A Horse Named Phil

By Driver

Chapter 13

I slipped out of bed early the next morning, leaving Aaron to sleep. I was tired myself, but I wanted to spend at least a little time with my folks, and I hoped to see Paul Dawson, too. I washed up in the bathroom, then put on the clothes I'd worn the night before, only changing my undies and socks.

I didn't make any noise going down the stairs, and the smell of fresh coffee met me about halfway down, yet the kitchen was empty when I walked in. The Sunday paper was there on the counter, and the coffee was at the end of the brew cycle. I poured a cup for myself, then stood at the counter separating the paper into manageable sections. Once all the store flyers were in a separate pile, I skimmed the headlines looking for something about the gambling investigations. There was nothing on the main page, but the Instate News section had a long, involved article, so I started reading that.

It was probably about important doings, but there was a lot of political infighting taking place, and that's what the article was mostly about. The Attorney General was doing things that the Governor's legal team didn't like. The House of Representatives was creating a lot of what sounded like uninformed hot air about nothing, while the Senate Democrats seemed to champion the Attorney General, and the Republicans took the Governor's view. Only at the very end of that long article were the events in Mt. Harman that precipitated the whole thing mentioned, and it was just a review of well-known facts.

I was still reading when I heard a distant door close, and a few moments later my father's voice, "Oh, hi Evan." I looked around and he had a bakery bag in each hand, and he said, "Do me a favor, there's more in the car."

I went without further prodding, and there was one more bakery bag and a plastic bag that had a quart of milk in it. That quart of milk represented a huge change in our family dynamic. There had been a time, and not that long before, when we got milk every third day, and two gallons at a time. We still ran out sometimes even with that, and someone would have to run to the store for more. Now it was dispensed by the drop into coffee, and used for a very occasional bowl of cereal. When I went to put it in the refrigerator, half of last week's quart was still there, the date expired. I poured what was left down the drain before turning my attention to the goodies from the bakery.

It was a nice variety of donuts, bagels and muffins, and they smelled fresh and wonderful. Dad arranged everything in a basket on the counter, and I got the juice from the refrigerator, then set out glasses, knives and forks. Then I had to decide what to have. A poppy-seed bagel was a given, but I heard a jelly donut calling out to me even as I eyed some yummy looking muffins.

I decided to enjoy the bagel and make up my mind later. While I was slicing the bagel, Dad asked, "Where's Aaron?"

"I left him sleeping," I said. "We were out late and he has a singing lesson later, so I figured I'd spend some time with you and Mom."

He smiled, "What? You miss us now?"

"Did I say that?" I grinned. Then I frowned, "You know I miss you, but at least I know I can come home whenever I want." I lowered my voice and looked away, "I thought I lost that last year, and it was pretty grim for a long time."

My father surprised me when he said gently, "Then you met Aaron?"

I had to smile, and I said, "Then I met Aaron." I turned to my father, "Don't get me wrong, I still missed home something awful, but I guess ... I guess I never really know exactly where I am when he's around anyhow. That's not pathetic, is it?"

"No, not pathetic at all," Dad murmured. Then he snickered, "I think you'd be in trouble if that feeling went away. That special focus ... that change in dimension ... that is a big part of romantic love."

My eyebrows went up, "Really?"

Dad muttered, "That's all I'm saying, Ev, so don't push it."  He puttered around for a moment, then sat across from me with a coffee and a jelly donut. He said, "I suppose Bruce is all distracted now, too. Allison sure is a cute girl."

I waited, saying nothing, until he noticed. Then he smiled, "Okay, dammit. I suppose Aaron is cute, too, but promise you'll never make me say that again."

I smiled and Dad smiled, then he said, "Hand me the front section," and when he opened it to read, I pulled out the sports section. We spent the next fifteen minutes munching and reading, and when I finished my bagel I decided to wake Aaron, since it was eight-thirty by then.

My mother came into the kitchen just before I stood up, and she seemed surprised. "Evan ... Your door is closed , so I thought you were still in bed."

I said, "Aaron's still sleeping. I was just going to get him," and I slipped past her.

On the way upstairs two things occurred to me. My mother's radiance on a Sunday morning, coupled with my Dad's gentle demeanor, told me that they'd taken the maximum advantage of a boy-free house the night before. The second thing that struck me was that they knew I slept with Aaron, and they'd known it since the first time he stayed over, and it had never once been a topic of discussion. Even Matt understood that, and he'd never said a word, even though in every other respect he'd been a complete homophobe in regards to my sexuality.

Thoughts like that were forgotten when I opened the door to my room. Aaron, left alone, could disappear into a bed like nobody I'd ever known, and anyone but me would have sworn my bed was empty right then. I knew he was there, though. Well, I was almost certain, but it sure looked like an empty bed, except for one little butt-shaped mound. I ran my fingers over the cover and up that mound, and sure enough it bounced, then again, and I heard a muffled giggle.

I added a second hand, and tickled both mounds. "Aaron, Aaron, wherever you be, come out, come out and talk to me."

I heard a muffled something, but couldn't make it out, so I tickled those mounds again and asked, "Where's your head, Aar? I don't know which end is up."

He giggled and said, "Right next to the pillow here. Help! My arm is so totally asleep I can't move it at all."

I pulled the covers back and saw how he disappeared like he did. His head was under the covers, but beside the pillow instead of on top, and his one arm was splayed out to the left while his other hung over the side, bent right at the elbow. I'm sure that's why his circulation was cut off, but I didn't care right then. I kept tugging the covers back until I could read the word 'Jockey' on his waist band.

If I'd stopped right there, the fantasy of going farther would have been enough to get me off. I didn't stop, though, and the reality of uncovering those mounds inch by inch kept Aaron giggling and me panting. Neither Aaron nor I had ever entertained thoughts of anal sex, and we might never, but the sight of that rump of his always made me horny, and it had never looked better.

I asked, "Can you really not move?"

"Rub my shoulders. I can't even wiggle my fingers."

It was an awkward position, so I got on the bed and straddled Aaron on my knees, and that gave me clear access to his shoulders. It took a few minutes of me manipulating his shoulders before he could use his arms. Then I took note of my opportune position and leered lasciviously at Aaron.

His eyes went wide and he mumbled, "Uh-oh, now what?" He snickered nervously, "Whatever it is, I have to pee, Ev."

I collapsed on him and whined, "Right now?" He nodded quickly so I rolled off him. "Don't take all day."

He got up and huffed, "Don't start on me." He smirked and stuck his tongue out at me, "I'll go until it's all out, so don't go anywhere."

I didn't leave. I wouldn't leave. Aaron locked the door when he came back in, and another fine day began.

* * * * * * *

We took our riding lesson on Wednesday after dinner, which consisted of great burgers at Aaron's house. Aaron and I were both to the point where we felt pretty handy with horses, and we really looked forward to our rides. We had a long way to go before we'd feel like accomplished riders, but three lessons with Paolo had us comfortable in the saddle. Paolo was a good instructor, really. He had patience, and he was part teacher, part coach, and a full time champion of new riders.

That night we watched a short video of ourselves, so we could see what we looked like in the saddle, and Paolo could point out little things that we hadn't mastered yet, then we went out and saddled up. We'd learned to saddle the horses the week before, and Paolo stayed right with us to make sure we got it right. Like everything to do with horses, it wasn't really difficult to put a saddle on one, but you didn't want to make any mistakes.  Mistakes could be painful, and they could be fatal.

By then, Phil was 'my' horse, and he was the only one I'd ever ridden. That was fine with me, and his name fit more every time I saw him. He seemed to like me, and I liked him. When Phil saw me coming, he recognized me and would trot over to the fence expectantly, and that night I had a handful of carrot chunks for him.

Horses aren't pets in the sense that dogs and cats are. They don't wag their tails and they don't purr, but I found real pleasure in watching a twelve hundred pound animal coming to the fence just because it was me on the other side. I had talked to him from the beginning like he was a person, and Diego told me that's why Phil liked me. I don't know about that, but I said, "Hey, guy. Want some carrots?" while I held a chunk out in my hand.

I loved the sound he made while he crunched it. It seemed to resonate from somewhere inside him, and only after five more pieces did I say, "Let's get going, Phil. Maybe we'll see the sunset, huh?"

When we were on the horses, we spent some time in the corral as usual, practicing basic moves at first, then the specifics of our transgressions from the tape. Those were minor, but still bad horsemanship, so we practiced until we had things right to Paolo's satisfaction. Then he opened the gate and grinned, "Gentlemen, now we ride!"

And we did, and just like the other times when I felt like I was Pancho Villa, racing like the wind away from the authorities.  Paolo would show up right beside me to correct something, then gallop over to Aaron and do something similar.

We learned though, and we learned fast. It was a warm evening, and when Paolo said it was enough we didn't disagree at all. Before we started back I asked, "Can we stay out for awhile? It's almost sunset."

Paolo looked at his watch, then at us, then at the sky. "Sorry, guys. I have a date tonight."

He saw the looks on our faces and said, "I don't know. You can't go running in the dark, you know. I don't ... well, I don't know. Let me think."

I looked at Aaron, who shrugged and said, "We can walk back for the sunset."

I knew that, but I wanted to see it on horseback. I stroked Phil's mane wondering if he'd enjoy a sunset, too, but he didn't say anything.

Paolo finally asked, "You can handle it? You can't run these animals in the dark, you know. Somebody's in the barn to help, but you'll have to put the horses away, brush them off, make sure they get some grain, and have hay."

I looked at Aaron for confirmation, and he said to Paolo, "We won't get in trouble. We won't even stay out late - just until after sunset. Evan has to work tomorrow, and I have an early training session."

Paolo made up his mind quickly, nodded and said, "Okay, I trust you. Try to get back by full dark, though." He smiled, "Horses need rest, too. Have fun!"

With that, Paolo left, trotting away back toward the ranch, and I looked at Aaron for a second, then we rode slowly down to the river's edge just as the lowest clouds picked up a line of brilliant gold from below. The sunset was a good choice that night. It turned out to be a brilliant display, and we watched for a solid half hour. When the show had faded to some lavender clouds against a darker purple sky, we left to return to the ranch. All the time we had watched the sky, I had a picture in my mind of us watching it from a vantage point of about fifty feet behind us. Two silhouettes against the gorgeous, bright colors. I hate to admit it, but something was missing in my vision, and that something was western hats. Cowboy hats.

I didn't mention that to Aaron right away, for fear that he'd have a heart attack, but all the men at the ranch wore western hats, and in context they looked fine. There was a man in our neighborhood, Mr. Roddy, who wore one all the time, and he looked like a freakin’ idiot in it. That was our neighborhood, though, suburbia to the nth, and Mr. Roddy was a heavy-set, bald guy who wore glasses that were little horizontal slits and didn't suit his head anyhow. Paul Dawson had once remarked that Roddy looked like Elton John might if someone dropped something really, really heavy on his head, from a great altitude.

I wanted to at least try on a cowboy hat, but I really wanted to see Aaron in one.

He'd squeal and rant against the idea. I didn't care, he could resist all he wanted to.

Aaron could pull it off as well as any of the Vizcarrondo-Rosa clan, and he was already a good enough horseman that a hat wouldn't be pushing his luck. Aaron would look good in a dunce cap, at least to me. But a cowboy hat? Ooh, mama!

When we had our horses all squared away, we walked back into the shop to say goodnight. The youngest son, Diego, was in there on the phone, and he held up a finger to indicate he'd be with us shortly.

I started poking through the western wear they had for sale, and noticed the prices on cowboy hats. Hoo boy! They had straw hats that cost upwards of eighty dollars. Straw! They had felt ones from fifty bucks up into the hundreds, and the real fur ones all cost over a hundred, at least one of them over five hundred.

I absently stuck a straw hat on my head, which caused Aaron go gasp, "What are you doing, Ev? Take that thing off your head before someone sees you!"

I looked at him, "You don't like it?"

Aaron shook his head, and for added measure stuck his finger in his mouth as if to induce vomiting. I took the hat off and tried a five-hundred dollar one. Diego was there then, and he looked at me studiously for a few seconds before shaking his head. "No. No-no-no, that's not right. That's an old man's hat." He smirked and reached up to take the hat off, "You come back when you're fifty, I'll sell you that hat." He looked at me and asked, “What size you wear?”

“Big,” Aaron said.

Give Diego credit.  He didn’t laugh at me.  He turned around and looked at hats, his shoulders jiggling the whole time.  He finally picked up another hat, a brown one, and said, "Try this. This is a good hat. It's crushable. If it gets too hot, you can take it off and sit on it. When you lift your butt, it's good as new."

Aaron snickered, which got me going, then Diego joined in. "Si," he said. "Maybe not quite as good as new, but almost. You try it on. This costs sixty-three dollars, and it will last about forever."

"Until I'm fifty?" I asked, adjusting the hat in front of the mirror. I actually liked it. As unbelievable as it might sound, I - Evan Smiley - liked the way that hat looked on me. It was felt, and the color was a light brown with a slightly reddish tint, and it looked like suede. The brim bent down over my eyes when I went to pull it, and I smiled at myself in the mirror. Aaron was behind me, and his look was actually one of approval. I whipped around, "You like it? Oh, man, you should get one, too."

Aaron's jaw dropped, and Diego said quickly, "Not one of those." He took a closer look at Aaron and said, "One like mine. Not so tall, not so bendy. Come see." He led us to where he'd been talking on the phone, and picked up his own hat, which was flat on the top and had a wider brim. It was also wildly decorated with silver and gold pieces on the band, and Diego said, "You don't get the medals 'til you earn them, but take a look." He placed the hat on Aaron's head, getting an indignant look for his effort, then pulled the brim down very slightly in front, and proclaimed, "Perfect!"

Aaron turned to the mirror, the look on his face kind of murderous, but he smiled shortly, tipped the hat a bit to one side, then struck a pose, and another pose, and suddenly he was John Wayne, with six-guns in hand and a 'come get me' sneer on his face. I laughed in astonishment while Diego gave Aaron the once-over and finally proclaimed, "Yes!" He grinned at Aaron's pleased expression in the mirror and asked, "You like it?"

Aaron said calmly, "Take it off my head," and when Diego complied, he said, "Now put it back on me." Diego did, and Aaron smiled immediately. "Do I look like a gunslinger or what?" he asked as he turned to me.

I nodded, "Wyatt Earp, man. You look dangerous!"

Aaron looked back at the mirror, and said to Diego's reflection, "How much?"

Diego actually blushed. "Um, that one's one-sixty-eight." He added quickly, "I can give you five percent off  if you buy them both."

I did my usual. "A hundred-sixty bucks for a hat? It better come with the medals on it!"

Diego looked at some papers on the counter, and laughed briefly. "Those medals are mine! You win your own." He flipped through the papers, adding, "Shut up a minute. I have to find something."

I liked Diego. Not just for his horsemanship, though he never ceased to amaze us with what he could do. I liked him for the sense of self-satisfaction that came from him. Diego was sure enough of himself to have a self-deprecating sense of humor already, and he was only thirteen.

He had an explosive temper at the same time, but it didn't take long to recognize it as his relief valve. He would blow up one second, then laugh the next, and those laughs were frequently at himself.

He fiddled through papers behind the counter until he found what he was looking for, then used a calculator for something before looking up at us. He seemed about ready to say something, then skeptical. He went back to the calculator for a moment, then looked at us and smiled, "I can give you both hats for one-ninety. How's that?"

I looked at myself in the mirror again, and pulled the front of my hat brim down lower over my forehead.

I loved it. I looked at Aaron, who had Diego's hat back on his head. I thought he looked fantastic in it, but he didn't seem so sure. "What?" I asked.

He took the hat off and said sadly, "It's too much money. He flashed a quick, little grin my way, "I like it, and that's to your credit." He smiled again, "I would never have even tried it except for you, but I can buy ten hats for that money."

Aaron was serious, that was plain to see. I asked, "Well, do you like mine?"

He nodded and smiled, "I do, and I never thought I'd say that. You look like ... maybe a young ... I don't know who. You look famous, though, and kind of fabulous."

"I do?" I asked in surprise, and took another look in the mirror. I knew the hat looked good on me, but fabulous? I smiled at my reflection. Fabulous? Well ... maybe. "You know?" I said. "I probably would have had a boyfriend when I was six if I wore cowboy hats." I flexed my shoulders, still looking in the mirror, then pulled imaginary six-guns from imaginary holsters and pointed my fingers at the reflection, thumbs up as if they were real guns, and muttered, "Bang, bang."

Aaron laughed behind me, and Diego said hopefully, "You keep that hat, Evan. It looks good on you. It really does."

I looked at Aaron, and he nodded, "It does look good." He looked at Diego and pleaded, "Doesn't someone make an inexpensive hat like yours?"

Diego said, "Yes."

Aaron waited, then finally asked, "Well? Who makes it? Where do I get one?"

"I don't known who makes them," Diego replied. "I see them in K-Mart, I think, or maybe it was Walmart."

Heh. Aaron's reaction was one of sheer horror. He put a hand up to each cheek and asked incredulously, "K-Mart? Tell me you're kidding!"

Diego was enjoying himself. "Maybe Walmart. They sell whole cowboy outfits. You can even get a holster and shiny six-guns." He smiled sweetly at Aaron.

Aaron smiled back just as sweetly; a sickening sweetness. "Very funny." Then he shrugged, "Well, I can't afford this hat. What's my best bet?"

Diego said, "Come back when my father is here. This hat is expensive because it's fur. Maybe he can find you something in a catalog that looks the same, but just made from felt."

Aaron looked hopeful, "Really? Thanks, man. What's a good time to come?"

"He's here 'til five. I'll leave him a note what you're looking for. Give me your phone number, and he can call you if he finds something. Black, right?"

Aaron looked dumbly for a moment, then said, "Oh! The hat. Black is good ... or something close, like charcoal."

I almost suggested lavender, but I didn't put voice to the thought. Instead, Aaron left his number with Diego and we left. We had driven to the ranch in Aaron's car, and when we got back, he stopped at his house.

"Aren't you bringing me home?" I asked.

Aaron smiled and shook his head, before saying, hopefully, "It's a nice night. I'll walk you if you want."

I smiled back at him and nodded, "I want. Dearie."

Aaron grinned and touched his nose to mine, taking my hand at the same time. "Let's go then. I'll see that you get home safely and don't get lost."

I smiled, gave Aaron a quick kiss, and we headed down the street, hand in hand. There were a couple of old codgers who lived next door to each other just before the turn. Since Aaron and I had started walking by hand-in-hand, they both gave us dirty looks all the time, but they never said anything.

Until that night. When we were approaching the first house, the guy was out on his porch, and seemed to be just enjoying the evening until he spotted us. Then he stood up at the porch railing and said, "You. You there! I know who you are, and I have a good mind to report your perversions to the police. Your behavior is despicable in private. You have no right to be flaunting it in public like you do"

I attempted to walk faster, but Aaron held me back. "Hi, Mr. Perkins," he said evenly. "We're not flaunting anything, we're just walking down the street. I'm not a pervert, either, and I think you should take that back."

The guy glared with enough venom in his stare to make me believe he might have been dangerous at some point in his life, but he was a withered caricature the way he stood before us. He shook his fist angrily and said, "I stick by pervert. I call 'em as I see 'em, and what I see is perverts! Dammit! Go against the laws of nature if you will, but don't do it on the goddamn sidewalk!"

Aaron stood a little taller, pulled his shoulders back a bit and said, "Tell me how walking down the sidewalk makes me a pervert. You're not making any sense here."

Mr. Perkins continued to glower, and I saw the man from the next house now, standing at his own porch rail, taking it all in. Perkins said, "If you call walking down the sidewalk, holding hands with another male, something besides perverted, I'd like to know what that something is."

"That something," Aaron said, his voice still steady, "is that we're friends. Good friends. Special friends." He squeezed my hand and said, "Do you know where I learned to hold hands with males?"  While the old man continued to glare, confusion entering his expression, Aaron said, "My father showed me. Okay? My father always held my hand. He still will, when I let him." Aaron stared defiantly, and Mr. Perkins stared back.

Aaron went on, "Anyhow, you're the one with options. I have to go this way to get where I'm going. You could look away for a second, couldn't you? Make believe you don't see me, like you do when kids come by for Halloween, or trying to sell things for their class." He turned to me, "Let's go, Evan."

"Wait a minute, you little wiseacre!" Mr. Perkins called angrily. Aaron stopped and turned an impatient face to him. "I should call the police. I'm calling your father instead. Does he even know that his son is an insolent little fairy?"

Aaron stared for a moment, then said flatly, "No. He doesn't know that. You be sure to tell him, okay?" He tugged my hand, "Come on!"

We started down the street again, and Perkins was loudly affirming his intentions as we went. I glanced at the man on the next porch, who was quite fat and had a shiny face. He wore glasses, and he nodded at us so sharply and abruptly that I couldn't tell if it was in agreement with Perkins, or if he thought Aaron handled it well. It didn't matter a lot. Aaron was somewhat tense, which I could tell by the grip of his hand, but he relaxed when I talked.

"I just remembered something, Aar."

He giggled softly, "Really? What's that?"

"Let me ask you this first. Does he usually sit out there in the dark with no light on?"

Aaron shrugged, "I never noticed. Why?"

"Last year ... one of our first kisses was behind that bush in front of his porch. We weren't ten feet from where he's sitting now."

Aaron groaned, then said, "I don't think he was there. If he saw us kiss he'd probably have a heart attack." He giggled.

I snickered myself. "Oh, well. Think he'll cause trouble?"

We had to wait for a car to go by before we could cross the street, and we were on the other side in front of my house when Aaron said, "Trouble? He might try, Ev, but who's gonna listen if he tries to make a federal case out of holding hands? He started it anyhow, and I bet he never even calls my father."

I looked at Aaron. "You're right, but listen. He was threatening to out you to your father. Heh, little does he know, huh? But what if it wasn't you? What if it was some guy who isn't out?  Listen, Aar, he might be an old man, but I don't think he's senile. He could be dangerous to the wrong kid."

Aaron looked at me as we walked around to the back stairs, and when we got to the light there his face was already lit up with a smile. "Do you have a theory, Ev? Is Perkins more or less threatening to life as we know it than your former DA? Can he have me tried as an adult? Fried as an adult?" He smirked, "I don't think he can do anything at all, Ev. Well, he can annoy me."

When we got up to my room we kissed, then Aaron pulled back and said, "Perkins is an old man. I mean, he's paid all his dues by now. If he's still out when I go back, I think I'll tell him that at least I'm not one of his own grandkids.  He should be grateful for that, and maybe we can have a truce."

I gave Aaron a big hug, and we had a long kiss before he pulled away again. "I have to go." He smiled, "You know, one of the songs in the play has the line, 'We're depraved because we're deprived', and I think they want to make that a fact of my life for realism. I get no sleep, then when I do wake up I get no breakfast until after I'm brutalized by this ... brute!"

I grinned, "Tell me you aren't loving it, then."

Aaron stared at me, then smiled sweetly, "That would be a lie. That would be a real lie. I could use more sleep, for sure, but I don't think I've ever felt better. Healthier. I think I see why you jock guys run around and get exercise all the time. It feels good to be in shape."

I smiled, "Okay, macho man. How about you go home and let me get some sleep, and we'll see what really feels good on Friday."

Aaron smirked and kissed my nose, "Deal." His look turned serious, "Ev?"


"I'm not afraid of old Perkins. He can say what he wants, but he can't chase me off my own street." He flexed his bicep and winked at me, chuckling, "I could probably rip his head off, but he's just mouth."

"Wire down, Aar," I said. "For some reason, I can't picture you hurting anybody. That guy's an old man. Who cares what he thinks?"

I immediately realized what I'd just said, and tried to retract it. "Don't say it. I know you care, and I do, too." Aaron was stroking my hair, which I never liked too much, but right then it felt good. "I mean, he's old. Look at it this way; he spends his time looking back at his life. I'm sure he's seen ten tons of things we'll never see, and wars and things we won't want to see."

"What are you saying?" Aaron asked, sounding cautious.

"Nothing, really, " I said quietly. "Mr. Perkins is old like your granddad, and he has a different view." I gulped, "I don't wanna be disliked because I'm gay, but I try to be real. People like Perkins grew up in a different age. Who knows? Maybe he's a war veteran." I shrugged, "I don't think it matters. Not to me, anyhow. People will come down against gays, but less and less. Heh, maybe next they'll get mad at mosquitos, then even we can join the party."

Aaron laughed a little, then kissed me again. He grinned, "When the war on mosquitoes starts, count me in. I hate those little ... um ... buggers."

"Nobody likes mosquitoes much, Aar," I laughed. "I just mean that, like, your grandpa changed his mind about gays a long time ago Don't even bother trying with Mr. Perkins. Well, don't as long as he doesn't come after you with a pitchfork or something."

Aaron gave me one more kiss and said, "Bye, Ev. I'll see you tomorrow, right?"

"If the sun comes up you will," I said, and stood when he did. I only followed him to the bottom of the stairs, comfortable that I'd see him again the next day. We kissed again, short and sweet, and I stood there watching until he reached the sidewalk. Then, Aaron turned and gave me a quick wave, and I went back upstairs. Halfway up, I realized that things had changed since the year before, and for the better.

When I first met Aaron, given love at first sight, or almost, and all that ... I used to worry about him ... fear for his well being. He'd seemed so frail at first ... so effeminate ... so gentle and kind. Heh, none of those thoughts kept me from lusting after him, but I did feel an obligation to look out for him. I still would, too, but Aaron does fine on his own. At least against old men.

+ + + + + + + +

Hokay was late the next morning, which was a first in my experience, so I hustled to get all the equipment and trailers ready for the crews.  I neglected to make coffee in the process, and started the day on a double negative. 

I managed okay with the trailers because it was an easy morning, with few things needing repair or replacement.  My cell phone and the shop phone had been going off almost continuously, but I didn’t take time to look at the calls until the last crew was pulling out of the yard, and I had a pot of coffee brewing.   I felt good that I’d managed on my own like I did, but good in the breathless sense that it was really hard to hurry like I had with no help.

I went to the bathroom, then poured a cup from the half-brewed pot, sat down and opened my cell phone to see who’d called.  To my horror, the first call, and all the subsequent calls, alternated between Harlan and Hokay, and they all had the code of ‘911’ after the call-back numbers, which was the shorthand we used for important calls.

All I could think of was an accident, and I called Harlan’s number with trembling fingers.  He answered with, “Evan, where have you been?  I’ve been calling all morning!”

“I know,” I said.  “So has Hokay.  What’s going on?  Did he get hurt or something?”

Harlan said, “Hokay’s fine.  He’s here with me.”

“What’s wrong, then?” I asked.  “Are you okay?”  Then I had a horrible thought, “Tell me Edie’s alright!”

Harlan sounded kind of upset or excited.  “Edie’s okay, she’s fine.  We had our baby, Evan, and he’s fine, too.”

“A boy?” I asked, surprised and suddenly happy.

“Yeah, and a big ‘un.  He’s almost nine pounds, and twenty inches long!”

I felt kind of speechless.  I didn’t know what made a big baby or a little one, and feared making the wrong comment.  I said, “Wow!  He’s all healthy and everything?”

Harlan sounded proud.  “He’s perfect, Evan.  Beautiful!”

I smiled to myself and said, “That’s great, Harlan.  Congratulations.  Does he have a name yet?”



“Evan,” Harlan repeated, and I thought my phone must be dying.

I shook it and asked, “Can you hear me now?”

He said, “I can hear you.  I think Hokay just went into a coma.”

I panicked.  “What?  What happened to Hokay?”

“Nothing happened.  He’s from Pakistan, but he’s a Hindu.  Having a son as a firstborn is a transcendent thing to the Hindus, and I think Hokay is transcending in my place.”

I had to laugh.  “That’s kind of funny.  So what’s the baby’s name?”

“Alright, I see the disconnect now,” Harlan stated, humor in his voice.  “His name is Evan Blaine, with no middle name.  Before you think things, he’s not named after you; we just borrowed your first name because we like it, and it sounds good with Blaine.”  His voice softened, “I don’t want my kid growing up with the idea that he has to measure up to some ideal, some preconceived notion.  That’s why he’s not Harlan, Junior either.  I wouldn’t do that.”

“Can I visit later?” I asked.  “How long will you be at the hospital?”

“Call after work, if you’re still standing.  I think we’ll get out today, but no guarantee.  We’re in a birthing room here, so it’s family only.  Hokay’s here because he brought us.  He’ll send Abizer to help you out, okay?”

I suddenly got tears in my eyes, and it was all I could do to say, “Okay.  I’m really glad for you, boss, and tell Evan Blaine that Evan Smiley can’t wait to meet him.”

Harlan sounded choked up himself when he replied, “I’ll do that, Evan.  I’ll do exactly that.”

I was off my pace all day after that, and when engine repairs began to baffle me, I stuck to the easy things and spent the rest of the morning on oil changes and lubes.

When I was relaxing with my first sandwich at lunchtime, I noticed Abizer’s bulk blocking my light from where he stood. 

“What should I do?”  he asked.

I looked at him, and was surprised once more by his size, and uncharacteristic little-boy voice. 

“Know how to replace a little piston?”  I asked.  “Two stroke?  I’m talking weed-whackers here.”


He didn’t sound like fixing engines was why he showed up.  “Do you want to?” I asked.

Abizer looked a bit hesitant, “Well, um, my father said to take orders from you, but if it’s okay with you I should re-wire the ignition system on that loader out there.”

Oh, God!  The job from Hell, and both Hokay and I had been avoiding it for a week.  The machine in question is a front-end loader with a backhoe on the other end, and the engine is in the rear, too.  The wiring harness had been designed in Hell, most likely by Mr. Satan himself.  I looked at Abizer and asked, “That thing doesn’t scare you?”

He shook his head, and I said, “I’m just a kid.  Always listen to your father. I’ll fix the little mutts myself.”

He smiled, I smiled, and I spent the next few hours busily repairing trimmer motors while Abizer took on the monster task.  It was about three when I heard that big machine come to life, and I ran outside and grinned at Abizer’s own grin until his faded.

He shut the machine down, and I asked, “What?  Something wrong?”

Abizer said, “Crossed wire, I think.  Up don’t work on the loader.  I’ll fix it.”

“Need help?” I asked.

“If you don’t mind, yeah.  You know how to work this thing?”

I nodded, and he said, “Okay, you sit up here and do what I say.”  He grinned, “Don’t cut me in half, okay?”

I tried to process  the fact that up didn’t work, and Abizer didn’t want to be sliced in half.  “What’s the real problem?”  I called to Abizer.  Abizer?”

“Over here,” he said, coming from the side of the building while he pulled his zipper up.

“What’s wrong with this thing?”

“Backwards, is all,” he replied.  “Don’t worry, I can fix it.  Morons color-coded these wires.  You just make sure you see me standing here before you try anything.”

“Got it,” I said.

Fifteen minutes later, that machine was perfect, at least operationally, and Abizer and I spent the next hour with its maintenance manual, performing every single recommended service.

After that, I gave the machine a good cleaning with the pressure washer, and by the time I finished the early crews were coming in, so I didn’t really have time to admire the results of our work, but I did put it back on its trailer, and it looked perfect after I’d secured it.

Machines don’t wink at you or anything, but that old Cat owed Abizer a big thank you, and so did I.

Billy and Barrett ended up on the same crew that day, and they were on one of the first trucks in.  They’d had a tough day, too, from the looks of them.  They were both coated in green, which happens when you run a trimmer in an area that’s both hot and windy.

I had to laugh when they approached me smiling, because all I could see were two walking salads, whose features were obscured except for the whites of their eyes and their teeth when they smiled.  “What’s this?”  I asked.  “The invasion of the humanoid veggies from outer space?”

Billy snickered, “Take me to your compost heap, you fucker!  I’ve seen you green like this.  Tell me how to get it off.”

“Lye,” I lied.  “You know, like Drano.”  Billy made a face and I said, “If you believe that, I’ll tell you another.”   I smiled, ‘Just take a shower and scrub.  It’ll come off.”

Barrett looked down at himself and asked, “The clothes?”

“What can I say?  It’s grass. Wash them.  The dirt and grass will come off, and if the clothes are stained, then they are.”  I smiled at them, “It’s part of the uniform, guys, like you don’t know that by now.”

A guy from a different crew interrupted, and he wanted me to look at their truck, which wasn’t driving right, so I went to take a look.  I listened to his description of the problem, took a quick look, and brought him to the office for keys to a different truck when I couldn’t tell what was wrong.  Hokay and I would fix little things with trucks, but mostly sent them to dealers for engine or transmission problems. Unlike some companies, Harlan didn’t keep vehicles beyond their warranty period, so if it wasn’t a fuse or something other obvious thing, we sent it to the shop. Harlan’s crews didn’t run up a lot of mileage, but the trucks took a lot of heavy use and abuse, and he was wise to get rid of the old ones before they became headaches.

I went back to the shop, and things were normal enough.  The crews were in early because the weather had been so dry.  Short grass still got cut, but cleanups went much faster.  Even the guys who loved their overtime seemed to be pleased with the shortened days, and the forecast called for rain the next week.  It wouldn’t be dry forever.

I hadn’t spent much time at all with Barrett.  He was staying with Harlan, but he worked hard and was tired when he was done, like everyone else.  He was sitting outside waiting for me, when I closed the shop.  “Barrett?  What’s up?”

He smiled at me and stood up, still mostly green except he’d washed his face and hands. “I just talked to Harlan.  He wants you to come over to the house if you can.  They just came home with the baby.”

“Really?” I asked excitedly.  “I’ll be there, trust me.”  I grinned at Barrett’s own excitement and said, “This is so great!  You think I should bring anything?”

Barrett shrugged, “Like, what?  Baby’s first chain saw?”

I poked his shoulder and laughed at the thought.  “You idiot. I meant food!”

Barrett said seriously, “Evan, there’s enough food in that house already.  Tell you what, though.  Maybe you and me can cook some of it, so Harlan and Edie don’t have to.”

I said, “Sounds good to me.  Let me wash up and change, and I’ll be there in an hour.  Less.”

Barrett left, and I got in my truck and started home, only pausing to make sure the gate slid closed behind me.  It didn’t always go all the way without some manual help.

I drove home quickly, showered and changed, and drove as fast as I could get away with on the way to Harlan’s house. 

There was no party going on, but Harlan’s and Edie’s families were well represented, and some of their friends and neighbors had stopped by to see the new baby.  Harlan and Edie were in the living room with little Evan Blaine, who was zonked on Harlan’s lap in a thing they called a cuddler: basically a pillow with no center.  Edie was asleep in an armchair in the middle of everything.

It was warm, but the baby still wore a one-piece fleece something-or-other, and a look of total serenity on his little face.  Let me tell you, I was enthralled.  Evan had fat cheeks, a little bit of wispy blonde hair, and hands and feet that really surprised me.  Of all things, he had fingernails and toenails on every one of his tiny little digits.  I’d never thought about it, but I kind of figured that things like nails showed up around the same time as teeth.

I was kneeling there looking when Harlan asked, “Want to hold him?”

“Me?” I asked, but that was exactly what I wanted to do.  I did as I was told, and soon had the baby in my arms while Harlan got up to stretch.  Little Evan was peaceful at first, but he soon began to fuss and moan, then he shivered a little and opened his eyes, which were a striking blue.  He looked at me, gurgled and smiled, then went back to sleep.

I looked around, “Did you see that?  He smiled at me.”

Harlan’s father was there to take the baby, and he said, “Listen up, Evan.  This boy just shit his britches.”  People laughed gently, and when he had the baby secure in his arms he said, “Come, boys.  You’ll need to know how this works before long, anyhow.  No time like the present.”

I saw Barrett start to stand, but when I didn’t he sat back down, too.  Still, a fair crowd of people followed Harlan’s father into another room.  I looked at Barrett and made a face.  He smiled brightly, “I’ve been hearing about poop since I got here.”  He leaned back, his hands behind his head, and grinned.  “Tell me about gay life, Evan.  I think I’m starting to see the appeal, at least a little bit.”

I took a pillow off the sofa and tossed it at Barrett’s head, connecting nicely.  “Jerk!  Didn’t you ever have a puppy or anything?”

Barrett’s expression became benign.  “Sure I did.  Are you gonna tell me that Grandpa Blaine has little Evan outside, and he’s teaching him where he can go?”  He laughed, “I can see it now:  Here you go, baby.  This green stuff is grass.  You can crap here, but try to stay around the edges.  This here’s the garden.  This is better than the grass, but let me show you what woods are all about.”

I hit him with another pillow and said, “You’re nuts.  I thought we were cooking tonight.”

Barrett started to stand, “Good idea.  People brought all kinds of salads and casseroles, so we can just make some hamburgers or steaks or something.”

We did that.  Harlan had an indoor grill, but the kitchen was full of people, and every level surface was already covered with various trays and bowls of food.  Cooking more food was probably redundant, but it gave me and Barrett a way to feel like we were contributing, and the burgers, hot dogs, and Italian sausages we brought in were well received.

Barrett’s young cousin, Russell showed up while we were eating, and I didn’t recognize him at first.  I noticed him, for sure, because he was one cute kid, but not the little butterball he was on Thanksgiving.  He’d sprouted upward, lost some fat, and had a real shape starting on him.

Russell was the same cheerful kid I remembered, though.   He was a bit shy at first, but confidence crept in as we talked and fooled around, and before long we managed to say some intelligent things. 

I asked him if he was playing any sports, and he said, “Baseball.  I always played baseball.”

“Really?  I play baseball, too.  Third base most times.”

Russell warmed to me with that, and we had a nice talk about the game.  He was still Little League, so he played every position from time to time, but he was a catcher most often. 

It was a first for me, talking about ball with a younger kid, and feeling like the voice of experience.  It  was a fun talk, too, because Russell played for the same reason I did:  love of the game.  He’s a good conversationalist, too, and we didn’t get into bragging about our personal prowess.  Instead, we talked about how certain things made us feel, such as making a real grandstand play, and then about totally boneheaded things we’d done.

Yes, baseball has outtakes, just like the movies.  Pick anyone from Roger Clemens to Mickey Mantle to Babe Ruth.  Everyone who plays the game has had days when he may as well have been on the opposing team.  Everyone has bad days, and everyone has awful days.  Oddly enough, it’s the worst games that become fodder for future funny stories.  You can reminisce about a great game, but how do you describe it when you carefully underhanded a ball back to the pitcher to hold three runners on their bases, and the ball flew inexplicably into the left field dugout, allowing two runs to score?  Ball error?

I had a good time at Harlan’s, just like always.  I’d had a tough day without Hokay, too, so I left around eight to go home to bed. I spent a few minutes with Harlan, Edie and baby Evan, said my goodbyes, and drove home.

I was really tired, too.  I’d worked hard, but it wasn’t just that.  I’d been excited about the baby, but that still wasn’t all of it.  When I pulled into the driveway, it struck me.  Stress.  Stress!  It’s not a term that applies to me, and suddenly it did.  Evan Smiley got stressed out that day, and the stress came from not knowing.  If I’d only answered a phone that morning!  Not knowing where Hokay might be, and worrying that something bad happened, had me on edge way more than doing everything by myself.  Work is work, and I haven’t really found my limit for doing it yet.  I had just done the work that day, not really a problem, but it was not knowing why that stressed me.

“Asshole,” I thought on the way up the stairs.  “Next time, answer the phone.”

I didn’t see Aaron a lot before the weekend.  I worked every day, and he had rehearsals every night, and they seemed to go later and later.  Aaron had quit his singing lessons, and his teacher understood Aaron’s motives, whether he agreed with them or not.

Friday night was ours, though, and we went for crab sandwiches first, then for a get-together at the O’Shea’s house. This time it was Dean’s doing, not Billy’s, but there were only a few people I didn’t already know.  It was a pool party and a nice time.

Aaron spent the night with me on my porch, and that made for another nice time, but he had things to do the next afternoon and evening, so there really wasn’t time to get together between when I got out of work and he had to leave.

That was okay.  We both knew before school got out that we’d have less time together this year.  Less than we wanted, anyhow.

It was better than being in two different towns, and we could get away often enough.  When I had to be on the road for work, Aaron rode along sometimes, and when he found the time he’d visit me at the shop.  That wasn’t often, but on days when that was the only way to see each other at all, we tried to get in at least a few minutes of face time.

Aaron wouldn’t show up where I work at times he knew I’d be busy.  Instead, he’d pick up a sandwich and eat lunch with me and Hokay.

Anyhow, a single Saturday on my own wouldn’t kill me, and I had things to do anyhow.  I left the shop a little after nine under a cloudy sky.  I stopped at a supermarket for some food and a carton of iced tea, and when I came out it was raining.  Just sprinkling, really, but the first rain since I arrived back in Riverton.

I stopped for a haircut and had to wait.  By the time I left the barber, the rain was coming down steadily.  Normally, rain on a summer Saturday would have been a bummer, but I knew Harlan was faced with the possibility of layoffs, and this was the soaking rain everyone had been hoping for recently.

It gave me a chance to do what I bought my rocking chair for, which was to sit there with the light on and read a real book, just for enjoyment, while I listened to the rain.  As luck would have it, I put my book down not a half hour before the rain stopped and the sun came out.

I went out to the kitchen to get a snack, and the guys were all there.

“Dude!” Shane said.  “You’re here?  Where’s Aaron?”

I looked at the table, which had a lot of empty beer cans on it as usual.  “Aaron’s busy doing whatever,” I said.  “I was in my room reading.”

“Want a beer?” Arnie asked.

I started to say no, then changed my mind and said, “Sure.”

Beer’s not my favorite thing, but I could sit and talk with those guys while I sipped one, and it was fun.  They’re all pretty bright, and we had a great talk about a lot of things.  The trouble was, they drank a lot of beer, while Eli drank lemonade, and I only drank about half of my can of beer.  I stood up when it wasn’t fun for me anymore, and stretched.  It was raining again by then, and I said, “I think I’ll take a nap.  See you.”

Kevin acknowledged me, but Arnie and Shane were pretty well gone.  Eli just said, “Me too,” and that was it.

I went to my porch and stretched out on the bed, and I was done.  It was ten o’clock at night when I woke up.  I was hungry and I had to use the bathroom.

I made myself two grilled cheese sandwiches, which I ate in my room.  The rain had stopped, so I went downstairs after I ate just to get outside for a minute.

God, it was the perfect summer night. It was warm and humid.  Haze obscured the sky, ozone from the rain filled the air, and tree frogs were playing their songs.  I didn’t stay very long, because the mosquitoes were out in force.  They drove me back inside, but I didn’t care.  I didn’t have a care, really.

I went back to bed, thinking I had a pretty perfect day, except no Aaron.  I liked it, even without him, and he called just as I was dozing off.

“Hi, Ev.  Crummy day, huh?”

“You mean the rain?  I had a good day.  I just goofed off and didn’t do much, but nice.  How about you?”

“Oh, I started out pulling a muscle in my calf.  Then I got so sweaty I couldn’t even hold on to my weights.  It was better at rehearsal.  We worked on the music with the choreographer there.  It was kind of disjointed, but we learned what we’re supposed to look like when we do the songs.  It was fun.”

It didn’t sound like much fun to me, but I said the opposite.  “Sounds it,” I said, embarrassed that I yawned at the same time.

Aaron snickered, “You sound tired.”

“Sorry,” I said.  “I guess I am.  Time for a kiss.”

“You’re going home tomorrow?” he asked.

“Yeah.  Kind of the last chance with my brother.  I’ll be back for our ride; don’t worry.”

“Good luck with that, Ev.  I hope it works out. You’ll be back what time?”

“Probably around one,” I said.

“Okay.  Let’s have a kiss, then.  I’m tired too.”

When we hung up, I felt bad.  I was feeling lazy after a goof-off day, and hadn’t put a whole bundle of enthusiasm into that conversation.  I thought about calling Aaron back, but fell asleep on the thought.

* * * * * * * *

I was wide awake the next morning though.  I put coffee on, took a long shower, and spent a bit of time shaving and grooming myself.  I had to get used to the new haircut, but it was okay.

I felt exhilarated and nervous at the same time.  I didn’t eat, but filled my travel mug with coffee, then it was on to Mt. Harman and Chris.

And my brother, Matt.

Oh, God, I thought.  Here we go.