For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. - Time Tested Beauty Tips
There isn't time for simple pleasures when you've got children to raise or a stable to run. Employees will always tax you with the simplest of things, especially when they're not quite sure you know how to run things.
Or at least run things without taking them into the ground.
The war raged on and the days in Rock Creek crawled hour through hour and all that was left was to wait. And wait. And wait.
She turned without a thought for the sheaf of papers in her hands, they weren't going anywhere. "Jenny… oh thank God for a friendly face." Louise crossed toward the door and gave her friend an enthusiastic hug.
Jenny broke away holding her friend at arm's length and reading the exhaustion in her face. "That's not a good look."
Louise pursed her lips and gave a little sigh that bordered on petulant. "That's lovely, come into my business and insult me."
It was frustrating enough to see the broad smile on Jenny's lips, but it didn't help when the taller woman rolled her eyes. "If this is the reception I'm to expect, I won't be around much…" Jenny dropped her arm over Lou's shoulders and gave her a squeeze, "and I won't be able to come by and surprise you with fun ideas."
There was something so very infectious about the quality of Jenny's voice, as if she was imparting a deep dark family secret and excited at the prospect.
"Well?" Louise felt the flutter of anticipation in her middle. "Then tell me… what's the surprise."
"The surprise is…" Jenny looked around and pulled Louise out into the sunlight, eager to avoid the ears of the men that worked at the livery. When they were free of the stable Jenny reached up and tugged at a sprig of hair that had escaped Lou's bun. She blew a little bit of air across it and coughed for effect at the little puff of dust that flew up. "… an afternoon all to ourselves, a basin, a bucket, cold cool water-"
Louise felt the tremor from her toes all the way to the ends of her dusty hair. Her smile grew to match that of her friend's. "And a bottle of your lilac soap?"
It was rare that Louise got to laughing like a school girl, but the prospect of a head full of lilac scented suds was enough to have her breathless and holding onto her friend for balance.
Jenny smiled. "Then I'll see you at the house as soon as you get free from here."
"Give me ten minutes."
The two clasped hands and before Jenny had crossed the street Louise had put Charley Hawkins in charge and grabbed her hat. She tied the ribbons beneath her chin and started off.
The house was at the far end of town, just a couple of streets behind the General Store that Mr. Tompkins still owned. Jenny greeted Louise, waving her hand from beneath the shade of a tree in her front yard.
Louise giggled and tugged at the ties of her dress. Jenny waved her toward the mud room. "Go ahead and leave your dress on the bench, I've left a robe on a hook." The last few words were only heard in passing as Louise dashed up the stairs to change.
Jenny had told her to go first, but Louise wouldn't have it. Guest or not, the first bucket of cool water went over Jenny's golden hair. As Louise worked the soap into a lather they talked of gardens and butterflies and recipes for pie. Teaspoon's birthday coming up and a dance that Lou swore not to attend.
That's when Jenny nearly splashed water over Lou's shoes, her eyes flashing with mock anger. "Silly, silly, Louise."
Shaking her hands so that dollops of suds landed on the thirsty earth Louise laid her hands on her hips. "You're lucky I don't have a pair of shears in my hands, Jenny Cross. Or I'd give you a cut like I used to have."
Jenny laughed and then paused a moment later, her eyes darkening with her thoughts. "Do it."
Louise gave a laugh that sounded more like a cough. "What?"
She took Louise's hand and nodded. "Cut it for me, short… to my ears."
Shaking her head, Louise shrugged of the hold and waved her friend away. "No… I'd rather not face the wrath of your husband."
"Oh yes," Jenny agreed with a wide smile, "what would he think if I suddenly had hair shorter than his?" She covered her mouth to hide the grin as though someone would catch them. "It would be fun."
"No," Louise refused the request, "think about it first. If you want to later… we'll talk later." Picking up the pail, Louise dropped it beneath the hand pump and filled it to the rim. It took both hands gripped hard around the handle to get it back over to the tub. "Lean… over…" it took every ounce of strength for Louise to heft the pail up in her hands and slowly pour it over Jenny's hair. "It's silly, I know, but I'm glad for this… for our friendship. It's a godsend, really."
Jenny picked up a towel from her lap and ran it over her head, rifling her hair exposing it to the sun and drying off the extra water. "It is for me too." She paused and pinned the towel at her neck, letting it drape over her shoulders. "You know that you can come and talk to me, right?"
"Talk?" Louise answered her a bit too quickly, eager to get past what she felt was going to an uneasy discussion. "Sure, I know I can talk to you… why?"
Jenny stood up from the chair and reached for the pail. "I don't know," but the tone of her voice said she knew exactly where this conversation was going, "I feel like you don't want to be a bother to us. Why you won't stay for supper as often as we ask you."
"Well, I know how little time you have with Buck when he's home and I don't want… I'd hate to be-"
Jenny set her friend down on the chair and started working on the pins that were now only barely securing Louise's bun near the nape of her neck. "You don't want to be a bother. Really, what kind of bother do you think-"
Louise bent down over the metal tub, stifling any voice that she might have.
"Ohhh that was a slick one, Louise… " Jenny dumped the pail of cool water and Louise's shoulders tensed up as she tried not to shiver under the cold water, "cold?"
It took a moment, but Louise answered, her teeth chattering. "Yes… it's cold but it feel wonderful!"
Jenny worked the soap into her friend's hair. "It's hard enough to do this in the hip bath for myself and for some reason Buck thinks it's silly for him to help me wash my hair."
Louise giggled from beneath the curtain of her hair. "Not manly enough for my old friend?"
Flexing her fingers into the long strands of hair, Jenny shared a laugh with her. "Really, Louise… when we invite you over, it's not because we're just saying it to seem friendly… we want you to come and spend time with us."
Louise's back rose and fell with a deep breath. "Any family is good for a person alone in the world."
Jenny knelt down in the dirt and moved her friend's hair aside so she could see her face. "You're not alone, that's the thing, Louise. You're not alone. You have us. You have Teaspoon and Polly… and you-"
She grabbed Jenny's hand, her fingers strong even though they shook. "I have good friends to get me through the tough days… thank you, Jenny… more than anything else… thank you."
"Good, now let's get those bubbles out before they dry up."
Louise ducked her head while Jenny went for the pump. "Then maybe sometime in the next week or so, you'll let me cook for you and your family."
"That's a fine idea, Louise… just fine." The pump squeaked… almost in protest, but Jenny didn't stop until the entire bucket was full. "Buck and Sally are due back in a bit, so you're more than welcome to enjoy the sun out here… away from the town."
Louise shivered through the second bucket of water and took the towel Jenny offered, closing her fingers around the soft cloth before she rubbed it against her hair. The idea was a delicious one and taking advantage of it was just what she was going to do. The livery would survive a few hours without her, that's what she'd trained her men to do and that a little time alone would be just fine. Louise moved her chair closer to the little table Jenny had used for her brush and soap, laid her head on her arms atop the table, her face turned halfway to the sun.
It was a gentle touch that woke her from her slumber; soft inquisitive fingers, sliding through the lengths of her hair and prickled the nerves along the back of her neck.
Louise raised her head slightly and grinned. "Hello, Sally…"
"'lo, Aunty Lou." Little pudgy fingers wound a section of her hair around and around. "Pretty."
Reaching out her hand, Louise touched the little blue bow in the girl's hair and smiled when the action got a little giggle. "Why thank you, sweetie… you've got pretty hair too."
Her little head shook back and forth, a pout bowing her lips. "Uh uh… brown like Papa's hair… not pretty."
Louise tilted her head to the side and looked at the little one. "But my hair is brown and you said it was pretty-"
Sally dropped the ends of the hair she held and it swung in a little arc… some curl holding on for the moment. "But you're a girl, Auntie… a girl has pretty hair."
"Sally?" Buck stood on the back porch, holding the screen door open with his hand. "Bring your Aunt inside; it's almost time for supper."
Dutiful, at least for the moment, little Sally Cross offered her hand to Louise and led toward the house.
As they passed the windows, Louise paused for a moment and ran her fingers through the ends of her hair. It was a shock to see her hair unbound around her shoulders… it wasn't 'proper'… but through the eyes of child… touched by the hands of a child… it made all the difference.