Mike and Danny: Restless Hearts
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.
Oscar has some words for Baxter; Danny has second thoughts; Ty takes to the road; Mike enjoys his day off.
As Baxter drove from North Platte back into the Sandhills, he could see the clouds beginning to break up over the ridge tops and the blue sky showing through once again. It was a brilliant blue, the air clean and clear after a day of rain. The Canadian front that followed the storm had the feel of something fresh and cool on his skin when he rolled down the window, and as sunlight fell on the hills ahead of him they shone bright and new-washed.
His father had recognized him as soon as he walked in the door of his room at the nursing home, and that made him feel good. The man had become so forgetful in recent years, so easily confused. The day his dad had looked at him and seemed unsure who he was, he'd felt a sudden fear that he was losing his father forever.
But he had improved since his old friend Oscar had returned and begun to look after him. The two of them carried on like they once had, though Oscar now did almost all the talking. His father was much too slow to keep up with him, and you had to read his expressions to gather what he was thinking. But they seemed to say he understood more than he could put into words.
"It's a good day for him," Oscar said after Baxter had said goodbye and they stepped outside the room. "He talks about you sometimes when you're not here. And he wants me to tell him stories about youyou know, the memories I have about you when you were young."
"What memories?" Baxter wondered.
"Oh, you know, that first horse of yours took you under a tree branch and drug you off. You fell in all that cowshit and you got so darn mad."
"Oscar, I think that was you you're rememberin'."
"We thought you broke a collarbone there for sure, that time."
"That was when I fell through the floor of the hayloft."
"Naw, you got that wrong, Baxter."
"Well, you'd think I'd be the one to remember something like that."
"Anyways, you shoulda seen your dad when I told him that story. His face lit up like a Christmas tree."
"Oscar, you mix stuff up like that and you're just gonna confuse him."
"And maybe your memory ain't so good as you think it is either."
Baxter decided to shut up at that point. What mattered was that Oscar was keeping his dad entertained and interested in staying alert and alive. If they both wanted to remember it was him fell in cowshit, it probably didn't matter how it really happened, because one way or another he'd slipped, fallen, or been splattered in his share of it and then some.
"I never told him about them ticks, though," Oscar said and elbowed him.
"You can thank me for keepin' that foolery one of your secrets all these years."
"Don't tell me you went and forgot that one, too."
Baxter looked at Oscar and tried to recall anything he wouldn't have wanted his father to know about ticks.
"That time you came home with them buggers all over your bare ass from sittin' out in the woods with your pants downjerkin' off, I reckonI can't think of any other way it coulda happened."
"Oh, that," Baxter said and felt his face flush.
"Now he remembers," Oscar said, like he'd scored a point. "I had you bend over and I took a lighted match to each one of them little critters."
The memory came back to him of each sharp burn against his skin and Oscar's glee, as one after another he scorched them till they were dead.
"Never seen anything like it." Oscar was shaking his head now, giving him a poker face as he tried to keep from smiling.
To get Oscar not to tell his father, he'd agreed to muck out stalls in the horse barn for a month. He couldn't remember anymore why it was so important to keep it a secret.
"Hell, you can tell him that one. I don't care anymore," Baxter said.
Oscar grinned at him now. "Your dad knew what was goin' on with you. He always kinda wondered what to tell you about what happens in a boy's britches as he grows and what to do about it."
"Talk about secrets. He sure kept that one to himself."
"You two never had that talk?"
"Nope, we sure didn't."
"I told him a boy figures it out watching the livestock."
"Oh, yeah, that was a big help," Baxter said, remembering how little he'd understood about it all.
"But you turned out all right, didn't you?"
Baxter thought about this. It hadn't exactly been easy. But would his father have told him anything about sex that would have made a difference?
"I kept telling him it was OK you never got married," Oscar said.
"You two talked about that?"
"We talked about you a lot," Oscar said.
They had walked down the corridor to the front desk and stepped outside, where Oscar pulled a cigarette from a pack in his shirt pocket and struck a wooden match on the seat of his pants to light it.
"How do you do that? I never could," Baxter said.
"Your butt's probably still a little fire shy." Oscar sucked in the smoke from the cigarette and exhaled, serious now instead of enjoying his little joke. "He wanted you to do a better job'n he did makin' a wife happy."
"I don't think he made my mom unhappy."
"I kept tellin' him, stop frettin' about the boy," Oscar said, ignoring the remark. "He's not the marryin' kind."
Baxter looked at him as he took another drag on his cigarette. "What ever give you an idea like that?"
Oscar shrugged. "You get a hunch about another man. What else is there to say?"
"I got close to gettin' married once."
"Got close and backed off?"
"You could say that."
"I never even got close."
"Those cigarettes are gonna kill ya, you know?"
"Now you're changin' the subject."
"I thought we were done. And I gotta get goin'." Baxter turned and studied Oscar now, puzzled by the tone of his voice. "So what's your point?"
"There's only one person in this life for me." Oscar gazed across the parking lot and tipped the ash from his cigarette with a crooked finger. "And that's your dad."
"I can see that. And I thank you."
"Nothin' to thank me for. I always thought more of your dad than anyone elseman or woman."
"I guess that's what I meant."
"I left him that time 'cause it got me so mad he wouldn't see me the same way. It was your ma and then it was you always come first."
Baxter thought back now over the years. "That's why you left us?"
"Damnedest fool thing I ever done."
"All I knew was you two had a fight over somethin'."
"Funny thing, the way he is now? It's almost like I wasn't gone. He don't remember any of it." Oscar laughed and took another drag of the cigarette. "And I sure as hell ain't gonna remind him."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"So you know."
"I love your dad and I'm gonna be here lovin' him till the day he's gone."
This time when Baxter looked at him, Oscar was looking straight at him. It was a piercing look with something in it like anger, determination, and sorrow that it had taken him so long to say what he'd just said.
He dropped the cigarette to the ground and stepped on it with the sole of his boot. "Go," he said. "You gotta get goin'." And he turned and walked back inside.
Baxter had just stood there, watching him walk away, and then he went out to his pickup in the parking lot. He had never really wondered about the friendship between Oscar and his father. Like men you could find anywhere on ranches and small-town bars, they'd buddied up once and just stayed that way.
He couldn't imagine the two men any closer than that. And it had never occurred to him that one of them might love the other a whole lot more and in a different way. Maybe it could happen that he'd get fed up and strike out on his own when that kind of love was never returned. For that seemed to be Oscar's story.
Driving now along the highway north into the Sandhills, he glanced in the rear view mirror and saw that the long river valley had disappeared behind a high ridge. The clock in the dashboard was busted and he didn't wear a watch, but he could tell from the angle of light above and the shadows of the fence posts beside the road that the morning was mostly gone.
He'd have to hurry if he was going to be back at the ranch by noon, like he'd promised Kirk. And he pressed his foot down on the accelerator, trying to coax a little more speed from the old truck.
Danny had taught his Monday morning class. The students were reading Shakespeare and trying to understand why Hamlet can't make up his mind what to do about his father's murder. Besides one or two opinions that sounded like they came straight from Cliff Notes, no one seemed sure what to say. He was either asking them questions that required too much thought to answer, or they hadn't read the assignment. Some days were like that.
When class was over, he found Brian outside in the hallway. He was unshaven and looked as if he'd slept in his clothes. When Danny asked him if everything was OK, he gave a quick, cheerful reply that soundedif you really listened to himcompletely false.
"I've got an office hour now," Danny said. "Do you want to talk?"
Brian sighed and nodded, and the two of them went along the corridor, then down two flights of stairs to Danny's cubby hole of an office.
"What's up with you?" Danny said, when they got there.
"Can I close the door first?" Brian said.
"I dunno, sir," Brian said after he'd pushed the door shut. "I got a little problem."
And he poured out to Danny a confused story about being broke and not having a place to stay. He'd thought he could room with Virgil, but that didn't work out, and this was all mixed up with something about his girlfriend Roxanne.
Danny had got to know Brian the year beforea handsome kid, who was also bright enough to shine in any classand he'd liked him at first. There'd been a while when he'd been more than a little aware of the shape of Brian's ass in his jeans.
But, as often happened with students, Danny felt that interest wear off as he came to realize how truly young and inexperienced they were behind any appearance of maturity. They were flattered by the attention you might give them, but they had little to give you in return.
And they could behave like perfect fools if you gave them half a chance. He knew, for instance, that Brian had walked out on Virgil in the spring after some disagreement, ending a long friendship, and that Virgil had taken it hard.
"So you're telling me what?" Danny finally asked him.
Brian gave him a helpless look.
"I'm supposed to guess?" Danny said.
"I've been sleeping in my car, sir, and it's gettin' kinda cold nights."
"You need a place to sleep?"
"If it's OK with you."
"Well, I wasn't offering, but if that would help you out," Danny said, then thought to add, "And only if it's for a couple nights."
"Don't worry, sir. I got money coming from my uncle. Soon as I can put a deposit on a apartment, I'll be all set."
And then he left, after shaking Danny's hand and thanking him, leaving him with an uncomfortable feeling that he really should have wondered, as he did now, why Brian seemed to know no one else with a couch where he could spend the night.
He closed his door again, picked up the phone and called his friend Barry in the Psychology Department. Barry had counseled Virgil last spring when this all happened with Brian. Maybe he'd have something in the way of advice.
"Did I do the right thing, or have I just been snookered?" he asked Barry.
"Snookered, I'd say," Barry said, laughing.
"Dammit, I thought so."
"I'm joking. Hey, maybe you're too generous, but what's the worst that can happen?"
"The worst?" Danny hadn't even thought of that.
"He'll probably empty your refrigerator, leave the bathroom in a mess, and run up your phone bill. You'll learn a lesson, and it won't happen again."
"What if word gets around?"
"What are you planning to do, fuck him?"
"Jesus, that's not funny."
"Well, I'm just trying to understand what's got you so worried."
"Is he seeing you right now?"
"As a patient? You know I couldn't give out that kind of information."
"Your professional ethics kind of come and go, don't they?"
"Stop giving me a hard time about that. You try doing this job sometime."
"The kid's a student. I'm on the faculty and bucking for a promotion. What's it gonna look like?"
"If it was a girl, you'd be in big trouble. But it's not."
"Be honest, Barry. Who besides you knows about me?"
"Well, my secretary does now, if she's listening in on the line, but besides that you have nothing to worry about."
"You haven't told anybody?"
"Give me some credit, will you?"
"I oughta known talking to you wouldn't do any good."
"Tell you what. Meet him at the door when he gets there and loan him ten bucks to stay at the Motel 6. He'll love you for it."
"Love has nothing to do with this."
"Are you kidding? With a free motel room? He'll have his girlfriend there in a minute."
"He's got some problem with his girlfriend."
"No doubt. But these college jocks all have back ups." Barry laughed. "Anyway, he doesn't really want to stay with an old geezer on the facultyhow old are you anyway, thirty?you gotta be an embarrassment to a young stud like him."
"Barry, you're always such a big help."
"Anytime," he said and hung up.
As the clock in Danny's apartment got to 11:30, Mike decided to get something for them to eat, and he walked to a sandwich shop that was a block away on a corner. The place was almost empty when he walked in, and he found a young guy behind the counter wearing a big white apron and reading a book.
"What's that you're readin'?" he said, making conversation after he'd studied the menu on the wall and ordered two submarine sandwichesafter asking what they were.
"Philosophy," the guy said as he went to work slicing open two long buns.
It interested Mike that people used their spare time to read books. Danny was like that, too. "Are you a student at the college?" he asked.
"Studying to be a philosopher?"
The guy laughed. He had an easy grin and hair long enough to tie back in a ponytail. "Tryin'."
"What's in a book about philosophy?"
The guy shook his head. "Everything," he said, deftly putting down layers of meat and cheese on the bread, like he was dealing cards from a deck.
Mike was curious about the ponytail and figured they'd talked enough for him to ask about it. "How long it take you to grow your hair like that?"
"What made you do it?"
"Girls," he said, dropping shredded lettuce and thin slices of tomato over the sandwich.
"So girls go for a long-haired philosopher?"
He shook his head. "Musician," he said and stepped back, dropping into a crouch and playing a few licks of air guitar.
"I get it," Mike laughed. "It makes you look like a rock star."
"Bingo," the guy said and slapped the sandwiches together, wrapping them up in big sheets of butcher paper.
The conversation had gone on like that, as more customers came in, and when Mike paid him and turned to go, the guy said, "Chow."
Mike laughed as he walked out the door with the two sandwiches in a bag. He didn't understand college kids, but they cracked him up.
Ty had left a note on the kitchen table at Mike's house saying simply,
Plans changed. Came back
for my car. Going home to Iowa.
Thanks for everything.
He didn't try to explain about Rich. It was too complicated. And he wanted to get on the road and be on his way. It would be evening by the time he got there.
He was driving the broad, flat stretch of interstate, past little towns just off the road, with their grain elevators and water towersall the way east to Omaha, where he'd cross the Missouri River and be back in his home state. From there it was another 150 miles across rolling hills of neat farms, cornfields, and pastures with dairy cowswhat he always thought of as the heart of the Midwest.
His feelings were a mixture of anticipation and regret. Besides Rich, whose absence sometimes made him feel like he was falling down a bottomless, dark pit, he was also leaving behind friends who had accepted him as he was.
There was Mike, of course, who had first embraced him and given him shelter from the storm of confusion that had suddenly blown up around him. There was Danny, too, and then the men at the ranchall of themKirk, Baxter, Lonnie, and maybe most of all, Owen, who had made him feel both strong and wanted.
Owen, the toughest of all of them, had done what none of them had done. Though flat on his back in bed, he'd made Ty feel that, if he looked for it, he could find all the courage a man needed to make his way in the world, exactly as he was, no apologies and no excuses.
"Stick to your guns" was his advice, and he'd said it more than once.
With Rich, though, he had come to see that no amount of sticking to his guns would make a difference. Rich needed the love of someone who could help him with his demonssomeone not half-terrified by his nightmares or unable to break through the silences and the bleak spells of sadness that came over him like dark clouds out of nowhere.
Still, it hurt to think of him, because he'd been the first man Ty had let himself love so deeply and hopelessly. And the first to show him anything like that kind of love in return.
But thank god for Owenand yes, he still said prayers of thanks to the Almighty. Owen not only gave no ground to anybody; he had won himself the love and respect of an equal, and surely Kirk was a perfect match for him.
"He's a pisser that Kirk," Owen had said once. "Don't know what I'd do without him." Then he laughed, wiping his running nose with the back of his hand. "Course sometimes he gets me so goddam mad I wouldn't mind finding out."
Ty had looked for Kleenex and ended up bringing him a roll of toilet paper from the bathroom, and he'd handed it to Owen, who took several feet of it and blew his nose hard.
"Aw, I'm just kiddin'," he said when he was done. "Kirk is all right. I was one royally fucked up sonofabitch when I found him."
There it was again, one man coming along to offer a helping hand to another who needed it, and expecting nothing in return. Sometimes all you could do is tryand try your best. The proof of the man was not in his success or failure. It was his willingness to lend that helping hand.
He thought of Jesus, as he often did. That loving man was still the one he looked up to. And he knew now that Jesus would love Mike and all the men Ty had met since leaving the church. Different as they all were, from sweet-tempered Lonnie to hard-as-nails Owen, they were good men. Good men and true.
"You do the best you can with what you got," he said aloud, as he drove along.
And he wondered for a moment who had always said that. Then he remembered. It was his father, the first who had tried to make a man of Ty. Giving him advice as he worked after school and weekends at the grocery, stocking shelves, sweeping the floor, knocking down the empty boxes in the storeroom.
He understood those words now like he never had before. He was doing thatusing what he'd been given to do his best. And he would go on doing that. No matter what his father said when he got home again and walked through the door, Ty would know that he could stand there, proud of himself.
He was becoming a man.
It was past noon when Danny got back to the apartment, and Mike was waiting for him.
"You clean up real nice, bud," he said. "You're darn handsome in a white shirt and tie."
Danny set down his briefcase and put his arms around Mike to give him a hug. "Hey, Mike," he said and just held him for a while.
For Mike, it was wonderful in the middle of a Monday being together like this, and no reason to hurry because work was waiting somewhere to be done.
"You wanna eat first or later?" he asked Danny.
"How much time we got?"
"I intend to make every minute count."
"You won't have to try hard," Danny sighed.
Mike laughed and pressed his hands to Danny's chest, feeling for his nipples through the shirt and then sliding his fingers up and under the collar of his jacket to slip it from his shoulders. Then, while he kissed him, he slowly loosened the tie and unbuttoned his shirt.
By the time he had Danny half undressed, he was hard in his jeans. While he wanted to go slow and let himself enjoy this moment by moment, the desire rising in him was already getting difficult to resist. He took a deep breath, then pulled off his own shirt and his tee shirt to feel their naked skin pressed together and his bare arms around Danny's body.
He felt between them now for Danny's zipper and pulled it down, slipping his hand inside to find his cock. It was a thick bulge in his jockeys, firm and warm against his palm, and after a quick search for the elastic waistband, he was able to get into his underwear and his fingers around his erection.
After stroking it for a while, he pulled Danny's cock free from his pants with both hands. He felt a drop of slick already collecting at the soft tip, and he thumbed it in little circles, then went down on one knee to touch his tongue to it.
Savoring the salty taste, he kept trying to slow himself down, admiring the fierce beauty of Danny's penis, hard as a pump handle, and the way it jutted out from his fly, with its little curve upward like it was straining to make itself even longer and harder.
The fingers of one hand were hooked over the bottom of the zipper and the waistband of his jockeys, and he could brush his knuckles against Danny's balls, still buried in the warm darkness between his legs. They nudged against each other under the hair and soft skin, heavy as pullet eggs.
"Nice pair," Mike had said at least a hundred times by now. And he said it again, looking up at Danny, whose head was bent back, eyes closed. A grin crossed his face but he didn't open his eyes.
Unable to do anything but give in to the urge, Mike opened his mouth and swallowed Danny's cock as far as it would go. Danny leaned against the wall behind him, sighing softly and pushing forward with his hips. Then Mike reached around him and felt for his butt, as the muscles there flexed under the loose fabric of his trousers.
He kept trying to concentrate on what he was doing, evenly and steadily stroking Danny's hard-on with his mouth, his tongue curled tight as it would go around it. But in spite of his efforts to resist, Mike's thoughts raced ahead. All he could think of was wanting the feel of Danny inside him. Whenever Danny made love to him, he made sex into such sweet surrender.
In a moment he was kicking off his shoes and pulling down his jeans and his boxers. Then he took Danny by the hand and hurried in his stocking feet to the bedroom.
Danny got out of the rest of his clothes as Mike fell into the middle of the bed, rolling onto his stomach.
"For a second, I thought we were going to do it right there on the carpet," Danny said and dropped naked on top of him.
"We almost did, bud."
"You need to take a day off more often."
Mike laughed. "I'm just figurin' that out."
Continued . . .
© 2008 Rock Lane Cooper