Synopsis: Casey wants to grow up, but… not.
Warnings: A little bully-violence.
Disclaimer: I own nothing--all fantasy on my end.
Author's Notes: I love town fairs… I figured the Midwest town of Herrington would get one on nicely.
When Casey started school, he was the youngest in his class, since his birthday was November 11th. This didn't stop the teachers from recognizing his absolute brilliance in the third grade. After he was given a few tests, it'd been determined that Casey was well ahead of the others. In his naivety, Casey had thought that since no one in the fourth grade knew him, he'd maybe find friends easier than he had with the batch of classmates he'd dealt with for years. So it was only reasonable that on Casey's first day in his new grade, Casey had been tripped in the boy's lav, pushed down and had gotten his lunch money stolen from Gabe Santora. It was best, really; he didn't live through any childish delusion that a different class or school would erase one's 'nerd status' that way.
The week before junior year began, Casey's parents took him to the 'Herrington Town Fair'. It was old fashioned; horse-pulls and riding, 4-H gatherings, every farm animal under the sun, rides that looked ready to catapult you to your death... but one of the most popular days in the summer for high schoolers.
He remembered the summer before when they'd all gone together, and Casey ran into nearly everyone from his class. He had to endure seeing the girl of his dreams, Delilah Proffit, walking from a game booth with Jake Scarton on one arm, a giant stuffed Snoopy under the other. He'd been tempted to follow her when she and Jake split up at one point, but didn't dare. He remembered all too well the choke-slam Jake had given him for 'talking back' that winter; he didn't want to find out what happened when Mr. Captain-of-the-wrestling-team saw someone tailing his girlfriend around.
Most of the people in his class had been driving by that summer. On the way back from the fair, leaving earlier than most so it didn't go too far past Casey's 'bedtime', he got to see a large group of his classmates surrounding a bunch of cars, all listening to loud music, talking and eating. He'd stared too long with a desperate look on his face; when his mother smiled and asked if he 'knew those boys and girls', Casey shook his head fast and quickened his step. He didn't need his father saying "well go on over and say hi! We can wait,"
So here he was again; fifteen this time around, just shy of four months before sweet sixteen, looking out the car window to the fair going on full swing just ahead. Casey tried rationalizing that maybe everyone had come the night before, and wouldn't be back for Saturday; that's when Casey saw a sign by the entrance, listing a few bands playing. Two of them were playing tonight; one was a group made up of soon-to-be seniors at school. Casey put his head back and groaned.
Casey traced around the edges of chicken wire fencing, listening to his mother gab on and on to a fellow 'canning' friend of hers. While Mrs. Connor hadn't entered in the fair this year, she talked like she was a judge. "Those red and yellow peppers looked so wonderful-- but there was a bit of discoloration on some of them, I wasn't so sure," she was saying, her friend nodding with a knowing look.
I... am bored. I am the most bored person on this fucking planet. I am so, so bored, Casey thought to himself, over and over again. His eyes darted up to the large entrance to the hall and widened a little as three people came in.
Pat McCrary, Alex Barton and Alex's girlfriend Sara Owens were sauntering in. Casey didn't know any of them all too well, but knew enough. He could hear Sara snapping her gum over the hum of conversation around them. Casey tried moving to get behind his mother to hide as they passed, but Sara just had to make a flip of her hair and look in his direction just as they were about to be gone.
All that happened was a quick narrow of the eyes, amused grin and a nudge to Alex's arm. Casey tried not to notice the two of them looking over and hissing whispers. This alerted Pat who ALSO looked over. He could hear them chuckling under their breath, still casting him quick glances that read one clear message: "You are a dork and we're laughing about it".
They were immature-- something that Casey could rationalize to himself, think on how stupid they were. It still made him stomach clench. He didn't realize his mother had noticed as well until-- well in earshot of the three...
"Don't pay attention, Casey; they're just jealous."
The laughter echoed so loud Casey winced.
"The 'Cardinals' stunk last night."
Casey scuffed his shoe in the dirt; he was now stuck with his dad while Mrs. Connor went off to the line-dancing competition. Casey hoped and prayed she wouldn't join in...
This must have been a guy his father worked with; the first part of their meeting up was spent talking about some client they had, a case that was 'gonna get thrown out BEFORE it gets to court'. But now they blabbed on about the baseball game they'd both watched last night, Casey finding nothing at all to relate to.
"Dad, can we go now? I'm starving."
Mr. Connor turned to him, his face growing pink with just half a cup of beer. "Hold on Case; just talkin' a minute. Hey Mike, did you ever meet my son?"
Oh here we go. Casey felt his body get squished to his father's side now, Mr. Connor's arm holding him tight against him. "Honor Roll each semester! Can't throw a baseball to save his life, but we might have a Nobel Peace Prize for math in the trophy case someday!" he was bragging. Casey didn't bother telling him that there WAS no 'Nobel Peace Prize' for math...
The familiar voice sent automatic shivers up Casey's spine; Delilah walked slowly by only ten feet away, holding a cup of soda; the glance and tiny smile she gave was a mere hint of 'not-being-a-complete-bitch-at-the-moment'. Casey fought for words... I can mention... newspaper, I take... pic... pictures, I take pictures, she might wanna see... oh fuck... um...
"Hey! That's Delilah, isn't it?" Mr. Connor suddenly bellowed. Delilah stopped and turned.
"Um... yea, hi," she answered, looking to her friend that seemed annoyed that they were stopped.
"Hi! I've heard all about you."
"Dad..." Casey hissed, voice trembling. Delilah blinked and her usual cool smile returned.
"Yea, I KNOW I've seen you somewheres..." Mr. Connor said with a belch. Fuck. Fuck, he's buzzing... oh God...
"Dad... c'mon, I'm hungry," Casey said, tugging at his sleeve. That's when Mr. Connor snapped his fingers in recognition.
"Oh yea, that's right-- he put up all these pictures from school that he took for the paper. He's a great photographer, isn't he?"
Delilah blinked fast, shooting Casey an amused look. "Yea, he is," she answered. Casey turned his head, staring at the carousel. He pictured his father being trampled by colorful metal horses, Casey making his ride long and painful.
Casey stood in line at the cotton candy stand-- alone. As annoying as his parents had been, he'd been more than thrilled to take the $20 bill his dad handed him (buzzing like crazy on his second beer), telling Casey to "go find some friends and havva good time!"
Perhaps finding friends wouldn't be part of the fun tonight, but Casey figured he could have a good time on his own. His first stop had been a 'Pop the balloon' game stand, which he'd lost miserably. A small waste of a dollar, and it was fun to try. He'd always been good at the BB-gun stand, filling the paper target's bull's-eye completely nearly every time; that game wasn't here this year, however.
He'd had a chilidog and fries for supper, and now that he was on his own it was time for dessert. It hadn't been a hard choice at all; fried dough was delicious but he felt way too full for it. Candy apples always made his teeth feel like they were going to fall out. Cotton candy however... Casey smiled. There was nothing quite like it.
He could smell the sugar, the slight searing of sweet tickling his nostrils. He always chose blue; having a giant pink cotton ball in front of his face would be too easy a target. He was next in line, waiting behind a dark-haired girl he didn't know. A girl who suddenly became upset.
"Oh... oh crap..." she was saying, digging through her jeans pockets. "Oh no-- I must have dropped that five."
Casey looked from the back of the girl's head to the stand worker, holding a cone topped with the pink, fluffy candy. Reaching into his wallet, Casey stepped forth. "Here... I'll pay for hers," he said, glancing to her quickly. The worker smiled and handed her the candy while a large smile grew on her face.
"Wow... that's really nice of you. Thanks," she said. Casey shrugged.
"No prob. I'll have a blue one, thanks," he told the guy. As he began fixing up his order, Casey noticed the girl still standing there, picking off a piece of her treat.
"That was really nice of you, it was," she stated again. "My name's Wendy; me and my dad just moved here in June. I don't know a lot of people yet."
Casey raised his eyebrows. "Oh yea?"
"Ugh, hold on-- it needs more sugar," the worker said, kneeling down to the machine's cabinet. Casey's fingers fidgeted with his shirtsleeve as he turned back to Wendy.
"My name's Casey. You um-- going to Herrington High?"
"Yea! I'm gonna be a sophomore," she explained, beaming. He smiled in return.
"Oh yea? That's cool-- my boyfriend's a junior, too,"
Casey paled instantly. "Boyfriend?" he said. Wendy shrugged.
"Well... I met SOME people, obviously."
"Hey Wen, got your stuff?"
Casey wanted to turn into water and seep into the ground, disappearing. Gabe's right-hand man, Paul Haley, was now slinging an arm over Wendy's shoulder. Before Wendy could answer, his eyes fell on Casey and went into an instant glare. "What're YOU doing here?" he spat Casey's way. Wendy blinked, obviously confused.
"Oh... he bought me my candy-- my money was gone and..."
"You bought my girl somethin'?" Paul said, standing taller.
"What of it?" Casey retorted; he knew he could pay dearly for that alone.
"Paul... c'mon, he was really nice," Wendy told him, wearing a frown.
"Listen up, pissant," Paul started, leaning closer to Casey. Casey's eyes darted to the stand worker, pouring sugar into the machine while staring at the scene starting up. "You know what you get for talking back to us. I don't think you'd want me to pants you in front of all these people--"
"Paul! C'mon, knock it off!" Wendy told him, looking between him and Casey. Paul scoffed and shook his head.
"You'd better not hang out with this kid, Wen. People who stand anywhere near him get a bad rep," he told her. He began to turn around to leave; Casey noticed Wendy rolling her eyes. He growled under his breath and made his worst mistake of the night.
"Fucking prick," he muttered under his breath-- not quiet enough, however.
"What?" Paul said, turning on his heels fast to face him again.
"Paul! Drop it, let's GO-- Gabe is waiting for us," Wendy almost yelled. Casey swallowed-- great...
"Yea he is, isn't he? C'mon geekboy, let's go 'hang out'," Paul said, making a grab at Casey's shirt collar.
"Hey! That's enough!" the stand worker said, now fixing to make Casey's order. The two people in line behind Casey backed off as Paul got hold of Casey's shirt; there were advantages to being small however. With a quick dart and duck, Casey managed to wrench himself away. Not wasting any time, Casey turned and bolted in the other direction.
"Go get Gabe!" Casey heard Paul yell. This was not going to be an easy flight...
It'd been a good ten minutes since Casey had stopped running, but his breathing was still heavy and difficult. It was a good thing he was fast; he was used to sprinting rather than full-out running, however-- and full-out running was all he'd done for a good twenty minutes until finding a hiding place.
Never in Casey's life had he pictured himself hurdling over a pig sty and hiding next to the beasts, trying to escape the wrath of Paul and Gabe, who'd joined him in the hunt soon after it'd started. Getting his side nudged by 'Pinky Sue', Casey had peered through the cracks of the wood to watch as Paul searched around, ignoring Wendy's annoyed remarks. "Why are you being such a dick?" she'd lamented. "He was a nice guy!"
It hadn't stopped them from their hunt. Casey had stayed with the confused looking animal until the two jerks and Wendy went off in another direction to search. He'd been lucky not to be seen by anyone coming through to see the animals... however 'lucky' anything was at this point.
Now he had a new problem. He was a fifteen-year-old boy... a lost fifteen-year-old boy. He couldn't remember where his parents had told him to meet them. "8:00... not a minute later," his mom had told him. It was now about quarter of nine.
Casey recalled being told that it was best to stay in one place when you were separated from your parents, so instead of wandering around the fairgrounds, he sat on a bench. He made sure to choose one close to a stand selling sno-cones for the fire department's fund-raising. If Paul and his minions showed up, he'd stick close to the large, burly man handing out syrupy ice to kids. He seemed nice enough to step in if the shit went down.
The time slipped by, making a pit in Casey's stomach grow. It was growing darker and darker, lights getting switched on all around. He thought back to when he was six years old when he'd gotten lost in the supermarket. He'd searched for his mom a good ten minutes, yelling out "Mommy!" pathetically before a cashier took pity on him and brought him to the front desk. He'd never been so embarrassed in his life, but the relief he felt when he mother came rushing up to get him was immense. She'd scolded him, but hugged the life out of him with relieved sighs. In her happiness that Casey had not been dragged off by strangers, she'd gotten him a huge candy bar to eat in the car.
He wanted nothing more than to see his mom and dad come up the low-lit sidewalk to find him; his eyes felt misty now. It'd been a long, long time since he felt the overwhelming need for his parents. He'd take back every bit of annoyance he'd had towards them if he could just get in the car and go home. Even if his dad had acted like a complete dork back at the beer tent with Delilah, he was a big guy; none of those guys would have stepped up the way they had if his father were there. More than once, Mr. Connor had stood straight and puffed out his chest when he'd detected a bully bothering Casey; and as embarrassing as it was that Casey couldn't stick up for himself, he'd made sure to stick close and watch those bullies stalk off, not daring to try anything.
He wanted his dad. No-- he wanted his daddy. Before Casey could start to cry like a five-year-old, a person suddenly plopped next to him. Fearing the worst, Casey looked to the side. He blinked a few moments, watching Zeke Tyler light a cigarette.
"Christ," Zeke muttered, his lighter flaking out on him a moment. It finally fired up and got his smoke started just as his eyes found Casey. "Hey... Connor," he said slowly.
"Um... hey," Casey replied, turning away. Casey crossed his arms over himself as Zeke puffed away. Zeke wasn't in league with the bullies, though Casey didn't feel very safe; Zeke wasn't in league with anybody, so he could do whatever he wanted. Though he'd never even teased Casey, his snide smiles gave Casey the shivers.
"What are you doing at this shitty fair?"
Casey turned to him slowly. "Um... if it's so shitty... what are you doing here?"
Zeke made a sly grin around his cigarette, putting his head back. "I've started a business," he replied.
"What, selling chili-cheese dogs?" Casey retorted.
"The carnies stay up pretty late putting shit up or taking shit down. They need a little 'boost'," Zeke said. Casey rolled his eyes.
"So what, you're dealing drugs?"
"Want some?" Zeke said, taking a pen from his pocket. Casey peered at it with narrowed eyes.
"I don't do coke, thanks."
Zeke laughed out loud. "It's not coke, dweeb. I'm not that stupid."
"Says the drug dealer."
"Crushed caffeine pills, man. They wanna lock me up for that shit, let 'em," Zeke told him. His eyes dropped down to Casey's legs. "What the fuck happened to you?"
Casey looked down; his calves were spattered with mud, one of them wearing a good-sized scratch from jumping over the wooden sty. "Nothing," he replied softly.
"You here by yourself?"
"You sure look it--"
"Look," Casey started, whirling his head to stare at Zeke with cold eyes. "I've just had a really shitty night. I've been chased all around this fucking place if you wanna know, because I can't even leave the house without some asshole from school bothering me during my goddamned summer vacation! My mom and dad are probably FUMING because I'm some 'little boy lost' who didn't show up when he was supposed to! I'm tired, I'm hungry, I didn't even get to have my cotton candy, and I wanna go home!"
Zeke sat in complete silence, staring at Casey as he finished his rant. "Geez, Connor," he started after a small moment of silence. "When you wanna go toddler, you don't hold back."
"There he is!"
Casey's head turned to find Gabe and Paul now heading over with murderous looks. Wendy was nowhere to be seen; Casey squirmed in his seat. Taking a quick look to the firemen, he saw them preoccupied with the slushy machine, not paying any attention whatsoever. The hand grabbing his shirt made him look back; he found Gabe's face only inches from his.
"Where'd you head off to, Connor? We've been looking for ya all night," he said with a sneer.
"Get off of me, asshole," Casey snarled out. Paul laughed behind Gabe.
"Let's take him to see the animals. I think a little cow shit to the face would be a good idea," Paul suggested.
"How about you lay the fuck off of him?"
All eyes turned to Zeke, who sat watching the scene with a disgusted look on his face. "Oh hey Tyler-- since when do you defend this choad?" Gabe scoffed.
"Maybe I'm bored and want to fuck shit up. I dunno," Zeke told him, raising his eyebrows.
"Oh... you wanna start somethin'?" Paul said, getting closer. Zeke groaned out a sigh and stood up, making both Gabe and Paul stand straighter.
"Look, guys. You wanna piece of Connor when September shows up, that's your deal. I get tired of that shit quick, but I mind my own fucking business. That's high school crap," Zeke said. He moved closer; Casey was pleased to see the half step both Gabe and Paul took back. Zeke had intimidation down pat. "There's a lot of shit that happens in high school. I happen to know a lot of what goes down... and you know that."
Casey had no idea what Zeke was talking about, but it seemed Gabe and Paul did. "You said you'd shut up about that," Gabe said, his voice low and dark-- it wore a shake however, especially when Zeke made a cocky grin.
The two guys glanced to each other; Casey watched on in shock as they walked away, not bothering to say anything else. They didn't even give a last look to Casey as they went. Once they were out of sight, Zeke sat back down, groaning. "Can't wait to get outta that hell-hole..."
"What'd they do?" Casey asked. Zeke turned to him, cocking an eyebrow.
"None of your business," he replied. Casey bit his lip, not wanting to press the issue. Zeke had done enough just now.
"Th-Thanks," he shook out, curling his legs up to his chest. Zeke shrugged.
Casey nodded. No matter Zeke's defense of him, or how he wasn't going to have to worry about those guys-- for the moment, anyways...
"Casey... honestly, are you crying?"
It was rare to, but he was; just a little. "I wanna go home," he muttered, wiping at his eyes. Zeke huffed out another groan and got up, walking away. Casey closed his eyes and grumbled under his breath. He REALLY made an idiot out of himself, didn't he? When was he just going to get past this shit? He had two more years left of school, but they felt like twenty. Even with Zeke's help just now, he'd probably tell everyone about what a big fucking baby Casey was, crying like some Kindergartner lost at the fair. He at least resolved to stop crying about all this, steadying his breathing as he waited. He stared at his shoes, scuffing one atop the other to scrape off the dirt... possibly pig crap, as well...
Casey looked up, finding Zeke standing in front of him with a huge puff of blue cotton candy. "Huh?"
"You said that you'd 'not even had your cotton candy' before," Zeke said; Casey blinked in confusion at the 'tough guy' look Zeke somehow still managed to wear, even with a giant puffball of candy being held in his hand. "You gonna fucking take it?"
Casey snapped out of it and reached up, grabbing the paper cone from Zeke's hand. "Um... thanks..."
The sudden cry from Casey's right made him look up; his mother and father were scrambling past a large family to get to the bench. Casey breathed a huge sigh of relief, smiling for the first time in ages. "Hey... hey, I'm sorry..."
"Where WERE you?" his father yelled; he didn't look angry, just hassled.
"I got... it's... I just, things happened," Casey stammered out. Zeke sat down then, lighting another cigarette. Mrs. Connor looked his way.
"Are you a friend... of Casey's?" she asked.
Zeke shrugged. "I guess."
"Casey, if you wanted to have extra time with a friend, you could have just found us to ask if we could stay later!" Mr. Connor told him firmly. "We were thinking of going to the ballroom dancing competition,"
Casey snorted. "Ballroom... dancing?"
"Don't you scoff at that! Your father and I took lessons when you were little," Mrs. Connor said.
"Okay," Casey replied with a shaky smile.
"Look-- it's the last thing they're having before they close up at 10:30," Mr. Connor said, folding his hands to his chin. "Do you WANT to stay, hang out with your friend while we go do that?"
Casey froze. Zeke really wasn't his friend...
"C'mon, Case. I'll win you a bear or something," Zeke suddenly piped up, standing again. Casey blinked and stood as well.
"O... kay," he replied haltingly. Mrs. Connor smiled.
"All right, you meet us HERE at 10:30, and no later. Got that?" she said with warning.
"Yea... yea, okay," he said. Mr. Connor ruffled his hair.
"Deviant," he said with a wink before the two of them walked off hand-in-hand. Casey turned back to Zeke and picked a piece of cotton candy from the puff with a smile.
"You're gonna win me a bear, huh?"
"Shut up. C'mon," Zeke said, walking off. Casey followed, walking with Zeke, losing the lonely feel he'd had all night. The lights around them seemed brighter to him as they walked back to the throng of booths and games, and the cotton candy was the best Casey had ever tasted.
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