It had well and truly begun to rain; thick droplets splashing into muddy puddles on the ground and soaking the earth. The last rainstorm of the spring - though most didn't know it yet - giving the land something to hold it over through the long, hot summer.
It was also a sure signal for all the children playing outside to go on back home until either it stopped, or until the next day - and to avoid hearing their mothers and fathers lecture them about how they will catch cold. Five-ish year old Finchley was no exception and her adopted grandmother sighed as she heard the door to their cozy home open and shut loudly.
All the old woman had to do was point soundlessly to where she knew the freshly washed hamper of linens and shifts sat by the fire and the child meandered over to plop herself down before it and set to removing her rain-drenched shoes and attire. Another sigh was heard and Grams picked up her comb where she left it this morning and carefully made her way over to her chair sitting comfortably by the hearth. Though she had allowed Finchley to keep her hair short as she liked after she foolishly cut it off herself a year ago, she still liked to comb through her raven locks of hair and make sure it was kept neat looking at the very least. It was also one way to keep the girl sitting still for a period of time.
"Are you changed, child?"
"Mhmm," replied Finchley as she pulled a fresh shift over her head. It was more of a shirt than a shift and far too big for her - a hand me down from one of the neighbors' older children. But the girl seemed to like them very well and the old woman reasoned that, with how fast she was growing, it was quite logical after all.
She heard Finchley rummage through the hamper again and pull out a linen to start drying her hair with.
"Where's your dress? Give it here and I'll hang it up."
"Mhmm!" replied the child again and the old woman heard her move across the floor towards her and place a bundle of wet material in her hands. Yet another sigh escaped the old woman as she gestured for the girl to finish drying her hair. She then took the garment in her hands and gave it a light shake in front of the fire before moving to hang it upon the edge of a nail that stuck out from the stone of the hearth.
And that is when she felt it.
Grams paused in her movement and drew the dress back into her lap, running her practiced fingers over the damp fabric. Why, the dress was riddled with rips and tears everywhere! And some certainly made on purpose!
"Finchley! Another one?"
The child had the good grace to look, at least, a little sorry, though her adopted grandmother couldn't see it.
"But this is entirely gone beyond repair. What on earth were you doing?"
"Runnin' and climbin' with Fletcher and Caldwell. I got stuck on a fence. An' it rippeded."
"That's, 'ripped', Finchley."
"Mhmm! So I ripped it more so I could tie it into trousers like they have."
Grams blinked once. Then twice. And then let out a long-suffering sigh that lasted longer than the previous ones as she shook her head and disbelief. "I do not have the time to continue making you more dresses or patching them up every time you ruin them during your play, Finchley," the old woman lectured gently. "Can you be a little more careful? Running around as you are in your dresses is not only foolish but dangerous. What if you end up hurting yourself?"
"Hmmm..." started Finchley as she took a seat on the floor in front of her Grams, pulling her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms about them. "But Grams, that's easy! You could just make me trousers like Fletcher and Caldwell's got instead!"
A moment of silence ensued in which the old woman was absolutely lost for words. But when she finally found her voice again and shook her head for the umpteenth time and finally moved to hang the sodden mess of a dress - if you could even call it that anymore - upon the hearth. She could always use it for something else later.
"Stuff and nonsense," the old woman lightly scoffed. "I am not putting you in trousers. It's not respectable."
"But why not?"
"Do you want to go around looking like more of a boy?"
She could hear that the child was missing her point entirely and she pinched the bridge of her nose. "Finchley... Do you wish you were a boy? Is that it?"
"Nuh-uh. I like bein' me... Do I really have to wear a dress to be a girl? I'll still be me anyway."
The old woman was struck speechless again at that. In the time she took to try and gather her thoughts for a proper response the child gave voice to her own thoughts again, as she was prone to do quite often, resting her hands atop the aging lady's knees and then placing her chin atop them.
"If I wear trousers I'll still be me, right? An' I can run around and not get stuck on fences, or branches, or thorns, or have the cow step on my skirt, or Fletcher's Pa's dog, or--"
"Yes, child, you've made that point quite clearly--"
"An' I don't think you have to wear a skirt to be a girl. An' you don't have to cut your hair off to be a boy. Caldwell's growin' his hair out, you know. So, if you let me have trousers, I'll still be a girl cause... cause I say so."
The child had a point; the old woman couldn't help but to admit that to herself. And so, after another moment of silence from her and not small amount of wiggling anticipation from the girl, Grams finally nodded once.
"Really?!" exclaimed the child in obvious excitement and it took everything the old woman had to not smile or outright laugh in favor of keeping a straight and stern face.
"Yes, Finchley. I will go to our neighbor tomorrow and ask if her son has anymore old things he has outgrown for you to wear while I make some trousers or you. Happy now?"
The child hopped to her feet and waved her fists in the air in jubilation before twirling on the spot. "Aye!"
And though she couldn't see it, the old woman could imagine it well and did indeed chuckle a little bit this time.
"Alright now, stop that nonsense. Sit down so I may do your hair before it dries completely."
"Yes, Grams," chirped Finchley as she promptly plopped down on the floor in front of her adoptive grandmother once again, turning to that the back of her head was accessible.
Grams shook her head for the final time that night and began to gently pull the comb through the girl's dark, short locks, smoothing out tangles and coaxing it into looking neat and smart.
"... You do beat all, child."
The sound of childish giggles filled the air.