Friday afternoon, first week
“Is Tucson always this busy on a Friday?” Chloe asked as Laurie pulled her long dark hair back from her face and gave it another thorough brushing. They were positioned before the large rectangular mirror a patron had donated to her business, with Chloe seated in a chair and Laurie behind her, performing those grooming rituals always necessary before venturing into the social pen of a community dance. It would be hours before the dance platform was opened up. They had finished their ablutions as well as sewing on final touches to their dresses; had plaited hair and dismantled again, experimented with various styles, and turned the sewing parlor of Laurie’s residence topsy turvy with chatter, fabric, and ribbons. Laurie’s assistants, Portia and Pauline were there as well, engrossed with their own preparations, watching Laurie and Chloe as though they were older sisters demonstrating the ways of womanhood.
“You can set your clock upon it,” Laurie replied. “And they may not act like it…as all men must let it be known they are not ruled by the slightest chance of foolishness…but they talk of it almost as much as we women. Sometimes I think they are bigger hens than we are!”
“We’d be lucky to have a dance a season, back in Spring Creek,” Chloe commented, her eyes closed as the rhythmic motion of the brush passing through her hair comforted her. “And everyone would get excited then, too. I don’t know why I’m so nervous about this.”
Laurie grinned down at her. She knew.
“Virgil’s gonna cut a fine figure,” she offered. “He doesn’t often come to the dances, or if he’s there, its in his official capacity. Trust me, you’ll have several ladies there green with envy. Sure and he is quite intent on showing you off as well. I’ve seen him look at you…oh, dear…have I pulled too hard on that tangle?”
Chloe had given her a look that somehow managed to mingle both pleasure and discomfort.
“No,” she replied. The long veil of dark hair, with its curl and waves around her pale face, gave her an ethereal quality that Laurie wished she could attain.
“What’s wrong?” Laurie asked, sensing that something had been brewing in her new friend’s brain for some time now. Portia brought a shimmering blue satin ribbon for her to weave into the braid she was making. The braid would be wrapped around her head as a low seated crown, and the ribbon would help set off Chloe’s eyes and blue dress. The plan was to tuck shorter ribbon in strategic places so they would flutter when she danced and moved her head. It was a bit old fashioned but Laurie couldn’t help herself. She loved decorating anything, including people, and Chloe was a willing mannequin. She knew the schoolteacher was feeling a bit lost in her new surroundings and Laurie was determined to give her a sense of joy in it before the real work had to begin. Besides, Chloe was pretty handy with a needle too and had a knack for finishing a repair that was seamless and invisible. Laurie felt she was a kindred spirit .
After a few sighs and false starts, Chloe burst, “do you suppose two people decades apart would be able to…I mean, do you think many years between two people would make much of a difference?”
Laurie had to pause, acutely aware now of what Chloe saw as troublesome.
“Well…” she began, hesitating over her own words. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought the same thing – George Temple was worlds more experienced than she, having been married before, having endured a few more years of life than she. And it wasn’t uncommon for a mature man to take on a young bride…still, Chloe’s parents had been much older than most couples when they begat her, and she’d watched them wither away. It was only natural that she’d wanted to share her young life with someone who had about as much chance at longevity and as much vigor as she. “I don’t think it does. Me own Da was ten years older than Ma. I think if a man and woman find they are of the same mind, heart, and soul, age makes no difference a’tall. We’re only here for a short while.”
Catching Chloe’s thoughtful look, she shook the girl’s shoulders gently. “Oh, but what are you fretting about? It’s only a dance tonight, and you’ve just come to Tucson!”
“You’re right, of course!” Chloe replied, sheepish. “Anything can happen. I just don’t want to give him the wrong impression when I hardly know myself…”
“Well the only impression that’s going to happen is what a beauty you are in that color!”
“What about you?” Chloe asked, turning the tables on her. She’d been watching Laurie worry and fuss over her for the last hour, admiring the red hair and the lively eyes. Laurie had a confidence she’d seldom seen and it was bright and strong enough to encourage her to be confident as well. “Will there be a special partner for you?”
Laurie’s face turned beet red, but her words were measured and calm. “I was asked if I might reserve a dance or two,” she demurred.
“It’s Mr. Temple!” Portia offered , before Laurie could answer. “George Temple!”
“The mercantile owner?” Chloe exclaimed. “Why, Laurie, he’s handsome!”
“For shame, Portia. You were eavesdropping!” Laurie’s face turned a deeper shade of red.
“His voice goes right through the door, Mizz Drake. And so does yours. Besides, you looked so happy to see him, you didn’t need to say anything.” Portia replied, saucily.
“Ma says its no secret he’s sweet on you!” Pauline added, eyes merry at the look of shock on their employer’s face. “We just all wish he’d do right and ask you to marry him. He’s so morose sometimes, we think its because he ain’t got a woman to bear him up. Makes going to his store real uneasy like.”
Laurie gasped and dropped the brush, so astonished was she by these revelations. Chloe almost fell out of her chair from laughing.
“Perhaps its your wedding I should be anticipating, and not my own,” Chloe said in mischief as Laurie pretended she had dropped more than her brush and flitted around the room to calm herself.
“I think you’re all…well, there’s no need to be so presumptuous!” Laurie cried, indignant. “We’ve only chatted. He knows where to find the material I need, and is always prompt…”
The doorbell rang at that moment, which made them all pause and then burst into laughter.
“T’was only Mrs. Pickering for her dress,” Laurie said when she returned. “But we do need to step it up, ladies. Mrs. Kingsley mentioned there would be quite a gathering of new folk tonight and I don’t want to miss a moment of it…”
Virgil stood in front of a little round mirror hanging on the wall in his bedroom, fingers working the cravat at his neck more out of a need to do something than a desire to make sure that every fold magnified his suit. He was a bit lost in thought: nervousness lurked beneath the surface of his eyes, and he was making sure that nothing about his appearance showed it. He’d been fine, until he saw Morgan strutting about, and James doddering over his own duds, until both of them made Virgil want to draw his pistol and shoot a hole through their primped-up hats. They’d left an hour ago, to watch the others arrive, which gave Virgil enough time to prepare in his own deliberative way. He’d beaten Morgan to Chloe, but now that the moment had come, he was feeling a bit giddy, like a little nipper that knows something is coming his way, but he’s not sure what. He also knew that he’d be doing something markedly different from his usual lurking around the edges of the dance and he wanted to look his best.
Turning to the window, he could see the sun dip behind the clock tower, the sky a brilliant orange. In the street below, he saw George Temple stride down the boardwalk, dressed in his own livery for the dance, apparently choosing to join the festivities this evening. That’d be interesting, Virgil thought. Wonder if he’s got a little lady in mind?
Virgil picked up the note that had been delivered earlier that day: Chloe would be at Laurie’s dress shop. Virgil grinned to himself, pleased and amused. Just like a woman to flutter up to the last minute over her finery…then he chuckled at his own image. She had him doing the same…must be love!
Stroking down any stray hairs in his mustache and checking to make sure none of Belulah’s dinner didn’t remain in his teeth, he straightened himself up and tipped his hat at the image in the octagonal mirror with its rust spots and chipped edge. Most important of all, he’d have Chloe on his arm tonight. He hadn’t looked forward to something like this in a long time, not since he’d left Nebraska…
That was over a year ago, he reminded himself. He couldn’t do anything about the past.
Whistling, Virgil turned on his heel and left the room. He’d be late if he let himself think over things longer.
Friday afternoon – First week
Cort was settling up with a new book he borrowed from John Baumberger. Jim and Morgan were restless, both waiting for 4 o’clock to come around. Cort watched Morgan with amusement. There was something he was forgetting.
“So, you’re going to escort Josiah’s sister to the dance?” Cort asked.
“Yep,” Morgan said with a big smile. Jim snarled. “Oh, you’re just jealous I thought of it first.”
“And what about Miss Myers?” Cort asked. All the color drained from Morgan’s face and his jaw dropped.
“Oh, dear! I’m a terrible person.” He looked heavenward. “This isn’t funny. I completely forgot poor Penny. Not that there’s any reason I should have forgotten her. She’s a wonderful girl. I can’t believe I actually did this.” He started pacing the floor muttering.
“It’s not THAT bad,” Cort assured him. “You just have to inform Miss Brewster that you can’t take her. Tell her you have a previous engagement. She doesn’t look as though she’ll have a hard time finding another escort.”
Jim jumped up.
“I’ll do it! I’ll inform her of my brother’s unfortunate oversight, and how happy I’ll be to step in.”
“Are you also forgetting something?” Cort pointed out.
“Mattie,” Jim mumbled. “Lord, I’m as bad as Morgan.”
“Ha!” Morgan pointed to Jim. “See? You think it’s hard asking two girls at the same time? It isn’t.”
“Apparently not,” Jim conceded. “So who’s going to break the news to Miss Brewster?”
Both Jim and Morgan turned to Cort.
“Oh, NO! Don’t either of you dare look my way. I’m just fine sitting here with my book.”
Morgan pleaded with him. “You don’t have to escort her. Just let her know I can’t.”
Cort groaned; but he got up and walked to the hotel. Jim looked at Morgan and shrugged.
“I guess we’re brothers all right.”
“Virgil wouldn’t have done this,” Morgan stated.
“And Virgil doesn’t ever have to find out we did,” Jim stated firmly. Morgan nodded in agreement.
Within twenty minutes, Cort was back. Morgan and Jim watched as he hung his hat and sat down.
“Well?” Morgan asked.
“Well what? You asked me to tell Miss Brewster you weren’t available, so that’s what I told her.”
“Was she upset?”
“Women like her don’t get upset. They just move on to someone else.”
“Oh.” Morgan looked miffed. Cort shook his head and went back to his book.