When they graduated from high school in 1962, best friends and secret lovers Jim McCutcheon and Ronnie Mayer had high expectations for the rest of their lives. Six years later, both are back in the small Nebraska town they called home, and worse, no longer together.
Once the golden boy, Jim now works on his grandfather's farm, away from the town's disappointment he didn't end up at NASA. Ronnie lives in his parents' basement, recovering from the blast that sent him home from Vietnam. Neither is where they want to be, but it takes a special request from Ronnie's mom for Jim to swallow his pride and visit.
Though it doesn't go well, it opens the door for the two young men to start communicating. One question haunts them, though. Have they changed too much to find their way back to each other again?
"Are you free today?" Ronnie asked.
Jim gazed out the window at the hill they'd cleared. "Why, are you afraid to stop by and get put to work again?"
Ronnie made a sound that could've been a laugh, but the line was too fuzzy to be sure. "I want to go to the movies, and I'd really rather not go with my mom. That's sad, even for me."
Though his pulse accelerated at the request, Jim fought to keep his voice under control. He'd look ridiculous if it cracked with excitement. "Only if you keep your hands out of my popcorn."
"I'll even buy your popcorn if you'll just get me out of here."
"That bad?" It was Saturday. Mr. Mayer would be home. He couldn't begin to imagine how he'd ever put up with it if their roles were reversed.
"I'll be stuck in the basement all day if you don't come get me."
That wasn't really an answer. "I thought you preferred it down there."
"I do. But ..." Silence. Jim couldn't even hear him breathing. "It was nice out at the farm."
The only explanation necessary. "What time's the show?"
They made plans for him to pick Ronnie up at eleven to make the eleven thirty matinee. He didn't ask about lunch or the rest of the day, but if the movie wasn't too awkward, he would find a way to keep Ronnie to himself for as long as possible.
When Jim pulled up to the house, Ronnie rose from his seat on the porch step and hobbled as best his brace allowed to the car. Mrs. Mayer appeared in the doorway as he was climbing in, and he leaned out the window to shout, "Don't worry about dinner, Mom! I'll eat at Jim's!" He sat back with a huff and rolled his hand at Jim. "Go, go, before Dad figures out a reason to keep me home."
"I guess that answers the question whether I'm just a convenient ride or you really wanted to hang out with me today," Jim said after they'd left the house behind.
"Yeah. You're both."
Jim snorted. Ronnie looked better today, less pale than when he'd shown up at the farm, more relaxed than when Jim surprised him with his first visit. He'd looked good when they were digging out the stumps, too, though Jim had to be a lot more careful checking him out then since he was still so unsure about where this new friendship was going. But ignoring the contrast of Ronnie's fading tan or the muscles that flexed in his arms every time he'd swung the pick was impossible, regardless of what their futures were. Ronnie had more muscles in his back, but they shared the landscape with scars, and Jim was too afraid of drawing attention to them to ogle the new body Ronnie barely seemed aware he possessed.
In spite of the brace, this Ronnie would never need rescuing from bullies.
Jim didn't know what he could offer Ronnie to help him now.
He parked as close to the theater as he could manage, deliberately adopting a leisurely pace so Ronnie wouldn't worry about keeping up. "What're we seeing?"
"With Six You Get Eggroll."
Jim halted. "You're dragging me to a Doris Day movie?"
Ronnie continued a few steps up the alley before realizing Jim wasn't with him any longer. "It's supposed to be really funny."
"It's. Doris. Day."
"It's also got Brian Keith."
"He's not my type either."
A twinkle appeared in Ronnie's eye. "More than Doris Day."
"Isn't there something else playing?" The Sunshine Theater only had one screen, but they often did double features or alternated movies to make more money, by drawing in different crowds or encouraging people to buy another ticket. Jim and Ronnie could easily go to lunch and catch a later film.
Ronnie's amusement faltered. "They've still got The Green Berets. I guess if you really don't want to see Eggroll, we could go to that."
Before, Jim would've jumped at that plan. They both liked John Wayne. But he'd seen the movie when it came out, and its pro-Vietnam stance had been tough enough to stomach before he'd seen firsthand what the war had done to Ronnie. No way was he going to subject Ronnie to it now.
"I can't believe you're dragging me to a Doris Day movie," he groused, resuming his pace.
As Jim came up beside him, Ronnie threw a loose arm over his shoulder and squeezed. "Just watch Brian Keith. That's what I plan on doing."