Green's Hill-Amy Lane's Home - News

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sidecar



Sidecar is up on the coming soon page on the DSP website, and I'm all aflutter.  I need to do a family post-- Zoomboy split his ear open (no stitches) and the kids found the photo albums (much hilarity ensued) and I've got some observations on reviewers (Jesus, Amy give it a rest!) but these might make you laugh.  (They did me--there was no other choice!) and we're starting recital season again-- you all remember how much of a time suck that is, and I've volunteered this year, so... uhm... yeah.  Gonna be a colossal pain in the ass.

Anyway-- all that, and Chicken GRADUATES FROM HIGH SCHOOL on Thursday!  (*sob* *laugh* *cheer* *sob*)

So massive family post coming soon.  But in the meantime, I'm eyeballs deep in the middle of ALL OF THAT plus Boxer Falls, PLUS Stanley's story (A Knitter in His Natural Habitat) and Sidecar is just done with the galley proof.

And I am SO PROUD of this story.  God.  I just am.  Joe and Casey are as real and authentic as dirt and lake water and blue sky, and the world they live in is the world in which Mate and I came of age.  Enjoy the blurb and the MASSIVE  excerpt-- I hope those of you old enough see some of yourselves (or at least remember some of yourselves) in Joe and Casey as they grow up together in the late eighties and early nineties.  Looking at some old family photos--the ones where Big T and Chicken were just born, it's hard to believe that their beginning was actually really close to when this book is set.  It just doesn't seem that long ago, and look at them now-- they're almost grown up.

Anyway-- enjoy.  I'll get all weepy and smooshy tomorrow or maybe Friday.  *sob*  It wasn't that long ago, was it?


The year is 1987. The boys wear pink Izod shirts, the girls wear big hair, everyone has a stash box, and AIDS is just an ugly rumor rumbling like a thunderstorm from the cities. A teenage runaway wanders the side of the road, a heartbeat away from despair, and is rescued by a long-haired angel on a Harley.

But that's just the beginning of their story.

Josiah Daniels wanted peace and quiet and a simple life, and he had it until he rescued Casey from hunger, cold, and exhaustion. Then Joe's life is anything but simple as he and his new charge navigate a world that is changing more rapidly than the people in it. Joe wants to raise Casey to a happy and productive adulthood, and he does. But even as an adult, Casey can't conceive of a happy life without Joe. The trouble is getting Joe to accept that the boy he nurtured is suddenly the man who wants him.

Their relationship can either die or change with the world around them. As they make a home, negotiate the new rules of growing up, and swerve around the pitfalls of modern life, Casey learns that adulthood is more than sex, Joe learns that there is no compromise in happy ever after, and they’re both forced to realize that the one thing a man shouldn’t be is alone.


Someone Like You ~Casey
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 theside 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.


“Hey, kid!”


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
tell when the kid spotted the sandwich. His tongue must have smacked on his palate about six times. ThenJoe 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.

Livin’ On a Prayer ~Casey
25 Years Earlier


FUCK, it was cold in the foothills. The truck driver had pulled off at some bizarre intersection on I-80 that proclaimed itself to be the exit for a place called Foresthill. He parked the rig (no payload, or he wouldn’t have been able to pull off) in the parking lot of a Raley’s supermarket with a McDonald’s in the lower quadrant. He stopped to go get food, and when Casey asked if the guy could get him some, he was met with another round of This Is Your Ass.


“You gonna let me again?” the guy asked. He was a short, stocky guy with a thankfully midsized dick.


“I didn’t let you the first six times,” Casey snapped, tired of it all. “All I ever offered was a fucking blowjob, and you’ve fucked me six times in the last two days. I think I could get some goddamned food!”


The guy—Big Daddy (ugh!) or Glen or whateverthefuckhis namewas—was sitting on the far side of the truck, which meant that moving in to crack Casey across the face was awkward, which was good, because if he’d actually landed the blow he’d had planned, he would have knocked Casey unconscious. 


As it was, he laid open Casey’s lip on his teeth and bloodied his nose, all in one casual crack of a closed fist.


Casey had been hit a lot in the last couple of months. He grunted and let his body go limp to absorb some of the pain.


“I’ll be back in a few,” the guy said like he hadn’t just practically knocked Casey’s teeth out. “Maybe I’ll bring food.”

Well, maybe “maybe” wasn’t good enough. The thought was hard to get past Casey’s ringing head and the pain blossom in his face, but still, he heard it loud and clear.


He opened the door and hissed—it was fucking cold, and the taste of snow was like the edge of bronze on his tongue—but that didn’t stop his resolve any. He was still dizzy, so scrambling down from the big rig was hard, and he was damned grateful he didn’t fall on his ass. He eventually made it to his own two feet, though, and tried to take stock. He walked to the edge of the parking lot, almost amused to see a sidewalk rounding this little corner of strip mall, and then saw the yellow sign across the street. It prohibited any vehicle over five tons from driving the granite-wall-lined road beyond.

Well thankyajebus, it looked like things were finally going his way.

He tucked his hands in the pockets of his dirty 501 jeans, pulled up the collar of his grungy, once-pink Izod shirt, and started walking down the side of the road.

For the first quarter mile, he was protected by the roughly cut granite walls, which blocked the wind, and he was grateful. Then the blind drop of the hill he was walking down ended, and he caught his breath.
He was going to cross that?

The road dipped down and then became a bridge—one of the tallest Casey had ever seen—spanning the gap between what looked to be two mountains. And as Casey was trying to catch his breath for the height of the bridge, his granite windbreak ended, and he was exposed to the force of the wind. It was sharp enough to bring tears to his eyes, but not once did he think of going back.

He plodded, grimly determined not to wander back up that hill to where Glen “Big Daddy” truck driver waited with his ready fist and hamster’s libido. Glen hadn’t been the first Big Daddy Casey had met in the last two months, and in this moment, walking toward that vast, tenuous space between everything that was safe, Casey felt like he was leaving Glen and all those other horrors behind. He was done with them. The wind grew stronger until, by the time he was actually on the bridge, on the little pedestrian walkway of the separated lane that was
going east, it felt like it was actively trying to rip him off his feet and hurl him over the chest-high rail.
If it hadn’t been for his piss-stubborn defiance to resist doing what the wind was trying to make him do, he might have simply climbed up and jumped off all on his own. As it was, that trip across the bridge—some twenty-five hundred feet, compared to the more than seven hundred foot drop below him—was the longest walk of his life.


But the bridge ended, like all things must end, and he wisely didn’t stop and turn around to see what it was he’d just crossed. Most of him knew that until he could no longer see the bridge, the temptation to jump off of it might just break him.


The road after the bridge wound about, and the outside edge of it went from being on top of a low rise to being the crumbling edge of a steep cliff. Casey was beyond cold by this time, and beyond caring. His teeth were rattling around in his head, and his scalp itched to the point of misery, but he couldn’t bring himself to worry. Somehow jumping off the edge of the road didn’t have the same drama as jumping off the bridge. He was just going to keep walking until his body gave out, until the abused muscles in his thighs and ass cramped and he simply sank to his knees on the side of the road and fell asleep in the encroaching dusk.


He’d just tripped a second time when he heard the roar of a motorcycle behind him. It wasn’t the first vehicle that had come his way, but it was the first vehicle that pulled up ahead and stopped.
The guy on the back of it was really terrifying.


For one thing, he was huge—well over six feet tall. He had a Fu Manchu mustache and a soul patch, both of them dark, silky brown, and a whole lot of dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail under his helmet. His bike was something big, with a mildly extended front end and just enough chrome to be shiny, not enough to make it look gaudy. Proud but not a douche bag—that was Casey’s first thought.
Then the guy took off his helmet, and Casey’s second thought was that he was at least good-looking, unlike the parade of ass-fuckers who’d managed to get Casey from Bakersfield to wherever-the-fuck- he-was now. He had dark brown eyes and a short, square jaw; surprisingly pink lips that weren’t too full and not too lean, either; and
a nose that sloped solidly outward but wasn’t too big. Pleasing. Under the handlebar mustache and the soul patch and the loosely swinging ponytail of shiny dark hair, he was actually really pretty. Casey would think later that maybe that was the reason for all the hair—the hair hid the prettiness—but that was not what he was thinking now.


Right now he was thinking that the guy was taking off his jacket on the side of the road, and Casey had damned near had enough.


“I’m not doing that,” he snapped, pretty sure he’d rather die than do that one more goddamned time.


The guy looked up, unoffended. “I’m not asking you to,” he said, his voice mild. “You’re cold.”
The jacket was leather, shiny and well cared for, with a fleece lining, and the big man with all the hair took it off, took a few steps forward, and set it down on the ground. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt underneath, bright green, with an eyeball-searing CSUS emblazoned on the front in gold. The sweatshirt looked warm—warmer than what Casey had on—but it wouldn’t be so warm when the guy got back on the bike. Casey looked at the jacket with longing. Was it his imagination, or was there steam rising up from the mysterious stranger’s body heat?


Mysterious Stranger took a few steps back so Casey could walk up and claim the jacket, and Casey screwed his eyes tight against tears.


“Thanks,” he said, caving. He trotted forward and picked up the jacket, then trotted back into his safety zone, sliding it over his shoulders. Oh God, it was still warm. It smelled good too, like sweat, but clean sweat; antiseptic; Old Spice deodorant; Irish Spring soap. He shivered and snuggled deep into it. The guy had a broad chest, powerful. It looked like he worked outside a lot, and the jacket went practically to Casey’s midthigh. Casey scratched his head for a second and then put his hands in the pockets to keep them warm.


“There’s money in the pocket,” the stranger said, and Casey rooted through and found a twenty-dollar bill. He swallowed. That could buy nearly forty hamburgers, but this guy had been really decent about the jacket. He pulled the money out and was about to set it on the ground when the stranger said, “No, no—youcan keep it if you want.

Or you can come home with me and use my spare room. I’ve got food. You can shower.”


Casey scowled at him. “What do I have to do in return?” he asked, rightfully suspicious. He’d washed dishes at a little mom-and- pop place once, spent the entire night cleaning up the kitchen of the diner until his bones ached, and when he was done, he’d asked for the food the owner had promised him and was told he had to do one more favor first. He’d gotten fed, eventually, but he was good and sick of favors.


The guy shrugged. “I’ve got some work I’m doing on my property. You can help with that. But first, get you clean. Get you food. Get you some sleep. You can decide on a fair price when that’s done.”
Later Casey would wonder why. He’d look deeply into this man’s heart and try to find the reason for this much kindness. Later he’d berate himself for being seven kinds of fool for going with him, and then berate himself for being seven kinds of fool for ever doubting him. But that was later.


“Food?” he asked, his voice breaking. God. Big Daddy truck driver had given him half a hamburger and some leftover fries the day before, but his stomach was damned near cramping. The guy nodded, then opened up the little seat compartment of his motorcycle. He pulled out a granola bar—the real kind, not the kind with chocolate and shit on it—and made a tentative throwing motion. Casey put his hands out in front of him, and he threw it for real.


Casey scratched his scalp and then opened the package and devoured the crunchy, dry thing with a ferocity he didn’t know he had. When he’d swallowed, he crumpled up the wrapper, and the guy said, “Put it in your pocket. You can throw it away at my house.”


Casey looked at him then and sighed. The guy had given him food up front, and the jacket. He shifted uneasily in his jeans and itched his crotch. “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll do that if you want now.”
The guy shook his head. “That’s not on the menu, kid. For one thing, I think you’ve got crabs.”


Casey scrunched up his face. “Oh, ew!”

The guy nodded sympathetically. “Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m gonna have to dry-clean the jacket too.”


Oh shit. Casey felt his face crumple. “Lice,” he muttered, scratching at his scalp again. “Oh God. That’s just so gross. You’re going to have to shave my head and....” He felt tears threaten. It was stupid, but he liked his hair. It was brown now, but in the summer, it bleached this sort of honey color, and it was soft, and before he’d run away, he’d gotten it cut all fashionable like that guy on television who rode in the boat and had an alligator.

Mysterious Stranger took a couple of steps forward, so Casey could read his expression in the thickening twilight. “Naw, kid. I’ve got a lice comb and some Rid-X and all that shit. Even the Kwell for the crabs.”

“You get crabs a lot?” Oh God. This could go south so many ways.

Mysterious Stranger laughed. “No. I take in strays a lot. And I work in a hospital, so there’s always a danger of getting something from the sheets or something like that.”

Casey nodded like that made sense, even though it didn’t because nobody was that good a person. “You a doctor?” He looked awfully young. Nobody that young was a doctor, unless it was on television, and the guy shook his head.

“I’m a nurse.”

Casey was shocked. “You’re... you’re... you’re a man!”

The guy laughed dryly. He’d heard that one before. “So they tell me. Kid, it’s getting cold. If I’m gonna save your life, we’d best get on the motorcycle soon.”

Casey nodded, still unsure, and then his stomach growled, loudly and with prejudice. Well, hell. If the guywas still planning on taking Casey to his place and killing him, Casey could fight back better fed.
“Okay,” he said, still uncertain, and Mysterious Stranger stuck out a hand.

“I’m Josiah Daniels. You can call me Joe.”

Casey had to walk forward a bit before he could take that hand. “Casey,” he said, not wanting to talk about his last name. His parents
didn’t want him; he didn’t want them. Joe’s hand was still out, and he held perfectly still until Casey grasped it, and then he shook slowly, carefully, letting Casey control the pressure. Casey was reassured somehow. That hand was warmer than his, and it was bigger, stronger, with calluses, but it didn’t do anything it didn’t have to do.


Joe gestured to the motorcycle and then got on first, which was good, because Casey needed to grab hold of his shoulders to swing his leg over. In spite of the fact that Casey was pretty sure his body stench was scaring off small animals, Joe didn’t even flinch. He held very still until Casey’s arms were around his waist, and then started the bike up again, pulled it up from its lean on the kickstand, and took off in one smooth motion.


Casey would remember that ride behind Joe forever.


The man’s chest really was wide, and his waist was trim, and he had a way of moving his body to block the wind. The sky above them had turned the color of a girl’s party dress, and the road was purple, like a bruise. The trees were all pine and fir here, and they lined the road like serene sentinels, gesturing the way toward that cotton-candy sky. Without the bite of the wind, the colors and the shadows of the chill of the Sierras were almost friendly, and Casey forgave the cold for trying to kill him a while ago, because he was snuggled deep inside Joe’s jacket, and nothing could hurt him. Instead, Casey grasped that trim waist and tightened against him and closed his eyes, and between the whoosh of the air and the rumble of the bike, he might have fallen asleep if Joe hadn’t felt his grip slacken and grabbed his hands and shaken them every so often.


It was the first peace Casey had felt in months. No one yelling at him, nobody wanting something from him—just this guy, this warm, big guy putting Casey’s destiny in his big, rough hands. Casey sort of wished that ride could have gone on forever.


As it was, Josiah-call-me-Joe took a turn into a barely there road off of Foresthill and then another turn into what looked like a driveway. The driveway was at least a quarter of a mile long and freshly paved, which was a good thing, because the chopper didn’t look like it was ready for the sort of off-roading this country seemed to lend itself to. At the end of the driveway was a little pathway of broken paving stones--
the round kind—that led to a ramshackle two-story house with a new roof and a desperate need for new siding. At present, the house was sided with silvering, splintered shingles that were rotting off seemingly as Casey looked. There was a garage on one side of the house, as well as a dilapidated carport on the other side with a plastic roof that was threatening to cave in the middle, and a shitload of new lumber and drywall tucked into the side of the carport.


Casey took a look around the whole thing with dull eyes, not sure he had the wherewithal to really take in all the damage.

“God, you weren’t kidding about day labor,” was what he did say, and he caught Joe’s grin as the bigger man swung off the bike and then gave Casey a hand off himself.

“Nope. Just bought the place a couple of months ago.”

“It’s a wreck. Why bother?” Casey’s mind boggled at the amount of work to be done, but Josiah Daniels didn’t seem to be offended.

“Listen to that,” he said, the smile on his face like one of those saints in a painting.

“Listen to what?”

“Do you hear the neighbors?”

 “No.”

“Do you hear the traffic?” 

“No.”
“Exactly.” Joe moved toward the house before Casey could chew on that any longer, and Casey followed him, because there were at least two miles of cold black road between him and another human being, and he was done with the running.

Inside, it was simple and plain. The entryway opened up to a kitchen with a small dining table on the left, and a living room with a couch on the right. The carpet was plain light brown, old, and badly in need of stretching. Joe gestured to the table.

“Wash your hands in the kitchen sink, sit down, and I’ll feed you. Then you can shower—I’ll get you some night clothes, okay?”

Casey nodded, grateful that the food would come first, although just looking at the clean dinette set, the clean brown corduroy couch,
and the clean white walls made him itch even more. As he used the sink—washing his hands several times with dish soap before he stopped seeing them brown and wrinkled with filth—Joe busied himself in the refrigerator. Casey sat down to a solid peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a microwaved bowl of chicken noodle soup.


It was heaven. He’d forgotten how much he liked peanut butter and jelly as a kid. He’d forgotten the saltiness and solidness of the peanut butter and the burst of sweetness as the jelly just sang on your tongue. He’d forgotten the solid earthiness of wheat bread and how the whole thing felt right and perfect in his stomach. Milk was a gift from the gods. The sandwich was gone, and he was literally licking the bowl that had held the chicken noodle soup when he felt Joe’s hand on his shoulder and realized he’d lost a little bit of time from sitting down to scarfing down.

“Kid, I’m going to make you some more stuff, but first, we’ll let that settle, okay?”

No! Food! More food now! Casey kept that back in his head with a whimper and stood up, reluctant to shed the wonderful jacket, even though Josiah had apparently started a fire while he’d been lost in food- land. “Okay,” he whispered. “What now?” He knew. He’d known when he’d first taken the jacket. But he’d been fed, and now he didn’t care so much.

“Shower, remember? C’mere.”

The living room had a short hallway, and Casey’s companion sighed as he led the way.

“Eventually, I’ll have the loft upstairs all fixed up, and I’ll be sleeping there. Right now, we’re in the guest bedrooms, and they share a bathroom. We’re lucky—I just put in a tub, so you can soak for a while before you stand up and rinse off. But first....”

Joe opened a door into a small bedroom. “Here, wait for a sec.” He disappeared again, and Casey took off the jacket and laid it neatly on the plain queen-size bed. There was a generic tan bedspread on the top and what looked to be stolen hospital sheets underneath—and they didn’t fit, either, because the one on the bottom was just sort of on top of the mattress, and the edges were bare flowered nylon. But it had pillows, and a single dresser next to the headboard. They were the only
objects in the room, and Casey could appreciate that Joe maybe hadn’t been as interested in decorating as he had been in simply making things serviceable.


He started taking off his clothes then, shuddering as they slid down into a puddle at his feet. He wanted to grab a sheet or something to hide himself, but he didn’t want any of the things living on his skin to get on that too. In a sudden panic, he grabbed the jacket and held it up against his naked body, not even wanting to look at himself. He was skinny. When he’d left his parents’ house with only the clothes on his back and a wallet two months earlier, he’d been developing a chest and some muscles—training for basketball did that to a guy.

Of course, getting caught blowing your center after practice when your parents came home early was what got you kicked out and on the streets, so maybe basketball wasn’t such a great thing after all. He was only ever going to be five foot eight, tops, so it wasn’t like he’d been bound for the pros.

He held the jacket up and shivered, a little surprised that there was a knock at the door before it swung open.

“Whoa!” Joe cried out, holding his full hands up to his eyes. “No! No, no, no—not for me to see. Shit.” 
Carefully, keeping his back to Casey like he was some virgin girl, Joe edged over to the bed and put down a set of sea-green hospital scrubs.

“They’re my old shit—gonna be really fucking big.”

Casey almost laughed, the guy was so uncomfortable. For a minute, he wanted to point out that there was nothing there that random truckers and assholes hadn’t been seeing for two months, but he had a sudden thought of the kindness and the warm jacket and the food, and he didn’t. For a minute, he really didn’t want Joe to know he was a slutty man-pussy, and everyone’s meat. This guy had been treating him like he was worth something. Casey was going to let him keep his illusions.

“And here.”

Casey looked, and Joe had put down a pharmacy squirt bottle, brown, on top of the clothes.
“What’s that?”

“It’s Kwell. You’re going to want to rub it into your hair... uhm... all of your hair, even over your... you know....”


“Pubes?” It felt like he was being delicate, but Joe shook his head, and the back of his neck under his ponytail was getting redder by the second.


“Not just the pubes. Your asshole hair too.”


“I’ve got hair on my asshole?” Jesus! Casey hadn’t gotten that far or that intimate with anybody. It was usually just “Bend over, boy!” and that was the extent of it.


“Well, you might not, but a lot of guys do!” The irritation must have helped with the embarrassment, because his neck paled a little. “And you need to not get it on any open sores, because it will sting like a motherfucker.”


Casey whimpered, and the sound must have been pretty naked, because Joe turned around.


“What?”


Casey shrugged. “Uhm, about my asshole....” He winced, and Joe winced, and then Joe sighed.


“Okay, look, kid. Use the Kwell on everything else, just wash that. We’ll put the Kwell back on in a week, okay?”


Casey nodded. His eyes were watering, and he couldn’t pinpoint why.


“Don’t get anything in your eyes, okay? The bathroom has two doors—one to my room. I want you to lock that door whenever you’re in there because I just don’t want to walk in on you, okay? You lock that door, the only way in is through your door, right? So rub the shit in your hair, upstairs and downstairs, go get in the tub, soak off the dirt, and rinse the shit off your head. I’ll go through it with a pick while you eat round two, and let’s see if we can get you healthy, okay?”


Casey nodded, his vision blurring, and Joe turned to go. He stopped midstride and sighed, took a few steps forward, and then took Casey’s chin in his fingers.


“It’s going to be all right, okay, boy? I’ll find you someplace to stay, we’ll keep you safe, okay?”

Casey nodded, his jaw working. “Why?” he asked, unsure of where the question came from, and Joe shrugged and looked away.


“I was just always taught to do good works. I know... sounds like freaky hippy shit. But that’s just what I learned growing up.”


He turned around and left, and Casey didn’t even get to say thank you. He was left there in the room, and after laying the jacket down carefully on the end table so it wouldn’t get any cooties on the sheets, he went to work with the greasy white stuff in the bottle.


After he was done massaging it all in, he spent about an hour in the tub. He must have washed himself about five hundred times with the Irish Spring soap and the washcloth, and his hair could not be shampooed enough. It wasn’t until the water got to be frigid—long after his fingers and toes got to be pruney—that he finally got out.


The water in the tub was brown, and he spent a few minutes washing the ring off the edges before going into the guest room and putting on the scrubs. Well, they were clean, they were comfy, and they seemed to be one-size-fits-all. What wasn’t to like, right? He went commando, which was fine, because his pubes were still tingling from all of the chemical attention.


When he got into the living room, Casey saw the back of Joe’s head where he sat on the couch, watching television, in a similar set of scrubs, a small plate with crumbs next to him on the end table. There was a plate of hamburgers, the kind made from the frozen patties and regular bread, on the table in the kitchen.


“Is that food for me?” he asked and was surprised when the big man on the couch startled.


“Wha? Yeah.” Joe yawned. “Eat yourself stupid. Sorry. I just worked three twelves in a row—I’m sort of beat.”


Casey started digging into the hamburgers—and they were no less heavenly than the PB&J. He was on his third, and not even thinking about slowing down, when Joe got up from the couch and came up behind him to touch his head.


And Casey spazzed out, throwing one arm back in defense and dropping the hamburger on the plate. His hand smacked Joe in the chin, and Joe grunted and took a step back.

“Sorry, kid,” he said after an awkward moment, during which Casey picked up the hamburger out of sheer reflex. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’ll remember to be more careful. I was just going to check your hair for nits.”


Casey took a bite to mask his quickened breathing, and then swallowed. “While I’m eating?”


“You were looking pretty out of it. I thought I could get this done and you could go to sleep.” There was a silence, and Casey took a quick look to the side and saw that Joe was looking sheepish. “Yeah, I guess that’s sort of gross while you’re eating.”


Casey shrugged. Really? He was going to complain about gross after what he’d just washed off his body?


 “Knock yourself out,” he said, trying to mask his embarrassment. “It would be good not to itch.”
He made it through another hamburger before he pushed the plate away. Joe’s fingers were gentle and firm on his scalp as he sectioned little locks of hair from each other and pulled the tiny nit comb through. Casey could hear the rasp of the teeth against the strands of his hair whenever Joe found something. The television was still on in the front room—a big set, but not a console type—but it was playing a sitcom on low volume. Casey’s head lowered to his hands, and above him, Joe started humming as he worked.


“I was born... six gun in my hand...”


It was old rock, nothing that Casey had on cassette tapes back home. Casey had George Michael and Boy George and Madonna, but still, he knew this song. He found himself humming along.


“Bad company, I can’t deny...”


Joe let him, and Casey was still hearing that deep from-your-toes voice as he closed his eyes.
He wasn’t sure when, but eventually Joe shook his shoulders gently. “C’mon, kid, you’re too big to carry.”


Casey wanted to say that he wasn’t a kid. He’d lived through the last two months, right? But big warm hands were on his shoulders, and he stood up to be steered gently down the hall. Joe made him stop and turn at the bedroom, and then pulled down the sheets for him.

“Don’t worry about getting up, kid. You sleep as long as you want. Remember, lock my side of the bathroom when you’re in there, and I’ll know not to come in.”


Casey grunted, then looked up. “I’m not sleeping in your bed?”


“No, Goldilocks, this one here is just right.”


That was really all Casey needed to know before he fell asleep for more than fifteen hours. 

2 comments:

riverbella said...

Oh, wow. What a beautiful feel this has. It's a good thing it is being released soon because I can't wait to read the rest.

KnitTech said...

Go Chicken!!