“It’s a bad break. We need to get him to a doctor.”
Sam gritted his teeth against the pain while he listened to the McKenna brothers argue over what to do with him.
“I know,” replied Jack, “but it’s a good half day’s ride to the house and it’s damn near dark now. It’s not safe. He’s going to have to wait until morning.”
Sam breathed deeply, trying to find the strength to fight the pain. The last thing he wanted was to look like a weakling, a child, in front of his best friend Mike, and Mike’s older brothers. He was the youngest, but it didn’t mean he’d bawl like a baby or he needed rushing to the doctor for the smallest scratch. Okay, it wasn’t scratch, it was a broken arm, but still… “I’ll be fine,” he grunted. He looked up to find the other three men staring down at him, identical frowns on their foreheads.
“We don’t even have any painkillers, Sam,” Mike protested. “Dude, that’s gotta hurt.”
“I’ll be fine,” Sam repeated.
Jack’s face changed as he thought. Jack was the oldest of the McKenna brothers, with Riley between him and Mike. Sam and Mike had been best friends forever. “I might have something…” Jack murmured.
The other two brothers spun to look at Jack with narrowed eyes.
“What do you mean?”
“What have you got?”
They spoke in near unison, both clearly curious.
Jack smirked, and Sam tensed. It was bound to be something terrible, knowing Jack’s sense of humour. You’d think he’d be the responsible one, being the oldest, but he wasn’t. He loved dragging the younger guys into whatever mischief he’d cooked up.
When Jack drew a bottle of whisky from his saddlebag, jaws dropped.
“You can’t give him that,” hissed Riley. “He’s underage! He and Mike aren’t legal yet!”
Jack rolled his eyes. “I wouldn’t normally, but he’s broken his arm, Riley. He needs something for the pain. We can’t head back tonight, and even if we did, the trip’s going to be hard on him. This,” he lifted the bottle up, “will make it easier.”
“Oh god,” groaned Riley. “We’re going to be in so much trouble.”
Mike was grinning gleefully. “We won’t tell anyone, will we, Sam?”
Jack frowned. “You can’t have any. It’s for medicinal purposes only, and you ain’t hurt.”
“No way! If Sam’s drinking, I’m drinking!”
Despite the pain throbbing in his arm, Sam had to chuckle at the familiar sight of the brothers squaring off.
“What’s it gonna hurt, Jack?” asked Riley, playing the peacemaker as usual.
“Yes!” Mike did a fist pump and turned to grin at Sam.
Jack grumbled, but eventually gave in. “Set up camp first. Mike, since you’re all excited, you can take on Sam’s usual duties. Ah ah ah….”
Sam froze in a crouch and looked up at Jack.
“Sit your ass back down.”
“I can help.”
“Nope. You need to be as careful with that arm as possible, or you’re going to make the damage worse. Sit down, and let Mike do it.”
“It’s fine, Sam,” Mike yelled out as he ran to find firewood. “I got this!”
With a relief he didn’t really want to admit to, Sam leaned back against the saddlebags behind him and let the pain wash over him. The throbbing was radiating all the way up his arm and into his head, not to mention the searing pain every time he accidentally moved his arm. He knew he’d get through the night, but he wasn’t looking forward to it.
“Here,” Jack said, leaning forward with a small glass of whisky. “Sip it. Don’t gulp.”
Sam reached out with his good arm and took the drink. It smelled strong, with a faint hint of ash that reminded him of his father’s cigarettes. He sipped and gasped as the liquid hit his throat.
“Easy,” Jack cautioned. “Just let that settle and then take another. Slow and easy does it.”
Sam took another sip. He wasn’t sure he liked the taste, which seemed to be of smoke and chemicals, but if it was going to help with the pain in his arm, he was happy to give it a shot.
It wasn’t much longer before Mike was giggling and Sam was falling asleep. The warmth of the fire and the whisky combined to relax him, and the pain in his arm wasn’t bothering him as much anymore.
“You good, Sam?” Riley leaned over to ask. “You want me to help you move so you can go to sleep? Probably the best thing for you. Be a good idea to get a decent night’s sleep, since the ride in the morning will be hard for you.”
Sam smiled, but it felt a little lopsided on his face. “You guys are the best,” he murmured. Did his voice sound right?
Riley laughed, and the other two sat forward with eyebrows raised.
“What’s so funny?” they asked.
“Sam’s a bit pickled.”
“Maybe,” Sam mumbled, feeling his cheeks heat. “My face feels funny.”
Jack burst into peals of laughter. “Shit, Riley, don’t give him any more! He’s wasted!”
Riley wrapped an arm around Sam’s shoulder, careful not to jostle him. “You’re not truly wasted until you tell your friends that you love them, right, Sam?”
Sam felt a wave of ice wash over him. He stared up at Riley with wide eyes. “I wasn’t gonna tell him!”
The laughter from the other three faded into uncertainty in the face of Sam’s expression. “Dude, he didn’t mean you really loved us. It’s just something drunk people say,” Jack said. “And he didn’t mean love love, just mates. It’s not a gay thing. Chill, dude.”
“Oh shit,” Sam whispered. He looked up at Riley with worry in his eyes. “I fucked it up, didn’t I?”
“Fucked what up?” Riley asked.
“They didn’t know, but I thought they knew, but they didn’t, but now they do,” Sam babbled.
“What?” Riley frowned and smiled at the same time. “What did they know? Or not know? Shit, I’m confused.”
“Wait,” said Mike, “does this mean Sam’s in love with me?” His eyes grew wide and his mouth fell open.
Jack slapped a hand under Mike’s chin, causing him to howl in protest as he narrowly missed biting his tongue. “No, you dumbass,” Jack said, rolling his eyes. “He’s not in love with you. Who would love you?”
“Shut up. I’m loveable.” Mike looked over at Sam and Riley. “I’m totally loveable, right, guys?”
Riley laughed. “Sure, Mike, whatever you say.”
“Sam?” Mike asked, crawling around the fire to where Sam and Riley sat. “Tell them, Sam. Tell them how loveable I am.”
Jack groaned. “Dude, you’re fucking wasted. No more for him either, Riley.”
Riley reached over to push Mike away. “Don’t touch his arm, Mike.” He eased back and looked down at Sam. “You okay? You’ve gone quiet. Tired?”
“Um…” Sam tried to gather his wits, but his head was foggy and his thoughts were slip-sliding all over the place. “So, does that mean you guys know I’m gay or is it still a secret?”
For a moment, the only noise was the crackling fire, before Mike let loose with a loud “Fuck!”
“Mike!” Jack and Riley scolded in unison.
“What?!” he protested. “That’s…. That’s… Fuck!”
Jack pushed himself to his feet before walking around to cuff Mike on the back of the head.
“Ow! What’d you do that for?”
“Shut your mouth before you say something you regret, dumbass.”
“Shut it,” growled Jack.
Mike slumped, his mouth in a pout.
Jack circled around to crouch in front of Sam, careful not to get too close to the fire behind him. “Sam, you okay?”
“I dunno,” mumbled Sam. “I think I’m drunk.”
Jack laughed. “Yup, you certainly are. So is Mike.”
“Yeah,” said Sam with another lopsided smile. “We’re drunk.”
“So…” Jack drew out the word. He looked up at Riley as if seeking inspiration.
Sam felt Riley shrug.
“I’m guessing Mike didn’t know that you’re gay, huh?” Jack offered.
“Nah,” said Sam. “Nobody does.”
“Uh huh,” Jack nodded. “Is it okay that we know now?”
“I dunno,” shrugged Sam.
Riley squeezed him with the arm still wrapped around his shoulders. “Yeah, Sam, it’s okay.”
“Yeah,” Riley and Jack replied.
“Okay, good, I guess. I mean…” Sam trailed off and closed his eyes. “I’m tired. And I think I’m drunk.”
The older men laughed, and Riley withdrew to help rearrange Sam’s saddlebag so that he could lie back and use it as a pillow.
“Mike will be okay with it too,” Riley whispered. “He was just surprised.”
“He was?” asked Sam.
“Yeah. Not that you can tell now.” Riley gestured to Mike who lay on his side in the dirt, snoring. “Just give him time to get over his hangover and adjust to the news, and he’ll be fine. Now, get some sleep. And for god’s sake, don’t roll onto your arm in the middle of the night.” Riley reached down and rearranged Sam’s limbs into something resembling the recovery position. “Good night, Sam.”
“Night, Riley,” Sam mumbled.