Lou lay in her bunk luxuriating in the thought of a day for herself. Today was her day off, and she planned to enjoy it. She stretched out under the covers, wriggling her toes in the cozy sheets, then sighed in pleasure as she considered her options for the day. Now that everyone knew she was a girl, she really had no reason to keep up the charade. She could wear a dress today and maybe even bake a special treat for everyone to enjoy.
With a large smile, Lou hopped out of bed and began rummaging in her trunk for the right dress to wear. Knowing the other riders were hard at work with their chores and unlikely to return to the bunkhouse until Rachel had breakfast ready, Lou felt free to take more time choosing her outfit and dressing. Finally deciding on a green dress Kid had never seen her in before, she stripped off her long johns and began dressing in her female underthings. As she pushed her hand through the cuff of one of the dress sleeves, her fingers tangled in the lace trim and tore it loose.
Lou frowned with annoyance as she examined the damage. The tear wasn't serious. The lace had just been pulled away at the seam. It could be mended, but she did not have time right now. This was not the best start to her day off.
She quickly pulled off her green dress and dug out the blue one she knew Kid liked. This time taking more care with the sleeves, she donned the blue dress and gave it a tug to straighten it out on her body. She quickly ran a brush through her hair, thinking it she would style it with more care before Kid returned from his run. Right now she needed to make a list of all the ingredients she needed for a chocolate cake.
After breakfast Lou headed to Tompkins' store. Rachel did not have all ingredients necessary for the cake, in particular the cocoa powder. Arriving at the store, Lou saw that Mr. Tompkins was busy with other customers. She grabbed a basket near the door and began gathering the ingredients needed to make her cake.
High on a lonely shelf sat the tins of cocoa powder. Lou frowned as she debated how to reach one. She glanced over her shoulder to the front of the store. Tompkins was still occupied. The Widow Higgins was talking away while Tompkins totaled up her purchases. As Lou returned her gaze to the shelving in front of her, her eyes landed on a small step stool. It was exactly the right size for her to reach the cocoa powder. She pulled the stool over and stepped up, reaching high for the cocoa powder.
Lou realized the stool really needed to be an inch higher. Her fingers brushed the bases of the tins, but she couldn't quite get a grip on one. Grunting in frustration, she stretched onto her tiptoes and tried again to grab one. Her fingers just about had a grip on the base of a tin and she began to pull it forward to lift it down. Unfortunately Lou's grip was not as tight as she thought, and as the tin came off the shelf it slipped from her fingers and tumbled down. The lid must not have been on tight, as it popped off as the tin headed for the floor, leaving a coating of cocoa powder on everything in the vicinity, including Lou, as it fell.
The crash of the tin on the floor, immediately pulled Tompkins' attention away from the Widow Higgins and her purchases.
"Hey, what are you doing back there?" He called as he headed back to see what had happened.
"Sorry, sorry," Lou apologized as she tried to brush cocoa powder off her dress. "I'll pay for the spilled tin."
"You bet you will," the irate storekeeper grumbled, as he picked up the fallen tin and looked around for his broom.
The Widow Higgins took this moment to make her departure, giving Lou a pitying look. "I'll just go now. You let me know when that special knitting wool I ordered comes in." The door banged shut behind her before Tompkins could reply.
Tompkins glanced menacingly at Lou. "Well, what are you waiting for? There's no egg delivery today, so you can't smash those with your clumsiness."
Lou blushed a deep shade of red under her dusting of cocoa powder. "I still need a fresh tin of cocoa powder and to pay for these," she said, indicating the other items in her basket.
Tompkins snatched a tin off the shelf and walked to the front counter. Slamming the tin down, he began adding up the cost of Lou's purchases, beginning with two tins of cocoa powder. Lou handed over her money and then waited as Tompkins made her change and packaged her items. She could not wait to get out of the store. She just hoped no one saw her and her coating of cocoa powder as she headed back to the way station.
As soon as possible, Lou made her escape from the store and hurried down the street to the Express Station. She kept her gaze on the ground in front of her, not wanting to catch anyone's eye. She turned the corner to head into the yard in front of Rachel's house and she slammed into a brick wall.
"Whoa there! What's the rush?" Jimmy asked as he caught Lou's arms to stop her from falling. The petite rider barreling into him had barely made him lose a step, but she had lost her balance. Jimmy was the only thing keeping her on her feet.
Looking down at Lou, Jimmy realized she was covered in a dusting of something. "What happened to you?" He asked.
"Nothing, nothing," Lou replied with a frown. Her morning was getting worse and worse.
Jimmy grinned. Teasing Lou was one of his favorite pastimes. He made a show of sniffing the air. "New perfume?" He questioned.
Lou yanked herself free from Jimmy's hands and marched up the walk to Rachel's house. She couldn't even be bothered to throw a glare back at her tormentor as she charged forward.
Jimmy watched her go and called out, "It's nice, kinda like chocolate. I bet Kid will love it!" Laughing he headed to Teaspoon's office.
Lou, on the other hand, was not laughing. She banged into Rachel's kitchen, startling the other woman. Rachel dropped her mending on the table, her eyes widening as she took in Lou's appearance.
"I knocked down a tin of cocoa powder at Tompkins'," Lou ground out before Rachel could ask.
"I'll say you did," Rachel smiled, but then realizing Lou was in no joking mood, she set about making things better. "I have some of your mended clothes here. Why don't you put them on, and I'll take that dress and see about shaking out the cocoa powder?"
Lou nodded, took the pants and shirt Rachel offered and headed to the back room to change. She quickly pulled off the dress and handed it out to Rachel, who took it outside to shake out. Lou was not particularly happy to wear her boy's clothes while wearing feminine undergarments, but they would be fine for a morning in Rachel's kitchen.
As Lou began assembling the supplies for her baking project, Rachel, humming a little tune to herself, returned to the kitchen. "Here you are," she called, draping the dress over an out-of-the-way chair. "I think it's fine to wear now, but maybe you should wait until after you finish the cake."
"Thanks, Rachel," Lou said with a small smile. "Sorry, I was so rude when I came in. I was so embarrassed at Tompkins', and then Jimmy-"
"Don't worry about it. I can imagine how Tompkins was." The older woman reassured Lou, but then added cautiously, "Maybe you'll laugh about it later."
"Hmmmm….maybe," Lou responded doubtfully.
"Well, I have chores to do upstairs and some errands to take care of, so I'll leave you to your baking. Feel free to use anything you need." With that Rachel headed up the stairs to start her chores.
"Okay, and thanks again, Rachel," Lou called after the other woman.
Happy to be left on her own, Lou sorted out her ingredients. She had bought everything except flour and baking powder. She had known Rachel would have enough flour on hand, but she had meant to buy the baking powder. Scanning Rachel's shelves, she found a container of baking powder set back on the top shelf away from the other items. She put it on the table, and then began to measure out flour.
The morning flew as Lou worked. Rachel came and went as Lou sifted, beat and stirred. Finally it was time to pour the batter into the cake pans. Carefully, Lou lifted the bowl of batter and tipped it over the first pan. She was concentrating so hard, she didn't even realize her tongue was sticking out just a little. Slowly the batter filled the first pan evenly. Gently without spilling a drop of batter, Lou shifted the bowl over the second pan and began filling it too. Once that was completed, Lou grabbed a dishrag and opened the oven door. She slid each cake pan into the oven and softly closed the door.
Releasing a sigh of relief, Lou dropped into a chair. Considering the morning she had had so far, she had been expecting something to go wrong with the process of filling the pans and getting them into the oven. She relaxed in her chair for a moment, and then decided it was time to change back into her dress and do something about her cocoa covered hair.
She grabbed her dress from the chair on which Rachel had left it, and hurried into the back room to change again. The cake layers would be baking for a bit, but Lou wanted to leave herself time to do something more with her hair. She quickly donned the dress, taking care to avoid pulling away any lace at the sleeve cuffs, and then gathered up her boy's clothes. With a glance at the oven she headed over to the bunk house to get her hair brush and pins.
As she headed for the bunk house, Lou swore any rider who had one thing to say about her cocoa hair powder would not be enjoying a piece of chocolate cake later. Luckily for the other riders, none of them were in the bunk house when Lou arrived. She placed the folded boy's clothes on her bed and flipped open the lid of her trunk. She grabbed the items she needed for styling her hair and headed back to Rachel's so she could keep an eye on the oven while the cake baked.
Happily ensconced in front of the mirror in Rachel's parlor, Lou began to vigorously brush the cocoa powder out of her hair. As she brushed, Lou realized Jimmy had not been completely wrong when he compared the powder to a perfume. It did have a lovely sweet smell.
Once the powder had been removed from her hair, Lou began trying different styles. As she worked, she slowly became frustrated. None of the styles she tried looked good. Short pieces of hair kept sticking up, or falling down as they were not long enough to reach the position needed. One good thing about everyone knowing she was a girl was that now she could let her hair grow out. Too bad it was taking so long to do so.
She tried one more time to pull the strands into a pretty twist on the back of her head, but it just would not stay. In frustration Lou tossed her hairbrush on the floor. Frowning at her childishness, Lou bent and grabbed the brush from where it had rolled behind a chair. As she stood and brushed some unruly pieces of hair out of her eyes, her glance landed on the clock on the mantel. She realized there was no more time to mess with her hair. She needed to take the cake pans out of the oven. She quickly brushed her hair smooth, and headed to the kitchen.
While Lou had tried to style her hair, Rachel's house had filled with the fragrant aroma of baking chocolate cake. The smell was strongest in the kitchen. As Lou slowly opened the oven door she was hit with an even stronger wave of the delicious smell. There in the oven were two perfect looking chocolate cake layers.
Reaching in, Lou took a hold of the first pan and gently moved it to the table to cool. She repeated her actions with the second pan, and then looked proudly down at her delicious looking creations. As she looked over her cake layers with pride, each one began to slowly sink in the middle. She groaned out loud in vexation.
Entering the house, Rachel heard Lou's groan. "What's wrong, sweetie?"
"Look! Just look!" Lou cried out. "I don't understand what went wrong."
"Did you use the right amounts of your ingredients?" Rachel asked as she set her parcels down at the other end of the table.
"Yes, yes!" Lou snapped, her frustration evident in her voice.
Rachel eyes fell on the remaining ingredients sitting on the table. "Where did you get this baking powder? Did you buy it fresh this morning?"
"No, it was on your shelves," Lou replied, looking sorrowfully at her ruined cake layers. They were too sunk in to even be fixed with frosting.
"Oh, darlin', was it the baking powder on the top shelf?"
Lou nodded without looking away from her now pancakes, not noticing the stricken look on Rachel's face.
"Lou, I'm so sorry, that baking powder was old. I've been meaning to throw it out and buy new. That's probably what ruined the cake."
Lou looked up at Rachel's apologetic face and sighed. "That's okay, Rachel. I should have bought my own anyway. I forgot it after the whole cocoa powder thing."
"Maybe you can fix it?" Rachel asked.
"No, there isn't enough frosting to cover the cake and fill where it's sunk in."
Rachel sighed. "I really am sorry."
"I know. I guess it just wasn't the day for me to bake a cake," Lou said with a sad smile.
A look of sympathy bright on her face, Rachel reached over and squeezed Lou's hand. "Kid will be back soon from his run. Why don't you go over to the bunkhouse to wait for him?"
"I guess," Lou sighed.
"You know how happy he'll be to see you waiting when he rides in," Rachel added encouragingly.
Lou smiled slightly knowing Rachel was correct. There was a certain glint Kid would get in his eye at times when looking at her. That look always made her feel special, as if she were the only person that Kid could see.
"Go on now," Rachel persuaded the female rider. "I'll clean all this up."
"Okay, Rachel. Thanks."
Lou headed out of Rachel's house and back to the bunkhouse. As she walked she considered what she could do to surprise Kid, since the chocolate cake was no longer an option. Deep at the bottom of her trunk was a pair of lace gloves and a parasol Kid had given her as a gift some time ago. Maybe she could get those out. She felt a bit silly with the parasol and often wondered how other young ladies made carrying a parasol look so elegant and flirtatious. She secretly wished she could do the same and would have liked to practice carrying it more, but with a bunkhouse full of boys, that wasn't going to happen any time soon. Elegant or not though, Kid would like seeing her with it.
As she walked up the steps to the bunkhouse, Buck and Cody fell in behind her and headed in as well.
"Having a good day off, Lou?" Buck asked.
"I've had better," she replied with a laugh.
"Sounds like there's a story there," the Kiowa rider said in a questioning voice.
"Maybe I'll tell you another time," Lou said with a glance at Cody. "I don't need my adventures making it into a dime novel."
Cody gave Lou a baleful look as he sat down at the table. "I don't do that anymore, Lou."
"Uh huh," Lou agreed skeptically, as she began to rummage through her trunk looking for the gloves and parasol. Deep at the bottom she found the parasol hiding under a winter jacket she had not worn in a while. She tossed it on the bed and continued to search for the lace gloves. She found one tucked under her journal, but could not seem to locate the other.
"What are you doing?" asked Buck, as Cody looked on with interest.
"I'm getting out a parasol and some gloves Kid gave me. I thought I might wear them today." Lou finally found the second glove hiding among her handkerchiefs. She placed the gloves on the bed and picked up the parasol.
"What was Kid thinkin' when he gave you a parasol?" Cody asked.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lou snapped at the blond rider. She might feel silly with a parasol, but there was no reason for any of the boys to think anything of it.
Buck quickly stepped in. "I think Cody meant that riding for the Express really doesn't give you much of a chance to use a parasol."
"Oh," Lou replied looking at the two boys suspiciously.
"That's not exactly what I meant," Cody muttered. Buck sent him a warning look across the table.
Dismissing the two boys and their antics, Lou's gaze dropped to the parasol as she examined it looking for the release so that it could be opened. There did not seem to be a catch anywhere that she could see.
Buck watched her struggles with interest. "Maybe the release is there at the base," he suggested, as he leaned in closer to look at the parasol.
"I think I've found it," Lou replied, pushing up under the base of the parasol. The parasol popped open, one of the spokes catching Buck right in the eye.
"Owww!" He exclaimed leaping back from Lou and the parasol.
"Oh, Buck, are you okay?" Lou cried. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to do that."
"I'm fine. I'm fine," Buck assured her, as he backed further away.
"Let me see. Maybe we should put a cold cloth on it." Lou rushed to grab a small towel from one of the beds and soak it in the water bucket. "Here," she said, handing the towel to Buck.
Buck seated himself on the bench by Cody and pressed the cloth to his eye. The coolness of the towel did make his eye less painful.
"I really am sorry, Buck," Lou said. "With the day I've been having, I should have known not to try anything different."
"It's okay, really, Lou," Buck reassured her.
"Should have known is right," Cody interjected. "Parasols are for dainty, southern women."
For a moment it seemed as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. Lou looked over at Cody with a glare that would cut glass. Buck, who had been sitting by the blond rider, moved away as inconspicuously as he could.
"Are you saying I'm not dainty?" Lou questioned in a low voice that was all the more menacing for its quietness.
"No, I meant that, um," Cody stumbled over his words. "It's just that some women do things and some women just watch and look dainty and pretty."
Buck's head dropped into his hand.
"I'm dainty, damn you!" Lou exclaimed. "You wouldn't know dainty if it bit you on the-"
"Well, now, what's goin' on in here?" asked Teaspoon, cutting Lou off.
All three occupants of the room turned to the bunkhouse entrance where Teaspoon and Jimmy stood. The two had entered during Cody's misguided explanation. Distracted by their disagreement, the others had not realized that anyone had joined them.
"Lou, darlin', why don't you go out and see Kid? He just rode in, and I know he'd love to see your pretty face after his long ride." Teaspoon smiled comfortingly at Lou.
"Oh, I didn't hear him come in," Lou fretted.
"Well, he's here, so you head on out."
Teaspoon and Jimmy stepped away from the door to allow Lou to pass. She gave Teaspoon a tremulous smile as she passed and went out the door. As soon as the door shut, Teaspoon turned to Cody.
"Son, what in tarnation do you think you were sayin' to that girl?"
"You just need to think before you speak! You also need to learn that once you've dug yourself into a hole, it's time to stop diggin'." Teaspoon shook his head, his glance landing on Buck. "And what happened to you?"
"Just an accident with the parasol," Buck replied. "She didn't beat me with it or anything."
Jimmy laughed out loud at Buck's words. "She looked like she could have."
Buck grinned. "More like she could have beat Cody with it."
Outside Lou entered the barn looking for Kid. She could hear his low murmurings to Katy as he groomed her after their long run. Lou smiled as she watched him and his horse. One of the first things she had liked about Kid was the way he cared for his horse. There was something you could trust about man who took good care of his animals.
"Hi," she called softly.
Kid looked up from his work and smiled when he saw her there. "Hey, don't you look pretty. I missed you while I was gone."
Lou thought about her day. She had had a terrible time trying to wear prettier clothes and have fancier hair and carry more feminine things. Now standing here with Kid, seeing his smile and knowing he thought she looked pretty just the way she was, made all her problems today seem small.
Except for Cody, she would deal with him later.
Author's Note: This story is ALL Raye's fault! You tell a little anecdote from your life, and all of a sudden there's a fanfic there. But she more than made up for it with a great Beta.