Chapter Five: Asking

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FIVE MONTHS LATER- March 1878

Mary looked up from behind the counter as the shop bell tinkled merrily. It had been a busy day as Little's Mercantile- customers nonstop, most friendly enough, a few grouchy and downright rude. She braced herself for the worst.

There stood Isabelle DuBois- or Mrs. Peter Castillo, now. She hadn't changed in the five months since she'd married and Mary had seen her last- her hair was still a mousy brown mess of curls, piled atop her head; her dress was still covered in frills and bows in pastel colors. The only thing different was the look on her face that was a clear statement of superiority, replacing what had before been unadulterated disgust. 

"Have you enjoyed your occupation, Miss MacEilan?" asked Isabelle airily, walking to the fabric and fingering it. "You did steal it from me, after all. I only wish to know." Her voice was far too sweet, too smooth, to mean anything good. Mary had learned that in the few most unpleasant days spent rooming with the little diva.

"Very much, ma'am," replied Mary coolly, though her eyes blazed grey fire and her soul lit in anger and vexation. She neglected the fact that there was a 'hiring' sign in the window of the store when she got the job. "Can I do anythin' to help you today?"

Isabelle's white- gloved hands lifted a bolt of plain canary fabric from the shelf. "Three yards," she said slowly, as though Mary was deaf and an idiot besides.

She won't get to me, Mary decided as she got her fabric scissors from behind the counter and measured the fabric. She hasn't got to me yet- she never will, not ever!

"Nineteen cents," she said, folding the cut cloth and handing it to Isabelle, who put it in her basket and opened a coin purse. Mary patiently waited for the gloved hands to count out the coins. They seemed to be moving at a snail's pace just to annoy her. 

Finally the coins were handed over. Mary counted them just to be sure- one dime, one nickel, three pennies...

"Mrs. Castillo, you are a cent short," Mary announced wearily. 

Isabelle gave a great sigh, as if it were Mary's fault she had handed over eighteen cents instead of nineteen, but with a white- toothed smile she handed the single copper penny over.

"Here, then," she continued sweetly. 

"Thank you." It was painfully awkward for Mary to see this, to experience it. "Have a good afternoon, ma'am."

"You wouldn't happen to have a sister, would you? Emma, works for Mrs. Lenore Remigrant on Clarkson Street?"

Mary raised an eyebrow. "I do," she ventured cautiously. "May I ask why you're needin' to know?"

Isabelle threw back her head and laughed. "Oh, I only just put it together on Friday night last. She's the very belle of Denver society, you know. Wonderful young lady, and just two years younger than me. Shame that you're not as well mannered as your sister."

Mary's jaw clenched tightly. "I'm glad to hear she's doing well."

"I gave her your address. I hope you won't mind."

Mary didn't answer. 

After a moment of pregnant silence, Isabelle turned and walked out the door without another word, her nose in the air and her eyes still locked in that view of championship.

Mary slowly scooped up the change with shaking hands and put it in the moneybox, writing out what she had just sold and how much- it made taking inventory easier for her and Ava.

Could Emma be waiting for her, at her room? Mary hadn't talked to her family in months. Oh, she was certain that Iain knew she was in Denver- he was her brother, after all, he always seemed to know everything- and she had suspicions that Anne had sent Charles O'Flaherty out to look for her. Charles was a most faithful beau, and besides, he'd known Mary just as long as Anne; the O'Flahertys had lived not far from where the MacEilans had in Galway.

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