Read Taming the Star Runner Online

Authors: S. E. Hinton


Taming the Star Runner

Taming the Star Runner
S.E. Hinton

Diversion Books
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004
New York, New York 10016

Copyright © 1988 by S.E. Hinton

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

For more information, email [email protected]

First Diversion Books edition April 2013.


To Nicholas David

I'd like to thank my friend and typist, Dorothy Scott, for the courage to tackle my handwriting. I'd also like to thank my trainer, Libby Barrow, for her technical advice, which I always take in the ring, and sometimes took in this book.

Chapter 1

His boot felt empty without his knife in it. It didn't matter that he had never had to use it (sure, he'd pulled it a couple of times to show off, but the times he could have really used it, he'd forgotten about it and used his fists, as usual); he was used to feeling it there, next to his leg. What a security blanket. But even if the juvenile authorities hadn't taken it, it wouldn't have made it through the airport scanner. I could have packed it, though, he thought.

Travis stopped at the end of the line of people waiting to go through the airport security check. The sight of the security guards made his heart speed up. It was already pounding out a rhythm a rock group could have used. He tucked the cardboard carton he was carrying under one arm and wiped the sweat off his face.

“No jokes,” he said. Joe and Kirk looked at him blankly. They had been treating him funny since he got out of juvenile hall. Travis thought: They think I'm crazy like everybody else does.

Travis pointed to the sign. “No jokes about bombs and hijacking and stuff.”

Motorboat meowed, protesting being held sideways, and Travis straightened up the cardboard box. Motorboat had been drugged at the vet's before they left for the airport. Jeez, he gets drugs and I don't. I'm the one who needs them.

He handed the box containing his cat to the attendant and walked through the detecting doorway, half expecting to set off an alarm. No alarm went off, and he picked up his box on the other side. Kirk, who had been to the airport before, didn't think it was any big deal to get scanned, but Joe was almost as nervous as Travis, and had to bite his tongue to keep from cracking a joke.

Joe would have been a great comedian in juvenile hall, Travis thought, since his reaction to tension was to get funnier and funnier, the way I get quiet and mean.

He couldn't remember ever seeing Kirk tense. Kirk could shrug his shoulders and walk out from under anything. He wondered for a second how two guys so different could be his best friends.

Mom was last. They had walked too fast for her to keep up with them. That was partly accidental. Travis could not slow down for any reason. It was also partly on purpose, because he couldn't stand any more of her soft frettings.

About how he should act when he got to his uncle's. About how he should stay out of trouble. (I could stay out of trouble all right, if it just didn't come looking for me. This last business sure wasn't my damn fault.) If it wasn't a mistake taking Motorboat with him. Like Travis should leave him here for Stan to kick around.

If he had packed the right clothes.

That last almost drove him to punch his fist through the wall. (He had done that once before—no bones were broken.) The right goddamn clothes! Sometimes he thought she was going to drive him crazy. He couldn't believe the stuff she had packed. New stuff (slacks, for God's sake!), stuff he'd shoot himself before he'd wear. Cowboy shirts! Could you believe that? He didn't care if Uncle Ken lived on a horse ranch. T-shirts were good enough to wear on a horse ranch. The horses wouldn't care.

Travis had dumped out all the new clothes and hidden them under his bed, and filled the two suitcases with his jeans and T-shirts and books and tapes and tape player. He wanted to take the tape player on board with him, but there was a rule about only one piece of carry-on stuff. He had learned a lot about the rules, trying to get the damn cat on.

It was practically a three-mile hike to get to the right gate, and they outdistanced Mom again. There weren't too many people there yet, they were way too early. Mom had seen to that. Not that he minded. He couldn't take staying in the house, now. He sure couldn't take any more time in juvenile hall. What was left but leaving?

The plane was there, at the end of a long passenger ramp. He could see it out the window that took up a whole wall. It looked huge. The passenger ramp looked like a giant eel, clamped onto its head. God, that was a big plane! He'd never realized how big planes were. How the hell did they ever get off the ground?

Kirk settled into a seat in the lounge. Kirk liked to be comfortable. It was one of his biggest goals in life. Travis set the cat carrier in Kirk's lap.

“I'm goin' for some cigarettes.”

“This thing going to pee on me?”

“It'll improve your smell if he does. Come on, Joe.”

Travis and Joe strode down the hallway. Travis had spotted the cigarette machine from a long way off. He had left his at home and who knows, maybe nobody on the plane would let him bum one. Bumming cigarettes was one of his worst habits. Travis knew that. He pretty much knew what his worst habits were. Bumming cigarettes. Getting into fights. A lot of times he drank too much. On the other hand, he didn't bully anyone, and didn't have a smart mouth like Kirk, and he only bummed cigarettes, not money like Joe. He wasn't a bad person, no matter what Stan was saying. There were a lot worse people than he was.

They stopped at the john. Travis knew there were johns on the plane, but he wasn't taking any chances. Maybe he'd be sitting next to the window and have to crawl over a bunch of people to get out.

Next to the window. His breath stopped. Maybe not.

Travis combed his hair, staring into the mirror with fixed concentration. He was good-looking. Probably one of the best-looking guys in the school. He had dark brown hair, not so long that he looked like one of the dopers, not so short that he looked like one of the straights, the student-council preppies. Five foot eight. Not bad for sixteen, and by the size of his hands and feet he hadn't stopped growing yet. Good eyes. Great eyes, actually. Gray-green and as cold as the Irish sea. He had read a book about F. Scott Fitzgerald once, and it said he had eyes as cold as the Irish sea. Travis liked that. He secretly liked his eyelashes, too, a black fringe, as long as a girl's. He had a good build, long-boned and lean and flat-stomached, and that was the reason he liked tight T-shirts. Kirk was taller, and had broader shoulders, but Travis thought his own build was as good as any in the school. A lot of girls thought so. A lot.

“Maybe I'll get a tan,” he said out loud. If he had a fault to find with his face, it was its paleness. But then, from what he read, Fitzgerald had never tanned either.

“Huh?” Joe said. He never spent as much time looking in mirrors as Travis did, being one olive-brown color all over, hair, eyes, and skin, and inclined to pudginess.

“I'll probably get a tan, being outside all the time. You got any downers on you, man?”

“Hell, no. You think I'm going to try to go through that security shit with downers on me?”

“They're just looking for metal junk, like knives and guns. You could have brought some, they'd never catch it.”

“Yeah? Then why didn't you bring some?”

“They weren't exactly dishing it out like candy in jail.”

Travis knew the difference between jail and juvenile hall (it hadn't been so long ago that he was thanking God for the difference), but he liked to think that nobody else did.

Travis leaned forward … that couldn't be the beginning of a zit—he never got zits, except a couple on his back once in a while…



“Were you aiming to kill him?”

Hell, no, Travis thought. You think I want to end up in prison, getting gang-banged by a bunch of degenerates every day? You think I haven't got better ways to spend my life than dickering my ass for cigarettes?

“If I had wanted to kill him,” Travis said, giving his hair one last run-through, “he'd be dead, wouldn't he?”

He was lying. He had meant to kill Stan, it was only a lucky accident that he hadn't. Now, the red rage gone and just the usual smoldering embers of hate licking at his insides, it seemed incredible that he'd trade his life (which wasn't any great shakes so far, but still, he liked it) for the chance of slamming Stan's brains out; that after the years of putting up with Stan, of taking belts and insults and beatings (even Travis knew the difference between a couple of swats and a beating), he would risk everything (which wasn't a lot, but something: music and hanging out and girls and above all that thing inside that said Travis is Special), blow it all for a chance to put Stan away forever. And Stan hadn't so much as laid a finger on him.

Stan was his stepfather. That didn't bother him. A lot of kids had stepfathers—in fact, he only knew three guys who had the same father they'd started out with. Stan had slapped Mom around a couple of times—that had bothered Travis when he was younger, but he liked to think it didn't bother him so much now. She could leave. Anytime. A lot of women worked. She wanted to put up with that garbage, she could. And not only did she put up with it, she kept making excuses for him. Like: “It was my fault, I shouldn't have been nagging. He is a good provider.”

Provide, hell. Food on the table wasn't exactly living in luxury. Travis didn't think he wanted much, material stuff, anyway. Maybe a car someday, and all the paperback books he wanted, and tapes, tons of tapes until he could play tapes all night for a year and never hear the same thing twice unless he wanted; that wasn't a whole awful lot to want, really, but he sure as hell wasn't expecting anyone to provide it. He wouldn't let anyone provide it, a matter of fact. People give you something, then you owe them. Every time Stan bought Mom something, like an electric skillet or a new coat, just some simple little thing like you'd expect a guy to get for his wife, he'd beat her over the head with it. Not literally. But verbally. Like “I got you this and this and you owe me.”

Getting beaten up verbally was just as bad as physically, only it was easier to hide the scars. Travis would never owe anybody anything. If he wanted something, he'd get it on his own.

Besides, it bugged the hell out of Stan that Travis never asked for anything. But asking for something put Stan in control, so Travis either got it on his own or he went without. He washed cars. He mowed lawns. He was the best poker player in the school. He worked at the vet's on Saturdays, or he had until he got fired for coming in late. Travis was hung over a lot on Saturdays.

But he got his own music and his own books and he could always take anything Stan dished out and walk off.

It was really weird to think he'd almost liked Stan once. When he was ten and Stan first started coming around—he'd been dumb enough at first to almost like him.

Just because he'd tossed a football around with him a couple of times, and promised to take him hunting. He cringed, now, to think how little he'd minded Mom marrying that creep, how he'd even halfway thought it was a good idea.

Stan was Mom's husband but he sure wasn't his dad; and he sure as hell wasn't his boss, and the older he got, the more Stan tried to … own him, Travis thought. That was the only word for it. Own him and try to make him sit up and beg. Well, Travis wasn't jumping through hoops for anyone. He went his own way.

Until last week.

Travis couldn't remember when he'd first known he was going to be a writer. He'd known as soon as he'd learned how to read, and he couldn't remember not being able to read. He had started in grade school, writing down the monster stories he'd make up for his friends. Spending the night with each other, hanging out in somebody's basement, sleeping on cots in somebody's backyard, Travis would tell monster stories, taking things he'd heard or read and mixing them up with what might be until he had it as real as reality—they'd all get scared (even Travis) and pick fights with each other or leave a flashlight on or get so loud that the grown-ups came after them, anything to get protection while denying they needed it.

Travis always had stories going in his head. From those monster stories to that long, involved tale he'd been telling his cellmate last week, he couldn't stop the stories any more than he could stop breathing.

He'd taught himself to type in the sixth grade. By then he'd realized that if he couldn't read his own handwriting, nobody else could either; he'd swiped Mom's Valium and sold it to a ninth-grader and bought a used typewriter. He liked the way his stuff looked, typed. Realer. More professional. By the time he took typing at school, in the tenth grade, he was typing ninety words a minute. That was the easiest A he'd ever made. In fact, the only A he'd made since grade school. He hadn't been such a wild kid in grade school.

It sort of puzzled him a little, being able to type. Most of the time he was damn clumsy with his hands. He wasn't any good tinkering with cars, the way a lot of his friends were, he was a real embarrassment on the basketball court. In shop class he had damn near cut off his thumb. You could take it for granted that he was going to drop or spill just about anything he had in his hands. But at a typewriter he just had to think and there were the words.

Stan disliked him for a lot of reasons. He was living proof Mom had had another husband. Travis was young and good-looking, he could take getting slugged across the face without changing expression; Stan's steady stream of gripes and cuts and digs only left marks where Stan couldn't see them.

Just a couple of months ago he had stomped into Travis's room, hauled him up from the typewriter, yanked him into the front room, and shoved him in front of the TV, shouting, “You're part of this family and you'll act like it.”

Travis stared at the TV for two hours, writing a short story in his head, and typed it up later. Stan was not going to ruin it for him. He wasn't going to drive him to run away—Travis had seen what happened to the jerks who ran away, thinking something, someone, was going to fix things up for them—most of the time they came straggling home looking like idiots and when they didn't they mostly ended up in worse places than they were running from.

Stan wasn't going to drive him to suicide either. Sure, Travis sometimes thought about it. Everybody thought about it. It had been close sometimes. Once he had sat in an alley with a loaded .22 pistol and looked at it for a long time. But he hadn't put the barrel to his head. So it hadn't been
close. But he had thought about it. What had stopped him was his motto. His saying. What he told himself over and over again, like a prayer, a chant: He's not going to ruin it for me. He's not going to ruin it for me. He's not worth ruining it for me.

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