My name is Monroe Davis, and this is the story of how I found home.
Once home was Algona, Iowa, a small town way up north. Growing up, all the kids couldn’t wait to leave it, but I would have been content to stay forever. I still miss it sometimes. I miss the way the trees are thick and leafy and the way the corn and soybeans roll around you as you drive through the country. I miss the way in August the earth baked, moist and rich and full of life. I miss going to potlucks in the church basement, missed the Fourth of July parade full of people I’d known since birth. But in the end I had to leave, because it wasn’t home, not anymore.
It started when my mom found my porn. She was cleaning my room, and for whatever reason she decided to clean out my beside drawer too, all the way to the bottom, and she found my stash. She gave it to my dad, who came straight out to find me in the field. When I saw him coming, I turned off the tractor and ran to meet him because I thought something had happened, that someone had been hurt.
But he didn’t say anything. He just held up those magazines and DVDs and looked at me, waiting for me to explain. But there wasn’t anything to explain, of course, except what he’d already figured out. I didn’t say anything either, just lowered my head and stared at the alfalfa under my boots as my breathing got funny and the blood rushed around in my head and sweat ran down my neck. Eventually Dad turned around and headed back to the house.
I got back on the tractor and finished raking the hay, because I didn’t know what else to do.
They sent the pastor of our church to talk to me. He told me about hell and how this would send me there. He explained to me how my choices were an abomination to God and an insult to the good name of my family. My dad wouldn’t look me in the eye, and my mom just cried all the time. My brother Bill looked at me like I’d punched him in the gut. You would have thought I’d murdered somebody’s baby. I guess to them I did. Except I was the same Roe they’d always known. They just hadn’t known about the part I’d kept quiet.
Bill was the one they elected to finally talk to me. He said they’d all been praying for me, and with Pastor’s help, they’d come to a decision. It would be okay if I stayed, but I needed to get counseling from Pastor. Bill also told me he knew some nice girls I should think about dating. He also hinted he knew a few—but don’t tell Mom—who would be okay for just sex. But I had to do the counseling, and there could be no more gay porn and no more gay, period. It was either that, or I had to leave the farm.
Well, I left.
I didn’t leave town though, just the farm, and I ended up in prison because of a bar fight. They gave me three years, which turned into one, and then they let me out at eight months because of overcrowding. I wore my ankle bracelet for the last few months, kept my head down, and was good to my probation officer. When they turned me loose from that, I got out of Algona.
I was tired of it. Tired of letting other people make me feel like shit. Tired of people acting like I was the walking plague. Tired of, like the guys at prison, alternating between blaming everybody else for my problems and thinking if I were guilty enough they might forgive me.
I got tired of waiting for home to come to me. So I went out and made a new home on my own.
I met Travis Loving two years after I got out of prison, when I went out to work at Nowhere Ranch in northwestern Nebraska. I had been working my way around the Midwest, doing time in Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, but Nowhere was the furthest west I’d yet gone. I will admit I answered the ad because of the name. That and because if I went through one more fucking North Dakota winter I was going to hang myself. I had heard it wasn’t quite as bad in western Nebraska. So after a good few days of partying in Omaha, I contacted the ranch manager, who said he’d give me a try, and off I went.
The other thing I liked about Nowhere Ranch was that it was a hobby ranch, almost as small as a larger farm. I know everybody’s all about the sexy cowboys and ranches and tumbleweeds blowing by you, but I grew up on a farm, and it’s what I know. Ranches usually feel too big, and it’s like it’s the wrong culture or something.
Nowhere Ranch really was out in the boondocks, though. Apparently it had gotten its name because the owner had kept talking about how he was moving out to the middle of nowhere, and the name stuck. But it was a good, solid operation, especially considering Loving was still pretty green. The feed was all organic, and he had just about as many sheep as he did cattle. We only had sheep six years back at Dad’s farm, but I knew enough about them to know what I was getting into, and I could legitimately claim experience with them. So I had an edge there.
None of the other hands lived on site, though, which at first that had worried me, because that’s just weird as hell. But the manager said it really was that small and that they rotated through a set of local guys when they needed them. But he also said I wasn’t fussy there was an apartment above the stable I was welcome to. It wouldn’t cost me anything if I was willing to be on standby to do work off the clock, like help round up steers that got out. So it would just be me and the hippie at the ranch with the manager down the road.
Really, as soon as I heard about having my own apartment, not a bunk with other guys, I was ready to do about anything to get there. I was careful about anybody finding out I was queer, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that, like it was with my mom, something I didn’t expect would trip me up. I was pretty sure handling sheep and calves wasn’t going to give me away, but in my own place I could jack off without watching to make sure nobody noticed there was nothing but dick in the mags and vids that got me off.
When I arrived at Nowhere, though, I found out that the manager hadn’t been kidding. The apartment was a real fucking dive. It was about twelve by twelve, and I think the carpet had been there since 1972 without once making the acquaintance of a vacuum. It was furnished, with a bed and a table and a recliner and a bed stand, but I took one look at the bedding and headed into town to hit Walmart, and while I was there I picked up a bottle of bleach too. Jesus, but that place could have given you the clap, I swear. And that was the main room. I won’t even talk about the bathroom.
I was still overall pleased with the place. After a little cleaning and replacement parts, it was a palace to me. The only problem was that there really wasn’t a kitchen to speak of, just a dorm-sized fridge and a hot plate. It’s not like I’m any kind of fancy chef, but eating out all the time gets expensive, and I get tired of sandwiches. It was enough of a hitch in my get-along that I thought about asking about it, but I couldn’t figure out if I should ask the manager or if I should go straight to Loving. In the end I decided I could limp along at least to start. I’d ask about getting a moderate kitchen upgrade once I had a better lay of the land.
The first two weeks I only saw Loving the one time, and even that took four days. In the mornings he stood with Tory Parrish at the fence rail, the manager nodding while Loving spoke quietly, his tan cowboy hat bobbing as he turned this way and that, gesturing to fields and barns and equipment. Usually I saw Loving head out on his horse a couple hours after the last of the hands had gone home and he’d had his evening meeting with Tory. Sometimes I would watch him ride out, because it was a nice vista, man on horse, silhouetted against the sunset.
He was tall and broad, a few inches shorter than my six-two. I have always run a little to skinny, though, and the years of drug use didn’t help that any. So he was shorter than me, but he felt bigger. He was older, though. By this time I was almost twenty-five, but Loving had to be pushing forty, I figured. I’m not ageist or anything, but he seemed more like my dad than somebody to ogle. Also, he’s the boss. I knew he used to be a professor in Omaha and that he was divorced with no kids, and I knew he’d only owned this ranch for about three years. I figure even that little was more than I needed to know. Mostly I didn’t pay him much attention outside of noting when he was around so I could work harder at not being a dick. Because I did like the job, and outside of the mediocre kitchen, I enjoyed the apartment.
One Saturday night, though, there was a knock on my door, and when I opened it, by God if it wasn’t Loving standing there. I didn’t even have time to worry that I was in trouble, because he just gave me a curt nod as a greeting before coming right out with, “We got trouble on the north ridge.”
I hustled into my boots, grabbed my hat, and followed him down the stairs.
Tory, who only lived a few miles down the road with his wife and two kids, was already on a four wheeler, a rifle stowed in the back. Loving had his own ride waiting beside Tory’s, but I noticed there wasn’t a third, so I climbed on behind Tory and reached back to hold onto the rack as we rode.
Loving keeps his sheep pretty close to the ranch, and he uses some kind of custom fence to keep wolves and coyotes out. So I was pretty sure that wasn’t what was going on. But when I saw the ewe bobbing around, bumping into the other ones and acting like she was drunk, I knew what we were in for.
“It looks neurological,” Loving said. He sounded uncertain though, and Tory just shrugged.
“It’s neurological all right,” I said. “That ewe has rabies.”
They both turned to me, looking stunned.
“How can you tell?” Tory asked.
I motioned to the ewe. “She’s acting all crazed. It’s eating her brain right now. We got to put her down and get her the hell out of here. And we need to isolate the rest of this herd right quick. Groups as small as you can get. You don’t know how many she’s bit.”
“I’ll call the vet,” Loving said, reaching for his phone.
“Ain’t no point,” I said. “Well, I guess you could get a vaccine into each of them and hope for the best. Though that would probably ruin your organic certification.” I really didn’t know that, though. I realized I was going to have to do more research on what organic meant.
“But there’s a treatment,” Loving pressed. “They give it to people.”
“Yeah. And it’s several thousand dollars a pop. This is thirty head of sheep. You’d do better to slaughter them and buy new before you did that.” I gestured to the huddled herd. “Just partition them off as best you can and wait it out is my advice. Either they been bit or they ain’t, and you just wait and see.” I grimaced and tugged on the brim of my hat. “What you do need to do is call all the hands and make sure none of them’s been bit. You only got so many hours between exposure and death.”
Loving reached for his phone again, but Tory already had his out and waved him off.
“I’ll call the boys. You two get her put down and figure out how the fuck we’re going to isolate them.”
Loving nodded and reached for the rifle, but he glanced at me as he loaded the cartridges. “You’re sure about this?”
Hell, yes, I was sure. “They get it from skunks, see. Anyway, it’s the sort of thing you don’t mess around with. She could infect half the herd tonight. Better to kill her and find out I’m wrong than wait and lose them all. The only positive test is to examine her brain. Which kind of requires her to be dead.”
Loving grimaced and nudged his hat higher on his head with his knuckle. “And here I thought foot rot was hell.”
“Oh, everything about sheep is hell,” I said. “We never cussed more than the years we raised them.”
Loving sighed and raised the rifle, only to lower it again and glance at me. “Would you mind trying to separate her a little? But don’t expose yourself to her.”
“Hell, I already had the shots,” I said, heading for the main body of the herd. I clapped my hands and said, “Hee-yah!” until they started to bleat and stumble over each other trying to get away. The rabid ewe followed them for a second, then fell. She got up pretty quickly, and when she did, she came for me.
I wasn’t too worried, because sheep don’t exactly set land-speed records, but I hustled out of the way because I was interested in not catching any stray gunshot. Turns out I needn’t have worried, because Loving could shoot a single hair off your head at a half a mile, I swear to God. He put the bullet right between her eyes, and she went down like a ton of bricks.
“I got hold of everybody,” Tory said. “And they’re all coming in too to help sort them out. I thought probably in the stalls in the horse barn. Chaucer and the boys won’t hurt to be out in the pasture a few days. And we can whip up temporary pens in the south field.”
And that was that. Loving stayed through to help. We ended up only losing two more sheep total, which was good. But I didn’t talk to Loving again that night, and not through the next week. And after that, he took off. Tory said he’d be gone through the weekend.
Which, I thought, maybe this would be a good time to get away myself. I was starting to get itchy, and an online search for nearby gay bars informed me I would be going three hours north to Rapid City to get laid. I worried Tory would say I couldn’t leave the ranch unattended, but he said not to bother about it. He was already coming over extra with Loving gone, and he’d said I was to go on and have a nice time.
The drive was okay, better than I-80 from Iowa, anyway. Mostly I didn’t notice anything around me, too busy thinking about how I could spend the next forty-eight hours fucking and getting fucked. I was so horny that I wasn’t really particular who I did or what we did. There was only the one bar, and I had no delusions that there’d be a prime selection of candidates. Still, I checked into my hotel, showered, and fussed with my clothes before heading over at nine.
The bar was small, sad and hard to take after the flashy stuff I had gotten used to in Omaha and Kansas City. Even in North Dakota I had gone to Fargo, which hadn’t been bad. This place was a different story. There was hardly anybody in there, either, and most of them looked like they’d already hooked up. But I saw one lone cowboy sitting at the bar, and I bee-lined to him, determined to spread my legs for him even if he looked like Ethel Merman.
You probably saw this coming, but I have to tell you, you could have knocked me over with a feather when the cowboy turned around and I realized I was staring at Travis Loving.
For a second we just stared at each other, and yeah, I was flipping out. I mean, the one guy at a ranch you work really hard to make sure doesn’t find out you’re gay is the fucking boss. So for a second I just stood there and tried not to piss myself. Then it occurred to me that there was only one reason he would be there, same as me.
He seemed to be going through the same process at about the same pace as me, though with less apparent panic. He touched the tip of his hat, nodding at the stool beside him. “Buy you a drink?”
I sat down, still dazed, and it took the bartender asking me twice before I could stutter out that I would like a beer, please. He gave me a draw, and I clung to the glass once it was in front of me, staring at it so I didn’t have to look at Loving. Loving, who was queer.
And then I remembered why I was here, and why he was here, and I realized we were going to be making hookups right here at the same time. Shit.
“So,” Loving said at last. And that was it.
“Yeah,” I agreed, and took a deep drink of my beer.
We sat in heavily awkward silence for a few minutes.
“Usually busier in here,” Loving offered. “TJ says it’s been bad for a month.” He took a sip of his beer. He was drinking Michelob straight from the bottle. “Hell of a drive for a drink.”
I gave a sort of nervous laugh and took off my hat to rub at my hair, which was getting sweaty. “Three hours is a hell of a trip.” I bit off “for a fuck” at the last second.
“Well, there is Craigslist,” he said, but he didn’t have to finish that thought. I was right there with him.
“Yeah, I tried that. Once.”
We drank the rest of our beers in silence. When Loving offered me a second, I insisted it was my turn, and I bought his next Michelob. We sat there hunched over our stools and drank that round without saying a word.
People had started coming in, but hooking up was not on my radar just then. I saw a few guys who caught my eye, just my type, but I didn’t know what Loving would make of my favorite kind of fuck. I’m not exactly leather, but I never said no if I got somebody from that scene looking my way.
To be honest I kind of like the guys who make it clear they are there for your ass and that’s it. When I was fourteen and seriously wanting to be fucked, I used to pray to God to send me aliens to fuck me and then leave. Anal probe: bring it on. Just don’t park your boots by my bed.
Fuck and go. Sometimes on weekends like this I liked to get an extended engagement, but usually it was best to play it by ear. Once I got lucky and hooked up with a guy who kept me all weekend at his house, and I swear we said about twenty words to each other the whole time.
But I worried what Loving would think of how my preferences ran, and he might find them out because sometimes the game began in the bar. I have a fondness for getting felt up in a booth, trying to look like I’m not. I’m also not averse to ignoring those signs on the bathroom door and bending over the toilet, bracing my hands on the wall while I get it from behind. Obviously I wasn’t going to do that when my boss could walk in to drain the hose at any time.
I wanted to be somebody’s slut for the night, to stop standing straight and impressing everybody. Instead I felt like I had driven three hours to feel like I was still at work.
“I wish,” Loving said after a half hour of more silence, “that you could just go up to them and say what you wanted. Better yet, we should have little cards to hand each other, listing position preference and pet peeves. Goddamn, but I hate driving all this way only to find out I’m taking home a cross between a parrot and a squealing piglet.”
That made me snort my beer, and I smiled. Loving passed me a napkin, deadpan, but there was a light in his eye that eased me.
“I have had guys come up and tell me what they want,” I volunteered. Actually, I found it very hot when they did.
Loving grunted. “When you’re forty-two, that doesn’t work as well. I have a hard enough time picking out the ones that won’t call me Grandpa when they brush me off.”
Ouch. “What are you after? Maybe I can help you weed through.”
It was, I realized, a fucking weird thing to say, and I tried to retreat into my beer. But if he thought it was weird, he didn’t let on. In fact, after leaning back on the bar and contemplating for another few minutes, he even answered me.
“Age isn’t so much of an issue, but the space between Tired Old Horse and Flighty Young Colt does seem to work out best.” He sipped at his beer. “I really don’t care much for talking. I don’t want to know their history outside of whether or not we need to double the condom, and I don’t want to give mine beyond the same.” Another sip. “And tonight, they need to be somebody willing to take a rough ride.” He glanced at me, looking rueful. “See any of those out there?”
I had to hold my glass with both hands, and it shook a little as I lifted it to my lips. Yeah. You’re sitting next to him. I took a long drink, wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and said, “Nope.”
“I see plenty I think have my same agenda too. Even if any show up, I don’t stand a chance.” Loving sighed. “What about you, Davis? What’s on your menu?”
Oh fuck. I tried desperately to think of something to say, but no thoughts would land. I drained my beer and hoped he would get distracted and give up.
“Shy boy, are you?” he teased.
I think I might have blushed. “Around my boss, I am,” I said, and said another prayer that this conversation would end now.
But now I’d pushed his button. “Here now,” he said, and when I glanced at him, I could see he was pissed. “You think I’m going to hold this against you? That I’ll fire you to keep you quiet or something?”
Well, yeah, it had crossed my mind, but I could hardly say that. I turned back to the bar, motioning to the bartender. “I don’t really know what to think,” I said at last.
“I’ll tell you what you’re gonna think,” Loving shot back. “You’re gonna think that I’m not some dickhead who will fire you to protect my secrets. Which I don’t really have. I just don’t advertise.” He tipped his hat back, and when the bartender brought me my beer, Loving had his money before I could reach for my wallet. He slammed the bills on the counter. “I am not your fucking boss tonight.”
I took hold of the glass and anchored myself against it before I said, “But you will be on Monday.”
He grunted and smiled wryly. Then he said, “Tell me what the fuck you’re after, Davis. I told you my list. Let’s hear yours.”
I didn’t have enough focused brain cells left to make up a lie, so I gave him the truth. All of it. “Well, there is one guy here that meets your bill,” I admitted. “But he doesn’t go to bed with the boss.”
I kept my eyes on my beer, but I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He was still for a second, and I held my breath. But he turned away, ordering himself another drink as well. It wasn’t until I was half through mine that I realized he had switched to soda.
“Tory says you’re from Iowa,” he ventured after a while.
I nodded. “Algona. It’s a very small town in the northwest-central area.”
“I’m from Kansas City originally,” Loving offered. “Married and moved to Omaha.”
“Heard some of the hands say you were a professor.”
“Mathematics.” He stared out across the bottles behind the bar. “Shortly after my divorce, they ‘cut my position’.” He grimaced. “Shortly after I came out, it turns out they didn’t need as many math professors. So I cashed in my savings and bought Nowhere.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I kept quiet. Besides, this was an awful lot of chatting for two guys who had just said they didn’t want any.
Of course, it was that or sit there and think about how we could be fucking each other.
I cleared my throat. “It’s a nice spread.”
Loving shrugged. “We had a few rough years when we got started, but it’s coming along. Thanks again for picking up on the rabies so fast.”
“That’s why you hired me,” I said.
We ran out of conversation again after that, but I still didn’t get up, and even when a few guys were cruising me, I kept my head down. I don’t know why. No matter what Loving said, it was weird to do a pick up around him. Especially when I’d just admitted that if circumstances were different, he could have picked me up.
There was an easiness about him that I really liked. We’d sat saying next to nothing all night long, and yeah, it was awkward, but now that I’d established that I wasn’t going to get fired, I was starting to relax. I still wanted to get fucked, but this wasn’t bad either. I told myself I’d go find a fuck buddy as soon as Loving got up to get his. In the meantime, I just kept drinking, knowing I’d had too much, but Loving kept putting them in front of me, so I kept drinking them.
Eventually I had to piss, though, so I excused myself and headed back to the john. I figured by the time I got back, somebody else would have my seat, so I tipped my hat to Loving as I left and gave him a little smile too. I made a mental note of prospects on the way to the toilet, trying not to be disappointed in my options. I took my piss and came out ready to go on the hunt.
But the first guy I saw was Loving. He’d left the bar and sat in a booth in the back with two drinks in front of him. When he saw me, he motioned me over.
“They’re starting music in a few minutes,” he said. “We can see better from here.”
I didn’t want to sit and watch music. I wanted to find somebody to fuck me. But I couldn’t say that, so I just nodded, took up my beer, and headed for the other side of the booth. But he shook his head. “No. You won’t be able to see from there.” He scooted down and motioned to the space beside him. “Sit here.”
As soon as the music started his knee kept bumping mine, and then after a few minutes his arm was behind me on the back of the booth. It made me nervous, so I leaned forward to keep away from accidental touches. Except when I felt his hand on my lower back, I knew it wasn’t accidental.
When I felt his fingers brush against the patch of skin above my underwear, I jumped. But when his other hand reached out and took hold of my thigh, I went still.
“This is nothing to do with your job,” he said into my ear. “If you aren’t interested because of me, say so now. But if your only objection is that I’m your boss—” He stopped, then sighed. “Well, I’m going to make you say it a few more times, and I’m going to try and convince you otherwise.” His hand kneaded my thigh. “Think of it as a trial run. If we both like how it works out, we could save ourselves a lot of gas mileage and travel time.”
My head was spinning enough at the thought of letting Loving fuck me tonight. I couldn’t process anything at the ranch itself. I reached out to hold onto the table. “I—I don’t know.”
“If I weren’t your boss,” Loving dogged, “would I be barking up the right tree?”
His fingers were burning my skin, and I thought my jeans were on fire under his hand. “Yes,” I confessed, and I closed my eyes as his one hand kneaded and the other flirted with the elastic of my waistband.
“Good.” I felt his fingertips against the patch of skin just above my crack. “This bother you, being groped in public, or does it turn you on?”
“Second one.” I held on a little tighter to the table as his hands dipped lower and slid higher in erotic symphony.
“I was serious about wanting it rough. You all right with the occasional swat on your backside?”
Jesus. “That’s fine,” I choked out.
He was stroking me openly now. Normally I wear a belt with my pants because they tend to slide down my ass, but I don’t when I’m cruising, because of hopes someone will do exactly what Loving was doing, which was sliding his whole hand over the globe of my ass. His other hand was kneading my cock through my jeans. “Anything specific you’d like or that you want me to avoid?”
I bit my lip as his pinky finger slid a little into my crack. He had me half onto his lap, but I was still a little stiff in places other than my crotch. I wanted this, but it was freaking me out too. I had never, ever fucked anyone I knew before, let alone someone who employed me. I knew I should force the issue, should tell him no. But it was like I was paralyzed.
He noticed, and his hands stilled. “You want to go?” he asked. Gently. Almost kindly. But with his pinky still wedged in my crack.
I opened my mouth to say yes, but I couldn’t. And then I thought, Jesus, what a head case, and I took a deep breath and went for fucking broke.
“I like rough,” I said, my voice shaky at first, but it got stronger as I went on. “And I like it when I’m told what to do. If you want me ass-up on the bed, you say so. Trash talking is good. You want to tell me I’m your pony or your dog you’re fucking, I can do that. I think hotel carpets are gross, so I’d rather not do puppy play on the floor. But in bed’s okay. You can tie me up or gag me, but I don’t care for both at once. I don’t do shower blowjobs because it makes me feel like I’m drowning. I have done watersports, but I don’t mind skipping that. But slapping is fine. So is biting so long as you don’t draw blood. Pinching is good. Especially my nipples and my ass. Hickeys are okay, but I like to keep them where I can hide them.”
I had started talking really fast by the end, and when all of it was out, I let out a breath and waited. After a few seconds, Loving’s hand cupped my cock.
His fingers were already on my zipper. I shuddered and pushed my hips forward into his grip. “So long as I don’t get arrested.”
“Fair enough.” He pinched my ass hard enough to make me jump. “Unbutton your fly, then put your hands on the table.”