(It begins like this)
He wakes up in the morning, too excited to sleep in because today is a big day. Today he gets to go to school - not the kind that Waliyah goes to - a proper school with the big kids that take the big yellow school bus. He checks his bag once, twice, making sure he's got all his pencils and notebooks to write on. He's ready and he can't wait to go.
But big kid school is not what he thought it would be. The big kids are mean. They push him around when it's recess and steal his lunch. They make fun of his baba, call him things he doesn't even understand like paki and sand nigger as they shove him into the dirt because they say it matches the color of his skin and that's where his people belong anyway.
(He decides he doesn't like big kid school anymore)
He gets his first tattoo just before his sixteenth birthday.
It's an Eye of Horus inked on his wrist, a symbol of protection. His parents aren't too happy about it but they let it go, tell him that they love him even though they think it's completely idiotic. Soon after he gets a motorcycle license and the next he knows, girls are talking to him - call him things like cool and mysterious. He doesn't understand it, doesn't really care.
(All he knows is that he no longer gets shoved into the dirt and that's all that really matters)
He's at a party, a really huge Halloween party and he's sort of sitting in a corner sulking, dressed in a pathetic Grim Reaper costume because apparently looking for a costume on Halloween day itself is not a good idea.
His friend Niall ditched him for a bunch of girls in cliché' animal costumes (he can't say he's surprised) and if he's being completely honest, he's bored. He's never been the partying type, preferring to stay indoors with a book instead. He's just not a people person and really what is so much fun about getting drunk on cheap beer anyway?
He's about to leave, call it a night when a guy just flops onto his lap, limbs splaying open as if Zayn is some sort of comfy hotel bed. It's extremely awkward and he's getting more than a little uncomfortable when the giant is pulled off by a boy who starts apologizing profusely for his idiot of a friend. And Zayn would like to tell you that he was paying attention to what he was saying, but he was too busy gaping at him because damn. He's got kind brown eyes that crinkle at the sides, cheeks flushed pink with alcohol and embarrassment, and the most beautiful smile Zayn has ever seen.
Zayn’s gaping is cut short when the pretty stranger says he has to go but hey, maybe they'll see each other around.
(He keeps a look out for him wherever he goes now)
He thinks he might pee in his pants.
He doesn't remember the last time he felt this nervous about something. His palms are sweating, he can't sit still and much to the amusement of his father, he's freaking out over just about everything from the dinner menu to the seat cushions. He's going over the framed photos one more time, making sure there aren't any embarrassing ones when the doorbell rings and his heart stops.
Because what if Liam is uncomfortable with what they are? They’ve never talked about it and he’s never heard a slur escape Liam’s lips but still. It’s one thing to tolerate it, but it’s another to date someone who practices it. He's dreading the moment when Liam takes in his dad’s tan skin and thick accent, and he wonders how Liam will react, wonders if he'll make up an excuse to leave and then disappear from his life.
It wouldn't be the first time it's happened to him.
But it turns out all Zayn’s worrying is for nothing. Dinner is all crinkly smiles and deep belly laughs and he's more than surprised when Liam bonds with his baba over their mutual love for footie.
(And Zayn thinks he might just be more than a little in love with him)
(It ends like this.)
They're lying out in the garden, a giant blanket spread out and a pile of baby name books between them as they each pick out names for their unborn child. Zayn’s only half listening to the story Liam’s telling him, too caught up in Liam’s wild hand movements and the way his entire face lights up like the fucking sun as he talks about the sweet old couple who ran the neighborhood bookstore. Liam keeps giggling and Zayn’s chest is warm with affection and adoration, and he realizes suddenly just how far he’s come from his days of being called names and lying in the dirt.
And it's there under the bright blue sky with Liam tucked into his side that he knows he's found it.
He's found his peace.