((Edited. If they’re keeping the cat, it needs a name!))
Will responded with another laugh as Luke assumed a fearful countenance, though it was clearly over-exaggerated and meant to amuse. He was hardly a very serious person- his parents had taught him early on that life was a zero sum game- no one got out alive- and you might as well be able to laugh about it. He may have looked intimidating, but once someone did prove they could keep up, he was usually much less formal with them. So far, Luke was proving to be entertaining and quick-witted. He could adapt to a different setting than what he was accustomed to, yet still maintain his humble outlook on life. Like Will himself, he had obviously matured quickly, another thing that gave him a positive point on the mental checklist. So far, that was mostly positive… the only real drawback was that he was interested in Celestine. Otherwise, Will might have actually considered befriending the boy.
Tarquin smiled almost indulgently when that dark gaze shifted to him, surprise on his features. He shook his head with a grin, as though assuring him that he wasn’t really a pool hustler (anymore) and would prefer that the boy think of him as a doctor, not a hustler. “Jus’ ye listen tae Lessie.” He winked.
“Trust you to take her side,” Will shot back, before Annie squealed with delight as one of the many stray cats in the area made itself at home on the porch. It sniffed her hand, purring, before looking towards Tarquin. It wound its way around his ankles, before repeating the gesture with Essie, finally deciding there was enough space on the swing to lay down on Tea’s skirt, where it stretched out in the sunlight, purring. The woman glanced over, shrugging. She had always had a soft spot for felines, and this one was sleek and muscled despite being a stray- obviously well-fed. A scratch was delivered to the ear, and the creature purred happily.
But it was then that Doc, while initially agreeing with her, spoke directly to Essie. Her gaze whipped back to his, a half-grin on her pretty face. He was in trouble- with a capital ‘T’. “I’m sorry, sugar, what was that?” She quirked a brow. “I do believe throwin’ myself all over ya would have been far more entertainin’.” And probably produced a different result entirely. Still, she swatted at his shoulder playfully- and smirked, knowing full well he was going to play the feigned injury up. Essie’s eyes went wide, but the redhead didn’t notice, locking gazes with Tarr. “And you, kitten! I’ll have you know we are the very epitome of propriety.” She assumed her best haughty expression, for all of thirty seconds, before she snuggled back against Doc’s warm chest with a serene smile on her face. He was warm and always smelled like smoke and whiskey and gunpowder, a combination that she loved dearly. It was a dangerous scent, one
that spoke volumes- even if he was all tenderness and softness with her.
She noticed Essie’s incredulous look, then- laughed softly. “Mama Essie?”
“Did you just…?”
“Did I just what?” She chuckled, stroking absently along Doc’s hand, with feather-light touches.
“Miss Gwen, you just…”
“Oh.” She sighed. “Swatted at this one?” At the nod, she smiled. “Of course. Didn’t hurt him, much as he may try to convince ya otherwise.” She was careful with him, always. She’d only struck him once, in the heat of anger, and even now was still recovering from that incident. This little swat was much lighter than her usual teasing taps, and she made certain that he was not actually hurt with that sharp green gaze, and patted his thigh lightly.
“Miss Gwen, that’s hardly normal!” Her expression was shocked.
“Why, Essie, whatever are ya talkin’ about?” She looked askance at the gunslinger. “Sugar? Did normalcy change?” She nearly reached for a kiss, but didn’t, choosing instead to wrap her arm around his waist for a change.
“Sorry… my parents can be strange,” Celestine ducked her head with a little blush. “They have odd ways of showing affection for each other,” she muttered. Her mother was worse than her father that way- though occasionally she would catch him giving her a light little swat in retaliation. Still, her parents were happy together.
“Odd as it may be, can’t be denied,” Will said as his daughter crawled out of his lap and towards the front door. The porch was railed in, and with his spot on the stairs, he could ensure her safety, so he let her.
“And we’re not deaf, either,” Tea murmured softly. Luke’s mounts distracted her then, and she smiled charmingly. “I might have to take ya up on that offer sometime.” But her gaze was softer than usual, not the sharp gaze she used on her man (when in public, anyway), as Luke began to speak. It didn’t surprise her that her daughter had made the first move- she had, too- but what did surprise her was how Tarquin’s eyes snapped merrily.
“It just felt like I should go over.” The girl shrugged naturally. “I would see him around town, and he had been moving this big block of ice. I thought… well… he could use something to cheer him up a bit. He looked kind of lost.” Those puppy-dog eyes had drawn her to him quickly. From then on she had looked for him in town. She’d been out with a few other young men- suitable prospects with wealth- but they didn’t interest her as this country boy did. The lawyer she had seen for two weeks had been pompous and arrogant- she was merely there to draw attention, nothing more. She hadn’t needed to end it- Will had made certain the man would not bother her again. But they didn’t remember her name, or interests, or even really talk to her. Her opinion was not voiced, so it didn’t matter. Luke, on the other hand, always lit up when he saw her, and he always knew her name. He asked her opinion, too. He never talked down to her, never was
arrogant and self-pious. “He was nice to talk to, and nice to spend time with.” She blushed as she met his gaze, ducking her head self-consciously.
“Nothing wrong with that, honey.” Tea smiled. The boy was fidgeting with his hair in adorably awkward fashion, clearly unnerved. This was a blind step for him, she knew. “Your father and I enjoyed chattin’ each other up plenty.” They had, too. Most of the times they were together had revolved around a social event, meaning they could not enjoy one another as they would have alone, so they had gotten along quite well. The Holliday siblings had quickly become her solace at these dreadful events (Lottie’s wedding being the worst), but more of her time was spent with him. He was her escort, of course- they rarely left one another’s side. “Oh, now, honey, it wasn’t always stolen kisses with us. We had appearances to keep up.”
“What stolen kisses?” Essie slanted them a sly look. “Oh, for pity’s sake. I KNEW you were sweet on that man- don’t think I didn’t.” A pointed glare. “Even if he was five years your senior.”
“And Willowby was nearly fifteen, but ya never threw a fit over him.” She shot right back without thinking.
“Oh, girl, I knew you wouldn’t marry him.” She sighed. “Even back then, only one young man had you sniffing back. Only one I tolerated sniffing around you.”
“Need I remind ya, Mama Essie, that both the young lady and gentleman who did the sniffing are both adults now, and right here?”
“But you two are still a pretty couple,” the woman softened then.
“We’re not a ‘couple’, exactly.” She couldn’t define what they were, though. She knew she was his, as he was hers, but they never really defined the nature of their association. It worked well for them, and that was all that mattered. They were more than lovers, but more than mates as well, making it hard to define, honestly. “We simply prefer one another’s company, is all.”
“My parents are unconventional, Miss Essie. Pay them no mind when they get this way.” Will said it softly.
“Anyway…” Tea sighed. “It’s gettin’ late, and I’m sure your parents are waitin’ on ya, Luke, honey.” She graciously offered him a way out, without being forceful about it, and clearly not throwing him out. “If ya need to go, just say so.” She smiled.
“You don’t have to leave now, though,” Celeste said it softly. “They won’t be getting up to get ready for another couple hours or so.”
The few hours passed in a flash. Luke was charming, that was for certain, and the teasing between the family continued, including the boy occasionally. But it was starting to cool off, and loathe as Tea was to admit it, they had to get ready for the evening. And for work, she mused with a little laugh. The cat who had deigned to sit near her had long since abandoned her skirt for her lap, before making a decision to curl in Doc’s lap instead, purring. This was a normal housecat- except this one had no owner, but was friendly as a puppy. Tea had given the tom strokes, and slanted a look towards the family, as if confirming it.
The cat was staying, no beating around the fact. She rose, stretching a bit before patting her thigh lightly. “Come on, cat. I’m sure you’re hungry, and I’ve got some nice creamy milk.” The brown tabby yawned, snuggling back into the gunman until she mentioned the word ‘hungry’. At that, he lifted his head, gold eyes blinking before hopping down and following the woman to the door, which she opened, letting him in first before sighing. “Come on, sugar. Gonna need your help lacin’ me up.” She could do it herself, but it was much more comfortable (and easier) when she had help, and often was far more amusing, especially when it was him.
“I can do that for you, Miss Gwen.” Essie started.
“Oh, Essie, relax. He’s gotten quite good at lacin’ and unlacin’ my corset by now.” She didn’t even flinch when that caramel colored gaze met hers. “If those two aren’t indication that we’re familiar, Essie, I don’t know what would be.” She gestured to both son and daughter, and the woman nodded slowly. “Oh, Essie…” she lightly touched the darker woman’s cheek. “I didn’t mean to snap at ya.”
“I forget, sometimes, that you’re grown up now. And you aren’t as morally proper as you used to be.”
“If I had been, Essie, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” She shrugged. “He’s the only one who gets my attention now.” That was said softer, though not so soft that he couldn’t hear it, deliberately glancing towards his handsome face briefly before capturing his hand, tugging him lightly. She winked, though, as though baiting him before opening the door again. The nameless cat looked up at her, as though offended that she had left it all alone in the house, and she couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright, cat!” The feline mewed, and Tarquin chuckled. He could get along quite well in cat- and he knew this was actually a feline, not as he was. Still, the impatience…
“Impatience, thy name be cat.” He said it with another chuckle.
“Cheeky, aren’t ya, General?” Tea said it with a laugh, before pulling her gunslinger in with her, leaving the rest on the steps. Will made a show of yawning before bounding down the stairs, his daughter back in his arms.
“See everyone later!” He called it merrily.
Celestine took Luke’s hand, tugging him up in a near replica of what her mother had just done to her father, only sweeter. “Come on. I want to show you something before you leave.” It gave them an excuse to spend some time alone before he had to ride home.
This left Tarquin, Essie, and Sarah- who was still in Tarquin’s lap while he played with her long blonde hair, curling one particular curl that was tempting him. Her hair BEGGED to be played with. It was a mass of spirals that cast off the sun perfectly. His other hand was resting at her hip, holding her close as he breathed her scent in like air. Essie was looking at him curiously, he smiled back.
“She called you General.” She said it more as a question than actual statement. “Why did she call you General?” The man sighed, carefully shifting Sarah off his lap, unwillingly. He then drew her face to his, kissing her softly.
“Five minutes,” he nodded before heading into the house, down the stairs into the pantry, where he usually shifted. It smelled good and was nice and cool. Plus no one ever really went down there unless they were cooking (which no one was today). It was ideal. He stripped down quickly- he had developed a routine by now- and allowed that painful shift. When his vision cleared, he was a svelte flame-point Siamese- and the tabby looked at him curiously as he came up the stairs.
“Why smell you different, cat?” The tabby inquired politely.
“I shifter am.” Tarquin responded in kind, politely. “What your name is?”
“Called Bruin I am.” The cat said it proudly. The tabby did resemble a bear with his coloring, so it fit. “Who you are?”
“I Tarquin am.”
“Your house this is?”
“No. Your house this is.” He confirmed. “Rest you here. Mistress will good care of you take.”
“Share you Mistress with me?” The tabby lowered his head. “Do not deserve, Tarquin.”
“Mistress wants.” He said simply, and the tabby nodded. The woman had always been nice to him in town, and he had followed her here hoping that she would let him stay. As the flame-point headed for the ajar door, the tabby mewed, suddenly.
“Tarquin-cat. It alright to lie on beds is?”
“It is. If human lying in it, wait to invited be.” He replied with a smile as the tabby streaked up the stairs before continuing his trek outside. He flagged his tail instantly, heading straight for Sarah first, stretching up with a ‘Mau!’ that would surely strike a chord in the dark woman. He leapt up, purring, to delicately nuzzle the blonde woman’s cheek, before nudging his nose to hers, the rumbling in his chest increasing as he stepped across to Essie.
“My word… General?” She peered at him as he responded with a mew. “This is impossible… he can’t still be alive.” The cat eyed her, before returning to Sarah, purring. He only spent a few more moments looking at her steadily, before he headed inside, back down to the pantry to shift back. This took longer, for he was very fussy- and he had Bruin here now, looking at him curiously.
“You human are?” The cat’s eyes went wide. “Nice human. Feed me you did.” The Irishman stroked the tabby with a smile. “Master you be?”
“Nay,” he spoke softly. “Ye dinnae ‘ave a master ‘ere.” He scooped the cat up as he headed back up the stairs, depositing him on one of the more comfortable chairs in the sitting room.
“Like you I do, Tarquin-cat.” The feline yawned. “Nice you are, for human being.” The tabby dozed quietly, and the doctor headed back out, greeting Sarah in similar fashion- with a brush of his nose to hers, only this time she was standing, and he was taller than her.
“Sorry, me darlin’ lass. Bruin wanted a bit o’ crack.” He laughed, knowing full well ‘crack’ here did not mean chatting, but he used it anyway for confusions sake. “That be tha new cat’s name.”
He didn’t see the smack coming, and this one was a bit harder than what she had given Doc and Tea the previous night.
“You! You pretended to be a cat?” Another swat. “And you watched… how many people did you watch get dressed?”
“Nae… Essie…” he tried not to laugh, really, he did. She swatted him again before slumping, and he shook his head and eased her back into her seat. “I didnae pertend tae be a cat- I wasnae raised tae know I could shif’. An’ I didnae watch anybody get dressed. I was a g’nleman.” He chuckled. “We did try an’ tell ye.”
“When… how… did you find out?”
“Tea.” He shrugged. “She saw I was nae agin’ as I should o’ been. I shif’ed firs’ time wi’ ‘er by me side.” And had been in agonizing pain, but that didn’t need to be told. “I didnae wish tae deceive, and I be sorry for it.”
"God almighty, look at that body!"