8: Slide
by Wax Jism

Casey can't think of many things he likes less than PE. The flagpole maybe. Having his head stuck in the toilet. Although that's likely to happen before or after PE, anyway, since the locker room has a much higher asshole concentration than the hallways.

It doesn't really matter today, though. Zeke picked him up at home this morning and kissed him in the car, surprising and hot and long enough to leave him breathless. That might be as close as Zeke has ever come to an apology for anything, although Casey's not sure what he's apologising for or if he knows he's apologising at all.

And Delilah in the library, with the light in her hair, highlighting dark brown with auburn and rust, the mischief in her eyes - he thinks about getting her in that light again and photographing her. Those would be pictures she'd like the world to see. He felt as if she was making some sort of effort to treat him like a human being. An apology again.

He may be smiling to himself. He tries to stop, but it's not happening. There's hustle and bustle around him in the room, but it's far away and insignificant.

"--Delilah?" he hears and blinks in a sudden rush of reality. Gabe's voice, and then Stan's:

"We're still friends, but hey, I moved on."

"Good, so no hard feelings. She's something else." Casey can hear Gabe's grin, and see it in front of him. That obnoxious, smug fucking grin that says 'I'm someone and you're nothing." They're coming this way. Casey turns to his locker and pretends to dig through it.

"She sure is," Stan says.

"A good handful," Gabe says and snickers.

"Watch out, that's my ex you're talking about." More laughter and a hand hits Casey's back and bangs him into the locker. He pushes himself back and thinks, no no no, shut UP, but his mouth was smiling and not happy about having to stop, and it's like he's lost all common sense.

"Keep your fucking hands to yourself," he says, but it's like someone else said it and he just stares in horror from somewhere hidden inside.

"Whoah, what did you say?" Gabe asks slowly. Casey turns around. Gabe's not as tall as Zeke, but he's built.

"I said you need to stop groping me at every turn or people might start getting ideas," Casey says.

"Fuck, Casey, are you high?" Stan says, looking nervously amused. Casey thinks he'd be nervously amused, too, if he wasn't about to get pounded into mincemeat.

"I'm just sick of troglodytes pushing me around," he says, and Gabe grabs him by the collar and tugs him up. He can feel his body want to react the usual way, curling up to protect itself, going limp to appear harmless.

It would've been cooler if there'd been a flash of bright light and a booming voice calling his name - CASEY, STAND UP AND FIGHT - but really, all there is to it is his legs coming up and kicking out and his head banging back against the lockers, rattling his teeth. His throat opens and a scream tears out. And there's rage that boils up furious fast before he even knows he's about to flip out.

"Shit!" he hears Stan's voice yell, and there's a rumble of other voices somewhere in the background, but clearest of all is Gabe's muffled grunt when he doubles over and lets Casey fall.

It's not over then, of course. Gabe's a football player and he gets kicked around worse on the field. Casey is stuck between a wall of Gabe and a wall of locker doors and he bit his tongue before and he does it again when he hits the lockers this time. But he pushes through that thin slice of pain and kicks, pushes right into Gabe's fists and realises that this is how he can get back: just not give a fuck.

He wishes he had better nails to scratch with, long vicious ones. Gabe's big enough to lift him and lock him in. Instead, he bites down on Gabe's arm, bites hard enough that his jaw might break, his teeth ache and the muscles in his neck scream from exhaustion.

Stan's still yelling at them, trying to break them up - "Jesus Christ, would you two just STOP! Gabe, come ON, it's not worth it!" - but it's not working. Casey finally has to let go or lose a tooth, and the floor comes up to hit him in the face. He has time to just about curl up and take the kick with his ribs and not his solar plexus, and he hears the crack. But it's not over.

He's still waiting for the fucking beam of light; it should feel different, shouldn't it? He's fighting, he's still not afraid. But it hurts the same way it always does. Maybe he forgot to yell the secret magic war cry.

He doesn't hear anyone laughing, though.

The next time Gabe's foot comes into view, he grabs at it. His chest hurts, but he holds on, and Gabe loses his footing and comes crashing down. The world has narrowed down to each painful breath and getting up and grabbing the first thing that comes to hand - someone's muddy Doc Marten; maybe Lucas or Jerry, he can't remember who wears combat boots to school, someone. Gabe's on the floor trying to get up and Casey hits him in the face with the boot.

"Fuck you," he says, not a scream but a whisper at first, but growing louder "FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU, you fucking ASSHOLE!" and hits again and again.

He's suddenly, soberingly aware of silence around him. There's the beam of light at last, and it's inside his head and says, "get the fuck outta here."

He drops the boot and runs.


He doesn't stop until he's already well off school grounds. He's been going on nothing but momentum, and when he stops running, his stomach catches up with him and he revisits his lunch on the curb. Every breath stabs deep in his chest and he's pretty sure he has a cracked rib. He made Gabe bleed. He has a fleeting, confused memory of a row of pale, staring faces as he stampeded out of the locker room. There are black patches flickering over the world and he leans forward and waits.

He thinks victory might taste sweeter if you think you'll get away with it. He has no idea. This just tastes bitter, of spent adrenaline and vomit. He wipes his mouth on his sleeve and walks.

He's been running towards Zeke's house, automatically. He can't go home, anyway, not now, so he continues. Zeke won't be home. Doesn't matter.

By the time he gets to Zeke's house, he's wheezing and snapping for breath. He's heard about broken ribs puncturing lungs, but he figures he'd know if that happened. It just really fucking hurts to breathe, and he leans against the door and tries to take small breaths, slowly.

Zeke's house welcomes him with silence and solitude, and the clean, empty bathroom with its white tiles and bright orange floor and the mirror - this time he's not afraid of looking in it. His face looks okay, a little pale and his eyes are too wide and show a lot of white.

"Revenge...of the NERD," he says out loud. It's not funny, but he coughs out a squeaky, painful chuckle anyway and almost vomits again.

He hears the phones, electronic bleats from the kitchen, shrill rings from the living room, and freezes, forgets to breathe. People sometimes call Zeke's house - he's aware of this, but his heart insists on sitting in his throat like a rock. He wonders if it's possible to kill someone with a boot. He wonders what they do to you if you do.

He punches the wall. It hurts, but he didn't put everything into the punch. He thinks, I'm not crazy enough yet. It's not a particularly comforting thought. He rinses his mouth and goes downstairs and turns on the TV.

The phone rings again halfway through Passions, but he ignores it. It doesn't scare him this time, just feels sort of inevitable. He figures Gabe's probably not dead, but that doesn't really matter. Casey's fucked anyway. Zeke will smile - this will be amusing to him - and then he'll step back and let them lock Casey up and throw away the key.

He blinks and then Zeke's standing next to the sofa, pulling his hand through his hair and saying, "Casey, you crazy fuck, you really flipped out on them."

He sits up, but has to fall back down again because his ribcage is just not co-operating. His tongue feels swollen and angry in his mouth.

"Lemme see that," Zeke says. He pulls up Casey's shirt and his fingers wander lightly over Casey's chest. "You should've seen Gabe, man."

"I saw him," Casey says. "I was there."

"No, later, when Drake asked him who fucked up his face." Zeke's snickering softly, but his hands are gentle. "I should take you to the emergency room."

"No," Casey says.

"'kay," Zeke says. "I'll tape it for you."

Zeke's good at it; he could be a nurse, he's certainly got a better hand than Nurse Harper. Her hands always feel like she'd rather be slapping you. That's sort of strange, because Casey knows Zeke likes to slap, too. But he's good at this, gets the bandage tight without squeezing the breath out of Casey.

"Have you done this before?" Casey asks.

"Yeah," Zeke says and goes to dig his cigarettes out of his jacket pocket. He sits next to Casey and smokes in silence for a while. Casey watches Springer with the sound on mute. One of the guys beating each other up over some piece of overbleached trailer trash looks sort of like Gabe if he squints.

The door upstairs slams and there are quick, light footsteps in the hall.

"Delilah's here," Zeke says. "Tell me something, Case, what was it that pushed you over the edge?"

Casey listens to Delilah yelling, "Are you down here? Casey? What the FUCK did you do?"

"I don't know," he says.

Zeke blows a wavery smoke ring. "Just flipped?"

"Just flipped."

Delilah stomps into the room. "I don't know whether to kick the shit out of you or fuck you stupid," she says. "What got into you? Don't tell me you actually started secreting testosterone all of a sudden."

"I think you're too late for both," Zeke says. "He was only giving as good as he got."

"I'm already stupid," Casey says. "And I fucked myself, I think."

"You broke his nose. Coach Willis wants to string you up in the flagpole. By the balls. Principal Drake called your parents." She cocks her head, a little like a cat studying something small and fluttering. "Oh, and you're suspended. Are you hurt?"

"No," Casey says at the same times as Zeke says, "Yeah."

"Bruised ribs," Casey says. Zeke's leaned closer and put his arm around Casey. His hand rests right below the bandage.

"Cracked," Zeke says. "Our boy's all growed up. I'm almost getting misty." He grins at Delilah, but his fingers move over Casey's skin in soft little strokes, and he leans even closer and whispers, "I wanted to see that, I wanted to see you kick his face in."

"I didn't kick him, I hit him with a boot," Casey says.

"You broke his nose," Zeke says and kisses his face, his nose. His hand slides up Casey's side, over the bandage on his chest, pushes Casey backwards. Casey folds under him and wonders if this is going to hurt.

I can always kick his face in, he thinks, and even though he won't do it, it feels good to think it.

Zeke's gentle, though, mild as a kitten; soft tongue, light fingers. Casey sees Delilah stand on the other side of the coffee table. She looks like she still hasn't decided whether she wants to fuck or kill or maybe just bang her head against the wall. He unfolds his arm from where it's landed on Zeke's shoulder and reaches out towards her. It hurts a little when the muscles stretch over his ribs.

She comes to them. It's good.


The phone rings again at some point, but Casey grabs Zeke's hand when he moves to go pick it up. "Don't," he says, and Zeke stays.

"It's my phone," he says, but he smiles.


"There's someone at the door," Delilah says even later. She's stroking Casey's face, tracing his nose and mouth with light fingertips. Casey lies with his head on Zeke's stomach. He's starting to feel hungry, but his chest hurts a little and it's comfortable here. He's warm and tired.

"Mmmh," he says, and then it registers. "What?"

"Someone just knocked," Delilah says.

"Must be the cops," Zeke says with a little chuckle. Casey hears his voice rumble through his chest and shivers. He doesn't want to get up. Maybe it is the cops - maybe Zeke knows something he doesn't.

He hears the knock himself this time. Zeke mutters something and pushes him off. Casey thinks about begging him not to open. He almost does it, too. He's never really been proud. But he fought back today, and it would be wrong somehow to go right back to being the way he's always been straight away.

It takes a while to find their clothes, get them on in the right order, and the knocking takes on a belligerent tone. In the hall, Casey stands just out of sight of the front door and listens to Zeke open it. Delilah hovers behind him, her hands light on his shoulders, her breath in his hair. His chest hurts, but it's not just the ribs.

"Zeke," his father says. He sounds almost tired. Not angry like his knocks. "Is Casey here?"

There's a silence. Casey notices that he's wringing his hands. He tries to stop - it looks stupid, like he's a character in a Jane Austen novel - but he doesn't know what else to do with his hands.

"Relax, they're not gonna flog you in the town square," Delilah whispers and slides her hands around his waist, covers his hands. Her fingers are warm and longer and thinner than his. He wants to turn around and kiss her, twine his hands in her hair, push his knee between her legs - because he can. He thinks he's entitled now. At some point, it's become his right. She can push him away, but she can't say he's not allowed to try.

He shivers. He's never thought that before.

Zeke's voice, low and careful: "Why, is there something wrong, Mr Connor?" And Zeke's voice is his, too. Casey can call him and hear it when he wants to. He can come here and Zeke will nod at him and go about his business, or pull him closer and push him to his knees, or throw him down on the bed. Or let Casey creep closer in the sofa and tuck his head into the crook of Zeke's neck.

"We got a call from Principal Drake," Casey's father says. "Casey! If you're here, you better show up right now! You're already in enough trouble."

"Hey, hey, Mr Connor--" Zeke says abruptly, and Casey knows his father is trying to push inside, past Zeke. "I'm sorry, this is my house--"

"Where are your parents, Zeke?"

Silence again. Delilah squeezes Casey's fingers. "Luxembourg," Zeke says. He's probably lying.

"Casey's coming home right now. All right? And no arguments. CASEY!"

Casey thinks about running - he could make it out the back before his father notices. He could leave Zeke to block the way.

Zeke would.

He shrugs out of Delilah's arms. "I'm here, Dad," he says.


In the car, his father talks and Casey stares out the window. Frost on the trees, frost on the ground. The sky is clear and the sunlight bounces off windows and roofs. A murder of crows leap from a maple in a flapping, fluttering cloud of black. "Suspended," his father says. The crows circle and seem to follow the car. "Grounded," his father says. An old lady with a fat dog tottering down the sidewalk; the dog and the lady could be the same species. "Professional help," his father says.

"What?" Casey asks, startled. The old lady and her dog disappear behind them.

"This trouble. Your mother and I don't understand what's gotten into you. This has something to do with your new friends. Who is this Zeke? He never seems to tell us anything about his home. We had to call the school and ask for his address."

"He's just a guy," Casey says. Where were you when I was afraid of him? he thinks. His father frowns at the street ahead as if it's personally offended him. The radio is on, but the sound is turned down so low that Casey's can't even make out what song is playing. His father always does that, these days, and it drives Casey nuts.

"Drugs? Are you on drugs, son? Is Zeke involved in something?"

"I'm not on drugs, Dad."

"Well, this is the end of that," his father says. "We can't have any more outbursts like this. Principal Drake told me you broke that boy's nose."

"He broke my fucking rib first," Casey mutters at the window. It's framed with delicate filigree patterns of frost. The heater on this side must be out of commission again.

"What did you say?" his father says sharply and slows down.

Casey scratches at the frost on the window. He's tired and it hurts to breathe, and his father will never listen. "Nothing," Casey says.


His father catches him by the arm when he tries to slip away to his room, and he winces. He's starting to feel like his entire body has been pummelled and broken and beaten. He's pretty sure his right side is one big bruise.

"What's that?" his father asks, and before Casey can tear loose and back off, he's pulled up his shirt and found the bandage.

"Good lord!" his mother exclaims from the kitchen door. Casey pulls down his shirt, but it's too late; they're crowding him in and his father's saying, "Getting into fights and what's next? Guns?" and his mother's saying, "We have to take him to the emergency room, George, what if he's really hurt?" and his father says, "I don't know what we're supposed to do with him--" and Casey finally opens his mouth and snaps out a "Stop!"

"What?" his father says.

"Stop poking at me," Casey says. "I'm okay. I just want to go to bed." He's tired now, and aching all over and they're staring at him like they don't know who he is or what he's done with their son.

They let him go, reluctantly, and he knows they'll argue about it, fight in that stressed, hurried way they have, never listening to each other. They'll probably call the family doctor in the morning.

He stands in front of the mirror and looks at his body. There's a cluster of fading love bites on his shoulder and collarbone - a couple fresh ones, too. Zeke and Delilah leave marks on him; he leaves marks on them. There's a few scratches and bruises on his hips and thighs that anyone would recognise for what they are.

He hopes the fucking boot print on the side of his chest will be enough of a distraction.


He hears them argue with hushed voices in the bedroom down the hall.

"He's confused," his mother says.

"What's there to be confused about? He's an A student, he's half a year from graduation."

"He's seventeen years old, George. It's not an easy time."

"Goddamn. This is NOT the time to start having teenage crises. We need to get him straightened out."

Casey puts his hands in front of his mouth to choke the giggle. He thinks they'll need to do more than ground him to straighten him out. He has a sudden urge to slam his door open and tell them he's irreversibly bent; queer as a three-dollar bill, a sexual pervert and hopeless deviant. It'd feel pretty damn good, he thinks. Their faces.

And then they'd run for the phone and sign him up for military school. And he'd have to kill himself. Or them. He thinks about Gabe's face when he first fought back. And the blood. It wasn't very clear at the time - everything was a haze. But now it's all there, burned into his brain. He can even hear the sound of the heel of the boot hitting Gabe's nose. A dull thud and a crunch. And blood.

His room is too small to breathe in, and he opens the window and lets in the chill.

At eleven PM, a car drives by very slowly. It doesn't stop, but he recognises the rumble of Zeke's GTO. Casey goes to bed with the window open, but he can't sleep.

At midnight, he gets up again. His door doesn't really lock properly - the lock is twisted somehow, and he can get it open if he pokes at it with a ruler. Maybe they'll invest in a proper dungeon door if he starts getting into a lot of trouble.

They're already asleep like the hardworking people they are, lying like two logs on their backs, with two feet of cold space between them. Their faces are slack and lifeless and if he couldn't see their chests moving and hear his father's snores, he'd think they were dead.

Zeke always moves in his sleep, twitches and creeps closer, rolls away, pins Casey down with his body. Zeke's closer to Casey when he sleeps than he ever is when he's awake. Except when they're fucking, of course.

He tiptoes down the stairs and goes outside. He stands on the drive until Zeke's car drives by again.

"Hey," Zeke says when he's rolled down the window. Delilah is in the passenger seat, smoking. "You cool?"

"Yeah," Casey says. "Grounded for life, I think."

"Want me to kill them for you?"

"Yeah," Casey says. The thought makes him smile a little, and Delilah giggles and blows smoke at Zeke. "Your parents ever ground you?"

"Nah," Zeke says. "They practice the school of the cold shoulder."

"Did it work?"


"I'm gonna ground my mother one day," Delilah mutters, but she gets out of the car and comes around to put her arms around Casey and kiss him. Her face is warm against Casey's chilled skin and her mouth tastes like sex and cigarettes. She nips his lip and says, "Wanna go?"

He thinks about it. "No," he says. "They'll just really ground me for life."

He kisses Zeke, too, leans down and catches his mouth, and Zeke doesn't even seem surprised. A right, not just a privilege, Casey thinks.


Still, he doesn't sleep very well, and he dreams strange dreams about fighting caribou; their horns clicking together like the branches of falling trees; and wide, bare plains.