I don’t have time to do it very often, what with trying to figure out how to run a house (and also sneaking off to ride Shasta and keep up on my lassoing skills), but the other day I felt extra tired and coming down with the sniffles.
So I brewed myself some tea, something Mother taught me how to make long ago, and started flipping through past journal entries. (This journal is my third one. Who would have ever guessed I would become such a writer of personal thoughts and events!)
Anyway, my stuffy nose was making me grumpy and out of sorts, but I came across this old entry and started giggling. Pretty soon my nose was running, and my eyes were running, and then I was laughing so hard I began to cough. Here it is:
March 1, 1886
I’ve only got three months left to teach Riley how to dance. I mean, honestly! You’d think I was asking him to break a dozen broncs rather than learn a few steps so we can have a wedding waltz.
Waltzing with your brothers is fine (and I’m sure Justin will claim the first one after the ceremony in lieu of what Father would have done if he were alive), mostly so I don’t have to dance with rascals like Johnny Wilson, but I intend to have my new husband take me around the floor one time!
And I won’t have him making a fool of himself—or of me.
March 5, 1886
Today was the day. And what a day! This Saturday started out about as perfect as any day could start. Riley got the afternoon off (after I sweet-talked Chad into giving it to him). I planned a nice picnic up in the meadow. A nice, flat area. Little did Riley know what I was really planning . . .
The food softened Riley up, but he turned downright stubborn when I suggested that he’d better learn to waltz so he can dance at our wedding in three months. “Uh-uh! I’d rather break both legs and hobble down the aisle than trip over your feet and end up looking like a fool,” he said.
“I won’t dance with only my brothers on my wedding day!” I yelled back.
It was quite a stand-off. I jammed my hands on my hips. He jammed his hands on his hips, and we glared at each other.
“It’s expected,” I said, softening my voice.
Getting stubborn never worked well for me in the past. And Chad always says you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. “We’re not getting married in a tiny church in town with some cake and coffee afterwards. It’s a Circle C extravaganza.”
I sighed. Neither Riley nor I had fancied a fancy wedding. I’d just as soon ride off to Yosemite and get married on the way. But Mother is set on sending her youngest daughter to the altar in a fine way, and my brothers and sisters agree. Outnumbered! I’m stuck.
So is Riley.
“You only need to learn one dance,” I promised. “One waltz. It’s easy. Take me around to the ‘Blue Danube,’ or another piece at waltz timing, and I promise you needn’t learn anything else.” I gave him a saucy look. “After that, your bride will dance with all the envious young bachelors. You can drink coffee and talk to the old ladies.”
Riley gave me a dark look, but I could tell that the wagon wheels were spinning inside his head. And he didn’t like where that wagon might be headed.
“It’s really expected?” he finally growled.
I nodded. Sadly, this was all too true. I can’t cook very well, but I sure do know how to dance—every step ever invented: waltz, polka, quadrille, blah, blah, blah. I reckon when your family is invited to the Governor’s Ball in Sacramento every Christmas, you really do learn to dance well.
Riley scrunched up his face. It was clear he didn’t want a dozen rascally young men dancing with his new bride. Ah-ha! I had him at last.
That settled, he gave in. I expected a waltz would not take more than ten minutes to learn. I hummed the “Blue Danube” as loudly as I could and showed him the steps. Then I showed him again. And again.
The fourth time, he wrenched backward. I went flying. Down we both went. My face turned ten shades of red. “What kind of step was that?” I staggered to my feet. This was not going well at all.
Riley apologized, and we started over. Honestly, how hard is a box-step waltz, for goodness’ sake? “One-two-three, one-two-three. One—”
On “one,” Riley stomped on top of my left foot. It hurt. A lot. Good thing we both had our working boots on, or I’m sure my foot would have been broke. “Good grief, Riley!” I stormed. “Are you trying to cripple me?”
He started laughing. “I’m never going to get it, Andi.”
“Oh, yes you are.”
April 15, 1886
Riley is never going to get it. Never. He’s too afraid of hurting me. He should be afraid. My right foot has uncountable bruises. He has tripped and fallen more times than you can shake a stick at. He is a clever young man. He can most likely teach a colt to dance and bow and count, but he can’t teach himself.
I have despaired of teaching him anything. I give up. No more dancing lessons. I’m sick to death of the “Blue Danube.” I hear it in my sleep.
May 26, 1886, 8am
It’s my birthday. Eighteen years old! In another month I’ll be Mrs. Riley Prescott. But I shall not be dancing at my wedding. Not for all the gold in California.
May 26, 1886, 4pm
Riley presented me with the very best gift I could ever receive for my birthday. (Well, maybe the second-best gift. A new saddle would have been most welcome, but oh, well.) He took my hand and led me to the barn. I figured a new saddle was soon to make an appearance.
But no. The entry area inside had been swept clean. “What are we doing here?” I had to ask.
“I’m presenting you with your birthday present, soon-to-be-wife.” He said it with a glint in his eye.
Hmmm . . . I was instantly on my guard.
“Shall I close my eyes?” I finally asked. At this point, even a new saddle blanket would have been a welcome present.
Riley shook his head. Then, before I could take a breath, he bowed and asked, “May I have this next waltz, m’lady?”
“Not very funny,” I said. Just what I didn’t need on my birthday was a bruised foot.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” He started loudly humming the “Blue Danube Waltz” and nearly swung me off my feet.
I was shocked. Every step was rhythm perfect. He led me around inside the small barn area, humming the entire song (he knew it well by now). When he finally finished, he released me, bowed again, and rose. A grin nearly split his face.
I couldn’t breathe. “H-how . . . how did you learn to waltz?”
He cocked his head, and his face started to turn red. “Well, Andi, when I realized how much it meant to you that we should dance a wedding waltz, well”—he shrugged—“I decided I’d best get me another dancing instructor. One whose toes I couldn’t bruise quite so easily.”
I was stumped.
Riley folded his arms across his chest. “Chad taught me.”
My mouth dropped open. “Chad? And . . . and . . . you?”
Visions of those secret dancing lessons swirled around in my head. Oh, I would give a strongbox full of gold to have been a fly on the wall during those sessions.
A gush of laughter escaped from my throat. I couldn’t hold it back.
Riley’s hand clapped over my mouth. He leaned close to my ear and whispered, “If you ever let on to a soul—especially to Chad, I’ll . . . I’ll . . .”
I tore his hand away and burst into laughter, shaking my head. “I won’t. I promise. Because not only you would come after me, but Chad too. It will be our secret.”
Riley danced divinely at our wedding. Someday, I know he and Chad will be willing to share the secret of Riley’s dancing success. But probably not for a long, long time. And now, my tea is cold and I need a handkerchief, but I’ve had a lovely afternoon rereading this old entry.