‹ Prequel: True Love

I Had My Heart Set on You

Whiskey Lullabye

December 24th, 1999

Zack sat teetering on the edge of his mattress, the tips of his fingers wound over, clenching tightly at the sheets as his head began to swim and his stomach began to ache.

It wouldn't be much longer now.

He hated to do this, to leave his family and friends this way- he knew it wasn't fair, he knew they deserved more. He knew the pain his departure would inflict on them, but it seemed like the pain was never going to end. It had been six months and sixteen days since she left, and it hurt every bit as much now as the day she left.

He had tried everything, even medication- but none of it worked.
He felt like this was his only option.

Everyone swore it would get better- that the hurt would stop, but it never went away.

He still had that same dull ache, the one that swallowed his heart, holding it captive with every single beat. He couldn't hear her name without feeling like he had been hit by a train. He still couldn't listen to the radio, because her favorite songs still left him in tears. And it still took every bone in his broken body to not call her every time he picked up the phone.

She consumed his every thought, and he had finally had enough.

He was ready for goodbye.
His note was sealed and waiting on the nightstand for whomever found him. He couldn't muster up a decent explanation, nothing seemed to adequately portray to them what it was he was feeling. He was on his eighth sheet of paper when he scribbled a simple I'm so sorry- I just can't do it without her.

He had taken 28 Meperidine from the medicine cabinet- all that was left from his dad's back surgery- and he had downed what was left in the bottle of Jack Daniels that he had kept hidden away under his bed. It was Christmas Eve and his parents were a few houses down celebrating with the neighbor and he figured now was as good a time as any.

He grabbed the still-burning cigarette from the ashtray on his nightstand, taking one long, final drag from the Marlboro Red.

He had to muster the strength to walk over to the CD player, struggling to keep himself upright as he swallowed at the wave of nausea that rocked his exhausted body. He started tossing each CD, the pile getting shorter every moment until he finally found what he was looking for.

The flames on the front were impossibly fake, the four men staggered in a row looking far too content standing in the burning flames. Zack tore the case open, grabbing the disc as he tossed it in- skipping straight to track 12.

He hated 98 Degrees- he hated their music, he hated everything they stood for, he hated everything about them, but they were Mia's favorite and if he was going to leave this world, he was going to do it with her on his mind.

He had to muster every ounce of strength to get himself back into bed.

He was fading fast- struggling to keep his eyes open.

He knew he should have been scared- he knew he should have been paralyzed with regret and fear as his body prepared to leave the world, but he wasn't. Knowing that he'd never wake up, that he'd never feel this pain again left him peaceful and content, and for the first time in months, he felt whole.

He knew he likely wouldn't be awake for his last breath, but he hoped and he prayed with every fiber of his very being that it was a sigh of relief.

Zack's emerald eyes lidded closed as his heart and his breathing slowed. He struggled, a slight gurgle passing through his darkening lips.



It was a slow, foggy return to reality for Zack.

But he didn't have to open his eyes to know where he was.

The smells and sounds that overtook his every sense -the bleach, the bitter staleness of death and sickness and the constant humming of the heart monitor- was the dead giveaway. It was then that an anger unlike anything he had ever felt engulf his exhausted body.

He was still alive- he had failed.

How was that fucking possible?

He had planned it- every last second. His parents were at the Bronson's annual Christmas Eve party and wouldn't be back until well after midnight. Zina was celebrating with her boyfriend, while Matt had taken his girlfriend ice skating at the pier.

It was then, when he went to let out a scream that his throat caught fire- stopping him.

His nose burned and his throat was raw- he felt the urge to gag as he noticed the tube running through his nose and down his throat. But most alarming was the taste that lingered on the back of his tongue- it tasted something akin to what he imagined a puddle of mud would taste like.

He let out a low groan, but as he went to move his arms and legs, he realized he couldn't. He swallowed hard, his nose burning and his throat raw as the lights burned at his eyes, making him let out a low hiss. But once he finally managed to open them he realized what was stopping his movements.

Cloth shackles- like the ones you'd see holding a prisoner in bed.

"Zack?" her voice was desperate and angry.

She ran to his bedside, her hair was a haphazard mess, her face ghost white and mascara stained. He tried to croak out her name, but she hushed him before brushing his fringe out of his face.

"Shh, shh-" she let out a low sob, wiping her face with the sleeve of her thermal before turning to the hallway. "Mom! Dad! He's awake!"

A sudden chaos erupted in the tiny ICU room- a fury of nurses and doctors poking and prodding- some checked vitals while others examined Zack.

But the nurse who had the hardest job of all was the one standing in the doorway, fending off his family.

He could hear his mother barking at the poor woman as she hysterically called Zack her baby. Her verbal assault towards the nurse was unrelenting, but the poor woman took it in stride.

The next hour was, without a shadow of a doubt, the longest of his life.

They did a blood draw- the nurse managed to blow a vein four times before she got the sample she needed. They did a full neurological exam, asking his a barrage of questions -What is your full name? When was his birthday? Could you read the clock? Who was the President of the United States? Was he able to count backwards from 20?- all of which he was able to answer.

Last came the removal of his nasogastric tube.

They numbed the back of his throat, but it didn't seem to help.
He gagged as the tube was inched from his body, he was suddenly thankful he didn't have anything left in his stomach, because he was sure he would have puked on the poor doctor.

For a brief moment, he thought the tube removal would be the worst part of this ordeal so far- but it was when the nurses and doctors cleared out of the room that he realized how wrong he was.

Being left alone with his family for the first time was the worst.

The tears were overwhelming.

His mother was shaking was she flung her body onto his, her face pressed into his shoulder as she sobbed.

His eyes flickered to his father, who was embracing Zina and Matt.

"Zack..." Zina started, her voice shaking as she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. "why?"

But in that moment Maria's motherly love and concern melted away, her head spinning as her eyes catching fire like kerosene. "Isn't it obvious! That little tramp did this to him!"

"Maria!" James chastised his wife, shooting her that 'now is not the time' warning look, but it didn't even phase her.

"Don't Maria me!" she challenged, pulling her body from the hospital bed. "We all know it! She did this to our son! She led him to believe this was his only option! One day she loved him and the next she was gone!"

"Mom!" Zack barked as loud as his throat would let him.

"No!" she insisted again, stomping at the floor. "You deserve so much better than that little tramp! She's just lucky she's not here because if she were-"

"I made this decision, not her!" Zack growled, his ghostly face suddenly burning bright with anger, "So you leave her the fuck out of this!" his voice getting weaker with every word he spoke.

Maria's eyes went wide. "You're actually defending her?!"

Zack swallowed hard, thinking for a moment before nodding.

Maria closed her eyes, a single tear slipping it's way down her exhausted cheek. Her arms clenched tight over her chest as she took a deep breath. "I can't believe you-" she sobbed, "you're letting that heartless bitch win!"

Zack couldn't fight the tears for another second. "No-" his voice shook, "no I'm still here. So we both lose."

"How could you even say that?"

His head lulled to the side, he couldn't bare to look at his parents for another second.

"Zack-" James' voice broke the silence, "we talked with the doctors and we think maybe you should talk to someone."

Zack just shook his head no.

"You could do individual therapy-"


"We could do family therapy- we could be there with you along the way-"


"Zack." Zina plead, clinging tighter to her father.

"What about group therapy? You could talk to other people going through the same th-"

"No." he finally screamed. "No one knows what I'm feeling. No one. Now give it a fucking rest."

He meant it.
No one knew his pain.
No one could understand it.

He had spent so much time planning the life they would have together and when she left, that all shattered and he couldn't put the pieces back together- not without her.

And though he couldn't understand why just yet, life had other plans for him.
♠ ♠ ♠
Visual: Zack
First and foremost- an eternal thank you to my wonderful beta, Renée. You make my life a million times easier and I can't thank you enough for that.

Welcome to 1999, y'all! I had to search Billboard charts to find the top 100 songs of the year.

This gem topped the list at #37 (coincidentally, 98 Degrees -am I the only one that remembers them? Yeah, I thought so- was my first concert in 1999 at the Nutter Center. I was eight. Man, those were the days!

Anyways, back to the important stuff.
Didn't I tell you we we're heading straight for tissue territory?

I'm not a fan of trigger warnings, but with the reaction to the last chapter, it just felt slightly necessary.

I thought long and hard before I made the decision to write this particular "memory". Suicide is not something I take lightly -my best friend tried twice in high school (thankfully, she is still with us. She got the help she needed. She's now a happily married kindergarten teacher)- but it's something I felt was really important for Zack and his story and it seemed like such an injustice to leave this out because it's something I imagine would have weighed heavily on his mind constantly.

Next chapter is a lot more upbeat. We get babies!

As always, thank you so, so much for the feedback and for reading. It means more than you'll ever know.