Thanks for reading!
Any use of real places, events, corporations or products within this text are strictly for the purpose of adding realism and authenticity to the writing. Critiques are always welcome. Also, please let me know what you think of the format. If you want more information about any rodeo events, there are tons of resources online.
Written exclusively for Nifty Archives. This story involves sexual relationships between boys, aged 15 and older. If this is illegal in your area, please do not read on. This story is work of fiction. Any similarities between real places, people, and events is completely coincidental and unintentional. If you read the archives frequently, then you know the drill. Take the rest with a grain of salt. This story is (c) 2007-08, Milos. All rights reserved! Please do NOT repost this story without permission.
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I'm standing in a dingy grayish room. Maybe it was white at one point. It's big and I can't see any end of it. The light in here, sickly green and it hurts my eyes plenty bad. Makes me feel sick and vulnerable. I turn around to see what's behind me. There's more ...love you... of this damn room. Turn around again. Nothing.
I'm spinning in circles. Slowly. I just can't fix on any particular feature. ...can't go witho... There're no lights. No corners. I've been in here, wherever here is, for hours and hours. I don't ...please, just, Goddamn it... know how long it's been, either.
I've started hearing murmurs. It's like standing in the middle of a busy restaurant. Ghosts. Sends a chill up my ...honey, ...here... spine to hear Mattie like I'm at the bottom of a well. Every time I ...kiddo... hear it, I start running. Somewhere. Anywhere. Just to see him. I would sell my soul right now, just to look ...ever leave again... into his eyes one last time.
I haven't heard the machines in a while. High pitched screeches. Beeps. Electricity. Drills. Saws. I can't tell how long it's been, maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks. It was the drill sound that woke me up in this room. Sounded like someone was drilling on the other side of a wall. Then there was this sick wet crunching sound. It was almost like a dentist drilling in your mouth. The pressure, the headaches. It happened a few times. I screamed at it to stop. Over and over again. It just echoed through the room. I keeled over on the floor, in a little ball. Just bawled like a baby.
Once in a while, I swear I can hear Chase. It's like a distant ...remember that, don't... memory.
There. I blink. There he is, facing away from me. Shadow? ...don't you dare let... He's gotta be about a hundred feet ahead of me. I want to run to him, throw my arms around him. I take ...you shouldn't even be here... a few steps, but he's not getting any closer. I call out his name, but it's like he can't hear me. I run, but it's like he's floating there out of my reach.
I feel something, a wave, run up my neck. It's ...amn it Gary, you're not the only one that feels like shit right now! Get the hell outta my sight, would...-- Momma? What the fuck's going on?
I sit down and try to think about it. Where am I? I hear these murmurs, but I don't know who they are. They're comforting, in a way, but I just don't know anything right now. I'm trying to remember something. There's ...PLEASE!... something I can't get at.
I fall to my knees and scream. Hold my empty head in my hands and pray that ...hallowed be thy n... it comes back.
I look up. A hundred feet in front of me is a red cow. A bull with a white spot on his chest. Standing there. Looking at me. Turns his head ...anything I can do, please... and blinks. One horn goes up, one horn points down. Shakes his head.
At my right's an old lady. I knew her once. I think she's smiling at me, but I cant tell. And Shadow, he's to my left. Still facing away. There's ...worry, he's not feeling... something behind me, but I can't bring myself to look at it. It's just a feeling. Icy. Cold. Urgent.
In the blink of an eye, I'm standing alone in this dingy room with this feeling. Everything's fading. No, no no no no no! SHIT! I feel like if this all fades away, something bad's going to happen. I might just... slip away. 'STOP!!'
I look down at my leg. Pins and needles.
Everything's going gray. Hazy, like when you're really tired and you just want to drift off. Then everything goes black, but there's a grey split ...eyes. I... Moving... going from right to left. Like a gash. Hazy. Light. Shadows. Long, spindly things. I can't tell what they are. My eyes hurt so bad!
They're moving! Dancing shadows! I think ...in the doct... they wanna play with me. One of them gets bigger, like it's trying to get closer to me. This gray shadow.
aumm iiihhh aiii agh bowwhhrr
It sounds like me, like I'm struggling. The shadows are getting closer. I want them to go away. I need them to leave me ALONE! NO! They can't have me. Take me back!
...just, don't try to... Stay...
Where is this? Where are these voices coming from? There's a dingy white light in front of me. A pinching feeling in my eyes. Aching. It's moving around, like the shadows were. A high pitched screeching in my ears.
Then I see it. A face looking at me through a cloud. What's going on!? It's Momma. She's crying.
"mm... Mom-ma?" It hurts! It hurts so fuckin' bad!
Then I feel her touch. Her lips on my forehead. It ripples through my body, makes the pain go away. For now.
# # #
They've been stingy on the morphine. I can feel pinching in my back again. That icy feeling. It burns up my sides. Makes my head hurt.
The nurses come and go. Momma and Chase have been with me the last few days. Chase won't leave my side. Dad went back to Burlee after I woke up. Went home to take care of things.
I want out of this bed. I want to walk out of here right now. There's something I gotta do, something I got to set right. Takes so much effort to even talk.
She sits up like someone done kicked her. "Yeah, sweetie?"
"'mm s- sorry." Even hurts to blink right now.
"You don't have anything to be sorry for, honey." She brushes my forehead with a few fingers, tries to move diligently around the posts of this big, metal halo.
"Mm... Mattie... I need to ss-see 'em."
Chase gets a bothersome look in her eye.
Momma brushes my forehead. "Don't you worry yourself about him. You need to rest. Try to get some sleep."
"Got enough..." I cough. It hurts my insides so much. I swallow. "Got enough sleep. Need-a see Mattie." I need to tell him I'm sorry. Tell him to move on with his life. He needs to get away from me before I bring him down. His scars are my scars, now.
"I think you need to get better, first."
"Please, just... do this... for me."
She kisses me on the cheek. "I'm gonna find the nurse. The morphine's probably starting to wear off."
Hell, I could have told her that.
She walks off. Chase sits down in her chair. Waits a few seconds until she knows Momma's gone. Talks softly. "Promise not to get mad?"
"What..." Swallow. "What happened?"
"He's been here. After your accident he waited with us in the waiting room, but Momma wouldn't really let me talk to him. He kept asking me about you when she'd take off for the bathroom or something. You know how oblivious dad is. She knows about Mattie, Lem."
"Mattie's mom told Momma after he came out. Mattie lost everything. Nobody in his family will even talk to him, except maybe Ronnie. But Momma confronted him in the waiting room. Said that he needed to leave you alone."
"No... no." I feel a warm tear run down my face.
"Mom and Dad went to the hotel about five or six days in. I wouldn't leave you here by yourself. Mattie was still showing up. I snuck him in." Tears start down her face. "He sat alone with you all night. He just cried and cried. Momma was furious."
"I... need to see him, Chase. Set things right."
"He knows you love him. You're both just lucky Dad wasn't here to see him kiss your hand when he left. I'll call him, if you want me to give him a message."
"Does he... know? I'm awake?"
"I told him I'd call when you were. I just didn't think you being on so much morphine you'd even be able to blink."
"Don't know if... if I can face... him... after what I said."
"Do you want anything?"
"'m hungry... Stomach hurts."
"I don't think they'll let you eat anything. I'll see if the nurse will let you have some pop or something."
"Don't... feel like pop."
We sit for a little. The TV's on CNN, guess Momma's been watching it all day. Bunch of talking heads going on about something or another.
"... love you."
"I love you more."
I try to smile, but even that hurts. "Liar."
"I do, too."
Something on the television set catches my fancy. 'And this hour we've learned that Pro Rodeo Bull designated as Backdraft will be retired after almost fatally injuring pro rider Lem Taylor. This announcement comes just two days after PBR rider Taylor came out of a nine-day coma. Sources tell CNN that he's alert and stable, but still in serious condition. Taylor was injured following a bull ride at the PBR Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada.
'Two days ago, Taylor's sister, Chase Taylor, and PRB Chair, Troy Levinson, held a press conference.'
I smile. "Lll-look at you... on the news." I swallow.
She blushes. "Well, this communications degree's gotta be good for something. Public speaking was fun." She shrugs. "Maybe I'll be a reporter."
The cut to a picture of Chase standing behind a podium with half a dozen microphones attached to it. The text on the bottom of the screen reads Two Days Ago.
'My family would like to thank everyone for their continued support and prayers for my brother. We're happy to say that Lem woke up this morning at eight-fifteen, and was able to talk a little after a few hours. The first thing he said when he came out,' Chase scoffs. 'He asked if he made the buzzer. We're pleased that he came out of his surgeries okay. He had several...' she chokes up, 'um... several surgeries over the last nine days.' She smiles sadly.
'I would like to request that members of the media to respect our family's privacy while we work through these hard times. Any further questions regarding my brothers progress should be directed toward Mister Levinson. Thank you.'
She steps off to the side. Troy slides up to the microphone.
"You're... prettier than most of... of the reporters on there."
"No, I'm not."
"You talk like one of them... I-I bet you'll be... a good reporter."
'Good afternoon. We're saddened by the events of Lem's current situation, and many of the riders have come together in support of Mister Taylor. A fund has been set up to help him and his family alleviate some of the financial burden of this accident. In addition to that, series champion Beau Haywood has donated Twenty Thousand dollars of his winnings toward the fund. Many other riders have also contributed.
'In the short time he was with the series, Lem was a great asset to the sport of Bull Riding, and we're going to be sad to see him go as an athlete.
'Lem had a fusion on his lower spine, and rods put into his back to help support his spine. His C2, C3, and C7 vertebrae were broken in the accident. His pelvis was completely shattered on the right side. Titanium plates were inserted to help rebuild it. Right now, he is paralyzed. Lem has a long, long road to recovery, but I have hope that he will walk again.
'We have talked to Dick Kelly, the contractor of 681 Backdraft, and it was agreed that this animal will be put into retirement permanently. These are all dangerous animals, but Backdraft was one of the most notorious bucking bulls we've seen. Accidents like this are rare, but they do happen. It just reminds us of the peril we put ourselves in every time we ride on an animal like this. I will now take questions.'
"Sounds... like I'm worse for wear."
Chase squeezes my hand. "We'll get through this."
Momma comes in with a nurse.
The nurse looks over my chart, writes something down, and leaves.
Momma sits back in her chair. "Too soon. Said they'll come back in at six and start you on another morphine drip."
"Ww- what time is it?"
"Just after three."
Momma kinda grins.
The image switches from the reporter to the arena. There are a bunch of people crowded around something. I guess that would be me. I can see my legs, my chaps, my boots. 'CNN would like to warn viewers that the following images are extremely graphic, and viewer discretion IS advised.' I see me getting on the back of Backdraft. Like the shot came from some camera guy standing over the chute. 'Animal handlers at the event were unable--'
The TV goes dark. Momma's pointing the remote like she's standing behind a smoking gun. "I think that's enough of that." She blinks, sets the remote down on the table next to the bed.
"Momma. Call Mattie... Please?" I'm gonna push her buttons. What's she gonna do, yell at me?
"Shhh. Try to sleep."
"Wanna talk to him... Please Momma!"
"Lem, don't strain yourself." She stands up. Puts a hand on my chest and pats it a few times.
"Why... can't I? Tell... tell me."
She looks off to the side. Chews on her bottom lip. I can almost hear the cogs spinning. "Honey, I don't want it to upset you. Shhh. Please, just try to rest."
"Don't give a shit. I nn-need Mattie."
"I don't think you ought'a. He's sick, and I don't think it'd be good for you. Honey, you need your rest before you see people."
"Why? Why's he sick?"
She leans forward. Talks through her teeth because she's gettin' pissed. "I think, for your sake, he's better left alone. There's no need for you to talk to him right now."
"Mom, Mattie's his best frien-"
Chase crosses her arms and turns around. Sits down across the room.
"Not now, baby."
I squeak. "WHY?!"
She sighs. Shakes her head. "He told his mom he was queer. You really want that hanging around you?"
"I thought... yy-you were better than..." I swallow. "...this. You think I... I give a shit? Th... think Chase d-does?"
Momma glances over at her. "You know Chase has a bleeding heart. You both do. That's enough."
"I need to see him."
"Why's it so damned important, Lem?"
"It means... everything."
"We'll talk about this later. Maybe when you're more awake."
"I love him."
"Go... to... sleep."
"I-I said I love him. I'm... I'm in love with him."
"That's not funny, Lem. Your dad'd kill you for a joke like that."
"I'm not... not running from mm-myself anymore."
Momma crosses her arms. Got stern written on her face. "Don't you do this right now. We've got other things to worry about."
"I... I wanna talk to M-Mattie. I'm... I..." I try to shake my head, but I don't work that way anymore. Feel a few more tears run down my face. Feels like I'm facing the executioner, standing in front of the gates to hell. "I'm gay, Mom. I..." Sob a little. "I'm gay."
"It's the drugs. You're not thinkin' straight right now. Rest, would you?"
"Goddamn it, I can't... b-believe you."
"Watch your mouth. I'll be damned if-"
"G... get out." It's barely a whisper, but it gets my point across.
She looks stung. "Lem, you don't know what's good-"
My voice is hoarse, cracking. "I said... g-get the fuck out of my room! Just... leave me... alone!" The heart-rate monitor speeds up a little, then slows back down. I point my eyes at the wall. Concentrate on a seam in the tile.
I hear her get up and leave. Chase follows her out, trying to catch her ear.
I can't hold it in anymore. I scrunch my face and cry. It hurts my throat, my head, my body... my soul. I push the call button.
Takes forever, but the nurse finally comes back. She looks at my face. "You okay? You in pain?"
"C-close the shades... please. And the door. I wanna sleep... in the dark... a while."
"The light hurting your eyes?"
She closes all the blinds, pulls the privacy curtain around the bed. "Let me know if you need anything else. We'll be in after a while to spy on you." She fakes a smile, leaves the room. Leaves me alone. In the dark.
# # #
I've been staring at the ceiling for a few hours. Momma's done her best to stay clear of me. I just hope Chase is trying to talk some sense into the woman.
Someone walks in, sits down on the other side of the privacy curtain. I can just barely make out a shadow. Too big to be Chase, so I figure it's Momma.
"I want to be alone."
"You know how fuckin' hard it is to get a leave right now? I had to clear so much red tape to get here from Iraq and that's how you say hi?"
"I'm debating if I should open this curtain. I don't know if I wanna see what that rank did to you."
"You douche... Just... open the damn curtain." God, it even hurts to talk.
Jason sits back in the chair, covers his mouth. "Jesus," he whispers. He looks stuck for words. "That halo looks a little uncomfortable."
"You have... no idea."
"How's it feel?"
"Like someone's..." I swallow, "...got my head in... a fuckin' lobster claw."
"Fuck, dude. I'm sorry."
"You've seen worse... than me... in battle."
"Not when it's your kid brother." He leans forward and grabs my hand. Holds it. Pats it. "You know you got mom all riled up?"
"What about it?"
He stares at me like he's lost.
"Gonna sit here..." swallow, "...and tell me... who I am? Gonna... turn your back... on me?"
"Hey, don't be like that."
"Then ww... what am... I... ss-supposed to be like?"
"You don't have to act like such a little asshole, for one. I know who you are. You're my brother, and you're one of the most important people in the world to me."
"Bullshit. You even... know why... Mom's so mad?"
"Which part? You being a cripple and her potentially having to take care of you the rest of your life, or you being in love with Matthew?"
"I ain't a cripple."
"Sorry. Differently abled. Don't be such a hippie, you know what I meant."
"Please, just... don't g-give me... shit about this."
"You really think I give a shit? I didn't come over here because you're gay. I came over here to be with you because you almost died. Rodeo accident, not a gay accident. Well, the accident was pretty gay..." He pauses. I can hear the little levers in his head trying to change gears. "You know how many time's I've seen you on the news?"
"Man, you're on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, AP. You're a fucking legend!" He sighs. "I kept checking to see if you were awake. Now I know what Ronnie must've felt like."
I wish I was a real legend.
"I wanna tell you a little somethin'."
He squeezes my hand. "I love you, kid. I'm proud of you, too."
I try to look away with my eyes. "I'm... a fag."
"You're still my brother. Hey, look at me." He squeezes my hand, harder this time. "You know how long I've known about you?"
I look at him, then away again.
"Since you rearranged my face. The way you stood up for Mattie, I'd expect that. The way he'd always cling to you, the way you two always talked, I could tell you were a little more than friends. You can tell when people have that soul-mate connection going on."
"And here you... you are... talkin' to me."
"Give me some credit, would you? I'm out there fightin' for you, so you can be what you want to. I'm proud of you because you've done something with yourself. You're gay, but you don't act like a chick. I'd never think twice about introducing you to people I know, whether they knew or not. And to tell the truth, I was more worried about what Mattie might put you through."
"Jason, I fucked up bad."
"Why you think that?"
"Mattie and I... we got into a fight." I cough a little. Taste blood. "Right before mm-my ride. He... he didn't want me to, and..." I stall. Stare at the ceiling.
"It's okay. Take your time, kiddo. I got all the time in the world."
"I told him to... stop acting like such... a ff-fag. Sss-said if I got onto the back of... of... of the b-bull, it'd be the last time... I ever saw him."
"Yeah, but if you took that bull, you would have been a world champion. You might have a million dollars right now."
"Look at me. You look mm-me in... in the eye and tell me... it was ww-worth it."
"Well, was it?"
"Fuck! No!" Breathe hard. "The shit... I put my body through... ww-what I put Mm-mattie through. This family's gone to shit... because of me."
"Lem, it's not gonna go to shit."
"What did Momma say?"
"She's smoldering. You know how she gets when you piss her off. Hell, you sure know how to rock a boat."
"You know me. Don't... half-ass anything."
"What do you think you'll do now?"
I look right at him with my eyes. "I want another... try at the ss-son of a bitch that... that put me in this bed."
He blinks at me.
"Just kidding..." I sigh. Swallow. "Prolly get my life together... Maybe finish school... if the hospital bills don't kill me... Take up... ss-skydiving and bungee jumping." I look over at him again. "Doctors say I'm... I'm gonna have to learn to... walk again. Learn to take care of myself." I swallow. "Learn to wipe my own ass... If I can get that far, then... mm-maybe I can learn to live again."
"You know what? I'm gonna be right here next to you to help you. If you wanna get back on a bull again, shit, I'll give you my own legs so you can."
"I'm not doing rodeo anymore... You know that."
He leans forward. "What's stopping you?"
"Ain't my ww-will that's broken." I swallow. "Mm-my back prolly... prolly looks like a carved turkey."
"I guess that'd do it." He sits back. "But don't you ever give up on me. Okay?"
"You meant what you said? 'Bout helping me along?"
"Damn skippy, kid!"
"How the hell... you going to do that?"
"I put in for a transfer. I can get a job on a base doing intelligence training or something. There're plenty of jobs I can do here."
There's a long pause. After a bit, I sigh.
"What you thinkin' about?"
"Ww-what's Dad... gonna say?"
"Let me take care of him and Momma. It's more important that you get to walkin' again, and I can't seeing them turning against you because of that. I'll take care of you myself, if I have to."
"Why you being... like this, Jason?"
"I might still be a piece of shit, but I'm blessed to have a brother like you. We all make mistakes. Yours just meant something."
"You... you said that before."
"The police station in Cascade. Before I enlisted. Remember?"
There's so much pain, I don't know if I could even blush. "Yeah."
The nurse walks in carrying a small glass bottle and a capped syringe.
"Tell you what..." He squeezes my hand again. Stands up. "I'm gonna go peel Momma off the ceiling so you can get your fix and some shut-eye." He turns to the nurse. "Make his a double, on me." He starts walking toward the door.
He stops, turns around.
"I love you." I can't say it without sounding like a damned kid.
He nods. "Get some sleep."
# # #
Momma flew back to Montana. Said she would be back in a week. She didn't mind leaving since Jason said he'd stay with me until she got back. Chase had to go back to school. She said she'd take a few more weeks off, but I told her she needed to go back. Lamont got off for some leave, so he came over to Vegas to hang out. He's a really nice guy, and I'm glad Jason has a good friend like him. I sent Jason off for the day, just so he could have some fun with Lamont and I could be alone. Have some peace. People have been doting over me for the last two months. I can't even hear my own thoughts without someone interrupting.
I've been trying to think about how things are gonna be different. What I'm gonna do when I get outta here. My bills are mostly covered, thanks to the Rodeo Association and all the donations they gave me. I'm going to have physical therapy just to get my arms conditioned for this. I still feel really weak. My apartment is upstairs. I don't even know how I'm gonna manage that. Looks like I'm gonna need Jason's help to move my stuff into another apartment. I just don't know where that leaves Mattie. I don't want to think about it anymore, but it keeps running across my mind like a streaker at a football game.
Don't know how much longer I got this halo. They said I might get out of here within the month, if things go well.
My room looks like a fuckin' greenhouse. There are cards all over the place. Hink sent me a little stuffed bull. A red one with a white tummy. Can't imagine where he'd found the damned thing, but it has little X's for eyes. I've been sleeping next to it. Hugging it when I get stressed out. It doesn't take much, either. These limitations are driving me up the wall. I can't move like I want to.
Twenty-two, and I can't walk anymore.
Brian got ahold of Skyler. They came to vegas to see me last week. Spent a few days with me. It was good to have the company. Brian got a job on an oil rig in Texas. A real roughneck, now. Got that grime under his nails he ain't ever gonna get rid of. He says he's happy. Skyler hasn't changed a bit. Brian wasn't ever out of earshot, so it was hard to talk about anything dealing with us. Shit happens and the world keeps spinning.
Momma was pretty quiet for two or three days after I came out. Sat in the corner with her head propped up on her hand. Barely breathed. Hardly made a peep. Then, Dad came back for a week. She eventually had to tell him because he knew something was wrong and wouldn't leave her alone.
He sat down next to me. Held my hand. Shook his head and said, "it don't matter. None of it matters." Looked me in the eye. "Who a man loves doesn't make the measure of a real man. I just wanna see you get outta here and be happy. That's the only thing that matters to me."
First time I've ever seen Dad or Jason crying.
Momma must have come around, or must be shoving it away in the back of her mind. Like she's in denial. She hasn't brought that or Mattie up since Dad and I talked, but she hasn't shushed me when I bring up Mattie.
Chase called Mattie before she left. Told me about it after she'd done it. Said he was back in school, didn't know when he'd be able to get away. I just wanna hear his voice, and he's taken to not answering his phone again. I've called his number over and over again, just to hear his voicemail message.
Had the nurse park me and this ugly chair here an hour ago, so I could look out the window for a while. Not like I can really do it myself. I can move my hands, my arms, but I don't have the strength to push my own damn wheelchair right now. Wish I could say the same for my legs.
Doped out of my fuckin' mind.
Vegas is pretty ugly during the day. Just this dry desert town, no real features to fix on. Town hurts my eyes as much as the light does.
I hear someone walk in behind me. Maybe two or three people. I can't tell. I can't turn my head to look, so I have to sit here and wait. Maybe it's the nurse and a resident or something. What time is it? Morphine? That's some weird shit, morphine. Someone could whack me across the face with a bad and I wouldn't even care.
"Chase said you looked pretty bad."
A chill runs down my spine. Mattie.
"I... I really don't know what to say, Lem. Hurts me to see you like this."
"Hey, Shadow." There's a small ache in my chest. "Is someone with you?"
"Uh, yeah. Ronnie came with me."
The room feels colder, now. "Hello, Ronnie."
"Hey, Lem. How you feeling?"
"All things considered," I scoff, "pretty shitty. Sorry for not getting up."
I hear a sniffle.
"Mattie, come around here so I can see you."
I hear him walk closer. Close my eyes as he passes me on the right. Catch the breeze as he walks past. Sweet and flowery, like he used to wear a long time ago. I open my eyes. He's sitting, leaning against the window sill, arms crossed, looking out the window. A silhouette against the light, a shadow. He stares at the street below. "I made a promise to myself. To you and me both. But, here I am." He sobs quietly for a second.
"I hate that I cant even lift my hand and touch you."
He looks over at me. Stares.
"What hurts more is what I put you through."
We sit in quiet for a while. I just listen to everyone around me breathe. He feels like a stranger to me now. Every time I catch the glint in his eye, I can tell he wants to be somewhere else. "So, what now?"
"Mattie..." I break down. Can't really hang my head in shame and cry. I'm forced... forced to look forward. "Mattie... I'm scared."
Ronnie either hisses or sighs.
Mattie ignores it. Instead of saying anything, he walks around behind me. Comes back a few seconds later. Kneels down to the right of me. He kisses my hand. Puts his bracelet around my wrist. Ties it loosely, rubs it with his hand.
"Where... where did you find it?"
"Your Mom gave it back to me."
He nods. "Handed this and the ring back to me when she said you and I should probably go our separate ways." He hunches forward a little, rests his forehead on my arm. When he lifts his head, he's chewing on his bottom lip. I've never seen him like this. Pale, bags under his eyes, lips dry and cracked. "Lem, I can't do it. I love you too much, and... and I don't know if I can do it."
"Mattie, it ain't much fair for you to be stuck to me like this. I been thinkin' about it. Find someone that makes you happy. Go somewhere and forget about me. I never expected you to stay after this. I don't want you to."
He touches the sides of my face with his hands. Does it so gently I can hardly feel it. He's afraid of hurting me. "I... No, I can't walk away."
"Shadow--I will only drag you down."
"Please, Lem. Just..." Mattie puts his forehead against mine. He's crying mess; tears and snot run down his face. Both our faces. Feel his miserable breath on my skin. Just holds our heads together. "Goddamn it, you're so pathetic, you know that?"
"I can't move right anymore. I have to have someone bathe me, take me to the bathroom. I'm a fuckin' three year old again. I won't let you take care of me. You deserve better."
"Why can't you just put your pride on hold and trust me? Why won't you let me help you?"
"Ain't no way you can be happy with me like this. Ain't no way!"
I feel him shaking his head back and forth, with his forehead still pressed to mine. There's a quiet chanting. He's not even whispering it. Feel his tears fall onto my arms. Hear this soft, soft mantra. "I love you... I love you... I love you... love you... love you..." He sniffles. "I hate you."
Ronnie shifts. "Let's go, Matthew. He's just feeling sorry for himself."
"I'm here on my knees, Lem. Here I am confessing my love for you. What do you want from me?"
"Matthew..." Ronnie sounds annoyed.
He looks up, past me. "Ronnie, we'll leave when I'm damn good and ready."
I hear Ronnie stand up. "That bull had my blessing before you did, Lem." He pauses. "Forgive me." Sounds like Ronnie walks out of the room.
Mattie puts his hands on my knees, looks back into my eyes. His hands are always so warm, and I can't fuckin' feel them against my bare skin. "What do I have to do to prove I'm good enough for you?"
"I can't let you love me, anymore. It ain't fair to you. You always deserved better'n me."
"Bullshit. What could I do to make you feel better? To make you happy?"
"Walk out that door like you said you would before I put myself in this chair. Live up to your word and what you said." I quiver, swallow hard. "I did you wrong. Don't you even think about forgiving me for this."
"I loved you when you were plain old Lem Taylor. Before you were this..." He turns my hand over, puts something cold and heavy into it. "...this hot shit rodeo star." Wraps my fingers around it just like I did when I gave him his ring. "Maybe someday you'll let me be your friend again. You just hold onto this for a while and think about things."
He lightly kisses me on the lips, stands up, and walks around me. Sounds like he walks out of the room. It's all a little too much for me right now, and I'm trying not to break down more than I already am. The best thing that ever happened to me is walking out the door because I told him to. What the fuck just happened?
I look between my hands. The bracelet on one wrist, the tungsten ring in the palm of the other. The piece of Mattie that he gave me, and the piece of me that he gave back.
(Stay tuned, this IS the end, but there is an epilogue.) Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!