Promises to Keep

by Grasshopper

Chapter 4

Grasshopper

They say that most men would rather deny a hard truth than feel it. Is that true? Would you rather never feel joy if you had to admit a truth? Could you go through life never telling someone you love that you love them? What happens when it's the end of your life and you look back over what you should have done, what you could have done and you realize that time's up? I hope that doesn't happen to me.

Bran

What do you do when someone has touched your face, and in doing that, changed your life? Just the lightest of touches and just for a minute. Just long enough for me to know what promise he wanted and just long enough for me to know it was a promise that I couldn't give.

"Come read to Callie, Bran," Becky called from upstairs.

"What do you want to hear tonight, Baby Girl?" he asked, as he walked into her little girly room, all pink with frills and ruffles. Becky had made all the curtains.

"Pooh, Daddy. Honey pot." He reached for her favorite book, sat down beside her on the bed, propped himself against the headboard and began to read.

Callie's eyes drooped and her hand slipped from his as sleep took her away.

"So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place at the top of the forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing."

Bran closed the book gently, slipped from his seat on the bed, tucked the covers around her dimpled chin, clicked off the light and pulled the door with just a little crack left for light to peep through.

"Coming to bed, Hon?" Becky called from their room.

His mind frantically trying to excuse what he was feeling, he realized he couldn't take any of this out on Becky. She didn't trick him or beg him to marry her. It took two people to make Callie and it takes two people to raise her. He didn't know what this was happening in his brain, but it wasn't Becky's fault.

Standing in the shower, the hot water sluicing over his chest, he wanted to cry. No, not cry....scream. He was in a prison of his own making and people counted on him and Becky loved him. He couldn't do this. He pressed his hand to his face the way Trip had done. He wanted to reach down and let the feelings build. He wanted to imagine what it would be like to.....................

Son of a bitch!! He slammed off the water and stepped out of the shower. He wasn't going there! But how could he get in that bed and have sex with Becky? How?

Their sex life was boring and mundane, but Bran knew that if he ever touched Trip the way he wanted to, he could never touch Becky again. He had to be stronger than this. Becky deserved better than this.

He slid under the sheets and the pretty patchwork quilt her mom had made for them. Becky was a beautiful girl, all blonde hair and dimples. She had been the catch of the county and he knew lots of guys who were jealous as hell of him. If they only knew.

"Hon, what's wrong?" she asked, snuggling into her place just under his arm.

"Nothing, long day."

They lay quietly until Bran said," Bec, are you happy?"

"Sure, Hon. We're making it work," she answered. "I know this isn't the life you wanted, but with Callie and all, it's the life we got."

"Always the optimist," Bran smiled.

"Well, I think we've done really good, don't you? You aren't unhappy, are you, Bran?"

He closed his eyes, pressed them shut for a second and then said, "No, Babe. We're gettin' it done."

Becky ran her fingers along his shoulder and down into the dark curls on his chest. "There's not another woman is there?"

He laughed. In all honesty, he could say, "No, Becky Ann. The only other woman in my life is Callie. You two are all the women I can handle."

Becky sighed, "Good. I wonder sometimes because we don't ummm......make love much any more."

Bran knew he had to shake away all thought of this afternoon. It meant nothing, less than nothing. What he had in his life was right here; not out on some snow covered mountain. He couldn't hurt Becky and Callie. Not for some half-formed dream that made no sense. Like he and Trip could just ride off into the sunset hand in hand.

He rolled to look at his wife and he started to touch her face with his hand. He stopped. That gesture was for someone else.....another time, another place, the top of the world. "Shhhh, Becky." He laced his fingers through hers.


He dreamed that night. He dreamed of a ladder, a ladder that climbed up and up and up straight into the sky. Its bottom rungs disappeared into the mire of dirty week old snow banked high. It was night in his dream, the black of night when the Arapaho's 'Hunger Moon' hung low in the sky, it's reflected glow hardly strong enough to make out his own hands. All around him was blackness, stillness. The stillness of the deep dark woods. He knew where he was.

The ladder shimmered. It hummed. The snow laid ankle deep as far as the eyes could see, but he wasn't cold. He heard Becky call his name. "Hon, put on your jacket. It's cold out there." He looked down and saw that he was naked. He was naked, but he wasn't cold. His skin felt like it was on fire. The hair on his arms and legs tingled and his genitals ached, heavy and swollen.

"What?" he said aloud. Nothing answered.

A sound made him look up. Up, up, up the humming ladder. Slowly, what appeared to be a door began to open at the top of the ladder. He squinted up. He could hear laughter and music; see swirling colors and pinpoints of light.

"What?" he called out, up the ladder.

Trip's soft voice whispered in his ear, "The count of three."

"What?" Bran cried. "What, Trip, what?

"One."

Bran touched the ladder. It burned his hand, but the burning soothed the ache.

"Two."

"What happens?" he screamed, afraid to put his foot on the first rung. He turned his face to look back at his house and he saw Callie, sitting on the roof dangling her feet over the edge, holding something out to him.

A laughing voice, so familiar, but not allowed in his dreams, murmured, "C'mon, Brandon, two and a half."

Bran jerked his head back and forth from the door in the sky to his little girl now standing on the edge of the roof holding out her arms, palms up together as if offering him a gift.

He heard a sigh, a sad low whooshing sound. "Three."

The door slammed shut, the ladder burst into flame, and choice made, Bran ran to catch his daughter. He reached out his arms, but she was gone. The house was silent and dark. There was nothing but darkness. He fell into the snow and lay still, his face covered in melting slush.

"Bran, Hon, Bran," he heard Becky's voice from a great distance. He moved in the snow, but it was gone. The bed was warm and dry and Becky was leaning over him, shaking his shoulder. "Hon, wake up. What were you dreaming?" He gathered his body close into himself, drawing his knees to his chest. The dream was gone, but the 'melting snow' on his face remained.


The next few days were troublesome. Bran looked for Trip everywhere he went, looked up every time the bell over the door rang. He never saw him, he knew he wouldn't. What had happened between them became worrisome, no longer a soft pleasure. How stupid had he been to imagine.

The dream didn't come back the next night, but it didn't fade like most dreams do. Bran sat at the counter doodling on the curl-edged calendar blotter, drawing a ladder, then a little door at the top. He drew a big old fashioned key, the kind with the fancy top and the long thin shank, the peg short and blunt. Over and over, he sketched it, until the entire month of February was covered in oddly shaped keys.

The bell over the front door clanged. "Mornin', Brandon."

"Mornin', Mr. Gentry. What can I get for you today?"

"I need some keys made. The padlock on the..........................."

Bran heard the words, but his mind had flown. His eyes jerked down to the ruined calendar, to the key, and back up to Joe Gentry's face. He smiled and held out his hand. "Sure thing. How many do you need?"


It was three weeks before he laid eyes on Trip again. He had walked around in his life, no one had even noticed any difference, except Becky. She loved Brandon, loved him for standing by her, loved him for sticking. She had always known he didn't love her the way it was in the movies, in the steamy novels she read late at night when he was asleep. She believed him when he said there wasn't another woman. She liked their life exactly as it was; no demands on her except money, a husband who took care of her and a beautiful little girl. She just felt a slight shift in their world and it made her nervous.

It was Saturday night and Bran had promised Becky a night out with friends. Callie was with Grandma and Grandpa and Becky had fixed herself up real pretty, sparkly red shirt, tight jeans tapered to show high heels. Her hair piled up with a glittering rose clip, she was ready for a night of fun.

"Bran, Honey, what do you think?" She twirled in front of him, her face glowing with Saturday night makeup.

"You look great, Babe," he smiled. "You'll be the best looking filly there tonight."

Bran had dreamed of the little door several times over the past few weeks. It was always the same. The door gave him to 'three', but he couldn't make the first step. He knew now that Callie held a key. There was no lock on the door that he could ever see, so the key made no sense. He would wake up, cold and shivering, his face wet, his hand clutching at nothing, trying to hold onto nothing. And, as always, he would hear the faint whispers of familiar laughter.

He felt angry. Angry at Trip for causing this; angry at him for laughing. Angry because he felt stuck. He didn't want to feel stuck. He wanted that fucking key to unlock a way to just leave this all behind him.

He knew it was stupid to be angry at Trip. He hadn't done anything except show Bran the door. All he had done when he touched Bran's cheek that day high on the bluffs, was show him a door in the dark woods. But, not one can make a person open a door they don't want to go through.

Maybe Bran had imagined it all anyway. Maybe Trip was just trying to be his friend. God, his head was already hurting and they hadn't even left yet. It was getting harder to walk through his life unnoticed.


The Come&Go Saloon was THE place in town on a Saturday night. The name was an old joke with Sam Kehoe, the owner and his now none-too-dearly departed exwife Josie. He said that, when he married her, he would cum, but then she would go. He had enough of it and she 'goed' for good, out to Vegas to live with her sister.

Music blared out the old fashioned swinging saloon doors and the live band was in full swing playing Jackson, Nelson, Haggard, and Strait. The dance floor was crowded as Bran, Becky and their friends, Harry and Flo Mercer grabbed a table off to the side.

"Big crowd tonight," Harry yelled over the noise. He signaled to the waitress, four fingers, then a 'b' for beer. Four foaming mugs appeared on the table as they settled back to watch the dancers.

Harry dragged Flo out onto the floor and Becky begged Bran to get it on. Never one for calling attention to himself, he wasn't much of a dancer. "Nah, Babe. Wait for Harry. You know he loves to dance with you." He saw the disappointment in her eyes, but it didn't change who he was. He had his ways and stayed within the yellow lines.

A friend from high school stopped by the table. Bran remembered him as a guy who drooled over Becky back then. Sad how that didn't affect him particularly. "Becky, Bran," Edgar said, flicking the brim of his Resistol friendly-like. "Becky, could I have the pleasure?"

Becky looked at Bran. He gave a shrug. As she turned back to Edgar, her questioning eyes turned to a fullout dazzling smile. "Why thank you, kind sir; I'd love to."

It's weird how loud music can just go silent. It's so loud that the ear just turns it off. Bran sat running his fingers around and around the cold sweat covering the beer mug, watching the bright colors of the dancers; watching Becky laughing, her eyes bright and shining. A thought came unbidden, crept into his head before he could stop it. Watching her, he realized that he was seeing her as she used to be; the Becky Ann Draper that all the boys wanted; the prettiest girl in school. Those tiny worry lines around her eyes were gone. Becky was having fun. He decided to do this more often; let her have fun more often.

Just as that decision formed, he heard a sound. He shouldn't have heard it above the roar of the music, but he did. Laughter.............not just any laughter. Trip.

There he was, over at the pool tables, dressed all in blue, jeans, and flannel shirt, and for once, no Stetson. His hair was curling over his shirt collar and falling in his eyes. He was smiling that smile and talking as he chalked up his cue. Bran watched him walk to the table, eye the setup, lean forward and ease into a stance. Bran felt his body begin to breathe. He had been breathing before but not like this. His chest rose and fell with heavy breaths and he gripped the cold mug.

Dragging his eyes away, he found Becky. She would ground him. She would help him through this. It was just hot in here. He heard the crack of ball on ball and the laughter as he had either made the shot or missed. It didn't matter as long as Bran didn't look.

He wondered if Trip had ever touched any of those men the way he had touched him. He wondered frantically if Trip had fucked any of these pretty girls? Of course he had. Look at him! No, don't look at him. Look at Becky.

Edgar delivered a laughing prettily sweating Becky back to the table and tipped his hat once more, the look in his eyes saying that he wished he was the one with her.

"Whew, Hon, that's so much fun. I'd forgotten how much I love to dance.

We really need to come out more often."

Bran smiled and brushed perspiration off her forehead. "I'm glad you're having a good time. We'll do it more often. I promise."

Becky grabbed his hand. "Then we will, won't we? You promised and you always keep your promises."

Bran felt Trip leave. He didn't look, but he knew when he did. It was like one minute the room was alive and the next, it just died. It was the way he felt. One minute, every muscle, every nerve was alive and on fire and the next, he died, cold and in the grave.

He stood up. "I need a beer break. Be right back." He headed for the restrooms at the back of the saloon and then veered out the back door. If he didn't get some fresh air, he was gonna throw up. His stomach was clenched in knots.

He walked slowly at first and then with more energy towards the fence line behind the bar. He could see the moon light reflecting off the snow and the snow clouds hanging low in the sky. Leaning over, he put his hands on his knees and took deep breaths, forcing the cold crisp air into his lungs.

"You okay?"

Had he wanted this? Was he this stupid? He truthfully hadn't gone out the door to find him. Had his body just taken over? Yes.

Puffing slightly, as the cold began to thrust through his light cotton shirt, he didn't look up; stayed bent over, hands on his knees. "Yeah."

"Becky looks real pretty tonight. You having a good time?"

"She does, yeah. Okay time, I guess." His mind was full of words, but his mouth was broken. Why did you touch my face? Why do I want to be right here more than anywhere else in the world? How do you do this to me? WHY do you do this to me? Leave me alone. Go away. Stay.

He felt Trip shift from one foot to the other. "You better get back inside before you catch your death."

"Yeah. It was just so hot in there."

"Good seeing you, Brandon."

"See ya, Trip."

Trip stood very still and Bran could actually feel the unspoken words. All he had to do was look up. But, if he looked up, he would see the ladder and the door and he would see the key....the key in Trip's eyes.

"About the other day," Trip said softly.

"No problem," Bran replied quickly.

He heard Trip sigh, a soft exhale of disappointment, but he couldn't give him what he didn't have to give.

Finally, straightening up, he hugged his arms close to his chest, rubbing his arms for warmth. He looked at Trip and saw a smudge of blue cue chalk on his cheek.

"You've got chalk.....," he pointed to Trip's face.

Trip just cocked his head. "There now, that wasn't so hard, was it?"

"What?"

"Looking at me straight on."

Bran sighed. "Harder than you'll ever know."

"Can I tell you something, Brandon? Something I read?"

"I guess."

"Most men would rather deny a hard truth that to ever feel the joy and pain of it."

Bran just stared at him. The silence grew and almost choked him. "I have to, don't you see?"

Trip frowned, "I see someone hurting and fighting everything inside him. I see someone who needs a friend desperately, someone to talk to about what's happening."

"But, there's no one like that."

Trip sighed and shook his head, "There's me."

"I can't talk to you about you," Bran whispered wildly. "How stupid is that?"

"I don't really think I'm the problem."

"But, but..."

"You get back on inside. You know where I am if you need me. Don't go crazy with this, Brandon." He looked at Bran with those tender eyes, turned and was gone.

The sounds of the saloon had receded to a soft roar. The night crowded around Bran. It was all too hard. He wanted to call after Trip and go wherever he was going. He didn't want to go back inside. He didn't belong either place. He was walking a corral fence, balancing the top rail, arms extended. To move was to fall.

Hard truth. Hard truth. Joy and pain. Why did all this seem so easy for Trip?

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