Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
J.J. turned in Luke's arms, slowly so as not to wake him. Then he shifted his head on the pillow so he could feel Luke's breath against his neck. That always excited him, the feel of Luke's breath, knowing that Luke was so close to him. His back was damp where Luke had been pressed against him and he could see little drops of sweat in the hair that curled across Luke's chest and belly. Outside, the morning was already bright with heat although the clock on the landing had just struck six.
Most of the men in Devil's Shaft slept late on Sunday, except for those unfortunate enough to be on the Sunday shifts or those with a strong religious bent. Luke and J.J. were no exception, although they often were not sleeping. They spent the early morning making slow, quiet love to each other. It was the time they liked best.
The heat woke Luke and he sleepily nuzzled J.J.'s chest. "Good morning." He did something with his tongue that made J.J. suck in his breath. Despite the heat the morning held great promise.
Later, washed, dressed, and very hungry, they went down to the kitchen to see if they could talk Ah Man out of something to eat. This was not always possible, especially if Mrs. Brown was up and directing activities in the kitchen. This morning Mrs. Brown was very much in evidence and Ah Man simply shook his head at them when they came in. "Madam's rules" were being strictly followed today. They turned and went back down the hall.
"Hey, Luke, J.J." It was Burt, coming down the stairs. "I don't suppose there's anything to eat, is there?" He nodded toward the kitchen.
"Nothing 'til dinner," J.J. said with a shrug.
"Damn! Well, come on, then. Let's go over to the Devil's Heart and see what ol' man Harber can cook up for us." Burt held the door for them and put a hand on Luke's shoulder as they went down the stairs to the street. "You have one of your dreams this morning? Sounded like you was thrashing around the bed and moaning pretty bad just after six." He turned to J.J. "I swear, I don't know how you put up with it, him tearin' up the bed like that."
J.J. hid his smile. He hated it when Luke had one of his dreams, hated it because of what they did to Luke, but whatever noise Burt had heard this morning wasn't the result of any dream. "Sometimes he's hard to wake, that's all."
"Well, at least it wasn't in the middle of the night like last time. That 'bout scared the piss outa me."
They went into the Devil's Heart and stood at the bar. The place, as always, seemed to be doing a pretty good business. Old Mr. Harber himself was behind the bar, along with the regular bartender.
"Beefsteak and spuds, that's all we got, take it or leave it. Four bits," Mr. Harber said, drawing three beers.
"Take it," they said, almost in unison.
The beefsteak turned out to be better than usual and the potatoes had an onion cut up in them and they weren't burnt so they all three enjoyed their breakfast greatly. When they finished, Burt got himself another beer and joined in the card game which, reputation had it, had been running continuously since the first day the Devil's Heart had opened its doors.
"Want to go swimming?" Luke asked as they left the saloon. "It's sure hot enough for it."
"I guess so." J.J. seemed a little distracted.
"Wait a minute." Luke went back into the Devil's Heart and came out with four bottles of beer. "This'll taste good in a couple of hours, sure."
They walked over to the creek and then turned right, following the path that ran along beside it. They went past the place where J.J. had washed Luke the night of his birthday and on to a Y where the main path turned up the hill, toward the cemetery. They took the other fork and kept on along side the creek for another mile or so, until they came out on a wide, sandy slope which ran down to the water. The creek was wider here, and deep enough to allow a man to dive if he cared to.
There were two or three dozen men there, swimming in the creek or lying on the sand, taking their Sunday leisure. Most of the men were stripped down to their drawers and some, especially those in the water, wore nothing at all.
"Let's go further on down," Luke said, wanting to be alone with J.J.
nodded and they made their way around the top of the sandy slope. Just as they
were passing out of sight of the swimming area J.J. touched Luke's arm and
pointed. Luke nodded and smiled. Clark, the man from the
A half mile further along they found a little clearing that gave on to the creek and was shaded from the heat of the sun. Luke put the beer bottles in the water to cool, held in place with some rocks he found on the bank and then they undressed and put themselves in the water too, for the same purpose.
When they tired of the water they climbed out and lay on the long grass, watching shadows play on the water and listening to the birds calling each other high in the trees, sounding weary from the day's heat. Luke found himself dozing, images of J.J. playing in his head. When he woke he found J.J. watching him, smiling. He turned over, onto his belly, embarrassed. "You do that to me, J.J. Even in my sleep."
"I never watched it happen before. I mean, I'm always part of it and don't get to see... You were cold from the water, all wrinkled and shrunken up but then it moved, just a little, like it was waking up. It started out so slow but then it stretched, grew thick and long and raised itself up, like it was looking for something."
Luke chuckled. "It was, J.J. It was looking for you." He wanted to reach out and take J.J. in his arms but he couldn't. They had agreed; not unless they were certain they would not be seen. He got up instead and pulled two of the bottles of beer out of the water.
When he was settled again, J.J. took a swallow of his beer and said, "You know what I wish? I wish we lived in our own boarding house."
Luke looked up. "A place of our own? What would we do with it? Do you really think we could run such a place?"
J.J. laughed. "Of course we could. As well as Mrs. Brown runs hers, maybe better. And if it was our own there'd be breakfast on Sunday. No matter when you got up. And maybe a bath whenever you wanted it, not just on Saturday."
"That would be nice, wouldn't it." Luke rolled onto his side and looked at J.J. "And maybe lunch you could take with you to the mine and not have to buy that awful slop from that crazy old man up there."
J.J.'s eyes sparkled. "Sure. `Course, you'd have to pay extra."
"I'd pay double. I bet others would, too. And there'd be..." Luke drank some of his beer. He was enjoying the game.
"What?" J.J. rolled onto his back and a wedge of sunlight hit him, turning the hair on his belly a deep gold. When Luke didn't answer he turned his head and looked at him. "What would there be?"
Luke pulled his eyes away from J.J. and swallowed hard. "I forgot." He sat up and looked at the creek for a moment. "Oh, yea. There'd be talk at meals. You know, conversation, like we had at home."
J.J. sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees, staring out at the slow moving water. "That would be nice, wouldn't it?" he said quietly.
"You all right, J.J.? You seem kind of... I don't know, far away."
J.J. turned and smiled at him. "No, I'm fine. It's just that Mrs. Wilde came in with a letter from Mr. Wilde yesterday. He said he'd be back in a couple of weeks, bringing his brother with him."
"I thought he and his brother hated each other."
"Well, I guess they got over that, taking care of their father before he died. In any case, his brother is coming back with him so they won't be needing me at the bakery anymore."
Luke finished his beer. "You liked the bakery, didn't you. Specially after Mr. Wilde went East and you were running it." He stopped, thinking.
"Yeah, I did. It was fun." He stretched and then lay back down in the grass. "Guess now, though, I better get out and see what else I can find to do."
"J.J.," Luke said, "what we were just talking about, our own boarding house. You could run it, couldn't you?"
"Well, we could." He got up and retrieved the last two beers from the cool water. "We'd have to learn a lot but we could do it. Trouble is, we don't have any money to buy one and I don't think Mr. Harper's bank would be too quick to lend any to us."
Luke took the bottle J.J. handed him and opened it. The beer was cold and tasted good. "We do have some money, J.J. I don't know if it's enough, but we could see. Do you remember Mr. Byers saying that Mrs. Brown would probably want to sell her place and that it probably wouldn't fetch much, especially since Mrs. Brown will be in a hurry to sell?"
J.J. was tiring of the game. "Luke, I calculate that we have a little more than forty dollars between us. That's hardly enough..."
J.J., wait. See..." Luke's voice trailed off. He still couldn't bring
himself to think about that last day in
J.J. sensed the effort this was costing Luke and it never even occurred to him to ask where the money had come from although, later, he wondered if it had something to do with the dreams. He reached out and took Luke's hand.
"Do you think it would?"
Luke laughed with relief and love of J.J. "I don't know. We'll have to find out."
They lay on the grass in silence for a while, each lost in his own thoughts. Finally Luke stood and pulled J.J. to his feet.
"Come on. Let's get in the water and cool off. I think it's almost time to go back for dinner."
They ran into the water, splashing each other and playing like children until, suddenly, they were hugging each other close.
"Come on," Luke whispered hoarsely as his body began to react to J.J.'s closeness, "let's go see if there's time for a nap before dinner."
Ah Man stopped them as they entered Mrs. Brown's. "Mr. Williams," he said, bowing to J.J., "Madam wish to speak." He gestured towards the door to the little study. "You come now?"
J.J. looked at Luke who nodded and said, "Might as well see what she wants."
Ah Man knocked lightly on the study door and then discretely stepped aside. J.J. entered when bid to do so, and removed his hat.
Mrs. Brown was sitting behind a small desk where she appeared to be writing letters. "Ah, Mr. Williams," she said, looking up from her papers, "I understand from Ah Man that you are responsible for the excellent peach pie served last night. As you know, since my engagement to Mr. Kalnikov I have been so occupied with the details of marriage and a move to a foreign country that I have perhaps allowed my duties here to slip somewhat. Please forgive me for that and accept my thanks for your efforts in the kitchen. I know the pie was well enjoyed by all."
J.J. nodded. "Thank you ma'am. Ah Man seemed to be having a bit of trouble with the pastry so I gave him a hand. It was nothing."
she didn't reply but went to straightening the papers on the desk, he realized
that he was being dismissed. He started to leave but then turned back with a
sudden burst of courage. "Excuse me, Mrs. Brown, but may I ask what you
are going to do with the house when you go to
She looked up, seemingly surprised that he was still in the room. "I beg your pardon?"
When he began again she held up her hand to stop him.
"I did understand the question, Mr. Williams. I was merely wondering if you had some advice or proposal to offer on the subject."
J.J. wondered how Tom would handle this but it was Eliot's diplomacy which came out. "Please forgive me, ma'am. It was not my intention to be impertinent. I only wondered if perhaps you contemplated selling."
Mrs. Brown smiled. "And if I did? Would you contemplate an offer to buy?"
"Well, yes ma'am. Luke... That is, my brother and I..."
"Tell me, Mr. Williams," she interrupted, "just what would you and your brother consider to be a fair offer?"
J.J. bit his tongue but the words tumbled out anyway. "Five hundred dollars." It was obvious from the look on Mrs. Brown's face that she had had a somewhat larger figure in mind.
"I see." She began straightening her papers again. "Well, I shall certainly think about your offer, Mr. Williams. In the meantime, I believe it is approaching time for our dinner. Perhaps you will excuse me so I can see to the kitchen?"
J.J. nodded. "Yes ma'am."
Upstairs J.J. found Luke sitting on the bed with a small glass of whiskey, counting money. There was quite a lot of it, more than J.J. had ever seen before.
"What'd she want?" Luke asked, getting off the bed and pouring a little whiskey in a glass for J.J.
J.J. accepted the glass but could hardly keep his eyes off the money on the bed. "She thanked me for the pie last night."
He'd been gone too long for a simple thank you. "Then what?" He touched his glass to J.J.'s
"I asked if she was going to sell the boarding house." He swallowed half the whiskey in his glass. "I don't think it's enough," he said a little sadly. "I said we could offer five hundred dollars but I don't think it's enough." He moved close to Luke, wanting to be held.
"Well, there's more than that," Luke said, putting his arms around J.J. "We could offer six hundred."
"No, I don't think so." He felt himself melting into Luke, drawing strength from him. "Let's just wait and see what happens."
Dear J.J. and Luke,
Thank you, both of you, for your letter of good wishes. I have put it safely away in Portia's keepsake box and I know she will cherish it greatly when she is old enough to understand the sentiments you have so beautifully expressed.
Your brother, J.J., has finally come back to earth and has all but stopped annoying perfect strangers on the street with tales of Portia's great achievements. I have never seen a man prouder of his child than my husband is.
I want to thank you, too, for the most interesting letters you send to Mother Williams. She very kindly shares your letters with all of us and we do enjoy them. She seemed to be especially pleased that you, Luke, took the trouble to write and thank her for her birthday wishes.
I am sure Mother Williams has given you all the news from here so I will not re-tell it. Besides, I expect your life in Devil's Shaft is far more interesting than is ours here on the farm.
Thank you again for your good wishes.
Brother, and Luke, too,
I want to add my thanks too. She is such a beautiful child. Being a father is one bang up feeling
I was glad to read that Luke is teaching you to shoot, J.J. Accurate shooting is a skill you may well need one day in the mountain country you live in. Keep practicing.
To be continued.
Comments, suggestions or criticisms always appreciated and always answered.