Hey everyone. In two days from now, I'm going to be a college student. I'm both nervous and excited, but more excited than anything. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to post on Thursday, seeing as I'm doing orientation, but you never know. So check the website on Thursday. If there's no chapter, then I'll post the next Monday. Thank you all again for all the support you've given me. Here's Chapter 9 of 'Could I Be...?'


Chapter 9

Classes start back up, as does preparation for finals. It's not too stressful, but I don't get to spend as much time with Zane as I want. We still manage to help each other study, though. Josh and The Cardinal have remained undefeated and only have a few more games left. If they stay undefeated, they're going to the BCS National Championship Game.

Nothing has happened after Patrick was arrested, so no one besides the Stanford campus police, Zane and I know where he is, which Zane is incredibly happy for. Zane told his real last name to Josh and Leo, who were pretty surprised at first, but promised to keep it to themselves. I've helped him and his art classes a little more with life modeling (not nude anymore), which I've come to find is pretty fun, mostly because I get to watch Zane for hours on end.

It's about a week before winter break starts and I'm sitting in the campus library, studying for my marketing final I have tomorrow. I already feel prepared for it, but I always like to be sure. As I'm reading my textbook, I feel someone take a seat across from me, and his hair is metallic silver this week. "Hey," I say to Zane.

He leans across the table and gives me a kiss. "Hey yourself," he says. "What're you up to?"

"Just studying a little for a final I have tomorrow. I'm just about done anyway." I close my textbook and look back at him. "What's up with you?"

"I have a final project for my art class and I need your help with it."

I smile to myself. "Need me to be your muse again?"

"I need you to be my subject. I have to create three pieces of art, one painting, one sketch, and one sculpture, by this Friday and I haven't even started yet."

I tsk at him. "You really need to fix your procrastination problem."

"I know I do, but I wasn't inspired until earlier today. I tried to call you from the dorm phone to ask you for your help, but I think your phone was off, so I've been looking for you for almost an hour now. But now that I've found you, will you help me?"

"Sure. My last final is the one I'm having tomorrow and I'm completely free after that. I'll pose for you as long as you need me."

Zane smiles and gives me another kiss. "Thank you, Eric. You want to get something to eat? I'll buy this time."

"Sure," I say, my stomach also growling in response. "I haven't eaten since breakfast."

I gather my belongings and rise out of my seat, slinging my bag over my shoulder. I take Zane by the waist and give him a kiss. "I love you," I say.

No matter how much I say it, it still feels as wonderful as the first time I said it. "I love you too," Zane says with a smile.


The next day after my final (which was incredibly easy, by the way), I head over to the Imaging Arts and Sciences department to pose for Zane. As I walk in, a few students, who I've come to be acquainted with because of my modeling, greet me. They direct me to the studio where Zane's waiting for me.

And sure enough, he's setting his easel up when I walk into the room. "Am I late?" I ask as I walk in.

Zane look up at the clock on the wall. "Nope, you're right on time. I've already set up the place where you're going to be posing, so you can just set your bag down and we'll get started in a few minutes."

I place my bag by the door and walk over to the setup Zane mentioned. All it is is a wooden chair facing backward toward the studio's only window. "Is this it?" I ask.

"That's it. Now take a seat in the chair and turn your body around so you're facing the window. Rest your arms on the top of the chair and just gaze out the window."

"That's all? No offense, but it seems kind of boring."

"I thought so too before I saw how well the light comes into the room. It makes everything a lot brighter and more beautiful, and seeing as you're the most beautiful thing I know, I figured it was perfect."

I smile and assume the position Zane told me to get into and stare out the window. "You ready?" I ask, glancing over my shoulder at him.

He grabs a few pieces of charcoal and sits behind his easel. "Ready."

I look back out the window and listen as Zane gets to work, the charcoal scratching over the canvas surface. I can see why Zane chose this for his project. I can feel the sun warming me through the glass of the window and I see the light illuminating the room. It really makes me feel at peace.

Over the next few hours, I hear Zane sketch away. I stare at his reflection in the window the whole time, watching a master work on his craft. He's so focused that I think he doesn't even know I'm here anymore. I actually even doze off for a few minutes, but he still doesn't notice.

After about four hours of hearing Zane sketch, the charcoal scrawling over the surface of the canvas stops. The reflection of Zane falls back into his chair and lets out a huge breath of air. "Can I move now?" I ask.

Zane looks over at me and jumps out of his seat. "Oh! I'm so sorry, Eric! I forgot to ask if you needed a break at all!"

"Don't worry about it." I slowly rise out of my chair, feeling coming back to my arms and legs and my joints cracking from lack of use. "You finished with your drawing?"

"Just about. Come take a look."

Zane leads me over to the canvas and shows me the sketch. I almost can't believe what I see. It's so...perfect. Zane depicted the world in perfect shades of black, white and grey, capturing every detail exactly. I'm sitting in the chair, facing out at the window, but the world I saw outside is completely different from the one in the canvas.

All I stared at for a few hours was the sky, a few trees and a bird or two. What Zane drew looks to be Heaven itself. Beautiful angels fly across the sky, light and delicate feathers fall from their wings, and a bright light illuminates the window, making me feel...happy. But I notice something behind me as well.

While I may be staring at a bright scene in front of me, darkness is trying to grab at me from behind. Jagged claws and dark swirls are nipping at my backside, threatening to get me. But I see that the light from the window is outshining the darkness, pushing it back to where it came from.

My body is tingling from just looking at this. "Can you guess the meaning behind this?" Zane asks me.

I take a better look at myself and see that while my cap may be in the picture, it's not me. The body in the picture is smaller and thinner than me and I see a few tattoos in the upper arm of the person. "This is you, isn't it?" I ask Zane.

Zane nods in response. "But do you know why I made the scene the way it is?"

I try to take in all the signs in the picture: the Heaven in front of Zane, the darkness behind, the way he's facing, then it finally pops into my head. "You've had a dark past that will never leave you, but it's all behind you now. You look toward the times that are ahead of you and don't look back at the past. Your past may be as dark as the depths of Hell, but your future is as bright as the skies of Heaven."

I look at Zane and see he's smiling up at me. "That's exactly right."

"It's...beautiful. I can't even describe how wonderful it is. But why did you need me here?"

"So I could get the shape of a body right and I wanted to show you when I was finished. Plus...I just like having you around me. It makes my artwork a lot better."

I smile and give Zane a kiss. "Thank you for showing me this."

"It was my pleasure. You don't need to worry about the sculpture and painting. I can finish those tomorrow and I already have a different idea in mind for them. But I do need your help carrying some things to the dumpster downstairs."

"Sure, what do you need?"

Zane walks over to the side of the studio and I see him grab a few canvases. "I'm throwing away a few sketches and paintings I don't need anymore."

I walk over next to him and look down at the canvases. "Why do you want to throw these away? They're all great."

Zane shrugs a bit. "I really don't have a need for them anymore and I can't keep them in the studio all the time. I have about thirty sketches and paintings in here and I'm going to throw them all out."

He starts carrying four canvases to the door when I stop him. "Please don't throw them away. If you like them, I'll hold onto them for you."

Zane looks up at me. "What do you mean?"

"I'll keep these canvases in my room until you can find a place to store them. It would be such a shame if you threw these away. I have plenty of room in Josh's and my room for all of these. So...please don't throw them away."

"But I don't want to be a burden..."

"Zane," I interrupt. "What have I told you about you being a burden? You're not one in the least and you never will be one. So please let me take these off your hands. It's the least I can do after you showed me something so amazing."

Zane smiles slowly and gets on his toes and gives me a kiss. "I love you, Eric."

"And I love you, Zane."


I let Zane go off to work on his painting and sculpture for his class and carry the thirty canvases back to Florence Moore Hall. It takes a few trips, but I like the exercise it gives me. I'm carrying the last five canvases back into the front door of the hall, when I accidently bump into something. "Watch where you're going, boy!"

Charles glares at at me with an angered look on his face. "Sorry, Charles," I say. "I was a bit distracted."

He sees the canvases in my arms and gives me a look. "What've you got there, boy?" he asks.

"Just a few of Zane's sketches and paintings. He was going to throw them away and I offered to take them off his hands until he finds a place to keep them. I don't mind and these pieces are really beautiful."

Charles looks down at the canvas on top of the stack I'm carrying. "That's some drawing," he says.

"I had the same thought when I saw them."

"By the way, carry this up to Zane's room when you're going up."

He sets an envelope on top of the canvas on top. I can see that the contents are heavy and the envelope is thick. "What is this?" I ask.

"It's his tuition bill for the semester. A little over $25,000."

I almost drop the canvases in my hands. "Twenty-five grand?"

"That's what I said, boy. It's such a shame that an almost 19 year old boy has to pay off such a huge amount of money."

"Zane's almost 19?"

"You didn't know? Some boyfriend you are. His birthday is January 21st. Just a little over a month away."

Huh. Zane's actually older than me by a few weeks. "I need to get him a birthday gift then," I say.

"You do that, boy. I just wish there was some way Zane could get some help paying off that tuition. I know he got all those loans, but he'll still have that debt after he leaves here."

Charles and I stand in silence for a minute before I see the light bulb pop over both of our heads. "I know a way!" I say. "If I sell some of these paintings and sketches, that could get Zane some money to pay off the tuition."

"I had the exact same thought," Charles, smiling at me for the first time.

"But where am I going to find a dealer to sell some of these? I can't sell them on the street. No one will buy art work that a guy like me would be selling."

"You leave that up to me," Charles says. "I have a friend that owes me a few favors. I can get him here tomorrow and we can talk a little more about all of this."

I smile back at Charles. "Thanks, Charles. I really appreciate your help with this."

"You're welcome, Jason."

Jason? "Jason?" I say out loud.

Charles' face fills with shock "U-Uh...I meant 'boy.' I-I need to get some work done."

He rushes into his office and shuts the door behind him, leaving me confused. Jason. Where have I heard that name before?


The next day, I get a call from Charles early in the afternoon telling me to come downstairs. Not wanting to make him wait, I rush downstairs and to the Florence Moore lobby. I see Charles standing in the middle of the lobby, but I also see that he isn't alone. He's talking to someone.

That someone looks to be about Charles' height, 6 feet tall, with light brown hair that's turning a little grey on the sides. He seems to be in fair shape and is wearing a very expensive-looking suit. I guess that he's in his early forties. Charles notices me and waves me over. "Boy, get over here."

I walk over to the two men and look down at them. "Boy, this is Anthony Kline," Charles says, gesturing at the suited man. "Remember that homosexual that served under me? This is that homosexual."

I look at Anthony and see that while he may have a kind face, there are a few noticeable scars: one on his upper lip, another over his right eyebrow and a final one that extends from the middle of his left cheek to his left ear. "Nice to meet you, Eric," Anthony says, holding a hand out for me. "Charles has said...a few choice words about you."

"Are any of them nice?" I ask.

"I'll leave that up to you," he says. "Now, Charles said you have a few pieces of art to show me?"

I look at Charles. "He wants to see Zane's art?"

"Anthony is the most powerful art dealer in all of San Francisco. He's sold and endorsed some of the biggest names in art in the country and has more money on him than you can count."

Anthony rolls his eyes. "It's not that much, just about two hundred seventy million dollars."

Well, he said that very nonchalantly. "C'mon, boy!" Charles barks. "Anthony here doesn't have all day!"

"Actually, my schedule is clear for the rest of the day," Anthony starts.

Charles pushes both of us toward the elevator before Anthony can continue. We ride up to the fourth floor and I escort the two men to my room. I open the door and we walk in, many of Zane's canvases taking up my side of the room (I know I said I had enough room for all of them, but I lied). "These are all of them," I say to Anthony.

Anthony starts looking at all of the canvases, silently taking them all in. As he goes through al of them, I see his face lighting up the more he looks at them. When he finishes looking at the last one, he looks back to me and smiles. "Were all of these done by you?" he asks.

"No," I say. "They were all done by my boyfriend Zane..." I manage to stop myself from saying 'Mercer' "Quinn. Zane Quinn."

"An unknown artist," Anthony says. "To be undiscovered with this kind of talent? I'd be honored to endorse Zane's artwork at my next art gala."

"Really?" I say. "God, that would be fantastic." An Idea suddenly pops into my head. "When is that art gala?"

"Um...January 21st at 7:30 P.M."

"That's perfect. Zane's birthday is on the 21st and I think showing his art on display would be the perfect birthday present for him."

A sudden ringing fills the room and Anthony reaches into his pocket and pulls out his cell phone. "Oh, excuse me a second. This is one of the artists that will be at the gala."

Anthony walks out to the hall with his cell phone to his ear. After a minute, I hear an annoyed groan come from the hallway and Anthony walks back into the room with a defeated look on his face. "Everything okay, Anthony?" Charles asks.

"No," he replies. "That was the main artist for the gala and he just pulled out of the gala. He said he wasn't given enough room at the venue I booked for the gala for his paintings and pulled out because of it. Artists..."

"That sucks," I say. "How're you going to fill the space he had?"

Anthony puts his hand to his forehead in thought and slowly smiles after a minute. "How many sketches and paintings do you have here?" he asks.

"Um...thirty," I say.

"Do you think you could get ten more ready? That would fill up the space we now have for the gala."

Ten more pieces? I don't even know if Zane has any more canvases. "Um...I'll need to check it out, but I think I could get ten more pieces."

"That would be great. If we can get these packed up, I can load them up into my car."

"I have a few boxes in my office," Charles says. "I'll get them and bring them back."

Charles leaves the room and when I can't hear him anymore, I look to Anthony. "So what was it like serving under Charles?" I ask.

"In a word? Hell. That man makes the term 'slave-driver' seem like a compliment."

"It was that bad, huh?"

"You have no idea. He made me and my team run an obstacle course every time one of us either spoke out of turn, our uniforms weren't correct or just because he felt like it. He was hard, but after we were all done for the day, he'd come join us for a beer or two. He was a brother like us. I actually saved his life when we were out in the field together one day."

I look at Anthony with surprise. "You did?"

"Yup. You see these scars on my face?" I nod. "Look here for a second."

Anthony bends down and grabs the left pant leg of his suit and rolls it up. What I see is not flesh, but a metal and plastic prosthetic leg. "What happened?" I ask.

Anthony lets the pant leg roll back down his leg. "When Charles and I were on a routine walk, an extremist came out of nowhere and threw a grenade at us. Charles went and shot the guy dead, and didn't seem to see the grenade. So I, out of instinct, jumped in front of Charles and pushed him out of the way.

"The grenade went off and I didn't feel much of what happened until a few seconds after. I was in excruciating pain and it felt like my leg was on fire. But when I put my hand down to try and stop whatever laceration I had, I felt that my leg was gone from the knee down. The only thing I could do was cover what was left of my leg and tried to slow down the bleeding.

"Charles saw my leg and made a tourniquet out of a towel he was carrying and carried me back to base camp. The doctors managed to save my life, but my leg was gone. Charles blamed himself for what happened because he was my commander and he was supposed to protect me if necessary and I'm the one that protected him.

"He barely left my side the entire time I was recovering, and I was in the hospital for over a month. I wasn't mad at him in the least for what happened, but he still stayed with me. I came out to him while I was recovering and he said that he didn't care if I was gay or not. All he cared about was that I was okay."

"I received the Distinguished Service Cross for what I did to save Charles and was honorably discharged after I recovered and was sent home. Charles called me every day after I was sent home to see how I was doing and we really bonded after that. He retired about seven years after the incident and moved out to Stanford with his wife, son, and daughter and got a job here at Stanford University and has been here ever since."

"Charles has a family?"

"He does. He and his wife have been married more than thirty years and are still very happy together. His daughter is happily married and has a 6 year old son."

I think back to yesterday when I was talking to Charles. "Does the name 'Jason' ring a bell at all?" I ask Anthony.

Anthony suddenly looks a bit upset. "Yeah, Jason was Charles' son."


Anthony nods. "Jason was killed in Afghanistan five years ago." I remember when I stopped into Zane's work place a little over a month ago and saw that tattoo: the name Jason between two angel wings. "Jason was a great kid and when he died, it hit Charles and his family really hard. I was told that Jason was killed saving thirty people from a hostage situation in Afghanistan. He was the only casualty and he protected three small children from a spray of bullets. He was awarded the Silver Star for his bravery."

"Wow," I say. "I had no idea."

"Charles doesn't tell a lot of people about Jason. It's a personal subject for him and he kind of blames himself for Jason being killed."

Before I can ask another question, Charles walks back into the room with some flat boxes. "C'mon, boy!" Charles yells at me. "Don't let an old man like me pack all of these boxes by himself!"

I jump to attention and start unfolding the boxes and begin storing the canvases into the boxes, what Anthony told me about Jason still knocking on my mind.


About twenty minutes later, I stuff the last box into the back of Anthony's SUV and close the trunk. "I'll call you when I get those last ten pieces," I say to Anthony.

"Thanks, Eric," Anthony says. "Zane's one lucky man to have a boyfriend as sweet as you. You really remind me of my husband when we first got together. I hope you two stay happy together."

"Thanks, Anthony."

He gives me a wave, hops in the driver's seat of his car and drives off. I walk back inside and see Charles standing in the doorway of his office. "Everything good, boy?" he asks.

"Yup. Anthony has the canvases and I just need to get those other ten pieces." Jason pops back into my head and I take a deep breath. "Charles, I need to talk to you."

"What about, boy?"

"About yesterday. You called me 'Jason.'" Charles' face pales at the name. "Anthony told me about what happened to your son and I'm very sorry about what happened to him, but I also know that your son was a very brave man, jumping in front of those bullets to protect those kids. But I want to know why you called me Jason."

Charles looks at the floor for a minute, pain in his face. He reaches for his sleeve and rolls it up. On his forearm is the tattoo Zane drew: 'Jason' between two angel wings. "Jason was the perfect son," He starts. "Fantastic athlete, incredibly smart, funny, caring, and just...wonderful. He had a very bright future ahead of him no matter what he did, but he decided to put his life on hold for a little while so he could go and serve his country.

"When I heard that he wanted to join the army, I was so proud of him that I practically pushed him out the door. I kept receiving calls and letter from old buddies of mine, who are now high ranking officers, telling me about Jason's progress. He was the perfect soldier, top of everything from tactics to firearm accuracy and he served his country well.

"He quickly gained the admiration of everyone and was the picture boy for the army. He had just two more months of service before he would come home. But...that was before that hostage situation."

Charles wipes his eyes quickly. "Jason and his team jumped to try and resolve the situation and almost did, when an extremist they thought was dead grabbed a rifle and threated to shoot a few young ones. Jason saw him and jumped to protect the kids. Jason got seven bullets to the back before one of his buddies killed the guy with the rifle.

"They rushed Jason back to base camp to try and save him, but...they were too late. Jason died from his injuries. It hit everyone hard and when that officer appeared on my front doorstep the next day...I..."

Charles chokes on his words. "I couldn't help but feel responsible for Jason being killed. I was the one who encouraged him to take that last service, the service that got him killed. Had I not pushed him to do it...he'd still be alive. Jason's body came back a few days after he died. He looked so...peaceful, just like he was sleeping. But when I saw his body, I cried for days after that.

"Jason was buried the next day and got a soldier's burial. A lot of people were there: friends, family, his army buddies, his captains, even the general of his camp. When I heard that Jason had received the Silver Star for his bravery, I was so proud of him, but it was so bittersweet. It just reminded me that my son was dead and that he would never come home."

Charles lets out a few sobs and tears before regaining him composure. "You called me Jason because you saw a little of him in me, didn't you?" I guess.

Charles nods. "You're the spitting image of my son, boy. That's why I call you 'boy' all the time. The nickname I gave Jason while he was growing up was 'boy' and he really liked it whenever I called him by that word. Whenever I call you 'boy,' it makes me feel as if Jason is still alive."

I sigh to myself. "I'm sorry that you lost your son, Charles. He was a very brave man and you should feel proud that he was your son. But Jason's dead. I'm sorry I have to say that, but you can't keep living as if Jason's alive. You should still live with his memory, but you can't keep holding onto him."

"Shut your trap, boy!" Charles yells, tears freely falling from his eyes.

"No. Charles, you need to let go. Don't live like Jason never existed, but don't live like he's still alive either. You'll never be able to move on, and neither will Jason. Charles, it's time to let Jason go."

Charles steps over toward me, but I wrap my arms around him and hold him tight. "Let go, Charles. It's the best thing to do."

I feel two arms press against my back. "I...I don't want to lose Jason. I don't want to let him go..."

"You don't have to forget him, Charles. But you do need to let him be free. Let go."

Charles quietly sobs into my shoulder. "I-I love you, Jason..." he cries out.

A quiet, gentle voice fills the room and Charles' and my ears.

I love you too, Pop. Thanks for never forgetting me...

Charles pulls away from me and looks around, wide-eyed. "Jason?" he calls out. "Is that you?" The voice doesn't come back. "Eric!" he yells at me. "You heard that too, right?"

"Yeah, I heard it. You let go, and now Jason can finally rest in peace."

"'Pop,'" Charles breathes out. "Jason was the only person that ever called me that. It really was him. That was my boy..."

I walk back over to Charles and softly hug him. "You let go, Charles. I know it was hard to do, but now Jason can live on in Heaven."

Charles goes back to crying into my shoulder. "Thank you, Eric. I never knew I was keeping my boy from going to Heaven, but I'm happy that he can rest peacefully now."

I smile to myself. "You've stopped calling me 'boy,'" I point out.

"I only call my son 'boy.' Now, you're just Eric. Thank you for helping me let go of my son."

Charles cried quietly into my shoulder and I let him cry for as long as he needs.


Winter break starts tomorrow and I haven't gotten one of the ten other pieces of art Anthony needs for the gala. I've tried to find a few more sketches of Zane's but they're either too small for what Anthony needs or are just simple sketches Zane did when he was bored. None of them fit the bill.

I'm thinking to myself in Josh's and my room, staring at the ceiling, when I hear the door open and see Josh and Leo walk into the room. "Hey, Eric," they both say.

"Hey..." I tiredly say.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Leo says.

"Unless that's a $200,000 penny, you're out of luck."

Josh and Leo take a seat on Josh's bed and look over at me, confused. "Why would you need $200,000?" Josh asks me.

"I don't, Zane does. You know about all those loans he took out so he could pay for tuition?" They both nod. "Well, I'm trying to get enough money so Zane can pay off the loans when he finishes school here."

"How're you going to get $200,000 together?" Leo asks. "You'd need to sell your body to science to get money like that."

I sit up in my bed and look at them. "I was kind of planning for this to be a surprise, but I need a little help here. Charles has this friend who's incredibly powerful in the San Francisco art world. He has a big gala in January and I've managed to get him to display some of Zane's work at the gala and people will be able to buy them. I'm hoping to use that money and will give it to Zane so he can pay off the loans."

Josh and Leo stare at me with slack jaws. "I just need to get ten more pieces of art for the gala," I continue. "But the problem is, I don't know where I can find any more drawing or paintings of Zane's the fit the bill."

The guys think about it for a minute. "Hey," Josh says. "What about the Imaging Arts and Sciences Department?"

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"Zane's done dozens of assignments for his college and there must be at least a few more still in the department. Maybe you could use those for the gala."

Josh is right! I jump out of my bed and rush to the door. "Thanks, guys!" I say. "Tell people around campus about the gala! It's on January 21st, but make sure Zane doesn't find out about it!"

I run out the door and make my way downstairs and sprint outside. I make my way to the Imaging Arts and Sciences Department and quickly walk inside. As I'm walking through the halls, a voice comes from behind me. "May I help you find something, young man?"

I turn around and standing a few feet away from me is a man who looks to be in his early fifties. His salt and pepper hair is perfectly styled in its slicked back shape and he's about four inches shorter than me. His style is higher than casual, but still comfortable, with a light grey collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up that's tucked into his dark jeans covered by a black vest. A red earring in his left ear and an impeccable Van Dyke moustache accents it all. "Um, that depends...who are you?" I ask.

He smirks at my question. "My apologies. My name is Xavier Nariel and I'm the head of this department."

"Oh, I'm Eric Swanson." I hold out my hand for him. "Nice to meet you, sir."

"Please, call me Xavier," he says, taking my hand. "I've heard about you, Eric. I'd like to thank you for the modeling you've done for the department, and I can see why we keep calling you back here."

I smile sheepishly. "Thank you, uh...Xavier. It's actually been pretty fun doing all the modeling. People in here really do come in all shapes and styles."

"Just like the art we produce here. Now, what may I help you with?"

"Um...do you know Zane Quinn?"

He smiles at the mention of Zane's name. "Zane Quinn," he says with admiration in his voice. "He's the star of this department and he makes me proud to be the head of it. His artwork can take even the hardest critic's breath away."

"Well, I'm his boyfriend and I need to get a few pieces of his artwork. It's extremely important."

An eyebrow on Xavier's forehead rises. "May I ask why you need Zane's artwork?"

I lower my voice. "Zane's going to be the main artist in a big gala in San Francisco next month, only he doesn't know it yet. I'm hoping to surprise him for his birthday by taking him to the gala."

Both of Xavier's eyebrows rise to his hairline. "What's the date for the gala?" he asks.

"Um...January 21st."

"And is Anthony Kline the one who is endorsing this gala?"

Now I'm confused. "How did you know that?"

Xavier smiles brightly. "Because the gala Zane is going to be the main artist at is the San Francisco Art Gala. That's one of the biggest art shows in the entire country."

I feel my jaw fall through the floor and bury itself about two miles into the ground. "I-I got Zane a place at something that big?"

"It would seem so. Zane will be ecstatic when he sees that he's the one that everyone will be looking at." Xavier's face suddenly lights up. "Is Zane here at the moment?"

"Um...no. He's at his workplace until later this afternoon."

"Excuse me for a second." Xavier reaches into his pocket and pulls out a cell phone. He taps the screen a few times and holds it to his ear. "Carly? Could you do me a favor and call an emergency assembly for the whole department? Do that as soon as you can. Great. Thanks, Carly."

Xavier hangs up and puts his phone back. "What was that about?" I ask.

"You'll find out in a few seconds."

The hum of the loudspeaker comes on. "Attention all students, teachers, professors, and administration," says a woman's voice. "Please make your way to the main lecture hall for an emergency assembly. This is a requirement for everyone."

"Follow me," Xavier tells me.

I follow him down a long hallway and we make a sudden turn down a smaller hallway and find a single door at the end of it. Xavier tells me to wait a few minutes and he leans against the wall and plays with his phone. I look through the window on the door and see the large lecture hall steadily fill up with students and administrative staff.

There aren't enough seats in the room, so some people have to stay standing and some resort to sitting on the stairs. "We have a little more than a thousand students and faculty," Xavier tells me. "Only one is absent from the department today and that's because he finished his final project a few days early. That person is Zane and everyone here needs to know something. You're coming in here with me."

Xavier opens the door and every eye in the room is one the two of us walking onto the stage at the front of the room. Xavier must not show his face a lot, because I hear a lot of people saying that him being here must mean something important is about to happen. Xavier walks over to the podium in the middle of the stage and produces a microphone. "Good afternoon, everyone," he says into the mic. "I hope you're doing well.

"My name is Xavier Nariel, for those of you that don't know, and I'm the head of this department. I called you all down here for a very important reason. I'm sure all of you know the name 'Zane Quinn.' He's a student of this department."

The room applauds at the name and I see a lot of smiles. "Zane's artwork has impressed every single one of us and we have some very good news." Xavier gestures to me. "This is Zane's boyfriend, Eric Swanson, a frequent model for the department."

There are a few cheers, whoops, and wolf whistles at my name. "Eric just told me that, next month, Zane will be the main artist at the San Francisco Art Gala." The room fills with a quiet murmur. "And I feel the Zane would greatly appreciate it if we all went to the gala to support him. The only thing is...Zane doesn't know his art will be at the gala."

Everyone in the room suddenly looks confused. Xavier gestures to me again "Eric here managed to contact the main endorser of the gala, Anthony Kline, and showed him Zane's artwork. Zane is going to be the main artist at the gala thanks to Eric."

"I didn't do anything," I call out. The entire room looks at me. Xavier hands the microphone to me and I raise it to my mouth. "I only talked Anthony into coming to see Zane's artwork. When the original artist pulled out of the gala, Anthony decided to make Zane the featured artist. He needs forty of Zane's pieces of art and I've only managed to get together thirty. That's the reason I came here today.

"I was hoping to try and find ten more of Zane's sketches and drawings so I can fill the space needed for the gala. So I need to ask all of you: do you know where I can get some of Zane's artwork?"

"I'll be right back!"

I see a girl jump out of her seat and rush up the stairs and out the door. "I can get one!"

"Me too!"

Student after student run up the stairs and out the door. Even a few teachers rush out to get some pieces. I look to Xavier. "Zane's really popular here, isn't he?" I ask.

"He's the most well-known student in this department," Xavier responds. "And the most well-liked and respected."

The door at the back of the lecture opens back up and the same first girl who left the room comes down the stairs with a canvas in her hands. "This is Zane's first painting he drew here," she says.

Xavier takes the microphone back from me. "Thank you, Melissa," he says. "Just set it at the base of the stage.

The girl, Melissa, leans the canvas against the stage and walks back to her seat. Students and teachers start flowing into the room, all of them carrying canvases. By the time the last one comes back into the room, I count another twenty-five canvases, all of them with Zane's signature in the bottom corner. There's even the one he drew earlier this week. "Thank you all," Xavier says. He looks to me. "Eric, which do you think should be at the gala?"

I have to pick? "Um...just give me a minute," I say, pulling my phone out of my pocket and walking out through the door Xavier and I came through.

I dial Anthony's number and he picks up after a few rings. "Eric!" he says. "Good to hear from you! Did you find those last few paintings?"

"Yeah, I got them, but I also got a few more. And by a few more, I mean fifteen more than I needed."

"Wow, you got an extra fifteen paintings? I'm impressed."

"I'm just having a little trouble deciding which ones to use."

"Hmm. Well from the artwork I saw yesterday, I can understand why you might be having trouble deciding. They were all amazing. But we only have room for...oh, excuse me for minute, Eric."

I hear muffled voices from the other end of the line. "Eric, you're in luck," Anthony says after a minute.

"What's up?"

"We decided to move a few things around and it opened up a lot more space. We can fit those extra fifteen paintings and even more art from other artists."

"That's great news," I say with a smile. "Thank you so much for this, Anthony."

"It's no problem, Eric. I can't wait to see how successful Zane will be in the future."

I hang up and walk back into the lecture, where everyone seems to be waiting for me. "Well?" says Xavier. "What's the verdict?"

He hands the mic to me. "I don't need to decide which ones to take to the gala," I say into the microphone. "Anthony just told me space opened up and he can accommodate the extra paintings and ever more art."

The crowd cheers at the news and I smile. "But I just have one favor to ask all of you: don't tell Zane about this. I want this to be a surprise for him. But please tell everyone you know about the gala. They don't have to be artsy people, please just tell all of your friends. I want this night to be Zane's shining moment. Can you help me do that?"

The crowd cheers again, twice as loud as before. All these people respect Zane and his work. And in a month's time, thousands more will love it as much as I do.



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