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Sixteen years ago. Missoula police station:
Though the concrete wall at his back was cold and his T-shirt thin, Dax Smith kept his back straight as he leaned against it. He was safe, for now.
Though he was only twelve he was on his way to juvie jail. He knew what happened when a kid got locked up with bigger, stronger guys. He’d fight so hard they’d either stop or kill him.
When you were dead you weren’t sore, hungry, dirty, cold, or terrified.
He slumped forward, elbows on knees, blindly staring at the pattern of scratches on the floor. His mom also said she would watch over him, that joy could be found if you looked for it, and that miracles happened if you believed.
He’d seen her watching over him in his dreams. Now and then he could feel happy for a bit. But he’d stopped believing in miracles when he watched her die. His chest and throat tightened. He felt tears form but didn’t wipe them away.
He’d never begged. His pride had kept him from asking for anything not freely given. He’d never needed anything so much before.
“I love you, Mom. I miss you so much,” he whispered. His throat was so tight it was the loudest sound he could make. “Please help me.”
He waited, holding his breath. Nothing happened. Resigned, he exhaled and opened his eyes. A tear landed on the floor. He brushed it away with his shoe before the mouthy white kid beside him noticed. Nothing was said so he used his T-shirt to wipe his eyes.
A warm breeze flowed over him, scented with the jasmine she loved. He inhaled deeply, as if to lock it in his cells. He’d survive whatever happened today, and the next day, and the one after that. An hour or a minute at a time, whatever it took. He had to live until he found justice for his mother.
Decision made, he sat up.
The white kid sharing the bench had been brought in about twenty minutes earlier, black eye already swelling. Dax had been in enough fights to know the kid hurt, but he didn’t complain. If the other kid was also going to juvie they could team up, watch each others’ backs.
The scuff of boots on concrete made him look up. A white man dressed like a cowboy aimed straight at them. Dax stiffened, turning his face into a blank mask. The guy wasn’t a cop or a caseworker, so what would he want with them?
The guy was at least six feet plus the hat. He stopped a few feet away and stuck his thumbs in his pockets. Hard blue eyes looked down from under a black Stetson. He sighed, shaking his head.
“You boys look like a pair of scarecrows.”
The white kid lifted his lip in a sneer, making it bleed again. He tapped it with his hand, leaving a bright red mark. “Shee-it.” He wiped it on his jeans and glared. “What’s it to you?”
“A hell of a lot, actually.”
A hint of jasmine drifted past, jolting Dax into meeting the eyes of the stranger. Those eyes looked deep into him. Judging, but not dismissing. Wrinkles around them creased in a smile. He couldn’t hope. Not yet.
“I’m Jonah Elliott of the Bitterroot Ranch.”
“Well, bless your heart!” Dax elbowed the kid, hard. He grunted and glared.
The cowboy shook his head, though one corner of his mouth curved up. “You’re already acting like brothers.”
“Brothers?” blurted Dax.
“My foster sons will be brothers. You willing to work hard on a ranch, or would you rather go to jail?”
© 2017 Reece Butler. All Rights Reserved.
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