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I never even thought I'd get this far. I'm dressed and ready to go. Sitting on the hotel bed in my riding jeans and the black shirt that Momma got me when Jason gave me my chaps. Wearing my boots. Spurs and chaps in the duffel bag. Cleaned and shaved. Ready for my date with lady luck. I lean over, hold my head in my hands.
# # #
We're naked, sleeping on top of the covers. I look down at the naked body of the man I love, the man clinging to me. Asleep. His face burried into my side, one arm over my chest as if that's how he fell. Like nothing else ever mattered. Like this is the way it's always been.
Last night at the club, there were guys I didn't even know walking up to me. Asking me how I landed Mattie by just walking in. They'd say things like they'd been trying to get his number since he started going to the club. One guy told me that he knew of only one guy Mattie had dated while he was in Arizona. Called it a toxic relationship. Strange that Mattie would tell people there was only one person for good enough for him after he broke up with that guy.
Fuck. If it's me, I don't know what I ever did to deserve him. I did get a little jealous of that thought of him being with another guy. Just having it confirmed. But who the fuck am I to say anything about it? It's Mattie's life to live, and we both know we had an agreement. I didn't bring it up with him last night. I hadn't seen him that happy in years. I couldn't stand ruining a perfectly good moment.
When he took off on me, he went to ask the manager if he could have a night off. I guess he'd told the manager about me or the whole ring thing, he told Mattie that they'd manage without him for the night. He bought the bottle of Patrone off the bar at cost. Drug me onto the dance floor with him.
I told him I didn't really feel comfortable with it, just all those people watchin' us.
He kissed me and told me to shut up. Told me I was his man and they could look all they wanted.
I'm still laughing inside, a little. How do two men two-step together? "How do we do this?" He just put his arms around me, like a lady would, and took to following. Pulled me right along, back-led me the whole night. Damn, he's really good on his feet. People were walking up to us between songs and telling us how cute we were together. How well we danced together. I think for the first time I can recall, he wasn't the one blushing. It was like he knew who he was and what he wanted.
God, and the line dances. I only remembered how to dance a few of 'em. But there were so many I hadn't ever seen. Ones where you'd kick your legs around and move all over the floor. Ones I couldn't even follow. Mattie could do them all one after another. Not even skip a beat. He'd come back to the side and hug me, told me he'd have to teach me. Don't know where else we'd even do it unless it was here. He must have been pretty lit, because he was buzzin' around like a bee. Hangin' all over me. It was like when he was there, everything was okay. It wasn't a bad thing to be in the club, or to be seen. It felt like he wanted to protect me. Claim me from everyone else. He's the only person on the planet whose love I can actually feel.
We took a cab back to his dorm. Had lots and lots of sex. From half after two until six in the morning. I just woke up hornier than a sprung buck, and thinkin' about last night ain't helping me any. I don't know how to describe this love I feel for him. It's a rush, a high. I think for a while, wonder if we can make it work like a man and a woman. Just be our own little secret. Look like Hink and Tyler on the outside, fuck like rabbits behind closed doors.
Mattie rolls over a little. Leans a little more of his weight against me. Moans. After a few minutes, he kisses me on one of my ribs. Rubs my stomach.
"Me?" He clears his throat. "Naw. Tequila doesn't really give me a hang over. Have a little headache, but it's not bad."
"We're going to have to go back to the club and get my truck."
"There's an awesome kosher deli down by Chuck's that serves breakfast all day."
I smile and squeeze his shoulders. "I only want you for breakfast."
He holds up his hand and looks at the ring. Then starts rubbing my chest again. "You're something else."
I giggle. "What?"
"I can't believe you went out and got me a ring."
"I wanted to give you something special."
"I wish I had the money to give you a nice ring."
"Mattie, the bracelet's all the ring I need."
I had taken it off before we fucked last night. He holds up my naked wrist and looks at it. "Damn thing left one hell of a tan line."
"What you thinking about?"
"Tell me about Justin."
He stares across my chest, toward the wall. Blinks a few times. Takes him almost five minutes before he even says anything. "Who told you about that?"
"Some guy mentioned it."
"Some guy, I don't know. I'm just curious."
"Did you fuck Rook?"
"Wait a damn minute, here. I didn't even say fuck. Don't turn this back on me." I pause. "Why don't you wanna tell me?"
"I thought you'd be mad, and I thought it'd hurt you."
"I'm not mad. We agreed we could see other people, remember?"
"That's why it hurt so fuckin' bad. I mean... Rook? Why couldn't I be special like him?"
"Rook wasn't you. Not even close."
"So you went out with him?"
"For a month or two, yeah. But Mattie, listen to me, he was a mistake."
"Hold on. Since it seems like you want me to come clean, you tell me about this Justin guy, first."
He sighs again. "After Ronnie came down, gave me his old ID, I went to Chuck's with some friends from school. I saw him after I'd been there a few times. Started talking. He seemed like a good guy. Everyone at the club knew him, nobody said anything bad about him at all. He was smart, funny, loving, good looking--all the things you are."
"I ain't smart or good lookin'."
"Don't start. We dated for a while. Got to a point where some things happened. He made me feel bad about myself. We split up, then got back together a few months later. Then it all started happening again. We couldn't keep from fighting. Then he hit me, and it was done."
"What made you think you should put up with that?"
"I walked back into it, Lem. It was my own damn fault."
I stare at the ceiling. Hug him tighter. "Well, we're here now. That's gotta count for something."
"It counts for everything."
# # #
Backdraft is Waiting.
# # #
I hear the door to the bathroom close softly. When I look up, Mattie's standing off in front of me naked, next to the bathroom door. His body's still a little wet. Steam spills outta the bathroom behind him. Beads of water run down his chest, roll down his stomach. He walks toward me.
# # #
I give Mattie one last hug. Bend over and pick up my duffel bag, sling it over my shoulder. I kiss him. "Take care of the place, would ya?"
He giggles. "You know how anal I am about keeping things clean." He pecks me on the lips. "You sure you don't want me paying half the rent?"
"Matthew! Use that money for school. We talked about this."
"I just feel bad about it."
"This is our place. This is where we live. I don't mind paying the bills while you finish school."
"I wish you didn't have to be on the road so long."
"Me too. After you finish school, maybe you can travel with me." I wink at him, pull him up to me by the belt loops. "You could be my buckle bunny."
"Buckle Jack. I ain't no bunny."
I laugh. Kiss him. "Last few months went by way too fast."
"I had a good time. Promise you'll call me every night?"
"Nothing could stand in my way."
He gives me one last, juicy kiss. Nods toward the door. "You better hit the road before I find some other way to violate you."
I laugh. "Jesus! I'm still exhausted from this morning."
He smacks my ass. "Go."
"Don't forget to get time off for Las Vegas. If I don't make finals, at least we can have a little fun."
"I wont forget. Go, damn it!" He smiles.
I look over my shoulder as I'm going out the door. Smile. "That eager to get rid of me?" It's hard to walk down the steps. Away from our apartment. I'm finding it even harder to turn over the engine so I can get on the road again. I'm going to miss the next few months.
When I had my break in May, I went and got my stuff out of storage. Hauled it down to Phoenix and found us a nice apartment. Got Mattie all moved in. We went together and got us some decent furniture. Got us a big bed to sleep on. Set us up a little office in one of the rooms. There's a third bedroom I think we're going to make into a guest room. Got a little living room that's on a split-level, it overlooks the family room and dining area. It's nice.
After the break, he came with me when I went back on tour. Traveled with me over the summer. I wish we could be like the guys who travel with their wives. Be able to stand in the pit and sneak a kiss with each other from time to time. I know where it would end us up.
When I wasn't riding, he never left my side. We sat together in the contestant stands. Sometimes we chatted, sometimes we just watched. Return to our hotel room at the end of the day and make love.
There was hurt, too. Jeff has been haunting me like a ghost all season. Seems like every time I turned around, I would see him or smell him. Hear his words echoing in my ears like a whisper. Every time I would get up to ride, there he was, telling me how worthless I was. Trying his all to call the bluff. It took everything else I had to concentrate. To get away from him.
I'm heading for Reno. Mattie started school last Monday. Mattie said he wanted to do the decorating while I was gone. Said he wanted to surprise me. I wonder what I'm gonna walk into when I get home.
Not too many ways I could get to know him better. I know his smell. His taste. His feel. Just to be his, to have this second chance, makes me feel like things are right in the universe again. Like my dream came true. I have everything I ever wanted, and now, I have the only thing I need. I have my Shadow.
# # #
He puts a hand on my shoulders, straddles my legs. Rolls his hips while he puts his tongue in my mouth. Rubs my sides. I feel my pants getting tighter. He undoes my buckle. My jeans. Pulls them down just enough that I'm free. My hardness pressed against his.
# # #
The boy who could take it all.
Thomas Bailey - SportsHall staff writer.
(Uncasville, CT) There's always been a lot of flair and noise wrapped up in the Mohegan Sun Invitational bull riding event. Riders bolt from the chutes with peacock feathers fanned out; the competition is vicious. It's the gateway to the PBR finals in Las Vegas, and a lot of riders are still trying to fight their way up just for a riding position in Vegas, the $5000 Finals qualification check, and a chance at a million dollar bonus purse. Then, there's the glory. There are just a handful of riders who have already locked themselves into one of the coveted spots, and one hopeful at the front of the pack is PBR new-comer Lem Taylor.
Just barely 22 years old, Taylor is quiet, polite, and unassuming. There's an air about him that's very similar to Hinkley Miller, who just happens to be one of his best friends on the circuit. Standing at just six feet tall, you wouldn't think he was a CNFR champion bull rider by looking at him. Discovered by promoters in Tulsa, OK, he was making ripples on the Discovery Tour until he was approached by PBR Chair Troy Levinson after a ride in Ohio.
"[Levinson] walked up to me when I was on my way out of the arena," Taylor recalls. "He asked me if I wanted to talk business over a drink. Next thing I know, I was being invited to ride with the Ford tour."
When he's down on the arena floor, he's a totally different person; concentrated, controlled, and precise. His first season on the Ford Tough tour, he's only fallen off his ride before the buzzer twice. Most of his events, he's finished in the top five; the last six shows he's been in third place once, and took first all others. Taylor has had six qualifying rides on the second half of this season alone, and enters the finals pool in a respectable fifth position.
He's a crowd favorite and quickly becoming a hometown hero in Burlee, Montana, where his parents still operate a small family ranch. "My dad always said he knew I'd be a pro bull rider. It's thanks to my family and my best friend, Matthew, that I'm where I'm at. I just never expected it to happen this quick."
Matthew Hedquist, with Taylor at the time of the interview, has been Taylor's childhood friend since they were very young. Growing up, they rode many events together in 4H and high school rodeos. "I can't ever remember a time when this hasn't been a big part of Lem's life," Hedquist commented. "If you catch him before a ride, most of the time he's so focused on what's coming up that he might not hear it if you were to say something."
Known for his riding ethic and good spirited nature toward other contestants, he's liked by all of the riders on the tour. About two years ago, Taylor forfeited a ride on the college circuit to help a friend who sustained a head-injury while still in the chute. "[Taylor's] a good kid," commented Hinkley Miller. "I've always kept an eye on him from the time I met him." Even though Miller is almost eleven years his senior, Miller and Taylor grew up about forty miles apart in northern Montana. "I remember being in Burlee for a local rodeo, and just being enthralled with this eighteen-year-old who was riding like he'd been doing it years and years. I just sat back and said wow!" It was only Taylor's third time on a bull; he out-scored Miller by six points, taking the win.
"He's going to be a valuable asset to the sport," said Levinson. "I'm willing to bet that Lem's going to be a household name in a few years, and if he doesn't take first place at finals this year, I have faith he'll do it within the next five." When asked if Taylor stood to a good chance to win the million dollar purse, Levinson replied "I have no doubt in my mind the kid could take it all. He's got the spirit, he's got the experience, and he's got the will." *
# # #
He slides down on me, all the way down. Lifts himself up, then goes back down. He whispers in my ear. "I want you to remember this. For good luck."
# # #
I've been trying to be good, but it's a hard thing to do in Vegas. If it's not the shows, or spending a little time in the cassino, I have Mattie to keep me entertained. He told me the one thing he wanted to do while we were here was see the adult Cirque du Soliel show. Zumanity. From where I'm sittin', it's a whole lot of people dressed up funny. A whole lot of tittes. I laughed when Mattie tried to tell me it was art.
I got us a limo, took him out for a nice dinner. I don't really do fancy wine, so we both had a few beers. Hard to leave your roots behind, sometimes. The show wasn't too bad. A little on the different side. I think the only good thing about Rook was that he tried to expose me to more culture.
Culture is just weird.
We spent the rest of the night walking down the stip. Popping into a few different casinos just to see what they were like. This world's electric, alive... on fire. It's exciting in a way that's fun, but I couldn't see trying to live here. It's too noisy. Too busy. Too fast. Everywhere you go, you always hear a slot machine dinging. A roulette table with a marble. Video poker. It all makes my head spin.
I can tell Mattie's about ready to head back to the room. My feet are killing me, and I have to ride the first round of finals tomorrow night. I just want to doze, hold my best friend in my arms. We haven't been back to the room all day, and the bed has telepathy. It's telling me it's time to sleep.
We go up the elevator. Ride it with a few other PBR guys that we ran into in the lobby. They get off one floor below ours. As soon as the doors close and we're alone, Mattie pins me up against the wall and makes out with me.
The elevator dings. We stand apart as the doors open. Walk down the hall toward the room. I get my room card out. I can hardly get the thing in the slot because Mattie won't keep his hands to himself. He looks up and down the hall. Makes out with me some more. The taste of beer on his breath. His cologne popping a little more than normal.
I have the door open a crack. I'm standing there holding it while Mattie sucks on my face. We pretty much tumble into the room. As soon as we're on the other side of the door, and done with the kissing, I go to walk into the room but stop dead cold. I stare at my bed. Just look at what's sitting on it. My black riding hat. My... fucking... hat.
I feel Mattie grab my arm.
"Did you put that there?"
He walks past me, toward the bed. "God, no. I know better." He picks it up and sets it upside-down on the table, right where it was when we left the room. "Room service must have done it."
I scream. "FUCK!"
Mattie hurries toward me. Puts a hand on my face. "Lem, calm down a little. They don't know better. It's just a superstition."
"It's bad fuckin' juju, Mattie! I've come this far just fine. Why now? God fuckin' damn it!"
"It's not gonna do you any good to get worked up. I'll call the manager and talk to them. Tell them not to touch our hats. Would that make you feel better?"
"Damage's been done. I'm totally fucked."
He squeezes my face with his hand. "Stop it! If you start thinkin' like that, then it's over. You're the only one who controls what happens, not some fuckin' hat. Not some old wives-tale superstition."
I'm not having any of it. Why does it feel like everything's spinning outta control? I hear Jeff echoing through my mind. Jeff telling me I'm nothing. He's probably off somewhere laughing at me, at my bad luck.
"Lem..." he stares into my eyes. "It's my hat."
"What are you talking about? It's my riding hat."
He shakes his head wide. "No, it's not. It's my hat. Yours is in the hatbox above the hangers. Right over there in that Stetson box. That's your hat. It's not bad luck if it's not your hat. That one," he points at my riding hat, "that hat is my hat. Okay? Always has been."
"Mattie, that Stetson's too nice for riding in."
"It's a fucking hat, Lem. Just go with it, okay? Take your hat. Take the Stetson."
# # #
I never even thought I'd get this far. I've ridden all week with no problems, and I've managed to make it to the top round of finals. I'm dressed and ready to go, just waiting for Mattie to get done in the shower and get dressed. Sitting on the hotel bed in my riding jeans, black shirt that Momma got me when Jason gave me my chaps. My boots. A red sock on my right foot, a blue one on my left. Spurs and chaps in the duffel bag. Cleaned and shaved. Ready for my date with lady luck. I'm gonna need it. The other riders are doing good, keeping me on my toes. I didn't get much sleep last night because I've been worrying.
I lean over, hold my head in my hands.
They haven't cycled him in the events yet. Not that I know of. Some riders saw him in the stockyard, in pen 21-D. The whole outfit's been this huge rumor mill, and any one of us could draw him today. If I can get out there and have a good ride, stay on the bull they draw for me and pull into first place, I could win a million bucks. It gives me chills. A million fuckin' dollars. I've saved enough winnings that I could get a nice house. I could go on vacation for two years. If I don't win it this year, I can keep coming back until I do. Make enough money I can retire. If I nail this, I'm set for life. We're set for life.
What if I get Backdraft? If I forfeit the ride, I lose my standings this year. Troy would probably be pissed about it, too. Then again, I'll probably go my whole career without even crossing paths with Backdraft. Plenty of other mean bulls out there. Point is, I just gotta make it look good.
I hear the door to the bathroom close softly. When I look up, Mattie's standing off in front of me naked, next to the bathroom door. His body's still a little wet. Steam spills outta the bathroom behind him. Beads of water run down his chest, roll down his stomach. Rolls into a neatly trimmed bush. Down his dick and drips off the end. I never remember him looking so good. He walks toward me.
He puts a hand on my shoulders, straddles my legs. He leans down and kisses me; rolls his hips while he puts his tongue in my mouth. Rubs my sides. I feel my pants getting tighter. He goes down my shirt, button by button. Lets it hang open. He undoes my buckle. My jeans. Pulls them down just enough that I'm free. He slides off my legs, puts his head in my lap. Sucks me off. I feel some of the tension lift off my shoulders. Just a little. Straddles my legs again, teases my cock through his ass crack. It's already slick; he planned this out. He lets go of me, lets my cock stand on it's own. Grabs both of us in one hand, my hardness pressed against his.
He nibbles in my ear, sticks his tongue in enough to give me the tickles. Starts workin' me through his crack again. Slides down on me, all the way down. Slick, smooth, tight. It's the best feeling in the world. Every sensation in my body tingles, pulses in waves where Mattie and me come together. Lifts himself up, then goes back down. I feel the hole grab a few times. Returns down a few times until I cry out toward the sky. I'm about to cum. So ready. He stops, sits parked on me. Whispers in my ear. "I want you to remember this. For good luck."
# # #
Somewhere in the back of the Thomas & Mack Center there's a conference room. Almost every rider in the finals batch is sitting here, waiting to find out what they're riding. For most of us, it's our first time at a draw. I usually take them as they come, but with Backdraft hiding around the corner, I want to know if he's going to jump around the corner in a sheet and go Boo!
Bull riders only allowed in the room. Mattie wanted to come in with me, but he couldn't. He was none too happy when I told him I was worried about Backdraft. That he was even here. He looked like the scared little boy I always remember. I said we should just wait for the draw and see where that gets us.
I haven't had a chance to find Momma, yet. She's the only one that could get down for finals. Dad stayed home for work. Chase had finals, but said she'd be watching on TV. This time, I don't think I'll be able to hear Momma over the crowd.
The secretary and chute coordinator sit at the front of the room, hiding behind their little microphones and labels. They're waiting on the list of riding assignments. Somewhere, right now, the list is getting randomly generated in a computer and printed off.
I got a twinge a few days back when I heard that Dick Kelly had a few ranks listed. For everyone in the room, it was a kick in the nuts. You have to be half way to the nut house to want to ride a bull like that. Being at the draw is like being strapped to the front of a train, heading for a brick wall. You can see it coming, but there's not a damn thing you can do. If he gets pulled with your name, you either just do it or you don't. Ride or forfeit.
Noisy in here. Sounds like three dozen conversations going on at once. Then again, it shouldn't be a surprise that a bull like this is at finals.
A secretary walks in, sits down. He's carrying a stack of papers. The room goes dead silent.
"Gentlemen, the draw for finals. I will read down the list, please remain quiet and seated until I have finished. The list is being read in riding order.
"Zane Victor draws 932B, Kessel Run.
"Beau Haywood draws 34J, Con Carne."
I'm about to have my moment. I've never been this nervous before a ride. A smell catches my nose. Jeff.
"Lorren Darden draws... let's see, 121, Piranha.
Jeff is leaning against the wall to my right, just grinning at me from ear to ear.
"Robby Kobus draws A65, Sangria.
It looks like he's fixin' to walk over. Get in my face. Someone walks in front of him. He's gone.
"Lem Taylor, you're nothing."
I shake to. "'Pardon?"
The guy looks up at me from his list. Scratches his beard and sighs. "224 Hybride, Mister Taylor."
Backdraft never comes up in the riding assignments. I find myself wondering if he'd already been ridden and I didn't know about it. That's a high scoring bull.
The room empties out. I'm one of the last riders to leave.
Mattie gets up off the bench and walks toward me.
I smile at him. "Hybride."
"Thank God. Is he a pretty good rank?"
"I hear he scores pretty high. He might just do it."
Mattie just smiles.
"If I win this bonus pot, you and I are going on vacation."
"Anywhere you want."
# # #
'Twenty-two year old Lem Taylor coming up in chute four.'
'Interesting story with Lem, Bob. He only just started this season, and he's already one of the higher scoring riders in the series. In fact, I hear a lot of people are expecting him to take the title here today.'
'A crowd favorite. Looks like he's getting settled in, there.'
'For the viewers at home without a riding program, Hybride comes from Alberta, Canada. He's one of the high ranking bulls at this competition, so we're expecting a good show from both of them. One thing Taylor's going to have to watch for as he rides, is that this is one of two bulls here today notorious for spinning to the inside. He just loves trying to get the rider inside that well. This will be the second attempt on Hybride at theses finals, the first was a failed attempt by seasoned rider Hinkley Miller at yesterday's preliminary finals.'
'The other bull, of course, is Backdraft. We have yet to see him come out for a performance tonight, and judging by the seeded events, we might not see him for the rest of the competition. Backdraft was ridden earlier this week, and, no surprise, that resulted in a rider failure. Like you mentioned, Dave, these bulls that turn to the inside are really hard to cover. So far, Backdraft has proven an impossible animal for anyone to cover."
"Heh, heh! A little Pearl Jam playing in the stadium, here. I remember reading that this song, Evenflow, is one of Taylor's favorites. What a good send-off for this young rider. Let's just hope it brings hims some luck in his first championship finals competition.'
I tighten my rope a little, have the chute manager hold it up for me so I can get some more rosin on my glove. I look over and see Jeff standing across the pit, leaning up against a rail. I stall, just stare him in the eyes. I know he's got to be there. He's so damned real looking.
I blink and lean forward. He...
I look up at the supervisor. "Huh?"
"You almost ready?"
I nod, hunker down again. Try to get my head back into it. My eyes flicker toward the gate, where Jeff was. Gone again.
'Looks like there's a little hold-up down on the floor.'
'My guess is that Taylor's really trying to psych himself up for this ride. I can't imagine what's going through his head right now.'
'That's a lot of pressure for the young man, Bob. I can tell you as a former rider, it's a lot to live up to as a rider. A reminder to our viewers that we will have an interview with Lem Taylor coming up after the show, right here on ESPN 2.'
'Looks like we're ready at the chute. And there's the pull!'
'Hybride takes a big jump, and--OOOOH! Hybride falls right out of the chute!'
'Let's look at the replay. Now, take a look at this! From this angle, it looks like Hybride crosses his back legs on the launch and trips over his own legs! Taylor rolls off and runs to the side. Unfortunate turn of events for Lem Taylor.'
'He's just got to be heartbroken with that ride. Taylor on your screen shaking his head. No fault of his own. I think that's going to call for a re-ride round.'
'And word from the box coming in now, that is indeed a re-ride for Lem Taylor. We'll see him again in about an hour after everyone's had a chance to ride through. Moving on to chute five with Topher Gainnes out of Nashville, Tennessee.'
# # #
Mattie stands next to me while I wait outside the conference room for my re-ride slip. There are three of us pulling re-rides. There's some bad energy going around this place right now. I can't help but think Backdraft's presence here is causing some bad luck all the way around.
The door opens. The secretary walks out with three little slips of paper. He mentions for everyone to follow him into the room. "Everyone take a seat." He closes the door behind him. Seals Mattie off from me. Isolates him in the hall.
He stands in front of us. Checks his watch. Got a look in his eye that I know any one of us riders could peg from a mile away. One of us got the ride. I feel it. One of us got the fuckin' ride. My body tingles. My eyes are feel like they're getting moist. I'm almost shaking, this rush of adrenalin right now. He shakes his head again; someone got the fuckin' ride.
"One of you boys drew 681. Everyone understand?"
My cheeks burn. I can only nod.
He talks over the deafening silence. Tries to be diplomatic. "You can forfeit the ride. Before I give these out, I want to know who here will forfeit if they drew Backdraft. If you do, you don't have to say anything. I'll go upstairs right now and tell them you gave up your ride. There is no shame in this, gentlemen."
One of the other guys laughs nervously. "Like a damned execution speech."
The secretary turns to the guy. "Beau, will you forfeit your go-round if you've drawn Backdraft?"
He looks at the floor. "Uhh... yeah." Looks up. "Yes I will."
The secretary looks at the other guy. "Mister Kobus, will you forfeit if you've drawn 681?"
He nods. "Yes."
He stalls, looks down at his papers, then back at me. Blinks.
I drew the fuckin' ride.
My body goes cold. Every bit of me, like the blood drained out of me. "I will not forfeit."
Everyone else looks at me. Blinks. Stares at me like I'm a basketcase. Fuck, I really am a basketcase.
"Noted. Gentlemen, I wish you the best of luck. Please report immediately to the pit for your round." He steps forward, hands everyone a slip of paper. Walks out of the room through the back door.
Robby and Beau both look at their sheets at the same time. They both look up at me like it was choreographed, it's written in their eyes. You poor bastard. They stare at the floor as they walk out, neither one even looks over at me.
I look at the slip. Read across the row. Contestant: Taylor, E. Lem - Riding order: 1 of 3 - Chute: 6 - Bull: XNR432J (Desg: 681-J)
I stumble back, fall into one of the chairs. I'm so cold right now, I'm shakin' like a leaf. There's a pressure on my chest, a straining on my heart. He's in me now, all his evil. I said yes... I said yes...
Mattie peeks his head through the door. Walks in and sits down next to me. "You should get to the pit so you don't miss your ride." I feel him rub my shoulders
I tilt my head back, cover my eyes. The slip of paper rests between my fingers. "I got the fuckin' ride."
"I drew him. I fuckin' drew Backdraft."
"You forfeited, right?"
I look over at him. Shake my head. "I didn't."
"What the FUCK is wrong with you?" He stands up, looks down at me. "That thing could kill you!"
I sigh. Shake my head. "He won't." I know I'm kidding myself right now.
"Why didn't you forfeit? Why is it so important for you to ride that bull?"
I stand up. "FUCK, Mattie! He's a high scoring bull. He ain't ever been covered. I bet you that I could be the one to do it."
"Walk away! There are other bulls. You can prove yourself next year. I have a bad feeling about this. Please don't do this!" He's almost to the point of crying.
"Calm down, baby. I can take him."
He shakes his head, squeezes his eyes. A tear runs down his face. "I could lose you. There's something that's telling me something's going to happen. PLEASE, LEM! Fuck sake! You don't have to ride this bull."
"Why are you freaking out about this? You've never even cared about me riding bulls. Why now?"
"I said I got a feeling. Something's not right."
"A feeling. A feeling? You want me to give up the chance at a title because of a feeling?"
"It's the hat, then. The fuckin' hat!"
"Goddamn it, Matthew! You said yourself it was just a FUCKIN' wives tale. What the hell's gotten into you?"
"I never wanted you to ride him. From the first time I heard about him in Shelby to now. I thought the chances would be too narrow that you'd get drawn for him. Please, Lem! He could kill you!"
"It's my chance to prove myself! I could win a million dollars."
"What do you got to prove?" He sucks in a breath. Quivers.
"EVERYTHING!" I put my hands on his arms. "It's a million dollar ride! We would be set!"
"You're putting money between us? You're so blind you're fuckin' seeing stars!" He walks away, stands just short of of the door. Drops his head and sobs.
"Don't be like this, Shadow, I'll be fine."
'He deserves better than you. You're nothing.' That smell again.
"Let me tell you one thing, Lem Taylor: If you crawl onto that animal's back, this will be the last you ever see of me. That's a guarantee." He looks over his shoulder.
"It doesn't have to fuckin' be like this!"
"Don't do it, Lem! You got nothin' to prove. Go forfeit. Do it for me."
"You couldn't stay away from me. I can win this thing if I ride this bull!"
"You're a real piece of work, you know that?" He grits his teeth. "There's nothing left in you that's decent."
"GODDAMN IT! Why do you gotta be such a... a fuckin' FAG sometimes?" It was harsh enough that it stings my own ears. Jeff was right, he does deserve better.
He turns around and starts walkin' toward me.
Oh, God! "Mattie, I didn't mean it. I didn't mean it! Please don't be mad... please!"
He stops in front of me. Looks at the floor and pulls the ring off his finger. Holds it in his hand. Looks me in the eyes with such clarity. Such vacancy. "Yeah, fuck you." He lifts his arm out to the side, opens his hand. Lets the ring fall to the floor. He turns around and walks out of the room.
# # #
I'm standing behind the chute, feelin' like the heart's been ripped outta my chest. Was it the bull or the boy? The chute, it's empty so they can get all the way down the row. Last cow's up now. They'll push more cattle in here, soon. Below the Ford Rodeo logo is the number six. The rails of the chute are green, scraped up. Flecks of metal show through where cowboys and hands have crawled up on the pipes. Everyone back here seems to be at the other end of the chutes, loading up the last rider.
There is a loud clanging sound. I see a few bulls running up the ramp, making the turn into the chute hall. Several guys are up on the sides, prodding them along. One, two bulls go by. Number three stops in front of me. A red brangus with a white spot on his brisket. One horn up, the other down. This is him, the one they talk about.
My heart lobs in my chest as I stare him in the eye. Black, soul-sucking pools of pain and misery. He's watching me close, and he knows plenty well that I'm afraid him. He knows I'm in pain, but I doubt he's going to show me anything but suffering.
The devil's minion himself. This is the most dangerous animal on the rodeo circuit, maybe in the world. This is 681 Backdraft. ID number XNR432J. Sixteen-seventy-four pounds of lean hell. A headhunter.
He snorts, shakes his head. There's a rumbling, a low growling sound. It's hard to breathe. My adrenalin is on overdrive right now. Two guys run up to the stall, climb up a little way. One of them is the flank man, probably the contractor. He readies the strap.
I look off to my right. Spot Jeff sitting in the crowd a little way up. Look away and see him down the chute hall a ways. I blink. Look behind me. Spot him sitting there in the stands. He's fucking everywhere. 'You're nothing!' They all say it at the same time. Each one stings my ears. The ring burns like fire in my pocket.
681 winds up his foot and slams his hoof into the divider. He throws back his head, bellows this bone-chilling sound that just echoes through the stands. An official down the way gives me a look of pity, nods me on toward the chute. I tug at my vest, make sure it's actually strapped on good. Make sure the neck brace is clipped in. If I had half a brain I'd drop to my knees and thank Dupont for the Kevlar in this vest. If I had half a brain, I'd have listened to Mattie. I wouldn't be fixin' to ride this steak into battle.
"You're nothing. He deserves better." I still smell him. It's overpowering, the stench of Jeff.
I climb up, check the rigging. Climb on, start wrapping the rope around my glove. Make sure it's nice and tight. There are cameramen running up and down the aisle behind the pen. They're pointed up, fixed on me. Waiting to watch, show everyone what I'm made of.
I can feel him moving under me. A keg of TNT. Volatile. He wants me off his back, and I want to get this over with. Everything about this very minute, this agonizing fucking sliver of time, halts to a stop. I try to get rid of this pit in my stomach, calm myself down. I've ridden plenty of bulls. Ones that were bigger than this one. Ones that were faster.
'You're n..." I try my all to silence him. Try to get back in my own head. I still see his face everywhere. I close my eyes. Clinch them shut and shake my head. Look around. Thank God, he's gone.
'Ladies and gentlemen, if you turn your attention to gate 6, the most notorious bull in all of rodeo, Baaaaaaaackdraaaaaaaaaft!'
The audience roars.
'Riding on his back is Lem Taylor. Taylor drew Backdraft as a re-ride after his attempt on Hybride ended with the animal falling out of the chute.'
I hear heavy metal music. Percussive. Sounds like Korn. This isn't the same song they always play. 'Hold on. Be strong. So right. So wrong.' They're breaking tradition. Maybe it's a sign. Maybe I can cover this animal to the end.
The winds are changing. I can do this. I can do this.
I pull up on the rope, close my eyes. Take a deep breath in. Something strains against my wrist a little. I look at it. The bracelet, Mattie's bracelet, his scar, it peeks out from under my glove. God, I forgot to take it off!
'Taylor in the hot seat and ready to go.'
The world around me falls quiet. All I can hear is my heart beating, Backdraft breathing. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, hold my breath. I gotta do this. I gotta fuckin' do it now!
The gate man yanks the rope. The gate swings away. Before it's even open, 681's turning his head outward like he knows he wants to get me in a spin. I feel it. This rank wants me down the well. I can feel the force, the lift as he leaps out.
The ring. I feel it. It begs for my attention. Digs into my thigh like a branding iron.
The drop is like a free fall on a steep roller coaster. When he kicks his legs out behind him, you can feel it in your joints. It makes everything ache. His back side starts shifting to my right a little. This is what it feels like to ride an apocalypse. I feel his evil. He's eating my soul.
I can do this. Mattie'll see. I will do this!
681 sticks his back legs, rears up, pushes off again. Comes over and knocks me forward. My ropin' hand comes open a bit.
The rope's loose. Shit. I'm heading over the side, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. I knock forward, into his hump just as he rebounds and comes up. Knocks me clean off his back and into the air a couple feet. I'm coming in close to his side. I can make out individual hairs. Scars. Flecks of shit and dirt.
My arms are above my head. I feel my elbow hit the ground first, like hitting your funny bone. Then smack! Land face down in the dirt, knock the fuckin' wind right outta me. I don't see 681 in my vision, which means he could be behind me. I need to scurry. Get to my feet and get the fuck out of here. My legs go cold. There's an icy feeling starting at my hips. Shooting down my legs.
The feeling, the ice, ignites, worse than any burn you could imagine. My legs are on fire. It's a pain that runs up my spine, makes my shoulders ache. A tension that's unbearable. There's something dark coming into my periphery. Hooves. I'm looking at his hind legs. They come down right next to my face. I try my best to cover my head. I think he might be standing on me. I can't tell if it's the fall or 681, but I'm in a world of hurt.
He pivots around on his back legs, his head comes down next to me, right by my sides. He shovels me up with his upward horn and tosses me up in the air. I'm flying like a rag doll, but there's not much I can do in this position. I need to bend my knees a bit, brace for the impact. All I feel is pins and needles. My hips feel funny...
I must be upside down, because I'm looking up, maybe to find my maker, and all I'm seeing is the dirt coming toward me. I'm about to hit the ground again, and this is gonna hurt like hell. I gotta get up and haul ass. Get away from this thing before he does me some serious damage.
My hips... fuck.
I think I'm gonna land on my shoulder, but I feel my head hit first. I can feel pressure on my neck. I can take this, it ain't so bad. Gotta get up and run. Gotta... g... there's... there's a... flickering light somewhere... L-light blue, almost white. Someone's shining a flashlight at me or something. I don't know wh--
THIS IS NOT THE END Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!