The End of the Summer
(PG) Casey/Zeke

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Amongst the smell of newly waxed floor and sharpened pencils, Casey clutches his new books, the spines still uncracked and the pages sticking together. The tag inside his new shirt itches and his shoes leave scuffs in the hallway on his way to his first class of the year. Even *he* smells strange to himself, having run out of his regular shampoo that morning and resorting to using his father's. Through it all, though, is the familiar pull of his bag's worn strap across his shoulder, the weight of the camera, keeping him grounded. The possibility of floating away when nobody is looking is a feeling only particular to the first few days of September.

There are kids, kids smaller and skinnier and shier, passing him with fearful glances, their knuckles on their own textbooks even whiter than Casey's. A particularly diminutive boy with a bad haircut and a worse sweater scurries on by and Casey watches one of Stan's friends elbow his buddy in the side, jerking his chin at the mousy kid. Casey looks away and hurries along.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Casey spies a few people whose faces, if not names, he knows. His class--History--is in the room he had English in last year. The printout in Casey's hand says Ms. Burke will be telling him about wars and treaties until June, when Casey can finally go back home and lock himself in his room for the summer.

It takes him a moment to realise he's been walking with his head up for once, scanning the crowd for the familiar lean frame a head taller than everyone else. It takes him another beat or two to remember the make-up exams this summer, the letter of acceptance into Ohio State, the celebratory fuck. He hasn't seen Zeke since. The roar of the GTO is conspicuous in its absence this morning, and the crowd seems uniform and vice-free. People walk in and out of the boy's washroom freely.

The bell catches him mid-step and he's nowhere near his classroom. Not even in the right hallway. The crowd thins hurriedly until he's standing alone, reflecting off the surface under his feet, the bell still ringing shrilly in his ears. Casey Connor's never been late to class. Never had a reason to, unless it was a note from Nurse Harper. He can't move his feet.

He remembers strong fingers ripping open the envelope. He remembers what those same hands had been doing under the afghan before Zeke's sister (an import from boarding school who looked strikingly similar to her brother) had wandered in and tossed the missive at them before walking out and taking Zeke's car without asking. Casey remembers holding his breath until his lungs hurt.

He walks in late and earns himself the last seat in the last row, near the noisy radiator. Zeke's name is carved into the desk in Zeke's handwriting, made sharp with the tip of a key or the cap of a ballpoint pen. Casey spends the rest of the class tracing the letters' grooves with his pencil, darkening the graffiti.