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“Sorry, Dad, but screw that,” Dave says, shaking his head. “I’ll see you later.” Dave heads out to his truck and climbs in, still shaking his head. He’s pretty sure God understands if Dave skips church every now and then. He waits until he’s on the main road before picking up his phone and calling Casey.

Casey answers before the second ring. “Hi, David!”

“You up?” Dave asks, looking at the clock. He can’t imagine Casey sleeping that late, unless Coach has a secret drug stash or something.

“Yes. I’m up. For a while.” There’s a long pause and then Casey asks, “Did, um. You sleep okay?”

“I’ve slept better,” Dave admits, but he’s pretty sure he still slept better than Casey. “I’m heading your way, I’ll be there in about ten.”

Casey exhales a loud sigh of relief. “Oh good, can we go? Just, anywhere.”

“Gas station for snacks, then maybe over to Schoonover?” Dave laughs. “Since they kicked out that weird church from meeting there and dunking people in the lake, it’s pretty empty on Sunday mornings.”

“Sure!” Casey says, a little too loudly. “I mean, sure, yes, that sounds good. As long as the weird church people aren’t there. I’ll go, um, tell Coach and Monty, I guess.”

“Right. See you in a few.” Dave ends the call and sets his phone down, turning up the radio for the rest of the drive to Coach’s. When he pulls into the driveway, Casey’s already waiting outside, still looking a little too pale. He climbs into the passenger side of Dave’s truck and sighs quietly, slumping back against the seat.

“I have to be back by eleven,” Casey says, sounding perplexed. “Eleven at night, I mean. It’s weird.”

“I’d be worried if it was eleven in the morning,” Dave shrugs, pulling out of the driveway. “Speedway first, though. Anything interesting?”

“Um. Miles called to check on me?” Casey offers. “Guess how many times.”

“Let’s see… eleven? Once every hour on the hour? He’s methodical.”

Casey giggles half-heartedly. “No, not that many. Just three. Once last night and then two times today. So, that’s not too bad.” He sighs again and says, “Oh, Coach said something about some kind of party for the football players, but since I’m not a football player, I didn’t ask for any details. Also because I’m not talking to them unless I have to.”

Dave frowns slightly. “Yeah, I think I remember that last summer. It was supposed to be for all the players plus a guest, honoring the seniors or something. But then all the Cheerios showed up, too. Free-for-all.” He shakes his head. “Sunday afternoon cookout?”

“Maybe,” Casey says, shrugging. “I didn’t really pay attention. I’ll pay more attention if I hear them talking about it again, though, and I’ll let you know what I hear. I’m mostly just, you know. I think Coach got mad because I wouldn’t eat those eggs she made, but David, there was weird stuff in those eggs.”

“Oh, she made her Atkins scramble? Yeah, I don’t know what some of those vegetables are. Meat’s good, though.” Dave shrugs and pulls into the Speedway. “Time to stock up.”

Casey nods and the two of them go inside, where Casey only grabs a Code Red Mountain Dew from the cooler. “They don’t keep pop in the house at all,” Casey says to Dave. “Not at all! It’s so weird.”

Dave snorts. “That’s bizarre.” He grabs a pop for himself, then an assortment of candy before setting it all on the counter for the worker to ring up. “Are they going to pour it out or something if you bring it in the house?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask. They might!”

“Yeah, I never really paid attention to Coach’s nutrition sheets,” Dave admits, pocketing his change. “Let’s go see if the religious whackos are out in the lake or not.”

Casey nods and follows Dave back to the truck. There’s not much traffic so it doesn’t take long to get to the park and figure out no one’s preaching in the lake.

“Maybe they thought someone would hand them a sword,” Dave muses as he climbs out of the truck.

“The wanted to wield supreme executive power,” Casey says. “Now they’re disappointed.”

“Too bad for them.” Dave shrugs and grins, sitting down in the grass. “Surprised the grass is still alive.”

Casey shrugs and sits down next to Dave, leaning against him and resting his head on Dave’s shoulder. He sighs again. “I didn’t really sleep.”

“Yeah.” Dave nods. He didn’t really expect anything any different, if he’s completely honest. “You want to sleep now?”

“I almost texted you at two, but then I thought you were probably sleeping, so that would be rude.”

“Or I wouldn’t have heard it,” Dave says, because he can’t remember if he had his phone on silent or not overnight.

“And then almost again at three-something. Three-forty-five. But you were probably still sleeping then, too,” Casey says, sounding drowsy. “I probably have to figure out how to sleep at that house at some point, I guess.”

“You should play death metal loudly. Tell them it’s the only way you can sleep. Then even if you can’t sleep, at least they aren’t, either.”

“Yeah. They’re the ones who wanted a new kid,” Casey agrees, leaning more heavily against Dave. “They can have the screaming baby experience.”

Dave chuckles. “Exactly. Tell them you have colic or whatever.”

“Mmhmm,” Casey mumbles. Another moment passes before Casey goes limp against Dave, and Dave slowly leans back. He stares up at the sky for awhile, watching the clouds drift into various shapes, and then lets his own eyes close.

When Dave wakes up, their pops are warm and there’s more people in the park, though no preachers in the lake, still. Casey is still asleep, and Dave doesn’t move at first. The sun is still shining on them, and Dave wipes his forehead. Another five or six minutes pass before Casey stirs, his arm twitching as his head tips up. A second later, Casey buries his face in Dave’s T-shirt.

“I think I fell asleep,” Casey says, directly into Dave’s T-shirt.

Dave laughs. “Yeah. Looking at the sun, it’s been a couple of hours. Pop’s all warm now.”

“It’s okay warm, too,” Casey says. He sits up and rubs his eyes with the back of his hand. One side of his hair is sticking out at crazy angles. Dave notices his own arm looks a little pink, and then he looks more closely at Casey, suppressing a grin. However long they were asleep, Casey’s acquired more freckles as a result.

“Want to go over to the arcade now that it’s getting hot?” Dave says as he hands Casey some of the candy that didn’t get eaten before.

“Sure. It’s too hot to sit in the grass,” Casey says. “Plus, I think I had a bug on me.”

 

Coach Beiste has the kitchen table covered in papers, and Monty is standing nearby with a label maker and a stack of hanging file folders.

“Casey, you’re back!” Monty says, handing him the label maker. Monty lets go of it without even checking that Casey has it in his hands. “You can help me make the labels before you go to swim practice!”

Casey was planning to just check in and then disappear back into the bedroom they have him in, but the label maker is just too alluring. “Okay. What am I labeling?”

“Tryin’ to separate out the nutrition stuff for the team from their workouts and the playbook.” Coach looks up and smiles at him. “You’d think I’d manage to be more organized.”

Casey’s starting to suspect this is all a complex plot to get him to engage in conversation with them, but the disorganized mess of papers does look like it’s in dire need of someone to fix it. “Well, I’m good at organizing stuff,” he says. It’s not exactly an offer of help, but it could be construed as one.

“So do you think the post-workout smoothie recipes should be with ‘nutrition’ or ‘workouts’?” Coach asks, looking at him like this is genuinely a matter of grave importance. Casey gives both options careful consideration before he answers.

“With nutrition,” Casey says. “But you should put a note in the workout folder that refers them to the correct recipe.”

Monty and Coach exchange an excited look. “Yes!” Coach Beiste agrees, looking thrilled. “Because sometimes you should use a different recipe, depending on the exact workout.”

“He’s very good at this, Shannon,” Monty says. “You should get him to reorganize all of your files before the next school year starts. You were just saying what a mess they were.”

Yep. Definitely a plot.

“I could maybe do that,” Casey says, trying to sound non-committal. “I’m pretty good at organizing, so I could take a look at them and try to fix them for you. If you want me to.”

“I’d really appreciate that,” Coach Beiste says enthusiastically. “Sounds like a good summer project!”

“Yeah, I can do that,” Casey says. “I’m going to go get ready for swimming now, okay Coach?”

“You know you can call me Shannon, right?” Coach Beiste says.

Casey shakes his head. “No. I can’t.”

“Maybe we could think up a compromise,” Monty suggests. “Maybe Coach Shannon?”

“Aunt Beiste?” Coach suggests.

“No. That was the character in Wrinkle in Time,” Casey explains, when Coach looks slightly wounded. “She was furry. She didn’t have any eyes. It would feel weird.”

Coach nods slowly. “I do have eyes.”

“Well, how about Aunt Shannon, then?” Monty says. “It’s comfortable, without being overly familiar. And then I can be Uncle Monty, which I confess I’ve always wanted to be, but alas, Cornelia and her husband have remained childless by choice.”

Casey’s not sure what to make of the whole Cornelia and her husband being childless thing, because that seems like something he should comment on, but he really has no response to that. “Yeah, I guess I could maybe go with that.”

“Great!” Coach says, smiling widely. “Thanks for your help, too. You have fun at swimming.” She stands up and grabs three protein bars and a pouch of G Series Prime from the counter. “Here you go! Keep your energy up. Don’t forget to grab some Gatorade for during your workout.”

Casey nods and doesn’t bother to mention that he’ll do with these protein bars and weird Gatorade pouch what he did the last ones and the ones the day before that, which is to give them away to his teammates. He’s already pretty popular with his teammates, since he’s the guy that always has ‘extra’ food.

 

Dave feels either overdressed or underdressed. He’s not sure which one, but he parks the truck anyway, and he and Casey walk towards the corner where they had agreed to meet the group riding in Miles and Alicia’s father’s delivery minivan. Dave’s just wearing a plain T-shirt and jeans, and Casey is dressed similarly, though his T-shirt has a rainbow peace sign on it, courtesy of Coach Beiste.

“They’re in the flower mobile,” Casey says. “I was wondering how they were going to get everybody here in Miles’ little car.”

“I heard that, Cherry,” Miles says. “My car seats more people than your teensy little yellow thing.”

“The Lemon is a magnificent automobile,” Casey insists. “Don’t insult her.”

Dave is reassured when he sees how Rick, Taylor, and Tim are dressed, though Alicia and Cara have rainbow nails and rainbow paint on their faces and their bellies, which are exposed for some reason. Miles, for his part, does look like he belongs at Pride, wearing a tight see-through tank top, and that’s more of Miles than Dave ever wanted to see again, since they’re not on the same football team anymore.

“That’s a real festive T-shirt you got there, Cherry,” Miles says, and Casey giggles.

“Thanks, Miles. I like your, um. Shirt?”

Miles just smirks. “We should go find a good place to watch, for those of us that aren’t marching!” Alicia announces.

“I’m marching,” Taylor announces. “We should go find the group. Tim, stay with Cara and Alicia and don’t get lost.” He shakes his head. “Remember. You’re cisgendered and heterosexual, if anyone asks. Also, you’re a minor.”

“But why would they ask?” Tim says, looking mystified.

Taylor laughs. “Just trust me.”

Miles, Rick, and Taylor head off down a side street, where the parade is apparently assembling, and Dave and Casey follow Alicia, Cara, and Tim towards the parade route. They’ve walked a few blocks when Casey suddenly says, “Oh! We need beads!”

“I think they throw those. Like Mardi Gras,” Dave points out.

“But these are the good ones,” Casey says. “They’re on real string, David! Real beads on real string!”

Dave shrugs. “Yeah, okay.” Alicia, Cara, and Tim walk on ahead while Casey gets them each a string of beads, which Dave reluctantly dons.

“Now we both look like we belong here,” Casey says, nodding.

“Not nearly so much as some people,” Dave snorts, as they find a piece of curb under a tree. “Look at those shoes!”

“I didn’t know they made high heels that size,” Casey says. His eyes widen. “David, that man’s pants are clear!”

“I didn’t… realize clothing was so optional,” Dave manages.

Casey’s looking increasingly agitated, but also concerned. “But David, his… it’s just… right there in the street, David!”

Dave shrugs helplessly. “At least he has on the… g-string-thing.”

“I think there are laws, David,” Casey says, hastily turning away from the man in clear pants. “At least that guy’s… parts are mostly covered. Those are some really shiny sho— ohmigod it’s Puck!”

“Oh God, I don’t know if I want to turn around,” Dave says, even though he does, and sure enough, there’s Kurt and Puckerman, and Puck has on some very tight, very shiny, very green shorts, along with a tank top. By comparison, Kurt is dressed conservatively – very tight pants, boots, and a tight T-shirt. “Yeah. Those are shiny shorts.”

“I wonder where Finn is?” Casey asks. “You just pretty much always see the three of them together, unless Puck’s working, and then usually at least one of them’s in there for a while.”

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Dave shrugs. “Maybe he’s marching like some of the others.”

“Maybe so,” Casey says. “Oh! I hear drums! Drums, David! I bet it’s the parade!”

There’s a dull roar that gets louder until Dave realizes it’s a cheer spreading down the road, in advance of the parade, and he leans forward to look down the street. “Yeah, looks like it’s starting,” he agrees.

There’s an entire marching band, in fact, coming down the street after a banner and some flags, and then there’s a ton of different groups marching: businesses, lesbians on motorcycles, community centers, churches, and organizations.

Casey keeps up an increasingly excited running commentary of, “David! Look at the motorcycles! David! Look at the churches! Oh, David, look! Look at those signs!” as he bounces in place and occasionally turns and beams at Dave.

“This is supposed to be a smaller Pride,” Dave mutters, shaking his head. “I can’t imagine a big one, then.” Some politicians and their supporters pass by, which Dave guesses would be more exciting if they lived in Columbus and could vote for any of them.

“David! David! Look, it’s Lima PFLAG!” Casey bounces up and down again. “I can see their banner! They have signs! I can see Finn’s head! You were right.”

“I hope they didn’t lose the rest of him,” Dave jokes.

Casey giggles and bounces more, then says, “No, I can see the rest of him now. Oh, and I can see Miles, too! Oh, and I can see Finn’s shirt… David!” Casey now looks shocked, in a way reminiscent of when he was telling Dave about what he witnessed at the roller rink on his birthday. “David, his shirt!”

“I can’t see the words from here,” Dave admits. “There’s a sign in my way. What’s it say?”

Casey turns bright red and shakes his head. “I can’t!”

Dave laughs. “This must be good,” he says, moving on the sidewalk. “If— well. Damn.” There on Hudson’s shirt, it says ‘Loves Guys Who Love Cock’ with hearts for each of the Os. “That’s. Um.”

“I know!” Casey squeals, turning even redder, if that’s possible. “I know!”

There’s the typical appreciative shouts, but Dave also hears a whistle and someone shouting out “Someone’s getting lucky tonight!” Hudson grins and looks pleased with himself. The rest of the Lima contingent is not as interesting by comparison, though some of the people from the center in Dayton are walking with them. April’s there, with a sign that says ‘Lez–Be–In–Ohio’ inside an outline of Ohio, which Dave admits is pretty clever.

Dave laughs when he see Rick. “That’s festive!” Someone—probably Miles—has tied crêpe paper around Rick like a pageant winner sash.

“Rick looks so fancy!” Casey says. “Hi Rick!” he shouts at the passing group. “Hi Miles!”

“I’m sure Alicia will appreciate it,” Dave says wryly.

Casey shudders and makes a comically disgusted face, and says, “Ewww, David!”

Dave laughs. “I didn’t say you had to picture it!”

“I can’t help it! My imagination’s too good! And now it’s full of horrible, horrible things!”

“Focus on, uh. The next group instead?” Dave suggests.

Casey gives David one more dramatically disgusted face and turns back to the parade, declaring, “This is soooo much fun!” Casey reaches his hand out in Dave’s direction, without looking, and Dave shakes his head once at the disgusted face before taking Casey’s hand. Casey’s hand squeezes Dave’s once and then Casey swings their hands a little while he continues watching the parade, still exclaiming over the signs and balloons and drag queens.

A few more businesses go by, and then a float from some group or another, tossing beads and dancing in a way that Dave is sure he’ll never attempt. Casey tries for beads twice, but misses out when someone else grabs them first, and stomps his foot in frustration.

“I miss all the beads!” Casey says, with another stomp.

Dave shakes his head and steps out into the street a few strides, holding his hand up, and manages to snag a few. “Like these?” he grins. “Even if they aren’t on real string?”

“Yes!” Casey stops stomping and grins at Dave. “You’re really good at that!”

“Just tall,” Dave shrugs diffidently. He steps back on the curb, shaking the beads out and then lifting them over Casey’s head. Casey’s eyes scrunch closed and his shoulders raise a little, though Dave’s pretty sure it’s unconscious, and Dave settles the beads around Casey’s neck. “Good?”

Casey opens his eyes, looks up at Dave, and smiles brilliantly. “Perfect.” There's a fresh round of cheers around them as the next group marches past, and Dave's not sure why that moment, but he leans down and kisses Casey, right there in the sunshine. Casey rests his hands on the back of Dave’s neck and kisses him back, their lips slightly parted. Dave’s hands sit on Casey’s shoulders and he keeps kissing him until he hears louder cheering again and he remembers where they are and reality slams into him a little too quickly. He pulls back, his hands still on Casey’s shoulders, and he doesn’t know what to say.

Casey’s face is flushed, and he’s breathless and looks startled. Dave doesn’t move, just stares at Casey, watching him closely.

“Case.” Dave leans his forehead against the top of Casey’s head. “Shit. I’m leaving in ten days.”

“I know,” Casey says quietly. “I know.” Casey’s hand finds Dave’s again, lacing their fingers together.

“I’m sorry,” Dave whispers, because he is. Not sorry that he kissed him, but sorry that by the end of the month, they’re going to be more miles apart than Dave likes to think about.

Casey squeezes Dave’s hand. “I know,” he repeats. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

 

Casey giggles at David slowly easing himself into the pool. “That takes too long!” he tells David. “You should try it like this!” With that, Casey launches himself off the edge of the pool and into the water. When Casey resurfaces, David is still only waist–deep in the water. “David! Come on!”

“I am,” David protests, and he takes a tiny step forward into slightly deeper water. “See?”

Casey swims around David in a circle, in what’s admittedly a somewhat taunting way. “You have to be all the way in the water for it to count. Daaaaavid, come on!”

“Count for what?” David asks. “Are there pool police?”

“Standing halfway in the water doesn’t count as cross-training, I’m pretty sure,” Casey says, swimming around David again. “You should race me. I’ll show you how fast I am!”

“I think you’ll win. I never could figure out the breaststroke. Or backstroke.”

Casey swims over close to David. “Backstroke’s easy. See?” He runs his hand across David’s back and laughs, then says, “Backstroke!” and swims away. “I can’t help with the other one, sorry!” he calls back to David.

David groans and shakes his head before laughing. “Right.” He finally steps forward enough to be mostly in the water, then swims a few strokes. “Let’s just say I’m not going to be invited to London to represent the US.”

“I like free-swim so much better,” Casey says, swimming back over to David. “No stupid caps. I hate the caps so much. I bet they’re worse than helmets and pads, even.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I’d want something that fit that tight,” David agrees. “You can’t even practice without one?”

“No! It’s terrible,” Casey says. “And we’re not talking about the kind of swimsuit I have to wear for swim team stuff. Seriously, David, we’re not.”

David says, completely deadpan, “You can wear it to Pride next year.”

Casey laughs again and says, “Only if you promise to come with me!”

I’m still going to wear a T-shirt and jeans. Maybe shorts.”

“Good, you can wear enough clothes for the both of us,” Casey says, then he feels himself starting to blush so he ducks back under the water and swims away. He can hear David laugh a little, and then splash towards the side.

“So I always thought these things were a little insulting,” David says, holding up three of the weighted rings. “A lot like fetch.”

“Then you throw them, and I’ll fetch them,” Casey says. “Pretend it’s discus and we’ll do the whole Olympics right here in the pool. We won’t talk about how the equestrian events are going to work.”

David laughs and flings two of the rings far out into the pool. “Find a horse–faced lifeguard?” he suggests.

“Nooooo, David! I said we aren’t going to talk about it!” Casey turns around and dives under the water again, swimming down to get the rings. He finds both of them and swims back to the surface. “Gold medal?”

“You bested all your competitors,” David agrees, grinning.

“I get gold, silver, and bronze.”

“We’ll find a video of the national anthem on YouTube after we get done swimming.”

“Oh say, can you see?” Casey sings, and David winces. “Fine. Just toss me some more rings.”

David laughs and complies. “This what they have you do in practice?”

Casey grins at David. “Definitely,” he promises. They don’t at all, really, but Casey likes it, so that’s what they’re doing. If David can call it cross-training, Casey can claim it’s practice.

 

It seems odd to think that this is the last time Dave will walk into the center in Dayton. It's not a place he's visited that often, after all, and he only started visiting a few months previous, but it's still strange to acknowledge the truth that it's highly unlikely he will ever be back. Football will keep him in Atlanta more than he might otherwise be there, and on his trips home, he doesn't picture making the time for a trip to Dayton.

The trip's a distraction, though, from the boxes and suitcases that are slowly taking over Dave's room, along with the accumulating gift cards from distant relatives and friends of his father's who apparently have a knee-jerk reaction to a graduation announcement: send a gift card. The way Dave figures it, the first opportunity he has in Atlanta, he needs to find a Best Buy.

“So, uh, what kind of cookies do you think they found at Kroger today?” Dave asks Casey.

“Peanut butter,” Casey says. “It’s the fourth Saturday of the month. I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out the system.”

“Oh.” Dave shrugs. “Cool. I like the peanut butter ones.”

“Yeah. They’ll probably have plain sugar cookies, too, because they always do,” Casey says. “That’s good, because I don’t really like the peanut butter ones.”

Dave smiles a little. “Yeah, you like the sugar cookies,” he agrees, thinking back months ago, now. “Going to keep an extra in your pocket?”

“Hmm?” Casey’s quiet for a few seconds, then says, “Oh, the dance. I had that cookie in my pocket, only it sounded so awful when I said it out loud!” He giggles, and adds, “It still sounds sort of awful.”

Dave laughs. “I know. We need to figure out what it means. Or at least insinuate a meaning. Convince April it’s a thing that people know about.”

“Then that’s our goal for today,” Casey says. “We have to make April think it’s something that’s, um. Really dirty. Only we don’t have to actually know what she thinks it is, so let’s make sure she doesn’t ever get a chance to tell us, alright?”

“Yeah, I don’t think our minds are any match for hers in terms of that.” Dave grins and pulls into a parking spot. “We’d lose.”

“What if April isn’t here?” Casey asks, as they’re walking into the building.

“I’ve never been here when she isn’t here. And she’s always seen Miles, or Puck and Kurt. She must live here.”

“Do you think she has a bedroom in one of those back rooms that nobody goes in? Or does she maybe string up a hammock after everybody else goes home?” Casey asks.

“Did I hear my name!” April says, appearing in a doorway. “Oh, good, you’re back! If you’d been here two weeks ago, though, you could have seen lesbian–tossing!”

“I don’t want to see that,” Casey says, wide-eyed. “Why would I want to see that? David, why would anybody want to see that?” Casey’s fingers wrap around Dave’s as they stop to talk to April.

April shakes her head. “Dancing, silly! Kurt and Puck brought Finn with them and we danced!”

Casey starts to giggle, and he cuts his eyes over at Dave before he says, “I wonder if he has a sugar cookie in his pocket?”

“I don’t know,” Dave says, attempting a serious tone. “That’s a big leap, isn’t it?” Dave has no idea what that would even mean, but it sounds vague enough that maybe April will extrapolate something.

“Yes, but that shirt, David!”

April’s eyes widen, and she doesn’t respond for a few beats too long, but then she giggles almost nervously. “Yeah, he had at least three people ask him where he bought it! I told him he should sell them on the Internet.”

“The sugar cookies would be optional,” Casey says, conspiratorially, leaning slightly towards April. “I mean, you can’t just put that out there online.” He gives Dave’s hand a little squeeze.

April looks strangely like she’s about to choke, then she shrugs exaggeratedly and turns to walk down the hall. “Some things are better kept offline,” she agrees.

“Like sugar cookies.” Dave nods as they follow her. “They’re better off in pockets.”

Casey giggles again. “You know who probably always has a sugar cookie in his pocket? Miles.”

“Miles probably has two in his pocket at a time,” Dave agrees.

“I bet they never make it home though,” Casey says. “You know how Miles is. He’d eat them in five minutes and he’d just have crumbs.”

Dave laughs. “Miles has a lack of impulse control. He never met a sugar cookie he didn’t like.”

“So, what about the other cookies?” April asks, squinting a little as she examines them, once they’re in the main room.

Dave stares at her, then looks at the refreshment table. “Hey, Case?”

“Yes, David?”

“Sugar cookies.” He gestures towards the tray of cookies.

Casey collapses in a fit of giggles, and it’s probably only Dave’s hand that keeps him standing upright. April looks at them, almost distressed and definitely confused, her hand on her chin.

“You two are so strange. I swear. Lima’s an odd place.”

“That’s why we have to come out of town for our sugar cookies!” Casey gasps through laughter.

Dave laughs. “It’s so true. There’s practically a shortage in Lima proper.”

April shakes her head slowly, carefully picking up one of the peanut butter cookies—so Casey had been right—and then sitting down nearby. “Do I really want to know?”

Casey’s eyes are very wide as he shakes his head. “Nooooo. You really don’t!”

“I just don’t think she could handle it,” Dave says, trying to sound sad about the whole affair.

“I don’t think you’re really into sugar cookies, April,” Casey says. “Just trust us. We know these things.”

The two of them pick a sofa near April’s chair, and Casey arranges himself with his legs over the arm of the sofa and his head on Dave’s leg. Dave is pretty sure Casey subconsciously thinks Dave comprehends better if Casey’s viewing him upside down. Lionel walks in and announces that the topic that afternoon is “Representing the LGBT Community at Public Events,” and even if Dave were inclined to pay close attention, it seems like the time for that meeting should have been before Pride and everything, not after.

“Maybe he didn’t like Finn’s shirt,” Casey whispers, giggling again, then nibbling around the edges of a sugar cookie. Dave suppresses a laugh of his own, figuring he should at least appear to be paying attention for a few minutes.

Dave is pretty sure that they would have had a more interesting meeting on the same topic in PFLAG, but after awhile, Lionel finally gets tired of the sound of his own voice, and Dave moves his hand from Casey’s shoulder. “Ready to go grab dinner?” he asks.

“I guess so. I’m not really hungry,” Casey says. “I’m tired of here, though.” He slowly sits up, swinging his feet back to the floor.

“Yeah,” Dave agrees, standing up. He grins at April. “See you,” he says without thinking.

“Oh, are you going?” April waves and smiles brightly. “Bye!”

Casey gives April a little wave, looking crestfallen suddenly. He doesn’t say anything as they walk out to Dave’s truck. Dave squeezes his hand once before dropping it so they can get in.

“Culver’s?” Dave asks as he starts the truck and pulls away from the curb. “Custard for dinner?”

Casey perks up a little at that. “No burger first?”

“If I eat two burgers, that’s sort of the same. Right?”

“Definitely the same,” Casey agrees. “Oh! Hey, David?”

“Yeah?” Dave asks, turning onto the interstate.

“Guess what I’ve got in my pocket?”

Dave laughs, shaking his head, and doesn’t even attempt to answer that question.

 

“Look at that, Cherry,” Miles says, sighing heavily. “Look at them. I told Ma we needed to keep an eye on those two, and do you know what she did? She laughed.”

“Maybe you should actually be talking to Mrs. Rickenbacker,” David snorts. “Rick’s not exactly the predatory sort.”

Casey laughs and squeezes David’s hand. “Poor Rick,” he says.

“You two aren’t making me feel any better,” Miles glowers as he speaks.

“It’s okay, Miles,” Casey says. “I think Alicia could take him in a fight. Really, she could probably just say to him, ‘Rick, sit down here and I’m going to kick you’ and he’d do it. Poor Rick.” Miles keeps on glowering, though, and Casey squeezes David’s hand again, because he can. Who’s going to stop him?

“Time for cake!” Coach announces loudly. “And a little bit of business.”

“Cake business?” Casey asks. “How can there be cake business? That’s strange business.”

“So as I said in the invitation, this is to honor our players that graduated, whether they’re going on to play ball in college or not. So if the five of you would come up here.” Coach looks out at everyone expectantly. David doesn’t make any movement to get up; he doesn’t even twitch.

“David?” Casey says softly. “I think you’re supposed to go up there. I think she means you.”

David frowns and seems to be watching the other four seniors, and slowly gets to his feet, squeezing Casey’s hand once before dropping it. He walks up to stand beside Sam, still frowning. Even though David only just walked up there, Casey waves at him, because it just seems like the thing to do, and David looks so uncomfortable and unhappy about having to be up there.

Monty hands Coach five identically–wrapped packages, and Coach looks at each one closely before handing it to the right person. The other guys unwrap their boxes, but David keeps looking at his for a while before he makes a move to open it, like he thinks it might have a snake in it or something. Casey’s fairly certain there’s no snake, though.

David looks puzzled for a few seconds before it’s explained that they’re all digital picture frames, and then he turns his on and starts to look at the pictures. It’s the second or third picture, probably, when David freezes before lifting his eyes and staring at Casey. David’s face is completely unguarded, a tiny bit of astonishment mixed with realization.

Casey stares right back at David, and a little shiver runs up his spine and he feels tingly. He has the sudden, absolute certainty that if the two of them had a place to go, an actual place where nobody else was, that they would go there right now. It would make everything a thousand times harder in three days, but that wouldn’t stop Casey, if they actually had a place they could disappear to.

“Let Monty get some pictures!” Coach says loudly, jostling all five of the boys, and David’s lips twitch just barely upwards before he looks away, going to stand where Coach indicates. Monty snaps a bunch of pictures, rearranging them in various combinations, and David looks increasingly disgruntled with the entire process. When Monty’s attention turns away from David, David steps off the deck and walks back to Casey.

“Want to go?” he whispers. “Park?”

Yes,” Casey whispers back. “I’m done with partying. I was done before the partying started, even.”

David snorts. “Yeah, definitely.” He leads the way out of the backyard, though before they escape, Coach stops them.

“One more picture, boys!”

Casey and David exchange a dubious look, and Casey takes a step closer to David, hiding their clasped hands from Coach. Casey doesn’t really even try to smile, and after the camera flashes, he looks at David and sees that he didn’t smile, either.

“We’re going out,” Casey tells Coach. “We’ll be back later.”

Coach just nods. “That’s fine.” She sees something else she wants Monty to take a picture of, apparently, and the two of them head off in the other direction. David resumes walking, unlocking his truck and climbing in without speaking. He starts the engine and pulls away, then sighs.

“That was excruciating.”

“The whole thing or just the end part?” Casey asks. “It was kind of the whole thing excruciating for me.”

“The whole thing, but especially the end part.” David looks at the picture frame. “Guess I can put some of my own shit on there, though.”

Casey picks up the picture frame and turns the power on, reaching across the seat to take David’s hand in his again. The first picture is of the whole McKinley football team, David and Finn looming over the rest of them like giants, and the second picture picture is a smaller grouping of players. The picture after that, though, was also taken at a game, but it’s a picture of David and Casey. Casey’s standing on the bottom of the stands, leaning on the railing, and David’s on the other side of the railing. The picture must have been taken at one of the playoffs, because Casey’s nose is bright red and there’s visible steam from David’s breath. They’re smiling at each other; they look happy, in a completely uncomplicated and non-finite sort of way.

He flips the power back off on the frame and sets it on the seat without saying anything. David makes the turn into the park and turns off the truck, stepping onto the grass without even looking at the frame again. He lies back and sighs.

“It looks like cotton candy. Even the colors.”

Casey lies down on the grass next to David and looks up at the clouds. “It does.” His hand finds David’s, twining their fingers together. “Let’s stay here.”

David turns his head towards Casey, smiling faintly. “Yeah.”

They lie like that on the grass, looking at each other, hand in hand, until the sun sets and the sky is dark.

 

“Thank you,” the nurse heading out the door says to Dave, as he holds the door open, and he nods in response before walking through it himself. He’s beginning to envy Casey getting to swim in a few hours, after that workout and the heat.

He walks into the Starbucks and up to the counter without a word, watching Casey fix a drink for the previous customer. After Casey’s done with the milk steamer thing, he looks up and notices Dave standing there, and beams at him. Casey doesn’t say anything until he hands the customer her coffee, but then he walks over to the counter and leans on it.

“Hi.”

“Hey.” Dave smiles. “Busy today?”

“Terribly. It’s been crowded like this all day,” Casey says, indicating the otherwise–empty Starbucks.

Dave snorts. “Must be why you need so many co-workers right now, too.”

“This sort of volume is hard to handle alone. They’ll probably have to ship some guys in from another store just to make sure everybody gets their coffee!”

“Ship is right,” Dave laughs. “Aren’t you the only store for miles?”

“They’ll ship them overnight. Whoever opens in the morning will have to sign for them,” Casey says. “I hope they remember to put air holes in the box or that will be pretty upsetting for Puck, I bet.”

“Yeah, maybe so,” Dave agrees. “I was wishing I could do more ‘cross-training’ today. Be glad you’re going to be in a pool.”

“Meet me there after practice and we’ll swim if you want,” Casey offers. “Just swim–swim, no ring tossing or anything!”

“That sounds good,” Dave says. “You won’t make me try breaststroke, though, right?”

Casey shudders. “Never. That’s a terrible thing to suggest, David. I would never do such a thing.” He steps away from the counter and starts making Dave’s iced latte without even waiting for Dave to order it.

Dave laughs. “Yeah, I didn’t figure you would.”

 

Pat’s is mostly empty at 6:45 on a Wednesday morning, and the two of them sit at a booth in the back corner, pretending to eat apple danishes. Well, David pretends to eats, and Casey doesn’t even pick at his. Casey’s left hand grips David’s right hand tightly, resting in the middle of the table, and Casey pretends, for just a few minutes, that if he holds on tight enough, David can’t leave.

Pretending is stupid.

“She said they’ve had raspberry for the past five days,” David says, frowning at the apple danish. “But not today.”

“I’m sorry,” Casey says, because he’s not sure what else to say about a danish. Or anything else.

“Not your fault. Guess it’s not hers, either,” David concedes, then sighs heavily. “This sucks.”

“Yeah,” Casey says. He runs his thumb across the back of David’s hand and looks down at the table, at his coffee cup, at their hands. Anywhere but David’s face, because he has to get David into his truck and on his way to Atlanta without falling to pieces.

“I don’t— I don’t know what to say. Or do.” David sighs. “Maybe. Maybe we should give up on the danish.”

“You should take them with you. For when you get hungry later,” Casey says. He says it because it’s the sort of inane thing he’s supposed to say. He’s supposed to say things that don’t mean anything. That’s what goodbyes are, really. Inane things that don’t mean anything or make anybody feel any better.

“Yeah, okay,” David says, nodding. He squeezes Casey’s hand and lets go of it slowly, then stands up and shoves the danish–pieces into the white paper bakery bag. David clutches at his huge cup of coffee, almost too tightly. “Well.”

Casey makes himself stand up, too. He tries to think of a reason why they should sit back down, or something else they need to do before David can leave, or something he can say that will make this better or easier, but he doesn’t come up with anything at all, so he just says “Yeah” again and looks down at his feet.

David nods and starts to walk towards the door robotically, his knuckles almost the color of the bakery bag his hand is holding, and he doesn’t really pause until he gets to his truck and unlocks the door. He puts the bakery bag and the coffee inside and then turns around. “Fuck,” he says quietly.

Casey nods his head slightly in agreement. He can do this. He has to do this. There’s not an out, there’s not another option, there’s only the choice of sending David off with or without Casey being a mess, and Casey’s not going to let David start that drive after having just seen Casey fall apart all over the place. He takes a deep breath and he squares his jaw—that’s what people do when they have to do impossibly hard things, they square their jaws—and he looks David right in the face and he makes himself smile.

“You’re going to do so great down there,” Casey says. “And it’s all going to be okay.” And if he’s using his liar’s voice, David won’t notice.

“Yeah. Yeah.” David reaches out and takes Casey’s hand again. “I’ll call you. When I get there. After the truck’s off.”

Casey holds David’s hand a little too tightly, and he nods and keeps smiling, even though his face hurts from holding the smile in place. “That sounds like a good plan. As soon as you get there. So… so I know you made it there.”

“Yeah. I will.” David squeezes Casey’s hand. “I should.” He takes a deep breath. “I should go.”

Casey can feel his smile falter, and he nods his head a few times. “I know. I know.” He drags the toe of his shoe across the blacktop. “David, I—” He cuts himself off, because what, exactly, is he supposed to say?

“Yeah.” David tries to smile, then squeezes Casey’s hand a final time before releasing it. He climbs into the truck and pulls on his seatbelt, the door still open. “Bye, Case,” he says softly.

Casey tries to say, “Goodbye, David,” but no actual sound comes out, so he just mouths the words. David starts the truck, and Casey takes a few steps backward. He doesn’t even try to smile anymore, because he has to put everything he’s got into not crying. He won’t, he won’t, make David see him cry. Not today.

David closes the door and puts the truck in reverse, then holds up his hand in an approximation of a wave. His truck pulls out of the spot and he turns onto Elida, and then he’s going, going, gone. Casey waits until he can’t see the truck anymore before he unlocks the Lemon and climbs inside. He puts his forehead down on the steering wheel and he starts to cry, and he doesn’t stop for a long, long time.

 

Interstate 75 looks like it always does. The directions are horribly simple. Follow the signs to stay on I-75 South. Stay on I-75 South for five hundred seventy-eight and four-tenths miles. Get off at exit 249 D, which apparently is marked for both Georgia Tech and North Avenue. Dave thinks that's a little funny, since his assigned dorm is also called North Avenue – North Avenue South, anyway.

The directions are too simple. He doesn't have to think about driving. Paul suggested using cruise control, even, but Dave's sure that makes it too easy. By Kentucky, he's going to play the alphabet game.

Anything to keep himself from thinking about what—who—he's driving away from. Dave thinks about the way Casey looked at Pat’s and in the parking lot, and he forces his mind away from those images to how Casey looked in the pool the evening before, and the week before, and anything he can think of where Casey looked happy.

Dave keeps his foot on the gas pedal, and miles of asphalt roll under the tires of his truck, under the boxes and suitcases filling the truck bed and the backseat of the crew cab. Miles of asphalt, and his mind stays focused on Casey.