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 and Danny talk about making a change; Ted considers life with Ed gone; Marty and Virgil play "This Is Your Life"; and Kirk and Owen have a disagreement.
Dim morning light filtered through the blinds into the bedroom. The wind and the weather outside had wakened Danny during the night, but they had blended into his dreams as he buried himself deeper under the covers. Now that he was becoming aware of a new day, he realized that the room was cold and the sound that came along with the wind was the rattle of rain on the storm window panes.
He rolled onto his back, stretching, and had another memoryof Mike getting up to unfold a blanket over the bed and then getting back in with him again. When he turned his head on the pillow, he saw Mike there beside him, the blanket pulled up to his ear.
Without his glasses, Danny couldn't tell if Mike was awake or asleep, so he reached over and put his hand on Mike's cheek, the sandpapery feel of his morning beard rough under his fingers.
"Morning, bud," Mike said.
"You sleepin' in?"
"No use trying to pick corn if it's gonna rain."
"Fine by me," Danny said and pulled himself over to where he could get an arm around Mike and press against him. "I've been saving up for a rainy day."
He could see Mike smiling back at him. "I bet you have."
"A farmer can be a hard man to get some free time with."
"Don't know about that, but this farmer's pretty hard right now."
Danny reached between them and felt for Mike's cock in his boxers.
"You ain't kiddin'." It was stiff and warm.
"I been waitin' for you to wake up, just horny as a guy can get."
"Here I thought getting the corn in was the only thing on your mind."
"You oughtta know me better'n that by now," Mike said and rolled tighter against him to put his whiskery face into Danny's and kiss him on the mouth.
Danny felt his body quicken with desire as Mike tugged at his pajama bottoms to slip them down over his hips and then stroke his backside with his calloused hand, his fingers already searching deeper there for the little knot of muscle where he loved being touched.
"I could mention what it's like for me," Mike said with a sigh, "making do with a guy who's off bein' a teacher somewhere more'n half the time."
"You want me comin' home every night? I'll do it."
"You know what I think about that," Mike said. "It might be fine for me, but what about all your students?"
"What about 'em?"
Mike stopped for a moment, his hand now cradling Danny's balls. "They need you there, just as much as I wish you was here," he said.
Danny thought of all the time he spent with students in the evenings, the readings and book discussions, the guest lectures, his Wednesday night movie series, and helping a colleague in the theatre department whenever there were rehearsals for plays.
"And what would have happened with Virgil if you hadn't been there?" Mike ducked his head down now to put his lips to Danny's chest, brushing his chin against the bare skin. "You got an important job and you belong just where you are." He searched with his tongue now until he found one of Danny's nipples.
Danny stroked Mike's shoulders, feeling the thick muscles across his back and sliding his fingers along his spine.
"You're making me out to be a lot more than what I am," he said.
"No, I'm not, bud. I'm proud of you."
"Sometimes I'd give it all up just to be with you."
Mike pulled his head up and looked into Danny's eyes. "You know you mean the world to me. But I'd never let you do that."
Danny sighed and gave him a smile. "I know, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. That's always been one of your rules."
He felt Mike's fingers wrap around his erection. "Rules is rules," Mike said. "And I can think of another one, too."
"When you got a handsome naked man by his hard-on, it don't make a whole lotta sense wastin' time talkin'."
He disappeared under the covers now and Danny felt the touch of Mike's mustache brush against the inside of his thigh and his warm mouth between his legs.
There was a chill in the old farmhouse as the wind swept off the open fields from the north and whipped around it, rattling the shutters. Ted could feel a draft leaking in around the windows, and the floor was cold around his feet though he'd put on a thick pair of socks and a pair of work boots.
He fired up the wood stove in the kitchen and waited a while to get back to work on the newest painting, a large canvas with a view of Mike's farm from a half mile down the road. The summer colors were bright and he'd been trying to capture the feeling of July heat and the heavy, humid air in the late afternoon before a storm.
If he stood in front of the stove long enough, soaking up the warmth in his clothes and on his skin, he could take that sensation with him back to the painting on the easel in the next room and forget for a while that it wasn't July anymore.
Besides the crack and pop of wood burning and the rumble of the wind in the chimney, the house was silent. While this was normalEd usually slept latehe had to remind himself that he was in the house alone again. Ed had got dressed in the early morning light, got in his Cadillac and left.
Ted had considered the weather. "Sure you don't want to wait until this blows over?" he'd said as Ed stood in the kitchen pouring hot coffee into a thermos to take with him.
"That Caddie and me are used to worse'n this," Ed scoffed.
He was all dressed for the road, in one of his colorful western shirts and a pair of wranglers so tight the seam between his back pockets disappeared into the gap that separated his butt cheekshis vertical smile, he liked to call it. He'd stuffed the legs of his jeans into a pair of his best cowboy boots and put on a suede vest that hung open over his belly. Everything about him seemed to mean businessand not far behind that, pleasure.
Ted had told him more than once that he looked even sexier with his clothes on than he did with them off. And Ed had shrugged like he already knew it.
Now he was gone, leaving Ted after a long, fierce hug. He was a man on a mission.
And like any good man about to be gone for a while, he'd made his last night one to remember. After caressing and sucking Ted until he came, he put his cock slowly and easily into him, making it last and last with a gentle rocking of his hips, stopping now and again to press down onto him with sighing kisses on his neck and his shoulders.
Held under this embrace, he believed for a while that what Ed had said about his feelings was actually true. His hands, his lips, and each soft thrust of his big, hard cock were like words of deep affection and love. All they asked for was Ted's surrenderbelieve in me, just believe in me.
And when he finally came, his big body shuddering, legs trembling as his hips strained against Ted, sobs coming from his throat until it was all over and he clung to him like a man pulled from a bad car wreck, Ted let himself love this man for a while, holding him and stroking one hand across his cheek and his hair, tracing and retracing the intricate folds of his ear with his fingers.
His empty arms hugging himself now as he stood before the kitchen stove, he closed his eyes and remembered the gentle push and pull of Ed's cock inside him. And something swept over him that he had not experienced in yearsa morning-after feeling of being left behind once again by someone he'd wanted to stay.
Having learned to steel himself against this feeling, he'd determined to take life just as it cameand to expect nothing from other men that actually lasted. He'd never wanted to miss someone again. And, dammit, he'd let it happen anyway. There was an ache growing in his chest, and it would get worse before it got better. He'd let his guard down, and now he'd have to learn his lesson all over again.
Marty woke with a start, thinking he'd overslept and would be late for work, and then he remembered it was Sunday. He could stay in bed as long as he wanted. Virgil slept soundly beside him, deep in dreamland, his face relaxed, his eyes moving under his eyelids.
This was still something neweven more than sleeping with someonewaking next to them the next morning. He wondered at how long it had taken him to discover this perfect pleasure. How could he not know that if he looked long and hard enoughif he even just waitedthere would be someone who wanted him, all of him, with heart and soul and body. And that this wanting didn't stop with a slap on the back or a good-natured punch in the shoulder.
It didn't even stop with the fun of a friendly wrestling match, two buddies bored and full of unspent energy, seeing who could out-muscle the other. There'd been that time in junior high, as he and a new friend had played two-man football in the cool spray of a backyard lawn sprinkler, shirts off in the summer heat, soaked to the skin in their jeans, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wet grass.
Over and over they'd tackled each other, falling down, rolling together and breathing hard before jumping up and doing it all over again, Marty scarcely aware that he was getting hard in his jeans. Eventually, they'd taken to just wrestling and grabbing each other in the nuts, and Marty had been surprised when he suddenly came in his shorts.
"Did I hurt you?" the other kid had said, when Marty had rolled away from him, groaning in what sounded like pain.
"No, no," he'd said, laughing, and just lay there on his stomach, pressing his hips into the grass to hide what was happeningand hiding it from both of them.
They'd been no more than thirteen or fourteen, the two of them, and they'd wrestled often again that summer until school started up and the other kid began hanging out with a different bunch of friendsother town boys who didn't think much of someone from the country, a kid in 4-H who raised a steer each year to show at the county fair. His buddy had started avoiding him and there'd never been anybody like that since.
He'd considered for a while going out for the wrestling team, but these guys were a bunch of bruisers and near delinquents, too much the loners to be part of any team sports. And they didn't do it for fun eitherunless fun was fighting as tough and dirty as the officials would let themand Marty realized that didn't appeal to him.
Now, with Virgil, this wanting someoneheart, soul, and bodyhe had found there were no limits after all. It didn't stop until you'd got naked and had sex together. To that, there was a simple logic so pure and beautiful it made him laugh.
Once that had become part of their friendshipand what an amazing, joyful part it wasthe old impulse to wrestle had come back to him, and they'd discovered they were an even match for each other, muscling against one another on the apartment floor or the bed, pushing, shoving, struggling until they were weak with exhaustion and covered in sweat. All the while knowing that sooner or later, no matter who won, it would end in sex.
In fact, it didn't end at all. Waking like this with his partner asleep beside him, life had become this adventure with a friend who didn't leave you for someone or something else. They didn't get bored with you or embarrassed by you, or decide you were getting too close. The next day, when you opened your eyes, there they still were.
And there was this other thing. You didn't have to hide anything. When being close to Virgil gave him a hard-on, it tickled Virgil to know he was aroused.
"Show me, show me," he'd say, pawing at his jeans to get them open or, if they were just in their underwear, pulling them down in front. "I wanna see what I do to ya."
And Marty felt this strange kind of pride and excitement when Virgil admired him. "Beauty!" he'd say grinning. "It's a beauty." Which would make him get even harder, his cock stretching upward until it ached.
He'd reach for the waistband of his shorts to pull them up and Virgil would stop him, jerking them down again. "No, not yet. I'm not done lookin'," he'd say. At which point Marty would make a grab for him and the wrestling would start all over.
There were other things that came out of hiding, too, like when they talked of stuff they'd always kept to themselveslong conversations that Virgil liked to call "This Is Your Life." There'd been another episode last night, after they'd got rid of Brian. Marty had wanted to know who Brian was, what kind of friend he'd been, and what he'd meant when he said Virgil had swallowed a bottle of pills.
At first, Virgil said it was nothing and to forget about it.
"It didn't sound like nothing," Marty said.
"Aw, shit," Virgil said then. "You might as well know." And he told Marty a long story about how Brian had for years been as close to him as a brother and then turned on him, moving out of the dorm room they had shared.
"But why?" Marty wanted to know.
Virgil shrugged. "I think he was ashamed of me."
Marty, who thought he knew something about shame, said, "What for?"
And Virgil explained how he hadn't known what was wrong with him but, whatever it was, it was getting worse and worse, and he'd started seeing a counselor. He hadn't told Brian or anyone else, because it wouldn't look goodlike he was somebody who couldn't toughen up enough to handle his own problems.
But Brian had found out anyway, and it had been some kind of last straw. There had been bitter words, and when he walked out, Virgil had felt so low he didn't see the point of living anymore. He carried the bottle of pills in his coat pocket for hours that night before taking all of them he could swallow.
Marty had never been to a counselor, but he understood what Virgil was talking about. He'd thought often there was something wrong, and it would make a difference if there'd only been someone he could talk to.
Most of all, he understood how it felt to be rejected by a friend. And he told Virgil, stumbling sometimes over the words, that one night when he was a student at the university, he'd jumped from a roof.
"What the hell for?" Virgil asked, alarmed.
"Same story. Only this was over a guy named Mark." No one, not a soul, had ever heard him tell about this before. It felt strange talking about it now to Virgil, but when he was done a weight had lifted from him. The only heaviness now was there in the expression on Virgil's face.
"It wasn't really serious," Marty said. "I fell in a tree and all I got was scratched up some."
"Aw, Marty," Virgil said and put his arms around him. "I almost lost you before I even found you."
"Maybe if I'd tried a little harder," Marty said, trying to make light of it. "Anyway, I could say the same thing about you."
Virgil was still shaken. "It's like somebody was lookin' out for both of us."
They hugged each other then for a while, saying nothing, and something happened to Marty that hadn't happened for a long time. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he was wiping his nose to keep it from running onto Virgil's shoulder.
Owen felt like shit. He'd been in a kind of misery all night. When he got in bed, Kirk had insisted on pulling up his tee shirt and rubbing his chest with Vicks while he sipped on a scalding hot mug of whiskey and water.
"I got a rectal thermometer here," Kirk had said, touching his fly. "You want me to take your temperature?"
"I fail to see the humor in that," Owen groaned.
"Man, you must be sick if you can't take a joke."
"But I wouldn't say no to a blow job."
"That's more like it," Kirk laughed. "Roll over and I'll give you a nice backrub."
But the Vicks and the whiskey and the backrub had left him no less miserable. He'd developed a lung-wracking cough and he couldn't get to sleep, turning this way and that, his head aching, his nose closing until he had to breathe through his mouth. He'd slip into a feverish dream and wake a while later with his tongue dry and feeling like plywood. Kirk got up finally, in the middle of the night, and went to sleep on the couch.
"Your sorry ass is stayin' right where it is," he said when he looked in on Owen the next morning. "You're notand this is an orderyou are not taking one step outside this house today."
"No, I'm OK," Owen said, throwing back the covers. "It's just a little cold."
There was a small herd of cows and calves to bring in from a pasture they rented from a retired rancher down the road. It was a six-mile trip that would take a good part of a day on horseback. Not a big job under the best of conditions, but a cold front had come through overnight, and there was a steady wind-driven rain that promised to keep up even if it didn't get worse and turn to snow.
"It's not that bad," Owen insisted. "Some fresh air will do me good."
Kirk, already dressed in his thermal underwear, stood in the doorway of their bedroom like he was ready to block the way if Owen made a move toward it. "What do I have to do, knock you down and hog-tie you?" he said.
Owen tried to sit up but discovered, as soon as he was upright, that it made his head swim. Kirk had walked around the bed then and taken him by the shoulders. "You want a good case of pneumonia, fine, but don't expect me to doctor ya. I'd as soon let you croak. You'd be one less dumb bastard in the world."
"Aw, hell," Owen said, trying to clear his head. His lungs ached and he couldn't remember ever feeling so bad. It was worse than having a hangover and still being half drunk.
"Lay back down, you stupid fuck," Kirk said, pushing him. "Get it into your thick head. You're not goin' anywhere."
Owen mumbled something, still resisting.
"I said, I need to take a piss."
"Then go do it," Kirk said, letting him go. "But no funny stuff."
Owen sat for a moment on the edge of the bed.
"You want me to help you to the bathroom?"
"Maybe I should hold your dick so you don't piss on the floor."
"Just leave me the fuck alone."
Kirk stepped away from him. "Lotta thanks I get," he said to himself and bent down to put on a pair of thick socks. Then he reached into the closet for one of his flannel shirts.
By the time Owen was back from the bathroom, he was still trying to steel himself to get dressed and go to work. "How you gonna get that herd of cows back here?" he said. "You got enough hands?"
"Them cowboys who work for your old man can do the job just fine, and they don't need you there. They'll probably even do a damn sight better. You make 'em nervous."
Owen would have laughed if he could. "That's how I want 'em to feel."
Kirk had pulled on a pair of his wranglers now, his zipper still open as he stuffed in the thermals, which had bunched up in his crotch.
"Damn, I hate havin' to wear these things," he muttered.
"Nobody's makin' ya. Freeze your damn balls off. See how much I care," Owen said and lay back on the bed, closing his eyes with a wave of relief that he'd got to the bathroom and back.
He'd begun to drift off to sleep in that moment, and woke up to find Kirk pulling the covers over him. "You know you'd miss 'em more'n I would," he was saying.
"Miss what?" Owen said.
"My balls. Don't you ever listen to yourself?"
Owen just sighed and closed his eyes again.
After what seemed like a while, Kirk was there beside him again. He was wearing his coat and his hat, ready to leave for the day. "I made you a cup of Grandma's home remedy. Hot tea with lemon and honey. It's right here by your lamp."
"Grandma? Grandma who?"
"He's delirious," Kirk said, like he was talking to someone else in the room, and it made Owen think for the first time of the young man who'd stayed overnight with them. "What about that kid Ty?"
"Don't worry about him. He's taken care of," Kirk said. "And just in case you get any ideas about goin' somewhere after I'm gone, I'm takin' your truck keys."
He was squatting now beside the bed, one hand on the bedcovers over Owen's chest. "Sleep now. Get yourself better. And do me a favor."
"Be alive when I come back home tonight." He was patting Owen's chest now. "You're a sonofabitch, but I love you."
Ty was asleep when Kirk had wakened him in the morning darkness, his figure a silhouette against the light that fell through an open door behind him. There'd been this firm hand on his shoulder, gently shaking him, and Kirk's voice saying, "Ty, wake up a minute. I need to tell you something."
He thought at first there was some news about Rich, and he was already wide awake. But what Kirk had to say was about Owen, that he was sick in bed and would Ty look in on him every once in a while during the day.
"Yes, sir. I will," Ty had promised.
"There's coffee on the stove if you want it," Kirk said standing and starting to go, his spurs making a little jingling sound as he went. He was dressed for work in his hat and a rain slicker over his coat. Then he stopped when he got to the doorway. "If Rich shows up, they know over at the ranch where he can find you."
"Yes, sir," Ty said again.
And then Kirk was gone, leaving the door ajar and the light from the hallway shining. In a moment, Ty heard the front door open and close and outside the sound of the pickup engine slowly turning over before it started up, and then Kirk drove off.
In the silence, he could hear the faint sound of rain on the roof. He tried to imagine Rich on his motorcycle, out there somewhere in this weather. Where would he have found a place to stay for the night? Had he tried to rough it somewhere? Or had he just kept on going, not caring?
He decided it was no good having such thoughts. They were just giving him a hollow feeling inside. And he got out of bed, picking up his jeans from the floor to put on and then walking barefoot to the kitchen, where the light burned brightly and the dimmest beginnings of rain-swept dawn were visible in the window.
The air was heavy with the smell of strong coffee, and he searched in the cupboards until he found a cup. He'd never liked coffee much until he met Rich, who seemed to need a lot of it every day just to get himself going. Now coffee reminded him of Rich, and it brought the two of them together, even though they were apart.
The kitchen opened onto what was supposed to be a small dining room, but the table there was covered with so much stuff, it wasn't good for anything but stacking more stuff onto it. He sat in a chair next to a pile of bookkeeping ledgers and a collection of receipts that looked crumpled from being stuck into back pockets. Next to them a Montgomery Ward catalog lay open to a page of men's work shirts.
On the wall, taped to the fake wood paneling, there were yellowing clippings from newspapers and magazines with cartoons and pictures of horses and, in one of them, what the caption said was Owen and another man on horseback carrying big American and state flags in a Fourth of July parade.
Part of another page, torn along one ragged edge, was a list of sayings with a heading: "Cowboy Humor." Ty allowed his eye to scan over them.
Always drink upstream from the herd.
The quickest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it back in your pocket.
If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.
Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
Never miss a good chance to shut up.
If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.
Ty smiled at this last one. He was learning this lesson himself. Here he was, set down once again in the middle of someone else's lifejust like the time before, when he fetched up at Mike's place instead of going back to his family in Iowa.
And, without Rich there beside him, the realization gave him a homeless feeling. What was to become of him? Did he have a life of his own?
A wind-driven burst of rain fell against the side of the house, and Ty took another look around him. A strip of fluorescent light burned in a ceiling fixture over the sink, and on the wall a round clock with a Purina horse feed logo on its face said it was one minute past five.
He thought of Owen now in the back bedroom. He got up and walked down a short hallway that opened a few feet from the table where he was sitting, and he quietly opened the door. There in the darkened room, he could see the shape of a figure under the bedcovers. He listened and heard the sound of steady, shallow breathing. Owen was asleep.
And what Ty felt was a welcome sense of responsibility for this man in whose house he was now staying. He'd been given shelter here from the stormboth the one outside and the one in his heartand it was his job now to repay the kindness. To be the man someone else neededif only for a while.
Continued . . .
© 2007 Rock Lane Cooper