Lou waited outside of the house, hat in hand until Rachel happened to notice her standing there. Putting a sympathetic look on her face first, Rachel swung open the door and cleared her throat. "Lou, I don't think she's up to visitors."
Nodding, Lou shifted her weight from one foot to the other. "I understand, Rachel… I do, but I think there's something I can do to help."
Rachel looked toward the Marshal's office and sighed. "I think the only thing... the only person that can help is sittin' in the jail."
A little shrug almost looked like a flinch. "Maybe… or maybe comin' face to face with Teaspoon right now ain't the best thing for either of them. He's blamin' himself for what happened to her and she's feelin'… like maybe she ain't the… same anymore." When Rachel didn't shut the door in her face, Lou continued. "I've been there, Rachel… and maybe…"
Nodding, slowly at first, Rachel opened the door fully and stepped aside. "Do what you can."
Lou found the bedroom at the end of the hall and peered into the partially open doorway. "Polly?"
There was no answer at first.
"Polly? You asleep?"
"Please not now, Lou… I'm not feelin' well."
Lou bit her lower lip, pulling it between her teeth. "I know… I just wanted to sit with you for a bit."
"Maybe later and-" The creak of a chair turned Polly's head and she saw Lou, perched on the high backed chair beside the bed, her hands on her knees and her face turned to the window. "Sit if you want to, I think I'll get some rest."
Drawing the blanket up to her chin with a wince as reward for her effort, Polly burrowed into the bedding as if it would hide her from the rest of the world, but Lou didn't move. She watched the curtains lift and settle with each soft breath of air and listened to the rattle of a wagon outside the window. Voices, nonsense and mumbles, carried in with the clip clop of horses the only sounds beyond Polly's steady breaths from the bed.
Lou watched her toes drag along the worn rug in the room and waited for her nerves to go away. "I know you don't know me real well, Polly… and I don't know you much, 'cept for how you put a smile on Teaspoon's face like I ain't never seen a woman do."
The shift of the blankets on the bed and the slight sniffle of sound was hard to miss.
"So I don't know if anyone's told you, 'bout who I really am… but I guess you should know that I'm really Louise under all this dust and fake voice," Louise felt the lump in her throat loosen as she continued, "and the reason why I cut off my hair and dressed up like a boy is I had a man that hurt me like you've been hurt and I couldn't let myself be hurt again."
The room was silent and even the sounds of the town around them seemed to quiet and the curtains still. "I became Lou and never looked back… tryin' to make myself small and quiet and just get along… just survive. It worked real good until I found myself wantin' more… and I got this job with the express and found my family… including Teaspoon. He makes me feel real special and I know how much he cares for you, I see it on his face, but mostly in his eyes. He feels joy around you, Polly, and I know you're feelin' really bad right now… but don't hide yourself like I did… don't hide when you got folks here for you."
Louise reached out and took Polly's hand in hers, gently lacing their fingers together, but continued to look down at her feet, just waiting.
It almost felt like a tremor at first and then a gentle flutter as Polly tightened her hold on Lou's hand. Neither one said a word as the curtains fluttered in the wind and Polly's tears fell free on her pillow.
As she disappeared into the hallway Louise could only follow her with her eyes. Her curls were in danger of falling down around her shoulders. "Don't move. Don't worry."
Rachel opened the door to find Polly and Teaspoon on the porch. "Good Morning." Rachel moved into Polly's easy embrace and caught site of the slightly petulant look on Teaspoon's face. "And to you too, Teaspoon." "Mornin'."
Polly drew Rachel's attention with a chuckle. "He's mad at me…" she leaned in closer to her friend, "I told him to go and keep the groom company."
"And I want to see Louise." His tone was sullen and his lower lip poked out a bit from his upper. "I've had it up to here," he put his hands up to his throat, "with them boys and I'd rather sit here with the bride."
"Well," Rachel began, giving Polly a meaningful look, "Louise would be happy to have your company," she waited while Teaspoon gave his wife a smug nod before she continued, "But I don't know if the groom would appreciate you seein' her before the ceremony."
Teaspoon puffed out his chest. "Well I'm servin' as the father of the bride, so I don't see how anyone could complain. 'Sides that thing about bad luck seein' the bride in her dress before the ceremony is just hokey and don't mean nothin'."
Rachel gave him a sage nod. "Well then, that's just fine, because Louise isn't wearing her dress yet, so I guess if you really want to come up and see her, then-" she gave Teaspoon a curious look. "Is somethin' wrong Teaspoon?"
"Wha…. What?" He looked a bit perplexed and more than a little green.
"You don't look so good, Teaspoon, would you like to sit down?" Rachel stepped to the side and swept her hand toward the door.
The older man waved off her concern. "You know, now that you mention it I think there may be a bit of advice… or two that I might have forgotten to mention to the boys last night. I should," he cleared his throat noisily, "go and… err, instruct them." He turned and made a quick retreat to the bottom of the stairs before turning around. "You let Lou know that I'll be waitin' for her at the back of the church when she's ready to walk down the aisle."
Rachel nodded. "Sure will."
As soon as Teaspoon disappeared around the corner Polly reached out and took hold of Rachel's arm. "I'm sorry, I know there's a thousand things to do this morning, but I was wondering if I could have a few minutes alone with Louise."
Giving it a little thought, Rachel happened upon a deal. "Well… I've been having a bit of trouble with her hair. its one thing doin' my own…"
Polly's grin reached from ear to ear. "Done."
Hearing the door open behind her, Louise resisted the urge to turn in her seat. "Who was it Rachel?"
"Just me, sweetie."
Louise reached out with her fingertips and pushed on the bottom of the table top mirror so that she could see the woman standing behind her. "Polly."
Louise lifted her hand up and Polly took it both of hers. As they looked at each other Louise felt something cool press into her hand and her brown wrinkled in confusion. Polly held tight as Louise gave a tentative tug, curious. "Just a minute, young lady," Polly's cheerful reprimand had them both near bubbling with laughter, "Before you go and peek at your present, I have to tell you a few things." Cupping Louise's hands together Polly let them go and watched them lower into Louise's lap and reached out for the brush that Rachel had set aside. "I've always seen myself as a strong woman, goodness, look at who my father was!" Polly gave Louise a smile in the reflection of the mirror and started to work the brush through the younger woman's hair. "But until I met up with R… Randall, I had never felt so broken inside."
Polly avoided Lou's eyes as she gently placed a pin into the simple upsweep of hair she'd twisted at the nape of Lou's neck. Another pin or two went in before she could meet Lou's sympathetic gaze in the mirror. "And the very person I wanted to talk to was the same person I just couldn't face and when I wanted to lock the door and keep everyone out, there you were."
The gentle touch of Polly's fingers on her hair drew tears to her eyes. "You didn't want me to stay."
"You're right… I wanted you to go…" the brush clattered lightly against the table top," but I needed you to stay." Leaning down until their faces were nearly cheek to cheek, Polly gently grasped Lou's shoulder with her free hand. "And you let me cry until I had nothing left but an ache deep inside my middle." Lou swiped at a tear with the back of her hand and gave Polly a smile. "An ache that told me that no matter what, I was still alive. Randall hadn't taken that from me… and he hadn't taken away the people that cared about me."
Lou's lips pressed together, trembling slightly. "You still had us, Polly."
Polly sighed. "I was so afraid of Teaspoon back then… seeing how I'd disappointed him… " she gripped the handle of the brush tight enough to whiten her knuckles, "I know… that sounds so silly when I hear myself say it." She adjusted a pin between her teeth and gently inserted it into the upswept style.
"Sometimes the voices in your head… they're trying to protect you, but what they end up doing is-"
"Keeping you apart from the ones you need the most."
Lou swallowed around the knot in her throat, her hands closing reflexively around the object in her hands. Her gaze lowered for a moment as she considered Polly's words.
"But you didn't have folks, did you, Lou?"
The younger woman sighed, her shoulders gently raising and lowering as she shook her head. "I had a friend. She… she gave me money, cut my hair… told me to run." Louise looked up into the mirror and gave Polly a weak smile. "I didn't know where I was running to, so I just ran until there wasn't any money left and I figured I was far enough away that he couldn't find me."
"And yet, when you knew… when you found out what happened to me," Polly couldn't quite meet Lou's glance in the mirror, concentrating instead on adding in the last few pins to her hair, "you came and sat with me and let me know that I wasn't alone… that I didn't have to run."
"You came here to find your family." Lou smiled again, blinking back the tears from her lashes.
"I came here to find Teaspoon… y'all made me your family." Setting the brush aside she picked up a hand mirror and held it up to the back of Louise's head. "How's that?"
Louise blinked at the vision she saw in the mirror. Polly had tamed the unruly curls created by the odd length of her growing hair. It was nothing short of a miracle after what Rachel had tried to do earlier. "It's beautiful, Polly, I-"
"Now," she set the mirror down and moved about the chair to face Louise, perching on the edge of the bed, "I want to explain the present I bought you," she gave Louise an impish grin, "Well, that Teaspoon and I bought you." Looking down between them, she opened Louise's cupped hands to reveal the little package resting in her palms.
Polly tugged on one end of the baby blue silk ribbon and the linen handkerchief fell open like the petals of a blossom to reveal the present inside.
A cameo. She couldn't tell if it was a pin or on a chain, that part didn't matter to her at the moment. With shaking fingers Louise traced the pale blossoms rising out of the deep blue background of the cameo. "I've never seen flowers like this before."
"They're called Lilies of the Valley… and the shape," Polly pointed out the blooms descending from the stem of the plant. I used to think they looked like tears and avoided them every time I saw them." She had a little giggle at the thought. "Then, when Sugarlips and I were in St. Jo a few weeks ago we stopped at a little emporium to get you something. I was drawn to the color, but when the salesgirl saw me frown at the flowers she reached beneath the counter and pulled out a little leather bound book from England. The 'Language of Flowers' was the title."
Louise felt a smile tug at the corners of her mouth. "What did it say?"
"When she told me, I knew this had to be the gift for you." Polly turned the cameo around to face Louise. "When Teaspoon and I first fell in love and married, I wanted children so very badly and then when he was gone for long periods of time I wished for a baby to help me through the loneliness, but we were never so blessed and now-" she gave a little shrug, "I'm past the years of tryin' but if you'll allow me… and Teaspoon, of course, to think on you as one of our own… well I'd consider myself the happiest woman this side of well… anything." Polly swiped at sudden tears at the corners of her eyes. "That's what those flowers mean… a return of happiness."
Louise stepped out of the buckboard after giving Polly a bright smile. Once on the ground she reached up to touch the cameo pin that Polly'd helped her affix to bodice. The sky blue gabardine cut an elegant silhouette over her layers of petticoats and her brand new corselet. It was smart style and would serve her well for years to come, but for this day, this special day it was her wedding gown.
Teaspoon held out his hand as Lou climbed the three steps to the landing just outside the church door. She reached out with a pretty flush coloring her cheeks and wove her fingers through his. "I hope we're not late."
Glancing at the position of the sun in the sky Teaspoon turned back to her with a shrug. "No more than any bride 'should' make a groom wait." He leaned closer as he tucked her hand into the crook of his bent arm. "After all, he's waited this long… what can a few minutes more do?"
Polly reached for the door and turned back to give her him a knowing look. "I'll make note of that, Sugarlips."
Lou gave Teaspoon's arm a sympathetic pat as the doors swung open and the assembled townsfolk rose to their feet and turned to the bride.
Author's note: In the Victorian language of flowers, Lilies of the Valley mean 'a Return to Happiness'