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I Don't Want To (If You Don't Want To)

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"I think we should get us a little house." They sat together in Raylan's truck, the rumble of the mine still ringing in their ears. A roof collapse, goddamn.

"What?" Raylan asked weakly.

"I said, we should get us a little house. Set up a two-bed double wide, put it on the side of the road."

Raylan turned his head slowly to look at his oldest friend, the one good Crowder in a sea of bad and worse eggs. "I ain't staying."

"Sure you are," Boyd reassured him. "We're going to get out of our daddies' houses. Be our own men."

"I ain't going back in those mines."

"I don't see what the problem is, long as we go in together." Raylan didn't answer, he just put the truck in drive and took Boyd home to his daddy’s.

The next day, Boyd walked up the hollow to Raylan's house, found him sitting on the front steps with his baseball cap pulled down over his eyes.

"We're gonna hafta put it on stilts."

Boyd grinned slowly. "What was that, Raylan?"

"Dependin' on where we put it, if it's low country, we might have to put it on stilts, keep it out of the water when the creek floods."

Boyd sat next to him, leaned back on the stairs with his elbows propped up behind him. "I think we can do that."

They get them a two-bedroom double wide that they don't have to put on stilts and settle it on a piece of land they’ll be paying off for a long time.

Aunt Helen gave them some old furniture that was molding out in their shed and Raylan fixed it up real nice for them. They only had plastic chairs for their dinner table but neither of them seemed to mind much.

-----

They became the best roof-bolters on either side of the Appalachians. The cutter, a young gun named Tim with a real sensitive trigger finger, ran the Joy Miner so well, he was hauling eight cuts a shift and that was damn well unheard of. The best thing was, he always left them enough clearance to get their job done and that made him a hero in all their books. Raylan liked being a roof-bolter; liked knowing his job was to keep everyone else safe. Boyd and he learned all the tricks: how to spot the weak places and where to put the bolts to ensure the roof didn’t go falling in on everyone.

"Boyd," Raylan said, "I'd like you to move out from there."

Boyd was deep in a cut, inspecting the roof for the best place to bolt it. Raylan could see the cracks in the shale, knew it was unstable and something had to be done. Boyd nodded, crawled out on his hands and knees and dumped himself down beside his friend. "Worried about me?" he teased, black soot streaking his face.

"Worried more about the paycheck we'd lose if you died, Boyd. Don't let your head get too big."

Their teeth were bright white against their dirty faces when a piece of shale big enough and heavy enough to kill a man broke free and landed where Boyd had been sitting. "See, Raylan? As long as we are together, we got someone to watch our backs." Raylan gripped his friend's shoulder.

Every day, they checked in with Rachel, one of the most badass women you'd ever meet, who was their above-ground man that kept things running up top, and moved their name tags over to "down in the mines." They lived in their own little world of evening beers and baseball games, of ignoring their fathers as best as they could after all the years of abuse they'd had suffered, keeping their noses clean even as the rest of their families kept spinning downwards.

"Do you ever feel guilty," Raylan asked one night as they sat in their plastic chairs in front of their trailer, "leaving your daddy and brothers?"

Boyd drank the last of his beer and threw his bottle out in their yard. "I'd rather not talk about my daddy and brothers. I think that, if we hadn't done this, I would have falled right in with the lot of them." Raylan popped open another bottle and passed it over. "It's hard to go against your kin when kin's all you got."

"Well," Raylan said, adjusting the bill of his cap, "you was the one who said at least we had each other."

"That I did say, Raylan. That I did say." They drained their second beers in silence. Then, "we ought to put us some gravel down. I just about got the truck stuck in the mud coming down the drive yesterday."

"Yeah," Raylan agreed, already thinking about how much they would need, "about time we got us a driveway. We've been tearing our grass all to shit."

About six months in, the spring rain came and pounded on their tin roof. A leak sprung up right over Boyd's bed and he was exiled to the couch that smelled something strong of tobacco. On the first clear day, their one day off, Raylan found himself up on the roof looking for the leak. "Yep," he called down to Boyd, "found it."

Boyd squinted up into the sun, shading his eyes as he yelled up, "Can we fix it?"

"Hell if I know." They heard the crunch of tires on their new gravel drive and turned to see their boss, Art, turning off the road and into their yard.

"Howdy, boys."

"Art," Boyd said, shaking his hand.

"I was just going down the hollow to the store when I saw your fool ass up on the roof, Raylan, and I thought I better check in."

"We appear to have sprung a leak."

"Goddamn rusted piece of shit," Raylan swore down at the men.

"If he falls, you make sure to cash in on his life insurance, son," Art joked.

"To pay off the land, at the very least," Boyd deadpanned.

"Glad to know that, in the event of my death, you two would be plumb torn to pieces."

Art chuckled. "See you boys tomorrow."

"Shit!" Raylan swore as a bit more of the roof caved in under his hand. Art just laughed as he got back in his truck.

"Raylan, come down from there. I'll go get the truck and we'll go buy some tarp and bricks."

They do get the roof fixed, after about a month of trial and error. Boyd bitched about sleeping on the couch all the while. Raylan was so smug about getting it done on his own, Boyd thanked him with a couple of steaks and a six-pack.

Raylan bought Boyd a Lazy-Boy rocker at a flea market for his birthday. They had to move the couch around and take the back off to get it through the door, but once they had it set up, Boyd looked like Christmas come early. It was Boyd's chair and no one sat in it but Boyd, at least not when he was around. More often than not, Boyd would put his feet up and fall asleep in his chair while Raylan threw together something for them to eat. Aunt Helen stopped by, bringing them groceries and offering to take their laundry home to her Maytag.

"Look at that lazy sumbitch," she chuckled into Raylan's ear as he washed up last night's dishes.

"I look at it every day, Aunt Helen, and he never does get any better looking."

"I heard that," Boyd grumbled, not even opening his eyes.

"Wasn't trying to stop you."

Helen laughed into her hand, gripped Raylan's arm. "I'm so happy you boys did this. You both needed out from under your daddies' thumbs."

"Why don't you get out too?"

"I can take care of myself against Arlo," she said gruffly. "Besides, he ain't as bad to me as he was to your mama. But I stay by what I said: it tickles me pink that you boys did this. It puts a calm in my soul, Raylan. One I haven't felt since you was born in that house."

After she left, Raylan pushed the foot-rest down on the chair and said, "come on, buddy, supper time."

-----

There were nights; nights neither of them would talk about. Thunder and lightning would rage outside, or maybe the crickets would be chirping, or it’d happen in the bright sun of an afternoon nap, and Boyd would roll into Raylan's bed, kiss his neck, run a hand over soft and hard places. Raylan would sink a hand in Boyd's hair, pull his friend as close as he could, and leave his own trail of open-mouthed kisses on freshly showered skin. Boyd would always leave first and they’d both act like nothing had changed. Funny thing was, nothing really had.

-----

"We need a bolt on the door," Boyd announced, feet propped up in his chair.

"You know what they say about that: bolts is only for honest people."

Boyd grinned, closed his eyes, heard the jangle of the truck keys. "Well, that's what we are, ain't it?"

Raylan sighed, pulled his ratty high school baseball cap on his head, and said, "you think we should get a deadbolt or one of those chain deals?"

"Whatever you deem fit, mister."

"I'll be home," Raylan promised, knocked his knee against the sole of Boyd's boot.

"I'll be waiting."

"I'm counting on it."