Noah’s Boy – Snippet 08

Chapter 5

 “My fear –” Tom said, and paused.  “For years, I’ve been afraid I might have killed and eaten a human my first night out of my parents’ house,” Tom said, ruefully, almost in a whisper, and Kyrie looked at him startled.

She loved Tom.  No.  That wasn’t even it, though it was true of course.  She was attracted to Tom physically, had been even back when she thought she hated him.  She joked, to customers and employees and to Rafiel — which might be cruel — that she was dating the hottest man in the entire tri-state area.  Tom was a couple of inches shorter than her five seven height, but he didn’t look short.  In fact people often talked about him as though he were at least six feet tall.  Part of it was the arms and chest.  While his legs were muscular enough — how not, when his entire job consisted of standing by the grill or walking around the diner all night — his arms and chest displayed the kind of slick musculature that normally took a personal trainer and all sorts of expensive equipment to manage.  Or the ability to grow a pair of wings and take to the sky several times a week.  The muscles, from supporting the dragon’s weight in the air, translated into a sculpted male chest that would make a body-builder cry with envy.

Above it was a face not quite pretty enough to be a pretty girl’s, though if it had been a girl’s, she wouldn’t have been all that ugly, either.  From that face, a pair of enamel-blue eyes stared, bright and — right then — anguished.

“The first night you were –?  What do you mean?  The first night you shifted or –”

“No,” Tom said. “The night I was kicked out by dad.”

Tom had been forced out of his apartment at sixteen, at night, in the middle of New York City, barefoot and in a robe.  His father, a noted criminal-lawyer with ties to a triad of dragon shifters had thought, mistakenly, that Tom had caught the shifting from his clients, and had been afraid that if Tom stuck around he, too, might start shifting.

In retrospect, Kyrie understood both of them — to an extent.  She knew Edward Ormson had been terrified.  Since re-establishing contact with his son two years ago, Tom’s father had tried to explain himself, and he’d bought them the diner and moved to Denver to be within driving distance and, in his self-absorbed, blinkered way did his best possible to — belatedly — be a good father.  And growing up, Tom had been a difficult child and a difficult teenager, had a string of minor offenses on his record, and had viewed his ability to shift as a superhero thing.  Getting pushed out into the street had been the shattering of his comfortable upper-middle-class world and, probably, had saved him from becoming an insufferable adult.

He’d learned to survive.  If asked, he never gave details.  He’d say that New York City had services aplenty for runaways, which he could pass as.  Besides, at seventeen he’d started to pass as older, and signing up for day-labor.

He would say — had said it often — that were it not for his shifting, he would have settled down long before now.  He would have become what he was now: a young man of moderate means, with a fixed residence and a comfortable place in the world.  But the shifting, and being afraid to shift, and being unable to fully control the shifting had ruled his life until he had met Kyrie at twenty one and they’d made a sort of pact against the world.  Rafiel helped too, as did the other people who came to The George for food, and who changed into various kinds of animals.

But at this moment Kyrie saw in Tom’s eyes the sort of blank worry, the odd detachment she’d seen in them when she’d first met him, when he’d been drug addicted — another effort at controlling his shifting — and just barely not-homeless.

“I have a very vague memory,” he said.  “In those days I could never remember clearly what happened, when I changed.  I mean, I had a vague idea, flashes.  I remember this guy running after me.  I have no idea what he wanted.  I couldn’t look like I had enough money to rob.  He had a knife.  I ran, until he cornered me, and then…”  He blinked.  Then shrugged.  “I shifted.  I have a vague memory of blood, of…”  He shook his head.  “Then there was this gentleman.  When I shifted back to human, there was this old man I knew.  He sold chestnuts down the block.” He rubbed the back of his hand under his nose in a gesture that seemed to Kyrie must have come from a much younger Tom.  “Turned out he was an orangutan shifter but… but even his own family didn’t know about it.  He had –” Wave of the hand.  “Ten children and a wife, and they were all very kind to me.  Took me in for the next day.  Gave me clothes.  But he wouldn’t tell me what happened to the man confronting me.  Always said I didn’t want to know.  I’ve wondered if… if I ate the man with the knife.”

“Well, you probably didn’t eat the knife,” Kyrie said, then regretted it and sighed.  “Look, why would you eat him?  Kill him, maybe, if you were really upset.  Though I’ll point out you don’t want to know could have meant anything.  Like, he was a shifter too.  Why torture yourself?  You haven’t eaten anyone since, you probably didn’t eat that guy either.”

Tom gave her a sideways glance.  “I might have.”

“Yeah, well.  I was about to say you might also have flown around, but in fact you probably did.”  She reached out and touched his cold wrist.  “Let it go, Tom.  Nothing you can do about it.  It’s probably no use telling you that a full grown man with a knife chasing around a half-naked teen probably deserved to get eaten — but it’s still true.”

He managed a wan smile. “I — It’s just seeing that kid.  It’s like he doesn’t know he shouldn’t eat people.”

“And he might not, but Tom, you can’t fix everyone and everything.  One day one of your… strays is going to hurt you badly.”

He took a deep breath.  “I know.  I know.”  A glance at the clock on the dashboard and he started the car.  “And we’re now all out of time and should get to the George as soon as possible, or Anthony will be late again, and his wife will be upset.”

Kyrie managed a smile in return, as soon as Tom edged out of the parking lot, kicking up gravel as he went.  She cast a worried glance in the direction in which Rafiel had disappeared, pursuing the creature.  “When it’s dark –” she said.  “And dinner traffic calms down a little, you can go look for him.  If he hasn’t called, yet.”