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Chapter One
Whittaket, Michigan
June 1864

At the age of twelve, Josephine Best had dreamed of being a hairdresser. Now, five years later, her dream had come true. She'd been styling hair since ten this morning, however, and the dream seemed more like a nightmare.

Her feet were numb, her shoulders and back ached, and the tips of her fingers were singed and tender from handling hot hair and even hotter curling irons.

There was to be a big gathering at the church tonight to raise relief funds for the war effort, and every woman in town wanted her hair done; Josephine had serviced fifteen customers since opening up. Although many of the ladies had made appointments, others had simply rushed in with the hope that Jojo, as she was affectionately known to family and friends, would squeeze them in. In retrospect, Jo wished she hadn't been so accommodating. If she hadn't, she'd be at home now with her feet up, enjoying dinner with her mama, and Jo's sister-in-law, Belle. Jo had planned on spending a leisurely afternoon getting ready for tonight's festivities. Instead, she was putting curls in the sparse, graying hair of her last customer, Mrs. Harriet Donovan, a woman Jo didn't particularly care for because the widow Donovan never had a good word to say about anyone or anything.

"So, Josephine, I hear your friend Trudy's become engaged:'

Jo eased the hot curling iron out of the curl and set the iron back on the brazier. "Yes, ma'am. She is. She and Bert are getting married next June. I'm sure they will be very happy:' Jo used a comb to section off a small piece of Mrs. Donovan's hair, then fed the lock to the curling iron.

"And what about you?" Mrs. Donovan asked. "When are you going to marry?"

Jo had no trouble hearing the censure in Mrs. Donovan's tone. Jo and Trudy Carr had been best friends since the age of six, and now that Trudy's marriage plans were common knowledge everyone in town seemed to think Jo should be heading to the altar next. Never mind that Jojo had no beau, nor any desire to beat the bushes until she found one. Jo had plans for a career; she wanted to be a woman of business, not a wife and mother-at least not now. But when she attempted to explain her ambitions to those outside of her immediate family, all she received in response were pitying looks, as if she were lacking in some way. "I'm not looking to marry anyone right now, Mrs. Donovan.”

"Why not? Every other young woman your age certainly is.”

Jo bit back her response. She'd been raised to respect her elders, even ones as nosy as Mrs. Donovan. So ignoring the rude question, Jo set the last curl, then put the iron down. After a few whisks of the comb and brush, she had Mrs. Donovan set for tonight's affair.

Jo handed Mrs. Donovan the mirror.

The portly widow turned the mirror this way and that, but instead of admiring what Jo thought to be fine work, the woman thrust the mirror back at Jo. "Surely, you don't expect me to pay for this?!" she declared angrily.

"Look at me. Why, a beagle could've done a better job.”

Jo was so stunned her jaw dropped. She'd been slaving over Mrs. Donovan for more than an hour and the woman hadn't even had an appointment, for heaven's sake. Having never had a customer leave unsatisfied, Jo was at a loss as to how to proceed.

Mrs. Donovan took care of the matter. After gathering up her coat and handbag, she huffed, "I will never patronize you again, and I will be sure to alert my friends."

Jo couldn't believe her ears. "But Mrs. Donovan, I worked very hard."

The woman waved her hand dismissively. "Good-bye, Josephine."

And she left.

A snarling Jo wanted to fling something across the room. How dare that old bat leave without paying! Jo stomped over to her cash box and counted up the day's receipts. She'd made almost five dollars from the fifteen paying customers; a good sum considering the war and the state of the nation's economy, but Mrs. Donovan should have paid her as well!

Her face grim, Jo used a towel to shield her hands, then picked up the brazier and went outside to dump its coals. When she returned, she set it off to the side to cool, then swept up all the hair on the plank floor.

Jo's father and her brother Daniel were carpenters, and they'd built Jo's shop for her upon her graduation from the Women's Program at Oberlin College two years earlier. In reality, the place was nothing more than a small room with a roof on top, but it was her place of business, and she took great pride in both it and in the services she provided. She finished cleaning up. Once done, she put out the lamps, and locked up the place. Still simmering, she headed across the field to her home.

Jo's mother met her at the door. "I was starting to worry:'

"I'm sorry I'm late. Mrs. Donovan came in at the last minute:'

Jo's twenty-one-year-old sister-in-law Belle came out of the kitchen. "Hi, Jojo. We were just getting ready to sit down to dinner. Shall 1 fIX you a plate as well?"

"I suppose so.”

Cecilia Best peered into the face of her daughter and asked, "Why so glum?"

"Old Lady Donovan refused to pay me. She said a beagle could have done a better job.”

Cecilia stared. "What happened?"

Jo shrugged. "Nothing. I did her hair, but when it came time to pay, she refused.” Then Jo added, "And I did a good job on her, Mama. I truly did:'

Jo was so mad she wanted to cry, but because business owners weren't supposed to bawl in their mama's arms, Jo held on to her emotions.

Her mother, not caring about Jo's occupation, came over and enfolded her into a motherly embrace. "You can't please everyone, darling.”

Jo's arms instinctively hugged back. She then placed her head on her mother's shoulder. "1 wanted to wallop her with the dustpan.”

Cecilia chuckled softly, then looked into Jo's face. "The next time she comes in, why not ask her how she'd like her hair fixed? Maybe that will prevent any problems.”

"I did that, but it didn't seem to matter.”

"Well, some people are born difficult. Don't worry about it. You go get washed up, and we'll eat, then get dressed. Belle's made some of her biscuits. That should put the smile back on your face.”

 

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