FROM BIRTH ROBERT BLAKE HAD been physically a big boy and possessed a terrific strength. Now, at eighteen, he stood over six feet in his bare feet. His face, beneath short pitch-like hair, looked as though it had been sculptured out of bronze. His mouth was long, with a touch of wry humor about it, and his eyes were as brown as an old penny. His nose, which had been broken in several football games, showed no ill effects. It looked perfectly chiseled above a square and dinted chin. His physical bigness was so evenly proportioned that his two hundred pounds seemed an unbelievable weight.
He had a widely scattered host of acquaintances and friends, for the warmth in his eyes and the way he walked instantly awoke a friendly welcome for him in any crowd. People, both young and old, found themselves enjoying his broad grin and the gleeful twinkle always present in his eyes. He stood in mortal fear of nothing. He loved crowds, and a football field was his most natural environment. He employed his talent there and was considered the best football player in the county. He hated books, and his teachers found it necessary to "give a little" on many of his examinations.
He was as different in temperament from the quiet, secretive Gaylord, as white is from black. Rarely sitting, his long lean legs always were moving. He was very passionate and his first affair with a woman had occurred when he was only thirteen. She had been twenty years his senior, but this had not alarmed him. Since then, there had been many more. In love, he formed no boundaries. He relished every moment of the unexpected excitement, and he had no ability to feel ashamed of the times he had practiced unnatural sex acts. Life held no mysteries; it only produced incidents and people, and he had an insatiable appetite for everything. If asked, he could have explained why he had selected Gaylord Le Claire for a friend. But he wouldn't have. He would have said that it was because he liked him, and that would have been enough. He would never admit to anyone Gaylord was a sissy and desirable.
He discovered early he had the ability to hold attention and attract girls, and even men, merely by his presence, but the sighs and attentions he attracted he accepted without conceit. In this he differed from his pleasure-mad father who was a pushover for an attractive woman.
After they had driven away, leaving Carol Le Claire on the front porch, Blake was the first to speak.
"Durn, that's good-smelling shaving lotion you've got on." He leaned right, sniffing the air.
"It's not shaving lotion," Gaylord answered meekly. "It's cologne."
"So? Still smells good." Blake was hearty, expansive.
"I'm glad you like it."
Blake's brown eyes, luminous through the dusk, darted over at Gaylord, and under his moving nostrils the corners of his mouth moved upward.
"I like cologne. Use it too. I like that new one called ‘Passion Rose.' Sure a sexy name, isn't it?"
Gaylord did not answer immediately. He tried to push away the grin from his face. "Passion Rose" he thought. That's what I've got on and he doesn't even know it. Just like a man.
"Pretty sexy is right," he grinned.
They moved on and there was music now. They were passing flickering neon and a revolving juke box was blaring out music.
"Thanks for asking me to go with you tonight," Gaylord continued. "I'm glad you asked me."
"I am too," Blake grinned. His big jaws moving. "I'm really glad, Gay." He fumbled in his shirt pocket … "Want some gum?"
"How's that new Buick? Sure is a beauty. Bet it'll go like hell, won't it?"
"Not any faster than your Ford. We should have used it tonight. I never thought …"
"We'll use it some other time," Blake grinned. "Damn, I wish Dad sold them instead of Fords. This can will go all right but it sure rattles like hell. Sounds like it's falling to pieces."
Gaylord found himself thinking: I wish I would have known you wanted to drive my car … just to have you touch it would mean a lot … Gosh, Bob, if I could only tell you the many times I've wished to be sitting close to you. To be able to talk to you the way we are now. I hope we do it often … it can't be too often …
He was not looking at Blake. He was searching that unknown but familiar road in front of the blinding lights coming toward them. He looked at their brightness swimming past and he thought of water falling from a great height and splashing on rocks below. He was passing down one of the oldest roads of his childhood, the way to the city, and he remembered the many times he had traveled over its pavement. Good trips and bad ones, sad ones and happy ones, but tonight, the passing scene of familiar backdrops and landscapes held a different charm. It was all important now. The trees, the houses behind the trimmed hedges, the flat fields and the lighted billboards were all seen through different eyes.
"Bob?" Gaylord whispered.
"Thanks for this morning."
"Yes … this morning … Stud …" He was conscious of Blake gazing at him.
"Oh, that." His bare brown arm reached down and he patted Gaylord's leg. In the moonlight Gaylord saw the wink, the grin. "Ain't nothing," he went on, "nothing … forget it, Gay."
"It was a lot to me … I don't know what I would have done if it hadn't been for you." There. It was said. He tried to smile, a hesitant, little boy's smile, but his voice was full and very serious.
"They wouldn't have done anything. Just a bunch of bullies that get a kick out of doing something like that."
"I'm not so sure. When Stud pushed against me, he had a … well, anyway he sure was repulsive … . I was scared, Bob."
"Guess you got his blood pressure up, huh kid?"
"I don't see how … I'm not a girl." Gaylord was sorry he had said this. In the dim and shifting light he knew and he also knew Blake knew.
"It's been done before," Blake grinned.
"It has?" Gaylord knew it had but he didn't know what else to say.
"Hell, Gay … boys play around with each other … it's only natural. Haven't you ever played around with another fellow?" he almost whispered, his countenance assuming in a flash a secret and indecent mask.
"No," Gaylord answered with vagueness, "I haven't. Have you?"
At this Blake laughed softly. He blinked and tossed his head in a series of chuckles. Gaylord wondered how he had ever had the courage to ask such a question. He grinned back at Blake, thinking, I'll bet you can read my mind … I bet you know what I'm thinking … . I'm glad it's dark.
Blake said, "You're a sweet kid, you know it." He patted Gaylord's thigh again. "Thelma thinks you're sweet too. Did you know that?"
Gaylord saw the broad wink. He almost swallowed his gum. Looking at Blake he asked aghast, "Thelma? Thelma White?"
"Uh huh … Thelma White."
"What's the matter … she didn't say anything wrong … she thinks you're swell."
"Yeah. Said you really knew how to make love … you know what else she told me?"
Gaylord sat for a moment staring and biting his bottom lip. Just what else had Thelma told?
"Don't you want to hear what else she told me?"
"She told me she had been out with you … said she thought you didn't like her because …" he grinned. "She got your cherry."
"That's what she thinks. I just don't care for her type … that's why I haven't been with her any more … she's got such an awful rep that … I've been out with girls … everybody thinks I'm just a kid … nobody believes I'm grown … I don't know, but … I'm …"
"I think you're grown, Gay," Blake added tenderly, his hand resting on Gaylord's arm. "You know I don't think you're a kid. I wouldn't have asked you to come along tonight if I had thought that."
"You'd better not," Gaylord said, giving Blake's leg a slight kick.
"Ouch," Blake yelled as if he had been struck by a hammer.
"Oh, Bob … I'm sorry." Gaylord did not hesitate. He bent down quickly and held the leg. "I didn't mean to kick so hard. Does it hurt?"
"Is it bloody?" Blake asked seriously. "Don't take your hand off … rub it … that's better … you'd make a good nurse."
I'd love to nurse you, Gaylord thought. No, I wouldn't either. I don't ever want to see you hurt again. You're too wonderful … too sweet to suffer … don't ever get hurt … I love that grin of yours … you handsome devil … I know I didn't hurt you … but I'm glad I kicked you. Oh, Bob, I wish you'd kiss me. You look so beautiful. He wanted to say all this but instead, he said, "I'd love to nurse you, Bob, but I hope you never need a nurse."
"I wouldn't be much of a friend if I wouldn't."
"And we are friends, aren't we, Gay?"
"Yes, we are. I hope we'll always be friends."
"I think we will … I think we'll be real good friends from now on."
They came to a side road that ran off the highway among huge oak trees. Looking down it, Gaylord could see the large round moon trying to find its way between their leafy branches. There were unseen living things along that path too. Cattle, horses, to say nothing of numerous sly things, their fangs ready for the kill, who ran wildly at the approach of man.
There had never been such a night. The deep blue color above was carelessly splattered with splotches of glistening diamonds, and the air was never so gentle across his cheeks, caressing and passing by softly without a sound, to be lost in the vastness of space around them. The low melodious hum of the motor was like the purr of a kitten. Contented and glad it was with them … tonight when everything was so enchanting, so full of mystery and yet so very simple. The world was wonderful. How marvelous, even with all the far-fetched grotesque things upon it, the world was still wonderful. So complex in its simplicity.
And passing through the timeless and impenetrable forest, Gaylord dreamed. Nothing in particular … just dreamed. A great oak hung there, its trunk rough and broad, its limbs hanging with moss, stretching out and over the road, shutting out the moonlight. He looked at it with the bewildering excitement of a poor man unearthing a hidden treasure.
God makes beautiful things, young Gaylord thought, awed by their discovery. Beautiful skys and trees. He wished suddenly the top would fly back so he could see the miracles around even more plainly. Maybe that would give him courage to say the things within him. Things that were demanding to be said.
Automatically, he closcd his eyes, wondering what Blake was thinking of. The wind was from the south, fresh and strong in his face and hair. He dreamed of being a girl and, leaning back against the seat, sighed deeply. Maybe his life had changed. Maybe tomorrow and the many tomorrows things would be better. If I was a girl, he thought, I'd be in Bob's arms … he'd be loving me and kissing me … he'd be mine … he'd be …
"Hey," Blake's hand shook Gaylord. "Am I such bad company you go to sleep?" He left his hand on Gaylord's shoulder …
"I'm not asleep … and you'd never be bad company." Gosh, the hand felt good on his shoulder … "I was just thinking."
He knows I was thinking of him, thought Gaylord. He can read my thoughts …
"No …" he sputtered, "I wasn't thinking of you, Bob."
"I'm disappointed," grunted Blake. "Here I thought you were thinking of me."
"Suppose I was?" He remembered the kiss and the warmth that had come with it. There was nothing ugly or unpleasant about it … unless it was what people would say. And now he turned his back on the world. "Suppose I was thinking of you Bob … would that be unusual?"
"I don't see why … we're buddies, aren't we?"
"I hope we are."
"Well … we are."
It was that simple. With three words their friendship was sealed. At last Blake wanted him.
To be lonely is one thing, to be wanted is another. There is no loneliness so acute as that of a boy upon a trap, facing many eyes; but to be wanted is to be free, free from eyes and tongues that watch and question and condemn. Feeling himself now thus wanted, Gaylord relaxed, and after a moment he stretched his legs and breathed deeply. An approaching glaring light made him blink and squint and finally shut his eyes altogether. Yet the very hurt of the glare pleased him, and he embraced it, leaving a hand on his knee, opening his eyes again, drinking the beauty around him. His glance swung to Blake. Something like a laugh leaped into his eyes.
"Isn't this a beautiful night, Bob?" he said.
"Yeah," Blake grinned. "It's beautiful all right."
"I think it is."
"It's been awful dry and hot, but it's cool tonight. The air feels good."
"It does to me too."
"Sure hot in that damn schoolhouse today." Blake spoke in an easy manner, and Gaylord's courage quickened like a young fire when fuel is laid freshly on. After a moment, with a slight gesture, he touched the other's arm.
"I'm glad you asked me to come with you … I haven't been out with anyone for a long time. I used to go out, but lately I just stay home and read."
"Can't read your life away."
"I know it … but there's not very many I like to be around. It's not that I think I'm better or anything like that … it's just something I can't explain."
"I'm glad Bob … you don't think I'm conceited do you? I know some think I am."
"Hell no …"
"I'll never forget what you did for me this morning."
"I can't … I keep remembering."
"Remembering ain't good at times. Take life as it comes. That's the way I've got it figured out. If you want something, try to get it and if you can't … well, there's no use fretting about it. At least you tried … no use to sit home and cry over it … look for something else."
"I'm going to stop looking."
"You are?" Blake resumed his survey and a burning desire to bring the other close grew within him. He sat in half-surrender until he heard at some distance the wail of a train coming from the west. It seemed to moan, "Don't Bob … don't. People love to gossip and they'll find out. They're always looking for sweet young flesh to crucify. He's been through enough. Don't touch him."
Then suddenly this image was shattered by the apparition of Joy Clay. He saw her pointed breasts beneath a sheer green dress, and his hands felt moist and sticky. He remembered her shapely legs and wondered why he had never tried again after that night on the lake.
Other girls swept his vision but the naked form under the shower came and stayed in front of him. He remembered the shivering boy he had held so tenderly. He hated himself for his thoughts now. The world, if they knew, would always be ready with its glances and its whisperings wherever and whenever he should face the eyes and tongues of men again. No, Gay, he thought, I can't … even if I want to … I can't. So he sat where he was until Gaylord faced him and said honestly,
"What's the best exercise to make arm muscles?"
"To make arm muscles? Hell that's easy … I'll teach you a couple. I'll make you so damn strong you can whip anybody. Even me."
"I don't want to whip you."
"You may want to sometimes."
"I don't think so."
"That's one thing I'm real sure of."
So Blake submitted, filling his eyes with a different determination. I'll make him strong, he thought. Ill show them he's not a sissy after all.
A bridge loomed ahead of them. They passed beneath its strong steel beams and before them lay the beginning of Egan, Texas. Under a mass of trees and shrubs, bound to a grass-covered earth, stood a large two story house. Its high windows blazed with light and the wide veranda and huge four-squared chimney stood white in the moonlight.
"Old man Reeves must be having a party," said Blake. "Look at all those cars and people."
"Sure is a big crowd, isn't it."
"Do you know Marlene?"
"I've seen her at dances. She's very pretty."
"I've had a couple dates with her. She's kinda snooty … and always powdering her face. Hell, I couldn't even let the windows down because the wind would mess her hair … I asked her one time after we had been to the show if she'd like a hot dog … you know what she said?"
"She said, ‘Thanks Robert,' (she calls me Robert) ‘but I don't care for them. Must we go to a drive-in?"
"Did she really."
"She's that away …"
They drove along. Past more houses and filling stations; past rows of one-story buildings; past the sidewalks where a few people lingered. Two Negroes, in bright checkered shirts and tight, cuffed trousers, laughed, and snapped their fingers as they walked. Gaylord looked at them with a curious sensation, wishing he could walk down a street with the same careless stride.
Gaylord did not protest when Blake suggested, "Let's eat." And when the red light changed to green, he swung the car onto a vacant lot of shelled earth around a neon-circled building.
A blonde, unattractive female waited on them. "Well," she asked sharply, "what's it going to be?"
"Hello, sweetheart," Blake grinned, noticing the mole on her chin. "Ya want a hamburger or something else, Gay?" Before Gaylord could speak, Blake said with a quick appeasing smile, "No, I think you ought to have a hamburger." And he told the girl. "Two of the biggest hamburgers you've got, beautiful, and a couple of cokes. And some potato chips."
"I'm not that hungry, Bob."
"Yes you are."
Gaylord shook his head. "Well," he grinned, "you're the boss."
Gaylord looked at the girl. She was studying Blake. He thought, she would let Bob have her without any talking … she wouldn't say no … she looked as if she'd enjoy having him in bed with her.
"Anything else ya want?" she slyly asked.
"Want anything else, Gay?"
"Guess that's it … Oh, bring me a package of cigarettes."
"What kind ya got?"
"You better take Eagles. They're mild and won't stunt your growth," she assured him, returning his wink.
Blake laughed, "Okay, Eagles it is."
Gaylord blushed, realizing he was looking at Blake's legs. Remembering the same look in Thelma White's eyes; wondering if Blake was only kidding, or meaning his remarks. He hated the look on the girl's face and he was near hating her too. He looked into Blake's lap again and saw the bronze hands groping between the thick thighs. He felt alone and loveless in a bitter, heartless world, hating himself at the same time. I wish I was like Bob, he cried silently between clamped teeth … why can't I be? Why?
Blake broke his thoughts. "I wish we'd have come in your car, Gay," he grinned. "Bet that ugly cunt would have really tried to date us then."
"I don't think you need a different car."
"She'll go with you."
Blake laughed, said, "Oh, yeah … damn," he doubled his fist over his groin, "I've got to take a leak … how about you?"
"I don't have to."
He watched Blake cross the shelled earth, and thought, I'd never be able to do anything with you by my side … I've got to go but I couldn't do anything … not with you watching … damn, I wish I could … I wish I was like you, Bob … wish I could walk just like you … no one can do that … no one but you … it's part of you … only you …
And it wasn't long before he saw the familiar walk coming toward him.
"Phew, I feel better," Blake grinned. "Nothing as refreshing as a good pee." He slumped back into the seat.
"Maybe I had better go. With a hamburger and coke coming, I may need a little more room."
"Don't shake it more than twice …"
Gaylord's face flushed, and he laughed nervously. "I won't."
He was glad he was alone in the small toilet. He looked around and read the many remarks written on the walls. Men and women in grotesque positions outlined with names and dates appeared everywhere. He looked at the large drawings and wondered if people really did such things.
A man about twenty-five, wearing a bright sport shirt, came through the door and walked unsteadily toward Gaylord. He zipped his trousers quickly. His voice was young and he enunciated so poorly that he seemed to have his mouth full of mush. "Damn beer sure goes through a fellow, don't it," he continued. "I've been drinking the damn stuff all day. I got a …"
After a few words Gaylord stepped back. He didn't wait to hear the rest of the sentence. In a few steps the young man and the toilet faded into the past. Deep within him, within the secret places of him, he felt a familiar phenomenon take place—as he walked back toward the car. He had wanted to wash his hands and comb his hair … darn that fellow … why couldn't he have waited a few minutes …
The car-hop had just placed the tray on the car when he sat down beside Blake. She glanced at him and remarked, "You've sure got pretty hair … wish mine was curly."
"Thanks," Gaylord said, looking at her stringy mop. And he tried to grin like Blake.
"He's the best looking fellow in Cotton," Blake put in, "but he's fast as hell."
"What's wrong with that?" she murmured. "That's just my type."
Gaylord felt the girl's eyes on him. He knew their expression, queerly penetrating and insistent, as cold as ice from an icebox and as cunning as a cat creeping toward a bird. Gaylord remembered that look. That night when he had found himself against Thelma she had looked at him that way. He didn't like it.
She continued, "If you want anything else … just blink." And with a wink at Blake she left.
"She's sure on the make," Blake grinned. He took a bite of food after handing one of the hamburgers to Gaylord. "Good, huh Gay?"
"Sure is." Almost simultaneously he noticed Blake's hands, or perhaps it was the dark hair on them. For a moment, as Blake lifted his hands, they stood out in front of two dark eyes. The fingers were wide and long … the hands of a fighter or an artist. But on feeling his gaze returned, Gaylord took another bite of his hamburger.
"I'm glad you insisted on my having one. Didn't know I was hungry."
"I was starved," Blake returned. His tone was expressive, gay. It made Gaylord happy.
For a while they ate in silence; then Blake said, "How'd you like to have that gal under ya? Bet she'd give you a race. Ain't pretty, but in a pinch she'd do, wouldn't she?"
"Not for me."
Blake's eyes narrowed as he looked up from the hamburger quickly. "Huh?" he grinned. "Not even in a pinch?"
"Not even then … I don't believe."
Why lie, he thought. His desire was not for the girl, but for the one at his side. Strangely, this desire was not new or unpleasant. It had some mysterious joy in it or else why did it repeat itself so often? But now this also seemed hopeless. Blake was for girls to love. He felt Blake liked him but was afraid that was as far as it went. His thoughts went to the girl and the things she had to offer. He had nothing. After all, boys didn't love each other the way they did girls. And with this thought, he saw the hopelessness of his love. It hung over him, all tangled with something confusing, remorseful, yet lovely.
He heard the whistle of truck tires coming along the road from which they had turned off. It was shrill and penetrating, shaking the earth on passing, causing him to jump at its sudden outburst.
Without warning, the voice of the car-hop whined, "Ready."
Gaylord watched Blake. He watched the girl take the bill from the bronze fingers. Her hair hung in wisps around her broad checks, and her eyes, under which were dark circles, tried hard to smile.
Gaylord thought, how can Bob even think about going out with her. She's so hard-looking … so common … it wouldn't be so bad if she was pretty … but gosh … not her. Oh Bob, don't go out with her or ask her to meet you later … please don't.
Then, with no haste, the girl picked up the tray and after a few words left. Blake's car backed and turned, throwing its lights on the girl, who was stooping to pick up a beer bottle. "Guess you're right, Gay," Blake said, "she's no prize beauty."
"She sure isn't."
Blake laughed heartily. "Guess she's had a lot of hard wear." He paused, glancing at Gaylord. "How about a movie? It'll be nice and cozy in one."
The words hung between them like bait as the car swung on to the road, its twin blades of light cutting into the slab of cement. Gaylord looked at the boy at the wheel and found a strange, soft gentleness in the handsome face. He looked back to the road.
Inside the theater it was cozy with Blake beside him. Sitting so close to him, watching him eat a bar of candy, his torso sunk deep into the chair and his propped legs in front of him.
"Sure you don't want just a little bite?" Blake whispered.
"No thanks, Bob."
"No pop corn?"
Gaylord laughed a silly little laugh. "No … Bob … I'm stuffed. I just couldn't …"
He glanced at the broad forehead and moving jaws. Then he crouched in the seat like the other. A sort of happy stupor crept through him, and just sitting there made him light of body, so that sometimes he breathed with a sigh. As he put his head against the seat, he felt a warm hand reach out for his. In the soft light they held hands. Like wax in a flame it lay there. It was good to know he was not alone. Time stood still … yet somehow it was time to go.
After the show Blake suggested a drink and on entering a drug store a group of boys greeted them happily. They were young, healthy, full of life. They were idling boys who exchanged school gossip with each other … then would follow a forced explosion of laughter and backslapping.
One of them called out boldly to the boy behind the soda fountain, "Give me a coke, Hoss, quick. I've got a hot date waiting."
"Who's the unfortunate girl?" the boy behind the counter asked with a laugh.
"Listen to him, will ya. And he's supposed to be my best friend." He lit a cigarette. "She's got a friend too. Wanta come along, Bob? I don't know if I can take care of both of them."
"Not tonight," Blake said.
"Got something lined up?"
"Sort of, haven't we, Gay?"
Quickly Gaylord raised his eyes. He had been watching with absorbed attention the reflection of Blake's face in the mirror behind the cluttered shelf. His companion had asked him a question but he didn't know what he had asked. He had been too busy imagining Blake pulling his pants over his legs, peeling off his shoes and socks, waiting till the last moment to slip off his shorts, then tossing them carelessly across the foot of a bed on which lay a naked girl. He was glad Blake had interrupted his thoughts. "What?" he asked.
"I just said we've got something planned."
"Have fun, you two," said the stranger to Gaylord. "Don't get caught."
"I won't," Gaylord grinned, happily realizing that Blake wasn't naked, wasn't with a girl and that he was ready to go.
"I'm ready, any time you are, Bob."
They passed the drive-in they had eaten at earlier, and the car-hop who had waited on them was seated on a bench close to the wall. The lot was practically vacant. Only one car was in the enclosure. Blake sounded his horn and waved. She responded with a broad smile and flip of the wrist.
"Want something?" Blake asked.
"No … no, I'm not hungry."
"Shall we have another coke and kid her a little," Blake grinned, "or do you think we'd better go on?"
"Let's go on if you don't mind, Bob."
"Okay, sweetheart." Blake was expansive. "I feel good."
"You should. You slept all through the show."
"Did I snore?"
Gaylord giggled, "No … but I thought you were going to any minute."
"I'm surprised I didn't. I ate too much. Was the show any good?"
"It wasn't too good."
"How'd the dame make out?"
"She killed herself after he left her. I felt so sorry for her. Bette Davis is my favorite actress. I wish they'd give her better stories. She just lived the part. She was so miserable when she found out her husband had not come home … I think I know just how she felt … men sure can be mean at times."
"Yea … guess we can. Specially when it comes to dames."
"Did you want to … er … see that girl?"
"That girl at the drive-in."
"No … why?"
"I just thought maybe you wanted to see her."
"Her?" Blake questioned. He sat laughing, then placed his hand on the other's leg. "Hell no … I don't want to see her. Why should I when we're together? I'd rather be with you any time."
Gaylord watched him yawn deliciously, watched his breath suddenly quicken with a sense of imminency, of immediate necessity. He experienced an unexplainable tinge of uneasiness as Blake's arm went around his shoulders. It rested there a moment, then pulled Gay toward him.
"Come here," Blake grinned. "I'm lonesome over here by myself."
Gaylord didn't answer but yielded to the powerful hand, slid over close.
"You're not by yourself, Bob."
"This is better though, isn't it?"
"Yes, Bob," he murmured after a long moment that seemed longer than it was. "I was lonesome too."
The hand rubbing his shoulder felt good. He pressed his cheek trustingly against the other's shoulder that rose and fell with breathing. His hands rested on his lap as they might rest on a pillow, and he realized that this was the answer to all his dreams. He closed his eyes from the soft gray light, exchanged it for a rosy hue. He wondered if this were really true. Wondered if he were really here.
"That's better," Blake's low voice said, "much better."
When Gaylord opened his eyes the haze across the sky had thickened, and the moon and stars themselves had vanished. They were alone, between two forests. There were no clearings here, no farms, no filling stations or houses. The civilization from which man came was far away, and those who ventured here were explorers or lovers, with only one thought … to be alone.
Watching the changing profile of the trees, Gaylord did not realize they had long since left the highway, that he was on a strange road. He only knew he had at last lost the world he had wished to lose so many times.
"Bob?" he finally asked.
"What are you going to do when school's out?"
"Oh … I don't know … haven't given it much thought."
"Won't be long."
"That's right … sure won't. I should have finished last year, but I wanted to play ball another year."
"I love to watch you on the field … you seem so sure of yourself."
"I love football."
"I know you do."
"I'd rather play than eat."
"Scares me sometimes when so many jump on you."
"Don't hurt," the voice held amusement.
"Sure looks like it would."
"You ought to play, Gay. I'll bet you'd be a good runner."
"If I could play like you … I wouldn't mind."
"You could … just takes time. You gotta learn and you can't learn without taking a few knocks. When I first went out, I was lousy."
"I bet you weren't."
"Yes I was, too. Couldn't even keep that pig-skin in my hand and God knows it's big enough. Dropped it all the time … I sure was clumsy."
While Gaylord listened, he thought, Your hand is big but it doesn't feel clumsy … it feels soft and wonderful on my shoulder.
The car stopped and Gaylord felt himself drawn even closer. A strong hand came up and imprisoned his face.
"Where are we?" he asked.
"Lover's lane," Blake's voice sounded far away but the hand on the thin shirt over his flesh was very near.
"Lover's lane?" A more timeless moment had never entered Gaylord's life. He tried to be casual by adding, "Your old stomping grounds, huh? Bet you've been here lots of times."
"A few," Blake murmured drowsily, pressing his hands.
"I never knew about this one."
"Not even with Thelma White?"
"Not even with Thelma White."
The odor of oiled hair and bronze skin was in his nostrils, and the darkness ebbed and flowed around him in gusts of warm and melodious wind. Gaylord was startled as he recognized the strength of the emotion Blake aroused in him. The murmur of crickets was constant; the croaking of frogs deep, but not heard. He smiled uncomfortably and tried to release his shoulder.
Instead of letting go, Blake's embrace grew tighter. Gaylord found himself thinking, God, he's strong. Why should I pull away … I've never been so happy … never so happy.
Blake bent down and his lips were soft and warm. The solid strength of the arms hurt, but suddenly they changed to gentleness. He yielded hastily, and Blake held him tight, drawing him close.
Something was being born in him, full-blown and mature, and his blood beat upward from the pit of his loins in scalding waves. He looked at Blake as though he could consume and preserve him as he was at that very moment. Oh, Bob, he cried silently, I love you so much.
Again Blake's lips brushed his as though they were something infinitely rare and precious, something so fragile a breath would destroy them.
"Bob … oh … Bob," Gaylord whispered.
"You're sweet … Gay … very sweet."
Wordlessly, Gaylord leaned forward again into Blake's embrace. His arms stole up and lay about the thick neck, and his face was pillowed against a heaving chest.
"You are too," he whispered. "You are too, Bob." And once more he felt the unbelievable strength of the man, and a slow gentle melancholy was slowly possessing him.
A warm, naked hand had now begun an agonizing journey from button to button up the front of his wrinkled shirt, then down it went to the zipper in his trousers. Inside his trousers, he felt firm fingers dig into his flesh and round his groin. He gave no thoughts of the past. His many evenings of loneliness were forgotten. He remembered only love, bare arms embracing, the first kiss. He saw Blake in his football suit, looking like a bronze god and running like a wild deer down the entire field. He saw Blake naked and remembered how it had been. He remembered the grin. Even with his eyes closed he could see the tight muscles of the arms about him, and the hand massaging his bare flesh was very plain.
"Bob," he breathed, lingering on the name. He felt as if his entire being was boiling, was steaming like a boiler seeking a quick release. His heart pounded and back of his exploding mind a thousand dreams became alive.
With a violent fury he threw his arms around the other. He was not afraid of what was happening. This he knew was what he wanted. This was natural, as if it had happened many times, and he was eager and desirous for the act lurking there in pools of shadows. What a difference between this and that time with Thelma White. That had been an ordeal, but this …
He swayed unsteadily as the silence rose up around him, when his clothes left his body. He lay back feeling Blake's body, hard and rigid as timbers against him, and hot with an animal's vitality. He threw his arms around the naked back above him, felt Blake's firm mouth on his own. Felt Blake's tongue forcing itself into him. Ways of kissing, that had never occurred to him, were sought for and discovered … His hands worked gently up against the oily hair. He caressed it until the darkness went out of him, and the slow joy too. He could feel the pounding of Blake's blood, rolling out to meet his, leaving a weakness in him, a tropical languor … a melting … a dying … a flame.
It was accomplished there in the darkness between them.
Hands found flesh and lips found lips again and again and through them tasted deep of the pagan world of beauty and desire, blackening out all doubts of vulgarity and lewdness.