Topic #55: Picture Prompt - Gloves
|The First Lesson by: Ty
||Memories by: Nikole
|Someday by: Cindy
||His Touch by: Raye
|A Trunk Full of Memories by: Jo
||Livelihood by: Lori
|Helping Hands by: LMS
||The Sale by: Cathy
|Good Samaritan by: Cindy
||Leather and Lace by: Dede
|A Soft Day's Lesson by: Leah
||Memory by: Raye
Note: Thanks Kris for letting me borrow Rayne.
Kid stood across the street leaning on a post staring at the building. He'd been standing there for over two hours, watching the comings and goings. The wide welcoming doorway summoned him, but he resisted. He knew this was where he needed to go to get what he wanted, but it seemed so sordid; so shameful; so depraved. Oh, the place was nice enough. It was clean, bright and beautiful. It was the activities that went on inside that were so unacceptable to him, but what he needed right now.
Through the open door, Kid could see the lights flickering in the gentleman's greeting parlor. He was able to make out the figures of the men waiting their turn to be serviced. He caught glimpses of the scantily clad girls as they came down from the upper floors to tease, flirt and select another customer before whisking them away, only to appear sooner or later to repeat the process. A process that was uppermost in his thoughts and drew him to this place.
It was the timing of the girls' reappearance that had him wondering and questioning his own skills. Finally deciding that putting it off was just making things worse, he crossed the street and mounted the short stairway that lead to the beckoning entry.
As he passed though the doorway a woman of grace and refinement slid her black lace covered hand between his body and his upper arm while the other similarly gloved hand began to stroke his forearm. A soft seductive voice whispered in his ear, "Hello handsome, how may we service you tonight."
Whether it was the soft words or the equally soft caresses, Kid almost bolted; only the knowledge that this was the only place that could satisfy his needs kept him in place. Attempting not to blush, but afraid he was unsuccessful, Kid announced in a shaky voice. "I need someone that will...I mean a woman that can... they have to be able to show me...well tell me..." his voice failed and his face became the color of the velvet on the walls of the room.
The woman laughed softly, but not unkindly. "Young man, am I correct in thinking this is your first time in visiting a bordello?" Her voice was encouragement itself.
Nodding in awkward relief, Kid was glad that she understood his problem.
"Well then, I know just what you want. You sit right down here," she sighed delicately as she gently pushed him into one of the high winged back velvet chairs that ringed the edge of a small card table. "And I will go get one of my girls who would be more than happy to see to your needs." She gave him a light pat on the shoulder as she left him.
Kid laid back his head and closed his eyes, letting out a sigh of relief. Maybe this wasn't going to be as tawdry as he had assumed. Moments later he heard as melodious voice ask, "Are you the one in need of the tutoring?" Snapping his eyes open in surprise, he found a young beautiful black haired woman, with pale green eyes, dressed in a fine gown standing before him with the most radiant smile he could remember seeing in quite some time. She could only be a few years older than he was he thought. Watching her tilt her head appraising him as well.
Jumping to his feet he answered in a breathy voice, "Yes ma'am." His mother would have tanned his hide for sitting in the presence of a lady. The nervous man momentarily forgot where he was, or he would have realized that his mother would have had more pressing concerns right then.
"I'm glad, why don't you come with me," she invited, taking his arm in much the same way as the other woman had, she began leading him from the room. Instead of directing him to the stairway, she guided him into one of the corridors leading to the back of the building. When he sent her a questioning look she gave a soft giggle saying, "Miranda, has offered us the use of her room for the night. Come, it's right this way."
She opened the door to a lavishly furnished bedchamber, decorated in greens, blues and soft purples. Drawing him into the room she silently closed the door before leaning gently against it saying. My name is Rayne, what shall I call you?"
Kid was beginning to feel anxious again, "Um, .. I guess most folks call me The Kid so..." he stammered out though a suddenly dry throat.
Shaking her head as she walked over to a small table, she said in a light teasing tone that took the sting out of the words, "No, no that won't do at all, at least not for tonight. How about I call you Darling?" After pouring a glass of water she offered the glass to him. "Darling?"
Kid wasn't sure what he should do, so he stepped forward taking the offered glass saying, "I guess that would be alright," then gulped the water, wetting his very dry throat.
Rayne began to slowly peal her elbow length, black lace, fingerless mitts from her fair arms. As she did so she smiled a coy, but sweet smile that had Kid's insides tightening with anticipation. "Where would you like to start Darling? Would you like to have me undress for you or would you like to do the honors? I enjoy it both ways."
Kid jumped back from her like she had suddenly grown two heads and started spouting flames. "No! No! That's not why I'm here. I want... I mean... I need... that is..." Kid kept backing away in panic and distress as he stumbled over the words, and one of the chairs. He landed heavily on his back side as the chair topped over next to him.
Rayne stopped disrobing as the man backed away from her in such haste. In her confusion her voice lost the sweet melodious tones she had been using and became a more normal sounding voice. This one was just as musical, but clearly puzzled as it asked, "It's not?"
The two occupants of the room both gazed at each other in disbelief for several moments before the woman recovered first, stepping forward she offered her hand to help him up saying, "Maybe we should sit down and talk about just why you are here."
"Maybe we should," Kid responded warily, before getting to his feet after politely waving her offered hand away. Setting the chair back upright facing it's twin. Kid offered his hand to help seat the woman.
Once they were both settled the woman asked cautiously, "Now, you're not here because you want to..." She stopped as Kid flushed a bright red, shaking his head. "But you came here for something?" she asked tentatively, trying to understand.
"Yes," Kid choked out, still red faced, but the color was fading. He was grateful that the woman just waited patiently for him to work up the nerve to state his request.
"I need to know how to ... " Kid stopped, looking at his feet before his eyes returned to the woman. "I want to be able to..." he tried again, once more stopping before the thought was fully defined.
Rayne's natural voice floated thought the air, soft and sweet, fresh and clean "Relax, I want to help," she said, the tone rang with a truth that helped put Kid at ease.
Kid didn't know why he unexpectedly trusted this woman, but suddenly he knew that she was the one that could help him and the story came pouring out. "I have this girl at home, her name is Louise. We are close, real close but... we haven't ... I mean we want..." Kid started to falter again.
Rayne smiled, leaning forward she rested her hand on his knee. "I understand. You haven't made love to her yet, but you would like too?"
"Yes." Kid almost shouted his relief to get his problem out in the open. "But I've never...either," he flushed at his admission.
The woman's smile became more radiant, if that was possible. "And you want to make sure everything is perfect for her, and that you don't hurt her with your lack of experience?"
Kid's smile matched Rayne's in brilliance. "Yes. Can you tell me how? I don't want to ... well, but I do want to make sure I do it right and that she..." Kid stopped not knowing what else to say.
"Enjoys it," Rayne said softly, as if it was a wish she was making. "Yes Kid, I can help you. Your Louise is a lucky woman and I wish you both all the best you have to give each other." Taking his hand and gently tugging him to his feet, she led him to the wide bed.
"Tonight you will learn how to please her, but you and I will not complete the ultimate act. You will save that for Louise. Come let's get started," she said reaching to help him with his coat.
The fact that he never spoke about his childhood didn’t mean that he never thought about it, regretfully he had to admit it was quite the opposite. Carefully fingering the worn material he stared at a lonely cloud, slowly passing by in the otherwise clear blue sky and bitterly noticed it was a perfect reflection of how he actually felt.
Alone, with no one there that could possibly understand what he was going through.
When Rachel had made them clean up the bunk house and had every piece of furniture turned upside down he had found them again, carefully tucked away with some other belongings he had always carried with him since he had left what he once thought would forever be his home. His father’s old gloves.
The shock of being confronted with these items he had long forgotten he owned was nothing compared to the memory that came with them. They brought back one in particular that he wished he could forever banish from his mind. Seeing those gloves forced him to think of something that occurred a long time ago and had pushed back to the far corners of his mind hoping that it never actually happened. That perhaps it had only been a dream he never had been able to forget.
Looking down at the gloves he held in his hands, the distant memory played over and over in his head. One with images that didn’t go with all the other memories he had of his father. It was something that he didn’t want to be reminded of in fear of having forgotten about so many others over time and the possibility that as he had grown older, his mind had painted a distorted picture of the actual truth.
Tucking the gloves back in his pocket he let out a weary sigh, saddened by the thought that everyone who would have been able to ease his troubled mind was gone. Nobody left to tell him that having a happy memory of his father was nothing more than wistful thinking. Nobody left, except for the man that had given him those gloves so long ago.
He thought about getting rid of them as he tried to remember why he held on to them for so long. If being confronted with items that once belonged to his father caused such internal conflict why had he always felt the need to keep them close all these years?
When he found he couldn’t think of a rational, straightforward answer to his own question he suddenly felt an odd sense of relief. Maybe some things were just meant to be exactly what they are, indefinable and unexplainable. For some reason that notion didn’t only make him feel better about his troubled past, is also gave him strength and confidence for the uncertain future that lie ahead.
Hands stuffed firmly in her pockets, head down, Lou wandered slowly down Sweetwater’s main street.
Behind her, she could hear the music playing, heralding the celebration for the new Mr. and Mrs. Sam Cain.
It had been a gorgeous late summer day – perfect for a wedding. And the ceremony had lived up to the day in every way. The church itself was newly whitewashed, and it had fairly glistened in the afternoon sun. The town’s children had been sent out that morning with instructions to pick the prettiest wild prairie flowers they could find – and the resulting color and delicate aroma had been spectacular.
The other riders had all been there, of course. Sam and Emma had chosen a day that fell between the normal runs so no one would have to miss the ceremony. Dressed in their Sunday finest, the young men had been quite a sight – one that brought a smile to Lou’s face, in fact. The boys had all complained about the extra bath and primping, and each claimed to be getting choked by the unfamiliar ties at their throats.
But none of them would have missed the day for the world.
Lou paused outside the marshal’s office. It was empty now. Barnett and the other deputies were at the reception, taking turns doing a quick walk around town to watch for trouble.
She sat down on the bench outside the door and leaned her head against the wall. Eyes closed, she pictured the scene inside the church.
Sam had looked so handsome in his new suit. Of course, he’d also looked rather pale, and Lou was certain she’d seen Teaspoon steady the marshal on his feet at one point.
Of course, the stationmaster had looked quite dapper in his suit as well.
But nothing could compare to the bride.
When Emma entered the church, Lou had caught her breath. Dressed in a simple yet elegant white dress, Emma seemed to almost float as she moved up the aisle. The flowers in her hair looked alive, and her smile could have lit the whole church. Her arms were encased in long, white gloves, and in her hands she held a bouquet of red roses.
Lou had barely paid attention to most of the ceremony itself. Her attention was just on Emma. The older woman’s face radiated with happiness, and Lou actually found herself jealous at one point.
She opened her eyes and kicked her boot angrily against the leg of the bench. It just wasn’t fair!
Oh, she wished Emma all the luck in the world. But seeing Emma there, so beautiful, with the gloves and the roses . . .
Lou wished she could have been there to help Emma get ready – but a ‘boy’ wouldn’t be doing that. She wished she could have given in to the tears she felt at the wedding – but ‘boys’ didn’t do that. She wished she could have joined the crowd of young women who gathered around the bride at the reception, talking excitedly about the bridal gown – but a ‘boy’ wouldn’t be welcome.
Oh, what she wouldn’t have given to be able to join in on some of the conversations about dresses, and hair styles, and boys – but as a ‘boy’ she couldn’t do that.
She remembered the excitement of the young women of marriageable age as they jostled for the bouquet Emma tossed – and she felt another pang of jealousy as she wished she could have joined them.
And then there was the dance, of course. Standing in the shadows against a back wall, hoping no one looked too closely – not exactly a lot of fun. And since Kid had accepted duties as an usher, there wasn’t even the chance to sneak out back for a secret dance as they’d done one other time.
She’d desperately needed to get out, into the open air where she could breathe again.
She jumped, startled by the voice. Opening her eyes, she saw Buck sitting on his horse. “Hey, Buck.”
“Party’s back there,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder.
Lou got to her feet. “Not exactly a lot of fun,” she said, indicating her man-tailored suit. “Where are you going?”
“Rider’s due in from Hollenberg this evening. I’ve got the next run going out.”
Lou looked quickly back at the church, where the party continued out back. But it took only a moment to make her decision. “Let me get my horse. I’ll ride back with you.”
“All right,” Buck agreed. “I’ll wait.”
“Be right back,” Lou promised as she hurried down the street. There was nothing to keep her here in town except sad thoughts.
She might as well be back at the station.
Just being back at the station hadn’t done the trick. Buck had patiently listened all the way home, offering his sympathy, but that hadn’t been enough either.
As much as she loved riding, and the comradeship of the other riders, days like this made her realize just how unfair her life could be. No dresses, no flowers in her hair, no dancing . . .
Leaving a note for the other riders, she’d ridden out, seeking answers on the prairie.
It was after midnight now, and while she wasn’t sure she had found answers, she had managed to exhaust herself.
Lou finished brushing her horse down and left the barn, sliding the bar on the door into place as quietly as possible as she closed it.
There was no sign of movement from the tack house, so hopefully Teaspoon was sound asleep. And the house was dark and quiet as well, although the buckboard was parked outside, so the newlyweds had apparently made it home.
The bunkhouse was silent too, and Lou paused to pull her boots off before stepping up onto the porch. Tiptoeing silently on stockinged feet, she eased the door open and slipped inside.
All around, the sounds of men sleeping reached her ears. It made her realize she was home – and whatever she was missing in her life, she also had a lot to be grateful for.
She slipped her boots under Kid’s bunk and reached up to pull the blankets back – and felt something strange on the sheet as she did.
Puzzled, she pulled herself carefully up onto the edge of the bunk.
The full moon provided enough illumination for her to see what was there, and she caught her breath.
Arranged there on her bunk were the long white gloves Emma had worn at the wedding. And under the fingers of one glove, a single rose had been placed.
There was a note as well, and Lou opened it carefully, angling the paper toward the window to catch the moonlight.
Lou smiled as she ran her fingers lightly over the soft material of the gloves. Then she picked up the rose, inhaling the delicate aroma.
It was going to be so hard around the station when Emma left next week – because Emma understood. But this was a precious gift the older woman was leaving behind.
She sniffed the rose one more time, then put it on the other side of her pillow, near the wall. The gloves she folded and placed under the pillow along with the note.
Lou slid down onto the bunk, pulling the covers up. She lay there for a while, staring at the ceiling and smiling about her gift.
And when sleep finally came, she dreamed about the day when she would wear those white gloves . . .
She reached out to grasp the doorknob and his hand closed over her wrist. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going home.” She snapped him a look. “Let go.”
“I’ll let go when you tell me why you were sneaking out.”
“It’s none of your business, James.”
That’s when he let go and that’s when she missed his touch. She resisted the urge to cover the empty feeling with her other hand, to hold onto the sensation of his touch. He wore a Marshal’s star about town, but when they were alone it was always just James… only James. “If it’s none of my business, then go. Walk out of here and don’t come back.”
She let out a deep breath and held her ground. She didn’t move and neither did he. “I just can’t tell you… not right now.”
“Then don’t tell me,” he countered, “not now, not ever. It doesn’t matter to me as much as you sneaking out.”
“It’s how it would look… if they saw me leaving your room at this hour…”
“Then don’t leave.”
She laughed, covering her mouth with her hands, “It’s so simple, isn’t it.”
“It could be.”
He pulled on his other glove and adjusted the fit finger by finger; her eyes hopeless to do anything else but watch the simple grace of his movements. “Not in this town, James. Never in this town.”
“You always have to argue.”
“And you enjoy it.”
He stilled his movements and gave her a wolfish grin. “That I do, Abby…” He reached over and took hold of her hands. He pulled her closer, until they were pressed together from knee to waist, her hands still held tightly in his grasp. “I love your spirit… your sass. I think you enjoy lashing out at me almost as much as I love taking it.” She felt his thumb stroke the underside of her hand and she was lost in the sensation. “So I’m asking you to stay, just this once.”
She gave him a smile, one that spread across her lips in a languid wave of movement. “No.”
“Well, what do we have here?” Buck laughed looking at the twins as they came down the stairs wearing clothing many sizes too large for their little bodies.
“Look what we found Grandpa!” chirped Tyler wearing Buck’s old vest and hat.
“I’m all pretty just like Gramma in that picture.” Piped up Trudy as she pointed to an old faded photograph on the wall, she was wearing an old blue dress and a crushed straw hat.
“Honey, I think our grandchildren have discovered the attic. You gotta come see them.” Buck called to his wife of nearly twenty-five years.
Louise Cross came into the living room wiping her hands on her apron. “Oh my word!” Lou laughed looking at her two four year old grandchildren. “You two look adorable, Trudy, how did you ever manage not to fall down the stairs in that dress? And Tyler that hat is sitting funny on your head, do you have something under it?” Lou asked eyeing the hat with a frown.
“I holded it all up like this!” Trudy reached down and grabbed the hem of the dress and demonstrated how she walked with all the fabric bunched in her little hands while her brother reached up and swept the hat off his head. Out fell several bits of fabric all rolled up in small neat balls.
“I used the funny socks.” Tyler said as he reached for the small bag his sister was carrying. “We forgotted my gloves.”
Lou and Buck had walked over to the children and Lou picked up the balls of fabric. “I forgot we still had that stuff packed away.” Buck said helping his grandson put on a pair of well worn gloves; the fingers still looked flat. “I think your hands are gonna have to grow a bit before those will fit you! They used to be mine…” Buck turned and scooped his granddaughter up and making her shriek with laughter.
“I wonder what else they got into upstairs” mused Lou. “Tyler, want to show us what else you found?” Lou unrolled one of the balls and instead of socks the ball was a pair of black lace gloves.
The group was partway up the stairs, with Tyler in the lead, when the front door opened and the twins’ parents entered. “Hi, kids, we were just about to take a walk down memory lane wanna join us?” Buck asked his oldest daughter and her husband. Lou and Tyler kept going to the attic.
“Um, sure, why are you carrying Trudy? Is she OK?” Emmy-sue looked at her children and rubbed her swollen tummy as Tyler disappeared around the corner of the stairs.
“I didn’t want her to trip.” Buck swung the little girl over his shoulder like a sack of grain; she looked up at her mother and giggled. The long skirt fell almost to Buck’s waist.
“We played dress up and I’m Gramma!” Trudy giggled some more as her parents took off their coats and followed Buck upstairs.
All three adults on the stairs jumped at the sounds and then breathed a collective sigh of relief when Lou’s voice called down “We’re OK the cat just knocked over that old lamp from Mrs. Rivers, you might want to bring a broom.” The cat zoomed past them and hid under the sofa in the sitting room.
“I’ll get the broom” Tim, Buck and Lou’s son-in-law, called back as he turned for the kitchen.
“Give the cat some cream too, I hated that thing!” Buck laughed as he turned the corner and continued to the attic door.
Lou was sitting in the corner of the attic looking over the contents of a trunk both she and Buck had forgotten about. She looked up as they entered “How’s my newest grandbaby coming?”
“Mom, Dad, you were right the doctor thinks it might be twins again. Tim’s all proud of himself and Dad wipe that grin off your face. You men don’t have to birth and raise ‘em!” Emmy-sue laughed as her parents hugged her. “Oh I remember playing dress up in these!” She looked in the trunk and pulled out a faded cloth rose hair comb with one moth eaten feather attached. “Oh Trudy, you have to try these on they’re Grandmomma’s old dress up gloves.”
Buck had set the little girl down and she joined her mother beside the trunk. Emmy-sue put a pair of long white gloves on her daughter’s arms they came all the way up to her shoulders and still had room to spare. Tim swept the remains of the lamp into a corner and joined his wife and children as they explored the trunk.
“Hey these are pretty fancy were they yours Dad?” Tim asked trying on a pair of white kid gloves with gold stitching and sliver studs on the cuffs.
“Oh no, I wouldn’t be caught dead in something like those, they belonged to your Uncle Cody.” Buck nodded at his daughter. “He had a pair like that made for all of us, well except your mother, he gave her those ones Trudy’s wearing. He had this Wild West show and he had a special night just for us, those were his gifts to us. We had a really great time, remember Honey?”
“Oh, I do and it was so much like your Uncle, way over the top! Anyway those others, there, the ones with the fringe are his too. He liked fringe always wore it said it made him look more manly! I think that was why your Uncle Kid stopped wearing it!” Lou laughed.
“Hmm, you still have those lace gloves? Remember the time you got that job at a saloon to…” Buck was interrupted by Emmy-sue.
“You worked in a saloon? Dad how could you let her? My mother, a lady of the night!” she looked shocked but she was smiling.
“Mommy what’s a lady of the night?” Tyler asked innocently. Trudy traded the white gloves for the lace ones.
“A lady that works nights,” Buck answered quickly, the adults laughed shaking their heads. The twins turned their attention back to the trunk. “Emmy-sue I could never tell your mother what she could or couldn’t do any more then I can change your mind once you have it set, I think it’s a McCloud woman thing. I always LOVED that little black dress she wore working there…” Buck made a little movement with his hand and Lou punched his arm.
The afternoon wore into the evening as the twins found more and more things to pull out of the trunk. Everything had a story and memories attached to it. At the bottom of the trunk were Lou’s old ‘boy’ clothes and a faded pink dress.
“That was the first dress I ever saw your mother in, her cheeks were so pink….she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, still is!” Buck laughed, kissed his wife’s cheek and stood up. “I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m starving.”
“I forgot about dinner! Come on Emmy lets go throw something together…” Lou stood and the family joined her. The trunk was closed, the memories would wait for another day.
A story of a different sort. Thank you to Raye and Dede
Miss Jane Prim was everything her name inspired. Boring. Her hair was mousy brown, her eyes the color of mud, what was worse, they were hidden behind wire rim spectacles. She wore plain clothes, had her hair styled simply, and she had a small, soft voice that people mistook for timidity. About the only thing that wasn’t unassuming about her was that she ran a clothing shop, which attracted quite a bit of business and made her surprisingly well-moneyed. Not that she would ever flaunt it, that would be vulgar and pretentious and she wasn’t that kind of woman.
No, she was quite content running her shop, selling clothing goods of a finer quality and for a better price than William Tompkins – the greedy old skinflint – could ever hope to compete with. Bill Tompkins had laughed at her when she first moved into Rock Creek and purchased the old hat shop. He told her that the town didn’t need another milliner, since people could get what they needed just fine from his mercantile. She’d merely smiled politely at the man and then went about with her original plan. When her shop opened, she didn’t get upset that people at first went past it on their way to Tompkins’ store. She merely displayed her finest goods in the shop’s window, and waited for the few curious folk who were bound to come into her store.
When they did, she impressed them with the quality of her merchandise, and the reasonableness of her prices. She knew what Tompkins was overcharging for less-quality and she was going to compete with it. But, she never once purchased a gaudy sign to hang up in front of her shop, and she never offered ridiculous paper flyers to announce her store or promised discounts for a customer’s first purchase. Word of mouth would be her biggest advertiser, and it was. Her ladies’ hats were exquisite and when the first lady wore one to the town social, every woman had oohed and ahhed over it and asked her where she bought it. The next week, Jane nearly sold out of hats there was such a rush on her store.
That was when Tompkins first approached her. His hats sat on their shelves and when women came into his store and inspected them, their comments on the poor quality and the higher prices reached his ears, and then he watched the ladies walk out of his store and head to hers. He wanted to go into a partnership of sorts with her. She would rent space in his mercantile and sell her goods, while giving him a cut of the profits. She had been so insulted she could barely speak. But when she recovered her voice, she told him in no uncertain terms that she was perfectly happy in her own shop and she didn’t need to rent a space from him. Perhaps he should stop cheating his customers. And then she’d gasped and clapped her hands over her mouth at the uncharitable words that had flown from it and apologized to him before leaving in a flurry of skirts.
After that, Tompkins always seemed to be around, keeping tabs on her business and what she was doing. And becoming grumpier every time he saw her. He had initially sniffed and said she was just a ladies shop, or more accurately that only ladies would feel sorry enough for her to buy from her, but he was quickly proved wrong. It started small, but pretty soon her business was booming, and Tompkins’ wasn’t.
The Pony Express riders soon discovered that she sold quality gloves, and since they worked hard and needed to protect their hands, they were replacing their gloves – and then eventually buying their clothes – from her line. They told the riders who passed through their station about her shop and pretty soon she felt like she’d outfitted the majority of the Express riders in the area. They also bought their shirts, their pants and their boots at her store, and the smallest rider, Lou, even once came in and bought one of her finest dresses for his sister back in St. Jo.
But Jane remained humble about the whole venture. Her sole goal in life was to sell quality goods at a decent price, and she was succeeding. She wanted just enough to be comfortable in life, and she’d achieved that. Along with so much more. She saved her money, helped out the townsfolk when she could, and tried to smile through the increasing belligerence of William Tompkins. He was the only thing marring her happy, contented life.
However, Jane had learned that half the town merely put up with William Tompkins and his blustery tirades and she had learned to ignore them. She had found a home in Rock Creek and she meant to stay there. Regardless of one annoying shopkeeper.
White satin against her arm, the lady exited the coach. Evening length met soft leather as the driver helped her down. She looked for the man in brown calfskins but found instead the fine cotton of her friend's lace gloves.
Gloves on gloves, white on white they stood, smiling.
"It's good to see you Lou."
Her voice shook, like it had on the stage. It rocked as she spoke, giving her voice a surreal sound, and still she stood her ground. She wanted to ask where he was, but her friend only smiled and waved. White lace gloves pointing out the black ones coming towards them and another widow took her side.
"I’m glad you could be here."
The lady smiled and blushed a bit, this was her wedding day.
Lou watched as Emma and Rachel carefully placed a veil over her head and pinned it in place. She couldn’t believe that she and Kid were really getting married. She looked at her hands as they shook slightly. It was too wonderful to be true.
She held her arms out as Rachel helped her don a pair of satin evening gloves. When she looked in the mirror, it was the final touch that made her look and feel like a princess. She smiled at them, and then bowed her head.
She offered up a short prayer, asking for help to calm her nerves. As she unfolded her hands, she looked at her gloves and smiled. They were borrowed, like the veil from Emma, but the dress was new.
As she thought about it, Emma pulled something out of her purse and gave it to her. Lou blushed slightly putting her hands to her mouth in embarrassment when she saw that it was an ornate blue garter.
She blinked and then took it, fighting the wide grin that was trying to form and lost. “I don’t think I can do this, Emma.”
“Nonsense Lulabelle l. You’re every bit the Bride, and you deserve to have it done right.”
Rachel nodded in agreement. “She’s right you know.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Lou nodded and put it on. It was tradition, and she knew the others expected it. With a shy smile she looked at herself again and nodded.
“She’s waiting for you in the sitting room,” Emma told her. “And she’s looking every bit the part of the Maid of Honor.
“Are you ready?”
Lou nodded. She was ready a week ago, and all this preparation was only making her more anxious.
“Then let’s go,” Emma declared, wrapping one arm around Lou’s while Rachel took her other arm.
The next few hours became a collage of love and joy. Everything was a blur to Lou she was so overwhelmed, and yet she remembered every detail. She remembered the proud look on Teaspoon’s face as he took her hand and led her down the aisle. She could tell he was happy for both of them, and for their finally overcoming their differences. They had grown so much.
She remembered the way Teresa and Jeremiah practically beamed as they too stood with the wedding party. In a way, they were marrying the Kid too.
Then she remembered the awed smile that spread from Kid’s face to those of their closest friends. She had been awed as well, seeing Kid, Jimmy, Buck, Ike and Noah standing side by side, all wearing matching suits and white cotton gloves
Each of her bridesmaids wore a burgundy colored dress, but each was different and they accessorized them differently as well. While Emma wore white lace gloves, Rachel wore black ones as a sign that she still mourned her husband. Teresa on the other hand had gone with a pair of fingerless lace gloves that matched her dress.
More than anything, Lou remembered the look on Kid’s face when she said ‘I do’ and the way his eyes sparkled when she finally learned his name
At the end of the day, after the wedding and the reception, they’d gone to mount their horses, and take their leave. They weren’t expecting anything more but there they found their final gifts of the day.
Lightning and Katy were tied to the hitching post side by side, each saddled and bridled with new, matching tack and a new pair of gloves carefully tucked around each saddle horn. Lou’s were white leather with delicate embroidery on the cuffs, while Kid’s were made to match his calfskins, fringe and all. They were a beautiful reminder of the day and of their friends who loved them.
It had been a perfect day.
She thought of all the people, all the hands that had helped them along the way and sighed happily when she realized that she and Kid had offered their hands in return. They had all given their hands and their hearts and in doing so, made a family.
She couldn’t ask for more.
“These are beautiful,” Lou murmured.
Ignoring the concerned look on the face of the sales woman, the rider reached out to finger the black lace gloves that were part of a display.
“What good are they?” the ever-practical Buck asked from behind her. “They don’t even have fingers and the lace wouldn’t exactly keep her hands warm.”
Lou sighed and nodded in agreement. Giving the lace a last longing look, she continued to look at the display.
“May I help you, boys?” the clerk asked with artificial pleasantness.
“We’re here to buy some really nice gloves for a friend of ours,” Cody responded cheerfully.
Lou rolled her eyes at Buck who responded with a soft chuckle. Leave it to Cody to be blessedly ignorant of the fact that the woman obviously didn’t feel the trio should be in the store.
Buck wasn’t so sure she wasn’t right. But Emma’s birthday was coming up and the riders had decided to pool their money and send someone to St. Joe to buy her a gift from the team. Buck, Lou and Cody had drawn the short straws.
Lou had convinced the boys that gloves would be the perfect gift, especially with winter coming on. Glancing around to see the looks on the faces of the store clerks and the other customers, Buck was beginning to wish he had fought a little harder for his choice of gifts. After all, you can’t go wrong with seeds, right? And the clerks at the general store usually didn’t mind the boys’ – especially his – presence in the store.
“These are perfect!” Cody declared, holding up a pair of black leather gloves.
“Cody, in case you had forgotten Emma is a woman,” Lou countered, pointing to another pair that were mostly lace. “She should have something pretty . . . like these!”
“Those wouldn’t last a week!” Cody argued.
“Neither one is right,” Buck said firmly before the argument could escalate into their being thrown out on the street. “She needs something nice, sure, but she needs something a little more practical than lace.”
The combatants glared at Buck but realized their friend was right. They gave each other one last glare, then turned back to the job at hand.
Lou eyed some white lace, but a quick shake of Buck’s head told her they weren’t going to be acceptable either. “Anything white would be kind of silly for the kind of work Emma has to do,” he explained noting that Cody had also picked up a pair of very white gloves.
“Perhaps if you tell me what your friend does, I can help you make a decision,” the hovering clerk suggested.
And get us out of here a lot faster Buck mused.
“She’s runs a Pony Express station up near Sweetwater,” Cody answered proudly.
“Actually the Pony Express is renting her bunkhouse and barn to house the riders,” Lou corrected.
“But she takes care of us and cooks for us and we couldn’t get by nearly so well without her. You know we couldn’t . . .” Cody started.
“We just need a pair of gloves that will be good for cold weather and still be nice enough for a really special woman,” Buck interrupted before Lou could respond. He was getting more and more uncomfortable with each passing minute. People who had been ignoring them were now staring at the trio.
“Well then,” the clerk replied with even more forced cheerfulness. “Why don’t we just take a look around. I’m sure we can find something that will fit your needs.”
Another hour passed as the foursome tried to come to some kind of an agreement on what Emma would like. The clerk presented pair after pair only to have one of the three reject the choice for some reason or another. Finally, searching through the cabinets below the display case, the woman presented the riders with a pair of tan gloves.
“Maybe these?” she asked hopefully.
“I don’t know about the fringe,” Lou commented. “It might get in the way.”
“Besides,” she added, “they seem pretty plain.”
“But the fringe is what gives them ‘style’,” Cody protested.
“Cody, you wouldn’t know ‘style’ if it bit you on the nose,” Lou countered.
Leaving his friends to debate the merits of fringe and it’s affect on ‘style’, Buck moved to one side to look at something that had caught his eye. The gloves were leather but not black. No fringe and no lace but a delicate decoration that had been stitched onto the cuffs.
Lifting one of the pair, he noted they were lined with sheepskin. Soft to the touch, yet warm and functional.
Then he noticed the price tag. He was about to put the pair back on the counter when Lou grabbed them from his hands.
“These are absolutely beautiful!” she exclaimed. “Emma will love them!”
“They are!” Cody agreed vehemently. “Just what she needs and pretty too!”
“Lou, Cody, look at the price!” Buck said sadly. “We don’t have that much.”
Lou turned the tag so Cody could see and sighed in agreement. “We finally find something we all like . . .” she started.
“They’re on sale today,” the clerk interrupted quickly.
“Ma’am, you don’t have to do that just to get us out of here,” Buck responded insightfully.
“Buck!” Lou hissed under her breath. “These are just what we’re looking for.
“That’s right, Buck,” Cody agreed. “If this nice lady says they’re on sale then who are we to argue?”
Buck looked at his friends, then slowly shook his head. “How much are they?” he asked the clerk wearily.
“Let’s see, the regular price is . . . ten dollars.” The clerk looked at the trio, then continued. “They are on sale for seven . . . no make that five dollars.”
Buck looked at her skeptically but Cody reacted before he could protest. “SOLD!” the blond rider declared.
Lou quickly pulled the money from her pocket and the exchange was made.
Before they left the store, Cody made one last request. “Don’t suppose you could wrap these up for . . .”
“Cody!” Lou and Buck exclaimed in unison. “We can wrap them ourselves,” Lou told the grateful clerk.
Outside the store, Cody turned to his friends and all but crowed. “We got those gloves for half price and we’ve still got money left over! I’m hungry, how about we get us something to eat with the extra money?”
Back inside the clerk sighed with relief. She’d have to work a few extra hours to make up for the “sale” but it was worth it. “I sure hope their friend likes those gloves,” she lamented as she began to put the rejected pairs away.
Buck opened the bunkhouse door and stepped outside as the stagecoach pulled up in the yard. He waved a greeting to the driver as he stepped down off the porch.
“Ben.” Buck stepped closer, now able to see the inside of the coach. “No passengers today?”
“Dropped them at the hotel to wait,” the driver answered, climbing down. He took off his hat and used his bandana to wipe at the grit on his face. “Think I might got a problem here.”
“What’s wrong?” Kid asked, joining them from the direction of the barn. He was leading two of the replacement horses, and Lou followed with two more.
Ben stooped down, looking at the front wheel. “Started feelin’ the wheel shake maybe four, five miles outta town. Not sure what the problem is.”
Buck crouched down next to the driver as they studied the wheel. Then his eyes caught something and he pointed. “Here. The wheel rim in back is bent. It’s coming loose.”
“Damn,” Ben swore softly. “That coulda been real bad.”
“Lucky it happened when you were so close to town,” Lou said.
“That’s the truth,” Ben agreed. “You boys think you can fix it?”
Buck and Kid exchanged glances and both shook their heads. “I think I better go get Janos,” Kid said. “This is more than we can do.”
Buck nodded. “Good idea,” he said as Kid headed off to find the blacksmith. “You want some coffee while you wait,” he asked, pulling the collar of his jacket a little higher. The November wind made standing outside a chilly prospect.
“Sounds good,” Ben replied. “Just let me get my log book.” He opened the door to the stage and reached under the seat. But when he reappeared, he had more than a book in his hands. “Well, lookie here.”
“Don’t quite look like your style, Ben,” Lou said with a smirk.
The driver laughed and held up the fancy black lace gloves. “Not my style, no. I guess Miss Prieve musta left them behind.”
“Prieve?” Buck asked. “As in Gustav Prieve?” The Prieve family had been all the talk in Rock Creek recently. A banker from New York, Gustav Prieve had bought up a lot of land around the town, and the hot rumor was that it was all in preparation for the railroad coming through.
Of course, the huge house the Prieves had built about three miles out of town had caused some discussion too. It was hard to go anywhere in town without someone talking about something they’d sold for the house, some piece of freight that had come in – or just generally speculating about how grand the place would be.
“That’s right,” Ben answered. “Miss Hester Prieve. Heard she just come back from Rome, Italy – can you believe that!”
“Sounds wonderful,” Lou said. “And those gloves look expensive.”
“Her daddy was waitin’ in town when we pulled in,” Ben explained. “So she’s not gettin’ back on the stage. Left right after loadin’ all the bags too, so I reckon they’re near home by now. Four horses on that wagon, so they prob’ly ain’t goin’ slow.”
“I’ll take the gloves out there,” Buck offered. He’d met Gustav and Victoria Prieve in town one day when they stopped to talk to Teaspoon about something. They’d actually seemed like very nice people – despite all their money.
“Bet they’ll ‘preciate it,” Ben said as he handed over the gloves. “Might be there’s a reward.”
Buck dismissed that idea with a shake of his head. “I work for the stage company. Just part of my job.”
“Still nice o’ ya,” Ben insisted.
“And you can tell us all about the house when you get back,” Lou said, more than a touch of excitement in her voice at the prospect.
“Maybe I’ll catch them before they get home,” Buck replied. As another gust of cold air blew down his neck, he decided he didn’t want to be out riding in this weather any longer than necessary. “Kid’s here with Janos,” he said, pointing toward town. “I guess I’ll go get my horse.” He folded the delicate lace gloves carefully and put them in the pocket of his jacket.
“Ride safe,” Lou said. Even though the Pony Express had ended a few weeks earlier, it was still their standard farewell. “Come on, Ben,” she added. “Let’s get that coffee.”
As Ben and Lou disappeared into the bunkhouse, Buck headed for the barn. Four horses or not, he figured he still had a good shot at catching the Prieve wagon before they got all the way out to the house.
The sooner he got the gloves delivered, the sooner he’d be back here with his own cup of coffee to warm up.
As it turned out, the wagon moved faster than he had figured on. At the top of one hill, he caught sight of the grand house, and the wagon just pulling up outside.
Well, he guessed he’d get to see the house a little closer up than he’d figured.
And even though he wouldn’t admit it to anyone else, he was more than a little curious about what had been built.
Buck had cut across the hills to get that far, but now he headed down to the road, and from there onto the track that led up to the house.
Even in the early winter weather, it was easy to see that the way had been landscaped. The path curved evenly away from the road and toward the home. He’d be willing to bet that come spring, there would be fresh sod and flowers along the way.
There was a barn on the south side of the property – large, and much fancier than most barns in the area. And he could see half a dozen horses in the corral attached to one side.
Behind the barn were four small houses. In town he’d heard them referred to as “cabins” – but now that he saw them, they were larger than many of the houses the people of Rock Creek owned. The word was that the people who worked for the Prieves lived back there.
A line of trees separated the cabins from the main house. Again from sources in town, Buck knew that some of the trees had already been there, growing near the river that ran close by. But other trees had been brought in from as far away as Chicago to create the tree line.
The house was right in front of him now – massive compared to others in the area. Built of wood, brick, and stone, it stood three stories tall. A porch ran across the front of the house, and eight columns rose from the porch to support the balcony on the second floor.
He was just studying the intricate design on the balcony’s cast iron railing when shots rang out, grabbing his attention.
The screams that followed the shots spurred him into action.
He pulled his horse off the main path, angling around behind the trees to come up to the house from the rear. As he suspected, there was a back door, and he was able to approach fairly close without breaking cover.
Finally, though, there was nothing else to hide his approach. He paused by the well, studying the back of the house for a moment. The door was shut, but the window curtains were wide open, and he didn’t see any movement. He gathered himself, took a deep breath, and raced for the back wall.
He got there without getting shot, and without any notice as far as he could tell, so Buck reached up and slowly opened the door. As soon as there was enough room, he slipped inside and pulled the door shut again behind him.
He could hear voices now, coming from the front of the house, and he headed that way.
“I don’t keep that kind of money in the house!”
“Well, you’d best find some, elsewise we’ll take our payment another way.”
There was a woman’s scream, and a man’s sadistic laugh, just as Buck reached the room where the voices were coming from. He dropped to the ground, using the legs of a table to mask his movements.
He was looking into a large parlor. He recognized Gustav and Victoria Prieve right away. There was another woman standing near them, but he didn’t recognize her.
There were three other men in the room – all of them rough-looking and holding guns. And one of the men was holding the third woman in the room. He held the barrel of his pistol to her head with one hand, while his other hand held her tight around the young woman’s waist.
“Please, we’ll give you what we have,” Victoria Prieve pleaded.
“Oh, you’d best believe that,” one of the men answered.
“I think I’ll just take what I want now,” the man holding the woman growled. As he spoke, he started to pull her out of the room.
Buck had only a partial view of the people in the room, and he could see little more than the captive woman’s blue dress, but the intent was clear.
“Yeah, take ‘er upstairs,” one of the other men challenged. “Just leave some for us!”
Upstairs . . . Buck looked around. He was in a hallway, but he had come through the kitchen when he’d entered through the back door. And there had been a set of stairs there.
He hesitated just a moment, but there wasn’t much he could do right here. Without a clear view of the room, and with the people so close together, it was too dangerous. But now that the men had split up, he might have a better chance.
Hoping that nothing would happen very fast downstairs, he slipped back toward the kitchen and made his way to the steps. Inching up, he tested each step carefully to make sure there was no noise. But in addition to the obviously fine materials used to build the house, there was also fine craftsmanship involved, and the stairs were absolutely silent as he climbed.
The back stairs brought him out at the end of a long hallway. Just as Buck peeked around the corner, he got a brief glimpse of a blue skirt being pulled into a room, accompanied by a woman’s muffled protest.
There were more raised voices coming from downstairs, but Buck did his best to block those out. He needed to concentrate on the one man who was now isolated.
There were sounds of a struggle from inside the room as Buck got closer, and then he heard the sound of skin striking skin. He peeked around the doorway, looking for his next move.
The man had pushed the woman onto a bed, holding her down with a knee across her abdomen. His hand was running up her leg as he used the pistol in his other hand to push her hair back. “Oh yeah, we’re gonna have some fun.”
“No, please,” the woman pleaded. “We’ll give you what you want.”
“Oh, I got what I want,” the man growled.
Those were his last words – ever.
Buck slid up silently behind him, knife drawn. In one fluid motion he put a hand over the man’s mouth and brought the blade up with his other hand.
When the man dropped, Buck couldn’t hold the weight with just the hand over the mouth, so the body dropped onto the woman.
Buck quickly pulled him off, dropping the body unceremoniously dropping him onto the floor. Then he turned his attention to the woman.
He could really see her for the first time now. She was young, probably about his own age, he guessed. She had dark hair, pulled back from her face and held with a clasp in the back. From there, gentle waves cascaded well past her shoulders. And she had startlingly blue eyes – eyes that were staring at him now in fear.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Buck whispered. “Are you all right?” She just nodded, so Buck held out his hand and pulled her to a seated position. “I heard the shots,” he explained. “Is it just the three men?”
“Yes,” the woman replied, finally finding her voice. “They were waiting when we got home from town.”
“Well, there are only two now,” Buck said, trying to sound reassuring. She still had a firm hold on his hand and he could feel her shaking. There wasn’t much time, but he needed to know she’d be all right if he went back downstairs. “My name is Buck Cross. I used to ride for the Pony Express here, now I work for the stage company.”
She looked up into his eyes for the first time. “Hester Prieve,” she said.
“Nice to meet you, Miss Prieve,” Buck said, gently extricating his hand from her grip. “Now, I need to go back downstairs and see to the other two men.”
A loud CRASH! From the lower level interrupted him, eliciting a gasp from Hester.
“Will you help me?” Buck asked quickly, trying to keep her attention.
Hester nodded. “What can I do?”
Buck pulled the pistol from the dead man’s hand and held it out. “Do you know how to use this?”
He put the pistol in her hand. “Just point like this,” he explained. “And when you pull the trigger, try to squeeze it evenly, don’t jerk.”
“Do I have to shoot someone?” she asked nervously.
“I hope not,” Buck answered. Of course, if the plan he was hastily working out in his mind didn’t work, anything was possible. He reached for her arm. “I’ll show you what I need you to do.”
Buck led Hester out of the room at the top of the front stairs. They went down the hall toward the back stairway where Buck had come up. He stepped into the last room, pulling her after him. “I want you to stay here and count to sixty,” he said. He left her by the door and went to the window, pulling it open. “Then aim the gun outside, and pull the trigger.” He went back to the door and carefully cocked the gun. “Then cock the gun and pull the trigger again. Can you do that?”
“Shoot twice.” She nodded. “I can do that.”
Buck smiled, hoping it would be reassuring. “I know you can. And it’ll be all right.”
Before he could think about that too much, and consider all the ways his plan could fail, he slipped out of the room, pulling the door shut behind him. And then he made his way down the stairs and back to the hallway outside the parlor. He could make out voices again now.
“I’ve told you, we don’t keep money in the house!”
“But jewelry! I have jewelry.”
Buck couldn’t see the speakers, but he figured the first was Gustav Prieve. The second, a woman, must be Victoria.
It must be almost time . . .
Two shots rang out then, drawing the attention of everyone in the parlor.
“What the hell!”
“What’s he doing?”
The confusion was all he could have hoped for. Buck sprang forward, his first shot taking one of the robbers dead in the chest. The other man tried to bring his gun to bear, but he’d been facing the wrong way. The time it took for him to turn was more than enough for Buck to use to take him down as well.
As the smoke cleared, footsteps sounded on the stairs. “Mother!”
Everyone turned that way, watching as Hester came running down the steps. She still had the dead man’s pistol in one hand, Buck noted.
Victoria Prieve stepped out toward her daughter, followed closely by her husband. “Hester, are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Hester answered, hugging her parents. “Thanks to Mr. Cross.”
Gustav carefully took the pistol from his daughter and placed it on a table. “That’s wonderful, darling,” he said. Then he turned back toward the parlor. “Mr. Cross, we met at the marshal’s office once, didn’t we?”
Buck had been busy, checking on the two men he had shot, and on the others in the room. The other woman he’d seen before appeared to be shaken up, but otherwise unharmed. There was another man, however, one he hadn’t been able to see before. The man had been shot and was lying curled on the ground, cradling his injured arm. But when he heard his name, Buck stood up. “Yes sir, we did meet there.”
“He saved me from that man who had taken me upstairs,” Hester offered. “It was very brave.”
“It seems we’re all in your debt, Mr. Cross,” Gustav said. “I don’t know how you came to be here, but I’m very grateful.”
Buck reached into his jacket pocket and pulled something out. “This is why I’m here.”
Hester gasped. “My gloves!”
Buck nodded. “Ben found them on the stage. I offered to bring them out here. And then I heard the shots when I got close.”
“That was so lucky for us!” Victoria exclaimed, leading her daughter into the parlor.
“Yes, it was,” Gustav agreed. “Those men were waiting when we got home from picking Hester up in town. They were holding Marie and Gerald at gunpoint when we got here.”
“Gerald tried to stop them from hitting me, and he got shot,” Victoria added.
“I’ll ride back to town,” Buck offered. “I can get the doctor, and the marshal.”
“I don’t know how to thank you for what you’ve done,” Gustav said, holding out his hand. “I’m sure I owe you my like, and the life of my family.”
“I’m just glad I was here,” Buck replied as he shook hands. Then he held out the gloves to Hester. “I think these are yours.”
She took them with a smile. “I’m not usually so forgetful,” she said. “But I was just so happy to see my parents, I didn’t even check to see if I’d left anything.”
“Well, it’s good that you did leave them,” Buck pointed out. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been here to help.” He looked back at Gustav. “My horse is out back. I’ll be on my way into town.”
“Will you be coming back with the doctor and the marshal?” Hester asked.
Buck smiled. “I’ll be back with them.”
“Excellent,” Gustav said. “I hope we have a chance to talk.”
“Yes, sir,” Buck replied. He didn’t know what Prieve wanted to talk about – but he was happy to realize that the prospect didn’t make him nervous. That was more than he could usually say about conversations with wealthy white men.
Hester had pulled the lacy gloves on, and now she stepped forward, placing one hand on either side of Buck’s face. She kissed him lightly on both cheeks. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he replied, feeling a blush spread over his face. And then, to cover the embarrassment, he turned toward the back door. “I’ll be back soon.”
Still warm from the kiss, he made his way to the back door and out to his horse. Mounting, he turned toward Rock Creek and headed to town.
It hadn’t really been that long since he’d left town, he realized – but a lot had happened.
And all because of a pair of black lace gloves.
The horses softly whinnied, obviously annoyed that their sleep had been disturbed by this intruder. He chuckled and walked over to the animals, patting each one on the neck to assure them. Once they seemed appeased, he headed over to where he’d hidden his treasure.
A small, well-worn leather glove with lace around the cuff.
Pulling the article out of his saddle bag, he carefully handled it as if it were made of some delicate material. It was beautiful, as was the young lady who’d dropped it. She’d been outside of Tompkins’ store when the riders had arrived that morning and Cody, Jimmy and Kid had instantly surrounded her, each one vying for her attention.
Emma pulled the wagon to a stop in front of the general store. The riders followed on horseback, all but Lou who had left that morning. Buck drew in a sharp breath when he saw the beauty standing on the edge of the boardwalk. She was wearing a simple tan dress with small blue flowers dotting the fabric, the blue accented the blue in her eyes, and her auburn hair was swept up in a twist. The only thing marring her appearance was the fact that her brows were furrowed as she glanced up and down the road, seemingly looking for someone.
“Well,” Cody said, grinning when he saw the pretty girl. He swung his leg over his saddle and jumped off his horse, landing right in front of her. “William F. Cody ma’am.” He tipped his hat, nodding slightly. “You seem to be lookin’ for somethin’. Are ya’ lost? Perhaps ya’ need some direction? May I be of some assistance?”
“Any closer, he would’ve ended up on top of her,” Buck muttered to Ike.
Nodding his head, Ike laughed and pointed over to Jimmy. They both watched as their brooding friend slid easily out of his saddle, landing nimbly on the ground.
“Now Cody,” Jimmy drawled, sauntering up to where she stood, “let the lady breathe.” He wasn’t as dramatic as Cody and liked to take things slow and easy. The corner of his mouth lifted in a sultry smile. “Ma’am, the name’s Jimmy Hickok.” He touched his finger to his hat and nodded. “So, would you like some help?”
Sullenly, Buck dismounted. He couldn’t understand why this bothered him, especially since he’d witnessed these same boys, particularly Cody, act like preening peacocks in front of the young ladies in town. But this was different and he didn’t know why. Ike had dismounted as well so Buck followed his friend over to help Emma from the wagon. He noticed that Kid had joined Cody and Jimmy.
“Ma’am,” Kid said softly, a goofy grin spreading across his face. “If you do need help, why, I’d be glad to offer my services.”
Buck couldn’t believe his ears; Kid sounded just like Cody. And, Kid had just been saying that he and Lou had become close and here he was talking to another girl. Shaking his head, Buck followed Emma and Ike towards the door. Ike opened the door for Emma but she stopped just short of going in. She looked over to where the three riders had practically encased the young woman in a circle.
“Boys,” Emma said, an amused look on her face, “remember, I will be needin’ your help.” Without waiting for an answer from anyone, she swept her skirt around and walked into the store.
Buck followed her in and Ike was close behind him. But, as Emma walked over to talk to Tompkins, list in hand, and Ike walked over to the books, pencils and drawing tablets, Buck stayed near the window, watching the small group. Especially the young woman.
Though at first, she’d seemed startled by the three overly zealous boys, she was now almost basking in the attention. She was smiling and blushing at appropriate times, even laughing at something Jimmy had said. Of course, by the looks on Cody’s and Kid’s faces, she was more impressed with the hothead than either of the other two. But that was not to say that she didn’t turn her attention on them when they said something funny or interesting. Buck watched with envy as she gently touched Cody’s arm in response to some witty thing the blonde rider said, as she smiled brightly at something Kid said or as she laughed at something Jimmy said. That would never be him.
Sighing, he was just about to turn away, when he saw her slap her gloves lightly against Cody’s arm and laugh. He then saw one fall when she pulled her hand back, her arm falling to her side. Expecting someone to pick it up for her, he was surprised when they didn’t seem to see it. He stared at the tan glove just sitting there. He was so preoccupied with it that when Ike nudged him in the arm, he jumped.
*Where were you?* Ike asked, a small smirk playing on his lips.
“Standing right here,” Buck answered, a tad more irritation in his voice than he meant. Clearing his throat, he continued, “Is Emma finished?”
*Yes, and she wants us to get the three Romeos out there to help,* he said, rolling his eyes to show his annoyance.
“Um,” Buck hemmed, “I’ll go get the first load, you go get them.” Before Ike could argue, Buck turned and headed to the counter.
Standing by the boxes, Buck watched as Ike went outside and grabbed Jimmy by the arm, waving him into the store. Ike gestured to the other two as well and turned to come back into the store, assuming the three would follow. Two of the three did. Buck saw Kid and Cody behind Ike but no Jimmy. He hurried over to the window, in time to see the young woman, her hand draped on Jimmy’s arm as he escorted her to her destination. Gritting his teeth, Buck stomped over to the counter, picked up the box and brushed past his friends on his way to load the wagon.
“What’s with him?” Cody grumbled. “I can’t believe she picked Hickok.” Shaking his head, he wandered over to Emma. “Emma, you’re a woman, would you tell me what Jimmy has that I don’t?”
Emma stifled her laugh and patted the young man on the shoulder. “Cody,” she said, “grab that sack of flour and load the wagon.”
“Well, she must be blind,” Cody stated, “that’s all I can figure.” He picked up the flour and followed Buck out the door.
Buck placed the box in the wagon and quickly walked over to where the small glove was caught beside an empty barrel. Picking it up, he turned it over in his hand, wondering what to do with it. He knew he should return it to her but he didn’t know who she was. Maybe he should give it to Emma. But, he knew if he did that then Cody, or perhaps Kid or Jimmy, would eagerly volunteer to return it to the young lady. Before he could think through his dilemma, Cody walked outside so Buck stuffed it in his pocket. He’d figure out what to do later.
“I tell ya’ Buck,” Cody said, heaving a dramatic sigh, as he put the bag down beside the box, “I jus’ can’t understand it. Why would she…”
Buck didn’t want to hear Cody lament the fact that the object of their attention had chosen Jimmy to escort her and not Cody, so he hurried into the store to help with the rest of the supplies.
Soon the wagon was loaded and they were ready to head back to the station.
“What about Hickok?” Kid asked, a hint of animosity apparent in his tone.
“He’ll be along shortly,” was all Emma would say.
Buck ran his thumb over the smooth palm of the glove. It was the right hand. He could tell she wore the gloves quite a bit because the palm and fingertips were soft. He put the glove against his check, experiencing the opposing feelings of the supple leather and the stiff lace. Brushing the glove over his lips, he inhaled the slight smell of roses. She wore rosewater. Closing his eyes, he could see her standing on the boardwalk, laughing and smiling. And he was standing there with her, returning her glove. In his mind’s eye, he watched as she thanked him and, taking his arm, she followed as he walked her down the boardwalk, leaving his friends gawking. She’d picked him to escort her. Not Cody, not Kid and not Jimmy.
Sighing, he opened his eyes and saw that he was not escorting her but sitting on a hay bale in the barn. Wearily, he stood up and walked over to his saddle bag, putting the glove inside.
He’d return it to her…soon, but for now it was his small connection to the beautiful young lady.
Ever since the boys had seen Lou at Emma’s in her dress, they’d been teasing her about wearing a dress on a ride, or when mucking stalls. They didn’t seem to understand how hard it was to constantly wear someone else’s clothing, and pretend to be something she was not. Lou’s frustration and desire to teach them a lesson had her tossing and turning all night, finally an hour before dawn she fell asleep.
Lou woke up rolling with laughter, she’d had a wonderful dream and had a great plan but she’d need Emma’s help. As soon as she was able, she went over to Emma’s to have a girl-to-girl chat. Luckily, Emma loved the idea and thought some revenge was perfectly OK in this case!
That night when the boys slept, Lou and Emma snuck around and slid gloves over their hands. They used just the tiniest amount of tree sap on the edges so that the gloves were on to stay and they boys would have difficulty removing them; men have such hairy arms!
They next morning Emma and Lou made sure they were sitting at the table in the bunkhouse, each wearing a dress and Emma’s nicest pairs of gloves, when the boys woke up. Kid was the first one up and as he rolled onto his side, he saw Lou and Emma sitting at the table. He reached up to push his hair out of his face and screamed “What the…” as he looked at his hand. The others woke up with different states of alarm. “Emma what are you doing in here?” Kid asked as Jimmy, still half asleep, grabbed his gun and ran out the door wearing his long john bottoms and a pair of black lace gloves with ruffled cuffs. The others, still not noticing their own hands were trying to pull the covers up over their long johns so Emma wouldn’t see them undressed.
“Well boys,” Emma began and then glancing at Lou, indicated that she should go and corral Jimmy, who still hadn’t come back in “Here’s the thing, you all seem to think its easy to dress up like a girl so today you’re going to get the chance to try it!” Emma held a hand up to silence them, as they quieted she began again while Lou escorted Jimmy in, he had a look of shock on his face and couldn’t look up from his fingertips.
“They don’t come off!” Jimmy said more to himself then everyone.
“That’s the point…Today, gentlemen, you get to try doing all your normal chores while wearing ladies’ gloves. You will not remove them for any reason. However if anyone is caught with their gloves off, and I will know, thanks to that lovely sap we began tapping a few days ago. The boys all looked down, each tried to give an experimental tug and each stopped abruptly when the hair on their arms began to be pulled. “Oh, and boys, if I find out that anyone has taken off their gloves for any reason what so ever, you will be wearing a full ladies outfit all day tomorrow, and that includes the pantaloons, corset, dress, and everything else that goes along with it.”
“Well, I guess I’m safe then!” said Cody who began looking down intently at his long white, over the elbow glove covered hands. And biting down on his lip took hold of one set of fingers and got ready to give a good strong tug when Emma stopped him. “Cody, I wouldn’t do that if I were you,”
“What do you mean Emma?” Cody said and stopped his tugging and waited very nervously and for Emma to continue.
“Well Cody, what I mean is you are not in the clear if you think that you are gonna be free of the rules because you’ve got the first run tomorrow. I see no reason why you can’t do your run in a dress.” Emma stopped as the others began laughing and Cody’s jaw dropped so low it almost landed on his foot. “Why with that long blond hair and those blue eyes I’m sure you’ll look just fine to some of the others!” Emma teased.
The boys found their first challenge when they were trying to get dressed after Lou and Emma walked to the main house to get breakfast. Buck was wearing black lace arm covers, which were laced up his arms but left his fingers free. He was forced to button almost all the boys’ buttons much to everyone’s embarrassment. Breakfast had Lou and Emma in stitches as the boys tried with limited success to eat scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and coffee all with their gloves on. Emma and Lou’s gloves were still pristine at the end of the meal while Kid and Cody had clear egg and coffee stains on them. The morning chores proved interesting and lunch was another adventure, Ike dropped and broke his glass when it slipped out of his grasp.
“Lou, Emma, when did you dream up this torture for us?” Jimmy grumbled.
“Why Jimmy this isn’t torture this is what we ladies live with daily.” Emma smiled sweetly at the clearly irritated be-gloved rider.
“I had a dream,” Lou said and looked around catching each boys eye to make sure they were all paying close attention, “and I saw Cynthia,” she pointed at Cody, “Katie” nodding in Kid’s direction, ”Isabella and his best friend Beatrice” she looked at Ike and Buck sitting across from her, “and Janie” she said indicating Jimmy “and you all looked so lovely dressed up as girls” Lou smiled sweetly at the boys and then went back to eating her lunch like their was nothing unusual going on, her gloves still pristine.
“Lou, you are truly evil!” said Cody looking at his glove covered fingers. Lou just smiled sweetly at him with an I’m innocent look on her face.
The afternoon chores were even more interesting than the morning ones. Cody and Kid were in the far field repairing a fence, or at least they were trying to, their gloves kept getting snagged on the wood. Jimmy kept catching his pretty lace gloves on the hammer of his gun as he tried to clean it. Ike was having problems with Sampson; his beloved donkey had managed to wallow in the only mud puddle around for 5 miles and was caked in mud. Ike’s gloves, which were decorated with tiny seed pearl buttons up the side, must have looked like sugar cubes as Sampson kept eating them as Ike tried to wash him off. Buck managed to lace the ties of his gloves into the tack he was repairing and almost went for a very scary ride when something spooked Lightning, whose bridle he was mending.
They were all grateful when Emma rang the dinner bell and they were told that they would be allowed to have dinner without their gloves on since they had all behaved so well. Their gloves ended up in a large, smelly, dirty, destroyed mess on Lou’s bunk as they all cleaned themselves up. Kid had the forethought to through a blanket over the pile just in case Teaspoon got home while they were eating. As they sat down everyone was intermittently scratching and rubbing their now hairless arms while happily eating when Ike suddenly looked up and said *Well they do feel kinda nice against your skin* Buck had been the only one not looking at his or her plate and therefore the only one to catch all of what Ike said but the others saw the last part and asked Buck what Ike had said. Buck’s reply was less than honest when he translated Ike’s comment as “He said he hated them and he thinks he has a rash.” Everyone laughed when Ike reached over and slapped the back of Buck’s head.
Teaspoon arrived just in time for dessert, asked how everyone’s day was, and was met by a resounding chorus of groans.
Emma paused for a moment and sat back on her heels. Weeding was backbreaking work. Work she’d never really enjoyed, but work wasn’t about how much you enjoyed it. It was about getting it done.
And she only had a few days left to turn her home into a Pony Express Way station. Just a few days and so much work to do.
Reaching through the gnarled mass of rose branches and grabbed a mass of dandelion flowers at their base. It was a struggle, but she finally got the right amount of stem in her hand and pulled the offending weed straight out of the ground.
She ignored the drop of blood that welled up from the scratch on her arm. That would be easily healed, nothing too deep. Nothing too painful. She’d had worse.
Straightening her legs, she lifted up the edge of her bonnet and noted the position of the sun. Still a few hours left in the day, more than enough chores to keep her busy, but she enjoyed keeping busy. It kept the memories away.
The merry whistling of her tea pot caught her attention and she headed for the house, pulling her skirts along as they inevitably got caught on brambles hiding in the grass. She took the steps and pulled open the door.
Inside, things were tidy. Some would say neat as a pin. She would say that it looked hardly lived in, at least recently. The teapot came off the stove easily enough; with a rag against the handle she set it aside on the counter.
It wasn’t until she reached up to the cupboard to take out the tea tin that she realized she was still wearing her gloves.
She pulled off her gloves and ran her fingers over the scarred leather. ‘Her’ gloves, she’d thought. They were hers now. Evan had picked them out at a store in St. Joseph. They’d been expensive, but he’d said that out west a man needed a good pair of gloves.
When he’d left, she wanted to throw everything that was his into a pile and burn the whole miserable lot. She’d gone as far as making the pile, left it out in the dirt outside the fence for days but just couldn’t seem to get the courage to strike the match.
Finally, she’d given most of it to the Women’s League in town, let them pass it along to those who needed it, but she’d kept the gloves.
Kept them and used them. Hitching up the buckboard, tending to the fences, and even strung a new laundry line. They fit her now, the leather softened through wear, molded to her fingers.
Now, when she put them on she didn’t have to adjust the fit, didn’t have to flex her fingers again and again to take the stiffness out. They fit as if they had a memory. They fit her.
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