Kaiser's Rodeo

by Bensiamin

Chapter 11

The words reverberated in Michael's head as he settled into the driver's seat of the Scout.

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

"Yeah, but… after last night… I didn't think…"

"They're our chores, right. It would be irresponsible if I didn't do my part, don't you think?"

"Yeah, okay."

"It would also be irresponsible and very insensitive if I didn't apologize right off for being such a dick yesterday and for hurting your feelings."


"Yeah, really. I didn't mean to, but I got lost in it all being about me, and I forgot about you for a little while, and I've been feeling like whale shit ever since."

He turned in the passenger seat and looked at Michael. "I'm sorry for what I did, for being so stupid and insensitive. There's lots of excuses about what I've been going through, but that's all they are, excuses. They don't mean shit when it comes to hurting someone, and I hurt you and I'm really sorry."

Michael was looking at him wide-eyed, completely caught off guard by finding Nate in the Scout and by the early morning apology. He'd expected a day of hurt feelings that would come to a head in some kind of confrontation when he finally saw Nate.

"You mean it?"

"I do. I mean every word of it. You can believe that because on top of everything else, you and I have the same grandpa now and he worked me over good last night."


"Oh yeah, and I'll tell you all about it, but first I have to know you believe me, that you believe I'm sorry and accept my apology."

Nate could see on Michael's face that the emotion was still raw and watched his eyes dampen, but then his heart leapt when Michael said, "I do, because I trust you."

"You do? Even after that shit I did yesterday?"

"Yeah, because it wasn't like you had an affair or fucked her in the woods or something, but still it really hurt."

"I know it did. I let her flirting do a job on me and all I was thinking about was me and how it felt, and I forgot about you. I forgot about the boy I love."

"What? Did I just hear you right?"

"Yeah. I love you. I've been afraid to say it 'cause it'd mean I was gay, or somehow it would make something change in me, or whatever. It's all crap. I've told you I've never felt about anyone like I feel about you, how you make my heart swell up. Grandpa helped me understand that's love and it doesn't come along very often, and I better get with the program."

Michael wiped his eyes and then smiled. Seeing the expression on his face made Nate's heart leap. "You mean it?"

"That I love you? Yeah. Do you want me to say it again, so you know it's for real? I love you."

Michael just kept smiling. Nate reached over and put his hand on top of Michael's which was on the gear shifter.

"Nate loves Michael. Nate loves Michael. Nate loves Michael."

"Okay, okay! I get it. I hear you. I believe you. What now?"

"You lean over here and kiss me. Then we go load the feed and head out to water and feed the cattle."

"Then what?"

Nate paused, then said, "We come back here, and we carve 'Nate loves Michael' into the wall of this barn, right over there. Then we go talk to our grandpa, so he knows everything is cool. Then we go see your parents so I can apologize for breaking their son's heart."

"You didn't break my heart!"

"That's not what I heard. Anyway, are you going to kiss me, or do I have to climb over there into your lap?"

They pulled the Scout out of grandpa's barn, and as they drove down to the big barn to get the feed, they saw him on his porch watching them. His eyes followed them as they drove by, and Nate gave him a little wave. After they loaded the feed, it was a quiet drive down toward the pastures.

Michael kept glancing at Nate as if to confirm what was happening was really taking place. Nate smiled back, keeping his hand on top of Michael's on the gear shift.

Finally, he said, "I know I hurt you, and I know hurts take time to heal, like cuts and scrapes and stuff. I'm really sorry. I mean really, really sorry. I want you to tell me what I can do to help fix it… to help heal the hurt."

Michael was still processing the complex of emotions that were coming together in his mind. When he woke, he had expected a completely different kind of morning, one more shaped by anger and pain. Instead, he was being confronted with contrition and love.

He was realizing that he had overreacted the night before, but what had happened had happened, and he had been hurt and thought his world was ending. But now it was coming back together. There really weren't many options, and it seemed pretty straight forward to him.

"What you've already done is most of it. You were here for me this morning and you apologized. What more is there? I mean, I accept your apology, if that's what you need to hear. I accept it and I forgive you."

Nate squeezed his hand and said, "That's a big part of what I needed to hear. I know I fucked up, and I know I've been playing a mind game all summer, and it may have been a game in my head, but it wasn't funny in your head."

They pulled up in front of the pasture gate. Nate got out, closed the passenger door, and then leaned in the window and said, "It may have been a game in my head, but I know now that it was hurting you in your heart."

He opened the gate and Michael drove through. After closing the gate Nate hopped back in the Scout and they drove on in silence. Michael parked in the usual spot at the first tank, and as they both walked around to the front of the Scout, Nate reached for Michael's hand and pulled him to him.

Michael wasn't resistant, but he didn't just flow forward and into Nate's arms, and Nate understood why. It would take some time, just like it takes time for a scab to form and then later to fall off after the healing. He kept pulling, though, and Michael didn't resist. Before it turned into an embrace, Nate put his right hand up and placed it on Michael's chest, over his heart.

"I mean it. I got caught up in a head trip, playing a mind game. I wasn't thinking about this. I wasn't thinking about your heart. That's why I'm so, so sorry. Because you're the kindest person I've ever known and you've done nothing but care for me and love me, and it's not bad enough that I took it for granted, I hurt you, too. I hurt you right here, where it matters most."

He watched Michael's eyes moisten, then saw the tears form and watched him wipe his eyes with the back of his hand.

"I hope those are tears of joy and they mean I get another chance."

"Of course you get another chance! I love you, too, and we all fuck up. I'm sure I'll get my turn, and it probably won't be long before it happens. I still don't understand what happened, how it happened?"

Nate kept his right hand over Michael's heart, holding Michael's right hand in his left. "I got carried away with the flirting. I've never had a girl chasing me and flirting and stuff and it felt good, and I was doing this head trip thing about being bi and liking girls and stuff. So, we're all playing around in the water and then you left. And then she was on me. You saw it, she had her legs around my waist and her arms around my shoulders and was rubbing on me and saying 'Ride 'em, cowboy' and… and it all seems so stupid now to listen to me telling you. Anyway, it was feeling good till she tried to kiss me, and then it was like an electric shock because I thought about the last time I'd been kissed, the time before… when I'd been really kissed. By you. When you told me you wanted me inside you and why and how connected we were… and suddenly it wasn't fun. I felt horrible because I suddenly realized what I was doing and what it would do to you if you saw it… and then there you were on the bank looking at us… and it was too late. I'd fucked it up and it was too late to fix it."

Michael felt a kind of compassion well up inside him, a feeling prompted by the level of honesty. "I couldn't believe it when I saw you guys in the water. It looked like you were making out."

"She was trying to kiss me, but it felt terrible. I wouldn't let her."

"Then what happened??

"I watched you walk up the bank, and figured you were being too sensitive or something. It wasn't till later when I got out of the water that the guy you were next to told me about your keys and that you said something came up and you had to leave. Then I made it worse because we all went to the Dairy Queen. That's where Stew found me."

"What did he say?"

"That he'd come to give me a ride home. That was when I started connecting the dots. Namely that he was giving me a ride because you weren't… that you'd left me. But that you were still watching out for me 'cause you had Stew pick me up."

Michael smiled softly.

"Stew didn't know all the details, but he told me I'd fucked up big time and had really hurt you. I didn't believe it at first and tried to kind of weasel around it, but when he told me that he'd called your mom to let her know he was giving me a ride and she said I was staying with grandpa, that was when it started to dawn on me. I wasn't wanted in your house. That meant I'd really fucked up."

"I was an emotional mess when I got home. I couldn't stop crying. I know it was over the top, but it just kind of felt like my world had ended."

Nate released Michael's hand and pulled him into an embrace, his right hand still over Michael's heart. "I'm so sorry. It wasn't till grandpa started talking to me about breaking your heart and that it was decision time that it all came together for me."

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning he told me I could play around with two genders if I wanted to, but I couldn't play around with two people without hurting one. That's when it really hit me like a ton of bricks. Like, how could I have been so stupid not to have known? Or as my mom used to say, how could I think I could have my cake and eat it, too?"

"I guess we all do stupid shit. I got jealous and paranoid and overreacted."

"You had every right."

They stopped talking and just looked deeply into each other's eyes. No words, just exchanging an openness and love, the kind that surpassed words. Then Michael leaned in to kiss Nate.

It was soft, lightly passionate and sensuous enough to be really meaningful. Suddenly Nate felt like his apology had been accepted. He put both arms around Michael and pulled him close. "I love you. I've just got to get used to being honest about how I feel and telling you. Can you deal with that?"

"For you," Michael whispered in his ear, "for you, yeah… I can do that. I love you, too."

After a minute Nate said softly, "We better get the watering done, don't you think?"

Nate chuckled and then they walked to the first tank hand in hand.

When they got home, they drove to grandpa's house first. He was sitting on the porch reading the newspaper and smiled widely as they pulled up in front.

"Well, I'll be damned. Look what the cat drug in!"

They both grinned at him as they got out of the Scout and walked up to sit down next to him.

"You boys got things patched up?"

"We do," Nate said. "I apologized and told Michael that you'd help me get straightened out and I told him I love him."

"You did? My, my! That seems pretty extreme for you."

Nate saw the twinkle in grandpa's eyes and said, "Not extreme anymore. It's the way it is. I told him so many times he made me stop."

Grandpa looked at Michael and said, "Is that so?"

"Yeah, it was getting to be too much. Really nice but kind of too much. There's one thing I want to know, though, about your part in all this."

"My part? All I did was be his grandpa, you know, talk sense into him… like I've had to do to you a few times over the years."

"Oh, I know you did that. That's not what I mean. What I want to know is if it was your idea or his to carve 'Nate loves Michael' into the wall of your barn?"

Grandpa's eyes widened and looked from Michael to Nate… who grinned… and back to Michael.

"I think that's a splendid idea. I know it wasn't my idea, so I have to say that it seems to me that your boyfriend…" he looked over at Nate with a questioning look on his face, and Nate nodded… "that your boyfriend had a terrific idea there. That wood is old and hard, so you boys better have a good quality pocketknife!"

They talked a bit longer and then Michael said, "Mom's going to have lunch ready soon, so we better go up to the house. We've got to talk to the folks, too."

"You boys go do that. You need to get that out of the way, though I'm betting it won't be as hard as you think. I'll see you two at dinner. I'm feeling a lot better about life seeing you two back together."

As they walked up to the house hand in hand, Nate said, "How are we going to do this?"

"We're going to act normal, and you say what you want to say, and that'll be that. Let's not make a major production out of it, okay?"

"Okay, but I want to be honest, and I don't want to embarrass you."

"After last night you'll have to work really hard to embarrass me. Just be you, okay?"

They kicked off their boots on the back porch and walked into the kitchen hand in hand.

Michael's mom was at the sink and his dad was sitting at the kitchen island. She turned when she heard them come in, a smile on her face. "Good timing. Lunch is almost ready. It looks like everything's back to normal?"

"How do you know that?"

"Well, Michael, because my mother didn't make any dumb kids and I watched you two walk up here from grandpa's house holding hands, so I kind of deduced that whatever had happened between you had been resolved. Is that a reasonable supposition?"

Michael grinned, and said, "Once a school teacher… and yes, it's all good. Hi Dad." He hugged his mom and then walked over and hugged his dad. Nate tentatively looked at Michael's mom and she extended her arms and said, "Come here." He did and fell into her embrace.

"Let's eat lunch now, and talk afterwards, alright?" She pointed at the kitchen table. "There's sandwiches and potato salad, and iced tea in the pitcher."

Nate walked over to Michael's dad, catching his eye before he got there and seeing the soft smile on his face. The man stood up and extended his arms and pulled Nate in for a hug.

He felt the emotion well up and had to bite his tongue so he wouldn't cry. He'd expected a cold shoulder or at least some kind of negative reaction, but all he was receiving was acceptance and love.

Nate's emotions had settled down by the time they'd finished eating, and he looked at Michael's parents and said, "Thanks for lunch and for the hugs. I didn't expect that after last night. I've already apologized to Michael for what I did. I got lost just thinking about myself and getting caught up with that girl flirting with me and forgot about Michael. I'm really sorry for what I did to him, and to both of you. I was being stupid and selfish, and I'm sorry."

Michael's mom reached out her hand and took his and said softly, "If you've apologized to Michael and you two have made up, then that's all you have to say. You don't owe us an explanation."

Nate swallowed hard and felt a flush of emotion that he pushed down, but pressed on and said, "But I do. He's your son and you love him. And that was the problem. I mean love was the problem… I mean the problem was I couldn't tell him that I loved him. It took grandpa talking to me and straightening me out to realize that was my problem. I probably didn't tell you guys either."

He felt the tears start and wiped them away and swallowed again and went on, "Grandpa helped me understand that you don't get many chances with love… I mean meeting someone you really love and that loves you back. And that I had to decide if that's what was happening and quit playing around."

Both parents were quiet, and Michael reached across under the table and took his hand and squeezed. "So, I realized I'd been kind of playing mind games with myself and not really thinking about what it was doing to Michael. Anyway, I apologized this morning and told him I loved him."

"That's wonderful, Nate. Very mature and very commendable, too, I'd add." She looked over at her son. "So, everything is back as it should be?"

"No, it's even better. When I went to get the Scout this morning to go water the cows, Nate was sitting in it waiting for me. He said they were our chores and that it would be irresponsible if he wasn't there. How about that?"

His parents both smiled and nodded.

"Then we watered and fed the cows and talked and sorted it all out. He apologized, like he said, and I know I overreacted yesterday, but we sorted it out and we're all good now."

"Well, that's wonderful news," Michael's mom said. Then she turned to Nate and added, "Thank you for being so frank with us. I know it's harder to talk to parents about things like this."

Nate smiled and nodded, saying, "Well, you're my second mom," and he looked at Michael's dad and added, "I guess that kind of makes you my second dad."

"That's a role I'm happy to have. It's good to see you two back on track. Let's clear these dishes, okay? I've got work to do this afternoon. What are you boys doing?"

They looked at each other and then Michael said, "I think we're going into town. We need to talk to Stew and thank him for last night and make sure he knows we're all good."

When they walked into the western store, they were halfway to the cash register when they saw Stew turn and see them, and they could see the look of relief on his face.

"Did you guys sort it out? You're good?"

They both nodded.

"Thank god. You two almost gave me a heart attack last night, and I've been worried all day. What's the plan now?"

"We needed to come see you, and then we're just hanging out. What are you doing?"

"Well, the rush for the day from the County rodeo is over. Do you remember I told you guys about gay cowboys on the rodeo circuit?"

They nodded, recalling what they thought was a hard to believe story Stew that had told them.

"Well, there's at least a couple of them in town for the rodeo. A guy I met here in the store last year was in at lunch time. He's cool and really good looking, too. He said to keep an eye out for him if I was at the rodeo tonight." He paused and a sly smile slid onto his face. "You guys want to go to the rodeo?"

Michael and Nate looked at each other. "I don't know, hadn't even thought about it. How would we even do it, we don't have tickets."

"We've got a bunch of comp tickets because the store is a sponsor. Do you want to go? I could call Todd and we could all go, have some fun and then get something to eat afterwards."

They agreed and Stew called Todd and Michael called his mom. Before long they were at the rodeo grounds for the 5:00 pm start. As they were taking their seats, they heard the announcer pitching the riders and the difficulty level of the broncs and bulls… and otherwise getting the audience amped up for what they were about to see. Then the grand entry began with cowboys and cowgirls carrying flags as they rode into the arena and then galloping around as the announcer described what they would be seeing this evening.

Then the actual rodeo events began. For weeks Michael and Nate had been working in the rodeo grounds, but not seeing an actual rodeo. Now as they settled into their seats, they were actually seeing the action. The events began with calf roping and both found themselves feeling uncomfortable and how the calves were whipped around when caught in the rope, and then tossed on the ground and trussed. Yes, it took talent and lots of practice, but still! They all enjoyed the barrel racing since it clearly took so much talent and coordination between the girl riders and the horses they were on. They all found themselves whooping and hollering for a particularly good ride. That was followed by a goat roping competition, clearly aimed to entertain the younger children. All the boys were laughing, enjoying how it turned out that roping and handling a goat was a lot harder than it would seem.

At the intermission they headed for the restroom and then were standing in line for some drinks before heading back to their seats when suddenly Stew turned and hollered, "Hey, Chase!" He was waving at a cowboy in chaps walking in their direction from the restroom.

When he got to them, he said, "Howdy, Stew. I really didn't expect to see you this evening. This is very cool." He looked over the three boys with Stew and with a wry grin said, "Now, you I know, but I am certain I haven't had the pleasure of meeting these three good looking cowboys."

Stew introduced Todd as his boyfriend, and then Michael and Nate as boyfriends and asked where he was heading. "Back to the staging area, bucking broncs go after the intermission."

"Can we buy you a drink, so you won't have to wait in line?"

Chase nodded and Stew explained about Nate spending the summer with Michael on their ranch and both of them working at the rodeo grounds for the summer.

"Well, my hat's off to you. The grounds and arena are in great shape. It's also a pleasure to see the two of you together." He turned to Todd and added, "For that matter, the same applies to you. I worried a time or two about Stew after I met him this time last year. He didn't seem very content."

Todd was watching Chase, and saw him flash a glance at Stew and then back to Todd and say, "He certainly seems to be a happy camper now." He grinned widely and they all chuckled. With their drinks order filled, they all stepped to the side of the hallway to continue talking.

"I was telling Michael and Nate what you shared with me about some gay cowboys on the rodeo circuit and that there's actually a gay rodeo association."

Chase grinned again and said, "There sure is, and it's called the International Gay Rodeo Association and it was originally formed in the mid-70's as a fundraiser for members of the LGBT community suffering from HIV/AIDS. Most people don't know, but the first gay rodeos were in Reno, but they actually had the first Los Angeles Gay Rodeo in 1985. It started out as a fundraiser, but now it's more about making a statement about LGB people being part of western life."

"That's very cool," Michael said. "There aren't many of us gay kids around Pendleton, but we sure need some role models like that."/p>

"Ain't that the truth," Chase replied. "Even more so after what happened to that Shepard boy in Wyoming last year. Anyhow, there isn't a gay rodeo organization in Oregon or Idaho, but we're working hard to gain acceptance and expand tolerance." He glanced at a wall clock and said, "Listen, boys, I've got to get going."

"When'll we see you again, then?" Stew asked.

"Actually, it'll be next weekend. I live in Boise, so getting over here for the County rodeo is an easy trip. I'll be back next weekend for the Round Up with my boyfriend and a couple of other cowboys who'll be competing, too. Will you dudes be around?"

Michael told him they'd be working the Round Up on Saturday and would keep an eye out, and Stew promised to try and see them as well.

"Till next weekend, then," Chase said as he touched the brim of his hat and headed down the hallway.

"What a cool guy," Nate said.

"I told you," Stew replied. "I bet the other guys with him next weekend will be gay, too. We should try and spend some time with them if we can." They agreed and headed up the bleachers to their seats.

After the intermission, the more challenging events started, beginning with the bucking broncos. Stew and Todd had seen rodeos before, but it was new to Michael and Nate, and both were amazed at the amount of abuse each rider took, whether he was bucked off early or completed the ride within the allotted time period. Chase got the full eight seconds in his ride but didn't score high enough to win, though he placed second. Nate had been holding Michael's hand in the space between their seats as they watched him ride. He found he'd been involuntarily squeezing Michael's hand as he saw the riders being whipped around on the backs of the broncs. He couldn't help thinking of his own orthopedic surgery and how actually fragile human bone structure was… and how long it took to heal.

There were no accidents or major injuries during the bronc riding, and the rodeo clowns not only did their job, but kept the audience entertained between riders. That all changed when the bull riding began, it being quite evident that these were much larger animals who could not only do a lot more damage. But whereas most broncs ran away from the rider when they pitched them off, many of the bulls actually went after the riders… as if they had a score to settle.

Nate said something about that to Stew and he replied, "They do have a score to settle. They don't buck naturally, and most of the broncs wouldn't either except… see that leather strap just in front of their rear legs? That's called a bucking strap, and it's tightly cinched up around their abdomen. That's what make them buck, 'cause it hurts. They want the rider off ASAP so they can get the weight off their back and then get that tight strap off their gut."

Nate was surprised. "Isn't that unfair or cruel?"

"Probably, and that's what I think, but I wouldn't be saying that too loudly around here or when you're at work. You wouldn't be liked very much for having those thoughts?"


"Yeah, really. You'd be going after one of the central things that makes rodeo be rodeo. They say it's all about sport and western tradition, but the reality is they need the props like that to make it happen. Anyway, it's one of those opinions you'll want to be keeping to yourself."

The bull riding started and even though Nate was feeling uncomfortable, and Michael was, too after listening, they all got caught up in the excitement of the bull riding. Stew explained that a full ride was only eight seconds, but it only took watching a couple of rides to understand that it was probably the most intense eight seconds of your life. Less than half of the riders got a full ride, and Stew commented that they'd brought in a bunch of good bulls. "They'll have the top bulls in the country here next week, but these are pretty darn good for a county rodeo."

"What do you mean 'have the top bulls in the country here' for the Round Up? I don't understand."

"All the rodeo animals are moved around on the rodeo circuit, just like the riders. That's how they get reputations. The riders get to know which ones are tough and which are mean and dangerous. It's the way it works."

The next bull out had a mottled color with one very short horn. "Probably broke it at some point," Stew said, "and it had to be cut short to heal. Could be a mean one."

It turned out he was right, and the bull pitched the rider after four seconds and then went after the downed rider. The two rodeo clowns were right there trying to distract the bull and turn him away, but that didn't happen until the bull got to the rider who tried to dodge but couldn't get away and was tossed in the air. There was a huge cry from the audience, and then the clowns got doubly serious with the bull, and it went after them. All eyes were on the rider, but to everyone's relief, after a few seconds he stood up, dusted himself off, and walked to the side of the arena.

"He's one lucky dude," Stew said, "lucky that bull had short horns, too. He'll be one sore fucker in the morning, that's for sure!"

Instead of eating the concession food at the rodeo, they drove back into town and ate at the Dairy Queen. On the drive they talked about rodeo events and how different it looks from the seats than from the worker's point of view.

They were enjoying their food and continuing the conversation about the rodeo and the skills it took to be a rodeo cowboy when a bunch of kids walked in. Ashley was among them, but Michael and Nate didn't see her because their back was to the door.

Stew saw her in the group, and momentarily panicked, not knowing whether to say anything or just let it go and hope for the best. As the conversation at their table continued, he watched Ashley look over the tables and settle her vision on the backs of the two boys, one with a black hat pushed back on his head, the other with the ivory one. Her eyes lit up and he saw her turn their way.

"Guys, Ashley just came in with a bunch of other kids and she's coming this way."

Nate felt Michael tense next to him and took his hand, holding it between them. He squeezed hard and said, "Be cool, man. It'll be fine."

Ashley walked up to the end of the table like she'd been invited and looked everyone over. Nate and Todd were on the outside, closest to her.

"I didn't expect to see you guys here tonight, but when I saw the Scout in the lot, I knew you both had to be here. What's happening?"

Nate was silent and knew Michael wasn't going to say anything. Stew spoke up, saying, "We went to the rodeo and just came for some food afterwards. It was a pretty good rodeo for county level."

"That makes sense, I guess." She looked at Michael and Nate and then let her gaze settle on Nate. "So, cowboy, was this your first rodeo? I mean the first one you've seen?"

"Sure was, and it was exciting in places."

"You should have let us know you were going. Cindy and I could have joined you."

Nate squeezed Michael's hand again, and looked up at Ashley as he firmly said, "That wouldn't have worked."

"Oh? Why's that?"

Nate lifted Michael's hand with his and placed them both on the table. "Because I'm with him, and while I fell for your flirting for a while, what you did yesterday was over the top. Michael's my boyfriend, and you know… as they say, three's a crowd."

Ashley went quiet and her expression blanched, then her lips tightened. After a couple of seconds, she said with an edge to her voice, "Cindy told me you were probably gay like him." She nodded at Michael. "I should have known better than to fall for it."

"That's where you're wrong Ashley. I'm not gay, I'm bi. But you know what you did? I know you were just trying to score with me, but what you really did was make me realize who I really want to be with, who I really love. So, I owe you. Thanks a lot."

He smiled at her and waited.

Ashley's eye's flared and she seemed at a loss for words, then mumbled, "You're welcome, I guess… but for what, I don't know." Then she turned on her heel and walked back to her friends.

Stew watched her say something to them and then they all turned and walked out the door and left. Then he looked at Nate and said, "Way to go, man!"

He and Nate looked at each other, and then Stew put his hand over Nate and Michael's, still together on the table. "You shut her down perfectly."

Nate smiled and looked at Michael and then back at Stew. "I wasn't really trying to shut her down. I was just telling her what the deal is. I'm with Michael. I love him. I'm not playing games any longer."

Todd had been watching the activity in amazement but said nothing. Stew looked over at Michael with inquiring eyes.

Michael's face was flushed, but there was a smile of satisfaction on his face. He desperately wanted to hug Nate and kiss him, but they were in the biggest drive-in restaurant in Pendleton. Instead, he leaned over and bumped shoulders and squeezed his hand.

He looked at Stew and said, "Remember that Tom Petty song you did for us? That's how I'm feeling right now. 'Here comes my boy…he looks so right… and he's all I need tonight!' And I'll tell you it feels pretty damn good."

Todd finally said, "Stew told me you guys had a major problem yesterday, and I was jazzed that you'd sorted it out by today and all was good. What just happened blew my mind. Nate, you just outed yourself."

"So? I'm only going to be here another ten days, but that's not the point. The point is I'm not playing games with anyone any longer and I don't care what they think I am. I'm bi and they can think I'm gay as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't matter. This guy right here," and he nodded his head toward Michael, "I love him, and he loves me. That's what matters."

"You guys are too much, that's all I can say."

Nate turned to Michael, well aware that he'd been pretty quiet throughout and said with a wry smile, "Do you think I'll be too much for you later tonight?"

Michael sputtered, which turned into a giggle, and when he got control of himself, he said, "I don't think so, but hey… bring it on. I'm up for anything!"

Stew started laughing softly, and then said, "You guys! Do we get a full report tomorrow?"

Michael and Nate were looking directly at each other, and finally Michael looked at Stew and then Todd and said, "Maybe."

They turned back to their food and finally Stew said, "I must have missed something. Did you say you're only going to be here another ten days?"

"Yeah, I'm going back to Portland after Labor Day. School doesn't start till the next week, like here, but my mom wants me home to get ready. You know, back to school and stuff. Our friends Jerrod and Roger are coming up along with their two dogs and the two guys they live with."

Michael added, "They're coming for the Labor Day weekend and then he's got to go back on Tuesday. Summer's over, you know."

"That's a total bummer. How are you guys going to handle it?"

"Well, there's this thing called a phone, so we'll talk a lot. It won't be the same, but… you know. Also, I've got to go down to Portland for a six-month check-up in mid or late September, so I'll see him then. We'll make it work because we have to." He turned to Nate and added, "Right?"

"Sure will."

"Well, if your friends from Portland want to go to the Round Up, remember we have comp tickets," Stew added. "I can get them for you."

It was dark when they got back to the ranch. As they parked the Scout, Michael said, "Now that we've had to drive it at night in the dark, I'm convinced the headlights on this baby aren't too bright. We need to look into better lights, don't you think?"

"Oh yeah, especially since you'll be driving it in the winter. We want it safe, especially at night."

They closed the barn doors and walked up to the house. "You'll be taking the train down for your check up next month, right? Not thinking about driving?"

"Yeah, the train. Can I stay with you? Will your mom be cool with it?"

"I'm sure. She's pretty well clued in to what's happened this summer, and when I get home I'm going to make sure she understands completely."

Michael's parents were still up watching the news when they walked into the living room. They chatted for a few minutes and shared the rodeo highlights, then said it had been a long day, and they were going to hit the hay.

Michael's mom smiled knowingly and got up to hug them both and said, "Good idea. You two sleep well. I love you both."

They both said, "Thanks, Mom," almost in unison, and then went over and hugged Michael's dad in his armchair.

They stood at the foot of the bed after leaving the bathroom, holding each other close and then alternating between short passionate kisses and tight embraces.

"I know I made that joke about if you'd be up for what I had for you tonight, but you know what I really want to do?"

Michael looked at him and softly said, "What?"

"I want us to undress each other and then just hold each other. I feel like I could have lost you, and I just want you to hold me and cuddle me and make me feel happy and secure."

"I can do that, because I thought I'd lost you, and I want exactly the same thing."

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