|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 groaned at the sound of his keys hitting the small side table. He wished he'd just put them aside gently; every noise seemed louder than it should have been. He took off his jacket and tossed it onto the table as well, the action pushing the keys off and onto the floor, making him feel stupid and annoyed.
The ride home had been tiresome but uneventful. He'd half considered taking off and never coming back, going somewhere far away from everyone. Why he hadn't, he didn't know. What he DID know, however, was that his stomach was growling and aching. Realizing he hadn't eaten since the night before, he wandered into the kitchen in search of food.
Even with the small grocery trip, he found everything tasteless and unappealing. He finally chose the package of salami and a banana, filled a glass with water and walked back to the living room.
It's all so fucking mechanical, Zeke thought. It was all 'eat, sleep, drink, eat, drink, vomit, sleep'… he didn't like this pattern, but it was the only one he had. He shoved the throw blanket on the couch aside and sat down, feeling heavy and restless. He didn't even bother with the TV, even if it would've kept his mind occupied. The last thing he needed was some annoying electronic buzz.
He had to deal with it, however, as the phone in the kitchen rang out loudly. He let out a long, hot breath through his nostrils and stood up, wishing that he hadn't trashed the other, better phone. He slapped down his 'dinner' and walked back to the kitchen, picked up the phone and sighed. “Hello?”
“Zeke? It's Mom,”
It was as if the blood froze in his veins, stilling him completely. “What?” he gruffly replied.
“Honey…” she started, her voice an odd mix of kindness and curiosity. “I'd been out today, as it was our last day, before heading home—and while I was out at the markets and I saw a paper.”
“Oh yea?” Zeke stated, leaning on the doorway to keep from swaying over. “What'd it say?”
“Zeke, hon—why didn't you tell me?” she asked.
“Tell you what?”
“That you were—'involved' with Casey Connor…?” she tentatively asked. Zeke couldn't help the small puff of chuckles.
“Why, so you could dote on me, like you did with all your 'queer boys'?” he asked. “Sorry, I don't need a fag hag, and I really don't need my mother being one with me. Thanks.”
“That's not what this is about. I wish you would have told me, Zeke. It would have made me understand a little more about all… this.”
“And what, you woulda come home? I really fucking doubt that, Mom,” he answered. “You don't understand any of this. I meant what I'd said the last time we talked—'fuck you'.”
“You're saying that out of anger—I can forgive it,” she said.
“Aren't you gracious?”
“Listen, Zeke, okay… I have not been the best mother. But I think about you all the time, every day. You are my son, and that never changes,” she told him.
“Hmm… what's my favorite color?”
“You heard. What's my favorite color?” he asked again, nodding as if someone stood right there in front of him. He heard her gentle sighs on the other end of the phone.
“That has nothing to do with—”
“Fine, let's do an easier one. What's my favorite dessert?”
“Zeke, stop. All right? You've proved your point.”
“You don't know me, Mom. You have no clue to what I do, what I like, what I don't like… whatever. So don't pretend some long-distance call is gonna fix shit,” he retorted. “We share blood, and that's about it.”
“I'm not going to listen to this right now. I'm busy packing, because I'm heading back to Ohio,” she told him. Zeke went cold.
“I'm coming home. I have another tour next month, but it's important… that I see you before that,” she said. “I've been away for far too long…”
“Yea, what, seven months ago? Maybe more?”
“Yes, too long, Zeke—will you please just listen to me? What do I have to say to you to make you understand that I know?”
It went quiet a moment; Zeke heard yet more sighs, a loud zipper and then nothing, until his mother began speaking again. “I want to come home. Not to act like some 'mother of the year', because I can't BE that to you, and I know it. But I want to come home and just… do what I can,” she said. For the first time in a long time, Zeke got the feeling that she was being sincere. His chest was still tight however, but he tried loosening it to nod and reply.
“We've got one more signing tomorrow morning, and then I'm getting on a two-forty p.m. plane to the states,” she told him. “I'll take a cab back home and—”
“That's fucking expensive. I'll just pick you up,” Zeke said, rolling his eyes.
“Hon, it's all right.”
“God damn it, just let me pick you up. Don't waste the freakin' money on a cab ride,” he said, feeling angry and exasperated, but with a small stirring of hope in his chest.
“All right… okay then, I have one layover in Boston, and then out to Columbus International. I should be home around three a.m., at gate seventeen, on flight number 133,” she explained. “Now… you're sure you can swing that?”
“Yea, Mom. I've stayed up later.”
“Hmm, just as I feared. I've always been a night owl myself,” she said, sounding light and almost cheerful. Zeke wanted to feel the same, but held back.
“I'll be there,” he said.
“Okay… I do love you, Zeke. I can't wait to see you,” she told him.
Zeke nodded; he just didn't feel right... “Yea. 'Guess we'll talk soon then,” he said.
“Love you too, okay?” he blurted with defiance. He could almost hear her lips curling up into a smile.
“Okay,” she said. He nodded again and hung up the phone; it took him a few moments to walk away, not knowing whether to be excited, happy, or totally terrified of what was to come. When he did turn and go down the hall, he felt a strange panic overwhelm him.
Shit. This fucking place is a mess… Well, it was still Spring Break for the high school, and Stan did say that they should hang out.
“Zeke, you already got that corner.”
Zeke looked up from the incessant vacuuming job he'd been working on and found Stan giving him a small smile. “Oh…” he murmured, looking down at the patch of rug, which looked cleaner than ever. “Yea,”
“Man, you MUST be panicking,” Stan said while picking up a box from the pile Zeke had made. “This one going in the basement?”
“Uh, yea; that should be the last one.”
Stan nodded and left the room. Zeke took a moment to look around, wondering if it was good enough. He didn't know why he cared so badly. He'd left a good half of the house untouched all these years; while the living room, kitchen, one of the dens, his bedroom and bathroom looked like hell, it HAD to be expected. Out of whatever respect he'd had left, the other rooms—parents' bedroom, the other den and extra bedroom—were almost entirely untouched. He didn't doubt that there was dust, however, and grabbed up a couple rags.
The untouched den was his father's, and it'd gone vacant long before Zeke's mother had taken off. Besides a few things that Mr. Tyler had snagged before leaving, everything else sat in the same place he'd left it, as if each item were some rare artifact. Zeke couldn't remember the last time he'd been in here, really. He walked in and sighed.
“Your father… well, he's decided to move to Massachusetts for a new job,” his mother had explained to Zeke, aged fifteen, who'd asked why his Dad hadn't come home yet. His mother had given tight smiles and shrugs, saying that they'd be 'better off' with him gone. Zeke had known things weren't very good for a long time; he knew what a marriage counselor was by a very early age. Fifteen-year-old Zeke was also able to overhear his mother on the phone that night, drunk on brandy and crying to her best friend about 'some bitch' from Boston.
Feeling robotic, Zeke went to the bookshelf and began running his cloth over it, watching small puffs of dust scatter into the air. Random titles ran through his head; these books were familiar. He'd often sneaked into this room to read his father's biology books as a young boy, interested at first in the illustrations of human anatomy. After a while however, he was able to make highly detailed charts and graphs of DNA structures, or explain 'eukaryote gene expression' without having to think about it.
He'd figured that that was something he could use to get closer to his father, but every time Zeke had gone to try to discuss things, he'd gotten shot down. Either his father was too busy or Zeke's understanding of biology would get dismissed. He eventually read to himself and kept quiet, even in class. If his own dad wasn't appreciative of his intellect, he wasn't about to try and dazzle some idiot teacher or classmate.
Zeke was lost in his thoughts, and almost didn't hear Stan walking in. “Hey,” Stan said, announcing his presence. Zeke sighed.
“Just dusting in here.”
“How domestic you are… wish I had a camera to get THIS on film,” Stan joked. It made Zeke smile a little and turn away from the shelves.
“You don't know my mom. She'd throw a shit fit if I left a pair of socks in the bathroom,” Zeke said with a chuckle. “I guess when I stopped leaving 'em lying around, she figured she could take off.”
“When was the last time she was in Ohio, anyway?”
“About eight months ago—right before school started up again. She mainly 'dropped in' to make sure I got the parental lecture about graduating,” Zeke explained.
“Y'mean… she didn't even come by after all the… MaryBeth shit?” Stan said, looking confused. At Zeke's shake of the head, Stan scoffed. “Did she even call?”
“Oh yea, yea,” Zeke said while walking over to the desk. He sat behind it and groaned. “She's really attentive.”
“Man… I'd just leave all this shit lying around,” Stan told him, motioning around the room. “Give her proof that y'now—maybe she shoulda stuck around.”
Zeke made a warm smile and sat back. He grabbed his cigarettes, lighter, and his father's shell-shaped ashtray; as he got a smoke together, he sighed. “I kinda wanna prove her right… that I don't need her. It's hard, sometimes. But her and my dad were just—baggage, after a while.”
Stan walked from his spot and sat in the chair on the other side of the desk. “All I know is that if I were in charge of my own laundry, I'd need to buy clothes everyday,” Stan said. “My mom and dad, they're pretty cool. Wish you had the same.”
“I don't care.”
“Eh… if you didn't, I wouldn't have been here the last three hours, moving your shit around and standing on ladders to clean drapes,” Stan said with a waggle of his eyebrows. “When are we getting dinner, or was the promise of a huge pu-pu platter a lie to get me here?”
Zeke smiled, but felt his stream of consciousness go from one thought to the next rapidly. A small silence fell as his brain worked overtime; Chinese food. The Chinese restaurant he and Damien passed. The hotel room, the barely-legal boy. “I screwed a prostitute,” Zeke suddenly blurted. The unwarranted admittance made Stan pull his head back.
Zeke closed his eyes; why the hell he'd had to do that, he didn't know… “Damn it, no… sorry,” he mumbled and went to stand. Stan shot him a cold look and shook his head.
“Siddown. I'm not hungry anymore,”
The big dinner Zeke had promised in return for Stan's help had gone from takeout to nibbling on cereal and apples on Zeke's back porch—but not because Zeke had reneged on the deal.
“There, we have food. Now spill it. I mean it.” Stan had demanded.
A good half hour later, after giving every last detail Zeke could hand out, Zeke glanced from his backyard to Stan then away again, not liking the expression Stan wore; the chilled wicker chair he sat in creaked a bit as he shifted his weight. He thinks I'm disgusting—just like Casey does. I AM disgusting. “I dunno why I did it,” Zeke muttered past the filter of his cigarette. He didn't know how many he'd smoked since sitting out here, but the rasp in his throat pained him. “I know how fucking disgusted you are with me, so if you wanna go… just go.”
Stan's lips parted a little and his eyes blinked furiously. “Zeke… I'm not thinking that at all, all right?”
“Yea you are… and why wouldn't you? I went to a sleazy part of the city, picked up a boy prostitute and fucked him,” Zeke said.
“Um… people have done worse. I've heard worse,” Stan told him. “Do I think it's fucked up? Yea, a little—won't lie. Why… DID you do it?”
Zeke closed his eyes. He thought back to when he'd been standing on the corner, looking at the boy… good God, his boy… “Why do you think I did it?”
“Did he… look like--?”
“Yea, Stan. You catch on quick,” Zeke muttered. Stan pulled his shoulders up and crossed his arms over his chest; he looked to be in deep thought. After a moment, Stan sighed.
“Well, there are serial killers and stuff—they go out and look for people who looked like… their mom, or whatever, and kill 'em because their mom used to beat on 'em,” Stan rambled. Zeke looked at him with narrowed eyes and flinched a little.
“Stan? Are you comparing what I did to murder?”
“Well, only to prove that what you did is common… and not as bad as you think it is.”
“So… so thank God I didn't kill someone… only fucked a whore?”
Stan's small laugh surprised Zeke. “I guess… look, Zeke,” Stan said, leaning forward a little. “It's weird, yea. And I'd never picture you just doing something like this, but—you did it, it's done. Don't torture yourself over it.”
“What if… what if I wanna go out and do it again?” Zeke tentatively asked. Stan went quiet; Zeke winced and closed his eyes. “Tell me to shut up, if you want, because I WANT to shut up about this, I don't want to talk about this. I just… I wanted to hold someone like him. It didn't even need to be fucking sex, I just wanted to feel like I was holding him. We… we didn't get to do shit. One night, that's all we got. Then I'm just supposed to accept the fact that he's dead. I don't get it, Stan. I don't get it at all, and it's not fair. Why him, y'now? Why some kid that I watched for years getting beat on, thinking he was pathetic, just to… why did I have to do what I did?”
“Why… did you hire a prostitute… y'mean?”
“Why did I have to fucking fall in fucking love, Stan? And how is it fucking fair that I did it for the first time with someone that just went and died the day after all… that?” Zeke said in a demanding tone.
“If Casey was the one to do that for you… maybe you should feel thankful,” Stan answered. A sudden anger flared up in Zeke's belly; it made him stand and pace a little, looking at Stan with annoyance.
“Thankful? Thankful for what?” he nearly yelled. Stan stayed still as Zeke paced faster, sucked the tail end of his cigarette harder. “What the hell have I got that I should yell 'Hallelujah!' for? Fuck's sake, what're you on?”
“What if you two hadn't done anything? It would've been regret, right? You would've sat here with me just like you are now—only you'd be giving yourself hell over not being brave enough to say and act on what you wanted,” Stan retorted. “Look Zeke, maybe I don't 'get' the whole… guy-with-another-guy sorta thing, but hey, if that's what you wanted with Casey, that's what you wanted. And you got it, even if it was just one friggin' night.”
Somewhere, deep down, Zeke could find absolute reason in what Stan was saying-- but the fact that he didn't want to hear it intervened. “Really, honestly… I wish we hadn't done anything,” he said. Stan shook his head.
“No you don't.”
“The fuck… you don't know me. You don't know how I fucking feel about this,” Zeke said with an incredulous expression. “It wasn't fair, all right? It just wasn't fair.”
“No, it wasn't,” Stan said. “How about… we leave it at that?”
Zeke closed his eyes and leaned on the battered windowpane in front of him. While he would have made even more of an argument, he knew it wasn't worth it. “Yea. We'll leave it at that,” he replied.
“Good,” Stan said, smiling a little. “Don't feel bad… okay?”
“About the prostitute?”
“Yea; things like that aren't rare, y'now. It's the way things turn out sometimes.”
Zeke couldn't help a small puff of laughter. “How many have you slept with, Rosado?” he asked.
“None, moron,” Stan replied. “You got more pressing matters now anyway.”
“Yea…” Zeke murmured, thinking hard. The house seemed clean enough, but his mind and body were riddled with doubt, fear, and excitement, all rolled into one.
Bright moonlight danced on waves, creating a myriad of dark blues mixing with flashes of white. Zeke watched on, shifting his weight in the cool sand below him. I've never even been out of Ohio, he thought. He had no idea where he was now, but it didn't matter. This was beautiful; he couldn't tear his eyes away from the ocean, curling and crashing its waves a few feet away from him.
“Remember Kino and Juana?”
Zeke didn't know how Casey had suddenly appeared next to him, wearing just a pair of jean shorts. The boy was soaked to the bone, looking chilled, but his smile was so wide his teeth glinted in the shadows. He sat down next to Zeke as Zeke tried forming an answer. “They… were Mexican.”
“Steinbeck!” Casey cheerfully decreed. “Look what I found.”
“What?” Zeke muttered, looking at the hand Casey extended. His palm unfolded, revealing a large, glossy sphere. Zeke became entranced immediately; it rolled in Casey's hand, showing off more moonlight over its darkened face.
“I'm a pearl farmer,” Casey replied with a serious nod. “And I found this; it's black, it's rare. This… is the 'Pearl of the World'.”
“Are we in Mexico?” Zeke asked. Casey smiled mysteriously.
“Where are we?”
“You gotta take this, okay?” Casey said, ignoring Zeke's question. He took Zeke's hand and put the heavy pearl into it. Wearing a dreamy smile he leaned in closer. “But you can't tell anyone… anyone, Zeke. No one can know about this. Remember what happened to Coyotito?”
Zeke nodded while staring at Casey's gift. He felt both enthralled and scared; people committed murder for things like this… “Yea…”
“Do you like it?” Casey asked, sounding unsure. “It's the best one I've found. Really, I wanted to give it to you.”
“It's perfect,” Zeke said. He let his gaze go from the pearl to Casey. “But it isn't real.”
Casey shook his head, his smile more solemn. He moved his lips to Zeke's ear and kissed it lightly. Zeke felt himself trembling, his hand holding the pearl in a crushing grip. “It's okay,” Casey murmured, making Zeke flinch. “It's okay, because I love you.”
Every muscle in Zeke's body eased now; it was assurance, as if Casey were trying to ease his woes. “You don't hate me?” he asked.
“I love you.”
Zeke closed his eyes and lay down on the sand, sighing. Casey followed, pressing himself into Zeke's side and matching his breath. It continued like this, just breathing, darkness and waves.
He didn't know how long it'd gone on before the alarm went off. Ripped violently out of his dream, Zeke's eyes opened and his hand slapped down on his bedside table, whacking the clock hard. The ringing stopped; Zeke kept his eyes open, recollecting the visions of beaches, oceans, moonlight and Casey. He made sure the memory of this dream settled into permanence… because this dream made him smile. It didn't fade, even when he realized that he had to get up and get moving… his mother would be landing soon.
“Closing time, m'friend,”
Zeke looked up to the bartender and nodded. “Yea… what time is it?”
“2:30, on the dot,” he replied with a kind smile. “Technically, I should've started shutting down earlier… but you looked like you needed just one more.”
Zeke smiled a little, looking into his near-empty glass. He wasn't normally a 'fruity rum' drink kind of guy, but anything to hold onto an island paradise was welcomed at this point. He couldn't help from feeling bad; the man serving him was easily swindled by Zeke's fake I.D., but… this was why he had it, Zeke figured. “Thanks,” he said, taking one last swig.
“No prob,” the man said; he took Zeke's glass and turned, going to clean up shop. Zeke grabbed his jacket from the back of the chair and stood. The taste of citrus and deep, smooth alcohol soothed him, making his steps feel lighter than usual.
'It was just a dream, for God's sake,' he thought. He fought with the cynical voice he always seemed to carry, wanting to just enjoy something for once. It didn't matter if it was real or a dream… it'd happened.
After getting directions to gate seventeen, he found the U.S. Airways listing. He sighed in relief, seeing the words 'ON TIME' next to his mother's flight. He got to the waiting area and sat down, looking towards the wall blankly. People milled around him, mostly those looking to be on business trips in suits and ties. The woman sitting in front of him was dressed casually, wringing her hands together. Zeke smirked a little, wondering where he'd left his own nervousness.
Time passed quickly; Zeke had been busy counting the green patches in the rug when the announcement for flight #133 came on the loudspeaker.
Oh… I didn't leave it anywhere… he thought, getting a twitchy feeling in his fingers. He stood up at the same time as the woman; they both made their way to the aisle leading up to the door. After a few moments of standing in wait, a flight attendant opened the door from the inside, smiling as she propped it open.
Zeke's insides stilled; shit. It'd been well over a year now. He didn't know if she'd look different… actdifferent. Judging by how she conversed on the phone, however, he could surmise that she still had the same sort of personality. The first string of passengers began coming out; just as Zeke wished his mother had first class to get off quicker than others, he swallowed.
Vicky came bustling out, looking like she'd gone incognito with sunglasses, a low-brimmed woolen hat and dark clothes. He stared as she re-positioned her rolling suitcase then looked around. There was the split-second wish that she'd never come back, fear filling Zeke in one swift flash of nerves. It was quelled when she finally set eyes on him and smiled. He knew this smile; it was neither forced nor faked.
Zeke stood up from the wall and tried smiling back, uncrossing his arms. “Hey,” he said as she got over to him. In taking off her hat and glasses, he realized she hadn't changed one bit; her dark hair was pulled up in a loose bun, but he could tell that it was still long. Even her impeccable makeup seemed the same as last he saw her, making him wonder if she'd tattooed it on.
“Hello Zekie,” she greeted him warmly; he let her put her arms around his shoulders, having to tiptoe. He hadn't gotten his height from her, not one bit. He made his own arms go to her back as well, holding her as close as he'd allow himself to.
“I hope you don't mind if I crawl right into bed when we get home; the turbulence had to be the WORST I'd ever felt it,” Vicky said as Zeke got on the main highway. Zeke shrugged and nodded.
“I'm tired too, it's okay,” he replied. He could see her smile from the corner of his eye; it was drowsy, almost high.
“If I could've just gotten an earlier flight, or slept on the plane…” she lamented, interrupted by a heavy yawn. “It would've been nice to at least have lunch.”
“We'll have lunch tomorrow,” Zeke replied simply.
“Of course, of course…” she muttered. “It is good to be back. It gets pretty hectic, running around the world… it'd be nice if it were more vacation than work.”
“Well… yea,” Zeke replied, feeling a pit in his gut.
“I saw it as a vacation, at first; after your father, dealing with publishers—”
“Mom?” Zeke interrupted. Not waiting for acknowledgment, he continued. “It'd be nice if things like this just… I don't want to talk about your need for a 'vacation'.”
It went quiet now; Vicky didn't even nod or react in any way. Her head turned to look out the window while Zeke drove; all the while he wondered how he was going to make it, having her around.
Zeke was busying himself with bringing in his mother's things, not wanting to walk in with her. He'd let her go ahead, saying he'd take care of her cases and bags. There seemed to be hundreds of them… but it kept him from having to get her first reaction to the house as it stood nowadays.
He hauled everything up to the porch, needing three trips to do so. He began bringing them inside; he saw the kitchen light on, Vicky's shadow poking just past the doorway. Judging by the small creaks of hinges, she was looking through the cabinets. Zeke found it odd, but ignored it. He got everything inside and shut the door.
“I knew they'd still be here,” Vicky called.
“What?” Zeke asked. She moved to the doorway, wearing an amused expression. In her hand was a box of dates. Zeke groaned. “I hate that crap.”
“These things are probably like bullets now,” she said, shaking her head and smiling.
Zeke rubbed his lips; he needed a drink. While Vicky went back to the cabinets, he walked in and went to the pantry. “Want a drink before bed?” he asked her.
“Sure… a nice nightcap should do me good,” she answered.
Zeke nodded and took out the brandy; that'd been her favorite, at least when it came to blowing her mind when depressed. Hoping he didn't bring back bad memories, he took it to the counter and got a few tumblers from the cabinet.
“You've done pretty well, Zeke. Better than I could have hoped for,” Vicky said. Zeke shrugged as he poured.
“Had to,” he said. God. I hate this. It went quiet again, the only sound being clicking glass and a chair being pulled back from the kitchen table. He turned with their drinks and handed Vicky hers, who took it with a smile.
“Thanks, hon,” she said.
He nodded and sat down across from her; he kept his eyes averted as he sipped, still so unsure about this whole arrangement. He relished the quiet between them, until Vicky smacked her lips and smiled. He knew from experience that she was never one for long silences.
“I am glad to be here, Zeke,” she said in a soft voice. “Like I'd said… I know I haven't been the best mom, but I want to just—touch base with you. Make sure you at least don't forget me.”
Zeke rubbed the back of his neck and let out a hard, hoarse breath. “No offense.. but you haven't been a 'Mom', never mind best or worst,” he told her.
“Yea… I deserve that,” she replied. “I know.”
More sipping, more quiet; just how Zeke wanted it for the moment. Vicky finished her brandy first and stood, went over to the sink and washed out the glass. “Does the fold out still work?” she asked.
“The couch bed…?”
Zeke turned, frowning. “No… Mom, your room is still upstairs,” he said, feeling confused. Vicky blinked a few moments before smiling a little.
“I would have thought you'd have turned that into the lab you'd always begged for by now.”
“Oh…” he said, unable to hold back a chuckle. He pointed towards the back porch. “That's the garage.”
Vicky chuckled as well. She went over and rubbed his shoulder. “All right… is it… still my bed and all?”
“Yea. Changed the sheets last night, so it should be good,” he replied. She nodded, bent down to kiss his head and walked out of the room. He watched her take up a bag and head upstairs, her heels clacking the entire way. It sounded like bombs going off… in a way they were.
“You were always shit at cooking.”
Vicky looked up from her menu, a wide-eyed look aimed at Zeke. “I… I'm not that bad!” she said. Zeke shook his head and sighed, looking through the 'Pancakes & Waffles' section.
“Sure you aren't,” he replied.
“That's such a nice thing to say to someone who at least tried to make her son a nice breakfast,” she said.
“Thank God for IHOP,” he chuckled out, swearing he could still smell the smoke from Vicky's attempt at making bacon and eggs. “It's okay, Mom; it's either cold cereal or nothing for me lately, anyway.”
“Well, you should eat better. I'll make sure of that while I'm here, kitchen or no,” she said with a smile.
The waiter soon arrived with their coffees; they made their orders, pancakes and sausage being Zeke's choice. Of course, Vicky had to have something grand, choosing the Belgian waffle topped with caramel and apples. Zeke rolled his eyes and poured sugar into his mug.
“So…” he started, searching his brain for something to say. “What's Europe like?”
“Pssh… never mind that. Europe is Europe; old stuff and different languages from one mile to the next,” she scoffed. “I'd rather talk about how things are here.”
“You know how things are here,” Zeke replied, dumping three creams into his coffee as he spoke. “So do I… and I'd rather not talk about it.”
“I'm here so we can talk about it, hon,” she told him.
“If that's the only thing that brings you home…” he said, trailing off a bit. He shook his head and began sipping, staring out the window next to them. “Sorry, I'm bitter and I know it. But I've had lots of help.”
“Zeke, just… talk to me, okay?” she asked, leaning on the table a little. “I need to catch up with you, find out where you are. I was so disappointed when I heard you weren't going to school anymore. You're so damned smart; it feels like such a waste.”
“Honestly? It doesn't matter. It really doesn't; I'd fail out this year as well, then what college would be insane enough to accept me?” he said in a mumbling tone. He knocked on his head with his knuckles. “It's all dead in there, Mom. That's all.”
Vicky sighed and itched at her ear; one of her nervous habits, Zeke recalled. She always did that when she was fighting for words to say, or to work through awkward situations. “Your father—he was very much the same at your age, Zeke. He really was. He'd deny his own immaculate intelligence constantly, and I'd nag at him constantly. After a while, he just couldn't deny it anymore. He went to college and aced his courses, coming out at the top of his class. You could do that—you're more similar than you realize.”
“So I'm a pompous, cheating asshole too?” he asked wryly.
It was Vicky's turn to scoff and roll her eyes. “You aren't the same person, Zeke, but he's your father. No matter what he or I have done, that doesn't change,” she said. She grabbed up her coffee and sipped before continuing. “Have you talked to him… at all, in the last year?”
“Because he's an absolute prick, Mom. That's why,” he said, voice stronger than he'd intended. “You know how he was with me. Nothing I ever did was good enough. He was the brain of the house, the genius, and no one could or ever would top him in that department. He didn't want his son being as brilliant as he was. Whether or not he was all sorts of confused in college and stuff, doesn't matter; he turned into a total ass and let everyone know it.”
“Yes, he did,” she said, nodding.
“I mean… fuck,” Zeke said. He sat back and stared at the table, shaking his head a little. “I remember him coming home, bitching about the kids he taught. How none of them were going to pass their courses, how they were all idiots that never worked hard enough. I knew damned well that those people were probably kicking their asses to please him, and he wouldn't acknowledge it. I would've hated him being my professor, I really would've. Couldn't stand the crank calls we'd get. He just didn't care.”
Vicky sighed and sat back, arms crossed over her chest. “But he'd make them pass, Zeke. As insufferable as he was, he'd had almost every student of his pass. He HAD to be a hard-ass, Zeke.”
“Not to me, he didn't. I wasn't some college kid, I was his son. Just someone who wanted to say 'hey Dad, look what I did, isn't it great?' and get a 'Yes son, it's wonderful,' in return. Even if he had to lie sometimes, that's what parents fucking do, or should do,” Zeke told her. “You left, and it sucks… but he wasn't ever there, even when he was.”
“I know, sweetie,” she said. “I know.”
Zeke nodded; he realized then that while he had been angry and frustrated at his mother for such a long time, he'd not even thought on his father for any reason. That had to mean something, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what.
Zeke was pleased to find that the 'security' at the Connor home had died down considerably. After a week of listening to Casey's lamenting-- 'I feel like they're peeking in my windows and shit' and the like, there really weren't any agents around. One drove around the block every now and again, just checking things out in general. Casey seemed bright and happy when he'd come to the door.
After some dinner, TV and hanging around in general, Casey's parents went to bed, leaving them to their own devices. Casey still didn't seem so sure of it all; he kept staring around his room while they played cards, until finally he huffed out a breath and shook his head. “Sorry it's so boring,” he said.
Zeke looked up from his hand of cards; he cocked an eyebrow and smiled. “It's not boring, Case. Now c'mon, ante up,” Zeke replied.
“Yea well,” Casey breathed out, making his two-penny check. “I'm sure you're used to more exciting things… other than hanging around my place. God… wish we could be at yours.”
“Shut up and show 'em,” Zeke told him, laying out his three jacks. Casey sighed and put his own cards down, showing a two pair of sixes and queens. Zeke snickered and pulled in the pot. “I'm the master, like I'd said.”
“Pfft, an eight penny pot. You're raking it in, big time,” Casey teased.
“Hey, you're the big bluffer tonight… Mr. 'Bet ten pennies on a King High',” Zeke said. He settled back on the beanbag chair while Casey huffed.
“So? It's my turn to play like you do.”
“Suuure,” Zeke drawled, shuffling the cards.
“You really don't mind—just hanging out here?”
“If I did, I wouldn't have said I'd come,” Zeke said. “I'm the one who invited myself… remember?”
Casey smiled and lay on his side with a sigh. “So? I don't care. All my life I wanted someone to 'invite themselves' over; better than not having anyone around at all.”
“Yea, I know. I wasn't exactly a social butterfly myself.”
“You had the choice though, if you wanted. I dunno…” Casey said with another heavy breath. “There were so many nights I wished I was popular. It was so stupid; I really didn't want that in the end. There're too many jerks out there, and I didn't want to be a 'part' of that, y'now? Maybe I just wanted everyone to lay off of me and leave me alone.”
“Well… yea,” Zeke said, stopping his card shuffling to look at Casey with a wry expression. “Being a punching bag isn't fun.”
“Nope,” Casey said. The game seemed to be over for the both of them now; Zeke stretched out a leg and looked to the window.
“Think I can…?” he started, flashing Casey his pack of Marlboros. Casey grinned and bit his lip.
“It's late enough… my parents should be asleep by now,” he said.
Zeke smiled and stood; he went over to the window and opened it, wincing immediately. “Fucking cold out,” he muttered while pulling his long sleeves to his hands. He sat on the ledge of it and set things to rights.
“You're the one with a dirty habit,” Casey said. He hoisted himself off the floor just as Zeke lit up. “In fact… c'mon, lemmee try.”
“A smoke? No.”
“Nope, no way… I'm not catering to your deviance.”
Casey narrowed his eyes and sat at the chair next to Zeke. “Please, Zeke. I'm a seventeen-year-old virgin whose most hardcore taste of 'deviance' was a sip of his dad's beer when I was eight. Come on.”
Zeke couldn't help a series of chuckles. “Fine. If your parents catch us, I'm saying it was you that pressured me,” he said, handing Casey his lit cigarette.
“So I just… suck at the end?” Casey asked, peering at it with high scrutiny.
“Not too hard. Baby steps,” Zeke said. The boy nodded and moved the filter to his lips. In taking his first tiny puff, his eyes flashed wide; they narrowed as he drew the smoke away, his face showing a little discomfort. “Still with me?” Zeke asked.
Casey made one tiny cough then brought his other hand to his mouth. “S'not… so bad,” he croaked.
“Eh, that was just a teensy breath you took of it.”
“Still…” Casey said.
They sat smoking in silence a minute or two, Casey getting used to the idea. Zeke watched him carefully, remembering his first cigarette with the neighbor boys; he'd taken in too much in one inhalation and threw up on Jason Call's shoes. Zeke's motto was 'try and try again' however, and even with the embarrassment of the event, he was insistent on ruining his lungs. Casey wasn't having these problems, thank God… then again, his small, gentle puffs were probably not even reaching his trachea.
“When did you lose your virginity?”
The question out of nowhere made Zeke put his head back quick. “That was sudden,” he replied.
“Well?” Casey inquired further.
“Who says I have?” Zeke asked. Casey cocked an eyebrow and blinked a few times, making Zeke scoff. “Eh, shut up.”
“Well c'mon… I'm never gonna lose mine.”
“Yea you will.”
Zeke sat back and thought; well yea, he'd lost his virginity. Not in the way he thought he would have, but he did. “Sixteen.”
“Years old?” Casey asked. Zeke nodded.
“Yep,” he muttered.
“Anyone I know?” Casey asked with a playful lilt to his voice. Zeke rolled his eyes and leaned out the window to exhale.
“Nope,” he said.
“You're a man of many words,” Casey said.
“It just wasn't that great, that's all. I'd say to give it to someone who gives a shit for you,” Zeke advised. “We worked together… one summer, and I got carried away.”
“What, like… in love?”
“No,” Zeke scoffed; his insides did a few flips, his throat tensing. He wasn't lying, but still… “Just attraction; we did it in the barn.”
Casey chuckled. “Seriously?”
“Yup,” Zeke said, trying his best to smile. “It was really terrible… maybe not terrible, but it wasn't what I would have wanted.”
It went quiet again; Casey nodded solemnly and coughed a little. While punching his chest lightly, he looked to Zeke with a small smile. “Sorry it didn't work out.”
“A lot of things don't.”
“Yea,” Casey said, now turning to look out the window with a blank stare. “I know.”
Zeke ambled out of Casey's bedroom the next morning, with a yawn so hard his face hurt. He remembered not too long before that Casey had asked him about breakfast, but he couldn't recall what he'd answered with. For all he knew, he could've asked for cheerios and chicken.
He plodded down the stairs; he caught sight of Mr. Connor standing just past the door, talking to someone. Seeing the suit the nameless man wore, Zeke rolled his eyes. More check-ups, he supposed. He made his way to the hall and walked down, finding Casey standing over the stove. It smelled pretty delicious, whatever he was making.
Casey turned and smiled. “Makin' omelets—want one?”
“Hells yea, starving,” Zeke muttered, yawning again. “What's in 'em?”
“Sausage and peppers.”
“I can deal,” Zeke said. He went to the fridge and pulled out a carton of orange juice. “Is it okay…?”
“Zeke, you don't gotta ask. You know that,” Casey answered without bothering to turn and look.
“Well? I turn into 'Miss Manners' when I walk into the house. You don't know how hard it is to keep the f-bomb at bay.”
Casey chuckled, getting drowned out by the sizzling in the pan he scraped at. Just as Zeke poured out two glasses of juice, Mr. Connor walked in. “Hey boys,” he said, looking tired.
“Hey,” Zeke answered.
“So um…” Mr. Connor started, smacking his lips a little. “When you guys are done here… Zeke, would you take Casey out somewhere? Let him breathe a little?”
Zeke blinked in confusion; Casey turned around with his brows knotted hard. “Huh?”
“I finally just told those guys… you can't stay locked up, I'm sick of it,” Mr. Connor said with a groan. “They'll follow you on the drive and maybe go in… wherever you go. But this is ridiculous.”
“Serious?” Casey said, sounding excited. Mr. Connor put up his hands, stopping the boy from outright leaping in glee.
“Only for a few hours, now-- wrangling a simple drive out of those vultures was enough to take ten years off my lifespan,” he said. “Not the mall, or anywhere where you can get lost in a crowd. Just… somewhere simple; Agent Dayton will be following you, so just keep it nice and easy.”
“No, not the mall… no worries,” Casey said, sounding a little less enthused. Zeke smiled and nodded.
“We'll figure something out,” he said.
“Maybe if I volunteered to wear a fake moustache or some ridiculous disguise, they'd have stretched my 'recess' to three hours,” Casey said with a low groan.
Zeke pulled from the driveway and onto the suburban road; taking a look behind him, he sighed. “Hurry up,” he mumbled aloud. The agent was getting in his car, moving at a slow pace. “Takin' his sweet-assed time…”
“I say floor it.”
“Yea, take off… leave Agent Day there in the dust.”
Zeke huffed out a chuckle. “Yea, that's what I need. A police chase rivaling O.J.,” he said.
“Thought you lived dangerously, Tyler; what happened?” Casey teased with a sly smile.
“Dunno,” Zeke answered; he wanted to say 'My best friend got shot, that's what happened', but held back. He simply waited for Dayton to start his car and get into gear.
The two cars made their way through the neighborhood before hitting the main road leading into town. Zeke glanced from the road, to the rear-view then to Casey a few times. To be honest, he'd have loved to ditch Dayton, preferring an afternoon with just Casey—no babysitters or officers looming over them. Zeke hoped they wouldn't have to share a table at a restaurant or just talk to the guy.
On the third look to Casey, he saw the faraway look in his eyes. Zeke went to say something, but Casey beat him to it.
“It's only been a bit over a week… but it feels like everything's changed,” Casey said in a soft voice. “I wanna run away.”
Zeke nodded, knowing exactly how the boy felt.
'Moore's Mini-Mall' wasn't exactly a hotbed of activity, especially on a Saturday afternoon. High school students usually came in the nighttime to get ice cream at the family run deli here, or try their hand at getting beer at the liquor store. He'd spotted the owner of 'Joey's Spirits' and waved, Casey noticing with a grin.
Zeke shrugged. “Old friend of my dad's,” he answered. Casey nodded knowingly as they got into the small comic and games shop.
“I'm sure he is,” he said with amusement. “C'mon, let's look around. I wanna see if they have 'Fluxx',”
“Okay,” Zeke said, having absolutely no idea what a 'Fluxx' was. He'd never been the 'gaming' type as he'd just wander around aimlessly, watch television… whatever, by himself. Sometimes he wondered if he was a boring, uninteresting person. He knew that he wouldn't want to hang out with himself.
Casey was grumbling under his breath as he searched a shelf. Zeke stared at it blankly, seeing many decks of cards and games in small boxes stacked all over it. They looked interesting enough; even enticing. “See that… 'Fluxx' thing?”
“No. It's rare to find; I played it once about a year ago at my cousin Pat's. He wouldn't let me borrow it, the fucker. Said that he didn't want anyone losing it,” Casey explained. “Maybe I can order it.”
It seemed to be a lot of trouble for a simple game, but Casey was a collector. Zeke had been impressed with Casey's knowledge of comics and music and whatever else he could stuff in his bedroom as entertainment. Zeke tried explaining it off as 'the boy's lonely', but so was he… maybe just as lonely as Casey was. He wondered if 'Fluxx' was a game you could play by yourself, or if Casey would have made up a pretend-friend in order to keep himself busy when he'd wanted to borrow it from his stingy cousin.
They both wandered around, Casey 'oohing' and 'ahhing' at various points. Zeke stopped at a shelf full of role-playing books, feeling lost. His imagination usually dwelt in science and experiments, not some fantasy world. While thumbing over the volumes, Casey ambled over and smiled.
“Do you roleplay?” he asked.
“You should, it's fun—oh hey, 'Changeling'!” Casey exclaimed, now pulling a book off the shelf. “Wow… I remember playing this a long time ago. And hey, this is the second edition…wow…”
Zeke couldn't help but smile at Casey's enthusiasm. “Well, get it,” he said.
“Pfft, I got like… a twenty on me.”
“It costs more than that?”
Casey checked the back and grinned wryly. “OH yea.”
“Oh,” Zeke said; he stared at the book Casey held, seeing his child-like exuberance at just flipping pages. He didn't know that feeling, really, and he liked seeing it. “Well c'mon, I can spring for it.”
“Oh yea?” Casey said and looked up at him, cocking an eyebrow
“Sure. You can teach me how to play,” Zeke replied.
“What time is it?”
Zeke pulled away from his soda to look at his watch. “3:20,” he said.
Casey groaned and sat back in his chair, staring at the half-eaten grilled cheese and ham sandwich he'd ordered. “Almost time to head back,” he said.
“Yep,” Zeke said, looking out the plate-glass window of the deli. He saw Dayton sitting on a park bench, most likely freezing his balls off in the cold. He didn't look very uncomfortable as he read a newspaper, taking quick looks to people passing by every now and again. The man was stoic, almost statue-like.
“I don't want to go home,” Casey said in a pouty voice. Zeke had to smile.
“You sound like a five-year-old,” he replied, poking his last three fries in his ketchup.
“Well, I don't,” Casey said. “Ever since this whole… thing, my mom's been trying to make all these crazy assed dinners, like she's trying to make my life more 'interesting'.”
“Yeeea,” Zeke drawled. “The um… orange-Rice-Crispy chicken last night was a bit…”
“Disgusting; fucking disgusting, just say it,” Casey interjected with a small, sad smile. “She's trying, I can see that… I can appreciate it, but... y'now? It's like this big pity-party, and I'm sick of it. Every time I'd get beat on at school, she'd try to do this sorta stuff. Make me something to eat that was 'fun'. Christ.”
“Maybe we can order out tonight; I'll buy.”
“Eh, you've spent enough on me today—”
They would have spoken further, but the sudden, loud –bang- from outside made the both of them jump in their seats. Zeke's head whipped to the left, his body turning and bringing his chair along with it; he saw Dayton rise from the bench quick in full-alert mode. The counter worker went over to the window to look and started chuckling.
“Ollie's car backfired again,” she called to the other girl standing over the grill. Zeke felt his pulse slow down as he turned back to the table.
Casey's eyes were as wide as saucers, his arms being held tight to his chest. His body was so rigid that Zeke could see the seam of the Kevlar vest under his thick sweater. It took Zeke a moment to realize that in that split-second notice of hearing the ominous sound, he'd shoved himself and his chair in front of Casey, blocking him from the window.
“I wanna go home,” Casey murmured shakily.
The tension had eased by the time Zeke got them back to Casey's house; he was thankful for it, as some idiot having a crappy car shouldn't have ruined the entire day for them. Dayton had driven off once they got inside, leaving them be—for now, anyway.
After another odd dinner of couscous and shrimp sauce (causing secret amusement between the two of them, shown by thin-lipped smiles and small kicks under the table), the boys headed upstairs again. Casey was excited to show off the 'Changeling' game to Zeke, which made Zeke excited in turn. Casey was infectious like that, really.
Zeke didn't realize that there was so much work that had to go into this. The next two hours were spent going over character sheets, rules, choosing characters… whatever else. It was grunt work, but Zeke liked it; filling out complicated forms came natural to him, so he didn't mind.
“We should get more players, too. It's better with three or more people. I could TRY to mod the game with just us, but…” Casey said, trailing off a little. “I wonder if I still have my old character sheets from this. I keep 'em all.”
Zeke nodded dumbly, still trying to make a 'bio' for his 'Sluagh'. Casey hopped up from his spot on the floor and went to his closet. He rummaged around in it while Zeke tapped his pencil on the sheet. “So like… can I have a ton of 'manipulation' points, instead of worrying about the other stuff?” he asked with a sly grin.
“Hah, it'd be appropriate… but no,” Casey chuckled back, grunting a little as he tried working a box down from the top of his closet. “Freakin'… gotta clean this closet…”
“Need some help?”
“No, I—crap!” Casey suddenly exclaimed; Zeke looked up with a start, watching as a smaller box from the top of the closet come tumbling down, smashing into Casey's chest and exploding open.
“Shit, you okay?” Zeke asked, putting his things down. He went to stand but stopped in seeing the look of pure horror on Casey's face. In looking down, he saw why. A large bunch of glossy magazines lie at the boy's feet, showing off many images of men; men in short-shorts with muscled chests, some wearing leather or next to nothing at all. Zeke stared, almost unable to register this.
The room stood still a few moments; Zeke could only hear the faint murmur of Mr. and Mrs. Connor talking and the low hum of the dishwasher running in the kitchen below them. He was just about to utter some random words when Casey bent down quickly to the mess, looking panicked. Zeke watched him gather up the magazines with shaking hands, shoving them back in the treacherous box. Nothing was said; Zeke tried relaxing, putting his back to the side of the bed.
'I have a box, a lot like that, at home…'
“If you wanna go, go.”
Casey's words made Zeke frown. “Huh?”
“Yea,” Casey huffed out, keeping his head down. He topped the box and stood up fast, bringing it to the upper shelf again. He looked angry and upset—perhaps Zeke couldn't blame him. Talk about 'coming out of the closet'… “If you don't wanna be here with me, just leave.”
Zeke blinked a few times, staring at Casey; he was now crossing his arms over his chest and pursing his lips. Hard, quick breaths hissed through the boy's nose as Zeke shook his head. “Why… would I do that?” he asked.
“Why do you think?” Casey snapped.
“You think… I'm just gonna take off because… you have gay porn?” Zeke tentatively asked, feeling a hot burn in his gut.
Now Casey looked at him, dead in the eyes. “You can tell everyone at school. That's fine, I wouldn't hold it against you—”
“What?” Zeke interrupted, shaking his head faster. “Hold the fuck on. No, seriously—you fucking think I'd do that?”
“'Cause I'm your goddamned friend, Casey,” Zeke answered.
'…and I have a box, a lot like that, at home…'
Zeke's thoughts made him feel stir crazy; it began to sink in that Casey had a box of male porn, sitting just ten feet away. He didn't know whether to be pleased or terrified that Casey's look softened. He took in a deep breath and leaned on the closet doorway. “It's just something I've… come to expect of people,” Casey said. “I'm sorry.”
“It's okay,” Zeke said, having to tear his eyes away.
“You won't tell, right? Not anyone, you won't tell…?”
Zeke shook his head and fought to smile. “No, Case. Your secret's safe with me,” he replied. In glancing up, he caught Casey's own small smile. It hurt Zeke for whatever reason.
“Thanks,” Casey murmured.
After the awkward discovery, their night went on as if everything was fine. Casey got the right box down and went over character sheets and tactics, all sorts of things Zeke couldn't seem to focus on. If his attention seemed half-assed, Casey wasn't noticing. The boy looked happy—downright chipper even. As he prattled on, Zeke nodded along, uncaring to gaming or anything else. When Casey paused, Zeke groaned. “I gotta use the pot,” he said.
“Okay… I'll get stuff in order,” Casey replied, grabbing up his pencil. Zeke nodded, stood, and walked out of the room. He went directly across the hall to the bathroom and shut the door; fuck, his hand felt numb.
He walked over towards the toilet and stopped in front of it. With his head spinning, he stared at the shower curtain; bright salmon pink with ruffles at the top, picked out by Mrs. Connor, no doubt. Cleaner than clean, all the shampoo bottles and soaps in perfect order.
'He showers in there,' Zeke thought at random. It made his breath hitch… fuck. No. No, don't.
Zeke's eyes clenched shut as he sat down; when had he started to sweat? His neck felt hot; he touched it, feeling the moist sheen gathering on his skin. He hadn't realized that his hand was undoing his jeans until the button and zip were opened and his hand grasped his cock.
'This is so wrong,' he thought in desperation. He felt sick; he shouldn't be doing this, but he was. He was doing it in the Connors' pristine bathroom, smelling like fresh towels and Ivory soap. Perhaps the slight hint of Casey's shampoo shouldn't have made him even harder, but it did. 'This is so wrong… I'm so FUCKING wrong…'
It hadn't taken long for Zeke to soak his hand, biting the other to keep from yelling out.
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