When we got back to Wounded Hawk's place, there was a message on his machine asking him to call someone in Reno. He did and as luck would have it, they wanted him to come to the University of Nevada--Reno and lead a seminar on modern Indian writers. He talked for half an hour, I guess getting the details, hung up the phone and said, "Black Horse is definitely working for us. I had been asked about doing a seminar last winter and couldn't, but said I was interested. The person they had lined up had a bad case of falsifying a resume and got booted so they were left holding the bag. The seminar starts next Wednesday. This is Thursday so we'll take our time and drive to Nevada, I'll drop you off at the Taylors and head to Reno in plenty of time for the seminar. We'll leave in the morning. Now let's find something you can eat. You can wear your moccasins if you like."
"I like," I answered then ran to my room and got them. We drove to a part of Denver I knew--vaguely since I don't think I ever saw it sober. Wounded Hawk stopped in front of a nondescript building and we went inside. Most of the people sitting at round tables were Indians, but there was a number of whites as well. When we sat down, a young Indian girl came over, took one look at Wounded Hawk and asked, "The usual?"
"The usual," he replied. She returned with glasses of water and two cups of strong coffee. Shortly after she had brought our drinks, she returned with bowls of steaming stew and wonderful corn bread. As soon as that was finished, an older woman brought us roast venison which was done to perfection. As she turned to leave, Wounded Hawk said, "No use looking Maria. You'll have to look else where for your daughter," and laughed. As Marie walked away, he said to me, "I was half joking, but you can be sure Maria was checking you out. She has a nineteen year old daughter who is a real beauty. She's at University of Colorado-Boulder and Maria is afraid she will take up with some breed or Anglo. Probably will happen, but Maria checks out every young Indian guy who comes in and tries to get her daughter to date the one if she approves." We finished the roast and Wounded Hawk asked, "Dessert?"
"Nothing sweet," I replied.
"Maybe a little sweet?"
"Maybe a little." The young girl who had waited on us first came over when Wounded Hawk caught her eye. I guess she knew what he was going to order because she brought a dish prepared with chokecherries. Delicious, but not overly sweet.
When we got back to the house, it was long past my bedtime and I was very sleepy. I went to my room, undressed and slipped into bed. Half an hour later I was still wide awake, but dreadfully sleepy. I finally realized that I felt as though I was sinking, smothering in the bed. I crawled out of bed, got my sleeping bag and lay in the floor and was asleep in seconds.
I was awake with the sun, took a shower--in cold water, hot water seemed unclean to me now--and dressed. I had very few things not packed and I had them in order when Wounded Hawk called me to breakfast. We ate, cleaned up after ourselves and loaded our things in his truck and left Denver. I had a taste of getting back into the world I hadn't known for a year and decided it might not be as easy I thought.
As we left Denver behind, Wounded Hawk said we were in no hurry and would take the scenic route. That made me happy because superhighways are made for avoiding the seeing things. They get you from one city to another with as little thought as possible.
Often we turned down roads that didn't appear on the map, but which took us into the wilderness. Thursday afternoon Wounded Hawk turned off a state highway and it appeared we were going cross country because I saw no trail, much less a road. He drove into a grove of old, gnarled trees, stopped and said, "We'll be camping here tonight." While Wounded Hawk got out a locker with food in it, I gathered pine cones and dead limbs and soon had a fire started. It was spring, but we were in the high desert and it got cold at night. When we had eaten, we wrapped ourselves in our sleeping bags and sat by the glowing embers of our fire and talked. We talked about my year with Black Horse and my future.
"Climbing Bear, I am an academic in the white man's world. It has given me a good living and I like it, but don't think I want you to follow in my footstep. You choose your way. I will insist that you get your GED. Until you do that, many paths are closed to you. The Taylor's had already found out what you need to do to accomplish that."
"Do they know I am gay? That has been worrying me," I said.
"No, they don't know, not because it would make any difference to them, but because the question hasn't been asked and won't be asked by them. If you want to tell them, fine. That's your decision. They are simply expecting a young Indian who needs to get back into the world most all of us have to live in. They may or may not have a job lined up for you. Really doesn't matter because if you can't find a job, you can always carve. Probably make more than you could at a job.
Friday we crossed into Utah. When I mentioned that I'd like to see the dinosaur fossils at Dinosaur National Monument, we made a side trip and spent time in the park. When we left, Wounded Hawk said we'd camp out again Friday night, but live high Saturday night. I learned what he meant when we reached Salt Lake City Friday afternoon and checked in to one of the best hotels in the city. "UN-Reno is paying my expenses and since we will be camping out over half the time, I see no reason why we shouldn't have the best the other half."
We did camp out the next two days, finally arriving in Winnemucca Tuesday afternoon. I was pretty nervous about meeting the Taylors, but I needn't have been. Betsy Taylor could best be described as pleasingly plump. It was a pity she never had children because she looked the way I thought mothers should look, but if she had, she wouldn't have been mother to so many who had none. John Taylor was wiry, tall for an Indian and thin, but very strong. Both welcomed me with open arms and I soon felt very comfortable with them.
I didn't know what arrangements Wounded Hawk had made concerning my keep so when we were having dinner the night I arrived, I told them I had money from selling my carvings and could pay for my keep if they would tell me what I owed.
"Climbing Bear, we were never able to have children which we wanted very much. The Great Spirit had other plans for us. We have had children in the house practically from the day we married. They are our children. A family does not expect the children to pay for their keep and we are a family," John laughed and said, "Of course, most new children aren't full grown as you are, but that's no never mind."
"John, Betsy, this is one child who is very thankful for your kindness and who will make you proud, that's a promise."
"I'm sure you will."
I had saved a carving for the Taylors and I got up from the table and got it and gave it to Betsy. "Climbing Bear, it is beautiful." Betsy said as she looked at the carving. I had carved it after the she-bear had brought her cubs to me when I was on my vision quest. It was a carving of the mother bear and the two cubs. "I will treasure it always, she said as she reached up and pulled my face to hers and kissed me on the cheek.
Wounded Hawk left the next morning for Reno and when I had finished breakfast, John and I talked about my plans for the future. "You can take a free GED prep course here, Climbing Bear, and take the tests as you are ready for them. You might be able to pass them now, but you will be tested to make sure what you need to study. I don't know what kind of work you would like. The only opening I know right now is with the grocery. They need someone to stock. It pays too little--everything around here does--and you will have to work nights. You can work from 4:00 until midnight or midnight until 8:00. Second shift will just about wreck any social life and third shift means you will be sleeping most of the day. Maybe later something else will open up. Of course, you don't have to go to work right away."
"I'm not worried about any social life, but I think I need to check out when I can take the GED prep course and plan around that. Wounded Hawk thinks it's important. I am not sure it is."
"It is in a kinda strange way. Of course, if you want to go on to higher education, it is an absolute essential. But even if you don't, most people look at a high school dropout and see problems. We can check on that today since I took the day off work."
I learned that the prep classes during the day were generally filled with very young dropouts who still needed teachers. The evening course was computer-based and a student could move at his own speed. I told the director of the program I would like to be in the evening group. He told me I'd have to wait until there was a vacancy since the class was full.
John and I went to meet the manager of a local grocery store and I hired on to stock from midnight until eight in the morning. "I hope you can start tonight," the manager said. "I have been without stocking help for three weeks and having to do it myself. I am about ready to drop." I told him I could. He said he'd help me get started and then it was my ball game.
Within a couple weeks, I had settled into a routine. I worked from midnight until eight in the morning, went home, showered and had breakfast. John had long since left for work. Betsy didn't work--wrong! She didn't work at an outside job. She always had a cup of coffee and we talked while I had breakfast. After breakfast, I slept until noon, had lunch and then spent the afternoon carving and preparing for my GED using a workbook I had purchased.
The second Sunday I was in Winnemucca, John and Betsy asked if I'd like to take a ride and see some of the countryside. We had a very enjoyable day of it. Betsy had packed a picnic and we found a nice spot for a picnic. As we were relaxing afterward, I said, "I'd sure like to spend some time out here. I can just see myself enjoying the outdoors while I am carving."
"There are bike trails around. Maybe you need to get a bike and then you can explore all you care to."
"Good idea! I'll look into that tomorrow."
Monday I went into town to see about getting a bike. I found one I liked, but the price seemed steep to me, but when I talked to John about it Monday evening, he said it was reasonable. "I guess I have lost touch with the cost of things having had no money or needing any for a year. I'll pick up the bike tomorrow." I was afraid the bike shop owner wouldn't accept a check so I was prepared to go to the ATM and get cash, but when I told him that, he said since I was living with the Taylors, a check was fine. "From what I have heard, all the people the Taylors have taken in haven't been trustworthy."
"True, they have had some real cases, but that doesn't mean a check from one of them would be bad. You live with the Taylors, you obey the rules. You have about a six months trial period. After that if you haven't shaped up, you are out. Sounds harsh, I guess, but as Betsy said, 'If we can't straighten out a kid in six months, someone else needs to try.' I can't recall any who were ever asked to leave. A few had decided, on their own, to leave. Most of them were younger than you, so I guess you pretty much were straight before you arrived."
I smiled to myself when he called me straight. I know he wasn't referring to my sexuality, but it was kinda funny anyway. The owner, his name was Jerry, gave me a rough map of some places good for biking and over the summer we became good friends, often riding together.
The bike made a big change in my routine since anytime the weather permitted--and that was most of the time--I ate lunch and headed for the hills on my bike. I had my carving knives and wood in a saddlebag so I found a nice spot and sat and carved. Some of the time I just sat and observed what was going on around me.
Fourth of July the town had an arts and craft fair along with the other activities. Betsy and John urged me to exhibit some of my carvings. I had no idea what price to put on them so I wrote the shop owner in Denver for suggestions and included the letter in a box of carvings I sent him. He replied promptly. I told John and Betsy I thought the prices were high. They didn't think so, but agreed when I suggested, since I didn't have to bother packing and shipping the carvings, I could charge less. We decided on ten percent less than they would have sold for in Denver. I displayed two dozen carvings in a booth I shared with a potter friend of the Taylors.
There was a very large crowd of vacationers in Winnemucca for the Fourth and I had sold all the carving before lunch. When I went home for lunch, I looked at what I had left. There were only a dozen or so since I had shipped a large box to Denver the week before. The second group sold in no time and after I paid for half the booth rental, I had almost $700 to deposit to my account. Since I worked in the grocery store, I kept an eye on what Betsy needed and always brought home a huge box of groceries each payday. She and John protested the first few times, but finally I told them I needed to do it for myself and they accepted what I brought with thanks after that.
My grocery job paid little, but it was enough to take care of my needs. I even paid for the bike out of what I made there so all the money I earned for my carvings went into the bank. John learned it was all in a checking account and advised me to transfer it to savings so I could draw a little interest. Later when I was talking with him about how much I had saved, he was surprised and said I should buy CDs so I could earn more. When he said CDs I thought he was talking recordings! He finally realized I didn't know what he was talking about and gave me a lesson in banking.
In mid-August, I got a call from the GED instructor telling me I could start the first of September. I was on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule and the computers were available from 7:00 until 9:00 and 9:00 until 11:00. I signed up for the 9:00 until 11:00 slot. That required another change in my routine as I went directly from the class to the grocery. George, the grocery manager, said he saw no reason why I couldn't work from 11:30 until 7:30 so I wouldn't have an hour between school and work.
I knew sooner or later the question of my sexuality would probably come up, but I didn't expect it to come the way it did. Both John and Betsy had made comments form time to time about my lack of a social life. I always dismissed it as not having the time. The second Sunday in September, the Taylors had a guest for Sunday dinner, Virginia Jackson, a new high school teacher. She was a very attractive young woman, a few years younger than I was. I found out she was a biking nut and ask if she'd like to go riding some time. She said she would and we agreed to go biking the following Saturday.
Virginia was a good, strong biker and we make quite a round. I enjoyed it very much and she did as well. We decided we'd go again Sunday afternoon. After that we went most Saturdays and Sundays. She would pack a picnic or Betsy would and we'd find a place and picnic. I really enjoyed being with her and she seemed to enjoy being with me. The first Saturday in October we had planned a pretty long ride and Betsy was packing lunch for us. She was acting kinda strange and as she handed the picnic basket to me asked, "Climbing Bear, do you not find Virginia attractive?"
"Sure I do. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I was just wondering she mentioned that she felt very attracted to you, but you must not find her attractive. I think she is more than a little interested, Climbing Bear."
"Oh damn," I said without thinking. "I'm sorry, Betsy. I didn't mean to use that kind of language."
"I'm not worried about that, but I am worried that there's a problem I'm missing."
"Betsy, I guess I knew it would happen sooner or later, but I sure wanted it to be later. I can't lie to you, Betsy, but I wish I didn't have to say what I need to say. I find Virginia very attractive, I enjoy being with her tremendously. She is a great friend--at least now she is--but that's all there is and all there ever will be. I love Virginia as a sister, as a good friend, but that's it."
"I don't think I understand, Climbing Bear. I don't think I understand."
I hung my head, not out of shame, but out of fear. I didn't want to see Betsy's face when I told her the truth. "Betsy, I couldn't lie to you if I wanted to. I guess I could just pass this all off as a joke, but it's not. There can never been anything more between Virginia and me than what there is now because I am different. I am..."
"You are two spirits blessed! I should have known."
I looked up with tears in my eyes and said, "Yes, Betsy, I am gay." Betsy walked over to me and hugged me to her ample bosom, stroked my hair and said, "Climbing Bear, I should have known. You are indeed two spirits blessed. And don't worry, I will handle Virginia in a mother's way and you need tell only those whom you respect who ask. Otherwise, it's no one's business."
Virginia was coming over to my place and when it was time for her, Betsy sent me on an errand. When I got back, Virginia was ready to go. When she didn't think I was looking, I caught her looking at me very strangely, but she said nothing.
That night, while we were having dinner, I told John I was gay and he laughed and said that was going to make some women very unhappy. When he said that, I looked at Betsy and said, "Ok, Betsy, out with it. How did you handle Virginia."
"Well, I really didn't tell her anything she didn't know. I just told her I thought she might be looking at you as more than a friend and that I hated to see her brokenhearted and your friendship destroyed, but that you had already committed yourself in a way that meant you could never be more than a very good friend to any woman. She asked if that meant you had taken vows and I told her no, it was just a responsibility and obligation you were born with. She asked if it had anything to do with your being Indian and I say I guess it did since it was a part of you and you were Indian. She thanked me for preventing her from making a fool of herself and then asked if this part of you meant you couldn't continue to be friends and I told her no, that it probably meant you could be closer friends."
John and I were both laughing as Betsy told us what she had said in a very serious manner. And it worked. Virginia and I continued to be friends, very good friends. We didn't spend as much time together as we had because, in mid-term, an ancient physics teacher dropped dead and was replaced by Phil, a very attractive young man who also became a close friend. In fact, Betsy started it, but soon everyone who knew us called us the Three Musketeers.
Phil was a biker, but by the time he arrived in town, the bikes had been put away for the season. The school booster club had equipped an excellent exercise room and the school board had opened it to the town. One of the coaches was to supervise and to pay for his extra time, there was a small fee for use of the gym after school. All three of us joined and worked out Tuesday and Thursdays when I wasn't in class. In fact, there got to be a Tuesday and Thursday group of regulars who did other things together--go to the movies, ski, other physical activities and we often got together to play games. Our Monopoly games were strictly cut-throat. Betsy said we sounded like the New York Stock Exchange when we played at our place.
I had taken my GED tests as I thought I was ready for them, saving science and math for last. I aced each of the ones I had taken and took the science and math tests in early December. I did well on them, but not as well as I had done on the others. I was told I could graduate with the high school class in June, but somehow or other I didn't think it was something I needed since I had the important piece of paper.
Christmas Day John and Betsy were delivering a food basket to a family who had fallen on bad times when a drunk driver hit them head on. Fortunately neither car was moving fast, but John suffered a broken leg and internal injuries. Betsy was banged up, but nothing serious so she was treated and released. John was told he'd be hospitalized for two weeks then have at least two months before he could go back to work. His hospital bills were automatically paid by the drunk driver's insurance, but he didn't have disability insurance. I knew that and knew there was no money coming in. Sooner or later there would be an insurance settlement, which would have to pay for lost work time, but heaven only knew when that would be. Knowing that, I sat Betsy down and told her I would be supporting us until John recovered and the drunk's insurance paid off. She started protesting and finally my temper got the better of me. "Betsy, you are going to have one angry Indian on your hands here in a minute. You can play the martyr for someone else. You took me in when I needed it. I don't need you now. Can you understand that? I don't need you. When I came, you didn't need me. Now you do. You can damn well take the help I am offering and be thankful for it. You silly, foolish pride is a crock of shit. You know something Betsy? I have heard church people say it is more blessed to give than to receive. Well, I can add to that. It's a hell of a lot easier. I know. I have been on the receiving end for a damn long time. You have been on the giving end and now you are going to learn just how hard it is to receive, like it or not. Now get out your frigging budget book and we will see how we are going about this."
I had never seen Betsy cowed before, but she was now. She almost cringed as she went to her desk and picked up the notebook she used to keep up with bills. Suddenly I couldn't help it. I burst out laughing. "Betsy, you can stand up now, my barking is over and I have no bite. Betsy looked at me, stopped, and started laughing herself. Once she got started, she couldn't stop.
When she got control of herself, she said, "Climbing Bear, I guess I needed that, but it is funny to have your son take you down a peg or two."
She brought her budget book and we looked over the bills. I had never seen her budget before and was surprised at just how far she made a dollar go, but it was definitely a paycheck to paycheck situation. With no income from John, there was nothing to fall back on. In fact, I was surprised that without the groceries I brought in, things would really have been tight. You would never have known that John and Betsy didn't have any surplus and just lived from paycheck to paycheck.
"Betsy, I passed my math test so I think I can see here that without one pay check we--and I mean we--are in deep doo-doo. I don't see anything here that can be put off. The utilities have to be paid, we have to have food and there's a house payment here."
"John and I have always said the house was our savings. I can get an equity loan on it."
"Betsy, that would be foolish. You'd risk your home for a few thousand dollars. You have been paying on the house how long?"
"Twenty-something years. I'm not sure."
"Ok, I'll write a check equal to John's paycheck since that will make keeping your budget easy. But no house payment until I talk with the bank. And we have to do something about a car. I suspect the man who hit yours insurance agent will be coming around wanting to settle. Don't sign anything. You probably need to hire a lawyer so you don't get flim-flamed. Know a good one?"
"Actually I do. Joey Nelson is a lawyer here in town. Don't think he will charge a great deal since he is one of our boys."
"Call him now and retain him even if it costs money. Insurance companies exist to receive payments, not make them and they have more practice in avoiding payment than we do in getting it."
The next day I went to the bank to check on the Taylors' mortgage. I was told the information couldn't be given out and I understood that. I had the manager call Betsy to get permission for me to see their payment schedule. I had seen the payments were $400 per month. They had been paying on their house for twenty-nine years lacking a month, so they were now paying almost everything on the principal. They only owed thirteen more payments. I wrote a check for the current payment and $1200 additional. Of course, the extra came off the principal, but I'd pay more next month since I had a check coming for carvings I had sent to Denver in November.
January came and with it my twenty-third birthday. The gym crew managed to pull a surprise birthday party for me. My real birthday present had come a few days early when John came home.
The week following my birthday, George, my boss, asked if I would consider driving the truck which went into Reno for things not delivered to the store. "It involves three trips a week. The other two days you can work store hours." I leapt at the chance and started driving for him. I was surprised to discover I loved it. The trip was solitude time for me and I enjoyed being out, even if I was inside a truck.
I paid a couple more house payments, adding $1200 additional once. I hadn't bothered to tell Betsy I had either time. In March the insurance company finally settled. The doctors had told John he couldn't go back to work until May, so the settlement included income replacement for all the time he was out of work along with money for pain and suffering. John and Betsy decided paying off the house was the first priority and were surprised at how little they owed. With a day job and having finished with my GED, I had more time to devote to carving. Also, I took work with me when I went to Reno because there was always a delay while I got loaded.
Shortly after John came home, I was talking about how much I enjoyed the trips to Reno and John asked if I had thought about becoming a truck driver. "You are unattached, need to see the country and it pays well." I told him I hadn't thought about it, but it sounded good. "You still have a bit of money saved don't you? I mean after bailing us out."
I said I did and I would look into the possibilities of getting my commercial driver's license. I had to go to Reno to find a divers' training school. I rented a room for six weeks and worked very hard at getting the training I needed. I passed my tests on my first try and found a job immediately doing local hauls.
I moved out of my room and into an efficiency apartment. I was making good money and after a month, bought a four wheel drive truck. My job was five days a week and eight hours or less since it was based on making a round trip so loading and unloading time really determined how long I had to work. The dead time I used to carve or jaw with other drivers. Weekends I went home to Winnemucca.
One Friday after work, a couple of drivers I had befriended asked if I'd like to join them for a beer. "If I can have ginger ale, would love to." We went to a local bar and the two downed a couple beers in no time flat, and started urging me to have a brew. I had been sober for several years, I told myself, and could probably handle a beer. I ordered a beer and when I picked it up, became conscious of someone taking the bar stool beside me. Before I could turn around, Black Horse said, "I'm not around to sober up your ass this time." I almost dropped the beer as I turned to see who had spoken. There was no one there. What I had heard really crashed in on me then. Black Horse really wasn't here to sober me up and I knew that one beer would lead to more and more. I put it down, thanked the two guys and left. That was the last time I was tempted to get drunk and I knew that one beer would lead to being drunk.
A week later, the trucking company manager asked if I was interested in taking on long hauls and I told him I was. I was assigned a rig and started hauling long distances. I enjoyed seeing the country, I was making good money. I had decent clothes, paid for my truck, moved into a nice small house on which I had a rent-to-own agreement. In short, I had everything I wanted except companionship. I was lonely. I saw John and Betsy infrequently since I wasn't in the area for any length of time. They had taken in a fifteen year old boy who had "my room," so I was never in Winnemucca overnight. Phil and Virginia had married in the spring and were expecting a baby. I enjoyed seeing them, but it increased my sense of loneliness.
My path kept crossing that of two drivers who drove as a team, Al and Chris. I had come to suspect they were gay, but the question had never been asked. Then it happened that we were all three in Beaumont, Texas waiting to pick up a load of motor oil. For some reason or other, we had a delay in the loading and couldn't get loaded until late the following day. "Why don't we rent a really nice room and take it easy?" Al suggested.
"Sounds good to me. You pick the place."
Al called and made reservations in a swanky hotel rather than a motel. "We all have money to blow so why don't we? Life is short."
We got our bags from the trucks, called a cab and went to the hotel. When we got to the suite--Al had really gone all out--we showered dressed in nicer attire than we wore driving and went down to dinner. When we were ordering drinks, Al said, "Order what you want, but Chris and I cannot have alcohol became of our medicines."
I laughed and replied, "I can't have it because I'm a recovering drunk." The meal was great and afterward we decided to take in a movie. When we got back to the room, Chris said, "Med time, Al." They each took a handful of pills and when they finished, Chris said, "Climbing Bear, hope this doesn't run you off, but I guess you need to know about Al and me. We are both HIV positive, that's the reason for the pills. Not that it means anything to you one way or another. We are also gay which may mean something to you--one way or another," he laughed. "We are in fact, an "until death do us part" couple, lovers, soulmates, call it what you will. As I said, I guess you need to know that and I hope it doesn't make any difference."
I'll admit, I was surprised. "I never suspected and am surprised I haven't heard it mentioned by other drivers. But anyway, it does make a difference, a huge difference because I am gay." Once the words were out of my mouth, it was like a dam had burst. I talked for two solid hours with few comments from the two, pouring out my life story.
When I finished, Chris said, "Climbing Bear, I never suspected and I know about loneliness, both of us do. We've been there, especially after we tested positive, but we have each other now, long after we both expected to be dead. We may die in a wreck next week, food poisoning at some greasy spoon next month or AIDS next year, but we are making good use of the time we have--long or short."
The two talked about their lives and before we went to bed, there was a group hug, which I liked even though I felt strange doing it.
We met again in Reno a few weeks later. We all had the weekend free and I invited them to stay at my place. "Got room for an extra?" Al asked.
"Sure, especially if he's an Indian and sleeps on the floor."
"As a matter of fact he is an Indian, but I don't know where he sleeps," Al laughed. "Give me the directions to your place. He's not in yet so I'll call him in his truck and give him directions." I gave Al the directions to my place and when he finished talking to his friend, he said, "He said he'd be in by 5:00 and to hold supper."
I kept my truck at the terminal when I was on a run so I could have a way home when I got back. The three of us got in and headed for my place. On the way, we stopped by a grocery store and picked up food for the weekend. Chris and Al got a kick out of my grocery shopping. I had not forgotten what I had learned working in the grocery in Winnemucca and put it to good use...We got to my place and I opened the windows to let fresh air in then the three of us started getting supper. At 5:00 a taxi drove up out front. I looked out the window and saw a man get out, look at the house, pay the driver and start up the walk. I couldn't see his face, but he was tall for an Indian, I thought and was wiry in build. When he walked on the porch, Chris threw open the door with a flourish, bowed and said, "Welcome, Chief!"
"Chief hell, I'm just a humble kick ass warrior you Anglo."
"Watch your mouth or us white folks will have to whop you Indian ass again. Get your lazy ass in here we have a real Indian for you to meet. Climbing Bear, this is one damn great Indian, Taequo, rescuer of young good looking boys. Taequo, Climbing Bear, Apache extraordinary."
"Taequo, welcome to my house," I said as I shook hands with him. "What's this about rescuing young good-looking boys?"
"Just a little adventure I had a while ago in Florida. Tell you about it later. By the way, that was part of the reason my chief gave me my second eagle's feather. Guess you white folks don't have such."
"Because of your kind, we can't even own one. Got any eagle feathers, Climbing Bear?"
"Just one, but I'm young," I laughed. After all the banter, Taequo said, "Damn glad to see you two again. It's been awhile. Give me a hug!"
The three men hugged each other with a lot of patting on the back. When they finished, Taequo said, "Climbing Bear, how about a bear hug," and laughed. Taequo was wiry, but strong as a bear. I could tell from his hug. I still wasn't used to hugging, but I was learning to like it quickly.
We had a grand time at dinner. I guess we eat at truck stops and wherever we can so a good home-cooked meal was special. When we finished, I poured coffee and we all went to the living room and just talked. After awhile I remembered Chris' comment about Taequo rescuing a young, good-looking boy and asked about it.
"It was the damndest thing. I was leaving Florida headed north when I realized I was taking the wrong route--well, not the wrong one, but not the one I intended to take. It was raining like mad and as I started across a causeway, I saw a kid climbing up on the guardrail of a bridge. I stopped the truck in record time, hopped out and grabbed him just as he was about to jump. He was naked as a jaybird. I put him in the sleeper and Chris and Al met up with us and we got him dressed in some of Chris' clothes. Later we had a prayer meeting--our kind of prayer meeting." The three laughed and later told me their prayer meetings were straight talk. "I took him to meet a family friend and thought that was the end of it. It wasn't. Turns out he was gay and felt he had cheated on his soulmate and both of them went off the deep end. Old Red Hawk shows up and gets them straightened out. They did a vision quest with him last summer and then had a gay wedding. Red Hawk was dead, but by damn, he showed up. Great ceremony. They are going to Ohio to college. Expect to see them next week or so. But what's this about you having a feather?"
Friday night, Al and Chris had the guest room which had a bed in it. "Taequo, I hope you are a real Indian because there is no other bed. I have a futon and sleep on the floor. You have the living room. You probably noticed the couch is a futon. You can sleep on the couch or put the futon on the floor." As I spoke, I handed him a sleeping bag.
"Perfect," he said.
Al and Chris went on to bed and Taequo poured another cup of coffee and asked me again about my eagle feather. I told him about my year with Black Horse and what had happened since.
Saturday morning I suggested we head for the hills just to get away from the city. We had a grand time doing nothing but telling tales and enjoying being in the outdoors. Sunday Chris and Al went to Mass. Chris said somehow or other his growing up religion had taken on a pretty significant meaning when he realized he was facing death. "Of course, Al and I may outlast you two, but when I was first diagnosed as HIV positive, it was a death sentence.
Taequo and I sat around the house while they were gone, talking about what it was like growing up Indian. His early years had a lot in common with mine. I guess when you live in two worlds growing up, you are not sure where you fit or if you do. Somehow or other we had to come to grips with being Indians and feeling comfortable with that before we could function in the white man's world.
I found myself really liking Taequo. There was no bullshit about him and great depth, but he was also one funny Indian. One minute he would be very serious and the next I would be rolling in the floor laughing.
When Chris and Al got back, we fixed dinner then talked about our schedule for the coming week. I had checked before I left Friday and saw there were two possibilities. One would take me to Atlanta and the other Richmond. "Take the Atlanta one," Taequo said. "I'm headed to Memphis then Atlanta. We'll hook up in Atlanta if our schedules work out."
I said I'd do that unless someone else had the run. "Hey, it's Sunday and guys are starting their runs, call the dispatcher and ask for the Atlanta run. Taequo, our paths will cross in Memphis if we time it right," Al said.
I called the dispatcher and asked for and got the Atlanta run via Waco, Texas. When I got back, Taequo had a sheet spread out on the coffee table. When I got near I saw it was a road map with three routes mark in red, blue and green. "That's it, Taequo said. "Now that I own my rig, I have a lot more punch when it comes to getting routes. I finally have arrived because I have those three runs. Of course, when I get tired of them, I ask for others."
When I left Reno Monday morning, I found myself singing. I was surprised at how happy I was. After I thought about it, I realized I had a good weekend. I had been with people who had some understanding of me and who I understood. It had been the best weekend I had in a long time.
As I approached Atlanta, I found myself singing again. I was looking forward to seeing Taequo. It was not the usual pull into town, sleep and leave without seeing anyone you really knew and doing nothing. I really wasn't seeing much of the country because when I had a layover, I slept or hung around the terminal. Maybe Taequo would be up to doing something other than sleep and eat.
I reached the terminal and left my trailer to be unloaded and reloaded for the return trip. I had a day layover in Atlanta and hope Taequo had the same. As I took my tractor to the motel where I would be staying, I suddenly realized Taequo didn't know where I was staying and I didn't have his cell phone number. I was mentally kicking myself when my cell phone rang. I had a no hands rigs, so I just punched the button and before I could say hello, I heard, "Damn good Indian you are. I tried to find your trail, but you done gone and hid it good--you thought. Had to call your dispatcher to get your cell phone number, but I hope you didn't think you could hide that easily."
"Taequo, where the hell are you," I practically shouted I was so glad to hear his voice.
"You might look at the ramp coming up," he laughed. As I did, I saw Taequo's tractor pull on to the highway. "You headed where I'm headed?" he asked.
"Depends on where you're headed. I'm headed for the motel at exit 36."
"Have never needed them," I replied.
"You will this weekend. The Shriners are in town along with the Promise Keepers. There is no room at the inn."
"Damn! I guess I'm in for a long ride to find a bed."
"I'll share my room if you are a real Indian and sleep on the floor," Taequo laughed.
We got to the motel, signed in and went to our room. "Up to a movie tonight or had you rather go to a strip joint?" Taequo asked.
"Think I'll pass on the strip joint, how about a movie?"
"Man, you are in for a treat! Let's get showered, changed and head downtown. We can eat and then take in a movie at the Fox. Summer series is on and there's a theater organ sing along. I love it. Hit the shower and get dolled up."
When we had both showered, we took the train downtown, had a wonderful meal then went to the Fox. The movie was an experience. I had never heard a theater organ and this was a huge one. I loved it. After the movie, we walked around downtown for awhile with Taequo pointing out the sights. It was midnight when we caught the train back to the motel.
We both started to pull the mattresses off the bed and sleep on the floor, but realized there wasn't room so we crawled in bed. I was pleased that there were two beds because I was nervous about sleeping with a man and especially Taequo.
Taequo was up before I was and when I got up, he was gone. I showered and had just gotten dressed when he came back to the room with coffee. "Thought you might need some wake up juice," he said as he handed me a cup. "I have sugar and that creamer stuff if you want it."
"Know Black Horse? I lived with Black Horse a year. He made the coffee most of the time and it was hot, black and that was it. I just want it hot and black. Thanks."
"I picked up a paper yesterday. Friday's addition always has a section on what's going on in Atlanta. Been here before?
"Yea, but I realized the other day all I ever saw of a city was the terminal and the inside of a motel room. Guess I have been real stupid that way."
"Don't know about stupid, but since all terminals and all motels look alike, you sure have missed a lot. Ok, we are here all day today and tonight. When do you leave? Sunday morning?"
Ok, then today we go to the Martin Luther King Center. You need to see that. He did a lot for us as well as blacks. Don't think the present crowd is doing much for anyone, but the center's about the past and a great man. Then there's the Carter center. Great man, lousy president. And late this afternoon and this evening, Stone Mountain and the laser show. But first breakfast."
I learned a lot about Taequo that Saturday. He was very serious and reverent at the King Center. He was serious, but having a good time at the Carter Center. He had really meant it when he called Jimmy Carter a great man. I knew little about him and was fascinated at the Center and at Taequo's knowledge of the man.
Stone Mountain was a hoot. It was a strange mixture of history, amusement park and pretense. Nothing would do but that the two of us climb the mountain. It wasn't too difficult for me and a snap for Taequo. The laser show was also a strange mixture of fun and half seriousness. I did have to laugh when the figures on the mountain appeared to go marching off.
We had been able to do everything by bus and train which I liked because a tractor is not a very good pleasure vehicle. We decided we were both hungry and found a place and ate a second supper at midnight.
The next morning Taequo again beat me up and brought coffee. "You know, I could get used to having someone bring me coffee every morning."
"Laudy, Massa Rhett, I don't know that Miss Scarlett would let me do that," Taequo said in Prissy's voice. That squeaky little voice coming out of the tall, lanky Indian absolutely cracked me up. While we were having breakfast, Taequo asked about my trip back and said we might get together when he got back to Reno, but it would be a couple weeks before he was due back there.
I pick up my loaded trailer and headed west. It had been one great weekend. "You nut," I said to myself, "you could have been having a time like that ever since you started long hauls," but I knew it wasn't true. Even if I had gone to all those places, I would not have had the weekend I had because Taequo would not have been there.
The next couple weeks I did make an effort to use my downtime to see the sights and it was a big improvement over motel walls, but it was not like Atlanta. I caught myself saying, "Taequo would get a kick out of that. I wonder if Taequo has ever seen that?" I definitely had Taequo on my mind.
I really found that out over the next layover I had, which was in Chicago. I spent time at the Field Museum, the Art Institute and saw a lot of interesting stuff, but it wasn't like it would have been had I been sharing the experience with Taequo. That got driven home the following week when I was in Phoenix at the same time as Taequo and had marvelous time. I hoped I wasn't too obvious when I asked Taequo about his owning his own rig and getting a few set runs. My purpose was to find out what his runs were and to match mine to them as much as possible. I had a clear understanding of his runs when I left Phoenix and started ending up in the same city as Taequo when we had a layover if at all possible. After a month or so spending most of my layovers with Taequo I had to admit that I had fallen in love. I had a very bad case and knew it.
I was becoming a basket case because I was in love with Taequo and had no idea whether or not he was gay. In fact, Taequo was so circumspect that I had no idea whether he was interested in either men or women. There was no doubt that Taequo considered me a close friend, but beyond that? I just didn't know and I certainly wasn't going to give him even a hint of my feelings. I was not going to risk losing my best friend, a friend who gave me so much joy. When I was exploring with Taequo, I became a little boy again in a lot of ways because everything was new and exciting. No, there was no way I was going to drive Taequo away by telling him I was gay, much less in love with him.
Taequo and I had made arrangements to meet in St. Louis for dinner since neither of us had a layover there. I was to pick up Wounded Hawk for the next segment of his journey on what he called his "official Indian dog and pony show." Over dinner, I learned both had attended a Halloween party near Cleveland. Taequo said, "I'm so ugly I didn't have to wear a mask," and laughed. I may as well make it clear right here that Taequo is not ugly. He is not pretty handsome, but he is one rugged Indian and his face shows that. He has the looks of who he is, straight forward, solid, honest, rugged. He is and looks all male.
Anyway, we had a leisurely dinner, but as soon as it was over, we were on our way. When Wounded Hawk and I left St. Louis, he told me about the party and started talking about Taequo, telling me more about his involvement with the people at the party. I can't really remember what got me started talking, but I suddenly realized I had poured out my feelings for Taequo and my frustration at not knowing how he felt and fear of telling him how I felt. When I finished, Wounded Hawk didn't say anything one way or the other, so I dropped the subject.
At the end of the week, I picked up Wounded Hawk and we headed to Denver where he was doing a conference on oral literature starting Friday. He laughed as he told me about the seminar he had just attended. "I sometimes think it's basically dishonest, but these academic types have everything figured out and expect me to put the official Indian stamp of approval on it or beat them up because they are wrong. If I approve, it proves they have been good to Indians. If I disapprove, they allow themselves to be beat up to salve their guilt. Fortunately, the whole of the academic world is basically incestuous so they keep all their stuff to themselves, reading and criticizing each other. Anyway, I'm doing this conference on oral literature in Denver. It starts tomorrow evening and runs through Sunday. After Friday, I have only morning sessions. Think you could be available Saturday and Sunday afternoon and for a few days afterward? Like to go Indian camping and you and Taequo qualify as campers."
"I definitely have the weekend, the first in a couple weeks. I'm not sure about more days. Will check when I get back to Reno." I dropped Wounded Hawk in Denver and headed for Reno. I got in late Thursday and when I talked to the dispatcher, he didn't want to give me any time off after the weekend. Fortunately, Big Jim, a fellow driver called in asking if he could get a rig for a week because he had broke down and didn't have one. "Looks like you have a week if you want to give up your rig for that long," the dispatcher said after he explained the situation.
"See you next weekend," I said as I ran for my truck. I went home and packed for a week's camping, threw my things in the truck and was headed for Denver when I realized I could drive all night and the next day and still not be in Denver and I wanted to spend every minute I could with Wounded Hawk--and if the truth be known--with Taequo. I whipped the truck around and went back home. I called the airport and got reservations for a flight to Denver Friday afternoon. I would like to have gone right away, but there weren't any seats available. Anyway, I would arrived in Denver hours before I could make it driving and I was really too tired to start without risking going to sleep at the wheel.
My flight was at 3:00 in the afternoon Friday. My bags were packed so I didn't have to worry about that. I arrived at the airport at 1:00, checked my bags, took the truck to the long term one and ran back to the terminal. I had called Wounded Hawk the night before and let him know when I would be arriving. I was on my way and still arriving before I would have been half way had I driven.
When my plane arrived, I went to baggage claim, picked up my bags and started toward the taxi stand to get a cab to Wounded Hawk's hotel when I heard, "Looking for a ride, Chief?" It was Taequo and without thinking I grabbed him in a bear hug. He seemed a bit surprised, but gave me a hug back.
He had a cab waiting and we were soon in Wounded Hawk's suite. "This is sure a nice place for an Indian," I joked when I walked in.
"Maybe for just any Indian," Wounded Hawk laughed and added, "but you need to remember, I am an official Indian. Welcome, Climbing Bear," he said and grabbed me in one of his bear hugs. "Let's eat!"
We went to one of the hotel dining rooms. The young girl assigned to our table was trying to puzzle out who we were. I had to laugh at her because all of her questions were stated in the negative. She first asked, "You are not members of a rock group, are you? Then,"You're not in a movie, are you?" And we all cracked up when she finally asked, "You are not all Indians, are you?" Wounded Hawk told her he was the only official Indian, but Taequo really got her confused by showing her his official BIA card (Bureau of Indian Affairs which certifies who is and is not an Indian). I guess if I had been in her shoes and saw these three dudes with long braids, I would wonder what was going on too. While we were eating, Wounded Hawk explained his plan. "Tomorrow I have workshops in the morning and we'll go exploring tomorrow afternoon. Sunday the conference breaks up at lunch and I think we can find a camping place in the mountains before dark. We'll establish a camp and just be lazy Indians for the rest of the week. "
Saturday afternoon, I noticed Wounded Hawk managed to go explore this or that, leaving Taequo and me together. I kept hoping Taequo would make a move, but he didn't. We just talked about what we had been doing, where I was headed next. For some reason or other, we started talking about where we'd like to live. He was really enthusiastic when he started talking about North Carolina and the people he knew there. Since I hadn't seen much of the state--just a bit from interstate highways, I couldn't comment on it.
Sometime after mid-afternoon, Wounded Hawk suggested we find a camping place and set up camp. "You two jokers can spend the night and I'll come back when I finish the conference. That way we'll be all ready as soon as I can get back." Fortunately he was driving his four wheel drive truck because he took us along a mere trail which seemed a highway compared to the last few miles we traveled before we stopped. About half way between the last vestige of a road and where we stopped to camp, Taequo said, "Think we need to call your truck the Enterprise, Wounded Hawk, because it is obvious we are 'going where no man has ever gone before'." Wounded Hawk laughed and kept driving. We were below the timberline so there were trees, but not many and they were pretty rugged looking. Finally Wounded Hawk pulled into a grove of pines and stopped. "Grab the gear because the Enterprise has landed."
We walked couple hundred yards from the truck into the grove. Suddenly we were on the edge of a small spring-fed stream, which pooled before it plunged over a cliff two or three hundred feet from the pool. There were no trees blocking the view from the cliff since the ground ended abruptly at the cliff's edge. We had a magnificent view from the cliff. The area back from the cliff was level for about a hundred yards, a perfect place to pitch our tent.
We quickly got the tent set up although none of us planned to use it except in case of bad weather. As soon as the tent was up, Taequo and I started gathering rocks and preparing a fire pit. Wounded Hawk had gone to look for pine cones and dead limbs for the fire. He came back just as we finished the fire pit and dumped a load of pine cones in. "There's plenty of dead limbs under the pines. If you two will take the axe and buck saw and get some cut, I'll take the other axe and buck saw and see if I can find some hardwood." Taequo and I got the axe and saw and went back into the grove. Wounded Hawk hadn't understated the case. I'm sure the dead limbs for ten years or more were waiting for us. We set to chopping and sawing and soon had a pile of wood stacked and ready to be picked up. We each gathered a load in our arms and walked back to the campsite where Taequo started fire. Soon it was burning well and since Wounded Hawk had not returned, so we went back and carried another load of wood to the campsite. We had just got it stacked when Wounded Hawk came back with several lengths of hardwood logs. We took them from the truck and Taequo started sawing them into lengths for the campfire. I went with Wounded Hawk to pick up the pine Taequo and I had cut.
By the time we got back, the campfire was a bed of hot coals and Taequo had started supper. When it was ready, we ate and again confirmed the fact that food outdoors is always better. When we finished eating, we had coffee. After a second cup of coffee, Wounded Hawk said, "I best get on my way. I need to get together a few notes tonight for the session tomorrow morning. See you guys mid-afternoon."
After Wounded Hawk left, Taequo and I gathered pine straw, which we spread and covered with a pad. The straw made a big difference in how comfortable our sleeping bags would be. After we had finished our preparation for sleeping, we sat on our sleeping bags across the campfire from each other and started talking about growing up and how we ended up driving. One thing lead to another and before we turned in we knew a great deal more about each other then we had before.
I guess it was a result of the clear, clean air and altitude, but both Taequo and I slept until after nine. The campfire had, of course, gone out, but it only took minutes to get it started. As soon as I could, I got coffee going and then started breakfast. While I was getting breakfast, Taequo had gone to the pool below the spring, stripped and washed up. When he came back, he offered to finish breakfast so I could wash up and I took him up on the offer.
We had breakfast and Taequo suggested we explore the area around us. We cleaned up from breakfast and then started walking. There were no trails around, so we just wandered along, pointing out plants to each other. I found both of us had some knowledge of the values and uses of plants, but together we just about knew them all. We had been walking for about an hour when Taequo suddenly put his hand on my shoulder and signaled for me to be quiet. He sat down on a rock and motioned for me to sit beside him. As soon as I was settled, he pointed to a clump of bushes. We were sitting perfectly still, both looking intently at the bushes when slowed they parted and a doe and her fawn walked out of the clump, looked at us, decided we were no threat and walked along the way we had come from the camp. When the two disappeared, Taequo let out a deep breath. I whispered, "Holding your breath? Me too." We stayed where we were for several minutes, then got up and continued our journey.
Wounded Hawk came about two. We had continued our exploration and without realizing it, were walking parallel to the truck trail. Wounded Hawk spotted us through the bush, stopped the truck and honked the horn. We climbed in the truck and Wounded Hawk said, "While we are all here, we can get some more hardwood." He turned the truck around and drove to a hardwood grove where the ground was littered with limbs, large and small. There was only one ax and buck saw in the truck and the two started chopping and sawing limbs, which I loaded on the truck. They were just cutting them in lengths I could handle since we could cut them for the fire when we got back to camp.
We built up the campfire and buried a dutch over with a pot roast in the coals and Wounded Hawk prepared biscuits for another dutch oven, but those would go in the coals later. Taequo had made fresh coffee and the three of us sat talking about the conference Wounded Hawk had finished. "There were a good number of undergraduates in the group and they keep things stirred up. They are not afraid to ask questions or to question answers. Puts some of the older crowd on edge. "
Sometime later, without mentioning it, the three of us walked to the edge of the cliff and sat down, watching the sunset, which was spectacular.
It was getting quite dark when we got up and walked back to the campfire. Wounded Hawk had put the biscuits in the coals before we went to watch the sunset and they and the roast were ready when we got back. We all three ate as if we hadn't had food in a week. Fresh mountain air does that to you.
When we had finished supper and clean up from it, we were sitting around the campfire, silent. I looked up and saw Taequo staring into the campfire and Wounded Hawk was looking at me. He looked away and continued scratching on the ground with a stick. He looked up again, first at me then at Taequo. He threw the stick into the campfire and almost exploded, "Shit! Am I going to have to do everything for you two knot heads? Taequo, keep you mouth shut while Climbing tells you something." I looked at Taequo and he looked as befuddled as I felt. I didn't know what to say. I knew what I wanted to say, but I was afraid Taequo would tell me to get my fucking queer Indian ass out of his sight. I really didn't know what to say, so I just stared into the fire for what seem like ages then suddenly I realize I was talking and had been talking, telling Taequo I was in love with him. When I finished, I looked over at Taequo who said nothing. He just sat, poking the campfire with a stick.
"Taequo, knot head," Wounded Hawk said, "how dense can any one Indian be? You heard Climbing Bear, are you going to just sit there like a dumb-assed Indian?"
I looked at Taequo again and he was very much a Redman. He was blushing like a teenager!
Finally he started talking, telling me he was too old for me, he was too ugly and there were a lot of young, better looking men out there for me, all that kind of shit. After he had gone on for five minutes I had enough, "Taequo, if you are not in love with me or don't want me, just say so and cut the crap!"
Taequo started with, "That's not what I mean," and started telling me, again, why he was not good enough for me. To be honest, he thoroughly pissed me off. I got up, walked over to where Taequo was sitting, pulled him to his feet and gave him one big, one hundred percent Indian kiss. When I finally came up for air, I asked, "Now, what was it you were saying?"
Taequo blushed, got a silly grin on his face and said, "I can't seem to remember." Then the moment which filled my dream many a night became reality. Taequo took me in to his arms and kissed me, at first a very gentle kiss, which became increasingly passionate. As he pulled me to himself I was sure he knew what he was doing to me and I knew I was doing the same to him as our hardeness's pressed together.
We finally released each other and still holding hands, sat down together on Taequo's sleeping bag. Wounded Hawk said, "I think I have done all the damage I can do here," as he picked up his sleeping bag and pad and tossed them in to the truck. As he got in to the truck he said, "I'll see you two love birds in the morning." He started the engine and left the campsite.
When he was gone, I looked at Taequo, smiled, put my hands on the side of his head and kissed him gently, but before I knew it, we both were far from being gentle! Our kisses became passionate with a lot of tongue play. Taequo lay back on his sleeping bag and pulled me on top of him. I practically ripped his shirt off and unbuttoned his jeans. I wanted to see the man I had grown to love more and more, I wanted to see all of him in his natural beauty. I was hot and ready to love Taequo.
As I kissed and tongued his nipples, Taequo unbuttoned my shirt and pulled it from my body. He unbuttoned my jeans and slid them and my briefss down my legs. He lifted my head and pressed his lips to mine, then he ran his hands down my body. I was really hot as my tongue kept exploring Taequo's mouth, then his hand moved over my ass and a finger traced my crack and my body went rigid as an image of my experience in jail flashed through my mind. I froze and then I started crying, weeping and clutching Taequo to myself. Taequo must have been very confused, but he didn't show it. Rather, he just started comforting me, holding me close, stroking the back of my neck. I buried my face in the crook of his neck and I cried and cried. I wanted Taequo more than anything and I had wanted him for what seemed like years and when he was ready to give himself to me, I came completely unglued. As if I feared he would leave me, I was clutching Taequo to myself with a death grip. Gradually I regain control. I raised my head, looked into Taequo's eyes, which were filled with pain, and I kissed him very softy. I then whispered, "Taequo, I love you, I love you more than my own life. I will always remember you just holding me when you must have thought I was crazy." I lay beside Taequo and told him why I had gone goofy. As I spoke, Taequo looked into my eyes and stroked my cheek, my hair, the back of my neck. As I continued to talk, his eyes never left mine except when he kissed my face gently from time to time.
When I had finally rundown, Taequo kissed me, got up, got my sleeping bag, zipped it together with his and held it open for me to crawl in. When I was inside, I smiled up at Taequo and he slipped in the sleeping bag with me. I wrapped my arms around my love and kissed him--gently and then more passionately. We were both very hot. "Taequo, I...."
"Climbing Bear, I can wait. I have waited for a very long time."
"Taequo, I don't want you to wait. I want our partnership to be sealed tonight."
Taequo was so gentle, so easy, so caring as I gave myself to him, wholly, completely. When we lay in each others arms as having made wonderful love, I whispered to my man, "Taequo, until death do us part."
He answered, "Until death do us part."
Nestled in Taequo's arms, I drifted off to sleep.
The sun woke me up and as I opened my eyes, I saw Taequo bending over me, a smile on his face. "Good morning, Climbing Bear." He leaned over far enough for me to wrap my arms around him for a good morning kiss. Unfortunately, he leaned over too far and fell on top of me. I saw no reason not to take advantage of the situation and I did. After we had made love, Taequo said, "That's the kind of good morning I want every morning."
I finally got out of the sleeping bag, washed up in the pool and got dressed. When I got back, Taequo handed me a cup of coffee and gave me a long, slow, great kiss.
Taequo and I set to work getting breakfast and we had it ready when we heard Wounded Hawk's truck. It was obvious he was well back from the campsite when he blew his horn. Taequo and I were both laughing as Wounded Hawk came closer, blew his horn and repeated the action twice before he drove up. He got out of the truck and walked to the campfire. He had a huge grin on his face when he asked, "Did I give the honeymoon couple warning enough?"
"More than enough," I laughed.
After breakfast, we sat around drinking coffee and just generally enjoying being together, even if it was a threesome. After lunch Wounded Hawk asked if we'd like to go exploring and soon we were bouncing along a non-existent road. Finally Wounded Hawk stopped and we got out of the truck and started hiking. An hour later he said, "I hope you find this worth the hike." We rounded a turn and before us was a magnificent vista. Across the narrow valley was a waterfall, plunging over the edge of a cliff. The scene was breathtaking. Taequo and I stood, arm in arm, silent before the scene laid out in front of us. Finally, Taequo sat down on a boulder and pulled me into his lap. He rested his chin on my shoulder and whispered, "Climbing Bear, I love you." I swear when he said those words my heart skipped a beat.
I turned my head so I could see him and said, "And I love you, Taequo."
Wounded Hawk finally sat down on the boulder beside us and asked, "Now that you two have finally gotten together, what of the future?"
"I'm so wrapped up in the present that I can't think about the future," I answered.
"Same here" Taequo added.
"Well, I guess that's to be expected, but tomorrow is the end of the honeymoon. Climbing Bear is expected back in Reno and you will be in Denver. He will go his way and you will go yours. I suppose that kind of life can be lived and be happy, but I sure as hell wouldn't like it. I happen to know for a fact Climbing Bear has bent all sorts of things so the two of you would be in the same city as often as possible. Unless you make some dramatic changes, you'll be together no more than you have been. Climbing Bear should have been at the Halloween party and while the two of you hadn't gotten over being afraid of each other, he still should have been there. We are expected in North Carolina for Thanksgiving. How often do you go to North Carolina, Climbing Bear?"
"Maybe three, four times a year and then it's just passing through."
"Point made," Wounded Hawk said.
"What are our options? I can't quit work,' I said. "I have to make a living."
"But do you have to drive for the same company?" Wounded Hawk asked.
"Of course not, but a different company wouldn't make that much difference."
"So what's to be done? You two need to think about that."
That was a very good way to make present pleasures seem very fleeting. I didn't see a solution and neither did Taequo. We finally dropped the subject.
When we got back to the campsite, it was time to prepare supper. Wounded Hawk said he'd take care of that and the two of us could go watch the sunset.
Man, it was a very different sunset from yesterday's because I was sitting between Taequo's legs and he had his arms around me, again resting his chin on my shoulder. We had nothing to say because nothing needed to be said. We were together and that said it all.
As we sat, Taequo started unbraiding my hair and soon it was all loose and blowing in the slight breeze coming up from the valley below. I seldom wore my hair loose, but it was a great feeling to have it loose and blowing in the wind.
When Wounded Hawk called us to supper, we got up reluctantly and walked back to the campfire, which felt good as there was a chill in the air after the sun had gone down.
We were eating supper when suddenly Taequo started laughing. He finally was able to tell us what was funny to him. "I was thinking of Chris and Al. They are in for a real surprise when Climbing Bear and I show up together."
"Just how sure are you of that?" I asked. "I am not at all sure that they haven't been doing their best to make it happen. After all, they introduced us."
"You're right come to thank of it. They have been on my case for a long time, telling me that living and driving alone was for the birds. They were right too."
"Taequo, do you realize what you just said? You said something about living and driving alone. They don't do that, so why are we thinking about driving alone?" I asked.
Taequo hit himself on the forehead and said, "Wounded Hawk, you called me a knot head last night and damned if I don't think you are right. There is no reason why Climbing Bear and I can't team drive. I own my rig so that's not a decision I have to have from the company. So long as I get the deliveries made, they don't get a flat-assed damn how it gets done."
"Just one problem with that, Taequo. I don't have the money to pay for half the rig."
"Who says you need money? The rig is mine. I paid for it. It is free and clear."
"But that's just it. It's your rig that you paid for. If we are going to team drive, I need to pay half."
"Climbing Bear, we need to get one thing straight right now or it will catch us off guard and bite us in the ass. We are either in this together or we are not. I have a rig, we need a rig. I'm sure you have saved some money. We need a house, you have a down payment. I am not going into this partnership with an accountant's mind. I thought we agreed to share our lives until death do us part and that means sharing all we have. Do you have a problem with that?"
"Now that you put it that way, I don't."
"Then it's settled. When we get back, you can turn in your rig and quit. I won't have to do anything since, as I said, all that is required of me is delivery on time. You can fly back to Reno, get squared away and drive back to Denver and I'll pick you up next week."
"Just a little side comment here," Wounded Hawk said. "You need to remember the importance of talking things through. Relationships, partnerships require work, but, man, think of the return."
I flew back to Reno, resigned from my job, packed what I needed and could take, sold the rest, got out of the lease on the house and headed east to Denver. Waiting for me there was my great happiness, Taequo. He had already said we were spending Thanksgiving in North Carolina with a bunch of people I was dying to meet, not only because of all Taequo and Wounded Hawk had told me about them, but also because they had to be great for those two Indians to praise them as they did. Taequo had even suggested we might look for a house in North Carolina.
A few weeks later I found myself in North Carolina, sleeping in what had to be a sacred place after having met one of the most remarkable bunch of people I had ever know. The following morning I woke up and realized I was not alone in my sleeping bag. I was still getting use to the wonderful feeling of waking up with Taequo beside me. "Yes," I thought, "You may not be the prettiest Indian in the world, but you are the most beautiful creature in my world. Yea, Taequo, you have given me life and love and, damn, I sure needed both. I leaned over, kissed Taequo softly and saw his dark eyes open and a smile spread across his face and my world was complete.