Hayley and Denly were eager to begin rehearsals for the talent show and came over to stay two weeks before the Fourth of July so our little band could practice.
“It’s our tradition,” Sarah tried to tell me, but I knew there was something else going on. “Besides, mom and dad usually take cruise for a week with Aunt Abby and Uncle Derek during this time.”
“There it is,” I said with a giggle. “The catch. So, are you going to be the baby-sitter for the week?”
Sarah smiled at me.
“You’re too smart, Zyan,” she said before turning me by my shoulders to face my cousins.
Hayley scooped me up into her arms and hugged me tightly. “I missed you, Zyan!”
“Is that why you never call me?” I accused her before I giggled and returned the hug. She set me back down on my feet while giving me a lame excuse about being popular. I decided to lay it on thick and pushed my lower lip out in a pout and tried to give her the saddest eyes I could manage. “Denly still texts me!”
“Oh, he’s good,” Aunt Abby commented from the kitchen doorway. “I even feel bad for not sending him a text message.”
“Don’t encourage the little turd, mother,” Hayley chided her mom with a laugh.
I quickly ran over to give Aunt Abby a hug.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Abby,” I said loud enough for Hayley to hear me. “I know how hard it must be for you to keep Hayley in line. It must be tough being really popular.”
“I’m going to show you tough, little man!” Hayley said with a mock snarl.
“Uh oh,” I said with a giggle. “I poked the bear too much!”
I quickly twisted just out of Hayley’s reach and darted for my bedroom, the sound of her footsteps coming up the stairs behind me. I turned left into my room and leapt across the room for my bed, barely catching the edge before I was scurrying to duck beneath the covers. Hayley was in my room a second later.
“Like that’s going to help you, cousin,” Hayley said gleefully. “It’s time for some tickle torture!”
I cried out as Hayley jumped onto my bed and started tickling me through the thick blankets. My entire body convulsed as her fingers ran up and down my ribs before she was able to get her hands beneath the blanket and continued her form of torture as I laughed uncontrollably. I refused to give up until my bladder couldn’t take it anymore, and I was begging my cousin to stop. Hayley relented and pushed me towards the bathroom before I embarrassed myself in front of her. I was still panting for breath when I washed my hands and went back into my room to find Denly sitting on the edge of my messy bed.
“Hi, Denly,” I greeted the boy, happily. I quickly jumped onto my bed and leaned into his side, so he was forced to put his arm around me. “How have you been?”
“Just following mom and dad around,” Denly said with a shrug. “I can’t ever hang out with Hayley, she’s too much of a bitch to me. Kyan has stuff going on all summer, and Sarah wouldn’t want me hanging around after a while, I just know it.”
I hated the fact that my cousin was feeling sad and nuzzled into his side.
“You could always come stay with me, Denly,” I told him. “I live here, too.”
Denly smiled and hugged me from the side.
“How could I forget the cutest person in the entire family?” He asked, and I felt my cheeks flush red in embarrassment. Denly seemed afraid for a moment. “Sorry, Zyan. I didn’t. . .”
“It’s okay, Denly,” I said with a grin. “I think you’re really cute, too.”
“You do?” He asked, almost hopefully.
“Yeah,” I admitted. “I do.”
Denly blushed before he leaned over and kissed my cheek.
“Come on,” he said before sliding off the edge of the bed. “Let’s go see what Aunt Lauren is making for dinner.”
I nodded and followed Denly back downstairs to the kitchen where my mom was already in the process of cooking with the help of Aunt Abby.
“Oh no, Zyan,” Denly said as he stopped just inside the door of the kitchen. “Mom is helping Aunt Lauren cook. We’re doomed.”
“Excuse me, young man?” Aunt Abby asked with a raised eyebrow as she held up the wooden spoon that she had been using to stir with. “You better watch yourself.”
“You’re absolutely right, mom,” Denly said mischievously as he slowly backed away from the two women. I couldn’t help but grin and shake my head. “Come on, Zyan. We should go see if we can have some input on what songs we’re using for the talent show.”
“That seems like a much better use of your time, Denly,” Aunt Abby said with a scowl.
“Love you, mom!” Denly said with a mad giggle before he grabbed my hand and dragged me down to the basement where the rest of my family was waiting.
“Holy shit!” I muttered as I stared in disbelief at the sound studio that I found myself standing inside. There was a plethora of different instruments lining the walls and shelves, and a sound-proof room with high-quality microphones that the professional used when recording songs. I was in my own personal form of heaven. “This is amazing.”
A dreamy smile crossed my lips as I stared at the different items and equipment in the room before my father snapped me out of my daze by hugging me tightly.
“Still good, buddy?” He asked only loud enough for me to hear.
“Yeah,” I said happily. “Are there any other rooms that I don’t know about?”
My father and sister chuckled as Uncle Derek came over and pulled me away from my father.
“Haven’t you guys given him more than just the surface tour that you give everybody else? He does live here, too.” Uncle Derek waited for an answer before he shook his head in disbelief. “What am I going to do with you guys?” Then, he smiled at me. “Don’t worry, Zyan. I’ll show you everything after dinner. There’s even a hot tub, since I know you probably don’t want to hear about the pool.”
I giggled and hugged my uncle.
“Thanks,” I whispered quietly. “I love you, Uncle Derek.”
“Ditto, buddy,” he said with a wide grin. “Now, let’s see what kind of show we can throw together for you guys.”
We spent the next hour deciding on five songs that we could blend together to fill our time slot, before Hayley and Sarah set to work figuring out how to present the songs. We gathered in the dining room, and Denly made sure that he took a spot beside me. Kyan smiled at the two of us but didn’t make a comment about the situation. I felt my cheeks flush red for a moment, but quickly distracted myself by focusing on the Cornish Hens that my aunt and mother had made for dinner.
After dinner, I went back downstairs to the sound studio on my own. My hands trembled as I pushed the door open, glancing over my shoulder as I anticipated one of the adults coming to scold me. When I realized that I was going to be left alone, I smiled and went over to the soundboard. I had studied videos and manuals about the devices, but I had never had the chance to see one in person, and when my uncle had brought me down earlier, I had decided then that I wanted to check it out once I had time. I kept my hands behind my back as I studied the different controls before I found what I wanted. I set the soundboard to record before I slipped into the sound booth and made myself comfortable at the keyboard. Once I was relaxed, I took a deep breath, and let my fingers begin to wander softly across the keys. The song that was in my head was one that had been there for several years and had always bothered me every time that I thought about how it would sound. I played through the intro softly, the keyboard barely making a sound as I let the music fade in to match my mood.
‘Everybody’s eyes are on me’
‘Everybody’s hopes rely on me’
‘The end is getting near’
‘And just as everybody feared’
‘The heat is really coming on’
I smiled as I finished the first verse, the music filling me with happiness as I finally played the song that had dwelled in my head for so long.
‘Do I have the strength to make it’
‘Will I be able to stay strong’
‘Can I stand tall’
‘Or will I fall’
‘The heat is really coming on’
‘The heat is on’
‘Yes, the heat is on’
‘I have to stay strong’
‘I have to face my fears’
‘I have to carry on’
‘The heat is coming on strong’
‘The heat is on’
‘Yes, the heat is on’
‘Everybody’s eyes are on me’
‘Why do they all rely on me’
‘The heat is coming on’
I smiled as the last few notes of the piano faded into silence. Then, I quickly ran out to turn off the recording equipment, only to find Denly sitting at the control panel. I flushed in embarrassment as my cousin beamed at me.
“You should really be the lead singer in our band, Zyan,” he said.
“I’ll pass,” I said quickly, making Denly giggle. Then, I started to feel like I was being followed and I couldn’t stop myself from frowning. “So, what’s up?”
“I wanted to see if you wanted to relax with me in the hot tub before you went to bed, Zyan?” My cousin asked sheepishly, not understanding why I was annoyed with his presence. “Sorry, everybody else ran off to do their own things, and I was bored. I didn’t mean to bother you.”
Denly’s eyes glistened for a moment before he quickly looked away. He couldn’t hide the sadness in his eyes, no matter how hard he smiled. I immediately felt like shit for how I had acted.
“I’m sorry, Denly,” I told him softly, quickly grabbing his hand to keep him from walking away. “You weren’t bothering me. I just assumed that somebody had sent you down here to keep an eye on me.”
“Actually,” Denly giggled. “Aunt Lauren and Uncle David told us that we weren’t allowed to try to find you. She said it had something to do with you needing privacy after being alone for so long.”
I blushed in embarrassment, realizing that my entire family knew all of my secrets. There would never be anything that I could hide from these people. Denly squeezed my hand.
“It’s okay, Zyan,” my cousin reassured me. “We all love you. We always will.”
I hugged Denly, trying to keep him from seeing the tears that were starting to cloud my vision. I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Kyan was in the dining room with everybody else when Denly and I arrived. Kyan was talking to Uncle Derek about getting into the hot tub, while Sarah and Hayley were discussing something about hairstyles. My dad was sitting next to my mother with his laptop sitting on the table in front of him. Both of my parents smiled at me when I entered the room, and I felt myself blush. My mom looked like she was itching to hug me but had been told by someone that she had to maintain her distance. I frowned at the idea of my own mother not being able to hold me just because everybody was afraid that I was going to break at any moment. I went over to my mom’s chair and promptly climbed up into her lap and pulled her arms around me. She sniffled softly as she nuzzled her cheek into the side of my cheek.
“I love you, mom,” I whispered softly.
“I love you, too,” she replied barely loud enough for me to hear. “Are you okay, honey? You feel warm.”
“I don’t know,” I replied with a shrug. “I feel like my emotions have been all over the place, today.”
My mother frowned.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine, Lauren,” my father said with a grin. “Maybe, he needs a little bit of time in the hot tub to relax?”
“Is this?” My mother left the question hanging in the open.
“It sounds like it to me,” my father replied.
“What’s going on?” I demanded with a pout. “I feel like you guys are keeping something from me.”
Uncle Derek chuckled until I scowled at him. He quickly raised his hands in defense. “It’s not my story to tell, little man!”
I groaned in frustration before I slid down from my mother’s lap. I turned to face my parents, feeling my emotions beginning to run out of control, again. My body was trembling, as my father seemed to study me. My mother’s blue eyes went wide in surprise.
“I guess it is time,” she stated in defeat. “Lady’s I think that it’s time for us to leave.”
“I’ll call Greg and Natalie,” Aunt Abby said as she slid her chair back from the table.
My father grabbed my hands and forced me to look at him.
“Listen to me closely, buddy,” he said in a steady voice. “You’re in no position to listen to anything that I have to tell you, right now. You need to go with Denly and Kyan. I need you to trust me on this, Zyan. Please, baby boy?”
I frowned but nodded at him.
“Good,” my father breathed a sigh of relief. He kissed my forehead gently. “Take a few deep breaths for me and think about the music that you were playing a little bit ago.”
I blushed shyly. “You knew about that?”
“Of course, I did,” he said with a chuckle. “The house has motion sensor cameras in it, buddy. They send a message to my phone when they go off, and I’m given a link to watch the footage if I want to. I saw it was you going in, so I turned it off.”
I looked at him suspiciously but nodded once I decided that he was being honest with me.
“Good,” my father grinned at me. “Now, go have fun with Kyan and Denly.”
I was suddenly distracted by Denly slipping his hand into mine and pulling on me gently. “Come on, Zyan,” my cousin urged.
I could only nod as I felt my face flush, again.
“There should be fresh towels in the pantry!” I heard my mother call out as I followed my brother and cousin down to the basement. We ran past the door to the recording studio, and past the small gym with its sauna before Kyan slid to a stop and pushed open another door, revealing the hot tub room. There was as strong hint of chlorine as Kyan and Denly both ran over and slid the cover onto the floor. Then, Kyan ran over to one of the cabinets and pulled out five towels.
“Five?” I asked dubiously.
“One is for the floor,” Kyan explained as he handed me a towel. “The other is for Uncle Derek. I should probably grab one for dad, too. He might join us if Uncle Derek is.” Then, Kyan shrugged his shoulders indifferently and giggled. “Nah, he just gets his own.”
I followed Kyan over to a bench next to the hot tub, and felt my stomach drop when he and Denly started peeling off their clothing. My heart began to race faster, and faster with each piece of clothing they lost. Kyan poked me in the side and smiled at me.
“Are you, okay?” My brother asked softly. “We can turn around if you want?”
“Nah,” I said, forcing myself to smile. “You guys have already saw the worst of it, anyway.”
Kyan and Denly both giggled before sliding off their briefs and tossing them across the room.
“When in Rome,” I said, trying to shake off the butterflies that seemed to be fluttering around in my stomach. I pulled off my shirt before dropping my pants. Kyan and Denly both started to wolf-whistle at me as I finally slid my underwear down my legs. I could feel my entire body blushing red as my brother and cousin watched me, but I didn’t let it bother me too much. I stood up straight and jumped into the steaming water before Kyan and Denly could say another word. They were both quick to join me with smiles on their faces. Kyan let out a sigh of pleasure as he sunk to his shoulders in the water.
“Hit the button, Denly,” Kyan muttered in a relaxed tone. “You’re closer.”
“One bubble party, coming up,” Denly said as he leaned out of the water, his skin shimmering in the low lights of the pool room. I couldn’t help but stare as the beads of water ran down his back and onto the golden-brown skin of his firm cheeks.
Denly hit a button and I gasped in surprise as the water seemed to come to life around me. The bubbles exploded out of the surface like a pot of rapidly boiling water, and I couldn’t stop from giggling as the tiny mists created by the bubbles popping hit me in the face. I glanced over in time to see Denly sliding back into the water, sitting closer to me than he had been. He smiled when he saw me looking at him, but Denly didn’t move away. I smiled and slid over next to him, letting my cousin put his arm around my shoulders. I snuggled into his side and let my hand rest on Denly’s leg. I felt a tingle run up my fingers the moment my hand touched his bare skin. I traced my fingers lightly against his leg until Uncle Derek joined us.
“Hey, guys!” He greeted us with a grin as he closed the door behind him. “It’s just us, tonight. David doesn’t want to join us.”
“His loss,” Kyan said dreamily, not even opening his eyes.
“Ahh,” Uncle Derek said with a dreamy sigh as he sank into the water. “This is nice. I can’t believe that your dad didn’t want to come out and enjoy this with us!”
I giggled and leaned into Denly’s side, my fingers still tracing his thigh, lightly. My stomach was still turning in knots, and I could feel tingling throughout my body as Denly started tracing his fingertips over my shoulder. My heart was pounding in my chest and my breaths were coming shallower, and shallower. I had no idea what was going on with my body, my brain was all over the place, images of my uncle flashing through my mind, Denly’s fingertips giving me chills, thoughts of my naked brother sitting across from me, his tan shoulders barely clearing the surface of the water. It took everything I had not to slide across the hot tub to my brother, only Denly’s gentle touch keeping me in place. I wanted to be in Kyan’s arms. Then, I thought about Gavin, I had seen him shirtless enough times to know what his body looked like, and I couldn’t help but almost drool as I pictured his tight stomach, and the subtle beginnings of a six-pack. His golden-brown tan looked perfect, and I began to wish that Gavin was in the hot tub with us.
I couldn’t stop the groan that left my throat as I settled down into Denly’s grasp, my eyes fluttering shut as something else within my body began to take control of me. I vaguely heard voices, someone talking to me from far away, but I couldn’t figure out what they were saying. All I could feel was heat, and a steady pressure in my chest. My body was tingling all over, and I wanted to pull myself out of the seemingly, unending daydream, as the image of Gavin appeared hovering over me. I leaned up and mashed my lips against his, not hesitating for even a moment as I thought about how much the brown-haired boy meant to me. The feelings were flooding through me as Gavin kissed me back, his hands roaming across my bare skin, electric shocks emitting from wherever Gavin’s hands touched me.
I opened my eyes, and it wasn’t Gavin that was on top of me, and we were not in my bed. I was sitting on Denly’s lap, kissing him roughly. My mind immediately panicked. This wasn’t me.
“Oh shit,” I muttered in disbelief, quickly pulling away from my cousin. My body was trembling with energy, more emotions than I could control. I moved towards the edge of the hot tub, my brain acting on impulse as I went to flee the scene, entirely. Denly looked confused as I glanced at him, his hand held out towards me, almost like he didn’t want me to go away. “Sorry,” I mumbled as I slid out of the tub, tears stinging my eyes. I quickly grabbed a towel and wrapped it around my body before I slipped out into the hallway. I didn’t stop moving until I was tucked away in my room, where I hid myself deep beneath the covers.
What the fuck is wrong with me?
I sat in my room with my face buried in my hands. I was terrified of what I was becoming. I wasn’t the type of person that would just throw myself at somebody else for any reason, and yet, I had done it. To Denly, none the less. How would I ever be able to face them again? I couldn’t stop crying as my emotions ran away with me, but I never sent myself into a depression. My mind was focused on my current state, not what happened to me in my past. I just wanted to get control of my body, again.
“Zyan?” I glanced up to see Denly standing in my doorway, a thick towel wrapped around his lithe waist, and my heart instantly started racing. “Are you okay?”
“I’m scared, Denly,” I admitted to the older boy.
He grinned at me. “I know, Zyan,” Denly told me. “You’re going through your Changing. It’s scary for all of us, but I’m here to help you through it until your Other gets here.”
“My Other?” I asked curiously.
Denly grinned and motioned towards my bed.
“Do you care if I join you, Zyan?”
“No,” I answered nervously. I slid over slightly when he sat down next to me. I felt my face flush when his towel came undone at the corner, and I quickly forced my eyes away. My stomach was turning in knots, and I felt like my body was on fire as my heart beat rapidly in my chest. I was barely maintaining control of myself. Then, Denly made me lose control when he leaned over and kissed me on my cheek, Denly’s towel parting enough to reveal more of his lower abs.
“Relax, Zyan,” he told me as his fingertips traced around my bellybutton. He nuzzled his nose against my ear, sending shivers down my spine. “Damn, dude. You’re burning up. Come on, let’s go take a shower to help you cool off.”
“Okay,” I said nervously, a low groan coming from my throat. Denly bit my ear, and I gave up completely. The haze filled my mind, and my instincts took complete control of my body.
We were lying face to face, when I awoke the next morning. Denly’s arms were wrapped around my body, his legs intertwined with my own, his mouth barely hanging open as he took soft breaths in his sleep. I leaned forward slightly, unable to resist the urge to kiss the older boy, needing to see if my foggy memory of the night before was even remotely true. I sighed with pleasure as his lips puckered against mine, and Denly kissed me back before nuzzling his nose against my own.
“Good morning, beautiful,” he said softly, his eyes fluttering open as he pulled me tighter against him. He kissed me again, before leaning forward and nibbling on my ear. “I love you, Zyan.”
“I love you, too, Denly,” I told him with a sheepish grin. “I have no idea what came over me, last night.”
“It’s not important, right now,” he said with a giggle. I looked at him suspiciously, but Denly distracted me by giggling and kissing me, again.
“I have to pee,” I said with a frown. “I don’t want to get up, though.”
“That makes two of us, then, Zyan,” my cousin said. “If we don’t get up, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to flood your bed.”
I giggled and kissed Denly again, before I quickly climbed out of the bed and ran for my bathroom with Denly hot on my heels. Denly started the shower behind us, while I grabbed a couple of towels for us to use after our shower. Once we were in the shower, my cousin quickly pulled me into his arms, and held me against him as the water cascaded over our naked bodies. I felt the rush of adrenaline pass through my body as the thrill of the contact shot through me. In the back of my mind, there was an internal struggle going on, as I barely managed to maintain my wits about me. I loved Denly, but I didn’t feel the connection that I needed to feel with someone. He must have sensed my hesitation, because he pressed his lips to mine before he leaned over and whispered into my ear.
“Don’t worry, Zyan,” Denly said soothingly. “I know that this is only temporary, but we can have some fun while we’re together, at least.”
I relaxed and giggled as I buried my face in Denly’s neck.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Denly,” I told him, a sheepish blush creeping over my body. “I can’t stop it, though.”
“You’ll be through it in a few days, Zyan,” Denly said with a grin.
“A few days?” I asked in wide-eyed horror. “You can’t be serious?”
“It has to do with what we are, Zyan,” my cousin told me.
“What are we, Denly?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you when it’s time,” Denly promised before he distracted me with his lips, again. “The wait is worth it, Zyan. Trust me. Please?”
I glanced up and felt myself flush as he gave me the biggest pair of puppy dog eyes that one could imagine. I grinned and kissed him, letting the hormones take control of me, completely. This was how I would show Denly that I trusted him. The fire flared hotter than it had before, making the water feel cool against my skin. I only pushed closer against Denly, letting him hold me tightly. Whatever it was that was happening to me, I almost didn’t want it to end.
Once we were both finished with our shower, I followed Denly downstairs to find only my father and uncle sitting at the kitchen table. Both of the men were chuckling when we entered wearing just our boxers, and hazy smiles.
“Hi, daddy,” I said sweetly, as I crossed the room and kissed him on his cheek. I wanted him to pull me onto his lap, but he kept his hands, firmly clasped together on the table in front of him. “Where is everybody else?” A part of me was mostly wondering where Kyan was.
“They had to run a few errands, buddy,” my dad replied. “Are you hungry, guys?”
“Starving!” I said with a wide grin.
“Gee, I wonder why,” Uncle Derek said with a smug chuckle.
I felt my entire body turn red at his comment, until Denly wrapped his arms around me from behind and kissed my cheek.
“Jealous, daddy?” Denly asked my uncle.
“A little bit,” Uncle Derek replied with a shrug. “Was it this bad when Kyan went through it?”
“Not even close,” my father replied to the question.
“Kyan was a lot easier to manage!” Denly said with an exaggerated sigh of exhaustion.
“He wasn’t complaining in the hot tub, last night,” Uncle Derek said smugly. “I don’t know what triggered it for Zyan, but he went from being relaxed and calm, to suddenly attacking Denly like he was his favorite piece of chocolate cake.”
I felt myself blush, as I realized that they were talking about my actions while I was out of it. The last thing I remembered was Denly hugging me into his side, and then we were in my bed. None of it made any sense to me. How could I blackout and do what they were accusing me of? How did I lose that kind of control over myself? I could feel the edges of a panic attack coming on, but Denly was suddenly holding me in his arms, making me look deep into his sparkling emerald-green eyes. Denly didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. All he did was press his lips against my own and everything around me was forgotten. I heard a distant chuckle, but my body was too busy responding to Denly’s touch to care. The heat rushed through me, again, sending my body into overdrive.
“Just wait until your Other gets here, Zyan,” I vaguely heard Denly mutter in my ear. I swore that I heard a phone ring, but nothing else mattered to me.
It was unfortunate for Gavin, that I was the one who answered the door when I heard the doorbell ring, shortly after noon. My brown-haired cousin stood in the doorway with a dorky grin on his face when he saw me standing there in just my boxer briefs.
“Hi, Gavin,” I said with a wide smile, barely noticing the fact that Uncle Geoff was standing beside him.
“He’s already forgotten about me,” I heard the man chuckle. I glanced up and giggled at him.
“How could I forget about you, Uncle Geoff?” I asked, shyly. Then, my gaze fell back to Gavin as I felt the flush hit my cheeks. “You’re the father of the sexy Gavin.”
Uncle Geoff burst out laughing as Gavin’s mouth fell open in disbelief.
“Zyan?” I heard my father call out from behind me. “Who’s at the door, buddy?”
“It’s Uncle Geoff and sexy Gavin,” I said with a grin, making Gavin blush in embarrassment. Uncle Geoff just laughed and shook his head.
“Sorry, Geoff,” my father said as he joined us. “Zyan was told not to answer the door.”
“Nobody else was answering it,” I stated without breaking eye contact with Gavin. “Denly is out like a light, and I think Uncle Derek is in the hot tub, again. I have no idea where anybody else is.”
“They’ll be back once you burn off some of this energy, you little horn dog,” my father teased me. Then, he turned his attention to our guests as he pulled me back away from the doorway. “Come in, guys. Don’t mind Zyan, he’s not himself, today.”
“I can tell,” Geoff laughed as he pushed his son in the door.
The moment that Gavin was inside the door, I threw myself into his arms and hugged him, tightly. He stumbled backwards slightly in surprise.
“What has gotten into you, Zyan?” Gavin asked with a surprised giggle. “You’re not normally like this.”
“Didn’t you tell him, Geoff?” I heard my father ask in concern.
“I didn’t even know what to tell Gavin,” Uncle Geoff responded. “You were very vague in your message, so it didn’t give me much to go on.”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” my father said. “If the C.I.A. found out about us. . .”
The implications were left hanging in the air, but I didn’t give a damn about what they were talking about. My attention was completely focused on the boy that my arms were wrapped around. I didn’t even realize that I was touching Gavin’s chest until my cousin laughed nervously. Somehow, we had managed to navigate to the kitchen, and I was sitting on Gavin’s lap with my hand inside of his shirt.
“Are you going to be okay with this, Gavin?” I heard my father ask before I started to slip back into my haze. I saw Gavin nod with a dreamy smile on his face, and that was all the permission I needed. I quickly leaned forward, and pressed my lips against his, something that I had been wanting to do since I first met Gavin and his father. Gavin was panting when I pulled away from him after several moments.
“Oh yeah,” he said breathlessly. “I’m game, Uncle David.”
I quickly kissed Gavin, again, before I hopped off of his lap and pulled him along to my bedroom, my father calling out behind me.
“Don’t lose touch with yourself, Zyan,” his voice brought me to a quick halt, causing Gavin to run into me. I felt myself trembling as I realized how much I had already lost touch with myself. My father was right. In the past day, I had completely changed into a different person. I was normally, quiet and reserved, but I let my emotions take control, and was now being more forward and direct in my persona. Then, my father’s hand was on my shoulder. “All I’m telling you, is to watch out for what you are doing, baby boy. Don’t lose yourself to your hormones. It’s a danger that our kind faces all of the time,” he reassured me. I turned to look at my father in curiosity.
“Our kind?” I asked as I caught the usage of the words.
“I’ll tell you the next time that you dream, little one,” he said, a smug grin spreading across his lips. Then, he proceeded to distract me with Gavin’s presence. “Weren’t you going to have some fun with Gavin?”
I looked at Gavin, and all of my hesitations left me faster than I had ever experienced. Gavin blushed as I grinned at him before continuing to my room with a giggling Gavin in tow.
“Have fun, Gavin!” I heard Uncle Geoff call out.
“He will!” I shouted back, my voice echoing in the stairwell leading upstairs from the kitchen.
It was three days, total, before my hormones finally leveled themselves back out, and I returned to being the quiet boy that I was before I managed to chase the majority of my family out of our home. Denly and Gavin walked around with dazed expressions for two whole days after I had managed to regain control over myself. We weren’t able to hold another practice until a week later.
“Jesus, baby brother,” Kyan teased me with a grin. “And I thought that I was bad when I went through the Changing.”
Kyan’s laughter was infectious, and rather than feeling embarrassed for once, I was able to actually laugh along with my older brother. There was something that was bothering me, though. While I was a slave to my hormones, I had a dream about two boys that were saying a tearful goodbye to two other little boys that looked exactly like them. Two of the little boys were being led away by a short woman, while the other two boys were being led to a spaceship with a man that looked like my father, and a woman resembling my mother. The dream had struck a nerve within me, due to it revealing that I was just facing more secrets in the future.
It was dark in my room, and Denly and Gavin were both sprawled across my bed, both of them snoring lightly. Hayley and Sarah had spent the day drilling us over, and over again, as we prepared for the upcoming Talent Show.
My cousin and sister really wanted to win.
I wasn’t tired, though. It was strange. Ever since I had gone through, what my brother called the Changing, I didn’t really feel the need to sleep, much. I tried a few times to sleep when the rest of my family slept, but I spent most of the nights thinking about the dreams that I used to have. I had seen Arys a few times in my dreams, each time he looked different than the last, but he was always surrounded by people, and he always looked like he was happy, though he did seem to be missing something, more and more, each time I saw him. There were others that I dreamed about, too. The boy that saved his friend from falling off of the roller coaster. There was the army of what could only be vampires, that was attacking another army of vampires, but I never dwelt on that dream for very long. I saw the boy dying in space, and I always dwelled on the boy that could hear the song of the stars in his dreams, his peaceful smile always bringing me a feeling of hope and love. Finally, there was the boy riding the emerald-green dragon, dipping through the clouds like it was their own personal playground, and I could only assume that it was. I felt jealous of their bond, wishing that I could find my own bond like that, knowing deep in my heart that the other half of my soul was out there, somewhere. I used to think that it was Arys, but after being as disconnected as we were, I didn’t feel the same way about him that I had used to feel.
The thought of Arys made a knot form in the pit of my stomach, and I fought the urge to cry as I wondered what had happened to my old roommate, still waiting for my father to find me any sign of my friend. Then, my brain finally, slowed enough that I was able to drift off to sleep, not knowing that my father was waiting for me on the other side.
“So, he has finally decided to join us, once again,” a deep voice boomed out, making me jump as I took in the small forest clearing that surrounded me. Purple and blue flowers dotted the sunlit field, and the tall grasses swayed gently in the cool breeze that drifted across the clearing. I turned to see a giant sitting against a boulder behind me with an ugly scowl spread across his lips. “The fate of our world hangs in the balance, and you take your sweet time to gather your wits about you? Have you figured out who you are, yet?”
“I’m sorry?” I looked up at the towering man in confusion. “What are you talking about? I don’t even know where I am!”
“Then, you should stop coming here,” the giant said condescendingly. “All you do is cause trouble, Shyan. Everywhere you go.”
“That’s not my name,” I told the giant firmly. “You’ve got the wrong guy.”
The giant chuckled.
“Like there would ever be reason for there to be two of you in this universe, Shyan,” the giant taunted. “Would Destiny really sentence the entirety of Creation to the Void with such a cruel joke?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked the giant. “My name is Zyan!”
The giant’s brow furrowed in thought as he studied me for a moment.
“This is not possible,” he said after a moment. “The Guardian of the Realms must be playing a trick on me. If you claim to be Zyan, one of The Twins, then you will be able to tell me the true name of the All Father. So, tell me supposed Child of Happiness, what do we call the All Father?”
I looked at the giant, studying the way that he was lazing on the grass covered ground, his back resting against a massive boulder. He was grinning menacingly, but there was something about his shiny yellow eyes that told me that he wasn’t planning on causing me any harm. I continued to study the green-skinned hulking beast, searching my mind for any name that might sound familiar to what the giant was looking for. One name stuck to the front of my mind, though. A name that I was certain I had never even heard before.
“Garus,” I said, hearing a sudden click in the back of my mind when the words left my lips.
The giant chuckled heartily then, his laughter echoing through the air around me. I just tried to maintain my calm as I stared at the creature.
“You have earned your way into the Kingdom of Realms, Zyan Montgomery,” the giant announced, his booming voice carrying to the ends of the universe itself. “The Twins have truly returned!”
Then, my father stepped out from the other side of the giant, wearing blue robes that were highlighted in white and silver. He had a smile on his face as he approached me, his arms held out to welcome me to him. I couldn’t resist his silent command and ran to be embraced by the man that was my idol and hero.
“I love you, daddy,” I told him once he held me in his arms.
“I love you, as well, Zyan. It’s time for you to learn a few things about yourself, though.”
“We’re not normal, are we?”
“No,” he said with a sad smile. “We’re not.” He turned with me in his arms and started walking back to the giant. “We’re ready, Marano! Our job here is done.”
“Your son did well, milord,” the giant said approvingly as he rose to his feet, truly making me feel like a small bug that was about to be stepped on. “He will be a wise leader, much like you once were.”
My father laughed lightly.
“You’re lucky that you’re my favorite giant, Marano,” my father said with a grin.
“I am the only giant that you know, milord,” Marano said before he caught the meaning of the joke. “You are a funny small one, Lord Montgomery. Very funny, indeed.”
The giant walked with us, my father carrying me to a small stone-built building at the edge of a small village. A steady column of smoke was drifting into the air, signaling that a fire was lit inside. The inside of the cabin was small and cozy, and Marano complained about having to wait outside, while my father ignored the man. My father carried me to a small, cushioned chair where he sat with me positioned on his lap. He smiled gently at me.
“Everything that I am going to tell you, Zyan,” my father said, “will help you better understand what you are.”
I looked up at him at his strange usage of words.
“What am I, daddy?” I asked nervously.
“You’re the Prince of the Universe, Zyan,” my father said with a grin. “The future Guardian of the Realms.”
I couldn’t help but giggle.
“Funny, dad,” I told him. “I’m not a character in your book.”
“Are you sure that the character in the book isn’t you, Zyan?”
I frowned. His words were making me feel uncomfortable. Every time that I had read his book, I had wanted to be the kid in the book. The boy that was drawn in the special collector’s edition wearing long-flowing robes, his blond hair looking like it had been styled by the winds themselves. In one hand he held a sword, the blade pointed towards the ground. While in his other hand, he held a staff that was the same height as he was. His expression was filled with fury, and the boy’s mouth was open like he was screaming at an enemy. That’s all the boy in the center of the book was, though. A character. My father had created him from his own mind, and here he was, trying to tell me that he had based the character off of me.
“This isn’t possible, daddy,” I said softly. “This is only a dream.”
“You may be asleep, Zyan,” my father said as he hugged me. “But you are not dreaming.”
“What do you mean?” I felt a lump forming in my throat. I was on the verge of breaking down into tears, being told that my life was still a lie. “Is this some cruel joke?”
I slid down from my dad’s lap before he could stop me, and I bolted from the cottage with tears blurring my vision.
“Young Prince!” I heard the giant call out from behind me. “Don’t run, Prince! The forest is dangerous!”
I continued to run. I didn’t ever want to stop.
I didn’t stop running until I found myself leaning up against a large tree that was covered in vines. The forest was thick around me, and I knew for certain that I was lost. This only added to my grief, and I continued to sob as I sat on the ground and leaned back against the tree. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about all of the different dreams about the man that was my great-grandfather, and how he had told me that I wasn’t even home, yet. I thought about how the giant and my father both referred to me as a Prince, and it only made me think of more questions that I wanted the answers to. If my family kept secrets from me, could I even trust them?
I was finally beginning to get over my emotional loss of control when I heard something rustle in the leaves above me. I glanced up slowly, unable to see anything directly above me in the tree’s vast canopy. The giant’s warning about the forest being unsafe came back to me, and I mentally kicked myself for not stopping when he told me to do so. I saw something move in the branches that were towards the top of the tree, something that was brown and furry. It appeared to be small, and was bouncing between the different branches, slowly getting closer to the ground. Slowly, getting closer to the spot where I was sitting. My flight instinct was just beginning to kick in, when the tiny creature decided that it was close enough to drop straight down on top of me.
Naturally, I screamed in terror, slamming my eyes shut tightly as I waited for the attack. All I felt was a gentle thump on my right shoulder, though. I opened my eyes slowly, seeing the small brown creature’s tiny ears twitching about, as its golden-brown eyes studied me.
It’s a fricking chipmunk! I thought with relief, suddenly laughing at myself. The chipmunk just continued to study me.
“Sorry, little guy,” I apologized to the animal for my behavior, a small grin on my face at the idea of the situation. “I haven’t been myself, lately.”
Then, the chipmunk stood up straight, its bushy tail curled up behind it, and it bowed to me. My jaw fell open as I sat there in stunned silence. The chipmunk chittered softly like it was laughing, and it reached over and slowly closed my mouth with one paw.
“This isn’t happening,” I said, my voice faltering.
The chipmunk chittered again, this time in a lengthy manner, moving its paws like it was trying to explain something. For a moment, I thought I was able to understand the strange dialect, but I waved it aside as nonsense when I heard something about a virus taking hold of the Tree of Life. I giggled slightly, making the chipmunk fall silent.
“Sorry, buddy,” I told him. “I have no idea what you’re even saying.”
The chipmunk appeared thoughtful for a moment, then it suddenly kissed me on the lips, sending a warm feeling running through my body. A switch seemed to be thrown in my mind before I could hear every form of conversation going on around me. The tiny chipmunk smiled as it sat back on its hindlegs, its tiny paw resting on my nose.
“Can you understand me, now?” The tiny creature asked me. I nodded in disbelief. “Good, I was hoping the magic would work on you.”
“Umm, okay,” I whispered nervously. “What do you want with me?”
“I want to be your friend,” the chipmunk chittered happily. “I’m Wyndel. What’s your name?”
“I’m Zyan,” I told the chipmunk that wanted to be my friend. Then, Wyndel scooted closer and nuzzled his furry face against my cheek. “What was that for?”
“Because you were sad,” Wyndel explained his actions. “I always feel better when I get cuddled, and I thought that you would feel better, too. Was I wrong?”
“No, Wyndel,” I told the chipmunk. “You’re not wrong. This is all new to me.”
“That’s okay,” Wyndel said before he nuzzled my cheek, again. “Why are you sad, Zyan?”
“Everything is changing,” I said with a sniffle. “My entire life has been nothing but a lie. Even when I thought I was finally home, I learn that there are still tons of secrets being kept from me. I don’t know who to trust anymore.”
“You can trust me,” Wyndel reassured me honestly.
“I can’t yet, Wyndel,” I told the chipmunk sadly. “There’s been too much bad stuff in my life.”
“Would you like to tell me about it?” Wyndel asked, a serious expression on his small face.
I don’t know why, but I sat there, leaning against the large tree for nearly two hours, and told Wyndel all about my life. We shed tears together as I told him about the Monster and how Arys had disappeared, and he listened intently when I told him how Natalie and Greg had taken me into their home a few months before everyone learned who my parents really were.
“Then, I met you, Wyndel,” I told the chipmunk as I finished my story. The tiny animal sniffled slightly before he suddenly threw himself against my face, wrapping his arms around my cheeks as far as he could make them go, his body trembling as tiny little sobs shook his body. “I’m okay now, Wyndel. I’ve made a really great friend. I wish that you could go home with me.”
“Me too, Zyan,” Wyndel sniffled. “I’ll always be here when you come back, though.”
“You better be, Wyndel,” I told my new friend. Then, I sighed and glanced around me. “Do you think you can help me find my dad, Wyndel? He’s got to be worried about me. I took off on him.”
“I’ll help,” Wyndel agreed, readily.
“That won’t be necessary, Wyndel.”
Wyndel launched himself halfway up the tree when I jumped at the sound of the baritone voice. I turned my head to see my dad watching me from nearby, the chipmunk was chittering anxiously from above my head as my father started walking towards me. I lowered my gaze, as I stood to my feet, waiting for my father’s wrath. I trembled slightly when he placed his hand upon my shoulder.
“Are you okay, Zyan?” He asked me. “I know you’ve been through, a lot, and I only want to help you prepare yourself for everything that is to come.”
“I know, daddy,” I told my father in a timid voice. “I’m sorry for running off on you.”
“It’s okay, Zyan,” my father informed me. “You have every reason to be angry with me. I only kept you from knowing everything, because it would put you into danger, baby boy. Our entire universe is counting on you to be ready to save the Tree of Life from the Imposters.”
“Who are they?” I asked in disbelief.
“One of the scariest creations in the history of the Thousand Realms,” my father said dryly. “They can take on any form that they choose, but it’s their regular form that scares the hell out of me.”
He smiled and patted my shoulder.
“Come, Zyan,” my father smiled at me. “It’s time for us to return to our normal forms before we’re separated from ourselves, forever.”
Wyndel patted my cheek with his paw to get my attention. Once I turned to look at him, he hopped back onto my shoulder, his tail flicking nervously behind him. The chipmunk nuzzled my cheek.
“I’ll miss you, Zyan,” the chipmunk told me sadly.
“I’ll miss you, too, Wyndel,” I told my new friend, before I reached up with my left hand and scratched him between his ears. “I’ll see you soon, buddy.”
“You better,” the chipmunk told me seriously before he bowed and jumped back onto the tree, disappearing into its branches just as fast as he had first appeared. I turned my attention back to my father. He held his hand out towards me with a smile on his face.
“Let’s go, son,” my dad said as I took his hand. He led me towards the darkening forest in front of us. “I just need to tell Marano that we’re leaving, so he doesn’t worry about us.”
“Yes,” my father replied with a nod. “He’s a very dear friend of mine, Zyan. One day, I’m sure that he’ll be a friend for you, as well.”
I grinned, unsure of how I would feel about having a giant as a friend, but I had never expected to have a chipmunk as a friend, either. We found Marano pacing near the edge of the forest, his mask discarded on the ground, and his brow twisted in worry. The moment that my father stepped out of the trees with me on his heels, the giant reached down and scooped me up with his massive hand. I yelped in fear as the man held me up to his eye level, inspecting me with one of his large yellow eyes. His breath was hot and smelled like sulfur, making my stomach turn from the sour stench. The giant then appeared to be satisfied with his inspection and set me back on the ground next to my father.
“He is safe,” Marano declared gruffly. “Prince doesn’t listen, milord. Marano told him to stop.”
“I know, Marano,” my father chuckled and patted my shoulder. “He’ll be okay, now. Thank you for trying to warn him.”
“Marano was worried about the Prince running into the forest,” the giant said as he frowned at me. “Don’t go without Marano, again. The Prince must be kept safe in the Kingdom of the Realms.”
“I’m sorry, Marano,” I told the giant. “I’ll always stop to listen to you, from now on.”
Marano studied me for a moment before he nodded at my words, and visibly relaxed. “Wise leader, indeed.” The giant chuckled.
“We have to go now, Marano,” my father told the giant. “We’ll be back soon, though. Zyan still has a way to go.”
“I can smell the Change on him,” the giant agreed. “He is stronger than they said he would be.”
“I completely agree,” my father laughed as he squeezed my shoulder. “Until next time, Marano.”
“It was nice meeting you, Marano,” I called out to the giant.
The giant nodded. “The pleasure is Marano’s, my Prince.” He half bowed to me, before my father pulled me into his side.
“Let’s go, Zyan,” my father said.
The next thing I knew, I was surrounded in darkness, and a familiar voice called out to me.
“It’s nice to see you again, Zachary.”
Then, the Monster appeared standing twenty feet in front of me. My heart started racing in my chest as the man chuckled darkly.
“Let the Trial of Fear begin,” the man growled darkly before he charged towards me.