By the middle of June, summer weather had come to Port Essington.
We’d folded and put away our woolen union suits and winter jackets in a cedar trunk that we kept at the foot of our bed. Now we went about in shirtsleeves—rolled up—and lighter trousers. I wore cotton underthings, but Oscar couldn’t be bothered, liking to feel as naked as possible, I supposed. I could barely get him to wear shoes half the time. He’d say shoes were for chumps and laugh in that way he had that put all my sensible arguments to rest.
Our friend, Irene Trelawney, had shown us a swimming hole on the other side of their property, and t’was hard to keep Oscar away from it now that the weather was warmer. The kid wanted to strip every chance he got, and I can’t say that bothered me, except that we had to be careful out here of someone coming upon us in a clinch. Though it seemed unlikely that would happen, considering how isolated we were, it made me nervous. Still, we’d indulged ourselves with a quick gamahouche or a hasty fuck out by that swimming hole more than once, and nothing had ever come of it. I don’t think the folks in town knew about the place, and ’twas nothing to remark upon, although ’twas a pretty spot, and Oscar loved it so. He’d spent most of his life in a city, so it didn’t take much to impress him when it came down to it.
Evenings out here were something special. After a winter stuck inside our small kitchen, we reveled in all the outdoor space, spending a lot of time on the porch, in the paddock with the horses or riding o’er the homestead and beyond.
Carson and I had walked the ten-acre property back when we’d first seen it, and now that we’d prettied up the space, it felt good to be landowners. The outlaws I’d run with had scoffed at folks owning land, being settled and staying in one spot all their lives. They’d glorified the nomadic lifestyle that was the only one they could possibly have and pretended to ignore its disadvantages. But I’d only ever wanted a place to call my own, where I could make an honest life for myself and, if I were lucky, for someone else.
I’d not expected a twenty-one-year-old man-child to be the bride of my dreams, but there ’twas. Oscar was my love, and I was his—and there weren’t no turning back from that solid fact. And we didn’t care a whit what other people might think, except we kept our deeper feelings to ourselves, since the laws in this beautiful land were harsh on things that weren’t understood. I’d take our secret to the grave if it meant keeping Oscar with me.
I leaned back in one of the rocking chairs that our friend, Clarence, Irene’s husband, had made for the porch of our brand-new house. The creak of the wood and the swoop of the runners going back and forth comforted me as much as the regular motion, and the peaceful sounds of crickets and birds soothed my mind. I gazed out o’er the grass to the barn, where our horses, Onyx and Dixie, and our sturdy mule, Poke, were put away for the night with a bit of grain and fresh hay. Sprite, the gray-and-white cat, perched on the railing to my left, one foot o’er the other as she napped, keeping alert for the rustle of field mice in the grass.
’Twas a fine thing to sit in a comfortable chair on your very own property after all the waiting and hard work of building and have all the time in the world to think. We’d survived our first winter in Port Essington in less-than-ideal circumstances, having had only one very small room to live in. We’d expected to be isolated from people, hunkered down together out here in the wilderness, and instead, we’d been fortunate to meet Irene and Clarence, who lived about a ten-minute ride from our place and had secrets of their own.
They’d guessed ours right away, but only because they were keeping a similar one.
Clarence and Irene were married, and that was a fact. But there were specifics about their relationship they wanted to keep from the general public, and I didn’t blame them, because Oscar and I were the same. But ’twas a godsend that the four of us could be ourselves when we were together, and I hadn’t expected to find such kindness and acceptance here. Even the folks in town, who believed that Oscar and I were bachelors and friends instead of lovers and soul mates, had been welcoming and friendly.
Carson Moore and Tim Jensen had aided us in planning and building this fine home, and they’d promised to help us find work in town for the summer and fall so’s we could start making a proper living. The money we’d taken from the outlaws I’d killed back in September was dwindling, although it had made it possible for us to indulge in all kinds of luxuries that would serve us well in the future. We were gonna need at least one regular income, preferably two, in order to maintain the lifestyle we wanted. Not that ’twas fancy, but we’d gotten used to being able to buy the things we needed and not having to settle for second-best. We’d invested in the stove, the new pitcher pumps and in this beautiful two-story house that would stand for years and give us shelter and comfort. It seemed fitting that the money we’d looted from Spook and Whitlaw, after I’d got Oscar back from them, would go to making a fine life for us both.
Our future looked bright and, for the first time, comfortable.
The screen door creaked as Oscar came out to the porch in his bare feet with his trouser legs rolled up. He’d pushed his shirt sleeves up, too, since he’d been washing dishes and ’twas a warm day.
“What’re you doin’ out here, Jimmy?” he asked, coming o’er and giving the surroundings a quick scan before he bent to kiss me. We had to be careful out in the open, and ’twas a shame, but I’d take it. We had the inside of this big place now to do as we pleased without worry, and that was enough.
“Just thinkin’…and enjoying the evenin’.”
“Hmm,” he said, sitting in the other rocker. “What’re you thinkin’ about?”
I smiled at him. “Mainly, about how happy I am.”
Our gazes held, and he gave me a slow, sultry smile then turned to gaze out at the barn and the paddock, peaceful now with the livestock put away.
I waited for him to say he was happy, too, and when he didn’t, I cocked my head at him.
“Are you content, Oscar?” I asked. “Now we got this place built and a few weeks of leisure before we need to get jobs?”
He frowned and turned to me. “’Course I am. You really gotta ask that?”
I nodded. “I reckon ’tis important to ask it once in a while for any two people makin’ a life together.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You don’t suppose I’d tell you if I wasn’t happy?”
I laughed. “Oh, I’m pretty sure you would. That’s true.”
He leaned forward in his chair and put his hand to my knee. “You be sure to tell me if you ain’t happy, won’t you, Jimmy? And I promise to do anythin’ I can to make things right.”
“I will. I’ll make sure you’re happy every day, Jimmy Downing.”
I covered his hand with mine and squeezed it.
“Oscar, I can’t even imagine bein’ unhappy with you by my side. You do make me feel wonderful every day, Oscar Yates. Every fuckin’ day I wake up next to you and every day I go to sleep beside you, I’m content—more content than I have any right to be.”
* * * *
“We goin’ into town?” Oscar said a few days later. “We ain’t got no more potatoes, and the sugar’s gettin’ awful low.”
“You and your sweet tooth,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Don’t you mean my sweet ass, Jimmy?”
I glanced o’er at the plain wood dining table we’d helped Tim make. Oscar was sitting in the chair with his bare heel up on the seat like a ten-year-old. I expected he was still stuck somewhere in his childhood in a lot of ways because his older years had been so rough. I didn’t care, and, in some ways, I found it charming and sweet.
“How are those sentences coming along?”
“I’m almost done. I think I’m gettin’ the hang of it.”
He stood and brought the slate to me with a smile.
I looked o’er his work with some satisfaction. His penmanship was getting better. I’d buy him some paper and a proper lead pencil in town so he could practice on that instead of the slate.
“That’s very good.”
He nodded and gazed at me with a hopeful expression. “Can we get another book? Since we’re finished t’other?”
“Sure. Or we can borrow one from Irene and Clarence. They’ve got lots.”
He frowned. “Well, we could do that, but then how are we gonna build up our library here?”
“Our library? My goodness, I got you reading and now you want your very own library?”
He laughed. “Well, just a small one. I never knew books were so much fun, Jimmy. I’m glad you taught me to read, e’en though I was grumpy about it at first.”
“Yeah, you were pretty grumpy…until I promised to reward you with a spankin’ if you did good, rather than use it as a punishment.”
Oscar winked. “What can I say? I like bein’ over your knee.”
“And I like havin’ you there—and havin’ you everywhere else in this house.”
The house had been mostly complete for a month now, and we’d gotten up to mischief in almost every damn room. There still wasn’t much furniture, but we made do, and we did have an old settee of Clarence and Irene’s in the parlor and a chair that Carson had given us.
Seein’ as we’d fucked o’er saddles and tree stumps on our journey, ’twas a far sight more comfortable in our own home, even though it might not be the coziest of setups just yet.
“Now I don’t wanna go to town. I wanna stay here and have a tumble,” Oscar said.
I gave him a stern look. “I reckon that’s what you wanna do most of the time, and most of the time I indulge you. But we need to go to town, so you best get ready and go saddle that fine horse of yours.”
He grinned and sighed. “Yes, sir. I will. But…if I’m a good boy in town, will you fuck me later?”
“And maybe spank me?”
“I’ll definitely spank you.”
“In the sitting room?”
I gave him a look. “Sure. Why the sitting room specifically?”
He shrugged and went redder.
“I don’t know. It feels dirtier and more wrong, somehow, and I like that. Because it feels like… It feels like we’re thumbin’ our noses at polite society. Fuckin’ in the parlor, my goodness, let alone that we’re two men doin’ it… And it reminds me a bit of Miss June’s, where we could say whate’er we wanted in any room, and there was all kinds of mischief goin’ on everywhere.”
I walked o’er and took his chin, kissing him with softness before gazing into his brown eyes. “I like the way you think, Oscar Yates.”