Jimmy stealthily approached the shower stall. He used the shadows as cover. Each movement was reminiscent of his actions when facing an unknown enemy. One wrong move on his part before he reached his destination and let his reasons be known and it would be worse than being buried knee deep in manure. There were only two people who could catch him in the act and if either one of them did, he'd face the scariest fate of all - - he'd have to face the wrath of Rachel and Lou.
Only four more feet from where he was hiding alongside the bunkhouse to where the door of the shower stall stood and his mission would be successful. Another look around the yard yielded a happy sigh from his lips. He had expected at any second to hear Rachel calling out to him to head in the other direction. All the boys had been told repeatedly to stay away when Lou was using it, that it was her private time and they weren't to intrude. He'd learned his lesson the hard way - thanks to Cody's prodding and his own curiosity … added with the fact that Kid was on an overnight ride and not due in anytime soon … he'd dumbly listened to the blonde and snuck up on the female rider as she'd attempted to wash off the trail dust that always covered them after a run. Of course he hadn't gotten to see anything more than what they could view in the bunkhouse as her loud threats were soon mixed with Rachel's promises of a punishment they weren't soon to forget. Well she was right; he hadn't forgotten what she'd made the two of them do and under any other circumstances, the dark-haired man would have stayed clear of the makeshift structure but this was important. Oh she'd be mad at first, there was no doubt to that, but she'd thank him later … at least he hoped she would. And besides, he was the only one around to do the telling and something like this just couldn't wait until she was done cleaning herself up.
He stopped a few feet from the stall then glanced around nervously; now that he was this close, it almost felt like he was breaking a law. Turning back, he stared at the door. Jimmy could just make out the top of her head over the edge of the wood. As he heard the water pound against the sides of the structure then hit the puddles that always formed on the ground, his mind began to wander. Jimmy found himself trying to picture just which part of her body she was washing at that second. He shrugged his shoulders good-naturedly. How could he not wonder? It was natural after all - he was a man and she was a woman but more than that, she'd seen all of them in the flesh when they still thought she was a boy and they'd never seen her so of course, he was curious.
The rider stood with his hands stuffed in his jacket pockets as one corner of his mouth turned up in a pleased smile. It was only when he realized that time was a-wasting and Cody was right that you couldn't see through any cracks in the wood frame, that Jimmy got ready to call out her name. He didn't have to, though, as chance would have it and the water stopped at that second. At least now he could talk normally.
The panic in her voice had Jimmy hold his hands up in defense. He lowered them a second later when he realized she couldn't see him anymore than he could see her.
"Jimmy, you know you ain't supposed to be near here when I'm takin' a shower and don't tell me you didn't know I was in here 'cause I'm the only one besides you and Rachel here and she doesn't take showers and anyway, you could plainly hear the water before you got here!"
"I ain't spyin' on ya and I ain't lookin', Lou. I just need to talk to ya."
Lou grabbed the towel she'd slung over the edge of the wall and held it up in front of her as she looked at the door. "Can't it wait until I'm done? I'll be finished here in a minute then you and I can have a real, nice long talk if that's what you're needin', Jimmy."
Jimmy rolled his eyes, knowing she thought he meant he wanted to talk about women with her.
"That ain't what I'm here about, Lou." He let out a frustrated breath of air that she kept dragging out what he needed to let her know. "I wanted to tell you that two riders just rode in and they ain't your boyfriend and Buck back from makin' their delivery."
She let out a relieved sigh that he seemed to be there for nothing important. "Then run and tell Rachel I'm takin' a shower and she'll feed 'em up at the house. She's done it before. They won't care where they eat, just that they get food in their bellies. It's a way station, Jimmy; it ain't like we never had riders stop to rest and eat before riding back out."
"Yeah she told them to come up to the house like always but they don't usually stay."
"Stay?! What do you mean 'stay'?" Lou's head popped up over the top of the door.
Her eyes looking ready to pop out of her head had him smirking in amusement. Jimmy craned his neck and was half tempted to stand on his toes only to get a better view of the other side of the stall but thought better of it at the last moment. Besides, he knew that somehow Kid would get wind of it and Jimmy didn't feel like having his chin rearranged by the southerner's fist once again.
Lou gripped the top of the door as she stared at him. "Jimmy, what does 'stay' mean?"
"Spend the night; sleep over; wake up when the rooster tells 'em too." Jimmy crossed his arms over his chest. "See they had a special note to deliver to Teaspoon but he won't have a response for them till tomorrow morning and seein' as how this is a way station, like you felt you needed to remind me of, they have the right to spend the night here."
"Well then I need to get to the bunkhouse and get dressed fast before they're finished eating." Lou began to wrap the white towel around her petite body, knotting it in front.
"That's just it, Lou. They told Rachel they were dead on their feet and all they wanted was a bed to lie their bodies in, that they'd eat later." He watched her closely to see her reaction and got what he expected as her eyes grew wide and fear swept across her pretty face.
Lou looked to the bunkhouse then back to Jimmy. She fumbled with the latch, threw open the shower door and stepped out, oblivious to the fact that she was now standing in front of someone other than Kid wearing nothing but a towel. "What am I gonna do, Jimmy? No one was around so I thought it was safe to leave my clothes in the bunkhouse and come out here before anyone got back." Lou began to breathe heavily and wring her hands nervously but stopped instantly as she saw the grin on Jimmy's face. "What?!"
Jimmy had expected Lou to have him get Rachel to try to drag the other riders up to the house while she waited in the stall. The last thing he'd expected was a petite, dark-haired, nearly naked young woman standing in front of him, giving him a view he found most pleasing to the eyes. In answer to her question, all he could give her was a chuckle.
Following the direction his eyes had wandered, Lou flushed as she saw the objects that had caught his attention. Covering up her embarrassment at standing near naked in front of him, she boldly teased, "Don't tell me you ain't never seen a lady wearin' nothin' but a towel before."
"No, I don't have a problem with that but you might." At her confused stare, he went on to explain, "Uh, you see, Lou, no man wraps a towel around their body that way." He ran his hand from under one arm to the other to show her what he meant.
Glancing down, Lou let out a moan as she realized he was right. She'd seen all of them in towels a time or two and they all did the same thing - wrap it around their waist. "Well I can't exactly move it down around my waist, now can I?!" She put her hands on her hips for emphasis.
The word 'yes' was threatening to come out of his mouth but Jimmy bit down hard on his lips instead to keep it at bay. Somehow he could picture this whole scene getting back to Kid and Jimmy was no fool; he knew the good shot Kid was and he liked living just fine.
"No, I can't!" she exclaimed, answering her own question. "And it does no good for me to wait here while you run in and fetch my clothes for me - if there's one thing I've learned about men, it's that they aren't discreet when it comes to dressing. So there's no way you could say I wanna get changed in private without them gettin' suspicious … though me goin' in there all wrapped up like I'm a girl ain't gonna work neither."
"That would catch their attention more than the towel would, that's for sure," he finally answered. "Ah, come on, Lou, I'll think of something." He moved behind her and placed his hands on her bare shoulders to steer her toward the steps but quickly pulled away, at the same time taking a step back away from her. Anyone who would have seen them would have thought it was due to his having touched her bare body but he would deal with that later as another reason more pressing took top priority.
Jimmy began to wave his hand in front of his nose. "Phew! You smell like a rose bu … ah, Lou, don't tell me you and Kid have a secret meetin' set up at the pond tonight?"
The confusion on Lou's face from when Jimmy jumped away quickly flushed the next moment as she ran her hand through her wet hair. She hated it when the others guessed that she and Kid had been together or were planning to be. "Actually it's lavender," she softly corrected him as her eyes suddenly found the ground very interesting. "Rachel gave it to me and … besides, I'm a girl! That's reason enough for me to wanna use it and to smell like one from time to time," she firmly told him, using her old standby from whenever Kid would question her about doing something. "And if I used it or not ain't none of your business."
"Well it is now 'cause not only do we have to explain to two riders we don't know why you wear a towel wrapped high over your … middle section …., we now have to come up with a reason for you smellin' like a lady." As she raised her eyes to meet his, Jimmy softened and gave her a light smile. There was no way he would put her job in jeopardy or let anyone else do it, and seeing how she seemed to be desperately staring at him, the male rider knew it was up to him to come up with why Lou was doing what she was doing. "Well clothes ain't gonna appear on ya by standin' around out here. Let's get this over with and maybe if we're lucky, they're already fast asleep."
They weren't asleep. In fact, the moment Jimmy came through the door, followed so closely by Lou that she was almost wearing his boots, both men raised themselves up on their elbows and stared at the newcomers. Catching one look at Lou had both men breaking out in laughter.
"What's the matter with you, boy? You ashamed of not havin' any hair on you yet and thought it better to cover yourself up?"
Mortified, Lou crossed her arms over her chest and would have moved so she was standing completely behind Jimmy but knew the action would draw more attention her way than the towel already was so all she could do was stand in the middle of the floor and pretend it was no big deal these boys were seeing her nearly naked.
"Don't worry about us none," the second rider assured Lou as he flashed her a smile. "Hot shot Danny boy over here doesn't have none either so he should be the last to talk."
Danny shot his friend an annoyed glance before turning back to Lou and Jimmy, his nose raised in the air. "And you didn't have to put on any cologne for us neither. We ain't stayin' around that long that we need to be impressed by whatever fine manners Mrs. Dunne is teachin' ya all here." He gave a laugh at his own words as he saw Lou turn red in the face.
"Would you knock it off so the boy can just dress once and for all? Just pretend we're not even here. And there's no need to hide anythin' from us … 'sides, you seen one chest, you seen 'em all."
"Not this kinda chest, trust me on that," Jimmy told them in a low voice that had both men leaning forward to hear him.
Lou's eyes got big as saucers as she stared at Jimmy. She thought he was going to help her, not draw attention to the problem, or, rather, problems, that needed to stay under wraps.
Jimmy looked across the bunkhouse to the two new riders. "See, Lou here's got this … condition. Ain't that right, Lou?" He crossed his arms over his chest as he waited for his bunkmate to answer.
"Um … right?"
He gave her a nod in agreement. "Lou don't like to talk about it none but it's not somethin' that can be ignored so it's best we tell you now." He tried hard not to laugh at the nervous glances the other two men were throwing at each other. "What Lou has is this bad case of skin poison. Messiest sight you ever seen … and its worse when he takes a shower like he just done. Gets all bubbly and, well, the other boys won't hang around when they know Lou's gonna take a shower; that's why there's no one else around. But me and Lou been friends for a long time and when he takes a shower, the water makes it all itchy, ain't that right, Lou?" Jimmy was having fun. Once he'd begun his tale, the words just seemed to flow from his mouth like he was telling the truth; maybe hanging around with Cody or listening to Teaspoon dispense his worldy wisdom on them time and time again did have some benefits.
Lou had stopped staring open mouthed at Jimmy by the time he'd begun to describe her 'condition'. She did have to, though, stop herself from smiling at the genius he was when it came to spinning yarns. The female rider didn't think he had it in him but had obviously been wrong. A quick look in the direction of the other riders had her noticing that they were eating up each word Jimmy was telling them so she gave a nod that she was ready to play along.
"That's right, Jimmy," she paused to roll her shoulders and squirm her chest and back around in small circles, "and it's startin' to get itchy right about now too."
"And that's why Lou needs my help. Now the reason he smells all pretty like is the ointment he has to put on it … went all the way to a fancy doctor in St. Louis to get the lotion." Jimmy moved to the dresser he shared with Cody and retrieved from the top drawer the blonde's tube of gel that he used on his hair to slick it back when he wanted to go to town and try to impress some ladies.
"Yeah, it ain't cheap but it sure helps," Lou added.
"It's just that when Lou's itchin' like he is now, he can't get it all covered like it needs to be so that's where I come in. The others don't like to see it, like I told you, but if you don't have a problem with it, his chest does need to be tended to." Jimmy opened the tube and squeezed an extra large amount into the palm of his hand before placing the gel back onto the top of the dresser. He then went to stand in front of Lou, blocking her view of the other men. With his eyes fixed on hers, he reached out and took hold of the towel, gently beginning to pull it away from her body.
Lou stared aghast at him, wanting to just tell the men what she really was … or slap Jimmy … or grab his gun and shoot him … but she found herself unable to move. She closed her eyes in relief when Jimmy's hands stilled at the sound of voices from behind them. When her bunkmate turned around to face the others, the female rider grasped the towel where the knot had been and held it as close to her body as was possible. At this point, she didn't care if she looked terrified or not, she did have her dignity to think about!
"You know I think the reason I ain't sleepin' is 'cause I'm hungry."
"Yeah, I'll have to agree with you there, Ben. I've heard Mrs. Dunne is a mighty fine cook and I've been hopin' for the chance to sample some of her eats. What do you say we go get us some supper up at the house while Hickok takes his time helpin' out his bunkmate?"
"I'm thinkin' the same thing, Danny." Ben jumped down off the top bunk he'd been lying in and scurried to the door. He didn't even wait to see if Danny was behind him before opening it and stepping out onto the porch. "Suddenly I got a lot of energy. I'll race ya, Danny boy." With that said, the taller of the two riders took off down the steps and across the yard. Danny had to hurry to catch up to him but he did in no time as Jimmy noted when he went to close the door they'd left open.
Now that she and Jimmy were finally alone, Lou let her embarrassment over standing nearly unclothed in front of him rise to the surface. "That was a little too close for comfort. They sure have good timing." She went to Kid's bunk, since it was the nearest, and pulled his blanket off it, holding it up in front of her body as she'd so desperately wanted to cover herself before.
A pleased smile spread across her bunkmates face. "Yeah, they did give just enough time," Jimmy agreed as his eyes stayed fixed on Lou as she now tried to cover up most of her body with Kid's blanket.
"What did you say?" Lou asked, distracted, as she fought with the long piece of wool that seemed to want to do everything but stay where she placed it.
"Oh, I agreed that they spoke up just in the nick of time."
Glancing at her fellow rider, Lou gave a nervous laugh. "I don't know how to thank you, Jimmy."
"Yes it was and you know it."
Jimmy gave a carefree shrug. "Just don't go around tellin' the others what a nice guy I am - got a reputation to uphold."
Lou gave him a look of mock seriousness before breaking out into a grin. "Yeah, right."
"'Sides, I don't think one of my bunkmates would understand no matter the reason."
"I'm not too sure about that; he could surprise us … but then again it might be safer for both of us if we just keep this 'tween ourselves." She gave him a shy smile.
Jimmy smirked at her as he nodded. "Well I'll let you get dressed in peace. I'll stay out of sight so they think I'm still helping you … but I'll keep the bunkhouse in clear view in case those boys decide to come back too soon." He glanced at his hand that still had the glob of Cody's hair gel in it. Jimmy moved his hand toward his thigh but thought better of it and removing his hat, ran the lotion through his hair. He then replaced his hat atop his head with a pat. "Couldn't let this good stuff go to waste. Now I'll have to make a trip into town later to see if it works with the ladies or not like Cody's always blabbin' it does."
Lou let out a laugh that she quickly covered up with her free hand coming over her mouth. "And hopefully Cody won't be able to figure out some of it's missin', though knowin' him, he's got the tube measured with how much was in it."
"I'll take my chances with him, seein' as how it was for a worthy cause." Jimmy gave her a smile then quickly glanced away, shrugging his shoulders once more to show it was no big deal.
Lou looked around for a moment, wanting him to leave so she could put herself together, feel like her old self again, and attempt to forget this ever happened. "Well I'll always be thankful to you, Jimmy." Making sure the blanket was covering all of her but her face, she crossed the floor to where Jimmy was standing and reached up, planting a kiss on his cheek.
Jimmy bent his head so she could reach him then watched as she went back to her post next to her bunk bed. "I'm gonna go now." He opened the door, stepped out, then changing his mind, poked his head back into the room. "Oh hey, Lou? Somethin' else I forgot to tell ya."
"What's that?" Lou had been just about to lower Kid's blanket but pulled it back up around her when she heard Jimmy speak to her again. She now turned curious eyes in his direction, wondering what was so important it couldn't wait until she was dressed.
The male rider looked her up and down before raising his eyebrows in her direction. "I just wanted to say that Kid's one heck of a lucky man!" He lowered his eyes to rest just below her shoulders then let himself out the door, humming happily as he walked around the building.