Monday’s child is fair of face…

James Butler Hickok, feared gunfighter and lawman, stood outside the door of Rachel’s house, flowers in his hands. The door swung open to a rather curious expression on Teaspoon’s face. “You lost, Hickok?”

Barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes Jimmy looked at the former stationmaster and shook his head. “No, I’m right where I’m supposed to be old man…” he waited to see what the effect of his greeting was. He swore he could see the ‘tick’ in Teaspoon’s cheek. “I’m wondering if you’re lost. Unless you’re tryin’ to beat me to my girl.”

“You’re here for your girl, then?”

Jimmy nodded, enjoying the banter. “That I am… Rachel?” Jimmy called up through the very floor itself. “Is she ready to go… or am I gonna have to come up there and get her myself?”

Teaspoon shook his head. “Impatient as always, Hickok.”

“I’ll say,” Rachel huffed from the landing visible at the top of the stairs. “If you weren’t a grown man, I’d turn you over my kn…”

“Now don’t be givin’ the boy ideas, Rachel,” warned Teaspoon with a wink, “he’s already steppin’ out on his wife.” Teaspoon hung his head in mock sorrow, clucking like a disapproving hen. “Out of town for less than a week and he’s already got a new girl.”

Rachel waved a hand at him. “Stop that, Teaspoon.” She gave a little laugh and pushed an errant strand of hair behind her ear. “I swear you’re gonna give him a fit if you keep going on… especially since I doubt that the flowers he’s holding in his hand are for you.”

“You gentlemen ready?”

Teaspoon nodded, but took one last moment to pluck at Hickok’s string tie. “Really boy… put more care in how you dress… I’ll never know how you managed to get yourself such a wonderful wife.”

Unwilling to let Teaspoon get the last word in, Hickok leaned over and whispered back. “I’d give you the details, Teaspoon, but I doubt you’d live through the retellin’...” He gave Rachel a conspiratory wink as Teaspoon had a sudden coughing fit.

“If you boys are done, I’d like your attention please.” She made sure they were both looking at the stairs before she continued, “I’m sure both of you have seen beauties in your day, but I think you’ll agree that this young woman is beyond compare.”

“James Butler Hickok, may I present-” her voice seemed to catch a bit as she completed the introduction, “your daughter.”

She stepped out behind Rachel, one hand still clinging to the back of Rachel’s dress, her face full of worry and anticipation.

Jimmy was sure he heard a sniffle from the softhearted man beside him and still he couldn’t even summon up a quip to make fun of his friend. His thoughts were centered solely on his youngest child. He walked up to the bottom landing of the stairs and set his free hand on the railing. “Sweetheart, you look beautiful.”

It was the one thing every little girl wanted to hear. Beaming at her father, she stepped down the carpeted staircase, pausing once at the middle to give her grandfather a smile.

As Dara reached the bottom of the stairs, Jimmy held out a hand to help her when the railing ended, the wooden bar curving down under itself. She placed her hand in his and giggled when she felt how much he was shaking.

Swallowing past the lump in his throat, he tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and placed the flowers in her free hand. “Just lovely.”

“Hell, Hickok…” Teaspoon interrupted his reverie with the snap of his fingers, “You’d best be goin’ if’n you want to get there when there’s still food left.”

Rachel smacked her friend on his shoulder. “Watch your language, Teaspoon.”

He looked apologetic in an instant. “Oops.. sorry there, sweetie… I forget myself sometimes.”

Jimmy started for the door, giving his friends a grateful look. “Thanks, Rachel… I’d have been lost without your help.”

Rachel raised a hand in farewell. “I’m happy to help out, especially with Lou in San Antonio, Jimmy, anytime you need us.”

*    *    *

Dara held the flowers up to her nose and took a long dreamy sniff. “Oh, they are so beautiful.”

Jimmy walked along with a smile tickling his lips.

“Where are we going, Daddy? Aunt Rachel wouldn’t say.” She waited for another few steps, “What did Grampa ‘Spoon say about food?”

“Did you forget what day it is?”

Dara walked along for a few steps, her mind whirling with possibilities, birthdays…no, Founder’s Day… no… “Wait!”

She stopped in her tracks and ended up tugging on her father’s arm as he struggled not to pull her of her feet. “Did you figure it out?”

“The social?”

He nodded and smiled at the excitement on her face. “I remember how much you were looking forward to it.”

She nodded, hugging her flowers to her chest. “I just thought with Mama on her trip…”

Jimmy gave a little sigh and nodded, “I miss her too, sweetheart, but she wouldn’t have wanted you to miss it.”

A young couple stepped out into the fading light of day and nodded to the Marshal and his daughter. “’Evenin’, Marshal… Miss Dara.”

“John… Ms. Wilemina.” Jimmy tipped his hat to the young couple and escorted his daughter inside.

It looked like a fantasy land to Dara, the interior of the town hall was filled with people… some dancing… talking… eating… all beneath a wreath of paper lanterns that surrounded the room.

There was a little stage erected in the corner of the room and it groaned under the weight of the town’s makeshift band that had been cobbled together from various folks. Jim Tucker from the hardware store, Bob Johnson who worked for Lou at the livery, and a few others standing in to create music for the gathering where in the middle of a Virginia Reel and the folks were whirling around the floor. Jimmy walked Dara along the side of the room and back toward the buffet table.
They passed by the table surveying the vast array of treats and although her stomach had been complaining just an hour ago, there was nothing on the table that she wanted. Not when the music was playing and everyone around them seemed to be having so much fun.

Jimmy picked up a plate and was holding it out. “How about something to eat?”

She shook her head. “Not right now…”

He shrugged and set the plate back down on the pile. “Then… a dance with your father?”

Nodding, she took his hand and they joined in the rambling circle created from the ‘two step’ rhythm of the band. It took a second or two for both dancers to adjust their steps to avoid each other’s feet. Jimmy was used to his wife’s longer steps and Dara had only danced with her father on occasions when she could just step up onto his feet and let him do the dancing. Tonight they were learning to get in step with each other, learning to take a cue from the other and not get caught up in a jumble of first dance confusion.

Moments after the first dance was finished a young man that Jimmy didn’t recognize stepped up and asked for a dance, before he could say anything in reply Dara stepped into the boy’s arms and they were gone, swept into the throng of dancers littering the floor.

“What’s the matter, Hickok, you look like you just ate a sour pickle.”

“More like I’m in a pickle, Barnett.” He gave the man a nod, “My daughter just stepped out on the floor with some young man, the boy didn’t even get my permission.”

Barnett wiped his hands on his napkin and shrugged his shoulders, “Haven’t you heard, Hickok? Young folks these days don’t need their parents’ permission for nothin’.”

“I guess,” Jimmy grudgingly agree, “didn’t say I’d have to like it.”

Barnett caught sight of Dara in her blue dress and wild head of curls. “Looks like she’s dancin’ with Horace Conner’s son, Bailey.”

“Bailey, huh?” Jimmy asked, “That’s not even a proper name for a boy, more like a herb.”

“Herb?” Barnett clapped a hand on Hickok’s shoulder. “Things sure have changed if Wild Bill Hickok is talkin’ about herbs and men comin’ to court your daughter.”

That hit him right in the gut. Courting.  The thought really hadn’t crossed his mind. He hadn’t gone further than being incensed over the boy’s apparent lack of manners.

The thought of men coming to his door to take his daughter out for a ride, or to a dance didn’t sit well at all with the Marshal.

“Boy should know that I won’t brook that kind of disrespect.”

“She’s a pretty girl, Hickok, you’re gonna have to expect your share of eager young men comin’ to call.”

Jimmy’s eyes narrowed and he shifted to keep the two young people in sight. “They should be concerned with more that just how pretty she is.”

The dance ended and Dara turned away from her partner with a smile. Jimmy felt a little bit of the tightness in his chest fall away and he realized he’d been holding his breath… just a little bit.

Dara settled at his side, her hands grabbing onto his arm. “How exciting! Did you see me?”

“Yes.” Jimmy muttered and did his best to ignore Barnett’s chuckle and wave as he disappeared into the crowd.

“He said he’d like another dance later on.” Jimmy wondered if the boy was blind, he had to know who her father was. Did he want to die young?

“What did you tell him?”

She poked her father in his arm and laughed. “Dad! I told him no. A woman doesn’t dance with the same man twice in the same night unless she’s serious about him.”

He wanted to ask how she knew that. He didn’t know that. “Who said…”

“Grandma Polly, silly. She and I sat down a few weeks ago, talked about all kinds of important things, love, boys… what girls can and can’t do and still be good girls.”

“Does your mother…”

“Mama told me to talk to her.”

Jimmy nodded and thought of his wife. It made sudden sense to him. At Dara’s age, Lou was in the Orphanage, waiting for a chance to break out on her own. In fact in a few months, Dara would be the same age as Louise when she started working for Wicks.

The implications of his thoughts left a deep aching hole in his middle. Lou wouldn’t have known what to say to their daughter, hadn’t had the chance to find out what it was like to be courted the right way until later in her teens. To Louise, this time in Dara’s life was nothing she had experienced and he was suddenly very thankful for Polly and Rachel. Not only were they helping his daughter, but they were there for Louise as well.

“I’m glad you listened to Polly. She’s right. You should only dance with a man once in... oh, a year or two.”

Dara shook her head and gave him a smile. “That’s funny.”

All he could really think of was, ‘NO, not really.’

*    *    *

A few hours past midnight, James Butler Hickok was still walking the halls of his home. He hadn’t intended staying up that late, but his mind wouldn’t let him get any rest.

He stopped before Dara’s door, quietly turned the knob and swung it open. The blue dress that she had sworn was her ‘most favorite ever’ was crumpled at the foot of her bed and her face was turned toward him.

It had been such a long time since he’d read her a bedtime story. These days Lou was the one that spent time sitting with her in the evenings.

Setting his lantern on her bedside table he crouched down beside her and watched the flickering light of the lamp play over her face.  It was amazing how much she looked like Lou when she slept, seeing how their waking personalities were so different. Lou was more introspective if her manner, considering how her thoughts and actions would affect others before she made any decisions. Dara would wade into any situation, no matter how prickly or dire, she was all instinct.  As a father he worried over her every moment of the day.

It was a rare thing indeed to see Dara at rest. It was wonderful to see such peace in her features. 

She was growing up, more and more each day and it scared him. The dance had brought home the differences more than he’d care to admit. She was comfortable dancing with the young men at the social, even glowing in the face of their attention and compliments.

How would she react if one of them broke her heart, played her a fool, or pressed her for something she wasn’t willing to give?

Jimmy reached out his hand and traced the curve of her cheek with a gentle touch. He was getting ahead of himself, that’s what Lou would say and she would be right. Nothing was going to happen tonight, nothing except losing sleep.  The social was just the beginning of his worries, but he’d have Lou home soon and they’d see it through together.

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