Chapter One: Song and Dance
Jesse stood behind the bar, rolling up his shirtsleeves and revealing forearms that seemed especially dark next to the crisp white of the fabric. An employee of the saloon played a carefree piano tune in the background, belying the seriousness of the saloon owner’s tone when he asked, “How old are you?”
Lily sat with straight posture on a tall stool that didn’t allow her feet to reach the floor. She’d practiced this conversation a hundred times in the mirror and couldn’t blow it now. She tried to sound confident in her response, but her voice was more timid than she would have liked. “I’m eighteen. Perfectly old enough to be one of the dancers here.”
“Hmm,” he said, frowning. He picked up a clean glass and wiped the water droplets off of it with a small white towel. After lining it next to the row of tumblers on the bar, he picked up another recently washed glass and repeated the motions. “You’re one of Roy’s daughters, aren’t you? Lily, isn’t it?”
Joy surged through her in that moment. She’d harbored a secret crush on him for years, and she hoped he might remember her name. “Yes, I’m Lily, and I’m the youngest of Roy’s daughters, the last to be living there at the farm.”
“Does your pa know you’re here asking to be a saloon girl, Lily?” He set the glass and towel on the bar and gave her his full attention. His dark eyes studied hers carefully. He placed his forearms on the bar and leaned into them, bringing his face closer to hers.
Lily looked at a ring of moisture on the bar leftover from a perspiring glass. She didn’t directly answer the question, instead saying, “I wish to earn my own keep and move into town. I don’t want to live on my pa’s farm anymore. I’m an adult and don’t need my pa’s permission to work here. I’m real good at singing and dancing.”
“An adult, you say? Have you ever been intimate with a man?”
Lily gasped, and her eyes snapped back to his face. “Of course not, Jesse. I’m not married.”
Jesse let out an exasperated sigh and stood from his bent position. “That’s what I thought.” He pointed a finger at her face and his voice became deeper. He sounded very stern when he spoke. “This saloon is not the place for young ladies such as you. I don’t want to see you in here again. Now get on home.” He pointed at the double swinging doors as though she might need a reminder of where to go to exit.
Lily remained seated at the stool and stared at him. His tone of voice surprised her, and she felt a rebellion bubbling up in inside of her. She lifted her chin. “I reckon this is just the place for me. I know how to dance and sing better than the Red Rose, and you haven’t let me prove it.”
“The Red Rose is not a real performer, she’s a hoax and rumor men spread for kicks, and the only thing you’ll be proving is how much sense you’ve got by how fast you choose to obey me.” He folded his arms in front of his chest and raised an eyebrow slowly as she continued to sit and stare at him.
Lily’s heart beat a little faster upon seeing his challenging expression, but she wasn’t prepared to give up the one thing she’d waited for years to do. She hated her boring, unglamorous life on the farm. She hated gathering eggs and mucking out stalls. She hated lugging slop to the pigs. She hated the dirt she’d painstakingly cleaned from underneath her fingernails before seeing Jesse that day.
“You gonna skedaddle, Miss Lily, or do you need some encouragement?” Jesse asked.
She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. “I saw the Red Rose with my own two eyes when I went to Tucson, and I’m a better dancer than her. Just let me show you what I can do. Please?”
He let out another exasperated sigh and meandered around the bar to where she sat. Taking hold of her elbow, he pulled her off the stool. She scrambled gracelessly to find her feet as he marched her to the doors, opened one of them, and tugged her along with him outside. He transferred her arm to his left hand and planted a hard swat on her bottom with his right palm.
Lily shrieked, more from surprise than pain.
He landed his hand five more times, punctuating his words, “I… told… you… to… leave!”
Each swat stung. She tried to run, but Jesse held fast to her arm and was able to smack his target squarely all five times.
After the last smack, she looked around and saw that a few townsfolk had turned their attention to them and were snickering. She flushed, mortified at having been spanked, and worse, in front of an audience!