Promises to Keep

by Grasshopper

Chapter 6

Grasshopper

Sherlock Holmes said: "It's the only choices we have. You eliminate everything, and whatever remains, no matter how improbable, is the answer."

So....you try your dang best to be like 'them', you try and you try and then you begin to stop. Slowly, you take away this layer, and then that layer and, you begin to see 'you'. There is a very unique 'you' under all those layers of pretend heterosexuality. All the walls and hidey holes you've built over the years so that 'they' won't see you. You are improbable; so am I, but then, so are they. We're all improbable beings thrown out here like dice. So, be the best improbable you can be !

Clarence Tripley worried so much about his family. Ever since his heart attack, he'd not quite known how to make things better. He knew how much Trip loved the ranch and that one day he'd marry and bring his bride home. He knew that Sarah and Kit and Mama needed taking care of. He wasn't much use anymore. Doc told him that one more like that and he'd be saying his last goodbye.....had to do with a leaky valve, or something.

He made out a will, leaving the ranch to Trip, with the understanding that the family would live just as always. He knew that Kit would leave in a few years to have a family of her own, but that Trip would stay and take care of Sarah and his mother as long as he was needed. It seemed the right thing to do. With the best of intentions, he built a prison around his son, the foundation of responsibility, the mortar thick obligation, the bricks the finest guilt.


Bran

It was late and Bran's eyes were burning from the light of the small green desk lamp. Pulling off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose, he squeezed his eyes shut. Six month inventory was a bitch and, even though he knew the figures were right, he wanted to go over the books one more time before he drove home. He didn't like to think that he was putting off going home.

It had been two weeks since he had seen Trip out behind the Come&Go. The confusion had dulled to a raw ache and he didn't think about Trip every second now. He just had to get the whole thing in perspective and he could handle it, like he handled everything. He had commitments and they were what counted. He saw that now.

The dream hadn't come back. It was as if he had touched that first rung and won something.....or lost. He didn't know.

The bell over the door jingled and he heard the one voice he wanted to hear; the one voice he dreaded. "Jasper. Stay put." Then, "Hiya, Brandon."

Drawing a huge breath, Bran pushed back from the desk and stood up, turning to face Trip. "Hey."

"I saw the light and just wanted to check on you." Bran heard the gentleness in Trip's voice and watched him stamp snow off his boots and shake it from his Stetson.

"I'm fine." **Or I was fine until you came in the door**

They just stood, the words hanging in the air, but Trip wouldn't say them and Bran couldn't. Hand trembling slightly, Bran pulled the little chain on the lamp and the store fell into darkness, only the glow from the street lights

reflecting off of the metal objects on the shelves.

"You were right. I do need to talk," he murmured.

Trip moved a step toward him.

"No, stay over there. I need to talk and I can't if you come any closer."

Trip leaned back against the counter, his thumbs sliding into the front pockets of his jeans.

"I don't know what you want from me, Trip. You never said what the promise you wanted was. I can't promise you anything I don't have." He felt hot tears well up and he blinked them away.

"It's okay, really," Trip said softly. "I'm sorry this has gotten to you like it has. I guess I never should have...................."

"No! No, you never should have!" Bran almost yelled, his confusion and guilt turning to a rumbling anger. "You never should have made me feel like this. You never should have touched me. You had no right. I can't do what you want."

Trip's hands came up in front of his chest, palms out. "I'm sorry. I'll just go so you..........................," He shoved off the counter just as Bran stepped forward and pushed him back.

"Is this what you want from me?" he growled as his body slammed into Trip's, pressing him back, grinding, twisting, his mouth finding Trip's and claiming what he had been denying.

Hot emotions, overwhelming feelings, dams bursting open.....Not what Trip had dreamed when he opened the door; not what Bran had expected when he stepped forward.

Mouths angling, tongues touching, pressing, sucking. Bodies flooded with want and need. Rock hard. Pushing. Aching. Spilling over.

Bran couldn't stop, couldn't get enough of Trip's mouth. He felt Trip's hands on the sides of his face, his thumbs rubbing. "I need to..... I have to...... Let me....... Oh god." Bran's hands came alive as he pushed at his jacket and pulled Trip's shirt loose to race his hands inside to feel skin.

Bran felt Trip gripping his back, letting him do whatever he wanted, whatever he needed. He took deep breaths, slowing his movements, his heart hammering in his chest.

Suddenly ashamed of what he'd done, but unable to move away, Bran laid his forehead on Trip's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I never meant that to happen."

"I know," Trip whispered. "I know how hard this is for you, these feelings you can't control. But, you have to, I know that. It's just getting harder and harder to stay away from you."

"Trip?" Bran's voice sounded very far away, almost childlike, full of self-doubt.

Trip tugged on Bran's shirt until he was holding him loosely. "I'm here."

"I felt more just then than I have ever felt with Becky," he mumbled.

Smiling in the darkness, Trip said, "It's scary, isn't it?" Bran nodded his head against Trip's shirt.

"And we didn't even do anything," Bran groaned.

"I think we did a lot. I've never kissed anyone before, not like that. It made me sure. It made me feel good about myself."

"But, Trip."

"I know," he sighed, "We can't. My body wants to love you, touch you in every place you've ever hidden away. I know we can't."

"It's wrong," Bran sighed.

Trip lifted Bran's chin to look in his eyes, "No, it's not wrong. Don't say that cause if you say that then what I feel is wrong. My heart says it's right. I don't know what being like this is......gay, homosexual," he felt Bran cringe at the word, "All I know is that I get these feelings when I look at you, think about you. Maybe it's just you or maybe I'm gay. If I am, then I don't want it to be wrong. I won't hide it. The way I feel about you...it's the best part of me. It's the part that wants to love and be loved by one special person."

"But here, Trip, where we live?" Bran sighed, "Not here."

"No, not here. You're right. I don't know the answers either." He held Bran for another minute, his nose buried in the soft wavy hair, storing away the smell. Then, softly pushed him away. "I have no answers. I know I want to be where you are, but I know you have to go home." His shoulders slumped, he didn't even try to stuff his shirt back in, just walked to the door.

His hand on the knob, he said softly, "See ya, Brandon," and was gone.

Bran leaned heavily against the counter, his mind torn. He wanted to run out the door after Trip, yell for him to come back. He wanted to taste him again. He wanted.....more, but he didn't even know what that 'more' was. Not really. He just knew he wanted to share himself with Trip. Was that love? Can men love each other like that? It wasn't what he felt for Becky at all. Nothing anywhere near. He felt protective of Becky, watchful and almostly fatherly. This was nothing like that. This was like reaching inside yourself and ripping out what makes you breathe...what makes you want.

The lights already off, he reached for his jacket and walked out the door, locking it behind him. He stared off down the snowbanked street in the direction he knew Trip had gone. He finally let a few tears drift down his cheeks with the futility of the feelings in his heart.


No dream that night, thank God. Bran didn't think he could deal with the rungs on that ladder right now. His dream was easy to read, but the answers were beyond his grasp.

Becky and Callie came by the feedstore around 4:30 and guilted him into coming away early for supper at the café. "You've been staying late for days," Becky said. "Callie misses you."

The Goodman's Home Cooking Restaurant was filling up with locals ready for Wednesday night's special of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The tablecloths were just big sheets of white butcher paper so the kids could draw, the utensils were mismatched and the water glasses were plastic, but the food was good and hot.

As Bran pulled up in the front parking lot, a grey Mercedes, license tag showing Oregon pulled up beside them. Two men climbed out, nicely dressed in the latest L.L.Bean winterwear, laughing and exclaiming about the freezing air. One of the men held the door for Becky and Callie, smiling at them and wishing them a good evening.

Settling Callie into her high chair, Bran called out 'Hey' to several acquaintances and then sat down to pull his chair in to the table. Becky handed Callie an old box of Crayolas from the salt and pepper holder and whispered, "Bran, those men are.........," and nodded her head for him to look behind him, just as Bran heard a loud voice.

"You have to leave."

He turned and saw Mr. Goodman standing at the table where the two men had chosen to sit. The diner owner's hands were jabbed onto his hips and his stance was angry. Bran couldn't hear what the customers replied, but he sure could hear Mr. Goodman.

"I won't have the likes of you in my diner."

Bran could hear people whispering all around him....homos.....fags......queers. Old Mrs. Feeney muttered that she wouldn't eat the food here anymore; she didn't want no AIDS.

Bran expected the men to yell back, at least argue, but they didn't. They looked around the diner, saw the hostile faces, the one man's face that he could see had such a look of sadness, with a flickering of fear in his eyes. They stood quietly, walked to the door and as they started out, the taller of them said softly, "We just wanted some small town hospitality", and walked out.

Bran watched the car drive off down the street back towards the Interstate. Two men had wanted a good home cooked meal. That was all they had wanted. Brandon was ashamed of his town; ashamed of the people he'd known all his life. He wondered what Trip would have done; would he have said something in their defense?

"Good for you, Earl," someone said to Mr. Goodman.
"Can't let them homos eat at our tables."
"None here, never been, never will," Old Mr. Kraley crowed.
"We've a God-fearing town," a woman said piously.

Bran had no appetite for supper. He picked at his food and helped Callie eat her spaghetti-os. Becky didn't seem to find anything wrong with what had just happened and even chattered about it as if it was some fine joke to tell the girls later.

Bran wanted to get up from the table and go find Trip. He wanted to be held. He wanted to be as far from Trip as he could get. He wanted nothing to do with the stupid blind ignorance he could feel in this room. He was so confused. He felt hot and sweat was rippling down his back and under his arms. Had he been like that? If he didn't...........didn't what? Want, need, crave, not love, no not that word, if he didn't 'feel' the way he did about Trip, would he be as bad as they are? Would he have sat here snarling, talking about God, and acting as if he hated two strangers? He needed to see Trip.


Callie asleep, Becky propped up on her side reading "Love's Splendor", a trashy looking paperback with this longhaired muscleguy on the cover, Bran asked, "Becky, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure, Hon. Let me get to the end of this part." He lay still, thinking about what Trip had said and what he had not said. He didn't seem to be able to say anything to Trip except in his own head.

Becky slid her bookmark in and sighed with a big grin on her face, "Whew, hot stuff. I don't see how those women write those books. What do their families think? Their husbands?"

"Probably that the money is great," Bran smiled.

"Oh you," Becky laughed. She snuggled down into her pillows. "What did you want to talk about?"

Bran was afraid to hear what she might say, but he asked, "Tonight, at the diner, why did Earl Goodman do that? What happened?"

Becky made a face. "Oh, those two," she rolled the word out, "m...e...n," as if she didn't believe they were men, "Were holding hands and I was trying to show you when Earl saw them. I guess they forgot they weren't in San Francisco or wherever they live," she laughed.

Bram realized he'd never heard any opinion at all from Becky about gays. The topic had just never come up. In a place where no one is gay, there's no need to talk about it, right?

Choosing his words carefully, he asked, "But, Bec, they just wanted dinner."

"Then let them go to their kind of place."

Bran let go of it. He knew if he asked another question, she'd want to know why he cared and if she said another thing like that, he'd say something he'd regret.

He had to think. Those two men were dressed nicely, had good manners, and seemed very friendly, as compared to old Mrs. Feeney who always smelled of old pee, Mr. Krayley, who everyone knew, beat his wife, and those others, voices carrying such meanness, such smallness. What had those two men done to bring out all that hate? They didn't want anything except common courtesy and a hot meal.

Bran knew that if wasn't for Trip, he wouldn't have to face all this; not right now, maybe never. He wasn't .........gay. He just had this unwanted attraction to Randall Tripley.

"Wanna fool around?" Becky purred, and for the first time, Bran said, "Not tonight. I'm really tired." She sighed and reached for her book, settled into her pillows and went back into her story, reading about a passion she'd never known. He rolled over on his side, turned his pillow to the cold side, bunched it up under his head and closed his eyes:

He was sitting on the branch of a tall cottonwood tree looking down at the ground. It wasn't that far but he knew if he jumped, he'd hurt himself. A crow settled on the branch above him:

"I know not why you are sitting in my tree," the crow inquired politely. "Please be good enough to tell me."

"I'm afraid," Bran said.

"You can not remain in my tree. Please leave."

"I can't," he cried. "It's too high."

The crow looked down. "I do not mean that you must fall."

"What then? I don't have a ladder."

"Yes you do. It is golden and waits for you in the deep woods."

"But, it makes me afraid."

"You think I am not afraid every time I fly from my tree?"

"Why would you be afraid?"

"People want to hurt me just because I do what comes naturally to me."

"But.....but you can fly. You will not fall."

"You can fly."

Bran looked at his arms. "I can't. I don't have wings."

"It does not take wings; it takes only courage."

Bran asked, "Help me?"

The crow raised one eyebrow. "Help yourself." He flew away.

Bran woke to the weak winter sun holding dancing motes in its beams crossing their bed. Becky was in the kitchen, he could hear Callie begging for taters. He reached for the phone, called Bert Carley, his assistant manager:

"I won't be in today. Can you handle everything?"
"Yeah, everything's fine."
"I'll check with you around five."

He needed to see Trip. He woke up needing it. He wanted to tell him about what happened last night and about his dreams and he needed to ask him how to find courage.

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