Promises to Keep

by Grasshopper

Chapter 7

Grasshopper

I think a lot about reincarnation. You know, it's a comforting thing to think that you have chances, like a cat. That you learn in each life and take that knowledge into the next. Surely you can get it right in like twelve tries. See, you have these spirits that move with you through your lives: in one life they may be your mother; the next, your best friend; the next, your lover. All these spirits that stay close and add to your life. They're all jumbled up and don't forget, you are diff in each turn around too. One life, you're a guy, the next, a girl. So, no wonder we can have all these emotions, all these feelings. Cause in one life, you read a map like a girl, the next, you still do it that way and wonder why. In one life, you love your mother, who's afraid of spiders and in the next, can't quite figure out why you want to protect your brother from spiders. It's a big catch all. Or, on the other hand, as a good friend told me....."You've got one chance, Bubba......get it right".

Trip

I had the oddest feeling this morning when I woke up, like something was off kilter. Not bad/not good...just off. Jasper had been 'talkin' in his sleep last night, chasing some wily squirrel, those legs just a runnin'.

Dad cooked me some eggs. The snow had banked and the sky was opening up to be a beautiful blue. As the sun rose over towards Gillette, layers of pink and blue blended until the blue of true Wyoming skies climbed above the Big Horns.

Jasper, Kick and I broke ice at the water holes. I drove the truck loaded with hay out to the north range. Days like this do my soul good. There are so many antelope, herds skittering, and the mule deer just follow the truck waiting for hay. I have to laugh at the tourists who stop along the highway taking pictures of the antelope. It's like they're seeing herds of magical unicorns or something. Antelope can be really nervy bothersome critters, no better than jack rabbits.

When I noticed the sun straight up, I let Kick climb the rocks to the bluffs. Clearing away a patch of snow and throwing down a rolled blanket, I dug out my tuna and pickle sandwich and thermos of coffee. Leaning back against the boulders, I just let the sun shine on me and felt the peace I always feel up here.

Jasper barked and I smiled. I had wondered if he'd come. I had decided not to hope, just to wonder. It was much easier that way. Jasper ran off down the trail, coming back trotting by Whistler's hooves.

"Hey there, Brandon. What you doing out so far?" He climbed down and walked over to the edge of my blanket. I squinted up into the sun, trying to see his expression. Sometimes, all I could get from Bran was the expression on his face.

"I want to talk. I thought I'd come out here into your world."

I moved over, giving him room to sit, but he chose to lean against the roughness of the sun warmed boulder. So be it.

He told me about what happened in the diner. We talked about the unfairness of that. Bran seemed to be feeling that he should have done something.

"What?" I asked. "Stood up and said 'what'?"

"I don't know,' he groaned in frustration. "It just wasn't right."

"No, it wasn't, but you can't jump into a still pond and expect not to make ripples."

"What the hell does that mean?" he asked.

"The people here know you. They expect a sameness from you. You can't just express a different opinion from theirs and not expect to cause fallout."

"All I wanted to say was that what they did and said was wrong," he replied stubbornly.

"And you like being told you're wrong?" I asked, watching his face.

He shrugged. "But how do I change this? Even Becky was ugly and she doesn't know one gay person in this whole world to make any judgments at all."

"Yes, she does."

"Trip," Bran sighed, "You know what I mean."

I took pity on him. He was trying so hard and I was kinda poking at him. "Bran, come here," I patted the blanket. "I promise I won't touch you."

"Jesus, Trip, that's not what scares me."

He sat down and faced me, looking into my eyes. "Brandon, you can't change these people, not the way you want. Maybe one day, when the generation that says "Can't", and the generation that says "Won't" and even the generation that says "Maybe" are all gone, there will come a generation that's says "Fine" and "Good" and even "We are all the same". Right now, you can't take on a world that isn't ready. Bran......................." I reached out my hand.

He took it.

"All these feelings are new. You realize that you feel them and you want everyone else to understand them. They won't. Believe me, as much as you want it, it won't happen, not here, not now."

"Then what? I just live with this? I look for you on dark nights in some rotten place? I won't live like that."

I laughed, "Umm, that was a lovely picture. I think I'll pass."

"You know what I meant."

"Yeah, I did and it grossed me out. I'll never be like that. I'm gay," I watched Bran flinch from the word. "I am, Brandon. I know it and I'm not gonna hide from it. If I hide, I hide the best part of me."

"I don't know what I am."

He looked so miserable. I held out my arms and he slid into them. "I know you don't."

Now, I'm not trying for sainthood and I've got Bran right here in my arms. I'm not gonna take advantage of his misery.........much....but I do know he has to settle this. One way or the other, before he loses it and loses the happy little life he's built because he explodes. Whatever he decides, I want him to be good with it.

"Bran? What do you feel when you touch Becky?"

He shrugged, "I try; I try so hard."

"Bran?"

"Nothing."

"Do you think it's Becky? What do you see when your watching football on TV?" **I was going for cheerleaders**

"The quarterback."

"Bran," I slid my hand down the front of his jacket. "What do you want right now?"

He froze for a second and then let out a loud sigh. "I want you to touch me. It's all I've been able to think since I got here."

"Touch you how?" God, I was dying, but I kept my voice steady. I mean, I'm new at this too and he was asking a lot for me to be the 'teacher'.

"I want," his voice grew husky, "You to touch me and do stuff with me, stuff that makes me feel alive and right."

"So, being with Becky makes you feel wrong?"

"Not wrong like nasty," he said, "Just that I'm in the wrong place; that I have my arms around the wrong person."

"And what are you feeling now?"

He growled this kinda low sound. "I'm feeling like I'm gonna bust if you don't do somethin'."

So, we did somethin'. I smashed him down on that blanket under me and ripped our jackets open. Frantic hands undid stubborn buttons. Naked doesn't make it in the snow in real life, so we opened shirts and opened jeans and pushed them down. Hands grabbed and mouths opened. This wasn't sweet, wasn't supposed to be. This was Bran and me, doin' what felt right. Skin on skin.........When my hand found him, all hot and pulsing, he groaned. I came hard and fast just feelin his hot skin on mine. When he came, I think he finally knew.

Falling off him, our chests heaving, I pulled his jacket closed and tugged mine. Funny, how fast the cold closes back in.

We lay there for minutes, the sun still shining, the horses nickering softly. Nothing had changed from before, nothing except Bran. He lay with his eyes closed, the sounds of his brain wheels clicking loudly.

"I keep having these dreams," he said quietly. "You're in it and Becky and Callie. There's this ladder. You keep counting and I'm naked, but I did get my foot on the first rung." He looked at me for an explanation.

"Um, okay.....I guess the ladder is what we maybe just did or maybe the first rung anyway. I like the naked part." He punched me on the arm.

"Then this crow comes and tells me to get out of his tree and to fly."

I rolled my eyes. "Well, it is his tree after all."

Bran moaned, then snorted a laugh, "Big help you are."

We just lay there in the sun for awhile, not talking, just soaking it in; the sunshine and what we had just done.

"I think it's gonna be hard to stay away from you," he said softly.

"Won't be any different than it is now," I answered. "I live out here. You live in town. Paths don't really cross unless we make them."

"Can we make them?" he asked, his hand coming to rest on my thigh.

"I don't know. I'll be honest with you, Bran, sneaking and crap is not my best thing."

"But, what else do we have?" His voice sounded like a child whose puppy got run over.

"Not much."

Then he said the worst thing possible. "I can't love you if I can't have you, if I can't touch you."

That was so twisted that I almost laughed. "Brandon, I don't think having and touching have much to do with the loving part. You do or you don't."

He rubbed his face with his hand, and I suddenly realized he'd had his glasses on the whole time. Nothing weird, just a funny thing, like wearing your hat during, I guess.

"I gotta get goin'," I finally said. "Nobody else gonna get those cows fed."

"Trip?"

"Yeah?"

"Could we just run away?"

I ruffled his hair, pushing his glasses back up on his nose. "Yeah, I'll leave the ranch and my dad, you just take off runnin' from Becky and your little girl. Yep, no regrets, no shame in any of that."

He stood up, tucked himself together, stood looking out over the valley. "Too bad we're both honorable men."

"Yeah," I smiled, "Damn shame."

I didn't watch him ride away. No sense in being melodramatic here. Just got myself together, climbed up on Kick, called, "Jasper, to me" and went to finish my chores.

I rode, letting Kick have the lead. He sensed a change in me and just walked along, Jasper off in the woods chasing critters. Damn, that had felt good. I wanted more. I wasn't sure what I wanted from Bran, but I did know that my body wasn't gonna let that go and ignore what had happened. I daydreamed, picturing Bran and me, somewhere else. Somewhere people wouldn't hate us for feeling the way we do. My dreams were vague cause I knew I couldn't have them, no sense in too much detail.

What if we had the choice? What if I could leave? Would I? What if Brandon could leave? Would he? Too many question marks. Too many responsibilities and obligations.............Day dreams are just that; dreams that you wish for that never come true. No sense in dreaming them. But, somehow, they creep in when you aren't looking.

Bran

He rode back toward town, his thoughts a million miles away from the snowy road. He knew what he wanted now, but nothing had changed. Not one thing, except that he cared more about Trip than he had been willing to admit to himself. Trip had been right, the loving had nothing to do with the having and touching. The loving was there whenever he even thought of the way Trip smiled or the sound of his laugh, that feather in his Stetson and the way he always had the patience to listen. He may not have him, never would, and he might not ever touch him again, his heart hurt at the thought, but he would love him all the same.

That night, he couldn't touch Becky. He didn't even try. He remembered what he had told himself forever ago. That if he ever touched Trip, ever touched his body, he couldn't touch Becky again. Not and live with himself.

He sat in the darkness of the living room, curtains open, looking out at the snow falling in the light of the street lamps. He tried to feel wrong. He tried to feel dirty, but he didn't. He just felt empty, empty for what trying to fit in and trying to be who he wasn't had brought him to. He felt this need to see Trip, need to hear his voice.

His parents would be shamed in the church and the community. Becky's family would want to kill him. He was afraid they would take Callie away from him forever. He wanted to.............he didn't know what he wanted to do. He just knew he couldn't act on his feelings. He was locked in.

The dream was different this time. The ground was hot, the snow wasn't melting, but the ground burned his feet.

"Time's almost up," he heard Trip's voice, with a note of sadness.

"I can't, Trip."

"I had hoped for so much. It's okay. You have to do what's right."

"I do, don't I." Not a question, a statement of fact.

The crow flew overhead, cawing, "What's right! What's right?"

The ladder was no longer solid. When Bran touched it, he could see his fingers through the wood.

"I was on the first rung," He shouted, but when he put his foot there, the rung broke in two. "Trip?" he called.

"Do what's right! Do what's right!" No more Trip, only the voice of the crow, cawing out in the deep dark woods.

Trip

The phone was ringing in the kitchen, then Trip heard his mom tapping on his door," Trip, honey, someone for you on the phone."

He saw 1:37 on his clock, struggled to make sense of the night and then trudged into the glare of the kitchen light. Flicking off the harshness, he rubbed his eyes and picked up the receiver, sleep heavy in his voice, "Yeah?"

"I can't. It's too hard. I have to do what's right. I..........," and then the sound of dead air across the phone line.

Trip stood there, barefooted on the old linoleum floor, the phone still pressed to his ear. Slowly, he hung it back up and wrapped his arms around himself, hugging hard, tears burning his face as they flung themselves downward.

"Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there's some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

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."

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