“Oh, Peavy, you know Goose will believe anything,” chided a young woman with golden brown skin the same shade as Bianca’s.
“Achoo!” sneezed a young woman with pale hair, an even paler face, and splotchy pink cheeks and nose.
“Oh, Rosie.” A young woman with bright blue eyes and thin red hair handed her friend a handkerchief. “Here, take mine.”
“Oy,” The baby-faced blond Doc called out from down the corridor. “There’s a lumpy old sack on this bed. Are you certain the guest chamber is free for—”
Oh, blast. Bianca had been so bemused by the seven young women that she’d forgotten to make herself known.
She stepped out into the corridor and cleared her throat.
They all turned to look at her with expressions of surprise and curiosity.
“Er, good evening,” she ventured. “I’m Miss Bianca White. Mrs. Gladwell has kindly invited me to spend the night under your hospitality.”
Maybe two nights. Maybe twenty. Maybe a few months.
It all depended on what happened next.
“If that’s all right with you,” she added quickly, lest she not seem appropriately appreciative of their condescension in this matter.
“Well, of course you shouldstay,” said Miss Joy, as if the possibility of doing otherwise was too nonsensical to consider. “Help me convince the rest of these wretches to do the same. Doc and Tina have already agreed, and Miss Drowsy won’t awaken until morning, but Rosie told Goose her parents cannot weed their flowers without her, and Peavy acts as though her father cannot manage a simple contract without his daughter there to—”
“Pardon me,” interrupted Bianca, bewildered. “Am I actually to refer to you all as Doc and Goose and… Miss Drowsy?”
“That’s what we call each other,” said Goose. “So I guess you ought to as well, if you want to be friends.”
“Oh, you’re such a goose,” said Rosie, and then sneezed. “One of you, introduce us properly.”
“Help me with Miss Drowsy first,” said Doc.
The other five swarmed around their friend, carried her into the parlor, and deposited her on a chaise longue with a warm blanket as if they’d performed the maneuver hundreds of times.
“Now, introductions,” said the elder Miss Gladwell with a smile. “I’m Joy, and my younger sister is Gwyneth, though everyone calls her Goose.”
“I don’t know why,” said Goose with bewilderment. “Maybe I have a long neck.”
Doc covered her pretty, golden-brown face with her hand.
Joy gestured in her direction. “That’s Doc. Her real name is Susan, and she’s going to be a surgeon.”
“Sheis?” Bianca said, skeptically.
The universities only allowed white men to study medicine. Doc shared Bianca’s coloring, and was undeniably female.
“There are challenges,” Doc admitted, then lifted her chin. “I will overcome them.”
The pink-cheeked blond girl sneezed.
“That’s Rosie,” Joy explained. “Everything makes her sneeze, including Doc’s arrogance.”
“Confidence,” Doc corrected.
“But what causes the worst of Rosie’s sneezing fits are her parents’ flower gardens,” Joy continued with a smile. “Which is why she should spend the night here, instead of at home on the farm.”
“She will,” Doc said confidently. “She always ends up staying.”
“I wish you would let people decide on their own,” groused Peavy.