From across the barn I could see his hands shaking with suppressed excitement as he ran the brush over his horse’s flank. The things you noticed after only a few weeks of being someone’s lover. My curiosity definitely stirred at what could prompt that kind of reaction from Andrew, the most restrained man I ever met. I left the stall where I was grooming my own horse to cross the straw-covered floor, taking his arm and leading him outside, away from the other men. Deciding there was only one thing that could have caused such an effect, I asked, “Did you find out the draw?”
He nodded, the effort in containing his enthusiasm obvious. “You got Bogus.”
Pleased, I smiled. I’d have a good ride on Bogus, he was a lucky pick but it obviously wasn’t my bull that Andrew was so keyed up about.
“Who did you get?” The question delivered as nonchalantly as I could manage, given the importance of the answer. This was a major rodeo with a substantial purse; the bull you drew was a main factor in what kind of ride you turned in and your chance of winning.
“Outlaw,” he answered and then I understood his excitement. A triumphant grin was plastered on his face and I felt his eyes searching mine, waiting for a response.
My heart sank. Outlaw was a legend, more famous than most of the cowboys on the rodeo circuit. He’d never been successfully ridden for the full eight seconds needed for a qualifying time. And as far as I could tell, never would. He was as rank a bull as I had ever seen and the thought of Andrew getting on him turned my stomach, I admit. Not that I didn’t accept the risks in his job. And mine. In this lifestyle that we had both chosen but I’d have been lying if I said I was happy he’d drawn this particular bull. I didn’t mask my worry fast enough and he turned away, saying bitterly, “You think he’s wasted on me, don’t you?”
It was still a raw spot for him, I knew. His youth and lack of experience made him a target sometimes for the good-natured teasing by the other more practiced riders. And if there was anything that Andrew had in abundance, it was pride. His novice status didn’t rest easy with him.
“No, I don’t think that,” I denied firmly, reaching out to grasp his shoulder and turn him towards me again. “It’s more like… it’s a waste of ‘your’ ride. You know?”
“I can ride him. I can last, I know it.”
“You’ve got as much chance as anybody, Andrew but that bull is a mean son-of-a-bitch.”
“That goes for all of them,” argued Andrew, bristling a bit at my concern.
But I’d seen Outlaw perform, he hadn’t. And I watched him nearly kill a young bull rider the year before. While it was instinct that made a bull buck when he felt the weight of a cowboy on his back and it was instinct that drove him to attack the man he’d just thrown, Outlaw seemed to be unnaturally fixated on exacting revenge on anyone who dared sit astride him. There was little else I could do, the tentative suggestion that he consider withdrawing was met with such incredulity that I knew it was useless to broach it again.
So I put my worries about Andrew out of my mind as much as I could and concentrated on my own business. I’d drawn a decent bull and I had a good chance of winning this event. Every purse brought me closer to retirement; every win bought more cattle for the herd that I would own someday. The injuries from several years of riding professionally ached more every time I was thrown and hit the unforgiving dirt of the infield. But I admit, I was addicted to the adrenaline rush that came from riding. Sometimes the reality of another rodeo seemed unbearable and sometimes the thought of quitting seemed just as bad.
As usual, bull-riding was the last event of the day. It was the main attraction at the rodeo and it kept the stands filled to the end. Waiting my turn in the chute, I leaned on the fence with Andrew, watching the bulls in the pens. He was uncharacteristically talkative, buoyant with nervous anticipation but when I caught his eye in an unguarded moment, I saw the flash of fear. I had to struggle hard to tamp down the urge to talk him out of riding, knowing that wasn’t what he needed to hear now. When I moved to ready myself for my ride, he held out his hand, “Good luck.”
“You too, Andy,” I said, gripping his hand hard, knowing there was no turning back and that he needed every bit of courage he could muster.
“I’m going to be the one, Rick. You’ll see. I’ll last the eight seconds.”
It was his chance to silence the other men’s barbs and I could see how anxious he was to prove himself. To be a man in their eyes. It saddened me, especially knowing he had virtually no chance of sticking his ride today. “I’ll be watching.” I hesitated before adding, “Remember, Andy. Whatever happens, get up and run like hell as soon as you hit the dirt.”
He gave me one of his rare smiles and his face transformed; softening into the very young man he still was in reality.
The ritual of preparing for the ride soothed me and I tried to focus on what I needed to do. Distraction and bull-riding was not a winning combination and I shut everything out but what I had to do. I turned in a decent ride on a bull that bucked enough to score good points. Whether it would be good enough to win, I couldn’t tell for sure, it depended on tomorrow’s ride too. After I scrambled to the safety of the fence, I perched on top to watch the rest of the competition. When they announced Andrew’s name, I was scarcely breathing I was so wound up. I waited; my stomach clenched tight, as he settled his cowboy hat on his head and fixed his leather glove in the rope.
My sense of apprehension had me coiled on top of the fence and I moved reflexively as Andrew left the chute, mimicking his movements. They had just cleared the gate when the bull bucked hard and Andrew’s head snapped down as Outlaw raised his own and I swear I could hear the crack when the two skulls connected. Out cold, Andrew slid from the bull’s back and dangled to one side, his hand still in the glove caught in the rope. Trying to dislodge his unwanted burden, Outlaw bucked across the infield, Andrew a rag doll at his side.
It was deathly quiet, the grandstand collectively hushed in shock, as everyone watched the bull drag Andrew across the dirt corral. The bull fighters wedged Outlaw between their two horses, trying to reach the rope and release it to free Andrew’s trapped hand. Finally they succeeded and he collapsed into a crumpled heap on the ground. Sick with fear for him, I watched helplessly as the bull twisted and headed back for him. Despite the men trying to turn him away, he reached the limp body and lowered his head, scooping up Andrew and tossed him like a toy. And then I was running, I had no memory of jumping from the fence. Heedless of the bull still loose in the corral, I ran, all my thoughts on preventing him hurting my defenseless lover again. I reached him a moment before two of the officials, all of us prepared to drag him off the field if Outlaw came back. I hovered protectively beside him until I knew the bull had been herded into the pens. Backing off when the paramedics came to tend to him, I went to pick up Andrew’s Stetson from the dirt. I waited, twisting the brim of his hat in my hands, as they fitted a neck brace and eased him onto a stretcher. When they lifted him, everyone in the crowd stood respectfully as they carried him off the infield.
“Do you want to come with him to the hospital? You can give them his information,” one of the attendants asked and I was ushered into the waiting ambulance, along with Andrew. It was a short ways to the hospital and before we’d even reached it, he was moaning quietly and trying to move his head. The overwhelming rush of emotion I felt surprised me. Obviously I cared far more than I’d let myself admit.
By the time we arrived at the emergency room of the small hospital, Andrew was groggy but conscious and demanding to be let up but the attendant was an expert in soothing reluctant passengers. I sat outside the examination room; still a bit giddy with relief, grinning at the determined wheedling Andrew was doing in an effort to be released from the neck brace. He could be quite persuasive when he put his mind to it but the he was being given a thorough going over. I heard him give a weak laugh when the doctor asked if he’d been born tough and commented on the hardness of his head. I could have testified to the thickness of that skull. Finally the curtain opened and the doctor motioned to me, “You can keep him company now. He’s got a concussion but I think that’s the only damage. I’ll need an x-ray to make sure he doesn’t have a skull fracture but I don’t think it’s likely.”
Well, considering he’d just kissed a bull that could be considered getting off easy. When I parted the curtain Andrew was protesting the well-meaning attention of a nurse who was wielding a wet cloth. “Please,” she coaxed. “Just let me wash you off a bit. You’ll feel much better.”
I hid my grin; I think she was hoping he’d smell better. Andrew must have found some manure in the infield to land in and the fragrance was permeating the small room. I held out my hand and offered, “Here, I’ll do that if you like.”
Relieved, the nurse relinquished the cloth, after admonishing Andrew not to get up, she left us to check on the arrangement for the X-ray. They’d removed his chaps and his shirt and he was naked from the waist up so I grabbed an arm to wash the dirt and worse off him. He was a brief try at fending me off too but I lifted an eyebrow and he subsided, allowing my brisk attention. Having no memory of his ride, he asked if he’d lasted the eight seconds. There was such a desperate hope in the question, I had to swallow hard and just shake my head silently, continuing to clean him up. He had several spectacular bruises from his rough landing and I gentled my touch, skimming over them with the cloth.
After the X-ray confirmed that Andrew’s thick skull hadn’t been dented, the doctor broke the bad news to him that he’d like to keep him for observation for the night. Politely refusing, Andrew struggled to sit up, not quite able to hide the wince as the movement aggravated the pain in his head. He fished his wallet out of his boot, handing me his health care card and I went to give it to the clerk at the desk. I badly wanted to insist he stayed but I bit my tongue, knowing I had no right. When I came back into the room the doctor was still trying, unsuccessfully, to talk him into being admitted. Finally he gave an exasperated sigh and advised Andrew to at least not stay alone, in case he felt worse in the night and I offered to have him come home with me. We’d been discreet to a fault; he always retreated to his own camper after sex, never giving in to the temptation to spend the night. In spite of the circumstances, I couldn’t help the quickening of my heartbeat at the thought of having him to myself for the whole night.
The clerk called a taxi for us and we rode back to the rodeo grounds in silence. Seeing his face pale further on the way, I gave his hand a squeeze of encouragement. When we got out of the car, I took his arm to support him but he shook me off even though it was dark and abandoned this time of night. He stumbled, clearly off balance. My patience finally used up, I grabbed his elbow and swatted him half-seriously across the seat of his tight Wranglers. He gave me an outraged glare but allowed me to slip my arm around his waist, helping him towards our trucks, parked behind the barns. Once we were inside my camper he sank onto the bed, unable to stop the quiet groan of misery from escaping between his clenched teeth.
I eased him back to lie on the bed, and gripped one of the heels of his tight cowboy boots, giving a sharp tug to remove it. After dealing with his boots, I started to strip off his other clothes. Nauseated and in pain, he cooperated the best he could and he was soon down to his boxers and I covered him with a blanket as he was shivering from cold and shock. I lay down carefully beside him and spooned his shaking body, trying to comfort him. Eventually we both drifted off to sleep, exhausted from our adrenaline filled day.
Waking the next morning wasn’t a pleasant experience, my muscles stiff and sore from their abuse the day before. If my waking was unpleasant, Andrew’s must have been hell. I knew his head had to be splitting but he didn’t complain, just sat up cautiously to avoid any jarring movements.
“I’ll go to your camper and get you some clean clothes,” I offered, handing him a painkiller and a bottle of water.
He passed his hand over his eyes, the only outward evidence of the pain he had to be feeling and swallowed the pill. “That’s okay. I’m going to see if the draw is ready for tonight. I’ll change on my way.”
I stopped buttoning my shirt and openly gaped at him. He couldn’t be considering riding tonight. Not with a concussion. I said as much to him and he bit back sharply, “There’s no rule. They can’t stop me from riding.” He picked up his dirty jeans from the floor and struggled into them.
It was true; unbelievably there was no rule against concussed riders competing. And we all rode with some sort of injury more often than not. I certainly had. I couldn’t let this pass though. There was an acceptable line between risk and suicide. His reaction time would be shot; he’d be hurt again for sure. “Andrew. Listen to me. This is crazy. There’s no way you’re going to stick it out on a bull with your head like that. Or get out of his way when you’re thrown.”
“I have to ride,” he insisted. “You know what they’ll say, Rick. Everyone expects you to get back up and ride. I’m not a fucking coward.”
I winced at his choice of words. At the desperation in his voice. And the partial truth in what he’d said. “What about what I say, Andy?” I asked quietly. “Does that matter?”
He ducked his head, obviously struggling with an answer.
I held my breath. If he rode today, it was over. I didn’t say it out loud, I didn’t believe in that kind of emotional blackmail but I knew it in my gut. I couldn’t be involved with someone who treated himself and my feelings with so little regard.
“I gotta ride,” he said, his voice bleak as if he truly had no choice. And maybe in his mind he didn’t. He jammed his feet into his boots and made his way shakily to the door.
I nodded, feeling sick but not knowing what else to say. He seemed to know it was over and he hesitated with his hand on the door handle, “I’m sorry,” he said softly before letting himself out.
Numb, I took my time getting my things together; I was going to the shower house next to the barns for a much needed wash before taking care of my horse. My hopes of winning the purse had soured and I meant to move on that day. I had no intention of being anywhere near the corral when Andrew rode tonight. That was one ride I couldn’t stomach watching. My mind still on our conversation, I almost fell over the man sitting on the steps of my camper.
“Andrew?” I squeezed past to stand on the ground in front of him.
He looked up and took a deep breath. “It matters, what you say.”
I smiled in relief and leaned down to squeeze his shoulder.
“Rick?” he said tentatively. “I don’t feel good.”
It was a huge admission for him and I took it for the gesture of trust it was. “Why don’t you come back in and lie down for a while?”
He nodded and I reached down to take his hand, drawing him to his feet. As soon as he was settled back on the bed, he fell asleep again and I went to shower, stopping after at the barns to see to both of our horses. He slept off and on all day, every time he woke he felt a little better and by evening he announced with a relieved grin that the room had stopped spinning. There was no more talk of him riding though and no one said a word when he sat atop the fence to watch, instead of gearing up to ride.
I didn’t end up winning that particular rodeo, unable to last my second ride, but the importance of it had diminished for me, knowing that Andrew was all right and that we’d settled on some sort of commitment to each other. And for the next two months we traveled the circuit together, for the most part uneventfully. Or as uneventful as life on the circuit ever got.
And for the most part, we were happy. As Andrew came to trust me and let me know him, I grew to love him deeply, his quirky sense of humor and the unexpected kindness he hid beneath his rough exterior. We settled into an easy partnership although as he became more relaxed with me, he seemed to prefer to let me lead in a lot of things. He would jokingly refer to me as Boss sometimes, a term we used on the ranch to mean the head man. And I admit, being a dominant man I was comfortable in the lead. But while Andrew was an easy man to live with, there was a recklessness about him that quite frankly, scared me. And yes, all bull riders were reckless to a certain degree or we wouldn’t have chosen our profession but Andrew’s self-preservation gene seemed to be missing rather than simply altered like the rest of us. We often found ourselves at an impasse, me worried half-to-death as he persisted in some pigheadedness. And when it ended up wrong, and it often did, Andrew was tormented with regret and frustration. After he’d given me an especially bad scare, I threatened him, “Do that again and I’ll bend you over my knee.”
He groaned, very unhappy with himself, “Maybe you should.”
I studied him thoughtfully, he seemed quite serious and he wasn’t terribly shocked when I came up with a suggestion the next day.
“Domestic discipline?” he asked. “Yeah, I’ve heard of it.”
I couldn’t hide my surprise and he shrugged, “I’m not that naïve, Rick.”
I emphasized there were no strings attached to his accepting or rejecting my suggestion and left him to think about it for a few days. He came to me and accepted with a relief and eagerness that seemed to match my own.
It wasn’t a difficult conversation, I was raised being lovingly disciplined and his school had used corporal punishment. It wasn’t a foreign or frightening prospect for either of us.
I was the ‘Boss’ and we would have a straightforward system of behavior and consequences, or so we thought at that time. But people are seldom straightforward.
We carried on as usual and it was weeks before anything really arose. It started out mildly enough, Andrew insisting he was going to the local bar with some of the other riders. It would end badly; I’d seen it many times before. The local boys were invariably threatened by the influx of other young men on their territory, especially when some of the local girls expressed in interest in the handsome cowboys and it always ended up in a fight. And Andrew would have no compunction about joining in a bar fight if he was defending one of the other riders. I told him he wasn’t going and why and then sat back as the fireworks erupted. I think he had the idea that it would always be easy to acquiesce to my decisions and that a discipline relationship wouldn’t really interfere in the things he really wanted to do. He argued, quite out of character, trying to get me to change my mind until he was being definitely rude.
“That’s enough, Andrew,” I said. “You’re not going. Since you can’t be civil, you can get ready for bed now.”
I saw the flush of anger spread up his face and braced myself.
“No,” he said, all thoughts of our calm agreement clearly far away.
“You’re saying no to me?” I asked, letting my voice sharpen with displeasure.
That made him pause but then he smiled winningly, trying to charm me. “But I want to go out.”
I could hear the trace of uncertainty in his voice though and I tried to capitalize on it. “You’re not going out, Andrew. You’re going to bed. Whether you go with a sore backside is up to you.”
He flushed darker, with anger his manipulation hadn’t worked and embarrassment at my blunt words. It was up to him now. I watched his emotions play over his face until they settled into a cautious optimism. “May I go out?”
If he thought by asking my permission that would appease me in some way, he was mistaken. “I’ve already said no, Andrew. I’m not changing my mind. That trip to the bar is going to end in a major brawl. Which you are not going to be a part of.”
“I want to go.” He was almost growling now, frustrated beyond reason.
“I hear you, Andrew. But I’ve said no. Several times, in fact and I’ve told you why. I’m not repeating myself again.”
He shifted his weight anxiously, searching in vain for the words he needed to get his own way. Then he turned towards the door but stopped, unable; it appeared, to go further but still unable to capitulate. Locked in limbo between the door and the bed, between obedience and defiance. He couldn’t resist that last push, in part because he wanted his own way but in part because I think he couldn’t get past that need to know if I was serious. “I’m going,” he repeated but it was more of a whine than a growl now and he didn’t make any move to actually leave. Testing to see how far my authority really went.
He was about to find out. “Come here,” I said and he jumped at the command in my voice. Wide-eyed he walked over to the bed where I’d taken a seat. My hands went to his belt buckle, unfastening it in deliberate, unhurried movements. “When I tell you no and I’ve explained the reasons behind it, I don’t expect an argument,” I said firmly. “When I tell you to go to bed, I expect you to obey.”
“Yes, sir,” he whispered, seemingly in shock that this was actually taking place. He had a try at pulling away when I peeled his jeans down but I could see it was a reflexive move rather than defiance. I took his arm and drew him down over my lap where he squirmed, trying to get comfortable. His voice already tight, he protested, “I thought you’d just bend me over a chair or something.” And I remembered he’d only been disciplined at school, where he’d have bent over a chair in the office for a strapping, his pants modestly covering his backside. There was a world of difference between that impersonal type of correction and the intimacy of a bare-bottom spanking over your partner’s knee.
“No,” I said more gently and pulled his underwear down which he promptly reached back and tried to yank back into place. “Andrew,” I said patiently, holding his hand at his side and tugged his boxers down again. “Deep breath and blow it out.”
I could feel his chest heave against my knees as he took a shuddering breath. “And another,” I instructed, breaking through his panic. I’d seen him climb on 2,000 pounds of pure meanness without a second thought; obviously being across my lap was a scarier place for him. “Good.” I rested my calloused hand on the much softer skin of his muscular bottom, which prompted more panicked squirming and breath-holding. I waited until he’d settled somewhat and lifted my hand, bringing it down solidly on his right cheek. He stiffened but didn’t make any sound and I continued to bring my hand down in hard, even swats. I think he was surprised at the loudness of the spanking in the small camper, wincing at the noise of my palm cracking down on his bottom as much as the pain. Having warmed his skin a little, I spanked harder, raising my arm higher and increasing the force of the blows. He lasted only a short time before throwing his hand back and trying to protect his reddening backside.
“Andrew,” I ordered. “Move your hand.”
“No!” he panted. “I think that’s enough.”
I rubbed the back of his neck comfortingly, rather puzzled by his reaction. His bottom was only slightly red and knowing his pain tolerance, he was no where near his limit. But then I noticed the roughening of his breathing and the thickness of his speech. Realizing he was close to tears I instantly understood his alarm. That loss of control could be frightening, especially to a man like Andrew.
“Andrew, sweetheart,” I said, continuing to rub his neck. “There’s no one around, no one can hear us. Go ahead and cry.”
Instead of calming him my words sent him into a blind panic, struggling to rise off my lap. “Rick,” he wailed, clearly distraught at the prospect of crying.
Hearing his distress, I turned him and sat him up beside me so I could see his face. “Andrew,” I soothed. “Hush. You’re all right.” He was quite frankly, wild-eyed with fear, not of me because he’d grasped hold of my shirt and was clinging hard, but of letting go and of the unanticipated vulnerability he felt so keenly.
“I’m sorry, Rick,” he choked out. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Do you trust me, Andrew?” I asked seriously.
“You know I do,” he protested. “I’m sorry; I just don’t think I can do this.”
“Do you think I would harm you?”
“No,” he admitted, calming down a little. He glanced at me, reluctant to admit he was close to tears but not wanting me to think he didn’t trust me. “That’s not it. I just don’t want to cry.”
He gave a snort of disgust at my ridiculous question, “Men don’t cry.” And then he thought for a moment before clarifying, “I don’t cry.”
“Why not? What’s so awful about crying?”
He squirmed, trying to find the words, “What would you think of me, if I cried?”
“I would think my spanking was having an effect on you. Spankings hurt.”
“Jesus,” he said scornfully. “I’ve broken bones without shedding a tear.”
“That’s different,” I said carefully. “It’s natural to cry when you are being punished by someone who cares for you and that you care about. It ‘hurts’ in a different way.”
I watched his face as he took that in. He leaned his head against my shoulder and sighed. I pulled him closer, settling him against my chest so I could run my fingers through his hair. He relaxed under my petting and said doubtfully, “If you say so.”
“I say so. There’s no shame in crying.”
He sat for a minute more, obviously gathering his courage. I think it was his sense of honor that got him back across my lap, not wanting to renege on our deal. I adjusted his position a little, touched by the trust he was showing in me, that he would submit even at the upsetting possibility of crying. When I resumed spanking him he didn’t try to fight me but he fought hard against his tears. Another minute of determined spanking and he couldn’t stifle the quiet grunts of discomfort and then it grew progressively louder until he was yelling out protests and curses. Finally I saw his head slump onto the bed and his shoulders heave as he gave a defeated sob. I continued a moment more and he was crying freely when I rested my hot palm on his back, stroking his sweating back.
“All done. Good man,” I praised him. I was half-expecting to have to persuade him to let me comfort him but when I eased him off my lap onto the bed; he turned and groped frantically for me. I lay down beside him so I could take him into my arms. Cradling his head against my chest, I repeated a soothing mantra of reassurances until he had quieted. I eased him away from me to make eye contact. Knowing how malleable he was and how vulnerable he would feel right after a spanking, I told him how much I loved him and how I wanted him to be safe. He nodded, his wet eyes fixed on mine, drinking it in. I leaned over and kissed him gently and he gave a hitching sigh.
He put his head down on my chest again and we lay in comfortable silence for a few moments. “Do you really think they’ll be a fight at the bar tonight?”
“Yes, without a doubt.” Surely to God he wasn’t going to still argue about going, so soon after a spanking? If he was that resilient, I wasn’t going to last.
“Then we have a better chance of winning tomorrow, right?” He smiled, still a little shakily, at me. “All those cowboys with sore heads and bruised knuckles.”
“Now you’re thinking, Andrew.”