Something to Celebrate
Copyright 2009 by Linda Crist
Setting: This is a follow-up short story of the lives of Rachel and Mattie, the two characters from Galveston 1900: Swept Away, which can be found at the Royal Academy of Bards, here: http://www.academyofbards.org/authors/texbard.html
Disclaimers: I borrowed the name "WidowTwanky" from Rob Tapert, Robert Orci, and Alex Kurtzman. And wherever Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are, they own themselves. All other characters herein originated somewhere in my head. I'll not disclaim love anymore.
Galveston, Texas - February 1911
"Becca Travis, get out of the water this instant!" Mattie peered out the front door toward the shoreline where her daughter, barefoot and clad in her best school dress, was wading, skirts held a precarious few inches above the morning tide.
"Mother!" Becca looked up, tossing her head and settling her long red braids. "I am being careful."
"Must I get a switch?" Mattie took two steps down from the raised porch of the house, placing her hands on her hips.
"No, ma'am." Dejected, Becca walked back up toward the house, stopping at the bottom of the steps where she had left her shoes and stockings.
"You wash your feet before you put those back on," Mattie admonished. "Come up here and sit down. I'll get a pan of water to clean the sand off. You will be the death of me, Becca, you know that? It is much too cool to be playing in the water. You are just asking to catch the fever."
"Mama swims this time of year," Becca complained, her blue eyes stubbornly watching Mattie.
"Mama must get in the water. It is part of her job." Mattie disappeared inside the house and reappeared momentarily with a bucket and towel. "Now, rinse off. And don't get your skirts wet."
"Yes, ma'am." Becca dipped her feet in the water. "Youch! It's cold."
"Yes, well, there is no time to heat it up. We must get to town before you are late for school and I am late for work." Mattie removed an apron from her waist, folding it as she talked.
"Thought cold water would make me catch the fever," Becca answered mischievously.
"And cheeky daughters will have extra chores to perform after school today," Mattie replied matter-of-factly.
"Mother!" Becca finished washing and dumped the pail over the porch railing. "I don't see why I must go to school anyway. I am going to be a fisherman like Mama. I want it to be summer so I can go out on the boat with her and Uncle Billy. I don't like wearing dresses."
"I know," Mattie sympathized. Despite her red hair and abundant freckles, Becca was all-Rachel, a tomboy who would much rather run barefoot through the streets, fish from the seawall, and play baseball with the boys, than sit inside and perform more ladylike tasks. "But Mama would disagree with you about school. You have an opportunity that she was denied when she was your age."
"Seems like she has done fine without it," Becca grumbled.
"And she would spank you for talking like that," Mattie admonished. "Enough of your complaints, young lady. Get your shoes and stockings on. It is time to leave for town."
"All we are going to do today is make little cards to pass out to each other." Becca trotted down the stairs of the elevated house and sat down to don her shoes and stockings. "It is for some new holiday. It sounds silly to me. If I must go to school can I not at least do something interesting?"
"New holiday?" Mattie closed the front door of the house and tied a shawl about her shoulders. She held up a smaller version of the one she wore. "Here. Put this on."
"Yes, it is called Valentine's Day. Teacher says it is all the rage on the East Coast." Becca finished buttoning her shoes. "I'm not cold."
"Then take your shawl with you in case it grows cool later." Mattie led the way back to the barn where a team of horses was already harnessed and ready to be hitched to their buggy. Mattie smiled, knowing who had buckled all the harness trappings. "Your Mama is very thoughtful of us. Come on and let us get to town. And you can tell me all about this new holiday."
Rachel pulled in a net, dumping a few fish into a holding tank lashed to the back of the boat, watching as they flopped around in the shallow water. "Should we move further out and check the crab pots?"
"Might as well." Billy looked up from mending a sail, the breeze lifting his hair at the back of his neck. "Fish aren't biting here today."
"Alright." Rachel pulled a cigar from her pocket and lit it, then lit another off its tip before passing it over to Billy.
"Thank you." Billy took the offering and placed it in the corner of his mouth to brace it while he worked with both hands.
"'Welcome." Rachel's cheeks sucked inward as she drew deeply from the spicy sweet tobacco and released the smoke, then folded up the net and placed it inside a utility box. "I'll pull up anchor and raise the sails. Wind is from the south today."
"Good. Then maybe it will be warm tonight when I take Lillie out for Valentine's supper." Billy looked up. "Are you going to take Mattie out?"
"What's Valentine's?" Rachel asked in alarm, wondering if she were in the doghouse without knowing it.
"Some fancy new holiday." Billy stood and set his mending aside, so he could help trim the sails once they were underway. "Lillie read about it in a ladies' magazine. She said it's a day for those who are in love to celebrate."
"Aww." Rachel wrinkled her nose. "Mattie and I don't need a special day to celebrate that."
"Well, that's what I tried to tell Lillie, but she said men on the East Coast are buying flowers for their sweethearts, taking them out for special suppers, and giving them smarmy cards they make or buy." Billy grinned. "The Widow Twanky is going to watch the boys while we go out for supper at the hotel. I even found some early roses blooming over near the church, so soon as we pull into the dock this afternoon, I need to go pick a few. Mr. Gage over at the hotel was quite pleased when I stopped by to make the supper reservation. He said they were hoping the holiday would become popular here."
"Ummmm --" Rachel chewed on her cigar a moment. "I don't suppose they had any tables left for tonight?"
"I imagine they do. It was just yesterday that I spoke with him. Do we need to finish up early today?" Billy winked at her.
"Yes." Rachel rolled her eyes. "If Mattie has heard of this thing, I'm already behind. I may need a few hours this afternoon to catch up."
"Smart woman," Billy complimented her.
"As good as married woman," Rachel smiled sadly. "Despite my reputation as the hardened spinster looking after the battered widow who will never marry again."
"Those of us who are your friends know the truth, Rachel," Billy consoled her.
"I know." Rachel gave a jerk to a length of rope, drawing the mainsail up the mast. "But it's hard sometimes, especially having to teach Becca to keep our secret. I have heard talk that in Paris, women like us are free to live more openly."
"So you're moving to Paris, now?" Billy chuckled, then grew sober as Rachel glared at him. "You're serious?"
"Mattie and I have both been studying French in the evenings. Becca as well," she answered quietly. "Mattie first heard of the life in Paris while reading some magazine articles by an American woman who lives there, Gertrude Stein. They've been corresponding and Mattie sent Miss Stein a few of her sketches. Miss Stein says there is a thriving colony of artists, musicians, and writers in Paris, and that Mattie has talent enough to make something of herself there, if she so chooses. Miss Stein lives with a woman there named Alice. According to Mattie, they are together in the same way that Mattie and I are."
"Oh." Billy moved to her side to help with sailing preparations. "I didn't know."
"We haven't told anyone." Rachel cleated the loose end of the rope. "It's only a dream for now. We're hoping to visit Paris and speak with Miss Stein in person, before we make any hasty decisions. But it will be a few years before we'll be able to save enough for such a journey."
"I do understand." Billy gave her shoulder a squeeze, then released it. "Even after all this time, some folks in this town have long memories of Lillie, the lady of the evening."
"Some folks in this town need to have their heads knocked together." Rachel tossed her burned-down cigar stub overboard. "Let's go crabbing, shall we?"
"Ready when you are, Captain." Billy touched his fingers to his wide-brimmed hat and moved to the jib, prepared to raise it at Rachel's command.
The morning in the tailor's shop passed quickly, as Mattie and Eliza Vaughan worked on several orders for men's shirts, along with a Christening gown for the new baby of one of Galveston's wealthy families. At the noon hour, Mattie stepped out to see if the weekly mail delivery had arrived. As she stood in line, she made a mental list of items she needed to purchase after work at the general store. Her work days were shorter now, to coincide with Becca's school schedule. It was nice to have a few hours each afternoon to get her chores at home done, so that the evenings were free to spend with Rachel and Becca.
At last she reached the post office window. "Letter from Paris, Miss Travis," the postman smiled at her. The townspeople had mostly quit questioning her choice to call herself by Rachel's last name. Once Adam's death was official, she had slowly, guardedly, begun to tell her story of abuse at his hands, leaving out some of the more personal details. While she still did not speak openly of it in large groups, several women in town had come to her with their own secret stories, and it had become common, unspoken knowledge that Mattie Travis no longer wished to be called by Crockett, the last name of a man who had regularly beaten her, nor did she wish to be courted, her trust in men shattered forever. It was the truth, she reasoned; just not the entire truth.
"Thank you, Mr. Anderson." Mattie accepted a fat envelope from him and walked across to the soda parlor. Her home-packed lunch was waiting back at the tailor's shop, but she rarely shared the contents of her letters from Paris with anyone other than Rachel. Ordering a sarsaparilla, she eagerly tore open the letter, taking a sip of the sweet, cold beverage as she sat at the counter and scanned many lines detailing the latest antics of her pen pals Gertrude and Alice. When she reached the end of the letter, her eyes widened and she looked back inside the envelope and found another, smaller one there. Opening it, she peered inside and choked on the last sip of her drink.
"Are you alright, Miss Travis?" A young man brought her a glass of water, which she lifted with a trembling hand.
"Yes. I --" Clutching the letter and the two envelopes to her breast, she got up. "I must go." She fled the shop and ran toward the livery stable, passing several sets of curious eyes as she entered the stall where their horses were kept during the day. "Oh, my. Rachel, would you please come home on time today?" she pled with her absent partner.
"Sugar. Mattie?" Lillie's familiar voice penetrated the quiet of the stables, and Mattie turned as her friend entered the darkened space. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. At least I think I am." Mattie reached up and pushed her bonnet back off her head. "Is it warm in here to you?"
"I was at the tailor's to look at one of those new hats from New York, and we saw you take off from the soda parlor." Lillie reached out, touching Mattie's cheek. "You look as if you've seen a ghost."
"My friend Gertrude. The one in Paris." Mattie held out the letter, still clinging to the two envelopes with a tight fist.
"I believe you've mentioned her a time or two." Lillie's interest was obviously piqued with hope of fresh gossip. "Did she write something to upset you?"
"Not exactly. You promise me not to say a word to anyone?" Mattie frowned. "Not even Billy until after I have spoken with Rachel."
"Well, of course." Lillie sounded disappointed at having her story-telling nature suppressed, but would keep her promise nonetheless. "Whatever is wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong." Mattie fretted, pacing back and forth in front of their horses. "Gertrude has sold some sketches I sent her, to a collector in Paris. It seems he paid two hundred dollars for them."
"Two hundred dollars?!" Lillie's brows shot into her hairline. "That is more than --"
"More than I earn in a year at the tailor's," Mattie finished for her. "Oh, I will never be able to concentrate on making buttonholes this afternoon. It's all here in this envelope. I need Rachel to put it in the bank. She has always done that sort of thing for us."
"Sugar, come with me." Lillie took Mattie's hand and led her out of the stables and down the street to the bank. "Go inside and tell them you want to put the money in Rachel's account. And ask them to give you a receipt for it."
"I would feel better not carrying it around with me for the rest of the day." Mattie sighed in relief. "Will you wait for me here while I go in? I would like to ask for the rest of the afternoon off and we could shop together."
"That would be delightful." Lillie patted her on the arm. "Go on in."
Mattie entered the cool bank lobby, enjoying the circulating air of the overhead ceiling fans. In that respect, it reminded her of the saloon where Rachel had once worked, but the similarities stopped there. The saloon had been full of noise -- music and drunken gamblers. The bank was quiet, the teller behind the counter quite stern and serious in appearance. In short order the deposit was made and she went back outside, blinking at the bright afternoon sunshine. "I did not know it was that simple. Thank you, Lillie."
"You are most welcome." Lillie smiled. "I was thinking about what you said about cooking tonight, and I believe you could take Rachel out for a very nice supper instead. Billy and I are going to dine at the hotel. You could have Mrs. Twanky watch Becca. She is going to care for the boys for us. They all enjoy playing together."
"That is a splendid idea." Mattie grabbed Lillie's arm, dragging her across to the hotel. "Maybe we can get a table beside the window and watch people strolling by while we eat."
"Mattie?" Rachel entered the house and placed her hat on a hook on the wall.
"I'm in the kitchen," Mattie called out.
Rachel followed her voice and sat down at the kitchen table, watching as Mattie drew her hands up from a dishpan and dried them off on her apron. "How was fishing today?"
"Fair," Rachel studied her. "I sold some crab on the docks and went to the bank to deposit the money. The teller said you deposited two hundred dollars today?"
"Oh, I wanted to surprise you!" Mattie wailed. "Gertrude sold two of my sketches in Paris and sent me the money."
"Two hundred dollars?" Rachel was incredulous. "Sweetheart, that's wonderful. But two hundred dollars?"
"I know. I was shocked." Mattie came over and dropped into Rachel's lap, kissing her first on the cheek and then on the lips. "Mmmmmm. You taste like peppermint."
"The teller gave me a peppermint ball and thanked me for our business," Rachel replied. "I had no idea people would pay that kind of money for charcoal sketches." Rachel shook her head. "Not that you aren't incredibly talented, no offense intended."
"None taken." Mattie pecked her on the lips again. "I had no idea either. It makes me want to spend the next three months painting, then once school is out for the summer, take that two hundred dollars and pack up you and Becca, and go to Paris to see what I can make from selling paintings."
"I must say I'm inclined to agree with that plan." Rachel reached across, pushing a strand of hair out of Mattie's eyes. "If you want to quit at the tailor's to concentrate on your artwork, I will be fully supportive of you."
"You are so good to me." Mattie hugged her close. "Maybe I will go half-days at the tailor's. I hate to leave Mrs. Vaughan without help. That would give her time to find someone to replace me while we are away."
"You're irreplaceable." Rachel twined her fingers with Mattie's, lifting her hand and kissing her knuckles. "You do whatever you want to, Mattie. I know Billy can find someone to help out on the boat if I'm away for a few months."
"And what if we decide not to return?" Mattie asked softly.
"I've thought of that," Rachel replied, her expression solemn. "I think we should visit first and if we decide to stay, we can draw up papers to take care of our affairs back here."
"What will you do in Paris if we stay? I don't think they have much fishing there." Mattie stroked Rachel's cheek, then combed her fingers back through the chestnut locks. "You love being out on the water so."
"It's a huge city. I am sure I can find something to do." Rachel smiled. "They have rivers there. Maybe I'll buy a taxi boat or a freighter. I can always find a way to be on the water."
"In that case, we have much to celebrate." Mattie bounced up and down a little bit. "Becca is at the Widow Twanky's with Billy and Lillie's boys, and I made us supper reservations at the hotel. It is Valentine's Day. We are supposed to celebrate being in love, but now we can also celebrate going to Paris."
"I know. I spoke with Billy this morning and he told me about it. I also went to the hotel where I learned you had made reservations. Great minds think alike, eh?" Rachel winked at her. "But I had an idea while I was there. I hope you don't mind."
"You always have good ideas." Mattie stroked her hair. "Tell me, please."
"What if we could bring the hotel meal here and have a private supper out on our porch, and listen to the waves while we eat? Maybe then we could go for a walk on the beach afterward." Rachel drew a fingertip across Mattie's jaw line and then down between her breasts, playfully popping one of her buttons open. "And what if Becca were to spend the night at the Widow Twanky's and I pick her up tomorrow after breakfast?"
"That sounds divine." Mattie captured Rachel's wandering hand and drew it to her lips.
"Good, because it's all taken care of. I went by Mrs. Twanky's to talk to her about tonight and discovered Becca was already there, so I arranged the overnight stay. Then I went back to the hotel. I left a basket out on the porch that the hotel packed up for us, complete with china to eat on and a candle to light our table." Rachel leaned over and stole a kiss, while sliding one hand up Mattie's side and brushing her thumb along the side of her breast. "Guess what I'd like to do after we walk on the beach?"
Mattie laughed lightly as Rachel nuzzled her behind her ear, her breath tickling Mattie's skin. "Do you want to do the dishes?" She teased.
"Nooooo." Rachel pressed Mattie's earlobe between her lips and licked it.
"Oh!" Mattie gasped, then recovered her composure. "Muck out the barn?"
"Did that this morning." Rachel nibbled her way down Mattie's neck.
"Fold clothes?" Mattie tilted her head to the side, giving Rachel better access.
"Mmmmm." Rachel popped the rest of Mattie's buttons open and pressed her face into her cleavage, inhaling her clean, warm scent. "Close, but not quite."
"Close?" Mattie responded in surprise, her body easily responding to Rachel's touch.
"Remove clothes." Rachel found a bit of bare skin to lavish her undivided attention upon.
"Now?" Mattie felt Rachel's fingers at her shoulders, easing her blouse down her arms.
"We can re-heat supper later," Rachel purred into her ear.
"Now," Mattie sighed with pleasure, as Rachel's lips closed around a hardened nipple.
Rachel stood, lifting Mattie, who wrapped her legs around Rachel's waist as they stumbled from the kitchen and through the sitting room to their bedroom, for once not bothering to close the door. Rachel lowered Mattie down onto the thick, comfy feather bed, shucking her clothing before she joined her.
"This is nice, seeing you in the daylight." Rachel removed Mattie's shoes and stockings and ran her hand up a bare leg, pushing her skirt and petticoat up in the process. "You're beautiful, Mattie."
"So are you," Mattie reached up and made circles around Rachel's breasts, all traces of shyness long gone between them.
Rachel looked down, watching her own body respond to Mattie, goose bumps trailing in the wake of Mattie's touch. She groaned with pleasure and reached between them, unbuttoning Mattie's skirt, then scooted down, kissing her way down Mattie's belly as she removed the rest of her clothing. Ever so slowly, she made her way back up, kissing and nipping at sensitive spots along the way until she hovered over Mattie.
"I love you, Mattie." She ducked her head and kissed her, slipping a leg between Mattie's knees and nudging them apart. Feeling Mattie raise one leg in reciprocation, she lowered herself the rest of the way down, reveling in the sensation of silky smoothness. "You're so soft," she murmured, feeling Mattie brushing back against her.
"You're all wet," Mattie whispered in her ear, her voice sending waves of sensation coursing through Rachel's body to settle between her legs.
"Yes, I am." Rachel stroked downward, touching Mattie intimately. "So are you." Rachel played there, stroking and teasing, drawing pleasure from Mattie and giving it back in return. She felt her own body responding, hearing Mattie's breathing quicken and feeling her hands, gently rubbing Rachel's back and pulling her closer.
She eased one hand beneath Mattie, grasping her backside and lifting her up slightly, as she rhythmically pressed her thigh against Mattie, their bodies working in tandem. Rachel sought out Mattie's lips, kissing her deeply, hearing Mattie's whimpers of pleasure as she returned the kiss with fervor, her hands wandering lower and gabbing handfuls of Rachel's behind.
Mattie's head lolled back and her lips were parted, as she panted, her hands squeezing Rachel and encouraging her to increase her pace. "We're alone, Mattie. You can make noise." Rachel nipped and licked Mattie's throat, lingering at her pulse point.
"Used to keeping quiet," Mattie gasped, nibbling her lower lip.
"I like to hear you." Rachel tasted a nipple and took it into her mouth, then reached between them again, touching Mattie deeply.
"Oh," Mattie cried out. "Rachel ---" She trailed off, the rest of her words unintelligible. "Ahhhh."
"Beautiful," Rachel whispered, as Mattie crested, her body rising and climaxing in strong waves. "So very beautiful." She kissed her and eased her body down, riding Mattie's strong thigh until her own body crashed over the edge.
Then they were holding each other, kissing tenderly and touching each other lightly, both women spent and breathing hard. "You ready for supper now?" Rachel kissed Mattie's nose. "I can hear your stomach growling."
"I shall need something to rebuild my strength after that," Mattie teased. "Yes. Let me --"
"No." Rachel pecked her lips quickly and sat up. "I'll put the food on the stove, while you freshen up."
"What about you?" Mattie brushed her fingers through sweat-dampened locks.
"A quick dip in the Gulf will fix me up." Rachel grabbed her clothes and raced out the door, hearing Mattie's laughter ring out behind her.
"Exhibitionist!" Mattie called out after her.
After supper and a glass of wine, Mattie and Rachel walked hand-in-hand along the beach. Mattie carried one pink rose, part of a bouquet Rachel had presented her with at supper. "These smell so sweet." Mattie drew the flower up to her nose and inhaled.
"So do you." Rachel leaned over and nuzzled Mattie's hair. "Growwffff."
"You make such cute sounds sometimes." Mattie turned her head and they kissed, the shadows from the dunes sheltering them from any prying eyes.
"Mmmmm." Rachel went in for seconds. "As do you."
"When do I make cute noises?" Mattie tilted her head in question, as Rachel merely smiled and winked. "Oh." A mostly-rare blush dusted Mattie's cheeks. "That is why I try to be quiet when we're together. I don't know how I would explain it to Becca."
"It was nice, this afternoon." Rachel draped an arm across Mattie's shoulders.
"Yes, it was," Mattie agreed with her. "I especially enjoyed the view as you left to go for a swim." She reached down, giving Rachel a pat on her behind. "Honey, I hope you don't ever do that when Becca is home. It is difficult enough getting her to wear dresses to school. I don't need to fight with her about wearing clothing at all."
Rachel laughed deeply from her gut, her sides shaking. "She has already been skinny dipping."
"What!? When?" Mattie gave her another, harder pat on her behind.
Rachel reached behind her and grasped the offending hand, holding it as they continued to walk. "Out on the boat."
"Oh, Rachel. Must I get her a second bathing costume to keep on the boat? Was Billy there?"
"Might not be a bad idea, and no, Billy wasn't with us. It was just us two girls," Rachel mused. "Hot day last summer when the fish weren't biting. We jumped in to cool off. It was alright. I taught her how to dive that day. She's a natural in the water."
"Just like you," Mattie commented softly. "You're a good mother, you know."
"I try." Rachel looked at her. "Unfortunately I can only teach her what I know. I'm sorry she takes after me so much."
"I love that she takes after you." Mattie released Rachel's hand and wrapped an arm around her waist, feeling Rachel pull her close as they stopped and faced each other. "Yes, she's wild and way too active for me to keep up with, and she likes to spit and run around barefoot all the time, but she's also kind and brave, and loving and a hard worker. I couldn't be happier with the two girls in my life."
"Neither could I." Rachel leaned in and kissed Mattie, feeling the early evening breeze brush over them, stirring the grass in the dunes behind her. It was her favorite time of day, the sun from the western side of the island warming her back as it set, and the friendly darkness of the night creeping over the eastern edge of the Gulf, cooling the air and bringing out the night creatures. A large fish jumped out of the water with a splash, as a pelican flew low, just missing the chance at a final evening snack.
"You know." They parted by a few inches and Rachel smiled, touching Mattie's face and cupping her cheek. "We did things a bit out of order tonight. Why don't we go get Becca and bring her home? It would be nice to spend the day together tomorrow as a family."
"It would," Mattie agreed on a slightly breathless note. "I can make flapjacks in the morning and maybe we can walk down to the shell beach. Becca always has so much fun there."
"You always have so much fun there," Rachel touched a finger to the tip of Mattie's nose.
"It's the first place you took me, after we met." Mattie smiled. "It holds some of my fondest memories."
"It's the place I fell in love with you." Rachel kissed her softly once more.
"Let's go get our daughter." Mattie took both of Rachel's hands, drawing her back to the house and to the barn to hitch up the horses.
In a short time, they were pulling up in front of the Widow Twanky's house, where Becca came running out. "Mother! Mama! I thought you were picking me up tomorrow morning."
"We decided we didn't want you to miss your mother's flap-jacks in the morning." Rachel lifted Becca and swung her around, settling her in the back of the wagon.
"Oh, flap-jacks!" Becca clapped her hands excitedly. "My favorite."
"You should not miss that." The Widow Twanky came out to see them off.
"Thank you." Rachel patted her arm and handed her a dollar.
"Oh, thank you, Rachel. Becca is such a joy. No trouble at all. She keeps the other children busy playing and makes my work all the easier. You all come back and visit anytime." The widow waved and went back inside.
"No trouble at all, huh?" Mattie teased her daughter. "Would that I could say that."
"Mother!" Becca frowned.
Rachel laughed lightly and climbed back up in the wagon, turning the team around and driving them toward the setting sun. "Becca, how would you like to go on a long journey with us? There's a beautiful city across the ocean, called Paris . . . "