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by Barry Brennessel
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Gay Fiction
Description: Love was the last thing Todd Webster Morgan expected to find while searching for gold in 1870s California. But that was before he met Lao Jian. Hardened beyond his nineteen years, Todd Webster Morgan is determined to find gold high in the Sierra Nevadas. But his dream is violently upended. Complicating matters even more, he meets a young Chinese immigrant named Lao Jian, whose own dreams of finding gold have been quashed by violence. But life back in Sacramento isn't any easier. Todd's mother struggles to make ends meet. His invalid uncle becomes increasing angry and violent. Todd seeks employment with little success. Meanwhile his friendship with Lao Jian turns to love. But their relationship is strained as anti-Chinese sentiment grows. Todd vows not to lose Lao Jian. The couple must risk everything to make a life for themselves. A life that requires facing fear and prejudice head on.
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/MLR Press, LLC,
eBookwise Release Date: October 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [246 KB]
Reading time: 155-217 min.
A High Place Full of Stars
I was treated as a curiosity by this group of Irishmen. Just shy of twenty--my birthday still two months away--and they reminded me at every turn they considered me between hay and grass, barely a man in their eyes. My short height added to their skewed take on whether or not I was of age.
Worst was when they shouted out "Todd-ler," bastardizing my first name, Todd Webster Morgan. My father was right proud of the name, and if he was still among us, he would knock teeth loose. But since his passing stemmed from the foolishness of a saloon brawl, I was content not to dwell upon such an occurrence.
The first morning the Irish came riding up to me they asked me all manner of questions, wondering if I was a claim jumper. Eight of them in their soiled rags and unshaven faces, thundering up and barking at me, as if they owned the whole of the mountain. One member, who lagged behind, caught my interest, if for nothing else because of his young age and fresh face. He held his tongue, unlike his compatriots, and studied me much the way I studied him, as if deep down both of us knew we didn't quite fit the part of a derelict or drifter.
As they flung question after question at me, I told them plainly all the facts: I was indeed an adult in the eyes of the law; I hailed from the City of Sacramento; and I had all rights to be where I was camped. Of course, only in a sense did I consider myself Sacramentan. Truth be told, I grew up many miles north, on a tiny patch of land my mother worked from dawn to dusk in order to keep food on the table, with my invalid uncle held up in the back room. Just seemed finer to say I was from the City. So that's what I told people, if they asked. And believe me, they did. The Irish liked to engage me with questions. I served as entertainment. I was a sideshow freak to them, though I was the handsomest and smartest in the bunch. I didn't mind stating that as gospel.
Despite their teasing, they quickly enough accepted that I was no claim jumper. I did everything by law. I registered in Quincy. I kept to my portion of the river. I've heard tell of people being chased off even after they've signed proper papers. And I wasn't about to allow that to happen to me. I might be young. But they could see the fire in my eyes that first day when they demanded proof that I had the right to be panning where I was. If there was something that people needed to figure out about me, it was that I wasn't afraid to strike out on my own and do what I needed to do to survive. And this group went quickly enough from looking at me with suspicious eyes to letting me into their fold. To a degree, anyway. We all kept a wary distance from each other.
Out of the lot of them, Breandan Donnelly was the one I found most intriguing. He never joined the others in sport. Maybe it was his being so close to my age, though he looked more mature than me, owing to his manly height. Most likely he was sorry for me, since I had no other people. I suspected that even though he traveled with these seven others he felt as solitary as I did. He was the one to invite me to supper with them that first night, insisting that none of the group's words were mean-spirited. He claimed it was a show of their affection that they joshed with me so.
I wasn't sure about that.
I was in no talking mood this day as I scraped up my last few beans and bits of potato, and watched the sun sink behind the mountains. I glanced down the river. Steam floated across the surface. If I could control nature, the first thing I'd do would be to warm the air so it felt like a summer's day.
Tomorrow morning it was down to Truckee. Our mining endeavors--both mine and the Irish--had produced nothing these last four weeks. Not one speck, not one sliver of gold.
I smiled at that--"sliver of gold." I would write that in a letter to my mother. She could think of it as my attempt at poetry for the trick it plays when written out, the mind changing the words to "silver and gold."
The Irish, though disappointed with their lack of success, were nonetheless jovial. I think it had more to do with the fact we'd soon have shelter and home-cooked food. And for a few of the men, I was sure, they would spend money they could scarcely afford so that they could go down the line. They had tried to convince me that I would enjoy the paid company of a woman. Another reason they taunted me with such fervor was that I refused to partake.
Breandan came over to sit with me as we finished our meal. "Where'll you stay in Truckee?"
His question made me realize I'd given no thought to the matter. "Cheapest boarding house possible," I said. "I'm at the last of my father's bestowal, so I'm down to forty-two dollars and some."
He clutched my arm. "Forty-two dollars?" He cast a glance to the others. "Don't chirp that so loud. You'll have these scallywags jumping you in the night." He shook his head and whistled. "Forty-two dollars." When his eyes blinked, some of his brown locks attached to his eyelashes. He brushed them free.
Breandan kept his hair longer than most. When he took off his hat, his long dark mane went in three directions; his bangs off to the right, the sides fully covering his ears and flowing down toward his square jaw, and the back curling up, spreading out like a pair of angel's wings. He had full, smooth lips that a girl would envy. His deep brown eyes squinted more often than not, for it seemed he was always working his mind, calculating or questioning whatever anyone said to him. Not only was he taller, but he was far more muscled, noticeably his arms. I guess so, too, were his legs. And for that matter, his chest, my assessment of which was accurately confirmed whenever he bent down and his shirt would fall away, and I was able to see his skin.
"You could buy yourself plenty of Truckee entertainment with that amount of money, Todd Webster."
Breandan included my middle name when he addressed me, just as my mother often did. I wasn't sure if there was meaning behind it, or if he was confused how to call me. I had introduced myself, after all, as Todd Webster Morgan.
"I'm no spendthrift," I told him.
"Nor am I, unlike these others. Especially old man Hannigan and his penchant for women and cigars. But we all need our amusements. All work and no play, you know fair well what that does to Jack."
"Do you think I'm a dull boy then?"
"You're anything but dull, Todd Webster."
I liked Breandan's way of speaking, the way "anything" came out sounding like "enna-thin." And he was quick-witted. He was correct that humankind needed distractions. I knew with certainty that I did. It stopped me from dwelling on my state, my being so far away from home, on a foolish quest for riches, the hopes for which diminished with each passing day. Cold, hunger, frustration--they not only robbed me of sleep, but caused a sadness that, had the others seen my too frequent tears, they'd have deemed me Miss Nancy.
"They want women," Breandan said, "but I want a big plate of meat and pastries, every morsel piled higher than this mountain."
"I want a bed," I said. "A soft, warm bed with blankets piled higher than your dinner."
"Join me, then, when we get to town. Let these others have their fun." He leaned close enough that I could smell his sweat, which wasn't entirely objectionable, though I would never admit to anyone such a fact. "Between the two of us, I've seen old man Hannigan scratching and moaning in discomfort, and I think it come from his last adventures with the hoors."
Something else I couldn't explain, or admit to, was the warm feeling coursing through me when Breandan asked me to join him in Truckee. I had to contain myself at that moment, for my instinct was to offer dinner as my treat. I feared that might insult him, now that I'd foolishly and unintentionally bragged about my funds. So I merely agreed to be his tag-along.
"We'll find proper accommodation, too. Let the others roll around in troughs. You and I, Todd Webster, we'll live like kings come the weekend."
He popped the last bit of bread into his mouth. He picked up his hat, slid it on his head, then stood up. "Time for me to turn in for the night."
I swallowed the last bite of my meal. "For me, too, I think."
He gave my shoulder a playful jab. He looked up at the darkening sky. "That's a beautiful sight, isn't it?" He was silent for a long time, his eyes scanning the expanse. Then he whispered, soft and pleasing to my ear, "One thing I want you to always remember, Todd Webster. No matter that we're not striking our fortune in gold, we're still blessed, for we're up here, seeing something most people never do. This high place full of stars."
Breandan's words--and the way he spoke them--not only gave me warmth at that very instant, but goosebumps as well.
The mood was calm and peaceful, until we heard some stomping around to our left.
We both jumped. My horse, Paul Revere, tied off to a tree some twenty feet from us, stirred and whinnied.
Old man Hannigan stood there, a wad of chew puffing out his cheeks, his right hand tucked down behind his belt buckle. "When you're done dallyin' over there with Todd-ler, how 'bout you come back to our camp and earn your keep?"
Breandan turned and smirked at me. "We're treated like paupers now, but you wait until tomorrow night. The world will be ours to command."