My dad took mom and Arriana home so they could rest and get changed. He brings me fresh clothes while I stay with Zayne’s parents to be here when he wakes up. It’s almost three in the morning when he starts stirring.
The three of us jump up as his eyes flutter open, his mom races to his side, “Momma?” his voice is raspy and dry.
“Oh my baby,” she starts crying as she runs her hand over his head, “I thought I lost you.”
Tears well up in all of our eyes, even his. His parents hold his hands tightly and throw all the love they have at him. Slowly I step forward. He sees me and his face becomes one of despair.
“Josh, I...” he shakes his head lightly as I come to his bedside.
I look at him for a second, taking in that he’s alive, and suddenly start crying. I reach over and hug him tightly, not caring about the rail in my stomach.
“I thought you were dead, I was so scared.” I whisper as I cry and hold his hospital gown in my fists. He returns my hug.
“I’m so sorry Josh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know what to do,” he starts crying too, “Everything was happening so fast and I got scared and I thought it was all my fault. When you didn’t answer I thought something had happened and you were ignoring me.”
I pull him tighter into my hug, “Don’t ever think that! I would never ignore you if I knew you needed me, I was coming to cheer you up. I had no idea about your apartment, I found you lying there and I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared you were going to die right on that floor.”
We hold each other until the doctors come for his evaluation. I get sent home to sleep, even though I know I can’t.
Come morning, I’m still awake and I go to school just so I don’t sit at home worried. The school has been made aware of what’s happened and that Zayne’s evaluation makes it clear he needs to be under constant watch for close to three weeks. The police link with the school to try and find the culprit of the attacks, thinking it’s connected to the bullying at school. The school throws together an assembly to alert the student body to what has happened and the consequences.
Mrs. Jennings explains the police presence and assures the school that if anyone is tied to these incidents, there will be very severe punishments. She then invites me up to talk about Zayne’s condition and the situation, as his parents wanted to be at the hospital with him.
I step up to the microphone and stare at the crowd. All the anger and fear bubbles inside of me, “At four forty five last night, I discovered Zayne Daveen lying in a pool of his own blood in the ruins of his apartment. Yesterday morning, I came to school to find him beaten mercilessly, all because he doesn’t fit the cookie cutter mold. Because of the ignorance and cruelty many people, many in this very room, inflicted on him daily he attempted to take his own life. As he lay their dying, what would have been his final thought, weren’t that he was finally giving into the hatred that was spewed at him, it wasn’t the hope that the pain would end... It was disgust in himself, thinking he brought this on his family and friends by being himself. Those of you who brought him to this, who do think he brought this on himself, I hope you know how disgusted so many of us are with you. Not me, nor his family or mine would change Zayne for anything. We would rather happily stand by him and face the cruelty you force on us than tell him to change and surrender to you. You have accomplished nothing but bringing attention to what you have done, you’ve accomplished nothing but hurting a family that did nothing to you. I can speak for those in that waiting room that night, I can tell you how long we cried, afraid we would never see him again. I can tell you the fear we faced until near dawn, waiting to see if he would wake up. I can tell you, that in the end, you accomplished nothing. Zayne is now recovering, and with the hell you’re bringing down on yourselves, and the number of people standing with him, you have no chance of beating him. Never again will any of you lay a finger on him, never again will any of you force your harsh words on him, because now,” I make eye contact with Conrad, “Now he has the resources to finally tear you down and become stronger that you will ever hope to be.”
I leave the stage and the auditorium to go sit in the office. Mrs. Jennings comes over and puts a hand on my shoulder, offering to call my mom to take me to the hospital. I take the offer graciously as I cool down.
I get there while Zayne is sleeping, so I pull one of the room chairs by his bed and wait. In that spot is where I stay until his birthday.
That day I leave when he sleeps after breakfast to go to the car. I pull out the box that was left there since finding him. Tonight he goes to the psych ward for his two weeks. There will be visitation but it won’t be the same as getting to stay by his side during this process.
I bring the box to his room, surprising him when he wakes up. By that time Arriana has joined me with her gift. I see a tired, weak smile spread across his face, but it is a real one. He opens her present and smiles at the iTunes gift cards, books, and candy. He gives her a hug before turning to my box.
“Is it sex toys? Ooh the handcuffs?” he smiles and claps, making us all laugh as he opens the box and stares in amazement.
He pulls out a framed copy of my mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, a special gay pride t-shirt that reads Everything is Pride... And Equality Matters! and it’s signed by the band that released the shirts. He keeps pulling things out, like the item I bought while he wasn’t looking at Hot Topic. I watch his eyes fill with tears as he looks at the pack of matching rings on chains, the packaging talks about how wearers pledge to be allies to the LGBT+ community but to also wait to get married until federal and state laws allow marriage equality for all. He pulls me into a deep kiss before digging deeper into the box, pulling out sheet music for violin for some of his favorite songs, as well as a little plushy like the one Lilo had in Lilo and Stitch, I even got him a Stitch throw blanket. I pull out the last present, my old iPod, loaded with all of his favorite songs. I wrap him in the blanket and skip to the last song.
He holds me closer as we listen to Calum Scott’s “No Matter What”. I tell him that we will be here no matter what for him and he cries.
His parents join us and he shows them his presents. Together we wait for the doctors to come take him to his room for the next two weeks.
His mom holds the stuff they won’t let him take as they put him in a wheelchair and roll him away. I hold his hand down the hall until it’s time to let go, and even then I want to just hold him close.
I watch him disappear in the elevator, still wrapped in the blanket, holding the shirt. His parents meet me in the hall.
“Things are going to get better now, hopefully this will help him,” his dad puts his hand on his shoulder, “He’ll be home before we know it. Thank you for saving our boy Josh, and thank you for doing so much for him.”
I smile as we all go to get Arriana and leave for the night. Arriana and I are tasked with getting Zayne his missed schoolwork and then coming back here for visiting hours so we need to be asleep early.
It’s hard not being able to text him or call him to ask if he’s ok and tell him I love him. Most nights I toss and turn waiting for the time to pass. The only thing that helps me is hearing that final bell and knowing that that means I’m going to see Zayne.
Arriana often joins me, even my mom and dad do. They keep asking how he’s doing and sometimes decide they’d rather see for themselves and talk to him personally to make sure he’s ok. Mom especially is having a hard time after seeing Zayne and me like that.
The three weeks do fly by and before we know it Zayne is cleared to come home. His cuts are still healing and will require follow up attention, but other than that we finally get to take him home.
I go with everyone to pick him up, even Tempe and Caira join us to greet him at his discharge. We all bring him home and work to get him settled at home again.
The apartment has been cleaned and the front of the apartment repainted. It almost looks normal again.
At school, no one confesses, but word of Zayne’s recovery travels fast and it’s obvious who reacts unhappily to that news. People are still uncomfortable with Zayne and me together, but now no one says anything or gives looks. No one whispers about him while he’s still home recovering, no one looks at me funny.
You see some people are disappointed with how things turned out and honestly, I love it, seeing the faces of those to blame for this situation and seeing them acknowledge to themselves that they’ve lost feels amazing.
They did lose.
For once, Zayne does win.