Lou stood with Rachel and Polly watching the townsfolk enter the social. She smiled as each dress she'd made or sold something for entered the dance. There was the new school teacher on the preacher's son's arm. She looked lovely in the pretty blue dress she had made from the fabric she bought at Lou's new shop.
Then came Nellie Sue the banker's daughter. Her father had paid a handsome amount for the dress Lou had worked on for a solid week. It wasn't Lou's favorite, too many bows and rosettes on it for her. Lou smiled as Jenny walked in on her new husband's arm. Mr. Tompkins had paid for the dress saying that Jenny had every right to look as pretty as the rest of the girls in town. He was proud to be showing off Jenny and her new husband.
A commotion was heard near the door as two more young ladies tried to enter the dance at the same time. They both were wearing Lou's creations. Sarah Jane and Alice Landers were fussing over which of the one would enter the first while their father grew impatient waiting. Lou covered her mouth hiding her smile as Mr. Landers spotted Rachel and pushed past his bickering daughters. He came directly across the floor and asked Rachel to dance. Lou and Polly shared a look as Rachel took his hand and they headed out to the join the dancers.
Lou's attention was drawn back to the door of the hall as the Carters entered. Lou really hadn't wanted to make the dress their daughter wore. The girl and her mother had done nothing but look down their noses at Lou as they ordered the dress. Mrs. Carter had even suggested Lou should be grateful for their business. She's had the nerve to tell Lou in a very polite way of course that she was little better than a whore since she had ridden for the Express and slept in the bunkhouse with the boys. Lou was still trying to figure out how to get even with the woman. Lou knew a time would come and she'd be able to get even with Mrs. Carter and her daughter Ellen. That was when she noticed the other young woman with the Carters.
"Polly, do you know who she is?" Lou asked nodding in the direction of the door.
Polly looked in the direction Lou indicated and her smile fell. "That's Mrs. Carter's niece. Her mother passed away a couple of months ago and they are the only family she has left."
"She's prettier than Ellen is. I wonder why they didn't order her a dress, too. I have the perfect one already finished," Lou said as she watched Kid and Jimmy take notice the girl. Neither wanted anything to do with the spoiled Ellen since she had insulted Lou in Tompkins' store a couple of months back.
Polly humphed, "They treat her terrible. Always telling her what a burden she is and how she should be grateful to be here and not in some orphanage…or worse."
Lou frowned as Ellen turned and said something that made the other young woman look down. "It ain't right," Lou growled.
"No, but life seldom is," Polly sighed.
"May I have this dance?" Teaspoon asked Polly as he walked up.
Polly looked at Lou. "Go ahead," Lou said smiling. "I'm sure one of the boys will ask me to dance soon."
As they walked off Lou started making her way toward the young woman that had come with the Carters. Making her way through the crowd she heard comments and snippets of conversations. Several pointed her out as the new seamstress but always with a snide remark about her riding for the Express and staying in the bunkhouse with the others. She held her head high but the little remarks hurt. Not one of the women she had made a dress for had been kind to her when they had come for fittings or to pick up their dresses. Most had acted like they were doing her a favor by buying a dress she made. She sighed maybe the new young woman would be kinder. Though Lou didn't really hold much hope in that happening.
Reaching Ellen and the young woman, Lou smiled. "Miss Carter," she said addressing Ellen, "I'm glad you decided to wear the gown you purchased. It looks lovely on you." Being nice to Ellen was causing Lou's stomach to churn but she needed to customers for her shop to be a success.
"It's perfectly fine for a small town dance but mother is taking me to St. Joseph on a shopping trip next week. I'm sure to fine much better there," Ellen replied icily.
Lou wanted to smack the young woman. The dress Lou had made her was better than many she'd seen in the windows of shops in St. Jo. "If you require any alterations …"
"They'll be perfectly fitted I'm sure. Excuse me," Ellen said as she spotted Kid headed their way.
Lou rolled her eyes as Ellen intercepted Kid and managed to get him to ask her to dance. He looked back over his shoulder with a frown.
"I think he really wanted to ask you to dance," the young woman Ellen had failed to introduce said.
"Nah," Lou replied with a smile, "I bet he wanted to dance with you. He likes ladies, and I ain't much of a lady sometimes."
"I'm Elizabeth-Lizzie to my friends," the girl said with a smile.
"Lou…Louise McCloud," Lou said holding out her hand.
"Ellen's told me about you," Lizzie said still smiling. "I didn't believe most of it."
Lou laughed. "Which part?"
"I saw you riding the day I arrived on the stage, so I believe you could have ridden for the Express. Of course, the way the other Express riders treat you tells me that most of the rest of what Ellen says is a lie. If I was you I'd line one of her dress in poison ivy."
For a moment Lou was at a loss for words then she started to laugh. "I actually considered it but Polly stopped me."
"Why aren't you dancing?"
"Well, most folks believe what they want and when it comes to me…well, they believe the worst," Lou shrugged.
"Yeah, the same here. Just cause my ma and pa are gone most believe I'm not good for much but cooking and cleaning."
"Yep, and they don't want you to be better than they think you are, either."
"Is that why you pretended to be a boy and rode for the Express?" Lizzie asked
Lou frowned for a moment. "Mostly."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you," Lizzie said as one of the young men from town approached them.
"Ellen said you would like to dance with me," he said ignoring Lou.
Lizzie frowned. "Actually, I said I'd never dance with someone who thought getting fresh with a young woman he'd not been introduced to was acceptable."
Lou couldn't help it, she started laughing, drawing attention she was sure the young man didn't want.
"I don't know what a woman like you is doing showing her face here with respectable folks," he said frowning at Lou.
Lou's heart fell. No matter how fine her work these people wouldn't ever accept her. But Lou being Lou didn't let it bother her for long. "I'm just laughing because everyone knows, Johnny, you chase anything in a skirt."
Lou hand went to her side. Damn, she no longer wore her gun.
She heard Lizzie start to laugh. "You best get going." She nodded behind Johnny, "I don't think they like what you were about to say."
Lou looked behind Johnny as he turned. Jimmy and Ike were standing just behind the young man.
"He giving y'all trouble, Lou," Cody asked from next to her.
Lou smiled. As much as she liked to take care of things herself, she was trying to be a young lady and change the town's impression of her. "Nothing I can't handle, boys. Johnny here was just leaving."
Johnny started to say something but one look from Jimmy had him closing his mouth.
Lizzie tried not to laugh but the look on Johnny's face was priceless.
Cody smiled as he said, "Looks like Johnny here needs some help finding someone else to dance with. Come on Johnny, let's find you a young lady that doesn't know your reputation." Lou and Lizzie began to giggle as the three riders led Johnny off.
"I guess what I've heard about your friends is true." Lizzie said smiling.
Lou laughed. "Unfortunately-or fortunately in this case-I'm afraid they've earned their reputations. Cody does like the ladies, but can be a real gentleman. Kid is sweet, but he does let his temper get the better of him when he really cares about something. Noah has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, rightfully so though."
"What about them?" Lizzie said nodding toward at Buck and Jimmy.
"Well," Lou really wasn't sure what to say about Jimmy-or Buck for that matter. "Jimmy, he's hard as nails on the outside but he really can be sweet when he wants. Buck, he's…he has a big heart and…"
"People are pretty mean to him because he's Indian." Lizzie shrugged. "Back home there's an old lady that helped my ma when my pa was sick. No one ever really helped her though. She was left behind when the soldiers moved the Indians to Oklahoma. Old Maggie took care of me 'til my aunt and uncle arrived." Lizzie sighed, "I sure miss her."
Lou nodded. "Yep, Buck's helped a lot when the town was in trouble but they still turn their backs on him when it's all over." Lou saw Ellen headed back their way. "Here comes your cousin," Lou sighed this time, "and her friends."
Ellen smiled when she reached them but it was a cold smile full of malice. "You turned Johnny down? You know you can't hope for better?"
Lou was seething for Lizzie's sake. "He was rude to her." Lou felt her temper starting to boil.
Sarah harrumphed, "I see you haven't had a partner all night, Miss McCloud." She turned to Ellen with a whisper she made sure Lou could hear, "I bet she has a partner later though, maybe more than one."
The three friends giggled.
Lizzie started to speak but Lou had already started walking away. Lizzie'd had enough. "Ellen…" she stopped as she saw Lou leaving the social. She turned back to her cousin, "You are just plain mean."
"Look at the goody goody, girls, she doesn't know a whore when she sees one."
"May not, but I sure know a b…." Lizzie's face redden as she realized what she'd almost said. Sighing she said, "Well, we both know what you are don't we cousin." Turning she headed for the door hearing her cousin calling for Aunt Martha. Looked like she'd have to find a job and a place to live tomorrow. Lizzie smiled, actually, that didn't sound too bad.
Lou unlocked the door to her shop and stormed inside. All that work, all the days she'd spent altering dresses, and sewing so those girls would look good for the dance, and they called her a whore. She picked up a cup and threw it across the room. She'd known not to expect them to treat her decent but she'd had hope.
There was a light knock at the door and Lizzie poked her head inside. "Is it safe to come in?" she said with a smile.
Lou couldn't help but smile at her new friend. "Yep, it's safe." As Lizzie came in side she added, "I left my gun upstairs."
"Bet you're good with it," Lizzie laughed
Shrugging Lou replied, "I can take care of myself."
Lizzie spotted the midnight blue gown Lou had been working on. Lou had just finished it that afternoon. It was edged in black lace and had jet buttons decorating the bodice and skirt. "I've never seen anything like this," Lizzie said as she ran her hand down the sleeve. "It's beautiful."
Lou smiled. "A friend drew a picture of it once."
"I'd love to have a dress like this," Lizzie sighed. She was still months from getting her inheritance from her grandparents.
Lou started talking the dress off of the dress form. "Try it on," she said holding out the dress.
"I couldn't," Lizzie said shaking her head.
"Sure you can. This is my shop…my dress…"
Lou smiled, "We orphan girls have to stick together." She held out the dress and Lizzie finally took it. "You can put it on behind the screen."
A few moments later Lizzie stepped out wearing the dress. Lou's breath caught. With Lizzie's dark hair and deep blue eyes the dress was perfect. "Come here and look in the mirror."
Lizzie did as Lou said just as a knock sounded at the door. Lou walked over to it and peeked out the window. She smiled at Lizzie as she opened the door. "What are you two doing here?" she asked as Buck and Jimmy stepped inside.
"Just checking on you. We saw you leave the dance, everything alright?" Jimmy said with a slight smile at Lou.
Lou noticed Buck had noticed Lizzie and smiled. She was right, her new friend was beautiful in the dress. "Lizzie needed a better dress than she had for the dance. I thought she would look great in that fancy dress I've been working on."
Jimmy winked at Lizzie. "Looks like you were right. Miss Lizzie, I hope you'll save me a dance when you return to the dance."
Lizzie blushed and Buck smiled at her. "I'd appreciate it if you would save me one also, Miss Lizzie."
Lizzie's eyes widen and Lou was afraid she'd turn Buck down but her friend surprised her. "I'd love to Mr. Cross, but we have to get back to the dance first. Let me chan…"
Lou shook her head. "No, wear the gown Lizzie. You look beautiful, prettier even than Ellen or any of the others." Lou took Jimmy's arm. "Let's get back," she said turning to Jimmy, "I believe you owe me a dance before you dance with Lizzie."
Buck offered Lizzie his arm and she took it with a shy smile.
Jimmy leaned down whispering to Lou, "You playing matchmaker, Miss Louise?"
Lou shrugged but her smile gave her away.
As they were leaving the shop Lizzie said, "I can't believe I've been lucky enough to make new friends."
Lou laughed. "A wise man once told us that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."
Written for the 2011 Title Challenge - Original Title given by: Anita