The weight was almost unbearable. Every muscle in his body was aching, being pushed farther then ever before. Willard pushed the barbell up to its holders for the final time. "Phew, three hundred and fifty!" he exclaimed, triumphantly flailing his arms to and fro. His eyes sparkled with pride and a smile crossed his face from ear to ear. Willard's cowboy hat had fallen during his celebration, sailing gently to the ground. He bent down to pick it up when his head collided with his friend's.
"Hey! Watch it!" Ren said, rubbing his forehead. He continued to pick up the hat. "I'm impressed with you, Willard."
Willard's already impossible smile widened. "Yeah? Why is that?"
"Because I never knew you could count that high! Three hundred and fifty! That is a big number." Ren spoke slowly, affecting a faux-country accent.
"I know! Mama says that it's a good sign! She also said I would have to know bigger numbers for college," Willard retorted.
Ren chuckled at his friend's attempt at wit. He turned away and saw that the gym was empty, the two boys the only people remaining. The clock's large bricklike letters spelled 9:00 P.M. "Hey, you wanna go back to the room now?"
"Sure, don't see why not."
The halls of Beaumont University were surprisingly big for the stature of the town. The carpeted floors smelled of industrial cleaning materials. The boys walked quickly, without talking—curfew was at ten and they didn't want to be late.
Ren was the first to break the silence. "So, how are you doing in your classes?"
"Not too bad, but I really need help in math. You're good at that, right, Ren?"
"Yeah, I can work my way around an equation."
"Huh?" Willard stopped, puzzled. "Work your way around a what?"
"Oh yeah, I've got my work cut out for me."
Reaching their dorm, Ren pulled opened the door. The sweet smell of hay wafted out from their room, overpowering the building's industrial odor. "Willard, please remind again me why we have to have a bale of hay in our room?"
"Ren, you know I get home sick sometimes!"
"Sure, okay. You realize we're not that far away from home? It's practically across the way, ya know. "
"I know, I know…" Willard avoided Ren's gaze. "It's just… sometimes I miss Mama, and hay is very nostalgic for me. "
"Whoa!" Ren gasped. "Willard, did you just use a fancy word?!"
Willard fought back Ren's sarcasm with a stare. "Ren, it's not funny! Sometimes I really do miss her."
"Aww, does my cowboy need a hug?" Ren teased. He walked over to Willard and threw his arms around him. "Does that make my little cowboy feel better?"
Willard was thrown off balance by the way Ren swayed back and forth. "Ren—I-I think I'm gonna—" Before Willard could finish, they toppled over. Both boys landed on the floor with a resounding thud, Willard on top of Ren. On his hands and knees, he tried to avoid flattening his friend like a pancake.
The boys stayed there for what felt like an eternity. "Oh! I guess I should move." Willard blushed.
"Why? I never said I didn't like it." Ren wrapped his legs around Willard's back, looking into his eyes with a goofy grin.
"Oh, really, huh? I guess you wouldn't mind if I did this either?" Willard pushed his lips forward, bringing his head down to where Ren was. Ren mimicked him, and almost by accident their lips met. What was meant to be a short kissed lingered, growing more intimate, more intense.
Eventually it had to stop. Ren and Willard silently drew breath, neither of them ready to speak of what just happened. Willard stood up, holding his hand out to assist Ren. The other boy took it and stood himself up, but before he could let go, Ren shoved Willard onto his bale of hay and climbed on top of him. The boys kissed again, this time more wildly, more daring, their hands exploring each other's bodies, gliding across contours and reaches previously unknown.
Willard pulled Ren's body against his own. The kiss became more passionate and caring, sweet and tender. Ren moved back, laughing, and gently picked a straw of hay out of Willard's hair.
"So, umm, about that math homework. "