In Stepping Up to the Plate we meet Angelo Echevarria, AKA "Ange." Half Hispanic, half black, Ange is a young, sexy thug on whom Stacy's always had a crush. He wants Stacy to pull himself out of the gutter and get his life on track. Even if that means he has to leave his friends -- Ange included -- behind.
In this follow-up story, Ange spots a hitchhiker trying to bum a ride in the rain who reminds him too much of Stacy, and he can't just drive away.
Ange takes an instant liking to the precocious TC, but so does his friend, Lamar, who was instrumental in driving Stacy away. Why can't Ange keep this one for himself?
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Rain spiked his eyelashes into tiny triangles, ran down his cheeks like tears. His eyes were pools of ink in his face, wide and black. A faint moustache struggled to grow above wind-pinked lips, the dark hairs an indication that he was probably older than Ange originally believed. He smelled stale and damp, like a neglected dog, and his skin was the same color as the white police lines chalked around dead bodies at crime scenes. On each finger of both hands, in the long space between the knuckle and joint, blue letters like faded jailhouse tattoos spelled out FUCK THIS.
Sniffling, the stranger rubbed his nose, glanced into Ange's empty car, and saw the McDonald's bag warming the passenger seat. "Hey."
Ange studied him for a long moment, weighing his options. Drive away topped the list, but there was something about this bedraggled boy that gave him pause. Finally, after another sniffle and another wipe of the nose, Ange took a deep drag on his cigarette and let the smoke curl out of him like gray clouds in the darkness. "What's your sign say?" he asked softly.
The guy held it up so Ange could read it. STRANDED in bold, black letters that seemed to be all that held the cardboard together after a day in the rain. Beneath that, in small words he had to squint to read, the words, Please help. No amount too small. Get me out of here! Ange nodded at the fine print. "Where you want to go?"
"Some place else," the guy said, suddenly sounding so damn young. "Got any money I can bum off you?"
Ange shook his head. "I got some burgers." The guy glanced at the McDonald's bag again, hunger bright in his eyes. "Got dry clothes at home, couple dry towels, a shower to clean you up. Warm bed. What do you think?"
Those eyes dulled. "You sick pervert."
Without turning his head, Ange pierced the guy with his steady gaze and stared until the stranger had to look away. "You think I have to cruise the streets looking for a fuck?" Ange asked, his voice low. "A guy like me?"
"No," came the mumbled response then, unexpectedly, "Sorry."
"You gonna stay out here all night?" Ange asked, switching tactics.
With a shrug, the guy lied, "I ain't been here long --"
Ange spat out, "Bullshit." The word hung between them but the guy didn't argue with it. "I saw you first thing this morning on my way to work. You want to kid yourself, chico, fine by me. But I probably made enough money in the time you `ain't been here long' to get you a ticket to where you want to go. Where'd you say, again?"
Another muttered reply. "Anywhere, I don't care."
Ange waited. The guy looked at his hands, the dashboard, the steering wheel, up into the rain for a moment, anywhere but at Ange. When he ran out of places to look he finally met Ange's hard gaze, a quick glimpse, nothing much, but enough to give Ange the measure of the man. The boy, panhandling on the side of the road because he had no one looking out for him, no where else to go. Softly, his voice barely rising above the purr of his idling engine, Ange told him, "Get in the car."