I finished the list that I was currently making while stroking the soft curls on James' head. He had fallen asleep just a few moments before and I quietly laid aside my pen so I could watch him. All that bounding energy was finally at rest beside me while I slowly petted him. The lines on his forehead had smoothed out and I wondered if I could detect some laugh wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. He laughed more easily these days and I adored watching him lose his vaunted control before breaking into delighted chortles.
He was determined to make everything perfect for us and I pondered how to ask him about his surprise. Or even if I should ask at all? He'd been spending money right and left since we'd committed to each other. I didn't want to be a burden on him and I'd tried to economize especially with the house. Doing what work we could had kept some of the costs down, paying in sweat and toil what we did not wish to pay in money.
But I worried that some of the items I'd craved, like the eight-burner Majestic stove, should have been scaled down to the six-burner model. The candelabra could have stayed plain instead of the intricate wrought iron of grape leaves and vines that Elijah had created for us. Two sconces instead of eight, shelves instead of the court cupboard, a table in place of the roll-top desk and ad infinitum.
I sighed and bit my lip at some of the extravagances in which he'd indulged me. The books were still coming, not to mention the candles for all those sconces. I didn't want him to think he had to buy all these things in order to make our lives more pleasant. I was fully prepared to do without them all so long as he stayed by my side. The addiction to which I'd fallen was a life-long one and one for which there was no cure. Nor did I want one.
I was happily enthralled with the blithe spirit that was my James.
"Artemis, why are you frowning?" The sleepy voice and gentle kiss to my wrist told me that I'd been caught. The blue eyes blinked up at me so trustingly that I had to tell him the truth.
He listened intently to my outpouring of fears then sat up so he could hug me. "I love you, my Artemis. I didn't think I'd ever say that to someone but you freed my tongue and my heart when you surprised me that day. I lived very simply because I didn't know how to live any other way. I didn't realize that china could satisfy something inside of me that a tin plate never would. You showed me that beauty could be found in a dish or a wineglass or even a plate of spaghetti. Now, I like finding that beauty in other things too."
My arms came around him while he paused and I listened to him try to articulate what he'd never had to before. Somehow I didn't think that I'd be the loser by being silent.
"And as for our house, I can't imagine what it would have looked like if I'd been the one designing it." He chuckled and patted my cheek. "Maybe a little like the barracks at West Point?" I shuddered and he kissed me sweetly. "I like learning about new things like how to make iron into a vine that holds candles. And I know that I've been holding back about my surprise but we were so busy and it never seemed to be the right time to tell you what it was."
He was blushing and I cuddled him closer. "Sweetheart, if you need to keep it secret, I'll try to keep my curiosity to myself."
"Um ... well, it's kind of hard to talk about because it came from Father and I'd always told myself that I'd rather give it away than take anything from him. I was surprised that he didn't disinherit me when I left for West Point but he died so soon after that I guess he didn't have the chance." His eyes were sad and I had to kiss him to try and take away the pain.
"James, perhaps he saw that you had to be your own man and that your sense of duty which surely came from him, had led you to the military." I tried to find something positive to say about the man who'd treated my lover so horribly.
He shook his head. "I very much doubt it, Artemis. He thought the military a den of iniquity. And what he would have thought of General Grant, I can't imagine. Drinking was absolutely forbidden in our house and in the parish. He'd have turned the whole state dry if he could. But although he was perhaps, not the best of fathers, he was a very good investor. His father left him $100,000 when he died."
I blinked and thought about that immense sum of money. "Goodness, if he left you that much, he was a very good investor."
James' eyes looked everywhere but at me and his hands wrung themselves in his lap. "Well, he took that amount and invested it with a few really good companies like the Union Pacific."
I laughed out loud and he looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. "That's how you got permission to hook our car onto the train when we went to New York. He must have left you quite a few shares for them to grant you that privilege."
"Actually, I'm the fifth largest shareholder in the company." He looked shyly at me while I tried to come to grips with his words. "When he died, he left me the better part of three million dollars."
"What?" I must have misheard him.
"Um, that's why Mr. Kennedy took so long to go over my portfolio when we were in New York. I wanted to convert some of my holdings into gold so we had something to travel and get started with." He blushed and looked down. "I seem to have inherited his ability to pick a good stock so we've got quite a bit put away."
"Millions?" I said faintly and wondered if it was possible to faint at good news.
He nodded and stroked my cheek. "Actually, you have a hundred thousand in the bank in Sacramento and so do I. Plus we have an account in San Francisco for our purchases for the house. I left the rest of it invested so we'd always have something to fall back on if times got bad. After I paid for the house, I took a few more securities and cashed them in but they were due anyway. And I didn't want you to think that I was keeping you or anything silly like that. This way, we both have something to spend or give away, like the McGuffey readers for the school."
"A hundred thousand?" I sounded like a parrot.
He finally grinned at me and hugged me tightly. "Surprise!"
I held him as if I was about to drown and he was my only hope of survival. I simply couldn't wrap my mind around the concept that he'd just laid out. At my most thrifty, I'd never had more than a hundred dollars in the bank. Investing was a foreign concept to me, something that I might try when I was older. I'd always spent or indeed given away everything I earned except for the twenty-dollar gold coin that stayed in the inside pocket of my coat.
That was my idea of a rainy day fund.
"Artemis, are you angry with me for keeping it a secret?" The hesitant voice brought me out of my funk, the way nothing else could.
"Never angry, my James, but surprised, yes." I marshaled my thoughts and met his anxious gaze. "You are the money manager of our team, sweetheart. I have no idea what to do with the fabulous sums that you have mentioned. It's a shock but a very nice one that we don't have to scrimp and save for every penny. But you must never let me have any of it, James. I'll just spend it or lose it or . . ."
"It's there for you to spend or lose or give away. I'm not
taking it back, my wonderful Artemis." He shook his head determinedly. "And if something should happen to me, you are my sole heir in the will
that Mr. Kennedy drew up."
I shuddered. "Never, my James, you shall outlive me by years and years. I couldn't bear to lose you."
He hugged me fiercely. "No. I refuse to live without you, my Artemis. I will make sure that you will live for a very long time so I can too."
Holding him almost as fiercely, I blinked back sudden tears. "We are indeed a pair of lovesick fools, my sweet James. Very well, we shall both live an extremely long time and die at the exact same moment so neither of us has to live without the other."
"Yes," he sniffed and let go of me with one hand to fish for his handkerchief. "And you know very well that you'd like to have some money to give away to help old friends or smooth the way for learning in the school or to our church."
I sniffed a little myself and he wiped away the tear that escaped. "Well, maybe just a little. The readers were so inexpensive and meant so much to Elizabeth."
"And the Caitlins don't make very much money so buying lots of candles from them helps them out too." James blew his nose and stuffed the white linen into his pocket. "And Wellington and Elijah both got to be creative and show that they're more than just workers. They're craftsmen and everyone who sees our home will know that."
"You are so right, sweetheart." I sighed and shook my head. "Please keep the money in your hands, James. I think I'm afraid of such a vast amount."
"Silly Artemis, it is just money." He kissed me gently. "And once your vineyard starts to grow or you invent something in your laboratory that you can patent, you might just be bringing in vast sums yourself."
Chuckling at the thought that any of the little things that I'd invented before or might in the future could ever bring in such vast sums, I returned his kiss. Feasting on those soft lips, I resigned myself to being rich. By the time we'd grown short of breath, I'd come to terms with his surprise.
"Very well, James, you stay our business manager and I shall be your board of one. We shall decide together what to use the money for, and I will try to make myself give or spend some of the money you've put in my name. And if I ever bring in any money, you shall invest it for us. Agreed?"
"Yes, you shall have the very important title of Chairman of the Board, since you're the only board member." He grinned at me.
I mock-groaned. "That means that I'll have to actually work, James. I don't know if I should, not even for the princely salary you've given me. I think I shall have to charge you kisses for every board meeting that I have to attend. Hm-m-m, ten kisses a meeting should do it."
James, part two
I laughed and hugged him tightly. For a moment there, I'd thought he was going to pass out from shock. But he seemed to be all right now and I knew that I'd have to make him forget it soon or it might effect our relationship. I didn't want that to change, not one iota and I plotted how to make him take the lead again.
"Artemis, can you forget it and go back to loving me?" I asked rather anxiously.
"Sweetheart, I can't forget it but I can make sure that I love you to pieces, just the way you need me to." He promised me and stroked my groin, waking up Jim completely.
Sighing in relief, I wiggled over a slumbering Artie who perked up just a little. "I think maybe, I should be punished for letting the surprise go so long without telling you."
"Oh, no you shouldn't, James." His eyes glowed into mine, his hand slowly stroking up and down my hardening cock. "However, I believe that naughty student James should be paddled for giving his poor teacher such a shock."
The car jerked and I realized that we were coming into San Francisco. Artemis sighed a little and I hugged him close. "Maybe we should wait until we get to the hotel for you to chastise me, my stern teacher?"
He tipped me up and over his knees. "Oh, we have plenty of time for me to warm the seat of your pants, young James. Since I didn't bring my birch cane, I shall just have to make do with my hand. Now, how many spanks should springing such a shock on your easy going teacher bring you?"
"Um, a lot?" I squirmed over his legs and felt the first delicious crack of his hand on my left cheek. He chuckled and continued giving me my penance. I could feel him loving me the whole time and I knew that it would be all right. In fact, telling him had felt like such a relief that I was feeling lighter than air.
"Well, my naughty James, that should keep you on the straight and narrow until tomorrow." He turned me over and pulled me up into his arms. "Are there any empty spaces that you'd like your teacher to fill for you?"
"Yes, please." I raised up a little so our lips could meet. This kiss was tender but with a hint of the passion that was simmering inside of us. My cheeks were on fire and Jim was hard as iron but then so was Artie, nestling beneath me. When we broke apart to breathe, I sighed. "There's another empty spot, my loving teacher but I'm afraid that we'll have to wait until we get to the hotel for you to fill it. I've been doing my exercises faithfully and maybe you can measure my penis to see if I grew any."
He chuckled and held me tight while the whole car jerked twice before stopping with a hiss of the air brakes. "I'd be glad to both measure you and fill you up, James. But we'd better get our suitcases ready so we can disembark to find a cab. It's almost midnight and I admit that a nice soft bed would feel very good right now."
I slipped off his lap and held out my hand to help him up. "I need to stay very close in this big city, my Artemis. Little students might get lost in the crowd."
He led me down the hall to my old room where the bed still showed the rumpled sheets from our afternoon of play. "Never fear, James, I promise to not let you out of my sight. My student would prove to be a tasty morsel for some of the big, bad men of this wicked city. Just stay within reach of me and we shall fight them off together."
Chuckling, I took the bag that he plucked from my old armoire. Heading for the bed, I opened it to put in the jar we'd used earlier. "Artemis, maybe we can find a new cream to try from one of the local stores while we're here?"
"Good thinking, I'd hate to run out when we were ..." he winked at me and lifted his own suitcase from the armoire, "experimenting."
"Heavens, no!" I widened my eyes innocently and watched his face break into the fond smile that I adored. "That would never do, my teacher. We shall have to buy several and test their ability to cool that friction you were showing me."
"What a good idea, my student, we shall come up with several variables to examine and select the best that we find." He started from the room with me right on his heels. "But later tomorrow or rather, today now that it's after midnight. I've grown so used to early hours that I'm sleepy. Even after our 'nap'."
I joined in his chuckle and made sure that the place was locked up tight before we disembarked for the station. The stationmaster told us where the car would be parked for the next week and that he would personally keep an eye on it. There was still a cab out front of the station and I gave him the name of the Hill House Hotel before climbing in to join Artemis for the ride.
"I'd forgotten how bright a big city is at night." Artemis was looking out of the window with a rather nostalgic air. "But I miss our stars, James, the ones that light our way to the barn and back."
"They're still there, Artemis, and we'll appreciate them more when we go home." I leaned against his shoulder and he took my hand in his.
"Indeed they are, my James. We shall enjoy the big city and then return with a sigh of relief to our very own haven in the north." Daringly, he brushed a kiss to my temple before looking back out of the small window in the side door.
I stayed within touching range while I looked out my side window. The gaslights were on at every street corner and I looked at the buildings that were lit up brightly even at this late hour. Then the buildings grew more grandiose the further up the steep hill we climbed. I wondered how much exercise we'd get walking back to the hotel that advertised that they were the tallest in the entire city.
"Hill House, gentlemen." Our cabby called out and almost instantly, the door on my side swung open and a tall black man in a purple coat greeted us and took the bags at our feet.
Artemis got out first, stretching a little while I descended the two steps to the sidewalk outside the six story brick building that loomed over us. The doorman smiled brightly and held the door for us. "Right this way, gentlemen. The front desk will take your names and the porter will carry your bags up for you. And I wish you a pleasant night, gentlemen."
He bowed himself back outside while the man at the desk smiled pleasantly and asked our names. Our reservation was acknowledged and I signed in for us both while Artemis hid a yawn behind his hand. The key was quite large when the desk clerk handed it to me and I wondered how anyone ever put it in a pocket. The porter who took us to the elevator, let us get on first then he got in while the young man closed the door and started it going up.
"This is an Otis elevator, James. It has his safety device so even if the pulley system broke, we wouldn't plunge six stories to our death." Artemis said genially when he noticed me tense. "He patented it in 1854 and there have been several improvements since."
I was still a little nervous in this small room that moved up and down. Stairs were just fine with me.
The long hall on the sixth floor was carpeted in a plush burgundy and every ten feet there was a gaslight dimly lit. The last door on the right was ours and I unlocked it before stepping aside for the porter to carry in our bags and light the gaslight. The room was large with high ceilings and beautiful damask green curtains over the long windows. The bed was almost as big as our bed with an ornate headboard and a bedspread the same green of the curtains.
"Your bathroom is through this door, gentlemen. All the rooms on this floor have private baths. If there is anything you need, please ring the bell here by the bed and someone will be up shortly." He bowed himself out after Artemis tipped him and asked for a paper first thing in the morning.
Then we were alone and I went straight into his arms. "Is it all right?"
"It's beautiful, James. Let's share a bath and go to bed. I think that our experiments will have to wait for tomorrow, sweetheart. I need about eight hours sleep before I face a new day and all the shopping that we have to do." He kissed me tenderly and led me into the pretty white and green tiled room. "Such a lovely big tub that we'll have to stay close together or get lost."
I chuckled and started the water running while he went to get his favorite bath oil from his suitcase. Soon the scent of heather filled the room and we were both soaking in the hot water. Lazily, we soaped each other clean, content for the moment to simply bathe instead of play. I had to admit to being rather tired myself. Telling Artemis about my inheritance had been more stressful than I'd thought it would be.
We dried each other off and pulled back the covers to reveal soft mint green sheets that felt wonderful. I turned off the gaslight and joined Artemis under the sheets. He pulled me up and over him like an extra blanket, kissing me softly and smoothing warm caresses down my back. Jim and Artie snuggled together happily while we said sleepy goodnights and fell asleep before taking two breaths.
When I woke up, Artemis was sliding deep inside of me. I stretched around him naturally and he filled me with his warmth. "Good morning, my beloved James. I thought that I'd get started on our busy day."
I hugged his arms close and brought his hand to my lips. "I love you, Artemis. And I love the way you say 'good morning'. The empty spot is all gone and I think this is the perfect way to start our day."
He thrust in slowly, stimulating my gland and bringing Jim to full hardness. Clasping me in his hand, he stroked within and without until I was burning up with his heat. I tried to be quiet but when he struck my gland for what had to be the hundredth time, I climaxed with a soft cry. My inner muscles brought his release deep inside of me and he muffled his groan by biting my shoulder.
I felt surrounded by his love and caring, hugging him tightly to me. He licked the bite and it sent a little tingle through me. "Was I too rough, sweetheart? I've marked you again, I'm afraid."
"I like it when you mark me, my Artemis. It reminds me that I belong to you and you alone." I brought his hand to my lips to clean them of my seed.
"You do indeed, my sweet James." He kissed that spot behind my ear that always warms me. "But I belong to you and only you, too. I think that I shall have you pierce my left nipple so we can wear matching rings."
I twisted just a little to see his dark eyes twinkling down at me. "Really?"
"Really, my James. When we get home, sweetheart." He kissed me gently.
Artemis, part three
He blushed and smiled up at me. "I'd like that, my Artemis. It would be like a wedding without all the bother."
I chuckled and kissed him again, enjoying the familiar James-taste that I always craved. Backing gently out of him, I held him close while he suckled at my nipple. "We have a lot to do today, my love. The scientific outfitters this morning, I think. Then lunch and a trip to Chinatown so we can look at rugs and replenish our herb supply."
"Can we eat breakfast first?" He said rather plaintively and gave me a pouting look. "We won't last the day without a good meal to start us off right."
"But of course, James." I let him go and rolled out of the bed. "Shave first so we don't shock the good people of San Francisco then we'll dress and see if this fine hotel has an equally fine restaurant."
He joined me and we went through our normal routine, taking turns at the sink and helping each other dress. James wore his blue suit and I couldn't forbear kissing him hard before we left our room. He smiled through the kiss, his fingers smoothing the linen over my back beneath my coat.
When we broke apart, he said demurely. "I won't forget where I'm going or where I need to return, my Artemis. But if I should, perhaps you could remind me again, just like that?"
"As often as I need to, James." I smiled down into his blue eyes and fell in love all over again. "Of course, you can always remind me if you feel the need."
He laughed out loud and wiggled just a little in front of me when we left our rooms. The newspaper was sitting outside our door and I tucked it under my arm to read at breakfast. We took the stairs this time and I teased him quietly about the elevator until he blushed. The hotel restaurant was called the Singing Swan and did a very good job with our waking up meal.
We inquired about cabs and the doorman whistled one up for us
in an instant. The day was bright and sunny and the ride to our first
stop a pleasant one. The warehouse district didn't seem as dark and
dingy as the one in New York even though it was near the docks. Baker's
Scientific Industries was well known on both coasts and once I'd given
my list to the beaming salesman, the visit was pleasant indeed. James
quietly gave him the name of our bank, which happened to be theirs as well.
With payment settled satisfactorily, he agreed that delivery would take place at the end of the week at the rail station. James had already rented a boxcar for our purchases and I thought that we might just fill it. His surprise still astonished me every time I stopped to try and comprehend the vast sums of which he'd spoken. I ruefully acknowledged that it might take some time to come to terms with our affluence. James needed me to accept it and continue loving him.
I'd have done that anyway but he also needed me to take the lead in our loving and continue to free him from the chains that his father had wound so tightly around him. So, I had to just love him with all my heart and soul, the way I already did. Perhaps I could write a slightly different variation of the Cinderella story for us.
"Artemis?" James' voice broke into my musings and I realized that I'd totally tuned out the young salesman.
"Yes, Mr. Munson, forgive my inattention. Could you repeat your question?" I smiled at the dark haired man with the engaging grin. It was about the number of retorts that I would need and I opted for three cases since I used them so often.
I made a concerted effort to stay focused and our visit was soon finished. Munson bowed us out with a wide smile and we decided to walk along the wharves to see what other businesses we could find. A tantalizing smell would reach us every once in a while and soon we were following our noses to a ramshackle building that was partly built out over one of the piers.
Someone had painted the words 'Fisherman's Café' over the double doors and since it was close to noon, we ventured inside. We were the only ones dressed in suits but the waitress didn't seem to care, pointing towards a free table then up to the chalk board above the window where I could see the cooks working busily.
When she came back after delivering a full tray to a nearby table, we were ready with our order. James wanted the flounder and I asked for the shrimp. She nodded briskly and good-naturedly slapped away a grope from a sailor at the table beside ours. We ordered beer and began to go over our list of things still to do.
The food appeared within five minutes and the crisp batter of my shrimp was absolutely delicious. The slaw that came with it had a nice clean taste and the hush puppy batter was light as air. James' flounder was succulent with a butter sauce that was light and clean with a hint of dill. The food filled our plates and even James was hard pressed to clean his.
She swept by to see if we wanted dessert but we just shook our heads. Smiling, she gave us our check and told us to come back. James left her a hefty tip and we decided to walk some more to help us digest our lunch. Once we left the docks, the first interesting shop to catch our eye was an antique store that looked sufficiently crowded to provide a bargain or two. Furniture and small items vied for room within the narrow confines of the store. Most of it was old and tired looking.
But an old mirror caught my eye from behind a staghorn hat stand. James followed me closely and we measured it to see if it would fit in one of our rooms. The frame was intricately carved from old oak that had turned black with age. The carvings were crisp and clean with only one acorn missing that I could see. The silvering was still mostly intact but James and I looked a little wavery in the dim light. I wondered for what it might have been created. At eight-feet by five-feet, it was too large for most rooms of the day.
"It originally hung in a ball room in Boston." The cultured tones came from an elderly woman who looked like she might be old enough to have come with the mirror. "It traveled around the Horn almost forty years ago. I found it at an auction two years back and you're the first to even be interested in it."
"What of the people who brought it to California? Why didn't they keep it in the family?" James asked her while I tested the weight of the heavy mirror.
"They fell on hard times and finally dwindled to one little old lady without much money. She received enough to last her and died two weeks ago." Her recitation was rather rueful and she sighed just a bit. "She would come and visit the shop once a month to look at herself in the mirror and tell me stories about the balls she remembered."
"It's older than forty years." I mentioned to her and she nodded.
"Yes, it is. Mrs. Daugherty said that it originally came from England almost two hundred years before with her great-grandmother's family. They settled in what was then known as New Amsterdam before moving to the Boston area. Most people think it's too old to give a clear enough reflection but when I see myself in it, the years fade away and I'm young again."
I looked at James and raised an eyebrow, which he answered with a nod. "How much is it? And are there any other pieces from that estate?"
She smiled. "The mirror is eighty dollars and I still have the china tea set that I always used when she came to visit the mirror. The silver tray that it sits on also belonged to her family. It's right over here."
It was a charming set of delicate cups and saucers on a sterling silver tray with curved handles. The teapot was medium sized with a blue underglaze and a vaguely oriental motif. It looked like Worcester ware from the early 1700's that I'd seen in London in a museum. We had a gentle bargaining session and ended up buying all three items. Mrs. Barnes took our money and wrote us a bill of sale before mentioning that her nephew was available to transport all the items to where ever we might like.
We made arrangements to have them brought to our rail car on Friday when we'd be getting ready to go home. She promised to pack the tea set and tray so well that not so much as a breath of air would harm them. The mirror would take special packing but she said that she remembered how it had come to the shop. With that guarantee, we decided that our new purchases were safe with her. It wasn't on our list but I liked the idea of having something old in our brand new house.
"Artemis, I like those cups. They'll look nice on the new court cupboard. What's Worcester ware?" James echoed my sentiments.
So I gave him some of my memories of the trip to London where I'd first seen the creamy porcelain while we walked up Columbus Avenue. We soon found ourselves in Chinatown and there was an abrupt change from women in bustles and men in suits to Orientals in shimmering silk pants and jackets. A dozen different dialects hit my ears and I could feel the energy levels rising the further in we got.
"There's the apothecary, Artemis." James drew my attention to the dusty window across the street.
"Excellent, James, let's go and see if they can fill our list." I led the way across to the shop where the scents leapt out when we opened the door. Dried herbs hung in long streams from the ceiling and the shelves were lined with large jars filled with nameless dried things in odd shapes.
James looked about him with wide eyes and stayed rather close on my heels while I browsed up and down the long aisles. I could see that most of the herbs on my list were in large supply here and when the elderly man came out from behind his counter to bow to us, I bowed back before speaking to him in his own language.
A twinkle appeared in his dark eyes and he answered me in the same dialect that I'd learned from my Chinese friend in New York. Our conversation was leisurely while I brought out my list and gave it to him. Speaking to the Chinese was always a slow process while their flowery imagery brightened up what could have been a short and brisk exchange of words.
My lover looked back and forth between us, a look of delight growing as the foreign phrases tripped from my lips. A small part of my brain began to weave a new story that might involve a young explorer on the shores of a Chinese island where the Emperor had his summer palace. Mr. Chang bowed to me when our business was complete and I bowed back with a satisfied smile.
He had all but one of the herbs and that one he could get by the end of the week. He'd also known of a grower that had seedlings and seeds of some of the herbs that I wanted to grow myself. I had visions of the courtyards in front of our 'E' shaped house becoming a formal herb garden with benches to sit on, a sun dial to tell the time and a fountain that would tinkle musically in the sunlight.
That vision was well on its way to coming true.
James, part four
I always knew that Artemis was brilliant but when he began speaking Chinese so beautifully, I marveled at all the knowledge inside of his head. I was pretty provincial compared to him and I'd never been out of the country once, not even to Mexico or Canada. I felt pretty ignorant next to him and I decided right there and then to begin to study harder so I could contribute something to our lives.
They bowed to each other again and Artemis smiled at me. "Mr. Chang will have our order ready by Friday and he also gave us the name of someone who can provide seedlings for our own garden. He recommended a nephew of his in the rug importing business just down the street. Shall we try there?"
"Yes, we need something for the study floor." I reminded him and he cast a very sultry glance at me that made my cheeks flush.
"And something for the living room, too." He said when we left the rather stuffy shop.
The scents of Chinatown were a fascinating blend of spices that reminded me of my lover. So many different kinds all blending together into a tasty whole, I decided. "Artemis, where did you learn to speak Chinese?"
"When I first came to New York, I explored that city from top to bottom. One evening, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and woke up in an alley with a lump behind my ear and empty pockets. A young man named Li Wong found me and took me to his uncle, who was an apothecary. We struck up a friendship and I helped their family with English lessons while Li taught me Chinese and his uncle taught me about herbs."
I hated the thought of him being hurt but once again I was struck by his penchant for turning bad situations into wonderful opportunities. "I think you must have led a charmed life, my Artemis."
"Indeed, my sweet James, I am the luckiest man in the world." His smile was tender and made me blush again. "And here's the rug import shop. Look at the lovely dragon in the window."
A plush carpet in bright blues and greens hung simply from a rod in the window. A fierce gold dragon coiled in the center while odd creatures darted about each corner and Chinese symbols lined the edges. "He's beautiful, Artemis. What manner of animal is in the corners?"
"Bats are favored symbols of power and the characters are the symbols of long life and prosperity. We shall certainly have to have some of those on the rug we choose."
We opened the door and the loud bell brought a much younger man out of the back to greet us. Artemis told him that Mr. Chang had sent us and the atmosphere lightened immediately. Some of the stiffness went out of the shop owner and he smiled while my lover told him what we wanted. With a clap of his hands, he summoned two others and we settled in to choose a new rug from the stacks and stacks of them.
I wanted the one in the window for the study and Artemis agreed after feeling the silky pile and checking the knots on the back. Several piles held nothing that caught our eye but the fourth mound was half way peeled back when a beautiful green and gold garden appeared. Artemis all but crooned at the sight of it and with a snap of his fingers; the proprietor motioned to his workmen to pull it out.
Fantastic plants grew in profusion while a vine meandered around the edges as a border. Artemis was on his knees tracing one particular plant with his finger and I knelt beside him to turn up the edge and check for the knots that he'd explained to me. "Oh James, look at the beautiful opium poppy. The weaver portrayed it exactly. Such artistry in thread."
"It would look very nice by the front door so our guests would come through the real garden and into a woven one." I ventured and was immediately rewarded by his wide smile.
"Exactly, James, that was just what I was thinking. Mr. Li, please set this one aside for us." He smiled at the rug merchant who nodded back.
We took our time looking and by the time we'd left, we'd bought six rugs, three wall hangings and four lengths of material that Artemis told me I'd enjoy. The twinkle in his eye told me it probably had something to do with one of our plays and I could hardly wait to see what he had in mind. Mr. Li gave us a recommendation to a seamstress who could make up the cloth for us and we followed his directions to a small shop off an alley with a sign above the door that showed a needle and thread.
The middle-aged woman who bowed at our entrance turned out to be Mr. Li's sister and she listened intently to Artemis. Then we were both measured from top to bottom and side to side while her apprentice wrote down the figures that Mrs. Li called out. I wondered if the obviously pregnant young woman was yet another relation when she gave a small gasp and gripped the pencil so hard that it snapped.
Artemis asked a sharp question in Chinese while Mrs. Li left off her measuring to support the young girl. The answer must have been affirmative because he sighed and asked me to walk back to the rug shop and tell Mr. Li that his niece was about to give birth. I nodded wide-eyed and he chuckled before telling me to hurry.
Which I did, keeping my pace brisk both going and returning. Mr. Li nodded and sent his assistants to bring his uncle, Mr. Chang. It seemed that everybody was related to everybody else and I pondered what such a large, close family meant to those within it. I'd always felt rather alien within what I'd thought of as a large family but mine was nothing like this extended tribe. They made me think of Mother Maisy and her sisters.
Mr. Li and I both returned to the small shop but the other three were nowhere in sight. Then a scream came from behind the shimmering curtain and I tensed while Mr. Li called out in Chinese. Then came a sound that I'd never heard before, a sharp high cry that faded into tiny whimpers. And I realized that Artemis had once again been in the right place at the right time.
My companion moved forward and parted the curtain while I peeked over his shoulder to see my partner holding a doll-like shape that was covered in blood and waving tiny arms in the air. He had told me how small a just-born baby was but seeing it was something else. His crooning had mesmerized the little one and I recognized the lullaby that I'd hummed to him when he was sick.
How strange to know that the song I knew from my mother should travel so far to comfort a child from another race. Mr. Chang arrived then and I backed away so he could tend to his great-niece and her new baby. I leaned back against the counter and listened to all the conversation, wishing for a translator to understand what they were saying.
"Well, my James, you were curious about the size of a newborn." Artemis' voice startled me and I turned to see him cradling the now clean baby in a swath of blue silk. His two big hands held it easily and I marveled at the delicate features of the child. "And here is a beautiful young man to show you."
"He's very small, Artemis." I leaned over the counter and looked more closely at the dark hair that grew all over his head. "Thank goodness you were here to help. Now you've delivered two babies and are becoming an expert."
He chuckled and the baby opened his eyes and seemed to smile at the sound. "That was not part of my resume that I had any desire to enlarge but the good Lord seems to enjoy giving me challenges. There's something going on here that I find odd, James. He's a fine boy and most families would be overjoyed but I'm sensing some disapproval from the elders. I'll try to find out what is going on before we depart."
I knew that he wouldn't leave until he'd gotten to the bottom of any mystery. I went back to leaning against the counter and listening to the conversation. The baby and I both enjoyed the sound of his soothing voice. It was almost a half an hour before he came back out with the elder Mr. Chang. Everybody bowed to everybody else before we left the small shop and began walking out of Chinatown.
It seemed like everyone was watching us and even when there wasn't anyone to see, I felt an itch on the back of my neck that told me hidden watchers were somewhere nearby. When I mentioned it to Artemis, he smiled and nodded agreement. News always traveled very quickly in such a small community, he reminded me with a sad smile. I could tell that something was weighing on his spirit and when I asked him he sighed.
"Young Ling was raped nine months ago by a white sailor who escaped the family and disappeared. So, she's disgraced the family not once but twice by being raped and having a child." He looked so sad that I wanted to hug him close at once but we were still in public so I just gripped his arm. "It seems so unfair to punish her for the sin of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She's only sixteen and will be considered a disgrace for the rest of her life. And the baby will be a bastard as well."
"But it wasn't her fault that a man overpowered and raped her." I said incredulously. "He should have been brought to trial and sent to prison for raping a minor."
He patted my hand but shook his head. "He should indeed but in such a small community of proud people, they feel that Ling has let them down. If the baby had been a girl, I don't think they would have minded as much. I'm afraid that the Chinese and even our own culture don't value females very highly. But a boy will prove to be a problem. Mrs. Li sounded resigned to having the men in her family disapprove of her new grandson."
"What can we do to help, Artemis?" I already knew enough of his spirit that he'd want to do something.
"Sweet James, you know me too well." He finally smiled down at me with the fond smile that makes me feel like strutting. "I was thinking that perhaps Mrs. Li and her daughter might like to become our housekeepers. It would be fun to have a little one about the place, growing up and playing in our gardens."
I swallowed a lump at the yearning note in his voice. "I think that sounds like a wonderful idea. It's not like we'll be producing any children of our own. You'd be a very good father figure for him."
"Sweetheart, I do love you." His dark eyes glowed and he raised his arm to hail a passing cab. "I think we need to go back to the hotel so I can thank you properly. But if I'm to be a father figure then I see you as a big brother to him."
We got settled in the cab and I nodded slowly. I hadn't thought of what my role might be in his life since I'd never had much to do with children, not even when I was one myself. "I wouldn't know how to be one, Artemis."
"Mostly it's loving him and helping him learn new things while he grows." He patted my thigh daringly in the open cab. "Listening to his questions and being his safety net when he tries something new for the first time. Picking him up when he falls down and holding him when he gets too tired to keep going. And being his friend."
Artemis, part five
He listened intently to me, the little frown between his eyes. "Was Arthur like that for you?"
I nodded. "Arthur and Mary both were always there for me to fall back on when I dared to climb a tree too high or swim in too deep water. I was a very lucky young lad to have such wonderful siblings. But this is just a thought, James. I don't even know if they would like the idea at all. They would be the only Chinese within two hundred miles and after having family around them all the time, that could be too lonely."
He nodded. "But being nothing more than glorified servants to disapproving relatives wouldn't be very pleasant either." Then he grinned and looked sideways at me. "Mother Maisy told me that you'd be bringing home strays. I just didn't think they'd be so big."
I laughed out loud and shook my head. "James, you constantly surprise me. Thank goodness."
We reached the hotel and once again the doorman was right there to walk us from the cab to the door. The attentive service here was extremely nice but I was glad to leave everyone else behind once we closed the door on our room. The maid had cleaned and remade the bed, hanging fresh towels in the bathroom. Without even thinking about it, I started stripping off my clothes for a bath.
"Artemis, there's blood on your shirt." James touched the damp spot on my sleeve and I grimaced.
"Giving birth is a messy business, sweet James. If we soak it in cold water and apply a little soap, the blood will come out. But if it doesn't, you and I shall shop for a new one." I was down to my pants. "Are you going to join me, James?"
He started as if he'd just then realized where we were. "Yes, of course, my Artemis. I'll just put this to soak first, then I'll join you."
I could tell he was thinking hard so I gave him a little space to continue while I started the water running. Adopting the Li's had seemed like a good idea at the time, but not if it made James unsure of his place in my heart. Hearing the disapproval in the voices of both Chang and Li had brought all of my protective instincts to the fore. The tragic look on the face of young Ling, while they talked over her head as if she was too far beneath their notice to count, had touched my heart.
No child deserved to be ignored like her son would be or tormented like my sweet James had been. Mother Maisy had rubbed off on me and the urge to help these new friends who'd come into our lives was a strong one. I sank into the hot water with a sigh and closed my eyes while I waited for James to join me. I must have soaked for five minutes or more before he slid into the far end of the nice long tub.
Taking up the soap, he began to wash my left foot with the massaging strokes that felt so good. "Where would they live?"
"The far two bedrooms that currently are empty would be just right. Their bathroom would be private for two women and a growing child. And they'd be far enough away that no noise from our bedrooms would reach them." I opened my eyes and watched him think. "Sweetheart, we don't have to take them in. Little Ling looks like a survivor to me. After all, she didn't commit suicide after the rape and she bore her son for nine months before giving birth with a great deal of strength."
He switched feet and began massaging my right. "I know. I guess that I just wanted us to be able to be free to make love where ever we wanted to instead of just the rooms that we can shut a door on."
"Goodness, you have a point." I thought about never taking him on the dining room table again and frowned. "No more worshipping your beautiful body on our sacred altar or snuggling on the settee."
Nodding, he put my ankle on his shoulder so he could soap down my leg, massaging all the way. "Exactly, my Artemis. But I like the idea of providing a safe space for them and getting someone to help keep the place tidy. There will even be times when we'll want someone else to cook for us."
I widened my eyes in mock horror. "No! Do you really think so?"
He finally grinned before reaching down to glove my awakening cock with his soapy hand. "Really, my delicious Artemis. Maybe they could stay in the back rooms until we build a cottage for them? Then they'd be close but also private. If we wanted privacy, we could simply leave a note on their door telling them not to come to work that day."
"Goodness, sweetheart, you've thought this through beautifully." I complimented him while drawing him up to lay on my chest. "I think that sounds absolutely perfect and we'll ask them tomorrow if they'd like that. Then we can make decisions after we know what they decide. If they say yes, we'll have to buy some more furniture, unless they have some to bring with them."
James kissed me sweetly and I savored his tongue with mine while our cocks grew and bumped together in the hot water. For long moments soap slickened hands washed tempting bits of skin while our tongues lazily dueled back and forth, first in his mouth then in mine. My hands slid over his buttocks then trailed down his crease to the small hole that was already spasming open for me. His legs fell to either side of mine, leaving him beautifully splayed.
My fingers slid inside of him to test his heat while my mouth drank down his low moan. Poor Jim was quite rigid and when I wrapped a hand around him, he almost released. But I pressed the nerve and he shook a little before reaching down to see if Artie was ready to come inside of him.
"Please, Artemis, I need you now. Remind me that I belong to you and you'll never let me go." He pleaded while I positioned myself at his small hole.
"Hush, James, we belong to each other and always will. No one can ever come between us ... not now ... not ever." I let him rock a little while my crown stretched him wide and popped inside the tight muscle. He groaned and trembled around me before sitting back and sliding me all the way in.
I stilled to let him adjust, stroking his thighs on either side of my hips. His hands were on my chest, flexing a little among the black curls that furred my torso. Then his eyes opened and gleamed down into mine while he flexed around my bulk. It was my turn to bite my lip and moan just a little at the delightful sensations.
"I am very possessive, my Artemis but I think I could share a little of you with the Li's and the new baby that you delivered today." He said with a little nod of his head that came from soldiering with then General Grant. "I love you and I promise to welcome them into our home without being too territorial."
"Sweet James, I belong to you and you can be as territorial as you like. But if they do come, rest assured that they could in no way come between us." I said sincerely. "I love you, too."
He finally smiled the beaming smile that came more often these days. "Then we shall ask them and see what happens. But for now, I think I'd like to make love for as long as we can."
Thrusting up just a little, I watched his skin flush. "I think that's the best idea you've had in quite some time."
We rocked together, slowly lighting the flame that never goes completely out for us. All too soon we were burning at both ends and while we were kissing, he jerked and came, milking my climax from me at the same time. The water was quite cool before we finally separated to dry each other off.
I'd made reservations to visit the theater our first night and we dressed in our formal wear before going down to dinner. The play was a melodrama with a wicked villain, a sweet innocent and her handsome hero. James and I both enjoyed it since all the characters were rather like our own little plays.
Afterwards, we went behind the scenes to visit with the villain who was an old friend. Denver Clause was my age and we'd been friends since I'd first set foot on a stage. He hadn't changed at all and quickly noticed how happy I was. We shared the same predilection for men and one of his letters had told me of the breakup of his last relationship.
We went to a late dinner with him and he kept us laughing with his stories of San Francisco. I tested his views on monogamy and found his yearning for someone with which to share his life, an all encompassing one. His more flamboyant temperament would be a nice match for Wellington's quiet personality. James caught on very early to what I was doing and his shy smile told me that he approved.
In fact, he went ahead and invited Denver to come to visit us as soon as he could. The pleased acceptance told me that our little matchmaking scheme was well on its way. It was up to the two of them to take it any further. We left him off at his boarding house near the theater before continuing on to Hill House. It had been a very full day and I felt pleasantly tired, sitting back in the cab with James' hand in mine.
"You are very sly, my Artemis." He grinned at me. "You think that Denver would be a good match for Wellington, don't you?"
"Yes, indeed. They are both artists but not in the same medium. Denver is a talented painter who'd rather be painting than acting. Although, like myself, he's a bit of a ham who enjoys a good production." I said cheerfully. "I think he's approaching the time of his life where he'd like to settle down and be a faithful lover while he paints the beauty that surrounds us."
James nodded slowly and appeared to be thinking about that while we exited the cab, got our key from the front desk and rode up to the sixth floor. He was still silent when we got to the room and began the leisurely undressing that would lead to going to bed. I respected his thinking processes and made sure that our clothing got properly hung up. When I went into the bathroom to relieve myself, he was right by my side, stroking Artie into waking up.
"I think they will like each other, my Artemis. He reminds me of you, a little, with his funny sense of humor and his accents." James took his turn while I stroked his stomach with my hands and Artie nestled between his pert cheeks.
"A funny sense of humor?" I growled in his ear before swinging him up into my arms and carrying him back into our bedroom. "No doubt you mean my fine sense of humor, student James?"
He chuckled and put his arms around my neck. "Oh dear, stern teacher Artemis, I misspoke a little. I'm so sorry. Please don't spank my cheeks until I turn bright red and beg you to cont- . . . I mean stop."
James, part six
Artemis looked very stern while he carried me to bed. "A little discipline is just what you need, careless student James. How many times must I reiterate the lessons of proper grammar? I can't have you growing up a speaker of slang. Now, assume the position while I bring forth the terrible paddle of chastisement."
I knelt at the foot of the bed while he went to the armoire and opened his bag. He'd brought the velvet paddle with him and I shivered all over at the thought of how wonderful it would feel. Once he sat down, I stretched up and over his lap, making sure that I caressed Artie on the way by.
The first few strokes warmed my skin, then slowly the burn spread thorough out my whole body while my cock hardened to steel. "There, my student, that should remind you of the proper grammar needed in public. Do you have any questions?"
He turned me in his arms and the hair on his legs tingled against my hot skin. I bit my lip and thought about the day. "Sir, when I saw the baby in your hands, he was very small, just like you said he would be. Was that the normal size of a baby?"
Artemis kissed me gently before answering. "Yes, indeed, he was a very normal size for a newborn. Are there any other anatomy questions you'd like answered?"
"Um, I'm really glad that men can't have babies because it sounded like Ling was in great pain. After carrying the baby for all those months, does she feel empty now?" I had an empty spot of my own that needed filling.
And Artemis knew it. "Perhaps a little empty, James, but she has a lovely baby to hold in her arms now so it's not really an emptiness that bothers her. Do you have any empty spots that I can fill for you?"
I nodded eagerly and kissed him, opening my mouth to entice his tongue into mine. The warmth of him always felt so very good that I would have been content to just kiss for hours except that Artie was poking through my legs and reminding me that he wanted to play too.
When we broke apart to breathe, I smiled before leaving his arms for a moment to pluck our cream from my bag. "I have a terrible empty feeling, Sir, that only you can fill. Would you please do that for me?"
"Always, my beloved student, I'll always be here to fill all the empty spots inside of you. I think I'd like you to lie near the headboard on your back. Hold onto the bars there and wait a moment for me to return." He went back to the bathroom while I assumed the position and wondered what he'd come back with.
A dry towel seemed an odd thing for him to bring to me but when he raised my hips and put it under me, I realized that he was protecting us from the speculation of the maid. It wouldn't do to stain the sheets and the towel could always get accidentally dumped in the tub. Then his slick fingers breached my entrance and I wiggled around them in anticipation of what was to come.
While he was opening me for him, he leaned forward to suckle at my nipples and I thought about what he'd said about piercing his nipple so he could wear the other ring of the pair that I'd bought so many months before. Three fingers stretched me wide then Artie pierced me with his girth while his slick hand pressed my nerve so I didn't release prematurely.
"So good, my Artemis, you feel so good inside of me." I felt every inch of him forge deeper until he was flush against my cheeks. My gland was burning and my legs gripped him around his waist. My buttocks rested on his strong thighs and with just a little movement, he began the tiny thrusts that always felt like electric shocks.
"Is the emptiness gone, my beloved student?" His voice was deeper and the little purr told me that he was well satisfied with his present home.
"Oh, yes. You've filled me to the brim and I can feel your pulse like a second heart." I moved up just a bit when he thrust in and felt a shiver run like quicksilver through both of us. "I think that this is a very nice variation on that friction principle you were showing me a while back."
"Indeed it is, James." He leaned down and kissed me silent, all the while thrusting in little circles that were driving me insane. I could feel every ridge on his cock slide over my sensitive inner skin and I wondered if it were possible to come just from thinking about him.
He made it last a long time until I got a cramp in my right leg and he turned us over so I could stretch it out and control our movement. It was almost one a.m. and I quickened our thrusts until freezing into climax, wringing his from him at the same moment. We shook for a long moment then I collapsed onto his chest and he held me close while we caught our breath.
"My Artemis." I listened to his heartbeat beneath my ear and licked his tasty nipple.
"My sweet James, how very well you love me." He said sleepily before sighing and slipping from my well-loved channel.
I smiled at that thought before raising up and reaching for the towel. I'd made a mess on Artemis' stomach and I moved from my safe perch on top of him to go to the bathroom and get a damp cloth. Returning, I wiped us both clean and turned off the gaslight before sliding back into bed and his waiting arms. Sleep came quickly.
The next morning, we had breakfast and checked our lists for what we still had to do. First on the list was a visit to the Li's to see if they might want to become our housekeepers. I was a little nervous about that but Artemis calmed my fears with his matter-of-fact plan. Mrs. Li seemed surprised to see us and I caught a quick glimpse of dismay when Artemis began to talk to her.
She looked from one of us to the other and suddenly I knew what she was thinking. If I'd been her, I'd be afraid that we might think her daughter was a whore and want her for a mistress instead of a housekeeper. I laid a hesitant hand on Artemis' arm and he looked at me with a question in his eyes. He caught on immediately and smiled down at me.
When he went back to speaking to her, he placed his hand over mine and left it there. I blushed a little and wondered what she thought of us. Would she understand? She ventured a comment and Artemis nodded to her. A long pause followed before she parted the curtain behind her and called out Ling's name.
It was only a moment before the young girl appeared with her baby in her arms. Her mother spoke for quite a while and Ling darted quick looks at us while her skin flushed as red as mine did when Artemis was teasing me. Her soft voice was barely above a whisper when she asked him a question and when he shook his head, she looked briefly at me before nodding.
He smiled gently and spoke some more before bowing to them. They bowed back and the baby gave a little whimper. Artemis smiled again and said something that brought a slight smile to Ling's lips. She offered her son to him and he took him with expert hands. It was the closest I'd been to him and the big eyes opened to look right at me.
Artemis cooed to him and a little hand waved in the air as if to catch the sound. "He's a fine big boy, James. Let his hand grip your finger."
I hesitated but held out a finger to the waving hand and felt the little fingers grip me with a surprisingly firm touch. "He's strong, Artemis."
"Yes he is, my James. See how his eyes search to see us? He's already curious about the world around him." Artemis divided his smile between the two of us and the baby opened his lips and blew a bubble at him.
I chuckled and the big round eyes swiveled toward the sound. "Do all babies do that? Blow bubbles?"
"Yes, indeed they do. They are completely without artifice and simply do what their bodies tell them to do." He chuckled and handed him back to Ling before pulling out his handkerchief and wiping off his hand. "Which includes peeing whenever he needs to."
I smiled at him and wondered what Ling and her mother thought of us. "Are they thinking about it?"
He nodded and said something to the elder Mrs. Li who answered him with a long trill of Chinese. He bowed to her and they bowed back then he took my elbow and said, "We'll come back tomorrow for their answer."
I bowed to them and they bowed again before we departed for the rest of our errands. That included a stop at Mr. Chang's apothecary and a lengthy talk with him about our thoughts. I couldn't tell if he approved or disapproved since his face never once changed expression while Artemis spoke.
Finally we bowed all the way around and Artemis put a hand under my elbow to guide me out of the shop. "Shall we go back to the café where we ate yesterday at noon?"
"Yes, please let's go back there." I walked a little faster. Suddenly I wanted out of Chinatown and into a place where I spoke the language. "Your shrimp looked great yesterday. Maybe if I don't finish it all, I can try some of the pie that the waitress said they had."
He smiled down at me and matched my pace. "I could see the disappointment in your eyes when she offered dessert. So today, why don't we order one big meal then we'll have room for pie after?"
I slowed a little and smiled back. "That sounds good, Artemis."
"We're going to be back to normal soon, James. Or what passes for normal in our lives." He chuckled and I hid a smile by biting my lip. "And you know that no matter what happens, I will always love you."
I looked quickly around but there was no one near enough to hear us. "I love you too, Artemis. Maybe, you could start to teach me Chinese so I won't feel so ... so useless when we're in Chinatown?"
"Ah, language study is one of my very best classes, student James." He smiled and we continued on towards lunch, his hand on my shoulder.
I felt better already.
End of San Francisco I