> 1 <
When Ren went to collect Andy to see what they were going to do one day, Lucille Rivera came out of the kitchen where Ren was impatiently sitting and waiting for Andy to finish his assigned reading for the day.
“Ren, I’ve been meaning to say something to you.”
Andy looked up from his book, scowled, and then dropped his eyes back to the page he was on. Ren simply nodded and looked up at her.
She sat next to him on the couch. “All the other kids who’ll be at the 8th grade level next year are reading four books this summer. I wanted to wait till you were settled in here, but school will be starting soon, and you’re a part of our ranch community now, so you should be reading, too. It’s too late to assign you four books, but do you think you could handle two?”
Ren couldn’t keep himself from smiling. Reading was something he did all the time. He’d started back in Jackson for several reasons, and he’d continued doing so here. He wasn’t reading quite as much now, but he still read before falling asleep every night. He was a school-aged kid and Mrs. Rivera was a teacher and ran the school, and there was always a battle of some sort between the two—usually the teacher working for supremacy and the student for independence. Ren knew instinctively that he had to be cautious.
“Maybe,” he said, looking thoughtful. “Probably would depend on what the books were.”
“Well, I’ll show you the list. Everyone got to choose for themselves from a list of nine different books. My list is probably a bit unusual, but then, I don’t always agree with the way most kids are educated in this country where the system is so frequently controlled by politicians and often the politically correct crowd. My list is written mainly for one reason: to encourage kids to read. Everything on this list should be that kind of book.”
Ren couldn’t help himself. He felt passionately about reading, and this woman sounded like she felt the same way. So, knowing he was making a mistake, he blurted out, “I like to read.”
“You do?” She sounded shocked. Perhaps most of the kids here weren’t like that. Ren didn’t want to invite problems for himself, but he’d already stepped off the edge of the cliff. Might as well enjoy the fall.
“Yeah. Er, yes, I mean. I read all the time.”
“Really? Why?” She looked pleasantly surprised.
“Well, I don’t want to talk about my life before I came here. But, reading let me escape from what was around me and gave me pleasure, because I got to identify with people who were strong and successful.”
She was looking at him like she’d never seen him before. Then she said in a schoolteacher voice, “There’s a word for that. Do you know it?”
“Which one? ‘Vicarious’ or ‘escapism’?” he asked.
Her eyes opened a little wider. Then, “I’ve never heard you using words like that.”
He blushed. “I can’t. When you’re in a new place, you have to fit in. One of the worst things I could have done was speak differently from the kids here. Just imagine wearing a suit and tie when everyone else is in gym shorts. You’d stand out—and not in a good way.”
She kept staring at him and then suddenly chuckled. “And do you know what that comparison you just made is called.”
She shook her head. “I can’t wait to have you in school,” she said. “Wait, I’ll get the reading list.”
She was back a moment later and handed him a piece of paper. On it was written:
Ren took the list and read it. Then he looked up and said, “OK, I probably shouldn’t get off more easily than the other kids. I don’t want them thinking I got a break. I’ll do all four, OK?”
“Sure, if you think you can. You don’t have that much time.”
“No problem. I’ll choose numbers 2, 3, 5 and 6.”
She looked at him, then the list, then back at him. “You haven’t already read these, have you?”
He grinned, then shyly nodded. “And numbers 1 and 7, too. Did you know S.E. Hilton was a girl and only 16 when she wrote The Outsiders? And that the Abrahams and Colfer books are both parts of series? I have several others in each series in my bookcases.”
Mrs. Rivera shook her head. “I did know that—about the books, I mean. I’m just amazed that you did. I chose the series books hoping kids would like the first book in each series enough to want to read more.”
Ren was going to answer but was interrupted by a loud bang. He turned and saw Andy had slammed his book closed. He was looking at his mother. “Stop trying to steal my friend,” he said, pretending anger. Then he beckoned for Ren to follow and stomped out of the house.
Ren looked apologetically at Mrs. Rivera. “Guess I’ve got to go,” he said, and was out the door.
> 2 <
“What’re we doing today?”
Andy considered for a moment. Then he grinned. “We haven’t been up on the roofs yet. We can do that.”
“Up on the roofs? Why would we want to do that?”
Besides the Hanson House, there were five other buildings that stood taller than the others. These were the barn, the stable, the storage building, the bunk house and one of the family houses—the Vargas home. Andy explained it was taller because there were more Vargas kids than those in any other single family, and they were still having more and so had added a second story. Tito was only 1, and his mom said she still wanted more. His dad didn’t seem to mind, either.
Other than the buildings, the water tank was high, too. Andy led Ren into the stable, then climbed to the upper floor where bales of hay and alfalfa were kept. At one end of the upper floor there was a ladder attached to the wall leading up to a covered opening in the roof. Andy climbed the ladder and pushed up on the cover, which flopped back on its hinge. Andy crawled through, then waved for Ren to follow him.
The roof had only a slight pitch to it and was easy to walk on. The stable building was long and narrow with the long side facing the lawn area, across which the back of the Hanson House could be seen. The crown of the stable roof ran the length of the building. By walking from the access port up the gentle slope of the roof, the two boys were able to look out at the wide lawn below and see down on the houses. The only places higher than where they stood were the roof of the barn, which was directly behind them, the roof of the three-story Hanson House, and the water tower, which was even higher than the Hanson House roof. The Vargas house and the cowboys’ bunk house were both two-story buildings, but their roofs were about the same height as that of the stable.
“Wow, you can see everything from here,” Ren exclaimed.
“Yeah, everything. Well, most everything.”
“What do you mean?”
Andy got a grin on his face. “You want to see something special?”
Ren wondered about that grin. It had a mischievous quality to it. “Sure,” he said, and couldn’t help but grin, too. Whatever Andy was up to, he was game.
They climbed back down from the stable roof and entered the barn. It was used for feed storage, as a place to bring in animals the vet needed to isolate or treat, and for large-equipment housing and repairs. The second floor was mostly empty, but some bales of alfalfa and bags of animal feed were stored there. Ren saw that there was another roof-access ladder like the one in the stable, and Andy took him to it and then up on the roof.
The view was much the same as it had been from the stable roof, but they were higher, and could now look down on the bunkhouse roof, the storage-building roof, and the Vargas house roof.
They climbed toward the peak of the roof, but then Andy lay down before they came to the top. Ren stopped, still standing, and looked at Andy quizzically.
“Lie down like I am,” Andy said.
Andy laughed. “Just do it, OK?”
Wondering if Andy was playing another of his tricks on him, Ren did as asked.
Andy began working his way toward the crown of the roof, working his way up on his elbows and knees, and as he did, he explained. “My brother Luke has a girlfriend, Deloris Vargas. He likes her mainly because she tells him what a stud he is. He’s younger than she is by six months, so being told that has really built his ego. Well, they’ve been making out some recently, and they have to do it without being seen because Mrs. Vargas is very religious, and she’d have a cow if she knew what Deloris was doing.
“What they do is, they climb up on the roof without anyone knowing and make out up there. Today, Luke left just before you got to our house, said he was going to groom his horse. Well, he wasn’t in the stable; I think he went to her house instead. If so, I thought we might catch them at it if we came up here. I’ve watched them before.”
By then, the two boys were where they could raise their heads and look at what there was to see. They both looked towards the Vargas house. And Andy was right. Luke and Deloris were indeed on the roof, on the back side where they couldn’t be seen from below. They’d spread a blanket down and were lying on it. And, they were naked.
As the two boys watched, Luke was squirming all over Deloris, and she seemed just as active. They’d roll over, then back again, and their hands were all over each other. Kissing was part of it, but their lips weren’t only on each other’s lips; other body parts were kissed, too—frequently.
There was a slightly frantic look to what they were doing. Deloris seemed as eager or even more so than Luke. When she wasn’t kissing Luke’s erection, her hands were on it. Luke was massaging Deloris’s breasts and genitals, and she was grinding against his hands.
Ren was immediately hard, seeing what was happening. He saw Andy reach down and rearrange himself and knew his friend was experiencing the same feelings he was.
“Wow,” Ren whispered. “Do you see this a lot?”
“They’ve never been naked before. I wonder if they’re going to do it?”
“He isn’t wearing a rubber. Do you think she’s on the pill?”
“If so, she’s getting it without her mother knowing. Her mother would never allow that! She expects all her kids to be virgins when they marry.”
Deloris had moved down and now was sucking Luke, and his head was thrown back and moving side to side in ecstasy. She was really going at it.
Andy said, his whisper filled with awe, “I guess she’s one of those girls who really likes
sex.” Even whispering, his voice sounded a little strange. Ren glanced at him
quickly, then back at the show.
They both watched in silence for a while. Deloris worked Luke with her mouth, then took him with her hand and kept going. Luke began thrashing, then his bottom rose off the blanket. “He’s coming!” said Andy, and Ren could see it happen, even from the 25 or 30 yards they were from the action.
Deloris kept stroking till Luke reached down and stopped her. Then, she licked him, and the boys saw her evaluating the taste.
Luke looked exhausted, lying back, flat now and not moving. Deloris, on the other hand, was now ready for her turn. She lay back on the blanket, too, right next to Luke, and they could see her speaking to him but couldn’t hear anything. She was talking and then put her hand on his arm and shook him a little.
Andy giggled. “He wants to rest, and she wants some action.”
Ren said, softly, “I’ll bet she gets her way.”
And she did. Luke rose up onto his knees, and she pushed him down so he could perform. Watching Luke, Ren thought he didn’t look nearly as eager to do what she’d just done. But, he eventually got down close and stuck out his tongue, and took an exploratory lick. Then he stopped.
Deloris quickly rose up on one elbow and with the other hand reached out and drew his head down between her legs. He had no choice and began doing what she wanted. She lay back and closed her eyes.
“Seen enough?” Andy asked.
“Yeah. I feel sort of bad we were watching. Like it was wrong.”
“You didn’t say that earlier,” Andy said in an accusatory way, then giggled again.
“I didn’t see you looking away, either,” Ren replied, and then he giggled, too.
Both boys began sliding back down the roof, and both had the same problem. At the same time, they both flipped over on their backs and continued down till they were well below the roofline. There, they stopped.
“Wow,” Ren said, eventually. He’d been waiting for his erection to subside. He was 13. That didn’t happen immediately.
Andy was content to just lie there as well. Eventually he said, “You used to live in a city. You had a computer. Did you ever watch porn?”
“No, we didn’t have internet. That would have cost more money, and my mother was as tight and cheap about getting anything for me as she could get away with. The computer I have came from the school. They gave their old ones to the kids who didn’t have one, but the parents had to pay for internet connections. Mine never did. I could only use the software that came with it. And any games anyone would lend me.”
“I’ve never seen any, either. Maybe that’s why seeing that was so, so…”
“Yeah. It was.”
“You, uh…” Andy stopped, and with a quick glance Ren saw he was blushing. “You, uh, jack off, don’t you?” he finally blurted.
“Of course. In sex ed we were told all boys do. It’s natural.”
“Whew. Yeah, we have sex ed, too, and it’s really embarrassing because my mom teaches it. Talk about weird!”
“Yeah, but that means you don’t have to be so embarrassed at home. I mean, she knows you do it, and so you don’t really have to be embarrassed there.”
“I guess. I share a room with Luke, and I know he does it, too. I guess he must know I do, but we’ve never talked about it or seen each other do it. I usually do it in the bathroom, but that’s difficult because we only have the one. Most of the time, I do it when I shower. But sometimes, you know, you just can’t wait.”
Ren nodded. “Yeah, that’s for sure.” Then he looked over at Andy, and they both grinned.
“So you’ve never done it with anyone else?” Ren asked.
Ren nodded. “I had a friend, and he wanted us to do it together. That’s why I ended up out here. His mother caught us, and she told my mother, and my mother came unglued. She told her boyfriend, he kind of whipped me, and then they sent me away.”
Ren felt better, having told Andy that. Somehow, having been together and witnessing what they just had, Ren felt the bond he was forming with Andy had just grown stronger. Now, he’d told him something he was ashamed of, and that had the same effect.
He wasn’t ashamed of what he’d done with Bobby. Somehow, that seemed OK. It was getting whipped that shamed him, even though there hadn’t been anything he could have done to prevent it.
Andy was quiet, thinking about that, then asked, “This friend… you said ‘he’; it wasn’t a girl?”
Ren didn’t even stop to think. He was feeling close to Andy, even closer than he had before, and this didn’t seem to be too much of an admission. “No, a boy my age. In your sex ed classes did your mother mention that sometimes boys our age experiment with each other and that it doesn’t mean anything?”
“You mean, it doesn’t mean you’re gay?”
Ren nodded. “Yeah.”
Andy said, “Yeah, she did. What was it like—with the boy?”
“It was fine until we got caught. We were sort of rolling around on the bed like you saw back there, and what I remember most was how excited I was, how overwhelmed with all the feelings. But we didn’t get very far. His mother came in before much had happened. But we were on his bed, and we were both naked, and she saw us, saw me, saw my boner, and I ran. It was scary when it happened and embarrassing when I thought about it later. Then scary again when my mother found out.”
“What?” Ren asked.
“I just wish…” Andy tapered off.
Ren had a pretty good idea what Andy wished. And he’d have liked it, too, but he was too afraid of what it would do to the friendship that had been growing between them. Sex would change that, he knew. And he didn’t want to spend all his time with Andy looking for places to get off together. He’d love to have sex with him. But look what had happened the last time he’d tried to do that? There was no way he was going to let something like that happen again, even though he was sure his dad wouldn’t react the same way his mother had. No, it was Andy he was worrying about. He was worried that Andy wasn’t gay and would just be experimenting, and Ren knew if they did things, their friendship would be affected because he would get much more emotional about things, and he didn’t know how Andy would respond to that. It was just too much of a risk to take.
So Ren ignored the sigh, and eventually they climbed back down from the roof, and they each went home for lunch.
> 3 <
Ren thought about that day on the roof, what they’d seen, and the talk he’d had with Andy. And the sigh. It was an entire week later when a thought hit him that he hadn’t had before. What if Andy’s sigh wasn’t just because he wanted to do things with Ren and was scared to ask him? What if he was feeling for Ren something of what Ren was feeling for Andy? What if Andy were gay, too?
He’d wondered that before, of course, but had had very little reason to. Now, perhaps he had more. But how could he safely find out? He had no idea. However, by thinking about their discussion on the roof, he realized if he could find a way to open that sort of discussion again…well, it sure couldn’t hurt.
He’d have to be subtle, however.
The next time they were together where they could really talk, they were riding alone together out on the prairie. Ren had been surprised how easily he’d taken to riding. He’d never been much good at anything athletic. He wasn’t as well-coordinated as the good athletes were. And he wasn’t terribly strong for his age, either. But riding, for some reason, wasn’t that hard for him. He felt some of that was due to Midnight. She seemed terribly aware of him and how he was sitting on her, and if he started slipping any, she knew how to get him comfortable again. The first few times they’d galloped, he’d been sure he’d fall off, but she’d slowed a little, balancing herself in a way he could stay in the saddle. And, with time and experience, he was no longer apt to fall. And he found he enjoyed being up on a horse. At least up on Midnight.
They were out riding, having nothing else to do that day, and, because they had no real destination, they had their horse just at a walk. Andy would point out landmarks to identify where they were. There actually were things to see off in the distance to use for orientation. Ren hadn’t been aware of any of them when Hec had taken him to that lake. Now, he was getting lessons and learning. Mostly, he didn’t feel so lost now when out on the prairie.
This was the perfect time to talk about what Ren wanted to get into. So, he did.
“You said your mom held the sex-ed class?”
“Yeah. It was awful. I think I blushed the entire time.”
“Was it just once?”
“Oh, no. I think we had eight different class sessions. She was very thorough.”
“You said she talked about boys experimenting with each other. Do boys on the ranch do that?”
“I imagine. If they do, they keep it private between themselves. No one has ever asked me to. I’m not sure why. I might even say yes. I don’t know. But I’ve never asked anyone, either. I just felt funny about doing that, and no one’s asked me, and so it hasn’t happened. But I imagine others might have done it.”
“Did your mom say it didn’t mean kids who did that were gay, like we heard? Are there any gay boys here?”
There! He’d asked, and he’d been subtle. At least it seemed to him he’d been subtle.
Andy didn’t answer immediately. When he did, he said, “Why do you ask?”
Damn! Maybe he hadn’t been subtle enough! “I don’t know. But it makes sense. We heard between five and ten percent of the population might be gay, maybe even more, and since there are about thirty kids here, there probably should be some.”
“Well, if there are, they don’t talk about it. Nobody’s ever come out.”
“Why not? You guys are all close, all friends. Didn’t you say your mother told everyone when she was teaching that class that it was OK to be gay?”
“Yeah, she made a point of that. But still, no one has ever come out or anything.”
“Well, for two reasons, I guess. One, there might not be any gay kids here, and two, this is Texas.”
Ren didn’t know how to respond to that, and so they rode silently for a spell. The longer the silence continued, the harder it was for him to bring up the subject again. And so he didn’t, regretting he’d gotten nowhere with being subtle.
It didn’t occur to him till later that Andy had been very skillful in not saying a thing that would give Ren a clue as to whether he might be gay himself.
> 4 <
“You sure this looks right? I could try…”
“Ren! Stop it. It’s only school, you know all the kids, they know you, you know all the teachers, they know you, it isn’t a fashion show, and no one would care if you showed up in a tee shirt with holes and sandals. Oh, that is a rule: you have to wear something on your feet. They don’t say anything about pants, but I guess they assume you’ll wear those. But you do have to be shod.”
“But Dad, this is important. I want to look good for the first day!”
“You always look good. Have I ever told you how handsome you are?”
Ren giggled. It would have been a laugh, but he was nervous, and that made his voice rise. This was definitely a giggle. “Yeah, you do about once a week.”
“Well, you are. No one ever told me that when I was your age, and I’d have loved to have heard it. Maybe they didn’t because I was ugly. But you’re not. You’re quite good-looking. So maybe, maybe, I should be asking you: who do you want to look good for? Huh? Huh?” He wiggled his eyebrows provocatively and laughed.
Ren ignored the question. “Well, you might think I’m handsome, but I think that’s your job to say that, maybe even to think that. Anyway, if I am, and I don’t think I am, it’s because of your genes.”
“No, it’s not. You’d look silly in my jeans. It’s you and the way you fix your hair and carry yourself. You know, when you first came, you walked sort of slumped, your shoulders down, your head down. You don’t do that any more. Now, your posture is great.”
Ren blushed. He loved his dad. Couldn’t believe he was lucky enough to be living with him. Living on the ranch. He felt so good now versus only a few months earlier. He hadn’t realized he was standing taller, but maybe he was. He was growing taller; he did realize that. He was sort of clumsy now, clumsier than he’d been in the past. On the internet, he’d read that was one of the things that happened when a kid was learning the new dimensions of his body.
He finished his bowl of cereal. He hadn’t been hungry at all, but Cal had insisted he eat something, saying he didn’t want him passing out from hunger and then everyone thinking his dad didn’t feed him. So Ren had eaten half a bowl of cereal, Cal had clucked at him, and he’d finished it.
“Is it time to go yet?”
“Ren, it’s a 30-second walk! You have five minutes yet.”
“Well, I’m going. I can’t sit here any longer.” He got up and walked to the door, then turned. “Thanks, Dad.”
Cal said, “Wait a sec.” Then he got up and came over to Ren who was standing by the door. “I need to hug my son on his first day of school here,” he said, enveloping Ren in his strong arms.
Finally letting go, Cal winked at him, and Ren, feeling very empty-handed and unprepared without a backpack, but warm and protected after the hug, was smiling as he left the house.