“Mr. Dahl?”“At your service. We're all so delighted you're here at last. Oh, please allow me—I'll take that valise!” Ashe stowed the suitcase in the boot of the carriage she noticed the sleek it of his black suit coast across nicelyshaped shoulders, and when he turned to help her into the buggy, she noted the fact that his celluloid collar was brand new, stiff and tight for the occasion. “Careful now.” He had marvelous hands, with long pale fingers that solicitously closed over her own as he handed her up. A reed-thin whip clicked above the trotter's head, and they sped away, with his elbow lightly bumping hers.“Miss Brandonberg, to your left you'll note the opera house, our newest establishment, and at the firstopportunity I hope we can attend a performance together.”“An opera house!” she gasped in ladylike surprise while delicately steepling five fingers over her heart.“Why, I didn't expect an opera house!”“A young lady with your looks will put the actresses to shame.” His smile seemed to dim the sun as heapprovingly scanned her narrow shoes, her new wool serge suit, and the first hat she'd ever owned without achildish wide brim. “I hope you won't think me too bold if I say that you have a definite flair for clothes, Miss Brandonberg...”
“Miss Brandonberg?” The voice in her fantasy faded as she was roused by the conductor,who was leaning across the empty aisle seat to touch her shoulder. “Next stop Alamo, NorthDakota.” She straightened and offered the older man a smile.“Oh, thank you!”He touched the brim of his blue cap and nodded before moving away.Outside, the prairie rolled by, flat and endless. She peered out the window but saw no signof the town. The train lost speed as its whistle sounded, then sighed into silence, leaving only the
of the wheels upon shifting steel seams.Her heart thumped expectantly, and this time, when she placed a hand over it, there wasno pretending. She would see it soon, the place that had been only a word on the map; she wouldmeet them soon, the people who would become part of her daily life as students, friends, perhapseven confidants. Each new face she'd meet would be that of a total stranger, and for thehundredth time she wished she knew just one person in Alamo. Just one.
There's nothing to be frightened of. It's only last-minute nervousness.
She ran a hand up the back of her neck, checking the hairstyle she wasn't yet adept atforming. Within the crescent-shaped coil around her head, the rat seemed to have slipped loose.With shaky fingers she tightened several hairpins, then checked her hatpin, smoothed her skirt,and glanced at her shoes for a last dose of confidence just as the train huffed out a final wearybreath and shuddered to a halt.
Dear me, where is the town?