Come to the Gobi, They Said
John Davis was six feet tall the beginning of his sophomore year of high school, and the basketball coach wanted him for the team. But John was still growing into his height and uncoordinated, and the coach gave up. He tried out for baseball with the same results, and even though the track and field coach wanted him for the length of his stride, John thought running was boring and besides, his big feet caught on the hurdles.
He was six foot three the beginning of his junior year, and because he could be padded up and taught to block, he joined the football team. His mother was proud of him. He had no opinion either way, but it made her happy and made the coach happy and football was just what you did in the small town where he lived, and he didn't mind.
He played defense for a small football team at a small high school, and if they weren't the greatest powerhouse in the county, at least they weren't always embarrassing. John kept his head down and did what he was asked, and he practiced with the team and did his homework and worked after school and never told a soul he was more interested in the quarterback than the head cheerleader.
Because he lived in a small town and he played defense on the football team and he didn't want to get his head bashed in.
John was not the sharpest knife in the drawer but he was a good kid. He was awkward around girls and a bit of a klutz, and he had an easy smile and an open heart. He liked barbecued ribs and cheeseburgers and his mom's peach cobbler, horses and big dogs and the open sky. He worked hard. Sometimes he asked a lot of questions. He loved his mom.
After high school he took a job at an oil well in eastern Texas, because he was a tall, strong kid who could do the work, and the money was ok and he couldn't afford college, and hadn't expected to go anyway. He worked hard because that was how he'd been brought up, and he sent money home and called his mom when he could.
And then he took a job out in the Gobi Desert, and he met Rodney Alex.
* * * * *
Rodney Alex was five foot ten the beginning of Secondary 4, and he liked playing football with his friends but he wasn't interested in team sports. He wasn't interested in school either. He waited until he was sixteen and had taken his Standard Grade exams and then he left, because he could.
He was six feet tall the year he turned seventeen, and he did what he liked. He stole a car and learned to fight and got into more arguments with his dad and oldest sister than anyone cared to count. His mother worried about him but he had no fear for himself.
He played pickup games of football and rugby in empty fields, and he smoked like a tough guy, and he alternately led and followed his mates into trouble. He got a tattoo on his hand, a swallow to mean These fists fly, because he fought hard when provoked and harder when cornered. He'd had a girlfriend, even though she knew and a couple of his friends knew that he'd rather have a boy's lips wrapped around his dick than a girl's breasts in his hands. He'd told them, but he hid it from his family and everyone else he knew.
Because he lived in a conservative city and he ran with a hard crew and he didn't want to get his head kicked in.
Rodney wasn't a rocket scientist but he wasn't stupid. He had a temper and an attitude and a criminal group of friends. He was loyal to them and inspired loyalty in return. He liked chips with vinegar and spaghetti bolognese and his older sister's oatmeal cookies, Marlboros and Glasgow Celtic and the view of the city from the tower block where his cousin lived. He considered himself a pretty decent dancer. He loved his sprawling family.
At eighteen he took a job on an offshore oil platform in the North Sea, because he was never going to university and he knew if he stayed in Glasgow he'd end up in jail or on a table in the morgue. He worked hard because it was his only way out, and he shuttled around the world and made crew chief and grew up. He called home when he could and wrote grammatically idiosyncratic letters when he couldn't.
And then he took a job out in the Gobi Desert, and he met John Davis.
* * * * *
John was twenty-two years old and six foot five and still sometimes clumsy on his feet, and Rodney was thirty-two and six foot one and mellower than he was at eighteen, and the Gobi was farther from home than either of them had ever been. John was terrifically homesick, and to cheer him up Rodney got him drunk and made him laugh and kissed him, and John grinned like the sun rising and kissed Rodney back.
John told Rodney about his mom and the Texas sky and good barbeque, and Rodney told John about his sisters and Glasgow clubs and the way the park erupted when Celtic FC scored a goal.
They took their moments when they could and laughed because John barely fit on the beds by himself, never mind with Rodney, and neither of them thought very hard about what would happen when they left this job for another one.
And then a cargo plane flew out of the desert and landed at the site, and Rodney watched it arrive and knew the well was shutting down. He wasn't surprised. He wasn't sorry to leave the Gobi, but he didn't want to leave John.
What he didn't know, because he couldn't know, was that ultimately, he wasn't going to.