11: Burn
by Wax Jism

Casey pulls his feet up onto the seat. Delilah almost snaps at him to get his filthy shoes off the upholstery. He's hugging his knees, nervous, as if her mood directs his.

"Sometimes I think I should just go," he mumbles. "Like, it'd be cool - I'd live in a cabin somewhere in Canada, way up north. Up where there's a midnight sun and a hundred miles to the nearest neighbour."

"Yeah, just you and a bunch of Eskimos," she says. "That'd be awesome. You should lay off the glue, Case. You'd go nuts in a week."

"No," he says, turning to her, his face set. "You'd go nuts in a week. I don't much like people."

For about two seconds, it actually sounds like a pretty good idea. No one to think about but herself; Casey and Zeke and herself and a hundred square miles of emptiness and wildlife. Then she comes to her senses and thinks, emptiness, wildlife and no shopping.

"It's too cold up there," she says. "And boring. How about Mexico?"

"Too many Mexicans."

"What's wrong with Mexicans? How are they worse than moose and Eskimos?"

"There are just too many of them. I want to be alone." He rubs his face. "I'm cold."

She's cold too, but not because of the temperature in the car. She has what people in horror movies call 'a bad feeling'. It's been growing in her stomach like some kind of malignant tumour. "Not to be melodramatic," she says, "but when I said 'staging an intervention', I really meant it."

"Zeke can take care of himself," Casey says and he almost sounds like he's reciting gospel. "Since when did you start caring about him, anyway?"

"This might come as a surprise to you, but I do care."

He snorts and says nothing.


Zeke's house is dark and silent. There's no sign of his mother's silver Saturn. Zeke's car stands alone in the yard.

"You think she left?" Casey asks. He slides his fingertips over the wet metal of the GTO's hood in a way that makes Delilah want to push him down on it and crawl on top of him.

"Or they're out making the town unsafe for everyone even remotely sane," she says instead, and tows him along by the sleeve.

"This would be cooler if there was a full moon."

She stops and stares at him. "You're just stuck inside some spy novel universe in your head, aren't you?"

"Fuck you," he mutters.

She unlocks the door and they slip into the dark hall. "One day," she whispers in his ear, "I will wake up from this fucked up dream and ask myself why I have a spare key to Zeke Tyler's house."

"But not tonight," Casey says and takes her hand. His fingers are cold and a little clammy.

Delilah flicks on the light in the hall. Kitchen, empty. Zeke's room, empty. Bathroom, empty. Casey runs downstairs and comes back, shaking his head. Living room, empty.

"Maybe they really are out," he says.

Delilah stands in the hall and smells cigarette smoke. She hasn't smoked today, and this is fresh, anyway. "Plot thickens," she murmurs. Casey's next to her, twitchy and wide-eyed.

"This is kinda freaking me out," he says.

"No shit."


Zeke is lying on the bed in the master bedroom, wearing boxers and nothing else, smoking and staring at the ceiling. He's been there a while; there's a heap of butts next to him. He hasn't used an ashtray, just stubbed them out on the beige silk bedspread.

"Zeke!" Casey gasps behind Delilah. He sounds a lot like the heroine of some fifties movie, breathlessly scandalised. Delilah would laugh, but she's too busy trying to put two and two together.

Zeke's ignoring them. Delilah catches herself automatically scanning the room for empty bottles. There are none, though. The room is tidy and clean.

"Did your mom leave?" Casey asks softly.

"She's gone," Zeke says, and if Delilah didn't know better, she'd say he was drunk out of his gourd.

Casey's staring at Zeke in something like abject horror. He's probably suffering from cognitive dissonance, poor baby.

She takes a step towards the bed. "So, by 'gone' you do mean 'has left town by way of Highway 62'? Not, say, 'has expired as a result of blunt trauma to the head and is currently stowed in the laundry closet'?"

"Go home, Delilah," Zeke mutters and lets a neat column of ashes fall on the bedspread. "It's none of your business."

"Here's someone who needs a little Eskimo time," she says, and Casey laughs, a shrill, hysterical sound that breaks off quickly and suddenly. When she looks at him, he's pressed his hands over his mouth. "Casey, for fuck's sake."


"What?" Zeke echoes from the bed, but his voice is nothing like Casey's breathy little-boy voice.

Casey walks up to the bed, just out of arm's reach of Zeke. Zeke looks at him impassively. "What happened?" Casey asks. "Did you have a fight with your mother?"

"She pinched your photos," Zeke says and chuckles, a rumbling whiskey-and-smoke sound. He stubs out his cigarette and sits up. "Every single one. Maybe she'll sell them to her friends in New York."

"What photos?" Casey asks. There's an open photo album on the floor by the bed, Delilah sees. It might have been thrown there. She recognises Zeke's mother in the pictures, wearing a hideously shoulder-padded suit. The eighties took no prisoners, but Zeke's mother manages to look gorgeous anyway.

"Your photos."

"What do you want me to do?" Casey asks, not in a sarcastic voice like Delilah might have used, but honest-to-God earnestly.

"I don't know. Burn down the house?"

"Don't be stupid," Delilah says. "Just trash her stuff. That's what I'd do."

Zeke looks at her. He almost looks a little surprised. "Don't you think that's a little petty?"


Casey blinks rapidly a couple of times and looks around the room and says, "I think she's pretty fucking petty, too. She took the photographs." The last like it's a revelation.

"She did," Zeke says. "She told me she wished I was dead."

Casey's mouth tightens, but he just picks up the photo album from the floor and says, "She's pretty, though. Is that your dad?" He flips through a couple of pages. "You're not in here."

"Nope," Zeke says.

"We should burn it."

"We should burn all of it," Delilah says. Zeke's mother's things are lovely, a little five years ago but lovely. Zeke's mother knows her stuff.

Zeke's sitting on the edge of the bed. There are dark smudges under his eyes, a tightness to his mouth. He looks exhausted. Delilah tries to imagine him crying over his mother and fails. It's easier imagining him pulling books from the shelves, turning over tables, smashing mirrors.

"Is there some kind of rule here? No trashing Mommie Dearest's junk? Why are you sitting there like a lump of meat?"

"I was tired," he says.

There's a thump. Casey's pulled a couple of books off their shelves and dropped them on the floor.

"We could have a barbecue," he says.


Delilah knows how she'd do it. Pull things down in a frenzy, throw fragile knickknacks at the wall. Scream.

Zeke smokes and packs things in a box, silently and methodically. Delilah smokes and tries to help him, but he doesn't make room for her or even seem to notice her.

"She really--" Casey mumbles behind Delilah, under his breath. "I mean. She took all of them. Or they're gone, at least. Every single fucking one."

"She thought they were good," Zeke says. "Good work. She was surprised you were good for anything."

Casey's quiet after that, and Delilah can't seem to think of anything to say.

The box isn't very big and there isn't really that much stuff. Delilah pulls the cover off the bed and puts it on top of the balsa statuettes of birds and animals, the photo album, the few books.

"Did she ever even live here?" she asks. Zeke shrugs, but his hand lingers on the cover, as if he wants to keep it. Mama's boy, she thinks. Zeke's mother must be some piece of work. More than Delilah picked up that morning in the kitchen. She'd love to know.

She wonders what would have happened if they never showed up here. Would Zeke still be lying on his mother's bed? In his boxers. Chain-smoking. Doing God knows what.

Maybe she doesn't really want to know.


There's a light still on next door.

"Mrs Gordon's an insomniac," Zeke says.

"Do your neighbours ever, like, suspect?" Casey asks. Zeke leans against the door and looks up at the overcast sky.

"Suspect what?"

Delilah can almost feel Casey's eyes seeking hers, but she looks out over the dark backyard. Dark but for the pale cream-yellow square of light falling from Mrs Gordon's kitchen window onto the gravel.

The night's wet and cold, but there's no rain. The damp is in the air, pushing under her clothes, probably making her hair hang limp and dull. Zeke's hair stands right up in insubordinate tufts. Casey's hair is unwashed and clings to his skull. The world refuses to explain what she's doing here on a bad hair day, with no make up and her glasses on, wearing a fucking flannel shirt.

I'm one of them, she thinks and shudders.

"Zeke?" Casey says. He's giving off his beta dog vibes again, almost lying on his back with his paws in the air. She can't see the new and improved Casey anywhere, that crazy little fucker who cracked Gabe's nose with a boot. "He was fucking insane," Gabe had told her. "Boy was tweaking on something nasty."

Desperation's nasty enough, she almost answered, but it wouldn't have been very in character for Delilah Profitt.

"Zeke?" Casey says again, and Zeke drops the box on the ground and snaps, "WHAT?"

Casey doesn't flinch back, and there's the steel in him. He hides it, Delilah thinks. Maybe he doesn't even know he does. "How about--" He's looking up at Zeke through his lashes. The light from the window has drawn a soft shadow over his cheekbone, like a bruise. Usually his bruises look like shadows. "There's that place down by the lake."


Zeke pours gasoline over the little pile of photographs, books and clothes and Casey throws a match. They watch it go poof. No one says anything.

"That was kinda anti-climactic," Delilah says after a while. Zeke stares at the dying flames and says nothing. Casey looks at her. The light from the fire turns his blue eyes hazel and blank.

"This is such an ugly place," he says. The pebbled beach looks muddy and harsh in the flickering light.

It's cold, too. "Maybe we could find some wood. Since we have a fire."

"Let's just go," Zeke says suddenly, too quickly.

"You're acting psycho, Zeke," Delilah says, because he is. He rubs his head and stares at the fire.

"You haven't seen me act psycho, Delilah," he says. A few of the old photos have escaped; Delilah sees one of Zeke's mother smiling in a gorgeous evening gown. Zeke kicks it into the fire. He doesn't put much energy into it. His expression doesn't change. "You don't want me to, either, so just drop it."

"Drop what? What did she do to you?" She has to follow him around the fire and up the beach towards his car. "You do know that the less you tell me, the more I imagine."

"We can imagine a lot," Casey says. He's following, three steps behind.

Zeke stops and turns. He leans against the side of the car and smiles sweetly. "You'd like a little scoop, wouldn't you? You like secrets."

"I just want to know what the fuck's going on."

"You remind me of her," he says softly. The smile stays. It was never a very nice smile. "You're the fast food version, one in every town."

She slaps him, and he hardly flinches. "Do that again," he says. She hears Casey move restlessly behind her, but he doesn't matter right now. She slaps Zeke again, so hard her palm burns. When she raises her hand a third time, he grabs her wrist and twists, and her knees buckle and she spins around helplessly and ends up pinned against the car, falling backwards over the hood.

"Zeke!" Casey yells in the background, but he's a mosquito buzzing in her ear. Her wrist burns; her whole arm burns. His expression still hasn't changed. She wonders, in a distant part of her brain, if he practices the whole impassively menacing look in front of the mirror.

"What'd she do to you?" she asks, a little breathlessly now. He's got her arm twisted behind her somehow; she doesn't even know how exactly he did it. "Call you names, fucked up your potty training, what?"

Casey in the background: "Zeke, just let her go." They both ignore him. Zeke isn't even breathing hard, but he's pressed against her and he's ready to go - this shit is foreplay to him. If she were Casey, she'd be naked already. There are different rules between Zeke and her.

Her back aches where it's wedged against the hood. She's not sure he's looking at her, really. It's hard to tell in the dark; the faint play of firelight on his face hardly shows his features beyond dark eye sockets and hollowed cheeks. She stares up at him anyway and goes on: "Did she get drunk and drop you on your head? Did she kill your dad in front of your eyes? I'm guessing here, Zeke."

He shoves her even further up until she sits on the hood with her legs dangling and her arm pinned by her side, Zeke silent and hard-faced, pressed against her. She could probably kick him in the nuts and knock him off her. If she wanted. If she were prepared to risk her arm. If she wanted.


"Back off, Casey," Zeke growls, and Delilah sees Casey take two steps backwards, change his mind, come forward again. She feels the warning in the tightening of Zeke's muscles against her, but she fails, somehow, to call out. Maybe she wants to see what will happen.

When Casey touches Zeke's sleeve, Zeke lets go of Delilah and swings.

She's never seen Zeke hurt Casey before. Casey falls on his back, curls up into a ball with his hands over his face. She's never seen it, just the results, and it occurs to her that maybe things are more than a little fucked up. She's somehow been ignoring that all this time.

Zeke's kneeling by Casey, touches him with gentler hands and Delilah hopes there's been enough pushing, that they can get back to either ignoring their issues or proceed directly to the emotional purging scene. She can see it already; Zeke sobbing, maybe, telling some sordid tale of childhood abuse, a few comforting words, everyone feels much better, everyone goes back to bed.

Instead, she sees Casey wrap his arms around Zeke's neck and Zeke pushing him down on the stony ground. She sees stains on Casey's fingers; they'd be bright red if there was enough light to show colour. She does hear a sob, but she thinks it's Casey. Casey should be kicking the shit out of Zeke, she thinks. Zeke needs a good ass-kicking.

Casey's stroking Zeke's face with his bloody fingers. Delilah can see Casey's face and it's only a split lip, nothing broken, nothing bad.

"Are you okay?" Casey whispers. Zeke moves against him and Casey's eyes flutter shut.

Delilah notices that she's still leaning against the car. Her back hurts. She rubs her arm; it feels numb where it's not painful. It's even colder down here than in Zeke's yard. There's a mist hanging over the lake, a chilly white that's bright in the moonlight and really ties the whole faux-gothic mood together.

"Are you okay?" Casey asks again and Delilah looks back in time to see Zeke shake him like a rat, his fingers digging into Casey's pale throat and Casey's eyes still closed.

It looks dangerous, but who the fuck knows, maybe they play these games all the time when Delilah's not around.

"Shut up," Zeke snarls and Casey chokes and tries to cough, and Delilah pushes herself away from the car and kicks Zeke in the side.

"No!" Casey screams like she kicked him, even though she knows she hit Zeke, good in the ribs, no collateral damage.

Zeke rolls off Casey, gets on his feet in one fluid movement. He towers over her. She always forgets in between times - in two minutes, even - how tall he is. She was almost as tall as Stan.

She takes a step backwards. She's not like Casey. Behind Zeke, Casey's crawling to his feet. I'm not like Casey, she thinks. Casey's not afraid of Zeke. He's coughing, trying to save his throat by making the coughs shallow. His eyes reflect the firelight and blink orange for a second, like a cat's.

"Zeke, please," he gasps. She almost understands him. It's right there, some kind of answer. Something in the fire crackles and flares and for a second, they're all lit in stark relief. Casey looks terrified now. Zeke is utterly blank. Casey takes another step towards them and Delilah quickly opens her mouth and says, "I hope this isn't all about some dirty little incest secret thin--"

He must have pulled the punch a little; some sense left in him, because she doesn't feel anything break. He doesn't let her fall, grabs her by the arms and his voice is barely audible over the rush of blood in her ears. "You shut the fuck up about her."

His face is wet, gleaming in the flickering light. "You're crying!" she says. It hurts to speak, but her brain has lost contact with her mouth. She thinks she hears Casey sobbing somewhere, but it might be her, it might be Zeke or it might be the entire fucking cheerleading squad crying in sympathy for all she knows.

"What?" he says. Her head swims and there are little bursts of light going off in front of her eyes, tiny fireworks without any sound other than the dull pounding of her heart. She can feel the imprint of his fist on her cheekbone, like the fist was white-hot iron and a mirror would show her a black-scorched mark. "WHAT?" he says again and shakes her.

Her mouth goes on without the rest of her. "I'm not holding it against you, Zeke," she says. "I mean, you're clearly having a fucked up day--"

"Shut the fuck up," he hisses at her and then he suddenly cries out and crumples to the ground. Delilah goes down with him, even though he's let go of her arms. Her legs don't really carry.

Casey stands over them, swaying like there's a wind shoving him around. He's still holding a thick branch aloft like a baseball bat. She thinks his eyes have turned all black, nothing but pupil. She might be imagining it; she's not sure what she's thinking, her head hurts from thinking.

There are hands on her again, soft searching hands and she turns around and Zeke is reaching for her. He's rolled over onto his side and there's a stain on his forehead, darkwetsticky, that has to be blood trickling down from his scalp.

"I hope I cracked your fucking skull!" Casey yells in a broken voice and he's there too, definitely sobbing. He'll probably have the whole catharsis thing for all three of them. "I hope. I hope. Fuck."

Zeke stares at Casey and his face is still wet when Delilah touches it, runs her fingers over from his cheekbone down to his mouth. He blinks but doesn't turn away when she presses her fingertips over his lips. He blinks again and pushes her hand away, rubs his face. He manages to spread the blood around like streaks of warpaint on his forehead.

"Wanna share?" she asks.

"I'm not--" he starts. Casey's there, kneeling beside her. Casey's hands feel the same as Zeke's, soft and reaching for her.

"Sometimes people cry like that after something so shocking that they haven't noticed it themselves. Like a bomb blast or something. Crying without even knowing." Delilah lies back. The gravel is the most uncomfortable bed in history, but her body feels heavy and uncooperative. Their bodies are hot and confining on both sides of her. Zeke's breathing shallow, short breaths in her ear and Casey's voice is right in her other ear, a little wet and choked. "I just read that somewhere. In a book about war."

"This isn't war," Delilah says.

"It isn't?" Zeke asks, his lips on the side of her neck, his wet face pressed against her hair. Blood and tears taste almost the same, she thinks. They move against her and they might be holding hands on her hip somewhere. That would be something so typical and mushy and fucked up that it could be true. She wriggles her hand out from under Casey and finds theirs, clasped.

"I can't kill you," Zeke says.

"That's comforting to know," Delilah says carefully. Casey goes still against her, waiting.

"No," Zeke says, "I can't-- You won't let me kill you."

It probably makes sense to him. Her head's finally stopped spinning The sky is very close to her nose; it's probably about to fall. It's the fog, but it looks dangerous and mysterious. She turns her head and makes the kiss accidental. She never kisses Zeke. His mouth feels unfamiliar. The taste of salt and cigarettes is not, though. He kisses her back, slowly. He probably has a broken skull. Concussion. She doesn't care. No one's apologising. Casey's hand slides over her face, over Zeke's face. A pebble digs into her hip.

"Fuck it," Casey mumbles behind her, a sort of general dismissal of the world. She almost agrees.