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.
Virgil discovers that Brian has moved in; Ed remembers his first love; and Kirk brings Ty home to meet Owen.
When Virgil came home, the first thing he saw was Brian's Firebird parked out front in the street. A gust of autumn wind through the maple trees overhead had brought a scattering of leaves down over it. The last time he'd seen the car, the backseat was piled high with Brian's stuff in open boxes. Now glancing inside as he walked past, he could see they were gone. Brian had found a place to stay.
Then, on the lawn, he saw a crumpled pair of sweat socks and some underwear, where they had fallen as Brian had carried his belongingsdirty laundry and allinto the house. He had ignored Virgil's last words and moved in with him and Marty anyway.
"What the fuck?" he said as he burst through the apartment door.
"Hey, Virg," Brian said, smiling. He was on the floor, bent over an open suitcase. Around him were stacked his boxes, and he'd made a bed for himself along the wall.
"What the hell does it take to make you understand? I don't want you here."
"I don't see why not," Brian said, looking around him. "You got plenty of room."
Virgil glanced through the archway into the kitchen, where Marty sat at the table, drinking a beer and eating corn chips out of a bag.
"Did you let him in?" he said to Marty.
"He was already here when I got home."
"Get out," Virgil said, turning again to Brian. He stepped over to the suitcase and kicked it shut.
Brian jumped back and got to his feet. "I can't believe you're being like this. How long have you and I been friends? Years. "
Marty had got up with his beer and walked over to them.
"We're not friends. We're not anything." Virgil spit the words out, realizing now how angry he'd been at Brian all this time.
"C'mon, Virg," Brian said, still smiling. "Stop acting like a goddam girl. You're worse'n Roxanne."
Virgil had felt a punch tingling in his arm from the moment he walked through the door. Now he grabbed the front of Brian's shirt with both hands and slammed him hard into the wall.
"There's nothing wrong with me," he said.
Brian only blinked a couple times, barely losing the smile on his face. "You're the one swallowed a bottle of pills," he said. "Nobody forced you to do that." Now he shoved back against Virgil.
"Whoa, whoa," Marty was saying, trying to push them apart.
"You fucked me over," Virgil said sputtering. "A friend doesn't do that to a friend."
"You're getting a little mixed up about who's fucking who," Brian said, his smile suddenly gone. "I don't know what it looks like to the two of you, but I notice you got only one bed in there." He gestured toward the bedroom. "And you can prove to me that don't mean what it looks like by letting me stay hereas long as I like."
"You're an asshole, Brian."
"It sounds like a fair enough deal to me," Brian said and looked at Marty. "What do you think?"
"Leave me out of this," Marty said.
"See, Marty understands." In the scuffle, Brian's shirt had got pulled from the front of his jeans, and now he was tucking it back in again.
"You try to stay here tonight," Virgil said, "and you'll be sorry."
"Not half as sorry as you'll be."
Marty stepped away like he wanted to be well clear if fists were going to flyor he was just fed up with both of them and didn't care what happened.
"When this blows over," Brian said. "And knowing you, Virg, it will, you're still gonna be my best man if there has to be any wedding."
"Marty," Virgil said, not taking his eyes from Brian. "You wanna give me a hand?"
"Just waitin' for you to say the word."
"Get the door open."
"I'm on it."
And when the door had been flung open, they both grabbed Brian and dragged him out of the apartment, pushing and pulling him up the stairs and out the side entrance into the driveway.
And then they started pitching his stuff onto the lawn.
Ed loved to undress Ted. He stood in front of him now in the bedroom, slipping both hands under his flannel shirt and the tee shirt under that, feeling the warm skin first and then sliding his hands upwards, Ted raising his arms to let Ed lift his shirts from him. He hugged him then, pressing his face into his neck, enjoying the tangy smell of his body, his underarms sweetly sharp like cinnamon.
Ted's slender frame, as he held him in his bear embrace, had always filled Ed with tender feelings, as physically smaller men often hadright back to the boy who'd become kind of a little brother to him in eighth grade. It was a one-room country school, a few miles from his grandparents' ranch in South Dakota, where his family had lived for a year when his dad worked in Pierre at the truck leasing company.
The boy had been four years youngerhis name was Kevinand there had been nothing special about him, just a noisy, scrappy kid all arms and legs, who liked to pester Ed just to get his attention. One summer night at a wedding shivareethe son of a neighboring rancher had got married that daya bunch of the older boys had wandered off down the road away from the gathering, where the men stood around outdoors in the dim glow of a pole light drinking beer and whiskey.
Kevin had tagged along, and when they got to a bridge over a slough that crossed the road, Ed and one of the others picked the boy up by his heels and his wrists and started swinging him like they meant to toss him over the railing. He had cried then, frightened, and struggled between them until they let him down again, and he ran off. Kevin had kept a distance from him after that.
Then in the fall, Kevin came to school on crutches one day. He'd been thrown from a horse and broke his leg. A strange feeling had overcome Ed when he saw Kevin at recess, hobbling around on his crutches and watching from behind the backstop as the rest of them played a game of work-up softball.
When recess was over and the teacher stepped outside to ring the old hand bell she kept on her desk, Ed had walked over to the boy, handed him his ball glove and without asking picked him up in both arms and carried him up the hill to the schoolhouse.
Hugging Kevin to him, trying not to trip over the trailing crutches as the boy hung onto them with one hand, Ed felt a flood of warmth course through him. From that day through the rest of the school year, he was Kevin's protector, always there to look out for him.
Nothing changed when Kevin's leg healed and he no longer needed the crutches. Until Ed graduated that next spring, Kevin was his tag-along buddy, and nothing could have made him happier.
All the following summer, before he started high school in town, he'd felt a strange sadness. It would come over him in the evenings, when there was nothing to listen to on the radio. He would lie in bed, reading a Red Ryder comic book or a Boy's Life, feeling lonesome for no reason at all.
He understood his feelings no more deeply than that. His mom's youngest brother, Philwho went to Ag School at the state university and still lived at homehad a bedroom across the hall and would tease him when he came in after midnight from dates or carousing with his friends and find Ed still awake and looking morose.
"Eddie's got a girlfriend. Eddie's got a girlfriend," he'd chant, after getting out of his clothes and sitting on the edge of Ed's bed in his underwear. He'd smell of cigarette smoke and bourbon, grabbing the comic book out of Ed's hands and saying "You're not gonna find anything to jerk off to in there."
Phil had gone to his room and come back with a girlie magazine that he tossed to Ed and said, "This'll be good for what ails you." It was well used, the pages wrinkled and torn. "Just don't let your grandma find it. She'll have your ass in a sling."
Ed thumbed through the pages.
"Where'd you get this?"
"Your uncle Bob. Brought it back from Germany." Bob had been in Europe during his stint in the Army. "That's why you can't read the wordsthey're all foreign."
Ed was dumbstruck. He'd never seen anything like this.
"Keep it. I'm gettin' laid regular anymore. I don't need it."
"You ever do this?" Ed said, turning finally to a page where a man was getting his cock sucked.
"That would be telling now, wouldn't it," Phil said with a sly grin.
Ed had heard the word cocksucker beforeand lots of times; it was one of the ranchhands' favorite cusswords but he'd never considered that it actually meant something this specific. He was taking in the grainy, black-and-white photograph, the naked man in a chair with his head thrown back, the woman between his legs and a little of his erection visible.
Then Phil had grabbed the magazine from him, flipping quickly to another page. "Here's one'll make your pecker grow," he said and dropped the open page onto the bed sheet in front of Ed.
It was a picture of two women, their breasts bare, as they leaned together in an unnatural and awkward kiss. But in his underwear, Ed was already getting hard, and he knew it had nothing to do with the women and everything to do with the picture he'd just been looking at.
All of fourteen years old, he'd never seen and hardly imagined a man having sex before, and the vision of it had sent a shock through him. He became aware of Phil still on the bed beside him, and he felt a distance open up between them that had not been there before. He felt suddenly like a little boy again, shut out from the world of grown men. How could he ever be like that? Do anything like that?
He gave the magazine back.
"You don't want it?"
Ed shook his head.
"Suit yourself." Phil took it and went back to his room, switching off the light as he went through the door. "Get some shut-eye," he said. "We gotta be up and in our britches before you know it." It was late, and they'd have to get up early tomorrow for chores. Then he switched the light off in his own room and Ed could hear him getting into bed.
Ed lay back in the darkness, staring at the ceiling until the silence across the hall gave way to the sound of Phil's snoring. Then he slipped his hand under the bed sheet to touch his cockalmost rock hard. Softly working the skin with his fingers, he thought again of the man in the picture.
He looked older, older than Phil by at least ten years, the hair dark and thick on his chest and around his crotch. His ballswhat he could see of themhad hung low and heavy between his hairy legs.
Ed's eyes were shut tight now, as if to block out the imageall of it, the man and the womanuntil there was just the idea of it concentrating in his imagination.
And unbidden to his mind's eye, there came the smiling face of Kevin. Ed hesitated a moment before the full thought took form. Then he found himself wondering what it would be like to have Kevin's cock in his mouth, licking it with his tongue, sucking him.
The thought had lasted no more than a brief second, and he felt his cock stiffen in his hand, his belly suddenly tightening, and the hot cum spurting from him. And he lay for a long time in a kind of daze until sleep took him and left him to his dreams.
Now, over twenty-five years later, in a farmhouse outside a college town in Nebraska, he thought of Kevin for the first time in as long as he could remember. But it was only for a moment, as he held Ted in his arms, enjoying the touch of him and realizing that he'd felt this way about someone else only once before and long ago.
He must have laughed because Ted said, "What's funny?"
"Nothin'. I was just remembering something."
"Musta been something good, cause I can feel your hard-on right through your pants."
Ed touched his hand to the front of Ted's jeans now. "You're gettin' there yourself."
"I've been there. What did you put in that macaroni and cheese?"
"A whole lotta love."
And because he'd never before thought such a thing, he realized that when he was in eighth grade, the feelings he felt for a boy on crutches had been the very first time he'd been in love. Ever since then, he'd been wanting to fall in love like that again.
His hand still pressing firmly between Ted's legs, he kissed him long and hard now.
"We're not gonna fuck tonight," he said after he'd taken a deep breath.
"I'm gonna make love to you."
He unbuckled Ted's belt and unzipped his jeans, pushing them down and then setting him onto the bed so he could pull off his shoes and socks and get him completely naked.
"Lie back," he said, getting out of his own clothes now.
Then he sat down next to Ted, who reached to put his hand on Ed's leg, a soft smile appearing on his face.
Ed looked at the length of him, long and lean, as though he was seeing him for the first time. My god, he wanted to say, you're a helluva handsome man, but he couldn't trust himself to say it right. There was a kind of spell drawing them together, and he didn't want to break it.
His eye fell on the scar inside Ted's thighthe old gunshot woundand he bent forward to touch his lips to it. Then he moved slightly until his mouth was over Ted's balls, the warmth of his body rising to caress his face.
Then he kissed him there, too. Once, twice, three times, each time longer, until he was finally just resting his cheek in the nest of warm skin and curly dark hair, his nose against Ted's hard cock and breathing in his musky smell.
"Are you ready for this?" he finally said.
Ted laughed a little. "I don't think I ever am. You usually take me some place I've never been before."
"You're not just sayin' that."
"Hell, no. You're a goddam animal."
Ed laughed. It was what he liked to hear.
And before he made his next move, he had one last thought of Kevin. He realized that after all these years, Kevin would be about Ted's age now. Probably with a wife and kids and a job somewhere. Just another guy pushing middle age.
He looked up at Ted, who'd put both hands behind his head on the pillow and was looking back at him.
"You're a helluva handsome man," Ed said. There, he'd uttered the words, and it hadn't broken any spell at all.
"Just from that angle down there?"
Ed felt a smile creep across his face, his lips brushing against Ted's cock.
"No," he said. "But it's one of my favorite ones." And he opened his mouth to suck Ted inside him, as far as he would go.
Ty followed Kirk into the doublewide, the air inside stuffy and warm after the chill of the night outdoors.
"What you got this thing set totropical?" Kirk said, bending to peer at a thermostat on the wall.
"Don't touch that," a voice came from another roomthe kitchenand a man stepped from it stopping in the doorway to lean against it with one shoulder. "I like it like that."
It was a guy Kirk's age, dressed in work clothes and boots, still wearing his denim jacket and his hat. He was eating a sandwich.
"What'd you find to eat?"
"Peanut butter and jelly."
"I didn't know you knew how to make those."
"Fuck you," the guy said. "And the horse you rode in on." The guy seemed to notice Ty for the first time. "Who's this?" he said.
"This here's my new friend, Ty. Kind of a lost sheep. We're putting him up for the night."
The guy came across the room, wiping his fingers on his jeans before reaching out to shake Ty's hand. "I'm Owen," he said.
"The horse fucker," Kirk said. "And I wouldn't put it past him either."
"I never fucked a horse," Owen said, like he was genuinely hurt by the remark. "And what the hell happened to your face?" he said, finally taking a good look at Kirk.
Kirk sighed, taking off his hat and the canvas coat he'd been wearing. "Some guy popped me."
"Got you damn good by the looks of it. What did you do, mouth off to him?"
"I don't mouth off. That's something you'd do."
"Well, you must have had it comin' for some reason."
"I most probably did," Kirk said and flipped the light switch in what looked like a small bathroom, where he stepped inside far enough to study the bruise on his cheek in the mirror.
"It wasn't this guy, was it?" Owen said, pointing with his sandwich at Ty.
Before Ty could answer, Kirk said, "No, it wasn't," like it was a stupid question.
"Just wonderin'," Owen said under his breath and looking at Ty. "Lost sheep, eh? What brings you out this way anyway?"
With his free hand, he swiped some magazines and a newspaper from the seat of an easy chair and gestured for Ty to sit down. "You want something to eat?"
"He ate already," Kirk called out from the bathroom.
"Hell, Kirk," Owen said over his shoulder. "Can you let the man speak for himself?" He looked back at Ty. "You wanna beer? You look kinda parched."
"No, thanks," Ty said. He wondered if the two of them always carried on like this.
Kirk came back into the room with a big band-aid on his cheek. "I thought we could put him up in the kids' room. I'm lookin' at him and I don't think he's too big for one of their beds."
Kids' room? Ty thought.
Owen caught the look on his face. "My kids," he said. "Got two of 'em. They live with their mother most of the time."
"That's about the first true thing come out of him yet tonight," Kirk said.
"I'm sorry," Ty said because he'd heard the change in Owen's voice. He was dead serious now.
"No need to be," he said. "Some things just don't work out." He sat down with a heavy sigh and carefully put his feet up on a battered and scratched coffee table, carefully hanging his boot heelsand his spursover the edge.
"Kids need their dad," Ty said. He'd figured this out from watching the families in the church where he'd beenuntil he got kicked out.
"And their dad needs them," Kirk added, like he knew Owen wouldn't say it for himself. "You get enough to eat tonight, pardner?" he asked Owen now.
"I had them leftovers," he said.
Kirk pulled a chair from a table shoved against the wall and piled high with boxes, papers, unopened mail, ledgers. He spun the chair around before throwing one leg over to straddle it, his arms now crossed in front of him over the back.
"One of these days you're gonna starve your dumb ass, you know that?" His voice as he looked at Owen was a mixture of impatience and tenderness.
"I most sincerely doubt it," Owen said popping the last of the sandwich into his mouth and wiping his fingers again along the seam of his jeans. He still wore his hat and his jacket.
"Sure you're not coming down with something?" Kirk said. "You got it hotter'n hell in here."
"I'm fine. It's just maybe a sniffle comin' on." His voice sounded tired now, like the argument he'd been pretending to have with Kirk had worn him out.
"How about you turn in," Kirk said. "I'll make you one of them hot whiskeys you like when you're like this."
Ty marveled at this sudden change in the mood between the two men. Bunk mates, Kirk had called them. This must have been what he meant.
Owen considered Kirk's offer and sat up, putting his feet on the floor again. He rested both elbows on his knees and was looking across at Kirk. "Guess I wouldn't say no," he said.
He got up now and kind of shuffled out of the room. Kirk rolled his eyes and shook his head. Then he got up, too, and went to the kitchen, where Ty could hear water running from a faucet and the sound of a tea kettle being set on a stove burner.
Later, he helped Kirk clear a path through the toys on the floor of a little bedroom, putting some of them into a box in one cornerbrightly colored plastic cars and trucks, six-shooters, and a train with a happy face painted on the front of the engine. Then they made a bed for Ty, unfolding clean sheets and tucking in a blanket over them.
"You probably don't have to guess who does the laundry for this house," Kirk said, holding a pillow with his chin while he shucked it into a pillow case.
"Yup. Funny what you'll put up with for the right man."
The right man, Ty thought, and until today he'd have said Rich was the right man for him. Now there was nothing certain about that anymore. He wondered where Rich could be out there now in this dark night and whenif everhe'd come back for Ty.
Kirk stepped out of the room for a minute and returned with a towel and some underwear. "Owen thought of these," he said. "You'd never know it, but he was brought up more civilized than me."
The towel, he explained, was for Ty to use in the bathroom, and the underwearsome jockey shorts and a tee shirtwas Owen's. "Don't wear the stuff myself, but Owen thought you might wanna change if you have a shower." He set them down in a little kid-size rocking chair.
"We'll be up and out of here before you're awake tomorrow," he said. "Just make yourself at home, best you can. Soon as we know anything about Rich, we'll let you know. I'd bet you anything he's sleepin' it off somewhere and he'll be back to his senses by morning."
How do you know him so well? Ty wanted to ask, but instead he just said, "I hope you're right."
Kirk stood for a moment, as if he had something else to say.
"Like I told you," he said, shaking his head, "Rich didn't get much of a fair deal when he was a kid. And God knows what he went through over there in Nam. You either roll with the punches, or you don't. Always seemed to me I was better at that than him."
Then he was gone.
Ty got out of his clothes and crawled into the bed. It was just big enough for him, his toes pressed against the foot board, but after saying a prayer for Richand, yes, while the church had failed him, he still believed in a God who listened when he spoke from the hearthe felt sleep quickly stealing over him.
Sometime, maybe deep in the middle of the night, he woke from a dream in which Rich had returned and the two of them were on the highway again headed for Phoenix. Happy and relieved, he reached out under the bed sheets but found the bed empty except for him.
Then as he came fully awake, eyes open in the pitch dark of the room, he could hear something that wasn't there before. A wind had come up and was gusting around the house, whistling in the window screens.
Continued . . .
© 2007 Rock Lane Cooper