|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. ;)
When Zeke's eyes cracked open from sleep, he cringed. “Damn,” he muttered, turning his head away from the sunlight streaming through his window. It didn't feel all that late. Looking to the clock, he saw the time was eight-thirty. He grumbled at the idea of spring, not wanting early days and late nights. The winter had been a comfort to him-- a sad and lonely one, but comfort nonetheless.
He heard faint murmuring downstairs, sounding like his mother. Wondering if someone had come by, Zeke groaned himself out of bed and ambled to the door. The wooden floor had gone from chilled to comfortable, making his feet ache less than they usually did. With a great yawn, he got downstairs and turned towards the kitchen, stopping on seeing Vicky sitting at the table, the phone in one hand, cigarette in the other. He was about to walk in and announce his presence when a loud, annoyed groan came from Vicky.
“I'm sick of your excuses, James. I really am,” she said in a hollow voice.
Zeke's jaw clenched in hearing his father's name. He took a few steps closer to hear better, though made them as quiet as he could. Vicky took a long drag from her cigarette before continuing.
“At least I'm trying, for God's sake. It hasn't been much, but I am,” she said. “When was the last time you called him, huh? Last year, maybe? Or do you count deposits in the bank account as a 'hello'?”
A small pause followed, ending with a derisive laugh from Vicky. “Ohh yes, I know, I know-- 'Little Miss Special' takes precedence now that she's knocked up. Are you going to get married to her, or are you going to make a bastard out of your kid?” she spat angrily.
Everything in Zeke's body turned to jelly; 'kid'? He was tempted to run in and yell, grab the phone… something, but found himself completely frozen the spot.
“So you can't even come by, huh? I have to put MY life and work on hold, all because you've got some baby shower to plan? What's wrong with your FIRST son, I wanna know?” she said, stamping out her cigarette and lighting up another one immediately. Her first puff of smoke came out in a huff. “Oh… oh, don't you dare. Don't you even dare call him that. He's TWICE the man you are, which is a fucking miracle, seeing as where he'd come from. Don't you goddamned dare.”
Zeke finally stepped forth, unable to just stand there and listen. His step into the kitchen made a small creak; Vicky turned fast and found him, eyes blank and lips parted. The small buzz of James' voice came from her ear.
“Gimmee the phone,” Zeke said while holding out his hand.
Vicky blinked and turned her eyes away; Zeke saw the cigarette in her fingers tremble as she brought it to her lips. “Zeke's here. I'm giving him the phone.”
Zeke heard the buzz from his father grow in protest, but he didn't care. He snatched the phone from Vicky's hand and took a deep breath, put it to his ear and sighed. “Hey, Jim.”
James sighed back, sounding tired and annoyed. “It's 'Dad'. I've told you that for years now…”
“No it's not. Deal with it,” Zeke shot back.
“All right, if you got on the phone to make some sort of point, make it,” James replied coldly.
Zeke took a quick look to Vicky, who was leaning on her chair and staring at the wall vacantly. Turning to the sink, Zeke smiled wryly. “So what's this I hear-- I'm gonna be a big brother?” he asked; it earned a good, solid silence before James made a small huff.
“I wasn't planning on saying anything yet, but yes-- your mother got it out of me.”
“Right… she asked 'so, knock anyone up lately'?” Zeke sarcastically replied. “Please, Jim. You say shit to hurt people, it's what you're best at.”
“All right, it's obvious I can't have ANY sort of reasonable conversation with you--”
“Yea? Why's that, Jim? Maybe when you treat people you're supposed to love like crap, they retaliate a little? What's this game going on-- are you being called on to come baby-sit me now?” Zeke asked, giving a pointed look to Vicky, who was still sitting in silence. Rolling his eyes, he turned back to the phone. “Do you even know what's been going on?”
“I read the papers… I can't not know,” James retorted. “It seems like you've been hanging out your dirty laundry for everyone to see, and that's not MY fault, is it?”
“Ahh…” Zeke sighed and nodded. “So you've been worrying about people 'connecting' you with the Herrington-Hero-Fag. Gotcha.”
James made a low, sad groan. “Zeke…”
“No, that's what you've been thinking-- what you've been saying, I'm sure…”
“Zeke,” Vicky now piped up, standing and putting out her hand. “Give me the phone, hon.”
Zeke ignored her and turned away, getting out a mug from the cupboard. “Y'now, Jim… I could care fucking less. Know why?”
“Why?” Jim answered, his voice dry and uncaring.
“Because you're a worthless piece of shit-- and if you died tomorrow, I'd throw a fucking party,” Zeke said. With that, he turned and put the phone back on the wall.
Silence reigned again; Zeke grabbed up the coffeepot his mother had made and poured some, watching it stream into his mug and steam up to his hand. He felt oddly at ease while stirring sugar and cream into it, hypnotized slightly by the swirls of white into brown, brown into tan…
“I'm sorry… you had to hear all that, hon.”
Zeke shrugged and turned, sipping the hot drink while keeping his eyes to the floor. “It doesn't really matter, does it?”
Vicky sat back down and put his cigarette in the ashtray. She took up her own mug and sipped, looking blank and tired. “I got a call this morning from Derek, my agent. He wants me to come back, saying that there's been a lot more sales of the book, and that they want to add a few more signings… before I'd planned on coming back.”
“I told him I'd call him back on it, but they want me back by Wednesday.”
Zeke shook his head. “So you called Jim to see if he'd drop in… take care of me?” he asked. He looked up now, seeing Vicky itch idly at her ear. “So fucking lame, Mom…”
“Well, I'm telling Derek to stuff it. He knew I was coming out here until next Monday, and that's that,” she said.
“No. I told you I'd come and I came, and I'm going to stay until I said I'd be here,” she replied indefinitely.
Zeke couldn't help but notice how torn she looked. Even with all the anger and frustration he'd had towards her all these years-- up until only a few days ago-- he couldn't help but see that she was trying her best. “I think you just… gotta do what you gotta do, Mom.”
“What I 'gotta do' should have been done, years ago. As in staying here, with you.”
The guilt in her voice was almost stifling. It set Zeke's nerves off, making a small twitch in his fingers. He sat down across from her and tried to smile through it, tried to think of something-- anything to say. “Remember… Pete Jansen?”
It was as if Zeke had spoken some sort of magic incantation to make his mother smile instantly. “Oh God…”
“The biggest goddamned tattletale of the block,” she said with a tiny chuckle. “How could I forget? Do you even KNOW how many times that kid came up on the porch to tell me you'd swore?”
Zeke chuckled as well, resting his head on his hand. “I remember how he thought he was SUCH the shit getting that new bike.”
“Didn't last long, did it?” Vicky said, looking to Zeke with narrowed eyes and a growing grin. Zeke blushed and turned away with a groan.
“Remember how I'd said… that it wasn't me who stole his tires…?”
“Oh, can it… I knew it was you,” Vicky said, now laughing.
“No you didn't… you said you believed me!”
“Correction; I told his mother you didn't do it, because you'd supposedly been home that afternoon. But I saw you, Zekie-boy.”
Zeke's eyes widened slightly. “No way.”
“Ohh yes, I did, I did… sneaking into the garage with a wheel on each arm. They're probably still out there, for God's sake,” she said with a waggle of her eyebrows.
“So you lied to Pete's mom?” Zeke said with disbelief.
“That woman was just as much of an annoying shit as her son. They deserved it,” she replied with a wink.
“Wow… you're such a badass,” Zeke replied, making Vicky laugh. “You gave me an alibi and everything.”
Vicky smiled wide and shook her head; she traced a knot of wood in the table a moment as they sank into their coffees together, chuckling every now and again. At Zeke's last sip, he looked up to find her staring at him with a soft gaze. “What?”
“Why don't we go out and buy some flowers… for your friend,” she said.
“My… friend?” he asked. Vicky nodded.
“It's a beautiful day,” Vicky said as she stepped out of the GTO and slipped her sunglasses on. She hoisted the bouquet of red carnations and daisies in her arms and sighed. “Spring's definitely coming.”
Zeke nodded wordlessly as he stepped around the hood. Perhaps to her, the sun was shining and the birds sang… but it didn't reach Zeke, especially here. He looked out over the small hill with graves scattered over it in groups, gray and black stone glowing in the light of day. He started walking to the grass while lighting a cigarette. Vicky followed, her eyes scanning over the grim but gorgeous scenery.
“Is he around here? This is a nice spot,” she said.
“No… he's… up just over the hill. They wanted him looking over the hill and trees. Looking…” he spat suddenly; it was all so stupid to him. Looking, as if a dead boy could see anything…
Vicky nodded and took Zeke's hand. “I liked the pictures I saw… he had a beautiful smile.”
“No he didn't. His teeth were all fucked up,” he replied.
“Now stop, stop,” she chided gently. “A little gap can look beautiful.”
Zeke shrugged; he didn't want to talk about Casey's smile, Casey's anything… he didn't want to be here to drop off flowers and say 'hi' to no one. In getting to the top of the hill and looking down, Zeke froze. Vicky stopped with him and frowned.
“What is it?” she asked. She looked to where Zeke was staring; her lips parted. “Oh… is that…?”
Zeke didn't know what to say or do; Mrs. Connor was kneeling into the grass by Casey's grave, digging up some earth with a small trowel. Before he could turn away, she turned her head up to wipe her brow. Her eyes fell on the two of them and stared back.
“I…” Zeke muttered, so tempted to turn and run away. Vicky took his hand and gave it a squeeze.
“C'mon,” she urged gently. Zeke's feet felt like they were made of stone as they walked over. He kept his eyes anywhere but from where Mrs. Connor sat, who still stared their way.
“Zeke… hi,” Mrs. Connor murmured, now looking between them.
“Hi,” Zeke uttered. “I'm… we're just… here…”
The stammering alone made him feel like retching. Vicky looked between them and sighed. “He just wanted to bring Casey flowers,” she politely stated.
Mrs. Connor blinked, looking confused. “Who're you?”
“Oh-- Vicky Tyler… I'm Zeke's mother.”
Zeke saw Mrs. Connor's eyes flash a moment. “Oh,” she said. She turned back to her work, picking up a small pot of seedlings. “It's nice to see you, Zeke… we're still waiting for you to come by for those pictures.”
“Um… yea,” Zeke muttered. He kicked at the ground a little, trying to ignore his mother's inquisitive look. “Maybe I could come by-- some time.”
Mrs. Connor nodded and pursed her lips; Vicky put on a small smile and handed Zeke the flowers. “Go on,” she murmured, squeezing his arm.
This odd 'decorum' and polite business was eating Zeke up. The last time he'd been here, he'd been blasted out of his mind; now however, Mrs. Connor knelt in the spot where Zeke had almost left broken glass. 'This wasn't my fucking idea,' he thought, looking at the bouquet. Still, he looked to Mrs. Connor and nodded to the stone. “Can I… put…”
“Of course, honey,” she said. “Right here.”
Zeke nodded and laid them onto the rim of stone, just over where Mrs. Connor worked. He stood up again and brought his hand to his neck, trying to control his breathing. Vicky stepped forward then and shoved her hands in her jacket pockets.
“Zeke told me about him, a little. He sounds like he was a sweet boy,” Vicky said.
Mrs. Connor dug a little harder now, her jaw clenched tight. “There are a lot of sweet boys in the world,” she answered in a tense voice. “There's one standing here alive, right now.”
Zeke bit his lip and turned away to stare at the large group of pine trees ahead; he wanted to disappear, to never come back…
“Zeke's a wonderful boy,” Vicky answered. “He's really grown up.”
“He's had to… a lot more than others,” Mrs. Connor replied; the snap in her voice was barely hidden. “He treated Casey well. We were happy to have him in our home.”
The only sounds now were soft winds and crows cawing in the trees, leaving Zeke feeling empty and cold. A few moments passed before Vicky sighed shakily. “I'll leave you here, Zeke… let you pay your respects,” she said; the smile on her face was forced as she nodded Mrs. Connor's way. “My condolences, Mrs. Connor.”
Mrs. Connor said nothing; she gave a small nod as Vicky turned and walked off, leaving Zeke alone with her. Zeke began worrying at his lip, his eyebrows furrowed painfully. After a few tugs at stubborn roots in the earth, Mrs. Connor sat back on her heels and took in a heavy breath. “I'm sorry, Zeke,” she said.
“S'okay,” he mumbled.
“Are things okay, with her--?”
He heard the sound of the GTO's car door open and close; nodding, he closed his eyes and shrugged. “Yea. She's okay… she's been good.”
“Good,” Mrs. Connor mumbled back. “Zeke… why haven't you been by?”
Zeke's eyes pricked with tears, paining him to feel. It took him a moment to find words, but they felt too hard to speak, even when he managed to do so. “I can't help but-- you find all this stuff out, and I acted… I was a total fucking jerk…” he rambled; he was suddenly reminded of the many times Casey would kick his leg under the dinner table after swearing in front of the Connors. “Sorry…”
Mrs. Connor smiled a little, looking up with a sympathetic gaze. “You don't need to say 'sorry', Zeke. You were upset. We all were.”
“No, for swearing… and that.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Connor said, puffing out a laugh. “I think I can handle the 'f-word', Zeke. I've said it a few thousand times myself.”
Zeke nodded and took the last drag of his cigarette; normally he flick it away, letting it fall in the grass. Here however, he made himself stub it out on his boot, get out his pack and stick the tanned filter inside. “I'm scared,” he suddenly admitted.
“Of what?” Mrs. Connor said.
“Of going to your house.”
Mrs. Connor's lips parted and her eyes blinked hard. “Zeke… why? We're not mad at you, at all… you were always like a son to us,” she said, going to a stand. “You shouldn't be afraid…?”
“He won't be there. I'll be expecting him to be, and he won't,” Zeke blurted. “If you changed his room, I'll hate it, and if you didn't, I'll hate it. It'll be like he's there, but he won't be… and I…” he went to say, but stopped. He felt stupid and angry at himself for saying such things, having never said them before. “I'm just hopeless when it comes to this, and it sucks.”
“Zeke… no one's expecting you to think straight. I mean… Casey's father and I, we've needed… a lot of help to get through this. A lot,” she said, her voice trembling slightly. “You've had no one… have you? Your mom's here now, but for how long?”
“Please, Zeke. Come over some time, soon. We miss you,” she said, unable to hide the tears threatening to swell. Zeke finally rested his eyes on her, forcing himself to see that she was not lying; he'd been cared about, and was STILL cared about. It almost hurt more, but he nodded anyway.
“Maybe… maybe, I'll see,” he finally answered.
“Okay,” Mrs. Connor said. Before he could turn to leave, she stepped forth and put her arms around him, holding him close. “I meant what I'd said, Zeke; just like a son to us.”
Zeke held her back, but only a little; he feared squeezing the life out of her if he didn't restrain himself.
The two of them were intensely quiet the whole ride home; Zeke kept his eyes on the road more than he usually did, while Vicky stared out the passenger side window. Smoke filled the car from both their cigarettes, creating an odd fog between them. Zeke was glad it obscured his corner-of-his-eye vision of her.
As Zeke got them home and in the driveway, Vicky sighed. “I think I'd just like to nap for a while,” she said.
“Okay,” Zeke replied. They got out of the car and into the house; Zeke walked in slow steps, feeling like his brain had been fried. It was just past one in the afternoon, so he saw nothing wrong in mixing himself a drink. With Vicky upstairs, he planned on sinking inside of himself for a little while. He needed it.
Every thought having to do with actually going to the Connor home kept drifting into fear, hope, and doubt. There'd been a small part that wanted to go and see for himself that yes, Casey was gone-- but there were still things that were around for Zeke to look at, to remember. He wondered whether his closet was still stuffed with geeky plaid shirts, sweatshirts that were too big for him. Or whether that damned box of porn was still there-- whether Mr. or Mrs. Connor had come across those, perhaps long before their son was taken from them. Maybe they'd always known, and hearing about the relationship-that-almost-was wasn't the biggest shock.
Zeke figured that they'd accepted it all, especially with Mrs. Connor's still-loving reactions to him. Yet while he craved a bit of memory stimulation, he couldn't help but think of how cold it'd feel just entering that bedroom. His stomach would lurch in thinking on it, creating the fear and doubt aspects of his decision. It weighed in the most, and it'd plague him… perhaps that's why he NEEDED to get over it and go. “One more step,” he murmured aloud to himself.
He was ready to take the first sip of his gin and tonic, when he heard a sudden bump from upstairs. It made Zeke frown a little, deepening when he heard low, deep murmurs next. He wandered down the hall to the bottom of the staircase and listened.
The sound of Vicky running the bathroom sink hissed as he ventured up. Once at the top, the water shut off and Zeke stood still as a series of sobs sounded off just past the cracked-open door ahead. His jaw tightened as Vicky coughed tearfully, getting drowned out by something; taking two steps forward, he could see her sitting on the edge of the tub. A washcloth was pressed to her face, muffling her crying.
It had terrified to see his normally emotionally balanced mother cry on the phone years before; it scared him now, making him turn back to the stairs and head back down, quickly but quietly.
Full House was something Zeke would never normally watch, but after four hours of TV and three heavy drinks, anything was possible. It was unreal, entrancing almost; sitcoms did that to him. Most of them involved the 'ultimate family', as was the case here and now. Even with a dead mother, the Tanner family had it made. Cute kids, a doting uncle, unfunny comedian friend and super-neurotic dad… “Un-fucking-real,” Zeke grumbled past the sip of his drink he took. He was starting to get into deep thought over it, and it annoyed him.
Just as Michelle was finally sent to her first ever time-out-- something the little bitch had needed since a good two seasons before, in Zeke's opinion-- footsteps plodded down the stairs. He turned his head and saw Vicky emerge, looking tired and out of sorts. He straightened a bit and looked back to the TV.
“What time is it…? The radio clock is messed up,” she asked.
“Almost six,” Zeke replied.
“Guess I needed the nap.” Vicky drowsily replied. She sat down in the easy chair next to the couch and looked at the set with him. It was quiet until the credits of the show rolled; the 'up next' showed yet another episode of Full House coming up, making Zeke groan.
“Wanna watch something else?” he asked, picking up the remote.
“No… I want to talk,” she said.
'Fuckin' great,' Zeke thought. Not wanting ALL attention on her, he simply turned the volume down, wanting a bit of distraction for himself. “Okay,” he muttered.
“I'm going to call Derek back tonight… and tell him I'll go back to Europe early,” she told him.
Zeke felt his insides clench up; yet again, the broken promises reared their ugly little heads. “Sure,” he muttered.
“I want you to come back with me.”
It was as if Zeke's heart had stopped, now getting smothered by more muscles tensing and clutching hard at him. He turned his head to look at her with an incredulous expression. “Wha… what?”
“I've been thinking… about a lot of things, Zeke. I've been so unfair to you, AND to me,” she tentatively explained. “I want to make things right.”
Zeke blinked hard and looked away to the coffee table. The sudden invitation his mother had given him was putting his brain on ice; too numb to think or speak, he simply shook his head. Vicky cleared her throat and scratched her ear, continuing.
“I know I can't make up for all the things I've done-- for leaving you behind like I did. But I think… I just think that maybe, now's the time to at least get things back in order for us. Going out with you today, I got to see…” she said; her voice trailed off a moment. Zeke saw her throat tighten in the corner of his eye. “She lost her son. Someone that'd been well taken care of, who she'd been devoted to, and it's not fair. I practically threw you away, but I got to come back home and see you. It's not fair.”
“It could've been me… sometimes I wonder why it wasn't,” Zeke managed to mumble.
“I'm worried… I am,” Vicky blurted. “I'm thinking about things, maybe too much; I mean… that 'lawyer', whoever he was, from Washington. They're still around, and it just… it makes me panic inside. I don't want you in danger, and if I'd known how deep this had all gotten, I would've been on the next plane out right after it'd happened.”
Zeke frowned a little. “How… 'deep'? What about 'Herrington was attacked by an alien' sounds normal?” he asked, his voice gone tense and acidic suddenly. Vicky stayed quiet now, staring at Zeke as he shook his head more. “You should've read the first two sentences of whatever newspaper article carried the fucking story and gotten out here… not waited around until someone fuckin' died… and that wasn't enough either, was it?”
“No. You waited 'til extremes, THEN came back, and now you wanna whisk me off to some unknown country, have me tag along in hotel rooms and signings? Yea, that's normal…”
“Maybe it's what you need… maybe it's not enough to give, but--”
“You've given me enough-- it's been headache central with all this, don't try to sell me some 'motherly package', like you'd be around,” he spat. “I could get shot at anywhere, no matter WHERE I go to. Madrid, Washington, Tokyo… they're everywhere, Mom. Not just in Herrington.”
“I don't want to just-- leave you again, Zeke. Can't you see that I'm just trying to do my best?” she asked. “I'd make things better with my situation; it wouldn't be constant travel or hotels. I've been thinking about getting a place in Germany, a home. Herrington's never been that home for me… and with everything that's happened, maybe YOU need a way out as well.”
Zeke's lips went into a tight line as he tried to register everything Vicky said. There'd been many times she'd said 'home', and it rang false, no matter why she'd said the word. 'Coming home', 'how's home', whatever… she was never home or could be attached with the word for him. But it was suddenly hitting Zeke as truth, for whatever reason. Perhaps it was the desperate look in her eyes, or the way her hands were starting to wring together with uncertain hope that he'd say 'yes'…
“I'll…” he started. He swallowed and let out a heavy sigh. “I'll think about it.”
“All right… but… I'll need your answer by tomorrow. I can call Derek then and see how we can work things out.”
Zeke nodded and bent forward on his hands, kneading them into his face. He heard the chair she sat in creak and she was soon sitting next to him, rubbing his back in slow circles.
“I love you, sweetie,” she murmured shakily.
Zeke exhaled slowly and nodded. He didn't say it back, though one of his hands went to her free one and squeezed it.
Zeke sighed deeply while poking at his sandwich. He looked towards the street from the café's front where he and Delilah sat and shrugged. “She wants me to go back with her, to Europe. She asked me tonight.”
Delilah stared at him hard; her arms crossed over her chest as she continued gaping, almost sputtering out her next words. “But… I mean, c'mon, that's ridiculous,” she said. “She expects you to just up and leave, after all these years?”
“Guess so,” Zeke replied, earning more scoffs.
“Wow. That's really something… like a selfish something, wanting you to tag along now that things have gone fuckin' crazy,” Delilah coldly replied.
“Well, she is my mom…”
“Yea, and my mom is my mom, but that doesn't stop her from getting completely wasted every other night,” Delilah shot back. Zeke turned back to look at her, blinking slowly.
“What… did your dad die from?”
With the way Delilah looked up at him, an uncertain look in her eyes, Zeke wondered if he'd overstepped boundaries. She relaxed however and brought her latte up to take a sip. “Pancreatic cancer… pretty much the worst kind you can get,” she softly replied past the frothy drink. She put it back down and flipped her hair back, shrugging. “It took over a whole year. Sometimes… I don't blame my mom for falling apart, but-- me, I went the other way. Just went nuts over-achieving, being the star cheerleader, the editor and everything. I don't know if it was worth it, but anything's better than what my mom did. The minute I can, I'm out of that house. She's just… poisonous.”
Zeke nodded along to the sad tale; he was tempted to bring up his own father, to mention how he'd wished he'd be dead in place of Delilah's dad. He didn't dare, however. “I'm sorry,” was all he could come up with.
“It's okay. Shit just happens, I've learned. A lot,” she murmured.
“Yea,” Zeke said. Why he'd bothered ordering this dinner, he didn't know, as the pit in his stomach kept growing and growing. “I'm thinking about it.”
“Taking my mom up on her offer.”
Zeke nodded and looked again to her; he didn't like her concerned and confused expression. “It might be good to get out of this town. Everything's a reminder, y'now?” he answered. “Fuck, this fucking café, we're just sitting here in a place that's turned into a memory-tomb… does that make any sense…?”
“I come here because I want to… it's comforting.”
“Not for me, it isn't.”
“So?” Delilah said. “You're just gonna run away? Just pretend Herrington's gone, that we're gone?”
The frustration in her voice made Zeke shiver. “Del, it's not about that…”
“The hell it isn't. You've run away from everything that's hard in life, and you know it.”
“Yea, I didn't help out with some caffeine and smashing up my car…”
“If you had a choice, would you have bothered?”
“I didn't have one, for fuck's sake,” Zeke replied coldly. “None of us did, and that's what fucked Casey, wasn't it? But he HAD the choice to hide from cameras, to shut up, and he didn't. That's why he's dead, Del. That's why he's dead.”
“So he shouldn't have stood up and told the truth, is that what you're saying?” Delilah almost shouted out.
“Yes! That's what I'm saying, God damn it!” Zeke said, not holding back; his yelling made a couple nearby look over with confusion. He didn't care, but he leaned forward and quieted down as he spoke further. “You didn't read the fucking letters he'd get-- it was always some crazy motherfucker who'd talk about how he'd been abducted seventy-thousand times in the last year, or someone who wanted to shut Casey up, permanently-- and that's exactly what happened. So excuse the shit outta me if I wanna avoid that crap.”
“By going to another country? That's gonna solve all your problems?” Delilah asked.
“Maybe. I don't know, I haven't boarded a fucking flight yet,” he replied. He got his cigarettes out and lit one, shaking his head. “What do I have here… huh? A shitload of bad memories and a drinking problem. That's about it.”
“You have me-- Stan, Stokes, whatever else! A fucking diploma, if you'd just get off your ass and do it up--”
“Yay, here we go again…”
“Fine. Fine, whatever, run off. Be the scared little boy you've always been,” Delilah retorted angrily. Déjà vu hit then as Zeke watched her grab her purse and drink and get up. Delilah turned and walked away quickly, intending to leave; but once again, Zeke got up and began walking briskly to catch up. This time around, he didn't feel wrong in what he'd said or done. Once he caught up with her, he took her arm and forced her to stop.
“Who're YOU to tell me what to do? I want to fucking leave this hellhole, and I can if I want!” he yelled.
“So LEAVE!” Delilah bellowed back, wrenching her arm away from him. She turned to face him, Zeke now noticing that her eyes were overflowing. He went speechless as she narrowed them, looking as vicious as ever. “Don't care about anything, THINK that by going halfway across the goddamned planet you're going to just forget everything. We don't need your pitiful ass around anyway, so go on and be just as dead to the world as your fucking boyfriend.”
The words cut; Zeke felt his hands start to shake and his own eyes prick. Delilah must have noticed and her expression began to calm. “Zeke…” she muttered. “Zeke, I'm sorry…”
He wasn't listening, not anymore. It was his turn to walk away, brushing past her and nearly running towards the alley leading to the parking lot. He heard the click-clack of Delilah's shoes running to catch up with him, making him go even faster. “Zeke, just STOP!” she called after him.
“Leave me the fuck alone,” he yelled back.
The girl's blood curdling screech did make Zeke come to a dead stop now. He shook out uneven breaths, staring around at the dark, dirtied brick walls around him. He jumped as a police siren went off on the street behind him…
I couldn't have done anything. It's not my fault. There was nothing I could do.
“I didn't mean it, Zeke,”
He didn't realize that Delilah had gotten in front of him until his brain allowed his eyes to focus, taking him away from inner thoughts. He forced his breathing to go even as he looked at her apologetic expression. “I know,” he muttered.
“If you want to go… no one can stop you. Maybe you need it,” she said, putting her hand to her forehead. “I'm just… being selfish, honestly. You're actually trying to move on and let go… I'm stuck in it all more than I realize.”
“Yea,” Zeke said.
“I still… he once lent me his shirt when he came to a football game, all to watch me cheer. He didn't even have to be there to take pictures, but when I told him I'd mastered this flip I'd been trying to do, he told me he wanted to see it. It was so cold later, and I'd left my jacket in the car, and he gave me the ridiculous, ugly plaid shirt he was wearing. Left him in just a t-shirt, all shivering and shit, but he told me to keep it until we got to the car,” she explained, now pausing with a smile. “Even being there in the car, I forgot, he forgot… I sleep with it every night.”
Zeke bit his lip while regarding the lost look Delilah now wore. He wasn't expecting the smile that came on his face, but he welcomed it. “He had the shittiest taste in clothes. You sleep with that crap?”
Delilah's laugh broke the silence; it was nervous and a bit strained, but real. “You don't know HOW many times I wanted to burn his closet and take him to H&M,” she replied, chuckling like mad.
“Yea,” Zeke said; he gave a quick scratch to his head then let his arm drop down. “C'mon, lemmee get us home.”
“'K,” Delilah said. They walked alongside each other now; Zeke put an arm across her shoulders and gave a quick, friendly squeeze.
“Remember the lime-green and yellow striped combo…?”
“That would have been the first one to die a slow, painful death,” Delilah replied with a wink.
Zeke stepped inside the house, trying to keep his movements quiet. Only one lamp had shone past the blinds of the window, letting him think that Vicky had gone to bed. He set his keys on the side table softly and walked inside. In turning to the coat hangers, he almost jumped in seeing Vicky sitting right by the lamp, smiling up at him. “Jesus!” he blurted in surprise.
“Sorry… did you think I'd gone to bed?” she asked.
“Yea,” Zeke said. He put his jacket away and stepped into the room to flop down on the couch. Looking over again, he saw a photo album opened on Vicky's lap. “What's that?”
“One of the albums you'd burned,” she wryly replied.
“Told you I didn't.”
“I know… they were still under your bed. Amongst other things.”
This comment made Zeke's face go hot. “Uh huh,” he managed to mumble; his embarrassment peaked in hearing her chuckle. “What?”
“Just look at you,” she said, still giggling as she held up the page she'd been poring over.
Zeke scrunched his eyes tight to focus, seeing the picture of a young boy wearing a large, purple costume. He groaned, almost wishing she had been laughing about his porn collection. “Christ…”
“I don't think I've ever run into a kid that wanted to be a grape for Halloween since,” she teased.
“It was that 'Kool-Aid' commercial's fault,” Zeke grumbled out.
“It doesn't matter. You had the cutest costume ever, thanks to your grandmother,” Vicky answered, turning the book back around to keep looking. “I couldn't sew that thing for shit.”
“You wasted a lot of money on fabric trying,” Zeke fondly replied.
Vicky sighed and glanced up to him. “Yea, I tried.”
Zeke nodded and brought out his cigarettes. With a flick of his lighter, smoke billowed around him in small gusts. He watched the trails of them float to the ceiling, feeling dazed. He'd memorized the cracks and swirls of paint there, having spent many years aimlessly staring around this room. It should have felt easy to leave behind, but the sudden familiarity of it struck him. He bit his lip and closed his eyes, trying to imagine how far he could go-- if he could get there without crying for home ten minutes into a flight.
“You always had such a sweet smile as a boy,” Vicky said after another page flip. “Even when you swore you wouldn't do it ever again, after both your front teeth fell out, you couldn't help it.”
“Yea,” Zeke softly replied, still lost in a dreamy, confusing haze. He did remember the days where he would smile over anything, getting excited over the smallest things. A TV show he liked, getting straight A's in school… whatever else. It was odd how things could shift and disappear so quickly, no matter how hard you tried to hold onto it all. 'Maybe it wasn't worth trying,' he thought in his usual pessimistic way.
Maybe it wasn't worth it to keep trying… maybe he could start over again, instead.
Zeke sat amongst piles and piles of suitcases, staring around as if lost. Holding his plane ticket to Germany in one hand, the note his mother had left saying she'd meet him at the airport in the other, he had no idea on what to do. He had two hours to get to the airport, and an hour of that would be spent driving. I should have left a long time ago. I should have left.
Something was in suspension, but he couldn't quite figure it out. Everything had looked the same before he'd started packing, but now that he'd gotten those tasks done, everything had changed; right down to the couch and ceiling. There were no more cracks there, but tiled squares in lime green and yellow.
I'm losing everything. I'm leaving everything.
Panic swelled in his gut. He was leaving for some foreign land, somewhere he'd never been before. He turned to the window and looked out onto the lawn, resting his eyes on the 'For Sale' sign sitting there.
I don't wanna go… I wanna stay here, right here, I can't just LEAVE him.
It was then that the phone rang; it made Zeke jump. Hadn't he shut the phones off, the electricity…? It didn't make any sense. His hand fell on the receiver and clicked 'talk'.
'Will you meet me? Will we fly away?' a voice whispered on the other end. It wasn't his mother… he knew who it was, and it was impossible…
'Who is this?'
'I found another pearl, in the deepest part of the ocean in the world. Do you still have the other one?'
Zeke's heart raced. 'Where are you?'
'Will you meet me? Will we fly away?'
'Where are you… tell me, please,' Zeke pleaded, starting to cry.
The small chuckling on the other end was maddening. 'Meet me. Just meet me.'
Zeke wanted to scream as the loud 'click' sounded off the end of the call. He pressed off, then 'talk' again… nothing. Desperate, he dialed the operator, hoping the call had been logged.
Zeke went blank. 'Who's this? Is… is Casey there?'
'Aita i papu ia'u,'
What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck… was all Zeke could think as the person on the other line hung up. He put the phone down and stared at it; just as he was about to get up and make a mad dash for the airport, wanting nothing more than to get the fuck away from here, the odd ticking from in front of him made him stop all thought and action.
It's gonna blow up. I'm gonna die.
The phone suddenly burst, making a large cloud of flame explode, a much larger blast than was reasonable for such a small device.
Zeke's eyes snapped open, as he was woken with the shocked jolt of the dream's effect. It took him a moment to realize that there were no flames, phones, calls… just the darkness of his bedroom surrounding him. His unblinking stare was set on the window, watching tree branches slap gently onto the glass. The heavy, rushed breathing calmed with a hard swallow.
He looked to the clock, seeing the time at four-thirty a.m. It was tomorrow, and he knew the answer to his mother's offer. He didn't know how he'd figured it out, but he had.
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