"You can wear my clothes tomorrow, Zyan," Kyan told me with a giggle after I had asked him his opinion on what I should bring along. "I have more than enough for both of us."
I blushed shyly and nodded. Kyan suddenly hugged me tightly.
"Sorry," he said softly. "I didn't mean to make it sound like I was making fun of you, Zyan. You can bring your own stuff if you want. . ."
"It's okay," I said just as softly. "I'm still not used to having a twin, yet."
Kyan grinned widely.
"Is that why you call me the 'other me'?" My brother asked.
"I. . . Ummm. . ."
"It's alright, baby brother." He said, still smiling at me. "You'll figure out how our connection works the more we're together."
I giggled at his statement and shook my head.
"I at least need to grab my pillow," I said as I stepped over to the bed.
While I was getting my pillow, I also grabbed the teddy bear that Greg had gotten me a few weeks ago and stuffed it into my backpack along with my pillow and a book. I glanced up as I heard Kyan giggle again.
"Do you take your book everywhere?"
"Yeah. Why?" I asked nervously as I zipped up my bag. "It's my favorite."
"Dad loves to talk about his stories," Kyan said as we walked downstairs together. "He's written "The Touch" and a vampire story, too. He keeps saying he has tons of ideas for more stories. If you ever see dad working on his laptop and you want his attention, just go over and ask him what he's working on. He'll be putty in your hands if you bat those baby blues of yours at him."
"Are you trying to teach your brother how to work over your parents, Kyan?" Uncle Geoff asked as he came down the stairs right behind us. Kyan blushed profusely and began to stammer out excuses until Geoff started laughing at my brother and ruffled his blonde hair. "Good job, Kyan. I expect him to have them wrapped around his finger by the time I get back from my business trip."
"Aren't you coming to the party?" I asked.
Geoff grinned at both of us as he nodded.
"Gavin and Toby are riding with me," he said. "I'm not going to be staying the entire time, though. I have a plane to catch this evening."
"Where are you going?" Kyan asked curiously.
"I have a business meeting in California that's going to bore me to tears," Geoff explained with a wry chuckle. "I'd be more than willing to let you take my place, Kyan."
"That's a hard no from me, Uncle Geoff." Kyan said with a giggle. I was surprised by Kyan's use of the word "Uncle", but Geoff didn't seem to mind. "Maybe next time."
Geoff laughed and patted Kyan's shoulder.
"I'm going to hold you to that, Kyan." The man warned my brother with a grin.
Kyan just giggled.
"Are you guys about ready to go?" Greg asked as he reached over and took my backpack from me. "I'll put this in the trunk for you, buddy."
"Thanks, Greg." I said with a smile.
"You're taking Toby and Gavin, right?" Greg asked as he led the way out to the cars with Geoff. Kyan and I fell in behind the two men.
"Yep," Geoff replied. "Just don't forget about them, later."
"As long as Nat remembers, I'll remember." Greg said with a grin.
Geoff just laughed and shook his head.
"Come on, Toby!" Uncle Geoff called out towards the house. "Let's go, Gavin!"
A moment later, Gavin came out of the house with Toby in his arms. Natalie followed the two with a grin on her face as she locked up the house.
"You better give me a hug, boys." Natalie chided them as they ran towards the Mustang together. Gavin quickly turned and let Toby down with a laugh.
"Sorry, Aunt Nat." Gavin said with a sheepish grin. "It's not like it's going to be for very long."
"It doesn't matter," Natalie said as she hugged both of them. "I want a hug."
Toby giggled before he ran over to Greg and hugged him tightly, too.
"See you soon, daddy." Toby said with a smile before he followed Gavin to Uncle Geoff's car.
I slid into the back of Greg's car with Kyan, while Natalie sat in the front with Greg.
"Did you hear him call me daddy?" Greg asked Natalie with a wide smile as he fastened his seatbelt.
"He's already got you wrapped around his little finger," Natalie laughed.
"Just imagine how he's going to react when we tell him we want to adopt him," Greg added with a chuckle.
It was only a few minutes later before we were on the road with Geoff following behind us. Kyan filled the time talking to Natalie and telling her everything about himself. I made sure I paid close attention while he revealed little things like his favorite color, or his favorite type of food.
It's lasagna, by the way. Just like myself. And his favorite color is blue, too. That's not pertinent to the story, just so you know. It was just some of the things I learned about my brother during our little journey. We were only a few miles from the house when the phone began to ring over the car's speakers.
"I bet you five bucks it's mom, Zyan!" Kyan said with a giggle.
I giggled as Greg hit the button on the steering wheel to answer the call.
"Hello?" Greg called out as the music we had been listening to paused itself.
"Hey, Greg. It's Lauren."
Kyan burst into a fit of giggles beside me as I shook my head.
"Hey, Lauren." Greg greeted my mother. "We just left the house about ten minutes ago."
"That's not why I'm calling, actually." My mother interrupted Greg with a slight laugh. "You can tell Kyan to stop laughing, because he's wrong, too."
This only made Kyan laugh harder.
"What's up, Lauren?" Natalie asked with a smile as she reached back to swat Kyan's knee playfully.
"I was hoping you might be able to stop at the store and grab like four cases of bottled water for me, Natalie?" My mother asked. "Apparently, my caterer doesn't believe in being prepared like she's paid to be."
Natalie and Greg both laughed as I personally tried to figure out just how many people were going to be at my parents' house.
"It's not a problem at all, Lauren." Natalie replied, happily. "As soon as we find a store, we'll stop and grab the water. Is there anything else that you need us to grab?"
"As long as you've got the boys, everything else is good." My mother said happily.
"Well, we've obviously got the giggle box named Kyan, but I don't know who this other boy we picked up is." Greg teased my mother. "He says he belongs to you, though."
"Hey!" I said with whine.
Greg and my mother laughed. Kyan reached over and squeezed my hand with a grin on his face.
"There's a store, Greg." Natalie said as she pointed out the window. "Are you sure water is all you need, Lauren?"
"Yes, dear." My mother said. "David can pay you guys back when you get here."
"That won't be necessary, Lauren." Natalie stated. "We'll see you in a little bit."
"Everybody is starting to show up," my mother added quickly. "So, don't take too long, guys."
"We won't, Lauren." Greg said with a chuckle.
"I love you, mom." I called out suddenly before I felt my cheeks flush red in embarrassment. Kyan reached over and squeezed my hand again.
"I love you too, Zyan." She replied before the call came to an end.
Natalie turned around and squeezed my knee affectionately.
"You really have changed, Zyan." My foster mother complimented me. "I'm very proud of how you've been handling everything."
"Thanks, Natalie." I said with a slight smile.
After we stopped at the store, it was only a fifteen-minute car ride to my mom and dad's house. Kyan spent the time telling me about his different friends.
"Casey's a chatterbox," Kyan was saying as I listened to the music playing softly over the sound system. "She's my best friend, though. I was texting her yesterday when we found you in Greg's office. Her boyfriend Tatum is kind of obnoxious, but his cousin is cool. Heath is quiet like you are."
I just smiled and listened as Kyan rattled on, not really expecting to meet any of these people very soon. I should have known that I was completely wrong. . .
Greg pulled into a driveway and stopped just outside of a closed gate. A man dressed in tan khakis and a black polo shirt stepped out from a tan brick building built to the left side of the gated driveway. There was a large window with a door facing the driveway, and I could see someone else moving around in the small building. The man carried a clipboard and pushed his dark sunglasses up onto the top of his head as he approached Greg's door.
"Good morning," the man greeted us politely. "Can I have your names, please?"
"Greg and Natalie Harris," Greg replied.
Kyan suddenly leaned into the front seat and looked at the security guard.
"Hey, Steve!" The man glanced in surprise at my brother.
"Hey, Kyan." The man returned with a polite nod. "I didn't know that you weren't home."
"It happens once in a while," Kyan said with a shrug.
The man glanced at the back window of the car before he checked his clipboard again. I giggled quietly as the man did a doubletake. He looked at Kyan in confusion before he looked back at me.
"I got a clone," Kyan said with a giggle. "Can you open the gate now?"
"My bad, sir." The guard replied with a confused chuckle. He motioned towards the guard shack and the gate started to slowly open. "Mr. Montgomery has made a spot for you to park in front of the garage, Mr. Harris. Enjoy the party."
"Thanks, Steve!" Kyan said with a grin as Greg pulled through the gate.
I glanced out the back window long enough to see Geoff's rental car pull up to the gate behind us. I gasped when I turned back around and saw all of the evergreen trees lining both sides of the long driveway. Kyan giggled at my expression, but I ignored him. Greg had to move to the left as cars were lining the right side of the driveway. The trees ended around the edge of the driveway, and I stared in awe as a massive three-story house came into view. The house was the same tan color as the guard shack, and there was a gazebo surrounded by small trees and flowers almost directly in front of the house. The driveway circled around the gazebo before part of it went around the left side of the house where Greg parked his car in front of one of the open garage doors. A tall privacy fence extended off the side of the house and ran down into more trees where I couldn't see it anymore. Kyan practically leapt from the car with a huge grin on his face.
My ears were suddenly assaulted with the loud sound of music coming from behind the house, and I couldn't help but flinch at the sound of it. Natalie saw my reaction and patted my knee gently as Greg got out and walked around to the back of the car.
"Are you okay?"
"I thought you guys said it was going to be a small party." I said with a slight grimace.
"Just relax, Zyan." Natalie said with that reassuring smile of hers. "I'm sure your parents idea of a small party won't be that extravagant. They probably just had a few friends over for Kyan's birthday party."
I sighed and nodded; hoping that she was right.
"Come on, buddy." My foster-mom said with a grin. "I'm sure your mom is losing her mind waiting on you. She's got a lot of time to make up for."
I couldn't help but smile as I climbed out of the backseat and went to the trunk of the car to grab my backpack.
"Kyan already took it inside, buddy." Greg told me with a brief grin. "I think he said something about putting it in your bedroom. . ."
"Oh," I said. "Where is my bedroom?"
"I have no idea, Zyan." My foster-dad said. "Can you carry this, please?"
I nodded as Greg handed me a small grocery bag that had two or three bags of snacks in it.
"What are these for?"
"Your mom asked us to bring a couple snacks along that you like," Greg explained as he pulled out the four cases of water from the trunk and stacked them next to the car. "She was worried that she wouldn't have anything that you liked."
"Oh," I said before I took another glance in the bag. There were two bags of chewy fruit snacks, and one bag of cheese puffs. I smiled and hugged Greg's leg before Toby, Gavin, and Uncle Geoff joined us.
"Wow, Zyan." Gavin said in awe. "This place is friggin' huge, dude!"
I smiled as Natalie joined us.
"Here comes your dad and brother, Zyan." Natalie said, making me glance towards the garage. I couldn't help but smile when I saw my dad.
"Hey, guys." He greeted everyone with a grin. "Make yourselves at home while you're here. The lunch buffet is being served now if you're hungry."
"Starving!" Toby proclaimed with a giggle.
"You're always starving," Gavin and I said at the same time, making both of us break out into giggles.
Greg, Geoff, and my dad each grabbed the water, and I fell in behind them as my dad led us towards a door inside the garage.
"We can put these in the kitchen, Greg." My dad was saying as he disappeared into the house.
My brother flew past me, and I found myself stopping once I was inside a narrow laundry room. There was a washer and dryer to my left with shelves above them, and there were cabinets built into the wall to the right. Just ahead of me was the closed door that everybody else had stepped through. I was beginning to have doubts again as I stared at the door. My hand was trembling, and no matter how hard I tried to force myself to reach for the doorknob, I couldn't make my hand move. I nearly screamed when someone grabbed my shoulder.
"Shh, little one." Natalie said soothingly. She knelt beside me and brushed her thumb against my cheek. "Are you okay, Zyan?"
"I. . . I. . . I don't know. . ."
Natalie hugged me tightly.
"It'll be okay, Zyan. I promise," she reassured me as she rubbed my back gently. "Just remember to breathe. Okay?"
The door opened before I had a chance to respond, and my father entered with a worried look on his face. He pushed the door back shut behind him as he saw Natalie holding me.
"Is everything okay?"
"He just needs to take a few breaths, David." Natalie informed my father with a patient smile.
My father smiled before he knelt in front of me and held his arms out to me.
"I'll do whatever it takes to make you feel comfortable here, baby boy." He said softly before I stepped forward and fell into his arms.
"Don't let go," I whispered, making my dad and Natalie laugh.
"Come on, buddy." My father said as he stood with me in his arms. "Your mother has been going crazy waiting for you to get here."
I laid my head against my father's shoulder and sighed deeply as he carried me from the laundry room with Natalie beside us. The kitchen was noisy with conversation, but it all dropped off the moment my father entered the room with me in his arms. My father chuckled lightly. I held on to him tightly as I felt everybody's attention turn to my dad. I turned my head slightly and saw my mother leaning up against the counter talking a dark-haired woman beside her. My mother smiled when she saw me, and quickly came over to where my father was standing with me.
"I believe the guest of honor has finally arrived," my mother said before she kissed my cheek. I blushed as I heard several people laugh quietly. "The buffet has been finished if everybody would be willing to go outside. . . We'll make introductions during dinner."
My dad kissed the top of my head as my mother herded everyone out the backdoor. When it was just the three of us still inside, my mother turned towards my father and held her hands out. I quickly leaned into her and let her hold me for a moment.
"I could get used to this," my mother said softly as she breathed in deeply. "You smell like strawberries, baby boy."
"You smell like flowers," I said softly as I nuzzled into her neck.
I sniffled slightly as a few tears fell down my cheeks, but I didn't lose the delicate grip that I had on my emotions.
"I'm happy too, baby boy." My mother said with a soft sigh. "I could barely sleep last night."
"Let's go ahead and get the introductions out of the way, Lauren." My father suggested. "That way we can spend some time with our son."
"I agree," my mother said lightly. "Zyan, in a few minutes, your father and I are going to introduce you to everyone." I felt myself freeze up. "I know it seems scary, baby, but you don't have to worry about anything. Your father and I will do all of the talking. All you have to do is be your beautiful self. Okay?"
I nodded hesitantly before my mother kissed my cheek and handed me back to my dad.
"Just breathe, Zyan." My father said as I nuzzled into his neck and held onto him tightly.
"I'll try," I whispered as I felt him start to walk towards the backdoor.
My mother didn't open the door until the music stopped for a moment, and when she did, the backyard fell silent. My mother held the door as my father stepped through and started walking towards a stage that had been set up on the other side of the yard. There was a small area in front of the stage that was being used for a dance floor with tables surrounding it. I glanced to my left to see five long tables filled with food on the patio. My father chuckled as the sound of my stomach growling reached his ears.
"We'll be quick, buddy." He reassured me. "I promise."
I began to tremble slightly when I felt my father climb the steps to the stage where a band was playing. My mother and father stood off to the side as the group finished off their song. As the last chords of the song echoed across the yard, I heard a deep voice come across the speakers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Lauren and David Montgomery!"
Several people cheered loudly, and I cringed as my father patted my back and stepped up to the microphone.
"Thank you," I heard my father say over my shoulder. "Good afternoon, everyone. First, I would like to say thank you to everyone that is here for Kyan's birthday party." There were thunderous cheers directed towards the stage as my father paused. I felt my entire body tense at the sound, but my father rubbed my back until they stopped. "As some of you may know, Kyan and I were out of town on business last week. Business for me, that is." My father chuckled. "Kyan was lucky enough to spend the time being driven around to wherever he wanted. We only just got back in town yesterday, and I needed to stop by my lawyer's office to go over a new contract with him. Needless to say, Kyan and I both got the surprise of our life when we walked into Greg Harris's office, and found ourselves face to face with Kyan's identical twin." There were gasps of disbelief and shock from the audience. "Many of you know about our missing child. We haven't really been secretive about it. Not having Zyan with us this past decade has changed everything about our family. It broke us. So, it's time for me to announce that our family is whole again! Ladies and gentlemen, friends and family; Lauren and I would like to reintroduce everyone to our other son, Zyan Montgomery!"
I felt my father step back from the microphone as everyone in the yard erupted into loud cheers. My mother and father convinced me to glance up long enough to look at both of them. My father's green eyes were filled with tears, as were my mother's eyes. I saw the crowd of partygoers watching us as they continued to applaud and cheer. Kyan was standing in the front row with a huge smile on his face. I felt tears begin to fall down my cheeks before I quickly buried my face back into my father's neck. He laughed lightly as he stepped back up to the microphone.
"He's definitely the shy one of the group." My dad said, causing several people to laugh. "Zyan has been living the past six months as the foster-son of my lawyer and his lovely wife Natalie. We could have had him back sooner in our lives if I had ever shown Greg a picture of my family. Ten years is a long time for a family to be separated from each other, but all of you have stood by us during our darkest years; the years when we thought there was no other choice but to give up. I can't thank you enough for your support, but I can ask you to celebrate this reunion with me and my family."
"I love you, daddy." I whispered as everyone started applauding again.
"I love you too, Zyan." My father said with a sniffle as he held me tighter. I heard his voice echo over the yard, but it didn't bother me to hear people responding to his comment with sounds of adoration. "I'm never going to get enough of this."
There were a few more laughs as my mom and dad moved back towards the stairs. The music took on a softer tone as my father carried me back towards the house. We were stopped multiple times by people congratulating my parents, but I refused to look up at any of them. My dad was in the middle of being stopped by a state Senator when I realized I needed to use the bathroom.
"Dad," I whispered loud enough for only him to hear.
"What's up, buddy?" He turned his head slightly as he broke off the conversation.
"I'm sorry," I said softly. "I. . . I need to. . ."
"Gotcha," my father said, effectively cutting me off. He turned his attention back to the gray-haired man. "Sorry, Senator Ross. Would you mind excusing us? I need to get Zyan inside for a moment."
"Go, man." The Senator urged with a chuckle. "Go take care of your son, David. We'll have time to talk next week."
"Thanks," my father said as he dutifully carried me away. He hugged me tight and kissed my cheek as he navigated his way towards the backdoor. "You're handling this better than I thought you would, Zyan."
"I'm barely hanging on," I replied in a whisper. "There's a lot of people."
"Your mother added a ton of people to the guest list at the last minute, Zyan." My father told me. Once we were inside, he carried me up a set of stairs that led from the kitchen. "You can use the bathroom upstairs, so you don't have to worry about anyone bothering you."
"Thanks," I said softly as I turned to look at the hallway we entered.
There were six doors down each side of the dark blue hallway. Several pictures decorated the spaces between the doors, as well as three tables that had flowerpots on them. At the far end of the hallway was a large window with a type of palm tree sitting in a pot in front of it. My father pushed open the second door on the left, and I found myself in a bedroom. There was a queen-sized bed sitting in the middle of the room with a large dark-brown dresser sitting on the wall opposite the bed. There were two doors on the wall to the right, but my father pointed towards the one on the right.
"That's your bathroom, Zyan." My father said with a grin. "You have to share it with Kyan, though."
"I don't mind," I said with a grin before I darted for the closed door.
There was another door on the far wall, but I didn't give it a second glance as I headed straight for the toilet. My bladder was to the point of overflowing, and I really didn't want to have any types of accidents while I was visiting my parents' house. My brother was lying on the bed while my father leaned up against the dresser with his arms crossed against his chest when I reentered the room.
"There he is," my father said with a chuckle, making Kyan sit up and look at me. "I thought you might have fallen in, Zyan."
"Not this time," I said with a soft giggle.
"This time?" Kyan asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Ask Greg," I told them both with a shrug.
Kyan just giggled before he hopped off the bed and hugged me.
"Don't worry, your room isn't going to be plain looking forever, Zyan." My brother said, leaving me completely confused. "All you have to do is discuss any changes you want to make with dad."
"Your room," Kyan said, gesturing to the room we were standing in. I glanced around the room for a moment as Kyan continued to rattle on. "We can decorate it however you want, baby brother. Dad has to make the final approval, though. You should see my room. It's just on. . ."
"This is my room?" I asked softly, making Kyan freeze mid-sentence. I glanced over at my father and he nodded. "Really?"
"Really, Zyan." My dad confirmed. "Kyan's right. You can do whatever you want with it. You just have to let me know."
"This is my room. . ."
Kyan smiled as I slowly came to grips with the idea of the room being completely my own. Even though Greg and Natalie let me decorate my bedroom at their house, it didn't ever truly feel like it belonged to me. Even with this room not even being setup the way I wanted, I still felt like it was my own. I couldn't stop the smile from spreading to my lips as a happy tear slid down my cheek. Kyan hugged me tightly.
"Welcome home, baby brother." He whispered happily.
I broke loose of my brother's hug to see Sarah standing in the doorway with a slight smile on her face.
"Yeah?" I asked quietly.
"Deedra, Sheldon, and Chad are waiting for you in the kitchen, Zyan." Sarah informed me with a grin.
I looked up at my father with a quick glance. He just smiled at me.
"Go on, Zyan." He said softly. "It's your party, too."
I smiled and nodded before Kyan pulled me from the room with a grin on his face.
"Come on," Kyan said happily.
"Zyan!" Deedra exclaimed as she ran across the room to hug me.
"Hey, Deedra." I smiled as she pulled away from me. "Thanks for coming, guys."
Sheldon and Chad both greeted my brother and I with quick hugs.
"Mrs. Grant told me to remind you about the concert tomorrow, Zyan." Chad said as he hugged me tightly. "You seem a lot happier now, by the way. You had me worried yesterday."
"Sorry," I said shyly.
"Don't be," Chad quickly told me. "You handled it better than I would have."
I couldn't help but smile at my friend's compliment before Kyan mentioned going outside.
"Do you guys want to meet my friends?" My brother asked the newcomers.
"Will we get to meet your uncle too?" Deedra asked hopefully.
"I'm positive it can be arranged, Deedra." Kyan assured her.
I was beginning to have my own panic attack though as I considered all of the people in the backyard. Chad seemed to notice my disposition, and quickly came over and put his arm across my shoulders.
"Are you okay?" He asked quietly.
"No," I told him honestly. "I can't go out there yet, Chad."
Chad nodded and was about to say something to my brother when my father spoke up behind us.
"Go ahead and go outside, Chad." He said with a gentle smile on his face. "I'd like to talk to Zyan for a few minutes, anyways."
My friend looked at me questioningly before he finally hugged me tightly again.
"I'll be okay," I told him softly.
"Okay," Chad said.
"Come on, Chad." Deedra called from the doorway. "We've got a celebrity to meet!"
"I'll see you soon, Zyan."
I watched my friends follow my brother outside before I turned to face my dad.
"Hey, bud." He said with a grin as he held out his arms to me. I quickly fell into his embrace, and let him pick me up. "Chad seems to like you a lot, Zyan."
"He's a really good friend," I said with a shrug as I laid my head on my father's shoulder.
My dad just chuckled and patted my back.
"For now, at least." He said dismissively. I couldn't really wrap my head around my own feelings at the moment, so I decided I could think about what my father had just said later. "Oh, Casey has finally decided to grace us with her presence."
"Who?" I asked before I heard the back door open.
I glanced up to see a young girl with bright red hair and emerald green eyes step into the kitchen. Her gaze immediately settled on me and she smiled almost happily.
"You must be Zyan," she stated as she crossed the room to where my father was holding me. I could only nod as she stopped just in front of us and my father set me on the floor. He kept one of his hands on my shoulder and rubbed it gently. "I'm Casey Mitchell. I'm Kyan's best friend."
"Hi," I said as I felt myself flush red.
"Kyan has told me a lot about you, Zyan." The girl prattled on as she edged closer to me. "The rest of us can't wait to get to know you. Tatum and Heath are just as excited as I was. You're definitely cuter than Kyan, though."
"That's not possible, Casey." Kyan complained from the doorway behind the girl. "We're identical."
"Not completely, Kyan." Casey said without taking her eyes off of me. "Zyan isn't nearly as tan as you are, for one. Second, his hair is longer. Umm," she broke off as she seemed to study me closely. "I think Zyan has a tiny scar just below his eyebrow."
I felt myself tense up immediately. My father must have felt it too, because he suddenly started rubbing my shoulder faster. Casey noticed the change in my demeanor and quickly hugged me.
"It's only noticeable if you're looking for it, Zyan." Casey told me. "I had to really look for it!"
I forced myself to relax because I knew she was right. Even I had to struggle to see the scar that Casey was talking about.
"Come on," Casey said as she grabbed my hand. "There's a bunch of people I want you to meet!"
Before I knew what was happening, Casey was pulling me along behind her back out into the yard. I didn't even have time to register a complaint before we were standing in front of two boys. One was slightly taller than I was, with jet black hair and blue eyes that seemed to pierce into your very being. The other boy had brown hair with brown eyes that looked like they had flakes of gold around the edges of them. It was him that Casey led me to first.
"Kyan, why did you change your clothes?" The brown-haired boy asked in confusion as he glanced between Casey and myself. Then, his eyes widened in shock as Casey started giggling. "Wait a second. . ."
"Geez, Tatum." Casey continued giggling. "Don't you recognize your best friend?"
I couldn't help but giggle as Tatum rolled his eyes at the red head beside me.
"Hi, Zyan." Tatum said with a smile as he held out his hand to me. "I'm Tatum. You've obviously met my nutty girlfriend already."
"Hey!" Casey whined plaintively. "I thought you loved me like this?"
"More than life, babe." Tatum said making the black haired boy giggle.
I glanced into his blue eyes and found myself getting lost again.
"Zyan, this is Tatum's cousin Heath Warrick." Casey said, the sound of her voice making me realize that I was staring at the poor kid. I immediately dropped my gaze as I felt my heart beginning to race in my chest. Casey quickly pulled me into her side. "Heath, this is Kyan's little brother. They just found him yesterday!"
"It's nice to meet you, Zyan." Heath said as he too shook my hand.
I stared into his eyes until Heath giggled lightly. Then, I quickly pulled my hand back and glanced at Casey as I mumbled an apology.
"We'll see you guys, later!" Casey called as she pulled me along behind her.
All I could think about was Heath's blue eyes as my new friend zigzagged through the crowd of people. She would stop long enough to introduce me to various people, but she generally kept me flitting around the yard like I was her shiny toy to show off. I was on the verge of asking her to stop and give me a break, when I found myself standing in front of a man that looked like a slightly older version of my own father.
"This is your Uncle Derek, Zyan." Casey said softly. "I'll be right back. I have to go get Deedra."
I heard the man chuckle in a low voice as he reached down and scooped me onto his lap.
"She doesn't know that your friend Deedra has already spent most of the party gushing over the fact that you and I are related." My uncle said in an amused voice. "I'm used to it, though. It happens everywhere I go, it seems."
"What do you do?" I asked in confusion. "Are you the actor that Deedra was excited about meeting yesterday?"
"In the flesh," he replied with a nod.
"But, you don't look like you're anybody important." I said as I glanced at the man. He was wearing a gray t-shirt with tan cargo shorts. As he began to chuckle, I realized what I had said and began to tremble and blush. "Sorry. I didn't mean it like that, Uncle Derek."
I went to slide off of his lap, but Derek wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly against his chest.
"You can't run away that quickly after a jab to my ego like that, little one." He said, still laughing.
"What's wrong with Zyan, Uncle Derek?" I glanced up to see my sister looking down at me with concern in her eyes. "He looks terrified."
I was trying desperately to keep myself from trembling, but my emotions gave way and I felt a tear slide down my cheek. I felt my uncle shift slightly before he hugged me even tighter.
"Oh man, Zyan." He said softly. "I'm sorry, bud. I'm not mad at you for anything. I thought it was really funny."
"What did he say?" Sarah asked as she sat down beside us.
My uncle began to laugh again as he rubbed my back.
"He said that I don't look like anybody important," Uncle Derek stated with a smile.
Sarah immediately busted out laughing.
"I bet it's a refreshing change of pace, Uncle Derek." My sister said in a fit of giggles. "Somebody that isn't fawning over you all of the time!"
My uncle laughed again as he hugged me.
"You have no idea, Sarah."
"Hey, guys." I glanced up to see my father looking at me. "Do you mind if I steal this little one from you? He looks like he's in need of a break, and I don't think Casey even considered swinging by the buffet tables during 'the tour'."
My stomach growled loud enough for the three of them to hear, making me blush profusely.
"I guess that answers that question," my father said with a grin.
"One more hug, really quick." Uncle Derek said as he pulled me in against him and kissed my cheek. "I'm glad you're back, Zyan. Our family wasn't the same without you."
"Thanks, Uncle Derek." I whispered softly.
I sat between my mother and father at one of the long tables set up in the backyard where everyone was eating and hanging out. The band played softly from the background, and I couldn't help but smile as I glanced at my family sitting around me. Kyan was across from me, with Gavin and Toby to his left. Sarah sat to his right, with our Aunt Abby and Uncle Derek beside her. Natalie and Greg sat to my dad's left, while all of my friends sat to my mother's right and filled that end of the table. Yesterday, I was a foster-kid without any hope of find my family. Now, I'm surrounded by nothing but my family.
"Are you okay, Zyan?" My father asked only loud enough for me to hear.
"I think so," I said softly.
"Just let me know if you need a break," my father instructed. "Okay?"
I nodded in acknowledgement as I continued to eat and listen to the other conversations going on around me. There was one conversation that drew my attention though, and it was coming from Natalie and my mother.
"Have you given anymore thought to the idea of a service animal, Lauren?" I heard Natalie ask quietly.
"I have, Natalie." My mother replied quietly. "How does it work, though?"
"The animal will be trained to recognize whenever one of his attacks are going to occur, and then the animal will help him pull through it." Natalie said in explanation. "If he's unable to pull through it on his own, the animal will be trained to come get someone else to help."
I saw my mother nod as she listened to Natalie. Then, as I listened to them discuss the different types of emotions the service animal would be able to help with, it clicked in my head that the only reason they needed to even consider the idea was because I was broken.
'You're such a disappointment, Zachary.' The monster's words flared in my mind. Easily pushing me into my own self-pity. All I could do was sit there as they continued to discuss how to handle my mental state. 'You're fucking worthless. You don't deserve to be loved! You're only good for one thing, Zachary!'
The monster's words repeated over and over again, leaving me helpless as they broke down my current mental state. The darkness began to fill the edges of my vision, and I didn't even notice when everything began to spin around me.
"I think he's coming around," I heard my father say. I could tell I was being held, but I didn't know where I was yet. "Just breathe, Zyan. You're safe now, buddy."
I struggled against the mental fog that held me down until I was able to wake myself up. I felt myself shake as I opened my eyes and saw my father smiling down at me. He rubbed his thumb across my cheek gently before he pulled me into a hug.
"I'm sorry, daddy." I said with a sniffle.
"There's absolutely nothing to be sorry for, baby boy." My father reassured me before my mother pulled me onto her lap and wrapped me in her arms.
"We'll love you no matter what," my mother added as she kissed my cheek. "What brought this on, baby boy?"
I couldn't stop myself from flushing red as I buried my face in my mother's blouse. My senses were instantly filled with her flowery scent.
"He thinks he's worthless!" Kyan spat angrily. I cringed at the fury in the tone of his voice. "He thinks he's nothing but a disappointment. . ."
"What?" I heard my mother gasp in disbelief. She immediately pulled me tighter against her. "I would never consider you worthless or a disappointment, Zyan!" I could hear the tremor in her voice as she spoke to me. "Nobody thinks that about you."
"The monster does," I said softly. Not even sure why I said his name.
My mother leaned back and looked at me in confusion.
I nodded sadly and sniffled. Any moment now they were going to tell me the monster was right. I was certain they could see the truth if they just looked at how broken I was.
"Lauren," my father gasped slightly before I felt the back of my shirt being lifted up.
I immediately panicked, and tried to reach back to pull my shirt down before my family saw my scars. My mother pulled me towards herself as my father grabbed my hands to stop me.
"Holy shit," Kyan muttered in disbelief.
"Come on, Kyan." I heard Greg say from somewhere out of my sight.
"But," my brother started to protest.
"We'll talk outside, Kyan." Greg said firmly.
I heard a muted response shortly before the backdoor opened and closed again. My father pulled me into his lap and hugged me for a moment.
"I need to take your shirt off for a moment, Zyan." My father said quietly. I could hear the fury in his voice, but something told me that it wasn't directed at me. I couldn't help but freeze as my father grabbed the hem of my shirt. "Natalie?"
Then, my foster-mom was squatting beside me with a gentle smile on her face as she brushed a tear from my cheek. I didn't even notice that I had been crying this entire time.
"Relax, Zyan." Natalie told me. "Take a few deep breaths for me. Your mother and father aren't going to judge you. They only want to make sure that you're okay."
I nodded meekly before I let my shirt be pulled up and over my head. I cringed as my mother and father both gasped in disbelief.
"Who could ever do something like this?" My mother's voice was shaking as she spoke. Her hand trembled as she and my father traced the scars across my torso. "My poor baby."
Then, my mother and father hugged me between them with sniffles of their own.
"We'll never let anybody hurt you again, Zyan." My father almost growled. "I swear to it, baby boy."
"Don't ever be ashamed of your scars, baby boy." My mother said softly. "They prove that you're a survivor!"
My parents continued to hug me between them for several minutes before they finally pulled apart. My father slipped the shirt back over my body before he pulled me to where I was leaning back into his chest.
"So," my mother said as she glanced towards Natalie. "Is this the kind of stuff that a therapy animal would help with?"
"Hopefully," Natalie replied with a slight smile as she looked at me. "It'll help Zyan at least be able to recognize when his emotions are beginning to spiral."
"I'm broken," I said in a low whisper.
"We love you anyways, Zyan." My father said before he kissed the top of my head. "It just makes you even more special than what you already are."
Once the discussion about my emptions had died down, my father asked me if I was still hungry. My stomach growled in response, making everyone laugh at the noise. My father stood up and held me in his arms as my mother and Natalie headed for the backdoor.
Kyan refused to leave my side once dinner was over, effectively keeping all of our friends close to us. We sat in a small circle near the stage as the music continued to play around us. Deedra and Casey perched themselves on either side of me, while Sheldon sat with Tatum, Heath, Chad, and Gavin. Toby was currently being carried around by Greg, as the boy had started to fall asleep shortly after he ate. Kyan sat on the other side of Casey, but angled himself so he was constantly able to look at me.
"Do you guys care if I steal Zyan for a few minutes?" Sarah asked as she joined us.
I nodded nervously before I stood up and took Sarah's hand.
"We'll be right back, Kyan." Sarah said to our brother when she saw him starting to stand up. "I'm going to give Zyan the 'things' we discussed earlier."
I looked at Sarah in confusion, but Kyan nodded his head and resumed his seat.
"Thing?" I asked as Sarah led me towards the house.
"What?" Sarah asked mischievously. "Can't I give my little brother a birthday present?"
"When did you have time to get me anything?" I asked quietly. "You didn't even know I was going to be here until last night."
Sarah giggled before she scooped me up into her arms.
"Zyan," she said with a smug grin. "I've been buying you a birthday present every year for the past decade just in case you came back to us."
"Yes, really." Sarah replied. "Trust me, we've never given up that you would make it back home, baby brother."
I sniffled softly and hugged Sarah.
My sister unceremoniously dropped me on her bed, making me giggle as she stepped over to her closet.
"Now," she began as she pulled out two green totes from her closet and stacked them on top of each other in the middle of her room. "Do you want to start with the oldest present first, or the newest?"
"You kept all of them?"
"Of course I did, silly." Sarah said with a giggle as she ruffled my hair. "I know that you're probably too old for a lot of these, but I just wanted you to know that I've never stopped thinking about you. Now, back to my question; oldest or newest?"
"Oldest," I said hesitantly.
Sarah smiled as she pulled the lid off of one of the plastic totes and handed me a small wrapped object. The box was just barely larger than my hands, and it was wrapped in a blue-shiny paper with a white ribbon.
"Open it," Sarah said excitedly.
I grinned and pulled the ribbon off before I tore the paper open. The box inside looked like a child had colored all over it, and I glanced at the decoration before I looked up at Sarah.
"I was six," Sarah said with a roll of her eyes. "It's not like I was an artist at the time."
I giggled before I opened up the box inside and pulled out a small brown teddy bear. It was small enough to fit in my hand, and it had tiny black eyes that reflected the light from her bedside lamp. I felt a tear roll down my cheek as I stared at the tiny creation. Then, Sarah was pulling me into her arms and wiped the tear away with her thumb before she kissed my cheek.
"You're not supposed to cry, Zyan." Sarah said softly.
"I'm happy," I told her as a warm feeling began to spread throughout my chest. "Sorry. I'm not meaning to cry."
"Shh," she told me quickly. "There's no need to explain, baby brother. I think I understand. Would you like to see what else I got you, or would you rather wait until everybody leaves?"
"Can we keep going?" I asked hesitantly.
"Absolutely," Sarah said with a grin before she handed me the next present.
Sarah and I rejoined the party within an hour and Casey was quick to find me. Casey grabbed my hand, and quickly pulled me along behind her as I tried to keep up. Casey didn't stop until I was once again situated with my group of friends. Deedra was to my right and Sheldon was to my left. Both of the girls spent the better part of twenty minutes telling me about their plans for the summer. Deedra was planning on going to Hawaii with her parents for a week while Casey would be spending a week at summer camp. I know I had asked Greg before if we could go camping, but that was before my real family was brought into the picture. As I sat there listening to the different conversations going on around me, it made me wonder what the summer could possibly have in store for me. I had a family now, even though we hadn't been able to get to know each other just yet, I wanted to be a part of them. I longed to be accepted. I needed it. . .
Kyan, Heath, Tatum, Chad, and Sheldon were discussing their own plans, while also trying to figure out if they could all get together to go to the local amusement park once or twice during our break from school. Tatum and Sheldon were adamant that if they got enough people interested in going, then they just might be able to get a group discount which would lower their ticket prices even more. Casey and Deedra kept me entertained until one by one, my friends started leaving for the night. At first I was disappointed, but Deedra and Sheldon promised that they would come see me at the concert that was planned at my old school for the next day. Chad hugged me tightly before he kissed my cheek, my face flushing red almost instantly from the contact.
"See you tomorrow, Zyan." Chad told me with a grin.
The next to leave were Greg and Natalie. Greg had a sleeping Toby in his arms when he came to gather up his nephew Gavin from where he was talking with Sarah and her friends. I felt weird with Greg and Natalie leaving, and as Gavin hugged me tightly, it took everything I had not to beg them to take me along. Natalie must have noticed my expression as she embraced me.
"Don't worry, Zyan." Natalie whispered in my ear. "You have all week to get used to this. From the way Kyan is watching you, I don't think you have to worry about being left alone, either. You're safe here, baby boy."
"What about Toby?" I asked nervously as I glanced over at the sleeping boy in Greg's arms.
"Toby will be fine, Zyan." Natalie told me with a grin. "He's already talking about getting us to foster another boy so he can have a brother."
I sniffled lightly at Natalie's words.
"And you'll be at the concert tomorrow?"
"We wouldn't miss it for the world, Zyan." Natalie said as she kissed my cheek. "I promise."
I nodded silently as I fought off the tears that I could feel struggling to break their way free. Then, I felt Kyan slip his arm around my waist and pull me into his side.
"He'll be okay, Natalie." Kyan promised my foster-mom. "I'll take care of him."
"You better, Kyan Montgomery." Natalie warned my brother with a grin. "If I find one hair out of place, I'm holding you personally responsible."
"Yes, Natalie." Kyan replied with a giggle as Natalie ruffled his hair with her fingers.
"Remember, Zyan." Natalie said as she put her hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. "You don't need to bring anything back to the house with you. You have plenty at the house to make it through this week without any issues regarding clothing."
"Yes, ma'am." I said meekly before I threw myself into her arms for one last hug. "I love you, Natalie."
"I love you too, sweetheart."
"See you tomorrow, Zyan!" Gavin told me as he hugged me before jumping into Greg's car.
Kyan kept his hand around my side as we watched my foster parents pull out of the driveway. I couldn't stop myself from sniffling as they drove away, and Kyan pulled me into a hug as the tears finally broke free.
"It'll be okay, baby brother." Kyan whispered as he tried to calm me down. "I promise that you're safe here."
I nodded, but remained quiet as I didn't trust my voice to keep from revealing my true emotional state at that moment. It took everything I had not to run after them as the tears continued to fall down my cheeks. Kyan handed me the tiny stuffed bear that Sarah had given me earlier and I clutched it to my chest before letting him lead me back into the house.
My mother and father held me between them as my family watched a movie together in the living room of our house. Sarah and Kyan were on the other sofa together talking quietly while my mom and dad would take turns kissing my cheek or hugging me. I was beginning to feel overwhelmed as I clutched the stuffed bear even tighter to my chest. It wasn't the fact that they were showing me the love I so desperately wanted, it was the fact that I didn't feel like I deserved it.
"Are you okay, Zyan?" My mother asked me softly in the middle of whatever it was we were watching. "You're shaking, baby boy."
I froze, not even realizing that I had lost control enough to start shaking. I began to frown as the tightness in my chest returned and I could feel myself beginning to tremble even more.
"Just relax, baby boy." My father said as he slipped his arm around me. "Nobody in this house is ever going to judge you."
"But. . . but. . ."
My father put his fingers up to my lips to shush me for a moment.
"There is no reason what so ever for any of your family to judge you, Zyan." My father said calmly. "We all love you too much to let anything happen to you."
I risked a glance over at Sarah and Kyan to see them both nodding emphatically. My mother laughed as she rubbed my back gently. Instead of fighting with it anymore, I decided to curl up into my father's side and let my family figure it out on their own how much of a disappointment I was. I saw Kyan out of the corner of my eye as he frowned in my direction.
'Don't worry, brother.' I thought with a heavy heart. 'You'll figure it out just like everyone else.'
Kyan's eyes went wide for a moment, but he didn't say anything. Maybe he figured it out already. . .
'You're not a disappointment!' The voice shouted in my head making me jump in shock. 'You're my baby brother! I'll destroy whoever makes you think you're worthless or a disappointment!'
"You okay, buddy?" My father asked as he patted my hip gently.
"Yeah, sorry." I mumbled, purposely avoiding Kyan's stare. "Just a stray thought."
"Are you sure?" My father asked softly.
"Yeah, daddy." I replied as I tried to keep the tremor out of my voice. "I'll be okay."
I closed my eyes one I was comfortable and let myself drift off with the sounds of the television playing in the background.
The dream started out like all of the others. There was a dark room and Kyan stood across from me with an angry glare on his face. The old man stood next to him with his own look of concern filling his features.
'You are not worthless, Zyan.' The man from my dreams told me. 'No member of our family has ever been deemed worthless or a disappointment. You're still healing, so it will take you longer to remember that, but I'm sure your brother will be more than willing to show you your true value, Blessed One.'
"I'm scared, though." I said with a tremble in my voice.
The man smiled at me sadly.
'I know, child, and I wish that I could take your fears and pain away from you.' He told me gently. 'Alas, that is not possible. I can help you heal, though. Stand before me, Zyan.'
I nodded nervously before I approached the man dressed in white robes. He smiled at me and placed his fingertips on either side of my head.
'Now, this isn't going to help you right away, but it will help you overcome your emotions in the future.' The man explained. 'Just relax, and let me work my magic.'
Kyan giggled at the man's words, but his blue eyes never left me. Then, the man began to whisper to himself as I felt a strange tingling sensation begin to flow through my mind. Once it faded, the man smiled down at me.
'You'll feel better once you wake up in the morning, grandson.' The man told me warmly. 'Kyan will keep an eye on you until we're able to meet again.'
I nodded once before the man kissed my brow.
The next thing I knew, I was lying in the middle of my bed with Kyan's arm draped across my chest as he snored lightly in my ear. I stared up at the slowly spinning ceiling fan for a moment before I finally let myself drift off to sleep with the image of the old man's warm smile in my mind.