“Maybe Penelope Tate will dance with me.”  Cody boasted to anyone who was listening, as he danced around the room.

“Yeah, and maybe you’ll get some common sense between those two ears of yours.”  Buck told him.

“You two deserve each other.  You spend as much time on your appearance as she looks like she does on hers.”  Jimmy said.

“What’s wrong with a little primping now and again?  Hmmm?”  Cody asked.

“Nothing’s wrong with a little, but the amount of time you spend in that mirror puts a woman to shame, Cody.”  Lou shot back.

Tonight was the night of the big town social and Lou as usual wasn’t going.  That was the price she had to pay for doing a “man’s job”, she had to give up her femininity.  Something she was fine with as long as a town dance or social wasn’t involved.

Trying to ignore Lou’s crankiness, Kid said, “Well at least I know I’ll be keeping company with Miss Samantha tonight.  I’ll still have to fight the ladies off of course.”

“You’re as self-absorbed as Cody is.”  Buck informed the Kid.

“Hey, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it.”  Kid said.

“Have you and Cody been taking lessons from each other?”  Lou asked him.

Kid just shrugged, turning back to the small mirror hung from the wall, nudging Cody out of the way as he did.

Cody nudged the Kid right back.

Lou sighed and started digging around in her trunk at the foot of her bed and drew out a mirror.  She handed it to Cody.  “Here, take extra care with it and I’ll let you use it so you’re not fightin’ over the one on the wall.”

“That’s a girl mirror.  Look.”  He said to no one in particular.  “It even has painted flowers around the edges.”

“It was my mother’s.  She gave it to me before she died.”  She paused for a moment to rid her voice of the catch in it.  “Give it back then.  I was only tryin’ to help.”

Lou reached out to take it from him, but Cody kept it just out of her reach.  “Naw, I was just kiddin’ with ya’, Lou.  It’s a nice mirror.  I appreciate you letting me use it.”

Lou almost dropped her mouth open at his sincerity.  He wasn’t as shallow as she gave him credit for.  She nodded and sat down at the table and sighed - trying to block out the goings-on around her.

Jimmy, always in tune with Lou’s moods, sat across from her.  Not knowing what to say, but knowing he needed to say something, he simply asked her if his tie was tied straight.

She looked up at him and nodded.  “So who are you takin’ to the dance, Jimmy?”

“Laura Singleton.”

Lou made a face at that remark.

“What?”

“You’re goin’ with her?”

“Yeah, and what’s wrong with her?”

“Where do I begin?  Her nose is so stuck up in the air she’s likely to…never mind.  That’s just being mean on my part.”

“No, Lou, go ahead and tell me.”  Jimmy said, starting to get mad.

“Well, it’s like she thinks the sun rises and sets just for her.  I’ve seen how she treats some of the other girls and she’s just no good for you, Jimmy.”

He looked her straight in the eye and said, “Ah, Lou, what do you care?”  And in that moment he realized she did care and from the look on her face she cared very much - more than just a friend should. 

Lou quickly looked away, afraid she had already given away too much.  She started to rise and go outside, but Jimmy grabbed her arm, looking up at her.

“Look, I’m sorry, Jimmy.  It’s not my place to say anything.  You can go to the dance with whoever you want.”  She jerked her arm back, going out the bunkhouse door as fast as her feet could take her.

Everyone jumped at the slamming of the door. 

“What’s with, Lou?”  The Kid asked.

“I’ll find out.”  Buck said.

“We ain’t got time, Buck.  The social starts in 10 minutes.  We gotta go.  Now.”  Cody said as eager as a puppy at dinnertime.

“Alright, let’s go.  Let’s just hope Emma’s ready, else Cody might have a fit of apoplexy.”  Kid remarked.

As they drove out, Jimmy noticed Lou taking down Emma’s laundry from the line - a chore she hated.


***


It wasn’t long after they all had left for the dance that Lou started wondering why she hadn’t asked to switch rides with Ike.  At least one of them could have enjoyed themselves.

At first, Lou thought a little quiet time around the station would be nice, but instead she was plain miserable and more than just a little jealous of Laura Singleton. 

If only she could catch Jimmy’s eye.  If only she wasn’t always dressed as a boy.  If only she didn’t have short hair that was near impossible to make it look pretty.  If only…

Lou went back in the bunkhouse after folding the laundry and lit a candle to read by.  As she was reaching into her trunk for her novel, her hand brushed against the dress she always kept hidden.  It was the same dress Emma had her wear at her “coming out” for the boys.

On a whim, Lou decided to put the dress on.  Nothing said a girl couldn’t feel pretty “just because” every once in awhile.

After she slipped the dress on she felt much better.

Again, she reached into her trunk and withdrew the matching hairbrush to the mirror her mother had given her.  Remembering what her mother had taught her - she brushed her hair out 100 strokes to make it shine.  Then she tied it up with a ribbon Emma had given her.

Pretty soon she got swept away in the moment and began waltzing around the bunkhouse with the broom, pretending it was Jimmy.

If only he’d see her as more than just a friend.  If only he felt romantically inclined toward her instead of just mere friendship.  If only he were here right now, dancing with her instead of that Laura Singleton.  If only Laura Singleton weren’t so much prettier than herself.  If only Jimmy would walk right through the bunkhouse door, take her in his arms and waltz the night away with her.  Lou sighed.  If only he’d give her the goodnight kiss she was sure Laura Singleton was to receive from him tonight.  If only…

‘Stop thinking like that.  You’re acting like Cinderella being left home from the ball waiting for your Prince Charming to walk through the door.’

Lou sat down on her bunk and began to cry - feeling sorry for herself and her situation of masquerading as a boy all the time. 

Then she heard a faint knock at the door and it opened.  Even in the dim light of the bunkhouse she could make out it was Jimmy.  It was just what she had hoped for and yet she wasn’t supposed to be crying in the scene she had worked out in her mind.  She quickly wiped at her tears, but soon Jimmy was there wiping them away for her.

“Why’d you stop dancing, Lou?”  He asked of her.

“You…you saw that?”  She asked, dumbfounded.

He nodded.  “I was watching through the window.  I didn’t think you saw me.  You looked beautiful and happy.  What happened to make you cry?”

She sighed loudly.  “Just feelin’ sorry for myself is all.  Why’d you come back so early?”

“I saw with my own eyes for the first time what you’re talking about with Laura.  She is conceited and so full of herself.  The whole time all she wanted to do was talk about herself and she flirted with every male that walked by.  I left her standing by the punch bowl.  I don’t think she even noticed when I left.”

Feeling more than a little unsure of herself, but knowing the time was now or never, she did something she never thought she’d be able to do - she asked him to dance.

She was surprised when he accepted and began gliding her across the room, humming a tune.

If only the dancing could go on forever, Lou sighed to herself.  If only he saw me as a woman and not just another Pony Express rider.  If only he’d kiss me.  If only…

She dared look into his eyes and what she saw there surprised and thrilled her at the same time.  The look of smoldering desire was reflected in his handsome brown eyes.  She darted a glance to his lips and saw…what?  Were his lips trembling with nervousness, desire?  Dear Lord, could it be that his lips craved what hers did - a thirst and a hunger so deep that it took your breath away?

He dipped his head down and captured her lips with his, tentatively at first, but the kiss soon deepened and became all-consuming in its desperation. 

Jimmy broke off the kiss, his breathing ragged.  Everything seemed to swirl around Lou, her senses still reeling from the magnitude of their kiss. 

“I have wanted to do that for so long now.”  He simply said.

“Me, too.”  She answered back, breathless.

Lou felt she was in a dream world of her making.  But it was real.  Jimmy was standing there before her with a fire in his eyes that she matched for him in her soul.

If only they could spend more time together like this.  If only he’d kiss her again like the last time.  If only maybe someday they could take it further than just a kiss.  If only someday he’d say ‘I love you’ to her - for she already loved him with all her heart.  If only…

Jimmy cleared his throat and asked her, “Would you like to go on a picnic with me tomorrow?  Maybe I could convince Emma to fry up some of her famous chicken.  We could go down by the pond and…” Jimmy stopped, searching for the right words.

“And do some more of this?”  And she reached up on tiptoe and kissed him again, not as intense, but just as filled with promise.  A promise of what was to come tomorrow…and the next day…and the next.

If only she could spend the rest of her days in his arms.  If only…

 

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