Lacey Rawlings met John Grady when they were both shorter than a barrel. From the very first, they were inseparable as only true friends can be.
They played at cowboy together, fired their first shotguns together, and learned how to ride a horse together. By the time they were thirteen their mothers knew better than to expect them home for a couple of days at a time, and those boys knew every inch of land on both their ranches.
Lacey knew everything there was to know about Grady. He knew his grade in Algebra, his first horse's name, and why Grady hated John Steinbeck. He knew the first girl Grady slept with. He knew how Grady got that scar up the side of his face.
When they were fifteen, they snuck out of their respective homes and off to Lacey's father's barn. There was a stallion there, as wild as the day he was born and twice as ornery. When he'd bought him the week before, Lacey's father warned the boys twice not to go near him, otherwise they'd get a beating of daunting promise. But curiosity overcame fear, and the boys led the horse as quietly as possible out to the far field. The animal put up a fair bit of fuss, but by God's good grace they managed to get past the house without waking up the entire family.
John Grady wanted a chance at this horse, wanted to break this horse. He knew he could do it, and Lacey believed him, even though at the same time he was shaking in his boots--not that anyone would know, because he could put on a face as well as anyone.
He held the horse's rope while Grady tried once, twice, ten separate times to get the saddle onto his back. Every single time the horse skittered away, and soon Lacey could hear muffled curses coming from the other side of the stallion. Grady tried a couple more times, until finally he just threw the saddle down onto the ground and plopped next to it. He was looking up at the horse, just *looking at it,* and Lacey was getting a little bit nervous holding the horse as it shifted its mass around, muscles tensed and ready to bolt. Grady looked like he had an idea, though, and Lacey knew better than to interfere with one of John's ideas. So he just waited patiently until Grady jumped up, hoisted the saddle into one arm, and proceeded slowly to the horse, murmuring words of reassurance Lacey couldn't hear but felt good to his ears nonetheless.
The saddle went on this time.
'Course, then the really troublesome part was upon them. Lacey didn't know how in the hell John Grady expected to get his ass up on that horse and not have it tossed from here to Wyoming, but Grady seemed bound and determined to get up there, so he just shut his mouth and watched, half-worried and half-amused.
God, he tried so many times to get his ass up on that damned horse. Actually succeeded a couple of times, too, before getting thrown off onto the hard dirt. And then, one time, it seemed like he was going to be able to stay up there, to ride the horse till he broke--except then the horse bucked one way and John flew another, and when Lacey waited for Grady's frustrated okay for him to take up the rope again, nothing came.
He tied the horse to a pole and ran over to his friend, swearing when he saw blood pouring from a gash on the side of Grady's head, moving his head from the awkward angle on top of the rock he had fallen against to rest in Lacey's lap. Lacey stripped off his shirt, tried to staunch the bleeding, all the while muttering to Grady to wake up, just wake up already.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Grady stirred. Lacey breathed out a sigh of relief and held Grady tight as he woke slowly, slurring some of his words and wincing. Lacey made him stay down until the bleeding had stopped and Grady said the world stopped spinning. His shirt was ruined.
Carefully Lacey helped Grady up, steadying him with a strong arm around his shoulders. He tried to get Grady to head back to the house, but John Grady was as stubborn as his father and wouldn't budge.
Not till he'd broken that damned horse.
And of course, the next time Grady climbed up there, he rode and rode, bucked and turned every which way that horse wanted but never let go. After watching Grady go this way and that, every time threatening to go flying through the air to bust his head open again for something that felt like hours, Lacey let his mouth fall open in shock--because there was that damned wild stallion, trotting around the field without so much as a by-your-leave.
Grady's triumphant grin made everything worthwhile, and they grabbed each other into a hug before figuring out how to lead the horse back into the barn and creep back into their rooms. Lacey threw away the shirt where he figured his mother wouldn't look, and helped Grady get cleaned up enough so that there wasn't blood everywhere, just a bright red line close to where his hair was growing. Lacey's father never figured out how that horse calmed so easily to his rider, never caught his and Grady's laughing grins behind their hands.
A couple years later, they were out in the country, running cattle for Lacey's father. One night they were staring up at the stars, like they did a lot, talking about the future and the past and everything in between, when Lacey looked over at John and saw the same thing he was thinking reflected in his eyes. They kissed tentatively, with their eyes open, breathing hard and wondering what the hell they were doing. Later that night, Lacey knew what it was like to lick that scar up Grady's temple, along with a few other things he didn't figure many people knew about John Grady.
When Grady decided to go south, there wasn't a chance Lacey wouldn't come with him. That was just the way it was, however much he feared his father. John and Lacey. It was the only thing that really made sense to him, and so they headed out the next morning.
After everything happened, after the ranch and the girl and jail and almost dying, Lacey just couldn't take it anymore. He loved John Grady, would love him till his last breath, but it was killing him to be out here and he missed his home. But John Grady stayed, for that girl, and though something in him ached like nothing else, though he wished every day he was back that he'd gone with John back down to the Senor's ranch, he knew, just knew, that Grady'd come back to him.
Because that girl, he had no doubt that Grady loved her. Lacey liked her well enough, even. Knew enough to see that Grady was distracted by her, had every thought about her, to the point that, just for a moment, he forgot about Lacey. So he let John go, let him chase this stallion and tame it. He knew better--because he was holding the rope.
Lacey was the one John would come home to. He knew that, deep as his soul. Lacey knew that one day, no matter how long, John would ride up to him and there wouldn't have to be a lot of words because Lacey knew everything there was to know about John Grady, and didn't need words to know where John's heart was. He could trust that, trust him.
Lacey knew how to make John Grady laugh like the devil. He knew how he took his pancakes and his sweetest dream. So he wasn't surprised at all when John Grady came up to him in the morning light and told him he figured he'd want his horse back. Because Lacey Rawlins knew John Grady.