Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change -- Spring; Part 1 of 13

Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change – Spring; part 1 of 13
By Ellie Dauber and Chris Leeson © 2014

Sunday, March 31, 1872

"Go away, Maggie," Jane ordered when the bride-to-be walked into the busy kitchen of the Catholic Church. "You got a lot better things t'do than putter 'round in here. Especially..." Jane pointed to Maggie's wedding gown. " that pretty dress."

Maggie sighed and shook her head. "But I need to check on the tortillas."

"No, you don't. You trust me enough t'run your restaurant while you're on your honeymoon, don't you?"

"Sì, but -"

"But nothing." Jane said, scowling. "If you trust me enough for that, you gotta trust me now. If you don't, then the deal's off. You can stay here and run the place yourself, and I'll... I'll go on the honeymoon with Ramon."

Now Maggie smiled. "I do not think I like that idea. I do not think - I hope - that Ramon would not like it, and I am sure than Milt Quinlan would not like it, either."

"No, he wouldn't." Jane blushed. "But I will, if you don't get outta here, and I mean right now."

"Very well," Maggie replied, "but you must promise me one thing."

"If I can. What d'you want?"

"I will send someone in here just before the ceremony starts. You must promise me that you will come out to watch it."

Jane's eyes glistened. "You really want me there that much?"

"I do."

"Them's the words you need t'save for Ramon. You leave right now, and I promise t'be there to hear you say them when it really counts."

"I am going, and I will not be back - unless you are not out there with me when it is time for me to say those words again."

Jane gave her friend a wide smile. "I won't hug you now; my apron's way too dirty, but I'll be the first one in line after you 'n' Ramon are hitched."

"You had better be." Maggie winked and headed out the kitchen door.

* * * * *

Reverend Yingling stepped confidently up to the podium. He put both hands down onto it and stared out at the congregation - his congregation - for a moment before he began.

"I take my text this morning from the Book of Joshua, chapter 7, verse 13: 'Thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you.'"

"And what is this 'accursed thing' that is among us? The Bible tells us that witchcraft is evil. 'Thou shall not suffer a witch to live,' it says in Exodus 22:18. Witchcraft is most surely accursed. Now, a man who plies the dark arts may not be a witch, but the things that he creates are things of witchcraft, no matter how innocent his motives, no matter that he may attempt to use those things of witchcraft towards a worthwhile end."

"It is also said that the ends do not always justify the means. That vile product of witchcraft, the potion that Shamus O'Toole has created, has served as a useful means. It is a very powerful means, indeed. I will freely admit that. It prevented the Hanks gang from running riot among us. We can never know how many good men would have died, how many women would have been left widows, how many children orphaned."

"And there is a child within this congregation." He looked down to where Kaitlin and Emma were sitting. "In this very room with us today, a child who would have died had she not taken that very same potion."

"And yet, as with any thing of evil, the potion has twisted events for its own ends. Other members of the Hanks gang were turned from their wicked ways. One has even joined with us, becoming an active member of our own congregation. But what of Will Hanks - now Wilma Hanks - their leader, the one who should have led them on the path of righteousness, even as she led them in the ways of evil? The chance for redemption was taken from her by that same potion. She is on a different path, and it is one that will lead her to eternal damnation as surely as the path that led her to our town."

"And what of Emma O'Hanlan and her family?" He looked at Emma and Kaitlin again, then he glanced over to where Trisha was sitting - uncomfortably, now - with the other members of the church board. "The potion restored a seriously injured child to her loving family; yes, it did. But Patrick O'Hanlan, husband and father, was taken from them as surely as if it had been poison he drank that day."

"Just bad luck, one might say. Perhaps, but can we risk more such bad luck? Good fortune, they say, follows preparation, and I say to you that Shamus O'Toole will never be prepared. A man who earns his daily bread by the encouragement of vice: of drinking and gambling and who knows what other lewd behaviors, such a man can never be prepared for the responsibilities that are imposed by such a potion. Try as he may, he cannot rise to the heights of trustworthiness that the possession of that potion demands."

"It is our Christian duty to give the worthy sinner a second chance. Is Mr. O'Toole worthy? Only our Lord Jesus can answer that, but, even if he were, how many second chances can we afford to give him? He had his second chance, and the O'Hanlan family was shattered by his failure. His third chance came with a woman, a dutiful, proper Christian lady, who visited Eerie some weeks ago. She also imbibed - why, I cannot guess - of O'Toole's foul brew, and she left Eerie - how can I say this - when she left, she was very much of the same... temperament as Wilma Hanks."

"And his fourth chance? How many of you know of the excellent work of Teresa Diaz as a laundress? My own family avails itself of her services. This church uses her, as well, for the alter cloth, for my robes, for all manner of things. Teresa and her son became entangled with O'Toole's potion. She was trampled by horses and almost killed. And, while she heals from her injuries, her son - her now pretty, now female son - is the one delivering our laundry."

"Yes, there is truly an evil among us, and we must 'take away the accursed thing.' I will speak more of how we may do this at the meeting of the church board on Wednesday. In the meantime, we should all be comforted with the words of Isaiah, chapter 41, verse 10: 'Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy G-d: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.' Can we ever hope to ask for more than that?"

* * * * *

"Better get ready," Cap told Bridget. "It looks like Gregorio's about to make the next toast." He carefully refilled Bridget's wineglass.

Bridget giggled once, then, looking embarrassed, she put her hand in front of her mouth. "So, so many toasts. I-I don't think I've ever had this much to drink. At least not... not since I-I changed."

"I have, but the wine wasn't nearly as good as this."

"I know. Maggie, she told me that the wine was special... stuff from Whit's b-basement - cellar - wine cellar."

Cap chuckled. "A barber with a wine cellar. Cutting hair must bring in a lot more money than I thought."

"No, no, no." Bridget waved her hand in front of him. "It's not his barber shop. His fa-family has money, I think, but - sh-shush! Gregorio's starting to speak."

Gregorio was at the head table, sitting - standing now - next to Ramon's right. Maggie was at Ramon's left, of course, the side nearest his heart.

"My friends," the burly man began, "there is an old saying, 'between the mule and the woman, which is the more stubborn?' Which, indeed, I say, and in Marguarita, my brother has found a muy terco, a very stubborn woman."

"I certainly know just how stubborn she is because I tried very, very hard to convince her and Ramon that they should not marry. She said 'no' - again and again and again, she said 'no.' Such a stubborn..." He paused for effect. "...wonderful woman."

"Marguarita, I am glad that you said 'no.' Why? Because you said 'no' out of the deep love that you had for my brother. It is a love deep enough to overlook his many flaws." He winked. "It is a love that is only matched, as it should be, by the love that he has for you. And that love was enough to make him stand up to his foolish bully of an older brother."

He turned and bowed to Maggie. "Marguarita, I apologize again for my opposition to your marriage and for all of the grief that I must have caused you. I hope that you will forgive me for I am both happy and proud to have you as a part of my family. May you and Ramon both be blessed with all that you deserve: health, happiness, and many, many years of each other's love."

He raised his glass, but he only had time for a quick sip before Maggie rushed around to give him a fierce hug.

"That... that was b-b'yutiful." Bridget took a deep drink of her wine, even as tears ran down her cheeks. "J-Just b'yu... b'yutiful."

Cap pulled out his handkerchief and gently dabbed at her face. "It must've been." He smiled. "I never saw you get so worked up." To himself, he added, 'except with me in bed.' It was a memory he cherished.

"I-I'm sorry."

"Don't be. It was good toast. Gregorio's never been one to tear himself down, but he certainly did today."

"He loves his brother." She took another sip of wine. "Mmm, that is good wine, and Gregorio's a good man." Her face reddened. "And Ramon's a good man, and you're a good man, and..." She leaned in, a bit unsteady on her feet, and put her arm around his neck. She smiled and kissed his cheek.

Cap shifted. Their lips met, as he pulled her closer. Bridget moaned softly and pressed her body against his.

Then she pulled away. "Not here," she whispered, a giggle in her voice. "There's too many people."

"Later then?"

Bridget smiled and sipped at the last of her wine. "M-Maybe."

* * * * *

"So..." Kaitlin said slowly, as they headed home from church. "...what did you two think of the good reverend's sermon?"

Emma frowned. "I didn't like it. He made me sound like some kind of magic trick."

"That's better than the fool he made me sound like," Trisha responded. "From the way he talked, O'Toole tricked me into drinking that potion. I hate to say it, but it was my own da... my own stupid idea."

Kaitlin raised an eyebrow. "Yes, it was, but I don't see why Reverend Yingling had to bring it up now."

"Neither do I," Trisha replied. "He's up to something."

"Has he ever talked to the church board about the potion, doing something about it, I mean?"

"Not to me, he hasn't, but Horace Styron's another matter entirely." She frowned. "As board chairman, he could cause a lot of trouble, and he'd just love to - if I was on the receiving end. Well, we'll find out at the meeting, I suppose."

"Whatever he's got in mind, I think it's going to be trouble."

Emma looked up at her mother. "You think so, Ma?"

"I do," Kaitlin answered. "The way he was talking about us all, I just hope we don't get pulled into the middle of it."

Trisha smiled at that. "He won't - He won't dare to anything, not as long as I'm on the church board."

"I know." Kaitlin took Trisha's hand in her own and returned that confident smile. 'The problem is,' she thought to herself, 'if Cecelia Ritter and those others have their way, you'll be off the board as of the May meeting.'

* * * * *

"Hola, Marguarita, and... felicitaciones."

Maggie looked up. She studied the figure before her for a moment before she spoke. "Arnoldo, thank you." She paused a before continuing. "I almost did not recognize you in that pretty dress."

Arnie blushed. "Mama will not let me wear my real clothes to church. She says it would be disrespectful."

"So, do you only wear a dress to please her?"

"Why else? I am not truly a girl. I just look like one."

"Of course." Maggie tried not to smile as she remembered how hard she had fought against being a woman after her own change. 'Thank the Good Lord that I lost the fight,' she told herself, 'or I would not be here today, not be Ramon's bride.' She reached over and took Ramon's hand in her own.

"You may not always feel that way," she told the young girl.

Arnie crossed herself. "I pray to the Virgincita every night that I will stay as I am." She sighed. "But that is not why I came over to talk to you. I wanted to wish you both a long and happy life together."

Ramon was talking to Gregorio. Maggie gently squeezed his hand, and whispered his name. He turned to see what she wanted. "Si, Marguarita... oh, hello." He looked at the person standing across the table from him. "Arnoldo Diaz, right?"

"Si, I am Arnoldo. I just wanted to give you and Marguarita my family's best wishes."

Ramon stood. "Thank you. Are you all having a good time?"

"Oh, yes. It was such a beautiful ceremony, and the food and music are so very nice. Mama even let Ysabel and me have a sip of the wine."

"I am glad. How is your mother doing with her injuries?"

"She is not happy with the casts that she must wear, but the doctor says that she is healing just as she should."

"Good. Please tell Teresa that we wish her well. And thank you all for your good wishes for Marguarita and me."

Arnoldo gave a low bow. "Thank you, and now I must get back to them, just as you must get back to your lovely bride." She turned and hurried back to where the rest of her family was sitting.

* * * * *

Cap followed Bridget into the Saloon. As soon as he was inside, she turned and locked the door behind them. "Seems odd to be in here when the place is closed," Cap said, looking around the empty room.

Bridget shrugged. "Can't be helped; ev... everybody's at the wedding, even Jessie."

"Is Shamus going to open up later?"

"Probably. He's too, too much of a businessman not to." She gave him a lopsided smile. "Jane won't be opening the rest'rant till tomorrow. It's gonna take a while for her -- her and Molly - t'clean up that church kitchen and bring all her stuff b-back here."

She looked unsteady on her feet, and Cap put an arm around her waist. "How about your poker game? Will you be playing tonight?" "M-Maybe." Her arm went around his waist. "Unless I'm doing something else. R-right now, I think I wanna go lie down for a while." She giggled. "You-you wanna join me?"

She let go of him and started for the stairs before he could answer. She was weaving a bit as she walked. "Wait up." Cap hurried over and took her hand. "Let me walk up with you, at least."

"That... that'd be nice." She giggled again and kissed his cheek. "For a starter."

They moved slowly up the stairs. Cap had his right hand tightly on the railing. His left arm was firmly around her waist.

"Mmmm, thank you, Cap." She rested her head on his shoulder. "Such a sweet name... Cap." She giggled, snuggling against him, as she spoke. "Cap... Cap... Cap... Cap."

They reached the second floor. "Don't wear it out," he told her.

She kissed him again. "That isn't what I want to wear out." She fumbled in her reticule for a moment before pulling out the key to her room.

"Allow me." Cap took the key from her and opened the door.

Bridget walked into the room. "I certainly will," she said as she walked in. She raised her hand and slid it along his jaw as she walked past him.

"We'll see." Cap followed her in, closing the door behind him.

Bridget stood before him, an expectant grin on her face, as she wrestled with the buttons on her dress. She got two undone, then got so mixed up that she actually re-buttoned one. "I'll-I'll be ready for you in just a bit, Cap." "I can wait," he told her. "Why don't you just lie down for a moment?"

"You sure you can wait?"

"I can; you're certainly worth waiting for."

Bridget's face flushed. "You are so sweet." She kissed his cheek and sat down on the bed. "C'mon over here, right now."

"I'll just stand here for a minute and watch you." He leaned against the wall.

Bridget lay back on the bed, her feet still on the floor. She smiled at Cap, as her eyes slowly closed.

Cap waited until he could hear her soft snoring. He walked over and shifted her body, turning it so that her feet were up on the bed. She didn't awaken, but he thought he heard her mumble his name as he unlaced her shoes. Once they were off, he leaned over and kissed her gently on the lips. "Another time," he whispered and left, locking the door behind him and sliding the key back underneath the door to where she would find it.

* * * * *

Monday, April 1, 1872

Cap was just finishing his breakfast when Bridget came down from her room. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs for a moment before heading for his table. She walked slowly, carefully, as if afraid that her head might fall off at any moment.

"Good..." She quickly lowered her voice. "Good morning, Cap."

Cap stood up. "Bridget, good morning. Won't you join me for some breakfast?"

"I will if you promise not to shout." She gingerly touched her head.

He watched her settle carefully into the chair opposite him. "I think you need some of Shamus O'Toole's famous 'morning after' punch."

"What's that?"

"A curious mix of herbs and juices said to be good for what ails you on a morning like this. Shamus told me once that the secret is willow bark, something he learned when he lived with the Cheyenne."

"Willow bark? Sounds crazy, but..." She touched her forehead and winced. "Today, I'll try anything."

She glanced around the room. She and Cap were the only ones in it. "Cap, about yesterday..." Her voice trailed off.

"It was wonderful." He sighed and rolled his eyes. "The earth moved; the angels wept."

"No, they didn't - did they?" Was there something she didn't remember?

He smiled and gently touched her arm. "Bridget, nothing happened, I promise. We came back here from the wedding. I walked you up to your room. We talked for a little while, and you fell asleep."

"And you left me there? Why?" She felt relieved and, somehow, insulted. "As I remember, I was hardly distant or forbidding."

"You certainly weren't, and I would have loved to take things further, but you were somewhat the better - or worse - for the wine, and there are rules about such things."


"When we get together again, I want it to be you that says, 'yes', not Whit's 50-year old Madeira."

"Thank you, Cap." She put her hand on his. "And there will be an 'again' for us. I promise."

"I hope so." He saw Molly coming out of the kitchen and waved for her to come over. "In the meantime --"

"Well, now," the older woman said cheerful, "will ye look at who finally came down for her breakfast?"

Cap put a finger to his lips. "Not so loud; Bridget's in dire need. Could you ask Shamus to put together another dose of his hangover cure for Bridget here?" When the second woman nodded, he added, "And please ask Jane to follow it with a good hangover breakfast, scrambled eggs with lots of tomato ketchup and the strongest black coffee you've got."

* * * * *

"Miss Osbourne, can I talk t'you?"

Nancy Osbourne looked up from her lunch. "Of course, Emma," she said, quickly wiping the corners of her mouth with a napkin. "What did you want to discuss?"

"I spoke to my folks about what you asked on Friday - about Mr. Cates, I mean, and I thought about it the whole weekend and I - yes! - I'd really like to work for him, to learn surveying, after I finish school."

"I take it then that you have decided to graduate this year, rather than wait."

"Yes'm. I - my folks don't have no problem -"

"Don't have any problem, your parents don't have any problem with your graduating this June."

Emma grinned. "No, ma'am, they don't. Trisha thought I was gonna work at the store, but Ma talked to her, and it's okay with her now."

"I'm very glad to hear that, Emma, and I believe that you will do an excellent job working for Mr. Cates. I happen to know that he will be out at Minnie Haldeman's dairy farm until this evening. I will tell him right after school tomorrow."

"You... ah, think he'll have a problem with me being a girl?"

"I cannot be absolutely sure, but if I thought that he would seriously object, I would not have recommended you for the job in the first place."

"Great. Do you want me to go with you when you talk to him?"

"No, as you say, there is a chance that he might object, and I believe that it would be easier to reason with him on the point if you were not there. I'll tell you his decision as soon as I know it, and then you and I can go meet with him. Is that all right?"

"I... guess so."

"Fine; and now that the matter is settled, why don't you go out and tell Penny and Ysabel - oh, and Yully and Tomas what we've discussed?"

Emma looked puzzled. "Miss Osbourne?"

"They're waiting for you on the porch." She smiled, "Every last one of them has poked his head in while we were talking. Besides, you only have about..." She glanced over at the small clock ticking away in a corner of her desk. "...about twenty minutes until the lunch break is over."

* * * * *

"What're you doing with that candle?"

Jane spun around. "Milt, I didn't hear you come in. What brings you to the kitchen?"

"I was wondering how you were doing without Maggie..." He looked around. There was no one in the kitchen but the two of them. "...or anybody else here to keep an eye on you."

"I don't need nobody. This ain't the first time I ran the kitchen without her."

"True, but you never did it for three whole days."

Jane's eyes narrowed. "Don't you think I can do it?"

"Of course, you can do it," he answered quickly. 'Don't pick at that scab', he warned himself before speaking again. "Maggie thought you could, or she wouldn't have left you in charge." He smiled, wanting to reassure her. "If she thinks that you can manage things, then who am I to disagree?"

"That's what I want to know."

"And I want to know why you have a lit candle there on the table. You still haven't said."

"You're just trying to change the subject." She paused a beat and decided to go along. "Okay, I'll tell you anyway. The candle burns off the fumes from when I chop up onions for tonight's stew. That way, they don't make my eyes water."

"Something to protect those big, beautiful, brown eyes of yours, eh; well, I certainly can approve of that."

"I'm so glad."

He stepped close to her. "I'm glad, too. I like looking into those eyes."

"You... you do?" Her body was tingling all over. She could feel her nipples crinkle, pushing out against the soft muslin of her camisole. The tingling grew more intense, especially down between her legs.

He pulled her to him. "I do. I especially like looking at them up close, just before I do this." He lowered his head. Their lips met in a delicious kiss.

Jane moaned and pressed her body against his. Her lips parted, as her arms rose up around his neck.

* * * * *

"Have you started singing to your little one, Amy?" Edith Lonnigan asked. "It's far enough along now to be able to hear you."

Amy sighed, as she buttoned her camisole. "Don't I know it? Jimmy was banging on a pot with a wooden spoon the other day, and 'Junior' here was all but dancing to the beat."

"I've had the same problem," Laura added. "I was helping Jessie teach Arnie Diaz how to shoot, and I had to stop because the gunshots scared my little one."

Edith looked startled. "You mean she started those lessons again? Doesn't the poor dear have enough to handle, what with changing into a girl?"

"This was in January," Laura explained, "weeks before she drank Shamus' potion. Jessie stopped those lessons a while back."

"I am glad to hear that," Edith continued. "Poor Teresa has enough to worry about with her broken limbs. She certainly doesn't need to be fretting about her daughter wanting to use a pistol, as well." She paused a moment. "Now, getting back to you two, do either of you have any questions or anything that you want to talk about?"

Amy shook her head. "Not really. Things are going pretty much the same as they did with Jimmy. I've had some heartburn and cramps in my legs, but I remember how to deal with that sort of thing."

"Very good, dear," Edith told her, "but if either of those symptoms get very bad, please come and see me."

"I will."

Edith turned to Laura. "And how about you, dear?"

"Aside from feeling big as a house, my main problem has been leg cramps, too. Molly showed me a way of standing..." She posed, stretching out one leg, "...and that seemed to help. Arsenio's been giving me massages, like you said I should, and that... it helps, too." She blushed.

Edith smiled. "I'm sure it does. Is there anything else?"

"Yeah, I'm... anything I drink just goes right through me. I've all but worn a path to the necessary out behind the Saloon, and I'm up and down a half-dozen times a night."

Edith tried to smile. "That can't be helped any more than your... ah, 'bigness', I'm afraid. The baby's pushing down on your bladder, so it can't hold as much. It'll get worse before it gets better."

"The one works against the other," Amy added. "You work off the extra weight with all the exercise you get walking to and from the necessary." She giggled at her own joke, and, after a moment, Laura joined in.

* * * * *

Jane took three chicken breasts from the oven and put each one on a plate. She spooned succotash onto two of the plates. The third got a spicy tomato and onion mixture. A dark brown sauce simmered on the stove. Jane took the pot, drizzled some of the sauce over two of the breasts, and moved the plates onto a tray.

"Is it ready?" Dolores asked as she walked through the door into the kitchen.

Jane pushed the tray across the worktable to Dolores. "Just finished it now."

"Gracias." The waitress took the tray and headed back through the door.

Milt had been standing by the table watching Jane work. "Now, where were we?" He walked over to where she was standing.

"I think you was getting ready t'kiss me again," she answered shyly.

"Why, so I was." He took her head in his hands and moved in close. "And I believe I'll do that very thing." His lips met hers. He felt Jane tremble as she stepped in close to him. Her arms rose up to encircle him.

Before the kiss could go any further, they heard a sharp coughing noise. "I am sorry to interrupt," Dolores said softly, "but you made a mistake with this order."

"What?" Jane asked. She was blushing as she and Milt quickly separated.

Dolores put the tray back on the worktable. "Both of the chicken moles get the pico de gallo - the tomato and onion. The plain chicken gets the corn and beans." There were two plates on her tray, one held a plain chicken breast and the tomato-onion mix; the other had a breast covered with sauce, next to a mound of succotash.

"I-I'll fix 'em right up." Jane used tongs to move the bare chicken breast onto a clean plate. Then she moved the breast with the sauce to where it had been. She spooned the succotash onto the plate with the plain breast. "Lemme just add a little more sauce."

She turned to get the pot with the mole sauce, only to see it bubbling merrily. "Dang!" She spooned a bit of sauce onto the chicken and put the pot onto a wooden trivet on the worktable. "It probably scorched."

"You can fix it," Milt said, trying to sound encouraging.

The blonde cook shook her head. "Scorching sauces, getting orders wrong, I don't know what's the matter with me tonight."

"I think, maybe, you are... distracted," Dolores told her. She picked up the tray and hurried out of the kitchen.

Jane smiled wryly. "Yeah, and I know who's doing the distracting."

"Shall I leave?" Milt asked.

"I hope not." She looked puzzled. "Maggie never got this distracted, not even when Ramon came over t'have his supper with us."

"And if she did, you were there to watch over the kitchen."

"Yeah - that's it! I need a helper here in the kitchen." She looked thoughtful. "Laura's home having supper with Arsenio, but... Molly." She pointed to the door. "Go ask Molly if she can come in here and help till Laura gets back. The two o'them and Dolores can trade off the job till Maggie gets back from her honeymoon."

Milt frowned. "I guess I'll be leaving then."

"No you won't." She smiled. "I don't need no helper for when I get distracted if you ain't here to do the distracting. Besides, I need somebody t'do the dishes."

Milt gave a little laugh. "All right." He took off his jacket and laid it over the top of a chair. "I'll do the dishes, provided I get to do the distracting, too."

"You will, but start on the dishes for now. I gotta see how much of this here mole sauce I can save."

* * * * *

Tuesday, April 2, 1872

Ramon shifted in his bed and stretched out his arm for Maggie.

She wasn't there.

His arm flailed about looking for her before he gave up and rolled over onto his back. "Marguarita?"

"Sì, Ramon?" She was standing by the dresser, hooking up her corset. She already had her drawers and camisole on.

He sat up. "Where are you going?"

"I... the restaurant, I am worried that Jane may be having problems."

"She is fine. You trained her, so she learned from the best. Besides, Molly and Laura are watching out for her." He threw back the blanket and climbed from the bed. All he wore was a pair of gray drawers, drawers with a very noticeable tenting in the front.

"But things can happen that she may not - I need to see - to know - that everything is all right." Her eyes darted back and forth, from Ramon - and his drawers - to the direction of the restaurant and back again.

Ramon walked over to her. He walked slowly, a reassuring smile on his face. "It will also be fine." His arms closed about her waist. "Besides, I know something else you need." He moved in close.

She could feel his manhood pressing against her thigh. She felt that oh, so wonderful warmth spread through her. It was a sensation she had gloried in all those times since her wedding, as her body prepared for the touch of his hands and his lips and his... manhood.

"But..." Her words trailed off as her concern about the restaurant gave way to her desire.

"You can go over later, if you really need to." He kissed her forehead. "Right now, I need something, too."

"Oh, and what is that?" The feelings were getting stronger, especially in that delightful place between her legs. She caught herself smiling in anticipation.

"I need to practice undressing you. We were in such a hurry when we did it the other night that I did not have the time to fully savor the experience." He reached down and began to slowly unhook her corset. "This time, I intend to take my time, to fully enjoy myself as I do."

She gently put her hand on his arm. "I want to enjoy it, as well." She kissed his cheek. "Just do not take too long. There are other things that we can enjoy."

"And we will enjoy them again." He finished with her corset and tossed it onto a chair. "And again." He opened the top button of her camisole, kissing the revealed skin. "And again... and again... and again." Each time he said the phrase, he opened another button. And kissed his wife's newly exposed skin.

Maggie trembled at the touch of his lips. "Ohh, tan buena..., t-tan buuuenna," she moaned as he took her nipple into his mouth, lapping at it like a puppy. Her arm snaked around his head holding it in place.

Ramon's left hand reached up to play with her other nipple. His right hand moved slowly, agonizingly slow, his fingers lightly touching her sensitive skin, "spider walking" he had called it. It was a tease, a tickle, and it sent sparks flying through her body like the fireworks they had seen at the Carnival celebrations. Only these fireworks weren't in the sky, they were in her breasts and down in her coño, her feminine core.

Maggie reeled from the power of those fireworks. They grew stronger, one burst after the other. And, when his hand reached her nether mound, and his fingers began to spider walk along the receptive flesh that surrounded it, it seemed that her whole body exploded. She writhed in ecstasy, releasing Ramon's head from her grasp.

He picked her quivering body up in his arms and carried her back to their bed.

* * * * *

The following letter was received by the Eerie
edition of The Tucson Citizen . While this
paper does not agree with all of the facts
presented in the letter or with the inflammatory
nature of the language used, the letter raises a
valid issue, and so it is presented here.

"An Open Letter to Shamus O'Toole"

"My Dear Mr. O'Toole:"

"You must be aware that questions have been raised
with regard to that transformative potion of yours."

"There is no denying that our town was spared from
the ravages of the Hanks' gang through the use of it
against them last summer. And young Elmer O'Hanlan
is alive today - albeit as Emma O'Hanlan – only
because the potion was administered to him after what
would otherwise have been a fatal accident this
November past."

"Still, your brew has also been the cause of much grief.
I need not name the two other individuals who suffered
the same extreme changes due to their inadvertent
partaking of it. The grief that they and their families
have endured - and continue to endure - is well known.
The degradation of Wilma Hanks following her second
dose is also public knowledge, but few know that a second
woman, a visitor to Eerie, ingested your concoction and
was similarly debased. I will not ask how she came to
imbibe your potion. I would prefer to assume that it
was an accident, rather than due to some deliberate
action on your part."

"Your mixture is a thing of magic. Some might - I am
sure that some have - called it witchcraft. I will not,
at this time, deign to call you a witch. I do feel that
the people of Eerie would be better served if such a
powerful creation were under the control of more
ethical, more pious hands. I call on you, therefore, to
place yourself and your potion under the direction of
the Reverend Mr. Thaddeus Yingling and those others
that he might choose to assist him in this work. I ask
this, Mr. O'Toole, so that that potion can serve as a
force for Good, serving the Will of Him to whom we
must all turn for guidance and salvation."

(signed) Isaias

* * * * *

Arnie pulled the small wagon she used for laundry service deliveries up to the side of the house. She picked up the Spaulding's package and walked up onto the porch. The back door opened before she reached it.

"Annie," Mrs. Spaulding greeted her. "I was just making lunch. Would you like to join us?"

Arnie put the package down onto the kitchen table. "I'm sorry, but I do not have the time. I have deliveries to make for the laundry."

"Oh, yes, the laundry. Let's just see how good a job you did." The older woman untied the package. She held up a folded blouse. "This is excellent work. Is that..." She looked closely at the garment. " thread on one of the buttons?"

"Sì, we saw that the button was loose, so we sewed it back on." She quickly added. "We did not charge you for it."

"Very commendable." Mrs. Spaulding picked up each piece of laundry, a dark green skirt, a man's white shirt, a man's red flannel union suit, and two pale blue hand towels. "And very good work, too; what do I owe you?"

"The bill is pinned to the package." Arnie said, pulling it loose. "It comes to 63 cents."

"That certainly seems reasonable. I do believe that I have found my laundry."

"Thank you, señora."

"You're more than welcome. You wouldn't stay for lunch, but you do have to stay while I gather up some more laundry for you." She pointed to a door. "You can wait in the parlor."

Arnie had an empty cloth bag tucked under her belt. She handed it to the woman. "I can wait here in the kitchen."

"Oh, no, please. Clara is in the parlor. She's been hoping that the two of you could talk a bit."

'No sense annoying a new customer,' Arnie thought. Aloud, she said. "All right, but I can't stay very long. They are waiting for me back at our house. That is where the laundry is."

They both walked into the parlor. Clara was sitting in her wheelchair reading. "Look who's here, dear," Mrs. Spaulding announced.

"Annie!" Clara smiled and quickly closed her book. "I'm so glad that you came back."

"She can only stay a short time today," the mother said. "Just long enough for me to pack a bag of laundry for her to do." She headed for a hallway, adding, "Which I will get for her now." She disappeared through a doorway.

Clara frowned. "Perhaps you can stay longer next time. You could take lunch with us, if you'd like."

"I'll see if I can." Arnie sat down on a chair next to Clara.

"I do hope you can," the other girl said, sounding a little sad. "We... we don't know many people here in town."

"It is hard to make time. I have to help with the business. My mother was hurt --"

"What happened - if you don't mind my asking?"

Arnie shook her head. "She... a horse... it ran her down. Her arm and leg were broken."

"Oh, how terrible; I hope that she's getting better." She reached over and gently touched Arnie's arm.

Arnie nodded. She liked Clara's touch. "She is; thank you. I am doing her deliveries and helping with the business. I am helping her get around at home, too. My whole family is."

"That's very kind of you. You're a good person, Annie. Please... please say that you'll have lunch with us. I do so want you for a friend."

Arnie sighed. 'When a pretty girl begs,' she thought, 'a man can only surrender.' Aloud, she said, "I will try."

"Try what?" Mrs. Spaulding walked back into the room. She was carrying the sack Arnie had given her, but now it was stuffed full.

"She's going to stay for lunch, Mama - not today, but when she brings back that laundry."

The older woman beamed. "Wonderful. Shall we say Friday, then?"

"Friday." Arnie took a small piece of paper from her pocket. She wrote, "Spauldings - Friday" on it and pinned it to the laundry bag. "But today, I have to get back to work." She hefted the bag over her shoulder. "Goodbye, Señora Spaulding, and goodbye to you, Clara."

* * * * *

"Hola, Jane!" A small voice called out from the backdoor to the kitchen.

Jane turned to see... "Lupe, well, hello. What brings you over here? And who's that with you?"

"Say, hello, Jose," Lupe told the slender Mexican boy standing next to her.

The boy gave a slight bow. "Hello, Miss Jane. I'm Jose Whitney. Lupe is staying with my Mama and Papa while her Mama is away."

"They're not away," Lupe corrected him. "They're in your guest house."

"The door is locked, and they have not come out since Sunday," he argued. "They are as good as away. You said so, yourself."

Jane decided to change the subject. "They's there, but they ain't there. That sounds as good as them being away, t'me, too" When the two nodded in agreement, she continued. "That being settled, what brings you two over here?"

"I felt like visiting," Lupe answered, "and Jose wanted to see where his new Aunt Marguarita - we're cousins now that his Uncle Ramon married Mama - he wanted to see her restaurant."

"Where's Ernesto?"

"He's in school. Me 'n' Jose ain't old enough to go to school yet."

The boy chimed in. "We go next year."

"And I'll bet you'll both do real good." Jane looked at the clock ticking away on a shelf. "Right now, I'm working on the Free Lunch. If you two sit quiet for a little bit, you can have some."

"That will be nice, Miss Jane," Jose said. "It smells real good."

"It is, Jose, and you being Maggie's new nephew, I'm sure you can come back here anytime."

* * * * *

Jubal Cates looked up from his drafting table, when he heard the bell over his door. "Miss Osbourne... Nancy, good afternoon. I was wondering when you might be coming back."

"Good afternoon, Mr. Cates. I'm sorry about taking so long. When you asked me to help you, I was getting ready to give the older children an arithmetic test. I wanted to see the results, to help me make my recommendation for you."

"And you have those results?"

"I do. Frankly, though, she would have been my choice without them."

"She? Miss Osbourne, are you saying that I should hire a girl as my assistant?"

"You said that wanted to hire my best student in mathematics. Emma O'Hanlan has a 97 average for the past term,"

"O'Hanlan, not Trisha O'Hanlan's daughter?"

"Yes, she is. Does it make a difference whose child she is?"

He thought for a moment. "It does, but not as much as all the other problems I see with hiring her."

"Oh, really, what problems would those be? Perhaps I can resolve them... and in her favor, as well."

"First off - last off, she's a girl." He ticked his points off on his fingers. "She's hardly going to be interested in something like surveying. She won't be willing to do the work. She won't be able to do the physical work."

"May I address those before you go on? " When he nodded, she continued. "You know Emma's background, that she used to be a boy, don't you?"

"Of course, I do, her and Trisha both." He didn't add that he had been one of those who had voted to remove Trisha from the church board back in December.

"Elmer O'Hanlan wanted to be a civil engineer for years before he became Emma. There are no woman civil engineers. She knows that, and she knows that being a surveyor is probably as close to her dream as she's ever going to get. So surveying is something she most surely is interested in."

"As far as not being willing to work hard," the teacher continued, "Elmer was in the fifth grade. Emma is graduating from eighth grade. In the months since she changed, Emma has caught up with the other eighth graders. She's holding her own in most of her subjects, and has the highest marks in mathematics of any of them. She had to work very, very hard to catch up with the other eighth graders and she can most certainly do the work you need done."

"That's all well and good," Cates managed to interrupt, "but surveying is hard, physical work. Whoever I hire has to be capable of it."

Nancy nodded in agreement. "I realize that, and I'd say that she's as capable of it as any of the boys in her class. She plays that ball chase game with them every recess. She had to fight to get back in the game. She fought, and she won. Now she's one of the best players. I've seen her score the winning point in at least one week's game."

"Any other questions?" Her smile would have melted butter. "Or shall I tell Emma that she's hired?"

"N-Neither... for now. You've hit me with quite a lot of data, and I'd like a bit to time to total things up and see what I come get for a solution. I'll let you both know by a week from today."

"And I've no doubt that your answer will be the fair one. Thank you, Mr. Cates."

* * * * *

Reverend Yingling moved a black pawn out to almost the middle of the chessboard. "Ha!" he trumpeted, as he turned over the hourglass that served as timer for their game.

"It wasn't that good," Aaron Silverman said, studying the board. "So tell me, Thad, what did you think of that letter somebody wrote in the paper?"

"It strikes me as a good idea."

Aaron's hand lingered over one or two pieces. "It should." He advanced a pawn. "You wrote it." He turned the timer over.

"Now why do you say that?"

"Because it sounds just like something that you would write." He watched for the other man's reaction. "And as they say, 'you don't have to see the lion if you see his lair.' So tell me, what exactly are you trying to do?"

"As I've told you, I don't believe that Shamus O'Toole should be the one who controls that potion of his." He ran his tongue along the inside of his cheek, a sure sign that he was thinking. "There." He moved a knight out near his queen and turned the timer.

Aaron studied the board. "And you can do that much better with the potion?"

"I don't think that I'll make the mistakes he's made. Trisha O'Hanlan, that Diaz boy, and the two women are proof that he should not be the one in charge of such a powerful concoction."

"Examples, as they say, aren't proof. They're just examples. You've made a couple of good chess moves, that doesn't prove that you're a better player than I am." He moved his rook and turned the hourglass.

Yingling smiled. "Perhaps this proves it." He took Aaron's bishop with his pawn.

"Or not." Aaron moved out a pawn. "You should think more before you act, Thad. Here, playing chess with me or trying to take the potion from Shamus."

"Don't worry about that. I've given it plenty of thought. And speaking of playing against you, will you support me if I ask the town council to give me control of the potion?"

Aaron sighed. "We're friends - at least, I like to think we are, and a good friend is sometimes better than a brother, as they say. But they also say that if your friend is going into a mire, you shouldn't worry about getting dirty to stop him."

"Are you saying that you're going to fight dirty?"

"No, just like on the board right now, I think you're in a lot of trouble."

"What?" Yingling stared at the board, and at the pawn that Aaron had just moved. "Damnation!" He shifted his queen, trying to get her out of danger.

* * * * *

Wednesday, April 3, 1872

"Dear Phil," Wilma wrote.

"I was so happy t'hear that they're letting you outta
prison early for good behavior."

"I'm looking forward t'welcome you back here for some
bad behavior, some real bad behavior."

"First thing we do when I get you up to my bedroom, is
we's gonna kiss. Maybe that don't sound like much, but
you ain't never had one of my kisses. 'Course, I
ain't never had one of yours, neither, and we's gonna
have to do something about that - something real nice."

"I just can't wait t'feel your lips on my lips, Ethan.
And on other places of mine, too. I got a whole lotta
places on me for you to put your --"

She stared at the paper for a few seconds before she threw her pen down on the table. It bounced once, spitting a few drops of black ink. She jumped back, anxious not get have any of it on the violet corset or satiny white drawers she was wearing.

"Damn!" She asked herself. "Now why'd I go and write Ethan's name instead of Phil's?"

And she answered her own question at once. "'Cause, lately, if I think about anybody kissing me all over, it's that danged painter." She closed her eyes and sighed. "I just gotta get that man outta mind." She giggled. "And into my pussy."

* * * * *

Milt came into Aaron's store and walked over to where the older man was arranging a display of men's shirts. "Good morning, Aaron. How're you and Rachel doing today?"

"Not too bad," the storekeeper answered. "We're a little shorthanded, of course, with Ramon off on his honeymoon, but, as the Sages say, 'the hardest work is being idle.' Having said that..." He took a breath. "...what can I do for you today, Milt? A new shirt, maybe; they're on sale."

"Another time, perhaps; I just came in to mail this." He took an envelope from inside his jacket.

Silverman's store was the post office for Eerie. "Come over to the counter," Aaron said. He put down the shirt he'd been holding and walked behind his counter. He reached underneath and took out a ledger and a small metal box.

"Where's it going?" He opened the ledger to a page bookmarked with a long, thin silvery ribbon.

"Brooklyn, New York." Milt handed him the envelope.

Aaron used a small scale set in the countertop to weigh the letter. "Just under five and a half ounces," he told Milt, "that'll be thirty- three cents." He wrote Milt's name and the letter's destination and the cost of mailing it in the ledger.

"Thirty-three cents." Milt pulled a handful of change from his pocket. While he searched for the necessary change, Aaron opened the box. He took out the stamps he needed, licked them, and put them on the letter.

Milt handed Aaron the money, and the merchant put it and the letter in the box, saying, "It'll go out on the stage tomorrow - get to Brooklyn in a week and a half, two on the outside."

"That'll be fine," Milt said.

Aaron closed the box and put it and the ledger back under the counter. "Good, now, before you leave, are you sure you don't want to look at these nice shirts?"

* * * * *

"That concludes Old Business," Horace Styron said. "Reverend Yingling has asked to be the first item of New Business. So, unless someone objects..." He paused and glanced from one member of the church board to another.

Trisha frowned. 'What're you looking so long at me for, Horace?' she thought. 'Get on with whatever you and the Reverend have cooked up.'

"There being no objection," Styron continued, "the floor is yours, Reverend."

Yingling sat in the front of the room with the board but apart from them. And, usually, apart from board politics. Now, he rose and walked over, so that he was standing in front of the table that the board members were seated behind.

"Thank you, Horace." He spoke in the same firm, resonant voice that he used to deliver his sermons. "These two Sundays past I have spoken to the congregation of my deep concerns regarding the transformative potion developed by Mr. Shamus O'Toole, the proprietor of the Eerie Saloon. As it says in Luke, chapter 12, verse 48: 'For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required'; or, as some might put it, with great power comes great responsibility. I believe that this is true, and I believe that Mr. O'Toole is not capable of meeting the responsibilities imposed upon him by that potion."

"Others, it would seem, share my concerns. The open letter to Mr. O'Toole that appeared in yesterday's newspaper was, I think, a most eloquent statement of those same concerns, and I humbly thank whomever authored those most persuasive words."

"In the past, the town council of Eerie has supported Mr. O'Toole in the use of his potion for the good - its use, that is, against the Hanks Gang and for the punishment of the kidnapper Jacob Steinmetz. It has even paid the expenses incurred by those same miscreants during their incarceration at Mr. O'Toole's saloon, although one can only hope for the truthfulness of the accounting of those expenses that he presented to the town council."

"Even so, the council has never - never - addressed the problems that have been created by his flagrant misuse of his potion and the consequences of that misuse for his victims. That apathy must come to an end."

"It is my intent to correct their omission. At the next meeting of the town council, I shall ask that the council allow me to create a body - an advisory board only, which would have physical possession of all samples of that potion, and which would make recommendations as to when and to whom the potion would be administered."

"I come to the board - and the congregation - of the Eerie Methodist Church tonight to ask your approval." His voice suddenly boomed out. "No!, I ask for your concurrence in my actions. I ask, as your spiritual leader, for a statement that the congregation and board of my church wholeheartedly approve of my actions and that they - that you demand that the town council do as I ask."

"I ask this of you because it is right; it is holy. I ask it in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen."

Horace Styron jumped to his feet. "So moved"

"Second," Willie Gotefreund added a moment later.

Horace looked out at the crowd. "All in favor --"

"Hold it, Horace," the Judge interrupted. "This is a serious matter, and I think that it needs to be discussed before the board - or the congregation votes."

Horace folded his arms over his chest. "I don't think we do."

"Perhaps not," Milt Quinlan said firmly, rising to his feet, "but, speaking as parliamentarian, I think we do. Horace, before you can call for a vote, you have to ask if anyone wants to speak on the motion. If no one does, then you can hold the vote."

"And if anyone does want to speak?" Horace glared at Milt.

Milt smiled back innocently. 'I shouldn't be enjoying this,' Milt told himself, 'but I am.' To Horace, and the entire congregation, he said, "Then they get a chance to speak before any vote can be held."

"Very well," Styron said, "I'll ask the board first. Anyone want to speak on this?" The Judge, Trisha, and Rupe Warrick all raised their hands. So did Jubal Cates and Willie Gotefreund. He gave an audible sigh. "And in the congregation?" At least a dozen hands shot into the air.

Milt looked out at the crowd. "Okay, the way it works is that we switch off between those who are in favor and those who aren't. Someone in favor speaks first, and the members of the board should go first."

"That'll be me," Styron replied, standing up. "I don't trust Shamus O'Toole, never have, never will, but I do trust Reverend Yingling. We all do. We trust him with our very souls. I say that, if he thinks we need to do this, then we do, and I also say, vote yes." He sat down. "Next?"

"I'll go next," the Judge said, getting to his feet. "I'm second to no man in my respect for Thaddeus Yingling, and I most certainly follow him in matters of faith and Scripture." He paused for effect. "But he doesn't know Shamus O'Toole, and I do. I've always found Shamus to be an honorable man, and I've seen how he's acted with the newly transformed women placed in his charge. He and his wife, Molly, worked hard to teach them how to act like women, and they gave those women every opportunity to find a new, respectable place in society, encouraging them to work hard at being accepted. How many of you, for example, have enjoyed a meal at the restaurant one of them opened?"

Now Horace interrupted. "Seems to me you've gotten a little too chummy with O'Toole, Judge."

"Excuse me, Horace," the Judge answered, sounding angry. "I wasn't finished yet. Do I know Shamus? Yes, I do. Isn't that what I've been saying? There's no courthouse in this town, in case anyone hasn't noticed. I can do some of the work out of my office, but I need a large public space for holding trials, and Shamus's saloon is the largest room in town, even bigger than here in the schoolhouse. He's been willing to let me take it over for most of those trials, and I'm grateful for that."

"But I'm getting off track. I trusted - the town trusted - Shamus O'Toole to take care of those prisoners, and I think that he's done very well with them. One of them, Laura Caulder, is even married and an active member of this church. I'd say that we'd be a pretty ungrateful bunch if we said that we didn't trust him now, and we wanted to take his potion away from him." The Judge finished and sat down.

Willie Gotefreund quickly stood up. "I vill speak next. Nein, I do not trust him. I vould say, 'tank you very much, Herr O'Toole. You done a good job mit der potion, but ve tink dat ve can do a better one.' Ve got der Reverend to show us how to do a better job, und I say dat it is our duty to try." He gave a satisfied nod of his head and took his seat.

"As the board member most familiar with O'Toole's potion," Trisha said, getting to her feet, "I'd like to go next." There were a few chuckles at her words.

But, before she could continue, Cecelia Ritter stood up. "Mr. Chairman!"

"I'm sorry, Cecelia," Styron corrected her. "But Milt says that the board members speak before the vote." He didn't seem too upset by the interruption. "If enough people want, I'll let some of them speak before the vote."

Cecelia wasn't convinced. "I think that the Board needs to know that the congregation supports the Reverend, and they need to know it now. Right, ladies?"

"Right," Lavinia Mackechnie shouted. "Who cares what that potion freak has to say?"

Trisha bristled. "Potion freak? Why you --"

"Vote for the Reverend," another woman yelled.

Now Milt stood up. "Please, can we have some order here?"

"No," a third woman, Zenobia Carson, shouted. "She's got as much right to speak as anyone else - more than some people who shouldn't even be on the board. Let us vote now."

"Raise your hand, everyone," Cecelia Ritter ordered in a loud, clear voice. "Show these politicians what the people of the congregation want. Show that you support your minister, our Lord's anointed voice." She raised her right arm, her hand extended, palm opened, as if in a salute.

Lavinia and Zenobia's hands shot up, held the same way as Cecelia's. About a half dozen other women raised their hands. Most of the others in the audience looked around nervously, but, very slowly, many with an embarrassed look on their faces, more than half of them raised their hands.

"Seems to me that the board should be going along with what the members want," Styron said, sounding triumphant. "You might as well sit down, Trisha." He pointed out at the crowd, whose hands were still raised. "How many members of the board agree?"

Jubal Cates and Willie Gotefreund quickly raised their hands. Dwight Albertson looked over at Trisha. "I-I'm sorry," he said softly and raised his hand. So did Judge Humpreys, a disgusted look on his face.

"I'm not," Styron whispered, and his own hand went up. He looked around, a satisfied grin on his face. "Anyone voting 'no'?" Trisha's hand shot up.

Rupe Warrick looked down at the table. "I... abstain."

"Passed, then," the board chairman crowed, "five to one with one abstention. Congratulations, Reverend. When you go tell the council what you want them to do, you can tell them that you've got your congregation and it's board behind you."

* * * * *

Thursday, April 4, 1872

Wilma lay back on the bed, while Ethan arranged the sheet against her nude body. "That looks right," he told her, stepping back. "Allow me to ascertain that it does indeed match your earlier poses and we can begin."

"Anything you say... Ethan." Wilma felt a shiver run through her, as she said his name.

He smiled and walked over to the easel. "Yes, perfect."

She felt a blush run across her face. "Thank you."

"Now, if you would please... hold still just like that."

A giggle. "I never 'hold still' in bed." She felt the warmth of arousal flow through her body, and there was that delightful tingling in her breasts and down in her groin.

"Would you please - for me?"

"For you, Ethan, anything." Lordy, she felt giddy as a schoolgirl. What the hell was the matter with her? She decided to think about just that, hoping that her mind would distract her body from whatever it was doing.

* * * * *

"Well, lookee here who's back," Jane said cheerily.

Maggie gave a shy smile as she walked into the kitchen. "Hola, Jane."

"Hi, Maggie. I won't ask how you're doing. I can see it in your face." She giggled. "You and Ramon --"

"Are very happy together," Maggie answered quickly.

"I'll just bet you are, and I'll bet you was together as often as you could be the last three days."

Maggie blushed. "Jane... please."

"I thought I was hearing a familiar voice," Molly said, walking in from the saloon. "Welcome back t'ye... Mrs. de Aguilar."

Maggie smiled. "Mrs. de Aguilar... mmm, I think I can get used to that name."

"Ye better, the Good Lord willing, ye'll be using it for a long, long time."

"Forever! I will be Señora de Aguilar forever!"

"Amen t'that." Jane hugged her friend. "But I don't have t'call you Mrs. de Aguilar, do I?"

"Not unless you want me to start calling you, Miss Steinmetz. Now tell me, Jane, how did things go while I was... away? Did you have any problems?"

"H-How did things go? Well... umm..." Jane tried to think of a way to tell Maggie about the near disaster on Monday.

"Things went as well as ye could be hoping for them t'go," Molly chimed in. "There was a wee - a wee. - bit o'confusion on Monday, but Jane here soon got things going as smooth as glass."

Maggie hugged her friend. "I knew that I could trust my restaurant to you, Jane. Gracias - thank you - so very much."

"There wasn't that much t'do," Jane answered. She looked over Maggie's shoulder to Molly, who was still standing near the door to the Saloon, and carefully mouthed the words, "Thanks, Molly."

* * * * *

"Recess is over, children," Nancy Osbourne announced from the steps of the schoolhouse. In case she wasn't heard, she rang the bell she kept in her desk for just that reason.

Hermione and Lallie were standing along the edge of the field as the boys headed in from their ball game. Emma was with them, brushing the dirt off her dress as she walked. "Honestly, Emma," Hermione asked, as she walked past, "why can't you decide?"

"What d'you mean?" Emma replied.

The Ritter girl chuckled. "You dress like a girl. Sometimes you even try to act like one - not too well, but you do try. Then you go out at recess and play ball with the boys like you were still one of them."

"Maybe she can't decide," Lallie suggested. "Maybe she's a half-and- half freak like the one in that Mr. Barnum's museum in New York."

Hermione laughed again at the thought. "I do believe you're right, Lallie. We oughta write Mr. Barnum to come out here and pick up her and her... her Trisha. He can put them both in big pickle jars with signs that say, 'Potion Freaks' in big letters on the side."

"Potion freak," Lallie chanted at Emma. "Potion freak."

On cue, Clyde Ritter, Junior, and Tommy Carson joined in. "Potion freak; potion freak!" A few other children joined in, forming a circle around Emma.

"Stop it," Emma ordered. "Stop it right now."

Clyde stepped in front of her. "Who's gonna make me, potion freak?"

"If she won't," Yully said, stepping in next to her, "I will."

Stephan and Ysabel stood on either side of them. "And we'll help."

"Us, too." Penny and Tomas joined them. Tomas raised his fists, as if ready to fight.

Clyde and Tommy moved into similar stances.

"As I told you all, recess ended several minutes ago." Miss Osbourne came through the crowd of her students. "And I expected you all to be inside by now, ready to learn."

Hermione put on her best smile. "Emma started it, Miss Osbourne. Lallie and I were talking, and she came over and insulted me."

"That wasn't what I heard you say, Hermione. I'm not sure what you were up to, but you and Eulalie can think about it while you're writing 'I must not start fights.' for me. Fifty times each, I think, after school today."

Emma caught herself smiling. It was almost worth the taunting to see "Whiney Hermione" get punished for it. All the same, she had a feeling that her trouble was only beginning.

* * * * *

Maggie was checking the second batch of stew for the Free Lunch when Ramon strode into the kitchen. "Is there anywhere around here, where a man can --?"

"Ramon!" Maggie dropped her spoon and ran over to him. They flowed into each other's arms and into a passionate kiss.

Jane hurried over and lowered the flame under the stewpot. "Ain't that sweet," she said with a deep sigh as she watched the newlyweds embrace. "I just wish Milt were t'do that to me."

Eventually, the need to breathe made the pair break their kiss. "I do not know about the food," Ramon said with a chuckle, "but the service here is excellent."

"There is more - much more - if you wish," Maggie answered softly.

His eyes twinkled. "And I would have it all, Marguarita, but for now, alas, I will have to settle for a quick lunch. I promised Aaron that I would be back at the store in no more than a half hour, and what I would have takes far longer to do... properly."

* * * * *

"Whatever is the matter, Jubal?" Naomi Cates asked her husband.

Jubal looked up from his dinner. "Did you say something, Naomi?"

"I asked what was bothering you - and don't say, 'nothing.' You've been playing with your mashed sweet potatoes and your peas for the past five minutes."

The bald man looked down at his plate. About half of his peas were mixed in with the sweet potatoes. "Makes a nice contrast, though, orange and green." He laughed. "All right, you got me. You remember how I said I needed some help with my business, and I was gonna ask Nancy Osbourne, over at the school, to recommend one of her kids for the job?"

"Of course, I do. Hasn't she given you a name yet? That isn't like her."

"No, she gave me a name. That's the problem." He sighed. "It was Emma O'Hanlan's name."

"Emma... Kaitlin and Trisha's daughter?"

"The same."

"Jubal, are you saying that you can't hire her because her... her father and you are on different sides on the church board?"

"No - hell no - I like Trisha, even if we do disagree about how the church should be run. It's, well, it's how can I hire a slip of a girl like Emma?"

"Don't you think she can do the work?"

"She can do the math part of it. At least, Nancy says she can, but doing math is just part of the job."

"What else would she have to do - that you don't think she can do?"

"She can't do the job I want sitting in my office here in town. She's gonna have to carry my transit and telescope - all my gear - across open country. That's pretty hard work for a little girl like her."

"Did you tell Nancy what the job involved when you asked for help?"

"Of course, I did. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, Jubal, Nancy Osbourne is a very smart woman. I'm sure that she would have considered what you told her before she gave you Emma's name. Don't you think so?"

"I... I suppose."

"Then don't you think that she must believe that Emma can do the physical labor part of the job?"

"But what if she can't?"

"But what if she can? I think you should give her the chance. If she can't then, you can tell Nancy to find you somebody else."

"Emma can't do that work. It'd be a waste of my time and hers."

"Are you so sure of that? I'm beginning to think that, maybe, the waste of time is you worrying instead of giving Emma the chance that Nancy - and I - think she deserves."

Jubal laughed and held up his hands in surrender. "All right, all right, I'll talk to Trisha. If she has no objections with her daughter working for me, then I'll give her the chance."

"I knew that you would do the right thing, dear." She leaned over and kissed his forehead. "Now, would you like some more peas to play with?"

* * * * *

"So tell me, Shamus," R.J. asked, "you given much thought to what you're going to do about Yingling?"

Shamus made a sour face. "T'be telling ye the truth, I been giving the good reverend too much thought. At least, it was too much for me taste." He sighed. "I surely don't like going up against a man of the cloth."

"I think you're worrying too much. He's trying to get the town council to let him put his bunch in charge of your potion, and they won't. The board: Whit, Aaron, and Arsenio - especially Arsenio are your friends. They won't make you give your potion over to him."

The older barman shook his head. "They may not be having any choice, lad. Yingling got his folk all stirred up, the way I heard it. A bunch like that - thinking they're doing the right thing - the G-dly thing - they can force the council t'be doing what they say is right instead of doing what the council members know is the right thing t'be doing."

"I'd disagree, but I've seen things like that happen more than once back in Philly. A loud bunch of people can make a political hack change his mind real quick. The thing is, Arsenio isn't a hack; neither are Whit and Aaron."

"No, lad, but they're human beings, and they can be pushed like any other man."

"Not Arsenio. He's married to - well, to your daughter. That's how you and Molly treat Laura, after all. And they're both members of that church, too. They can stand up to Yingling and his people."

"Maybe - maybe they could be doing that, but I don't want them to be asking them to. Not with Laura as far along as she is."

"You think it'd be bad for her baby?"

"I hope not - no, I pray that it ain't; that nothing goes wrong with that wee babe o'hers, but I don't trust Yingling not t'be making an issue of it. I don't trust him not to use anything he can - including Laura and her baby - to be getting his way."

"He's a minister. He's got to have some principals."

"Aye, the principal that he's always right, and that whatever he wants is what the Lord wants. A man that thinks like that'll be thinking that the Lord'll be excusing anything he does 'cause it's for the right end. And that's a dangerous man t'be going up against."

* * * * *

Friday, April 5, 1872

Molly walked over to the table where Bridget was picking at her breakfast sausages. "G'morning to ye, Bridget." When there was no response, she repeated, "I say again, g'morning, Bridget." in a louder voice.

"What?" Bridget looked up. "Oh, ah, good morning, Molly."

The older woman pulled out a chair and sat down opposite the redhead. "And good morning back to ye." She studied the card player's face. "Are ye gonna tell me what's bothering ye right off, or are we gonna have to pick at yuir problem for a while?"

"Pick at it?" Bridget said, trying to sound cheerful.

"Wrong answer." Molly leaned across the table and gently put her hand on the other woman's arm. "Please... let me help ye with whatever bad thing it is ye're facing."

"It's not a bad thing - or, maybe, it is." She took a breath. "My monthlies started this morning."

"Then ye ain't pregnant, and all yuir worrying about it was for nothing."

Bridget shook her head. "No, I'm not pregnant, and I was worrying for nothing."

"And that's yuir problem?" Molly studied Bridget's face. "Ye ain't pregnant by Cap, and ye don't know if ye should be happy or unhappy about it."

The younger woman looked down at the table. "Yes." Molly could hear the break in Bridget's voice, as she spoke. "That's exactly what I don't know."

"That's how it should be, if ye don't mind me saying it. Ye want t'be happy because ye ain't ready t'be married, t'be a mother, yet, but ye're unhappy 'cause you wanna be with Cap, and this would've fixed it so ye had t'be. Ye know what it all means?"

"No, do you?" Molly could hear the sarcasm in Bridget's voice.

Molly came around the table and gave her a fierce hug. "I do. It means ye love the man, love him with all yuir heart and soul. Ye ain't ready t'be marrying him yet, but I'll tell ye now, sure as the sun rises in the east, ye will be marrying up with him someday, and I'm thinking that the two of ye'll be very, very happy." She kissed Bridget on the cheek.

"You know something else, Molly," Bridget said, trying to smile. "I do believe you're right."

* * * * *

Hedley Spaulding opened the back door of his house just as Arnie climbed up onto the porch. "Welcome, Annie, your timing is perfect."

"How so?" she asked, not certain what he meant.

The young man smiled at her. "Mother is just now finishing the stew we'll be having for lunch." He looked at the two packages she was carrying. "May I help you with those?"

"No, thank you. I have them." She walked past him into the house.

Clara was in her wheelchair near a wooden worktable. "Annie - oh, I'm so glad that you could come."

"Thank you again for the invitation," Arnie replied, giving her a smile and a nod of the head. She'd decided not to correct them about her name. It would just confuse things, especially with Clara. "Where should I put your laundry?"

Mrs. Spaulding was at the stove, adding a last pinch of pepper to her stew. She used the long wooden spoon she was holding to point to a chair in a corner. "Over there, where they'll be out of the way."

"It comes to $2.46," Annie told her, putting the packages down on the chair.

Hedley fished in his pocket. "I've got it, Mother." He handed her three silver dollars, adding, "Keep the change, Annie."

"My," Clara teased, "aren't you the extravagant one."

Hedley's smile widened into a grin. "I consider it an investment in Annie's continued and growing friendship..." He winked. "...with us all."

"Why don't you three go sit at the dining room table?" Mrs. Spaulding suggested. "I'm almost done here."

"Are you certain that you can manage everything, Mother?" Hedley asked.

She shrugged. "You and Clara have already set the table and taken out the bread and the butter."

"And a pitcher of water," Clara added.

"And a pitcher of water," her mother said with a nod. "I can certainly carry in a serving bowl full of stew by myself."

Hedley took hold of the handles of Clara's wheelchair. "Very well, Mother. Annie, would you hold the door for us."

"Sure," Arnie said, "C'mon through."

Hedley pushed the wheelchair through the doorway and positioned it at the table. Clara patted the arm of the chair on her right. "Sit here, Annie, next to me."

"Umm... okay." Arnie moved towards the chair.

Hedley pulled it out from the table. "Allow me."

"Uh... okay." Arnie sat and let him push her and the chair in to place. It felt good to sit down. Her feet had hurt all morning, as if her shoes were suddenly too tight. "Ahh, thank you."

"My pleasure." He moved around the table and sat down opposite her. "Just as sitting across from you - from the both of you - will be a pleasure."

Clara giggled. "Oh, dear, I think Hedley likes you, Annie."

"Of course, I do," he countered. "Annie is a charming young woman who is rapidly becoming your friend - your friend. Why shouldn't I like her?"

Clara nodded. "And that, of course, is the only reason," she didn't even try to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. "Never mind, him, Annie." Clara put her hand on Arnie's arm. "And I do like having you as a friend."

'She likes me!' Arnie realized. She touched Clara's hand with her own. "And I like you, too, Clara." She was so happy that she was willing to ignore the way her breasts and her groin, the "girly parts" she hated to think about, were making her feel even as she said it.

* * * * *

Ethan opened his front door on the third knock to see... "Wilma, do come in."

"Thank you, Ethan," she offered in a soft voice, almost a whisper, as she walked past him and into the house. She stepped slowly, as if she was thinking about something. "I... Should I go upstairs?"

He nodded. "Yes, please. I shall join you momentarily."

"All right." She headed for the stairs with the same slow gait. Ethan noticed that her arms were stretched out, so that she touched or slid her hands over various objects and surfaces as she walked. She did the same with the banister as she climbed the stairs.

He waited for a few minutes before following her. He expected to find her in the nude, either standing beside the bed she was posing on or sprawled out on it. Instead... "Wilma, you're still dressed."

"Yes." She blushed and looked away from him. "Would you - could you please... undress me?"

He studied her for a moment, her expression, the way she held herself. Wilma's usual brashness was gone from the demure young woman standing before him in a pale green dress that was far more modest than anything else he had ever seen her wear. He had to ask, "Is this some sort of ploy on your part?"

"No... no, it isn't. I just thought... I want you so bad, and you kept saying 'no', so I thought maybe you didn't care for the sort of woman I am. I don't have to act that way all the time."

Ethan smiled. 'Soon, very, very soon,' he told himself. He put his hands on her shoulder and felt her tremble at his touch. "I do like the sort of woman you are. I just prefer you... on canvas," he said.

"Then, could you... help me?" Her voice caught and her lack of smoothness made her wince. She glanced down at her buttons. .

"Well, if it will speed things along."

He started with the top buttons of her dress, the ones that Wilma never seemed to close before today. When they were undone, he was surprised to see a white camisole, something she seldom wore, preferring to show the tops of her breasts to any and all who wanted to look. It made her look sweetly demure, and he had to resist the temptation to stroke her cheek.

When her dress was open to the waist, he slid it down off her shoulders. He could feel her body tremble as his hands moved along her body. Both her camisole and corset were white. 'Virginal,' he thought. 'How ironic, that the most infamous whore in town feels virginal in my presence. And how true it is in its own way.'

"You look so lovely," he said aloud. On an impulse, he took her head in his hands and kissed her on the lips.

Wilma moaned and pressed her body against his. Her arms closed around him, but she held herself back, as if waiting for his next move, a little bit more encouragement. Ethan obliged, deepening and intensifying the kiss. Wilma reacted; her tongue slid across his lips, as if begging for his own tongue to come out and play.

"No!" As abruptly as he had kissed her, he pushed her away. "I've told you before, Wilma, that the only way that I wish to have you is on canvas. I apologize for my behavior just now." He turned and started for the stairs. "Please be on the bed, in dishabille and ready to pose, when I return."

He smiled as he walked away. His minnow was most definitely hooked. Now he was reeling her in.

* * * * *

"We're home, Mama," Matt Yingling yelled, as he and his brothers and sisters ran into the house after school.

Martha greeted them from the kitchen. "So I heard. Now, everyone go upstairs and change your clothes. You've chores and homework to get done before supper."

"Mama," Stephan said, walking into the kitchen, "can I talk to you for a minute?"

His mother could see from his face that something was bothering him. "Certainly, dear, what seems to be the problem?"

"Why is Pa making so much trouble for Emma O'Hanlan?"

"What do you mean? I'm not aware that your father is doing anything to her."

"Oh, yes, he is. All that business he's started about taking away that potion that Mr. O'Toole makes. Some of the kids at school are teasing Emma about it. They're calling her a 'potion freak' 'cause she drank it to save her life, and it turned her into a girl."

"Is Emma a special friend of yours? Is that why it bothers you?" Was Emma her son's first case of puppy love?

The boy shook his head. "She's just a regular friend... honest. If she's anybody's 'special friend', she's Yully Stone's." He wasn't going to say anything about Ysabel Diaz and the way he sometimes felt about her.

"Well, I'm glad to hear that you stick up for your friends, and I'm sorry that the other children are teasing her. I'm sure that your father doesn't approve of that sort of thing."

"Then can we ask him to stop going on about that potion?"

"I'm sorry that Emma is having problem, but your father is very definite about wanting to be the one controlling that potion. He feels that it's for the best for everyone in town."

"What if it ain't - isn't - the best? What if Pa's wrong?"

"I'm quite sure he's right in what he wants for the town. He's given so very much thought to the matter." She hugged her son. "Now, you go upstairs and change. You have work to do in the barn before supper."

"Yes, Mama." Stephan kissed her cheek and walked out of the kitchen.

'How can he know what's best for the town,' he asked himself, as he climbed the stairs to the room he shared with his brothers, 'when he doesn't even know what's right for me, his own flesh and blood?'

* * * * *

Jubal Cates walked into O'Hanlan's Feed and Grain. Trisha was speaking to Saul Dinner, who worked at Minnie Haldeman's dairy farm. Saul waved a quick "hello" to Jubal, and then went back to talking to Trisha. Jubal headed over to the counter to wait.

"Can I help you with something, Jubal?" Liam asked from behind the counter.

Jubal shook his head. "No, thanks, I need to talk to Trisha about something." He leaned back against the counter.

Trisha and Sam came over a few minutes later. "Hello, Jubal," she said stiffly, still mad at what had happened at the board meeting.

"Jubal said he needed to talk to you about something," Liam told her. "Why don't I ring up Sam's order?"

Trisha looked at Sam. The dairyman was just the sort of tall, broad- shouldered male that she had learned to appreciate. "Well, if Sam doesn't mind..." Her voice trailed off.

"Your sister's a lot easier on the eye than you are, Liam, but if it's important --"

Jubal cut in. "It is."

"Oh, very well," Trisha replied, trying not to sound disappointed. "Another time, Sam." She had promised not to go off with anyone, but a little flirting wouldn't hurt.

She turned to the stocky surveyor. "Can we talk out here, Jubal, or is this so important that we have to go into my office?"

"Your choice; it's about your daughter, Emma."

"What about her?"

"I've been looking around for somebody to help me with my business. Part of the job'd be in my office, but a big part'd be working with me out in the field, learning to be a surveyor."

"And?" She knew the answer, but she wanted to hear it from him.

"And I asked Nancy Osbourne to recommend one of her eighth graders. She told me your Emma was my best choice. You and I aren't exactly friends, so I figured I'd better talk to you before I offer her the job."

"You want to know if I mind - her working for you, I mean."

"Seems only right. Besides the business between you and me, she is only - what - thirteen?"

"Elmer was only ten. Emma's thirteen, her body is, anyway - and I don't understand how that happened. Her birthday's in May. She'll be fourteen, physically, then, and I'm gonna talk to Milt Quinlan about how I can make that her legal age.

She paused a beat then continued. "I always planned for her to work here in the store with me, but then..." She gave a wry laugh. "...I always planned that she'd be my son, Elmer, and that surely won't happen." She shrugged. "If it's what she wants - and I think it is, I say give it a try. If it doesn't work out, well, the store'll always be here for her."

Then she added. "Besides, you're a nice... an honorable man, Jubal, even if you do vote wrong at the board meetings. You go ahead and offer her the job."

* * * * *

Martha Yingling stood in the doorway of her husband's study. "Horace Styron is here."

"Thank you, Martha," the reverend answered. "Please ask him to come in."

Styron walked past her into the room. "No need, Reverend."

"Can I get you gentlemen anything?" Martha offered.

Yingling shook his head. "Later, perhaps, dear. Thank you."

"I'll leave you to it then." She stepped back into the hall, closing the door behind her.

The reverend motioned at a chair. "Please sit down, Horace."

"Thank you." He pushed the chair closer to the reverend's desk and sat down. "What did you want to see me about?"

"As you know, I shall be going before the town council in a few weeks to ask them to give me control of O'Toole's potion."

"Yes, and when you do, you can tell them that you've got the congregation and the board - well, most of the board - of you church behind you."

"Indeed, but it was closer than I would have liked. If Cecelia Ritter hadn't broken in when Trisha O'Hanlan was about to speak, I'm not sure what might have happened."

"You'd still have won, of course, regardless what that meddlesome b... woman said."

"Perhaps, but I am still concerned."

"Maybe you should ask Cecelia and a few of her friends to show up at the town council meeting for a repeat performance."

"I intend to do precisely that, but I wanted to more to do ensure my victory. I have an idea, which I wanted to ask your help with."

"Ask away; you can count on me, Reverend."

"Excellent. I was thinking of getting together some sort of petition that we might use to register support for my request, one that would call on the town council to accede to it."

"That sounds good, but why don't we just print up copies and put them up around town for people to sign. I'd be proud to have a copy in my store, and I'll bet a lot of others would, too."

"Yes, and we can have them at the church on Sunday for people to sign after the service."

"I like that. And why don't you ask Cecelia Ritter to be in charge of that one. She'll make sure everybody signs it."

Yingling laughed. "She certainly would."

"You write something up, and I'll take it to the print shop tomorrow. That way, the board - which already voted to support you - is the one running the petition, and not you."

"Yes, that would be even better."

* * * * *

Saturday, April 6, 1872

"Aii! Mama! Help!"

Arnie's scream woke Teresa at once. "Arnoldo, what is the matter?"

"I am dying," she sobbed. "Look!" She held up a hand smeared with blood. "It is from... from down there." She glanced nervously down at her crotch.

Teresa sat up quickly, wincing, just a little, at the pain in her still healing bones. "Come over here," she told her daughter, patting the bed with her good arm. "And do not be afraid."

"Sì, Mama." Arnie answered in a frightened voice. She sounded like a little girl, sniffling as she walked over from her own cot to sit on her mother's bed.

Teresa gave her a quick hug. "Oh, Arnoldo, I am so sorry. I did not realize just how much of a woman you had become."

"What are you saying, Mama?" Arnie stiffened. "I am not really a woman." Why was her mother bringing that up now? "Do you know why I am bleeding like this?"

"Si, you are bleeding for the same reason that I bleed every month, as do Ysabel and Dolores - and every other woman in the world. You bleed because you are a woman. And you will have these 'flowers', as some call it, for many, many years."

"I will bleed like this for years? Mama, I will die!"

"No, no, you will only 'flower' - it is a better word than bleed --for a few days, but it will happen to you again every month --- unless you are with child."

"Never! I will never have children!"

"Never is a very long time, Dulcita. You --"

Before she could continue, there was a sharp knocking on the door. "Is everything all right?" Dolores called from the other room.

"Everything is fine," Teresa answered. "Arnoldo was just startled. She had her first 'flowering' this morning, and I had not warned her that it would happen."

The door opened half way. "Congratulations, Arnoldo," Dolores said. "You stay with her, Teresa, and tell her what she needs to know. Ysabel and I will keep breakfast ready for whenever you two want it."

"Thank you," Teresa replied. As the door closed, she turned back to Arnie who hadn't spoken while his cousin was in the room. "Take off your nightgown and cleanse yourself. I will show you how we women deal with these things."

* * * * *

Cerise poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. "Good morning, Wilma," she greeted the only other person in the room.

"Morning," Wilma replied. She sat quietly, holding her own coffee cup and staring at the wall.

After a minute or so of silence, Cerise reached over and touched Wilma's cup. "Your coffee, it is cold as ice."

"What... what'd you say, Cerise?"

"Your coffee has gone cold."

"Coffee... umm, no thanks, I got a cup."

"Oui, you do, and it is cold."

"No, it ain't." She took a sip. "Damn! It was steaming hot when I poured it."

"What is it, mon cher, that has your head so lost in the clouds?"

"Your painter... Ethan."

"Has he been rude to you?"

"That's the problem, he ain't been nothing t'me. I been posing on that bed of his for weeks, naked as a jaybird, and all he wants t'do is paint my picture. Any other man in town would've been all over me - and in me - long ago, but Ethan..." her words died down into what was almost a growl of frustration.

"Is that what you want from him, sex?"

"I don't know what I want from him or how t'get it from him. And what's worse, when I get near him these days, I get..." She shook her head. "I don't know what I get. I feel... I feel almost like I ain't never been with a man before."

"Ah, my poor Wilma, it seems that he has touched you."

"Touched me? Not hardly, that's my problem."

"Oui, he has touched you, Wilma, and in the best place - and the worst place - that a man can touch a woman." Cerise gave a wry laugh. "He has touched your heart."

"You mean I - oh, shit!"

"Yes, mon cher, you are in love with him."

Wilma frowned. If this crazy feeling was love, then she'd never had it before, not even as Will. Her expression changed as a new thought dawned on her. It was true; she had no way to know how it felt like to be in love. So, was this love? This thing that made her feel so preoccupied, so awkward and so helpless?

* * * * *

Arnie carefully positioned a long roll of white cotton wadding into the odd-looking loincloth that Teresa had given her - and shown her how to wear.

"It feels so strange, Mama." She retied the strings that connected the front and back sections on her right hip to better accommodate the wadding.

Teresa nodded. "Si, but you will get used to it quickly enough. And you do not really have a choice." She paused for effect. "No woman does. It is the nature of our bodies."

"Si, Mama," Arnie said solemnly. But to herself she added, 'but it is only my body that is a woman.'

* * * * *

"Molly, Love," Shamus asked as he walked into the two room apartment they shared on the second floor of the Saloon, "what're ye doing? Ye've been up here since ye got back from Aaron's store."

Molly looked up from her work. "I had an idea about all that trouble ye've been having with the Reverend Yingling." She held up a strip of pale blue ribbon. "Ye remember them ribbons I made t'be helping Trisha O'Hanlan when they wanted t'kick her off that church board of thuirs?"

"I do, and they most surely helped her get what she wanted. She's still on the board."

"Aye, and thuir's no reason that they can't be helping me sweet husband get what he wants, t'not be bothered by that reverend and them that's working with him."

Shamus picked up a ribbon from a second pile. This one had writing on it in Molly's best script, using a dark blue ink. "Trust Shamus," he read. "I like it."

"'Tis a thought that's always worked for me, Love. I'll have the lot of 'em ready by Monday for ye t'be handing out."

"Molly, I always knew that marrying ye was the smartest thing I ever did in me life. Thank ye for this lovely idea."

"And thank ye for the lovely idea all them years ago of marrying me." She leaned over and kissed his cheek.

* * * * *

Roscoe Unger looked down at the sheet of paper.

"A PETITION," it said in block letters, "To the Eerie, Arizona Town Council."

"We, the undersigned, hereby support the demand of
the Reverend Thaddeus Yingling that all control of
all existing stock of the transformative potion
created by one Shamus O'Toole, and of any stock he
may create in the future of that or any similar
potion be given to the Reverend Yingling and such
other persons he may choose to sit on a committee
with him to advise the Town Council on its use."

"Can you print up, say, fifty copies of that petition?" Horace Styron asked. "With lines underneath where folks can write their names."

Roscoe looked at Styron, then over to Reverend Yingling, who stood next to him. "I... I suppose I can."

"Then why do you hesitate, Mr. Unger... Roscoe?" Yingling asked. He was glad now that he had decided at the last minute to go to the print shop with Styron. "Surely you, a valued member of my congregation, can see the wisdom of my... of Mr. Styron's actions."

Roscoe shook his head. "No, Reverend, I'm not sure that I do. I do printing for Shamus O'Toole, menus for his restaurant every week and flyers for things now and then. I'm not sure that we shouldn't leave things well enough alone."

"Then maybe you ain't as valued a member of the church as the reverend thinks you are," Styron sneered. "And maybe I should think about stocking paper goods over in my store. I've been looking to expand my business, and maybe, just maybe, I'll take some of yours." He chuckled. "If it goes well, I might even set up a printing press."

Yingling stepped forward. "Now, Horace, young Roscoe here was just expressing a few minor concerns he may have had. I'm sure that, after reconsideration, he's more than willing to do the printing for us."

"I'll do it," Roscoe answered in a defeated voice. Styron's hardware store was bigger than his own store and much more prosperous. He could afford to lose money selling paper for a time just to punish Roscoe. And, if he got that press, with his connections, he could take a lot of Roscoe's business. "I'll even give you a nice discount on the price - since it is, sort of, church business."

Styron smiled, the smile of a wolf staring down a rabbit. "I thought you'd see it that way."

* * * * *

"Care to dance," Cap asked Bridget. He held one of Shamus' tickets in his hand.

Bridget looked up at him from her chair. "I'll be glad to take the ticket, Cap, but could we talk instead?"

"I'd rather hold you in my arms," he said, "but I guess I can settle for holding your hand while we talk"

She stood up. "Sounds good to me, but can we go outside? We can't really talk over this music."

"Alone with you, outside and holding hands, this gets better and better." He grinned and took her hand. They walked hand in hand through the kitchen and out into the yard behind the saloon. After a moment, they sat down on the bench, out of sight of the doorway.

"Before we talk," Cap said, "there's one thing I'd like to take care of." Before she could answer, he pulled her to him and kissed her deeply.

Bridget sighed, as her arms reached up and around her shoulders. She opened her mouth slightly, and her tongue and Cap's began a romantic dueling. Her body filled with pleasant, little pinpricks of in her flesh, as she gloried in the emotions he stirred within her.

"Now," he said, when they finally had to breathe. "What did you want to talk about? Or would you rather just kiss some more?"

She smiled. "I'd rather kiss." Her hand shot up to push him away. "But we have to talk." Her lips curled into a mischievous smile. "First."

"Okay, what do you want to talk about... first?"

"Us, I've given it a lot of thought, and I love you, Cap Lewis. I only hope that you love me half as much."

"I do. I love you, and I want to be with you."

"That's the problem, Cap. I love you, but I... I'm not sure that I want to give up my life for you."

"Then I don't want you to, but can I share that life with you?"

"You can. I-I want to, but..." She looked down at the ground.

"You want to share your life, but you're still not ready to share your body again."

"I-I do want to, but I'm... I'm afraid of what it would mean, of what could happen. Can you understand that?" Could she tell him of what almost did happen, that she'd so feared being pregnant? No, no, she couldn't. That would have felt like she was threatening him.

"Bridget, I love you with all my heart, and I want to be with you in every possible way, but I want that, when it happens, we go into it with neither of us worrying about anything. If you're that afraid, that unready, then I don't want it to happen yet." He kissed her gently on the cheek. "But I know that it will happen someday."

"So do I," she told him. It felt like a giant weight was off her shoulders. "And, since we've settled that, can we get back to what we were doing when I so rudely interrupted?" Her arm went back up around his shoulder.

"With pleas - " Her lips cut off whatever else he was going to say, and, whatever it was, it wasn't nearly as important as their kiss.

* * * * *

"I have been watching you, Marguarita de Aguilar," Ramon teased, "How shameless of you, a woman who has just married to be in the arms of so many other men this night."

Maggie had danced the first dance with Ramon, but Shamus' rules said that a woman couldn't have the same partner two dances in a row. She'd danced with him again, but she'd danced with Red Tully first and with Sam Braddock afterwards. At the start of the fifth dance, Ramon had pushed to the front of the line to hand her his ticket.

"Sì, I was dancing with other men," she answered, a smile on her lips. "But now I am dancing with you, and later I will be in your arms again, and..." She blushed and whispered the rest into his ear. "...we will not be wearing all these silly clothes."

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