Amarillo By The Afternoon

by Rick Beck

Chapter 4

Last Stop, Long Beach

Cass continued to watch my face, as I watched traffic.

"I've lost two helpers that way, but I can't turn one of my boys down if he needs me. The guys that left, didn't need me that much, if the presence of another guy had them wanting to bail out."

"You bought me lunch. You offered me a job, which I want, by the way. How do you know you can trust me?" he asked. "I could be an ax murderer," Cass said.

It was my turn to laugh.

"I didn't get as good a look at you as I might like, because of where you were standing, but my first reaction was, I liked your looks. I did get a chance to look you over, while we were in Love's, and unless that thing running down your right leg is a club, I think I'm safe. Have you ever owned an ax?"

"No. Not even one. I do have a problem with constant erections. I can assure you, it isn't a club," he said.

"It's difficult to hide anything, when you're on a truck," I said. "It all comes out sooner or later."

"That's an interesting concept," Cass said. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Certain things do keep coming up, while you live on a truck," I said. "It's more apparent on some than on others."

"I'm not bashful. When it gets hard, it gets hard. If guys want to look, it's a free world," he said. "If that little bunk is where you sleep, where does your helper sleep?"

"Surprisingly, I've slept two in the bunk with no loss of comfort. In this culture, it's not surprising how many boys start out sleeping in the seat. After a few weeks, once we become comfortable with each other, most end up in the bunk. Nudity no longer bothering them. I'd like to think it's my winning personality, but that seat is hard on the butt."

"Two naked dudes in a bunk can also be hard on the butt, if you know what you're doing," Cass said with a smile.

"I've heard that," I said.

I pulled my cowboy hat low on my forehead. With that and sunglasses, the glare wasn't too bad, but it wasn't unusual to fight the setting sun for four or five hours, as you traveled west this time of year.

I stayed in the outside lane. I wanted to give the four-wheelers all the room they needed, as they merged on, and then off the Interstate. Most cars didn't go far, but it was rush hour in Amarillo, and I needed to be alert.

"The cowboy hat keeps the sun out of your eyes," Cass said. "That's smart."

"Yep, and the cowboy boots elevate my heel. It's easier on my foot, and it lets me keep driving longer," I said. "In athletic shoes, my instep gets sore. It's damn uncomfortable, when it does. I didn't wear cowboy boots for the first year, but I had guys tell me, 'You get yourself a pair of cowboy boots and get rid of those winnie shoes, you'll feel a hell of a lot better at the end of each day.' Most of what I wear has a purpose. The hat shields my eyes from the sun. The boots make driving easier. My jeans take a beating, but toss them into the washing machine, and you're ready to rock and roll."

"I didn't notice you had boots on," he said, leaning on the doghouse to look at my feet. "Cool. I like the color."

Cass not only looked good, he smelled good. He took his time moving back into his seat. His smell lingered.

The traffic began to thin, and we left Amarillo behind. The long, smooth, straight stretch was left behind, as we dropped off the Oklahoma-Texas plateau, driving down into a new landscape that was New Mexico.

The brown Texas dirt gave way to black lava fields, red, and orangish hues glittering in the sunset. The sky was a clear blue, and the horizon looked pink, appearing as close as the horizon had been in hundreds of miles.

New Mexico closed in on us, and after stopping at the port of entry, and then, blowing past Tucumcari, it was an easy drive to the Mexican restaurant where we'd eat dinner. I'd catch a few hours of sleep, and then go through Albuquerque, once everyone was in bed.

The restaurant was on an exit that took us up and away from the Interstate. There was a secondary road that could have passed for a road to nowhere. There was a motel that looked deserted on the far side of the highway, and the restaurant was on the near side.

There was a huge gravel parking lot surrounding the restaurant, and there was plenty of room for big trucks, but I was the only truck, and there were only a couple cars. The restaurant wasn't crowded.

The food and service were excellent. The salsa was as good as I'd had anywhere in the country. The waitress had to refill it twice, before Cass and I got enough, which tickled Maria's, our waitress, fancy.

"You are really liking the salsa?" Maria asked.

"We are really liking it a lot," I said, leaving a very nice tip, since the bill was much lower than a restaurant like that in the east.

I was using their parking lot as my bedroom for the next few hours. That had to be worth something. I was both fat and sassy before I got ready to go to bed. After a sit-down-meal, I was always sleepy after eating too much.

We were far enough away from the Interstate that we didn't hear the sounds of the passing traffic. There was no traffic on the nearby road. Sleeping would come easy.

Pulling off my boots, I put them in front of the steering wheel. My hat went on top. My shirt covered the steering wheel. By balancing my butt on the back of my seat, I pushed my jeans down, leaving them in the seat.

Cass immediately noticed that I didn't wear underwear.

which left my socks to toss at my boots, I slipped my butt back onto the bunk, going out of sight.

Cass watched each move I made. His eyes stayed on me, until I was in the bunk. At the time I last saw Cass, he'd begun to unbutton his shirt. I'd told him all he needed to know about sleeping options. I had no clue what he thought about it, because he didn't comment on what I told him.

He'd make up his mind where he wanted to sleep, and I'd said all I intended to say on the subject. I suppose I was as comfortable with Cass, as I'd been with any hitchhiker on the first day. He seemed like a guy who went with the flow. I didn't know if he'd flow into my bunk or not.

As hot as he was, I voted for him getting into the bunk, but what he did was up to him. Every hitchhiker was different, and I could not predict which ones would get into my bunk, or how long it might take them to decide to do it.

I moved the bedspread to the foot of the bed. It was still warm, because the engine had just begun to cool, and a certain amount of heat warmed the interior of a cabover truck.

The leather curtain stretched in front of the bunk, and I couldn't hear Cass. He'd had plenty of time to undress, and he was still in the seat. I left plenty of room. Closing my eyes, and being prone, made me drowsy.

I'd been on the road hours before sunrise, after a couple of hours sleep last night, and while I couldn't fall asleep behind the wheel, I could drop right off, once I hit that bunk, and thoughts of Cass couldn't keep me awake.

I was almost there, when I felt something moving into the bunk, and I was wide awake, as the leather curtain was held to one side, as Cass' smooth white butt moved into the spot I left for him.

Just for a moment he was on his back, his hand on my groin, but he quickly moved onto his side, and unfortunately, he moved his hand.

"Sorry about that. It wasn't a planned move. I'm a little new at this,"

"You're doing fine. I'm not at all traumatized, but I sleep here every night," I said.

"I want to ask a favor?" he said, sounding serious.

I could hear him saying, 'Don't touch me,' in my head.

"There is a guy at school, Joe, and he got it into his head that I belonged to him. Well, I didn't, and I don't, but he's ruined me on Facebook. He's put the most disgusting things on the blogs. He and his friends are ruining my life. Once things get around, even my friends are wondering what is true and what isn't true. None of it is true, but how do I get the toothpaste back into the tube? I left."

"I have never done social media. I know how devious and cruel people can be. For some people, getting a rise out of other people, makes their lives worthwhile. Needless to say, those are the people I make it a point to avoid. I don't care what anyone says about me. If you believe what people like that say, you're no better than they are."

"That's why I'm out here. I decided I need to leave, and well, here I am."

"That's crazy," I said. "You have no way to tell your side of it. Tell people it's all a pack of lies."

"You don't understand, Joe, if you don't use social media. People live their entire lives on-line. Once someone is spreading gossip about you, you can't stop it. It multiplies on itself. And people you don't know claim they know the same thing about you. They are saying terrible things."

"Why would anyone want to participate in such destructive behavior? None of us is without sin. Giving people that kind of power over your life is dangerous. What do they get out of trashing other people?" I asked.

"I wonder too," Cass said. "Are they so miserable, they wish there misery on others?"

"People connected on the world-wide-web aren't connected to anything. It's all an illusion, as far as I can see, Cass. What you said prove it. They create a fantasy world that the meanest among us control. Who gives that kind of power to to people you don't know you can trust? I don't know what else to say. I don't have much time for social media," I said.

"It does sound crazy. It made me feel so dirty. Like someone threw a bucket of shit on me. I can't get it off. I couldn't stay at school. I couldn't stand the way people looked at me. I hit the road Monday. I'm not sure what I'll do. I couldn't stay there. My life there is over."

"As I've said, you can stay as long as you want. You don't need to work as a helper. You're obviously over-qualified for the job. What else can I do for you?" I asked.

"I want the job. I want to be on your truck. I would like to help. It'll give me something to do to keep my mind off of what's going on at home. I believe you are a good guy, Joe Buck. I know you don't know me. I know I have no right to ask you for anything, but there's something I need right now, more than I've ever needed anything."

"What is it, Cass. Whatever you need, if I can help you, just tell me what to do."

"Put your arms around me, Joe," Cass said. "Hold me. Please, hold me."

I had nothing to say to that. I held him close.

I'm sure he cried for a long time. He thought his life was over, but it was only a bad stretch of rough road. The life he'd left would fade a little each day, until he didn't remember why he'd felt so hopeless.

Holding Cass was a pleasant thing to do, but I felt like I should do more for him. I wanted to do more. I wanted to remove the pain from his mind.

He drifted in to a sound sleep and I followed him. The comfort of having Cass in my arms had me as relaxed and comfortable as I could get. Sleep came easy.

I woke three and a half hours later. I did something I never do. I lingered there, enjoying the feel of Cass against me. I didn't want to disturb him, but I had work to do, and so I eased myself out of the bunk, without waking Cass.

I let the leather curtain move back in place. The noise would be muffled, and no light would wake him. I reversed last night's disrobing, ending up slipping into my cowboy boots, and placing the cowboy hat on the doghouse, between the two front seats.

I hit the start button, and the engine purred to life. Shifting into first gear, I eased out of the lot and onto the road that took me back to I-40, moving down the ramp and onto an empty highway in both directions.

Once I reached the top of the hill that would take me into Albuquerque, I stop at an all-night fuel stop there, filling both tanks with cheap fuel.

The prices will only go higher the further west I go. It was less than a thousand miles to Long Beach now, and there would be plenty of places to get fuel the next time my tanks got below a quarter full.

Once I pulled back onto I-40, it was an easy drive off the high plains, and down, down, down, I drove into the Valley Of The Sun. Long sweeping black highway made driving comfortable. With no traffic ahead, or behind, I let my truck roll. Down, down, and down I go.

The first Albuquerque exits were few and far between, but rather quickly the lights of the city are visible. There is little traffic running along on the surface streets. I encounter a half dozen cars between the first Albuquerque exits and the bridge that took me over the Rio Grande.

As I'm approaching the river, I look to my right to see if early morning balloonists have gathered in the field there. It's where the balloon festival is hosted each autumn.

The telltale glow of the flame that fill the hot-air-balloons is absent. If there are balloons there, I can't tell.

I begin to climb, climb, downshift, climb, climb, downshifting a second time, and settling for thirty miles-per-hour until I arrive back on the high plains.

I shifted back into high gear, and put the pedal to the medal, driving into the darkness, Arizona is dead ahead.

Flagstaff was four hours away. The New Mexico miles sailed past. It was full daylight after I spent an hour on the high plains. Three hours to Flagstaff and a platter of the best biscuits and gravy this side of the mighty Mississippi.

Arizona was more brown, more rocky, but the road was good and the traffic remained nonexistent. I glanced back into the bunk, and Cass was dead to the world. The road was smooth. It made sleeping easy.

The new day was beginning. The sun was on the rise. The sky was blue, the day was clear.

An hour after daylight caught up with us, Cass slid into the seat. He sat naked for some time before he slowly put on his clothes. He hadn't looked at me. I'd been saving a smile for him, but neither of us spoke. I wasn't absolutely sure he was awake yet.

Then he looked at me. He kept looking. I kept driving.

"How far to Flagstaff?" he finally asked.

"Maybe forty-five minutes," I said.

"Good. I'm starved," he said with a big smile.

I gave him my best smile.

He leaned over the doghouse, brushing his lips against my cheek. I was a little startled by the move.

"Thanks," he said. "You may have saved my life, but I'm betting it isn't the first life you've saved, Joe Buck."

My mind had been on a platter of biscuits and gravy, until he kissed me, and now I found myself looking over at Cass, wondering how far we were going to go together.

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