The holiday visit unravels after Fred Crenshaw throws Captain Simon McCullough’s West Point scrapbook into the fire.
“That Weldon was just lording it over you that you might not graduate from the academy,” Fred said as he watched the flames eat away at the cloth edges of the old West Point scrapbook. “There’s too much clutter here anyway. I did them a favor.”
Fred shoved Buck out of the family library into the narrow and dimly lit hallway. Margaret called from the dining room. “Come boys, supper—I mean–pies are ready.”
Buck shuffled in with his head down and Fred’s fist at his back. They sat and Margaret passed them plates. Buck felt his head.
Lucy sat opposite him. “Buck’s bleeding!”
Graham upset the china to be at Buck’s side.
Buck shoved him back. “Father, I’m fine. Stop humiliating me with this act of concern. Everyone leave me be.”
“Buck, please . . .” Graham said, moving back to his seat.
“Father, Fred said that you paid money to get me in at West Point—is it true?”
Graham went red. “No, I’ve always contributed funds to our congressmen and senators.”
“Did you think I couldn’t get appointed on my own?” Blood dripped over Buck’s eyebrow and down his cheek.
“No, it’s not that. It’s only that you wanted it so badly and then Fred went first. That year you spent at home, I sort of came to like you a bit. I wanted you happy.”
“Buck, dear,” Margaret said, “you see now I was the honest one here. I told you that you weren’t right for that awful school and look at you now. Oh, it breaks my heart! How can I bear it? Tell me!”
Sarah spoke. “Why don’t we sing some carols?”
Everyone went back to eating pie, but Sarah sang:
The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good
Oh the rising of the sun . . .
“Here, here, old Sarah!” Fred interrupted her delicate voice and a look of sorrow and forgetfulness appeared on her face.
Buck kicked Fred and did his best to sing in his raspy voice:
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir.
Weldon and the others joined in now:
The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.
“That was lovely, Sarah. Thank you,” Graham said.
“That was my Scott’s favorite carol. Leave it to him to like the one song about thorns and gall,” Sarah laughed and then cried. “Willy should be here not out west. It will all end in tears—I just know it. That boy hasn’t the least sense to be off on his own. Oh, the best ones are gone and here we sit. Let’s sing one for my dead son Simon.”
“Blast it! This is damned morbid,” Fred complained. “Father, I’ll ready the horses.”
“Wait a minute, son. We haven’t even opened the wine.”
“You’d have to be drunk to get through this train wreck of a Christmas,” Fred replied.
“Fred, that’s enough.”
“Father, is that all you know how to say? Well, what about you? I think that’s enough pie for you. And I think we’ve all had enough of your work and writing and women.”
Graham’s head collapsed into his hands in despair.
Weldon slammed his fists against the table. “Now you’ve gone too far, Fred! I don’t care what your father may or may not have done, but he is still your father and you’re lucky to have him. I’ve watched you torture him for years, embarrass him and you dare judge him? Even that damned spelling bee and how you humiliated William and your father.”
“God, you still go on about that bee. So what if we taught Willy the wrong spellings? It was just a lark. We were kids for Christ’s sake. Don’t live in the past, Mr. Weldon. I’ve heard that yours wasn’t so great.”
“Fred!” Thankful grabbed him by the arm and spoke in a low tone. “You’re embarrassing us!”
“What could be more embarrassing than spending Christmas with a morphine-eater, a crazy old bat and a syphilitic child—not to mention one of the women our father had affection for. Why must we make this yearly journey into the pits of hell? Mama hates it, too. Only Father and Thankful enjoy it here—that’s because they’re fools and in love. Someone has to have the guts to finally end this charade of friendship!”
“Guts? You mean heartless disregard for human feelings!” Katherine cried.
Lucy asked, “What’s syphilitic?”
Graham stood. “Fred, leave this house at once!”
“That’s fine. I only came as a favor to Mama—she says it can be so dull here.”
Margaret went white.
“Buck, come on. Let’s go,” Fred said.
“No.” Buck replied, staring at his plate.
“Right, Buck. I know where you stand now. Mr. Weldon, I didn’t want to tell you, but Buck threw that West Point thing into the fire—said it was rubbish. I tried to stop him and maybe it’s his head. He hasn’t been right for months—like Willy, I guess. Probably why Buck almost killed that cadet.”
“Simon’s memory book?” Katherine cried. “John, how could you let them near it?”
“I don’t know. I just thought . . .” Weldon shoved his chair out and ran to retrieve what was left of the family’s precious book.
“Buck Crenshaw, you’re worse than your brother because you’re devious and vicious out of sight. You even fooled me in there,” Graham lamented.
“But I didn’t throw the book—I liked it very much. I wouldn’t . . .”
“Damn you, Buck, will you ever own up to anything?” Fred asked.
“I believe Buck,” Lucy said.
“You stupid, little tart! Stay out of it! What do you know?” Fred asked.
“Leave Lucy alone!” cried Buck.
“I want both of you out of my sight!” Graham shouted nearly turning over the table in his rush to drag them to the door. Fred smirked at him and walked just out of reach into the night, dusting his jacket. “Get up, Buck! NOW!” Graham ordered.
Buck stood up shakily. Nathan cried. Thankful’s eyes were full of judgment. Margaret waved her fist as if to throttle him.
Graham said, “Buck, give me the watch back.”
“The watch. I know you have it with you. I saw you rudely check the time earlier. Now give it over. It’s a special thing to me. I thought you’d appreciate it, but it’s too good for you.”
“The watch? The WATCH? You can have it! It’s always amused me that you have so little time for us—always too busy to know us, but you give us watches! I thought that maybe you liked me more than just a little bit. Here’s your damned watch!” Buck threw it on the table and ran out after pushing a few chairs out of his way. The front door slammed, and the room went silent.
Weldon carried in the charred book and handed it to Katherine. “Lucky the fire was so small.”
“Katherine, I am so terribly, terribly ashamed of my boys tonight,” the doctor said.
“What does it matter, Graham?” Katherine replied, pulling a half- burned letter from the book. “I’m sorry, but your apologies are empty to me right now. I think it’s time you all went home.”
“Oh, Katie, don’t end Christmas this way,” Margaret pleaded.
“Margaret, if you want the truth, I’m tired of your company as much as you’re tired of mine. Take all of your children and your horrible manners and leave our boring home.” Katherine stood.
“Margaret, leave before I scream,” Katherine warned, her raised voice so unusual and unsettling.
Graham turned to John. “Weldon, I. . .” but there was nothing to say. And so they left, Margaret driving one sled and Graham the other.
Katherine, after sending Sarah to bed and Weldon into the parlor to read with Lucy, stacked plates in the dining room. There on the table lay Buck’s watch. She read the inscription and slipped the timepiece into her pocket before going to the porch for air. In the distance sleigh bells rang and a lonesome evening church bell sounded the time. Underneath Simon’s snow-covered willow someone coughed. Katherine grabbed one of her husband’s tattered coats and slipped on a pair of boots. Buck jumped when she spoke his name.
“Put this on,” Katherine said.
Buck had been crying and holding his throat in the piercing air.
Katherine sat beside him on the stone bench Simon had bought for Sarah years ago. “Buck, why do you hate my family?”
Buck shook his head and wiped his eyes. “I didn’t throw that book into the fire.”
“Why should I believe you?”
“You have no reason. I’ve been a cruel bastard to Willy.”
“Yes, and I don’t understand it. You have everything; William has so very little.”
“Mrs. Weldon, I didn’t throw the book,” Buck said again.
“Buck, your father left this here by accident. It’s a beautiful inscription,” Katherine said, pressing it into Buck’s hand.
“He must have meant it for someone else.” Buck took the watch and threw it. It crashed through a pane of glass in Sarah’s conservatory. “For God’s sake! What have I done now?” He put his face in his hands.
Katherine laughed. “This is some Jonah day for us all. Come with me to the glass house.”
“No. I better go now. I’ll pay to have it repaired.”
Katherine took his cold hand and pulled him to the hothouse. “We’ll find that watch. One day you’ll be glad to have it.” She turned on a little lantern.
“So many flowers,” Buck said.
“Yes, the hard thing is some get neglected and get all out of shape and undisciplined,” she said in the soft confidential way the Weldons had.
Buck hated his weakness for wanting to swim in the sound of it.
“Look, here’s the watch,” Katherine said. “Your father sees something in you. Trust him.”
“I try, but I don’t think I can.”
“There’s not much Lucy and I agree on—she’s so like her father Simon with her opinions–and maybe you’re just fooling me, but I’d like to believe that you told the truth about the book,” Katherine said and tucked the watch in Buck’s shirt pocket. She made to embrace him, but Buck turned to go.
“I’ll bring you the money for the glass tomorrow, Mrs. Weldon.” He stepped into the icy night and waved goodbye.
Katherine waved back and then turned her attention to the flowers.
**Featured image: Young Lady With Flowers, Jane Maria Bowkett
Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw and his misadventures when you buy the book today!
“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review
“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”
PART ONE HERE
PART TWO HERE
PART THREE HERE
PART FOUR HERE
PART FIVE HERE
PART SIX HERE
PART SEVEN HERE
PART EIGHT HERE
PART NINE HERE
PART TEN HERE
PART ELEVEN HERE
PART TWELVE HERE
PART THIRTEEN HERE
PART FOURTEEN HERE
PART FIFTEEN HERE
PART SIXTEEN HERE
PART SEVENTEEN HERE
PART EIGHTEEN HERE
PART NINETEEN HERE