Hey everyone. RichardAdams here. I'm here to ask you all a question. Some of you have asked me if I were willing to write a novella and I've thought about the idea for a while now. But I'm still trying to decide whether or not I want to go through with it. So I'll let you all decide. Should I try my hand at a short story and write an 'Am I...?' novella that focuses on two characters from the 'Am I...?' series? Or should I continue focusing on 'Could I Be...?' The choice is yours. Let me know what you think.

Thank you all. Here's Chapter 14 of 'Could I Be...?'


Chapter 14

The next few weeks go by amazingly. Every game I play with the Cardinal ends with us winning. So far, I've only allowed seven hits and two runs. Charles doesn't have me starting every game, giving me and my shoulder enough time to rest, and it's always a fun time to watch my teammates working together on the field from the dugout.

It's now mid-March and the weather is quickly starting to warm up, just in time for spring break next week. It's an early afternoon on a Wednesday and after a tiring day of classes and a game we won last night, I'm relaxing in the room alone. Zane's at one of his classes and Josh and Leo are out getting some lunch together. They asked if I wanted to come, but I had a big breakfast and wasn't hungry.

I'm playing a little with my violin when I hear a sudden knock at the door. I set my violin aside, thinking it's Josh and he forgot his key, and slide off the bed and walk to the door. "Coming!" I call out.

I grab the handle and open the door. Standing in the doorway is a guy who looks to be about 5 foot 8 with dirty blonde hair, a cute face covered with thick hipster glasses, and a few tattoos on both arms. "If you're looking for Zane, he's at work," I say.

The guy looks up at me, his mouth open a little and his eyes wide. "Wow," he says. "When Josh told me he had a hot roommate, he wasn't lying."

The comment takes me back for a second. "You know Josh?" I ask.

"Oh yeah. He and I have been close friends ever since he and Leo saved me from getting seriously hurt back when we were seniors in high school."

I think back to the stories Josh has told me and I remember a name. "You're Brian Mosley, aren't you?" I guess.

The kid smiles, answering my question. "That's me," he says, holding out his hand. "Brian Mosley. Self-certified musical genius currently attending Berklee College of Music in Boston."

I smile back at him and take his hand. "Eric Swanson. Star rookie pitcher of the Stanford Cardinal baseball team and self-titled hunk."

"Trust me, it's no self-title. You're a hunk."

"Thanks. Want to come in? Josh and Leo should be back in a little while."

"That'd be great, thanks."

I lead Brian into the room and he gazes around. "Take a seat anywhere you like," I say.

Brian walks over to my desk and takes a seat in my chair. He keeps looking around the room before his gaze stops on my bed. More specifically, my violin. "You play the violin?" he asks me.

"I have for almost thirteen years. Do you play?"

"The violin is one of the instruments I play. I play about a dozen other instruments and sing as well."

A dozen? How anyone could learn that many instruments is beyond me. "Want to play it for a bit?" I ask. "I don't mind."

"I'd love to."

I hand Brian my violin and bow and he rests his chin on the violin and rests the bow on the strings. Within a second, beautiful music fills the room and I feel a shiver down my spine. Josh sure wasn't kidding when he said Brian could bring you to tears with his music. He makes me look like a guy just starting to learn.

Brian's 'Mendelssohn in E Minor' is absolutely perfect. It feels like the notes he play go right through me. His fingers fly over the strings at a blinding speed and the bow slides over the strings with such intensity that I actually think the bow's going to catch fire. The passion I can see in Brian's face is so obvious. You can tell he's enjoying this.

He ends the song a bit early and let's the last note sit for a few extra seconds before looking up at me and smiling. "You've kept your violin in beautiful condition," he says.

He hands my violin and bow back to me and I place them in my case. "I'd never be able to play as well as you do," I say. "That was amazing."

"Thanks, but from what Josh has told me, you can blow some veteran players away."

Brian leans back in my chair and there's a knock at the door. I rise from my bed and walk over to the door. "Josh, you need to remember to take your key with you when you leave!" I call through the door.

I open the door and I don't see either Josh or Leo. Instead, I see a guy who looks to be at least six and a half feet tall with shaggy light brown hair, light blue eyes, long limbs, and a handsome face. "Sorry, I'm not Josh," he says. "But you must be Eric. Have you seen a short, blonde guy with big glasses and tattoos on his arms? He's probably a foot shorter than me."

"I'm not that short, Justin!" Brian calls from behind me.

Justin? Oh yeah! "Oh, you're Justin Robinson," I say. "Josh and Leo have told me a lot about you. If you're looking for Brian, he's sitting at my desk. C'mon in."

I lead Justin into the room, him ducking underneath the doorframe to get into the room, and he smiles when he sees Brian. "You need to stop disappearing when I turn my back on you, babe," Justin says to Brian.

Brian smiles innocently. "Sorry, I just got so excited to see Josh and Leo that I couldn't wait."

"I was in the bathroom and you couldn't wait two minutes for me to take a piss?"


Justin rolls his eyes, walks to Brian's side and bends down and gives Brian a kiss. "Did Josh and Leo call you both out here?" I ask. "I thought you two had school in Boston."

"We do," Brian says. "But we're here for a special occasion."

"I'm pretty sure Josh and Leo turned 19 about six months ago," I say.

"We know," says Justin. "But we're here for a different reason. It's more of a surprise for Josh and Leo."

I hear the door to my right click and I see it open. Josh and Leo step into the room and stop dead when they see Brian and Justin. "Looks like we have guests," I say.

Josh and Leo both grin and rush to Brian and Justin, wrapping both guys in tight hugs. "What the hell are you guys doing here?!" Leo says, laughing a bit while holding Brian.

"Let us breathe and we'll tell you," Brian chokes out.

The guys release their friends and sit on Josh's bed while Justin stands next to the seated Brian. "Is it spring break and you guys are home for the break?" asks Josh.

"No, that starts next week along with you guys," says Justin. "We're here because of this."

Justin reaches into his pants pocket and pulls out a folded piece of paper. He hands it to Josh and Leo, who unfold and look it over. "The Stanford Music Exhibition?" asks Leo.

"Yup," Brian replies. "Every year, Stanford has this big music thing that brings in a lot of people and money for the school. And this year, Stanford is teaming up with Berklee College of Music and MIT to bring in some more people with the students of all three schools. Justin and I signed up for it and were picked to come to Stanford to perform. So, here we are."

Josh and Leo both smile brightly. "That's great, guys," says Josh. "So what're you planning on doing?"

"Well, I've come up with a few more songs thanks to what I've learned at MIT," says Justin. "So I'm probably going to be going at it alone and play my pre-made music all day for everyone to hear."

"What about you, Brian?" asks Leo.

"Me and a few other students are performing during the finale this Saturday night," he says. "We're probably going to do a single song to accommodate for the other performances, but it'll still be a lot of fun.

"Are the other students Berklee students too?" I ask.

"Two others are. I'm hoping to get one Stanford student to perform with us."

"Who?" asks Josh.


Josh's mouth drops open. "Me?! Are you kidding? I could never be on stage in front of thousands of people!"

"C'mon, Josh," Justin says. "We all know you're fantastic on guitar and have an amazing voice. Plus you have the hotness factor with you, so people will be watching you more than listening to you."

"Wait...you want me to...sing?"

"That's right," Brian says. "You have a better voice than I do and it's a bit difficult for me to sing while I'm playing my drums. So I signed you up to perform with me without you knowing."

Brian's innocent face really hides the calculating being Brian really is. Josh looks to be at a loss for words. Leo slips his around Josh's waist and pulls him a little closer to him. "Josh, I still remember last Christmas when you serenaded me outside my window. That was one of the greatest things I had seen and heard in my life. People deserve to hear your voice. Plus, this would be a huge favor to Brian and it could be a lot of fun. So why not try it?"

Josh sighs to himself before turning to Leo and giving him a light kiss. "I can't say no to you, and you know that." Leo smiles and Josh turns to Brian. "Okay, Brian. I'll do it."

Brian jumps up from his seat and rushes to Josh and hooks his arms around his neck. "Thank you so much, Josh!" he says. "I promise you you'll have a lot of fun!" He releases Josh's neck and stays smiling. "We have three days to get ready for the performance. I think we can make it."

"Wait," Josh says. "I have one condition with this." Everyone stares at Josh for a second before he turns to me with a slight smile on his face. "I want Eric to perform with us too."

And I feel my mouth drop to about three miles underground. "WHAT?!" I say. "Josh, I have horrible stage fright! I couldn't!"

"Eric, you stand in front of hundreds of people every time you step onto a baseball diamond and stand there for hours," says Josh. "I think you'd be able to stand on a stage for a few minutes in front of maybe a few thousand people."

"But I can only play violin," I protest. "How could I perform with two guys who are playing drums and guitar?"

"Don't worry about that," says Brian. "There are plenty of songs that go with a violin."

"I don't think people would want to listen to 'Cotton Eye Joe' when we perform," I say.

"I don't mean a country song," Brian continues. "I mean like pop punk. Have you listened to 'Ocean Avenue' by Yellowcard?"

"A few times. Why?"

"There's a violin in that song that's played throughout the song. That would be a perfect song. I have two classmates that are here with us that play guitar and bass. That's all we need. Josh would be lead vocals and rhythm guitar, I'd be drums and backing vocals, and you'd be playing an electric violin."

"An electric violin?" Leo asks.

"It's a specially made violin that's equipped with an electrical output that you can plug into an amp just like a guitar," says Justin. "It's designed exactly like any other violin and you can play normally if you'd want."

"So what do you say, Eric?" Josh asks me. "Would you want to give it a try?"

Every eye in the room is on me. "Um...okay, I'll give it a shot..." I nervously say.

Goddamn you, peer pressure. The guys all smile and I hear the door open. Zane's standing in the doorway and sees the two guests we have. "I never get invited to parties," he says with a smile.

It makes me smile as well and I get up from my bed and walk over to him and give him a kiss. I lead him back over to my bed and we sit down together. "Zane," says Leo, "this is Brian Mosley and Justin Robinson. They're two of our friends from back home."

Zane smiles at both guys. "Nice to finally meet you both," he says. He looks at Brian in particular and notices his arms. "You're inked too, I see."

Brian glances at his arms for a second before smiling. "Yeah, I got a few of these while I was at school in Boston. But I'm nowhere near as inked as you. You've got some balls to go under the needle that much."

"Thanks. The pain is worth the art. So what's going on in here?"

"Oh, we were just talking about the upcoming music festival," says Josh. "Brian, Eric, and I are performing."

Zane looks up at me in wonder. "You're going on stage?" he asks. "I thought that you hated being on stage since that second grade performance of The Tortoise and the Hare when you pissed yourself."

The guys cover their mouths, trying not to break out laughing. "I'm giving this a try," I say, a little red. "I think it could be a lot of fun...as long as I don't piss my pants again."

This time, the guys really do burst out laughing, not caring as I glare at them. "I think you'll be great," Zane says to me as the guys are still laughing.

I smile at him and softly kiss his lips. "Thanks, Zane. I hope I am."

Zane rests his head on my shoulder and we wait several minutes before the guys finally stop laughing, Zane and I laughing along with them.


Three days later and I'm walking the large main quad on campus with several thousand other students and faculty. The Stanford Music Exhibition is today and I'm feeling insanely nervous. My performance with Josh, Brian, and Brian's two classmates, Todd and Oliver, is in only four hours and I can't seem to relax.

It's mostly because of where we're performing. There are several stages scattered around the quad and the rest of campus, but the biggest one is the one I'm staring down right now. It's about five times the size of the other stages. It's what world famous bands would be performing on if they were here. But they're not. I am.

The guys and I have been practicing hard for the last few days. It's taken me a little time to get used to an electric violin. Justin forgot to mention that while the fingerboard, pegs, bridge, tailpiece, and chinrest are all there, it's very different from a conventional violin. Much of the body is gone and what's left looks like an anchor.

It's also a bit heavier than a normal violin, mainly due to the wires and mechanical parts in it. I don't mind the weight, but it's taken me some time to get used to the feeling of it. I've been carrying it with me ever since I left for the exhibition. So I'm trying to pass the remaining time I have watching a few other performances.

It's amazing to see how much talent there is here. A lot of the Berklee students sound like they can go onto professional music careers already and the MIT kids look ready to open their own record labels. I'm watching a jazz performance with about a hundred other people, the light and easy tune causing me to sway. With an impromptu ending, the performance ends and the students earn a nice round of applause from everyone.

I start to go to find another performance when I hear the loudspeakers come on. "Good afternoon, everyone!" says a female voice. "I hope you're all enjoying the festivities! Just an announcement before I say what I really need to say. Whoever owns a silver Toyota Camry with the license plate HWR-1749, it's currently being towed for being parked next to a fire hydrant."

In my peripheral, I see some guy spin around wildly and sprint for one of the parking lots, causing me and several other people around the man to laugh. "Now," the woman continues, "please open your ears for the musical styling of MIT student Justin Robinson. What you're about to hear was the work of real students, but all the notes and chords were created by Justin and were edited together by Justin as well. Enjoy!"

There's a few seconds of silence before a low bass beat thumps out of the loudspeakers. Within a few seconds, an upbeat tempo of a large brass section and several guitars echoes through the speakers. The second it hits my ears, it makes me smile and I see several other people feeling the same way I do.

A loud mixture of percussion and strings add to the mix and the sound blends together perfectly. Many people as I pass them are jumping and nodding their heads to the music. "Do you like it?"

Justin appears by my side and I look up at him. "It's amazing," I say. "How the hell did you manage to get that to mix so well together?"

He shrugs a bit. "I find it to be pretty easy. I hear a single tune from one instrument and see what would sound good with it. The one playing right now I had to get the MIT orchestra and band to help finish and the guitars, bass, and percussion were the help of several local bands and, of course, Brian. He's a god when it comes to music."

"I know. When we were practicing these last few days, he always lost himself to the music. He looks like he could play for hours on end without stopping for a break."

"He often does. I need to remind him to eat and go to the bathroom through texts when I know he's practicing. It's small stuff like that that makes me love him so much."

Justin and I start to walk through the festivities together. "So what's your story with Brian?" I ask. "How did this all start?"

I see Justin's face smile slightly and his cheeks turn a light shade of pink. "When I first entered high school, I thought I was completely straight and wanted to have a relationship with a girl. But a few days after my first day of high school, I saw Brian for the first time. And when I saw him, my heart skipped at least ten beats.

"He was a few inches shorter than he is now, but his hair, glasses, and smile were all the same. Brian was already out and was pretty well liked by much of our school. He was always so confident in himself no matter what people said about him. That was one of the things that got me to fall so deeply in love with him.

"I was in denial that I loved Brian for my first three years of high school, but I admired him from afar. As he got older, his body grew and shaped on its own. He wasn't muscular like me, but he was lean and trim from hours of constant practicing with his instruments. It only made me want to be with him even more."

Justin's smile fades a bit and he looks toward the ground. "But in our senior year, Brian was attacked by a guy, Danny Walters, and was really hurt. Danny was a basketball teammate of mine and I knew about the abuse he put Brian through, but I thought that if people saw me standing up for Brian, they would assume I liked him.

"But after the attack, I saw that Brian hadn't changed a bit. He was still confident and sure of himself and I loved him so much for it. I finally sucked it up and started to talk to him and found out that he and I were really similar. I still was afraid to go out with him, just the two of us, but I kind of owe it to Josh for him getting Brian and I together."

"What did he do?"

"Josh told me that Brian wanted to hang out with Josh, Leo, and myself and I agreed to it, mostly because it would seem like friends hanging out. But Josh pulled out of it with Leo and it was just Brian and myself. So we went out to a movie and a diner together and had a really good time, despite me being incredibly nervous the whole time.

"Brian was so sweet when we were together and I think he saw my nervousness. He and I went out a few more times and with every date, my feelings for him grew stronger. It wasn't until December that I finally sucked it up and kissed Brian. When I saw that smile on his face after I pulled away, I was the happiest guy in the world.

"Brian and I have been together ever since, and nothing has been able to pull us apart. Not even that hostage situation we were in last year. I can still feel that bullet to this day."

"Wait," I interrupt. "You were shot?"

Justin nods. "I was hit in the stomach." He grabs the base of his shirt and lifts it up. On the left side of his sculpted abs is a small, dark circle with a faint white line going through it. "The bullet took some of my spleen with it and it was removed to save my life. Brian stayed with me the whole time I was in the hospital and seeing his face every time I woke up made being in that hospital bearable.

"Brian and I have been together for fifteen months now and I want to be with him for the rest of my life. I love him and I know he loves me and I can't be happier with him."

Justin sighs to himself and looks up to the sky. His face seems to be glowing at thinking about Brian and it shows how strong an attraction Justin has for Brian. He and I keep walking through the festivities when we start to hear a low, heavy hip-hop beat. "Are there guys who create hip-hop music here?" I ask Justin.

"Some of the MIT students specialize in it," he replies. "But from the crowd over there, I don't think it's just the music they're there for."

We walk over to the crowd and nudge our way through. We get to the center and are met by flying limbs and spinning bodies. Looks like we have some b-boying going on here. Guys and girls alike are tutting, twerking, popping, and locking their bodies in ways I didn't even know was possible. A young black man looks to be finishing up a tutting routine that was badass. He struts out of the center of the circle and in comes a boy with jet-black hair covered by a beanie, a very lean body, and a perfect face.

I'm surprised to see Leo here and I didn't even know he could dance. But the other dancers egg him on, jeering him for trying to compete with 'the big boys.' "C'mon, Trigon!" I see a muscular Asian boy say. "You're just going to embarrass yourself!"

"He'll probably just do the hokey pokey or some crap like that!" a young Hispanic girl jeers.

Leo smiles and brushes off the comments. I've seen b-boy competitions and the jeers are just to psych someone out, they're not meant to hurt anyone. I look back to Leo and all I'm able to look at are his feet, and they're a total blur. Leo's footwork as absolutely spot on, but that's just the surface of what he can really do.

Leo's leg suddenly swings around his body and within a second, his body is completely airborne, spinning and flipping over his own head. Guess his martial arts training really comes in handy. Going from his over the top flips, Leo's body ducks down and his legs kick up into the air and his arms take the place of his legs.

From air flares to windmills, from freezes to swipes, his dancing is perfect. Getting back to his feet and top rocking for a second, Leo dips back down and I see him move to his head. Somehow, he finds his balance and, using his hands to spin himself, picks up more and more speed, finally spinning so fast I can't even see his face.

His legs shoot upward and the spinning doubles in speed and stopping suddenly and ending with a freeze, Leo hops back up to his feet. The crowd goes absolutely wild with screams and cheers while Leo just flashes his perfect smile. The other dancers surround him, screaming and celebrating like there's no tomorrow.

Leo finally pulls away from the group and sees me and Justin. "You guys saw all that?" he asks.

"Yup," Justin says. "There really isn't anything you can't do, is there?"

"Are you kidding?" I say. "He almost started a fire on our floor when he tried to pop some popcorn in the lounge microwave! All he had to do was push a single button!"

"Hey, it was taking too long and I thought I would help speed the process along by turning the power up a bit," Leo rebuts.

"You killed the power in the entire dorm for two hours," I say. "You're lucky the fire alarm and sprinklers didn't go off, otherwise me and everyone else in Florence Moore would've kicked your ass."

Justin just laughs along at the banter between me and Leo. "Ah, I missed stuff like this," he says. "Shawn always had Mark to argue with and Josh had you. The arguments between Brian and me are fun, but seeing other people argue is fun too."

Leo slips his beanie off his head and stuffs it into his back pocket. "Hey, Eric. Your performance is in three and a half hours. We should get over to the main stage so you can practice a little more."

"Don't remind me," I whine.

Justin, Leo and I walk back over to the large main stage and after talking to a security guy, he lets us backstage where Josh and Brian are already waiting. "You ready, Eric?" Brian asks.

"No..." I say.

"Well, I'm sucking it up, so you are too," says Josh, tuning his borrowed Fender Stratocaster.

I take a seat next to him and set my violin case down. I undo the flaps and stare down at the unfamiliar electric violin. I mean, it looks really cool, but it's so much different from my classical violin. "Still trying to get used to it?" Brian asks.

"It's just...not my violin..." I dismally say.

"I get the same feeling when I use a new instrument," Brian says. "It takes me weeks to get used to it and until then, I feel pretty uncomfortable using it. But I'm also captivated by the new sounds and melodies I can make with it and that's makes all the difference."

Reaching for the violin, I pull it and the bow out and set it on my lap, still not used to the extra weight. I turn the pegs and get the violin in tune when I see something catch my eye. On some of the equipment are what appear to be company logos and it's a logo I've seen numerous times before: Mercer Industries.

My blood runs cold at the sight. "W-Why are there so many Mercer Industries logos everywhere?" I ask.

Justin glances behind him before looking back to me. "This whole event was organized by Mercer Industries," he says. "Richard Mercer has taken a big interest in the arts and when MIT, Berklee, and Stanford asked him to help organize the event, Richard Mercer purchased everything for the exhibition and asked for nothing in return."

"I wish I were able to meet him," says Brian. "He seems like an incredibly nice man."

I exchange a knowing glance between Leo and Josh. All they know is that Zane Quinn is really Zane Mercer and that he was thrown out of his home. They know nothing of how Mr. Mercer really feels about his son. I feel my pocket suddenly vibrate and I see Zane's number and a message on the screen.

'Hey, my phone's at 3% battery and I can't get backstage so I'm going to have to turn it off. I just want to wish you luck with your performance. I know you'll do great. I'll be right in the front row watching you play your big heart out. XO Zane.'

I smile at the message and as much as I want to text him back, with his phone about to die, I can't. Oh well. I'll see him after the performance. "Justin and I need to get out of here," says Leo. "We want to get some spots in the audience for the performance."

Justin and Leo give both of their boyfriends a kiss before heading out. And the countdown to the finale starts now.


The time goes by and the sun starts to set. As the guys and I practice for our performance, we listen to the other musicians and bands performing, along with the crowd cheering them on. The roar feels like it bursts right through me and it only adds to my anxiety. I'm finally starting to get used to the violin and the weight is no longer an issue.

The guys and I are listening to the second to last band performing a fast paced pop rock song. Their songs ends with a loud bang and the crowd of several thousand people screams and cheers for them. They head off stage after their bow and it's finally our turn. "Let's do it," Brian says.

Josh, Brian, Todd and Oliver head onto the stage to start to set up and I'm about to walk out there when I hear a voice behind me. "Eric, is that you?"

I turn around and feel my stomach drop. What the fuck are Richard and Monica Mercer doing here?! They're both perfectly dressed as before, except Mrs. Mercer's hair is in a ponytail rather than a bun. "M-Mr. and Mrs. Mercer," I stutter. "What're...you doing here?"

"We organized this event and wanted to see how it turned out," says Mrs. Mercer. "It looks like it turned into a huge success."

"Are you performing?" asks Mr. Mercer.

"Y-Yeah, I'm about to head on stage. My friends...and I are the finale. I'm playing the violin"

"Oh that's wonderful, Eric," says Mrs. Mercer. "I really hope you do well."

"Agreed," says Mr. Mercer.

"Um...I hear you organized this because you took a sudden interest in the arts," I say, quoting Justin from earlier. "Any reason for that?"

Both the Mercer's faces fall. "I guess...we wanted to make up for not supporting Zane as much as we should have," says Mr. Mercer. "Seeing all these students' talents makes us feel a little better, knowing they're being supported for their skill."

"But it still hurts knowing how horrible we were to Zane throughout his life," says Mrs. Mercer. "If only we could just see him now and know if he's okay will make all the difference."

Walk out into the audience and you'll find him in ten seconds flat.

"Well, we shouldn't keep you waiting," says Mr. Mercer. "Go out there and kill it."

I give the two of them a small smile and turn and walk out onto the stage, where the guys are still setting up. Brian's behind all of us on an elevated stage with a very large drum set. Josh stands in the middle of the stage with a mic on a stand and the Stratocaster strap around him. Todd and Oliver are on the far left and right respectively, tuning their instruments a bit and seeing if the amps work.

I take my place to the left of Josh and plug in my violin and grab my bow. I look out in front of me and freeze instantly. I can't even count the number of people in the very front of the crowd there are so many people here. "Eric!"

I look down and standing in the front row is Zane, who decided to revert back to his dark blue, white and black hair or a little while. His tattoos and piercings are on display for the world to see and he looks like he's having the time of his life. I want to open my mouth to shout to him, to let him know his parents are backstage, but if I do, Mr. and Mrs. Mercer will hear me as well, so I'm stuck.

Saying a silent prayer to myself, I finish setting up and it seems like the guys are ready too. Brian puts his headset on so he can sing backup and Josh fishes his pick out of his pocket. He gives me a quick nod before stepping up to the mic. "Uh...hey, everybody..." he shakily starts.

Josh gets a echoing 'woo!' from the crowd, which seems to surprise him. "Wow, didn't expect that kind of reaction. Okay, we're going to play a single song for you. We've only practiced it for three days, so we hope you like it. Here's 'Ocean Avenue' by Yellowcard."

The audience cheers at the song choice. Josh takes a step back and turns the volume up on his guitar. With a quick breath, his fingers find the strings and a few low chords blast out of the speakers, making me wince a little bit. Behind me, I hear the crash of a cymbal followed by a consistent rhythm of a hi-hat, snare drum and bass drum accompanied by another guitar and a few bass notes

I look over at Josh as he leans into the mic.

'There's a place off Ocean Avenue, where I used to sit and talk with you. We were both 16 and it felt so right, sleeping all day, staying up all...night. Staying up all...night...'

I can't get over how freaking amazing Josh's voice is. It makes the major artists of today sound like complete amateurs.

'There's a place off the corner of Cherry Street. We would walk on the beach in our bare feet. We were both 18 and it felt so right, sleeping all day staying up all...night. Staying up all...night...'

I raise my bow to the strings and feel myself fall into the mix.

'If I could find you now, things would get better. We could leave this town and run forever. Let your waves crash down on me and take me away...'

My ears fill with the loud, beautiful music my violin creates. I slowly open my eyes and look out at the crowd and feel my mouth fall open. They're freaking loving it! I see Zane jumping and dancing with everyone and he doesn't even like to dance too much. This is...a lot of fun.

'There's a piece of you that's here with me. It's everywhere I go, it's everything I see. When I sleep, I dream and it gets me by. I can make believe that you're here...tonight. That you're here...tonight...'

Feeling ambitious, I start to dance myself, and it looks like I'm not the only one. Josh is moving to the music as well and I can feel the intensity of Brian's playing behind me as his drumbeats explode out of the speakers.

If I could find you now, things would get better. We could leave this town and run forever. I know somewhere, somehow we'll be together. Let your waves crash down on me and take me away...'

Josh steps away from the mic for a second and lets his fingers do the singing for him. I look back at Brian and see droplets of sweat practically pouring off of him and his arms are a complete blur as they pound away on the drums.

'I remember the look in your eyes, when I told you that this was goodbye. You were begging me not tonight not here, not now. We're looking up at the same night sky. Keep pretending the sun will not rise. Be together for one more night somewhere, somehow.'

The sound comes out of the speakers twice as loud as before and I welcome the deafening noise.

'If I could find you now, things would get better! We could leave this town and run forever! I know somewhere, somehow we'll be together! Let your waves crash down on me and take me away...'

The volume on my violin turns up and I jump into my solo. Hearing the crowd cheer me on as I run my bow over the strings is amazing and I can hear Zane's voice being louder than everybody else's. The song comes to a perfect ending and I hear the roar of the crowd in front of me getting louder by the second.

I'm out of breath and I feel streams of sweat pouring down my face, but that was one of the most fun things I've ever done. I look over at Josh and Brian and see they have the same expression I think I have. "Eric!"

I look down at the crowd and see Zane climbing over the face that separates the audience from the stage. The security, who are also Stanford security guards, allow his to pass as they know about our relationship. They help him onto the stage and he runs up to me and crashes into my arms. "Zane, get off the stage," I loudly whisper over the crowd.

"Why?" he asks, laughing a bit. "I want to be up here with you! You were amazing!"

"Zane, your parents..." I start to say.


I feel Zane's body tense in my arms and he looks to his right. Standing not twenty feet away are his parents, whose shocked eyes meet Zane's. "Zane! Jump into the crowd!" I yell at him.

Zane moves quickly toward the edge of the stage and jumps as hard as he can into the outstretched arms of the crowd, who catch him with little effort. He starts to flow toward the back of the crowd when Mr. and Mrs. Mercer run onto the stage. "Zane stop!" Mr. Mercer yells.

"Oh my God, it's Richard and Monica Mercer!"

The crowd suddenly goes into a frenzy and they start for the stage. The security guards can't seem to hold them off and Mr. and Mrs. Mercer look to be frozen. I see that Zane's disappeared in the commotion and I thank God for it. "Come with me!" I shout to Mr. and Mrs. Mercer.

I rush toward them and grab both of their wrists and they quickly follow behind me. We run offstage and run further back until we're behind the stage, where there aren't any people. I lead them through the maze of stages and tents until we're out of the exhibition. We run to Florence Moore Hall and rush inside the empty lobby.

Finally out of sight, I release their wrists and try to get my breath back. "I demand an explanation for all this!" Mr. Mercer shouts. "Why was our son hugging you?! What have you been keeping from us?!"

"Why is Zane even in Stanford?" asks Mrs. Mercer. "We're thousands of miles from home and he has no reason to be here."

"You're wrong," I say. Both of them look at me with confusion in their faces. "Zane has every reason to be here. He had to get away from the hellhole he called a hometown."

"Y-You know Zane?" asks Mr. Mercer.

I nod a bit. "He's a student of Stanford, is the poster boy for the art department here on campus, and...we've been dating for more than five months now."

Mr. and Mrs. Mercer look at me like I'm the one that stole their son away from them. Mr. Mercer's eyes flare up and he rushes toward me and rams his forearm into my chest and shoves me up against a wall. "I FUCKING TRUSTED YOU AND YOU NEVER TOLD ME THAT YOU KNEW WHERE MY BABY BOY WAS ALL THIS TIME?!"


I feel a mass hit my left cheek and searing pain rushes around my face as I fall to the floor. Mr. Mercer has a damn good punch on him. I look up at him and it looks like he's ready to take another swing. "EVERYBODY STOP!!"

Mr. Mercer and I look over and see Mrs. Mercer's face fuming herself. "Eric, you're going to tell us everything, whether you like it or not. We could have you arrested for this."

"For what?" I say.

"Harboring a runaway, withholding information in a criminal investigation, we could even get kidnapping," she says.

"You can't put any of those on me," I say. "My dad's a lawyer and I know every crime in the book. There was no investigation in the state of California, so I didn't have to say a thing to the police. Zane's living on campus in his own dorm, so I'm not holding him. And Zane could've gone home whenever he wanted, but he chose not to. I didn't take him from Dallas, he left because he had too many horrible memories there."

Mrs. Mercer's face turns a light shade of red at knowing she doesn't have any case against me. "Tell us everything," Mr. Mercer says.

I slowly get back up to my feet and shake my head out a bit. "I first met Zane almost seven months ago when I moved to Stanford. When I first met him, he was an angry, secluded guy with a horrible past that he had been trying to forget. He and I didn't get along at first because of his history with jocks, but that started to change after a few weeks.

"I started to fall in love with Zane a few weeks after we first met and he and I got together about a month and a half after we met. We've been together ever since and while we've been together he's changed so much from the hate-filled person I first met.

"Zane's now confident in who he is and is one of the most popular guys on campus. He and his artwork are greatly respected and admired by much of the student population, he has dozens of great friends who will do anything to help him, he has a great job with people who are even greater, and for the first time in his life, he's happy."

Mr. and Mrs. Mercer stare at me in silence for a minute. "How is he even affording to go here?" asks Mrs. Mercer. "Richard and I monitor all of our bank accounts religiously and we haven't seen any payments to the university."

"Two months ago, I was able to put some of Zane's artwork on display at the San Francisco Art Gala and the pieces were auctioned off. People loved his artwork so much, they paid top dollar for them. He made almost half a million dollars by selling a little more than fifty pieces of art and that's how he's been paying for his tuition."

Their mouths fall slight agape at hearing their 19 year old son made half a million dollars on his own. "Before Zane...disappeared," says Mr. Mercer, "he looked a lot...different."

"How so?" I ask.

"Um...the tattoos, his hair, the piercings, the tattoos and piercings weren't that great in number when he was back in Dallas. Even his body is completely different."

"Zane works at a tattoo and piercings shop and the owners often give Zane free tattoos for his work. Zane designs them and the tattoo artists get them done. I think he has about sixty tattoos now. And the piercings are a similar story. He's good friends with a piercer at the store and she gives Zane free piercings for fun. Zane only pierces his ears and eyebrows, so you don't need to worry about any weird places with holes in them.

"Zane is getting into great shape because he's practicing with the Stanford baseball team."

Mr. Mercer's head shoots up. "Zane's on a college baseball team?!"

"No, but he's an honorary member. He doesn't play in games, but he comes to practice whenever he can. The guys on the team like him and he's also good friends with some of the Stanford football team."

I see Mrs. Mercer looking toward the floor. "Y-You said you and Zane are...dating, is that correct?" she asks.

"Yes, we are."

"So you and he...?"

"Have we had sex?" I ask. Her embarrassed reaction tells me that was her question. "Yes, Zane and I have had made love numerous times before. And each time was as amazing as the time before it."

"Stop!" Mr. Mercer shouts. "If there's one thing I don't need to know, it's my son's personal sex life!"

"Okay, that's enough on the sex," I say. "But Mr. and Mrs. Mercer, you need to know that I love your son with all my heart and would never do anything to hurt him. I never told anyone about this because I knew it would hurt him if it got out. You would find him and force him to go back to the place he tried so hard to get away from.

"You both heard about how horrible Zane's high school classmates were to him from you bodyguards. Going back to Dallas for Zane would've brought back all the memories he had suppressed and he'd only feel hurt and pain as a result. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but I felt it was for the best for Zane."

The air is completely silent and I see regret in Mr. and Mrs. Mercer's faces. I feel a sudden vibration in my pocket and I pull out my phone and see there's a text from Zane on it. "I just got a message from Zane," I say.

Both of them snap their heads to me. "What does it say?" demands Mrs. Mercer.

I look back at my phone and I quickly read the message. I feel my throat clench tightly shut when I finish it. "We need to find him now!" I scream.

Both of their faces fill with shock. "What did it say?" Mrs. Mercer asks.

"Zane cut his wrists and now he's trying to stop the bleeding! We need to find him!"

Their faces turn completely white. "Monica!" Mr. Mercer shouts. "Call every bodyguard we brought with us! Tell them to search every room of this campus for Zane and call for an ambulance! Eric and I will look for Zane!"

Mrs. Mercer pulls her phone out of her purse while Mr. Mercer and I rush back out of Florence Moore Hall. "FUCK!!" I scream. "His phone's dead! I can't call him!"

"Do you have any idea where he could be?!" Mr. Mercer asks, emotion in his voice.

"He can't have been in his dorm room, we would've seen him pass us. It has to be somewhere private where someone won't be able to get to him." I think through Zane's common places, many of them public with a lot of people having access to them. So I think harder to the private places and one comes to me. "Keep up!"

I sprint off and hear Mr. Mercer following close behind me. "Where're we going?!" he yells.

"Just shut up and stay close!"

Picking up a bit of speed, Mr. Mercer runs along side me, his suit jacket and tie in his arms and the sleeves to his collared shirt now rolled up. He keeps in pace with my sprinting, so it tells me he stays in good shape. "Will you just tell me where Zane is?!" he yells at me.

"It's just a hunch, but I think I know where he is!"

He and I turn a corner and I see my destination: the art department building. Mr. Mercer and I sprint toward the front door and burst in. Right as we rush in, I see a familiar man with salt and pepper hair, Van Dyke, and red ruby earring in his ear. "Xavier!" I yell.

He turns and sees me and Mr. Mercer. "Ah, Eric! Good to see you again."

"Have you seen Zane?" I frantically ask.

"Hmmm, I think I may have heard that he went into one of the private art rooms. Why? Is something going on?"

"No time!" I yell. "If there are any paramedics outside in the next few minutes, send them up to the private rooms!"

Mr. Mercer and I rush past the confused Xavier and sprint up three flights of stairs to the private art room floor. "You check the ones on the right, I'll check the left!" I shout at Mr. Mercer.

He nods once and we start opening doors and looking inside. We rush through the doors, but I don't see Zane in any of them, and I don't think Richard does either. Please, God. Let me find Zane. Please let him be okay...

My hand reaches for a door handle to turn it, but the handle doesn't move. "I found it!" I shout. I frantically try to turn the handle, but it's locked tight. "Fuck, it won't open!" I look next to me at Mr. Mercer. "Go back at get Xavier! He may have a key to get in!"

"I'm not leaving!" he shouts back at me. "My son is bleeding out in that room and I need to get to him! We're breaking this fucking door down!"

Mr. Mercer takes a few steps back and I move out of the way. He charges at the door and rams his shoulder into the hard wood of the door. There's a loud slam, but I don't see any signs of it breaking. "Move!" I yell.

I need to get to Zane too, and I'll be damned if I let him die on me when I'm just outside the door. I run at the door and ram my own shoulder into it, ignoring the pain, and hearing the sweet sound of a small crack near the handle. "Keep going!" Mr. Mercer yells.

In his face, I see pure fear and determination, fear of losing his son when he finally knows where he is, and determination to get him back. Mr. Mercer rams his shoulder into the door over and over again and with every hit, the cracks get bigger and bigger. I can tell Mr. Mercer is in a lot of pain, but he isn't giving up.

He backs up to the opposite end of the hallway and runs as fast as he can at the door. Putting his whole body into it, there's an ear splitting crack and I see the door burst open. Mr. Mercer and I rush in and I almost vomit at what I see on the other side of the room.

Zane is sitting in a pool of his own dark red blood with a bloody x acto knife by his side. "ZANE!!"

We rush over to his side and I grab one limp wrist while Mr. Mercer grabs the other. Both of them are cut deeply and are still pouring blood. "Zane, wake up!" Mr. Mercer yells. "Wake up! It's dad! Please wake up! I'm not losing you after all this time! Please!"

Mr. Mercer's eyes over flow and I clenches his hand tightly around Zane's slit wrist. "Text Monica and tell her we're in the art department!" I shout at Mr. Mercer.

"I can't let go! He'll bleed more if I let go!"

I look down at Zane and see that his skin is several shades lighter than normal and his breathing and pulse are very weak. "C'mon Zane," I beg. "You can't leave me. I love you so much. Please..."

I feet water fall onto my bloodied hand and make no effort to wipe my tears away. "In here!"

Footsteps come rushing into the room and I look back to see several uniformed paramedics running by Zane's side. "We've got it now, gentlemen," says an EMT.

Mr. Mercer and I carefully let go of Zane's limp and bloodied arms and let the paramedics take over for us. I hear a set of high heels from the hallway and see Mrs. Mercer and Xavier rush into the room. She puts her hand to her mouth at the sight of Zane and falls to her knees immediately. Mr. Mercer kneels with his wife and holds her tight as they both sob, leaving me to silently cry to myself.


Two hours later, and we're sitting in the hospital waiting room, waiting to hear how Zane is. Judging from the paramedics when they were treating Zane, it didn't sound too good, but I'm not giving up. Mr. Mercer, who has his arm in a sling from ramming his shoulder into that locked door over and over, and Mrs. Mercer have stayed completely silent the entire time we've been waiting while I've been making dozens of phone calls over the last twenty minutes.

As I'm sitting on the couch across from Mr. and Mrs. Mercer, I see a doctor walk into the waiting room. "Who here is with Zane Quinn?" she asks the room.

Mr. and Mrs. Mercer seem a bit confused, so I stand up. "He with us," I say. Mr. and Mrs. Mercer rise with me. "How is he?"

"He's going to survive." I feel waves of relief wash over me and see Mr. and Mrs. Mercer relax a bit. "But he did lose quite a bit of blood, almost three pints actually. For a boy of his size, that could've killed him. We managed to stitch up his wrists and are giving him blood as we speak and he's resting in a room."

"D-Do you know what caused him to do this?" asks Mrs. Mercer.

"I believe it was shock-induced," the doctor says. "Zane experienced something that he saw as so terrifying that he believed the only thing to do to get away from it was to try and take his own life. But it appears he came to his senses a few seconds too late. He tried to stop the bleeding, but he lost consciousness after several minutes. You're lucky you found him when you did. A few more minutes and he would've bled out."

"May we please see him?" asks Mr. Mercer. "He's our son and we haven't seen him in so long..."

"I'm sorry, but with a situation like this, we need to keep the patient isolated for a while before he can see any visitors. It's a precaution to make sure he doesn't become frightened again."

I see Mr. and Mrs. Mercer's faces crumble at being so close to their son but still not being able to see him after more than a year. "Eric!"

Turning around, I see Josh, Leo, Justin and Brian run into the hospital waiting room and they all surround me in a tight hug. "How is he?" asks Leo.

"He lost a good amount of blood, but he's going to be okay," I say.

All the tension in the room quickly eases. But it quickly comes back as forty football and baseball players suddenly pour into the room. "Eric, is he okay?" Jack asks.

"How could he do that to himself?" Ashton says.

"He'll be alright, won't he?" asks Ty.

More bodies come flowing into the room as I see various hairstyles and heads and bodies full of piercings. "Oh my God, Eric!" says Courtney. "When I heard I couldn't believe it!"

"The little guy's going to be fine, right?" asks Blake.

"I hope I'll be able to see his artwork again," says Meg.

More and more bodies try to enter the waiting room, causing even more of a commotion. A loud whistle quiets everybody down. "Please calm down!" the doctor says. "Zane is going to be okay and will wake up in a few hours. However, I'm going to need at least 95% of you to please exit the building, as we don't have enough room to hold all of you. Only family and significant others may stay in here."

"We're his parents," says Mrs. Mercer. "We're not going anywhere."

"Wait," says Shane. "Aren't you Richard and Monica Mercer?"

Mr. and Mrs. Mercer turn back to the large crowd of people. "Yes, we are Richard and Monica Mercer," says Mr. Mercer. "We're also the parents of Zane Mercer, who many of you know as Zane Quinn."

There's an audible hush of silence that washes over the crowd. "We haven't seen Zane in over a year, since we...since we kicked him out of our home back in Dallas," Mr. Mercer continues. "We've missed him terribly and didn't know where he was until today."

I see the faces in the crowd start to fill with what appears to be anger. "We made the horrible decision to abandon our son because of his homosexuality in order to protect the image people had of us. But we've regretted that decision ever since the first minute we kicked him out of our house and we've been looking for him since he disappeared ten months ago."

"Since he ran away from that horrible place you call a home," says Leo.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Mercer nod. "Please understand that we made a mistake with what we did," says Mrs. Mercer. "We both love Zane more than anything."

"So you forced your own kid out of his own home because you love him?" says Brian.

I feel the pain Mr. and Mrs. Mercer are feeling and it makes my stomach hurt. "We did it because...we were scared," says Mr. Mercer. "We were afraid of what people would've thought of us because Zane's gay, but we've seen the error of our ways and we want to be part of his life again. All we want is to hold our son, tell him we're sorry, and to be part of his life again."

"You weren't even part of his life before he ran away," says Josh. "That little guy has one of the biggest hearts anyone here has ever seen and his artwork is the work of God itself. He's so passionate about so many things, but neither of you noticed because you were too absorbed in your own personal lives to pay even a bit of attention to Zane.

"You sent that boy onto the streets when he was in so much pain that he almost passed out with every step he took. You didn't even know that Zane was being tormented every day by people he called his own classmates until after you kicked him out of his own home. You two should be..."

"Enough." Every eye in the room goes to me. "Josh, I appreciate what you're saying, but that's enough."

"Eric, you should be even more pissed off than anyone here," says Josh.

"I was, until I talked with Mr. Mercer about a month and a half ago. He and Mrs. Mercer missed Zane every day he wasn't in his home. They were afraid that they would've suffered what Zane had and that Mercer Industries would've suffered as well. Guys, you need to remember that these guys are parents too and that they would do anything for Zane.

"They hired dozens, if not hundreds, of investigators to try and find Zane, but none of them were able to find him. After they kicked Zane out, they hired bodyguards to keep Zane under constant surveillance to make sure he was kept safe. Can't you see how upset they are knowing their own son almost died just a few hours ago? Mr. Mercer was ten seconds away from shattering his shoulder trying to break down the door Zane was locked behind."

Everyone looks back to Mr. and Mrs. Mercer and I see all of their faces soften. Mrs. Mercer is crying softly into her husband's shoulder while Mr. Mercer looks to be on the verge of tears himself. "They've been put through pain too not knowing where Zane was," I continue. "But now that they know where their son is, I think they need to left alone for a little while."

The crowd takes a second before it slowly starts to walk out of the hospital waiting room. After a minute, the room only leaves Mr. and Mrs. Mercer, Josh, Leo, and myself. "I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Mercer," says Josh. "I was only concerned for Zane and I said some pretty harsh things."

"It's Josh, isn't it?" asks Mrs. Mercer, wiping here eyes a bit. Josh nods. "It makes me feel at ease knowing Zane has someone in his life that cares so much about him."

Josh smiles a bit before walking out with Leo under his arm and we're back to where we started. We walk back to the couches and take our same spots. "All those people are Zane's friends?" Mr. Mercer asks me.

I nod. "And they all care and love him as much as I do."


A few more quiet and slow hours later the same doctor walks back into the waiting room where Mr. and Mrs. Mercer and I haven't moved an inch. "He's awake," she says.

We all quickly rise up off the couch and face her. "May we please see him?" asks Mrs. Mercer.

"Yes, but please stay very quiet. He's a bit sensitive at the moment and is still vividly remembering what happened him a few hours ago."

We follow behind the doctor through the hallways until we finally walk up to a private room. The doctor walks in and we can hear her voice. "Zane you have some visitors," she says to Zane. "Would you like to see them?"

I don't hear a response, but the doctor comes out a second later. "He only asked for one person," she says. "Are you Eric?" She's talking to me, so I nod. "Zane is asking for you."

I glance at Mr. and Mrs. Mercer for a second before I walk into the room. Propped up in a bed in a hospital gown with bandages on both wrists and a blood and IV bag going into his arm is Zane. He looks exhausted and like he just saw a ghost and is staring out the window at the dark, starry sky.

He hears me walk in and his pale face lights up just a bit. "Eric..." he quietly says.

Feeling tears fall from my eyes, I rush to Zane's bedside and carefully hug him as tightly as I can. "You're still here," I sob out. "You're still with me..."

"I'm right here, Eric," Zane cries into my shoulder as his hands press into my back. "I'm so sorry..."

"I-I thought I had lost you when I saw you lying in that pool of blood. Please don't ever do something like that again. Please don't ever leave me. There are so many people that would be devastated if they heard that you had killed yourself. Please don't hurt anymore..."

"I don't...I don't even know why I did it. I just woke up in the art room and saw both of my wrists cut open and that x acto knife in my hand. I tried to stop the bleeding as best I could, but it wouldn't stop. So I instinctively texted you so I could get help. I forgot to send where I was, so how did you find me?"

"I know you, Zane. You always go to your art room whenever you're feeling a little upset and want to be alone for a while. I'm just so glad we found you in time..."

Zane lets go of me and stares at me with his dripping eyes. "'We'?"

"Um...your dad and I found you together."

Zane's face turns several shades of white lighter than he is now. "I-Is he...?" he starts.

"He and your mom are out in the hallway. The doctor won't let them in unless she lets them, but..."

"No." I see anger in Zane's eyes and I can almost her his teeth grinding together. "I've already said it before and I'm going to say it again. I never want to see either of them again. I've already told you about the hurt..."

"Zane, stop." I interrupt, feeling angry myself. "You're being so fucking selfish right now that I almost want to slap you to knock a bit of sense into you."

I've never once gotten angry with Zane before and it's an entirely new feeling that I don't like in the least. Zane's anger filled eyes quickly vanish and they look terrified. "Zane, you heard what your dad said a month and a half ago when he and I were talking, right?" I softly ask.

Zane nods a bit. "And you honestly don't believe that neither he nor your mom care about you? Your dad almost destroyed his shoulder breaking down that door you were locked behind and your mom has blisters covering her feet and some of her skin rubbed off from running across campus in high heels. They love you so much that it's almost over-bearing.

"They've been crying for the past five hours, praying that they could just see you again after a year. The were begging the doctors and nurses to give you the best care possible no matter the cost when we first got here. Zane, they've been hurting too since they kicked you out and they've never felt more horrible about anything than what they did to you."

More tears flow from Zane's eyes and drip onto the bed covers. "You can see in their faces how much they want to see you again and even I can see it. Zane, they love you more than anything. Do you still believe they care about what people think of them for having a gay son? Look me in the eye and tell me that."

Zane's eyes clench shut and several more tears slide down his soaked cheeks. "Can I bring them in here for you?" I ask.

Zane lets out a sob or two before nodding once. I walk from the side of the bed back to the door, where the doctor and Zane's parents stand waiting. "Zane wants to see his parents," I tell the doctor.

Mr. and Mrs. Mercer light up and the doctor lets them through the door. I lead them into the room and for the first time in a year, Zane and his parents are face to face. Zane's face is completely soaked and Mr. and Mrs. Mercer's eyes are quick to follow. I stand off to the side of the room and watch the drama unfold.

Zane sniffs his nose once before staring at his parents. "I just have one question for you two," he says.

"Y-Yes?" Mr. and Mrs. Mercer reply.

It takes him a second, but Zane slowly and shakily lifts his arms off the bed and holds them outstretched in front of him as more tears escape the corners of his eyes. "Can I please get that hug I didn't get a year ago from my mom and dad?"

I hear a sob rock the chests of both Mr. and Mrs. Mercer and they drop everything they have and rush over to the side of the bed. I watch with a damp face and a small smile as Zane's parents hold him tightly, cries echoing throughout the room. "Our baby boy," Mrs. Mercer cries. "It's really you. You're okay..."

"I'm okay, Mom," Zane shakily says. "Some...shit just went down."

"Please don't ever leave us again," says Mr. Mercer. "We're so sorry for what we did to you, buddy. If you could only ever forgive us..."

"I don't want to talk about that anymore," Zane says. "I just want to hug my mom and dad. That's all I want. Nothing more...nothing less."

Mr. and Mrs. Mercer both hug Zane and little tighter and take a seat on the bed and hold their son, showing no signs of letting go as they kiss the top of his head. And luckily for them, Zane has no signs of letting go of his parents.



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