I stared at her, then the drink being offered. Felines were ink-changed creatures, like the Delvers, but not at all suited to digging underground. Her eyes brought together gold and brown but were far from her most striking feature. From the side, her face would jut out a bit farther than a human’s and every Feline’s body was covered head to toe in short fur. The waitress’s coloring swirled a white and black patch together that trailed a spotty pattern all the way down to the top of her feet.

“God, yes. Bring that whole platter over here.” Greg leaned past me and waved for the drinks. “Come on, everyone, grab a drink, even you, Opal! You’re legal, right?” He grabbed one then pointed at a girl two years younger than me.

She reminded me of my promise to the other mine worker from the stagecoach.

“No, I’m not,” Opal insisted while keeping her hands clasped. The poor girl looked out of her depth, and Greg had five years on her. Those kinds of age differences were unfair if abused.

“You are tonight. No one’s going to argue with a Chandler, trust me. Now everyone, bottoms up!” He smiled.

Lily downed a drink then intercepted one on its way to Opal. She gasped with wide eyes then put her lips together in a pout at the freshly empty glasses. My face flushed. The way she stuck out that reddened lower lip made my already tired brain short circuit. I cleared my throat after gulping too hard then raised an eyebrow at her.

“That was Opal’s!” Greg protested with a chuckle.

“Not anymore. It’s my last night in Chandler Field. I aim to forget this place as soon as possible.” Lily winked at me then fanned her face.

They kept drinking. I looked at my own glass while wondering how Greg and Lily would fare out of the town. They’d move on to bigger and better dreams while I stayed here, shackled by my promise that gnawed at me even now. I couldn’t help but appraise all the food being eaten and wonder if there might be a handkerchief I could tuck some fruits into. Strawberries were out of season and momma loved them.

Greg held up his arms and shouted over the crowd, “Quiet down, you lot! Come on!” He held up a fresh glass while spinning around. That charming grin sat upon his face, and I watched Lily feign a swoon at his commanding tone. “Ladies, gentlemen”—he pointed at the younger teens—“and whatever you lot in the corner think you are, I’d like to propose a toast, to myself of course, and this poor girl caught up in my wake.”

Lily blushed then bowed, and I tried not to stare. The dress displayed a proud valley of well-framed distraction. She came up and brushed her hair back while I proceeded to find the bottom of my glass very interesting. Sour wine bit my tongue, which in turn made me cough. Greg had the audacity to wink at me, as if I’d suppressed a laugh at his absurd actions. I liked the guy, but at the same time, I knew he was destined for great things—and me being amused at his dumb jokes were hardly a notable achievement.

“Tonight marks the last night I plan on spending in Chandler Field, for tomorrow we’re headed to Bell Town, then off toward the coast—where we shall escape the mountain’s sight and be free to live our lives in peace and harmony.”

“And make real money,” Poss shouted. She’d ventured off to another social circle as Greg readied his toast.

“And make money! Which brings me to my toast! To friends, fools, and family. May those of who venture beyond Chandler’s far shores never be forced to return!”

“Cheers,” Lily said with much gusto. She drained her glass.

When Opal showed hesitation, Lily grabbed hers and drained it too. She gasped at the end and held up both wine glasses. The crowd of thirty or so cheered.

I smiled but faltered in joy when Lily went to hug Greg instead of me. She’d told me her intent to leave in the morning, and the time for confessions had passed. My eyebrows lifted from a suppressed sigh, then I slowly sipped my fresh glass. It still tasted like sour piss and I had no clue who’d refilled it. It might have been one of the Felines wandering around.

Lily looked over Greg’s shoulder and winked in my direction. Her cheeks were stained red and eyelids heavy. I thought entirely unwholesome things that were best left unshared. She’d leave, and I’d never brave telling her how pretty moonlight made her hair. I’d never thank her for taking the time to talk to me through all these years. Many had been put off by my sudden silence.

“Come on, everyone! Dance! Make music! Steal a bed! Our hostess has kindly lent us more than enough rooms,” Greg shouted.

“But keep the sheets clean!” Poss responded loudly while stamping her foot. “And just know all those mattresses have already been thoroughly tested by my husband and me.”

“Possy! Surely not all of them!” Lily looked around, apparently scanning for a possibly untainted chair.

Poss lifted her glass, gave a wicked little grin, then wiggled her eyebrows. Lily laughed, a delightful sound that ended in a hiccup. I sighed and wondered what life as Poss would be like. All the money one might need, a huge house, and the free time to fornicate on every piece of furniture—she’d surely been blessed.

The hurrah had been going for two hours by the time Greg completed his toast. Everyone came from the local area and we’d grown up knowing each other, but I still felt like the odd man out. Plenty of people here knew who I were, but very few connected beyond that.

They danced, talked, and gossiped while I found my way to a window. The shutters were wide open, and the moon above hung low. I saw The Mountain’s face in the distance—almost lost among a dozen other peaks across Butcher Hills. I watched it and a reflection of the darker-skinned girl. Opal kept trying to sneak off, and the window’s reflection let me keep an eye on her as her father had asked me to do.

“You look lost, little boy. Your mind still down in the mine?”

I turned to see a flush-faced Lily. Her dress, which bunched around the arms to look poofy, slid down a bit, revealing a lot of shoulder and even more of her breasts. I paused and couldn’t stop my eyebrows from shooting up or my head from shaking.

Not anymore, I thought then smiled. Seeing her made me feel less exhausted. Right now, I didn’t have to share her attention. All the guests were busy, even Greg and Poss.

“What’s it like there?” she asked.

I hoped Lily didn’t really want to know. My hand went up, stayed level, then tilted back and forth in a gesture of so-so.

“I can’t believe you go in there. Poss and Greg say it’s a death trap. And poor Opal. She got all knock-kneed when she found out you worked with her father.” Lily’s smile always managed to peek out from under curls of hair that spilled over her shoulders.

Opal had likely gotten worried for another reason entirely. Her father had presented himself nicely enough during our ride, but he were also a father of two girls. No man raising girls knew the meaning of friendly when boys came sniffing around.

I shook my head at Lily and mimed myself using a sword and shield. The wine glass served as a poor weapon. My clothes were far too poor for this party, much less a knight sent to protect the lady.

“Some shining armor.” Lily didn’t miss a beat. That served as part of her allure. She understood me. Poss and Greg didn’t.

Some foolish young man plied Opal with another drink in an entirely too fancy glass. The young man didn’t look familiar. My lips flattened in a frown. I turned and found myself less than a nose away from Lily’s swaying form. I glanced past her, then back down at a view that made my throat feel dry.

“What do you do there?”

I wiggled my fingers and she giggled. The motion made her blush, and I didn’t know why.

“So you run around? Chasing things?”

Chasing money maybe. Close enough, I thought. My cheeks tightened and a chuckle escaped. A shoulder lifted in a half shrug, and I nodded while trying not to laugh. It were her that made me smile, not anything clever about my job.

“If you’re so good at chasing things, how come you’ve never tried to chase me?” she asked while looking through strands of hair.

The entire remains of my drink went down in single swig that made my eyes water.

“What would it take to get your attention?”

My eyebrow went up and I wanted to smile like Greg could. Lily laughed then put two tiny arms over my shoulders and pressed close. Heat stirred my groin to life that even the presence of people couldn’t embarrass away.

“What do you say, Chase? One last happy memory before I leave Chandler Field?”

I nodded eagerly. Lily grinned with red in her cheeks. Running were out. Days at the mine doing manual labor had left me weary on the weekends. Still, when she tugged my arm and walked off displaying a mouthwatering sway—I followed her well-dressed behind. Even those puffy shoulders couldn’t put me off from what she’d insinuated. Our slow chase went all the way to one of the side bedrooms of Poss’s mansion.

Lily knocked softly on the door. Upon hearing no answer, she tiptoed in and her eyes dared me to follow. A tightness to my pants forbade me from going anywhere else. I looked around twice then followed her, locking the door behind me.

Bed sheets rustled as she moved. The room itself were dark but I saw an outline of her body against the open window. Lily bunched her hair and lifted it away from the dress’s backing. A soft hint of dark gold glinted against the full moon.

“Care to help a lady out of her dress?” she asked as I stumbled forward.

I did just that, and helped her out of the rest of her clothes too.

Her hands roamed up and down my sides, making my skin jump from the contact. We both were naked as the day we were born. Lily pressed her curves to me, preventing me from getting enough time to see what had been hidden under the dress.

“Now, let’s test your vow of silence.”

I frowned then bit my lip. One eyebrow raised in question.

“Don’t you know? Girls like to hear what they’re doing is working.” Lily leaned up and a smile peeked out from the curls of hair.

I stared down, seeing a view men dreamed of. My hands attentively went to her shoulders, then lower to arms, then lower still toward the small of her back, pulling Lily closer.

She reached between us and wrapped her warm fingers around my cock. I went red but couldn’t fight a low moan at her touch. There weren’t a lot of opportunity to be with a woman of any sort here in Chandler Field—but Lily sure knew what she wanted. As my momma said, a wise man ain’t to let a chance go by ungrabbed.

I grabbed Lily and rolled her on the bed. She let out a startled squeak then giggled while opening her arms wide. After that, there were only skin on skin as we worked together to explore every inch of each other. I did not remain silent for long.

She took charge, asking me to do all sorts of things. Calling her names, touching everywhere, and even a slap across the face. I honestly didn’t understand why she tried so many different positions and actions. Most she didn’t act pleased by, but we found a number she liked. Lily loved it from behind, and by that point, my mind were numb with need.

Later, and how much later I couldn’t rightly say, we lay in a bed that had passed a few rounds of testing. The sheets were a mess with fluids too dark to see. My eyes were wide as I tried to figure out what had happened.

“Care to go with me?” she asked with a sad smile. Her head tilted to one side and her eyes were heavy. Our experiment-filled romp had left us both worn. “Out there into the world?”

I held still, wondering if she’d really asked me to leave. What kind of man would I be by walking away from a promise to my daddy? My head shook slowly.

“I didn’t think so,” she said quietly.

I swallowed, then asked, “Why me?”

“I needed someone to show me what those things were like. And you’d never tell anyone. Would you?”

My head shook. This moment had been one to keep to myself—a last memory between childhood friends. I weren’t stupid or looking at it the wrong way. Lily still intended to leave and I couldn’t go with her. I dare not promise to come find her either. By the time my jobs earned enough money to get Momma out of town for good, Lily could find another man. A real one who’d treat her like Poss’s husband did. With all the riches and rooms to fornicate in she might want.

She could have kids. I knew Lily would make a great mom.

“Once more? Slower this time. Gentle like?” she asked.

I rolled over and did my best to make the night one she’d never forget. Slowly, as the lady asked.

What felt good turned to numbness that claimed my hips. I grunted and strained to remain even-paced. Her breathing picked up, turning from quiet whispers into a long series of groans. All at once, she clenched then panted, nails digging into my back holding me still.

And for a moment, I lost myself—forgetting about my promise to Daddy, The Mountain, ink, and everything else as white pleasure laid claim to my mind and liquid jerked out my cock. Still, my body moved, limping along with weight braced by the good hand.

Lily kept grinding while I winced at the overload. Her breathing hitched again as she clenched a second time, gentler this go, and let out a low moan while her sheath fluttered lightly. She rode out the moment then went utterly limp.

I fell to the side and stared across the bed at her and a heavy moon looming outside. My mind stayed pleasantly white as the urgency of that around me grew less. Days of work coupled with wine and more positions than I knew what to do with made my mind slip into oblivion.

I woke and stared at Lily’s naked form then attempted the impossible task of memorizing every curve. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but the room smelled of our coupling. Someone knocked on the door—disturbing my admiring and making both of us jump.

“Who’s there?” Lily asked, knowing I wouldn’t speak aloud. I’d used my voice in appreciation of Lily’s efforts and worn it out.

Feet shuffled on the other side. A key turned the lock, and I pulled blankets over us as the door cracked open. Only the whiskers of a Feline poked through. “Miss Spark? Please be careful. There’s an angry gentleman in the halls. It’s best to stay in your room.”

“Who is it?”

“Miss Proctor says it’s Opal’s father, Mister Jewel.”

“Thank you, Abby. It is Abby, right?” Lily smiled and patted me.

I relaxed a little but didn’t move the covers. They were a mess but our only concealment over the indecent acts Lily and I’d committed upon each other. I flushed red again, surprised my body still had energy to do so. She’d tried many an act that shattered my mind and made me beg for them in return. The woman had practically crammed a lifetime of exploration into a few hours, and I counted myself thoroughly educated.

“Yes, miss,” the raspy-voiced woman responded. “I’m to warn others. Good night, Miss Spark.”

Lily Spark put on clothes while I stared heavy-lidded at the door. People shouted in the distance. A chorus of protesting teenagers shouted two by two as doors banged open. Someone outside—Mister Jewel, I presumed—opened doors with a loud thud of wood slamming into walls. He sounded like a rhino intent on finding his daughter.

I fumbled from the bed to get dressed before he burst in here. Lily glanced over her shoulder at me for a moment then smiled. I blushed and went back to figuring out which portion were the insides of my long johns.

“What kind of whore house is this?” the man angrily yelled, his voice rattling the hall. “Does no one in here wear clothes?”

Lily snickered then whispered, “Can you do the clasp?” as I tried to figure out how shirts went on. The holes all seemed the wrong size for my head. I gave up and yanked the article off then went to help Lily get dressed.

The wall shuddered as a door next to ours gave way. I reached for a weapon but found nothing. The place were dark but not the mines—and my reaction had been out of place anyway. The last few days had me jumpy, despite the worn feeling Lily’s encouragements left me with.

“Opal! Where are you?” Mister Jewel yelled.

Three shrieks sounded in response, two female and one male, or maybe two young males. I wondered who in this party might sound like that, but no one came to mind.

“We were just talking!” Opal said. Her voice were muffled by our closed door and a wall. It sounded like the next room over.

“Don’t lie to me! Ain’t no woman on her knees just talking! Not to a boy with no pants! And who’s that harlot? My God, I should have never let you go—” Mister Jewel said, then a loud thumping noise echoed from head height.

“Da!” the girl protested.

“Never mind! We’re going home right now!”

“Nothing happened!” Opal’s words slurred, and a clattering sound made me think she’d fallen. The young woman took poorly to imbibing. “Da, stop it! Stop! Ow!”

My forehead wrinkled and hair sat matted from sweat. I cracked open the door and peeked outside. Two large Feline males stood on either side of Poss. Their muscles were thick enough to make an athlete feel inferior, though no one in their right mind let the two races compete. Felines were slaves in most cases, like Flops and Delvers.

The hallway felt cold compared to the comfort of the bed. I looked behind me to see Lily sitting on the bed’s edge. She seemed lost in thought. The commotion in the hallway might head in our direction, so I kept a lookout. My head stuck out the doorway enough to get a solid line of sight on a mess of people.

“Mister Jewel, you’re disturbing my party,” Poss said with an arm crossed under her breasts. She held a wine glass in the other, but the liquid looked like simple water.

“What kind of party are you throwing? One where daughters get knocked up by boys they hardly know? I already had one daughter turn into a whore. I ain’t about to let the other fall that way.” He pointed at Poss.

She looked at the offending digit and tightened her lips. Poss’s attitude were as firm as the rest of her. “The way I see it, you raised a woman who could make her own choices—”

Opal’s father cut her off. “Says you. We all know you’re in favor of cradle robbing when offered an easy life. We’ll see if you think the same when you’ve a daughter old enough to be doing the same. No mother alive would accept this debauchery.”

A lot of teens were still present, and if Mister Jewel could be believed, Lily and I weren’t the only ones who’d sneaked off to a room. Greg had suggested as much to us earlier during his toast. He probably had one of the rooms himself, though I had no guesses as to who his partner might be. Still, a lot were fully clothed. Not everyone were intent upon engaging in coitus apparently.

Poss’s eyes narrowed slightly, and she took a slow, measured breath. “You’ve no right to gauge my mother’s beliefs. Now I think you should go, Mister Jewel. You’ll be hearing from Leon on the matter of our bill for the broken doors.”

“Tell your husband to cram his bill, and I don’t need your permission to leave.” Opal’s father pushed the gawking teens out of the way. Some bristled, others folded, but he headed down the hallway and approached the doorway I stood in.

“That you don’t,” Poss muttered. She motioned to the two large Felines. They nodded then followed the Jewels.

Mister Jewel passed me and narrowed his eyes. I tilted my head and squinted slightly in a tentative greeting. My shirt still lay in the room behind me, leaving me bare-chested and red from markings—courtesy of Lily’s fingernails.

Mister Jewel’s eyes were red and neck tense with barely suppressed rage. Poss’s ability to endure his ire were to be applauded. “I asked you to look out for her,” he said to me with an even tone. “And where were you? Enjoying a dalliance with one of these whores-to-be? I hope your moment of pleasure was worth my daughter’s dignity.”

My mouth hung open and head shook. Opal’s father turned away sharply then yanked his daughter forward. He stormed off with the Felines close behind. I wanted to go after them. My duty to watch over the young girl may have failed in favor of carnal pleasure, but I could at least make sure they got home safely. Transportation late at night wouldn’t come easy—worse, we were a day away from the full moon. Monsters could make it down here.

I stepped away, but a small hand touched my shoulder. I’d briefly forgotten about Lily dressing behind me. My fingers laced with hers as her other hand stuffed the shirt under my arm.

“Thank you,” Lily whispered before giving me a kiss on the cheek. “Don’t worry, it was more than a few moments of pleasure. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

My eyes cast down as I huffed, unsure how to respond. Lily slid behind me and went directly down the hall. Her hair were ruffled, and she smiled while passing Poss. The hostess suspended her glare at the departing Mister Jewel and nodded in my direction. I didn’t know what their shared look meant, but tonight would be one I’d remember for the rest of my life as well. Every girl would be measured against the first.

Lily’s back stood straight, but spirit seemed weighed down by a burden she didn’t want. She vanished while I stood at the crossroads of duty and desire. I sighed and knew we’d likely not cross paths again that night.

The shirt made more sense with light and quickly went on. I stumbled after Opal and her father, intent on watching them from afar in case trouble appeared. Once outside, cold air hit my face, making me shiver. Mister Jewel stood in the courtyard, getting his daughter onto the back of a horse. She’d ceased complaining and lay loosely, arms draped over the animal’s neck. Her father got up behind her then clicked the reins.

They left far too fast for me to follow without a horse of my own. I looked back at the dwindling party then at a looming sunrise, which chose now to peek over the horizon.

Better get some rest, I thought. In a day’s time, I’d need to be on the coach headed back to work. Without Lily, the party meant little anyway. I ambled home along a long, empty road past town.

Too late, I mustered the courage to tell an empty road what should have been said to Lily. “You’re beautiful,” I said.

My feet swept inside, past the front room, and I ignored my mother, whose head moved listlessly in my direction. I staggered, wanting to wash myself clean of the night’s activities. In the bathroom, I noticed blood on my body that hadn’t been there before and hurriedly checked my wounds. The small stitches and wrapping were still in place.

That meant Lily had been a virgin. She sure hadn’t acted like one, but maybe that’d been the wine talking. I flushed red, ashamed, and worked hard to get clean. I stood in the dark, thinking of promises while hearing bathwater drain away through a pipe under the house and out to the field.

My eyes were locked on the discolored portion of my hand. A mine’s purples, greens, and reds weren’t the same as a bruise’s colors. I pressed the edge and saw no pus, only a bit of clear perspiration. I thumbed the drop off my shaking hand and tasted it. It were sweet, sour, and frightening at the same time.

As dawn turned into noon, I made it back to my room but remained unable to sleep. Sobriety brought new thoughts. Lily would have left by now, gone on the morning coach. She’d escaped this hell hole where The Mountain stood like a sore thumb among the rest of Butcher Hills. I wondered what might have happened if I’d told her yes instead of no when she asked me to go with her. Where did she go that she wanted to sully herself with me? Could we have made that night of pleasure a reoccurring dream?

As Harold had said, I dreamed—but it were only impossible fantasy. The deck had been stacked against me from minute one. I had been born by The Mountain, and as Daddy said—once The Mountain had you, there were no getting out alive. Here I’d been born, and in the end, here I’d die. I didn’t know any place else. I wasn’t brave like Lily.

“Wake up, boy! There are chores to be done,” Momma shouted through the door then banged on it. She shook the doorknob violently. Vibrations rattled through my head. “Don’t laze about all day! I can’t do this by myself.”

I know. Momma weren’t much use since Daddy died. I wanted to hate her for it but felt too tired. She kept pounding on the door. I sat with my back pressed against it and stared at the discolored hand.

“Chase? You answer me when I'm talking to you!”

It isn’t fair, I thought. Momma, known far and wide as Widow Craig since Daddy passed on, still had a chance to get away. Widow Craig could have a life out there, free of this oppressive place. I’d promised.

Then I’d be free of Momma’s burden. Maybe not free like Lily—but allowed to be a man in my own right, instead of simply the pitied widow’s son. There weren’t anything my soul wanted more.

And when I finally slept, I dreamt of pure silver.

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