Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: This story was written in response to the ten year anniversary challenge; it was betaed by the wonderful LT.
Feedback: Yes please.
It is strange what one can come to call normal. Normal - or at least what most people regard as normal - has rarely been part of my life. However, even by my standards, my current life is not 'normal', but to me it is just that, normal, comfortable, safe.
It's been ten years now since I accepted a job as a lawman in return for a pardon. Had I been convicted and incarcerated, I would have been a free man some years ago. Still, here I remain. In those ten years, much has changed. They called us 'The Magnificent Seven' and even 'Los Magnificos' - the Magnificent Ones - and our reputation spread across the territory, even beyond. Of course, it had been hard won. Chris made it a point of principal that we did not tolerate crime. It was our proud boast, that all perpetrators of serious crimes within out little burg were apprehended, run out of town or, on occasion, killed. Now, I'm not talking about a few drunken cowboys having a brawl in the saloon of a Saturday night, but the murderers, rapists, bank robbers, bush-whackers, horse thieves, rustlers and grifters who attempted to prey upon our town were given short shrift. It didn't come without a price, especially in the early days. There is not one of us that doesnt carry scars and hasn't come close to death at one time or another. But we are all still here, and the town is now reaping the rewards of our reputation. The lawless fraternity give Four Corners a wide berth.
The town has grown considerably. When the Judge employed us, it was dying. I am proud to say, we had no little part in reversing its fortunes. Commerce is the life blood of any town and, without law and order, no business can prosper. Then, six years ago, the railroad finally made it to Four Corners. With it came stockyards, merchants, more stagecoaches and freight lines. The stores prospered; Mrs Potter has expanded her store and is now stocking more stylish apparel. Of course, the church is still undergoing repairs. At one point, it was all but done, but then there was a summer storm, one of the worst I have ever seen. It spawned a tornado. Now as tornadoes go, it wasn't very big, at least according to Chris, who says he's seen what he calls 'real monsters', but it was big enough to take the roof off the church, among other buildings, thought not, mercifully, my tavern or Nathan's clinic.
There is even a schoolhouse with desks, books, blackboard and chalk to educate the growing population of children, and who teaches in that school house? Why, Our very own Mr Sanchez. So settled is the town, that he is able to combine being a lawman, with being the town's minister and schoolteacher. A few years ago a preacher came to town, he claimed he had been sent to be the new pastor. He even tried to move into the church. Now, almost to my surprise, the church going people of the town were less than happy. It seems they had grown used to Josiah and his very, how shall one say it, individual and practical approach to the scriptures? The new preacher implied that since Josiah was no longer an ordained minister of any church, any wedding he performed would be invalid. This turned out to be something of a grey area. Josiah insists that it is a matter of faith. According to him, if he reads the service in good faith and they make their promises in good faith, then they are married in the eyes of God. If they want a piece of paper to prove they are married, they can always do it officially with the judge when he's in town. After an entire summer, during which Josiah preached to the populous in a field and this new man preached to no one in the church, he (the new preacher) gave up and went looking for a more receptive audience.
I, too, have prospered along with the town. The investors to whom Mother sold my saloon quickly lost interest and the profits dropped. The final straw, however, came when they made the classic mistake and fired Inez. Well, the regular clientele - including the seven of us - voted with our feet and abandoned the Tavern. In no time at all, it was back on the market and I was able to purchase it for less then I originally paid, using some of my share of the money left behind by Mr Stutz. The Standish Tavern is now - if I do say so myself - one of the finest hostelries in the territory. We offer a variety of games of chance, quality liquor at fair prices, dining on American and Mexican cuisine, and the pleasures of the flesh with clean and pretty girls who, I may add, work for themselves, paying me only rent for their rooms. I have done so well, in fact, that I have even been able to expand, adding new rooms which have allowed me to separate the hotel rooms from those used by the working girls. At the rear, I built a new wing, where I have my office and lodgings, along with rooms for Chris, Vin and Buck - when they are in town. Ostensibly they are separate rooms, two up and two down, although in truth they interconnect, which is most convenient. But then, I designed it and the others built it that way.
Young JD is now the town's official sheriff and - God bless him - he takes on most of the increasing amount of paper work that seems to entail. He has grown in maturity over the years - if not in stature. It is true, some people who come looking for the sheriff are somewhat taken aback by his youth, but those who underestimate JD, do so at their peril - and that he is underestimated on occasion, has been to our advantage more than once. The storm that damaged the church also took the jails roof off, which provided the perfect opportunity to build in living quarters above and to the side of the office and cells. JD is also a married man and an expectant father. He and Casey married the day after her twenty first birthday - her aunt insisted they waited. Frankly since they had been courting almost from the day they met, I felt Nettie was a little over zealous in making them wait so long, but I am not her guardian. I do know they tried to do something about it, for at least three years before the wedding, they were trying to instigate a 'shot gun wedding' but to no avail. Indeed, they had been married almost four years before Casey finally fell pregnant. I do know JD was beginning to think it would never happen. Nathan says that the baby is due next month and that everything is going normally. I do hope so. As it is, she is so small and her bump so large, I don't know how she can stand and not fall flat on her face! JD fusses over her all the time, she pretends she doesnt like it, but we know differently. Sadly Nettie died last winter. We all miss her. I know Casey would have preferred to have moved out to her place, but JD is a lawman, not a farmer, so here they stay.
Despite our new found prosperity, the town still has no 'real' doctor, nor is there any great call for one. Recently, a doctor did open an office in Eagle Bend. However, I've met him and I wouldn't let him operate on a stray dog, let alone my horse or - perish the thought - a friend of mine. So, Nathan's business also prospers. He used some of his share of the Stutz money to purchase the small saloon at the end of town; it was always a thorn in our side, a constant source of trouble. This establishment has now been converted into a small clinic and comfortable home for Nathan, his wife Rain and their sons, Nathaniel and Obediah. The clinic has a treatment room and a large room were up to four patients can be accommodated. The biggest improvement is that these rooms are all at street level, so there is no longer any need to carry the sick and wounded up those wretched stairs. Despite my best efforts and advise, our Mr Jackson is not making the kind of money he could be. He finds it hard to ask for payment, except from the larger ranchers, and continues to accept payment in goods rather than hard cash. I'm not saying that this it is not a viable method of payment, but there are only just so many sides of bacon a man can eat!
And what of the other three? One way or another, all three were already making a living with their gun before we all met up. Well, at least Vin and Buck were, especially Vin, who - it turns out, now that his name as been cleared - had a tidy sum squirreled away in a Texas bank. When you think about it, he was a very successful bounty hunter, yet he lived on next to nothing. There had to be money somewhere. Chris just seems to have been living and drinking. Occasionally, he'd kill someone in a gunfight who had a price on his head. As far as I can see, that was his only source of income, that and the money he presumably raised after he sold his first ranch.
Some years ago, it became clear the three of them needed some other occupation. Now, do not let me give you the impression that there isn't any work for us as lawmen. We work for a territorial judge, not the town, and now that Four Corners is 'tamed', our services are increasingly requested by other towns. I can't say as I enjoy these assignments, but they pay well. Nevertheless, the three of them have joined forces and purchased more land adjoining Chris' tract. Their property now runs all the way to the boundary with Nettie Well's old place, which they now lease from JD. They stocked the place with some mares and a fine stallion. For some years now, the 'LWT Ranch' has been selling horses, building an excellent reputation for the quality of their stock. They are now one of the largest ranches in the district and that has been all to the good in dealing with the likes of James and Royal.
Nettie is not the only person we have lost. Three years ago the judge passed peacefully in his sleep. I don't think any of us realised he was in his eighties, a truly remarkable man. After he died, and following much soul searching, Mary felt compelled to leave the town and her beloved Clarion, in order to take care of the Judge's widow and be closer to her son. She sold the paper to - well, to me as it happens. I didn't think anything could be as enjoyable as running your own saloon, but I was wrong. The newspaper business is quite addictive and now takes up the majority of my time. I have handed the day to day running of the Tavern over to Inez and her husband, a fine young man named Anthony. She takes care of the day to day running of the hotel and kitchen side of the business, he runs the saloon. Young Shen Li, whose father runs the town laundry, takes care of their house and new baby. I don't think Inez can quite believe that she has a maid.
We were concerned that the new judge wouldn't want to carry on the arrangement we had with his predecessor, but we shouldn't have worried. Judge Travis knew he was an old man, he knew his time was limited and he chose his successor before he died, his Honour, Judge Deeds. Judge Deeds is a man with a similar outlook to that of our late, good friend Orin Travis. Which considering that he trained under Travis, is not that surprising. So for us, things continue as before. Of course, we don't work for him directly, as we did Judge Travis, but rather we are on a retainer to the territorial courts. Since neither Buck nor Vin will countenance wearing a badge, our title is officially 'Officer of the Court', though we have all the powers of a marshal.
So, all in all, you could say our lives have settled down, that we have become respectable, normal members of society - depending on what you call normal.
The four of us, Chris, Vin, Buck and myself, seem to have settled into comfortable relationships. Chris with Vin and myself with Buck. Oh, Buck still sleeps with women, mostly the ones who work in my Tavern. Chris still takes the odd trip down south to find himself a little senorita. I have even been known to dip my wick - as they say - in a round and soft body, on occasion. But that is just for fun, for appearances sake. Vin doesn't. Unlike us, he has no real interest in woman, always preferring men. He has slept with women, he assures us, and likes their company, but they don't really interest him in the bedroom. Does that make him more abnormal than the rest of us? Those of us who have studied ancient Greece - really studied that is, not just read the sanitised, idealised accounts available for popular consumption - know that such things were once far more common and accepted. Indeed among the Spartans, one of the greatest warrior cultures of all times, it seems to have been the norm, as far as I can tell, reading between the lines. Vin tells us that among the Indians he has lived with, it is simply accepted as a normal thing, indeed those men are seen as - for want of a better word - blessed, fated by their gods.
Those rooms I built behind the Tavern are sturdy, no creaking floorboards, the walls and floors are as thick as railway ties. I made sure the upper floor rooms are not over looked and no room shares a wall with a 'stranger'. We are as safe in town as we can be. And at the ranch? Ah, yes the ranch house. They built it for three men to live separately, with four large separate bedrooms, one each, plus a guest. It is a good building, you could even call it elegant, and who designed this fine edifice? My own Buck, who demonstrated a talent for architecture none of us had even suspected. It looks so respectable. No one could guess what goes on behind its closed doors and, hopefully, no one ever will. To that end, Chris purchased geese, a whole gaggle of them. He insisted they are the best guard 'dogs', preventing anyone arriving unannounced - and to be fair he's been right. What is more, they taste wonderful at Christmas.
To varying degrees, Vin, Buck and myself had lived for years pretending to be something we're not, hiding our true nature from the world, even from our friends. For Chris, it has been a new awakening and he is still getting used to this secret life we live and, for the foreseeable future, we will have to go on hiding from the world, but not from each other. I think that is one of the main reasons Chris and Vin spend most of their time at the ranch, Vin is always happier when he's away from the town and Chris is not good at hiding and lying. I, on the other hand, am used to it and since Buck doesnt like me to be far from him, he too spends much of his time here in town. My beloved is not a man who likes deception, but he is a pragmatist and he hates to sleep alone, so he's learned the art of lying. Of course, the girls at the Tavern are not so naive that they can't have some idea about us, but that doesnt stop them draping themselves all over him whenever they get the chance. It's a good thing I know he loves me.
What, I wonder, would the fine and increasingly respectable citizens of Four Corners think if they knew what went on at that ranch house. What would they do if they knew in whose bed their protectors actually slept? Would they run screaming or reach for their guns if they knew? I know the answers to those questions, we all do, and they are not the answers any of us want to hear. They would see us as what - sinners, perverted, degenerate, criminal, abnormal? Ah there it is, that word - normal. People fear what is not normal; they like normal, normal makes them feel safe, normal doesnt rock the boat or ask questions. But what is it?
Is it normal for man to sleep beside and have carnal relations with other men? But then again, is it normal for a man to want to be humiliated and have his posterior beaten so badly it looks like a beetroot? I can't say, but a very prominent citizen of this very town pays Lisa-May well over the odds to beat him on the ass with a hair brush each and every month and he's not the only man who like this kind of thing. It's not for me personally, but they arent hurting anyone, so who's to say they arent normal? Than there was that cowboy, with the trick riders, who dressed as a woman. It wasn't an act apparently, he preferred to dress that way, so why shouldn't he? What harm is he doing? Young Freddie Potter, any daylight hour he's not working for his mother in their store, he is out, net and magnifying glass in hand, studying bugs. I mean, why? What's so interesting about insects? Personally, I do my very utmost to avoid the wretched things, but not Freddie. He has boxes and boxes of the them, all mounted and labelled. So many are there, that his mother made him find somewhere to store them other than her home. He now rents the room over the livery that Nathan formally used. He tells me he is going to publish a paper on the subject some day - well good luck to him. He's never going to find a woman that way, but if it makes him happy, where is the harm in it?
Is it normal for a mother to disown her only son just because he turns away from the pure pursuit of avarice? Is it? I have not been 'blessed' by a visit from dearest Maude for over three years now. She turned her back on me when she discovered I had purchased a newspaper and was determined to print the news, rather than propaganda designed to increase my personal fortune - such as it is, and it isn't any where near big enough for her liking, apparently. I cannot help that I have changed and she hasn't, I believe it is a change for the good. Change is what we are all about, if we didn't embrace change we'd all be back in the stone age. If she needs me, as she gets older, I will, of course, help her. However, I am not going to give up my own happiness, the first and only true happiness I have ever known, for her.
The point is, we are all different, and men like Vin, Chris, Buck and myself, we are not so very different from married men like JD and Nathan. We eat, sleep, drink, work, and relax just as they do. We contribute to the town's economic prosperity and we risk our lives to protect this town, and others, from those who would pray upon it, and we love our 'other half'. More to the point, we arent the only ones, the town's folk may not know it, but the ranchers and any one who's ever been in the army or prison, knows full well it happens all the time. Sometimes, most of the time I suspect, it means nothing, it's just for fun, for the relief, scratching the itch Buck calls it. But for some of us, it is love, true everlasting love. I never thought I could form such a bond with anyone, let alone another man. Yet here I am, with my world revolving around one person. We have been together for eight years now and every day feels like the first. In two years it will be our tenth anniversary and also Buck's 50th birthday. If things continue as they have been, by then we will be in a position - financially - to take an extended vacation. We plan to travel to Europe and take in the sights. It will be the trip of a lifetime, but even if it doesnt happen, it won't matter, because so long as I am with Buck, I will be happy. Wherever we are, a Paris hotel, a ranch house, a blanket under the stars, it's not where you sleep, but with whom, that makes you happy. It took me a lot of wasted years to learn that lesson. Oh Mother, what your teaching almost cost me!
All in all, it's been ten years of change, mostly for the good; for the town, for the seven of us and for me personally. Of course there have been some changes we could all do with out, the deaths I mentioned and others. None of us are getting any younger; some of us have a few grey hairs, or in Josiah's case a few more grey hairs. There are a few more wrinkles, some of us arent as lean as we used to be, some of us have less hair, in Nathan's case it's not by choice, in Vin's case it is - now that was a shock to all of us! On day he just marched into the barber's shop and came out shorn as short as a spring ewe! Now don't quote me on this, but I would lay good money - well a dollar - that this had something to do with Chris, because that evening Larabee looked like a caged animal and the two of them couldn't get back to the ranch fast enough. I personally love to run my fingers though Buck's hair, which while it may be greyer, is no less thick than it was eight years ago. I presumed my pleasure was shared by others, I assumed Chris liked Vin's hair long; apparently I was wrong.
As I write this, I am sitting by the window of my room, which is the guestroom, at the ranch. Behind me in the bed, Buck still sleeps. This room, along with Vin's, is at the back of the house, with a view over the good, river pasture. They use it as hay meadows in the summer and for grazing in the winter. As the dawn mist lifts from the tall grass, I can make out the ghostly forms of the mares and yearlings. Buck and Chris' rooms look out to the front, where the barns, corals and bunkhouse are located. There are no full time ranch hands, when they need extra help, they recruit men from the local Indian villages, they are the best horsemen in the district and more likely to be 'discreet' should they ever suspect anything.
I may be used to it, but I to hate the constant lying, the ever present threat of exposure that hangs over us. It seems to me the more respectable the town becomes, the greater the threat. I wonder if there will ever come a time when men such as we will be free to express our love openly - perhaps, but not, I think, in my lifetime.
Ah, my beloved stirs. It is not often that I wake before him, but last night was our anniversary, and we had the house, indeed the whole property, to ourselves. I think I can say we did it justice, although in truth, Buck was doing most of the work. God did indeed 'bless' Buck Wilmington and for that alone, I should thank Him. The amazing powers of recuperation and self control (powers age has done little to dull, I may add) are a bonus and a very welcome one. The morning belch and bed hair? Well, you can't have everything.