Mike and Danny: Restless Hearts
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.
Chapter 1, Part 1
It was the end of the week, and Danny came home late, long after it was dark. A harvest moon hung over the treetops as he parked his car beside Mike's pickup. He switched off the engine, cutting short a Simon and Garfunkel song on the 8-track,
a bridge over troubled water
And Rusty, came walking stiffly toward him in the headlights, wagging his tail, glad to see him again.
The lights were on in the house. Supper would be waiting for him. When he stepped out of the car, he felt the cool air of a September evening. The day had been warmwith a lazy, warm Indian summer afternoonbut now that the sun was down, it was clear that Old Man Winter was on his way once more, and it wouldn't be very long.
He slipped into his corduroy jacket and grabbed his leather briefcasebig and bulky as a saddle bag, full of books and papers to gradefrom the back seat. Then he headed for the house.
Inside, the kitchen was steamy, and Mike was at the stove stirring a big pot of chili with a long-handled wooden spoon. There was cornbread in the oven and on the countertop a box from the bakery in town, with either a pie or a cake.
Friday nights were always like this when Danny was away all week at his teaching job in Kearney, a little celebration with a home-cooked meal, but tonight was something different. Rich and Ty were leaving in the morning. It would be the last time together for the four of them.
Mike put the lid back on the pot and walked over to Danny. "Welcome home, bud," he said, giving Danny one of his bone-crushing hugs and a long kiss.
The touch of their bodies coming together, after five days apart, was always a deep and almost wounding pleasure, the feel of Mike's skin and muscle under his shirt as Danny reached his arms around him, their legs nudging together, and the soft pressure of their cocks swelling in their jeans.
Danny felt his desire rise in a rush of yearning. There had been times when they'd turned the heat off under whatever was cooking on the stove and gone to the bedroom for a while, pulling off enough clothes to let the passion of the moment take them. Done, not all that long later, shirts unbuttoned and pants around their ankles, they'd lie together in each other's arms, recovering, until Mike would say, "Ready for some supper now?"
"Fuck, yeah," Danny would say, hungry enough to eat a horse.
That was typically not the kind of welcome Danny got when there happened to be house guests,. The two of them, in fact, were there now in the doorway from the TV room, each of them coming across the kitchen to hug Danny, tooRich first, with a quick, rough embrace, and then Ty, who held him warmly, squeezing him tight.
There'd been at least a round or two of beers already by that point, and as they sat down around the table, Mike put one in front of Danny before taking the cornbread from the oven and then serving up big steaming bowls of his chili.
"I hit it good and hard with the chili peppers," he said, "so taker 'er easy."
"Holy shit," Rich said, his mouth already full.
"Burn your tongue?" Mike said.
"No," Rich said, his eyes starting to water. "It's just the way I like it."
He grabbed his beer, as Mike laughed, and drank down several gulps.
Danny looked around the table, and while part of him would be glad to have the place to himself and Mike once Rich and Ty had left, he was going to miss them.
Ted filled the bathtub with hot water as he got out of his clothes and then eased himself in. The bathroom in the old farmhouse he'd been renting didn't have a shower, just this old claw-foot tub, big as a horse trough. He relaxed as the heat soaked into his tired muscles. He'd been working on a couple of big canvases since morning and had to quit when the daylight began to fade. His hands and forearms were streaked with the bright colors he'd been painting with.
Ed had gone to town to bring home some pizza. It would be mostly cold by the time he got back, but as long as Ed didn't eat all of it on the way, he didn't much care. With the jug of Gallo Paisano he'd already started intothere were no wine glasses in the kitchen, so he poured some into a beer mugit would go down just fine.
Painting may not have looked like hard work, and Ed had often said so, but it was as exhausting as any physical labor Ted had ever done. At the end of a day, you were weary enough to drop straight into bedforget about supper.
He reached to pick up the mug from the floor and took a slow drink of the wine, the warmth spreading inside him. Then he set it down again and slid deeper into the water until it was up to his chin. It felt almost like he was floating.
Some time laterit could have been only a minutehe woke from having dozed off. The noise he'd heard was the house door being thrown open and slammed shut again, and he knew Ed was back from town.
He came into the bathroom first thing. "Here you are," he said stepping up to the toilet and unzipping his fly to take a leak.
"Get the pizza?" Ted asked.
"Leave any for me?"
"You'll be happy to know I did," Ed said, his head tipping back, eyes closed, as he started to pee. "Oh, mama, I was overdue for that."
"There's miles of bushes between here and town where you could have stopped for a piss."
"What, and let the pizza get cold?"
Ted laughed. "You're a crazy fucker, you know that?"
"It's why you love my ass. You know it," Ed said. He was still peeing.
"What makes you think I love your ass?"
"Cause you're always rubbin' it."
"I'm just amazed by the size of it. I don't know how you fit it into your jeans. They must just beg for mercy."
"So you got a scrawny ass and you think you can talk."
"You never complained about it before."
"I'm not complaining," Ed said. "Besides, you should never insult a man while he's taking a leak." He stopped peeing in the toilet bowl and turned to point his dick into the tub.
"Hey!" Ted said, sitting up, the bathwater surging suddenly around him.
Ed laughed and faced the toilet again, finishing up. Then he went for the pizza box and set it on the sink. He pulled out a piece and handed it to Ted.
"You're not gonna wash your hands first?"
"You've had my cock in your mouth and you want me to wash my hands?"
"I wasn't thinking about your cock," Ted said. "Who knows where your hands have been?"
"Fucker," Ed said and handed him the box. "Help yourself then." And he bit into the piece of pizza he was holding.
"You gonna object if I save myself a trip to the kitchen for a glass and drink outta the same mug as you?" he said, still chewing.
Ted took a thin, droopy slice of the pizza and angled the point of it into his mouth. As he bit into it, the sauce under the cheese slid down his chin.
Ed was having a long drink of wine while unbuckling his belt with one hand and shucking down his jeans. Then he sat on the edge of the tub to pull jeans, shorts, shoes and socks from his feet and drop them in a tangled pile on the floor. Finally, he took off his shirt, rolling it into a ball and tossing it into the corner, and slid backwards into the water.
"I'm realizing something," Ted said.
"You'd have gone ahead and pissed in the water if you weren't planning to get in yourself."
"Is that what you think?" Ed said, grinning, and he reached to Ted's face and wiped the pizza sauce from his chin with his big thumb.
Then he licked his thumb and leaning forward kissed Ted. It was a long kiss, Ed's tongue pressing deep into his mouth, and Ted felt Ed's fingers gliding along the inside of his thigh and then holding him there between his legs.
Lonnie was in the big hay shed, loading up a flat-bed wagon with bales to take over to the stables. It was a job that could wait for tomorrow, but he was keeping himself busy, while Baxter returned from one of his trips somewhere to pick up a horse.
The sun had set long ago, and only the faintest light lingered in the western sky. Inside the shed it was too dark to see without the headlamps on the tractor, and they shone brightly against one wall, casting a shadowy illumination up into the rafters and the far corners.
He'd pulled about ten bales from the stack and laid them neatly side by side on the wagon when, looking out the wide doorway of the shed, he saw the lights of a truck in the distance, topping the crest of a rise and coming toward the ranch. It was Baxter; he was back.
By the time he'd finished loading up the hay, Baxter was parked by the stables and coaxing the horse he'd brought, out of the trailer and to a stall inside. Lonnie could see their silhouettes against the light that shone over the stable door. Baxter's gentle voice, as he talked to the horse, carried softly to him on the night air.
He felt his heart quicken knowing that the man he'd come to love was now home and there was only this last bit of work to do before the day was done and they'd be together againa quiet supper and then to bed. He climbed down from the trailer, his legs almost trembling in his jeans, and walked over to the tractor to switch off the lights.
He'd drive the load over to the stables in the morning, after Baxter's horse had settled down. No tellingafter a long trip to a strange new placehow the horse would take to the sound and looks of a noisy tractor coming up out of the darkness.
"Well, hello, my friend," Baxter said as Lonnie got there. Baxter was lifting a saddle from the back of the truck to carry inside.
There was a carry-bag full of tack and rope. "You want this, too?" Lonnie asked.
Baxter nodded, and the two of them went into the stables. The new horse, a sorrel mare, was already eating meal from a bucket and seeming to be content.
"She looks happy to be here," Lonnie said, taking a few steps toward the stall.
"She's a sweetheart." Baxter lifted some flakes of hay into the feeder for her. "We got her just in time, I think. Her owner doesn't know beans about horses."
The two of them stood, side by side, quietly watching, and one of the other horses stood to gaze at her and nicker from across the way. Somewhere, in the autumn evening air, a cricket lazily chirped.
"That you I saw workin' late over in the hay shed?" Baxter said, putting his arm around Lonnie's shoulders.
"Just waitin' for you to show up."
"Had a slow-down coming over the state line. Big rig went sideways in the road."
They fell silent again, watching, and Lonnie felt himself melt with pleasure pressed against the body of the big man beside him. In his jeans he felt his underwear start to tighten.
"You eat?" Baxter said.
Lonnie shook his head.
"Got a couple sandwiches in Ogallalasubmarines they call 'em. They're on the seat there in the truck."
Lonnie went to the truck and opened the door. He found a white paper bag and brought it back to Baxter, who softly opened it, the paper rattling and making the new horse raise her head, her ears turned sharply toward them. Then, after a moment, she went back to pulling hay down from the feeder, unconcerned.
They sat down on a hay bale against the wall, and unwrapped the sandwiches. There were little packets of mayonnaise and mustard, and Baxter couldn't get them open.
"Can you believe this?" he laughed. "The guy who dreamed this up wasn't thinking about a old workin' man's fingers."
"That's why you got me here," Lonnie said. He took them one by one and pulled the ends off each packet, then squeezed the contents into the open sandwiches.
"That's not the only reason," Baxter said, and his knee pressed against Lonnie's.
They ate the sandwiches without talking, and Baxter got up just once to bring an aluminum thermos of lukewarm coffee from the cab of the truck. He poured it out into the screw-on cap, and the two of them passed it back and forth as they ate until it was gone.
When they were done, Baxter reached up to switch off the lights. After a few moments, they could see well enough in the moonlight filtering in from the doorway to make out the stalls, the tack hanging along the wall, and the pitchfork and brooms leaning neatly where Lonnie had left them. They could hear the new horse sigh and lie down in the straw.
"I think she's gonna be just fine," Baxter whispered.
Lonnie pressed against him as they sat there on the hay bale, and he put his hand to Baxter's chest.
"And you're fine already," Baxter said to him, putting his arms around the young man. "Aren't you?"
Lonnie nodded and said, "Yup," his hat brushing against the side of Baxter's face.
With his free hand, Baxter unfastened some of the snaps on the front of Lonnie's shirt and slipped his hand inside. He caressed his smooth chest and then bent down to find a nipple with his mouth, stroking it with his tongue while Lonnie tried to swallow back the moans that rose from deep within him.
Baxter's hand had now dropped between Lonnie's thighs, and Lonnie's legs jerked wide apart with a will of their own.
"You get hard so fast," Baxter said when he found his erection in his jeans. "Almost puts an old man to shame."
"There's no call for that," Lonnie said. He loved Baxter's cock any way it came.
And he knew what he'd said probably didn't make any sense, but he just wanted to cry out with the intensity of the pleasure he was feeling. Already he was opening his belt buckle and scooting his butt forward on the hay bale to pull down his zipper, all without any thought. And in a moment he felt Baxter's warm breath on his cock.
Kirk walked into the double-wide from his truck and found Owen on the couch, drinking a beer and reading the newspaper. He'd taken a shower and had a towel wrapped around him.
"Guy's having a auction down in Custer county tomorrow. You wanna go check it out?"
"What's he selling?"
"Everything, it looks. Livestock, equipment. Got a couple all-terrain vehicles. We could use one of them."
"Your dad hates ATVs."
"Well, it ain't up to him."
"I thought it was."
Kirk got himself a beer and sat down on the couch next to Owen.
"You have any luck today with that red-face cow run off over to Riley's?" Kirk said.
"Only wasted the whole goddam afternoon. She joined up with one of Riley's wild heifers, and his boy and I chased the two of them all over hell." Owen still had his head in the newspaper. "Went through three fences."
"Sounds like fun."
"They'd still be running, but they got stopped trying to cut across a slough. It's all marshy there, even this time of year. The heifer finally made it out, but that red-face went in up to her ass. Took both of us with ropes to pull her out, and then not before she gave me a good drag through the mud. Riley's boy about busted a gut laughing. I coulda decked that kid."
Kirk chuckled. "Sorry I missed that."
"The little shit. He's all of about fourteen. And you should see him throw a rope. He can't miss."
"What we got for supper?" Kirk said.
"What we always got. Long as you make it."
There was a wobbly coffee table in front of the couch, and Kirk put his boots up on it.
"I think I'll let you starve a while," he said. He put his hand down on Owen's leg and felt the long hard muscles under the damp towel.
Owen turned a page of the newspaper and kept reading. "You finish patching up that roof on the cow shed?" he asked.
"Yep, we did 'er. It's ready now for the snow to fly."
There was a long shed, the oldest thing standing on the ranch, that got used in the winter when the calving started. The old man had put off fixing the roof until he'd got a deal on some galvanized sheeting, and then it had lain stacked up long enough to almost disappear under several seasons of dust and leaves before they'd got around to doing the job.
Kirk and one of the ranch hands had worked most of the day, the warm autumn sun on their backs as they bent to set the sheets in place and then hammered in the nails. Cows drifted in from one of the pastures to drink at the water tank and watch them for a while before drifting away again.
"Says here we're gonna get average temperatures for the next 90 days and average precipitation," Owen said, reading from the newspaper. "If you can believe that."
"What's it say down here?" Kirk said slipping his hand under Owen's towel until his fingers found his balls.
"Sure as hell ain't nothin' average. Could even break some records."
"Seein's believin'," Kirk said, pulling on the towel now until it came loose from Owen's waist.
"You're startin' something that's not gonna put supper on the table."
"You tryin' to tell me you're hungry?"
"Fuck, yeah, I'm hungry. You weren't out chasin' goddam wild cows and missed your dinner."
"With that kinda attitude, I can see why your wife packed up and left." Kirk had his hand over Owen's cock now, as it surged to life, warm and damp under his fingers.
"It wasn't any attitude, wise ass, and my wife didn't leave me. We split up 'cause I'm queer as they come. Which you already know."
"All boils down to appetite, though, don't it?"
"You're always hungry for something." Kirk reached up now to stroke Owen's belly. "Lean and hungry."
Owen finally closed the newspaper and looked at him. "Sometimes, I don't know what the fuck you're talking about."
Kirk slid over against him now, his hands and arms slipping around Owen's naked body, pushing him onto his back. "You understand this, don't you?" he said.
Owen reached between Kirk's legs, fingers stroking the dusty, sweat-soaked denim until he found his hard-on. He tossed the newspaper onto the floor.
"Now you're talkin'," he said laughing.
It was evening at the nursing home, and Oscar had eaten supper with Cecil as he often did, pushing him to the dining hall in his wheelchair and then helping him with his food. Spooning up the soup always took the two of them, Oscar lifting the spoon to his old friend's lips and Cecil slurping it into his mouth, as if he enjoyed all the noise he was making.
The rest of the meal he could usually handle by himselfespecially anything he could eat with his hands, like hot dogs or grilled cheese sandwiches. Oscar would then hold his glass for him so he could drink his chocolate milk, while Cecil with his trembling hand guided the straw into his mouth.
"Was there ever a time you didn't like your chocolate milk?" Oscar would say, remembering their years together. "I drove to town to Safeway one day in a goddam blizzard, just cause you ran out of Hershey's syrup. I musta been a damn fool to do that."
Their conversations were strictly one-sided like thisOscar doing all the talkingthat is, if you didn't count the way Cecil touched him, often reaching to pat his arm or his hand, or just looking at him from time to time with his smiling eyes.
Faltering and silent, struck almost speechless by the stroke that had leveled him like a lightning bolt, he had taken days to acknowledge Oscar's presence at first. And just when Oscar thought his old friend would never recognize him, there was that moment that made his own heart stop with a thump in his chest.
Cecil had brightened as they played a game of checkers one day, suddenly giving him a grin. Then he'd reached out toward Oscar's wrinkled and sun-beaten face and gently put his hand to his cheek, his eyes registering a deep understanding. He wanted Oscar to know that he hadn't been forgotten and, no matter what, all was forgiven.
Oscar hadn't known until that moment how much he'd regretted parting company with Cecil all those years before. He'd had a dark thought and a grumpy mood now and then when he remembered how they'd split up, but he'd always been able to blame Cecil and his godalmighty stubborn streak. Now he knew he'd been as much to blame.
"Yeah, it's meOscar," he'd said. "You old fool, pretendin' not to know me."
Cecil grinned a little wider, then jumped three of Oscar's checkers, landing on the end of the board.
"King me," he'd said, the words coming clearly like he'd been waiting for the chance to say them.
"Sonofabitch, you ain't beat me yet," Oscar said, and for the rest of the game it was almost as good as old times, except that Cecil didn't say another word.
And while his awareness of Oscar seemed to come and go over the weeks that followed, there was this daily routine that grew between them. He'd be waiting in his wheelchair each morning when Oscar arrived, and they'd spend the day together, Oscar talking in long monologues and Cecil nodding sometimes and staring off into the distancelike neither of them was there at all, just time traveling.
With the help of one of the male nurses, Oscar would get Cecil bundled up and take him out for a ride in his chair along a sidewalk that meandered through an acre of grass and scrubby bushes that grew behind the nursing home.
A bridge crossed a drainage ditch, and you could follow an old railroad bed now asphalted over as a Rotary Club project for the town's bikers and walkers. After a half mile, it ended at a road that ran along the edge of town, where trucks and cars passed on the way to the sale barn. When the wind was right, there was the smell of the stock pens where cattle and horses waited to go in for auction.
The two of them would stop there togetherOscar leaning on the handles of the wheelchairwatching the world go by, listening to the birds in the trees and feeling the breeze blowing around them. As September arrived, goldenrod bloomed in the fence lines and tufts of milkweed began drifting from the big pods that split open on their stalks.
"We've seen and done a lot, you and me," Oscar would say and recollect some memory from twenty or thirty years ago. Cecil would listenor seem toa little smile on his face. He might nod and tap his fingers lightly on the arm of his chair. Oscar liked to think it meant he was saying, "I remember that, too."
But it may have meant nothing. Oscar wished that Cecil could talk, and he still hoped some day he'd find his voicehis brain and his tongue unscrambledso it could be more like old times between them. He'd know what the man was really thinking.
Now it was night again. They'd been out to the sale barn road and come back as the autumn sun sank behind a bank of clouds in the west, and they'd had their supper togetherchicken noodle soup, shepherd's pie, vanilla pudding with whipped cream, all washed down with chocolate milk for Cecil and weak coffee for Oscar. After that they'd sat in the TV room together watching "Sanford and Son."
"You like this show?" Oscar said.
Cecil nodded, tapped his fingers and didn't take his eyes from the TV set.
After that, because it had been a long day and Cecil was looking tired, they went back to his room.
"You want me to help you get undressed for bed?" Oscar said.
The first time he'd asked this, Cecil had looked at him oddly and seemed a little unsure. But after the second or third time, he'd begun not to mind, and now his sigh, Oscar knew, meant he was ready for this last ritual of the day.
He unbuttoned Cecil's shirt, taking his time. Then he opened his pants and pulled them off, so that he was finally sitting in just his underwear. Then after he'd been to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, Oscar helped him into the bed.
A nurse looked in. "You two boys doing OK in here?" she wanted to know.
"We're not exactly boys anymore," Oscar said, a little sharply. The woman put his teeth on edge, but nothing he ever said seemed to change her attitude. She was always cheerfuland probably glad Oscar was doing a job someone on the staff would have to be doing themselves.
"Two boys," Cecil said when she'd stepped out of the room.
Oscar looked at him, surprised. "What did you say?"
Cecil just looked back at him, as if he'd surprised himself. And wanting to repeat what he'd said, he discovered he couldn't.
"I think I know what you mean," Oscar said, pulling the sheet up over his old friend. "We may be a couple of old farts, but we'll probably never grow up."
His hand rested for a moment on Cecil's chest, and Cecil took his arm from under the sheet to put his hand on top of Oscar's and hold it there. And they smiled and looked at each other, until Cecil got sleepy and closed his eyes.
Continued . . .
© 2007 Rock Lane Cooper