The Navigator

by Cynus

Chapter 1

The cool spring air whistled through the small crack at the top of the window. It annoyed Drake, but he could put up with the sound if it got rid of the stuffiness inside the van. Drake had traveled with the band for only three weeks, but he bit by bit he'd started to grow tired of their company, and assumed they were feeling the same way. He didn't dislike them, but it the old van simply didn't have enough room for four musicians with all their instruments. He'd made the total five—six, counting Adelaide, though the German Shepard was more than happy to share Drake's space and made little impact on the band members.

The band had been kind enough to give him a ride after their gig in Salt Lake City, and Drake was grateful to them. There were limits to kindness though, and it was time for him to leave before he outlived his welcome. He'd talked about leaving for the past two nights, making sure that when he stepped away his departure would be expected. Jack and Stacey had both made it clear that he was welcome to stay, and Theo had grunted his agreement. Only Brady had spoken differently, telling Drake that he'd be missed, but that he also understood why Drake needed to go.

Drake had a kinship with Brady. Something about drummers had always intrigued Drake, and Brady fit the bill. He had a quiet nature, even though he was a beast once those sticks appeared in his hands and he played for a crowd of people. It didn't matter the size of the crowd; whether it was five people in a dive bar in the middle of nowhere or on stage at a large hall playing for two-hundred, Brady played like a man possessed by demons. As impressive as he was as a musician, the real magic happened after a performance was over when Brady tucked his sticks away. He never said a word until the instruments were packed and the band drove away from the venue.

Drake had asked him about the ritual after one of the performances. He'd just finished helping Brady pack the band's equipment into the van, and Jack had slipped into the driver's seat and started the engine. Brady looked at Drake funny at first, but then said something about it being a tradition, and that he always felt the need to let a performance settle so he didn't ruin the magic of the moment. Drake hadn't completely understood, but he'd fallen for Brady in that moment. Despite his longing to get on his own again, Drake had almost tried to pursue a relationship with the drummer.

But that would have meant tying Drake down to something, and even though the band was always on the move, he knew that he would have ended up feeling trapped. A relationship wasn't justification enough to keep him there. In the end, Drake's attraction to Brady just made him want to leave the band even more, to part ways before hard feelings had any chance of coming between them.

With Adelaide practically on top of him, Drake started to feel warm, and he considered shrugging out of his thick but worn coat. One look at the frosty world outside the window told him that he'd be cold again in a few minutes. He decided it better to keep the coat on and removed his beanie instead, suppressing a sigh of relief as his wild hair came free and fell around his ears. The cool air from the window felt amazing against his sweaty scalp. He closed his eyes, inclining his head toward the crack in the window, breathing in the fresh air from outside. No, this whistle of the wind was a small price to pay for such a comfort.

"We've got to stop for gas here," Jack said, reaching out and shaking Stacey awake in the passenger seat. Drake glanced around the van and noticed he was the only one awake other than Jack, but knew the others would rise quickly. Rest stops served as unpredictable alarm clocks, and everyone responded to their call or paid the price for their slumber. There weren't many and they had to take advantage of them when they could.

Brady's scruffy chin rested against his chest, his arms folded, sound asleep. Drake watched him sleep for a moment, admiring his blonde curls that hidden partially beneath his plaid flat-cap before nudging him with his elbow. It took two nudges to wake him and then Drake set to work on Theo, who lay with his guitar case on the next row of seats, somehow seeming to be comfortable despite the way he seemed entangled around the instrument. His long, dark hair was hung wildly across his face. Drake didn't know how anyone could stand having his hair so long and in the way, but it worked for Theo.

"Drake, you're awake?" Jack called out. Since Drake sat behind Jack's seat it was hard for Jack to see him, but Jack started chuckling when Theo bolted upright. Drake's hand had only lightly touched Theo's arm, but Theo's dark eyes came alive, startled and wild. "I guess that answers that. Nothing gets Theo up like getting frisked by a gentleman."

"Drake is no gentleman," Theo grumbled, but the words quickly became a yawn. "I've seen the way the man treats the ladies. Never holds a door for any of 'em."

"You're one to talk, Theodore," Brady snorted. "The last time you talked to a lady she threw her beer in your face. When was that, Friday? I'd say yesterday but, is it Sunday yet?"

"Yeah, the sun's about to come up," Drake said, grinning with a nod to the back of the van. They'd been driving west for the last few days, which put them somewhere in Colorado. Jack had said their next big city gig was in Boise, four days away, and he wanted to get there early. That meant nonstop driving. The others had grumbled about taking their shifts behind the wheel, but Drake had never found himself in that position.

He had learned how to drive, but had also left home before he managed to get his license. Over his time away from home he'd driven a few times, but only when he had to. The band found a different use for him; navigator. His years as a boy scout taught him a lot of skills that the band had fumbled their way through until they met him. He hadn't just read their maps and given them directions though; he'd taught them to do it for themselves so they could keep it up when he was gone.

"How'd you know that?" Theo asked, glancing behind him and seeing the first few rays of sunlight coming over the horizon. "You didn't even look."

"I have an internal clock that resets with the sun," Drake said, looking back at Theo and grinning broadly. Theo shook his head and rolled his eyes before Drake chuckled and added, "Actually, I read a newspaper in that last town we were in and it had the times for the next few sunrises listed. I memorized them and," he tapped the watch on his wrist, "I knew we were just about there."

"I love it when you put Theo in his place," Stacey mumbled, looking back at Drake and smiling as much with her bright blue eyes as with her lips. Her blonde hair had a red streak on the left side of her face which gave her an asymmetry Drake had always found appealing. He was not attracted to her, though he certainly appreciated her beauty. Being gay in this case saved him a lot of trouble, considering how jealous Jack could become of people stealing his girlfriend's attention.

"Where are we, Guns?" Stacey asked, putting her hand on Jack's thick bicep and squeezing.

"Crow's Lake, Colorado," Jack said with an excited whoop. He turned to glance at her, giving Drake a solid view of Jack's green Mohawk and the three earrings in his right ear. His green eyes sparkled with excitement as he went on, "Population five thousand or so. I didn't pay as much attention as Drake would have, but I did read the sign. Certainly not the smallest town we've been to, but . . . We've done better, too."

The van was just coming off the highway exit then, and immediately they were surrounded by trees. Drake found it breathtaking, and he loved the sight of the frosty evergreens in the first rays of dawn. It reminded him of the camps he went on through his years of scouting, and he desperately wanted to go out into those woods and explore. He could see houses in the distance, smoke rising from the chimneys of more than half of them. This seemed a quiet town without much going on and that meant one thing to Drake; it was the perfect place to disappear.

"So we're not going to try to look for a gig?" Theo asked with another yawn. "What the fuck did you wake me up for then?"

"Of course we aren't going to look for a gig!" Jack said sternly. "We have to get to Boise as quickly as possible. We're running out of money and that gig's going to make us some serious bank. They said that if we make it a day early we might even get to play an extra night!"

Brady snorted and said, "Don't you think you should have shared that detail with us, Jackie?"

"Don't be like that, Braids," Jack threatened. "All right, so I might have forgotten to tell you. I was keeping it for a surprise all right? And as for why I woke you up, Theodore, I don't want you asking me to stop between towns just so you can take a leak. Every god damn time I let you sleep . . ."

Drake stopped listening to the argument and smiled, returning his attention to the scenery. Most of the homes looked like quaint little cottages, at least on the outskirts of town, but Jack drove further into town until he came to a gas station. There were only four pumps, but this early in the morning, none of them were in use and Jack turned into the parking lot. The man inside the convenience store stared at them through the large glass window with a bored expression before turning back to his newspaper.

"Everybody out!" Jack called, stopping the van next to one of the pumps. As much as he'd grumbled about being woken up, Theo was the first one out, scrambling past Brady to get to the door. Brady let him go with a resigned sigh before following him, stretching as he hit the ground. He walked slowly toward the convenience store as stiff muscles slowly came back to life. Stacey stretched in her seat before stepping outside to join Jack at the pump, asking him if he wanted anything from the store before she followed Brady and Theo inside.

"Come on, girl," Drake said, nodding toward the door. Adelaide picked her head up and looked at Drake before leaping through the door to land on the cold pavement. She waited patiently for Drake to stretch and jump out of the van to join her.

Although Adelaide waited patiently for him, she had to wait a bit longer than expected as Drake retrieved his backpack from under his seat. Everything he owned sat inside that pack; he had made sure of it the night before, just in case he found a good place to split with the band. Now he was glad he'd taken the time. Crow's Lake seemed like just the place, and the sooner he admitted that, the better.

He slid the van door closed as he slung the backpack over his shoulder, stepping around the front of the van. Jack glanced up from the pump and immediately saw the backpack, then met Drake's eyes and nodded slowly. "It's time, huh?" He said with a half-smile. "You're gonna hit the road again?"

"Yeah," Drake said with a grin. "It's been fun, man. Thanks for the ride. You guys are awesome, and I'm sure you're going to make it big someday." He stuck his hand out for Jack to shake, and then Jack surprised him with a hug and pulled him close, holding it for longer than Drake felt comfortable.

"What was that for?" Drake asked when they pulled apart, Jack had a touch of moisture in his eyes, and his smile had only strengthened not diminished.

"You know what, kid?" Jack said, laying a hand on Drake's shoulder and squeezing gently. "I admire your spirit, the way you seem to seek after adventures most people wouldn't dream of. You're only sixteen and you're already on the open road." He chuckled and added, "I wish I would have had your drive to explore three years ago when I was your age."

"Hey, it's not all it's cracked up to be," Drake said with a grin. "You've been out on your own for the last few months, and you know what I'm talking about. You always have to worry about how you're going to find your next meal…" he trailed off as he looked down at Adelaide who watched him expectantly. The moment felt suddenly heavy. "But it's been fun, and I can't wait to hear you guys playing somewhere big."

"Well if you ever end up with an address, look us up and we'll make sure you get tickets," Jack said with a wink. Pulling a piece of paper from his pocket, he slid it into Drake's hand and said, "I knew you'd be leaving soon and I took the time to write down my number for you. Give us a call if you need anything, all right?" Drake nodded and slid the paper into his pocket. He readjusted his backpack before turning away. "Hey, aren't you going to wait for the others?" Jack said urgently.

"Nah . . . I kind of hate long goodbyes," Drake said as he turned back to face Jack. He said the next words over his shoulder. "Maybe we'll run into each other again in some small town in the middle of nowhere."

"Or we can do it here," Stacey said, hugging a surprised Drake from the side. He didn't know how he'd missed her approach, but she could be sneaky when she wanted to be. Drake wrapped an arm around her awkwardly until she let go. She danced around to stand in front of him with a frown on her face. "You little devil, thinking you were going to run off without saying goodbye to me? How could you, Drake?"

"Sorry, Stacey," Drake replied with an embarrassed grin. "I thought it would be easier."

"Like hell you did," Theo said as he stepped up and punched Drake lightly in the arm. "You just didn't want me to get all awkward and soft on you. I know I've usually been a jerk to you, but you know that's just how I show love, right?" He pulled Drake into a one-armed hug that lasted only a second and said, "Good luck out there, Drake. You deserve your fair share. Never got your full story, but . . . I know you've been through hell. It's about time you had something go right for a change."

"Thanks, Theo," Drake replied warmly, though his smile started to falter the longer this moment extended. He was beginning to feel the gravity of leaving the band. They had treated him like family for the few weeks that they'd traveled together, and even Theo had been good to him. But now that the goodbyes had begun, there remained one person he still needed to talk to, and Drake knew exactly where he'd be.

He turned around and saw Brady crouching down and scratching Adelaide behind her ears. She loved the attention, but as soon as she saw Drake looking at her, she left Brady behind and came to stand beside him. "Hey, Brady. You going to hug me too?" Drake said laughing awkwardly.

Brady stared at him, giving him that thoughtful half-smile and stepped forward, letting his hand rest softly on Drake's shoulder as he stared into Drake's eyes. "Hugging is for saying goodbye, and I think I'd rather hope to see you again, but you know . . . I guess I gotta say goodbye for now," Brady said, pulling Drake into the warmest hug of the group. It lasted longer than Drake wanted it to, but just as long as he needed, and when he pulled away he had to fight back tears as strong as any he'd ever had.

"All right," Drake said as he shifted his backpack and choked back his emotions. He looked down at Adelaide and whistled, and she met his gaze, cocking her head to the side. "You ready to go, Addy?" Drake asked. She opened her mouth and let her tongue hang out, giving him a single, excited bark. Drake laughed and looked back to the others. "I gotta go," He said before turning around and taking a step toward the sidewalk.

"Wait!" Jack called out, and Drake turned around and looked at Jack with a patient smile. "Hey, you never even told us your first name, kid. I know it's not Drake."

Drake nodded slowly. He hadn't used his first name since he'd left home, though it was printed on his Idaho State ID. The ID was a forgery that marked his birthdate at a few years earlier. It had been a necessity to allow him entrance into some places where only adults were allowed, and he kept it with him always. He'd never seen a reason to use a fake name on it, though. It also helped him find work at places that expected teenagers to be in school, and had overall been the best investment he had made in his life of crime.

"Silas," Drake said with a small smile. He couldn't be entirely certain why he told them, though he did know he trusted the band more than anyone else he'd come across in his travels.

"Silas Drake," Jack echoed, testing the name on his tongue before raising his hand and waving. "You take care of yourself, Silas!" He shouted.

"Yeah! Stay out of trouble, or more importantly, don't get caught!" Stacey added. "Be good, Silas!"

Theo cheered to add his assent, but Brady just watched him go, smiling in understanding. Silas Drake nodded at him slightly and then waved to the other three before turning back to the sidewalk. They didn't say anything else as he walked away but he knew that they were watching him go, and for a moment he almost considered turning back to them. But then he looked up and saw the wooded mountainside in the distance, rising up above the quiet town and promising him adventures beyond his comprehension. The woods beckoned to him, calling him home, and he had already stayed away for too long.

Without a second glance back at his friends, he crossed the street and began his trek toward the edge of town, the wilderness which would be his home until it was time to find another. Adelaide plodded along happily beside him. He looked down at her and grinned, "Do you want to race, girl?" he asked, and she quickly barked her excitement. Silas laughed and started sprinting, smiling wide as Adelaide ran beside him. He wouldn't have it any other way.

The aroma of coffee and pancakes tantalized Silas' nostrils as he walked down the block. A strip mall stood on his right with a number of stores ranging from an auto parts store to a cell phone shop, but it shared the parking lot with a diner. The diner was the only one of the businesses open that early in the morning. A tractor trailer was parked further down the street, and a man dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans, and a thick denim coat stepped out of the truck, walking toward the diner while Silas stood watching.

It made sense why the diner opened at the crack of dawn now. Diners didn't become popular with truck drivers unless they remained open at odd hours, but they were popular with Silas for a different reason. This one appeared to be no exception. A 'Help Wanted' sign sat in the window, and he knew that a place like this was more likely to hire a drifter like himself than anyone else in town would. His supply of cash had begun to dwindle. Although he could trap and fish for food if he found an appropriate place, he preferred a bit of real money for emergencies, and he'd always detested panhandling.

He looked both ways before crossing the street, though aside from the tractor-trailer he had seen hardly any vehicles on his way out of town. It would be his own fault if he got hit by a car, but more importantly it was his responsibility to make sure Adelaide didn't get hit either. She would follow him anywhere, even into the middle of a busy street. If he wasn't careful then she wouldn't be either.

Once he reached the other side of the street, he took a better look at the diner, noting it had probably been in service for several decades based on the paint job, though the sign was new. It had a name which would hardly trigger anyone's curiosity, though it certainly fit the image portrayed by the white plaster and red roof. No matter how many 'Mom's Diner's he had been to, he would always think it a stupid and unoriginal name.

A small bell rang above his head as he pushed through the door and stepped inside. He wiped his boots on the black mat beneath his feet, then walked forward onto the freshly mopped orange and cream tiles. Booths lined the walls, and tables and chairs dominated the center of the room. The truck driver whom he'd followed in was being seated by a middle-aged woman with light brown hair pulled away from her face. She wore a light green shirt and a white apron; the image of every other small-town waitress Drake had ever met. She set a glass of water and a menu down in front of the truck driver and said, "I'll give you a few minutes to decide."

Silas stood awkwardly in the doorway as the waitress looked up and met his eyes, smiling pleasantly until she her gaze lowered to Adelaide. Her smile faltered as she walked toward him, stopping by a stack of menus on the way to grab one for him. "Oh, I don't need a menu," Silas said with a wave of his hand, and she put the menu down slowly, regarding him with a puzzled expression.

"Then how can we help you today, Hun?" She asked as she took a cautious step toward him.

Silas pointed at the sign in the window and said, "I'm looking for work and I noticed your sign. My family just arrived in town and we're going to be here for a little while. I was just out walking the dog when I noticed your sign and I thought I'd stop in before I missed my chance." He smiled a smile he had practiced and perfected over his year and a half away from home. Any time he had to sell a lie it did the trick, and he hoped this time wouldn't be any different.

"Oh, I see," she replied thoughtfully, giving Adelaide another look and smiling broadly. "Well in that case I'll get the manager in a second. He's currently serving as the cook as well, so once he's done with my table's order, I'll have him come out." She stuck her hand out for Silas to shake and he took it firmly. "My name is Jenny."

"Drake," Silas replied, and she raised an eyebrow and gave him a funny look. She released his hand and stepped away.

"Nice name," Jenny replied with a touch of awe. She glanced nervously at her table and then asked, "Will you excuse me?" She walked over to her table and pulled out a notepad, but the trucker waved her away and said he still needed a few minutes. Jenny excused herself and made a quick line for the back of the café, stepping through a swinging door and into the kitchen.

Silas stared down at Adelaide, shaking his head before shrugging in bewilderment. He grew even more confused when Adelaide began sniffing the air and cocking her head to the side, almost as if she recognized something she was smelling. "What is it, Addy?" Drake asked as he crouched down, rubbing her gently behind the ears. She whined, and he regarded her curiously before straightening to stand.

He started to turn as he rose, hearing the door to the kitchen open and close again, and first he saw the black slacks and well-polished black shoes of a man standing at the other end of the restaurant, watching him. Silas' eyes continued upward, seeing the blue apron and the black button up shirt with the top two buttons undone. The man held a rag in one hand that dropped to the floor as Silas looked up to his face and met his eyes. Brown eyes that looked almost identical to his own, though the man's hair was a lighter shade of brown. There was no mistake, however, in how similar their two faces were, and how the expression of complete shock in both their faces matched that of their shared parentage.

"Silas . . ." The man breathed, and Silas let go of the breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. But a fear he couldn't comprehend replaced the breath, a shock to his system that sent his emotions over the edge in ways he couldn't handle. Silas straightened the rest of the way, turned, and ran from the diner as fast as he could.

He didn't bother to look both ways as he crossed the street. Safety didn't matter anymore. He had to get away.

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