“Want some Thai noodles?”
Seth looked up from the trash can he’d been sorting through and into the most beautiful brown eyes he’d ever seen. They belonged to a young man about his own age, on the short side and slight of build, with blond hair and cute, pert features. Seth had seen him around before, had covertly admired his ass as he made his way to and from his job at the little bookstore across the street. But until now he hadn’t realized how much he looked like the Kid. The resemblance hit Seth like a mallet to the face, and he took an involuntary step backward.
“Hey, easy. I’m not going to hurt you. I just saw you and…” He lifted a Styrofoam box. “I couldn’t finish my lunch, and I thought you might…”
Seth blushed, though whether it was because this guy actually thought he was afraid or simply because of being caught rummaging through the trash, he didn’t care to examine. He ducked his head and accepted the noodles. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” The guy turned and walked back across the street to the bookstore. It was a cozy place with a green awning and old-fashioned brass fittings on the door. It stood sandwiched between a bakery and the Thai restaurant.
Seth watched him go, noting the way his brisk strides made his butt move. Sudden wistfulness overcame him. “Not for you,” he whispered to himself.
The guy, Seth decided to call him Books, really did look a lot like the Kid, but that was a bad thing to dwell on. If he opened those floodgates, he’d drown in a tide of bad memories. Instead he went over to a nearby bench and opened the Styrofoam box. Steam and chili spice wafted up, and he lowered his face over the still-hot noodles, breathing in the aroma. The red pepper stung his nostrils and cleared his sinuses. His stomach, ever the pragmatist, rumbled, and he dug in, allowing no more thoughts of things he couldn’t have or change.
God, the noodles were good. Hot, with strips of chicken and little ground-up chunks of peanuts. Seth couldn’t remember the last time he’d had anything as good as this. And there was a lot of it too. Enough to take back to his little hidey-hole under the overpass and finish later.
Mouth bulging and stomach rapidly filling, Seth sat back on the bench and let one of those rare waves of sated ease wash over him. Hunger and remorse were distant things in this moment. Soon they’d be back to keep him company, but for now, he was free to think on other things.
Like Books, for instance. He’d gone out of his way to give Seth this food, literally: the restaurant was on the same side of the street as the bookstore. Most people wouldn’t do that. Most people were too caught up in their own lives. Even the ones who did notice him usually shied away, uncomfortable or afraid. Seth was tall, rangy, with long, unkempt hair and a black beard badly in need of a trim. With his army jacket from Coats for Hope, he resembled a crazy Vietnam vet. It took a fair amount of guts to walk up to a guy like him, who was pawing through a trash can, and offer him your leftovers. But Books had, and he’d crossed the street to do it.
Seth had seen Books walking to work and back every day. He was a bookstore clerk without enough money for his own car. He probably could have used these leftovers himself.
There weren’t enough brave, kind people in the world. Sitting there on the bench, staring at the bookstore as he ate, Seth made up his mind to look out for this one. This little business district was surrounded by a lot of not-so-cool neighborhoods and abandoned industrial areas.
The Kid was dead. There was nothing Seth could do about that, and maybe there never had been. But keeping Books safe represented a new opportunity for Seth to do something useful with his misbegotten life.
* * * * *
But when Books really needed him, Seth wasn’t there.
It was three weeks since the leftovers incident, and every night Seth made sure to be around the bookstore at closing time. Not wanting to alarm Books, Seth shadowed him from a distance.
The weather that night was typical for November: cold and drizzly. Seth hung back more than usual because the fine mist in the air would carry the sound of his footsteps farther. He desperately did not want Books to notice him, and that made him wonder if he was really protecting him with this nightly secret escort or just stalking him. The fact that once Seth got back to his sleeping place under the overpass he would jerk off to visions of Books as he had done every night for three weeks made a good case for the stalking rap.
So maybe it was these doubts or maybe it was just his ever-demanding hunger that made him go with the trick instead of continuing to shadow Books.
The business district dwindled away past Seventh Street, and the next several blocks were dominated by an old derelict stamping plant, its surrounding parking lots, and an abandoned warehouse that now served as a cruising ground. Seth was walking past the warehouse when a car pulled up and some guy leaned out the window. “Hey, I’ll give you a twenty if you blow me.”
Seth turned a trick or two from time to time. Often it was the difference between a meal and another day going hungry. Just like right now. He hadn’t had any luck Dumpster diving for the past two days. His stomach was so tight, it was wrapped around his spine.
But he’d made a vow, and it’d be kinda hard to protect Books with this closeted suburban queer’s cock down his throat. Seth glanced up and saw Books turning down the street that ran alongside the plant. It was only a few more blocks from there to his apartment.
“Hey, deerhunter, you want the money or not?” The trick waved a twenty at him.
He really did. And Books was almost home. Seth’s hunger took over, and he nodded and reached for the money.
He was on his knees in the alley around the corner, clutching the twenty in his fist and about to go down on the trick when he heard the shouting--angry voices and one frightened one from the direction of the old stamping plant.
He stood up and shoved the twenty at the trick. “I’m sorry,” he said, and he took off toward the plant.
Seth ran across the street and through the parking lot to the crumbling outer wall of the plant itself. He crouched in its shadow, trying to make out where the voices had come from.
“I said, take off your pants, you penniless, wretched, bitch,” came a voice Seth recognized. Sam Sam, a member of the Lions street gang. Usually Seth steered clear of them. Dressing like a crazy man helped a lot with that.
From the sound of it, they were just around the corner of the building. Seth crept forward, searching for some kind of weapon as he went. He found a pile of rusted plumbing lying among the weeds at the base of the wall. He grabbed a thick length of pipe.
Just then, Books shouted, “No!” and Seth broke into a run. As he rounded the corner, he saw the whole scene at once, as if it were burned into his brain. Books was on the ground, his pants around his knees, his face in the dirt, and his ass in the air. Two gang members held him while Sam Sam knelt behind him. Sam Sam had a knife in one hand and his cock in the other.
Seth hurtled forward and swung. The pipe made a whistling sound as it tore through the air. The other gang members yelled and let go of Books. Sam Sam was just turning to see what the fuss was about when the end of the pipe connected with his temple.
Sam Sam slid to the ground, lifeless, the side of his head caved in. Seth raised the pipe and started toward one of the other two gang members--the one who’d been grinding Books’s face into the ground. Both of the men screamed and ran. Seth’s pulse pounded, and he restrained the urge to go after them. No. He’d never been like that; he wasn’t going to start now.
Besides, that would leave Books alone again, which had been his mistake in the first place. Satisfied that the other Lions were gone for now, Seth turned to find Books on his feet, hastily fastening his jeans and shaking. “Thanks,” he said. He had a cut on his cheek, just below his eye. From Sam Sam’s knife, probably. It bled a little.
If Seth had kept shadowing Books, he could have stopped things from getting so far. Thank God he’d come when he had. Seth realized that apologizing to Books for not following him would probably freak him out. He shrugged instead. “Thanks for the Thai noodles,” he said, not able to think of anything else. “They were good.”
Books stared at him. Seth stared back. Both of them were avoiding looking at the dead body lying between them.
“Are you okay?” Seth asked, which was a stupid thing to say. Like anybody would be.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” Books said, the liar, and straightened his shoulders.
Seth looked down at Sam Sam. He let the pipe slip from his fingers. He needed to get out of here before someone else came along and found the body. He’d just slip back into the shadows and then tail Books home, make sure he got in all right. Seth started walking away.