[ written from the POV of Christian Thompson.]
“Dude, so what’s going on with you?”
The question appeared to go unnoticed at first, perhaps blocked out by the humming of chatter around them, the clamoring of plates in the kitchen just beside their booth. Or, perhaps Casey was just ignoring him like he always did when Christian forced him to think about anything.
He looked out of it already, his eyes glazed over, bloodshot; hair in a disarray, lazily tied in a ponytail. He looked like he was about to fall asleep at the table until Christian said something, and then he visibly tensed, but didn’t speak. Christian opened his mouth to prod him, but he finally looked up, eyebrows furrowed. “What do you mean?”
Christian laughed, though it was more annoyance than anything. Casey was open about one thing, and one thing only, and that was that his walls were sealed and guarded. He was nearly impossible to talk to, and navigating around those walls had become a routine Christian would probably never get used to. Along the way, he found a few loopholes and tricks. He’d become familiar with most of the little traps Casey laid down to protect himself, one of them being to play dumb. Sometimes Christian had to wonder how many people let him get away with that; evidently, too many.
Christian caught a slight twitch in Casey’s eye, but otherwise, his face was like a stone. He sluggishly slid a full plate aside so he could prop his elbow on the table, chin resting in his palm.
Christian stared at him, eyebrows raised. “You know what I mean, kid.”
Casey’s eyes narrowed, then his gaze faltered again toward the window. “You read the statement too,” he pointed out. “You know exactly what’s going on.”
Christian shook his head. “Your statement was the same thing you’ve been saying for months, dude. Everyone and their mother already knew there was something going on, but you didn’t say anything. I’m worried about you.”
“Yes, it is the same thing I’ve been saying for months, but apparently people still aren’t listening,” Casey snapped. “I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
“Okay, but ‘I’m going through a hard time, I’ll be fine soon’ doesn’t cut it with me, and you know that.”
Casey rolled his eyes. “Well, that sounds like a lot of your problem, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is my problem, and your band’s problem, and Sarah’s problem, and Savannah’s problem, you get it?” Christian leaned a little further in, as if to shut out any onlookers. “Listen, dude, you are f***ing up. You look like a f***ing idiot and the whole world can see it. You’re lucky Sarah’s finally grown some patience, ‘cause she has every right to keep that kid away from you.”
Christian didn’t know what he was expecting, and in fact, he hadn’t meant to take it that far, but he’d been watching in silence too long. Casey didn’t look at him -- just stared into his plate with his lips pursed together, and then without a word, he got up and left the table, all eyes on him as he stormed out the front door.
Casey had always been more for running and hiding. In the face of conflict, he had many tactics designed to keep himself closed off, and if they all happened to fail, he ran. It was the reason they never worked out. It was the reason that, despite loving everything else about him more than he could ever put into words, Christian had to let him go. In that, Christian hoped Casey would grow a little and learn to look in on himself, but apparently that hadn’t been the case, and before Christian knew it, he was stuck with the bill for a wasted plate.
When he got out the front door, he saw Casey standing a little further down the sidewalk. His back was against the wall, arms folded tightly over his chest as he stared down the road, watching the oncoming cars pass. Christian wasn’t about to walk off and leave it be. “You just gonna stick me with the bill?”
Casey didn’t answer, or flinch, or show any sign of hearing him.
“Casey! Dude --.” Christian got within face-to-face distance of Casey, then paused, his heart stopping. Casey still wouldn’t look at him, but Christian could still see tears running down his face. “Hey…” He reached to touch Casey’s shoulder, only to be met with a palm against his chest, pushing him back a little.
“Don’t,” Casey whispered, shaking his head.
Christian dropped his hands, looking away. In the entire time he’d known Casey, he could only count on one hand the number of times he’d seen him cry. It felt like looking at a different person. It made his own throat swell. “Look, I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to yell at you or anything like that, okay? I didn’t mean to call you an idiot either.”
“It’s not like you’re wrong. I am.” Casey ran his fingers through his hair, sliding down so he could sit on the ground. “And I am f***ing up,” he repeated, his voice cracking. “I wake up every day and think about what a piece of sh*t I am. I wake up every single day and wonder what the f*** I’m doing, no one has to do that for me.”
“-- And everyone wants to get pissed off and ask me what’s my problem, like you think I enjoy this or something?” Christian opened his mouth, but Casey continued on. “I feel like no matter what I do, I can’t just like… be normal. I can’t just wake up and feel fine, I’m f***ing sick of it, man. I think everything’s okay, and every time I pull myself up, it’s like I fall ten times harder, and I’m so tired of it.”
It was Christian’s turn to stare without a word, his lips pursed together while Casey completely unraveled before him. He started frantically wiping his face, but it wasn’t doing much other than making his cheeks redder than normal. When his attempt failed, he simply covered up his face with his hands, ducking his head into his knees. “I’m just so f***ing tired.”