I awoke finding myself pinned between Toby and Gavin the next morning. Toby had his head buried into my chest while Gavin had his leg over me, and his arm was stretched out to hold Toby firmly against me. I couldn’t help but smile until I realized that I had to pee. I managed to slip out of the bed, and turned back to see Gavin pulling Toby into his own body without even waking up. Toby had managed to slip into my bed during the night after he awoke me to tell me that he had a nightmare. I reassured the boy that everything was okay, and held him tightly until he finally fell back to sleep.
As I came out of the bathroom, I decided that it was time to wake up my new little brother so he could eat something for a change. I knew Natalie was probably still asleep, but I didn’t think she would be upset if I made Toby and myself bowls of cereal. I crossed over to my bed and slipped in next to the brown-haired little boy. I lightly ran my fingers through his thick curls until he sighed happily and pushed his tiny body back into me. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed the top of his head before he turned over and rubbed his sleepy face with the back of his hand.
“Good morning, Toby.” I said in a whisper as he opened his hazel eyes. He smiled sleepily at me. “Are you hungry?”
Toby smiled and nodded.
I put my finger to my lips to signal the boy to be quiet and pointed at the still sleeping form of Gavin. Toby glanced at the shirtless older boy for a moment before quietly slipping out of the bed with me.
“I have to pee,” Toby said quietly as he tugged on the hem of my shirt.
I pointed at the open door of the bedroom.
“It’s out there in the hallway,” I said before leading him towards the bedroom door.
Toby slipped into the bathroom for a few minutes before he came back out scratching his belly and stretching. He noticed me wearing a shirt and hesitated.
“Do I have to wear a shirt?” He asked nervously.
“No,” I said with a smile. “Just make sure you always have shorts or boxers on, though.”
The boy nodded and took my hand before we went downstairs together. I poured us each a small bowl of cereal, and carried them to the dining room table. I sat in the chair next to Toby and smiled as we both ate our breakfast. Toby made a small mess with his milk, but I grabbed a paper towel and made sure we got it cleaned up before we went to go watch television.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw Natalie sitting there with a cup of coffee in her hands.
“Good morning, boys.” She said with a slight giggle. “Did you guys get enough to eat? I can always make you something.”
Natalie set her cup on the table beside her as Toby walked up to her. He smiled shyly at Natalie and she patted her lap for the boy to join her in the chair. Then, she motioned for me to join her, as well. I blushed and settled myself in the chair next to Natalie on her right side, while Toby took the left.
I spent the day with Natalie and Toby while Gavin went with Geoff and Greg in the SUV to get the rest of Toby’s belongings. Toby had several moments throughout the weekend where he would cry randomly, but it didn’t take very long to bring him back around. Even Uncle Geoff and Gavin helped to get the boy through his time of grief.
Gavin pulled me aside on Sunday morning and handed me a small box.
“What’s this?” I started to ask, but Gavin just rolled his eyes. “Never mind.”
I giggled as I opened the box and pulled out a small gift card.
“It’s so you can download music on your phone to listen to,” Gavin informed me before he set to work making me listen to some of his music. I grinned and listened to him rave on about his favorite artists before he showed me how to use the music library on my own device. Before he left, he told me that he loved me, and hugged me tightly until Geoff almsot had to pull him away so they could leave.
Greg and Natalie waited until Geoff and Gavin had left on Sunday afternoon, before they called a family meeting in the dining room.
“Hey, guys.” Greg said with a smile once we were all seated around the table. Toby sat between me and Greg while Natalie sat across from us. “We only decided to have this little meeting since things have finally slowed down, and we can get to know each other a little bit. Plus, there’s something that we need to discuss with the two of you.”
Toby glanced at me nervously for a moment before he turned back to Greg.
“You guys have nothing to worry about,” the brown-eyed man reassured us. “Now, let’s take a minute to get to know each other.”
Toby giggled and nodded slightly.
“I’ll go first,” Natalie suggested. “I’m Natalie, and my favorite color is blue. I’m a nurse at Mercy, and my favorite thing to do is to take care of my family.”
“I’m Greg,” my foster-dad went next as Toby inched closer to the man. “My favorite color is green like the leaves on a tree. I spend the little free time I have trying to teach Zachary how to be a normal kid. When I’m not cuddling with my boys, I’m a lawyer at a regional firm.”
Greg glanced at me and motioned for me to go next.
“I’m Zachary Brody,” I said softly. I felt weird telling them about myself like they didn’t already know. “My favorite color is blue, and I like to read. I’m too young to go to work, but I think I want to help kids someday like you guys have helped me. I want to help them like I know you’re going to help Toby.”
Natalie smiled and reached across the table to squeeze my hand gently.
“Your turn, buddy.” Greg said with a smile as he reached out and patted Toby’s knee.
“I’m Toby Davis,” he said in his soft voice. I saw Natalie lean closer to hear the small child as he began to tell us about himself. “My favorite color is blue, like the color of Zachary’s eyes.” I blushed as Natalie smiled at me and squeezed my hand again. “My favorite song is ‘Let it Be’ by the Beatles, and I… I…”
“It’s okay, Toby.” I said softly as I rubbed his back. “You can say it. Natalie and Greg only want to help you through this.”
The boy sniffled and nodded once.
“I miss my mommy,” he said in a trembling voice. “Why did she have to be bad? Am I going to die if I’m bad?”
Greg immediately pulled Toby into his arms and kissed his cheek hard. Tears fell from Greg’s eyes as he held the tiny boy close to him. I felt myself freeze in terror at Toby’s words. Is that why I had died? Did I do something bad in my past? If so, then why was I alive now?
“No, baby boy.” Greg said.
Natalie came around the table and sat in Toby’s chair. She immediately pulled me into her lap.
“Take a deep breath, Zachary.” Natalie whispered as she tried to keep me from slipping over the edge. “He doesn’t understand because he’s so young. You never did anything bad, baby boy. That’s why you’re still alive and sitting with me right now.”
I did as Natalie said and took several deep breaths while she rubbed my back.
“Is that better?” Natalie asked once I relaxed.
I nodded and leaned into her arms.
That night, Toby slipped into my bed and cuddled up to me before I had even fallen asleep. I smiled and pulled the little boy into my arms. He sighed happily as I hugged him tightly.
Toby remained home the following week of school while I went and told Deedra and Sheldon all about my new brother. They of course stopped in after school to welcome the newest member of our household. Natalie and Greg were more than happy to introduce Toby to my friends. Deedra babied Toby and would have spoiled him completely if Natalie didn’t send my friends home just before dinner time.
“How was the last day at work, Nat?” Greg asked as we sat down to dinner together.
“It was great,” Natalie said with a smile. “They threw me a small party.”
“That’s great, dear.” Greg said. “Did you have any homework today, Zachary?”
“No, sir.” I said happily. “I managed to get it all done during Study Hall.”
“Good deal,” Greg said happily. “That means we can watch a movie, tonight.”
“It’s been a few days,” Natalie said with a shrug.
“We need to start doing this once or twice a week,” Greg said. “Play games together…”
“Like a family?” I asked quietly.
“Exactly like a family, Zachary.” Greg praised me.
I smiled happily at his comment.
“I’d like that…”
“Me too, buddy.” My foster-dad said.
School the following Monday was just like usual. Deedra and Sheldon were already in our homeroom when I finally got there after putting my phone in my locker. Sheldon was busy trying to catch up on some of his homework that he didn’t get finished over the weekend. Deedra spent the time talking to the girl in front of her.
“Hey, Zach!” Deedra greeted me warmly as I took my seat beahind her. “Did you have a good weekend?”
“It was okay,” I said with a shrug. “What about you?”
Deedra smiled and proceeded to tell me how her mom and dad took her shopping at one of the big city malls on Saturday. Deedra had blew through five-grand before her father finally called an end to her spending spree.
“If I would have known he was going to give me a limit, I would have bought more of what I really needed!” Deedra said with giggle.
I glanced over at Sheldon to see that he was struggling through several math problems. His brow was scrunched up in concentration and he had his tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth. I giggled making him glance up at me.
“What?” He asked with a curious smile.
“Nothing,” I said with another giggle. “You just looked funny with your tongue sticking out of your mouth.”
“It’s how he concentrates, Zach!” Deedra said, making the girl in front of her bust out laughing.
“Hey!” Sheldon protested. “That’s not fair!”
“Good morning, everyone! Mrs. Coster spoke up, effectively ending our private conversation. “Let’s begin with roll call.”
I had already finished my homework, so I pulled out the sketchpad that Greg had purchased for me and started to draw random things. The rest of my morning was a quiet affair and I was looking forward to lunchtime as stopped by my locker to grab my phone and the lunch Natalie packed me.
Deedra and Sheldon had the middle lunch period, so I usually just took a table to myself in the corner of the crowded room. I had just settled in and pulled out the bologna sandwich that Natalie had made when several other kids joined me.
“You’re Zachary, right?”
I glanced up at the sound of my name to see the dark-haired girl from my homeroom sitting across from me with a shy smile on her face. I nodded briefly and began to blush as I realized that there were seven other people occupying my private space.
“I’m Ava Daniels,” the girl thrust her hand out towards me, and I hesitantly shook it. Then, she pointed to the boy sitting on my left. “That’s Chad. He’s in our Choir Class. He’s also in the Drama Club, so don’t get him started on the musical or we’ll be here all day.”
“Hey!” The black-haired boy protested before he giggled and bumped his shoulder into mine. “We do have a few spots if you’re interested, Zach.”
“Uh, no thanks.” I said with a quiock shake of my head making Ava and several others laugh.
“That’s a shame, Zach.” Chad told me with a slight grin. “I’ve heard you sing, man. You’ve got a great voice!”
“He’s right, Zach.” The blonde-haired girl to Ava’s right said with a smile before she introduced herself to me. “I’m Heather Morris. I was telling Chad yesterday that I’m surprised you didn’t try out for more singing events here at school. You could really give him a run for lead roles if you did!”
Heather motioned to the dusty brown-haired boy beside her. His green eyes were watching me curiously, and I felt myself blush under his scrutiny.
“Don’t mind Paul, Zachary.” Heather said with a giggle. “He follows me everywhere like a little puppy.”
“I’m not that bad, am I?” Paul asked with an innocent expression.
“Yes!” The remainder of the group said in unison. I laughed as Chad bumped his shoulder into mine. Paul spent the remainder of the lunch period sulking.
Samantha was the red head of the group, and she sat in the spot to my right. Across from her was a blonde-haired boy named Hunter that would talk a mile-a-minute whenever he started. Hunter made Samantha’s evil side come out when he called her a ‘ginger’, though. She gave him a verbal lashing that would have put the monster to shame. For a moment, I seriously thought her head was going to spin off of her shoulders. Chad and Ava treated it like it was just a normal day. Simon sat beside Hunter, but the quiet boy didn’t say much when Ava introduced him. Simon just smiled and would nod or shake his head whenever the others talked to him, but he normally kept to himself.
“What do you have after this, Zach?” Ava asked me, effectively pulling me away from my study of Simon’s hazel eyes. I blushed slightly when he caught me looking at him.
“Umm, English.” I said with a shrug.
“That’s surprising,” Ava said in confusion. “Normally, Sixth Graders only have Health during fourth or fifth period. What do you have fifth period?”
“Biology,” I said with a shrug.
“How did you manage to get out of Geology?” Simon asked quietly. I could almost hear a pout in his question.
“I tested out of it,” I said shyly. “It was either take a different Science class, or take another Study Hall. I decided that the extra credits might help me in high school.”
“That’s pretty cool, Zach.” Ava complimented me.
“I always wondered why you were in my Biology class, Zach.” Chad added with a chuckle. “I guess I could have just asked you.”
The bell rang, and I almost sighed in regret as everyone started picking up their trash and books. I said my goodbyes to my new friends before I dumped my own trash and headed for my locker to get my English book. I checked my phone, and saw I had a message from Natalie.
Natalie: I have a meeting with Toby’s new Principal at two. I might be a little late. Can you hang out in the Choir room like last time?
Me: Yes, ma’am.
I made sure the reply sent before I slipped the device back into the locker and headed off to Mrs. Coster’s classroom. Mrs. Coster was in her usual pleasant mood as she stood by the doorway and greeted me upon entering. I smiled politely at the woman before I slid past and took my seat over by the window. The older woman began her class shortly after the bell rang. After English, I made my way to Biology and took my seat at the back of the room. Technically, I had tested out of Biology, but there wasn’t room in any of the Eighth Grade classes. Plus, Natalie and Greg felt better about me staying closer to people my own age. During Biology, Chad and I were assigned to work on a small project together regarding plant cells. Mr. Jackson wanted us to draw a picture of a cell, and label the different parts, so I pulled out my sketchpad to use for the project. As I searched for a blank piece of paper, Chad happened to notice my drawing of Sheldon with his tongue sticking out.
“Wow man,” Chad said as his green eyes took in the drawing. “You’re really talented, Zachary.”
“Thanks,” I said sheepishly as I pulled out a blank sheet and put the rest of the sketchpad back into my bag.
Chad went to work writing out the descriptions of the different parts of the cell while I began drawing it. I finished the drawing long before Chad finished with the descriptions, so I spent the remainder of the time adding as much detail as I could with just a pencil. I glanced over Chad’s arm to see that my partner’s handwriting was crisp and easy to read. I used his list to draw lines from each of the parts out into the margin of my paper. I labeled each line according to Chad’s list before I used the remainder of the time to add some finer details to the sketch.
“Holy shit, dude!”
I jumped at the sound of Chad’s voice, and nearly broke the tip of my pencil.
“I’m so sorry, Zachary!” Chad apologized as he grabbed my arm to keep me from falling out of my chair. “I didn’t mean to scare you, dude, but look at your drawing.”
I stared down at the picture and realized that I had went into more detail than I had originally planned. Chad slid his notebook over and pulled out his textbook. He flipped tot he section about plant cells and stopped once he found the page he wanted. Chad immediately began to compare my drawing to the picture in the book.
“This is amazing, Zach.” Chad praised me.
“Thanks,” I mumbled with a blush. It was then I noticed that he had just pulled his textbook out. I glanced over to see that his notes were already finished, and were just as detailed as my sketch. “Did you do this from memory?”
“Yeah,” he said with a shrug. “My dad’s a research scientist and has been preaching this stuff to me my entire life.” He glanced over at my side of the table. A broad grin broke out across his face and he shook his head with a giggle. “You didn’t use your book, either. Wow, man.”
Chad was about to say something else when Mr. Jackson spoke up from behind us as he checked out our work.
“Very nice, gentlemen.” The Science teacher commended us with a brief nod of his head. We handed our project over to him as we each added our names to the papers. “Consider yourselves to be partners for the remainder of the year, guys. You may as well stay in these seats, too.”
My bench had always been empty anyways, so it didn’t matter to me. Chad however smiled happily.
“Thanks, Mr. Jackson.” He said with a giggle.
The Biology teacher moved on to the next table while we sighed with relief. The overweight man was usually very judgmental of my work, but he had actually given me a compliment for a change. Chad smiled and bumped his shoulder into mine while we talked quietly with each other.
I made sure I got all of my homework done in Study Hall, and decided to leave all of my textbooks in my locker for the rest of the day. I turned off my cellphone and slipped it into my backpack with my sketchpad before I closed my locker and made my way to Choir. Deedra chatted to me happily until Mrs. Grant moved to the front of the room. Then, Deedra moved back to her own seat. I glanced behind me just as Chad took his seat and nodded at me with a smile. I smiled back before I turned back towards the front of the room.
Choir was my favorite class, and it always seemed to make me smile no matter what type of day I had been having. Even when the nightmares had been so bad that I couldn’t sleep, I was able to leave school in a good mood. I may have been exhausted, but I was happy. Once the class was over, I said my goodbyes to my friends, and made my way to the teacher’s podium as the tide of students rushed out around me. Soon, I was alone with Mrs. Grant and she smiled at me. She was only in her low forties, and her silky-blonde hair was always pulled back in a ponytail at the back of her head. She kept two loose strands that dangled down her slender cheeks and seemed to bring out the color of her hazel eyes. She was always in a pleasant mood, and never let the pressure get to her.
“Hey, Zachary!” She greeted me warmly. “You did very well, today. Are you sure that you don’t want to audition for the musical? There’s still time.”
I giggled and shook my head.
“No, thank you.” I said softly. “Mrs. Harris has a meeting with Toby’s principal, and she is going to be a few minutes late. Do you mind if I play the piano?”
“Not at all, Zach.” Mrs. Grant said with a broad smile. “It’s all yours until the Varsity Choir gets here for practice.”
“Thank you,” I said with relief before I moved to the piano and sat down on the bench slowly.
It had been a long time since I had been able to play the piano, and I hadn’t even tried out my skills since the near-death experience. I closed my eyes and ran my hands through a few scales, smiling as the sound resonated throughout the room. I opened my eyes and studied the piece of music that was already sitting open on the stand. It was handwritten, and it said ‘Move On’ across the top of it. The words ‘Varsity Choir’ were written directly beneath the title of the song.
The music was written for multiple voices, but I settled on the top male voice and studied it closely. It looked like it was within my range, so I started to play through the song. I could feel the sadness in the tones of the music as my fingers slid across the ivory keys, so I adjsuted the tone of my playing to match it before I started to sing.
“Here I thought this moment would last forever…”
“I guess I was wrong…”
“I used to think I was meant for nothing…”
“But I had to stay strong…”
“How could I move on…”
“After all that I have been through…”
“I feel so lost and abused…”
“How do I carry on…”
“I have to find a way…”
“To stay strong…”
I let myself get carried away with the flow of the music as it began to build in momentum over the next few measures like a declaration.
“This is my chance; this is my moment…”
“I can’t let it pass me by…”
“I have to take control of my life…”
“At least I’ll know I’ve tried…”
“And I’ll finally be able to move on…”
As the music toned back down, I noticed that there were other voices singing along in the background. I snapped my head up to see Chad and several members of the Varsity Choir standing in the first two rows with wide smiles on their faces as they sang along with me. Chad and Samantha both motioned for me to continue playing. I stumbled slightly ont he notes, which only made me blush harder until I was able to pick back up on the song. I wasn’t nearly into the song as I was when I thought I was alone.
“How do I let go of the past…”
“Wait a second, Zachary!” Chad called out with a brief wave and I immediately brought my fingers to a stop. The music hung in the air for a moment as Chad joined me on the piano bench with a slight grin on his face. He spoke in a quiet voice so only I could hear him. “Don’t get all shy on me now, man. Keep singing like you were before, dude! Don’t ever hold back, especially with a voice like yours! Nobody in this room will ever judge you for enjoying music the way you do! Especially, when we all love to sing the way you do! Got it?”
I nodded nervously.
“Good,” he said with a grin. “Start the second verse, again.”
I blushed and nodded before I moved a few measures back, and began playing the song as Chad remained on the bench next to me.
“How do I let go of the past…”
This time Chad didn’t attempt to stop me, so I figured I was doing it right and continued on with the melody as I heard the others singing softly to back me up.
“When the future is coming up so fast…”
“When it comes to yesterday…”
“What am I supposed to say…”
“To make the pain all go away…”
“It doesn’t matter anymore…”
“I have to keep moving forward…”
The music picked up again as everyone started singing the different parts of the song around me. Each of them slowly approached the piano and stood around it, making me smile as our voices blended into a harmony that sent chills down my spine. I didn’t even realize that I had tears on my cheeks as I sang along with the group.
“I have to keep my head up towards the sky…”
“Let my spirits soar on high…”
“I have to stay strong…”
“So that I can move on…”
“Yes, it’s time to move on…”
“It’s time to let go of the past…”
“The future is coming up fast…”
“I have to stay strong…”
“I’m going to move on…”
I played out the last few measures of the song as the group faded out around me before I sang the last line softly.
“Yes, it’s time for me to move on…”
Chad pulled me into a tight hug as everyone else began to cheer excitedly.
“That was fucking amazing, dude!” Chad whispered in my ear before he made me get up from the piano.
I glanced towards the door as another round of applause came from that direction to see that it wasn’t just the Varsity Choir that was in the room. Several teachers stood inside the doorway along with students that were nearby as well as Natalie and Toby. Toby pulled himself free from Natalie, and darted through the slowly dispersing crowd until he jumped into my arms. I felt his tiny body tremble as the brown-haired boy hugged me tightly. All I could do was rub his back and blush as the choir members continued to talk to me like it was no big deal.
“Who is this?” Heather asked as she poked Toby in his side, making the little boy giggle.
“My little brother,” I said with a proud grin. Toby squeezed me even tighter.
“Are there any other secrets that you’re hiding from us, Zach?” Samantha asked as she sat on the bench behind me.
The choir members began talking about an upcoming contest until Mrs. Grant came over to join us.
“Well, Mr. Brody.” I blushed as Natalie stood beside Mrs. Grant with a smile on her face. “I do have to say, I wasn’t really expecting a concert this afternoon when you asked if you could play the piano, but it was compeltely worth it. You are more than welcome to play the piano whenever you want. That was amazing, young man. I’m amazed that a voice like that could come out of someone as tiny as you.”
I glanced over at Chad to see that he was smiling like an idiot.
“If it’s okay with your mother,” Mrs. Grant continued. “I would like to offer you the open spot in the Varsity Choir.”
Mrs. Grant’s offer left me speechless, and I glanced over at Natalie to see what she thought.
“It’s up to you, Zachary.” Natalie told me with a proud smile. You know that I’m willing to support you completely.”
I glanced down at Toby as he leaned back and smiled at me. His hazel eyes seemed to sparkle in the light of the classroom as he smiled at me and put his hand against my chest. He nodded and I smiled shyly at him.
“He’s not the only one that thinks you should join our group, Zachary.” Chad said with his own smile.
I glanced around at the other members of the Varsity Choir to see that they were all motioning me to say ‘yes’ to Mrs. Grant.
I sighed and nodded. The moment I did, the entire group cheered excitedly.
“I’m proud of you, Zachary.” Natalie said as we walked out of the building towards her car together. I had Toby in my arms, and Natalie was carrying my nearly empty backpack with my sketchpad and phone inside of it. “I really am. Greg is going to be ecstatic when he finds out. We were hoping that you might find a club or something to join.”
“They kind of forced me into it,” I said with a shrug.
Natalie looked at me curiously as she opened the backdoor of the car, so I told her about all of them sitting with me at lunch, and how they had managed to spend the entire period getting to know me.
Greg was already home when we got there, and he started telling Natalie about how he finally helped close the deal on the tech company.
“There’s good news all around, then!” Natalie said happily.
“What do you mean?” I heard Greg ask as I disappeared upstairs to change out of my school clothes.
When I went back downstairs, Greg was sitting at the counter with Toby on his lap, and Natalie was in the process of handing him her cellphone. She motioned me over to join them as Greg started watching a video of me
singing from earlier.
“I got lucky and managed to get there just before he started playing,” Natalie said smugly as she put me on one of the stools so I couldn’t creep away. “The hardest part was keeping Toby from saying anything.”
Greg kept taking glances between me and the phone as he watched the video.
“This is beautiful, Natalie.” Greg said softly.
“You should have been there, Greg.” Natalie said as she hugged me from behind.
The music stopped for a moment and Greg looked at me in confusion.
“Why did they stop him right there?”
“Zachary didn’t realize he had other people singing with him until then, and he got shy.” Natalie explained, making me blush. “Don’t worry, they keep going in a second. The best is yet to come, Greg.”
Greg had tears in his eyes by the time the song was finished, and he pulled me into his arms for a tight hug.
“That was beautiful, Zachary.” Greg whispered as he kissed me on the cheek. Then, he turned his attention to Natalie. “I think pizza is in order for tonight, don’t you, love?”
“I like pizza,” Toby said with a giggle.
“You like everything,” I teased him with a laugh.
That night, Natalie came into my room to tuck me in just as I was settling into my bed. She smiled happily as she pulled the covers up to my chin, before she sat on the edge of my bed and brushed my bangs from my forehead.
“I’m really proud of you, Zachary.” Natalie said with a smile. “I can’t wait to see what you’re truly capable of.”
“I love you, Natalie.” I said nervously. Natalie froze for a moment before she smiled happily and kissed my forehead.
“I love you too, Zachary.” She whispered before she hugged me and turned off my bedside lamp. “I’ll see you in the morning, baby boy.”
I watched as she left my room before I rolled over and fell into a peaceful sleep. I didn’t even notice Toby slip into the bed with me a little while later. I smiled when I woke up in the middle of the night to find Toby sprawled out across my body, snoring lightly. I giggled quietly before I fell back to sleep.