Mike and Danny: Big Hopes
Note that these stories, including this one, are not an endorsement of unsafe sex. They take place many years before the appearance of AIDS and before it was standard practice to use condoms to reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted diseases. Remember always: that was then, this is now. Sex is precious, and so are life and health.
The next morning, Kenneth and Deacon were on the road again, heading eastward along highway 2 to Grand Island. They had hardly spoken during the time they'd spent at Don's ranch, Kenneth mostly hanging around the house drinking coffee and thinking, Deacon outside wandering around the barns and the corrals, disappearing for hours at a time.
Kenneth had spoken briefly with Slim and George when they came in for meals. He liked these two men who had little to say but spoke with a kind of wordless eloquence when they smiled and nodded, wanting only to know that Kenneth was well and growing more or less happily into his manhood. And it pleased Kenneth to see the two men still working together, companions of a kind to each other, in the way some unmarried cowhands had of pairing up.
He let Chad have his crush on Donand that was the only word for itfiguring that sooner or later the young cowboy would see the light and find a companion of his own. Until then, it wouldn't be just his ankle hurting. His ankle would heal up long before his heart.
"You gonna be home for Thanksgiving?" Don had asked Kenneth, standing beside the idling GTO in the early morning light, having a few last words with him.
"Mom'll want me to. What about you?"
"I figure I oughta. I missed last year and caught hell."
"Everybody gives me hell," Don said and laughed. He pulled a can of Copenhagen from his back pocket and took a pinch of it between his fingers. "Except you, little brother, and I appreciate that."
"Maybe I just don't give a shit anymore."
"Fucker." Don grinned around the lump of tobacco he'd set behind his bottom lip.
"Been nice seein' you again, Deacon," he said and reached through the open window to shake Deacon's hand.
"Take 'er easy," he said now to Kenneth, giving him a soft punch on the jaw. "But take 'er."
He walked along beside the car as Kenneth began driving off, and as he was rolling up his window, he heard Don call out, "And get that hair cut before dad sees you."
The sky was clear and bright again, a scattering of clouds drifting above as they passed through the little country towns along the wayMullen, Thedford, Merna.
"I'm thinking you may as well start headin' back to Montana when we get to Grand Island," he said to Deacon when they stopped at Broken Bow for gas.
"I promised Ellis I'd stay with you all the way to Topeka."
"You don't need to do that. I'm gonna be fine." And as he said it, he knew he was most of the way to being fine already. It hadn't seemed possible, but he was getting over Butch quicker than he'd ever expected.
"I'll let you know what I think when we get to Grand Island," Deacon said.
"I'm gonna stop and see my folks. You ready for that?"
"I like your family."
"That's fine for now. Some day, when they finally figure out I'm queer, they're gonna want to blame it on you."
Deacon shrugged. "I'll worry about that, when it happens," he said absently. He was watching a man in greased-covered coveralls who'd come out from the garage to fill the tank.
Kenneth laughed. "I wish I could be like you. Nothing bothers you."
"I wouldn't say that," Deacon said, spreading his legs to scratch his crotch. "I got plenty to bother me."
"Like what?" Kenneth asked, and when Deacon didn't answer, he looked over at him and said, "Not any of my business, I suppose."
"No, it ain't."
It was almost noon when they got to Grand Island, and Kenneth drove into his old neighborhood to the house where he grew up, a bungalow with a wide front porch and sturdy old elm trees in the yard.
His mom met him at the front door, Deacon standing on the steps behind him. He'd wondered what his mother would make of Deacon, showing up like this for no particular reason. But her first reaction was to Kenneth's ponytail.
"Now whatever made you go and do this?" she said with her tone of motherly impatience. "You know your father hates long hair." She could disguise her own disapproval this way in the more outspoken opinions of her husband's.
"Just a little experiment," Kenneth said.
"They let you do this at work?" She was afraid, of course, that he'd lose his job because he refused to look like a proper employee.
"My boss doesn't care," he said. And it was true. "I'm an engineer. Nobody who listens to the station ever sees me." He didn't need to mention that his boss also smoked the occasional joint and lived with a woman he wasn't married to.
She shook her head and let the subject drop. She just ushered them inside, and got them settled around the kitchen table, dishing up chicken noodle soup she'd made and taking the plastic wrap off a plate of ham sandwiches.
"How is my brother Ellis?" she asked Deacon, pouring them cups of coffee. There was a guarded note in her voice, like it was meant to mask a lot of other questions she wasn't about to ask.
"He's fine," Deacon said.
"Still working hard?"
"From morning till night. Some days I hardly see him."
Kenneth wondered if this was true. Given what he knew of the two men, they seemed to make up for any lack of daylight hours together with time enough in bed after the sun went down.
"Do you think if you stayed for Thanksgiving he'd maybe fly down and spend the holiday with us?" she asked.
And this is what she'd been driving at. His mother had never made a secret of wishing her brother had never moved so far away. And she never gave up trying to get him to come back.
Understanding that Ellis and Deacon were attached to each other in a way that ran deeper than friendship, she was using Deacon to make it harder this time for Ellis to refuse an invitation.
Deacon, who was too smart not to see through this, leaned back in his chair, like he was giving the idea serious thought, and then said, "I'll ask him."
Kenneth hoped it was only Deacon's way of saying no. Having both men here would risk bringing the truth of his own secret life closer to the surface, and Kenneth wasn't ready for that.
His uncle could be the undisclosed and undiscussed queer in the family, as though every family was allowed to have just one. But Kenneth's long hair was already cause enough for an uproar, and a second queer in the family would be too much to bear.
"I'll ask him myself," his mother said. She wasn't about to leave it to Deacon, whom she didn't know well enough to trust.
"When's Thanksgiving?" Deacon wanted to know.
"OK, it's settled. I'll go to Topeka and ride back with you for Thanksgiving."
"What if Uncle Ellis doesn't want to come?"
Deacon shrugged. "That's up to him."
They were at the Conoco garage. Kenneth had picked up a nail in a front tire and was getting it fixed.
"You sure you don't want to replace the whole set?" the manager was saying after having a look at the GTO. "The ones you got are about done for."
Kenneth didn't have money for new tires. "Just fix the tire," he said and went into the café next door where Deacon had found a booth and was having a piece of pie and a mug of coffee.
"Raisin cream," he said pointing at the pie with his fork. "You oughta try some."
"The guy wants to sell me all new tires."
"So buy 'em."
"Don't have the money."
"I'll loan you some. What do you need?"
"I thought you said you were broke."
"I said no such thing."
"Why'd you sell your car then?"
"For the money, yes, which is in the bank. Now would you let me loan some of it to you?"
He looked at Deacon like he was seeing him for the first time. "I don't want to take your money."
"I want you to have it. Wouldn't you do that for a friend?"
"I didn't know we were friends."
"Well, fuck you, too," Deacon said and put the edge of his fork into his pie so hard it banged against the plate.
"Aren't you Don's brother?" a voice came from beside them. Kenneth looked up and saw a man standing there in jeans and a winter coat, a feed cap tipped back on his head. Another man stood behind him.
"It's Kenneth, right?" the man said, smiling. "I'm Mike. Don and I went to school together."
Then Kenneth recognized him and reached to shake his hand. He remembered Mike as one of the older boys who hung out with Don, friendlier than the rest and not so ready to ignore him just because he was younger and smaller.
One summer evening, he'd come by before Don got home from his job, and he'd sat on the front porch letting Kenneth show him the tricks he'd taught his dog Eddiefetch, roll over, shake hands.
"You got yourself one smart dog there," he'd said and patted him on the back when Don finally showed up and the two went inside the house together. Kenneth, who didn't make friends as easily as his big brother, had never forgotten that.
It must have been at least a dozen years ago, and there was that same warmth in Mike's eyes, like it had been yesterday. "Yes, I remember you," Kenneth said. "You were best man at Don's wedding."
"That I was."
"Nope," Mike said. "You stayin' at your folks'?"
"I see your mom around town. She still says hello." Mike laughed. "She always hoped I'd be a good influence on your brother. I'm not sure it worked out that way."
And it went on like that, a little about Don but mostly about Kenneth, his job in Topeka, and that he was on his way there now, just passing through town.
The man with him was as quiet as Mike was talkative. His name was Rich, and afterwards Kenneth couldn't remember whether he'd said anything at all.
"That guy looked like he'd seen a ghost," Deacon said, after the two men left, stopping to pay the cashier on the way out. "Did you get a look at him?"
"I wonder what happened to him. Made me think of a guy I knew once in Idaho. His truck hit a car full of migrant workers on a bad curve. He was the only one walked away."
"He couldn't get over it." Deacon shook his head. "Got to drinkin'. Had himself a girlfriend, with a kid. She finally left him."
"How'd you know this guy?"
"Bar somewhere. Told me his story. I gave him a blowjob out in his truck to make him feel better."
"So what happened to him?"
Deacon shrugged. "Never saw him again."
Kenneth marveled at how other men's lives could be so different from his own.
"What'd your friend say this guy's name was, Rich?" Deacon said. "I kinda wanted to talk to him. You know, tell him it's OK, shit happens."
Kenneth lowered his voice. "And suck his dick?"
"That was a long time ago." Deacon fixed him with a look. "I was a lot younger then. More your age."
"I just keep trying to figure you out."
Deacon gave him a half grin. "I doubt if you can," he said and drank the last of his coffee. "Now, you still sayin' no to a loan for those tires?"
Mike and Rich got into Mike's truck and headed across town and out to the farm.
"Who's this Don you were talking about?" Rich said.
"We grew up together."
And Mike told him about some of their adventures, hitchhiking once to Kansas, skipping school to go hunting the first day of pheasant season, a stag party at the lake when Don got marriedhow the two of them got into a fight that night out along the highway.
"He was drunk and lost his clothes somewhere. I had to chase around to find him. I finally took him home for a couple hours of sleep and got him to the wedding the next morning. He was still half drunk."
"Sounds like he wasn't ready to quit bein' single."
"Well, it was sorta what you'd call a shotgun wedding."
Rich laughed. "I heard about those when I was a boy. I couldn't figure out for the life of me what the shotgun had to do with it."
By now they'd driven out to the farm and Mike stopped at his mailbox, which stood along the road at the end of his driveway. He pulled out the mail and glanced through it before driving on.
"Hmmmm," he said, pulling out a letter. "Here's something for you."
"Me? There's nobody knows I'm livin' here."
He looked at the postmark before handing it to Rich. "I can think of one person."
Rich turned the envelope over twice, like there was no hope of it bearing good news. Then he saw the postmark, Oskaloosa, Iowa.
"It's from Ty," he said, still unwilling to open it.
"The suspense is gonna kill me," Mike said. "What does he have to say?"
Rich slowly tore open the envelope as Mike drove down the driveway and parked the pickup at his front gate.
With the unfolded letter in his trembling hands, Rich quietly read the words handwritten on the page.
"He sayshe says, he wants to know if he can come for Thanksgiving. He can be here Tuesday."
"Well, that's some good news, ain't it," Mike said and slapped Rich on the shoulder. "You've been waitin' for that a long time."
Rich re-read the letter and then just held it in his hands. He turned to Mike with a worried look.
"I don't know if I want him to come," he said. "I'm afraid I'll fuck it all up again."
"How bad do you want to see him?"
"Real bad, Mike. I miss him so much sometimes."
Mike sighed and then reached his arm around Rich's neck to hug him. "Hey, Tiger, I think you're gonna do just fine."
He felt Rich hugging him back now, hard.
"Anyway, you're not gonna be on your own," Mike said. "You got me and Danny here."
Rich let him go and forced a smile as he nodded his head. "I'm not forgettin' that. Not for a minute."
"You still up?" Deacon whispered, coming into Kenneth's bedroom. Both of them had turned in more than an hour ago, Kenneth's mom putting Deacon in Don's old bedroom across the hall.
Deacon, in his underwear, tiptoed across the room and lifted back the bedcovers to climb in with Kenneth, who'd been lying there looking through his old high school yearbook.
"I thought you'd be asleep by now," Kenneth said.
"I don't like sleepin' by myself if I don't have to."
They had shared the same bed at Don's, each on his own side of it. Deacon had fallen swiftly to sleep each night, while Kenneth had lain awake with his thoughts, finally putting a pillow over his head to shut out the sound of Deacon's quiet snoring.
"You can see there's not enough room for you," Kenneth said. It was a single bed.
"I don't mind doublin' up." Deacon was already crowding in beside him.
"I hope you don't think I owe you extra for buying me those tires."
"Stop worryin' about that. Anyways, Ellis made me promise not to touch you."
"Oh, he did."
"What's that you're readin'?"
"My old yearbook. From high school."
"Never had one of them."
"I never finished school for one thing."
"How come you quit?"
"Me and school never got along. I couldn't wait to get out."
"Isn't that a class ring you're wearing?" Kenneth pointed to the silver ring on Deacon's right hand.
"I got that from Ellis."
"That's his ring? He gave it to you?"
Deacon shrugged. "I liked the looks of it and he didn't want it."
Kenneth took his hand and looked at the ring. It read, "Class of 1939".
"Were you even born then?" Kenneth said.
"Sure, I was three years old." Deacon looked at the open page of the yearbook. "That you?" he said pointing to a picture.
It was his graduation picture. Looking at it now, what Kenneth saw was an obvious adolescent wearing a sport coat and a tie, with short hair and a too-serious expression on his face.
"You're lookin' all handsome there," Deacon said, his body pressing in closer to Kenneth's. "That's the way I remember you back when we first met."
Kenneth had never really liked the picture. A girlfriend at the time had persuaded him to pick it out of the photographer's set of proofs because, as she said, it made him look soulful.
"You got a picture in there of your favorite teacher?" Deacon wanted to know.
Kenneth thought for a moment and then looked in the faculty section. He remembered that he'd grown to like his English teacher, Mrs. Whittaker.
"What about him?" Deacon said, pointing to a picture of a big-jawed man with a brush mustache and wire rim glasses.
"Mr. Cavanaugh? He taught history." Kenneth's classmates had thought of him as middle-aged and old-fashioned. He could get excited talking to them about wars and politics, but the excitement rarely rubbed off on the students. He'd write furiously on the blackboard, drawing diagrams and charts, and by the end of the day his pants would be streaked with chalk dust.
"I would have stayed in school for a teacher like that." Deacon laughed. "I'd even have stayed after school."
"He was also the wrestling coach."
"Even better. You got a picture of him with the team?"
"You're a little nuts. Anybody ever tell you that?"
Kenneth turned to the sports section, and leafed through the football and basketball pictures until he found the one page in the book for wrestling.
"There he is," Deacon said, his finger landing on a picture. "Look at him." Transformed by a sweatshirt and pants, arms folded over his big chest, he looked broad-shouldered and beefy. He wore a big smile, like he was a man making history, not just teaching it.
"I coulda wrestled," Deacon said. "I coulda been one of those guys." He was admiring the team, standing in a row in their singlets. "I woulda looked good in one of those, you know, showing off my stuff."
"What kept you from doing it?"
"The old man wouldn't let me," Deacon said. "He needed me working after school to support the family."
Kenneth realized he knew nothing about Deacon's family. "What was your father like?" he asked.
"You don't wanna know."
Deacon lost interest in the yearbook. He pushed it away and put his arm over Kenneth.
"Whoa, what about your promise to my uncle?" Kenneth said.
"That I wouldn't touch you? I think he just meant with my dick." He pushed up Kenneth's tee shirt and began rubbing his chest.
"I dunno," Kenneth said, lifting Deacon's arm off him.
"Aren't you feelin' even just a little bit horny?" He slipped his hand now under the covers and felt between Kenneth's legs.
"Deacon, go back to your own bed."
"It's lonely in there by myself."
"Gimme a break."
Deacon sighed and leaned back against the headboard. "All right, all right." He pulled away the covers to show Kenneth the erection showing in his briefs. "I got a hard-on for you here just goin' to waste."
"Not my problem."
"Some day you'll look back on this night as a lost opportunity." He pulled down the front of his underwear, and his cock rolled out onto his belly. "It's a beauty, ain't it?"
"Tell me something. How many guys have you had sex with in your life?" Kenneth said.
"We doin' this for the sake of argument? See I learned that from you. I'm not as dumb as you may think."
"I don't think you're dumb, Deacon. I never did."
"So why are you askin' me?"
"I'm just wondering if you even know."
Deacon thought for a while, fingering his foreskin. "Sucking, fucking, everything?"
"Hell I dunno. What would you believe?"
"Too many to remember?"
Deacon laughed. "Easily."
"Think I wanna be just one more guy for you to fuck and forget?"
Deacon squeezed a dollop of precum onto his thumb and brought it to his mouth, licking it with his tongue.
"I think you got the wrong idea about you and me. There's a few that a man never forgets."
"I don't even wanna be one of a few."
"I been tellin' you, you're wantin' something you ain't never gonna find."
Kenneth shook his head.
"Look, you're not some drunk guy I met cryin' in his beer in some bar. Or some strung-out long-haul trucker at a rest stop on the interstate. You're not even some guy I worked with all day stackin' bales in a hay barn, and we had ourselves a little sweaty fun between trailer loads comin' in from the field."
He held the end of his dick between his fingers and slowly stroked the length of it with the other hand.
"You're somebody I know and care about. It wouldn't be just havin' sex, gettin' my rocks off. I'd be easy and gentle, like I was loving you with my whole heart."
"And how long would that last?"
"Why do you think I'm not in a big hurry to get back to Montana?"
Kenneth kept shaking his head.
"You worried about Ellis?" Deacon said. "He don't need to know."
"It doesn't bother you, cheatin' on him?"
"We're all grown-ups here. Well, two of us are anyway, but you'll get there soon enough."
"Let's sayjust for the sake of argumentwe go ahead and do that. When it's done and you're gone, I'm back where I started, on my own and hurtin' all over again."
"And I promise you, you'll get over iteven quicker this time." He kept stroking himself and more precum spilled out into the hair on his belly. "Before long, it won't even bother you."
"Deacon, I like you, but I don't want to end up like you."
"What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing. I couldn't ever be happy livin' like you do. Not having someonea partner I can depend on, who'll always be there by my side. Somebody I wouldn't cheat on and who wouldn't with me."
"Let me ask you something. How many guys have you had sex with in your life?" He pushed back his foreskin all the way and started rubbing the precum onto the mushroom head of his dick.
"OK, how you gonna know when you find the right guy if you don't have yourself a little more experience?"
"Are you still hoping to have sex with me?"
"Just answer the question."
"OK, what experiencefucking and sucking and everything?"
"It don't matter what kind. You shoot your load."
"I dunno. It's late, I'm tired, I can't think anymore about this. I just want to get some sleep."
Deacon sighed heavily, stopped what he was doing and pulled up his foreskin far as it would go. Then he tucked his still hard dick into his briefs and swung his feet onto the floor.
"I can take a hint," he said and sat on the edge of the bed. "Guess it's me and Rosie again tonight."
"Don't come all over the sheets, all right? My mom does the laundry."
Deacon just sat there and shook his head. "You're a tough nut to crack," he said and then got up. He walked quietly across the room and out the door without looking back. Soon Kenneth heard the door across the hall open and close.
After Deacon was gone, Kenneth lay there, the silence of the room closing again around him. Across town, he heard the wail of a diesel locomotive on the Burlington tracks. It was a mournful sound that brought memories of all the nights he'd been here by himself, doing homework with a radio turned low, listening to rock and roll from KOMA in Oklahoma City.
He turned off the light and the loneliness of those nights swept over him now, as he realized how empty his world had been without the friend he had yet to meetButch, his buddy in college. Butch who had seemed to love him back then, and who'd seemed to love him again in that cabin in the woods.
He let himself remember the deep feelings that had filled him on those nights when Butch would put a last log on the fire and then climb naked into the sleeping bag with him. The touch of skin on skin, the hard warm cock thrusting against him as they hugged each otherall of it to happen for one short week and then never happen again.
His heart ached, and the pain seemed to reach down into his very soul.
He watched the luminous hands of the clock by his bed, and as a quarter of an hour passed and then another, he knew sleep might never come tonight.
Finally, he got out of bed in the darkness and quietly crossed the floor to the door. It opened as he slowly turned the knob, and he took a step into the hall. He stood there, for what seemed like an eternity, listening to his racing heartbeat, loud enough to wake the house.
Then he went through the door to his brother's old room and stood inside. He heard Deacon shift in his bed.
"Still awake?" Kenneth whispered.
And Kenneth walked over to him and got into bed beside him.
Continued . . .
© 2008 Rock Lane Cooper