Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
"What's this?" Luke asked, pointing at the big, round box which sat in the middle of the bed.
J.J., who was just finishing a letter to the family, looked up from the little desk. "I expect the way to find out is to open it, don't you think?" He had a definite twinkle in his eye.
Luke picked up the box, hefting it to estimate its weight, then put it down on the bed again and untied the string which held the top in place. Inside, under a layer of tissue, he found the pale brown felt hat that he admired every time he passed the window of Mr. Donaldson's General Merchandise store. It was a handsome thing, made with a flattened crown and broad brim with a turned up edge, not at all like the others in the window. The sweat band inside had been made of fine, soft leather and Mr. Donaldson had even stamped Luke's name on it in gold. Altogether it was a very fine hat and it had cost J.J. fully three day's pay.
Luke took the hat out of the box and gingerly put it on his head, as though it were made of smoke and might melt into the air at any moment. Then he went over to the washstand and peered into the mirror, adjusting the hat so it was just slightly cocked to one side. Satisfied, he went across the room and pulled J.J. out of his chair and into his arms. J.J. had to twist his head to one side so he wouldn't knock the new hat off Luke's head.
"Thank you, J.J.," Luke said, hugging him close. "I can't think of a better birthday present." He went back to the mirror and looked at himself again, admiring the cut of the hat.
Later, as the evening meal was drawing to a close, Ah Man brought a frosted cake to the table. "Honor to Mr. Williams, Madam," he said, nodding at Luke and holding the cake in front of Mrs. Brown for her inspection. "Made special by Mr. Williams." He nodded at J.J.
She broke her rule of supper table silence. "How thoughtful of you, Mr. Williams, to provide us with such a treat." She waived the cake away and Ah Man took it back to the kitchen. "I take it," she said to Luke, "that it is the anniversary of your birth?"
"Yes, ma'am, it is."
"Well then, congratulations."
Silence returned to the table. Ah Man came in once again and served the diners slabs of the cake which, after the various concoctions they normally endured, were eaten with great relish.
they were leaving the dining room Burt and a fellow called Dodge who was a new
resident in the house, stopped them. "So, it's your birthday is it Luke?
Well, we need to celebrate with more than cake, now don't we. Come on, let's go over to the
The four men took a table across from the bar, one that had a good view of the stairs which led up to the girl's rooms above. Daisy Louise sat at her regular table at the bottom of the stairs where she could keep an eye on everyone who went up. It was said that she also kept a mental tally of how much each girl took in and how much "rent" would be collected from each of them in the morning.
men were no sooner settled in their chairs than they were joined by a miner
named Will, who worked the same shift as Burt, and Will's friend Clark, who
worked in the office of the mine.
"Damn good whiskey," said Burt, swallowing down his drink. "I swear, this place always has the best whiskey in town."
"It is smooth," Luke said, following Burt's lead and swallowing down his drink. Only J.J. noticed the little bulge to his eyes as he fought to keep from choking.
"Drink it up," Burt said, slapping Luke on the back. "Plenty more where that come from." Luke did as he was told and Dodge refilled his glass.
Will pushed his glass away and tossed four bits on the table. "No more of that," he said, standing up. "Least ways not 'til I got what I came to get." He went over to one of the girls and said something they couldn't hear. She nodded and led him to the stairs. As they went up Luke saw a familiar figure making his way down.
"J.J.?" He nodded towards the man on the stairs.
"Well, I'll be. I didn't know..." his voice trailed off. The man on the stairs was Dusty, Mr. Gentry's friend from the stables.
Luke emptied his glass again as he watched Dusty come down the stairs. The whiskey just slid down his throat now, not like with the first one that nearly choked him. He was glad no one had seen that. He picked up his glass and found that it was full again. He smiled at J.J. and swallowed it down. He was feeling very, very good.
slow it down,"
"Aw, he ain't gettin' cross eyed. He's just feelin' good, ain't ya Luke boy?"
"Sure am. Happy. Right, J.J.?" He looked across the table at J.J. and grinned. "Just a happy man." He began to nod his head, not quite in time with the man playing the piano.
"Besides," Dodge added, "a man celebrates his birth only once a year and has a right to do as he pleases. Ain't that right, Luke?"
Neither Luke nor J.J. had ever drunk much whiskey and by this time Luke had drunk more than he had in all his years put together. J.J., who was still sipping at his second drink, began to wonder if Luke wasn't getting drunk.
"For sure." Luke said, sitting up straight in his chair. Nineteen today."
By damn. I'd say that calls for a special sort of
celebration, don't you think fellows?"
J.J. had a sudden urge to grab Luke and drag him out of the place but he just nodded, along with all the others. Dodge poured him another glass of whiskey and he drank of it, thinking he might need it.
who'll it be? Which of these fine gals is going to have the pleasure of your
suddenly spoke up. "I don't think he's in any shape," he said to
Dodge looked at Luke with narrowed eyes. "That true what your brother says, a little whiskey and you ain't man enough to get it up?" He let out a nasty laugh. "Don't surprise me none. Never did figure you for much of a man."
J.J. started to say something but Luke cut him off. "Whiskey or no, I'm still a man, Dodge," he spit out. "Maybe more a man than you." There was a fire in his eyes J.J. had never seen before.
the spirit, Lukie boy,"
Luke squared his shoulders and looked around the room. J.J. could tell he was scared and he hoped the others couldn't. Luke had never talked much about his life before coming to San Luis Obispo and J.J. suddenly wondered if Luke had ever been with a woman—or if he had ever wanted to be. He tried to figure a way to help Luke get out of this but, short of dragging him bodily out of the place, nothing came to mind.
"Her," Luke said, pointing at a nice looking, dark haired woman.
Alice went around the table and took Luke's hand. "You come along with me
and I'll show you why this place is called
watched helplessly as the woman led Luke across the room and up the stairs. He
didn't much like the idea of that woman touching Luke, getting him inside her,
four men sat in silence for a while, until they were joined again by the man
who had come in with
was it, Will? She do you good?"
"Yea, Clark, she done me good. I suppose you want to hear all about it now, like you usually do. Sometimes I think you get off that way, listenin' to me tell you about it. He turned to J.J. and nudged him on the arm. "Other times he just runs up and grabs the gal, pokes her while she's still wet from me."
A few minutes later Luke appeared at the top of the stairs. He looked around, seeming confused, and then started down, grabbing on to the hand rail to keep his balance. He was badly disheveled, his shirt open down the front and only partly tucked into his jeans, his belt undone. Sweat dripped from his forehead and his jeans showed dark patches where they were soaked with it.
"Better go get your brother," Dodge said to J.J. "Looks like he could stand another shot of whiskey."
went over to Luke and took him by the arm. "Come on, let's get out of
here." Luke nodded dumbly and allowed himself to be led to the door and
They walked East, towards the creek and then took the footpath that ran along the water because J.J. wanted to be sure they didn't run into Dodge or Burt on the way to the boarding house. They walked in silence for a bit, until Luke suddenly sat down on the path and doubled over with the dry heaves. J.J. dipped his handkerchief in the creek and then knelt beside him, pressing the wet, cool cloth to his forehead.
"Oh, God, J.J., it was awful." Luke leaned into him, wanting to be held.
"It's all right, Luke. It's all right." J.J. held him for a moment, wondering what to do; Luke's close up smell decided for him. He pulled Luke to his feet and led him on down the footpath, past the bridge to a place where the creek was only waist deep. There he stripped both of them naked and led Luke into the water.
Not only did the cold water serve to take the stench off Luke's skin, it sobered him up a lot, too, especially when J.J. pushed his head under and scrubbed at his hair. While Luke coughed and shook the water out of his hair, J.J. scrubbed him all over with fine sand from the creek bottom. When he applied the sand to Luke's sex, Luke winced and hugged him close.
"You don't have to do that, J.J.," he whispered, "she never even touched me there." J.J. suddenly realized what he had been doing, that he had been trying to take any trace of her off Luke's skin. He stopped and splashed water on him, rinsing the sand away.
They sat on a fallen tree, letting the warm July night dry their bodies. Luke put his hand on J.J.'s leg and told him what had happened.
"I didn't want to go but somehow all that stuff Dodge was saying got to me and... Well, I just had to do it. We got up there, in her little room, and she opened my shirt." His hand tightened on J.J.'s leg. "She started to touch me on my nipples, like you sometimes do, and I thought about what I was supposed to do to her but I knew I couldn't. I just got dizzy and started to sweat something fierce. When she undid my belt suddenly it all started to come up: Mrs. Brown's dinner and your cake and the whiskey and everything."
J.J. chuckled quietly and eased Luke's grip on his leg. "I guess she was surprised."
"I think somehow she knew it was going to happen. She pushed me away and shoved the wash bowl in front of me. Most of it went there."
"What didn't go on your shirt and jeans." J.J. smiled in the dark.
"I guess I wasn't real neat about it. Didn't seem important at the time, being neat."
They sat in silence for a moment, each lost in his own thoughts. At last, J.J. put his arms around Luke and spoke.
"You're going to take a lot of teasing up at the mine when she tells what happened."
shook his head. "She said she wouldn't. Said it was my
birthday so she wouldn't say anything." He laughed and J.J. could
tell he was feeling better. "Besides,
J.J. laughed with him.
walked back along
Ah Man didn't raise an eyebrow at Luke's attire when he opened the door for them. He did wrinkle his nose when J.J. gave him Luke's jeans and shirt for delivery to the laundry the next day but said nothing except that he would bring tea to their room shortly.
The tea Ah Man brought was peppermint, designed, J.J. thought, to sweeten Luke's mouth and breath. He was thankful for it. There was also some bread and cheese which Luke ate hungrily along with his tea. Ah Man told them that both Bart and Dodge were already back, Dodge almost unable to walk from drink.
When Ah Man had gone they lay on the bed, spoon fashion; J.J. holding Luke.
"J.J.?" Luke twisted his head around, his voice low. "I guess maybe Dodge was right. I don't think I could have done it with her. I don't want to do it with much of anybody, except you. Is that all right? I mean... Do you mind that I'm not..."
J.J. hugged him tight. "Like Dusty? Does that really make him more of a man, that he goes with women, too?" He nuzzled Luke's ear. "I think there are three kinds of men: some who only want to do it with women, some, like Dusty, who don't rightly care, and some like us." Luke turned around so he was face to face with J.J., seeking his eyes in the dark. J.J. sensed the question.
"No, I don't think I could have done it with her either. I know I wouldn't want to. But I don't think that makes us any different from those other men. We all work and laugh and get dressed the same way." He smiled to himself. "We even pee the same way, through the same thing. Where you put it doesn't make a lot of difference to my way of thinking."
Luke turned and settled himself against J.J. with a sigh. He slept well that night but he knew the dreams were going to come again, try to kill him. He could feel it.
The Old Adobe
I am quite put out with myself for having delayed so long in writing to wish you a most happy birthday. I find it difficult to believe that you will be eighteen years on the eleventh of July. No, that is not because of the age at which it places me—I am a woman but I do not seem to have a woman's vanity about that kind of thing—but rather because I suddenly realize that you are a man. I suppose it always comes as a surprise to a mother when one of her children achieves that state but knowing this does not lessen the surprise in any way.
I am told by some others that this particular birthday is a most appropriate time for a mother to offer her son advice on the living of his life. I do not adhere to that philosophy because it seems to me that if I have not taught you to be a man, to be kind and gentle and honest and loving, then it is far too late to instill those qualities in you now. So, my motherly advice on this occasion is to live your life as you see fit and above all be true to God and yourself.
Thank you for your letters, and Luke too. We have all enjoyed learning about Devil's Shaft and life in that town.
Yesterday, of course, was the celebration of our Glorious Independence. Quite a celebration, too. The whole town turned out to the park by the courthouse after their various services and every one seemed to have a fine time. The mayor, of course, made a lovely—if a bit overlong—speech and Miss Wulke led us all in singing patriotic songs. Our biggest disappointment was that dear Millicent could not be with us. She has grown quite large with her child and felt it would not be seemly to attend although she did insist that Eliot do so. He stayed long enough to congratulate the mayor on his speech but left quickly afterward.
With the coming of the warm weather I was certain Dickens would move back to the hay barn but he has steadfastly refused to do so. I suppose this means he will sleep permanently in the kitchen since I haven't the heart to force him out.
I worry just a little about your brother Tom. He spends a great deal of time down at the bank, still working out his plans for reorganization. He has been made head clerk by Mr. Chase who seems more than pleased with his abilities but I fear he works too hard. He goes out at night sometimes, too, and that worries me. I have asked Eliot to have a talk with him though I doubt it will change anything.
I have gone on quite enough, I think, and so I will close with the hope that you knew on your birthday—and you know now—how much your family loves you.
I am aware, and pleased, that you share these letters with Luke and actually I write them with the both of you in mind. However, please pass the enclosure along to Luke as his own.
Sent with love and best wishes.
The Old Adobe
I know this will arrive well after your birthday and I apologize for that. Nevertheless, I want you to know that the whole family will be thinking of you on the ninth and you will be in our prayers most especially that night. May your nineteenth year be only the beginning of the best years of your life.
Sent with love.
Your Second Mother
To be continued.
Comments, suggestions or criticisms always appreciated and always answered.