The last few weeks, since Mom woke up, passed pretty quickly. Mom is finally coming home today after her long stay at the hospital. The nurses wanted to keep an eye on her, and that was okay with us. I was so relieved when Mom knew who we were. I know that's what Dad was scared of most. I think Dad and I lived at the hospital more than we lived at home over the past couple of months.
Today was the last day of school. All of our exams are finished, and Liam and I both think we did pretty all right on them. Dylan hasn't said a word to Liam or me since that day in the hall. In fact, I haven't seen him talk to anyone else at all except for Ethan and Avery. Oh, and all of our windows remain unbroken. Maybe he has finally learned. One can only hope. We've hung out with our new friends at school every day since then, and we have plans with them for the summer.
Next week, Liam's dad is taking us camping. Liam says his dad wants to try to get to know him again. His mom dumped that guy she was seeing, and she has a new boyfriend now. He's a photographer, and Liam likes him too. Liam says his mom is finally happy.
Mrs. Eriksson and her boyfriend are sitting on the front steps when we stop in front of Liam's yard. He's taking pictures of us, and she's waving, so we smile and wave back. We look at each other for a beat. We're both thinking the same thing.
I can't wait to see you again. But it's more like, I can't wait to be alone with you again.
"I'll see you tomorrow," I say after a while.
"Okay. Bye, Parker."
I start walking to my house after turning around to smile at him one more time. He smiles back and then opens his gate and runs up the sidewalk.
"What makes you happy, Parker?" the psychologist asked me one afternoon.
I was still staring at that painting. It'd been six weeks of trying to figure out what it was. It was driving me crazy. How could I not find what was behind all the colour?
I turned to him finally. "Happy?" I repeated.
I thought about this for a second. "My parents make me happy."
"Besides your parents," he said.
I looked around the room and then back at him. "Liam makes me happy."
I studied the walls, and then my eyes were drawn back over to the painting. "Art."
"Ah, so you're an artist, Parker," he said as if he had just cracked the code.
"Well, I want to be," I said.
"I thought you might be."
I stared at him confused. "How did you know?"
He smiled, "Years and years of being able to read people." He probably figured I was still confused, because he went on. "Artists, whether they be painters, musicians, or writers, for example, see the world differently. They feel the world differently. They have a gift of being able to channel the pain they see in the world, and also the wonder that the earth holds, into art. Your life, as any other, Parker, is going to be difficult, but you have this gift to interpret pain and suffering into something beautiful."
"But what if I don't know how to?"
"It's already inside you, Parker. You just need to search for it." And at that moment, I finally understood the painting. I stared at him for a beat, until he looked at his watch and said, "Well, that's our time."
It was a heart.
Under all the colours streaked across it, the painting held a heart. It was outlined so softly and it was barely there. But once I found it, it seemed to stand out boldly.
After that, everything made sense.
In each of our lives, there's a heart. Under all the layers of colours, there's something that we love. Something that keeps us alive. Something we strive for. It's something that helps bring us a brighter day when the last one was dark and seemingly hopeless. The layers simply represent all the things that the world throws at us to challenge how much we truly want what we want. What we're willing to go through in order to get what we're after—things like fear and negativity, or people who push us down when they should be lending their hands to help us get to the heart.
The heart represents something different to everyone. Maybe to some the heart is a feeling, an emotion, a person, an animal, a family, a career, an imagination, a friend, a goal, or a dream. Maybe it's multiple things. Maybe it isn't anything on earth but a dream for something bigger or otherworldly—a heaven of sorts.
For me it's three things. My heart represents finding hope in my parents; a future and a life in art; and love, in Liam.
Tonight Mom and I talked for hours while Snickers lay beside us. I told her all about Liam and about our new friends at school, and she listened intently. She had been surprised to find Snickers at our house when she came home, but she instantly loved him and he loves her back. I never want her to leave again. Life's too strange without her.
She leans over and kisses my forehead. "Good night, darling," she says.
"'Night, Mom." She starts walking over to the door, but there's something I just can't let go of. I've been thinking about it hard for weeks and it's been a lingering thought in my head for years. "Mom?" I finally say.
She turns back around to face me again. "Yeah?"
"How did you know you wanted me?"
She walks back over and sits down. "What do you mean?" she asks.
"Out of all the kids at the orphanage, why did you pick me?"
She looks at me sweetly. "Well," she says, "when we visited the first day, Mrs. Hudson took us on a tour of the building and led us outside where a bunch of kids were playing. She was talking to us about something when I first saw you across the field. You were sitting on a picnic table drawing something in your notebook. I couldn't take my eyes off you. There was something intriguing about you. I knew there had to be something special about that boy, and I needed to find out what it was. When I turned to your dad to point you out, I saw that he was already looking at you too. He turned to me, and we both smiled. We knew individually and together that you were always supposed to be ours."
"I don't remember that," I say.
She kisses me again, and I breathe in the scent of her that I had missed all those weeks. "It doesn't matter," she says. "What matters is that you're ours now, and we love you more than you'll ever know. Good night, darling."
Liam's waiting outside to go biking this morning. Before running out of my room, I stop at the door, unzip my hoodie, and throw it onto my bed. I don't need it anymore. Liam likes me just the way I am, scars and all. It doesn't matter if they're always going to be there. They're a reminder of how hard life can be and of when I almost gave up, but also of how good it gets if you hold on and just how worth it life is.
The psychologist helped me a lot by showing me how I was destroying my life. After those six weeks, I never cut myself again. But Liam was the one who saved my life. He never let me forget how much I meant to him, and he really helped me just by listening and being a friend when I needed him most. And if he hadn't found me in my room that day, I wouldn't even be here today.
I understand now that when times get hard you just have to stand up taller, face your fears, and not let them take you down. When you let a bully like Dylan scare you, you let him take away a part of your life—maybe even your whole life. But when you stand up against him, you gain that part of your life back. I'm a whole person again, and I'll never let anyone else bring me down because of who I am. I'm not a perfect person. But being gay is perfectly fine with me. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks.
I know I won't always have Liam to stand beside me and back me up when I face difficult situations, but I also know I've grown and become a stronger person. I've overcome being knocked down, and I stand taller now.
I can stand on my own and be okay.
"Parker?" I hear Dad call from the kitchen as I'm coming down the stairs.
I walk into the kitchen to find both of them standing there. That's when I notice the big white envelope that Dad is holding. "Yeah?" I say hesitantly.
"This came in the mail for you today," he says, holding it out to me.
I take it cautiously and then tear into it. I hardly ever get mail. They're watching me closely and it freaks me out. It's information on that art school. "But I already got this," I say.
"Yeah, but you tore it up," he says. "I found it in the trash, so I ordered you a new one. If you're still interested in the school."
"Yeah, I am. Thanks."
They smile. I hadn't really thought a lot about this since the last package came, but I'm glad I get a second chance at it.
I hug them goodbye and take Snickers' leash before running out of the room. But before I forget, I shout, "The painting's finished, Mom! It's in my room!"
I like to think she smiled and then went up to see it. I finished it the night before she came home, a few days ago, and then did the final touches last night. I was too excited and couldn't sleep, so I took out my brushes and colours and painted 'til three in the morning while listening to the kettle whistle downstairs.
Grabbing my bike from the garage, I meet Liam at the bottom of the driveway. The summer is finally here and I'm excited to spend two months with him before going back to high school.
School hasn't exactly turned into heaven, but it isn't exactly hell anymore, either. I still spend more time daydreaming out the window than paying attention in class, but now I don't fear for my life at every shadow behind me. Dylan and his fists keep their distance—not just from me but from everyone.
Before we race each other down the street, Liam looks over at me with adventure in his eyes.
"Hey, Parker," he says.
I look at him and smile. A big grin surfaces on his face, and I know exactly what he's thinking. He can't wait to get as far away as possible from all human contact, ditch our bikes on the grass, and kiss in a field somewhere. I grin back at him. I still can't really picture my future, only bits and pieces of it here and there, but I know he's a part of it, and right now that's all I need to know.