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.
On the road to Phoenix, Rich considers taking a detour; Ed tries to sell Ted on his own big idea; and Virgil tells Marty about his night with Brian.
In the end, Ty had come along without a complaint. Rich had made love to him there in the dark, on their last night at Mike's, and afterwards Ty had fallen asleep in his arms. He loved this tender young man, so different from the other men he had known and loved in his life.
He let himself think for a moment about the men in his platoon. In a way, he'd come to love one or two of the grunts who humped the jungle with him, but then he quickly let go of those memories. They would keep him awake all night, and nighttime was no time to be remembering anything that had anything to do with Vietnam.
He reached farther back, and if he was careful, he could avoid the painful memories there, too. Though he had finally seen Kirk for what he wasa real sonofabitchthe times with him had often made his still-young heart sing with joy he'd never known before.
He'd give anything to feel that young again, not knowing what he'd come to know of the world. And he wondered what it would be like to meet Kirk now. What would he say to him that had gone unsaid all this time? What would he feel?
And could he recover something of his lost self? Not all of it, of course, but even just a memory of it, so he could think of his life as a whole, not split apart, like the nerves that connected the present with his past had been severed. And he understood now that one was no good without the other.
Mike had helped him see that. Being here again after all these years, where Mike had once given him shelter from the storm when there was no place else to go, he'd got close enough to the trusting and hopeful boy he once was.
If he saw Kirk again, would even more of that time in his life come back to him? Or would it just push his past farther out of reach?
Kirk had been the first real love of his life. He'd fallen for him, and he'd fallen hard. And so it had taken him a long time to realize that Kirk didn't know how to love him back. He was all wrapped up in himself. He didn't know or didn't care when anything he did or said hurt someone else.
So fooling around with other guys was something he couldn't resist. Crazy Frank who found them when they were on the run and got the two of them that night into his camper, that was one time. And then getting himself mixed up with that college boy Bobby was another. Rich had discovered them together giggling and naked in the bathroom at Ted's house, Bobby bent over the sink and Kirk behind him with his big old hard-on.
And Bobby had to be a shit, too, because he'd been sleeping with Ted, who was a decent guy, and behaving like Ted meant something to him. Which was apparently the case, until Kirk showed up and couldn't pass up having some fun at everyone else's expense.
Yeah, it was hard to say whether seeing Kirk again after all these years would help or not. Still, he'd been curious one day when he came into the house and found Mike on the phone talking with someone who turned out to be Kirk, his nephew.
"He's working on a ranch up in the Sandhills," Mike said when Rich asked about him. "He cowboyed for Don a whileyou remember Don? Me and him used to be old friends. I guess we still arethen he threw in with some other rancher he met out there. According to him, they're in business together."
And Rich had learned just where Kirk wasthe name of the ranch and how to find it. He'd filed the information away as he did almost everything else, not knowing for sure why it was worth keeping.
As he rode now on the open highway, with Ty tucked onto the bike right behind him, the trip westward toward Phoenix didn't matter so much as simply being on the move again. The roar of the engine, the rush of the pavement under them, and the passing landscape, golden bright in the morning sunlight, were enough to lift his spirits. He was ready for whatever came next in his life.
But as they rode on, one hour becoming two, he found himself thinking again of Kirk, and the fact that the ranch where he worked was up ahead of them, off the road about fifty miles. To stop there would add three maybe four hours to the trip, and that was only if Kirk was around the ranch somewhere, easy to find, and they didn't stay long.
Yet a short while seemed like all he'd needjust to say a quick hello and be gone again. They'd still make Colorado by evening.
As they got to North Platte, where they'd turn off the interstate and head north to get to Kirk's ranch, he was less sure. Another voice in his head wanted to know what he was thinkingor if he was thinking at all.
Use your head, he heard himself saying. You're asking for trouble. The guy's a stupid prick. He fucked you over, and he's just going to piss you off all over again.
But when he came to the exit in North Platte, he pulled off the highway and into the first filling station. "We're taking a little detour," he said to Ty as the engine idled between their legs. "Gonna drop in on a guy I haven't seen in several years."
"OK," Ty said.
And they rode north through town, past the signs pointing to Buffalo Bill's Ranch, and then out into the open countryside again, heading north now away from the flat river valley into the rolling, grassy ridges that were the Sandhills.
Ted had been surprisedjust plain surprised. After years of being on his own he'd given up finding someone who'd stick around long enough to make himself at home. Then there was suddenly Edas unlikely a man as anyone who'd ever crossed paths with himwho moved in and stayed.
Ed didn't understand anything about Ted. His idea of art was matadors painted on black velvet, and he'd puzzled over Ted's collection of jazz records as someone would whose idea of music ranged from Buck Owens on the one hand to Waylon Jennings on the other.
But like a true salesman, he never let that stop him. He wanted Ted to like him, and anything out of the ordinary for himlike reading a book with hard covershe was open to.
He'd learned about fine whiskey while drinking in bars with prospective customers, and he'd ventured into restaurants with them where there were foreign words on the menu. He knew how to adapt, and it had often paid off. There was nothing to be gained by being set in one's ways.
He'd found Ted's copy of Catch-22 and spent several days around the house in his underwear, slowly reading it, laughing sometimes, shaking his head at others, muttering "Fuck, that Yossarian," and putting it down to go to the refrigerator for another beer.
He'd stand behind Ted for a while, thoughtfully watching him at work on another painting, sliding one hand down the back of his jeans or reaching around him to unzip his fly and slip his fingers inside in search of his dicklike he was after something to just hold onto. Then he'd go back to the book and disappear into it for another hour.
Finally, sitting on the back porch with his feet up on the railing, he'd read the last page and just stared out over the fence into the cornfield that grew behind the house. Ted had found him there when the afternoon light started to fail and he'd had to quit, the sun dropping behind the trees outside and filling the room where he worked with shadows.
"Where did you find a book like that?" Ed said.
"Someone gave it to me," Ted said. "Anyway, I believe books find you. You don't find them."
"What kinda guy was itif it was a guy?"
Ted thought back a moment. "Actually, it was somebody you know. It was Danny."
"Figures. Danny, the professor. He would read something like that."
"You must have liked it. You finished it."
"Like? I dunno. I just wanted to see how it turned out."
Ted wanted him to talk more about it, but he got the idea Ed wasn't ready for that. He'd have to mull it over for a whileif he was the kind of man given to mulling, and Ted doubted it. Ed never seemed to give much thought to anything. He always seemed to know exactly what he wanted and went after it. Of course, there was a first time for everything.
He looked down at Ed from where he stood, leaning into the door jamb and wiping the paint from his hands with a cloth. Ed's bare feet were still on the porch railing, one foot crossed over the other. He'd put on his jeans and a flannel shirt at some point during the day, because it was cool where he sat on the shady side of the house.
The hair on the crown of his head was starting to get thin, and Ted knew it was the reason he wore a hat whenever he left to go somewhere. His big shoulders made the shirt pull tight across his chest, and he'd left the top of it unbuttoned, the hair there thick and pushing through.
He'd lamented once as Ted had admired his naked body that he'd like to know some way to transplant what grew on his chest to where it was disappearing on his head.
"Man, don't ever do that," Ted had told him. "I like you this way."
And it was the truth. He'd always had a fondness for older men. A cowboy who probably wasn't much more than thirty at the time and worked for a rancher down the road when Ted was growing up had helped out with the spring and fall branding.
Lean and tall in his levi's and boots, smoking his roll-your-owns, and grinning down at Ted from his horse, he was the first man Ted had fallen in love with. All of ten or twelve at the time, he couldn't take his eyes off the man, riding so easy in the saddle as he dragged calves to the fire and throwing a rope with such grace he made it look like a kind of magic.
Coming into the ranch house for dinner that first day, he'd taken off his hat to sit at the table, while Ted's mom and his sister set plates and platters of steaming food on it, and Ted had seen him now as he really wasthe top of his head almost bald. It was as if stepping down from his horse and coming indoors, he'd taken all his clothes off and sat there naked.
Ted felt himself flush with an excitement he'd never known before. And though the cowboy had talked most of the time with Ted's dad, who sat at the head of the table, he'd glance over now and then at Ted, to give him a wink, like there was some kind of secret between the two of them.
Later, at the end of the day, they'd toasted the calves' nuts in what was left of the fire, and the cowboy had joined them, his spurs jingling as he squatted there in the dust of the corral. He dipped his fingers into the pan, while they were still hot, and popped two into his mouth. They were tough and chewy, but they went down well with a can of beer, and Ted's dad handed the cowboy one from an ice chest in the back of his pickup.
"Put hair on ya," he said, winking again at Ted. "That's what they say." He laughed lifting his hat and stroking the top of his head. "Course you can't believe everything they say."
Ted would have given anything at that moment to go home with him and be his buddy forever. It was a love so profound he felt like he could float on air. He stood almost helpless with his feelings, watching the man put his horse in his trailer and drive away at the end of the day with only a quick so long and a wave of his hand. That night he had lain awake for hours, unable to go to sleep with the yearning that filled him.
Over the years, he'd known a few other men like that, but none had gripped his heart and soul with such intensity. He'd heard talk of first love and how nothing ever comes close to it again. And he wished that there was a memory he could fetch up of consummating that love, a night of sweaty sex in the bunkhouse with this manjust to make it complete.
Instead, he'd made do with the ones who came along years later in his life, when he was old enough for sexbut too old for the love that a boy can feel. If there was a God who created man, he'd made the error of letting love sweep through the heart way before the penis is ready for the job it can do. By then, the one you've fallen head over heels in love with is long gone.
As the years passed, there were just these odd traces of it that showed up unexpectedly, like Ed, who would probably never steal his heart, but who never disappointed him eithernot in bed anyway.
Ed was happy to try anything, and he knew an endless number of ways to do it. If you had to choose between love and sex, Ed made the choice easy. With him, the heart was a fickle and unreliable organ, but the penis was one you could count on pretty much always.
Instead of mulling over Catch-22, Ed got to thinking about something else. And he'd come up with this scheme to go back to work as a salesmanand not any kind of sales job would do. He'd become convinced thatusing his old razzle-dazzle that had lined his pockets with commissions for big ticket stuff like thousand-dollar saddles and expensive carshe could sell Ted's paintings.
It would please him to be back in business againhis savings were running low anywayand it tickled him even more to be going into business for Ted. While it may not have been deep love they felt for each other, it was clear they were both truly fond of one another. And it was a way for them to keep a connection going that kept that fondness alive.
So Ed thought, anyway. Though Ted couldn't see how it would work. Ed knew nothing about art or how people bought it. That, of course, didn't seem to discourage him.
While Ted thought it was an idea that would run its course before Ed ever put it into action, he did nothing to stop him. And after a trip into town, Ed had come back with a Polaroid camera.
"I've always wanted one of these," he said, loading it up with a cartridge of film. And while Ted stood at his easel, he started snapping pictures, ripping them from the camera and tossing the paper wrappings on the floor to study them.
"Turn this way a little more," he said now. "Smile a little. Yeah, that's it." And he took another.
"Now give me that look when you're pulling off your pants at night," Ted said, grinning.
"You want me to pull off my pants?"
"No, just the look."
"What are you taking these for?"
"Just do what I say, OK?" Ed wasn't impatient, just determined to get what he wanted.
"No, not that. Get that look, you know, when I'm lying there and you know you're about to get the best blowjob in your life."
"I dunno. What's that look like?"
Ed lowered the camera and gave Ted a sly, sultry grin. "Like that," he said.
"You gotta be kidding."
"What, you want me to get naked to make this easier for ya?" Ed said and put down the camera to pull off his clothes.
"Wait a minute. Does this have something to do with selling my paintings?"
"It's marketing," Ed said, like he was talking to a slow-witted seventh grader. "People are gonna want to know what you look like."
"I don't believe this."
"That's it, that's the look."
"If you say so." He snapped another picture.
And it went on like this for a while, Ed trying different angles and giving him more instructions"Unbutton your shirt a little more"until he'd shot up all the film.
"You're not going to show these to anybody," Ted said when he looked at the pictures.
"Man, they're gonna love you."
"No, they're gonna think you're nuts."
"You just wait," Ed said, reaching up to pinch Ted's cheek. "Youjustwait."
When Virgil saw Brian at his door, he couldn't believe his eyes, and he couldn't help wanting to say, "What the fuck are you doing here? I thought I'd never see you again." But after a look in Brian's eyes, he knew something was up, and he decided he'd wait to find out before he said what was on his mind.
Sitting in the Broken Wheel, a bar way off campus where a few of the boys from the baseball team liked to slip off to without Coach Stern finding out, Brian had ordered them a pitcher, putting a five-dollar bill out on the table for the waitress. When it came, he poured himself a beer and, as Virgil said later to Marty, it took him no time to start crying in it.
Brian had spent the summer close to home, working in his uncle's carpet-laying business, covering people's perfectly good hardwood floors with shag. He'd let his hair and his sideburns grow and started a mustache because his girlfriend Roxanne thought it made him look stylish and less like a country hick, which he supposed he was.
To Virgil, who was no follower of fashion, he looked a little ridiculous. "What's Coach Stern have to say about it?" he wanted to know.
Brian just shrugged and said he'd been avoiding the coach, and besides, what he did off-season was his own business. "He can go soak his head, for all I care," he said, bitterly.
"I thought the two of you were real close."
"Well, we're not. He's a pain in the ass."
"Could have fooled me," Virgil said, and if Brian had been listening to him, he'd have heard the sarcasm.
But he was too submerged in what turned out to be his own misery to notice. "It was Coach Stern told me to stop being friends with you. It was him busted us up."
Virgil was speechless for a moment. "What the hell for?"
"He was always telling me I was all-star material, and I should stop hanging around anybody who wasn't."
"Yeah, he's an asshole."
"No, I meant you. For believing him."
Brian didn't miss the tone in Virgil's voice this time. "I know. I owe you an apology."
"That's what this is about?" and he pointed to the pitcher of beer. "You could have got that over in a minute and saved yourself the money."
"No, it's not about that."
"So I don't get the apology?"
"OK, I'm sorry, all right?" Brian said and then forged on. "I need to talk to you about something else."
Virgil was ready to pour the pitcher of beer over Brian's head, but he stopped himself and just froze where he sat, willing himself to listen.
"I got myself into sort of a predicament," Brian was saying. And he proceeded to explain the whole thing with Roxanne.
The summer had been kind of rocky. They were having a lot of sex for a while, but he realized he was getting a little bored. The fun had just started going out of it, and he'd begun noticing this woman at his uncle's office who kept the books, answered the phone, and paid the bills. She was a little older, divorced, but still had a lot of miles on heras Brian put it.
Her name was Sally. And for a long time, he'd suspected his uncle of carrying on with her when they had the place to themselves, which was often. His uncle would leave a job for no reason, while Brian and the other carpet-layer kept working, and he'd come back two hours later in a different mood, like he'd gone to a bar for a stiff one.
"But I think I know where he was getting a stiff one," Brian said and poured himself another beer. "And he wasn't taking it home to my aunt."
"Do you think she knows?"
"My aunt has Jesus. She and my uncle gave up caring about each other years ago." Forlorn now, he seemed to be drinking to keep ahead of a tide of creeping misery.
"Anyway, all I figured was, she was available." He was talking about Sally, the woman in his uncle's office. "But not for me."
Then one evening he'd stopped by looking for his uncle, and she'd been there doing some paperworkestimating taxeswhatever that was, he didn't know. She'd been home and come back, dressed in something casual, like she had a date coming by later.
But she didn't seem to be in any hurry to get done what she was doingor for him to goand offered him a coke out of the fridge in the back room. So he hung around for a while, just to see what would happen.
Well, it happened, and it didn't take long. She had ample breasts that he'd been noticing for a while, and before longit all happened so quicklyhe'd taken them out where he could get a good look at them. Meanwhile, she was just laughing like he was a kid who didn't know how to behave himself.
And in about as much time as it takes to tell it, they'd spun the office chair around a few times and ended up on the flooruncarpetedwhere he'd got his hands up her skirt.
"There's a couch in your uncle's office," she'd said when it was clear they weren't going to stop what they were doing.
The mention of his uncle had given him a momentary pause, and the thought of doing it right there in sight of the old guy's golf trophies and family pictures on the shelf kind of squelched the urge he'd already given in to. But getting to his feet and feeling how hard his dick had gotten in his jeans, he figured he could put all that out of his mind. It was an opportunity that might not come again.
They had relocated to the couch, and in the minute or two it took to put on a rubber and fuck herhis heart pounding with excitementhe'd suddenly had a clear vision of everything that mattered to him about life. And Roxanne was not part of the picture.
Sally had hung onto him there on the couch, long after he'd come, and he'd stayed so hard that she was able to keep him inside her and finally have an orgasm of her own. And what he loved was that she didn't start right away babbling like Roxanne about how wonderful their life would be together and when could they set a wedding date so she and her mother could get busy with everything they needed to take care ofher dress, the guest list, the invitations, the flowers, the reception, and on and on.
Meanwhile, he'd be lying there beside her, his dick shriveling, and wishing he could just put on his pants and get the hell out of there.
With Sally, as they pressed together on the couch, there was just this mellow afterglow, like they were on a hot air balloon gently descending. She'd wanted nothing more from him, just the pleasure of his warm body next to hers, and she'd sighed and stretched like a cat, pressing her groin against his and giving him little kisses all over his face, mothering him.
Afterwards, he stood in the john pulling the sagging, full rubber from his dick and flushing it down the toilet. He hadn't quite come back down to earth, and he had yet to completely grasp that he'd crossed some point of no return.
When he came out, Sally was back at her desk, hard at work again, punching keys on a calculator. He stood beside her a moment, not sure what to say or do, then reached for the coke that he'd left half finished beside her typewriter. She didn't stop working or even look up.
"Thanks," he started to say.
"Go, Brian, just go," she said, waving him away. "I've got to get this in the mail yet tonight."
A little crushed, he had backed toward the door, aware that whatever had just happened was now over, and that to Sally he was just his uncle's nephew after all. He saw his ball cap lying on the floor where it had fallen. He bent down to pick it up and just as quickly left.
But the real tough part was still ahead. He didn't know what to do about Roxanne. And until he figured something out, they had carried on like nothing had happened. Only his growing lack of enthusiasm finally got to irritating her and they had a big blow-up. Several of them, in fact, for Roxanne seemed to think a good shouting match now and then would clear things up.
"Keep me in line is more like it," Brian said.
"So what happened?"
"Trial separation, she's calling it," Brian said and shook his head. "Can't last long enough for me."
He poured himself another beer and set the pitcher down again.
"And here's the worst part. Now she says she's missed a period. She thinks she's pregnant."
It seems he'd run out of rubbers oncehe'd have had an extra if it hadn't been for Sallyand they'd taken a chance anyway. But he thought Roxanne was just making it all up to force his hand. And he'd told her so. Which had been the cause of another blow-up.
"Thing is," he said, "I got no place to stay. I was wondering if I could move in with you. You know, for a while."
"I dunno," Virgil said. "You'd have to sleep on the floor."
"S'okay. I got a sleeping bag, and I can get an air mattress from home."
"I still dunno. I'd have to ask my roommate."
"Why would he mind?"
You don't have a clue, do you, Virgil wanted to say, but he let it go.
"Virgil, I want us to be friends again," Brian said and gave him a sorrowful look. "We used to have fun together. I've been missin' that."
"I thought you didn't like me talking to that guy over in the counseling center."
"You still doing that?"
"Then I don't see a problem," Brian said, taking a drink of his beer, while he seemed to reconsider what he'd just said. "Anyway, I don't care about that anymore. You can talk to anybody you want."
Virgil just sat there for a while looking at Brian, curious whether he could get back any of the old feelings for him, but only remembering how miserable Brian had made him feel when he walked out.
"You cut me cold, you sonofabitch," he said.
"I told you I was sorry."
Now Virgil said it. "You don't have a clue, do you."
Brian just got this hang-dog look, like it was the last thing he expected, to be betrayed by an old friend now that he was down on his luck with no place to go.
"So I hung out with him all night," Virgil explained to Marty the next morning. "He was practically suicidalwell, that's not true. I know what that feels likebut he wouldn't let me leave him there by himself."
So after the bar closed, Brian had driven them around town in his car, still talking, finally winding up at Mr. Donut, drinking coffee to keep awake.
"If I'd come back to the apartment, he would have followed me, but for him that would have just been a foot in the door," Virgil said. "And I don't want him here."
"You sure?" Marty said, like he wasn't. "You said he was your best friend."
"You're worth ten of him," Virgil said. "Hell, a hundred. I ain't gonna let anything or anyone come between you and me."
Marty grinned at him, like he had no idea what to say.
"You got that?" Virgil said.
Marty just kept on grinning.
Continued . . .
© 2007 Rock Lane Cooper