by S. E. Haigler
"She was talkin' about me." Buck Wilmington's hands were flying as he tried to make his point.
"No, sir, she was referring to..."
"Shoot, she was probably talkin' about the damn horse," J.D. laughed.
He'd been listening to this argument between his best friend, Buck Willmington, and the gambler, Ezra Standish, for the last fifteen minutes and it was starting to get old.
The last stage had pulled in around a hour ago and a beautiful and spirited young lady had exited the coach with the rest of the travellers. Both Ezra and Buck had been there to lend a helping hand and after helping her down, she'd thanked them. Turning away, she'd commented, "What a fine looking specimen." Since then, the two older men had been going at it non-stop.
"Mr. Wilmington, I think if you'd just stop a moment you'd realize that such a keen-eyed woman would have.....,"
"Gentlemen, gentlemen, what's all this?" Maude Standish swooped into the bar, her effervescent personality preceeding her, alerting the men of her presence much like perfume would do for other women. "I could hear you arguin' clear in the back."
Ezra glared at his mother then glared at the pig-headed Wilmington. "It's nothing, mother. Just a slight difference in opinion."
The snort almost caused J.D. to choke on his milk. "Right. That's why you two have been squawking around here like a couple of old roosters. Shoot, I knew Buck was bad, Ezra, but you're 'bout worse than he is."
"All right, that's enough. Someone tell me what is going on here." The look Maude gave her son was the same one she'd used when he was still in short pants. The one that meant he'd better start talking or else. With a mother's knowledge, she knew it would still work...and it did.
"This oaf, this, this, this, buffoon has the audacity to insinuate that...,"
"Now wait, just hold it right there. I ain't no monkey!!"
"A buffoon, Buck, not a baboon." J.D. tried to wipe the merriment from his face when he saw the evil look that his best friend threw him.
Determined to get an answer, Maude held up her hand before casually walking over to the nearest table and sitting down. "Now, I want you three to sit down over here and tell me exactly what is going on. You, young man, J.D., you tell me."
After she'd listened to the young sheriff's tale, Maude took a moment, gathering her thoughts. "So, from what I gather, this is an argument about which of you is the better looking?"
"Well, I don't know about...,"
"Mother, that's not exactly...,"
"Yep, that's what they're arguin' about."
All three voices piped up at once, answering Maude's question. Shaking her head at the energy these men were wasting over the silliest thing she decided it was time to put things straight.
"That's it, boys. Now, I want you to listen to me. First of all, you're both being childish. If that young lady wants anything more to do with either of you, then I'm sure you'll know about it. In the meantime, why, you seven are some of the finest looking men I've ever had the pleasure to know. Each of you different, having your own characteristics that makes you attractive, but all perfectly acceptable, let me assure you."
An impish grin crossed J.D.'s face as he pointed at Buck. "So, Maude, what's Buck got that's so all fired important to a woman?"
Maude leaned back in her chair and measured the tall, dark-haired man much like a painter would his subject. "He's handsome and charming; he certainly knows how to make a woman feel like a lady. And a woman needs that, needs to feel like a man thinks she's special."
"And Ezra? I mean, I know he's your son and everything, but...," J.D. stuttered.
"Hush, there, pumpkin. I know what you're trying to say, but I got eyes. I know my son's a man."
Even though he was finding Maude's little discussion perfectly interesting, Buck couldn't help notice the blush that crept up the sides of Ezra's cheeks. Shaking his head, he rested his elbows on the table and leaned his chin on his hands. "Go on, Maude."
"Well, he's a fine figure of a man. Suave and debonair, his gentle manners are enough to win any woman who's tired of the wild and savage land out here. There's a tenderness about him that he's gotten back since comin' here. Something I haven't seen since he was a little boy." Maude stopped for a moment and looked at her son who was sitting next to her. Reaching over she placed her hand over his and squeezed. The shimmer in her eyes was unmistakable as she whispered and smiled, "Something I find very endearing."
Ezra smiled back, then reached over and gently placed a kiss on her cheek. "Thank you, mother."
A little uncomfortable with the memories that the scene between Ezra and Maude brought to mind, J.D. blurted out, "What about me?"
Turning her attention in the direction of the young man/boy sitting across from her, Maude grinned. "You, sugar, are cute as a bug's butt."
Both Ezra and Buck burst out laughing as J.D. squirmed in his seat. "Right. Ezra and Buck get to be handsome. I'm cute."
"Give it a few years, muchacho, you'll be turning the ladies on their ear." Inez unloaded the tray of glasses she'd brought over to the table, winking at J.D. as she did so.
"A very interesting conversation, Senora Standish. But you still have four to go."
"Hell, Inez, you're opinionated enough about men, let's hear what you have to say." Buck taunted the waitress who was now leaning against a post near their table. He was still feeling a little put out by the joke she and J.D. had pulled on him when they were investigating the railroad over in Chinatown.
"Yeah, Inez. What about it? How about, um, Nathan. You two seem to get along pretty well."
Inez smiled down at J.D.; she clutched her tray closer to her chest and thought about it for a minute. "Senor Nathan is a very special man. He has seen much tragedy, but he's never let it affect him. He took that hurting and turned it into good."
"Senorita Inez, while those are admirable traits, I do believe we were talking about physical attributes." Ezra watched the colors of the whiskey blend in his glass as the light from the dirt-encrusted window hit it. Now that they'd entered into this conversation he was truly interested in hearing what the women had to say and didn't want the discourse to get off track.
"All right. He's a very nice looking man. He's so tall; a woman likes that." Inez tenderly yanked at the back of J.D.'s hair when he started looking a little disgruntled at her statement. "Don't worry about it, chico, we like other things, too.
"As for Mr. Larabee, he is a ruggedly handsome man, isn't he? He is frightening yet alluring all at once. I think most women are attracted by that."
"Oh, I think the fact that he does frighten us is what is so alluring. Kind of like the fascination of keeping a pet that you know could attack you."
"Yes, exactly," Inez agreed. "Would you like some tea, Senora?"
"I would love some, Inez. Thank you."
Twitching her skirt, Inez twirled and headed for the kitchen. Stopping, she cocked her head and turned back to look at the small group of friends. "What about Senor Tanner? We can't forget him."
"Goodness, dear, that one's easy," Maude replied.
Ezra cocked an eyebrow in question. "Oh?"
"Yes. Very easy. He's pretty as a picture with a tender heart to match."
Whiskey and milk spewed together onto the table as both Buck and J.D. lost the mouthful they were drinking.
"Pretty? Maude, men ain't pretty," the youngest of the seven protested.
"Sure they are. Just like there're handsome women."
"But, Maude," Buck interrupted, "usually when you're talking about a 'handsome' woman it's not meant very, well, kindly."
"Maybe not by you, Buck Wilmington, but it is still a term used to describe an attractive woman, and pretty is a term that can be used to describe attractive men."
Buck laughed, then leaned back in his chair. "You're right, Maude. You win. I know better than to argue with you."
"Hmn. Maybe you should learn that it is a familial trait," Ezra mumbled.
"What was that, Ezra?"
"Nothing, J.D. Just drink your milk. Well, Mother, that takes care of six of this town's protectors, but we seem to be omitting someone."
Maude looked up as a large hand softly cupped her shoulder. She smiled up at Josiah Sanchez then quickly gathered her skirt around her. "No, darling, I haven't left anyone out. I was just saving the best for last."
She took Josiah's arm and allowed him to help her to her feet. Placing her hand in the crook of his elbow, she paused a moment before leaving to address the three men still seated. "This, my loves, is perfection."
Buck, Ezra and J.D. watched as Maude and Josiah made their way across the saloon and into the kitchen. Shaking their heads, they each went back to their drinks.
"I still say she was talkin' 'bout me, and if you think for one moment that I'm...,"
"If there has ever been a man that is more odious. You, sir, are a lummox, a dolt. Why, words can't describe...,"
"She called me a bug's butt...,"