Chapter Twenty: Believe You Me
Zack knew he was in trouble the second he arrived at the Tipton later that night. He hadn't expected to see both of his parents the second he opened the door, let alone his grandparents. Actually, part of him was surprised to find his grandparents watching him closely, but he wasn't so surprised for his parents to be watching him closely all the while Cody sheepishly sat in the corner of the room.
Zack's eyes roved over his parents as he closed the door behind him. "Whatever it is, I didn't do it," he remarked.
"That's not funny, Zachary," Carey said firmly. "This is serious."
Hearing his full name, Zack came to a stop, foot hovering in the air, moving halfway to his room "Whoa, 'Zachary', haven't heard that one in…about two days." He folded his arms and looked toward his parents, letting out a breath so large that it blew his bangs off his forehead. "Let me guess, you figured out I gambled away part of Cody's college fund."
At that, Cody's eyes shot open. "You what?!" He practically squeaked.
"It's not like you're not getting a full ride scholarship wherever you're going, anyway," Zack replied dismissively. He dropped down into the seat that'd been setup across from his family and slumped down, resting his chin against his upraised fist. "So, what did I do this time?"
"You tell us," Kurt said firmly. He looked at his eldest son seriously. "We've been telling you that your antics were going to get you in trouble at some point. But this time you really went above and beyond what we thought you'd ever do. Getting kicked out of places is one thing, getting bad grades and having to do summer school is one thing. But getting a protective order—"
"—A restraining order?" Zack's eyebrows flew upwards. "That little prick is giving me a restraining order?" Grandma Pearl made a gasping sound, bringing her hand up to cover her mouth. Grandpa Jim reached out and squeezed her knee while Zack held up a hand in his grandmother's direction. "Sorry, grandma, but if you knew this guy, you wouldn't be so quick to get upset with me about calling him a prick."
"Your language is the least of your problems, young man," Grandma Pearl said as soon as she regained her composure.
Her cheeks reddened as she took in a few deep breaths. Zack shot her what he hoped was an apologetic look. One of the things Zack took seriously was the amount of respect he showed his grandparents. Not simply because of how long he'd lived with them, but because they were some of the few people who knew him well enough to know he wasn't a jerk.
Anything that upset them was enough for Zack to want to turn tail and run. Especially after the good day he'd had with his grandfather on their fishing trip. Reaching down, Zack rubbed at the knuckles on his hand, still feeling the dull pain of his fingers all jamming at once. When he realized he was doing it, he quickly sat on his hands, trying to look as innocent as possible.
"We're just worried about you," Grandma Pearl continued. She took in a deep breath. "You're not the same young man we used to know; you're angry, sullen, don't want to be around your family as much as you used to. We used to spend all day together when you were young, now we don't know you anymore." She rubbed at her nose. "You used to be such a sweet boy and now…it's like you're regressing."
Zack turned his gaze toward the ceiling, wondering when the intervention was going to be over. Couldn't they just get back to the point? To the fact that, yes, he managed to screw up again, and then be done with it? He didn't need their pitying looks and anger at something they didn't and wouldn't understand.
It was just like everything else, when it doubt, blame Zack.
Don't bother thinking there's a real reason for it, Zack thought. He turned his gaze to his mother and father. "So, how long am I grounded for?"
Carey's eyes nearly bugged out of her head then narrowed dangerously. She sat up, stood up, and folded her arms as she started to pace. "Zack, this isn't funny. Ian's parents could sue you if they wanted. Do you think we have enough money for a lawyer."
"Sue?" Zack slowly sat up. He hadn't expected that. Then again, he hadn't expected them to come at him with saying he had a restraining order put out against him either. "For what? I haven't done anything to him."
"You wouldn't have a protective order against you if you hadn't done anything," Kurt replied. He took in a deep breath and laced his fingers together. "We're just trying to figure everything out before it gets any further than we can handle."
"In English, please."
"Zack." Carey reached up and pinched her nose. She took in a deep breath and looked at her son as seriously as Zack had ever seen her. "What possessed you to hunt Ian down and beat him up?"
"I did what?" Zack brought up his hands and rubbed them over his face. He sucked in a sharp breath, released it in a groan. "Okay, I didn't hunt him down. I didn't even think I was run going to run into him. And I didn't beat him up, I barely touched him."
"That's not what his parents are saying," Carey insisted. "They're sending us a medical bill for his doctor's appointments and any therapy—"
"—Ha!" Zack dropped his hands from his face. "Therapy I agree with, but he needed that long before he got here."
"—Why are you believing everything this guy is telling you anyway?" Zack demanded, turning his gaze to his mother and father. He glared at them. "Why is it that you already assume I'm the bad guy in all of this?"
Kurt shook his head. "You have to admit that your track record over the years hasn't leant us to believe everything you tell us."
"Sounds like someone else I know," Grandpa Jim murmured, turning his gaze directly to stare down his ex-son-in-law. Kurt cleared his throat, smiled sheepishly, and sat up straight, reminding his ex-father-in-law, "We're talking about Zack, here, not me." Grandpa Jim nodded and turned back to Zack, only for Kurt to interrupt again with, "And our divorce wasn't entirely my fault, okay!"
"Kurt!" Carey snapped. Ignoring her father and her ex-husband, she moved to sit on the edge of the coffee table. She rested her hands between her knees, looking her son in the eye. "Zack, we're just trying to talk to you. To see if there's anything we can do to help. We know how moving so much, and our divorce, has hurt you in the past. And that's what caused a lot of your anger problems in the first place." She hesitated for a minute. "And then, with your disorder, that's was tough for you to handle as well and now this. We just want to be sure you're doing okay. Or if you need more help."
"I'm already talking to Dr. Morrison every week, I don't need any more 'help'," Zack said, using air quotes around the words.
"Okay, if you're not going to come out with it, I guess I'll have to be more direct. Why did you attack Ian?"
"I didn't attack him," Zack insisted. "I didn't hit him at all." He lifted his hand, showing off his injury. "This is what I got for punching the ground." He noticed Cody gently shake his head back and forth, before facepalming. Zack pressed his lips together. Great. Now he'd busted himself. "Okay, I'll tell the truth. I went looking for him to tell him that he needs to leave Riley alone. And he pissed me off and I couldn't handle it anymore."
Grandma Pearl's eyes flew open. "All of this is going on because of a girl?"
Zack frowned, not liking the incredulous and partially humor filled tone to her voice. "This isn't just because of a 'girl', Grandma. It's…" he took in a deep breath. "Look, Ian's not as great of a guy as everyone thinks he is. He's a jerk!"
"Didn't you say the same thing about that guy Maddie was going out with?" Kurt asked. He reached up, scratching the back of his neck. "And the second, third, and fourth guys after that?"
Zack's face screwed up, trying to remember. He probably did say something about those guys, but even he couldn't quite remember. Somewhere along the line, his jealousy of the guys that Maddie paid attention to turned into a friendly kind of jealousy, that they joked about when they were at work together. There was a tiny bit of truth there, even when he was dating Max, he wondered what it would be like if Maddie finally—if ever—returned her feelings for him. But he'd grown out of that fantasy ages ago.
"Maybe," he replied after a second. "But that's different. I was young back then. All I cared about was getting her to admit she liked me. Those guys weren't even that bad. This guy is the worst." He hesitated for a minute, wondering if he should say the next part. "He hit her!"
All at once, Zack saw Cody snap to attention while his parents and grandparents exchanged worried glances. Then, Carey leaned forward, grasping Zack's attention. "That's a really serious accusation—"
"—Accusation?" Zack repeated. "You went out with the guy that was beating her and her family up and now you think this is an accusation?" He barely registered his mother's face turning red in embarrassment—or was it rage—at the mention of her past indiscretion.
But part of him hardly paid attention, thinking back to what Riley had told him before. When he'd asked why she hadn't told anyone about him. How she didn't want to make a big deal about everything to the police. "'I can't prove that he did it It'd be my word against his."
"Zack, this is serious—"
"I know it is! And I seem to be the only one who's taking it seriously!"
"He's putting a protective order against you. If it goes through to trial, you can't go within ten feet of him. He's afraid of you, Zack," Carey insisted. She shook her head. "I know you've been having some trouble with everything lately, but being jealous—"
"God damn it!" Zack got to his feet and stormed toward his room. "I'm not jealous! And I'm not regressing or whatever psychobabble you want to throw on top of me." He stated to count off on his fingers. "I'm not dieting, I'm not restricting my food, I'm not starving myself. There's nothing wrong with me! And even then, why is everything my fault!" He stormed into his room, slamming the door shut behind him.
He only made it a few steps across the room before the door behind him opened again. "They're just trying to help," Cody said, easing into the room behind his brother. "They're worried about you."
"If they were worried about me, they'd ask what's going on instead of accusing me." Zack folded his arms, almost pouted. "I know I've messed up a few times, but this time it wasn't me."
"What'd you do?" Cody asked.
"I didn't do anything," Zack replied defensively. He clasped his hands between his knees before folding them over his chest. His knees started to rapidly bounce up and down. "Why is everyone asking me that? Why aren't they asking him?"
"You have to admit," Cody said gently. "Your track record isn't always the best."
"Yeah, but why would I lie about something that this?" Zack replied. Cody lifted an eyebrow, making Zack roll his eyes. "For the last time, I'm not jealous!" He flopped back onto his bed, resting his arm over his eyes. "I already knew people don't really believe me when I say anything. But…it sucks when no one believes me over something I was right about before."
He wasn't jealous the first time he'd experienced Robert's screaming taunts toward his foster children. No, Zack was horrified. He heard Robert screaming at Riley over the phone as he called to demand why she wasted his time when they were supposed to have met up at the library to study. He heard Robert scream about her being worthless and pathetic and, Zack was pretty sure but she never talked about it, that he heard Robert spit on her before the line went dead.
And for days, weeks afterward, Zack tried to convince himself that he hadn't heard what he thought he heard. That Riley was right when she said he didn't hear anything that bad. That it was nothing and didn't mean anything. But, deep down, he knew it wasn't true. They weren't even friends then with as much as he got under her skin and she equally got under his, but he pushed his massive crush on her aside to try and help her and her family out.
But this was different; this time the abuser was the master of appearing innocent. A history that seemed to help him more than hurt. And, maybe, that was the part Zack was jealous about. About there being a history he'd never be a part of.
"I believe you," Cody said simply.
Zack lifted his gaze and looked at his brother in surprise. Waited to see Cody's face screw up as he tried to hold back his taunting laugh. But found nothing but sincerity in his brother's eyes.
Relief washed over Zack.
Finally, someone believed him.
A/N: I'm going to finish this story at some point, I promise. It's not going to go dead. There's not much left to it considering what I have planned. Thank you all for continuing to be so patient as you waited for an update!