Wearing White, Martina McBride
My Baby Loves Me Just The Way That I Am, Martina McBride
Lou looked down at the pretty blouse and skirt she’d donned that morning, nervously running a hand down her side, smoothing the dark brown material. It was time. Her days as a rider had officially ended yesterday. In two days she’d be walking down the aisle and marrying Kid. But, first, it was time to admit her deception to the town of Rock Creek.
Taking another deep breath, she stepped out of the door onto Rachel’s porch and froze. For long moments, she simply stood there watching the morning traffic, people moving up and down the boardwalk, buckboards, conestoga wagons and individual horses moving along the main street that bisected the town. She’d lived there for the last six months but suddenly it all looked so foreign.
Then, she saw a familiar face step out of the general store. Thompkins! He’d known her for going on two years now. She’d start her big day by inviting him to the wedding. Moving down the porch steps, Lou quickly glanced both directions before nearly racing across the street to avoid the oddly heavy morning traffic, which had been growing heavier by the day lately.
Carefully lifting her skirts, Lou jumped lightly up onto the boardwalk behind Thompkins. After waiting a scant moment for him to notice her, she gave in to her impatience to have things over with now that she’d committed to her course and cleared her throat.
Without turning around, the store keeper greeted her. “Hi, Lou.”
Slightly perturbed that he’d failed to comment, or even notice apparently, the big change in her wardrobe, Lou asked, “Don’t ya notice somethin’ different ‘bout me?”
With a quick glance over his shoulder, Thompkins complimented her drily, “Nice dress.”
Just as quickly he returned his attention to the list on his clipboard and the pile of newly arrived merchandise in front of him. Lou cocked her head curiously, then widened her eyes as comprehension dawned.
“You knew?” she quietly said in a nearly accusatory tone.
This finally stopped Thompkins industrious counting. Raising his head he met Lou’s eyes.
“Well of course I knew. What did you take me for? An old fool?” he asked incredulously. “It just wasn’t none of my business what you wanted ta wear. I just figured that’s the way you wanted ta go about things.”
Lou nodded. Despite their occasional arguments, she’d always kind of liked Thompkins. Now she knew why. Suddenly shy, she said what she’d come over to say.
“Well, reason why I’m here? Is because Kid and I are gettin’ married day after tomorrow and we wanted ta invita ya ta our weddin’.”
Thompkins smiled down at her. Wagging a verbal finger in her face, he said, “I always thought there was somethin’ squirrely goin’ on between you two.” With a soft chuckle he continued, “I’d be honored ta go ta your wedding Lou. And I’m real happy fer both of you.”
Lou smiled slightly as she looked down at the pointed toes of her new shoes. “Thanks.”
Thompkins smiled distractedly in response, already mentally back at work counting his new inventory. Some things never changed. With a small shrug, Lou turned and stepped off the boardwalk to cross the street to Mr. Jarvis’ restaurant. One down, the rest of the town to go.
“Lou, could you hand me that baking powder?” Rachel asked as she walked back into the kitchen. “I’ve decided to double this batch of zucchini bread. That was Cody letting me know he’d still be here for lunch.”
“Um, this tin, Rachel?” Lou asked, holding an empty tin upside down to illustrate just how empty it was.
“Dang! That’s it all right. Guess I’ll have to run over to Thompkins and get some more.” Rachel moved back toward the door, already untying the apron wrapped around her waist. “Be sure to baste the roast in about five minutes. And don’t let the potatoes boil over!”
Lou reached out and grabbed Rachel’s arm to stop her. “Maybe it’d be better if I went to the store and you kept watch on the food.”
Rachel laughed and motioned toward the door. “Go right ahead. You’ve worked hard and deserve a break.”
“Thanks, Rachel,” Lou smiled, pulling off her apron in record time and practically skipping out the door.
Whistling slightly under her breath, Lou moved lightly down the street toward Thompkins’ store. The bells over the door tinkled brightly in her ear as she walked through. Seeing that Thompkins was busy with a garrulous Widow Peterson, Lou wandered over to the clothing goods section of the store. She still only had two skirts, one blouse and her wedding dress. Soon she was absorbed in looking through the calicos, linsey woolseys and flannels, trying to find something for Sunday Best.
“I can’t believe she had the guts to walk in here like that, just as bold as you please.”
“Guts are one thing that… girl… has apparently never lacked. It’s only morals she can’t seem to find.”
The whispered conversation going on in the rear corner of the story teased at the edges of Lou’s consciousness, but she didn’t really pay it much heed. She’d never been much of one for gossip. That was, until she heard what the third girl in the trio had to say.
“Oh, she found plenty of morals. The morals of a cat. Why, she has the nerve to think she ought to be accepted by the good folks of Rock Creek after she spent the last six months, maybe more!, living in sin with not one but six men! Includin’ a dummy, an injun and a niggah.”
The three girls gasped in delighted horror at the scandal. Lou stiffened as she realized they were talking about her.
“And that hair,” the first one continued. “It looks like someone hacked away at it with a knife!”
Lou reached up self consciously to smooth down a few flyaway strands of the hair Rachel had spent quite some time curling and styling that morning.
“Lou, can I help you?” Thompkins asked as Mrs. Peterson finally finished her business.
Lou nodded and, throwing her shoulders back proudly, strode quickly up to the counter. As she passed the Widow Peterson, the elderly lady grasped her black skirts in one hand and pulled them to the side, shying away from Lou as if she had a contagious disease. Lou paused to glare at the woman who gasped in outrage.
“Well, I never,” the old lady huffed, before moving on her way.
“Yeah, you probably ain’t,” Lou muttered under her breath as she continued on her way to the counter. Despite her façade, Lou could feel tears threatening to burst from behind her eyelids. She’d never felt so humiliated in her life. It was all she could do to keep her face immobile and quietly say, “Rachel needs some more bakin’ powder, sir.”
Thompkins nodded and turned to grab a tin of powder. Handing it to Lou he asked, “Shall I put it on the Express account?”
Afraid to speak, Lou nodded. Seeing her upset, Thompkins leaned over, “Don’t you mind them busybodies, girl. They’ll get over it. You jest turned their world upside down today, is all, doin’ what they think a woman can’t. Give ‘em some time.”
Lou nodded jerkily and quickly left the store. As she walked out the door, she could hear the three girls in the corner still whispering about her.
“They say she’s gettin’ married on Saturday!”
“Wonder how she managed that? My Ma always says men won’t buy the cow iffen ya give ‘em the milk fer free.”
“All’s I can say is, she oughtn’t ta wear white, even if she is gettin’ married. You can bet she ain’t no pure maid, the way she’s been livin’.”
The last comment went winging straight to the depths of Lou’s heart, straight and true as any of Jimmy’s bullets, but twice as deadly. Lou let the door slam shut behind her and took off for the Express barn down the street, stumbling and nearly falling several times as the tears in her eyes clouded her vision. Slipping into the dark, cool, comfortingly familiar confines of the barn, she angrily wiped her hands across her face, trying to erase the tears that had begun to slip down her cheeks.
“I will not let them see me cry,” she muttered to herself. “I won’t! I won’t give them that kind of satisfaction.”
Turning around, she swung an angry kick at the side of a stall, not even wincing when her fancy lady’s shoes didn’t protect her toes the way her riding boots would have. The pain helped her get herself back under control. At that moment, she wanted nothing more than to jump on Lightning and go riding out, after Kid and Jimmy.
But, after leaving so much of the wedding planning to Kid, she felt obligated to stay here and make sure everything was ready when he got back tomorrow. She’d have liked to take her pistol to Teaspoon for assigning Kid a long run like this just before their wedding. Then again, she’d really like to take the pistol to those girls back at Thompkins.
Closing her eyes, she imagined their fright if she began to shoot holes in the hems of their fancy dresses. It would serve them right. She wouldn’t hurt them, just make them dance a little. A slight smile played with the edges of her mouth as she allowed herself to visualize their reactions. A giggle escaped and quickly turned into a guffaw.
“What’s so funny?”
Lou jumped. “Buck! What?”
“What had you laughing so much there?” he asked. “It’s nice ta see ya smile again. I was beginning ta think yer smile had disappeared when ya quit ridin’.”
“Just imaginin’ how the town would react if I started shootin’ at their womenfolk,” she admitted.
“What’d they do ta get ya so riled up ‘em?”
“Nothin’ I shouldn’t’ve expected. Not after I ‘came out’ to the town this mornin’. It was just.. harder than I’d thought it would be, ya know?”
Buck nodded. “Yep. I felt the same way when I left the Kiowa.”
Moving up next to her, he set down the saddle he’d just repaired and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“If you need some help plottin’ yer revenge, I’m always available,” he smiled.
Looking up into his eyes, crinkled at the corners from his face eating grin, she couldn’t help smiling back. “Naw. Then we’d both get ridden outta town on a rail. ‘Sides, I gotta deliver this bakin’ powder ta Rachel or none of us’ll be eatin’ today!”
“Now there’s a real threat! Git!” Buck laughed, pushing her shoulder toward the barn door.
“Night, Lou,” Rachel smiled as she turned into the door to her room. “See ya in the mornin’.”
“Good night, Rachel,” Lou answered, waiting until Rachel had closed her door before entering her own room. It felt so odd to be sleeping at the house with Rachel instead of in the bunkhouse with the boys. With a sigh, she closed the door behind her and walked over to the bed. Rachel had insisted on moving out of the larger of the two bedrooms, the only one with a double bed, when Lou’d moved over from the bunkhouse. She’d said it didn’t make sense for Lou take the small twin in the other room for only a couple of days, then move to the bigger one after the wedding.
Slowly, Lou unbuttoned the white blouse she’d been wearing today. As she undressed for bed, her mind wandered over the events of the day. Reaching out to hang the blouse and skirt on a hook on the wall, Lou caught a glimpse of her wedding dress in the mirror, hanging on the back of the bedroom door.
Walking over to it, she reached out and fingered the soft white lace with one hand, only to have that wretched girl’s comments begin ringing in her ears.
“All’s I can say is, she oughtn’t ta wear white, even if she is gettin’ married. You can bet she ain’t no pure maid, the way she’s been livin’.”
“I’d be a heck of a lot less ‘pure’ if I hadn’t!” she muttered, turning away and heading back to the bed. But she knew it would be a long night, and an even longer day, until Kid got back and could hold her tight in his arms. That’s what she needed right now, a reminder of just how much he loved her and how much he didn’t care about all the rest. Just him and her, together against the world, that’s the way it was supposed to be.
Lou shook her head as she walked away from the Army recruiter, arms crossed over her chest. She understood Teaspoon’s upset, but she feared he was just pushing the boys toward the military with his attitude. And when they started joining up to fight, they wouldn’t all join the same sides. The thought of this war tearing her hard won family apart was ripping her heart out at what should have been the happiest time of her life.
Things had been so tense lately, she just wanted to destroy somebody or something. But, Buck was out on a quick run and not available for a wrestling match, Jimmy was off with the Kid, so no shooting, and everyone else was too caught up in this war talk to spend any time with a nervous bride to be.
Caught up in her thoughts, she didn’t notice the three girls standing on the boardwalk in front of her, until she walked straight into the back of one of them.
“Sorry,” she started to mutter, then looked up to see three identical looks of disgust directed in her direction. “I said I was sorry.”
“People like you shouldn’t be allowed to share the boardwalk with decent folk like us,” sniffed the tallest, with long, straight ebony locks.
“I just don’t know what this world is comin’ to,” said the round, freckled redhead in the middle. “I may just ask my Pa to talk to Marshal Hunter ‘bout makin’ sure these streets get cleaned up.”
The third, a slender blonde with luxurious curls tumbling down to the middle of her back, stuck her pert little nose in the air and sniffed. “My Ma says we should just ignore trash like this. Pretend it ain’t even there.”
Lou’s hand twitched, unconsciously reaching for the gun she wasn’t wearing. Then, she relaxed and leaned back against the nearest roof post, arms crossed over her chest.
“What’re you smilin’ at?” the blonde asked nastily. “You little guttersnipe. You should be on your knees, prayin’ ta God fer forgiveness.”
This caused Lou to laugh out loud. Now that she was face to face with the nasty mouthed trio, she recognized them from Sunday services and from the boys’ discussions. Funny thing that, the boys were as bad about gossiping as any girl she’d ever met, and that left her with plenty of ammunition. She might not be able to fill this trio with hot lead, but she could sure make them wish she had.
“You wanna take that back?” she asked quietly, a warning tone in her even voice. “If I were you I’d be thinkin’ ‘bout how ta apologize right quick.”
“I don’t apologize to loose women,” the redhead responded, despite her companions shushing sounds.
“Marilyn, don’t talk to her,” the blonde hissed. “It just encourages her type.”
Lou turned her attention to the blonde, the obvious leader of this pack. “And just what ‘type’ is that?”
None of the three noticed how her eyes glittered dangerously, nor did they see how Teaspoon had stopped Noah and Jesse from piling out of the Marshal’s office to her defense.
“Let her handle it, boys,” he said quietly. “She’s doin’ fine.”
“A woman of low morals. A… a… a tart!” the blonde sputtered.
“Excuse me, but I was under the impression a tart was a woman who sold her favors to men? Am I not correct?”
“Yes,” the blonde drawled slowly, a vicious delight entering her blue eyes.
Lou looked casually at the ragged fingernails of one hand. Rachel had tried to buff them out, but years of riding the range had left little for her to work with. Even as she inspected her nails, she continued, “Then I’d say you’re more of a tart than I was or will be, Melinda.”
The blonde gasped, as Lou called her out by name. The boys had described the trio as the Three M’s, Melinda, Marilyn and Margaret. They ruled the social scene in Rock Creek with an iron hand.
“Aren’t you the one who offered to lay down with Cody if he’d get you the latest French perfume on his next run to St. Joe?” Lou asked without changing her casual tone. Turning to the redhead, she fired her next shot. “And, Marilyn, isn’t it?”
Marilyn nodded jerkily, pushing back toward her friends for protection and gulping.
“Aren’t you the one who made such a big deal about what low morals it took for me to live in sin with six men?” Lou didn’t wait for Marilyn to admit to her own words, but kept ruthlessly rolling on. “I find that odd, considerin’ the number of times we’ve all tripped over you and your latest swain out in the bushes behind the church during town dances, socials, Sunday school…. What was the count up to, Noah?”
Laughter in his voice, Noah pushed his hat back on his head as he answered, “I believe Cody had determined it was 10, but Jimmy swore there’d been 12.”
“And just what were you doin’ hidin’ out in them bushes with all those boys, Marilyn?” Lou let the last thought hang in the air, shimmering with unstated accusations. She let her smile grow even as a vicious red blush spread across Marilyn’s bountiful bosom and barely clad shoulders.
Noticing the tall girl, Margaret, trying to shuffle away from the back of the group, Lou’s gaze speared her in place.
“Oh, don’t leave us yet, Margaret. You’re the one who was so adamant I had no right wearing white to my weddin’. Now, personally, I think the only one who has any right to judge is the Good Lord himself,” Lou paused to think a moment. “Well, and maybe Kid, seein’ as how he’s the one I’m marryin’. But, since ya brought up…. I’ve gotta say, I’ve got more right ta white than you. See, I can guarantee ya, I ain’t goin’ ta be walkin’ down that aisle with no babe in my belly, unlike some we… won’t mention here.”
Margaret, who’d only gotten married the month before, gasped even as a hand crept protectively up to her obviously pregnant middle.
“I do believe it was Jesus who said ‘let she who is without sin cast the first stone.’ ‘Course, I may be paraphrasin’ a mite,” Lou smiled, as she tapped a finger against the corner of her mouth in thought. “No matter. Seems you three oughta be a little more careful about throwing stones ‘round, seein’ as how ya all live in glass houses. I’m sure I’ll be seein’ all of ya at church this Sunday and we all know who it’ll be on their knees, prayin’ fer forgiveness.”
With that, Lou stepped forward to push her way past the trio of gossips. “Now, if y’all’ll excuse me, I’ve got a weddin’ ta get ready for. Have a good day.”
With her head held high, Lou strode on down the boardwalk toward the Express station.
Lou looked in the mirror as Rachel carefully lowered the crown of little white flowers down onto the pile of curls she’d carefully arranged in Lou’s hair. A couple of pins later and all was tightly secured.
“You’re beautiful, Louise,” Rachel sighed with a broad smile. She leaned forward to hug Lou close, laying her cheek next to the blushing bride’s.. “Kid’s gonna die when he sees you walkin’ down the aisle. The love of his life, a vision in white, the perfect lady for him.”