Synopsis: Four years after Zeke breaks Casey's heart, Casey get an invitation.
Disclaimer: I own nothing--all fantasy on my end.
Author's Notes: Inspired by a prompt I did for naemi, in my "28 Ways-Zeke" post on livejournal.
“Thank you SO much for coming; we were very pleased that you could fit us into your schedule.”
Casey smiled to the woman, Maria, as he packed his equipment away. “I was glad to do it. Surprised word got around so fast, too.”
“Oh believe you me!” Maria said, digging in her purse. “After seeing my friend's wedding album, I was dying to have you here to photograph the 'Gonzalez Family Reunion'. NO one here knows how to even hold a camera.”
“Well, it's fun to do. Seriously,” Casey said, slinging his bag over his shoulder. Noticing that her hand had emerged with a small stack of bills, he shook his head. “No, no--pay me AFTER they're done ,and you SEE them. That's my policy.”
“You can at least let me pay you for just BEING here. I appreciated this so, so much, your schedule being so busy and all. Please--take this,” Maria said.
Casey rolled his eyes and smiled. “If you don't like the pictures, I'm giving it back,” he said, taking the money. She grinned.
“I'm not very worried about that.”
He bade her and her husband goodbye, then carried his camera supplies and equipment to his car. He opened the trunk and put everything inside, making sure the foam padding underneath was set straight to keep everything safe. Once finished he got in his car and turned it on; he had to pause a moment, looking out over the large yard of people.
He was proud--very proud. It hadn't been more than three months after leaving college that he'd gotten job after job, people needing a good photographer for their events. He'd been so nervous settling down in the Boston area once school ended for him, hoping he could TRY and scrape up money for rent with heavy doubts. Those doubts had been erased when he was getting call after call, word of mouth going around about how talented he was in his art. Being so close to the city had its advantages; he'd been surprised at how much he could charge, even if his prices were much less than a lot of other professional studios. At first he'd needed help from a friend of his, Todd, to develop his photos, not having a studio of his own to work with. One month into his chosen profession, Casey managed to make his OWN lab at his apartment, working on his own schedule rather than worrying about someone else's. His landlord almost made a fuss about it, until he learned that it would more or less improve the place, and Casey was footing the bill.
Ten weddings, six family reunions, six bar/bat mitzvahs and eight kid's birthday parties later, Casey was a well established young man. He smiled as he got off the small side street and headed back to his place in Cambridge, tired but pleased.
Casey was balancing his equipment, a large coffee and a stack of mail together as he got into his apartment, grumbling under his breath. He usually stored everything away in its place when he returned home, but felt too tired. Everything was put in the corner of the entranceway, and would wait until Casey felt like putting it away. Such were the benefits of living by oneself.
Casey began rifling through his mail now, sighing as bill after bill after ad after coupon book passed--until a small square envelope caught his eye. He almost missed it, being stuck in a 'Pizza Hut' flyer. Eying it curiously, Casey saw the return address as a fancy looking sticker with Stan and Stokely's names on it.
“No...” he muttered with a growing smile. He tore it open and found his suspicions correct. It was most certainly a fancy looking invitation, dark red roses lining the margins of the black paper (“So Stokely,” Casey thought with a chuckle), silver lettering announcing Stan and Stokely's wedding in December. Casey almost whooped with delight over this; not many high school relationships lasted even through someone's first year of college. But not many high school relationships were QUITE like Stan and Stoke's were. His only reaction was to run to the phone and grab his small address book in the kitchen drawer. Finding Stokely's number he dialed it quick, biting his lip with excitement.
“LOVE the invite there, Stokes.”
Casey relished Stokely's laughter on the other end. “Well, well, if it isn't Mr. Casey,” she said, still chuckling. “I was beginning to think you'd died.”
“Yea, yea I know,” Casey breathed out, going into his living room to flop down on the couch. “So sorry for not keeping in touch the last few months--Boston has kept me fucking busy.”
“So I heard. I called your parents to get your new address,” she said wistfully. “You're really staying out in the east, huh?”
“Herrington has nothing for me... you know that.”
“Nevermind ME, for God's sake!” Casey said with a laugh. “What's this I hear about a wedding?”
Stokely chuckled again. “Yea, he finally put a ring on my finger,” she told him. “Pretty big rock, too--he'd been saving up he said. So fucking sweet.”
“I'll send you a pic via e-mail, it's too cool,” she said. “Anyways, it's gonna be a load of fun.”
“Yea, the invite said it's gonna happen at the butterfly conservatory in the next town over. That's so awesome!”
“Ohhh yea! Ever since the place opened my freshman year, I wanted to get married there.”
“Little punk girl wants butterflies--how sweet.”
“Shut up, butterflies kick ass.”
“Of course, of course,” Casey said, smiling. He kicked the can of peanuts on the coffee table towards him, opening it up. As he popped a few in his mouth he continued. “Well, count me in. I'll send back my R.S.V.P. tomorrow afternoon before I go for some developing supplies in town. The invite said you were gonna have a party at the Sheffield Country Club.”
“Uh huh--open bar.”
“Really? Missed that!”
“Yup. Stan's family's doing it up. They like their booze.”
Casey laughed. “Good thing I just turned twenty one.”
“Ahh, was gonna ask that! Seems like only yesterday you were the young lad of the group.”
“Guess so... so um, I wanted to ask you something. I'd meant to put it in the invite, but I forgot,” she said. Casey shrugged to himself, digging a Brazil nut from the can.
“I'll understand if you say no, because it'd be more than a job for you to come out here rather than a party- but... Stan and I were wondering if you'd photograph the wedding and party for us.”
Casey's heart soared. “Really?”
“We'll pay you, of course...”
“Jesus Stokes, NO- I'm your friend, I'm not taking PAY for that!”
“C'mon Case. I don't know EVERYTHING about cameras and stuff, but it's GOTTA cost a pretty penny there.”
“So what? Fine, it's your wedding present,” he replied. Stokely sighed loudly.
“Shut uuup,” he drawled out. He could nearly hear her eyes rolling on the other end.
“Okay, if you insist. Thanks so much, hon--we'd wanted no one else for it but you, honestly.”
Casey smiled so wide his eyes crinkled. “You're too good to me.”
“Yea, I'd say. So- are you uh... gonna bring anyone?”
Casey blinked a moment or two. “Oh... yea, there was that on the card... almost forgot.”
“Ooh... does that mean 'yes', Connor?”
Casey felt the blush on his cheeks rising and lowered his eyes to the can he held. He swirled the contents around in his pause, taking a deep breath. “Well... I AM seeing... this one guy...”
“Uh huh,” Stokely muttered, her voice impatient and curious.
Casey laughed, shaking his head. “It's nothing wicked serious...”
“Serious enough to consider bringing to a wedding, though,” Stokely teased.
He put the can back on the table and sighed. “I dunno. It's been a couple months, he's a good guy, but... y'now, I dunno if we're THAT serious yet.”
“Well, better make up your mind if you're sending the R.S.V.P. back tomorrow. What's his name?”
“Ooh, sounds neat.” She said. Casey chuckled.
“Yea, Jake. He's uh... he's a dancer at this club I go to...”
“A DANCER?” Stokely nearly shrieked. Casey winced and blushed further.
“Now you HAVE to bring... OH my God!! Casey, bring him for my bridal shower!"
Casey felt like his stomach was going to split with laughter now. After a few moments of cackling and choking, he shook his head. “Stokes uh... he'd probably rather dance at Stan's stag, if you catch my drift.”
“Oh... well, maybe Stan wouldn't mind--”
“Oh SHUT up!” Casey whooped out.
Stokely giggled on the other end. “Well it was worth a shot.”
“Serious though, I'm glad to hear it. You could get really wanked out when I'd call you at school,” she teased. “Always pining after some straight fucker... what not.”
“Yea, yea,” Casey muttered.
It then went quiet a moment; Stokely's sigh broke the silence. “We um... we DID invite Zeke. He's right in town and... well, he and Stan have been pretty tight; they went to the same school and everything. Y'now...”
Casey swallowed. He hadn't thought of this. “Oh. Yea, okay,” he replied, trying to sound as cool as he could.
“You're gonna be okay?”
“Stokes... that was ages ago.”
“He says he hasn't talked to you since... it all.”
“Of course he hasn't,” Casey said.
Stokely sighed, again. “Maybe it's time to patch things up. You two were pretty cool together, y'now.”
“Yea we were, weren't we?” Casey mumbled. He rolled his eyes; the last thing he wanted was to have unpleasant reminders in this conversation. “We've all grown up. I'll make enough peace to stand him, whatever. Not gonna make any drama for you and Stan, of course; it's your goddamned wedding.”
“I didn't think you would, Case. Just... I dunno, hoping we could all get together again. Like we did before everything.”
“I know. I wish that sometimes too.”
“Ah well...” Stokely said, breathless. “I should probably get going. Stan's coming by and we're gonna go out and look at... I dunno, flowers or something.”
Casey's smile returned. “You're so into it.”
“Oh, I am, don't get me wrong. I just... damn, it's tiresome. I'm ready to fucking elope.”
“Hah! No way, I've gotta get PROOF that you can wear a dress and not die!” Casey demanded.
“Who says I'm wearing a dress?”
“Fucking hell, I AM, don't panic.”
“Good, good,” Casey said. It was then that a small 'beep' came from his phone. “Looks like I got another call.”
“Perfect timing. I'll call you sometime this week, or whatever. Your number came on the caller ID.”
“Good, good! Talk soon; tell Stan I said 'hi'.”
Casey smiled as he clicked to the other line. “'Lo?”
Casey held the phone from his ear a moment, hearing the loud yell on the other end. “Um... yes?” he said, amused.
“Hi, Jake,” Casey said, chuckling a little.
“Hello, hello. Sorry, I tripped over the dog... fuck, he gets under my feet all the fucking time...”
“Um, 'Aspen' is a giant Golden Retriever, Jake.”
“Doesn't matter... Christ...”
Casey laughed more, shaking his head. “Any other reason you called me then?”
“Well, YEA. Jesus,” Jake said, sounding amused. “Wondering if you're coming out to club tonight. I got word that some modeling agency is poking around looking for male models.”
“Think you can make it?”
“Well- I'm feeling pretty fucking tired. I spent about five hours in the glaring sun doing that family reunion today.”
“Ohh, yea- how'd it go?”
“Good, really good.”
“That's my boy,” Jake said.
Casey smiled. “Sorry.”
“It's all right. It'd be late, but- mind if I come over after?”
“Okay. I might just nap soon anyways, so I'll be able to stay up after that.”
“Nice. I'll call before I come over,” Jake said.
“See ya later, babe.”
“Bye--and good luck, sweet.”
“Aww... thanks,” Jake said. He made a loud kissing noise into the phone, making Casey giggle before hanging up. He put his feet up on the couch, wondering if he should bother going into the bedroom to sleep; his body didn't let him ponder on this very long, as his eyes closed shut all on their own.
It was around three in the morning; despite Casey's long nap that afternoon into evening, his eyes grew heavier as time went on. He knew Jake wasn't huge on after-parties once he finished at the club, as he was usually too tired to go out again. Casey was busy nursing some hot tea when a knock came from his door. He smiled and got up to get it, finding Jake standing at the doorstep. “Hey you,” Casey said, standing aside.
Jake smiled and stepped in, shrugging his bag off of his shoulder. “Hey hon,” he said, leaning down to kiss Casey's cheek. While he wasn't THAT tall, anyone standing next to Casey would look like an Amazon.
“Hello,” Casey said, shutting the door.
“I hope you don't mind if I stay the night. Club wore me out tonight.”
“Do I ever mind, Jake?”
Casey smiled and brushed past him. “I made some tea--want some?”
“That'd be great, thanks.”
Casey nodded and went into his kitchen; he watched Jake sit down on the couch with a groan. “Any agencies pick you up tonight?” he asked.
Jake let a wry laugh escape. “If they were there, they didn't say anything. I dunno, I think Alex got it wrong. He's one for tall tales,” Jake told him.
Casey filled a mug with hot water, adding a tea bag. He smiled Jake's way as he mixed it the way Jake liked it; two sugars, lots of cream. “Someday, hon. You're too good not to get noticed.”
“Riiight...” Jake drawled with a wink. Casey smiled and walked over, handing Jake his tea. He took it with a smile. “Thanks, Case.”
“Mmhmm,” Casey murmured, grabbing up his own mug. He stared as Jake stirred his a moment, his dark eyes staring into the drink. He looked down, and Casey couldn't blame him. Being tricked into scams was something Jake had already experienced, the first agency he'd invested in ending up being a total screw job. They'd promised so much, and Jake had deserved it. The very first night Casey had seem him dancing, he just knew he was a kind, sweet soul. Not to mention his perfect body and hair added to Casey's decision to approach him. He hadn't expected to start dating the gorgeous boy, but...
Casey blinked. “Huh?” he muttered.
Jake's smile grew. “You were off in space again.”
“Oh,” Casey said, smiling and turning back to his mug. “Just thinking about things.”
“You ALWAYS think about things.”
“That's what you get for dating a geek, Jake,” Casey replied. Jake 'tsked'.
“Then I must like geeks.”
Casey smiled and put his drink down, opting instead to curl up against Jake's side. His body held the warm-cool of a dancer; the smell of cigarettes, light cool perspiration and a faint trace of sweet cologne. It let him drift into yet MORE thought, wondering... “I got invited to a wedding today.”
Casey nodded into Jake's chest as Jake's arm went around his back. As his hand brushed along Casey's ribs he went on. “My friends from back home are getting married--Stan and Stokes.”
“Oh yea, you've told me about them. That's wicked cool.”
“Yea, it is. They're really good together. Dunno why I was so surprised; they're still so googly-eyed with each other,” he said.
“When is it?”
“December 10th,” Casey said. “I'm gonna do the photography. She asked if I would.”
“Aww... that's so sweet,” Jake said, kissing the top of Casey's head.
Casey bit his lip; if he didn't ask, Jake might feel bad, but he still wasn't sure however on HOW or... if he wanted to ask. He didn't want some crazy assumptions of he and Jake being THAT into each other to make things rocky for them. Then again... he didn't want Jake to be hurt if he DIDN'T ask. He finally sighed and raised his eyes to Jake's face.
“Says I can invite someone along with me; I dunno if you'd wanna go to something like that, but... yea. If you wanna go...”
Jake smiled slowly as Casey's words trailed off. “I'd actually kill to see what your hometown is like. I mean sure- the papers covered enough back then, but still. I've never been anywhere NEAR the Midwest.”
Casey rolled his eyes. “You haven't missed much. It's the Midwest.”
“Well, still,” Jake laughed out. He gave Casey a small squeeze as he sighed. Casey closed his eyes and hummed lightly as Jake's hand went up and down his arm, letting his mind ease. Jake actually sounded pleased to have been invited, warming Casey. “Is um... that guy going to be there?”
All warmth left him now. He didn't know how he wanted to answer this; the situation was more complicated than to just say 'yes', wasn't it? It was to him, but he couldn't say much else. “Yea.”
“Oh,” Jake softly replied, putting his head back. “Didn't really know--like if he was still out there.”
“'Course he's still out there,” Casey said, feeling his arms stiffen. He felt uncomfortable now as he sat up, his skin tense and feeling stretched. He needed more tea; he stood up and went to grab another serving, groaning under his breath. “Zeke has every ounce of opportunity to do what he wants, get out of Herrington, use his infinite genius for something other than sitting around his house drinking beer and making scat. But he won't, because Zeke's a dumb shit who 'settles'.”
The only noise now was Casey flicking on the gas to reheat the teapot. He stood still, staring at the blue flame and feeling numb. Jake was soon in the doorway, leaning on it and looking to Casey with a soft expression. “He's also a dumb shit that still gets to you.”
Casey took a deep breath, looking to the opposite end of the kitchen. “Sorry. I SHOULD be over this shit, but--"
“No one's asking you to be 'over it', Casey.”
“No, but I take what he did HARDER than the shit that went down months before we...” he said, stopping in his words. He shook his head slightly. “I feel so fucking stupid sometimes. I'm a successful young man, making something of myself, and I'm gonna bitch that Zeke isn't? When I loathe him the way I do, I mean... God.”
“Maybe you don't loathe him as much as you say,” Jake offered, cocking an eyebrow.
Casey glanced to him and back to the pot, steam starting to climb out of its spout. “You sayin' I'm still hung up on him?”
“Nooo...” Jake drawled, walking over and leaning on the counter next to Casey. “But instead of saying 'he's a dumb shit who fucked me then fucked me over, you get angry over him not making USE of himself... his intellect. Which you've told me about, many times, saying the 'dumb shit' should actually use it. You're not focusing on your hate of him is what I'm saying, Case.”
“Whatever, I just...” Casey said, trailing off in thought again. He didn't want to talk about Zeke, nor his wasted genius, or the last time he ever spoke to him. He was then distracted by the kettle starting to whistle. He went over and refilled his mug, breathing in the scent of steamy tea. “Want more?”
“I'm all set.”
“Okay,” Casey softly replied, putting the kettle back down. Just as he was about to add some sugar, hands ghosted over Casey's bare shoulders and down his arms... up again... he smiled a little, staring into the amber liquid in front of him. Light kisses were now falling on the back of his neck, a spot that ALWAYS separated normal life and lust. Casey hummed and closed his eyes as Jake put his hands around his chest, clasping them together.
“Let's go to bed,” Jake told him, brushing the stray hairs around Casey's ear with his nose. Casey moved to his touch, lips parting.
“I'd really... like that.”
The weeks passed quickly to Casey, it seemed; one moment the trees were barely hanging onto their dying leaves, the next they swayed bare in the wind with glistening tips of ice and snow splashing to the ground. Casey would become entranced sometimes, watching the snow go from barely touched to mud filled, leaving the more suburbia areas of Cambridge to the city streets of Boston. He was scuffing along a sidewalk in Boston on Beacon Street to his favorite camera shop, Lens. He had to pull his scarf up further, trying to repel the icy winds blowing over the street, making him feel the familiarity of cold--of home.
He sometimes missed Herrington. He even missed some of the school life, mostly with the teachers he'd come to know, or some of the kinder students. He'd reflected a lot the last month and a half, anticipating his homecoming to attend the nuptials happening just two weeks from now. He'd be leaving in a week. One week.
He almost shuddered, feeling like the overexposed picture he'd taken on one of the shores in Cape Cod. The two seagulls he'd captured on film had turned into an utter blur, the sand glistening in madness that only one small moment of indiscretion could capture. That one setting, slightly off, was making everything look out of control. It was stuck on his medicine cabinet in the bathroom to remind him that not everything he did was perfect; right now in fact, he felt just as imperfect as that photo.
How would they see him? Had he changed? If he had, would they notice it and find fault in it all? It had been a good year since seeing Stan and Stokely, more than that with Delilah, and Zeke... fuck.
He had to stop thinking, buy his things and go home, wanting nothing more than to watch his boyfriend dance at the club later that night.
“Thanks,” Casey said to Jane, the bartender at 'Rose-Red', as he took his two bottles of water. The strobes hit him like bullets, causing him to blink profusely as he made his way across the wide bar area to the small catwalk leading up towards the stage. Jake was just ahead, wiping his face and hair with a towel and talking to one of the other dancers. Casey didn't even recognize the other as Dale until getting right up to them, the flashing lights and smoke clouding his view. “Hey Dale,” he said with a smile.
“Forgot mine, huh?” Dale teased with a wink, nodding to the water Casey handed Jake. Jake chuckled, putting an arm around Casey's shoulder and kissing his temple.
“Thanks, babe. Don't listen to him.”
“I won't,” Casey said, waggling his eyebrows at Dale. Dale shook his head and smiled, looking out onto the stage.
“My turn I guess. You'd BEST get me some water after this hour-long set, boy,” he warned Casey playfully as he hopped over the bars of the walkway.
Casey laughed, turning to Jake. “Fuckin' busy here tonight,” he said loudly, calling over the next set of music starting to play.
Jake nodded heavily. “I know it... it's good business.”
“Maybe... Christ, you're so fucking sweaty!”
“Whaa?” Jake yelled, moving closer.
“You're SWEATY!” Casey yelled, trying to move away from Jake's moist hold. Jake smiled slyly, wrapping BOTH of his arms around Casey's front.
“STOP IT!” Casey laughed out. Jake continued smothering Casey, making him yelp and squirm.
“You like me sweaty, and you know it,” Jake teased, moving his mouth to Casey's ear and nipping it lightly between his teeth.
“Fucking dancers...” Casey said, half-chuckling, half-gasping as Jake nibbled down the fine curve of cartilage. “Fucking... dan...”
The over-exuberant call to Casey's boyfriend could only belong to one person; turning to the voice they found Alex hopping up towards them, a goofy grin on his face. Casey had to roll his eyes; always the little 'dream weaver' he was, as pixyish as Casey with huge brown eyes instead of blue.
“Heeey, Alex,” Jake drawled, leaning on the metal bar while holding Casey's hip to move along with him. Casey smiled as Alex began clapping excitedly.
“Those GUYS, they're here tonight!”
Both Casey and Jake groaned. “For Christ's sake, Alex...” Jake said.
Alex's eyes widened further, his head shaking from side to side. “NO! I mean it, I overheard the manager talking to someone else... dunno who, but they had cameras and looked all official and stuff.”
“Yep- couldn't be a newspaper, magazine, or anything OTHER than a whole messload of talent scouts,” Jake grumbled, turning away.
Alex rolled his eyes, putting his clasped hands on the top of his head and sighing. “You don't HAVE to believe me, just make sure to thank me for the head's up when they approach you later,” he said. “You KNOW they'd pick you too. They would, wouldn't they Case?”
“Of course, but...”
Jake had to laugh, even if he looked more annoyed than amused. “Well, my next set is up in a half an hour. We shall fucking see,” he said.
“You'd better do your best. I heard these guys only pick like TWO people outta the entire city--"
“YES, Alex. I will dance like I've never danced before.”
“Good,” Alex said with finality, making Casey breathe again. Alex looked to Casey with a sly look. “C'mon- let's leave our future star to concentrate.”
“Al...ex...” Jake said with warning. Alex was never one for listening as he took Casey's wrist.
“C'mon, dance with me,” he demanded. Casey whipped his head to Jake, planting a hard kiss to his lips before he was dragged off.
“For luck!” Casey called as he was pulled away. Jake laughed.
“Sure, LEIA!” he yelled back.
Casey was out on the small deck in the back of the club that hung over the back alley lined with restaurants and apartments. He was getting hungry; and extremely impatient. So far he'd had to put up with Alex and his gaggling group of guys (plus one of the more famous 'fag hags' of the club, Wendy), all of whom were very nice to be around... in small doses.
“Don't throw your bottle over the side! Alex, don't--oh good GOD!”
Alex bounced back to the table they all sat at after tossing his half filled water bottle over the bars of the porch. “I aimed for the dumpster!” he claimed, though the sudden yell from below proved that he was either crap at aiming, or his intentions were altogether different. Casey leaned back in his chair, staring at the cloudy, oddly bright sky (fucking city...) of midnight blue. As a few stars peeked from the high clouds, a sudden rush of movement came from behind him. He looked down, finding Jake grabbing Alex up in a huge hug. Casey frowned as Jake squeezed the young man, making him irk out cries of surprise.
“You fucking STINK!” Alex yelled.
“Jesus God, THANK you.”
“Told you--now GET OFF!” Alex yelled with raging laughter.
Casey stood up, blinking. “What... what happened?” he asked.
Jake switched his focus from embracing Alex to letting him go to rush into Casey, snatching up his lips for a passionate, heavy kiss. “Oh baby...” he mumbled past the motions; Casey's head swam in lovely confusion as Alex grabbed Jake's shoulders and bounced up and down.
“Told you, told you, told you,” he repeated, giggling like an idiot.
Casey beamed, looking to Jake as they walked along the streets. Since Jake's place was closer to the club, it only made sense that they went there after club; Casey had needed to wait a good hour after closing time for Jake, who had gone into the back rooms with a couple of other dancers to talk with some talent scouts that HAD in fact showed up. Alex was a complete spastic whirlwind of misinformation most of the time, but not this night. “This... is so cool,” Casey said, putting his head on Jake's shoulder as they ambled home. “You've needed this.”
“Yea... I kinda have,” Jake said, chuckling a little. Despite the happiness he exuded, there was something else; something unsettling to Casey.
“You seem happy... but weird.”
“Hmm?” Jake murmured absently.
“Yea. I dunno, like you're not sure. Were they reputable and all, not like... those scam artists you dealt with?”
“Oh, fuck yea- they had their credentials. They're actually from New York City. I'd heard of them, they're wicked good.”
“Okay,” Casey replied, putting his head back down. He smiled wider, now stepping in front of Jake to walk backwards. “What should we do? We gotta celebrate, y'now.”
“Aw man... it's late,” Jake said, taking Casey's hands. “Let's just go to my place and open a bottle of wine. I got a good one last week.”
“All right,” Casey replied, leaning forward for a small kiss. They made their kissing-gait the last half block to Jake's apartment, laughing as they tried getting in the door in their mouth-on-mouth fashion.
“C'mon you, upstairs,” Jake said, turning Casey and smacking him playfully on his backside.
“Hey now!” Casey squeaked out as they ran up the stairs together.
Once in the apartment, Casey laid out on Jake's plush couch, watching him wander around the kitchen. A bottle was taken out of the fridge, Jake working at the stubborn cork at the top. “Need help?” Casey said.
“Naw, I got it,” Jake replied, just as a loud 'pop' went off. Casey nodded, closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Jake's studio apartment always felt cool and calm, much more open than his own place. He enjoyed their nights spent here after their club nights, sometimes with friends who joined along--or by themselves, of course.
“Here ya go.”
Casey reopened his eyes, finding Jake standing over him with a glass full of wonderful red. He sat up, giving Jake more room to sit. “Thank you,” he said, taking the drink. Jake groaned as he sat, putting the bottle of opened wine on the coffee table in front of them.
“This... is something I've needed as well,” he said, taking a long, languid sip from his glass. Casey followed, sitting back again.
“I'm so happy for you, Jake,” he murmured, giving Jake a fond look. “Everyone deserves to be noticed for the things they do- especially when they're good at doing it.”
“Now you know how I felt when YOU got that addition to your apartment,” Jake said with a wink.
Casey grinned and blushed. “Well, we BOTH rock our 'art of choice'.”
“Yea, spos' we do,” Jake said; his voice had taken a sullen tone suddenly, amplified by the half filled glass he sipped from.
Casey sighed, worrying. “What's wrong?” he asked outright.
Jake's eyebrows rose as he swirled his wine around. “They um... I'm going for auditions next weekend.”
“Oh?” Casey said, not realizing at first. Jake turned slowly to him, staring a moment as it sunk in. Once it did, Casey went blank. “Oh...”
“Yea,” Jake said, taking a heavier sip now. He put his head back and groaned. “Casey, this sucks.”
“You can... I mean...” Casey stammered out. To be honest, he WAS feeling very down about this. Casey sat up, inhaling deeply. “How--long is it? Maybe you can y'now, come out to Ohio later. I'm gonna be there for a week and a half.”
“The audition is about that, Case. It's a huge, HUGE try-out to work for their agency; they're dragging like... Jesus, people from all over. This isn't some small 'indy' type of magazine or... whatever,” Jake explained, shifting in his seat a bit. “They have firms in Europe. Paris, Rome, you name it. LOTS of designers work with them it's just... huge.”
Casey nodded along, staring into his glass. “It's okay,” he said, not knowing if he meant it or not.
Jake looked over at him, reaching to Casey's chin with his fingertips. “I'm so fucking sorry, babe,” he murmured, running a finger over Casey's lower lip. “I really, really wanted to go with you. I know you've been feeling weird about going back home and all. Lord knows I wouldn't want to go back to MY old town without someone as a buffer.”
Casey smiled a little, his eyes moving up to look at Jake. “I know, I know. I think I'll be fine though. I'm just... nervous about some things. And honestly, I think my mom was excited to meet you,”
“Really?” Jake said, laughing. “Thought you'd said you were afraid of being disowned having some 'boyfriend' around.”
“No, I was kidding. Anyways, that'd be my dad,” Casey said, chuckling lightly. The humor faded slightly as he realized... he was going back to Herrington with no living proof to bring with him to show his new life. Pictures yes, himself yes. Boyfriend, no. “Damn. Wish this came along like... a month from now,” he said, automatically feeling selfish.
“Aww damn, babe,” Jake murmured. He put his wine down to edge closer to Casey, taking his shoulders and moving Casey to lie on his chest. Casey placed his drink next to Jake's and curled into him, sighing deeply.
“I AM scared, Jake.” He muttered shakily. “There's a lot there, a LOT there, not just people...”
“I know, hon.”
Casey bit his lip, closing his eyes to collect his thoughts. He recalled the many, many people he'd met when he first came out here, all of them so fucking interested in him; gossip mongers, fame-seekers, and the like. Not REAL people, with real feelings and understanding of what Casey had actually been through- how he had earned that fame. Yet he hadn't earned ANYTHING, he'd just done what he had to, no questions asked. There weren't many who understood this, itching to be the friend of 'that alien killer kid'. Jake had recognized him upon introduction, but hadn't pressed for any more information about it after the initial, “You're THAT Casey Connor, huh?” question. Three and a half years later, and Casey was STILL getting recognized. He almost chuckled to himself; hadn't he grown at ALL from the pubescent Midwestern boy that he'd been? Christ...
“Let's just...” Casey said, turning his face to kiss Jake's warm chest. He lifted his eyes to see Jake's smile.
“Yea. Good idea,” he murmured, taking up Casey's chin and bringing him up, up to his awaiting lips.
“Sing for your lover like blood from a stone
And sing for your lover who's waiting at home
If you sing when you're high and you're dry as a bone
Then you must realise that you're never alone
And you'll sing with the dead instead
~Placebo, “Summer's Gone”
Casey was never a big smoker; he enjoyed one every now and again, though it only served him MORE reminders...
”Just try it, you'll like it.”
Casey recalled the first puff he'd ever taken, getting instantly teased when he started coughing and hacking. The taste left on his lips was worth a second puff, however--then another, another, until finally the cigarette was finished and Casey hadn't choked anymore.
He was riding the short flight from Logan to Akron-Canton Regional, and he was dying for a cigarette. A clove, to be exact, and he knew where to get them once in Herrington. They were a rarity at times, but Zeke had told him where to go for them. That first cigarette had been one of the many things Zeke had introduced him to of course. 'How fitting,' he thought, scowling to himself. Only Zeke would introduce chemicals that could kill him, again... not that scat was some murderous substance, but...
Casey gripped his armrest in feeling a sudden jolt go through the plane. If Jake were here, he'd take Casey's hand and explain the effects of turbulence to him until they landed. He'd been on a lot of planes in his life, and was used to this sort of travel. Casey had been on plane trips since college, going home for holidays and the like... still.
Shit, he was lonely. He felt stupid in feeling this; he could still smell Jake's shampoo from when they'd hugged and kissed each other goodbye at Logan. The flight being short didn't register. It had felt like years, thus far. The cell phone Jake had given him was of no use right now; it had eased Casey, knowing he wasn't going to have to run for the phone at his house to catch his call before his parents. Cool with it or no, it was STILL too awkward at this juncture.
Casey closed his eyes and put his head back, wishing the large woman sitting next to him, wearing the most hideous flowered dress was Jake. It earned him a smile, however, picturing Jake in such an outfit.
The small plaza where Casey's parents had taken him for ice cream as a kid had been revamped, looking more like some garish mini-mall instead of a homegrown comfort. It was the first thing Casey had come across while driving 'home' that had been changed in Herrington.
He stared out the windshield of his rental car--the car that had taken more than an hour on the phone to convince his parents that he'd NEED for travel and carrying his equipment--trying hard to recognize everything he'd left behind. It wasn't as hard as he thought it'd be. A few things were off here and there, but nothing too drastic. He went past the street where Stan and Stokely lived now and sighed; he would have much rather stopped there first, not knowing what it was going to be like with his parents. He'd exaggerated when he said he'd be 'disowned' for his lifestyle, but his dad could get pretty gruff about it. At least he hadn't lied about his mom, though. She really had sounded sad to miss out on meeting Jake.
He finally turned onto his street, biting his lower lip nervously. They said they'd be home, waiting. It had been a good five months since he'd actually seen them. He slowed down, pulling to the right as he approached... fuck, his house looked familiar and strange at the same time. It took him a second to remember which window was his old bedroom's, wondering if it'd been changed. His mother had mentioned that she would probably make it into a computer-office room, which was fine by Casey.
He'd just shut the car off when the front door opened. He got out and felt rushing warmth growing in his chest.
“Oh Casey, you're home!” Mrs. Connor gushed, almost tripping on the icy steps of the porch.
Casey laughed and rounded around the car, meeting her halfway in an instant, hard hug. God, she WAS home to him. “Hi Mom!” he squeaked out past her embrace and the tightness in his throat.
She backed away and took his face in her hands, looking him over. “You've grown!”
Casey laughed loudly, taking her hands. “No, I haven't. Stop lying.”
“Oh STOP, you have!” she cooed, looking towards the house. “Dad's upstairs, getting dressed. Come on, it's cold out here.”
“Let me just get a couple things,” he said, stepping back to the car.
Mrs. Connor went inside, hopping up the steps quickly and calling out, “Frank, he's home!” before the door was shut. Casey smiled as he dragged his bags from the backseat, wheeling them up to the house. The door opened again, this time with Mr. Connor on the other side. He looked a bit nervous as Casey came up the stairs, lugging his things with him.
“Hello, Casey,” he said, a smile growing on his lips. Casey smiled back and managed to get the large suitcases inside; the door hadn't closed when Mr. Connor wrapped his arms around Casey's shoulders, taking him into a big, warm hug. “Missed ya.”
“Missed ya too, Dad.”
“No you haven't,” he joked.
“Yea, and you've been crying everyday since I left, right?” Casey jibed back. Mr. Connor laughed and helped Casey with his bags, smiling wider.
Their dessert plates had been barely cleared when Casey was asked to bring out the album he'd put together to show off his 'Boston Life'. Mrs. Connor had moved her chair to her husband's to peruse Casey's pictures along with him. “Oh wow, this is gorgeous,” she murmured, pointing to a seaside picture he'd taken in Newport, Rhode Island.
“Well, that's not Boston, but yea.”
“It's very good,” Mr. Connor said with a nod, flipping to the next page. Mrs. Connor looked up, beaming.
“Where are pictures of...? Jake? Is that right?”
“Yea, yea... and uh, I don't have any in there, no.”
“Well now, I'd like to see a picture if you have one! I'm owed THAT much!”
Mr. Connor grumbled, cocking an eyebrow her way. Casey ignored it, smiling wryly as he went to his bag. “I have a couple...” he muttered, rifling through his own personal album. Seeing as a few of them were... personal (nothing that would make his parents faint, but still...), he pulled two out, one of Jake at Casey's place after club, the other at Jake's playing video games. They were tame enough--no naked chests and leather pants, anyways. He handed them to his mother, who cooed instantly.
“Oh, he's a cutie,” she said, smiling wide. Mr. Connor looked over, nodding with pursed lips.
“Looks like a nice enough boy.”
“He is. He's really nice,” Casey said. “He's going for a job with a big modeling agency in New York, I hope he gets it.”
“That sounds wonderful. He's got some serious good looks, I'd hire him,” Mrs. Connor said, winking. Casey blushed slightly, taking them back.
“You're... doing pretty well for yourself with the photography, right?” Mr. Connor asked.
Casey had to smile; his dad, always business, making sure his chosen profession wasn't as frivolous as he'd believed it to be. “Oh, yea; it's been working out great. I've been doing it all myself, got my own lab set up, taking care of the whole financing end and everything,” Casey said, taking a sip of milk. It was whole milk, when he'd gotten used to one-percent. Jake drank one-percent...
They sat together and talked awhile, mostly about how Boston and the East Coast in general was so very different, or all the people and photographers Casey had met along the way, and how things in Herrington had been going. “They might close the Kmart in downtown. That leaves us with just Wal-Mart,” Mrs. Connor had lamented. Such small town issues; Casey had to keep from chuckling. The last thing he needed to look like was a snob.
After the discussion died down, Casey stood up. “Let me help with dishes, Mom,” he said.
She stood up quick, putting her hands up. “You don't worry about that; why don't you unpack?” she suggested.
Casey rolled his eyes and left the table, glancing to his father. He looked stone faced and indecisive, his fingers tapping the cover of Casey's album. “Okay,” Casey said, leaving the dining room.
“We moved a couch bed into the computer room--er, your old room, so you can use it when you visit,” Mrs. Connor called from the kitchen.
“Sure, cool,” Casey said. He went to the front hall, grabbed his bags and ventured upstairs--oh God. Wait. He hadn't thought of this.
His old room; he hadn't seen it since his parents converted it to their tastes. It had been bared walls when he left, but... he took a deep breath, moving down the hall and opening the door. Wow.
It was different. It looked a whole lot bigger for one; a large desk rested where his old one had been, a computer system set up with various pictures and folders lying all over it. His shelves, tables, everything--all gone. A small table sat by the window, holding a plant of some sort. Its long vines hung to the floor, one crawling on the sill. He felt entranced, putting his bags down by it and looking out at the old view, his old street, his old... everything.
He found the couch bed sitting at the other end of the room where his bed had been; he walked over and sat, taking it all in. He closed his eyes and tried remembering how it had all looked before.
“The closet has all your things, for when you come home.”
Casey looked over at the door and found his father standing in the frame. “Oh... cool, all my old books and stuff?”
“Yea- a lot of photos, magazines and stuff,” Mr. Connor said, running his fingers over his chin. “No uh... no pornos though.”
Casey blushed. “No, none of those,” he said, getting up and walking to the closet. Opening it he found many labeled boxes, all marked with his name. He beamed, finding everything organized and ready to open, to take a walk in his past, something not completely erased from home.
“I'm proud of you, son,” Mr. Connor said suddenly. Casey looked over at him, smile fading slightly. His father had just said that, hadn't he?
“Thanks... Dad,” he muttered, the smile returning when Mr. Connor's started rising to his lips.
“You get yourself comfortable. The uh, bed in that, it's really nice,” he said, nodding to the couch.
“Okay, thanks,” Casey said, turning back to the closet.
Mr. Connor grunted and shook his head. “Will you get the hell over here for a hug already?” he demanded.
Casey chuckled, walking over and giving his father another big hug, this one much stronger than the one by the door. Yea--he was home.
“You ARE home.”
Casey smiled drowsily, making a cup of coffee the next morning. “Yea... sorry for not calling you guys last night. Did the whole family thing, set myself up in the room and just... man, passed out.”
“God, don't worry! You ARE coming today, right?” Stokely said.
Casey nodded, sitting at the island in the kitchen. “Of course. Need me to bring anything?”
“No, we got it covered. I made some potato salad last night, and all the meat is prepared for the grill already.” Stokely explained. “Stan's out now getting chips, some odds and ends.”
“Sounds good then--what time should I come over?”
“Anytime... we can't wait to see you!”
Casey chuckled. “All right... working on getting the sleep out of my head right now. I'll probably be by around noon.”
“Good! Aw, Case...” Stokely said, sounding wistful. “I really, really can't wait.”
“I know,” Casey said, smiling. “Be there soon, Stokes.”
Casey hung up the phone and put it on the table, sighing. He still wore a smile, but couldn't help his insecurities from popping up. Perhaps it was that he was more confident nowadays, more secure in the life he'd made for himself, that coming home--seeing the people he'd been around all those years when he WASN'T a self-assured young man--made him feel pressured to make sure they knew how he'd changed. It was a stupid way to think, knowing that his friends would most likely be proud of him without question, liking the fact that Casey had 'grown up' and not gotten trapped in the scared-rabbit life he'd led for so long.
Even as he reassured himself of these things, he wished Jake were here with him. It made Casey stand and walk to the living room, finding his small book bag sitting on one of the chairs. He dug into the front pocket, taking out his cell phone. Jake had already programmed his OWN cell number into Casey's; he brought it up and pressed 'dial'.
Casey smiled. “Hi, Jake.”
“Oh, sweetie! How are you?”
“Good, I'm good; got in last night, the flight was all right.”
“Oh... well yea.”
Jake laughed. “It's expected. So, did you see your friends yet?”
“No- it was just me and the 'rents last night. It was very nice; my mom loved the pics I had of you.”
“Oh God...” Jake muttered, making Casey chuckle. “Which ones? From your... album...?”
“Yes, yes, but not the 'club' ones. Just the couple of you at home, my place.”
“Oh good; I don't want your parents to think I'm some weirdo.”
“But you are.”
Casey brought his knees up, scrunching into the couch and inhaling deep. “I had to get a pack of cigs on my way home after the airport... I'm so fucking nervous.”
“Aww,” Jake sighed into the phone. “You're gonna be fine, y'now. Old friends are good like that. Are you going to that barbeque today?”
“Yea, about noon. Still wicked fucking nervous, even if it's a good time.”
“Not to mention weird; it's fucking winter, a cookout?”
Casey chuckled. “Yea, Stokely says they have a nice covered porch. Stan's addicted to grilled food, even if he's not very skilled at doing it himself. Should have seen this ONE cookout he tried having at his place. We didn't know if we were eating chicken or the briquettes.”
“Oh, poor guy.”
“Still nervous...” Casey said, chewing the inside of his mouth.
“I know. But they sound cool, from what you've told me. I know you haven't seen them in a long time, but it won't matter. You'll get there, hug, and get RIGHT back to where you guys left off. I'll call you later tonight and you'll be like 'who is this?'”
Casey laughed out loud. “Doubtful, babe.”
“Yea sure; you'll just forget allll about me,” he drawled.
Casey smiled and finished off his coffee. Smacking his lips he returned to the conversation. “Uh huh... that's gonna be YOU when you become famous and I'm one of the 'little people'.”
“Are you packed up and ready to go?” Casey asked.
Jake let out a long, nervous breath. “Yea. Alex and a few friends dropped by after you left last night, giving me 'pointers' and stuff. He has no idea what he's talking about, but he took my mind off of missing you... for a bit.”
Casey closed his eyes, resting his head further into the cushions. “Wish you were here,” he replied softly. “Even Alex would be fun to have around.”
“Oh my GOD, are you joking?” Jake laughed out.
Casey's smile grew. “No...”
“And subject your friends to his madness? Yea, after THAT I'd be pretty nervous on seeing them again too!”
“Oh, they'd like him...” Casey said. He opened his eyes and looked on the clock, reading ten after ten. “Well, I should go get ready and stuff.”
“Yea, me too. I'm gonna be hooking a Peter Pan to New York at four, getting to New York about seven or so.”
“Oh hon... good luck,” Casey said. “Call me when you get there?”
“Of course; I'm gonna need some reassuring words myself, y'now.”
“Talk soon, sweets,” Jake said.
“Bye then,” Casey said, taking the phone from his ear and hanging up. For a few moments he sat still, tapping the phone lightly on his chin. It would be a small while before Casey wrenched himself from the couch and went upstairs for a shower.
Casey pulled up to the small row of apartments, finding '3E' on the right side. He parked and waited a moment before shutting the car off, staring at the door. He saw shadows of furniture and lamps, but no people just yet. Taking a deep breath he shut the car off, grabbed his bag and camera from the passenger side and stepped out.
Walking up to the door, he could hear murmurs of conversation; he smiled shakily, feeling familiarity already. He'd worried about nothing, it seemed, hearing the voices grow louder as he went.
“For God's sake, let ME do it.”
“I thought I put in enough charcoal!”
“You DID, just not enough lighter fluid. Oh Stan...”
The voices were coming from the backyard area. Casey could see the tops of Stokely and Stan's heads all the way through the apartment, bobbing just above one of the windows in the back part of their place. Instead of knocking he walked around the building, readying his camera. Candid shots were best.
Rounding the corner, a wide grin came over his lips. Stokely was squirting a long stream of lighter fluid into the grill's basin, shaking her head and muttering. Stan's arms were over his chest, one of his hands rubbing his chin as he watched on. “You KNOW I'm shit at grills.”
“Thank God for me, then.”
Both heads turned, finding Casey standing at the corner, lowering the camera from his eye. He smiled wider as both of them brightened in seeing him. “Hey,” he said.
“Casey!” Stokely cheered, slamming the lighter fluid on their picnic table and nearly running over. Casey put his camera to the side and braced himself for the crushing hug she always gave him, finding it to be stronger than ever. He started laughing as she began hopping up and down, leaving Casey no other choice than to go with her. “You're here!” she called, bouncing. Casey almost felt dizzy.
“I am!” he returned.
She stopped and grabbed his shoulders, looking him over. “Jesus. You got bigger!” she said. Casey rolled his eyes.
“No, I didn't Stokes.”
“Stan! He's bigger, tell him!” she called.
Stan walked over, sniggering. “I ain't hugging you like some manic aunt,” Stan warned with a smile as he took Casey in for a hard but less-enthusiastic hug. “What's up, man?”
“Not much, not much,” Casey said, slapping Stan's back. They pulled away, Stan grabbing Casey's shoulder and shaking him playfully.
“You DID get a little bigger.”
“Will you guys shut up?” Casey laughed out.
“C'mon, muscle man- help me get the coolers ready.”
Casey nodded, following Stan into the apartment. The back door led into the kitchen, where two coolers sat on the floor. “Fucking COLD out,” Stan said.
“Well YEA... it's Ohio, and you're having a cookout?? I mean nice porch, but...”
“Hey, no snow on the ground right now- THAT'S enough for me.”
Casey chuckled as they proceeded to fill the coolers with beer, wine coolers and sodas. Stan nodded and smiled like a scholar. “We don't even need to buy ice, even; see? I plan things accordingly.”
Casey shook his head as they brought them out onto the porch area, cold air finding them once outside. Stokely had fired up the grill nicely though, and it was starting to warm the open space. “So,” Casey said, crossing his arms and smiling. “Who else is coming?”
“Well... there's Delilah and her boyfriend, Kris...” Stan started.
“Who's Kris?” Casey said, looking between them. They both rolled their eyes and chuckled.
“He's a real piece of work. I mean... I'm a 'guy's guy', but he takes the role of a man very, very seriously,” Stan explained.
“Oh brother,” Casey muttered.
“Don't let him get to you. He and Delilah are MADE for each other,” Stokely added, closing the lid of the grill to let it heat. “It's just her, Kris and Zeke.”
“Okay... cool,” Casey said, trying to look casual.
Stan pursed his lips and leaned on the doorway. “Yea, you're cool with that and... everything?”
Casey shrugged; he pulled out his pack of cigarettes, knowing he was going to need them... a lot. “Yea.”
“Look at you smoking. Good God, Casey,” Stokely chided. Casey shook his head again, pulling one out.
“Blame Zeke for that.”
“I'd like to blame him for EVERYTHING at this point...” Stokely said, nodding to Casey with her hand outstretched. He chuckled, getting one out for her.
“Stokes...” Stan warned, smiling wryly.
“What? He dropped being your best man so fucking last minute...”
“He was gonna be the 'best man'??” Casey said, an incredulous expression going over his face.
Stan sighed and shrugged. “Well... I would have had BOTH of you, but we weren't sure if you were even gonna make it out here...”
“No, no, not offended, just- you expected that fucker to wear a suit?”
Stan rolled his eyes as Stokely laughed bitterly. “I told him that too,” she said. “He went along with it, then told us last friggin' week he couldn't do it. He doesn't 'believe' in weddings, it would have 'gone against the grain' for him.”
“For shit's sake,” Casey muttered as he and Stokely lit up.
“C'mon, it's no big deal...”
“No big deal? Christ, Stan. It was so embarrassing having to ask your cousin to fill in. He was cool with it, but God--second choice much?” Stokely said, raising her eyebrows and letting a long trail of smoke escape her lips.
“Well, it's settled now, so let's drop it,” Stan said, sounding tense.
A slight pause followed; Casey watched their expressions, Stan looking insecure, Stokely looking annoyed. Casey forced a grin on his lips, almost chuckling. “Already married.”
“Oh shut up,” Stokely said, going inside. Stan looked over at Casey and snorted in amusement.
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