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Watch the solid line, Lem. Keep 'er between the lines... "Uhhhh... God!" Next time Skyler uses his teeth like that, I might just up and drive this bitch right off the road and straight into the ditch. If she wasn't on cruise right now, I'd be going damn near a hundred miles an hour. Got my free foot against the floorboard hard enough, I'm probably gonna put my foot right through it.
There's a semi-truck behind me about a quarter of a mile. I hope to God he don't catch up and pass us. Other than that the road's clear except for the cars on the other side of the interstate.
"Nnnnnng, sweet fuckin' Jesus!" I gasp. Close my eyes tight for a second. Squeeze the steering wheel until my knuckles are ghost white.
Skyler starts moving his head up and down quicker. Gets a finger in my ass, too.
"Shit!" I swerve a little. Get her lined up again. My heart's pounding a pretty good clip. Please, God, don't let there be any Highway Patrolmen around anywhere!
He knows right where I like it. Hell, I know this isn't safe. He pushes his finger up just right, takes a long, strong suck up. Goes back down.
I moan again. "Sky-- I'm 'bout ta..." Too late. "Ahh! Ahhh! Jeeeeeezusssssss!" The truck swerves again. Someone on the other side of the interstate honks. I unload, and this time, he swallows the whole batch. Slump my shoulders a little, feel like the energy's been drained right out of me.
Skyler sits up and wipes off his lips with the back of his hand. Buckles his seatbelt and smiles at me. He smacks his lips a little and picks a hair out of his teeth. "Got some gum or somethin'?"
"Huhh- fucker." I sigh. Pull my shorts up right. Fix myself. "Some in the console, there."
He pops it open and roots through it. Fishes himself outd a stick of spearmint chewin' gum. "You 'bout gettin' hungry, yet?"
"You're hungry after all that? Surprised I didn't drown you or somethin'."
"Almost did." He laughs. "You're probably gonna have to take care of me, later."
I give him a dirty look. "Oh, you're gonna get it."
He shrugs. "First time for everything."
I blink at him. "Well, we're almost eighty miles outside of Tulsa. Can you wait that long?"
"To eat? Yeah." He looks over at me. "Think the hotel has a hot tub?"
I shrug. "Maybe. I didn't really look. I was in a hurry." I look off out the window. Watch the scenery go by. I don't think I could live in a place like this. There ain't nothing to look at. Few trees here and there. If my understanding of physics is right, then time slows down when you're driving through Oklahoma and Nebraska.
Skyler got his riding permit so he could ride over the summer. We're hitting the same rodeos. He's paying half the gas, half the boarding fees. On his own for everything else, but it's nice having the company. He drives when I get tired, stays awake with me when I'm driving. He's not scoring too badly. I'd be willing to bet he's gonna be hot shit on the circuit when he gets done with school. He's really cool, too. It might be cooler if this little sex thing weren't hanging over our heads.
"So flat out here."
"Yeah. Almost nodded off a while back." He smiles at me. "Had to do something to keep us both awake."
"I guess so." I change the station on the radio. The last one's starting to fade out. "Skyler?"
"You suppose a set of guys, maybe like you n' me, could ever live like a man and woman? Sorta live like they was married?"
"Like a set of lovebirds, right? Queer penguins?"
"I don't think it's natural. It's not my thing."
"So, you don't think you could be boyfriends with another guy? Even if it was secret?"
"Hell no, dude. That's askin' for problems."
"Not to be too particular, but where does that leave you and me?"
"We're just havin' a little fun, that's all."
It's not what I really wanted to hear. I could see spending my life with a guy like him, and all he wants to do is get his rocks off. For some reason, it makes me feel a little selfish. I just go along with it. I can't help myself, and it's Skyler's startin' to feel a little like an addiction.
# # #
It's nice to just sit and watch a show once in a while. Skyler and I have been following around the Enterprise tour for the summer. They scheduled a Copenhagen Bull Riding Challenger tour and a Ford Tough series the same weekend for some big event or another, so it's nothing but bull-riders romping around. We rode yesterday. Today it's all about the guys on the top.
We've been sitting up here in the stands talkin' back and forth about the show, like old friends at a football game. He's got himself a cold beer in his hand, talking 'bout a mile a minute. Last rider almost got trampled by the rank.
I think there's a party somewhere, tonight. If it's at a bar, then I'm outta luck. Two more fuckin' months. They're playing Sugarland on the sound system. It's that song I can't stand, the one Chase took a liking to.
'We're gonna take a breather while we get the next set of bulls lined up in the chutes.'
A woman rides through the arena with a flag that's got the Chevy bow-tie on it. Don't see too many of them anymore, since Dodge's been the big thing in rodeo since long before I was born.
I lean over to Skyler. "You hear anything about a party tonight?"
"I think they said it's at a bar somewhere."
"Awww, shit. Figures."
"Maybe you could sneak in or something."
"I don't wanna get myself arrested. Last thing I want right now. Who the hell'd bail me out? Momma was plenty pissed at me."
"She come around, yet?"
"A little. She made me promise I was going back after a year. She said the rodeo could wait."
"She's kinda got a point." He shrugs. "Least you can establish yourself. Be this big 'ol mystery or something. I don't think people'll forget you. I can see it now, the return of the man in black!"
"Bad enough people call me that."
"What's wrong with it?"
"I'ono. It's kinda Johnny Cash's thing, not mine."
"Dude, people here get nick names all the time. I could think of worse names." He takes a sip off his bottle. "And as far as names go, it's pretty bad ass."
'Coming up in chute two is Hinkley Miller outta Shelby, Montana. He's riding one of the most notorious bulls in the sport, Dick Kelley's Backdraft!'
Me and Skyler lean forward in our seats at the same time. Like someone pushed us forward.
"Ho-leeee shit!" Skyler wipes the corners of his mouth with his thumb and pointer fingers. Starts bobbing his leg good.
He's got me doin' it too. It's contagious. Used to happen to me all the time when Mattie's leg'd start goin' good. "Hink's gotta be out of his fuckin' mind!"
Skyler smiles. "Look at him! He's wearing a hockey helmet!"
"Seeing what that thing's done to people, I can't say I blame him."
Hink's getting all settled in.
'Just a reminder, this rank has never been covered for all eight seconds. Let's give Hinkley a hand for good luck!'
The rodeo clown's walking around with a kevlar bullet-proof vest. Says POLICE on the back of it.
'Jimbo, what're you doin' out there? -- I'm bulletproof! -- You're bulletproof? -- Yeah. Fire's not covered by my HMO. -- Okay, we're waiting for the pull at chute two.'
The audience almost goes totally quiet just before the pull. The gate swings open. Hink's got this look on his face as they both fly outta the gate, almost like he's wondering what the hell he just got himself into. The bull starts spinning to the inside. Hink tries to lean the other way so he doesn't want to fall into the well.
'He's on there pretty good! Is he gonna make the buzzer?'
Hink's coming loose. His free hand comes down and grabs the rope. Backdraft straightens out and Hink bails toward the gate. Hits the ground running and gets up and over the gate faster than a criminal running from the cops. Backdraft rams the gate just as Hink gets over. Knocks him clean off the fence on the other side. The bull makes a full run around the arena, like he's showing everyone who's the boss. We're sitting close enough to the arena that we can hear it when he throws his head back and snorts.
"Two more seconds and he'd have him. Shitty."
I look over at Skyler. "You got your participant pass on you?"
"I brought it in case." He pulls a laminated card out of his pocket. The lanyard falls out and dangles like a string of black spaghetti. "Don't know if we'll be able to get down there, though."
"Security don't pay much attention."
"Why you wanna get into the pit?"
"I wanna talk to Hink."
"Didn't you meet him once?"
"Dude, I have his fuckin' cell phone number."
"Yeah. Let's go."
We walk up the steps and around the complex toward the participant hall. We go down a set of steps, get stopped by this big guy. "Passes, gentlemen?"
I hold up mine, look over my shoulder at Skyler. He holds his up with this shaggy grin.
"Those're from yesterday. I can't really let you back there."
I spot Hink walking up the hall toward us. Looks a little pale. And a little pissed. "Actually, that's the man I needed to talk to."
The guard looks over his shoulder at Hink.
Hink looks up and locks eyes with me. Nods.
"This guy said he was lookin' for you, Mister Miller. You know 'em?"
"Yeah. He's cool." He reaches out and shakes my hand.
"Good to see ya, Hink!"
He nods sideways. "Come on back."
We walk along with him.
"Dude, what was it like?" They say riding Backdraft's like living through an execution. That's everyone's first question for a rider. It's not gonna be the last time someone asks him about it, either.
Hink scratches his head. "I really don't know. Strange. Felt like he was trying to rattle my brain out through my ears. You know, you get those feelings from bulls sometimes, like, when you know you're going to have a good ride. It felt evil. It just felt scary, like seeing a ghost or something. He's a demon, kid. Pure evil."
"Yeah, seriously. I don't want to ride him again. He took part of my soul with him. Just ripped it out, like it was my fee for riding him or something. My one chance at him and I messed it up."
"Hey, at least you didn't get hurt. That's gotta count for something."
Hink puts his hands in his pockets and slouches a little. "Just another notch on his bedpost, I guess. I shoulda' kept my damn hand up. It was three more seconds. I could have done it."
"Hink, he was trying to get you in the well. At least you rode him and escaped with your face intact."
He giggles. "Well, Tyler didn't think I was gonna come out of it too well."
"Where's Tyler hiding?"
"He ran outside for a smoke. He'll be back soon enough." He throws his head back a little. "Oh, I ran into your redhead friend in Phoenix. Mark?"
"Yeah. Said he wanted to catch the show. Came down to say hi. Nice kid."
"I haven't heard from him in months."
"Yeah, he didn't say much. He did ask if I'd run into you." He sits down on a bench. Runs his hands down his face and sighs. Looks up at me. "Lot of people taking an interest to you, kiddo."
"Me? Why's that?" I look at Skyler, who just shrugs.
"Just how well you been doing on the circuit. You made that twenty-five-hundred pretty darn quick." He chuckles. "At least you've made enough to keep your permit for another year or two. There were some people here yesterday from the Ford league watchin' you guys." He pauses. "They've been sayin' you look more pro than a lot of us."
He laughs. "I think you're gonna turn this thing up-side-down."
"Awww, bullshit. I ain't so special. Just like riding bulls." I try not to smile, but it's hard getting a compliment like that from a pro rider."
Skyler slaps me on the back. "Oh, just take the damned compliment."
I shrug. "I really don't know what to say, Hink. Thanks."
# # #
Sky and I make it back to the room drunker than a pair of skunks. Hink dropped us off, seeing as he don't drink, but Tyler got us into a nice little drinkin' competition. They got me into the bar easy enough. Just sat me down at a booth in the back and made sure the orders were done elsewhere. Nobody even asked. Some of those pros are pretty wild.
We stumble through the door. Skyler's got his arm around my shoulder as I unlock the door. Didn't realize he was leaning against it when I pushed it open. Pulls us both through. He stumbles around a little, falls onto the bed.
"God, m... man. Didn't I tell yeh that weih-ress had some really..." he burps, "some tits. Nice, just... tits. Did I tell you that?"
"About ten damn times already." I sit on the bed next to him. Fall back. "Shit. World's gone all spinny." The ceiling's going in circles. Just spinning outta control. Try to focus on the light, but it feels funny. It's not moving, everything else is. My crotch feels wet. Fuck, did I just piss myself? I lift my head and look down my body.
Skyler's goin' to town on my cock. Tricky little shit, I didn't even feel him get down my pants. Just slobberin' all over my dick.
"I'm gonna make you take every inch of that fucker."
Skyler stops, stands up. Walks over to my duffel and pulls the lube outta the end pocket. Takes his pants off quick as that. Kneels across my chest, thrusts his pecker in my face.
I suck him for a little. Move to his nuts, then do what I've been waiting to do for a while now. Get my face in his ass and just let him have it.
I don't know if he likes it. I can feel the hole squeeze around my tongue. I pull him forward a little, knock his knees out away from me with my elbows so he's riding my face. Eat him the best I can. At least he's clean. Took a good shower before we left for the bar.
He's moaning loud. Starts jerkin' himself pretty quick.
I know how quick he'll shoot, so I grab his wrists and pin them both against his thighs.
He gets off his knees so he's squatting down. Pulls on the back of my head and moves his hips like he's fucking the air. He's really fuckin' getting off on this. "Fuck!" He's all breathy. "I didn't know this could feel so good."
I slobber on a finger and stick it up his ass. What can I say? I'm feeling sassy.
He jumps back a bit, like it scared him.
"How'd that feel?"
"Fuckin'... weird." He stares at my face, blinks a few times. I can hear the cogs turning. "Do it again. Go slow."
I take the bottle of lube outta his hand, pop the lid. I get my first two fingers slick, start rubbing his hole. He scrunches his face, like he's scared. Stick the finger back in. A little bit at first, back out, then a little further. "How's that?"
He nods. Whispers. "Feels kinda good."
I get it all the way in. Pull it in and out a few times. I can tell this boy hasn't been fucked. His knot's tight, and I get the feeling I'm gonna open him up good.
He moans a little.
"Wanna feel something really good?" I push my finger into the button, just rub it up and down. I feel his legs shaking around my body.
He starts breathing really hard. "God, how'd you do that?"
I let out and push into it again.
I feel him quiver all over. Kiss his belly, lick his belly button. Finger-bang him. Got the other finger in there. Warm, wet hole. I want in. "You wanna take me?"
"Yeah," he squeaks.
"Get on your back."
He moves to his side, lies down next to me as I go to get up.
"Let me find the condoms."
He grabs my wrist. Shakes his head. "Just, do it now or I'm going to lose courage."
"Let's get this over with." He's got his knees up, feet spread apart a little.
I kneel between his legs and grease up good. "God, you're so fuckin' romantic." I wet his hole a little more. Pull his ankles next to my ears. "I'm gonna go slow. Just relax. If you hurt, tell me to stop and we'll wait a little and go a little further."
He's got his hands on his ass, pulls his cheeks apart. Smiles. "You're makin' me feel like a real girl!"
I rub my head against his notch. "You might not go back to girls after I make a man outta you."
He scrunches his face again. Looks like he's in pain, but I haven't even stuck it in.
I get my head in a little ways, but he's squeezing everything shut. "Dude, relax." I get in a little further before he hisses.
"Stop! It hurts. It hurts! Pull out!"
I stay where I am. "Just let it adjust. Fuckin' relax it. Like you're takin' a shit or somethin'." I feel it slip in a little more.
"It kinda stings, like it hurts but it doesn't." He's still got that look on his face.
I stop again, feel it grabbing and throbbing. Push a little further until he flinches.
"I don't know if I like this."
"It hurts a little the first time."
"I'm too small."
"You're doing fine. Just let it get used to me."
He bites his bottom lip. Turns red. Feels like he's pushing against me, which makes it slide in a little more. He feels so good, I don't know if I'm gonna have to fuck him much before I just fire off in him. Few more minutes of this grabbing and I'm done for.
I'm up to the wall. I stop, let him get used to it.
After a few minutes, he opens his eyes with a more normal look on his face. "Why'd you stop?"
"That's all of me." I push my hips up against him a little more.
Guess there was a little more of me to go in. He flinches again.
I stop, let the hole adjust.
He grabs the back of my head right quick, pulls me down to his face and mashes our lips together. I know where he is, where his mind is right now. He's at the will of someone else. Like he belongs to someone else right then. It's like you're really free, but on a leash. Your first time with a dick in you is unlike anything you've ever felt. You're dominated, but you still feel loved.
At least that's how it was with Jeff.
His tongue's in my mouth. I know he doesn't like kissing, but he does it like I'm his first true love. It's a feeling of power, entitlement. Like a dog submitting to the alpha. It's strange feeling for me, because Mattie didn't feel like this. Mattie and I were already lovers. I knew I had his heart even before we fucked. It feels like Skyler's proving himself. I can't describe it.
I pull out a little and push back in slowly.
He almost screams.
He nods. "Yeah."
"That a good yell or a bad yell?"
"Both." He squeezes his eyes shut harder, hugs my head tight. Buries his face into my neck. He's always been such a strong guy, I've never seen him look this weak.
I thrust again. He seems to take this one fine. I do it again. I feel him bite my neck a little.
So fuckin' tight.
This ain't gonna take me long, slow or fast. "You just tell me what you want me to do."
He kisses me again. "I don't know what I want." His legs push down on my shoulders. Kisses me more.
I start thrusting again. Slow, constant. I think he's kissing me to take his mind off it. Like he's playing uncle, when someone gives you an indian rug-burn on your arm and you have no choice. Go a little quicker.
He's as relaxed as he's gonna get. Still feel him flexing things. His hips are starting to move with me, like he's starting to like it.
I start going a little faster.
He's a screamer. Grabs up a bunch of skin on my back, moans loud enough to shake the walls every time I get down to the hilt. Moans, moans, and moans.
I'm close, but I can still toy with him for a while. I grab his dick. I can feel every vein in it. He's as hard as a person can be. Start jerkin' him off. Get in close to his ear and whisper, "I'm gonna cum. You almost ready?"
"Want me to cum in you?"
He nods. He's sweating, eyes wet. "...uh... y.. yeah."
"Do it. Come on!" I pump faster. "Fuckin' do ittt!" I sound like a roaring lion. My nuts are tingling. Feel my hole clench and squeeze. Pull inward. "Ngg!"
He cries out. The veins in his neck pop out. Grits his teeth. Clinches his jaw. I feel his anus start throbbing long before he starts throwing batter. "NNNGGHHAAA!"
I feel mine give under the pressure. Throb, throb, throb, throb, throb... There's more of me in him than I could account for. The thought scares me a little. I see Rook's face in my mind, for some reason. It goes back to the lecture, when he first fucked me. About the condoms. I got Skyler wrapped around me, nothing between us.
# # #
I try to open my eyes. Just hurts so damned bad. Don't know why I drank so much last night. My head's screaming, got this sick feeling in the back of my throat. I just know I'm going to have to head to the bathroom and get it all outta me. Let my vision focus on the white haze that is the ceiling, look at the popcorn spackling.
Skyler's got his arm laying across my chest, laying on his belly with his face toward me. His breath smells sour, like sickness. Can't imagine mine's much better right now. He's really, really warm. Almost hot, but not sweaty. Didn't even sleep in his own bed last night. He moans like a frog, scowls. "Fuuuuuuuck." He opens his eyes, looks at me.
"How you feel?"
He sits up. Hunches over and holds his head. "This suuuucks." He sighs. Looks over his shoulder, squints at me. "My ass hurts, too." He holds his head again. "I feel empty."
I try to giggle. "Well, you asked for it."
"Well, I wish I didn't, if I really did at all."
"You looked like you were enjoyin' yourself."
"Bullshit I was! You know how vulnerable you made me feel? You were fuckin' in me. It's fuckin' werid, man." He stands up and takes a few steps forward. Stops and groans. "Ugh, shit."
"You don't have to fuckin' yell at me. You said all you wanted was fun."
"Yeah, well, it's not fun anymore." He makes a gurgling noise, like he's about to upchuck. He runs to the bathroom and slams the door.
I hear it hit the water. Turns my stomach. I leap across the room and grab the ice bucket. Hurl. I ain't doin' this again, getting all shitty like that. Don't feel good.
The toilet flushes, sink runs for a little. Skyler walks out and sits on the unmade bed.
I walk into the bathroom and dump the bucket in the toilet, throw it in the bathtub so I can wash it later. I rinse my mouth out and go back to the room. Sit across from Skyler.
He's just staring at the carpet.
"I feel gross."
"Don't feel too good myself. Guess drinkin'll do that to a person."
He drops his arms, rests the back of his hands on his lap. "You were inside me. That's why I feel gross. You fucked me."
I try to yell over him. "You didn't exactly say no, now did'ya?"
"What's so great fuckin' great about it?" He stands up, paces around the room. "It's just gross. How can you stand it?"
I stand up and cross my arms. "I don't know. It just feels right to me."
Looks over his shoulder. Nods sarcastically. "Yeah, feels right my ass."
"That's the fuckin' idea, isn't it?"
"Did you even stop to think to use a condom?"
"Did I-" I look off to the side, laugh a little. "Oh, did I? You told me to just do it. You told me to stick it in before you lost the balls to take it."
"Okay, so what if you gave me something? Huh? I have a kid to think about."
"I don't think that's fair, Skyler! What, you wanna make it even? Here!" I pull down my underwear, turn around and bend over. Pull my cheeks apart. "Help yourself! Why don't you just stick it on in!" I stand back up, get my underwear back on and turn around. "Don't you even try to pin this shit on me."
"You're sick. People like you are sick."
"Well, here you are acting just like me. If I recall it right, you were the one that came over and asked to suck my cock. Now you're beginning to sound like every other small-minded douche out there."
"I could fuckin' ruin you."
"Don't you threaten me. This is a two-way road, pal, and we're not the only ones on it."
He walks up to me, jams a finger into my chest. "You were the one hangin' your life out in front of everyone like that. You made it all come back. I was fine until you had to say SHIT to Brian. Think it's easy to control my actions?"
"I'm warnin' you, man, don't you back me into a corner."
He blinks at me, frowns. "And Rook? What a fuckin' joke!"
"You might have a kid, but since we started fuckin' around, it seems to me like you were just thinkin' about yourself." Now I'm playin' dirty. "No wonder your ex don't want you havin' anything to do with him."
He decks me in the eye socket, knocks me back against the wall.
I come back out swinging. Get him one in the face and wrap my arms around his torso and tackle him against the wall. Wail a good one in his side.
He pushes me back.
I land on the bed and fall over.
"You deserved it when Taylor keyed your truck!"
"Do you think I asked to be like this? Do you think it's easy? It hurts when people do shit like that." I sigh. "Pull your head outta your ass and open your fuckin' eyes, man!"
He crosses his arms. "I was the one that fuckin' told him."
"What the hell you mean you told him?"
"Well, maybe it was kind of an accident." He sounds sarcastic. I don't like sarcastic.
I spring up and tackle him. Knock him to the ground. We're wrestling around, getting in punches where we can. Wound tighter than a trip-wire itchin' to go off and blow up. I want to hurt him, but I don't. He's been a good friend 'till now. Don't even know why I'm sticking up for Rook after what he did.
# # #
Skyler and I are sitting at the counter at some truck-stop diner. We just got checked out of the hotel, drove over here to fill up, decided I should get something to eat to help get rid of this hangover. I didn't even ask him if he wanted to come in. He just came in and sat down next to me.
I had to pay the hotel for a new fuckin' lamp, to replace one we broke. A hundred and fifty fuckin' dollars. Whoever sells the hotel their lamps is ripping them off.
We sit there quietly, wait for the waitress to come over and refill our coffee. I got eggs and bacon on the way. Just sounded really good, for some reason. Craving it.
Another waitress walks over and stops in front of us. Starts pouring into my cup, stares at me. "What in the world happened to your face, honey? Your eye's all swollen."
"I got battered by a buckin' bull."
She moves over to Skyler's cup without even looking over. Starts pouring. She glances over to Skyler. "Same rodeo?"
I got a few hits in on his face.
He sips his coffee, nods. "Same bull."
"Just let me know if I can get you boys something." She grits her teeth and sucks in a breath, like she knows how much it hurts. "You need a bag of ice or something?"
I just shake my head. "Thanks, but no."
She walks off.
We sit here for the rest of our meal in total quiet. Not even a word.
# # #
We're a hundred and some miles outta Tulsa, heading for a fair in Nebraska. We've just been sitting here, staring out at the road. No noise in the cabin except the air rushing by the car. Don't even got the radio on.
Once in a while I can hear him breathe. See him chewing on his bottom lip out of the side of my vision.
I want to reach over and turn on the stereo, but I don't wanna move. I want him to know I'm mad at him, and if it's bothering him- he knows better'n to touch my damned radio.
I grab my coffee mug, take a sip. It's still steaming from the last time I filled it. Put it back. Drive twenty more miles down the road.
"Sorry I hit you."
I sit here. Still mad. Just gonna let it slide.
# # #
Lincoln was Skyler's last show before he had to go back to South Dakota for school. We patched things up pretty rough before I dropped him off the airport this morning. I stopped at a Flying-J for a burger on my way outta town. I'm sitting here, just kinda staring out the window. Watching the cars on the interstate go by.
So many things going through my head. Eye's still black and blue, not that I didn't leave Skyler without a souvenir of my own. Maybe when he gets back out on the circuit he'll have calmed down a little. I just couldn't level with him at all. The last few nights were awkward.
I get out my wallet and pull out an old picture of Mattie. He gave me one of his senior pictures from Billings. I miss those amber eyes. Those lips. Just being with him. I feel more homesick right now than I did when I got to College.
I get out my phone. Run my finger over the numbers. Feel the way they stick out. He won't fuckin' answer, anyway.
I put my phone on the table. Stare between that and the picture in my fingers. I feel numb.
"Can I take that outta your way?"
I look up at the waitress. Look down at my plate. "Uh, yeah." Stare at the table.
"Can I get you some dessert? A slice of pie?"
"Uh, blueberry with chocolate ice-cream."
"I'll be back with some more coffee." She smiles and walks off.
I stare it at the phone. Yank it off the table and dial.
I hear crunching. "'Allo?"
I take a guess. "Enjoying that pickle?"
"Hnnn?" More crunching. "How'd you know?"
"If it's crunchy, chances are it's a pickle. Always been that way with you."
"Came with the sammitch." Sounds like he's smiling. "Spicy Pickle."
I grin, talk low. "I might just eat your spicy pickle."
The crunching stops. Starts again. "Goofball." He giggles.
I feel myself starting to let go a little. "It's good to hear your voice."
"Everything's been weird lately."
"I miss you. You disappeared on me."
"I've been really busy. I'm... sorry. Where're you at?"
"Sittin' here by myself."
"You could always come to Arizona and see me."
"Got a few more shows to do over the next four or so weeks. Gonna be on the road a lot."
"It's almost September. What about school?"
I kinda chuckle. "I'm not going back to school."
"What? Why not?"
"I'm riding one of the pro bull circuits."
"Lem Taylor, you goddamned..." Sounds like he drops the phone away and mumbles something.
Sounds a little short. "Nothin'."
"What is it?"
"Nothin', really. You've just become this... fff... hypocrite, that's all."
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
He sighs. "Never mind. I don't wanna get into it with you."
"It's your dream. You're stubborn enough you always get what you want."
But I don't have you. "Well, you've been on my mind a lot lately."
"Yeah. I was thinking about you the other day."
"Why didn't you call me?"
"I was at work. It was a song, actually."
"What was?" I scratch my arm. Push a few grains of salt across the table with a stale fry.
"That reminded me of you. Well, how things could be if the world were perfect."
"What song was it?"
"Heh. It did."
"It did, by Brad Paisley."
I think about the song. "Why did that remind you of me?"
"I was having a shitty week. I don't know. All I wanted right then was you. To go home. Sleep in my own bed."
There's a long pause. It's kinda like we're sitting next to each other, even though we're hundreds of miles apart. "I got to get to work. I think I'm gonna be late."
"Don't be. I'll try to call you on my break." Knowing his work ethic, he'll work right through his break without even thinkin' about it.
"Talk to you later."
The line clicks as he hangs up.
I sound like I'm choking up. "I love you."
# # #
"You got hutzpah, kid."
I lift my duffel bag to my shoulder and stand up. Look over my shoulder. "Hutzpah?"
There's a guy standing there. Looks like he could be in his forties. Curly dark hair that's graying a little past his temples. Dressed in Wranglers and a plaid western shirt. Could be anyone from the stands. Someone's dad, even. His eyes are dull, kind of a faded denim color. Blue-gray. There's something about his gaze that just grabs you. "Nerve. Freshness. My zaide used to say it a lot. My grandpa."
"I caught your ride in Tulsa a few weeks back. How long you been doing rodeo?"
I kick my boot, scratch the dirt. "Since I was 'bout four and a half."
"So, what, about twenty years?"
I laugh. "I turned twenty-one a bit over a month ago."
"I talked to your friend. Wanted to meet you myself." He smiles.
"Oh. So, you follow rodeos around as a contractor? Promoter?"
He laughs. "Maybe I should introduce myself. Troy Levinson. I'm with the committee."
"Lem Taylor." I take his hand. Give it a good squeeze with the shake. Dad always said your first impression is left with your handshake. "There're lots of committees, Mister Levinson." I smile. "Any one in particular?"
He laughs. "Pro bull."
God, I'm so dense sometimes. I nod, chuckle at my stupidity. "Oh, okay. It's nice to meet you, sir."
"Call me Troy. No need to be all formal."
"Suppose so. What brings you down to the pit?" I start walking along, he stays in step next to me.
"Well, if it's not too much trouble, I'd like to buy you a drink. Talk shop."
"I'm afraid I don't drink much." Especially after Tulsa.
"Well, if Ohio has one thing, it's a lot of steakhouses. Let me buy."
"That's awfully generous."
A phone rings in his pocket. He whips out this plastic looking outfit about as big as half a deck of cards. No keyboard or anything. He taps a big green button on the screen. "Please excuse me a moment." He holds it up to his ear. "Yeah? -- Okay, I'll be right up." He taps the screen again and slides it in his pocket.
"I don't think I've ever seen a phone quite like that."
He smiles. "It's an iPhone. Like a computer in my pocket. You need one when you're part of something like this."
"If you're not busy, I'd still like to take you out for a steak."
I smile. Bit nervous because I don't know his intentinos. "I think I could go for a steak."
He nods. "Good man! I've got some paperwork I have to grab up in the box. Give me about ten minutes, meet me by the box office and we'll go from there."
I nod. "I'll see you in ten minutes, then."
He starts a jog up the steps.
I wait until he's through the portal before I take my phone out. I look through my phone book and dial Hink.
'Please enjoy the music while your party is reached.' It starts playing a Rascal Flatts song.
There's a click. "Hinkley, here."
"Hey, Lem. What can I do for ya'?"
"A guy just walked up to me, introduced himself. Sounded like a Jewish fellow."
"Yeah, you know him?"
"Yeah, I know Troy."
"He kinda came outta left field. He asked me out for steaks. What do I do?"
"Man, Lem, if Troy Levinson asks you out for steaks, then you go have yourself a steak with Troy Levinson!"
"I already said I would. I meant, like, who is this guy? What's he after?"
"One of the chairmen on the PBA. He's a pretty cool guy. By all means, go with him. But whatever you do, let him do the talking. He does like to talk a lot, but he doesn't like to listen very well. He loses interest if you try to tell him stories. More he has to interrupt you to say what he's gotta say, more frustrated he gets. Treat it like a business meeting."
"I... um, okay."
"Don't worry about it. Be yourself."
"Go. Call me back when you're done. I wanna hear what he says!"
I laugh. "You're too much, sometimes. Talk to you soon."
I hang up and make a b-line for the box office. Lean against the wall and wait.
He doesn't get there too long after I do. He shakes my hand again. "Sorry to keep you waiting. You know your way around town very well? There's a place up the road a bit that serves some pretty good Buffalo steaks."
"It's my first time in Ohio."
"Okay, I'll drop you off at your car and we'll convoy over. How 'bout that?"
We walk out the front doors and down into the parking lot. We don't go very far before he stops. We're standing right next to an old Corvette.
I'm filthy. I really don't want to fuck up the upholstery in his car.
Pulls out a set of keys and unlocks the Hummer parked next to it.
"Um, Troy, I'm pretty grungy. I can walk back to my truck. I just don't want to get your ride dirty."
He shrugs. "Don't worry about it. They clean easy."
I hesitate. Climb in on the passenger side. I'm sitting in the cabin next to him, but we're far enough apart, I'm not really sure if I'm exactly next to him. The console's almost two and a half feet wide.
He starts it up. "Where're you parked?"
"Oh. I'm in the back lot on the west side."
He backs out of his spot and heads for the other parking area. "So... we've got a few openings coming up on the Ford Tough tour next season..."
Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!