Someone Like You
THE kid was cold. Casey could see that as Joe puttered past him in the tree-shaded twilight of Foresthill Road near Sugar Pine Lake. It was November and in the forties this time of night, and the lost thing on the side of the road was not dressed for the weather. He didn’t look good at all. His lips were blue, his thin arms folded in front of him were paler than the grimy T-shirt, and his cheeks were hectically flushed.
And his eyes were dead.
Casey reached from under the fleece-lined leather lap robe that nestled him in the cozy sidecar (complete with a little space heater at his feet, because Joe took care of details like that) and tapped Joe’s thigh, but he didn’t need to bother. Joe was the same guy he’d been twenty-five years earlier. He could spot a miserable runaway a mile away.
They pulled the cycle over to the side of the road, and Casey took off his helmet—because he knew they looked scary when you were cold and alone on the side of a country road—and called out.
They’d passed the boy up, walking in the opposite direction, and Casey could see the kid’s shoulders stiffen as they called out to him.
“Yeah?” he asked, like he was bracing himself for a blow.
Casey and Joe met eyes. Casey sighed and got out of the sidecar, then walked carefully to about five yards from the boy. A big enough distance so the kid could run away if he felt like he needed to, and close enough so he could see that Casey, at forty-one, was probably fit enough to catch him, and maybe mean enough to give chase.
“Kid, look. It’s going to dip into freezing tonight. Can we take you anywhere?”
The kid narrowed his eyes, and he gave a convulsive shudder. “I….” He closed his eyes. “I don’t got nowhere to go.”
Casey nodded, because they’d known that. “We’ve got a spare bedroom,” he said cautiously. “For the night. No strings. We’ve even got some food.”
Oh, God. The eyes on this kid. Brown, deep, and terrified.
“I….” The kid shivered again. “I don’t got no money, but I can”—he grabbed his crotch uncomfortably—“I can pay.”
Casey wrinkled his nose. “You see that graying bastard on the back of that motorcycle?”
The kid looked up. Joe was sitting there, his comfortably wrinkling face sunk into what looked to be a habitual scowl but was really just a thoughtfulness almost out of place in this century. His gray-and-white ponytail was sticking out from under his helmet like a barely contained coal brush, and he had a fairly frightening Fu Manchu mustache with matching soul patch. He was easily six feet five inches tall, and his shoulders were (at least to a young man’s eyes) as broad as a barn. He was one of those men who became thick with age in spite of the best efforts of diet and exercise, and he looked like one hammer swing from his fist would effectively dent the hood of a half-ton pickup.
The kid’s eyes grew huge. “Yeah,” he whispered, obviously scared of what came next.
“He keeps me plenty busy. And if I slept around, he’d kill me. And if he slept around, I’d geld him. I’d say you’re safer in the spare bedroom of two old queers than you are almost anywhere else in the county.” Casey lowered his voice. “Including, maybe, your own home.”
The kid looked up, and something dropped from his eyes, and what was left was naked, feverish, and damned near to done. “I’ll do anything,” he begged.
“No worries,” Casey said, keeping his voice low and soothing, like he would with a wild bear or a rabid chicken. “Here. We’ll let you sit in the sidecar home. We’ve got a spare helmet; it’s nice and warm. It’ll be good. Trust me.”
The kid cast a hunted look at Joe, who was watching the two of them with serene curiosity. “That guy—that guy’s not gonna….” He shuddered.
Casey rolled his eyes. “Kid, you should be so lucky. But no. I worked too hard to make him mine, okay?”
The kid looked dubious, and Casey smiled to himself. Odds were good they’d take the kid home, give him a couple of warm meals, and find somewhere for him to go live. Maybe, if he was like some of the other strays they’d picked up, he’d stay a few months, or maybe a few years, but either way, the kid had nothing to worry about from Josiah Daniels. Joe was 100 percent decent—and 110 percent Casey’s. But even if the kid did end up placed with them, and even lived with them for years, he probably would never hear the whole story. That story was for Casey and Joe alone.
The kid looked at the sidecar again, and the lines of his face, bitter and saturnine—even at what? Fifteen? Sixteen?—eased for a minute.
“Would I really get to ride in that?” he asked, and Casey got a glimpse of little kid in the bitter, tattered thing on the side of the road.
“Yeah!” Casey grinned at the kid and then looked at Joe with the same grin. Something in Joe’s slightly weathered fiftyish features softened, and the kid looked quickly from Casey to Joe and back again.
“He really likes you,” the kid whispered, and Casey shrugged.
“Yeah. Yeah, he really does.” The kid didn’t have to know how long it took Casey before Joe admitted to it. “So, kid, you want to use our spare room? We got a mother-in-law cottage. You can sleep there if you want.”
The kid looked hungrily at the sidecar, with the fleece lap robe and the spare helmet Joe was casually pulling out from underneath the seat. Then Joe added the kicker—an extra peanut butter and jelly sandwich that they’d packed before they’d set out on the bike that afternoon. They’d ended up eating out at The Oar Cart anyway, but the sandwich had let them ride farther before they turned around. Casey could tell when the kid spotted the sandwich. His tongue must have smacked on his palate about six times. Then Joe pulled out the little takeout box from The Oar Cart, the one with half a pound of meat and sourdough bun in it, and Casey could smell the aroma of world-famous burger from where he was standing. He thought the kid was going to swoon.
“I don’t care,” the boy said, swallowing. “Maybe your house… just for a night.”
Casey grinned again and held out his hand. “Casey,” he said. “Casey Daniels.” Somewhere out there was probably a birth certificate and a Social Security card and a thousand other things that proclaimed he’d been born with a different name, but he couldn’t find them, and Joe didn’t know where they were, and even Casey’s driver’s license said Casey Daniels now.
“Austin,” the kid said earnestly. “Austin Harris.” He had brown hair that looked like it had been hacked off in the back, sides, and front, and teeth that hadn’t been brushed in too long. Casey reached out his hand again, and the kid shook it, tentatively.
“It’s not clean,” he said by way of apology, and Casey shrugged, wiggling his fingers.
“Skin washes,” he said with quiet optimism. “Here. You eat on the way, and you can take a shower before you go to sleep, okay?”
The kid shivered all over and squeezed his eyes tight shut. “I think I have lice,” he said, miserable, like this confession cost him everything.
Casey grimaced. “Well, thanks for warning us. We’ll be sure to treat that helmet with the disinfectant shit when we get home.” He pursed his lips. “I think we’ve got a lice comb and some mineral oil—or would you rather just shave it off?”
The kid shook his head. “I don’t care,” he said, shivering. “Food, a place to sleep, a door… shave me bald, I don’t care.”
Casey gestured toward the motorcycle. “Go get yourself settled in. Try not to spill too much on the lap robe. That was a present.”
The kid didn’t hear that last part. He was trotting toward the sidecar like it was a little slice of heaven. Casey followed more sedately, wondering if they were going to wake up with their throats slit and their television gone but thinking probably not. He knew this kid, knew what he wanted—had been this kid.
He got to the motorcycle and planted his hands easily on Josiah’s strong shoulders, swung his leg around, and got his feet settled on the pegs.
“You know who that kid reminds me of?” Joe told him as they watched the kid fumble with the helmet strap and get settled under the lap robe, huddling down near the space heater using as much play as the seat belt would give him.
“Yeah, I know,” Casey said, resting his cheek against Joe’s back, careful of clunking the state-of-the-art bright turquoise helmet on his head against Joe’s back, or against his no-nonsense-black helmet, with too much force. Joe could take it—the sonuvabitch was strong—but Casey wouldn’t ever do anything to cause him pain.
“You only think you know,” Josiah said softly. “You’ll never know what it costs me, seeing you in them, again and again and again.”
“But you take them in, every time,” Casey reminded him, tightening his grip around Joe’s waist.
“Yeah, well, what else would I do?”
“Not a damned thing.”
The kid had overcome the adjustment shivers and was starting to plow through the food. They had about a half an hour before they got to their own little piece of Foresthill, so Joe didn’t waste any time kick-starting the bike and roaring back onto the road.
He wouldn’t do a damned thing different, and Casey wouldn’t want him to. After twenty-five years, that was saying something.
Because Casey wouldn’t change it either.