for a bit. I don’t seem him the rest of the day, only getting a few texts of reassurance.

Mrs. Jennings did find out, and even though she can’t do anything to the people who attacked him, she says she’ll try and find evidence of who did it.

Arriana and I discuss it at home as I go under my bed to pull out his wrapped box of gifts.

“What are you doing?” she asks looking over my shoulder.

“I can’t let him sit at home miserable. His mom grocery shops on Mondays and his dad works, he’s home alone with this stuff on his mind. I want to try and show him it’ll be ok and that there’s still stuff to smile about.”

I ask my mom if I can borrow her car as I carry the long box into the living room. She offers to help me open the trunk and take me to his apartment. My phone starts ringing.

I try to balance the box in my arms as my mom unlocks and opens the trunk. The box starts shaking, threatening to fall out of my arms.

It’s Zayne calling.

I know I’ll be there in fifteen minutes at most and I need to get this box in the car, so I let it go to voicemail for the first time.

I climb in the passenger seat and my mom starts driving, I tell her what happened while we drive.

The ten minute drive comes to screeching halt as I see spray paint and eggs splattered all over the front of Zayne’s apartment.

“Oh my lord,” My mother looks appalled as I jump out and run up the steps, leaving the box in the car.

I shake the doorknob, trying to get it open, “Zayne! Zayne are you in there?”

I find the spare key again, unlocking the door as fast as I can. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what I found. The apartment is destroyed, pictures broken, books ripped, broken dishes in shards on the floor.

“Zayne?” I run to his room. It takes me a few moments to process what I see before dropping down on my knees.

Zayne’s lying on his floor, and blood is everywhere.

“Zayne!” I grab him and pull him close, he’s completely limp in my arms, “Wake up Zayne!” He doesn’t move or say anything. I feel panic and fear set in as I try to cover his bleeding arms, “Mom!” I start screaming at the top of my lungs and crying as she comes in the front door to see the apartment in disaster.

“Oh god!” She runs over and pulls out her phone to call for help.

I cry as I yell and beg Zayne to open his eyes, I watch my mom pull off her belt and tighten it around Zayne’s upper arm, she finds another belt to use on his other arm.

My cheeks burn and my shirt has now turned from it’s original grey to a deep, dark red. I hear sirens approaching but I can’t look away as I beg him to answer me.

Paramedics run in quickly, they ask me to step back but I can’t let go. My mom and a police officer have to pull me away screaming.

“Zayne!” the tears fall faster than I thought possible, I watch him grow farther away as they pull me out the door, “Zayne!”

We sit outside a couple minutes, me clinging to my mother as she listens to me cry and calls Zayne’s mom.

Suddenly I look up and see the paramedics carrying Zayne out of his apartment on one of those body boards. They have him strapped down and have bandages soaked in blood covering his arms.

They load him into the ambulance and I try yet again to get to him, meeting resistance from police officers.

“Let me go!” I’m screaming like a mad man, I sound like Zayne did when he beat up Conrad, “Let go of me! Zayne!”

My mom pulls me back, holding me close as the close the ambulance doors and take off down the street. Not long after it leaves, Zayne’s parents arrive. Their car looks like it’s been keyed.

“Where is he? Where’s my baby?” Mrs. Daveen is hysterical, just as much as me. She begging officers for answers when she sees me, “Josh! What happened? Where is he?”

I feel like I can’t breathe, my mom pulls me behind her and takes Mrs. Daveen’s hand to explain what we came here to find. Mr. Daveen joins her, listening closely and catching his wife as she falls to her knees sobbing.

The police insist on asking questions but all I want is to get to the hospital, as does everyone else. I answer their questions as fast as I can. I tell them how we found the apartment, that the door was locked, I tell them Zayne very well might have done this to himself and honestly might not have been attacked, causing this massive bleeding.

“They beat him and then they do this? He didn’t ask for this, how do people get away with blindfolding a kid and beating him on the street just to come and vandalize his home?” His father is steaming mad as they let us go and we all take off for the hospital.

Mom calls dad and Arriana, telling them what happened. I don’t hear anything though, all I do is see and smell. The metal smell of Zayne’s blood is soaked into my shirt and I feel like my chest is heaving out of control. We pull up to the E.R. and are told to wait in the waiting room until the doctor has more information.

We sit there, my mom holding me as my dad and sister show up. Arriana is crying as she goes to hug Mrs. Daveen.

“He called me,” I whisper, tears still stinging my eyes.

“What honey,” my mom leans in close.

“He called me mom, right before we left, he called me and I didn’t answer,” my breathing speeds up and I start to shake, “Why didn’t I pick up the phone? Why couldn’t I pick up the goddamn phone? If only I had picked up!” I start getting hysterical.

My dad holds my mom back as I jump up and hit a wall, Mrs. Daveen approaches me and pulls me close.

“Josh honey, this isn’t your fault. The only people to blame are those who hurt him and destroyed the house, if you hadn’t been there we would be crying at the morgue instead of in the E.R.. Josh you gave him a fighting chance, this is not your fault!”

I grab her arms, Zayne’s blood dry on my skin, and just start crying again. She sits me down and we all huddle together.

We sit there for over an hour before a doctor comes out to talk to us. We all jump up seeing him, all I see is the blood on his scrubs.

“He’s stable,” we all breathe a sign of relief, “He’s still unconscious but we stopped the bleeding and have given him more blood. He did manage to damage some muscles in his wrist but hopefully he can make a full recovery. We’re moving him to a room then you can see him.” he looks to Zayne’s parents, “Once he wakes up we have to perform a psychiatric evaluation and keep him on a suicide watch. It’s at least a mandatory 24 hour period here under extreme supervision, it could be longer depending on his evaluation. I’ll take you to see him if you’d like.”

We all follow closely behind. When we get to his room, I can’t go in. I sit outside his door, and I just cry.

He’s alive.

Thank god he’s alive.

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