PIECES OF DESTINY
The razor lay gleaming in the bowl. I rinsed it off, dabbed a little more soapy foam onto my upper lip, and braced myself.
“Ya sure you know how to use that thing?” Lem asked, leaning closer.
I nodded. “I usually use a Fusion razor, but I think I can get the hang of it.” The truth was, I used my father’s razor, which I guess I'd technically inherited after his death six months earlier.
At the ripe old age of 15, I only had to shave maybe once or twice a week. But Mrs. Colt warned me at breakfast that I had “best get my face clean for school,” and I thought it was wise not to argue with her.
The straight razor looked wicked, like something out of a Freddie Kruger movie. About the only time I had ever seen one before was when I’d been an understudy in Sweeney Todd at school the year before. But that one was a rubber prop; this one was uncomfortably real.
My right hand was shaking slightly. I pushed my nose aside with my left, held my breath, and carefully scraped down, feeling the slight sting of the metal against my upper lip. It was easier than I thought, but I tried not to rush it. I rinsed off the blade and moved to the other side of my face.
“My brother James had to shave every other day,” Travis said, eating an apple while leaning against the kitchen window sill. He rubbed his face thoughtfully. “But he was 17. I only tried it twice.”
“You don’t got no moustache anyhow,” his brother quipped.
“Do so!” Travis snapped.
“C’mon, you guys,” I said, trying to get a grip on the straight razor. “I may totally slice my lip off here if you two don’t keep quiet.”
I finished one last swipe, then tentatively felt my upper lip. It was now completely smooth, but the right side stung a bit.
“Think you’re bleedin’ a mite there,” Travis said, nodding towards my chin.
“I’d ask for a Band-Aid, but I think it’s the wrong century,” I said, splashing water on my face. “We ready to go?”
He gave me an odd look, but nodded. Mr. Colt had to run an errand at one of the neighboring farms and pick up some supplies on the way, so about fifteen minutes later, he dropped us off at the school, which was about halfway down the dirt road that led into town. Jefferson High School was less than half the size of my old school back in Seattle, but was far bigger than the simple one-room schoolhouse I had imagined. Travis and I stood together in front of the 40-year-old stone and brick building, with a large, curved facade that rambled down the street for at least fifty yards. I watched over my shoulder as the two Colts continued bouncing down the road, Lem waving to us until the wagon vanished over a hill.
“Miz Weeks is in that office over there,” Travis said, indicating a small wing off to the left. “I think you gotta see her ‘fore you can come to class.”
“Hope there’s no aptitude test to take,” I quipped, remembering how a friend of mine had been studying his pre-SATs over the summer.
“If’n you can read and write and do some figurin’, there won’t be no problem,” he said, walking towards the other building. “See if you can get into Mr. Twitly’s class with me and my friends.”
“Twitly?” I asked.
Moments later, I found myself in the principal’s office. Without any computer records to consult, or even any birth certificate to confirm my story, the principal somehow had no problem accepting my well-rehearsed explanation of how I came to find myself in St. Louis. Mrs. Weeks reacted favorably to my mention of meeting Judge Shaw the week before, which seemed to further convince her of my identity.
“Fort Vancouver,” she said thoughtfully, sitting back in her chair and lightly touching her fingertips together. The room was filled with the heavy scent of flowers, pungent enough to make me slightly nauseous. Her face was powdered white, giving her the appearance of some kind of vampire, and a gaudy pearl necklace hung from her bony neck. “And you were in 9th grade there?” she asked, smiling sweetly.
“Yes ma’am.” I started to add that I had actually just graduated from 9th grade, but I figured I’d just play along with the timeline I was stuck in for now. I had no choice but to bide my time for a few weeks, until I could get back to Miller’s cave, find the mysterious blue light, and hope I could tumble into the same bizarre time warp that got me here.
“Fill out this form,” she said, sliding a piece of paper across the desk. She indicated an old-fashioned pen and inkwell in a stand. “Just to tell us a little more about yourself.”
I instinctively reached for a Bic ballpoint in my pocket, then started to write.
“What is that?” she said, momentarily distracted.
“It’s uh... something new,” I said. “Just came over from... from France.”
“May I see it?”
She examined the pen curiously. “How in the world do they get the ink to stay inside like that?”
“Those French scientists are amazing,” I said, hoping my voice sounded convincing.
“Yes,” she said, handing it back to me. “I have a book on Pasteur that I read recently.”
I continued filling out the form, filling in “deceased” for my father, and giving the address of my nearest relative as “Olivia Thomas (deceased), Thomas Farm, St. Louis County, Missouri,” and my current address as “Colt Farm, Old South Road, c/o Seth & Sarah Colt.”
Mrs. Weeks glanced over the form and nodded. “It all seems to be in order,” she said, rising from her desk. “But — dear, dear, your handwriting is really quite poor, Jason.”
“I’ll work on that,” I said. And learn how to use those goofy pens they have in this wacked-out century.
“Fort Vancouver,” she said thoughtfully, then suddenly turned to me. “Je suppose vous pouvez comprendre tous, que je dis?”
I froze. Three years of French classes suddenly evaporated from my head.
She gave me a steely-eyed stare. “C'est-à-dire, si vous êtes qui vous avez ecirt ici.”
Suddenly, I remembered. She was asking me if I was really who I said I was. But I remembered a little Canadian history.
“Vancouver is part of British Columbia,” I said, “and we don’t like the French very much. But I really am who I say I am, Mrs. Weeks. Quoique mon Français n’est pas très grand.”
Even though my French isn’t so great.
Her face brightened. “Oh, that’s wonderful,” she said, ushering me out of her office and down the dimly lit corridor. “Perhaps you’ll bring some culture to our little school.” She paused and opened a door. The teacher inside stopped and looked, as did all the students.
“This is our new student, Jason Thomas,” the principal said as we walked inside. “I hope all of you will make him welcome.”
Forty pairs of eyes stared at me. The class was made up of varying ages, most close to mine. I scanned their faces to see if Travis was among them. While the teacher spoke to the principal, I glanced up to see him sitting in the row nearest the windows. His face brightened, and I began to calm down a little bit. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
“So,” the teacher announced, as the principal left the room and closed the door, “Jason comes to us from Fort Vancouver, Canada. Welcome to Jefferson High School.” Twitly was very slender, with a pale face and a hawkish nose, and wore a tweed suit accented with a bow tie.
I started to extend my hand to shake his, but then caught the man’s expression. He was grim and unsmiling, and his arm stayed by his side. An uncomfortable silence passed, and I let my hand drop down.
“Thanks,” I said, a little nervously. “Should I take a seat?”
“Certainly,” he said. “But first... tell us a little about yourself, Mr. Thomas.”
I took a dramatic pause and told the story of my life — well, at least about the person I was pretending to be in 1864. I felt as if I was getting better at it as I went on, though I probably laid it on a little thick with some embellishments about the death of my father, along with my poor Aunt Olivia. One of the girls in the front row, a cute blonde I recognized from church the day before, looked at me with some concern, clearly taken with my “tragic” story.
Twitly glanced at the piece of paper. “It says here you can sing. Is that right, Jason?”
Before I could answer, he went on. “Perhaps you can perform for us right now.”
I blanched. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.” He held out his hand, indicating a space just to the left of his desk, then sat down.
Jesus, I thought, as I stepped to the front of the class. This was worse than auditioning for Randy, Paula and Simon.
“Give me a second,” I said. I glanced around the room. About half the kids were dressed in plain overalls and work clothes, most likely from nearby farms; the others were a little more upscale, and a couple of them even wore ties, with several of the girls in dresses of ribbon lace. Travis wore his usual denim overalls, but had donned a pale yellow shirt.
Country, I thought. This is more of a country crowd than pop. I only knew a handful of country songs, but there was one that was my grandfather’s favorite. I took a deep breath and began.
Suitcase packed with all his things
Car pulls up, the doorbell rings
He don’t want to go...
He thought he'd found his home.
But with circumstances he can’t change
Waves goodbye as they pull away
from the life he’s known
for the last seven months or so
She said, we found the man who looks like you,
who cried and said he never knew
about the boy in pictures that we showed him
A rambler in his younger days
He knew he made a few mistakes
But he swore he would have been there
had he known it
Son, we think we found your dad in Oklahoma.
I continued on, filling the room with my voice, and hitting every note effortlessly. I knew every nuance of this song, having learned it as a kid back in 2001, and my grandfather — who was as tough a man as I ever met — was reduced to tears every time I sang it. I guess the lyrics struck a nerve with his own experience, since he’d been adopted early in his life and grew up in the Midwest.
I knew exactly how to pause, how to emote, how to breathe, and how to sell this song like nobody’s business. I made it past the key change and on to the climax of the final verse.
One last turn, he held his breath
‘Til they reached the fifth house on the left
and all at once the tears came rolling in
And as they pulled into the drive
A man was waiting there outside
Who wiped the worry from his eyes,
smiled and took his hand...
And he said, I’m the man who looks like you
Who cried because I never knew
About that boy in pictures that they showed me.
A rambler in my younger days,
I knew I made a few mistakes
But I swear I would have been there had I known it
Never again will you ever be alone...
Son, welcome to your home in Oklahoma.
Just as I ended the vibrato on the last note, I instinctively bowed my head and, right on cue, the room exploded into applause and whistles. I looked up, and two of the girls in the front row were practically weeping!
Whoa, I thought. I guess this means I passed the audition. I grinned, letting the cheers wash over me.
“Settle down, settle down,” the teacher said to the class, then turned back to me. “That was... quite moving, Jason, even though the grammar left a bit to be desired. Did your father hail from the Oklahoma Territory?”
“No,” I said, catching my breath. “He was from the Northwest. That’s just a song — but it was my grandfather’s favorite.”
“Ah,” he said, seemingly unimpressed. “Please take a seat, Mr. Thomas. Perhaps over there,” he said, indicating an empty desk towards the back.
“If it’s OK with you, Mr., uh, Twitly, could I sit over here instead?” I said, walking towards Travis’ row. “I’m sorta living with the Colt family now, and...”
He suddenly slammed the side of his desk with a long stick, which made a sound like a firecracker. I jumped.
“In my classroom, I choose where my students sit.” He again pointed towards the distant chair in the back, and I meekly turned away from Travis, slinked down the other row and sat down.
A few students gave me some curious stares, but I just shrugged and looked back at the teacher. As I glanced around the room, I saw in the back left corner what looked like an old stove, which I gathered was used to heat the class during the winter. The air smelled of varnish, probably from all the woodwork on the floors, and the far left wall had five ceiling-high windows that revealed a grassy field by the school. Behind me were two large shelves, filled with lunch sacks, and I quietly added mine to one of the empty spots.
“We were on state capitals,” Twitly said. “Now, as I was saying before we were interrupted, who can tell me the capitals of these states?”
No one responded.
“Mister...” He slowly pointed his finger around the classroom, then stopped in my direction. “Mr. Thomas.” He used his pointer to indicate a spot on a pull-down map in front of the blackboard.
I felt a chill. The outlines of the states looked drastically different from what I remembered of North America. Everything from the middle of the continent to the West coast was shaded in gray, with few familiar landmarks. For all I knew, it could be deepest darkest Africa. But geography had never been one of my better subjects.
“Stand up, please. Can you tell us the capital of Kansas?”
I cleared my throat and stared at the distant map, but the characters were much too small to read. “Uh… Wichita?”
There were a few titters. The teacher shook his head. “Try again.”
“Kansas City?” I said hopefully.
This time, there were moans and groans.
What I’d give for a lifeline, I thought. “I give up.”
Twitly turned to a girl in my row who was holding her hand up, three seats ahead of me. “Faith,” he said, “perhaps you can tell Jason the correct answer.”
“The capital of Kansas is Topeka. Kansas was admitted to the Union on January 29, 1861. The current population is about 15,000, the governor’s name is…”
“That’s quite enough, Faith.” Twitly pulled the map down a little further and turned back to me. “If United States geography is foreign to you, Jason, then perhaps you can tell us about your home country of Canada.”
My face reddened. This is going to be a very long day.
§ § § § §
The rest of the morning didn’t go much better. Twitly seemed appalled at my lack of knowledge of geography and history, but I redeemed myself right before lunch with a better command of math and English.
“Don’t mind Twitly,” said Travis, as he slid onto the wooden bench beside me, then took a bite of his sandwich. “Nobody ‘round here likes him much anyhow. He’s got dark in his soul.”
A crowd of smaller boys ran by us, playing some kind of game with a stick and a rolling hoop that bounced along the grass.
“I did okay in school back home,” I said with a shrug, reaching for an apple Mrs. Colt had left for me in my cloth lunch sack. “But I’m not exactly the scholastic type. If I ever went to college, it’d just be for music theory. Maybe piano and voice.”
Travis started to reply, but we were suddenly surrounded by three girls, each dressed in frilly dresses and blouses. One of them was the blonde I’d seen in class earlier that morning.
“You sang wonderfully, Jason,” she said, in almost a breathless voice. “I mean, it’s not like opera, but I’ve never heard anything like it.”
I stood up and smiled. “Thanks. My vocal coach back home told me I have a two-and-a-half octave range. You’re… Faith, right?”
“Faith Shaw. And these are my friends Emily and Louella.”
“Good to meet you.” I wasn’t sure if I should bow, shake their hands, or what. Figuring out customs and body language was going to take some time, so I just waited for them to make the next move.
“Her daddy’s the judge,” Travis muttered in my right ear as he finished off the last of his sandwich. That rang a bell.
“Oh, yeah — Judge Shaw,” I said, remembering the man I’d met in town a few days before. “So you’re Judge Shaw’s daughter. Yeah, he helped me last week with my Aunt Olivia’s estate.”
She took a step closer. Faith was very pretty, with long hair that cascaded down her shoulders, and her eyes were shining. Too bad for her I’m immune to her feminine charms, I thought, sitting back down.
“Maybe you can pay us a visit sometime,” she said. “My momma is a wonderful cook. She once got to see Jennie Lind herself at the opera house in town.”
“That must’ve been, uh… nice,” I said, as I began eating my own lunch.
“What? Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Jennie Lind!”
I started to answer, but a larger boy suddenly got in my face. “Don’t be talkin’ to no Jew, Faith,” he snarled.
I looked up to see Johnny, the bully I had encountered at the swimming hole yesterday.
“Hey, good to see you, too, Johnny,” I said brightly. “But as I told you before, my family’s Presbyterian.”
He held his fist up to my face. “Just stay away from Faith, if ya know what’s good for ya.”
“Johnny Younger,” Faith snapped. “I told you before: we are just friends. And I’ll thank you not to threaten my new friend Jason, or I’ll never speak to you again.”
Johnny started to reply, but then meekly took his fist away.
“I do declare,” Faith continued, stamping her foot, “you are truly the most confounding person I have ever met.”
Travis leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. “You best leave us alone, Johnny.”
The other boy scowled and stormed off.
“Well, that was just a little slice of heaven,” I said, checking to see if there was any dessert left in my lunch sack. “So, ah, Faith — is he, like, your boyfriend?”
Her eyelids fluttered in indignation. “You mean, are we sweethearts? Heavens no.” She sat next to me, and I slid over to make a little more room on the bench, bumping into Travis. “Nothing of the sort.”
“Sweethearts since fifth grade,” Travis whispered in my other ear. “Prob’ly get married once they come of age.”
“I heard that, Travis Colt!” she snapped. “And that’s nothing but a bunch of fiddle-dee-dee.”
“But you are good friends,” I said, finishing a small piece of cake.
She cocked her head. “Sometimes. But Johnny is just so…”
“Brash? Obnoxious?” I almost added “asshole,” but I figured I’d avoid that in mixed company.
She gestured exasperatingly. “He’s just not artistic. That’s what I want in a boyfriend — someone who has an appreciation for music and the arts. All the finer things in life.”
Travis and I stood up. “Well,” I said, heading over to the line of students being herded up by two teachers, “I’ll let you know if I meet anybody like that. Nice meeting you, Faith.”
She gave me a half-curtsy, then rushed off, giggling with her friends.
“Women,” Travis muttered.
We made our way over to a nearby well, where one of the teachers was handing out scoops of water from a wooden bucket.
“So, you gonna court her?” Travis asked, almost indifferently.
I almost choked on my gulp of water. “Well, Faith’s, uh… not exactly my type.” That’s unless she had a brother who looked as good as she did.
“You got a sweetheart back home?” he asked.
“Not exactly,” I said. “I mean — I was with somebody for awhile, but we... we broke up.”
Travis seemed to let that remark pass.
“How ‘bout you?” I said, trying to sound casual.
He shrugged. “Haven’t met anybody I’m interested in yet. My brother James used ta say everybody on Earth’s got somebody they were meant to be with someday. Only they don’t know it ‘till it happens.”
I wiped the water off my chin, then patted dry the drips on my shirt. “Sounds like a hopeless romantic. My friend J.D. back home used to say the exact same thing.”
“Back to class, everyone!” Twitly called out, then clapped his hands together and indicated a place on the sidewalk for all of us to line up. As we approached the other teenagers, a horse-drawn carriage rode up, driven by Sheriff Baxter, trailing a cloud of dust. A sullen boy sat beside him, his arms folded, face scowling. Baxter pulled the wagon close to the stone steps that led to the school’s entrance, then yanked the boy out and shoved him in line with the rest of us. I recognized him immediately: it was Jesse, the boy I had met on my arrival in 1864 and who had shown me the way back to the cave during my unsuccessful attempt to get home four days ago.
Twitly looked up. “Ah, Mr. James,” he said, “so good of you to return to school.”
“And he better stay in school, if’n he knows what’s good for him,” said Baxter. “We caught him tryin’ to hop aboard a freight train headed east.” He turned to the boy, whose face was red with anger. “You listen to me, Jesse: you got one more chance to straighten out, or it’s back to the juvenile home with you and the rest of your hoodlum friends.”
Wait a minute, I thought. Jesse... James? “That’s Jesse James,” I said, momentarily stunned.
Travis seemed bored. “Yeah. So?”
“No, no,” I said, as we walked down the crowded corridor with the other students back to our classroom. “Jesse James is one of the most famous outlaws who ever lived!” Or will be.
Travis shrugged. “He told me he shot up some Yankees in the war last year. Even claimed he blew up a bridge and helped a gang that robbed a bank. But Jesse says a lotta things. He ain’t no outlaw. Most people ‘round here think he’s plum crazy.”
I glanced at the other boy as we took our seats. For all I know, it could be the same Jesse James from the movies, I thought. Maybe that’s who he’ll eventually become.
I made a mental note to warn him about “the coward Robert Ford,” who was destined to shoot him in the back. Jesse might be a future killer, but he’d helped me out once. And I figured I needed all the friends I could get in this very, very strange place.
§ § § § §
After school, Travis and I made our way over to the elementary school, which was about two blocks away, to pick up Lem and walk home.
The overhead clouds were dark and foreboding. Behind us, I heard the rumble of distant thunder.
“Season’s changin’,” Travis said, munching on an apple as we trudged down the dirt road that led back to the farm. “Gonna get a lot colder now.”
Lem looked crestfallen. “Aw, heck,” he said. “I thought summer might stick around for awhile longer.” He kicked a rock on the path.
“Injun summer,” Travis replied. “We suddenly get a coupla days of summer, then it goes away, like that.” He snapped his fingers for emphasis.
“It don’t seem hardly fair.”
“Everything’s gotta come to an end eventually,” I said.
“Not the damned war,” muttered Travis. “The Yankees aren’t ever gonna let the Confederacy stand.”
“I thought this was a Union state,” I said, a little confused. “Shouldn’t you guys be against the Confederates?”
Travis stopped and glared at me. “Missouri was part of the Confederacy when it all started. But the damned Yankees marched in and took over the whole state. Half of St. Louis’s still against ‘em, if’n you ask me.”
“When did all this happen?” I asked. “The war’s been going on for... what? Four years?”
Len and Travis both gave me a look like I was the stupidest person who ever lived.
“Alright, so I don’t exactly keep up with the news,” I said, exasperatedly.
“Don’t they get newspapers up in Canada?” Travis asked.
I started to explain that what little news I got was mostly from CNN, but before I could get a word out, three boys charged out from the trees, yelling at the top of their lungs.
“That’s him!” yelled the leader, who I recognized as Johnny. “GET THE JEW!”
Before I knew what was happening, I was struck in the stomach, doubling me up in pain, then another blow in my face knocked me down into the dirt. I instinctively curled into a ball, crying out in agony, while I was pummeled from every side. I tasted dirt and blood in my mouth. Another blow knocked the wind out of me, and I started to black out.
Travis was on my attacker in a second, smashing him with both fists. The boy screamed out in anger, then the third punch knocked him out completely. I heard a wailing in the background, and looked up to see that Lem had jumped on the back of the second boy, pounding and clawing at his face with both hands.
“Get him offa me!” the boy wailed. “This kid’s some kinda wildcat!”
I felt another blow to my back, then looked up to see Johnny’s angry face, howling with rage. In a blur, Travis knocked him to the ground, raining down a flurry of blows like an expert boxer. In moments, Johnny began to sob and frantically waved his hands in surrender.
I coughed, still dizzy, then rolled over. The right side of my face hurt like hell, and I was having trouble breathing.
Travis helped me up to my feet, then rushed over to where Lem was still yelling. The little boy didn’t look like he needed any help. He and the older boy flailed around in the dirt, Lem’s fists hammering into him like a punching bag.
“That’s enough, Lem,” his brother called, pulling him off the older boy, who was bawling like a baby.
“And here’s one ta grow on!” Lem snapped, kicking the boy in the ass.
“I said, THAT’S ENOUGH!” Travis yelled, who yanked his brother back again and shook him.
Johnny was still lying face down in the dirt, moaning. We rolled him over and saw that his nose was bloody, and his right eye was already swollen shut and blackened. He opened his one good eye, spat out a mouthful of dirt, and stared at me.
“You’re still a dirty Jew,” he mumbled, sniffling.
We helped him up to his feet, while the other boys struggled to sit up.
I massaged my aching jaw. “Look, Johnny — I’m just a stranger in town, but you gotta give me a break here. You don’t even know me.”
“I know enough,” he snapped. “And ya better stay away from Faith.”
Travis leaned into his face. “If ya know what’s good for ya, you’ll stay away from Jason. He’s part of us Colts now.”
“And he goes to Baptist Church with us,” added Lem.
“See,” I said, raising my hands in mock surrender. “Not a Jew.”
Johnny staggered over to his friends. Although the fight had lasted less than a minute, their faces were bruised and bloody, and their clothes were torn and covered with dirt. One of them spat into the ground, then wiped a smudge off his face.
“This ain’t over,” Johnny called to me as they limped back into the trees. “Someday you won’t have the Colt brothers to help ya. Then we’ll see who wins the fight.”
A cold breeze fluttered my shirt, and a couple of sprinkles splashed down my back, making me wish I had worn a coat.
“You okay?” Travis asked.
I felt my jaw again. “Nothing’s broken,” I said, “but I’ll live. How’s the cut on my head?”
Travis carefully inspected it, then nodded. “It ain’t bleedin’. C’mon — we got chores waitin’ at home.”
My side still hurt from the kick I’d taken minutes before, and my tongue felt a lump on the inside of my lip that still stung. I limped slightly, trying to keep up with Travis and Lem.
“Hey,” I said. “Thanks for helping me back there. That’s the second time you saved my life in two days.”
He shrugged. “Hardly. That’s just a little fightin’. It ain’t nothin’.”
“I should sue that asshole,” I muttered. “Or call the sheriff or something. Get a restraining order.”
“That’s just the way things are ‘round here,” Travis said, as if that was all the explanation he needed. “But Johnny was right about one thing: ya gotta learn how to take care of yourself.”
I blanched. “Hey, I already told you — I’m no fighter.”
“We could see that,” said Lem, giggling.
“Shut up, Lem.”
I shook my head, still feeling a little woozy. “Is everybody this crazy in Missouri?”
“First,” Travis said, “ya gotta learn to say it right. It’s Missour-ah, not Missour-ee.”
“What do you want from me? I’m Canadian, remember.”
“You’re in Missouri now,” reminded Lem as we approached the farm house. The light spattering of rain was turning into a downpour. We caught the strong scent of bread from the kitchen window as we scrambled onto the front porch.
“Right. St. Lou-ee, Missour-ah.”
Lem grinned. “Now you’re gettin’ it.”
“Mom’s got supper on the stove now,” said Travis. “After our chores, we’ll eat. Then, you’re gonna get some fightin’ lessons.”
I winced. And I thought the worst part of my day was over with.
§ § § § §
Travis said little to me for the next few hours. I felt embarrassed that, once again, I had been the wimpy kid he had to protect. After dinner, Mrs. Colt had me help her wash the dishes, which didn’t do much for my feeling a little unmasculine.
“You boys and your roughhousing,” she said reproachfully, shaking her head.
“It wasn’t exactly my idea,” I said, drying another dish and placing it on a stack. “The guy attacked me — and for nothing.”
“That Younger boy is up to no damn good,” said Mr. Colt, as he closed the kitchen door behind him. “Got a mean streak in him a mile wide, that one does. Him and Jesse and all the others. Scoundrels, the lot of ‘em.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You’d best stay away from him and keep out of trouble.”
“Believe me, I will.”
The living room clock chimed eight.
“I’ve homework to do,” I said, putting the last of the dishes away. “Great dinner, Mrs. Colt.”
Her face brightened. “Thank you, Jason. You have a good rest. We’ll see you in the morning at breakfast.”
The outside rain had stopped to a bare trickle, but the humidity hung in the air. As I trudged wearily over to the main barn, trying to avoid the muddy puddles, I heard some footsteps in the darkness.
“’Bout time you got here,” said Travis, jogging up beside me.
I rolled my eyes. “Do we have to do this?”
He pulled the barn door open and lit the kerosene lamp.
“It’s high time you learned how ta fight proper, Jason. Otherwise, Johnny and his friends’ll be at ya every day. And I ain’t always gonna be around ta help.”
I sighed and nodded. He closed the door behind us, then began to take his shirt off.
I felt a little flush. “We’re going to fight... naked?”
“Naw,” he said, hanging his shirt on a nail. “I just don’t wanna get my clothes dirty, is all. You do the same.”
I reluctantly took my shirt off and hung it alongside his. He beckoned me closer, then held his fists up in the classic boxing pose and began rotating them in slow circles.
“Do what I do,” he said. “Use your left hand to protect your face, and punch with the right hand. Like this.”
For the next half hour, Travis gave me the basics: how to stand, how to hold my fists, when to duck, how to block, how to punch. I was surprised to learn there were at least four kinds of punches: a jab, a cross, a hook, and an uppercut.
“Naw, naw — put your weight behind it!” he said, pantomiming the motion again. “Move this way.”
I tried it again, slowly pushing my fist out and leaning forward, then repeated it, faster.
Travis nodded. “That’s better,” he said. “I think you’re gettin’ the hang of it now.”
I felt exhausted and was sweating from every pore. “Look, Travis, I’m really tired. And Twitly’s gonna have my head if I don’t get some of those state capitals memorized for class tomorrow.”
Travis grinned. “We’re almost done for tonight. But first, we’re gonna wrassle.”
“You mean ‘wrestle’? As in ‘Wrestlemania 2’?”
“Lemme show ya.”
He began circling around me, his arms spread wide, his feet darting first one way, then the other.
“Ya gotta learn to anticipate where the other guy’s gonna be,” he said. “That way, you’ll be ready for anything.”
Suddenly, without warning, he lunged at me and almost pulled me to the ground.
“HEY!” I cried. “What the hell is that?”
Travis laughed. “You’re gettin’ better,” he said. “I bet yesterday ya couldn’t dodge me like that.”
I rubbed my side. “Still hurts like a bitch,” I said, then showed him the bruises. “Look at this thing.”
“I got one, too.”
Travis muscular body was as sweaty as mine, and glistened in the light of the lantern. There was a deep ridge from his throat down to the middle of his chest, and his arms were thick and powerful. He turned and showed me a black-and-blue mark on his side. I felt a twinge.
“Come on,” he said, beckoning with his hands. “Attack me.”
“But I wouldn’t want to...”
“Just do it. Ya ain’t never gonna learn unless you try.”
I nodded, then we circled each other, dipping in and out of shadows. Travis feinted to the left and I jumped back. He laughed.
“You’re catchin’ on to this,” he said, moving back in position.
I caught my breath. “Is this supposed to be fun?” I asked.
“Me and James used ta do it out here in the barn. He taught me a coupla moves.”
Without warning, I launched myself at him and dragged him to the ground, laughing. We rolled around in the hay, but he managed to flip me over face down and bent my arm behind my back.
“Hey!” I said, my face muffled in the straw. “I thought you weren’t gonna hurt me!”
He let my arm go. “Sorry,” he said. “You kinda surprised me. Let’s try that again.”
We stood up, dusted off the dirt from our bodies, then began the slow dance again.
“You ever lose a fight?” I asked, spitting a piece of hay out of my mouth.
“Not hardly,” he replied. “’Cept with some of the older boys, back when I was littler than Lem. But I reckon I’m stronger than they are now, least for the last coupla years. They usually steer clear of me.”
I started to reply but he tackled me, and we went down in a tangle of bodies, rolling over and over in the hay until we came at rest next to the back wall, laughing and yelling.
“Not fair!” I yelled, trying to squirm out of his grasp. “I wasn’t ready for that!”
“That’s kinda the point,” he said, pinning my outstretched arms against the floor. “Otherwise, ya ain’t gonna be prepared for them ruffians at school.”
We both stared at each other, breathing hard, our faces only a foot apart. Travis’ body was covered with a sheen of sweat, and I could see a faint outline of light blondish hairs on his stomach, disappearing at his waistline. He moved against me again, and I felt a solid object pressing against me.
He was hard!
We were silent for a moment, breathing heavily.
“Hey,” I said, my voice a little hoarse. “You can let me up now.”
He nodded and freed my hands. I started to sit up, then I instinctively reached out and lightly touched his chest. He flinched slightly and looked at me, momentarily startled.
“You’ve... you’ve got a great body, Travis,” I said. “Solid muscle.” My other hand moved forward and I felt his broad shoulders and thick arms. My cock twinged. “I guess with all this farm work, you don’t even need to lift weights.”
“You shoulda seen my brother James. He was a lot bigger’n me, even though he’s only a year and a half older.”
A silence passed between us.
Travis seemed to hesitate for a moment, then broke out in a slight grin. “You wanna... have some fun?”
My heart was thumping so loud I was sure he could hear it. “What exactly do you mean?”
He reached out and lightly grasped the crotch of my jeans, which had a noticeable bulge.
“You... you sure you wanna do this?” I said in a half-whisper.
Travis stood up and wriggled out of his pants. His erection sprang up and smacked against his stomach.
“Jesus,” I said, my mouth agape.
He looked at me expectantly. Shaking slightly, I slowly got to my feet and pulled my pants down. I was hard as a rock, and I found it a little hard to breathe.
“Get closer to the light,” he said in a low voice.
We stood facing each other, the warm glow of the lantern casting long shadows around us. Our erections pulsed side by side. Travis’ penis was respectable, but it was at least an inch shorter than mine, and he only had a small sprinkling of body hair, as blond as his eyebrows.
Travis chuckled. “Well, you got me beat in one area,” he said. “Are all Canadians that big?”
“I’m just average,” I said, barely able to contain my excitement. My cock throbbed with my heartbeat, as if it had a life of its own.
He held his out, nearly touching me. “Mine is kinda funny,” he said. “It bends to the right.”
Travis was right: his endowment did have a noticeable curve to the right. He was paler than I was, and my penis was several shades darker than his.
He looked back up at me. “And you got more hair than me.”
I grinned, barely able to contain my excitement. “Yours looks fine to me.”
Travis sat down on a blanket atop a nearby bale of hay, and patted the area next to him. I kicked off my pants and hopped up next to him, and we leaned back against the rough barn wall. We casually began stroking. One of the cows mooed from her nearby stall, but we ignored her.
“James used ta say this is the most fun a boy can have,” he said in a low voice.
“Well, everybody needs a hobby,” I said, trying to sound casual.
Our strokes became faster, our breathing more ragged. In less than a minute, I felt the warning tingles and began to moan.
“Oh, god,” I said, and erupted three or four hot spurts all over my chest and neck. I fell back against the barn wall, completely spent.
“Good one?” whispered Travis, still stroking.
I nodded, then caught my breath. “Lemme help you with that,” I said as I gently pushed his hand away, then began stroking him with my right hand. His erection was rock-hard, like steel encased in velvet.
“That feels real good,” he murmured.
After a less than a minute, I was trembling with desire. “Let me try something,” I said, then leaned down and opened my mouth.
Travis moaned with pleasure. I felt the soft skin against my tongue and drank in his scent. I’d only done this a half-dozen times, mostly with Luke, but this was one area in which I bet I knew a lot more than Travis. I gently squeezed in the right places and kept him close to the edge for several minutes.
Travis’ dick was quite a bit smaller than Luke’s, so it was a lot easier to control. When I sensed he was getting close, I took my mouth away.
“Why’d ya stop?” he said, panting.
“Give it a few more seconds,” I said, gripping him firmly. “It’s better this way.” In the long weekend I’d spent at Luke’s house, he’d given me a crash course in Sex 101. I think we’d made it just about halfway through The Joy of Gay Sex before Monday morning. In our last night together, Luke dragged out one of my orgasms to nearly an hour, and it was easily the most intense experience of my life.
Travis panted. “Please,” he begged. “I just gotta...”
“Okay,” I said, giving it a little wiggle. “But next time, we’re going to take a lot longer.”
I went back to work, inhaling him completely, gripping his butt with my left hand, using my right to fondle him. In less than a minute, I felt his balls contract. His hips thrusted uncontrollably, and I felt a familiar warm sensation at the back of my throat. Travis cried out, then fell back, exhausted.
“Lord almighty,” he whispered, gasping for breath.
I wiped off my mouth and lay next to him, our shoulders touching. “You’re welcome,” I said.
Travis lay there for a moment, his muscular chest heaving. I noticed a red blotchy pattern spreading through his skin on his upper torso.
“Hey,” I said, laughing with realization. “You’re blushing!”
He looked down. “Yeah,” he admitted. “I do that sometimes when I... you know.” He caught his breath. “You... you done that before?”
“A few times. Only with special friends.”
Travis sighed. “I ain’t never done much with anybody. ‘Cept maybe with James.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Your brother?”
He looked away. “I guess that’s wrong.”
“Hey,” I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. “It’s your business. Brothers fool around sometimes. I mean, I never had a brother, but I’ve heard about stuff like this. It’s not a big deal, Travis. It’s just a little sex.”
He gave me an odd look. “You an’ me were just havin’ fun,” he protested. “That ain’t sex. Sex is matin’ — like animals makin’ babies.”
“Yeah, we had a president say the same thing, back where I come from.”
In the distance, there was a clap of thunder. Seconds later, rain began pouring down on the barn roof. It was a gentle sound, almost comforting, rattling softly against the wood in waves.
Travis turned to me and shyly smiled.
I smiled back. “Doesn’t the rain sounds great?”
A couple of streams began to drip inside from the roof, spattering into a puddle. One of the cows mooed, apparently irritated by the rainwater, and stepped aside, closer to the railing.
Travis nodded over our heads. “I’ll tell Colt we gotta patch the barn again. It leaks like a sieve.”
“It’s not so bad with you here,” I said. “Hey, I know a song about this.”
I leaned closer to him and sang softly in his ear.
You and me and rain on the roof
Caught up in a summer shower
drying while it soaks the flowers
maybe we’ll be caught for hours
Waiting now, the sun.
“Never heard that one before.”
I grinned. “It’s an oldie but a goodie.”
He started to respond, but a voice called out from outside the barn.
“Travis! You git your fanny out here! Time to get to bed, boy!”
We both jumped up and hurriedly pulled our clothes back on.
“You won’t tell nobody about this,” he said, stepping into his boots.
“Jesus, no,” I said. “I mean, we were just...”
Travis finished buttoning his shirt, then opened the barn door. I reached out to stop him.
“Hey,” I said. “I meant what I said earlier today. Thanks for not letting Johnny and his goons kick the crap out of me.”
He nodded. “You still need some more fightin’ lessons. I got a book my daddy used to read: The Noble Art of Pugilism."
“Bring it out here with you tomorrow night. I’ll read it — on one condition.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “What?”
I leaned closer. “As long as we can do some more ‘wrasslin’.”
He broke out in a broad grin. Travis was a handsome guy, but when he smiled like this, he positively glowed.
“You got yourself a deal.”
I watched him as he ran through the rain, dodging several puddles, then I latched the barn door shut. I lugged the lantern up to the hayloft, my schoolbooks tucked under one arm. Luckily, it seemed dry in this upper corner of the barn, but I could feel a cold gust seep through the thick wooden walls. I made a mental note to get another quilt from Mrs. Colt in the morning. That’s unless I had Travis to keep me warm.
“Wrassling,” I thought, smiling to myself. I sighed, then opened up my geography textbook, adjusted the lantern, and began absorbing the bewildering world of 1864.
excerpt from “Oklahoma”
by Billy Gilman
words & music by J. Allen & D. Vincent Williams
©2000 Warner-Tamerlane Music, Inc. (BMI)
All rights reserved.
excerpt from “Rain on the Roof”
words & music by John Sebastian
©1966 Trio Music Corp. (BMI)
All rights reserved.
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