The cries of the Mercer's go on for over twenty minutes before they finally start to ease. Mr. and Mrs. Mercer slowly let go of Zane and everyone wipes their eyes a bit (including myself). "Are you okay, sweetie?" Mrs. Mercer asks Zane.
"I-I've been better, but I think I'll be fine."
"Please don't ever try and hurt yourself like that again," says Mr. Mercer. "Your mother and I have finally got you back and we don't want to lose you again."
"It won't happen again. This was entirely my fault and I..."
"This wasn't your fault in the least," says Mrs. Mercer.
"Absolutely," says Mr. Mercer. "We were the ones that scared you so much that you tried to do this to yourself."
"But I'm the one that put that knife to my wrists."
"Stop." The Mercer's all turn to me. "It doesn't matter who did what or who caused what. All that matters is that you all are a family again."
Their wet faces slowly smile at me. "Mom, Dad," says Zane to his parents, who look back at him. "This is my boyfriend Eric Swanson. He's the one that's helped me the most since I came out here to Stanford."
Mr. Mercer walks away from the bed and stands a few feet in front of me. "You've really helped my boy come out of his shell, haven't you?" he asks.
"Zane doesn't have a shell anymore," I say. "I may have helped him out of it, but he destroyed that shell and I don't think it's ever going to be repaired." Mr. Mercer smiles and he wraps his good arm around my chest and I return his hug. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Zane when you and I first me, Mr. Mercer."
"I understand why you did it. You were only trying to protect Zane, and you did. I should be thanking you for everything you've done for him."
"A thank you isn't necessary. Just knowing I've made Zane happy is a thank you enough."
Mr. Mercer releases me and reaches into his pocket and pulls out his cell phone. "Honey, cell phones aren't allowed in hospitals," says Mrs. Mercer.
"I just need to make a very quick call." Mr. Mercer taps the screen a few times before holding it to his ear. "Rob, it's Richard. Listen, do me a favor and clear both my and Monica's schedules for the next ten days. I don't care what we need to do. We can reschedule. Monica and I need to spend some quality time with my son and his boyfriend."
Feeling my mouth drop open, I look over at Zane and see two more streams of water sliding down his smiling face. "So please get that done and I'll hear from you again in ten days. Thank you."
Mr. Mercer hangs up his phone and walks over to his wife. "Monica, can I have your cell phone please?"
Mrs. Mercer digs inside her purse and produces her phone and hands it to her husband. He takes both phones and does something I never expected. Mr. Mercer raises both phones above his head and throws them to the tiled floor, both of them shattering into dozens of pieces and sending bits of glass and plastic around the room.
Mr. Mercer looks back at Zane and smiles. "Now it's just you, me, your mother, and Eric for the next ten days." Zane smiles brightly at his father and holds his arms out for a second time. Mr. Mercer steps over to his son and wraps his arm around him, hugging him softly and tenderly. "I missed you so much, buddy..."
"Even though I hated both you and Mom after you kicked me out, I couldn't help but miss both of you," Zane shakily says. "A small part of me wished you would just come after me and beg me to come back home with you. Looks like I'm finally going home..."
"Back to where you belong," says Mrs. Mercer. "With us."
She joins in the hug with her husband and Zane and they silently hold one another for a few more minutes before separating. "Did the doctor say anything about my wrists?" Zane asks.
"She said that there would be stitches in them for a few days, but you should be able to use them fully after you get the stitches out," says Mrs. Mercer. "They looked much worse than they were, so there isn't any nerve damage. But she said for you to take it easy the next couple of days. Other than that, you're all set."
"That's good to hear."
All of a sudden, Zane throws the covers off of him and swings his legs over the side of the bed. "Zane, what're you doing?" I ask.
"I know there are people outside that are worried about me and I want to show them I'm okay," he replies.
He slides off the bed and lands on surprisingly stable feet. "Zane, are you sure you're okay?" his dad asks him.
"I'm really fine, Dad. God, you almost die and everyone really worries about you. I'd really like to see my friends."
Zane reaches for the heart rate monitor wire and rips it off his arm while he keeps the hanging IV and blood bag tubes in his arm. "Are you at least decent?" I ask.
He reaches behind him and his hand comes back a second later. "I'm wearing my underwear," he says.
"That's good enough for me." I walk over to Zane's side and help to support him and look back to his parents. "I think you need to see what's outside."
They seem a bit confused, but they rise off the bed and follow me and Zane out the door. We walk down the hallway, stepping past the willing doctor, and finally walk back into the waiting room and are heading for the hospital door. We walk outside and I hear Mr. and Mrs. Mercer gasp audibly at what we're all looking at.
There are hundreds of people outside in the hospital parking lot, every single one of them holding a lit candle in their hands. All of their faces brighten when they see Zane walking out of the hospital under his own power. "Hi, everyone," Zane says to the crowd. "I'm really sorry about scaring all of you so much, but please know that I regret what I did so much."
"Zane, it's okay!" I hear Courtney call.
"If you know it was a mistake, then it's fine!" yells Cassadee.
The crowd applauds and Zane smiles a bit. "Everyone!" Zane calls before motioning back to Mr. and Mrs. Mercer. "These are my parents. And my name isn't Zane Quinn. My real name is Zane Mercer. Yes, my parents made a horrible mistake when they kicked me out, just like I did when I slit my wrists.
"But I'm putting all of that behind me. I don't care about what happened in the past. All I care about is moving on and looking forward to the future. And I'm going to go into that future with all of you, my parents," Zane takes my hand in his, "and my boyfriend here."
I smile down at Zane as he smiles up at me. He reaches behind my neck and pulls my lips to his. I hear the applause and cheers of the crowd in front of as well as two more people applauding behind Zane and me.
Zane is released from the hospital the next day with the bandages still on his wrists, but the cuts aren't as severe at the originally looked and they should be healed in a few days. It's now spring break and I had planned on going home with Zane to my parents, but I think we have a new plan now.
I'm packing my suitcase and am getting on a plane to head with Zane and his parents to Dallas. Yeah, I know. Surprisingly, the vacation choice was Zane's. He said he was ready to confront his demons and I'm extremely proud of him for how brave he's being. It seems like his parents are too.
I'm putting the last few items into my suitcase when I hear a knock at the door. I walk over and open the door and see my dye-free boyfriend in the doorway. "Wow, no hair dye?" I ask.
"I think I'm going to take a break on the dye for a while," he says, running his fingers through his freshly cut dirty blonde hair. "I used to dye my hair because it helped me forget my past, but now I don't see a point as I'm embracing my past because it helped me become who I am today."
I smile down at Zane and give him a light kiss. "I'm just about to finish packing. How about you?"
"My suitcase and backpack are in my room, ready for the limo."
LIMO?! "Did you just say limo?" I ask Zane, my mouth lightly ajar.
"Yup. My mom and dad are going all out on my return to Dallas, so they arranged a limo to pick us up and take us to the airport."
I shake my head out a bit, getting my thought back together. "I'm really going to need to get used to having an insanely rich boyfriend."
Zane smiles and I stuff the last few bits of clothing into my suitcase and grab that and my backpack. I step out into the hall with Zane and he goes back into his room and grabs his stuff and locks his door behind him. "Wish we could've said goodbye to Josh and Leo," he says.
"Yeah, me too. But they had a 6:00 A.M. flight with Brian and Justin back to Santa Ana and they didn't want to wake us up. I didn't hear a thing when Josh was leaving this morning."
"I think Leo may have floated out because I didn't even hear him get out of bed."
Zane and I walk to the elevator and ride down to the ground floor and start to walk outside. "You two lovebirds have a good spring break."
We look back and see Charles standing in the doorway to his office with a smile on his face. "You too, Charles," we reply.
Zane and I get outside, but find no limo. "I think it'll be here in a few minutes," Zane says.
"Well, until then, I need to make a quick run to the bathroom. Be back in a minute." I walk back inside and find Charles hasn't moved an inch, but is staring off into space. "Jason, I know you're there."
Jason appears out of thin air, in street clothes and not his army fatigues, and he and Charles laugh. "Sorry, Eric," he says. "It's just too much fun to try and make Pop look like a crazed old man."
Charles and I roll our eyes. "So what's your plan for spring break?" I ask.
"I've been working a little too much, so I'm spending a few days in Lake Tahoe with my wife, Kathleen, and my daughter, Brooke, and her husband and son," says Charles. "Jason's coming with us and I think he wants to see everyone again."
"I've missed Mom and Brooke so much since I died that I couldn't not see them again," says Jason. "So I'm going to let them all see me like I do Charles and you."
"That should make for an enjoyable week," I say.
"I just hope Mom doesn't think I'm some guy trying to pose as myself."
"She's your mother, boy," says Charles. "She'll start crying her eyes out the second she sees you."
Jason smiles at his dad. "But I think I'll have some fun with it and scare the family a bit. Like this."
Jason snaps his fingers and his body disappears. Charles and I stare at where he was, so I'm not expecting another finger snap by my side. "BOO!"
I scream and jump a solid three feet in the air and Charles and Jason break out laughing. "Fuck you, both!" I yell, holding my hand over my seizing heart. "You were planning that from the start, weren't you?"
"You should know when I'm going to pull a prank on you by now, Eric," says Charles. He looks behind me. "I think your ride's here."
I look behind me and see a long, sleek, black limo pulling up to the curb. "Looks like it," I say. "I'll see you in a week, Charles. Good luck with everything, Jason."
They both wave at me as I walk back outside and am met by Zane, the limo, and Zane's parents, who are both out of their business attire and are wearing casual clothes, jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers for Mr. Mercer, and jeans, a light blouse, and sandals for Mrs. Mercer. "Wow," is all I can say when I see them.
"I can't remember the last time I wore jeans," says Mr. Mercer.
"It feels so good to not be wearing those God-awful high-heels for once," says Mr. Mercer.
Zane and I grab our stuff and we place them in the trunk of the limo before climbing in with Mr. and Mrs. Mercer. I've never been in a limo before, and I'm loving it. Zane and I take two seats across from Mr. and Mrs. Mercer and the limo starts to move. I gaze around the limo, taking in the new world I'm about to enter.
As I stare at the life Zane's family lives, I see Mr. Mercer staring at Zane a bit oddly. "Are you okay, Mr. Mercer?" I ask.
His head snaps over to me and he shakes it out before smiling a bit. "Yes, I'm fine," he says. "I was just...a bit distracted, is all."
"By Zane?" I ask.
"I think he was staring at my tattoos and piercings," Zane says.
"Yes, I'm still getting used to them," Mr. Mercer says. "I know you had a few tattoos before you disappeared, but you didn't have that many."
"Like I said before, Zane gets free tattoos as a perk from his work," I say. "But he had almost full sleeves when I first met him."
"I was in Stanford from almost three months before I met you, Eric," says Zane. "I got about forty more tattoos between the time I left Dallas and met you."
"Those tattoos are extremely well done," says Mrs. Mercer, looking at Zane's arms. "The artist must've been quite skilled when they drew them."
"Thanks," Zane says.
Mr. and Mrs. Mercer seem a bit confused by what Zane said. "Zane designed almost all of the tattoos that are on him," I say. "He gave the designs to his coworkers and bosses and let them do the tattoos."
Zane's parents stare in awe at the artwork on Zane's body. "They're fantastic," says Mr. Mercer. "They're just as wonderful as the artwork in your room."
Zane blushes at his parent's praise. After a thirty-minute drive, the limo pulls up to SFO and while I think we're heading for the normal drop off point, we drive right past it. "Um...where are we going?" I ask.
The Mercers smile at me. "We're not taking a commercial airline to Dallas," says Mrs. Mercer. "We have a different plane that I think you're going to like a lot more."
"We're almost there," says Mr. Mercer, staring out the window.
I look out the same window and see us driving onto the tarmac, making me even more confused. "Just be prepared and don't freak out," Zane says.
The limo starts to slow down and comes to a complete stop. The door on Mr. and Mrs. Mercer's side of the limo opens up. "Welcome back to Mercer One, Mr. and Mrs. Mercer," says a gentle voice.
Mr. and Mrs. Mercer slide out of the limo and Zane takes my hand and leads me out of the limo. It takes me a second for my eyes to adjust to the light, but I feel my mouth drop open at what I see. "Yeah, that's Mercer One," says Zane. "A Bombardier Challenger 850. It's the family's private jet."
A freaking private jet?! And they think that's normal?! "You've got to be kidding me," I say. "Just how rich is your family?"
"Our net worth the last time I checked was about $51 billion," says Mrs. Mercer.
I suddenly feel the urge to get on my knees and bow. "Master Zane? Is that you?"
Zane and I look to our right and I see a man in a tuxedo who looks to be in his mid-thirties with tanned skin, a sharp face, a six-foot tall body, and styled light brown hair. I look down at Zane and see him smiling at the man. "Hi, Sebastian."
The man, Sebastian, walks over to Zane and looks down at him. "Um...would it trouble you too much...?" he starts to ask.
Zane wraps his arms around Sebastian's shoulders and squeezes tightly. Sebastian immediately returns the hug. "It's good to see you again, Sebastian."
"The pleasure is mine, Master Zane. Everyone at the mansion has missed you ever since..."
Sebastian stops mid-sentence, but we all know what he's talking about. "I'm sorry for worrying all of you," Zane says. "But I'm coming home now." Zane lets go of Sebastian and gestures to me. "Sebastian, this is my boyfriend, Eric Swanson. Eric, this is Sebastian Meeks. He's the family butler and one of the few people I called my friend back in Dallas."
A butler too? Oh well. I smile down at Sebastian and hold my hand out for him. "Nice to meet you, Sebastian."
"So you're the hot piece of ass Zane has been looking for," he says, taking and shaking my hand.
I turn red with embarrassment and look at Zane. "Sebastian's also the first person I came out to and I kept telling him how I wanted to find a hot piece of ass at some point in my life. And I did."
Even though I still feel a little embarrassed, I smile and give Zane a kiss. Sebastian goes back to the trunk of the limo and grabs Zane's and my suitcases. "I'll grab your bags for you," he says. "I'll see you on the jet in a little."
Zane and I thank Sebastian and we head over to the plane, where Mr. and Mrs. Mercer await us at the bottom of the plane's stairs. "Ready to head home?" Mr. Mercer asks Zane.
"More than ready," he replies.
We head up the stairs and enter the cabin of the plane, where the captain, co-captain, and flight attendants greet us. When Zane steps into the cabin, I see a noticeable change in everyone's faces. "Glad to see you're all doing well," Zane says.
The crew gives Zane a much warmer greeting than everyone, welcoming him back to Mercer One. I get a look at the cabin and, much like everything else I've seen this morning, I stare in complete awe. Zane and I take two seats in some very comfortable chairs and Mr. and Mrs. Mercer take two seats across from us.
Sebastian comes up a few seconds later and closes the cabin door behind him. He joins the rest of the flight crew and all of us buckle ourselves in for take off. "It's about a four hour flight to Dallas," says Mr. Mercer. "Hope you boys don't get too bored."
"Don't worry about Eric," says Zane. "Whenever he's on a plane, he immediately falls asleep and stays asleep the entire time. The only time he wakes up is when he's hungry or has to go to the bathroom."
"Sure, tell the world I love the feeling of falling asleep on a moving aircraft and I only wake up when my stomach or my bladder tell me to," I say.
Mr. and Mrs. Mercer smile. The plane starts to move and I see Zane reaching into his backpack and pulling out a fresh sketchbook. "Planning on doing a lot of drawing?" I ask.
"I have a lot of new ideas, so I can keep myself occupied the entire time we're on this plane," he replies. "Plus it helps distract me from the loud engine roar outside my window. I may even draw you if I feel the urge."
"Feel free. Just don't draw the drool I may spill out of my mouth when I'm sleeping. And don't work too hard. You're still recovering."
"I won't. I'll go slow."
I stretch my arms above my head and I listen to the low rumble of the jet running across the tarmac and the soft scribbles of Zane going to work in his sketchbook. Both noises comfort me and I ease deeper into my chair. The second I close my eyes, I drift off into my world of dreams.
Eric's so cute when he's asleep. I try not to look and try to focus on my sketching, but his beautiful, sleeping face keeps pulling me back in. Even when he's asleep, he's absolutely gorgeous. With his shirt hugging his muscular torso like a second skin, his shorts showing off his muscular calves, how relaxed his sleeping face is, and how his chestnut colored hair sticks through the front of his cap, he's the definition of perfect.
We've been in the air for about an hour and a half now and we have a little over two hours left in the flight. Two more hours until I'm back home, the home that's given me so many bad memories. I involuntarily shudder at the thought but I throw those thoughts out of my head. I'm ready to face it.
I decide to take a break from my sketchbook and set it to my side. I've been having a bit of trouble drawing because of my wrists, so I think it's good for me to take a break. I look across the cabin and see Dad with his laptop in front of him and the empty chair next to him. Mom went back to one of the bedrooms on the plane for a quick catnap. I look back at Dad and see him staring intently at his laptop, the same face he often has when he's focused on emails.
Sighing to myself, I stand up and walk over to in front of Dad. "Dad, I thought Mom said no work while you and she are taking your vacation."
He looks up to me and smiles a bit. "I'm not working," he says. "I'm playing solitaire." Surprised, I look over his laptop and see he really is playing solitaire. "Just one more move to make."
Dad clicks on an ace and places it over one of the decks at the top of the screen. The cards suddenly start dancing and Dad starts laughing to himself. "I haven't played a good game of solitaire in years."
"Because you've always been working so much. I think the last time you took a vacation was when I first started high school."
I see solemnness fill Dad's face and he sets his laptop aside. "Come take a seat next to me," he says. I step to the chair next to him and we turn and face each other. "Buddy, I know I didn't deserve your forgiveness when you forgave me, but just know I'm treasuring this second chance more than anything.
"I know I wasn't the best father in the past. Hell, I was barely even a father. I never supported you in anything, I never knew a thing about your life, I didn't know about the abuse you went through when you were in high school, and, I'm afraid to admit it, a part of me was ashamed that you weren't the sports guy I hoped you would be."
"If you're trying to give me a pep talk, you're not off to a good start," I say.
Dad smirks at the joke. "I wasn't finished. When you were gone, I regretted every single thing I had done to you in the past, the thoughts I thought, and how I worked so that I never was able to spend any time with you. But I want you to know that I only worked as hard as I did so I could give you a better life with the money I made."
"Dad, I don't care about the money. We could be dirt poor, but if we were the closest a family could be, I'd be happy. All I really wanted was for you and Mom to at least notice me, acknowledge me, tell me you were at least proud of me."
"But that's the thing, Zane. We are proud of you. We couldn't be prouder of you. You got into Stanford, for God's sake! You did that on your own, without your mother's or my help."
"I put our last name on the application, so I think that helped get me in."
"Don't you dare say that." I see pure determination in Dad's eyes as he focuses on me. "Name doesn't matter if you aren't a bright student. You have to be the cream of the crop to get into a school like Stanford. Your effort and hard work got you into that school, not your last name. Your mother and I are so proud of you that you got into one of the top schools in the country.
"You've changed so much from the son your mother and I knew when you left. Before you left, you were quiet, secluded, and you always seemed angry."
"Well...I had plenty to be angry about."
Dad's mouth tightens and he nods a bit. "Your mother and I were part of that anger, I know. But now, you seem so much more...confident in who you are. Back home, you could never hold someone's gaze for more than ten seconds. Now, it's almost like there's a fire burning behind them.
"Your body used to be completely flat and thin it was almost like you were a stick. Now, your body is filling with muscle I never knew you had. Your face is a lot sharper and your jaw is a lot like mine now. Even the way you're sitting is different from how it used to be."
"Should I be flattered or concerned that my dad is saying all of this?"
"My point is, you've become such a handsome young man over the course of a year that it's remarkable. And what I'm most proud of is your artwork. Eric told us about what he did for you with the San Francisco Art Gala."
I smile to myself at remembering that wonderful birthday. "You've made a name for yourself in the art world because of your artwork," Dad continues. "And I also happened to look up the pieces of art sold at that auction and found one of your pieces that I found truly captivating."
"Was it the one where I'm staring out the window at the angels and the demons are behind me?" Dad smiles and nods. "That one was my favorite."
"It was mine too. So I contacted the buyer of that sketch and talked to her for a little while and asked if I could buy it off of her. She said she'd give it away for $500,000. She seemed to be very fond of it. I gave her a million for it and that sketch is now mounted on the wall of the kitchen back home."
I stare in complete shock at my father. "Y-You spent that much money on something I made?"
"I spent that much money because you made it, buddy. I would've paid more just so I could get my hands on it. Zane, I love your artwork more than anything. I saw it for the first time when I first heard that you had disappeared and ever since then, I've wanted to see as much of it as I could.
"I could see how much effort you put into all of those pieces, and I found out how much effort you put into the things you do after you left."
I look down at my lap. "You saw my setup."
Dad nods. "All those destroyed baseballs and pieces of wood showed me how hard you had worked to try and become something you weren't. You worked yourself to exhaustion trying to please your mother and me. It made me feel terrible when I saw those small patches of your blood scattered everywhere."
I clench my fist at remembering the pain I felt when I threw the ball too much. I lost a lot of skin and some of my fingernails even fell off. "Well, now I'm the sports guy that you wanted me to be," I say. "I work with the Stanford baseball team on a regular basis and I can throw like a Major League pitcher now."
"But do you enjoy it?"
"I only pitch when I work the guys on the baseball team and when I'm alone with Eric. It's fun when I'm with them. Otherwise, I don't pitch at all. To me, it's just a skill I have."
"But to be practicing with the Stanford baseball team when you aren't even a member? You have to be pretty good."
"I'm decent. But I only made that setup so I could show you and everyone that I could be an athlete if I wanted to. It took me twelve years, but I finally developed my skill enough to show everyone wrong."
"So how good are you?"
I smile a bit. "That's a secret for a later time. But I think you'll be pretty happy with what I'm able to do."
Dad suddenly rises out of his chair, steps over in front of me, and hugs me tightly. "Buddy, you could be the worst pitcher I'd ever seen and I'd still be the proudest parent in the world by the effort you put in."
I hug Dad back, remembering the feeling of wrapping my arms around his strong back. He lets me go after a minute and sits back in his seat. "And I want to tell you about what I did with your high school after you left," Dad continues.
"You don't need to do that," I say. "I already knew."
Dad gives me a confused look. "How?"
"When you and Eric had that conversation about a month and a half ago, Eric called me beforehand and let the call go on while you two were talking. I heard everything you said. While I was still mad at you, it made me so happy knowing what you did for me, Dad."
Dad smiles and looks over at Eric, who's still sleeping soundly. "He really is a great boyfriend, isn't he?"
I grin myself and look at Eric lovingly. "The best."
After another two hours, the plane touches down in Dallas. I get up from my seat and shake Eric awake. "Hey, Eric," I whisper. "Wake up."
It takes a second, but he slowly opens his eyes. "Am I still dreaming?" he asks. "It was exactly like this when I was asleep."
I laugh a bit and give him a light kiss. "We're in Dallas. C'mon. We're getting off the plane."
He stretches his limbs out and rises from his seat and grabs his backpack. We follow Mom and Dad out, Sebastian behind us, and I feel a blast of warm, dry air hit me. I look out at the flat landscape and take in the warm, Dallas air. I'm really back home...
We start to make our way down the steps and to the tarmac. "Ugh..." I hear behind me. "You people honestly live in this weather...?"
I look back and see Eric looking a bit miserable in the powerful sunlight, sweat already taking form on his face. "It takes some time to get used to," I say. "But you never really get completely used to it. The air here gets pretty hot and dry in the summer. You're just lucky you're here for a week and it's only spring."
"Sebastian's not sweating, and he's in a freaking tux!"
"Sebastian was born and raised in Arizona. He can take the hottest heat and not break a sweat."
We walk up to the awaiting limo and all pile in. I hear Sebastian putting our luggage into the trunk of the car and he climbs in the front of the limo a few seconds later. "Ready to head home, sweetie?" Mom asks me.
"Ready," I reply.
Dad knocks his fist twice against the roof of the limo and we start to head off. As we're moving, I see the same look on Eric's face I saw when we got in the limo back at Stanford. "Still trying to get used to it all?" I ask.
"It's just such a...culture shock. Sure, my family's well-off, but we're not...this loaded..."
"It's a lot to get used to, I know. Hell, I sometimes look at it all and go 'wow.' But if you ever feel it's too much, and trust me, I know you will, just tell me and I can help you through it."
Eric smiles and wraps his arms around me and I slip into the space between his chest and his arm. "When did you become so assuring?" he asks.
"I'm not sure myself. But I know it was during the time I've been dating you."
I feel Eric's lips peck the top of my head and I relax into his chest as Mom and Dad watch us with smiles on their faces.
About forty minutes later, the limo slows to a stop and I look out the window and see the familiar gated fence. "One minute to arrival," Sebastian calls back to us.
Hearing the large iron gate open makes me squirm in my seat. The limo rolls through the gate and I'm starting to feel more and more anxious. What if the employees at the mansion start treating me like shit because I'm gay? I know Mom and Dad wouldn't hesitate to fire them, but I don't want the people that have worked for my family for years to lose their jobs.
I don't have time to think as the limo comes to a stop again and I look out the window and see the Mercer Mansion. "This isn't a mansion," says Eric. "This is a freaking castle..."
He's actually not far off. Mercer Mansion is one of the largest houses in the United States. It's about 85,000 square feet and it cost Mom and Dad about $50 million to make from the ground up. After almost two years of constant construction and building, Mercer Mansion was born and it's been the place that I've known as home for the last 15 years.
The door on Mom and Dad's side of the limo opens up and I see Sebastian's tux in the door. "Welcome to and welcome back to Mercer Mansion," he softly says.
We all climb out of the limo and I hear Eric take in a deep breath at the sight of the mansion. Probably the most distinctive feature of the mansion is the too large entrance. The stone steps up to the front door are kept in perfect condition year round and they lead up to the large thirty foot tall door (yeah, I know. Who needs a door that big?).
We climb the front stairs and once we're all at the top, the large dark wooden doors slowly open and I slowly breathe in and out, ready for the possibly unwelcome home I may have. The doors finally open and I let Mom and Dad walk in before Eric and I do. After a few seconds, I hear the usual greeting "Welcome home, Mr. and Mrs. Mercer!"
Yup. Whenever Mom, Dad, or both Mom and Dad return home from a trip, the mansion workers all line up at the front door to personally greet them. Mom and Dad never told them to do this, but they never tell them to stop. I glance up at Eric, who just smiles at me. "It's now or never," he says.
He gives my back a comforting rub and I feel a little at ease. Sucking it up, I step into the mansion and find the marble floor. There are suddenly dozens of eyes on me, all of them wide with awe, along with several mouths open. "Hi everyone," I say. "I'm home."
I expect at least one look of disgust, but I don't get a single one. Instead, I'm met by a lot of bows and smiles. "WELCOME HOME, MASTER ZANE!!" everyone shouts.
Seeing and hearing their warm welcome makes me smile. "Good to be home," I say. I gesture to Eric, whose mouth is unhinged by the sight in front of him. "This is Eric Swanson. He's my boyfriend and I expect him to be treated with the utmost respect."
"YES, MASTER ZANE!!" They all turn and face Eric and bow their heads in respect to him. "WELCOME TO THE MERCER MANSION, MR. SWANSON!!"
"U-Um...thank you..." Eric nervously says.
"Okay, everyone," Dad says. Everyone snaps to attention and turns to him. "For the next week, Monica, Zane, Eric, and I are on vacation. If there is a call from work, have whomever it is leave a message. If they say it's extremely important, like one of the company buildings is burning to the ground, take the message and give it to me immediately. Understood?"
"YES, MR. MERCER!!"
"Thank you. Now, this is an order to all of you. While I'm on vacation with my family and my son's boyfriend, you all relax as much as you can. I don't mean stop working, but don't work as hard as you usually do. You can get your basic chores done, and then you can help yourself to what the mansion offers.
"But remember. The cameras that monitor the mansion are always on. So if any of you try to abuse the privilege I'm giving you, I'll know. And I'm very good friend with the Dallas Chief of Police. Understood?"
"YES, MR. MERCER!! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!"
"Now, finish your chores for the day, then use whatever facility you wish you use."
The workers disperse to different areas of the house, all of them with bright smiles on their faces. And for obvious reason. Dad never gave them something like this before, so it's pretty new to them. "How many people work here?" Eric asks.
"I think it's about one hundred thirty," Mom says.
"A hundred thirty?!"
"It's a very big place," says Dad. "We need people to tend to the grounds to keep it looking pristine, maids to keep the house tidy, chefs to prepare the food, butlers to keep everything in order..."
"I thought Sebastian was your butler," Eric interrupts.
"He's the head butler," I say. "He's the guy everyone looks to if they have a question. He assigns tasks to everyone and they all look up to him, despite him only being 34."
"Have you ever thought of getting a smaller house to keep things easy on them?" Eric asks.
"We have, but we double the mansion for something else," says Mom.
"The Mercer Mansion has one hundred ninety bedrooms," says Dad. "We allow all the workers here to sleep in the bedrooms if they desire. Many of them have homes and apartments to return to and many do when their day is over, but some choose to stay the night if they're too tired to return home, although it's just one more room to clean."
"There's also the pool out back, the gym, the rec room, the theater, seven lounges, twelve studies..." I continue.
"Here," Mom says. She digs into her purse and hands Eric a small pamphlet. "That's the map of the house. It'll help you if you ever get lost." Eric shakes his head slowly, still trying to take everything in. "How about I give you a personal tour?"
"That would be great," Eric replies, seeming relieved.
Mom walks off with Eric, leaving me and Dad standing in the lobby. I flex my arms out of reflex and all of a sudden, I feel a stinging pain in both of my wrists. Dad notices my discomfort and he looks at me in concern. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah...I think I just need some Tylenol and a little rest. It was a long flight and I think I may have overworked my wrists when I was drawing."
"C'mon. I'll take you to the kitchen and maybe there's some Tylenol in there."
Dad wraps his arm around my shoulder and leads me in the direction of the kitchen. As we walk, I remember the great size of the house and how long it takes to get from one place to another. After what feels like minutes of walking (which it is), Dad and I walk into the small kitchenette (which is the size of a normal kitchen) and he leads me to the large granite countertop.
Dad helps me onto a bar stool and takes a seat in the chair next to mine. "Are you hungry?" he asks me.
"A little. I only had a small lunch before we left."
"Well, it's about 7:30 now, so I guess you need a little dinner. It'll help with the Tylenol." My stomach grumbles at the thought of getting some food in me and Dad smiles softly. "Toasted peanut butter and jelly with strawberry jelly, some potato chips and a few carrots?"
I look over at Dad and smile. "You still remember my favorite dinner from when I was a kid."
"I never forgot. You always asked me if I could make it for you for dinner every night. And I was never able to say no to you back then."
"That would be perfect."
Dad rises from his seat, rubs the top of my head, and walks around the counter. He rummages together the ingredients and I notice him grabbing two plates from the cupboard. "I thought you hated peanut butter and jelly," I say.
He looks back at me and smiles slightly. "Guess I developed a taste for it while you were gone. It made me remember when you and I would have meals like this when you were a baby."
"Dad, I was 6."
"You were still my baby boy back then. And you always will be."
Dad turns back around and continues grabbing stuff from the pantry and drawers, oblivious to me wiping my eyes dry. As he puts the food together, I look over at the canvas sitting on the wall. Dad really bought it back. My sketch is hanging on the wall for the world to see, my signature in the bottom right hand corner. My mouth lifts to a smile as I stare at it.
Dad finishes getting everything together and comes back to me with two full plates. He sets both plates down and quickly grabs two glasses of water and two Tylenol pills. He slides into the seat next to me and hands me a glass of water and the Tylenol. "You should take those before you eat. It'll help speed up the process of easing the pain."
I toss the two pills into my mouth and gulp them down with the water. Setting my glass back down, I look at my plate and can't help but stare at it. "What?" Dad says. "Did I mess up on something?"
"The opposite. You got everything right. You even remembered that I never eat the ends of the carrots."
Dad smiles at me and embarrassedly runs his fingers through his hair. "Like I said, I never forgot."
I grin to myself and Dad joins in a second later. We both quickly devour our meals and both plates are clean within five minutes. "Guess I was more hungry than I thought," I say, wiping some crumbs off my face.
"I was too. You want to head up to bed? It's been a long day."
"I'd like that. I'm pretty tired."
Just as I'm about to get up, I feel my body freeze. "You okay, buddy?" Dad asks me.
I look at him, feeling completely embarrassed. "I...don't remember where my room is..."
Dad laughs to himself and gets up from his bar stool. "I half-expected something like this. C'mon. I'll take you there."
He wraps his arm around my shoulder and he and I walk through the mansion and finally get to the elevator (yeah, I know). We ride up to the second floor and continue to walk through the maze of hallways, me greeting some of the workers by name as we pass them. As we turn a corner, we see Mom and Eric standing in front of a door.
They hear us and turn and face us. "My God, this place should have its own zip code," says Eric.
"It's in the process of getting one," says Mom.
Eric slaps the palm of his hand against his forehead, making us all laugh a bit. "What're you doing?" I ask.
"Oh, your mom is just showing me the room I'm going to be sleeping in," says Eric. "It's just a few doors down from your bedroom."
"We'd have your rooms next to each other, but the rooms next to Zane are currently being used for a bit of storage," says Dad.
"Then why can't we sleep in the same room?" I ask.
"Not in my house," Dad says with a grin. "You two can have your relations when you're back at school." I roll my eyes a bit. "Your room is just three doors down on the right. Nothing's been changed since you left."
"Thanks, Dad." I move quickly and wrap my arms around his chest. "Night, Dad. I love you."
He hugs me back a second later. "I love you too, buddy. Sleep easy."
I release and give Mom a hug as well, leaving Eric for last. "Try to have a good night's sleep," Eric tells me. "You look exhausted."
"I feel exhausted," I say. "So I'm probably just going to crawl into bed and fall asleep. I'll see you in the morning."
Eric bends down and gives me a small kiss before he and Mom continue on their tour of the house. "I don't think I'm very far behind you," Dad says. "Remember, your mother's and my room isn't very far. You just need to go back up the hall, take a right, and it's the double doors at the end of that hallway."
"Got it. Night, Dad. I'll see you in the morning."
I turn and walk past two more doors before I stop in front of my bedroom door. Taking in a breath, I reach for the handle and walk in. Dad was right. Absolutely everything is just as I left it a year ago. The painting and sketches on various canvases are still in their pristine condition, the dozens of sketchpads and pencils on my nightstand are still neatly aligned, and even that small pile of scraped drawings is still in the corner (I should probably pick those up).
I notice that there's practically no dust in here. It tells me Mom and Dad kept this place spotless for a reason. Knowing that makes my chest warm up a bit. Feeling the exhaustion catching up with me, I start to undress when I realize I don't have any clothes in here. I took them all with me when I left.
There's a knock at the door and I quickly button my pants back up and open the door. Sebastian is standing in the hallway. "Hey, Sebastian," I say.
"Hello, Master Zane. I have your suitcase with me. Is it okay to bring it in?"
"Oh, sure. You can just set it anywhere." Sebastian walks into the room and sets my suitcase by the foot of my bed. "I thought I was going to have to sleep in the clothes I wore today."
"Master Zane, your parents bought you all new clothes while you were gone. They're all in your dressers and closet."
Surprised, I walk over to one of my dressers and open it up. In the drawer are dozens of t-shirts, all of them never worn before. "It's like...they knew I would come back..." I whisper to myself.
"They never gave up on you, Master Zane," Sebastian tells me.
I blink my happy tears away and look back at Sebastian. "Thank you, Sebastian. I think that's everything I need. Go and enjoy your time off. I'll call you if I need you for something."
"Good night, Master Zane. Sweet dreams."
Sebastian bows once and leaves the room, closing the door behind him. I go back to undressing and slip into the clothes in my dresser. If there's one thing I like, it's the feeling of putting on fresh new clothes. With a new tank top and my underwear, I turn off the lights and slump over to my bed, making it before I collapse.
There's nothing better than falling into your bed after a long day (great, I'm starting to sound like Dad). I crawl to the head of the bed and slide under the cool covers and rest my head on my pillow. Taking in the smell of my room, I smile and feel my eyes start to close. The dark room becomes completely black a second later.
After what only feels like a few seconds, the blackness suddenly lights up. I find myself sitting in a room I know very well: the private art room I use at Stanford. I've had this dream a lot and I know my dream is just going to be me sketching and drawing the entire time. Yeah, my dreams aren't exciting, but they help me come up with new ideas.
But while my usual dreams involve there being a canvas in front of me and charcoal in one of my hands, I see that there isn't any canvas in front of me and I don't feel any charcoal in my hand. Plus, for some reason, I'm sitting on the floor. This has never happened before...
When I try to get up off the floor, I realize my body won't move. It's like I'm completely frozen. I suddenly feel something in my hand, and while I think it's charcoal, it feels way too hard and it's incredibly cold. I manage to move my head down and what I see in my hand makes my heart stop: an x acto knife.
This isn't a dream. It's a fucking nightmare. As much as I want to throw the knife away, my body won't let me. My left arm suddenly moves on its own, the knife moving with it. The razor sharp knife stops directly in front of me. I feel my right arm start to move too and I watch in horror as it moves closer and closer to the edge of the knife.
Scream and cries of protest explode out of me, but they don't do a thing. My right arm stops just two inches away from the tip of the knife and I breath a small sigh of relief, thinking that this might be over soon. But this is only the beginning.
My left arm moves again and I feel the cold edge of the knife rest on the flesh of my wrist. My heart feels like it's about to burst out of my chest and I scream louder and louder for anyone to come in here and stop me. My neck suddenly turns and I face the knife and my wrist directly. With just a bit of pressure, the sharp edge of the knife slices into my wrist.
The most excruciating pain I've ever felt in my life makes my body freeze. The room fills with my cries of terror and I can't help but watch with tears pouring out of my eyes as the knife slices my wrist wide open. Blood pours out of my arm and quickly starts to pool on the floor, soaking me and my clothes.
Just as I think this is about to end, my left arm gives my right arm the knife and I watch again as the blood soaked knife cuts deeply into my left wrist, agony filling my body a second time. The blade slides out of my arm and the knife clatters to the floor beside me, leaving me to watch myself bleed.
I'm still screaming at the top of my lungs for anyone to come and help me, but I don't hear a thing on the other side of the art room door. My body is starting to feel heavier and heavier and my eyes can't seem to stay open. It's as if my life is slipping away from me, right before my very eyes.
I finally gain control over my arms and as much as I want to try and stop the bleeding, they have no strength in either of them. I let them fall to the floor and watch as the blood seeps onto the tiles. Taking in a few last breaths, my eyes slowly close and my head slumps over in complete defeat.
My eyes snap back open and I shoot off my bed, letting out a small scream. My bed sheets are soaked in sweat and my heart's racing a mile a minute. Heavy and fast breaths come and go from my body and I feel myself looking down at my wrists. The white bandages have turned a little red, so the stitches have come a little undone, but it doesn't seem too bad.
Looking over at my clock on my nightstand, I see it reads 2:17 A.M. I also see a remedy that usually helps me whenever I have a really scary dream like that. I grab a sketchpad and a pencil and open to the first page, taking in the smell of a fresh sheet of paper.
I touch the tip of my pencil to the fresh paper and, just as I'm about to start, the scariest thing I've ever realized comes to me. No...no, no, no, it can't. It can't be gone...
No matter how much I try, I can't get it. Tears slide out of my eyes before I can stop them and I let out the most anguished cry I've ever screamed in my life.
God, this bed feels amazing. Mrs. Mercer said a friend of the family's specially made it, along with all the other beds in the house. I kind of want to meet this person and shake her hand. I'm not even dreaming, but I'm just peacefully asleep and enjoying the wonderful bed I'm lying on. That is until I hear the most blood-curling scream I've ever heard.
I shoot off the bed, scared out of my mind for a second, but I realize I know that voice: Zane!
I jump out of my bed, quickly pull on my basketball shorts, and charge out of the room, the scream getting even louder. I run down the hall and I slide to a stop in front of Zane's door, the source of the scream, and I burst in. I flip the light on and I see Zane sitting up in his bed, pressing his hands against the side of his head and screaming at the top of his lungs.
Rushing to his side, I fall into the bed and wrap my arms around Zane as tightly as I can. "Zane! Zane, what's wrong?!"
He doesn't seem to hear me because his screams haven't died down. "Zane!"
I look at the door and I see Mr. and Mrs. Mercer running into the room, both of them in their pajamas and shocked looks on their faces. "Eric, what's going on?!" Mrs. Mercer says.
"I don't know!" I yell over Zane's screams. "I was asleep in my room when I heard Zane screaming and I came running in here to see what was going on and I found Zane like this!"
Zane's screams echo throughout the room and I resort to rocking Zane slowly back and forth. Mr. and Mrs. Mercer watch in horror as their son cries and cries, unsure of what to do. So I just grip Zane tighter and whisper into his ear. "Zane, it's okay. It's Eric. I'm here. I'm here..."
After what feels like an eternity, Zane cries finally starts to ease and I feel him hug me tightly. It takes a bit more time, but Zane's cries have finally turned into quiet sobs. I look down at Zane and see tears cascading down his pain-filled face. "Zane, please tell us what's wrong," I beg, feeling like I'm about to cry myself.
Zane keeps crying and sniffing, but I manage to hear a weak voice. "I-I...I can't..."
"You can't what?" I ask. "You can't tell us what's wrong?"
Zane shakes his head a bit and he sobs even more. I finally hear what's wrong, and it makes me cold to the core. "I-I...can't...I can't...draw..."