Mike and Danny: The Snowstorm
OK, it's a miserable day, middle of winter. Mike is off to Omaha with Don. They left in the dark before dawn and won't be back until tonight. The forecast was for snow. But Mike and Don pretty much ignore it, thinking I guess that in Don's new truck they can drive through anything.
They have me convinced anyway, and once they're gone, I don't really think about them again until two-thirty or three in the afternoon when it starts getting dark and I can hear sleet hitting the polyethylene over the windows. I've been sitting at the kitchen table, typing away on my trusty Royal, working on my novel, an open ream of paper on one side and a box lid slowly filling up with typed sheets on the other.
I finish a chapter and stack the pages together neatly, feeling pleased with myselfknowing full well I'll look at it tomorrow and figure it's a piece of shit that needs more work. Or I'll throw it away and start all over. I'm my own worst critic.
I walk onto the porch and stick my head out the door. What I can see of the sky to the northwest is looking mean and ugly, and the trees down by the river are quickly disappearing in a thick, blurry fog. There's still at least a foot of frozen snow on the ground from the last storm. Old man winter has had us by the ballsand it looks a lot like he's ready to tighten his grip.
The sleet stings on my face and I'm noticing Ranger is standing out in the pen by the barn, a layer of snow collecting on his back already. I reach inside for an old wool coat of Mike'sthe red plaid one that gets used for barn dutyand pull on a pair of buckle-front overshoes, stiff with cold because they're so caked with mud they get left on the porch.
Ranger watches me with his big dark eyes as I shamble across from the house, overshoes unbuckled. I get him inside the barn and wipe him down with a gunnysack. After I break open a straw bale to freshen up one of the stalls, I slap his butt till he goes inside and I put some oats in a bucket for him. While he's having his lunch, I toss some of the prairie hay he likes into his manger.
"Gonna be a cold one again tonight," I'm telling him. I figure he hears what I'm saying and knows he'd be a helluva lot warmer if I'd just take him inside the house. But he flicks his ears and ignores me.
I stand for a while to keep him company, leaning against the stall, listening to the sleet on the barn roof.
Could be the wet smell of Mike's wool coat, but I get to thinking about him, as I do. I'm wondering if he and Don ever really talk about anything. I'm wondering, too, if the old torch he had for Don when they were younger ever flares up again.
I can feel the sleet melting in my hair. Mike, if he was here, would have some remark about my not wearing a cap outdoors. He likes to say I don't have the sense I was born withmust have been educated out of me. And then he grins. It tickles him to feel smarter than a college boy, especially one he sleeps with.
I'm thinking how I'm tickled myself when he reaches under the bedcovers for the drawstring on my pajamas. Ever since the nights turned cold and I first put them on, he has marveled that a grown man would wear anything but his underwear to bed.
I bought him a pair for his birthday, and he's still working up the nerve to wear them. He cracks me up.
When he finally tries them on, I'll do to him what he does to me. Once he's got my bottoms open he unbuttons the top to take both of my nipples between his cold fingers, sticking his warm tongue in my navel. And he rubs his whiskery chin on my belly. What I feel at that moment is to be completely at his mercy.
I lie there until he pulls down the pajama bottoms to my knees, talking to me from under the covers, admiring my balls and stroking the inside of my thighs. Then straddling my legs with his as he emerges again, letting his chest down on mine and giving me another grin before kissing me and sighing like this is what he's been looking forward to all day.
Our bare chests pressed together, I push down his thermals as far as my arms will reach, so I can get my hands around his butt cheeks, which fill out the back of his wranglers so damn nice.
Standing there in the barn and letting my thoughts drift in this direction, my dick is starting to search for new territory in my shorts.
Seems the two of us have done just about everything. And yet every time, there's something about it I never noticed before. Like this last time, the way he rolls off me, kicks his thermals down to his ankles and flips around on one haunch so that the next thing I know he's got his head between my legs and he's lifting one knee across my chest. When I look up there's his hard-on stiff as a socket wrench and his balls hanging, coming in over me for a three-point landing.
When he settles onto me, I pull the covers back over us, and I'm feeling his warm breath on my cock, just before he sucks as much of me as he can into his mouth. That moment as my dick glides over his soft, wet tongue just about makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
I'm never ready for it. Sometimes it's like walking down stairs in the dark and there's one more step when I think I've got to the bottom. Or sometimes it sends waves through me that are like jumping into a vat of warm vanilla pudding (not that I've ever done that). Or sometimes chocolate. This time it's like butterscotch.
What your mind does when your dick slides into someone's mouth, you could write a book.
I wonder what it feels like for Mike as I open up to take in his ready tool. And when I asked him one night, all he could do was smile and get this dreamy look. "It's like taking a good long piss," he said. And he was serious.
"That's pretty poetic," I said, wryly. We were lying together naked, my arm behind his head, both of us sweaty and spent and not quite ready for sleep.
He laughed. "I'll tell you what it's like," he said. "It's like when you're out hunting pheasant, and you're tired and fed up because you've been walkin' for hours, and you're cold and hungry, and you haven't seen a bird to shoot at bigger than a damn crow. And then suddenly a huge sucker of a rooster just flies up right in front of you. You know that sound they make, er-er-er-er-er." And his hands rose up toward the ceiling fluttering. "That feelingthe surprise!that's what it's like."
Now, that was poetic. A helluva lot more than my vanilla pudding.
When I step out of the barn, the sleet has turned into a sweeping rush of thick, heavy snow, and the wind has picked up in the trees. I can see it's not going to be your regular snowstorm. The sky has that evil look of a blizzard about to come roaring out of the frozen north to bury us.
Back in the house, I start another pot of coffee on the stove and sit down at the table again. This time I have an idea for a story that starts out like this. . .
There in a few swift sentences that Hemingway himself might have written I establish my character's pathetic situationa not very exciting job, in a not very big town, and a pretty boring routine. Now, what about him?
Now for some Henry Miller. I'm determined to reveal poor Myron as a man about to discover something about sex.
I re-read what I've written, and with the thought of Myron creaming himself every night, I wonder, what would a bank teller dream about?
But my mind draws a blank. The only wet dreams I've ever had were about something stupidbeing late for school.
No kidding. I'd be coming past the Presbyterian church, three blocks to go, hurrying for all I was worth and knowing, dammit, I wasn't going to make it. There I'd be. I couldn't get into class without first going to the principal's office. The principal didn't really scare me. He just tried to make feel like a piece of shit every time. Either way, I hated it.
And in that rush of sudden dismay, I'd wake up, grabbing at my dick and trying to hold back the cum shooting out of me. Talk about your vanilla pudding.
It's pretty clear, however; that idea doesn't have much potential. I pour some fresh coffee, aware that my cock, relaxed and sleepy, is resting in an oozing wet spot in my shorts. The upshot of my idle thoughts about Mike in the barn.
At that point, Rusty comes strolling into the kitchen from his dog bed by the propane heater in the TV room. His toenails clicking on the linoleum, he does his two short woofs, meaning someone is driving onto the place.
I figure it's Don and Mike and keep pondering this wet dream puzzle until I'm hearing knocking on the kitchen door and look up to see a face in the pane of glass looking back at me. It's Ted, from the college, and behind him is Bobby.
I wave them in and Ted opens the door while they kick off their overshoes, telling me that they've been driving through snow from Norfolk and the roads are getting too bad for Ted's station wagon. Can they stay until it blows over?
"Hell, yes. What's in Norfolk?" I say, walking over to the doorway and feeling the cold air pushing by me from the porch.
Turns out Tedthe painter of me in the nudedoes motel art. Somebody wanted framed landscapes for all twelve of their units.
"It pays the rent," Ted says shrugging.
"You should see him," Bobby says. "He can do five at a time."
They both smell the coffee as they come in and want some. And the rest of the day suddenly takes on this whole new angle. It's an angle with two other men in itand both of them I've been a little more than familiar with. This isn't actually the first thing that pops into my mind, but it occurs to me later as I'm taking coffee mugs out of the cupboard.
"Working on the novel?" Ted asks, all curious. I'm the only writer anybody seems to know.
"Can we read it?" Bobby says, eyeballing the page in the typewriter.
"Not till it's done," I say. The typewriter sits in its case whenever I use it, and I just close the lid. The rest of what I've been writing goes into the box of typing paper.
And as the light wanes in the windows and the wind begins to howl around the house, we sit at the kitchen table talking and drinking coffee spiked with Jack Daniels.
They're kind of an odd couple, Bobby still a kid and Ted somebody who's been around the block more than once. I can see that the two of them are still getting to know each other. Bobby is pretty obviously still in awe of Ted, and Ted is sort of protective, like a big brother. I lean back in my chair thinking, OK, that may just work.
Before long, Ted is rummaging through the cupboards and the refrigerator, looking for something to throw together for a meal, and as the Jack Daniels warms in all of us, he's got a big pot of vegetable soup started.
I love a man who can cook. There he is in his flannel shirt, spots of paint on his levi's, and his long back and arms leaning over a cutting board on the counter as he chops up carrots and onions.
I remember him on that late winter afternoon a year ago, seducing me with a roller of blue paint, and the touch of his naked body against mine in the shower afterwards, and I glance at Bobby standing next to him, peeling potatoes in the sink, his narrow hips in his khaki pants.
Ted scoops up the chopped vegetables and drops them in the pot. Watching Bobby, he slips one arm around him, then pats him on the butt. And there's a warmth in me from more than Jack Daniels as I imagine the two of them together.
When the phone rings, a while later, it's a collect call from Mike. They're stranded by the storm in a motel outside Lincoln. And I can tell Mike wishes he was home.
"Hey, stud," I say when the operator connects us. And we carry on like this, Ted giving me a look and a grin now and then over Bobby's shoulder.
"Your face is red," he says, when I hang up.
"Aw, it's just the Jack Daniels," I tell him, aware that my dick has taken on life in my shorts again. Another wet spot on its way.
Now you, o gentle, horny reader, are no doubt wondering where the hell all of this can possibly be going. You should know by now that even if Ted and Bobby had the mind to include me in a three-someand that's unlikely anywayI'd say, no thanks.
So what does that leave us with? Not a helluva lot. Unless you've got an interest in a lonely guy jerking off under the covers to whatever fevered fantasy he can conjure up before slipping off to dreamland, a cum-filled sock still wrapped around his cock. And you're probably thinking, why stick around for that?
And why the sock, you wonder. Well, how do you keep your sheets from getting all wet and gooey?
Anyway, speaking of dreamland, there is, of course, that unfinished story about Myron, our fictional bank teller. You could be curious as I am what goes on behind his closed eyelids.
And so it happens that I bring it up later after two bowls of Ted's vegetable soup, and we're sitting with our feet up around the coffee table in the TV room, the wind outside rattling the windows and the lights starting to flicker.
Ted is on the couch, with his arm around Bobby, who has a shoulder tucked into Ted's armpit and a hand on Ted's leg, absently fingering the inseam of his jeans.
"What do you think of this?" I ask them, during a lull in the conversation. And I explain the situation with Myron. "What do you guess is going on in those wet dreams?"
"I dunno," Bobby says. "It's gotta be somebody he's secretly in love with. Maybe a movie star."
Not too imaginative, our Bobby. "What have you had for wet dreams?" I ask him.
"Different stuff," he says.
"Like being in the circus. What do you call those guys on the trapeze? I'm flying around on my own way up high in the circus tent."
"Like Dumbo?" Ted says, laughing.
"Yeah, I suppose. And when I start to fall, somebody catches me by the ankles."
"Some big strong man in white tights?" Ted offers.
"I dunno, I wake up then," Bobby says looking at both of us. "Is that weird?"
"No, it's a good one," Ted says, and pats him on the shoulder. "I think I know what you're talking about."
I agree, but I'm more interested in what Ted has to tell.
He's sort of smiling to himself and then says, "This may not count, but when you're asleep, do you ever know it when you're dreaming?"
Bobby and I both say, no.
"It happened a lot when I was in the Army. I'd be in some frustrating dream, like I'm supposed to be somewhere and I can't get there. And it's getting later and later. And finally I just turn to somebody and say, do you ever have dreams like this? And suddenly I'd know I was in a barracks somewhere, sound asleep in my bunk, having a dream. Just clear as anything."
"Then what?" Bobby says.
"Well, what would you do?" Ted says to him. "Think about it."
"I am," Bobby says. But he's such an innocent. He's probably still thinking about flying.
And me, I'm starting to see the possibilities. "You could do anything you want. There's nothing stopping you," I say.
"You bet. I'd reach for a good-looking guy," Ted says, "grab the front of his pants, and in a minute I'd be soaking my BVDs."
Bobby is wide-eyed with disbelief.
"What about you?" Ted says, looking at me. "You've had wet dreams."
I'm thinking to myself, shit, you brought this up. And I've got nothing to tell.
But I'm saved just then by a tree branch coming down somewhere over a power line. The lights flicker, and suddenly we're sitting in pitch darkness. In the kitchen, I hear the refrigerator switch off and the hum of the fluorescent light stop. And for a moment there is no sound but the moaning of the wind in the trees outside and the polyethylene snapping in the windowsand the soft hiss of the heater, still burning.
We've got a flashlight, which I fumble for among the stocking feet propped up on the coffee table, and when I switch it on the room becomes this hall of shadows, like something from an Abbot and Costello ghost movie. We go in search of candles and turn up a kerosene lantern so covered with dust that when we light it, the chimney is covered with our fingerprints.
Sometime later, we're sitting down again in the dim glow from the lantern, the business about wet dreams forgotten.
Now, believe it or not, it's this next part of the story I've been getting around to. Turns out Ted and Bobby aren't the only souls that get driven in off the road by the storm. Suddenly, out on the front porch we hear the sound of feet stomping and then the kitchen door opens. "Anybody home?" I hear from out there. And while I'm half expecting it to be Mike, I know at once it's not his voice. Rusty jumps to his feet and goes to find out.
"We're in here," I call out. And after the sound of boot heels coming across the kitchen floor, a figure appears in the doorway of the TV room. It's a big man wearing a sheepskin coat and a cap with earflaps tied under his chin. From head to toe he is caked with snow, his jeans stiff and frozen around his boots. His face is half hidden in a walrus moustache that is thick with frost from his breath.
"I think I froze my nuts," he says.
"Ed," I say, recognizing his voice and getting up.
"Is that you, Danny?" he says. And the three of us help him out of his snow-covered overcoat and set him down on a chair so we can pull off his boots. Meanwhile, I'm explaining that Ed is an old friend of Mike's and owns the horse we keep in the barn.
He's gone off the road somewhere between the highway and the farm and walked the rest of the way, climbing through drifts up to his knees. "Any farther," he says, "and it woulda killed me dead." His feet are cold as ice, but he can move his toes. I figure he doesn't have frostbite.
We get him by the propane heater and he shucks off his stiff jeans while Bobby brings a couple blankets from the bedroom to wrap around him. Ted puts a glass with a good three fingers of Jack Daniels in his hand. And he sets the pot of soup on the heater to warm up again.
The frost melts out of Ed's moustache, and he's wiping the wet off his face. He wants to know where Mike is, and I tell him. He keeps shaking his head, between drinks from the glass, and looking around at all of us, like he never expected to see a living soul again.
"When I couldn't see any lights," he says, "I'm thinking, hellfire, I come all this way and there's nobody home." And I explain to him that we lost power.
He's full of talk and tells us he's been on his way to a trade show in Kansas City. The storm caught up with him in North Platte but his big old Buick had stayed on the highway, crosswinds whipping at the convertible top, and it was doing a good job of bucking the drifts.
"Until that little bridge up your road here," he says, "where there's all those old willows in the slough. I must have been doing a good forty or fifty when I hit a snow bank there, and before I know it, I'm goin' sideways and my ass-end is in the ditch."
In a while, he tries the soup and pronounces it good. "Fit for a king," he says to Ted. And after some more Jack Daniels, it's pretty clear that he's going to be fine.
Now there are four pairs of feet on the table. And he talks on and on. When he figures out about Ted and Bobby, he laughs and says, "Four queers in Nebraska in the same room. That's gotta be some kind of record."
Finally, he reaches for the bottle and pours himself another drink, then sighs heavily, letting the blankets fall away from his big shoulders, like he's finally getting warm. "God almighty," he says, "I'm gonna stay awake all night just bein' thankful I'm still alive." And he closes his eyes for a moment, savoring the bourbon.
Bobby has been taking this all in and, in the silence that follows, he rouses himself and says to me, "Ask him."
"Ask him what?" I say.
"About wet dreams."
Ed turns to me, then Bobby. The look on his face says, what's this all about?
Bobby explains about the story and the bank teller, and before I know it, we're back on that subject.
Ed grins like he's willing to play along with this, and scratches his head for a second. "This ain't no wet dream," he says, "but I knew a guy once who was always talking about a whorehouse he'd heard of out in Nevada. They're supposed to have a basket hanging from the ceiling with a hole in the bottom. The customer lies down, gets a hard-on, and one of the girls climbs in the basket and gets lowered down onto his dick." Ted pauses for effect and says, "Then they spin the basket."
"Ho, ho, ho," Bobby says. And who knows what's going through his mind as he thinks about that one.
Now eyes turn to me and it's my turn again. I'm about to confess something half true that doesn't involve a Presbyterian church, when this time Ed saves me.
"You a writer?" Ed says to me, like he knows what the word means. "I know a cowboy who's some kinda poet." His jeans are hanging on a chair by the heater, and he reaches over to pull his wallet from a back pocket. Inside, tucked under a flap is a folded piece of paper. "He wrote this," he says and holding it up to the lantern light, reads:
He looks up at each of us, his eyes turning last to mine. Like I might be the one to appreciate it as much as anyone.
"A cowboy wrote that?" Bobby says.
"Sure did," Ed says, folding the paper together with his broad fingers.
"What's it called?" Ted asks.
Ed opens the paper again and reads: "It don't really have a name. Just says, 'For Ed'."
This is way more than I expected coming from him. On his few quick stops by the farm to see Ranger, he has been full of raunchy jokes and mostly interested in eating, drinking and, if he has anything with him to smoke, getting high. I've never known him to have a sentimental bone in his body.
"His name's Jake," Ed says, as if one of us is about to ask. "He's up in South Dakota." He folds the paper again. "Last I knew."
I kind of get the picture, especially when he doesn't volunteer any more. Jake is a tender heart under some rough exterior who caught Ed off guard somewhere, in some railroad town, in a hotel bar. I'm picturing a scene later in a room upstairs, cowboy hats rolling on the floor and two men unbuckling each other's belts as they fall onto the bed, kissing fiercely.
"Gentlemen," he says, slapping his knees. "I'm plum tuckered all of a sudden. I reckon some shut-eye would do me good about now." He puts his feet down and stands, pulling the blankets around him, and there's a flash of his dick swinging between his legs. I realize he's not wearing underwear.
I offer him the back bedroom. "But I'm warning you, it's cold back there," I tell him. "You'll need all those blankets and then some."
"Can't be worse than outdoors," he says, and he excuses himself, leaving behind his jeans and boots.
"Sleep as late as you want," I call after him. "We'll take the tractor and go pull out your car tomorrow." But he doesn't answer.
When I take a look at Ted and Bobby, I can see that they're either sleepy or pretending to be. Bobby gives out kind of a fake yawn. And before long I've said goodnight to both of them, and they're going down the hall to climb into Mike's and my bed. I'll be on the coucha lumpy proposition, but near enough to the heater. I don't mind the trade-off.
In a while, the house is silent. I blow out the lantern, crawl under a patchwork quilt on the couch, and try to get comfortable, listening to the wind. For a moment it dies down, and I can hear an old mantel clock ticking in the room across the hall and Rusty in his dog bed, snoring softly in his sleep. Then the wind picks up, and before long it's howling around the house again.
I think of the day and the storm and wonder if Mike and Don are on the road, and if they're OK. My mind drifts back to Mike's phone call, and there I am getting a hard-on again. Cripe, I can't help myself.
Wishing we were wrapped together and locked into that sixty-nine we both like, I get my jeans open and slip my hand into my shorts. Jerking off is never anything like the real thing, but I guess it's real in its own way.
On the underside of my penis, there's a little bunch of skin and nerve ends that the doc thoughtfully left behind when he snipped my baby foreskin. If I take it between my fingers and roll it back and forth, I get this nice warm, tingling feeling, rippling out in all directions and kind of zinging in my testicles.
That keeps me going while I'm remembering the scent of Mike's balls against my nose. I love just pressing his dick against my cheek and reaching around him to slide my hand in slow circles over his butt. The inside of my arm must be some kind of erotic zone, because the feel of his ribs under my elbow makes me want to just hold him tighter and tighter.
I've watched Mike jerk off. He goes at it like a jackhammer. Now I don't know about you, but I have this slow, easy rhythm. Mike says I look like I'm doing it in my sleep. I get to thumbing one of my nipples while I'm stroking with the other hand. And I guess I do get to looking sort of dreamy.
Meanwhile, it's my imagination that's going a mile a minute. There's image after image flipping through my head. Mike all wet and soapy in the shower or sitting in his boxers, the end of his dick peeking out inside one leg. Or him bare chested and sweaty, tugging on the bill of his cap so I'm seeing the dark hair in his armpit. And on and on.
Somewhere in this little preview of coming attractions (forgive the pun), I start shifting into the picture, and the muscles in my legs let go as I imagine him naked and pressing himself into me. Or me wrestling my way naked on top of him, hard as a pump handle and pushing myself into him, our cocks finally deep in each other's mouths.
Anyway, the two of us just defying physics, trying like anything to occupy one and the same spaceso there's no space, just totally losing track of what's him and what's me. And my toes, wherever they are, curling up tight.
In a while, and you know me, it's a short while, I'm getting close to coming. I reach down under the quilt and pull off one of the socks I'm still wearing. And slipping it over the end of my hard cock, I give it a couple more strokes, and bingo I'm shooting my load.
By this time, my mind has gone blank, and I couldn't tell you what the last thing was I was thinking. It's like people who can't remember getting into a car wreck. The memory just isn't there. And I lie back in this little pool of amnesia, kind of catching my breath.
Before you know it, of course, reality starts floating in around me, pieces of it coming together like worlds colliding in slow motion. Sometimes there's a little argument with the thirteen-year-old in me that still believes beating off will make me go blind. And there's the sixteen-year-old embarrassed that he can't keep his hands off himself. And dealing with them both, the worldly-wise twenty-two-year-old who's trying to write a novel and regularly has sex with a handsome farmer.
While this is going on, I have some cum on my fingers, and I put my hand to my mouth to lick it off. Somehow, and don't ask me how, I have this sudden feeling that I'm not alone in the room anymore.
I'm lying there real still in the dark, hearing nothing but the wind outside, and just as I've convinced myself that it's my imagination, I hear the sound of someone clearing their throat, not five feet away, and a voice saying softly, "Danny, are you awake?"
My heart wants to jump out of my chest. "Holy shit," I say. "You scared the living daylights out of me."
"I need to talk," he says. "But I wanted to wait till you were done."
I can't believe this. I mean, this is actually happening, and I don't believe it. "How long have you been sitting there?" I ask him.
"Coupla minutes," he says.
So I peer into the darkness, trying to see him. I can tell that he's directly across the coffee table from me. Then he strikes a match, and in the burst of flame, I'm watching as he lights the lantern.
"Something wrong?" I ask him. But I can already tell there is.
"It's cold as a well-digger's ass in that back bedroom," he says.
"You wanna try sleeping in here on Mike's lounger?"
"Naw, it's not that. It's just that cold bed got me thinking again. When I was walking here before and damn near froze to death, I made up my mind about something."
"What?" I'm pawing around on the table and the carpet, trying to find my glasses.
"I'm not going to Kansas City," he says.
And he starts to tell me about him and Jake, the cowboy poet. Seems they didn't meet in a hotel bar, after all. Are my hunches ever any good?
They were the last customers one summer night in some mom and pop grocery store in Rapid City. Jake was loading a cart with staplesflour, beans, canned peaches. And he was looking in one of those stand-up coolers, all duded up in black: black jeans, black boots, black shirt, black neckerchief, black hat. His belt was black leather with his name "JAKE" in studs on the back.
"I wanna tell ya," Ed says. He still has a blanket around his legs and leans forward with his elbows on his knees. "I only half realized I was following him around the store and just picking stuff off the shelvesI didn't know what all. That butt in those black jeans was just damn near perfect."
He finally pushed his cart up beside the young cowboy's, and after a minute Jake said to him, "Hey looky here, you know anything about all this orange juice? I can't for the life of me figure out which one to get."
His hand was on the cooler door, rough from hard work, with the usual scratches, scabbed knuckles, and a black fingernail. And when he turned to Ed, he looked straight into his eyes, like he knew he was being followed. It wasn't exactly a warm look either, like maybe he was sizing up Ed one way or another.
"You know," Ed said studying the cooler shelf, "I'm kinda partial to the Minute Maid."
The cowboy smiled then and said, "Is that a fact?" as if he didn't believe a word Ed was saying. But he pulled it off the shelf anyway and put it in his cart. "My daddy would wanna whip my ass if he saw me buy this."
"He doesn't like orange juice?" Ed said.
"He doesn't like anything store bought, period." And he let the door fall shut and pushed the cart to the checkout, where a teenage girl was waiting impatiently for them to hurry up so she could close the store. Probably had some boy waiting for her out in the parking lot already, smoking cigarettes and fingering his dick in anticipation.
Ed followed the cowboy, watching his butt move side to side under his back pockets. "I love a man with hair on his ass," Ed says, cracking a grin at me. "You can guess what I was picturin'."
As the girl rang up the groceries, Jake had stood there in profile, a nice bulge in the front of his jeans. He paid her from a black leather billfold, waited as she bagged his stuff, and then pushed the cart on out the door.
When it was Ed's turn at the checkout, he had forgotten what he came in for. So he bought whatever was in his cartFrosted Flakes, Velveeta, charcoal briquettes, a six-pack of Dr. Pepper.
Outside in the parking lot, he found the cowboy leaning against his truck. He'd unloaded the groceries into the back and was drinking the quart of orange juice in big gulps, tipping back his head and looking up at the night sky. Clouds of bugs were flying around the pole lights. It was the dead middle of a sweltering summer. There had been prairie fires outside of town on the rolling grassland, and the air was smoky.
Jake had an open bottle of vodka in a paper bag and was topping up the carton of juice. "Care for a slug?" he said to Ed, holding it out to him, and Ed took a drink. It was strong enough to knock down a cow. Then he took another before handing it back.
Jake introduced himself, giving Ed a firm grip as they shook hands. Then he knocked back what was left in the carton.
They spent the rest of the evening at a dance, where there was a good country band, a crowd of noisy people, and always a woman or two ready for a two-step around the floor with Jake. And he was good, dipping and diving and twirling and scooting his boots in the sawdust.
The ones who weren't dancing with Jake turned to Ed, and he danced as well as he could. They didn't seem to care if he was any good or not. Being male and being with Jake seemed to be enough. They kept smiling and let him lead the way, their hips moving under the hand he put in the small of their back.
There were big floor fans in the doorways, blowing air in from outside, but the heat inside was intense. The sweat rolled off his face from under his hatband, and down his back.
Every once in a while, he looked around for Jake, and he'd catch the cowboy's eye. Jake would grin and wink at him, like what a fine pair of men they were, entertaining the ladies.
And when the dance was over, they walked out to where Ed's car was parked beside Jake's truck.
"Get in," Jake said. "Let me show you something." And they drove off into the night. Jake pulled the vodka bottle out from under the seat and handed it to Ed. They drank from it, handing it back and forth, until they were out on a back road that seemed to go nowhere.
He knew the cowboy could have left with any one of the women they'd been dancing with. But here they were alone together.
They got out of the truck and took a piss into the ditch. Jake had turned off the engine but left the lights on. Ed's clothes were soaked with sweat, and the night air was cool on his skin. The muscles in his legs were loose and tired, his feet feeling sore in his boots.
They stood for a while after they were done and looked up into the starry sky.
"Well, shoot," Jake finally said, "We can either fight or we can fuck. What's it gonna be?"
"And that's how it started," Ed is saying to me, his eyes bright in the lantern light. "We didn't fight that night. That's for sure."
They met up again whenever Ed happened to be back in that part of the country. Once they bunked together at the Fourth of July rodeo in Valentine. In a place called the Raine Motel, with a sign out front that said, "Sleep in the Raine."
Once Ed was in Scottsbluff and got a friend with a pilot's license and a Cessna to fly up and drop down at Jake's ranch. And they flew around together for an hour, looking from the air at his cow-calf operationhundreds of black angus cattle scattered over a thousand acres of brown pasture.
Once they'd met up in Buffalo, Wyoming, and spent a week fishing in the Bighorns. Jake caught most of the fish, and Ed cooked them. They'd let their beards grow and bathed naked in the cold waters of the lake. It was then, on a lazy afternoon, with midges buzzing around under the tent fly, that Jake pulled an old composition book out of his rucksack and read his poems to Ed for the first time. And Ed had been thunderstruck.
"It was like finding out you'd been bivouacking with some goddam Shakespeare," Ed said. "I'd never met a man like that before, young or old. He's tough as nails, the gol-darnedest cusser you ever heard, and by golly you'd never pick a fight with the man. No-siree."
But what really threw Ed was that some of the poems were about him. Love poems. Not all of them tame like the one he'd read tonight, but some of them pretty steamypretty deep-shit fierce. Ed didn't know what to think.
Jake had been after him to give up the rodeo circuit. Move in with him on the ranch. His daddy had left the place to him, and he was out there running it with a couple of handsalmost by himself. Him and Ed could be partners, see as much of each other as they wanted.
Ed thought he'd just been joshing him about his jobchasing around all over hell and half of Texas trying to get dudes to buy shit that a real cowboy couldn't afford. Now he realized Jake was plum serious.
"I kinda backed away from that," Ed says to me. And he's looking down between his knees, rubbing his hand over his big old moustache, stroking the ends of it down to his chin. "I liked his company, I won't deny that," he said thoughtfully. "And I mean to tell ya, when that man fucks, he really lets loose."
"But I guess I was just a dumb-ass," he says. He liked being on the road. Couldn't see anything appealing about settling down. Never for the life of him thought of himself as a one-man man. Just couldn't picture it.
Then walking through the blizzard tonight, not sure how far he had to go, he realized he could easily freeze to death in the wind and cold and dark. And that he'd never see Jake again.
"I can talk real big and act like a lunatic," he says, "but deep down I'm really just a pussy-cat." He pauses and pulls another sentence out of him like it's come from some dark storm cellar of his soul. "I had this fear I just couldn't shake. That I could die out there all alone."
This was so unlike Ed, I began to wonder about him. "Have you been smoking something?" I ask him.
His eyes dart straight at me across the table. "Aw, I gave up that shit months ago," he says. "I'm clean."
"Maybe that explains it," I say.
"Do you think so?" he says, his eyes searching my face. And I know it's the first time he's ever asked for my opinion about anything.
"So what's this about you not going to Kansas City?" I ask him.
"I'm quittin' that job," he says, with a look of real determination. "I'm turning around right here, as soon as we get my car out of the ditch, and I'm heading for Rapid City." Then he looks less sure of himself. "If he's still there. And if he'll still have me."
"I've got a hunch says he will," I say, not letting on that my hunches aren't worth much. "Does he have hair on his ass?" I say, trying to pick up his spirits.
"You bet he does," he grins.
With that, the power comes back. A lamp lights up on the TVthe one with the flowing waterfall and the two deer on the shade. I hear the refrigerator kick in, and the overhead light in the kitchen blinks a couple times as it comes on.
The little pool of lantern light dissolves like a mirage and there are the two of us, leaning together in something like a huddle. I see that Ed's hair is sticking up in various directions from the cap he was wearing, his moustache is in need of a trim, and there's a growth of whiskers on his tired face. And as if on cue, the phone starts to ring.
I'm still on the couch, the quilt pulled over my lap, where my levi's are still unbuttoned and there's a damp sock between my legs. I kind of shove the sock farther in and get my jeans hiked up enough so I can go get the phone. And in a few quick steps I'm crossing the cold linoleum on the kitchen floor, one sock on, one off.
The night continues to have its share of surprises. Instead of Mike calling, this time it's Kirk. He and Rich are out at the truck stop on the new interstate. They've been hitching from Wyoming and got a ride that far. Being Kirk, he doesn't ask if he woke me up. It's just, come over and get us.
"No, I can't come over and get you," I tell him. "We're snowed in here." And I explain to him they'll just have to wait. He sounds pissed off when he hangs up. Fuck the little bastard, I'm thinking. I've lost all patience with him, even if I haven't seen him since Christmas.
I think about stepping onto the frigid porch to toss the sock into the laundry basket out there but think again and just leave it in my shorts and button up my jeans over it.
I switch off the kitchen light, and when I get back to the TV room, I find Ed, stretched out on the couch, half asleep already. He starts to get up and I tell him to stay where he is. I'll just take the lounger.
Then I see what he's really offering is to share the couch with me. He's a big guy, but I suppose if we lie on our sides with my butt in his gut, he could put his arm around me and keep me from rolling out onto the floor.
"No funny stuff," he says. "Scout's honor. Anyway, you don't have any hair on your ass."
"How do you know that?" I ask him.
"Remember that night you passed out in the pool?" Ed says. "We checked." It was when I first met Mike, measuring cornfields for the government two summers ago.
I'd been lying naked and out cold on this same couch, after one too many beers and trying some of Ed's locoweed. Mike had thrown a sheet over me, and on their way to bed sometime later they'd pulled it back and apparently gave me a good look-over.
"I think Mike kinda took a shine to you that night," Ed said. "I had to work a little to get his mind back around to where I wanted it."
"Anything else I should know about that night?" I ask.
"No, you were sleeping like a baby. Nothin' questionable even entered my mind," he says. "Course I can't vouch for Mike." He laughs.
I know for a fact I can't sleep in the lounger, so I douse the lights and get in with him, the couch creaking a little under the weight of both of us. He puts one arm over me and hugs my chest. I can feel him moving his hips to get settled. And his hand drops to the front of my jeans to pull me in tighter.
"What you got in there?" he says. "I don't remember you bein' that big."
"A sock," I say. "Just a sock."
"What does that do?" he says. "Improve your dreams?"
"No," I say but don't go into it.
"Anyway," he says. "You never did say what kind of wet dreams you get."
"Go to sleep," I say.
His hand is pressed against my chest again, and he's yawning against the back of my neck. "OK," he says. "G'night, buckaroo," and in less than a minute I hear him breathing soft and steady. Outside the wind starts dying down.
I'm no early riser, but that's when I've got part of an actual bed to myself. Less than half a lumpy couch is another story. So when it gets to be about dawn, I get up, put the coffee on, and let Rusty outside to lift his leg over anything he can find that's not buried in snow.
I hold open the porch door for him, and the sun is rising in the frosty distance, dazzling bright in a cloudless sky. My breath comes out in clouds on the sharp, cold, perfectly still air. The thermometer outside the door says three degrees above zero.
Mike's truck and Ted's station wagon are engulfed in snowdrifts, but the wind has swept much of the place clear right down to the frozen ruts and gravel. I figure a half hour of shoveling out Ted's car, and then it's just wait for the snowplow to go by on the road. That, of course, could take all day.
Back inside, I look for my shoes in the TV room, where Ed is now already flat out on the couch, snoring, one arm over his head. The quilt has bunched up so I can see his hairy legs, his big old dick, red and thick with a morning hard-on, rolling out from under his shirt and arching up onto his belly.
My imagination being what it is, I picture him sacked out like this after a night with Jake, who must know that dick in intimate detail, its habits, likes and dislikes, how it tastes, how it feels in his handand inside him.
As I pull the quilt over Ed, I think about how two men can know each other like this, and how for every pair of them, this is all theirs and nobody else's. I wonder if there's a way to put all that in a story. And I wonder if that's what a bank teller might be dreaming about at night, unknown even to himself.
With that, the phone rings again, and carrying my shoes into the kitchen, I go to answer it.
This time it's Mike. He's at Don's place in town. They've got Kirk and Rich with them. Found the two of them by chance at 2:30 this morning out at the truck stop on the interstate. Says Don will be bringing them home when the roads are open. The sooner the better. With three boys and four men in the house, Don's wife Carol is not doing well.
Ted and Bobby rouse themselves by mid-morning to use the bathroom, tiptoeing barelegged and barefoot on the cold floor, and then disappear again into the bedroom.
A while later Don comes into the kitchen, stuffing his shirt into his jeans. He's feeling chipper and remarks when he sees the sunshine filtering through the plastic on the windows that it's just a fine day to be alive. And while I make a pot of oatmeal for the whole crew, he goes out to the barn to see Ranger.
He's gone for a good long time, and when he comes back, he's not all that talkative. I watch him leaning over his bowl of steaming oatmeal with both arms on the table, spooning up big gobs of it, dripping with milk.
"I guess you'll be taking Ranger with you up to Rapid City," I finally say, breaking the silence.
He looks up at me, kind of thoughtfully, his hair still sticking up in places, the rest of it flattened from where he slept on it.
"Guess so," he says. But now I can tell he's having second thoughts. In the bright light of a new day, maybe settling down doesn't look quite so appealing. He is Ed, after all.
A while later, I get the tractor out of the barn, find a log chain, and the two of us drive up the road to where the Buick has gone into the ditch. The front end is actually pointing back toward the highway.
As he gets in and warms up the engine, I get under the car and hook the chain to the frame. It takes only a good stiff pull, and the Buick comes lunging up onto the road. With its big chrome grill, it looks ready to eat up the miles again.
He rolls down the car window and I stand talking to him for a couple minutes. Just stuff you say when someone's about to hit the highwayand they're more than ready to get going.
"So you driving to Rapid City or not?" I want to know.
He looks around at the snowfields, bright under the morning sun, and he revs the engine a couple times, like he may have to drive a few more miles before he really knows for sure what he wants to do.
"You sure had me convinced last night," I say.
"Yeah, well, me too," he says, rummaging in the glove compartment and pulling out a pair of mirror sunglasses. So looking now at him, I see only two copies of myself standing there against the blue sky.
I want to tell him he's a damn fool. But what good would it do?
"I'll wait here and see if you get out to the highway OK," I tell him.
"Thanks," he says. "Thanks for everything." He raises one hand, in a leather glove, and then drives off.
And I'm thinking as I'm watching him disappear down the road, he's really going to Jake's. He'll realize it once he goes a ways. Or maybe there's just somebody or something in Kansas City he can't resisteven if only for one last time.
He makes it all the way to the highway, a mile and a half away. And I see the Buick make a left turn, heading toward town, and picking up speed. And then he's gone.
End of chapter 3. More to come. . .
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