Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
J.J. scrubbed idly at his chest with the rough cloth while he watched Luke out of the corner of his eye. Luke was undressing, readying himself for his turn in the bath, and J.J. didn't want to be caught looking at him. It didn't seem right, somehow, liking to look at Luke so much. Especially when Luke was naked, like when they were swimming, or now, getting ready for his bath.
"You scrub at your chest much longer and you're not gonna have any of that hair left on it," Luke said, taking the cloth from J.J. "Now lean over and let me do your back."
J.J. did as he was told and gave himself up Luke's ministrations. He loved the feel of Luke's strong hands rubbing his back, scrubbing until, he imagined, the skin shone. When an erection began to bloom between his legs he took hold of Luke's arm.
"Enough, enough. You'll take all the skin off. Now let me out and the bath's all yours." J.J. stood up, turning away from Luke to hide the swelling of his sex. He was glad Eliot had gone, right after his bath, to spend a few hours with Millicent. J.J. would have the bed to himself for an hour or two and knew he'd spend the time slowly relieving the pressure he felt in his groin. He picked up his towel and began to dry himself.
Luke stepped into the tub and quickly immersed himself in the water. He watched J.J. drying himself, glad for water covering the evidence of his interest. He hopped it would go away by the time he had to stand up again. He was pleased that J.J. always waited and helped him empty and scour the tub but he worried that one day his erection would not subside before he had to abandon the cover of the soapy water. It was easier when one or another of the brothers stayed around to talk and swap stories while the rest bathed, it helped Luke keep his mind off J.J.
"You about done? Want me to wash your back?" J.J. finally had himself under control.
"No, thanks. I'm finished." Luke, too, had gotten his body under control but he knew it wouldn't last if J.J. started scrubbing his back. "Toss me a towel, will you?"
Once dry the two young men emptied the tub and carefully cleaned and rinsed it. When they were certain it would pass Louisa's inspection, they finished dressing, said their good-nights to Louisa and John who were working a puzzle in the parlor, and went to their separate beds.
When Eliot came in an hour or so later J.J. was dozing, still drifting on the cloud of pleasure he had brought himself. He turned on his side and mumbled something to Eliot.
"What? Still awake, little brother?" He reached down and tousled J.J.'s hair. "You should have been asleep long ago."
"I was for a while. I think."
"Well, you just go back to sleep," Eliot said as he climbed into the bed. "Your ma will expect you to be awake and attentive at services tomorrow." He turned onto his stomach and almost immediately began to snore very softly.
J.J. rolled onto his back and let his mind wander. A light breeze had come up and the trees in the little orchard just below the window rustled to themselves. There was also another sound, almost undetectable, which he finally recognized as Dickens making one of his night patrols. He wondered if Luke knew when Dickens got up and went out. Probably not. He'd watched Luke napping in the shade of the big, old oak, and doubted if anything disturbed his sleep. He began to drift, images of Luke floating through his mind. He felt himself harden again but there was nothing to do about it; he drifted into sleep, holding on to himself.
in the hay barn, Luke tossed restlessly. Since that afternoon in
Tonight the dreams were worse than ever. Luke buried his head in his pillow to keep from crying out while his heart raced and pounded in his chest, threatening to burst and drown him in his own blood. Dickens licked salt from Luke's face and wagged his tail, trying to tell him it would be all right. He knew his job was to protect the members of the family but he couldn't find what it was that threatened Luke. He felt almost as helpless as Luke himself did.
When the dawn finally came Luke abandoned his bed and attacked his chores, relived to get away from the dreams and sleep that was more punishment than rest.
"Hey, easy there, Luke. What did Louisa Mae Alcott ever do to you?" Eliot patted the cow Luke was milking and then scratched at her ears. She nuzzled him back.
Luke realized he had been milking almost furiously. He slowed down and began to handle the cow with the gentleness she had come to expect from him. "Sorry, Louisa Mae. I'm not angry at you." He turned to Eliot and tried to smile. "I guess I just forgot what I was doing."
Eliot took his stool and pail and started milking Anna Hamilton. "You sure get started early, sometimes, Luke. I don't know how you do it."
"Dickens. He gets me up and sometimes his clock is a little fast, I guess. But I don't mind. I kind of like getting up early."
Eliot glanced back over his shoulder at Luke. "Well, you're the only one in this family that does."
Luke grinned at Eliot's words. It always brought a grin of happiness to his face when one of the family said something like that. He felt they had adopted him, without reservation.
Although there hadn't been any formal induction ceremony, Luke could place, exactly, when he knew he'd been taken into the family. It was almost a month ago, the ninth of July to be exact.
He had almost forgotten that it was his birthday that day, at least until the supper dishes were cleared and Louisa brought out a cake, all decorated with fancy white frosting and Happy Birthday Luke spelled out in red. There were gifts from everyone: a pocket knife Eliot had seen him admire at the county fair and a small book on wood carving from Tom. Besides the cake—which he had made and decorated himself—J.J. gave him a belt buckle made in the image of a rabbit and Louisa had made him a fancy shirt to wear to services. But the gift that raised a lump in his throat was a napkin ring John Williams had carved for him out of oak.
"I saw that you didn't have a proper one of your own, always using an odd one from the sideboard. Now you have one that is yours, just as each of us does."
He had carved Luke's name on the top and 1860, the year of Luke's birth, around the edge. It was the only thing Luke had ever owned that had his name on it.
After the cake, they drank cool lemonade and played games in the parlor. Even J.J. stayed up late, though he had to be on his way to the bakery a little after three the next morning. When they finally put away the games each one gave Luke a hug and a pat before they let him go off to bed.
"Are you sure you're feeling all right?" Eliot mussed Luke's hair, bringing him back from his thoughts. "You haven't said a word all the time we've been milking here."
"Oh, I guess I was just thinking," Luke said, looking around. Sure enough, the milking was finished and the big milk cans were ready to be put in the creek to cool. Dickens had already moved all the cows out to their pasture.
"Well, let's get this done. It's Sunday, you know, and Ma will not be pleased if we're late for breakfast." He glanced at Luke's face, "or not properly washed and shaved."
A half hour later, properly washed and shaved, and dressed in the fancy shirt Louisa had made for him, Luke sat in his place at table. The mingled smells of bacon and coffee made him realize how hungry he was; he wished Tom would hurry with the prayer so they could eat.
Once the breakfast things had been cleared and washed up, Mr. Williams hitched up the buggy and the whole family, except for Eliot, went off to church. By this time Eliot had received blanket permission to go on ahead so that he could escort Millicent to services. He now sat in the Chase pew, with Millicent and her father.
drive down to the
The Reverend Shaffner's sermon that morning was on the subject of usury in general and the money lenders in particular. Tom seemed to find it quite fascinating but J.J. couldn't keep his mind from wandering. He fingered the leather belt Luke had made and given to him on his birthday. There had been a party, just like the one for Luke two days earlier, with cake—made by Louisa this time—and lemonade and presents.
J.J. smiled to himself and ran his fingers slowly over the curves and valleys of the pattern Luke had embossed into the leather of the belt. It had taken him a while to see that the pattern was his name, J.J., done in various fancy scripts. Luke had been very pleased when J.J. commented on it.
J.J.'s birthday had been unusually happy for another reason, too, as it marked the end of his apprenticeship to Mr. Tomasini. He was now a Master Baker and the youngest Master Baker that anyone could remember. Best of all, he no longer had to be at the bakery at three-thirty every morning and now he received real wages for his work. He thought about how small his wages actually were and sighed, drawing a sharp glance from his mother. He straightened his shoulders and tried to look interested in the sermon.
Idle wishing had never gotten anyone anywhere, J.J. knew, and so, when he saw something he wanted, he set about finding a way to get it. What he had seen was a gold chain in the window of Mr. Clifford's jewelry store. The moment he saw it he knew Luke had to have it, to replace the leather thong that carried his mother's gold ring.
Of course, the chain cost far more than J.J. could afford but he had convinced Mr. Clifford to let him work for part of the price. Now, every afternoon when he finished at the bakery, he went to Mr. Clifford's shop where he spent an hour cleaning, dusting the display cases and keeping the storage room neat. They had worked out a schedule so that the chain would be J.J.'s in time for Christmas.
Reverend Shaffner's sermon finally came to a close and the congregation sang Abide with Me, one of J.J.'s favorite hymns. On the steps outside, the Reverend beamed when Tom shook his hand and thanked him for a most thought provoking sermon. J.J. and Luke each mumbled something and quickly got out of the way, both certain that Reverend Shaffner was fully aware of their lack of attentiveness.
Louisa was aware of it also, but she did not allow it to pass with a handshake and unintelligible mumble. "I will thank both of you gentlemen," she said as the buggy turned away from the church, "to demonstrate a bit more deference to the Lord as well as courtesy to Reverend Shaffner. We do not attend services in order to provide you with time to daydream." She faced forward again, adding, "you would both do well to observe and emulate your brother."
In the back of the buggy Tom merely shrugged, implying that he couldn't help it if this morning's sermon had actually been of interest to him. Luke and J.J. looked at each other. "Yes ma'am. Beg your pardon, ma'am." They spoke in unison, as though it had been rehearsed.
Louisa turned around on her seat. "It is not my pardon you must beg, it is that of the Lord and the Reverend Shaffner. I am quite certain the Lord will accept any apology you might wish to offer; I cannot, however, speak for the good reverend."
The implication was quite clear: a simple prayer would satisfy God but a formal apology would have to be made to Reverend Shaffner. The two boys contemplated this with some dismay.
It turned out to be quite a warm day and so, after dinner, the family gathered on the porch for lazy conversation and cool lemonade. Even Eliot was there, Millicent having sent him home so she could gossip with a friend about the latest in wedding fashions.
Mr. Williams lit his pipe—a special treat he allowed himself on Sundays—and looked over at J.J. who was watching as Tom tried to teach Luke to play chess. "Well, son," he said slowly, "I guess it's been almost three months now since you finished your apprenticeship with Mr. Tomasini. You plan to stay on with him?"
Tom looked up. "Not much future in that, is there? I mean, old man..." He caught a look from his mother. "That is, Mr. Tomasini can't afford to pay you much more than he does now. The business couldn't support it."
"How about a bakery of your own, J.J.? Have you thought of that?" Luke asked.
J.J. nodded. "I've thought of it. But I don't know..."
"It would take a lot of money, opening a bakery," Mr. Williams said. "Don't know where you'd raise that kind of capital."
"Besides," Tom chimed in, "I doubt there's room here for another bakery. Not for a few years, anyway."
Eliot, who was sitting on the porch railing, put down his lemonade glass. "Best thing for you, J.J.," he said, "is to go work in one of the camps like I did. Over to the Sierras in the gold or lumber towns. They'd pay well for good bread and cakes."
"Especially the gold towns," Tom broke in. "I hear they spend their gold as soon as they dig it out of the ground. If you did that for a couple of years, and saved carefully, you'd probably have enough capital to start your own bakery." His eyes gleamed at the thought of miners heaping gold on anyone who had goods they needed.
"Now leave him be." Louisa set her sewing aside and looked fondly at J.J. "He's barely turned seventeen, no age to be working in one of those camps with all the drinking and gambling and fighting going on. He's fine, right where he is for a year or two."
"I suppose so," Mr. Williams said, "but he has to begin thinking about his future. Although I would be pleased to have at least one of my sons around to help with the chores in my old age."
"Now, Pa," Eliot hopped off the porch rail and went over to his father, patting him on the shoulder, "you know we'll always be around to help." He went to his mother. "Now, if you'll excuse me, ma'am, I'll be goin' over to look in on the widow Noyes' and see to feedin' what animals she has left."
"Poor woman," Louisa said. "That farm is proving to be quite a burden on her, isn't it. Would that she could get off that place and move into town."
"Come on, Eliot," J.J. said. "I'll go over with you and give a hand."
John watched his two sons set off to help the widow lady on the next farm over. Eliot was pretty set in his life but he worried a bit about J.J. sometimes.
To be continued.
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