Hey everyone. RichardAdams here. I'm here to give you a bit of information. Due to mid-terms coming up, I'm going to need to take a two week break from 'Could I Be...?' I'm sorry to have to do this, but to me, college comes before writing.
I'm also trying to decide what to do after I finish the 'Am I...?' series. I don't know if I'm going to stop posting on the site, or if I'll continue at this point. It's difficult to balance both my daily life and find time to write, so I really don't know what to do at this point. I'll figure it out as time goes on though.
Thank you all for understanding. I may not be posting any new chapters, but I'll regularly check my email to see if there are any messages from any of you. Thank you again. Here's Chapter 16 of 'Could I Be...?'
None of us are able to go back to sleep that night. First thing in the morning, Mr. and Mrs. Mercer, Zane and I all head over to the family doctor, who is said to be one of the best doctors in the country. We get to the emergency center and quickly get Zane signed in. After a few minutes, a nurse comes out and takes us back.
She has Zane rest on a hospital bed and we wait a little more, me holding Zane's hand tightly. He hasn't spoken a word the entire time and I'm incredibly worried about him. This must be so hard on him. To not be able to draw for Zane is like not being able to breathe. The only thing I'm wondering is why he can't seem to draw.
His wrists seem fine and the doctor back in Stanford said there wasn't any nerve damage to his wrists, so why? "Zane?"
We look over and see a man who appears to be in his late forties with fully grey hair and an average frame. "Hi, Bill," Mr. Mercer says. "Thanks for doing this on such short notice."
"Anything for a friend." The doctor, Bill, looks down at Zane. "What seems to be the problem, Zane?"
I see Zane's throat clench up, and I know he isn't going to say anything. "We think there's something wrong with his wrists," says Mrs. Mercer. "Yesterday afternoon, they were working perfectly fine. Now, he can't seem to draw anymore."
"Let me have a look." Bill steps over to Zane's side and gently takes Zane's arm, which is completely limp. He looks it over, being careful around Zane's stitches, and does a thorough inspection. "I don't see anything wrong with them physically, but I think I may need to conduct an EMG."
"What's that?" I ask.
"It's a test to check the muscles of a part of the body to check to see if there is any form of nerve damage. It reads the amount of electrical activity produced by the skeletal muscles. The electricity comes from your nerves and an electromyograph records the levels of electricity in the area I scan."
I think I got about half of that. Bill leaves to grab the materials, leaving us with the mute Zane. "Buddy, it's going to be okay," Mr. Mercer says, trying to reassure his son. "This is probably nothing."
"Your father's right, sweetie," Mrs. Mercer says. "You'll be drawing again in no time."
Bill returns a few minutes later with a cart and a small machine on it, as well as another doctor. "Zane, I'm just going to run this small object over the surface of your wrists to see the general electrical activity, okay?"
Zane is still completely frozen, so Bill takes his silence as a yes. He and the other doctor set up the machine and Bill steps over to Zane's side again, taking his wrist in his hand. "Ready, Marks?" Bill asks the other doctor.
There's a low hum from the machine and Bill touches the tip of a small, handheld wand to Zane's skin. He moves the wand over the surface of Zane's skin for several minutes before looking back to the other doctor (Marks). "Anything abnormal?"
"Nope. The electrical current is perfectly normal."
"So why can't he move his wrists when he tries to draw?" asks Mrs. Mercer.
I see Bill go into thought before looking back at us. "Was Zane doing anything that may or may not have damaged his wrists?"
"He was asleep before we heard him screaming," says Mr. Mercer. "We think he may have had a nightmare."
Bill looks back at Zane. "Is that what happened?" Zane finally unfreezes and nods once. "Richard and Monica, I don't think this is a physical problem. I'm afraid this may be psychological."
"Psychological?" I say. "How?"
"Zane," Bill says to Zane, "were these stiches a result of you cutting yourself?"
There's a very feeble voice that comes out of Zane's mouth. "Yes..."
"Were you dreaming before you discovered you couldn't draw anymore?"
"What were you dreaming about?"
I see Zane clench his fist and his mouth tightens a bit. "I was...dreaming about when I cut my wrists. I was in an art room where I usually draw and I was watching myself cut my wrists open. When I woke up, I tried to draw a little to calm myself down, but my wrist wouldn't move."
Bill stares at Zane in silence for a few seconds before looking back to the other doctor. "Thank you, Marks. I've got it from here." Marks nods once and leaves us with Bill, who looks over at Mr. and Mrs. Mercer and myself. "May I see you all over here for a minute?" We follow Bill away from Zane's bed and he stops us when Zane's out of earshot. "I feel that Zane has a mild case of PTSD."
Post-traumatic stress disorder? I thought only people who have seen things like war and constant death have things like that. "Are you sure, Bill?" asks Mr. Mercer.
"I'm about 85% sure. I feel that the dream Zane had was so violent and terrifying to him that it made him vividly remember him cutting his wrists. Did Zane almost die when he cut himself?"
"Yes," says Mrs. Mercer.
"Then I'm positive that this is PTSD. That dream Zane had was so realistic that the memories of Zane cutting himself and almost dying came back in full."
"But that still doesn't explain why he can't draw," I say.
"Zane cut himself in a place he was very close to: his art room. I think that Zane may be unconsciously linking together the room where he drew his art with him cutting his wrists. As a result, his body is refusing to draw, thinking drawing will lead to the same result as him cutting his wrists."
"S-So...is this...permanent?" Mr. Mercer asks.
"Not necessarily. PTSD is different for every person, and how long it takes for someone to get over it is entirely up to them. I feel that this is a very mild case that brought upon something drastic, but this isn't permanent. Zane's case doesn't require and sort of medication or anything like that. For him, all he needs is time and support from his family and friends."
Bill leads us back to Zane, who seems to have a moved a little in the time we were talking to Bill. "Zane," Bill says, "I have some news." Zane looks up at Bill. "I'm afraid you have a very mild case of PTSD."
Zane's face remains unchanged. "So what does that mean for me?" he asks.
"It means you not being able to draw is only temporary, but you're going to have to will yourself to draw again. Your body may reject the idea, but you're going to need to be stronger than your body. It will take some time, but I feel you'll be able to draw again."
"Do you know how long it will take?"
"That's entirely up to you. You're in charge of what your body does and you're going to have to gain your ability to draw back on your own."
We all stare at Zane, who seems to be stunned to silence. All of a sudden, Zane swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands up straight and tall. "I'll be damned if I'll never be able to draw again," he says. "I'll work at it, and I'll be able to feel the feeling of running a piece of charcoal over a canvas again."
How can Zane still be so confident? Something like this months ago would've destroyed his spirit and he would've fallen into a deep depression. But I don't see any signs of weakness in Zane's eyes. "That's fantastic to hear," says Bill. "Work your hardest, Zane, and you'll be drawing again in no time."
We thank Bill for helping us and as Mr. and Mrs. Mercer are paying for the visit, I sit with Zane in a few chairs in the waiting room. "So how're you feeling?" I ask.
"I'm still pretty upset that my body won't listen to me and that I can't draw as a result. But I'll work hard at this and I know I'll draw again." I see Zane stare down at his wrists. "I know this is my own fault that this happened, and I hate myself for causing this..."
I take Zane's hands in mine and stare directly into his eyes. "Zane, please don't blame yourself for this. What you did was a mistake and you know it. This isn't your fault, so just focus on beating this thing."
Zane smiles a bit and gives me a warm hug. "Thank you, Eric."
Over the next few days, I both work on trying to draw again and enjoy as much of my vacation as possible while working on trying to draw again. For some of the days, I focus entirely on trying to get my wrists to move when I touch a pencil to a piece of paper, but I don't feel any change in my wrists.
Eric has really been supporting me with all this. He stays with me the whole time I try and get my wrists to move, giving me words of encouragement as I try. It doesn't get my wrists anymore than I can do alone, but it makes me feel a lot better knowing how confident he is that I'll be able to draw again.
In the time I'm not trying to draw, I spend a lot of my time relaxing and just having fun. Thanks to getting my stitches out, I'm able to have a lot more maneuverability with my wrists, so I'm able to enjoy my vacation a lot more. Mom and Dad have been supporting me through it too, offering to help in any way they can, which I appreciate more than they know.
It's now Friday and Eric and I are heading back to Stanford in a few days. Late morning, and after an hour of trying to draw, I toss my sketchbook and pencil aside, still nothing. I fall back into my bed and just think to myself, wondering how I can get myself a draw again.
As I stare at the ceiling of my room, I start to think less and less about me not being able to draw and more and more about Dallas itself. I spent so much time trying to stay away from here that being here is a bit of a shell shock. I've been cooped up in the mansion for the last few days, so maybe it's about time to get out.
I grab my sketchbook and pencil and slip on my shoes and head out of my room. Waking through the maze of the mansion, I walk into the large main kitchen and find much of the kitchen staff eating lunch. They're on vacation just like the rest of the mansion, but they don't ever seem to leave the area.
They all hear me walk in and, when they see me, they all jump out of their seats and stand in a military-like fashion. "Good morning, Master Zane!" they all say.
"Morning," I say. "Are you all enjoying your lunch?"
"Yes, Master Zane," says Bernard, the head chef. "Thank you for asking. Would you like us to prepare you something? It's no trouble."
"I'm okay, thanks. I'm just trying to find Eric. Have any of you seen him?"
"I think he said something about going to the gym when he was in here getting some food about an hour ago," says Samuel, a sous chef.
"Got it. Thanks, guys."
I give them a wave and make my way toward the gym. As I'm walking, I greet several of the house workers by name. I took it as a responsibility of mine to remember every single name of every worker in the mansion. It took a lot of time to remember them, but they always appreciate it when they hear me calling them by their first name.
After a little more walking, I find the gym and walk in the large double glass doors. In the large gym, I find Eric jogging on the treadmill and spy Dad rowing on one of the ergs. They both hear me close the door and look over at me. Eric pushes a button on the treadmill and steps off, breathing deeply and covered in a light layer of sweat. "Hey, any luck?" he asks.
"Not one bit," I say. "It's really depressing knowing how hard I'm working to try and get my drawing back and all that effort doing nothing to help me."
"Well, you just need to keep working at it. You'll get it back soon. I can feel it."
Seeing Eric's smiling face helps to lift my spirits a bit. "I'd hug you right now, but you're covered in sweat."
Eric gives himself a lookover. "Sorry. I've been in here for the last hour with your Dad. For a man of 47, he moves as well as I do."
"Don't think of me as some old man."
Dad's stepped off his erg and appears by Eric's side, wiping some sweat of his own off his face with a towel. "So what's your plan for today?" I ask Dad.
"Haven't thought of it yet. I haven't had this much free time in a while, so I'm not really sure of what to do."
"Well, I was thinking of heading into town, try and remember what the neighborhood's like, seeing as I kind of don't remember it. Plus, we've all been in the mansion for the last four days. I think it's time we get out."
"I like that idea," says Eric. "I've kind of been wondering what the city's like myself."
"How about we all head into town together and show Eric some of the sights and I'll help to reintegrate you to the Dallas society?" Dad says.
"Sounds good," I say. "I just hope that nothing bad happens now that I'm back."
"If I hear so much as a single slur against either you or Eric, I'll make sure that whoever said it regrets it," Dad says with a bit of anger in his voice.
Hearing Dad being so supportive of Eric and me raises my spirits even further. "Thanks, Dad," I say. "Now both of you get a shower. You're both dripping sweat onto the floor."
Eric and Dad both roll their eyes before passing me and heading to their bathrooms. I walk out of the foul smelling gym and make my way to the front lobby. I make it to the lobby and am met by the front door opening. In walks Sebastian, who instead of wearing his usual tuxedo is wearing a light green polo shirt, khaki shorts, and boat shoes. "Hey, Sebastian," I say.
"Hello, Master Zane. Are you going out?"
"Yeah, I'm heading into town with Dad and Eric. I need to remember a little bit more about Dallas and we want to show Eric around. Where were you?"
"Oh, I was just dropping your mother off at the spa. She said she's been wanting to go for months, but due to her schedule, hasn't been able to. So I drove her to the spa and I'll be picking her up in about six hours."
"Okay. So what's your plan for the day?"
"I was thinking of relaxing by the pool with a few of the workers. While the cats are away, the mice will play, as they say."
I smile at Sebastian. "Try not to get too crazy. The cats will return eventually. Oh, and the liquor cabinets and wine cellar are off limits. Plus, Dad has the keys to all of them, but I think there's some beer in the fridges around the house. Dad doesn't have any rules against that and I think he has the workers buy them so they can enjoy them. So help yourself."
"Thanks you, Master Zane. Hope you enjoy your day out."
Sebastian walks out of the lobby, a small skip in his step at the knowledge of free beer. I take a seat in a chair and wait patiently for Eric and Dad. After about twenty minutes, I hear them both coming down the stairs, both of them wearing jeans and t-shirts (which Dad has really come to enjoy wearing). "So where would you like to head first?" Dad asks.
"Anywhere is fine," I say. "I think I'd just like to drive around and see the sights."
"Do you guys have personal drivers for getting around?" Eric asks.
"Only for some things," says Dad. "The rest of the time, we prefer to drive ourselves."
Dad and I lead Eric outside and we walk from the front steps to the over-sized garage. Dad reaches into his pocket and I hear the garage door start to rumble and rise. As soon as it's fully open, I hear Eric suck in an audible breath. "Can I just say that I hate you both right now?" he asks.
He has every reason to. The garage takes up about 8000 square feet of the mansion, and it's filled to the brim with cars that Dad's bought over the years. We walk in and I take in the smell of the rubber of the three hundred seventy-six tires in here. "I've always loved it in here," I say.
"So have I," Dad replies.
We walk a bit more and I hear the unlocking of a car door. I spy Dad's 2013 black Cadillac Ciel with the headlights on. "The Ciel?" I ask Dad.
"We need an extra seat for Eric," he says.
"I know that, but you never used to take it out. I always assumed you never liked it because it was electric."
"Just because I run and own one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world doesn't mean I don't care about the environment. Plus, I like how it looks."
And there's the kid in Dad. When I was younger, whenever he saw something he really liked, I saw a sparkle in his eyes that reminded me of a toddler when they see something shiny. We all climb into the car, me in the passenger's seat, Dad in the driver's seat and Eric in the back. "So who's hungry?" asks Dad.
"I haven't eaten today, so I'm pretty hungry," I say.
"I ate about two hours ago, so I've built up a bit of an appetite," says Eric.
Dad looks over at me. "How about I take us over to The Big Grind?"
The Big Grind is an incredible diner in town that almost every person in Dallas has tried at least once. I've gone there a few times in the past and I've loved it every time. "The Big Grind sounds great," I say. I look back at Eric. "You'll like it. Best burgers in the city."
I think I see a small bit of drool pool at the corner of Eric's mouth. "I could eat a burger," he says.
"Then let's head over there," says Dad. "It's going to be crowded."
Dad turns the ignition and carefully pulls the car out of its spot and drives out of the garage. We start to make our way toward the city, the first time I've gone back in almost a year.
About twenty-five minutes later, we finally arrive in the heart of the city. I keep staring out the window, taking everything back in, remembering everything there is. Dad turns down a street and pulls over to the side of the road. We all climb out of the car and Dad takes a few quarters from his pocket and drops them in the meter.
He looks back at Eric and me. "Ready?" he asks.
We know what he's referring to and we both nod. We start to walk down the street and almost immediately people start to take notice of Dad. He's been living in Dallas since he was 4 years old and he became a nationwide name by the time he was 26. So he's been pretty much a celebrity in the city since then, and even though he makes appearances in the city on a regular basis, people still see him as the greatest man alive.
I also notice that people are staring at Eric and me as well. Back when I was younger, people never saw me and Dad together, and for obvious reason. I would've been harassed because Richard Mercer was my dad. So no one, not even my high school, knew that my dad was who he was. Had they known, maybe my life would've been a bit different.
After walking about two blocks, we walk up to The Big Grind. I look in the window and I see that it's already filled to the brim. "Crap, we'll never get a seat," I say.
"We don't have to eat here," says Eric. "I'd be fine if we even went to McDonald's together."
"Not to worry, boys," says Dad. We both look at him. "I have a trick that I sometimes use when I go to a crowded restaurant and I want a seat immediately. I don't use it very often because it would be unfair to other people who are waiting, but if there aren't any people waiting, I'll use it. Eric, may I borrow your cap?"
Eric seems confused, but takes his cap off and hands it to Dad, who slips it on his own head and keeps his eyes out of view. "Let's head in."
We walk inside the restaurant and the noise level in here is incredible. The restaurant really is packed and dozens of voices try to talk through the noise, only adding to it. We walk up to the hostess stand and are met by a girl who appears to be in her late twenties. "Welcome to The Big Grind," she says. "How many this afternoon?"
"Three," says Dad.
The girls looks down and looks back at us a second later. "It looks like it's going to be about a thirty minute wait for a table or even a seat at the counter. The lunch rush, you know?"
"Is there anyone else waiting for a table?" Dad asks.
"No, sir. Just you three."
Dad reaches up and takes the brim of Eric's cap and slips it off. I see his face and I smile to myself. It's the face he always uses whenever he's in full business mode: stony and no nonsense. The girl takes in a breath at seeing who Dad is. "R-Richard Mercer?!" she squeaks.
"That's me," he says. "Now, I've been in here enough times to know that there's a table that's never used because it's outside of every section in here. But we'd really like to eat now, so could you make an exception? I'd greatly appreciate it."
The girls looks back down at the hostess table and looks back at us a second later. "Oh, look! A table just opened up! Please follow me."
The girl grabs three menus and we follow her through the restaurant. Just like on the street, people stare as they watch Dad walk past them. We arrive at an empty table in the corner of the restaurant, where we sit down and the girl hands us the menus. "I-Is there anything else I can do for you?" the girl asks.
"No thank you," says Dad. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet. I see him pull out two bills and hands them to the girl. "Thank you for helping us."
The girl takes the money and stares in awe at the $200 she's holding. "Thank you!" she says. "A waiter or waitress will be by shortly to help you. I hope you enjoy your meal."
She walks away and I see her walk to two waitresses and hold the money if front of them, pointing at Dad as she animatedly talks to them. "How in the hell did you do that?" Eric asks.
"I just asked her if we could use this table and thanked her for helping us," says Dad.
"It's one of the perks of being Richard Mercer," I say.
After a minute of waiting, a guy who appears to be in his mid-twenties appears beside our table. He's a handsome guy, with perfectly styled, blonde blowback hair, looks to be about Dad's height, and has a few tattoos on both arms. "Welcome to The Big Grind," he says, placing rolled up silverware on the table. "My name is Miles and I'll be your waiter today."
I see the guy doesn't even seem to take notice of Dad, which really surprises me. "Can I start you off with a few drinks?" Miles asks.
"Root beer, please," says Eric.
"Iced tea for me," says Dad.
"Just a water, please," I say.
"I'll get those for you right away. Be back in a few minutes."
Miles walks off and I look back at Dad. "Wow, he doesn't even seem to care that you're here."
"I'm perfectly fine with that," he replies. "It'll make our lunch a lot more enjoyable without our waiter pestering me."
We look over our menus and I glance out at the restaurant. I see a few people still glancing at Dad, but I dismiss it. I'm about to look back at my menu, when I see something catch my eye. I see Miles standing over at the other side of the restaurant and an older man seems to be lecturing him.
Focusing my eyes a bit more, I notice the man isn't lecturing him at all. He seems to be...quietly yelling at him. The older man seems to be talking through gritted teeth and Miles is just standing there, looking a bit scared. The older man turns on his heel and walks away, leaving Miles alone.
Still confused, I look back at my menu. I see through my peripheral Miles coming back with three glasses in his hand and he places them on the table. "Here you are," he says. "Have you all decided on what you'd like?"
"I have a question," I say.
Miles looks down at me and I see a waiter's smile on his face. "Yes?"
"Who was that older guy a few minutes ago and why did it look like he was yelling at you?"
The second I say that, I see Miles' face fall and his smile disappears. "That was my manager," he says, "and he was yelling at me for no reason."
"Did something happen?" I ask.
"Not in the least. My manager just treats me terribly because..."
Miles stops on his words, but I get the feeling I know what's he's going to say. "I'm sorry to hear that," I say. "Has it been going on long?"
"Ever since I started working here, and that was two years ago. Every day I come in here, it's the same greeting: 'Get to work, faggot.' If he had the power to fire me, he would've done it the second he found out I was gay. So instead, he treats me like a piece of garbage every day I come in for work."
"Do the other employees do the same?" Eric asks.
"No, just him. I'm grateful that they don't, but I just wish sometimes they would help me and maybe support me when it happens, but I know they're afraid of what will happen if they try to help."
"So why not quit?" asks Dad.
"Because I need this job. I need to be able to pay my rent and I can't afford not to work for even a day, so I don't have time to go out and find a new job. So I put up with my manager and I work the days away."
I can see how much Miles hates his current situation. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small pad of paper and a pen. "So, what would you all like to eat?"
We all give Miles our orders and he goes back to the kitchen with them. "I feel really bad for him," says Eric.
"I do too," I say. "To put up with that shit every day from someone who's supposed to be your boss must be terrible."
I look over at the waiter's station and see Miles' manager quietly yelling at him again. I want to help him so badly, but what can I do?
Lunch is fantastic. With the amazing food and Miles' great tableside manner, it couldn't have been a better meal. "Would you like anything else before you head out?" Miles asks.
"Just a check, please," says Dad, handing Miles his credit card.
"Yes, sir. I'll get that right for you."
Miles walks away and Dad slides out of his seat. "I'm just going to wash my hands. I'll be back in a minute."
Dad walks to the back of the restaurant, where the restrooms are, leaving only me and Eric. "What did you think of the food?" I ask.
"That was probably the best burger I've ever had in my life," he replies. "I can't believe we don't have something like this back in Seattle, a homey diner."
"But you have the best coffee in the world, so it evens out."
Eric smiles and slings his arm around my shoulder. As we're waiting, I hear a small crash and Eric and I look over and in the middle of the restaurant is Miles and his manager. "You stupid faggot!" the manager actually yells.
I see a broken plate on the floor, but there doesn't appear to be any food on the floor. "That wasn't my fault, Frank," Miles defensively says. "You were the one holding the plate and you were the on that bumped into me and caused the plate to fall on the floor."
"Well, your fruity ass shouldn't have been walking behind me while I was clearing a table! Looks like I'm going to have to make you pay for that plate."
"But it wasn't my fault! And you can't do that when you know it wasn't my fault."
"Doesn't matter. I'm the boss and what I say goes."
Okay, that's it. Enough is enough. I slip out of my booth and storm over to the middle of the restaurant, not caring what people will think or say. "Hey, asshole!"
Both Miles and the manager, Frank, turn to me. "You got a complaint too about fudge packer right here?" Frank asks me.
"Oh, I've got a complaint, but it's about you, fuck face."
Frank's face turns a light shade of red out of anger. "Me?"
"Yeah, you. You can't treat someone like that just because of their sexuality. Where the fuck do you get off on treating people like shit?"
I hear every diner in the restaurant turn and look over at us, but I don't care. "Guys like him deserve to be treated like shit," Frank says. "It lets them know where they stand. And why are you defending him? He's a faggot!"
"Yeah? Well, I am too and I'm about five seconds away from shoving my boot up your ass."
I hear a whisper go through the restaurant and I see Frank turning an even darker shade of red. "You're a faggot too?" he asks.
"So am I." I feel an arm sling around my shoulder and I know it's Eric without having to turn around. "And I've seen a lot of bigots in the past, but you're one of the worst. And just know my boyfriend here won't hesitate to ram his shoe up your ass."
I see Frank's fists clench tightly and he turns even redder. "Then you two are banned from the restaurant. I'll be damned if I let two faggots like you come in here so I'll have to be forced to look at your cock-smelling faces."
I'm about to reply, but what I hear behind me chills me to the bone. "What. The fuck. Did you say. To my son?"
Eric and I look back and I see Dad standing behind us with the coldest, hardest, scariest look I've ever seen on his face. He walks between me and Eric and steps up to Frank. "Y-You're Richard Mercer..." Frank stutters.
"I'm not going to ask again. What the fuck did you say to my son, dipshit?" Frank seems to be at a complete loss for words and I smile on the inside at seeing Dad. He turns to the rest of the restaurant. "Did any of you hear that?"
The only response he gets are nods, and they're from everyone. He looks back at Frank, his face seething. "Listen here, fuck wad. No one, and I mean no one, talks to my son and his boyfriend like that. I don't care who the fuck you are. If I so much as hear a single slur against him, I know dozens of ways to make your life a living hell.
"Oh, and I think I'll try one right now. How's about I call the owner of this restaurant, buy this place out, become the new owner, and fire you? Better yet, after I fire you, I'll call the landlord of whatever apartment complex you live in and buy out your apartment and force you onto the streets?
"Maybe after that, I'll call a few of my friends from the police station and have them find a crime you weren't committed for from the past and have them arrest you and put your sorry ass in jail by tomorrow? How would you like that, fucker?"
Holy shit. This is both incredible and scary as hell. Dad has got Frank physically shaking and he looks to be on the verge of breaking down. Even I'm feeling a cold sweat slide down my back at what I'm seeing take place in front of me. "P-Please don't..." Frank begs. "M-Mr. Mercer, please don't do that. I can't go back to jail. Being in there once was enough."
"Then fix your fucking attitude. I don't care what it takes. If you don't, the end of your life is just a few phone calls away. Remember that, and I'm going to have someone keeping an eye on what goes on in here in the future." Dad looks over at Miles, who appears to be in complete shock. "May I have my check, please?"
Miles slowly hands Dad the check and his credit card. Dad takes the pen with the check and quickly pays for and signs it and hands it back to Miles with a smile. "Thank you for a wonderful lunch and I hope you enjoy the $5,000 tip."
Every mouth in the restaurant drops open and Dad starts to make his way out with me and Eric following closely behind him. We make it outside and Dad looks back at us. "I'm sorry about what happened in there, boys..."
Before he can finish, I wrap Dad in a tight hug. "That was amazing, Dad. Thank you for what you said in there."
I feel Dad hug me back. "I just did what I felt was right. I just hope nothing negative comes out of this."
"Who cares?" says Eric. "You were a badass in there, Mr. Mercer. You made that asshole look like he was about to piss himself. That was probably one of the most awesome things I had ever seen in my life."
Dad smiles and blushes a little. "Thanks, boys. You want to keep seeing the city?"
"Sounds good," I say.
We start to make our way back to the car and as we walk, I stare in admiration at the man I call my dad.
Through the next few hours, we show Eric the city of Dallas and reintegrate me back into the mix. There were a lot of things I actually missed about this place. From the architecture, to the people, it's an incredibly diverse community. And seeing the things from my past really helps me to remember what the city's like.
It's just about 3:30 now and we're driving through the suburbs of the city. As we pass street after street, I start to remember a certain part of the area we're in. "Dad, can you turn right up here?" I ask, pointing at the street we're approaching.
"Sure. You want to see something you remember?"
"You could say that."
Dad turns down the street and memories from my past flow into my mind. I've been down this route dozes of times in the past and the route is littered with bad memories. But I suck it down and don't say a word. "You can just keep going until I tell you to stop," I say. "There's a place I want to check out."
Dad continues his way down the street and after a minute or two of driving, I see my destination, and Dad does too. "Are you sure about this, Zane?" he asks.
"Positive. I need to do this, Dad."
"Where are we going?" Eric asks.
Dad pulls up to the curb in front of our destination and shifts the car into park. I look back at Eric, who seems really confused. "Eric, this is my high school."
I see Eric's face fill with surprise as he looks out the window. My high school. John Adams High School. The home of the reasons why I fled Dallas in the first place. As I stare at the tan three-story building, painful memories flash through my mind at lightning speed, causing my heart to race.
Almost four years of hell reside in this high school. The daily abuse, the non-stop insults, the degradation, the hurt, the pain, it's all here. I look back at Eric, who seems to be trying to figure out why we're here. "Can I borrow your cap?" I ask.
He looks back at me and hands me his cap and I slip it on my head. "You guys can come with me," I say. "There's just one thing I want to check out."
I open the car door and step out, hearing Dad and Eric following my lead. "Do you want people to see me?" Dad asks me.
"I think you could use a pair of sunglasses to help with that," I say.
Dad reaches back into the car and comes back with a pair of dark sunglasses covering his face. He locks the car and he and Eric follow me. We start to walk around the school and as we get to the back of the school, I see what I'm looking for: the sports fields.
John Adams High School is a public high school with some of the best-maintained sports fields in the state (and that's saying something). We also have fields and areas for almost every sport there is, but there's only one that I'm looking for, and I find it almost immediately from the activity going on on it.
In contrast with the light brown dirt of the baseball field are the navy blue uniforms of the baseball team. My heart involuntarily starts to race at seeing them, remembering what happened in the locker room a year ago. "Zane, are you doing what I think you're doing?" Eric asks.
"If you're thinking that I'm going over there, then yeah, that's what I'm doing," I reply.
"But why? Why do you want to do something like this?"
"Because I need to, Eric. That team down there destroyed my life and they caused all the pain that made me leave Dallas. So I'm just going down there to confront them."
"But weren't the one's that hurt you in the locker room mainly seniors? They aren't on the team anymore."
"That's true, but John Adams High School has a tradition that's been religiously followed ever since it opened up. Whenever the seniors from the year before come back from college for a break, they come by and help the current team practice."
"Yeah, al the seniors from last year are there too."
And they're pretty easy to find. The baseball team members are in their uniforms and the seniors from last year, the ones I called my classmates, are in basic workout clothes. "I remember all of those boys," says Dad. "I talked to every single one of them after you left."
"I think interrogated is a more appropriate word," says Eric.
"Either way, they're all down there. I never forget a face."
"And neither do I," I say. I stare intently at the field and I find the one person I'm looking for. "Eric, see that guy down there standing off to the side of first base?"
I point down at the guy in the tight fitting black t-shirt and white baseball pants. "Yeah, what about him?"
"That's Damien Branson," I say with more venom in my voice.
I hear Eric suck in a sharp breath at seeing the guy I had dated for a couple of months. "That's the fucker?" Eric asks through gritted teeth.
"That's the one."
"I remember that boy," says Dad. "He seemed to be the one of the baseball team that hated it the most when I showed them the surveillance video of you being attacked by them. But why do you boys seem to be so mad?"
"You know the story of why the baseball team attacked me, right?" I ask Dad.
"Yes, they found you kissing that Damien boy in the locker room."
"Well, what no one else knows is that Damien and I were dating at the time the attack happened."
I look over at Dad and I see complete surprise on his face. "You were dating that boy? But he was the boy that threw that first punch when you were in that locker room!"
"Yeah, he did," Eric says. "He accused Zane of coming onto him and Zane was the one that kissed him. He probably didn't want people to find out about their relationship, so he joined in the attack on Zane to show his teammates that he didn't care about Zane."
Dad's face turns a dark shade of red and his eyes fill with pure rage. "I'll make that boy pay for what he did to you," he growls.
"No, Dad," I say. "This is something only I can do, so I'm doing it alone. You guys can come with me if you want, but you're going to have to sit in the bleachers."
I secure the cap on my head and start to make my way toward the baseball field, hearing Dad and Eric follow behind me. I feel my heart beating faster and faster with every step I take. My brain is telling me to stop, but I ignore it and I keep going.
My feet stop just outside the baseball field and I see a few people glance over at me, but they don't seem to take notice of who I am and just go back to their practice. I see Dad and Eric taking two seats on the top row of the bleachers and they both stare out at the field and keep an eye on me.
As I watch the players on the field, I hear a metal clang followed by a billowing voice. "Foul!"
"Heads up, dude!"
I look up and see the white of a baseball flying just above my head. Feeling my recent developing baseball reflexes take over, I hold my hand above my hand and let the ball fall directly into it, hearing the smack of the ball hitting my palm and feeling a bit of a sting at the shockwave going up my arm.
I bring my arm back down and stare at the ball. "Nice catch, dude! Can we have the ball back?"
Looking up at the field, I see Damien staring at me, awaiting me to toss the ball back to him. But instead of throwing it back, I start to walk toward the field and step through the gated fence to the field. My sneakers find the dirt and I walk over to Damien, taking long deep breaths as I get closer and closer to him.
My feet stop just a few feet in front of him and my eyes keep staring down at the dirt. "Thanks for bringing the ball back, dude," he says, holding his hand out.
I toss the ball up and down in my hand a few times, ignoring him. "Um...can I have the ball back now?" he asks.
I catch the ball again and look slightly up at him, seeing his face up close for the first time in over a year. I notice that he and Eric are even more similar than I thought. The same bone structure, same jawline, same nose, and even the same color eyes and dimples. Except Eric's hair is a lighter brown, his mouth is a bit fuller, and he has more muscle on him.
But there's a big difference between Eric and Damien: the thing I felt for Damien is completely gone. Exhaling loudly, I stare up at Damien. "You know," I say, "I can't seem to remember what I ever saw in you."
Damien's face becomes completely lost. "Uh...what?"
"I mean, when I found that note in my locker fourteen months ago and I learned it was from you, I was extremely happy. Plus the few dates we had were really nice and fun. But knowing how badly you had betrayed me makes me forget all that. I can still feel that punch you gave me a year ago."
Damien's face goes completely white and his mouth goes slack. I reach for the brim of Eric's cap and I slip it off my head and stare up at Damien. "Hi, Damien," I say. "Been a while, hasn't it?"
Damien seems to be at a complete loss for words and it's so gratifying that I take it all in. "Z-Zane..." he quietly says. "Oh my God, you're okay..."
"Yeah, I'm fine now. I wish I could've said that last March after you and your teammates nearly killed me."
Damien's face fills with what appears to be pain. "Zane, please just understand that..."
"That you're one of the biggest cowards I had ever met in my life and you'd destroy someone else's life just to protect your own?" I interrupt.
"No, Zane, please just listen..."
"I don't want to fucking hear it, Damien. I trusted you and you stabbed me in the back, or you might as well have. It probably would've hurt a lot less than the broken arm, leg, ribs, lacerations, and the concussion."
It looks like Damien's going to try and say another thing, but something cuts him off. "Hey, Damien! C'mon! We need someone on mound to throw!"
Damien glances behind him and I look past him. Standing in a small group are the seniors from last year, all eleven of them. My stomach starts to burn and I push past Damien and start to walk over to them. "Hey, fuckers! Remember me?"
The looks on their faces are just as satisfying as Damien's. I stop just about ten feet in front of them and I just stand and stare. "What? Almost a year of not seeing any of you dipshits and none of you have anything to say? Not one 'Hey, faggot!' or 'Fuck off, cocksucker!' Huh?"
The seniors look amongst one another, trying to figure out what to do. "U-Um...what're you doing here, Zane?" asks one guy who I remember as Donny.
"Oh, I'm surprised you know my name! I thought my name to you was 'faggot!'"
That was a good blow to them and I see all of their faces cringe. I suddenly feel a hand on my shoulder. "Zane, please," Damien says. "Just please calm down."
I take my elbow and ram it back as hard as I can, feeling it connect with Damien's hard stomach. The wind is forced out of his lungs and he keels over in pain. "You don't get to tell me what to do, asshole," I say. "I used to listen to you, but I don't give a shit about what you say anymore."
Taking a few deep breaths, I do start to calm down a bit. "Hey! What're you doing?!"
I look over and storming onto the field is the baseball team's coach, Coach Michael. "Good to see you again, Coach Michael," I say as he gets close.
When he hears me, Coach Michael stops where he stands. "Zane? That seriously can't be you."
"It is," I say. "I haven't seen you since you tried to deny the baseball team attacking me."
Coach Michael scratches the back of his head, both trying to think and out of embarrassment and shame. "Look, Zane. I know what I said was a complete lie, but please try to understand. The baseball team was on its way to a state title for the first time in ten years. I couldn't let them lose their chance."
"Yeah, I saw you won," I say. "Congrats by the way. Yeah, my current boyfriend showed me a news article saying you won the state championship a few months ago."
The field goes completely silent and I know the reason why. "So you really are...?" Coach Michael starts to ask.
"Gay? Yeah, completely. And I've been dating my boyfriend for almost six months now."
I glance back at Damien and I see a bit of jealousy in his face. "S-So...where have you been?" asks another former player, Jamie.
"I'm going to college in California now," I say. "Stanford University."
And that's another low blow, telling the team I'm a full time student at one of the top colleges in the nation. "To be honest, we thought you were dead or something," says Carson, another former player.
"No, I'm alive, but I was scraping by for a while. That was until I made a little less than $500,000 back in January. Now, I'm living pretty comfortably."
And the guilt filled faces turn to shock. "How in the hell did you make almost half a million bucks?" I hear Coach Michael ask.
"I'm sure a lot of you knew I was an artist when I was still going to school here. I was the main artist at a big art show in January and I sold some of my paintings and I made a lot of money as a result."
Another blow to all of their egos, and I'm loving every second of seeing their reactions. "Um...you look...a lot different," I hear Damien say.
I glance down at my full sleeve arms. "Yeah, I now work in a tattoo shop in Stanford and I get free tattoos sometimes. Plus I'm kind of good friends with the Stanford baseball team, so I managed to bulk up a bit while I was working out with them. Oh, and the best part of being at Stanford is that no one calls me a faggot or tries to physically hurt me there."
And that's the final blow. The baseball players very clearly cringe at my last statement and I love seeing their faces. "Well, enough about me," I say. "What have you guys been up to? You're probably still playing baseball and treating people you don't like like shit."
"Um...yeah, we're all still playing baseball," Donny says. "Damien's playing at Texas A&M and is the backup pitcher despite only being a freshman. The rest of us probably aren't going to be able to start in a game until our second year."
"Well, I hope you all do well with your respective teams." I look back at Damien, who can't seem to meet my eye anymore. "Good for you, Damien. I hope you eventually get to start on the mound one day. But I doubt you'll even be able to hold a candle to what my boyfriend can do."
Damien manages to look at me, but only slightly. "Your...boyfriend?"
"Yeah. My boyfriend's the starting pitcher for the Stanford Cardinal and is also a freshman. He could probably kick your ass if you two were to pitch against one another."
"Okay, how the hell do we know you aren't lying?" asks Carson. "This boyfriend of yours could be made up for all we know."
"Trust me, he isn't made up. And he thinks Zane is the sexiest guy he's ever seen in his life."
Everyone looks over to the side of the field and I smile at my guardian angel. Eric's leaning against the chain link fence with his large, muscular arms crossed over his chest. He pushes off the fence and walks onto the field and over to me. He steps up in front of me and takes my face in one of his hands and plants a firm kiss on my lips.
I kiss Eric back and I can feel everyone on the field squirming at what they're watching. Eric pulls away from me, takes his cap from my hand and slips it back on his head and wraps his arm around the back of my waist. "Hey, jackasses," he says. "My name's Eric Swanson. And yes, everything Zane just said about me is 100% true. I know I can kick Damien's ass on the mound, but I think Zane could do it even better."
I look up at Eric in complete surprise and confusion. "What do you mean?" Coach Michael asks Eric.
"Zane here practices with the Stanford Cardinal baseball team on a regular basis and often pitches against the team," Eric replies. "Now, he can kick Damien's ass without even trying. So how about we see how much better Zane is compared to Damien?"
The baseball players look between one another and look back at Eric. "How do you mean?" asks Carson.
"Let's see who can throw the fastest fastball," Eric says. "One throw each and whoever throws the fastest wins."
"And...what does the winner get?" asks Damien.
"For Zane, I think it would just be the satisfaction of beating you at your own game. What would you want if you win?"
Damien looks at the dirt for a second before looking back at me. "If I win, I want to see if you really are the great artist you supposedly are."
Oh shit. That means if I lose, I'll need to draw, which I can't do at the moment. But I can't back down after coming this far. "Deal," I say. "In case I do lose, I'm going to need something to draw with and a pad of paper."
"I have some paper and a pencil in my bag," says Coach Michael. "I'll just keep it there until we see the end of this match up."
"Damien, you go first," I say. "You're probably a lot more limber than I am at the moment. Everyone else off the field and someone clock the speed of the throws."
The players start to walk off the field and Eric walks back to the bleachers. As I start to head off to the side of the field, I feel another hand fall on my shoulder. "Zane, why are you doing this?" Damien asks.
"Let go of my shoulder," I growl. It takes him a second, but Damien slowly lifts his hand off my shoulder. "I'm doing this because I want to put my past behind me. I want to show myself that I'm not the same guy I used to be. I want to forget about you, and this is the only way I can."
"Zane, please." Damien's eyes seem to be pleading with me. "I'm so sorry for what happened a year ago, and I'm sorry for hurting you so much. But I couldn't have been found out by my teammates. I had a state championship I needed to win, and I couldn't have won it had the guys found out about us."
"So to you the only logical thing to do was the punch me and lead your teammates to beat the living shit out of me and almost kill me?"
Damien's eyes clench shut and they slowly open back up. "I-I know what I caused was horrible and I've thought about it every day since it happened."
"Well, it was nice to get your support after it happened. I was kicked out of my own fucking house and I was living in a homeless shelter for two months before I left. And every day since I left I've thought about what happened to me and how much I hated you for what you caused. And what did you do after the attack? You tormented me with your teammates like nothing ever happened between us.
"So I want to make you hurt you mentally the way you hurt me physically. So I'm going to kick your ass and I'm never going to see your sorry ass again. And don't you fucking dare throw this match away. If you do, you'll not only be insulting me, you'll be embarrassing yourself and your teammates. Now get on the mound."
I turn on my heel and walk off to the foul zone and stretch my arms out. Damien walks over to the pitcher's mound and is tossed a ball by one of his teammates. I see Damien's shoulder's slump for a second before he takes his place on the mound, tossing the ball up and down a few times.
One of Damien's former teammates, Johnny, holds a radar gun up in front of him and waits for Damien to throw. Damien plants his right foot on the pitcher's base and sets himself up. He takes the ball in his left hand and I see his finger slip into a fastball grip, so I know he's actually going to try and win.
Damien suddenly picks up his right foot and stomps it back down, letting his body turn naturally. His left arm whips around his body and shoots forward. I see the ball fly out of his hand and it roars at home plate before crashing into the fence behind the plate. "97!" Johnny calls.
I see the baseball players applaud Damien's impressive throw and I start to feel a little anxious. The fastest I've ever thrown was a 96, and that was pure luck. I finish stretching out my arms and cross the field to the pitcher's mound. Damien steps off and walks over to the other players and watches me step onto the mound.
Looking back at the players, I see one of them toss me a ball and I catch it in my right hand, unconsciously letting my fingers slip into a two-seam fastball grip. As I start to get into position, I feel my nerves start to get the better of me and my body suddenly freezes.
Was everything I said just all talk? Can I really do this? "C'mon, buddy! Show your old man how you've proved me and everyone wrong!"
Managing to look over off the field, I see Dad standing in the bleachers with a bright smile on his face. Does he really feel that confident in me? "You got it, Zane!" I hear Eric's voice fill my ears. "Show your old bullies how much you've changed!"
The invisible ice that was surrounding my body quickly melts away and I get feeling back in my arms and legs. Taking a deep breath, I feel a smile pull at the corners of my lips. Thank you, Dad and Eric...
I set my left foot on the mound and I tightly hold the ball in my fingers. Staring intently at the fence behind home plate, I set my eyes on a single target. Once I have my target in my sights, I look over at the baseball players and see the radar gun pointed directly at the space between home and me and all the players and Coach Michael watching me.
While I should be feeling pressure, I don't feel a bit of it. I'm ready to show these fuckers I'm not their punching bag anymore. Swiftly picking up my right leg, I slam it back down and feel my body whip forward. My shoulder rotates around me and I feel all of my muscles straining as my blood rushes to the tips of my fingers.
My fingers release the ball and before I can even blink, I hear the crash of the ball hitting the fence. I look at the fence and I smile at how the ball hit my target directly. The white, leather ball now occupies a single hole in the fence, and I don't see any signs of it landing in the dirt anytime soon.
I look over at the baseball players and see the exact same blank look on all of their faces. "What's my speed?" I call.
It takes a second, but Johnny looks down at it and I see his mouth drop open. He doesn't even need to say my speed. I know I won. "I win, motherfuckers!" I yell. "Looks like I'm not the pansy faggot you all thought I was!"
The players all look to be in a state of shock. My feet carry me over to them and I look up at all of them. "For almost four years, I suffered your daily torment and torture. You called me homophobic slurs at every chance you got, hurt me in every way possible, and made my life a living hell. Now, that's all done. I'm not the weakling you thought I was anymore.
"Now, I'm somebody with a bright future in front of me. You can say whatever you want to me and I won't give a flying fuck. You can knock me down seven times, but I'll get up eight times. I'm done with all of you assholes. But before I leave and never see any of you again, I'll humble all of you and draw that picture Damien wanted me to draw." I look directly at Coach Michael. "Can I have that paper and pencil?"
Coach Michael doesn't say a word as he jogs into the dugout and comes out a few seconds later with a large pad of paper and a pencil and hands them to me. I hold the pad in one hand and take the pencil in the other. "This will take a few minutes, so just go back to practice with the baseball team. And don't bother trying to talk to me. I won't respond."
I touch the tip of the pencil to the paper and I think back over the last few days of not being able to draw. The fear of not being able to watch my ideas come to life on a piece of paper was incredibly terrifying and I pleaded with every God there was to let me have my gift back. But my ears fill with a small scratching sound and I almost want to cry at what I see.
I'm drawing! I'm fucking drawing! I stare in complete awe as I watch my wrist and hand move freely across the paper, bringing my concept to life. I hear the voices of the world around me going on, but they sound like nothing but small whispers that don't reach my ears.
After about thirty minutes, I finish my drawing and I look out at the field. The past baseball players are working with the current baseball team, too absorbed in their own world to notice that I've finished. So I rip the paper off the pad and fold it up into a square and slide it in the fence of the dugout.
Taking one last look at the baseball field, I walk off the field to Dad and Eric, who are waiting patiently by the bleachers. "Ready to go?" I ask.
Dad walks up to me and hugs me tightly. "You've made me the proudest parent in the world, buddy," he says. "You stood up to those boys like you were ten feet tall. And that throw of yours? If only I could've known how fast it was."
"It was 98 miles an hour," says Eric. "I saw the radar gun through the fence."
98?! I threw a pitch only a few people can throw? "Damn..." is all I can say.
"You've done good, Zane," says Dad, letting go and smiling at me. "You were absolutely amazing. Now, let's head back home."
Dad, Eric, and I leave the baseball team to their practice and we start to make our way back to the car. We finally arrive back and just as I'm about to walk to the passenger side door, I hear a voice from behind me. "Zane! Zane, please wait!"
I look back and sigh heavily at seeing my ex-boyfriend chasing after me. He comes to a stop just a few feet in front of me, out of breath. "I thought I said I was done with you and your old teammates," I say.
"Just...please listen to me." Damien takes a few seconds to get his thoughts together. "Zane, I've missed you so fucking much. There wasn't a day that went by where I didn't think of you and how badly I had hurt you. I hated myself for what I did and I still hate myself to this day. I kept hearing your screams of agony whenever I fell asleep.
"Every day you were gone, I kept thinking of you. All I wanted was to see you, to hear your voice, but it was my own fault that you left."
I see the bases of Damien's eyes start to fill with water, but he doesn't seem to notice. "When I got that text message from you the night you left, I felt something in side of me die. When I read how much you hated me, I cried for hours staring at that text message. It only made me remember how badly I had hurt you.
"I should've been there for you after what happened, but I was too fucking selfish to think about what you were going through. I was only concerned with what other people thought of me and I let that fear get the best of me and I lost you as a result."
Two small tears drip out of Damien's eyes and I feel something inside of me start to hurt. Damien holds up a folded piece of paper and I recognize it to be the one I left in the fence of the dugout. He unfolds it and reveals the sketch I drew. "Why didn't tell me you could draw like this?" he chokes out.
I see the sketch I left behind. It's the exact same picture Eric showed me months ago of the baseball team winning the state championships, every detail of it perfect. "Because you didn't care," I reply. "Damien, when we were going out, I tried to show you dozens of my drawings. But every time I tried to show you one, you blew me off. It hurt so much to have you treat what I love to do like garbage, just like you so often treated me."
Damien's eyes clench shut and I see more tears falling from his eyes. "I know I treated you like garbage a lot, but I was only angry at myself for not being as open as you were and I took that anger out on you."
"If you just told me why you were acting the way you were, I would've understood. But you never did and remembering how badly you treated me while we were together made me hate you even more after you hurt me."
"But if you hated me so much after what happened, why didn't you just tell people that you and I dated?"
I sigh to myself. "Because I'm not that kind of person. I don't let other people get hurt so I can feel less hurt. Had I done that, you would've suffered the same abuse I did. Everyone would've hated you, you would've lost your scholarships, and your life would've been destroyed."
"But I deserved it! After what I did to you, I was just waiting for the day when people would treat me like shit because I was gay! But that day never came, and I never understood why until now..."
Did Damien just call himself gay? He's never referred to himself as gay before and it kind of takes me back a bit. "Damien..." I start to say.
Damien takes my shoulders in both of his hands and stares right into my eyes as his overflow. "Zane, I couldn't say this when we were together. But I realized after you left how much I loved you. And I still love you, Zane..."
My stomach drops to the ground and I feel my eyes bulge. Damien loves me? I stand in shocked silence for a minute before I find my voice again. "Damien, I'm happy knowing that you love me." I see Damien's eyes light up with hope. "But I don't love you anymore." The light in Damien's eyes fades and even more tears spill out. "Had you told me that while I was still here, I might've stayed. But you didn't.
"The love I felt for you is gone. It disappeared a year ago and it hasn't come back since, and I don't think it will come back. I know you and I had some good times together, and I really did enjoy the time we spent together. But now, I can't seem to remember the fun you and I had with each other..."
I feel Damien's knees buckle and his lower legs give out and he falls to his knees, sobbing softly. I kneel in front of him and reluctantly place my hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Damien, but I love someone else now. He's loving, caring, supportive, and I know he and I are meant to be together
Damien looks past me and I know he's looking at Eric. "Him?" he asks.
"Yeah. He loves and cares about my artwork, he supports me in everything I do, he compliments me and tells me he loves me every day, he makes me happy, and I love him with all my heart."
Damien cries quietly for a minute before looking back at me. "I guess it's my own fault that you've found someone else. But...do you honestly not remember the time we spent together? I think back to them almost every day..."
I stare at Damien for a second, feeling my heart ache a bit. As I look at Damien's crying face, I start to remember the few dates we went on. How whenever I got excited, Damien would smile brightly, how I watched Damien in admiration when we were together, and how he was incredibly sweet whenever we went out.
My eyes meet Damien's, who manages to open them past the tears. "Yeah, I remember them now," I say. "I remember when we went to the city carnival together and how you held my hand the entire time we were on the Ferris wheel together because I was a bit scared."
Damien's face smiles a bit. "You do remember..."
"Yeah, I do. And yeah, the time we had together was fun. But Damien, you need to get over me. I'm sorry I have to say that, but I need to. You can't keep going on wanting to get back together with me. I love Eric now, and that's not going to change."
A few more tears fall from Damien's eyes, but I see his head nod a bit. "I can see you really love him. And...I also see there's nothing I can do to try and get you back. But...I don't know what to do anymore..."
"Damien, you have your whole life ahead of you, so don't let this stop you from doing anything with it. You're working your way up on the Texas A&M team, you have your old teammates for friends, and you have a fucking gorgeous face and body to work with."
Damien giggles a bit and manages to wipe his eyes dry. "Yeah, there's that. But...I'm not sure how the guys will take it when I tell them I'm gay."
I feel my mouth open slightly. "Damien, are you absolutely sure you want to? The guys I remember from high school were insanely harsh and cruel to me when they only assumed I was gay. You know what may happen if you tell them."
"I don't care. I've been lying to myself for years now, even before you and I got together. Now, I'm absolutely sure that I'm gay. And I don't want to live a lie anymore. I'm sure my parents and siblings will be okay with it. My mom and dad are die-hard equal rights supporters and my younger brother and sister support everything LGBT. So I think my family will be able to support me."
"That's great to hear, Damien. I'm happy that you know your family will still love and care about you." I get back to my feet and help Damien get to his. "Do you have your phone on you?"
Damien reaches for his pocket and pulls out his phone. I take it and quickly tap the screen several times and hand it back to him. "If you ever need any help with anything, or if you just want to say hi or talk, my new number is in your phone. Please don't try to call or text me every hour of every day. I will get extremely pissed at you."
Damien stares down at his phone for a second before smiling. "Does this mean you're giving me a second chance?"
"As a friend. You're going to have to work at it to gain my complete trust again, but I trust you enough right now to have my number. This is your second and final chance, Damien. Don't fucking blow it."
Within seconds, I see Damien's face light up with the confidence and happiness I remember seeing from him. "Do you trust me enough to...I don't know...give you a hug?"
I cross the gap between us and take Damien in a firm hug. I feel his arms encircle me a second later. "Yeah, I trust you enough..." I say.
Damien and I just stand and hold each other for a minute before I finally let go and he does me. "I...guess this is goodbye," Damien emotionally says.
"For now, anyway. I'll be back in a little over two months for summer break. Maybe then you and I could hang out together."
"I'd like that, Zane. I really would." I see Damien glance behind me for the second time. "You know that Eric and I look incredibly similar, right?"
I look behind me and see Eric look out the window of the car at us. "Yeah, I noticed that a while ago. But there's one thing about him that's incredibly different from you physically."
"Hold your hands apart and show me how big you are hard."
Damien's face turns bright red for a second before he holds his hands in front of him. The space between his palms looks to be about seven and a half inches. I hold my hands out in front of me to Eric's full nine and a half inch length. Damien's mouth drops open at the sight. "You're fucking kidding..." he says.
"Nope," I say with a shit-eating grin.
"The first time it's pretty painful and uncomfortable. But the times after are amazing, especially when you're doing it with the guy you love."
Damien smiles at me. "I'm happy you've found someone you love as much as he loves you. I guess I need to find my own guy to love."
"It's going to be hard, Damien. That's the number one thing you need to know. But if you push away the hate, you'll find love in the end."
Damien grabs me and pulls me into a second hug and I feel myself hugging him back. "I'm sorry for letting you go, Zane, but I'm glad you've found your place. Your art is fucking fantastic. I know your future is bright."
"Thanks, Damien. You'll find your place soon. I know it."
Damien gives me one more squeeze before letting me go. I stand on the tips of my toes and give Damien a light kiss on the cheek. "Goodbye, Damien. I'll see you in May."
I see Damien's eyes gloss over and he smiles brightly at me. "I'll be a better friend than I was a boyfriend to you, Zane. I promise you I won't fuck up this second chance you're giving me."
"I can feel you won't, Damien."
Damien and I give each other one more hug before I turn and walk over to Dad's car and climb in the passenger's seat. I wave out the window one more time at Damien and Dad pulls away from the curb. The car is completely silent for several minutes and I just stare at the road in front of me, watching the yellow divider fly by.
Dad glances over at me. "So...is everything okay, buddy?" he asks.
I'm about to answer when I feel my pocket vibrate. I reach in and pull out my phone. I recognize Damien's number on the screen and I read the short and simple message.
'They were shocked at first, but they accept me. I'm okay.'
I smile at the message and look back to Dad. "Yeah, everything's great."