“What’s your problem?”
Zeke shrugged off his football jersey and stuffed it in his locker. “He’s oblivious.”
“Of course he’s oblivious. He’s Casey.” Stokely reached over and grabbed a cigarette from the pack sticking out of his pocket. “Oblivious goes with the territory.”
“Thought you quit.”
“Thought you did too.” She took a long drag and blew the smoke into Zeke’s face. He didn’t flinch. “Are you going to tell him?”
“Why would I do that?”
“The same reason you drive him to school everyday, fuckwit.”
“Thought you quit swearing too.”
“Don’t be stupid.” Stokely shrugged. “Stan broke up with me, I figure I’m allowed a few vices.”
Zeke slammed his locker shut. “In that case, we can go get drunk.”
Stokely was, unsurprisingly, a mean drunk. A pretty coherent drunk, but definitely mean.
“Asshole. Complete asshole. All ready sniffing around one of Delilah’s cheerleader groupies. Should have known. Fucking football players.”
“Like you fucking count.” She laughed softly to herself, snorting. “Zeke Tyler, quarterback. Whatever. Stan, though. Wanted to fucking kill him. ‘It’s not working. Let’s be friends.’ God. How did I become a teenage cliché?”
“You were body snatched by aliens.”
She waved a hand dismissively. “Right, right. I keep forgetting. God, what a trip. What a fucking trip.”
“What’s the deal with you and Delilah?”
Stokely groaned and pushed her hair back off of her face. “Christ’s sake, Zeke, can’t you come up with something better than that? Everyone wants to know what the deal with Delilah and me is!”
“Only ‘cause you make it so interesting. Every guy in school has a lesbian-cheerleader fantasy, and when the school dyke takes an interest, well…” Zeke clicked his tongue. “You know how it goes.”
“Men are pigs.”
“Doesn’t have to be. Cliches become cliches because they’re true, dumbass.”
“Then you’re just stating the obvious.”
“Remind me why I’m drinking with you again?”
“Because you broke up with Stan, Casey doesn’t drink, Delilah only drinks at parties, and Mary Beth is dead.”
“Good enough,” Stokely conceded.
“What about her?”
“Everyone wants to know,” Zeke admitted. “I want to know.” He threw his cards down on the table. “Straight flush.”
“Fuck. How do you do that? Probably ‘cause you’re dealing… ”
“Probably because you just suck.” Zeke took a long drink from his beer and threw the empty bottle in the general vicinity of the trashcan. There was a smashing noise, but he figured the maid would pick it up tomorrow. “You and Delilah?”
Stokely smirked and raised an eyebrow. “You and Casey?”
“Touché. New piercing?”
She reached up to finger the silver hoop through her eyebrow. “Mhmm.”
Zeke got up and grabbed himself another beer from the fridge. “You know it won’t leave this room. And I’ll tell you about Casey, if you want.”
“The old ‘I’ll show you mine, you show me yours’, huh?”
It was only a moment before Stokely smirked and nodded her head. “All right. Sure. I’m drunk enough for that.” She gave Zeke a long, assessing glance, and then shrugged. “She pisses me off. That’s it. Just fucking pisses me off. Just like every other cheerleader, every other moneyed, ass-kissing, cardigan-wearing prep out there. They think they can fuck around with people and get away with it. Just pisses me off, and that’s all.”
Zeke stared back at her for a moment before laughing in her face. “Bullshit.”
“Bullshit. Bullshit, Stokely. Bull-shit. That’s a good reason, I’ll give you that. But you’re lying. And the school might buy it, and the rest of the world might buy it, and you might even buy it, but I don’t. You can lie to yourself Stokes, but you can’t lie to me. You want Delilah. You want Delilah Proffit so bad every time you two fight you probably cream your panties.”
“Don’t hear you denying it.”
“You’re too fucking smart for your own good, Zeke.
“Story of my life. Feel like admitting the truth?”
“The part where you want to pull Delilah’s prissy-perfect little skirt up and talk to the kitty.”
“That was crude.”
“And you still neither complain nor deny.”
“I…” Stokely’s mouth snapped shut. “Christ, Zeke.”
“You know,” he continued casually. “I bet you never really grew out of playing with dolls. I bet you dream of dressing Delilah up, a pretty little devil in black leather and lace. Only black. Because pastels make her look so frail. And we both know Delilah’s not frail. And her makeup… her face is done up all wrong too. Don’t you think? All those shy, subtle, blushing colors. You don’t want that. You don’t want that at all. Outline her lips in fire engine red, not Elizabeth Arden’s spring line. Slip the silk shirt over her head, tie up her boots. Killer heels. Black, all black. She really only belongs in black.”
Stokely tried to life her cigarette to her lips, but her hand was shaking. “Christ,” she murmured. “Christ, Zeke – ”
“It’s pretty picture,” he continued nonchalantly. “I can see why you like it. And maybe 'cause everytime you look at her, your eyes go dark.” He flopped back down into his chair. “You wanted to know about me and Casey?”
It took Stokely a moment to catch her breath, and she shook her head vehemently. “No. No, just leave me in the fucking dark.”
“What was it like?”
“Like… the funhouse at the fair. The hall of mirrors. A million reflections of you. Just like you, in every way, except you know they’re fake. Creepy, but… still comforting. Like running into someone with a dead friend’s face.”
“Sounds more creepy than comforting.”
Stokely blew another stream of smoke in his direction. “Guess you had to be there.”
“I never could figure you out, you know. Never. Too fucking complex, especially compared to those rodents we call our classmates. They make hamsters seem complicated,” Stokely bitched. “But you… Freud would have a fucking field day with you. Not to mention Erikson or Mathis. Christ, Zeke… you’d blow their narrow little minds out of the water.”
Zeke grinned and handed her another beer. “Aw, Stokes… you’re making me blush.”
“Asshole. You know what I mean. I always wanted to know what made you tick. What warped little belief system was running the show. That’s the only thing I regret; not getting you before Casey killed the queen.”
This time Zeke didn’t smile. “Now I’m less flattered and more creeped out.”
Stokely stamped her cigarette out in the ashtray. “Not so sure it was a compliment in the first place.”
There was a very long silence, and then Zeke pushed his chair back and stood up.
“Please.” Stokely shrugged her black coat over her shoulders and headed out to Zeke’s car.
Stokely wasn’t part of Them very long, only about a minute before she was knocked out. Not long enough to get a handle on everything. There were so many thoughts streaming through her head. Memories involving people she’d never met, music she’d never heard, body parts she’d never had. If everything hadn’t been so fucked up she might have peeped into Delilah’s mind. The mind is the real erogenous zone, after all. And seeing what Delilah was really like, under her masks – well, that might have been too much for even Stokely to handle. She still wants to try.
After the invasion Stokely slept for two straight days. She drank orange juice and chicken soup, because she didn’t quite trust water, and because her mother had to feel useful somehow. She went back to school the next Monday, and the staring didn’t bother her as much as it used to. She felt like staring back.
Delilah didn’t come back until Wednesday, and when she did she wore contacts and twenty pounds of artfully applied make up. She headed up cheerleading practice like nothing had happened, but Stokely noticed that afterwards she bypassed the water fountain and went for the Gatorade machine.
In English class they are asked to write about one childhood memory that changed their lives. Stokely’s classmates write about family trips and tragedies; pets and grandmothers and books and tears.
Stokely write about her first and last Barbie doll. Of how she cut off its hair and put its head on backwards and colored all over it with black pen, right before she tried to feed it to the dog.
When she finished reading her essay the class was dead silent. Someone in the back of the room made the crazy sign when she sat down. Delilah just looked at her strangely. Strangely, because Stokely thought she might have understood.
One of the things she remembers most is shooting Delilah. The weight of the gun in her hand, the noise, the smell, her heartbeat pounding in her head. Stokely has seen those… those things writhing in Delilah’s face, and she’d known right then. Known that Delilah had to be killed. Casey couldn’t do it, so she did it for him. She’d tried anyway. At least she’d tried.
Stokely knew this was probably going to be the third year in a row Delilah won Prom Queen. That was just the way it worked. She’d look perfectly gorgeous on Gabe’s arm. Maybe even Zeke’s, since he was the new football star. Not that Zeke was going to show up. He’s skipped prom four years running and there wasn’t much chance he’d change tradition. Stokely hadn’t gone yet either, and she thinks about throwing an anti-prom party at Zeke’s house. They could drink and smoke and talk again, and maybe they’ll invite Casey. It would be nice for someone around here to be happy.
She thinks, for a moment, about inviting Delilah. To see if she’d accept, or maybe to see the look on her face. Stokely knows Delilah would never give up a chance in the spotlight.
Zeke’s right: there’s no rush like fighting Delilah. There’s something about watching her perky white teeth snap out insults that makes Stokely’s blood boil. Something about the quintessential rich preppie kid façade that Stokely wanted to debauch.
Delilah is both a dream and nightmare. Everything Stokely wants and everything she fears. Sometimes Stokely dreams she’s a vampire and that she drains Delilah’s blood to the last drop, and that she makes Delilah a vampire too. It might just be an overdose of Buffy and Anne Rice, but she thinks a psychologist would have a field day just the same.
Stokely reads psychology books. She read Jung and Freud and Erikson, Mathis and Singer. Science fiction always has a lot about brainwashing and cortal zones and neural functions and inbred moral values, and she figured she might as well know what the hell they were talking about when they talked about it. Then it was just interesting, and she couldn’t stop. It was too much fun to pick people apart and find out what made them tick.
Zeke was a puzzle, like she’d said. Stokely thought that she’d had Casey figured out, but that was before, before everything, and now she wasn’t so sure. Stan – uh, best not to think about him. In the end, he was just a guy.
Delilah – ah, the crux of the matter. If Stokely could’ve cracked her she wouldn’t have had a problem. She knew Delilah was driven. Demanding. Sexy. Sensual. Smart. Stubborn. Bitchy. Ballsy. She lied, constantly, and she always had to be the fucking best. She wanted the beat the system – she hated the system, but until the day came she could beat it, she would rule it.
Stokely wonders what Delilah’s dreams are like.
Stokely knows about obsession. You can’t get through a decent psych book without running across it at least once. She’d like to say she’s not obsessed, but the first step is often denial, so she hedges the subject and thinks she might be. Just a little.
It’s always the quiet ones. It’s a cliché, but – like Stokely said – cliches become cliches because they’re true. In the end, it won’t be the jock who saved the world, or the castrating bitch, or the resident badass. It’s all up to the quiet little guy, and he pulls through.
Casey’s tougher than anyone gave him credit for. Tougher than Zeke gave him credit for. Although, in retrospect, anyone who could stand both Delilah and getting poled on a daily basis was pretty tough.
Hindsight’s always 20/20.
Zeke thinks that Casey’s greatest flaw is that he is beautiful. It’s ironic too, because if Casey had been born a girl, there wouldn’t be any problem at all. His (her?) beauty would be celebrated. But being a beautiful boy is a problem.
That’s why the jocks hate him. He’s much prettier than he should be. So pretty that for a moment they wonder. Where’s the line between manly man and man’s man. They wonder if maybe all those jokes about locker rooms and open showers and football teams are really true. So they beat Casey up, because only macho men with too much testosterone do that, and because a Casey with bruises and puffed up lips isn’t quite so beautiful anymore.
Zeke isn’t nearly that upset about his sexuality. He’s not dumb enough to think it actually changes anything about him. At school he’s untouchable, and nothing will change that. What could his family possibly do? Disown him? Ha. Ha fucking ha. His mother was probably off with a boy toy of her own right now. Dysfunction ran in the family.
His attraction to Casey is easy. The starry-eyed little freak is amazingly beautiful. Zeke knows beauty when he sees it. Zeke appreciates beauty too, and he’d like to write it off to that. He can’t, unfortunately. Zeke has seen Casey bruised and broken and definitely not beautiful, and he still wants to push him up against the nearest surface. It’s either a Casey fetish of epic proportions or he’s in deep shit. Right now odds are on deep shit.
Casey and Delilah – not a good combination. In anyone’s opinion. Under any circumstances. Seriously. Think about it. Casey and Delilah? Casey and Delilah. There is an inherent wrongness there. Bitch head cheerleader and ex-nerd. Wrong.
Stokely smiles at Zeke and lifts her beer. “Here’s to the school badass and former geek.”
She is, of course, absolutely right.
Casey is always either sleeping or bouncing around like a four year old on a sugar high. This translates to two speeds: off and hyperdrive. When he sleeps Zeke wants to molest him. When he’s awake Zeke wants to help him channel that energy more effectively.
Ditto the deep shit comment.
Zeke was the by-blow of a big-time Hollywood producer. Born on the wrong side of the blanket, if you get his meaning. Zeke’s mother threatened to go to the producer’s wife and the tabloids with her story, but instead settled on a few million in a Swiss bank account. Pretty sweet deal that ensured three things. One, that Zeke would be raised by a legion of nannies while his mother hobnobbed around the globe with her new ‘friends’. Two, the he would never meet - much less have a normal relationship with - his father. Three, that he would be constantly ostracized by his school mates’ mothers, even though he wouldn’t know exactly why until his thirteen birthday. Harrington was still small enough of a town that being a bastard and having a rich bitch of a mom kept you pretty isolated. And by the time Zeke was in the eight grade or so, when no one really cared what their parents thought of him, it didn’t matter. He didn’t want friends anymore. He’d gotten along just fine without them.
“What are the odds?”
She thought for a moment and then shrugged. “I think even a snowball has a chance in hell.”
He wasn’t entirely sure if that was comforting.
The doorbell would always ring at five after eight, but it always took Zeke another five minutes to get to the door and open it. Stokely was used to it by now, and waited patiently outside.
“Hey Stokes. Men in Black or Batman and Robin?”
“Couldn’t you have rented something else?”
“The only thing else Blockbuster had was a hundred copies of Titanic.” Which was like a movie monster of Harlequin novel, in Zeke’s opinion. Too frightening for words and to be avoided at all costs.
Stokely sighed and tossed her jacket to Zeke. “Batman and Robin. Bring me the men in tights.”
“Batman and Robin,” another voice piped in. “But definitely less because of the tights.”
“Casey?” Zeke stared in disbelief at the short brunette in front of him. He turned around quickly and quirked an eyebrow at Stokely. “Did you invite him?”
Stokely was wearing her ‘I’m pleased with myself’ face, which was a very scary face to begin with. It reminded Zeke of a cat who had just pinned a bird underneath its paws. He wasn’t sure if the bird was Casey or if it was him, but the look was definitely creepy. Stokely was just like that sometimes.
“Is it a problem?”
And now Zeke was ready to kick himself in the head. Casey had that look on his face – the one where he thinks he doesn’t belong -- that he’s in the way. Zeke thought they’d kissed that look goodbye a long time ago, but it seems that Casey’s self-esteem was still at pre-apocalypse level.
“No, no. I didn’t know you were coming, that’s all.” Zeke reached out to briefly muss Casey’s hair, savoring the feel of it under his fingers. “I just wish Stokely had told me. I would have bought more beer.”
The idea of Casey drunk was very appealing.
It just figures he’d be a lightweight too.
Stokely sat on the couch and swung a beer bottle back and forth. “You know, I’m sick and tired of you fucking around him. It’s amazingly annoying to watch. Just tell him.”
Zeke tore his gaze away from where Casey was lying stretched out on the sofa and glared at her. “Look who’s talking. Stones and glass houses. Why don’t you make a move on Delilah, huh, Stokely? What’s the worst she could possibly do? Insult you? Tell people you’re a lesbian?”
“Shut up.” Stokely’s eyes flashed and her jaw tightened. “You wanna talk about who can throw stones and who can’t? I don’t think either of us really wants to go there.”
“You don’t have a friendship to fuck up, all right? I’m between the proverbial rock and goddamn hard place.”
The only sound in the room was the blare of the late-night movie that was playing on TV.
“Just fuck him.”
“Seriously,” she considered blearily. “Send him straight to heaven and crashing back down, and he’ll be yours forever.”
“I don’t want a fuckbuddy.”
Stokely giggled. It was a surprisingly feminine sound. “Aww. How cute. Zeke is in love!”
“… I still say fuck him.”
“Stokely. Not helping.” Not with Casey – still unconscious – lying only a few feet away from him. One of Zeke’s thumbs brushed over Casey’s forehead. “So not helping.”
After that Stokely didn’t say much of anything, except for one random comment on the mountain of subtext between two men who run around in tights and live in the same house. Especially when one is named is ‘Dick’. Zeke agreed with her, but that was another thing you never told Stokely.
“What time does he have to be home?”
Stokely shrugged her coat over her shoulders. “Parents didn’t say. I’d go with the wee hours of the morning.”
“Right.” The uptight middle-class. Better make it before two.
“Ah. So you’re still alive.” Zeke had only been checking obsessively every half-hour, after all.
“I am alive?”
“Yep. Probably in desperate need of aspirin, but alive.”
“Good to know,” Casey croaked.
“It’s good for you. Builds strong bones.”
Casey stared at him.
“It makes your breath smell better and it’s less obvious than mouthwash. Now drink it.”
“Yes, sir.” Casey meekly took the glass from Zeke’s hand.
“Oh. And aspirin.”
“Thank you,” Casey breathed. Zeke managed to ignore how much of a sex-voice that was. Well, mostly ignore.
The ride home was quiet, and that isn’t right. Casey was a bit of a chatterbox once you got to know him. But he’s probably just quiet because he’s tired and semi-hungover. He wasn’t asleep long enough to be truly hungover, but Zeke also thinks this is the first time Casey ever went drinking.
Zeke pulls into Casey’s driveway at 1:52, and notices that there aren’t any lights on in the house. It surprises him. Casey’s parents always seemed so clingy. The type that actually went to every parent’s night and met with all the teachers. All in all, Zeke thought they would probably have sent out a police bulletin at this point, not be tucked into bed.
“They let up a bit after the whole alien thing.” Casey smiled thoughtfully and stepped out of the car.
“Wish I’d known. You could have stayed longer.” Zeke followed Casey up the front walkway. “Do you have a key?” If not, Zeke is pretty sure he can pick the lock. Delinquency comes in handy from time to time.
Smiling wryly, Casey twisted the handle and pushed the door open. “It’s small town Ohio, Zeke. They don’t lock their doors.”
“‘Cause danger only comes from aliens after all.”
The corner of Zeke’s mouth twisted up. “Night, Case.”
Before he knew what he had done, Zeke reached out and pushed back a bit of Casey’s hair out of his eyes. Casey blinked, and Zeke walked back to the car. By the time he pulled out of the driveway Casey had closed the front door, and all the way home Zeke called himself ten kinds of fool.
On Monday Zeke strode into school two or three periods late. He lounged in the bathroom until fourth period Global History, took Mr. Carter’s test and aced it. He strolled out into the quad for fifth period lunch, heading toward their table. “Their table” used to be Zeke, Stokely, Stan, Delilah, and Case. Now it’s just Zeke, Stokely, and Casey, and Zeke likes it better that way.
The problem is that only Stokely is at the table.
“Out on the bleachers.”
“Shit.” Casey only went out on the football field when he was upset. Like ‘Delilah-break-up’ upset. Or ‘fight-with-his-parents’ upset. The kind of upset that sent him into a depressing downward spiral.
“I’ll just eat alone,” Stokely said. Zeke took that to be the polite version of ‘go after him, fuckwit,’ and he wasn’t going to argue.
Zeke stopped about halfway up the bleachers and tilted his head to look at Casey. “Is there a reason you’re eating alone?”
“Felt like it.” He studiously avoided looking at Zeke and took another bite out of his sandwich.
Zeke picked at his fingernails for a minute before shrugging. “Do you want me to leave?”
“You don’t have to.”
“Okay. Then I demand Pringles.”
Casey smiled briefly. “How can I expect a growth spurt if you eat all my food?”
Zeke took the Pringles from Casey’s outstretched hand, and smiled back when their eyes met. “I hate to be the one to break it to you, but alcohol stunts growth.”
“Great. I’m just all around screwed.”
Casey just said ‘screwed’. For a few seconds Zeke’s brain skipped around like a broken CD. Casey never swore. Zeke is terribly, terribly tempted to ask Casey to say it again, but that isn’t telling in the least. He shoved a Pringle in his mouth and chewed quickly.
Casey is about halfway through his sandwich before he remembers who they’ve left hanging in the quad. “Oh. Stokely…”
“She said she didn’t mind eating alone today. I think she’d got some stuff to work out.”
More like Delilah, Zeke thinks, but he nodded and agreed anyway.
Zeke finished up the Pringles and began to amuse himself by throwing pieces of gum wrapper at Casey’s head. Casey turned around to glare at him and Zeke just barely kept a straight face.
Okay, that was even worse than screwed. Zeke had to swallow twice before he could speak again.
“You coming over again Friday?”
Casey rolled up his garbage and tossed into the back of the bleachers. At Zeke’s shocked look, he shrugged. “I hate football.”
Zeke grinned. “All right. What about Friday?”
“Maybe. I don’t know…”
“I promise I won’t make you drink milk again,” Zeke said seriously.
Casey laughed and started down the bleachers. “Okay. You coming to English today or hanging in the bathroom?”
“I think I’ll go to class. Victorian poetry all this week, right?”
“Riiiiiight.” Casey knew this was going somewhere.
Zeke began to grin almost maniacally. “The Victorians were a repressed lot.”
Stokely took another half-hearted stab at her salad. Great. The futility and plain crappiness of life reflected in limp lettuce and warm cheese.
Stokely watched as Delilah carefully sat down next to her.
“What do you want?”
“I heard about Stan.”
“And?” Only Stokely could make a conjunction sound like a curse word.
“I want to…”
“If you say you’re sorry, I swear to God I’ll undo the good of every facial treatment you’ve ever had,” Stokely hissed.
Delilah smirked and drummed her fingernails on the table. “All right. Then, do you want revenge.”
“I’ve got some interesting little tidbits about Stan. Stuff I kept underwraps when we were dating. I was wondering if you wanted to know.”
Delilah never did anything without an ulterior motive. Ever. And she certainly never did anything without thinking it through and seeing all the possible outcomes. She’d probably be a damn good chess player, but that wasn't really mainstream enough for her. So the real question was why Delilah was doing this and what she hoped to get out of it. Stokely had no doubt that Stan would be hurt by this, whatever it was, but she probably would be too. Delilah’s help was a double-edged sword.
Delilah smiled. “Your loss.”
Every time, was all Stokely thought as Delilah got up and walked away.