I wiggled in the airplane seat, trying to find a comfortable position. Apollo had mauled my ass before driving me to the airport, and it felt as if his lamppost of a dick was still inside me. The man was hung.
We had progressed from workout buddies to casual friends and after a gym planning lunch, we ended up in bed. We repeated the afternoon a few times over the subsequent months. It was now April, and the previous night he had spent at my place, so he could drive me out to Newark Airport this morning. He was the big spoon all night, and I woke up to him sliding his lubed cock back inside me.
We had talked about it and knew it would be our last time. It wasn’t due to his size, I knew I could get used to it if we went at it often enough. The problem was he being a total top. My versatility did not move him to spread his legs, and I was in no way interested in being anyone’s full-time bottom. We agreed to remain friends and continue working towards our common goal.
After our initial meeting, subsequent workouts, and our afternoon romp, we decided to investigate what was involved in opening our own place. If nothing else, we wanted showers where faulty plumbing and weird growths on tiles did not drive us nuts. By the time I left for Iowa, we had a good handle on requirements. While away, I would work on financial details while Apollo tried to find a location.
“Damn, Colt. You’re huge!” Jonathan Mann, a big man himself, wrapped the younger one in a hug. “It’s good to have you home, son.”
“Language, Jonathan. You shouldn’t be cussing in public. Welcome home, Colton.” Martha Mann was one of the few people who used Colt’s full name.
“You should see my workout partner. He’s a heck of a lot bigger than I am. Hi, Pa. How are you, Ma?” Colt bent and kissed his mother. He always wondered how such a small woman could have carried him inside her. Colt had weighed over ten pounds at birth.
Pa pointed at the duffle bag slung over my shoulder. “How much more luggage do you have?”
“This is it. Shorts, jeans, and t-shirts, I didn’t think I’d need a suit to work around the farm.” Over Christmas, I’d emptied out the closet in my old bedroom and donated most of the old clothing still in there. Mostly high school relics, everything was too small for me.
“Good, I hate waiting around baggage claim. New boots?”
Looking at my feet, I nodded. “My old ones gave out a while back. Bought these a month or so ago.” Walking around New York City in Timberlands was a fashion statement for many; for me, it was a way of avoiding blisters on long days tramping through the fields.
“Hope they’re broke in. There won’t be any wussing out because your feet hurt.”
Ma chuckled at his comment. “Remember your senior year in high school? You could barely walk after you insisted on wearing new ones right out of the store and going straight out to the fields.”
“I learned my lesson, Ma. I learned my lesson.”
As usual, Ma insisted on sitting in the back, while Pa and I shared the front seat of his old truck. I noticed the tires were still worn and once on the road, the rattling exhaust system unnerved me. They had refused my offer to buy them another one over Christmas. I decided not to give them a choice this time. I’d make time to visit the Chevy dealership tomorrow and force a new one on them. My parents did well but had a typical Midwestern frugality that drove me bonkers. I normally accepted it but not this time. I was concerned about their safety.
“Is this workout partner the man you’re going into business with?” Pa turned down the radio as we headed away from the airport; we had over an hour’s drive to the farm.
“Yeah. Apollo’s been guiding my time at the gym. And I’ve been eating better too. What with not having to spend so many hours at the office, I have time to shop and cook.”
“You said he’s from Greece?” Ma had always made it a point of getting to know everything she could about the people I met.
“His grandparents were, but he and his parents were all born in New York. That reminds me. Open my bag, Ma. He sent something for you guys.” I turned in my seat and pointed at a white, cardboard box I’d placed atop my clothes. “There’s baklava in there.”
“It’s a Mediterranean pastry. Flaky dough, chopped nuts, all covered in honey. Wait until you try it. It’s delicious. We can have it for dessert tonight.”
“How long does it last? Will it go bad if we don’t eat it tonight?”
The question surprised me. Ma had a sweet tooth, and it was unlike her to delay biting into something like this. “Not sure… I’ve kept some for like a week, and it was still good.”
“Perfect!” She sounded excited. “We’ll save them for the weekend.”
That was confusing. “Really? How come?”
“I talked to Sam’s mother a couple of days ago. When I mentioned you were coming to help with the soybean planting, she said she would like to see you. I invited them all over for dinner.”
My stomach lurched. “Sam’s parents? Him too? Why’d you do that, Ma?” I had made it a point of avoiding the Hooke family during my annual visits. “I’m not sure I want to be there.”
“Colton! Why would you say that? They always ask about you. You’ve never even met their granddaughter. We don’t understand why you avoid Sam whenever you’re in town. You and him were inseparable in high school.”
Now I was angry, and it showed in my voice. “Because he’s an asshole!”
“Language. I don’t care—”
“Fuck language, Ma.” My father may have taken his foot off the gas for a moment when he looked at me with a shocked expression. “I don’t give a shit. And if you can’t handle it, I’ll be fine with turning around and heading back home right now.”
My mother was definitely startled by my outburst, but it was my father who responded. “This is your home, Colt. Always was and always will be.”
“Sorry, Pa. But New York’s my home. The two of you are the only reason I return to Iowa now and then. Just because I wanted to get my hands dirty this spring doesn’t mean I’m coming back permanently. How many times do I have to say it? I don’t want to be a farmer.”
I was agitated and had raised my voice. It wasn’t something I did often, particularly around my parents. Ever since graduating from the University of Iowa, they had tried to convince me to move back, and eventually take over the family farm.
Ma broke the momentary silence. “But why, Colton? Even if you don’t want to be a farmer, why do you avoid Sam whenever you visit?”
The hurt and anger I’d bottled up for years exploded out of me. I again turned to stare at my mother and let her have it. “Because I’m gay and Sam told me he couldn’t be around a fag, okay? I have no use for anyone who refuses to accept me for who I am. As far as I’m concerned he can drop dead tomorrow, and I wouldn’t miss him.”
I watched my mother stare at her lap and heard a few sobs escape her. Looking out the windshield again, I slumped in my seat. After my sophomore year in college, I came home for the summer and came out to my parents. They took it surprisingly well and told me I was their son and they would always love me. But they never discussed the issue again. Even when I tried to.
“I’m gay, Ma. Have always been and will always be. I’m not going to hide who I am because it’s inconvenient. I bet you’re still telling people I’m single because I haven’t found the right one.” Typical small-town attitude to sweep what was not pleasant under the rug. “You lie to every one as much as you want. I won’t play that game. If you’re so ashamed of me you can go screw yourself.” Pa flinched and gave me a hard stare. Me cussing in front of Ma was unheard off.
“Pa, turn the truck around. This was a mistake. I thought I could come here, lend a hand, and spend a little time trying to get my shit together.” Back in December, my visit had been short and I was not yet ready to deal with my failed relationship and the other changes in my life. “Obviously, that’s not going to happen. I’ll get a room at a hotel and catch the next flight out of this shit hole.”
“Colt”—Pa reached over and placed a hand on my thigh—“Breathe, boy. Let’s all relax, okay?” He took a quick glance at my mother before returning his attention to the road. “Ma, I think you need to call Sam’s mother and cancel dinner. It seems there are things we didn’t know about her son.”
“You have no fucking idea.” My snippy comment earned me a hard glare from my father, but he did not pursue the subject.
“What do I tell her?” Ma was no longer trying to hide her sobbing. “What will they think?”
That did it. My temporary calm evaporated. “I don’t give a flying shit what you tell her! And I don’t care what anyone thinks. Fuck ’em all!” I may have at last crossed a line.
“ENOUGH!” Pa slammed on the breaks, and if I’d not been belted in, I would have probably flown through the windshield. He pulled to the side of the road, shut off the engine, and turned his full attention to me. “Colt, this is obviously something that’s been bothering you for a long time. I’m sorry Sam rejected you, and I’m sorry we did not know. You should have told us. But you’re my son, and I don’t care if you’re gay or a Martian. I love you. That boy was an idiot, and he’ll hear it from me next time I see him.”
Ma made a noise as if she was choking on her own spit. I stared out the window at the empty fields by the highway.
“I’m not turning around. I’m glad you’re here, and I want you to stay.” Pa waited until I nodded.
“Fine.” I didn’t say another word the rest of the trip. Neither did my parents.
Instead of a homecoming celebration, supper was a somber affair. Stilted conversation and uncomfortable silences left me second-guessing my decision to visit again. After helping clear the table and loading the dishwasher, I stepped outside and sat on the porch swing. Pa joined me a few minutes later.
“I guess today didn’t go as any of us expected.” Pa tapped down the tobacco in his pipe, struck a wooden match against the siding, and held the flame to the bowl. The fragrant, blueish smoke enveloped us, bringing back memories of sitting on his lap when I was a kid.
“Yeah, you could say that.” I locked eyes with him and watched as he smirked.
“Don’t worry about your mother. I’ll talk to her and make sure she cancels that stupid dinner. What do you plan to do tomorrow?”
That confused me. “Not sure what you mean, Pa. It’s up to you. I came out to work.”
“Well, we won’t be ready to go out on the fields for a few days. I plan on heading into town with Daniel tomorrow morning. We need a few things and there’s a part we ordered for the tractor that should be at the dealership.”
“Tell you what, I’ll go with Daniel. Ma’s probably asleep already, so you won’t get a chance to talk to her tonight. Do it tomorrow after I’m gone.” This was my chance to look for a new truck for them.
Ma was at the stove stirring eggs in her cast iron pan, and Pa sat at the kitchen table sipping coffee and reading the paper when I walked into the kitchen the following day. “Good morning.” Kissing Ma on the cheek, I poured myself a mug and sat across from my father.
Glancing at me, he did a double take when he noticed my shirt. He shook his head and smirked. “Trying to make a point?”
I smiled and nodded. The shirt was something I had picked up for pride the previous year. It read I’m not gay but my boyfriend is. “I don’t ever want to have another conversation like yesterday’s. Once someone sees me in town, word will spread. That will hopefully put an end to speculation.” Gossip in a small rural town traveled faster than corn grew in summer. Those who had an issue with my sexual orientation could go fuck themselves as far as I was concerned.
On purpose, I kept my voice down not wanting to deal with any of Ma’s comments until after Pa talked to her. She did not appear to notice the t-shirt when she handed us each a plate of eggs and bacon and placed another one stacked with toast on the table.
“Eat,” she said while wiping her hands with a kitchen towel. “Do you need anything washed, Colton? I’m going to do laundry.”
“No, thanks, Ma. One of the things I want to get while in town’s a new set of overalls. Those I’d like to wash before I wear them.”
“Toss them down in the basement whenever you get back.” The roar of a motorcycle made all three of us look up. “That’s Daniel. Offer him a cup of coffee before you leave.” She headed downstairs without looking back. I knew she was still trying to process my multiple outbursts from the previous day.
Pa did as she suggested as soon as our visitor knocked on the screen door. “Come in, Daniel. Have a cup of coffee while Colt finishes up.”
“Morning, Mr. Mann. Hey, Colt. Good to have you back, man. I hear you’re gonna get dirty with me.” The man smiled while stretching a scrunchie to tie his hair back. The long, black mane, copper skin tone, and slightly flared nose gave away his Native American heritage.
“That’s the plan. I haven’t played in the fields since my last college vacation; I’ll try not to slow you down.” With a full mug in hand, Daniel sat next to me while looking at Pa. “When will the order be ready for pickup?”
“As soon as they open. They texted me last night it was ready.” Pa liked to do things the old-fashioned-way, but he was no Luddite. He and Ma had satellite TV, internet service, Wi-Fi coverage in the house and the main barn, and the most recent iPhone model. “Colt’s riding into town with you instead of me.”
Daniel elbowed me and smirked. “Yeah? You gonna be my bitch today? Gonna load and unload for me?” Language at the farm was definitely different when Ma was not in the room.
“Take it easy on the city boy.” Pa was grinning like a fool. “Don’t break him on the first day. I wanna be able to use him for a couple of weeks.”
“I’m glad the two of you have so many plans for me.” I pivoted my head to look at both before settling my sight on Daniel. “Maybe I’ll steal your motorcycle and spend the next two weeks riding around Iowa instead.”
“You’ll have to learn how to ride first. You said you don’t even own a car in New York. You’ve probably forgotten how to drive one by now. And that’s easier than riding a scooter.”
“My driving’s fine, thank you. I drove all over the place when I was here for Christmas.” I stood and carried my empty plate to the sink. “Give me a few to brush my teeth and grab a hoodie. I’ll be ready to go right after.”
When I reached the barn, after yelling goodbye at my parents, Daniel was waiting in the passenger seat with the engine running. He motioned with his head for me to drive. “Let’s see if you really remember how to.”
Shaking my head, I got in. “I may not own a car, but I rent one now and then to get out of the city.”
“How come you wanted to come with me?”
“You’re picking up a part at the dealership and an order at Tractor Supply, right?”
“I want to buy overalls to work in while I’m here. I’ll do it after we load up the order Pa placed. Then I’m going to stay in town and take care of something else.”
“How’re you getting back?”
I waved my hand around to indicate the truck. “I’m tired of my parents driving around in this piece of crap. I tried in December, and they turned me down. They don’t get a say this time. I’m buying them a new one.”
“Good. I’m tired of trying to keep this thing running.” Daniel had been a mechanic in the Air Force and took care of maintaining all the farm equipment. “What’s with the t-shirt?” He smirked when he glanced at me.
“Tired of people asking me when I’m gonna find a girl and get married. I figure the news will get around after anyone sees me wearing it.”
“I can understand that. My sister’s a lesbian, and she complains about the same thing.”
A couple of hours later, I crossed the street to the diner opposite the Chevy dealership. I had a little time to waste while they installed the Silverado’s bed liner and readied the truck. I sat at the counter, ordered coffee and a slice of pie, and fiddled with my phone.
“Colt? Colton Mann?”
A shiver ran down my spine. I recognized the voice. It was the last person I wanted to run into this morning. Slowly turning my head, I found Sam Hooke staring at me while holding a little girl’s hand. She was a cute tyke somewhat resembling her father.
“Hey.” I turned again and faced the serve-through window dividing the kitchen from the rest of the restaurant.
“Hey? That all you have to say?” Sam lifted the girl I assumed was his daughter and sat her on the stool next to mine. He took the one on the other side of her. “This is Poppy. You’ve never met her. Poppy, the big man’s been Daddy’s best friend since we were little ourselves.”
“Was.” I glanced at the kid and smiled at her, wishing Sam would take her and get away from me. Yesterday’s conversation with my parents had stirred old memories I thought I’d put to rest. Obviously, I’d been wrong. The pain I felt recalling them was as sharp as when Sam had discarded me.
He looked and sounded surprised. “What do you mean was?”
“Means we were friends. We haven’t been for quite a few years.” I finally stared into his eyes, trying not to let the anger I felt boil over.
“Oh, come on, Colt. Don’t be like that. When did we stop being friends?”
That did it. Was he that stupid? Did he honestly believe I would forget his hateful words? I lost it. “When you told me you couldn’t be friends with a fag!” I said it loud enough the few patrons in the place heard me. All conversation stopped, and I could tell people were staring.
Sam recoiled and swept his eyes through the diner. “Not so loud. Do you want everyone to know?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. My stare challenged him before I unzipped the hoody and turned around to look at the other patrons; suddenly everyone seemed interested on whatever was on their tables. I raised my voice a little bit more. “In case you all didn’t hear me, I’m gay. Anyone have a problem with that?” Not a peep was heard out of anyone. Sam kept a hand on Poppy’s back, stared at the counter, and mumbled something. I didn’t hear it and didn’t care.
“I said I’m sorry. I should have never reacted the way I did.”
Taking another bite from the pie, I tried to ignore him.
He would not stop. “Don’t you think we should talk about it? Your attitude could make dinner at your parents this weekend awkward.”
“There won’t be a dinner at my parents this weekend.” The news obviously surprised him. “When my mother mentioned it yesterday, I said I wouldn’t be there if she insisted on having you and your family over. And I told them why.” I was on a roll and the words flowed so fast I was having trouble keeping my composure. “Pa didn’t look happy when I recounted what you’d done and said. I’d watch my back around him if I were you.
“You have any idea how much you hurt me? The boy I grew up with? The guy who broke the state’s high school double play record with me?” Sam had played shortstop while I was the second baseman for the team. I’d gone on to play in college, but he had decided he didn’t want to go to school anymore. “The man I thought would be my friend for life? I let my guard down, and you pulled the rug from beneath my feet.
“Instead of offering support, you walked away and three months later you were married. Why was that? Were you scared when others found out about me they would suspect you of also being a fag?” Because of his daughter, I mouthed the word instead of saying it. “Did you worry people would find out about what you and I did when we discovered sex together?”
This was too much. I stood, reached in my pocket, peeled a twenty off, and slapped it on the counter. I squatted so I’d be at the same height as his girl. “It was nice meeting you, Poppy. You’re cute.” Although the poor girl probably did not grasp the meaning of the conversation, she looked bewildered by the two adults talking over her.
There was nothing else to say, and I was trembling. I ran out of the place before the tears could start.
“You’re a good boy, Colton.” Ma patted my arm and turned to head back inside the house. “You and Pa should take it out for a ride. And maybe grab some dinner while you’re out. I’m not feeling very well. I think I’ll have some tea tonight and go to bed early.”
Surprised, I glanced at Pa with a questioning look. It was early in the afternoon and Ma was talking about going to bed already? He shook his head and raised a hand to keep me quiet.
He spoke once she was out of earshot. “She’s fine. Leave her alone, and I’m sure she’ll be better tomorrow.”
“What do you think of your new truck?” He had run his hand over the chassis, smirked, and shook his head when I’d driven in and called them out to see it.
“The truck’s beautiful, but didn’t I tell you not to buy me one over Christmas?”
“Guess you’re gonna have to punish me for disobeying you. What’s up with Ma?”
Pa held his hand out and I dropped the keys on it. “She needs a little time to adjust to her new reality.”
I was confused. “What new reality?”
He pointed at my t-shirt. “Your encounter with Sam at the diner’s the talk of the town. I’m sure you weren’t out the door when the calls started. Everyone wants to know if you’re really gay.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Why can’t all the busybodies mind their own business?”
“Because their lives are boring? Because they remember you as the high school and college athlete always in the news for your prowess on the field?” Pa opened the driver’s side door and slipped into the truck. “Come on. Since I’m stuck with a new truck, we may as well take it for a spin.”
“You sure you don’t want to stay? It’s been awesome working with you.” Daniel passed me the joint after taking a hit.
My time in Iowa was drawing to a close, and we were relaxing at the pond’s edge. He and I had toiled side-by-side planting seed and our incipient friendship had blossomed. “Nah, man, my life’s in New York. This has been an interesting change of pace, but I need to get home.”
The confrontations with my parents and Sam had made me realize I was a stranger in this small Iowa town. I stuck out like a sore thumb. More so after outing myself at the diner. The uproar died down after a few days, but people continued to stare at me whenever I left the farm. Fuck them all as far as I was concerned. New York allowed me to live openly as a gay man and that freedom was not likely to ever be found in the middle of nowhere.
“And anyway, aren’t you scared of what people would say if you hung out with a gay man on a regular basis?”
“Nope.” Daniel shook his head before leaning back on his elbows and staring at the opposite shore.
“That’s it? Nothing else to say?
“Nope.” He turned and smirked. “I don’t give a shit about who anyone sleeps with. None of my business. And I definitely don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.”
“Wish more people around here felt the same way. Seems like everyone’s in everyone’s business all the time. I can’t deal with it.”
The return flight I spent reflecting on the trip. I realized Sam’s rejection years before had affected me more than I ever acknowledged. Maybe the failure of every relationships since was due to me searching for someone to take his place in my life. That stopped now. No more looking for a young jock who resembled him. Traveling to Iowa had been cathartic. It was time to leave the past behind. I had the prospect of a new business to keep me occupied. Instead of spending time looking for a lover, the gym would be my companion. If and when the right man came along, I’d be ready. There would be no baggage next time.
Welcome to the discussion thread for CJ’s series.
All things CJ are fair game, I simply ask you be respectful of others.
I will actively participate in the discussion. Ask questions, speculate about what’s coming, or bitch about what happened.
We’re now open for business!