Mike and Danny: In Love
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.
A deputy from the county sheriff came out to the ranch the next day and took Kevin to town to catch a bus back to Ohio. He and Lonnie said their goodbyes in one of the barns, while the deputy waited, talking with Owen and Baxter by the county car he'd driven out from town.
Lonnie leaned his push broom inside a stall and bent down to put his arms around Kevin, not sure what to say. This parting was no easier than when he'd left Ohio two years before, Kevin clinging to him and sobbing, though this time there were only a few tears. The boy was doing his best to hold them inside.
"It's OK, it's OK," Lonnie said softly, "when you're old enough to leave home good and proper, you can come see me again."
Kevin just pressed against him harder.
"You got your schoolin', remember?" Lonnie said. "You can't just jump the gun like you did."
"You didn't wait till you was out."
"That was a fool mistake," Lonnie said sadly. "What am I ever gonna be but a hard-up cowboy?"
"I don't care. It looks pretty good to me."
"Believe me, it ain't like what they show in the movies."
Kevin swallowed hard. "I miss you so much."
Lonnie sat down on a hay bale, so he could look Kevin in the eyes. "You gotta be a man about this. You gotta understand what's good for you, and runnin' away from the folks back there ain't it."
Kevin's face was getting red with tears and anger. "It's not fair," he said.
"Life ain't fair and you know that well as I do," Lonnie said. "When you're like us, you have to make the best of what you got."
"When am I ever gonna see you again?"
"I dunno, but ain't no way I'm gonna lose track of you this time. So stop your worryin' about that."
Kevin rubbed his cheeks hard with both hands, blinking his eyes.
Lonnie wiped the snot from under the boy's nose with his thumb. "You hear what I'm saying?" he said.
"You just gotta cowboy up a little, that's all," Lonnie said.
Baxter suddenly appeared in the doorway of the barn. "You about ready to go?" he asked Kevin. "That bus ain't gonna wait."
Kevin didn't answer. Just took his arms from around Lonnie's neck. Then the three of them walked from the barn out to the car.
The deputy had been laughing about something with Owen when they got there. "Reckon we better shake a leg if we're gonna get goin'," he said, turning to Kevin and still grinning. And he let the boy sit in the front seat with him.
Then they were driving off the place, sand and gravel crunching under the tires, and the deputy for no reason getting a short whoop-whoop from his siren, which startled the horses in a corral.
"That fool don't have the sense he was born with," Owen said, standing with his hands in his back pockets and watching them go.
All Lonnie kept remembering the rest of the day was the sick feeling that welled up in his stomach as he watched Kevin's face in the car window looking back at him, like a convict being taken off to prison.
"You OK, son?" Baxter asked when the car had disappeared in its cloud of dust and they were walking back to the barn.
"Yessir," he'd said but wished he'd been able to tell him the truth. It would have been a relief to just pour out the anguish he felt, but he wasn't sure there were words for it. And it was up to him finally to cowboy up himself.
From the moment Kevin had arrived at the ranch, Lonnie had felt angry with the boy for dragging the past along with him. He hadn't expected this, and it wasn't really Kevin's fault. It just happened.
Living as he had on his own for so long, he'd been able to put all the bad memories far enough behind him. He could be the man people took him to besomeone with a history like anyone else. Folks and family somewhere, growing up with school friends, and having a home he could go back to if he wanted.
Out here you were who you said you were, and if you didn't say much, people didn't start asking questions to fill in the blanks. They didn't even need to know what your real name was.
He hadn't just lied to Baxter. He'd lied to Kevin, too, about becoming no more than a hard-up cowboy. It was exactly what he wanted to be. It was the life of freedom from his past that he'd always wished for and discovered he could have here.
It had been a lonely life up until now, but no lonelier than what he'd known since he was old enough to tie his own shoes. He was a boy nobody wanted.
Now that he was grown up, the surprise for him was that another man had come along who turned out to be like nobody he'd ever known, a man he admired and loved from afar, whoamazingly loved him back.
He'd said nothing of this to Kevin either. It was all still so new and unexpected that he wasn't sure it was real.
While he himself had loved Kevin when they were boys, and many was the time they had slept together just like their one night again in Baxter's trailer, it had been an innocent love between two boys.
It had started because, from the night Kevin first arrived at the house back in Ohio, he had bad dreams. Both of them in their underwear, he'd crawl into Lonnie's bed to curl up there beside him, sometimes in his arms. And together it was usually a sweet sleepthat is, when Kevin didn't wet the bed.
Lying naked and hard with Baxter was something else. The kisses and being touched until he came was a kind of explosive joy he'd never imagined. It made the affection for him that filled Baxter's eyes and softened his voice a miracle that was almost beyond believing. The unwanted boy had become a wanted man.
Wanted man. He smiled as he thought of this, feeding horses the morning after his first night with Baxter and imagining his face on an Old West poster, like a mean-looking outlawa bad-ass stage coach robber or a gunslinger with a droopy mustache.
All that day, as Baxter made his trip to Alliance, Lonnie had hardly missed him. Every minute was filled with memories so vivid that it was like the man wasn't gone at all.
There was the electric moment of just stepping to his bed and getting in beside him, Baxter's arm reaching across him to switch off the light and the touch of his chest against him. His cock had lurched suddenly so hard it was painful between his legs. And then in the darkness, there was the shock of being kissed, lips against his mouth, warm and strong, and in a moment of ecstasy being pulled into a naked embrace.
He'd heard of walking on clouds, but never knew what it meant until that whole next day. He'd felt lighter than air.
That someone would kiss him from head to toeor even consider itfilled him with feelings that were past comprehending. His body, the object of punishment in the pastthe beatings he had labored to forgetand now a kind of faithful work horse to get whatever job done that was given him to do, he had never thought of it as anything else.
Suddenly, his body was someone else's tender and loving object of devotion. Where he'd been slugged in the face and taken punches to the crotch in schoolyard fistfights or pummeled in freshman football, the gentlest hand was smoothing away the memory of all that. He felt his defenses resist at the first touch and then slowly surrender.
It was surely not good for a man to let his guard down like this, but there was no fighting the urge to let go and simply allow himself to bewhat?cherished. And as his body turned to jelly, only one part of him became rigid with an urgent, hot intensity.
He had not known that Baxter was going to touch him between his legs and discover his fierce erection, but when he did, it came to him that this was what everything had been leading up to everything from when he had knocked on the door that night and Baxter had opened it to let him in.
Whether either of them had known it, this was itthe falling away of whatever had stood between Lonnie and everyone else he'd ever known. There in the dark, Baxter had been the one to at last find him, the solitary young soul who'd thought he could somehow live his life alone.
And then, like a burst of magic, he had felt Baxter's warm breath on his cock, his lips touching him there, and in an instant the indescribable sensation of being engulfed in his warm, wet mouth.
When that happenedoh, when that happenedhe started seeing stars and meteor showers.
Gasping and crying out as he came, he'd never felt himself be so totally emptied. For a long time, he lay there dazed, hardly conscious, coming around only as he felt Baxter kissing him again and found him there stretched out beside him.
The whole next day, his body felt aglow inside his clothes, his skin alive with the memory of being touched. As he did his chores, it was hard not to lose track of what he was doing and simply slip into sweet daydreams. He hadn't known how starved he had been for Baxter's caresses. And the release of sex with him had triggered a burning excitement in his belly that made him want even more.
Then in the late afternoon, Kevin had appeared, driving onto the place in that big old pickup and searching until he found Lonnie unloading bales from a flatbed trailer in the big hay barn. The cloud he'd been walking on suddenly sprung a hole, and he came in a freefall straight down to earth.
First off, Kevin wasn't the same boy he'd been. He was two years older. Though he was still a scrawny boy, he'd grown inches taller, and his voice had changed. He looked tougher, like he wouldn't run from a fight, no matter what. Even pick one if he had to, though he was hardly big enough yet for that foolishness. He'd get the stuffings knocked out of him, unless he'd learned to be really quick with his fists, and Lonnie doubted it.
Then it came to Lonnie how much older he was himself. No longer the boy on the run, fighting down his fears as he took to the road, he felt now like a young man, able to hold his own in the world. And, for another thing, he was no longer alone.
Looking at Kevin, he saw this was the biggest difference between them. After a night with Baxter, Lonnie had discovered what it was to truly let someone into his heart. And Kevin, with his memories of the two of them as boys, was not old enough to understand this.
Maybe in a few years, fully grown into his manhood, he'd find someone to love that way. In the meantime, Lonnie knew it would never be him. Kevin had traveled all this way to find the big brother he'd lost, but Lonnie wasn't that boy anymore. It was like he'd fetched up on the other side of a deep river that now separated them, and there was no bridge to cross.
That evening, with Kevin on his way back to Ohio, Lonnie and Baxter had sat as they finished supper, hardly talking. The business with Kevin had affected what there was between them. There seemed no way to return to the simple, sweet feelings of naked escape into Baxter's strong arms.
"Something's troubling you, son, I can tell," Baxter said. He'd opened a can of sliced peaches and they were silently eating them.
Lonnie shook his head, unable to put into words what was going through him. He'd wanted Kevin to think kindly of him when he got Lonnie's letter. He had a picture of Kevin keeping it folded up in a back pocket of his jeans, reading it over and over until it finally wore out, happy that Lonnie, though far away, had never forgotten about him.
But it had been a foolish thing to expect. He could see that now. Instead of maybe helping him feel so not alone in the world, the letter had only made Kevin more unhappy. It had stirred up his bitterness and impatience.
"I'm always doin' something stupid," Lonnie finally said to Baxter.
"And what makes you think so?" Baxter said.
"I shouldn't of sent that letter."
"Well, I don't know what you said in that letter, but I'd wager you meant well."
"I never told you," Lonnie said and explained to Baxter what he hadn't revealed to anyone before. "I run off myself like Kevin. I should of figured he'd try and do the same thing."
Anything could have happened to him, he told Baxter. He had no business taking that truck out on the highway and driving all that way. It was plain fool luck he didn't get himself killed.
Baxter thought about this for a while and divided up the last of the peaches, spooning them out of the can.
"Well, there's no harm been done," he said. "No use blaming yourself for something that didn't happen." Then he lifted his hand to Lonnie's cheek and studied him, a smile on his broad face.
"All you had to do," he went on, "is do right by this boy. Get him on the right path and headed back home."
"I don't think I did that so good," Lonnie said. "He was just a hurtin' puppy, and I didn't help much."
Baxter kind of nodded, like he was about to say something he'd been slowly getting around to. "I noticed for a while you were being kinda hard on him," he said.
Lonnie looked into Baxter's eyes and felt stricken that the man would think ill of him.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said.
"Well, I think you're a lot like me," Baxter said. "You'd do what's right by someone else if you just knew what it was."
"I surely don't know what's right half the time."
"Oh, I believe you do a better of job of that than you think. Better'n most."
And Baxter explained how he'd seen the way he worked around the ranch, the way he took care of the horses, the respectful way he was with the other men.
"Owen's lucky to have you, and what's more he knows it," he said. "It don't matter if there's somebody lookin' over your shoulder or not, you never do less than a man's joband usually moreevery day."
Lonnie just looked at Baxter, surprised.
"You probably thought I wasn't taking any notice of you," Baxter said. "Well, I have been. I've been watchin' you since the day you showed up." He explained that he was the one who persuaded Owen they could use an extra hand with the horses, and that he had a hunch Lonnie was the right man for the job.
Now Lonnie felt his face flush, and he looked down into his bowl of peaches.
"I was right, too," Baxter said and put his hand on Lonnie's shoulder. "So there's no use thinking you're less of a man than you are. I know better."
Lonnie's face burned and he felt his throat tighten with emotion. He struggled with his feelings and then decided to tell Baxter his worst fear. "Do you think they can come for me now that they know where I am?"
"Is that what's bothering you?"
Baxter patted Lonnie's cheek now and ruffled his hair. "No one's gonna take you away from here or anywhere you want to be. Not if I have anything to say about it. Now eat your peaches."
Lonnie felt his heart skip a beat. Then he took his spoon and did what Baxter said. He ate his peaches.
It was a hot night in the trailer, and Baxter had set a floor fan in one of the windows to blow the inside air out. The two of them had taken a walk before bed, over to one of the barns where a mare was about to foal.
They had brought her in from the pasture a week before, and she had already seemed to be getting restless. But when Baxter had gone into the stall, to stroke her body and check her udder, explaining to Lonnie what he was doing, there were no signs that she was about to go into labor.
Lonnie took a pitch fork and cleaned the straw bedding while Baxter gave the mare some grain. "Bedtime snack," he told her and then added for Lonnie's benefit, "A new momma's got to have plenty of nutrients."
As they stood together afterward, leaning against the stall gate, Lonnie thought again about Kevin and said, "I still don't know if I did the best thing."
Baxter was wearing his hat, and in the shadow from the dim electric light overhead, it was hard to see the expression on his face. He seemed to think for a while.
"He came a long way to see you," he said. "He must think a lot of you."
"Yes, sir." Lonnie remembered again the night he left home, how Kevin had wept and begged him not to go.
"He needed you to look out for him," Baxter said, turning toward him, his face still in shadow. "Because you were the only one he could count on."
"And you're thinkin' you let him down."
"Yes, sir, I do."
"And yourself, too."
"Oh, yes, sir."
Baxter cleared his throat and thought for a while. "I can tell you, son, there's no gettin' away from that. Not if you live to be a hunderd." There was a sadness in his voice that Lonnie had not heard before.
And Baxter talked for a while about his life, of leaving his mother to come west and live with his father and not realizing until after she was gone how he'd owed much more to her as her only son, but now it was too late.
And he talked of his father, and how he'd done his best to take care of him as he got old, but the day had come when he saw that his best was never going to be good enough. Now the man was wasting away in a nursing home, miles away in North Platte.
"Don't think I haven't felt just like you," he said softly. "And I still do."
But Lonnie was only half listening, still thinking of how he ran off and left Kevin behind. "I coulda done my best, sir, and I didn't even try."
But Baxter was not done telling stories. "A young man like yourself is allowed some lee-way, but someone like me should know better." There was a woman he'd thoughtlessly taken advantage of a while ago, he said. He'd let her believe that he would eventually be her husbandhe wasn't going to go into details because the details weren't what was importantbut while she believed they were courting, he'd never intended to marry her. He'd betrayed her trust.
"An honest man behaves better'n that," he said. "It don't change anything, but finally all he's got left is being honest with himself about what he's done. He don't blame nobody else."
He turned to Lonnie who stood beside him, leaning with his elbows on the top of the stall gate.
"That's something I like about you, son," he said. "When you done something you coulda done better, you don't make excuses for yourself."
"That don't make it easy, sir."
"Didn't say it did."
Baxter tipped up the side of his hat to scratch over his ear. And Lonnie thought for a while, listening to a cricket chirping loudly in the silence. The mare stirred and then lay down in the straw.
Lonnie still didn't believe he'd done right by Kevin. And he would have to find a way to live with that.
It was late when they got back to the trailer. The bedroom was still warm, but he had got into Baxter's bed with him and lay there naked beside him, their bodies damp with sweat.
Baxter had kissed him and touched his face with his big hands, and then he spoke of something that he said had been on his mind all day.
"I wouldn't be saying this if I was your age," he said. "Being here like this would just be the natural thing, and I'd just take you in my arms like last night, to do it all over again, and whatever else we come up with."
"I can think of some other things," Lonnie said with a little laugh, his heart lifting with happiness as they touched.
"But I wanna be serious now," Baxter said. "I'm not your age. Hell, I'm not just older. I could be your father."
"I don't care about that."
"Maybe you should a little."
Lonnie suddenly felt a feeling of dread rise in him from nowhere. "Sir?"
"You want me to be honest with you, don't you?"
Everything in him now was alive with alarm. What was Baxter trying to tell him? "Don't you care for me?" Lonnie said, unable to hold back the words.
"Oh, lordamercy," Baxter said, laughing for a moment, too. "I already love you more'n I ever loved anybody."
"Then I don't understand."
"Let's think past tonight. I can love you with all my heart, and that may damn well be the easiest thing I ever do." There was a look of concern on his face, as he stopped to reach for the right words. "And I could go on loving you. But I expect some day, before long, it's gonna be all over."
Lonnie couldn't imagine what he was talking about. "I don't care about that," was all he could say. "All I care about is right now."
"If it's just for tonight, and that's all you want from me, I can do that," Baxter said, a pained expression now on his face.
Lonnie, unaware of what his hands were doing, realized he was cradling both of them against Baxter's chest, as if he was gently trying to hold his heart.
"Not just tonight," Lonnie said. "Every night. And every day, too."
"I'm a fifty-year-old man," Baxter said to him. "I don't want you to waste your young years on me."
Lonnie couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I don't want to be with anybody but you, ever."
Baxter shook his head. "Lonnie, you're too young to see. You hardly even know me."
"I do, sir. I been watchin' you, too."
"Look, son. How can I say this? Ain't no way this is going to work out. Not the way you want it. I promise you, it's all gonna end up some day in bitter tears."
Lonnie pressed against him now, pleading. "Please, sir, I been lookin' my whole life for someone like you, and now that I found you, I don't wanna be giving you up. So don't be sayin' this stuff."
Baxter sighed and rolled onto his back, looking up at the ceiling.
"I know you're wantin' to do what's best," Lonnie said. "Like we were talking about in the barn." He was trying to give the man some of his own advice. "But what you don't appreciate is that what you believe is best for you would justbreakmyheart." And he brought his fist against his chest with each word.
Baxter looked at him now.
"Bitter tears, sad tears, happy tears, I don't care what kind of tears, I cried my share of all of 'em," Lonnie said. "It don't matter. I want you for as long as I can have you. And I'm hopin' hell, I'm prayin'you feel the same way about me."
Baxter shook his head again and didn't say anything for a long time. Finally, he reached again to Lonnie, looking into his eyes
"You're sure this is what you want," he said.
Baxter closed his eyes like he was about to say no again, but instead he said, "OK." And though there was a note of sadness in his voice, there was the trace of a smile beginning to show on his face.
"OK," Lonnie said, breathing a sigh of relief.
"But I'm telling you, I still think we're making a big mistake," Baxter said.
"I say, let's make it. The bigger the better."
Baxter took him in his arms, holding him close, and neither of them spoke for a while.
"Did you mean it when you said you loved me?" Lonnie finally said.
"What do you think?"
"I think you do," Lonnie said. "And I sure as shootin' love you."
Continued . . .
© 2007 Rock Lane Cooper