Rated NC-17 just because Zeke's a kinky guy with lustful thoughts about a 16-year-old. This story is set in the school year before the movie, which I place in early Fall 1998, because of the lack of coats and the football game. (I know that the film, while set in Ohio, was filmed in Texas where it always looks like that.)

Ohio Winter
by Laura Mason

March, 1998

Casey's face scrapes across the hood of Gabe's car, pushing off snow and ripping on the encrusted ice underneath. The hand on his collar finally stops shoving and pulls him back.

Winter is just too damn long, he thinks. There are warm-weather tortures, but Casey really hates being used as a human snow brush to clear off cars.

"Did I hear a scrape? If your fucking coat scratched my car, asswipe..." Gabe throws him down and Casey feels snow push under his sweater and fall inside his jeans.

He hopes the zipper on his coat scraped the shit out of Gabe's finish. His bag -- thankfully not with his camera inside -- has been thrown away from him and is too far to reach. It looks like there's a tire mark on it. He pushes to his feet, ignoring the melting snow inside his clothing, and limps over to his belongings.

"Did I say we're done here, geek?" Gabe again, but there's no one left to show off for anymore, and Casey can see the boredom in his eyes. It's almost over for today.

"Fuck off, Gabe." Running steps behind him, one last punch and a hard shove into the residue left by the snow plows and Gabe is gone, pulling away in his now-warm car, snow blowing off the roof.

Casey has missed the bus, so he starts walking, wondering if he can get some black and white shots of the snow before it gets too dark. Maybe with a tripod, which he doesn't own, he could get long exposure shots of his street as the snow fell. Is there anything stable enough to use instead? Can he shoot through a plastic bag to protect the camera from the snow?

*-*-*

Across the parking lot Zeke watches Casey walk off, seemingly oblivious to the snow, the cold, the blood on his face. Even through the light snow, it's obvious his mind is far away. How does he shake off humiliation so quickly?

Zeke remembers being the youngest in his class, back in grade school. Before he learned to fail, he'd skipped a grade and been the smallest in his fifth grade class. The bullies there weren't as creative as the football team here at Herrington, but Zeke had been miserable enough.

Of course, he'd been miserable at home, too. His parents were still together then and had already begun to ignore him. But they'd never been affluent enough to hire a full-time nanny, so instead he'd had a string of neighborhood girls babysitting him and driving him to therapy. And concerned teachers, fussing over him and tsking on report-card pickup days where neither parent remembered to come to school.

Shit. Even when they'd been right there, Zeke felt alone. Now that he really is living alone, he feels it less.

Casey is long gone, he realizes with a start, and he's smoking in his car and staring at nothing, just burning gas. He pulls away, angry at himself for remembering those days. He's 19, not a kid anymore. If he weren't planning to fail again, he could graduate this Spring.

*-*-*

Casey washes up and finishes his homework by the time his mom comes home from work. He brushes off her questions about the new cuts on his face with his usual excuse, 'gym class,' and sets the table for dinner. When his dad gets home 30 minutes later, nothing is said about his bruised face. There's just the normal glance, the moment of disgust, and the decision to ignore his wimpy son. Which he does through dinner, while Casey pretends to eat the casserole in front of him and nods or grunts when Mom tosses out attempts to involve him in their scant conversation.

He loads the dishwasher and gives his other usual excuse, 'homework,' to avoid time in front of the TV with them. He's spent too many nights watching his father doze and his mom read a magazine while the television blares. When he was a kid he stayed there, watching whatever they chose to put on. Now he has his own ideas of what he'd like to watch, but they have no interest in letting him choose the programs. Casey briefly thinks about having a TV of his own, in his room, with cable for the History channel, and Discovery. It isn't worth it for just one more year; once he goes to college he'll be too busy for TV.

Do smart kids get beat up every day at the university, too? He doesn't think so. Casey pulls a book out of his bag and settles on the bed to read, thinking about the future. It's always seemed more real to him than the present.

*-*-*

Zeke eats the peanut butter sandwich he made and turns on the television. He needs to make more scat. He'd had some ideas for cutting it more cheaply during history class today, but he isn't in the mood. He flicks through the 100 cable stations aimlessly, nothing catching his eye. Seen that, boring, stupid, seen it...

He realizes he isn't even looking at the screen; he's seeing Casey Connor walking in the snow, daydreaming, so far out of it that he isn't hunched up defensively as usual. Just walking, head up, big eyes marveling at things Zeke doesn't see.

It's kind of a shock to realize he is aroused, thinking about Casey. How weird is that? Zeke shuts the TV and grabs his car keys and fake ID. He needs to get laid.

Two hours later he's lying next to a woman named Janet who let him buy her two drinks, then take her back to her apartment and fuck her. Janet's snoring a little, and Zeke pushes her away and reaches for his cigarettes. He should leave; he definitely isn't sleeping here. Nothing worse than waking up in a strange place and making conversation with some bimbo.

While he smokes, he wonders where his mother is now. It's disturbing to picture her doing what he's just done. Of course, she'd be having anonymous sex in a fine, expensive hotel instead of picking up white trash at Weasel's. Still. Change the channel, he tells himself.

But he changes to a brief memory of his father and Luke, which he can't push away quickly enough. Better to remember the bastard who divorced his mom and never visited Zeke, just sent money so they'd have a big house where they could ignore each other.

Zeke is back where the evening began -- smoking, staring at nothing, thinking about Casey. Picturing him being tossed around by Gabe, then scuttling away until he reaches a safe distance and transforms into a person again. Walking, unafraid, eyes wide and distant. Seeing -- what? The sky, the grey-white snow cloud cover? The stark empty trees lining the street? Birds, lean sparrows and fierce crows, hunting in the afternoon snow?

Zeke can't imagine what Casey saw. That bothers him. He's smart; Zeke knows people aren't only what high school allows them to be. The stoners who buy his scat and porn are real people with their own hopes and fears. Zeke sees their need for escape, and understands how people can be smart and stupid at the same time.

But he doesn't understand Casey, not anymore. He thought he did: Casey is small, intelligent, and completely incapable of defending himself. But he must have something else, some secret, and Zeke wants to know what it is. Zeke wants to beat it out of him, or at least make Casey cry.

He's hard again, thinking about Casey's faraway eyes and small, pale body. Zeke glances over to Janet, still passed out, and sighs. Then he reaches for his dick, closes his eyes and imagines the breathing beside him, that warmth, comes from an exhausted, wet-eyed Casey. It takes only a minute to come again, gasping with pleasure.

Zeke dresses and leaves without bothering to shower.

*-*-*

Casey wakes to a brighter-than-usual room, though his alarm clock hasn't gone off yet. The snow continued overnight, and the streetlights are reflecting the pristine whiteness of it.

He pulls on a sweatshirt and opens his window, then balances his camera on the sill and adjusts the exposure to catch the full contrast of it -- darkness and light, the combination always fascinates him. It's clearest at times like this, but the dichotomy is there in people's faces, too, and you can sometimes catch it in a photo. As he works, Casey ponders a vague, almost-memory of a religion based on two elements clashing.

He's still staring out, watching the puff of his breath and the light changing in the sky, long after he's stopped taking pictures. Mom's screech when she enters and sees the open window breaks the spell.

Casey realizes he is freezing cold, and even a hot, longer-than-usual shower doesn't fix it. He pulls on a heavy sweater on over his button-down for school, and turns down a bowl of cold cereal from his mom on his way out the door. Hot cocoa would have been nice if he'd had time to make it. But he's late and he's missed the bus again, so he takes off through the snow as quickly as possible.

*-*-*

Zeke parks a few blocks from school, just to have a smoke before going on campus. The fact that he's chosen the street Casey disappeared down yesterday is irrelevant.

Five minutes into first period he pulls away from the curb, pissed at himself for waiting there. Casey is never late; he was on the bus or dropped by his parents... But, no, because there he is halfway down the block, walking faster than yesterday, struggling through the unshoveled sidewalks but still smiling. Smiling on the way to school... only Casey, Zeke thinks.

He slows, then puts the car into a three point turn and drives back toward Casey. He stops next to him, then leans over to roll down the passenger window.

"Casey." The damn kid doesn't even look, probably didn't hear him. He's gone somewhere inside his own head where no one else exists. "Casey!"

Wide, startled eyes.

"Want a ride?" He waits for Casey to decide if he is a threat or not, trying not to smile. That would scare him off for sure. "C'mon." Just impatient enough to be normal, Zeke thinks, and realizes he's right when Casey nods and crosses to the car.

Casey climbs in and sits as close to the door as possible, his book bag clutched to his scrawny chest. Zeke pulls away fast, but Casey stays silent though his eyes are enormous. He hasn't planned it, but Zeke turns away from the school and feels Casey glance at him. Zeke ignores the questioning look. They're already late - not that Zeke ever worries about that shit - and he wants coffee. Maybe some breakfast, too, and not fucking MacDonald's.

Casey has a great ability to keep his mouth shut, Zeke thinks, and wonders why Casey always talks back to the jerks beating on him. If he reached over and slapped Casey right now, would the muttered swearing begin? Zeke's arm twitches but he doesn't let go of the wheel.

When he pulls on to the Interstate Casey looks over again, and Zeke thinks he sees excitement in the wide eyes. He knows without being told that Casey has never skipped a class, much less ditched a full day of school. Casey doesn't have a car, either -- shit, probably doesn't even have his license.

Zeke remembers the thrill of getting in his own car for the first time, then being able to choose where he wanted to go in it. There's something of that feeling in Casey's glance, he thinks. Maybe after breakfast he'll let Casey decide where they're going next.

*-*-*

It's not kidnaping when you climb in the car voluntarily. Casey stares out the window, remembering warnings about taking rides with strangers as the miles drop behind them, leaving Herrington far away. He wonders why he hasn't said anything to Zeke, neither protest nor question. He feels almost excited -- he doesn't know where they're going, and that's an adventure in Casey's life. Maybe Zeke needs his help. Casey can't think of any reason why anyone would need him -- but that's exciting, too. More interesting than another day of bored teachers, cafeteria food and getting beat up.

Zeke pulls off at a rural exit and parks at Evelyn's Truck Stop. Breakfast? He was kidnaped to eat breakfast? Still, Zeke lets him order hot cocoa, and the food Zeke orders for them both looks good, too. The silence between them feels silly now.

"This..." he starts, but Zeke interrupts him.

"Eat, Casey." Zeke is shoveling eggs into his mouth as if he hasn't eaten in days. Maybe he hasn't... Casey has heard the rumors that Zeke's mother left town years ago. Casey tries to imagine living alone in his parents' house, cooking for himself and doing as he pleases. It's almost an attractive fantasy, but the practical part of his brain tells Casey he'd starve to death in a month. He can't imagine supporting himself by selling drugs and porn out of his book bag -- no, he'd be broke and helpless. He's not like Zeke.

Zeke is staring at him when Casey stops daydreaming and returns to the diner. He flushes, looks down at the table, and eats his cold eggs.

Zeke waves the waitress over for more coffee while Casey eats as if he finally realized he's hungry. Which is entirely possible. Casey seems to live in a half-dream state, and their little road trip is fueling it. Casey hasn't really spoken yet; he certainly hasn't asked why they're here, or if they're ever going back to Herrington. Zeke imagines getting back on 70 and heading west.

"Casey, how old are you?"

Those eyes again, a little startled, over the mug of cocoa. Still, he answers "Sixteen."

Shit.

Zeke forces his mind back into the car, headed away, but some perverse part of him whispers "jailbait" and throws out pornographic images of them together -- and was he really thinking about running away with Casey Connor? Zeke gulps more coffee and ignores the questions in the blue eyes still watching him.

"Let's roll." He tosses down the money for breakfast and walks to the parking lot, knowing Casey is following. He doesn't ask Casey where he wants to go, and despite knowing better he takes them west, away from Herrington.

Once they're back on the highway he asks Casey to find some music, which Casey does. Despite Zeke's permission and his usual twitchyness at school, Casey doesn't fiddle with the radio. He finds a station and then leaves it alone, even through commercials.

Zeke notes he's no longer clutching his book bag; it's on the seat between them. Casey seems entranced with the scenery. Zeke thinks Casey needs to get out more. Then he looks at Casey's profile again and thinks he'd like to pull over someplace and fuck him.

Maybe Zeke needs to get out more.

He thinks about places to fuck, then takes the next exit and heads for Yellow Springs.

*-*-*

Casey watches the scenery go from town to farm to forest and wonders why he's so calm about skipping school with this almost-stranger. But he doesn't talk, just looks at the light through the bare trees and the tracks in the snow alongside the road. He'd like to walk on this road with his camera. Zeke is driving slower now that they're off the plowed Interstate surface, but it's still too fast to really see.

A voice, his mom's voice, tells him Zeke is taking him someplace remote to kill him and bury his body under rotting leaves and snow. Casey's voice replies that Zeke didn't need to feed him before killing him, though he knows Zeke is dangerous.

Today Casey has the feeling of freedom and adventure he remembers from his childhood, despite Zeke's typical aura of barely-leashed violence. Anything can happen, which is what he used to believe when he was very young and his mom walked him to the park playground. Casey remembers that time, before he knew other kids could hurt him and that his parents couldn't protect him or understand him.

 The sun has come out at last, and Casey knows there won't be more snow. Today will be harsh shadows and blinding light coming off the snow, and that's beautiful, too. Anything could happen, except being Gabe's snow brush.

Casey smiles and looks over at Zeke, who turns away.

*-*-*

Zeke pretends to be absorbed in the road, though he could drive this route in his sleep. There's the turnoff, and they're on the dirt road, and thank God Casey isn't smiling at him like a fucking seven-year-old anymore.

Zeke finds the driveway, and pulls up until they reach the gate. There's a chain across it with a sign reading 'closed for the season.' Zeke thinks about moving the chain and pulling in anyway; he's done it before, but memories of driving that surface in rain make him pause. The snow isn't very deep, but his car doesn't have four wheel drive or snow tires.

Zeke is momentarily stymied. He's been here with dozens of girls, but they came with him expecting to park, to neck, to fuck. Zeke doesn't know what Casey's expecting. Fuck, he doesn't know what he expects. And they're too close to the fucking road here.

Zeke climbs out, glad he's wearing heavy work boots, and motions for Casey to follow. He does without argument, hefting his bag over his shoulder. Casey is in boots, a heavy sweater and bulky coat -- Zeke thinks he doesn't even look like Casey with that much padding on his small frame. When Casey looks over, Zeke stops staring at him and walks off, and Casey follows.

Zeke's brain questions Casey's passivity, but his libido runs off with it, imagining all the things he can order Casey to do with him and to him.

"So you're just a sophomore?" Zeke realizes he's continuing their breakfast conversation only after he speaks, but Casey seems to accept it.

"A junior." Casey doesn't elaborate, and Zeke thinks the Connor house might be just as silent as his own.

"You're in Furlong's senior seminar."

Casey almost smiles. "Well, science. I'm good at that." Zeke is fairly sure Casey's a straight A student.

"Oh, you just suck at everything else, right?"

Casey actually laughs, a quick giggle followed by a long look at Zeke, as if to make sure he isn't angry. "Just gym." He blushes, then looks around them at the regularly-spaced, small trees. "Is this an orchard?"

"Yeah. Apples. There's a lake down this way."

Casey just nods and they trudge along. There are no other footprints, but there are many tracks in the snow. Zeke is a city kid and has no idea what animals made the marks. He hears birds, too, but they're harder to see out here than at home where they perch on telephone wires and windowsills.

The animal he's most interested in, Casey, is easier to see out here, where he can't blend in with other kids, lockers, walls. Casey seems fairly relaxed, compared to the way he slinks around school, hunched and wary. Not as relaxed as when he thinks he's alone and unobserved, though.

Zeke wonders if he can ever get Casey to relax around him.

Not that he'll ever find out. Casey isn't some science project. They're not going to be spending more time together. Today is just today, a one off. Zeke is not Casey Connor's friend, guardian angel, or big brother. He'd never be willing to be those things, not again.

Not for anyone.

*-*-*

Casey loves this place. It's incredibly noisy, but in a very different way than the city. He never knew what the wind sounds like when it's not blocked by buildings. He imagines being here in the summer, how beautiful it could be -- but then the wind would be drowned out by voices and human noises. And the animals he can hear now would be silent.

Casey gets breathless, thinking how cool it would be here at night. He wants to stay and see it; wants to camp here in the snow without food or heat, just to experience it. He imagines seeing what the stars look like in total blackness, and hearing the nocturnal animals come out to hunt. He imagines lying in a sleeping bag, Zeke beside him... Zeke would never do that.

But Zeke brought him here, so he must know how special it is. He glances over at Zeke, who doesn't look particularly enthused, but doesn't have his bored, smart-ass school face on either. Zeke looks thoughtful. It's attractive, Casey thinks, and his face feels hot. He's had a bit of a crush on Zeke all year, since seeing him in science class that first day.

Casey has spent a lot of time asking himself about that attraction, and he's convinced that it's just hero-worship and envy. Zeke, after all, is tall and cool. He doesn't get beat up, and he isn't a bully at school -- at least, he's never touched Casey.

"Do you come here often?" Then Zeke turns to him, and Casey expects the sarcastic mask to come back after such a cheesy, cliched remark. But it doesn't. Zeke looks a little dazed, as if he's been far away. Casey understands that feeling, and for the first time he thinks he has something in common with Zeke. Casey relaxes a little.

"Sometimes," Zeke finally answers, leading him down a slope to the lake. It's pretty small, mostly iced over, and the wind feels colder down here.

The sun is bright without being warm, and looking at its position Casey figures it's getting close to noon. He could check his watch, but he really doesn't want to -- that's an everyday Casey action. Today, Casey wants to be the kind of person who doesn't care about schedules, clocks, responsibilities. More like he's always supposed Zeke to be.

Zeke would be horrified by the thought of any similarities between them. But it's true Zeke is also good at science. Separated at birth, Casey thinks, then wants to giggle at the thought of them as mismatched Corsican brothers, like in that goofy movie.

He pulls his camera out of his bag and takes some pictures of the lake and the bare trees, the sun glaring off the snow and ice. The lake looks dead, immobile and almost ugly. Casey doubts it's any prettier in the summer; it looks shallow. Probably full of algae.

They wander the lake shore for a while, until they walk too close to a nest on the ground and a flock of birds -- grouse? -- squawk and fly up right in front of them. Casey watches their flight, startled as they seem, but so much less graceful and free than they are. He stares after them until Zeke touches his arm.

"I'm freezing my balls off. Let's go."

*-*-*

Casey follows him back to the car without comment, though Zeke is certain Casey was enjoying himself and doesn't want to leave. His face when those birds flew... Zeke wanted to throw him down and do him right there in the snow and mud, and see if he could make that look of wonder and delight become Casey's permanent facial expression.

Then he realized where they were standing.

It was a mistake to bring Casey here. He should have known bringing Casey here was...

Bringing some stupid high school girl out here for a quick fuck in the car is different than walking by that lake with someone the same age as Luke. Someone with eyes just as big and bright as Luke's used to be, though not as trusting...

Good for Casey. He shouldn't trust Zeke.

For nine years Zeke has been angry. Now his anger is gone and instead it hurts, just hurts like hell and he wants to scream. No, he wants to hit Casey for spoiling it all, for taking away Zeke's ability to be casual about the place where his brother drowned.

He walks so fast Casey is practically running to keep up. When they reach the car he waits for Casey to climb in, then pulls out much faster than he should be driving on these dirt and gravel roads.

He keeps the speed up all the way back to Herrington, but he can't outrun his thoughts.

*-*-*

Casey doesn't understand what went wrong, but he feels Zeke's anger. The car is dead silent.

The miles fly past. Casey might enjoy the speed if he didn't feel the vibes coming off Zeke. He huddles closer to the door, arms crossed over his bag.

Zeke shoots past the school and down the street where he picked up Casey this morning, then slams on the brakes. Casey has to look over at him as he throws the car into park; he wants to say something, 'thank you' or 'I'm sorry.' But the look on Zeke's face stops all the words.

He's never seen such pain in anyone's eyes. Casey gasps in sympathy, watching Zeke loom closer, feeling him grab Casey's arms so hard it hurts, even through the coat. Zeke shakes him, just shakes him until Casey thinks his neck will snap. Then it stops, and Casey smiles, dizzy and relieved.

"Don't..." Zeke chokes, then warm lips are on his and Casey's brain tells him Zeke Tyler is kissing him, kissing him with tongue and holy fuck... It's over. Zeke releases him and growls "Get out."

Casey fumbles with the door handle a little, and barely has time to close it behind him before the car is screeching away on the damp pavement. He watches until Zeke is long gone.

Finally Casey looks around. The world should be different, but it isn't. Oh, the snow isn't clean anymore; some sidewalks are shoveled and others have multiple footprints; the city snow plows left mountains at the corners since this morning. But Casey is right back where he started.

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Footnote: I heard from Mez, who actually lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Though she said the reference made her laugh, I wrote to apologize and told her I simply picked her town off a map. Still, I had to ask if I'd been totally off-base about the area. Her reply: "Actually you were pretty dead on about the recreational activities..Yellow Springs is a tiny hippie town, host to Antioch College, the most liberal college in the country...pot is the crop of choice i believe...and yes there are plenty of apple orchards :) "