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Mattie and me sit on the couch, share a blanket. Not like we're cuddling, since we're sitting right smack next to Ronnie, but Mattie keeps grabbing my hand under the covers. I don't much like the idea of getting caught. Once in a while I'll give him a stare, like to tell him to knock it off.
Ronnie stretches out. Collapses back on the couch. "Damn it. I need to get up and do something with myself. Fucking bored."
Mattie looks across me at his brother. "Weren't you and Jenny gonna do something tonight?"
He shakes his head. "No. Thats tomorrow." He shrugs. "I guess I could call her. Wouldn't mind a change of scenery." He gets up, walks into his room.
Mattie looks over at me, kisses me.
I push him back. "What if he walks back out here and sees that?"
He blushes. "Sorry."
After a minute, Ronnie walks back out of his room. "Guess she's up for a little some some." He stops, looks at us. "Gentlemen, don't you two have too much fun." He smiles, takes a small bow. "I don't reckon I'll be back tonight. Just don't mention it to Mom and Dad, if they ask."
Ronnie goes up the steps. I can hear the back door open and shut. Hear his truck taking off. You'd probably hear the damn thing all the way across the county. Don't see how it'd be a secret if he was trying to sneak out.
"Why did you say you didn't want to drag me into this?"
"Because I don't." I sigh. "I don't like the way I feel, and I don't want you to suffer because of it."
"You know what?" He looks at me. "I like the way I feel when I'm with you."
"I know, Mattie." I squeeze his shoulder.
"You haven't brought up Jeff in a while."
Think. What to say... "He's a douche bag. Ronnie was right."
"Why, what'd he do?"
"Just... stuff. I'm done with all that mess."
"What did he do?" He cocks his head at me.
"Just never you mind."
He frowns, crosses his arms. "Why don't you trust me? You don't ever tell me shit."
"Did you ever stop and think it was for the better that I didn't bring somethin' up?"
"Then why do I get the feeling it's about me?"
"It's not about you, Mattie. He stole something. He wronged me, and the only reason I didn't want to say anything is because I was afraid it'd hurt you."
He stands up, walks to the stereo. Pushes a few buttons and sets it to play. Turns off the TV set.
"I was watching that!"
"Lem, come over here." He's playing a version of Freebird, sounds like it's Wynonna Judd.
I stand in front of him, look him over, then stare at the floor.
He pulls my hands around his waist, puts his arms on my shoulders. Starts dancin' slowly.
He pulls me closer. "Just dance with me."
I move in step. Rock back and forth with him. Wonder what's on his mind.
"You remember the valley? Drivin' into Helena?"
"They were playin' this on the radio. Don't ask why, but it reminds me of you."
"Mattie, do you talk to Joey about me?"
He sighs. "Yeah. I just needed someone to listen. You do things sometimes that just confuse the hell outta me. I've wanted to kiss you for a while now, and... and... well, I just didn't know who you were sometimes."
We dance for a while longer.
"What'd Jeff take from you, Lem?" He squeezes me.
"What little of my innocence I had left, I s'pose."
"Was he your first kiss? The one you told me about when you freaked out last weekend?"
I nod sadly. "Mattie... I... I really wish it would'a been you. I know you wouldn't lead me wrong."
He puts his hands under my arms, latches around my back. Squeezes me again. Puts his ear to mine. "Why does this feel so right?"
"I don't know, Shadow. I don't know."
# # #
Backdraft was retired from PBR after mangling a rider pretty bad. The rider came outta the chute, stayed on for two seconds or so. 681 came forward, kicked out, knocked the rider forward, over the side. The rider had a clean break from the rope, but came in too close to the bull.
681's front legs came down on top of him, right on his pelvis. Crushed that and part of his back, but nobody knows if that was entirely from the cow coming down on top. Before the clowns or officials or medics could get to the rider, Backdraft scooped him right up off the ground with his horns, threw him up in the air like a rag doll. The rider was wearing a neck brace on his vest, but came down on his head just right, on the back side of his head and pushed his neck forward. All his body weight, which was dead weight at that point, came down right on top of itself. Broke his C2, C3 vertebrae, shattered C7.
# # #
I kiss Mattie on the mouth. I hope Ronnie doesn't find out, but we're messing around on his bed. Rollin' around on his sheets. Mattie works fast, he's already naked. So far, I've only managed to get my pants off. Our bodies press against each other. I grab on to his butt, pull him against me, suck at his face like a starving hatchling. It's easy to get caught up in moments like this.
I put my lips on Mattie's collar bone, suck on the skin there. Give him a hickey that turns maroon almost instantly. I have my hands on his hips, run them up and down his sides while I move to his nipple. Suck on it a little, bite it lightly. He moans a little too loud for my comfort. I just hope sound doesn't travel through the air vents like it does at my house. He's rocking his hips under me, grinding his crotch into my belly. I move to the other nipple, give the other a little tug with my fingers.
I move down, kiss his stomach inch by inch. Stop at his belly button. I don't leave until I've cleaned it proper. Drag my tongue down, through his hair, and down his dick. I go down on him, pull his legs over my shoulders, rub his balls.
His breathing is heavy, balls are getting a bit sweaty. I put one in my mouth, roll it around on my tongue. Play with the loose skin. I get them both in there, use my tongue to lick the back side of his nuts. I want to go on. I wanna give Mattie something to remember, and I can't stop myself. Take his sack outta my mouth, keep licking the back of his nuts, try to remember what it felt like when Jeff did it to me. My stomach turns with butterflies. Mattie's got the sheets clenched tight in his hands, white knuckles. Breathing like he just ran a marathon. His tummy is rolling like an ocean wave in a storm.
I push my face in between his legs a little, his scrote resting on the bridge of my nose. Running my tongue up and down.
He shudders, cries out like a cough. "Uahhh!" His legs are twitching, shaking like a leaf. "God, Lem! Ghhhuuuuhhh! Haaahhhhhh!"
I push his legs up a little, let his cheeks come apart on their own. The musk again. So different from the rest of him. I want it, and I will have it. I kiss it first.
Mattie jumps in surprise. Not like he's trying to get away from it, I just don't think he was expecting it. He tries to talk between breaths. "Lem..."
I look up at him, at his face. "Hold onto something, Mattie, or you're going to fly away."
I burry my face. Lick around his hole. It's not what I thought it'd be, doesn't taste nasty or anything. Judging by his panting, he doesn't have any objections. I stick my tongue in a little, explore around a little bit. It's warm and a little tart. Acidic like a battery on the tongue. I want to be okay with this. I like it, pleasing him like this.
He draws his legs back a little more, tries to open things up a bit. I could do this all night.
"Oh, Lem." A Gasp. Then he squeaks. Breathes funny. "Fuck, Lem! Nnnnnnnnnnn. UH. Uh. Uhhhhh." His hips start going. I know what he's feeling, what he's thinking right now.
After a few minutes I stop, stick my middle finger in my mouth and start rubbing him. "Mattie?" I keep my finger there, rubbing him. Slide up on the bed next to him.
His whole face is bright red. His eyes are wattering. Got a vein in his forehead I never noticed before, but he's trying hard to catch his breath. I rub in small circles. Push lightly.
"Shadow, talk to me."
He breathes in. "Fuck you." Looks at me. Keeps breathing hard.
"I didn't fuckin' say stop." He gives me an evil grin. Kisses me. It's enough for me.
I push it in slowly. He pulls his knee up to his chest, drops the other leg down on the bed. Lays there practically spread-eagle. I work my finger in, see if I can find his wild spot. I rub the inside of the tube, push up toward him. It takes a few seconds, but his penis jumps by itself. He moans again. I got him so worked up right now, I know he'd do anything. I just don't want him to regret it later. God knows I will. I pull my finger out, rest my hand on his chest and lay there. Look at the side of his body, the few freckles that sit on his torso.
"What's wrong? Why'd you stop?"
I sigh. "Mattie, if I was a different person, I'd have done things to you. Just... stuff I don't think I could forgive myself for, or that you would either."
"Lem, I don't care what we do. I wouldn't think none less of you."
"I don't even know how I can come to terms with what I've done. Especially to you."
"Don't stop, not now. Don't you dare!"
"I'm sorry, Mattie. I can't."
He looks at the ceiling, thinks about something. "You're the only person who's ever made me feel this good. I'm okay with the two of us. I aint gonna tell a soul what we do."
"Why do I feel so bad about it? Why do I feel so fuckin' guilty?"
He squeezes the arm I have across his chest. "Lem, it's only wrong if you think it's wrong. Your the only thing right about my life."
Why did it have to be me?
We lay there for a while, on Ronnie's bed. I listen to him breathing. I've fucked this up bad, now.
"Um, would you..." He sighs. Licks his lips. "I want you to fuck me."
I get up on an elbow. "What?"
"It's been in my head too long. I want you in me."
"I want to feel what it'd be like to be yours, even if it was just once."
"What're you doing to me, Shadow?"
My head's a noisy jumble. I've been here before, wanting this thing Mattie wants now.
I shake my head, let him get the better of me. "I need to find something. Give me a second." I walk to Ronnie's bathroom. Look around for something I can use to make things easier. I open the medicine cabinet and look around. Move things around. Jesus, Ronnie's gotta have some Vaseline or something in here. I find a small tube of Cetaphil lotion. Jason uses it after he washes his face, to keep it from getting too dry and breaking out. It'll do. At least it doesn't smell.
I go back to the bedroom, find Mattie with his ass pointed up, propped on his knees.
"Please, Lem. I need you to do this."
I don't get him, why this hurts so much for me to do this. I'm no better than Jeff. I sit on my knees behind him, rub his ring-piece softly with my finger.
He moans into the mattress. Drops his legs down a little. "Please. Please."
I put some lotion on my dick, get it ready to go. Put some on Mattie. Spread it around the inside. Finger him a little to loosen up. I can feel him relax it, just let me in. I stand up on my knees and dock with his hips, pull him back toward me a little. I have a little upward curve. I have to push it down to line it up. Mattie's so tiny. Confined. "I don't want to break you."
I start pushing it in. Keeping things nice and slow. He pushes back. Cries out in pain, into the mattress, but just keeps pushing back. He's not stopping, and he's doing this on his own. He gets all the way down and stops, turns his head to the side. Pants. He's crying a little. The hole squeezes, pulsates. It's so tight around me it almost hurts. We stay that way for a good long time until he's comfortable, until he can stand this thing that's deep inside him.
It feels strange to be on this end of things. It's almost inviting, warm.
Mattie starts pushing back and forth, thrusting his shoulders forward on the bed to get it started. I hold his hips, counter his movement. I slide in a little too far. He cries out and buries his face into the bed.
"Keep going." He's muffled. He reaches back behind him, grabs me at the wrists. Squeezes. Reaches back further and puts his hands on my hips, tugs them forward.
I start pumping again. Start slow, speed up until we're both moaning good. He squeezes his toes, twirls his fists around in the sheets. I stop, pull out. "Turn over Shadow. On your back."
He breathes for a minute, rolls over. Looks up at me with tired eyes, longing eyes.
I kiss him while I stick it back in. Lift up on his hips a little. Slide in.
He moans. I must be hitting the spot just right. Mattie rolls his hips with mine, wraps his legs around my waist and squeezes.
I look at his face. Watch him moan, cry, and pant with every thrust. Watch him scrunch his face up. I can't tell if it's pain or pleasure. Sweat collects on his forehead like morning dew on a leaf. His hair is wet, matted to his forehead. Skin glistens. I lean back a little, hold onto his thighs. Keep watching his face. Rock my hips. Pull his knees over my shoulders, lean down and start kissing again. Pump faster. He's moaning in my mouth. His arms are around me, he scratches my back. Grabs onto my skin and pulls. Puts his hands on my ass and tries to manage the tempo. Pulls me against him harder. Tries to get me to just slam him. Why does this feel so right?
I slow down. "I think we need more lotion."
He nods quietly, but doesn't let me slide out. I feel him clinching around me.
I reach over to the bottle. Pull out and sit on the edge of the bed. Put more on me, more on him. He straddles my hips, so we're both sitting up. He looks down my body, since he's sitting higher than me. Grabs my cock and works it in. He slides down, bounces up and down on it. I hold his butt and pull him by his own rhythm. Try to thrust the best I can. Drops of his sweat fall on me. Our bodies slide against each other. Drenched. Keep going. Thrusting. Pumping. I want this to go on forever.
This is going to be us, now. Define us and what we do together. We can't be just friends anymore. It's gonna be weird.
Mattie pushes me over. We keep on fucking. Roll around. I end up on top again. Slam his ass as hard as I can. "Mattie... I'm... I'm gonna cum."
"Stay in me," he whimpers.
I lean back. I can feel my head poking into the wall. I must be hitting his button because he's breathing funny again. These sensations. Everything. Ten years comes down to this fucking moment, this second right here.
I grab his dick and squeeze. Jerk it just once or twice. He shoots off really quick. A huge load that musta drained everything out of him by the looks of it. It keeps throbbing, squirting. It's hot. I have the feeling in the back of my nuts. The feeling I'm going to unload. I squeeze his cock harder, the last bits trailing out onto his chest. Breathe in hard. Adrenalin pumping through my veins. My ass cheeks clench together. I slide in, feel the throw. Surges. "I... I... Goooooooooddddddddd fucking damn it!" I gasp for air, try to breathe again. Collapse on top of Mattie.
We lay there breathing hard. I'm still in him, but I don't want to move. I could fall asleep, right here on top of my best friend. My head rests against his chest, I can hear his heart thumping like a wild rabbit. He's stroking the back of my head. Rubs my shoulder with his other hand.
Fifteen minutes pass. I can't bring myself to say anything. Just listen to Mattie breathe. I rub his side, feel his ribs. Stay inside him. Don't want to move. If Mattie wants to live in this moment a while longer, I should let him. Just for a while.
# # #
Last night, Mattie zipped our sleeping bags together before we went to sleep. He pulled my arm over him so we were laying like a set of spoons. Before I drifted off, I could only wonder what was going on inside his head. What thoughts were drifting between those ears of his. Every time he would start in his sleep, toss or turn, I would wonder if it was me he was having nightmares about. I don't know what he wants. And I don't know if I can give it to him if I did.
The morning light peeks through the windows. The basement is still dark that I can only see outlines and the Shadow in my arms.
I'm hard right now. Morning wood hard. I grab my cock, rub it through his butt crack and over his notch. It's still slick with last night's leftovers. He moans, stretches his arms back over his head, holds my head by the back of the neck. He points his knee up, puts his foot behind my legs. Tries to move his hips and coax me in.
I whisper in his ear. "No, Mattie. This time, you're fucking me."
# # #
It's all I can think about. For the last week, it's all that I've been thinking about. Mattie's been clingy, and every time we're alone, all we do is mess around. I still feel strange about it, like I was the one who put him up to it. We do things, whenever we know we're not gonna get caught. Hell, yesterday we were rollin' around in the hay loft in my barn.
On the other end of things, Brooke's been getting clingy, too. She holds my hand at school, wants to be around me. Wants me to tell her what I think of her. How she looks. I can be walking down the hall, look over my shoulder and see Mattie. Ten feet behind. Face red. Green written all over his stare. I hate seeing him like that, and I know it ain't right. Him and me, we can't be like what Brooke and I are in public. I know he wants it to be like that. To be able to hold my hand in front of everyone. To kiss me in front of my locker the way she does.
I can tell it twists him inside, and there's not a damn thing I can do or say about it without letting the cat outta the bag.
We could be our own little secret. But Momma always said to dance with the one that brought you. She's been saying that long before the song came out, too. I can't just stop seeing Brooke. If I tell her I don't wanna be with her, people would suspect something's wrong. She's got enough pull around this school, if I break her heart, it'd be the end of me.
I'm dragging him down with me.
At least Jeff won't even look at me. If it were only that easy. I just don't wanna lose Mattie like that. His friendship is too important to me.
Brooke leads me into the cafeteria by the hand. We go through the line, get food. She gets a salad, like girls always do. I take a plate of Pizza since we don't get it too often. We sit at a table with some of Brooke's friends. Takes Mattie a bit longer to get through the line, but he sits on the other side of me.
He stares down at his plate, just stares at his food.
Brooke's friends are too wrapped up in themselves to notice. Brooke leans over in front of me, toward Mattie. "What's wrong, Shadow?"
He looks up at her, blushes. Looks back down at his lap. Grumbles. "Don't call me that."
I look at him. "Mattie, she didn't mean anything by it."
He speaks softly. "What the fuck ever." Everyone at the table looks at him as he pushes away from the table. He stands up and walks off. Out the door.
Brooke looks at me. "What was that all about?"
I sigh. "He's been acting really weird lately."
She squeezes my hand. The fact that she could dismiss him so quickly, just write him off, it bothers me. "I wanted to ask you if we could do something this weekend, before we get all busy with Thanksgiving and everything. When my family gets to town, I don't think I'll be able to see you for a while."
"Maybe." I look at the door. I need to go after him.
"I was also wondering..." She makes circles with her finger on the table, looks up at me with her pretty eyes. Bats her eyelashes. She's got her hair done up in pig tails. Kind of looks like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, only without the annoying dog. "Lem, I know I'm not supposed to be the one askin' this, but I was wanting to know, if you were okay with it, if we could be official?"
"Yeah. If you'd be my boyfriend."
I feel myself blushing. "I don't see why not." I fake a smile, lie. "I'd be the luckiest guy in Montana."
She gives me a peck on the lips. The other girls notice, start hootin' and hollerin'.
Speaking of turnin' bright red. "Brooke, I should go figure out what's wrong with Mattie."
She nods. "Oh, okay."
I get up, squeeze her hand before I leave. Make it at least look official. I walk down the hall, peek around the corners to see if I can spot him. I walk by a set of windows, see him sitting under a tree in the courtyard. He's got his knees drawn up to his chest, hugging them. Staring at a dead leaf in front of him.
I walk out the doors, sit down next to him.
He doesn't look at me. Just keeps examining the leaf. Turns it by the stem to see the other side.
I keep my voice down. "Mattie, we can't do this. Act like this. People are gonna start thinkin' somethin's wrong with you."
"So what if there is something wrong with me?"
"You know, she didn't mean any bad when she called you Shadow."
"It's you, Lem. You're the only one that can call me that. It made me so mad when she said it."
"She's the one that came up with it."
"So the fuck what? I don't want anything to do with that bitch."
"Hey! Watch what you say, man. That's my girlfriend you're talkin' about."
He snaps a look at me. Squints. "Since when?"
"Well, she's been wanting to call it official for a while, Mattie."
"So I mean nothing to you?"
"Don't be like this." I sigh. "You mean a lot to me, Shadow. We need to do everything we can to look normal. We can't be like this, be seen as two boys in love. You know what people would do if they found out what we done? If they didn't try to hurt one of us, they'd say things. Hurtful things." I scratch the side of my shoe. "Mattie, I didn't want to go this far with you because I didn't want you to get hurt."
"You know when you fucked me, Lem? All I wanted was to matter to you."
"It meant everything to me. But we didn't have to do that to be what we are. To be friends. I don't want to lose that. Christ, Mattie, when did all this shit get so complicated?"
He shakes his head, looks away from me. "Now I just feel cheap." He gets up, starts walking off.
"Mattie, please. Sit down."
He stops. Looks back over his shoulder. "I hope she means a lot to you, Lem. Enjoy her, an' bein' normal. I'm done."
He just walks off. Goes through the doors and walks down the hall.
# # #
I haven't seen Mattie at school the last week and a half. We don't really have any of the same classes, so I'm guessing he's avoiding me. I tried to call him a few days ago, to say I was sorry. See if I could get him to calm down a bit. Nobody picked up. Fuck whoever invented caller ID.
His dad was at home a few mornings ago. I saw him workin' in the barn. Took a duffel bag to his truck and took off right quick. Haven't seen Ronnie's truck or his mom's car there for the last few days, come to think of it. Last time I saw Ronnie's truck was when he took off at two or three one morning last week. Just sped up the road. Woke me up from a dead sleep.
I spot Ronnie walking down the hall. Got a blank look on his face. I try to stop him, see if maybe Mattie's sick. I guess I could bring him his homework or something. At least it'd get my foot in the door.
I stop in front of him. "Hey Ronnie, I was--"
His eyes flicker at me, almost like it was an accident him making eye contact. He keeps going forward. Plows through my shoulder. Knocks me off kilter, like he's pushing me out of the way. Keeps walking.
What the fuck was that all about? Suddenly, I get the feeling he knows what we did.
# # #
I really don't know what's up Jason's ass. Saw him drivin' across the parking lot, just fuckin' took off. I guess Chase found her own ride, but that left me to find my own way home. Fuckin' asshole. I took the bus with the freshmen and middle school kids, now it's three miles up a dirt road to get home.
I'm 'bout a mile up the road. Eyeball some cows grazing on dead grass. Walking steak bushes. I think back to Jeff, wish that I was still in his good graces. I get the itch to ride bulls once in a while, but after our spat, I don't think I could even bring myself to talk to him, knowin' what kind of person he can be.
There's a car down the road behind me coming up the easement. From the sounds of it, they're going a pretty good clip. I keep my eyes fixed in front, try not to let Jason get the better of me.
Ronnie's truck flies by. Suddenly, he slams on the breaks. Skids to a stop. A cloud of dirt flies up around his truck. He's just sittin' in the cab, doesn't even move. Doesn't back up. Just sits there. I get that tingly feeling in my balls.
I walk up beside the truck. His windows are down, his arm across the back of the seat. He's staring at the road ahead of him, doesn't look over.
"Get in." There's something in his tone that makes me nervous.
I grab the handle, open the door slowly. I scoot into the truck, sit my backpack on the floor. Before I even get a chance to close the door he hits the gas hard. The door slams right next to my head. He's going pretty close to forty. Bad idea on a dirt road. "Uh, Ronnie? Wha--"
He slams on the breaks. The truck fishtails and stops. "Shut up or get the fuck out."
I sit here feeling a little stung. This is all way out of his character. "Sorry."
He hits the gas again. After a moment, he passes my driveway. Pulls right into the lane up to their house. He parks the truck, jerks it outta gear. "Follow me." He slams the door behind him as he gets out.
My head starts running. I run up the drive to catch up with him. He steps behind me as he opens the sliding door on the back porch. Pushes me in.
His mom is sitting at the dining room table. She's got a coffee cup in front of her, looking off out the window, distant-like. The way I catch Mattie doing from time to time. She looks up at us we walk in, like she's not sure what to say. "Oh, Ronnie. This isn't kosher."
He puts a hand on my back, starts pushing me through the kitchen toward the stairs. "He's gonna see this."
"Don't do this. It's done with, Ronnie."
He turns around, turns red in the face. "Goddamn it, mom. Just... just sit the hell down. Let me take care of this!"
Her eyes are watering.
Ronnie turns around and pushes me toward the basement. He has me by the arm. Almost drags me down the steps quicker than I can keep up. He turns on his stereo, turns it up real loud. He pushes me into his room, slams the door. He still has my arm tight enough that I know I'm gonna have some bruises.
"Ronnie, what the hell's going on?"
He puts his hand around the front of my neck, pushes me against the wall. Squeezes.
I cough. He's not choking me, but it's damned uncomfortable.
He gets in real close to my face. "He was real depressed, Lem. Mattie's gone."
"He was real fixed on you."
"What do you mean he's gone? Did someone find out he's gay or something?"
He slams my head into the wall. His eyes are puffy, red. He swallows hard. Chokes on his words for a second. "I told you I loved my brother more than anything in the world. I told you." He forces my head against the wall again. "I told you I would die for him, didn't I? Didn't I?"
He pokes his finger in my chest. Really hard. "You shut the fuck up for a while. I'm not done. If you think I would turn him out because he was gay, or straight, or... or whatever--you are sadly mistaken. I told you if anyone, and I mean anyone hurt that kid, I would kill 'em." He bites his bottom lip, shakes his head sadly. He steps back, runs his hands down his face. Starts across his room toward the bathroom. "Come here. You're gonna look at this."
I shake my head. "You're scaring me."
He grabs me by the arm again, pulls me along. "I stuck my neck out enough."
I stop and pull back. Yank my arm out of his grip. "I didn't ask for you to stick your neck out."
He turns around and grabs the front of my shirt. "I didn't stick my neck out for you." He puts his hand on the back of my neck, pushes me into the bathroom. He pushes my head down, parks me a foot away from the bathtub. "You sit right there and get a good look."
There are dark pink stains in the tub and on the tile running down the sides. There's a trail on the floor going to the drain, the grout is stained almost black. I try to back away, get away from his grip. "What is this?"
He squeezes my neck hard. Pushes my head forward a little closer. "Just you fuckin' sit there." He pauses. "It's Mattie, Lem. That's Mattie."
He lets go. Stumbles backwards and sits on the toilet lid. Covers his face with his hands and sobs. Ronnie wipes his face off with his hands, leans back so his head's against the wall, looks down at the ground. "Dad was on the road, driving back from North Dakota. Mom was working swings at the hospital. I... I came home from Jenny's house, took off my clothes and went to go to bed.
"I was laying there for a minute and I heard something fall into water. There was so much blood, Lem. So much blood. His lips were blue - he was white as a sheet. Oh god. I pulled him out, into my arms." He makes a hugging motion in the air, squeezes his arms. "He was limp, but he opened his eyes a little. He whispered something I couldn't hear. 'God Mattie, don't do this. Don't you die on me.' I got some ace bandage out of the cabinet and wrapped up his wrists. I was screaming for someone to help. Anyone. I wrapped him up in a blanket, found an envelope on the counter. I took him upstairs and Tay came down to see what was going on. Thank God he was in town for the weekend.
"I had his... head in my shoulder. I carried him like a baby. He just smiled at me. 'Lem is that you?' He could barely whisper. 'It's Jason, Mattie. You're hurt bad. Stay with me. Don't you die.' and he said 'You sound so far away. Where are you Ronnie?'" He shakes his head slowly.
"He started shivering something fierce. Tay pulled the truck around, I sat him on my lap. Everything was covered in blood. Everything. Tay called the hospital and told them we was coming. I didn't know if Mom would even get to see him alive again. He smiled at me and said he felt warm. He said he wasn't afraid anymore. I tried everything to keep him awake.
"We got him there. When Mom saw Mattie being put onto the stretcher she just started screaming." He looks up from the floor, into my eyes. "It'll chill your blood, Lem." He looks down again. "They took him off. Mom went to be with him in the emergency room. Tay went to call Dad in and tell him Mattie was hurt. A nurse gave me a blanket and I sat down in the waiting room, read the letter. I didn't have the heart to give it to anyone.
"We... we all donated blood. As soon as he was stable enough, they took him to Shelby. I told Mom and Dad that you two got into a fight. I lied and said Mattie told me while I was taking him up the stairs. That it was probably over some girl or something. The doctors said if he would have come in just two minutes later he'd have gone for good. If I came home two minutes later... TWO FUCKING MINUTES, LEM!"
I start to stumble backwards. I feel sick. "No more, please!" I sit on the edge of the tub, realize I'm sitting on Mattie's dried blood. Get to my feet.
"Do you know what it's like to hold your dying brother in your arms, Lem? He was a ghost. It was like he was so far away and I couldn't reach him.
"He's at a home now. Down in Billings. He's getting better -- but he never smiles. You made him happy, and you took that away from him. That blood is in there because of you." He gets up and walks into his room. "Come here."
He pulls an envelope off his night stand. There's dried blood all over it. "He left this for you. There are only three of us in the world who know about this letter, and if it becomes four, I swear to God I'll kill you dead." He hands me the letter, but before he lets go, grabs my wrist with the other hand, lets go of the letter, and pulls me close by the back of my head. I feel his lips touching my ear.
"I want you to do something. Every morning when you wake up, and every night before you go to bed, just you pray and thank God he went across the tracks and not up the street." He pulls my head into his chest and hugs me tight. Feels like he wants to break my neck. "I fucking hate you, Lem Taylor. I swear to God and all that's good, I hate you." Ronnie sobs for several minutes.
I can't move. Numbness of a bad sort.
"Listen... listen." He has tears in his eyes. Squints with a smile that bothers the shit outta me. "There's a Browning in that closet over there. You say you're sorry to my mom on your way out. If you're not over the property line in two minutes, I'll kill you." He squeezes me again. Pushes me back. "I'll fuckin' kill you."
# # #
I get to our mailbox. My lungs are burning, but I know better than to question Ronnie or his intentions. I look back over my shoulder. Ronnie's standing near his truck. He's got the rifle slung across his arm, the stock is open and he's taking the bullets out.
I look at the envelope in my hand. It has my name on it.
I walk up the driveway. See Momma's truck parked out front. I don't want to deal with it. Her or Chase or Jason. I duck away and go into the shed, climb the ladder. I sit on the couch and stare at the envelope. I don't know if I can open it. There's a pit in my stomach, and I've still got a bad case of the spins.
I pull the paper out. Unfold it. I stop at the first line, where it says Lem-, catch my breath. My heart's beating, breaking. I'm shaking.
# # #
I don't know how to say what's inside me anymore. You deserve better than me. Most people wouldn't notice a worthless piece of shit like me, anyway. I won't be in your way anymore.
Don't blame yourself.
I love you.
# # #
I walk in the back door. My eyes are stinging, dry. Chase and Dad are sitting at the table, they both watch me walk across the room to the fridge. Jason's dishin' up whatever's on the stove, and Momma, she's gettin' down some glassware.
"Where you been? We almost started without you." Momma hands me a glass.
I look at her. Shake my head. I get out the bottle of Orange Juice and pour to the brim. Put the lid back on.
"What's wrong? Your eyes're all red."
Jason turns around, looks at me. "Aww, you been crying 'cuz you didn't have a ride home?"
I throw back the juice, drink every drop. Put the glass on the counter. I've still got the plastic container by the neck.
"Poor baby." Jason laughs, goes back to the casserole.
I clinch my fist 'till the knuckles feel like they could bleed. My jaw is tight, can't even open it when I talk. "I am so done with you and your shit!"
Dad stand up and crosses his arms. "That's enough! Both of you!"
Jason steps up, gets in my face. "Oh yeah? Think you're gonna do something about it? Gonna cry like a little fag?"
Momma sets the last of the glasses on the table, puts her hands on her hips. "Jason! That's enough!"
He pushes me lightly, whispers. "What'cha gonna do? Huh? Gonna be a little fag? Gonna go cut yourself?"
The plastic in my hand. I can't let this go on, can't keep myself contained. He's uncorking me in all the wrong ways, and I'm starting to see red. My jaw is shaking, biting down on my tongue so hard I can taste blood.
"Gonna start cryin' again? Gonna cut yourself and bleed? Emo fag--"
The plastic bottle makes a boosh sound when it hits his face. I have it like a tennis racket, and I make sure that I follow all the way through. It surprises him enough that it knocks him backwards, he trips and slams his head into the side of the counter. I spring forward, get on top of him and just let him have it. One fist after another. I'm either going to kill him, or I'm going to do some serious damage to his dental work tryin'.
Suddenly, Dad has me by the arm, pulls me back.
"Get up! Come on you piece of shit! Get up! Say it again!" I have blood on me, it's starting to make me feel sick. I didn't even notice Momma was screaming at me. She's got Chase pulled into her chest. Chase's looking at me like I'm a monster. Crying.
"...goddamnit! Don't have to be beating on your damn brother like that!" Momma walks Chase to the door and turns around. Jason's standing on the other side of the kitchen holding his face. I know he wants to come after me, get a piece of me. Fate, let him do it. Let him end this all right now and see where this gets us. Momma starts dabbing at his face with a cloth napkin. He swats her off. Yells at me. "What the fuck's wrong with you?"
Mom grabs his wrist. Pulls him close to get a better look at his nose. "You just quiet down a minute."
Dad spins me around, grabs my other arm and shakes me. "What's your goddamn problem?"
I shake him off. Step back. "Just leave me the fuck alone."
He slaps me across the face. A good backhand.
My face stings. I look him in the eye. "You done?"
"You want another one?" He pulls back like he's gonna punch me if I give him the wrong answer.
"Make it fucking count."
Dad drops his arm a bit, looks into my eyes. "What's gotten into you?"
"Nothin you'd understand. You going to follow through?"
He raises his fist again. "Maybe I ought'a!"
"Do it." I yell. Come undone. "Come on! DO IT! Make sure I don't wake up. Fuckin' throw it!"
Dad drops his hand and stares at me with this empty look in his eyes.
I shake my head and walk across the kitchen.
Jason stands up when I pass him. "I'm gonna fuck you up--"
I psych him out, pretend like I'm going to hit him again. He flinches. "Give me a reason."
He sits back down. Momma has this slack-jawed look on her face, she watches me walk past the table.
I walk out of the kitchen, go to my room. Slam the door and lay on top of the bed, numb.
# # #
I haven't moved in three days but to go to the bathroom once in a while. I took a shower last night, but I couldn't get to sleep. I haven't really eaten anything, now my stomach is in knots.
Momma keeps checkin' in on me. Left me lunch, but I can't even look at it. Strawberry jam looks too much like blood. I threw up in the shower, washing Jason's blood off me. I haven't even been able to sleep.
Momma walks in, sits on the edge of my bed. She rubs my arm. "I wish you'd tell me what's gotten' into you." Make no mistake, she's pissed. She won't let me know until I open up, tell her what she wants to hear.
I don't say anything. Just swallow and keep staring at the wall.
"Would you at least eat something? You're looking pale." She sighs and gets up. Leaves the room.
After a bit, I can hear her and Dad yellin' at each other downstairs. Fighting about me, what to do about it. I pull my pillow over my head. I thought about it last night, letting go. Ending it. Just the thought of it, I start bawling again.
I feel someone sit on my bed.
"Lem?" It's Chase. "What's wrong? Why're you crying?"
I don't even take the pillow off my face. "I fuckin' hate myself. I can't stand it."
She lifts the pillow to look at me. The light hurts my eyes. "Can't stand what?"
I wipe off my face, sit up. Pull my knees up to my chest. Sniffle. Rock back and forth like a psycho. "I can't stand who I am. I... I can't stand being in my skin anymore. I can't stand life. What the fuck just happened? To everything? Everyone?"
She hugs me. "I know we don't get along sometimes, but that doesn't mean I don't love you."
"It's not about you, Chase."
"You wanna talk about it?" We sit for a second. "I'm not as smart as Momma, but I'll sure listen."
I sigh. Get lightheaded thinkin' the last few days. "Mattie tried to kill himself."
She sits back. Looks at me. "Lem, I'm so sorry."
I close my eyes tight, start crying again. I feel like such a fuckin' baby. I reach out for Chase, hug onto her tightly. "He almost died. It was my fault."
"Lem, you gotta tell Mom. You hafta talk to her."
"She won't understand, Chase."
"Sure she will. That's why she's there for us. That's why God made moms and dads. To teach us things. To help us out."
"I wish that were true, Chase."
"Dad and Momma would sooner die than let anything happen to one of us. I sure as heck don't know what I'd do without you."
"You're just sayin that."
"I mean it, Lem. I really do." She sighs. I can hear Momma screaming at Dad downstairs again. "They think you've gone mental. They've been fighting like that for a few days. Look, I'm not going to say anything to Momma, but soon as things settle down, I'm gonna tell her you need her."
"If you don't wanna talk to her, whatever. But if she comes in, I think you should tell her. It would fix a lot of things."
"It's not gonna fix Mattie, is it?"
"Maybe not, but now that I know why you beat up Jason, I think maybe he deserved it."
I laugh sadly. "I had to do something to stand up for him."
"You should see his face. You really messed him up. Guess he won't be pickin' on you anymore."
She gets up and leaves, closes the door quietly behind her.
I lay back down, cover my head again. Momma walks in at the speed of holy shit, that was fast. Guess her and Dad were between bouts when Chase got downstairs.
"Chase said you asked for me?" She sits down, leans against the headboard.
I sit up, lean against her shoulder. Start crying again. I mean, I'm really letting it out. She pulls me into her side, rocks me back and forth. "Lem, what's going on? I'm worried about you."
"Momma, Mattie tried to kill himself. He almost died and it was... was all because of me."
"What?" She sounds like she's in some sort of quiet disbelief.
"He cut his wrists. Ronnie found him in the bathtub when he came home. They packed him off to the hospital and they almost lost him. If they got there a few minutes later, he'd be gone."
"Why would you think it was your fault?"
"I think it was because me'n Brooke or something. That's what Ronnie said."
"You think he was jealous that you were dating a girl and he wasn't?"
"I don't know." I sigh, look at the print on her jeans. "I don't know anything anymore." She sits there with me, keeps her arms around me. I have to lie. She wouldn't understand. "He was getting angry at me a lot, that I was starting to spend time with Brooke. I don't think someone would try to die because of that, would they?"
"Honey, it sounds like he was sick. Really, really sick. I wish you would have told me sooner." She squeezes me once. "You feeling okay? Have you felt like that? Like you want to hurt yourself?"
I look up at her, at her sad face. It looks like she's aged ten years. She's not wearing any makeup. Looks like she's been crying. "When dad hit me, I just... I wanted him to hit me hard enough I'd never wake up. I just don't think Mattie deserved to be in that much pain. It scared me, feeling like that. I guess it was because I was so angry at Jason."
"Is that why you hit him?"
"I felt like I had to stand up for Mattie. Why would he do that? Try to kill himself?"
"Lem, we're not meant to understand things like that. When people try to kill themselves, they don't know they're hurting other people, too." She sighs. "You going to be okay for a minute? I need to talk to your dad."
"No, mom. Don't tell anyone about this, please."
"Baby, it wasn't your fault. Dad needs to know you're okay. He needs to know what happened." She stands up, walks to the door. "Sit tight, I'll be right back."
# # #
Half an hour later, Jason comes in. He looks right uneasy. Chase was right, I fucked him up.
"If you're here to give me shit--"
"No, no..." He shakes his head. Leans against the door. "I overheard Mom 'n Dad talkin', said that Mattie tried to take his life. I... umm... I'm not good at this, Lem, but what I said was wrong, and I didn't know that sort of shit was going on."
"I was two minutes from losing my best friend."
"He's alive, isn't he?" He has that as-a-matter-of-fact tone to him.
"Him and Ronnie have been more like real brothers than you ever have. All you and me share is blood."
"I told you I didn't come in here to start shit with you."
"Why'd you come in here at all?"
He looks at the floor. "I came in to say I was sorry--bout Mattie and what I said. I deserved every bit of it. And fuck, you nailed me pretty good." He runs a finger over his cheek, over a small, deep cut. He looks at me uneasily, then back at the floor. I guess he figured he's said his piece, because he turns to leave.
He stops, turns around.
"Why do you hate me so much?"
He looks at me again, looks about the room. He tries to talk, but he can't. He leaves the door open and walks off.
Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!