Bent over the open hood of the truck, Andrew could feel the trickle of sweat making its way slowly down the side of his neck. He wiped it away with a grease-covered hand and straightened, shading his eyes as he looked up at the cloudless sky, the sun high and bright in its center. and he had made no headway on the repairs to his truck’s engine, despite an early start this morning. Hot and frustrated, he pulled his damp t-shirt over his head and threw it onto the grass, leaving his muscular torso bare.
Ignoring his fatigue and the ache in his back, he bent over the engine again. Another long, discouraging hour passed before he heard his partner’s truck coming up their gravel road. He felt a cool hand drop on his sweating back a few minutes later. “Hi, Andy,” Rick greeted him. “How’s it going?”
His nerves totally frayed, he didn’t even lift his head to answer, just replying tightly, “It’s not fucking going.”
“Hey,” replied Rick, his voice losing its cheerful tone. “What’s the matter?”
The only answer forthcoming was another muttered obscenity as the wrench slipped in Andrew’s wet grip. Grasping his partner’s arm, Rick pulled Andrew upright to lock eyes with him. Unimpressed by the flash of annoyance he saw, he said quietly, “That’s enough. I asked you what the matter is.”
“This piece of shit is what the matter is,” Andrew snarled, aiming a furious kick at the obstinate vehicle.
Towing his irate partner away from the offending truck, Rick landed a sound swat on the seat of his jeans. “Enough,” he growled. His eyes narrowed as he took in Andrew’s hot, disheveled appearance. “How long have you been working on this?”
“It doesn’t matter. I need to finish.” He ran a grimy hand through his hair, leaving the thick waves even more untidy and tried to pull away from Rick’s grip.
“Andrew,” Rick said firmly. “Listen to me. You’re finished. You’re taking a break, right now.” He was surprised by the belligerent attitude; it was rare that anything riled Andrew’s good nature to this extent.
“I can’t,” he gestured to the half-ton, the worry in his voice obvious.
“We can work on it later,” Rick assured him, softening his own tone in response to the anxiety in his partner’s. Whatever was bothering Andrew, he knew it was useless to discuss it until he had calmed down. He drew him closer to wrap a comforting arm around his shoulders. “I’m hungry. Have you eaten lunch yet?”
At the mention of food, Andrew’s stomach growled. “No,” he replied absently, his attention still riveted on his truck. “Not yet.”
“Come on. You can shower while I make us something.”
Andrew reluctantly let himself be led away from the truck and into the cool house. At Rick’s urging he went to clean up and change his sweat-soaked clothes. Showered and cooled down, he thought guiltily about how he’d spoken to Rick. When he joined him in the kitchen, he offered a sheepish apology.
“You need to ease up on yourself, Andy. There’s no need to work like that in this heat, you’re going to make yourself sick,” admonished Rick.
“Okay,” Andrew agreed. He sat down at the table, suddenly ravenous at the sight of lunch. As soon as Rick had seated himself, he reached for one of the thick sandwiches that his partner had prepared.
“Did you eat breakfast?” asked Rick suspiciously.
Andrew had to stop and think about that for a moment, and then shook his head, smiling ruefully, “No, I was so busy, I guess I forgot.”
“No wonder you’re so cranky.”
“I’m not ‘cranky’, huffed Andrew. “Men don’t get cranky.”
“Even men get cranky when they work too long in the heat on an empty stomach, Andrew,” Rick said wryly, helping himself to a sandwich. “So what’s the problem with the truck?”
Andrew sighed and shrugged, “I’m not sure. I just can’t get it to turn over, no matter what I do.”
“Do you want me to look at it?” offered Rick. While Andrew was, without doubt, the superior mechanic, it never hurt to get a fresh perspective. And his reticent partner was more likely to confide in him when they were casually fixing the truck
While Andrew accepted the offer gratefully, he had a sinking feeling that his old truck’s motor had reached the end of its lifespan and was beyond all hope. Never having the opportunity to put aside much money, Andrew knew his own savings weren’t enough to cover a new engine. And from what he’d seen of the books, he knew the profits from the ranch had been dismal this year, they could ill-afford another large expenditure. The last thing he wanted to do was burden Rick further. When he’d been unable to fix the truck this morning, it had stirred a real sense of panic in him.
Finished lunch, the two men stood up to head outside but before they reached the door, the telephone rang and Rick snatched the receiver up, “Hello,” he said.
Rick listened in silence for a moment before saying good-bye and hanging up the phone. “Sorry, Andy,” he said. “That was Dad; he needs help pulling a calf. I shouldn’t be more than an hour.”
“Do you want me to go too?”
“No, thanks” replied Rick. “If the two of us can’t get it, we’ll have to call the vet.” Pausing when he reached the door he said, “I don’t want you working on that truck by yourself, Andy.” Not having discovered what was underlying his partner’s anxiety yet, he didn’t want him upsetting himself all over again.
“I have to fix it,” insisted Andrew, his earlier desperation returning.
“We’ll look at it together when I get back. You’re getting yourself way too worked up.”
Andrew shook his head, “I’m not.”
“You were spitting at me like an old tomcat,” Rick said matter-of-factly. “You don’t touch it while I’m gone. Understand?”
Andrew bit his lip; it was still a relatively new experience to listen and obey his partner and despite his desire to, it remained a struggle at times.
“Andrew?” Rick prompted, his hand on the door handle. “Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied grudgingly. “I’ll wait for you.” And he truly meant it but when he went outside to feed the horses, he was inexorably drawn to the broken truck and his fate. At first, he simply studied the exposed motor, obeying Rick’s edict not to touch it. But noticing an overlooked loose wire, he reached out without thinking to reattach it. His hope restored, he picked up the wrench from his toolbox and began to fiddle with the spark plugs again, his promise forgotten in his optimistic belief he could solve the problem. All too soon though, when his efforts failed, his earlier frustration resurfaced with a vengeance. His movement jerky with impatience and anger, he caught the back of his hand on a jagged metal edge. The sudden, sharp pain snapped the last strand of the tenuous hold he had on his temper and he watched though a red haze of fury, disconnected from the act itself, as the wrench left his hand to sail the short distance to the windshield of the truck. The glass shattered on contact, sending great cracks stretching from the point of impact to the edge of the windshield.
Wringing his cut hand, Andrew backed away from the half-ton, horrified by the sight of the destroyed windshield. Shaken at having lost control of himself so completely, he trembled with left over adrenaline. Making his way unsteadily to the house he sat down in the kitchen where he laid his wounded hand on the table to study the gash dispassionately. The dull throb barely registered with him now, well used to far worse injuries from riding rodeo. He watched the blood welling up with an objective eye, wondering if the wound needed to be stitched. The thought of Rick finding out, not only of his disobedience but much worse, the shameful loss of his temper, made his stomach tighten. Shocked by the sudden compulsion to lay his head on the table and burst into tears, he stood up abruptly to rinse his hand under the tap of the sink. Their well-stocked first aid kit was stored in the bathroom and he opened it to pour disinfectant liberally over the open cut, sucking in his breath at the sting. After patting it dry, he bandaged it as neatly as he could, considering he only had the use of one hand. He grimaced at the sight of his bandaged hand, while he’d made the dressing as small as possible; it was still very obvious he’d injured himself.
Cursing his difficulty in lying to his partner, Andrew cleaned the blood from the kitchen, trying to think of an excuse for the injury that he could deliver successfully. But then the reality of the ruined windshield hit. There was no explanation likely to be accepted for that, except the truth. Compelled to see the extent of the damage again, he went outside to look at the shattered glass of his truck. He flushed, deeply ashamed, when he saw the results of his outburst.
Unable to bear looking at the evidence, he took a tarp from the shed, covering the front of the truck. Next, he went to the barn and pulled on a pair of work gloves, hiding the bandage so he wouldn’t be reminded of his wound. Then, shoving reality firmly away, he got on with the chores.
This time, the sound of Rick’s truck on the gravel sent his heart thudding against his ribs. It was hard to believe he’d managed to create such problems for himself in the short while his partner was gone.
Andrew greeted Rick with a nervous smile when he came into the barn to look for him. “Did you get the calf all right?” he asked.
“She’s fine,” Rick assured him. “Are you ready to look at that truck now?”
“No,” said Andrew, the thought of Rick seeing the outcome of his tantrum making him feel sick. “I think it’s going to rain.”
“Rain?” said Rick doubtfully. “I don’t think so, Andy. There’s not a cloud in the sky.”
“It is,” insisted Andrew.
“Is that why you covered the truck with a tarp?”
“Yes.” Andrew fidgeted with the bridle he held in his hand.
“Aren’t you hot?” asked Rick, nodding at Andrew’s gloved hands with surprise. Getting him to wear gloves, even when it was freezing, was an uphill battle.
“No, no I’m not,” he claimed although the sweat was dampening his hair and the underarms of his shirt.
“Well, I’d better look at that engine before it rains,” grinned Rick, turning to leave the barn.
“No?” Rick turned to look more closely at his edgy partner. “Andrew, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. I just need you to help me with…this bridle.” Andrew cringed inwardly at his lame excuse but there was something about Rick’s piercing looks that turned his brain to mush when he was being less than truthful.
“All right, what’s going on?” Rick demanded, taking in the other man’s agitation. He walked closer to search Andrew’s eyes which darted everywhere but refused to meet his own. “Take off those gloves,” he ordered.
“Because I said so,” said Rick.
Ducking his head, Andrew carefully pulled off the leather gloves to reveal his bandaged hand.
“What happened?” asked Rick quietly.
“It was an accident,” answered Andrew, his voice shaking.
“Let me see,” said Rick, holding out his hand.
Placing his injured hand in the palm of his partner’s outstretched one, Andrew protested, “It’s nothing. It doesn’t even need stitches.”
Rick lifted the edge of the bandage which was now dirty from the work gloves. Wincing in sympathy at the sight of the large cut still oozing blood, he asked, “Did you clean it properly?”
“Yes, sir,” said Andrew adamantly.
“Well, it looks like it could use it again. Come on.”
Andrew trailed his partner unwillingly to the house, going over plausible ways he could have hurt his hand again, forgetting in his panic the concrete proof of his disobedience parked in the yard.
Surrendering to Rick’s careful ministration, Andrew sat at the kitchen table as his cut was cleaned and redressed. When he was finished Rick placed a glass of juice in front of Andrew and settled in a chair opposite him. “So,” he said casually, nodding at the injured hand. “Exactly how did that happen?”
Having decided on a likely scenario, Andrew opened his mouth, but unable to deliver the lie, he stammered ludicrously, “I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember,” repeated Rick slowly, his eyes widening in disbelief. “Maybe you need to lie down for a bit, Andy. You must have gotten too much sun this morning.”
Groaning quietly, Andrew shook his head. He loathed being banished to bed; his conscience was always loudest in the quiet of their bedroom.
It proved unnecessary anyway because light was already dawning for Rick. “Maybe we need to look at your truck instead,” he suggested, standing up. He held out his hand in invitation, “Come on.”
Unable to come up with any sort of argument, Andrew took the offered hand and allowed himself to be drawn to his feet. The two men walked to the tarp-covered truck, Andrew’s heart beating unpleasantly fast. Picking up the edge of the canvas, Rick tugged on it, revealing the broken windshield. Andrew turned his back to the truck, refusing to look at the proof of his tantrum.
“Andy,” asked Rick firmly, taking his partner’s arm to turn him. “What happened?”
Andrew shrugged and looked away, his voice tight with defiance, “I don’t know.”
Rick was quiet for a moment, studying the obstinate set of the other man’s jaw. “I think you need a little help with your memory,” he said softly, unbuckling his belt.
Swallowing hard, Andrew ignored the clear warning in his partner’s action, and shook his head, refusing to answer.
Rick shut the hood of the truck, the bang of its closing, loud in the peaceful yard. Placing his large hand on Andrew’s upper back, he bent him over the front of the truck. The metal of the vehicle was warm against his cheek when Andrew dropped his head to rest on it. He wriggled anxiously when he felt Rick’s arms encircle his waist, his hands unfastening Andrew’s own buckle. There was no one around for miles and no chance they would be interrupted but Andrew still protested uselessly when Rick started to peel his jeans and underwear down his lean hips.
Rick wrapped the belt around his hand, the buckle held securely in his palm, leaving a short strap of leather, which he brought down lightly on Andrew’s bare bottom, only a bit of sting and warmth left in its wake.
But the sting built as Rick swung the strap in measured, unhurried strokes, gradually turning the white backside pink and then red. Andrew gritted his teeth, folding his arms under his chest to keep himself from reaching back, refusing to acknowledge the growing heat and discomfort for as long as he could. Rocking from foot to foot, he shifted his weight involuntarily to try to escape the relentless fall of the belt. Finally, the feeling that his scorched backside would catch fire if one more of those deceptively light strokes connected, prompted him to pant, “Rick, Rick.”
“Ready to talk?” Rick asked, immediately stilling his arm and rested his hand on Andrew’s back, gently rubbing. When only rebellious silence followed, he moved closer, wrapping his arm around Andrew’s narrow waist and tucking him securely against his own stomach. He raised his arm again, bringing the leather down lightly on the reddened bottom. Andrew squirmed harder, the increased intimacy unnerving him but he was held in place, his struggles futile.
“Please,” he begged a moment later. “I’m sorry.”
Again, at the sound of his voice, Rick immediately stopped, asking quietly, “Sorry for what, Andy?”
Burying his head in his crossed arms, Andrew whimpered in misery, still not wanting to admit to his fit of temper.
“Andy, pretending something didn’t happen doesn’t make it go away,” Rick said, understanding this was often his partner’s first line of defense against anything unpleasant. “Tell me and we’ll set it right.”
“I didn’t mean to,” sniffled Andrew, losing his battle with his tears at the sympathetic words.
“Mean to what?” asked Rick, continuing to rub the shaking back.
“You’re going to be mad,” sobbed Andrew, projecting his own confused worry about his loss of control onto Rick.
Taking his arm, Rick drew Andrew up and straight into his arms, holding him tight against his solid chest, he soothed him, “Hey, it’s all right, sweetheart. Have I ever lost my temper with you?” Andrew had never been afraid of him and he wondered what was behind this uncharacteristic anxiety.
“No,” admitted Andrew, sobbing harder. He’d never heard Rick so much as raise his voice to him, making his own loss of control seem that much more disgraceful. The thought that maybe, some day, he would lose his temper again and hurt Rick in some way swirled horribly in his mind.
“And I won’t, Andy,” said Rick. “Just tell me.”
“I thought I could fix the truck,” Andrew wept into Rick’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean to disobey you.”
“Okay,” encouraged Rick. “Is that how you hurt your hand, fixing the truck?”
Nodding in agreement, Andy took a shaky breath and finally admitted, “I cut it on the engine and I lost my temper. I threw the wrench at the windshield and it broke.”
And he’d quite obviously scared himself, thought Rick as his partner burst into frantic sobs. He held him reassuringly for a few minutes until his cries had subsided. “Okay, calm down, Andy. You busted a windshield, you didn’t kill anybody.”
“Yes, sir,” hiccupped Andrew, relaxing somewhat now that the admission had been made and he could see that Rick while, justifiably annoyed, wasn’t angry.
“Why is it so important to fix the truck, Andy?” asked Rick, the niggling suspicion there that if he’d just discovered that beforehand, none of the rest would have happened.
“I don’t think it can be fixed,” he admitted, his pride smarting. “And I don’t have the money for a new one.”
Rick sighed, mildly exasperated, “And you couldn’t have told me that? We’re partners; we’re supposed to talk about these things. The money from the ranch is yours too. You work hard, Andrew.”
“But we had a bad year, didn’t we?” asked Andrew. “The books…”
“Well, it wasn’t great,” confessed Rick, wiping the tears from Andrew’s cheeks with his rough hands. “But it wasn’t that bad, either. I think we need to do the books together from now on.”
Leaning his forehead against Rick’s chest, Andrew apologized, “I’m sorry. For everything.”
Rick tipped his contrite partner’s head up to make eye contact, “I’m sure you are, Andy. But you and I have some things to talk about,” he said seriously.
“Yes, sir,” said Andrew remorsefully. Despite knowing his punishment wasn’t finished, he allowed Rick to help him rearrange his pants and walked with him, willingly, back to the house.
Going straight to the living room, Rick settled on the couch, pulling Andrew down to sit beside him. His bottom still felt uncomfortably warm and Andrew fidgeted, trying to get comfortable.
“Why were you so worried about telling me what happened?” asked Rick. Lying to him was not something that Andrew took lightly and it was something that rarely occurred anymore. That he had lied, spoke volumes about how upset he was.
Andrew pulled anxiously at his fingers, “I was ashamed that I lost my temper like that. I thought maybe you’d think I’d….” he trailed off, unable to say it loud.
“What?” asked Rick gently. “Hurt me?”
Miserably, Andrew nodded, “I never got that mad before.” While Rick was the more powerful of the two men, Andrew was a strong young man himself, more than capable of seriously hurting someone.
“Have you ever hurt me, Andy? Even when you’ve been angry with me?” demanded Rick.
The thought was so distressing, Andrew’s eyes filled with tears again. “No,” he gasped. “Never.”
“Getting angry and smashing a windshield is a world away from hurting someone you love, sweetheart,” he explained carefully. “I’m not happy you lost your temper that way, and you’ll get a hell of a spanking if it happens again. But I know you’d never hurt me.” He reached out and pulled Andrew close again, feeling the thud of his pounding heart. “And I’ll never lose my temper with you, no matter what, Andrew. You have my word on that.”
“I know,” said Andrew. And he did know, without a doubt that was true. The confused swirl of emotions surrounding his loss of control slowly receded as he sat with his head pillowed on his partner’s chest.
“So,” Rick said eventually. “I think we need to have a talk about disobedience and lying.”
Andrew argued, but without much optimism, “You already spanked me.”
“I’d hardly call that a real spanking. And that wasn’t for disobeying me or lying, was it?” Rick asked.
“No,” he admitted sadly, knowing he brought that on himself with his stubbornness. Lying was always dealt with using the paddle and Andrew got to his feet to start towards the dining room where it was kept.
“It’s okay. We’re not going to need the paddle,” Rick stopped him with a hand on the waistband of his jeans. He bared Andrew’s bottom again and drew him, unresisting, over his lap. “You need to tell me when something’s worrying you, Andy. And you need to do as I tell you. None of this would have happened if you’d done either of those things,” Rick said. The upturned backside had faded to pink and he quickly set to turning it red again, stopping as soon as Andrew was crying freely.
“All right,” he said firmly, as he turned his partner to sit on his lap. “It’s over with now.”
“Okay,” sobbed Andrew, the relief he felt overwhelming him. Exhausted, physically and emotionally, he clung to Rick, his hold quickly relaxing as he drifted off to sleep.