Mike and Danny: Stuff Happens
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.
In one dayand one nightVirgil had crossed over a continental divide, so easy he'd hardly seen it coming. After most of his young life in what he thought was the only real world there was, he'd all at once found himself in another one.
With Mike and Danny, he'd got his first glimpse of it. Here were two men, heart and soul under the same roof, kicking off their pants at night on either side of the same bed. An easy, quiet life, so steady and undisturbed, warm and friendly as a down jacket on a sub-zero morning.
And then, like a homerun bases loaded, Kirk had come crashing in, andwell, there was no other way to put ithe'd lost his virginity. Not just lost ithe'd got himself well rid of it.
He thought now and again of the Virgil he'd been, still aching in his chest and in his shorts for the one who'd been his friend forever, Brian. The friend who had up and deserted him without so much as a warning and left him feeling lost and busted.
Now on top of that there was this new Virgil, too new to say for sure who or what he even was. All he did know was that with Kirk he'd already done almost everything Danny had told him two men might do togetherand then some.
Danny had told him not to rush into things but, hell, once he'd met Kirk, there'd been no time to waste. Once lightning had struckand damn if that wasn't the word for itit was already too late.
At moments he'd been amazed that there was his dick stuck in some part of this other guy he hardly knewhadn't even taken time to like or dislike. And then having this stranger's dick stuck into him.
Like losing his footing and falling down a steep slope, he'd experienced a kind of fury he'd never felt before, wrestling Kirk into the cab of the truck and fucking him out there in the far pasture. Then surrendering to him in the dark of the hay barn, feeling Kirk both inside him and wrapped around him, covering him.
He'd awakened later that same night to put his arm over Kirk, still asleep, pulling their bodies together like one under his big coat, and feeling a kind of warmth for this older, experienced man that as he drifted off again was more a memory of his cousin Reg, who had slept like this with him long ago.
His butt still sore and tender the next day, his legs marked with hay scratches, these were a soft reminder that it had all really happened. He was a man now, for better or worse, and there was no going back.
What was left to be donebesides live the rest of his life free and clearwas to make what he could of Kirk, this practical stranger who had taken him from one side of the mountain to the other.
There was his hand on Virgil's leg under the kitchen table that first morning in the ranch house kitchen, and here in the company of these other men, it was like choosing up sides for a ball game and being the team captain's first pick.
This wasn't going to be like with Brian. They'd been pals, and that was about being loyal no matter what, no questions asked. It was something else with Kirk, something not as deep but just as strong. Something that owned both of them, had them both by the balls. It was there in the grip of Kirk's hand on his thigh.
In it was something fierce, and remembering it his cock stirred in his jeans. Like the tingle of brushing against an electric fence, or the cutting edge of a sharpened blade, still cold from the whetstone.
He had yearned with all his might for something like this, and suddenly it had come, stunning him with so much that he hadn't expected. But in the middle of it was still this big ragged hole that hadn't gone away. It was the place in his heart where Brian had been.
The first week on the ranch had passed in a kind of slow motion, everything new and soaking up his attention so that the days seemed almost endless. He'd never spent time like this in the company of older men, from sun-up to sundown, all of them with something to teach him, all of them regarding him with a kind of fond patience, like they wanted him to be a man they'd be proud to know.
And some more than others. Don the boss and Slim certainly. George less openly. Even Kirk in his hard-assed way. Together they weren't quite the Cartwrights on "Bonanza," but it was the closest thing Virgil could think of.
Slim drove Virgil to town in his ancient pickup that first morning. Slim had a long list of groceries and staples to get for the ranch house pantry, and it had stuck from the back pocket of his levi's as he bent over the old truck's engine, the hood up, tinkering with the carburetor, and Virgil behind the wheel pressing the starter or the foot-feed when Slim told him to.
"Gun 'er again," Slim would say.
After twenty or more minutes, they'd got it going, and Slim had slammed down the big hood, a grin of satisfaction on his face, wiping his hands on his jeans. Virgil had slid over to let him in the cab, the plastic seat brittle with age and crackling under his butt, and the truck had missed and backfired as they drove off the place.
Don had stood in the open barn door watching them go, and George was in one of the corrals with the horses. In the calving pasture as they went out to the road, they could see Kirk tossing slabs of hay from the flatbed as the truck – driverlesspulled it slowly forward in grandma, the cows strung out behind. He stood there, the wagon lurching under him, and then raised his hat, swinging it in a big, slow wave over his head.
"I think he kinda likes you," Slim said, wondering. "I never knew him to take a shine to anybody."
Virgil wondered at this himself. "I dunno," he said. "I just met him a couple days ago." Less than that.
He'd been lying on the floor watching TV with Mike and Danny when Kirk had walked in, standing there in the doorway like he wasn't sure he was welcome.
Virgil had gone now through nearly every combination of feelings about Kirk, from one end of them to the other, fetching up somewhere in the middle of curious, happy, and good-and-pissed-off. In the dark of night, in the hay bales, waking there beside Kirk, he'd felt something like affection for him, too.
But Kirk had been asleep then, and pressed against him, it was easier to forget how he could be such a sonofabitch. His toughness seemed more like the strength a man needed to make his way in the worldwhen he had no one else to count on. If he liked Kirk, it was a feeling that came and went. He had yet to be sure that he could trust him.
The trip to town for him was Don the boss's idea. Virgil needed a hat and a pair of good boots. "Those aren't gonna last yuh," he'd said, pointing to Virgil's beat-up sneakers. And he offered to put up the cash if Virgil needed itonly it would have to come out of his first pay.
First pay, Virgil thought, as the truck bumped with apparently no springs or shocks along the long dirt driveway to the main road. It was his first man's job. The eagerness to prove himself was collecting as a kind of nervousness in his gut that spread downward, hitting bottom finally in his balls.
There, after a time, it joined the memory of his hard-on pressed into Kirk's backside and the rippling waves that overtook him as he emptied himself like a rolling thunderclap breaking over them from a black and seething sky.
First job. First pay. First time.
The truck rumbled roughly over the cattle guard at the ranch gate, and Virgil felt himself settle deeper into his jeansDanny's jeans. He looked out at the bare, rolling hills, rising in a low ridge along the horizon. He smiled to himself, thinking of how far he'd traveled in another man's pants.
Hyannis – population 287 the sign said as they came into townwas a wide spot in the road, stretched out mostly east and west along highway 2 and the Burlington tracks. There were a couple banks, a lumberyard, and on one corner an old-fashioned hotel that Buffalo Bill must have slept in if he ever came through town.
Slim got the groceries he wanted at a general store. As the clerk there boxed up his order, Virgil found a pair of Acme boots that seemed to fit OK. And Slim brought him one hat after another from a stack of them at the back, putting them one after another on Virgil's head, finally deciding on one he liked.
"Looks about right," he said. "How does it feel?"
"Tight," Virgil said, and they looked together in a mirror on the wall.
"Gotta fit good and snug," Slim said, tugging it down hard. "Has to stay on in the wind."
It was a gray hat, a brand new version of the one Slim was wearing, with a narrow leather band around the crown. It felt like a bucket turned over on his head, but in the mirror it transformed him into someone he barely recognizedsomeone seriously wanting to be taken for a full-grown man.
"Makes me look, I dunno, taller."
"That's the boot heels," Slim said. "Gives a man stature."
He looked at Slim beside him in the mirror, smiling and nodding. Then he looked at himself again andtry as he mighthe could hardly see a trace of the old Virgil.
Outside, they put the groceries in the back of the pickup. Then they tossed the old sneakers in a trash barrel and crossed the street to a diner where Slim said his hellos to several customers and they sat in a booth eating fat slices of apple pie warm from the oven with scoops of vanilla ice cream, melting and sliding along the side of the plates, and big cups of hot coffee.
"This here'd be my idea of heaven," Slim said. "Promise me pie a la mode, and I'd make a honest effort to be a god-fearing Christian."
Virgil, still getting used to eating indoors with a hat on, leaned forward on both elbows, spooning the runny ice cream and sweet apple filling into his mouth. It was still the middle of the morning. He felt like a grown man acting like a kid.
"What would it take for you?" Slim said.
"I dunno," Virgil said. Heaven was not a subject he ever gave much thought to. But Slim's question made him think of Brian. Maybe if Brian would just be his friend again. Like old times.
He slurped up the last of the pie with his spoon, tilting the plate on one edge. Slim was already done and rolling a cigarette from the pouch of tobacco in his shirt pocket. He lit it and inhaled deeply, in no hurry to leave the diner and go back to the pickup.
Virgil pushed the plate away and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. He stared out the front window at the sleepy street, where a dog lifted its leg against the hubcap of a parked car.
"You ever know someone for a while you thought was your friend?" he suddenly said. He was still looking out at the street.
"You addressing that question to me?" Slim said after a pause.
"I suppose I am." He turned to look at Slim, who looked back at him through the smoke of his cigarette, a frown gathering on his face.
"Then I suppose the answer to what you're askin' would have to be yes."
"Whatever happened to him?" Virgil said.
Slim glanced down and away and tapped his cigarette on the edge of a tin ashtray on the table. "He got hisself killed," he finally said. "Throwed from a horse."
"Oh," Virgil said. He hadn't expected this answer. And as the look on Slim's face darkened, he wished he hadn't brought this up.
Slim lifted his eyebrows as if to erase the frown and said, "It was a long while ago. The two of us weren't much more'n your age."
"How old are you know?" Virgil said, wanting to change the subject.
"Fifty-five last I checked."
"When was the last time you checked?"
Slim chuckled, like he was amused more by Virgil than the question itself. "His name was Oakley," he said, not done with what he wanted to say. "He was from back Eastsomewhere in Illinois."
Virgil thought long and hard before he finally said, "Did you miss him?"
"I sure as hell did," Slim said. "Still do sometimes." And staring at the smoldering end of the cigarette between his fingers, he said as if to himself, "Many's the time I'd of given up heaven and pie a la mode to have him back again."
Virgil sat watching him, unable to express the flood of feeling that swelled in his chest.
Slim stubbed out the cigarette and got up to pay the bill. Then they stepped out into the bright sunshine and crossed the street to where the pickup was parked, the boxes of groceries stacked neatly against the back of the cab.
Virgil watched Slim, a couple steps ahead of him, tall and slender with long arms hanging down in the sleeves of his canvas jacket, his narrow legs moving under him stiffly like his boots weren't made for taking him any distance on pavement.
They were in the pickup and driving out of town when Slim said, "What made you ask that question?"
"I dunno," Virgil said, shrugging.
"You musta had a reason."
He studied Slim, trying to decide how much he wanted to tell him about Brian, and about how much he missed him. How much his heart achedeven nowwhenever he thought of him.
"Just wonderin'," he finally said.
They rode on in silence for a while.
"What a man feels here," Slim said, touching a finger to his chest, "that's his business. But I can tell you one thing." It was no good, he'd learned, to keep it from the other personman, woman, or child, for that matter. Far better to let 'em know than to miss the chance and wish your whole life you'd for once just opened your mouth.
"So you gotta tell 'em," he said. "That's my opinion for what it's worth."
Virgil figured Slim was remembering his old friend Oakley and just thinking out loud. As advice for Virgil, it was way past too late. Brian didn't want to hear about any of that. He'd already made that pretty clear.
"I know he can be a ornery sonofagun and rub a guy the wrong way," Slim said. "But I reckon he's got his good side. Most every man does if you look hard enough for it."
Now Virgil was puzzled. "Who are you talking about?"
"Why, Kirk," Slim said. "Ain't that who you meant?"
"No, it wasn't," Virgil said, and he tried to imagine how Slim would have got that idea.
Back at the ranch, he unloaded the pickup for Slim, setting the boxes down on the long kitchen table, while Slim went to work putting it all away in the pantry.
Outside he went looking for the other men and found George in the horse barn. Don and Kirk had saddled up Byron and Betsy and gone out to one of the pastures to check on cattle.
The one horse left in the barn was a quarter horse called Woody. George put a saddle on him and, when he learned that Kirk had never ridden a horse, determined that he would know how by the end of the day.
Stepping into the stirrup George held for him, the new boot stiff around his foot, he lifted his other leg over the horse, and as he settled into the saddle, the leather creaking, he felt the animal alive under him, shifting between his thighs.
Only a few feet off the ground, looking down now at George, he felt suspended over the corral. The ranch buildings, the cows in the calving pasture, the fence lines reaching out across the pastures now arranging themselves in a new perspective.
"Pay attention," George said, like he could tell Virgil was letting himself drift away. "It's not a porch swing."
Then George led Woody around the corral. As the horse stepped forward, Virgil felt his body suddenly fighting for balance. With nothing to hang onto but the horn of the saddle, he felt within an inch of sliding off either side.
"Forget what you're thinking and keep your mind on two things," George said, his voice suddenly sharp as a band saw.
"Number one, keep looking between his ears."
Virgil's focus went straight to the horse's ears, both of them pointing up and forward.
"Number two. Feel every move he's making with your butt."
Virgil focused now on the feel of the saddle under him.
"Look," George repeated, two fingers darting forward from his eyes, "and feel." He smacked his back pockets with the palm of his hand. "Just look and feel. Got it?"
As George slowly led the horse around and around the corral, Virgil gradually felt himself sinking deeper into the saddle, until for minutes at a time, it seemed almost easy.
"Now with your eyes closed," George said. "Shut your eyes, but keep lookin' between his ears."
It was like starting all over again. Once more he had to overcome his fear of falling. And then, after he didn't know how long, he woke once more to the awareness of his butt in the saddle and each movement of the horse, coaxing him to trust himself.
For a moment, he let himself remember the night before, as Kirk entered himfirst his fingers and then the soft, firm knob of his cockand willing himself to let him in.
"Pay attention," George barked, like he could tell Virgil's thoughts were slipping away again, and so he let go of the memory, and the brief, lingering recollection of feeling Kirk pressing deeper into him, filling him.
"Now, hands off the saddle horn," George said after a while. "Put your arms straight out to your sides."
Eyes still closed, he lifted his arms, and returned again to a precarious sense like balancing on a tight rope. The horse seemed to tilt under him, like his pie plate at the diner, the runny slurry of melted ice cream and sugary apple juices sliding around the curve and into his waiting spoon.
For a moment, he was sure the horse was walking out from under him. But he kept his eyes closed, his arms wobbling but never reaching down helplessly for the saddle horn. He'd rather fall off than hear George say, "Pay attention!" again.
Long minutes passed and as his breathing steadied Virgil discovered once again his butt in the saddle, and while trying not to think about it, he was aware of the horse under him and of a gradually rising confidence that he was ready for each rolling motion as it came.
After a long while the horse stopped, and Virgil sat with eyes closed, arms extended. The muscles in his shoulders were starting to ache, but he was determined to do nothing unless George told him to.
"OK," George said, his voice different, like he was maybe satisfied. "You can relax and open your eyes now."
When he opened his eyes, he was startled that what he saw was not what he'd been picturing beyond the horse's ears. The barn was off to one side, not in front of him. The sun had also moved in the sky.
And there, sitting on the top rail of the corral fence, watching him, was Kirk. He'd come back from the pasture.
"Think he's got what it takes?" Kirk called out to George.
George nodded, unsmiling, but looking up at Virgil, his eyes friendly, like it would be bad form to carry on like Kirk over anything.
"Looks to me like he's got 'er," Kirk crowed. "Goddam, with that hat, he even looks like a fuckin' cowboy."
Continued . . .