Chapter Twenty Two

Over time, I've been fading in and out. I hear an array of voices but I hold on to Isaac's. Can it really be him?

Later, I feel myself coming around for the long haul. I look around. I'm in a hospital bed hooked up to a few machines that I assume are monitoring my every move and organ. When I try to move, I only feel tired and hurt. My head spins. My left arm is in a sling.

In a chair on the left side, right next to me with his head lying on the bed is my big brother Isaac.

"Isaac?"

My throat feels raw. I nudge him with my elbow. He groans and sits up. Crying is inevitable. I haven't seen him in four years. I haven't heard from him in three.

"Zaza."

He smiles and I miss that so much. His deep chocolate skin and chocolate narrow eyes. His hair

is cut short and wavy. He's got a scar from his left cheekbone to the left side if his chin.

"Don't cry." He stands up and wraps his arms around me and I cry even harder into his shoulder.

"I thought I was dreaming you."

"I'm back for good. Sorry I've been gone so long. I actually didn't think I'd be coming back.

That's why I sent Azariah that letter anonymously. I wanted you be taken care of before I went."

"That was you?"

He nods. "She wasn't taking care of you when I left and I knew she still wouldn't be. I was at the VA when I heard that you were back in town. I didn't like the sound of that so I rushed over. And it's a good thing I did. You and Mama were practically...dead."

"Where is Mama?"

"She's in another room recovering as well."

I look at him and I know I'm beaming.

There's a tap on the door and Quinn comes in.

"What're you doing here?"

"The investigation is still going on. I got a call from the local authorities and took the earliest

flight out."

"You sure got here fast."

"Azaria, you've been unconscious for a week."

"Geez Louise."

"In the meantime, you've got another visitor."

The door opens and my Dad comes in.

I sit up regardless of the wires and he rushes over and hugs me and kisses me. Then he leans back and looks at me.

"My little Azaria."

He touches my bruised face so gently I feel healed.

"How?" I whisper.

"She dropped the charges. She says that Brad attacking you the way he did was an eye opener.

She brought you from safety to harm. She didn't tell you about Azariah because she felt you'd love him more and leave her."

"We never had a real case anyway. The psychiatrist declared you mentally stable due to your smart-aleck intelligence so we had to accept your story when you say you ran away," Quinn explains.

"So I can go back to Memphis?"

"As soon as you recover," my Dad says.

I smile at Isaac.

"Dad, this is-"

"The man who helped me find you. We talked already. I expressed my gratitude."

"And I expressed my gratitude for him saving you."

I grab both their hands, "Two of the most important guys in my life."

"'Two of'? Who else is there?" Isaac asks.

"Zeke."

I'm in the hospital a few more days before we -myself, my Dad and Isaac- fly back to Memphis. My Dad decides it'd be best if we wait a week before I return to school. Isaac informs me that he's got a place nearby to live.

I don't tell anyone I'm home yet. I want to give myself time to look like me again. But leave it to Pink. She saw my car sitting in the driveway from when I took my brother home and came flying across the street. She tackled me to the floor when I opened the door.

She tells me that everyone had been calling and looking for me. Then they saw me on the news. All my friends were worried. I asked her about Taylor. All she says is that she came to school a little more than banged up. She spends the night a few times and then it's time for me to go back to school.

Pink rides with me and Liam can't hide the shock on his face when he sees me. When I get to school, Zeke's nowhere to be found. I go straight to English when everyone's done welcoming me back and staring.

To my surprise, Zeke is sitting in his seat leaning in his hand, facing the window. I quietly walk over to him and place my hand on top of his head.

He quickly sits up, "Who-"

When he realizes it's me, he stands, mouth agape.

"Hi," he says.

I can't suppress my smile any longer.

"Hi."

He places one hand on my right cheek.

"Hi," he says leaning in and kissing me.

The bell rings and everyone starts to amble in and respectfully ignore us. This kiss is long overdue so we're making up for lost time.

"All right, lovebirds. Break it up. This isn't sex education in which case it's still unacceptable.

Welcome back, Miss Scott. I have loads of make-up work for you."

"I look forward to it."

The day goes by fast. There's a meet after school and Coach is letting me run.

I'm in the locker room by myself getting my head ready. I know I'm technically out of shape but I think I can pull it off.

"Azaria! You're up," Coach shouts to me.

I emerge to applause from both teammates and opponents. There's a standing ovation in my honor. I'm choking up but I force myself not to cry. I strip down to my running attire and go stand at the starting line.

I'm in my final set position. I can feel the starting block against my right foot. There is no wind to disturb my progression. There is nothing. There is only me and no one else. I don't think about anything. I focus. I hear whooping and yelling in the stands and I can differentiate between each one. I know who's is who's. Pink of course is shouting my name like crazy. Liam is throwing out overly dramatic "yeahs". Zeke is yelling out amazingly long "woos" and my dad is simply screaming "go" at the top of his lungs. He inspires me. I love him so much. The gun fires releasing me from my temporary prison. For once, I'm running for myself...and it feels like flying.