One week turned into two. Sienna had tried Saint’s patience, but he’d worn her down, with phone calls and small hand written notes that he’d had delivered with a single Gerber daisy every other day. The instant connection they’d made was something Saint couldn’t ignore. He didn’t want to seem too eager though, or…stalkerish. He laughed behind the welder’s mask. Saint had been just about to head over to Twisted Metal and bodily remove her from her store to follow through on his promise and take her for a ride on his bike. He shook his head as he brought the blowtorch down on the tank he’d decided to reshape.
Saint finished the final weld and flipped the mask back and smiled. He was in the middle of a rebuild/redesign of a 1982 Yamaha XS650 Board Track Racer. It was coming along and he couldn’t wait to put it through its paces once it was completed. It was more for the joy of taking something old and making it new more than anything, but he’d had a mind to get his hands on one and redesign it to his own style. Not part of the Paulson business, he’d done a few custom builds for friends. He enjoyed it, but Saint wasn’t going to make it a habit. Teaching people to race to the best of their ability was the primary business model at Paulson Raceway and it started with the kids.
He looked at the clock on the wall. Even though he took meticulous to the next level when it came to the tools in his shop, he’d done a lot that day and lost track of time. Sienna would be here soon. The tools needed to be cleaned and put away.
Saint saw a flash of faded blue near the garage entrance. Danny was back. He looked to be about eight, but he could be wrong. His mind told him the boy wouldn’t be that young here on his own. The only reason he knew the kids name was the other boys he taught to race knew him from school. They didn’t know how old he was, he never spoke up much, and was in the special education classes. He was confused by that though, because Danny was observant, but always hung back, watching the Paulson mechanics, or in the grandstand leaned over the rail on tip toes to catch every word Saint spoke as he taught class at the starting line.
Where the hell were his parents? Saint’s lips pinched as he worried about Danny’s home life.
The kid was too skinny. He’d seen enough bruises on the boy to know that someone had clocked him a time…or three. Saint squeezed the torch until his knuckles turned white, the anger hot as the flame it produced. He slowly got up. His knee cracked and he grunted. Startled by his movement, Danny stepped back. Saint tried to relax, tools banged and metal clanked and Saint noticed the boy would jerk every time the tools hit something. As not to frighten Danny he carefully put things away letting him settle. “Hey kid, you have somewhere you’re supposed to be?”
The boy lifted his chin and crossed his arms in front of his chest then put them down by his sides. “No. I got nowhere,” he snapped, but then quickly looked away, his fingers curled into fists again by his side. Saint noticed a slight tremor in those limbs. The intensity in Danny’s words belied his body language. Brows turned down, Saint stayed mute and his eyes never wavered from the mysterious boy. The kid looked back and away again. What was he so scared of? Was he hiding from someone? Saint put his worry off for now, but he’d definitely revisit it later. If he could help in any way, he would.
“Can you get me that clean rag over on the bench there.” Saint pointed.
Danny’s arms fell to his sides and he looked over to the bench and back to Saint like his request was some kind of trick. He finally moved, stiff and disjointed. Saint frowned. His concern spiked again. Saint observed the boy with a more acute glance. He hadn’t noticed Danny’s converse high-tops had worn holes in the toes, pretty pathetic against the flashy stained concrete of the garage floor. His shirt and jeans were worn through in some places, his hair was matted and dirty just like the rest of him. Did the kid even shower? He should be wearing a coat too; the weather was slowly cooling toward late fall. When Danny turned he winced and clenched his teeth.
“Thanks,” Saint said once the kid approached. “You okay Danny?”
“Fine.” He scuffed his Converse across a large red rust stain on the floor.
“What are you up to today, kid?”
“Nothin’,” Danny snapped, his hands jammed into his pockets as his eyes narrowed.
Saint didn’t think he’d heard the boy speak more than a few words since he started hanging around. This was the longest conversation they’d had to date.
Saint wiped the sweat off his brow and moved toward his bench. The sander went back on the designated shelf and he hooked the blowtorch up just above where the tank sat. He put the smaller tools in drawers and on hooks sticking out of the pegboard that covered almost an entire wall. “Well you’re doing something now,” he said over his shoulder. “How about I take you for a ride around the track. Sound good to you?”
When he looked back again Danny’s face blossomed with emotion. His eyes lit up and his mouth hung open for a moment. But in an instant his expression changed back again and he looked away.
“Really?” he whispered and then looked back up. Danny’s eyes met his, he tilted his head, curiosity and surprise obvious, but then his face scrunched up, his lip curled, and his shoulders fell, a gamut of emotion. “Whatever.” Danny shrugged.
Saint’s mind skipped between scenarios of why Danny was constantly unsettled. His anger flashed white hot again as he thought of possible worst case scenario. His vision blurred as he stared at the monotonous peg board. Saint hated abusers. But what made this particular boy cut a notch into Saint’s heart? He didn’t know. He turned back to respond.
Saint blew out a breath and tried to find calm. “Yeah kid. You up for it?”
Danny was quiet as his eyes locked on Saint. He searched for something.
Saint was about to say it was cool if he didn’t want to go.
“Yeah!” The break that cracked his voice caused heat to flush his cheeks. He looked back at the ground. “Yes sir.”
Saint’s head jerked back by the kid’s newfound manners. Emotionally this kid was all over the place. He would have to ferret out where all these little nuances came from if Danny kept coming around.
“Saint, will do.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Saint.”
Saint chuckled. “All right then, let’s go pick out a bike.”
Saint walked over to the garage door on the opposite wall of the lift and bench. This door slid open instead of retracting overhead. He’d had it framed in solid teak with antique iron door pulls and hardware. He pulled it open with a soft hiss. The smoky opaque glass hid what lie on the other side. This garage had been the closest to the office and he’d turned it into one for his own projects. A private and off-limits space.
Danny gasped. “Oh boy!” The kid practically bounced off his feet. Saint tried not to smile. He didn’t want to embarrass Danny.
Saint dared to touch the kid’s shoulder to guide him to the street bike he wanted to ride. Danny shrugged him off but didn’t move away. Good, Saint thought, he’d seen him often enough now that Danny trusted him more. Not quite upon the bike he wanted to ride, Saint stopped in front of the Yamaha YZR M1.
“Holy shit!” Danny sputtered.
Saint looked down at the kid and let the swear word go. The smile he saw was something he didn’t think the kid had in him. He stayed silent and let Danny shuffle closer. The boy reached out but pulled back like fire had licked his fingers, afraid, Saint guessed. “Go ahead.” Danny reached out tentatively.
“This is like Valentino Rossi’s. Isn’t it?” His eyes were wide and his smile spread huge. “Are we going to ride this one?”
“Why not?” He paused, thoughtful. “You’ll keep me safe,” Danny said making it a statement not a question.
Saint’s brows went down and his gut twisted, thinking about his sister. No, maybe it was why he felt more for Danny then he should. He shook it off. His sister wasn’t a part of this. Danny trusted him to some level, at least where riding was concerned.
“You’ll be safe.” He didn’t say more, just let Danny have his space to think over the words. “We’ll take the Yamaha YZR M1 replica. It has a rocker seat, so we’re good to go.” He walked through an adjacent door to the space that held a lot of riding supplies, grabbed a helmet that was lined up with several others, the wall looking more like an art installation than rows of riding gear. He called over his shoulder when he reached the wall, “What size hat you wear?” Danny didn’t answer, just stood in the doorway. Saint pulled down what he thought was the appropriate size. “Here. Try this on.” He had several kids’ helmets, for kids from ages seven and up, prepared for anything. Many of the families that were involved in racing—he taught many younger kids—brought friends. Of course, Saint never wanted to be without gear to keep the kids safe, so he always had backups. At the last second Saint grabbed a leather jacket. Danny would become cold only after a few seconds on the bike.
Once Danny had the helmet on, which made him look even smaller, and jacket, Saint hit the button and opened his private garage, grabbed his leather jacket and helmet. When he was as safe as the kid, he rolled out the M1.
Saint looked to Danny who fidgeted. “You ready?” Danny nodded with a jerk of his head.
“Alright, once I’m on, hold my shoulders, put your right foot on the pedal and swing your left leg over, sit, then wrap your arms around my waste and hold on tight to the second belt that I put on. Got it?”
“When we go into the turns, let the angle of the bike lead. When the bike leans, you lean.” He flicked Danny’s visor down. Saint got on and waited for Danny to get his nerve up. It didn’t take long. Danny was up and situated on the small seat within seconds.
“Hands around my waist, kid.”
“Okay,” he yelled through the helmet.
Saint revved the bike a couple times and took off light and easy, the kid’s helmet banging into Saint’s back a few times before he got used to the up-shifts.
He took his time maneuvering to the main track. Right before he opened it up he yelled “Here we go!” Danny’s grip was like a vice around Saint’s waste, his little fingers hooked into the second belt. Saint smiled. He took it up a notch and heard Danny’s whoop of joy, the one riders get that comes from cranking up the throttle, the heart pounding acceleration a rider can’t live without. Saint wouldn’t get anywhere near his top speed with Danny on the back of the bike, but he pushed it for the kid.
Saint only had time for a few laps around the track before Sienna would arrive, and sure enough as he rounded the final turn after the fourth lap he saw her head lights maneuver into the lot near his office. He came to a stop outside the garage.
Even before his helmet came off, Danny’s words came out a mile a minute. “That was awesome! Those turns were crazy. Can we go again? Can we go faster?”
Saint would have answered, but was distracted when Sienna came around the corner to greet him.
“Hi,” she said. Her eyes snapped down to Danny. In the next instant Danny jumps off the bike, but he’s behind Saint when Sienna appears. Danny clung to his back, his little hands gripping his leather jacket tight, his forehead angled into Saint’s spine.
The kid trembled. Saint could feel it. What the hell!