It was the Sunday morning before the Big Brother 17 finale and Zach was driving down the highway with the windows rolled up and the radio off. His knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel so tight and tears were in his eyes. A singular bag sat in the back seat but the front seat was covered with random shit - his cell phone charger, his laptop, his wallet and a couple other items that he grabbed as he ran out of his house. As he ran out of his parent’s house.
Zach quickly called Erik as he raced down the highway.
"I'm coming to Miami. I'll be there in an hour and a half. Can I stay with you?" He was short and curt.
"Of course! I'll call Logan and let him know. We should go out tonight! It'll be fun, we haven’t hung out in a while!" Erik sounded excited before some confusion set in. "Why are you coming down anyways? I thought you said you couldn't? Bro, you should have come yesterday, last night was ridiculous!"
Zach didn't want to answer. "Thanks, see you soon." He quickly hung up and stared at the road in front of him not thinking. He couldn't think or else he would fall apart. And he couldn’t fall apart; he was doing 70 down the highway.
Despite wanting to pretend that he was the only person in the world, that nothing else was happening, his phone kept beeping with new text notifications. He picked it up and clipped it to his dashboard so he could see the screen. It was the damn group text with Frankie, Derrick and Cody. He was sure they were finalizing their plans for the finale on Wednesday, but he just couldn't deal with that right now so he turned the volume down and ignored it.
Unfortunately his mind wouldn't go blank. It never could. He relived everything that had just happened. He thought about how he told his parents he would be going to the finale. He thought about how he explained to them that he needed to see everyone, especially Derrick and Cody. And Frankie. He thought about how his mom asked him why it was so important. He thought about how his mom laid down the guilt trip, saying how nice it would be to spend Yom Kippur with him for the first time in years. He thought about how his dad kept repeating questions and how he got annoyed. He thought about how he got so irritated with not being about to live his own life that he finally confessed (and yelled) everything. He thought about how he told his parents that he fell hopelessly in love with a man, with Frankie. He thought about how his parents said that he was just putting on a show for them, like he does for his fans on YouNow. He thought about all the yelling, the tears and the disrespect both parties showed toward the other. He thought about how his parents told him to leave, kicking him out of the house. He thought about how they said he shouldn’t call Peyton for a while, not until things “settled down”.
He thought about how he finally told the truth and he was reprimanded for it. He thought about how his world was falling apart.
Zach was shaken from his thoughts when he heard the phone ring. Gratefulness quickly turned to annoyance. He didn’t want to talk to anyone. He looked at the screen and saw it was a group video chat with Derrick, Cody and Frankie. He didn’t want to completely ignore them so he figured he would wipe away the tears on his face, answer the call, tell them he was driving and he had to talk to them later. He figured with the phone angled the way it was and him looking out the windshield, they shouldn’t be able to see his tear-stained face.
“Hey, guys!” He tried to sound enthusiastic. He wasn’t sure it was working. “I’m driving. I’ll call you back in a couple hours when I get there.”
“Where are you going?” It was Frankie. Hearing his voice startled him into looking straight at the phone, straight into Frankie’s eyes.
“Uhh, Miami. I’ll talk to you guys soon.” He went to press the end button, but Frankie’s voice interrupted him.
“Zach! Why are you going to Miami?” The concern in Frankie’s voice was evident. “What’s wrong?”
Zach desperately needed to talk to Frankie, but now was not the time or situation. His plan was to call him the second he was in Erik’s apartment, after he had some time to process things.
“Nothing. I’ll talk to you later.” His voice was cracking. He badly wanted to end the call, but couldn’t bring himself to press the button.
“Babe…” Zach looked at the screen with tears in his eyes and saw Derrick and Cody looking both confused and worried. Frankie looked scared and sad. Frankie knew him too well; he knew something was wrong, something had happened.
“Babe, pull off the road and call me,” Frankie said. Zach didn’t reply.
“Zach, get off the highway. Cody and I will get off the call and you can talk to Frankie, okay?” Derrick was always the rational, strategic one. He was like a big brother to Zach and he was there whenever he needed him, his advice or a swift kick in the ass.
“No, I’ll get off the call. You guys talk. Frankie, I’ll call you when I get to Miami and after that we can all talk about the finale.” Zach really just needed to be alone for an hour.
“Zach, please…” Tears were evident in Frankie’s voice.
It wasn’t really worth arguing with him, and after everything that happened with his parents he didn’t want to risk hurting Frankie and pushing him away.
“Fine. I’ll get off the next exit and call you in a couple.”
“Thank you. And, Zach? I love you.”
“I love you too, Frankie. To the moon and back.”
Zach could hear Cody and Derrick snicker half-heartedly as he ended the call. He continued driving until he hit the next exit and pulled off into the first parking lot he saw. He shut off the car and sat there with his hands on the wheel and his head bent. He never thought he would end up here. He picked up his phone and facetimed Frankie. Even though he didn’t really want to look Frankie in the eye during this conversation, he knew he would be more at ease if he could see his beautiful face.
“My love.” Frankie answered. Zach responded with a weak smile. “What happened?” Frankie asked slowly, in a non-prying manner.
“I…this morning…my parents…” Zach stumbled across his words, almost hyperventilating with misty eyes.
“You don’t have to talk if you don’t want, we can just sit here. But you can tell me anything, you know that, right?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Zach said with a sheepish smile. He looked straight into Frankie’s eyes and he saw everything he wanted and needed. He saw love and acceptance and friendship. He saw comfort and joy.
Zach took a deep breath and started talking. He told Frankie everything that had happened, he expressed everything he was feeling.
“The worst thing is that they won’t let me talk to Peyton. I don’t…I don’t get it,” Zach cried as tears were streaming down Frankie’s face. Frankie tried to reassure him, but honestly, he wasn’t sure he believed what he was saying. This situation was worse than almost everything Frankie had imagined. All he knew for sure was that the love of his life, his soulmate, was heartbroken and 2,500 miles away. He couldn’t hold him and that was the most horrible feeling.
The men talked for a while longer, trying to make sense of everything while figuring out the near future.
“This is what I’m going to do,” Frankie said slowly, as if he didn’t want to spook Zach. “I’m going to fly to Miami tomorrow, pick you up at Erik’s and then we are going to fly to LA for the finale together.”
Zach wanted to object; there was no reason Frankie had to fly across the country just because his boyfriend was having a tough time. But he had to admit that the sooner he saw him the better, so he gave Frankie a weak smile and a weaker protest. Frankie didn’t buy it. He would be flying into Miami around noon on Monday.
“Go to Erik’s. I will talk to you later, okay? I’m going to call Derrick and Cody and just let them know my plans have changed for tomorrow. I think Derrick was meeting Cody in Jersey and they were flying into LA together.”
“You can tell them if you want. About this. If you want,” Zach rambled quietly.
Frankie could tell that Zach didn’t want to rehash the whole story again. “I’ll give them a heads up, they were really worried. I was really worried. But we’ll get through this. I love you, you know that, right? I’m always going to be here, I promise you.”
A small weight lifted off of Zach’s chest and his eyes filled with tears even though he thought he had shed them all.
“I know, and I love you, too. Thank you for staying,” Zach said as a genuine smile spread across his tear-soaked face. Zach didn’t know what he would do if Frankie had left him, too.
They hung up and Zach got back on the highway. He rolled the windows down and turned the radio on low. He got to Erik’s in just under an hour, his eyes still red.
He explained everything to Erik as he ushered him inside worriedly. Logan showed up halfway through the story and both men awkwardly provided what comfort they could. They assured him that they would always be there for him and he always had a place to stay in Miami.
While relaxing on the couch trying to pay attention to SportsCenter, he got a message from Frankie asking if he was feeling up to a group video with Derrick and Cody. He figured now was as good of a time as any as he excused himself to the guest bedroom.
Once Zach was connected to the call, Derrick and Cody immediately began reassuring him that they loved him and they were there for whatever he needed.
“We also decided,” Cody began, “that we are meeting Frankie in Miami tomorrow.”
“…what?” Zach was confused. It had already been a long day and it was only 2 in the afternoon.
“We had a layover in Atlanta, but we were able to change it to Miami. We’ll actually be getting in almost the same time as Frankie,” Derrick explained with a smile.
Tears came to Zach eyes for the millionth time. Just three hours ago he felt as if his world was ending, that he was alone, that there was not a soul that cared about him. Now he felt more love than he had in a long time. He was so grateful for the friendships of these three men.
“You really don’t have to do that,” Zach said unconvincingly.
“We want to. We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Cody stated.
Zach smiled as the four men discussed their plans for the finale. They would be staying at Frankie’s LA house and then flying back to New York together on Friday as Ariana was playing there on Saturday. Zach figured he would go along with that plan for now. After all, he didn’t really have a home anymore.
The call ended after 45 minutes and a ridiculous amount of laughter. Zach, feeling somewhat better about the immediate future, spent the rest of the day hanging with Logan and Erik in the apartment and by the water. He contemplated calling his parents, but he was so pissed and figured that he would give them time to see what they were missing. He had to admit it was a very mature plan (or, you know, not).
After a restless night of no sleep and more tears, Zach wandered into the kitchen to find Erik making breakfast. They ate together in front of the TV making small talk about sports. Zach had gotten a text earlier in the morning from Frankie telling him his plane was leaving and he would see him soon. He couldn’t wait to hold him in his arms.
Around noon there was a knock on Erik’s door. Zach scrambled to the door and threw it open to see three of his favorite people. Frankie immediately engulfed him in a hug and kissed his neck.
“I’ve missed you,” Frankie whispered. “And I love when you don’t wear a shirt,” he added jokingly.
Zach giggled, not realizing until that moment that he had yet to put on a shirt.
Derrick and Cody gave him half hugs as Frankie wasn’t letting him out of his arms. Erik cleared his throat behind Zach and Zach was grateful that the introductions weren’t as awkward as they once would have been.
Once they were fully in the apartment, Zach pulled Frankie in front of him and locked their lips together. It was a slow, passionate kiss. Zach didn’t realize how much he needed this. His tongue explored Frankie’s mouth and he held onto him for dear life. Frankie pulled back when he was out of breath and saw that Zach’s eyes were cloudy.
“I’m here, baby,” Frankie whispered.
“I love you,” Zach answered with so much sincerity that Frankie could never doubt it.
“Okay, lovebirds, we have to get going or we’re going to be late,” Cody announced loudly from a few feet away.
“What?” Zach asked. He wasn’t ready to face the world and he knew the planes weren’t leaving for another 10 hours or so. “I thought we said we were just going to chill before going to the airport.”
“There’s been a change of plans,” Derrick said. Zach just stared at him confused.
“We’re going to see Peyton,” Frankie excitedly added. “Go get dressed.”
“What…how…my parents…the flight,” Zach could not form a sentence as he stood grounded to his spot in the living room.
“We talked about it on the way over here,” Frankie started. “We have more than enough time before the planes leave so we figured we would drive up to Peyton’s school and you could surprise him when he got out.” Frankie was clearly excited about the plan.
“We want you to see him before you leave,” Derrick added somberly. Zach could tell he wanted to say more but was afraid of the truth – the fact that he may not see Peyton for a while. A long while.
With tears in his eyes – again – Zach quickly changed and thought about how amazing his friends were. How much they cared about him.
A few minutes later, the four of them left Erik and gathered in Zach’s car. While the first few minutes of the trip were filled with a heavy silence, they were soon cracking jokes and singing along to the radio that Frankie blared.
When they pulled into the school parking lot, it was only 10 minutes until the final bell rang. Zach was lucky to get a parking spot right outside the door he knew Peyton would be exiting to walk home. He got out of the car and leaned against it waiting for his little brother.
He crafted a speech in his head of what he would say, but as soon as he saw Peyton his mind went blank. Peyton stopped in shock and then sprinted toward the car and Zach’s open arms. The brothers didn’t usually hug, but neither one cared about that. Peyton was mumbling about how he was so mad at their parents and how it wasn’t fair and he didn’t understand. Zach just rubbed his brother’s head and tried to comfort him.
“I love you so much, Pizzle,” Zach said through tears.
They stayed like that for several more minutes until Zach broke away to look Peyton in the eyes.
“No matter what happens, I am always going to be here for you, okay? Do you understand? You never have to be afraid to tell me anything and I will love and support you regardless.” Peyton nodded, not able to say anything through his own tears.
Zach suddenly remembered that there were other people in the car behind him. He turned to see his friends and boyfriend more emotional than he ever had before. He opened Frankie’s door and thought he could literally see his heart breaking.
“Come here,” Zach said. Frankie got out of the car and looked at Peyton. Peyton stepped into Frankie’s space and put his arms around his waist. Frankie wrapped him in a hug and held him close. No one said anything as Zach took in the scene. God, he hoped this wouldn’t be the last time he saw them together.
With his voice cracking, Zach said, “Peyton, I know my number's in your phone, but I’m afraid mom will delete it or do something stupid. I'm going to write it down along with Frankie’s number on a piece of paper. Put it in your backpack so you’ll always have it, okay?” Peyton nodded. “You can call me anytime,” Frankie added sincerely. Zach shot him a grateful smile.
Peyton’s phone then buzzed with a text. “It’s mom. She’s wondering how far I am from home…I guess I should go so she doesn’t get more mad.”
“Yeah…Peyton, I love you. Be good and stay safe. We’ll talk soon. I promise.”
With one last lingering hug Peyton was gone. Zach climbed into the driver’s seat of the car, put his hands on the top of the steering wheel and his head between them. Frankie put his arm around his shoulders and laid his head on his arm. Derrick and Cody both leaned forward from the back seat and offered a comforting touch as sobs wracked through Zach’s body.
After several minutes, Zach straightened up.
“Thank you,” he eked out as he put the car in gear. The men nodded their heads. They were all emotionally wrecked.
About a half-hour into the drive back to Miami, Zach broke the silence.
“So, I was thinking that when we are in New York this weekend, I can look at apartments. Well, Cody, we could look at apartments.”
A smile broke out on Cody’s face and a small squeal escaped Frankie.
“I mean, we had talked about it before,” Zach continued, “and maybe now is the time. I mean, if you still want to.”
“Dude! Of course! That would be amazing!” Cody was thrilled.
Zach glanced at Frankie. “What do you think? We talked about how we shouldn’t live together just yet and we already know Cody can put up with my shit. And we can look for a place that is close to yours.”
Frankie smiled and for the first time in days the tears in his eyes were happy ones.
“I think that’s the perfect plan, my love.”
Frankie grabbed Zach’s hand and interlaced their fingers. Cody shook Frankie by the shoulders and Derrick clapped Zach on the back.
This was his family.