Title: You can't turn back the clock
Fandom: The Faculty
Characters: Casey / Zeke / Mrs. Connor / Mrs. Tyler
Word Count: 7469 words
Disclaimer: not mine, of course
When Casey reached the Tyler's house, be found his friend in the garage, working on his GTO. He looked up with a dirt-covered face. Casey thought that this looked sexy, but when Zeke got closer to pull him into his arms for the usual hello-kiss, he jumped back.
„Stay away from me,“ he laughed.
„Will you be ready soon? Then you could go in and have a shower. In the meantime, I will call Joey's for a pizza.“
„Ey, ey, boss.“
„Gimme five minutes, okay? I just need to fix this stupid thing, and the baby will be purring again like a little kitty.“
Casey nodded and already turned to the back door of the house. But then he turned around again.
"I need to tell you something. It was kinda strange. You know we went to the Gallery of Art in Columbus today."
Zeke was half disappeared under the hood again, and his voice sounded muted.
"There is this special exhibition by an artist who is born here, in Herrington. She is pretty talented. And she has made a photo series; self-portraits, she took in front of various mirrors. Brilliant idea.“
„And now you want to give it a try yourself? Hmmm. You and me in front of the big mirror in the guest room? Gives me some hot ideas.“
To be honest, he had never been very interested in art, but since he was together with Casey, he had learned a lot about it. Casey was talented, one of the best students at Highschool if you wanted to believe his art teacher who promised him a great future. And Zeke didn't mind to listen to his sometimes endless gushing about art and photography. As long as his boyfriend was happy everything was okay.
Casey rolled his eyes and laughed.
„Not this kind of pictures, you philistine. More the opposite. The photos are so full of sadness and loneliness. It almost breaks your heart to look at them.
But you know what was most strange? These photos remind me of you. It's something in her eyes. Hazelnut brown, like yours. And her smile. Like you smiled still some time ago. Most others fell for it and thought that you are much too tough to care about anything. But I've always known that this smile is just a part of the show you put on."
Zeke smirked. Of course, he was right. All the time he had played the bad boy who didn't care about rules, and had almost even fooled himself and started to believe that this kind of life was what he wanted. But everything had changed when Casey stepped into his life. First Zeke had been on guard, not willing to let him come too close. But Casey could turn into a stubborn little shit when he was on a mission. And today Zeke was glad, that he hadn't given up so quickly.
Casey's next words though were like a shock.
"Her name is Dorie Miller. I'm thinking about it to buy one of her photos. Maybe one day she will get famous ... and I'm a wealthy guy.“
The screwdriver fell out of Zeke's hand, and he banged his forehead on the hood when he straightened up abruptly. He didn't take any notice of the sharp pain; pale he was looking for a hold.
"Zeke! Zeke? "
Panic fueled Casey reached for his arm, shook him.
"What's the trouble? Are you all right?"
Zeke needed a moment to find back into reality; with big eyes he stared at Casey, hoping that this was just a nightmare and that he would wake up soon on the old couch in the garage. This couldn't be true. No, no, no!
„Zeke? Talk to me, please.“
He licked his dry lips, forced himself to keep breathing.
"Dorie Miller," he repeated in a hoarse voice.
"It's just an artist's name. Her real name is Dorothy Tyler. And she is my mom."
„I just can't get it! How can you not want to see her? It's a chance.“
Half an hour later the boys were sitting in Zeke's kitchen, Casey a coffee in front of him, Zeke a beer. The pizza was forgotten, the mood had hit rock bottom. Stressed out Zeke squeezed his eyes shut; he didn't want this to end in their first serious fight. He only wanted that Casey finally did shut up and stopped bothering him.
No way that he would go to Columbus to meet … this woman who meant nothing to him. He refused to call her mother; she didn't deserve this name. No woman who was able to leave her little son alone literally overnight deserved it. Without any goodbye she had disappeared out of his life; had left him behind, confused and scared. He could still lively remember the first time after her departure. His first nanny, strictly she had followed his father's rules, had ignored his questions about his mom, had let him cry during the nights when he did wake up out of a nightmare. His father had been angry because of his behavior and told him finally to grow up. To grow up! He had been four years old back then. A little boy who desperately wanted his mom back.
But he had survived. It hadn't broken him but had made him even stronger. Now he was grown up. He finally lived his own life. And he didn't need his father anymore nor his mother. No matter what Casey tried to tell him. They were not family, never had been. Feeling worn out, he shook his head.
„After all these years she comes back to Ohio,“ he said and tried to keep his voice calm.
„ But she isn't here, in Herrington, to see me. She's in Columbus, only 35 miles away, because of an exhibition. Isn't this obvious enough? She's not interested in meeting me. Probably she didn't even remember anymore that I'm living here.“
Sighing Casey put his hand on Zeke's arm.
„Maybe you are wrong. Maybe she's just afraid to do the first step. For sure she knows that it was a mistake to leave you, but I guess she has had a good reason for it. I can't believe that she is an uncaring, cold-hearted woman. I've seen her works, Zeke, and there are so much love and warmth in it. It's impossible that … “
Zeke pulled the face and shook his hand off.
„You are such a hopeless dreamer, Casey,“ he hissed.
Well knowing that his behavior was wrong. The last Casey wanted was to hurt him. But he couldn't endure it any longer. The final explosion was long overdue.
„You think to know people because of some stupid photos? That's outright bullshit! You don't know anything at all. You don't know how it feels when your childhood turns into hell overnight because of your fucking mom, the mom you love and trust blind. And she leaves you alone without even a word. When your father treats you like ballast because he gives a fucking shit about you.
You don't know anything at all, Casey, because for your parents you are the golden boy. Go home, Casey, to home to mommy, and she will crush you with her overwhelming love.
But I don't need anyone in my life. No one, get it? I was alone for my whole life, and it was good that way!“
Gasping for air, with clenched fists he was sitting there. Casey stared at him with a mixture of hurt and shock; never before he had seen Zeke in such a desolate state and he wasn't sure what to do. Was it the right decision to leave him alone in this state? If he did, would this be the end of their relationship? If he didn't … what would Zeke do, if he refused to go home? Would he at least be ready to accept the comfort Casey wanted to give him?
When Zeke stood up from his chair and turned to Casey with dark, flickering eyes, he instinctively moved back. All too long he had been used to it to get bullied; he had learned to notice even the slightest aggression and to back off. Zeke stopped in every movement, pulled the face to a smirk.
„Oh, fuck you, Casey, you know, I would never hurt you, don't you?“
„Sure I do!“
But even to his ears, this didn't sound very convincing.
For a second Zeke closed his eyes.
„I guess this is not the best timing to discuss this. I have a fucking headache, and I need to lay down. Sorry.“
Since their fight two days ago, Casey hadn't talked to Zeke anymore. He skipped school like in the old times, and he didn't answer the phone. The GTO was standing in the driveway as ever, but the back door was locked, and Zeke didn't open to his knocking.
"Probably he needs some time alone," Casey's mom had tried to reassure him, though she had looked slightly worried, too.
Since Zeke came first to the Connor's house, she had taken him into her heart. The boy had looked so lost and angry, not willing to trust anyone … beside Casey. These two were very close, she could see that, and obviously, it was good for both of them. In the meantime Zeke was almost like a second son to her; he had started to open up a bit, and she could understand his inner conflict because of his mother.
"He needs to figure out how to deal with it that his mother is back in Ohio. You can't blame him that he has some issues with it to trust her.“
„Well, at least he could call the gallery; try to get in contact with her. It's a chance to talk. Maybe a new beginning for them. But when he continues to act like a stubborn shit …“
He noticed his mom pulling her face slightly and paused.
„Sorry. But I feel so helpless. The exhibition only runs for another week. After this, it might be too late."
"Case, you're a good boy. I know you care much for Zeke. But I'm not sure if it is a good idea to stir up the past again. Thanks to you Zeke finally starts to look forward. What if he tries to call her just to find out that she's not interested in meeting him again? Will he be able to deal with that? She left him behind when he was still a child; she never showed any interest in his life so far. I have my problems to believe that a mother can do that when she cares for her son at least a bit.“
"How can you judge her? You don't know her," Casey protested.
Mrs. Connor smiled.
"And you do?"
Casey sighed. Of course, she was right. He didn't know anything about this woman but the small fragments of Zeke's childhood he was willing to share with him. And the info from the folder of the exhibition which was focused on her artistic life and didn't even mention her real name.
And he knew her photos. Casey had been interested in photography since his grandpa had given him his old camera when he had turned ten years old. The man had taught him what it meant to be a good photographer. It was more than just taking as many shots as possible.
"Try to read a photo like you would read a book," his grandpa had told him.
"There is the main story, everyone can understand. But a good book will tell you another one between the lines. This is what makes you read a book again and again, and you will discover it anew every time."
It had taken some time until Casey had been able to understand. And to implement it in his own photography would take even longer. Photos could tell stories; when you studied a work long enough you were able to understand what was going on behind the scenery; even to catch a glance into the deepest soul of the photographer. This was what he was dreaming about, but he knew well enough that not many photographers made it to the top.
He had never thought to find one of these photographers in the Gallery of Art in Columbus. They showed a mixture of talented local artists and replicas of famous works you could only find in the big galleries of the world. Sometimes an exhibition of unknown artists on their way up. An interesting mixture; good enough to learn from it but not unique and brilliant.
The work of Dorie Miller fit into the image of the gallery perfectly. Casey had enjoyed it to look at her photos; colorful, lively, fancy motifs. Not many portraits, though. Like him, she apparently preferred it not to take pictures of people. Then, at the last room of the exhibition, he had discovered them. Self-portraits in front of various mirrors.
Different from her others photos. Maybe not even the best when it came to technique and lightning. It was the sadness behind her smile which let the visitors stop breathing for a moment. Her dark, hazelnut brown eyes, looking so lost. The photos talked about loneliness and emptiness and longing. Longing for something she had lost a long time ago. It had needed some time until Casey had realized how much all this did remind him of Zeke.
Zeke had tried to fight his loneliness with parties and mindless flirting; he had played the tough guy who cared about nothing. It had taken a while until Casey had been able to break through his shell and to discover the true Zeke. Funny and caring and smart. But deep inside still vulnerable, it was still hard for him to open up and to trust others.
Not a big surprise that he refused to meet his mother; someone who should have loved him, keep him safe, back him up. Instead of that, she had left him. Alone with his father. Casey had met the man once and to remember his cold, piercing eyes still let him shudder. This guy was not able to love. And the thought of a four-year-old little Zeke, confused and alone, being at the mercy of his father was horrible.
Casey sighed softly when his mind wandered back to the gallery and the mirror photos of Zeke's mother. What, when she deep inside felt the same loneliness as Zeke had felt for such a long time? What, if she had just put on a mask, pretending that she was a happy, successful artist? What, when she secretly regretted it what she had done to Zeke, when she missed him but just doesn't know how to make the first step?
On the other side: maybe his mother was right, and it was better to let it rest. Casey was grown up with caring, loving parents. He couldn't imagine being without them. Maybe this was the reason why he still hoped for a happy end for Zeke and his mom; he wanted him to feel the same. Against overwhelming odds.
Two days later; Friday evening.
Mrs. Connor looked up.
„Do you need my help tomorrow?“
„Other plans for the weekend?“
She smiled at him.
Casey hesitated; not sure if sure she would appreciate it.
„I would like to go to Columbus once again.“
Sighing his mother dropped the magazine she had been reading on the couch beside her.
„The exhibition? Zeke's mother? Still not willing to let it go?“
Casey shook his head.
„Think about yesterday. Zeke's nerves were all on edge; I haven't seen him like that for ages. And I know he blames me for that. I wish I would have never talked about this stupid exhibition and … about her."
Mrs. Connor knew all too well what he was talking about. Yes, Zeke hadn't been the boy she had learned to love yesterday. He had finally accepted the invitation for dinner, but he seemed jumpy and tight-lipped. As ever he had praised her cooking skills, but without the usual jolly sparkling of his eyes. It had hurt her to see him in that state again. All she had wanted was to pull him into her arms and hold him. But she knew well enough, Zeke wouldn't allow so much nearness. The only one who would be able to break through his shell was Casey. At least she hoped so; there had been so much tension between them. It had almost broken her heart.
She noticed tears sparkling in Casey's eyes, and sighed inwardly.
„I'm sure he's much too smart to blame you. But it's understandable that he feels torn apart. To know that his mother is in Columbus and doesn't even make the try to contact him. I don't want to imagine, how much this has to hurt him.“
Mrs. Connor put her hand on Casey's arm.
„Best we can do is to be there for him. We can show him that he is worth it to be loved. That we care for him.
Let it rest, Casey, this woman might be a talented photographer, but I'm afraid she doesn't deserve the name mother.“
Casey kept quiet for a while before answering. Finally, he shrugged.
„I guess this is the reason why I want to go to Colombus. When I think about her photo series in front of the mirrors, her eyes, her smile, I just can't accept it that she is so uncaring and selfish. Because these are Zeke's eyes and his smile.
I need to go and find out if I read the message of the photos wrong. If it is just wishful thinking. And she just is a good photographer who was lucky to make an excellent photo series which knows to fool the viewer.“
„I get that.“
Even it was hard to admit it, Mrs. Connor knew her son well enough to know that he was right. He had always been like that; the words 'hopeless case' didn't seem to exist for him, he never stopped fighting for the things he did believe into.
She did remember the little puppy he had found in the woods, half starved, heavily injured. He was barely alive, and everyone agreed to it that it was most gracious to put him to sleep. Not so Casey. He had fought for the life of this little dog for days, had slept beside him, had fed him, cleaned his wounds. And the wonder happened. Today Jerry, the name Casey had given him, was living a happy life on his grandmother's farm.
This time, though, Mrs. Connor was afraid there wouldn't be a happy end, and Casey was heading for a heartbreak.
„Do you want me to come with you,“ she asked.
"I could give you a ride."
But she almost felt almost relieved when Casey after little hesitating shook his head. She wasn't sure if she would be able to fight the urge to rip the photos from the walls, to trample them down, to tear them to tiny shreds. No one had the right to hurt her boys that much. No one!
He stepped into the entrance hall of the gallery with his heart up to his mouth. He loved this place, especially during the early opening hours with not many visitors around. Different from the old museum in Herrington, which was dark and sticky and unpleasant, probably the reason why people refused to go to museums nowadays, the gallery was modern and friendly, with a lot of light, coming from hidden spotlights at the ceiling and the walls. Bright walls, a plain, light brown stone floor. Some wooden benches around the tall, light-yellow pillars, which slightly reduced the room's spaciousness without constricting it. Simplicity ruled here. Monthly rotative works of local artists gave the visitors a first idea of what the gallery offered.
Opposite the entrance a stand-up display with the reference of the special exhibition of Dorie Miller in the second floor. A very talented photographer, born in Herrington 38 years ago. Casey stared at the words. She was still so young. As old as Zeke was today when she had given birth to him. For the first time back in Ohio since she had left her hometown 15 years ago. If he could only find out what had happened back then. You don't leave everything behind overnight without a good reason. Maybe she was looking for freedom? Did Zeke stand in the way of her career? But it was possible to be successful in your job even if you loved someone as long as you were ready to make compromises, wasn't it? It had to be because he was not willing to make a decision between his photography and Zeke.
„No, Paul, I've told you before. No way.“
A female voice, soft but determined tore Casey out of his reverie.
„But it's just a short intermezzo. Your roots are in Herrington, Dorie; it can't hurt to remember that.“
Casey froze like stuck by lightning.
„No,“ she repeated once again.
„I've left my old life behind when I left Herrington, and there is no way back. All I can do is to look forward.“
„There is always a way.“
The voice of the guy sounded slightly annoyed.
„Really, Dorie, why do you need an agent when you are not willing to listen to his advice?“
Footsteps were hurrying out of the hall, and Casey finally dared to breathe again. She was here, in the gallery, only a few steps away. If he had turned around, he would have been face to face with her. Zeke's mom. Shit! Feeling weak he dropped down onto the next bench; he needed a moment to sort his thoughts out.
Suddenly there was a little noise. Maybe the young artist had realized that she hadn't been alone with her agent during their fight.
„Sorry,“ she said.
„I wasn't aware that there already is an early visitor.“
Casey felt the urge to hide somewhere, but he knew how it would have looked like if he jumped up and ran away. Pretty ridiculous. So he forced his wild hammering heart to calm down and looked up. She was standing next to the bench; wearing denim and a plain white t-shirt. Modern, fancy glasses. A slim, athletic body. She looked even younger than she was.
Casey took a deep breath, and one more a moment later.
Zeke's eyes. Zeke's hair, though she had a shoulder long haircut, slightly curly. Zeke's smile. And the small birthmark on her left shoulder. Zeke had the same. At least she was a bit smaller than Zeke.
When he realized that he stared at her for quite a while already, he finally cleared his throat.
„It's okay,“ he said.
„I just arrived.“
He pointed at the signpost on the wall beside the entrance.
„Try to find out where to go first.“
„It's unusual to meet a young guy like you in the gallery on a Saturday morning.“
„I like to come here when it's not so crowded. Makes it easier to take in the depth of the pictures.“
„Oh, an art lover. That's great.“
She was nice. And her smile seemed to be honest.
„Runs in the family,“ Casey answered.
„My mom likes to paint; it's just a hobby, but she's not that bad. My grandpa was a photographer. He taught me to love it. Last summer I took a course about black and white photography in Akron, that was fascinating. And next year, after graduation, I will go to Photo School in New York.“
Shit. He was babbling, as always when he felt nervous.
„Big plans. Good luck for that.“
Suddenly her smile seemed to vanish; sadness was sparkling in the depth of her eyes. So familiar that for a moment Casey felt the urge to pull her into his arms to comfort her.
„Just don't forget it, that photography is not all. Never give up the people who mean something to you. You will never be able to go back when you have lost them.“
Then she seemed to remember where she was.
„Just don't listen to me,“ she said and laughed; it was so easy to say, that it was just a fake laugh, her eyes told something different.
„I'm afraid my agent is right when he says sometimes I'm talking too much at the wrong time.
Hope you will have a lovely time in the gallery.“
She turned around to leave the hall. Casey blinked, fighting for words. He couldn't just let her go like that; he just couldn't.
„Mrs. Tyler,“ he blurted out; then he realized his mistake and bit his lips.
„Mrs. Miller ...“
But it was too late. She turned back and suddenly eyed him cautiously, her face pale.
„It's been a long time since someone called me that. A different life that didn't exist anymore.“
Slowly Casey shook his head.
„That's not true,“ he protested.
„You can try to deny your past, but Zeke is existing. He still lives in Herrington, only a few miles away.“
Breathing in deeply, she grabbed for a hold at one of the pillars.
„Ezekiel. You know him?“
Her voice was almost inaudible now.
„He hates it when someone calls him Ezekiel,“ Casey murmured.
It was somehow strange to hear her chuckling; this was what Zeke would do in this situation.
„I can't blame him for that,“ she said.
„Ezekiel is not a name for a little boy, but his father insisted on it.“
She hesitated for a moment before continuing.
„Is he … can you tell me, how he is doing?“
Casey stared at her, his mind swirling around.
„Why don't you ask him,“ he thought.
„You can call him. Rent a car and go to Herrington. You know where he is living. Show at least some courage, talk to him, help him to understand what you've done.“
„He's still going to Highschool,“ he said instead.
„We will graduate this year.“
„Highschool,“ she repeated.
„I was sure it would be an exclusive private school.“
Suddenly Casey felt anger rising.
„Well, it was a boarding school. Or, four of it. He hated it to be there. Pulled a lot of shit and got kicked out every time. No one asked for the reason. No one cared about his problems. Despite his brilliant mind, he was on the best way to threw his future away. Herrington High is his last chance.“
But when he noticed tears in her eyes he almost felt bad for being so harsh.
„After graduation, he will go to New York, to College. Chemistry,“ he added quickly.
Dori Miller sat down onto the bench beside Casey, nervous she was kneading her trembling hands.
„I should have known it, that it was a mistake,“ she murmured, more to herself.
„I should have come back and taken him with me. But David, Ezek … Zeke's father, he threatened to ruin my life again.“
She shook her head and sighed.
„I was too young. I met him when I was barely eighteen years old, first year at College. He was good looking, charming. And wealthy. He showed me a new world, and it was so easy to impress me. I didn't notice how much he changed me until it was too late.“
Casey did remember the guy all to well. Though he was indeed outrightly intimidating, he could understand that a young girl would fall for his charming behavior.
„Then I got pregnant,“ the woman beside him continued.
„And he got angry, furious. It was like a shock to see him in that state; I was almost afraid of him. But then he calmed down, and he asked me …
… no, he made the decision that we married as soon as possible. I was so paralyzed that I didn't dare to protest. Not for the next four years. I just followed his rules; I quit College. I turned into a housewife in a much too big house. I was a young mother; I was the perfect host at the dinner parties when he invited his business friends.I dressed as he expected me to do, I only eat what he wanted."
She looked up; tears were running over her face openly now.
„There was nothing left from myself anymore. It was just a matter of time. I started to take pills because I wasn't able to go through the day without it. In the evening I took different pills to find at least some sleep. One day I did break down. Detoxication at a small clinic in Idaho, followed by months of rehab. All that kept me moving on was the thought that I needed to get better again because of my son.
But David didn't allow me any contact. He said, the last Ezekiel needs is a psychotic mother who tries to kill herself with pills.“
Casey looked shocked. She grabbed for a tissue and shook her head.
„I'm sorry,“ she murmured.
„It's just … I thought it would be okay, but it's pretty overwhelming to be back in Ohio after all this time. So many memories.“
„Don't worry; I don't mind."
What else could he say? Casey felt pretty uncomfortable. He had suspected that there might be a story behind her behavior, but he hadn't been prepared for it that she would open up to him so quickly. How long did she already carry all this around with herself without being able to talk about it, that she was ready to entrust a stranger?
Finally, the tears stopped, she forced herself to smile.
„It's nice to say that.“
„Well. But actually, I'm not the one you should talk with. Zeke should hear all of this.“
„Zeke? But why would he want me to see? After all, I've left him alone. I didn't fight for him. Even when I finally started to feel better. David demanded the divorce, and I was so relieved about it. During the therapy, I began to take pictures again. It felt so good. All I could think about was that I would be free again, able to find back to myself.
Only once I dared to talk about it to take Zeke with me. David just laughed. And threatened me to put paid to my plans when I don't accept his terms. He was rich; he had friends of influence. I still needed to go to a self-help group twice a week. And no one was there to back my up. It would have been easy for him to break me again. Maybe without a way back this time.
So I did give in, I left Ohio behind. I left my son behind. And I somehow managed it to convince myself that it is best for him that way. Because I never was a good mother for him."
She paused for a moment, closed her eyes, before continuing.
„I should have known better. David was never interested in him in the slightest. It was just a show of force. He would never give up something which he thinks is rightfully his. I should have known it that he would break him … like he did with me.“
Casey thought about the bits Zeke had told him about his childhood; not good memories; his life had been a fight against an overpowering father, against all rules.
„His childhood wasn't easy,“ he admitted.
„But it didn't break him. Zeke always rebelled against every authority. It could have turned out badly, but he is much too smart for that. One day he has made the decision to leave everything behind and move forward. College is just the first step into a great future; I'm sure of that.“
„You care for him,“ Dorie Miller said, smiling again.
Of course, he did. He cared a lot. And it hadn't been as easy as it sounded. It had been a fight to make Zeke open up, to trust him, to admit his feelings. And even today there were times where Zeke just retreated into his shell and refused to let him in. Like during the last days. And this time he wasn't sure if he would let him into his life soon again.
He felt the eyes of Zeke's mother resting on him and shook off these thoughts.
„We are friends,“ he answered; well knowing that this was not the time to reveal more.
„We will go to New York next year together.“
„That's good. I guess Zeke can need someone like you in his life.“
Casey kept quiet. Zeke needed his mother in his life. Like his mother needed him. More than any time before he was sure of that. But it wouldn't be easy to convince one of them to make the first step.
„Maybe you could write him a letter,“ he wanted to suggest. But they got interrupted by a young man, tall, dark hair, bound together in a ponytail, denim, and a dark blue jacket. Apparently the agent of Dori Miller.
„Dorie, here you are. It's ten o'clock already. The reporters are waiting for you at the exhibition.“
The woman looked slightly conscience-stricken.
„I'd totally forgotten about the interview.“
The guy looked her up and down.
„Everything okay,“ he asked when he noticed her red eyes and the tissue in her hand.
„Yes, of course. Give me a minute in the washroom; then I will be ready.“
„Fine. I will go and jolly them along."
When he hurried back to the stairs, she turned to Casey again.
„I guess, I need to go. I actually don't like interviews and press conferences but Paul, he's my agent, a brilliant one, he insists that it is important for my future as a photographer to open up a bit more.“
„It was nice to talk to you. I guess it will help me to be a bit calmer in the future.“
She grabbed for his hand.
„And good luck with your future plans.“
„Thank you,“ Casey murmured.
His eyes followed her upstairs; her agent was already waiting for her at the end of the stairs. She turned back and waved one last time. Then she was gone.
He was still sitting on the bench in the entrance hall, thinking about his talk with Zeke's mother. Not paying much attention to the other visitors who started to show up by and by. In his mind, he repeated all she had told him again and again. He had been right; there had been a reason why she had left Zeke behind. A reason, he could not entirely accept; she was a mother, and a mother should think about her child at first and not about her own future. But what did he know about what she had to go through; all that she had told him were for sure just small pieces of the truth, already disturbing enough. And one thing was quite clear: she hadn't left Zeke because she didn't care for him.
Casey sighed. To say, that the situation was complicated was an understatement. When he thought about his own parents, he suddenly felt so thankful. They cared for him, treated him with love and respect. They had always backed him up, had accepted his decision to go the photo school and that he was in love with a guy. Most unlikely that it could ever be like that between Zeke and his mother. But at least they should talk things out; it seemed to be important for both of them.
The sudden voice beside him tore him out of his thoughts. Surprised he looked up.
„Zeke? What are you doing here?“
The last he had expected to see here, in the gallery.
„Your mom has told me that you are here once again.“
A slight uneasiness in his voice.
„I wanted to say sorry.“
Casey blinked and checked him out quickly. He looked better than the last days, not so pale and tired and his eyes had lost this threatening, dark glance again.
„Sorry for what,“ he asked.
„For acting like a prick. For all the shit I hurled at you during the last days. It wasn't fair; I know, you just wanted the best.
But for me, it isn't that easy. I haven't thought about my mother for ages; I had accepted it that she doesn't exist anymore. And suddenly she shows up again and turns my world around. I didn't know how to deal with that.“
„No need to be sorry,“ Casey answered, suddenly feeling much better than only some moments before. Zeke was here. They were talking again. Everything would be good.
„I shouldn't have bothered you that much. I guess we both were a bit overreacting.“
„I've thought about it, about all you have said.“
„Didn't get much sleep during the last nights. I'm still not ready to talk with her, but I guess I would like to see her photos.“
Oh shit! Heat was rushing through Casey's body; he swallowed hard. It was a first step, and under other circumstances, he would have been happy about that. But the thought crossed his mind that Dorie Miller, his mother, was much closer than Zeke knew. The interview, the exhibition of her photos … The moment they would meet, they would recognize each other, that was for sure.
„Her photos,“ he repeated.
Zeke smirked slightly.
„Well, the exhibition ends tomorrow, if I got it right. And I'm here.“
Casey licked his dry lips.
Zeke put his hand on Casey's arm and squeezed it gently. In his eyes Casey could read that all he wanted was to pull him into his arms, to hold him, to make everything undo what had happened between them during the last days. But of course, this was not possible in public.
„It's okay. I guess it makes no sense to run away from it any longer. Probably you were right. As ever. It's not fair to judge her without knowing anything. I was four back then, and I can barely remember her. Not sure if I can forgive her, but at least I should try to find out more about her reasons to leave me behind.“
Casey's voice was trembling now.
„In Columbus, I know. But it's not a good idea to rush things now. Maybe I can write her a letter one day when I'm ready for that. Just give me a bit more time."
„She is here, upstairs, in the exhibition.“
Zeke paled and narrowed his eyes, but at least he didn't freak out right away. Casey decided to take this as a good sign.
„I've talked to her.“
„You did … what?“
Zeke's voice echoed loud through the hall; some visitors turned around to stare at them.
„It was not the plan,“ Casey hastened to calm him down.
„I didn't know that she's here because of an interview. But when we met in the entrance hall, it was impossible not to notice it. You look very much like her, you know?“
Zeke kept quiet for a long while.
„What did you talk about,“ he finally asked.
„About art,“ he answered.
„She was wondering about my interest, and I've told her that I will go to art school next year.“
„That was all?“
He couldn't lie to him and shook his head.
„I've told her that we know each other. That you will go to New York, too.“
„Why did you do that?“
All Casey wished was to be at a more private place for this talk, a place where he could hold Zeke in his arms, comfort him.
„She asked me how you are doing,“ he answered.
„I guess she would like to make up for all. At least try to explain. But she is as afraid as you are. She thinks that you hate her and she is not sure if she is strong enough to deal with this.“
„I've stopped to hate her a long time ago.“
Tired Zeke shook his head.
„But it was so much easier to pretend that she has never existed.“
He stared at the stand-up display with the announcement of the exhibition.
„Tonight I did remember something. Hot chocolate milk with marshmallows. I loved that shit. My dad didn't appreciate it. But my mom always hid some in the back of the pantry, and when he was at work, we enjoyed a mug. We were sitting at the kitchen counter; I was much too small, she always kept her arm around my back to protect me. We did laugh, and she told me fictional stories. It was just her and me.
Then she was gone, one moment she was still there and then … puff … vanished into thin air. I've never had chocolate milk again.“
Suddenly Casey felt tears burning in his eyes.
„She did love you, Zeke,“ he whispered.
„There was a bond between you and your mom. And no matter what happened, no matter all the years, it's still there. You can't get the lost time back, but you can try to make a new start.“
It seemed as Zeke was at least thinking about his words instead of turning it down right away when footsteps from the first floor reached them. Some guys, carrying photo- and other technical equipment, talking, laughing, came down the stairs. Followed by Paul, Dorie Miller's agent. The interview obviously was over.
Then some voices came closer.
„One of me first projects. It's not perfect but still one of my favorites.“
„I like how the light effects are coming out. What filter did you use?“
A young woman got in sight, followed by a senior man and … her. Casey stopped breathing when he noticed Zeke's eyes resting on her; so many emotions were lying on his face, hard to say what he would do next.
Minutes seemed to pass until Dorie Miller had reached the entrance hall and bid goodbye to the couple. When she turned around to the group of reporters who were still standing there, talking with her agent, she suddenly stiffened in every movement.
Zeke grabbed for Casey's hand and squeezed it so hard that he thought he might break him every bone right away. But he wouldn't complain. This was the moment he had waited for, and he would be at Zeke's side and back him up in which way ever it was needed.
„It wasn't that bad, wasn't it,“ Paul said, a satisfied smile on his face.
„You did impress them. I knew you would.“
When he got no reaction, he touched the arm of the woman beside him.
„Hey, Dorie… Do you listen to me?“
Then he noticed her eyes resting on the two young guys in the entrance hall. One of them small, a checkered shirt, the jeans a touch too wide for Paul's taste. The way he held the hand of the bigger guy told volumes; these two were more than just friends. But it wasn't that what attracted his attention.
The second guy … shit … he looked so similar to her. Suddenly Paul could understand her strange behavior during the last days, all the pieces fall together.
„Why didn't you tell me,“ he asked.
„What do you mean?“
„Your son. He is your son, isn't he? He has to be. Why didn't you tell me, that he's still living here?“
Finally, she turned her head and looked at him.
„I didn't know … up to this morning. And I haven't expected him to come here. I'm not prepared for that."
Her voice just a whisper, her hands trembling. She looked so pale, Paul wouldn't have been surprised if she would faint right away.
„Dorie, sit down,“ he said and pointed at a small chair.
„I will get you a glass of water.“
She dropped down without complaining and licked her lips.
„He's coming upstairs. Why is he coming?“
The panic was bare to overhear. Paul looked back into the hall. Dorie's son. Sometimes he hadn't believed that he even existed, he was like a ghost from long gone times, she refused to talk much about. Now, it seemed, the past caught up with her.
The guys had reached the stairs. The body of the taller one tensed up, his face stony, he was still holding the hand of his friend, not caring that some visitors already started to look at them. His eyes were resting on Dorie. Reassuring Paul put a hand on her shoulder.
„Obviously he wants to get to know his mother,“ he said.
“If you ask me, it's about time that you stop running away from your past.“
„But I don't know what to say to him,“ she murmured almost desperate.
„Don't be stupid, Dorie.“
Paul chuckled slightly.
„He is your son. Just be yourself. If he has more in common with you than just the visual nature, then he will understand. Probably it will take some time, for both of you. But everything will be okay.“
The two young guys were only a few step away. Wow. The same hazelnut brown eyes, the familiar mixture of defiance and determination in them. Dorie looked like that when she had to face a difficult situation which somehow scared her but she was willing to deal with it anyway. Paul smiled at them; the small guy smiled back, Dorie's son just narrowed his eyes a bit more.
„Well,“ Paul said.
„I guess I need to go now. We've gotten some interesting offers for your photos. But I'm sure we can get even better ones.“
He winked, then he was gone.
The voice was low but calm.
„I guess you don't expect that I call you mother.“
She swallowed, no, she didn't expect anything. She had given up every right to expect anything from him about 15 years ago. Still hesitating she finally dared to look up and there he was. Her heartbeat increased, she teared up; he was so grown up, not the four-your-old little boy she did still remember. He was a handsome young man.
„Hel … hello, Eze …“
„Zeke. I hope you don't mind when I call you that?“
It was barely visible, but there was a shadow of a smile on his face, wasn't it? She breathed in deeply and decided to take this as a good sign.