The moonless night was broken by the headlights of Jacob's pickup truck, Betsy. There were no other cars on the country road. The truck bounced and rocked as it rolled over frost heaves caused by a harsh New England winter.
Jacob tried to focus on the sounds Betsy made. The sound her tires made as they rolled over the uneven road, or how her suspension groaned with each bump. Her well maintained engine rumbled against the cold night. It helped him forget about his black eye, but that was about it.
Tyler was still crying in the passenger's seat. His head in his hands, his dark coconut scented hair tussled about. The normally elegant and gentle man now sat crumbled and broken. Jacob could not help feeling responsible.
Words swarmed Jacob's mind. A thousand things he wanted to say, but none of them made their way to his mouth. "This is why I like machines," he had said a very long time ago to Tyler, "I don't have to say anything. If the engine needs a quart of oil, I just put in a quart. No words needed."
"People are like that too," was Tyler's response, "It's just harder to tell what they need."
It had been over an hour as they drove. Over an hour and not a single word exchanged, no clue to what Jacob could do to make things better. So he said nothing and just drove.
Tyler grew quiet. The sobbing died away and Tyler sat up and looked at Jacob. More words buzzed around Jacob's head. Are you ok? What can I do to help? And many more, but not a single one was said. Instead Tyler spoke. A single word, a single syllable, but even that strained his soft voice.
Because I care about you. Because I can't bear to see you hurt. "Why, what?" his calloused hands gripped the steering wheel as once again he could not say what he really meant.
"You know what," Tyler said as he stared out at the road. Jacob thought he heard a hint of anger in Tyler's voice.
"I didn't have a choice," he said flatly. What good is a brute like me if I didn't?
They rode in silence for a while. Tyler stared out into the night, his eyes seeming to focus on something far off. Jacob focused on Betsy's engine again but still could not drown out the sound of all the things he wanted to say but could not.
Several miles of all too familiar roads passed before the silence was broken. It was Tyler who again pierced the oppressive silence, his voice harsh and mater of fact.
"You should have let him hit me," he did not look at Jacob, his eyes were still focused on a faraway point.
Jacob snarled. He could feel anger, like a raging fire, burn its way up his spine. It took everything he had to keep from yelling at Tyler right there. He guided Betsy to the side of the road so he could devote all his attention to Tyler.
"You and I both know I could not have let that happen," Jacob's voice was quick and harsh, the volume barely kept below bellowing. Tyler flinched at first, but quickly fixed a bold stare on Jacob.
"It was not your place," Tyler said, his voice just as bold as his eyes.
"My place," Jacob bellowed, his body visibly shaking, "My place is by your side. My place is to stand beside you even when things get dicey and to protect you no matter what."
"You would not have been responsible." With that Jacob felt like he had been struck in the face again.
"The entire reason this happened was because of me," Jacob looked away as he said this, his voice no longer as loud or angry. "If I hadn't pushed you to come out to your folks
" You wouldn't have been disowned. You wouldn't have spent the last hour crying. You wouldn't be in so much pain. I wouldn't hate myself so much right now.
"They needed to know," Tyler's voice softened, "I mean about to stepping between Dad and me. Just because I wasn't a boxer like you doesn't mean I can't take a hit."
Jacob looked back at Tyler. He opened his mouth to speak but stopped. I don't care that you can take a hit. I said I would protect you. Is it so wrong to want to protect the man you love?
Tyler reached up his soft hand and touched Jacob's cheek. His eyes were bloodshot but still seemed caring. "I love you," Jacob finally managed his voice weak as if it took all his strength to say those three words, "That's why."
Tyler smiled a sad smile. "You big, dumb ape," he said barely above a whisper. He shook his head before adding, "I love you too. Now let's get home and put something on that eye of yours."
You always have been the strong one. Jacob nodded and eased the accelerator into action. Betsy's headlights cut away the darkness as they once more pushed down lonely country roads.