Opening Nebraska

When he walked into Nebraska, I thought here is someone sturdy enough to withstand the press of wind and sky. Where the shed leaned east, he walked straight, and his hair was colored like the October cornstalks.

He was called Aaron—a name mountain-tall. He had hazel eyes like clear running streams.

My family had come to hunker down, hugging knees to our chest as we watched our fields go unplowed. The eternal Nebraska grasses needled in to what was fertile for seed. Our livelihood. Somewhere we’d given up the struggle.

But sometimes you had to let the plains roll out, let the grasses seed and fill and reach what was always their destination. Up to our feet on the last porch step, the deep green grass reached. And with athletic grace, Aaron walked up through it.

****

From across the field, Aaron waved and my sister and I clasped our hands in our laps, avoiding each other’s eye. Our brother died, and our mother prayed at the church, her fingers imprinting the second-row hymnals. Dad had lost his only son. Under a cross of wires at our driveway’s end, he had greeted Aaron, a handclasp in sunlight, inviting him to dinner at our home.

“This is nice,” he said at the Sunday table. It was his fifth dinner with us. He straightened our postures. He spoke upfront, with confidence. He was a graduate of Colorado State and liked fresh air and open skies. “I miss Sunday dinners. Big football fans, my family, so we’d watch and …” He stopped, and his eyes flashed with sympathy. He was coming to help out, an extra hand; he knew our brother was gone.

“You’re close to your family?” Melanie asked. My sister had barely eaten, and I looked at my plate nearly clean. I’d eaten as if I were devouring sorely needed nourishment. The potatoes had tasted sweeter, the meat a tender melt. My cheeks flushed, and I wondered if his fair skin felt nipped. I would bandage him against the hurt of this household.

He laughed, a white smile that crinkled his eyes. “Yeah, we all get along pretty well.” He pointed to his plate with his fork. “This is delicious.” Melanie had cooked the meal. I had laid out the plates, setting the tall green glass at the tip of the silver knife bedded against his white china plate. I had folded the napkin he rubbed between his fingers after biting the buttered roll.

“If we can get that supporting wall finished, I’ll sleep better,” Dad said, using his knife to point toward the window. “Grain’s pushing at the walls.” Was he adopting Aaron’s gestures, using his tools? Would he follow Aaron’s lead now that he had no son to teach? “I know it’s Sunday, but if you’re up for an hour’s work, post-meal, maybe we can get one up.”

I sat silent, watching Aaron’s delicate lips form words. “Sure. That’s what I’m here for.” He smiled his readiness.

****

In a paisley t-shirt, Aaron stretched open the screen door and leaped the single porch step. Then without the slightest willful claim, he conquered our resistant land. It’s his, I thought, watching through the four-paned parlor window. Top left pane, there he was with late sun shining his hair. Slipping into top right, his arms swung in strong rhythm. I knelt on the couch, then chin on my arm, settled against the back, peering through the lower panes.

Reaching my dad at the shed, Aaron swung a two-by-four steeple high and brought it across the workhorse. He was built to the land’s rhythms. But the lumber that built was also the lumber that speared. Did he have a flaw? Out in the green corn blowing, the tornado’s debris had looked like scattered tissues; the last fat raindrops had been tired tears. And the scarecrow-less cross had cradled my brother, soaking up his cooling blood.

Aaron’s blood would be nectar. I could find no flaw. He was health. Confidence. Kindness. He ran a hand along the two-by-four. It wouldn’t splinter his skin because his skin knew how to touch. My stomach warmed; I pulled my knees in tighter.

“The fair’s in two days,” Melanie said in the wide-frame parlor entry. The house had withstood the tornado. Solid-built. Reinforced. Our brother Logan had not. Melanie had painted the woodwork white, and our mother had walked the house with tentative acceptance. Change. “Are your paintings ready?” Melanie asked me.

What would Aaron think of my art? I didn’t want him to see it. Did storm clouds really descend with the blackness I depicted, sucking blood from the grasses? Or did they blow wild in their own living, the way Aaron threw back his head laughing at something Dad said now?

“He’ll think you’re an idiot,” Melanie said, looking out the four-pane window. “You do have a voice.” My throat closed on meeting her eyes. When I looked at him, my body’s resistance relinquished. My heart raced in protest. All guards against pain and vulnerability drizzled away. If I spoke to him, what would I say?

“He won’t be here long,” I said, meaning to sound practical, but Melanie rolled her eyes.

“And you pray every second you’re wrong.” She flipped her hair and disappeared into the kitchen.

Melanie cried in the shower. I’d hear her. Logan was gone over a year.

****

People learn that time passes no matter how the heart stops. Aaron and Dad worked till the distant fence pricked the sun, a slow bleed along the horizon. With my canvases untouched, I watched Aaron beside the porch deck, rinsing his toned arms. He talked easy, laughing with my dad.

What was the timbre of his voice? What instrument would play the gentle masculine range I heard outside the window? “I’m waiting for snow,” he said to my father’s questions, under the darkening blue of Nebraska’s dome. What slopes did he rush with snowboard, a smooth flurry as he leaned and swerved, confetti snow whipping up from his board? How did his warm golden tones shout over mountains? Not brass, even with its clarion trumpet sound. Nor the melancholy cello. What instrument played him? Subtle amber sound, the sun warming the white, cold day.

As their voices faded, I peered out the window. So pretty, his rising posture, his clean-lined profile, elegant as he turned his head.

He looked at me, and I fell back on the couch out of sight. Breathe. Had I been holding my breath the whole time?

When he stepped through the front door, his cheeks were sun-reddened in the evening’s chill. The t-shirt stretched tight over his chest and fell loose where his waist tapered. I wanted to ask how tie-dye stretch felt against shoulder blades and toned-muscle back, to put my own hand to the fabric’s loose fall at his waist, to put lips … a whisper under the casual hem.

“Thank you,” I said to him. He nodded with a small smile and large understanding in his eyes. In the kitchen, my dad wiped the dishtowel across his face and came out from cover looking exhausted and at peace.

Aaron nodded toward the canvases stacked against the sofa. “Melanie said you paint.”

I nodded. He stared, and I was suddenly aware that my hair was brown, draping long over both shoulders, that my shoulders were small, my legs slim and tucked beneath me. I knew my lips were pink with lipstick and had no idea what colors my eyes would seem, to him. I was pale, softly pretty. A sparrow, I was told, like Logan.

In the hallway’s dark, my sister approached Aaron under the prism light. Did she see how he held together despite the refracting cuts? He walked through clean. The world could not destroy him. I wanted a sweater to pull around me. No, I wanted his arms.

****

In my twin bed at night, I listened to the shadows that passed. Dad turned off the parlor light, Aaron’s gentle timbre laughed at something whispered, and their forms danced across the hall nightlight.

My bed was against the wall. He stood on the other side, the spare-room door a three-foot escape from mine. They murmured. I wanted my head on his chest, cheek against the vibration of voice. Electric, his tones rippled through to my extremities, and the core of me fired. I pressed my labia. His hand would be cooler than mine, holding the night air. Would he be tentative, gentle, or would his physicality seek the wild? Sometimes I wanted to climb up him, arms at his neck, legs wrapping, mounting the strength of him.

Did Melanie want him? His bedroom door closed; the latch clicked. He placed shoes by the door, the floor creaked, and the bedsprings gave beneath him. I closed my eyes to imagine the twist and stretch as he pulled shirt overhead. Would he run a hand down his sleek chest?

I ran a hand over my own swells and dips, the sharp rib cage and stomach’s cavern. I imagined breathing along his neck, how if he breathed my heat back, he would break Nebraska’s pressure dome and set me wild. What became of something wild? Where had the tornado gone with Logan’s spirit?

The anklebone, his calf, up his thigh, around backside, his frame rising higher and higher, a ladder to heaven that we could only ascend. He’d let no one fall.

The blackbirds had sailed off from my brother’s impaling cross, finished pecking young skin. The rain had begun, all heaven falling, flooding the field.

I turned to the cool wall and the smell of fresh paint. I pulled the blanket around, curling inward. If I could, I’d save everyone.

I was not to blame for Logan’s death, nor were any of us. He should never have ventured home in that storm, and we had been in the storm cellar, ears tuned only to what the wind threw, the fence post, the old tin shed. Praying for the house and barn to hold. We hadn’t dreamed the world we’d risen back to. Seventeen and full of smiles, Logan’s face aghast forever now.

Time they said. In time … and I pretended the clock was Aaron’s heartbeat. The tick toward something new.

****

Into Saturday morning milky haze, I started for the fairgrounds. The sun stared pale, the cloud cover thin. It was three miles south on gravel RR7, and my paintings in the canvas sack knocked against my leg. I didn’t mind the bruising, a circle on my calf to match the color of storms. I didn’t mind the walk along grasses involved in their own rhythm.

At first, I heard his patterned soft-shoe tap as if it were my heartbeat calming, and then I knew it could only be him. He ran in the early morning. I knew his habit. I knew he’d be here in this time and place.

Athletes had a special grace, no slap or pound to Aaron’s footfall because his muscles controlled the collision. His body over mine would collide with elastic precision, hard determination impacting a body that gave and sprang back to meet him.

“Hey, could you use a hand?” He slowed to a walk beside me. Controlled energy rippled through him, translated to grace.

Shaking my head, I smiled up at him. “You jog every day.” It wasn’t a question, but he nodded. The canvas bag wouldn’t knock and bruise in his hands. It would sail beside him.

He reached in front of me. “I can take a turn for a while.” On the handle, his hand brushed mine with the shock of skin. A brief touch, and his body shafted through me.

“Aaron,” I said. What else was there to say? His fingers threaded mine on the canvas grip. My heart beat in terrified flutter. What did he think? Here was a woman for the taking? No, not in a cruel way. He had too much respect to be small and mean. An opportunity that deserved attention? I released the canvas bag to his hold, and it swung before us, knocking both our knees.

His laugh made the world tingle and shiver, I thought. “When you finish reinforcing the storage sheds, will you go?”

“Three months,” he said. “I told your dad three months.”

Then I wanted him today. I wanted him every day until he left.

“I’m sorry about your brother,” he said. We stared ahead. The road could be a ladder into the blue, how it thinned as it stretched southward meeting the clearing sky.

“I’ve lost interest in those,” I said, pointing to the bag of paintings. His grip tightened, as if he held something important, and his eyes, always crimped at the corners, stared with concern.

What could one paint that’s as beautiful as you? I wanted to say. I breathed deeply and pinched the hem of his shirt. One movement and my knuckles would brush the slick nylon of his running pants. I wanted to breathe at his navel, my hands running hard down his backside, feel the swell harden against my cheek.

“Aaron,” I whispered. The canvas bag dropped to the road, and his hand clasped my waist instead.

When compressed forces sparked, they caused combustion. When a tornado’s whirl touched object, it caused destruction. I crashed against him.  He was a wall that wouldn’t topple. Would my skin’s fierce need chisel through? Would my wet desire corrode him?

Reaching up around his neck, I stood tiptoe to meet his mouth. A brush of skin, like his hand on mine, and my body wanted to enter. I tongued between his lips.

His kiss hardened. What did we want to devour? He was a gold cavern, his chin rubbing mine, noses brushing. Our tongues searched. This was the goal, to lose oneself in another. My hold couldn’t break this strong, taut neck; my body only curved to the hard wall of his. I tried to wrap him with my legs, and he grabbed my hips, boosting me to what I needed—to mount him, to climb the length of desire.

As his hand grabbed my breast, I ran mine down his lean back, cupping his muscled ass, then stroked down him as I slipped out of his hold to my knees. Want. We are orally consumed, wanting to drink our desire. To suckle. Behind the satin nylon, his erection shafted straight, and I followed the line with my nose, turned my cheek to it, breathed low and felt the arrow quiver.

My clit swelled too. My need wasn’t to penetrate but to siphon, suck, to swallow him in. I peeled the waistband down. The fabric caught on his cock, holding him from my mouth. I licked the cavity of hipbones. How do we integrate, meld, and blend?

When he took my arm to raise me, I yanked down his pants and caught his hard cock as it sprang to my mouth. “Not here,” he said. Golden voice, sweet small laugh. I put my smile against the reddened head of him, kissed, then flicked my tongue on the silken skin.

His head fell back, face to the sky. I teased with my tongue, licking down his shaft, his balls in my palm contracting. With each lick, his hips wanted to thrust, yet he held back at my light touch. When he moaned, I drew back and he caught my head, looking down on me now. Gripping his cock, he touched the tip to my lip, then ran it along my face, over my eyes, along my cheek, playing again at my lips.

I nipped at the swollen head, ready to take him in, but he cupped the back of my head with both hands, holding me still. Then he thrust in.

Oral consumption made me want every orifice filled. My legs wanted to part and come down on something. Sun-baked gravel warmed my shins and knees. He thrust, holding my head, and I thought he could be the strength of steel winds. He could tear me open. I grabbed his ass and sucked his cock deep, quickening my rhythm. But he stopped me.

Both hands ran down the length of my hair, then taking my arms, gently raised me. He cupped between my legs, holding the throb with patient tenderness, as if trying to soothe the wild.  He stared down at me till I closed my eyes, and then his hand pressed a little harder.

“Aaron.” Would I beg? Yes, that was what I heard in my voice. His thumb ran over my waistband, skin on skin, a line along my stomach, and then he dipped his thumb in. His fingers tightened on my clit pushing against the jeans. He began to unzip me, and I stopped his hand. We stood in the middle of the road.

Pants down under the blue sky surrounding us, Aaron stood there with those smiling eyes. He didn’t move me to the roadside grasses or pull me to the wide-trunk tree. He raised my shirt, fingers under my bra, lifting it to expose my breasts. Then he leaned down to suck.

Vulnerable humans, bared in the middle of the road, under the blue dome’s shine. Were we like nature detached in our exertion? His hands gripped my waist, thumbs rumbled down my ribs, and he flicked his tongue over my nipples. He sucked till a beautiful moan broke from him. Then releasing my nipple, he again fingered the zipper of my jeans.

I put a hand on his chest to stop him and skirted out of his hold, rounding behind him. This was wonderful play. When had I felt so carefree, so light as I pushed him from behind, nudged him toward the south-swaying grasses? His long, strong weight would make an easy bed. I wanted him prone for the taking.

Aaron lay back in the grass and pulled his shirt overhead, watching me with darkening eyes as I took in his smooth, lean tone. His brow knit, his chest heaved, and the cords of his neck tensed. He was an indestructible landscape. As I slipped off my jeans, the breeze tickled against my naked back. Could I slide as smoothly as his snowboard across this hard land below me?

“Come here,” he said, chuckling through his impatience. Down on my knees, I straddled him, his cock brushing my stomach. The swell of pubic bone hovered over the swell of him. If my lips touched his again, I’d be lost.

On the back of my neck, his hand pulled me in.

Logan had been invincible seventeen. And really, we’d all felt invincible, living each day as if there were a next. Aaron’s cock teased my clit, poked toward the opening. He looked down me then back to my eyes as he pushed up. Then grabbing my hips, he thrust in.

I gasped at penetration. Blackbirds fluttered out of the fields, and his kind eyes looked at me, curious and deep. Blood rushed my cheeks, and he gripped harder, forcing me down on him. Then slowly he slid me up, then slammed my body back to him. With each gasp of penetration, I heard my wetness smack on his skin. His fingers dug harder, and he stretched his head back, his neck a strong shaft like his body. I skimmed his cock; I gripped it with each thrust.

Around his face, green and gold grasses shivered, and I thought his eyes were more beautiful. Pressure tingled, ached—my clit pulsed with blood and he thumbed it, pushing harder up into me. Too much sensation, his thumb rubbing circles over my clit, his cock banging inside me.

To let go … He held my gaze, waiting for the flood of climax. My legs quivered, blood surging up my body. I leaned into him, he pounded harder, and, with a high-pitched moan, I gave.

Finally, his eyes released me, closing on his own desire, as if all thought rushed with blood to his cock. He slammed in, and that golden voice of his moaned up through his rigid body. At his pulsing climax, another surge rushed me. Then he flung both arms out over the grasses in his own relinquishment.

Aaron opened his eyes. Pinching one of my long locks, he tickled my breast with it, then laughed. “I don’t think this is what your dad hired me for.”

I flopped to his side, immediately regretting the move from satin skin to prickling grass. Inching back up, I lay on him as if he were a bed. “The grass…” I apologized.

Laughing, he cupped my face. Could such a force be tender? God, the pain in that. I blinked back tears.

“My dad hired you to fix things,” I said.

His thumb rested under my chin, his fingers traced my cheek. I would cry if he said one kind word. “You’re not broken.”

“You don’t know me.”

He ran his hand down my ass, his fingers trailing in the cleft, feeling lower. He tickled through the wet heat that could so easily want him again. “Well, in the biblical sense I do.” His eyes crinkled with humor. Then more seriously, he asked, “Will you let me see the paintings?”

No, they were no longer me. “If I paint something new.” If I paint you, I wanted to say. He would think me an idiot, just as Melanie said. Maybe it was better not to speak.

His hands, palm up in the grass, curled around his shirt. The sad cue to dress, to move.

“Why is your dad reinforcing the storage sheds? It seems like he’s given up on the farm.”

I didn’t want to stand in the open air to clothe myself. But Aaron stood tall and, without the least imbalance, slid into his jeans. There he was with that assurance, calm, not questioning his control in this place.

“Do you think we should give up the farm?” Clumsily, I snuggled back into my own jeans and stuffed my feet into shoes.

He looked startled. How had that broken his assured knowing? “No. No, why would I think that?”

“Do you think I shouldn’t have done this with you?” Again, I startled him.

With a hand on each of my arms, he looked up at the sky. “I am so fucking glad you did.” He laughed. The shiver laugh, it rippled around us. He stroked down my arm and clasped my hands.

“Let’s go back,” he said. “I’ll help your dad with the farm and you can paint the farmhouse. You can paint the fields ripe for harvest.”

My heart ached; my pelvis had been tilled for seeding.

Idiot, I heard Melanie say.

“Aaron,” I said. He tugged me along to retrieve the canvas bag. “Aaron,” I said again. “What if I paint you instead?”

His laughter burst loudly. “Oh, you don’t want to do that. I’d be a horrible subject.”

Pure modesty. He was kind, respectful, and giving.

“I think you’re beautiful.” There, I’d said it. My lungs contracted.

His cheeks blushed a little, his smile small as if he fought to contain it. “Nah,” he said, but his stride was rhythmic, relaxed, settling into something. He reached a hand back to me as I fell behind. He brought my fingers to his lips.

Then, at the sight of dust stirred up on the distant road, we parted. My dad’s truck came into view, bobbing over uneven gravel. I held his hand tighter.

“I told Logan he could do anything. I told him that. I can’t imagine what he thought when—”

“Shhh,” he kissed my fingers, then put his lips against my cheek. My father’s truck swerved slightly right then back to the road. “Sometimes the world slams into us with no give. Physics. Do you think he’d blame you for encouraging him to live?”

What would my father say, seeing us hand in hand on the road back home? Would the peace I’d seen on his face, working again on the farm, would it be screwed up, furrowed again with loss?

When the car neared, I tried to release Aaron’s hand, but he held tight. His posture was calmly forthright. I breathed. “I don’t want you to leave.”

Dad stopped and leaned toward the passenger window, open to the warming sun. “Wrong way to the fair,” he said. He looked at our clasped hands. He held my gaze, till I felt the fear in me warm with embarrassment. Was it obvious how much we’d done?

“Aaron was heading back to help you with the support walls. He thinks I should paint the farmhouse and—”

“Yep, yep, you should,” Dad said with energy.  As he shifted back to drive, his eyes didn’t hold the peace of last night, but they were bright on me. “I s’pose you want to walk back,” he said, hanging out the window as he turned the truck home. I knew I couldn’t hear him, but I was sure he’d chuckled.

“Everyone likes you, don’t they?” I said to Aaron, with deliberate accusation.

“Not at all,” he said. His firm hold tingled up my arm. He’d said nothing of his feelings toward me, and I didn’t understand why his walk seemed tighter, body tensing. I didn’t expect anything. I really didn’t.

I definitely didn’t expect him to push me toward the roadside, grabbing my waist, didn’t expect the sudden demanding kiss. His hand ran hard over my breast, his thumb bruising my ribs. He bit my chin and whispered in my ear, “I need you again. Right now.”

I stumbled back under his weight. More animal this time—he fought my jeans off, both of us mostly clothed in the roadside culvert.  With no introduction, he pumped into me. If the grass was coarse, I didn’t feel it. Only his animal penetration, long and hard, crashing into my body. Exquisite shocks zipped to my fingers, to the arches of my feet, my torso a fiery tingle. He grunted with the force of his thrusts.

The world slammed into us. Friction, sparks, electric release. He moaned long this time, shoving into me. My legs wrapped him high on his back for deeper impact. I wanted the entirety of him inside me. Frantic, his thrusts until my climax released.

“Fuck,” he moaned, as he came too, then dropped to his back beside me.

I watched his clean profile, the slim nose, strong jaw, as he stared at the sky.

“Do you ski?” he asked.

I burst out laughing, curled up with laughter as I pulled on my jeans. He didn’t know how clumsy I was.

“That’s a no?” he said, wrestling me beneath him till my laughter stopped.

Logan would never be able to ski. He’d never lie in the grass with a girl. Quiet now, I stared into Aaron’s hazel eyes. “We can’t help feeling responsible for people we love. We can’t help wishing, wishing, wishing we could change life. No, I don’t ski. Yes, you need Colorado and snow peaks. And my mom and dad need me. They need their kids. I’m responsible—”

“Is that so?” With a sigh, Aaron got to his knees, and taking both my hands, planted me before him. We went back to my canvas of paintings, then unzipping it, he propped the paintings against the culvert incline.

Bared. I felt more naked than I had having sex under Nebraska’s accusing sky. After surveying each painting, he looked down on me, seated with my knees at my chin. “You’d like the snow peaks,” he said. “You should see the crisp blue skies against the snow.”

I closed my mouth. I’d been gaping. I’d been feeling the ache in my stomach grow tender, the pain that tightened my throat sliver through with some new silken pleasure. I didn’t say anything, just helped him zip up the paintings.

“I like them,” he said, taking the handle to begin our walk back.

At the cross of the barbed wire fence, I pointed. “The mown path there is where my brother ran home beneath a tornado. His cross was at the end of it. Melanie took an ax to it that very day. I don’t mean to sound sad. I actually…I feel…” I swung his hand between us. “I’m happy right now.” When he looked down at me, I tried a seductive stare. “Very happy.”

His step kicked up the gravel, then strode easily again as he laughed. “We did that well. I think we did pretty well.”

Pretty well. I giggled against him. “Personally, I nearly died, but that’s okay. Anytime.”

“So I’m worth dying for?” he mocked.

Across Nebraska’s blue-dome shine, a flock of sparrows veered west, then shot north with sudden momentum. We didn’t know. We didn’t know. But weight lifted as I fought to keep his step, secure in his handhold, wondering how the sky would fall among mountain peaks, how snow would slice and flurry-burst behind Aaron’s swift and confident trail.

“Mountain peaks?” I said as we turned up the drive.

“A lot of peaks,” he teased.

On the porch, Dad had one leg up on the step, leaning his elbow on his knee as he talked to Melanie. She put her face in her hands and came out laughing. I knew behind the checkered kitchen curtain, my mom watched.

I couldn’t heal everything. But maybe life could. Maybe life had its own way, of slamming in, of cushioning resistance, of finding the perfect rhythm.

“A lot of peaks?” I repeated.

He slid his thumb up my palm and between my fingers down to the sensitive web. “A lot.”

Aaron walked to us under Nebraska’s press of sky. When he walked out, I thought, the sky would open, and we’d all fit in a continuous space, integrated to the perfect planetary whole. “Definitely, a lot.”

“Mountain peaks,” I said softly. He squeezed my hand, and we walked with the moving grasses to the porch, part of the land, part of the family. He kept me in his hand.

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