by Hiwaru Kibi (火悪 木美)
The cathouse at the edge of town was dead quiet, considering the hour of the morning and the day of the week, but it could have been lit up like the Streets of Glory for what a sight it was to my sore eyes. “Catch up with you boys later,” I called to the other riders, trying not to make too much fuss in the Sunday dawn.
They didn’t look back. Jack Coldwell raised a hand in a little wave, he’s a fine man like that, but that was all I got by way of acknowledgment that the roundup crew was one fewer now. I didn’t take it personal none. We were all dog-tired, having decided as a group that riding all night was better than making camp and trying to pretend that two biscuits and a can of coffee could be split a dozen ways — and I tell you what, that was a decision that seemed a lot smarter on the edge of dusk than hours of travel later. Besides, I knew they were headed to wives or boarding houses or other dreary accommodations, and would’ve rather been staying where I was staying.
But I had something they didn’t. Or, really, they had somethings I didn’t, and that at least got me a little somewhere in this life.
Zeke the stable boy took my mount, a pinto with the illustrious name of Barney Matthews, and grinned as I tossed him a nickel for his troubles. “Miss Calpernia’s sure gonna be glad you’re back, ma’am,” he told me, beaming his gap-toothed grin. He got to call me “ma’am” because he meant it polite-like, and not the way shopkeepers and parsons say it when they think they’re reminding me that God made Eve in the Garden already in ruffles and lace. I delight in tracking mud onto their nice floors.
“How’s she been?” I asked.
“Been all right,” Zeke promised me. “We heard about all the rains.”
Days of unseasonable thunderstorms, every arroyo spilling over its banks, lightning strikes spooking man and beast alike? I doubted there was anyone in the territory who’d missed word of that squall or how it brought cattle drive and railroad alike to a standstill. The sky had been blue for almost a week now and my socks still weren’t dry. I ruffled Zeke’s curly hair. “Thanks for keeping an eye on the place, kiddo.”
Zeke puffed up with pride. I guess boys of any age like being accused of being the man of the house. Men are odd creatures like that, but I pay it no mind. They have their uses. Still, I was looking forward to not having to deal with them for quite some time. Fairer company awaited.
She was behind the bar when I walked in, not like she woke up early, but like she never went to bed the night before. Her cornsilk hair was piled on top of her head with a mother-of-pearl comb, though half had already fallen out, and the other half looked on the way down. There were little streaks of silver in it already, ones invisible in dim light such as this, but I knew they were there. I knew every inch of her, and while I knew men of the town would brag that wasn’t particularly rare information, I knew I knew it all better.
“The sign says ‘closed’,” she said without looking up, that flat Eastern accent rendering all the vowels curious strange. She came out here to make her fortune, and by many definitions of the word, she’d succeeded.
“Thought you might make an exception,” I said, shucking off my dusty oilskin coat.
I was lucky I caught her without glass in hand, because she would’ve broken it and put it on my tab. As it was, she dropped her rag and all but hopped over the bar. She was a flurry of lilac and petticoats, and as she threw her arms around my neck, I smelled flowers that would never grow in the desert. I got my arms around her waist and hoisted her a foot or so into the air, which made her yelp with surprise and hold on tighter. She was everything ten weeks on the trail wasn’t: warm, soft, loving, smelling of anything but cow shit.
That last part was why it took her all of ten seconds to get her hands on my shoulders and shove me back. She wrinkled up her delicate nose. “You reek.”
There was absolutely no arguing with that. Cattle driving was rarely a lovely endeavor, but dust was one thing, and rainy muck a whole ‘nother. I was surprised I could still stand me. “Maybe a little,” I said with a grin. I couldn’t stop looking at her. She was an absolute vision, even with a busy night’s worth of makeup fading fast. It took me four months of knowing who she was before I even could work up enough courage to say two words to her. A year later, here we were.
Cal wriggled her way from my arms and yanked the brim of my hat down over my eyes. “I’m drawing you a bath,” she said.
“You don’t have to–” But my protest was delivered to her retreating back, and there was a way she walked when she wasn’t to be argued with. I guessed I was a little ripe. Obligingly, I followed.
When I woke, the water in the tub was about the same temperature as the air and the same color as my clothes. I, on the other hand, was returned to my natural state of bright pinkness, as determined by lifting my knee above the level of the brown mire in which I now soaked. I didn’t remember falling asleep, but when does anyone?
Cal was there, sitting on a chair, darning a pair of socks — my socks, or close enough like them. “Holes give ’em character,” I mumbled sleepily.
She didn’t look up from her handiwork. “You’re character enough own your own, Mad Liza Marton, without your bare feet rubbing the insides of your boots.”
Oh, my full name, or close enough. My toes crested the water again, ten little callused lumps, as the rest of me sank a little deeper under in turn, like the world’s least interesting seesaw. “Sorry I was so late,” I told her.
“Can’t be helped,” she said, with the businesslike efficiency that said she wished it could.
“We rode all night,” I promised her. “Last night. Home just seemed too close without. If they’d held back, I’d’ve come on alone.”
That cracked her practicedly pleasant face into an actual grin, and you could tell its realness for how lopsided it was. She was embarrassed by it and I thought it was perfect. “I do not doubt that for a moment,” she said, putting down the mending. She took a towel from the rack, one of the big ones they used on the guests. Made me feel all fancy. “Come on, get out. It’s got to be cold in there by now.”
‘Cold’ was a night with sheets of rain and gusts so high they almost knocked the horses over; this was tepid at best, but it weren’t exactly comfortable neither, so I paid her heed and stood. My hair, still in two long braids, dripped chill down my back, and that was a little cold. I welcomed the embrace of the towel, ten times as much because it came with Cal’s arms around me.
The men who knew us knew about us, or at least suspected, but if ever they pressed me for details, I said they could learn for themselves if they paid their five dollars and waited their turn, and that usually did the conversation in. But that wasn’t the whole of her, not even a tenth. She was a perfect hostess, and she was smart enough about a lot of things that there were times she took a man back to her room and just talked away the hour instead of having to work up a sweat. She was also a shrewd businesswoman, clever with sums and numbers. There’s men out there aplenty who think they can cheat a lady, as though a woman’s cunt’s between her ears, not her legs.
But ever since I started coming around, she had less of that to worry about. Funny how a pistol and a demonstrated willingness to use it can alter some men’s minds.
She pressed herself close to me, looking up. It wasn’t so much that she was particularly small as I was even bare-toed just on the upside of six feet. “So you rode through the night?” she asked, her voice soft and sly. “Just to get back a little sooner to me?”
Cal grinned. “So we both spent last night working with our legs spread?”
I laughed so hard I made a little grunting noise, like a pig, and that made her uneven grin slip out again. Her arms still holding tight the towel around me, she lifted herself up on the tips of her toes and gave me a deep, I-missed-you kiss.
I have only kissed a man very few times in my life, and most of those were not entirely of my own volition, and I have thus resolved never to do it again insofar as I can help it. But I could kiss Cal all day. It wasn’t that she didn’t have any whiskers or didn’t smell of chewing tobacco, though both those things were true. She was just … better. Sweeter, gentler. Not like she was trying to use her tongue to find something she lost at the back of my mouth.
Which didn’t mean she didn’t use her tongue. No, she had it at her command, using it to take control. Everything I knew about doing things in bed I actually liked, I learned from having her do them to me. For all my trousers and trail-riding, she was — in love as in life — the boss. She sucked on my lower lip for a moment, then grinned and reached around to goose me.
I yelped, which just made her laugh. “Laurel Ann lent me something,” Cal told me, her lips brushing against mine as she spoke.
“Okay,” I said, not sure where she was going with this.
“It’s in my room,” she murmured at the corner of my mouth.
Girls here borrowed things from one another all the time. Maybe it was a pair of stockings. “Awful nice of her,” I said, because it was. All the whores were so nice to one another, and nice to me too, letting me stay there and not treating me like some ugly stray cat, even though that’s what I felt like around beauties like them. Of course, having someone around who could pull a mean drunk off a girl had come in handy on more than one occasion, so I didn’t feel so bad about not otherwise earning my keep. This here was the closest I’ve ever come to taking charity in my life, which was part of why I said no for so long to anything but bedding down in the stables. But as anyone in that town would’ve told you, when Miss Calpernia West wanted something, she usually got it.
Cal sighed, but there was a smile behind it, and I knew she was thinking it was cute how I clearly didn’t understand something she was getting at. She grabbed one of my braids and tugged me forward like it was my lead. “Let me show you,” she said, walking along down the hall, and there was nothing for it but for me to follow.
It was on into the morning by then, judging by what sun I could see through infrequent windows, and the girls were getting up. They greeted me and gave me happy kisses as we passed, saying how glad they were to have me back and that they wanted to hear all about my time on the drive. One look at Cal, though, and they promised we’d catch up later. I guess they could see she had business with me first.
Her room was the nicest, as befits the proprietess of an establishment such as this fine one. She even had a real bed with springs that creaked when she shoved me back on them, yanking off my towel. The warm morning felt good on my damp skin as I landed there, splayed awkward-like on top of her bedspread. Girls like Cal spread out on beds and bars and piano tops like they were born there, but I knew what I must look like, all limbs and joints in a tangle.
I looked up to ask Cal what she was talking about earlier, but she was already on the bed between my legs, face headed straight for my muff. Instinct gave me a moment of panic, and I squirmed away, trying to push her back and tell her like I told her every time that she shouldn’t have to do that, it can’t be clean or nice. She slapped my hands back, though, and kissed the inside of my thigh before sticking her face straight into my folds. I bit the back of my hand trying not to make a fuss, even though I knew everyone there heard worse on the regular. That clever, controlling tongue of hers found my clit — and before the first time she did, God’s honest truth, I hadn’t even known I had anything like that down there — and began giving it a light, teasing licking, like one might on a lollipop.
Part of me wanted to grab for the nearest thing that looked like a blanket and wrap all up in it, hide my ungainly self from a creature of such beauty. But every time I tried to move away, Cal’s hands on my thighs kept me in place. She grinned as she emerged, gave her lips a hungry lick, and dived right back in, making me moan. All that makeup from earlier was gone, and her hair was tied back in a loose knot now, but I knew then in all my life, I’d never see anything else so gorgeous. Her cheeks were flushed and those brown eyes of hers sparkled. All you had to do was look at her to know she was trouble.
I cried out when I felt her slip a finger inside me. I couldn’t help it; it was sudden and sharp and good all at once. I was no blushing virgin even when I met her, but at the same time, it wasn’t as though that hole had gotten much practice over the last couple months. I eased into it quick, though, or rather she eased into me. I was as wet down there as if I was still in the tub. She curled up her fingers inside of me, hitting the spot that made me moan again. “I missed this,” Cal said, giving my hip a kiss.
Twenty-six years of my life I’d gone without thinking of myself as in possession of anything particularly worth missing. I couldn’t even put together a real reply, especially since she had now added a second finger and was sliding both in and out of me with some regularity. I felt my hips rocking up and down, almost out of my control, pushing to feel more of her.
This was an irony we’d had occasion to laugh over, even if most of my laughing at first came from under a deep blush: that she, whose job it was to deal nightly with the needs of men, would just as soon leave out-and-out fucking off the table, while I, who had resolved nothing more to do with their oafish ways, couldn’t get enough of it. The more those fingers drove into me, the more I wished I had. Self-consciousness ebbing away, I began to relax, letting my legs fall wide until my feet were braced all but over the edge on either side. With her tongue on me and her fingers inside me, I was in heaven.
Then her fingers withdrew, and I almost gave a protest — why would she do such a thing when it was obviously the opposite of what I wanted? But then I looked down and understood at last what she had been going on about borrowing and Laurel Ann.
It was a man’s pecker, only it had never belonged to no man, living or otherwise. It was a pretty carved thing instead, made of what looked like bone, maybe an antler smoothed so there were no cracks or spurs on its shiny surface. It was about the size of a rather generous tool, too, though with no balls flopping below the base, and no other annoyances attached. And there was no mistaking its purpose.
Cal popped the rounded in straight into her mouth, then withdrew it slowly, looking up at me all the while through her faint blonde eyelashes. It made a pop as the last little bit broke free of the seal of her plump lips. It was utterly obscene and I was dumbstruck. She laughed then, probably at the expression on my face. “You want to try?” she asked coyly.
Hell yes I wanted to try, even if that desire made me blush just to have it. For a woman living with a bunch of whores, I was none too comfortable with sex, at least when it came to me having it. It seemed like one more ungainly thing, just something else of mine for folk to laugh at. But Cal wasn’t laughing. She was holding that borrowed beast up to her face, gazing on me with an expectant arch of her eyebrow.
So I summoned up all the courage I had in me and nodded.
That beautiful, just-askew grin spread wickedly wide across Cal’s face. She gave the member another long lick, this time making sure it wound up nice and slick. Still looking up at me like she had mischief on her mind, she took the head of it and pushed it right in.
There’s nothing quite like getting fucked, I tell you if you’ve never been, or maybe if you have but you’ve never been done right. There’s still that wrongness to it, like someone putting a finger in your ear or grabbing your pinky toe, and a part of you wonders why you’re letting it happen. But another part just wants to open up and let it all come in, stretch you wide, fill you up. It took being with Cal for that second part of me to overtake the first, until even in my nervous, embarrassed state, I wanted nothing more than I wanted more of her.
“Oh Sweet Jesus!” I gasped out, or some other unspecific blasphemy, I can’t recall. I jerked my hips and that just made that bone pecker jolt inside me, which made me yelp again. I grabbed at the sheets and arched my back, working almost on instinct to drive it deeper in me.
And it was big, no question. I had thought its size already impressive when just measuring it with my eyes, but having it plumb my depths gave me a more up-close sense of its dimensions. It was cold at first, but it warmed soon to match my heat, until everything between my legs was the sensation of being fucked. Cal must have had a tight grip on the end, because she began slipping it in and out then, but with a slowness that threatened to drive me out of my mind.
“Faster,” I panted, I begged.
My eyes were clenched shut tightly, but I heard Cal giggle. “Faster?” she asked, even as she complied, working the polished prick in and out of me with tantalizing speed. “Like this?”
I nodded so frantically my hair was coming loose from its braids. “Please,” I gasped. My hips were thrusting up and down now, making the springs creak as surely as if I had a man on top of me, doing his business. But there was no man here, except in part — and at least that was the good part. Everything else was Calpernia, who bent down to give my clit a few more licks as she fucked in and out of me.
Just plain faster became faster and deeper, until she started reaching parts of me I didn’t know anyone or anything could get to. I was exhausted and sore and so full of happiness to be with Cal again that I was long past being able to rein myself in. I cried out now with every thrust, unable to stop. I suppose part of me was afraid that if I’d stopped, she would’ve stopped, and I would’ve given the world twice over not to have that happen. Like when the horse you’re riding gets spooked and bolts on its own, sometimes the best way to get things back in control is just to let them ride.
When I finally came, it was a bit unexpected, seeing as no matter how much I liked fucking, I had never come from just it before. But all of a sudden, here it was, riding up on me like that same runaway horse. Pleasure shook my body, radiating out from my cunt to the tips of my toes. I am certain several more blasphemies were spoken, but at the time I only had room in my head for the thought of how good it felt, even after the whole trail drive and back, to have one more ride.
At last I collapsed back against the pillow, breathing like I’d just won a race. Cal was soon by my side, petting my breasts and nuzzling my chin. She was even still dressed, not in her fancy work clothes, but with her bodice all done up and all her skirts still on. I have always been amazed at how some women do anything in a skirt, let alone several.
I turned my head and kissed her with clumsy but earnest gratitude. She smiled and kissed back as she settled herself in my arms. “I’m glad you’re home,” she said.
Home. Now there was a concept. When had she started thinking of the cathouse as my home? Moreover, when had I? “Me too,” I told her as I drew her close to me as I could get us both. Sometimes I had crazy thoughts, like if I could wrap us both up into one person, I would, so I’d never have to ride off without her again. Things like that were too strange to voice, too strange by half, but if you’d had her there in your arms, I bet you would’ve thought the same things too.
Cal glanced down at the artificial member, which she’d left poking upright on the table near the foot of the bed. It was slick with my juices and hilariously pert. “Now I know what to get you for Christmas,” she said with a laugh, poking me in my soft belly.
I turned pink again, which just made her laugh harder. “I like you just fine without it,” I promised her.
“And you like me just fine with it too, so why not?” Her fingers slipped down to stroke my thigh, teasing at the still-damp valley between my legs. “Thank you.”
She’d just given me an orgasm so good I’m sure all three floors of the building heard it, and people on the street beside, and now she was thanking me? “What for?” I asked.
Cal nuzzled my cheek. “For trusting me,” she said. “I know that doesn’t come easy for you. But it means a lot to me that you do, enough to let me make you feel good the way I know you want to.”
“I want to too,” I said, even as my voice broke into a yawn. “For you, I mean. Just … tonight?”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Cal said as she pillowed her head on my shoulder. Curled up close as two could be, we let our long nights end together as we both fell into sleep.
I was smoking on the porch after supper that evening when Jack Coldwell rode up. He was a quiet man, whose years of drinking and carousing were behind him, so I knew he’d come to pay me. I greeted him with a nod and opened my cigarette case by way of making him feel welcome.
He considered a moment, then took one and joined me on the porch. “Fine night,” he said by way of making conversation.
“Is,” I agreed, puffing a plume of tobacco smoke into the air. Sunday wasn’t exactly the busiest of nights around the place, but Cal was still inside, getting ready to put her best face forward nonetheless. We’d be open for business come sundown proper.
Jack handed over a little leather wallet, which I didn’t open or count. I’d been riding with him three seasons now and I knew he wouldn’t cheat me, not if he ever wanted me back. We stayed there in silence a time, watching the shadows grow long, and I wondered what was keeping him here past his business. Then he cleared his throat and turned to me: “Ain’t none of my business, Liza,” he said, polite enough to leave off the part everyone else tacked on, on account of my unconventional ways, “but my brother’s got a boy about your age, heading west soon, looking for a good woman to go with him. Now I know what you’ll say–”
“Thank you, Jack,” I told him.
“He’s a good man,” Jack said. “And he won’t mind none how you are.” When I didn’t answer right away, Jack set on me the look I knew he’d given all his kids, that one where he was their father and he only wanted what was best for them. “This life ain’t good for you, Liza. You need a man.”
I thought back to what was waiting at the end of Cal’s bed — of our bed — now on extended loan from Laurel Ann until one of us could be bothered to give it a proper washing and give it back. “Got all of a man I need already,” I said.
There was no question Jack didn’t understand my meaning, but he let it be, and after a time he finished his cigarette and took off again. I pocketed the wallet and stood, dusting off my trousers. It would be dark soon, and I wasn’t fool enough to keep Miss Calpernia waiting for anything. At long last, it was good to be home.