Promises to Keep

by Grasshopper

Chapter 3

Grasshopper

It's funny how we worry and fret, bang our heads against the wall in frustration over things we can't control. I envy the people who just let life slide on by, taking it or leaving it, as it suits them. It's like I was saying there awhile back, we gotta love who we love, but what do we do when it's not who we CAN love? We forget it, right? We never act on it. We let it slide on by.

Trip

I had to get that Cephalexin for Kick. He was trying so hard not to fight the saddle, but I knew he couldn't stand it another day. It was my fault. I had let his saddle blanket get too wet and it had rashed up under. It's like if you had on wet jeans on a freezing day and got this horrid butt itch. You wouldn't put the jeans back on. Well, Kick has to. He has to go back out there. The Ceph should work in two days. I gotta use Mikey til then. I'll keep Kick dry and let the antibiotic work its magic.

Okay, I've babbled enough about my horse. I keep trying not think about the fact that I saw Bran tonight. I always go to the feed store at night. For one thing, it's the only time I have and for another, he's not ever there at night.

His girl looks just like him. She looks happy and he looks so proud of her. I'm happy for him. He must be doing okay. I heard that he moved up at the feed store. I guess he decided not to go to college after all. I'd always heard that he wanted to be a lawyer. Guess I was wrong.

I thought for a minute he didn't even remember me, the way he just stared.

'Penny for your thoughts'......maybe he was trying to remember my name. I know for sure he's not one of the ones with no thought.

He looked good. The glasses look cute and his hair is longer, kinda wavy on the top and flopping in his face.

The sky looked really rough today. The weatherman says there's an Artic Blast movin' down through Canada. Should be here by tomorrow night.

I wonder what it's like to live in town and not worry about the cattle and fences and the water and............I wonder what he worries about?

Mom needs me to check the pipes. Another hard blast and they're gonna crack. I can do that after supper.

I wonder if he loves Becky? Of course he loves Becky. He married her.

I don't know if Mikey can handle the ice on the north slope. Maybe I better use Eagle, he's more surefooted.

I'm doing better. Every other thought is functioning well without Brandon Kelcher in it.


The next day dawned, but the sun didn't shine. The dawning was signaled by the alarm clock going off a half hour earlier, so I could check on Kick before I left. It was 4:00.

I love my dad. He gets up, fixes coffee and me breakfast every single morning. It's not that Mom can't or won't; he just wants to. He feels so crappy about not being out there with me. It won't be long, I tell him, but we both know it will. Today it's overeasys and biscuits with leftover gravy from supper. I grab up the bag of ham biscuits and thermos of coffee and leave, but not before giving him a hug. He's my dad. I can.

Today, I gotta check the fences along the highway. Bill Tilson called last night and said that he thought a section was down out on I90 near Gillette.

That's about a 3 hour ride in this weather and the snow is getting deep. I wish I had Kick.

One more pill down my sweet boy's throat, checking his back. It looks better. Maybe tomorrow. I don't have to drive Mom to work or Kit to school. Snow's too deep and the roads fill up as fast as they clear 'em. Sometimes, even though a truck sounds right, you'd never get where you were aimed. I've been mired down in the snow in my truck and it's not fun.

I used to try to make Jasper stay home when I rode out in bad weather. I'd shut him in the barn, but he'd always find a way out; through the hay loft, out a cracked window or a loose board. I'd be like 3 miles out and here he'd come, this blue-gray blur flying after me. Now, I just let him come. He makes me laugh as he leaps like a deer through the snow.

Riding in the snow sounds fun, doesn't it? Like these fat little fluffy flakes patter on your nose and gather on your eyelashes. Well, when you have on everything you own plus some, and you're still freezing your ass off, the fun seems to be missing. It's a job and dang cold one. In the spring, when the ranch hands move the circuit from down south, it's a lot easier. I have time to myself but right now, it's just me. That's what hurts my dad so much. That's why I never let him see me hurting. I know in my heart that if I told my dad how I really feel about everything, he would hate the concept, but he'd never hate me.

The snow is almost to Eagle's knees. He's high stepping now, but he's used to it. For some reason unknown to me, I have a stupid song stuck in my head:

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,
Blah blah blah blah blah and warm woolen mittens,
Big paper somethings tied up with string,
These are a few of my favorite things............."

There's more but I don't remember it. Oh, wait:

Girls in white dresses with something or other,
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes,
Ya da da da da da da da da da
These are a few of my favorite things..........

I wish I knew the words.....I've heard it a million times. I'll just hum.

Lord Almighty, it's cold out here. You'd think your nose would run, but I guess all the snot is frozen too. What is snot anyway? I read somewhere that it's dead brain cells. Well, mine are frozen, so I guess I'm okay.

There's nothing but the white and the cold and watery sun. I look behind me and I can see our trail. I can see North Butte and that's my point to follow.

No problem. I can see the storm clouds building, but there's time.

I wonder where Bran is? All warm in his house, his little girl in his lap?

Okay, that was snarky. It's not his fault I'm riding around out here in this freezing crap. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on...............what was his little girl's name? Did he tell me? She has his eyes. She even squinted at me the way he used to do.

Bran

"Hon, Mrs. McKay called. She really is freaking about her dress."

Bran looked up at the sky in the direction of Gillette. "I'm going. I promised you I would, but I'm not taking Callie. The roads are gonna get bad before the night's over."

"Love you," Becky sang out. "You're the best." She handed him a big thermos of hot coffee.

'The best,' Bran muttered. 'The best what?' Grumbling, he dragged on his jacket and gloves and waited til the engine warmed up. It was about sixty miles from Buffalo to Gillette, an hour on a good day. Hell knew how long today. The snow blowers were out working the highway, but on this kind of day, the snow came right at you parallel to the road and the yellow line just disappeared.

Becky brought out the long lavender mother of the bride's dress in a plastic wrapper and hung it carefully on the hook letting it drape across the shotgun seat. "Thank you doing this, Hon."

"Sure, sure. Get inside before you freeze."

He drove the road up the hill and out onto the Interstate. There wasn't much traffic, and the road was clear. He might be able to make it and back before the bottom fell out of the sky.

Bran made it to Gillette, delivered the dress, got his thermos refilled at McDonalds and headed back home. The sky was darker and the snow was beginning to swirl in his headlights. It was only 10:00 in the morning, but the sun was losing the war and the road was getting slick with ice.

Over to the left, off the road, a horse and rider were working their way along the fence. 'Poor guy,' Bran thought, 'Out on a day like this'. Something about the way the rider held his head, something about the tilt of the Stetson, then he saw a gray dog.

Bran tried to watch the road and the rider at the same time. Suddenly, he felt the truck start to slide. He tried to catch the steering wheel when he hit the ice slick, but then he let it follow the spin and plowed into the piled snow on the side of the highway, tires spinning.

He sat for a minute, checking to make sure he was all in one piece. Damn! He tried the door, but it was stuck tight. He jerked at a knock on his shotgun window. Scooting over, he rolled down the window and stared into Trip's worried eyes.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, feel like a damn fool, but yeah."

Trip tried the door and it swung open. "I think you're just jammed into the snowbank, but there's a ditch under there."

Bran turned the key and the engine fired, but the tires just spun out. "I'm gonna need a tow," he groaned.

"What happened?"

'I was looking at you and I lost control,' Bran thought to himself. Yeah, that would work. "I hit ice."

"Well, I can't help with the car." Bran watched Trip shiver and beat his gloved hands together.

"I'm gonna be here awhile. Get in."

Trip hesitated.

"Come on. I've got coffee and you look like you need some." Bran took out his cell phone and called Hank at Masterson's Tow. It was right down the street from the feed store.

Trip looped Eagle's reins around the antenna and climbed into the truck cab.

He looked at Jasper and then over at Bran. "Sure, let him in, Bran smiled.

The heater pumped hot air and Bran aimed all the vents toward Trip's face.

"What are you doing out in this?"

"Tilson called and said we had fence down. I almost have it mended. If the storm will just let up, I can finish." Trip stared at his hands, as he held them to the vents.

Bran sat quietly, watching Trip's hands. Big hands, strong, scars, calluses. Hands that could make you feel safe. Hands that began to rub his dog's ears.

He offered him coffee and watched Trip hold the cup with both hands.

"I almost feel human," he said in between sips.

They sat quietly, then Bran said, "Why do you do this?"

"Do what?"

"This. Work so hard. Nearly freeze. The fence could have waited."

Trip still didn't look at him. "It's what I do. Why do you do what you do? I thought you were gonna be some big lawyer."

The snow swirled around the truck. It was as if they had gone to another place, somewhere secret, perhaps somewhere dark and deep.

Bran said softly, "I'm keeping a promise."

"I remember that day in Mrs. Perry's English class," Trip said. "You said you had promises to keep."

"You remember that?"

Trip finally turned his head and looked at Bran. "I remember everything."

What did he mean by that? What did he remember? There was nothing to remember. Now was the time to stay very quiet. Now was not the time to say anything. There was nothing to say. Was there?

"Are you happy, Trip?"

The truck cab got very small, the air got very warm.

"Happy? I can't say that's the right word."

"What would be the right word then?" It became extremely important to Bran to hear this one word.

Trip thought of all the words he could say. Of all the truths he could tell Brandon, but didn't think he'd want to hear. "Okay. I'm okay. You?"

Bran wanted to say miserable. He wanted to say lonely. He wanted to say any word other than the one he said, "I'm okay too."

"I guess," he heard Trip say softly, "I guess we've established that we're both okay and I'd better get going. I have to finish and get home before dark."

"How can you see? You can't go out into that." Bran felt an unreasonable panic rising. Trip was in his truck. Trip, of the deep and dark woods. The one person that he wanted to know and the one person that he held everything back from. He didn't understand any of this, but he had to know....know something more than he had before he plowed into the snow.

Trip laughed, "I've seen worse. Look right there." He reached out his arm and pointed toward North Butte. "That's my guide. Jasper and I can find our way home and Eagle can sure find the barn." His arm brushed Bran's shoulder. "Don't worry about us. You need to get home to Becky and your little girl. They'll be worried."

"Yes," Bran nodded. "You're right. They will." He thought about Becky, about Callie. What was he doing? He had promises to keep. He wanted to touch Trip's mouth. His head felt hot. Stop! Don't be a fool. Don't embarrass yourself. If Trip knew what he was thinking, he'd beat him to a bloody pulp.

He loved Callie and he'd promised Becky. Why was this so hard?

Trip pulled on the door handle and climbed out. "Thanks for the coffee and the warm air. I can finish and make it home now. See ya, Brandon."

"Yeah, see ya, Trip.


Trip

Well, that was extra special. He just pops up out of nowhere, I climb in his truck and we both act like we're made out of wood. I know I can't have anything from Brandon except an occasional 'Hey', but I could have done a little better than that. I could at least have been friendly. If I'd looked at him, I think I would have just blurted something out and he would have killed me.

Note to self: Never look directly at Bran.

The tow truck came, hooked up the old blue Chevy. I couldn't help, so I just finished my chore and sat on Eagle till they pulled out. I felt Bran's eyes on me, but I didn't look. Don't look at what you can't have. Good rule....stinks, but good rule still. Out of the 24 thousand men around here, I have to want the one I really can't have.

"C'mon, old boy," I patted Eagle's neck, "Let's take it to the barn. You and I deserve a rest. Jasper. To me."

Snow swirling around like phantoms, whipping at my clothes and singing its own song, we trudged home. I'd been in worse, but I'd never felt so lonely before. Do you know how hard it is to have what you want right in front of you and you can't touch it? To feel something every time and not be able to act on it? To hold yourself in until you want to burst?


For the next two days, I stayed close by the house. The storm closed down the roads and there was plenty to do around the barn. Kick healed and I had too much time on my hands....time to think.

I thought a lot about God and why he lets this go on. Why he allows all this hate and intolerance. Why he doesn't smite (good word) anymore. Why he gives me these feelings and then aims me at someone who can't return them.

If it's to prove a point or make me stronger, I yield. I'd like nothing better than to have a "Becky" of my own........I think.

I decided, in those two days, after sitting with Bran in that truck, that I was going past it now. Life marches, and all that. I can't have it. I don't want it.

"Let's ride, Kick." The morning was crisp and clear, the storm clouds gone. There's nothing more beautiful than virgin snow and knowing that your tracks are the only ones that are going up that mountainside today. Sitting on my ridge, staring at the freight train as it wound its way along the track, cars piled high with coal dug up in Gillette, I felt at peace with myself. Yeah, I was okay.

Kick raised his nose to the air and whinnied. Jasper barked and ran off toward the far hill. I heard an answering whinny and then saw the rider coming up over the bluff. Surprised, I just sat.

"Hey, Trip."

"Hey yourself. What brings you way up here?" I reached over and scratched Whistler's neck.

"I went to the house and your dad pointed me in this direction."

We sat silently, staring at the Bighorns. It does take your breath away, but I think we would have been silent just about anywhere.

"What did you mean.......You remember everything?" he murmured.

What had I meant? The smell of his jacket the time he left it on the back of his desk? The way the sun turned his dark brown hair auburn? The laugh crinkles around his eyes? The way he opens doors for ladies? The years of wondering what it would be like to touch him?

I didn't pretend that I didn't know what he meant. "I guess just that I've always wanted to be your friend and I remember good things about you."

I watched Bran think that over and come to a conclusion. "No, that isn't what you meant, Trip."

"No? What then?" What could he possibly know?

But instead, he said quietly, "Do you think there are people who don't want anything from you? People you don't have to make promises to?

"What's this about, Bran?"

"Answer me, please."

I thought about what he asked. "I think there are people, yes, who just want to know you. Who don't expect anything in return."

"Are you one of those people?"

Okay...............lie now, Trip. Be his friend. Be the person who wants nothing from him. Tell him 'Yes', that you don't want anything from him. Torture yourself bunches more. Forget the vow you made of moving on. Aw, the hell with it!

"No."

"No?"

"No."

Bran stared off at the mountains across the valley and sighed. "Do you know why you've never known me any better than you do?"

I watched his face. I forgot my 'note to self'. "I just figured you had all the friends you needed."

"No."

"No?"

"No," he stared hard at the high snow covered peaks, then, "You know that Becky was pregnant when we got married."

"I figured that was why you jumped the gun."

"Yeah, I messed up. I messed up bad. I never meant it to happen. It was the only time we ever..........................." he trailed off.

"No shit?"

"Yeah."

"Rough call." What was he telling me this for? I had just spent two days ridding myself of this and here he is telling me that the only reason he married Becky was because she was pregnant.

"You said 'No', that you couldn't just be my friend without promises; that you wanted something from me. What, Trip?"

The cold wind blew across the ridge. It was impossible to open my mouth and say what I wanted to say **I want you. I want you to promise to feel what I feel. I want you to promise to always be here and always trust me and even if the world doesn't understand, I will and you will**

I looked at him. Big mistake. I looked at him with his cute wire-rim glasses and that flop of hair creeping out from under the brim of his hat. I looked at him, into his eyes, and saw my reflection. I reached out and did what I had wanted to do for years. I touched his face, just the lightest touch with the back of my hand, the back of my fingers. I watched as his eyes went wide, and then, just as I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life, he leaned into my hand and closed his eyes.

His hands gripping the saddle horn tightly and mine stuffed tightly in my jacket pockets, we sat for awhile, looking out across the valley. I didn't know where this was going, but I was okay with it for now.

We rode back, Jasper ranging out in every direction, until we reached the cutoff for town. "You okay?" Bran asked me.

"Yeah, you?"

"Yeah."

"See ya, Bran."

"See ya, Trip."

I watched him until he was gone around the curve. My hand tingled where it had touched his face. I raised it to my face and closed my eyes. I had promised Brandon with just that light touch.

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