The nurse at Mx Donahue's Home for Aged Sentients was gazing at Cash and Boss dubiously over the rims of her half-moon spectacles.
"Mrs and Mrs..." She glanced down at the forgery identification Boss had handed her. "...Black?"
Boss and Cash flexed identical smiles. The nurse's eyes narrowed.
"Well...I have to say it is odd, your being here. Mr. Tate has never had a visitor in the ten years he's been with us."
"He has always been a very private fellow," Cash nodded knowingly.
The nurse's eyes somehow narrowed even further. With a sniff through her nose, she turned.
"Follow me. Mr. Tate is usually in our garden at this hour."
The two women followed the nurse through a narrow hallway that creaked at every step. Holophotos of residents, current and former, lined the walls in off-kilter frames, aged faces shifting and watching them as they strode over the worn and threadbare rug at their feet. They passed through a kitchen, full of billowing steam and rudy faced cooks, and then out into the glaring afternoon.
Almost immediately they were swallowed up in a sea of flora. A large frilled frond tree towered over the whole yard, its wavering tendrils dancing as if there might have been a breeze. The speckled sunlight cast sparkles across Boss's warm skin as she moved along the gravel path. Cash took in a sharp breath before forcibly shifting her eyes away. The crunch of stones beneath their feet harmonized with the buzzing of pollinators that drifted lazily from petal to petal, a few avoiding the sticky trap leaves of a Tuscal Fern.
"Don't go that way," warned the nurse, pointing toward what might have been a path were it not so overgrown, "He's got something carnivorous growing over there. Swear it took a buzzard last week."
Boss cast Cash a horrified glance and then quickly kept pace with the nurse as they rounded a corner of Blooming Plutoniums and landed in a small open space.
A small pool of seafoam green water occupied the center of the petite glen, edged along one side by a well-loved bench. Directly across from where the women stood now was a hunched form. Atop it sat a wide-brimmed woven sunhat, bobbing from side to side with the off-key tune its wearer was humming. Two pairs of arms, scaled in a dusty purple, reached out from either side, plucking, pruning, and manipulating the plant life with distracted ease. The nurse gestured dismissively toward the gardener.
"Tate, visitors." And with that, the nurse turned and began her expedition back through the foliage.
The straw hat stopped its bobbing and the form became two sets of arms and one set of wide legs as Tate stood and slowly turned. Boss had a slip of propriety and took a step back in surprise. Cash could not fault her. The Jontar was imposing, to say the least. At his full height he was nearly seven feet, give or take, and the wingspan of his four arms gave him shoulders you could take a nap on. His wide torso was comically bedecked in a floral shirt interrupted by high waisted tan shorts that cut off at mid-thigh, exposing an almost unseemly amount of his muscular, scaly, legs that ended in lizard-like talons.
There was a long silence as the three gathered took each other in. Then with a roar, the Jontar stomped toward Cash and lifted her into a massive hug that hoisted her three feet in the air.
Cash awkwardly slapped Tate's massive bicep with her hand in greeting. "Hey, Tate," she wheezed.
The Jontar set her back on her feet, where she swayed slightly, before clasping her shoulder in his rough hand. "You visit, it nice," he said in a thick accent.
"Well, I missed you, buddy," Cash said with a crooked grin.
"Sit! Sit!" Tate motioned toward the bench and waited as the two women made themselves comfortable.
"Yeeda!" His voice practically shook the petals off his carefully tended flowers. "Yeeda! Lemonade! Please, Thank you, Welcome!"
Tate sat across the small pond from them, his tree-trunk thighs extended out before him stretching the fabric of his shorts dangerously. In a moment the nurse, apparently Yeeda, came bustling out with a tray holding three glasses of lemonade, handing one to each of them with a languid sigh and then disappearing again into the shrubbery. Cash took a long grateful sip, the sharp sweet liquid cooling her tongue. She gave a contended sigh, letting the condensation on the glass smear between her fingertips.
"Why visit? I appreciate but...confusion."
Cash nodded. "I can see why it would be, my friend," she rested the lemonade on the top of her knee with one hand and pushed her stetson up her forehead with the other. "After all, I did say that it would be best for our...arrangement...that we not see each other again."
Tate nodded sagely, the nictitating membrane of his eyes clicking. "Yes, remember."
"Well..." Cash looked aside at Boss. "I thought it might be time for you to, well...I hate to ask, pal, because I see you've got yourself settled in quite nicely here—"
"You need..." he interrupted, carefully considering his next word, "favor?"
Cash nodded. "That about sums it up, yeah."
Tate swirled the liquid in his glass thoughtfully. "You save me. I repay."
"Now hold on, Tate." Cash leaned forward, lemonade dangling from her fingertips. "I don't want you rushing into this simply because you owe me one."
The Jontar shook his head quickly. "Is fine. It...slow, here."
Boss giggled into her hand.
If Jontar could blush, Tate did. He ruffled the frill around his neck lightly and cleared his throat. "We go now?"
Cash stood. "I don't uhhhh..." She glanced at Boss for help.
"You are a large and impressive man, Mr. Tate," Boss said congenially. "I do not think you will fit beside us in the motor. I will send one for you."
Tate seemed shocked for a moment but then let out a laugh that nearly tipped both women over. One set of hands slapping his knees.
"You should see face, Cash." He pointed at her with a bemused smile, "You worry about offend, old friend?"
"Can you blame me?" Cash shrugged, setting down her empty lemonade glass on the bench.
Tate stood, dusting off his shorts and straightening his garish shirt all at the same time. "No. I 'large impressive man'. Make little people nervous."
"Did you just tell a joke?" Cash asked with a soft grin.
Tate winked. "See soon, friend Cash." He reached down and gently took one of Boss's hands in his and kissed it lightly. "And you, one too pretty for her." He jerked his head toward Cash who crossed her arms with a glower.
"Yeah yeah, let's go," Cash stuck her tongue out and Tate gave another booming laugh as the two women took their leave.
"He seems nice," Boss aid quickly as Cash ushered her back toward the front of the boarding house.
"Are you saying I'm not nice?"
"No." Boss rolled her eyes. "But..." she smirked, "you do not have four arms."
"Don't even think about it," said Cash as she offered up a hand to help Boss into the motor. "The only reason he's alive at his age is that he has no interest in exactly that sort of thing. The females of his species bite off the heads of their mates during their fertility cycle."
Boss paled dramatically as she sat down on the leather seat. "I was kidding, Cash," she admonished, humans and Jontar can't mate, everyone knows that."
"Not that they haven't tried," Cash growled, as she shut the door to the motor behind her.
YOU ARE READING
Gunslingers & GalaxiesScience Fiction
[Editors' Choice] Cash Guthrie can hide no longer. The notorious gunslinger and her band of alien misfits plan to rob the biggest Casino in town. It's not about the money for Cash though, it's about Boss and the love they once shared. ______________...