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MargaretP

 

Sod's Law

Part of The Eliots series - follow the link for the story sequence
(Thanks to my beta Terri Derr.)

“Nope, that doesn't look good.”

Scott finished paying the liveryman and joined Johnny, who was propping up the frame on the open side of the double doorway. “What's wrong?”

Johnny nodded across the street.

Katie and Emily had left the General Store and were approaching the milliner's shop where they'd all agreed to meet up. The girls had driven into town to do some shopping, and as arranged, Scott and Johnny had left the roundup to join them for lunch at The Occidental. They had ridden in just as Emily and Katie arrived, so they took the horses and buggy to the livery stable while the ladies visited the first shops on their list.

“Are you worried Katie's going to lead Emily astray?” Scott winked, but Johnny wasn't funning.

“Look who's coming the other way.”

Passing the telegraph office, two other young women strolled towards the milliner's from the opposite direction. They sashayed along the boardwalk, dressed to be seen, as a Green River matriarch crossed the street to avoid them, and a delivery boy gawked.

“Oh no. That can't happen. I've got to stop them.”

Johnny grabbed Scott's arm. “Too late. If you go over there now you're a dead man.”

He was right. All Scott could do was watch and hope like hell that Mary Lou Jessop and her companion walked right past Katie without more than a polite ‘good day'. For one exquisite moment he thought he was in luck, but then—

He slumped back against the closed door. “God has a very perverse sense of humour.”

“Sod's law, brother.”

They waited: five, maybe ten minutes. The women had entered the shop within seconds of each other.

“They've been in there a long time. Katie and Emily will be wondering where we are.” One arm raised and bent against the door, Scott stared across the street. “Does Emily know Mary Lou?”

“She must have seen her around, but she won't know Mary Lou is anything to you.”

“Does Emily know about you and…well, you know.”

“Well, I haven't given her all the details, but yeah, she's aware I socialised a little.”

Scott raised an eyebrow. “Just a little.”

Johnny grinned. “Emily's a practical woman. What went on before we got together don't count.”

Scott gritted his teeth and leaned his chin against a closed fist as his eyes tried to bore holes in the milliner's shop door. He had no idea what Katie's reaction would be.

“Katie's not totally green. Maybe she'll see things the same way.”

“I'd rather not find out, Johnny; at least not like this. Boston isn't like California. Well-brought up young ladies don't bump into…and if they ever did, the women in question would never dare introduce themselves or say anything.”

“Well, maybe Mary Lou won't say anything. She probably doesn't even know Katie's your girl.”

Scott felt ill. Mary Lou knew all right. She'd cornered him earlier in the week when he'd come into Green River to collect the accounts for The Occidental. Now they'd bought the place to get Emily's brother out of the hole he'd dug for himself, Scott was keeping a close eye on the finances. After only a few weeks, he'd decided they couldn't sell it on fast enough for his liking. The restaurant was viable all right, but he and Johnny were ranchers; neither had the interest needed to deal with the dramas of an eating house.

Mary Lou had bumped into him as he was leaving. She had demanded to know why he hadn't been calling into the bordello. “You used to come quite regular for a while, Scott, at least once a month—sometimes more often. I looked forward to your visits. Don't you miss me?”

“Well, the truth is, Mary Lou, I'm courting. I thank you for the times we spent together, but I'm sure you understand; now it wouldn't be right.”

“Oh tosh, there ain't no right or wrong about it, Scott Lancer. We have a good time together. It makes no difference to me if you're seeing that east coast princess you showed off at church on Sunday.”

“I didn't know you went to church, Mary Lou.”

“I don't, but a girl can have a stroll about town, can't she? I like to walk past the church come leaving time. I see so many gentlemen I know. It's really quite entertaining.”

“Well, I'm sorry Mary Lou, but you won't be seeing me at Mrs Winslow's again.”

Mary Lou stopped playing with her hair and reached out to straighten Scott's collar.

He stepped back. “Don't.”

“But I liked you, Scott. I don't want to stop seeing you. I won't tell, you know? It would be our little secret, just you and me.” She minced forward, pouting, and tried to press up against him,

Scott stepped back again. “No, Miss Jessop. It's not going to happen.” He tipped his hat and made his escape. “Good day to you.”

The look on her face had worried him. He had heard stories. Mary Lou was a delight when entertaining, but rumour had it, hell hath no fury like Mary Lou Jessop scorned. And now that very same Mary Lou Jessop was trying on hats in the milliner's shop, and Katie Eliot—his Katie—was in there too. Life could be very unfair.

“I'm going over.” Scott thumped the stable door and straightened. With his eyes still glued to the milliner's door, he adjusted his hat and gathered his resolve.

Johnny took the straw he was chewing on out of his mouth. “It's a mistake.”

“I can't just stay here, hiding with the horses. Katie and Emily will be wondering where we are, and if Mary Lou tries to say anything, at least I'll have some chance of putting her off.”

His mind made up, Scott strode across the street. He heard the click of Johnny's spurs behind him.

The bell over the door tinkled as it opened.

And Scott was nearly bowled over by Mary Lou's rapid exit. Johnny nipped through the doorway behind Scott, and Mary Lou's friend scuttled after her. The door banged shut.

“What's wrong? What happened?” Scott looked between Katie and Emily. Nothing—neither face told him anything.

Emily skirted past him, keeping her head turned towards Johnny. Half-sitting, half-standing, Johnny rested against the broad sill displaying hats in the window. Grinning like a Cheshire cat, he made a little ‘turn-around' gesture to Scott with his finger—“Go on”—and then grabbed the hat next to him and plonked it on Emily's head.

Scott frowned and swung back towards Katie. He'd deal with Johnny later.

Katie was at the counter, buying hair combs and ribbon. The shop girl wrapped each item separately in tissue before bundling them together in brown paper and asking for payment. Was Katie deliberately not looking at him?

“You and Johnny have been a long time. Emily and I were about to go to lunch without you.” Katie accepted her change and glanced over. “I've just met a Miss Jessop.” It was a casual aside, a plain statement of fact. Her expression was placid. She picked up her purchases and headed for the door. But then came the sucker punch. “She claims to be an intimate friend of yours.”

Sod's law was right—what should he say? Stay calm. “It was before we met, Katie. Please believe me. I will not be seeing her again. I've told her that.”

“I know.” Katie handed him her parcel and paused to rummage in her purse for something while she waited for him to open the door.

“You do?” He reached for the handle. His innards unknotted just a little. “Then I don't understand. What's just happened?”

Katie raised her eyes to his. Was she laughing?

“I've just told Miss Jessop the same thing.” She slipped her arm through his and gave it a little hug. “Strange. She didn't seem to like the way I put it.”

 

 

~ end ~

Sod's Law is an axiom ‘if something can go wrong, it will.' Since the mid-twentieth century the term Murphy's Law has been more common in the USA, but Sod's Law is of much older origin and use.

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