“Beautiful setting, Tree.” Louella Jackson’s admiring gaze took in the Davis ranch rodeo arena, close to a hundred people gathered, the mountains in the background, all of it. “You and Judi picked a great spot.”
“We didn’t exactly pick it, Mom.” Damn, my gut was acting up again. The Alka Seltzer hadn’t quite been enough to settle my nerves. “Jennifer Trace insisted. We didn’t dare go too far afield for a number of reasons, and she thought this might be the only real option for us.”
She shrugged. “It’s perfect. Don’t you think so, Shy?”
My cousin, the college basketball star–already getting feelers from WBA scouts–nodded. “Far cry from Hartford, Connecticut, but it’s definitely pretty out here. Is that peak over there Brokeback Mountain?” I thought she was joking about that last part, but with my cuz, you could never be quite sure. I decided to play straight man. “It’s part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Don’t know if its back is broke or not. And Shy, my tie is just fine; you don’t have to be fussing at me like that.”
“Hey,” she grinned, “if this isn’t a day for fussing, I don’t know what is. Right, Lou?”
“Right,” my mother agreed promptly. “A day for fussing and a day for amazement. I don’t know which is the more remarkable, the fact that Mrs. Trace persuaded a Methodist minister to drive up here to marry you two or the fact that Sissy Harms doesn’t seem upset about you marrying that little white girl. I know you say you love her, too–Sissy, that is–but she was in your bed first, right? And here you are, leaving her out in the cold while you tie the knot with the female who came after.”
The Alka Seltzer hadn’t helped, but having my mother peck at me settled my stomach right down. “Hey,” I whispered fiercely, hoping not to draw the attention of the entire crowd, “Sissy’s not exactly out in the cold. We made the decision together, the three of us. Our baby is not going to come into this world without two married parents, okay?”
“Sure, Tree.” This time there was no question; my cousin’s tone was definitely mocking. “But what happens if you knock Sissy up next? Sister wives, okay, but only one on paper or you go to jail, right?”
Sheesh. Family. “Sissy’s got that one covered. She’s pretty sure she’s barren.”
“Ah. So. The maiden aunt, as it were.”
B.J.’s voice rumbled from my other side. “Will you two hens quit pecking at the boy? He’s nervous enough as it is without that.” Frankly, I was never more grateful for my giant uncle’s intervention. Even his older sister shut up when B.J. Hennessey put in his two cents worth.
Show time. The strains of the wedding march hit the soft summer evening air. Organ music? Oh, hell no. A couple of talented guitars and one fiddle, powered by pickers who also happened to be employed by Rodeo Iron as welders.
Lordy, lordy, I know it’s a cliché, but she does look beautiful! Escorted forward by a decked out Jack Hill, acting as her father and giving her away, my beloved was a sight to behold. Not that maid of honor Sissy was anything less than stunning in her peach colored dress, but this was definitely Judi’s day. She’d be showing soon enough, but she wasn’t yet. Her blue dress with white lace trim, scooped deep at the neck, nipped in tight at the waist and accenting her trim figure, mirrored the cerulean blue of Montana’s Big Sky. The girl literally glowed. She was graceful, too, as graceful as one of those animated Disney princesses or a big eyed doe venturing cautiously from the treeline to graze on meadow grass, take your pick. Not only that, the woman had fire, and she could shoot straight, too.
Without any question at all, I was in love. Tania Overgood, eat your heart out.
Coordination was another matter. On my way to her, I tripped over my own feet and nearly went down. Nobody snickered, but I was more than glad my dark skin kept my blush from being obvious.
Her hand rested in mine, soft as a butterfly landing on a sunflower. We stood there while the minister said…whatever he said. My eidetic memory failed me utterly; I could remember nothing but the woman beside me, the girl whose heart I’d first won by plugging her ex in the head with a .22, the incredible little stunner who could drill a human varmint from a tree perch at 500 yards. There were some “I do’s” in there somewhere. I think. As soon it was official and we’d clutched each other fiercely in our first official kiss as husband and wife, Sissy stepped up on my other side and the three of us endured the reception line together.
Not everybody present could accept our alternative lifestyle, of course, but those who couldn’t either faked it or avoided the reception line altogether, which was good enough for us. Nobody had informed the preacher of our two woman, one man household arrangement, nor did he hang around long enough to figure it out; the man snagged the paperwork and got out of there at high speed. Amazing. I’d expected him to wait around for the free food. Must be paying preachers better these days.
By the time the sun was down, the fires were going and the picnic tables were full. We still had to open our presents, but we’d get to eat first. My stomach felt fine now; eating was a good thing. Jennifer Trace herself, with Sissy’s help, served up generous portions from the hog that had been cooking in the pit all day. Seed and Beets sat at a nearby table, looking relaxed but alert; they hadn’t been asked to do the job, but along with Horace Tamblyn and Wayne Bruce, they were pulling a quiet form of sentry duty. We knew of no immediate threats, but the battered warriors among us were of no mind to let our guard down just because it was a day to celebrate. I looked around at our immediate group, filling a little square made up of four tables. Jennifer, Sissy, Jack, Carolyn West, B.J., Shy, Mom, Judi and me. We were placed a bit apart from the others; if we kept our voices down, we could talk.
“So,” Mom started the ball rolling, “home school?”
I let my bride run with that one. “No other option. A mixed race rich kid, heir to Rodeo Iron, going to public grade school in Ovando and high school in Drummond? We don’t think so. Nothing against those schools, but that would be just asking for trouble. Plus, we’re a people of secrets. Our little one will need to be old enough to understand how to shoot, shovel, and shut up before mixing with the main herd.”
“Makes sense,” Jennifer Trace nodded, pausing in the destruction of an ear of corn on the cob. “Sam and I public schooled our three, with no really major secrets to worry about at the time and no racial differences, yet they all turned out really crappy. You can’t do any worse, schooling at home.”
The discussion turned, then, to what sort of special schooling might be involved. A basic education to meet State standards, sure. But beyond that? Well, there would have to be a lot of philosophy, warrior training–regardless of the baby’s gender–political science, business, prepper stuff, and of course Having an Eight Foot Alien as a Friend 101. Couldn’t leave out Diamond Paws. The big Umthnn hadn’t even been left out of the wedding; he’d watched the ceremony from a pop-up hole inside a nearby clump of willows, invisible to the crowd at large.
“Prenatal care?” Shyala asked.
For some reason, Judi’s mischievous streak made her lob this one to me with a glance. “Unless something pops up that looks like trouble, we’re thinking midwife. No AMA types, no hospital. Home delivery. That is, if we can locate a midwife we can trust.”
“Got you covered there,” Jennifer put in. “Meredith Barnes. An old friend of the Trace family. In her forties. She lives in Great Falls, but if you cover her travel expenses, I’m pretty sure she’d be willing to drive down every so often to make a house call.”
“How sure?” Sissy’s eyebrow was cocked. Suspicious.
“Sure enough. I called her last night. She’s always loved our place. Any excuse to come visit me and get paid for it in the process, you betcha. She jumped at the idea. Last time she was down to see me was at Sam’s funeral.”
“Ah.” It looked like we had that settled.
“No sonogram?” Carolyn asked suddenly. “You don’t want to know the baby’s gender ahead of time?”
“Don’t care,” Judi said. “Do we, Tree?”
“Not a bit,” I agreed. “They’re both trouble.” She elbowed me in the ribs. Hard.
There were a lot of presents. We had a hunch some of the welders had spent more than they should have. There were gag gifts in the bunch, including crotchless panties and neon condoms with holes pre-punched in the ends. Some of our friends apparently didn’t know the difference between a bachelor or bachelorette party and a wedding. Most of the stuff was practical, small appliances and such, as much housewarming gifts for our new abode as they were wedding gifts. But one package we put aside for later, mostly because it came from Jack Hill and was marked, OPEN IN PRIVATE. We took him at his word.
It was nearly midnight by the time the three of us locked the door behind us, let out breaths we didn’t realize we’d been holding, and then fell into a group hug. Everybody knew where we were, of course, but nobody was likely to try to toilet paper our house or anything. They knew we’d just shoot them if they did.
Our wedding night. All three of us; no one outside of our household except for Jack Hill and his lovers could possibly understand, but this was Sissy’s night as much as it was Judi’s or mine. Yes, the wedding ceremony had highlighted the bride; that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But we had our own secret ceremony as planned. I slipped the mate to Judi’s ring on Sissy’s finger and we both kissed the bride. “We can wait to haul in the presents until morning,” I said, eyeing the bedroom with considerable interest.
“Except for one,” Judi replied. She darted out the door, returning in seconds with the OPEN IN PRIVATE box from Jack Hill. “You open it, Sissy.”
“Oh my.” We breathed out our surprise in unison. Three pistols nestled in blue velvet. Not just any three pistols, either, but brand new first-year-available .380 caliber Taurus Curve models, designed for deep concealment. The Gun You Wear, the literature proclaimed. They were right. The grips were a bit on the tiny side for my big hands, but I could manage. We looked at each other, bright eyed. “Should we?”
Of course we should. After all, the heavy box also contained a thousand rounds of ammunition. Thus it was that we three newlyweds slipped out the back door, tacked a few targets up on trees, switched on the LED/Laser functions, and lit up the night with gunfire. Jack and his people heard us, obviously. A mile down through the timber, Seed and Beets might or might not, but they were pros who’d know the sound of target practice versus the sound of combat. The Curve is designed for close quarters shooting, so we put a mere fifteen feet between ourselves and our targets. To say we were thrilled with the little shooters would be an extreme understatement. Two hundred rounds later, my average grouping out of the six round magazine was a bit less than four inches, and my scores were the worst. Sissy’s groups ran roughly half an inch tighter. Sweet little Judi smoked us all, generally managing three inch groups with only an occasional flyer.
We finally trekked on back inside, waving stacks of riddled targets in the air and laughing like demented hyenas. Do we know how to celebrate a wedding night or what?