The first thing I noticed was the kid looked awfully young for twenty-five and he wasn’t dressed for the cold.
You’d think a guy who worked on a ranch in Wyoming would have something warmer to wear in the kind of weather we were having that day than a denim jacket and jeans. He had some kind of homemade sweater on underneath it, and a garish, poorly knit scarf wound about fifty times around his neck but even with all that, he had to be blue cold to the bone.
His aunt Flora had driven him up to the bunkhouse in a beater car and popped the trunk, and then, before anyone said a word, he’d rushed up the porch steps with about five cardboard boxes stacked precariously in his arms. Flora waved and shrugged as if to say, “What can you do?”
“I got a suitcase too and my saddle,” he said without even looking at me. He returned from the next trip with a pilot case and a nicely worn leather saddle. The way he carried it was all cowboy, which surprised me. He was a rangy kid, taller than me, but though I’d started out thinking he was a beanpole, it soon became clear I was mistaken. He’d hefted that heavy saddle like it weighed nothing.
He ran back out and hugged his aunt good-bye just like a little boy, lifting her off the ground in his enthusiasm. She blushed all pretty and gave him a little shove when he seemed to admonish her about something. When she relented, he hugged her again.
He joined me on the porch. We watched Flora get back in her car to drive away. “She says she’ll take care of herself, but I worry since she got sick. She’s angry and depressed and sometimes she doesn’t choose to eat right or she blows off exercise. I know for a fact she thinks she has a stash of cookie dough wrapped in a bag in the freezer that says salmon on the label. I ate it last night and left actual salmon in its place. Call it a public service. She can thank me in ten years if she doesn’t piss around and get herself dead first.”
I might have said something but he’d grabbed my hand and pumped it up and down the whole time he talked.
And he talked an awful goddamn lot, just like Mr. Jenkins said he would.
“Crispin Carrasco. If you tell me where I can put my things, I’ll just stash them and you can get started showing me around. I’ve known Mr. Jenkins since I was a kid, so I know the J-Bar. I guess you don’t have much use for extra hands in winter but I promised him I’d get a running start and do whatever needs doing. Anything. Just put me to work.”
I finally pulled my hand back. “There’s always work to be done around a ranch, but—”
“Don’t I know it, and it’s not like it stops for a little snow. I like the cold anyway. It makes me feel alive. When I was in Wyoming I had to drag the hoses out and break the ice in the water tanks with an ax every morning to top them off. Then I had to empty the hoses when I was done so they wouldn’t freeze and burst. Isn’t it odd that water expands when it freezes, while everything else contracts?”
“Didn’t you bring anything warmer to wear? You’ll freeze going out to tend the animals like that.”
“Of course I brought something warmer, jefe. The only problem is I met someone on the street yesterday who needed it more.”
“You gave your coat away when the weather is like this?”
“It would hardly be necessary to give it away when the weather isn’t like this, would it?”
That made an odd kind of sense. I started to speak, but stopped myself. Sure as shit, he filled the quiet morning air with words again.
“I’m an active guy and I’ve been told I positively generate heat. I’m going to have to wait until I get paid to get another coat, but I have a hat and about fifty sweaters from my Nina Flora, and this scarf, and—”
“You can’t do work like this without the proper equipment, son.”
“Crispin?” I nearly choked on the name. “Are you really called Crispin?”
He rolled his eyes. “Crispin Glover was an actor in Back to the Future. My dad had a walk-on role in that movie and that’s where he met my mom. They liked the guy, so when I was born, they named me Crispin.”
“Your dad was an actor?” This kid’s thoughts seemed to gallop along like a herd of wild horses. I could maybe get close enough to catch one every other minute or so.
“Yeah, both my parents. They were in a lot of movies, but they weren’t famous or anything. The thing you have to understand is that there was a time when Crispin Glover was a seriously hot property, and I think they named me after him to capture some of his mojo for me. I try not to take it personally. Crispin Glover is the hottest, most fuckable human, but he’s a total enigma on every level.”
I suppose somewhere around the word fuckable my mouth dropped open.
“I don’t think they crossed paths much after that movie, except at parties. Back in the day my parents were party monsters. It was the eighties.” The kid shifted from foot to foot, still balancing the saddle over his shoulder. “My earliest memories are of my mom getting high. They left me with my aunt Flora a lot. Later on they got religion and stopped all that drug shit.”
He took a breath, and so did I. I needed at least one second to catch up and find a way to turn the subject to work or I knew I’d be there all day. “Well. That’s got to be better than drugs right? If you come with me I can show—”
“Oh, sure. Yeah. That was better. Scientology. Even as a kid I thought, shit, yeah. We are saved now, all right.”
Crispin didn’t sound like he’d thought anything of the kind.
Unable to find anything intelligent to say, I nodded. “I guess.”
Long-lashed lids lowered over warm brown eyes and his cheeks filled with a faint blush, under a smattering of freckles. Like a yearling, he was gangly and a little awkward and he knew it. He didn’t have much facial hair to speak of, and he was dark, like his aunt. Native American ancestors for sure, with those cheekbones.
He grinned at me. “You can talk the birds right out of the trees, jefe. Where’d you learn to do that? It’ll be a wonder if I ever get a word in edgewise.”
“I get that all the time,” I lied.
Surprise hovered over his features for the briefest second. “Really?”
“I used to imagine words hung in to the air for a while, fluttering around before they fell to the ground in piles of letters like snowflakes.”
I looked out onto the frozen drive, at the piles of dirty snow I’d shoveled off the porch steps. I saw the puddle where Flora’s car exhaust had melted the ice into oily rings and thought, good God. I can actually picture it: Letters like snowflakes, swirling in the air around Crispin and littering the wooden porch deck where—thankfully—his feet were encased in a good, insulated pair of ropers. At least he wouldn’t get frostbite and lose toes.
“I’ll show you where to put your stuff.” I poked a thumb toward the bunkhouse.
For a longer time than was comfortable he didn’t move or speak. He just stared at me, with a look on his face I didn’t understand. It was something like a happy surprise and it warmed me to have put that pleased expression there. I guessed I did that, anyway, because he was looking right at me with a smile on his face.
“You were looking for words, weren’t you?” He wrapped his free hand around the handle of his pilot case. “You were looking around us on the ground and wondering what words would look like, if they’d fallen there.”
Sure it was weird, but there was no doubt I’d done exactly that. “Maybe.”
“We’re soul mates,” he exclaimed happily. “You’re the first person I’ve ever said that to who actually looked.”