Snowy, Snowy Nights

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In most senses Bran had been invisible at the Hayden saloon the couple of months he’d been there. But as he came out of the back room into the main saloon hall, carrying the bucket of water Levi Yost, the saloon keeper, had told him to use to freshen the bowls in the rooms upstairs, he looked at the tall Christmas tree in the corner. Sadie, Katie, and Faye were busy happily decorating the tree with colorful bows from their own drawers. The tree had been his idea.

At first Levi had given him the fish eye when he’d suggested that a tree would liven up the room and make more men come into the saloon. The saloon and brothel manager had been skeptical.

“We don’t need no reason to entice the men to come in here; they show up on their own and fill the place every night. And I just don’t know. A live fir tree indoors? I’ve heard of it, of course, but that’s more for those hoity-toity sissies back East.”

It was a Christmas tradition that had come from back East, for sure, Bran knew. His family back in Pennsylvania had always had a Christmas tree, bringing the tradition with them from Germany. It was one of the few family memories Bran still had. He’d lost his family to an Arapaho war party when coming over the Rockies below Hahn’s Peak in a wagon train. Somehow Bran had been overlooked in the slaughter and had been taken in, here in Hayden, Colorado, on the Yampa River, by the family that owned the livery stable.

Bran had lived with them for a few years, being treated more like a slave that the Union not long ago had fought a war to get rid of. But when old man Toliver had found Bran laying under his son, Quin, on a haystack in the back corner of the livery one night, Bran had found himself working at the Hayden saloon the next day and living in a shed out back.

“That’s the place for you,” Toliver had said, “and you keep away from my son, you hear?”

And since old man Toliver was holding a shotgun when he’d said that and was looking real mean, Bran had agreed to stay away from Quin—although it had been Quin, of course, who had accosted him.

Bran hadn’t been told his duties at the saloon would involve lying under men, although Bran had no illusions that it would come to that. The saloon did have a male prostitute for men who swung that way, the life of a cowboy on the range helping to make a man settle for another man—Sadie, Katie, and Faye, being the girls for the regular customers—and Bran was small, blue eyed, with curly blond hair and had a body that was perfectly formed, and thus ripe for the job. But Bran hoped that he’d have found a way to move on—or back to Pennsylvania to find family—before it came to that. Yost had him carrying water, cleaning up the rooms upstairs between uses, keeping fires going in the fireplaces now that winter was setting in in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains, and doing general fetch and carry duties.

As it turned out, Yost was pleased with the Christmas tree idea, not least because the girls were enjoying decorating it so much that they were bouncy and flirty with the customers, which seemed to be increasing the saloon’s revenues.

Bran had worked through the women’s rooms on the west side of the second floor and was moving over to the east side, when he became aware that the “best” room on the front east corner was in use. The women had a “best” room at the front on the west corner to entertain the more important and high-spending men too, but this one was the “best” room for Sam, the male prostitute. Behind that room on the east was Sam’s room for regular customers, which, of course, wasn’t near as grand, and then Sam’s own bedroom was behind that, at the back, which wasn’t grand at all. It was grander than the shed Bran was sleeping in, though.

From the sound, Bran knew there was quite a session going on in the “best” room. He hadn’t realized that any of the rooms were in use this early in the afternoon, but Levi had told him to change the water and towels in all of the rooms, so Bran knew he’d have to slide into the front-east “best” room as unobtrusively as possible and get on with his business.

It was groans and heavy breathing that he was hearing, but it wasn’t Sam. Sam was off in Kansas visiting his sick mother. The guy who was moaning was Caleb, Sam’s temporary substitute from up Slater Creek valley. Business had picked up with him here. He was younger, fresher, and, some of the clients said, better looking and with a better body than Sam. Levi was making noises about maybe Sam just not coming back, but Bran had talked with Caleb. He just wanted to have money to rebuild a barn for his foster father up in the valley. He wasn’t looking for this to be permanent.

Caleb was making more noise than he usually did. Bran decided this meant his customer was extra demanding. He clicked the door open and moved around the side of the room to the water bowl on a bureau. There was a pail beside the bureau. He’d have to empty the old water in that, put fresh water in the xslot bowl, exchange the towels, and creep back out of the room with the dirty towel and pail of dirty water.

It was a big room and fancier than the regular rooms. Both of the “best” rooms were just that, outfitted more like fancy parlors, with red-velvet coverings on the walls and heavy drapes at the windows, upholstered chairs at the fireplace, a braided rug on the floor, and a copper bathtub in the center of the room.

In the “best” rooms, the clients were treated to a bath before the sex. The women and Sam liked using these rooms the best, of course, because they got the men clean for probably the only time in a month—and before if not during sex. The sex usually started when the men were still in the tub, and Bran saw that there was no difference here. Water was sloshed out of the tub and onto the floor like there had been some sort of wrestling match going in the tub—which probably was true. Bran hadn’t been called on to fill the tub with water heated up down in the back room of the saloon—one or both of the serving girls must have done that—but he knew he’d be the one to have to clean up after Caleb and this man were done.

The man was tall, broad shouldered, and barrel and hairy chested. Probably in his forties, but a hands-on worker, because he was heavily muscled. His waist wasn’t thin, but his abs were laid out in plates like the illustrations of Roman soldiers Bran had seen in picture books.

From what Bran could see of the root of the man’s cock as he fucked Caleb at the foot of the four-poster bed, the man was big in that department too. His balls certainly were big. They were flapping on Caleb’s buttocks as the man worked on Caleb’s hole. Caleb was on his back, running along the foot of the bed, one leg extended to the floor and the other one running up the man’s torso. The man was standing on the floor with one leg and had the other one bent on the bed. There were pillows under the small of Caleb’s back that turned his pelvis up to give the customer a deep angle.

Caleb was naked and the man was naked too other than that he was still wearing his boots. Bran wondered how they had managed that—whatever had gone on in the tub before this—with the man still wearing his boots. Keeping one’s boots on wasn’t that unusual, though. One of the things the prostitutes were careful to do was to make sure the man’s spurs weren’t still on the boots. The prostitutes only made that mistake once. Bran had seen customers in these rooms who didn’t even take off their hats—just opened their flies and bent Sam or Caleb over the bed.

Caleb’s eyes followed Bran as he moved through and back out of the room. They seemed almost to be pleading with him for some sort of help, and he was groaning and moaning to beat the band. Bran needed no more evidence than that to know that the man was huge in the cock department. But there was no help to give Caleb. He was doing what he was here to do—what he was being paid to give.

Bran trotted downstairs with the dirty towels and pail full of dirty water with mixed feelings. The man’s body was powerful looking and it was arousing to think of accommodating a huge cock like the man must have—Quin’s cock hadn’t been oversized. Neither had been Mr. Toliver’s, whose problem with Quin fucking Bran had probably been more one of jealousy than propriety.

The light was dim in the back room when Bran got down there. He threw the dirty towels on the pile beside the wash tub and went out into the back yard and dumped the bucket of dirty water, leaving the door to the outside open when he’d returned and pumped clean water into the pail from the pump at the sink.

He didn’t know whether Toliver had been in the room all the time or had come in through the open door, but he suddenly found himself in the embracing arms of a strong man behind him, a man who was panting heavily, a man who held a calloused palm over Bran’s mouth and pulled his head back, arching his back to the man’s chest. Bran’s britches were being jerked down from behind and fingers were forcing themselves in his channel. And then a man’s cock. Bran knew it was Mr. Toliver because of the crook to the right of the cock. Quin’s cock crooked to the left.

Toliver was in high fuck, and Bran was just standing there, taking it, half in relief, because it had been a while since Quin had last fucked him and Bran had left the “best” room upstairs in arousal, when Levi Yost walked in on them.

If Bran expected Yost to intervene, he was mistaken.

“If you do it in the saloon, you pay for it, Cale,” was what he said. “You want to take that outside?”

“I’ll pay,” Toliver growled, not missing a beat in his pumping.

“Best if you come through the front and make it all proper the next time then,” he said. And after standing there a minute to watch the stroking, he left the room.

Afterward, as Bran was sweeping out the saloon’s bar room and taking sidelong xslot Giriş looks at Faye finishing up with ribbons on the tree, Yost called Bran over to the bar.

“You’ll be taking up the slack during busy times for Caleb and for Sam when’s he’s back now, Bran. I wasn’t sure whether Cale was shitting me before—whether you took cock—but now that I know you do, you might as well be making the saloon more money. You got a problem with that? If so, you’d best be finding someplace else to work and sleep.”

“No, Mr. Yost,” Bran answered, his eyes looking down at the floor. “I don’t have a problem with that.”

“Well, you say yes and we invest in getting you set up here, you are contracted to us. Understand?”

“Yes, Mr. Yost.”

It just meant that now more than ever Bran wanted to be able to move on from here.

* * * *

Jeremiah Carlin rode out of Hayden and turned up toward the south end of the Slater Creek valley, which dropped down between ranges of the Rockies from Wyoming territory into the new state of Colorado. He was headed due north rather than northwest to his cattle ranch on the Elkhead River. He’d spend another Christmas and New Year’s up at his mountain cabin near Antelope Gap pass on the western range. The ranch hands thought that was where he headed off to from the ranch, but he still had needs, so he’d come down to Hayden first.

Two years. Time for him to be alone up at the cabin. The hands could take care of the ranch. He wouldn’t be fit to be around until early January. This would be the third Christmas since he’d lost Seth—at Christmas. One of those freak accidents that is easy to have on a cattle ranch. Jeremiah had been completely unprepared for it. He was twenty years older than Seth. He should have been set for life. He was the one who should have gone first.

And he couldn’t even mourn properly at the ranch. He couldn’t have owned up to what Seth meant to him. Some of the ranch hands—the cook, Clyde, certainly—had known. But it wasn’t something that anyone could talk about in the open. Many of the men did it; they just didn’t talk about it. He couldn’t mourn Seth in the open.

It had been Clyde’s suggestion that first Christmas—spoken softly and with great care—that Jeremiah go on up to the cabin for the rest of the season. He could let loose there, or withdraw into himself. Anything. Anything that came naturally to him. He usually only used the cabin in the spring and fall—to hunt from. It too easily could get snowed in in the winter. And in the summer he was busy with the cattle drive up into Nebraska, to the stockyards in Omaha.

But snowed in was maybe a good thing the way he was feeling. Clyde had been right. He needed to be alone in that season. And withdrawal, just laying under blankets and watching the fire—and putting away the liquor. Hoping it put away the ache as well. That’s what had worked, as well as anything could, these last two years.

The horse snorted, bringing him back into the present as they approached the narrow southern passage into Slater Creek valley. He sniffed the breeze. Snow. It would be snowing up in the mountains soon. Down here too, probably. Good.

He got to the cabin as twilight was licking its way down the eastern slope of the western range. He could still see up into Antelope Gap, but there were snow clouds hovering over the western side of that. It would snow before morning here at the cabin.

He put Becky in her stall in the small barn and made sure she had enough to eat and drink to last for days. When they had a big snowfall up here, it would get real serious. There would be days he couldn’t make it as far as the barn.

Opening up the cabin then, he left the shutters on the two windows and started up a fire in the fireplace before unbundling. It was just the one room, with a fireplace at one end, a window and door on the front, with a porch along the front of the cabin. A window on the opposite end from the fireplace. A door off the back. That just led down a narrow corridor to the outhouse. After that first winter up here, Jeremiah had learned the hard way that he needed a clear path to the outhouse. So, he could say that his cabin was fancier than most up here.

Cupboards along the back wall. Two overstuffed chairs at the fireplace, Seth’s untouched in the last two years. A small, rectangular table, with four straight-back mismatched chairs, in the middle of the room, between the doors on the front and back, and the double bed at the end opposite the fireplace. There was a grizzly bear rug in front of the fireplace between the two chairs there and a braided rug between the table and the bed. He’d once had a single bed. When he had found Seth, one of the first things he’d done here and at the ranch was put in double beds. It had only been here, though, that they could be free to fuck without restraint. Seth had been a yeller when fucking with abandon. And Jeremiah had a cock that made him want to yell.

With xslot Güncel Giriş the fire going good, Jeremiah stripped off a couple of layers of clothing and cooked beans and a slab of fatback over the fire, with a coffee pot sitting directly in the fire. He ate alone, hunched over the table, trying not to think any thoughts at all, but with Seth—and his times with Seth, here, sitting by the fire, and over there on the bed—drifting in and out of his mind. That wasn’t a reason not to be here, though. It would be the same down at the ranch. But down there, it would be the men being in the Christmas spirit—or trying to. Jeremiah wasn’t so selfish as to be down there, all glum and mournful, and keeping the men from getting into the spirit.

He hadn’t unshuttered the windows on purpose. It wasn’t just to keep the heat in. It also was to keep the world out. Being alone, in the silence, that was all he could take in this season. He did, though, hear the wind and a shushing noise through the chinks in the log cabin walls. He went over and opened the door. It had started to snow, but was still in a tentative state of getting that done.

Good, he thought. He closed the door, went over to the bed, crawled in, still dressed—he’d had a bath down in Hayden that would hold him over for several days—turned his face to the wall, pulled the comforter over him, and laid there for an hour before sleeping, thinking of the good times he and Seth had had in this bed.

* * * *

It had snowed in the night, but not too badly. When Jeremiah left the cabin to check on Becky, though, he could see the clouds were still ominous looking over the western range. From experience, when it looked like this, they were in for a lot of snow, and even if you could get up to the top of Antelope Gap from here, the snow would be so deep on the western slope that you couldn’t get down into the Yampa valley.

He heard whinnying as he approached the barn, and it sounded like more than just Becky, so he was somewhat prepared when he entered the barn to find a painted pony stalled next to Becky—the two of them having a friendly conversation—and a young, blond-haired man bundled up in a blanket and lying on strewn hay in the third stall. He kicked the young man’s boots, and Bran sat up and rubbed his eyes.

“Had a good sleep in my barn, did ya?” Jeremiah asked gruffly.

“Uh, sorry,” Bran answered at the end of a big yawn. “Really sorry. I thought the place was deserted until I saw the horse stalled in here. But I needed someplace to get out of the wind and snow. Really tired. Sorry. Thought I’d be up and gone before whoever owned this horse showed up. Lots of feed and water here. Thought she was being left alone during a hunt or something. The cabin looked all boarded up.”

“And you didn’t see smoke risin’ out of the chimney? City boy, are you? Can’t hunt in weather like this. Well, won’t begrudge you the shelter, but you need to be up and . . . say, do I recognize you from somewhere?”

“No, I don’t think so. Yeah, and sorry about not knowing better. I’ve come from Pennsylvania.” Bran, in fact, did recognize Jeremiah. He was the big-dicked customer working Caleb over in the “best” room just a few days ago.

“Headed where?” Jeremiah asked.

“To California. Just passing through here. Sorry, I’ll be up and on my way.”

“Not for a while, you won’t, I reckon, unless you go south from here into Hayden and then west through the wider gap in the Rockies.”

“Uh, I was told there was a pass up this way.”

“There is. Antelope Gap. But it’s surely snowed in on the western side already, and it will only get worse for the next couple of days. You’ll need to lay up somewhere and wait for it to reopen, unless you hurry and go south to Hayden.”

“Uh, I don’t really want . . .” No way he wanted to be going back toward Hayden. He hadn’t asked anyone’s permission when he’d left, and he had no idea what being contracted to Levi Yost meant.

“Suit yourself. I guess you can hole up here, if you’ve got your own grub. I won’t begrudge you feed for the horse. Becky will like havin’ the company. But you’ll have to stay out here.”

“Stayin’ out here is fine with me, thank you kindly. I have enough hardtack to last until I can get across the mountains.”

“Well, just so you keep quiet like. I came up here for the peace and quiet—and to be alone. That’s why the cabin looks boarded up.”

It was well after his dinner of beans, fatback, and coffee that it hit Jeremiah where he’d seen Bran before—in Hayden’s saloon. In the room where he’d fucked that sweet young piece substituting for Sam. If the guy was in that room . . . He surely was a sweet young piece himself. In some ways he reminded Jeremiah of Seth.

He went to bed and tossed and turned. The longer he thought about Seth and the young man out in the barn, the more aroused he got.

It was snowing harder in the night as he left the cabin and walked toward the barn.

The young man was bundled up in the third stall, shaking a bit because it was cold out here without the benefit of a fire. He wasn’t asleep though. Jeremiah kicked his boots.

“I have seen you before, haven’t I? In the Hayden saloon.”

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