Confessions and Commandments
Boone was back in the water, being tossed around like a leaf in a current and completely at the mercy of the river. Blue was there too, submerged as well, but this time he was upright and coming towards him with teeth bared and long ears flat against his head. Boone cried out a watery scream as the mule tore a chunk from his shoulder before slipping out of sight.
Shocked at Blue’s angry action, he watched clouds of red bloom from an arm hanging limply at his side and knew he had little time left. He searched frantically for Coy, but couldn’t find him, and felt relief he wasn’t in the water. Boone was alone, which was the way it should be, and those cursed vines had wrapped around his boots. As they pulled him steadily downward, he thrashed in defiance until he felt a strong grip on his arm. Coy?
A familiar face came into view. Coy was there after all. He’d found him, and Boone was both happy and terrified to see him. His friend tried to pull him free—tried his best to save him—but like so many times before, it was no use. Boone’s fate was sealed, and he watched Coy mouth some words he couldn’t make out before the man’s lips touched his. He felt the sweet warmth of them despite the coldness of the water, and closed his eyes as dark hair caressed his face. He was happy in that moment and wished it could last forever, but knew his life was already over.
When he reopened his eyes, the warmth was gone and Coy was floating away from him, his body trapped in the branches of a slowly rolling tree. As it rotated, they held him like arms that wouldn’t let go. Coy was trapped same as he was, and he looked terrible sad as he his eyes searched out Boone’s.
Boone screamed and screamed as the tree sped up and sunk out of sight… and woke in a panic. “Coy!”
“I’m right here, Boone… I’m with you, you hearing me?”
Boone couldn’t see him in the deep darkness of night, but could feel the reassuring grip Coy had on his arm. It was the same grip he’d felt in the water before Coy was taken away from him. “I hear you. Why in tarnation is this happening to me?” he asked in frustration, not expecting an answer.
“Was it the same one?”
Boone took a deep breath as he recalled the horror of it. “Pretty much… except… well, it was different, but so real. I thought….”
“You thought what?”
Boone felt the warmth of Coy’s breath… his face was close, and he remembered the kiss from those lips. “Nothing. It’s fading now.”
“I’m going to stir up the fire and throw some wood on. Don’t know where the moon went. Water in the pot should still be warm if you want some?” He crawled over and stirred the embers with a stick, and they flared up with a loud crack. Another log thrown on guaranteed it would last well towards morn.
The mentioned moon suddenly came out from behind the clouds, bathing everything in silvery light, including a concerned face pointed in his direction. “I’m ah… I’m going to walk down to the river.”
“It’s a chilly one, Boone. Should have put the tent up.”
“I’m not cold.”
“You’re sweating, so you will be soon enough, and we don’t need you getting sick again. You sure everything’s good with you?”
“Nothing but a bad dream.”
Coy sighed loudly as he settled back on his bedroll. There was no missing his exasperation. “And how many nights in a row does that make?”
“Sorry I keep waking you up. You’re needing your sleep.”
“Not what I meant. I’m pretty sure you need to be talking about it, and I can tell you’re keeping something to yourself.”
“And you’re not?” he snapped at his friend, instantly regretting it.
“Me?” The moon was playing peek-a-boo again, but Boone saw his friend’s confusion. “What are you talking about?”
“Nothing. Sorry… I’m jumpier than a cornered mustang.”
“Yeah, you are, but you must have meant something.” Coy sighed again. “Tell me about your dream. I know you remember more than you’re saying. Maybe talking’s what you need. It helped me when the twins died in that flood, and I know it’s about being in the water,” he said in a soft, soothing voice.
“Not much to tell. I drown, is all, and I should be over it by now.”
“What do you mean, how?”
“How do you drown?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Just trying to help, Boone, that’s all.”
“Sorry. Sorry, Coy. I know you are… it’s just hard to talk about it.”
Boone searched his friend’s concerned face and nodded, caught by the intensity of eyes reflecting flames. His body began to tremble. “I’m under water, and something pulls me down.”
“What pulls you down?”
“Hell, Coy, I don’t know… vines I guess. Sometimes it feels like hands are pulling on my boots.” He shuddered from the thought. “I’m trapped and I can’t….”
“I can’t save myself or….”
“Or… who?” he asked softly.
“Ah… Blue. Blue’s there, and this time he tore my shoulder up with his teeth. First time he did that.”
“He bit you? Jesus. What’s he done other times?”
“Rams into me as he floats by… he’s usually upside down, though. He dies too, I think.”
“So you both die, but neither one of you did. You both made it out of that river alive.”
“I know… I surely know it. Doesn’t make a lick of sense.”
“It does if you thought you were going to… and you very nearly did. Anyways, I don’t think dreams are supposed to make sense. After the twins died, I dreamed night after night it happened to me, even though I weren’t anywheres near where it happened.”
“You were just a kid then… that’s different.”
“I was. I was fourteen, but how’s it different?”
“I’m all growed and shouldn’t be afeared of what could have happened, when I know damn well it didn’t.”
“You were as close to death as a man can be when I found you, cold as a fish, and judging by the bruises, you got walloped plenty good more than once. You might not remember it all, but it ain’t hard to figure you must have fought like the dickens to stay alive. That’s nothing to do with being afeared.”
Boone noticed the shake in Coy’s voice as he spoke the words. He had to keep in mind it hadn’t only affected him. “I should have been able to….”
“Nothing. It was just a damn dream. I’m going for a walk now.” He stood up, wiping sweaty, still-trembling hands on his britches.
“Boone, wait! You’re doing the same damn thing. What aren’t you telling me? What should you have been able to do? I’m telling you again, I think you need to get out whatever‘s got you shook, and if Ma were here she’d tell you the same.”
Sinking back down onto his bedroll, Boone swallowed. “I couldn’t save you,” he muttered softly.
“Me? I was there?”
He nodded, reliving watching the man disappear from sight.
“In every dream?”
Boone nodded again.
“Ah, so that’s why you been whimpering my name.”
“I did that?”
“Yep, until you screamed it this time… did that a few times afore you woke.”
“I don’t understand why you were in the water with me. You shouldn’t have been there… you weren’t there.”
“Maybe not, but your dream says I was. What was I doing?”
“You? Ah… you were trapped too.”
“Trapped? Like with them vines?”
“Sometimes. This time you were trapped against a tree spinning in the water. The branches wouldn’t let you go.”
“Doesn’t sound like fun,” Coy said with a chuckle, but his expression was serious. “So, that’s it, I show up trapped in something or other, and I drown too?”
“Mostly,” he answered before looking away.
“Mostly? What else happens? What do I do other times? Boone? Talk to me.”
Boone met his concerned gaze, and he wanted to tell him, but he wasn’t sure if he should, so he stayed silent.
“I’m asking you again. What else happens? Why am I there?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know why. You just show up when I’m drowning, and… and you say some words. I think you’re saying good bye—I can’t never make out the words—but you shouldn’t have come, because the river gets you too, and it’s my fault!” he said a little too loud, reliving that worst part of his nightmare. “Something pulls you down until I can’t see you anymore. You’re… you’re gone, Coy.”
“I’m right here. Why would you think it’s your fault?”
“Cause If I hadn’t said what I said about wanting to go my own way, you’d have had no need to follow me… or rescue me. You have been with me and none of it would have happened in the first place.”
“That was my fault as much as yourn. I was the one who chose to say behind… and the river didn’t get me, Boone,” Coy said gently.
“I know it didn’t.”
“So, is that it? I say some words and sink out of sight?”
Boone shook his head again, suddenly wanting to get the whole damn dream out of his head once and for all. “No. No, that’s not all. You… you kiss me, Coy. I’m so cold, but I can feel the warmth of it, and then we both die. We always die, and it feels like it’s my fault. The river gets you because of me, and I couldn’t save you.” Boone took a couple of deep breaths as he took in his friend’s stunned expression. “And then I wake up… after I die.”
Coy groaned and lay flat out on his back, his face looking up toward the night sky. “Oh, Lord in heaven. Boone?”
“Yep? I’m sorry… it was just a dream, I know that. A stupid, damn dream, and I shouldn’t be—”
“It wasn’t all a dream. I did do that.”
“I kissed you… when I thought you were dead.”
Boone’s posture stiffened, freezing him in place, and his heart skipped a few beats. “You did? That… really happened?”
Coy sat up and nodded, repeating his words. “I kissed you when I thought you were dead—you felt so damn cold—and then I kissed you again when I saw you were still alive. You didn’t dream that part. Your eyes opened, but I didn’t think you even saw me, but I’m guessing now I was wrong.”
Boone found his voice. “So, you did say goodbye to me then?”
“No! I never said that! I never once said goodbye. I don’t know why you thought that, but I couldn’t say it, and turns out I didn’t need to.”
“But you were talking to me… at least in my dream. Each time, it felt like something you wanted me to hear.”
“Boone, I… I said a lot of stuff, once I knew you were alive. I talked to you a bunch after that.”
Boone pictured the face from his dream, mouthing words, and he could almost hear them. A tingle shot up his spine. “Coy? What did you say when you kissed me?”
“I… it could have been anything….”
Coy’s expression said something different to the man who knew him well. “Now who’s holding back?”
“Just tell me.”
Coy nodded, looking scared. “I told you I loved you. Might have said it more than once.”
The picture came together in his mind, and he saw the face and heard the words. “You were crying, weren’t you… there were tears when you said it?”
The words caught Coy off guard, judging by his reaction. “You remember that?”
“I do now. At least, I think I do.”
Coy uttered a choking sound before he spoke. “You’re right. I was crying… couldn’t stop for the life of me. I never felt worse in my life… not even when Ma passed on.”
Boone laid back and stared at the same night sky. He had so many questions, but only one mattered. It took him a few minutes to ask it. “What you said to me then… what did it mean?”
Coy was quick to answer, as if he’d been waiting for it. “I don’t know, Boone. That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
“I see. So it’s about thinking you were losing your best friend,” he said, trying to keep the disappointment from his voice.
“No… no, Boone. I’m pretty sure it’s more than that—you told me once it was something I should just know, but I don’t. I mean, maybe I do, because I know what I feel when I look at you, and I know what I feel when I’m away from you… and I know what I think about sometimes. I just… I got to get Will and my ma’s voices out of my head so I can think for myself.”
“Do you? I mean, I don’t want to do something wrong, and I don’t want to hurt you like I did when I punched you. All of that was my fault, not yours.”
“Was both of us. I misread—”
“I’m not so sure you did.”
“But you’re not sure I didn’t.”
“The last couple of days I thought I was closer to knowing, but I’m scared, Boone.”
“Letting you down, mostly. Not wanting what you want, the way you want it. How do two men even build a life like you expect to have?”
“You think I know?” He sat up straight again so he could see Coy clearer. “I don’t know anything… just what I feel. I suspect they have to want to—they have to feel the same—and then they just do it. Like Wes and Lee did.”
“I don’t know if I have that kind of courage. Will would have killed us both if we ever….”
Will. Boone felt a surge of anger at his name, but quickly swallowed it down. “This shouldn’t be about Will… or your ma.”
“I know, but I can still hear them. Do you even want me like you did?”
Boone took another moment to decide how to answer. This conversation was the last thing he expected to have, especially after waking from a nightmare, but all he could be was honest. “Couldn’t change how I feel if I tried, and Lord knows I have tried, but you’d have to feel that way too. Truth be told, I’m a little confounded, though. I always reckoned I never had a choice in the matter, but I guess some do.”
Coy opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it. One hand brushed the hair away from his face, a sign he was thinking. “You think the Lord would welcome us into heaven?”
Us? Did Coy just say us? Did he even realize it? Boone’s heart felt like it would leap from his chest, but then caution took over. It was only one word, and Coy had just asked a very serious question. It wasn’t one he saw coming, but he knew Coy well enough to know where it came from. He’d heard the same sermons in the same house, which was the reason they’d never talked like this before. “There’s lots of things I don’t agree with… things your ma believed, but she was a good, god-fearing woman and I loved her.”
Coy nodded slowly, his eyes fixed on Boone’s. “I know you did.”
“But, I don’t think anyone can speak for what God thinks—not even a preacher—but everyone seems to think they have the right. Lots of things in the bible don’t make a lick of sense to me, not if I know God like I think I do. For sure there’s comfort in some of it, but men wrote that book… not the Lord hisself. The Commandments, though, I believe they come straight from him.”
Boone took a deep breath while he studied Coy’s face. The man’s lips were parted, and he was listening closely. He’d never voiced such personal thoughts about himself before, but Coy has asked. “All I know is I am who I am, and for sure and certain, He made me this way. It don’t say nothing about me in His Commandments, and I’ve never broken a one… excepting maybe I took the Lord’s name in vain a time or two, and I’m not all that good about the keeping the Sabbath holy, but I ain’t never drank whiskey or gambled on a Sunday either. Anyways, that’s what I go by. If he’s of a mind to exclude folks like me from heaven then he should have spelled it out in another Commandment, but he didn’t. He gave Moses them rules for us to live by… no more and no less.”
“That makes sense, I guess,” Coy said, his expression thoughtful.
“It won’t to some, but I can’t be worried about them… they ain’t wearing my boots. Nothing would make me happier than if your love was the kind I want, but you got to ask yourself if you only said you loved me because you thought I was going to die… or if was born out of being sad and lonely. That’s good love, but it’s not full love. You’re the only one in this world what loves me, so it don’t matter which kind it is.”
“You disappointed in me because I don’t know what I’m supposed to do… like you do?”
“I ain’t in your boots either, so any disappointment wouldn’t be in you.”
“What does that mean?”
“I can be disappointed, Coy, but it doesn’t mean I’m disappointed in you. Life has disappointments, and I reckon most of the time it ain’t no one’s fault. At least now I know what you were keeping from me.”
“Ah… that’s what you meant. I… yeah, I suppose I was at that, but after the night I punched you, you never wanted to talk about us at all. Was a tough subject to bring up when I didn’t know what to say, and you didn’t remember me kissing you anyways.”
“No need to fret, but I do now. I remember how cold I was and how warm your lips felt, and I remember your hair hanging down around my face. That’s likely why you were in my nightmares… why you were in the water with me.”
“You didn’t know you made it out of the river when… I kissed you?”
“I reckon that’s part of it. Suppose it makes as much sense as anything. Who can say? I do remember being sure I was dead.” Boone wanted to ask him about the kisses—how they made him feel—but put a lock on his lip for the time being. The man had some demons, and he recalled when he didn’t welcome those feelings he had for men—the time before he met Coy Diamond and his whole world changed. “I’m going to water the bushes.” He stood up quickly and strode off, leaving Coy to himself.
After taking a piss, he sat on the cold ground near the horses, thinking. The more he thought, the more confused he got. He finally gave up and returned to the campfire. Coy was still sitting on his bedroll, tending the fire.
“She’s sure a cold one tonight. You doing all right?”
“Yep. Just want to crawl into my bedroll and get warm.”
“Do you think you can sleep?”
“I aim to try. You still fretting?”
Coy sighed. “I worry about what happens now?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, did I mess things up again? I messed with your feelings before and—”
“No, you didn’t. You didn’t mess with my feelings and you didn’t mess up anything. We’re friends just like we were this morning. I told you not to fret, and I meant it. Just leave things be, and you’ll get sorted one way or the other. You hearing me?”
“Yep. I expect you’re right.”
“You’re shivering, Coy. Get in your bedroll before you get sick.”
“Guess I should at that. These longjohns aren’t as thick as the ones I washed.” His head rose. “Can I ask you a favor first?”
“Course you can. You don’t want to kiss me again, do you?” Boone asked, trying to make his friend smile.
It worked, and he got a chuckle from the man. “I’m not saying I’d mind… but my head ain’t on straight about—”
“I was just having some fun with you, Coy.”
“I know, and I was just saying.”
Boone saw sadness in his expression, and wasn’t sure how to react. It had turned into a long night and he was bone-tired.
“Remember when we got stuck on that mesa that time?” Coy asked as he fiddled with his blankets.
“Looking for those dunderhead longhorns? Sure do. That weren’t a good place to be at night.”
“But we cozied up and stayed warm, even though that wind could cut through like a knife.”
“Ah… so you want to do that now?”
“I know it’s not as cold, but….”
“I never felt so alone, Boone. I don’t know why, but I’m shook… and lonesome and I just….”
“You don’t need to explain… I know what being lonesome and alone feels like. Bring your bedroll over here.”
A few minutes later, after an awkward beginning, Boone turned his back to Coy and felt a strong arm wrap around him. He soon pulled him close, and for the first time in a long while, Boone felt peace.