What did that last signpost say? Rose wondered. Is this the right road? She stopped and looked around, hoping for a friendly traveler, but the road was empty. I better get my map, she decided. Reaching behind her back, she tried to retrieve it without taking off her pack. After a few circles, she gave in and shrugged off her pack, letting it drop behind her on the dusty road. Pulling the map out of the pocket, she unrolled and looked at it, balancing her pack against her knee. Looking up again, she studied the landscape around her. Is that Granite Hill over there or is it...? She looked at the map again. This was going to require deeper study. Rolling up the map, she looked around. There was a large rock just off the road and it looked like a good place to sit down. Picking up her pack, she hooked it over a shoulder and, holding the map in her other hand, walked over and sat down with her back against the rock. Spreading the map across her lap she examined it closely. One finger traced the road she was on. Closer than I thought! She looked up at the moon, faint in the bright spring sky. I'll stay a few days in Greyton, she thought looking down at the map again, just until after the full moon. Then I'll go to Rock River.
"Then I'll be three days closer to Silver City!" she announced to herself.
Rolling up the map, she started to stand when something hit the top of her head. She looked up. A seagull cried as it flew overhead. Putting her hand on top of her head, she carefully felt her hair, then brought it down and looked. White shit coated her fingers and palm. She looked up again, but the seagull had disappeared.
Wiping her hand on the rock, she opened her pack with her clean hand, searching for a handkerchief. The gull flew down, landed in front of her, and shifted.
"Sorry." the naked young woman said apologetically, "I should remember to look down when I, uh, let go." She held out a hand, "I'm Celeste."
"Rose." She held out her hand, realized it was dirty, and grinned sheepishly as she drew it back.
"There's a creek over there." Celeste pointed to a line of trees behind her, not far away. "I'll help you wash."
"Thanks." Rose said, picking up her pack. Celeste picked up the map, and lead the way to the creek.
"You have lovely hair." she said, watching Rose shake out her braid.
"Thank you." Rose replied, setting her cloak down on the grass. She looked at Celeste as she pulled off her tunic. Light brown hair fell in soft curls to her broad shoulders. A breeze ruffled her hair and pushed it forward into her face. Reaching up with soft hands, she pushed her hair back again. Seeing Rose admiring her, she caught her eye and smiled. Rose blushed and turned to the creek. "Do you live around here?" she asked, pushing up her shirt sleeves.
"No. I'm just heading north. I thought I'd stop in Greyton for a few days and see a friend. What about you?"
"I'm going to Greyton, too." Walking to the edge of the water she bent over, letting her hair fall in. "Do you want to, um, go together?" she asked.
Celeste waded in, "Oh! That's cold!" she exclaimed, walking over to stand in front of Rose. Gently she pushed her head down further, so the top of her head was in the water. "It'd be nice to have a companion." She scooped water in her hands and poured it over Rose's head. "Where are you staying? At an inn or with someone?" She stopped. "This is too slow," she complained. "You'll never get clean."
"I have a cup in my pack." Rose offered. She pointed behind her, "In the pocket on the left side."
Wading out of the stream, Celeste walked to her pack. "Left side, you said?"
"Uh huh." Rose replied, ducking her head underwater. She scrubbed her hair and thought about how beautiful Celeste was. Those lips, those eyes... Not quite green and not quite brown, but somewhere in between. Lifting her head again, she blew out the breath she'd been holding. Her wet hair stuck to her face, temporarily blinding her.
"Found it!" Water splashed as Celeste ran back in and stood in front of her. Pushing her head down again, she scooped up water with the cup and poured it over Rose's head. Gentle fingers scrubbed her scalp. A few more cupfuls of water followed and then cold fingers cupped her chin while her other hand pushed Rose's hair back from her face. Rose looked up and was lost in those wonderful eyes.
"I think that's it!" she said, lowering her hand. Rose had a sudden, wild, impulsive thought to grab her hand and never let go. Celeste held out her other hand and helped her stand up. Rose's wet hair soaked her shirt and she shivered slightly as she watched her new friend wade out of the creek and stand in front of her. They stood a moment, watching each other, then Celeste reached out and tenderly brushed a strand away from her face. Rose felt a frisson of pleasure as she tucked it behind her ear.
"All clean?" she asked. Leaning forward, she bent down and kissed her tenderly.
"All clean." Rose said, returning the kiss.