My name is James Wolfe and I’m a man on a mission. A very critical mission to my future and to my quality of life. I’ve been screwing around too long and that might have absolutely screwed me over for getting my life where I want it to be. You see, like many people I have a childhood friend. Not shocking, most of us have friends, most of us were children at one point or another, but I’ve been nursing a crush on this childhood friend for the better part of a decade. More or less since I figured out boys and girls are different, and that girls are different in some very intriguing ways. It’s important that you understand, that my situation isn’t as easy as something simple like a lack of self confidence on my part. Sure Lilac is gorgeous, and I’m fairly average, normal height, normal weight, compared to a 6’2″ blonde beauty of a holstaur with breasts the size of three human heads put together. Like, even by Holstaur standards, Lilac is stacked. That’s not the issue. We’ve been joined at the hip since we were crawling. If I can’t talk to Lilac, I don’t need to work on my self confidence, I need to hang myself and try again on my next reincarnation.
The issue is that I probably went around the method of courting in the wrong way. For one it’s rare for a guy to initiate these days. I mean hell the way one of my buddies got married was literally being accidentally tackled by a Hellhound chasing a frisbee in a park in Austin. By the time they untangled themselves, she had decided she was taking him to dinner to “apologize”. Three cute little Hellpups later and you get the idea of how their relationship went after that dinner. Lilac on the other hand is a bit more reserved than most monsters, and is from an old predominantly human farming family. Monsters marrying into the line in the form of Lilac’s mother and her aunts each snagging one of the three eldest sons of the clan really hadn’t changed those same old fashioned values that were so important to Lilac’s family. So I wanted to be in a position to really have something to offer besides just me. I wanted to be able to show that I can support her, and the family that she has not-so subtly indicated she wants.
Well, I can’t say that part of the plan has worked out absolutely perfectly. Working on a ranch and doing some college courses at the same time eventually produced a guy with some decent potential to go into business for himself, and with some money I’d saved up, I’d just managed to buy my first few dozen acres. It wasn’t much, but it was a start and well… we weren’t that far out of High School, but I didn’t want to wait much longer. It had to be some sort of miracle that Lilac was still single after all these years. Surely she’d had offers by now. Or seen guys who were good candidates in her mind, I flattered myself a bit to think that she was waiting for me to get my ass in gear specifically, and whether that was true or not, my chance with Lilac wouldn’t be there forever.
So that leads me to where I am today, heading to the Holsti-Queen ice cream shop she works at, to speak to the dairy queen of my heart herself. I probably should have waited till after she got off work… but well… I’d just finished a hard morning’s work for my last day, changed, gone to the bank and signed the papers that meant I was a rancher now, not just a ranch hand… so I figure, a rancher’s gotta have cattle right? Plus if I’m honest, Lilac makes an absolutely lethal sundae and I was so parched you could declare my mouth as part of the Sonoran desert. Two birds with one stone, if I’m lucky. I really hope I’m lucky.
I sure as hell feel lucky as I walk through the door. The air conditioning immediately makes me feel better after the sweltering heat of South Texas around noontime. Then, behind the counter, Lilac herself is a sight for sore eyes. It takes a very special kind of woman, human or monster, to make khaki slacks and a work shirt sexy, but I’ll be damned if Lilac doesn’t manage it. Trim waist, what can only be called child bearing hips, those long legs ending in dainty hooves, and of course, a rack so large her cleavage probably was best explored with a snorkel handy in case of emergency. All topped off by a cute, devilish smile, bright blue eyes, big brown ears, and dairy cow horns at the top of her head pushing through long blonde hair. Throw in her cute tail flicking idly out from behind her and you have quite the package… assuming you like cowgirls any way. Even better, she’s alone. No other staff in evidence, and no customers either.
Lilac’s eyes light up when she sees me. “Oh James! There y’all are, been wondering where you’ve been the last couple weeks. You keep coming around less and less, and you done near vanished completely the last few months! I’ve been all kindsa lonely while you’ve been off gallivanting around, probably getting up to trouble with some mutt or something I wager.” A laugh like bells chiming. Lilac was kidding… but there was an edge in her voice that made her joke an interrogative all the same. Did she really care if I was off causing trouble with strange women? Seems she did. Well shit. That might make my task today easy.
“Come on Lilac, you know I don’t exactly get around like that. I ah… well I was coming down here to celebrate. I just signed the papers on my own ranch, couple dozen acres, room to expand, little farm house, it’s nothing special but it’s mine.”
Lilac gasps and rushes out from behind the counter to wrap me in her arms and attempt to smother me with that prodigious bust. “Oh James I’m so proud of you! So that’s what you’ve been working on in secret huh? I suppose it’s not a bad idea to keep it quiet till you know if it’s all gonna go through or not. Well you can have anything in here your heart desires on me!”
“Well… I was hoping for an order of you. To go.” Oh hell. Did I really just say that? Hell’s bells, I just said that. Me and my big mouth. That was not the way I wanted to say that. Not even close, but you know what? She’d given me the opening and I’d already stuck my foot in my mouth. So to my mind there’s nothing to do but roll with it, dive right in, and hope there’s water instead of concrete on the other side.
Lilac’s eyes open wide, a light blush crossing her cheeks “I… James, did you just…?” I nod, feeling a bit nervous now. It feels like the floor is dropping out from under my feet giving me the most awful pain in my stomach. Maybe I should have done it earlier, or waited till after work, or maybe she just didn’t… “Hurk!” Lilac really doesn’t know her own strength. Holstaurs aren’t strong to a terrifying degree like say, a Hellhound or a Minotaur, but they’re plenty strong enough to crack a couple ribs with an overly enthusiastic hug like I was getting right now, the air getting squeezed out of me like I was a squeaky toy.
“Lilac… Lilac! I need… air!” I swear I manage to choke that out right as I go blue in the face. A blushing Lilac manages to release me in time to let precious oxygen flow back to my lungs. “So… I ah… take it that’s a yes?”
Lilac blows a stray strand of hair out of her face with an irritated huff. “I’m not quite sure it should be a yes, sugar. You spent all this time without asking me to go out with you or do anything but hang out like we normally did. Makes a girl feel a mite underappreciated. Now don’t you worry, my answer is going to be yes, because I’ve been waiting to say yes to you since we were kids. But I gotta know, what took you so damn long? I wanted to let you be all manly and ask me, but if you’d taken much longer I’dda had to go and drag you off myself like Momma did when she married Pappy.”
Ah. Damn. Guess I had waited too long in at least one sense of the term. “Well it’s not that simple Lilac, I was waiting because I… wanted to be someone when I asked you, have something to my name. I know you want kids and I wanted to show you I was in a position to support you, and you know… build a family with you… if you were… interested.”
“Hmph, see now that’s not fair, here I was fixin to be good n’irritated with you for a little bit, and you have to say something sweet like that. Well you’ve always been good at dodging trouble. That crooked smile of yours could get Momma to stop swinging her rolling pin at you even when she’d caught you sneaking pie. So you really’ve been working your tail off for the last couple years just to impress lil’ old me? Silly boy, I was already yours, you just had to come and get me… and I assure you all that work woulda gone easier if we was seeing to it as a team.”
I shrug a bit, a goofy grin plastered all over my face. “Well you know, masculine pride… I just felt like doing all that on my own was my way of proving I was a grown ass man who was ready to take a wife and start a family, but yeah, it would have been easier if we’d been working together. Work with me from now on?”
Lilac rolls her eyes with a sardonic grin gracing her angelic features. “If that’s a serious question James Wolfe I am fixing to punch you once, then throw you out of this here store, and not speak to you till you come back with an engagement ring and some roses. If you’re lucky.” Now that’s more like the Lilac I know, a singularly beautiful, kind, and fiery Southern Belle but with a sarcastic streak a mile wide that she managed to keep carefully concealed behind her usual charming demeanour.
“It’s not, I know you already said yes… though I suppose there’s something I need to tell you about the engagement…”
Just then the bell rang at the front door, and we jumped back from each other like a pair of teenagers who had been caught necking in one of their bedrooms or something. The blushing was mutual now, but thankfully the customers who’d just walked in didn’t notice. Our conversation would have to wait, so I made my way to lean against the wall and wait for the rush to die down.
It didn’t die down. Not for an hour or so any way, and that hour managed to feel like three. It took a lot of self control to keep myself from fidgeting too much and keeping my expression blank. I didn’t want to cause trouble for Lilac at work, but I didn’t want to leave either.
It felt like the parade of customers went on for ages. Male, female, monster, human, a riot of colors and an absolute ton of feline monsters. I’d speculate as to why that last bit might be, but I don’t want to get sued for stereotyping cat girls or something like that, and even Texas has managed to get a little bit touchy feely about that kinda thing recently, but really when you have a Nekomata slinking in looking like a junkie on the way to see her dealer you… Well you get the idea.
Any way, thankfully I didn’t get terribly much attention, the occasional curious look, and one Bakeneko who clearly was thinking of some sort of prank to pull on me when her turn to order came up, and her impending frozen treat completely blanked whatever evil thoughts were buzzing around in her head. I wasn’t complaining. At least as of very recently I was taken, so attention from anyone but Lilac wasn’t on my mind anymore.
Finally the last trio of customers leave. Admittedly they were an interesting trio, they were hard not to watch. Some sort of flashy harpy of a subspecies I’d never seen before, and a fox woman of one kind or another who looked like she wasn’t local in any sense of the word. From the moment they came in to the moment they left, they were arm in arm with their boyfriend? Husband? Probably the latter, they were clearly attached at the hips, and while they were all smiles and good manners, especially talking to their beau, they were basically engaged in an ongoing, low intensity fist fight as they jockeyed for maximum cuddle space. It was kinda cute, but definitely hilarious, and I had to bite my lip until they finally walked out the door, the two women calmed by a dairy distraction as they headed off into the sunset.
Right as I was about to go back over to the counter, the bell rang again and my heart dropped. Damn it. I know she was at work and I shouldn’t be here any way, but did today have to be a busy… day? Huh. It was suddenly quite hot in the room, and Lilac had gone disturbingly quiet. Normally she greets customers with her usual cheery tone but for some reason she hadn’t. And the air conditioning, kind of critical for an ice cream place, had apparently suddenly failed… put two and two together and… a heavy hand drops on my shoulder the odd grayish flesh confirming exactly who’d walked in the door. The last customer of the day was a Hellhound.
Now look, I want to be clear. I’ve met some very nice Hellhounds. They’re not bad by demon standards. The veteran ones are particularly cool to hang out with assuming you’re willing to buy beers in trade for some absolutely hair raising combat stories. Sure they can bench a pickup truck without even thinking about it, and when their hands transform into paws their claws can shred steel like it’s nothing, but again, most of them are fairly normal women. The one percent of Hellhounds that are not nice people more than make up for the rest of them though.
She spins me around to look me in the eyes, pinning me lightly to the wall. She’s huge, easily 6’7”, probably 350 lbs of rippling muscle, and my how big and shiny those teeth are. Her eyes are red like flames and she’ looking at me like a particularly choice cut of meat. Her voice is rough, gravelly. She sounds like she gargles a mix of rocks and glass after smoking a pack of cowboy killers straight through every morning. I can’t honestly tell if it’s her natural speaking voice or if she’s just trying to sound scary. If it’s the latter… well, it works.
“Well now, I was coming in for a sweet treat, and I seem to have found one. Country boy too… Well I might not be a country girl, but I sure do like me a cowboy.” She licks her chops, looking more and more like she’s going to try to eat me in a far more literal sense. “I like a rough ride and country boys usually have a nice touch. Hope you can ride longer than eight seconds though.”
Of all the goddamn luck. Go figure she was one of those Hellhounds too. Turbo bitch and a horndog to boot. Joyous. Well, she’d managed to pin me with my arms down by my waist. Which left my Sig Sauer P365 right by my hand. Normally getting shot would probably just piss her off, but I’d let a pushy centaur gun nut talk me into buying some silver plated self defense rounds she swore would put a demon down. When most of the possible threats were either mundane enough that a normal hollow point round would rip them a new one, or the kind of unpleasant creature that doesn’t react well to blessed silver, it made some kind of sense to do both. I had no idea if that actually works, still don’t, but I was feeling a lot better about that purchase right about now.
“Ah, sorry miss I’m taken. Thanks for the compliments though. Could you let me go now?”
“Aww, all you boys say that, but you know what? You don’t smell taken. No magic bond that I can feel either, which sounds like free game to me.”
“Actually we just got engaged.” I indicate Lilac who nods vigorously. She’d never done well around demons, she had a bad run in with a Cerberus when she was a kid that left her with a broken collar bone. So her managing to talk even in a stuttering manner probably wasn’t likely. She shot me a look filled with relief that I’d taken the lead, and was clearly reaching under the counter for the silent alarm while the Hellhound was distracted with her new intended victim. The movement made the Hellhound’s eyes shift off me just long enough for me to get my hand firmly onto the grip of my pistol. I really really didn’t want to shoot her, but I wasn’t about to let her drag me off either. This wasn’t a situation like my buddy in Austin, and this particular Hellhound didn’t seem nearly as pleasant as my friend’s wife is by a long shot.
“Miss… I’m sorry I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” My eyes and the Hellhound’s eyes flick back to the register. Lilac had indeed spoken. Her voice was calm, confident, far more confident than I’d ever heard her around a demon before. Clearly she wasn’t about to let this bitch have her way either. It was really touching actually. She was defending me, and overcoming one her greatest fear to do it. I’d have to do something extra special for her later, because I really didn’t deserve a woman like Lilac, not in the slightest. .
Huh? Had… the Hellhound just agreed to leave?
“Sure I’ll go, but I’m taking him with me. Come on lover boy, we’re gonna go get acquainted somewhere else. If we do it right it’s gonna take all day and all night!”
Of course it couldn’t be that easy. Damnit. It was looking like I was actually going to have to draw on her. I was having a really damn good day too.
Instead, a door opens. A door that I hadn’t seen open before. A little gold sign over that door read “Manager’s Office”, and from that office emerged one of the biggest Minotaurs I’ve ever seen. Now let me be clear, when I say big, I mean she was at least seven feet tall and she was built like a truck. What I could see of her body made it very clear that under her caramel skin was an incredible amount of steely muscle. Hellhounds were strong. In terms of raw strength though, Minotaurs were probably stronger, and this particular Minotaur looked like she could tie steel I beams into knots like they were string, and pissed off to boot.
“Ma’am, I’m going to ask you very nicely once, and only once, to take your hands off that man, and walk out of my store peacefully.”
The Hellhound squared up to the Minotaur manager, completely forgetting that I was there.
“And what if I don’t?”
The Minotaur cracks her knuckles, “Then I’m going to snap your spine over my knee like a twig that can scream. I haven’t gotten a good work out since I got out of the Corps, so I’m begging you. Please give me the excuse to beat your hide black and blue, then toss your mangled body to the cops when they show up. They’re already on their way by the by. Your call. Like I said, please give me the excuse.”
The Hellhound is so pissed that anger is radiating off of her, distinct from the heat coming off of her body, glaring at the Minotaur who’d come to Lilac and my rescue and growling before finally dropping her eyes and slinking out the door without another word. Without even another look, she just heads out, probably hoping to dodge the rapidly approaching law enforcement.
Lilac lets out a deeply held sigh of relief as the door shuts. “Oh thank the gods Helena, you came out at just the right time.”
“I was watching on the cameras. I wanted to see what this guy would do. I mean… you know what happened Lilac. Seems like you’re made of sterner stuff Pardner. Not many guys will stare down a Hellhound like that, or manage to keep your voice under control. Admittedly I couldn’t hear you, but your face didn’t waver and she didn’t go for your throat, so I’ll assume you didn’t speak in such a way that you made yourself look weak.”
I lift my shirt sheepishly, displaying the grip of the pistol that’s riding just over the waistband of my jeans. “Well I did have a trump card handy if things got out of control, I’m not about to let her kidnap me.”
Helena snorts with laughter. “Nice. Regular boy scout huh? Well turns out being prepared actually pays off. Good one, Sig too, nice taste in hand guns. I loved my Sig when I was still on active duty. You can stick around cowboy, I like your kind.”
Lilac steps to my shoulder and wraps herself around my arm with a happy grin. “Mhmm. This is James by the way, the guy I’ve been telling you about. He came down to tell me he’s just bought a ranch trying to impress me like the fool he is… but I figure I’ll move in with him any way, since he went to the trouble.”
Helena blushes a dusky red. “Oh… oh this is that guy? Well… that’s uh. That’s really good then. Extra good he didn’t get carried off or anything.” The gruff tomboy who’d just threatened a Hellhound with a brutal mauling by powerful hands suddenly got rather awkward and shy, and something about it didn’t add up to me as I got a better look at her. No denying she had the body of a Greek god of physical fitness, but she also had surprisingly feminine curves, even if she dressed to hide them. Her hair was cut fairly short, in something of a page boy, lapping around her minotaur horns. Still, she was pretty damn cute. But for Helena to go from badass to this rather cute blushing… girl… was odd. Lilac clearly thought so too, watching the other cowgirl as she stammered into her next sentence.
“Well, Lilac, you can go early. What’s running this joint if I can’t show a little favoritism to my cousin right? Looks like the cops are here though. I’ll go make a statement then close up. Ah… congratulations.” With a furtive look over her shoulder at us, Helena made her way outside, leaving Lilac to recapture my attention with one of the best damn kisses I’d ever received. Not that I’d been kissed terribly much, but it made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up and felt like a lightning strike, but in a good way.
“That’s for standing up for me, and for us, my big tough hero.”
“Heh, I can get used to being a hero if the rewards are like that… but Lilac are you sure about moving in? Won’t your folks think we’re moving a bit fast?” I’d realized a couple new flaws in my plan in the last few minutes. I’d more or less skipped dating Lilac and asked her to marry me. Sure courtship had sped up along with an increase in things like polyamory once diplomatic contact with the UMT, what the monsters called their government, had been made after the war, but surely this was fast even by monster standards.
“Are you kidding me? You ain’t been up to the house in far too long. Momma doesn’t want to know when we’re going to start dating or anything like that. She’s approved of you for years. She wants to know where her grandbabies are at and why we’re taking so damn long. I’m shocked she ain’t called your mother to get her to give you a piece of her mind too.”
“I guess I was a little too wrapped up in my own plans on how to try and make you happy to notice everyone else’s plans.”
“And I happen to love you for that single minded determination James Wolfe, but if you’d paid attention a bit more, you’d know that our families had more or less considered us engaged since we held hands for the first time around age seven, and that I’ve loved you for at least that long, ranch or no ranch. Now… how about you take me home Mr. Wolfe? I want to see this new house you got for me before we run out of daylight. Then you’re going to take me to dinner. Then I’m going to show you what your real reward is for not backing down in front of that bitch, and sugar, trust me, no one’s ever going to mistake you for a single man ever again once I’m done, that’s a promise you can damn well count on.”
“I’m not sure if I should be scared or excited about that last bit.”
“A little bit of both adds spice to life I find.”
“Well if that’s how you want it… Mrs. Wolfe.”
“…hmm, you know I’ve tried that name on mentally for ages now, but I like hearing it out loud from someone else even more.”
“You’ll have a whole life time to use it. I’ll do my best to make you proud to have it.”
“Oh don’t you worry sugar. I already was even before you stared down that damn demon.”
“That was mostly Helena…”
“Shhh… details details. She’ll get her credit too.”
I stroke my chin for a minute. “Hey did she look okay right at the end there? Something seemed off before she went off to talk to the cops.”
Lilac feigns offense, resting a hand on her considerable bosom “Already eyeing up other women, you absolute dog! No… no I saw it too… I’ll have to spend a little time with her. I know you know I had that run in with that Cerberus girl from the city, but well… Helena had her own demon run in. I’ll have to talk to her about it, but that my dear is for later, tonight is all about you, and me.”
“As you wish.”
Another kiss sealed the deal, and the sun began to set on my last day as James Wolfe, bachelor at large, and set the stage for a new dawn as Mr. James Wolfe, husband and rancher. Sure we hadn’t had a wedding yet, and this is Texas, there’s no way in hell we’ll miss a chance to get everyone together for food, drinks and celebrating, but things had relaxed quite a bit on the marriage front from the early 21st century, sure there’d be paperwork, but for all intents and purposes, Lilac was Mrs. Lilac Wolfe the second she’d said yes, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The thought still remained though, lingering as we headed towards my truck, just what had happened to Helena?
I’m not going to bore you with the fine details of how the next few months went. Lilac moved in, we had our wedding, and there was an unending pile of work to be done in and around all of that. I will however give a little unsolicited advice on marriage.Fellas let me tell you, there’s folks who will sell you a raw deal on marriage. They go on and on about how bad the courts are stacked against men, and how bad divorce turns out for us. Now I’m not about to deny any of that, it’s true, and something you can consider, but let me shoot straight with you for a second. If you find the right woman, you don’t actually have to worry about that shit.
Now stop, I know what at least a few of you are thinking. A nice rack, tight abs or a great body in general is not how you find your partner for life. It can be a bonus; physical attraction is a strong part of romantic happiness after all. Nor should you under any circumstances settle. Ever. This is a major risk, both to your bank account, your psyche, and your fragile, tender ego. It should not be undertaken lightly. Take your time, and you will know when the time and person is right. If there’s a single doubt in your mind, don’t do it. Even in this age of proactive dating and the occasional case of predation by aggressively lovely monsters of all shapes, sizes, colors and collection of nonhuman limbs, find your best friend. You should be an actual friend to your girlfriends any way, and if you have to posture at all you’re doing it wrong, befriend this object of your affections, or if you’re the one being pursued, your lady caller. If she doesn’t dig your authentic self when y’all aren’t living together, how do you think it’ll go when she sees your authentic self and knows you wear your socks multiple times without washing them?
To be fair, most monsters don’t seem to have this primarily human courtship issue. I asked Lilac about it in detail at one point, and she said a lot of monsters have an instinct that leads them to a compatible male. Especially the highly magically attuned monsters. The demon races including Hellhounds, dragons, elves, and so on, generally can tell when a guy has a compatible spirit, and that spirit bonding is just as important as everything else. Apparently humans do it too, we just lack a sense for it modernly. If you think back to the most disgustingly happy human couple you’ve ever seen, not the first blush of romance happy, but the couple you really get jealous of when you’re single, that are just clearly united together in ways that most cannot understand, that’s a spirit bond. Most mundane monsters are like humans though, and they have to find their spirit bonds the hard way, but it’s well worth the effort.
I can say all this because it worked for me. It took longer than it should have, because as it turns out, I’m an idiot, and didn’t really know what literally everyone around me knew. I loved Lilac, and she loved me, and boy did she let me know it. And to the Werebadger working at the place we bought the new bed after we finished destroying the old one? I saw that low five you gave Lilac, you aren’t that slick.
Once we had Lilac properly moved in, everything went along swimmingly. I managed to cut some deals for about thirty odd dairy cows and Lilac’s family “gifted” us a small herd of black angus beef cattle as a dowry. I tried to protest, that type of custom is so old school that it carves it’s notes into stone tables with a hammer and chisel, and they were damn fine cattle. They wouldn’t hear any sort of ‘no.’ So we started setting ourselves up for production, not of milk in the sense you’re thinking of, or of bulk beef, but luxury goods. There’s a lot of carnivores or near carnivores living in the US these days, and there’s a lot of refined palates literally used to the decadence of hell itself. So, craft goods, hand made, aged beef, that kinda thing? Worth it’s weight in gold, sometimes literally if you’re dealing with a particularly old fashioned vampire or something.
In fact our first big score was a Vampire lady from up North, the Rockies I mean, not Yankee territory. We’d just started doing up the paperwork to sell our first cow to be slaughtered and aged, when this Vampire dropped in, and I do mean literally dropped in. Cloud of mist, shrieking bats, a bit theatrical, but impressive all the same. She wanted the entire quantity of blood from the cow, every drop we drained from it. Well that had me curious, and if you’ll pardon the pun I smelled blood in the water. A little wheedling and a glass of wine up at the house (gotta treat “high end” clients right after all) and we got what she wanted a bunch of cow blood for. Blood wine. Literal blood wine, it doesn’t provide anything nourishment wise like human blood for a vampire, but to them it tastes delicious, and kinda sits somewhere between a beloved childhood soda pop and a beverage that’s a standard part of higher class vampire social functions. A little more wheedling and instead of selling her the blood, I was writing down instructions and parts lists. A winery without grapes? Will wonders never cease?
After those first couple months of hard work and burning money like it was no one’s business to put in new equipment, buy a couple horses, some chickens just to supply the house, set up a garden, and on Lilac’s request about two dozen Angora rabbits, and we finally had a month balance out. Just the month. Our overall finances were in the red but a couple balls of Angora yarn, the first load of beef, and a barrel of fast aged blood wine meant we finally has some income to balance out the hemorrhaging of money that is the start of any small business. Then our younger cheeses hit the epicurean market up in Austin and we hit the jackpot. Easy money? Not even close, but funding to expand our operations and pay down the loans? You bet.
I couldn’t have done half of it without Lilac, and we both couldn’t have done it without Helena. She started turning up every few days, mostly to hang out with Lilac since she didn’t see her at work any more but she always ended up helping out with chores no matter how much we protested. She said she liked the chance to do some physical work that wasn’t just spending time in a gym for a change. So we returned the favor by feeding her like a champion draft horse, and by god I’ve taken care of Clydesdales, and Helena can put one of those beasts to shame at the dinner table. Makes sense considering her sheer scale, but damn.
So one day we’re all sitting down to eat for the night. Helena and I had been putting in a fence on some new grazing land I’d acquired and fixing up one of the paddocks that had started out in poor repair so we could actually use it. Lilac had been up to see her folks across town before coming home to start on dinner, and in the middle of that nice, quiet meal, Lilac pulls out a photo album. Helena and I both manage to groan in unison. We know the wicked grin on Lilac’s face, she’s found a particular good bit of dirt on one of us or both of us, and she wasn’t about to let something like a meal spoil her fun.
“I found somethin’ y’all might find interestin’ while I was up at Momma and Pappy’s today. Momma swore up and down that you’d met Helena before when we were all small. So I dug into the photo albums from before you left with your folks to head out West Hel… and lookie what I found.”
Lilac tosses a few photos on to the table, color of course, this was back in the day, not back in the dark ages, and Lilac’s father had a thing for film cameras, especially for family events. It was impossible to mistake Lilac, and the goofy looking kid with a tooth missing was almost certainly me. The other girl we were getting up to all manner of trouble with was a caramel skinned brunette, already a bit big for her age.
“Huh… I guess you did seem a bit familiar after all James.”
“No excuse on my part though, Helena, I feel like quite the jerk.”
“Now now the both of you, we were about five when these were taken, and Helena left soon after. Lunkhead here really doesn’t have much of an excuse, because everything would be sorted if he bothered to jump on to the net or maginet every now and then. And Helena…well.”
The other woman’s face darkens a bit “What happened… yeah. That.”
Lilac pushes us through the awkward spot. “So no need to mope around, y’all are already friends again, so water under the bridge… but the really interesting photo is… this one. Make sure to read the back Hel.”
Helena blushes a dusky rose as she looks at the picture, glances at me, then at Lilac, and back to the photo before flipping it over and gasping. “No. They didn’t.”
“Oh yes they did Hel. Now show James so he can know what we’re going on about.”
Helena passed me the photo with a nervous chuckle. “Hope you don’t see anything you don’t want to see Jamie boy.”
“Oh come on it can’t possibly be that… Oh.” Well. That was just about the cutest goddamn thing you could ever see. Another photo of the three of us, absolutely covered in dirt, sitting there with the girls each holding one of my hands with big smiles on our faces because we’d clearly just found some very enjoyable trouble. On the back… “Seriously?” A betting pool. A pretty significant one actually recorded in the painfully precise and neat script I knew belonged to Mrs. McPherson, Lilac’s mother. “Damn… that’s uh, quite a bit of money in this betting pool. Is it for… what I think it was for?”
Lilac’s grinning like the cat who caught the canary now, she never missed a chance to mess with either of us apparently, so getting to hit two birds with one photo was an absolutely delight for her. “Oh yes indeed James Wolfe, that is a pool betting on who you would marry between the two of us. That photo even predates that photo Momma has framed up of us holding hands by a good two years… even I had forgotten it, and Pappy missed digitizing it somehow.”
“So wait… what’s that third column then?” Part of the pool is smudged off; pencil didn’t last particularly long even these days.
“I don’t know, and Momma either didn’t remember or didn’t want to tell me because she couldn’t tell me what it was either… I can make an educated guess though. Seems like the smart money was on us girls not letting you pick one of us.”
There’s some mild steam coming out of Helena’s ears now, the big minotaur mumbling something incomprehensible under her breath as Lilac leans in, this was apparently what she’d been setting Helena up for, and now she was going in for the kill. “I know you Hel, I knew you better than anyone when we were little girls, and since you came home last year we’ve become pretty tight while this fool was off busting broncos to win something he already had. Tell James what happened to you. It’s okay, if you can trust me, you can trust him.”
Helena gives me a weird look like she’s sizing me up. “Well… it’s not, it’s really not that dramatic. I uh… was in a car accident as a kid, so I lost some memories from that, kinda became a bit… shy. Well my folks didn’t think that was healthy for a young Minotaur, so they enrolled me in the Young Marines, like the scouts, but with more swagger. Well the YM is a barely concealed recruiting pipeline, and I liked the Corps, or the idea of it, so I enlisted. Jamie boy there’s a lot of Hellhounds in the Corps. They enlist in droves, almost like an organization that specializes in violence that calls themselves “Devil Dogs” has some sort of innate appeal to a literal canine demon from Hell. Most of them are good Marines… but there’s always the one that seems to revel in their kind’s bad reputation you know?”
Helena takes another breath. “Right around the second time I deployed. I got engaged, another Marine from one of the other parts of the expeditionary unit we were deploying with. He wanted to do things old school, like, before first contact old school, before the war old school. Like… well probably how humans still court each other in the human majority regions. Things were fine the first couple months… then he just kinda vanished. I asked around, and some Hellhound SNCO with a lot of stripes on her collar had just… taken him. Even cut orders to make it official for her. Kinda like that bitch the other month was going to take you. The one person I found who’d seen it said my ex didn’t say anything, didn’t resist, didn’t ask anyone nearby for help. Just let her take him. Maybe it’s what he wanted, maybe he was that much of a coward. So I kinda had my heart ripped out when he vanished, I didn’t have long to stew about it though. My convoy hit an IED two weeks later, and after a long stay in Naval Hospital Balboa with my personal life non existent and my career a smoking wreck on the side of the road, I was kinda… left adrift. So Mom sent me out to stay with Lilac’s folks, thought going back to Texas might be good for me. Kinda… been here ever since.”
Lilac slips out of her chair and gives the other woman a hug. “It’s okay sugar, I’ve got you. Now… tell James the rest.”
“Th… the rest? There is no rest. That’s the whole story Lilac you know that!”
“Nuh uh. I mean the part you haven’t even told me yet, about why you keep glancing James like a naughty school girl peeking at her crush when you think no one’s looking. It’s okay… you can tell us of all people. I mean… I think I know some of what you felt. James staring down that Hellhound with a hand on his pistol was pretty sexy wasn’t it? I know it got me going once the adrenaline rush started to die down. Regular lone ranger isn’t he? Gonna have to get him a white horse and hat to go with all that bravado.”
Helena is actually looking a bit distraught now. Not embarrassed, time to step in. I’m not sure where she’s driving with this, but Lilac’s clearly pushing her too far. “Come on Lilac, just let her be for now, you can see she’s uncomfortable as all hell.”
“Now now James, you stay out of this bit, this is between us girls. Well… I suppose you’re involved too, but… Helena won’t work this little hiccup out if she don’t spit it out plain and simple, just between all of us. Now Hel, what did you want to do before you found out who James was?”
“I… uh. Well I thought it had been one of the hottest things I’d ever seen. Lots of folks, even girls who are physically strong enough, don’t stand up to Hellhounds, and well, after the last guy, I thought if I was gonna get interested in someone again, that it should be the kinda guy who’d spit in a Hellhound’s eye if he was already taken or just not interested. I thought… a guy like that wouldn’t quit on your or give out on you. What’s the occasional spat or rough spot compared to staring into a demon’s eye and politely asking her to fuck off? So I was… gonna… get your number at least. I thought it woulda been kinda… tasteless to ask you out on the spot like that.”
“There now, was that so hard? And you’re still crushing on him ain’tcha? It was rhetorical darlin, you can take a few breaths.”
“Now, I’d like to propose we resolve this amicably. I happen to think that my James is one of the finest men I’ve ever met, and certainly the only man I’ve ever wanted in my life… but I wasn’t his only childhood sweetheart it seems, so there might be something more to Helena’s attraction behind all that head trauma the poor girl’s suffered. Normally I’d say I wouldn’t do this kinda thing… but well, you are someone dear to me Hel, and I can’t fault your taste in men… in fact I’ve concurred enthusiastically since before we could all remember, and the good odds always were the three of us setting up a little homestead together.”
Well my jaw was on the floor.
I had not expected Lilac to weave that around to angling us for a third in our marriage. It’s not like polygamy was a big deal these days. There were a lot of monsters out there who were more than happy to share for the right guy, and with the population crunch monsterkind was still staring down like a gun barrel with the word “extinction” written on the side, there was plenty of motivation to learn to get along for the good of the species, but it was still somewhat shocking to hear Lilac suggest it.
“I… would be okay with that I think.” Helena spoke first. Her voice wavering for a second before getting stronger and more confident, more like her normal personality when we weren’t taking an extended spelunking expedition into what had to be a very sore spot for the poor girl. Still I had to set my foot down about one thing. I didn’t have an issue with the idea, I liked Helena fine enough, she was stunning, and in a very different way than Lilac, couldn’t be more different personality wise either, and I enjoyed spending time with her, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and this struck me as a wrong way.
“I wouldn’t. Not like that.” Both girls eyes snap to me, Lilac’s widening with surprise and Helena looking like I’d just hauled off and slapped her across the mouth. “Hold it, stop right there girls and let me damn finish. I’m not okay with adding Helena to our marriage like she’s an order of fries at a fast food joint. Even just deciding it around the kitchen table. Sure we’ve gotten to know each other, again apparently, the last couple months, but you deserve to be courted. You deserve to be treated decently… and then we can make that decision assuming everything is still working however long down the line it takes. It’s just not fair to you otherwise.”
“James Wolfe you incorrigible man.” Lilac’s laughing now, and Helena seems to be yoyoing between a couple different emotional states. “Here I thought you were gonna turn down another beauty in your life that was being offered to you on a silver platter, and your complaint is you didn’t have to work hard enough to get her? Now that is an excellent example of why you drive me up the wall, and why I love you.”
I shrug “Look it’s only fair… Helena deserves to be worked for. She’s better than an afterthought or an add on, and just because she might think I’m cute when I stare down Hellhounds because I’m too stupid to live, that’s not really something to form a relationship on right? Even if there’s something buried there from when we were kids. We both deserve a chance to be sure there’s something real there. So… I suppose since Lilac approves, Helena, would you be interested in going out together sometime?”
Helena laughs, her real, confident, booming laugh, not a girlish giggle, seems like something I said had gotten her out of her vulnerable state for whatever reason. “You know Jamie boy, that’s just about the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me… so yes. I will… and you better be ready, because you might think you’re courting me, but old boy, it’s a woman’s world, and I’m coming for my chunk of you.
“I’m not sure if I should be scared or excited about that last bit.”
“A little bit of both adds spice to life I find.” The girls had answered simultaneously before looking at each other and starting to laugh. Things didn’t go back to normal after that, there was significantly more aggressive footsie under the table, now from two directions than what I’d consider “normal”. Footsie is also a bit more exciting a game when two of the participants have hooves… good thing I still had my boots on.
The conversation seemed more animated as the night drew on and Lilac got one of the decent bottles of scotch down. There was an excitement, or energy coming off of all of us. It wasn’t a development I think Helena or I could have anticipated, certainly not after Lilac and I had already done the paperwork to be lawfully wedded… but I know I was excited, and I could see in her eyes that she was too. Even Lilac was excited, clearly pleased with just how well she’d pulled the strings in her little game to get us both dancing to her tune. That might make her sound worse than she is. Lilac loves her games and her mischief, but she arranged all this because she didn’t like the thought of Helena being left out in the cold again, not that she’d ever admit it.
I thought I’d had it all figured out in that moment as we sat around the dinner table jawing. It honestly felt like we’d all had a weight dropped off our shoulders, a weight I wasn’t even aware of. It seemed pretty simple to me, a decent lengthed courtship with Helena if that’s really what she wanted and if Lilac was really okay with it, with the two of us chasing each other we’d be bound to catch each other sooner than normal right? But I figured there’d at least be a year or so of dating before anything serious happened.
I forgot just who I was involved with though. Who these bright beautiful women were and to compound that screw up, I made a truly famous fatal blunder. One only slightly less famous than starting a land war in Asia. I underestimated monsters.
Helena moved in six weeks later. A guest bedroom at first. That room morphed into Helena’s office and “private space” when she moved into the master about four weeks after that. It would have been sooner, but we needed to wait for the custom bed to be delivered with the California Wyrm sized mattress. Helena’s parents flew out to visit us, and both my mother in law and mother in law to be made chiding noises about humans and their long courtship periods.
I will remind you that my courtship with Helena amounted to a couple weeks of dating punctuated by a surprise roll in the hay or three like a couple of hormone junkie teenagers instead of the theoretically responsible adults we were supposed to be. It certainly was a nice way to take a break or end a hard day’s work though.
My mothers in law (and isn’t that a terrifying term?) then unified forces with my own mother, to ask where their grandchildren were. Seemed like I was going to need to expand the house. Lucky us that Lilac’s father stumbled on the winning pool for that long ago bet and another list of who bet what. Lilac’s mother turns out to have known us pretty well, even if it did take longer than anticipated. The thing with that kind of betting pool is that the winnings had always been intended for one of the girl’s weddings or some similar activity, so we got the cash infusion we needed to expand the house and start another little project as part of our growing family business.
We were going to buy the Holsti Queen that Helena still managed and convert it to a local storefront for all the dairy goods we were putting out already, and old fashioned ice cream. With three different kinds of milk in use, we were going to have quite a variety available.
With all that work behind us and a company brought into renovate the Holsti Queen… frankly we needed a goddamn vacation and I owed both girls a honeymoon. So we packed our things into the bigger of the two trucks and took off for Houston. I knew a guy who had some isolated beach front property he was happy to rent us even if it was the off season, and the water was still fine and the weather still warm even as we barreled into the fall at full speed. Our first night of vacation was spent in Wolfe family style. Which is to say lazing around watching movies, eating pizza and drinking the types of wine and beer you don’t usually see at more fancy restaurants. I maintain however that because of who I was sharing that meal with, it was better than any five star restaurant could produce. We were all simple creatures, and the people you share life with are a lot more important than some fancy night out on the town.
The girls are however, still women, and while I might be their knight in slightly worn jeans and old boots, some celebrations are cause for getting all gussied up. So I was kicked out of the main bedroom at our home away from home and told to get changed. Black suit, white shirt with a bolo, good hat, newer boots, fresh trim on the goatee. I like to think I looked pretty decent. I certainly wouldn’t look out of place, but when I walked down stairs after Lilac had texted me that they were ready I realized that I could have gone naked and no one would have noticed me.
The girls had decided on slightly contrasting outfits, with Lilac looking resplendent in a white evening gown that hugged her curves in ways that could be highly dangerous in the right situation, at the very least if she walked around like that she could possibly cause a couple car accidents. She grinned at me as she tucked a strand of hair behind ear, rings flashing in the light of the main room.
Helena was easily as distracting, if not more so. She’d been letting her rich brown hair grow out the last couple months, and now she had it up in a vaguely hellenic looking braid. Her dress was very clearly Greek inspired, but was striking in black with silver accents, and with silver cord wrapped around her waist like a belt. The dark colors and sharp skin made her deep tan stand out all the more and frankly it was hard to decide where to let my eyes rest.
“If I’d have known you girls were going all out I would have rented a tux.”
“Well, we just thought we’d surprise you sugar…besides we won’t get to wear these again any time soon.” My wives exchange a look and giggle, an interaction that almost confuses me for a second. I mean we didn’t dress up much on the ranch but there was really only one thing that could stop Lilac dressing up nice if it pleased her.
“You… wouldn’t happen to be pregnant would you? Both of you?”
Helene snorts with laughter through the bright red blush gracing her face. “Told you he’d get it Lilac He’s not that slow on the uptake”
“I suppose, he has his thick headed moments. Like a draft horse… in more ways than just his IQ.”
“Come on… Lilac tell him proper, you can be sassy later.”
“Now you sound like Momma telling me off, which I suppose is pretty damn appropriate. Yes, James Wolfe, you are going to be a father. Twice. Now you better take damn good care of us… but we both knew that you would when we agreed to marry you.”
I’m grinning like an idiot now. We hadn’t been trying for kids specifically at any point, not yet any way, but we’d certainly been putting the practice in. “Well hell that’s great news!” I don’t really have the length in my arms required to wrap both women up in a hug at the same time, but I certainly was trying. “Damn… kids. Bit earlier than we were thinking I suppose, but that’s okay too.”
Helene nods thoughtfully. “If you really love someone, things like this are just surprises aren’t they? No matter how much trouble it’ll cause. I’m already not looking forward to not being able to do any of the my usual chores around the ranch in a couple months.”
I lean up and kiss her on the cheek, letting my hands come to rest on both their stomachs, and the life I now know to be growing within. “It’ll be hard without you helping, but because I love you, both you, and the little ones we’re having together, I’ll get through just fine. It’s more than worth it, because we’re all finally home.”
Lilac sniffles “Damnit James now I’m all emotional. I’ve been hormonal as hell for the last week and you being all sweet like that ain’t helping… now come on you two, this is probably the last night Hel and I can have a drink, so let’s go enjoy a nice meal and some good wine… and then we can come back here and enjoy dessert the way only we can provide it.”
As we head towards the door my mind flashes forward to a few years from now, walking out the ranch, a calf in one arm, trailing behind Lilac and Helena, each carrying a calf themselves. The little cow sleepily curling up against me as I look at what we’ve built together.
“I wonder if one of you is carrying twins.”
Lilac reaches back to take my hand “Well Mr. Wolfe, I know only one way to find out! Keep living our lives together.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way than spending my days with you Mrs. Wolfe and Mrs. Wolfe… no matter how many days I get, as long as you’re both smiling, they’re days that are a treasure more precious than any other… and I can’t wait to see what comes next.”