Kaiser's Rodeo

by Bensiamin

Chapter 10

Michael was the first one up the next morning, as usual. He was working on breakfast when Stew came out of his tent with a towel in his hand. He waved and then walked down to the creek. When he came back his hair was damp and pushed back on his head and his face was flushed from the cold water.

"Grab a cup. The coffee's done and off to the side of the fire."

Stew poured a cup and sat on the other side of the fire, sipping and nursing his coffee. Michael finished breaking all the eggs into a bowl and gave them a whipping, then picked up his coffee cup and walked over to join his friend.

"When the late sleepers wake up, I'll put the griddle on the fire grate and cook breakfast." He sipped his coffee as he sat down, and added, "how'd you sleep?"

"Like a baby. You?"

"Pretty much the same."

"So, Michael, is it my eyes, or do you seem to be walking a little funny this morning?"

"What?" Michael shot him a look which quickly faded into a soft grin.

"You got fucked last night, didn't you? Was it the first? Was it great?"

Michael swallowed, then said softly, "This is between us, right? Yes, yes and yes. I'm serious about this is between us, because Nate isn't there yet. He's still dealing with his bi stuff. Are you with me?"

"I am, and I'm happy for you, too. You two are so good together, he'll get there too, just be patient."

"You and Todd seem to be getting tighter and tighter."

"We are. It's a first. I learned a lot dating you, 'cause you're such a great guy. Mainly it was that you've got to find the person that's a match for you. You and me weren't a match romantically, but we're great friends, and that's good enough for me."

"I'm honored. And I'm really happy you and Todd are getting so close."

"Me, too, and I meant what I said last night." There was the rustle of a tent flap behind them, and Stew broke into a smile and said, "Oh look! Here comes my boy!"

Todd gave them both an embarrassed smile and headed for the creek. By the time he came back Stew had a cup of coffee for him, and he sat down next to his boyfriend.

Stew smiled at him and said, "We were just talking about the wonders of being in love with the right boy!"

"Good to know," Todd said between sips of coffee. He looked at both of them and said, "This is a pretty righteous way to start the day. Out in the forest, splashing cold creek water on your face, a good cup of coffee with your two best friends."

They heard a zipper on a tent flap and Nate stepped out and said, "Only two? Only two best friends?"

"I meant the ones already awake and out here around the fire. You were out of sight, in there lazing away and asleep."

"Not anymore." He stepped up to Michael from behind and kissed the top of his head, and then said, "Is it three, or are you sticking with two?"

"Definitely three. Well, to be completely accurate, boyfriend and two best friends. How's that?"

"That's good. I like that. I'll be back in a minute." He grabbed the towel and headed for the creek. Michael put the griddle on the grill and pulled the sausage out to start breakfast.

They took another hike after they ate, then spent some time lounging around in the creek before they packed up camp. After dropping Stew and Todd off, on the drive home they acknowledged that they had lawns to mow and then get ready for back to work the next day.

After a few minutes of silence, Nate reached over and put his hand on the back of Michael's and stroked it a few times. Michael looked over at him and smiled, then blew him a kiss.

"Thanks for last night. I thought I'd figured out what sex with you felt like, but last night was a completely different deal. I mean the hand jobs were great and the blow jobs have been amazing, but I had no idea about making love like that. So intense, so magical, so awesome, so… It was amazing. Was it good for you, too?"

Michael stroked his hand back, then said, "It sure was in a few ways. First, having you inside me was everything I'd dreamed about and hoped it would be. You and me, connected in some way no one else can be connected. And then how it felt. God, it was amazing, so full and so… so sexy. And then to cum without touching your cock. I mean, I had your cock working it's magic inside me, but you know what I mean, don't you?"

"I guess I do. I was so wrapped up in how it felt to be inside you that I almost missed that you came, too. I think that's the wildest thing about it. I'm so happy it was good like that for you, but I never even knew you could cum like that without your cock being handled."

Michael smiled slyly and said, "I guess it's all about the cock that's inside you. And the person that cock's attached to. You were definitely my boy last night. That song and what I think every time I see you now is going to take on a whole new meaning."

"I can live with that!"

It was two weeks to the County rodeo, and besides cleaning up from the weekend rodeo events, the work crew found themselves starting to do set up for the new vendors that would be appearing for the two biggest rodeo events of the summer. At lunch Ashley and Cindy joined them, and before long the conversation turned to playing ball on Friday and Ashley wanted to know if he wanted some one-on-one coaching sessions during the week so he could handle her pitching.

"You could come to our training sessions tomorrow or Thursday, if you want. You know, watch us drill and play, and then we could do some training." She smiled at him in what Michael thought was a provocative way, but Nate demurred. "I'm spending the summer with Michael and his family. We've both got chores and responsibilities and one set of wheels. It just won't work out."

He turned to Michael and said, "Maybe if Ashley gives us a softball, you could throw a few underhand pitches for me?"

"Me? Are you kidding! You've seen me play, and I barely know what I'm doing."

"Yeah," Ashley added, "that won't work. He's not an athlete. It's the underhand pitching plus the speed. Michael won't be able to give you the real fast balls."

Nate paused, then said, "Really?" An image flashed through his mind from just two nights before in the tent, how athletic they'd both been as they made love together.

He quickly came back to the present. "Well, then, I guess I'll just have to wing it through the week and hope for the best on Friday."

"Whatever," Ashley said, and they all broke up to return to work.

They stopped at the auto parts store to buy the radiator hoses on the way home. They'd taken a close look the day before and Michael's dad agreed that just for security's sake they should be replaced. "Thirty year old rubber, you know. You don't want to blow a hose next time you go camping. And keep your eye on that fan belt. I don't remember the last time it was replaced."

They drained the coolant and replaced the hoses the next afternoon, which led to the question if the heater system worked? After refilling the coolant, they slid the heater control to the far right and then drove down to the reservoir and back. No heat.

They pulled up in front of grandpa's house and he came out to see what the commotion was. They explained what they were experiencing, and he laughed. "Didn't I tell you?"

"Tell us what?"

"There's a shut off. Come on, I'll show you."

They walked to the Scout and Michael opened the hood and grandpa pointed to a petcock sticking up from the block on the passenger side.

"See that? And see that hose that runs from it to here, through the firewall? Well, it goes into the heater core and this other hose takes the return coolant from the heater and puts it back into the engine so it can circulate. These old vehicles weren't all that well insulated, and if you don't shut this petcock off in the spring, then you've got hot water at 180 degrees circulating through the heater and that means you've got heat coming out of the heater when you don't want it. Definitely not a good thing in the summer. See how it's turned all the way down? That's 'cause it's closed off, which I did when I parked it last time. I forgot all about it. Now, open it up and then take another little drive and I'm betting you'll be getting heat."

By the time they got back they were not only getting heat, they understood what grandpa had told them about radiant heat from the heater in the cab just resulting from hot water circulating through the heater. They closed the petcock. "We'll leave it closed till winter!"

Friday came soon enough, and though Nate hadn't been able to practice against fastball pitching, he'd been thinking about it a lot and had figured out how to adjust his usual batting swing for a rising pitch. He got a couple of short line drives, and then his third time at bat he connected solidly and lofted the softball into the space between center and right field. It wasn't a home run, and he loped rather than ran full tilt, but still got to third base.

Nate's team was cheering, and Michael found himself joining them even though he was cheering the opposition. Nate had figured it out on his own, adjusted his swing and done it.

They had a low-key weekend, Saturday afternoon going four-wheeling in the hills south of Pendleton, and on Sunday going down to the Bike Pit.

Monday at the rodeo grounds the workload was substantial. Once they finished the clean-up from the weekend, they had plenty to do prepping spaces for new vendors who would be there for the County rodeo and then the Round Up. The new rodeo animals would be coming in during the week, so they had to lay down bedding in all the pens and stalls and stage hay and feed. The last thing was bedding in all the porta-stalls because the local FFA students would be opening the day's rodeo with a parade, and they'd be boarding their animals on the grounds.

They were glad when the day was over, and they were back at the ranch and into the weekly routine. The week went by normally, and Friday was more of the same, with lots of last minute adjustments to prep for the weekend rodeo. By the time the workday ended the entire crew was hot and tired.

They met at the park as usual, but everyone was more interested in cooling down, even Ashley. Playing softball didn't last long, and though she taunted Nate about getting a solid hit off of her pitches, they were all soon down on the river bank lounging and playing around in the water.

Nate and Michael had been frolicking around with Ashley and Cindy and a couple of other guys. It had struck Michael how Ashley was almost always around them, but he tried hard to dismiss his concern as needless paranoia. He and his boy were closer than ever. At some point one of the guys said he was going to hang out on the bank in the sun. Thinking about drying out his shorts before the drive home, Michael said he would, too, and the two of them walked out of the water and up the bank to where they'd left their towels. Thinking about drying out his shorts before the drive home got Michael thinking about the Scout, and for some reason he reached for his Wranglers and to his surprise didn't feel the keys in the front right pocket. He felt through the other pockets, looked in his boots and under the towel. The guy next to him said, "What's up?"

"I can't find my car keys."

"That sucks. You're sure they're not in your clothes? Or maybe you they fell out of your jeans."

They looked around, but no keys.

Finally, Michael said, "The only thing I can think of is they fell out up at the restroom where we changed when we got here. Will you watch my stuff while I go look?" He was already feeling the sinking feeling of having to call his dad and ask him to come rescue them with the second set of keys to the Scout.

It was only a few minutes' walk up to the restroom and it only took an additional two minutes to see the glint of keys on the ground five feet from the entrance. 'Fuck, that was close,' he thought to himself, 'they must have fallen out when I came out carrying the Wranglers and boots.'

Feeling elated he headed back to the riverbank. As he came out from behind the last trees just above where his towel was on the ground, he looked down at his friends on the bank and in the river. Down in the water to his amazement, Nate was there with Ashley mashed against his chest. She had her legs wrapped around his waist, her arms around his shoulders and they were… fuck no! They were kissing.

Michael suddenly felt his heart go cold. It was worse than a year earlier when he'd faced cancer. He'd never been in love with cancer. He'd never had a relationship like this with cancer. He'd never felt the emotional and sexual highs with cancer. All he could see was that he hadn't been paranoid after all and that she'd won. Nate still said he was working on his bi stuff. It was as if cancer had won, and it was all over.

He blinked back the tears, quickly walked down the bank, and grabbed his towel and clothes.

"Did you find your keys?"

"Yeah. They were at the restroom. I've gotta go though. Something came up. Tell Nate I had to go."

With that he turned and trotted up the riverbank. As soon as he got into the trees he was running to get away, tears started to form. "How could he do this after all we've done?" By the time he got to the Scout another realization had dawned on him. For all they'd done together, for all their intimacy, he'd never once heard Nate tell him that he loved him.

He threw his clothes onto the passenger seat, started the Scout, and pulled out of the parking lot. As he headed down Main Street, the lyrics of Linger came flooding back to him like a bad dream.

If you could return. Was this it, had Nate gone over to girls? Was he gone? Would he return?

He made a left turn heading through downtown as another line hit him, the impact making him choke up.

But it's just your attitude, it's tearing me apart, it's ruining every day. It was true, wasn't it? Nate had never said I love you. Was his attitude to play both sides? Michael finally realized this had been eating at him for weeks now. Fuck!

He was close to the turn onto the highway out of town toward home when the next line hit.

I swore, I swore I would be true, and honey so did you. He'd sworn, he knew that. Had Nate?

He pulled up at the light to turn left on the highway, waiting for it to turn green.

So why were you holding her hand? Is that the way we stand? Were you lying all the time? Was it just a game to you? How could he be playing around with her? Was it just a game to him?

He was choking back the tears as he headed south toward out of town. Then he realized that he'd left Nate stranded. He pulled his mobile phone out of the glove compartment and called Stew.

He mumbled hello and said he needed a favor. It only took Stew a few seconds to realize Michael had been crying and was an emotional mess. "What happened, man? Tell me."

"I saw Nate and Ashley kissing in the river. That bitch has been after him for a month, and I was too blind to see it."

"What? You're fucking kidding me?"

"No, I'm not. She was all over him like flies on shit, and they were kissing and that did it. I had it. I couldn't take it. I just left."

"Well, that's a shocker, but it sounds like he deserved to be left."

"Yeah, I think so. But that means I left him there without a ride. I feel shitty about that. Would you do me a big favor and go pick him up and take him home. I'm not going back to… I can't go back to get him. Please?"

"Sure, man. No worries. I'll go now."

"Actually, by the time you get there they'll probably be at the Dairy Queen. Everyone goes there to eat after swimming. Thanks, Stew. You're a real friend."

"No worries, Michael. Just take care, okay. Drive carefully, okay? I'll call you after I pick him up."

"No, don't call me. He'll want to talk to me, and I can't handle that. Not now. Call home and let my mom know you found him, okay?"

They agreed on the plan and Michael hung up and headed home. Another line from Linger swept through his brain.

But I'm in so deep, you know I'm such a fool for you. Was it true? Was he a fool? Had he been such a fool that he'd missed the obvious? The tears he thought were under control while talking to Stew started flowing again.

Grandpa was standing in the front doorway when Nate got out of Stew's car. He thanked Stew for the ride and walked up onto the porch to face the old man.

"You made it back. It was nice of Stew to give you a ride."

"Yeah. He said Michael's mom told him to bring me here instead of the house."

"Yep. That was my idea."

"Really? Why?"

"You can't figure that out for yourself?"

"What do you mean? Well, I mean… Michael left me at the park, and then Stew told me he was giving me a ride and that he'd called the house and his mom told him to drop me here."

"All true, I figured the better bet tonight is you stay here. There's a bunch of hurt feelings up at the house. You better come inside, and we'll talk."

Grandpa pointed down the hall as they walked to the living room and said, "You'll sleep in that room tonight. I made the bed and put a toothbrush in the bathroom for you."

They settled in the living room with grandpa in his chair and Nate on the couch across from him. Grandpa still had part of a beer left and took a sip. "If you want something to drink, help yourself to what's in the fridge."

"No thanks, I'm good."

"So, let's start with you story, your side of what happened. I already talked to Michael."

"Well, we've gotten to know a couple of the girls that work on the rodeo grounds crew and we've started playing ball with them and some of the other crew after work on Fridays, just hanging out and having fun." He paused, then continued. "But this time it wasn't fun. I mean it started out that way, I thought we were all just having a good time like usual. We'd played ball and I'd gotten a couple of hits off Ashley, and then we all went down to the river to swim, and we were horsing around… and then…" Nate paused, reflecting back on earlier in the evening.

"Go on."

"Ashley and Cindy and me were in the water, and Michael had been on the bank sitting and talking to a couple of other guys, and then he left. I mean I looked, and he was gone, and I guess he'd gone to get something… I guess the keys for the Scout fell out of his Wranglers up in the park where we changed. Anyway, Ashley must have seen he was gone, too, because she'd been flirting with me for a couple of weeks, and now she got really close and was playing around and the next thing I knew she was on me, like with her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist saying "Ride 'em, cowboy," hugging me, trying to kiss me and doing dumb shit like that."

"And what did you do?"

"I didn't want… I mean at first it was fun, then it wasn't."

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning she was trying to kiss me, and rub on me and stuff, and I didn't want it, but she was wrapped around me."

"How did you get to that point?"

"Well I'm bi and I still like girls and I guess I liked having her flirt with me and play around and then at first it felt fun and sexy when she was wrapped around me, but then it didn't… like I didn't want it."

"You didn't want it, why?"

Nate was looking down at the floor, and silent.

"Can you tell me? I'm your grandpa, too, you know. You could talk to me about other stuff, remember."

"Because I knew it was wrong, because if Michael saw he wouldn't understand that we were just playing around…"

"Is that all about Michael?"

He was quiet and finally looked up at the older man. "No, he wouldn't understand, and he'd be hurt because of that."

"You think he'd only be hurt because he didn't understand?"

There was silence between them, and if anything, grandpa was patient.

Finally, after a minute or so, Nate looked up and said, "No, he'd be hurt because he'd think I was choosing her over him. That's what Stew told me on the ride here. He told me I'd screwed things up."

"There's a word from the old west about that, it's called two-timing. You realized he'd think you were two-timing on him, is that it?"

"Well, that… and knowing he'd be hurt because of it. Suddenly I didn't want her wrapped around me anymore, but by then it was too late because when I looked up at the bank Michael was back and looking at us, and his face was just blank and then he turned and walked away."

"So, were you two-timing? Playing both sides? Carrying on with this Ashley girl?"

"No, I mean… we were just playing around. I was just… I mean I didn't think it would…" He fell silent and looked down at the floor again. In a minute when he looked up at grandpa there were tears in his eyes. "I didn't think. I didn't think about Michael. I was just thinking about me." He went quiet, felt the real emotion for the first time, and then felt the tears appear. "What am I going to do now?"

"That's something you're going to have to figure out, but I'll tell you one thing, whatever it is you figure out you have to do, it won't be the right thing until or unless you figure out first what you did, and why you did it, and what it did to Michael."

"What do you mean?"

"Let's start at the beginning. You described horsing around in the water and letting this Ashley girl climb all over you. You didn't stop it, did you?"


"Why was that?"

"Well, 'cause it was fun and we were playing around and she'd been flirting with me and…"

"Go on."

"Okay, I liked it. She's a girl and she's good looking and she's an athlete and we've got playing ball in common and…"

"Say it, Nate."

"Say what?"

"Why you did it. Let it happen. Let it go on."

"Because I liked it. She made me feel good."

"So, this Ashley girl gets you all hot and bothered, she makes you feel good. Does she make you feel better than Michael makes you feel?"

"Well, no, but she's a girl and I've never really had a girl flirt with me like that and chase after me and stuff."

"So, you're telling me it happened because it was a girl. It wouldn't have happened if it was another boy?"

"Probably not, because I'm with Michael. Why would I want to be with another boy? But I'm bi, I'm trying to sort all that out and… shit! I don't know. I don't know why I did it, why I didn't stop it. I guess I'm a major screw up."

The old man smiled. "No, you're not a screw up, but you screwed up. There's a difference. Sooner or later, you're going to have to sort out this bi thing and make a decision about who you are and what you want. I know enough about it to tell you that you can play two genders and get away with it, I mean guys and gals. Are you with me? But you can't play two people… unless you're willing to break one person's heart."

"Is that… what do you mean?"

"I'm just saying that Michael loves you and you broke his heart. He's been trying to be patient and understanding about what you're going through, but this was too much for him."

"So that's why he left? Why he left me there and I had to get a ride home?"

"Why do you think? Do you think it was because he got hungry or tired or something? That boy would walk through the flames of hell for you. But he's watched the flirting going on for some time, he's seen the playing around. He's not stupid, he could see you were interested even if you weren't serious, and today just did it for him. He snapped, and I don't blame him."

"I, I… you're serious, I broke his heart? What does that even mean?"

"It means I never once saw him cry when he went through his cancer treatment regardless of how he felt. He just accepted it was something he had to do to get better, so he did it. He never felt sorry for himself. But tonight, when he came home, I was still up at the house with his folks and when he walked in the kitchen he was crying. His eyes were red, and his face was flushed, and he couldn't stop crying. His heart was broken. That's what it means."

"Really? I… I mean, I didn't think it would… I've got to go see him and apologize."

"No. You're not going to go see him tonight. You're going to sleep here tonight and sort it all out and maybe by morning you'll have decided what you want to do, but that boy's up at the house now and hopefully he's asleep. He probably cried himself to sleep, but you're not going to go up there and wake him up."

Nate nodded as he acknowledged the reality that the decision had been made for him.

Grandpa was watching him, and he found himself becoming uncomfortable, but he remained silent. Finally, grandpa said, "You said a few minutes ago that that you were only thinking about yourself. You want to tell me more about that?"

"Well, it's just that. We were all there together and I got into this place where I was just thinking about how I felt, not how Michael felt. Does that mean I'm selfish?"

"No, but I'd say it was self-centered. You're there with this boy you're in a relationship with and you quit thinking about him?"

"I know it sounds whacked, but I've spent the whole summer going back and forth about boys and girls. I mean about being with Michael and still liking girls. Does that even make sense?"

"In a strange kind of way it does, but you know, when it comes to love, when it comes to people you really care about, the deal changes. Then you're in a place where it's a 'we' or an 'us' situation, not just a 'me' situation. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"That sounds kind of like getting married."

"I guess you can say in a way it is. A little trial or something. That's the thing about relationships. Both people decide they want to be together and become an 'us' and they have to protect that and work on building that."

He paused and Nate was silent. "It was pretty apparent when you got here last month that you wanted to be with Michael. Do you still want to be with him?"

"Well, yeah. Absolutely. I've never felt like this about anybody before."

"Do you love him?"

Nate stopped, his thinking suddenly frozen. He looked down at the floor and then up at grandpa and then away at a picture on the wall, and finally back to the old man.

"Nate, I said a little while ago that I'm your grandpa and I care for you the same way I care for Michael. Among other things I feel for you, I love you. Michael said tonight when he came home that you've never told him that you love him. Do you have trouble saying that?"

Nate's silence continued. This time he just looked down at the floor for a minute or two, and when he finally looked up there were tears in his eyes again. "He's told me he loves me a hundred times. I'm working on it. It's part of working on my stuff about being bi."

"You've got to help me understand what that means, 'cause I just don't get what you're saying."

"I've never had anyone tell me they love me before Michael, except my mom. I've told him that. But part of all this is that if I'm bi and like guys and girls and I'm with Michael does that really mean I'm gay? And if I tell him I love him then doesn't that make me gay. And I'm a guy going out with a gay guy… I don't know… I've just gone back and forth about that all summer."

"Nate, does it matter? You either love someone or you don't. It's not that difficult. If you love somebody, you usually tell them. Is part of this about being loved and being able to talk about it?"

"Yeah, I guess. I mean I love my mom and Matt, and you and, and… a lot of this is new. Why's it so hard?"

Grandpa p aused and a thoughtful expression crossed his face, and then as if he decided to go on, he said, "Do you remember what I told you about my friend in Korea. How if he hadn't gotten killed my whole life would have been different?"

Nate nodded at him.

"Back then people didn't talk about gay or bi, and everyone knew it was frowned on to be with another man. But I knew one thing, and that was how I felt about him. I've always felt terrible that he got killed in that war, but you know the one good thing about it? I knew I loved him. He was the first person I ever felt that way about. And I told him, so he knew. And when he got killed at least I knew that he knew. He didn't die not knowing. He died knowing he was loved. He died knowing I loved him."

Grandpa stopped to let it sink in, and he saw the tears well back up in Nate's eyes. "I'm not holding myself up as some kind of example, I'm just telling you that it's about being honest with yourself and with each other. Remember what I said about how you can have two genders but you can't have two people? Sometimes you've got to choose. You've got to make decisions. You and Michael have both been dealt unfair hands in life with your medical problems. Kids shouldn't have to go through things like that, but you both did and you're better people for it. Now you're in a relationship and you're at a point where you've got a decision or two to make."

Nate was still quiet, and finally said, "I guess so."

"At least you've got to decide how you feel about what happened today and what you're going to do about it. But I'll say to you that there's a lot more at stake here than meets the eye, and you'd be doing both you and Michael a disservice if you don't take the bull by the horns here and deal with the other thing."

"You mean how I feel about him? How I really feel about him?"

A wry smile appeared on grandpa's lips. "I think I can guess without you telling me how you feel about each other in certain departments."

Nate blushed and then smiled but didn't reply.

"You know that's not what I'm talking about, though. I don't know if you can't tell him how you really feel because you're afraid that it'll make you gay or if you just have a problem saying you love someone. It's about who you are as a person. What kind of values you have. What's most important to you."

"Well, I love you and Michael's parents."

"Okay, but that's a different kind of love, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is."

"Do you love Michael?"

Nate's eye's flickered to grandpas and then away and then back. "I've learned a lot about how he loves me this summer, and I think I feel the same way."

"But you're having trouble saying it, is that the what's going on?"

"I guess."

"Do you think you can get beyond your hang up that if you tell him that you love him, it'll make you gay? I ask because I'm here to tell you it doesn't matter one bit. I've been around enough years to know that you don't meet many people in your life that you really and truly love and who really and truly love you back. When it happens there's a decision to make."

"You're telling me that it's decision time?"

"Pretty much, because there's a boy asleep not too far away from here who's going to wake up in the morning feeling as bad as he did when he fell asleep. I'm betting you're going to wake up not feeling much better. So, between now and then you've got a few decisions to make."

"Thanks," Nate said with a grin, "that'll help me get a good night's sleep."

"I had nothing to do with what happened today, that was all your doing."

"I know. I'm just being a smart ass."

"I'm only going to say one more thing and then I'm going to do something because it's past my bedtime. Like I said a while ago, you and Michael have had to make decisions and go through things that people shouldn't have to at your ages. But you did. That means you're experienced enough and mature enough to make the right decisions about what happened today and what you're going to do about it. Like I said, in my mind it's about what matters to you, about your values and what you want in life. I remember reading once that loving someone means you care more about them than you do yourself. Think about that. I've been thinking a lot about this before you got here, and I want to play you a song. It's an old one that was popular when I was young. Will you listen to it?"

Nate nodded, somewhat curious what it could be about.

Grandpa got up and walked over to his old stereo and turned it on. He said, "I put the record on earlier so here we go. It's called A Satisfied Mind and it's sung by Porter Waggoner who was the country music star at the time."

He started the record, and the solo voice began singing the lyrics:

How many times have you heard someone say
If I had his money I could do things my way
But little they know that it's so hard to find
One rich man in ten with the satisfied mind

Once I was wading in fortune and fame
Everything that I've dreamed for to get a start in life's game
But suddenly it happened I lost every dime
But I'm richer by far with the satisfied mind

Money can't buy back your youth when you're old
Or a friend when you're lonely or a love that's grown cold
The wealthiest person is a pauper at times
Compared to the man with the satisfied mind

When life has ended and my time has run out
My friends and my loved ones, I'll leave there's no doubt
But there's one thing for certain when it comes my time
I'll leave this old world with the satisfied mind

Watch the YouTube video of Porter Waggoner and his hand perform A Satisfied Mind


When the words faded grandpa said, "I think it's time we should be going to bed. There's work to be done tomorrow, so I'll be waking you up in the morning and cooking breakfast. Just give some serious thought to what we've talked about, and whether you want to live a life with a satisfied mind, that's all I ask."

They both stood up, and Nate nodded saying, "I will."

Then he stepped forward to grandpa and said softly. "Can I get a hug?"

The old man pulled him close and hugged him tightly. He felt Nate hug him back and then relax into his chest… and then start to cry again. "I'm sorry Grandpa. I'm sorry I hurt Michael and screwed things up so bad."

Grandpa hugged him again and said softly, "Most mistakes can be fixed if your intentions are right. The measure of a man is being able to do the right thing. That's a lot of what that song is about. Now, let's get some sleep."

Nate couldn't get to sleep as waves of thought and accusation swept through his mind. He'd always thought of himself as a decent person. If so, how could he have let this happen. He lay on his back looking at the ceiling… no answer. He turned onto his side and closed his eyes again. Was it really as bad as Stew and grandpa had told him? He went back and forth finally just having to accept that being left at the park and then told he was sleeping at grandpa's house certainly confirmed what he'd allowed to happen was major. He finally fell asleep despairing and feeling worse than ever.

It was a fitful night. He'd partially wake with images flashing through his mind. Of Michael's ashen face when he saw him and Ashley in the water. The look of disappointment on Stew's face as he said Nate had fucked things up. The kindly but stern face of grandpa as he pointed out the simple realities of life to him. He finally fell into a few hours of sleep and woke while it was still dark.

He was thinking about the good times he and Michael had together, and the intimate ones. He'd never felt this way about anyone. Was grandpa right, that what mattered was if it was love, not if it was a boy or a girl? If it was love, which he was pretty sure of, why was it so hard for him to accept it? Was he really some kind of mental case and didn't even know it? Michael loved him and said so. Why was he so hung up? Is this what they called avoidance? If so, what was he trying to avoid?

He knew that right then he couldn't give a logical answer to the question, but he felt like something had changed within him. At least he wasn't avoiding the stuff anymore. He intertwined his fingers over his mid-section and closed his eyes. There were no answers up there on the ceiling! After a few seconds he became aware of feeling his heartbeat through his fingers. For a few more seconds he focused his attention there and then on the larger feeling of his heart beating, sending pulses of blood through his body in its slow and methodical rhythm.

His heart beat. The feeling and sound emanated from that thing in his chest. That thing in his chest he'd felt swell because of Michael. He was acknowledging that if the feeling wasn't love, he didn't know what was. He sighed, wishing it was easier and that he hadn't screwed things up. As he looked up at the ceiling for the thousandth time, he noticed the first rays of morning light at the window.

Maybe it was the dawning light coming around the window curtains as if to illuminate his mind, but suddenly he realized the importance of the message in the lyrics of the song grandpa had played for him. It wasn't just that he'd been stupid and screwed things up, but that he could lose something he'd never recover. Something huge and wonderful and full of joy. He could lose this love that Michael felt for him… and which he felt for Michael. He knew in his heart that he didn't want that to happen. That he wasn't going to let that happen.

It wasn't long before Grandpa knocked and then leaned in through the door and said, "Alright, cowboy, rise and shine. The sun's already up and so are we. Get freshened up and come down for some breakfast."

When Nate got to the kitchen, he could smell the coffee and the bacon. It smelled like life itself and he suddenly felt ravenous. Grandpa looked at him with a wry smile and softly said, "You look like you was rode hard and put up wet!"

"What does that mean?" Nate asked.

"That it looks like you had a rough night. Looks to me like you didn't get much sleep. You look pretty rough."

"I feel pretty rough. It took a long time to go to sleep and then I kept having thoughts flash through my mind. Then, I woke up early thinking about it all again, and like you said last night… what I've got to do about it."

Grandpa nodded toward the chair at the table and poured him some coffee. "Do you want scrambled or over easy? Oh, put some bread in the toaster before you sit down."

Nate said, over easy, then loaded the toaster and sat down to nurse the coffee cup. When grandpa put down their plates and then sat down, he said, "So, tell me more."

"Well, when I finally went to sleep. I lay there for the longest time thinking about what happened and all the things that we talked about and then woke up thinking about that song. That one line especially: Money can't buy back your youth when you're old, or a friend when you're lonely or a love that's grown cold. That's kind of a scary thought."

"It is, but welcome to the real world. That's the way life is."

Nate took a bite of egg and bacon, chewed for a bit and then looked at the old man and said, "What do I do now?"

Grandpa smiled warmly, and his eyes were twinkling in the morning light. "I'd a'thought that by now you'd have figured that out for yourself. I thought you'd be telling me all about… what is it that you young people call it? An action plan, that's it! I thought for sure you'd be telling me this morning what your action plan is."

"Well, I don't have one, but it starts with a major apology, doesn't it?"

Grandpa nodded.

"You don't look very convinced?"

"I haven't heard the rest of your plan yet."


"Meaning apologies are a dime a dozen. Do you mean it? Do you understand why you're apologizing? And, in this case, I think we agreed last night that you've got a few things to say about how you really feel about yourself and this relationship you've got going. Am I right?"

Nate nodded, continuing to eat. "Good breakfast, Grandpa. Thanks, I probably don't deserve this. I wondered last night why you weren't making me sleep out in the loafing shed me and Michael re-sided for you."

" That's easy, son. It's because you don't need to be punished. I think you're doing enough of that yourself. All you needed, to my mind, was a little course correction. So, what are you going to do?"

"Apologize and tell him I'm sorry and tell him how I really feel and quit worrying about all that other shit."

"That sounds like a plan to me."

"I'll go up to the house after breakfast, if they'll let me in."

"I wouldn't do that if I were you?"

"Why not?"

"Because that way you risk making a scene in front of Michael's parents. This is between you and him. It's serious. Don't you think it should be private?"

"Well, yeah. But what do I do?"

"You tell me! What do you suppose Michael is going to be doing after he has breakfast?"

Nate's brow furrowed and then cleared as a smile flashed on his face and the reality of the day dawned on him. "He's going to go water the cattle."

"That's right. So, what I suggest you do is go sit in the Scout in the barn and wait for him to come down. It's not going to be long. It's a morning chore you both share. If you're still both together, don't you think you should do it together?"

Nate grinned. "Has anyone ever told you that maybe you should have been a therapist?"

Grandpa grinned back. "No, but a few people have told me that I should butt out of their life and what I could do with myself if I wanted to help the human race." He laughed out loud at the memory, and then said, "I'll clean up. Go brush your teeth and head for the barn. You don't want to find out he couldn't sleep and got up early to do his chores."

Nate was sitting in the Scout staring through the windshield at the back wall of the barn when he heard the doors swing open. The sun was up, but the light was still dim inside the barn. He heard Michael's boots drum on the dirt floor as he walked to the Scout, then the latch click as he opened the door. He could see him in his peripheral vision and knew he didn't know he was there till he was halfway into the driver's seat.

Then he heard, "What are you doing here?"

"We've got our chores to do, right?"

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