It was the middle of April when I finally caught the flu, and I wound up spending the entire week of Spring Break stuck on the couch, buried beneath a pile of blankets. Toby had the flu the week before I did, so I secretly blamed the kid for getting me sick by crawling into my bed with me. So, while he was a happy little kid during the time off from school, I was officially banned by Natalie from being around people outside of the family. My friends didn’t listen very well to Natalie’s instructions, though. Deedra and Sheldon made it a point to visit me on a daily basis while Chad brought his keyboard over once or twice so we could practice together for one of our upcoming concerts.
Near the end of the week I started to feel better just as Gavin and Geoff showed up to visit for a few days. Geoff brought me a laptop, and proceeded to show me how to set it up before he left me and Gavin to hunt down different YouTube videos together. Toby told Uncle Geoff all about his school and how he was making different friends. Greg told Geoff about my musical talent before proceeding to show his brother the video of me singing after school. Geoff was amazed by my talent, and was on the phone a few minutes later ordering me my own keyboard. I stared in disbelief as he showed me the one he picked out for me before Uncle Geoff told me that I was going to have to get better so I could play it.
Once everyone started to get ready for bed, Natalie came over to check my temperature and give me another dose of medicine. Her brow furrowed in concern as she held the back of her hand against my forehead.
“What’s wrong, hon?” Greg asked as he came over to sit beside me.
“I could have sworn Zach was getting better,” Natalie said with a frown.
“I feel a lot better.” I interjected quickly. My foster-mom reached out and touched my cheek gently with a slight smile on her face.
“Your fever is going back up, Zachary.” Natalie said. “I think you may have an infection.”
“You’ve been through a lot in the past few months, buddy.” She went on to explain. “I’m kind of surprised that you didn’t come down with something sooner, Zachary.”
“Is Zach going to be alright?” Toby asked as he padded into the room in his pajamas. I felt a small spike of jealousy as he climbed up into our foster-dad’s lap.
“I think we should take him to the hospital, Greg.” Natalie said with worry in her voice.
I felt myself pale at her words.
“No,” I pouted meekly. “I don’t want to go to the hospital, Natalie. They never let me leave!”
“I doubt they’ll keep your overnight this time, Zach.” Natalie reassured me. “The doctor will probably just prescribe you some antibiotics and send us on our way.”
“I hope so,” I said doubtfully. Every time I had been in the hospital since my near-death experience, they always kept me for a night or two. I had every reason to be nervous about this trip.
“Are you certain, Natalie?” Greg asked as he reached over to rub my shoulder.
“Yeah,” Natalie replied. “His fever is climbing again, Greg. I want to get this handled before it turns into something else.”
“I’ll go let Geoff and Gavin know really quick,” Greg said. “Do you want me to go with you?”
“That shouldn’t be necessary, love.” Natalie replied. “Can you get Zachary some different sweats to wear?”
“I’ll be right back,” Greg said as he stood up and carried Toby upstairs with him.
I frowned at Natalie as she helped me sit up.
“Do I have to go, Natalie?” I asked groggily.
Natalie smiled sympathetically and nodded her head at me.
“It won’t take very long, buddy.” She said softly. “I promise.”
I nodded sadly as Natalie pulled my sweatshirt off over my head. Greg came downstairs a second later with Geoff right behind him. I immediately tried to pull the blanket around my chest to hide my scars, but Natalie held onto my hands with a smile and kissed my cheek. I felt my stomach start to turn as Greg passed Natalie the new sweatshirt and she slipped it on my body.
“See?” She said in a whisper. “Nobody even noticed because you didn’t draw attention to yourself.”
I nodded and felt the room spin slightly. I turned my head to look at Geoff and saw that there were suddenly two of him standing over by the television.
“Nat,” Uncle Geoff warned. “Get him a bucket. I’ve seen that look before.”
It was too late, though. The moment he said the words I went to stand up, and my stomach heaved. I managed to turn my head to the side enough to where I puked on the floor instead of my foster-mom, at least. The room continued to spin around me, and I suddenly found myself barely being held up by Natalie. The moment my body stopped heaving, I closed my eyes and let myself drift off to sleep.
“I feel dizzy,” I told Natalie as she sat beside my bed in the hospital room.
“Just relax, Zachary.” Natalie reassured me as she patted my arm. “The doctor said that you were severely dehydrated, and she’s worried about your fever.”
“We’ve been here for two hours, though.” I whined.
Natalie laughed and poked me in the side.
“It’s going to take however long it takes, bud.”
“I hate this place,” I said with a pout.
“You’re not the only one, buddy.” Natalie said with a giggle. “Get some rest while I go and see what’s going on. Okay?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I said as my foster mother kissed my forehead. I watched her walk from the room before I shut my eyes.
It seemed I fell asleep almost immediately, but it wasn’t like a regular dream. It felt like the times I had always been in the middle of a panic attack. I was in the same dark room, and the other me was standing across from me wearing a pair of pajama pants. His upper torso was slightly toned, and his skin was only a few shades darker than mine.
“Here again, little brother?”
His question confused me.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “You’re just a figment of my imagination.”
“Am I?” He scoffed. “Are you sure about that, Zyan?”
“Stop calling me that,” I growled in annoyance. “It’s not my name.”
The other me rolled his eyes in exasperation before he sat down on the floor across from me.
“Are you positive about that, little brother?”
“Just leave me alone if you’re not going to give me any answers!” I yelled, making the other me flinch in surprise. “Get out of my head!”
“I’m not in your head, Zyan.” He said casually. “You’re in mine.”
“Bull shit!” I spat angrily. “You only come to me in my dreams!”
“That’s funny,” he said with a mock snort. “I was watching TV with our older sister when you decided to come for a visit, this time!”
“Stop lying to me!”
“You ask for answers, and when I give them to you on a silver platter, you call me a liar.” I could see the other me trembling as he struggled to keep his emotions under control. “I’m done answering your questions if you don’t want to hear what I have to say, Zyan.”
“What?” I asked, but he was already starting to fade away into the darkness. “Please, don’t go. I’m sorry.”
“We’ll be together soon enough, little brother.” I heard him say before he vanished completely.
I awoke the following morning in my own bedroom with the sunlight streaming in through the windows. I vaguely remembered someone carrying me to my bed the night before, but it seemed like a distant memory so I gave up trying to figure out what happened.
I glanced down to see that I was only in my boxers, and it took a moment to keep myself from panicking over someone seeing my the three jagged scars running across my chest. Each one of them signifying a time when the monster tried to take my life from me. I sat up in the bed, and felt the room immediately start to spin around me. I forced my eyes closed and waited for the wave of nausea to pass before I attempted to open them again. I realized that I was going to need help to get to the bathroom, but I couldn’t see my t-shirt anywhere close enough for me to grab. I pulled the blanket up to my shoulders before I called out for anyone.
“Greg?” I yelled out, making my dry throat hurt. Then, I noticed that someone had put my phone on my bedside table. I picked it up and found Greg’s number quickly. The phone immediately dialed the number once it scanned my face. Greg picked up on the second ring.
“Hey, Zach.” He greeted me happily. “Are you awake, bud?”
“Yes, sir.” I replied quietly. “I need help, Greg.”
“I’ll be right there, buddy.” Greg replied before the phone went dead.
I set the device back down on my bedside table, and my door opened just as I fell back on my pillows groggily.
“Good morning, Zachary.” Greg greeted me as he crossed the room to my bed. “Are you still a little dizzy?”
“Yes, sir.” I said with a blush.
“No worries, dude.” My foster-dad said as he went to pull back the covers. I hesitated only briefly before I finally released my grip on them. Greg sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled me into his arms. “I’ve seen your scars before, Zachary, and I still love you more than you could imagine.”
I nodded slightly before I let him pull the covers back completely. Then, Greg reached in and started tickling my sides. I laughed and tried to squirm away from him, but he was too quick to snag me back before I could get away.
“I’m gonna pee!” I nearly yelled out.
Greg laughed out loud, but he quickly carried me into the bathroom and set me on the ground in front of the toilet so I could pee. I quickly pulled my underwear down just before my legs gave out, and sighed with relief as my bladder started to empty itself.
“Jesus, kid.” Greg said with a laugh. “How many IV’s did they give you last night?”
“Too many,” I said with a giggle. I was still feeling the effects of whatever medicine the doctor had prescribed me.
“I would say so!” Greg laughed.
Once I was finally finished, Greg helped me back to my room and helped me put on basketball shorts and a t-shirt to wear for the day.
Once I was dressed, Greg picked me up and carried me downstairs.
“Are Geoff and Gavin still here?” I asked, almost afraid that they had left while I was at the hospital.
“Yeah, Greg said with a chuckle. “They took Toby out for the day, though. Natalie wanted to spend some time with you. She thinks this last day of rest will be all that you need before you actually get better.”
I frowned at the thought of missing out on spending time with Gavin, and Greg must have saw the expression on my face.
“Don’t worry, Zachary.” Greg said as he stroked my hair. “You’re not going to be sick forever. I promise.”
Natalie was sitting in her favorite recliner when we went downstairs, and Greg promptly deposited me in her lap.
“Good morning, beautiful.” Natalie greeted me with a kiss on the top of my head.
“Good morning, Natalie.” I whispered as I cuddled up to my foster-mom.
“I’m going to fix him some toast, Natalie.” Greg said as he reached out to ruffle my hair. “He’s got to be hungry by now.”
“Starving,” I said with a giggle.
“That’s a good sign that you’re getting your appetite back, Zach.” Natalie told me as Greg left the room. “Hopefully, you should be back to your normal self by tomorrow morning.”
“I hope so,” I mumbled. “I hate hospitals.”
Natalie laughed and kissed my cheek.
“You definitely don’t need to go back to the hospital for anything, Zachary.” She told me. “We just need to make sure that you take your meds like the doctor prescribed.”
I rolled my eyes and snorted. Natalie just patted me on the back as she laughed lightly.
Greg returned a few minutes later with a small plate with two pieces of buttered toast on it.
“Jeez,” he complained with mock indignation. “I leave the room for five-minutes and come back to another man cuddled up to my wife. I thought I was the only one for you, Nat.”
“I don’t know, Greg.” Natalie said with a smile as she wrapped her arms around me and rubbed my back. I almost purred with delight. “Mr. Zachary here does give pretty awesome cuddles.”
“Ugh,” he said with a sarcastic roll of his eyes. “I could never compete with those, Natalie!”
Greg laughed and reached down to tickle me before he set the plate of toast next to me on Natalie’s little side table.
“Eat it slowly, Zachary.” Greg said as he handed me one of the pieces of toast. “We want to make sure you can keep it down before you tear into it.”
“I’m so glad that I got to leave,” Natalie said with a laugh, making me vaguely remember how I had gotten sick the night before. Natalie quickly rubbed my back again. “Don’t you even worry a second about it, Zachary! Greg had it coming! I’m just glad that you remembered to turn your head.”
Greg began to laugh hysterically as he remembered how close Natalie had come to wearing my vomit. Natalie swatted at him as I blushed in embarrassment.
“Sorry, Natalie.” I said softly.
Natalie just hugged me.
“It wouldn’t be the first time somebody puked on me, Zachary.” Natalie said with a slight laugh. “Remember, I was a nurse for five years before you decided to come into our lives. So, don’t you worry your pretty little head about a thing, young man. Accidents are meant to happen. Just don’t make it your hobby, please.”
I giggled at her comment before taking a bite of my toast with a grin on my face. Greg pulled out his laptop, and sat himself down on the couch to do some work while Natalie and I watched some news program together.
“When will Toby be back?” I asked Natalie softly.
“Later, tonight.” My foster-mom replied. “Geoff and Gavin took him to the mall to buy him a few toys for around the house. He didn’t have much at his mom’s, so we just wanted to make him feel more at home. Plus, it gives us time to spend with you.”
I smiled and curled up in Natalie’s lap. She pulled the blanket over the both of us, and it wasn’t long before I fell back to sleep. I thought about the blonde-haired boy that normally came to me in my sleep and how he had told me that I was the one going to visit him. The entire ordeal seemed to far fetched of an idea for me, so I just let it go for the time being. I had a family that truly cared about me and loved me.
That’s all I had ever wanted.
“I love you, guys.” I heard myself whisper before sleep consumed me completely.