Thanks for reading!
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.
Please send critiques, comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A note from the author:
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has emailed me over the past few months. Your encouragement has given me motivation to go on, and I'm tickled that many of you are becoming attached to the characters.
A few things I would like to touch on:
First, for those of you who want to be alerted when a new chapter has posted, I have set up a mailing list. It's located at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/writer_milos/
Many people have been asking me how many chapters are left, or if fourteen was the final chapter. Being on the back half of the narrative, I can't say for sure how many chapters there will be in the future, but there is more in store for Lem and Matthew. The end will not be ambiguous, and there are at least ten chapters left, if not more.
Next, there is an issue with the timeframe in the previous chapter. I was in such a hurry to get the last one out, that I overlooked a few important things. The seventeen month gap was from the time of Matthew's attempted suicide, so in respect to the last chapter, the gap in time between Joey and Lem talking on the side of the hill should have been fourteen months to put chapter fourteen at the beginning of May, not seventeen. I plan on running a re-release, eventually, with all of the chapters corrected for errors and inconsistencies.
I made a small correction in fourteen and reposted it. At the end, where Lem said he was out in the bush "fucking" Matthew - a reader commented that it came across as a little bit heavy-handed. Knowing I was rushing myself with this one, I agree with him that it was a little diminishing to the narrative. This is why I changed it to "kissing on". Their time together, at this stage, should be heart-felt.
I try to put a good deal of thought into everything I write, and while fourteen was paramount to the story, I feel that in rushing things along, I have compromised the quality of my work. I will try harder in the future to maintain consistency.
Thanks for keeping with me on this one!
# # #
"God, I don't want you to leave." Joey leans back and scratches her head. Ruffles her mohawk a little.
"You're one of the only decent people left around here." I take a drink off the cup. Truck stop coffee. Mud.
Sounds like someone in the kitchen drops a stack of dishes.
Joey smiles. "Jooooob opening," she says through her teeth. "I'd kill to get the hell outta Havre. This place sucks."
"You only have a year left." I don't think I sound very convincing.
"You're 'bout the only one I ever talk to anymore. You ever feel like running away?"
"All the fuckin' time." I lean forward. "I tried it once. Didn't get me much past Conrad."
She looks at a clock hanging above the coffee machine. "When did Matthew say he was getting here?"
I shrug. "Whenever he could sneak out. His mom has 'em on a short leash."
The radio starts playing an old Eddy Raven song. The waitress walks up to the table, kind of swings her hips to the beat. She looks like she's about as old as Momma. Holds her pad up in one hand, clicks her pen with the other. "You kids decide yet?"
I look over at Joey. "Guess we should get something. We've been here for an hour."
Joey sings at me. "You wouldn't know me with this golden glow. Who needs you? I got Mexico..." Holds her menu out to the waitress. "I'll have an order of cheese fries. The shredded stuff, not the nacho cheese."
"I guess I'll have a piece of blueberry pie. With icecream." I smile at the waitress.
"I'm eating right, and I'm living good..."
I look at Joey, then back at the waitress. "And a little more coffee."
The waitress scribbles down our order. "Your friend gonna be here soon?"
"Hopefully." I fake a smile as she walks off.
"I lost you a loooong time a-go!"
"What, we in a music video or somethin'?"
She clinches a fist and moves it like she's jerkin' off. "Smartass." She leans on her elbows. "If you could run away from here, just, fuckin... go anywhere, where would you go?"
"I don't know. Wouldn't mind traveling around from place to place."
"Who'd you take with you?"
"What kind of question is that?" An old, rusted ford truck drives in past the truck-stop sign, catches my eye. "Speak of the devil."
Joey looks around the lot. "What, he here?"
"I think so. I guess we'll find out."
"So, what if you could run away?"
"My whole life is a huge fuckin' what if."
The waitress walks by with a pot of hot coffee. Tops me off. Mattie comes around the corner as she's pouring and stands behind her. She looks over her shoulder. "What can I get 'ya to drink, hon?"
He blushes a little, smiles. "Sprite." He slides in next to Joey. Sets a book on the table in front of him.
She hugs him. "God, I've missed you!"
He squeezes her, then looks at me. Smiles like a bashful kid and rubs the back of her head.
I smack his arm. "Took ya' long enough!"
He sighs. "Ronnie had my ear for a while."
"Did you tell him you were coming?"
"Heh. Yes sir!"
I fall forward. The silverware clinks as I slam my head on the table as a joke. The bump spills some of my coffee on the placematt.
"What's that about?" Joey asks.
I roll my forehead back and forth on the table. "Nothin'."
She laughs at me.
I sit up and rub my forehead. That kinda hurt. "How'd he take it?"
"We got in a pissing contest. Just glad Mom wasn't around to hear it." He looks between Joey and me. "Said he didn't want to see me hurt again. I told him to mind his own business, and he just walked off. Said 'don't say I didn't tell ya'!'" He blushes. "Kinda felt bad for leaving."
"Momma was kind of pissed when I told her that I ran into you."
"Guess everyone thinks we're all basketcases." He grabs a packet of sugar by the edge, starts shaking it between his fingers.
The waitress comes back and sets a tall glass of Sprite in front of him. "Back in a minute to get your order." She smiles at Mattie and walks off.
Mattie tears into the sugar and drops it in his drink.
Joey wrinkles her nose. "Gross. Ain't you worried about your teeth?"
Mattie shakes his head while he stirs his drink with a butter knife. "Ain't never had a cavity in my life."
I lean forward. "Yeah, because you brush your teeth four times a day." I pick up the book. Look over the cover. "Who the hell's Fredrick Nitz-chee?"
"It's Neat-cha. Homework for my Philosophy course next semester. Thought I'd get ahead."
"But it's summer."
Joey smiles at me. "A lot of colleges send out homework before you start. You didn't know that?"
I rub my forehead. "Ugh."
She looks at Mattie. "Where did you get in at?"
Mattie blushes. "Arizona State. Full ride."
"Is that right? That's great, isn't it, Lem?" She looks at me. They both do. "What's wrong?"
I didn't realize I was frowning. "Huh? Sorry, I was off in space for a minute there." I wish we could go back. Do things right. Sucks we're going separate ways in a few weeks. I smile at him. "I think it's awesome. You better come and see me, though."
"Or what?" His ears slide back a little when he grins. Makes them look a little bigger. I think I love him for it.
"Or I'll come down there and..." I poke the table. Try to pretend to sound serious. "...and, and I'm gonna..."
"Does it involve kicking my ass?"
"I'm gonna do something to your ass!" God, I should really think about these things before I say them.
"Ready to order?" The waitress, she's been standing there for a few seconds, and I didn't even know it.
Joey's tryin' hard not to laugh right now. I feel like crawling under the table.
Mattie just smiles at her. "Can I get the grilled cheese and fries off the kids meal? I'm not too hungry."
She just grins and writes it down. "Comin' right up, hon." She points her pen at me. Seems like the joking type. "And you watch your mouth, young man, or I'm gonna tell your mom on you!" Walks off with a chuckle.
# # #
Red Rock (1987) Pacific Bell (1988-90), Playboy (1991), Bodacious (1994-95), Baby Face (1996), Panhandle Slim (1997), Moody Blues (1998), Promise Land (1999), Dillinger (2000-01), Little Yellow Jacket (2002-04), Tahonta (2003-04), Big Bucks (2005), Headhunter (2006), Mossy Oak Mudslinger (2006), Chicken on a Chain (2007), White Magic (2008), Troubador (2009), Versus Copperhead (2010), Backdraft (2011-12)
# # #
Today was the last day of high school, for good. I remember back to where I was two years ago. Back then I thought I knew what freedom was. Doing nothing all summer long. Being out in the fields with Mattie while we walked along and talked about nothing. Watching the sun set in a west far wilder than either of us would have even known. We didn't know shit about the world, seeing we were stupid kids back then. Hell, we still are.
I hang my arm out the window, let the wind roll over the back of my hand. I know I'm gonna miss the sweet, warm breeze when I move away.
Mattie and Me, we drive through town. Cross the highway, pass the old grain silo across the street from the Safeway store. It's aging pretty bad, lately. Paint chippin' off here and there. Hardly read the letters on the side. Winslow Grain Inc.
Pass the trailer park where Jeff lived. The houses dotted here and there. If you blink, the best parts of your life pass you right by. It's the bad moments that stick with you forever.
Mattie grins at me. "A little birdie tells me you're riding your first bull at the Burlee Fair."
I lean my head against the window. "God, that's creepy."
"Déjà vu. Memories. It's nothing." I'm getting that after school kinda tired where I just might conk out and nap anywhere I rest my head. That floating head feeling. A little drained, a little horny, and a little relieved. I always get horny when I get sleepy like this. I sigh. "Pretty stoked about it."
"You don't sound too excited."
"Just a little tired. Feel like I need a little turkey nap."
"You goin' to the dance?"
I yawn and stretch the best I can. "Yeah. Prolly' just hang out and see who's around. I can only think'a one person I'd want to go with, and we'd probably both end up dead if that happened."
He smiles. "There're always chicks there without dates."
"If you do, I might. I don't know how I'd explain myself, just showing up outta' nowhere and all." Mattie slaps his hands against the steering wheel in beat with the radio. He bobs his head, looks right at me and sings. "I wanna love somebody... loooooove somebody like you!" He's got a really good singin' voice. I bet if he wasn't so shy, he'd be a damn good singer.
I try not to laugh. I've never seen Mattie sing before.
He beams at me. "You're blushing."
"Yeah, for once, it's not you changin' color." I put my hands in my lap and look forward. Snort.
"You can go an' serenade me anytime you want."
He turns beet red. Shy little chuckle.
"Hell, I didn't know you could sing so good."
"Never really tried. You know me an' doin' stuff in front of people."
"What about doing rodeo stuff? You're always in front of people."
"How's that different?"
He shrugs. "I'ono. Just is."
I pat his knee. Squeeze it. "You should do it more often. Sing, I mean."
He looks over, then back at the road. "What the hell we doin', anyway?"
I shrug. "No fuckin' idea." I think a minute. "I ain't got anywhere to be, for once." We drive for a few minutes. Still trying to think. "Ronnie settle down any?"
"He's kept himself pretty busy with Jenny. She's a little overdue, so they're staying in my old room."
"What's wrong with his room?"
"Mom wants her on the main floor in case she pops. Can't imagine it'd be too easy for her walkin' up stairs with something the size of a watermelon trying to claw it's way outta her jai-jai."
I laugh. "Thanks for the mental image, Romeo!" I shake my head. "You got anything goin' tonight?"
"Not that I can recollect."
"What do you wanna do?"
He shrugs. "I don't care."
# # #
I've been trying to wake up from this nap for a few minutes now, but I don't want to move. I can feel Mattie's warm skin against me, the texture of this couch against my back. Laying across his body, my head on his chest. The smell of his skin, his sweat. I can still smell the gasoline vapors a little. Had to open the windows to get a cross-breeze. The old clubhouse reeks from the tractor. Smells like a garage in here.
I open my eyes. See part of his arm laying across his chest. The sky is getting a little darker, but I don't want to be anywhere else.
He jerks a little, like he's having a dream. Mumbles. I can feel his heart beating. The air's getting a little colder, and Shadow's got goosebumps all over his skin. Guess he was a little tired, too. Got into a snuggle fit and we both fell asleep.
I rub his chest, soft as I can. Thoughts start drifting.
I look up at him. "I thought you were still asleep."
He smiles. "Light sleeper."
I keep rubbing his chest, hug him hard as I can.
He squeezes me back. "What time is it?"
I lean over his body and start picking through the shirts on the ground. My timepiece hits the floor. Thud! I look at the face and squint at it, like maybe it'll make it easier to see the letters on the face.
"Why don't you just look at the radio?" He points above his head.
"I doubt it's three in the afternoon." The power must'a been knocked out a while ago or something. It's a pretty nice alarm clock. Maybe I should take it to South Dakota with me. "Watch says it's just after seven."
"Bet mom's wondering where I am. Shit, I bet I missed dinner."
"We'll figure something out." I kiss his side, right on one of his ribs. "I wanna ask you something."
"Why are you taking philosophy? I never figured you for the type."
"Guess I changed some. Maybe I just want to understand the universe better. Make sense of my death."
My heart skips a beat. "Shadow, don't you dare tell me you're a ghost."
"No. I'm all here. Just... sometimes feels like I woke up in a different universe or something. I've had this idea that we're all these little balloons floating around in nothing. Like, the balloon is our soul part, what makes us what we are inside. Right? But we're also tethered down by others, so we don't float away.
"Like, if we pop or we drift off, we're still here. We're just empty, like we don't have drive."
I chew on the thought for a bit. "Did you think that because you almost died?"
"I did die, Lem."
"I don't mean, like, a philosophy or something."
"No. I was clinically dead for three minutes."
I run my finger around his belly button, put my hand flat on his stomach. "What was it like, being dead?"
"That's what bothers the shit out of me."
"How so?" God, I'm becoming Reagan.
"I thought I saw an angel when I was dying in the bathtub. I started feeling warm. Got this ringing in my ears that was really loud, but I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. It was like time was slowing down. My vision got blurry. I saw a shadow, a person." He sounds like he's drifting off a little. "There was light behind it, like, wings...
"He picked me up out of the tub, just lifted me out like I was light as a feather. He had your face. I couldn't make sense of any of it. It told me to hang in there. All I remember after that was seeing lights blinking here n' there. Hearing voices. I remember hearing a beeping, a woman saying 'we're losing'. After that, it just all faded. Blackness.
"There was no light at the end of a tunnel. There weren't white puffy clouds. I didn't have an out of body experience. I didn't see God. Didn't hear God. Didn't feel God.
"It was empty. Like floating around in a black ocean, knowing you're above an abyss and falling slowly." He keeps fixed on the ceiling. Talks like a teacher. "There was no way back. It was a scary place to be, Lem. Next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital bed. When I told the doctors, they said I was hallucinating and it was probably Ronnie what I saw."
I'm holding my breath a little. Scoot up next to him, look into his eyes. Touch noses and lips. I can feel his breath on my face.
Our eyes stay hooked; his are everything honest, and good. A burst of amber melting into a ring of gold, flecks of green and copper at the edges, held in by a ring of bronze.
# # #
I lead Mattie toward the front door. He stops short of the stoop.
"I don't know, Lem. I don't wanna cause any trouble. My mom's gonna be pissed as it is." He scratches his arm.
"Don't worry, I'll deal with my parents later. You're my best friend, and none of that's gonna change just because they say so." I open the door and step in.
Mattie looks at the side of the house like he's thinking. Takes a slow step forward and follows me in.
We walk through the kitchen door. Momma's putting the dishes in the washer. She stops when she realizes I'm not alone. Gives me that look like she's gonna smack the crap outta me later. Half-asses a smile to Mattie. "Hello, Matthew."
"Hi, Missus Taylor." He looks at me. "Maybe I should get on home."
I shake my head at him. "It's okay, dude."
Momma puts a few dishes in the washer. "Where you been?"
I put my hands in my pockets. "Mattie and I were hangin' out. Didn't realize it was getting on so late."
She nods. "Well, since you missed dinner, the leftovers're in the fridge." She stands up and washes her hands in the sink. "How you been, Matthew?"
He nods. "Good. Moving to Arizona for college in a month or two." He smiles at her, like it's uneasy.
"That's wonderful! Congratulations." She sighs, turns off the tap. "How's your mom? Haven't talked to her in a while."
"She's good. Keepin' herself busy, I guess."
I can feel tension. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I should have just let him go home.
It surprises me to see her walk up to him and give him a hug. "It's good to see you again, kiddo." She steps back, looks up at him. "God, you've gotten tall."
Mattie turns red and giggles. "Good to see you, too."
"If you're hungry, please help yourself. I don't want to send you home hungry." She smiles. Looks over at me. "Make sure you clean up after yourselves." She walks out of the kitchen.
"God," I say under my breath. "I'mma get it later."
"You think so?"
"Did you catch that look she gave me when we walked in?" I sigh. "Let's eat. I'm fuckin' hungry." I start pulling things out of the fridge. Looks like we had chicken and dirty rice.
Mattie gets some dishes out. Starts going for the chicken.
I fix myself a plate and sit at the table next to Mattie. We don't really say anything while we eat, but I catch him lookin' at me every so often.
We're almost done when Momma walks back into the kitchen. Mattie's mom's right her heels.
# # #
"His mom was beside herself when I told her Matthew was over here." Yeah, Momma's pissed. "And don't you ever undermine me in front of people like that again!"
"Why is this such an issue with everyone?"
She clenches her teeth. "You don't need to yell at me." She puts her hand over mine. "You've got to understand that she doesn't want to lose him. And I don't want to see you hurt again."
"Momma! Fuck sake! I almost lost him once. I just wanted to make the most of our friendship before we go to college. Just to put shit back together."
"There's only two months before you leave Burlee. You'll make new friends, start a different life. You don't need to be dragging his problems around with you. It's luggage you don't need."
"Luggage? I'm his only friend, and he's my only friend. I'd carry his luggage from here to the tip of Texas if it'd make things better."
She stands up, takes a few steps around the kitchen. "You can make other friends!"
"Great, now you're yelling at me. How the hell do you expect me to make friends in a town with three hundred fuckin' people?"
"It's only two months!"
"Can't I just have this one thing? Can't I just have my best friend? Can't I just feel normal?" I stand up, almost scream at her. "You know, this almost feels worse than him trying to kill himself. He's just trying to get back to normal! Just like me! Then you go and call his mom! I mean... shit!" I breathe hard, just stare at her. "You know, the last few days were the only time in two years that I've felt like things were back to good."
"I know he was your best friend..."
"Lem, I thought we were over this."
"I don't much expect you'd understand."
She slaps me across the face, hard enough I'm lookin' at the other wall. "Don't you hedge me."
I shake my head at her. "You didn't hafta sabotage us." I turn around to find somewhere to go. Anywhere but here.
"Eric Lemuel Taylor, don't you turn your back to me!"
I turn around. "Good for you, you have your mommy pants on. Did you ever stop to think about what my friendship with Mattie meant to me?" I blink at her. I wanna say things. Hurtful things. I know if I push that button, I'm not gonna get anywhere. "I didn't think so." I back out of the kitchen door.
Momma's face never changes. She looks mad, a little hurt.
# # #
I'm perched up on the gate to Smokey's stall in the barn, givin' his nose a good rub, thinking 'bout the state of things. I think they can tell when you're not feeling good about things. He's being more affectionate than usual.
Chase leans over the gate and looks up at me. "You okay?"
I sigh. "I don't know. Yes? Maybe?"
"I heard you and Momma fighting. What happened?"
"She came uncorked when I brought Mattie over. Fuckin'... acted all nice to him, then went and called his mom. Why would she do that? That's not like her."
"You know what I think?"
I don't say anything.
She reaches up and pats Smokey on the neck. "I think she's scared of him."
"Why you think that?"
"Because he almost died and took you with him."
"Chase, I wasn't ever gonna try to commit suicide. I was upset, but it wasn't worth losing a friend over."
"I wish I had a best friend like Mattie."
"Don't worry, you will some day. Find yourself a husband. Have a few kids." My God, what the fuck did I just say?
She cocks her head up at me. "I guess so."
"That didn't come out right."
"I'm not dumb, Lem. Or blind." She scratches behind Smokey's ear.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Hmm." She shakes her head. "Maybe I don't understand what best friends are."
"I didn't say you were stupid, Chase. Boys are just different than girls."
She's rolling her foot back and forth. I can feel it shaking the gate. She sighs again. "You love him, don't you?"
"Like a brother, yeah." Scratch my nose. "Not something guys can go around saying to each other."
"What would you know about it?"
"My window faces the shed out front."
I shot myself in the foot. Feel like the world isn't even underneath me anymore. "Just let me pack before you go and tell Dad and Momma. I got precious little to give, so don't even think about blackmailing me, either."
"Why would you even say that?"
"Because they're gonna kick my ass to the curb. Shit like that don't fly around Montana, and you know it."
"I'm not gonna say anything." She punches me in the arm. Hard. "You're still my big brother."
I don't feel easy about any of this. I just want to be alone.
After a minute, she hops up on the gate so she's sittin' the other way. Leans her elbows on her knees. "So, are you?"
I sigh. "Am I what?"
"One of those, um... lesbians?"
I can't help myself. Bust up laughing. "Do you know what a lesbian is?"
"Isn't it two guys or girls who..."
"No. Lesbians are two women."
"Oops. I guess I mean... queer." She looks at me. "Are you?"
"So, what are you, then?"
I shake my head. "I don't fuckin' know, Chase. I don't know."
"Are you and Matthew boyfriends?"
"I don't know if I feel comfortable talking about this with my kid sister."
"Come on, Lem. We can be friends, too, can't we? I won't have anyone to talk to when you leave."
I guess I didn't figure that we do talk a lot. More than most brothers and sisters. After what happened to Mattie, she and I talked quite a bit. But never about this. "I don't know." I sigh. "Maybe. Well, I wish we could be. I love him so much, just... I can't describe it. I don't even know when this shit all got so complicated. Just seems like Momma doesn't want us to be friends because of that."
"What really happened with Mattie?"
"I don't want to drag you into this."
"I was a jerk, Chase. I'm pretty ashamed of it."
She nods at me, like she's nudging me on.
"Mattie and I started messing around, like a man and woman often do. That's when I was dating Brooke. I was stupid, and I told him it wasn't right, and people would say stuff. Told him I was official with Brooke, and he freaked out on me."
"You were cheating on Brooke?"
"No. It's complicated. We weren't official then, and I never liked her to begin with. I just felt so guilty about doing stuff with Mattie, having those feelings, that I wanted to be normal. I thought dating Brooke would hide that, and it made me feel worse about who I was. It must have been like a slap in the face to Mattie." I pause, look her in the eye. "Why are you being like this?"
"I don't know. Just, being okay with it."
"Maybe I don't understand it, but it's your life, and I want you to be happy. I like it when your happy because you smile, and you know what? When you smile, it makes me smile. It always has. I think Mattie's better for you than any girl or guy you'd ever find out there. He's not gonna lead you around like a dog on a leash."
I can't believe she's being so cool about this.
"You remember what Missus Jensen used to say? Don't be ashamed of who you are or where you came from, because if you're afraid to be yourself, you're afraid of who you are."
"I bet you'll be just as smart as her one of these days."
I hug her. "Thank you, Chase."
"I didn't do anything."
"You've done more than you know."
Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to email@example.com with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!