This Red Rock
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by Louise Blaydon
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: When an open life in San Diego beckoned, Alex Arzano left the oppressive Southwest town of his childhood without a second thought--until now. Working on his Uncle Frank's New Mexico ranch isn't Alex's first choice of ways to spend the summer, but it turns out not to be as bad as he'd feared: the scenery is beautiful... and not just the landscape, either. Frank has put ranch hand Oro Torres in charge of Alex's training, and everything about Oro, from his gorgeous accent and muscled forearms to the way he handles a horse, is completely captivating. Alex is quicker to learn than Oro expects, and the tension between them rises just as fast. Finally, close quarters and exhilaration push them to take that last step--and after that, there's no turning back.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: June 2011
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [71 KB]
Reading time: 43-61 min.
Magdalena, according to the guidebook I picked up from the library last spring, is an incorporated village in Socorro County, New Mexico: perennially mild, of considerable historic interest, and set at an elevation of 6,548 feet. It marks the trail's end of the old Socorro Magdalena railroad, neighbors the abandoned mining town of Kelly, and, with a population of 1,200, is most definitely the kind of place where everyone knows each other. It's also--as, again, I worked out from the guidebook--the closest town to my Uncle Frank's ranch, and, therefore, the place I was making for. That was the plan, anyway.
Not, please note, that it was actually my plan. My plan, if I'd had my way, would have been to hang out lazy and free around San Diego all summer, no doubt eschewing the library in favor of the attractions of the beach, the parks, and my friends in cosmopolitan downtown. San Diego is an awesome place to go to school, whoever you are, but when you're a guy who grew up as the lone homo in a small town in Arizona, my God, but you appreciate it. I remember driving out here with a few friends as a rising senior in high school--we took a trip just before school started up, checking out the colleges we were thinking about applying to--and falling in love with the place the second we entered the city limits. Where I come from, everything is red dirt and dust. The idea of a city whose freeways were lined with trees--well, they might as well have been paved with gold, that's all I'm saying. We scooted around town for a couple hours in Jimmy Romero's little convertible, I remember, winding up, naturally, in the university district. I was half-euphoric already, even before I caught sight of the shock-haired waitress and the rainbow beaded band around her wrist. After that, I was sold. The guys, of course, thought I had a crush on the waitress; the waitress, on the other hand, knew exactly what was going down, and winked at me as we left. I guess you must see a lot of kids like I was then, in those kooky little cafes downtown, wide-eyed and weirdly liberated at their first glimpse of an actual, real-life, out person. Guess she recognized the way I was gaping at her, not like I wanted her, but like I kind of wanted to be her.
I wanted to be her all the way back to Arizona. Hell, I wanted it all the way through senior year. The thought of being free to be unashamed like that--to pierce one ear and dye my hair and hang out in coffee bars in red chucks, discoursing on philosophy--was what got me through my SATs and my college applications, and the hell that was AP French. When I drove back to San Diego in my own little car a year after that first time, I felt like I'd won something monumental and indescribable. I was gonna make friends I didn't have to lie to; I was gonna be there in the Pride parade. I was gonna lie around in the park on sunny days, talking to sailors and reading Nietzsche and looking educated and beautiful. San Diego was where I was gonna be me
I don't have to tell you it didn't exactly pan out that way. I mean, the dreams we dream about the big wide world never do. But the things that were most important to me, the essence of what I wanted, I got, and it really was San Diego that let me do that. I'm myself, when I'm there, dressing the way I feel comfortable, hanging out with guys I genuinely like, whom my mother would, no doubt, despise. In San Diego, I can stretch in the sun and say honestly, "Yes, this is the real Alex Arzano." I've never really felt that, anywhere else I've been.
You probably understand, then, why the idea of being shipped off to the wilds of New Mexico didn't exactly fill me with joy.
Thing is, the Southwest is in my blood. Much as I hate to admit it when I'm sitting cross-legged in some beat poetry joint where the air is sweet with weed, that's what we've been since Grandfather Arzano stepped off the boat from Calabria: Southwesterners. I was born under the shadow of that red rock and, sitting there declaiming my T.S. Eliot, it was there where my ghost strode behind me, where my fear showed in a handful of dust. The Southwest is in me--is me--but it's my past. I didn't want to be stalked by the shadow of my rural childhood.
And so, I argued: "Mama, can't I just stay here?"
But she was adamant. "Alex, honey, Francesco is paying your fees. The least you can do is help him out a little over the summer. He doesn't have any obligation to you, you know. Any time he liked, he could cut off your money at the source."
And boy, if that didn't sober me up real quick. Leaving San Diego for a summer didn't exactly appeal, but the idea of having to leave it forever, disconsolate and without a degree, was insupportable. If Magdalena for the summer meant San Diego for the next two years, then dammit, I would just have to trip out down to Magdalena. I'd seen the ranch a couple times before as a kid; I knew it smelled like cows and shit and was run almost entirely in Spanish. I was under no illusions about it being an easy ride--my Uncle Frank has never been the sort for that--but hell, it was still a better deal than the potential alternative.
End of semester, I waved farewell to my buddies, slung my crap into the trunk of my little Fiesta, and filled her up, ready for a long, long drive.
Coulda been worse. At least I didn't look Anglo.
* * * *
To mitigate my plight, I packed about half a trunk full of Dylan CDs, all sonorous nasals and sentences swallowing their own tails. "'Senor'," I crooned with him, into the wind, "'senor, can you tell me where we're heading? Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?'" and I'd never quite seen the truth in that beauty, before. I didn't anticipate much comfort, the way I was bound. I guess it made the long road just a little shorter; to feel that there was somebody on it with me, somebody who had been this way himself. Once, I even thought I caught him singing just for me--"and I'll pray for Magdalena as we ride"--and the misconception warmed me for a whole turn around the CD, before the track came round again and I realized that Magdalena was only his girl, and he was playing for her all the way to Durango. Well, I wasn't headed anywhere near Durango, and I sure as hell didn't have a girl. I liked my mishearing a whole lot better. In my head, as I drove through the desert, the words were as I first heard them, hopeful and apposite. Pray for me, senor. Pray for us.
In New Mexico, things fall away. The farther I struck toward the state line, the cleaner the roadside verges were, the fewer the billboards stark against the sky. I always forget just how much sky there is down there in the southwest, until I drive back out there again and it's all I can see. You can go all day under its azure vastness, bright and fierce as some strange water-metal, and then in the evening it's like it's all erased and repainted, all massed red clouds gilt-edged on a purple plain. I'm getting a little lyrical here, I know, but New Mexico sky is something to be lyrical about. If I were really a poet, I'd paint that sky in words.
It awed me, that great vista, as evening fell and my peppy little car chugged on across the sun-dried earth to the Magdalena Mountains. I guess I started to see some possible benefits, in those last few hours of my sticky three-day drive, of all this beauty for a hedonist like me. But as the ranch finally swam into view, its stiff-poled fences and its disparate cows amassed in sullen little clumps, I forgot whatever it was that had started to move me. This would be a summer of sweat and dirt and shit, resentment on my part and irritation on Frank's. As I turned onto the dirt track that led me down to the house, my face was set, my mouth a little down-turned. I am many things, but I'm sure as hell no cowboy.
Frank was quite obviously of the same opinion. We're Italian, and that means we don't hold with any of that "no touching" crap other families pull with their sons and nephews, so he pulled me toward him and hugged me hard when he saw me, but I didn't miss the flicker of doubt under his smile as he pulled away. He was looking at my chucks, pristine and alien in the dirt. "How are you, grissino?" he asked, in his dark copper voice. He gave me that nickname when I was a kid, when I was all height and no muscle. It means, for want of a better definition, "bread stick." I couldn't help hearing, in his use of it now, an undertone of "think you can stick this?"
To be perfectly honest, I was far from sure myself. But the last thing I wanted was for Frank to think badly of me. He's a tough guy, my Uncle Frank, but he's a fair one, and he was certainly a hell of a lot more judicious than my father was when I came out in my freshman year of college. Given that Dad is a businessman making the occasional commute to a decent-sized city, and Frank is a rancher who never leaves his home on the range, you'd have been forgiven for expecting the opposite outcome. But as it was, my dad is still coming to terms with things--although I know he will, eventually--whereas Frank didn't even seem to need time to think. He just clapped me on the shoulder, ruffled my hair, and said, "Cchhh, I knew that, grissino." The fact that he was so great about it was what made me particularly eager, suddenly, to impress him, when I saw that doubt in his eyes. He knew I was queer, and he didn't give a damn, but he also, I could tell, thought it meant I wouldn't be up to much in the way of ranch work.
"I'm great," I told him, and suddenly, I meant it, or, goddamn, I meant to mean it. I put on my best eager-beaver smile, and tried to un-tilt the natural stance of my hips. I'm not, you know, the campiest flower on the bush, don't get me wrong. But obviously, here, manliness was going to be important.
Frank smiled, a little too much as if he knew what I was thinking. "Okay, kiddo. Let's get your stuff inside."
I snatched my valise out of the trunk before Frank could get to it, grinning too hard to cover the strain of its weight. "Sounds like a plan. Lead on, noble Francesco!"
Frank laughed, a short little sound in his throat, and shook his head. "First on the left, if you've forgotten," he said, scooping up the rest of my things in his work-hardened arms.
I threw him another grin and led the way indoors.