Hey everyone. RichardAdams here. Just giving you all an update. I've come up with the concept for the third book in the 'Am I...?' series. I've decided to title it 'Is It Possible...?' It's going to start with a prologue that takes place about ten years before the start of the main story and the main story will take place about five or six months after Josh won the Super Bowl with the 49ers. It's going to focus on a hot-headed L.A. Kings hockey player that while he's a great player, he has a raging temper and a very short fuse.
Who the other main character is I'm going to leave up to mystery, but I assure you he is not a fellow hockey player. I forgot to do this when I posted Chapter 9 of 'Could I Be...?' so I should do it now. In Chapter 9, I wrote about Anthony, who lost his leg to a grenade, and Jason, who lost his life protecting young children. I want to thank all those serving overseas, all those that have served the country in the past, and all those that have lost their lives fighting for their country. Thank you for your service.
I found out yesterday that 'Could I Be...?' has become the number one story on the site, and I can't believe the success it's had. From my experience, the sequels I've read are never as good as the original, so writing this story has been worrying for me. I never knew how much people would come to love it. I owe this success to all of you, my readers. Thank you and I hope you continue to read into the future.
Oh, and more thing. You know how Ryan found Nate as his roommate at the start of their freshman year at UC Berkeley? Well, it looks like I've got a Nate too. No seriously. His name is Nate and his last name starts with 'Under.' He even kind of looks like Nate, except he's five inches shorter than story Nate and his bulkier. He doesn't know I do this, but I may tell him in the future.
Thank you all again. Here's Chapter 11 of 'Could I Be...?'
The next few days go by and I can't feel any closer to Zane than I do right now. Wherever I go, I can't help but think about him. And whenever I think about Zane, I feel a strong warmth fill my stomach. So this is what it's like to be in love? If only I had discovered this feeling even sooner.
Zane's set up a private bank account to keep all his gala money in. The bank was shocked to see a 19 year old kid with almost half a million dollars (they must've thought it was drug money or something). But when they saw it was from his art being sold, they understood and made an account on the spot. Zane's paid off his first tuition and bills and still has plenty leftover for the next three and a half years.
February hits and the weather is pretty cool, but not terrible. It just means I need to wear jeans more often. Baseball practice starts next week and I'm insanely excited for it, but also really nervous. I'm heading off to my business finance lecture early on a Thursday morning. As I walk in the building, I feel an arm wrap around the back of my neck. "What's up, Swanson?"
I see that it's Tyler Desantos, a friend who I've come to make during my time here. He's in three of my classes and is a pretty outgoing guy. He's about an inch or two shorter than me, often keeps his near black hair in a buzz cut and covers it with a cap (forwards, unlike my backwards), has a face that's constantly smiling and is in fair shape. He's also joining the baseball team with me (he's a first baseman). "Hey, Ty," I say, calling Tyler by his nickname.
I can't help but smile when I see him. He's the kind of guy that you can't be upset around. "You as tired as I am?" he asks.
"Not really. Had a good night of sleep last night."
"Really? Because Marcus, the guy that lives across the hall from you, heard shaking and rocking until about 1:00 in the morning."
I instantly turn red at my dorm mates knowing Zane and I were having sex last night, but I feel myself grinning. "Then it was after me and Zane had sex that I fell asleep."
Ty laughs to himself. "Wish I could find someone to sleep with soon," he says. "I'm getting blue balls from sex deprivation!"
"Then maybe you should stop spending so much time in your room doing nothing but video games and get a girlfriend for Christ's sake! Otherwise you'll be stuck with your right hand for the rest of your life."
"It's my left hand, thank you very much."
I laugh and slug Ty in the shoulder. We walk into our giant lecture hall, enough to fit about three hundred students, and take two seats in the fifth row. "Hey, guys."
Ty and I look to our right and see Shane Coro, the third guy in our baseball trio (a third baseman). Shane's actually three inches taller than me and is built like a brick house. His jaw is a little crooked from getting a baseball in the face when he was younger, but it looks good on him. To go with that, his skin is a blemish free olive, keeps some of his long dark brown hair is kept in a ponytail while letting the rest fall down the sides of his face, and his eyes are a light green.
Shane takes a seat next to me and sets his bag down by his feet. "Hey, Shane," Ty and I both say.
"Ty, you still dating your right hand?" Shane asks.
I press my hand to my mouth to keep myself from bursting out laughing. "It's my left hand, asshole," Ty retorts.
Shane chuckles to himself. "So what's the lesson for today?" I ask.
"Professor Bartley said that we have a special guest that's coming in today to talk to us about the finances of running a big company," says Ty. "Maybe he'll be some hot shot guy that's worth millions."
"Or he'll be some guy hired by the school just to teach us some stuff," says Shane.
"Either way, Bartley won't be teaching us today," says Ty.
The lecture hall finally fills and Professor Bartley walks into the room to the left of the stage at the front of the room. He walks over to the podium situated on the stage and looks out at us. "Good morning, everyone!" he says.
He receives a very lackluster 'morning' from all of us (it's 9:00 in the morning. What do you expect?). "We're very fortunate enough to have a very special guest coming in here today," Bartley continues. "He's one of the most powerful men in the world and his company is located in over one hundred thirty countries around the world."
The room fills with whispers. Shane and Ty lean in close to me. "Looks like I was right," says Ty.
"Who could it be?" asks Shane.
"Judging from the number of security guys coming into the room, someone extremely important."
Six suited men, their faces covered by sunglasses, enter the room and surround the stage, causing even more commotion in the crowd of students. "Please calm down everyone," Bartley says.
It takes a minute, but the noise quiets down in the lecture hall. "Thank you. Now please give your utmost attention and respect to our special guest: the founder and CEO of Mercer Industries, Richard Mercer."
My stomach drops at the name and my body feels like it's been dropped into a pool of ice water. In from the same door Bartley came from, a man walks in. He's wearing an impeccable dark blue suit with a white button down shirt underneath, a red tie and shining leather shoes.
I know Richard Mercer is 47 from doing a little research on him, but he looks like he's barely 40. The only sign of his age are the slightly greying sides of his slicked back dirty blonde hair. Although Richard Mercer has a flashing smile on his face as he walks in, his piercing bright blue eyes tell me that it's completely fake, just like him. Knowing this asshole, he probably has even more bodyguards outside the building. Oh fuck...
I pull my phone out of my pocket and text Zane as quickly as I can.
'Zane, where are you right now?'
He replies a few seconds later.
'I'm walking to class. I'm about to pass by your building. Why?'
'Get a disguise right now.'
'Why? What's going on?'
I can't do this over text. I raise my hand and Bartley sees me. "Yes, Eric?" he says.
"May I go to the bathroom before we start?"
Bartley looks conflicted so he looks to Richard. Why the fuck is he asking that fucker for guidance?! Richard smiles at me from behind his podium. "I don't mind waiting a few minutes," he says with his fake, magazine cover smile. "Take all the time you need."
I nod a fake thank you and jump up from my seat and quickly walk out of the room. As soon as I step out the door, I speed dial Zane's number and he picks up less than a second later. "Eric, what's going on?" he asks before I can say a thing.
"Where are you right now?"
"Well, after you told me to get a disguise, I stopped and am standing near your building."
"Are there any suited guys outside?"
I hear Zane look in front of my building. "Yeah, I see four of them. Is something going on?"
"Zane, don't panic, but your dad's here."
Zane sucks in a sharp breath and I can hear his breathing become shallow. "W-What?"
"Richard Mercer is in my building and is about to give my class a lecture. His bodyguards must know about you and if they see you, they'll tell your dad that you're here." While I expect a response, all I get is incomprehensible babbling coming from Zane. "Don't move an inch. I'll be out there in fifteen seconds."
I hang up my phone and run as fast as I can through the building hallways. Charging down a flight of stairs, I rush out through the front door of the Finance Building and look frantically for Zane. "Is there a problem, young man?"
A suited man is looking at me through his mirrored sunglasses, a stern look in his jaw. "U-Um...I left my cell phone behind in my dorm and I...need to go get it."
He stares at me for a few seconds before setting back into his original position. "Carry on."
I rush past him and walk away from the building. As soon as I'm out of earshot, I whisper loudly. "Zane? Where are you?"
The feeble voice came from a small bush and I see Zane's dyed black hair quivering. "Come on out," I say. "They can't see or hear you." It takes a second, but Zane slowly crawls out of the bush and I can see tears forming at the bases of his eyes. I quickly hug him tightly. "It's okay. I'm here. I'm here."
Zane hugs me back and quietly cries into his shoulder. "H-He's actually here..." Zane sobs. "He's fucking here."
"I was as surprised as you, Zane. We can't let those guards see you and if they do, your dad will find out."
"But this is the only way to my class. I have a test and I can't miss it."
I think about it for a second and scratch the top of my head. And I feel the answer. "Here," I say, taking off my cap. "Put this over your head and tuck all your hair into it."
Zane takes my cap and places it on top of his head, stuffing all his hair into it. "Next, take out all your piercings except for the ones in your earlobes. The others are too obscure to see for them to notice."
He reaches for his ears and eyebrows and unclips every earring, leaving only the ones in his earlobes in. "And cover up your arms and zip your jacket up as high as it can go. If they know about your tattoos, once they see you, they'll stop you and question you."
Zane hands me his earrings and he zips up his leather jacket and rolls his sleeves to his wrists, stuffing his hands into his pockets to make sure his wrists won't be seen. "And that should do it," I say, handing him back his piercings.
He and I rise to our feet and I get a good look at Zane. I hardly recognize him with his face hidden by the brim of my hat. "Just walk normally past the guards after I walk into the building. I'll call you and you just talk to me normally as you walk by them. When you're in the clear, tell me."
Zane nods and gives me a light kiss. "Thank you, Eric."
I smile a bit and kiss him back. I start to walk back to the Finance Building, the bodyguard not stopping me now that they've seen me already, and step inside. I call Zane once the door closes. "Ready?" I ask when he picks up.
"Ready..." he quietly says.
I look out the front door and see Zane appear on the right side of the front entrance's window, his phone pressed against his ear. "When I start asking you questions, you just answer them honestly, like a normal conversation," I say.
"So, you want to get some lunch later?"
"Yeah, that sounds good. Where do you want to meet?"
Zane's now walking past the first of the bodyguards, who doesn't even take notice of him. "How about the main dining hall?" I say. "I think they're serving fresh subs today."
"Subs will work. Want to meet there after class?"
"That's perfect. I'm starving because I didn't eat breakfast."
Zane passes the next two bodyguards and is almost in the clear. "You really should start waking up on time so you don't miss breakfast."
"I know I do. Now you get to class before you're late."
He's just about made it when I notice the same bodyguard that stopped me moves from his spot and quickly starts walking over to Zane. "Oh shit," I whisper.
"He's coming after me, Eric," Zane quietly says.
"J-Just stay calm and act natural. Put your phone on speaker so I can hear what's going on."
Zane taps his phone once and I hear the voice of the bodyguard. "Excuse me, young man," he says.
Zane carefully turns around and faces the large man. "Y-Yes?" he says.
The bodyguard holds out his hand and I see something small and black in it. "You dropped your wallet back there," he says.
I breathe a huge sigh of relief. I was so focused on Zane that I didn't notice the bodyguard bend down as he was walking and pick up Zane's wallet. Zane takes his wallet back from the man and stuffs it in his back pocket. "T-Thanks."
Zane turns and continues walking toward his class and the man walks back to his position. "You're safe now," I say into my phone.
I hear a large breath escape Zane's lungs. "That was one of the scariest things that's ever happened to me," he says.
"I bet it was. Just be careful for the rest of the day and do not take my cap off until you're either inside your classrooms or are back in your room."
"Thank you, Eric. You saved me from being found."
"You're welcome, Zane. I need to get back to class, otherwise everyone will think I've got explosive diarrhea or something."
Zane stifles a laugh. "I'll see you at lunch. I love you, Eric."
"I love you too."
I hang up my phone and head back upstairs to the lecture hall. I walk back into the hall and see every eye on me. "Sorry," I say. "The bathroom I went to was full and I had to find a different one."
"That's alright, Eric," says Bartley. "Go ahead and take your seat. Mr. Mercer is about to begin."
I step down the stairs and take my seats next to Ty and Shane and focus on Richard Mercer, whose face is still frozen in its fake smile as he begins his lecture.
For the next hour and a half, Richard explains what it's like to be the head of a large corporation and how much work it takes. While I do listen into what he's saying and take notes when needed, I can't help but glare at the man behind the podium, the man that's caused so much of Zane's pain.
Richard is finishing answering a few questions about running a large corporation when Bartley steps up onto the stage. "How about a round of applause for our special guest?" he calls out.
The hall fills with students applauds, but I'm not in a clapping mood. "I think we have enough time left for Mr. Mercer to answer a few more questions."
"Can they be personal questions?" someone calls out.
Bartley looks to Richard, who smiles at the student. "I don't see why not?" he says. "Ask me whatever you like."
"What's Dallas like?" asks the same student.
"Dallas is a wonderful city. I've lived there my whole life and I've loved it since I was a child. The people are friendly, there's a lot of diversity, and it's a perfect place to raise a family when you're all a little older."
Family, huh? I raise my hand and Richard sees it. "Yes, Eric, was it?" he says.
"That's me," I say. "Do you have a family, Mr. Mercer?"
Just using his name is a respectful tone makes me want to vomit. "Why, yes I do," he says. "I have a wife I've been married to for twenty-two years and a...a son."
I notice something shift in Richard's face. His fake smiling façade looks like it's cracking a bit. "You have a son?" I continue, already knowing the answer.
Richard's face falls even further. "Yes, yes I do. His name's...Zane. He's 19 years old now..."
"Just like your Zane," whispers Ty, who doesn't know of Zane's secret.
"You know, Mr. Mercer," I say. "I saw an article online about a kid that disappeared from Dallas last May who also had the name of Zane. Would you care to elaborate?"
Got you, you motherfucker. Richard's face looks like it breaks right in two and his smile fades and it turns into a very depressed frown. "U-Um...I think my time is up," he says. "Thank you for listening and I hope you all have a wonderful school year."
Richard quickly steps away from the podium and walks out the door, followed by his bodyguards. I got that horrible man to finally feel something about his missing son, so...why do I have this sinking pit in my stomach? Did I go too far and stepped over the line? He may be a cold, heartless man, but he's still a father, and maybe Zane being missing for more than nine months has hurt him more than I thought.
Bartley dismisses us a minute later and I tell Ty and Shane I need to meet someone somewhere, and they don't question it. I secure my bag and walk out of the building to try and find any of Richard's bodyguards, but there isn't one in sight. Feeling dejected, I sigh to myself and start to make my way to lunch with Zane.
I turn a corner and sitting on a bench facing away from me is Richard Mercer himself. There isn't a bodyguard in sight. It's just him sitting on a bench by himself and he looks to be hunched over. I get a closer look at him and see a noticeable quiver in his shoulders that's getting more violent the closer I get to him.
There's a quiet whimpering in the air and I'm barely ten feet when I realize the whimpering is coming from Richard. I quietly step the last few feet behind Richard and look over his shoulder. In his hand is a wallet that's open. And in a small clear card holder is a two inch by three inch picture.
In the photo is a younger looking Richard smiling brightly and holding a small boy in his arms, being held tightly by Richard. Despite him looking about fifteen years younger, having no tattoos and piercings, and his hair being a dirty blonde, I know that smile anywhere: it's Zane, and he looks incredibly happy with his dad.
I hear a small sniffle and see a drop of water fall onto the picture and a small, feeble voice come from Richard. "My baby boy..."
My heart pangs at seeing this man calling out to his lost son. "Um...Mr. Mercer?" I say.
He turns around and I see several streams of water falling from his eyes. He takes his hand and rubs his eyes dry and looks back at me. "O-Oh...Eric, right?" he says.
"Yes, sir. Are you okay?"
He smiles and nods, but I feel a heavy solemnness to it. "Yes, I'm fine. Just...thinking about a few things..."
"May I sit with you?"
"Oh, by all means."
He scoots a little to the left and I take a seat next to him. "That photo's of you and your son, isn't it?" I ask.
Mr. Mercer nods, smiling slightly. "It's my favorite photo of us. He was 4 years old when my wife, Monica, took this photo. Whenever I see it, I can't help but smile. But I also can't help but cry when I even get a glance at it..."
"Zane's been missing for nine months, hasn't he?"
He nods again, his jaw tightening and his eyes glossing over. "No one knows where he is, and it's been killing me ever since that missing persons report was filed in May of last year. But...even if Zane were found, I know he wouldn't want to come home."
"May I ask why?" I ask, already knowing the answer.
Mr. Mercer stares at the photo for a second. "Monica and I weren't the best parents. We always put work before Zane and never had time for any of his achievements. I always wanted my son to be the guy that was the greatest in sports, but Zane never integrated into the mix very well.
"He was always made fun of because of his smaller, thinner size and teams never even gave him a chance. I'm ashamed to say it, but I actually despised Zane because of it. I was always quick to judge and criticize him on the smallest things. My wife was too. We didn't know how much we were hurting Zane until after he ran away.
"We weren't there for so much of Zane's life that he even had to take care of himself whenever he got sick. We never knew what was going on in his life because we never asked, so we never found out about his talent for art until it was too late. Had my wife and I learned about it earlier, maybe we could've been better, more supportive and caring parents."
"That report I read told me something happened between Zane and a baseball team," I say. "Do you know what happened?"
Mr. Mercer takes a few breaths and keeps looking at his photo. "Last March, Zane was...horribly attacked by his high school baseball team. His injuries were extensive and numerous. The doctors told me that had the attack gone on for even five minutes longer, Zane may have been killed."
"Why was he attacked?"
He sniffs his nose again and wipes his eyes. "Zane's...gay, and he was a target because of his sexuality. He was found...kissing the pitcher of the baseball team, and the other team members attacked him because of it. When I got word of the attack, I was out of the country on business with my wife, and we got on my jet and flew back immediately.
"But when we got back to Dallas, my wife and I started to panic. We were afraid that if we tried anything to help Zane, the friends we've made would turn their back on us because our son was gay. I was afraid I would lose business if word got out that my boy was gay. So...we made the worst decision we've ever made..."
"You kicked him out, didn't you?"
Mr. Mercer nods for the third time, two tears escaping his eyes as he does so. "My wife and I walked into the hospital room Zane was recovering in and I almost wanted to vomit at what I saw. Zane looked...broken. There were casts and bandages everywhere, stitches were all over his face and arms, his head was covered in bandages and there was a breathing tube down his throat because of his broken ribs..."
Zane didn't tell me about the breathing tube...
"Monica and I stepped over to the side of his bed and stared down at our boy. He looked like he was in so much pain, I just wanted to hold him tight and tell him everything was okay. But I bit back my emotions and looked into his eyes and said the worst thing I've ever said in my life: 'When you're out of the hospital, go home and pack up as much of your crap as you can carry, and never come back.'"
Mr. Mercer lets out a few sobs and I watch as this man breaks down right before my eyes. "Zane couldn't say a thing with that tube down his throat, but his eyes did all the talking for him. He started crying the second I told him that he couldn't come home and his eyes were begging me not to do it. He couldn't sob because of the tube, but his face was becoming as broken as his body.
"My wife and I couldn't bear the sight of our son looking like that, so we left right after I said what I said. I wanted to go back for him so badly, we both did, but we put our personal lives and my company before our very own child. I've never regretted anything more than that day, and I don't think I ever will."
Mr. Mercer presses his hand to his eyes and more tears escape through his fingers. "What happened after Zane left?" I ask.
He dries his eyes for a second, but they're already starting to well up again. "My wife and I learned Zane was staying in a homeless shelter not too far from his school, so we knew where he was living. But we feared that if we ever saw him, one of our friends would learn about it. So we never visited Zane when he was in that shelter.
"We did hire several bodyguards to keep Zane safe from a distance, so he would be protected if something were to happen to him, but Zane would never know he was being protected. Time went on and the bodyguards we hired told us about how Zane was doing every day. Whenever they told us how much pain he looked to be in from walking with his injuries, I had to force myself not to cry.
"We never knew about the bullying Zane had to deal with every day. The kids of that school were so...horrible to him. One of the men we hired recorded what Zane went through on an average day at his high school. Kids verbally abused him, shunned him, even hurt him more despite the injuries they knew he already had.
"I wanted to storm into that school and hurt the kids that bullied Zane as much as they hurt him, but I didn't. I didn't even call the fucking school to tell them about it happening. He put up with the bullying and abuse for another two months, and it didn't let up even once. Then on the night of May 6th, Zane just...vanished into thin air."
Mr. Mercer's face breaks even more and his grip on his photo tightens. "When I called the bodyguards the morning after, all of them told me that they hadn't seen Zane since the afternoon before. Their shifts ended when Zane went back to the shelter the day before. But when Zane was supposed to leave for school, he never came out of the shelter.
"The police showed up at my home not long after I found out that Zane had disappeared. They told me a missing persons report had been filed for Zane and wanted to ask Monica and me a few questions. We told the two officers about everything that had happened to Zane since March and what we'd done to him.
"Both officers looked at us in pure contempt when we told them we kicked Zane out to protect our image. One of them said 'I can't blame the kid for running away.' When we heard that, my chest felt like it had exploded. When the officers asked us if they could search Zane's room for any clues, we led them upstairs to his room.
"Monica and I sucked down our guilt and walked into Zane room for the first time since he left. What we found made us all stop in our tracks. Zane's walls were lined with pieces of artwork, all of them his, all of them beautiful. From sketches, to landscapes, they were all perfect. The officers even stopped working for a few minutes to take in the artwork. My wife and I knew Zane liked to draw, but we never knew Zane had such an amazing talent. We were too selfish to even notice it.
"Monica found a small folded up piece if paper on Zane's nightstand. We thought it was another sketch, but it was a note from Zane that he had written after Monica and I kicked him out. I'll never forget what that note said."
"What did it say?" I ask, moving a little closer to Mr. Mercer.
Mr. Mercer pauses for a few seconds. "'Mom and Dad, I'm sorry for being your perfect little disappointment. I'm sorry I was never the son you wanted me to be. I never asked to be born this way, but I guess I'm stuck in the body I ended up in. I'm sorry I'm gay and that neither of you can accept that, but you two can go fuck yourselves.
"'Yeah, I'm gay, but I don't care about something like that. And neither will either of you, because you don't ever have to find me. You two can live on as Richard and Monica Mercer and can live without the shame of having a gay son. I tried to be the son you always wanted me to be, I really did, but I guess all those secret hours of me throwing baseballs in the woods weren't good enough for you or for anyone.
"'I've always wanted to be an artist, but both of you pushed me to be something I didn't want to be, and I hated and I still hate you for it. No trophy or certificate could hold a candle to how proud I am of the artwork around this room. I'm leaving this place you two called a home, but I called it the house of Richard and Monica Mercer.
"'I hope when you read this that you'll finally see what I actually meant to you. But I'm not counting on it. Goodbye, guys. You'll never have to see the face of your perfect little disappointment ever again. -Zane.'"
I feel my throat clench up at hearing Mr. Mercer recite the note word for word. He lets his tears flow and makes no effort to try and stop them anymore. "When my wife and I finished reading that note, it all came crashing down on us. We realized that we let our own son go and we lost him as a result, just because of our own selfish, personal reasons.
"Monica, the police officers and I went out to the woods behind my house to see what Zane had mentioned in his note. We found dozens of destroyed pieces of wood, all of them with the same dents covering them, along with dozens, if not hundreds, of destroyed baseballs. My wife and I saw how hard Zane had tried to become the star athlete we wanted him to be. We were both so proud of him, but it only reminded how hard we were on him.
"After Zane disappeared, I started my own personal vendetta to make those that made Zane suffer be punished. I walked into Zane's school the very next day and demanded that the baseball team be punished for hurting my son. I didn't care anymore if people knew that Zane was gay. All I wanted was to get justice for him.
"The principal immediately called the baseball team into her office. And when they saw me standing there, their faces immediately paled. After they were all in the office, I forced them to tell me what happened in that locker room. Within a second, they all turned on one another, accusing fellow teammates of hurting Zane.
"What none of them knew was that there was security footage of the attack and that the principal had already shown it to me, so I knew who was guilty of what. I told them all to be quiet after a few minutes and they did. When I asked them why they hurt my son, there was only one immediate answer: 'because he's a fag.'"
Mr. Mercer's hands clench in anger and I feel my hands doing the same. "When I told them I could press charges against them for what they did to Zane, they all were practically begging me not to do it. I knew they would lose their scholarships and college acceptances if I did press charges. I actually enjoyed seeing them lose it a little, I'm afraid to admit.
"I told the principal to show the team the footage of the attack and when they were watching it, I saw something change in their faces. They were finally starting to get that what they did to Zane was horrible. When they heard the sounds of bones breaking, some of the kids actually vomited.
"The worst part of the footage was watching Zane not move an inch after the team finished attacking him. He wasn't found for another forty-five minutes when a janitor came in to clean up and found Zane's unconscious body. When the video ended and I looked at the kids again, I saw that several of them looked to be on the verge of tears. Whether it was fear of knowing I had evidence to put them in jail or realization of what they had done, I'll never know."
Mr. Mercer dries his eyes and it looks like the tears have finally stopped. "The one that looked the worst was the one that Zane was originally kissing in the locker room: that Damien Branson boy. He was the one who threw the first punch and started the attacked. The team actually got on their knees and begged me not to press charges.
"When I saw their pleading faces, I relented and chose not to press charges, but told the seniors that they wouldn't walk at their graduation and the underclassmen that they could either be suspended for a week, or have four hour detentions for the rest of the school year and for two months of the next school year. Most took the detentions.
"After the baseball received their punishments, the principal and I went through the school finding teachers who Zane came to for help, but none of them did anything. Fourteen teachers and seven administrators overall were guilty and I used some connections to fire all of them. Then it was the other students' turn.
"I had the principal call an assembly for the whole school and they all gathered in the auditorium. When I walked out onto that stage in front of all of those kids, many of their faces went blank. The principal handed me a microphone and I went straight to the point and asked: 'How many of you have bullied my son, Zane Mercer? If you're not confessing, I'll find out.'
"That's when five of my largest bodyguards came out onto the stage and glared out at the crowd. Hands immediately shot up and a final count of three hundred and seventeen kids had bullied my son on a regular basis. When I told them that I could fire their parents that worked for my company, it was pure pandemonium.
"Kids were screaming and begging me not to do it. I never planned on firing their parents, but I wanted those kids to see that if their actions could affect the lives of others, namely their parents. I finally saw regret in these kids faces, and it was one of the greatest things I had seen in years.
"After we settled what had happened with Zane's school, Monica and I hired dozens of private investigators to search neighboring states for any clue of where Zane was, but not one came back with any results. One P.I. named Patrick came here to investigate, but he had received a nasty bump on the head and a dropped attempted assault charge and left the state after a few days of recovery in the hospital. His camera was destroyed for some reason, so I paid for the damages."
My stomach tightens at the memory of Patrick almost shooting Zane. "It's been two hundred and seventy days since Zane disappeared and almost a year since I last saw him, and neither my wife nor I have a clue of where he is. I just want to tell him how sorry I am for not being the dad I should've been, for how hard I always was on him, for never being there for him, for...for being the exact opposite of how a dad should be."
Mr. Mercer starts to cry again and I move right next to him and put my hand on his back. "I don't even know if my baby boy is still alive or not," Mr. Mercer sobs. "I'll never forgive myself if someone somewhere finds Zane's body..."
"Mr. Mercer," I say. "I can tell you with confidence that Zane is very much alive. I don't know how I can prove that, but I just feel it. I know Zane is out there somewhere, alive and well. You need to keep thinking that Zane is still alive, no matter if you find him or not."
He suddenly moves and wraps his suited arms around me and I hear him sob into my shoulder. It takes me a second, but I hug him back, holding his shaking body tightly. "Honey, what's going on?"
Mr. Mercer and I look up and see a woman who looks to be in her mid-forties with light brown hair tied into a tight bun and a slim figure. She's wearing a light grey skirt suit with black high heels and it looking down at Mr. Mercer in concern. He wipes his eyes and stands up. "Hi Monica," he says. "I was just talking with Eric here about...Zane."
So this is Monica Mercer. Her exterior screams all business, but I see something in her bright blue eyes that shows compassion and care. She gives her husband a tight hug. "I miss him too, honey," she quietly says.
She lets go of her husband and dabs her eyes dry with her hand. "We'll find him, Monica," Mr. Mercer says. "No matter how long it takes, no matter how much we have to spend, we'll find our baby boy."
Mrs. Mercer nods a few times and Mr. Mercer looks back at me. "Thank you for listening to me and reassuring me, Eric. I'm sure Zane would be good friends with you if you two were to ever meet."
I smile at the Mercers. "I think so too."
"C'mon, honey," says Mrs. Mercer. "We need to get back to Dallas." She looks at me and smiles softly. "Thank you for talking to my husband. I haven't heard that much confidence in his voice since before..."
She stops short of finishing her sentence, wiping her eyes for the second time. "I just hope you two find Zane soon," I say.
They both smile at me before turning and walking toward the entrance of the school. I reach into my pocket and pull out my phone and tap the screen once before holding it to my ear. "You hear all that, Zane?" I ask.
There's a sniff on the other end of the line. "M-My dad really said all that?" he asks.
"Unless I was talking to a Richard Mercer impersonator, yeah, he really said all that. He and your mom care for you more than you thought, Zane. They just had a really bad way of showing it." I hear Zane let out a sob or two and notice how similar they are to Mr. Mercer's. "So what do you want to do?"
"I-I...I don't want to found..."
"But you heard how much your parents actually care for you. They want to be there to encourage you and your artwork. They want to apologize..."
"I know that, but there are still too many bad memories back in Dallas. If I go back, those memories will just be waiting for me. All the work I've gone into forgetting my past will have been for nothing. So...they won't find me."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm positive. They only feel bad about me running away because it's hurting their image. So I'm not going back. I'm never going back..."
He honestly doesn't feel that way, does he? I mean, Mr. Mercer told me, a guy he barely knew, everything that he'd done since Zane had left, and Zane still thinks he doesn't care? I don't buy that for a second. "Well, it's your decision," I say. "And if you don't want to be found, I'll help you stay hidden."
"Thank you, Eric. I know it's hard for you to do that after hearing everything my dad said. But I appreciate it more than you know. Do you still want to get lunch?"
"Sure. I'll meet you there."
I hang up my phone and start to walk to the main dining hall. But as I'm walking, I can't help but think back to the pain I saw in Mr. Mercer's face. He's so desperate to find his son, that I think he's about to call the president to ask him to help find Zane. What should I do...?