Kaiser's Rodeo

by Bensiamin

Chapter 12

Monday was a full clean-up day after the County rodeo, and Ashley and Cindy didn't sit with them at lunch. From the looks they got from some of the other guys it was obvious that Ashley had been talking, too. When they were done for the day, their supervisor called them together and thanked them for a good days work, and acknowledged that the upcoming weekend would be their last.

"It's the end of rodeo season after the Round Up. Here's the deal though. It's not just a pro rodeo, it's a much bigger event than even the County rodeo, with more animals, more riders, and way more spectators. Point being, we need more help. What I mean is that we'll have all of our prep work done on Friday, but the rodeo wants to have more hands available if we need them on Saturday and Sunday. So, we've got an offer for you. We'd like to split this crew in half, half of you on Saturday and the other half on Sunday. You'll get the same hourly pay, but you won't have specific jobs to do. It's just being here doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done."

He paused, "Any questions?"

One boy asked what the work would be "I can't tell you for certain. Could be setting up porta-stalls, could be hauling hay, could be helping visiting riders get organized, whatever. Trust me, though, there'll be things to do. You won't be standing around with nothing to do. If the rodeo manager didn't think we'd need you he wouldn't have me talking to you and offering to pay you to help. So, are you all up for it?"

The extra day of pay was attractive, and he made it clear their help was needed and would be appreciated, and they all agreed. When he asked what days, Michael and Nate raised their hands for Saturday agreeing they wanted Sunday and Monday free with Jerrod and Roger. They noticed the guys who had been giving them the stink eye at lunch took Sunday along with Ashley and Cindy.

On the drive home Michael commented on that and said, "I hope that doesn't mean trouble before you go back to Portland."

Nate smiled and said, "Nothing much is likely to happen this week, we'll all be plenty busy on Friday, and they won't be there on Saturday. Besides, we'll have reinforcements with us… Jerrod and Roger and the dogs, remember?"

"You're right! That evens the odds." He looked back down the highway and said, "You noticing it's getting dark earlier? Like it's only eight-thirty and I've got the headlights on and they're not that bright. How about tomorrow we make a run to the auto parts store for new and brighter headlights?"

"I like it! Let's also get a new fan belt and replace that while we're at it. That way, thinking about what dad said, you've got good hoses and belts before winter starts. And I want to ask you if we can do something?"

Michael turned and smiled at his boyfriend, nodding. The evening light was dim enough that Nate's face was only dimly lit by the final light from the sunset coming through the passenger side. It had been an emotional twenty-four hours, but he felt closer to Nate than ever, and was taken by this new view of his profile against the fading light.

"What? You don't have to ask me for permission or anything. You're my boyfriend. You live here, too, you know."

"I know, but this is our last week, and the whole crew is coming into town on Friday, which is great, but we won't have any alone time after that. Do you think we could work it out with your dad so we could go camping maybe Wednesday night, just you and me?"

Michael's smile became a grin. "Alone time? That sounds good to me, too. I think he'll help us out if we put it that way. It just means he waters for us in the morning. Once school starts next week, he'll be doing it anyway till we move the cattle back down here. Let's ask."

Wednesday after watering and feeding the cattle they loaded the Scout and headed for the Umatilla Forest, to their now familiar camp site. It was half empty when they arrived, and they talked to the ranger they knew by name, and he told them they pretty much had the run of the place. "It'll change come Friday for Labor Day Weekend. Meaning it'll be packed through Monday, but you guys enjoy the peace and quiet."

They set up camp and ate the sandwiches Michael's mom had prepared and then headed out for a hike. They went further this time and got up high enough to get some great views back to the west down the Umatilla River valley toward Pendleton. They were back by four o'clock and went for a swim in the creek, playing for a while, but then just lolling around in each other's arms.

"It's nice being here this way, and having the campground pretty much to ourselves, isn't it?"

"Yeah, and sure beats running into that family with the bigoted father," Nate said. "Remember him?"

"Sure do. What an asshole! Anyway, forget him. This is so peaceful." Nate was leaning back between his legs resting on his chest. Michael reached under his arms and began stroking his flanks, then moved up to his pecs and purposefully started playing with his nipples.

"Nice! That feels really good."

Michael softly pinched both nipples at the same time.

"Ouch! That kinda hurts, but not too much. It actually feels good."

Michael did it again, and this time Nate said, "Yeah, that actually feels kind of sexy."

"I can tell. You're starting to plump up. I wish we were totally alone so we could be here naked. Then I'd be watching your beautiful cock get hard, and when it was completely hard and standing up proud, we'd switch places and I'd get my mouth on it and start working it over with my tongue."

"Stop! I'm going to totally pop a boner if you keep that up."

"What's wrong with that? Why don't we go back to the tent and ditch these shorts and do just that? Nothing sounds better to me right now than making love to your cock."

They walked back hand-in-hand, hung their shorts up to dry, and slipped into the tent. What followed was a soft and sensuous, but completely passionate love session. They both understood that within a week their daily time together would be over, and making the most of it was top of mind.

When Michael moved to suck Nate's cock, he heard Nate say, "Turn around so we can do a sixty-nine. I want your cock, too."

Minutes later when they were in each other's arms again and recovering, Nate stroked Michael's chest and said, "That was amazing. I meant what I said when I told you I wanted your cock, too."

"I'm glad, love. That was an amazing cum."

"No, that's not all I mean. I want your cock… in me. I want you inside me. Tonight, before I go back to Portland."

"You're serious? You really want that?"

"I do. After the last few days, I want that to be part of our summer, how we complete it."

"You're sure you're not doing some guilt rebound thing? Because you don't have to. I don't want you to feel any pressure. You have to want this, I mean really want it."

"I've thought about it a lot, and I do. I meant everything I said to Ashley. We're together, you're my boyfriend. I love you. We've done everything else, and I want to go back to Portland knowing we've both done it to each other. Plus, I know how it felt when I was inside you, how it felt when I came. I want you to have the same thing."

"I hear you, and I'm getting excited already, but it's as gay as it gets. You're sure?"

"I don't care if it's gay or not. What I care about is you. Loving you and you loving me. It'll make us more connected and… I don't know, united. I've thought about it a lot since we were here the last time, and I did you. I keep coming back to a couple of lines in that Spice Girls song 2 become 1 . You know what I mean?"

"Tell me."

"Well, the part I'm talking about goes Come a little bit closer baby, get it on, get it on, 'cause tonight is the night when two become one ."

"Wow! That's really romantic... and sexy!"

"I love you, Michael. I want you to fuck me. I want us to become one again."

"You're not going to have to twist my arm. I brought the lube and the enema bulb."

"Far out. Oh, and by the way, I heard you call me 'love' just now. That was really neat. My heart jumped when I heard it."

"Well, I didn't plan it or anything, but it's what you are, you know."

They stayed in each other's arms and talked for quite a while longer then agreed they needed to get dressed and start a fire and get organized for cooking dinner. Michael's mom had detected a kind of final celebration when they discussed going camping again, and she sent them off with two steaks, two baking potatoes and a prepared green salad… as well as half a peach pie.

It made for an epic camp dinner.

They let the campfire die down after they'd eaten and doused it with water before they got ready to call it a day. They went down to the creek to brush their teeth and came gently together when they were back in the tent. This was purposeful love making, and Michael was tender and loving as he kissed and caressed his love. He was careful to make sure Nate was relaxed and ready, and then had him move onto his hands and knees and slowly entered him. He heard the first gasp followed by an extended groan of pleasure as he slid deeper. He stroked slowly and lovingly, appreciating each second of the love making going on between them and how Nate writhed beneath him. After he came it only took a few strokes for Nate to cum too, and then they collapsed together, a sweaty, sticky and loving mess.

It was almost seven o'clock the next morning before it was full light and they both woke up, Nate spooned back into Michael.

"Morning, love," Michael said as he stroked Nate's chest.

"Morning, cowboy," Nate replied.

Michael giggled.

"Well, you are! You're my cowboy. Always will be."

"That was awesome last night. You were right not just about the sex but about us being more connected… becoming one."

"Good. It's kind of like completing something between us."

"Are you sore this morning?"

He felt Nate flex a couple of times, then say, "No, not sore. It feels different, that's for sure, but not bad. What felt amazing was when your cock was inside me… deep inside me, and I could hear you groan. I've never felt anything like that, and I'm guessing you hadn't either."

"I hadn't ever. It was everything I dreamed of. You looked pretty blissed out yourself, you know."

"Good! That's how I felt. Blissed out. That's the kind of memory I wanted to take back to Portland with me."

They were back at the ranch by early afternoon and took Ruby for a walk down to the reservoir. That night at dinner they talked about the arrival of the Portland contingent the next afternoon.

"Before you boys go into work tomorrow, can you help me put the twin beds together and make them up for Jerrod and Roger?" Michael nodded and then said, "Are David and Jackson going to be okay in your spare room, Grandpa?"

"I don't see why not! I'll put on clean sheets. Should suit them fine."

Nate looked back and forth between the two of them and grinned, "I can tell you, as the most recent sleeper in it, that even though it's only a double, it's a comfortable bed. They'll probably just have to adjust to it being slightly smaller than they're used to."

"I'm sure they can accommodate that slight imposition. Besides, I cook a mean breakfast, at least that's what you told me," he said, casting at eye at Nate, "and we'll all get along just fine."

Friday flew by at work, the crew having a full list of final prep work to do for the opening session of the Round Up the following day.

It was after five-thirty when the boys pulled the Scout into grandpa's barn. They'd seen Jackson's Durango parked next to the house and David and Jackson sitting on the porch with the older man. They sauntered over, walking hand-in-hand. Grandpa was watching them with his usual ironic smile. David and Jackson watched with curious and amused expressions that slowly turned to pure pleasure.

Jackson stood up as they approached the porch. "My god, look at you two. You're both cowboys. And good looking cowboys, too, I'll say. Get your asses up here and give me a hug."

They hopped up the stairs and were pulled into a huge collective bear hug, after which they got the same treatment from David. He eventually released them and said, "You two look terrific. I mean healthy and good looking terrific. And, maybe more importantly, terrific together."

They were both blushing a little at the attention, when grandpa said, "Don't get carried away with the compliments. It goes straight to their heads."

"Does not, Grandpa," Michael said.

"Yeah, that's not fair," Nate added. "They haven't seen us since June, and I sure look different thanks to you getting me outfitted in all this western gear."

Grandpa just grinned, then looked at David and Jackson and said, "These kids. It sure is easy to get their goat. Still, they've worked hard all summer, and been a real pleasure to have around." He paused, then added, "That said, we'd best get up to the house. Dinner's going to be ready soon, and there's some other company up there."

"You mean Kaiser and Chloe?" Michael quipped. They all chuckled and headed off the porch and up the drive to the main house. They were halfway there when Jerrod and Roger came out onto the front porch, watching them. Jerrod made Kaiser sit next to him and Roger was holding Chloe in his arms.

After a second, Jerrod called out, "Yee hah! Look at this. Real cowboys. Man, it doesn't get any better than this."

The boys broke into grins and started trotting up the drive. Jerrod released Kaiser who ran towards Michael and Nate. They dropped to the ground on their knees and pulled him into a hug before they all fell over. Roger put Chloe down and she followed Kaiser, piling on top and making a writhing mass of boys and dogs.

Jerrod and Roger joined them and when the boys pulled themselves free from the dogs, they found themselves pulled into warm embraces. The adults were watching with great pleasure.

"Wow, man! You guys look so great," Roger said. "You do look like a couple of cowboys, you know."

"Well, we've been working on the ranch and at the rodeo grounds all summer, so, that's the drill. I came up here in city clothes, and grandpa got me these western duds so I'd fit in. Pretty cool, huh?"

"Yeah, way cool, Nate," Jerrod said. "You look good in them."

"You guys know why he looks so good in them, don't you?" Michael replied. "Oh, wait! You guys wouldn't know 'cause you're city boys."


"Meaning that he looks so good in those Wranglers 'cause he's a natural for them. He's got a Wrangler butt."

"What? What's that?"

Michael started laughing, and David and Jackson who had joined them were equally curious. "It's just a natural fit when you've got the right butt… you know, a bubble butt. We can show you some more tomorrow at the rodeo if you want."

"Yeah," Nate added, "our friend Stew got comp tickets to the Pendleton Round Up for all you guys for tomorrow. You want to go, don't you?"

"That sounds like an offer that can't be turned down," Jackson said. "We should probably discuss it with Michael's parents though." He turned to grandpa and added, "And you, too, of course."

"You damn right you should go. It's a rodeo on the pro circuit, and even if rodeo isn't your thing, you owe it to yourself to see at least one. And for sure you should see the one these two boys have been working for all summer."

Michael's parents had been taking this all in from the front porch, and his mom finally said, "If you men are finished with your welcoming routine, rolling around with the dogs out there in the middle of the driveway, why don't you come in the house. Those two boys need to clean up after work, we can all settle down for something to drink, and then shortly dinner will be ready."

Dinner conversation covered most of the events of the summer, how disciplined Nate had been in getting back to full form without injuring his hip, their work on the ranch and at the rodeo, and, of course, their work on the Scout.

Jackson listened to that part with an especially attentive ear, and welcomed them into the world of old vehicles. "I'm glad to hear it'll be your daily driver, Michael. As long as you take care of it, that's way better than having it sit in any garage… or barn."

After dinner all four boys walked the three dogs down to the reservoir, but kept them out of the water. When they got back the adults were still having a lively conversation in the family room. The plan for the next day was that they'd drive to the rodeo a couple of hours before start time so Michael and Nate could show them around. Michael pointed out that they now knew at least one of the cowboys competing since Chase had been at the County rodeo the weekend before and would be back for the Round Up.

"He was telling us about the International Gay Rodeo Association. It turns out there's actually a bunch of gay cowboys on the rodeo circuit." He explained how their mission had changed from fundraising for AIDS patients to promoting a more inclusive view of homosexuality so that LGB people who embrace a rural lifestyle can feel at home, too.

"That's very encouraging to hear," David said. "I'd be lying if I didn't admit I was worried about what could happen here this summer, especially knowing what happened to Matthew Shepard in Wyoming just last year, and reading Brokeback Mountain two years back."

Michael's dad said, "Trust me, we worried, too. And we kept a close eye out. Grandpa and I have lived here all our lives, so we know a lot of people and we stayed in touch with what was going on."

"You did? How did you do that?" Michael asked.

"You're out at school, so quite a few people know you're gay. I made sure people knew you were my son. I kept talking about what you were doing and how things were going. I may not be a rodeo cowboy or involved in the Round Up, but I know plenty of people in the rodeo circle. So does Stew's dad. Let's just say you weren't on your own. Just like you weren't on your own at school last year either. Your mom was there, too, remember?"

"That's really cool to hear, even if I didn't know about it," Nate said, "'cause Chase told us that a lot of what they do on the gay rodeo circuit is making a safe place from danger and discrimination in mainstream rodeo."

Michael's mom looked at David and asked, "Tell us about Brokeback Mountain . I'm not familiar with it."

"Well, it's a short story that was published in The New Yorker in 1997, and it's one of a collection of short stories in a book titled Close Range by Annie Proulx. The book is a collection of Wyoming stories, about the oddity of so many people that ended up in Wyoming… which is a pretty desolate and stark state. Majestic and beautiful, but also desolate and stark. Anyway, Brokeback Mountain is about homophobia, about two cowboys who meet while herding sheep way up in the mountains one summer and fall in love, but can't go anywhere with their feelings for each other because of the cultural expectations they face in their families and society and community. She described it as a social study, about trying to tell what life is really like for gay men living in that situation. The story ends tragically for one of the main characters, and that's part of what makes it so poignant."

David paused, and Michael said, "Our friend Stew, who's giving us the comp tickets for tomorrow, told us about it. He's gay and his dad owns the feed and western store, and he lives in town, so he's much more in tune with the problems than we are. We lived out here on the ranch, except for two days a week working at the rodeo. So, we were pretty well out of harm's way, thanks to mom and dad and grandpa."

They talked a little while longer and then they said goodnight and headed for Michael and Nate's room, and both dogs followed them. They all piled onto Michael and Nate's bed, and the dogs curled up next to each other at the foot. Michael leaned up against the headboard and then pulled Nate over, so he was leaning against Michael, and then slid down so his head was on Michael's chest. Roger and Jerrod sat next to each other cross-legged facing their friends.

"Okay, you guys, now tell us about the summer," Jerrod said, "I don't mean all the stuff you two did together… we heard that already."

"Yeah," Roger added. "We want to know about you two and your relationship. I mean you told us stuff on the phone, and watching you both come home from work, and seeing you together tonight speaks volumes… but come on, out with it." He grinned conspiratorially.

Michael hugged Nate and said softly, "It's been fab. We've worked together and loved together, and the parents have been really supportive, and grandpa has been there for us from start to finish."

Nate picked up and said, "We've gotten really close, as in we love each other. We had one blow up last weekend because I hadn't sorted the bi stuff out in my head and I let some chick we work with do too much flirting and playing around, and it went too far and really hurt Michael… but you know what happened? It was the tipping point and I realized I was all worried about me, not about him or us. Grandpa had to spend a night straightening out my shit, and he did."

"How did that happen?"

"You don't need all the details," Michael said, "but like he said he was letting this chick flirt with him, and I overreacted when I saw them together in the river. I thought they were making out and I flipped and came home and left him there."

"Whoa! That's hard core."

"Yeah, it was, and too much really. Like I said, I overreacted."

"But he did arrange for Stew to pick me up and bring me home," Nate added sweetly. "And on the drive home Stew told me I'd really fucked up and I better get serious, and then he dropped me off at grandpa's house because he'd decided I was sleeping down there, and we talked for a long time, and basically told me it was decision time because you don't get that many chances for real love in life."

"So, you got it all sorted out after that?"

"Yeah, the next day I apologized and realized that grandpa was right. I'd let myself get all wigged out about being bi, like if I was going with a gay boy then didn't that mean I was gay. I never thought of myself as gay, and no one else knows I'm gay or bi… it just went round and round in my head. It's really a bad part/good part story, because if it hadn't happened that way, I'd still probably be doing mental games."

"It's probably not as bad as he makes it out," Michael added. "I was trying to be patient, but getting irritated, and then kind of snapped. But he came through."

Nate looked at Roger and Jerrod and said, "Grandpa told me he'd walk through the flames of hell for me, but I'd broken his heart, and wanted to know what I was going to do about it. I felt like whale shit, too, I'll tell you."

"That's pretty heavy. I'm glad it kind of happened that way so fast and then you were able to get it sorted out fast, too."

"Yeah," Roger added, "good on you guys for being serious and honest with each other and getting the problem sorted." He was smiling knowingly.

Nate looked at him suspiciously. "And so which part of the story do you find so funny?"

"I don't think any of it's funny, but I am smiling with pleasure at the positive outcome, and kind of understanding how much you learned about yourselves and each other because of that. And also, because before we left from dropping you off two months ago, grandpa was talking to me about his being my grandpa and so I asked him to keep an eye on you and take care of you… and he did! That's not just really cool, it's totally awesome."

"Well, he sure did that. Right after you two left he told me I needed to look like I fit in around here and had to ditch the city clothes and he paid for the boots and the Wranglers and the hat, and then he gave Michael the Scout and that meant we had a project, and he… you know when I tell you all that it feels more and more like he was running a 'look after Michael and Nate program' this summer, and we didn't even know it."

Jerrod looked at Michael and replied, "from the sound of what your dad said a while ago, it sounds like he was in on it, too."

Michael chuckled. "I think you're right. It was a total plot. They set us up to do the cattle watering and feeding chores every morning, and helped with the Scout… it was really great."

"You've got really great parents, you're way lucky."

Michael nodded, and Nate added, "They're second parents for me, too."

"So, what else?"

"What else what?"

"About your summer together," Roger pressed.

"Well, we put The Joy of Gay Sex to good use. We read it together and talked about it and did lab work like you guys told us you did."

"Meaning you are now fully experienced on the subject of how boys can love each other?"

"Roger, don't be coy! We made love a lot, a lot of different ways," Nate said, "and if you want to know if we fucked, we did. Once each."

Roger wasn't embarrassed in the least. "Well, that's good news. You know we're all in this together, don't you? We all take care of each other. I seem to remember a certain circle jerk…"

"I do, too, and I get it. No worries. And seriously, thanks. Having the book and you guys to encourage us… and the lube and enema bulb, of course, made all the difference."

"We've both been really lucky," Michael added, "having you guys as friends and teachers, and having our parents be the way they are. I've wondered a couple times how other gay kids figure things out or have any good sex if their parents are intolerant or they have to hide everything."

"It's hard, and you two are really lucky. So, were we. Roger's parents were great, too. My parents came around slowly, but they're on the east coast. I lived with David and Jackson, and really it was more like we both did, so that made it all possible for us, too."

"What goes around comes around," Roger added smiling. "So, are you two ready for the split that happens next week?"

"As ready as we can be. We'll be talking a lot by phone, and I have to go down to Doernbecher for a six month check later in September, so we'll see each other then. We'll work it out, no worries."

They kept talking for another hour and finally the length of the day caught up with them. Jerrod asked what the schedule would be the next day.

"We've got the cattle chores to do in the morning. You can come if you want, or sleep in. Whatever you prefer. It gets light later this time of year, so we leave about eight o'clock."

Jerrod looked at Roger and raised his eyebrows. Roger nodded and then said, "can we all fit in the Scout?"

"We'll figure it out. The feed goes behind the rear seat on the tail gate, Kaiser will have to ride with you in the back seat, and Nate can hold Chloe up front. It'll be fun. I'll wake you guys up at seven, and mom will have breakfast for us. Then we've got to be at the rodeo grounds by 11:00. You guys can take the dogs to the reservoir for a swim, or whatever. Then all of you come to the rodeo around three and we'll show you around and get ready for the main event."

As promised, Michael leaned into the guest room at seven with a cheery "Rise and Shine." They all took the dogs out for a quick pee walk, then fed them when they got back and chatted with Michael's mom as she cooked breakfast. It took a little maneuvering to get Jerrod, Roger and Kaiser in the rear seat after they loaded the feed, but Chloe was perfectly happy sitting on Nate's lap as they headed down the road and then pulled up at the pasture gate. Nate hopped out, closed the door and could see Chloe watching him intently as he opened the gate and Michael drove through. When they got to the first tank, Michael said, "These cattle are used to dogs 'cause they see Ruby around the barn, and Kaiser will be fine. Chloe might bark or chase them, though, so we've got to control that."

"No problem," Jerrod said, "I've got a leash I brought just in case. We'll keep her under control. She can get excited!"

They all watched Michael and Nate go through the routine of draining the old water and refreshing it in both tanks, and then laying out the feed. They talked continually about all aspects of western living and ranching. On the drive back Roger commented that it was a great way to start every day.

After hanging out with the dogs for a while when they got back, grandpa wandered up with David and Jackson in tow. They sat on the front porch and talked and then Michael and Nate headed inside to take a shower and get ready for the workday at the rodeo.

Michael came out on the porch first and started to ask if they were all okay with the day, when his mom said, "Relax, son. We're under control here. They're going to take the dogs down to the reservoir like you suggested, then come back here and I'll have lunch ready. You two go to work and quit fretting."

They nodded, smiled, tipped their hats and headed for the Scout. "See you around three."

They spent the first three hours with the rest of the day's crew setting up some additional porta-stalls, then hauling bedding and feed over to them. Then Michael and Nate got tasked working with the rodeo clowns who wanted some additional rubber barrels and a few more large truck tires.

They were all walking to the storage shed and talking about it when one of the clowns said, "This is for the bulls this afternoon. You can't be too careful with them. If one of 'em gets ornery and decides to go after the rider or us, and you can't get to the fence in time, then having plenty of rubber containers to dive into can be a life saver!"

Michael said he hoped that's not the way it would go, but he remembered the mottled bull they'd seen the previous weekend toss the rider after he'd been thrown. 'Better safe than sorry' crossed his mind. They pulled out the items the clowns wanted and loaded them on a trailer pulled by an ATV that was parked by the storage shed.

It was two o'clock and they stopped for a late lunch, anticipating the arrival of the Portland contingent. They'd cleared with their supervisor showing their friends around the back side of the rodeo, so they could see where the animals were kept, how they were brought to the main arena for the events, where the cowboy riders hung out and generally how the rodeo worked behind the scenes.

They were back at their waiting station near the rear entrance when they saw Jerrod and Roger approach the entrance with Kaiser. David and Jackson were right behind them. They'd told the security guard to expect their friends, and they hurried over to meet them.

"Where's Chloe?"

"She's a puppy and still pretty excitable, and we decided this would probably be too much stimulation. So, she's spending the afternoon with grandpa," Roger explained. "Kaiser will be cool, and this will be a good experience for him. He's been great all summer with new hospital settings and traffic and people and stuff, but this'll be a whole new experience for him." He handed Kaiser's leash to Michael and said, "Here, you take him for a while. This is your rodeo."

"Well, hardly mine, but… okay. Let's start with a general walk around and you can see how the place works. I think we've got most of the extra work for the day done now."

Michael and Nate walked them around the inside of the arena, under the stadium seating where all the rodeo work actually took place. They got around to the side where the gated pens were located and they explained how the broncos and bulls would be brought in through a chute from the holding corral, how the riders would mount them in the pens and then how the side gate would open and out they'd go. "It's pretty much like all hell's breaking loose," Nate said. "You'll see later today."

They walked out to the corrals where the broncos and bulls were being held and a wide range of comments were made about the look of some of the animals.

"Wow! You look at the eyes of some of them," Jackson said, "and they look pretty unhappy. Or is that anger?"

Kaiser had been at full attention in front of the bulls, his hackles partially raised, and something close to a growl coming out when a bull walked over to check him out and snorted through the fence.

"Probably anger 'cause they know what's coming up. I don't think humans are their favorite thing after what they go through. We went to the County rodeo last weekend and decided even though we work here, rodeo isn't our favorite thing. You'll see later, the calf roping and then the bronc and bull riding are kind of rough on the animals."

Michael added, "Yeah, but the barrel racing and the goat roping are lots of fun."

"Goat roping?" David asked with a grin.

"Yeah, it's really an event for the kids, but it's fun for the adults, too because goats are obstinate and it's a lot harder than it looks. Lots of embarrassed cowboys, too!"

They left the pens holding the bulls and walked out to where the cowboys and cowgirls had brought their own horses. Michael explained that calf roping was a team sport with two cowboys on their own horses, one roping the calf to catch him by the horns while the second lassoed the rear legs and then had to jump off and tie up all four of the calf's legs. "It's supposed to be how it was done on ranches in the old west, to catch calves for branding."

They then walked over to the stalls where the cowgirls were grooming their quarter horses for the barrel racing events, and commented on how beautiful and athletic-looking the horses were.

As they walked back to the arena, they heard the PA system come to life in advance of the rodeo beginning, and the soundman running a test of the various microphones and speaker systems. They walked along the long chute from the bull holding corral to the arena, and Michael wondered why the gates in the chute were open, but then dismissed it since the bull riding was in the second half of the rodeo, and everyone was still getting set up.

When they got to the arena, they were on the back side where the chutes came in and joined the individual holding pens that held the broncos and bulls before a ride. All of the pens had their gates open and workers going about their business of completing the final touches for the rodeo to begin. They heard a new sound come across the PA system, a warm and engaging voice with a midwestern accent. On the other side of the arena was a group of people on the ground, just in front of what appeared to be the announcer's stand. One had the microphone, and they heard a voice say, "Okay, JC, I think the sound's set. How about you give us a dry run so we can see how it sounds?"

The man named JC nodded and took the microphone, and as the rest of the men walked along the arena walls, he started calling a make-believe bronc riding event, and the other men listened as they walked, hearing him call out the rider's name, the name of the imaginary bronc, what a bad reputation the horse had, and how high the cowboy's standing in this year's ranking was.

Michael and Nate naturally fell into cowboy pose, leaning on the top rail of one of the sections of rail fence, next to an arena gate. On the other side of it was the bull chute. Without even thinking about it, both had raised their right foot onto the lower rail of the fence and slid their cowboy hats back on their head a bit. Nate had Kaiser's leash and the dog was sitting right next to him, watching through the rails. Roger and then Jerrod came up behind and joined them at the rail, followed by Jackson and David. They made up a line, all leaning on the top rail watching the goings on in the arena.

Roger glanced up and down the line of these men, boys and a dog that filled his life with friendship and meaning, and marveled. As he looked up at Nate and then Michael, he recognized what Michael had described as a Wrangler butt. Nate's Wrangler's almost magically wrapped around the curve of his butt and seamlessly flowed down the back of his upper leg in a beautiful line. Roger wondered if it would be weird if he wore Wranglers back in Portland. His attention came back to the announcer who was finishing his sound check.

Michael had been watching the activity, and at the outset noticed that with the announcer and the soundmen had been a little girl maybe ten years old. The announcer had been holding her hand, and when he'd been handed the microphone, he'd turned to the girl and motioned her against the arena wall at the announcer's stand. He was clearly telling her to stay right there for a minute while he did the sound check.

At the end of the sound check, Michael's eye flicked from the announcer back to where the little girl had been standing, and she had moved. His vision swept along the arena side walls on the far side and he couldn't see her. Just like little kids, never doing what they're told, he thought to himself. A few seconds later, he saw something in his peripheral vision. Down the line of chutes with their gates open and swung back against the pens he saw the little girl. She walked with a limp but seemed intently curious about the gates, how they were wide open and swung back against the rails, a row of large openings.

As he looked down the line of gates, he saw something else in his peripheral vision. Something moving down the chute that ran to the pens from the holding corrals toward the arena. The chute was between them and the holding pens. He turned his head further to see what it was and immediately recognized the mottled bull from the weekend before. Somehow the bull had gotten into the chute from the holding corral, and with none of the chute gates closed, had been able to wander all the way down towards the arena.

"No! Not toward the arena,' Michael thought to himself. 'The gates are all open. That bull will just walk into the arena… and see all those people... and then what?'

He froze for an instant, caught between panicking and confirming what he thought might happen. Three seconds ticked by, and he watched the bull move into a trot as if he recognized the arena, the location of so much anguish in his life. He heard a soft snort, heard the drum beat of the trotting bull, and saw the toss of its head as it entered the arena. He said aloud, "Fuck, no!"

Instantly he heard Nate say, "What?"

"Loose bull. Come on, we've gotta help."

Michael took a step to the left and opened the access gate into the arena and stepped in. Nate was right behind him… and so was Kaiser. Nate had forgotten he was holding the dog's leash. The rest of the Portland contingent were still watching the sound check, and it wasn't until they heard the gate click closed and saw the motion that they realized Michael and Nate were in the arena, running down the line of open gates… followed by Kaiser.

That's when they realized that what Michael and Nate were running after was a large mottled bull… and they were being followed by a golden retriever. About that time, they heard and saw the soundmen on the other side of the arena waving and calling and realized that this was some kind of problem. They watched the announcer turn to take in the action and then unconsciously say over the PA system, "Oh my God, no. Tracy, stop! Don't move!"

It was only a few seconds before the boys had almost caught up with the trotting bull. His huge testicles were swinging between his rear legs as he moved down the line of open gates, and he snorted as he was tossing his head around, taking in the arena and the various people in it.

Michael wondered why he didn't just go for the soundmen across the arena. They didn't look that much different than the riders he'd go after during a bull ride. Instead, he kept trotting down the gate line till he stopped.

Michael had been running behind the bull right next to the gates. Nate had fanned out about fifteen feet into the arena. Unthinkingly he'd dropped Kaiser's leash when he followed Michael into the arena, and Kaiser was now running beside him.

The bull had stopped because at the last gate stood the little girl, who they now knew was named Tracy. She had stopped when she heard her father call her name over the PA system. She was standing right next to the open gate, her back against the rail frame, holding onto the gate for balance.

The bull had stopped a ways in front of her, head down, breathing hard. He seemed not to recognize what was in front of him and stepped sideways a couple of times so that he was looking straight at her, perhaps eight feet away.

Michael slowed to a walk, and as he approached the other end of the gate Tracy was holding on to, the bull looked at him… and he stopped.

Nate had slowed to a trot and went around the bull to get on the other side of him, Kaiser closely following. The bull and the girl were now between them. The bull swung his head to look at Nate and Kaiser.

Then he looked back at Tracy.

"Nate, what do we do?"

"I don't know, Michael. Maybe me and Kaiser try to get his attention and you can grab the girl?"

Michael nodded and slowly started moving along the gate toward Tracy. Nate began doing the same thing on the other side. The bull looked from one boy to another and then back at the little girl, continuing to breathe heavily. Then the bull snorted again.

"I think he's confused," Michael said. "Like he doesn't know what she is."

Nate didn't know how to process that statement, but then he watched something amazing happen. Kaiser had been at his side as he moved out into the arena and ran down alongside the bull, and then stayed there as they'd stopped and now were moving along the gates toward Tracy. Except, now he wasn't.

Michael and Nate were each about five feet away from Tracy, when Kaiser, slightly crouched, separated himself from Nate and walked out between Tracy and the bull. He stopped, staring unrelentingly at the bull. The bull shifted his gaze to Kaiser, clearly assessing this new thing to deal with. He was still breathing heavily and snorting, and they all heard the deep reverberating sound.

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