The morning of the hearing, I vomit all over the floor in my room. Without any control over it, watery bile shoots out of my mouth and spreads over the carpet in front of me, leaving me gasping, watery-eyed, and dizzy.
When he enters my room, Isaac is upset; he looks down at my crumpled form with stone cold grey eyes.
"Jonah – damnit – what the fuck's the matter with you?" he snaps, bending to grab my arm. "Do you know what fucking day it is?"
I know precisely what day it is, but I can hardly stammer out a 'yes' before my arm is violently yanked and I'm pulled towards the washroom, only a few steps away. Isaac's fingers curl into my upper bicep—but the pain distracts me from the lightheaded feeling that I'm going to faint. Despite wobbling in his grip, Isaac has a good hold on me and he throws me towards the sink effortlessly.
"Everything is riding on this, Jonah!" he says—tone escalating to a shout as he brandishes my toothbrush at me. The thought of minty toothpaste makes me gag again and—horrified—I press my palm over my lips and shoot Isaac a look that screams how sorry I am. "You can't be puking everywhere! You know the maid already thinks we have a sick dog…? Are you a fucking dog Jonah?"
"Then stop with this shit!" Isaac interrupts, waving his arm back to the room as I fumble with the toothbrush he's handed me. "Blowing chunks everywhere? It's fucking disgusting!"
I know I am.
With trembling fingers, I manage to quickly brush my teeth; as soon as I've spit out the toothpaste, Isaac drags me back into my room and parks me in front of my dresser. He rummages around and pulls out my favorite hoodie and a pair of jeans that Amy bought me. He huffs as I fumble so much the pants slip through my fingers.
I flinch when he approaches, but he just picks up the pair from off the ground and hands it to me again.
My brain seizes to a complete halt – something that has been happening more and more recently. Internally, I'm horrified as I stare down at my fingers that aren't moving at all. My entire body has frozen with a silent fear, top to bottom. I stay motionless even though I know that will make Isaac angry.
It'll make him snap.
He'll hurt me. He'll hurt me so much if I don't start moving—!
But this time, he doesn't.
He's frustrated with my uselessness—that's clear—but he bends down again and starts shoving my feet through the pant legs. Isaac dresses me while all I can do is stare at him and worship all that he is.
He's taking care of me, even though he should be yelling, or snapping… or throwing me down…
I'm so lucky.
This warm feeling relaxes my muscles, and I hug him tight around his midsection as he hoists the pants up my body. "Just relax," he demands—voice sharp but not as loud as it could be. "Get your shit together Jonah. You can't be like this with the police…"
"I-I know! I'm sorry Isaac—I'm sorry—"
One deep breath later and he returns my embrace. An arm wraps softly around my shoulders and he tenderly rubs his hand in my hair, scratching lightly at the roots. It melts me from the inside out, and I bask in the warmth of his body; let it overpower all that I am. I make the most of every second, but it's over too soon.
Isaac pulls me off of him, connects grey eyes with mine, and gestures for me to lead the way out of the door. "Let's go."
The lingering effect of Isaac's hug makes me feel whole again.
With his very arms, he bound all the broken pieces of myself back together. Without him, I'm sure I wouldn't have made it up the stairs of the police station. I wouldn't have made it through the empty, cold hallways. They wouldn't have been able to steer me away from Isaac into a private interview room where Officer Richards and a new lady wait for me.
I glance back at Isaac one last time and I swear there's concern in his eyes. They're not blank, hooded, or stormy at all. They're wide and strained—and the message they send is just as comforting as a physical embrace.
He believes I can do it.
He thinks I'm strong enough.
He trusts me to do this.
But I can't say I'm not scared. I'm terrified. As I turn back to the intimidating officer in front of me—tall and strong—a spike of panic rips through my body. He can tell I'm a faggot. He knows everything. He's disgusted, and angry, and will lock me up just like Isaac said!
The unfamiliar woman's voice pulls me back to reality. I stare at her, taking in her appearance; slightly overweight but dressed in bright colours. Her haircut reminds me of my mom's. It's a short, choppy bob, but with a bunch of shades of blonde and brown layered between frizzy locks.
Looking around, I notice that the door Isaac left me at is already closed. An empty seat has been placed next to the woman, but across the table from Officer Richards, and I try to get enough courage to sit in it. My feet shuffle forward, but then they stop halfway across the room as she continues talking.
"I'm Ms. Roberts—your case worker. I believe you've met Officer Richards before?"
I catch myself glancing back to the door instead of answering her question, or acknowledging the officer's presence. Without thinking, my brain tries to burn the outline of my brother on to the hard metal surface, but it's not the same as if he was here with me…
"Jonah, there's no need to be uneasy. We're here to help you."
I don't necessarily trust her, but there is something motherly about this lady that eases some of the knots twisting inside my stomach. So I shuffle a few more steps and take my seat slowly, glancing at her and then at the table.
I still haven't said a word, but she doesn't mind at all. She continues to talk with a smooth, calming voice.
"Jonah, do you know what a case worker does?"
I shake my head but I think I have a basic understanding…
"Well first, I'm not like Richards here. I'm not an officer, or civil servant. I work for you. I am here to assess your situation, then plan and implement the care that you need. I'm here to help you, Jonah. And in order to do that, I need to understand the situation."
I don't know why I do it, but I risk a glance up at Officer Richards. His eyes connect with mine—seeing right through me again—and a huge lump forms at the base of my throat.
An awkward silence fills the room. I think she is waiting for me to respond in some way, but I don't know what to say, or where to begin. Isaac said to concentrate on our parents, but she hasn't even brought that up yet…
"So… Jonah… why don't you tell me a bit about yourself, and your family?"
Again, I can't manage any words to start with. I look at Ms. Roberts and find her smiling warmly—patiently.
"You're sixteen, right?" she asks.
That's easy. "Yes," I answer, releasing a breath I didn't even know I was holding on to.
"And your parents," she prompts lightly. "They were hospitalized recently, correct?"
I nod this time, knowing my voice will squeak with how tight my throat's becoming.
"Jonah, can you tell me about them? What are their names…?"
"Jack a-and Barbara Pratchett," I start—damning that squeak. Ms. Roberts pauses to write something down on a form in front of her, then she clasps her hands together and continues softly.
"How long ago were they hospitalized Jonah?"
I can't remember. It feels like an eternity has passed since I've moved in with Isaac. Like it's been months—years…
"Um… awhile ago…"
"And you moved in with your brother, correct?"
My heart restricts my breathing and I try my best to not start gasping and choking in this room but it feels too small—and the absence of Isaac is harder than expected to deal with. As my eyes dart around frantically in search of him, they accidentally meet Officer Richards again.
"Jonah?" Ms. Roberts pulls my attention back to our conversation.
"Yes…" I start, lowering my eyes again. "I—I moved in…"
"And it was your brother who first went public with sensitive information, right? About how your parents treated you while you were in their care…?"
There is a short pause, and then Ms. Roberts gestures that I look over at her. I nervously meet her eyes and then she offers her softest, most reasonable voice yet.
"Jonah… you understand the seriousness of these allegations, correct?" I barely nod my head. "Officer Richards has some… concerns… and I want us to have a candid discussion – okay? I need you to tell us some facts in detail… the truth. You can do that, can't you?"
The truth is easy; it's that I whole-heartedly love Isaac and I need him at this very second.
"I know it might be hard but Jonah, we need to hear it from you. So tell us—with your parents, what did they do?"
Another easy question though I'm not sure why I have to answer; I've already filled out a form explaining these things that I'm sure she's read… but Isaac and I have been over this so much that Doll Jonah answers before I can think about it too much more. "They hurt us."
Ms. Roberts eyes widen slightly – but she quickly turns them down to the form in front of her and marks something on the paper. "When you say, 'us' – you mean…?"
"Me and my brother…"
Unexpectedly, Officer Richards interjects. His voice isn't nearly as soothing, and its hard tone makes me shiver. "Your brother – Isaac – who is nine years older than you?"
I don't get why the age difference matters but I nod to Ms. Roberts like she's the one who asked the question. "My dad he—he'd get angry and… my mom never helped us…"
I feel something stirring deep inside my mind. The usual numbness that I seek out and cling to is fading from me… the fog is dispersing with each word and I hate it. My hands are suddenly shaking. I don't like the flashes of memories that start escaping their locked box—coming to the surface. I don't like the red, angry face of my father that appears—reminding me of Isaac's when I upset him.
Both of them are staring at me, and I realize I haven't even been here five minutes. How much longer? How much time needs to pass before I'm back with Isaac? I search desperately for a clock but don't find one on the wall. Then my vision distorts; it starts to blur before I notice that I'm on the brink of tears.
"Jonah—listen—how did your father get angry…?"
"Did he hit you, Jonah?"
I nod desperately; Isaac told me it was so important to say it, but I hope this is enough. I don't think I can put into words all the times Dad got angry—or have to explain how Isaac had it worse. Far worse. And that it's my fault.
And then Officer Richards speaks again. He is far from sympathetic as he clasps his hands onto the table and talks over my hiccupping.
"Jonah – I've interviewed some close family friends of your parents," he starts. "Folks who say they've known them quite a long time. Members of the church. Neighbours…" trailing off, his brown eyes darken, "and all of them provided glowing character references."
I don't know what to say to this, but I know I don't want to look at this man any more than I have to. So I stare at the table in front of me as I continue to catch my breath.
"I find it more than a little strange that this is all coming to light now—when your parents aren't exactly in a state to advise otherwise. These are damning allegations…"
Isaac didn't prepare me for this; he made me believe it would be easy. That I could do it.
I can't do it.
They don't believe me! I need him, I need him, I need him right now!
"Jonah, your brother has a criminal history," Officer Richards says. "Are you aware of that?"
I'm not. I don't know what that means or what he's done…
"His behavior recently, including the release of his video, could be misconstrued a certain way. Manipulating his fans to his advantage… manipulating you…"
He thinks something's wrong with Isaac.
And he isn't wrong—he just doesn't understand.
He doesn't know what Isaac's been through. He doesn't know what Isaac endured. He doesn't know how badly Isaac needs me. How we need each other.
He doesn't know anything.
But still, Officer Richards stares at me like he does. Like he knows all of my dark and urgent desires for my brother. His serious brown eyes pierce through mine—questioning and unblinking. He is silent as he waits for me to respond, but all words are lost on me. A confusing mix of emotions takes over and I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry—to scream or stay silent.
Helpless, I turn to the case worker beside me and through a tight throat, squeak out his name. "Isaac—he loves me," I say. "He only wants me to be—" his. Doll Jonah's voice pierces through my mind and for a second, I worry that I've said it out loud. Then, I stammer past the interruption. "—s-safe!" Ms. Roberts is the only reasonable one. She has to get it, or Isaac will do something terrible. And I'm scared. "I want to keep living with him. Please – please! My kitten… he gave me a kitten all my own and he's the – he's the only one who c-can stand up to our parents!"
Suddenly all that fear? That panic and anxiety? It's replaced with anger in the most sudden, powerful way. Like the weighted ball deep in my stomach that I've been carrying for weeks has just hatched and released a dragon. It rises out of me, changing the volume and urgency of my desperate explanation.
"He's showing me everything! He loves me! I don't want to go back to my parents. I don't want to—don't make me leave—I want to stay with Isaac!"
"It's alright Jonah – no one is taking you away. Officer Richards simply has some concerns. It's his job to investigate situations like yours."
Ms. Roberts offers a hand to my back but I lurch back in my chair as soon as I realize that hand is reaching out for me. My chair skids across the laminate flooring with a screech that echoes around the room.
"I thought—" I begin, before pausing and looking straight at the case worker. "I thought, since I'm sixteen… I can choose who I… who I live with."
Or at least, that's what I heard Isaac say. The stunned faces of the adults in the room lead me to believe he was on to something.
"If I can—l-leave then why… am I in trouble?"
Richards leans back on his chair and rubs at his temples. He gives off an aura that I'm testing his patience, and this does nothing to help my current state. It makes me more nervous than ever that this police officer is going to throw me behind bars.
For being a faggot slut.
"Jonah—you aren't in any trouble at all," Ms. Roberts explains. "Not at all. Your case is slightly unusual, and that's why we're asking these questions, do you understand?" I shake my head, but it's hardly a movement at all. "We want to make sure you're making an educated choice… that Isaac is the best thing for you."
"He is!" I plead, desperate now. "He is, trust me he is!"
Even though I'm actively ignoring Officer Richards, I manage to catch the look he gives to Ms. Richards next to me; an 'are you really going to believe this?' look. My heart sinks at the sight of it. It falls so fast, that it bounces off my stomach, and suddenly I start gagging.
"I just—want—Isaac—!" I gasp between small gags, made worse by my lungs. My body malfunctions so often I've just resigned myself to no longer be in control of it. Only Isaac has the power to make it better and we've been apart too long. "I—need—him!"
Ms. Roberts leaps out of her chair at once, races across the room, and whips back the door before leaving completely. Officer Richards however, stays with me, and when he stands up to approach me, I panic even more.
Despite that I am breathing so hard my ribs hurt, I'm not actually getting any oxygen at all. My airway opens and closes over sharp hiccups and that's it—that's all it can do. Then, when the officer is only about a foot away, I throw my hands up desperately, this dragon inside me shouting over his booming commands for me to calm down.
"Gh—get away!" I screech. "GET—AWAY—FROM MEEEE!"
With limbs flailing, my foot collides with his shin and then the cop lunges.
The scream that comes out of me is warbled; it's not human. It's all dragon.
My eyes shut tight from the force of it – from the absolute terror of everything happening. I cannot keep up at all because my mind shuts down completely. I don't know where I am anymore. I don't know if I'm sitting, standing, or lying down. I'm just in complete darkness, fighting hands that are trying to hold me down; screaming for Isaac over and over.
Then his voice rings through the air.
It's unmistakeable. And I don't have to open my eyes to know that the arms wrapping around my body are his. The dragon just retreats deep inside of me as soon as I smell his sharp cologne. I'm still scared, but it's a trembling, helpless fear. It's a fear that I can't face alone. It's a fear that I messed everything up; that I'll make Isaac mad.
I don't want to open my eyes ever again.
"Jonah it's okay… it's okay buddy. I'm here, alright? It's me… I've got you kiddo."
I phase in and out of reality. My thoughts die before I can even question what's happening. Then Isaac's voice makes me jump, and my eyelids flutter open.
"I told you to back off!" he snaps to someone over his shoulder. Did he? I didn't hear it the first time. But I'm blinking furiously, trying to clear my vision from tears and bright lights long enough to find those grey eyes.
Instead I find many unfamiliar faces now staring down at us—some of them alarmed, and some of them calm. I have never felt so small, I'm sure of it, and I dig my face into the dark crook of Isaac's shoulder, desperate to have him hide all that I am.
He's come to my rescue – and when he tightens his embrace momentarily, it speaks volumes. It says everything I need to know. That it's okay now. That I've done well, despite everything. That I shouldn't do or say anything else because he's in charge.
Then, after a long minute of regaining my breathing, Isaac's voice sends a fresh wave of chills down my body.
"Is this enough yet?" he shouts at someone close to us. Not at me. No, he wouldn't be stroking fingers through my hair if he was yelling at me… "For fuck's sake, the kid can't go back there. If I don't get full custody by tomorrow, I'm calling my lawyer."