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.
It was the next morning when Kenneth got back to the apartment from work. Deacon was up and dressed and sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee. He'd found an old newspaper and was reading the comics.
"Guess what," Kenneth said. "My boss is quitting and I think I'm getting his job."
Deacon just looked at him, expecting him to say more.
"It's good," Kenneth said. "I'd be working days instead of nights and maybe makin' better money."
"Sounds like you're goin' places."
Deacon didn't know much about the kind of job Kenneth had. Working regular hours for the same employer year after year felt too much like being in some sort of jail. Yes, you got to come home and sleep in your own bed, but you had to give up a lot, too. He liked changing jobs when he felt like it, and saving enough so he could go without working at all for a while if he wanted.
And another thing. A job like Kenneth's seemed to call for a lot of thinking. Deacon was willing to take on jobs that required muscle and sweat, but he liked to keep his thoughts free for other things. Work that occupied a man's mind as well as his body hardly left him with anything of himself to call his own.
Kenneth, who hadn't slept for twenty-four hours, looked like he was running on automatic. He said he needed shut-eye more than anything, and he headed for the bedroom. A while later, when Deacon looked in on him, he found him already sound asleep, his clothes thrown on the floor, just his head sticking out from under the covers.
Going back to the kitchen and pouring himself more coffee, Deacon got to thinking about this young man he'd spent the last several days with, and he realized that what he felt for him was something new for him.
For as long as he could remember, he'd sought older men to get close tomen who'd be like a big brother, or even a father to him. You could show up at their door, and they'd take you in. Just like Ellis, they might complain that you'd neglected them, but they wouldn't send you away. There was shelter in their arms. And there was loving to be had in their beds.
With Kenneth, when they'd first met years before, he'd felt this unexpected impulse to take him under his wingto be the one to give shelter and love. Then, as Deacon had returned with Ellis to Montana, the feeling had just as quickly passed. He hadn't even remembered it until this past week when they met again.
The day they chopped wood together, there it was once more, that urge. Like Kenneth was a little brotherwhich Deacon never hadwho was having a tough go and just needed a boost to get back on his feet again. He discovered again that he liked the feeling of that. It gave him another purpose in the world besides just looking after himself and keeping Ellis happy.
That these feelings might turn into sexual ones didn't occur to him because it was only older men that triggered that kind of desire. Sex with guys his own age had usually been a lukewarm substitute. And younger guys, inexperienced and usually skinny and hairless, weren't really men yet at all.
At first, when Ellis made him promise not to touch Kenneth on this trip to Topeka, it seemed no more than a little joke between the two of them. But looking back, he wondered if this had maybe put the idea into his head. Or maybe it had been there all along. Anyone else Deacon wouldn't have given a second thought to, but being Ellis' nephew, Kenneth was connected to the man Deacon was fondest of, and that connection seemed to make some kind of difference.
Sleeping together in the same bed at Don's ranch had filled him with warm, protective feelings as he lay there in the dark, inches away from Kenneth. And when he'd wondered at the urge to cradle the broken-hearted young man in his arms, he told himself he was only taking Ellis' concern for his nephew seriously. What he couldn't quite account for was the urgency of the hard-on in his underwear.
By the time they'd got to Kenneth's house in Grand Island, he wanted to give Kenneth what Ellis had always so freely and lovingly given to Deacon, his entire body. The promise he made to Ellis no longer mattered. Ellis was and always would be the man in his life. Nothing could change that. Offering himself to Kenneth was nothing more than being for another man what Ellis had always been for Deacon.
Sucking each other's cock that first time had been only a small breaking of his promise anyway. After all, he hadn't fucked Kenneth. That would have been different. And his consciencewhich rarely bothered him anyhowseemed satisfied with this way of looking at it.
And he felt no need to question why he'd decided to go all the way to Topeka with Kenneth, when it looked like his broken heart was well on the road to mending. Spending Thanksgiving with Kenneth's family appealed to himthey made him feel like part of a family, and having little of that to call his own, he welcomed the chance to be with them.
He'd phoned Ellis about it when he got to Kenneth's, but Ellis had already got a call from his sister.
"Who's idea was this anyway?" he grumbled.
"I was just down there for a funeral. I'm not turning around and going right back again."
"Well, this is Thanksgiving. Nobody died."
"Deacon, what sense is that supposed to make?" Ellis said. "I haven't been there for Thanksgiving in fifteen years. I don't plan to start now."
"Well, I'm stayin' even if you don't come."
"Why in hell would you do that? You don't know my family and they don't know you."
Deacon felt a little hurt by this remark. "But they invited me."
"Just to get me to come, too. That's the only reason."
"Well, go have your Thanksgiving by yourself then."
"Dammit, Deacon. What am I going to do with you?"
"What you always do," Deacon laughed. "Chew me out and then take me for a roll in the hay."
Ellis complained a while longer and then asked about Kenneth.
"He's doing fine," Deacon said. "As usual, you were worried over nothin'."
"Sometimes I wonder if you even know what the word worry means."
When Ellis hung up, he hadn't said whether or not he was coming for Thanksgiving, which Deacon took as a good sign. Not deciding meant he was giving himself time to get used to the idea.
Also, he hadn't reminded Deacon about the promise he'd made, which was another good sign. Maybe he wasn't so serious about that after all.
Randy had got a ride into Ogallala and found a cheap motel. Knowing he had a job waiting for him at a ranch somewhere up northabout 75 miles the guy at the front desk had told himhe didn't mind so much what the room was costing him. Passing trains woke him at times during the night, but the shower was hot and the bed big and blissful.
He was waiting at the front door of a restaurant when it opened the next morning and ordered himself steak and eggs for breakfast. Then, after walking about ten blocks to the edge of town, he put down his carry bag and waited for a ride.
It was a Saturday, and there wasn't much traffic yet. The sky was still overcast, and a brisk wind blew from the north. He pulled his hat tight on his head and kept both hands in his coat pockets, putting out his thumb when he saw a car or truck coming.
A kid in an old Chevy pickup came skidding to a stop, pulling onto the shoulder of the road, and Randy had to run a ways to catch up to him.
"Hyannis?" he asked the driver.
"High-anus?" the kid said laughing. "Getcher anus in here."
Randy jumped in and before he'd closed the door, they were moving again, tires spinning in the gravel. The floor on his side, he discovered, was littered with empty beer cans. When the driver glanced over and saw Randy kicking them aside to make room for his boots, he started waving his hands.
"Get rid of those," he said, all excited, like he was seeing them for the first time. "Throw 'em out. All of 'em. My dad'll fuckin' shit a brick if he sees 'em."
Randy rolled down the window and began pitching out the cans. The kid was reaching between his legs and finding more, flinging them out the open window from his side.
"The rubber wrappers gotta go, too," he said.
Randy had already seen them on the floor, easily a handful torn open and empty.
"Looks like you had yourself a time," he said.
"You better fuckin' believe it," the driver laughed. "You find any ain't been used, help yourself. No use lettin' 'em go to waste."
The driver, a rancher's son, was no more than out of high school. He was dressed for a night in town, in a fleece-lined corduroy jacket, jeans that looked brand new, and a black hat.
They were still picking up speed, and by the time they were out in the country, they were already well over the speed limit.
"You ain't from around High-anus," he said. "I'd know you."
"No, I'm not. Nevada."
"What'd you leave there for?"
"Came to see somebody."
"I'da stayed. Ain't they got legalized whorehouses there? I could go for that. Enough of this chasin' tail that don't wanna hold still for ya. Shit."
"I think you gotta be twenty-one for that," Randy said.
"Well, like they say. We can put a man on the moon, but once he's up there, where's he gonna get laid?" He shook his head like he wasn't joking. "You must've tried some of that legal stuff. What's it like?"
"Can't say that I have."
"Man's gotta be queer not helpin' himself to what's there for the takin'."
The remark wasn't a challenge, Randy could tell, like it would have been in a redneck bar, somebody with a few too many not liking the looks of him and angling for a fight. This guy was just a kidclueless.
"You sayin' we got queers in Nevada?" Randy asked him.
"No, siree," the kid said, ducking to the side and putting up both hands. "Wouldn't dream of even suggestin' such an unlikely possibility."
Randy let himself think about the all-night sex with the guy Luther from the filling stationLucky Luther. And then of how the love of his life, Wallace, had stood there in the parking lot saying he'd made up his mind to get married. And here he was talking like none of that had happened. Being queer was like living in another country at the same time you were trying your best to live in this one.
"You ever know a queer?" he said to the kid, feeling like having some fun with him.
"Hell, I wouldn't let one close to me."
"Why not? What're you afraid would happen?"
"He might try to fuck me."
"What if he wasn't interested in you?"
The kid thought about this for a second. "Well, why wouldn't he be?"
"You mean because you're such a handsome stud?"
"Hell, yeah," he said.
"So you'd be disappointed if he didn't want to fuck you."
The kid thought some more about this, shaking his head.
"Havin' trouble thinkin' straight?" Randy said, trying not to smile.
"Who the hell cares. That's not gonna happen anyway. Maybe where you're from, but not around here."
"So you're sayin' you could be sittin' next to a queer and you wouldn't even know it."
"Oh, I'd know it all right."
"How would you know?"
"Man, you can just tell."
He passed another truck on the road, honking, laughing, and giving the driver the finger. "Buddy of mine," he said. "Fucker got himself into one helluva fight last night. Lost a couple teeth. You shoulda seen it."
Randy turned to the window, watching the countryside fly by and laughing to himself. His seventy-year-old uncle liked to say there was a fool born every minute. On this strip of two-lane between two dots on the map, they didn't seem to be in short supply.
Danny was home for the weekend from his teaching job at the college in Kearney. When he'd driven in after dark the night before, he'd seen Ty's Nash Rambler parked by the gate next to Mike's pickup, and he knew Rich's friend had come back early to be with all of them for Thanksgiving.
Mike was inside, with supper on the stove. The kitchen was warm and smelled of spaghetti sauce. There would be the usual jokes tonight about Mike's meat balls. They hugged as soon as Danny got his coat off, one of those fierce, manly hugs Mike liked to give when they hadn't seen each other for a week, with a long, heavy-breathing kiss.
Danny followed Mike to the stove and stood beside him as he emptied a box of spaghetti into a pot of simmering water. He dipped a wooden spoon into the steaming sauce for a taste of it.
"I see our company's here," Danny said.
"They're still in the back bedroom. Asleep, last I checked. Must have been quite the welcome home," Mike laughed.
Danny pulled down the back of Mike's shirt collar and nuzzled his neck, while he patted him on the butt.
Stirring the long sticks of spaghetti into the water, Mike turned his head and kissed Danny again.
"Your welcome home comes later," Mike said.
When they were sitting down to eat, Rich appeared in the kitchen doorway, pulling on a sweatshirt and buckling his belt.
"Work up an appetite?" Mike said.
Rich said nothing, just nodded and stood there with a sheepish grin on his face before getting a plate from the cupboard and helping himself to the food on the stove.
"I'm guessin' Ty got here OK?" Danny said when Rich sat down with them.
Rich nodded again. "Yeah, he's OK."
Danny had watched every weekend he was at home for signs of healing in their troubled friend. For a long time Rich had seemed to retreat further into himself, not leaving the farm to go anywhere unless he was with Mike or Danny.
His motorcycle had stayed covered under a tarp in one of the sheds, and there were days and nights when he said nothing, maybe watching TV with them until something came on that bothered him and he'd get up and go to his bedroom.
Danny knew there were times during the week when Rich spent the night in the same bed with Mike. He'd learned about this from Mike, who wanted him to know how it seemed to help him sleep with Mike right there beside him.
"I put my arms around him if he wants me to," Mike said, a look of thoughtful concern crossing his face. He was always struggling to understand the depths of emotional wounds that seemed not to respond to time and simple loving.
"He's better, I think," Mike would report some weeks. "Maybe he's healing." But Ty's absence was a weight they all felt. As long as he wasn't there, Rich seemed lost and unhappy.
But now, as he sat with them at the table eating supper, there was a different air about him. He seemed more alive, Danny thought, like a part of him had been deador just asleep waiting to be awakened.
He glanced up and caught Danny looking at him. Then he looked over at Mike, who was watching him, too.
"I'm OK," he said and grinned at them. "I'm really OK."
When he was done, he got up from the table and went back to the bedroom, quietly opening the door and just as quietly closing it again behind him.
Randy got to Hyannis well before noon and found the hotel, where there was a pay phone. He called again the number that he had, as his new boss Don had told him, and all he had to do was wait there in the bar until someone drove from the ranch to get him.
That someone turned out to be an older guy, a cowboy who said his name was Slim. He was a big man, but not exactly thin, and Randy wondered how he'd got the name. Slim had stuck his head in the door and looked around, like he wasn't used to being in town on a work day.
Randy was easy enough to find, since he was the only person in the bar. Even the woman tending bar was next door in the dining room most of the time, where men were coming in out of the cold to sit with each other, talking and ordering coffee.
"You the new guy?" Slim had said from across the room, standing in the doorway from the street.
Randy nodded, picked up his carry bag, and got down from the bar stool where he'd been sitting. He followed Slim outside to his truck, which was idling by the curb.
Once they were crossing the railroad tracks and driving out of town, Slim seemed to relax and asked him, "Where you from?"
And Randy told him his story as they headed further north, finally turning off the two-lane onto an unpaved road that went several miles into the hills. In a while, Slim turned off where there was a big sign for the ranch, painted with a picture of a Charolais bull.
"Your boss raise Charolais?" Randy said.
"Never worked with them. What are they like?"
"Sweet as can be," Slim laughed. "And just as hard-headed."
They drove across a cattle guard that rumbled under the truck's tires, and they were on a narrow sandy road that disappeared up ahead where it bent around a low rise.
"How long you been workin' for this outfit?"
"Just about forever."
"Oh, he'll do," Slim said and smiled.
"He said there's a roofing job. Think he'll be needin' a man for any other kind of work?"
"Calvin' time keeps us hoppin'. We can always use another hand. Course, that won't be for another couple months."
"How many you got workin' here?"
"Just me and George right now. And we got an extra cowboy laid up who ain't good for much as long as he's on crutches."
When they rounded the bend in the road, the ranch buildings came into view. The house was small, like a bachelor had built it maybe forty years ago and then never found a wife to give him reason to build onto it. But the barns and sheds were big, a couple of them looking almost new. It was a place that the owner took pride in, you could tell, and that meant something when you were going to be working for him.
A tall man came walking from one of the corrals toward them. His boots and his jeans, from the knees down, were covered with mud.
"There's the boss comin' now," Slim said.
Randy was out of the truck with his carry bag when the man got there, pulling off a leather glove to shake his hand. He was a smiling, friendly guy, a few years older than Randya handsome man, too, Randy thought, as they stood talking.
"Slim'll show you around, get you situated in the bunkhouse, and then you can have a look at that shed we've been tryin' to put a roof on before winter gets here. Which by the looks of it could be just about any day now."
He looked up at the leaden sky, heavy with clouds rolling steadily southward.
"If it holds off, there's another roof needs work. Slim, you know the one I'm talkin' about. Show it to Randy here and see what he thinks."
"When we get him to workin' on that, you and George need to get out there and do something about that fence in the east pasture. It's gettin' in bad shape. When we put yearlings out there next spring, they're gonna be walkin' right through it like it wasn't there."
"You eat?" he said to Randy.
"No, sir, but I'd like to get right to work if I can."
"Man can't work on an empty stomach," Don said and told Slim to take him up to the house first. Then he turned and started to walk off, saying he had a couple feeder calves that needed doctoring.
"Seems like a good man," Randy said as he and Slim went to the ranch house.
"Oh, he's just about the best, all right," Slim said, and it sounded like he wasn't just being respectful.
As they walked along, Slim explained that he had come with the ranch when Don and his father-in-law had bought it. They could have let him go, since he was no young cowboy anymore, but Don had insisted that he stay on.
At the house, they went through a side door into a large kitchen with a long table that was big enough to feed eight cowboysten if they squeezed together. An ancient wood-burning stove, looking like something out of the Old West, stood in one corner. Nearby was a modern electric range, a big refrigerator, and a freezer.
A young cowboy sat in a chair by the stove, and he got up on a pair of crutches when Slim and Randy came in. He was favoring one leg, and Randy could see his foot seemed to be wrapped up.
"This here is Chad," Slim said. "He did what you'd call a Humpty Dumpty off one of the shed roofs."
"Aw, Slim, don't go rubbin' it in."
"He's still kinda sore about it," Slim said smiling.
Randy stuck out his hand to the young man. "I'm Randy," he said. "Rhymes with candy."
Chad leaned one crutch into his armpit and let go to take Randy's hand. "Pleased to meet you," he said.
Kenneth woke late in the afternoon. It took several seconds of peering from under the covers to realize that he was home in his own bed and no longer on the road somewhere. The room was quiet, just the sound of distant traffic.
He stretched the stiffness from his body as he lay there and then thought about getting up. The clock said 4:30, and he remembered that it was Saturday. Normally, he would go out on a Saturday night. There was a bar where he liked to go sometimes, and on weekends there was a rock banda bunch of guys called the North Forty Surfers, who tried to look and sound like they were from California.
A hot shower, he thought, would suit him and a shave. He got out of bed, stripped off his underwear and tossed it in a laundry basket, and he went to the bathroom. Turning on the hot water, he stood taking a piss in the toilet, as the room got warm and steamy.
Glancing into the mirror, he saw the bathroom door slowly open behind him, and with a start he remembered Deacon.
"Shit," he laughed. "I'd of wet my pants if I wasn't pissing already." He finished, shook his dick, and bent to flush the toilet.
Deacon closed the door and stepped behind him, slipping both arms around him and hugging him, pressing their bodies together.
"I thought you were going to sleep all day," he said.
Deacon's hands on his naked skintouching his nipples, his belly, and then brushing over his cocksent a wave of surprise through him that quickened his heart and sent a surge of feeling between his legs.
He did not want this. It was against everything he felt about Deacon, who seemed so careless about having sex with whoever he wanted and who was nothing like the man Kenneth had loved. It had been loneliness and not love that had driven Kenneth to his bedroom two nights before, and it was sex not love that he had found there.
The sex had helped him make it through that night, but it had made him feel less of a man and betrayed by his own desires, and he was trying hard not to feel ashamed of them.
He wanted Deacon on his way back to Montana as soon as possible. Having him around was just a reminder that his life had gotten all fucked up. He'd be better off if he could just do without other menno Butch to break his heart, no Deacon to confuse him, nobody making him want something they couldn't, or wouldn't, ever give him.
But, dammit, being held the way Deacon was holding him now felt so good. And it made no sense to say it didn't. So life was full of confusion and heartbreakso what? He could do worse.
Deacon rubbed a nipple with one hand and gently stroked his cock with the other. Then he was opening his pants and letting them slip down to his knees. Kenneth could feel his naked thighs and his hard-on, almost hot against his skin.
He twisted around in Deacon's arms and held him. Deacon now stroked from his shoulder blades to his butt and then reached with one hand to cradle the back of his head, as they began to kiss in the rising steam.
Continued . . .
© 2008 Rock Lane Cooper