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.

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I knock on Rook's door and wait. I guess I should have called before I came over here, but I want to get started. I went in this morning and got my cast cut off. My arm smelled like shit, too. Spent half an hour in the shower just scrubbin' the stink right off of me. Guess it's the price you pay.

The apartments on campus are pretty nice. Maybe I should spring for one next year. Hell of a lot better than walking in on your roommate having sex all the time.

Rook opens the door and stares at me for a second, almost like he doesn't recognise me. It's awkward because he's not wearing a shirt. He's got on black cargo shorts that are hanging so low I can see his bush, he's got paint on his hands, and I think he's wearing eye makeup.

"Wow, halloween came early." It's about all I can think to say.

Doesn't even phase him. "I'm practicing for next year. Do I look scarry?" He pulls the door open. "Come in."

There's a guy laying on the couch, watching TV. Thin, gawky lookin' guy with glasses, curled up in a blanket.

"Kevin, this's Lem from my Lit class."

He looks over at me, but doesn't really move. "Hey."

Rook leads me through the apartment to his room. His mattress is on the floor in the corner. Looks like a cheap futon you'd get at Wal-Mart. There's a blanket and a bunch of clothes on top of it. Stacks of paintings sit against the wall. There's a canvas sheet across the floor, and an easel set up in the corner. Looks like he's painting a picture of a naked chick.

"Did I get you at a bad time?"

Rook shakes his head, picks up a brush and starts tapping it against the canvas. "Not really. I was getting sick of this subject, anyway."

"What, art?"

"No, the girl."

"Okay, so what do you do when that happens?"

"Work on something else. Maybe walk away and do something else. It's an intimate process. A lot like making love. Sometimes you love it, sometimes you hate it."

"What's up with the makeup?"

"The eyeliner? We went out last night. Didn't wash it off because I was completely smashed. So much for... being responsible." He blends in a few shadows. Turns around and glances at me for a second. "You should let me do you sometime."

I about choke on my own spit. "Pardon?"

He hangs his head, puts his palm against his forehead. Balances the paintbrush in the same hand. "A painting."

I blush. "Oh. Don't know if I'd make a good picture." God, why is it so wierd talking to this guy?

"Sure you would. You've got nice angles. I like the way light hits your skin. I've got another character study I need to get done for my final. Think you'd be willing to help me out?"

"I don't know. I'd have to see what's going on."

He stares at the chick. Leans in with a look on his face like he's going to make love to her.

"I came over to see if you wanted to go to the gym and work out. Like to get bulked up a bit now that my cast is off."

"I saw that. Come off today?"

"This morning."

"I guess this can wait." He picks up a box of plastic wrap and wraps some around the brush. Puts a sheet of it over his pallet. "Don't mind me, I gotta put on some gym clothes."

"Oh, let me get outta your way." I take a step toward the door.

He holds up his hands. "Don't worry, you're fine right there. Got to wash this paint off, too. Feel free to browse the catalogue, if you want." He points to the ones leaning against the wall. "Just don't touch the one on the frame."

I start looking through some of his work. It's not half bad, really. The guy's got tallent.

A woman in the park holding a baby. A portrait of some random guy. A few that look like they came from a fancy art museum, kinda done up like the screaming dude painting.

"We did a unit on impressionist paintings. I really dig Rembrandt and Van Gogh."

"You're speaking a different language, man." I look over at him.

He's standing there naked. Holding a pair of gym shorts.

I force myself to look back at the paintings. Move on to the next stack. I pull the first one back to look at it. It's a naked man.

He walks over. Still Naked. Holds the painting up. "One of my first impressionist style paintings." He's standing here pointing out little bits of the painting like he's an architect explaining plans to an engineer.

Trying so hard not to look over. "So, it's like, abstract or something?"

"No, abstract and impressionist are different. Dali was abstract. Picasso was abstract. I was trying to emulate a feel like Van Gogh with the heavy brush strokes."

There's something nibbling at my brain, and I know I'm gonna open my big mouth. "So, like... um..." I sigh. Pinch the bridge of my nose and squeeze my eyes shut.

"You okay? You seem flustered."

"Never really talked culture with a naked person before."

He laughs. "New experience for you?"

"You have no fuckin' idea."

"Sorry, I can be an exhibitionist sometimes." He's got the body for it. Nothing wrong there.

Go further south with my eye-line, don't know why I'm so curious, but I look... "Um, not to be forward or anything, um... but... uhh..."

He strolls across the room, starts putting his shorts on. "But what?"

"Sorry. It's nothing. Forget it."

"Just ask. I don't get pissed off too easy." He shrugs.

"I think it falls under the none of my business category."

He throws on a shirt. Walks toward me and leans against the wall with his shoulder. "Say it."

"Um, okay... well... I wasn't checking you out or anything, I mean, you were kinda standing there, just, like, exposed and all, I mean, but, uh... Shit." I pause. "What's wrong with your pecker?"

He doesn't even bat an eyelash. He pulls the front of his shorts open, looks down, shakes his head. "Nothing I can see." He leans over and grabs a small towel off his bed. "I should wash this off." He takes a step out the door.

Fuck, what did I just say? I've only seen a cock like his once in my life. Just one of those random things. Bunch of kids plain' in the sticks and someone whips it out to take a piss. I remember being fascinated by how different it was, remember wanting to get a closer look. I wasn't going to sit there and just ask some dude if I could check out his wiener in front of a big group of kids.

"Oh God, wait." He walks into the room backwards, like he's back-tracking. Kind of leans back through the doorframe and points at me. "You've never seen an foreskin before?"

I look at the wall beside me. "What? What do you mean?"

"I mean you've never seen someone who's uncircumcised, have you?"

"That why it looks funny?" I sigh. "Smart ass."

"Well, have you?"

"Once. I always thought it was, like, similar to having an innie or an outtie belly button, or... something."

"Dude, listen to yourself. Did you even take sex-ed?"

I shrug. "Sorta."

"How did you sorta take sex-ed?"

"Someone on the school board didn't think it should be taught, so they cut it out when I was coming up into seventh grade. Brought it back two years later. Most of us did a small course because they made us, but they didn't talk about... uh... cocks. Not in depth, anyway. Never came up in the course of every day conversation. Say, Dad- the wheat's coming in good this year. Speaking of which, I hear Bobby Gilder's got himself one of those foreskins."

He laughs. "So you're cut."



I shrug. "If that's the difference, I guess I am."

He laughs. "Let's talk about this later." He walks up the hallway. I hear him from the bathroom, over the faucet. "God, how does a nineteen year old not know what circumcision is?"

I feel so embarrassed right now. "You don't have to bust my ass about it or anything."

He peeks his head around the door. The eye-liner's gone, and his face is red from scrubbing. "Hey, sorry about the naked thing. I should have been more in tune with that."

"Just surprised me a little."

He laughs. "Usually, I paint naked."

I giggle. I don't know why, but it makes me feel a little better. "Even in front of your models?"

"I take pictures of most of my models. That way they don't have to hang around." He runs his hands over his face and pulls his hair back out of his face. "You ready?"

"I guess."

He leads me back through the apartment. We start walking toward the gym. "You ever lift before?"

"Not really. I'm going to take weightlifting this spring to get my gym credits over with."

"You know what you should do? You should go get a big tub of whey protein and start using it as a supplement."

"Why?" I could think of another place I could get my protein, but the dispenser's in Arizona.

"Bulking up. You take it every morning and half an hour before you work out to help build mass. If you want, I can help you design a diet."

I look down at myself. Hold out my arms. "Dude, I ain't exactly heavier than a feather."

"It'd help you put on weight. I'm surprised a guy your build is riding bulls at all. Most of those Ag guys up there are pretty sturdy."

I shrug. "Point taken."

# # #

"Of all the music you have, I can't believe you actually listen to Flyleaf." Rook holds up the CD, looks at it like it's radioactive.

"Careful with that, it's Brynn's."

"And they don't know about you?"

"Hey, Brian likes it, too. Kinda."

He scoffs. "Whatever you say, boss. What about Celldweller? Didn't you like that?" He puts the CD down on my desk, turns around.

"You mean the guy who's haircut you ripped off? Not my cup of coffee, man. It's good, for techno. I just don't like a lot of that kinda stuff."


"Nope. Thanks for the Tool, though."

"That's one I wouldn't have thought you'd like."

"Ronnie used to listen to them. Mattie's brother."

"Speaking of which, when is your Shadow getting here?"

I shrug. "Said he'd call when he was just outside of Spearfish."

"Well, at least you got the room to yourself for the break."

"Shit. For all two nights I'll actually be here. I wonder how much it cost Dane to go down to Florida. Sounds like fun."

"Have you even seen Florida during spring break?"

I shake my head.

"Total clusterfuck."

"Maybe I could get down there one summer."

"Can I ask you a personal question?"

I sit down on my bed. "Okay."

"How did you know?"

"Uh, know what?"

"That you were going against the grain, so to speak."

"Like, what, with Mattie? Why?"

"I just like to figure people out."

"It kinda came out of left field. I mean, we'd always been there for each other. Things just kinda happened, I guess."

"Did you know before then? That you were gay?"

"Dude, I've told you a million times..."

"I didn't mean it like that." He sighs. "I meant, when did you first get the feeling you could probably be with a guy?"

I shake my head. "I don't think it ever crossed my mind until I met Jeff. Before then I always just thought of chicks when I'd jerk it."

"Jeff? Who's Jeff."

I sigh. "Someone who fucked a lot of shit up. He came along, made me think the sky was falling. We did some stuff I regret." I shrug. "One time, he forced himself on me. That was the end of it. It's too painful the way Shadow's wrapped up in it."

"How was he wrapped up in it?"

"You'll probably figure it out when you see him. This bracelet was one of his security blankets, for a while. Best not to bring it up."

He nods. Lies back on Dane's bed and stares at the ceiling.

As much sex as Dane's had on that bed, I don't think I'd crawl around on it without at least a haz-mat suit of some sort. "Dude, you might not want to lay down on that bed."

He gets up on his elbows and looks around. "Why not?"

"Dane's done at least five different girls up there that I know of."

"How long has he been gone?"

"Two days or so."

He lays back down. "I think I'm safe from the lobsters."

I chuckle. "Nasty."

Someone knocks on the door. Brian pokes his head in. "We're heading out for Denver." He looks up at Rook, then back at me like he wants to ask which carnival Rook escaped from. "Um, Brynn said you should call when you get down there."

"I will. I'll probably need directions to the hotel."

"You going through Wyoming, right?"

I shrug. "No reason to go through Montana first."

"Watch the roads outta Gillette. They get a little confusing when you try to get over to I-25, if you take the shortcut."

"How much time does it take off?"

"Two hours or so. Beautiful drive from Gillette to the interstate. Rest of Wyoming on down is ugly." He chuckles, kinda leans on the doorknob. Looks at his watch. "We're gonna hit the road. I'll catch you in a day or two."

"Tell Brynn to drive safe."

He nods. "You do the same. Call us if you need anything. Tyler's leaving a few after you guys, so if there's an emergency, he'll probably pass you."


He takes a step back. Eyeballs Rook suspiciously before he shuts the door.

"Man, if he stared any harder, his eyes would have fallen out of his head." Rook sighs.

"I know. Reckon he hasn't seen hair quite like yours before."

"I'm sure he has. His type like to bust my ass about it."

"I don't think Brian'd say anything."

"I just meant he's the type."

I catch a little something. Just the slightest bit of body odor. I put my cheek against my shoulder and sniff. It's not horrible, but it's there. "I guess I should have taken a shower today." I walk across the room, take my shirt off. "Pardon me while I freshen up a hair." I take some anti-persperant out of my cubby, rub it into my armpits. Get out my toothbrush and toothpaste.

"I wonder what your other friends think of me, them being all rodeo folk and everything."

I stop short of puttin' the brush in my mouth and look over my shoulder. "Fuck what other people think. You of all people, I'd figure that'd be your motto." I start brushing my teeth.

"No, it is." He trails off. I see him in the mirror staring at the ceiling.

There's a knock at the door. It juts open. I lean back to see who it is. Jarrod's here. "You up for a game of Q3 tonight?"

I always get my ass handed to me when we play these big Quake games. "Aaaaihaffffuhfwhunddcommmnnkk..." Fuck. I must look like a rabid dog right now. I hold up a finger and spit into the little sink. Wipe off my face. "My friend's coming in tonight. We'll probably be hanging out. Maybe when I get back from Denver?"

"I'm sure that's all we'll be doing over the break." He shrugs. "Maybe go find some cows begging to be tipped."

I blink at him a few times. My inner farm boy takes over. "You know you can kill a cow like that, right?"

He smirks. "I was kidding, dude. You think I could outrun a charging cow in the shape I'm in?"

I smile. "Guess I'm just an 'ol putz like that."

"I'll hit you up when you get back."

I nod. "Okay. Stay outta the pasture!"

He walks out.

I start scrubbing my face.

"You actually play Quake?"

I start putting soap on my washcloth. "Once in a while. I'm not that good at it. I've got better things to do." I lean over the sink and scrub with the cloth. Start washing the soap off.

I feel someone lean up against me and start playing with my nipples.

I stall for a second. Stand there with the water running and my hands in front of my face. "Uh, Rook-"

Rook chuckles. "Guess again." Sounds like he's still across the room.

I yank the dry towel off the rack and run it over my face right quick. Turn around quick as I can. Find myself looking into a pair of orange eyes. "Shit! Shadow!" I grin and throw my arms around him. Hug him like long-lost brothers do.

We hold each other for a minute.

"I didn't even hear you come in."

Rook sits up on the bed. "He's been standing in the doorway since Jarrod came in."

I kiss Mattie on the cheek. "I thought you said you were gonna call when you got here."

"I thought I'd try to surprise you. I ran into your RA outside, and I asked him if he knew you. Brought me in himself." He smiles, then squeezes my bicep. "God, you got all muscly."

I blush. "I guess I should put a shirt on."

"Not like I haven't seen you without one."

I shake my head. "Uhhh..." Turn toward Rook. "Mattie, this is Rook. Rook, Mattie."

Mattie takes his hand. "Nice to meet you."

"Likewise." He sounds a little cold when he says it. There's something in his eyes; it almost looks like jealousy. "I should let you two have some time to catch up. I've got some shit to do before we leave." He hops off the bed. "I'll catch up with you guys later."

"Cool." I nod. "See you later."

He steps out. Closes the door behind him.

Mattie stares at the door for a moment. Talks quietly. "What was that all about?"


"I don't think he really likes me." He half-asses a smile.

"I wouldn't say that. Rook's hard to read, sometimes."

He rubs his hands up and down my arms. Feels my chest. "Damn. You're about to have a real problem."

"What problem?"

He smiles. One of those wicked grins. "Keeping me and my hands off you."

"I hardly see where that's gonna be an issue." I put my hands up his shirt, rub his back.

He moans. Puts his hands on my sides and squeezes with his fingers. "Holy shit. You've got that line." He's tracing down my sides with his thumbs, just along my abs. Hooks them in my underwear band.

"I've always had those lines."

"Not like this, you haven't." He rubs my stomach. "God, you're giving me a boner just looking at you."

I smile. "I guess that's the first thing we'll have to take care of."

# # #

I've never driven in a big city. Rook's probably got more experience than Mattie or me, seeing he grew up in Provo. Salt Lake City is a little bigger than Burlee Montana. Just a little.

Rook volunteered to drive into Denver, seeing as we came in right in the middle of afternoon traffic. Even with his experience driving in a city, it was a white knuckle affair. Probably didn't help that Mattie and I were gawking at everything that passed by the window. "Ooh! Look at that!" -- "Look over there!" -- "Check it out!" -- "Cooool!" All the while, Rook was in the front seat, hissing at us like a snake. "Damn it! Don't do that!" -- "Shit, you two, shushhh!"

His haircut must have been getting to him. While Mattie and I were necking around in the dorm, he went and got his hair buzzed off. Told me that one too many people called him emo for his own comfort. He smiled and said, "Now I look like Trent Reznor!" I don't know why he wants to spend so much of his time tryin' to look like rock stars.

We found the hotel okay. We're staying at a place that looks like a cruise ship or something. Like the entire hotel is leaning, about to fall over. It's across the street from the old Stapleton Airport. Rook told us we were about a block away from a really bad neighborhood. Makes me nervous being down here at all. Last night before we came in, I was being paranoid and checked to make sure the truck was locked five times. But at least we're only about five minutes down the interstate from the Stock Show Complex.

It was funny. We passed a dog food plant over on that side of town, and Rook started dry-heaving. Like he was going to puke because of the smell. Guess me and Mattie were raised around enough stinky things that stuff like that doesn't bother us. I think most of us rodeo kids have walked off an arena floor somewhere caked in mud and guacamole and not even batted an eyelash at it.

"Heeeey IIiiiiiiii, Oooooooooh I'm still alive!" Mattie just belts it out with the radio, like nothin' else in the world bothers him. It's like his voice can go almost anywhere. He's a musical chameleon. I only got this Pearl Jam CD a month ago from Jarrod, but Mattie knows some of the songs inside and out.

Rook was kinda mumbling along with the words, but got quiet when he heard Mattie start singing. There's something about Rook I can just feel. It's like when you put two territorial dogs together in the same room. The tension before one attacks. I don't know why, either. But Mattie doesn't seem to notice. If he does, he's carrying on like it's not bothering him.

Rook bought a western shirt and some boots. Got this belt buckle with a big celtic cross on it. At least he's trying to fit in. No makeup, no bright hair. Right now, he's the man in black, and he's pretty intense looking. Glad he decided to leave the nail polish at home.

We pull off I-70 and take the ramp down toward the National Western Stock Show Complex. Take the first right and go right toward the closest parking lot. There's a man blocking us from getting into the lot. He's standing next to a large board that says Event Parking.

"Shit, anyone got cash?" I look over my shoulder at Mattie.

He shrugs, shakes his head.

"I got it." Rook pulls out his wallet, hands the guy a ten.

We're guided through the parking lot, instructed where to park. I can't believe we just had to drop ten bucks to park.

I grab my duffel off the back seat and we start heading for the front door of the arena area.

"What's that all about?" Mattie nudges me with his elbow. Nods toward the front door.

"Ahh, jeez. These asshats again?"

Mattie blinks at me. "You've seen them before?"

"They were in Nevada last year when I rode in Reno. 'Bout a month before I broke my arm."

One guy's holding a PETA sign, yells at everyone walking by. "Stop supporting the harm of innocent animals! Rodeo is murder!" There's that picket sign again. A picture of Backdraft, bucking, standing on top of a hamburger bun. This ain't your burger. I feel like telling the lot of them to fuck off.

Rooks eye's flicker, like he doesn't know which side of the fence he's on. I don't know what he expected. I find myself wondering why he came at all.

"That the bull Hink was talkin' about back in Shelby?" Mattie points at the sign.

"Backdraft? I'm pretty sure."

Rook looks over. "Backdraft?"

I nod. "A cow with a pretty bad reputation. I'll see if I can find that picture, if you wanna see it. It's pretty cool, in a way. Not for the squeamish."

"Think I could do without." Rook puts his hands in his pockets and stares at the ground when we walk by the protestors. I don't think he's gonna be comfortable the rest of the time he's here.

I guess one of the protestors puts two and two together. This chick with dreadlocks points me out to the man next to her. Dreadlocks make me feel dirty, like there're spiders crawling all over me. Just lookin' at 'em creeps me out. Either she likes my chaps or she's going to say something.

Nope. The guy next to her says something instead. "You like hurting innocent animals? ANIMAL KILLER!"

Now, I'm getting pissed. I look over my shoulder at him, keep walkin' because I don't plan on stopping. If this asshole could have kept his mouth shut, I'd have just gone on my own way. "Oh, go back to your enchanted little forrest and fuck a tree, would you?"

The cop that's keeping the protestors back, he chuckles. Ducks his head like he's trying not to laugh.

"Think you're a big man? How'd you feel if someone made a set of chaps out of you or someone you love? You like skinning live animals?"

"Where the hell do you get your information?"

Mattie starts tugging at my elbow, starts pulling me through the door.

The guy shouts at me. The others join him. "Animal killer! Animal Killer!"

Mattie pulls me through the door before I can say anything else. He smacks my chest. "You're gonna get yourself kicked out. Stop it."

I sigh. "Maybe next time we should go through the back door."

"You know, you were just giving them ammunition. Just hope this doesn't come back to haunt you later. The rodeo association can have you barred for that sort of crap."

Rook shrugs. "Why?"

"They don't want confrontation with these animal rights fruitcakes. It just makes us look worse."

I lead them toward the will call, get their tickets and my badge. We follow the hallway back toward the chutes.

"What are your thoughts on it?"

Mattie looks at Rook. "On what? Rodeo?"

"Yeah, do you think it's a little barbaric?"

He shrugs. "No. It's just what we've always done."

I nudge Rook. "Should we have left you with the group outside." I smile, but he's not liking the joke.

Rook shakes his head. "Honestly, I'm just trying to understand it."

"You know, if we didn't have domesticated animals to pull the first plows, we wouldn't have evolved to the tractors and shit that help produce enough vegetables to help keep asshats like them, and the rest of us, fed."

"That's a pretty high and mighty opinion, don't you think?"

I stop, tilt my head at him. "Rook, it's my opinion. They're entitled to theirs. Live and let live, right? I'm not gonna walk on a knife's edge around them or anyone else because of where I came from. This is what I do, and if they don't like it, tough shit. Do you see me with a picket sign outside of some salad bar in California? Think I'm going to stand there and make someone feel guilty about the veggies they just ate because broccoli has feelings?"

Mattie scoffs. I don't think this is getting off to a good start at all.

Rook glares at him right quick, looks back at me. "All I said was I was trying to understand."

"Look, if you really want to understand it, why not try working on a ranch somewhere? Wake up before the sun. Haul irrigation pipes all day, or take care of animals. Mend broken fence. Help birth a calf or a foal. Clean a horse stall. Get your hands dirty. You'll see how sturdy these animals are."

"You're beginning to sound like an old country song."

We start walking again. I look around. "Shit, I need to get a hotdog."

Rook raises an eyebrow. "Need?"

"You just don't get on the back of a bull without eating one." I walk toward a vendor. Order a quarter-pounder.

"I don't get it."

Mattie grins. Nods toward me. "Superstition. Rodeo boys live by a bible of wive's tales."

I take a big bite. Smile. "Yalp!"

Mattie hands me a napkin. "You got catsup on your face."

"But why is that a superstition?"

I shrug. "Always has been. Same reason I keep this in my back pocket." I pull out the folded five dollar bill from my back pocket, show it to him. Put it back.

"The more I hang out with you people, the more I think you're all fucking crazy." Rook goes to run his hand through his hair, just ends up scratching his head instead.

"None of us here're right in the head. Ain't seen no ivy league scholar riding rodeo animals. Most of us have had our brains rattled around pretty good."

Mattie grins big. "Surprised you have anything left up there."

"Oh, ha ha!"

We walk in and find our seats. Pretty good crowd. They're right in the thick of calf roping. Brynn and Skylar are sitting two chairs away from us. Brynn leans around Skylar. "Hey, stranger!"

"Hey! Where's Brian?"

She leans forward like a pin-up girl, puts her hands in her lap and pouts her lips. "Gettin' me an adult beverage."

I catch eyes with Skylar. He's a little guy, kind of delicate like Mattie, little bit of a different personality. Nice guy. And he's a looker. Even caught Mattie sneaking a look when we came in. "What, nothing for you?"

"Aww, shucks no. I still have to ride yet. I think we have some beer back at the hotel for later." He smiles.

"Sounds like a good time."

A calf darts outta the chute. The rider takes off after it, gets it roped, and has it wrapped up nice as a Christmas present in a matter of seconds.

The calf bleats, and Rook looks horrified. "I can't believe that! Doesn't it hurt the calf?"

Everyone looks at him.

I look around, shush him. "The calf's fine, man. That's just how we do things on a ranch. Matthew used to do that and team roping. Never once hurt a calf."

Rook looks at Mattie, like he's going to cry. "You used to do that?"

He nods like it's nothing.

Skylar just laughs, watches the a few riders herd the calf back to the gate.

I nudge Mattie. "Used to be pretty damn good at it, too."

Mattie puts one of his boots up on the chair in front of him, leans back. "Thought about getting back into it."

I smile. "Really? I miss seeing you ride."

He blushes, pulls the brim of his cowboy hat down a little. I'm glad to see he hasn't outgrown all of his shy. Makes me wonder if they'll talk much when I head down for my ride.

# # #

I'm on the side of the chute, waiting for the rider in the next stall over to get done with his ride. I see Mattie and Rook off in the stands. Mattie smiles when he catches me lookin'. Waves.

Rook looks down, almost looks like he's got doubt written on his face.

I plan on givin' him a good show. Show him what this is really about.

'Lem Taylor mounting up in the Smokeless Tobacco chute. Lem is a freshman at the University of South Dakota. He'll be riding Wild Texas Whorehouse!'

This bull better be ready to rip me a new ass with a name like that. I pull my rope down, get my grip. It's all I can do to keep myself from cracking up. Put my free hand on top of my hat, make sure it's on there good. Snuggle in. Get ready to ride this fine woman.


The gateman yanks the chute open. They start playing Cotton Eye Joe over the sound-system.

The bull takes a good, strong leap out of the chute. He sticks with me; he seems big and a little on the dumb side. But there's a touch of violence I can feel in him. He takes us away from the gate, tries to spin me to the inside.

Hunker down a little, give him some points in the shoulder to really rile him up.

He grunts, takes me half way across the arena and starts in a spin cycle again. He ain't gonna make this easy on me, but at least he's easy to read.

I hear the buzzer. Let go of the rope and make a clean break. Land on my feet and start running toward the side. Damn, that felt good!

I'm on the right side of the arena that I can look up the stands and see Mattie about fifty feet away. He's on his feet, clapping. Rook's looking up at him. Looks like he's trying to figure out if he should stand up and clap or not. Mattie meets my eyes, points at the scoreboard.

I turn around and start back for the gate. Look up at the board. I'm leading the round by six points.

# # #

I've been on the road so much this summer, I've hardly had any time to myself. Maybe too much time to myself. I guess the old Garth Brooks song is right. The highway just keeps getting longer.

I'm following the circuit, just hitting the Texas border from the New Mexico side. Got a ride in San Antonio this weekend and one in Dallas the weekend after. Don't know if I can keep staying in these damn hotels with these truck and school payments. Cutting it close, but the savings account's thinning out. Momma helps where she can.

I run my hand over the steering wheel, feel the texture. Fancy that new car smell. My saved winnings paid for a little more than half of this brand-new Austin Tan Pearl colored Dodge Ram 1500. Okay, so I got the V6, but with gas prices being what they are, I needed something a little more economical. At least it gets better mileage than Jason's old truck. Makes this kind of travel realistic, seeing rodeo's technically my job.

As long as I can keep in the top four of each event and save my money, I can break even each month. It'll be tight. I might be able to get a school loan to help me through, if worse comes to worse.

I'm riding along with some old friends that live on my iPod. Just about every song I've ever owned, every disc I've ever had, has been crammed into this little box the size of my wallet. I just plug it into the truck, throw it into the glove box, and I have my tunes. Hurts my brain to think how something this small can hold several weeks worth of music. But I can start it up and sing as loud as I want to. Might just scare a few of these tarantulas off the side of the road with my singing.

I'll be connecting with Brian and Skyler in Dallas. We'll be hitting a few events on our way back up to South Dakota. I don't know why I can't get Skyler out of my head sometimes. How he even gets in there in the first place.

Desert everywhere. Hills off in the distance dotted with ponderosa pines. Shrubs here and there. The thermomiter says it's a hundred and four degrees outside. I guess it's nice having a truck with working air conditioning. This would suck in Jason's truck.

My mind wanders. Shadow. I have to adjust myself just thinking of Spring Break. I've hardly talked to him the last three or four months. I called him from Albuquerque to say hi. I was feeling lonely, and I needed to hear a familiar voice. He sounded sad, or distracted. We only talked for ten minutes.

We were supposed to meet up in Burlee for a week. Hang out over the festival and have some fun of our own. He called a week before and said he wasn't going to be able to make it. Said he was sorry and pretty much hung up on me. I called him back, asked him if it was me, or me being friends with Rook. He told me it wasn't either. A little indignant, really. We got into a little spat over it, then he sounded really depressed. I asked him if he needed help, or if he was thinking about hurting himself. He told me to fuck off, sighed, then said, "you're too good for me." Then there was a long pause. "Why are you so good to me?" He just up and hung up.

I can't read the boy, no matter how hard I try.

# # #

Finally starting to get settled down a little bit. Spent the last two weeks in my new apartment. Waiting for my new roommate, but at least Dane's out of the picture, and now I can have guests over if I want to.

Momma came down a week ago and helped me move across the campus. We went to thrift store and got some furniture that wasn't in horrible shape. At least there's some place to sit.

Rook and I went to a movie, now we're walking back to his place to hang out for a little bit. Brian and Brynn should be back in a few days. It'll be nice to have some like-minded people around again. Not that Rook's a bad person, we're just two totally different people.

Rook and I sit on his couch. Seems his roommate isn't back yet, either. He leans back against one of the pillows, crosses one of leg over the other. "I wish you'd let me paint you."

"I told you I'm not worth painting." I lean my head back, bump the wall. I rub the back of my head.

"I think you are."

"Yeah? What makes me worth painting?"

He sits up. "Because you are."

"But why?"

"Interesting angles. Nice color. Your eyes are striking. Their shape and color. You're a walking juxtaposition... And sexy."

I feel my cheeks burn and tingle.

Rook's leaning toward me a little more. Little by little, he gets closer. Closer. Closer.

I jump a little when he puts his hand on my face. My insides are spinning right now. That dangerous feeling. For the life of me, I can't figure why this always feels so damn right.

Rook isn't the most gentle person in the world. Reminds me a lot of someone else I knew. I don't know how far he's going here. What does he want with me? God, I'm lost. Again.

He ends up on top of me, feels my sides. Kisses me.

I should have seen this coming.

He lifts his head a little. Looks into my eyes. Whispers. "Are you okay with this?"

Mattie flashes through my head. Everything we've done, everywhere we've been. But we had an agreement before we left for school, and he's been weird lately. We aren't official anymore. Hell, were we ever? I think my pecker gets the better of me. "Yeah."

He kisses me again. Presses his face against mine, forces his tongue in my mouth. He's a little aggressive, but I don't think I'm in a position to object. I think back to him naked, feel the air almost lift outta me. Just the thrill of where this might go. This new experience. We slide off the couch, onto the floor.

I hook a leg around him, grind my hips up. He counters with a move of his own. I put my lips on his neck, suck to leave a hickey. Leave a little evidence that I was here, even if for a while.

His hug is tight, a squeeze that might just damn well bruise my insides. "Play nice or you might just end up with a collar around your neck."

I half-way laugh when I say it. "A collar?"

"If you're going to try and get all kinky on me, I might just return the favor."

"You're not gonna tie me to the bed, are you?"

He gets up on his elbows. Wiggles his eyebrows. "Want me to?"

"Some other time." I say it with the same amount of sarcasm. I'm not sure if I trust him enough, yet.

He takes off his shirt. Rolls over and pulls me on top of him. Works my shirt off. "There's something about you."

"Fuck, I ain't nothing special." I fidget with the button on his pants.

"You stand up for who you are and where you came from. What's not special about that?"

I shrug, pull the button apart. "I'ono. Everything?"

He's not wearing any underwear. His dick's right there, waiting for attention. Truth told, he's not all that big. Not tiny, or anything, a bit smaller than Jeff. It could still be fun.

I move off him, pat the couch. When he stands up, I pull his pants down to his ankles.

He steps out of them and sits down on the couch.

I rub him a little. His dick is a bit slick already, I'm guessing it's from the foreskin. I wrap my fingers around him, look it over a little. I'm not really sure what to do with it. There's that musk again, different this time. His dick's got a different fragrance to it. Strange, new. A little dirty. A little daring. I squeeze it a few times.

"You don't have to do this."

Something inside pushes me. Curiosity. Pure nerve. I just lean forward and go down, take it all in. It's strange at first, all this extra skin. I run tongue around the skin, where it's hanging against the head. Slip it in, inspect it. I can't describe the taste, it's just enough that it's driving me up the wall. My cock's so hard right now it hurts.

He moans. "Oh, fuck yeah."

I stand up in front of him, let him pull my pants off.

He leans forward and starts sucking me off. Pulls me onto the couch beside him and licks me up and down a few times. I put my hand on the back of his head when he goes down on me again. Comes up so he's kissing me.

I whisper in his ear. "Fuck me."

He lifts my left leg over his shoulder, doesn't even stop making out with me. Has his arm wrapped around my leg, my cock in his hand. "You have rubbers?"

"Huh? Not like I'm gonna get pregnant."

He shoots me a dirty look. "Come on, you know better than that."

"I don't got anything."

"Lem! How do you know I don't have something? Don't you think that's a little irresponsible?"

I sit up, lean back against the couch. "Oh, God. You're not sick, are you?"

"I'm pretty sure I'm fine, but you don't go around fucking people without protection."

"I trust-"

"You're wrapped up in the moment. You don't put that much faith in anyone. Do you know who I've been with? What if I was one of those sick people who go around trying to get people infected with HIV? You know there are people like that out there?"

"No... But I-"

"You have a lot of faith. Who's Mattie been with? You know?"

"Just me."

"You sure? What about Jeff? It's not a risk I'd be willing to take, personally."

"I... Goddamn it." I didn't want to be lectured. Not here. Not now. Now, there's something eating at the back of my head. If Jeff did have something, I could have fucked things up for Mattie. What if that's why he's been so mad at me?

He leans in close to my face, puts his hand on my cheek. "I didn't say we couldn't fuck. Let me see if Kevin's got some in his desk or something."

"I'm sorry."

He grins. Looks from one of my eyes to the other. "For what?"

"I fucked things up. I know I did."

"Of course you didn't."

"What if I got something from Jeff? And... fuck, Mattie!"

He gets to his feet. "I can't guarantee it, but I'm willing to bet your clean."

"God, what if I'm not?"

"Then you'll have to learn to live with it. It's not the end of the world."

"How can you say that?"

He walks out of the room. Talks to me while he shuffles through drawers. "Because it's not. You're a small town kid, you fooled around. It's not like AIDs is running rampant on the prairies of Montana. Almost everything else is either a pain in the ass, an inconvenience, or can be cured by penicillin or a special shampoo. Not that you shouldn't take them all seriously."

"Have you done it without condoms before?"

"Only with one person. But we dated for six months, first, then got tested together. There has to be a lot of trust in a relationship before you can do that."

I'm scared shitless right now. Feel like shit. Maybe he scared some sense into me, iff'n it's not too late.

He comes out of the hallway. Got a bottle of lube in one hand. Holds up a shiny little package. "Found 'em!" He looks down at me like he's reading my face. Sits down next to me. "Like I said, we don't have to do this if you don't want to. If it'd make you feel better, I'll take you over to Planned Parenthood-"

"No. Just... we'll talk about this later." I look at him. "I always finish what I start."

"You sure?"

I nod. "Yeah."

"Maybe we should start over. Take it slow."

"No." I think a minute. I need to be reminded of something. I don't know why it's so important right now, but I need this one thing. Right now. "What happens if you tie me to the bed?"

His eyes get big. "What? Seriously?"

"What happens?"

He shrugs. "What do you mean? I tie you to the bed and we fuck. I don't have a headboard, though."

"Here's the deal, you can paint me if you do this one thing for me."

"I'm listening."

"No whips or chains or collars or any of that shit. We go over to my apartment and you take me. Just use me all night. Tell me what to do. Force me to do it. Hell, tie me down if you want, just use me over and over. Eat me, finger me, fuck me. All night. Got it?" I look at him, cautiously. "And you don't tell anybody about this." I know I'm only gonna feel guilt all night. Don't know why I want to relive this. Why do I feel like it's all I deserve? Being used like a fucking whore.

"Fucking hot! Get dressed, I got to get a few things."

Glad someone thinks so.


Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!