Chapter 15 - You Know You’re Right.
“But, Brian, we didn't get to do the pedal bikes yet,” Justin begged again as Brian tried to stay firm about getting on the road early the next morning.
“Justin, it already feels like we've been driving for days and we’re still only in fucking Wyoming. At this rate we won't make it back to Pittsburgh until fall. We really need to get going. I have to get back and somehow figure out how to save my ass and my new company from bankruptcy.” Brian tried to explain one last time, apparently to no effect whatsoever judging by the frustrating yet adorable pout on Justin's face.
“You promised, Brian. You promised one fun thing a day. And you told me back in Portland that you never make a promise you won't keep,” the sunshiney blond insisted, and since he was right about the promise, Brian groaned but gave in.
“Fine! Shit, Justin - you sure are good at arguing. Maybe we should have had you pretend to be a lawyer rather than an artist back in Portland,” Brian grumbled before rolling out of bed and pulling on his jeans from the night before. “You have ONE hour. And then we’re leaving.”
“Yay! This will be fun. You'll see Brian. The girl at the office who got us the small golf clubs even told me which trail to go on. The trail goes up over the continental divide again. And the girl said we might see some pronghorn antelope or even elk,” Justin was energetically pulling on his own clothes - some of which he'd appropriated from the stores found in the RV which almost even fit the kid.
“So, what's with you and the wildlife, Sunshine,” Brian had to ask. “What are you? The reincarnation of Charles Darwin or something? Are all your adventures now going to involve potentially smelly or dangerous wild animals? Cause if so, I could just leave you out there in the woods with all your new friends.”
“I don't know, Brian. I mean, I never got to meet any live animals at all before my mother died. I barely ever even saw any animals because of never leaving the house - except for sometimes when I'd watch the neighbor’s cat through my bedroom window. My mom didn't approve of pets or anything. But I really liked the Skunk family, so I just figured I might like antelope families too,” Justin explained with unarguable Justin logic. “Besides, I never had ANY adventures before I met you. So you're at least partly to blame for how my adventures are turning out. And there weren't any animals at the waterfall in Idaho or the museum in Oregon. ”
“That's true. I guess out here in Bum Fucked Egypt, where there's nothing else but wild animals - and dumbass hicks even stupider than the wildlife - we are a bit limited in our adventure potential. Hopefully, once we get back to the realms of civilization, you'll have more options and I'll get to avoid the more furry and/or feathered local wildlife,” Brian conceded, wondering to himself if there was any chance of seeing the type of wild life he was more accustomed to seeing - the kind you would find in the backroom of a gay club.
Once they were finally dressed - all except for Justin’s usual lack of shoes - Brian ushered the boy out of the RV and they headed off towards the office together. Despite the fact that they were off on another amusement-filled outing, Justin wasn’t being his typical bouncy self. From the looks of him, the boy was doing some deep thinking. Brian counted down in his head from ten, and just as he got to ‘one’ the boy piped up just as expected.
“Brian? What kind of adventures do YOU go on when I’m not around?” Justin asked with his usual quota of curiosity. When Brian just shook his head and looked back at the boy with confusion, Justin elaborated. “You said that all MY adventures seem to involve animals. Which implies that your’s don’t. So I just wanted to know what other kind of adventures there are? I’d be happy to do your kind of adventures if that would make you happier. What kind of adventures do you usually do?”
That question made Brian snort with laughter. “I don’t do any adventures, Sunshine. At least not the same kind you’re talking about.”
“Why not?” Justin seemed totally perplexed. “I know that I never had any adventures before I met you, but that’s because I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere. And, back then, even if I had been allowed out I probably would have been too scared to do anything. But you’re not scared of anything, Brian. So I would think you’d be out doing fun stuff every day.”
“Sorry, Sunshine, but real life doesn’t work like that,” Brian shook his head and thought about how to explain. “You see, most of the time I’m too busy working to waste time on the type of adventures you’ve been taking us on the past few days. And, I guess, even if I wasn’t busy with work, I probably wouldn’t do any of this silly touristy stuff. That’s just not my style.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, Brian. Okay, I understand if you’re too busy working. Working seems like it’s important to you. But you can’t be working all the time. So why wouldn’t you want to go out and have fun? How is ‘having fun’ not your style? You’re the funnest person I’ve ever met, Brian!”
“Well, since you’ve now met about twenty people total, Sunshine, I guess that makes you an expert on fun!” Brian teased as he held open the door to the RV Park’s office.
“I may not know a lot of people, Brian, but I do know that you deserve to have fun. I may not have much experience with adventures, either, but I think I must be better at having fun than you. So, from now on, I’m going to make it my job to teach you how to have fun. And you can teach me all the other stuff like about sex and real life and all.
The same teenaged girl from the night before was manning the office desk and looked up with a surprised and slightly shocked smile on her face at Justin’s last uncensored words. Brian groaned and looked around quickly to make sure that nobody else was within hearing range. Justin was correct in that he really wasn’t very good at pretending to be something he wasn’t.
“Don’t worry. The Wheeling brothers are still back at the hospital trying to get themselves deskunked. I doubt they’ll be in any shape to give anybody shit for at least a couple more days,” the young lady commented with a grateful grin. “And thanks. I hate those two motherfuckers with a passion. They’re always hitting on me and are too stupid to understand the meaning of the word ‘No’. Or, for that matter, the meaning of the words ‘Statutory Rape’, either. I’m actually enjoying my day without them.”
Brian and Justin accepted the girl’s thanks as well as the keys to unlock the pedal bikes which were chained up outside. Brian had to admit that they did look like they’d be a lot of fun. They were four-wheeled, like an ATV, with fat tires and built low to the ground so they would be sturdy while out on the rugged trails in the area. They looked like they could handle pretty much anything. And, since the terrane in the vicinity was mostly flat, except for the occasional dry wash, they shouldn’t have any trouble.
The girl, whose name turned out to be Missy, gave them a short instructional course on what NOT to do with the bikes and then set them loose. Justin claimed to know the way, saying he’d memorized the trail map he’d picked up the night before, so Brian let the boy take the lead. In no time they were headed off down a dirt track towards the northwest. About fifteen minutes later, after an easy climb, the trail topped a small ridge with a sign that read, ‘Great Divide Basin, Red Desert’.
“This is so cool, Brian,” Justin said hopping off his bike to pose by the sign so that Brian could take his picture. “Right now we’re about seven thousand feet above sea level. On this side of the line, all the precipitation flows off to the Atlantic Ocean,” the kid explained before hopping over to the other side of the sign. “And on this side, any precipitation that falls just stays in this big alkali basin and never flows anywhere! It’s called the Red Desert because of the color of most of the rocks. It’s one of the driest places in North America. It gets only about 10 inches of precipitation a year - mostly snowfall in the winter. But because it’s so dry and hard to get to, there aren’t many people living here, so it’s a great place for that wildlife you were worried about earlier.”
Brian did have to concede that the view from their little ridge was pretty amazing. The land was mostly flat, but off in the distance he could see some interesting and colorful rock formations including one dark-colored protuberance that looked like teeth pointing up at the sky. It certainly was desolate though. The only view more splendid than the scenery around them, Brian thought, was the view of Justin’s beamingly happy face as the boy contemplated the landscape and spouted off additional interesting facts about the neighborhood. Okay. Brian supposed it was worth the lost time if he got to see this beautiful boy enjoying himself so thoroughly.
They followed the trail down off the ridge and toodled around for about another half hour. There were a lot of rocks to see. Justin seemed fascinated by the geology of the area and was constantly giving Brian more information than he wanted or needed. Mostly Brian just nodded and let the boy babble. When Brian noted that they’d been out for a good forty minutes, he took over the lead and headed them back up the trail towards the RV Park.
The trail here looped around through another dry wash ravine that bordered on a fenced off stretch of plains. The track they were following actually rolled up and down along this part of the path, making the ride feel a bit like a roller coaster. Brian and Justin were both laughing and goofing off so much that neither of them noticed the small family of Pronghorn napping in the sagebrush just beyond the fence until their loud approach scared the group off. Brian got a pretty good picture of one of the males before it got too far away.
Then, while they were still giddy about that little bit of excitement, the bikes rolled over yet another little bump in the trail and they came to within five meters of one of the most glorious sights either had ever seen - a beautiful Golden Eagle perched on the fence post ahead of them. Brian had never been this close to such a large bird. The bird itself was more than two feet tall and the way it was perched on the post it towered over the two of them. It didn’t seem particularly worried about their approach either. It just sat there and glared down it’s cruelly sharp beak at the two humans with its beady black eyes as if sizing up whether they were edible or not. While the two men froze in place, afraid to either confront it or scare it off - Brian wasn’t sure which - the huge raptor raised up on it’s feet and unfurled its wings, flapping them a couple of times before tucking them back into place at it’s sides. Brian was awed. The wingspan of the bird had to have been more than six feet. When it agilely picked up one foot and menacingly stretched out it’s talon-clad toes in their direction, Brian decided that it was time to move on and give the majestic creature it’s space. Brian and Justin carefully rolled their bikes back a few meters and then detoured around the site, leaving the Golden in solitary possession of his fence post and the land around it.
When they finally made it back to the RV park, Brian found himself telling Missy all about their adventure while Justin, for once, remained uncharacteristically quiet. Brian was simply too impressed by the Golden Eagle to maintain his usual taciturn composure. He’d never been that close to any creature that impressive and he knew he was gushing but really couldn’t stop himself. Missy, who’d lived in the area all her life and probably seen the same eagle or it’s relatives a hundred times, just nodded her head and smiled at him indulgently. Brian really didn’t care though. He just hoped the picture he’d snapped with his phone turned out to be decent because he planned to wow his friends with it as soon as he got home.
“See! I knew you knew how to have fun, Brian,” Justin said once they were finally headed back to their RV. “I think you just need more practice. Don’t worry. Just stick with me and I’ll make sure you have lots more fun before we’re through.”
Brian chuckled, but he couldn’t deny the truth of the boy’s words. He was pretty sure that he would indeed have a lot more adventures as long as he stuck with Justin. And he just might have a little bit of fun along the way, too!
As soon as they got on the road again, and Brian fell into his long-distance driving mode, things in the RV got quiet again. It was about 180 miles from Rawlins to the Nebraska border, which meant at least three hours of driving. Brian was starting to wonder just how fucking big this country really was. What in the world made him think DRIVING back across it was a good idea?
Gradually, as they moved eastward the countryside around them became less and less barren. The windswept rocks dotted with sparse sagebrush started to give way to fields of dry grasses. Eventually the mostly flat landscape cut through by large ravines also gave way to more rolling hills. About an hour or so after they crossed over into Nebraska, they finally saw water for the first time since the Utah border and after that the highway followed along the North Platte River for awhile. It was rather refreshing to see water. And along with the water there were now trees and bushes and, a little farther on, they started to see farmland with fields of wheat or corn. Strangely enough, it seemed that all the fields on the south side of the highway through this stretch were wheat while those on the north side were corn. They joked about this for a good hundred miles - corn on the left and wheat on the right - and wondered if all the local farmers got together and planned it that way on purpose.
They stopped at a rest stop just outside of the town of North Platte and made some lunch. Brian took the opportunity to walk around and stretch his muscles as much as possible. Who knew driving was this hard on your body. He really could use a break.
“Justin, you don’t by any chance know how to drive, do you?” Brian asked, even though he knew it was unlikely.
“Sorry,” Justin shook his head and looked guilty - he’d seen Brian rubbing at his neck and wished he could do something to help.
“How would you like to learn? I don’t think I can keep this up indefinitely. You’re going to have to drive for at least some of the way or my back’s going to give out,” Brian proposed, thinking that this was as good a chance for the boy to take up driving as any.
“I-I-I can't drive,” Justin stated adamantly.
“Of course you can. I’ll teach you,” uttered an exasperated Brian.
“My mother said that's another of those things that lead to getting pregnant. She was pretty insistent about that one too, Brian. I don’t think I should . . .” Justin said in his best PSA voice.
“Justin! JUSTIN! Listen to me! Are you listening? YOU won’t get pregnant! Boys can’t do that.” An exasperated Brian walked up to the agitated blond, gently grabbed him by the shoulders and looked into the stormy blue eyes. “Boys can’t get pregnant, only girls can, and it takes more than just sharing a room or a bed or driving.” Brian didn’t want to go into all kind of details, at least not here in the parking lot of a highway rest area
“Even so, Brian . . .” Justin was so hesitant about voicing whatever was bothering him that Brian momentarily thought about shaking the words out of him. Finally, the boy went on. “It’s just that I can’t really do those kinds of things. I don’t know how. I can’t do things like other people, Brian.”
“Bullshit, Justin! What do you think you’ve been doing the last few days?” Brian looked into Justin’s scared blue eyes waiting for a response that never came. The boy just shrugged. “THINGS! You’ve been doing all sorts of things, Justin. Like any other person.”
“It’s only because I’ve been with you, Brian. But I don’t think I can do this.”
“Justin . . . You can do anything in the world . . . You just have to want to,” Brian tried to reason with him, but the way the kid flinched away from his gaze told him that Justin perhaps wasn’t ready for this.
“Fine. Well, maybe you’ll change your mind later, Sunshine. But . . . In the meantime, we better get back on the road. Pittsburgh isn’t getting any closer while we sit here yapping.”
Brian extended his arm and pointed back towards the waiting RV. Justin headed in that direction, his shoulders a little droopy and his head down. Brian sighed. He would wait for now and not push. But, since he’d already said that he wanted Brian to teach him real life stuff, maybe Justin would change his mind sometime soon? Brian could only hope that change of attitude came before his back gave out.
It was already after six o’clock when the RV finally rolled into an RV park in Grand Island, Nebraska. Brian didn’t think he could drive any more that day. In fact, he didn’t know if he could actually even walk after sitting cramped in that RV for a solid eight hours of driving time. He did manage to make it over to the office and register them into the campground for the night. It took the last forty bucks he had in his wallet, though. The stress of that didn’t help Brian’s back much. He would have to hit an ATM tonight or tomorrow morning and hope there was more in his bank account than he’d previously thought.
“Do we have to pretend to be unhappy again while we’re here?” Justin asked out of the blue as they were heading back out to the RV in order to move it around to their assigned slot. When Brian just looked at him with confusion, Justin tried again. “You know. Like in Rawlins? Where you told me not to act happy. Or at least not so happy that they knew we were gay?”
“I don’t know, Sunshine,” Brian looked around him and saw only another Small-Town-America RV park. “I don’t think you could ever act unhappy enough not to be ‘gay’ - we tried that back in Rawlins and it really didn’t work, remember? But I guess we’re probably safe enough here. As long as we aren’t making out on Main Street, we’ll probably be okay.”
“Oh good! Because I have another idea about how to teach you to have fun!” Justin shoved a flyer he’d picked up in the RV Park Office into Brian’s face. “Look! It’s the Nebraska State Fair! We could go there tonight! You’d have lots of fun!”
“Shit, Justin!” The only thing Brian wanted right that minute was to lie down somewhere and rest his aching back, but . . .
Justin’s face started to crumple - the boy thinking that Brian was about to quash his latest funtime plan.
Brian just couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t bear to be the one who’d stifle any of the boy’s freedom. Not after the childhood Justin had suffered through.
“You know you’re going to kill me with all this fun before we ever make it back to Pittsburgh, right?” Brian relented. “Fine. We can go to the Fair. But not until after I spend an hour or so soaking in the hot tub so that my back no longer feels like a pretzel.” Instantly, Justin started happily hopping up and down like a grasshopper in a field of ripe wheat. “And don’t even try to tell me that your mother wouldn’t approve of us sitting in the hot tub together or that we’re going to get pregnant! I’m not going there again!” Brian ordered, causing Justin to giggle as he climbed eagerly up into the RV, already trotting towards the bathroom to find their swimming suits. “By the way, weren’t you just telling me how you can’t do things like other people? Then how is it you seem perfectly capable of manipulating ME into doing shit like going to a Hicktown Fair? Huh?”
Justin came scampering out of the back waving the suits in his hand. “Well, maybe I CAN do some things. But only things that are fun. And only with you, Brian.” Justin shrugged, raised up on his toes to leave a sweet little kiss on Brian’s lips and then dropped back while he smiled adoringly up at Brian. “Because you really are the funnest person in the world. You just don’t know it yet.”