PINELLAS PARK — He was only 13. He was only 120 pounds. He was only 5 feet 3.
But Zachary Hall was strong.
His mother had suffered from a stomach ailment since the time he was a baby. Recently, the doctors gave her a grim prognosis. His brother fought in Iraq. His father lost his job. The family lost everything.
But Zachary held it together.
He begged his father for a cell phone. He wanted to text his friends, but mostly, he wanted to set an alarm so wherever he was, he could call his mom and remind her to take medicine.
"I know there are kids that have rough times and probably rougher times, but he had been through a heck of a lot," said his father, Bill Hall. "But he always kept a positive attitude."
• • •
They called him their miracle baby.
Bill and Laura Hall already had children from other marriages when they met. But after suffering a miscarriage, they thought their chances of getting pregnant again were nil.
Then Zachary came along.
By 3, Zachary was fascinated with his father's motorcycle and cool friends. His dad would tuck him into the passenger seat of his Honda Gold Wing with a helmet and go for slow rides.
"Everyone called him my little biker buddy," said Bill Hall, 57.
He hung around adults so much he could hold his own in conversations. He was like a sponge, remembering who said what when.
He was a prankster. At home, he liked to set the bathtub to spray ice cold water from the shower head on his dad's back. Zachary would lie awake at night just waiting to hear the yelp. At Osceola Middle School in Seminole, where Zachary was in seventh grade, everyone knew him.
"High energy," said his principal, Bob Vicari. "He was outgoing, a class clown type kid, a typical little teenage boy looking to see where the line was and looking to see if he could sneak his toe across it."
His family didn't have much money. His mother couldn't work because of her illness, and his father lost his job as a truck driver, he said.
Zachary didn't ask for much from his parents. When they bought him generic sneakers from Payless, he didn't complain. He didn't like dress shoes, anyway — he said they hurt his feet. He'd wear any kind of jeans, as long as they didn't look faded. He hated that.
He wanted an iPod so bad. His dad said they couldn't afford the real thing, but they could get him a less expensive MP3 player. When he got the tiny black music machine, he was elated. He carried it in his pocket everywhere. He'd keep one headphone in one ear to blare Rihanna or Rascal Flatts, the other ear free to hear conversation.
He worshiped his older brother, a soldier who returned from Iraq in September. He loved to hang out at the church youth group. He'd stay late to help stack chairs.
When Zachary battled a bad sinus infection that spread to his eye last month, his friends at school wrote him letters and poems in the hospital. After using antibiotics and nasal spray, his family said, he felt better.
He went to school Monday, but complained of not feeling well. He went to bed with the television running, Bill Hall said. He figured his son was just trying to squeeze extra TV time.
Tuesday morning, the family realized Zachary was not sleeping. He had died. It could take weeks of testing to find out why.
• • •
When times got real hard, Bill Hall got down. After leaving hospital visits, he'd slump in the car, Zachary beside him.
Unfailingly, he'd feel a little hand reach around his shoulder.
"Don't worry," Zachary would say. "I'm here for you."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.