The Touch – Volume 1: The Void

Karen, my social worker, made it a point to check on me on a regular weekly basis. The woman would always smile, and spend an hour asking me about school and how I was adapting to being with Mr. and Mrs. Harris. I could only say good things about Natalie and Greg. Then, Karen would have the obligatory meeting with my foster parents to discuss my progress. I was always worried that she was planning on taking me away from my new family, and I would tremble from the time she arrived until she left, no matter how many times she reassured me that everything was fine. Deedra and Sheldon would always come over on a regular basis, too. The three of us would spend an hour or two each day hanging out together after school. Natalie would always welcome my new friends with a smile, and made it a point to get to know them since they were coming around so much.

I had only been living with Natalie and Greg for just over a month when our lives changed suddenly. It was a Friday afternoon near the end of March, when Greg announced to me and Natalie that we were expecting visitors.

“Who is it?” I asked nervously thinking that Karen was coming back to take me away.

“My brother and his son are going to be staying the weekend with us, Zach!” I could tell that Greg was happy at the prospect of seeing his brother, so I forced myself to smile at the man’s enthusiasm. “It’s been five-years since they’ve been out this way to visit.”

“Why?” Greg had always encouraged me to ask as many questions as I could come up with, unlike my previous foster families. Greg actually liked to answer my questions. He told me that it let him know that I was paying attention to him.

“Geoff is the owner of Avatar Technology,” Greg explained. “He’s been a little busy with a few new contracts he’s been trying to get situated.”

“It takes five years?” I asked in disbelief, immediately knowing that I did not want to go into any field that would take me five years just to land a contract. It sounded like a ridiculous notion to me.

“Sometimes, Zachary.” Greg chuckled knowingly. “I’ve been working with one client for nearly a decade, now. Plus, another of my clients is still trying to land that tech contract.”

I rolled my eyes and Greg laughed again before he patted me on the back.

“How much homework do you have left?”

“Just a little bit of Math,” I said with a shrug as Greg looked over my shoulder at the worksheet on the table in front of me.

“Jesus, kid.” He said with a shake of his head. “It all looks like gibberish to me.”

I giggled at his comment as I continued to work on my homework. Greg sat next to me and told me about a few of his clients while I half-heartedly listened to him.

“My longest client is an author, though.” I perked up at this comment and Greg chuckled. “Don’t worry, buddy. I’ve seen you staring at my bookshelf. You are more than welcome to read whatever you want as long as you’re careful with the book.”

“I’m always careful with books,” I said defensively before I blushed. “Sorry.”

Greg hugged me tightly.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, Zachary.” Greg said before he kissed the top of my head. “Have you ever heard of David Montgomery?”

My face paled, and I excused myself for a moment so I could run to my room. I shoved my hand between my mattress and box spring and pulled out my favorite book. It had definitely seen better days, but there was only so much I could do to protect the book while living with the monster. I held the ratty copy of “The Touch” to my chest for a moment as a wave of sad memories hit me hard. I thought about all of the times that I would go to the book whenever the monster decided that I deserved a beating. I would hold it as close to my alarm clock as I could, letting the tiny clock illuminate the page of my book with its greenish glow. I forced the tears back, and ran back downstairs to rejoin Greg in the dining room.

“What’s this, buddy?” Greg asked softly as I handed him my most prized possession. My foster-dad held the book gently as he looked down at the title of the book.

“It’s my favorite book, Mr. Harris.” I said meekly.

Greg studied the book for a moment before he smiled at me.

“Would you like me to see if I can get Mr. Montgomery to sign it for you?” Greg asked.

I froze and studied him for a moment to see if he was trying to play a trick on me.

“Really?” I asked trying to keep myself from getting my hopes up.

“Of course, Zach!” My foster-dad stated. I sighed and smiled at his words. “David would be more than happy to sign this for you, buddy. I’ll make sure that I ask him the next time I see him.”

I hugged Greg tightly and struggled not to cry.

“Thank you, Mr. Harris.” I said in a whisper.

It was an hour later when the doorbell finally rang throughout the house. Natalie and Greg were busy finishing dinner, so I ran to answer the door. When I opened the door, I found myself looking at a slightly older version of Greg, and a boy that appeared to be only a few eyars older than I was. They both shared the same brown hair and dark brown eyes, and I was easily able to figure out that they were father and son.

“Is Greg or Natalie here?” The man asked in a bass voice that drew me out of my daydream. He was smiling patiently as he and his son both watched me. I nodded just as Greg entered the living room.

“Geoff!” Greg greeted his brother excitedly. “Come in, guys! Don’t mind Zachary, he gets a little tongue-tied around new people.”

I immediately blushed at Greg’s teasing, but he scooped me up into his arms and introduced me to his brother and nephew with a proud smile on his face.

“Geoff,” Greg said happily. “This is Zachary. He’s our foster-son, but we hope to make him our son if we can’t find his family.”

A lump formed in my throat, and I buried my face in Greg’s chest in embarrassment. He and Natalie had talked to me before about adopting me, but they had never mentioned it in front of anybody else before. I trembled slightly at the thought of being able to call my foster parents ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. It was two words that I had been wanting to use my entire life.

“That’s awesome, Uncle Greg!” The teenager said excitedly as Greg motioned them both into the house and shut the door. “It’s about time you gave me a cousin to hang out with!”

Greg set me back on my feet as the boy reached his hand out towards me.

“Hi, Zach!” The boy was smiling happily at me. “I’m Gavin!”

I hesitantly shook his hand, but Gavin quickly pulled me into a hug. I giggled slightly at his actions before I stepped back from him.

“Natalie’s in the kitchen, Geoff.” Greg stated as Gavin and I stared at each other awkwardly. “She’s been waiting to try out this new recipe on you.”

“Tell Aunt Nat that I’m here, too!” Gavin said as the two men left us alone together. Then, the boy turned his attention to me. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Zachary.”

‘Great,’ I thought bitterly. ‘Someone else that knows my secrets. What else do I need?’

“Don’t worry, bud.” Gavin quickly reassured me. “I can tell that you and I are going to get along great. Do you want to play some video games? My dad always makes sure that Uncle Greg has the latest game systems.”

“Okay,” I said with a nervous smile.

I had known about the game systems since I had moved in, but I had never even paid any attention to the different systems. I always spent my time drawing or reading. It was still too cold to go outside, so I was stuck with indoor activities. Gavin and I took turns playing a racing game while Gavin told me all about himself. I learned that his favorite color was blue, he was fourteen, and he hated being in high school. Gavin loved to fly, but he was terrified of heights.

“I’ve never been on a plane,” I said, hoping it didn’t make me sound stupid to the older boy.

“You’re not the only one, Zachary.” Gavin said with a shrug. “Not many people can afford to fly. You’ll love it, though. I promise. If you get to come to New York, beg Uncle Greg to get First Class tickets. Bat those baby-blues of yours, and he’ll be putty in your hands.”

I giggled and blushed at his comment. Gavin reached over and poked me in the side as he lost the race he was playing.

“Let’s go check on our parents,” my new cousin suggested as he set the controller down on the floor in front of us. He stood to his feet and started to walk away as I stared at the console anxiously. I reached out to grab the controller and put the system away, but Gavin grabbed my shoulder lightly. “Don’t worry about it. Zach. We’re expected to be a little messy, sometimes.”

I looked up at him to see that he was smiling, and motioning for me to join him. I was suddenly stuck facing the monster again as he pointed to my shoes and screamed at me. He grabbed me by my hair and slammed my face into the floor next to the shoes. I relived being slammed into the wall over and over again as the picture shattered behind my head. I tried to fight as the monster pulled me down the hallway. Then, he threw me into the shower and I was encompassed in darkness.

‘What the fuck, Zachary?’ I asked as I realized that I had let myself spiral out of control over a stupid gaming system. ‘You should have just walked away.’

Then, I felt something warm holding onto me tightly. I could hear a rhythmic ‘thump-thump’ as I became more aware of what was going on around me. I burrowed in closer against the person holding me, not even caring who it was at the moment.

“I think he’s coming around, Greg.” I felt the chest vibrate as the familiar bass voice filled my ears. I sighed and clutched onto the front of Geoff’s shirt as I tried to pull myself back together. “What do I do?”

“Just keep talking to him, and rubbing his back.” I heard Greg suggest from nearby. “He’ll be your best friend if you do that.”

Geoff’s chest vibrated as he laughed at Greg’s comment. Then, I felt him kiss the top of my head before he began rubbing my back lightly with his fingertips.

“Is that true, buddy?” Geoff asked me. “Is that how I get you on my side?”

Geoff poked me in the side, and I couldn’t help but giggle slightly. I opened my eyes to see Gavin staring at me with a look of worry on his face as he sat next to his father. The fourteen-year-old suddenly threw himself at me and hugged me as tight as he could.

“Easy, Gavin.” Greg said calmly. “He’s not all there, yet.”

I trembled as Gavin held me.

‘You’re such a fucking disappointment, Zachary.’ The monster’s words flashed through my mind. ‘You can’t even keep yourself together long enough to meet new people.’

“I’m so sorry, Zachary.” Gavin whimpered as he held onto me. It was then that I realized that it was Gavin that was trembling, and not me. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

‘What the hell?’

I froze in confusion. I didn’t know how to act when someone apologized to me. Normally, it was the other way around. Then, Gavin was pulled off of me as Geoff helped me sit up. I looked over to see Greg holding the sobbing Gavin in his arms. I frowned and went to slide off of Geoff’s lap, but the man wrapped his arms around my waist and held me in place.

“Not just yet, buddy.” Geoff whispered only loud enough for me to hear. “Gavin needs to see that you’re okay. He doesn’t know all of the details about your past, so he reacted worse than I expected.”

“He doesn’t know I’m broken…”

“You’re only broken because of what some bad people did,” Geoff said dismissively. “You just have to keep it in the back of your mind that you’re with people that care about you and love you deeply. I’ve never seen Gavin react like this to anyone, Zach. I think you’ve got a friend for life sitting over there. He doesn’t care that you’re broken. Gavin’s just like the rest of us. He only wants to see you get better, buddy.”

I nodded and wiped my own tears away with my sleeve. I saw Gavin nod and realized that Greg had been talking to the boy to calm him down. He was still trembling, but his sobs were beginning to subside. I leaned back into Geoff and heard him sigh happily.

“I remember when Gavin used to cuddle with me like this, Greg.” Geoff said with a chuckle. “Make sure that you and Natalie get enough of these cuddles as you can, because they’re going to stop when you know what happens.”

“I hope not,” Greg said with a slight whine. “It’s one of my favorite things about all of this. That boy on your lap is one of the best things to ever happen to me and Nat. Our lives don’t revolve around work all of the time, anymore. Now, we’re parents, and his needs come first.” I felt myself beginning to blush. “Speaking of, were you able to get that thing I asked you for, Geoff?”

“Of course,” Greg’s brother replied. “It’s actually out in the trunk of the car. If you think we can find two strong young men to help us old guys carry in the bags, I might be able to snag it for you.”

Greg and Geoff both chuckled.

“Aww,” Gavin sniffled. “I didn’t want to get up, yet.”

Greg tickled his nephew, immediately eliciting a high pitched giggle from Gavin. I smiled the moment that Gavin began to smile again. Geoff hugged me again.

“Welcome to our family, Zachary.” Geoff whispered before he motioned for me to get up. “Let’s go get our bags.”

Gavin and I followed the two adults outside after I had snagged my shoes. The lights on a silver Camaro came on as we approached and Greg whistled slightly.

“Where did you get this?”

“It’s a rental,” Geoff replied with a shrug. “The company was going to have a driver waiting for me, but I told them that I wanted to be able to run around on my own while I was here. So, now I’ve got this beauty.”

“Perks of being the CEO,” Greg laughed.

Gavin pulled open the back door and handed me his backpack. It wasn’t very heavy, but he helped me slip it onto my back.

“I don’t trust the old guys with this,” Gavin told me with a smug grin. “It’s got my laptop and stuff in it. Plus, I bought you a present, too.”

“You didn’t have to…” I started as I blushed hard.

“I know, Zachary.” Gavin told me with the same warm smile. He hugged me tightly and whispered in my ear. “I wanted to get you something to welcome you to the family.”

“Come get your suitcase, Gavin.” Geoff called out from the back of the car. “I wouldn’t want us ‘old guys’ to damage anything.”

Gavin dove back into the car and pulled out a huge pillow. He pushed the pillow into my arms and shut the door behind him. Then, Gavin motioned for me to follow him to the back of the car. Greg pulled out another backpack and shoved it on Gavin’s back while his dad passed him his suitcase. Greg studied my situation before he chuckled and shook his head.

“Never mind, Zachary.” Greg said with a laugh. “Go ahead and carry Gavin’s stuff up to your room. He’s going to be bunking with you for the weekend.”

“Really?” I asked as I felt myself beginning to get excited.

Greg reached out and ruffled my hair.

“Trust me, he’ll be annoying the crap out of you by Sunday.” Geoff teased his son.

“Hey!” Gavin cried out. “You told me that I was the best thing to ever happen to you!”

“Careful, Greg.” Geoff told his brother. “They will hold you to anything that you say for the rest of your life, but they don’t remember you asking them to take out the trash.”

“Careful, Zach.” Gavin said in the same tone of voice as we walked up the front sidewalk together. “You forget to take out the trash one time, and your dad will never let you live it down for the rest of your life.”

“I believe the number you are looking for is three times, Gavin.” Geoff teased his son.

“I feel a fourth time coming on,” Gavin whispered with a smug giggle.

I giggled with my cousin as we led the way into the house.

“Which room is yours, Zachary?”

As I showed Gavin my room I heard a phone ringing from the kitchen. Gavin followed me into my room and closed the door behind me. He put his suitcase down next the foot of the bed and grabbed his pillow from my hands before he motioned for me to turn around. The brown-haired boy dropped his pillow on my bed and grabbed the backpack next. Then, he jumped up on the bed and motioned for me to join him.

“Come here, Zach.” Gavin encouraged with a grin as he started to dig through his bag. “Aunt Nat and Uncle Greg want you to have this.”

Gavin pulled out a thin white box with a black ‘A’ in the center of it, and passed it over to me.

“What is it?” I asked nervously.

“You have to open it, silly.” Gavin giggled with a smile before he bumped his shoulder into mine. “Wait. I was asked to tell you that you have everybody’s permission to have this, and you are not allowed to ask anybody about the cost. Everything about this gift has already been handled.” Then, Gavin smiled at me again. “Now, you can open it.”

“Umm,” I said nervously. “Okay.”

I had no idea what was in the box, but I began to get nervous as I opened it. Gavin reached over and placed his hand on my trembling hand.

“Relax, Zachary.” Gavin said softly. “Uncle Greg and Aunt Natalie both want you to have this. They asked my dad to make it happen, and I was asked to give it to you up here in private.”

Suddenly, I was brought back to my panic attack from earlier. The look on Gavin’s face as I had come to flashed before my eyes, and I felt my stomach drop instantly. The lump formed in my throat as I remembered the tears that were falling down his cheeks as Greg held him tightly.

Then, I was yanked back to the present as Gavin pulled me into a tight hug.

“You’re not doing that to me again, Zach!” Gavin growled fiercely into my ear. “I won’t allow it!”

“I’m sorry,” I said as I fought to maintain my timid grip on my emotions. “I’m a disappointment. I know.”

“What?” Gavin asked in disbelief. He turned me to face him, and held my chin in his hands. There was a hint of fury in his brown eyes as he held me steady. “You’re not a disappointment to me, Zachary. I’ve heard the greatest things about you from Aunt Natalie and Uncle Greg. Amazing things, Zach!” Gavin pulled me into his chest again. “You just scared me earlier, is all. You just stared at the game until you fainted. I screamed for my dad, and he immediately carried you to the couch and hugged you until you woke up. That’s what Aunt Nat told him to do if you ever did that around us, apparently.”

“I’m sorry…”

“It wasn’t your fault, Zachary.” Gavin reassured me. “Now, let’s open your gift.”

Gavin held the box while I pulled the lid off of it. Staring back at me was a shiny black cellphone.

“Really?” I asked with a slight sniffle.

“Yeah, Zach.” Gavin nodded. “I got to pick it out for you. It’s Avatar’s latest design. Let’s go downstairs, and I’ll help you set it up. Plus, my dad got you something, too.”

“What is it?”

Gavin just giggled and shook is head.

“We really have to get you used to surprises, Zach.” I smiled nervously as Gavin hugged me again before he pushed me towards the door. “Just wait until your birthday.”

I froze slightly at his comment. Nothing good ever happened on my birthday. That was usually the worst day of my entire year.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I said quickly. “Just a stray thought.”

“Good,” Gavin said as he reached out and scratched my back for a moment. “I thought I was going to have to hug you, again.”

I giggled at his comment before he pushed me out into the hallway.

Greg was in the middle of setting the table when Gavin and I entered the dining room. Gavin went to the table and sat down while I went around the table and threw my arms around Greg. My foster-dad immediately picked me up and held me against him. The moment he squeezed me tightly, I relaxed and felt the phone slip from my grip.

“My bad, buddy.” Greg chuckled the moment he heard the heavy thump of my new phone hitting the floor. He noticed the tears forming in the corner of my eyes as I looked down at the shiny black object laying on the floor. Greg grabbed my chin and kissed my cheek. “There’s nothing to worry about, buddy. This is why we got you the unbreakable one.”

Greg bent down and grabbed the phone and set it on the table.

“Thanks, Greg.” I said softly as I hugged him. “I’ve never had my own phone before.”

“You’ve earned it, buddy.” Greg told me as he poked me in the stomach. “Plus, it will give you a way to get ahold of any of us if something happens at school.” Then, Greg froze for a moment before he smiled at me again.

“Holy crap, Zach! You just called me ‘Greg’!” He put his hand to my forehead with a look of concern on his face. “You look like my Zachary.”

I giggled and nuzzled into his chest as I felt a few stray tears roll down my cheek. I heard a strange clicking sound, and glanced up to see Natalie taking a picture of us with her cellphone.

“Did you hear what he just called me, Natalie?” Greg asked her in disbelief. “Did you already give him his meds, today?”

Natalie came over and hugged both of us.

“Dinner is ready, guys.” Natalie said before she kissed my cheek. “Also, there’s going to be another visitor tonight.”

“Karen?” Greg asked.

“Yeah,” Natalie nodded. “There’s a little boy that needs a place to stay. He’s only six, and his mom died of an overdose earlier.”

“What’s his name?” I asked nervously.

“Toby,” Natalie smiled and squeezed my arm gently. “So, how does everybody vote? My vote is obviously going to be yes.”

“I’m voting yes, as well.” Greg said briefly.

Then, they both looked at me.

“What?” I asked as they continued to look at me as if they were waiting on something.

“What’s your vote, Zachary?” Greg asked. “Are you okay with us fostering another little boy?”

“You want my vote?”

“Of course we want your vote, Zachary.” Natalie reassured me. “You’re a member of this household.”

I glanced at both of them. They wanted to know if I was okay with them adding to our little family. I blushed a little and nodded.

“Okay,” Natalie said with a brief smile. “I’ll call Karen back, and tell her to head this way. She should be here probably in an hour.”

Greg kissed my cheek and set me back down on the floor.

“Does this mean that I’m going to get another cousin, Uncle Greg?” I giggled at the excitement in Gavin’s voice.

“I believe it does, Gavin.” Greg said with a chuckle as he handed me my new phone. My foster-dad ruffled my hair before he pushed me towards Gavin. “I’m going to help Nat get dinner on the table. Gavin, I think your dad is in the downstairs office, let him know dinner is ready.”

“I’ll do it,” I said quietly.

Gavin froze as he was starting to get up and nodded at me with a grin.

“I’ll come help you, Uncle Greg.” My new cousin volunteered. Gavin stopped me long enough to whisper in my ear. “Uncle Geoff is very ticklish in his sides, cuz.”

I grinned and went to find Uncle Geoff. The door was open, and I could hear the man talking to someone on his phone, so I kept quiet as I slipped into the room. I thought about scaring Gavin’s dad, but decided against it since he was on the phone.

“Uncle Geoff?” I said just loud enough for him to hear me.

The man turned around and motioned for me to enter the room.

“Come on in, buddy.” He told me with a smile. “This is your house. I’ll only be a minute longer.”

I blushed slightly and hesitated, but eventually crossed the room and sat in Greg’s leather office chair. Geoff continued on with his own conversation as I studied the small office. There was a window behind the chair I was sitting in that looked out over the side yard, and one to the right of the desk that looked over the front yard. The wall next to the door had a massive bookshelf built into it, and it was almost completely filled from floor to ceiling.

“Do you think it’s possible for you to get that new device to me by tomorrow, Sam?” Geoff asked into the phone. The man only paused for a moment before he continued. “Make it happen, Sam. It’s the only way the other thing is going to work.” Geoff turned to me and motioned that he was almost done. “Thank you, Sam. I’ll make it up to you.”

Then, Geoff turned to me and smiled broadly.

“So, I believe that I just heard you call me ‘uncle’?”

I giggled and nodded shyly. The man came around the desk and picked me up into his arms. Geoff hugged me tightly and carried me out to the dining room. Greg and Natalie were setting dishes of food on the table when Geoff stopped in the archway with me on his hip.

“I would like to announce that this guy has dubbed me as ‘Uncle Geoff’.” The man said proudly. “I nearly dropped my phone.”

“He will keep you on your toes, brother.” Greg teased me playfully as Geoff put me in my spot at the table.

“So, what did the amazing Chef Natalie make for dinner, tonight?”


“Do you want me to help you set up your phone?” Gavin asked me as Geoff and Greg cleared the table. Natalie disappeared to get a room ready for Toby. I nodded and my cousin slid his chair closer to me. “Let me see your phone.”

It didn’t take long for Gavin to show me how to use my new phone, and it wasn’t long after that before he was having me try out different games.  Gavin and I were racing against each other on our phones when the doorbell rang. Natalie and Greg went to answer the door while Uncle Geoff joined us in the dining room.

“Hey, guys.” The man said quietly as he sat down beside me.

“Hey, dad.” Gavin said just as quietly.

Greg came into the dining room a moment later.

“Zach? Can you come with me for a second?” He asked in a calm tone.

I nodded curiously and set my phone on the table.

“Remember, Zachary.” Geoff said softly. “He’s scared and lonely right now. You’re the only person in this entire house that can help that boy deal with what he is experiencing.”

“How do I do that?” I asked nervously.

“You promise to always listen to him, and be there to protect him whenever he needs it.” Geoff explained with a smile. “Now, go make us proud, Zachary. You’ll know how to make Toby feel better.”

I smiled and slid off of the chair. Geoff was right. I had been in Toby’s position when my grandparents died. The social worker had dropped me off, and left without explaining anything to me about what to expect. I was all alone in the world at one time. Now, I had a family that was slowly beginning to grow.

I reached up and took Greg’s hand as he led me to the living room. I felt myself get nervous at the sight of Karen, but my attention was quickly drawn to the scared little boy standing by her side. He had brown hair that curled about his ears, and hazel eyes that were filled with sadness. He was terrified. I stepped forward slowly and moved towards Toby. He seemed like he wanted to run for the door, so I crouched down to one knee and held my arms out to him. The little boy clenched tightly to the social worker’s pants leg.

“It’s okay, Toby.” Karen said softly as she patted the boy on the shoulder. “This is Zachary. You will always be able to trust him, and he gives amazing hugs.”

Toby looked up at Karen hesitantly before he looked back at me.

“It’s okay, Toby.” I said softly. “I’ve been through it, too. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do, because there wasn’t anybody that truly cared about me.”

“But, my mommy…”

“I know, Toby.” I said as I tried to fight back my own tears. I motioned him to me and was surprised when he fell into my arms. “You don’t have to hold it back anymore, little brother. You’re safe, now.”

“Well, then.” Karen said quietly. “I think that answers my next question.”

“What was it going to be?” I heard Natalie ask as I held the sobbing little boy tightly in my arms.

“I was going to take Zachary aside to make sure that he was okay with all of this,” Karen said softly. “He’s almost a different person, Natalie.”

“You’re telling me,” Natalie said with a hint of pride in her voice. “He’s come a long way from when I first met him.”

“I think this is why you were the only person I could think of to call about Toby,” Karen admitted. “You and Greg really have a gift with kids.”

“Thank you, Karen.” Natalie said softly.

“I’ll call you tomorrow, Natalie. We can make arrangements then to get his belongings.” Karen said before she reached down and kissed Toby on the head. “Toby, you are in the safest house that I could think of. Natalie and Greg will never hurt you, and Zachary will always be there to protect you.”

Toby nodded his head slowly and sniffled. All I could do was hold him and keep whispering in his ear that he was safe.

“I’m proud of you, Zachary.” Karen told me before she kissed my cheek. “Take good care of him.”

“I will, Miss Stevens.” I said softly so I wouldn’t disturb the boy that was slowly falling asleep on my lap.

“Since Zachary seems to have the situation under control, I think I should go ahead and let you guys get settled.” Karen said with a tear in her eye as she glanced back down at Toby. “Thank you, Natalie.”

“It’s our pleasure, Karen.” Natalie said quietly as she escorted Karen to the front door. When Natalie returned, she kneeled on the floor in front of where I was sitting. She reached out and brushed a lock of blonde hair from my ear and smiled at me. “Would you like to help me get Toby put to bed?”

I nodded my head, and let her take the boy from me. He didn’t even stir as she pulled him into her arms and held him close to her chest.

“We’ll be right back, Geoff.” I heard Greg say as I followed Natalie upstairs.

Natalie turned into the room directly across from mine, and carefully sat the six-year-old on the bed. Greg entered just in time to help Natalie take the boy’s coat off. Greg handed me a small bookbag and I froze until I heard Natalie’s voice.

“See if he has any pajamas in his bag, Zachary.” She said softly, bringing me back to reality with a slight smile on her face.

I quickly set the bag on the floor and dug through it until I found some old pajamas. Natalie frowned when I handed them to her, but she made quick work of changing Toby into them. The boy only opened his eyes briefly, but Natalie quickly reassured him that he was okay. Toby smiled sadly and nodded.

“Come on, Zachary.” Greg said quietly as Natalie slid up onto the bed next to the boy. “Let’s give Nat some time to talk to Toby.”

“Yes, sir.” I said softly as I waved at my new foster brother. “Goodnight, Toby. If you wake up in the middle of the night, my room is right across the hall. I’ll leave my door open for you.”

“Okay,” he whispered softly.

I smiled and let Greg lead me back downstairs where we found Geoff and Gavin playing a videogame together on the television. Greg sat down in his recliner, and I quickly climbed up into his lap as we watched the father and son team up with each other. They were in the process of fighting off a horde of zombies, while taking over a school to use as their base. It looked like they were winning until several zombies managed to break through their border and attacked them from behind. Uncle Geoff set his controller down on the coffee table and leaned back on the sofa.

“Are you sure that you guys are still okay with us staying here?” The older man asked. “We can go to a hotel if you need us to.”

“You are always welcome here,” Greg said simply. “Natalie would have my ass if we sent you to a hotel for the weekend. Gavin is bunking with Zach, so Toby got the room across the hall from Zachary’s room. You’ll be in the room just down from Toby’s room. You have to share a bathroom with a six-year-old though.”

“It’ll probably be better than sharing a bathroom with this seatwetter!” Uncle Geoff teased Gavin.

“Hey!” Gavin cried out. “I’ll show you seatwetter! Zachary, it’s time to do what I said earlier.”

I nodded and slid off of Greg’s lap before he could catch me, and joined Gavin just as he started tickling his dad.

That night, I fell asleep watching a movie with Gavin holding me tightly in his arms, and I had another dream about the boy that looked like me. We were standing across from each other in the middle of a massive library and he was smiling at me.

“I’m proud of you, little brother.” He said with a smile.

“Why?” I asked, doubtfully.

“You took a chance, Zyan, and stepped up to help someone else in their time of need, no matter how much pain it brought to yourself.” The other me said proudly. “I only wish that I could have gotten to see it myself.”

“You’re a weird boy,” I said softly.

“Just wait, Zyan.” He said with a serious tone of voice. “I’m closer to finding you than you think.”

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