Here’s probably the most important scene of Book 1 from Dustin’s point of view. Enjoy!
Dustin O’Brien could feel the last of his hope finally starting to fade away. He’d been wandering around the barns at the racetrack for days trying to find a job, but no one would give him one. They were all fully staffed, they claimed, or they wouldn’t take in a runaway.
As if he could.
He’d never be welcome there again. His dad had said so himself two years ago. Dustin had been homeless in the city for all that time, until this past winter when he’d hopped a string of buses to find a hideaway in the woods near this racetrack. It had seemed like a promising place to find a job. He knew he smelled horrible, but horses were smelly animals, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. And most of the conversations he heard were in Spanish. Dustin knew enough about the world to suspect that not all of those Spanish speaking people were in the country legally.
At first he’d tried getting into the casino attached to the racetrack. It seemed like a good way to try getting more money from the last few pathetic dollars that he had. But the security guy wouldn’t let him in. He didn’t smell like a homeless kid then – the guy who’d given Dustin a bed for the night in exchange for a fuck or two had let him take a shower before taking him back to the bus stop. It was his expired learner’s permit that stopped his attempt at gambling, despite him being eighteen.
The guard had been nice enough about it, though. He didn’t threaten to call the real cops on him for being a runaway. So Dustin gave up on the casino and asked about working with the horses.
“Outa luck there,” the guard had explained with a shrug. “Most of them are on their way to Florida for the winter season. Those that haven’t left yet are busy downsizing first. Selling horses and laying guys off. You’d have better luck come spring.”
So he’d camped out in the thick patch of woods all winter, made sure his shelter was pretty damn well camouflaged, and as soon as he started seeing a steady stream of trailers pulling into the track he’d started hunting for work.
It didn’t seem at first like he should have trouble finding someone to hire him. Why should a young guy who spoke perfect English have so much trouble? He’d even suggested to be paid under the table for less than minimum wage. Whatever that even was. Hell, a penny an hour was better than the nothing he was currently making.
Maybe the trainers were worried he would have people looking for him. Drawing the police there wouldn’t be good for keeping illegal stuff quiet. No matter how often he said no one was looking for him, they wouldn’t give in.
“My family doesn’t want me because I’m gay.”
Yeah, telling them that would go over so much better.
He was on to his last hope. The last trainer he could talk to. The others had said that if this guy wouldn’t give him a job he was out of luck, which made him go back even though he’d been sent away once before. He was fully prepared to beg for all he was worth. Even though that wasn’t much.
That was when everything finally changed.
The trainer was busy talking to two guys Dustin hadn’t seen last time. One was older and the other one seemed like he was only a few years older than Dustin. Not wanting to interrupt, he hung back. The trainer’s assistant found him before he could think of how he was going to properly beg for a job.
“I told you he isn’t going to give you work.”
“Can I just talk to him?” Dustin asked, letting some of his desperation seep through his words. “This is my last shot. Everyone else said I might have a chance.”
The man looked at him for a long moment, then finally sighed. “He’s busy, so I’ll ask him.”
“It can wait until he’s done,” Dustin argued.
The man just kept walking with a shake of his head.
Dustin didn’t like the way the trainer and his guests looked at him when the assistant pointed him out. There was clear annoyance there, even some sadistic curiosity. Except for the younger guy. What was there was even worse: pity.
“Sorry, man,” the assistant said when he came back. He didn’t look very sorry though. “You gotta go.”
Dustin felt the sinking feeling of despair. What was he supposed to do now? No way could he go back to his life in the city. He’d had enough of that. More than enough.
The words stopped him dead in his tracks and he turned to see the younger man looking straight at him in a much nicer way than any of his companions. Dustin’s first instinct was to reject the pity party or whatever was about to happen, but then his rational brain took over. If pity got him a job and a place to sleep, preferably under a roof and not a tarp – even a barn roof would do – so be it. He’d be an idiot to let pride take over. And what did he even have to be proud of?
The single greatest decision Dustin ever made was to walk back toward the group of strangers. His life changed drastically in that moment, and he would forever be grateful for it.
It turned out that the guys talking to the trainer were also horse trainers, a father and son team of Wes and Vince Anderson who took horses that didn’t do well in races and trained them for other things. Dustin knew nothing about horses, but having hung around the barns for days he managed to figure out how to put a halter on a horse and earn himself a job at the Andersons’ place down the road.
The relief was so strong he almost wanted to cry. But he didn’t. Not until that night anyway, as he stretched out on his comfortable new bed with its wonderfully soft blankets, after all the other incredible things had happened.
Vince was one of the nicest people Dustin had ever met – no, he was the nicest, no question. Not only did Dustin get a job, but a small trailer house came with the position. On top of that, Vince gave him clothes to wear so he could wash his filthy, worn-out shit after the best shower of his life. He even took Dustin shopping to get basic groceries and clothes, and wouldn’t hear of Dustin paying him back as soon as he got his first paycheck.
Not only was he nice, but attractive as hell. Not in a sexy way, though. It was more of a really cute way. Though Dustin had a feeling he could definitely be sexy under his clothes.
And why was he thinking that? Crushing on the new boss was a bad idea for many reasons, the most important of which being the fact that Vince was definitely straight. Jane, Vince’s girlfriend, had come with them on their shopping trip. While that didn’t rule out him being bi, or even gay and trying to deny it, it certainly ruled him out as being available.
And Dustin was sure he’d make a fool of himself if he even did end up getting intimate with anyone. He’d dealt with too many guys in the city who got more joy out of hurting him than having sex, and he wasn’t sure he’d ever get those memories out of his head.
At least imagining how he’d freak out every time was a good way to stop himself from thinking about how his boss might look naked.