Author's note: This takes place in the middle of the season 3 episode, Presence of Mine Enemies.
Louise winced as Rachel pulled a loose curl of hair tight and pinned it ruthlessly in place. It felt like she’d been here for hours now, getting ready for tonight’s dance. It was their first in Rock Creek and, between Teaspoon and Rachel, they’d figured out a way for Lou to attend as Louise. It was to be her very first dance as a girl, woman.
While she hadn’t enjoyed the experience of being tied into a corset, she certainly approved of the results, Lou mused, eyeing the shelf of bosoms that suddenly jutted out from her chest. She’d never have guessed she had so much… flesh… up there. And her hair was looking nice, too. But every time she thought Rachel was done, the older woman yanked another tendril into place.
“How much longer?” Lou whined. “Surely you’ve got to be done by done. We’ve been here forever.”
“Mmmph,” Rachel mumbled as she jabbed another pin into the girl’s dark brown hair.
Rachel paused to pull the handful of hairpins out of her mouth.
“A few more minutes for the hair,” she smiled, meeting Lou’s eyes in the bureau mirror. “But then we have to paint.”
Lou whipped her head around to look at Rachel directly, her impatience with the time taken on her hair forgotten in her shock over what was next on the schedule. “What?!?!”
Rachel laughed and nodded.
“No, I won’t!” Lou declared, starting to stand up in outrage. “I won’t paint myself up like some… some.. painted lady!”
“Louise, sit back down,” Rachel said firmly, pushing down on the girl’s shoulder. “And stop lying to yourself. You asked me to make you look as pretty as the other girls in town. Well, guess what? They all paint, or powder, or something to enhance what God gave them. And you spend so much time outdoors,” Rachel paused to hold up a hand to forestall whatever Lou was about to say, “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but it does mean you’re darker, naturally, than most of the girls in town. They do everything they can to avoid the sun, and then a bit more to ensure a pale face. You spend your days almost reveling in it. That’s got a beauty all its own. But it isn’t the…the ‘look’ I guess you could call it… that’s popular in town right now.”
Lou reached up tentatively to touch one cheek, staring at herself in the mirror as she noted its golden blond color. “Really?”
“Really,” Rachel promised. “Now, let me finish your hair.”
“Alright,” Lou nodded in reluctant acquiescence.
Rachel returned the pile of pins to her mouth and began shoving them ruthlessly here and there, until not a shred of Lou’s hair dared escape without express permission. Occasionally, Lou winced as a pin scraped against her scalp a bit too harshly. But mostly, her thoughts were lost, somewhere, somewhen else.
She hardly noticed when Rachel set down the brush and pulled out a prettily decorated wooden box filled with pots of cremes and powders and several oversized paint brushes.
Rachel hummed to herself as she began to mix colors together, occasionally pausing to tilt Lou’s face into the sunlight streaming through the nearby window.
As she reached out to began brushing a white powder across Lou’s cheek, Lou suddenly grabbed her wrist, stopping Rachel’s hand in mid-air. Looking up at the older woman, she said quietly, “Promise me. Promise I won’t look like no working girl?”
Rachel laughed. “Promise. We’re going to make you look as natural as the day you were born. Minus a few things you’ve picked up since then, that’s all.”
Letting go of Rachel’s hand, Lou closed her eyes, unwilling to watch the transformation she still wasn’t sure about. The brush felt soft as velvet as it swept down her cheeks, along her jawbone, across her forehead. Then, a smaller brush slipped softly over her eyelids. Finally, she felt Rachel’s thumb rubbing something creamy across her her lips.
“All done,” Rachel said, a smile still in her voice. “You can open your eyes now.”
Slowly she opened them just enough to peek through her hovering eyelashes, afraid of what she might see, hands clenching repeatedly at the edge of the chair she was seated on.
“Ohhh,” Lou gasped, her eyes flying completely open in surprise. For there before her in the mirror was someone she didn’t recognize. There sat a girl as pretty as any of the young ladies in town, her fair skin unmarked by the sun, her lips rosy, her eyes shining brightly from soot-darkened lashes.
“You’re beautiful, Louise,” Rachel said softly.
“As beautiful as Amanda?” she asked tentatively, standing up to twirl her skirts in a wondering circle. “As….” she stopped, not wanting to put voice to that woman’s name. She ‘d told herself she had nothing of which to be jealous. Kid had been his own man. But just the sound of that woman’s name, the roll of the consonants and vowels across her tongue made her want to vomit all over again.
“More,” Rachel laughed. “Kid won’t be able to take his eyes off you.”
“Who says I was thinkin’ ‘bout Kid?” Lou asked a bit shortly, narrowing her eyes in annoyance. She’d thought they’d been moving closer since coming to Rock Creek. But lately he’d been… distant, almost as if he were hiding something. Or someone? her suspicious mind asked. She shook her head. “I just want ta know what it’s like. Everyone keeps sayin’ I’m missin’ out on somethin’ livin’ like a boy. You, Teaspoon, the boys.”
A sudden raucous knocking at the front door interrupted them.
“You ‘bout ready, Lou?” Cody’s voice called up impatiently. “Ike wants ta draw a picture of us ‘fore we leave.”
Lou turned to Rachel, a question in her eyes. Rachel laughed and made shooing motions with her hands.
“Go on,” she said. “We’re done here.”
Lou turned and started to rush toward the stairs, only to trip over her own skirts.
“Slow down, young lady,” Rachel called after her. “Take small steps. Glide, don’t gallop. You’re an elegant young lady now, not a rough and tumble boy.”
Louise gulped. This being a lady thing was tougher than it looked, she thought.
“Yes, ma’am,” she nodded and resumed her motion toward the stairs, trying to keep her customary long strides to short, mincing steps instead. It felt… decidedly odd, she decided.
“And don’t go letting those boys dragging you into any of their roughhousing,” Rachel called after her. “You don’t want to disturb your hair. Or sweat off those cosmetics.”
Stepping daintily through the bunkhouse door, Louise smiled brightly. “Here I am boys. All ready for the dance.”
Stepping daintily through the bunkhouse door, Louise smiled brightly. “Here I am boys. All ready for the dance.”
A collective gasp rippled through the room as each of the boys caught sight of her in turn.
“It’s about time,” Kid started to say from where he stood in front of the mirror, tying the string tie of his new suit. “We’ve all been waiting for hours. What took you so---”
His voice stumbled to an abrupt halt as he turned and caught sight of her. “…long,” he finished, gulping.
“Rachel says it takes time to look pretty,” Lou said with a simpering smile. Twirling for the room of admiring males, she added, “So? Did she get it right?”
Noah stepped up and took her hand in his. Bowing before her, his other hand tucked behind his back, he smiled. “My did she ever, Miss Louise McCloud. You’ll be the prettiest gal at the dance.”
Clenching her fingertips over his hand to steady herself, Lou clutched the sides of her skirts with the other hand and carefully lowered herself into a graceful curtsy.
“Why thank you, evah so much, kind Sir,” she smiled, looking up at Noah flirtatiously through her eyelashes.
As she rose back to her full height, Noah laughed and pulled her into his arms.
“How ‘bout a dance right now? Seein’ as I don’t aim ta stick my head in no white man’s noose fer askin’ ya over at the school house,” he joked.
“Why, I’d be honored,” Lou smiled more broadly.
“Hey, Kid,” Noah said over his shoulder. “Play us a tune on yer mouth organ, why don’t ya?”
Kid didn’t move, continuing to stare fixedly at Lou. Cody shoved his shoulder against his brother’s to get his attention.
“Wha?” Kid turned a confused look on the blonde rider standing next to him.
“Play somethin’ nice,” Cody hissed through his smile. “So’s Noah and Buck can get at least one dance tonight!” Lowering his voice he added more quietly, “Don’t worry, ya can keep lookin’ at her. Ya only need yer lips to work that mouth organ of yers.”
Jimmy and Ike laughed at the overheard quip. Kid blushed, but began digging in his pocket for his harmonica. Moments later the sweet notes of a popular waltz began pouring out of the musical instrument.
Noah began to swing Lou around the room, dancing with a vigorous intensity that Lou wondered how Cassie would manage to keep up with him tonight. Then, a sudden twirl had her flying across the room and into Buck’s arms. The two laughed as they collided. Then she was flying around the room again.
Kid’s eyes never left her animated face as he played the music for his brothers. He didn’t begrudge them this dance, knowing that they’d spend most of the formal dance at the school house holding up the walls. But he couldn’t wait to hold Lou in his own arms. He wondered if she’d noticed his new suit yet. He’d spent a lot of time the last few weeks working extra runs to get the money for it. Then he’d had to head over to Seneca to have it made and fitted. He’d only brought it back on his run last night. It was the fanciest suit he’d ever owned in his life. Seeing how pretty she looked now, he was glad he’d gone to the effort. Even if the other boys had teased him mercilessly about it.
Lou smiled thankfully as Rachel handed her a glass of punch.
“So, was it worth it?” Rachel asked with a smile.
“Hunh?” Lou asked, tearing her eyes away from the dance floor and her unconscious search for Kid. He’d danced with her once, but so had each of the other boys and a couple of the young men from town. In all the twirling and swirling she’d lost sight of him and wondered who he was dancing with now.
“All that time getting ready,” Rachel reminded her. “Worth it?”
Trying to draw in a deep breath, but stopped short by the corset, Lou smiled slightly breathlessly. She shrugged. “Well, I s’pose every woman wants ta be treated like she’s the most beautiful woman in the room,” Lou allowed. “But I just can’t see goin’ through that every day.” Turning to look up at Rachel, she added, “How do you have the patience for it?”
Rachel just shook her head. “You get used to it. And, honestly, most of us women don’t know any other way.”
“You could try--” Lou started to offer to help Rachel understand the joys of not having to worry about whether every hair was in place, of racing across the plains in carefree abandon, her only concern being how long her horse could maintain the pace. But a softly growled noise interrupted her.
She turned and met Kid’s eyes. And blushed.
“Would you give me the honor of this dance?” he asked formally, holding out a hand to her.
Rachel watched happily as Lou followed Kid back out to the dance floor. Lou didn’t need to worry about spending hours every day enhancing her looks. She already had what every every young lady’s fancy, the love of a good man, even if she didn’t quite recognize the value of what she held in her hands just yet. And heaven help Kid, once she did, Rachel laughed to herself.