Jamie Ness is homeless and on the run. After divulging his deepest, guarded secret, his father attacked him, which left no choice but for Jamie to leave everything behind he'd once known.
His greatest fear is that his father will realize the mistake he made in throwing away the only real income coming into their home and hunt for Jamie. Putting distance between his father and wherever he stops is his only priority. After walking for days, putting one foot in front of the other, it's impossible to turn down a hot meal when Chris Rose pulls up at his side on the outskirts of a town he doesn't know.
Offering the young man a helping hand is ingrained in Chris. Something to eat, a warm bed, and safety, even if he could only get Jamie to grudgingly agree to one night. He would have offered that and more to the young man with the shadowed eyes, except more trouble was looming for Jamie. It isn't just Jamie's dad that Jamie has to worry about, because there is nothing in his life that could have prepared him for Chris's secrets.
Howls ricocheted through the woods like the haunting sound of a pending storm, like a surreal thunder. The eerie brush and scratch of trees and leaves was unsettling because nothing moved. There was no wind, no other sounds.
Except for those howls.
They echoed around Jamie on all sides. He knew he was surrounded. He could only pray that the pack didn’t close in. He was fucked if they did. Wasn’t much he could do with a single backpack against a pack of wolves. He didn’t even have a knife.
Jamie huddled beneath the thickest bower of limbs, his stomach rumbling. He ignored it. He had to ration what he had managed to stuff in his bag.
He closed his eyes and drew a steadying breath, refusing to let the shakes overtake him again. Five days wasn’t that long. He’d be in a new town or city soon, and he could start over. Find a job. Find a place to live, even if it was only a dry corner somewhere.
His eyes burst open when the next round of howls started. Sharper, closer. He shivered. Jamie knew the animals were taunting him, trying to flush him out. The fastest way to agitate a predator was to run. Cowards ran. His head sank to his huddled knees, swamped in on all sides by his melancholy and situation. He guessed then that he was a coward. He’d run from his father’s fist. So much to ignore. His empty stomach. The burning pull on his ribs. The aching stiffness of his jaw. The gnawing pain and ache in his arm. Those relentless howls. Gingerly he touched his lip; it felt like the swelling had gone down, but he couldn’t say. He hadn’t seen his face at its worst or since he’d run from the house after his father’s last drunken rage.
The night was a refuge of sorts. It was quiet, and not too cold. Tucked into his body there was a modicum of warmth, but not much. It took him a few minutes to realize the howls had ceased. He lifted his chin, searching with unblinking eyes into the dark shadows around him. The highway was silent at that time of night, somewhere off to his right. He’d dug into the trees for cover and shelter in case the weather turned bad. It had the night before. He only had a couple changes of clothes with him. There had been pain in every motion as he’d stuffed his old backpack with clothes, energy bars, and two bottles of water as quickly as possible. He only had the one pair of sneakers.
Jamie sniffled, wincing for it. He was twenty-two, and until five nights ago had never thought his father would be able to kill him. He’d been hit. Plenty. He knew without a doubt now that his father hated him. Jamie had mistakenly believed his dad had needed him. He’d stayed after graduation to help his dad. Help pay bills. It wasn’t like either of them had ever had much.
Telling him Jamie was gay had been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The last thing he remembered after the ominous silence of his admission was disappearing into his bedroom and getting ready for bed. He had work the next morning. Three hours later, he’d been bodily yanked out of bed and attacked. Jamie had never seen his dad that drunk in his life. Jamie had fought back, instinctively knowing that this time if he didn’t, his dad would kill him. With all the strength he had, he’d swung one of his long-ago track trophies at his father’s head. He was so drunk he hadn’t gone down instantly, staggering and teetering instead like a chopped tree, defying before finally giving in to gravity. Jamie had leaped across his bed, putting it between them, watching. Then, almost as if his dad’s body just hit a switch, he’d collapsed across Jamie’s bed. Blood seeped from a cut on the back of his head by his ear, but that was all the damage he’d done. Snores that should have woken the dead were echoed by heavy breathing. He was out.
Jamie had stuffed what he could into his backpack and left. He had no job now and only minimal cash on hand. He prayed when he finally found a place to stop, he could call and get his last paycheck, but he wasn’t holding his breath for life to treat him right. After twenty-two years, he should know better. Five nights after that fight, he was somewhere west of home, heading somewhere far away from a life that had been nothing but pain-filled and disappointing.
He blinked into the shadows as another chorus began.
And I’m surrounded by wolves. “Yay,” he croaked. He flipped the hood up on his sweatshirt, burrowing his hands into the pockets. As snug as he could be, he clung tighter to his bent legs and closed his eyes, listening, but trying to rest before he started walking again.