Two men, in 1960s rural Nebraska, set off in search of a runaway teenager.
OK, Saturday night and Mike is showering up and shaving off two weeks of beard-as I am about to find out. He wants to go out to a bar he knows over by Doniphan, across the river. Reminds him of a place in Dallas, when he was just out of the service. Even the name's the same-the Wood Shed. The barbecue is Texas-style, he swears, and they've got Lone Star by the bottle, a real treat from the sound of it that will also grow hair on my chest (since nothing else does).
I'm on the couch with my feet up. The TV is on with the sound off. And I've got to about page 85 of Farewell to Arms. Trying this summer to read through all of Hemingway and some Henry Miller. I'm as dressed for the night as I'm going to be-white snap-front shirt and a new pair of button-fly levi's, still unwashed, cardboard-stiff, indigo blue, and roomy inside.
Mike says I should jump into the stock tank, and let them shrink to fit. This is his idea of a joke. He is a Wrangler man and thinks buttons just slow a man down. Mike also has opinions about underwear. He believes in boxers and thinks my jockeys mark me as the college boy that I am. Not to be taken seriously.
I hear Mike come into the room and walk up behind me. He bends over grinning at me, upside down.
"What happened to your beard?" I say.
"Got tired of it," he says. It's all gone but a thick, dark moustache, which looks even thicker now over his big smile.
He lifts my glasses from my face and rubs his naked cheek against mine. There's a wave of his Mennen Skin Bracer. Then he bends farther, opening the top of my shirt. His hairy chest presses onto my face, skin still moist from the bathroom, and I can feel his wet tongue working its way down to my navel, the snaps on my shirt popping open as he goes. Hemingway hits the floor.
He pauses, and I can feel his hands on my fly, working his fingers around the stiff buttons. He's letting his full weight down onto me and muttering something about goddam levi's. Finally, I feel him yanking, and the buttons come undone with a surging ripple effect down the front of my briefs.
"And what have we here?" Mike is laughing. And I'm already feeling his callused hands reaching into my shorts. He pulls forward farther, and now the damp towel he's got wrapped around him is edging across the bridge of my nose.
Mike wastes no time. He's got me in his mouth before I'm half hard. I reach around with my one free arm and start pulling at the towel. He finally lifts upward, and the towel starts to fall away. As I'm looking under it, his dick drops out and slaps onto my face. I touch the end of it with my tongue, and I'm getting syrupy drops of his salty precum.
We never make it to the Wood Shed for barbecue and Lone Stars that night. And we don't make any other progress either. Just as I'm trying to stuff Mike's dick into my mouth, the phone in the kitchen starts ringing. Mike falls into a heap on me, muttering "sonofabitch," and finally swings himself off me and the couch and goes to answer it.
"Tell them we're eating," I say, as he steps from the room, bare-assed, but he ignores me.
I'm lying there for a while, hearing Mike's voice on the phone. He sounds angry, but I can't make heads or tails of it. I finally stick my dick in my shorts and pick up Hemingway again.
"Pull up your pants," Mike says, when he comes back. "We're going into town." He's already got on his seed cap from the peg by the back door. He's stomping to his room to get his clothes.
Turns out Mike's nephew Kirk has hitchhiked all the way from Utah. He's waiting where his last ride dropped him off at the B&E truck stop. Left home two days ago. Plans to move in with Mike.
"Which ain't gonna happen," Mike says, spinning gravel as he guns the engine, and the pickup careens down the driveway to the road. "My stupid-ass sister left her husband and married some jack Mormon out there with a chicken farm," he explains. But apparently Kirk doesn't take to life in Utah. Takes instead to the open road. On a regular basis. A chronic runaway.
"How old is this boy?" I want to know.
"Hell if I know. I think he graduated high school. What does that make him?"
"Too old to be a runaway" is my opinion.
At the truck stop, we find him standing by the outdoor phone booth. He's mostly grown, but still needs some filling out. He's got a backpack almost big as he is, which Mike pitches into the back of the truck.
"So here you are," Mike says, "again." It's not unfriendly; it's not friendly either. He turns to me and introduces us. "Hi," the boy says, not offering to shake hands, but with a killer grin. Just like Mike's, when he's tickled about something. Must run in the family.
The boy is standing there, lean in his jeans and cowboy boots. Shifting from one foot to the other, thumbs hooked in his back pockets. Nervous, I'm thinking. With a look like he doesn't know himself how he got here-but half expects a licking anyway.
Instead of Texas barbecue, supper that night turns out to be burgers and fries at the A&W drive-in. Kirk is squeezed between us in the cab of the truck. He's wolfing down food like he hasn't eaten for days. (Later I learn he's just a bottomless pit.) And he keeps trying to warm up Mike with small talk. But with no success.
Back at the house, Mike makes him call his mom. Who from the sound of it doesn't much care if the boy comes back home or not.
"She wants to talk to you," Kirk says, finally handing the phone to Mike.
Kirk looks at me with a grim expression. "She's pissed," he says, and shrugs. Like I should be surprised. Already so tired he can't keep his eyes open, he slumps into a kitchen chair and puts his head down on the table.
We don't know where to put him for the night. There's only two bedrooms, and while I sleep off and on with Mike, and the rest of the time he ends up with me, that stuff will have to go on hold as long as Kirk is under the same roof with us.
"Shit," Mike keeps muttering. "No two ways about it. He gets the couch." He throws a pillow and sheets at me to make it up. Kirk stands there watching me, like he wouldn't know what to do if the idea occurred to him to help. When I'm done, I fluff up his pillow and tell him where the bathroom is. Then I pick up Hemingway from the floor, and Mike's wet towel, and say goodnight. No answer from Kirk; he's just staring at the couch.
As I step into Mike's room to toss the towel in the laundy bin, I hear the wall switch in the TV room turn off. I figure the boy wants to get undressed in the dark. Or he's just plain too tired to take off his clothes. I glance in on the way back to the kitchen, and in the faint light I can see the top of his head on the pillow.
Much later, I'm in my bed at the back of the house, reading, and Mike comes in, dressed for dreamland in his boxers. He's standing there, scratching his armpits. "Dammit," he says, "all I wanted tonight was to get drunk and get laid."
"You sure can sweet talk a guy," I say.
"You wanna know what she said to me, my sister?" Mike says, dropping his voice. "She says, see what you can do to make a man out of him."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I want to know.
"Beats the hell out of me."
"Is he asleep?" I ask.
"Dead to the world."
I throw back the sheet. "Get in," I say. And Mike brightens for a second, then shakes his head. "Not with him here." He turns away, hanging his head and still scratching his pits. I'm noticing the patch of soft curly hair above his butt that I always like.
"Mike," I call out to him.
He turns, one hand dropping to scratch his nuts. "What?"
"He's kinda cute, you know," I tell him.
"Don't get any ideas," he says and walks back to his room. I want to tell him I like his moustache, but decide to keep it till later. After a few more pages of Hemingway, I turn out the light.
Tomorrow is a work day, and while Mike is off hauling milk for Fairacres Dairy, I'm working the fields, cultivating corn. His hired hand for the summer. That and I'm not sure what else-there's this other thing we got going.
I know I'm not the first guy he's taken up with, but he's the first one for me. Farmwork is maybe not all it could be as a summer job, but the anticipation of ending each day in the same bed with him has had a way of holding my interest.
Not tonight, however, and maybe not again for a while. Still, as celibacy is my normal state, I pretty much adapt to the new situation with a simple shift of gears. I put the pillow between my legs and dry hump it until I'm ready to come in one of my socks.
* * *
Kirk turns out to be a corker. He sleeps like he's in a coma. Nothing wakes him in the mornings. Not the racket Mike makes getting up for work, not the kitchen radio blaring farm reports, not Rusty the dog licking his face.
When he's not sleeping, he's got Mike's stereo cranked up with a half dozen 45's he plays over and over. Some Beatles. And Beach Boys woo-wooing "I Get Around." And while the music's on, he's in constant motion-wiggling or shaking some part of himself, nodding his head, doing the old Elvis swivel-hips.
Being anywhere near somebody seems to require body contact. A knee against yours under the kitchen table, an arm over your shoulder. Watching TV one night, I'm on the couch and he snuggles up between my legs with the back of his head in my crotch.
Once I'm washing up for supper, bent over the sink. "Wanna play squirrel?" he says, and he has me by the balls before I can move. "Grab a nut and run," he's laughing, jumping out of reach.
All this playfulness does not amuse Mike, of course. He wants to give the boy a job to do. "You eat and sleep here, you work here," Mike tells him sternly. As the hired help, I'm thinking, well, you work here you get paid, too. But that doesn't seem to be part of the deal for Kirk.
Kirk has noticed Mike's above-ground pool in the backyard, still under wraps from last summer, and wants to clean it and fill it for us. "You mean for yourself," Mike says. "This ain't fucking Hollywood. I don't need a pool boy."
While I'm wondering what Mike knows about pool boys, he's hauling out some buckets of red paint and tells Kirk to start painting the barn.
"Isn't that kind of a man's job?" I ask Mike.
"She said make a man of him, right?" is Mike's comeback.
But I give the boy credit, he takes on that barn. Mid-morning, you see him stumble from the house, still yawning, drag out the ladder and brushes, and get to work. He makes some progress-Mike starts him on the side of the barn away from the road, so when he peters out after a couple days, as Mike expects, it won't look like some half-assed job to someone driving by-but it is slow progress.
I'm cultivating corn in the field just behind the place, and I can half keep an eye on him. He's out there with his shirt off, hanging onto the ladder, reaching to one side, flip-flopping the brush, and his butt swinging a bit in the opposite direction.
When I work the fields down by the river, Mike gives me some high-power, army surplus field glasses, and whenever I think of it, I climb up on the tractor seat to check in on the boy from a half-mile away. Often as not, he's sitting in the shade with the dog, Rusty, taking a break.
About the fourth day, we get the first real heat wave of the summer, and Kirk is flagging under the sweltering sky. Every time I check, I see no sign of him, I get to thinking he might have fallen off the ladder or had some other mishap. So I drive back to the place to see if he's OK.
When I get there, I can hear Mike's stereo on full blast inside the house. I recognize the Beatles yeah-yeah-yeahing. I walk in through the screen door at the back and find him on the living room floor with Rusty. He's got his jeans down, and there's a peanut butter jar beside him. It takes me a couple seconds to put this all together. He's spread peanut butter on his dick, and Rusty is between his legs, lapping it up.
I'm not so much amazed by this discovery as I am by the size of the boy's penis. The rest of him may be underdeveloped, but what he's got would look about right on a grown man big as a refrigerator. As I stand in the doorway, Rusty looks up, wagging his tail, and then Kirk catches sight of me.
"Aw, man," he's wailing, pushing Rusty away and grabbing to pull up his jeans. "Aw, man," he keeps saying.
I don't have to think about what to say. Kirk leaps to his feet, still jerking on his zipper. And he's pleading with me, "Don't tell Uncle Mike. Please don't. He'll whip my ass." Then he pushes by me and is out the door, with Rusty right behind him, barking.
I switch off the stereo, then follow him out to the barn, where he's already hurrying up the ladder with his bucket of paint.
"Don't worry about it," I say.
"Aw man," he's saying. "Just don't tell him." And I don't. Even when Rusty takes to sniffing our crotches and Mike complains, "What's the matter with this dog all of a sudden?" I glance over at Kirk, and he looks down, his face turning red.
As a result of all this, Kirk stops trying so hard to please Mike and starts looking to me for approval. Which he seems to need, big time. I gather from his few remarks about his stepfather that there's no love lost there, and no one seems to know the whereabouts of his real father.
He shows up in my room one night. I'm starting into For Whom the Bell Tolls and getting ready to call it a day.
He's in his jockeys. His upper body is brown, bits of skin peeling in places from sunburn. His legs are pale and untanned. "Mike fell asleep in front of the TV," he says, meaning Mike's zonked out on the couch.
"Wake him up," I say, "Tell him it's your bedtime," but he's in no hurry to leave.
He small talks me for a while, like he does Mike, and finally gets on the bed with me, sitting with his back against the headboard, his legs stretched out in front of him. I move over to make room for him, and he moves again, keeping close to me.
"You wanna see my dick?" he says.
"I've seen it," I say.
"I mean, you know, do you wanna see it?" He nudges me with one knee.
I explain that it's late, tomorrow's another big day, and all that. But he's persistent.
"You can show me yours," he says.
"Why would I want to do that?" I ask him.
"I dunno," he says, nudging me again. "You read books, you know, and wear glasses. I just thought you might like doing that stuff." That stuff, I gather, means fooling around with other boys. He's got me pegged for a queer. Funny how you never know what people really think.
Then something else hits me. If I touch this kid, Mike's gonna whip my ass, and this kid knows it. Instead of me having something on him, he'll have something on me. The score will be more than even.
"I think this has gone far enough," I say. "Go sleep in Mike's bed if you can't get him off the couch."
I feel him kind of freeze up and then pull away. Shit, I'm already thinking, I've hurt his feelings. But it's too late. The horse, as my dad likes to say, is already out of the barn. Kirk slowly swings his feet around to the floor and gets up. He walks out of the room and is gone.
* * *
Two days later, he's shoving stuff in his backpack and telling us he's leaving. He doesn't seem to know where he's going. I persuade Mike to chip in on a bus ticket back to Utah.
That night I'm taking him to town to put him on the 01:14 heading west. It's after-hours, and the bus station is dark. The two of us sit waiting in Mike's pickup under the elm trees at the side of the parking lot. I back up against the fence so we can see the bus when it's coming.
The night is warm, but the heat wave is breaking. A line of thunderstorms has already rolled through, and there is lightning in the distance, meaning more are on the way. We have the windows rolled down, and the air is thick with the smell of rain on sun-baked asphalt and dust.
He is quiet. No small talk. Just staring out the windshield into the night. He's wearing an old straw hat of Mike's that he's curved up the brims cowboy-style.
I finally break the silence. "What are you thinking?" He doesn't answer right away, then says, "Mike doesn't like me, does he?"
What was your first clue, I wonder, but what I say is that Mike is just a hard-ass. Not to take what he says to heart.
"He likes you a whole lot more'n he does me," he says, his voice cracking, "and you're not even family."
I'm not sure what to make of this remark.
"Aw, it doesn't matter," he says, and wipes his face with the back of one hand. "I'm just bellyaching over nothing."
I'm trying to think of what to say, and he's already pulling himself together.
"What's gonna happen to you when you get back there?" I ask him.
He shrugs. "I dunno."
"You gonna run off again somewhere else?"
He slumps in the seat. "Maybe."
"You know, out on the road you can get yourself in a whole pack of trouble. And real easy." I'm picturing him with a burly truck driver. Someone who doesn't give a shit about him. Someone who could do him real damage.
"Why do you care anyway?" he says.
Now it's my turn to shrug. I'm wondering why I do care. "OK, so we didn't hit it off. But I don't like thinking you might get hurt." And I don't.
"I can take care of myself."
"Like hell," I say. And I decide to say what I'm thinking. "When you're out hitching rides, has anybody ever tried to fuck you?"
His head turns so fast the big hat he's wearing catches on the door frame and spins cock-eyed on his head.
"Anybody try that and I'd kick the shit out of 'em." He twists his hat back into place.
I'm thinking, he hasn't really answered the question. So I ask it again.
This time he turns the other way and I'm guessing it's so I won't see his face.
"You know what I'm talking about?" I ask him, and I watch the brim of his hat kind of dip down a little, like he's mustering up the courage to say something that's real hard.
"Yeah, I know what you're talking about," he says quietly. "I'm not stupid."
"Didn't say you were," I say and hear my own voice dropping to match his. I decide to take another tack. "How come you left home in the first place?"
He goes dead still now. I'm waiting for his "I dunno," but instead he just gives out a long sigh. I wait, figuring if there are words, he'll find them. I'm thinking while I'm waiting about the two dads who don't seem to want him and that Mike could make an effort to be a whole lot better uncle.
Then he speaks. "Wanna jerk off till the bus gets here?" he says, unzipping his jeans, scooting his butt down on the seat and fishing in his briefs.
This is not my idea of where I thought this was going. "No, thanks," I say, wondering how I expected anything more profound from him.
Out comes that long dick of his, flipping upright in his hand. "I had a buddy once; we used to do this all the time."
In the dim light, I can see his fingers going to work. "Used to?" I finally say.
"Aw, he started chasing girls," he says, stroking himself.
I let this sink in. "And you don't?" I say.
"Not like with him, man. He's got no time for me now."
Then I let this sink in, too. "What are you trying to tell me?" I ask him.
"What do you think?" he says.
Finally the penny hits the slot. I get his wanting to buddy up to me in bed that night, and I figure out what his mom meant about making a man of him.
So I tell him what I think. That maybe he and Mike ought to have a real talk before he hits the road again. And I'm thinking, dammit, Mike has some explaining to do.
"Put your dick away," I tell him, reaching for the key in the ignition. "Where you're going tonight is back to the farm."
On the way there, big silver-dollar size drops of rain start coming down, banging on the roof like gravel stones. We pull off the highway so he can get his backpack from the back. It won't fit between us, so Kirk jumps in, pulling it in after him. He rides beside me, the raindrops on him soaking through to me.
When we get back to Mike's, we wait in the truck for the shower to pass. The porch light glows through the leaves of a big honeysuckle that grows by the screen door, the branches nodding in the wind. The rest of the house is dark. I put my arm around him, and he leans his head on my shoulder. I touch his cheek, and I can't tell if the wetness is from the rain or more tears.
I let my hand drop to his waist, ribs and bones just under the shirt; he's still only a kid. My wrist brushes against the teeth of his open fly. In a fleeting moment of affection, I have the impulse to cup my fingers over it but decide it's not the time or the place.
His hand has been resting on my thigh, and with a jerk he's grabbing my balls. "Squirrel!" he says.
When the rain lets up, we go inside. We tiptoe past Mike's room, and I tell Kirk he can have my bed tonight. He takes one look at it and starts unbuttoning his shirt, prying off one cowboy boot against the toe of the other. He's a tired puppy.
I go back to Mike's room, get naked, and crawl in bed with him. He's turned the other way, and I press against his bare back, reaching around him to slip my hand into the front of his boxers. His cock is full-in between night-time boners. He slowly comes around from dreamy sleep and reaches down to grab and squeeze my hand.
"You're back," he says, sighing and turning to face me. He gets me by both ears and kisses me, his moustache bristly against my nose, his mouth tasting of sleep, his dick getting hard fast.
"Where were we?" he says, laughing softly in the dark. And I can tell by his movements that he's already wide awake and raring to go. He does a quick flip so he's on top and we're head to toe, and after licking the few hairs around my belly button, he is kissing the inside of my thighs, his cheek brushing against my balls and my dick. Then I feel his warm wet tongue around the end of it, and he's sucking me into his mouth.
His boner is sliding through the opening in his boxers, and there's the taste of his sticky, salty precum again on my lips. I reach around his hips and slip my fingers between his butt cheeks. It's about here that the phone started ringing last time, but there's nothing now except the sound of distant thunder and a gust of wind in the cottonwood outside the open window, bringing down a clatter of raindrops on the hood of the pickup. I open wide and let the head of his stiff cock glide back along my tongue.
It takes neither of us any time at all. We're bucking against each other, like it was beat the clock. I feel his dick get harder, more rigid, and then my mouth is filling with his musty, rich, thick cream, spilling over my tongue. I love the taste of him, and with that thought, I press my hips to his face and I'm coming, too. He's going m-m-m-m-m-m, like it's warm apple pie.
He rolls onto his back and lies there for a while, just breathing.
"Mike?" I finally say.
"What?" he says.
"I've got something to tell you." I sit up in the bed. And I explain the whole thing, making sure he hears what I have to say about being an uncle to the boy instead of a hard-ass. Setting the right example, who knows, might even help make a man of him.
"You mean he's still here?" he says, as if he missed that part.
"In my bed."
Mike jumps up and disappears down the darkened hall to the back bedroom. I hear the door creak open and then close again. In a minute he's back.
"Asleep?" I ask.
"Sawing logs." He gets back into bed and he doesn't say anything.
I reach over to put my hand on his chest, fingers slipping through the thick hair. "Don't worry about him," I say. "It's gonna be OK."
"I'll believe that when I see it," he says.