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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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The hallway is busier than usual. People coming and going. Darting around like a fart in a skillet. I'm searching through my locker for something. A book I have to return to one of my teachers from last semester.
A few candy-bar wrappers, stacks of paper, old graded homework assignments, books for this semester. A Slim-Jim for some reason only God knows why -- I hate the damn things.
Brooke is leaning against the locker next to mine, hugging her Chemistry 2 book. She's taking honors courses. She's the kind of girl that can make any boy feel stupid. "You never said how your break went."
I sigh. "Nothing out of the ordinary." Look at her. "Better if Mattie was around."
"Why do you say that?"
"Just the way it's always been."
"Must have been a pretty bad fight. Don't see why he moved all the way to Billings."
"Yeah, well..." I find the book I'm looking for. Look at the cover and see a doodle on the back Mattie put there at the start of the year, when he was messing around. I rip the grocery bag off and wad it up. Throw it toward the trash can but miss.
Someone bumps into me. "Oops! 'Scuse me, watch where I'm goin'!"
I turn and find my self face to face with Jeff. I feel the muscles in my face tighten up.
"Fancy runnin' into you here, Susan." He looks at Brooke, pulls at the front of his hat. "Miss Brooke."
"Hey there, Jeff." She smiles.
He turns toward me again. "Season's starting here pretty quick. You want some practice time at Dawson's?"
"What the hell are you gettin' at?" I feel my fist itching.
"Calm down, Susan. Get you on some beef. Make a man out of you yet."
"I'm barebacking this year. You know that."
"What would it hurt?"
"I don't need any more trouble. I'm on a short enough leash as it is." I must be turning bright red, because Jeff takes a step back.
"Why, 'cuz you took off across Montana to find your little girlfriend and got caught by Johnny Law?"
Shit. I never told Brooke.
She cocks her head to the side. "Huh?"
I bite the inside of my mouth. "I don't know where you get your information--"
"It's a small town, Susan. Everyone's in everyone else's shit. You know that. Not hard to hear a rumor here or there."
"Maybe you should check your facts before you start talkin' out your ass."
Brooke looks at me. "I thought you said you were grounded because you got into a fight with your brother."
Jeff looks back and forth between us. Smiles. He knows he's fucking things up good.
I grab on to Brooke's arm, start pulling her down the hall. "This isn't a good place to talk about this."
"What's going on? Why'd you lie to me?"
I stop, look at her. "I didn't lie to you. Not entirely." I look over to make sure Jeff's not around. "I took my brother's truck to go find Mattie. I got pulled over. I only had my permit, so I got into a little trouble."
"Why would you go and do something stupid like that?"
"I don't expect you'd understand."
She crosses her arms. Squints. "Just you try me."
"I would die for that kid, and he almost died for me once. Fuckin' sue me for trying to make things right. I know I didn't have to lie to you about it, but I didn't want everyone in the fuckin' county to know I got in trouble with the law."
"Lots of people get tangled up with the law, Lem. Who the hell cares? It's not like you killed someone. You got a traffic violation, for Christ sake! You didn't have to be so mean to Jeff."
"Fuck Jeff! I ain't got shit to say to him."
"Why are you so hostile?"
"I'm not. I choose my friends. He's not one of them."
"Well, I thought you were. I thought you'd grown up when you two started hanging out. Finally left Mattie at the kid's table and grew up."
"Huh." I shake my head. "Fuck that, Brooke. Fuck that." I start down the hall, just leave Brooke standing there. No matter how much she calls after me, I just keep right on goin'.
# # #
Useless as tits on a bull.
# # #
I walk into my bedroom, stop dead in my tracks.
Mattie is sprawled across my bed. He's naked. He's propped up on his elbows, laying on his stomach, back arched. Legs apart. His head is toward me. I can see the wounds across his wrists.
Jeff is laying there, on top of Mattie. He's holding himself up on one arm, got his other arm around Mattie's chest, resting his hand on his neck. Rests his chin on Mattie's shoulder. Mean grin on his face. Wicked. "I was right, he is a better fuck than you." Slowly, he pushes himself in, deep inside Mattie.
Mattie moans, arches his back more. His legs open a little further.
"Get the fuck off him!"
"Oh, I'm gonna get off." He smiles. "He wants me to split him right in half."
"STOP IT!" I take a running leap at him. I'm gonna fuckin' kill him. Right now. "NO!"
Something grabs onto me.
I need to do this. I need to fix it. "No! Stop! Get off me! Leave him alone!" I scream it over and over again.
Jeff just keeps going. Fucking Mattie.
Something squeezes me, rocks me to the side. "I said LET GO!"
Suddenly I feel something hit the back of my head like a baseball bat. Everything goes blurry. I can't fucking see anything but shadows. Movements of Jeff and Mattie on the bed. A shadow moving toward me.
"Lem? Lem?" Echoes.
"No! Get away from me! Leave him ALONE!" I'm crying, screaming.
"Lem, it's okay. You're--"
My head feels like it's going to explode. Mattie disappears. I feel myself screaming at the top of my lungs. Movement. "Ahhhhhnnnnnnnnnn! NOOOO!"
I open my eyes. Momma's hugging onto me. "Shhhh. It's okay, baby. Lem, wake up, you're okay. You're having a bad dream."
It feels surreal, being in the same room with Momma as Mattie and Jeff were just fucking in. Takes me a second to realize where I am. On the floor in the corner. Head against the wall. The sheets are on the floor next to me. My face is wet. Momma trying to calm me down.
I breathe hard for a few minutes, stare at the ceiling. I look at the door, see Dad standing there. He's wide-eyed, just looks at me like I've been possessed by the devil.
I gasp. Look at Momma. "What the hell is going on?"
"You were having a bad dream. Your screamin' probably woke up all of Burlee." She squeezes me. "You okay? You hit your head pretty hard."
"What... wh-- what happened?"
"We came in to see what was going on. When I sat on your bed, you practically threw yourself against the wall."
"I did?" I'm almost seein' stars, my melon hurts so bad.
She looks at Dad. "I think I can handle this if you want to go back to bed."
He just nods blankly and walks off.
I can hear Chase down the hall. "What's going on?"
"Nothing, sweetie. Your brother fell off the bed. Go back to sleep."
Momma hugs me tighter, puts her cheek to mine. "Was it Matthew?"
"He was on my bed hurting himself."
She whispers to herself. "God, I should go over there and smack the living shit outta Ronnie for showin' you that bathtub. This is getting ridiculous."
"I'm sorry, Momma." I'm bawling now. "I'm sorry for fuckin' everything up like this."
"Shhh. It wasn't you, baby. None of this was you."
# # #
I open the fridge and look inside. There ain't a lot in here. That's probably where Momma is right now, at the grocery store. I don't know where anyone else is.
Scratch my nuts, take to pokin' around the fridge. There's some turkey deli meat next to the milk. Head of lettuce in the drawer. What else does a man need to make a sandwich?
I put the mayonnaise on the counter next to my pickin's. All that's left of the bread loaf are the heels, but that's never stopped me before.
Dad walks in from the mud room.
Looks at me and walks for the sink to wash his hands. Guess he's still tinkering with the snow blower. "Hey kiddo." He smiles at me. "Left those heels in there just for you. I knew if anyone'd get after those, it'd be you."
"Thanks." I start taking layers off the lettuce. "Where is everyone?"
"Mom and Chase went to the store."
"Figured as much."
"Lem, can I talk to you about something?"
I shrug. "I guess."
"Well, I ain't as good about this as your mother is, talkin' to people and all. Are you doing okay?"
"You're the millionth person to ask me that."
He nods. Turns off the sink. Must be good enough for him. Dad's always been easy enough to talk to. Momma's always the hard sell. He wipes his hands on a clean dish cloth. "Mom and I have been talking about some things."
I take the other heel and put it over the meat. Smoosh it down until the sandwich is as close to paper thin as I can get it. "Okay?"
"Well, other than this last little thing, you've always been responsible. Get good grades, keep quiet. Always behave." He throws the rag across the counter. Momma's gonna kill him for not hanging it back up. "Look, I know we talked about this before, you ridin' steers. How bout we make ourselves a little deal."
I feel my ears perk up a bit. "A deal?"
He smiles, looks at the ground. "You keep outta trouble, keep up with your grades like you have been, pay off your court fines when we go in, keep helping Missus Jensen out, we were thinking that this spring, if you do bareback until school's over, maybe we'll let you ride steers this summer."
"Really?" I smile really big.
"Yeah. But you have to keep on top of stuff." He puts his hand on my shoulder, squeezes. Talks softly. "I know Mattie meant a lot to you. I want you to work with that lady you're seeing in Havre. I want to see you happy again. It's hard on your Mom and I to see you like this. Okay?"
I nod. "Okay, Dad."
"Come here." He puts his arm around my back and pulls me into a hug. Squeezes the holy living crap outta me. Ruffles my hair as he lets go. "You're a good kid. I'm proud of you."
He winks at me. "For being you."
# # #
Hate the first day of practice. You don't do anything, just look over paperwork and release forms. Talk to the coach. Get into groups. Find partners if your event calls for it. Take the shit home, have mom and dad sign on the dotted line, pledge your soul, and come back tomorrow to ride.
I walk out of the gym. Head for the parking lot. If I'm lucky, Jason hasn't taken off yet. There are a few cars here and there. Nobody out in the football field. Pretty quiet, all in all.
I walk along the side of the building for a bit until a scuffing noise catches my attention.
"I said fuck off!" It's a girl's voice. Some dude giving his girlfriend shit or something.
Probably not my business. I keep walking on until I pass a gap in the wall, where a corner goes back in toward the building a little bit. There are five guys. Looks like they're cornering a middle school kid or something.
"Got ourselves a big 'ol dyke here." One of the guys hoots. Pushes the kid back in the corner.
"Here kitty, kitty!"
"You don't need a chick. I got all the man you need right here." The guy is pointing at his crotch.
The one on the end takes a step forward. "Maybe we should take turns fuckin' her. Make her a real woman."
"Dude, you wouldn't know what to do with a real woman!"
"Fuck you. I'll show you how a guy sets a girl straight."
The girl turns away from the corner. Look of fear written on her face. Fuck. It's Joey. Looks right at me. Her face says it all; she's pleading for help.
Not the first scrap I've gotten into, and I know this is gonna hurt like hell. The numbers are stacked against us, but at least I can say I tried to do something right. I swallow hard. Feel my stomach twisting in knots. "Hey!"
They all turn around and stare at me.
One of them laughs, looks around at his friends. "Heh. What you intend to do about it, shitbrick?"
I look right at him. "That shit ain't called for. I don't care who you are."
"She's a fuckin' dog."
The other one looks back at Joey, then at me. "What, you two both fags?"
Suddenly, Joey lunges forward and hooks the kid a hard one right in the face. Knocks him out stone cold. The two closest to her rush and have her pinned against the wall, the other one looks like he's gonna take to give her a punch in the gut.
The one on the end, the blonde one who called me a shitbrick, he just stands there. Looks over at the others, and I take my chance. I let my bag fall off my back, run up to the other guy and get him by his backpack straps. Swing him around and trip him over my feet.
He lunges forward, tries to catch his balance. Falls flat. At least that gets me on the right side of the action. I hop over the one guy, the one that's laying there passed out. Get to the third one. Grab him by the back of his shirt just before he starts throwin' fists.
Joey is close enough that she just up and kicks the guy right in the stomach. Knocks him back. I sidestep, take another step to the guy on her right, hook my arm around his neck and start pulling him off.
The blonde one's back on his feet. Coming toward us. I get knocked one in the eye from the dude I'm holding.
Joey gets loose of the asshat who's holding her and knees him square in the nuts.
The guy I'm holding wrestles outta my grip and steps out away from me. They line up like they're gonna jump us, the three of them. The fourth is off holding his cranberries, barking like a choking beagle.
Joey stands up. "Douchebags!"
Blonde one has a big mouth on him. "Fucking dyke!" He starts running for us, the rest follow.
I'm getting hit left and right, but I'm just wailin'. Fist after fist, I'm not gonna stand for any of it. I get one by the front of his shirt, start punching him in the side, just below the ribs. He tries to backhand me, but it gets caught under my arm and forces my elbow right into his cheek. He staggers a little. I push him off me and get tackled from one of the others.
He's on top, got the smell of dip on his breath. Nasty. He hauls off and gets a few in on me, the last one he punches me in the side of the neck.
I see a flash of brown and black. Joey tackles him off me, rolls around with him on the lawn. He tries to get her wrists.
I hop to my feet, look over my shoulder to see where the other ones went. The one Joey knocked out is still laying face down in the lawn. Two of them are running off across the parking lot to a truck.
God knows what they have in there. Chains or knives or who knows. Don't know where the blonde got off to, but I kick the one who's wrestling with Joey in the side.
He falls over and rolls around, holds onto his ribs.
"Joey, come on!"
"Just come on!" I see one of them lean over the side and grab a two-by-four. Holds it up and looks at it. "Oh, hell no!"
I grab Joey's hand and pull her along. Run as fast as I can across the football field and into the thicket on the other side. Lungs burning. Just fuckin' keep runnin'.
# # #
We sit on the side of a hill tryin' to catch out breath. We must've run pretty close to a mile before we even looked back over our shoulders. We're pretty close to the water tower, hiding behind some large rocks. Nobody on the road'd be able to see us from here.
"You're gonna have some serious bruises." She's talkin' between breaths. "Looks like someone hit your neck with a sack of oranges."
"Shit." Her face is all scratched to hell. "Got a few bruises yourself." I slump against the rock and look up. Gonna be a little bit cloudy tonight. Might even get a snow. "You throw a mean left."
She smiles. "Yeah, you grow up lookin' like this in Montana, you better be ready to knock out some teeth."
"How'd you wind yourself up in a mess like that?"
"They've always been assholes. I don't have a seventh period, so I get out of school before they do. Thought I could get out of the rodeo meeting quick enough not to be seen." She plucks a yellow stalk of wild grass. Cleans the end and puts it in her mouth. "Bastards. All of 'em."
"Sorry about that."
She scrunches her eyebrows. "For what?"
"Having to go through that shit. It ain't right. Guys shouldn't talk to girls like that."
"That's fer' damn sure." She sighs. "I'm glad you came along when you did. That's the first time they've had me alone like that." She looks at me. "Might have ended up one of those stories you see on CNN or something."
"Guys like that shouldn't even be allowed to breathe."
We sit there for a while. Get ourselves calmed down a bit.
She scratches her arm. There's a small rip in the sleeve of her jacket. "You seen Matthew?"
I don't even know how to answer her. I don't know what she knows. "Not since he left town."
"I saw him about three weeks ago. Don't know what he was doing clear over here, but he looked... different." She bites off the end of the grass and spits it out. Puts the stem back between her teeth. "Probably Christmas shopping with his parents or something. He was at the Wal-Mart."
"You saw him?" My jaw's goin'. Probably look like a bumbling idiot. "How-- um, did you talk to him?"
"No, he didn't even see me wave at 'em. Went pokin' around the isle. Kept my eyes open but I didn't see him again after that."
"What you mean he looked different?"
"Just seemed quieter than usual. Looked like he was beaten down and just shriveled up."
I don't know how much of this I can take.
"He was wearing a hoodie. Had his sleeves pushed up, which was strange considering what he did. Had one hand in his sweater pocket. The other one had one of those sweat bands over his wrist." She shrugs. "I don't know."
"I tried callin' him up after he'd moved. Asked his mom what was up. She just said he was sick. When I asked if there was anything I could do, she told me what happened."
"That whole thing bugs the shit outta me."
"I bet it does." She chuckles. "Dude, you ever hear bro's before ho's?"
"Brooke? Aw, fuck, it wasn't about her. Never was."
"His mom sure thought to hell it was. Guess it's good she didn't know what it really was."
I about fall over. "Whu?"
"You two would've made a good couple."
I burry my face in my hands. Groan. I bet I'm turning ten shades of candy apple red. "I'm not a fuckin' fag!"
"Lem, who're you tryin' to convince? Why you think I'd tell anyone?"
I look at her. "I don't know. Why wouldn't you?"
She shakes her head, holds her hand out like she's trying to make a point. "Dude, you're looking at the biggest dyke in Montana. Why do you think I'd even care?"
"So it's true?"
"So what the fuck if it is?"
I shake my head. Swallow hard. "I'm not gay. I can't be."
"Of course you're not." She crosses her arms. "Well, whatever you are, I don't have anything against you. Saved my ass back there, it's gotta count for something."
I fix on the ground in front of me. "Just, don't tell anyone. Please."
"I'm not like that."
"Can I tell you something secret?"
"I miss him somethin' terrible. It's like the best part of me is gone, and I can't find it."
"It's true. Don't know what you got 'till it's gone."
"Bet my parents think I'm this... huge nutcase. Ever since that happened, I've been having all these dreams. Doing shit I wouldn't normally do. You know I beat the crap out of my brother?"
"You did? Why?"
"It was after I came back from Mattie's, when I heard what happened. Jason said I should cut myself, and I saw red. Freed the beast on his face."
"Did he know?"
"Nope. I just had enough."
"We all come undone at one point or another."
"I'm all sorts of undone lately." I sigh. Think for a minute. "I think it was my own selfishness that made Mattie come undone."
"I didn't know he was all for me like that. I didn't know how to take it, either."
"You would'a had to been blind not to see that comin'."
"God, I was so wrapped up in other stuff not to see it for what it was."
"Or was Jeff wrapped up in you?"
I look at her. "Damn it, girl. Get outta my head!"
"Mattie always thought something was up with you and him. He kept asking me why someone like Jeff was good enough for you, but he wasn't."
"I'm not gay!"
"Did you do shit with Jeff."
I sigh again. Turn red. "A bit. I mean..." whisper, "fuck." Fold my hands together, squeeze my knuckles. "That was a mess. Don't even know why I liked him so much, either. Jeff, I mean."
"You, Matthew, Jeff, and Brooke. Hell'uvu love triangle you got yourself going." She smiles at me. "Brooke's for show, isn't she?"
"Brooke is my only hope for being normal."
She stands up. "Who the fuck wants to be normal?"
"You think I like this? Being like this? Living like two different people, like a fuckin' criminal? I love Mattie, but, I mean, what would people think if--"
"FUCK what other people think! You need to live for you, not nobody else."
I can only sit there. Feel the sting of her voice. I can't say anything because I know she's right. I look at my wristwatch. "Shit. I don't even know how I'm gettin' home."
She sits down next to me. "I think I can help you out with that one."
"I'm sure my dad wouldn't have a problem running you over to Burlee, seeing you stood up for me and all."
# # #
"Lem Taylor! What on earth happened to your neck?" Momma has her hand on her chest.
I keep my gaze down, try to be funny. "Sorry, Momma. Brooke got a little carried away."
Jason's standing at the fridge. Lets out a gut laugh when he hears me say it. He turns around and looks me over, starts laughing again.
"Lem, that's not funny!" She squints at me. "Oh, my God- your eye!"
"It's nothing, momma."
"Just what the hell happened to your face?" She puts her hands on her hips.
Jason hoots. "One kinky neck fetish!" Has a good chuckle at my expense.
"Jason..." Momma sighs. "Just... go find something to do. You're not helping." She turns to me as Jason walks out of the kitchen. Still laughing. "So?"
I hear Jason in the living room. High, shrill laughing.
"JASON!" She looks at me. "What happened?"
"I was leaving practice. These five guys had a girl cornered and said they were gonna do things to her."
"Um... they..." I burn up a little. Look at the floor. "They said they were gonna... um... make her a real woman."
"They said what?"
"To be technical, they said the were gonna fuck her."
Momma scowls at me.
"Sorry. I told them to back off, and when they all turned around, she punched one of them in the face. Knocked him clean out. The others pinned her up against the wall. Figured I should do something."
"Who were these boys?"
"I don't know. Joey said she did."
"What if you get into trouble for this? You expect dad and I'll be there to bail you out?"
"I was just doin' what I thought was right."
"And using your fists is better than using your brain?"
"Jesus, Momma! They practically said they was gonna rape her! Who knows what they woulda' done if I ran off to find help. And they fuckin' started it! You an' Dad always say to stand up for what's right!"
Her face is stone. The right side of her cheek clenches, flattens out one side of her mouth. She puts her hands on my shoulders, squeezes real hard. Pulls me into her. Squeezes me. Has one hand across my back, one on the back of my head. We stand cheek to cheek.
"Did I do right by you, Momma?"
She sighs into my ear. "You did, honey. You did."
# # #
I'm tryin' to hustle so I don't miss the bus to practice. I hate it when my math teacher keeps us after class until she drives her point into the ground. 'Algebra is the culmination of this,' she always says. 'Numbers are the culmination of that...'
I wish my foot could culminate with her ass.
Then there's the pencil-neck at the front of the class who keeps askin' her fuckin' questions and won't shut up.
I throw my shit in my locker and slam the door. Pretty light night for homework. I turn to haul-ass down the hallway. Run flat into Jeff. Shit.
"Watch where you're goin', Susan."
"Whatever." I side-step and go to walk off.
He grabs my arm. "Hey, you never call anymore," he says softly.
"You made it pretty clear what this was." I sigh. "I got nothing to say to you."
"Don't be like this. We should get together for a little fun. Get some drinks. What you say?"
"Don't be like-- no, fuck you." We stare at each other for a minute. "Now, you gonna drop my arm before I make you drop it?"
"Think I'm scared of you, Susan? Gonna do somethin' about it or you gonna cry like your little Mattie?"
He still has my arm when I push him against the locker. Squeezes it to keep his balance. "You know, the last son of a bitch that had somethin' bad to say about Matthew got his face rearranged." I point at my face. "This was five against me when I stood my ground, and this was all the damage they did to me. So, you can either bring it or let go of my fucking arm."
He gives me his bird look and an evil smile. "You know what I think?"
"I'm tellin' you, man. Drop my arm."
"I bet you'll be runnin' back to me. I bet you'll be beggin' me for a fuck." He lets go. "Just you give me a jingle when you want your teeth rattled around."
I step back, keep my eyes on him. I just want to deck him. I barely talked my way out of the other fight. There are a few people around the halls, but none close enough to care. Most of them didn't even see me push him into the lockers. Not even enough to draw a crowd, but still enough to get me into some t-- fuck it. I turn on my foot and merge my fist with the side of his face. Knock him clean off his feet.
He looks up at me, holds his face. He's surprised, that's for damn sure.
I pull at the brim of my hat. "Just you run your mouth again next time you want your teeth rattled around." I turn and walk down the hall. I can feel myself grinning. I think I'm okay with this. For the first time in a while, I'm fine. Really.
# # #
I'm starting to drift off to sleep. I see Mattie smiling when I close my eyes. He's happy. His eyes look more golden than usual. We're in this big, green field in the middle of nothing. A little wind blows through his hair. He grins and chuckles, a light tenor, boyish laugh. It all takes me back, somehow. This is a dream I want to be in.
Something doesn't sound right. There's a car driving up the lane. I can hear the gravel popping around the wheels. I open my eyes and look outside, through the curtain. There's a pick-up truck with police lights parked right behind Momma's truck. The Sheriff is getting out, stretchin' his legs a little before he walks toward the house.
My heart skips a beat. I wonder if he's here because of what happened with Joey, or maybe even Jeff. Can they arrest me for having sex with Mattie or Jeff? I don't know if I should stay up here or go down and see what's going on.
His knocking feels like it's rattling the whole front of the house. The dogs bark in the mud room. I hear the door being pulled open, hear parts of his voice floating through the floor.
Guess if I'm in deep shit, I might as well head it off at the pass. I put on a shirt and walk out, take to the stairs. I stop on the first landing, see Momma sitting on the love seat across from the cop. Dad's got his hand on her shoulder.
She looks up at me. Her eyes are red and watering.
I must have fucked up bad this time.
She chokes. "Lem, baby, would you get Jason n' Chase outta bed?"
"Why, Momma? What happened? What's wrong?"
"It's Missus Jensen. She died in her sleep last night."
# # #
"I'm sorry about your loss. You want to talk about it?"
I look at a spot on my boots. Fidget with my thumbs a bit. "She was old. I'm just glad she went quietly."
"Do you feel at peace with it?"
"I think so. Momma's takin' it harder than I am. Maybe she should be in here right now. Bet she needs you more than I do."
"Why do you think that is?" Reagan scribbles something down on her writing pad.
"Well, she was like a grandma to us. It's sad, I mean. Really sad. Especially since she's not around any more. But she had dignity, especially as old as she was."
"That's a very kind and intelligent thing to say, Lem." She smiles. "How was the funeral?"
"It's the first one I ever been to. I guess it was nice, considering what it was." I fold my hands in my lap. "Is it normal to put things in someone's casket?"
She turns her head a little to the side. "What, like flowers?"
"Momma made oatmeal raisin cookies. Missus Jensen's recipe. She wrapped them up in a handkerchief, like Missus Jensen used to when she'd give us kids cookies. A blue one for me, a red one for Jason and the pink one for Chase. Tied each one to a flower and had us leave them in the casket with her."
"That's so sweet. I bet something like that would have meant a lot to Missus Jensen."
"I guess." I shrug. Think a minute. "If I give you something, will you look after it? For safe keeping?"
Reagan puts her glasses on top of her head. "Depends on what it is."
I look at the envelope in my hands. Turn it over and look at the front. "I want you to read it, too." I hand it to her.
"You want me to wait, or read it now?"
"Whatever suits you."
She opens it, pulls out the paper and unfolds it. Looks it over. Reads it under her breath. "Deserve better than me... worthless piece of, um..." She looks up. "What's this all over the paper?"
She looks at me right uneasy. "Blood? Is this--"
"It's the letter Mattie left for me. Ronnie gave it to me when he told me what happened." I half expect her to hold it by the corner and drop it in the trash can.
"Are you sure you trust me with this?"
"Mom found some of Jason's Playboy Magazines the other day. I figured it wouldn't be safe at home if she decided to get a wild hair and look through my stuff. I just want it to be safe."
"How about I keep it in the back of your file? I'll paperclip it to a blank page."
"If it's safe there." I sigh. "I think it's my most valuable possession at this point."
"Why do you say that?"
My eyes water up. Sniffle. "It's the only piece of Matthew I have."
She looks it over again. Holds it like a scroll, only touches the top and bottom parts of the page. "It says I love you. What do you think he meant by that?" She folds it carefully, puts it back in the envelope and sets it on her desk. She reaches over and grabs a bottle of antibacterial hand lotion, puts some on.
I just stare at her.
She looks at her hands, then at me. "It's not what it looks like, Lem. I use this stuff between sessions or even after I shake someone's hand. Bit of a germaphobe. Blood's just one of those things that freaks me out. It's nothing against Matthew or you or anyone else."
I nod. "I understand."
"So, back to the letter- what do you think he meant?"
"Exactly what it read."
"There are different kinds of love. Did he love you like a friend, or a brother?"
"Everything we talk about, you meant what you said when you told me everything was secret?"
"Lem, I won't tell anyone anything we talk about unless I have reason to believe you're a harm to yourself or to others. Like, if you told me you were going to kill yourself or someone else, then I'd have to talk to someone, like your parents or the police."
I sigh. "Mattie and I did some stuff together."
"What sort of stuff?"
I bite my lip. No easy way to say it. "We made love a few times."
"So that's what you meant when you said you had sex, but not with your girlfriend?"
I nod slowly. Feel like I'm about to fly away on the breeze, I'm so lightheaded.
"Okay," she holds up a hand. There's a pen between her fingers. "Before we talk about that, I want to ask you something."
"What, if I'm a fag or something?" I say it through my teeth. Feel like I'm gonna throw up. My secret's out, she's gonna fuckin' tell my parents. Everyone's gonna know. "Goddamn it, I knew I shouldn't say anything."
She shakes her head back and forth, really wide. "Nooo... no Lem. That's not what I was going to ask." She scoots her chair a little closer. "Sweetheart, whoever you choose to love, it doesn't matter to me. I'm happy for you if you find love with another man."
"I'm not gay. I can't be."
"I didn't say you were. Maybe you're bisexual, or just experimenting." She leans forward. "What I wanted to say was you never trusted me before. Why are you trusting me now? What changed?" She pats my knee.
"I thought that's what you wanted."
"It is, Lem. But why the sudden change?"
I sigh again. "Missus Jensen, she told me I should open up and let someone in. That I should put my trust in someone before all the bad things eat me from the inside out."
"That sounds like great advice. How does that make you feel now that you've told me about you and Matthew? Does it feel like a weight lifted?"
"I guess, maybe a little."
"Good. Good. Is that what was holding you back? Keeping you from talking to me?"
I nod, start bawling.
"We can take a break if you need to. Maybe we can go for a walk?"
I shake my head. Blubber. "No, there's more I gotta tell you. Lots more. I can't keep it inside anymore."
"What do you want to tell me, sweetheart?"
She smiles at me. A warm face, like she's welcoming me into her home or something. "Start where you feel comfortable, and take all the time you need."
Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!