|Title: Tahitian Moon (Act One)
Synopsis: Post-Marybeth world, wherein Casey is murdered by a psychotic alien cult. Zeke has to deal, trying to learn how to.
Warnings: Death of major character, LOTS of angst, heavy violence.
Disclaimer: I own nothing--all fantasy on my end.
Author's Notes: WIP. Big, huge thanks to my lovely, beautiful beta, lisabellex, for putting up with strangely placed commas and buldings chasing Zeke around town. ;)
Zeke hissed feeling the cold towel go over his cheek. His eyes scrunched closed and he made to turn away, only to get followed.
“You're going to need this.”
He opened his eyes in slits to find Delilah leaning over him. She held a lumpy towel-covered object, which had to be ice.
“You... ow...” he started, deciding to move his lips as little as possible, “…got me home?”
“Yea, you managed to walk all right, just needed a little help,” she told him with a deep sigh. Zeke shifted his weight, every inch of skin feeling like it'd been pummeled into oblivion. “Keep this on your face, all right?” she told him then moved to his feet. As he held the cold to his bruised cheek and eye, he felt his shoes being removed.
“Thanks,” he mumbled, feeling like a complete idiot. “M'sorry... they pissed me off so bad...”
“I know Tyler—just shut up, okay?” she ordered, getting his first boot off. He stared up at the ceiling, one eye swelling and hindering sight somewhat.
“Fuckin' sucks,” he mumbled as the second boot was shucked off.
“I'm gonna get you some water; got any pain killers?” she asked. Zeke nodded a little.
“In the bathroom... cabinet,” he answered, sighing out the words. Delilah nodded and left the room to go on her search. Zeke's throat tightened, remembering the events leading to his lashing out.
Never should've brought her home, he thought. His lips started trembling as he thought back, looking at the pictures, himself and Casey splashed on the cover of a rag-mag, the stark intrusion of his life... all because of crying out one name. His thoughts were then shocked to the inevitable; Casey's parents.
Everything inside of Zeke seemed to cave in at the idea of Casey's mother going to the grocery store, only to discover more vicious press on the subject of her dead son. Mr. Connor would go to his job and get odd glances from his co-workers. It'd been hellish enough on them getting hounded by the press and photographers, and it'd only get worse from hereon in.
“Fuck...” Zeke murmured, starting to feel tears in his sore eyes. He was dead sick of crying, but there was nothing else he could do. It was then that Delilah returned, holding a glass of water and three pills.
“This is the last of your ibuprofen,” she said. “I might have some in my purse to leave for you... Zeke?”
“My fucking God...” Zeke mumbled, shaking his head slightly. His fingers clenched around the cloth, trying to keep himself from shoving it too hard on his wounds. “Del... what am I gonna do?”
“There...” he started, swallowing. “Del, it's in the papers. She called the fuckin' tabloids.”
“Who did? Zeke, what're you talking about?”
“I'd taken her home—fuck, I never should've done that. Never should... Jesus,” he lamented. Delilah pursed her lips a moment.
“Stop speaking in goddamned riddles, Zeke. Explain,”
Zeke took a deep breath and let it out; the mistake of letting Chrissy in his car, taking her home and making her a one night stand. It was undeniable as to who had decided to get a quick buck over this information, especially when Delilah took a deep shuddering breath. “Yea... I'd heard all of this.”
“She went around—MUST have, must have told everyone,” Zeke said with a deep growl in his throat. “The bitch went off and called the fucking press. Del—Jesus Christ, what am I gonna do?”
Delilah sat back, crossing her arms. “Not much you can do, Zeke. Honestly.”
Zeke closed his eyes, willing his limbs to relax. “No, there isn't, is there? Fuck...” he said. He then realized that Stan hadn't known, and that Delilah had dated Casey. Oh shit... “I'm... sorry.”
“About what, Zeke?”
“Del, you dated him; everything, and now this. Now you fuckin' know.”
“Know what?” she asked. Zeke blinked a few times before answering.
“It's fuckin' true. Me and Casey, we'd...” he said. “God, it's true.”
He was surprised to see Delilah's face relax, her lips curling up slightly. “Zeke... I hate to break this to you, but it was never news to me,” she told him. Zeke tried to keep from frowning in confusion, his face suffering with just the thought of doing so.
Delilah nodded. “Back at the café, you said that Casey had told you we weren't 'fucking every night',” she said. “And you were right. In fact, we'd never even got past second base.”
“Wha...?” Zeke said, trying to sit up a little to face her better. She shook her head and put it back on the couch, taking a deep breath.
“Every guy I'd dated was so eager to get in bed with me. We'd start dating some afternoon and be fucking that night. When I'd asked Casey out, it was something I expected. I mean... I KNEW he'd never gotten laid,” she said with a small chuckle. “I figured it was a done deal, and honestly, I would've liked that. The first time he came by I'd set it up perfectly; fresh-popped popcorn, some soda and one of his favorite movies. He loved classics, I knew that. My mom was out and well... he came over and we settled on the couch together, watching the flick. I didn't really like it, but he kept telling me facts about it. I can't even remember what it was, really.”
Zeke listened close to the memory Delilah relayed, staring at her face. She seemed peaceful, no tears welling in her eyes. She turned to look at him with a soft smile. “He just cuddled me close to him and brushed my hair with his fingers. It was so nice, so sweet. I figure it'd move farther than that... but we didn't even kiss.”
“Oh...” Zeke mumbled. “Had to get heavier after that,”
“Not really. Every time we got together, it was close contact, but not sexual. It was weird, y'now? Here was this guy that I knew had never been with a girl, and he wouldn't initiate anything. We did kiss, but... no roaming hands, really. Just once and he was so fucking nervous I thought he was going to shake apart. He was someone who didn't like to be pushed; someone who wouldn't be, for more reasons than being a private person,” she explained. She paused a moment, looking away and staring at the coffee table. “But we'd talk, about anything. School, going to college, his photography and how he'd gotten the 'coolest shots' of my practices and performances at games. He loved to photograph me. He said I 'ate up his film' with my 'photogenic qualities'.”
Zeke smiled. “He said I needed to smile more for pictures.”
“I loved smiling for him. Zeke, I dunno—he was pure. Undiluted kindness; so fucking strong, stronger than any guy I'd ever met, really,” she said. “It's how he took what people dished out to him, because he could. Then one night we got talking about nothing at all, and out of nowhere he just starts wringing his hands and looking upset. When I asked him what was up, he said that he'd been lying to me...to everyone.”
“About...?” Zeke prompted.
“He said he'd given it his best shot; that he wanted to be a 'normal guy'. But he wasn't. He kept apologizing after admitting that he wasn't sexually attracted to me, which yea—quite the shock considering what a hot cookie I am.”
Zeke couldn't help smiling at Delilah's bout of faux arrogance; she'd say these things, possibly meaning them, but it was only the truth. “Well, ya are.”
“Nothing you haven't heard before. You've even been a lot less bitchy; that adds to it.”
“Yea... and the reason I've chilled in that department... is because of him,” she said, voice going quiet again. “After I got out the obvious, that he was into guys, I let him know it was okay. We were good friends, and that's all it was meant to be. We hugged a lot that night, him thanking me all over the place. I swore I wouldn't tell, and I never did. Especially when he admitted the huge crush he'd had on you since the eighth grade.”
Zeke's insides felt like cold stone in hearing this new piece of information; it passed quickly, warmth overcoming him and thawing him out. “Oh... yea?”
“Like you didn't know,”
“I didn't. I thought it was all just—off the cuff, sudden,” Zeke said. “That's how it'd felt that night.”
“When... well, hah... just being nosy, really but; when did you guys hook up?” Delilah asked. Zeke's smile faded.
“The night before.”
“Before what—” Delilah started but stopped in seeing Zeke's lips trembling. “Oh... oh fuck.”
“Yea,” Zeke uttered with a slow nod. Delilah blinked profusely, moving closer. Zeke let her lay upon his chest, moving carefully so as to not hurt any sore spots. His arm went around her back, simply holding her close, as he felt hot wet soak through his shirt. He put the ice aside and closed his eyes, salt water stinging his sensitized skin.
Everyone clamored for details; those that didn't know Casey well or maybe just peripherally kept coming up with 'are you okay?' questions constantly, always getting a shrug and an 'I guess... why?' in return. Zeke would feel like snarling and pushing people away when they'd get too close, making him angry at the curiosity people had in the 'boy wonder' of Herrington High.
If Zeke was getting no sort of detailed information, they wouldn't get it either. At least he hoped Casey wasn't going to confide in others instead of him. If anyone was going to talk things out and try to ease Casey's woes, it'd be him.
Whatever strength was put into their friendship in the beginning was only growing day by day. After the initial shock of scary events passed, Casey claimed Zeke as some sort of 'bodyguard', and how he'd better start sending him checks for his services. “I ain't done shit,” Zeke would always say, but Casey would shove his shoulder and tell him that he'd better keep it up.
By the end of January, Casey joked about how he was going to HAVE to pay Zeke now that he'd started his new job at 'Soto-Photo', a small photography shop and developer in town. He'd been taken on as an apprentice of sorts, learning from the old man who ran the shop. The only thing wrong with this was that their long afternoon 'hanging out' Zeke had gotten used to was cut in half while Casey studied and worked. He deserved it, however; it would look fantastic on the college applications Casey had been busy filling out the last few months.
Sometimes, when Casey worked a late night, Zeke would drop in with something to eat for them. Casey would take his small break to have his dinner, talking to Zeke about whatever project he was working on that day. Whether it was developing someone's vacation pictures with the kids or coming across something more 'risqué', it held Zeke's interest enough. He was finding that Casey held his interests in many more ways than one... or twenty.
Still, Casey remained tight-lipped about what had come about regarding investigations into threatening letters being sent, Ricky and even the attempted kidnapping. Zeke couldn't figure out why. There was something more than what was being said on the news reports, or whatever Casey chose to give up on the subject. 'Random crazies' was Casey's claim, but Zeke still wondered.
One afternoon, Zeke was busy working with a partner in the science lab on cell structure when the fire drill blared, making everyone jump. Mr. Furlong stood up and directed the class to the door, getting everyone organized in a calm group to leave. Casey looked annoyed, having just gotten through more than half his work with his own partner. Zeke walked with him, chuckling about what a nerd he was.
It was the usual 'yay, we got out of class!' atmosphere, once outside. Zeke and Casey hadn't gotten three steps out the door, however, before three men, wearing suits like the agents who'd shown up the day of Ricky's appearance, came over, taking Casey's arm. “Come with us, son,” they said, taking him aside. Zeke watched them walking off, wondering if he should follow, when a series of shots rang out.
A collective scream came from the crowd, everyone ducking or dropping. “Drop down, drop down!” teachers yelled to the students. Zeke hopped down the last few steps and crouched by the bushes, eyes scanning the road ahead. His jaw dropped as he saw a dark-windowed car on the opposite side of the street; what looked to be a rifle was jutting out from the back window then getting pulled in as the car pealed out of the spot and took off. A group of girls was huddled together nearby, crying in fear, with arms wrapped over each other's backs. The sound of someone yelling orders made Zeke's head turn, seeing one of the agents running towards the street while calling into his walkie-talkie. Looking towards the front of the school, Zeke's eyes widened and stomach lurched.
The other agent was kneeling down on the ground over someone lying still. For a moment Zeke couldn't register on who it was, but in seeing the dark brown sweater Casey had been wearing...
“Stay back!” the agent yelled as a few students moved closer. Zeke scrambled to his feet and ran over, not caring what anyone ordered him to do; there was no way to stand still.
“Shit, Casey!” he yelled, catching the attention of the agents. One stood up and got in Zeke's way, holding him back. He stared in desperation at the boy, seeing his eyes screwed up in pain, arms moving over his stomach shakily.
“Get back,” the agent holding Zeke ordered. He flailed his arms past the man, seeing the agent lifting Casey's sweater up to his neck. In the split second it took to set his eyes straight, Zeke expected the blood, the screaming… girls were crying mercilessly around him, everyone going to a stand to try to see...
No blood, no screams; just a dark vest, strapped over Casey's torso, being pulled away. Dark red, bruising marks were on his chest and stomach instead of bullet holes, making Zeke almost collapse to his knees. The agent eased him down, watching him a few moments while the third agent returned to the scene.
“Ambulance is on its way. How is he?” he asked urgently.
“A bit battered, but all right. Casey? How many?” the man kneeling by him asked, holding up his hand and extending three fingers.
“Three,” Casey replied shakily. Zeke's eardrums felt like they were going to burst in hearing Casey's voice. The boy took shallow, pained breaths as he turned his head to see Zeke sitting nearby. He stared back, eyes full of yet more shock and fear; Zeke put his hands on his face and tried to control the shaking in his arms and legs, finding it useless.
The wave of panic from the attack at Herrington High pulsed through the town. Parents had rushed to the school in droves, every one of them grabbing up their sons and daughters in hard embraces. Things were being cleared by groups of police officers and the agents, megaphones being used to try and shout order to everyone. Zeke stayed in his place, long after Casey had been brought to an ambulance and taken away.
He couldn't move; he'd barely reacted when Stokely found him, asking him if Casey had been okay. He'd simply nodded in reply, trembling fingers bringing his cigarette to his lips. Now wasn't the time for teachers to uphold the rules about smoking on school grounds.
Stan and Delilah had found them soon after and they sat in a group. Each of them was shaken, Delilah having to wipe her eyes every few seconds. Stokely sat next to her and huddled close while Stan asked Zeke more questions.
“He... he was wearing a vest? Like a bulletproof one?”
Zeke nodded again, thinking on every last detail; Ricky, the scene at the mall, however many letters being sent to Casey's home. The tension was anted up with Zeke trying to find answers in it all.
Ricky—he'd been random. Zeke had felt that since it'd happened. He was insane, not organized. Besides his fearful display, he hadn't honestly wanted to hurt Casey, even if he'd ended up doing so. Casey hadn't held back all that much information on him, telling Zeke what hospital he'd been sent to in Akron or how the cops had explained that he'd been a lonely man in Wyoming, who'd just lost it with visions and 'experiences'.
But the grab made at the mall... it had had intent. Zeke had wondered how he'd missed seeing a black van following them during the drive, and had cursed himself everyday since for not taking notice. Whoever those men had been, they had been on a mission, and had been intensely brave about it. You didn't go to a busy mall to attempt a kidnapping if you didn't have confidence in your plan.
The letters might have revealed much more than Zeke knew about. They HAD to have; ever since Ricky, Zeke had had the hints that Casey was now sharing information with the police on what the writers of his 'fan mail' were saying. Sitting in the security office at the mall revealed enough with Mrs. Connor telling Casey about 'reporting' letters.
Whatever the case, Zeke waited until the groups' parents arrived, each one of them just as frantic as everyone else's. Stan was last to leave, asking Zeke if he wanted to come to his place. Zeke declined, choosing instead to get in his car and head home. It'd been a hard drive; Zeke could barely remember how he'd ended up in his driveway and it scared him. A lot of things scared him.
He went inside the house, feeling like a fly was buzzing in his ear, as if a strange white noise filled his head. It was welcome. It was better to hear something other than nothing at all. The house felt like a tomb at times, this being one of them. He'd never come out and admit directly how he missed having a family to come home to, but sometimes it had bothered him when he'd been at Casey's, seeing his mother and father dote on him as if he were the only thing that mattered in the world. Zeke didn't have anyone like that.
Casey was going to need it now. Zeke couldn't fathom how much fear ran in Casey's veins with everything going on. The boy would probably take routine flagpole beatings every hour over something like this. It didn't seem like an even trade, getting shot at for being a hero instead of going back to a life of bullies and taunts. Gabe was grade school compared to this new 'regime'.
Having a nice, heavy drink was rare for Zeke, contrary to popular belief. He was going to have one now, though, and soon an everyday rum and coke was slipping past his lips. Things were unraveling in his mind at the rate of a mile a minute... things he knew were off from the very beginning.
Casey knew much more than he'd led Zeke to believe. 'Random crazies' didn't make hundreds of feds fuss over you; they didn't make you wear a bulletproof vest. Something was going on underground; and Zeke needed to know what it was.
Not now, however. Not now... for a few minutes, Zeke put himself in a world where that alien bitch hadn't bothered to drop in. He thought of the way life was; just him and stupid druggie morons buying scat—skipping school, not caring at all—about anything.
He didn't know which was worse: memories or reality.
Zeke had been glad to have to go through the process of getting 'checked out' the minute he'd pulled up to the Connor home. His ID had been looked at along with the Connors being informed that a visitor had come by. Mr. Connor had given the approval for Zeke to come inside, making Zeke sigh with relief in every which way. 'He's safe, and I'm here...'
“How's... he doing?” Zeke asked once in the house.
Mr. Connor shut the front door behind Zeke, nodding to the agent standing on the porch. He walked past Zeke, running his fingers through his hair. “He's all right,” he stated. “Just... big aches and pains; a couple of cracked ribs, but he should be all right.”
Zeke nodded slowly, looking to the stairs. “Can I see him?”
“Yea. He might be resting; they've got him on some heavy painkillers,” Mr. Connor answered. Zeke sighed and went up to the second floor, ignoring the buzzing of radios and hushed conversation in and out of the house. All that mattered was for Zeke to actually see Casey alive and well.
He knocked on Casey's bedroom door, getting a muffled groan in reply. He stepped in, looking towards the bed. Casey lay upon it, his TV being the only thing lighting up the room. He turned his head to find Zeke and sighed.
“Hey,” he muttered, blinking hard. Zeke shut the door behind him and stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“How're you?” Zeke asked.
“How's it look 'how I am'?” Casey asked with a wry grin, sounding drowsy and out of it.
“Well... I'm no doctor, but you look pretty okay,” Zeke said, walking over and sitting in the desk chair.
Casey swallowed, cringing as he did. His dreamy expression returned with an eerily calm smile gracing his face. “Yea... well...”
“It's... a good thing you were wearing that vest,” Zeke began while trying to keep his voice even. “Scared the shit outta me; I thought you were dead,”
“Why were you wearing it?”
Casey looked over at him through half-lidded eyes, blinking profusely. “Wearing what?” he asked.
“The vest, Casey,” Zeke replied, feeling his jaw tighten.
“I had'ta,” Casey said with a slow shrug. “The feds told me to. They wanted me to b'safe.”
“Safe from what?” Zeke prodded further.
“Why... do ya wanna know?” Casey said in a strained voice “Tyler—I can't tell no-one, a'right?”
“Like hell you can't. After what I saw today, I want fucking answers,” Zeke replied quickly. Casey's lips parted, but no sound came out; his face went heavy with concentration as he tried to breathe. Zeke's fists balled up. “Casey? Please tell me, okay?”
“Zeke? This hurts... I fucking hurt,” Casey whimpered, tears suddenly spilling down his cheeks. “They fucking tried to shoot me. They want me dead.”
Zeke's mood softened as the boy squirmed, looking up at the ceiling and gasping. He stood from the chair and walked over, sitting next to him. “Who are 'they'?”
“I dunno... some group... groups. They want me to shut up about... MaryBeth,” Casey stammered. “They're mad cos' I killed her.”
“Jesus,” Zeke muttered as he looked to the end of the bed and thought hard.
“What do I do, Zeke?”
The sound of Casey's voice nearly cracked Zeke in half; he was helpless and vulnerable, like he'd been before the incident-- worse... much worse. Zeke reached over to Casey's trembling hand and looked to his face, trying to ignore the large purple marking of Casey's skin just past the collar of his t-shirt. “I'll watch out for you, okay? I'll be around.”
Casey blinked slowly while he stared back at Zeke. His hand relaxed then clenched Zeke's, holding him firmly. “You'll take care of me just fine; just fine.”
Zeke watched as Casey's eyes fluttered closed; the grip he had on Zeke disappeared now, leaving his arm limp over Zeke's lap. Zeke's fingers slid absently over Casey's wrist a few moments, as if to ease the tension the boy held.
The temptation to kiss the small, nail-bitten fingers made Zeke give a tiny smack of lips to them. He then put Casey's arm to the side gently and stood. 'Why did I do that...?' he thought, going to the door and leaving.
He found Casey's parents in the living room; anger was filling him again as Mr. Connor approached. “Did you get to talk to him?” he asked.
“Why wasn't I told?” Zeke snapped as he crossed his arms in defiance.
“Told...?” Mr. Connor inquired.
“He's been followed around by some... what, cult?” Zeke asked. “What the hell is going on?”
Mrs. Connor sighed from her seat on the couch. “We weren't supposed to tell... anyone, we couldn't say one word, Zeke,” she answered.
“It's on a federal level,” Mr. Connor added.
“Well, everyone knows now, huh?” Zeke retorted. Mr. Connor narrowed his eyes a little.
“Is there... a reason for this sudden outburst, Zeke?”
“Seeing as I watched Casey get shot at, yea—I'm a bit on edge,” he said. “I'd kinda like to know when this shit is going on.”
Mr. Connor's face went stern now as he straightened. “Like we said, Zeke; we were not supposed to tell—”
“Not even someone who's with him, all the time?” Zeke spat out angrily.
“His own grandmother doesn't even know,” Mrs. Connor piped in again. Zeke scoffed.
“I don't fucking see her around—”
“Listen up, Zeke. And you listen good,” Mr. Connor now interrupted. He moved closer to Zeke. Zeke took a step back; he felt nothing but intimidation from Mr. Connor, who looked the angriest Zeke had ever seen him. “Maybe in your house, you're your own man doing your own thing. Maybe you make your own rules; in MY house, you are still a child and you have no say whatsoever in how things are run. You got that?”
“I'm not a goddamned kid...”
“Yes you are, Zeke. You walk through that door and you abide our rules as if you were our own son. I'm the man of this house, and y'now what? If I have to step out then Casey is. Not you. So don't you dare come tromping down our stairs acting like a total entitled brat,” Mr. Connor stated with a fire in his eyes. It struck Zeke down inside; he couldn't even remember being fearful of his own father like this. His usual reaction of giving a quick 'fuck off' and leaving in a huff dissipated somewhere between Mr. Connor's heated gaze and Mrs. Connor's shaky, tearful sigh. For the first time in his life, Zeke looked away in submission.
“I just wish that I'd known... all right? It's nothing to do with you, or rules. Just wish I'd known,” Zeke said in a softer voice. “Casey's my friend... and I'm really fucking scared.”
“Watch your mouth,” Mr. Connor said in a sudden, fatherly warning.
“Sorry,” Zeke instantly replied.
“We didn't not tell you to hurt you, Zeke. We would have preferred to let you know,” Mrs. Connor said in a soothing voice. It calmed Zeke down enough to nod.
“Yea... okay,” he said. Feeling trapped, Zeke turned and opened the front door with the want to get out. He hadn't made it to the first stair before the door opened behind him.
He turned and found Mr. Connor again. “Yea?” he answered, rubbing his nose nervously.
“You did hear me back there, right?” he asked. “You're our son when you walk into our house.”
Zeke felt frozen for a moment before nodding fast and going down the stairs. He passed the droves of officers and agents, getting odd looks that he didn't care about. All he knew was that Mr. Connor had extended a quiet but firm offer to him.
He needed to be somebody's son.
Zeke had woken alone but thankful that Delilah had, in fact, left behind a good handful of pain relievers for him to swallow the 'morning after'. It was the first action of the morning in seeing the bottle on the table; he took four without water, not knowing if he'd make it to the kitchen for a glass without passing out on the way.
He touched his face lightly and sighed; it wasn't as bad as he feared, though the sore feel of his injuries made his head throb. He moved to sit up and groaned, equilibrium getting lost somewhere. “This sucks,” he muttered as he pressed his head back on the cushions. At least his eye wasn't swelled entirely. He could see sunlight streaming into the room, the day looking gorgeous. It didn't feel gorgeous, not to him.
After feeling some of the pain trickle away, Zeke managed to get on his feet to shuffle his way into the kitchen. Old coffee sat in the pot, cool and dank. It'd do; Zeke got a mug and filled it then shoved it in the microwave. All of it felt like task work... sugar, creamer, peanuts...
Zeke rolled his eyes in seeing the lonesome can of nuts sitting just past the bag of sugar. Instead of shutting the cabinet he kept it open, glancing to it as he readied his morning drink. “Pretty cool, huh? The whole world gets to know about our personal bullshit,” he said while getting the sugar in a canister. “Funny how everyone seemed to know already... well Stan didn't, but still. But you told Del, didn't ya?”
There was no response except for the beeping of the microwave. Zeke turned to it and got his mug out. “Should've said something; everyone figured you were fruitier than fruit, but me? Yea, let's all just assume that Zeke Tyler's laid hundreds of chicks,” he mumbled. He started losing count of how many spoons of sugar he was putting in, but he liked it sweet anyway. “Like I'm some male fucking slut... 'Mr. Experience'. Sure,”
Cream went in next as he took another glance to the can. His jaw tightened as he grabbed up the mug and put everything away. “See what I've been reduced to?” he stated, grabbing the cabinet door and staring inside a moment. “I'm talking... to a fucking can of nuts.”
He shut the door and ambled his way back into the living room; he winced in taking a sip, feeling undiluted granules of sugar scrape against his teeth.
Fast food wasn't going to cut it today. After making sure he didn't look like a piece of raw meat, Zeke drove to the supermarket to pick up a few things. The list in his head was short; he knew he needed fruit, toothpaste, some sort of meat and a big box of cookies. Not the best list in the world, but Zeke's palette was never that 'health oriented' to begin with. He did, however, throw in a box of puffed rice cereal.
The lone bag of groceries hung on his arm as he left the store. He walked slowly out into the parking lot, scuffing his boot against small pebbles lining his path. In watching one skitter off to the left, Zeke's eyes peered through his sunglasses to see a small bunch of people crowding around... shit.
Mrs. Connor was trying to shove a load of groceries in her minivan, her face looking tight and stern while what looked to be reporters clamored around her. Zeke couldn't hear what they were saying, but he knew what they were on about. His nerves began firing off erratically; he couldn't go over... but he couldn't just leave her there, either. Mustering up as much courage as he could, Zeke quickened his step as he got over, starting to hear the questions getting fired at Mrs. Connor.
“Did you know about your son's relationships?”
“Have you talked to Delilah Proffit? Does she have anything to say on the matter?”
“Is it true that Miss Proffit tried committing suicide after learning about Casey's orientation?”
“Hey!” Zeke interrupted the group. Their heads whipped over to him; expressions of recognition washed over their faces. The two cameramen focused directly on him now as the rabid reporters thrust microphones into Zeke's face.
“We have Ezekiel Tyler here... Ezekiel, did you—”
Zeke shoved the people aside as he fought to get over to Mrs. Connor. She seemed to be purposefully trying to keep her eyes averted, and not just because of reporters. When one made a sudden tug at Zeke's jacket he whirled around. “Will you guys get the fuck away from us?” he bellowed. Everyone took a step back but stayed, watching on as Zeke turned back to Mrs. Connor. “You okay?” he asked. She nodded fast, shutting the back door.
“I'm fine, Zeke,” she softly replied. “They're just... just doing their job.”
“Screw their job, man...” Zeke grumbled as a flashbulb went off. He didn't bother with threats anymore; it wasn't worth it.
“I've got to get home. Goodbye, Zeke... we um... still have those pictures, you can come get them,” she said in a hurry, now scurrying off to the driver's side door. Zeke followed her, helping her get in. He was glad to see the reporters and camera people dispersing now, talking into cell phones and to each other in rushed frantic tones.
Zeke swallowed as Mrs. Connor shut the door; he looked into the opened window and sighed. “I'm sorry—for all that, I'm sorry...”
“It's all right, Zeke,” she told him, turning the car on. He stepped back to let her reverse out of the spot. Once she was heading out towards the exit, Zeke moved away to head to his own car.
No matter the invitations, he still didn't feel like he could go to the Connors for any reason. Pictures, apologies, small talk... it all seemed so contrived and forced. Mrs. Connor was probably just being polite; it wasn't every day you'd hear lurid details about your dead child's sex life. There was no way to deny it, either. Zeke wasn't about to lie, but he wasn't about to go on Oprah about it.
The bag was tossed to the passenger side and Zeke got in, shutting his door and just... sitting there. His eyes stared blankly at the small strip of grass separating the lot from the main road, his brain swelled with injuries of every kind; physical and emotional. There was always the little Pollyanna-voice that would try to poke through, saying that 'someday it'd get better'. 'Someday' needed to happen now, before Zeke decided he didn't want to wait.
'I knew you'd be here. They said you came back.'
Casey looked up from the trays he'd placed his photos in, finding Zeke walking in. He smiled a little and picked up his tongs. 'I wasn't done with this project,'
Zeke knew this was impossible; I'm dreaming. I know I am; but I don't wanna wake up from this. It was so normal, like any other day Zeke spent extra time with Casey in the school's darkroom. He grabbed a soda from the counter next to him and sipped, watching Casey's delicate movements as he worked. 'What project?'
'I picked up this camera... with a telescope-lens. It can pick up anything,' Casey said. 'I found where she was from,'
'MaryBeth. She was in a star system near the Big Dipper.'
Zeke smiled. 'How do you know?'
'Don't fucking question me. I just know,' Casey spat, sounding suddenly irritable and angry. Zeke sobered up, nodding slowly.
'Show me,' he said. Casey's smile returned as he walked to a series of pictures, hanging on a line. He brought them over and stood next to Zeke, showing him.
'You can see the oceans... they've died down like she said,' Casey explained. Zeke did indeed see the surface of some distant planet, covered in what looked to be brown moss and trickling streams.
'They're not oceans anymore,'
'No. it's kind of sad,' Casey said in a soft voice. He looked to Zeke then and sighed out a shaky breath. 'Zeke, I wish she never came. I wish she never came here.'
Zeke nodded and put the pictures aside. One of Casey's arms hooked behind him, pulling him closer. 'I wanna go to the moon with you,' he said. Zeke knew if he laughed, Casey would get angry again. He simply turned his head and took Casey's chin.
'It'd be cold,'
'I already feel cold. Warm me up,'
Zeke felt Casey's arms, finding them so chilled he nearly backed away. He held on however, wrapping Casey in both arms and holding him close. He started shivering but didn't let go, wanting anything he could of the boy. Casey's icicle-like fingers went underneath his shirt to his skin, pressing into him close. 'Don't let me go. Okay? Don't you let me go,'
'I have to someday.'
Zeke began crying mercilessly and buried his nose in Casey's hair. It still smelled like the lightly perfumed shampoo Casey used; he drank in its scent.
'Wanna go to the moon with you,'
Zeke felt consciousness start to sink into him; his dream started morphing into nothing, splashes of black covering the scene. He was trying to fight it; he needed to keep Casey warm, damn it...
His eyes opened, the blackened scene now going into slight shadows. His lamp in the corner, dusty drapes to his right; streetlights were trying their best to illuminate the room, slats of low light. He'd fallen asleep on the couch, though he couldn't remember drifting off. Things were getting harder for Zeke to keep track of.
Not wanting to move, Zeke kept sniffing the air, swearing he could still catch the aroma of Casey's hair. His dreams were growing more and more sensory, coming to the point of lingering around when he woke. Once his brain cleared it'd disappear, but Zeke realized that he felt so, so cold.
The afternoon nap Zeke had taken prevented any sleep for that night. The thought of drinking made him sick; right now, he was filled with the urge to do something, which was why he was heading down the highway. He didn't know where he was going to go or what he'd do once he got there, but it was better than kicking around his house.
He'd been driving for about an hour when city lights started shining over the horizon. Cleveland offered so much more than Herrington, of course. Zeke needed a place to get lost in for a while, a place where no one knew him.
After a few legs on the highway, he got on the exit leading to the Veteran's Memorial bridge, already feeling some stress slide off of him. He needed to get out and drive more... perhaps not bothering to stop unless it was for gas. For now, he settled on getting into the heart of the city to wander around for however long. Seeing as it was only nine at night, he could spend a good handful of hours just enjoying the nightlife. Blend in with no worries or cares.
Zeke's ears were ringing terribly; that was the last time he tried the 'club scene', even if it were an eighteen-and-over night. Even though he absolutely loathed techno, he'd tried it out. In trying to drown out his thoughts, he'd nearly lost his hearing. If he never saw a glow stick again it'd be too soon.
He'd been lucky to pick up a street parking spot just a block away from this place, seeing as it was busy as hell. He was wondering if he should keep going down the road, taking chances on the next spot he wanted to stop into. The fake ID was still in his wallet, and he wasn't sure if he could get in the doors of a bar around here with it. The familiar need for a drink was starting to hit him, even if he'd need to crash at a hotel in the city.
Zeke was crossing the street, seeing his car not far off when his eyes darted down the avenue. It was the car parked illegally that caught his attention first, noticing the bright white sign practically yelling 'NO PARKING' right next to it. Upon closer inspection, Zeke noticed the brake lights on, and someone was standing at the passenger side window.
He was a young man, small-framed and leaning to talk to the car's occupants. Zeke had no idea why he couldn't keep walking so suddenly; an odd shiver ran through his skin. It was obvious what was happening as he heard the young man's musical laugh. “Your loss,” he said, stepping back. The car drove off fast, leaving the young man to walk to the building nearby and put his back to it.
Low-rise jeans, silky button down shirt and a cigarette hanging in his lips... Zeke was walking over, not knowing why.
Zeke was glad to have had a half-drunk bottle of gin in the trunk of his car, needing it now. He had no idea what he was doing sitting on this bed, why he'd spent a good chunk of cash to rent a hotel room when he could have just done this in the car.
He heard the sink in the bathroom shut off and the door open. Not bothering to look up, Zeke took another swig of his bottle, staring at the brown and black diamond shaped patterns of the rug.
“I'm not used to a nice place like this; it's usually a car or street corner... sometimes a dingy motel,”
Zeke nodded dumbly at the young man speaking to him, lowering the bottle to his knee, his other hand rubbing his eyes a moment. Bare feet soon appeared below him. He didn't want to look up.
“What is it that you'd like?” the young man asked.
“What's... what's your name?” Zeke finally managed to ask; to speak.
“Damien... or really, whatever you'd like,” he answered. Zeke dared to look up at the boy; God, he must have been only seventeen or so. His face was pale, dark blue eyes sparkling with a faux-innocence. His hair was a deep, dark brown, almost black. It was enough. Not enough to take up his 'name offer', but enough.
“That's fine,” Zeke replied, taking another long draught of his drink. He put it on the dresser behind Damien, brushing his arm along Damien's side as he did. He sat back quick, putting his hands on his knees. “I guess... I dunno.”
“You've never done this, huh?”
“I've been with a guy.”
“A prostitute?” Damien asked with a cocked eyebrow.
Zeke shook his head. “No... Not that,” he murmured.
“Well... I won't make you do anything, y'now. Whatever you want—for whatever the price, really,” Damien said with a slight shrug. “I won't do it without a condom, that's all.”
Zeke cringed to himself; it only made sense to bring up the whole reason they were here, but he still couldn't quite believe that he'd done this. He'd really, really hit rock bottom. “I don't... care,” he said. It went quiet a few moments. Damien shifted from one foot to the other and cocked his head to the side.
“Want me to get you into it?” Damien asked. Zeke pursed his lips and nodded once; so small a movement, he almost hadn't noticed it.
Zeke let out a small puff of breath as Damien moved closer, the denim of his jeans running along Zeke's knees. A hand went to his cheek, making him turn his head up to face the boy. Damien smiled a little as he bent down with his hands holding Zeke's shoulders gently. Their lips met and Zeke froze.
It was nice; a surprising feeling. Damien tasted of musky vanilla, perhaps from the Indian cigarettes he smoked. Zeke began giving it more allowance and let his mouth open wider. Damien followed suit; his body moved closer until he'd gotten both knees on the bed to straddle Zeke's lap. Zeke's hands grabbed the blankets in one solid hold, just for a moment, before they rose up and took Damien's hips.
“You're a good kisser,” Damien murmured within the small break of their kiss. Zeke didn't care, didn't want to hear about his prowess. His body fell back; hands gripped onto the boy to have him follow.
Damien had done enough; Zeke turned on his side and moved up to make him slide off and under him. “That's it,” Damien encouraged, smiling up at Zeke and licking his lips. It made Zeke dive back down to claim the pink mouth again, trying his best to recapture... ensnare anything he could out of memory.
It was most precious; the skin he'd touched, caressed—bit and mauled even, just to hear the small cries and panting sobs. He'd moaned and smiled with him, awkward in their clumsy adolescence. Zeke wasn't a virgin by any stretch, but he'd felt like one with Casey. Casey saw through him; everyone else was satisfied with Zeke's mask.
Right now, Damien made a fantastic hiding place for Zeke to kiss, nip and suck... he moaned at the exact right time, his hands clenched appropriately on Zeke's biceps to further him on. Feeling encouraged... this is okay, this really is... Zeke put a hand to his jeans and began undoing the buttons and zip.
He didn't know where he was at first; it was too bright to be his bedroom as Zeke always drew the shades. The bed was stiff, unmarked by Zeke's tall frame... and the blanket felt like rough sandpaper on his skin, making Zeke rouse from sleep.
Eyes scanned the hotel room to recall details... his jacket was tossed onto the chair across the room along with his wallet, keys and jeans. The shirt he'd worn last night was lying on the pillow beside him, slept upon and wrinkled. His brain swam in confusion; where was the other clothing that should have been there...
He wasn't a lover. He was a prostitute.
Zeke flopped back down on his stomach and groaned into his pillow; he'd done that. He'd hired a goddamned fucking prostitute. Rented this fucking room and spent it fucking a rentboy. His brow furrowed deep, hurting his head.
'He'd think you were disgusting—if he knew about this—fuck, he knows. You know he does.' Zeke thought. His eyes squeezed tight a moment before lifting his head. His hand slapped down on his pack of cigarettes on the side table and grabbed one, lit it and slid onto his back.
When Damien had made to leave, Zeke had asked... no, begged for him to stay until he fell asleep. Damien's bemused grin at the suggestion disappeared when Zeke brought out another fifty. “Stay here, just until I go to sleep—please,” he'd asked. It hadn't been long, probably the easiest money the kid had ever made. Just knowing someone was there, touching his brow with gentle fingertips and murmuring out small, comforting hushes warmed Zeke even now.
“It was nice,” he said aloud. His eyes focused on the ceiling, staring off into space. “If you don't like it, go fuck yourself,”
No one answered, of course. It didn't matter; if Casey was to have some omniscient presence nowadays, let him. Zeke couldn't explain the snarl he wore in just thinking of Casey. “It's not fair,” he finally said.
“He's still in some lessons; he should be down soon,” Mrs. Connor told Zeke with a tiny smile. Zeke nodded and stepped inside, rubbing his hands together for warmth. As she walked back to the kitchen, he hung up his coat and kicked off his boots, not wanting to know how Mrs. Connor would react to boot-prints on her cream colored rug. “How was school?” she called out to him.
“It was okay,” Zeke said, feeling a bit amused; he couldn't remember the last time someone had asked him that.
“So just go over that last chapter, Casey,” someone said from the stairs. An older woman was descending, Casey following her slowly.
“Sure,” he replied. The woman beamed, turning to him once at the foot of the stairs.
“I feel like I shouldn't bother... just hand you your diploma here and now. Quite a brilliant mind you have,” she told him.
Casey traced a pattern along the wooden railing and shrugged. “I'm okay.”
“Hey,” Zeke muttered, nodding up to Casey. The boy looked up and brightened a bit, but his expression soon sank back into blankness.
“Hey... what's up?”
“Not much,” Zeke answered. Mrs. Connor walked into the room now, holding a dishtowel and smiling graciously.
“Did he do all right, Ms. Farrell?” she asked.
“He was great,” the woman said.
“Wanna go play some video games or something?” Casey asked abruptly while looking at Zeke with an odd, stony stare.
Casey had barely said one word since getting upstairs; he'd simply flicked on the TV and game console controls and offered a choice between three games to Zeke. They now sat playing 'Mario Kart' in silence, besides the random music and abrupt noises of the game.
“You're too good at this,” Zeke told him after crashing the fourth time in just the first lap. Casey shrugged.
“I just play a lot,” he said with fingers moving wildly on buttons and levers. Zeke smiled and put the controller down.
“Let's do something else,” he suggested.
“I dunno. Wanna go for a drive?” he asked. He couldn't help but notice Casey's heavy swallow.
“Can't do that—not even with my parents,” he told Zeke.
Zeke blinked. “Oh... sorry,” he said.
“Yea,” Casey mumbled, tossing his own controller down. The two of them stayed with their backs to the backboard of Casey's bed, staring at the demo game playing on the screen.
“How's the new teacher there?” Zeke decided to ask.
“How do you think?”
“She seemed okay.”
“Oh yea, she's just awesome,” Casey said, now leaning forward to click the game and TV off. “It's great being cooped up with a woman you don't know in your own room. Doesn't matter if she smells like tea rose perfume like she bathed in it straight, or that she won't let me do math problems out like Mr. Hennessey did, saying it's wrong.”
Zeke put his head back and sighed. He watched Casey get up and rub his arms briskly. “You all right?”
“I'm fucking freezing,” Casey grumbled, going to his bureau.
“Really? Feels like a radiator's been under my ass since I got here,” he answered.
“Good for you,” Casey spat back. His tone was so acidic, Zeke flinched. Casey tossed off the short-sleeved shirt he wore and threw it towards his hamper, missing it completely. From the view, his bruises hadn't gone down. They almost looked worse.
“When are those gonna heal?” he asked. Casey turned to look at him.
“Oh... those—well, if we're to go by the 'Gabe-o-meter' I've perfected since first grade, maybe a bit longer than usual. I was shot, after all,” Casey said flippantly; it was obvious how frustrated he was, however.
“I'm sorry, Case,” Zeke said, running a finger through the thick fabric of the rug.
“For... this shit. You being all cooped up like some criminal,” Zeke answered, looking back up to him. A sweater was pulled over Casey's head hastily and down his waist and arms. He still looked like he was shivering as he turned.
“Hey, that's okay. You got off scot-free, so it's all right.”
Zeke frowned. “Huh?”
“Yea, there were what... five of us? Four, if you don't count Delilah? Armed with pens and guns from whose arsenal?” Casey said, snarling heavier with every word.
“Wait... hold on. What are you trying to get across here?” Zeke said, leaning up. Casey rolled his eyes and turned away. His shoulder rested next to the window, arms crossed and face stoic.
“Y'now I can't even look out my window? Well, I can look, but I can't just sit here and daydream or anything. I might get shot in the face.”
“What? It's true.”
Zeke rolled his eyes and looked away. “So you're blaming me for all that, huh?”
“Hey, I wasn't the only one gone uninfected, right? I stuck your pen in that alien bitches eye, and what did you tell me? Hmm?”
“All right, knock this shit off.”
“No, what did you tell me, Tyler?” Casey asked again. Zeke clenched his jaw.
“Like you wouldn't have asked for the same.” He answered. “No one needs all that fucking attention.”
“I made a great scapegoat. I really did; some all-American poster boy for heroism that no one gave a shit about the day before...”
“Then why didn't you shut the fuck up, Connor? Huh?” Zeke retorted angrily. “Why didn't you tell the feds what they wanted to know, come back home and blend in? That's what I did! I told those bastards what they wanted to know, came home and told the press to get off my porch or I'd set bear traps for the NEXT time they showed up. You may as well have sent fucking party invitations around.”
“Yea sure—that's exactly what I did, too.”
“May as well have; face it Casey. You wanted your fifteen friggin' minutes of fame, got it—and now you don't want it anymore,” Zeke said with a scowl. Casey's jaw dropped slightly and his lower lip began trembling.
“Get the hell out of my house,” Casey growled. Zeke shrugged and got up.
“Sure thing; I hate pity parties anyway,” he scoffed out. “You can call Oprah for that. You probably have her on speed dial.”
He slammed the door and headed downstairs. He ignored the ruffle of Mrs. Connor newspaper and her concerned look she gave him as he walked past; not bothering to tie his laces or buttoning his coat, he got back outside to meet the blistering cold. He hated each look he got from each fed standing around outside, as if they knew something about him that he didn't.
A quiet night was long overdue in Zeke's mind; he kept the TV off and one lamp on, sitting on the end of the couch nearest it to read a book he'd read a good seven times now. Light snow fell outside, making a soothing white noise on his windows. As relaxed as he was, he couldn't help but notice that twenty-two pages had gone by without him absorbing anything.
He rolled his eyes and laid the book on his chest. There had been a lot of frustration he'd been trying to clear away, from reporters suddenly dropping in—his constant denials of information, outright lying about his involvement, whatever else that kept attention away from him.
It was as if Casey had done it all by himself... in fact, it DID look that way to the general public... didn't it? As much as Zeke wanted to ignore the guilt from this realization-- which honestly wasn't that big a realization as he knew all along...
It was then that the phone rang; Zeke nearly fell off the couch with the sudden noise. He sat up and got off the couch, feeling annoyed at the abrupt intrusion. Being that it was about eight at night it was most likely a telemarketer. He grabbed the phone off the charger and pressed 'talk'. “Yea?” he spat.
Casey's small voice sobered him almost immediately. “Oh... hey.”
“I was calling because... I'm sorry,” Casey said. Zeke heard a heavy breath before Casey continued. “It's... been hard is all.”
“No... No, I get it, Casey,” Zeke replied, walking back to the couch. “You've sorta got the right to get pissy sometimes.”
“Not at you though. You were right, Zeke,” Casey said. “Not really about the attention, but... I should've just shut up. I could've told everyone to just go away but I felt like I... I dunno...”
“Yea,” Casey breathed out. “It's stupid; I know it is, you don't gotta say it.”
“Case... Jesus, you're not stupid,” he said with a sigh. “I just wish you'd stop feeling like you absolutely have to talk to these people.”
“Yea—I'm not going to do that anymore. Not that I'm allowed to anyway,” he said with a wry chuckle. It faded slightly; Zeke smiled in just hearing the boy's small breathy sighs in the pause. He didn't bother to interrupt, as if knowing Casey was thinking very hard on what to say next. “Zeke... I'm scared.”
Zeke's smile faded; he nodded slowly while biting his lower lip. “Yea... I am too, sometimes,” he admitted.
“They've said that... that it won't be too long 'til I can go out, but... it's like everyone's ready to just do me in,” Casey explained, every word shaking worse than the last. “I don't wanna live like this. I wish this had never happened, Zeke... I really do.”
Zeke blinked, feeling empty and cold. There'd been something about the way Casey had gotten in his head lately, rousing some sort of empathy from him. Zeke had never had much empathy for anything, or anyone before. It felt different, scary—but somehow welcome. “Case?”
“If you want, I can come over tomorrow night and stay the weekend. If you want me to,” he offered. “I dunno... we can pop popcorn or play 'Scrabble'. It doesn't matter.”
“Yea,” Casey said, his voice sounding lighter. Zeke could almost hear his smile in the soft, pleased sigh he gave. “I'd like that.”
Zeke smiled a little and nodded. “I'll bring cards for poker; you got enough pennies?”
“Hah... cleaned you out last time you tried bluffing your way through ten dollars worth of 'em. Asshat,”
Zeke laughed out loud. “Well, I had some pretty kickass hands,”
“I'd beat you with a pair of threes in one hand—don't think I've forgotten that.”
“Pssh, whatever... I'll bring the milk jug; got about forty bucks in change by now,”
“Ooh, going all out,” Casey teased.
“Yea, yea—we'll see how many boxes of tissues you go through tomorrow,” Zeke said.
“All right. Call me when you get outta school,”
“See ya then,” Casey said; just before he heard Casey hang up, Zeke's lips parted to speak but stopped dead. The words 'I love you' almost spilled out; Zeke hung up, eyes wide and skin tingling with a numb sensation he couldn't explain.
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