Promises to Keep

by Grasshopper

Chapter 2


I know, these are all my words, but when I get to telling a story, the words belong to them; to Trip and to Brandon. I just wondered if you ever look at people? Into their eyes and wonder who they are, what their dreams are and who they love. What does the gold ring on their finger stand for: love and commitment or fear and obligation or even nothing, just nothing at all. Right now, I'm picturing two boys sitting under a cottonwood tree, figuring life out and making it work. If life could just be that simple.


"Move it, Kelcher, you gotta do better than that."
"What's the matter with you? Move the ball."
"You got lead in your ass? Move, boy."

He wanted to cry. Yeah, right. Football team, big guy, muscles....yeah, let's just cry. He knew he wasn't giving it much today, but hell, after what Becky Ann just told him, Bran wanted to just jump in his truck and leave. Go somewhere far from here. How did that happen? He'd used a rubber. He'd been careful. Shit!!

He'd never asked her to marry him; it had just been kinda expected. They'd been together for years. Bran didn't feel what he heard the other guys say he was supposed to feel, but he figured that was because he'd known her so long. It was like she was his sister or something. Shit! Shit! Shit!

His dad was gonna kill him. His mom was gonna cry and then she'd be okay. Why did he even care what they were gonna do anyway? He didn't want to have a baby. He was only seventeen. He liked Becky Ann, but what if there's something else? Something more out there?

A face flashed behind his eyes, longish brown hair, laughing hazel eyes, a sweat stained black Stetson tilted back, with a feather stuck in the braid, and worn cowboy boots, feet crossed at the ankles, to let his long legs stretch out.

Trip.......Randall Tripley, but he'd been Trip for as long as Bran had known him. They'd been friends forever cause Buffalo was a small place, but Bran had always held a big piece of himself back. Not from Becky, not from other people, but from Trip. He never wanted to know why. It scared him and he didn't like feeling scared.

They moved in different circles, kinda townies and farm kids. Brandon's dad was the local pharmacist and his mom worked at the paper. He'd been riding since he could walk and kept his horse, Whistler, at the Jerrold's ranch. He loved the huge overwhelming nothingness of the Bighorn Mountains, but he'd never been out to Trip's place or seen him work. It was like another world. Over the years, they would nod, Trip tipping that black hat and smiling that smile. It was always as if they shared a joke, one that no one knew but them. Bran had no idea what that joke was, and it made him drop his eyes away from the smile.

One day, kinda like the end of the week, three days after Becky dropped the bomb, he was sitting in English class and the teacher asked him what Robert Frost meant by that poem:

"Whose woods these are, I think I know.
His house is in the village though.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

Bran looked out the window at the sunshine and just kinda knew. He realized he knew whose woods those were. They were Trip's woods, lovely, dark and deep. He wanted to visit those woods. He wanted turn his horse into the dark. But......he couldn't.

"I think," he sighed, "maybe he wishes he could just disappear into the woods, turn his horse in and disappear, but he knows he's made promises; promises he has to keep. All he has is his word. The miles he has to go are the rest of his life."

He heard the silence and then, thankfully, the bell clanged, kids started buzzing and his words blew away out the window. He stood, hoisted his books onto his hip and turned. There was Trip. For one second, he let it show in his eyes; the longing, the fear, the confusion, the need. Then it was gone and he turned away.

He felt Trip's eyes follow him out the door.

Three weeks later, they were married, living in Becky's mom's house and waiting for school to end. At first, his dad had been apoplexic, but then he remembered that he'd always wanted Brandon to marry Becky so he would stay in Buffalo. He gave them a check for $1,000 and Bran got a job working at the feedstore. Another start to another 'had to' marriage. Maybe one day he'd love her. Maybe one day the image of dark woods and laughing hazel eyes would be a memory. Promises to keep and miles and miles and miles stretched out in front of him.

There was the comfort and familiarity of Becky and the dark unknown of something he had felt for Trip all these years. Bran wasn't fearful; he was terrified. Terrified of the feelings he had and the darkness of the woods. He'd never touched Trip. He'd never even looked straight into his eyes. It was just there. He wondered if Trip ever even gave him a passing thought. As long as it was his secret, he could do this. Obligations, disappointments, responsibilities and mountains of guilt. He had gotten Becky pregnant. He owed her his allegiance. Oh God, like the flag. I pledge allegiance to Becky.

The night it all happened, he had been near to drunk. Becky was warm and so was the night air. She didn't insist, but she didn't push him away either. He had all these feelings he couldn't control; all this passion welling up and it spilled over. God, did it spill over. One night, one time, one baby, and miles and miles and miles. He loved Becky. He married her and would give their baby his name. He knew what was right.

One day, late in the summer, he parked in front of his dad's drug store to pick up Becky's pills. He helped Becky out and watched her walk off toward the grocery, her belly rounding as the baby grew. Yes, he loved her, like he loved his mom and his dad, but not in the heart-stopping, mind-blowing way he wanted. He guessed he's never be 'in love' with anyone. It was like watching someone else's pregnant wife walk away.

Bran got the pills, talked to his dad for a minute and headed for the door. As his hand hit the bar, he stopped. There was Trip, talking to Becky, helping her climb clumsily into the truck, tipping that Stetson and grinning that smile of his.

Bran leaned his forehead against the cold glass of the door and felt the sunshine weep out of the day. It was the first time he had seen Trip since graduation and, except for passing on the street every so often, it would prolly be the last. He raised his eyes and implanted the images in his mind, to take out on cold snowy days when he passed woods that were dark and deep and he remembered how it felt to want what he'd never had.

"Can you take Callie with you, Hon?" Becky called out just as Bran was opening the door. "I've got to finish this dress for Mrs. McKay. And remember, you said you'd take it to her tomorrow over in Gillette? It's for her daughter's wedding tomorrow night."

"I was going...................," he started, then sighed with a tired smile, "Sure, but bundle her up. It's colder than hell out there. C'mon, Callie girl. Daddy's gotta go to the feed store and check on the truck deliveries."

Brandon had taken on the job of manager at Yarrow's Feed when Bernie Jakes moved to Tulsa. It was a good enough job and there weren't many days when he didn't smile. He never let himself dream of bigger towns and music and never ever of dark woods. One day, he would be the owner, when Mr. Kellog retired, and they could buy that house over on Canyon Road that Becky always wanted.

Becky worked hard too. She sewed and altered clothes for people. It helped a lot with the bills.

She was disappointed that Callie was their only child, but Bran was very very careful now. He had kept his promise and he had locked the door to his heart, but he wouldn't stretch the miles out any further than they were now. He loved Becky, and Callie was the apple of her daddy's eye, and that's all there was.

He thought of Trip now and again, but never saw him. Bran knew he was still out there, keeping the ranch going after his father's heart attack. He knew that had to be so hard on Trip, hard to be forty when you're only nineteen. Sometimes, he felt like he could hear Trip's voice in the cold wind that blew down from the high slopes. It was a hard life up there. Bran dreamed sometimes of being there, living that harsh life, away from all this, working with Trip.

He wondered why Trip had never married. Then he remembered that they were only nineteen and laughed wryly. God, it had been so long and yet he wasn't even twenty-one yet. It felt like a lifetime. Trip had plenty of time, and as good looking as he was, with that easy laugh and those long, long legs. Shaking his head, Bran carried Callie into the store and plopped her down on the counter to unzip and peel away the mountain of parka and sweaters.

"We'll be here just a few minutes, Kitten," he said, as he set her down on her chubby legs. "Hold my hand and we'll go check the records."

He heard the bell over the door ring and called out, "We're closed. Open again tomorrow at seven."

"I just need some Cephalexin for Kick. He has this bad rash from the ice under his saddle. He can't work tomorrow unless I can.........................."

Bran heard the voice and felt the chill of the deep woods. He turned, holding his little girl's hand and just looked.

He heard Trip say, that lilt of laughter in his voice, "Penny for your thoughts."

Bran blinked and realized he'd just gone blank. Stood like an idiot.

"Uh, keep your penny, my thoughts aren't worth much."

Trip squatted down and smiled into Callie's face. "Your girl." Not a question. "I can see you in her." He stared for another minute, then stood and watched Bran's face as emotion after emotion raced across.

Callie squealed as Jasper popped his head out from behind Trip's legs. "Puppy, puppy." Trip laughed and let her scratch the quiet dog in that special place behind his ears.

"Cephalexin, you said?" Bran asked.

"Yeah, for Kick."

Somehow, Bran found it. Somehow, he put it on Trip's account. Somehow, he managed to act like a normal human being, saying words and making sense. He wanted to say things he was feeling. He wanted to say how tired Trip looked; how hard he must be working and he wished he could help. He wanted to touch that face; the face that came unbidden late at night. But, it wasn't his face to touch. It wasn't his place to say words that only someone who cared would say. They were nothing to each other. Old school friends. He wanted to.................God, Bran just wanted to warm him. Trip looked so cold.

"See ya, Brandon," Trip said as he tipped the brim of his hat and winked at Callie. "Jasper. To me."

"Yeah, see ya, Trip."

It was only Trip that made him feel this way. It had always only been Trip. Now he knew it always would be.

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