Tommy sat on the other end of the worn attic couch and swung his feet into Ennis's lap and god damn, Ennis did not have a thing for cowboys, but the warm, shiny leather boots resting on his thigh were so sexy his throat ached.
He didn't like cowboys, he liked punk boys and Courtney Taylor-Taylor. But he lived in Kansas, and Kansas was filled with cowboys (the real deal) and ropers (the fakes, in boots that had never seen mud) and there was Tommy, with his boots in Ennis's lap and his nose scratchy with sunburn and his shirt torn and sewn up after a kick from a genuine mustang, and Ennis was just sunk. So he rested his hand on Tommy's knee, and he knelt up on the couch, and he crawled up Tommy's body and kissed him hard.
Tommy held him with his knees and his hard, muscled arms. He shifted his hips, and Tommy sank down into the couch, and he could feel Tommy's cock as hard as his own through two layers of jeans. "We can't, we can't, my grandpa's home," Ennis whispered. His bedroom was ten feet away, way too big of a temptation. No couch, just a bed.
They did it when they could; the stable out on Tommy's farm was great, up in the hay loft with the horses stamping below. But when Tommy went home, he was going to have to explain his math grade to his mom, so they were stuck in the attic with Ennis's bat-eared grandpa below and Ennis had to keep his pants on.
"Been a week," Tommy said. "I'm gonna burst."
"I have to live here," Ennis said, and kissed him. They could do that. Couldn't stand not kissing him, when Tommy smelled so good, like sweet golden grass, and the wind sang through the open attic window and drew the sweat off his neck. Tommy groped his butt through his jeans--and Ennis had to look up on the internet how to fuck him without getting hurt, how to get fucked by him, because Jesus he wanted to--and Ennis slipped his hands up under Tommy's shirt and felt his stomach and his nipples and the slight, wiry hairs down the middle of his belly.
They broke apart when Ennis heard a noise in the kitchen. "What time is it?" he whispered to Tommy.
Tommy raised his wrist. "Quarter to five. Gotta go."
Ennis bit his lip, wanting to kiss Tommy goodbye, the throbbing in his dick wanting more. Tommy licked his lips, his breath coming so hard Ennis could feel his chest rise and fall, and then rolled them over, right off the couch and onto the floor. Ennis yelped. Tommy giggled.
"Deuce?" Ennis's grandpa called up the stairs. "You all right?"
Ennis's heart rabbited. "Fine!" he yelled back, too close to Tommy's ear. Tommy winced and shoved him away, and Ennis hit the shaky old coffee table and knocked it over. They both grimaced as it clattered across the floorboards.
Grandpa didn't reply to that, but a second later, Ennis heard the door open. "No, grandpa, don't come up, it's fine!" Ennis yelled in a panic.
"You boys stop fighting now," Grandpa said, and Ennis's stomach turned over as he heard the knock of Grandpa's cane on the first step.
Ennis yanked his shirt down, trying to cover his dick, telling it to go *down* already, and Tommy licked his palm and smoothed down Ennis's hair. Ennis pulled out Tommy's shirt--the front was untucked already, but the back wasn't--and yelled "Grandpa, no, Mom said no stairs!"
Grandpa, stubbornly, kept coming up, one step at a time. He'd broken his leg, that's why he came to live with them, and his bones still weren't strong. He wasn't supposed to take the stairs at all. Ennis ran over to the stairs and clattered down to meet Grandpa and block his way. Grandpa's eyes flickered between them: narrow, folded into his face by the sun, seeing everything.
"We're not fighting, I just slipped. Come on." Ennis took Grandpa's elbow so the old man could lean on him, take some weight off his busted leg.
The frown lines stood out in Grandpa's face, but Grandpa leaned on him and stepped slowly down the stairs.
"I'd better get home. Later, En," Tommy said. He took his hat and backpack from the stand by the door and picked up his bike from the porch. Should be a horse, Ennis thought for the hundredth time.
Grandpa sat in the rocking chair in the sun and rubbed his leg. "I wouldn't fight with Tommy," Ennis said. He found Grandpa's stool so he could put his feet up.
"You would," Grandpa said, in his soft, dark voice. "Come here, Deuce." He held out his hand. Ennis stepped closer and Grandpa closed up his hand in both his.
Grandpa's hands were so strong. Ennis couldn't believe sometimes that any part of him had broken; Grandpa was made of stone from head to toe. "You ain't like me. Ain't so mean."
"Grandpa--" Ennis started to say, but Grandpa raised his finger and Ennis shushed. Best not to interrupt him when he had something to say.
"You ain't mean, and I'm glad for that. But you don't know. That passion comes up, you find yourself saying things you never said before. Doing things. He puts that fire in you, you don't know what's going to happen."
And Ennis felt his stomach turn over, and he stared at Grandpa, what he was *saying*-- No.
"You love that boy and that's a powerful thing," Grandpa said.
"No," Ennis said.
"Don't you lie to me," Grandpa said.
"No, Grandpa," Ennis said, his mouth dry and his mind whirling and lights popping in his brain. He jerked his hand in Grandpa's grip and Grandpa let him go; he sat down hard on the kitchen chair, and his brain stopped spinning, it was like he fell back into his body. He swallowed once, twice, trying to swallow away the lump in his throat.
Grandpa stood up slowly. Ennis looked down at the floor. Grandpa didn't say a lot, so if you wanted to talk to him, you had to carry the bulk of it, but oh God, he didn't have the first clue what to say. Never did with Grandpa. Grandpa should hate him, even before this, Ennis was his namesake but he was as unlike him as humanly possible with his long hair and his art school ambition and his combat boots and his being a GIANT FAG--but Grandpa liked him. And Ennis liked his grandpa a lot. And he didn't have a damn thing to say, and felt like crying, because he didn't know if he could take this.
Grandpa opened the fridge. "Here," he said, and Ennis looked up and took the beer bottle Grandpa handed him.
"I'm sixteen," Ennis muttered out of habit. Mom would kill him and Grandpa both if she knew Grandpa was letting him drink.
"You're a man. I gotta say some things to you. Drink that," Grandpa said. He took another bottle, put on his hat, and stepped out onto the porch, slow and uneven on his cane. Ennis followed him after a moment.
Ennis sat on the swing, looked over the road, and drank. Grandpa sat beside him. The golden lawn whispered in the uneven wind, grass edged by five ancient rock posts, sandstone hewn into fence posts while soft from the ground, left to harden in the wind, axe marks from a hundred and fifty years ago still visible down the sides. Over the road, the thick-stemmed sunflowers swayed out of time with the ripple of the wheat beyond them.
Down the long, flat lane, Ennis could still see Tommy on his bike, the cream of his hat bright against the green wheat, the silver spokes winking in the sun. He wished he were beside him. He wished he weren't having this conversation.
Grandpa finished his beer and set the bottle down. "Deuce," he said. He'd started calling Ennis that right away, same as he called Mom "Junior."
"Yeah, I love him," Ennis said, barely audible even to himself. He couldn't lie to Grandpa. "Don't tell Mom." Mom, flowered dresses, long hair braided up, church every Sunday and Bible study every Wednesday. He couldn't deal with her hating him--or Grandpa, either, but it was too late for that.
"What you planning on telling her?"
Ennis shrugged. "He's my friend."
"You're in love and you're not going to tell your mama?"
"Hell no," Ennis said. He stared down at the porch. White-painted wood, fresh and bright. He'd redone it with Dad over the summer.
"And when you grow up? Leave? Gonna marry some little girl?"
"No," Ennis said.
"Good," Grandpa said.
"I guess--I'll tell her eventually. But it's gonna break her heart, Grandpa. It's gonna kill her."
"No one ever died from hearing the truth," Grandpa said. Ennis looked up at him; that wasn't what he'd expected to hear, not by a long shot. "Lies'll kill you in the end."
The asphalt of the road shimmered in the afternoon warmth, despite the cool October breeze threading through the porch lattice and rustling the sunflowers. It would storm come nightfall.
"Times are different, it seems to me," Grandpa said. "Seems you can be queer out in the open."
Ennis winced at the word. It was awful out of Grandpa's mouth, twisted like hate.
"Seems to me you should just tell the truth," Grandpa said.
Ennis shook his head. "Grandpa, you don't get it--"
"Hell I don't." Grandpa put his hand on Ennis's shoulder and held his gaze tight. "Your grandma divorced me because she knew I couldn't love her like she deserved, knew I loved Jack. That man Jack. She was a good woman--a damn good woman--but Jack set me on fire and made me crazy. I couldn't stand loving him, wasn't brave enough. You gotta be braver than that."
"Grandpa?" Ennis looked up, looking for the joke; he couldn't believe his ears. But Grandpa--his jaw was clenched tight between words, his whole face pulled in except for his bright, narrow eyes.
"Hear me?" Grandpa squeezed his shoulder hard. "You be braver than that. You hold your sweetheart tight and you fight the whole world if you gotta. You be a man and don't run."
Ennis nodded. Grandpa let him go and sat back, taking a deep breath.
He stared at Grandpa, trying to think *grandpa* and *gay* in the same thought and failing. Grandpa. Gay. Grandpa, hat and hand-made cane and red-brown working tan and deep lines on his face from the Wyoming sun. Soft words and wood shavings. Plaid work shirts that he patched at the elbow himself, that he wouldn't let Mom replace because there was still wear in them and it was a waste. Grandpa who held little sister on his lap and told her ghost stories so she'd screech and hide her face in his shirt, the one time he ever got verbose except for now.
"We'll tell your ma," Grandpa said.
Mom would be home from Bible study at six, in time to put dinner on. "She's gonna hate me," he said.
"No," Grandpa said.
"She thinks homos go to hell. She said it plain as day."
"God didn't make us this way just to burn us."
Ennis looked at him, still not quite able to believe it, but Grandpa sounded sure. Really sure. And if he could convince Ennis, maybe he could convince Mom.
But Mom still cried when she found out, and Dad went very red in the face, and Grandpa didn't say anything, just sat there with his hand on Ennis's shoulder while Ennis stared at the wall between them and said the words. He didn't tell them it was Tommy he was gay with, but Tommy was the only real friend he had; they had to know. And afterwards, Ennis swiped his mom's cell out of her purse and called Tommy from his bedroom to give him the awful news. Tommy was silent for a long time before he said, "I guess I better tell my folks."
"I guess you better, before my mom does." His stomach churning, hard and sick inside.
"God damn, En."
"If it's bad, you can come over here. I can sneak you in. Grandpa will help."
"Yeah--I--man, I don't even know. I'll tell you later," Ennis promised.
And later, past nine, when the crickets were chirping but the fireflies were down, Tommy bicycled up to his porch with a red and swollen eye, trickling blood from a cut on his brow. Ennis spotted him from the window and came downstairs to let him in; Mom looked up from her Bible and her face was tired and sad and red.
"Come on, baby, let's put some peas on that," Mom said to Tommy, and she took him into the kitchen, and Ennis held the frozen bag to his face.
Tommy's parents came over half an hour later; it was an accident, really, his dad hadn't meant to hurt him. He'd punched the wall and knocked a can of tomatoes off the shelf, which hit Tommy in the face, scaring them all. His mom sat down with Ennis's and they prayed silently, hands clasped together, while Ennis held the ice on Tommy's face, blood smudged on the heel of his hand.
Grandpa sat in the corner and rocked. Little sister Trish sat in his lap, even though it was past her bedtime and she was too big for his lap anyway. She sat on his good leg, wide-eyed.
"We'll pray for you every day," Mom said to Ennis. "Every day."
Ennis didn't say anything. Tommy chewed his lip red.
"God made them this way. God won't change his mind," Grandpa said.
Mom turned on him and pointed. "Don't you blaspheme in my house!"
Grandpa closed his hands over Trish's ears, making her wrinkle her nose and squirm. "I was running around on your mama with a man since before I married her and after she left me, and I'm saying I shoulda gone to live with him like he wanted, and I'm saying you nor God ain't gonna change your boy!"
Tommy's parents reddened and looked down into their coffee cups. Mom stalked over and lifted Grandpa's hands away from Trish's ears. "Go to bed," she told her, and Trish slipped off Grandpa's lap and ran for the stairs.
Mom took a deep breath like she was about to start yelling, but Grandpa cut her off, soft and low. "Junior, I loved your mother something awful, and it wasn't enough. Even for you girls, it wasn't enough. I was in love with Jack Twist since before you were born and still am, and there isn't enough praying in the world to make that stop. God handed that out to Deuce and to me and he doesn't take that back."
"That can't be true," Mom said.
And Mom stared at Grandpa, jaw set, eye to eye, neither backing down. Ennis couldn't look away; it was only his hand on Tommy's face that kept the peas in place.
"Truth has to come, angel," Grandpa said. "Your daddy and your son are queer."
Mom turned away, tears running down her face, her mouth tight and angry. She dried her face with one wrist and took the first aid kit down from the shelf.
Tommy's mom closed up his eyebrow with a butterfly bandage; he didn't need stitches. Tommy went home with them, his dad's arm awkwardly around his shoulders, his bike in the back of the truck.
Ennis lay awake in bed for hours. The window was open, and when the wind changed, he could hear his mother cry.
The sun was high and bright when he woke.
"I called you in sick, baby," Mom said. "You looked worn out when I went in to wake you up." She looked worn out too, her eyes puffy, but she made pancakes for them both, with a plate set in the oven for Grandpa when he woke up; his snores were still rumbling through the house. Her Bible sat on the table, open to the book of John, chapter three. The gilt was worn off the corners where she'd turned the pages so many times over the years.
Tommy's parents called him sick in too, it happened, and he came over later that afternoon, and they sat together on the porch, holding hands down tight between their thighs. Ennis rested his head on Tommy's shoulder and breathed him in, the sweet grass smell, the sweat of the bike ride, high-efficiency Tide on his shirt. Two crows sat on a sunflower and pecked seeds from its face as it bowed out of time with its sisters.
Ennis pulled the Nerf anti-crow gun from under the porch swing and fired at the sunflower. Direct hit, and the crows leaped into the air and away, which made Tommy bust out laughing. He wound his arms around Ennis's waist when he sat back down.
"Daddy," Mom said in the kitchen behind them. "Tell me about Jack Twist."