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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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A cuckoo clock chimes six times. Mattie moans and rolls over. I'm staring at a painting on the wall, a mountain lion drinking from a small crick. It's kinda tacky.
I've been awake for an hour now. I'm a bit tired, and I have a horrible headache. I'm a little dizzy. I have cotton mouth.
I can smell coffee now. I don't know if anyone else is up, but I guess I should go check. Get out of my sleeping bag as quiet as I can, head for the bathroom to take a piss. While I'm there, I take a farmer's blow in the toilet, clear out my sinuses. It was probably the smoking, but it feels like it's killing me. Eating my nose from the inside out.
The staircase wraps around the corner. I go up and come up into the living room. The area's pretty well open. Lane is sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper, cigarette in his mouth. He picks up his coffee, almost takes a drink but looks over when I make it to the top step.
"Mornin'." He nods, takes a sip, goes back to his reading.
"Am I the first one up?" I rub the sleep outta my eye.
He checks his timepiece. "So far." Takes a drag, blows it out. "Sorry I'm not more hospitable, I don't do mornings well. Make yourself at home." His voice is gruff. He kind of reminds me of a younger Billy Bob Thornton, the way he carries himself.
I stand in front of Lane, a little shy of the table. "You have anything for a headache?"
He looks over his paper and blinks at me. "Well, I might have something for that." He turns his head toward one of the cabinets, like he's got X-Ray vision and he's trying to find the Tylenol. "Have a seat." He gets up and walks across the kitchen.
I take the seat between the end of the counter and the wall, on the backside of the table. I lean over and hold my head, just wish this headache would fuck off. Two red pills are dropped in front of me. I look up at him after he sets a coffee cup in front of me.
He pours a cup. "The caffeine should help speed things up."
I don't really drink coffee. "Umm..."
"Sugar's right there in that little dish."
I don't want to be rude. I just open the top and take a heaping teaspoon. Stir it around in my coffee. I throw the pills back, take 'em with a little coffee. "Thank you."
He nods. "Mmmm hmmm." Holds up his paper. "How long you and your friend been... you know..."
"Me and Mattie? Been what?"
"Well, just the way he looks at you, I could have thought you two were..."
"Well, I've known him since I was five." I take a sip of the coffee. It's fucking mud. It just now sinks in. "Special friends?"
"Well, I mean I had my fair share of fun in College, down in Colorado."
"Oh, no. Nothing like that."
"Oh. My apologies."
"It's okay. I just don't think Mattie knows what to do with himself. He's been different lately. The way he acts, things he says."
"Well, I can't imagine he's a stones throw from being a kid himself. Shit like that happens when you start gettin' older."
He looks over the top of his paper at me, through his reading glasses. "He has eyes for you."
"Mattie's not like that. Neither am I."
"Boy, can you poke the broad side of a barn with a stick? It seems pretty obvious to me that he's got feelings. If you don't wanna see it for what it is," he smiles, "that's your business."
"I know Matthew better than that."
He stares at me a second. "Your eyes lie." Goes back to his paper. "Did you hear about Jeff's little friend? Over there in Coeur d'Alene?"
"Haven't heard much about Coeur d'Alene. Just something about them moving because of the Nazis or something."
He chuckles, "Nazis. That what he told you? Guess everyone gets a bit uptight with supremacists on your doorstep." He sighs. "Well, at least he's found himself a nice girlfriend for now. His mom was getting worried for a bit."
He looks at me again. "There was a kid, kind of like your Matthew. He took to following him around. What a lot of people would consider a little on the girly side. Got his mom thinking things, that they were friends of a sort. Nice kid. Met him once. But boy, did he ever have eyes for Jeff. And Jeff didn't see it." He puts his cigarette out in the ashtray. "Still says to this day nothing happened, but his mom wouldn't have it. Packed her bowling ball and brought 'em both here on a hunch."
I nod, sip my coffee. "So, what if there was something?"
"If they had a thing going on? Hell, I'm sure he'd be living here with me. His mom wouldn't have it. She's too conservative for that sort of thing. Got really angry when he wouldn't go to church with her. Like I keep telling her, it's not her life to sit on the pulpit."
"You wouldn't care?"
"Why the hell would I?" He pauses. "Jeff's his own person. I just can't imagine how hard it'd be to live in an ass-backwards state like this and not get the shit beaten outta you for something like that."
I'm curious. A little scared. "I guess I'd be nervous about something like that, too. Mattie's my best friend. I'd feel plenty shitty if something ever happened to him."
"Yeah, he seems like a good kid. He looks up to you."
I sit, think back a bit. "A few weeks ago, he asked me why people didn't like him."
"I can't imagine it'd be true."
"It's not. He's just so shy when we're around other people. Brooke started calling him my shadow. That's what she calls him now. Shadow."
"He's okay with you?"
"Well, other than his family, I'm the only one he tells things."
"Why do you think that is?"
I shrug. "Never thought about it. I've always stuck up for him, treated him like a brother. I probably know him better than anyone."
I look at the bottom of my empty coffee cup. "She's a girl I'm kinda seein'. Miss Junior Rodeo this year."
"Ah. Got yourself a rodeo queen?" He smiles. "Gotta watch them types. They'll turn you every which way but loose."
I giggle. "I guess."
He gets up, walks to the coffee pot and fills his cup. There's only a little bit left. He puts the rest in my cup, then starts to make another pot. He fills the coffee pot with water, drops it in the coffee machine. "Can I ask you somethin'?"
"Not to be too personal, but what would you do if your friend was on the different side?"
"Like, a fag or something? Mattie's not gay. I know him better than that. There's no way."
"That's not what I asked." He doesn't sound mad. He just keeps going about his business.
I don't know how to answer. "There's no fuckin' way, man."
He sighs, sits down. "Be good to the kid. If he, say, needs a way out, someone to talk to, he should at least have one person that'll listen to him. I'd hate for anyone to have to go through some of the shit I did when I was his age."
# # #
The first injury caused by backdraft was a broken jaw and a few knocked out teeth. The rider was on his way over the front end of the bull. Backdraft dropped forward. Rider went with him, rammed his shoulder into Backdraft's withers, knocked him backward. Backdraft's back left hoof caught the rider in the face on his way to the floor.
# # #
It's been eating at my mind all day. I've known Mattie almost all my life. He got into rodeo because of me. He isn't different.
He keeps catching my eye. Smiles at me once in a while, but I just can't bring myself to talk to him at length. The more I think about it, the more it bothers me. The things he's said and done. The way he touched me. Not in that way, but just the way he brushes my hand, or grabs my shoulder.
We're getting ready to go to dinner before the show. I'm pretty well ready, just kind of sitting on the couch, staring off in space. Not sure where Lane went. Jeff's getting ready in Lane's bathroom, Hope is in the shower, and Mattie's downstairs getting dressed.
I hear a bump somewhere, like someone's hitting a wall or something. I look over at the kitchen. On top of the fridge there's a bright red box. Carton of some sort. I look at it without even thinking about anything at all. I feel lost. Cheez-It's sound good right now, for some reason. I wonder where Jeff wants to eat. There is just no fucking way. None. All the problems in the world and this is the only one that keeps coming back to me.
The shower stops. After a few seconds the door opens, and Hope steps out. Steam following her. She looks around. She's got a long towel wrapped around her chest. She looks at me, doesn't seem to mind that I'm sitting right here and that she's standing there naked in a towel. "You seen Jeff?"
I look away, to be polite. "In Lane's bathroom."
She turns around and walks back into the bathroom.
I fix on the wall. It just blurs. Nothing special about it. Her shampoo smells good. I wonder what Jeff's doing in the bathroom. Could he have done something with that other guy? There's a small crack down by the baseboard. I wonder how gay Lane actually is. Or is he? He doesn't seem like it. Seems too manly. More jumbled thoughts. Shit about Mattie. Fuck sake. Mattie.
Hope walks out of the bathroom again, walks down the hallway toward Lane's room and goes in. She's dressed now, but she has her hair up in the towel. Guess she's getting around to her makeup or something.
Mattie comes up the stairs, sits down next to me on the couch. I smell his perfume, that sweet smell he's been wearing lately. It's stronger than usual, I guess on account that he just put it on. He sets his boots down in front of him. Pulls on his socks and works his boots over his feet. He's wearing his Wranglers, one of his nicer shirts. He smiles at me, but it fades. He has a look on his face like he can tell something's not right.
I sit back, shake my head.
He's quiet for a second. Looks like he's trying to put things together. "You mad at me for something?"
Make eye contact for a second. I can't lie to this kid. There's a spot on my knee, where the denim's worn out. Small hole, can't really see it unless you look for it. I run my fingernail over it a few times.
I squeeze my jaw shut. My nose hisses when I breathe in.
"What, Matthew?" I didn't mean for it to sound so mean.
"Why are you so pissed at me?"
"I'm sorry. I'm not."
We sit there for a bit, in quiet. I can feel him staring at me.
I don't want to say it, ask it, mumble it, know it. It's brewing in between my ears, and it's not going to be good. I feel it coming out of me, I'm sayin' it, but it doesn't feel like me that's sayin' it. My ears go numb when I hear the words come out of my mouth. "Are you gay?"
He smiles nervously. Looks like he thinks that I'm joking. "What?" There's something I see in him now, something I've seen all my life. A scared little boy. Sad. "Are you serious?" He's not smiling anymore. "You think I'm a... a fucking queer?"
"Why would you think that, or... or even bring it up?" His throat bobs.
"I'm sorry. It was just a question." I'm staring at the floor. I don't want to look at him because I'm so ashamed of myself and what I just said. This is my best friend in the world. My brother. And I've just insulted him.
He stands up, I can tell he's facing me because the way his boots are pointed. "Fuck you, Lem." He's speaking through his jaw. "Just... fuck you. FUCK off, fuck your little obsession with Brooke, your obsession with me for... for what ever the fuck reason you brought it up, and fuck you." He turns and walks off. His footsteps are heavier than usual, like he's walking somewhere with purpose. He goes downstairs, slams a door.
Hope is there in the hallway, Jeff behind her. I feel my cheeks burning, because now I've made an ass of myself in front of everyone. Fuck. Hope unwraps the towel from her head and throws it in the bathroom, runs down the steps after Mattie. Jeff, he's just standing there. Lookin' out from under his black Stetson hat.
"What the hell'd you do to him?"
I shake my head. "Opened my big fucking mouth."
He flicks the brim of his hat. "Okay. And?"
"What did you say to him?"
He walks into the kitchen, pulls a chair out. "Dude. Here. Sit."
I don't want to get up, leave the couch for the interrogation chair. I know what I've done. He nods me over. I stand up, walk to the chair. Before I sit down, I look him in the eye. He's not budging. I sigh. Sit down.
He squeezes my shoulder. Sits down across from me. "So, tell me why my best friend's little brother is so pissed off right now."
"Man, I'm sorry. I'll apologize when he cools down. I know I messed shit up. Sorry."
"I know you are, but this isn't about you, is it? I told Ronnie I'd watch over him like he was my own little brother. So, yeah, man. I want to know what the hell just happened."
I look around the room. I can't imagine the answer's on that box of crackers I keep eyeballing on top of the fridge. "I, um... I asked him if he was gay."
He blinks at me. "What else?"
"What do you mean, what else? That's it."
He scratches the back of his hand. "Lem, you know, it's not really any mind of yours to ask a question like that."
"Well, seems like you tried to put the moves on me. Are you gay?"
I think I'm blushing. "No, I'm not."
"Sucks being put on the spot like that, doesn't it?"
I sigh. "Yeah."
"What difference does it make? If he is, let him tell you. Just don't go around askin' people shit like that."
"I don't know what to think, man. I mean, Lane was sayin' shit, and... well, fuck. Here we are"
"Yeah, Uncle Lane says a lot of shit, but he assumes a lot of shit, too."
"He told me the reason you moved here." Crap. I don't think I should have said that, either.
"Because some guy was following me around? Batting his eyelashes? Was that it?"
"Something along those lines."
He folds his hands in front of him, leans forward on his elbows. His eyes are so dark, I can't normally see his pupils. The shirt he's wearing, he's more muscular than I thought. One of the first time's I've seen him in a tee shirt. He looks good. Hope is a lucky girl. "I know you didn't mean bad by it, but you know how sensitive he is."
"You're a good kid. A hell of a rider. I can see you goin' places. Just remember your friends and the ones that got you there. Sometimes, they're the only thing you have to hold onto."
"I've been hearing that a lot, lately. I, um, hope you don't think less of me for it."
He chuckles. Sits back. "Naw. We all say shit we ain't proud of, sometimes. We're all people."
I pick at the seam on my pants, on the side of my leg. There are things I want to say to Jeff right now. Lots of things.
"What you thinkin' about?"
I shake my head. "Nothin' worth sayin'."
"If it's not worth sayin', then why waste time thinkin' about it?"
I look him in the eye. Take a dizzy breath, just that gut feeling that this could suck. "I don't know why, but... I... I like you. Like, a lot. Just, I mean... like friends. You don't talk down to me like a stupid kid or something. Make me feel like I'm worth something. Just... I mean..." I flush, look away. I'm on a roll.
"Ain't that a bit of a mouth-full?"
"Why you keep apologizing so much?"
"Just, fucking everything. I've gone and made this fucking weird for everyone."
He smiles. Laughs softly. "Lem, you sayin' you want to be friends?"
"Why'd you help me out? Tell me that? Riding a horse is like riding a woman?"
"I told you what you needed to hear. It worked, didn't it?"
"Yeah, it did. But what the fuck do I know about women? Why would you help some stupid kid like me out?"
"Hey, hey. You're just feeling bad about what happened. Don't beat yourself up, 'cuz once you start, it just keeps goin' on. Coach gets too wrapped up in results. Doesn't tell you that you done a good job on a good ride. Did he say anything to you when you took that horse in Cut Bank?"
I shake my head.
"I told you what I told you because you had your head so wrapped around technical crap that you wouldn't be able to think about your ride. It's like reading a book about drivin' a car and goin' down the interstate at a jillion miles an hour. You just can't to that, think all technical like that." He leans forward, pokes the table to make a point. "Riding is an art. A feeling. You go with what you know, with what you feel in your heart, and you'll always stay on top."
"Shit, you're like the Gandhi of Rodeo or something."
He sits back and laughs loud. "Why say something if'n it's not gonna' help? I just want to be able to tell people that I knew you before you were a famous bronc rider."
"Won't be a famous bronc rider, if I have my 'druthers. I wanna ride bulls."
He smiles. "What's stopping you?"
"Dad and Momma."
He throws his head back. Nods. "You know, I practice on Dawson's land once in a while. He's got a few training bulls."
"Dude, someone would find out."
"Dawson's not gonna say anything. He's too boozed up. If you don't say anything, I won't either."
I kind of laugh.
"I'll help you out. At least help ya' cut your teeth."
"Careful, I might take you up on it."
Hope walks up the stairs, sits down across from us. "He's downstairs if you wanna' talk to him." She puts her hand over mine. Squeezes till I look into her eyes. "Be careful with him. He was afraid of losing his only friend."
"What did he say?"
"Not much. But he didn't know why you'd think he was gay."
I nod, sigh. I get up and walk toward the steps, head down.
Mattie's sitting on a love seat. His head is rested on the arm of the chair. He looks peaceful, quiet. Doesn't move when I go to sit down.
He breathes in, sighs heavily. Closes his eyes and swallows.
"Sit up, here. Talk to me for a minute, would ya'?"
Doesn't even stir.
I put my hand just above the crook of his arm. Give him a light tug.
"Lem, leave me alone."
"Not until I say some things first." I squeeze his arm. "Would you sit up so I can talk to you?"
Reluctantly, he sits up, hunches over a bit.
I get the feeling he's not gonna listen. I reach over, hug him. Hold him for a second. "Listen..."
He pushes me away, looks at me. Looks at me angry. "I fuckin' told you I wasn't like that."
"It's not like that. I just want you to hear me, and you're not listening."
"Why the hell should I listen to you?"
"Because I made a mistake and I fucked things up and I think I should have a chance to make good."
He blinks at me.
I pull him up to me again, put a hand around the back of his head and whisper in his ear. "Listen to me. If I ever said something to hurt you, I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it, and I want you to know that I will always be here, Mattie." I squeeze the back of his neck a little. "You're my best friend. I would die for you."
He pulls back, pushes away from me. Looks me in the eye. "Damage's been done, hasn't it?" He gets up and walks up stairs. Leaves me there on the couch. Alone in the dark.
# # #
The show's pretty good so far. We're kind of sitting in the middle, on the arena level. Pretty good seats. I'm wedged between Jeff on the right, and some fat guy on my left. Mattie's sitting on the other side of Hope, on the end of the row. I look over and try to check on him once in a while. He looks like he's having fun, but when he sees me looking he frowns and stares at the floor.
It's making me miserable.
# # #
There's a Denney's close to Lane's house. We stop in after the show to get something to eat and hang out. Jeff and Hope take up one side of the booth. They look like they're holding hands under the table. Mattie sits to the inside, sits as close to the wall as he can. I get the feeling he doesn't want me anywhere near him, so I sit on the edge of the bench. It's like a Junior High date.
I can tell Hope's a bit worried. She knows as much as I do that it's gonna take Mattie some time to come around. Jeff goes on like normal. When the waitress comes, he orders himself a cup of coffee and a piece of blueberry pie with chocolate ice cream. Weirdo.
Hope gets a sampler for everyone to pick at. When it gets to the table, Mattie and I reach for the same fried cheese stick. We stop. I look at him. He just takes his hand and puts them in his lap, leans forward on his elbows.
The waitress sets down Jeff's pie. "You feelin' okay, hon?"
Mattie blushes. Nods his head and looks up at her. "Um, yes ma'am."
"Okay." She smiles cautiously. "Well, you just let me know if you need anythin' else." She points at her name badge. "Just you ask for Flo, and I'll be here right quick to take care of ya'." I can tell this woman is someone's mom, maybe grandma. By the looks of her, she's been here more than a decade, but I get the feeling she's comfortable here.
The rest of the night, nobody can get more than two words outta Mattie.
# # #
There's a soft sound that wakes me up in the dead of night. I can't see a damn thing other than the green lights on the VCR on top of the television set, the blinking time telling me it's a bit after one. I hear it again. A wet, snotty sniffle. My eyes are adjusting a little to the dark, but I really can't see much.
All I can tell is that Mattie is laying on his side, his back to me. He breathes out, like a whispering sob. I think he's crying. I've only seen him cry once, when he fell off his horse when we were 'bout nine or so. When he broke his arm. Maybe that's why he never got into saddle bronc.
I reach my hand out, to put my hand on his shoulder. I fall short, reach again. I feel him shaking, crying. It's twisting my heart, tearing it in half.
I get out of my sleeping bag and sit up. "Mattie." I whisper, keep quiet. "Mattie, come here."
He gets up on an elbow, his head bent low. Face against the carpet.
I get up and walk around him, sit down in front of him. I put my hand under his arm-pit, pull him up so he's sitting. I hug him, as awkward as this feels to be here again, I squeeze him tight. "Mattie, it's okay. Let it out."
He wraps his arms around my back, squeezes as hard as he can. He has the back of my tee shirt, pulling at it hard enough to rip through it. His face is buried in my chest, sobbing, making my shirt wet. I feel so bad for him right now that I taste sour in my throat.
I rock with him. Back and forth, let him cry it out. All his hate, his anger, his confusion. He whimpers. I'm so fucking lost right now, the only thing to do, the only way to make it right... I don't know. Hell, if it'd make him feel better, I'd let him punch me in the face right now.
I rub the back of his head. He cries and cries until he falls asleep in my arms.
Please let me know what you think of the story. Send critiques to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "Lem.". Thanks for reading!