How long is this going to go on?
He’s just sitting there. He was looking for food a while ago, so I gave him my last bag of Fritos I’d been saving. He’s watching The Walking Dead in his sweats and the T-shirt I bought him awhile back, “Smoke Meth & Hail Satan.” He cut the arms off a while ago, and I can see his abs underneath. He looks friggin’ adorable when he wakes up, with his shaggy hair messed up and his eyes half-closed behind invisible-but-stupidly-long blond eyelashes. Curled up on the couch, he looks like a little emo kid. He is a little emo kid, even though he’s eighteen.
I’m, like, two years younger than him…ish. Today’s my sixteenth birthday. I hate my birthday. It just reminds me my parents aren’t here, they weren’t here last year, and they probably won’t be here next year either. It’s maddening to think I’m so unremarkable and I’ll always stay that way. No birthday hugs. No balloons. No party or even a card. Sure, I’ll get a birthday check. My dad called me yesterday and asked me if five hundred was enough. Last year they sent me eight hundred, and I bought ass-kicking wardrobes for me and mine at Urban Outfitters. We go out now looking like totally emo badasses.
“What do you want for your birthday?” Casey asks me. I get up and walk to the kitchen before he can see me blush.
Nobody knows, I think to myself. Nobody knows but me. The one good thing about this is that I’m really good at hiding how I feel. I think it’s just ‘because I’m depressed as shit and I rarely show much emotion except just being blatantly pissy.
I take my pills and wash it down with my nasty strawberry protein shake. The strawberry ones are the grossest; Casey buys me the shakes because I won’t eat enough. I have a thyroid problem, so even with the hormones, if I don’t have about thirty-five hundred calories a day, I get scary-skinny and I can’t do anything but sleep.
“Here, drink this.” I hand the shake to Casey. He cringes. I hope my color is fading. He can’t find out my secret. Although he might already know.
“I dare you.” I challenge, grinning.
“Ew,” He says plainly.
“Baby,” Casey Rothman hates being called names. He hates labels. Now I’ve done it. Pissed, he snatches the shake and chugs the remainder of it. He gags and gets this really funny look on his face. He coughs and splutters, then lifts my light ass off the ground and throws me down onto the couch, pretending to throw up all over me and jumping on me. I laugh. I have a really loud laugh. I cackle like a witch.
“Please don’t lick me,” I beg. Casey licks everybody indiscriminately. It’s his general sign of affection. And hugs. Like, molestation hugs. Casey licks my eyebrow and I scream. He’s always been one of those people who just knew when to hug you or kiss you or hold your hand when you need him to. Or lick. He’s like the Labrador in Up, even if nobody else would think so.
“Okay fine, you don’t have to drink those.” He says, conceding that I win. Sometimes I can totally play him like that. But he’d do just about anything for me, so he doesn’t fight hard. He only started making me drink ‘em ‘cause I’ve always been about fifteen pounds underweight.
“Whatever you say,” I grin.
“Is that what you wanted for your birthday?” He gets off of me, and I get up off the couch.
“Nope,” I say, hiding my face in the chair behind him. I painted his toes black a week ago while he was sleeping, and it still hasn’t chipped off. He’s Matthew Bellamy with a softer jaw line. He dyes his hair black, but it’s supposed to be this really cool platinum blonde, so when his roots grow in its super cool. It’s unkempt in an adorable way, with his shaggy bangs in his eyes. His eyes are blue, but a weird blue, like a really dark blue. I’d kill just to have a decent excuse to stare at them for a while. He’s as tall as Bellamy, too! He’s five-six! They’re twins! He really doesn’t look eighteen. He looks fifteen maybe.
But he’s really friggin’ sweet. Everybody who bothers to talk to him loves him to death, even though nobody talks to him because according to the school counselor we’re unapproachable. He’s always there when I’m having one of those days; he gives the best friggin hugs in the world- they could stop wars, I swear. He literally picks me up from school halfway through the day every day because he gets bored alone. He stole a wheelchair for me when we went to this music festival so he could get me up front. Someone actually thought he was Matthew Bellamy because Muse was playing there. He went along with it, and when they found out he wasn’t, security got us to meet Muse.
He cannot make friends. We both have wicked social anxiety. I mean, concerts are one thing, but we can’t do big parties. We never hang out afterschool with anyone. Well, okay- I went to both his proms with him and I took him to homecoming. We tried. But we didn’t talk to anyone- we lectured the DJ on what to play and danced dirty with other people’s dates because we could just get away with that kind of stuff. We’re the only ones who really know each other, though. His parents haven’t even talked to him since he got emancipated when he was sixteen. Casey’s never talked about his family. I lost all my friends when I was eight and I was diagnosed with chronic depression. Anybody else who isn’t us would probably die of loneliness in our situation.
I’m convinced that he likes me back, and I know that’s weird because he’s two years older and graduated high school, but my parents are nineteen years apart, so there. My parents think he wanted to move in with me so he could sleep with me.
Well he’s a guy, and he’s straight, so maybe that did have something to with it….whatever; that didn’t happen, is the point. My virginity is still fully intact.
But in the past couple years I’ve either subconsciously starved myself or I’ve actually attempted suicide numerous times. I know he’ll never forgive me for shit like that, so he’s here to physically make sure I never go through with either. I don’t know what I’d do without him now that I’ve got him.
But we are also the biggest flirts in the world, so it’s pretty much totally comfortable. We have to say something that really sounds like a come-on for it to actually stick as a come-on.
“You still haven’t told me what you want.” He points out, and I flip him off behind his back.
“I’m just not gonna tell you…” I taunt him. He turns around and shoots a wicked grin at me. My jaw kinda drops open just a little bit. Just a little bit. God damn. He shouldn’t be able to smile like that if I can’t kiss him afterward. It isn’t fair. He puts his chin on his hand and just looks at me awhile, and, self-conscious suddenly, I look at the gruesome bloodbath on the screen, desperate to get away from the attention. His big eyes are soft, his hair in his face and I want to brush it away.
Mentally screaming obscenities.
“I know you want something.” He says quietly. “Everybody wants something.” He teases me, and I know he knows. My eyes widen but I can’t pull them away. His laughing eyes turn serious. He knows everything. I let my guard down and he knows everything and I’ll probably never hear the end of it. This could be the end of all of it.
He smiles real gently out of the side of his mouth, and my eyes widen in shock. I am the deer. A baby deer. The light is terrifying. I start stuttering, trying to say something rational, and he just smiles. Casey sits down beside me on the loveseat, our knees touching, and he very smoothly takes both my hands in one of his and puts them on his lap. I find myself feeling imprisoned by those eyes, a guilty party. The fat curve of his lips looks inviting. Very. He smiles, immediately calming me. I want to bolt. I do it all the time. But I want this so bad. And he’s just so…inviting.
He puts his hand on my neck, like he’s thought everything about this second through before. I’m so at a loss for words, for actions, for mere thoughts, but I like this feeling. Casey leans in close to me, really close, tightening his grip on my wrists and my jaw. He smiles gently. I don’t have to be afraid, it’s not like he’d hurt me. He pauses, looking into my eyes, as if to ask permission. I don’t move a muscle, and at first he kisses me on the cheek, just a brush of his lips against skin. He looks me right in the eyes. His eyes are on fire, glowing with their own personal light. I can read his thoughts before he speaks them. Barely hesitating, he leans in for my lips.
Shocked isn’t even close to the right word. I feel flat-out drugged. I’ve had this dream before. But he never looked at me exactly that way, and held me like this, like he’s just as determined to have this happen as I want it to. I’d never dreamt his lips would be so soft, that he’d taste this good. He holds my hands to his chest, and I lean in close to him. Dear God, take me now. I just want to live in the immediacy of him; screw the aftermath. He releases my hands and wraps his arm around my waist. We stay like this for a long time, unmoving. He lays me back against the chair cushion. I grin against his lips. God.
“Thanks,” I say quietly when he pulls away, his face not an inch from mine. His forehead’s leaned up against mine. He doesn’t get off of me. I feel suddenly embarrassed.
“Yeah,” He says breathlessly, looking just about as confused as I feel. He’s the deer now. I am paralyzing. We both knew I wanted this but that doesn’t mean we know what it means. I mean, he lives here. He’s my only friend. He takes care of me like a dad, teases me like a brother, listens to me like a grandfather, has fun with me like a best friend, and, and…
Kisses me like a first love. Crap.
I reach up with one hand and run my fingers through his hair. He has soft hair, thin from the dye. I was with him the last time he had a haircut, and I was fourteen.
“Do you know what that was?” Casey asks rather blatantly, looking more confused than anything.
“Well…you knew what I wanted.” I shrug, trying to pretend this isn’t as big a deal as it feels. Because odds are it really isn’t.
“Yeah…but I honestly wanted to do that. This just seemed like a more opportune time. Does that just make me an ass, then?” He guesses. I close my eyes for a second, soaking in the realness of this moment, the reality.
“Not at all,” I shrug. He rubs his thumb against my cheek. I hold onto his wrist, smiling. He kisses me again, barely half a second. I have to be dreaming.
“I have to be dreaming.” I get out. My heart beats furiously, trying to keep up with the thoughts going rapid-fire in my head. What does this mean? Could we actually be together? Does he really feel like that about me? Can this happen? Can this happen? Can this happen?
What if this isn’t real?
“That’d make this easier to swallow, that’s for sure. How ‘bout it, Abby?” He asks softly, his eyes tender and quiet.
I can just barely nod my head once. His lips form to mine and he takes me completely in his arms, enveloping me, surrounding me. There’s nothing but Casey. I won’t admit out loud how scared I am right now. He rubs his thumb against my temple, brushing the part of my head that’s shaved.
Then another earthquake hits and it literally makes me jump out of my skin. Casey curses, looking mildly frightened. We’ve had ‘em unusually frequently for the past couple of days, getting worse and worse. Which probably means some apocalyptic shift will shatter the tectonic plates today, but in California I wouldn’t put it past nature.
I laugh nervously when it’s over. I’m used to them, but they still scare me sometimes. They’re never enough to do much damage. But the one that woke me up this morning was reported at a four. Dishes fell out of our cupboards and my bookshelves tipped over.
The only time I really had a problem with earthquakes was when I was ten. I had a nanny back then to watch me, but she was out at the grocery store. I was home alone; I was only supposed to be alone for half an hour. Then it hit. Later they said it was a six on the Richter scale. It felt like a ten. It lasted for about thirty seconds. It felt like days. I had never felt an earthquake before. I was alone. The phone was ringing thirty seconds after it stopped, and I thought it would be Rita, my sixty-something nanny that wouldn’t even know it if I drank a bottle of bleach. It was Casey. He said his mom was worried about me, but even at ten I knew that that was complete bullshit. Nobody has that tone of voice when they’re calling on behalf of their mother. If they’re calling on behalf of their mother, they wouldn’t offer to stay with you until somebody came home.
This is Casey. See his amazing-ness.
‘What the hell, Batman?” Casey says. I grin and lean against his chest.
Twenty minutes later we’re in Casey’s Explorer driving to JC’s house. We’re doing this dance-exhibition-thingy on Friday, and we’ve practiced four days a week for the past six weeks. We’re dancing in pairs. I’m with Casey. I love dancing with Casey. You have to dance with him to know what it’s like to actually dance with him. This guy JC is working with a girl I know only as The Girl Who Works at Ground Zero. We call him JC because he legit looks like Jesus. This guy from my school Ben is dancing with some Goth chick who scares people at this fro-yo place Casey took me to one time. And then there’s this one girl Liana who’s on parole for tagging. She’s dancing with her boy/girlfriend Sam. It’s pretty strange- he’s a gender-queer bisexual. I think that means he has, like four times the potential options as a heterosexual. They’re the closest things any of us has to friends.
“Hey,” Casey pulls me back in the car as I’m getting out, “Don’t tell anyone. Alright?”
“What, you ashamed?” His eyes get all big and nervous. He leans over and kisses me on the forehead and I blush uncontrollably.
“No, no, no, no, no. I just wanna do something that’ll freak ‘em out.” He smiles at me, and I just roll my eyes.
It’s pretty awesome ‘because Casey and I are the leads. He gets to wear a black jacket with coattails and I have a ripped-up, Sharpie-covered black dress and those black Converse boots. Swag. I’m pretty good, but Casey’s friggin’ unbelievable. The dance is pretty cool. We’re, like, this tango/step/hip-hop/break dance kind of thing. We put together about a minute of “We Don’t Speak No Americano,” (not the Lady Gaga one, damnit) and the intro/first chorus to “We Will Rock You.” I love Queen. The hip-hop is this song from the Step Up 3 soundtrack and I know the name of the last one but it has to come to me. The whole thing lasts about ten minutes. The tango is sexy. I like dancing with Casey. I mean, it’s just dancing. If it were anyone else I wouldn’t even think about it, but it’s…it’s him, alright! Aagh!
It goes by fast. We’ve been practicing so hard we’re perfect. I mean, we’re only doing this for tips and ‘cuz it’s fun, but it’d be nice if a lot of people saw. We’ve put up flyers in almost every shop in San Diego, in a couple concert halls, even in the grocery store. We really have nothing better to do.
In the last second of the song, Casey does this kind of weird systematic fall I’ll never understand the mechanics of, and I land perfectly on top of him just like the other couples, and when I finally get down I’m breathing hard. The way we’re set up, everyone is looking at us. Casey picks up his head and kisses me on the lips, and I lose whatever breath I had left.
“Holy shit!” JC says rather blatantly.
“What?” Casey says innocently. “We did the dance just like we were supposed to do.” JC starts laughing. I pull Casey to his feet.
“Holy shit, you suck!” Ground Zero yells. She walks over and punches Casey in the stomach. It sounds like it hurts.
“Abby, she’s hurting me!” Casey cries, leaning his head on my chest and pretending to cry. I pet his head and kiss his forehead.
“It’s okay, the bad girl’s gone.” I murmur.
“You totally took her away from me,” JC says teasingly, and kisses me on the cheek. He’s twenty-five, I might add. Statutory.
“Yeah, what’s the deal?” Ben smiles, and I mouth at him, ‘no, no!’ He takes my head in both his bear-hands and kisses me loudly on the cheek. Casey turns his head and makes loud sobbing noises into my cleavage. This dress is a little low. I just pet his head. Sam comes over to me, and I’m horrified. He’s, like, the friggin’ Hulk. I don’t stand a chance. Sam comes right behind Casey and wraps his big arms around the both of us, squashing Casey’s face against my barely-B’s. He wasn’t complaining. Sam leans into my face over Casey’s head and grins in this weird seductive-purr kind of way (you have to see The Neighbors to get that reference). He gives me the biggest, loudest, moaning- and-grinding kiss on the lips that has ever been given without warrant.
At least rapists are quiet about it.
Casey lets go of my waist and rams his elbow into Sam’s six-pack. When he doubles over, Casey whirls around and roundhouses him in the chest and Sam falls to his knees. Casey tackles him and pins him on his stomach.
Those idiots should’ve known better…
“I won’t do it again, man!” Sam says desperately. “I’m happy for you. I knew you liked her. I’ll keep my hands off her! Now let me go!” Brains over brawn, darling….That’s why there are boys in the military like Steve Rogers who weigh ninety pounds that always get underestimated.
“That’s what I thought you said.” Casey says, getting up. He gives Sam a hand.
“Yeah, it’s you that I really want.” Sam leans in and kisses Casey on the cheek, and Casey just glares at him.
“He’s not worth it, keep calm and dance on,” I giggle. That sounded lame.
“You’re an idiot,” He smirks.
“We’re all idiots. Kinda why we’re here,”
What’s-her-face offers to buy us fro-yo, but we turn it down. I almost lose it when JC calls me out on wanting some action. Grrrr…..
I shower when I get home. When I come back out front Casey’s sitting just where he was this morning, somewhere in the middle of The Walking Dead marathon.
“Come here,” He pats the space in between his legs. I sit in front of him, leaning back on his chest. He hugs me hard from behind.
“I guess I really have time to make up,” He says, laughing.
“Yep,” He kisses my cheek hard, and I can’t help giggling.
“What’s different about this?” I ask after a while, leaning back against his shoulder. I look back at him.
“We’re out in the open about it. I don’t have to pretend like I’m not absolutely stone crazy about you.” His arms tighten around me.
“You could’ve just said it earlier. I thought I was the only one.”
“Believe me, I was a goner first.” His lips are warm against my cheek.
“You’re warm,” I mutter. I’m tired. That was a long practice.
“You’re fun to hug.” I look up again to see nothing but a smile. It’s blinding. It’s like seeing God. I turn around to face him. He holds me tighter, his hand at the back of my neck.
“You know what else is different now?” Casey whispers.
“What?” I say. His lips are perfect when they touch mine. This is what I’ve dreamed about for- well, I don’t know when I started thinking about it, I just did one day. I grin against his lips and lean into him.
“I don’t have to just daydream about doing that.” He sighs, running his hand through my short hair. “I should go shower.”
I shake my head, “in a little bit.” I insist. We kiss. We hold each other. For a while all we do is stare. He’s so beautiful.
“You should’ve moved in on me on your birthday,” I say against the side of his face. His sunken cheek fits the palm of my hand perfectly.
He chuckles, “Famous last words,”
He brushes the shaved part of my head, “Yeah?”
“Even if we don’t work out, would you leave?” His smile fades. He leans in close to my face, insisting I look at him. I’m dangerously close to hypnotism.
“I’ll do everything I have to just to keep you, Abby. I’ve liked you since I was fourteen, damnit. I’m going to keep you if it’s all I can do. Even on the miniscule, less-than-one-thousandth chance that we don’t work out, I’m not leaving you. I’m never gonna have anyone like you, Abby, and I’m definitely not stupid enough to give that all up. Deal?” He holds his pinkie out.
“Pinkie-swear,” I lock pinkies with him. I pull him closer, grinning.
“Pinkie-swear,” He agrees. I kiss him on the lips, turning my head to fit into him. He runs his hand behind my back, his hand brushing the bar piercing in my ear.
Finally he says he can smell himself now, so I let him go.
“You need any help let me know.” I call. He howls. He takes his shirt off as he walks down the hall. I whistle.
I relax back into the couch and smile to myself so wide I look like Chuckey’s bride. I hear the shower turn on. I honestly try to watch TV or draw but I’m thinking too hard. I get up finally and go to the kitchen to get something to eat.
Three steps in the earthquake hits.
It’s so startling I fall to my knees. I scramble to the wall. Shit’s falling but I don’t see what. I close my eyes, trying not to freak out. God, it’s bad. I hear glass break like a gunshot and I scream. The panic’s setting in fast. I’m shaking, and I just huddle in a ball. I’m alone. I’ll always be alone, and one day something’s gonna fall and crush me but nobody will give a shit. It’s been six years. This’ll just happen again. Why don’t I just crawl into the kitchen and wait for the fridge to tip over, or the knives to fall, or the wires to short out and the overhead light to fall on me? So many options…
“Abby! Abby!” I hear distant shouting. “Abby!” It’s coming closer. “ABBY, GODDAMMIT ANSWER ME!” He yells. I hear stuff crashing even after everything is still. All is so scarily silent. Finally he appears, falling to his knees by me. He holds the sides of my head with shaky hands.
“Abby, are you alright?” He whispers, shaking me. I’m crying. I can’t look up. “Abby, it’s okay. Come on, we better get out of here.”
There’s only one thing I can do- bolt. I run to the bathroom and lock the door behind me. It’s still steamy and the mirror is fogged up. It smells like him in here. I cry harder. I sob and scream and slam my fists against the tile until my knuckles bleed. Casey doesn’t say a word, but I can hear him breathing right outside the door. I comb my hair out of my eyes. I can’t do this anymore. This is only going to happen again. Over and over again. I want this to be over with.
I think about cutting myself with Casey’s razor, but I smell gas.
Of course the pipes would break. There’s a gas leak. The carbon monoxide could kill me in minutes, and all I’ll do is fall asleep. The other times didn’t work because I made it too hard. I scramble to open the vents. I stuff the window with a towel. I can smell the gas. The room will fill with it. It’ll get me but Casey will be smart enough to get out of here.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t with you, Abby.” Casey whispers through the crack in the door. I can see his eye pressed against it. “I-I couldn’t help it. I’m here, okay? I-I’m here. Stop crying, Abby, please. It’s okay.” He pauses. “You know I’ll always be there for you.” His voice is half-angry and half-desperate. I don’t want him to get hurt, but I can’t do this anymore.
“Abby, please. Say something.” He pleads. He knows exactly what I have in mind.
“You better go.” I say hoarsely. I struggle to swallow the lump in my throat. I lean up against the door and hug my arms around myself. The gas is getting stronger. I’m getting dizzy. Not much longer.
“I can’t. Abby, you actually think I can leave you? You’re all I have. I don’t have family, I don’t have friends. You’re my best friend, you’re the only one who knows my birthday, and I only have you to wake up to every morning. If it weren’t for you, I’d be gone way before now. All of it’s on you.” I put my fingers up to the crack in the door frame and his meet mine. Heat radiates off of him. I want to hold him again. I want to kiss him again. For six whole years there was just us, and that was my reason to stay. That’s been my reason for six years now, but I can’t go through this again.
“You better find someone else, then.” I say coldly. I can’t help it. He needs to find someone else. I’m just run out. I waited too long and now I don’t work anymore.
He starts crying. Like, really crying. It’s miserable. New tears roll down my cheeks. He pulls his hand away and I’m cold again.
“Please, Abby,” He says brokenly, “Please, I need you. I need you to stay here with me. I need you, Abby, please.” He cries.
“I can’t do it.”
He screams. This sound of complete rage and misery. He sounds mad. I’m really dizzy now. My eyes are starting to close on their own. I cough. The carbon monoxide alarm is beeping, but I’m deaf to it.
“Then I’m not leaving you. I’m staying.”
“Why? If you’re gonna be so selfish, why can’t I?” He says. “Please, just let me in. I want to die with you. I want to be with you.” This is the final demand. All he wants. He’s letting me give up finally and this is all I have to pay for it. I hesitate, but I really want it, too.
“Okay,” I stand and unlock the door, and he rushes in. He grabs onto me fiercely and pulls me toward him, his back against the door. Burying his face in my hair, he rocks me against him softly. He looks miserable. Wretched. Strangely calm. He sits down in front of the door and pulls me into his lap. No more is said. He wraps his arms around me as tight as he can and just holds me. This is alright. I can die like this.
“I love you, Abby.” He whispers, his voice breaking. He brushes my bangs away from my face.
“I love you, Casey.” I lay my head on his shoulder, and whatever space there was between us is squeezed out. We’re one. I close my eyes finally, thinking, I wish I had told you that earlier.
The little asshole carries me out.