Two Men in a Pickup
Chapter 22, Epilogue
It's almost four in the morning when the pickup pulls into the driveway from the road. Rich has fallen asleep at the kitchen table, the bright light on the ceiling burning overhead. When he opens his eyes, Rusty is already headed for the door, toenails clicking on the linoleum.
Rich gets up, walks to the porch and peers through the screen, a cloud of millers and night bugs whirling around outside in the porch light. The pickup rolls to a stop in the gravel, the engine stops, the headlamps switch off, and for a moment the night is quiet again. Then the driver's door creaks open and Mike steps out.
His boots hit the ground with a thud, and he just stands there stretching and rolling his shoulders, stiff from the miles of road they've traveled from Crawford, pulling off his cap and raking his fingers through his hair. He grabs his jeans by the belt and hikes them up, then grabs them in the crotch and tugs downward, shaking out his pant leg one at a time.
He turns and says, "We're home," into the cab and shuts the door with a bang, loud enough to wake anybody inside who's asleep.
Rich steps outside and stands on the walk. He realizes he's in his bare feet and can't remember taking off his boots or where he left them. Maybe by Mike's lounger, where Rich watched TV right through the national anthem, until there wasn't anything left to watch but the test pattern.
Mike pushes open the yard gate, bending down to scratch Rusty's head and pull his ears.
"Is he all right?" Rich says as Mike walks past him, patting him on the shoulder.
"Bunged up, but he'll live," Mike says. And he's gone inside the house, the screen door banging shut behind him.
The other door of the truck opens and Danny gets out, and behind him Kirk. They are not talking, just walking real slow toward the house like they're coming through knee-deep water.
Danny gives him a little wave and says hi as he walks past. And then Kirk is right in front of him, his face black and blue with bruises, one eye blood shot and the other closed completely, his lip swollen and sewed up in stitches on one side.
A sharp ache goes through Rich. Until this moment he's imagined Kirk with a few scratches, like he'd been in a fight, but still himself, with his grin, wisecracking and all happy to see him. But Kirk isn't the same. He looks like he went through the windshield in a car wreck.
He doesn't open his mouth either to grin or talk, and there's only a tired look in his face. He glances at Rich, a little surprised when he sees him, and then looks down, like he's embarrassed, and he walks into the house without a word.
That night Rich sleeps on the couch, feeling like crying.
The next day Mike is gone to work when Rich wakes up. He looks in on Danny, who is sitting on the edge of Mike's bedMike and Danny's bed nowrubbing his face and yawning.
Danny doesn't have much to say. Just stands in the kitchen in his under shorts, waiting for the coffee pot to warm up on the stove, staring into space like they're still driving down an endless highway.
"Is he hurt bad?" Rich asks. He wants to know why Kirk hardly said hello, hardly even looked at him.
Danny swings his gaze around to Rich and has to think for a minute. "Give him a couple days. He'll be back to normal." He reaches for a cup in the cupboard. "God help us."
Danny takes his coffee back to the bedroom and puts on a clean pair of levi's. They've shrunk in the last wash, and he has to concentrate to get the fly done, the front of his shorts getting in the way of the buttons. Then he scoops up a pile of dirty clothes from the floor and heads for the porch where there's a washing machine.
"Got anything you want in this load?" Danny says.
Rich has never seen a man washing clothes before. He has to think for a minute to remember that all he has is the clothes he's wearing. And he's been wearing them for days.
"Shuck 'em," Danny says. "You can go get something of Kirk's to wear."
And he does that, pulling off his smelly shirt, his jeans, and his shorts. Dropping them on top of the pile in Danny's arms. Then he walks to the back bedroom, quietly opening the door to slip inside, where Kirk is lying flat out on his bed, one side wrapped in bandages, dark bruises on his bare legs, his sleeping face looking purple and even more swollen in the morning light. Again Rich feels that sharp knife-edge cutting through him.
A floorboard creaks under his bare foot, but Kirk, in deep sleep, does not stir.
Without thinking, Rich crawls onto the bed and pulls a pillow under his head as he stretches out, lying on his side. He can see the swelling under the stitches in Kirk's mouth and hear his breathing. His smooth chest rises and falls softly with each breath, one nipple dark against the pale skin, the other covered by the bandage.
"I love you," Rich whispers, barely making a sound. The words flood through him, ripples spreading out from a stone dropped into a still pond, and he says them again, letting the feeling grow until he's ready to bust.
He reaches out to Kirk's hand lying open on the bed sheet. He touches his fingers lightly and then moves closer so he can put his hand on his belly. Under the skin, he can feel the slow lub-dub of Kirk's heart beating.
He has done this before, waking first as he always does with Kirkwhose sleep is heavy as a fallen cottonwood treeand watching him in his slumber, stroking his chest and shoulders, or his back, and the rest of him.
Under the waistband of his jockeys, Kirk's long dick is full and pushing up along the elastic. Rich lifts his fingers and then settles them again on the front of Kirk's shorts. And he feels the length of Kirk's hard-on filling his hand from his fingertips to the soft inside of his wrist. While he does this, he watches Kirk's eyes, which flicker a little in his dreams.
"I love you," Rich whispers again. And after a while he shifts on the bed so he can press his cheek and his lips against the warmth of Kirk's dick, breathing in the smell of him all funky and musty, slipping his fingers over Kirk's balls until they are nestled in the cup of his hand.
He remembers a time on the road, the morning they woke up in someone's hunting cabin on the Loup River. They'd had to knock the padlock off a door to get in. Squeezed together onto a bunk bed, they had spent the cool night under a moth-eaten quilt with the sounds of field mice in the cupboards and the lonely chirp of a cricket that kept him awake.
When dawn light came gray in the one window, he had slipped his hand into the front of Kirk's open jeans, his shorts still damp from the night before, and he had stroked him gently until Kirk's dick was pushing up hard and straight right to his belly button. Kirk had only sighed once or twice in his sleep, like he might come around and he might not.
He'd wanted to bend down to get Kirk's cock in his mouth, but there wasn't room enough in the bunk. His butt was already pressed tight against the wall behind him. So he just stroked and stroked, feeling Kirk's hard-on go rigid, his breathing begin to quicken, and finally Rich's hand getting covered with hot, goopy splashes of cum. Then Kirk had fallen still in his arms and sunk deeper into dreamland.
And now, that memory vivid, he slips his fingers under the waistband of Kirk's shorts and lifts them slowly away from over his crotch, letting his cock spring free. Hooking them under Kirk's balls, he studies the shape of the head, not rounded like his own knob, but pinching together into almost a point.
The back-leaning curve of his hard-on is not like Rich's either, who's dick has a bend of its own. The skin is tight and smooth; Rich's is rumply with a thick vein along the top. And Kirk's balls are round as big, fat jawbreakers, hanging side by side between his legs, not like Rich's, which are egg-shaped, one dropping lower than the other.
The differences all fascinate him, including the wisps of light hair growing in Kirk's crotch, compared to his own fierce, dark swath of curliness.
He puts his hand around the smoothness of Kirk's hard-on, and then leans down to touch his tongue to the top of his cock. There's a bit of a slick, salty taste, and then he opens his mouth to let more of it in.
It's warm and smooth like a plum, just like he remembers it, just like he's thought of it and missed it the whole time Kirk's been gonerun off on his wild chaseall these long, lonely nights, missing Kirk with all his insides just feeling hurt and aching.
He closes his mouth around the end of Kirk's cock and presses his tongue to it, holding it there between his lips like it's a chocolate covered cherry, ready to melt into a burst of juice and sugary sweetness.
Then he licks down the long length of it, breathing in the tangy smell of him, right down to his balls. They shift one way and another under his tongue as he strokes each of them with his tongue, smoothing out the hair on them like a mother cat washing her kittens.
He puts one arm across Kirk's naked hips and looks up at his face, hoping to see him awake now, looking back with his sly smile. But Kirk is still dead to the world, unmoving.
So he turns to his cock again and gets as much of it as he can into his mouth, the end of it making friends with his tonsils, as he called it that first time with Kirk, and Kirk had cracked up and couldn't lie still for giggling.
Then he pulls back slowly, sucking hard, making soft, moist sounds as he does it again . . . and again. He has his hands pressed against Kirk's butt cheeks, ready to slip under them when Kirk starts lifting his hips off the bed sheet, as he does when he gets ready to pop, trying to get deeper into Rich's mouth. Sighing and humming, yipping and woofing one time like a big puppy dog.
But Kirk does no more than stir in his sleep. Breath catching and holding for a second, then returning to a soft, steady in and out through his swollen nose.
Rich keeps it up. "I'll give you an hour to stop that," Kirk had said once, in a loud whisper and laughing. They were in the pup tent at the lake, in the dark after the campfire went out, unzipped sleeping bags twisted under them and underwear around their ankles.
And after a few more strokes, he feels a ripple go through the muscles in Kirk's butt, and his thighs shift apart a little. He's waking up now, Rich thinks, and continues, stroking harder, the taste of more precum on his tongue.
He glances up, but Kirk's eyes are still closed, his head still buried in the pillow. Then with a quiver shooting through him, he tenses, breath stopped all at once. Rich feels his cock go harderand then the warm, creamy rush spilling out and filling his mouth. He gulps it, swallowing, and it keeps coming, leaking out between his lips, the whole length of Kirk's cock squeezing in tight little jerks. Firing away.
When he's done, he's still hard, like he could do it again. And he probably could.
Rich waits for some sign from him, fingers nestling into his hair or a hand patting him on the shoulders, Kirk's voice cooing or making purring sounds, but there's no response, just his body relaxing and settling back into deep sleep.
Rich puts his dick back inside his shorts, still full, wet now with his spit, oozing a last streak of cum, and then snuggles up beside him, wanting to put his arm across his chest, but worrying about the bandage taped over his ribs. So he just lies there, pressed against Kirk's shoulder, watching his face, listening to him breathe, the taste of him in his mouth, and drifts off to sleep.
After a while, in a dream about riding his bike with Kirk on back, arms tight around him, he hears the sound of the door opening quietly, and when he opens his eyes, he sees Danny looking in. The room is brighter and warmer, and he realizes it's much later.
"I'm going," Danny says and explains he'll be starting up the irrigation pumps and busy all day. "You gonna be here?"
"Don't you have work?"
"Between jobs." Which is sort of true, but not exactly.
"You don't have to look after him, you know. He'll be OK," Danny says.
"Suit yourself," Danny says, pulls his head back and closes the door. Then he opens it again and says, "Your clothes are in the dryer if you ever need 'em." He grins and winks. Then he's gone again.
Rich looks back at Kirk for a while, then leans over his face, kissing him on his cheek. "I love you," he whispers once more.
Kirk's one good eye flutters open and he mutters something that is muffled by his swollen lips and the stitches in his mouth. It sounds like "Dasso kwer." And he rolls away from Rich, putting the back of a skinny shoulder between them.
That's so queer. The words finally come together for Rich. He waits for some other sign, that Kirk is glad to see him. But there is none. He puts his hand on Kirk's shoulder, but Kirk pulls farther away.
After a few moments, Rich gets up from the bed, leaves the room, and waits on the porch until the dryer stops running and clicks off. He reaches in for his clothes, gets dressed, looks in the TV room for his boots, and then walks out to his motorcycle parked by the front gate.
He kick-starts the engine, which comes to life with a loud rumble, loud enough to penetrate the house all the way to the back bedroom where Kirk is. He waits a few moments, and then a few more.
Rusty ambles out from around the garage, wagging his tail, but there's no sign of anything from the house. He puts on his helmet, revs the engine a couple more times, and then slowly rides off, making a big curve in the gravel and heading for the road.
So not knowing what else to do, Rich takes the highway back to Kearney. He looks up his boss at a new job site north of town where they're building a shopping center, to see if he still has a job. He's missed work before thanks to Kirk and promised it wouldn't happen again.
The boss shakes his head and lets it go, because the kid he hired last week can't do shit and the one after that showed up drunk.
"What the hell's the matter with you, boy?" he wants to know. "Got girl trouble or something?"
Something, Rich almost says and then just shakes his head. "No, sir," he says.
"This happens again, boy, and you're out on your ass for good. I got a business to run here."
And in a minute Rich is walking over to the mud mixer, who's glad to see him.
"What's the matter?" the guy says grinning. "Girl trouble?"
Rich shrugs his shoulders and says, "Naw."
The day passes, hot and sweaty, and another day after that, and another one, until they begin melting together. He's just pushing wheelbarrows, full then empty, setting up scaffolding, tearing it down, cleaning up after the plasterers, letting them kid him if they feel like it.
One of them, for some reason, keeps after him about whether he's still a virgin. This was the same guy who ganged up on him with a carload of buddies and depantsed him when he was a freshman in high school. Drove him way out of town one night and left him on the road with just his tee shirt, tossing his sneakers into the weeds.
"Gettin' any?" he says to Rich whenever he gets a chance. "Or you still beatin' your meat." They all laugh at the idea of this. There's a joke they have when anyone's taking a piss. Shake it more than twice and you're playing with yourself. These guys only get laid. So they would have you believe.
He knows a plumber who's putting in bathrooms, and Rich sleeps in his basement on a lumpy old couch. He can't go back to the trailer out in the country. His uncle Gordon is still mad at him.
Betty and Veronica would take him in, but Gordon won't have it. Said he'd whip him good and run him off the place. Some uncle.
He doesn't want to go back anyway. Not since he's met Mike, who's been good to him. And Danny seems like a nice guy, too. But Kirk doesn't want him around. So that leaves him on his own, making do. While the plumber drinks through most of a bottle of cheap bourbon every night, Rich slips off to the basement and tries to sleep, his heart full of ache, wondering what he did wrong to make Kirk not like him anymore.
And yet he knows, wishing it wasn't so. He'd said it without thinking when they were out on the road, on that wild ride in Danny's Fairlane, off to the Sandhills, like the cops were after them. And maybe they were.
They hadn't been gone a day, and lying naked in a grassy spot near the river, where they'd been swimming and wrestling in the water, he'd kissed Kirk tenderly on the mouth and then said, "I love you."
Kirk had just said nothing, like the words had been some other language. Not even pig Latin.
"I love you," he'd said again, risking all, his heart doing somersaults in his chest.
Kirk had rolled over, shaking his head. He didn't want any of that. And wouldn't say why. He just let it drop. And while they played long hours with each other, naked bodies sticky and jeans streaked with each other's cum, there had been no more talk of that kind. Not a word.
Every sweet feeling in him, looking at the soft skin of Kirk's throat and the shape of his ear, the nipples puckering under Rich's touch, the trail of wispy hair under his belly button, he kept all those feelings to himself. And Kirk seemed happy. The less said the better. Just grab, hold, rub, kiss, tongue, suckthat was the only language he liked and wanted.
And that was fine. Until the night they met up with Frank.
From the minute they bumped into him outside the bar in Thedford, Rich knew he didn't like the guy. He was big, loud, and enjoyed pushing smaller guys around. It was written all over him.
And that was what Kirk seemed to like about him. He was buddying up to him in a second, and not just because Frank was willing to get them beer.
"Well, well, well," Frank crowed when he saw them. "Look who we got here." They were parked on the dark side of his camper, kind of lurking in the shadows where they could watch men going in and out of the bar. They'd already tried getting served inside but didn't have ID to show they were old enough. The bartender, who was square chested with a grip like steel, had ushered them back out into the parking lot.
A couple rodeo cowboys drove up in an old Cadillac hearse and said, sure, they'd buy the boys a couple six packs, but they went into the bar and never came out again.
After a half hour, they were sitting in the Fairlane, trying to find something on the radio, and Frank was suddenly there, bending down to lean in the window on Kirk's side.
"Hey" Kirk said, sounding happy to see this guy.
And before much longer, Frank had both of them inside his camper popping beers and horsing around with them.
The camper seemed to be full of tack, blankets, tool kits, and rope. There was a saddle pushed against one wall and a mattress squeezed in beside it. It smelled a lot like a horse barn inside, and with the door closed, it was pitch dark.
Frank struck a match or two and rummaging through the clutter on the floor found a flashlight that flickered on and off until he swore at it and banged it in the palm of one hand. Then in the beam of unsteady light he pulled salami and cheese out of an ice chest. Soon they were filling their empty stomachs and washing it all down with cold beer.
There was next to no room inside the camper, and they were almost sitting on top of each other. Getting friendly, as Frank called it. And after a couple more beers, Frank was hugging them both and letting his big hands wander, squeezing a shoulder here and a leg there.
This was not Rich's idea of much fun. He didn't like Frank and he didn't like it that Kirk did. When Frank had gone for Rich's belt buckle, Rich had backed away against the door and when it came open behind him almost fell out on the ground.
But Kirk was another story. He couldn't seem to get enough of this rough, beefy guy, growling at them sometimes like a bear. In the dim light, as Rich climbed back into the camper, he saw Frank wrap his arms around Kirk and bury his whiskery face against Kirk's neck, pulling his floppy shirt out of his wranglers.
And it had gone on like that. Kirk giggling and laughing, squealing once like a rabbit, as Frank wrestled with him. Then Frank had grabbed for Rich, catching him behind the neck. "Join the fun, boy," he kept saying, and pushed him down until Frank was on top of both of them, his knee against the inside of Rich's leg, one strong hairy arm pressed alongside his face.
Rich could feel Kirk squirming beside him and Frank fumbling with Kirk's jeans, trying to pull them down.
"I'm gonna have you, little buddy. You ever been had?"
"No-ho-ho," Kirk was laughing and twisting his body to pull away.
"I bet you still got your cherry," Frank said. "Ain't that right?"
Rich was not liking the sound of this. With one arm free he swung a fist and hit Frank in the ear. Which had no effect at all. Frank just let out a hoot like he'd been waiting for one of them to slug him. And he pushed down harder, his hand clamping Rich now in the ribs, then reaching down to grab at his butt.
"That's enough," Rich said, sounding as firm and determined as he could. "Stop it."
But Frank wouldn't let up. "You'll have to make me stop," he was saying, slipping his fingers between Rich's legs and squeezing his crotch.
And the three of them tumbled around together on the mattress, the camper rocking from side to sideuntil somehow he and Kirk were on top of Frank, trying to hold him down.
"You boys wanta stop me, you gotta tie me down," Frank said.
And that's when things got a little strange. Kirk found some rope, and started wrapping it around Frank's legs, from his boot heels up to his knees. Frank was pitching back and forth under them, but not trying real hard to get free.
"Hog-tie him," Kirk kept saying, out of breath. "Get his hands."
Rich grabbed for Frank's hands, which he was already holding out for them. And he whipped the rope quick around both wrists.
"Tighter, tighter," Frank was saying. And Rich gave the rope a good yank, which made Frank let out a loud "Yee-haw!"
Rich was ready now to spring for the door and make a run for it. "Come on," he said, slapping Kirk on the shoulder. "Let's go!"
But Kirk fell in a heap on top of Frank, still laughing as Frank grunted and growled, pulling now with all the strength in his powerful arms to jerk his hands loose.
"More rope," Kirk yelled to Rich. "Get more rope."
But Frank rose up like a bull under them, shaking and thrashing around, knocking them against the walls, Rich hitting his head against the roof and falling backward over the saddle into a corner. The flickering flashlight blinked out, and the camper was plunged into darkness.
Rich struggled to get onto his feet but his ass was on the floor and his legs up in the air, and he couldn't get a handhold on anything that would stay put. A pile of smelly old blankets and a clattering box of half-empty tins fell over him.
Across from him, he could hear Frank and Kirk struggling, and the sound of heavy thumps and bumps, the truck bed shaking and rolling under them.
Kirk was still laughing, "No, no, no." And it was pretty clear that Frank was out of the rope and had the best of him.
Somewhere, buried under something, the flashlight blinked back on. And Rich could see that Frank had Kirk pinned to the mattress and had pulled his jeans down to his boot tops. Kirk's bare legs were pale in the dim light, and Frank pawed at his shirttails to get at his underwear.
Slipping his thick, hairy fingers in through the front, he pulled apart with both hands and the shorts ripped wide open. Kirk's dick flew free, already getting stiff, and Frank reached between his legs, taking another grip on his shorts. Pulling up with a mighty jerk, he tore the rest of them until they were in shreds around his knees and he was biting them, trying to grind his teeth through the elastic.
Then he was on Kirk's dick, swallowing him in one gulp. Kirk let out a shriek of delight and fell back on the mattress. In a few seconds, he was shoving his hips into Frank's face, his butt lifting off the mattress as he pushed harder with each thrust, his boots coming tight together and then pushing apart against the leather belt in his jeans, still buckled, down now to his ankles.
Frank was making munching, slurping sounds as he sucked, his hands reaching up under Kirk's shirt to stroke his belly, then slipping down under his balls to shove fingers into his crack.
"Hoo-hoo-hoo," Kirk was howling, reaching under him to grab at Frank's hand.
Then it was all over. Kirk was huffing and shuddering, rolling side to side on his shoulders as he came, the top of his head pressed back against the mattress. Before falling flat with a sigh.
Frank wiped his mouth and then crawled up over Kirk, letting the full weight of his body down on top of him. "You ain't goin' nowhere, buckaroo, till I'm done with you," he said, reaching down to start massaging his own crotch.
Kirk's only response was to sigh again. Like he couldn't imagine anything that would make him happier.
Rich realized he was getting angry. Not just angry. Hurt, too. And he had been from just about the beginning. He kicked with one boot and finally flipped himself over and onto his feet. He stepped across one of Frank's legs and found the door handle. In a second he had hopped down onto the dirt of the parking lot and was pushing the door shut behind him.
There was no place to go, but he walked anyway. And as he walked, the tears came. He hated being a crybaby. Gordon had made him cry when he was boy, until he promised himself he'd never let anyone make him cry again.
But this was not like Gordon making fun of him or punching him so hard it hurt. This was harder than a punch. He'd never guessed something could hurt him this way, make him feel like his heart had been pulled up by the roots and handed back to him.
He walked along the highway until he felt too tired to go on and turned back. A pickup truck with a rancher and his wife and two sleeping kids with them stopped and offered him a ride.
"Can we take you somewhere, son?" the man said, leaning across the front seat. A bright ember shone from the cigarette in his mouth.
He'd climbed in back and ridden with a pair of shepherd dogs, wisps of straw from the bed whirling around them as the truck got up to speed. And the truck had brought him back to the bar. When they dropped him off, he walked to the camper, climbed into the cab and fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next morning he was on the road, hitchhiking back home.
And so it goes. Rich shows up for work every day and goes home every night. His boss even tells him one afternoon that he seems to have shaped up. And would he like a job for a while out in Ogallala installing ceiling tile. They need someone who can use a staple gun without falling off a scaffold.
"Yes sir," Rich says. "I can do that."
And on the night before he goes, he thinks of who to call and say goodbye to. There's Betty and Veronica. They've dropped off the clothes he'd had in a suitcase at Gordon's trailer and a tin of their oatmeal cookies. They each gave him a hug and tried to persuade him to come back.
And there's Mike, who gave him a place to sleep while Kirk was away and treated him with kindness he didn't know one man could have for another.
And he calls them all. Betty and Veronica say they'll miss him and not to forget them, and when Mike picks up the phone, he wishes him good luck and asks if he wants to say goodbye to Danny, too. Rich doesn't know Danny so well, but he says OK, and after a few seconds there he is, telling him he's a good man, and to work hard and save his money. Just like a big brother would.
There is a pause when they might have said goodbye and hung up, and Danny says, "Do you want to talk to Kirk?"
"Sure," Rich says without thinking. And in the next pausea long onehe almost puts the receiver down and hangs up anyway.
Finally, he can hear Kirk's voice at the other end of the line. "Hello?"
They don't talk much. But they talk. Kirk tells him he's got his stitches out, that his ribs are still sore, and that he won't be doing much work around the farm until they're better. He says he sits by the pool most days doing nothing.
"I've got another job. In Ogallala," Rich says, and tells him about it. He'll be working at a new community center at the county fair grounds. "If you come out there, I could get you a job, too," he says. The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them.
Kirk doesn't say anything.
"If you want to," Rich adds. His heart has leaped into his throat.
And Kirk still says nothing. Finally they say goodbye and he hears the line go dead before he hangs up. He stands there by the phone in the plumber's kitchen and stares into the darkness of the living room, his heart still pounding.
He knows his heart is saying, I love you. He can't help himself.
In two days he's showing up for work in Ogallala. It's a western town on the South Platte. The Colorado state line is just up the road. When he stands outside, he sees nothing but space, the earth dead flat to the horizon.
His heart is empty now like the vast river valley. He wonders if he has a heart at all and checks his pulse to feel whether it's still beating.
His new boss is a man of few words, in bib overalls. The other guys on the crew tell dirty jokes when the boss isn't around and quickly locate a bar in town with pool tables where they hang out in the evenings, drinking pitchers of beer, getting horny watching the women who come in, and talking big about their sexual adventures.
Underage, he sits outside where the company van is parked at the curb, watching the sun go down and the young couples go into a movie theater across the street. He sees boys and girls holding hands and sitting close together in cars, and he tries not to have any feelings at all.
At night, in the motel, he shares a bed with Gary, a guy in his 30s, who's already been divorced twice and has four kids. When he picks up a woman at the bar, he makes Rich sleep out in the van.
"I owe you, kid," Gary says, winking. "You ever get lucky, you're welcome to it."
But Rich can't see himself getting lucky. Not in Ogallala. Not anywhere.
The summer grinds on, he's putting his paychecks in the bank, and life is turning into this kind of treadmill that makes him wish sometimes he was even home on the farm. Mornings he wakes with the memory of having dreamed of Kirk, and in the seconds before he realizes where he is, his heart is full as it was on those days on the road, when they woke up in each other's arms.
The last day in Ogallala, they're packing up tools and loading up the van. There's another job waiting even farther west in Chappell.
He's riding with Gary, who has his own car, a Nash Rambler, and they decide to stop at a diner for something to eat before they head out of town. They're in a booth, and Gary is flirting with the waitress, who seems to know him, and Rich realizes it's one of the women he's brought back to their room. He looks across the table to Gary, and Gary gives him a wink.
"Gonna miss that one," he says. "She's a corker."
Rich looks back across the restaurant to get another look at her.
"She's pretty," he says.
"She would have gone with you, too," Gary says. "Said she felt sorry for you getting booted out of bed like that."
Rich blushes. "Naw, you're making that up," he says and looks back again, the thought that anyone would want him making his heart thump.
"He's cute. Those were her exact words, I swear," Gary says.
But Rich has stopped hearing him. There just inside the doorway, standing behind a tall thin rail of a cowboy and the two men with him in short sleeve shirts, Rich sees the glimpse of a familiar face. And as the men turn and walk away, he sees the face again.
Now his heart is skipping beats.
"See someone you know?" Gary says.
"Yeah," Rich says. It's someone who is scanning the room, looking, looking, looking, until his eyes spy Rich.
He walks toward Rich and Gary, in no big hurry, stopping to let a waitress cross in front of him with steaming plates of food stacked along both arms. He comes to their table, a sly smile on his face, and then makes like he wants to sit down.
Rich slides his butt across the plastic seat and Kirk drops into place beside him, as if he belonged with them and had just stepped outside for something.
"Your boss said you might be here," Kirk says to Rich, after introducing himself to Gary.
Rich feels Kirk's knee touch his under the table.
"What are you doing here?" Rich says.
"You said you might be able to get me a job," Kirk says. His knee presses now against Rich's.
"I can try."
"You don't have to. I already talked to the boss."
Gary is waving over the waitress and asking for more coffee.
"Besides," Kirk says, leaning closer to Rich. "I missed ya."
Rich is smiling and thinking, you sonofabitch, and he presses back harder with his knee.
The end, so far
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