It was the bourbon that did it. Well, that and the half dozen or so beer. And now Andrew was feeling a little unsteady as he stood in the yard, waving good-bye to Sean’s girlfriend who had driven him home. He was relieved that she returned the gesture; maybe she wasn’t quite as pissed off as he thought. Sean, slumped against the passenger door, was in no condition to wave. Or maybe he was pretending to have passed out in light of the earful Sarah had been giving him.
Earful or not, at least she picked them at the bar, neither of the men in any condition to drive. Usually one of them would have the self-control to abstain, making sure they had a way home from town. Or they would have arranged a ride ahead of time, it was only common sense, but that was something that was in pitiful short supply tonight. Andrew had been ready to call Rick, prepared to take a bit of well-deserved grief but Sean had insisted that Sarah wouldn’t mind. Andrew grimaced at that miscalculation; she did mind when she saw what shape they were in.
The dogs barked excitedly, happy to greet him even if it was two in the morning.
“Shhh,” Andrew tried to shush them, the importance of not waking his partner shimmering weakly in his consciousness. He started towards the house, his path an erratic meandering through the yard. Absently he brushed his fingers over his swollen cheek. That was going to bruise. Looking down he saw with some regret the large tear in his shirt, one of his favorites too. Oh well, it had been sacrificed for a good cause, he mused. If only he knew what had started the fight in the first place.
Sinking down on his knees in the soft grass to rest for a moment, he barely resisted the urge to lie down and just sleep there. It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d slept outside in similar circumstances but there were enough brain cells still functioning for Andrew to realize that Rick wouldn’t be pleased to find him there in the morning. So he struggled to his feet and stumbled to the porch. The toe of his cowboy boot caught on the edge of one of the stairs, sending him sprawling. “God Damn,” he cursed, sitting on the steps, rubbing at his shin. That was going to bruise too. The dogs had come to check on him, licking his face, and he pushed them away, laughing at the tickling sensation.
“Hey, hey there,” Andrew said happily to the unhappy man standing in the doorway. “It’s me. I’m home.”
“So I see.” Dressed in boxers, his dark hair sticking up, Rick still looked imposing when he crossed his arms over that chest but Andrew was too far gone to appreciate the effect. When he just sat there, grinning at him, Rick padded barefoot out onto the porch to help Andrew to his feet. “Good time?” he asked wryly.
“Um-hmm,” nodded Andrew. “I think so.”
Rick steered his partner, with some difficulty, into the house and towards the bedroom. Sitting him down on the bed, he bent to yank off his boots, Andrew leaning his head against him so he wouldn’t fall over. “Rick?” he ventured.
“What?” he grunted. Propping Andrew up with one hand, he unsnapped his torn shirt with the other.
“You mad?” asked Andrew, sounding more curious than worried.
“Yes, I’m mad.” Rick confirmed but without any real heat to his voice.
“Don’t be mad,” Andrew hiccupped. His battle with gravity over, he fell back onto the bed. Taking advantage of his position, Rick undid his belt buckle and fly, Andrew squirming and giggling under his hands, making it more difficult.
Andrew was hardly a man given to giggling and Rick, caught between irritation and amusement, asked, “What in God’s name have you been drinking?” Andrew’s tolerance for alcohol was pretty high. Rick had never seen him in this condition before.
“Bourbon,” Andrew answered, his voice slurring. “I’ve never had bourbon before,” he continued thoughtfully, “But Sean was celebrating, he and Sarah are engaged.” Recalling the young woman’s displeasure at seeing her fiancé, drunk and roughed up in a bar fight, he hoped that was still true.
“Maybe we should get engaged, Rick.”
Smiling at the unexpected sentiment from his usually shy lover, Rick bent down to kiss Andrew thoroughly, braving the strong taste of alcohol. “Oh, we’re way past that.” Andrew reached up to draw Rick’s head down to kiss him again but subsided with a wistful sigh, knowing he was too inebriated to carry it any further, “I think I’m drunk, Rick,” he said regretfully.
“I think so too, Andy.”
Turning Andrew’s face to look more closely at the mark on his cheekbone, Rick asked, “What caused that?”
“A fist,” replied Andrew truthfully, his mind too muddled to even try to come up with any other explanation.
“You were fighting?” Rick’s voice was taking on a more grim timbre and Andrew wasn’t too far gone to assure him that he hadn’t started it.
“Sean and this guy were arguing. I don’t know about what,” he waved his hand in a vague gesture as if that was unimportant. “And the bastard jumped him. Then his buddy comes up and starts in too. I had to pull the other guy off.” He grinned proudly, remembering the outcome of the fight. “We won.”
Rick growled in exasperation. “That place is a zoo.” There were no bouncers in the bar in town; there was simply no one foolish enough to take the position. If things got too out of control the bartenders called the Mounties and they came to break up the fight.
Yanking Andrew’s jeans off, Rick rolled him under the covers and got back into bed. It was useless to discuss anything with Andrew’s brain still well steeped in alcohol.
No sooner had Rick lay down when Andrew groaned; feeling the bed spinning, he lurched up and headed for the bathroom. When he came back, Rick handed him a glass of water and Andrew sipped from it cautiously, his stomach still churning.
Pushing Andrew’s hair back from his forehead, Rick asked, “How do you feel?”
“Like shit,” came the aggrieved answer. “That stuff is lethal.”
“Go to sleep, you’ll feel better in the morning.” Or not, thought Rick, aware the bourbon was likely to give Andrew a wicked headache. Wincing at the smell of cigarettes and alcohol that was emanating from his partner, he nevertheless spooned around Andrew, rubbing his hand soothingly over his rolling stomach.
Looking down at Andrew’s pale face the next morning it was apparent which prophecy had come true. “Oh God, Rick,” he moaned. “Shoot me.” Cradling his thumping head between his hands, he curled up in the fetal position in bed and prayed for a quick death.
“Oh no, you don’t get off that easy,” Rick assured him. With a full day of chores waiting for them both, Andrew’s self-induced misery stirred limited sympathy. “You need to get moving. I’m leaving now; I have a load of hay to pick up. Water the horses and turn out the steers into the field. And the grass in the yard needs mowing.”
“Tomorrow.” He tucked a pillow over his head to muffle Rick’s deep voice.
“Today, Andy,” insisted Rick, as he removed the pillow from his partner’s grasp. “It’s up to my knees, it’s your turn and you’ve been promising me all week you’d do it. And when I get back, you and I are going to be having a talk about appropriate drinking.”
That didn’t sound promising thought Andrew and he forced himself to get up and shower, the water reviving him a little. Quaffing coffee and Tylenol to quiet his throbbing head, he marveled at the potency of bourbon.
After filling the horse’s troughs and releasing the steers, he went to the shed that housed their gardening tools and Andrew reluctantly wheeled the mower from its place. He hated cutting the grass, it was always last on his list when it came to the chores, and he’d happily do just about anything else, no matter how difficult or dirty a job. It seemed like such a waste of time…it always grew right back. Even though the incessant pounding of his head had eased, he was tired. And the sun was high enough now that it was uncomfortably warm, at least when you were pushing a mower. Rick was right though, the yard was looking rough, the grass growing high and uneven. Sighing, he bent to pull the cord to start the motor. His attention was caught by the whinny of one of the horses and he straightened up to look at them thoughtfully, standing in the corral.
Leading the horse into the yard, Andrew shut the gate so he wouldn’t wander off and took off the lead rope. “Go ahead, Sisco,” he urged. “It’s all yours.” He moved a lawn chair into the shade and sat down to watch the horse graze.
When Rick pulled up in the truck, he glanced towards the house and quickly looked again. Yes, there was definitely a horse in their yard.
That the horse must have been there for awhile was apparent, by the swath he had cut through their flower bed. Virtually every bloom had been brutally bitten off at the stem and the pathetic stubs were sticking out of the ground. Grabbing onto the halter, Rick pulled the horse’s head up from where it was buried in the last of the petunias. The gelding was reluctant to leave his unexpected feast and he looked reproachfully at Rick, his rheumy eyes accusing.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he scolded. “You’re going to get a bellyache as it is.”
Taking in the uncut grass and his partner, asleep in the shade, it was obvious what the horse’s purpose in the yard had been. “Come on,” Rick said, opening the gate and walking through, not bothering with the lead rope. The horse followed him, like a giant puppy, his nose almost resting on Rick’s shoulder. With a final pat, he left Sisco in the corral with the other horses and returned to the yard.
Andrew was deeply asleep, his head thrown back, snoring at full volume. “Andy?” Rick called, shaking his shoulder.
Slow to awaken, Andrew grudgingly opened one eye. “What?” Then he sat up, looking in some surprise at his partner standing there. “I must have fell asleep,” he muttered, then his eyes flew open wide as he searched the yard for the horse.”
“Sisco’s in the corral, where he belongs,” Rick told him, reading Andrew’s panicked look.
Andrew flushed guiltily and stood up. “I’ll just get started on the grass.”
“Come have a look at the flower bed first, Andy.”
Still a bit groggy, Andy followed Rick towards the house, “Oh shit,” he groaned when he saw what was left of it. Neither of the men had any particular interest in flowers but Rick’s mother had given them a selection from her ample garden and they’d planted them, not wanting to hurt her feelings. The longer he looked at the ravaged flower bed though, the funnier it seemed. His shoulders shook with suppressed laughter and he turned away from his partner in a vain attempt to hide his amusement.
“Andrew!” Rick said sharply.
“Oh God, I’m sorry, Rick,” Andrew gasped, wiping the grin off his face with a real effort. “It’s just…” he shrugged. “Funny. And it’s not like we cared about the flowers anyway.”
“That’s not the point. What was Sisco doing in the yard in the first place?”
Andrew’s amusement waned rapidly in the face of that question. He gave a forced laugh this time. “I was just thinking, what a waste of good grass....why not let one of the horses eat it?” When Rick looked unimpressed with his explanation, he sighed. “I was tired and didn’t feel like mowing. It seemed like a pretty good idea.”
“If you can’t do your work the next day, you had too much to drink the night before.”
Although there wasn’t any anger in it, Andrew recognized the seriousness of that statement. “Yes, sir,” he answered.
“When you’re done with the grass, come and find me. We have some things to talk about.”
Andrew’s stomach tightened unpleasantly but he went to cut the grass without argument. The men kept their yard small; they had little time for work whose only purpose was aesthetic and he finished all too soon. He put away the mower as reluctantly as he had gotten it out and went to find his partner.
He found him stacking bales of hay in the barn. Rick’s t-shirt clung to his sweat soaked torso, outlining the heavy musculature of his shoulders and back. Andrew hovered anxiously for a moment before grabbing a bale and joining Rick. The two men worked in companionable silence until the load of hay was safely stored. Rick stepped into the horse’s enclosure to the tap used to fill the troughs and turned on the cool water. He ran his hands under the stream before cupping them to fill. Lowering his head he washed the sweat off his face, sluicing the water over his neck too. He gestured to the other man in invitation and Andrew repeated Rick’s movements, welcoming the cooling effect of the water.
Sitting down on one of the bales, Rick patted one beside him and Andrew hesitantly took a seat.
“You want to tell me what happened last night?”
Not really, thought Andrew but swallowed down that response. “Sean wanted to celebrate, we had a few too many, I guess.”
“I have no objection to you going out and drinking Andy. God knows I’ve done my share but there’s no reason to get that drunk.”
“It was the bourbon,” Andrew claimed.
Rick shook his head, unmoved by that argument. “Why would you drink so much of something you’re not used to?”
Andrew didn’t have an answer to that.
“You think you could have avoided that fight if you both Sean and you hadn’t been drunk?”
“Maybe?” answered Andrew although he knew the real answer was probably. One rational voice was often all it took to stop a senseless bar fight.
“If you can’t control you drinking, Andy, I will. There’s no reason to drink so much you make yourself sick. And those fights can turn mean, awfully quick. You can get hurt bad.”
Andrew didn’t respond, keeping his head down, seemingly preoccupied with pulling pieces of hay out of the bale.
“Andrew? You got anything you want to say?”
“No, sir,” said Andrew quietly. He hadn’t made a whole lot of good decisions the night before, he couldn’t think of anything else to say in his defense.
“Take your jeans down,” Rick ordered.
The words brought it home to Andy that a spanking was imminent and his flushed with embarrassment. “I’ll never drink bourbon again, I swear,” he pleaded.
“I don’t care what you drink, Andy, as long as you don’t drink too much of it. Now take your jeans down.”
“Out here?” Andrew protested. He knew they wouldn’t be interrupted, the dogs would alert them to anyone coming to the ranch but he grasped onto anything that would delay the inevitable.
“We can go inside if you want,” Rick said, standing up.
Remembering the paddle was accessible when they were inside; Andrew changed his mind and stood up quickly to fumble with his belt buckle. Rick brushed aside his trembling fingers and unfastened it for him and this time it didn’t provoke any giggling from an apprehensive Andrew.
After pulling down Andrew’s jeans and shorts, Rick reseated himself on the bale and guided Andrew over his lap. The smell of hay was almost overpowering as Andrew laid waiting for the spanking to start. The anticipation of even a hand spanking from Rick was more than enough to make him break out in a nervous sweat. The first swat landed, heavy and hard, on his right cheek. Still not totally resigned to his punishment, Andrew twisted and yelped out a protest. It was little help; in fact it was no help at all because the next one landed just as hard on the left side. It didn’t take long before his bottom was hot and sore and each new solid slap only increased the burn.
“Okay,” Andrew gasped out. “I’m sorry.”
Rick paused for a moment, rubbing his hand across the small of Andrew’s back. “I know,” he said calmly. “And next time you’re tempted to drink too much I hope you remember this.”
“I will,” he said, the tears starting in earnest now. If that promise made an impression on Rick he didn’t feel it because the spanking started anew with just as much resolve. When it was over and Rick had relaxed his grip on his waist, Andrew slid off his lap to kneel on the floor. He brought his hands back to carefully rub his heated backside as he leaned his head against Rick’s leg. It didn’t take long for the sobbing to stop. Once Andrew had reconciled himself to his wrongdoing, it was a straightforward punishment for foolishness. Matter-of-factly carried out and quickly gotten over.
“You’re all right,” Rick said gently. He lifted Andrew’s chin and wiped away the last of the tears with his rough hands.
Andrew stood to pull his underwear and jeans back up. He returned the hug Rick offered, lingering for a moment in his strong embrace. His backside definitely stung, but there was no question he’d deserved it.
“Hungry?” asked Rick.
“Yeah, my stomach wasn’t up to breakfast this morning,” answered Andy sheepishly.
“I’m not surprised,” snorted Rick, as he released his remorseful partner with a last squeeze. “Come on, I’ll buy you lunch,” he grinned as they walked towards the house.