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I would like to reach out my hand
I may see you, I may tell you to run (On my way, on my way)
You know what they say about the young.

- Send Me On My Way, Rusted Root

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Chapter One

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Somewhere along the Interstate-35, in a tiny town just outside of Wichita, Kansas, he sticks his thumb out.

By his count, he's come roughly 125 miles since leaving Tulsa. So far, he's ridden in five different vehicles: two pick-up trucks, a Ford Pinto, a station wagon, and Pontiac. As he stands on the grassy side of the highway, he only hopes that he can catch a lucky number six. It takes almost an hour—which the beating sun rising over the Midwest makes brutal—but he's eternally grateful when a faded brown Oldsmobile comes to a rolling stop right next to him.

"Where're ya goin', son?"

"Phoenix. But I'll take wherever you can get me."

The man, whose worn, wrinkled face makes him look about twenty years older than he is, shrugs. "Well, hop on in."

He nods in appreciation and opens the passenger side door. He's a cliché, really, when he tosses his guitar case—which holds the only worldly possession that actually means anything to him—into the back seat. As they're pulling back onto the road, he sets his backpack between his legs on the floorboard and pulls the seatbelt across his chest.

"I'm Joe," the driver says, lighting a new cigarette. "What's your name, kid?"

"Beck," he answers the man, whom Beck thinks is probably in his forties or fifties.

"You can't be more than eighteen years old," Joe guesses. "You got a baby face."

"I'm eighteen. Be nineteen in a few months." It's a lie—one he's lost track of how many times he's told. He only turned seventeen three weeks ago, but the last thing anyone giving a stranger on the side of the road a lift wants to find out is that said stranger is a minor. Too many liabilities, Beck assumes.

"And what in the hell is a pretty boy like you doin' out here in Hayesville, Kansas? You look like you should be over in Hollywood, doin' movies and fuckin' a lotta good lookin' women, huh." Joe laughs to himself and takes another drag.

"I'm coming from Tulsa, where I had a few gigs at a nice bar down there." Lie. "My car broke down just outside of Stillwater, so I've been hitching rides since then." Another lie. "My brother lives over in Phoenix, though, so I'm going to crash with him for a while." And another.

"Alright. Well, long as you don't cause me any troubles, I'm stayin' on I-35 'til dark."

"Thanks, Joe."

At half past eight o'clock, when Joe plans on pulling over to stay at the Red Boat Motel just on the Kansas border, he lets Beck out of the car. The teenager thanks him graciously, but declines his offer for a ride to the inn. Most drivers come through random towns like this at night, when they're just passing through, and Beck can't afford to miss what could be another savior. He's exhausted, but he stands tall at the nearest streetlight and once again sticks his thumb out.

After fifteen minutes, a guy opens the door of his pick-up truck for Beck, and he finds himself back on the highway.

He doesn't mean to fall asleep. He never does—really; it's too dangerous. But he hasn't slept in over fifty hours and he's too tired to keep his eyes peeled open for any longer. When he wakes up, the sun is barely rising. He almost asks how far along they'd gotten when he sees the green sign sticking out to his right.

Welcome to Scottsbluff, the friendliest town in Nebraska.

Population: 8,031

Beck sits up straighter and blinks open his eyes to look at the driver. "Wait, Nebraska?"

"Yeah, I had to take a bit of a detour. My girlfriend called—well, she's not exactly my girlfriend, more like a ass full of—"

"Why the hell didn't you wake me up?"

"Calm the fuck down; Arizona's the next state over."

"It's three states in the opposite direction!" Beck argues.

"Alright, well fine!" He slams on his brakes and Beck involuntarily lunges forward. "You got three seconds to get out before I beat your ass. Go."

Beck grabs his backpack quickly and reaches into the back to pick up his guitar. "Ah-ah." The driver sneers. "I keep this."

"What? No! That's—"

"You got two options: you get the fuck out of my face and leave me this here guitar, or we settle this now and you end up dead in the grass five feet away."

Beck's clenched jaw is trembling, from fear or anger or a combination of both, so he tugs himself away and slams the door shut. The car shoots off and Beck is left with just his backpack.

"Shit." He throws the bag on the side of the road with a force that would break anything valuable inside it, if he even had anything valuable to begin with. "Shit! Shit, fuck, fuck!"

An hour later, he's sitting in the grass. The sun is rising quickly over cornfields of rural Nebraska, and he knows that the unfortunate grumbling in his stomach will need to be settled soon. He unzips the front pocket of his backpack and reaches for the paper bag he knows is still there. He and Joe had made a stop at Dairy Queen for lunch yesterday, and Joe had even bought his companion a burger and fries (not to mention the Coca Cola).

Beck had scarfed the burger embarrassingly fast. The Coke, too. But he at least had enough sense to save at least half of the french fries, as he had no idea at the time where his next meal would come from. The fries are cold and soggy at this point, but they're the least of his worries. He rips open a saved packed of ketchup and pours them generously over the fries before eating them.

When he finishes, he zips up his backpack again and begins walking along the highway. Despite the fact that his armload is considerably lighter without his guitar, he'd do anything to have it back with him again.

A few hours pass by, and it's about ten in the morning when a little white Mustang pulls over to where he is. He hadn't had his thumb out, but the car rolls to a stop anyways.

"Hey, Cutie!"

Beck turns his head to see a redhead peering her head out from where she sits in the driver's seat. She's beautiful, and her long, curly hair gives her a sex appeal that surely earns her lots of attention. Her face, though, Beck thinks, looks a whole lot more innocent than she seems.

"Need a ride?"

It's only then that Beck notices that she's not alone, because another girl next to the redhead seems to start a hushed argument with her—presumably about whether or not to let him into the car.

"...my car—"

"...could be crazy—"

"...have some fun—"

"...always do this—"

Are the pieces he catches, but then suddenly the discussion is closed and the girl in the driver's seat turns to smile at him. "So?"

"If it's not any trouble," Beck agrees.

"Never! Hop in the back seat, Darlin'!"

"Thanks; I really appreciate it," he replies as he pulls the door open.

"I'm Caterina, but you, Fine Thing, can call me Cat," she giggles. "This is Lola. She's a bit of a pissy bitch at times; sorry about that."

"Oh, shut the fuck up."

"I'm Beck."

"Lola," the smaller, blonde girl replies.

"Are you sisters, or—"

"Far from it," the blonde clarifies.

Cat smirks. "Nah, I picked her up in Midland last week. Little thirteen-year-old running away from home."

"Yeah," Lola says sarcastically, "because my story is so much more embarrassing than yours." The older girl is about to tell Lola to shut her mouth when the blonde continues anyways. "She didn't tell her boyfriend she got her third abortion, so she skipped town instead. Class act."

"Ugh, fuck you!" She cries, slamming her hands against the steering wheel. Beck flinches. "I couldn't watch him cry again!"

He barely has time to say anything before Cat shrieks and points ahead of them. "Ooh, Burger King!" She squeals, and steers the car across both lanes to pull violently into the drive-thru lane.

Beck and Lola both grip whatever they can to feel safe and Lola screams at her companion (for probably the hundredth time) that her driving is beyond awful.

"I want a milkshake!" She insists.

"For breakfast?" Beck asks hesitantly.

Cat turns around to lick her lips salaciously. "I love sugar."

Lola rolls her eyes and demands for her driver to pull forward so they can order. She turns around to Beck. "You got money, Hollywood?"

"Hollywood?"

"Yeah. You look like one of them Johnny Depp kinda guys. Don't pretend this is the first time anyone's ever told you this."

"It's not," Beck admits.

"Alright, then. You got money?"

The guys who had robbed him during his stay at his first (and only) motel had taken all but twenty of his dollars. By his count, he's got about $8 left. "Yeah."

While Cat orders her strawberry milkshake in the most seductive voice Beck has ever heard, he's scrambling to find a five dollar bill he knows is stuck somewhere in one of the pockets of his backpack. Lola orders her breakfast tacos with a side of hash browns and a Dr. Pepper, and Beck decides on the same—but a Coke instead.

When he hands Lola his money to pay, she shakes her head. "I stole a couple hundred from my dad before I left. I just wanted to make sure you weren't tryin' to bum on us. We'll cover you on this one."

"Wow, thanks."

"No problem."

"Look who's learning to be nice!" Cat exclaims, pressing the gas too much and veering them forward past the window to pick up their food.

"You idiot!" Lola shouts. "Did you put those heels back on? I told you not to wear them when you're driving!"

Cat laughs, and Lola sighs exasperatedly before getting out of the car and going to pay for and pick up their food.

"So," the redhead says as she turns around to face her guest, "where are you headed to, Honey Pie?"

Beck doesn't comment on this girl's fourth (or is it fifth?) nickname for him because he doesn't know how to. "Well, I was originally hoping to go to Phoenix. I've got an uncle that lived there once and, well, I think he's still there. I'm not sure." This time he's telling the truth, because these girls seem far from dangerous. "But some jackass dropped me off at the Nebraska border, miles away from where I was supposed to go. So now I don't really have a destination."

"That's perfect! Come with us!"

Beck smiles at this girl's friendly (if unusual) naivety. "Where to?"

"Burley, Idaho. Real pretty town. Lots of big properties and nice people. The livin' is cheap, too. That's what Lola found out from some guy at a Stop-n-Go in Midland."

Beck nods. "I'll go," he says, because he figures that if he can catch a ride with them all the way to a final stop, he'll get to stop hitchhiking.

"Great! Good news!" Cat informs Lola when she gets back into the car.

"You're not pregnant?"

Cat's face goes from happy to unsure in a quick second. "That's not my news—but we still do need to find a bathroom for me to take that test."

"There's a bathroom right there!"

"That's dirty! I'm not going in there!"

Lola huffs. "Whatever. What's your news?"

Beck feels like he has mental whiplash from these girls' conversations and he's been with them for less than half an hour.

"Beck is staying with us! All the way to Burley."

"Joy."

"Sorry if it's—"

"No," Cat shushes him. "Don't you be sorry about a thing, Sweet Cheeks." She grins at him and then turns back to take a sip of her milkshake before pulling (aggressively) back onto the road. Lola tosses Beck his bag of food, and his hands are nearly shaking from how glad he is to have a real meal.

Just as he's pulling the contents of the bag out, he watches Cat reach for a bottle of nail polish in the front console. "There's no way she's about to paint her nails while driving," Beck thinks to himself, but then she pulls off the top of the bottle and there is definitely no polish inside.

She sticks the brush up into her right nostril and gives it a good sniff before screwing it back onto the bottle. Beck's jaw falls open, but Lola continues eating as if she hadn't just seen their driver snort cocaine. After reviewing his options, he decides it's best to ignore it for the time being. Unless his life is seriously and immediately endangered, his best bet is to stay on the road to Idaho.

(It helps to know that there may be another free meal somewhere down along the way.)

It takes them most of a day to get to the Wyoming-Idaho border. They sleep in the car, parked in a sketchy RV campsite, and make it to Burley by the next morning. Beck doesn't mention how impressive it is that Cat snorted cocaine twice more that day and was still a functional driver, but he certain thanks his stars for it.

When they pull up to a gas station in what looks like the town center, all three passengers get out to stretch their legs. "I wish I could buy you guys a burger or something," Beck tells the girls sheepishly.

"Oh, Sugar, don't worry about that!" Cat shoos his comment off with a wave of her hand. "We loved having you! We'll probably keep on going up to Boise; I've got a guy there." Lola rolls her eyes again, and Beck assumes exactly what kind of guy Cat is referring to. "You want to stay here, or tag along?"

"No, no. I'm great here. Thank you so much, Cat. And, Lola, thanks for not killing me in my sleep."

"You're just lucky, Hollywood." She smirks and Beck smiles at her.

"Good luck with everything. Maybe, if things work out, we'll see each other again."

"Yeah," Cat agrees happily. "I'd like that, Handsome."

Beck grins, half-amused and half-embarrassed, and waves to them one more time before the girls get back in the car and drive off. For the first time since arriving in Burley, he takes a good look at the town. It seems simple enough, but he decides that the best way to see it is by foot—so that's exactly what he does.

It takes roughly three hours of walking around and talking to a few people before he feels like he's got the city down. He knows the major landmarks and how to get around, so he stops at a public park to sit and watch some little kids play.

It's hard, if he's being honest. It's hard to see the watchful parents, loving on their kids and encouraging them to try the slide or tackle the monkey bars. To see how much they care, and how protective and genuine they are with their children. It makes his heart hurt, because if anyone ever clapped for or hugged him for doing something even as trivial as climbing a mini rock wall, he doesn't remember it.

This time, Beck is thankful that the grumbling in his stomach interrupts him from his thoughts. He doesn't want to think anymore. A look at his empty wallet reminds him that he had spent the last of his money on pizza for dinner the night before, but his stomach can't stay in its current state for long.

Grabbing his backpack, he stands up and walks to the market in the town square. Seeing all of the fresh food only torments him more, though, and he's starting to get a migraine. Never in his life has he stolen a thing, but he's starting to consider it as he looks around at how easily accessible the fruit is. After triple checking to make sure that no employees are around or watching, he quickly stuffs a small apple in his right jean pocket.

Just as he's trying to remember to breathe and act naturally, he's startled by a voice behind him.

"Honey, put that apple in my basket."

Beck nearly jumps at the sound. He's instantly conflicted as to whether he should turn around or make a run for it, but quickly decides that the latter will most likely end with him in prison. He turns cautiously to find a woman behind him. She looks like she's about sixty, and he's overwhelmingly glad she's not a cop. She smiles at him and holds her hand out, so he pulls the apple out of his pocket and sets it in her palm.

"There," she says, dropping it in her shopping basket. "That's better. Are you new here in Burley? I don't think I've ever seen you."

Beck assumes she wants him to follow her when she heads down the next aisle of fruit, so—even though he's completely bewildered—he does. "Yes, ma'am. I'm just here looking for work."

"Where'd you come from? You're awfully cute. Do you like bananas?" She asks him, turning back to hold up a bunch of them.

"Yes, ma'am," he answers hesitantly.

"Good." She plops them in her basket.

"I'm from Tulsa, Oklahoma."

"That far south, huh? No wonder you're so polite," she says with a smile. "Pick a few things out for yourself. What kind of job are you looking for?"

"Anything," he answers honestly, and remains unsure of where her kindness is coming from. "I'm a good worker and I learn fast."

She nods. "I'm Georgia, by the way. And you are?"

"Beck. I'm Beck." He sticks his hand out to shake hers.

"Well, Beck, I still only see my things in the basket. Go ahead, pick out a few things you like. You've got to be hungry."

He pauses. "Miss Georgia, I—"

"Oh, none of that Miss crap. Just Georgia is fine."

"Georgia," he corrects himself, "I really appreciate your kindness—but I think you may be misunderstood. I don't have any money. I can't pay you back for anything you buy me here."

She chuckles. "Oh, honey, I know. That's fine by me. You like peanut butter pretzels? These used to be my daughter's favorites."

He only speaks because he knows how impolite he'd seem if he let his speechlessness show. "Yes, ma'am. I like anything."

Georgia laughs again. "Of course you do; you're a teenage boy. What was I thinking?" He smiles sheepishly. "You are a teenager, right?"

"Yes, ma'am. Seventeen." He's not sure why he's honest with her; he only hopes he doesn't regret it later.

"Seventeen. You look too tired to be seventeen, darlin'."

"I've just traveled a lot, that's all."

"Mhmm." She tosses a few bags of sliced ham and cheeses in her cart and Beck's mouth waters. "You got a place to stay?"

He shakes his head.

"Any family here?"

And again.

"You know, Beck: I've got a big property just outside of the town center. It's about a ten minute drive and a twenty minute walk. I'm looking for someone to help me tend the land. Keep up the animals, do some yard work, and such. In exchange for work, I'll provide room and board. You happen to know anyone who might be interested in a job like that?"

He's afraid that if he speaks right away, he might have word vomit from how fast he can tell her he accepts. Instead, he waits a quick second before answering. "I would, ma'am. I would be honored to."

"Really? It might be a lot of work."

"I can do whatever you need me to. I'm willing to work."

It's only when they're at the checkout counter and Beck is helping Georgia load the contents of her basket onto the belt that he looks at her oddly. "You're really serious?"

"About what?"

"About this. Me. I could be crazy, like, a serial killer or something."

"Honey, if you ever wanted to be a serial killer, I wish you luck," she says with a smile. "You're about as scary as a teddy bear."

"Hey there, Georgia, how're you doing today?"

"Pretty good, Tom." Georgia finishes unloading her basket and sets it to the side. "I actually made a new friend. This is Beck."

The market employee nods and Beck and shakes his hand. "Georgia Wilson, making friends. What a sight."

"Oh, shut it. Beck here is going to tend my land."

"Good luck," Tom tells him teasingly. "There's a lot of it."

"So I've heard."

"That'll be $40.80." Georgia pulls out her credit card and swipes it, and Beck stares in awe. "See you folks later!"

"Bye, Tommy. You tell Lindsey I say hi."

"I always do," he assures her.

"Tom Rivers," Georgia explains to Beck, once they're out of the store and walking towards her car. "Real sweet guy—he's been working at the market for years. He and his wife Lindsey have been trying to have a baby since last March; it's not going too well."

Beck nods and Georgia laughs at his blank expression. "Burley is a small town, Beck. Everyone knows everyone and news travels fast. You'll learn that real quick."

"Okay."

The drive to Georgia's house is, just as she'd said, roughly ten minutes. Once they enter the front gate, it's still a bit of a drive to get to the actual house. The two-story home is beautiful and, even from the outside, looks more welcoming and pleasant than any home Beck has ever lived in. He has to wonder if she lives here all alone. He has a lot of questions, actually, but for the time being he keeps to himself.

Once Beck has set his backpack inside, Georgia shows him around the property. Tom wasn't kidding when he'd told Beck that the woman had a lot of land. Georgia shows him the stables for the horses, the pond, and gives him directions for the lake way in the back of her land. She shows him exactly which flowers need to be watered and when, and by the evening, he knows he has his work cut out for him.

"This is your room," she says, later when they're upstairs and she's giving him a tour of the house. "Your bathroom is connected. There are two other bedrooms up here, each with its own bathroom. Mine is downstairs. I'll wash the sheets every Sunday and do other laundry a couple times a week. You can eat all of your meals here," she informs him as they head back down the stairs. "I'm an excellent cook." She winks and he smiles. "Breakfast, lunch, and dinner: all here in the kitchen. Feel free to grab anything from the pantry or fridge at any time. This is your home now, Beck. Treat it as such."

"Georgia, I can't thank you enough—"

"Then don't. Don't worry about a thing. Come on, let's eat."

Four weeks later, at dinner, Georgia chuckles amidst the silence. Beck looks up from his plate. "What's funny?"

"I just remembered that time you thought I would have considered you to be a serial killer. You've been an excellent houseguest; the challenge will be our new one." Beck furrows his eyebrows and Georgia raises hers. "My granddaughter arrives tomorrow. She's... Well, let's just say she was raised in California."

"She's coming to see you?"

"Not exactly. She's coming because her mother can't deal with her anymore; they've never gotten along and they need some time apart. I haven't seen her in nearly six years; Anna isn't too good about coming up here to Idaho. I guess when you live in Los Angeles, this place isn't too appealing."

"So, she'll be here for the whole summer?"

"The whole summer. I figured I'd warn you in advance."

"Does she know I'm here?"

"She hasn't a clue," Georgia laughs. "But that girl is used to having everything go her way—she could use a good ole' shock to the system."

Beck nods. "What's her name?"

"Jade," Georgia answers with an amused smile. "Jade Georgia West."