Mike and Danny: Straight Crush
OK, looking back on it, I think Virgil was feeling what you and I would call grief. People go through these stages when they lose someone or something the love, and he was at one of those stages.
I guess I can go ahead and use the L-word here without bringing down the roof. He'd loved Brian, and Brian, the bastardI'm using a word of Mike's, who saves it for those rare moments of outrage, when the thoughtless malice of others takes even him by surpriseBrian had loved him back. But only up to a point.
After Virgil's arrival at the farm, he went through more stages of grief, taking detours through some that experts haven't found and named yet. Including sleeping three to a bed.
For Virgil, that night was some passage from the sullen extremes of utter fatigue to a suspicious calm, like the eye of a hurricane, I'm toldwe don't have them in Nebraskawhere the sun comes out and all is hunky dory for a while. Then things tear loose again.
I kept Virgil company that first day while Mike went out to work. He loves to play mechanic and had been working on the Farmhand in his shop. He's a great one for looking after his machinery. I'll tell you sometime what it's like being touched by hands that have spent all day tearing down an engine and putting it back together.
Anyway, by the time Virgil woke up that Saturday morning, Mike had already been out to the shop and back for a coffee break. And I was washing Virgil's laundry; that is, the entire contents of his duffel bag. I doubt if he had a clean shirt to his name.
At the bottom of the bag were a blood-covered sweatshirt and a grass-stained pair of jeans that looked like they could have been in a fight, or a free-for-all football scrimmage.
Virgil came wandering out from the bedroom into the middle of all thisI'd separated his clothes into piles around the kitchen floor, and the washer was chugging away out on the porch, into the spin cycle on the second load.
He stood there in his underwear, blinking his eyes and seeming to peer through a fog.
Mike was leaning with his butt against the sink, a coffee mug in one hand, grease and oil in the creases of his knuckles, his shop cap on the back of his head. "Well, if it ain't Rip Van Winkle," he said.
Virgil looked at him and finally said, "Who?"
For a moment, I wasn't sure if it was Mike he was confused about or Rip Van Winkle. Eventually, I decided it was both.
"Know where you are, Tiger?" Mike said, grinning at him. I could tell that Mike had taken to Virgil. It was bringing out his fatherly side.
"No," Virgil said, scratching his head and looking around at his clothes on the floor, like the answer to Mike's question might be there somewhere.
And for a while, I think he didn't know for sure where he was. Maybe it was the temporary amnesia stage of grief. Having slept in the car, he wouldn't have known how far we'd gone on the interstate, and he wouldn't have seen the sign for the exit at Grand Island.
And hanging onto consciousness long enough for a meal with Mike and me, maybe his brain had put nothing into long-term memory, like someone coming out from under ether.
I went and got him a pair of my old levi's, a thermal top if he wanted it, and a clean shirt to wear.
"Take off your underwear," I said, handing the clothes to him, "and you can put them in that pile of whites."
I thought he'd step out of the room to change, but he pulled off his tee shirt and his jockeys without moving from where he was.
For a moment he stood there naked, his skin pale in the light from the kitchen window, chest and shoulders muscular, his cock and balls almost hidden in thick, dark, curly hair. As he bent and lifted one foot to step into the jeans, I could see the side of one butt cheek flex and dimple.
Having long since lost my boyish girth, I noticed that when he got them buttoned up, the jeans fit loose around his young man's waist. If you were inside them, you'd be able to look up and see daylight. On that point, I considered myself and determined to cut back on the cake doughnuts.
He quickly pulled on the thermal underwear top and then slipped into the shirt, leaving all the buttons undone. As he stood there in my clothes, I don't know what I expected. When Mike is wearing something of mine, it makes me feel like who we are as separate people has somehow flowed together a little. It warms me to see this happen.
With Virgil, it was like he'd found my stuff at a thrift store and already claimed them as his own. I think there's a line in a Bob Dylan song to that effect.
Which is probably why I said, "You can keep those if you want."
He glanced down at the unbuttoned sleeves and then said, like an afterthought, "Thanks."
Then I cooked him some breakfast while he sat at the kitchen table with both hands around a mug of coffee. Mike kept trying to get some conversation out of him, helping himself as he talked from a bag of Oreos that lived by the toaster. Finally, he went back out to the shop to work some more on his Farmhand.
Saturday is my day to go shopping for Mike. I hit the Skagway for provisions and stock up for the week so he doesn't go hungry. Since I'd be here for the whole week, and we had an extra mouth to feed, plus it was time to stop at the feed store for another fifty pounds of Rusty's dog chow, I took Mike's pickup so I could just dump everything in the back.
"Wanna come along?" I asked Virgil, and he got up like he'd been waiting for something to do.
We drove the five miles to town, and Virgil slowly started talking. He was staring out the window, at the passing fields and pastures, like he was thinking out loud.
"Sometimes I don't do too good sleeping by myself," he said, just like that. I was supposed to make a connection with whatever had been going through his mind up to then.
So I said, "What made you say that?"
"When I was a kid," he said, "I had to share a bed with my cousin Reg." And as he talked on, I got this picture of him as a preschooler and his aunt's son, four or five years older.
After lights out, Reg would put an arm around him and hug him against his chest, and they'd sleep together that way until morning. And they were still doing it almost ten years later after Reg graduated from high school and had earned enough money to get a place of his own and move out.
Learning to sleep without him was hard, but by then Virgil had met Brian. And by then, like you, I was beginning to get what he was driving at.
He was trying to explain in a round about way how he'd found his waylike a sleepwalkerto Mike's and my bed the night before. And, before that, why he hadn't slept for who knows how long. And why, without his roommate Brian, I'd found him sitting in Dunkin Donuts with nowhere to go.
He turned from the window to me as I was driving, and I could feel him giving me a searching looklike was all this OK with me? As a man who slept with another man, was I someone who could understand what he was saying, and not just in the abstractlike a therapist; like Barrybut for real, all the way down to my gut.
I glanced from the road into his eyes, which were almost pathetic with yearning. How had he fooled everyone for so long, including me, that he was just a regular guy, everything about him standard issue and in place?
I watched the B&E truck stop go by as we headed into town. It was where Mike had met me for dinner my first day on the job as his hired hand, and I had sat at the counter next to him, his knee touching mine and my dick so hard in my jeans I could barely concentrate on my food.
And I thought of how that first night I had found my way through the darkened house from the back bedroom to his room. Unable to sleep myself.
I didn't say anything because I couldn't think of what to say. So I just reached across to Virgil with one hand and squeezed his shoulder. The muscles there, under his army coat, were tough and tense.
I'm no good at this, I thought, and wondered what Mike would have said. We both fell silent for a while, as I drove through town, turning up Eddy Street and when we got to Five Points, pulling into the Skagway parking lot.
Inside, I filled up a shopping cart, and he followed me around, with his hands shoved in his coat pockets.
"See anything you want," I told him. "Toss it in." And he considered a big box of Sugar Frosted Flakes for a while before finally deciding to take it.
It was getting on toward noon when we got done, and I offered to buy him a burger at the Dairy Queen. And that's how we ended up in Pier Park, the smell of hot fried food from open paper bags on the seat between us, the windows slowly steaming up at the edges, and Virgil with one foot up on the dashboard, talking again and this time talking and talking.
It was the story Mike had asked for the night before as we sat eating supper. And his cousin Reg was just the beginning.
So far as I could tell, his affection for Reg and the affection Reg felt in return were completely pure. Always, no more and no different from their first night. So he led me to believe.
During the day, they went separate ways, sat in different seats on the school bus, kept their distance on the playground. Choosing up sides for a ball game, Reg never picked Virgil. When Reg got a driver's license and a car, Virgil might get a ride sometimes but mostly he was on his own.
The nights were different, and it was the nights that mattered anyway. Even when Reg was old enough to start dating, Virgil would be awake until he got home, often long after midnight.
Finally there would be his footsteps on the creaking floorboards of the hallway and at last his presence in the darkened room, the quiet sound of him undressing, and then the shift of the mattress as he got in bed, not moving for a moment and then reaching across to him, whispering, "You awake?"
And the two of them lying together, Virgil's back against Reg's chest, or the other way around, his arm over his cousin, palm resting open over this bare chest, feeling his heart beating, then both of them dropping off to sleep.
And then Brian entered the picture.
Virgil and Brian met during freshman initiation in ninth grade. They'd been rounded up with the other new guys after football practice and taken for a ride in the country.
This was ritual farm belt hazing. I knew it from my own days in high school. You get depantsed on a back road miles from town, usually after dark, and you have to find your way home.
I was lucky. I have a good sense of direction and what you might call a strong homing instinct. Also, I didn't get attacked by any vicious farm dogs. And it was a clear night with a full moon, so I could see where I was going, and it wasn't so cold that I froze my ass.
After walking a couple miles, I got a ride from the first car that came along, an old geezer with a pint of bourbon between his legs that we passed back and forth until he was sure that I'd revived from my exposure to the night air.
That I was naked from the waist down amused him. "Don't tell me," he wheezed. "Your girl kicked you outta the car." And I just agreed, to keep things simple, and he laughed at the hilarity of my situation.
By the time we got back to town, I'd heard all his stories of sexual misadventures on back roads, most of them dating to horse and buggy days. He was a corker.
Anyway, Virgil and Brian weren't so lucky. The boys who hazed them were more mean-spirited. They didn't call it Hell Night for nothing.
Miles from town on a lonely stretch of road, they'd had to run over the flat tableland as the sun sank behind a treeless ridge, and the others had followed in their cars and an old beat up pickup truck, honking their horns and howling like coyotes.
Stopping finally, where the road petered out into a sandy grass track that veered off and disappeared in the fading light, they herded the boys into a bunch, made them undress and throw all their clothes into the back of the pickup.
Then they had to push the pickup, its brakes locked, while getting snapped across the butts with one of their belts. And being threatened with a cattle prod.
Somehow they even managed to heave the truck forward several yards, tires sliding in the dirt. Then with the strength they had left, they'd been made to do pushups in the road, while having to hear sarcastic remarks about what pussies they were.
Then, standing naked in the headlights of the cars, they had to line up in a row, hands behind them, while they were taught a disparaging off-color song about themselves and told to sing it out loud at the top of their lungs, until they were hoarse. By now a wind had sprung up and some of them were shivering with cold.
Finally, told to stand at attention, they waited while a discussion took place among the older boys. And it was declared that two of them would for the rest of their freshman year bear a special honor. One of them would be chosen as the "Big Chief," and one would be known as the "Little Chief."
From now on, whenever called upon to identify themselves, these two would shout out, "I'm the Big Chief" or "I'm the Little Chief."
This dubious distinction, they would eventually learn, had to do with the size of their penises. Brian, who in a weird way had half-enjoyed the whole night, though his butt stung with red welts, and he'd been told more than once to wipe the smile off his faceBrian had sported the beginning of a hard-on and got picked as the Big Chief. Virgil, whose dick had shriveled up with the cold and the humiliation, got the other honor.
Then the bunch of them were left to find their way back to town, buck naked, where they'd find their clothes in the pickup, parked in front of the county courthouse.
As they walked along, footsore and cold, Brian and Virgil had stuck together, Brian pointing out constellations in the starry sky and cheering up Virgil, who couldn't stop shivering, by putting his arm over his shoulders.
Hours later, past midnight by the clock on the bank, they snuck into town, keeping to the shadows, hands over their crotches. Some went straight home, but a few walked to the courthouse square, where the town cop slept in the front seat of the squad car, and the stoplights blinked yellow and red. Under a bright streetlight, they found the pickup and creeping over to it found their clothes in the back.
"Shit," one of the boys said as he looked over the side. "The fuckers pissed on `em."
And not only urine, but shaving cream, beer, and something that could have been molasses or sheep dip.
"Fuck it to hell," the boy said. "I'm going home naked." And there was general agreement. They started heading away in different directions.
"I can't," Virgil said to Brian. It was his only good pair of jeans, and his aunt had just bought him the nylon jacket he'd been wearing.
So they hopped into the truck and fished them out, dripping and smelly.
His next concern was his aunt, who he realized now would have expected him home from football practice hours ago, supper waiting on the table. And with no way home but the school bus, long gone, he didn't know how to get there.
At Brian's house, he called his cousin Reg, who lived in an apartment over a farm implement store out on the highway.
Reg picked up the phone after about ten rings, and when he heard Virgil's story he laughed sleepily and told him to relax. Reg knew all about Hell Night and had explained some of it to Virgil's aunt when she'd called him earlier, all worried.
"Can I come over there tonight?" Virgil asked, relieved.
Reg paused and said, "Uh, no."
Then he heard another voice, a woman's, asking Reg something "It's one o'clock in the morning," she was saying.
"Actually, I got someone else here," Reg said. "Isn't there someplace else you can stay?"
And that's how Virgil ended up at Brian's that night.
After raiding the refrigerator, they tiptoed to Brian's room, where Brian handed him some underwear from a drawer. There were bunk beds in the room and Brian hopped into the top one. He sat on the edge, his long legs reaching down, and then he tucked them under the covers and punched up the pillow a few times before putting his head down on it.
Virgil crawled into the bunk under him, pulling the blanket up to his chin, and curling into a ball on the cold sheets, his knees to his chest, trying to get warm.
The jockey briefs, he realized, were a pleasant sensation over his balls, and he stroked the front of the tee shirt, aware that the last person who wore it was Brian. It was almost like having Brian's friendly arm still around him on the cold road in the dark.
Now, as he felt his body grow warmer, he relaxed into a feeling he didn't have words for. "Little Chief, Big Chief," he thought and smiled to himself in the darkness after Brian had switched off the light.
Sometime later, he awoke and discovered he'd been sleeping for a while. Then he realized it was a sound that woke him. He listened hard and began to sense that the bed was shaking, the mattress above him jigging and jogging in a steady rhythm.
He knew about epilepsy and wondered at once if his new friend Brian was having a seizure. He lay frozen for a moment as he began to hear soft muffled cries coming from above him and finally a quick sharp gasp. And then the shaking ceased, and there was stillness again as if Brian had stopped breathing.
Virgil slipped from the covers and got out of bed, standing on the cold floor and reaching out to the top bunk.
"Are you all right, Brian?" he said, putting his hand on Brian's chest.
"Yeah," Brian said after a pause. "I'm fine."
"Were you having a bad dream?"
Brian stirred under his covers and laughed a little. "No, not at all," he said. "Go back to sleep, Little Chief."
But when he got into his bunk again, he didn't go back to sleep. Just lay for a long time staring into the dark.
"You didn't know about masturbating?" I said. We had finished the burgers and the last of the fries, and Virgil was now noisily slurping up the dregs of a chocolate milk shake.
"Hunh-uh. I didn't know about jerking off either," he said.
I licked some ketchup from the side of one finger and wondered what he thought masturbation was.
"It wasn't something I ever did," he said, a grin breaking out on his face, like I'd just caught him in the act. "Or even thought of, for crissake."
If I'd ever had any doubts, I knew now that in all those many nights together, Reg had never done anything but hug himwith all the innocence of boys, utterly pure of heart. And I suppose there have to be a few boys like that in the world, even if most of us never wereor never were for long.
Continued . . .