Back to doing Stream of Consciousness Saturday without the added Story a Day prompts. At least until September. I wasn’t sure at first how I was going to use the prompt of “book”. I mean I could have written just about anything. The books I’ve been reading, the ones I want to write. The used bookstore I like to go to. But, I like exploring my characters with these. And I’d already written a bit more on Dance with the Devil before I glanced at this week’s prompt, so these two were in my head. And I’d ended that on the line: ‘Not the boy who had at one time saved me.’ So, I’ve been thinking of just how Hawk and Devil did meet(which neither of them went by those names at that time).
“I found that book you were looking for.”
Gavin looked at the man who had come out of the small bookshop. He turned his attention back to the cart of bargain books he was looking through. “Which one? It’s been a while since I’ve been back here.”
“Yeah. Heard you were out of the country. How’d that go?”
Gavin nearly snorted. He made it sound like he had gone on a vacation, some cruise or something. “Hot,” he answered. Miserable. Bloody. Devastating. But, he’d leave the rest of those descriptors to himself. Everyone wanted the stories of honor and bravery. No one wanted to see the true vision of war, though. “What book did you find?”
“Just let me go grab it.”
Gavin nodded at the man and went back to flipping through the books. He’d already set a few aside to take back to base with him. He thought some of the guys might appreciate having something to look through during the more boring moments of their next deployment. And the old man usually had at least a few treasures stashed on his bargain cart.
He heard a sharp shout and brought his head up, his gaze quickly scanning for the disturbance. He’d always been extra vigilant, had needed to be. Even just in this first year since he’d joined up, the military had honed that even more. But, he didn’t see anything at first. Another shout, and he started to abandon his small pile of books.
“Ignore them,” the bookseller said, coming back out. “It’s always the same kids causing trouble over there.”
Gavin couldn’t do that, though. Those hadn’t been trouble-making shouts. There’d been fear and pain laced through them. He couldn’t let that go. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
“Seriously, Gavin, you don’t want to get yourself mixed in with that. Just leave ’em, and they’ll move on soon enough.”
But, he was already moving, and he wasn’t turning back now. If someone was in trouble, he wasn’t just going to ignore it. He wasn’t armed; who needed weapons to buy books? But, he always had his hands. He couldn’t imagine there was anything here he couldn’t handle with them.
There was another shouted cry, the panic sharp in it now. But, Gavin had pinpointed the sound at last. He turned down the alley and saw four boys…men. At least two of them were several years older than him, but the others looked to be the same age or a little younger. They formed a semi-circle against the wall of a building. And there was another kid inside that circle, blood dripping from a cut just over his eye.
“You said you’d do anything I wanted if I let you in,” one of the younger boys said, looking straight at the wounded kid. “This is what you gotta do to get in.”
The kid in the circle was younger than the rest, Gavin would be surprised if he’d even had his sixteenth birthday yet. His eyes looked dazed. Had he hit his head on the wall?
“Not that. You didn’t say it would be that. Not all of you. Please. I thought-”
“That I loved you?” The kid looked at one of the older guys with a smirk. “You were right. He did believe every word I served him. You just ate it right up, didn’t you, Damon?” he said back at the young, and obviously scared, kid. Then he shoved him so his back hit the wall and that half-circle tightened a little more.
Gavin wasn’t going to let this happen. He could see where it was going and four to one weren’t any kind of odds this boy could fight against, even though he already had his hands balled into fists in front of him. He’d go down swinging, but he’d still go down.
Unless Gavin had something to say about it. “Leave him alone,” he said, stepping forward.
One of the older guys turned and sneered at him. “What’s it to you? None of this is your business.”
“Always my business when a group of bullies gangs up on someone else. I said to leave him alone.”
“Just ’cause you went and joined the military doesn’t mean you’re everyone’s hero now, Hawking.”
So, they, or at least one of them, did know who he was. “Maybe not. But, I’m not going to let you do what you’re planning to him.”
“You can’t take all of us.”
Gavin smiled at them, a hint of reckless glee in it. “You really want to count on that? I excelled in my hand-to-hand combat training. You really sure I can’t hold you all off so he can get away?”
Except the kid hadn’t moved at all. He looked a little stunned, in shock possibly. How hard was the hit to his head? The other guys looked a little apprehensive now, though. Gavin had found that a show of confidence could head off a fight, definitely if the other party wasn’t sure if you were bluffing or not.
The man who seemed to be leading them sneered. Then, he looked back at the kid. “You better keep your ass away from us, Damon, or it is ours.” Then, he turned and sauntered out of the alley, the other three following behind him.
Gavin waited a few moments to make sure none of them returned. Then, he turned and headed slowly toward the kid. “You okay?”
He spat at Gavin’s feet. “What do you care? You’re not getting my dick or ass as thanks.”
Ah, false bravado in the face of fear. Gavin knew that reaction well. “Never said I wanted it.” Though he felt a swimming feeling as he looked into the boy’s dark blue eyes. And he wanted to brush that lock of black hair back every time it fell into his face. There were more pressing matters. “You need to go to the doc? Did they hurt you more than that cut on your head?”
He shook his head. “I’m fine.”
But, Gavin could tell just from the way he was breathing that he was hurt. “Come on,” he said. “I was over at Bentley Books. And I know for a fact he’s got a first aid kit in his back room. He never asked me questions when I came in bloody. So, he won’t ask any you don’t want to answer, either.” To Gavin’s surprise, the boy followed him to the head of the alley. “You got a safe place to go once you’re fixed up?”
“I’m not homeless.”
“That wasn’t what I asked. Damon, wasn’t it?”
He looked at Gavin, awareness dawning. Gavin knew home wasn’t always the safest place to be. In fact, sometimes it was the least safe place to be.
“Yeah,” Damon finally answered. “And yeah, I can go home. I was supposed to be grounded, so they’ll yell that I left the house, but it’s safe enough.” They walked in silence until Gavin started to lead the way across the street. “Sorry I was mean back there. Travis was nice to me at first, too. I thought…I thought there’d be a place for me with his group. I guess I was wrong.”
Gavin wanted to embrace him, tell him everything would be fine. But, three years ago, when he would have been about the same age, he wouldn’t have believed it, either. “Yeah, you were. I didn’t have a place, either. Not until I joined the Marines.” And sometimes that wasn’t even true. “Eventually we all find our place. Just don’t let a creep trick you into thinking it’s with him.”
They stepped into the bookshop and the old man looked up. “You still want those books, Gavin?”
“Yeah, Mr. Bentley. But, first, this is my new friend, Damon. You think you could take care of him then I’ll walk him home.”
The old man’s eyes were still sharp, as was his mind. “Yeah. Bring him back. We’ll get him fixed up.”
Gavin relaxed a little as Bentley took over. He’d get Damon home and make sure for himself it really was a safe place. Then, he could crash himself before he had to go back to the base in the morning.
And somehow he’d make himself not think about Damon once he was gone.