Title: Which road will you take?
Fandom: The Faculty
Characters: Casey / Zeke
Word Count: 8046
Disclaimer: not mine, of course
Notes 1: english is not my first language, so this might be not perfect but it's fun
Notes 2: warning, because some dark stuff is mentioned
Zeke started to skim over the report in the magazine again. He did barely understand what he was reading, his eyes wandered much too often to the photo at the end of the article. A picture which showed two reporters together with the photographer who had accompanied them to Africa, right into the middle of the conflict area.
Casey. How much he had changed since he had left Ohio behind. At Highschool he had been a skinny boy with wide Jeans and stupid, checked shirts his mother used to buy him. Insecure, though wildly resolved to make his way. Today he wore top labels, well fit, muted colors and expensive; he looked confident and strong. At least at formal occasions like the press reception where this photo had been taken.
It was not the first time that he had aroused public interest. Since he had left College and started to work for the well-known news magazine he had gotten a lot of awards for his pics. Though it always made him cringe to look at these photos, Zeke knew it was deserved. Casey's pictures were unique.
Zeke had never lost track of him. He bought every magazine, kept them safe in a box in his pantry. Sometimes he pulled them out just to look at his pictures. Almost embarrassing how sentimental he could get when it came to Casey. It were over six years now since their ways had parted. And he still missed the old times.
The last year at Highschool. The best one. After MaryBeth. The incident with the alien queen had changed his life. Previously hadn't known much more about Casey than his name though he shared some classes with him. Most of the others called him a loser, ignored him, laughed about him, some of them gave him a really hard time. But he never complained, came to school every day, was one of the best students.
Zeke didn't look twice at him, he had his own problems. His parents were somewhere in Europe, he hadn't seen them for almost a year. The others envied him for his freedom. A house all for him alone, a car, every weekend wild parties and another girl in his bed. What did they actually know? He had to do everything alone, cooking, laundry, shopping. When there was money enough for it. When his parents didn't forget to send the monthly check. The parties? The girls? Sometimes he was so sick of it, but he was much more afraid of being alone ... alone in the great house with nothing else but a TV and a radio around to amuse him.
MaryBeth changed everything. Sometimes he was almost grateful that she had appeared at Herrington High, that she wanted to take over control over the school, the town, maybe the whole world. She was almost successful. Had taken over the teachers, most of the students, only a few of them were still fighting her. At the end it had been Casey who had stopped her, who had stuck a pen full of Scat right into her eye.
For a few weeks Casey had been the hero of school. Gabe suddenly acted like his best friend and Delilah told everyone that he was the boy she had always secretly loved. Then it was over. Left it to Casey and Zeke. Sometimes Stan and Stokes joined them, good friends now, yes, but their love was still so young, often enough they preferred to be alone.
Zeke didn't mind. Casey and he had a lot in common, they liked the same books, the same movies, they loved pizza from Joey's and Thai from diner at the Mall. And they could talk, for hours, all night long, about serious themes and silly stuff. No secrets between them. They could laugh or just sit there and keep quiet.
And sometimes they argued. Once they didn't talk to each other for almost a week. Casey knew to avoid him … even though all Zeke wanted was to apologize. No, he actually didn't feel guilty, it had been just a stupid fight about a book. The new bestseller from a young author everyone talked about. Casey acted as if he would be a god but Zeke had stated even a student from a junior high school would be able to write better stuff. He should have known better.
Then, out of the blue, Casey was back. With a pizza and a coke in his hands he stood in front of his door and smirked apologizing.
„Come on in, you little shit,“ Zeke had growled … with a wide smile on his face.
He would never forget Casey's hilarious laughter. How much he had missed it. How much he had missed everything. His endless bubbling about his beloved photography. The way he cowered in front of the TV when a movie got a bit too scary for him. His big blue eyes which could sparkle so happy ... and angry ... and sad. His nearness, his warmth. Zeke's whole body was buzzing with excitement when he thought about him. This was a new feeling, different from all the flirting, kissing, sex he had with the girls. Casey … he was a guy and Zeke had never thought about guys in this way ... but it didn't matter at all ...
He already knew for some time that Casey was gay. It had been one of their long movie nights, they had had a few beers and talked a lot stupid stuff when Zeke had started to tease him about Marie, one of the girls from his art course.
„Oh, stop it!“
Casey had rolled with his eyes.
„She's just a friend!“
„Maybe?! Casey, Casey, I'm starting to worry. You will be the only guy who ends Highschool still as a virgin!“
Casey had blushed slightly but shook his head.
„Hm? Don't tell me … oh god, not Delilah ?!“
Casey had laughed out loud.
„No, not her. She was more interested in my fame but in me. Even her kisses were just a show.”
„So, who is it? C'mon, tell me! Who's the girl you keep secret from me?“
He had looked at him with dark blue eyes.
„His name was Aaron,“ he had told him.
„I met him last summer at science camp.“
Not much could surprise Zeke but he had never expected that. But after the first shock he could laugh about it. Casey was his best friend … what did it matter, if he liked girls or other guys?
Zeke smiled slightly while thinking back. His best friend. During their last year at school, during their last summer together. He had remained to be his best friend. Zeke had never talked about his feelings. What did he actually know? He wanted him, he dreamed about him. But how far was he ready to go? Casey wanted something serious, no one night stand, a guy to share his life with. Zeke didn't even knew if he actually was gay. Maybe it was just the thrill of something new. What if he couldn't bear it? Too much nearness. Too much feelings. What when he was not able to give Casey what he deserved? When he would leave him one day, run away like a coward?
And it was not even sure if Casey shared his feelings. Maybe Zeke was just a good friend him, a straight friend. Just because he was gay didn't mean that he could picture Zeke as his boyfriend, his lover.
Or … the best case, he did feel the same, they would come together … how long could it last? Casey had dreams. College. A job as a photo reporter He was good, brilliant even. He would make his way. And Zeke? Zeke would stay behind. He knew he had thrown away his chance to go to College ages ago. Not that he did mind. He already had other future plans. But it meant that he would have to stay here in Herrington. While Casey would go to College in New York. Jet around the world from one job to the other. Together … but separated. Unthinkable for Casey. Zeke knew him well enough, he would look for another solution, College in Columbus and a small local paper nearby. It would have been selfish to stop him to go his way ...
Now, six years later, Zeke had found his place in life. A bar in Herrington, Coyote Ugly, like the bar in the movie he could watch again and again. A small one only and the people who came here regularly, for a beer after work or a few games of billiard on the weekends had almost become friends. It didn't leave him much free time. Every morning he kept the books and did the shopping, from evening until late in the night he was standing behind the bar. But he didn't mind, he liked this way of life.
Casey? Zeke looked back to the photo in the magazine. He had made his way too, that was for sure, though it was not the way Zeke had wished for him. He had always pictured him working for a nature magazine or an art gallery, making people wonder about the beauty in the world. But Casey had always been good for a surprise.
When he had told him almost in passing about his job at the news magazine he hadn't been sure what this meant. Then the shock when he saw the first pictures. He had stared at them and tried to understand. They were not perfect. Slightly blurred. Some of them too dark. The perspective was not the best. But they reflected the horror of the unknown place somewhere at Middle East. Men with guns. Crying people, trying to escape. Their small village bursted into flames. This was what Casey wanted to do? He could barely breath when he tried to picture the panic Casey must have felt at a place like this.
Time went on, weeks, months. More reports followed, from other places all over the world. War. Rebellion. Natural Disaster. Casey and his team were always on the scene to report first-hand. His photos started to change. He found back to his old perfection, was even better than before. Though Zeke wondered if people actually wanted to see pics like that, pictures which threw the truth right into their face, in a way he had never seen it before.
The first award Casey got soon enough did proof him wrong. Followed by TV appearances and a first exhibition. Zeke hadn't wanted to go but he did anyway. The atmosphere was somehow strange. Overdressed people with glasses of soda and champagne, talking, laughing even.
The pics, colored and old fashioned black and white ones, high quality, some of them detailed enlargements. The horror they told about. The mercilessness of the soldier who aimed his gun at the helpless body of a young man, almost still a child. The old man, cowering on the roof of his house, the last safe place amidst the almost black floods which had been a small river only a few days ago. The fear in the eyes of the children, no matter where at the world, not able to understand all the horror which happened around them.
The interview with Casey they had shown on a great screen. He looked serious but calm.
„I want to thank all of you for coming,“ he said.
„This means a lot for me. It tells me that I'm doing a good job.
My pictures are for people like you. People who don't look away. People who want to know what's going on in the world. People who want to change something.“
He smiled. And Zeke smiled back at the TV screen.
„I do believe in all of you. There is this Aids Camp for Children in Somalia we made a photo report about last month. I did spend all the money I got for my last award for these children. But it's not enough, look at these pictures and you will know, it's never enough!“
It followed a slideshow of pictures, taken at the camp. Finally the people around kept quiet, staring at the screen in front of them.
„You little shit,“ Zeke had thought while he got out his wallet like most of the others around him.
„You got them all!“
It had been reassuring to see him that way. He had wondered all the time if Casey was strong enough for a life like this, but obviously it was what he wanted to do. It was still hard when he thought about all the danger and horror Casey was into every day but all he could do was to accept that he was moving.
Until today. Zeke knew well enough why he couldn't turn the eyes away from the photo in the magazine. Not the designer jeans made Casey look changed. Maybe he could fool others with his smile but Zeke could read the desperation and deep sadness in his eyes. Like a cry for help.
Four weeks later Zeke was standing at the airport of Columbus. Casey's flight was belated. He had smoked countless cigarettes and had had some coffee. Since the phone call three days ago he had barely slept, but he didn't feel tired at all.
„Hey, Mrs. C. It's been a while since we've talked. How are you doing?”
„We are fine, thanks. Just … the Audi again. It broke down yesterday, just when I wanted to go to the Mall.”
“Probably the fuel pump again. I've already told you last time you should better replace it.”
“I know, I know, Mr. C. has already called the garage this morning. Problem is, they need to order the pump and Casey is coming home on Wednesday.”
His almost jumped up. Casey ... back home. Since … how long was it that he had met him last time? Last year around Christmas he had been at Herrington for some days. But his mother had demanded most of his attention. There hadn't been much time to hang out with friends.
“I could pick him up at the airport,” he had suggested.
And here he was. Nervous like a teenager before his first date. Which was ridiculous. But he couldn't help it. Casey was coming home. Finally the flight was announced. Zeke stubbed out his cigarette and stared down the way he knew Casey would come from. It seemed to be an eternity. Then he noticed him, with a rolling suitcase and a traveling bag over his shoulder. It looked as if he wanted to stay a bit little longer this time.
Casey waved at him.
„So great to see you!”
Ignoring the suitcase and the bag he threw his arms around Zeke and squeezed him hard. Zeke answered the embrace, not caring what other people might think about them. Casey felt more skinny than before, and when he finally let him go he noticed his pale face. Though he smiled he looked tired. But probably it was just the long flight, the jet lag.
„Come on, let's get you home,“ he said and reached for the suitcase.
„Time for some rest. You look like shit.“
„Oh! Thank you.“
Casey chuckled and followed him to the parking lot. Luckily Zeke had found a free space near the entrance, insanely expensive but now he was thankful for it.
„Still the good old lady, huh?“
„Call me sentimental. It needs a fortune to keep her in good shape but I can't help it, I love this car.”
Zeke unlocked the GTO and while he put the luggage into the trunk, Casey got into it. He leaned back into the seat, closed his eyes and sighed.
“God, how much I miss this sometimes,” he murmured.
“Think, you will have some free time to hang out? Maybe we can invite Stan and Stokes too. Can't wait to meet the love-birds again.”
Zeke stopped shot. What was that? He tried to avoid to be alone with him? But maybe he was just overreacting, he really needed to calm down before he said something stupid. He nodded.
„Sure. If your mom is willing to let you go for a while.”
„She's already planned a big welcome party. Invited half of the neighborhood beside of my grandparents, some uncles and aunts. I really wish I could avoid this, but she would be so disappointed.”
Zeke wanted to respond something when he noticed that Casey started to drift of. Thoughtful he watched him. He still looked so young. So vulnerable. Hard to imagine that this was the same daring man who was jetting across the globe from one conflict area to the other. Suddenly Zeke felt the urge to protect him. He had been sure to be over his feelings for Casey, he was still a good friend, yes, and they shared a past. But not the future. Casey had chosen a way which had let him away from his old life. Zeke had his bar, his own little world. Now he realized that he had only fooled himself. He would never love someone as much as he loved Casey.
At the end he turned the key and left the parking lot. It lasted barely one hour until they stopped in front of the Conner's house. Casey yawned and blinked. For a moment he stared at Zeke as if he couldn't remember what he was doing here. Then he chuckled.
„Sorry. I was so worn out!”
He would have said more, but this moment the door opened and Mrs. Connor hurried down the way. Casey was pulled into her arms as if she never wanted to let him go again. Zeke felt slightly uncomfortable when he heard her suppressed sniffing. Emotional releases like that had never been his cup of tea.
Casey's voice sounded almost too cheery.
„If I make you cry, maybe it's better when I'm leaving again.”
„Finally you are here,“ she said and tried to find back her balance.
“It was about time. I know, it's your job, but this magazine asks for too much.”
“Don't worry, mom, this time I can stay for a while.”
Mrs. Connor smiled wide. She didn't notice the dark shades crossing Casey's face. But Zeke did and he knew Casey tried to hide something.
„C'mon in. I've made Red Snapper and Avocadosalat for dinner, I hope you still like this? Zeke, if you want to join us ...”
He shook his head.
„No, thanks. The bar, you know. It will get busy tonight. Wednesday Special, you pay for one drink and get another one for free.“
Casey smiled at him.
„So, you made it, huh? Your own bar, I can't wait to see it.”
„Come by whenever you want. I guess there is a lot to talk about.”
For a second Casey frowned, but then he nodded.
“I'm gonna call you!”
Two weeks later at Coyote Ugly. They were sitting at a small table in the back of the bar, together with Stan and Stokes. Like Zeke the couple had turned down the invitation to Casey's welcome party. All they had wanted was to hang out together, like they had done it ages before.
Zeke lent back onto his chair, barely listening to the stories Casey told about his job. It was hard to believe, that it was already six years ago when he been the bad boy from Herrington High and sold porn and beer at the school's parking lot. Stokes was known as a lesbian gothic-bitch, Stan was dreaming about a sports scholarship and a career as a quarterback in one of the great clubs. Casey experimented with the old camera his grandpa had given him, his first steps into the world of photography.
How much all their lives had changed. Stan was working at a bank in Columbus while Stokely stayed at home with their little daughter. Sometimes she published short stories at a small SF magazine. Zeke was the owner of a bar and he had finally settled down. He still liked to flirt but whenever a girl asked for more he said no. Sometimes he visited a club nearby, sometimes he met a nice guy, but he was to busy with the bar for a serious relationship.
Non of them had a reason to complain about life, but only Casey's dreams had come true. He was a well known photo reporter and finally got the all the attention he deserved. TV shows. Exhibitions. A successful young man. But a happy one?
Zeke eyed him thoughtfully and he couldn't help it. Something was wrong with him. He talked about his job as if it was a great adventure. Visiting foreign countries. Working together with reporters who sometimes could get a bit rough, but you could count on them when it mattered. Casey told anecdotes about all the fun they had together … but no word about all the cruelties he was confronted with day in day out. The pain, the blood, the death he captured in his pictures. Nothing. As if he tried to hide this side of his life behind a big, gray wall. But this was not Casey anymore. He had always been a caring, empathetic guy. Honest against others and himself. Even if most of his classmates called him a stupid geek, he had never tried to be someone else. Today he laughed too much, he talked too loud, he drunk, not only beer and smoked almost like a chain.
When Stan chuckled and teased him with it he narrowed his eyes and stared at him. It was almost scaring how cold his eyes could look like.
„When you end up somewhere at a godforsaken place there is not much you can do beside of smoking, drinking … or looking for some pleasure with a cheap hooker. Believe me, smoking and drinking are the better decision.”
It was around ten o'clock when Stan and Stokes said goodbye.
„We would like to stay a bit longer,“ Stokes said, looking apologetic.
„But our babysitter stepped in on short notice though she tomorrow has a test at school. I've promised her that it doesn't get too late.“
Zeke walked them out to their car. Stan hesitated before getting in.
“Maybe you should find some time to talk with him.”
“Hm? What do you mean?”
“You must have noticed it that he just puts on a show. I can still remember his first interviews, it was amazing how open he could talk about his work. Today he almost gets aggressive when you ask him about it. Something is going with him. And I guess he could need a good talk with a friend.”
Zeke sighed. So it was not just him who had noticed Casey's strange behavior.
“He's one of the most stubborn guys I know. If he don't want to talk he won't! He was always good with it to keep things for himself.”
Stan smiled slightly.
“But if someone can make him talk it's you. He's always trusted you more then anyone else.”
Zeke waved them goodbye and went back into the bar. Just to find Casey with another drink in front of him. Maybe this was the most disturbing fact. Zeke did see people sitting in his bar often enough, having a drink, two, three. Night after night, trying to fight their problems with too much booze. It was always just a short escape. The day would come and you either needed to find another way to get on with your life … or the decline was inevitable.
„Zeke? Do you have a moment?“
He looked up. Michelle, the young student who helped him out regularly, waved at him. There was a young guy in front the bar counter, he had put on his best poker face. Despite his own problems Zeke chuckled inwardly. Oh, that again.
“I will be back soon enough,” he murmured to Casey, then went over to the counter.
„Hey, name is Zeke. I'm the owner of this bar. What's the matter?”
“What kind of bar is this,” the young guy spat.
“She refused to give me my beer.”
„He say's, he's twenty-two,” Michelle throw in.
“Hm, I see. Do you have an ID card?”
„Sure. And I've already given it to her!”
He got louder now. But there was a slightly nervous vibration in his voice Zeke could read well enough.
“Obviously she is too dumb to ...”
Zeke narrowed his eyes. Enough was enough.
“Hey, slow down, okay,” he said with a strict voice.
“I guess you don't mind to give it to me again!”
The guy shrugged and threw the document on the counter. Zeke reached for it. Jason Winston, born 4/15/1982 in Columbus. He laughed slightly while giving it back.
„What do you mean?“
„I will give you a good advice: Next time better look twice before threw your money down the drain. This thing is shit. And now you should better go home, before I need to call your parents.”
The boy turned red and rushed out of the bar, without even bothering with his ID Card. Zeke went back to Casey and dropped down onto his chair.
“What a little shit,” he laughed.
“Thinks he can fool me with this poorly faked ID.”
To his surprise Casey giggled hilariously. So good to hear. How much he had missed this.
“So finally it has been good for something that you was the bad boy from Herrington.”
Casey looked around in the bar, still smiling.
“But I always kept faith with you. I knew one day you would find your way against all odds. Your own bar. That's so cool.”
“With a little help,” Zeke admitted.
“Some time ago I received a payout from a fund my grandma set up for me ages ago. Big surprise, I didn't even know about it. The bar was in a bad condition, I could get it for a very low price. It was a hell of a lot work but it was worth it. This is my world, you know, a place where I belong to. I've never had something like that before.”
“Oh, I get that! I can still remember my graduation day at College. It was as if the whole world was open for me. There was nothing what could stop me ...”
Then it was over, the mood changed again. Casey sighed and stared at the table. Zeke eyed him thoughtfully.
“What's happened, Case,” he asked softly.
“What do you mean?”
“Your dreams. What has become of it?”
“Why do you ask?”
His voice had this slightly aggressive undertone again.
“I am what I always wanted to be. A well-known photographer.”
“And you are happy with your life? With what you do?”
“How could I not?”
Casey snorted annoyed.
“I earn a shitload of money. People finally respect me. Do you know how it feels when everyone always laughs about you? When the only one who notices you is a fucking jock who likes to smash you into the flagpole every morning.
Nowadays? I already was invited to Letterman's Late Show. Can you imagine that? Me, Casey Connor, the most embarrassing geek from Herrington High meets David Letterman.
All my dreams are coming true. I can't imagine to do anything else.”
His voice got louder, he was gesticulating with his hands. Other guests in the bar turned their head and stared at them. But Zeke couldn't care less.
“Case,” he interrupted him.
“Stop trying to fool me. You're not okay! Maybe you can tell your mom, I'm afraid she will believe whatever you tell her, because she wants to believe.
But I know you better then anyone else. You've changed, Casey, and I don't like what I see. You are aggressive. You are evasive. You drink too much ...”
It was not a big surprise that Casey jumped up but Zeke flinched when he threw a handful dollars onto the table and yelled.
“Oh, I get it. You want me to pay for it? Fine! I don't need your handout.”
Without even bothering with his jacket he rushed out of the bar.
Zeke squeezed his eyes shut, not knowing what to do. He could run after him and make a fool out of himself. Or he could let him go. … No! No, he couldn't. Casey had always been there for him and now he needed help for himself. At least he needed to make sure that he got home safe. Zeke turned around and reached for his old, well-worn leather jacket.
“Hey, Michelle,” he said to the young woman behind the counter who was looking at him with curious eyes.
“Think it's okay when I'm gonna leave you alone for a while? I will be back as soon as possible.”
He had never asked for this before. Was always the first in the bar and the last one who left it. Michelle nodded without hesitating.
“Sure thing. Everything okay with your friend?”
“Stress with the job. All he needs is a break to find back to himself again.”
“'kay. I hope you can help him with that.”
Zeke had always been a speedy driver and he knew every back-road in Herrington. So it was not a big surprise that he did arrive at the Conner's house long before the cap Casey had taken home. When he noticed him waiting only a stones throw from the driveway, Casey glared at him.
„What the hell are you doing here?“
„I just wanted to make sure that you get home safely.“
„Well, I'm fine,“ Casey snapped.
„So can you please get off my back now? I'm tired!“
Casey made a few steps toward the house when Zeke stopped him again.
„I'm not the only one who worries about you. Stan noticed it too!“
„That something is going on with you. That you try to hide something.“
„Bullshit! Stan is just jealous of my life. Because I get what he always wanted – fame and attention.“
Zeke took a deep breath, fighting with the urge to explode.
„If you could hear yourself talking,“ he murmured.
Casey shrugged as if he didn't care. Zeke sighed and turned back to the GTO. There was nothing he could do here anymore for the moment. But when Casey entered the porch an idea crossed his mind.
„You should better not go in there,“ he said, loud enough for Casey to understand the words.
„You should better not go in now and run into your Mom. Maybe you could fool her all over the time, but today even she will notice that you are in a fucking bad state. If you ask me, it's high time that she gets her wake-up call.“
Casey stopped in every movement. Suddenly he looked so small and helpless. It was hard to endure to see him like that. No one Zeke knew had ever been able to break him.
“But I'm fine,“ Casey protested though his weak voice called him a lair.
„All I need is a little break. The last trip … was hard.”
Finally a fragment of the truth. Zeke knew there was even more. But this was not the right place for such a talk.
„C'mon, Case, let's split. Before they notice us. Unless you prefers to be alone with your mom. Maybe she's able to get through your shell."
Casey took a deep breath and stared at him.
“I can't tell her,” he murmured.
“She will never get to know about all that!”
Like a robotic he finally got into the GTO. Zeke decided not to go back to the bar with him. Michelle would be able to make the last hour alone, only a few customers had still been around and most of them Zeke knew well, nice guys, mostly students from the nearby college, friends of Michelle. No need to worry.
The place he was thinking about was a little lake in the woods nearby. He hadn't been there for ages but he still knew the way off pat. It had been a sanctuary for Casey and him, after Mary Beth. When the whole world seemed to be turned around. Casey's mom wanted to know him safe round the clock and barely let him leave the house on his own. Reporters followed them where ever they went. Delilah's love for Casey turned out to be more the love for his fame. All they wanted was to leave all this behind. Running away was not an option, not for Casey. But one day they did find this hidden lake. The shore was littered with stones. The undergrowth was dense and thorny. No one else liked to come here. But Zeke did remember what Casey once had said.
“It's the only place in the world where I can be just myself.”
Zeke stopped at the little clearing near the lake. Casey refused to open his eyes, though Zeke was sure that he was awake. But as much as he wanted answers, he knew better than to force it. Casey would talk when he was ready for it.
After a while of smoking and silence Zeke left the GTO. When he came back just a moment later with two sodas he could hear Casey chuckling slightly.
“Some things never change. There was not much you couldn't find in your trunk.”
“You can never know for what it is good for!”
Zeke smiled back.
He grabbed for the soda and bit his lower lip.
“For all, I guess.”
„That's what friends are for.”
It was almost dark in the GTO, just the moon shone a bit light on them. But Zeke could read his face anyway.
„I'm afraid I was not a good friend lately,” Casey murmured.
“It must be an eternity since we've talked for the last time. I'm too busy with jetting around the world. No time to bother with friends or family. I even forgot to call at my mom's birthday.”
„Well, maybe a little break is not the worst idea,” Zeke dared to threw in.
Silence for a while.
Halting, whispering, barely to understand.
“I just don't know how long it will last!”
Zeke always felt uneasy when it came to emotional releases. It started with a few choked sobs, but it ended with Casey's body shaking all over, tears streaming over his face. Zeke cursed inwardly while he put his arms around his shoulders to hold him. Why no one had noticed it before that Casey was in such a bad state was beyond him.
At the end the tears started to dry and Casey freed himself out of Zeke's arms. He looked embarrassed.
“Sorry,” he said.
“I'm afraid, I'm still a great drama-queen.”
“Seemed to be long overdue,” Zeke answered and handed him a pack of tissues.
“How long has this been going on, huh? How long do you pretend that everything is all right? It's the job, isn't it? I was always wondering how you could end as a photo reporter for a news magazine.”
Casey sniffed again, still fighting with his emotions.
“It was my second year at College,” he finally answered.
“There was this visiting lecturer, he had worked as a news reporter for some years. He's told us a lot about his work. And I knew I also wanted to do this. So much happens around the world and most people don't even know about it. With my pictures I can change this. My part to make the world a bit better.”
“Mr. Harris has warned us that it's a tough job sometimes. You need to learn to live with it. To let the horror not touch you too much.”
“Stupid idea,” Zeke snarled.
“You are one of the most caring guys I know. How can you not be affected from all this?”
“Oh, in a way I wasn't. It was kinda easy for me, much easier than for the other reporters who need to write their articles. I see the world through my camera lens, I can try to imagine that it's just a bad movie.”
“But it doesn't work anymore lately, huh? What is happened?”
„Africa,“ said Casey.
„My last job … almost two months ago now. I guess, I had a kind of a breakdown.”
“Well, they say it was one. I can't remember. The last I know is that I was taking pics of ...”
He stopped and grasped for air.
“There was this little girl, barely four years old. Do you know the pic? I got an award for it.”
Oh yes, Zeke could remember. He knew all of Casey's pics, but this one had been heartbreaking. The little girl with her big, brown eyes. The provisional bandage around her belly, a small and dirty rag, not able to hide the horrible wound, the blood which covered her. She was dying … and she had known it. Zeke could read it in her eyes. The picture always gave him the creeps. But despite of all the horror it told about it was unique, fascinating and it was hard to turn the eyes away.
“She was all alone.”
Zeke was startled out of his thoughts by Casey's whispering voice.
„Many children are alone. Their parents are dead. Missed. Shot. Starved. She didn't even cry. She was dying and didn't even cry. And I was standing there, taking my pics, pretending that all this was not real.
I got an award for watching a child dying. How can this be, Zeke? What's wrong with this world?“
Zeke put an arm around his shoulder, not knowing what else he could do. It was not that Casey expected an answer. He was just sitting there, looking at him with these big, blue eyes, strangely calm now.
“Some hours later I did wake up at a hospital at Capetown. They needed to fly me out because I was almost going postal … this is what John, one of the guys I'm working with, told me later. I don't know ...
Back here … the pic got far too much attention. I barely managed to get through the press conferences and stuff. Finally the bosses said I should take a longer brake, maybe talk to a therapist.”
“And? Did you?”
“Did you make an appointment with a shrink?”
Casey pulled the face.
“No, of course not. I'm not gonna talk with one of these idiots. Do you remember the one they send us after MaryBeth? For him we all were just nut-jobs, trying to give us airs. I bet, he didn't even believe us.”
Zeke looked at him thoughtfully. His barely hidden aggression, his anger, his desperation … he tried to be stronger than it was good for him. He did understand Casey's aversion against therapists, but it was obvious that he could need any kind of help.
“There are others,” he said.
“You can afford the best of them nowadays. Maybe you should give it a try.”
Casey kept quiet for a while. Finally he slowly shook his head.
„You don't understand,“ he said.
“I know where this will go to. Jimmy, a friend of mine, he was a brilliant reporter. Until one day he freaked out. Grabbed for his gun, started to shoot around, just into the air, you know, he didn't intend to hurt someone. They forced him into a therapy. After some appointments the doc did send his report. Attested him mental health, but his final conclusion was: I can't guarantee that it will never happen again.
Tz, that's ridiculous Of course there is no guarantee. Our job can get tough sometimes, you never know what will happen tomorrow. Everyone knew it, no one cares. Until some stupid shrink who has no clue about what we are doing says: no guarantee … Today Jimmy is working at a publishing house, he writes boring articles no one is interested in. And he is in therapy because of a drug problem.
Not with me, Zeke, never. They will not get my job.”
“You want to go back,” Zeke asked. Not a big surprise but a disturbing idea. No guarantee. It could get worse next time.
“After all what has happened?”
Casey hesitated for a split of a second; Zeke noticed it anyway.
“How can you ask? After all I've done to get there? All the years at Herrington High, before MaryBeth. Sometimes it felt as if I couldn't bear it any longer, I wanted to give up, leave school. But I needed this scholarship to go to New York. Later College. The first year was hard for me, I felt so alone, I've missed my mom … and you.”
Zeke couldn't help a smile.
“Yeah. Later I've made friends at College … I was never as close to them like we were, but good friends. My professor helped me through a lot too, he was a really nice guy. It was a stoney way but at the end I got a job others only can dream about.
How can I give this up just because I failed once? I will get over it. Next time I will be better prepared.”
Better prepared for what, Zeke wanted to ask. For watching a child dying? No, this would not be Casey anymore. Someone needed to stop him to take that route.
“You didn't fail, Case,“ he protested.
“You are one of the strongest guys I know. All the horror you are into every day … most others couldn't stand it even for a week. But maybe now time is right to quit the job and look for something else, before … I hate the idea that one day you might not come back again.”
Casey blinked and kept quiet for a while, thinking about Zeke's words.
“I know about the danger in these countries,” he finally said.
“Don't fool yourself, Casey!”
Annoyed Zeke shook the head.
“I don't talk about it that you might get into an ambush of some terrorists or that some stupid religious nuts will take you hostage. I'm talking about what this job is doing with you. Casey Connor, the guy I knew once, would never be able to watch a child dying without freaking out. If you can, Casey, if your job is more import then all you believe in, this guy didn't exist anymore.”
He could hear him sucking in the air and he almost panicked when Casey reached for the door knob. The last he wanted was him to run away, here, in the middle of the nowhere, around midnight, without a place where he could go.
“Case, wait, we need to ...”
“Get off my back, Zeke,” he hissed and jumped out. Then he stopped dead and turned back.
“Sorry, I didn't mean to yell at you. Just gimme me a minute, okay? I don't do anything stupid, promised. Just a minute for myself.”
Zeke nodded, not totally convinced but what else could he do? He watched Casey walking down to the lake, where he finally stopped, staring at the dark water, lit by the faint moonlight. The minute turned into two, five, ten. Finally he couldn't bear it any longer and followed him, with his jacket in his hands.
“Hey,” he said as calm as he could and put it around his shoulders.
“It's chilly outside, guess you can need that.”
At least he didn't turn him down.
“I didn't intent to distress you. Of course it's your decision. I know, how much all this means for you.”
“But maybe you are right, Zeke. Maybe I can't do this anymore.”
Casey turned around to look at him.
“Photography was my life. And I was good with it. Just … whenever I look at my camera now, all I can think about is this little girl. I'm so scared, Zeke. What, when this never ends? What would I be left with?”
Zeke put one hand onto his shoulder, he could feel him trembling.
“Case, to quit this job doesn't mean to give up photography,” he said.
“I'm sure there are other possibilities for you. Remember Herrington High, your art course. You were bubbling over with ideas.”
Casey snorted slightly.
“That was so embarrassing. No wonder that they called me geeky.”
“Better that then boring.”
Zeke did remember well Casey's first steps into the world of photography and he chuckled slightly.
“It's easy to take pictures from your mom or from some flowers in the garden. But this was not what you wanted. You were always looking for a new challenge.”
“At my mom's kitchen. A photo series about her pots and pans was not my best idea. I bet, even Mr. Brown has secretly laughed about me.”
“But you got an A for it,” Zeke reminded him.
“Because he could see that your pics were somehow special. Maybe you should go back there, at the beginning. Recall your dreams. It's not that bad to make people laugh, you know, to show them that life can be great.”
He didn't think about it when he put his hand onto Casey's cheek. It was still wet from his tears, but warm and soft. Casey didn't pulled away.
“You did this to me, you know. Before I got to know you I didn't care much about my life. But you were always so positive, no matter what happened. You could find something good in just everything. It was kinda hard to be moody while being together with you.
You are made for it, Casey, to see the beauty in the world. Leave it to others to confront people with picture which will give them sleepless nights. You should better make them laugh. Give them hope."
Casey smiled slightly but sighed.
“It's not that easy, Zeke. All the things I've seen over the last years … I'm afraid I'm not the naive young boy anymore I was back then.”
Zeke kept quiet for a moment, thinking about everything. Was it already to late? Had Casey already changed so much that there was no way back? He was grown up, they all were grown up. Not all their dream had come true. That was life. But he was not willing to accept it. All he wanted was to get the Casey back he had known once. The boy with these amazing blue, sparkling eyes, with the most contagious laughter he had ever heard.
Suddenly an idea crossed his mind. Without even thinking about it he blurted it out.
“Pack a backpack with some stuff. We will get into the GTO and just split.”
Casey coughed confused.
“What are you talking about, Zeke? Where should we go to?”
“Let's see where the road takes us. We've often talked about it, remember? To leave everything behind, to stay where ever we want. Miami Beach, Niagara Falls, the West Coast. Maybe get into a plane, jet to Europe. Paris. Rome. Wherever you want go.”
“You can't be serious!”
Casey shook his head chuckling.
“We are not eighteen anymore. We have commitments. I have a job. You have a bar.”
“Quit the job, Case!”
Zeke sounded serious and determined
“And I will take some time out too. I've worked hard over the last years, without even one day off. Michelle and Damian will be able to keep the Coyote running. I know I can trust them.”
“This is barking mad,” Casey murmured.
But Zeke knew, he started to think about it. The thought just to run away was tempting. Zeke felt his heart beating quicker. On the road together with Casey … his best friend … more then just a friend … maybe … maybe ...
"Come with me,” he said softly.
"I know, somewhere out there still are your dreams. Let's see if we can find them.”