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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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There's a heaping pile of horse shit on the ground. I scoop up the hay underneath it with a manure fork and work it toward the wheel-barrel we use for cleaning muck. I back into the corner and feel someone lifting my hat off my head.
I turn around. The horse in the next stall over has my hat in his mouth, by the brim.
"Smokey, you asshole."
I try to grab at it, but he lifts his head and turns around. I dump the poop and lean the fork against the wall. I walk around the corner and go to Smokey's stall.
Chase is hosing down the stall on the other side. "Hurry up, Lem! I want to get this done."
"Calm down. Let me get my hat from Smokey."
I open the gate and step in. Smokey lifts his head and stomps his foot like he wants to play.
"Okay, you win. I want my hat back."
I pat him on the nose and get him to lower his head a bit. I try tugging the hat, but he's got a good grip.
"Here, try a carrot." Chase walks in behind me. Smokey lets go and starts toward Chase, wraps his lips around a carrot and crunches on it.
"Eww, horse spit."
"You could try being nice. He just wants to play."
"I know that, Chase. Smokey is smarter than you are, sometimes."
"You don't have to be so mean." She punches me in the arm. Twelve-year-old girls grow up trough when they're raised around two brothers. "Gay wad."
It feels odd, her calling me that. It seems like she knows something -- the thing me and Mattie. "Let's get this shit done."
Every night I have to clean the barn with Chase and Jason. I don't know how I always get screwed into cleaning up the crap, we're supposed to take turns. I guess you get used to it after a while. Chase feeds the horses, makes sure they're clean. Jason throws bails, sweeps, feeds the horses. I shovel crap.
We used to take care of our own horses, but Jason got lazy. When he was thirteen, Boscoe was almost ankle-deep in his own droppings before Dad tanned Jason's hide.
In the mornings, Chase gets to take care of the rabbits. Jason takes care of Dad's bird dogs. Classic 4H family.
I take care of the Chickens every morning. Throw out the feed, lift the nests, get the eggs, and avoid the rooster. He's a mean little fucker. Horny little thing, too. We could probably sell a lot of these eggs off for profit.
After I get ready for school, we all pile in Jason's truck and he takes us to school. It's not that he wants to do it. He has to.
Every Tuesday and Friday morning, we drop off two dozen eggs to our neighbor, Mrs. Jensen. She's in her eighties, lives alone. Momma worries about her. She likes us to check in on her. She answers the door in her night gown, with a cup of black coffee in her hand. Her house smells like garlic for some reason.
She used to send us off with a dozen or so of her blue-ribbon oatmeal raisen cookies, but Jason would hog most of 'em. Either she caught on or Chase said something. Now she'll give us a small basket. She wraps up about five cookies in a bandana, there's one for each of us. The red one for Jason, the blue one for me, and the pink one for Chase. Then she'll put in a dozen for Dad and Momma. She even calls over and tells my mother to expect some cookies. That way, Jason can't eat the entire thing himself. I really just think she needs someone to talk to, gossip with. She's almost like a third grandma to us.
She's widowed. Aint got family of her own.
I finish the stall and wash my hands. Chores took longer because Jason's out of town. I walk outside and hop up on the fence, sit and watch the sun setting. Burlee might be the ass-end of the United States, but there's one thing that's for sure: you'll never see another sunset that'll make you feel more at home.
# # #
Backdraft was born September of 1999. His sire was a killer named Playboy, and his grandsire was Houdini. Playboy had his fair run in the mid-eighties through the nineties. In almost twelve years on the PRC, he killed three riders, put a lot out of commission. Playboy held an 82% buck-off rate. His half-brother, Strawberry Wine, held 90% and became a legend when he had a 99% buck-off the year of his retirement. His very last rider stayed on for the full eight seconds. Rider scored 48 points, the bull scored 50.
Backdraft's dam was known only as 622. His grandsire on that side was Volcano, granddam was Marble's Daughter. He has rodeo stitched into his genes. Lots of rodeo.
# # #
Mattie and I are sitting on a set of bleachers a little separated from Momma and Chase. Mattie's mom stayed home today, and since Ronnie and Mattie's dad are in Helena for the state high school rodeo, Mattie had to load his horse on our other trailer.
Mattie gets a serious case of sewing machine foot before he has to go up. He's coming up before I do. Team roping is the second event today - right after the first round bull ride.
Momma is sitting on some plastic seat cushions she brought from home, reading a book. Chase is talking to a girl she knows from a town a few over.
Matthew's jimmy foot is making my foot start to go. I smack his leg. "Stop fidgeting!"
He looks at me. His leg is still going. "What?"
"Your Leg, it's driving me nuts."
He looks down at it and stops. He folds his hands together, sticks them between his knees and leans over on his elbows.
"Hey! Where're those purdy chaps?" Matthew and I turn around in our seats. There are three kids standing by the railing, bout a year or two younger than Matthew.
Mattie takes a lot of crap for his chaps. Once in a while he rides saddle bronc or young bulls. He's not very good at it, though. See, his granddaddy was a PRC rodeo champion bull rider back in the sixties, and passed the chaps down. Matthew's dad wore the chaps when he was younger, and so did Ronnie and Tay. They are turquoise leather with tan fringe, up the legs there is a design in ivy, and at the top, next to the belt loops, there is a wild rose. A bull rider like David Hedquist - you didn't give him any shit. He wears what he wants to.
For a team-roper -- a kid like Mattie, he's fair game. One of the kids does a cat call and points. His friend takes a few steps up the bleachers. "Did your mommy want them back?"
Mattie looks down and pulls his brim down, turns bright red. The kids start laughing. One of them slaps their knee. Stupid hicks.
I stand up. "Hey, you a bull rider?"
One kid stares, makes him look kinda stupid. "Uhhhhh, no."
"Lem! Shut the hell up!" Mattie grits his teeth.
"Then you should 'prolly shut your ass."
They walk off. Mom looks up from her book. "Lem! You don't talk to people like that!"
I turn red around the edges and sit down. I kinda match Mattie right now. "Sorry, Momma."
Mattie's leg's going again.
"Wanna go down and see if we can figure out what horse they drew for me?"
"I guess we could."
We're sitting in the T section pretty far down. It's weird when they pull these Junior Rodeo events in a place as big as the civic center, especially when everyone else is at the state meet. When everyone gets here, you'd probably be able to fit everyone three small sections.
The arena is called the horseshoe. There are two levels in each section that go all the way around the back of the civic center, and a balcony row over the top of a set of large garage doors. The back part is flat and sectioned off so they can load up concerts or livestock. It's all concrete and olive green this year. Before that, the seats looked like they came out of a bag of Reeses Pieces candy.
We take the stairs up to the walkway and through the door. If you take a right and follow the concessions hallway to the back of the civic center, there is a large set of steps that go down to the floor and a wide hallway that goes behind the balcony and across to the other side of the arena. There are dark windows facing out into the back parking lot. The parking lot's been covered in dirt. They've got stock pens all over the place. I guess it's on account of College Rodeo being in town next Thursday.
We walk the back hallway to the other side. We're alone except for a few people at the end of the hall smoking. I see our reflection in a glass door ahead of us; my chaps wrap around my legs and flair out when I step forward. We step in pace like we're in an old western cowboy movie, the part where the hero walks down the street like they were untouchable. It's like we're in slow motion - just for the blink of an eye. John Wayne would have been proud.
We go down the stairs on the other side of the stadium. The officials' desk is at the bottom. There are four women working behind a conference table, one of them is sorting through papers.
"Hello, I was wondering if you could tell me what animal I'm riding?"
The lady looks up at me and licks her thumb. "What event, hon?" She thumbs through a couple of pages without looking at them.
"Saddle Bronc. Name's Lem Taylor."
She shuffles through another stack. "Taylor... Taylor... Taylor..." She stops, then goes forward a few pages, "Taaaaaylor... Here you are. Looks like you drew a bronc named Biscuits." She wrinkes her nose and looks at me over her glasses. "Now he sounds like a tough customer, doesn't he?"
Laugh if you want to. These horses with cute names are usually a hard ride.
I grab a program and tip my hat, "ma'am."
# # #
Matthew and Reed come in fourth place with fourteen flat. They got just under seventy dollars between the two of them.
We're sitting in our spot, watching the girls tie goats. Mattie flips his belt buckle toward him to get a better view of it, starts to polish part of it with his sleeve.
Momma calls over to me. "Why don't you two go get us lunch? Chase and I both want a hotdog." She holds out a twenty.
"Why can't Chase do it?"
She's sittin' there playing Tetris on her iPod. She has enough time between bricks to give me a mean look and get back to her game.
"Get you and Mattie something, too."
I grab the bill from her and we head up the stairs. The hotdog place is at the other end of the stadium, next to the Mini Do-Nuts stand. The halls are still pretty empty.
Matthew likes to dawdle. He talks quietly. "You should see if you can come over tonight."
"I was over on Thursday."
"I know. My mom doesn't care. I, uh..."
I turn in toward him. "What, Mattie?"
"Something feels different, like... I feel strange when you're around. The way you pulled me on top of you..."
I look around and shush him. "God, Mattie - I just hope for your sake nobody heard any of that."
He looks around. Sure enough, there isn't anyone for a good distance. "But the hall's empty."
I shake my head and start walking again. He stands there for a second and jogs till he catches up. He sighs. "You ever get that tingling thing in your stomach that makes it feel like your floatin' in a boat?"
I put a hand on his shoulder and push him to the side, between two big concrete pillars where nobody will see us. I shake his shoulders. "Just stop it, will you? This is weird. If anyone ever knew about that, we'd both be tied to a tree and left for dead. People don't understand gay shit like that."
He chokes. Tries to say something that doesn't come out. He looks down, turns his head sideways. "Lem, do you think... are you calling me a fag?"
"Look - guys just don't touch each other like that. Maybe they do in the city or something, but... damn it. Just stop it. We jerked it a few times. It's done. That's it."
He reaches up and touches the side of my face, like a girl would. I ball up my fist and let into his side. "Get the fuck off me!" I take a few steps back.
He has a sad look on his face, but it looks like he can't bring himself to say anything. "I should break your nose for hittin' me like that."
I shake my head. "Mattie, you've never hit anyone in your life."
He walks up to me, looks me in the eye.
I'm caught off guard when he pushes me. I trip over my feet and land on my duff. I think I'm more surprised right now than pissed. I feel like an ass for punching him, but... damn.
He turns and runs up the corridor.
# # #
Momma always tells me that Mattie is more sensitive than other guys. That I should be careful with his feelings. Hell, we get into our share of fights - he's like a brother. But we've never been at a point where either one of us had to do something like hit or punch.
Somehow, he's always been there. He listens real good to your problems, probly on account that he hardly makes a peep. But no matter what fix I find myself in, he's always stuck with me through everything.
He's one of the few people I think I would kill for.
John Mellencamp once said that you can't tell your best buddy that you love him. I don't know if this is the kinda love that he was thinkin'. But we're not making love. Fuck, we're just two stupid kids stuck in the middle of Montana with nothing to do.
I could be like everyone else -- all the other kids. I could drink, party, dip, smoke, fuck girls. But I don't. That's what I like about Mattie. He doesn't do it either. Keeping off the radar, that's what we do best.
He's a good kid, means well. He's just confused about things.
# # #
I take Momma and Chase their hotdogs.
I shrug. "He's walkin' around. I'm going back up."
"You don't look too sure."
"He's in a mood." I sigh.
She wipes the corner of her mouth with a napkin. "Don't get carried away. I know how you two can get."
I walk up the steps and walk around the back corner of the horseshoe. This place is big enough that if he doesn't want to be found, he'd probably just show back up when we were heading home. The way I see it, I need to get to him before he gets to Momma and tells her I knocked him in the ribs.
If he does, I won't be able to talk my way out of it.
I'm coming up to the E section. Jeff walks out of the men's room, kinda gives me that hawk-eyed look. I feel a bit taken back, I just don't know what to say.
"You know it's not nice to stare, kid?"
I look at the floor. "Sorry. Forgot you'd be here."
"Heh. What's wrong if I am?"
"Oh, nothing. Sorry, you look like someone... just trying to figure it out. Where I was, I mean. When I saw it." Fucking smooth.
He starts to walk up the hallway. I walk with him.
"I'm looking for Mattie. Have you seen 'em?"
"'Fraid I dun know who Mattie is." He scratches the bottom side of his chin.
"Tall skinny blonde kid. Looks like a scarecrow."
Right on cue, he walks around the corner in front of us.
"Oh." He flicks the front of his hat with his finger. "Yeah, I've seen 'em. He's right there." He grins at his own joke.
Mattie doesn't slow down. Just keeps walking. Jeff side-steps him and lets him walk through us.
"Fuck off." Keeps going.
"Sounds like you done pissed him off a little bit." Jeff adjusts himself.
I turn around. "Mattie. Hold up!" I scratch my arm. "He's been pissy all day." I look over where Jeff was standing. He's gone. Guess he didn't care much.
I take after Mattie, jog up and put a hand on his shoulder. "Stop for a minute, would you?"
He jerks his shoulder away. Keeps going. I can't figure out what to do. I guess I could just let him be. I turn around, come face to neck with Jeff. "Fuck! You David Copperfield or something?"
"I don't read much. Got an extra hand?"
"I meant the magician."
"Not into gay stuff. You gon' help me or not?"
I shrug. "What the hell?"
"I got a shit ton of tackle I need to move. I can get it in one go if someone helps. Just need to go to my truck."
"Aren't you riding finals in a bit?"
He raises his hat. "I was done ten minutes ago."
Where was I just then? God, this guy has a set of eyes that are just intense.
We walk out behind the holding pens. His stuff is stacked up, bronc riding saddle and neck brace sitting on top of a duffel bag. He has a lasso or two coiled nearby.
He moves the saddle over a little bit, throws the duffel at me. Damn, this thing is heavy. Almost knocks me over. He hoists the saddle to his shoulder, hangs the ropes around his forearms. He nods sideways for me to follow him.
We walk a bit down the hallway. "So, I hear you came over from Idaho?"
He spits, doesn't look anywhere but forward. "Yep."
"Just outside Coeur d'Alene."
"Why'd y'all leave?"
He looks at me, like, matter-a-factly. Chuckles a bit. "Mom was sick of all the Nazis."
"Yeah, the Aryan Nation was headquartered there before the FBI knocked it all down. Buncha assholes." He pushes through the door with his shoulder. I follow him to the parking lot.
"How you like Montana?"
I don't think he heard me.
We walk over to a beat up truck. Something antique from the seventies. He leans back a bit, chucks the saddle in the back. It lands on a pile of chains. "Just throw the shit back there."
I heave the duffel in the back. We just kind of stand there. I kick a pebble and look at him.
He leans against the truck and pulls out a pack of cigarettes, holds the pack out to me.
"Um, no thanks."
He laughs again, lights his cigarette. "Whatever suits you, Susan."
"Well, um... I guess I'll see you at practice on Monday." I back away slowly. I can't take my eyes off him... I... can't.
He looks out from under his hat, packs his Marbs back in his front pocket. Pulls down on the brim and nods. "Sure." He's hard to read, too level.
I turn and start for the civic center.
"Hey, kid. Watch your points. You're low on the mark out. Think of it like you're riding a fine woman."
Look over my shoulder. He nods, I think he winks. He hops up into his truck. The truck rattles and bangs to a start, rockets noisily up the aisle and down the street.
I go through the doors and walk back to our section. Stop at the top of the steps. "Shit." Mattie is talking to Momma.
# # #
I haven't talked to Mattie in a week or so. At practices, he's been quiet, tucked away in the corner. I guess I really pissed him off this time. He never said anything to Momma, just that he wasn't feeling well. She knows something's up, just not what it is.
I've got my lariat out and I'm practicing my throw on a dummy in the front yard. The first throw and I pull the whole outfit over. I guess I should fill the cooler with water or something.
I take the fake cow head off the cooler, run the hose to the ice chest and fill it to the top. The grass is coming in nice, I squeeze my toes through it. I put the head back on and take a few steps back, run the lasso a few turns and toss it out. Miss.
Wind the rope. I twirl it over my head -- it's all in the wrist. I flick it out and wrap around the whole cooler.
"I always wondered why they put the dummy heads on a cooler." Mattie is sitting on the fence behind me, bobbing his leg.
"It's so people have a place to put their beer. I've heard Jason say they have a drinking game with these things." I toss the line out again and hook it around the head. I pull so to tighten the rope, but end up knocking the head off. "Piece of shit."
Mattie giggles softly.
I put the head back on, wind my rope. "You've made yourself scarce lately." I toss the rope out again. It gets tangled on the sprinkler head. "Damn it."
"I don't know. Guess I was mad or something." He scratches his arm. "You know me, Lem. I can't talk to people. I'm not brave like you."
I look over my shoulder. "Brave?"
"Well, personable I reckon."
"Mattie -- there are times when I can't get you to shut up. You just need to open up a bit."
"I wish I was more like you."
"Now why would you say something like that?" I toss the rope. "Your quiet is the best part about you. If I wanted to hear someone talk my ear off, I'd have a girlfriend."
I coil the rope and toss it out again. Land it right around the horns. "Yeah, baby! That's what I'm talkin' about."
"Lem, I'm sorry."
"For what, Mattie?"
He turns red and looks away.
I turn around and look him square in the eye.
He sighs that way he does when he's backed in a corner. "For acting like a chick or something. You're right, it's wierd."
"I can stand you being wierd every so often. You're not gonna start runnin' around in dresses or anything, are you?"
"Man, what the hell do you think?"
I laugh. "Calm down, Mattie. You know I'm just messing around."
"Look, I gotta get home. What time your parents leaving for Billings in the morning?"
"I think we're going to try to be on the road by two thirty. Dear God, might as well be three."
"Will you have an extra stall in your trailer?"
"Jason and Chase are the only ones riding their own horses tomorrow. Why, you need a spot for Oreo?"
He looks at the ground. "Yeah, I guess."
"I thought you and Ronnie were going down together."
"His horse sprained its ankle. The vet said he's going to be out a while."
"Isn't Ronnie riding?"
"He is. He went down to Billings yesterday to see if our cousin's horse will work for Ronnie. My mom wanted me to come over and see if you guys would be willing haul my horse. She wants to take the car down."
"I don't suppose Dad would have a problem."
"Cool. I'll run over and get 'em now so we don't have to ride him in the dark." He jumps off the fence, stands in front of me. "Mom'll give your dad some gas money tomorrow." Mattie turns to go.
Something in my head tells me he's not himself. "Hey, um, you wanna stay over. Help us load up? Mom wants to take her truck so she can stop at Sams and one of the feed stores down there. There should be lots of room, if you wanna ride with us."
He corner of his mouth twitches, like he wants to smile. "I don't know."
"Come on. You know you want to. It'd be easier."
He shrugs. "Maybe."
"Dude, just go get your fuckin' horse and your stuff."
# # #
Jeff is behind the pen. His go round is coming up quick. I watch him hop the gate and mount the bull. It kicks the back of the stall, which echoes through the arena -- even over the cheering crowd that's watching the current rider.
I yawn. Mattie and I slept on the floor in the basement in sleeping bags. He tosses and turns, kicked me a few times and woke me clean up. Two thirty came too quickly, and it's hard to sleep in a diesel pickup. Never been able to sleep well on the road.
The guy in the ring falls off his beef, runs to the side and latches onto the railing. The clowns get the bull to run to the exit gate.
Jeff ties off his glove. He looks... confident. I yawn again.
'Corey Bellens with six point three seconds on the clock there. Behind the Billings Chevrolet banner, Jeff Burke up in chute three, representing Burlee Junior Rodeo. He's riding De Soto's Trail Mix. There's the pull!'
The gate slams open, Jeff rides out with several hundred pounds of brindle steak between his thighs. This mount looks wild. Something in it is a bit more wily than I've seen at a junior competition before. Still, Jeff manages to stay on past the buzzer. He's going on to finals.
"Better start heading down. Broncs are coming up."
I look at Momma. "Alright."
"Come here." I move close to her, she gives me a hug. "Be careful. I love you."
"I will, Momma. Love you too."
# # #
I'm snug in my saddle, got the rope wrapped around my glove. I open my hand and pull it tighter, as tight as I can stand. The neck brace tacked on to my vest makes it hard to get comfortable.
I can hear coach's words echoing through my head. Hear him telling me to watch my shoulders, get in my points.
I look where Momma and Chase are sitting. I can hear her screaming over the announcer. Jeff is sitting behind them, a few rows up. I think about what he said, about getting hits in higher up on the horse. Like riding a fine woman.
I get my spurs up and sit back a bit. This girls gonna take me for a good ride, I can feel it.
I hear a roaring, like a motorcycle engine passing. Someone decided to play Boot Scoot Boogie.
'Lem Taylor up in chute one. He's riding a mare called Mariah.'
I nod at the guy holding the rope to the gate. He yanks it open.
Mariah takes a good, long leap out of the pen. I lean back as far as I can without falling off, keep my points up around her shoulders. She comes down hard and fast, down on her front legs and kicks out with her hind legs.
Like riding a fine woman.
My pelvis rolls forward a bit, get in a hit on her sides, find her rhythm. Fall back, get high points. She's trying her damndest to get rid of me. She's a smooth ride.
She drops one hard and I fall forward a bit. My glove is slipping. I keep my arm up best I can. Pull down on the hack a bit, keep this reign nice and tight.
I lean a little to far to the left. My hand's coming undone, and I'm starting to fall. I get another buck before I hear the buzzer. Saved by the bell. A pickup man comes up behind me. He's almost too far away from me, but Mariah launches forward again and almost throws me into the other rider. I hook around his waist and hold on until he gets me to the side, then I let go. I almost biff it.
'Cadillac... Black Jack... -- Lem Taylor moves on to finals!'
There are a few cheers here and there, mainly Momma, though.
# # #
"You almost made that look easy." Mattie elbows me in the side. "Bet you'll get part of the purse."
"God knows she tried hard to knock me off."
"You never ride like that."
"Like riding a fine woman." I look at Mattie. "I heard that somewhere."
"What would you know about riding a woman?"
Chase hears him. "God, you guys are disgusting."
Mattie turns red.
"Mind your own business!" I slap the top of her leg, just above her knee.
"Oww. I'm telling Mom!"
I roll my eyes. "Whatever."
'To open the second part of our program this afternoon, please help us in welcoming our newly elected Miss Junior Rodeo Montana, Brooke Reynolds! Brooke is riding in the back of the red Cummins turbo-diesel Dodge Ram 2500 there, kindly donated to us this weekend by our friends down at Centennial Dodge and Mopar.'
"Well, would you look at that?"
Mattie scowls. "Huh? What?" There's a streak in his eye, something of a mad nervousness. Jeallousy. I've seen it before, I just don't get it.
"It's Brooke! I told you she'd get Junior Miss!"
"Yeah..." He trails off. "Great, isn't it?"
Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!