“I can’t find it!” Zayne’s voice rings down the hall.
“I told you, you left it on the nightstand,” I holler back at him as I adjust my tie, “We’re going to be late.”
He runs down the hall to meet me in front of the mirror, “I’m coming. Stop fussing, your tie looks fine.”
I look over at the wall behind us, all the pictures covering it. Covering all twenty years since we graduated and went off to college, neither of us sure we would make it.
I look at my hand to see the black ring wrapped around my finger, an exact replica of the ones on the necklaces all those years ago. It finally happened.
“Josh?” I look up to see Zayne staring at me, thinking back I miss the pink hair that covered the jet black, “Are you ok?”
“Yeah I’m just thinking, I often find myself thinking, thinking about how we got here. What we had to go through.”
He comes over and kisses me, his lips still as soft as they were the first time, “Stop thinking,” he whispers, “We have to go. We need to pick up everyone and then we need to get to the agency.”
He starts pulling me along to the door. He’s so eager for what today means, what we’ve prepped all week for. What some could say we prepared all these years for.
Some years were harder than others, like the two years during college where Zayne and I weren’t speaking because of a misunderstanding at a frat party, or the year Zayne got his job at the school LGBT+ support center and I got mine in my school’s cafeteria and we never could get a hold of each other. Other years were easy, like the year Zayne and I moved back to Waco willingly and bought a house together.
It took a long time to build the lives we have now, from our house, to the home for displaced youth we opened a year and a half ago. While laws might change, people’s opinions usually don’t, so Zayne and I started a program that helps LGBT+ kids and teens who were kicked out by family, we call it Love Yourself Home. We offer a home, counseling and financial aid option to keep these kids in school. We’re currently housing and helping sixteen kids ranging in age from eight to eighteen.
It’s baby steps like that and others in the country that showed politicians that the LGBT+ community is not the enemy and helped secure nationwide marriage equality ten months ago. Needless to say, Zayne and I made our way to a courthouse within a week.
Today we need to go to pick up Arriana and her husband from the airport, then pick up all the parents from their houses to bring them by the house. We have a major surprise for them.
Today, Zayne and I adopt a fourteen year old girl name Jessica. Jessica was supposedly a problem child who really had just lost hope after so long in the system, Zayne and I eventually got through to her and she asked us to adopt her.
So much has changed in the years and it sometimes boggles me. Conrad became a prominent business man here in Waco before he got married and moved to Washington D.C., Tempe got married in college and is still with the guy, Caira is still single and has become the vice principal of our old high school, and mine and Zayne’s parents retired here in Waco and have since just relaxed and enjoyed life.
Waco has become far more accepting, most all the country has aside from a handful of people. Now there’s no fear of being attacked or abused while just walking down the street, instead, we’ve all come to see each other as what we are. Humans.
Zayne rushes to pick everyone and drop them off at the house. I tell Arriana to stall everyone for an hour, and like her normal self, she does so without question. I then replace Zayne as driver for safety reasons and we go to pick up Jessica. The way her face lights up when she sees us makes all the fighting worth it, all the years of fighting just to have this chance has paid off.
I look at Zayne and see the teenager in him again, the way his eyes light up and the way he squeezes my hand. He may have changed his hair and gotten older, but he’s still very much the boy I fell in love with at seventeen years old.
We pull Jessica into a hug, her blonde hair flying everywhere as she accepts the embrace. We gather her stuff and load her into the car, ready to finally tell our family.
As we walk through the front door with Jessica, everyone looks stunned.
“Everyone,” Zayne takes my hand and places his free one on her shoulder, we smile at each other, “This is our new daughter, Jessica.”
The room erupts in screams and cheers as everyone starts hugging everyone. We watch everyone approach Jessica to meet and talk to her, the smiles are contagious.
Zayne grabs my waist and pulls me close, “I don’t know Josh,” he looks at me funny, “I think Jessica will be lonely with just her and us. I think we should adopt another, a baby.”
I laugh, “Ok, let’s get her through freshman year first. Please, I beg of you.”
Life is good. We fought our battles to make these moments possible and special. Some days we’re reminded of our past battles, sometimes before bed when I see Zayne’s scars I get taken back to that intense fear that I could have lost him. Some days when we go to the Love Yourself Home and sit in on the group therapy sessions, Zayne will hear a story that brings him back to high school and Conrad. Days like those are hard, but seeing where those memories got us takes a lot of the fear away.
Watching my family and friends greet the new addition to my family, Zayne lets go of my hand and runs up to the attic. He comes back a couple minutes later with a small bundle of tissue paper.
“Jessica,” he calls her over and gets down on his knees to be level with the short teen, “This is something I’ve held onto for years. It was a gift from your dad when I was in a really bad place, they don’t make them anymore. I want you to have it, I want you to have it as something to help pull you through your hard times and show you that you truly are a part of our family and our story.”
She unwraps the paper and at the sight of what she holds, my heart skips and tears start leaking from my eyes. Jessica holds up a black t-shirt that reads Everything is Pride... And Equality Matters. I watch the smile on her face grow as she hugs Zayne tight. I go join them in their hug.
“Everything is pride, your pride holds your self-worth and the way you view yourself. Never let anyone tell you how to feel or tell you that who you are is wrong,” Zayne looks up to me as he keeps talking to Jessica, “No one gets to decide who you are but you, and you need to always hold your head up and stay true to yourself.”
She pulls away from the hug and starts thanking us, for adopting her, welcoming her, and the amazing gift. She runs off to show everyone.
“I thought you got rid of that sophomore year of college, after the frat thing,” I smile at him, touched to see the shirt again.
“Actually I wore it more after that, not having you those two years was really hard and that was my best substitute. Plus, nothing will erase how much that birthday meant to me, I very easily could have never seen that birthday. I don’t take any part of it for granted.”
I pull him close to me and we watch our future continue to unfold in front of us, through our family, through the kids we help, and through our everlasting victory.
We were all in Jessica’s place once, young and in high school. We all have been disregarding for who we are because who we are is different. Not much has changed since my high school years, but now we’re working to change it.
We’re finally free.