Emma set out her
entire collection of teacups on the table.
They were mixed and matched, one blue willow, a pair of rosebud cups,
with delicate stripes, and few more that she had managed to collect
way. If you were looking for a common thread you wouldn’t find it.
had managed to survive the years, thanks to luck more than careful
Quickly counting the sets in her head she knew she had enough for
have a cup and everyone would have a place in the room if not at the
She smiled. It had certainly been some time since she’d had a gathering
little parlor. The furniture crowded the floor, sprawled over the faded
hiding the scratches in the wooden planks.
A sharp cracking sound announced that the fire in her stove was in full
the heat rising up through the cast iron like the summer heat on the
Rousting herself from her reverie, Emma strode into the kitchen to
teapot from the cabinet.
It took a few determined brushes of her apron corner before the lid was
of dust. She laughed to herself, “Admit it, Emma… you need this as much
Lou cupped her hand
into the bathtub wincing as a sharp hiss of breath escaped
her lips. The water wasn’t quite scalding hot, but it was so much nicer
the lukewarm shower that Teaspoon had rigged out behind the bunkhouse
didn’t dare complain or even waste a single moment of time to let it
She grabbed a soft square of towel and stepped into the water before
decide against it, flexing her toes in the hot water, she finally got
feeling back in her foot to put weight on it. The other leg followed
and then a
long moment before her bottom touched the surface of the water and she
good laugh over the little squeal that popped from her throat.
That would have given her away for sure if one of the boys had heard
wasn’t any way to think a man could sound like that.
In the kitchen, Emma
was having a time of it. The counter was littered with
little tin boxes, square, oval, round… tall, short, even narrow. With
she slid her finger under the lip of the cover and pulled it free.
box up just underneath her nose, she took a long thoughtful breath of
flavor trying to decide what to do. Earl Grey was a bit too austere for
occasion. Mint seemed a little too trivial. There didn’t seem to be a
that really matched the moment, which could do their little party
she kept searching for that elusive tin.
Up to her chin in
the soothing bath, Lou took a moment to look around as her
skin warmed to the water surrounding her. Emma’s mudroom was clean from
shelf of the pantry to the floor. There was an ample supply of soap
on one shelf and a mountainous pile of laundry in the corner.
Lou looked away from the site. The heat of the water… the smell of
men’s shirts and other things in the pile brought back too many
Somewhere outside the window one of the boys gave a yell and Lou
legs over her chest, shrinking in the tub. She knew she was safe here
house, knew her past was just that… past, and still she could fall into
memories so easily, even after all this time.
She plunged the little towel into the water for a moment and scrubbed
as if the memories would wash away with the dirt, but there they were
mind, playing over and over again. Lou leaned her head back against the
the tub and felt the water course down her face in little rivers and if
didn’t think about it too hard, she could almost believe that there
tears mixed in with the bath water.
Emma felt like a
little girl again hosting her dolls to tea at her mother’s
fine mahogany table. She could still remember Ike’s strange expression
she’d told him to let the boys know she expected them to come calling
appointed time and dressed in clean attire. He had given her a curious
look as if he was trying to see right through her skull.
*is this a joke* he’d asked her, worry in his eyes.
She’d given him an affectionate pat on his cheek and sent him on his
didn’t like keeping him in the dark. She knew he’d enjoy the moment as
she would, but this was a secret between the girls and that’s what
looking forward to the most. There would be ample time to explain
now, the lid of the teapot was starting to dance in the kitchen.
Setting out a
stuttering cling*clang rhythm was just a little signal to ‘get ready’.
Taking up her preciously perfect tin, Emma set it down right beside the
her fingers gently stroking the scroll work carved into the lid as she
Her free hand closed
around the sweet scented bar of soap that Emma had left
for her and brought it up to her nose, drawing in its scent in one long
after another. The scent was different, roses instead of lye. The feel
was refined, not the rough texture of ash that would get stuck beneath
There was no insistent pounding at the door, no hands dragging her from
water back to her duties, no worry on Charlotte’s
face as she was pulled down the hall. How long had she held onto the
of fear and terror? How long had she been keeping this all inside? How
longer was she going to allow it to keep her locked up in the dark?
Her eyes squeezed shut on the memory of his hands on her, dragging her
in the dark.
Lou slid down the wall of the tub, her body numb and slack as her mind
Emma watched the
boys through the window. Ike’s earnest expression in the face
of a barrage of questions from the others was precious. She’d thank him
with some special dessert to make the effort worth it.
She wondered what their reactions would be. They knew that Lou was a
had the thought really sunk in? “I don’t think so.” Emma started at the
of her own voice. Had she really said that aloud?
Ever since they’d gone after Lou’s brother and sister the boys had been
ease around Lou, their unspoken questions put to rest, but still, they
treat her like a girl. Now they didn’t think twice about throwing a
her in play or cuffing her on the shoulder like they would with each
Emma felt there was something lacking.
Every woman, somewhere deep down inside, wanted to have those treasured
of being special, enjoying a moment where they were the center of
chair held out, the tip of a hat, a gentle smile that told her she was
woman in the room. She wanted to give Lou her moments, even if they had
it from Mr. Spoon.
The kettle sounded a cavalry call, the lid rattling like drums in a
formation. Shaking her head to clear her mind of her own silly hopes,
the edge of her apron in hand and lifted the handle of the teapot with
Lou slipped beneath
the surface of the water, her body going limp. Her hands
floated up a little felt her muscles relax in the heated bath, the
the world lost for the moment. It was tempting to stay there, the
bottom of the
tub reassuringly at her back, her memories held at bay.
She knew it wouldn’t last, knew even without a glance at the clock that
would be coming up soon to tell her to get dressed. This gift had been
welcomed treasure that Lou didn’t really begrudge Emma the tea party
throwing. It seemed to mean a great deal to her… and because of Emma’s
kindness, a great deal to Lou as well.
Lou came up the surface, shaking the water droplets off her face,
slightly that the drops would pepper the floor. Worrying until she sat
the tub and caught sight of her reflection in a mirror.
Her face was rounder now, just slightly as if her cheeks were a little
The ends of her hair were still short enough to pass for a boy, but
slightly damp… she ran her fingers through from temples to nape and
There was a little curl to the ends, just enough to soften the look.
She grabbed the larger towel in one hand and stood up, brushing the
as she rose and noting the changes in her figure, the ones she fought
to hide around the boys. Lou stole a glance in the mirror again,
towel to her front only revealing enough to see exactly what she had
ignoring out of fear.
There, staring back from the mirror was a young woman… a woman that had
that knew who she was… what she was, and they were going to keep her
They were the reason she could go through with Emma’s little party.
Lou remembered the feel of Emma’s arms around her, secure and caring,
honest touch in a long time. It had triggered something inside of her a
long-buried yearning for the unconditional love of a mother. She didn’t
in front of Emma... she doubted she ever would, but she was already
coming here to Sweetwater had been the change she needed. This new life
second chance she’d been looking for, the chance to float for once
sinking back into the fear she’d been living with for so long. With
gentle embrace she had opened herself up to a possibility. The
she could really have folks that care about her, a family to belong to.
Emma couldn’t give
let go of the smile she’d been brewing the whole day. Just a
moment before little Lou… Louise had run up the stairs, towel wrapped
around her body, eyes wide with anticipation and the sense of urgency
comes from the distinct chance that you might be caught in the
She could hear heavy footsteps on the porch and there was a little
hitch in her
chest, her heart taking a turn at the giddy effects of anticipation.
the teapot she breathed in the warm aroma of green tea, purchased from
traveling merchant from San Francisco.
The scent was light, gently flavoring the water, but there was a
‘flair’ to the flavor, as if the leaves held a little taste of the life
port city… a place teeming with new and exciting people making a life
themselves. She wanted to instill a little of that into each of her
Create for them a solid circle of affection and love where they had
hopefully enjoy a little bit of that herself.
Calling to the boys to come in, Emma gave herself a final appreciative
the table and stood back to watch the room fill up with friendship and
camaraderie. She doubted that the boys found anything amiss as she
pour out cup after cup of tea, but as her joy finally bubbled over she
swiped the back of her hand. She didn’t even want her tears of joy to
moment; after all it was a coming out party.
“Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce…
*inspired by the song ‘Holy Water’ sung by Big & Rich*