Jun. 16th, 2011

marsabi1: (Default)
Title: Anywhere USA
Author: Marsabi
Summary: This is a two part story.
Part One: Abandoned as a teen, Reid is forced to live on the Snyder farm as a foster kid for a few months, before he heads off on his own, but will a certain child worm his way into Reid’s heart?
Part Two: Reid returns to Oakdale as a favor for Bob, something he planned never to do, and he can’t wait to leave town, until his past slams into him in the form of Luke Snyder and damn if Luke isn’t all grown up.
Warning: Sexual Content in some parts
Rating: PG-NC-17
Thanks to the following friends for their support of this story: shadownyc, traciamc, and Rhiannonhero
Author’s notes: This was bid on by Rhiannon Hero for the Japanese auction. Because I know Rhiannonhero loathes short chapters, these chapters will be long.

Part One:

Anywhere, USA

Chapter One

As he pushed open the door to the barn, the smell of hay and manure filled his nostrils and he twisted up his lips. He was dressed in a white t-shirt that hung loosely on his skinny frame, a pair of faded black jeans and some scuffed sneakers. In his jeans, were all the things he actually owned: a leaky pen, some Band Aids, a white Queen and a ten dollar bill. Listening for any noise outside, he exhaled a deep breath. Nobody was coming. Satisfied that he was alone, he carefully slid the book out from underneath his shirt. Anatomy. He had seen it on in a bookstore and spent his last winnings on it. He sighed and opened up the first page, gliding his fingers across the text. He only needed a few hours; he’d have the entire book memorized by then. Since he was alone, he allowed a tiny smile to pass over his lips as he glanced down at the picture of the human heart.

Then a small movement in the hay caught his attention. Frowning, he made his way over to it. The hay rustled. He crouched down and threw some pieces aside.

“Who are you?” he demanded, irritated.

“I’m Luke.” The small boy answered. “Who’re you?”

Reid stared into a pair of wide, brown eyes.

“I’m nobody,” Reid said. “Forget you saw me in here.”

“Forget you saw me,” Luke replied.

“Why?”

Luke wrinkled up his small nose. “My mother. She wants me to take a bath. Again. “ His chin jutted out, “And I took one yesterday. I’m totally clean.”

“Actually, regular hygiene is important to your health. This hay probably isn’t sanitary. Mice can get into the loft and their droppings –“

“You talk funny.” Luke emerged out of the hay now.

“So I’ve been told.”

Luke had on a striped shirt, and a pair of khaki shorts; his legs were bare and scabbed, his hair a mess of blond, slightly dirty strands that almost reached his eyebrows. He was one of those annoyingly cute kids that adults fawned over.

They examined each other a moment.

Then Reid’s stomach let out a gigantic growl, and Luke began to giggle.

“I guess you’re hungry.”

“Brilliant deduction.”

“I got a candy bar.” Luke suddenly offered him. He gave Reid a shy glance, “It’s yours.”

“Why?” Reid narrowed his eyes at him.

“Just ‘cause.” Luke pulled a slightly melted candy bar from his shorts.

“I can’t be bribed, kid.” But Reid’s stomach growled again, and he grabbed the candy.

Luke began to chatter then, something about his mother and grandmother, and Reid closed his eyes to block out his noise. He couldn’t believe his great escape had led to this encounter, or that he was standing in a barn. Reid didn’t bother to make small talk with Luke, or glance at him. Instead, Reid devoured the candy bar in a few big bites.

Finally, Luke had fallen silent. Either he had realized that Reid was not listening or else he had simply run out of things to say.

Reid looked down at him. Luke stared right back. Luke had just been waiting for his attention; he wasn’t as dumb as Reid had thought at least.

“Look, are you gonna tell on me? Or not?” Luke asked, his small face earnest. “I need to know. Seriously.”

“What will you do if I say yes?” Reid asked. He handed Luke his candy wrapper. Luke looked at it, and then just shrugged and shoved the wrapper into his pocket.

“Run,” Luke promptly replied. “I’m a really good runner. I won a ribbon last year, beating Casey, even though Casey bragged he’d win, and my dad said –“

“Whatever,” Reid quickly interrupted him. He did not want another bout of endless chatter.
Then Reid shrugged. “Do what you want. I could care less.”

“Thanks,” Luke flashed him a ridiculously big smile, revealing a missing tooth.

Reid was about to reply, when they both heard a loud nose outside the barn. It sounded like a truck kicking up some gravel.

“Hide me!” Luke squealed and dove back under the hay.

Cursing, Reid found himself putting down the book and covering Luke up.

A moment later, Holden pushed open the barn door.

“That you, Reid?” he said.

“Obviously,” Reid replied.

Holden studied him. “You’re supposed to be helping in the corn fields right now. The other boys are out there already.”

“Well, I’m not other boys,” Reid answered. He rolled his eyes. “And I told you this morning that I won’t pull corn or whatever it is you farmers do. I’m going to Harvard in 5 months and then med school. I’m going to be the best damn surgeon in the world. I’m not risking these.” He held out his hands.

“Then I’ll find you some other chores.” Holden just shrugged at him. “Right now. A lot of farm work requires some muscle though.”

Holden slowly examined Reid’s body up and down, making Reid flush. He followed Holden’s gaze down his own bony frame. He imagined what Holden saw: ribs visible, knobby knees, gangly limbs. Angus had called him Toothpick enough times.

“I can do the work,” Reid said coolly. “I look stronger than I appear.”

“Let’s hope so,” Holden said. “And you might be some kind of boy genius or whatever, but that hardly matters here in Oakdale. “

“Of course it doesn’t,“ Reid scoffed. “I’ve seen your police. I’ve been through your court system, remember? Believe me, I know that you people don’t rank intelligence as important.”

“We care about values, heart.” Holden suddenly smiled at him. “And I think hard work at our farm will be good for you.”

Reid scowled at him. “You know what I hate more than anything?”

Holden waited.

“People who think they know what’s good for me.” Reid sneered.

Holden looked like he might laugh. “Well, you’re stuck with us.” He shrugged at Reid.

Reid hugged his arms around his chest and cursed his uncle beneath his breath.

“By the way,” Holden said. “You haven’t seen my son Luke, have you? His mother is searching for him.”

“Nah,” Reid replied. “But then again, I can’t keep all of you Snyders straight.”

Holden just nodded at the insult and then gestured for Reid to follow him.

Reid left the barn without a backwards glance.

***

It had only been a few days earlier that Reid’s whole life had turned inside out. He did it to himself, really. Reid regretted not keeping his mouth shut, but when he’d figured out Angus’s scheme, Reid had up and refused to do it. He had told his uncle that clearly.

“You’re going to do it, smart-ass!” Angus snarled from the front seat.

“No,” Reid pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m not.”

Angus glared at him in the rearview mirror. They were headed to Chicago for a very important chess match. The old Pontiac was guzzling up their last bit of gas money, their frayed suitcases piled up next to Reid’s feet, the radio full of static. Reid was glad that the radio had static, or he’d be forced to listen to Angus’ oldies station all day. Angus was still yelling at him and Reid purposely shut him out, gazing out the window, looking at the rather sad houses that could be seen from the highway, their paint peeling from neglect, revealing their own disappointed stories. Reid and Angus had lived in houses like that, renting them out once or twice when money was tight, and they’d lived in far worse places too. In the front, Angus paused to chew his tobacco, making his mouth look swollen. He ignored every time Reid tried to tell him about the dangers of chewing. He would just spit the dirty brown wad at Reid’s feet. So Reid had given up on it. He’d pretty much given up on changing anything about his uncle.

Abruptly, Angus pulled the car to the side of the road. He turned fully and faced Reid.

“Listen up, you spoiled brat. We have no money, get me? I need to win this thing. And winning here means betting on somebody else. You’re the favorite. You win and we get squat, see?”

Reid climbed out of the car. He clutched the Anatomy book he’d been reading to himself. Angus was supposedly home-schooling him, but that had stopped years ago. Angus’s intelligence was razor-sharp and he had taught Reid a great deal, but once Reid had become a chess champion, all Angus’s greedy focus had switched to that, and Reid’s education from then on had been self-motivated. Reid had been pathetically eager to please him. It was never enough. There was always one more competition – one more win. Not that Reid didn’t love the game, he did. He loved it the way a person loves a deeply hidden secret. He loved the way an almost invisible force took over his body and showed him the answers. With chess, everything would just click and Reid could see the moves. He never felt that way about real life. Angus though, turned the game into profit, into results, the sheer pleasure of playing stolen from Reid day-after -day. Now Reid had just applied early admission to Harvard. He was 15 and confident he was about to be accepted there. Reid could taste the freedom. He only had to put up with Angus and the chess competitions a little longer.

Right from the start, when Reid had been forced into his life, Angus had made it clear that Reid was unwanted. “What am I gonna do with this scrawny brat?” he‘d asked the social worker who’d tracked him down after Reid’s parents’ fatal accident. No, he hadn’t wanted Reid. But the money from the State had tempted him. They had lived off that money, eating convenience store food and traveling around as Angus drifted from job to job. Angus was always looking for an angle, the next big thing. The day Reid had picked up a chess board, Angus found it. Memories of his parents faded daily, leaving only Angus and his demands. One day, Reid worried, he might forget completely his father’s laugh or his mother’s face. Even now, the memories felt more like faded impressions and his brain was failing him.

Reid stood watching the traffic whiz by them. The fumes from the cars filled his lungs.

Angus climbed out of the car, too. He went over to Reid and jabbed an elbow at his stomach.

“I’m talking to you, genius.” His watery eyes met Reid’s. One wrinkled hand, aged with spotted skin, attempted to hold Reid’s arm firmly. Reid pulled back from him.

“I hear you,” Reid replied. He began to think of a problem to solve:

Two cars 225 miles apart start traveling toward each other at the same time, and one car travels at twice the speed of the other car. Find the speed of each car if it takes two and a half hours for them to meet.

Reid quickly did the calculation in his head as Angus ranted at him. It was what he did during his uncle’s sudden rages.

Finally, Reid became aware that Angus had stopped screaming at him.

“I won’t do it,” Reid repeated flatly. He was a lot of things, but he would never be a loser. He would never deliberately throw a chess match.

“You’ve got a real problem then,” Angus said in a low tone.

Reid refused to let Angus see any definable emotion on his face.

“I did you a favor, taking you in, a skinny, no good smart-ass. And this is how you repay me? “ Angus nodded thoughtfully and chewed his tobacco. They stared at each other. Something like a smile passed over Angus’s lips, but his eyes were small and mean. He was dirty and unshaven. Reid dropped his gaze and examined his own clean hands. Every time they stopped on the road, Reid would find a restroom and attempt to keep himself clean.

Angus walked away from him and headed to the car. Reid looked up at the sound of the door being slammed shut.

Angus turned the key in the ignition. “So be alone then, big shot. Find out what it’s like.”

The engine roared to life. The tires squealed at the fast rotation back to the highway.
Reid watched him pull away, stunned and stupid-acting for once, unable to move.
He looked all around, lost. Reid swallowed hard. He wouldn’t cry. He wouldn’t feel anything about it. Angus didn’t matter. Reid didn’t need anybody. He began to walk off, ignoring the smell of exhaust fumes and stepping around the discarded cans, balled up tissues, and half-torn candy wrappers that littered the road. Determinedly, Reid’s eyes focused on the nearby exit sign. He planned to leave the highway, regroup, and think. He would come back later, maybe hitch a ride. For now, Reid headed for the exit ramp, toward the town called Oakdale.

***

He didn’t get far. A police car followed him the second Reid had entered the town. Apparently, everybody in this one-horse town knew each other, and immediately the cops knew that Reid did not belong. A red-haired female officer then insisted he get into the patrol car. She proceeded to ask him a bunch of stupid questions that Reid simply refused to answer. Angus would be back; the situation could not last too long. Reid was his uncle’s paycheck, after all.

Only he didn’t return.

Within hours, Reid stood in front of a judge, the police officers and a social worker, all trying to “help “ him.

“Tell us where you’re from,” the judge ordered.

“No place.”

“Tell us your home address,” said the social worker.

“What are you, a town of idiots? I just told you I’m from no place.”

The judge droned on and on. Reid did more math problems in his head.

Finally, the judge ordered Reid to go with the cops to the station and for the social worker to find him a “suitable, temporary residency.”

Inside the tiny police station, Reid sulked. He leaned up against the wall. He might as well be in their half-assed jail cell. He’d slept in worse places.

The cop offered Reid a donut. She and another officer just stood nearby, sipping old coffee out of Styrofoam cups. Reid chewed the stale donut and sighed.

After investigating him some more, the social worker and cop agreed he really did have nowhere to go. Reid just rolled his eyes at them and took a second donut. He’d told them as much hours ago. Maybe there was something in this town’s water that damaged brain cells.

The social worker approached him with a big, fake smile. She was a heavy woman and it looked like her feet were pinched too tightly into her shoes. Rolls of fat clung to her belly and thighs.

“So let’s talk about where we will live,” she told him in a patronizing tone.

“I assume you live at Burger King ,” Reid told her, “but by all means, we can discuss it.”

“No need for nastiness, young man.”

“No need for obesity either,” Reid countered. “It’s called diet and exercise.”

Less than twenty minutes later, she gave up. “He’s all yours,” she said and left.

The cop watched her leave. Then Margo Hughes quietly examined Reid. “ I get it. You’re angry. It’s okay to be mad.”

“What have you been reading, psycho-babble in cop sensitivity training or something?” Reid shook his head. “I’m not mad, lady. I just want to go. I’m perfectly fine taking care of myself.”

Officer Hughes ignored his rudeness. She patted Reid’s bony shoulders.

“Oakdale is a great town. We want to find you a home here.”

“Look,” Reid snapped, “I don’t want any help. And I sure as hell don’t care about this town of Anywhere, USA. I’m leaving, as soon as I can, do you hear me? “

She shook her head sadly at him, and the pity in her eyes made Reid flinch. “We can’t let a minor just be alone. “ Then she smiled. “But don’t worry, Reid, I have an idea. I’m going to call a great family and see if they’d agree to foster you for a while. The Snyders have fostered many teens before and they’re warm, decent people. They even live on a farm!”

“And that’s a selling point to you? Do I look like I want ‘Little House on the Prairie’?”

“You can be happy here, “ she told him. “If you let yourself.”

“It’s the human condition to be miserable,” Reid shot back in his most authoritative voice. “Happiness is just a delusion.”

She shook her head. “You sure are smart. I wish my own boys used their brains half as much.”

“The average person only uses a third of their brain’s potential,” Reid started to inform her, and then he realized she was not truly listening to him. She had already picked up the phone.

Nobody listened to a teenager, not even one with a genius IQ. Reid tried to formulate another math problem in his head, but found it impossible. His mouth felt sticky from the donut, and his throat was dry. He refused to ask the bonehead cops for water. Reid closed his eyes; he felt like they must be burning. He imagined that Angus must have reached Chicago by this time. He could picture the tournament. He could see all the other contestants receiving their numbers and exchanging relieved looks that Oliver didn’t attend the competition. The other kids always went out for pizza after they’d lost and talked chess strategy for the next contest, but Reid never went. He didn’t need to hear their puny ideas or hear about the newest chess book on the market. He was always the winner. Besides, nobody ever asked him to go.

“The Snyders want you!” Officer Hughes told him suddenly and gave Reid the thumbs up.

“But I don’t want them,” Reid replied. Blunt as usual.

A little while later, they’d sent for Holden Snyder and he’d packed Reid up into his truck and taken him away.

***

Dinner at the farm was an endless event. There were always people, that for the life of Reid, he couldn’t quite figure out: cousins and more cousins and half-brothers and adopted grandparents…it went on and on. After his first few nights, Reid simply gave up trying to keep the endless mix of family straight. All he cared about was the food anyway. The food made it all almost worth it.

Emma Snyder didn’t seem to know about microwaves. She made everything from scratch. She put down a plate in front of Reid filled with food: roasted chicken, sweet potatoes, corn fritters, fresh rolls, and green beans. She never sat down at the table herself, she was always too busy serving her family. She seemed to love to do this. Reid practically drooled at her side, holding out his plate. Emma didn’t really try and talk with him; she simply fed him. Reid could easily be in love with her or at least in love with her cooking.

The rest of them drove him crazy. Luke always insisted on sitting near him and prattling away to him. Everybody else clearly found the kid adorable and so there was no ditching him, not if Reid wanted to sit there and eat. Lily and Holden usually were there. Sometimes they acted lovey-dovey to each other, and other times the air was filled with a strange tension. Reid noted that the mood of their marriage went up and down like a see-saw. The other cousins and their babies came and went and added to the loudness of the meal. Somebody was always shouting for something.

Tonight was fairly quiet for a meal with the Snyders. There was only Lily and Holden and Luke and baby Faith. The baby was screaming though, and Emma was trying to soothe her. Reid was busy shoveling in some of Emma’s chicken.

“Reid,” Lily admonished him. “You can slow down. There’s plenty.”

“I know,” Reid told her impatiently, his mouth full of food. “But I’m starving.”

Lily frowned at his open mouth. Luke giggled.

After his parents’ death, Reid had never sat down at a real table and ate a meal. He and
Angus ate in the car, or on rickety wooden picnic tables, with the food wrapped in Saran wrap. Sometimes they had stopped at restaurants, mostly small diners, places full of truckers, smells of frying bacon, plastic flowers on the table. Eating with the Snyders, Reid missed those greasy spoon stops. He would have liked to have Emma’s food in peace and quiet. His stomach let out a sudden rumble of agreement and Reid pushed in the food quickly.

“By the way,” Lily told him, “my sister’s daughter Lucy is coming to town. She’s about your age. I thought maybe you’d like to make a friend.”

“Not interested,” Reid said.

Lily gaped at him. ”Why not?”

Reid’s mouth turned down in displeasure. “Do I look like a people person to you?”

Luke, meanwhile, spilled his milk. Reid handed him a napkin and Luke dabbed at the mess. All he succeeded in doing though was pushing the milk around toward the edge of the table. Reid snorted at him and then grabbed the napkin from his hands. In one move, Reid efficiently wiped up the milk. Luke smiled at him, leaning his head into Reid’s arm, just beaming up at him. Reid ignored Luke and continued to eat his meal. He looked back at Lily.

Lily was shrugging in confusion. “Everybody needs friends, Reid.”

“What for?” Reid asked her bluntly. He really did want to know. To him, friends appeared a lot of work and a colossal waste of time.

Lily didn’t answer that. She only said, ” Lucy is a great girl. You might even find yourself interested in being more than friends.” Lily actually let out a giggle. “Who knows?”

Reid stared at her. He found Lily extremely irritating. Out of all the Snyders, she seemed to him the most illogical.

The baby started to wail again, and Emma took her out of the room. Reid spooned some more food onto his plate.

“I don’t want to date her,” Reid told her. “Do you understand? “ He rolled his eyes. “I have no interest.”

“Well,” Lily laughed. “Nobody’s asking you to marry her. But she is a beautiful girl and –“

Reid shook his head. Okay, he’d just have to spell it out for her. It might be rather enjoyable to watch Lily’s carefully made up face.

“I’m gay,“ Reid said flatly. It pleased him to see Lily’s stunned expression.

There was a dead silence at the table. Holden shifted in his chair. Reid chewed loudly and indifferently.

“Oh,” Holden said, finally. “That’s okay, Reid.”

“Thanks for your permission.”

“What’s gay?” Luke asked.

“Happy,” Lily said quickly, passing him some rolls.

“Reid’s never happy,” Luke said in confusion, wrinkling up his small nose.

Reid let out a bark of laughter.

Luke smiled up at him widely, clearly not getting what he had said to make Reid finally smile, but pleased by Reid’s response.

“Reid may not need to entertain Lucy anyhow,” Holden was saying slowly to Lily. “ It looks like another girl Lucy’s age might be in town too.”

“Who?” Lily’s eyes narrowed. “Oh no. Not her!”

Holden’s face grew pinched. “She is my daughter, “ he whispered to Lily firmly.

“This is just a ploy of Molly’s , Holden, “ Lily said crossly. “Wake up!”

“Abigail isn’t a ploy-“

Emma came back a moment, grabbed baby Faith’s diaper bag, and left again. Reid was sorry to see her go. He was almost ready for dessert.

“Shh,” Lily was hushing Holden. “We can talk about it later.”

“No,” Holden said angrily. “We’ll talk about it now. I welcomed your past mistakes. I’ve adopted Luke, haven’t I?” Then Holden realized what he’d said. He flinched and glanced at Luke. “And I love you so much, Buddy,” he added.

Luke ducked his head away and nodded.

Reid glanced at Luke. He was adopted?

He saw Holden try and take Lily’s hand, but she was too angry.

“You always throw Luke’s father in my face. Damian was long ago,” Lily said heatedly. “Molly is here now.”

Reid slid a glance at Luke. He might not know much about parenting, but even Reid could sense this conversation shouldn’t be in front of a little kid.
But Holden and Lily appeared to have forgotten that. They had eyes only for each other now.

“Molly is not a threat to you,” Holden insisted. His voice grew louder.

“She is, too!”

Reid looked at Luke once more. The kid sat stiffly now beside him. Holden and Lily were talking about people like they were misplaced socks. Reid grew more and more confused by them.

“Damian won’t ever be back,” Lily said. “He doesn’t care about me or Luke. But Molly is just waiting for you to feel sorry for her again and to –“

“Children!” Emma scolded, as she and the baby came back into the room. She gestured to Luke, “That’s enough!”

There was a brief, guilty silence.

“Sorry, Mama.”

“Yes, sorry.”

Emma just shook her head at them. “Reid, “ she said, “will you please take Luke to your room for a while? I’ll call you boys back down for dessert.”

“Sure,” Reid said. He was eager to escape this insane dinner. Reid grabbed a few rolls as he left. Luke followed him silently.

Upstairs, Reid glanced at Luke.

“So um..want to watch some baseball?”

Reid fiddled with the TV, but they could soon hear voices from below.

They sounded angry. Lily was yelling. There were some sounds of chairs being moved. Then it was quiet.

Luke sat on Reid’s bed, his feet dangling off. He didn’t say a word. His small mouth pulled tightly closed.

The voices started again, trying to speak in more hushed whispers, but still the voices were clear every once in a while. Reid looked at Luke. The kid’s shoulders shook, hunched in, and Reid could see he was trying not to cry.

Crap. Reid went over to Luke.

“How ‘bout a game instead?” Reid asked.

Luke didn’t answer. Reid hurried to the closet with the board games.

The door opened and Lily peeked in. Her face was red from crying. “ Dessert is ready guys.“ Then she looked at Luke. “Baby, I’m going to visit Grandmother for a while, “ she told Luke in a fake, cheery tone that put Reid’s teeth on edge.

“When are you coming home?” Luke asked in a small, quivering voice.

“Oh real soon. It’s just for tonight,” Lily gave him a big hug, but didn’t look Luke in the eyes. “Real soon.”

“He’s not an idiot,” Reid snapped. Why did adults think kids had no brains?

Lily gave Reid her chilly smile. “Reid, this is a family matter.”

She hugged Luke again and then left.

Reid reached down and awkwardly patted Luke’s stiff shoulders.

“A game,” Reid said again. At Luke’s unusual silence, he felt desperate. He went back to the game closet. Reid’s eyes found the chess board. What a plastic piece of junk, but better than nothing, Reid figured.

He gingerly approached Luke with it.

“We can play this.”

“My fault,” Luke said in a low voice. He wasn’t even looking at Reid.

“What?”

Luke sniffed a little and wiped his eyes with his shirt.

“What’s your fault?” Reid asked. “ Your folks?”

Luke nodded, his gaze still on the floor.

Impatiently, Reid grabbed Luke’s chin and tipped his head back. Their eyes met.

“Listen, mini-Snyder, it isn’t your fault.” Reid sighed loudly. “ Let me tell you what a genius like me knows to be true, okay? It’ll save you lots of time in the future. Grownups suck. People suck. They’re selfish. They let you down.” Reid released his chin.

He sat down on the bed opposite Luke and began to set up the chess board.

“Now pay attention. I’m about to teach you the greatest game on Earth.”

“I don’t know how to play,” Luke said, his attention finally off of Lily and Holden.

“Too bad. I won’t take it easy on you. Got that brat? You’ll have to suck it up and learn.”
Reid gave him a small, fast smile. “It might take a few nights until you get it.”

“We can play every night?” Luke asked, a little light returning to his eyes.

“Why the hell not? “Reid shrugged. “It’s not like I have any place else to go.”

Reid glanced at the door. He was hungry for dessert, but he didn’t want Luke to have to face Holden just now. Reid sighed again. Pie would have to wait.

“Your move,” he told Luke.

***

“Would you quit following me, kid?”

Luke dogged his every step, practically on Reid’s heels. The day was hot and humid and marked the coming end of the spring. Reid’s entire body ached from farm work. His mind was bored too. He had been counting the days off until Harvard. Oakdale was sucking out his brain cells the longer he stayed.

“But you’re my friend, “ Luke protested.

“I’m not your friend,” Reid mumbled.

“Sure you are.” Luke beamed a smile at him, revealing his dimples.

Reid sighed. They had this conversation at least once a day now. Luke was everywhere he turned. Teaching him chess and giving him attention had been a huge mistake. Now he was stuck with Luke.

“Anyhow,” Luke was grinning, “I made you sandwiches.”

Then again, the kid had some uses.

Reid stopped abruptly causing Luke to smack into him. Reid pulled him off and looked at the bag in Luke’s hand.

“What kind?” He asked hungrily.

“Roast beef. And Peanut butter and Jelly. And baloney.”

“No turkey?”

“How many sandwiches can you eat?” Luke asked with wonder.

Reid shrugged at him. “Just hand it over.”

Their fingers touched briefly. Luke had sticky hands.

“Whatcha doing?”

Reid glanced down at his bathing suit. “Going to take my SATS. What do you think I’m doing, moron?”

“You shouldn’t call little kids names,” Luke told him, scolding him. “That’s what my parents say.”

“No one’s asking you to listen, Miss Manners.”Reid chewed on the baloney sandwich as he talked.

“Not that I’m a little kid,” Luke said suddenly, poking the ground with his shoe. “I’m seven, almost eight.”

Reid opened up another sandwich.

Luke watched him, pleased. “Good, right?”

“Not bad,” Reid grudgingly replied. “ More mayo next time.”

Luke peeked up at him with big eyes. “More mayo,” he repeated, like he needed to commit the knowledge to memory. He studied Reid as he ate the food, not moving, his small face completely serious. Reid sighed, finishing the last sandwich, wiping the crumbs on his swim suit.

“I’m going to the pond,” Reid told him.

Luke jumped up, suddenly animated. “Wait for me to swim, okay? I’ll go get my trunks. Don’t go without me!” He dashed off urgently.

Inwardly groaning, Reid watched him run off into the house. He shook his head. Why Luke wanted to follow him around was a complete mystery to Reid.

Of course, people in general made no sense to him.

Reid ran his hand across his sweaty forehead. It was only late April, but there was a record heat wave the past few days. Reid was dreading the long summer. Luke came back, his small arms loaded with pool toys and towels. Reid didn’t offer to carry it. He let Luke stumble along beside him and they made their way down to the pond.

At the pond, Reid and Luke quickly went into the water. It was frigidly cold, but somehow refreshing. There was soft, cool mud at the bottom. Reid tried to keep treading water, but his foot would sink into the mud occasionally. Luke was a pretty fast swimmer for a kid. He swam eager, exuberant circles around Reid, trying to get him into a splash contest. Reid gave and in and soon they splashed around a little, laughing, and something inside of Reid loosened up as he played with Luke. Reid’s own childhood was all about focus and reward, not fun. Luke stuck his tongue out at Reid, dodging the spray of water. A surge of exhilaration filled Reid as he splashed Luke back, the sun hot on his face, laughter gurgling again from his lips, a strange, unfamiliar joy inside of him.

***

“Hey Luke!”

“Lukey! Oh, he’s so adorable.” A girl squealed as Luke turned and waved.

“Hello there!”

Reid’s gaze turned to look at the gaggle of teenagers. They were all in bathing suits and carrying coolers and towels. He watched them wave at Luke again and then spread out a big blanket. Reid saw them look at him, whisper to each other and then look away. The boys sniggered with laughter at something.

He had no real reason to assume they were laughing at him, but still…

Reid was suddenly aware of his bony frame. He crossed his arms. He painfully realized that he was goofing around with a child while all the other teens were with each other. Reid clasped his hands together in a tight grip. He treaded water, his feet kicking out.

“I’m going to swim over there,” Reid told Luke, pointing to the other side of the pond.

“But my tube and noodles are here,” Luke protested, “and now other kids are here.”

“Whatever,” Reid said.

“Stay, Reid!” Luke implored. “I’ll give you the blue tube?”

“I’m not playing with your toys,” Reid snapped. “Just stay here.”

He swam away from the other kids and from Luke. Reid went to the other side of the pond. Stubbornly, Luke went after him.

This side of the pond had less grassy area and more rocks. Reid treaded the water. He tried to think about the lungs- he’d been studying that in his Anatomy book. Reid went under the water a moment, deliberately feeling the pressure build for air. Lungs were amazing really. He held his breath until he couldn’t stand the sensation a moment more, then he broke through the surface of the water.

Luke was walking on the rocks, putting one foot in front of the other.

“Look , Reid! I can jump off of these. I’m a really good jumper.”

Reid frowned. “Go back to the other side,” he told Luke.

Luke climbed up the jagged rocks and then threw himself into the water.

“Cannonball,” he yelled in a high-pitched voice.

He emerged from the water, flicking the hair out of his eyes.

“Did you see Reid? Did you see?” Luke cupped his mouth, shouting at him. “I was awesome!” Luke beamed at him in delight.

Reid just grunted. His eyes were on the group of teens again. Some of them were clearly kissing now, their hands at each other’s waists. A few of the boys had their shirts off. Reid’s eyes moved over the hard, flat torsos.

“Watch me do it again. “

Reid didn’t ever hide who he was; he wasn’t ashamed. With a sigh, Reid swam around in the murky water a second. But it was one more thing making him the odd one, the outsider. Reid glanced back at the others. They were just starting to go into the pond. The girls were shrieking and giggling, and the boys were playfully shoving each other and calling each other “asshole.”

A suddenly loud splash and a yelp drew Reid’s immediate attention.

With one look, all the color drained from Reid’s face as he realized that Luke had fallen. He had tumbled down a jagged rock and into the pond. Reid reacted swiftly, although his heart pounding, his throat caught. He dove under the water and grabbed Luke’s small, slippery body. Reid held Luke in his arms and treaded to the edge of the water. He quickly pulled them both out.

“Jesus! Are you okay?” Reid gripped Luke’s shoulders, his eyes probing Luke all over.

“I think so,” Luke answered, dazed. Then Luke felt the top of his head and blood stained his tiny fingers.

He looked at Reid. They both froze.

With a quick intake of his breath, Reid moved. He took a towel and put pressure on the cut.

“It’s okay, Luke.”

Luke just whimpered and clung to him.

“It’s okay,” Reid said again. “Heads bleed. I’ve read about brain trauma. Most bleeding head wounds are strictly superficial.” Reid touched Luke gently, feeling his skin inch-by-inch for any problems.

Luke wrapped his arms around Reid tighter; he leaned against him, shuddering.

“I’m gonna get Holden, and we can go get your head checked out, okay?”

Reid scooped up Luke and carried him back to the farm. The other kids hadn’t even noticed. They were all in the water across the way by then, swimming with each other.
Reid hesitated. Maybe he should ask for their help too. Then he felt Luke shaking in his arms. He determinedly walked off with him; he could take care of Luke alone.

***

Holden was pretty good about Luke’s injury. Reid had to give him credit. Many fathers would scream or curse or something. Holden had been calm. He and Reid had glanced at the cut from underneath the towel and seen the injury wasn’t too deep.

“Put him in the truck,” Holden told Reid. “I’ll call a friend of ours and let him know Luke is coming to the ER.”

“I feel okay, Daddy.”

“We still need to get it checked. “

Holden went into the house to make the call.

Reid and Luke sat in the truck waiting for him.

It was only then that Reid felt a little of the tension that had clutched his guts easing. Thank goodness Reid was right about the superficial wound. His hands trembled and Reid quickly pressed them down at his thighs.

“Sorry,” Luke whispered.

“Good thing you have a hard head,” was all Reid could manage.

***

They reached Memorial and found Dr. Bob Hughes waiting for them. His son Chris was there too.

“Thanks for coming, Bob,” Holden said, as Bob led them to an exam room.

Chris, however, didn’t look too thrilled, Reid noted. He had a sour expression on his face.

“Want to watch me stitch him up?” Bob asked his son. “I keep hoping Chris will show an interest,” Bob joked to Holden.

“Me too, “ Holden laughed, “with Luke and the farm.”

“I’ll wait outside,” Chris said in a disgruntled tone. “Give me a dollar for the vending machine?”

Bob sighed and opened up his wallet.

“Can Reid stay?” Luke asked.

Bob looked at him. “As long as you don’t mind the sight of some blood.”

“Not me.” Reid’s mouth hitched up. “I plan to go to medical school.”

“Really?” Bob looked at him with a sudden interest. “In that case, look at this. It’s the latest staple gun. I don’t need to do any stitching. “ Bob showed it to Reid. He let Reid hold it a second.

The staple gun felt surprisingly light. Reid studied it reverently. He could feel Bob Hughes looking at him and the way Reid glided his hand over the instrument.
Embarrassed, Reid quickly gave it back.

“Interesting, right? “ Bob said.

“Whatever,” Reid shrugged.

Then he watched in fascination as Bob cleaned Luke’s injury. Holden held Luke’s hand as the staples were shot into his head. Bob did it quickly, Reid saw, but perfectly.

“All done.”

“How about a lollipop?” Holden said to Luke.

“Okay!” Luke grinned, his wound forgotten with the promise of candy.

“Just a second,” Bob said. “Holden? Can you come to my office a moment?”

“Sure.” Holden glanced at Luke. “Right back, buddy. Stay with Reid.”

When they’d left, Luke tugged at Reid’s arm. “You’re my hero. Thanks!” His brown eyes glowed up at Reid.

Reid looked at Luke. “Oh, shut up.”

“You are.”

Reid pinched the bridge of his nose. “Next time, just pay attention.”

“Okay.”

“I mean it. Don’t be stupid. Turn your brain on!”

“It’s here,” Luke said seriously.

“What is?” Reid dropped his hand to look at Luke.

“The switch.” Luke tapped behind his left ear. “The switch for my brain is there.”

Reid’s lips twitched. He leaned over and flicked his fingers behind Luke’s ear.

“Okay then. It’s on. So no excuses for acting like an idiot again.”

“Right,” Luke beamed.

Reid smiled at him reluctantly.

Just then the door opened, and Chris came in. “My father here?”

“Obviously not,” Reid snapped, embarrassed to be caught smiling. “Unless you think your old man is a ghost.”

Chris flushed. “And you are, again?”

“None of your business.”

“This is Reid, “ Luke said, “ he’s staying with us.”

“Oh,” Chris’s lips twisted. “A charity case.”

“They pay me actually.“ Reid nodded his head at Chris. “To keep morons away from the farm.”

“Like a skinny geek could ever keep me away,” Chris said hotly and puffed out his chest. He walked to Reid. “I’d like to see a wimp like you try it.”

Luke turned to Chris. “Reid’s not a wimp and he’s not a charity case,” Luke defended him instantly. “Reid’s fun to have around. Reid’s gay.” Luke added proudly.

Chris took an instinctive step back. His eyes bulged.

“Don’t worry,” Reid said caustically, “it’s not catching.” He gave Chris a deliberately flirtatious look. “Or maybe it is.”

Chris nearly tripped over his feet to escape.

‘Dumb fucker’, Reid thought, ‘As if he’d ever be my type.’

Chris opened the door and fled.

Reid looked at Luke. Luke tilted his head in puzzlement.

The door opened and Bob came in. Holden followed and handed Luke his lollipop.

“Come on Luke,” Holden said, picking him up. “Let’s wait outside a second.”

Reid started to follow them, when Bob put a hand on his arm. “A moment, please.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Reid frowned.

Bob shook his head. “Not yet. But I’d like you to do something.”

“What?”

“Work here. I just spoke to Holden about you. He told me all about you. We both agreed that you might do better working here with me than at the farm.”

“What would I do here?”

“Nothing glamorous,” Bob shrugged. “Mostly mop up after operations, but you could observe them, too, on occasion.”

Reid tried to ignore the hopeful hammering inside his heart.

“Of course, I have to run it all by the Chief of Staff first.”

“That’s not you?”

“No,” Bob laughed, “not yet.”

“Wow,” Reid snorted. “You’re so old and you aren’t even Chief.”

“I guess you plan to run a hospital by what? Twenty?” Bob looked amused. “ Holden said you were opinionated- most good doctors are.“ He gave Reid a wry look. “I might be old to you, but I know a great deal about hospitals and I know my way around a good surgery.”

“ Did they have even have operating rooms back in the Stone Age?” Reid made a face, “What did you do? Knock the patients out with a big boulder?”

“I’m younger than I look,” Bob replied dryly.

Reid shrugged, “If you say so.”

Then Bob touched Reid’s shoulder. “You’ll have to lose that attitude, young man, if you want to work here.”

“Good thing I haven’t signed a contract yet,” Reid said.

Bob ignored his remark. “If you really want to be a doctor one day, you should learn about compassion and about patient care.”

Reid stared at him. The guy really looked like he believed that malarkey.

“Yeah,” Reid said slowly, as if talking to an idiot. “I thought that’s what the nurses were for.”

Bob just shook his head. “If all clears with the Chief, I’ll expect you to start here on Monday.”

***

For the next few days, Luke’s parents treated him like a yo-yo. The poor kid bounced back and forth between the farm and his grandmother’s house.

Why am I thinking about him? Reid frowned as he headed to the barn. He was starting the job at Memorial in the morning after what had seemed like endless delays of ridiculous paper work, and that was what he should be focused on. Opening up the barn door, Reid grabbed the bucket from off of a hook. Holden had ordered him to milk the cows this morning.

Gingerly, Reid approached the animal. Up close, cows smelled worse than he had imagined. Reid nearly gagged. He forced himself to walk closer, and, as if sensing his unease, the stupid bovine thrashed its tail like a whip. Reid squatted down on the stool and slid the bucket under the cow’s udders. He tentatively reached out his hand.

“Wait! That’s not right,” Luke called to him, stepping into the barn.

“You’re back,” Reid said, surprised. He studied Luke. He looked good, other than the bad haircut somebody had given him.

“Yeah. “ Luke flashed his dimples at him. Then he held up a sneaker, “Can you tie this for me?” He asked. The laces flopped around as he waved his foot at Reid.

“No.”

“What? Why not?”

“Learn to do it yourself,” Reid told him.

“Fine,” Luke’s lips came out. “Go back to grabbing the cow’s teat.”

“Teat,” Reid repeated in disgust, “no wonder I suck at this.”

The cow mooed in agreement with him.

Luke watched him struggle a moment.

“Here,” Luke handed him some Vaseline. “You need to make your hands slippery. She doesn’t want dry fingers on her.”

Reid scowled , but he took the Vaseline and quickly used it.

“Now go and squeeze the base of her teat,” Luke instructed him.

Reid started to put his hand on the cow’s udder. He paused.

“You wanna do this? “ Reid turned to Luke hopefully.

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

Luke grinned at him. “You gotta learn to do it yourself.”

“Brat,” Reid said, but with some admiration.

With a sigh, Reid fingered the cow’s teat and pushed down. To his surprise, a spray of milk came out and shot into the bucket.

“Yay!” Luke cheered him and Reid gave him a fast smile in return.

“No big deal,” Reid boasted and then began to milk the cow some more. Milk spurted out in a thin white line.

After the bucket was full, Reid walked over to Luke.

“Now watch,” he told him. He bent down and picked up Luke’s laces.

“This is a knotty mess,” Reid scolded.

“I tried to make bunny ears-“ Luke protested.

“Bunny- what? What the hell is that?”

“That’s what Mom told me to do. Make two bunny ears and then go down the hole.”

“Figures,” Reid mumbled. He was not particularly impressed with Lily’s intelligence. Luke clearly got his brains from his mysterious father.

“No bunny ears- no baby stuff, clear? I’m going to show you and only once, the real way to tie a shoe.”

Reid explained the steps as he tied up Luke’s sneaker.

Luke bit his lip and nodded, giving Reid all of his attention. He made Luke practice it over and over. Finally, Luke looked at him in absolute delight.

“I did it!” Luke exclaimed, his small face flushed with pleasure.

“I have news for you,” Reid told him dryly, “most seven year olds can tie a shoe.”

Luke still smiled. “Well I have news for you. Grandma Emma’s so happy to have me back, she’s making her special chocolate fudge cake.”

Luke giggled as Reid clasped at his heart.

“You’re certain? Chocolate fudge?”

Luke nodded again.

“Fantastic!” Reid smiled a second. “Emma is the only person in this crazy town that I actually like,” Reid declared.

Reid could almost taste the decadent cake already. His stomach gave a rumble.

Then Reid saw Luke’s face. “What?” he asked perplexed. Luke looked as if somebody had shot his dog.

“Nothing.” Luke dug his heel into the ground, poking at the dirt. “She’s not perfect, you know. “

“Who?”

“She snores louder than a bulldozer. And she makes you not swear and say thank you all the time.” Luke crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Reid. There was that pout of Luke’s lips again. The kid really needed to outgrow that face. Nobody pouted past childhood.

“What do you think about her knowing that?” Luke asked.

“Who?” Reid had lost the thread of this entire conversation.

“Grandma Emma. Is she,” Luke voice trembled, “is she really - the only person?” Luke said finally, his small face crumpling.

“The only person?” Reid repeated blankly.

“That you like?” Luke persisted. Tears were starting in his big eyes.

“Oh, that’s why you’re upset? Geez, don’t get all weepy,“ Reid waved his hand at him. “I wasn’t thinking about you.” He stood up and awkwardly patted Luke’s hair. “You’re okay too. For a little pest.”

“You like me?” Luke demanded.

Reid shrugged.

“You like me?” Luke said again. He pushed his face close to Reid. He was practically standing on Reid’s feet.

“Yeah. Maybe, you get the Oliver stamp of approval. “

He reached out and mockingly slapped his palm at Luke’s forehead.

“I knew we were friends!” Luke beamed up at him.

“Well, I never said that,” Reid huffed. He walked to the barn door. “Now scram. I have other chores to do for your slave-driving old man.”

“Okay,” Luke said happily. He practically danced out of the barn, “See you at dinner!”

Reid just frowned, shook his head and didn’t answer.

***

Dinner had gone pretty well that night and Luke didn’t lie about Emma’s fudge cake. It was beyond delicious. Afterwards, they’d all played a game of checkers and watched mindless TV. Nobody pushed Reid to talk too much. Still, Reid was happy another day at the Snyders’ was ending. He went to his room and read.

Suddenly, he heard Lily downstairs. She wanted to take Luke back; something about that Molly woman again. She had showed up at the grandmother’s house, bragging to Lily about Holden. Reid listened as Holden defended his actions. He looked at the clock. It was pretty late. Luke would be sound asleep. Reid drummed his fingers against his textbook. Part of him longed to march down the stairs and tell them both to shut the hell up. They should just accept the fact that their relationship was toxic, put the kids first, and deal with each other. Reid listened to them fight some more. Idiots.

Finally, Lily must have just left. Reid heard the door slam. He heard Emma and Holden whispering to each other, and then silence. He contemplated sneaking to the kitchen for more fudge cake. He decided against it - too risky. He didn’t want to run into the adults. Maybe he could sneak some for breakfast. Although, Luke was right about Emma and her rules. She’d insist he eat something healthy first. Shrugging , Reid went back to his book. He studied the skeleton and the spinal cord for a while.

A long time later, Reid put down his text book and drifted off to sleep. His last coherent thought was that he would start in the morning at Memorial, impress the hell out of Bob Hughes, and never touch another teat as long as he lived.

Reid sighed in his sleep. He was half-dreaming about the bones in the body. He felt warm. Something was rubbing up next to him. Reid tried to push it away. It snuggled determinedly back.

It was a body and it was shaking.

Reid’s eyes flew open.

“Luke? What - why are you in here?”

Luke sniffled and nestled even closer against him.

Reid felt Luke’s tears wetting his t-shirt.

“Bad dreams?” Reid asked.

“Don’t send me back to my room,” Luke pleaded. He pressed his face into Reid’s chest and sobbed.

Hesitantly, Reid patted Luke’s back. “Wanna tell me what it was about?”

Not that Reid couldn’t guess. Why a sweet kid like Luke had to have such awful parents was beyond him. It didn’t take Reid’s genius IQ to know Luke must not have been sleeping earlier.

“Monsters,” Luke replied. He lifted up his tear-stained face and stared at Reid. “They were getting me. They had my mom and dad too. “

“Hmm…. What did they look like?”

“Purple,” Luke answered quickly, “with two heads and claws like this.” He showed Reid a curled hand. “And snake eyes. “

Reid shook his head at Luke.

“ Don’t worry about it, okay?” Reid said. “It’s just your REM sleep has triggered a nightmare. Actually, the amazing thing about the brain is that it never really shuts off. In fact, the emotions in your dream possibly overloaded its circuits, see?”

“Okay,” Luke replied. Then he promptly burst into giant sobs. Reid frowned in confusion. Science always helped him though bad moments, but it clearly wasn’t working with Luke.

Reid searched his mind for what to do.

“And there are no such things as monsters,” he said decisively.

Luke was bawling now. If anything, all of Reid’s words had made him just cry harder. He was soaking his shirt with snot and tears. Reid was baffled. He ran his hands through Luke’s hair and down his thin, sweaty shoulders. “Okay, okay,” Reid murmured to him.

Clearly, Luke didn’t care about explanations or reality.

He took a deep breath and decided to try something completely unlike what he would need, but maybe Luke…

Reid began to sing softly to him. He sang the only song he really knew from childhood. “Mr. Sandman...” As he sang, his voice alternated between deep and true and an occasional, embarrassing cracking high note. Luke didn’t seem to mind that. He looked at Reid transfixed and listened to him.

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen
Give him two lips like roses and clover
Then tell him that his lonesome nights are over


Reid sang it once more, noting that Luke’s tears had lessened now. When he was done, Reid broke the song off and looked away.

He felt Luke patting his arm insistently. Reluctantly, Reid forced his gaze back to Luke.

“Better now? “Reid asked gruffly.

Luke stared at him a moment. Then he nodded slowly.

“I love you, Reid,” Luke said.

Reid’s heart jumped in his chest. “Shut up!” Reid said quickly, “you don’t.”

“I do.”

“You don’t.”

Luke tilted his head at him in puzzlement. His big eyes looked at Reid with compassion beyond his years. Reid felt himself almost flush.

“Why do you say that?”

“Cause you don’t, “ Reid answered.

Luke didn’t argue. Instead, he grabbed Reid’s cheeks with both of his small hands. He leaned down and kissed Reid’s lips softly, his mouth lingering on Reid’s mouth a moment. Luke smacked his lips once more on Reid’s stunned ones. Luke’s skin was soft as dough, his breath sweet as candy.

“ I do,” Luke said simply. “I love you.”

With a satisfied little smile, Luke put his head back down on Reid’s chest and closed his eyes.

In no time, Reid could hear Luke’s little snores.

Reid didn’t sleep for a while. Nobody had ever told Reid that they loved him. If his parents had ever said the words, Reid had no memory of it. Angus never said anything even remotely affectionate to him. The closest he came was after Reid would win a chess match. He’d let out a grunt of approval. Reid had a few past friendships, but moved around too much to ever keep a friend for long. Besides, his friends were the types to discuss Physics or video games, not emotions.

Reid stayed awake and tried to lecture himself. Luke was just a little brat, and it shouldn’t matter. Little kids probably went around telling everybody that they loved them and it didn’t mean a thing. But for once, Reid’s logical mind was losing the fight. His heart was pounding with emotion. Reid wrapped an arm protectively around Luke. He’d always thought a little brother or sister would only be a pain, but now he thought it might be kind of nice.

Luke had said he loved him.

Up until that moment of Luke’s kiss, Reid had always believed he was simply unlovable.

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December 2011

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