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Any use of real places, events, corporations or products within this text are strictly for the purpose of adding realism and authenticity to the writing. Critiques are always welcome. Also, please let me know what you think of the format. If you want more information about any rodeo events, there are tons of resources online.
Written exclusively for Nifty Archives. This story involves sexual relationships between boys, aged 15 and older. If this is illegal in your area, please do not read on. This story is work of fiction. Any similarities between real places, people, and events is completely coincidental and unintentional. If you read the archives frequently, then you know the drill. Take the rest with a grain of salt. This story is (c) 2007-08, Milos. All rights reserved! Please do NOT repost this story without permission.
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Mattie lies next to me, stares at the cross-beams on the ceiling in the hay loft. This is one of those places where we used to play when we were little. If you don't mind the occasional mouse, it's not too bad up here.
Mattie rolls over and puts his arm over my chest. Hooks my leg with his. He must wanna roll around in the hay a bit. He gets up on top of me and looks down, pins my hands above my head. "What're you gonna do?"
I smile. "What're you gonna do?"
He gets this confused look on his face. "What do you m--"
Before he can finish, I get free. Tickle into his sides and get out from under him. End up on top. He's so light it's not hard.
He squirms and tries to get back at me, but I have his arms this time, and I ain't letting go. He smiles at me. "Ya' got me."
I can feel his hardness against the inside of my leg; he grinds into me a bit. I squeeze his sides with my legs. Lean down, kiss him on the lips. This is gonna lead to trouble. Why do I lead him on like this? I'm no better than Jeff. I let go of his wrists, lean down on my elbows.
He puts his arms around my back and squeezes. Rubs my back as we're makin' out. He starts working my shirt up. I have to break the kiss, but he gets the shirt over my head and tosses it to the side. He sits up and kisses my nipple. Sucks on it. Gives it a nibble or two.
He licks up toward my neck. Stops at my collar bone and sucks on the skin. I mean, he sucks it hard. Pulls back, makes a popping noise when he lets go. I'm gonna have a hickey.
I pull his head up to my face, start kissing. His lips are soft as pillows. Gentle as a summer day.
He works at the front of my pants, gets the button and zipper undone. He grabs my dick and starts pulling slowly. Working me, loving me, enjoying me.
I wonder why it couldn't be his soul inside Brooke. Why couldn't he be the shy little girl in the country songs that the little boy falls in love with? The one he grows up with and marries? The high school sweethearts.
Mattie's been nothing but good to me.
He reaches for my shirt, tries to spread it out next to him best he can. "Lay down..."
I sit down just in front of the shirt. Watch him as he gets up.
He kicks off his shoes and socks, pulls his pants off. His pecker's pointed off to the side, I can see the bulge in his whities.
I put my hands on his ass and pull him up to me, bury my face in his crotch. I can smell the sweat on his nuts, the sweet smell of fabric softener. I lick the crook of his leg under the underwear band, taste the back side of his sack.
He works my pants off, gets them down to my ankles. Sucks me off. His warm mouth slobbering on my pole. He lifts his head, spits on my dick a few times. Works it over with his hand. He pulls the crotch-part of his underwear to the side, lets his cock fall out. It points straight out, toward my face.
I suck on the tip, take it all the way to the back of my throat. I almost choke on it. Start coughing.
He pushes me back a little and starts rubbing my dick against his ringpiece. Rocking his hips. He manages to get my head in, slides down on it a little. It throbs around me. Hot and warm. Slides down a little more. A look of pain on his face.
"Mattie, slow down. You're gonna hurt yourself."
He opens his eyes and looks at me like he's lost. Slides the rest of the way down. Leans down and starts pulling off, pushing down. Kisses me. Scared breath coming out his nose.
I open my eyes and find myself staring into his eyes. No expression. Just staring. It's freaking me out a bit. I close my eyes, let the moment take me for a ride. I'm building up and fixin' to let go. Open my eyes again and see orange. He's still staring. "Mattie..."
Something feels strange about this. I let my hips glide. Arch my back. Feels so good. He's still staring at me. Why's he staring at me? His warmth. Tingling. I... fuck! I fire off right inside him, sit up half way off the floor and scream out.
Mattie sits up and keeps going.
"Mmm... Mattie-- ss-stop it!"
He stops, stares at me more. He's got a frown on his face. I've never seen him this blank before.
"Hell, Shadow! Ya' got me all worked up." I pull him down on me, kiss him some more. Suddenly, I feel something wet against my sides, where Mattie's arms are. It's warm, oozing. Feel it in throbs. "What is that?"
He sits half way up, his head down. I feel a teardrop splash across my stomach. When I look down, it's a drop of blood. He looks up at me, blood running down his face from his eyes. He sits back, holds his hands up to look at them.
"What the holy fuck?"
He looks back and forth between the wounds on his wrists. They throb. Every time his heart beats, blood gushes out in two little squirts. Runs down his arms.
Blood flowing on me. Spilling. He puts his hands on my chest, smears it around. He's pale, but he doesn't look like he cares. He pulls me forward by the neck. Gets inches from my lips. Whispers. "Look what you done."
I cry out at him. Scream. "Fuck sake, Mattie! What is this?"
His hands are touching the side of my face. Squeezing. Bleeding. He kisses me, pulls back. "Lem... Lem, wake up.."
# # #
I sit straight up in bed. Breathing hard. Can't... can't breathe. I... Where... I... FUCK.
I get myself calmed down. It's still dark outside. I can hardly see anything at all. I'm slimy with cold sweat. My eyes feel like they're burning. I think maybe I've fucking pissed myself. Even worse, I check and I realize it's cum. I've just had the most fucked up wet dream ever.
# # #
You don't want to get sideways on a bull like 681. It takes a lots of strength to stay on top. Think of it like a gymnast on a pommel horse, only the pommel horse is moving and weighs close to a ton.
If you slump, you run the risk of gravity taking over. Here comes two thousand pounds of twisting, thrashing, kicking, USDA Grade-A fillet mignon moving like a marionette on a bungee cord. The floor is no place for a rider, especially when the hindquarters are coming straight down. Easy way to have your face rearranged. Who's tenderizing who?
# # #
I'm holding three bolts of fabric under my arm. One's salmon colored. One hunter green. The other is black with a print on it. Fly-fishing hooks and lures. I'm staring at one of the security cameras on the ceiling. Feeling lost.
Mrs. Jensen is sitting on one of those electronic scooters. The ones the grocery stores keep, with the little bicycle basket on the front. She's got a few spools of thread, some more buttons, sewing needles, a new set of scissors.
She has a bolt across her lap, holding it up the fabric to get a better look at it. It looks like the lure fabric I'm holding, but it's got a few kinds of fish on it. By the looks of it, she's gonna want a few yards. Trout, salmon, big-mouth bass. I just don't figure how it's all gonna go together, but I bet it'll be nice when it's done.
"You know, Lem, I think this'll just about do it."
I'm still fixed to the camera.
I snap to. "Unh?"
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"Only if you take pesos for change."
She chuckles. "Very clever. Never heard that one before."
"Oh." I shrug. "It's what momma always says when Grandma asks her that. Second nature, I 'spose."
"Oh. You look owly. Is something on your mind?"
I pause. Sigh. "Had a nightmare, I guess. Really horrible one."
"Care to talk about it?"
"I don't know if I can."
"Don't worry about me, Lem. I'm a tough old girl. I still scare the willies outta the boogeyman." She smiles.
"It was Mattie. I saw what he'd done to himself. And then he..." I look at the floor. The little scuffs on the tile.
She holds my wrist and squeezes. Of all the fucking places for this to come out, it's at a fucking Wal-Mart. "It's okay, honey."
"He said 'Look what you done.'"
"Huh. Ain't that the damndest thing?"
I feel myself turning a little red. Little old ladies aint don't usually talk like that.
"You know what? I bet that means he was thinking 'bout you."
"Weird way to show it."
"Well, the Lord does work in mysterious ways. I wouldn't look too far into it, or else you'll get yourself worked up all wrong. You'll see him again soon enough." She pushes the throttle on the handlebars and drives up to the service desk.
There's a blonde girl leaning over the counter. She looks bored. Doesn't sound like she cares when she asks, "you find everything okay?"
"I think we did okay for ourselves, didn't we, Lem?" She moves the bolts to the counter. I stick the fabric I'm holding next to the others. Step back.
"Need about a yard and a half of the solids, three yards of the one with the lures, and three yards of the fish." She looks up at me. "Lem, you see those bags over there? The ones that look like they have rolls of cotton inside?" She points to the shelf near the counter on the other side. "Would you grab me six bags? I think that would tide me over for several of my little projects."
I walk over. There are three or four different kinds.
"The pink bags, Lem."
I grab the bags and take them to the cart.
# # #
"What should we talk about today?" She crosses one of her legs over the other. Adjusts her glasses.
"I don't really think I have anything to say to you."
"Why do you say that?"
"Does everything come in the form of a question?"
"You answered your question with a question."
I shrug. "Yeah, what's wrong with that?"
"Nothing." She leans forward a little bit. "Can I ask you a question, Lem?"
"Hah! Has that stopped you before, lady? I'm on your watch. Say what you want."
She sighs. "Why are you afraid of me?"
"What makes you think that?"
"You're hostile, standoff-ish. You keep clammed up, get angry when I try to ask you questions. Your mom says you're normally a very sweet boy. And polite."
"Did you tell her I was being an asshole or something?"
"Oh, no." She smiles. "I just said you seemed uneasy. Nothing that would get you into trouble. I'm sure she understands. Hey, I'm a stranger. I'm here asking you all these personal questions. Trying to get to know you."
She nods. "Okay... if you don't want to talk about you, let's talk about me."
I kind of chuckle. "What?"
"Let's see. Well, my fiance decided to get a new puppy without asking about it first. He's in the doghouse, so to speak." She stops, then shakes her head slowly. "No? Nothing? Um, they were having a sale at Penney's over in Great Falls last weekend, but what do boys care about shopping? We went hiking around the Bitterroot Range. Have you been up there?"
"Oh! I know. You know what yoga is?"
"Some sort of martial art thing? Like Tai Chi?"
She nods. "A little bit. Sorta. Well, I was in my class, and we were bent over stretching. The chick in front of me totally rips this huge 'ol fart."
I laugh. "Seriously, you're full of shit."
"I guess I am, but I got you to laugh, didn't I? Seems to be the only way I can level with you. Why don't you give me a chance, Lem? I'm not a bad person here."
I bite my bottom lip, think a little. "You know how hard it is to just open up? Talk to someone about your best friend trying to kill themselves to someone who doesn't even know who you're talkin' about?"
"I can imagine it's very hard. Have you thought about what Mattie's going through right now?"
"Now that bothers the shit outta me."
"I don't know."
"Tell me about your horse."
"Smokey? He's pretty cool, I guess."
She smiles. "How'd he get his name?"
"He's got gray and black spots all over. Gray mane. His face is gray with black spots. My parents got him when I was three, so I got to name him. When I first saw him I said 'holy smokes!' I guess that's how it stuck."
"Is he a paint?"
"Appaloosa. Smart one, too."
"Are you in 4H?"
"Not anymore. Chase still is. She gets awards for her lop-eared bunnies."
"I think I have an idea, but I'd have to run it by your mom first."
"How about we meet on your turf next time? Think you'd be more comfortable if we were to talk and ride around?"
"Smokey's not a two-seater. Doesn't like anyone else riding on him but me. Hell, I don't know how I'd even explain you to anyone that saw us. I don't want people thinkin' I'm crazy."
"Well, it wouldn't be just me."
"What, there a turd in your pocket?"
She laughs loudly, then snorts. Covers her mouth right quick.
"Did you just snort?"
She fans at her face with her notepad. "Sorry. It'd be me and Patches."
"You totally snorted!" I smile. "Patches?"
"Well, Mister Taylor, you're not the only person in Montana who has a horse."
"I know that. And you snorted."
# # #
I'm chasing after a spider under the steps with a vacuum hose. Little eight-legged assholes. The next hobo spider with balls big enough to take to chasin' after me is gonna meet the bottom part of my boot.
I hear a car honking over the vacuum.
"Lem, your mother's out front!"
I hear the front door open and shut as I shut off the Hoover. I back out of the door and start winding the cord. I look through the pane of glass in the door. It's old and makes everything look wavy. Momma's talking to Mrs. Jensen.
I shove the vacuum back to it's spot in the closet. Push the ironing board over a little so I can close the door. I look at the doorknob for a minute and figure my coat's still inside. The ironing board falls out this time and lands sideways on the floor. Maybe I should clean this out tomorrow. I'm sure there's things in there she hasn't worn since the sixties.
I take my coat off the hanger and slide it over my arms. Prop the ironing board back up in the closet. Walk out the front door. I hop in the truck next to Momma.
She looks at me, then looks back at Mrs. Jensen. "We should be ready to eat around seven or so, but you're more than welcome to come over before that."
"Let me help you cook, dear. You could use an extra hand in the kitchen with all those growing kids in the house."
"I suppose I could." Momma smiles at me, elbows me in the side. "Lookin' at this one you'd swear I never fed him. Bottomless pit in Wranglers."
She grins and chuckles.
"A boy has to eat. And eat he does!" Mrs. Jensen hugs her arms. "Getting a bit of a chill out here. I should go tend to my fire before too awful long."
"You have enough wood for the stove? Would you like Lem to bring in a few logs for you?"
"I've got plenty inside. You two go on. I'll talk to you both tomorrow." She smiles and waves at us as she walks toward the house.
Momma backs up the truck and heads down the road.
"What was that all about?"
"I invited her over for Christmas dinner."
She looks over at me from the steering wheel. "Anything special you want?"
"Are you making your potato casserole stuff?"
"I think I can manage that."
"Whatever you make is fine with me."
"At least you're easy to please. I was thinking about doing some deviled eggs. Turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce, few pumpkin pies."
"Yep." She smiles at me. She watches the road, sits quietly for a minute. "How're you doing?"
"I mean how are you feeling?"
I shrug. "Fine, I guess."
"Is there anything you wanna talk about?"
I wonder where she's going with this. "No, is there something you wanna talk about?"
"I'm just worried about you. You mean everything in the world to me, and I don't know what we'd do without you kids."
I smile at her. "Go on vacation?"
"You know, I've always wanted to see Hawaii." She smiles back. "But I'm being serious. I want you to know you can talk to me about anything. I forget sometimes that Matthew has been like a brother for you as far back as either of you can remember. I just think you're hurting inside."
I shrug. "I'ono. Maybe a little."
"I'm sorry if we were a little hard on you. You were doing what any good friend should have done, bless your heart."
"Does this mean I'm not grounded anymore?"
She laughs. "No, you're still grounded."
I slump back. "Oh."
"Missus Jensen's a pretty neat lady, huh?"
"I guess. Reminds me of Grandma Sue."
"Well, listen to what she has to say. You might just learn something."
# # #
It's quiet out here. Smells like burning wood on the air. When I breathe in, the insides of my nose feel like they're sticking together. 'Bout five inches of fresh snowfall covers everything. It's dark out, but there's so much snow, it lights up everything. The tree thicket, the small forrest across the pasture, the fence between our home and the Hedquist property line.
There are clouds in the sky, like it's gonna snow again. I hear my feet under me, squishing the snow. It kind of echoes, makes everything sound quiet and dead. There's no wind. No other noise. Just me on the back porch keeping company with the quiet.
From here I can see the Hedquist house. Every light inside's burning. Lots of cars parked out front, so they must have family over this year. Mattie's mom is a pretty good cook, too. Her and Momma used to sit and exchange recipes. Cook together at fair time. I don't think Momma's even talked to her since Mattie did what he did, other than to say sorry, maybe. See if she needed anything.
I wonder if Mattie's over there right now. The only person in the world I want to see might be a stone's throw away. I hear the door slide open behind me.
Mrs. Jensen steps out. She's holding a big, steaming coffee mug. "Lem Taylor, you put on a jacket this minute before you catch your death from cold!"
I turn around and look at her. "I'm okay. Only gonna be out here a minute. Just having a look around."
"Beautiful, isn't it?" She walks up next to me. Looks around and smiles. "I love nights like this. Paul used to take me out on sleigh rides when we were lovebirds. We'd stop up by the lake and just listen. It was so quiet back then that you could hear the dear walking around." She holds the mug out to me. "Careful, dear. It's hot."
I take it. Try not to burn myself. "Thanks. What is it?"
"Hot cocoa. It's a recipe that my great grandmother brought with her from Holland in the late eighteen hundreds. Never fails to put a smile on your face, and a chocolate mustache above your lip."
I take a sip. Never tasted anything like it. "It's really good. Thank you."
"You sound a little down."
I look off to Mattie's house, then at the ground. "I guess I miss Mattie being around."
She looks across the pasture. "Quite a thing they've got going on over there."
"Probably better for me to keep on this side of the fence and clam up."
"Now, why would you say something like that?" She puts her hand on my arm. "Lem, if I were you, honey, I'd open up and talk to someone about what's going on. Let someone in. Bad things happen to your mind when you keep bad things all bottled in."
"I don't know if I can let anyone in."
"Would Mattie want you fussing this much? I'm sure he's over there right now thinking about you, too."
"What do you suppose would happen if I went over there?"
"No, no. You keep put. Let him come to you. With any luck, he saw your message. It's in his hands, now."
She squeezes my arm a little. "Come on inside. I think your mom wants to open presents."
# # #
The skies look moody today. School starts again in the middle of next week. I'm waiting for Miss Reagan to show up, seeing she's coming all this way for our little meeting. If it suits herself...
There's a black truck coming down the way pulling a silver horse trailer.
Momma's tinkering with something in the kitchen. "Lem! The therapist is here!"
I get off the couch and put the magazine down. Start for the mud room. I grab my brown leather jacket, the one with the fur around the neck. Pull on my old boots. They're starting to get a little small on my feet, but they'll do for now. They're just gonna get dirty.
I walk out the back door just as Reagan is getting out of the truck. On the passenger side is a girl with red hair. Ruddy skin. They're both wrapped up in coats and scarves. I don't know what kind of ride this is going to be. And who is this other chick?
Reagan looks at me. "Hey, Lem! This is Heather."
I tug on the brim of my hat. She smiles, waves without saying anything.
Reagan walks to the back of the trailer and starts unloading one of the horses inside. I'm guessing the other one is Heather's. Either way, Miss Reagan seems to know plenty well what she's doing.
"Miss Reagan, would you like some help unloading?" I come down the steps and walk across the yard.
"I think I have it, Lem. You want to saddle Smokey up?"
I shrug. "I guess I could." I head for the barn, lead Smokey out of his stall. Hitch him to a rail and start getting my tack down. Throw a wool blanket over his back. The pad and the saddle. Strap everything on good and tight.
Smokey gets my hat from me. Rears his head back.
"There'll be plenty of time to play, you ol' jerk. Give that here." I pat the side of his mouth and get my hat back.
He whinnies at me.
"I guess you think you're pretty funny, don't cha?" I take his lead and bring him out to the front. The girls have their horses saddled up pretty well. I guess Reagan really does know what she's doing.
Patches is a red and white horse. It's face is mostly white. Heather's horse looks like a black Arabian or something close to it. It looks a little high-strung, really.
Reagan looks over her shoulder. "Wow, Lem! What a beautiful horse!"
I feel my face burn a bit. "Thank you."
Smokey's used to being around other horses. I tie him off next to Heather's horse, and he just stands there. Nods his head. Heather's horse growls a little and sidesteps. Moves a way. I guess she isn't very well socialized.
"How about we run them around the pasture a little before we ride." Reagan finishes off the belly strap, looks at me over her shoulder. "Let them get used to each other a bit before we ride."
I lead them over to the gate. Unchain it and let them through. I lead Smokey through and close the gate, get up in the saddle.
Reagan rides up next to me. "I'm going to let her ride around a little so we can talk a little."
I nod. "I guess." I look over at Heather. "Is she, like, a relation of yours or something?"
She shakes her head, pulls back on the reins. "No. She's a patient. Thought you two might have some things in common."
"You trying to set me up on a date or something?"
She giggles. "Not at all. I thought you two might be able to commiserate. Might help if you have someone your own age to talk to."
"I never seen her around. Where's she from?"
"She's in Havre. She's home schooled. I'll let her tell you about herself. How are you doing?"
"Seems to be what everyone wants to know." I edge into Smokey's sides a little and start him in a canter.
Miss Reagan ticks her tongue and rides along. "You feel any different? I mean, how have the holidays been for you?"
"Holidays were good, for the most part. I wish I could have seen Matthew, though."
"You think he was home from Billings?"
"Would they let him out of the place he was at? At the home or whatever it is?"
"Lem, it's not like it was back in the fifties. You don't go away for that sort of thing. His parents probably put him in a support program or something. There are a few good ones down there, and I'm willing to bet I know which one a kid like him would be at."
"I'm not going to say, but if he's where I think he is, he's in good hands."
"What, like a padded room somewhere?" It came out a little meaner than I thought it would.
"No. It's almost like, um, a working half-way house, but for people with trouble dealing with issues instead of drugs. They have therapists, like me."
"Are they annoying as you, too?"
"Hey, that's okay. I'm a bit nosey." She smiles. "Probably more annoying than me. But trust me when I say they won't let anything happen to him." She pauses, pulls back on her reins and stops. "Lem, can I ask you one of my highly annoying questions?"
I turn Smokey around and stop in front of her. "What's that?"
"I'm just curious, and don't worry about hurting my feelings or anything, but why do hate me?"
"Why do I hate..." I look around, laugh a little. "Lady... I'm sorry, Miss Reagan -- who said I did?"
"Call it a hunch. I don't know. Your behavior just seems to indicate you don't like me."
"I don't know. It's not that I don't like you, I just don't trust you."
"Good! Some headway. Why don't you trust me?"
"'Cuz you ask me all these crazy questions."
"Okay. Is that a bad thing?"
I shrug. "I'ono. Is it your job to ask so many questions?"
"Actually, yes it is." She stops, pats her horse on the neck. "Lem, think of it this way. Think of me as... as an iron box. And nobody can get inside that box except for you. Inside, you can put in any thought, or any problem that you want. Think of it as a box that can spit out advice once in a while. Okay?"
"Um... so you're a box?"
"And everyone in the world can see the box. They can look at it from the outside, but nobody can see inside except you. But you can write whatever you want on the outside for people to read. Does that make sense?"
"Should I call you Pandora, then?"
"Yes! If that helps you put stuff inside of the box, call me whatever! You can even call me lady, if you want. I'm a canvas for your brain, Lem. Tell me about you. Tell me if you're hurting, or having a bad day. I'm not here to judge you, I'm not here to spy on you. I'm here to help you find yourself."
"Miss Reagan, you're the strangest damn woman I ever did meet."
She smiles. "Well, just think about that for a while, and I'll follow up with you after our ride. I want you to get to know Heather a bit." She looks over her shoulder. Calls out, "Heather?"
Heather's running her horse around, like she's running around barrels. She pulls back and rides over to us.
"Okay. Heather, this is Lem and Smokey." Reagan looks at me. "Lem, this is Heather and Abia."
"Beautiful horse you have." I nod at Heather.
"Thanks," she says, almost quiet enough I can't hear her. "You too."
"Lem, where can we ride along for a good distance? Nothing too intense, I mean. Just an easy ride."
I look around and think. I haven't taken Smokey out just to ride around for a while. Usually we ride to work or to practice. He gets enough exercise around here, though. "If we go up the road a mile or so, past the Hedquist place, there's state land we can ride on. Pretty nice open space there. Not too many holes where a horse would sprain it's ankle or anything."
Reagan looks at Heather.
"That sounds fine." Heather pulls her scarf around her neck a little tighter. Rubs her arms warm.
I lead them off the property to the dirt road. We ride three abreast. Me in the middle. Heather to my right. Reagan a little behind me, to my left. We turn onto the road, follow it past Mattie's driveway. I look up at the house. Ronnie's standing there, behind the sliding glass door. Watching me. Us. Ride by.
He steps out, hands in his pockets. Just stares as we head up the road. He's far enough off, I don't think he can hear much of what we say.
"Who's that, Lem?" Reagan nods toward him.
I have to try my damnedest to take my eyes off him. "That's Ronnie, Matthew's brother. He, um, said he would kill me if I ever stepped over their property line again."
Heather snaps her head at me. "What? We're not on their land, are we?"
I shake my head. "No, we're on an easement. Their land stops at the fence. We're on Bennington land, not theirs."
"Why did he say he'd kill you?" Heather sounds right uneasy.
"On account of what happened to Mattie."
"Is that why you think it's your fault, Lem?" Reagan heels her horse to catch up. "Did he tell you it was your fault?"
"That's part of it." I can still feel his cold eyes on me. "Let's get on. I want to be out of his sights right quick." I take my horse to a gallop. Keep on a half a mile up the road before I slow down.
"Do you still think he still wants to kill you, Lem?" Reagan's beside me again.
"I wouldn't put it past him."
Heather leans forward, tries to catch my attention. "Why? What happened to your friend."
"Um. I..." I look at Reagan.
"It's okay, Lem. If you're not comfortable, you don't have to say anything."
"I just don't think it's right conversation for a lady." I look down at the back of Smokey's neck.
"I lost my friend. In the worst way, too." I look at Heather, she's looking up at the clouds.
"I'm... sorry. How?"
Heather looks at me. "I don't think it's proper conversation in the company of a gentleman." She kicks her horse in the sides and rides forward a little distance.
I look at Reagan. "Little firecracker, ain't she?"
"Well, I told you that you two had a little bit in common. You don't have to talk to me, if you don't want. But, why don't you give her a chance?"
I sigh. Shake the reins and catch up to Heather. I come up beside her and match stride. Where to start... "He tried to take his own life. He didn't die, but he came close." I look over at her. Don't know what to expect.
She holds up one of her arms, palm toward me. She pulls her sleeve down a way. There are scars across her wrist, and a large bump over one of the veins. "I did this after my best friend shot herself in the head. I still don't know why I lived." She covers her wrist back up with her coat, looks forward.
We ride in silence for a little bit. Reagan is a good hundred feet behind us, just admiring the scenery. I can't think of anything else to say but, "Why?"
She sighs. Looks at me. "I didn't think there was any other way out. Didn't think there was life after Mary. Thank god for Reagan. I'd be dead now if she weren't around. Don't think I haven't thought about it since."
"Did she put you up to this?"
"Up to this? You mean coming out here? Yeah. But she didn't tell me why we were coming all the way over here. She just said she wanted to try a joint therapy session or something like that. Did you try to kill yourself?"
"I thought about it."
"You thought about it?"
"You'd have to know Mattie to understand."
"Well, seeing we're out in the middle of nowhere."
"I'm all ears."
"Oh." I sigh. "Well, we've been friends since we were three. He got jealous of me dating this girl at school, tried to kill himself. His brother, Ronnie, the guy out front of that house we passed, showed me the bathtub where he'd done it. Told me what happened.
"After that, my older brother said some stuff when I got home. Mean stuff. He thought I was having a bad day because of something he did. Said I was being emo and I should go cut myself. I beat the living crap out of him. Broke his nose. That night I thought about it. Just everything I was missing without Matthew there. Feeling sorry for myself. Got myself arrested for stealing my brother's truck and trying to find him. Mattie I mean. Guess that's the long n' short of it." I look over at her. "What's your story?"
"Well..." She thinks for a little. "Me 'n Mary were like you and your friend. Been friends since we were little. Did everything together. Then one day I find out she shot herself in the face. She'd been quiet for a week, didn't really say anything. Never left a note. Not even a reason. Just shot herself in the head. I thought it was me for the longest time.
"It was a closed casket funeral. I was at the funeral home to pay my respects. Alone in that room with that casket. Gives me the chills just to think of it. And the biggest mistake of my life was lookin' under the coffin lid."
"What did you see?"
"I never told anyone this."
"As you said, I'm all ears."
"Well, there was a body in there. I guess that's when it all sank in. The whole mess. Her head was completely covered up in bandage, but she was in a formal dress, like something she'd go to church in. Blue with white poka-dots. Like she was going to meet Jesus in heaven or something."
"You think she met him? Jesus, I mean."
She looks at me cold. "She was Catholic."
"She killed herself. In their eyes, she's going to hell." She scoffs. "Awfully nice dress for a place like hell. After that I just couldn't take it. I thought it was me. And seeing her in that box like that... I just couldn't take it. Went home and did this to myself. Passed out. Next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital bed the next morning. Nobody would tell me anything. The doctors were rude, treated me like I was a nut-case.
"Reagan was the first person since then that's treated me like a real human being. I was a mess when I started seeing her." She chuckles sadly, without a smile. "At least I'm allowed to use a butter knife at the table, now." She looks at me. "You wanna talk about dehumanizing? How about your momma cutting up your dinner for you?"
Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to email@example.com with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!