'52 Panhead


Chapter 36



Evan and Raf arrested. Great, just great.

As Kenny shifted into Sharon's front seat, we peppered her with questions.

Kenny -- "Arrested for what?"

Me -- "Were they fighting?"

Kenny -- "Are they actually in jail?"

Me -- "Where's the Jeep? I'll need my wallet to bail them out."

Kenny -- "Are they ok?"

Me -- "How much is bail?"

Kenny -- "Who arrested them?"

Finally Sharon broke in. "God, just get in the car -- I'll tell you everything I know on the way to the cop shop."

"The cop shop?" Kenny repeated.

Sharon rolled her eyes. "I used to date a police officer. That's what he called it."

"So what happened? What did they get arrested for?" I asked, leaning forward to peer over her shoulder at the road ahead.

"Well, Evan called me when he couldn't reach you, and they only gave him like thirty seconds, so he was talking real fast, but it sounded like Evan was naked and I don't know what they got Rafael for."

"Naked!" I yelled in her ear. Christ, what the hell were they doing?

"What else? Where were they?" Kenny prompted.

"In the town square, sitting on a picnic table. I'm pretty sure that's what he said. Or maybe under a picnic table." She shrugged. "Someone was shouting in the background -- Raf maybe -- so I couldn't hear him real well."

"Naked?" I just couldn't get my head around Evan getting naked in the park. With Raf.

"That's what I heard," she said doubtfully. "Doesn't really sound like the Evan I know, but..."

Me neither. I was unable to imagine Evan taking off his clothes in the middle of town on a Saturday afternoon, within a stone's throw of his office. There had to be some sort of mistake.

The police department was housed with the court system in a newish complex on the south side of town. Sharon whipped into the lot, saying, "I'll drop you guys off and then park," but when she pulled up in front of the building, Raf and Evan were standing on the top step talking to Don, Evan's dad. I leaped out and bounded up the steps two at a time, reaching them just as Don walked back inside. Evan's bottom lip was split and puffy, and he was wearing a shirt I didn't recognize -- blue and orange plaid -- that he wouldn't have been caught dead in if he'd had a choice.

I opened my mouth to speak, but Evan held up his hand like a traffic cop and, without moving his lips much, said, "I'll tell you everything back at the house. Let's just get the hell outta here." He held out the keys to the Jeep. "It's parked on the east side of the town square, right in front of Raf's truck. Can you go get it so we can go home? Neither one of us is supposed to drive until Monday."

I stared at him, feeling the anger bubbling up from the knot in my stomach. I'd been worried about him and now here he was holding his hand in front of my face like I was a six-year-old begging to stay up late?

"Fine," I snarled, then grabbed the keys out of his hand and marched down the stairs, my stiff back and clenched fists radiating irritation.

"Jeff..." Evan called after me, but I had reached the sidewalk by then and broke into a jog toward the center of town, which was only a couple blocks away.

The Jeep was parked where he said it would be, and I was back in front of the police station in about fifteen minutes, sweaty and pissed. Sharon had unloaded Kenny and left, and the three of them were waiting for me at the curb. I stomped the Jeep to an abrupt halt and sat stonily behind the wheel as they got Kenny into the front next to me, folded his chair into the back, and settled themselves into the back seat. Once I was sure they were belted in, I let out the clutch with a squawk and drove to Raf and Kenny's place without a word being spoken by any of us. I stayed in the Jeep while Kenny got into his chair and Evan walked around back to let the dogs out. Chewy leaped into the back seat, Evan climbed into the passenger seat, and we were finally alone together.

I made it two whole blocks before jerking the Jeep to the side of the road, yanking the e-brake hard enough to practically rip it off the floor, and turning to Evan with an exasperated, "Well?!?"

He looked at me for a moment, gauging my level of mad, I suppose, before saying, "We just talked."

"Then how'd you end up naked?" I hollered.

"Who said I was naked?" As Evan turned to me, his eyebrows dropped into a deep frown and then he spoke quickly, like he wanted to get it all out before I asked any more questions. "I took my t-shirt off cause it was all bloody, but my lip was still bleeding and we were arguing and the cop saw blood on my face so he assumed we were fighting and then Raf told him to fuck off and leave us alone, so he hauled us in. But he didn't arrest us. My dad came down the hall just as we came in the door and third degreed us until everyone was satisfied," he finished.

"So you weren't naked?"

He shook his head with a sigh. "No, but apparently there's some old law on the books about taking your shirt off in the town square. It's from the sixties. They were trying to keep girls from flashing their tits, but they didn't wanna get in trouble for targeting just women, so the law says that no one can be bare-chested. The cop who brought us in tried to pin that on me, but my dad just laughed at him." He sat there for a moment, staring out the windshield, and then said in a quiet voice, "I'm begging you - can we please go home? I really need a shower."

I was still full of questions -- what had Evan and Raf talked about? did his lip hurt bad? who the hell's shirt was he wearing? -- but Evan looked tired and unhappy, so I let off the e-brake, dropped the Jeep into gear, and motored home to the Farm, where Evan jumped out before we quit rolling and disappeared into our bedroom. I needed a shower, too, but Evan had pushed the door to our room partway shut, something he'd never done before, and I was bright enough to take the hint that he didn't want company.

I called Sharon and thanked her for picking us up, and then sat in the kitchen for a while, nursing a beer, scratching my sweaty crotch and feeling sorry for myself while I thought about Evan's friendship with Rafael, a complex relationship that had a lot more years and wrinkles in it than mine with Evan did. I was trying to decide if it was unreasonable of me to expect Evan to tell me what he and Raf had talked about. Did being a couple mean that he owed it to me to tell me every single thing that went on in his life? Especially something that didn't really even concern me? Or did it? Where did you draw the line?

Part of me wanted to know, word for word, what had happened between them, but I knew I didn't necessarily want to tell Evan all my grubby secrets, so I really shouldn't expect it of him. Still... this was current stuff, right? I worked with Kenny every day - we were business partners, for Christ sake - and if things were gonna be weird because of this, I needed to know. Round and round I went, getting nowhere, so I had another beer. I thought about going down the hall to blast an email to Brendan about skipping school to play COD, but my heart wasn't in it.

Fifteen minutes after the shower shut off, Evan was still barricaded in our room, so I polished off the beer and went into the guest bath. It felt odd to shower in there, but I was tired of smelling myself and had no idea when Evan might emerge. We had stocked the guest bathroom with all the stuff we'd been given as house warming presents that we didn't want to use ourselves, so my choice of soaps was the coconut pineapple bath gel that Evan's mom had given us or the bar of vanilla almond soap from... I couldn't remember who. I picked the coconut stuff, squirting a big creamy blob onto the green nylon scrubby thing hanging from the shower head. It smelled great and made lots of bubbles, so I lathered the hell out of myself, enjoying the steam and the heat and the invigorating sensation of the scrubby. When I finally rinsed off and flung open the shower curtain, Evan was sitting on the closed lid of the toilet with a pair of my shorts and a t-shirt lying across his lap, sipping a beer through a straw. He watched without comment as I dried off, and then handed me the shorts and shirt.

When I was dressed, I sat down on the edge of the tub facing him and we just looked at each other for a few moments. In addition to the split lip, he also had a purple lump on his cheek and a big raw abrasion on the back of his left hand, what we used to call a strawberry when I was a kid. His hair, still damp from the shower, was almost as long as when we'd met and a lock of it had fallen over his forehead. I reached up and slowly slid my spread fingers up from his eyebrow, catching the strand of hair and combing it back with the rest. Evan tipped his head into my hand and closed his eyes for a second before sliding forward on the toilet seat and leaning toward me to rest his head on my shoulder. I took the beer from his hand and sucked up a big sip. After a few seconds of nosing around in my neck, he chuckled softly.

"You smell like a Hawaiian whorehouse."

I sniffed my arm. "Or a pia colada. It's that coconut stuff your mom gave us." I took another sip of the beer. "You know, you get drunk quicker drinking it through a straw."

Evan snorted, an explosion of warm breath on my neck. "That's bullshit. We always used to think that in high school, but I asked the science teacher one time and he told me it was bunk."

"Huh. Seemed like it worked..."

Evan sat up. "You hungry? Let's go eat and I'll tell you what happened, ok?"

I was instantly defensive. "Only if you wanna tell me," I said as I fiddled with the curled up sleeve of my t-shirt.

He stayed quiet long enough that I finally looked up at him. "That's what this is all about, isn't it? You and me, I mean. No secrets? I haven't forgotten the chewing out you gave me over my bank statement."

"Yeah, but... this is different. You and Raf go way back and maybe this isn't any of my business."

Evan considered that for a moment before shaking his head. "No, I think it is your business. It may have its roots in something that happened a long time ago, but it's obviously still a, uh... a current issue."

I followed him down the hall to the kitchen and started rummaging in the fridge for leftovers, but there wasn't much to choose from, so I opened the freezer door and peered in. Nada, zip, zilch.

"We don't have anything to eat," I announced to Evan, who was sitting at the table scratching Chewy's ears and working on his beer.

He lifted an eyebrow. "Nothing?"

"Some frosty old fish sticks, two hardboiled eggs, enough lettuce for one salad, and what looks like it used to maybe be lasagna or something. We have stuff to make other stuff with, but I don't feel like cooking."

"Well, I'm not going into town again, so we need to make do. What else do we have?"

Evan ended up sipping tomato soup through a straw and tearing a slice of toast into bite-sizes pieces, while I had an egg salad sandwich. Not real exciting, but it tasted pretty good. Evan spoke in between sips of soup.

"As soon as I realized Raf was behind me, I quit driving like an idiot and pulled over when I got to the square. We did the stare-down thing for a minute or two, but by then neither of us was all that mad any more, and we both knew we needed to talk. It kills him to see Kenny upset, and this happens every year, and... this morning he'd finally had enough." He sighed. "God, I can't believe I never picked up on it. He's always real quiet out there, but we all are -- it's a cemetery, for Christ sake - and I just never thought any more of it than that." He shoved his bowl away irritably. "Anyway, Raf and I... we have some history that sorta complicates things."

He paused long enough that I finally asked, "Such as?"

He gave me a considering look before saying, "Such as he was in love with me for a while."

I gave him the same look back. "I know."

"You do? How? Kenny?"

I shook my head. "No, Raf told me himself that day we met up at your condo. When I asked if he still was, he said no, not anymore."

"Not anymore maybe, but it screwed things up between us for a while. That whole first year, when the three of us lived together, it was Kenny falling in love Raf, and Raf lusting after me. The two of us had just started playing around a little when Luke came to town. Once that happened, I was so fuckin' wrapped up in Luke that..." His voice trailed off and he sighed as he pushed toast crumbs around his plate with a fingertip.

"I asked him if he hated Luke."

Evan looked up. "What did he say?"

"Said he should've, but he didn't. He said it was impossible not to like the guy."

One side of Evan's mouth turned up. "Yeah."

"So once Luke was dead, Raf figured..."

"Well, it wasn't that cold blooded; give the guy a little credit. It was just Rafael and me in the apartment before Kenny got out of the hospital. We ate together, slept together. We were together 24/7, and we kinda started back up where we left off three years earlier. I don't think Raf thought he could take Luke's place -- I think he knew better than that -- but we both needed somebody, you know? Luke was dead, so I pretty much wanted to die, too, and Raf's face was really bad then... I was the only person he was really comfortable with. We just kinda holed up in that apartment and hung onto each other." He turned his gaze out the window, and his voice, already soft, dropped another couple notches. "There were entire days when we never got out of bed. We just huddled up together and talked and cried. We musta had twenty boxes of Kleenex all over that damn apartment cause one or the other of us was always cryin', at least for the first month or two."

When Evan paused, I took our dishes to the sink, ran water on them, and then turned back to the table. He was gazing out the window, his eyes unfocused, his mind reliving that summer ten years ago.

"Evan." He turned his head slowly and when his eyes met mine, I hesitated, then said, "I love you."

I spoke the words softly, knowing that I was pushing my own needs into the middle of his memories, but he seemed so remote that I needed to say it, needed to bring him back to me a little. His expression softened as he smiled at me and some of the distance left his eyes. We looked at each other across the room for a good minute or so before he pushed to his feet and came to me, stopping when we were toe to toe. The smile was wider now, and he leaned the last few inches closer to kiss my mouth lightly. I was careful not to kiss him back too hard.

"I know you do." Another gentle kiss. "Let me finish telling you this, ok?"

When I nodded, he took my hand and led us to the couch, settling down sideways with his bent knee resting against my leg, keeping contact between us. When he started talking again, he moved along without pausing for reflection or mental side trips down memory lane.

"By the time Kenny moved in with us, Raf was in love with me and I was willing to let him be. It was easy to be with him because he knew me, you know? I didn't have to explain my shitty moods or my crying jags, or worry about any of the stuff you usually have to pay attention to in a relationship cause he already knew everything."

Evan shifted to slide his arm beneath mine and take my hand in his.

"Then Kenny moved in. He couldn't get around real good yet, cause he hadn't built up his upper body like it is now, plus he was in one of those big-ass hospital wheelchairs, so we pushed him a lot. I think I told you that the doctors told him his sex life was over?" I nodded. "God... imagine what an awful thing that must have been to hear. On top of learning that you're never going to dunk another basket or get a jar of pickles down from a shelf for your mom or go for a hike in the woods with your buddies, you also get told you'll never have another orgasm. Well, we thought fuck that, there must be parts of him that still felt something, so we started trying to find out what he could still enjoy. It was Raf who first made Kenny cum, and I think that's when they really started gettin' into each other."

He shrugged and began to play with my fingers, tugging on them, running his fingertips along the edges as if tracing the outline of my hand. Practically any time Evan touched me, my dick woke up a little, and if we hadn't been on the subject of dead boyfriends and a life without orgasms, I would've been getting hard from the feel of it.

"When I went off to school the next September, I missed those guys so much. Missing Luke was different cause I knew he was dead and gone, but with Kenny and Raf, they were still living in the apartment where we'd done all our crying and messing around, and whenever I got really lonely, it was hard as hell not to come crawling back home. Anyway, Raf missed me, too, and was a real dickhead to Kenny for a while, but then Kenny kicked him out for a few months and that straightened his ass out... so to speak," he added with a chuckle.

"Raf told me that part. Said it took Kenny something like three months to tell Raf he loved him."

Evan snorted and rolled his eyes to me. "Took me at least that long to tell you, didn't it?"

"Yeah, somethin' like that." I agreed. "Fuck, I thought you never would, Evan. I was tryin' to be so patient and give you room and shit, but, man... it was killin' me."

"But it was worth it, huh?" Evan said with a quick grin, but then winced as his split lip stretched. "Oww, shit!"

"Yeah... it was." I sobered up as I answered him. "Tell me, Evan."

It was scary to ask him like that, like maybe I thought he'd changed his mind or something, but I really needed to hear it. He was touching his lip with one finger when I said it, and he stilled for a moment before meeting my eyes. His gaze warmed as he looked at me, everything about his expression gradually brightening until I couldn't help but smile back at him.

"I don't say it enough, huh?" he asked, reading the need in my words and my face. "I'm sorry. It's just that this feels so solid to me that I forget it's been barely a year." He shifted his position until he was fully facing me. "I was never in love with Rafael, and we never had full-on sex. I just wanna be real clear about that. I know he's... intense about me, but that's just how he is. He's the same with Kenny. You two are a lot alike, actually. Protectors." He paused for a moment, a careful half smile on the good side of his mouth, his eyes roaming my face. "I love you, Jeff. Don't ever doubt that, ok? Or if you do, talk to me. Don't let it fester like Raf did about the cemetery until you wanna pound the crap outta me, all right?"

When I nodded and replied, "All right," he kissed me one more time, yawned in my face, and then slid down until his head was in my lap. He pulled my hand onto his chest, covered it with both his own and closed his eyes.

"I'm exhausted," he said through another yawn. "Wake me up in twenty?"

I picked up my book with my free hand as Evan dozed off, but it didn't hold my interest and I ended up watching Evan sleep instead, which sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry, but if it's someone you love, it's one of the best things there is.

He wasn't entirely still as he slept; his hands twitched now and then, and his eyelids fluttered a little, the black lashes inky against his pale skin. The warm weight of his head on my leg felt good, and I slowly shifted sideways a bit so that I could lean my head against the back of the couch. I had never experienced these quiet, unexceptional, yet remarkable moments with anyone but Evan, and attributed them to being in love for the first time in my life.

About an hour later, Evan blinked a couple times before looking up at me. "Hi," he said in a sleepy voice. "Is it twenty minutes?"

I smiled at him and patted his chest softly. "It's an hour."

"Really?" he asked through a big stretch. "Should we do something?"

I was about to reply when the rumble of Bill's truck became audible as it came up our drive. I shrugged when Evan gave me a questioning look, and we both got up and walked out onto the front porch to see why he'd driven over instead of walking or riding a horse, his two preferred methods of transportation between our place and his. The back of his pickup was stacked two high with hay bales, and barely visible over the top of them was a fuzzy brown tuft of fur with two huge hairy ears sticking up out of it. As he drove slowly to the pasture gate, we went down the stairs and met him at the back of the truck. Chewy ran over after taking a leak on the rose bushes, as curious as we were.

Bill took one look at Evan and said, "Whoa, son. You walk into a fist?"

"An elbow." Evan made a face. "Basketball."

"The contact version, huh? Well, anyway," he went on, "I brought you something. You'll never guess."

"Is it bigger than a breadbox?" Evan guessed.

Bill gave him a strange look as he lowered the tailgate of the truck and pulled down a bale of hay. A long grayish brown face with soulful brown eyes, topped by those ridiculous ears, regarded us from the bed of the truck. A long fringe of scruffy bangs drooped over its forehead, giving it a winsome appearance. The creature gazed us for a moment before closing its eyes and opening its mouth in the most god-awful sound I'd ever heard. Part roar, part squeaky hinge, part wheeze, it was so out of place coming from that sweet little face that Evan and I burst out laughing, and Bill smiled even as he shook his head. Chewy lit out for the porch as fast as his feet could take him, tail tucked between his legs.

"This here's the donkey I mentioned," Bill said unnecessarily.

"What the hell kind of sound is that? Is it sick?" Evan asked.

"No, it's fine. That's a hee-haw," Bill explained with a straight face.

"Well, whoever got `hee-haw' out of that was on drugs."

We heard a thunder of hooves and turned to see the mares galloping up to the fence to investigate the noise. Bill pulled down the next bale of hay, revealing skinny little black legs supporting a round gray body. He took a wide board from the side of the bed and angled it down to the ground. When he picked up the rope attached to the donkey's halter, it hopped forward unevenly, and as I looked closer, I saw that it had only one hind leg.

"It's three-legged!"

"Yeah," Bill sighed. "They found her out in the woods, just about starved to death cause her leg was all busted up. Vet said her best bet was to just take it off, so here she is. She gets around pretty good on the ground, but we need to give her a hand outta the truck."

He lined me and Evan up on each side of the board, and then coaxed the donkey gently down the ramp, bracing it with an arm around its middle. It skidded a couple times, but Evan and I steadied it and soon it was gazing around the back yard and nibbling grass. The hair on her right hip was still growing out after being shaved for surgery, and there were two incisions that looked like Frankenstein scars, big long things with dots down each side from the stitches. It was kinda pitiful to watch her step-step-hop every time she wanted to move, although she seemed comfortable enough doing it.

"God, why didn't they just put her to sleep?" Evan asked, frowning at the donkey as it ripped grass from the lawn.

"Cause they gotta save every damn critter they come across," Bill replied irritably, but he was stroking his hand gently along the donkey's back and scratching at the base of her ears. The donkey quit eating and stood still with her eyes half-closed, obviously enjoying the attention. She was only about three feet tall at the shoulders, much less intimidating than either the horses or the cows. When I kneeled down and started to scratch her forehead, she butted her head into my hand and wheezed a couple times in appreciation. I found myself grinning at her, quite taken with her hard luck story and her friendly attitude.

"She got a name?"

Bill heaved another sigh. "Dory, as in hunky-dory."

"Dory the donkey," Evan said as he patted her on the rump.

"Hi, Dory," I greeted her as she nosed my shirt pocket. I glanced at Evan. "Would you mind gettin' some carrots?"

When Evan came back across the lawn, Chewy followed him, but darted behind me when Dory brayed enthusiastically at the sight of the carrot bag. As the donkey munched, Chewy peered at her, and after a few minutes, got close enough to sniff her hind leg. When Dory totally ignored him, Chew circled her slowly and then sat down a few feet in front of him, apparently satisfied that he could outrun a three-legged donkey if necessary.

"The horses aren't gonna bother her?" Evan asked, glancing at the huge mares still watching us from the fence, except now they were more interested in the carrots than the donkey. The size difference was such that Dory could practically walk right under them, and putting her in with them didn't seem like such a hot idea to me either, but Bill said, "I don't think so. They're used to the goats at my place and don't bother them, but I'll stay here for a bit to make sure."

The rest of the day was uneventful, just what we needed after the drama of the morning. We hung around while Bill introduced Dory to the mares, and then spent the rest of the afternoon tossing a stick for Chew, weeding the garden, and wandering down the lane to the mailbox. When dinner rolled around, I went into town for pizza and we ate on the back porch, watching Dory and the mares work their way along the left fence. The horses moved slowly as they grazed and Dory had no trouble keeping up with them.

"A three legged donkey," Evan mused. "Whatta you suppose'll show up next?"

We watched a little TV, but were in bed by ten, talking quietly as we always did, winding down the day together. I was on my back, eyes closed, one hand holding Evan's as he lay on his side facing me. His other arm was resting on my chest as his fingers traced the hollows of my collarbone and neck. It felt good, and I didn't want to wreck the mood, but...

"So, we're still going over there tomorrow?"

His hand squeezed mine lightly. "Yeah, sure. Everything's cool. I wanna talk to Kenny a little more, but Raf and I hammered things out in the park before the cop came along. He was just worried about Kenny, and I can totally relate. If the situation were reversed, I'd have been all over his ass if he was doing something that affected you as badly as the cemetery affects Kenny."

My eyes popped open to stare at the shadowy ceiling. Wow. I knew Evan loved me, but I could count on one finger the times in my life that someone -- anyone -- had stuck up for me. Just hearing him say that he would was a wonderful, amazing thing. I lay there in the dark bedroom grinning like a fool before I slid my arm behind his neck and pulled him close. As Evan's breathing evened out, I rested my face against his hair and realized that this was another aspect to being a couple that I had never experienced.

I settled myself a little more comfortably and was just beginning to drift away when Evan, in the faintest of voices, whispered, "I love you," against my shoulder.




Comments? Qwb224@gmail.com