Thursday Afternoon – 1st week
Frank Myers pushed open the doors of the saloon with a single purpose in mind. He was going to finally ask Rosalind Harris to a dance. He had admired her beauty and brains for a long time; but hadn’t ever the nerve to ask her. They’d had conversations; and she was always a lady. Frank discovered that Rosalind was well read. She could speak Spanish besides. He always felt a little sorry for the women forced to work as bar girls; although, both Rosalind and Seth treated the girls with respect and didn’t abuse them as many saloon owners did.
Looking around, he saw Rosalind sitting at one of the back tables looking over some books. He approached her, hoping for the best. Rosalind looked up and smiled. Her beauty almost took his breath away.
“Why, hello, Frank. How are you doing?”
“Very well, Rosalind.”
“And how is Penny?”
“She’s doing very well. She’s floating on air because Morgan asked her to the dance.” Rosalind’s smile grew wider. Her lips had a light pink shade of lipstick. “I came here to ask you to the dance tomorrow night. I don’t often see you there….” His voice trailed off as he saw the smile melt from her lips.
“Frank, I am flattered that you’ve asked me. You mustn’t look like that; the reason I have to refuse hasn’t anything to do with you.” She motioned him to step closer. Then she raised her left hand and pointed to a thin silver band on her middle finger. He had noticed her long fingers with their painted nails and sparkling rings before. But that small band never registered. She touched her finger to her lips.
“So, you’re taken. I should have guessed. I couldn’t imagine someone as wonderful as you still single. But your secret is safe with me.”
“Thank you, Frank—for the compliment and the trust. If I do make it one of these Fridays, I would consider it an honor to dance with you, if you chose to ask me.” Darn her! She even made rejection seem like a happy event. Now Frank smiled.
“You are an angel. I only hope the man appreciates you.”
“Oh, he does,” she said with confidence.
“You’re Kitty Harold, aren’t you?”
The voice came from behind her, as she stood at the counter inside Temple Mercantile, mulling over a pretty little fan on display inside a glass container, with carved wooden spokes and pure white lace with little silver spangles. Kitty turned to find a tall man with black hair and engaging brown eyes perusing her figure. He was exotic, more interesting than handsome. Only when his eyes returned to her face did she reply,
“That’s the name I was given.” Not entirely true, but she was never much on explaining herself.
“I hear you can get the table burning,” he told her with a wider smile now. “Name’s Jake Custer. Just arrived in town. I’m a gambling man myself.”
“So it’s true, then,” Kitty said. She knew his type: ingratiating, flamboyant, …but you had to be careful with his misdirection. The way the shopkeeper had spun around when they started talking, Kitty wondered if there wasn’t something else to Custer.
“What?” the man asked blithely, as if he couldn’t see the slam coming at all.
“Tucson doesn’t offer anything new.”
“Oh, now don’t be so quick to judge,” Jake retorted. “I bet you haven’t even been here long enough to get to know the people. See there? I made a bet with you already. Perhaps at the Crystal Palace we can weigh our chances and come up with a pretty penny or two.”
“Are you challenging me, Mr. Custer?” Kitty asked, more out of surprise than disgust. Not that it was unusual for men like him to test her mettle, but that he was doing so outside the confines of the gambling room. It was probably because she was a woman – easier to push around when the etiquette of a game room wasn’t there to keep the rougher sort in wraps. She saw the shopkeeper position himself in a way that he could watch the two of them without being obvious. That alone got her nerves up.
“Well, yes ma’am, I believe I am,” he said, with a large puff from his cigar.
“I’m really not sure…”
“That’s not what I’ve been told,” Jake interrupted, eyes gleaming. “I’ve heard you’re quite sure of yourself when it comes to blackjack. I’m quite sure I’d like to see it.”
“I’m not really sure you’re worth the effort,” she finished her original sentence coldly.
“Ah, but your reputation precedes you,” Jake replied. “You’ll make the effort if there’s any chance you can one up the winner.” He winked as he turned to go, not giving her another opportunity to reply. “I’ll see you at the Palace.”
Thursday evening 1st week
Everything was in place. All the books at their desks, all the letters drawn on the chalk board, all the math problems she wanted to assign. Laurie had lent her a couple of books to read, poems the students might enjoy, and even Mr. Baumberg had caught up with her and given her some material. Chloe sat on the back stoop of the school house which faced away from the dusty rough and tumble of the town and toward the west, looking into what was still very much the wilderness. The skies above were laced with silvered clouds encrusted with bright jewel colors: turquoise, citrine, amethyst.
A soft cool breeze, a sign the night was drawing in, brushed across her face, cooling the last of the sweat she had worked up in putting the final touches to the classroom. As the sunlight shuttered its glory, a soft pearl twilight fell in its place, muting the harsh colors of the desert surrounding Tucson with shades that only the dusk could bring out. A star poked its way through the heavens as if it couldn’t wait to make its own performance known. An evening like this could cause a girl to become maudlin and reflective, Chloe thought. I just want to sit and soak this all up. A last quiet moment before my life changes completely on Monday.
It was as if God decided to give her the grace of this moment to make up for all the travails and adjustments of the past week, speaking in the soft chirr of the crickets and the goodbye call of a hawk. Was it really only days since she had climbed into the stagecoach and said good-bye to the only living she had ever known? Now she was part of a movement to build a new library, meeting new friends, and in charge of a growing school.
What was more, the mild flirtation with one of the Marshals had her thinking about something other than her losses. It felt good to have someone pay extra attention to her out of the mass of people that populated Tucson. Chloe realized she’d been worried about that more than anything else, that no one would notice her when she arrived. She knew she was meeker than most out here in the West. Meekness was much admired, but seldom practiced in a land where the law could barely make citizens of them all. Those who came West were looking for something to distinguish themselves, either from other fortune seekers or from a past they’d just as soon forget. Anyone not willing to stand up for themselves could easily be forgotten and forsaken. Anyone who remembered was a human to be cherished.
Guess that’s why I like Virgil so much, Chloe reflected. But did she like him enough to carry on with him? He was so much older than she – how could she find fault with that? Death had no prejudice out here: it would take a young child as easily as an elderly man, or a man in his prime. She’d watched her parent grow old and dessicated, just like the crops in the field. They’d fallen over one day, as limp and worn out as the plant stalks they harvested. Would someone as old as Virgil do the same, just when she invested her time and heart? But then again…tales of the numerous young men who threw themselves at the mercy of fate and gunfire were often subjects of gossip and interest in her little town. They were not everlasting either.
And then there were those who proved false…
Chloe sighed – apparently she was in a contemplative mood after all. The evening air, though full of dusk, gave her a sense of clarity not often present the rest of the day. She’d been right to declare herself apart from any effort to find a husband, even if there was a tiny part of her that still hoped. When she tired of teaching, perhaps…or when life offered a bigger dream…
She wrapped her shawl around her shoulders, fiddled with a stray curl, watched the pearl gray turn to dark purple. Virgil was a bit late in coming to pick her up, but she didn’t care. She was glad to have this moment alone, just her and the desert and God.
Chloe decided that in the future, whenever she felt as if the world would cave in on her, she would come back to this moment. If all else in the world and time failed, she hoped she would be left with this.