Hat Creek Trouble

By Bryce Blackburn

Adventure / Romance

The One with Shopping

I slept barely better than I had the night before. I got a few hours of restless sleep that left me just as tired as before I went to bed. I spent what I would have guessed to be nearly an hour just staring at the fire. I was too excited and nervous to go to sleep. I yawned, but drifted back to sleep for a few hours.

When I woke up again, the first little hints of pink and red were reaching the sky. I started a pot of water boiling for the coffee. I found some fatty pieces off the deer that had been well fed and threw it in with the rest of the bacon. I now knew why we were going to town today. I couldn’t imagine the complaining I’d hear for feeding a group of men without meat. At least not this bunch.

When the meat was halfway done, I added coffee to the boiling water. It had seeped for a few minutes before I poured a cup and took a glance out the window. Captain Call was sitting on the edge of the porch, watching the sun rise.

I pulled open the door and walked over to him, holding the coffee out. He gave a very quiet thank you as he took the cup. I returned inside and shivered, a cold wisp running down my spine. I threw another log on the fire as the bacon finished up. I put the Dutch oven in the coals and mixed up biscuits while it warmed.

Woodrow came into the cabin as I retrieved the pot from the fire and added the biscuits. I returned it to the blaze and looked over at the Captain. “You’ve got a good bunch of boys there.” I told him as I came to sit across from him.

He nodded. “Better than most.”

“And this ranch is quite a legacy to leave, if you think about it.” I said.

He nodded again. “I suppose the boys’ll run it just fine after I’ve died.” He said and it was quiet for a long time. “Might be better if we had someone here to help with the household things.”

I pulled my gaze from the fire surrounding the cast iron pot to look over at him. “Such an interesting statement.”

He quirked his lips, not quite smiling at the table. “Suppose so.”

“If I may be so bold, was that an invitation to stay?” I asked.

He thought about it for a moment and I realized he was a man of few words. I had been surprised last night about the story of him and his friend Gus getting lessons for a Governor’s Ball. “Suppose so.” He said.

I smiled. “Well, I’d love to. You’ll have to make other accommodations for me though.” And he looked up surprised; probably thinking I wanted something nicer or more complicated. “So your men can have their house back. I’d hate to put you out in the cold any longer.”

Woodrow shook his head but said nothing. I took this to mean he had already thought this over. I figured he probably had some sort of a plan and if he wanted to tell me, he would at some point.

I stood to check the biscuits and relayed to him they were almost done. As I started frying eggs, the guys filed in and poured their coffee before sitting down around the table. Pea Eye, Needle and Dish still looking half asleep while Newt looked as awake as Call did.

Breakfast went pretty fast and as soon as I cleaned up a bit, Call told me to head out to the stable and the boys would take me into town. When I got out to the stable, Newt and Needle had only one horse saddled and two other off to the side. Needle led the two stray horses out of the barn and around the side to where a wagon sat.

I placed my hands on my hips when Newt came over to me. “I spent all day yesterday on a horse so you could put me in a wagon today?”

Newt ducked his head a bit. “Well, you at least know how to ride a horse if you need and I’ll give ya more lessons until you can get the real hang of it.” He told me.

I shook my head at him and asked Needle if he needed any help. He declined and I stood there, watching him and Newt hook the horses up.

After a few minutes, Newt and I were sitting on the wagon as Needle rode ahead of us on his horse. “So how long does it usually take to get to town?” I asked him.

He thought about it for a moment. “Couple hours, I reckon.” He said.

I nodded and for the next two hours we talked off and on, Needle would sometimes fall back to talk a bit. It was pleasant. And I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when we got to town, but I wasn’t expecting it to look like it just came out of the movies.

All the roads were dirt, all of the wooden buildings were simply ordained, and a sign at the edge of the town, tacked to a wooden post, announced the name to a traveler who might not know where they’d ended up.

I smiled, seeing the wood boardwalk that linked business on each side of the road. “It’s cute.” I said, to no one in particular, but Newt smiled at my reaction. When we got into town, Newt pulled the wagon in front of a general store and parked it.

Needle wrapped his reins around a post to keep his horse from wandering and Newt helped me out of the wagon seat. Newt and Needle talked for a moment but I was so absorbed in watching the goings-on with the town, I barely registered that they were talking.

“You ready, ma’am?” Newt asked, holding his arm out to me.

I looked over at him with a smile. “Of course, Mr. Dobbs. Where are we off to if Needle is getting our goods?” I asked him as I took his arm.

He ducked his head, suddenly bashful. “I was told not to say, as you might not let me.”

I looked at him oddly; suddenly worried we were headed for the local inn. But I had faith in Newt, so I let him lead me down the boardwalk to a little shop. He held open the door for me and I was nearly stopped dead at the entrance.

It was a little boutique; store just wasn’t the right word for the set up this building had. There were dresses along every wall; little bits of fabric stuck out in stacks every now and then. There were coats, hats and scarves on racks in the middle of the floor.

“Newt, what on earth are we doing?” I asked him.

“Good morning. What can I help you with?” The lady behind the counter said with a big smile.

Newt smiled at me, before turning to the lady. “The miss needs a few new dresses. I was hoping you could help us.” He said as he slipped his hat off his head.

I just looked at Newt. “I don’t need new clothes.”

He didn’t say anything, just gave me a look that quieted me. The lady came around the counter with a measuring tape around her neck and she reminded me very strongly of Gerry. The few times I had brought lunch to Gerry, instead of the reverse, he also had a measuring tape around his neck while he walked back and forth around the studio. It had always humored me.

“You have very lovely proportions.” She said as she asked me to hold my arms up. She did three quick measurements, then stood there thinking. “Do you have any fabric preferences?” She asked, looking me in the eye.

I was still taken back by the fact I was even in the shop. “Um, no. I don’t like wool much.” I said and she smiled.

“Well, then you’re in luck. I just got in a batch of a new cotton blend from down south of Boston. It’s like wearing a dream.” She said with a smile as she headed for the opposite wall and began digging through dresses.

I turned to Newt, who was still standing close by. “Newt. I don’t have any money for clothes.” I said, trying to keep my voice down. I’d feel bad to try on a bunch of clothes I couldn’t buy.

He waved his hand dismissively.

The lady brought back three dresses. “These are all your dimensions so they should fit heavenly.” She said with a smile as she waved me to come over. I had missed the curtain that hung behind the counter, but she pulled it back for me to reveal a dressing room of sorts behind another curtain. “My name is Angelica, so you know.” She told me.

I smiled at her. “I’m Selene.”

Her brilliantly white teeth made me think she had come from elsewhere. “Such a pretty name. Would you like help getting this off?” She asked, her fingers dancing along the hem of the pale green dress.

“Yes, please. I played hell just trying to get it on.” I said.

She smirked in a way that made me think she heard that a lot. First, she pulled a yellow number over my head. As soon as I looked at myself in the mirror that hung on the wall, I shook my head. Yellow was definitely not my color. It washed me out.

When I told her my concerns with the garment, she nodded and helped me off with it. The next one was green, but darker in color than the one I had previously worn. This one was more forest green than pastel. She held back the curtain for me and I stepped out of the second curtain and rounded the counter so Newt could appraise me.

He immediately stood when he saw me.

“What do you think?” I asked, spinning for him. I had gotten in the habit of twirling while trying on clothes when Gerry brought home something new he’d thought I’d like.

“It’s… it makes you… it’s real…” He stuttered, tripping over his words as he ran his fingers over his hat brim.

“Is that a yes?” I asked, trying to help him out.

He smiled, examining the wood grain for just a moment. “Yes ma’am.”

I smiled at him and passed the two curtains to the back of the dressing room.

“He’s cute. How long have you been together?” She asked as she helped me take off the green dress and put it on another hanger.

Angelica’s question took me off guard. “Oh, Newt? We’re not… courting. I mean, he’s lovely. But we’ve only known each other a couple days.”

She smiled at me. “I met my husband when he stumbled out of a saloon and tripped me. I was furious with the man. But the next day he came and apologized after one of his friends told him of his behavior. We were married the following Sunday.”

I looked at her in surprise. “I had once been courting a man for eight months and my mother was shocked when I told her we were thinking about getting married.”

Angelica smiled. “Matters of the heart know nothing of time.”

I thought about it for a moment, while she helped me put on a red number. “Do you really think that?” I asked her finally.

She smiled at me. “I’ve been with my husband for nearly fifteen years now. Few others in the area can claim the same experience. I think if you love someone, you shouldn’t hide it.”

I nodded, looking at myself in the mirror. The red dress fit like a glove. It made me feel strong and confident. I tried to keep my hopes down, in case for some reason Newt didn’t like it. I wanted to believe he would like it, but I didn’t want to disappoint myself if he didn’t. So I held my breath as Angelica held the curtain and I walked around the counter to stand in front of Newt.

He rose very slowly out of the chair and just stood there, mouth ajar just a bit. He didn’t stutter or stumble over his words, which bothered me a little. “Does it look that bad?” I asked, suddenly overcome with a drastic sense of worry for my new favorite dress.

It must have taken a moment for my words to sink in because a minute later, he shook his head. “Not at all, ma’am.”

“So, you like it?” I asked, still slightly worried.

His eyes finally found their way up to meet mine, as they had been gazing at the rest of me. “It’s beautiful.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Do you really think so? Because, if not I can just get the green one and we can go help Needle with the goods.” I said quickly, giving him one more out in case his stunned silence was in disgust.

Newt’s lips slowly formed a smile. “Do you like it?”

“Well, of course I do. I wouldn’t have shown it to you if I’d hated it.” I said, laughing a little to get rid of the nervous tension I was feeling.

“Then it’s perfect.” He told me, still rooted to the spot where he stood.

I couldn’t help it. I dashed over and gave him a hug, then I went back behind the counter. Angelica helped me out of the dress and back into the pale green one I’d arrived in.

She carried the green and red dress out for me, leaving the yellow one to put away later. “I believe you’ve made the young lady quite happy.” Angelica said, directing the comment to Newt as he came to stand by me.

He smiled, ducking his head briefly. “I’d reckon I did. I haven’t seen that smile since she got here earlier in the week.”

Angelica smiled. “And, I’m not sure whether you two are planning or anything, but I have a collection of wedding dresses going on sale soon. If I knew of any upcoming nuptials, I could hold, or even make one for you.” She said, looking between Newt and I.

We were both speechless. “We… aren’t… we aren’t getting married.” I said, even though I was pretty sure we’d gone over this a handful of minutes ago.

Angelica shrugged. “Nuptials are no joking matter. But when the time comes, I’m sure I could find or make you a gorgeous wedding dress.” She said with a wink.

“Ya aren’t getting anything else?” Newt asked with a quick glance around the store.

“Uh,” I started, not sure my answer to the question. “No, I don’t believe I need anything else.” I said as Angelica walked across the room.

“With the days getting longer and the weather warming up, every lady needs a hat of some sort.” She said, as she picked up what I would have called a black cowboy hat, with what looked like a looser brim. It was almost nearly identical to the one Newt kept playing with in his hands. She gave me a look that told me to just try it on. I sighed and did so. It actually didn’t look bad on me and Newt approved it.

“How much for the hat?” Newt asked.

She thought it over for a moment. “On the house, as long as you promise me you’ll come back when it’s time to get your wedding gown.”

I smiled at her. She was very sly, but not in the deceiving fashion. “If and when I get married, I’ll make sure to come back for my wedding dress.” I told her.

She smiled and clapped her hands together. She rang up our order and gave us the total, which Newt paid in full out of a money bag from his pocket. She waved goodbye as Newt carried out both boxes that each contained a dress.

“I don’t usually wear hats. But then again, I’m not often in the sun too long.” I said, more talking to myself than Newt.

“Good hat’s like a good horse. Can’t go wrong when ya got one.” He said and I smiled. Leave it to a cowboy to bring the topic back to horses.

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