R-rated, slashy but with het sex, so be warned! An AU featuring Casey and Zeke, inspired by a well-known Broadway show. This is what comes of listening to soundtrack albums during a six-hour drive to northern Wisconsin.

 

Gypsy
by Laura Mason

 

"Sing out, Casey!"

The kid turned pink but did raise his voice to an almost-audible level as he danced before the jeering audience. Rose's fingernails dug into Zeke's arm, her own feet mirroring Casey's movements, the song lyric muttered under her breath.

Zeke slung an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, giving her ear a sloppy wet kiss. As always, she protested but melted closer against him, too. Since her oldest kid, June, the headliner of their act, ran off with one of the dancers six months ago, Rose had been leaning more heavily on Zeke.

Zeke was their "manager," but he didn't actually do anything. Rose ran the show, had always run it, and was a very capable woman. She'd had her kids on stage for close to twenty years now, in a review of her own devising, with songs she'd gotten out of some past fling. She'd even managed to get June auditions for parts in legitimate shows, and kept her happy for a while that way, though nothing had come of them. Rose had somehow dodged child welfare workers in every state, traveling often, and now had booked Casey's solo act into this nightclub. It was sleazy, but they couldn't do any better.

June was in Hollywood now, the dancer who'd taken her there long gone, and though Zeke had tracked her down, he'd never told Rose what her 'baby' was doing. June had plenty of money, at least, and a roommate who was a hard-headed, experienced professional in the same ancient business. Zeke suspected they were lovers, too, which might keep her safe for a while. He didn't think June would stay there any longer than it took to save up a nest egg and go start a normal life. Her dreams had never been her mother's. In the same situation Rose would hang on for twenty years, always believing that her big break was just around the corner, trusting every john who promised her a role in a movie. But June wasn't a dreamer.

Casey was, though, and it hurt to see him trying so very hard to be the son Rose wanted. He was loving and smart, but Rose wanted him to be outgoing, talented, driven -- like her. Instead, he was foreign to her, happiest when reading a book or learning something about the place they were playing. Casey talked to every old man on every stage door, read anything he could get his hands on, and was fiercely protective of his mother. Rose, who saw no use in any of these things, sighed and said he was his father's son, though Zeke doubted she'd ever really known Casey's father.

It sounded like Frank Connor had been a short hangover in some Ohio town, the marriage only lasting six months if you believed Rose. Connor's child-support checks were all that kept them going sometimes, and they'd be ending in another year or so when Casey turned eighteen. It stood to reason the kid's father would have kept track of his true age, though Rose kept lying to make him younger. Casey was short and scrawny enough for her to be believed, though he'd protested loudly that he'd already had two fifteenth birthdays. Zeke thought Casey might never be able to really grow a beard, or look much older than sixteen. He was in good shape from constant dancing, but he didn't get the kind of food that would build him up.

Casey had hated Zeke at first, possibly because as Rose kept finding younger men to bolster her ego, she'd hit a string of men who tried to steal what little she had. He'd also heard Casey ask his mother about someone named Herbie, someone Casey evidently thought she was going to marry, but Rose just laughed and said they were better off without him.

Zeke hung around, backing up Rose when she needed some muscle, and he thought that would show Casey he wasn't going to hurt her. But they hadn't become friendly until Zeke had trusted Casey with the news about June. Now he wrote his sister regularly, mailing the letters whenever they passed through a real town, and he seemed happier about Zeke's presence in his life.

The song ended with the usual flourish, Casey seated high on Pete and Andy's shoulders, his arms raised until a lemon out of someone's drink hit his stomach. Zeke growled, but he hadn't seen what direction it came from, and then Casey was scrambling off stage with the other dancers, brushing off his costume.

"Sorry, Momma," he muttered, though he washed the costumes himself, and ironed them too.

"That was a good start, boys," Rose announced. "Still, we'd better rehearse tomorrow morning, eight o'clock sharp. Now it's time for you all to get your beauty sleep."

"You promised us supper after the show," Mike, one of the older boys, reminded her. Zeke snorted at Casey's awed face. The silly kid would hero-worship Mike until Mike got fed up with Rose's bossing and left them at the next big city. Zeke had seen it before; he'd been with them for a year now, but this time it bothered him more. Mike was nothing special; Casey was smarter than any of the dancers. Why, Casey had borrowed Zeke's old textbooks that he'd found in the trunk of the car, and read them cover to cover. His questions proved he'd understood what he read, too. Yet Casey had never spent a day in school in his life.

"And I'll bring you supper, back in the hotel room. Casey, here's the key. Get everyone settled and ready for bed. I'll be there shortly." Rose dropped an absent kiss on Casey's sweaty hair, then swatted him out the door with the other boys.

Zeke leaned against the wall as the door slammed behind the kids and the new act on stage grew louder, drumrolls announcing each magic trick. "What are you planning to feed them?"

"That jar of peanut butter all gone?"

"Yep. And the bread, too."

"Maybe it's time to visit the China buffet."

"That'll be full price this time of night."

"I'll go in alone. I've got the plastic bags. Give me fifteen minutes and wait at the back window. I'll drop the first batch, then fill my purse again."

"Don't forget to eat something yourself, Rose."

"Aw, Zekie. You take such good care of me." She kissed his nose, he pinched her ass, and they were off to get the kids dinner. He was only four or five years older than her son, but Zeke was one of the adults in this troupe, because he always knew the score.

Rose didn't. She had no idea that Zeke had ten thousand in the bank back in Herrington, a house, a better car. She'd taken him at face value, ogling his lean, muscular body in oft-washed jeans and tee shirt, and accepting him as a bored dropout with no job or future. That kind of guy suited her just fine. She liked having a man around. She liked getting fucked regularly, too -- no matter how broke they were, there was always a separate room for the two of them. It was pretty clear what she got out of the deal, but not so clear to Zeke why he was still with her.

As he stood in the alley, next to a dumpster that smelled of sweet-and-sour, he pondered it. Despite her lies about Casey's age and her insistence that she bore him at age 16, Zeke knew Rose was pushing forty. Her age didn't bother him. He'd turned down plenty of offers from younger women the whole time he'd been traveling with them.

"Zeke," came a hiss, and he took five enormous ziplocks full of hot food and hid them inside his jacket. It was too cold for them to stay hot long; the boys would bitch and moan but eat anyway.

Why was he doing this, instead of going to college as he'd planned? He still had his acceptance letter from Ohio State, tucked inside his shaving kit. He had the money to begin, and he could find a good job, one that actually paid, unlike this crazy gig. All you could say about life with Rose was that it was rarely boring. Zeke knew what he didn't want -- living with one person, doing the same old shit every day, month after month, year after year. The kind of life his parents had hated so much it tore them apart.

Rose came toddling out, her purse and pockets bulging, and they went back to the fleabag hotel to be greeted with groans. The boys were tired of crappy Chinese food, and who could blame them? They snatched the food out of her hands anyway, and tore into it as if they hadn't been fed all day. Well, they hadn't, not since breakfast's peanut butter sandwiches.

Casey wasn't in the room. Zeke, who'd grabbed the bag of chicken almond ding because it was Casey's favorite, went looking and found him sound asleep in the adjoining room. The poor kid looked about 12, Zeke thought as he stood there, hating to disturb him. Casey's face was blissful, as if he were caught up in some dream where he had a normal life, and a mother who baked cookies and sent him off to school. But the kid needed to eat, so Zeke rubbed Casey's shoulder and shared the bag of lukewarm chicken with him once he woke up enough to feel hungry.

He was slowly chewing his second mouthful when Casey asked, "Zeke, did you see where the post office is in town?"

"Nah." He took another big mouthful of chicken, then realized why Casey was asking. "You've got another letter for June?"

"Yeah. It's okay, I'll figure out where to mail it."

"It's a pretty small town, it must be near the main drag," Zeke agreed. Then, because he couldn't stop himself, he continued, "Doesn't it bother you that she never writes back?"

"We move around a lot," Casey said defensively. "She may have written, but the letter didn't get forwarded."

Zeke ate and pondered, watching Casey's sad, thin face. "You two need email; then you'd always find each other."

"That costs a lot more than stamps, Zeke," Casey reminded him.

"Nah, not if you go to the public library and get a free account somewhere."

"Free?"

"Yeah, I'll show you. After the rehearsal tomorrow, we'll get you set up. Then you add the email address to June's letter, and remind her about using the library computers. I bet she'll write you back." Zeke was lying through his teeth. He didn't think June gave a shit about Casey, though they'd been on stage together since Casey was three. She was the hard side of Rose, without any big dreams to sweeten her up.

"Zekie, are you ready for bed?" Rose was in the doorway, one arm up and a hip shoved out provocatively until she saw who was eating with Zeke. Her face and voice changed instantly. "Casey, what are you doing in here? You know Zeke needs his private space!" Rose's dreams really didn't sweeten her very much, either.

"Sorry, momma. Sorry, Zeke," Casey mumbled, his eyes on the floor.

"S'okay, Case," Zeke said reassuringly, giving him a smile when his eyes momentarily flashed up. "Don't forget we're going to the library tomorrow."

"Yeah," Casey said breathlessly, something close to a smile on his own face, and excitement in his eyes. He ran out of the room and into the adjoining zoo, and Rose closed the door firmly and locked it.

"Library? You shouldn't encourage him, Zeke. What are books going to teach him?"

"What does singing his heart out in some rinky-dink nightclub teach him, Rose?"

"How to be a performer. Some day he'll find the right gig, and he'll be a big star. Bigger than June, even." Zeke nodded; June's current act wouldn't be hard to top. "He'll have money, and fame, and he could have anyone in the world working up his acts. But he'll have me there, looking out for his best interests. Everyone in show business will wish they could have my services, have someone like me watching out for them."

Zeke kicked off his shoes and dropped his jeans while she paced and imagined it all. He stretched out on the bed, atop the spread, in his briefs, and watched her. She was in good shape for an old broad, a little soft but curvy and she dressed to show it off. Even when she started taking off her own clothes, revealing the lacy lingerie she always wore, he watched but couldn't get aroused, not while her mouth was running. She was spinning dreams of how she'd be running Casey's life for him, forever, and the thought of little Casey under her thumb --

The jolt of arousal that ran through Zeke was almost frighteningly intense. He closed his eyes and saw Casey's big eyes sparkling with happiness, even as he was held down, powerless, Zeke pressing him into a mattress...

"Is that for me?" Rose asked in her most sultry voice, and his eyes flew open guiltily as her nail traced the rampant bulge. It wasn't, but it didn't matter when she pulled away the fabric and sank down, taking his erection in her mouth. Zeke closed his eyes, but that meant he could imagine it was Casey's mouth closing around him, sucking him so expertly, and Zeke came almost immediately, arching up with a hoarse cry.

Rose choked a bit; she was used to him lasting longer than that -- a lot longer, usually. But she was flattered, too, and cuddled up to him in the friendly darkness, snoring softly long before Zeke found his own sleep.

***

It was really stupid to stay in this situation, Zeke told himself that daily. But he was still there, watching Rose bully Casey and round up younger boys from ever-stupider stage-struck women who wanted their very talented sons to become famous dancing in Rose's asinine act.

Meanwhile, Zeke had only been getting more obsessed with Casey, not less. The kid was beautiful, inside and out. He was loving and thoughtful, yet his conversation now displayed a sly wit that he kept hidden from everyone else. Casey loved movies, and had been sneaking into theaters for years, and before that watching the chopped up television versions of everything from Casablanca to Braveheart in flophouse lobbies all across the country. He had a great memory for the movies he loved, so Zeke played trivia games with him when they drove to a new town, everyone jammed in their big old car. Zeke knew Rose would fall asleep, bored with them, and he always pretended that the others were welcome to join in, too. But he knew only Casey would be able to answer his questions.

As if Casey's mind weren't incredible enough, his body was beautiful, too, though he was too self-conscious to really let go on stage. Off stage, when he didn't realize Zeke was watching him, there was grace in the movement of his lean limbs, drilled into him from 14 years of dancing. The purity of his too-sheltered life was in his face, and the way he craved love and affection was plain in his eyes. Zeke had been spending a little more time with him -- okay, a lot more time, since he'd spent almost no time with him before. Casey was flowering under the attention, to the point that even Rose approved.

Of course, when she murmured in bed one night that every boy needed a good, fatherly male role model, Zeke almost wanted to hit her. He was only 22, for Christ's sake, not old enough to be Casey's father. The whole situation was too fucked up; he was leaving.

But the next morning, when he saw the light in Casey's eyes as he said good morning, Zeke knew he was screwed. He'd stay, even if it was wrong, just to see that bright happiness continue another day.

And if every night he fucked a woman while thinking about doing the same acts to her son, was it so wrong?

He was going to burn in hell; Zeke knew that, too.

***

"Rose, it's a strip club!"

"It's a job. We need the money."

"You can't put underage boys on stage here."

"I've put the others on a bus, back to their mothers. When we get enough saved to go to California, we'll find new boys. Baby can help."

"Are you expecting June to finance your act?"

"She's got to be making good money by now. You know June was the one with the real talent, and I taught her everything I know."

Zeke shook his head, and saw Casey out of the corner of his eye, huddled in the corner of the room holding the wardrobe suitcase, wilting under her words. Zeke couldn't voice his true opinion about June or her mother in front of Casey. "Forget about June. What act are you mounting here, Rose, without the dancers?"

"I told the manager Casey does a solo act."

"You're going to let Casey strip?"

"He can pull off a jacket and shirt -- we'll replace the buttons with snaps, or Velcro."

"You're going to let your seventeen-year-old son strip in a gay bar?!" Zeke was afraid his face was turning purple.

"He's eighteen and we all know it."

"You've been claiming he's fifteen. And the child-support checks are still coming, aren't they?"

"Nonsense. What checks?" Rose turned to Casey and pulled him to his feet, moving the suitcase out of his hands. "I told the manager you're eighteen, Casey, and you know that's right, don't you?"

"Momma, I..."

"Put on the black tuxedo trousers, and your blue satin shirt under the tux jacket. And a real tie, too, but no shoes or socks, I think. Maybe you should watch the dancers this afternoon, to get some ideas. We're giving them 'May We Entertain You' for your song, Casey, but you'll sing the solo version, and the tempo will be slower. Got it?"

The way he nodded, all frightened eyes as he hugged himself, enraged Zeke.

"Rose, you do this to him and it's all over. I'm leaving."

She looked at Zeke as if she'd never seen him before, or forgotten there was anyone in the room. "Zekie, you don't mean that."

"I swear, Rose. You can't make Casey into a whore for your ambition."

She laughed then, as Casey shivered beside her, gazing at Zeke with hopeful worship. "He's a performer, Zeke, and this is just another job. He's not going to sleep with any of these pitiful men. I'm his mother, and I'm right here watching over him."

"Mother? You're his fucking pimp!"

"No, that would be you, Zeke. Aren't you his manager, the one who gets a cut of his salary?"

It was Zeke's turn to laugh. "That makes it sound like I've seen a dime in two years of chasing around after your circus."

She just stood there between him and Casey -- as she always had and always would, and he'd been a fool to hope for anything else. He threw a last, despairing look at Casey, grabbed his jacket, and left.

He cleared out his stuff from the hotel room in a rage, then used the ATM card he'd kept hidden from Rose to get enough cash for plane fare, knowing she'd send the law after him for the crappy car they'd bought with his money. He was on the corner with a knapsack and suitcase in under an hour, ready to forget the last two years.

But Zeke couldn't find a cab. They didn't cruise this neighborhood in daylight. And then he cooled down a bit, and began to think about leaving Casey in Rose's clutches. It felt wrong, very wrong, and he stopped for lunch at a coffee shop counter to think it all over.

That was how he wound up at the nine o'clock show for Casey's debut strip.

"Gentlemen -- and those of you who pass for ladies, the Boom Boom Room is proud to present Connor Gypsy!" Despite Rose's quick-study of the joint, the emcee's voice had a singular lack of enthusiasm, and the applause in the room wasn't loud enough to top the tinny piano's introductory bars. The spotlight picked up Casey, standing by the curtain with his enormous eyes glowing, reflecting the vivid blue of his shirt.

"Let me entertain you. Let me make you smile."

Zeke smiled when, right on cue, Rose shouted for Casey to sing out from backstage. Obediently louder, Casey continued to sing.

"Let me do a few tricks, some old and then some new tricks, I'm very versatile." The club was only about a quarter full, mostly older guys who hooted as Casey dropped the shoulder of his jacket, revealing nothing. The dance was typical Rose, awkward stuff she'd probably done in the bedroom for each of her husbands and lovers. How had Zeke stayed with her two years?

Then Casey looked over his shoulder as he dropped the jacket to the stage floor, and Zeke remembered why he'd stayed here. For Casey had spotted Zeke in the audience; it was obvious by how his face lit up. Now as he sang he was smiling, his goofy gap-toothed smile, the one Rose had tried to shame him about. She had never tried to get his teeth fixed, no, just repeatedly told Casey to keep his mouth closed when he smiled, and concentrated on June.

Casey's voice was louder and more confident than Zeke had ever heard him, and the place was noisy with catcalls and applause as Casey's shirt came off and was carelessly tossed to the side. He kept dancing, grinding unselfconsciously in his loose dark trousers as he teased his belt out of the loops, and Zeke knew Casey was performing for him, only him. He smiled and enjoyed the show, a bit surprised at what he'd missed while tied up about his own feelings.

"And if you're real good, I'll make you feel good. I want your spirits to climb."

Casey dropped his belt and swung his hips, hands locked behind his neck. The trousers dropped low, then dangerously low, and the men in the place were really into the performance now. It probably helped that Casey really was enjoying himself, even if he did still look about 16.

"So let me entertain you and we'll have a real good time, yes sir." Casey's hands finally moved to the clasp of his trousers as he slowly dragged out all of the final words and slowly inched down the zipper. "We'll have ... a real good time." With a swoosh, the fabric dropped to the stage floor and Casey stepped out of it, totally nude.

Zeke heard Rose shouting backstage, heard the men around him screaming their approval, but his eyes were locked on Casey's face until the spotlight was doused and Casey was pulled from the stage. Then Zeke was up, leaping onto the stage and right behind Casey with his jacket and slacks as all hell broke loose.

As always, Rose was loudest. "Casey, you've ruined this job! I told them you were a professional, and no professional would do that!"

The emcee was shouting, too. "The sheriff's department can close us down for that, you idiot kid! You're not getting paid one cent. Now get out of here!"

"What!? They loved my son, do you hear that crowd? Of course you're paying him!" Rose was correct; the tiny audience was still shouting, happier than anyone had been in this place for the last twenty years.

But Zeke ignored them and Rose's argument, instead helping Casey dress in the clothes he'd grabbed off the floor. Casey's eyes were locked on Zeke's face, with an intensity that made Zeke keep one hand on the trembling body the entire time he re-dressed.

"You ready, Case?"

"Yeah."

"You need anything? Clothes, books?"

"Casey, are you listening to me?" Rose was almost purple with rage; she'd been screaming at the owner for the last ten minutes. "We can get you another gig, with the proper accouterments. You've finally found your talent, and now there's no telling how high you can climb."

Zeke couldn't listen to her a minute longer. "Rose, just shut up and leave him alone. Casey doesn't want to be a stripper, period."

"I thought you were 'out of here,' Zeke. Don't tell me what Casey wants! Casey wants what I want for him, he always has."

"No, Momma, I don't want that," Casey said, and Rose looked as stunned as Zeke felt. She couldn't have been more amazed if the car had started complaining about being driven too far. "I want a real life, school and home-cooked meals like on tv shows. I want to know what it's like to live someplace and see it in snow, rain, summer heat and autumn colors."

"Casey, that's what suckers do, staying in one place. There's nothing there!"

"There's nothing here, either, Momma." Then Casey looked up at Zeke, and smiled. "Nothing but him, anyway, and I'm not going to lose that."

Rose's scream and the pain of her nails on his face brought Zeke out of the dream Casey's words had conjured. Casey, of all people, pulled her off Zeke and shoved her to one side.

"Don't touch him again," Casey stammered. "Don't you ever touch either of us again."

Zeke's hand was covered in blood, and he accepted the handkerchief Casey gave him with a nod. "I'm fine, Case."

"Goodbye, Rose," Casey said solemnly, and he led Zeke into the dressing room and locked the door behind them. Zeke sat on the dressing table chair as Casey threw his personal things into what had been the 'wardrobe' suitcase.

"She's going to have the sheriff here in five minutes, Casey, and when he arrives she'd be claiming you're only sixteen and I'm your pimp who made you dance here."

"I know. Here." Casey came over to him and carefully applied antiseptic to the scratches, which were no longer bleeding. "I'm sorry she did that to you."

He was right there, standing between Zeke's legs, close enough to kiss. So Zeke did. It was easy to forget everything like that, Casey's arms around his neck and Casey's sweet body tucked close, held tight in Zeke's arms that fit so naturally around that lithe torso. Casey's mouth was hot and sweet, his tongue shy and startled but oh-so-ready to learn, and Zeke wanted nothing more than to take a month off and be his teacher. But they both knew it couldn't start right now, and they pulled away at almost the same moment.

"Wow," Casey breathed through kiss-reddened lips, and Zeke could only nod and swallow.

They climbed out the window and Zeke gave Casey cash to hail a cab while he went back through the front door to get his bags from the coat check. When he came out, Casey was waiting in their getaway car. Zeke slung his bags into the trunk and climbed in beside Casey, who gave him that happy, dopey grin again.

"Take us to the airport." Rose would send the sheriff to the bus station, not the airport. He could find an ATM there and get enough for Casey's fare. There might even be some two-for-one special fare back to someplace within driving distance of Herrington. "What's up, Case?"

"I've never been at an airport before."

"It's not exactly an everyday occurrence for me, either," Zeke admitted. He'd only flown three times, on family vacations before his parents split. "Hey, Casey, where does your dad live? We should tell him he can stop sending Rose money."

"I don't have his address, but it's some town in Ohio. A fish name, herring or something like that."

Zeke didn't know what to say to that; it was starting to feel uncomfortably eerie in their little cab, so he just put an arm around Casey and pulled him close. "I wonder what he'd think about Rose using his name for your act."

Casey laughed happily. "We'd better not tell him that part. I don't think any father would be real happy about his son stripping."

"Ah, well, Connor Gypsy wasn't just any old stripper, Case. He was quite a performer, you know? Sang like a very sexy bird, and danced like his hips were unhinged. His show was one of those not-to-be-missed events people talk about for years to come. Such a shame it was the only one of its kind."

"Not true," Casey said with a saucy grin.

"What? I pull you out of there and away from that woman, and you plan to go back to stripping?"

"For one audience, Zeke," Casey giggled, and Zeke pressed a kiss into his hair.

"That better be an audience of just one person," he said sternly, his arm tightening. "Me."

Casey looked up at Zeke, his heart in his eyes. "Always," he promised, and Zeke knew it was true. Somehow, the idea didn't frighten him at all.

 

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