The Touch

1 - Near Death


"You're safe now, Zachary."

The woman spoke in a soft whisper as she rubbed my chest gently. My entire body hurt, but the back of my head hurt worse than anything. It was all I could do to stay awake and fight off the nightmares that waited for me whenever I slipped back into unconsciousness. I couldn't see her, but her voice was soothing, and I knew that she spoke the truth.

"You have a bandage over your eyes, Zachary." She explained once when I told her I couldn't see. "It's to protect your eyes from the light, buddy. Just rest."

I couldn't rest though. I didn't want to. The nightmares came back every time I closed my eyes. I relived the entire experience that had put me into the hospital to begin with. The moment the Monster had finally snapped and decided that my life wasn't worth living any longer. He had hit me before, but it had never been like that. I wanted to tell the woman why I couldn't sleep, but I was afraid that she would make fun of me. I wanted to be strong for some reason. It didn't help though... I couldn't fight the drugs that the doctors kept giving me, and the nightmares were always waiting the moment my eyes closed again.

A bright white light streaked across my vision as the monster's fist connected with the side of my face. He was furious this time. He used the hand that held me by my throat to slam me into the wall and I cried out when the back of my head hit a picture frame. The glass shattered instantly, and I could feel something warm running down the back of my scalp. The monster didn't care though... He continued to slam me into the wall and screamed at me. His dark eyes flashed with fury as he squeezed tighter against my throat. My vision blurred before he finally released me and threw me to the floor.

"Shut the fuck up, you worthless piece of scum!" The monster screamed at me before he kicked me in my chest with his steel-toe boot. He grabbed my face with his hand and forced me to look at him. "You're nothing but a piece of shit!"

Then, he slapped me with his other hand and my vision went blurry for a moment. I felt sharp pains in my chest as I struggled to maintain consciousness. The monster continued to kick me ruthlessly before he finally grabbed me by my hair and began to drag me down the hallway. The entire time he continued to scream unintelligibly at me. I screamed and kicked as the monster dragged me through the house, but nothing was going to stop him. He was out for blood and I had no idea why. I had been in my room, doing my homework and just trying to be quiet when Harold Stubbs busted into my room and started screaming at me about my shoes being out of place. Then, he yanked me from where I had been sitting on my bed and dragged me along by my arm to show me the offending shoe that wasn't even out of place.

"They're right where you told me to put them," I said without even recognizing the danger signs until it was too late.

That was when everything went wrong...

I couldn't stop the tears as I cried out in pain. He dropped me on the floor of the bathtub and turned on the water before he started kicking me multiple times in my back.

"Shut up, you piece of shit!" He screamed at me before he grabbed me by my throat again. I struggled against his grip as the darkness began to close in around the edges of my vision. "I'll teach you to talk back to me!"

Then, for the space of a single moment, I was weightless until I felt my body slam into the tiled wall surrounding the shower. I screamed as my head slammed into the tile before I finally lost my fight against the darkness. I could feel something cold beginning to surround my body, and soon it was impossible for me to breath anymore. The cold rushed into my body as I choked to get any kind of air. The cold overwhelmed my body, and soon there wasn't even any pain. Everything was gone. I thought I had heard voices, but I quickly wrote that off as me starting to hallucinate since my brain was shutting down.

There were small flashes of light as several sharp pains rippled across my chest, but the darkness still held me tight. Death was only a few heartbeats away, and I welcomed it. Anything that would save me from the monster's deadly grip. No more beatings... No more foster families... No more lies... I welcomed Death, and I knew that Death welcomed me.

There was another flash of light and I was no longer alone in the darkness. Another boy that looked identical to me stood across from me with a worried look on his face.

"Don't give up, Zyan." He said with a hint of determination in his voice. "We'll be together soon, baby brother. I promise..."

"My name isn't Zyan," I interrupted him. "I'm Zachary. You clearly have the wrong person."

I shook my head in disbelief and went to turn away from him. The only Zyan I knew was a character in a book. Why wouldn't this guy just let me die in peace...

"No, Zyan!" The boy cried out fiercely and I turned around to see tears in his icy blue eyes. "Don't give up, baby brother! Please! I'm close to finding you! Just give me more time, Zyan!"

"I'm not Zyan!" I screamed out angrily. The boy looked taken aback for a moment before he sniffled lightly and wiped tears from his eyes with the back of his arm.

"You'll figure it out, soon enough." He said sadly. "You've just been away for too long."

I opened my eyes and squinted at the bright light coming from the television before I gasped in surprise. My hands quickly went to my face, and I had to touch my eyes to make sure that the bandage was really gone. There was still a bandage wrapped around my head, but I could see again. The hospital room was dark and the tv was turned down to where I could barely hear it. I glanced to my left to see a woman with brown hair sleeping in the chair next to my hospital bed. There was a little bit of light coming from the hallway, but the hospital was relatively quiet.

I had no idea how much time passed whenever I slipped in and out of consciousness. Sometimes, Natalie would be sitting by my bed, other times my caseworker Karen Stevens would be present. She would always run from the room the moment my eyes would flutter open and return with a nurse a minute later. Then, Karen would hold my hand until I drifted off again. It went on like this for three weeks before I was finally able to keep my eyes open longer than a half of an hour at a time.

The headaches continued for another week before my caseworker arrived with a gift bag in her hand and a smile on her face. It was early in the morning, and I had just woken up from my usual nightmare filled sleep. Natalie had already been in to check on me before she carried on with her usual morning rounds. She would return about lunchtime to sit with me while I choked down the hospital's idea of nutritious food. Karen looked unusually happy as she sat down on the edge of my bed.

"I've got some good news for you, Zachary." She said rather happily. I couldn't help but grin at her.

"What is it?" I asked quietly.

"I found a family that wants to take you in," she told me as she grinned from ear to ear. I couldn't share in her enthusiasm though. Deep inside, I was terrified of the family that supposedly wanted a basket case like me. Karen noticed the change in my demeanor immediately and placed the palm of her hand on my chest. "They're good people, Zachary. You have nothing to fear from them. Actually, you've already met the wife multiple times. The husband has only been able to catch you when you were sleeping, which I'm told is going to change today if you say yes. You would be their first foster child, and it's my understanding that you're the reason they even want to be foster parents, Zach."

"Who are they?"

Karen smiled and turned towards the door.

"You can come in now," my caseworker said towards the open door before she smiled at me again. "You're going to love these people, Zach. I promise."

I frowned but glanced towards the door as Natalie entered with a tall brown-haired man beside her. Natalie and the man were both smiling at me, but I couldn't help feeling confused.

"I don't understand," I said sadly. Natalie came around to the side of my bed and took my hand in her own.

"Zachary, this is my husband Greg." The nurse introduced us in a soft voice. "We want you to come live with us until you're able to find your forever home."

"What if I don't find..."

"Then, you'll be a permanent part of our family, Zachary." Greg interrupted me in a soft baritone voice. He had wire framed glasses perched on his nose that made him look even more handsome than most of the people that didn't wear them. "We're not bringing you into our home just to pass you off to the first person that comes along, buddy. I swear to you that we will both protect you from harm, and we will always be there when you need someone to talk to. We want you to be in our lives."

"Even though I'm broken?" I couldn't stop myself from crying as the question left my lips. The man's smile broke and he looked sad as he gazed down at me. I tensed as Greg slipped his arms around me and hugged me tightly.

"You're far from being broken in my eyes, Zachary." He whispered in my ear as I struggled to cope with the affection that he was showing me. The men in my life didn't hug me. They only beat me... Constantly... Greg eased me back on the pillow and leaned back. "What do you say, buddy? Do you want to come live with us?"

Natalie and Greg appeared to be honest and upfront with me as I gazed at both of them for a moment. Karen stood out of the way with a slight smile on her face. She nodded towards Natalie when she saw me looking at her. My caseworker appeared to be fully supportive of the situation, so I finally nodded hesitantly.

"Okay," I said nervously. I felt my entire body tremble with fear as I thought about the major decision I had just made that would affect the rest of my life.

Natalie and Greg both smiled with joy and took turns hugging me tightly. I broke down crying again as I enjoyed the attention from both of them. Natalie excused herself so she could get back to making her rounds while Greg made himself comfortable in the chair next to my bed. Karen cleared her throat and stepped back over to the edge of the bed and held up the giftbag that she was holding.

"I've got a present for you, Zachary." My case worker said as she set the giftbag beside me. "It's nothing major, so don't freak out on me, okay?"

I nodded and forced myself to smile as I pulled the tissue paper out of the bag. Inside was a long-sleeved blue polo shirt with a white t-shirt to wear beneath it. There was also a pair of jeans with a pack of underwear and socks. I held up the shirt and smiled as I felt the soft fabric beneath my fingertips. The tag was still attached to the shirt, so I knew that my new clothes weren't just hand-me-downs from another orphan.

"Thank you, Miss Stevens." I told her honestly as I folded the shirt and put it back in the bag.

"You're very welcome, Zachary." Karen replied as she hugged me tightly. "Now, I need to get back to work, so I will stop in and see you tomorrow before the doctors release you. Okay?"

"I'm going home tomorrow?" I asked excitedly before I realized that I had just called Greg and Natalie's house my home. I glanced over at Greg sheepishly, but he just smiled at me.

"It will be your home for as long as you need it, Zachary." Greg reassured me and I blushed. Then, Greg settled back into his chair and propped his feet up on the edge of my bed making me giggle. "Now, is there anything good to watch at this hour?"

"You don't have to get to work?" I asked nervously.

"Nope," Greg replied with a smile. "I took the day off so that I could get to know you, buddy."

"Really?" I was certain that he was playing a trick on me. Nobody ever wanted to spend time with me. Not since my grandparents passed away, at least. I felt the familiar lump forming in my throat as I realized how happy his one little comment had made me. "You really want to spend the day with me?"

"Yup," Greg replied. "I took tomorrow off as well, so I could make sure that you get settled in okay. My goal is to make you feel like a part of the family, buddy."

I smiled as a tear fell down my cheek.

"Those better not be tears of sadness," Greg chided me playfully.

"They're not," I said with a nervous grin. "I'm happy."

"That makes me very happy to hear, Zachary." Greg replied before he went back to searching for something for us to watch together.