'52 Panhead

Chapter 22


The next morning after Evan left for work, I holed up in my office for a few hours of intense programming. When Chewy came around asking about a tree break, I stretched and decided that sounded like a good idea. I looked in on Raf, but he was still zonked out, snoring softly with one hand flung out to the side. When I put my hand in his, his fingers curled reflexively around mine. I stood there looking at him for a moment, feeling unaccountably tender toward him after caring for him yesterday.

It was clear and sunny, so Chew and I walked back toward the creek, following it along until we came out near the cow pasture to the west of us. Bill's place. The cows were there, as usual, placidly chewing the spring grass. Dotted among them were spindly-legged calves, some curled sleeping in the grass, others ambling along after their mothers.

Somewhat more confident of my farm animal skills after my successful encounter with Rose, I walked slowly up to the cow nearest the fence, stopping when she swung her head up to stare at Chewy. I talked softly to her as I reached out a hand to pat her bony rump. She blinked at me a couple times, stared Chewy down until he retreated behind my legs with a low growl, and then moved off with the herd.

As I walked back to the house, I looked around our ten acres. It was beginning to feel more and more like a waste of natural resources to let all that good grass just stand there. Maybe we could borrow a cow or two from Bill, or a couple spare horses. The back pasture was completely fenced; I'd just have to repair the gate behind the barn to keep them from wandering into the yard.

Back at the house, I hung up my jacket, grabbed a couple cookies, and decided to read for a while. As I walked into the living room, a movement caught my eye, and I turned to see Rafael walking slowly down the hall toward me, one steadying hand on the wall. He was still wearing the t-shirt and boxers I'd put him in yesterday after our shower, and I took a moment to look him up and down, enjoying the brown perfection of his body.

"Hey," I said. "Feelin' better, huh?"

"Fuck." Raf's voice was gravelly, but he smiled as he angled toward the couch. "Guess I'll live."

He sat down carefully, blew out a deep breath and then swung his feet up to sit back against the arm. I pulled a quilt off the chair and shook it out over his bare legs, then sat down on the floor at his side with my back to the sofa. When his right hand gripped my shoulder, I turned to him.

"I don't think I've ever been that sick. I, uh... Well, thanks."

"My pleasure." I pulled his hand down onto my chest and patted it. "Pukin' guys turn me on."

He grinned at me. "I noticed."

He didn't say anything further and I sat there thinking about last night with Evan. As good as Rafael looked and, believe me, he looked pretty goddamn good it was Evan who floated my boat, who could shorten my breath with just a look. But it was nice sitting there with Raf, with his warm hand in mine, comfortable together. When I ran my hand up his arm, my fingers slid across the twisted scar tissue that marred his forearm. I looked down, studying the slick, deformed skin, touching it lightly with my fingertips.

"Does it..." I started, but then shut my mouth. I didn't yet have the sort of relationship with Rafael that would allow the question I'd been about to ask. And as difficult as he was to get to know, maybe I never would, but he surprised me by finishing the question for me.

"Hurt? Not anymore. Most of the nerve endings were damaged badly enough that I can't feel much. Just kind of a tingly feeling here and there."

The house was very still. Far off I could hear the sound of a tractor or some sort of farm machinery, but here, inside, it was quiet enough to hear the two of us breathing. And then out of the silence, Rafael began to talk to me, really talk to me, as he never had before. At his first words, I almost turned to face him, but something kept me where I was. He spoke slowly, thinking through what he wanted to tell me as he talked.

"The first time I saw my face... I couldn't even believe it was me. I'd already seen my arm, so I sorta knew what to expect, but..." he sighed. "I guess you always hope it really isn't gonna be as bad as you think. But it was."

He stopped for a moment, and I thought maybe he was finished, but then his hand tightened on mine and he continued.

"It looked worse then. I could see it in the nurse's face when they lifted the bandage off. I just couldn't imagine gettin' up every day, seeing that in the mirror and having people stare at me. Kenny was the first person, other than my parents and the hospital people, who I let see me." He paused and his voice dropped to a whisper. "I remember walking into his room, shaking so hard I could barely stand up. He was my best friend, and I knew that if he couldn't stand to look at me, I was fucked."

He stopped again, his hand restless in mine until I pressed it tightly to my chest.

"Kenny was still flat on his back at that point, and when I went into his room he didn't hear me at first. I stood by the door and said 'hey.' I've never been so scared in my whole fuckin' life. When he heard my voice, he started to smile and his expression never changed as he got a good look at me. We stared at each other for a minute, and then we both started to cry. I climbed up on the bed and we held onto each other like we were the last two people on earth." Another huge sigh. "That's when I knew that I could live with this."

I turned to look at him then. He returned my gaze calmly, so I asked him, "And Evan? What did he do?"

Rafael pulled his hand back and was silent for a minute. When he spoke, his voice was low and strained, and I knew I'd gone too far. "Evan... looked away."

He cleared his throat and pushed the quilt off as he swung his feet to the floor. "I'm hungry. Can you make toast without burnin' it?"

I stood and smiled at him, but he was looking at the floor. "Sure. How about some eggs?"

He gave it a moment's thought. "Yeah, ok. Scrambled? And maybe some tea?"

"Sure. Call Kenny and let him know you're still breathin.'" I headed for the kitchen, sorry that I'd pushed it with him. Better to just let him talk and keep my damn mouth shut.

So Evan had looked away from Rafael's ruined face. Out of guilt? From the pain of seeing his friend so damaged?

I glanced out into the living room. Rafael was gone, but then I heard the murmur of his voice, talking to Kenny, I assumed. I clanked a pan onto the stove, filled up the kettle, and grabbed the egg carton from the fridge, irritated with myself for being so goddamn curious. I broke eggs into a bowl and stared out the back window as I whisked the crap out of them.

Evan had never told me about seeing Raf for the first time. Or what he'd felt when he'd learned Kenny was paralyzed. He'd said I could ask him anything, but as I stood there, the bowl of eggs forgotten in my hands, I knew that I would never ask him those questions. Some things, like what had happened to Pearl, were simply better left unknown. And it wasn't really any of my business.

Rafael, now dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, walked into the kitchen just as the toast popped up and the kettle started to whistle. He turned the stove off and poured hot water into the mugs I'd put out.

"Honey?" he asked.

"Yes, dear?" I quipped, then glanced up to find him smiling at me.

"Do you have any honey?" he repeated patiently.

"Third door." I pointed at the upper cabinets to the left of the sink. "Bottom shelf."

I dished out breakfast and we ate silently for a few minutes. Rafael chewed slowly, nodding when I asked, "Doin' ok?"

I put our plates in the sink when we were finished, then topped off our tea. Raf showed no inclination to leave the table, so I sat back down and looked at him. "Sorry."

He had both hands wrapped around his mug and gave a small wave of his fingers. "It's ok. I'm too fuckin' touchy about it, according to Kenny." He studied his tea for a few moments before raising his eyes to mine again. "Evan tell you anything about those first few months?"

I shook my head. "No, just later, after you two got the apartment. And a little bit about when Kenny moved in." I hesitated for a second, and then added, "How you two got him off the first time."

He snorted out a chuckle and smiled at me. "That was pretty cool. He was so excited." His smile died a little. "Fuckin' doctors told him it was impossible. Lucky for both of us, they were wrong."

We fell silent again, and this time I just sat there and kept my thoughts to myself. Raf slowly rotated his mug in his hands, thinking his own thoughts. Chewy slumped onto his dog bed in the corner and sighed one of those dog sighs like the weight of world rested on his furry shoulders before curling up and going to sleep. When Rafael finally spoke, his voice was almost apologetic.

"I was in love with Evan."

I glanced at him, but he was staring unfocused into his tea. "I figured." I toyed with my spoon for a moment as I decided if I really wanted to know more about this. "Still?"

He shook his head. "No, not for a long time now. Evan was never the same after the accident. The guilt he felt about being the only one with injuries that didn't have lifelong consequences almost ended our friendship, and I realized that he could never love me, even with Luke out of the picture. Especially with Luke out of the picture."

Chewy moaned in his sleep and kicked one hind leg a few times. Raf and I watched him until he was still again, and then smiled at each other.

"So-" I began, and then stopped, but Raf just raised one eyebrow. "So how did you and Kenny get together?"

"Well, we didn't for quite a while. The three of us lived together, sleeping in one bed, slowly getting used to our lives. Did Evan tell you how his mom made that huge sheet? Couldn't hardly fit the damn thing in the washer. I didn't feel anything more for Kenny than close friendship at that point. It wasn't until he got good in his chair and Evan left for school that I started realizing what was going on between us."

He dropped his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. "After Evan moved out, Kenny and I had a hell of a time. I was still bitter and angry about everything. I missed Evan and took it out on Kenny. He was starting to be able to get around pretty good by himself, driving and everything, and after a few months, he fuckin' kicked my ass out. Said he might be crippled, but that didn't mean he had to put up with my shit anymore." He laughed softly. "That's when I realized I was in love with him."

He shook his head, smiling at the memory. When he was silent for a few minutes, I couldn't stand it. "So what happened?"

"Well, he didn't believe me, for starters. Told me I was just used to him, comfortable around him, but that didn't mean I was in love with him. Took me five solid months to talk him into letting me move back in. When he let me come back, it was different between us, a lot more emotional. I told him that I loved him every single day, but it took three months and eleven days for him to say it to me. Not that I was counting or anything," he chuckled, "but it was worth every day I waited. I know that some people think we're together because no one else would have us, but we know different."

With that, Raf took a final sip of his now cold tea and stood up. I was watching Chewy again and didn't see him start to slump until he was halfway to his knees. I caught him under the arms as he grabbed me around the waist, so that we ended up with his face smushed into my belly. I got a better grip on him and then eased him back onto the bench. "Easy there, dude. You're still a little shaky."

"I guess," he said, swaying slightly with his eyes closed. "Shit. Ok if I hang out for a while longer?"

"You can't leave till I take you anyway, so sure. Wanna sleep in front of the TV for a while?" I pulled him to his feet with an arm around him and walked him slowly into the TV room. Once he was settled under a blanket with the clicker in his hand, I went back down the hall and worked for another couple hours. When I took a break and looked in on him, he moved his feet in invitation, so I sat down, pulled them into my lap and watched the last hour of Young Frankenstein with him. I have to be in the mood for Mel Brooks, which I was, and we laughed our asses off.

By the time Evan got home - which was later every night, it seemed, now that tax season was upon us - dinner was almost ready. Beef stew simmered on the stove while Rafael sat at the table tearing up lettuce for salads. Evan sat his briefcase down by the door with a weary sigh and shrugged out of his jacket before walking into the kitchen.

"God, that smells good," he said, sniffing the air as he put an arm around my shoulders.

"Well, have a seat," I said, sliding a baking sheet of rolls into the oven. "It'll be ready in nine minutes."

"How're you doin'?" he asked Raf as he sat down across from him. "You sure looked beat yesterday."

"Better. Just a long 24-hour bug, I guess. Or something I ate, maybe."

We had a pleasant dinner, and sat around over brownies for another hour, talking. Evan was so finished with corporate law he couldn't see straight and was counting the days until May 1st, when the family law center opened. I told him I'd be over tomorrow afternoon to install the computers I'd finished.

"Good," Raf said. "You can give me a ride home."

So Rafael went home the next day and life went back to normal. When I pulled into his driveway, he sat there for a moment before turning to look at me, his dark eyes roaming over my face.

"What?" I finally said.

"Nothing." He kissed a finger, touched it gently to my mouth and hopped out of the Jeep. I watched him walk to the front door, watched his ass shift in his jeans and tried not to wish too hard that he might get the flu again sometime soon. He waved, I waved, and he disappeared into the house.

I spent the afternoon by myself, installing computers in the empty second-floor offices. Most of them didn't have furniture yet, so I did a lot of sitting on the floor while hooking up monitors, mice and keyboards until I had all of them up and running properly. As I was walking through the offices turning them off one by one, I heard an unfamiliar, "Hello?"

"Back here." I stuck my head out the door and saw Kathryn strolling down the hall toward me. As with the day I'd met her, she looked quietly elegant. Black slacks today with a black leather blazer over a nubby sweater that was the dark greeny-blue of deep water. She had a large black leather satchel over one shoulder.

"Hi," she said. "Evan said you were down here. How's it going?"

"Well, they all work, so pretty good. You're starting soon, huh?"

"Next week," she replied, walking over to look out the window. "Evan said to pick an office near his. Do you know which one that is?"

"The corner, what else?" I waved her into the hall and led her to Evan's office, then watched her walk over to look out the window again. I studied her as she checked out the view.

"What now? Coffee on my sweater?" She was looking at me with a half smile, her head tilted to one side.

"No, sorry. Uh, you just look really nice, that's all. Not all frilly and "

"And what? Girly? No, I prefer a tailored style. Thank you." We smiled at each other for a moment, and then she moved past me into the hall. "Let's see what the views are like."

I remembered what Sharon had said about Kathryn not wanting a window over her kitchen sink. "You want a view?"

She turned to look at me. "Yes. Wouldn't you?"

I realized it probably wasn't cool to let her know that Sharon had told us about her house buying quirks, so I said, "Definitely. The one to the left looks out over the edge of town."

She looked at me for a moment longer, then we both walked to the window. The setting sun glinted off the distant river and a train glided silently along the tracks toward the trestle bridge that crossed it. All the trees were greening up and soon you wouldn't be able to see the river. Kathryn sighed in contentment. "I'll take this one. I do my best thinking when I have a good view."

"You can pick out your furniture, now that you have an office," Evan said from the doorway. The knot in his tie hung halfway down his shirt front and his eyes were bloodshot. He walked over and shook Kathryn's hand before squeezing the back of my neck briefly. "You finished?"

I nodded. "Yup. Everything's working and I set up all the emails in the exchange server, so you're ready to go."

"Excellent." He checked his watch. "I have about an hour if you two wanna have an early dinner."

I raised an eyebrow at Kathryn, who nodded, and we went down the steps to the street. "Ribs?" Evan asked

"Mm, yes," Kathryn said quickly. Five minutes later we were sipping drinks in a booth and paging through the office supply catalog Evan had brought along.

"Actually, I have an office suite I'd like to use. It was my great grandfather's, so it's old, but it's in very good condition."

"That's fine, whatever you like. Was he a lawyer?"

"Private detective."

I looked up. "That's what you did for a while, wasn't it?"

"Yes. It can be fascinating, but sometimes what you discover is... something that might better have been left alone."

I thought about Pearl for a moment. I hadn't told Evan, but I had the occasional bad dream about her since Sonny had told me how she died. "No kidding," I said a little too vehemently. Evan gave me a look, but our ribs arrived just then, so we ate, and then Evan had to get back to work.

"I'm not sure when I'll get home," he said on the sidewalk by my Jeep after we said goodbye to Kathryn. "I'll try to make it by nine."

The lines in his face had deepened over the past few weeks as the strain of working fourteen hour days took its toll. We were on the sidewalk in front of the law firm, so I didn't kiss him, but I did squeeze his hand for a moment. "I'll be there."

He gave me a tired smile. "I'm countin' on it."

Nine o'clock came and went. When I heard his car just before ten, I closed my book and Chew and I went out to meet him. He gave me a tired smile and let me take his briefcase as he plodded up the steps. Inside he tossed his jacket on a chair before dropping heavily onto the couch as he rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands.

"The IRS must surely be the tenth ring of Hell," he stated when I squatted down between his feet and looked up into his face. I squeezed his knees in sympathy.

"Probably," I agreed, although I had no idea what he was talking about. "Do you want somethin' to eat?"

He sighed and thought about it a moment. "No, I think I just wanna pass out. You ready for bed?"

We brushed, peed, stripped, and crawled under the covers. While Evan stretched and groaned, I gave him a back rub, kneading the tense muscles of his shoulders and upper back. The groans turned to moans, and then softened into little `mmm's of pleasure before disappearing entirely as he fell asleep. I lay down, but kept one hand on his back where I could feel his ribs rise and fall as he breathed.

I, too, would be happy when tax season was over.


"Are you in the middle of anything?" Sharon asked a couple days later when she called my cell.

I was test driving a computer I'd thrown together from my boxes of spare parts. Sonny wouldn't know what hit him when he fired this baby up. I still couldn't believe he was using a ten year old computer.

"Not really. What's up?"

"Nana's having a good day and she'd like to meet you. I know Evan's buried in tax returns, but I thought maybe if you weren't too busy..."

"Uh, sure. It's `Something Manor' just past the library, right?"

"Yes. Springhill Manor."

I grabbed a pair of pruners off the back porch and cut a big bouquet of wild flowers from the edge of the back field before taking off for town. Chewy had jumped in the Jeep when I left the house, and it didn't occur to me till we were halfway there that they probably didn't allow dogs inside. Well, that would give me an excuse to leave, I thought, as I pulled into the lot.

I spotted Sharon and a woman who had to be Becky walking slowly along the sidewalk toward the back of the `manor.' Sharon said something to Becky and they came over to the passenger side of the Jeep where Chewy was wagging enthusiastically and whining to get out. Since Sharon had started coming over on Wednesdays for dinner, she'd become one of Chewy's favorite people because she could always be counted on for a treat and a good scratch behind the ears. She opened the door and caught him as he hopped out, holding him up so Becky could pet him easily.

"Oh, aren't you a friendly one," she cooed in a frail voice as Chew wriggled around trying to lick her face. She was about Sharon's height, but thin and frail with curly snowy white hair, and looked much older than her 60-odd years.

"Nana, this is Jeff. He and his friend Evan live at the Farm now. With Chewy," she added as he wiggled free and trotted off to pee on a rose bush.

Becky smiled up at me with watery blue eyes. "Ed built me a house. Did you see it?"

"Jeff lives in that house, Nana." Sharon's voice was gentle.

Evidently a `good' day didn't mean a `perfect' day, so I tried to keep my comments fairly simple as we walked slowly to the gardens at the back of the property. "The house is wonderful. Ed did a good job."

"We always had a dog," Becky said as she watched Chewy dart after a couple fat pigeons that were pecking in the grass. He leaped three feet off the ground but still missed them by a foot, and then dashed back to us with his tongue lolling. "Belle caught a pheasant that way one time. It surprised her so much she let go to bark at it and it flew off."

As we made a slow walk through the grounds, Sharon coaxed a few stories from Becky. Bill's family had owned the entire west side of town at one time, slowly selling off road frontage as folks like Ed and Becky wanted to buy a few acres. Shortly after they moved into their newly-finished house, but before the barn was up, Ed's cows got loose in the middle of the night. When Ed went out to milk at dawn, only the empty pasture was there to greet him. He jumped in his truck, drove over to get Bill's dad, and the two of them went after the fugitives. The herd had made it clear to town by this time and was grazing on the town square. They got the cows safely home, but Ed was fined $25 by the city for `clean up.'

The barn raising took place two years after they moved in. Becky's chicken flock was well-established by then, and she'd been collecting feathers for a comforter. As Ed descended the ladder after a sweaty day of tarring the roof, he lost his balance on the last step and fell back into Becky's feed sack full of chicken feathers. She could hear his swearing clear in the house, so she went out to make sure he was all right. When she came around the corner of the barn, Ed stood there covered head to toe in tar, sweat and feathers, cursing a blue streak.

Becky stopped walking for a moment to finish laughing. "He was so mad," she said, wiping tears of amusement from her eyes. "I plucked feathers off him for two hours."

We smuggled Chewy into her room, a large sunny space furnished with another set of what looked like Ed's handiwork a dresser, single bed and night stand made from a much lighter wood than the walnut of our bedroom furniture. It was also a much simpler style and more crudely made, with none of the carving that decorated the walnut. I ran my hand over the smooth surface of the dresser.

"It's ash," Sharon replied to my raised eyebrow. "Grandpa made it when he was a kid and used it until he married Nana. The tree came from Bill's property."

Every flat surface in the room held framed photos. I made a slow tour, seeing photos of a boy who had to be Sharon's father, standing with a young Ed and Becky who I recognized from the photo collage Sharon had given us for Christmas. One table held several pictures of Sharon as she grew up, most with one dog or another sharing the picture.

"That's Rusty," she commented, pointing at a large reddish dog panting at her side as she stood on the front porch of the house.

"Pearl." She nodded at a small white dog sitting in her lap on the back steps.

"The second Buddy." He looked a lot like Chewy, his tail a blur as he wagged at the camera.

"And Tucker. He died last spring."

"That's Buddy," Becky said, pointing at a grainy picture of Ed grinning at the camera. He looked about eighteen, standing next to a big Holstein cow as she grazed, his arm across her back. A dog about Chew's size was flopped in the grass at his feet, blunt muzzle raised as he watched his master. "He's around here somewhere. Buddy," she called, looking around the room. "Come here, Buddy."

Chewy glanced at her, then looked to me. He recognized the tones of someone calling a dog, but he knew it wasn't him. Sharon's face was set as she walked over to pat Becky's shoulder. "Buddy's gone, Nana. He's outside."

But Becky's eyes had landed on Chewy and she leaned forward to clap her hands softly. "There you are. Come here, boy."

Chewy rose to his feet, looking uncertainly from Becky to me. I waved him to her. "Go on, Chew," I said softly. "It's ok."

He walked slowly to her, tucking his tail when she lifted him awkwardly into her lap, but licking her cheek once he got settled. She began to rock slowly, singing softly to herself, as Sharon stood behind her, tears coursing down her cheeks. I sat there watching Becky croon to Chewy and thinking how horrible it would be to see Evan like this. After a few minutes, Becky fell silent and I realized she was asleep. I lifted Chewy from her lap and set him on the floor as Sharon gently shook Becky's shoulder.

"Time for a nap, Nana."

Becky blinked up at Sharon, and I knew by her vacant smile that the good part of the day was behind us. "Oh, Florence, I'm tired."

"I know you are," Sharon replied as she led Becky to the bed.

I took Chew outside, and when Sharon joined us, she'd stopped crying and her expression was resigned. "That's pretty much how it goes every time, but it never gets any easier. Fucking disease."

I put my arm around her shoulders and we walked out to the parking lot with Chewy trotting along, none the worse for being mistaken for a dog 40 years dead. Sharon and I chatted for a few minutes and then went our separate ways. I was more shaken than I cared to admit. I hadn't known Becky before, but seeing someone Callie's age just completely blank out her own granddaughter was terribly sad, and more than a little frightening, considering they didn't have a cure for Alzheimer's yet.

There was no way I could work, so I parked the Jeep and bypassed the house for the back pasture. I was walking along looking at the ground in front of my feet when Chewy snapped out a sharp bark and I looked up quickly. About fifty feet from us stood one of Bill's gigantic horses, chomping away at the lush grass.

"Shit," I muttered. The horse had some gear on his head, so I'd have something to hang onto if I got that close. I stood there for a moment, running through everything I knew about horses, which wasn't a hell of a lot. But Bill had said they were friendly, so I walked slowly toward it, talking softly. The horse completely ignored me until I was about ten feet from it, when it raised its huge head and looked calmly at me, its jaw moving in slow circles as it chewed.

"Hi, Rose. Hi, Gracie." I remembered their names, but had no idea which one this was. The horse blinked and lowered its head back to the grass. I slipped my belt off and moved close enough to pat her shoulder, then slid my hand up her neck until I had hold of the cheek strap. Rose/Gracie raised her head and simply stood there, so I slid the belt through the strap, then through its own buckle and gave a tentative tug. The horse took a step forward. I took another step, she followed, and we were on our way back to the barn. Chewy slunk along about ten feet to the side, unwilling to get too near the feet that were twice the size of his head.

We'd been quite a ways from the barn, and by the time we were halfway back, I'd relaxed enough to lead her with one hand and pat her with the other. She was warm and smelled good in an earthy, barnyard-y way, and I was enjoying myself when I heard a deep voice say, "Well, if it ain't the horse whisperer."

Bill was grinning at me from the corner of the barn, the John Deere cap back off his forehead. Rose/Gracie nickered at the sound of his voice, scaring the shit out of me and causing Chewy to dash for the house.

"She was in the back field," I told him, waving a hand.

"Yeah, they like to go visiting."

"Is this Rose or Gracie?"

"That there's Cricket, Rose's brother. Good thing I left his halter on this mornin' so's you'd have somethin' to latch onto."

I took another look at the horse, but he still looked pretty much like Rose and Gracie to me. "How can you tell?"

Bill rolled his eyes. "Well, for one thing, he's a he."

Duh. I took a look under his belly and saw part of the equipment, but not all of it. "Where's his...?" I made a ball-cupping gesture with my free hand.

"He's a gelding - no balls."

God. I was sorry I'd asked. I patted him sympathetically and started to hand him over to Bill when I remembered my thought the other morning. "You know, we have all that grass back there. I need to check with Evan, but if you wanna let a couple horses eat it, that'd probably be fine with us. Or some cows."

Bill nodded. "That'd be neighborly. Always need good pasture. Lemme know."

With that he clipped a rope to Cricket's halter, handed me back my belt, and led him over to the fence. He lined Cricket up with the rails, stepped onto the second one, then swung a leg over the horse's broad back. With a wave of his hand, he thudded his heels into Cricket's ribs and they trotted off down the lane.

Evan rolled in around seven, early for him, and I related my horse encounter. "So I put my belt through his halter and led him back to the barn. He's a gelding, so no balls."

Evan made a pained face before smiling at me. "`Gelding.' `Halter.' Listen to you."

He was agreeable to having a few of Bill's animals in the back field, provided we could walk safely through them. The horses were huge, but they didn't have horns like the cows, so it was sort of a toss-up as to which we thought would be better. I decided to leave it up to Bill the next time I saw him.

After dinner, we spent a little quality time stretched out on the couch as I told him about my visit to Becky. "It was pretty awful when she called Sharon `Florence.' I guess that's one of the nurses."

Evan was quiet, running a hand up and down my leg as he lay against me. "Yeah, I think about that sometimes with my folks getting older. Not that they're old, but, you know..."

The comment in Barb's letter about not knowing our family's medical history came to mind. I had no idea what might be in store for me, health-wise. Did heart attacks run in my family? Was I at risk for high blood pressure? No clue.

Evan yawned into the crook of his elbow, and then snuggled closer. "Wanna fool around?" he asked me in a drowsy voice as his hand slid slowly down my chest. When it bumped into the waist of my sweats, he pulled my t-shirt up.

I smiled at the top of his head. "You sure you can stay awake long enough?"

He rolled until he was face down between my legs, his voice muffled as he kissed my bare skin. "Well yeah, I was thinkin'-˝ he stuck his tongue in my belly button "-maybe you could do most of the work-" he slid my sweats down, following them with his lips "-once I got you started." Nudging my hardening cock with his chin, he tipped his head up to smile at me. "Whaddaya think?"

I tilted my hips to put more pressure on my dick and Evan obligingly dragged his chin against me. On one downward motion, he swiped his tongue across the head of my cock, grinning at my sharp intake of breath. I watched him for a minute as he lapped his way up and down me like a kid with a drippy ice cream cone. Actually, that wasn't a bad analogy, I thought, as a drop of pre-cum oozed from my slit. We both watched the glistening drop swell for a few moments, then Evan touched the tip of his tongue to it before enveloping the head of my cock in the heat of his mouth.

"Nnnnnhh," I groaned, dropping my head back on the cushion. I kept my eyes closed as Evan sucked me, enjoying the liquid pull that lifted my hips involuntarily on every upstroke. They say there's no such thing as a bad blow job, but there're definitely some that are better than others. Evan took his time on the things he knew I liked little tongue wiggles in my piss slit, firm suction on the underside of my shaft just below the head, a snug grip on my balls. After several minutes, when he seemed to think I was well `started,' he pushed to his feet and hauled me upright into his arms.

"I think you're ready," he whispered, leading me down the hall. At the foot of the bed, he pulled my t-shirt off, and then squatted down to tug my sweats over my feet. My bobbing cock caught him in the side of the head, making him cross his eyes and chuckle. Evan stripped quickly and crawled up the bed to flop on his stomach, legs spread wide. He wiggled his ass at me as he looked back over his shoulder.

"Come and get it."

His semi-hard cock was pointing toward his toes, squishing his balls out to either side, and I could just make out the darker wrinkles of his hole in the shadowy crevice of his ass. Evan wasn't especially hairy, but the light from the hall caught the dark sprinkle of hair on his thighs and butt, making him appear furrier than he actually was. We'd done this a hundred times by now, but the sight of him, spread and waiting for me, welcoming me, hardened me further.

I climbed onto the bed and ran a hand lightly up his leg, ruffling the hair the wrong way. Evan watched me for a second before dropping his head onto his bent arm and sighing in anticipation. His legs were long and lean, and seemed made for my hands as I worked my way slowly up to the crease where thigh met buttock. I slid my fingertips along that curve, back and forth, lightly enough to make him twitch a little, and then firmly enough to ease a low moan from him as my hands splayed across his ass, spreading him open a little

He pushed the lube down the bed to me and left his hand resting against my knee. He often did that, wanting the contact, I think, as things got more intimate. I held the bottle a foot in the air, took aim, and drizzled a bead of lube from the tip of his cock, over the stretched skin of his ball sack, up the ridge behind his nuts, and finished off with a bull's eye.

Smiling at Evan's soft `mmm,' I tapped him on the hip and pushed a pillow under him when he lifted up. He wasn't fully hard yet, and the feel of his slippery cock stiffening in my hand made my own dick throb. With him in one hand and myself in the other, I scooted close enough to follow the trail of lube like a homing pigeon until I was lodged snugly against the warm resistance of his hole. After the first few frantic times we'd done this, I'd been more careful, gradually getting him used to a finger or two before sticking my dick in. One night he'd told me he preferred me to just go slow with my cock, that it excited him to feel the effort it took me to push in the first time, that he liked to feel the stretch and the occasional pinch of discomfort as his body fit itself to mine. Just listening to him describe what he enjoyed about it had gotten me hard...

So I played with his cock for a few minutes as I pressed against him briefly, then eased up, pushing a little harder each time, until his hand tightened on my knee, pulling me closer. I rose slightly on my knees, pushed my straining cock down toward him, and slowly leaned forward as Evan exhaled, depressing his hole but not yet penetrating him. After a moment's hang time, the head of my cock slipped into him and I stilled, both to give him time and to get a grip on myself. He'd worked me over pretty good on the couch; that, coupled with the intense physical/mental/emotional/visual pleasure of getting hooked up with him, had my jaw clenched with concentration.

I planted my hands on either side of Evan's waist, watching his ribcage rise and fall. Without conscious thought, my breathing took up his rhythm and my thumping heart slowed down a little. The muscles of his back tightened as he shifted slightly and brought his other hand down, fingers outstretched until he caught my wrist.

"C'mere," he whispered, giving me a little tug.

As I bent my arms, I slid more deeply into him until my balls settled onto his and I was fully inside him where it was slick and hot. The rise of his ass pressed into my belly, the long sweep of his back spread under me, widening into his shoulders. He lifted enough for me to tuck my hands under his chest, jerking slightly as my fingers brushed his hard nipples, then settled down into my palms.

My hips began a slow roll, over and over, like the tide coming in, and Evan echoed it in the movements of his body. When I bit the base of his neck, he gasped and tightened on me so suddenly that I had to stop moving entirely or blow too soon. Evan lay still beneath me, his breath coming harsh and ragged, waiting for me.

We tortured ourselves a couple more times, but then some unspoken point was reached and we kept thrusting, driving to the end. I lifted off him a little, giving him room as he drew one knee up and shoved a hand down to grab his cock. His head was twisted to one side, eyes tightly shut, mouth open, his free hand fisted, white-knuckled in the sheets.

Finally he froze, trembling for a long moment before the orgasm surged through him. As usual, the feel of Evan shooting his load with me buried deep flipped my own switch, and I hung over him on shaking arms, every lift of my nuts making me groan aloud. He took a long time with this one, milking me dry and quivering through several gradually diminishing aftershocks, before finally sighing as he went limp under me.

"Kee-rist," I moaned a few moments later from flat on my back. "I thought you were tired."

"Never that tired," he replied, sleepy satisfaction in his voice as he curled closer and tugged the blanket up over us.

I was adjusting my pillow, smiling as Chewy growled in his sleep, when I heard the old cherry clock begin to chime the hour. It was faint, clear down here in the bedroom, but I counted the bongs until it was finished, then put a hand on Evan's hip, squeezing until he gave me one last `mmm'.

Then I closed my eyes.

Thanks to David of Hope for the last minute proofing.

It will BE 3 or 4 weeks until the next chapter of Panhead. I'm working on a story for possible inclusion in a collection of short stories based on an artist's works. Deadline is May 1, and then I'll get back to PH. Thanks for reading. Gabriel