Two men in rural 1960s Nebraska spend a winter weekend at a local college, where a lonesome artist from a Panhandle ranch and a boy with a crush on a quarterback help turn a cold day into a very warm night.
OK, somewhere in the dead of winter, with a foot of snow on the ground and cabin fever setting in, me and Mike decide to go over to State College one weekend for something to do. I haven't been back there since spring, when I took my last final and drank my last beer and said goodbye for the summer to the last friend. And here I am more than six months later, haven't moved an inch since I set foot on this place in June. Happy as a calf in clover, as Mike would say. I actually don't know about calves; Mike probably would.
I forget how the idea gets started. Being a farmer and milk hauler, ex-Air Force, Mike is curious about college. I think he'd more than half like to have gone. He'll read one of my books now and then and make a big deal out of finishing it. He seems to prefer the hardbacks, so he can snap them shut one-handed whenever he puts them down. As if to say, that's enough of that for a while.
He cracks me up.
Not that being trapped with each other in this same house while snow piles up outside the door is a hardship. I've never lived with any man before, not this way anyway, so I don't know much how these things work. But there's hardly anything I like more than waking up with him beside me on a cold morning and knowing we're not going anywhere. Or shivering as I step out of bed, pulling a sweater on over flannel pajamas and going out to the kitchen where it's warm, to find him all dressed from being out to the barn and pouring himself more coffee.
That grin when he sees me and some endearing comment like "How's your ass?" makes me feel like I got no reason to want anything else. He'll pull me to him, still cold from outdoors, his jeans cold against my legs and a cold hand sliding up under the back of my sweater. Finally his cold nose against my neck as he breathes in the smell of me and sleep and our bed.
Like I say, I forget how this got started, but along about the end of January, there's this Winter Weekend at the college, and I guess I must get to talking about it, and Mike says, let's go. And I keep suggesting that there's only a carnival that the fraternities and sororities put on for each other and it's kind of lame, and anyway the big event is a dance, which is primarily-exclusively-a boy-girl thing. We'd have not much to do but stand around and freeze our butts off. But everything I say fires him up even more, and on a clear, cold Saturday morning we're feeding the horse and the dog and getting ready to make the trip down to Hastings.
The truck has a heater that takes a while to kick in, so we're scraping the frost off the windows while the engine runs, our breath in clouds on the sharp air and exhaust from the tail pipe spreading in an acrid plume around our knees and boot tops. I've got on a heavy wool jacket with a big collar you can turn up and kind of save your ears, which is the way I'm wearing it. He's in a new corduroy barn coat, and as he reaches across the windshield with the scraper, the back of it pulls up over the pockets of his wranglers.
"Don't you have a cap?" he says, "or gloves?" He, of course, has both.
I pull a pair of earmuffs out of my pocket and put them on.
He rummages inside the truck and hands me a black stocking cap. "Give me those," he says. He pops the earmuffs off my head, catching a couple strands of hair in the bargain.
"Ow, what'd you do that for?"
"You're a grown man, bud," he says. "You're spoilin' the effect with these."
He tosses them over his shoulder into some dead weeds sticking out of a snowdrift.
"Whatever you say," I tell him and put on the cap.
Meanwhile, he's pulling the tags off a new pair of leather work gloves. "These'll keep your hands warm," he says and gives them to me. "You gotta take better care of yourself."
"Yes, mom," I say.
He gives me a look, grins, and says in a high voice, "And don't forget to wear your rubbers, sonny."
We hop into the truck, which if anything is colder inside than outside. The heater fan is blowing arctic air on our ankles, but Mike keeps telling me we'll be warm as toast in no time, just tough it out until then.
"I wasn't complaining," I say.
"But I know what you're thinking," he says.
"OK, what am I thinking right now?" I ask him.
He laughs. "At this very minute, you're thinkin' you'd rather be back in your warm bed. Getting fucked, if possible."
I don't respond to that.
"I'm right, ain't I?"
"Yeah, you're right," I say. Actually I wasn't thinking of anything, but if I were that would be it.
We drive into town, where the snow is piled along the sidewalks, halfway up the parking meters. There's been so much winter weather, the city's been too busy plowing streets to take down all the Christmas lights. Glittery over-size bells and stars hang from lampposts in the morning sunshine.
The snow tires on the truck are making a rumbling sound on the asphalt, and Mike is shifting gears like we're about to launch into space. He drives a truck with so much energy, I'm surprised he doesn't wear himself out. He flips on the radio to the local station, and they're playing Johnny Cash, "I Walk the Line." And instead of putting his hand back on the wheel, he reaches across to my knee, stroking my kneecap with his thumb while we wait at a red light.
I glance over at him, and he's looking straight ahead from under the bill of his cap. "You're OK, bud," he says as the engine idles. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
This, of course, makes me feel like a million bucks. I'd probably also feel the beginnings of a warm glow under my layers of clothes if the damn heater wasn't still blowing cold air between my legs. I put one of my gloved hands over his until the light changes and he has to shift gears again.
We turn south and head out of town past King's, a high schooler hangout where there's plenty of local teenage history according to Mike. Then we're crossing railroad tracks, thrum-thrum, and further on we pass Dreisbach's, which is Mike's favorite steak house. You should sit across the table from him watching the unadulterated pleasure on the man's face just chewing, chewing, chewing.
On past Fonner Park, where there's horse racing in the summer, and out of town into the gravel pit flats along the river. Once we're over the main bridge, the Platte valley countryside opens around us, and there are cornfields and pastures under white snow, and drifts of it in the fences and ditches. I shove my fists into my pockets and promise myself I'm going to live some day in California.
It's about twenty miles of two-lane blacktop down to Hastings. A few other people are out on the road, but anyone sensible is at home by the fire or the furnace grate. We come up behind a delivery van, it's backside thick with a muddy crust of salty grime. Some smart kid has fingered into it the outline of a hard-on and two balls.
I have a memory of riding like this with Mike to the drive-in movie west of town, where we park in the back row with a couple of six packs to watch a double-feature of Audie Murphy westerns. Mike being a veteran, though hardly as decorated as Murphy-who is?-and also a little on the short side, is a big fan. I'm figuring Murphy must have been one of those actors who had to stand on a box in the close-ups with the leading ladies.
Somewhere in the middle of "Tumbleweed" or "Ride Clear of Diablo"-don't you love the names they give westerns-and though the man made up for his lack of stature by filling out a pair of jeans real nice, I begin losing interest and slide down in the seat to where I can move over and reach Mike's lap.
He lets his attention kind of stay riveted on what I would call a pretty predictable movie plot, and I start feeling for his dick. I can find his balls, firmly filling the space between his legs, the weave of the worn denim warm and a little damp in the humid evening after-burn of a hot Nebraska day. I begin wishing he was wearing shorts, but he's funny about that. He thinks shorts are for knobby-kneed men who sell cars or appliances and play golf. Far be it from Mike to be mistaken for anything but a hard-laboring farmer and truck driver.
I can't find his dick under the folds of his jeans, so I brush away some popcorn that missed his mouth when the lights went down for the second feature, and I go to work on his belt buckle, which I can pretty much do with my eyes closed. Let's say I've had practice. And then I begin working down his zipper.
"What are you up to, bud?" he says, both of his hands touching me, real light, one on my shoulder, the other on the top of my head.
"Just watch the movie," I say.
"That's what I'm doing," he says.
I feel the warmth of his body and smell the sweetness of him as I slowly get his fly open. I'm thinking he might give me a hand with all this, but he's back into the movie, his fingers absently stroking my ear. The zipper teeth catch and then give, catch and give, until I've finally got his pants open. I get my face down to where the back of my head is against the steering wheel, and I'm thinking about just falling asleep this way, my nose pressed into the white folds of his boxers.
I slip my fingers under the elastic, the hair of his belly gliding against the palm of my hand as I reach in for his dick, which I find bunched up inside and starting to take on some size. I move it toward me until it slips through the opening in his shorts, and in a moment it unbends outward and lies hot and fat on my cheek. The smell of him now is rich and strong.
There is gunfire and shouting from the tinny speaker hanging in the truck window, and I hear Mike popping open another can of beer.
I wrap my fingers around his dick and feel it expanding under my touch. He's like inflating a balloon from a helium tank. Almost that quick. Z-z-z-zip! Ever-Ready he calls himself.
Soon he's standing stiff out of his boxers, and I'm just stroking down into them as far as my fingers will go. I think of a little soldier there in his helmet, shoulders back, chest sticking out. If you knew Mike, you'd get a kick out of that. It's so like him.
I lean forward and touch my lips right where his cock arches up out of his pants, my cheek against the teeth of his open zipper. There's little bristles of the hair on his balls down here and I let the whole experience of warm skin and hair just pause a moment under the end of my nose before I make another move.
Mike is saying nothing. I hear the beer can clinking against the windshield where he's setting it on the dashboard. Then his hand comes down on my hip and finds the waistband of the gym shorts I'm wearing. He slips inside them, and I feel his callused fingers reach around to my butt.
I pull myself closer to him and then lift my mouth along the length of his cock, opening a little so it glides along the tip of my tongue. And when I get to the end of it, I open wider and come down again slowly, taking as much of him in as will go. With that, he shifts a bit in his jeans and his fingers grip my butt a little tighter.
I hear the beer can being moved from the dashboard. He's knocking back a couple more gulps of his Pabst Blue Ribbon. And I know his concentration on the movie hasn't budged much.
So I suck in hard and pull up on him, and doing that a few more times try my damnedest to prime him like a hand-pump in a schoolyard. Eventually, I've got him lifting off the seat in time with each stroke, and I can feel his stomach muscles contracting against the side of my face. The tip of one of his fingers is pressing deep into my crack.
"It's 80 miles to Cimarron," I hear Audie telling someone. "I'll need a good horse."
You'll need more than that, I'm thinking, and without stopping for breath, I continue on Mike until there's the salty-slick bite of his precum on my tongue. I've got one arm over his leg and one hand shoved between them, his balls in his jeans pressed into my palm. As he rocks his butt on the seat, I slip by quarter inches farther under him until he's sitting on my hand, and I'm feeling the length of seam under the crotch of his wranglers.
My other hand is up against his side, my fingers hooked into the sleeve of his tee shirt, his soft, hairy armpit against my knuckles, damp with perspiration and Right Guard. I can feel him taking deeper breaths, and I reach around to his chest, searching for a nipple. By now his dick is hard in my mouth. His leg stiffens and I hear his boot scrape against the sand and gravel stones on the floor mat. He's about to let loose.
"Tell the sheriff I'll be coming back before Saturday," Audie is saying over the sound of hoof beats.
But Mike is coming already. I can feel his whole body contract, and there's a bloom of creamy warmth in my mouth. And I love this part of it, not just because my jaws will start aching if I keep this up much longer, but this soft explosion seems to go on and on and on, with no effort, like letting a horse take you at full gallop, or floating out of the sky. I let the taste of Mike fill me and fill me, until my arms begin feeling the weight of him resting once more against me.
He sighs, his hand gliding slowly out from my gym shorts and coming to a stop on my ribs. He puts his other hand gently on my head, fingers softly stroking my hair.
I rest my head on his leg, his dick bending over stiffly in my mouth, the last of him to soften and relax as he lets go. And as I lie there, I just want to sleep with the head of his milky cock on my tongue, our hands and arms like this on each other. And so I drift off.
And so does Mike.
We wake up some time later, the screen blank and big floods lights over it switched on and shining into the truck cab. Someone is rapping on the hood with what sounds like a broom handle and telling us the show's over and to wake up and go home. Telling Mike, actually, because with my head down, it must look like there's just one of us in the pickup. And for obvious reasons, I stay down until we're out of there.
Mike, of course, has missed the end of the movie and every now and then wonders if Audie ever made it to Cimarron and back.
"What's so funny," he says. I'm looking out the window watching the shadow of the truck gliding and dancing over the snowdrifts in the ditch along the road. In the field beyond I can see the curves of a frozen slough and a man on a tractor pulling a flatbed trailer and a boy pitching out slabs of hay bales to a herd of white-faced cows following behind. The heater is finally blowing out hot air at full blast, and I'm beginning to feel like I might thaw out.
"What?" I say.
"You laughed and had a big grin on your face."
"Nothing," I say. "I was just remembering something."
* * *
The college at Hastings is on the outskirts of town, next to a rambling golf course. It's got some old brick buildings that must date back to the turn of the century. It's a joke told to gullible freshmen that the ivy on the exterior walls holds them together.
For Winter Weekend, they flood a parking lot for ice-skating. There's a bonfire that typically consumes a couple of dead cottonwoods trucked in from some farmyard and, after midnight, several pieces of old furniture found in forgotten storerooms around campus. Basketball season is underway, and you can watch sweaty, long-legged jocks charging back and forth on the home court, doing maneuvers with bouncing balls and squeaky sneakers.
There's competition ice sculpture by the Greeks, one or more of the fraternity entries usually featuring an allegedly naked woman with proportions inspired by Playmates of the month. I keep hoping that the sororities will respond in kind with a naked man, but that of course wouldn't happen if hell itself froze over. There's much illicit drinking and hayrides with snuggling under blankets. Condom use no doubt spikes during these the longest nights of the winter. I suppose sorority girls prefer their cocks warm rather than frozen. I'd have to go along with them on that one.
The GDIs, like myself, are mostly on the periphery of all this. I got nothing against Greeks; I've just never been much of a joiner. I can see bare butts in the showers at the dorm and hang out with guys who can drink, smoke cigarettes, and joke around with the best of them. They'll even let me read books, hang a Miró poster over my bed, and listen to the occasional Rachmaninoff if I want to without suspecting me of being queer. (I suppose that's where the argument breaks down, but you get the idea.)
So what I'm doing here at Winter Weekend remains something of a mystery. Maybe I'm just a little homesick for my old GDI buddies, homo-averse as they are. Some have graduated already, but a few are still juniors and seniors. When Mike and I park the pickup and walk along the shoveled sidewalks to the middle of campus, I find them right away at the back of the crowd, huddled in their coats, without caps and gloves or scarves, keeping warm on little more than their obstinate resistance to the whole affair and general lack of enthusiasm for anything that looks like organized fun.
Mike is walking along with me, asking me what's this and what's that, until there's this bunch of guys calling out and looking surprised to see me. I introduce them to Mike, who is sizing them up, and I have no idea what he's making of them. He shakes their hands one at a time, noticing I suppose that they don't wear gloves or hats and getting the idea that these are the ones who've had a bad influence on me. They, of course, are not the hand-shaking type and are no doubt wondering where I picked up this guy. And I realize I'm hating them for what they're thinking.
I would step in front of a bus for Mike, and the whole bunch of them could go laugh their asses off. I know now that if I was homesick for them, the feeling is rapidly passing.
"You know anything about that painting of Ted's in the Art Annex?" one of them is telling me. Ted is a guy who hangs out with us, a painter. The Art Annex is a house just off campus used by the Art Department for classes and student art shows. It sits on property the college is buying up for new construction.
"No," I say. "What about it?"
Turns out the painting in question has caused quite the stir. It's a naked man, and the dean of women has objected. She's gone head-to-head with the chairman of the department, and the faculty senate is split over the whole business. The provost is under pressure to have the painting taken down.
"What?" I can't believe anyone cares this much about a painting of any kind.
"This is Nebraska, for crissake," one of them says. "Men don't go around buck naked."
"It's art, asshole," one of the others says. Though considering the source, I'm thinking this guy wouldn't know art from shoe polish. He's just pretending to be less ignorant.
Mike is not really taking this in. I can see him gazing off over the crowd and listening to an oom-pah band by the ice rink playing what I realize is a strange, Germanic version of "Moon River."
"What's Ted say about all this?" I want to know.
They all look at each other and shrug their shoulders like, how would they know, and I realize they haven't been talking to him or he with them. Maybe not since I was still at school.
I happen to like Ted. He's older and wiser by a long shot than the rest of us, and I owe him more than what I'm letting on at the moment. He's given me much, including my first blowjob. I make up my mind to find him and hear his side of all this. Let him know he still matters to me, even if he doesn't to these jerks.
I'm so irritated with them, I'm still not putting two and two together. And there's a reason what they're talking about should ring a bell with me, but it doesn't. And it won't for a while. The painting that's causing all the uproar is a painting of me.
Mike wants to check out the ice-skating, so we drift in that direction. He seems unconcerned that the general atmosphere of this whole event is not much more than sophomoric. The advantage for him is that he probably doesn't even know the word. He's innocent that way.
"Where are the teachers?" he wants to know. "Isn't anybody in charge?"
"No. That's pretty much the idea."
I guess he's used to rank and chain of command for maintaining order. Then he sees the school's one patrol car parked in a driveway and Big Bruno, one of the campus cops, standing in the open door with a walkie-talkie.
"I see," Mike says, and this seems to satisfy him.
We stand at the edge of the rink for a while. Mike reaches in his jeans pocket for some change and buys us both steaming cups of hot cider. He hands mine to me without asking if I want one. And I love him, watching his eyes following the skaters as he sips from the cup, lips puckered under his moustache, his forehead wrinkling up over his eyebrows.
"Want to see if they have skates to rent?" I ask him. This is out of the blue, since I'm no skater.
He thinks about this and says, "OK."
So I ask around and find one of the sororities doing rentals. The skates have seen Winter Weekends beyond number and, kept in an attic somewhere during the off-season, they look pretty moth-eaten. But Mike is game, even after a broken shoelace, and in the time it takes to swallow down the cider, we are out there, doing what I would have never done with the jerks I used to think of as my best friends-actually skating. Mike of course doesn't know this, doesn't know the first rule of being a GDI, that you observe and never participate.
Turns out he can skate a helluva lot better than I can. Once he gets going, he's zooming around and back and forth, a regular Hans Brinker. Of course, I take no time to fall flat on my ass, and he comes over to me, laughing, and reaches down with one gloved hand to pull me back onto my feet.
In that moment, I want to keep holding onto him, like the other couples I see on the ice, but that of course isn't going to happen. Anyway, he sails off again, to make a big loop around the rink. I try to follow, my legs finally remembering in a stiff and graceless way how to stay under me and keep moving. He eventually laps me and for a while glides effortlessly beside me, his hand on my shoulder.
I want to tell him I've discovered I'm a man I didn't know I was. But he wouldn't get what I was talking about. I can tell by the look on his face he can't believe I'd think twice about wanting to be here for this. I lengthen my stride and just do my damnedest to keep up with him.