by Grasshopper

Chapter 7

"Shut up and do what I say," he snarled.

"Please, stop! Oh, God, Please Stop!"

Mercy squeezed her eyes shut as Karl Jr. rutted into her fragile body. She had tried to be so careful and never be out here in the barn alone, but he had caught her as she was carrying the eggs back to the house. Wesley was gone, off with Cole and she had thought she could just sneak out here fast.

"Shut up, little bitch!" he grunted and slammed his hand over her mouth. "You know you like it. You've always liked it." He pistoned his body into hers, ripping her tender flesh as he came. "You're just lucky some one wants to fuck you with that gimp leg."

He left her there, lying in the hay as he had left her other times before. She tried to be careful, but there was no keeping him away. She tugged her clothing back in place and rolled over on her stomach cradling her head in her arms, her tears flooding the hay. She knew she had to move, had to get up before Wesley came home. He'd do something crazy. The last thing Mercy needed was for Wesley to go after Karl Jr. Wesley would be angry, but Karl Jr. was crazy mean. Mercy would never let anything happen to her little brother.

She cried because God must hate her for this and she didn't know how to fix it. The one blessing was that nothing had grown inside her. That would have been too much to bear. She would just keep her dirty secret and pray that Wesley never found out.

Wesley was with Cole. The air in the cave was warm, but wearing only ragged cutoffs, the two boys leaned back against the cold stone of the wall and shivered. Wes, his tight muscled body tanned a dark brown, his roughcut hair tangled in his eyes was a sharp contrast to Cole's lighter skin and pale curly hair.

At fourteen, they were now both very aware of their bodies and how the slightest touch was like a fire blazing along their skin. They had talked and talked about what was going on with them and whether it was right or wrong. All they knew was that the looks and touches, the ache, the need, everything seemed to be pushing them toward the edge of a cliff. There had never been anyone else for either of them. No girl ever came between them and, as much as they both admired other boys, neither ever did any more than look.

Cole moved away from the wall, turning to face Wes, their hips touching. Wes put his fingers to his lips and watched Cole's eyes. "Wes, I .........,"

"Shhh," Wes sighed, as he moved his fingers away from his mouth to touch Cole's lips; just the slightest caress, just the whisper of a movement, as if Wes was memorizing the softness, the fullness. Cole breathed out, his breath warming Wes' fingertips.

"Is this .......?" Cole tried to ask, suddenly afraid that he was alone in these grownup feelings.

"Shhh," Wes sighed again, moving his hand to run his fingers so lightly, so gently over Cole's face; his nose, his eyelashes, his cheeks. "You are so beautiful," Wes murmured, his voice shaking.

Heart racing, Cole moved in closer. It was time to say the words; the bond between them so strong. It had been unbreakable since the day they had clasped hands in the Kindergarten doorway, when Cole had looked over and seen that sad, scared little face with the choppy hair and the misbuttoned shirt. From that day, they had become each other's destiny and whatever came, they would stand shoulder to shoulder. Cole's heart had taken Wesley in, locked the door and handed Wesley the key .... The key Wes protected with his own heart.

Tentative, searching, and yet sure, Cole pressed his lips to Wes' mouth. Soft open lips, yielding. Soft licks to bottom lips, tongues touching, caressing, moving away, then meeting again; hot, wet, ready, wanting to touch, to taste.

Wes tugged and Cole climbed onto his lap, straddling his hips, young bodies, hard and pulsing, pressed together through soft denim. Hands touching, rubbing, learning, lips trailing, tongues tracing, nipples taut.

"Wes." It was a sigh, a prayer.

Fingers fumbled, shorts undone, eager hands grabbing. "Oh, God!" Both voices dark with emotion. Rubbing together, one hand atop the other, soft groans against wet lips. Hot spasms, jerking hips, release.

Cole laid his head against Wes' chest as their bodies calmed. He listened to Wes' heart beat in triple time. Covering the rapidly beating heart with his cheek, Cole smiled. "Our hearts are beating so fast."

Wesley had no words. His Cole. He had whispered it a million times, but now it was true. Hesitantly, he asked, "Cole, do you belong to me?"

Cole traced a heart on Wes' chest where his pulse was still jumping. "I always have, Wesley, I always have."

"I love you," Wes said for the first time. "I've always loved you."

"And I love you," Cole whispered, "For all time."

Reverend Karl Straihan paced the length of the front porch and spun on his heel, his anger making his dark eyes squint. Sheriff Costen had been nosing around in his business again, out here asking if his family needed financial help from the community. Like he couldn't take care of what belonged to him. Like god didn't provide for him and his. His god provided just fine. He sure didn't need any help from those snot-nosed town people. Always thinking they're better than the Straihans. Well, we showed them, didn't we, Father? We always take care of our own business. I raise my children exactly the same way you raised me.

His mind flicked back to a day, fourteen years ago, when he had taken care of family business. He had prayed for three days and three nights and the Jezebel still hadn't admitted to her sins. The moon had been full that night. The air still and the whispers quiet. Just a flash of silver, a soft jingle and a baby's gentle cry.

Karl Straihan had raised his children in the manner of his father and his father before him. Spare the rod – Silence is golden – Children are neither to be seen nor heard – Obey me. There were times when his memories took him back to his youth, to fear of the darkness in the pit and pain from the belt, but he stored those memories away. They did no good. They only served to make him feel weak.

The Reverend Karl Straihan was the product of cruelty, lost in a world made up of his own nightmares, slowly inflicting these nightmares on his own children. He truly believed he was right. The day would come when he would find out that he was wrong – dead wrong.

At fifteen, Wesley was tall and lanky, filled out from working after school at the McLaren Wheat Silos lifting fifty pound bags of feed. He still wore his brother's hand-me-downs, but his pride kept his shoulders back and his chin high. His shoulders were broad, his muscles tight, his hair still long, touching his shoulders and falling in wings across his forehead. At six feet, he was still growing and towered over Mercy.

He and Mercy still walked on eggshells in the Straihan house, but Mercy did it out of fear, while Wesley just shut himself off from his brother and from Father. He remembered the times he had been so terrified of Father, so frightened that his chest wanted to explode. He knew that the next time Father tried, it would be the last time.

Wes was growing into a quiet man. Not shy, just slow to anger, slow to speak, slow to hurt anyone or anything. He did this thing that drove Cole crazy; Cole would say something, maybe inconsequential, maybe important, and Wes would treat the thought exactly the same. He wouldn't speak unless he had something to add.

Cole would say: "The school paper has a great picture of you spiking the ball at the game last week." Wes wouldn't reply until Cole whacked him on the arm.


"You're supposed to say something."

"Why? Waste of breath."


Wes just smiled. He tended to 'talk' with his eyes and his gestures. He'd learned to be very quiet, very still from sitting in the deep dark pit with only his own thoughts to keep him company. His way of telling Cole he loved him was a simple raise of his chin and a smile with a very peaceful look in his misty eyes. They never touched, never spoke their private thoughts aloud. Only in the cave did they feel safe. It went without saying that Father would kill Wes and Cole's life would be ruined for the way they felt about each other. One day was all they would ever say. One day .....

Cole had given Wes a Louisville Slugger when they were twelve and baseball had started up at school. "It's just an old one I had extra," he said, not looking Wes in the eye. Actually, it was brand new and cost $169 ordered from the factory. Cole had used his birthday money, but it was for Wes.

"I can't keep it, you know," Wes sighed, running his hand down the smooth aluminum, noticing that the alloy was free from nicks and scratches. He felt his heart kick over for the millionth time at Cole's kindness. The bat was brand new.

"Wes, it's just an old baseball bat. Surely your father won't care."

"You don't understand. He doesn't let us take stuff from people. It's that pride thing with him."

"Well, fuck his pride," Cole growled, "I want you to have it. You know what Coach Frawley said: "The more practice you get, the better you'll hit."

Wes hated hurting Cole and he really did want to play ball. "Okay, I'll have to hide it, but maybe, when Father's away, I can practice."

"I'll get you a ball."

"Nah, you've done too much already."

"You can get a ball at the Dollar Store with penny money," Cole said, waiting for Wes to argue.

'Penny money' was a game Cole had played with Wes since they were in Kindergarten together and, for the last eight years, Cole and Wes had 'found' pennies for the jar. They kept the jar at the cave along with Cole's old school boxes. When the first box was full of dollar bills that Cole had changed the pennies for in the CoinStar machine at the grocery store, they began to fill the second. Wes added his share of his salary from the Wheat Co-op every week that he didn't give Father and Cole put in half of his allowance. They discussed each time money was taken out, once so Wes could go on a field trip with the class to the Indian museum in Casper, once for a birthday present for Mercy. The money was for them when they were older and Cole had to argue hotly before Wes would ever touch any of it.

It was funny, but as much as knowing the penny money was there, Wes never counted it. He never touched it. He trusted Cole to take care of their money. Over the years, Cole had added birthday money and grandma money. There was a lot more money in the boxes than Wes realized. Cole just wanted the money to be there. To be there for Wes. He wasn't sure why, just there in case .....

"Wes, hurry," Mercy called from the kitchen door. She grabbed his arm as he opened the screen and pulled him inside and up the stairs quickly. Closing her door, she leaned against it heavily, her eyes wide. "Karl Jr. ran off and Father says he isn't going after him anymore."

Their brother, at nineteen, had finally finished high school and had taken to hangin' around down at the Blue Moon Saloon out on the highway where the bikers rolled. He worked odd jobs, stayed drunk, got in fights; the sheriff driving down the dirt road to the Straihan place was a common sight.

"They had a big argument and Father said for him to just go. That if he wanted to live with Satan, then he should just leave. He told him never to come back. That he was dead to Father."

As much as Wesley acted like he didn't give a flying fuck about his older brother, he knew why Karl Jr. was the way he was and he felt a great sadness; for all the years wasted and all the love his brother had never gotten. Wes knew the feeling so well because he and Mercy had been without that same love. If they hadn't had each other, they could have ended up like Karl Jr.

"Father is in a rage, Wes," Mercy said tremulously.

Wes stood very still. "Okay then," he thought to himself, "Okay." This was the end of the terror. Just a boy, but more of a real man than his father would ever be. There comes a point where you raise your chin and end it.

They sat on the edge of Mercy's bed, her head resting on his shoulder until they heard the back door slam.

"Come here!"

Wesley stood. "It'll be okay, Mercy. You wait here."

Mercy could feel the strength radiating off her brother in waves. She might be crippled, but she wouldn't let him face Father alone. Not this time. "No, I'm going with you."

Wes stopped by his room, grabbing the baseball bat that Cole had given him a few months back. He just wanted something between Father and him. Stepping into the harsh light of the kitchen, he saw Father standing in the center of the floor. Wes held the bat loosely, dangling down close to his leg. He said nothing.

"Your brother has left us. You are never to speak to him or of him again. Is that clear?"

"I'll speak to anyone I want to," Wes said, his voice struggling to remain steady.

"What? What did you say to me? You will do as I tell you."

Wes could feel Mercy behind him. Drawing on all his strength, he replied, "Why should I?" He felt Mercy's hand on his back.

"Because I am your father!! You will obey me!"

Wes felt the pain of all those years where he'd cried for his mother and dreamed of having a family like Cole's. "I don't think so, not anymore."

Father took a step toward him and Wes raised the bat to rest in the palm of his other hand.

"Where did you get that baseball bat? You do not take things from people.

You know what you've been told."

Wes had learned long ago that there was no argument; there were no words Father understood when he saw a wrong. There was only punishment, only anger.

"Move away, Mercy," Wes said softly. He heard her start to protest. "Now!" he rasped out. He felt her leave his back and move off toward the hallway door.

"You do not honor me. I am the head of the church and your father. I have told you that you may not take objects of sin and pride from others."

Wes stared at this strange man. Who was he? Never had he touched Wesley with any affection, never had he made this sad house a home, never had he explained where their mother was. Never. Nothing.

"Object of sin? This?" he held up the bat. "What sin has this stick committed?" He could see Mercy out of the corner of his eye, backed against the far wall, shaking her head violently, with her finger to her lips, but he was sick of all this stupidness, all this needless fear.

"Give it to me!" Father commanded, holding out his hand. The silence screamed in the tiny kitchen.

Taking a deep breath, swallowing hard, pulling himself up tight, Wes replied, "Take it."

Father moved toward Wesley, his hand outstretched. 'You will go to the pit for this. You will not disobey me." He grabbed for the bat and, suddenly, all the years of being afraid, of praying to some god no one should ever believe in, crashed through Wes' mind. It wasn't the bat, it was what it stood for: Cole, freedom from fear, the inability to take this one more day, one more minute.

The bat lashed out and bones cracked. Wesley had put all his fourteen years of misery and need into that one swing. His voice, low and calm, growled, "I hate you. Your god is not my God. I won't go to that pit ever again. Mercy will never go down those stairs again. If you try, if you so much as put one finger on my sister or on me, I'll tell the sheriff everything that you've done and you'll go to jail. If you so much as look at Mercy to hurt her, I'll kill you, old man."

He looked at Father slumped on the floor, holding his smashed arm. He looked old. He heard him say, "Help me. You are my son."

"But you're not my father, not anymore."

"Mercy," Father called out.

Wes watched his sister edge toward their father. "Wes, look at the blood."

"Mercy, go to the Harrelson's. Tell them he fell and ask if they can take him to the hospital."

That night was the last time Father confronted Wes. It was as if something had snapped and Father had grown old. He yelled at them, but Mercy stayed near Wes and they talked of what they'd do and where they'd go as soon as Wes turned eighteen. Wes never feared Father again, but he watched over Mercy same as always.

He saw the constant fear in her eyes. Soon, one day soon, they would leave. The only thing he neglected to watch, for Mercy's sake, was his own brother.

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