The Pain of Glory

Western

A brown feather fell from Luke’s cheek. Not that he couldn’t spare the one. His entire body was covered in a mismatch of gray, white, brown, and striped chicken feathers that were plastered to his skin with hot tar.

He shook as he lifted one blistered hand to sip from the stout mug the bartender had generously placed before him. Luke’s body protested the pain. Protested movement. Protested living in this God-forsaken town of bigots and busybodies.

“What’d you do, this time?” the bartender asked, wiping up the few small feathers that detached themselves from Luke’s aching body to litter the bar.

“Nothing, as far as I can tell,” Luke said. He sipped from his mug again. “Except maybe live.”

The bartender snorted. “And exactly how were you livin’ so as to end up in such a state, Mr. Lucas-the-Snark.”

Luke shrugged, and immediately regretted the movement. “I may have fallen in love.”

“Love, is it?” the bartender asked. “I don’t know many loves that would leave a man in such a state.”

“Well, then you haven’t lived,” Luke said. He tried on a smile. It hurt just as much as anything else.

“Far be it from me to live so gloriously.” The bartender refilled Luke’s drink, for which he was immensely grateful.

Luke sipped slowly and sighed as the alcohol numbed some of the searing, burning pain in his body. “Some people are worth the pain of glory. Edgar Graves is doubly so.” He smiled into the mug at the memory of Edgar’s body pressed against his. The fingers gripping his hair. The sweet smell of tobacco and lemon candies, which were Edgar’s favorite indulgences.

Then there was the sound of Mrs. Grave’s high-pitched wail. The crash of glass against his back as she broke her precious antique vase against him. She’d wailed so loud that the whole town emerged from their late-night domiciles to witness Luke, half-dressed and bleeding from scratches down his back–some of which were from the vase and some of which were most definitely not–struggling to pull up his britches as he ran.

Bigots and busybodies don’t much appreciate a man who appreciates a man.

The bartender snatched the mug away from Luke with a deep scowl. “I think you’d best git,” the man growled.

Luke chuckled. “Yeah. You might be right.” He stood stiffly, picked up his leather stetson to place it on his head just so, and walked out of the saloon with not much of his dignity intact.

Still. It was a glorious night.