16: Tremble
by Wax Jism

Casey watches the shadow of his eyelashes on the tabletop. The sun comes in sharp and a little painful and paints a silhouette of his face on the white surface. When he looks out of the corner of his eyes, he can see his eyelashes flutter. They're very long, made longer by the angle. He blinks and they flutter again. Once, when he was little, nine or ten, he cut off his own eyelashes. In retrospect, he should be happy he didn't stab himself in the eye while he was at it.

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Now it just seems dangerous and stupid and he wants to go back in time and slap himself.

He could start with just a short little trip, though. A few days back, to say, "Hey, asshole, put a sock in it. Life's short and nasty enough without asking for more."

He probably wouldn't have listened to himself. Right now, watching his eyelashes in the warm kitchen, he remembers the feeling very clearly. Warm like now; happy unlike now.

"How do you spell that? Casey?" Merkel asks, probably not for the first time, and Casey surfaces, honey-slow in the heat.

"Um, I don't know. Like it's pronounced, I guess. Gabe-- Gabriel Santora."

He looks back at the table. He's having trouble concentrating. He wishes Zeke was here, but the cops had asked him and Delilah to please stay outside the kitchen, this would only take a few minutes. It had taken half an hour so far and Casey's head hurt just a little.

"I need my painkiller," he says. "I have to go."

"Excuse me?" O'Halloran says.

"I'm in pain," Casey says, sharply.

"Just a few more questions if you don't mind." I do mind, Casey thinks. "You can't remember exactly who was in the room?"

"There were a lot of them," Casey says. He tries to force himself to pay attention. This is probably an important interview. But he'd been having a good morning, sun-drenched and slow and sweet.

O'Halloran looks down at his notepad. "Stan Rosado. He came in later?"

Casey wants to bite his nails, but it feels like he's already twitching too visibly. "No, he was there."

"He participated in the attack?"


"He watched?"

"I don't know. I guess. I wasn't paying attention to the ones who weren't all over me." He thinks he remembers Stan looking at him. Sometime before.

"Stan Rosado claims he only came into the shower room to find you after the fact."

They closed the kitchen door. Zeke and Delilah must be piled up just outside, listening. "They're his friends. He was on the team." He almost feels sorry for Stan, who's not really an asshole. Almost. He remembers then, clearly: Stan's face framed by Gabe's arm and someone's shoulder - Lucas's maybe. Casey doesn't think he would have done anything either if their positions were reversed, but he resents it anyway. "He wouldn't rat out his buddies," he says.

He's thirsty suddenly, and the sun is hot on his head. His hair clings to his skull like a tea-cosy and if he doesn't move out of the bright spot, his brain might boil.

He gets up to pour himself a glass of water. He feels their eyes on him, sharp cop eyes checking him out.

"Why did you leave your house?" O'Halloran asks.

Casey drains his glass before he speaks. "I wanted to."

"Trouble at home?"


His head hurts now for real. The headache feels as if it's moving around in his skull, like it's alive and looking for a way out, a weak spot to punch through.

He'd woken up to the knocking. He had no memory of coming here, but he was in Zeke's bed, sandwiched between Zeke and Delilah.

Zeke woke up when Casey pushed himself up. "Hang back," he said and touched Casey's shoulder. "I'll get it."

Casey started to follow him anyway, but he realised then that he was wearing only his boxers and the tape around his ribs. He hurt, of course, and the bruises marched down his body in the shape of feet and fists. He went back to the bedroom to find his clothes. He heard Zeke open the door and a voice he recognised vaguely say "Police."

He pulled on a shirt and a pair of jeans from Zeke's closet. Swore at his own clumsiness when he struggled with the sleeves.

"I was asleep," he heard Zeke say. "No, I don't think I'll let you in."

Casey had to stop to breathe before he left the bedroom. Slow breath. "Just hang on," Zeke said. Slow breath. "What do you want?" Slow breath. "No, I don't think--"

"I'm here," Casey said and went into the hall.


Merkel is flipping through his notebook again. The permafrown is in place. "Your two friends..." he mutters and flips some more. "Zeke Tyler, Delilah Profitt."

There's a pause. Casey stares at his bald patch and waits for a question. He put his painkillers in his jacket pocket, didn't he? He can't remember. Last night is a blur of pain and walking and walking and crying. He can't remember thinking at all.

He blinks and notices that Merkel and O'Halloran are both staring at him.

He stops himself from apologising. "What?" he says instead.

O'Halloran eyeballs him as if he's lying about his 'what'. "We're just trying to figure out how they fit into all this. They were at the scene, weren't they? You seemed confused about this last time we met."

"I was confused last time we met, period," Casey mutters.

"Your mother said you might be here," Merkel says. "That you'd probably be here." Casey waits for a question again, and the cops watch him again. He leans against the counter behind him and waits. He feels strangely calm. His breathing is slow and even, which is a fucking relief because every twitch feels in his ribs.

They'd only asked Zeke and Delilah for their names before they sent them out. Zeke was slit-eyed and contemptuous and unashamedly half-naked. Casey had been horrified for a moment - they're COPS!

"You could start by telling us what your relationship with Zeke Tyler is," Merkel says, finally. "This is his house, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Casey says. Now he's nervous, suddenly. His chest seems to have shrunk two sizes and there's a spike of pain in his side. He wonders if he's going to start hyperventilating and pass out. That'd be classy.

"Casey?" O'Halloran says. "Are you being coerced?"

He jumps, exhales, feels stupid; like he's guilty. Then he feels guilty for acting like he's guilty because he's making it worse. His hands feel weak. His arms shake. "No," he says. He doesn't sound convincing even to himself. "No," he says again. "I wanted to come here. I don't want to leave."

They stare at him in silence. He can hardly lift his arms to cross them. "They're my friends."

"Friends," Merkel says.

Casey thinks they have a plan. They'll keep him here until he just breaks into pieces and tells them everything.

Whatever everything is. They don't need to know about his relationship with Zeke. They don't need to know anything about any of it.

"I need to lie down," he says. He doesn't have to fake the wincing, at least. "I don't feel very good. Is that all?"

"Just a few more things--"

"No," he says, sharper than he wanted to. "I'm going to throw up." He pushes away from the counter and walks across the kitchen floor. The room seems to have grown. He notices that he wasn't lying. He really will throw up; he fights it with teeth on his tongue, picturing other places; trees, plains, dry leaves hanging still in windless air. A high, blue autumn sky with no sun in sight.

"Is it a sexual relationship?" O'Halloran asks, and Casey's pretty sure he's not imagining the sour note in the cop's voice.

He pushes the door open. Zeke and Delilah stand guard outside, quiet and hard-eyed, with no space between them.

"We're trying to help," O'Halloran says behind his back. Casey sways and Zeke grabs his arm. He's still in just his underwear, hasn't taken time to find any clothes, and that gives Casey a sharp little thrill. He thinks the nausea might settle if he could lie down in Zeke's bed and pull the cover over his ears. He walks down the corridor to the bathroom instead, waves Zeke and Delilah off and locks the door behind him.

"Casey, are you okay?" Zeke asks urgently behind the door.

"No," he says. "I will be. I just need--" He regrets locking them out. They could all be in here, hidden and locked away.

Zeke again, angry: "Would you hotshots leave him the fuck alone already?"

Delilah, quickly, soothing: "I really don't think he wants to talk to you anymore. Maybe you could come back later. Postpone this for a few hours?"

"We can wait," one of the cops says. "Casey? Unlock the door."

"Hey, fucking say please," Zeke snarls and Casey wants to slap him for being a stupid fuck and wants to wrap himself around him; wants to throw his aching body against his.

"We'd like a few words with you, too."

"Look," Delilah's saying. "Maybe this can all be--"

"Why so twitchy, Zeke?" Casey can't tell the cops apart from behind the door. Maybe they were both the same person. Clone cops. "You got something to hide?"

And the other one, lowering his voice: "Maybe nothing happened in that shower room."

"Maybe he slipped on the soap."

"Maybe you slapped him around."

"Are you accusing him of something?" Delilah asks brightly. There's a thump on the door, as if someone's shoved against it. Casey presses his ear against it and pretends he can hear Zeke's heartbeats through the wood. He can't, but the thought is romantic, melodramatic, like the thought of Zeke taking a bullet for him.

"Get the fuck out," Zeke says. His voice is very close to Casey's ear.

"We can talk here or we can talk at the station."

"About what, exactly?" Delilah says. She's the only one who still sounds like she has all her marbles in the same bag. The cops' voices are vibrating with eagerness; Zeke's is like a mudslide, anger layered over anger. Casey's hand slides trembling over the doorknob. He breathes shallow and fast, tries not to whimper with each breath.

"Assault, dealing, being a punk ass."

"You got anything more than attitude?" Zeke asks. "Hey! Hands off!" There are more thumps and a muffled voice saying "Don't make us get out the cuffs--" and Casey opens the door.


He wakes up because someone is whispering in his ear. "Casey, Casey, Casey." A warm hand on his side, skin on his skin, skirting the bandage. "Casey, Casey, wakey."

He burrows into the pillow and ignores the hand, ignores the familiar pinch of pain in his ribs.

"Casey, come on. You have to see this. Is that your mother?"

He opens his eyes too wide, too suddenly, and the light stings viciously. Delilah's crouched by his side.

"Is what my mother?" he asks, or tries to. What comes out is a dry whisper. He swallows painfully.

"I just spotted her through the window."

Her hands are gentle on his side, solicitous. Casey the invalid. He leans on her and shuffles into the living room, squinting in the light. What time is it? The cops finally left at one PM and Zeke almost had to carry Casey to bed by then. It's still light now but he feels like he's slept for a hundred years. When he looks out the window, he thinks me might see a scaffold of thorny branches scraping against the glass.

Instead, he sees his mother's little Nissan parked on the side of the street. Mom in the driver's seat, sitting ramrod-straight and staring ahead.

"She's been there half an hour already," Zeke says. Casey turns away from the window. "I don't know what she's doing. Is that what she calls a stakeout?"

"Maybe she's scared of you," Delilah says. "They both think you're the big bad wolf."

"I am the big bad wolf," Zeke says. He touches Casey's shoulder and Casey gives himself five seconds - leans into the touch and breathes slowly - before he ducks under Zeke's arm and goes to find his shoes.


His mother is crying. Casey stands in the shadow of the Gordons's house and watches her, waits for her to notice him. He knows Zeke and Delilah are watching from the window. He told them not to come out. Zeke wanted to. Zeke wants a fight. Casey thinks Zeke'd bitchslap Casey's mother if he got close enough.

He steps out of the shadow and the sun attacks him with harsh brightness. He squints and counts back from ten. She still hasn't noticed him and he decides she's not likely to.

He walks up instead and knocks on the window. "Mom?"

She flinches.

She wipes her face surreptitiously before she turns her face to him. She's still in her office makeup and it's racooned around her eyes. In the midday light, she looks old and haggard. Worn, cheap and boring. She looks like a housewife even though she's not. Casey remembers Zeke's mother; beautiful, vicious and someone who'd never deign to talk to Casey's mother.

She opens the car door. Casey looks at her sad, grooved face and thinks he might be adopted. Hopes it. He used to wish he had a brother or a sister. Now he just wishes he wasn't attached to this family at all.

"I was--" she starts. "How are you, Casey?"

He has no idea what to say to that. "Fine," is an obvious lie. "Like shit," is only half true and he doesn't feel like explaining and she's staring at him as if he might explode in a shower of shrapnel and sparks without warning.

"Won't you come home," she says. "You're not well. We want what's best for you."

He tries to believe her. She wants what's best. She sat outside here, waiting. Like she's afraid...or like she couldn't decide if she really wanted to see him.

"Not now," he says and his voice sounds cutting and harsh in his own ears. In hers too, he thinks, because she starts crying again.

"Where did we go wrong?" she asks, her voice trembling and thin, like an old woman's. He tries to imagine a world where that question isn't a meaningless cliché. "What happened?"

"You fucked up," he says. It isn't supposed to be true. His voice is flat; he can't even imagine what his face looks like. He doesn't feel angry. "You fucked me up. Too late. Your fault."

Her face crumples and he feels a quick flare of satisfaction. She has no defences. He almost wishes she was vicious like Zeke's mother so there would be something to fight, not just this pathetic thing. She never fights back.

She pulls the car door closed and starts the car. He might not look like her, he realises, but he is like her. He stands in the street after she's gone. The sun is bright, but not very warm. It's a dead calm day and the last leaves hang limp and scattered on almost naked branches. Casey scratches his cheek absently and it hurts. He forgot the stitches. It hurt to lift his arm, too.


He pulls the curtains in Zeke's room and crawls into bed again. Staying awake for a second longer seems like unnecessary torture. He can feel them hovering outside the door, like benevolent spirits. It's hard to find a comfortable position. He must have tensed up out there, overtaxed the muscles in his back and chest. He listens to his own breaths, the hiss of inhale, the whoosh of exhale. Amazingly, they stay outside the room. He hears a whisper and a soft thud against the door; they're there, both of them. He listens to his lungs again.

He thinks he should cry, but the window for crying has closed. Even picturing his mother's face with tears running down her cheeks doesn't make him cry. Thinking about the shower room doesn't feel like anything. He'd looked up from the floor with water in his eyes and saw their legs around him, legs and their dicks and their flat stomachs and their broad football player chests. He couldn't see their faces, just blurs of white and brown. And the cops saying, "We're just trying to figure out what really happened," and their eyes on Zeke. "What's still going on."

Casey'd put his hand on Zeke's arm and felt the muscles tighten. He was worried there, for a few dizzy moments, that Zeke would just snap and shoot the cops or something. Worried, maybe. He looked at O'Halloran's suspicious face and Merkel's grumpy, judgmental face and he was worried for Zeke. And throughout, he thought, die, die, die, die.

"You ever done any sports, Zeke?" O'Halloran asked. "Been on the team?"

"No," Zeke said and was perfectly still.


"No," Casey said and was perfectly still.

"You've fingered half the Herrington Hornets here," Merkel had said.

Casey feels the bed move under him. He breathes softly and opens his eyes. Delilah's hair brushes his face. Zeke makes a quiet, muffled noise that Casey recognises. That he misses. Zeke's right beside him, has turned his face to him and stares. Delilah straightens up and then arches back. Casey can see her body outlined against the window. Expensive, glossy porn. Zeke's hands on her waist. He meets Zeke's eyes.

"Casey," Delilah says and moves. Zeke makes that noise again, a little hmmmmm. "Casey," Delilah says and reaches for him. Casey watches her hand, just a black outline in the dark.

He flinches, surprising himself. Hard to breathe again, all the places they broke on him crying out. Reminders.

Delilah and Zeke are frozen. Casey pushes himself up and almost falls off the bed, gets his legs to carry him and staggers a few steps. There's just enough light in the room to see them on the bed, motionless - a statue titled Fuck.

Then they do move, separate and come towards him, still naked and sweat-gleaming, tousled hair and dark eyes. "No," he says before they can touch him.

They stop. Delilah makes a small, frustrated gesture, a half-shrug. Zeke runs his hand through his hair. Casey stares at Zeke's hand and hates how things have changed. When did no start meaning something? Zeke looks almost meek. Almost afraid. Almost--

"Fuck," Zeke says. He straightens his back and his hands curl into fists. "Fuck."

Casey opens his mouth to say something. Zeke spins around and walks out of the room.

"Zeke--" Delilah says and Casey closes his mouth again. He wouldn't have known what to say anyway. There's a crash of breaking glass from the hall. The pain in his chest rises towards his throat, angry hands clawing upwards. He thinks he hears Zeke scream something but it doesn't even sound like English. The room is very dark and it's like the darkness muffles all sounds too, like it eats the sounds and he can't even hear his own breathing, just a black, smothering silence.

Then he can't breathe at all. He chokes and sputters, coughs and fights back. Opens his eyes. The room has changed; the proportions are fucked and everything's in the wrong place. Except Delilah's face right in front of his eyes.

"Fuck, Casey, would you knock it off?" she says. He can feel carpet under his back. Gravity is a blanket weight on his chest and arms and legs. He's lying down, flat on the floor. Delilah hovers above him and somewhere behind her, above her, Casey can see Zeke move restlessly. "You were hyperventilating like a teenager at a Backstreet Boys concert."

She's smiling, just barely, a little crooked Delilah-smile, but her voice has a tremble and a crack in it. He swallows. "What did you do?"

"You wanna get up?" She offers him a hand.

The floor feels safe and solid. "No," he says. She sits down next to him. She looks a little cold now.

"You wanna stay on the floor?"

"Yeah," he says. He can almost see her fighting down something sarcastic. That feels wrong, like Zeke backing off feels wrong. He stares at the ceiling for a while, but soon his eyelids feel heavy again and he lets them fall shut.

"I want to kill something," Zeke says somewhere far away.

"Not now," Delilah whispers, very close to Casey, almost inside his head. She fades to nothing. He stares up at faces in helmets, behind visors. He can't recognise any of them, even though he knows he should.

"Gabe Santora," he tells the cops, "Lucas Bronheim, Jon Raymond, Jarr Hatton, Gordon Mannheim--" He should know their faces but they're all strangers. "Are you sure?" Merkel says. "This is half the football team."

"We have to do it now," he says. "Soon." He opens his eyes and he's still on the floor, covered in a blanket. There's a pillow under his head.

"Do what?" Delilah says. She's sitting on the bed, wearing one of Zeke's shirts and her own pants. Zeke is on the floor, leaning against her leg.

"Go after Gabe," Zeke says. Maybe he had the same dream, Casey thinks. His body aches dully in too many places to differentiate. Just a whole-body pain, wholesale suffering. When he tries to sit up, it all converges in his chest and he has to remind himself to breathe. He can't remember when he last took his painkillers. Now might be a good time.

"What do you want to do?" Zeke asks. He hasn't moved. Neither of them has. Casey wants to press his hands against his aching chest - they move up already, reflexively - like pushing at the pain would help. He wants hands on him.

"I want," he says, a little breathlessly because he still doesn't always remember to pull in new breaths. "I want them to pay." He's not sure he believed he'd want that. Now that he's said it, he knows better. "I want him to pay."

Zeke moves. Just a few feet between them but it seems too far to bridge. Zeke reaches for Casey. "How?" he asks. He's pulled his legs under him into a crouch.

"I don't know," Casey says, "I don't know, I've never--" Zeke's hand closes on his arm. "Your gun," Casey says when Zeke reels him in, half-carefully. "I'd make him suck it. I want to blow his head off but maybe it's not." It's hard to breathe again, but easy at the same time. Zeke's fingers dig hard into his bruised arms. "--necessary."

Zeke's breath is hot on his face, but it's Delilah who says, "Who cares about necessary? He fucking pissed on you." A cold shiver runs through Casey and slumps in Zeke's grip. "Destroy him." Delilah probably wants it for herself, he thinks. Delilah in the hall with Gabe's arm around her waist. Who needs logic when you have anger?

Zeke leans in and kisses him hard. Casey doesn't flinch. He opens his mouth for Zeke and the cold shiver melts into heat. He runs out of breath but he doesn't care. Zeke has clamped onto his arms and isn't letting go, like Casey might - ha ha ha - run away. That should have been clear a long time ago; there's nowhere to run. This is where he runs, Zeke's hands and tongue and teeth and Delilah's hungry eyes. His lungs twitch and he has to pull in a breath of damp, recycled air that feels as crisp and fresh as a lungful of cool tundra air far from interstates and smokestacks. Zeke's somehow pulled him into his lap and Casey's chest burns. He snaps for air and gets Zeke's mouth again, and a mouthful of hair, long black hair. He turns his head blindly to Delilah, her fingers on his lips, her hair twined round them. "Not kill," she whispers. "Destroy."

"Kneecaps?" Zeke whispers. Casey leans back, pressure on his tired arms, Zeke's vicelike grip. He tries to imagine Gabe's face. Zeke with a tire iron, it'd be quick and vicious. Casey couldn't. He'd miss and make a mess of it. He leans back more and they follow him all the way to the floor. There are hands on his legs, teeth on his throat. "I'd disembowel him." Zeke's voice is a low buzz against Casey's skin.

"The fucker," Delilah says. Her hair is gone from Casey's face, just Zeke's rough bristles against his cheek now. Delilah's hands are stroking his legs, he thinks, it must be hers because Zeke is holding his face and tilting his chin up and nipping at his collarbone. "You should piss on him. You should cut up his face and piss in the wounds, Casey."

Casey only gasps because she's slipped cool fingers under the waistband of his pants, no, into his fly, she's unzipped and she's pushing his pants down. He didn't even notice. Zeke nips hard on a spot on his chest, close to somewhere sore and broken, almost too close but not quite. He can't close his mouth anymore, the air is too heavy to breathe. He can see Gabe on his knees, almost, almost, but he doesn't know how to get there. It makes him tremble, just the thought of it. Want, want, want but he can't see himself there.

Zeke could do it and not feel a single touch of fear but Casey's already afraid, even when Zeke bites again - a good-bye bite - and slithers down his body. Casey hears himself whimper. Zeke's mouth is hot and fast and ruthless. "I want--" he gasps, "I want to." His hips jerk up and it hurts everywhere and he can't stop it. Delilah leans over him. Her eyes are completely black in the dark.

"Whatever you want, Casey," she says.

He doesn't know. Right now, he doesn't want anything more than to lie here and turn the pain into something good and hot and right. He's only touched Zeke's gun once. He thought he'd never want to do it again.

Delilah's hair feathers over his face again, cobwebs, silk, butterflies. "Not alone," she says. Duh. "You don't have to do it alone," she says. Zeke pushes his hand between Casey's legs and his reply, not quite thought out anyway, comes out as a moan.

He tried to grab their legs, he remembers, to pull them off balance. To scratch them and somehow make them fucking stop, but they were slippery with water and soap and his fingers slid over their skin without doing any harm. None of them bent down so he could reach their faces, claw at their eyes. He couldn't throw a single punch, even though he remembers with photographic clarity what it felt like to pound Gabe's face in. He doesn't think he can do it again.

He throws his head back too fast, it hurts, but he cries out because he's running with heat, the worst aches are blazing with heat, Zeke's fingers and tongue are like acid burns on his skin. He could, he could, he could do something if he had a plan, a plan, a gun, enough hate - he has years of it, listed alphabetically in his head.

He lifts his hand, first the broken one but he remembers and lets it fall back to the floor. The other one then, his fingers in Delilah's thick, satin-glossy hair, pulling her down. She comes freely - she doesn't like having her hair tugged, but he's not going to care because she comes to him and there is no sarcastic little smile on her face, just her black eyes and her lips parted for a kiss.

"Are you sure?" the cops asked him more times than he remembers, like they thought he was still concussion-confused and forgetting. Now he's sure enough. His t-shirt is damp and tight around him, soaked with sweat because he's so hot he thinks he might be steaming.

He just stops trying not to and bucks up and opens his mouth against Delilah's and screams it out.

There's a second, what feels like a second but it might be more, of darkness and silence and then weak light and Delilah's voice in his ear. "I'm gonna love every second of it." Zeke's eyes are as dark as hers, dark and gleaming. His mouth tastes of come. Casey slips out of the kiss and into sleep. On his painfully heaving chest, Delilah's hand is curled around Zeke's fingers.


"I hope you're feeling better," Principal Drake says. "Do you have any idea when you'll be coming back to school?"

"No," Casey says. She taps her fingers on the desk.

"What a mess this is, Casey." She smiles, a small sad smile. What a mess, what a mess. Casey looks at her fingers. She uses very dark red nail polish. "I'm very sorry that you were hurt. I can't tell you how sorry I am."

He can hear the but... coming a mile away. He heard it when his mother called Zeke's house to tell him they had an appointment with the Principal.

"You've had...disagreements with Gabe in the past." She's still smiling a little. "Your mother has told me about your friends."


"Let's just say that I've had my disagreements with Zeke in the past."

"Yeah? He's had disagreements with the entire faculty."


There's a pause, as if she's trying to drop a hint. Casey sits still. He's a lot less twitchy these days. It's easier to stop yourself from squirming when squirming brings nasty stinging chestpain. Easier to walk tall when slouching brings nasty stinging chestpain - he walked through the hall up to the principal's office between Zeke and Delilah. It might have been one of those moments in a lifetime drama when the soundtrack swells in the background and the put-upon hero lifts his head for the first time. It could have been, but Gabe was there with his parents, outside the door. Casey had to look down or give himself away. Gabe sneered and Casey looked away. He felt Delilah grab Zeke's arm behind his back.

"Casey?" He looks up and realises he's zoned her out entirely. "The boys you named are denying all charges, you realise."

He nods carefully. His parents had showed up after a few minutes and it was a fucking zoo. If he hadn't been so uncomfortable, he might have thought it was funny. Delilah and Zeke were eyeballing Gabe, Gabe was staring at Casey, Gabe's parents were staring at Casey's parents, Casey's parents were staring at Zeke and Delilah. Casey'd stared at the floor and thought about knives.

"So we have a little problem. You're accusing them of attacking you unprovoked, they're accusing you of attacking them."

He blinks. That was original. "So they broke my ribs in self-defence?"

"You broke Gabe's nose earlier this year," she says. "I'll be straight with you. Incidents like this are not good for the school."

"Oh," he says. He knew this was coming but it's still kind of amazing to sit here and actually hear her say it. He wonders what she told Gabe. "There are witnesses," he says, keeping his voice soft.

She leans forward. He used to have a little crush on her a few years ago, just a side gig to the big obsession with Delilah. Delilah seemed too close, too important to use for crude sexual fantasies. He had one about Drake's desk, being caught between her legs and finding out what she wore or didn't wear under those immaculate skirts. There's still a little memory of that whistling in the back of his head. He wonders if she realises what effect she has on the male population in the school.

Probably. No doubt. "Gabe took Stanley's place as captain of the team. Zeke... he's hardly someone you want to drag into a courtroom. And Delilah." She pauses and tilts her head a little, looking at him with birdlike intention. "You know, I still don't know how Delilah figures into this. The detectives don't seem to, either."

"She doesn't--"

"Gabe's girlfriend? Zeke's girlfriend? Your girlfriend? I'm curious, Casey."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"Connect the dots, Casey," she says. She's still leaning forward, her mouth a little pursed, her eyes soft. I want to help you, her body tells him. He doesn't trust it. "Trials are public and unpleasant. Your parents just want you to stop getting into trouble. You just want to be left alone, I'm sure. Gabe and his friends just want to play ball. What does Delilah want? All that speculation."

She's caught his eyes and she knows how to hold them. When she got the job as principal, he remembers, everyone seemed to think the happy days were here. The old principal was a hardass. By now, everyone knows Drake is a hardass too.

"What do you want me to do?" he says, only half-reluctantly. It's almost a relief to have it over with. Her eyes crinkle when her smile widens.


The room outside her office is a war zone under ceasefire. His parents get up when he comes through the door, and Gabe's parents do the same. They look like decent folk, plain and ordinary like his own parents. Gabe's mother wears a hideous purple suit. Casey thinks his own mother would have complimented it under different circumstances.

Gabe meets his eyes. Casey stops for a second because he can't look away now. Heat creeps up his back. He wonders if he's blushing, what that looks like to Gabe. His palms are sweaty and there's a creak in his legs when he moves, like he actually froze for a second and is thawing slowly in the heat. Gabe blinks and breaks eye contact, but when Casey passes him, he moves closer and says, sotto voce, "See you in school, Casey."

"See you in school, Gabe," Delilah shoots back when Casey is trying to speak through the heat. Zeke snickers.

"Casey--" his mother says but Casey walks past her out into the hall again, Zeke and Delilah right behind him. It's cooler there, easier to breathe.

Delilah puts her hand on his shoulder and when he turns his head towards her, she leans in and kisses him. He thinks maybe he actually hear the string score swell then, when people around them do almost cartoonish double-takes. Zeke's laughing behind them.

Delilah's smile is whip-sharp. "We need a plan," she says.