Mike and Danny: The Snowstorm
The frigid weather continues, days of cold wind, gray arctic clouds, and icicles forming along the edge of the porch roof. The maintainer comes by and opens up the road past the farm, pushing snowdrifts into the ditches.
After one night with the six of them in the house, and the sounds of whispered voices in the darkso much lovemaking under one roof, Mike thinks as he snuggles up to Danny in their big bedKirk and Rich go off with Ted and Bobby for a stay at their place in Hastings. Like the two boys haven't had enough of the road already, hitch hiking all the way from Wyoming.
But when Bobby comes up with the idea, they don't think twice. They help Ted shovel snow from around the station wagon and then pile into the car, ready for another adventure.
"There they go," Mike says, watching from the kitchen window. "Do you suppose Ted realizes they're going to eat him out of house and home?"
"They'll probably wear out their welcome long before that," Danny says, standing beside him and slipping one arm around him.
Which leaves the house to Mike and Danny again. And life returns to normal. Once enough of the back roads are plowed open and the dairy's tanker trucks can get out to the farms for pick-ups, Mike starts back to work, getting up in the darkness before dawn, while Danny stays in bed half awake and bundled under the covers.
When Mike has dressed himself, standing in the warmth radiating from the propane stove in the TV room, he goes to the kitchen to start the coffee, and while it's brewing, he goes back to the bedroom to sit on Danny's side of the bed and run his fingers through Danny's hair, waking him again, and bending down to kiss the side of his face, his lips brushing against Danny's unshaven cheek.
Danny stirs, and in the dim light coming from the kitchen down the hall, Mike can see his eyes open, peering at him nearsighted. He smiles up at Mike, looking contented.
"You can't see me, can you," Mike says. "I could be anybody."
"Like who," Danny says. "The milk man?" He stretches under the covers. One arm sneaks out and reaches up toward Mike, his hand slipping into the collar of his shirt and around his neck. Then he pulls Mike down to him and hugs him tightly.
In his wranglers, buried in the folds of his thermal underwear, Mike feels his dick stir and harden. And a surge of desire rushes up into his chest. It doesn't seem to matter that they made love the night before, first on the couch watching some Randolph Scott western on TV and then again after lights out here in the bedroom.
He reaches with his hand along the old patchwork quilt, down to where Danny's cock should be, and in a moment he finds a hard lump there under the blankets.
Danny sighs, tasting of sleep as he kisses Mike and slips his tongue into Mike's mouth. And Mike stretches out on the bed beside him, lying down on top of the covers.
"We keep this up," Mike says after a minute. "I'm gonna be late for work."
"Those cows can wait," Danny says fumbling between Mike's legs for his zipper.
"Tell that to the boss," Mike says, unbuckling his belt and opening his jeans.
Danny crawls out from under the covers and rolls Mike onto his back, pulling down his thermals and the boxers under them. In a moment, Mike feels his hard-on warm, snug, and wet inside Danny's mouth.
The shock of pleasure each time this happens is intense. He sucks air into his lungs, his whole body stiffening for a moment; then he feels all of his weight sinking into the bed. Danny's warm hand is snaking up under his shirt, rubbing his flat belly, while his other hand plays softly with his balls, two fingers slipping between his legs.
There's another rush of sensation as Danny finds one of his nipples, fingernails stroking through the hair on his chest. And it amazes him that he's already feeling a tingling in his groin, the semen inside him getting ready to ride the spasms that will shoot through his penis.
In the moments as the tingling turns into an urgency that means he's on the verge of coming, he can smell the coffee perking on the stove in the kitchen.
"Holy smoke," he says through his teeth as his whole body now arches off the bed, and after one moment like that, suspended in space, he feels himself come in jerking thrusts, his cock held tight in Danny's mouth.
"Whoa, bud" he sighs, falling back onto the bed.
Danny is busy for a moment, licking him dry, his dick suddenly cool in the air of the room before being quickly and carefully covered up again in the layers of his underwear. Then Danny is stretched out beside him, kissing him with cum-tasting kisses.
"I love you like crazy," Danny says.
Mike lifts an arm over Danny, feeling his body under his flannel pajamas. "Hell, you must be cold," he says. And he gets off the bed so Danny can pull the covers over him again.
Mike stands by the bed a moment, stuffing his shirt into his jeans, and then walks to the kitchen, pulling up his zipper and buckling his belt. He comes back with two steaming mugs of coffee.
"Something to clear your palate," Mike says, smiling down on Danny, the smell of coffee now rich in the room.
"Where'd you pick up an expression like that?" Danny says, sipping from the mug.
"Some guy I knew once," Mike says but doesn't go into details.
Danny may wonder who but doesn't ask. He reaches for his glasses and puts them on, looking up at Mike. "Oh, it's you," he says, straight faced. "I thought it was someone else."
"Not the milk man."
"Sure tasted like milk," Danny says. "Not that skimmed stuff either."
Mike squats beside the bed, holding the mug between his knees, looking at Danny, his hair twisted into whorls by his pillow. "I don't know what I'd do without you," Mike says.
"You'd probably think of something," Danny says and puts down his coffee mug, leaning back and putting his hands behind his head.
"Don't hold your breath," Mike says, then kisses Danny one more time and gets up to go to work. He's late now or he'd proceed from that one kiss to another and another, finally coming up for air some time later in the day, after having made love again. And, most likely, again.
All day, his mind keeps drifting back to that morning blowjob. Riding in the truck from farm to farm, his thoughts linger on the memory of his cock, warm and wet inside Danny's mouth. And then getting down from the cab to go hook up the fat hose to the bulk tanks in the barns, stepping around piles of snow or over a doorsill into a milk parlor, he feels his balls nudging up against his cock, fat and lazy in his shorts.
He stays like thathalf-cocked, he thinks and smiles to himselfhis mind half on the job and the rest of him feeling a steady, growing ache to be with Danny again. Horny, yes, but a sweet yearning. Even the cold air against the front of his jeans seems to have no chilling effect. He's never felt quite this way about anyone.
And that remark about clearing the palate. He heard that said by a man he met once in a bar in Savannah. Wearing civvies, and though far away from the base, Mike was easy to spot as military with his high and tight haircut, and he'd gotten picked up and then befriended by this middle-aged guy with a liking for young men who spent the workday in uniform.
The man had introduced Mike to things all new to him: antiques, a beach home for weekends, old Ella Fitzgerald recordings, and French wine with dinner. He liked to cook, too.
"Try a little of this to clear your palate," he'd say, pouring Mike a glass of something red and rich, almost glowing in the soft candlelight, after he'd served up another dish from the kitchen that Mike had never tasted before.
Different as they weresomething that seemed to intrigue the man more than it did Mikeit was the first time he'd begun to have warm feelings for a guy who liked having sex with other men. In the few months they'd known each other, Mike left behind his high school boy past once and for all. He felt like he'd finally grown up.
When Mike got transferred to another base, they said goodbye, and the man had given Mike an antique pocket watch, something he'd kept as a remembrance until someone offered him fifty bucks for it. The feelings by that time were mostly gone, and he had toughened up, embarrassed that he had let himself be seduced by an older man.
Now he shakes his head, thinking of how lucky he was to be introduced to himself so gentlyand realizing that with Danny, the shoe is now on the other foot. Maybe Mike is not middle-aged or a man of refined tastes, but most of what Danny knows about sex, he's learned from Mike.
Watching the snow-covered fields pass by the truck windows, he thinks of how the man must have felt seeing Mike go. With a twinge of regret, he thinks of how easily and cheaply he let the pocket watch pass into some stranger's hands. He guesses now that if Danny did what he didwalking away without looking backhis heart would surely break.
And he wonders, as he sometimes still does, when that time will come.
This day is longer than usual. First, some roads and farm driveways being only just passable, snow piled up as high as the windows in a few places, he has to take it slow and easy. Second, because the snowstorm has got him behind schedule, there's more milk to pick up at each stop. Everything takes longer.
It's dark by the time he gets back to the dairy in town, and later yet by the time he gets home. Parking his pickup under the leafless, old cottonwood in front of the house, he feels weary and glad for the lights shining onto the snow from the kitchen windows.
Rusty is outside in the yard and wagging his bushy tail as Mike comes through the gate. "How's my boy?" he says and reaches down to scratch Rusty's ears. Together, they walk onto the porch, and Rusty scratches the kitchen door with his toenails as Mike kicks off his snow boots.
Inside, he finds there's a pot of vegetable soup simmering on the stove, the table set with their mix and match plates and silverware. Through the hallway into the TV room, he can see Danny on the couch, his eyes closed, a book lying open on his chest.
"Hey, bud," Mike says, softly, after watching him for a moment from the doorway. "Are you asleep?"
Danny's eyes flutter open and he smiles. "Not at the moment," he says.
He sits up, the book sliding to the floor, and rubs his eyes. Then he stands, and Mike crosses the room to him, putting both arms around him, crushing him to his chest, and hugging him long and hard, his face cold against Danny's warm cheek.
During supper, Danny seems distracted. Maybe still a little groggy, Mike thinks, after waking from his nap. But then he begins to sense there's something else.
"You OK, bud?" he asks.
Danny looks up at him from his bowl of soup. "My dad was here today," he says.
"What did he want?" Mike says, with an uneasy feeling. He's never really met Danny's father, who lives in town. And the man has never been out to the farm before. Mike blows on a spoonful of soup and then pops it into his mouth.
"Actually, he had several things on his mind," Danny says. "He thinks I should be back in school."
This doesn't surprise Mike. He feels the same way and has told Danny so. Taking a year off to get started as a writerand there's no doubt in Mike's mind that Danny belongs up there some day with the likes of Ernest Hemingwaythat's OK. But he still has a year left of college and he needs to go back.
"You need to finish what you started," Mike tells him.
"That's just what the old man said," Danny says, looking gloomy. He leaves his spoon in the bowl and puts both elbows on the table.
"He's your father, not your old man," Mike says. "And give him credit. He knows what's good for you."
Danny studies Mike for a moment and says nothing.
"What else did he have to say?" Mike asks.
"He tells me he's getting married again," Danny says, his voice flat and even.
"Well, that's news. Anyone we know?"
"Some widow he met from church. She's from over by Ravenna. Has a farm there, he says."
Mike can't figure out what's wrong with Danny. He's talking like someone who's had a death in the family. He tries to remember what Danny has ever said about his mother. He only knows that some illness took her several years ago, when Danny was still young.
"You unhappy with your dad about marrying another woman?" Mike asks.
Danny shakes his head. "No, it's fine, if that's what he wants."
"Why so glum, bud? Weddings are supposed to be fun." The exception he can think of is Don's, when he stood there, watching the one friend he'd ever loved promise himself forever to someone else.
"He wants me to be best man," Danny says.
Mike grins. "That's great."
"No, it's not," Danny says, suddenly angry. "There are conditions."
"Like going back to school," Mike says, getting up to go to the stove for more soup.
"Like leaving this house," Danny says, his voice suddenly free, words rushing from him. "Leaving you. He doesn't want me to stay here."
Mike ladles soup into his bowl. "And why's that?"
"Because, he says, two grown men living together like you and me doesn't look good. He wanted to know if something funny was going on."
"In those words?" Mike asks.
"Yeah, in those words. He says it's curious a man your age doesn't show any sign of interest in the opposite sexor me either, for that matterand he felt compelled to remind me that the Bible frowns on what could be going on here."
Mike sits down again at the table. "What did you tell him?"
"I told him to mind his own goddam business."
Mike takes another slice of bread from the loaf on the table and begins to butter it. "That must have made him feel real good," he says.
"I don't really care how he feels. I'm not gonna move out just to satisfy him." Danny looks at him from across the table.
"Honor thy father and mother. That's in the Bible, too."
"Whose side are you on anyway?" Danny says, still angry.
"I'm on yours, bud, and what I'm thinking is you'll be sorry if you don't swallow your pride and find some way for a little give and take with your dad."
"It's either-or with him. There's never any room for give and take."
Mike thinks of his own father now, settled with a new wife in Florida and running a liquor store. Mike calls him two or three times a year, and they talk about nothing. Hanging up afterward Mike feels empty and a little lonesome knowing that as time passes, the distance between them gets harder to cross.
And he's known other men like himself, whose dads have slipped away from them, unable or unwilling to hold them with something that felt like caring.
He puts down his bread and reaches across the table to Danny, who is staring now fiercely into his soup. "Hey, bud. We'll figure out something."
Danny looks up at him, eyes full of anger and hurt. "I'm not leaving you. Not ever."
Mike's chest fills with feeling. He realizes how much Danny depends on him. There's that shoe on the other foot again.
Words now are not going to make much of a difference. He gets up, walks around the table to Danny and puts his arms around him. Danny holds himself rigid for a moment, still seized with his fury. Then he stirs, one hand reaching around Mike as he lets himself lean into Mike's chest, the top of his head turning to rest under Mike's chin.
"I'm not gonna cry," Danny says. And then his shoulders begin to shake.
Mike just holds him, wondering as hot tears soak through his tee shirt that a man can keep so many of them inside himself without ever letting on. It couldn't be just his father's scolding words that caused all this hurt. There are unshed tears here that must go back for years.
After a while, they walk together to stand by the heater in the TV room, turning off lights as they go. By now the hugging and comforting has graduated into foreplay, and they are undressing each other in the darkness and the radiating warmth lifting from the heater's vents.
Mike feels Danny's bare skin press against him, their hard cocks nodding together between them. Danny's cool hands trace down the muscles of his back and then settle on his butt. He is feeling wave upon wave of desire, pulling Danny to him in a tight embrace that says without words that he'll never let him go. Not ever.
And the lovemaking is wordless, too, their belonging to each other unmistakable in each touch and movement, all the way to every shuddering thrust of orgasm, and the lying together afterwards naked under the blankets, Danny curled against him, sleep slowly taking each of them in the still winter night.
The next morning, Mike finds their unfinished bowls of soup on the kitchen table. He sets them quietly in the sink and lets Rusty out into the yard. And he slips away into the dawn, letting Danny sleep.
He thinks about this new development as he's out on his route, swinging today east of town along highway 30 and then north mile after mile over flat farmland, the steering wheel cold in his hands whenever he takes off his gloves.
As a Buck Owens song comes on the truck's radio, he wonders if it would do any good to go talk to Danny's father himself. He'd find out one way or another how much the man really knows or thinks he knows about Mike.
Maybe Danny was mistaken. A college boy with little real knowledge of the world, he has a way of jumping to conclusions. There's even half a chance his father might warm up to Mike once they got to talking, as most people do.
It's a shorter run today, and he's back in town and done at the dairy in time to stop by the hardware store where Danny's dad works. He finds the man at the counter in back, discussing plumbing fixtures with a customer. Mike watches them from the corner of his eye while looking at tools.
He's a man in his forties. Which means he couldn't have been much more than twenty, if that, when Danny was born. He imagines this man showing Danny how to ride a bicycle, play catch, polish his shoes, drive a carteaching him how to grow up to be a man some day. Still wanting things for him now, a college education, a happy family with a son of his own.
After the customer leaves, Mike walks over and introduces himself. The man looks at him evenly, his eyes like Danny's, but expressionless behind a pair of plastic and wire-rim glasses.
"I think you know me," Mike says, putting a pair of insulated pliers on the counter. "Your son Danny's been working as hired man at my place."
The expression shifts and there's the beginning of a thin smile on the man's face. But he doesn't offer to shake hands.
"I know who you are," he says. "I've seen you together around town."
"Danny tells me you're getting married," Mike says. "Congratulations."
And there's the start of an awkward conversation, in which Mike does most of the talking and the man behind the counter says very little in reply, like he doesn't want to seem too friendly by volunteering any information or inviting Mike to talk about himself.
"You gonna buy those pliers?" he finally says.
"Yessir," Mike says, pulling his billfold from his back pocket. And for a moment, he thinks of Danny's hand on his butt the night before, and the life they have together, hidden from this man and a world of folks who would have nothing at all to do with it.
Danny's dad takes the bill from him and rings up the sale.
"Danny says you asked him to be best man," Mike says, not ready to give up on what he came for.
"That all depends," the man says, then counts out the change and gives him a receipt, slipping the pliers into a paper bag.
Mike searches the man's face one last time, noticing as he did when he walked in how Danny resembles his father. He keeps expecting this face to break into Danny's easy grin. But the man just looks back at him, a little stern, a little cold.
Yes, Mike thinks, I love your son. How I wish that didn't matter so much to you. How I wish you could even find it in yourself some way to be glad about it.
"Maybe I'll see you at the wedding," Mike says, smiling.
"Don't count on it," the man says and hands him the bag with the pliers.
Shit, Mike thinks. What did I have to say that for? And he turns to go, expecting the man to call after him with something even unkinder. But silence follows him to the front of the store, and the bell over the heavy wood-frame door rings as he steps outside and lets if fall shut behind him.
He wonders whether he should tell Danny about this exchange and then decides it would be wrong not to. Danny, of course, is pissed off when he finds out and says so. "He likes being a pain in the ass. Why did you even bother?"
"Because you're acting just like your father," Mike says. "Stubborn as hell."
For the first time Mike wants to shake Danny and shout at him. Instead he calmly says, "Someone has to get the two of you seeing eye to eye again."
"Well, I hope you can see now what a waste of time that is."
They are sitting together on the couch watching "The Addams Family," Danny with his back between Mike's legs, his hips pressed into Mike's crotch and Mike's arms around him. The heater is purring softly, and Rusty has curled up in Mike's recliner.
Mike pats Danny's stomach and then reaches down to put his hand over Danny's fly, popping a button to let two fingers slip in and search in the warm folds of his jockeys for his cock.
"If you think playing with my dick is going to change my mind, you can forget it," Danny says.
Mike starts to laugh. He hugs Danny's chest with one hand, and with the other pops the rest of Danny's fly buttons to reach inside and cup his fingers around his pullet egg balls. Then he kisses Danny behind the ear and says, "You're a chip off the old block, you know that?"
But the whole situation is not really funny. He knows he's come between Danny and his father. He can't see it any other way. And he doesn't know what to do about it.
Danny's right. All the lovemaking in the world won't make a hill of beans worth of difference. It will just bond Mike and Danny closer together and draw Danny further from his dad.
He locates Danny's dick inside his jeans, and while Danny may not be in quite the right mood for this, his cock is showing no lack of interest.
"I think he wants to come out and play," Mike says.
With his thumb, he finds the elastic on Danny's shorts and gets his hand under them, knuckles sliding through his warm, curly nest of crotch hair till they're up against his growing hard-on and he can get a good grip on it, squeezing it gently, pumping it up some more.
Danny falls silent, watching the TV, as Mike pulls his dick out of his jeans and begins giving it long strokes with his fingers.
"If you stop what you're doing," Danny says, "I'll really get mad." And he leans his head back on Mike's shoulder.
Mike chuckles again, pressing his cheek against Danny's ear. Danny lets out a sigh, relaxing into Mike's embrace, and they lie like this together while the TV natters on with silly jokes and a noisy laugh track.
They've fallen asleep together like this before, Danny drifting off first and murmuring love words, or just plain nonsense, his breathing settling deeply into a steady rhythm. And Mike would nod off soon after, waking later in the night, roused by the national anthem coming from the TV speakers, his fingers sometimes still wrapped around Danny's cock.
Tonight, though, Danny stays wide awake, his dick soon slick with precum, and after a while he's pushing with each stroke into Mike's hand. Meanwhile, the movement of his hips against Mike's crotch starts having an effect in Mike's shorts.
A lazy erection is turning into a full-fledged hard-on that trapped against one thigh is quickly running out of room. He has to stop what he's doing to reach in under Danny's butt and free himself from something like strangulation.
"You OK?" Danny says, rousing up.
"Just getting the kink out."
Danny settles back into place. "Feels like you just shoved a foot of PVC pipe in your pants," he says.
"Aw, now you're just flatterin' me."
Then they go back to it. Pressed against Danny, Mike soon feels a hot surge welling up from his balls. Well before the next commercial break, the front of his boxers is filling with a spreading warm ooze, soaking into his jeans, like thick squirts from a grease gun that's been lying in the summer sun.
Then Danny stiffens in his arms, gasping, and there are little gulping contractions along the underside of his hard penis as shots of milky cum spill onto the front of his shirt, the last of it, when it comes, finally dribbling wet and slow over Mike's fingers.
They lie there together, unmoving for a while, just breathing, both of them still hard, but spent.
"Shit," Danny says. "I even got some on my glasses."
The next week, Mike is out on his Wednesday-Saturday route, this one way north and east of town, where the country roads roll over sandy hills and through slough bottoms with one-lane wooden bridges that creak under the weight of the truck.
At his first stop, a farm with a ragged growth of old cedars along the driveway, he pulls up to the barn, where a room has been built on with a tin roof and white asbestos siding. On summer mornings and Saturdays, a teenager named Phil is usually inside, washing up the milking machines in big aluminum sinks full of soapy water. Or with a long plastic hose, he's washing the cowshit from the concrete floor in the milking parlor.
Phil is a good-looking kid in a rangy way, and seems to know it, though he doesn't seem to know much of anything else. Besides some lame wisecracks that he probably picks up from the buddies he runs with, he is not too swift.
In the winter months, on Wednesdays, when Phil is in school, learning who knows what and probably very damn little of it, his older brother Carl does the clean-up for him. Carl is a quiet guy. He seems to prefer his own company, or he's grown up looking at the world in such a cock-eyed way he has no hope that anyone will every understand him.
Mike has attempted to make small talk with him while he's doing a bacteria count or hooking up the milk-cooler tank to the truck. Like as not, Carl will say a quick hello, glancing only briefly into Mike's face, and then disappear somewhere else in the barn.
Between the two of these guys, Mike has learned next to nothing about the farm or the family who owns it. Phil can only talk about drinking, drag racing, and girls. Carl has yet to say anything. Which is sad, Mike often thinks, as he watches the young man retreat from the room. He's handsome, with his shy smile, a little like Audie Murphy in one of his cowboy movies. People would probably like him.
This morning Mike finds someone else in the barn. Today it's a woman, who he takes to be their mother, her sleeves rolled up, wearing a man's hat and coveralls, her feet in rubber boots. In his three years on the job, he's met her a couple times, but can't remember her name.
She turns to him, her hands in long dripping yellow gloves, and says good morning, in a way that sounds like she's already put in a day's work. She leans back with one hip against the edge of the sink, touching the back of one wet glove across her nose and smiling.
She looks at him squarely as he stands there in the doorway and says, "You're Mike, am I right?"
"Yeah, that's me," he says, flashing her a smile.
"I'm Raquel," she says. And when he says hello and starts discussing the weather as he goes to work, she finally says, "You don't know who I am, do you."
Mike turns to her, trying to guess what she means. "Phil and Carl's mom," he says, like he's filling in a blank.
She gives him a rueful smile. "I know farm work can make a woman old before her time," she says. "And god knows I don't look my best in this outfit."
Mike's thoughts race ahead, and he's feeling his face redden as it dawns on him he's made some mistake.
"Phil's my son," she says. "You got that much right." Carl, she explains, is her younger brother. She's been looking after him since he left high school, ten years ago.
Mike starts to apologize, and she puts up a hand to stop him. "No need for that. An honest mistake," she says, smiling, and Mike realizes she probably means it.
She pauses and another look crosses her face, like she has something else to say. "You're friends with a young man named Danny, right?"
This knowledge of his personal life startles Mike. He tries not to seem surprised and wonders what else she knows. "Yes?" he says.
"I can tell I'm getting way ahead of myself," she says and her look softens. Then she explains that she's known Danny's father, Arnold, for a long timethey go to the same church in townand while most people don't know it yet, they've decided to get married.
Then it comes back to Mikethe widow with a farm north of Ravenna. But he's still not sure what to make of her. Is she about to put her foot down like Danny's dad? She's a tough one, he can tell, and likely to have fixed ideas.
"Look, to put your mind at rest," she says, "it's none of my business what goes on between you and your friend."
Mike says nothing. Outside, the truck's engine is quietly idling as the pump hums, slowly emptying the big aluminum milk tank, and there's the chattering of sparrows under the eaves.
"But I'll tell you what I told Arnold," she goes on. "If he doesn't change his mind about having his own son in the wedding, there ain't gonna be a wedding."
She has been holding a big sponge in one hand and finally pitches it into the sink.
"I know I'm out of line here talking to you of all people like this," she says. "We're hardly acquainted. But I want you to know they can wave their Bibles all they want, and tell you something is wrong and sinful, and if that's what they believe, I say let 'em. Just don't push it onto me. Not when it comes between family."
Again, Mike's mind is racing, but he can't think of what to say.
"Family comes first. Always. You understand what I'm saying?" she says.
Mike nods, not sure that he does. She pulls a plastic cup off a red plaid thermos and pours it full.
"I know you gotta be on your way," she says, "but you got time for a cup of coffee?"
Still speechless, he takes the cup from her. He can see the steam rising from it in a shaft of morning light that falls through a window behind him.
Afterward, he finishes the route in a kind of daze, going through the motions at each stop, thinking about what she told him.
Her brother Carl, she explained, had always been a happy boy. The youngest of all her four brothers, he'd been the closest to her. But while the others had grown up, got jobs, got married, and got kids of their own, Carl had become sad and silent, never venturing far from home.
She'd always wondered about Carl, especially compared to her brothers who enthusiastically enjoyed the liberties of being men, almost as soon as they were in high school. And when she had two minutes to think about it, she knew he must be lonely sometimes. Surely no man could be content with a life so solitary and self-contained.
Finally, he'd come to live with her when her husband was still alive. A hard worker, who hired on for room and board, he was welcome as an extra hand to help out with the haying and milking.
Now that her husband was gone, he'd been helping her run the farm, since it was clear her son Phil wasn't about to take on any of the job himself, too busy running around with his girl-chasing friendsshe shakes her head at thisintent on enlisting in the service when he graduates.
While she was glad for Carl's helpshe'd be in a helluva spot without himit still worried her that in not so many years, he'd be a middle-aged bachelor, set in his ways, his life still unlived. "That's in the Bible, too," she'd said to Mike. "It's not good for a man to live alone."
So she had persuaded Carl, after many times bringing up the subject, to get out more, or better yet take a vacationwhen was the last time he'd been farther from home than town?and even if it was for no better reason than to get her to stop nagging him about it, he'd gone to Denver for a weekend last fall. All by himself.
She and Phil had milked the cows and done all the chores while he was gone, and she sat in the empty house at night, struck by the deep silencePhil being off as usual with his palsno sounds of Carl stirring in his room, reading one of his Louis L'Amour novels or listening to his Merle Haggard records.
Returning from his trip, Carl had been even quieter than before, saying almost nothing about what he'd done. But there'd been a subtle change. For better or worse, she decided, being away had done him good.
And then he surprised them by announcing a month later he was going back again and this time might stay longer. And so began a slow transformation. His quietness seemed less like someone being alone and more like someone lost in a kind of pleasant reverie.
"Have you made some friends in Denver?" she finally asked him when he went back a third time.
He'd just shrugged and said something vague.
"A friend?" she said, hopefully.
He'd looked at her like she'd guessed a secret, but only gave her a little smile.
Girlfriend, she almost asked, and then thought better of it. Better to let it be whoever it might be if it lifted the loneliness in her brother's life. Better yet if it turned into something that lasted.
And then, out of the blue, he'd told her he would be moving to Denver. He liked the city and thought he could get a job. Someone was a produce manager in a Safeway and seemed to think he'd be good with fruits and vegetables.
"Well, I grew up on a farm," he'd told her, as if sensing her disbelief. "Gotta be good for something."
Suddenly the tables had turned, and it was him reassuring her, pointing out that if she was going to marry again, she wouldn't be left without a man around the house.
"I wouldn't miss having a man around the house," she'd told him. "I'd miss you."
But something or someone in Denver had broken the spell he'd been under. He was more alive, playing his music more at night and sometimes even singing along. She'd catch him smiling to himself, and he'd glance away, his face turning beet red like a schoolboy's. He was like someone picking up a life that had come to a stop twenty years before.
His excitement grew as the day of his leaving came nearer. He packed up a couple suitcases, gave his Louis L'Amour paperbacks to Phil, and asked her to drive him to the airport in Grand Island. If she hadn't reached for him and hugged him with tears in her eyes, he would probably have left her at the gate with just a wave.
She knew by now who the someone was in Denver. Putting away clean socks and underwear in his dresser, she'd found a framed photograph tucked beneath his shirts in the bottom drawer. It was a young man with short-cropped blond hair and horn-rimmed glasses, in a corduroy jacket and tie. His mouth was set in a gentle smile. If the photo had been taken for Carl, the look in the man's eyes was one of tender love.
She wanted to know his name. She wanted to know how they met. She wanted to know everything. But until he offered to tell her, she figured it was not her business. She could wait to find out.
Though she did not understand, and said so, she knew from what she'd seen with her own eyes that folks with their Bibles were just plain wrong. And Arnold was just going to have to see it her way. She couldn't marry a man who would let anything stand between himself and his son.
On a sun-swept Saturday two months later, Mike is parking his pickup behind a row of cars at the Lutheran Church in Ravenna. He checks his fresh-washed face in the rearview mirror, hair combed, his moustache neatly trimmed, and he straightens his tieactually, one of Danny's ties. The only tie Mike's ever had disappeared long ago.
He is also wearing Danny's blue blazer, a little long in the sleeves, but otherwise all right. Mike's suit, bought for his buddy Don's wedding, turned up at the back of a closet, but he discovered that he'd grown out of the pants.
"I see you didn't always have a butt," Danny said when Mike put them on.
"How did that happen?" Mike wondered, looking over his shoulder into the mirror on the back of the closet door. "Must have been your cooking."
"You had that ass when I met you," Danny said. "I remember it always being there."
Sucking in his gut to button the waistband, Mike felt suddenly much older than the boy he'd once been, just out of high school, only a few short years before. So he'd gone to J.C. Penney and bought a new pair of khaki pants to go with the blazer.
"Hey, Joe College," Danny had said when he tried on the outfit, and while Mike considered that comment, Danny added, "Don't worry. With your boxers on you're still all Mike underneath."
He gets out of the pickup and follows a family to the church, a couple about his age with three children, the oldest of them carrying a gift in silver paper. The father nods at Mike with a feint smile and then turns his attention back to his little brood, grabbing the hand of a small boy, who is lagging behind.
A single man, old enough to have children of his own, Mike feels self-conscious for a moment and remembers why he doesn't go in much for church. Unless you're marriage material, a guy like him doesn't fit in anywhere.
At the church door, he recognizes Raquel's son Phil standing awkwardly in a dark suit with a carnation pinned to his lapel and looking almost scalped in a haircut he must have gotten this morning. He grins uncomfortably and says hello to the family in front of Mike, and as the wife stops to tease Phil about looking so handsome all dressed up, Mike slips inside and finds an empty pew not too far from the back.
An older woman in a hat and print dress is playing the organ. A minister is fussing around the altar in his vestments, flipping through the pages of a thick Bible and shifting a basket of flowers.
Mike sees no sign of Danny. Remembering Don's wedding, he knows the groom and best man are off in some back room feeling nervous, and they'll eventually appear, stepping to the front of the church and waiting for the bride to make an entrance.
It had taken stubborn negotiating, but with some behind-the-scenes pressure from Raquel, Danny's dad had finally backed down from his hard-line position in the matter. The deal finally struck was that Danny would be best man only if he promised to go back to college in the fall. Somehow, and maybe this was Raquel's influence again, Mike had even been invited to the wedding.
"Mind if I sit by you?" he hears a voice beside him.
"No problem," Mike says, without looking up, and he tucks in his knees as a man steps around them and sits down next to him.
"I'm Carl," the man says, holding out his hand. "I think we know each other."
Mike turns and looks at him, recognizing Raquel's brother, the man with nothing to say, so shy he always slipped away as soon as Mike walked into the barn.
"My sister asked me to make sure you felt welcome," he says, giving Mike a firm handshake. "Guess she has reason to think you might not."
Mike looks into the smiling face of the man sitting comfortably beside him. He is relaxed and unguarded as an old friendsomeone who's known him for years.
"Didn't think I was going to make it," he goes on. "Almost missed the plane from Denver this morning." Carl has already said more words to Mike than in all of the past put together.
The minister has been going in and out of a door into a side room at the front of the church, and now it opens again as Danny and his father emerge, the minister behind them. They take positions on the steps leading to the altar, looking back over the heads of the guests, who start to stir expectantly.
Carl is quiet for a moment. "Is that your friend?" he whispers to Mike. "The one with the glasses?" Then he adds, "The good looking one?" Raquel has apparently filled Carl in.
Mike smiles and nods. "Yeah, that's him."
Danny stands beside his dad, handsome in his new dark gray suit, his hands held together modestly over his crotch. He's looking serious until his eyes fall on Mike and one corner of his mouth turns up. Yeah, that's him, Mike thinks.
And he thinks back to the morning, as Danny got dressed in their bedroomunderwear and black socks, starched white shirt, suit pants, shoes he polished the night before until they gleamedunzipping his pants to stick in his shirt, then tying and retying his tie until the ends were just right, and finally putting on his jacket, watching himself the whole time in the closet door mirror.
"Ever hear the one about the best man who came half way down the aisle?" Mike said.
Danny looked at him blankly and then got the joke. "Hots for the groom, right?" he said with a wry smile.
Mike finally stood next to him, gazing at their reflection, putting one arm around Danny's shoulders. Pressed against his side, Mike was scruffy and unshaven in a torn undershirt and an old pair of wranglers, a hole showing in the toe of one sock.
"Only one way you look better than you do right now, bud," he said. "That's with your clothes off."
He reached over to slip his fingers around one of Danny's shirt buttons.
"Oh, no, you don't," Danny said, grabbing his hand, and they wrestled for a moment as Mike slipped an arm inside his suit jacket, feeling the crisp folds of the shirt and his muscles and ribs under it. With his other hand he patted the front of Danny's pants until he found his cock in his jockeys. Then Mike covered his mouth with a whiskery kiss, breathing in the smell of his aftershave.
"My dad's gonna be here in a minute," Danny said.
"We got at least an hour," Mike said, unbuckling Danny's belt.
"Dad's always early. He hates to be late for anything."
"I'd better make this quick then," Mike laughed, and in a moment he had pulled Danny's pants down to his ankles and was pushing him back onto their unmade bed.
Danny fell onto the tangle of sheets and covers, and Mike bent over him, pulling up his shirt and stroking his belly, then leaving a trail of kisses from his chest down to the tip of his cock, where he stopped for a moment, touching it with his tongue, then continued down along his hard-on to his balls.
"Mike, are you ever not horny?" Danny laughed.
"No, bud, aren't you glad?" Mike said flipping Danny's cock up into his mouth.
Sitting now in the church pew, he waits for Danny to glance at him again, and when he does Mike gives him a wink. Danny keeps a straight face this time and rolls his eyes with a quick come-to-Jesus look before looking away.
Then the organ swells, modulating into "Here Comes the Bride," and the ceremony begins.
Danny had been right about his dad. He'd got there early. They could hear Rusty barking outside as he drove up to the front gatejust as Danny was starting to come.
"Shit," he said suddenly sitting up and pulling down his shirt. But Mike had kept sucking, the warm creamy taste of Danny filling his mouth.
Then Danny slid out from under him and was jumping off the bed.
Mike sat back on his heels, laughing as Danny grabbed for his pants and tried to get everything into them at onceshirt tails, tee shirt, balls, butt, his cock still stiff. A last dripping thread of cum sailed from the end of his dick and fell along his pant leg and onto his shoe.
"Shit," Danny said. Outside, they could hear his dad honking the horn. Which only made Rusty keep barking, and louder.
"Isn't he coming to the door?" Mike asked.
"Not if he thinks we're gonna be late." Danny was bent over, dabbing at his cuff and his shoe with a corner of bed sheet.
And Mike had gone to the front porch, where he found the groom leaning from the car window, glaring at the dog.
Then Danny was brushing by him, hurrying down the front walk, his tie flapping over his shoulder. For all his bluster and stubborn refusal to yield to his father, he was doing his best to seem the dutiful son.
"See you there," Mike called out as Danny got to the car. He gave them both a big wave, and Danny's dad surprised him by waving back. Then they were gone, the car's tires crunching over the wet, muddy gravel of early spring.
The ceremony passes in a kind of colorful blur, the minister making a small joke or two before shifting gears to his sermon voice, with references to Bible verses and what strikes Mike as the usual church talkwhich seems to mean well but doesn't really mean much of anything to him.
Carl sits quietly beside him, and when they're all invited to join in a hymn, they sing from the same hymnal.
Before long, they're standing outside with pocketfuls of rice, waiting for the wedding party to come through the doors and start down the church steps. The cool spring air is still, the smell of wet, thawing earth everywhere, and the sun shines brightly through the bare tree branches. Cars drift by on the street.
"You know, Mike," Carl says, leaning close to Mike's ear. "I used to really have a crush on you."
And so his shy disappearances whenever Mike came by for the milk begin to make sense.
Carl laughs a little, looking away, like they might be just making small talk about farm equipment or cattle prices. "Never thought I'd have the nerve to tell you that." He pauses and sighs, "But a lot has changed."
Mike doesn't know what to say. "Well, I guess I should be flattered," he finally says and then figures it's about the dumbest thing he could have come up with.
At the reception afterwards, Danny brings him a cup of fruit punch and says, "Who was that you were sitting with in church?"
"One of your dad's new brother-in-laws," Mike tells him.
"That's the one."
"Seems like an OK guy," Danny says.
"Yeah," Mike says, "and if he isn't yet, I think he will be."
They stand for a moment watching the other guests. Mike sips from his cup of punch.
"Glad you came?" Danny asks.
Mike grins. "I'm always glad when I come, bud, you know that."
"I see you're still in high spirits."
"Hell," Mike says. "It's a wedding, and I get to take home the best man tonight."
End of chapter 7. More to come. . .
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