(With thanks to my beta, Terri Derr, and to her other self, Doc, for letting me share Emily.) (Words: 2,018. Date: 19 July, 2015)
“I didn’t know what to say.” Emily handed Johnny a glass of water and sat down next to him on her porch step. He had swung by at the end of his working day to say hi, but very quickly the conversation had shifted to the events in Green River. “What I can’t figure out is why Mary Lou said anything to Katie at all.”
“She must’ve got the wrong idea. Scott made the mistake of seeing Mary Lou and Mary Lou only.”
“Then I’ve got nothing to worry about. That’s not a mistake you ever made.” Emily hugged her knees and smiled across the yard.
Johnny chuckled. “Nope, I waited until I found the right girl.”
Emily took his hand. If they could discuss things like this, they could talk about anything. “But what did Mary Lou hope to get out of it? At best, Katie would fight with Scott. Surely, Mary Lou couldn’t think she’d get Scott back afterwards?”
“I’ve heard she can be spiteful. Scott told her he wouldn’t see her again, and she didn’t take it well, but I bet you it’s not her heart that’s hurting. And you’re wrong; there are men who would go back if they got dumped, whatever the reason.”
“Nope, Scott’s too proud.” Johnny sipped his water. “Are you going to tell me what happened?”
Emily thought for a second. “Don’t breathe a word to anyone else.” She tipped the last of her water over the geranium climbing towards the porch. She’d be able to tie it to the boards soon. Whoever took over the house after she and Johnny married could train it to grow up the post. “Katie and I were in the milliner’s for a while before Mary Lou came over. She and her friend followed us in, but we didn’t take much notice of them.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow.
“No, really, we were too busy deciding what combs would work best for my wedding hairstyle. Mrs Lawrence, the milliner, blocked our view. Otherwise I expect I would have noticed their clothes; they were a little flashy.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind seeing you in that yellow dress.” He grinned and nudged her arm.
Blushing, Emily ignored him. “I did think it was strange that Mrs Lawrence didn’t ask them if they needed assistance, but she remembered Katie from her last visit and was enquiring after Beth.
“That wouldn’t take long.”
“You’d be surprised. She only left us, because the shop girl called her to help with something.” Emily reached over and removed a ladybug from Johnny’s hair; a Californian native, black with two red spots. It must have thought it had found a good hiding place. She dropped it carefully onto a geranium leaf. “We were going to the counter when Mary Lou and her friend just waltzed up to us. I didn’t recognise them, but with the fancy clothes and rouge, I certainly knew what they were.”
Her first reaction had been, oh my God, what do they want and how will Katie react? Emily had met professional girls before. She’d doctored Mrs Winslow’s cat back to health after it had been hit by a passing cart, and several of them had gathered around the kitchen table, all very concerned about Napoleon. Much to her surprise, Emily had found she quite liked them. Coming from Boston’s high society though, Emily didn’t expect Katie to feel the same way. Katie could never have met women like the ones from Mrs Winslow’s.
Emily had tried to think of something to say, but Mary Lou beat her to it. She’d introduced herself as a good friend of Scott’s and...Well, Emily really hadn’t known what to say after that.
“Scott and I have spent time together ever since he first came to this area, Miss Eliot. I’m surprised he hasn’t mentioned me.”
“Scott is a gentleman from Boston, Miss Jessop. Back east, a gentleman doesn’t discuss the ladies he used to walk out with.”
“Oh, Miss Eliot, you misunderstand me. How quaint. We didn’t walk out together, rather the opposite in fact.” Mary Lou and her friend tittered.
Mary Lou picked up a bonnet, all feathers and frippery. Holding it at arm’s length, she considered it from different angles and barred the way to the counter. There was an enormous artificial rose on the brim. She tinkered with it before returning the bonnet to its stand and swishing around. Her eyes fell on Emily’s short cropped hair, and a smug smile spread across her face. Emily wished she could sink into the woodwork.
“If you’ll excuse us, we really should be going.” There was an edge in Katie’s voice that Emily hadn’t heard before.
Mary Lou didn’t withdraw, but as she took in Katie’s stylish swept-up braids, her lips formed a thin, straight line. “I used to see rather a lot of both the Lancer brothers, but I knew Scott Lancer intimately—if you know what I mean?”
Katie said nothing.
Emily looked between her friend and Mary Lou; their eyes were fixed on each other. Mary Lou stood with her arm out and her hand resting on the curved handle of her parasol. The aisle between the central exhibits and the hats displayed along the back wall was completely blocked.
Twisting a ringlet around her finger, Mary Lou simpered, “Scott is special to me. I believe he admires you, but naturally there are some entertainments desired by a man that a respectable lady cannot be expected to provide. I’d be happy to help. I could take the pressure off you, and I don’t mind sharing.”
Katie gazed steadily back at Mary Lou; then, as if she’d made up her mind about something, she smiled. “I’ve never been much good at sharing. What exactly are these entertainments you provide, Miss Jessop? ”
Uncertainty flickered over Mary Lou’s face, but she forced a laugh. “I’m sure you don’t need me to spell it out for you, Miss Eliot.”
“Oh, but I do, Miss Jessop.”
Mary Lou tightened her grip on the parasol, knuckles turning white. Her friend stopped smirking, and she and Emily stepped back— like two seconds moving out of the way of a duel.
Mary Lou moistened her lips, and a malicious gleam grew in her eyes. “Scott Lancer and I have been intimate—many times.” She sidled up to Katie and dropped her voice. “You know what I mean…in the way of a man and a woman…in a physical sense.”
“You’re a whore.”
Katie stood with the combs she intended to purchase in her hand. Her eyes were focussed on Mary Lou, but she didn’t appear upset. If anything, she sounded bored.
“How dare you call me that?” Mary Lou’s ears went pink. She flounced back to where she was before, knocking one of the hats off its stand as she spun around and glared at Katie. Emily saw Mrs Lawrence look up from the counter at the other end of the store.
Katie laughed. “You approached me, Miss Jessop, and you have now clearly described your occupation. It is your occupation, I take it; you are not offering these entertainments for free?”
“Oh, very clever, Miss Eliot. You have sand. I’ll give you that. I can see why Scott likes you. But I like him too, and I intend to ‘entertain’ him again.”
“In between several other customers no doubt, or are you offering exclusive services to entice him back?”
“He belongs to me.” Mary Lou glowered.
“Now there you are mistaken. From what you tell me, Scott has already said he will not call on you again, because we are keeping company. I suppose, if that doesn’t work out, he might choose to go back to you, but while we remain together he will not be visiting. I can promise you that.”
“You can’t control him when you’re not here.”
“I don’t need to control him, Miss Jessop. He’s more than capable of controlling himself.” Katie lifted an evening headdress from its stand; it was stylish and very beautiful. Emily had peeked at the price tag when they first came in; she’d been horrified. Katie held the headdress up to the light, and something within the feathers sparkled. Then she looked between it and the hat Mary Lou had examined, and gave a slight shrug. She put the headdress back.
Flushed and fidgety, Mary Lou stood her ground as Katie approached, but Emily could see she was struggling to look Katie straight in the eye. In the background, Mrs Lawrence was trying to manoeuvre closer. She didn’t have a hope of hearing what was being said though; Katie was keeping her voice low.
“I trust Scott to behave like a gentleman, Miss Jessop, but as I do not trust you to behave like a lady, let me educate you a little about what it means to be ‘respectable’.” Stepping nearer to Mary Lou, Katie spoke even more quietly. “I agree respectable women will usually save physical intimacy for the marriage bed. We don’t tend to separate physical and emotional love. I admit it can be a challenge at times; however, I believe placing a high value on the one thing that is truly ours to give is what puts marriage above all other contracts in this world. But please, Miss Jessop, do not confuse good sense, commitment, and respect for our families with blind virtue or total ignorance of the entertainments you so willingly offer, cash on delivery. I can assure you, if Scott is my choice, and I am his, I will make very sure he never regrets his patience.” Katie smiled. Emily didn’t know what to think. Her friend was either an exceedingly good actress, or there were things about Katie that Emily didn’t know. Mary Lou backed away a little, but Katie followed. “Scott and I are courting. In respectable circles this means we promise to keep faith with each other. I will not give favours to other men, and he will not indulge with other women.” Katie might have been teaching a child, but the conversation was definitely not fit for child-like ears. “Let me spell something else out for you, Miss Jessop, so it is absolutely clear. If provoked, I can be very unladylike; I fight for what is important to me. You have no idea what you’d be taking on if you try to hurt someone I care about. I seriously suggest you don’t try.” Katie came so close to Mary Lou’s ear that Emily could barely hear her last words. “Scott Lancer is mine.”
Mary Lou had turned white and then red. She had stamped her foot and made a kind of squawk, frustration and indignation rolled into one; then she had turned tail and rushed from the milliner’s shop just as Scott and Johnny entered. Emily had been so taken aback by what she had witnessed, she’d answered Scott’s look of alarm with a kind of blank stare, before turning away and seeking refuge with Johnny by the window display.
Katie had teased Scott a little, but she’d soon let him know that she wasn’t angry with him. Even so, during their lunch, he’d kept the conversation well away from the subject of Mary Lou Jessop.
“Whooee!” Johnny grinned at Emily. “I wish I’d been a fly on that wall. Scott’s got himself a tigress.”
“Katie was impressive. I would never have known what to say if…”
Johnny interrupted her with a kiss. “It’s not going to happen.”
“Maybe not that exactly, but people do come out of our pasts. When we’re married…one day I might be surprised, and I don’t know if I could handle it as well.”
“You’d do fine. Besides, whatever happens after we’re married, we’ll be facing it together.” Johnny kissed her again. “Until then, let’s take a leaf out of Murdoch’s book and not worry about the past.”
“Only if we can take a leaf out of Katie’s book too.” Holding his face between her hands, Emily kissed him back. “Don’t ever forget, Johnny Lancer—you’re mine.”
1. Eliot Series: This story follows Sod’s Law, 2015 and refers to events in that earlier story.