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.
Mike discovers he's not alone; Brian finds someone waiting for him; Ed and Jake greet the morning; Ty gets home.
Mike came to with a start in the early morning darkness. There'd been that dreamy moment when he thought he was still at Danny's place and when he opened his eyes he'd see the windows of Danny's bedroom brightening in the half-light of a new day.
There were a few seconds of puzzlement instead, as the room waiting for him to wake up in turned out to be his own bedroom on the farm. But he wasn't alone. There beside him, on Danny's side of the bed, was someone else. And he could tell just from the sound of his breathing that it wasn't Danny.
Slowly reaching up to switch on the bed lamp, he found Rich almost buried under the covers, his head pushed into a pillow and an expression of weary calm on his wind-burned and unshaven face. One hand was visible pressed into a fist next to his pillow, and Mike could see the cuff of his shirt and the sleeve of his leather jacket. He seemed to be still fully dressed.
With the light on, Rich's eyes suddenly flew open. He sucked in a quick gasp of air, a look of alarm on his face, and he reached out to Mike, grabbing at him as Mike quickly put up one arm. Then Rich's unblinking gaze froze on him, and after a moment of lying locked in each other's grip, he pulled himself toward Mike to lie against him, shaking.
"Rich," Mike said, holding him now. "What happened to you?"
Rich said nothing, just began sobbing. And Mike held him as he wept.
Maybe most of an hour had passed after that, and Rich had not pulled away from him or even loosened the embrace that held them tightly together, his face pressed against Mike's chest, tears wet on Mike's skin. The harsh, raking call of robins started up outside in the darkness before dawn, and when Mike's alarm clock began to buzz, he had leaned away from Rich enough to punch it quiet again with the flat of his hand.
But Rich had not let go of him, just clung to him like a shipwreck survivor. He seemed to drift off to sleep again at times, but his arms stayed locked around him, and Mike held the back of his head with one hand, rocking him a little and whispering now and then, "It's all right. It's all right."
For the first time Mike began to understand how deeply Rich had been wounded in Vietnam. Mike had seen the photographs in the news magazines of battle-exhausted infantry, casualties of combat. And among them were the pictures of men grieving the loss of fellow soldiers.
But Mike's service had been during peacetime. He knew nothing of the real cost of war. Now, in the near death-grip of Rich's arms, he felt transported from the safety of his farmhousehis hometo a blazing, terrrifying battlefield half-way round the world.
Rich had never wanted to talk about being in Vietnam. He'd come back unwounded, with his arms and legs intact, but his spirit had been broken. The happy-go-lucky, sensitive kid Mike had known who'd befriended his nephew Kirk on a Fourth of July at the lakethat boy had gone to Vietnam and never returned. He'd become one of the missing in action.
Finally, when the windows filled with dawn light, Rich fell into a sounder sleep, and Mike settled him back onto his pillow. He touched Rich's face, the days' growth of beard rough on his cheek, but his eyes only fluttered open briefly, looking up for a moment at Mike with the beginnings of a smile.
"You're home now," Mike said to him.
Rich seemed to nod with understanding, but his eyes closed as sleep took him once more.
After a while, Mike got out of bed and started the coffee in the kitchen. The rooms of the house were cold, the floors even colder on his bare feet, and after he'd got dressed in his flannel work shirt and jeans, he pulled on a sweat shirt and looked in a closet for the pair of fleece-lined slippers Danny had bought him last year for Christmas.
He stood again in the bedroom, studying Rich, who had not moved in his sleep, seeming barely to breathe. And Mike considered pulling back the covers to take off some of his clotheshis leather jacket at leastso he could sleep more comfortably. But he remembered how Rich had awakened before, like a frightened animal, with that kill-or-be-killed look on his face, and he decided against it.
Outside, the sun was already up, the weather clear and dry. He needed to get back to his cornfields and put in another day of picking corn. But he didn't want to leave Rich here alone.
He reached for the phone and dialed his neighbor Tully's number. Tully's wife Alice picked up.
"Any chance one of your girls can come over today and do some babysitting?"
"What kinda baby you got over there, Mike?" she wanted to know. By the amused tone of her voice, he could tell she was already more than willing to help out.
"Friend of mine, ain't doin' so well. Kind of needs some tendin' to."
And Mike explained what he could about Rich, so Alice would know to just leave him sleep as long as he needed, and when he woke up to see that he ate if he was hungry and not to go wandering off.
"He's been on the road, and he may want to leave again before I get back. He don't know it, but he's not in any shape for that."
"I'll see if Nadine's up to it," Alice said.
Nadine had been a nurse's aide and was living at home again after her husband ran off with one of the Grimmel twins, no one was sure which one. It wasn't even clear if he knewor cared. They were identical.
"Or I'll come over myself," she said. "I need a vacation from being everyone's grandma." Her two other daughters had jobs in town and dropped off their kids for her to look after. "Lord-amighty, it's like a day-care center around here sometimes. I'm not even sure all these kids are family."
Alice was a church-goer, and while she believed in the strait and narrow and gave grudging respect to the parish priest, it wasn't going to change the way she'd always spoken her mind.
"Thanks, Alice. Let me know whenever I can do something for you."
"Get my husband to give up that gosh-awful chew. I keep tellin' him, I hate gettin' kissed by a man with a wad of Copenhagen in his mouth."
Mike laughed. He knew well the taste of another man's tobacco spit, though he wouldn't expect the thought of that to have crossed Alice's mind. There were some thingslike men kissingthat were beyond even her realm of interest or speculation.
When he hung up the phone, he made himself some breakfast and then checked on Rich one last time. He lay there in the bed, almost comatose. The fatigue of who knows how many weeks or monthsor even yearsstill heavy on his face. He might sleep all day.
When Brian got up, Danny was already gone. He splashed water on his face in the bathroom and got dressed, taking his last fresh shirt from his bag and stuffing the one he'd been wearing into it. The twenty-dollar bill Danny had promised him was on the kitchen table with a note reminding him to go to the counseling center. He pocketed the money, found a pen, and wrote the word "thanks!" on the note. Then he left.
Outside in the parking lot of the apartment complex, he could see the figure of someone leaning against the back fender of his Firebird. As he got closer, he realized it was his Uncle Lou, arms folded across his chest, waiting for him.
"You got another girlfriend living here? What's the story?" he said before either of them said hello. Then he stopped Brian before he could answer. "Hell, I don't care. I don't even want to know."
His car, a big old Chrysler LeBaron, was parked beside the Firebird.
"Get in. Let's go for some breakfast," he said, and they both got into his car. He'd driven back and forth across town for more than an hour, he said, looking for Brian. Around the college, he'd asked everyone who looked like a student if they knew of him or where to find someone like him if they didn't.
He'd got lucky, and circling through the streets around the campus, on the lookout for Brian's car, he'd pulled into this parking lot to turn around, andlo and beholdthere it was. From that point on, it was just a matter of staying there and waiting for him to show up.
Brian rode along with him, not talking and not sure what this was all about. His uncle seemed worked up about something, and it could be anything. He was always short on patience. He'd never come to the college before looking for him, though, and the trouble he seemed to be going to was bound to wind him up even more.
His uncle took him to an IHOP out along the highway, and they sat in a booth inside, where his uncle ordered plates of pancakes for both of them. Brian, who usually skipped breakfast, tried to stop him, but he said, "Eat, boy. You're gonna need your strength after I'm done with you."
This sounded a bit threatening, even for his uncle, who liked to bluster and tended to make other people jumpy, which is why workers rarely stayed with him and found jobs with other employers. Brian's job, when he worked for his uncle, was always to break in the new guys. And there had been a fair share of them. On top of that, none of them had ever trusted him because he was the boss's nephew.
"First of all," his uncle said, while they waited for the pancakes, "I'm gonna pay you for last summer." He pulled out a wad of bills from his pocket and peeled off five hundred-dollar bills. "That's part of it. You'll get the rest later."
Brian took the money, glancing at it briefly, like it might not be real, then he shoved it into his jeans.
"That crook we did the job for at the retirement home? The bastard finally paid upin full," his uncle said. "So you can get yourself an apartment and buy your books and whatever the hell else you need. I promised your ma I'd look after you, and I'm doin' that, OK?"
He looked at Brian like he was waiting for him to say something. "No one taught you any manners?"
"Thank you, sir," Brian said. He stopped short of adding that it was money his uncle actually owed him.
"You ain't got any respect in you. That's always been your problem."
Brian was biting his tongue, thinking that a man who cheats on his wife with his bookkeeper had no right to be pointing fingers.
"Now," his uncle said. "What's this bullshit about you and what's-her-name, Roxanne?"
Brian shrugged. "That's over. We broke up."
"You'll break up when I tell you to and not before then."
Brian was dumbstruck. What business was this of his uncle's?
"She's saying you knocked her up and now you're runnin' out on her?"
"You told me yourself she was somebody I shouldn't get mixed up with."
"Lotta good that did."
"She's not pregnant anyway."
"So you weren't the one fucking her?"
The waitress who delivered their pancakes at this point set them down gingerly. "Be careful," she said, "the plates are hot."
His uncle picked up his fork and jabbed it at Brian as soon as she left. "You got your own ass in a sling, boy, and it's up to you to get it back out again."
"Well, Uncle Lou," he said, as if he was done being made a fool of like this. "What exactly am I supposed to do?"
"I'll tell you exactly what you're going to do. You're going to stand by that girl and be her baby's daddy like any other responsible man."
Brian looked at the pancakes and felt something in his stomach turn.
"I won't let you shame your mother," his uncle said, talking around the pancake in his mouth. "It's bad enough you can't keep your pecker in your pants."
Brian decided they were done talking about this. "When am I going to get the rest of the money you owe me?"
"When you do your duty. That's when."
Now Brian couldn't hold back. He played the only trump card he was holding. "And what about you and Sally, your bookkeeper? How ashamed would everybody in the family be if they knew about that?"
His uncle gave him a level look that would have frozen a wild animal in its tracks. "You say a word to sully that woman's name and I'll kick your ass into the middle of next month."
"Is that right. It would be fuckin' worth it just to see you squirm for a change."
"I won't let you bad mouth her," his uncle said. "She's a decent woman."
"Well," Brian lowered his voice to a low growl. "That must have been before I fucked her."
His uncle stopped in mid-chew and a sly smile crept across his face. "I wouldn't feel too smug about that if I was you." He dropped his voice now even lower than Brian's. "She told me you're a lousy fuck. Shot your wad before you hardly got started."
Brian was stunned. His uncle had to be making this up, but it was too close to the truth for that.
"You thought that was yours and Sally's little secret?" his uncle said, laughing now. "When are you gonna grow up?"
Brian had stopped eating his pancakes a while ago. He looked at them now like something that had crawled up onto the table and died.
His uncle put down his fork and let out a big sigh. "Look, son," he said. "It's a big, bad world out there, and you're never gonna be man enough for it at the rate you're going. Do you see that?"
Brian stared at him. Yes, he was beginning to see it. Like he'd been fooling himself for a good, long time now.
"Do you see that?" his uncle repeated.
"Good. That's a start anyway. You probably think I'm being a real sonofabitch, don't you?"
Brian nodded again.
"I want you to do the right thing, Brian. I don't know how else to do that." He continued with his pancakes. "Believe me, some day you'll thank me for all this."
Holy fuck, Brian thought, and sank back in his seat.
Ed wasn't doing so well. At forty and half-way now to forty-one, he'd promised himself he was going to live his life differently. No more of this playing around with every guy he took a shine to. It was pick someone you like and let it turn into something better. Something real good.
If middle-age had to come up and grab you by the ass, then so be it. Settle in with somebody and grow old together.
But he couldn't for the life of him make up his mind. There were three of them, he realized, that he could happily do that withTed, LeRoy, and now Jake. But he couldn't do it with all three of them. It was one of them or none, but which one?
He lay in the motel bed, the sound of the shower loud in the bathroom and Jake's singing even louder. It was a Merle Haggard song they'd heard on the radio the night before, and Jake had stopped what he was doingsucking on Ed's ballsto sing along.
I paid the debt I owed 'em but
they're still not satisfied
Now I'm a branded man out in the cold. . .
Damn, he was so easy to love. The sight of him pulling off his clothes last night, unsnapping his shirt, and finally stepping naked out of his levi's was enough to make Ed's old heart do a flip-flop. He'd hurried to get undressed himself, hardly able to get his feet out of his boots.
At the first touch of their bare chests together, their hard cocks bumping against each other, Ed felt more than the old rush of feelings he used to have for Jake. There was a real man here who had gone through some tough times that took more than just muscle and guts. He'd dealt with troubles that were a true test of a man's spirit. And here he stood, full of life and strong as ever.
The third kisscounting from the one on the elevatorwas even more heart stopping than the first two. Along with a deep and tender affection, he felt in Jake a fierce hunger for something Ed wasn't sure he had in him to give. But as they lay down together on the bed, Jake had smiled into his eyes like a man who had everything he could ever possibly want.
Later, much later in the night, Jake knelt behind him in the rumpled sheets, entering him with low moaning cries that sounded for all the world like a man weeping with the pure joy of being alive. And when he had pressed in as far as he could go, he'd bent over Ed to hug him hard, holding him tight with one hand clasped under his belly.
"You are my man," he'd said then, in a quiet voice, like he was talking to himself.
When he'd come, it was with an all-consuming passion that lifted Ed as well, the pressure of Jake's cock touching somewhere inside him and feeling so good he was overtaken by an orgasm of his ownsomething that only happened with Jake. He wondered, whenever he'd thought about it, whether it was the size and shape of Jake's cock or just the way he moved. He still didn't know.
"Morning, pardner," he said now standing wet from the shower in the doorway of the bathroom, rubbing a big towel through his hair. He was a handsome man, dark hair on his chest and a regular thicket of it between his legs, where his cock hung heavy over his balls, the tip of it nodding as he rubbed his head.
Then he walked over to the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress, putting one hand on Ed's hip and leaning down to kiss him again on the mouth. He was sweet with the smell of shampoo and bath soap.
"What do you say we rustle us up some grub," he said and reached for the phone to call room service. "I'm hungry as a woodpecker with a three-day headache."
In the half hour it took for breakfast to arrive, they'd been at it again, Jake finding Ed's cock under the cum-stuck sheet and stroking his morning hard-on while he sucked on his nipples, nosing into his armpits to breathe in deep.
"My god, you do smell like a man," he said, and inhaled again.
Ed had finally laid him back on the bed and got between his legs to open his mouth around his cock, hard again and aimed straight up at his navel.
"Amigo," Jake sighed. "I have waited so long for one of your blowjobs."
Ed stopped and looked up at him, his head buried between the pillows they'd slept on during the night. "You just sayin' that or did you really miss me?"
"When I was ass-over-head in that snowbank, my leg busted up, I was thinkin'whenever I had a clear thoughtI could easily freeze to death out here. And I was wishin' if there was anybody I could see one last time before I was gone, I wanted it to be you."
Here they were talking about death again. He looked at Jake's naked body stretched out there before him on the bed sheets, the flesh and bone under the skin and his beating heart, his cock softly throbbing with the surge of his pulse in his veins.
The thought of his life coming to a stop on that winter dayhis heart never to beat againput a chill through him. And he wanted to say anything to shake the feeling.
"You're about to meet your Maker, and that's the last thing you can think ofa blowjob?"
Jake laughed. "No, you horse's ass. You know what I meant."
"How in hell am I gonna say this so you don't make a joke out of it," he said. "I knew I could make it across the great dividethe one that's waitin' there for all of usif you was just there beside me, wishin' me well. That's all."
Ed didn't even want to imagine that scene. "Don't know there's a lot of things that would break my heart, but seein' you goand bein' left behind to bootthat would most surely be one of 'em."
Jake reached down and put his hand on Ed's head, slipping his fingers into his hair.
"Come live with me," he said. "I know I have asked you that before, but this time I really want it."
Ed shook his head. He wasn't saying no. He was just confused.
"I know. A man's gotta roam, but tell me some day you willat least for a while."
"I'm no good at promises," Ed said. And the full weight of the truth of that rested for a moment on his shoulders.
"Well, when you're done with all your roamin', you know you've always got a place with me. Just don't take too long."
Ed nodded and let himself gaze for a moment into the depths of his dilemma. Instead of the impossible choice of being true to one of the three men in his life, the only way out seemed to be the one Jake was suggestingpick a fourth man, himself. And considering how that left him, alone in the world, it was hardly much of a solution.
"Now, you gonna suck my cock or not?" Jake said. "I'm layin' here about ready to bust."
Ed, glad for something to do, went to work on Jake's hard-on, enjoying the feel of it slipping down the back of his throat and burying his nose in his pubic hair, still damp from his shower.
Jake's body seethed under him, and he moaned again with pleasure, his hips bucking and twisting from side to side. Finally, breathing hard, a small cry escaping from him, he came in jolts of semen that filled Ed's mouth. And as Jake fell back into the pillows, Ed could hear the sound of a knock on the door.
Room service was there with their breakfast.
It was a relief Ty hadn't expected to be back in Oskaloosa. When he arrived last night, he'd driven by the town square in the twilight, just to see the big old trees and the old-fashioned bandstand that stood there, where he'd played a French horn in the concert band for several summers. He smiled to see the familiar names on the store fronts, and the lights that glowed in the windows of houses as he drove to his old neighborhood seemed friendly and welcoming.
When he parked in the driveway and walked into the house where he'd lived most of his years, his mother had come from the kitchen with a shout of surprise. Her arms pressed tight around him made him wish that he'd never left home.
Ty had been awake for a while the next morning, lying in his old bed in the bedroom he used to share with his big brothers, who were now all moved out and married. So strange to have the room to himself at this hour, without the sound of his brothers' arguments and differences, complaining about someone spending too much time in the bathroom or using up all the hot water.
He'd drifted off happily to sleep again and was still asleep when his father had rapped lightly on the door and looked in on him.
"You OK, son?" his dad said.
His father came into the room now. He was dressed for work at the grocery store, wearing a hat that Humphrey Bogart might have worn in an old movie. He'd never given over to the fashion of going without one and swore that wearing a hat kept him from getting a cold whenever the weather changed.
He was often stepping in and out of the coolers in the storage room, he said, or out the back door rain or shine for deliveries in the alley. The boys all kidded him that it was just to cover a hairline that had been receding since he was still a young man and made him look older than his years. He scoffed and denied it, but it had been a running joke in the family for as long as Ty could remember.
Ty smiled, glad to see his father's familiar face and realizing how much he'd missed him.
"I'm glad you're home," his father said. "We were getting worried about you."
"I didn't want you to worry." Being the baby of the family, he was always everyone's concern, no one letting him grow up and be his own man.
"We heard things didn't work out at that church."
Ty felt a wave of regret darken the good feelings he had about being back home. "I'm sorry about that, Dad."
His father shook his head, tipping his hat back on his head and leaning against a bureau where each of the boys had a drawer for their underwear and socks in the crowded room. Ty had found a pair of his old pajamas there last night to sleep in.
"I don't want you to be sorry," his dad said. "I know your mother's wanted you to be a minister. But I never did."
"I know, Dad. You told me more than once."
His father smiled and nodded. "I guess I did." Though he smiled, he seemed uncomfortable, like he wasn't sure what to say next.
"Did they tell you why they let me go?" Ty said. This was the part of being back that he had dreaded.
"Yes, we heard from the seminary, but just reading the letter we got, I knew it didn't matter what they thought about you. They was just trying to make themselves look good. And you know what I think about that."
"Yes, I do."
His father had maybe expected too much of his boys at times but never wanted it to be said that they lacked character. And he did his best to show them what that meant in a man's life. He didn't just preach about it.
"I just want to tell you, don't let what happened back there stop you from finding what you really want to do with your life," he said.
"I already know, dad." And he explained to his father what he'd been thinking as he drove all the way home from Mike's farm. "I want to go to school and study psychology," he said, and he told his dad about his friend Rich, who had come back from the war and was strugglingwith a lot of painto put his life together.
"I want to learn how to help people like that. So they don't hurt so bad."
His father smiled. "I think that's a fine thing, son. It's a good thing to want to do."
Ty, who was still in his bed, got up and walked over to his dad. They had not been much for hugging in his familynot the boys at least, after a certain agebut he couldn't think of any other way to show his father how much he loved him. And he put his arms around him.
His father, taken aback for a moment, stood stiffly and then held him awkwardly. But he seemed to decide something that had been unresolved in his mind for maybe a long time. He quickened his hold and then embraced his son with a warmth he'd rarely shown to any of his sons.
"You've always been different from the other boys, Tyrone, and you're different from me. And it used to worry me. But it's getting to be what I like most about you. I think you're going to be just a fine man, and I know whatever you do with your life, you're going to make me proud."
And they stood together, holding each other, as the morning light filled the room.
Continued . . .
© 2008 Rock Lane Cooper