It was Natalie who awoke me the following morning so she could help me get ready to go home. Once I was dressed in the clothes that Karen had brought for me, several of the nurses and doctors came into my room to wish me well before I was placed into a wheelchair, and pushed towards one of the elevators by Doctor Jerret. Greg and Natalie walked beside the gray haired doctor as he told them a few things about my medications. I zoned out as he spoke, and tried not to throw up as the sudden dropping sensation in the elevator made my stomach turn. Greg reached over and patted my shoulder gently.
I was about to smile when the thought crossed my mind that I didn’t deserve any of this. At any moment, the Monster was going to spring out from behind a closed door, ready to strip me of my life yet again. I expected it. That’s all my life had become. One continuous let down after another.
There was a light chime as the elevator slid to a stop. The reflective doors slid open to reveal the lobby of the hospital. I didn’t think that I would even live to see the moment when I would leave the hospital. Natalie had kept telling me that if I got better she had a big surprise for me. I didn’t let myself get my hopes up. Even as Doctor Jerret wheeled me towards the sliding glass doors leading to my freedom, I didn’t let myself get my hopes up.
‘You’re fucking worthless, Zachary.’ I repeated the monster’s words in my head. They were becoming more of a mantra than I wanted them to be.
I closed my eyes and tried to think about the boy from my visions. He had the same blonde hair as I did, and the same deep blue eyes. His stare was penetrating as if he was staring into my very soul. Then, he called me ‘Zyan’. I remembered screaming at him. The other me looked sad as he told me that I’d figure it out soon enough. His sadness had even poured over into my own being as his eyes gazed into my own. We had been so much alike, yet he wasn’t me. Nobody wanted to be me…
It was Natalie’s voice that broke me out of my daydream.
“Make sure that he eats something, Greg.” Natalie warned her husband as he pulled open the back door of the car and went to pick me up from the wheelchair. “Zachary’s meds will probably kick in before you get him home.”
“I’ve got this, Nat.” I felt Greg’s chest rumble against my own as he held me tightly against him so he could give his wife his full attention. I almost sighed with pleasure as I leaned my head against his chest. Then, Greg gently placed me in the backseat of his SUV and buckled me into place. “Zach and I are probably just going to stop at the bar and grab a couple of hookers before we head on down to Bermuda.”
I giggled lightly at Greg’s joke.
“You had better not, mister!” Natalie growled with mock annoyance in her voice. “I’m positive that McDonald’s is good enough to hold the two of you over until I can get home and make dinner.”
“Too bad,” Greg chuckled as he closed the door. “I was looking forward to checking out babes with Zachary on the beach.”
I giggled again.
“We’ll be fine, Natalie.” Greg reassured her with a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll stop and grab us some McDonald’s, and we’ll make sure our bellies are full before we even get back to the house.”
“I’ll see you in a few hours, love.” Natalie cooed softly as she hugged Greg tightly and kissed his cheek. Then, she reached in the window of the SUV and ruffled my hair. “Don’t let him bore you too much with his lawyer lingo, Zachary. It’s hard for me to keep up with him sometimes.”
“I won’t, Natalie.” I said with a slight smile.
Greg walked around the vehicle and got into the driver’s seat as Doctor Jerret and Natalie said their goodbyes to me. Once my new foster-dad was situated, he put the SUV in drive and pulled out slowly towards the main road.
“Are you hungry, buddy?” Greg asked as he navigated us into traffic.
“Yes, sir.” I said nervously as a flashback of the monster teasing me with food popped into my head. I shoved the memory back down as deep as I could so I wouldn’t have an emotional breakdown on Greg while we were in the car. I had been doing well the past few days, and had been managing to control my emotions with the help of some kind of medication the doctor had prescribed to me.
Greg pulled into the drive-thru line and started rattling off an order for several different types of sandwiches before the cashier told him to pull forward.
“I wasn’t sure what you would like, so I bought you a few different things to try.” Greg informed me as he pulled around the building to where he had to pay. “Okay?”
“Okay,” I mumbled nervously.
“It’ll be alright if you decide that you don’t like something, Zachary.” My foster father continued as he handed the person at the window some money and pulled forward to the next window. “I’m certain Natalie will be more than happy to take our leftovers.”
There was a word that I understood completely. The monster had always fed me table scraps, telling me that I wasn’t worthy of a real meal with normal people. Leftovers were only worthy of a scumbag like me. I felt my spirits beginning to drop again, but I managed to keep myself together until Greg pulled forward with our food in his lap, and parked in one of the empty parking spots.
“Here, Zachary.” Greg said as he passed one of the wrapped sandwiches back to me with a smile on his face. “Have a cheeseburger, first. It only has ketchup on it.”
“Th… th… thanks, Greg.” I said meekly as I reached out to take the sandwich. It smelled delicious and my stomach growled loud enough for Greg to hear from the front seat of the SUV. He laughed and reached back to squeeze my knee.
“Eat up, buddy.” He told me. “There’s plenty to go around.”
“Yes, sir.” I said with a brief nod before I bit into the cheeseburger. Greg laughed as I groaned in delight and quickly took another bite as if it was going to be my last meal.
“Eat a little bit slower, Zachary.” Greg warned me with a grin. “I don’t need Natalie getting mad at me if your meds don’t agree with the food.”
“Yes, sir.” I said again before I finished off the sandwich. My stomach growled again as I caught the different smells coming from the front seat.
“Did you like the cheeseburger, Zach?”
“Yes, sir.” I said quietly. I wanted to ask him for another one, but my voice caught in my throat as I remembered the way the monster would sneer at me if I ever asked for anything more than what I had been given.
“You can have more, Zachary.” Greg reassured me as my stomach growled again. He was just finishing off his first burger and passed the bag back to me. “Pick whatever you want.”
“Really?” I asked nervously. I was prepared for the rug to be yanked out from beneath me at any moment.
“Of course, Zachary!” Greg reassured me with a wide smile.
“Thank you, Mr. Harris.” I said as I pulled out one of the chicken sandwiches.
I sat there and ate my sandwich with a frown on my face as the different spices hit my tongue. I knew immediately that the sandwich wasn’t going to work for me, but I was doing my best to keep chewing. Greg chuckled as he caught my sour expression in the rearview mirror as he pulled away from the fast food joint.
“You don’t have to eat it if you don’t like it, buddy.” He reassured me. “Which one was it?”
“The chicken,” I replied as I wrapped the packaging back around the unfinished portion. “The breading tastes funny.”
My foster father chuckled at me as I dropped the sandwich back in the bag. I leaned back in the seat and watched as the world seemed to pass us by. I could feel myself beginning to get dizzy as the medicine began to take effect. My eyelids were beginning to grow heavy as Greg pulled into the driveway of a moderately sized two-story home. The front of the house was made up of dark colored brick, and each window had a tan shutter on either side of it. The house was much nicer on the outside alone compared to the monster’s house. Greg stopped the SUV in front of the two-car garage and killed the engine before he turned back to me with a smile on his face. His muddy brown eyes seemed to be sparkling with excitement as he gazed at me.
“We’re home, Zachary.” He told me happily. “Stay put for a second so I can get the house opened up. You’re not allowed to walk on your own yet according to my darling wife, so I’d rather not make her mad at me because I risked your safety.”
I grinned at him and giggled lightly.
Greg reached back and squeezed my knee.
“You’re definitely high as a kite right now,” he said with a grin. “I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Okay, Greg.” I said in a slurred voice.
My foster-dad jumped out of the vehicle and ran up to the house to open the front door. He returned a second later and opened my door for me. I giggled again as he smiled at me.
“Unbuckle your seatbelt, Zachary.”
I did as Greg instructed before he slipped his arms around me and lifted me free from the car. Greg kicked the door shut and turned towards the house.
“My trash…” I heard myself slur hazily.
“Don’t worry about it, buddy.” Greg reassured me. “I’ll come back out to get everything once I’ve got you settled on the couch. I think your medications are beginning to kick in anyways.”
“I have to pee, too.” I said as if it was just one more problem we had to face. “Badly.”
Greg burst out laughing at my statement and hugged me against him for a moment.
“Okay, then.” The brown-haired man said with a smile. “Judging by the haze in your eyes, I would say that you are even higher than a kite.”
“Then, you must be as high as me, because you have me in your arms.” I added.
Greg just smiled and shook his head. I giggled and leaned my head against his shoulder as he carried me through the front door. I tried to focus on my surroundings, but I couldn’t everything from spinning as I held my eyes open. We were in a small foyer where a few coats were hanging before we were suddenly in a large living room. The carpet and walls were a dull beige color, and the couch and loveseat were both dark blue in color. A reclining chair sat to the other side of the sofa facing a large flat screen television mounted in the middle of the wall.
Greg carried me past the furniture and towards two wooden doors. He pulled the door on the right open to reveal a small bathroom. The walls were a light blue in color, and the floor was made of gray tile. My foster-dad reached down and lifted the lid on the toilet before he lightly set me on the floor. Greg helped me turn towards the toilet and held me by my armpits as I reached down to undo my jeans. My legs were beginning to tremble and I felt Greg grip me tighter as I fumbled with the button. I had barely gotten myself aimed at the toilet before I was sighing with relief.
“Close one, huh?” Greg asked with a chuckle.
I giggled along with my foster-dad as I slowly emptied my bladder. Once my hands were washed, Greg carried my out to the sofa and had me lie down. He grabbed me a few pillows and stuck them behind me to help prop me up before he covered me in a thick blanket. Then, Greg turned the television on to something with cartoons on it and set the remote next to me.
“We have a much better selection than the hospital,” Greg assured me with a grin. “I’m going to go get our stuff from the car. Yell for me if you need anything.”
“Yes, sir.” I said sleepily. Greg ruffled my hair before he stepped back out through the front door. I was asleep before he even returned.
There were two little blonde-haired boys playing in a sandbox together. They both had deep blue eyes, and they were smiling happily as the afternoon sunlight shined down on them from above. A woman with long blonde hair sat on a nearby bench with her nose buried deep in a book, her attention pulled to the fantasy land of whatever story she deemed worthy to read during her sons’ time at the park. The identical boys were happily pushing sand into a pile as their mother continued to enjoy her novel, but one of the boys had the urge to suddenly stretch his legs. The toddler stumbled to his feet while his brother looked on curiously. Then, the blonde-haired boy walked quickly towards some bushes lining the playground, and disappeared through them without a care in the world. The other twin, feeling the connection growing fainter between he and his brother, did the only thing that he could think of doing. He began to cry.
The mother glanced up from her book as she pulled herself back to reality. She smiled at the crying twin for a moment before she slowly began to realize that something was horribly wrong. One of the boys was missing. The look of horror slowly washed across her narrow face and she stood to her feet in shock.
“Zyan?” Her voice broke as the boy’s name left her lips. She stumbled towards the sandbox and stared at the spot where the boy had been sitting with his brother. Her heart began to hammer in her chest before she repeated the boy’s name again, this time in a scream of desperation. “ZYAN!?”
The image faded until the monster stood in front of me with the same evil sneer on his face that he always wore whenever he was around me. His dark eyes flashed with rage as he screamed at me, but there was no sound. I felt confused until he continued to scream at me with words I couldn’t even hear. Then he lashed out and punched me before he slammed me up against the wall. I screamed out in pain as my head hit the mirror and the glass shattered to the floor behind me. This only helped to intensify the monster’s rage.
I tried to fight him off, but he just kept holding me against the wall. I screamed and cried as I fought for my life all over again. It was pointless to try, though. The monster would always be able to overpower me. The monster threw me to the floor and kicked me continuously before he grabbed me by the front of my shirt again and pinned me against the wall. I had to fight back. I had to stand my ground. The monster was sneering at me, so I threw my fist forward as hard as I could, and punched him in the eye. I could have sworn that I felt my hand make contact, and the monster even cried out in pain as he stumbled backwards from me with his hand clenched to his right eye.
I could feel someone rubbing my chest, but only the monster stood in front of me as I collapsed to my knees. The feeling against my chest was a steady pressure that wouldn’t go away as I struggled to push it off of me.I could feel someone rubbing my back as well, and that only confused me even more. Suddenly, there was the blonde-haired boy standing in the place of Harold Stubbs. He had a concerned look on his face as he frowned at me.
“You have to wake up, Zyan.” He told me. “You’re just having a nightmare, little brother.”
I stared at the other me in confusion.
“You’ve got the wrong person,” I told him. “I’m not Zyan.”
The other me looked hurt by my statement, but he slowly faded from my sight – leaving me alone with the slight pressure of a hand against my chest, and another stroking my hair softly.
“Wake up, Zachary.” A baritone voice pleaded softly. “Please, wake up, buddy.”
I struggled against the thick haze that held me down, but it finally began to give way – letting me break free from the dark prison. I had to get out of the darkness. It was the only way to avoid the monster. I could almost hear his evil chuckle from behind me and I began to sob violently. I needed to wake up. I tried focusing on the warmth around me as I pushed away the hazy feeling draped over my mind like a thick blanket. The baritone voice continued to whisper soothingly in my ear.
“Wake up, Zachary.” I heard the voice say. “Just open your eyes for me, buddy. Please?”
I finally found the strength to get my eyes to open, but everything was a blur around me as the medicine tried to keep me in its grasp. The first thing I was able to focus on was the muddy brown eyes staring into my face. Greg suddenly smiled and pulled me into his chest.
“There he is,” I heard Greg say as he held me tightly against him. He rubbed my back soothingly as I nuzzled into his chest. I could still feel myself shaking from the strange nightmare as Greg continued to hold me. “You’re safe now, Zachary.”
The memories of my day flooded back to me as I realized that I wasn’t in the monster’s clutches any longer. I couldn’t stop myself from crying as I struggled to get over the nightmare. The monster had attacked me and something told me that I had barely escaped his wrath.
“Natalie’s on her way home, buddy.” Greg reassured me with relief in his voice as he rubbed my back. “Just take deep breaths. She definitely needs to have a talk with your doctor about your dosage levels.”
I heard a door open nearby before I heard the sound of Natalie’s voice.
“Did you get him to wake up?” Natalie asked in a worried tone as she kneeled next to the couch and placed the back of her hand against my forehead.
“Only just before you walked in, Natalie.” Greg informed my foster-mom.
Then, Natalie reached up and touched Greg’s cheek gently. I followed her movement to see the bruise already forming around Greg’s right eye. I suddenly remembered how I had managed to punch the monster in the face as I fought him off of me.
“He got you good,” Natalie said with a slight chuckle.
Greg rolled his eyes as he patted my chest.
“I really think that this kid has a career in baseball with the way he threw that punch,” my foster-dad said which made me finally connect the dots as to what had happened. A fresh wave of tears began to fall from my eyes, and I knew for certain that the Harris’s were going to send me back to live with the monster. “The guys at the office are going to love this war story.”
Greg didn’t even realize how his words had shaken me. At any moment, they were going to call Mrs. Stephens to come pick me up. That’s what happened to children that hit their foster parents. They were sent to group homes. Harold had warned me what happened in those group homes. That was how he kept me from telling his secrets.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Harris.” I stammered out as the sadness began to overwhelm me. Tears rolled down my cheek as my foster-dad looked down at me in confusion.
“For what, Zachary?”
“Please, don’t send me to the home.” I sobbed out as I finally lost complete control of my emotions. “I won’t do it again.”
“What’s wrong, Zachary?” Natalie asked as she reached out to touch my cheek. “Why would we ever send you away?”
“Because, I hit Mr. Harris.” I said with a whimper.
Greg confused me by chuckling and pulling me tightly against him.
“Trust me, Zachary.” Greg said with a voice filled with love. “It’s going to take a lot more than that for me to get rid of you. Besides, Natalie hits me a lot, so I’m used to getting punched.”
“I do not!” Natalie said in exasperation as she slapped him on the arm.
“See?” He said with wide eyes. “This happens all of the time!”
Natalie rolled her eyes and stood up as Greg started laughing lightly.
“Are you guys hungry?”
“I don’t know about this guy, but I’m starving.” Greg said as he poked me in the stomach. “He’s gotta be hungry after the workout that he just went through.”
“I’ll see what I can come up with,” Natalie said with a smile as she walked away towards the kitchen.
“What did I do?” I asked Greg quietly.
“You were stuck in that dream like a tick, buddy.” Greg said with a worried grin. “I was worried that we were going to have to take you to the hospital to get checked out.”
“I don’t want to go back to the hospital,” I said with a groan.
“And we don’t want you to, either.” Greg said before he kissed me on the cheek. “Now, let’s see what’s on TV while we wait for Natalie.”
I nodded nervously and leaned into Greg’s side. I sighed happily the moment he started rubbing my back.
“I love you too, buddy.” Greg said with a light chuckle.
I grinned as we settled in to watch television together. In the back of my mind, I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nothing good ever happened to me. It’s not like I deserved to be happy, anyways.