"Oh, yeah. Perfect. A little romance, a little reflection on why tequila is evil, and a little ass kicking. You sure know how to show a girl a good time."
"I never figured you for a brawler. Guess you didn't really need my help when we met. And what the *hell* were you drinking when you hooked up with Barbie?"
"I'm only a decent brawler; no one's trying to kill you or rape you, just knock you out. I'm only good at that as part of a team. I need someone big and bad watching my back. I knew you wouldn't let anyone hurt me. Sometimes I just have to let off some steam, you know? Oh, God, that was the result of a really horrible day and fifteen or twenty two a.m.'s . I'd gotten fired from my job because I wouldn't sleep with my boss and I'd came home to a completely empty apartment and a note from my girlfriend saying 'So long, sucker!'. Then my sister called and told me our grandfather died, but I couldn't come to the funeral because God forbid I spread my evil gay cooties back into the family circle, to paraphrase other less-than-tolerate relatives. A good long chat with Jose seemed like a good idea at the time. My answer to stress always seems to involve liquor, sex, or both. You know how it is when you're drunk and depressed. I went home with the first woman who showed me the least bit of attention."
"Been there, done that, invented the postcard. I've never heard of two a.m's though. What's in them?"
"Basically, a tequila sunrise with a hell of a lot of tequila and very little sunrise. Thus named because after a couple of them you pass out by two a.m."
"Oh lord. So we're agreed neither of us should ever, under any circumstances, drink tequila again?"
"At least not in public," she concedes.
"I think we're going to have to go shopping. Our clothes are ruined. We're both soaked in beer and blood and my jacket and shirt are torn beyond repair. You aren't hiding any injuries from me, are you?"
"No, not deliberately. I don't think I'm hurt anywhere except my knuckles. You're welcome to double check, though. Say in the shower?"
"Can I wash your back?"
"If I can wash yours."
"I'd say that was only fair."
"Are *you* hurt?"
"Just a few bruises and maybe a scrape or two, but I imagine I'll be sore as hell tomorrow. I'm getting too old for this crap."
"Me, too. At least we don't have to work tomorrow. We can sleep in as long as we want."
"Mm, yeah. Should I adjust the water or do you want to?"
"You can do it. I'll be in in a second."
"Okay." I go into the bathroom and turn on the hot water to let it warm up. I'm nervous as hell. We haven't been naked or even half-naked with each other except for that once. We always change in different rooms and we both wear T-shirts and boxers to bed. She wears one of my shirts usually so I don't even see much of her. Her legs are fantastic, of course, but showing your legs in public won't get you arrested. Well, in the U.S. at least. I've never showered with anyone on my own volition either. I take off my clothes and awkwardly bend over to adjust the water.
"Now, I could get used to this."
I don't turn around or straighten. I'm not quite ready for her to see everything. "I hope so," I say with false lightness.
"Is the water ready?"
"Yeah, c'mon." I straighten and turn around shyly to face her, nervously moving aside so she could get in the shower. She's wearing a plain black bra and panties, very granny-ish. She still looks incredible, but I feel all uncomfortable and stupid being naked when she isn't. I don't know how I could've misunderstood. I don't know what to do. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea," I stammer, looking everywhere but at her.
"Maybe not, but get in anyway. I'll take off my underwear. I was just really nervous to be naked in front of you again. I know it's really stupid, you've seen every inch of me up close, but it just feels different now, you know?"
"I'm really nervous, too," I confess shyly.
"Really? You don't think I'm weird?"
"Well, yeah, but not for that," I tease.
"Maybe we should just wash each other's backs and get used to it slowly."
"Works for me."
She grabs my shower gel and lathers up a washcloth. "I'll go first."
"Okay." I present her with my back, relieved. I have no clue how these things work. I just wash what I can reach and hope enough soapy water drips over the rest to get it clean.
She runs the cloth over my shoulders and back lightly at first, I guess to get one or both of us used to it. It kinda tickles, but in a strangely pleasant way. She presses a little harder on the next pass. It feels incredible. No wonder everyone in romances does it. I relax. This isn't scary.
"Stand under the water." I do and she runs her hands over my back and shoulders to rinse off the soap. Oh man, that's so good. We're so doing this again.
"How was that?"
"Oh god, that was fantastic. Can we do it again?"
"Of course. Didn't it hurt when I washed those scrapes on your shoulders, though? They look pretty bad. I don't know how you got them. I didn't see anyone even really hit you."
"Probably getting to you when you pulled your little bar trick. I got hit by a few chairs, I think. I suppose you might've scratched me when you grabbed me for balance, too. I had my mind on more important things, like making sure you didn't get hurt. I have a high pain threshold. I can't feel anything off back there."
"I see I'm going to have to start doing inspections to make sure you haven't been hurt. Being more careful with you might help too. I didn't even think about it. I saw you and knew it was time to go. I knew you were strong enough to catch me. I don't know how you managed to run that damn fast carrying me either. I'm not that light."
"If it makes you feel better, I don't mind you playing doctor. You aren't very heavy at all. You need to eat more. I do a lot of weight lifting at work while I think. I have a pretty good set up. That's another thing I want to add if we buy the house -- a better gym. I go to a gym three or four days a week. I just do it when you're at work. I've kinda slacked off lately and only go twice a week. I really should start going more often again."
"I think I'm clean enough, Syd. Yes, you should, but when I'm home so I can watch. Your muscles are *so* hot. I love watching and feeling you flex. You're so damn sexy it should be illegal."
I realize I've unconsciously washed her back while we were talking. What a gyp! I take my time rinsing her off. No scrapes. God, I'd forgotten how soft and smooth her skin is. I could do this all day.
"The hot water won't last forever, hon. We should finish washing up and go to bed."
"Yeah, should I get out or…?" I ask uncertainly.
"No, go ahead and wash. You do it much faster than I do. I'll hang out here in the back. Then you can dry off while I'm washing."
It's very strange washing with her in the shower with me. I wonder if she's watching. I hurry as fast I can because she's probably cold. "You're turn." I get out without looking at her, feeling all shy and awkward again. I dry off quickly and gratefully slip into my clean clothes. I carefully ease out of the room so as not to let in any more outside air than is absolutely necessary.
I have no idea what to do now. Should I get right into bed? Should I try to read or just lie there and wait? What does she have in mind? Just sleeping? Reading and then sleeping? Making out? I don't want to be reading if she wants to make out because maybe she won't want to disturb my reading. On the other hand, what if I'm lying there like I want to sleep and she wants to read? We don't usually shower at the same time. I shower while she's at work and she showers while I'm cooking breakfast. Just another new situation. Tonight's been so full of them. She said yes. She will marry me. She's now nearly legally mine. I'm going to be married. Me! I've never even had a goldfish in my adult life and suddenly, I'm going to have a wife. Forever. I'll have to tell her every thing now. I can't be so selfish as to wait until after the ceremony. I never thought I'd have any of this. She said yes! I can't get over it. I want to marry her, but I didn't think she'd say yes. I want to add that second ring to her finger in front of -- Now, there's a question. Do either of us have anyone to come to a wedding, let alone stand up with us? I can't think of anyone I particularly want there. I have a few friends, but no one very close and most of those I slept with at one time or another. Not very suitable wedding guests. From what she's said, she's estranged from her family. Mine's all dead or I wish they were. Well, I guess that means it won't cost me the earth to cater or rent a hall. Maybe we could just get married at city hall in regular clothes and then it won't cost me three months' salary to buy her a damn dress she'll never wear again and I'd need a PhD to take off her. Suppose there's plenty of time to think of that later. No rush.
"You're thinking too hard again," Cynthia says softly. "Wondering what the hell you've gotten yourself into?" Her tone is light, but her eyes are serious.
"Wondering how I got so damn lucky. I never thought I could have this."
"You know it's going to be a while before I'm ready to even really make plans for a wedding."
"I know. That's okay with me. I'm in no rush. Maybe could see where we are in a few in a few months and discuss it again?"
"Yeah, that sounds good. I'd really like to live together for a while before we make it legal. We're pretty much already doing that, but I mean with both of us having all our stuff in one place. I think I'm about ready to do that, if I have the safety net of my own place. I don't think I can get married until I don't feel like I need a safety net anymore. Does that make any sense?"
"Yes, it does. That's why I think it's such a good idea if we bought this house together, equally. We could be together and still have our own places if something goes horribly wrong between us. I'm afraid too, but I'm more afraid of being without you. I'm willing to live anywhere as long as I get to hold you at night when you don't have to work. I'd live in the car if you thought that's how it ought to be, if I could hold you."
"Don't you have any other conditions?"
I look at her blankly, honestly puzzled. "What else matters?"
She looks startled and gazes at me intently. "You really mean that, don't you? You really would give up everything for me."
"Pretty much, yeah, or at least be willing to negotiate. There's nothing more important to me than you."
"You are absolutely the perfect woman," she says, almost reverently.
"Oh, I'm far from perfect, darlin', and I wouldn't want to be even if I could. I don't think you are either; I just happen to love your faults."
"That's a relief since I have so many of 'em."
"Nah, not *that* many. Just enough to be interesting."
She laughs. "I feel better now. I was afraid you *did* think I was perfect and that's a hard thing to live with."
"Oh, hell no. I'm lovesick, not blind or stupid. None of them bother me enough to mention, let alone be deal breakers."
"I wish you had told me… That's one of the big things that's bothered me -- that you had me on a pedestal and would leave when I fell, as I was bound to eventually."
"I suppose I do a little, but doesn't everyone who is in love? I know you have me on a very tall one, so I completely understand your fear. I live it every minute. I'm not the woman you think I am. I'm not a hero. I'm not brave or strong or sweet or all those other things you keep calling me. I'm weak and afraid and the things I've done… I'm so scared all the time. This isn't easy for me, but I love you so much I have to try. I don't know what either of us can do to reassure the other except just be there despite everything and fight the fear within ourselves. Our love is not Humpty Dumpty and if we fall, we *can* put it back together again. It might not be easy, but what worthwhile venture is?" Damn, I have a way with words when I get going. I hope someone is taking notes.
"I guess I do, huh? I didn't realize. My hero with the dark past, swooping in to rescue me from anyone and anything. Syd, we're living in a bad comic book or a bad novel here. You don't have any tights, do you?"
I laugh. "God no! Tights are *so* not butch." This is what I love about this woman. We can go from super serious to playful in two seconds.
"Does that make Superman bi? We already know all about Batman and Robin."
"Hm… that'd explain why Luther hates him so much and Jimmy Olson follows him around."
She giggles. "Poor Lois. Do you think she knows?"
"Maybe. Or she really *does* believe he's always saving the world when he's gone. Perhaps she has someone on the side too. He's probably faster than a speeding bullet in everything and she's glad he's gone. Ew, okay, that's more than enough talking about superhero sex lives."
"Are you too tired to talk about *my* hero's sex life?" She asks seductively, playing with the hem of my T-shirt.
"Well… Does it involve demonstrations?"
"I think it should, just to make sure we're talking about the same things."
"Probably wise. Is this going to be a long, in-depth chat, or a short general overview?"
"I don't know, maybe we should just start talking and see where conversation leads us?"
"You have some mighty fine ideas yourself, darlin'."
I pull her closer and kiss her almost lazily. I'm relaxed and comfortable and not really in any hurry. I just want to connect with her. I could, without the least bit of effort, have sex with her right now. She's very willing; I can feel her desire like I have so many times before. She'd do anything I wanted, as long as I wanted. I can taste her surrender in every kiss. It would be so easy. But I want to connect to her emotionally. I've always used sex as a living or a way to drown out the demons. No emotions, just the melding and molding of two -- or more -- bodies. Just pure physical sensation. I don't want that with her. Never. I want to learn how to be emotionally close when we're physically close. I feel closer to her than I ever have in my life. Going slow is doing that for me. Slowly getting used to how she makes me feel inside when she touches the outside. My heart and my erogenous zones are slowly learning how to work together. I love the slow movement of her lips against mine and the gentle touch of her hand on my cheek. She's never done that before and the sheer emotion of it nearly makes me cry. She's just cupping my cheek; she's not rubbing or stroking anything. I know it sounds corny, but it feels like she's holding my heart. My heart is racing; I can't breathe. I don't know how I'll survive every thing now. Yet, I'm willing to die if she desires. I run my hand lightly up and down her side and remind myself to breathe again. I'm pretty sure it's bad form to pass out during a make out session. She'd never let me hear the end of it. I very tentatively bring my hand up to touch her face. I've never touched anyone's face before without a punch being involved. I can't describe how incredible it feels. Her cheek is warm, soft, and so smooth. Oh man. Breathe, Brogan. I move my hand back down. It's too much. Ooh, lookie here, there's something *else* soft and warm. Maybe I should investigate. Mm… yeah, very soft and warm. Oh, *that's* not soft. Maybe I can do this after all. I could slip my hand under her shirt to investigate more closely. I'm quite enjoying what I'm doing, so I decide to wait a minute. She's pressing against my hand. I squeeze her breast lightly. Was that a moan? I do it again. Oh yeah! It's a moan. I still got it. I feel a surge of confidence and I'm just about to make my move under her shirt when the phone rings.
"Who the hell would be calling at three a.m?!" Cynthia exclaims, looking as annoyed and frustrated as I feel.
"I don't know; keep my spot warm and I'll go answer it." I get up and go into the living room to answer. "Hello?" I say quite politely, considering what I was just interrupted doing.
"Uh, hello. Is Cynthia Harvey there?"
"Yes, may I ask who is calling?"
"Her sister, Camille. I'm so sorry to call so late, but it's quite urgent."
"It's all right. Let me go get her. Just a minute."
I go back into the bedroom, worried. Late night phone calls from estranged family cannot possibly be good. "Honey, it's your sister, Camille. She says it's urgent."
"Camille? Shit! Someone must've died. Hold me while I talk to her?"
We go back into the living room and she snuggles up to me on the couch as I hand her the phone. "Hello?" She listens for a minute, going pale.
I'm extremely worried now and I hold her tighter, trying to send her 'it'll be all right' vibes.
"I'll be there as soon as I can with my fiancée and anyone who doesn't like it can just kiss my ass. I'm not staying away this time." She listens some more. "No, don't give me that bullshit; I have as much right to be there as anyone. More. Who the hell do you think pays for that fancy nursing home? It sure as hell costs more than her share of the profits and it sure as hell ain't you or Clayton or Mother paying the extra. I should have been contacted directly and -- She did *what*?! No! We're coming and that's that. It's my home too and I'm not letting a bunch of homophobic sons of bitches keep me from it anymore. I'm going to be there this time and that's final." She slams down the phone and turns to me. "My grandmother has taken a turn for the worse and isn't expected to survive the weekend. She's the only one who will still talk to me openly. She's been sick with cancer for a long time. Want to come to Hell with me to say goodbye?"
"Of course. You can tell me just where hell is while we get dressed."
Wouldn't you know it? There's no plane to Hell. The best I can do is an airport six hours away and it takes some doing to manage that. Renting a car online proves slightly easier and I'm assured one will be waiting for us at our destination. The only flight I can get leaves at 6am from an airport two hours away from us. We end up racing down the Interstate doing ninety on my bike with Cynthia clutching me in a death gripe, praying there's no state troopers on the route and desperately wishing I dared to go collect my car from the bar, but it's on the other side of town and there's probably still cops crawling around. We just don't have that kind of time. We barely make our flight as it is. I have to do some fast talking to convince Cynthia not to drink on the plane. She's too keyed up to sleep, but doesn't want to talk. I hold her hand and try not to think about what I'm doing and what's awaiting us.
She finally starts talking on the long ass drive to Hell. (That's actually the name of the town -- Hell, Montana -- who would've guessed she grew up on a cattle ranch?!) "I haven't been on the ranch since high school. As soon as I hit eighteen I got as far from Hell as I could get. I just didn't fit, you know? Hell isn't very gay-friendly, ironically enough. It's filled with people who are so religious they freak out *Jerry Falwell*. It's all very God and country. Being an agnostic dyke is nearly a lynching offense. My grandpa owned the biggest ranch in three counties -- hell, our ranch makes up most of three counties. Dad helped him -- Grandpa was his dad -- run it until he died when I was seventeen. Grandpa didn't much approve of gayness, but he firmly believed in family and family stuck together no matter what. He and Grandma paid for what my scholarship didn't while I was in college and grad school. I studied what I did so I could help with the business part of the ranch. Grandpa and Grandma were all for it. Mother nixed it, though, backed up by other family members. I was no longer welcome at my own house. Grandpa was sick himself by then. Grandma would write and call and even visit a couple times a year until she got sick. I've paid for the best doctors to treat her. I guess she asked to go home when it was clear she wouldn't last out the week. She wanted to die at home and she wants me there. She made Camille call me home. Camille isn't a bad sort, really, just spineless. She doesn't care how gay I am, but she doesn't like to stir up conflict with Mother and her bully of a husband. She married the son of the second biggest rancher and has three kids. He's a huge asshole and hasn't liked me since I kneed him in the nuts at the prom. Perhaps I should have waited until we were off the dance floor, but he wouldn't keep his hands to himself despite me repeatedly asking him too. I only went 'cause Mother made me. Dad was a good man. He's the one who told me it was okay to feel like I did. He was spiritual, but not religious, you know? He went to church because it'd cause a family scandal not to, but he questioned, you know? Grandma is the same way. I don't know what he saw in Mother, but I do think she really did love him in her own way. She was always rather cool and reserved and concerned about appearances, but after Dad died, she got worse. I don't think she even really cares I'm gay; she cares everyone *knows* I'm gay. If I'd been willing to keep up appearances, she probably would've let me come home for holidays. But I wasn't about to marry that asshole. My mistake was telling him *why* I wouldn't. He told everyone I was queer. He announced it to the whole school, my family… Actually, that part was kinda funny. Mother had invited him to Sunday dinner and innocently asked when the wedding was going to be. He said 'When your daughter stops being a goddamn queer, ma'am.' Grandpa never liked him -- he went to school with his grandfather and never cared for the whole clan -- and liked him even less after that. He looked up from the head of the table and said with deceptive mildness, 'In my day, son, a gentleman never insulted a lady, regardless of circumstance and the truth of the matter. My granddaughter might alter her choice of companion, but you will always be a dad blamed idiot. Get out of my house before I decide to break the Sabbath and teach you some manners.' He took me aside later and told me while he wished I could be 'normal' he knew it wasn't something I could help, and if I never changed, he'd still love me. I think that was the only time he ever told me he loved me. He was a product of his generation and never talked about feelings. He showed you. It killed me not to go to his funeral, but I didn't want to stir up trouble. He hated conflict in the family. I won't let them stop me again. I won't miss saying goodbye to Grandma. Daddy and Grandpa wouldn't want me to. I'm staying until after the funeral and anyone who doesn't like it can kiss my ass. Thank you for coming with me, Syd. I couldn't do this without you by my side. I'm sorry I've been such horrible company and now I'm rambling."
"You couldn't keep me away, darlin'. I love you and your troubles are my troubles. Besides, it sounds like you need help kicking ass."
"I do. It's gonna get nasty. Really nasty. I'm gonna need all the love and patience you can muster."
"It'll be all right. I'll take care of you, baby. You'll get to see your grandma if I have to beat up every relation you have, right down to fifteenth cousins five times removed. No one in Hell -- or anywhere else for that matter -- will keep you from her, I swear." I mean it. I will do anything it takes to do this for her. She's counting on me and I will not fail her. No matter what.
"I love you so much. I don't think it'll be *that* bad, though."
We fall silent for a while. I concentrate on driving as fast as I can without getting a ticket. She finally breaks the silence. "Will you tell about your family or is too hard?"
"Some of it you already know -- I grew up with my mom. She was a wonderful woman, very smart and good at everything, it seemed. She taught me how to cook and bake. She wouldn't let me do it alone, but she let me help her and she'd explain what she was doing and why and she'd let me open boxes and cans and stuff that didn't involve sharp objects or fire. We never had much money and we were always moving, but it never seemed to matter. She used to read all the time -- great big thick books of history and science and oh, just everything. If I asked her a question and she didn't know the answer, we'd go to the library and we'd look it up. She'd read every thing on the topic she could find until she knew it backwards and forwards. She told me once she used to be a teacher. She was a good one -- she home schooled me herself before it was popular. She married a great guy when I was eight. He had four kids -- three boys 6, 5, and 3 and a girl my age. The boys were okay, especially the oldest, but I fell in love with the girl. Poor thing was saddled with the name Ursula, after Ursula LeGuinn. I called her Sally, which she greatly preferred. We were inseparable. Mama and Dad had a baby girl when we were nine. We took turns helping Mama take care of her. Mom taught all of us at home. It was wonderful. I only went to a regular school a couple months after she died. I knew more than half the teachers and I just found it boring and stifling and a waste of time. I didn't fit in. I dropped out. I took the GED when I decided to go to college and passed it with a perfect score. I won a full scholarship. I tested out of about half my requirements. I'm no genius, though, not like Mama. I just read a lot. I wanted to be a teacher like Mama, but I also wanted to help people who needed it, so I double majored in pre-law and education. Most of the pre law classes overlapped with the history requirements, so I specialized in that. Mama loved history best anyway." I stop talking. There's too much that doesn't bear thinking about, especially doing ninety down the highway.
"You're a teacher too?"
"Well, I'd have to go back to school and get certified again, but yeah."
"You never fail to surprise me. Do you still talk to any of your family?" She asks tentatively.
"No," I answer simply, a bit harsher than I intend. "They're all dead. Dad, Mama, the kids, everyone. But I don't really want to talk about it right now. I'll tell you anything you want to know later when I can cry without running us off the road, okay?"
"It's okay, Syd. You don't have to tell me anything. I shouldn't have asked; I don't like to talk about my family either and at least they're mostly alive." But she sounds kinda hurt.
"You have every right to ask -- and have answered honestly -- any question about me you want to know. We're to be married, for Christ's sake. I just can't cry and drive at the same time. I'm going to need serious cuddling to tell you anything else." Shit! That just makes it sound even worse. "Fuck! I'm not being evasive this time, honey, honest. I didn't mean to sound so harsh, I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Syd, relax. We're both just tired and overemotional. It'll be better after we get some sleep."
"Okay, if you're sure… Would you check the map? I think I'm supposed to be changing roads soon." Yep, I'm luckier than any woman has the right to be.
Author's Note: I thought there actually was a Hell, Montana, but I must've been thinking of Helena or some other state. However, if I *was* right, then this isn't the real one. I don't know anything about Montana or ranches, so forgive me. We have lots of cows in Kansas and my dad even worked for a dairy, but it's not the same thing and I wasn't really around him much at the time anyway. I did notice when reading my atlas that there's a Sidney, Montana. So let's pretend the fictional Hell, Montana, is about an hour or two from Sidney. And if anyone knows anything about Montana or ranches and wants to pass along some info for revisions and future chapters, please do. I'm all for being accurate if I don't have to look anything up and it fits in with my demented plans.
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