Mike and Danny: Big Hopes
Note that these stories, including this one, are not an endorsement of unsafe sex. They take place many years before the appearance of AIDS and before it was standard practice to use condoms to reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted diseases. Remember always: that was then, this is now. Sex is precious, and so are life and health.
"I want you to go with him," Ellis said as he got into bed with Deacon. "All the way back to Topeka if you have to. I want to be sure he gets there OK." His voice was not much more than a whisper. He'd just said goodnight to Kenneth, who was on the couch in the next room, and he didn't want his nephew to hear.
Deacon lay there under the covers listening to Ellis.
"I'll give you bus fare so you can get back to Montana," Ellis said.
"I can pay for it."
"He's my family, not yours."
"Is that supposed to make a difference?"
"No, I'm just trying to make myself clear. You'd be doing me a favor."
Ellis, still in his underwear, pulled up the covers over himself and reached to turn off the light. He slipped one arm along between the cold sheets until he found Deacon's chest and pressed his open hand against his warm, naked skin.
"Pay me if you want," Deacon said. "I'd do it either way." He pulled himself closer to Ellis.
Ellis was concerned about his young nephew. The story he told that first night and the look of hurt and sorrow on his face had triggered in Ellis feelings he had long forgottenabout discovering that he could not stop falling in love with other men, even after almost two years of being married to someone he thought of as his high school sweetheart.
He'd been little older than Kenneth at the time. At supper, a feeling had swept through him that he was sitting there talking to his younger self. And he remembered how raw and lost he had once been.
These were feelings he'd never had with Deacon, who had always seemed tough and untouchable, the tenderness in him well guarded. You could hurt him, and you wouldn't ever know it.
Kenneth's brother Don had a ranch in the Nebraska Sandhillson the way back to Topekaand Ellis had got Kenneth to agree to stop and spend some time there. He'd call Don to let him know his brother was coming, and if Deacon rode along, he could make sure Kenneth didn't change his mind.
"You really worried about him?" Deacon said now in the darkness.
"He's got a long way to get home. I don't want him being all alone."
Ellis felt Deacon's hand between his legs, softly stroking him, and his cock began to stir to life.
"You trust me with him?" Deacon said, a sly note in his voice.
"Don't joke. I'm serious."
"Well, do you?"
"You're a better man than you like to let on," Ellis said and wrapped his hand around Deacon's, pressing it against his hardening cock. "You know I don't have to tell you not to touch him."
"What if he wants me to? Cause I think he does."
"Getting mixed up with the likes of you is the last thing he needs. You know that, too."
Deacon laughed. "Then you better fuck me good tonight so I don't go forgettin'."
Deacon packed a change of clothes and his shaving kit in a carry-bag, and when Kenneth got back on the interstate headed for Kansas, he was there in the front seat of the GTO with him.
Ellis had, in fact, given him a fuck to remembermore than just one. It would make his ass so sore, Ellis had promised, that every time he sat down he'd be reminded.
"Go for it," Deacon had said, wrapping his legs around Ellis, and there had been the familiar nodding pressure of Ellis's erection riding between the cheeks of his butt, teasing him until one of them groped in the dark for the tube of K-Y.
He would wait, suspended in the moment as Ellis reached down between them to stroke the lube onto himself, then spread it with gliding, slippery fingers along the skin of his crack, already electric under his touch, searching for the little nub of muscle there and sliding one or two fingers into him. Deacon would already be making little animal sounds of pleasurecooing and mewing, Ellis called itgiggling sometimes with anticipation.
"I heard you guys," Kenneth finally said after they'd been driving in silence for most of an hour. "Sounded like you were having a good time."
Deacon, never embarrassed by talk about sex, just laughed. "We have fun," he said.
Kenneth thought about this for a while. "Do you love my uncle?" he said.
"Sure. Why not?"
It wasn't quite an answer to the question, he knew, but love was a whole lot harder to talk about, and he wasn't sure he cared to.
"What I want to know is what keeps the two of you together?"
Deacon realized he'd never really thought about this before. "Hard to explain. You just watch yourself and don't mess with him," he said finally. He didn't know how else to put it.
Kenneth didn't seem to believe this. "But he seems so easy going," he said.
"With you, yeah. He loves you."
"Doesn't he love you?"
Deacon puzzled over this, too. What he thought of as love was Ellis's way of sometimes being gruff with himlike he needed correcting, a firm hand to keep him in lineand then, when Ellis was done being pissed off, letting the anger melt away in a wave of affection that had been there all along.
Often it was about how Deacon would disappear for months at a time and then show up again at Ellis's doorstep, like a runaway come homea prodigal son, Ellis would call him, whatever that was.
"Why do you keep coming back here?" Ellis had said once, after another long absence, finding him as usual having walked in while Ellis was away at work and making himself at home.
Deacon had pulled down his pants that time and said, "Why don't you just give me a licking and get it over with?"
"Hell, Deacon, I'm not your dad," Ellis had said, still angry.
But he wouldn't send him away either, and at bedtime, as Deacon made a bed for himself on the couch, Ellis would put his big, strong arms around him, kiss him long and deeply, sighing with a yearning that betrayed his true feelings.
And he'd carry Deacon off to his own bed, undressing him and caressing his naked body, burying his face between his legs, sucking him fiercely and then when he could wait no longer, fucking him with the hungry passion of a man who hadn't had sex for months.
"I guess I can stay then?" Deacon would say the next morning.
"So help me," Ellis would say, shaking his head. And life for them would go onfor a while again anyway.
Deacon wondered now how to describe all that to Kenneth. "I think you could say he puts up with me," he said and laughed, hoping Kenneth would get the hint that it hardly paid to waste your time figuring out things like this.
Kenneth drove on for a while. They crossed the state line into Wyoming, and the highway signs said they were coming to Sheridan.
"Do you think you could love me?" Kenneth suddenly said.
Shit, Deacon thought, here we go. "What do you mean?" he said, like he hadn't understood the question.
"I'm just askingfor the sake of argument."
"I didn't know we were having an argument."
"That's not what I meantit's just an expression. I'm trying to understand what it is about me that would keep another man from loving me."
For Deacon the question didn't just come out of left field. It came from another planet. He couldn't remember having a discussion like this with anyone in his life. He wondered if this is what happened when you got a college education.
He thought again of what he liked about Ellisthe confident way he stood and walked, the breadth of his chest, the beginnings of gray in his hair, the depth of his voice, the way he understood the world.
"I guess I've always kinda liked older men," he said. He didn't know how else to put it.
"But you said yesterday you'd have sex with me if Ellis wasn't my uncle."
Deacon didn't like the way this way going. He had a promise to keep to Ellis that made him shift in his seat, which triggered again the memory of Ellis's cock inside him.
He glanced over at Kenneth and pictured him naked, his probably hairless slender body, his narrow waist and his ribs and hip bones showing under the skinthat underfed look of younger guyshis smooth face with a ghost of a blond mustache and hardly a hint of lines or wrinkles anywhere, his long hair golden and wavy, shampooed and so unlike the real men who caught Deacon's eye on the back roads in their pickups and in small town bars during rodeo.
As a younger man himself, he'd sucked a lot of cock, as he liked to say, always happiest with older men who seemed to welcome his interest in them. As they opened their pants to him, he felt a kind of affection for them, imagining all the intimacies each of the men had known over the years.
"Lotta miles on that one," a man who must have been sixty once said to him, when he pulled his cock out of his levi's.
Younger men were always in a hurry and just wanted to get their rocks off. Over a certain age, men were often steadier and unhurried, more sure of themselves, like they'd found a place for themselves in the world and were content to share it with Deacon for a while.
Those were the ones he liked bestliked to be aroundlive with if he could. There was no pleasure like falling asleep in Ellis's bed, snuggled warm against his hairy chest, his work-hardened hands tenderly stroking his butt or his belly.
"Aren't we talkin' about something else here?" he said now. "You were asking me about love, not havin' sex."
"Don't they kinda go together?"
"Not if you ask me."
"I'm thinkin' they should. What is sex if there isn't any love there?"
"Boy, you really are full of questions."
"What's wrong with that?" Kenneth said. "I'm just trying to figure this all out. You're a little older. I thought you'd have an opinion."
This was something else he didn't like so much about younger guys. They reminded him that he wasn't young anymore himself.
"How old do you think I am anyway?"
"You tell me."
"I'm not as old as you seem to think."
"I'm guessing you were about my age now when we first knew each other. That was seven years ago. So what does that make you? Thirty-five?"
"Close enough," Deacon said, looking out his window. He was thirty-seven.
"Me and you were good friends once. I was just thinking you could help me out a little," Kenneth said, pleading now. "I been livin' down a rabbit hole for years and all this is still new to me."
"Well, I don't know what it's like livin' down a rabbit hole, so I can't help you with that. And by your age I knew pretty much all there was to know."
"I'll tell you this," he went on. "There ain't much of what you'd call love in the world, not between men anyway. Your mom might love you, and I know there's plenty of songs about men fallin' in love with womenand maybe there's something to all that, I'd be the last to say there wasn'tbut another guy wantin' to fuck you, well, that don't mean nothin'."
"So all that noise coming from the bedroom last night didn't mean anything?"
Deacon felt like he'd been backed into a corner. Why does it have to mean something, he wanted to say.
"I know you're probably thinking about your friend Butch up there in Canada," he said. "You had yourself one helluva week with him. Now I'm gonna say what I've said already. That's all it's ever gonna be. You want more than that, find yourself someone older, like your uncle. And you'll get all the lovin' you ever hoped for."
There, that was it. He'd said what he'd learned from life about love. When you got down to it, it was pretty damn simple.
They'd left the interstate after Douglas, Wyoming, and headed eastward for the Nebraska panhandle. In the rearview mirror, as the straight highway struck off across the endless swells of high prairie, Kenneth saw the western mountains gradually disappear behind them in the gloom of the late autumn afternoon.
Deacon had taken a nap after they'd stopped at Casper for something to eat at an A&W. He'd pulled his Resistol down to the bridge of his nose, folded his arms across his chest, and just nodded off, a toothpick from the restaurant still stuck in the corner of his mouth.
Kenneth, wide awake after several cups of coffee, felt his own body alive and alert. He'd spent more than a week now in the company of queer men, being queer himselfnot pretending, as he had in the past, that sex with another man was a kind of detour on the way to a regular life of marriage and family.
He knew now what he was, but in name only. Like an immigrant arriving in a foreign country, he felt unsure of everythingexcept that he would never go home again. With Butch, in the little world of the mountain cabin, all the years of wandering in a kind of daze had finally brought him to a moment of clarity.
There was this love that surged through him like a quiet storm, and while having sex with Butch strengthened the intensity of it, the deepening feelings of love for him heightened the intensity of the sex. It was as clear and certain as a mathematical equation or an algorithm, and the certainty filled him with a calm relief that what had been all wrong with his life would never be wrong again.
Then, without warning, it started slipping away. He first felt it as Butch drove them down from the mountains, their week together in the cabin already dissolving into memory as they rejoined the everyday world of ordinary people, road signs, and gas pumps. And it slipped away even more surely as Kenneth tried to grasp it and hold onto it.
What he'd clung to longest and was the last to go was the belief that with Butch he had reclaimed something that could never be lost, their undying love for each other. But that, he understood now, was only a kind of illusion. He'd had a dreama vivid onein which he'd only thought he was awake.
Now, as his GTO took him out onto the open plains, the last glimpse of distant mountains behind him made him feel even more fully awake. Returning to the flat lands where he'd grown up and lived his whole life, he sensed that he was still emerging from sleepa years-long sleep that had ended with a dream that had shaken him to his very soul.
He marveled how Deacon could live in this different world and take it so for granted. He had his own understanding of its rules and the way it was supposed to work, and he couldn't seem to grasp what it was like to open your eyes to this world for the first time.
Meanwhile, though Kenneth had heard the two men making love after they'd all gone to bed for the night, he had to keep reminding himself that this handsome man in the seat beside himand Deacon's dark good looks had always been like a magnet to Kennethonly had sex with other men.
He glanced over as Deacon slept, observing the bulge in the crotch of his jeans, aware that what excited him and made him hard was the sight and the touch of other men. Sex with men wasn't a substitute for sex with womenwhich was the way of the world as Kenneth thought he'd known it, that other flat-land world that had prevailed for him in his dreamless sleep. It wasn't second best to anything. It wasn't even just a preference. It was all that mattered.
When they got into Nebraska, it was beginning to get dark. Kenneth pulled off the highway into a truck stop and woke Deacon. "Your turn to drive," he said.
"You bet," Deacon said, stirring in his seat and looking around. He got out of the car and walked stiffly into the station where he found the men's room and was taking a long piss when Kenneth came in after him.
"We gettin' anywhere close to where we're goin'?" he said, turning from the urinal and buttoning up his levi's.
"I dunno. A couple more hours."
As Kenneth stood at the other urinal, Deacon put a hand on his shoulder and leaned over him for a look at his dick. "Nice one," he said and then patted him on the butt before stepping to the mirror to study a day's growth of dark beard, stroking it with one hand. Then he bent over the sink to splash water over his face.
In another mood, Kenneth might have patted Deacon back, but he just waited for him to get done. Deacon had been pretty clear about not being interested in him for anything like sex. So why pretend? They were just friends.
They put some coins in the food machines and got cokes, salted peanuts and candy bars. Kenneth watched as Deacon poured his peanuts into his coke, some of them falling onto the tile floor, bouncing into the corners.
"I haven't seen anyone do that since grade school," Kenneth laughed.
"They're good. You want some?" There were still some peanuts in the bag, and Deacon held it out to him.
"Why not?" Kenneth said and emptied the last of the peanuts into his coke.
The taste of the salt in the sweetness brought back to him what seemed like all the golden years of his boyhoodwhen he was sure who he was and his biggest worry was growing big enough to play ball with the older boys.
And here he was with an older boy in a whole different ball game. He laughed again.
"Now what's so funny?" Deacon said.
"Life," Kenneth said, though he wasn't sure that was the right answer.
Deacon was driving now, and outside Crawford, Kenneth showed him the turn-off to highway 2. "Just stay on this and wake me when you get to Hyannis," he said.
"How far's that?"
"I dunno. Maybe another hundred miles."
"Okey-dokey." Deacon put his foot down on the accelerator and they took off into the night. When he was pretty sure Deacon was a good enough driver to trust his GTO and his life to, he settled into the seat and let himself drift off to sleep.
A while later, he woke to the sound of the windshield wipers and sleet hitting the windows.
"Shit," he muttered. "When did this start?"
"While ago. It's not too bad," Deacon said. "I seen worse."
"You OK? I can drive again."
"Go back to sleep. You're in the hands of an expert."
Kenneth watched the highway ahead, feeling Deacon tap the brake as they came to a curve. Ice was gathering along the edge of the windshield. The night was dark, and they seemed to be the only car on the road.
Afterward, he remembered being awake only a short time before a heavy sleep took him once more. He didn't wake up again until Deacon had stopped the car. In the dim light of a streetlamp ahead, he could see the wind blowing in the naked branches of a tree. The sleet had stopped.
"We're here," Deacon said.
"That's what the sign said."
Kenneth couldn't recognize what he was looking at, a row of darkened buildings along a sloping, uphill street. Some pickup trucks were nosed up to the curb in the neon glow coming from the window of a bar.
"There's a road north out of town," he said. "You cross some railroad tracks."
"We passed it," Deacon said and turned the car around, making a U-turn in the empty highway.
After a minute, they were driving out again into the starless night. Kenneth was awake now, trying to remember the road. It had been years since he'd been out to Don's place.
"It's maybe five-ten miles," he said. "There'll be kind of a wide spot where you can turn off and a big sign that says how far it is to a bunch of different ranches."
"This it coming up?" Deacon said after a while. A sign like a small billboard appeared in the car's headlights, and he pulled over so they could read it.
There in the middle of the list was Don's ranch, with the directions, "Five miles east, two miles north."
And they followed the dirt road into what seemed an even more profound darkness.
They parked the GTO in front of the house when they got there, and Don was standing in the open front door calling out to them as they got out of the car.
"Hey, little brother!" he kept saying, finally putting his arms around him and pounding him on the back. And then he was shaking Deacon's hand and persuading them, like it was necessary, to come in out of the cold.
He was full of questions, fishing as usual for information he could then needle Kenneth about later. Was he still at the same job? Was he making any money? Did he have a girlfriend? Was he getting laid?
"Where'd you pick up this guy?" Don said, turning his attention to Deacon. "Just along for the ride?" Don knew Deacon from years before, when he'd first gone to Montana to look up their Uncle Ellis.
"Sorta like that," Deacon said.
"And how's Uncle Ellis?" Don wanted to know. He had always admired this man who had gone out West on his own to make a life for himself. And maybe not too surprisingly, given his own stormy marriage, Don liked it that his uncle had never married and instead had a best buddy like Deacon.
That the two men might be queer, Kenneth thought, somehow escaped Don. And if it ever occurred to him that Kenneth might be that way himself, he had never let on. Growing up with Don, he knew it was easy for his older brother to dismiss what he didn't want to know, even if it was right there in front of his face. And he didn't want to know there might be a queer or two in the family.
"And what the fuck?" Don said when he saw Kenneth's hair. "You turn into some kind of goddam hippy?"
Kenneth had been waiting for this. "No, and shut the fuck up about it."
"Does Dad know about this? He'll have a coronary."
"I said shut up."
"Uncle Ellis said you washow did he put it?going through a rough patch?" He was taking a good look at Kenneth now. "What the hell's wrong with you?"
"There's nothin' wrong with me. So forget anything he said."
But Don was already back to ribbing him about the length of his hair. "What you need, boy, is a good haircut. We could put you in the squeeze chute and get out the scissors. Just like cuttin' the nuts off a calf. Clean as a whistle."
Then he laughed and slapped Kenneth on the back, like he'd just made a great joke.
Kenneth and Deacon, it turned out, weren't the only other men there besides Don that night. A cowboy named Chad sat in a beat-up old leather chair that had been dragged into the kitchen, which was the warmest room in the house. A fire burned in a wood stove that stood in one corner.
The cowboy didn't get up. One leg, a pillow under it, was propped up on another chair. He'd taken a fall while working on the roof of one of Don's sheds that day andthey didn't know for suremaybe broke something. His ankle was swollen, and they were trying to keep the swelling down with ice packs. He couldn't walk, and Don had carried him into the house instead of making him spend the night in the bunkhouse with the other ranch hands.
"If it's not any better tomorrow," Don said. "I'm taking him into town to let the doc have a look at him."
Chad seemed embarrassed by it all and turned red as Don explained what had happened.
"So anyway, we got ourselves kind of a bed shortage at the moment," Don said. "I never needed more'n one here for myself." Though he'd lived in the house for years, he'd scarcely furnished the place. "And one bed for company."
Besides his young sons, who were town boys, Kenneth knew, and hadn't the least interest in wasting their time on a ranch, he wondered who would ever end up being Don's company out here in the middle of nowhere.
Chad, the injured cowboy, Don had decided, was to get the bed for company.
"Sir, no," he suddenly piped up. "The couch you got there in the other room is good enough for this cowboy."
But Don wouldn't hear of it. "A dead man couldn't get a night's rest on that busted down piece of junk. The damn thing's only good for firewood."
"Tell you what, unless any of you's got an objection, there's no reason we can't just double up," Don said, inspired by his quick solution to the problem. "Chad can have the other side of my bedwhat the hell, it's a king size."
Kenneth smiled at this. Don, who liked big cars and liked to think he was a man of big ideas, would surely have the biggest bed for himself that anybody made.
"You and Deacon," he said, "can have the other one."
Kenneth, having seen this coming, glanced over at Deacon, who gave him a quick look and then shrugged his shoulders.
"Now that we got that settled," Don said, pleased with himself, "let's have ourselves a little good cheer on this cold night." He opened a cabinet in the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of whiskey.
Continued . . .
© 2008 Rock Lane Cooper