Title: "A Boy and His Horse"
Summary: Life stranger than fiction and fiction more powerful than life. Two young actors bound together by a common crime struggling to build a relationship in and out of the theatre. [SLASH; side HET]
Disclaimer: All quotes in italics are taken from Equus by Peter Shaffer, unless stated otherwise.
A/N: This piece contains semi-explicit sexual situations of homosexual and heterosexual variety. The story takes place in a non-specific country; any similarities to actual places and/or persons are purely coincidental.
The car sped past the golden-green olive groves and flowering fruit trees and dove into the sweltering heat of the country road. Dust sprang from beneath the wheels. Summer in these parts was normally rather mild, but every year unbearable heat would strike for a few days and sun would blaze overhead like a melting egg yolk.
It was Christine's idea all the way. The girl was dying for a horse. She had been riding since early childhood, but she wanted none of her father's animals. Oh no, she needed a horse of her own. They had checked several stock-raising farms before Christine came up with this plan. There was a small ranch in the West, near the so-called Open Range. The prairies spread too far and wide, and Christine's old man wasn't too keen on letting his daughter take a cross-country flight to view a horse she might not even buy in the end. But if there was anything Christine had inherited from him, it was her iron will. She wanted something; she'd get it. Michael, while having initially agreed with the old man, didn't have it in him to refuse when Christine had asked him to accompany her.
Christine was a darling. She had a temper, for sure, but Michael felt comfortable around her like one would feel comfortable around a predictable and cute pet.
And here they were driving from the state capital airport to the heather-covered lowlands of the Open Range. Christine, in her expensive shoes and her customarily designed pseudo-country outfit, with her coffee-coloured hair and her radiant eyes, sat in the passenger seat, peering delightedly at the road. She was always like that: easily excited, almost childish in that respect.
Michael adjusted his sunglasses and smiled briefly at her.
"Your Pa's still mad, you know."
Christine flashed him a flippant smile. "He'll deal. He should learn to appreciate my needs." Her voice had a gentle, purring ring to it that both amused and annoyed him.
"I still don't get it," Michael shrugged.
Christine squinted at the sun. "Sweetie, of course you wouldn't! You always knew how to show your folks who's the boss."
He snorted at that. Yeah, like she'd know so much.
The car took another turn, and the road ended abruptly. Beyond it, there was a grassy driveway lined with two prominent tire marks leading straight to the tall wooden gate. Michael cocked his head, scrutinizing the vast open land that spread beyond it.
"I had a horse once," he said thoughtfully.
"Really?" Christine's eyes widened. "You never told me. What colour?"
"Bay. The name was Nugget." The words fell in soft whisper. He almost believed what he was saying.
Christine covered his hand with hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. Everything about her was little more than sweet. Even when angry, she seemed too warm. Sometimes when he kissed her full lips and ran his fingers through her silken hair, he felt sick of her. She was a hothouse plant, perfect and pretty, and in two weeks' time she would become his wife. A brilliant deal covenanted by a convenient romantic affair and their parents' hearty, business-like approval. When thinking of that, Michael felt a lump coming up to his mouth.
"My, isn't it beautiful here?" Christine exclaimed. Try as he might, Michael could not share her delight.
They got out of the car and walked towards the gate where they were greeted by a burly man of indefinite age driving a stocky transport that looked like a cross between a lawn mower and a golf cart. He glanced them over a tad mistrustfully and waved at them.
"Robert, right?" Christine smiled radiantly and went on to introduce herself.
The farmer shook her hand briskly.
"Rob will do. Get in."
Michael wrinkled his nose at the strong smell of tobacco coming from the man's mouth.
"I'll leave you to it if you don't mind," he said and kissed Christine on the cheek. "You're the ace. I'd just be a nuisance."
As the transport took off, puffing like a drunkard in his sleep, Michael leaned leisurely against the fence. It was quiet around him. Occasionally, a cow would moo in the distance; the wind would catch the sound and thrash it across the mountain slopes. Grass swayed softly at his feet.
He thought about Christine again. Darling, sweet Christine. He hated everything about her, even her name. Of course, incidentally, as though to rebuke him, she was not just beautiful, but also considerably smart, a rising star in law and a promoter of several charity programs. He sympathized with her. She would have just the shell of him, an empty carcass incapable of loving her the way she deserved, unwilling even to try. Then again, she would be unlikely to notice it.
He unbuttoned his collar. Sweat beaded up on his temples.
He saw the shape of a horse trotting slowly in his direction. He drew forth rigidly, staring at the beast intently. It was a common brown horse with a black mane and tail. It wagged its tail lazily, seemingly staring back at Michael. He froze. The horse's dark intelligent eyes drilled him with a look that he took to be nearly accusing.
His legs soft like cotton wool, he held out his hand indecisively. The horse stood still. He touched its muzzle, felt the velvet skin brush against his fingertips. His lips moved noiselessly: "Behold, I give you Equus, my only begotten son."
It turned its lush side to him and trotted on, waving flies off lazily with its tail. Michael watched it go with a dolorous pang in his chest.
Christine returned positively glowing.
"You should see her!" she was chirping as Michael drove the car along the fence towards the traffic lane. "She's absolutely beautiful! I would have missed her if not for that charming young man, Rob's business partner. He showed me around…"
Michael nodded absent-mindedly. Christine never missed a chance to charm another underling.
"There he is, by the way!" She sat up and waved cheerfully at a young cowboy. He smiled and touched the brim of his hat.
Christine beamed and started describing the mare. White. Sinewy. Elegant. He listened with half an ear, his thoughts far away from all this. Christine's frightened outcry snapped him back to reality. He slammed the brakes and pulled up moments before he would have hit a horse that loomed in front of the car. Michael exhaled slowly. It was the same horse he had seen moments ago.
Christine touched his shoulder and asked him if he was okay. He nodded and forced a smile. The horse walked on, unperturbed.
Michael turned his head and spotted the cowboy. He held himself upright on horseback, his hat cocked slightly. Grass stains covered his tattered jeans. The sleeves of his shirt were rolled up, exposing tanned forearms.
Michael's fingers clenched around the steering wheel.
"Nugget," he whispered breathlessly.
He strained his eyes, searching the distant face for any signs to prove him wrong.
It was his face. Tom's face.
Michael stepped on the gas.
That night he dreamt of a disemboweled horse.
* * *
He woke up a little after four in the morning and couldn't fall back asleep. He took the car for a drive through the suburbs. It had rained at night. The asphalt glistened dark grey; grass lay flat on both sides of the road.
He was thinking about Tom. He hadn't seen him for seven years.
Seven bloody years.
Michael pulled up just outside the pastures that belonged to Rob's farmlands and turned the engine off. The silence that muffled up the fields was unlike anything Michael had ever heard before. Soothing, lulling, it appeared perfect and impenetrable, making him wish no sound ever pierced it.
He leaned onto the steering wheel. Tommy. What a remarkable twist of fate, huh?
He hadn't seen him since Tom quit. It had been Tabitha who informed Michael of it in her typical casual manner, as if she didn't care one bit. He knew that she did care, that deep inside she had always held Tom in higher regard than she would show; it was just Tab's style.
He had rushed to his place only to find it empty. Deep inside, however dimly, he realized what Tom had done. He had let him choose. If Michael had gone after him that very minute, things would have turned out different. Choosing Tom meant choosing freedom Michael had always been afraid of.
He had snapped. Called the police and told them about the murder. Anonymously of course. If he couldn't find Tom, let them do it.
He waited, waited, and waited, and nothing happened. He could feel them getting closer. It was just a matter of time before they found out Tom had had an accomplice.
When the mess got too big, he made another call. To his father this time. They hadn't spoken for a few years. The old man made Michael come home. Mother kissed his cheeks and cried; her kisses were salty and damp.
"I'll help you, son," Michael's father had said. "But you must promise me that you will return and take your place as my heir. I daresay I have let you run free long enough."
He would often wonder if cops had somehow caught up with Tom before his father hushed it up. If Tom had ever been detained, questioned, imprisoned… He would grit his teeth and cross these thoughts out of his mind. He felt bitter and worn out.
Little by little the memories from that brief savage life had faded. He would occasionally catch a glimpse of Laia on TV since she had made it to Hollywood and think distantly that he used to fuck that cantankerous, buoyant girl. He would find exultant reviews of the performances in El Teatro Marrón and hear music in his imagination. Find a flask, we're playing fast and loose…Every tiny memory was catalogued and stacked away for good to turn vapid in the dusty cellars of his mind. He had always been good at deceiving himself; so he managed to persuade himself this was where he belonged.
Michael sighed and rubbed his sweaty palm against his trouser-leg. This morning Christine would complete all the necessary arrangements concerning the purchase of the horse, and they would leave. And Tommy would stay.
Michael imagined himself getting out of the car, going all the way up to the ranch and having a chat with Tom. Hello, for starters. How have you been? Did you miss me? I missed you.
He shivered, feverish. Clenched and unclenched his fists. Something dangerously close to tears prickled at his eyes.
He remembered the I-love-you that tasted like rust in his mouth. Did Tom ever love him? Was it even love or just another one of the infinite forms of possession? He felt now like an old man who had just discovered a toy that used to please him when he was a child. It was useless to him now, but he still craved to make it work.
The clatter of hooves made him look up. Tom. Michael blinked. A solitary figure on horseback, stark black against the lightening sky, moved slowly along the fence. A weary rebel that had lain dormant within Michael for years snapped his head up and whispered to him: This is your chance. You can–.
Michael's fingers constricted.
Tommy looked good. Sleepy, but the nice kind of sleepy when you have to get up to do something that you enjoy doing. His hair had grown a little longer and now covered his ears. His hand rested on the horse's muscular neck. It was hard to tell in the pre-dawn twilight where the rider ended and the horse began, almost like they shared some special bond. Michael wondered if Tom had ever whispered in the beast's curious ear that he used to be a horse too.
He breathed in, deeply. His body was on fire but he denied himself release, clinging to the tormenting sensation that echoed the past so sweetly. He thought quizzically that he was now breathing the same air as Nugget.
His lips moved, repeating the pet name.
He might have found that hussy of his, thought Michael with disdain. Might have married her and had a kid with her.
He balled his fists, never letting the lonesome figure out of sight. What if he got out of the car right now? What if he forgot the damned wedding, swallowed his pride and stayed, stayed here?
The sun was creeping up the skyline slowly. Michael opened the car door and sat still, not knowing whether he should go back before Christine woke up or go on before Tom left. It seemed so ridiculously easy to make up his mind, yet he couldn't move, couldn't force himself to think.
He would as though never move in any direction, stuck in the little freeze-frame; just him and the car and the field – and Tom. That way, he dared dream.