Fiction: The Stairway Down

“A man accepts his weaknesses and then rises above them.”

“Oh, and you do that, Papa?” William asked with a disgruntled laugh.

“Yes, yes, I’m trying very hard. I always have. I’m not a quitter,” John replied.

“Except when you quit on Mother and me and Eliza or when you quit and let me run off or when you quit your respectable job at the feed store to do gardening and write your idiotic little soldier stories. It’s a good thing none of your readers get to see the real man behind them.”

“The feed store?” Weldon asked in confusion. “I volunteered to help out Mr. Adriance after his son died. I never worked there.”

“Well . . .” William faltered, “well . . .”

“Writing those stories puts food on the table and paid for your doctors.”

“And none of that would have been necessary if you hadn’t let yourself become an opium eater! I remember you on parade—it was disgusting to see you struggle in the end. If you’d been any good, you would have kept us together and had plenty of money, and I’d be at West Point,” William said.

“W-Willy, you never had the temperament for West P-Point.”

“You say that now to avoid feeling bad. You avoid everything and hide everything behind all this new happiness—it’s sickening. I’m glad to be away from you. You always played the fool in town—laughing at your falls and being so gentle all of a sudden—it makes you look so horrible. It would have been better if you died in some Indian fight. That I could be proud of! I don’t know how Mother takes it! It’s probably why she wants me home so she can throw you off on to me again!”

“She threw me off on to you because she wanted you to care for me again, but it didn’t work. I tried everything . . .” Weldon said, inching toward the door.

William got on his elbows. The cowlick at the back of his head made his hair stand funny. “So give up, like you always do—it’d be a relief. All you ever do is make me sorry and miserable. Leave me alone, and you can go back to the little safe spot you have on Tenafly Road.”

The older Weldon’s voice shook. “Yes, I’ve finally allowed myself a safe spot and some happiness. I made mistakes—a thousand of them—and I’ve paid for them and continue to pay. I never had family to guide me. I was on my own—and I lied to your mother and you for years because I thought it was the only way of keeping you both.”

“Well, you were wrong. I’m so tired of hearing about your devotion to Mother and me. You constantly brag about you and Mother! Mother was a fool and weak to stay with you! She deserved better like Doctor Crenshaw!” William replied.

“Don’t ever talk with such disrespect about your mother who has devoted her life to you!” Weldon’s cane shook in his hand.

William hacked and spit phlegm to the floor from the side of his bed. “That’s funny! She devotes her sad little life to you and you alone! I come a distant second! If she wasn’t so God-awful pathetic and stupid she would have kept you away!”

Weldon ran over and pulled William from the bed with force. “You ungrateful little bastard! Your mother and I lived with nothing—gladly—to see that you recovered enough to have a life—a good life! And you sit here—drunk—making excuses for not taking responsibility!”

“You and Mother ignored me then suffocated me. You prepared me for nothing! I have nothing! I am nothing! You did everything wrong, and you get to be happy! It’s unfair, and I hate everything about you! I pretended to care for you in Englewood because I was trying to be so damned good. Where was my reward? I’ll never go back there!” William pulled away and wrapped the dirty blankets around himself like a filthy cocoon. “I am who I am, and I won’t hide it or hurt others.”

“But . . . you hurt Thankful.”

“She hurt herself—she was stupid to leave her money.”

“Why do you have her watch?” Weldon asked.

“It’s broken. She didn’t want it anymore. I’m gonna get it fixed. It’s expensive.” He pointed to the maker’s imprint. “Remember the Christmas watch, Papa?”

Weldon said nothing.

“You do remember, don’t you? The watch you promised me? I bragged about it a lot before Christmas to all the soldiers the year I came back with you. I was so excited and proud to be getting a grown up thing . . . you fooled me those first months. You were brilliant then to me. You were better than a god. You were everything. Do you remember what it felt like to pawn it for morphine or opium or whatever it was?” William looked his father over like a specimen in a freak show. “So now you shake and have tremors, but it’s all an act. I don’t feel sorry for you. Maybe you even limp and fall for attention. I don’t trust a single thing you do or say.”

“William, I’m so sorry for everything.”

“Sorry means shit to me, Papa.  This is my life now; it’s a relief in a way. There’s no pretending, no optimistic little plans for me to make you and Mother feel less guilty that you were rotten parents. For once I’m doing what I want!”

“What you want? Drinking?”

“I have friends. We do things.”

“What about your drawings?” Weldon asked.

“They’re not that damned good! You want to latch onto something—anything to make me at least a little special, or better than I am. I’m not! Stop this awful pretending.”

“Willy—you are special. Look. If you weren’t then how would someone like Doctor Crenshaw think so highly of you?”

“Papa, sometimes you’re so blind. Doctor Crenshaw loves Mother. He always has.”

Weldon laughed, waving away William’s words.

“Mother has always had a thing for doctors,” William said. “Before you came back east Doctor Crenshaw visited every day. He and Mother spent hours together on the porch talking. Mrs. Crenshaw was always too busy to come.”

“He came to help you, William,” Weldon said.

“Maybe for the first ten minutes,” William said, delighting in the sight of his father unsure and angry. “You remember Doctor Dudley, don’t you, Papa?”

Weldon clenched his cane with white knuckles. William searched his troubled eyes with glee.

“Yes, well I remember him, too. When you left with Crook on a scout, I guess, Dudley kissed Mother, and she didn’t stop him. Eliza and I saw.”

“Stop lying, William! You’re angry.”

“I don’t lie, Papa. You know that. I told you I’m a different man to you! Dudley was madly in love with Mother so that’s why he left. I wished that he hadn’t. He was bound for success.”

“William . . . I . . .”

“Papa, I can’t take the stammering! I can’t! And I can’t stand this game you play with mother . . .”

“There are no games between us, William.”

“Mother sees you like another child, not a real man at all.”

Weldon stood motionless, his breathing labored.

“Your caring is the worst kind, Papa. You suck the blood from people. Now please leave!”

“Y-your mother wants you home . . .”

“You’re well practiced in disappointing her. Don’t worry, she’s used to it.”

The old soldier limped out the door. William listened as his heavy leg hit each rickety step on the weather-beaten staircase.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  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.”

FICTION: Glass Houses

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.”

“What?”

“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.

“Katie, please.”

“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

FICTION: Burning Memories

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm

Paintings, conversation and memories stoke the flames of jealousy and resentment.

The parlor seemed closer than ever as the men entered. The fire roared and everything smelled of the kitchen disaster. Katherine laughed with Nathan and Thankful as the three popped corn and watched a kettle boil. Margaret and Meg complained in whispered tones about their bent hoops and smudged overskirts before turning their attention to a newly hung portrait of Katherine.

“My word, Katie,” Margaret said in amazement, “you didn’t tell me you had commissioned a painting to be done. I wouldn’t think you’d like to spend that much money on yourself. Graham—Graham, come take a look at this. I’d like one for our family. Who’s the artist?”

Weldon, with a mix of pride and embarrassment, said, “Willy did it—on memory.”

“You’re not serious!” Margaret cried. “I knew Willy sketched now and again—but this! You should have sent him…

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FICTION: Burning Memories

Paintings, conversation and memories stoke the flames of jealousy and resentment.

The parlor seemed closer than ever as the men entered. The fire roared and everything smelled of the kitchen disaster. Katherine laughed with Nathan and Thankful as the three popped corn and watched a kettle boil. Margaret and Meg complained in whispered tones about their bent hoops and smudged overskirts before turning their attention to a newly hung portrait of Katherine.

“My word, Katie,” Margaret said in amazement, “you didn’t tell me you had commissioned a painting to be done. I wouldn’t think you’d like to spend that much money on yourself. Graham—Graham, come take a look at this. I’d like one for our family. Who’s the artist?”

Weldon, with a mix of pride and embarrassment, said, “Willy did it—on memory.”

“You’re not serious!” Margaret cried. “I knew Willy sketched now and again—but this! You should have sent him to art school!”

“Margaret, please stop,” Graham complained. “Weldon’s sent him west for a different sort of education, and he seems to be thriving.”

“Willy was so disappointed not getting into West Point,” Katherine said, glancing at the two cadets at the door. “But Captain Bourke invited him out to Arizona with the troops.”

“Bourke always had a soft spot for Katherine and the children,” Weldon added.

“Seems everybody did, right Father?” Fred commented under his breath.

“I guess Willy’s fine,” Weldon continued.  “We hear from him only rarely, I’m afraid, but then it’s some distance and there’s bound to be distractions.”

“What sort of distractions?” Thankful asked, blushing.

Katherine glanced over with a knowing smile.

“Garrison life can be dull at times,” Weldon said, “but with the Apaches still on the loose there very well could be some action.”

“But Willy’s no soldier,” Thankful worried.

“You’re right, but we often had sketch artists come along from the newspapers. William is the responsible quiet sort military men don’t mind having along,” John said with an air of pride.

Fred with folded arms leaned against Buck. “That ass suck William is going to kill Indians before we ever get the chance!”

Margaret didn’t want to hear a thing about a successful William Weldon. “Well, there’s no room in here for a man of your size, Graham,” Margaret said. “Take the boys to the library. I won’t give up my seat now that I’ve cleared a space for baby and me. Now isn’t this just a special holiday? Could we be any closer?”

“Land sakes, Mama’s complaining will make me mad. Weldon—that is, Mr. Weldon, may I smoke in the library?” Fred asked, already halfway across the hall with cigar in his mouth.

“W-well . . . Sarah likes that room kept just so,” Weldon said. He lingered until Katherine motioned him to go.

Fred lit up, making himself at home. He hung his thumb in his embroidered vest, surveying the room filled with old mementos, small medical sculptures and books. “Old man McCullough never once let us in here. What was the fuss about, I wonder?”

Buck skirted the room, his fingers running along the finely crafted bookcases until he came upon a scrapbook labeled in a sloppy masculine hand “West Point Memories.” He touched it and Weldon saw.

“Oh, Buck, you might enjoy that,” Weldon said, feeling sorry for Buck. “It was Simon’s—Mrs. Weldon’s brother.”

“May I look at it?” Buck asked.

“Yes, of course.” Weldon took the museum piece off the shelf, as if letting Buck in on a great and happy secret. “Buck, let’s find you a nice comfortable spot and some good light. There’s a blanket in here somewhere,” Weldon continued and limped for the tattered throw hanging over a well-worn Scotch-plaid chair.

Buck’s face flushed at the gracious attention. He sat where Weldon put him.

Graham watched with jealous eye. “Buck, we really should have made you comfortable at home.”

“This place stinks,” Fred said. “Must be a leak somewhere. I’d get that fixed if I were you, Weldon, or these medical books and other treasure will all go to ruin.”

Weldon turned from him to Graham. “Crenshaw, get rid of that awful cigarette. I’ve something nice to share with you.” Weldon found in a cluttered drawer two fine cigars.

“Thanks old fellow, you have a way of cheering me up,” Graham said, taking a cigar and glancing Buck’s way again.

Weldon lit his cigar. “Buck, you all right over there?”

Buck nodded and whispered. “Seems the captain had an awful good time at West Point.”

“Simon had a good time everywhere,” Weldon replied with a note of sadness.

“Sounds like my kind of bloke,” Fred said.

“No, I doubt it,” Weldon said. “Simon had a heart of gold; spent most of his time thinking of others.”

“I guess you’re accusing me of something Mr. Weldon.”

“No, it’s just that Simon never went in much for intimidation and trickery.”

“Weldon, that’s enough,” Graham warned.

“You’re right, Crenshaw,” Weldon said. “It is Christmas after all.”

Buck turned the pages in the memory book with care. “Captain McCullough was very impressive looking when he was young,” he said.

“What are you, a Nancy boy now?” Fred asked. “First it was coloreds and now this.”

Buck jumped up and went for Fred’s throat. “You bastard! You’re a piece of shit!”

Graham and Weldon dragged them apart and Margaret called from across the hallway. “Come now, boys. No rough housing—the dining room is fine so come eat now.”

“Get yourselves in order and don’t give me yet another reason to be ashamed,” Graham ordered and walked out.

Weldon hesitated, but then followed Graham.

“Look at you, Buck. Any reason for your ass sucking Mr. Weldon?”

“What?”

Fred grabbed the memory book from the chair Buck had deserted. “Suddenly you take an interest in a dead and buried relative of theirs? Then you compliment Weldon over selling his horses? Whose side are you on? Seems it’s always the wrong one and I’m sick of bailing you out.”

“Then don’t. I wouldn’t be up on charges if it wasn’t for your help.”

“You wanted Streeter gone, and he’s gone, you little coward. You sicken me—and Father and Mama, too.”

“Shut your mouth, Fred.”

Fred grabbed him by the collar. “I warn you, if you tell anyone what happened that night . . .”

Buck shoved him. “What! What will you do?”

“I’ll kill you,” Fred stated.

Buck laughed.

“You will not destroy my good name over Streeter, Buck.”

Buck laughed again. “Good name?”

“Buck, you have always acted morally superior, but why? When have you ever gone against me? You know as well as I do that on your own you’re nothing. You will and have always been just my brother. That and Father’s bribes got you in at the Point.”

“Enough of your damned lies!”

“Sure, your grades were good, but truth be known, they didn’t like your personality—or lack of it. You’re colorless, a bore even. Every friend you had I engineered for you. If only I hadn’t left you to your own devices last summer . . .”

Buck stood shaking.

“What’s this?” Fred asked. “You’re crying! STOP NOW.” Fred waited a moment and then slapped him hard. “Get a hold of yourself.”

Buck ripped the West Point book from Fred’s hand, but Fred tugged it back and flung it into the fire.

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

FICTION: The Holidays Are Awkward

Margaret Crenshaw and her obnoxious son Fred do their best to keep things uncomfortable when they visit with old friends. For Buck, still in shock over his brutal treatment of a West Point cadet, the visit goes from bad to worse.

To the great relief of Graham’s mother and Margaret, Graham gathered up his children and left for home the next morning. They were expected for the traditional holiday dinner at the Weldon home. The Crenshaws in their enormous garnet sleds pulled up the drive at Tenafly Road to be met by a few chairs–badly burnt and smoldering–and a sooty John Weldon limping up to greet them.

“Holy Jerusalem, Weldon! What’s happened? Is everyone all right?” Graham asked, climbing down from his seat.

“A fire. S-Sarah s-set the place in flames,” John laughed in his defeated way.

“Graham, dear. . .” Margaret said with her hand held out, waiting to be helped from the sled.

Graham took Margaret’s hand and set her beside him.

“Mr. Weldon, it seems hardly the time for laughter. When will you get some hired help to mind Sarah? Oh, I know Katherine wouldn’t like to spend your small income, but truly,” Margaret said, “Sarah will have you all dead and buried by summer. What a shame she’s so gone off in the head.”

“It wasn’t really—well, it was an honest mistake,” John replied.

“Mr. Weldon, I’m sure that Sarah’s as honest as an acorn when her mind is working, but please,” Margaret huffed.

Nathaniel, the Crenshaw ten-year-old, jumped down to survey the damage.

“Nathan,” Margaret scolded, “get back in your seat this instant. We’re leaving.”

“Oh balls! But Mama . . .”

“No, for goodness sake!” Margaret cried. “Graham do you hear his language? And what will we eat here with the kitchen charred to bits?” Margaret asked Nathan, but her son hardly listened.

Lucy, the Weldon’s adopted niece, wearing thick spectacles and a grin, waved and called to Nathan. “We’ve got gallons of cider and pies like you’ve never seen.” She grabbed the boy and ran to the porch.

Fred stayed perched at the helm of the second sleigh. “Well, if this ain’t rotten luck, Weldon.”

“Mr. Weldon to you, young man,” Graham said. “Is there anything we can do?”

“Fraid not,” Weldon replied, wiping his hands on his trousers.

Margaret huffed again as Katherine strode up with a smudge on her nose. “Come along, Graham. I’m sure the Weldons are in no mood for company now. It’s grum here, right, Katie?”

Katherine looked to John.

“Well, my wife would feel more cheerful if you stayed. Why let a little kitchen fire ruin supper?”

“Supper usually includes cooked foods, dishes, that sort of thing,” Margaret said. “Besides my children suffer in the smoke.”

“Since when, Margaret?” Graham asked and turned to John and Katherine. “We’ve brought nice wine from my mother, and Lucy says your pies are in eating shape. You know that’s why I came. Of course we’ll stay. The boys will help get things in order for you.”

Fred moaned. “But Father, I’m on holiday and we’ve been from Hell to breakfast this morning.”

“And our poor, poor Buck is an invalid this year. Do you still keep Willy’s wheelie-chair thing around?” Margaret asked.

Buck slammed his hand against the side of the sleigh to make his mother stop—uselessly.

Katherine stepped over to him. “Buck looks very unwell.”

“Oh, don’t worry—those cuts will heal and he’ll be as good looking as his brother again. I know he’s gruesome,” Margaret said. “It wouldn’t be right to send him home on his own though.”

Katherine went red. “Of course you wouldn’t, Margaret! I wasn’t speaking of his wounds, only that the poor thing looks green. I don’t discriminate based on looks.”

“Obviously not—look what you married, Katie, and there’s no hope of improvement there, ha-ha,” Margaret quipped.

Thankful, with the youngest child in her arms, jumped from the sleigh.

“Watch the child! Watch the child!” Margaret screamed.

Thankful laughed, handed the happy baby to Margaret and gave Katherine a hug. “Any word from Willy yet, ma’am?”

“Yes, my son sent us lovely gifts.”

Lucy joined them. “Oh, but Willy forgot all about Uncle John.”

“But Lucy, there must have been a mistake,” Thankful said, turning to Katherine.

Katherine said nothing as Weldon walked over and kissed her.

Thankful pulled her bag from the sleigh. “Oh, dash, I almost forgot. I’ve something for Mr. Weldon. It’s from England—a book of flowers, garden things and such. I thought you might like it, sir.”

John glanced at Katherine with a charmed grin. “Miss Thankful, that was thoughtful.”

“Why are you giving Grandmother Martha’s book away when you just got it, Thankful? How rude. She’d be hurt,” Margaret said.

“Grandmother was getting rid of it. . .” Thankful replied, pushing it into Weldon’s hands.

“It’s the thought, Thankful,” Weldon said. “Here you go. I won’t take it, but it’s the thought. I appreciate it.”

Meg, Thankful’s twin yawned and stood beside her mother. Finally Buck made his way to the ground, pulling his hat lower.

“Well, I do hope we can be kept warm. The baby is just over being sick,” Margaret said. “Katherine, I’m so happy that all of you are safe, though. We love you very much.”

Katherine collected herself. “The parlor is fine. I haven’t the heart to look for damage in the dining room—we had it nicely done up.”

The men took the horses to the barn.

“My gosh, I remember this place when old man McCullough used to keep it fine with the best horses in the county—aside from ours. Look at that poor wretch you have now,” Fred said. “Whatever happened to your last Morgan?”

“As you know already, Fred, I sold the horse for my son’s trip west and I’d do it again. Seems Willy’s doing really well with his paints and all.”

“So he’s painting fences out west?” Fred asked.

“F-for m-magazines,” Weldon replied.

“That’s nice about the horse,” Buck whispered.

“What are you saying, Buck?” Graham asked.

“It’s nice that Mr. Weldon did that for his son.”

They stared at him.

Buck took up a grooming brush and ran it a few times over the horse, but soon tired and sat on a hay bale, close to napping.

Weldon said to Graham, “I’m surprised you let him out.”

“Oh, Buck was adamant. Wanted to come. I don’t know why, but well, I’m inclined to give him what he wants after coming so close to losing him. He’s still in for some big trouble yet at school.”

Weldon was just putting out the final lantern when Lucy arrived.

“Uncle John,” she whispered as she came up beside him with big eyes.

Weldon gave the willowy girl his undivided and adoring attention.

Lucy pulled a tiny kitten from her coat.

Weldon laughed.

“Please, uncle, please let me keep it. It’s forlorn.”

“Lulu, but how many orphans can we keep?” Weldon caught himself and kissed Lucy’s pale forehead. “Go on, then, but what will you name it?”

“Willy,” she replied. “He’s handsome like Willy.”

Fred guffawed. Lucy walked out whistling but not before showing Doctor Crenshaw her new little pet.

Fred laughed and whispered to his father, “She’ll be something to look at in a few years, won’t she?”

Graham glared at Fred. “Wake your brother. Come along now.”

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

FICTION: A Haunted Holiday

After abducting Cadet Streeter and leaving him for dead in the cold woods at West Point, Buck and Fred Crenshaw go home to celebrate Christmas.

Buck sat by the frosty upstairs  window at Grandmother Martha’s house in dread. The gash over his eye pulsed red and swollen. He fingered the soft scarf wrapped around the stitched-up mess of an incision on his neck, shivering as the snow changed to a mix of rain and sleet.

Tired horses slid the bright sleds carrying his frozen parents and siblings up the drive of the estate in Peetzburg, a small farming town a few miles away from his family home in Englewood. Buck listened, wrapped in a rough wool blanket, as his parents trudged up the path bickering. Graham’s voice rose and fell one last time before knocking at the door of his boyhood home.

“Doctor Crenshaw! So good to see you!” Betty, Martha Crenshaw’s housemaid, gushed.

“Betty, how very nice to see you.” Graham held out his hand.

Betty, pushing his hand away, gave the doctor a hug. “Oh, it’s been a lifetime—since the deaths of your brothers– that we’ve celebrated Christmas together!” she said, laughing and crying.

Seward Crenshaw, Graham’s stepfather, had freed his family’s slaves long ago, but they’d stayed on as hired help.

Betty pulled the doctor. “Come in out of the weather. What a nice surprise for us with poor Buck and Fred already here.”

Margaret ignored Betty and pushed past. Thankful lowered her head and followed her mother.

“Where are my two big boys? I want to see them!” Margaret called in her booming voice.

The door to the wood-paneled sitting room with its large, stone fireplace opened and the hall reflected the blaze from the flames in the hearth. Martha Crenshaw dressed, as usual, in a slate gray gown with her hair braided in a severe bun. She stepped out of Margaret’s way with an imperious glance toward her son Graham as he hung his wet things in the entrance way.

“Merry Christmas,” Graham mumbled to himself. “Same shit as ever.”

Margaret, with her massive skirts, sent loose things tumbling as she brushed against delicate tables in her race to find her two wronged sons. “Oh, dear boys, come to Mama and let me touch you to know you’re real and not a dream!”

Buck, who’d come down the back staircase stood thin and pale. The Crenshaw children carried themselves with dignity, and beauty ran in the blood. Buck’s present condition was an affront to how the family saw itself.

Margaret and Thankful embraced Buck with quick stiffness.

“Oh, my darling, Fred!” Margaret sobbed turning to the more robust of the twins.

Fred threw his cigar into the fire with a rakish grin and strode up to his mother, shoving Buck aside. He kissed Margaret. “Mama, you look like an angel.”

Martha’s eyes betrayed her lack of patience for Fred’s fawning. Graham shook his head in annoyed silence.

“I want to announce here and now to my loving family that neither Buck nor I had any role to play in the horrible trouble that has come upon the Negro cadet,” Fred said. “We are made scapegoats for the newspapers. It’s a disgrace how we’ve been treated, and I intend to fight all charges!”

“Of course you’ll fight any injustice heaped upon you, Freddie. And that’s what makes Mama proud.” Margaret pulled both of her boys close. “Aren’t we proud of our sons, Graham?”

“I’ll reserve judgment until I hear the full account. You say it will all come out in the papers?” Graham asked.

“Is that all you care about?” Margaret cried. “The papers? Look at poor Buck! His wound is an awful mess all because of some darkie. As a doctor you should be appalled at the sight of him—I am!”

“Maybe Buck looks so unwell because his conscience pricks him,” Graham replied.

“Just like you to believe the worst about us and on Christmas, too,” Fred said, tossing his head.

“Fred is right, Graham. Be fair,” Margaret urged.

Buck said nothing, but edged nearer to Thankful.

She pouted, but after one look into Buck’s violet eyes Thankful relented. “Were you cruel to that cadet?” she whispered.

“No more than to any other,” Buck croaked, his voice still recovering. “It’s just he’s a stupid nig–”

“What did you say?” Graham asked, turning around with his head cocked in anger.

Buck went paler still.

“Are you some ignorant piece of trash to bring that language home to your sister?” Graham ranted.

“I’m sorry, Father, but that’s what they call him,” Buck replied.

“Fred, is this true?”

“A spade’s a spade,” Fred said with a smirk.

“You think you’re very clever, Fred, but someday you’ll get yours,” Graham warned.

“How dare you wish ill fortune on our son!” Margaret cried, pulling Fred closer to smooth a stray curl at his temple.

“I don’t wish it. I dread it, but it will surely come,” Graham replied.

“At West Point, Father, there’s no room for sentimentality towards the colored race,” Fred said, with his usual smugness. “If they’re to make it, they must prove themselves equal and so far, in my opinion, they haven’t.”

“And why, Fred, is it your mission to interfere and set obstacles? Don’t you have studies?” Graham asked.

“Father, you must remember—even with all of your outside interests—that I rank second in my year.”

“Well, why not first?” Graham asked.

“Don’t be a humbug. First, second, it’s all the same really,” Fred said as he helped his mother to a seat near the fire.

“Yes, and we are off the subject. I’m disgusted by the brief report I’ve read about the two of you. I was under the impression that West Point was training you to be gentlemen,” Graham said. He grabbed a crystal decanter filled with scotch and poured a large tumbler.

“Yes. We’re taught to be white,” Fred said.

“Excuse me?” Graham held his drink mid-air.

“It’s cant, Father, slang,” Buck said. “To be a gentleman . . .”

“Graham, the military is turning our good boys into I don’t know what!” Margaret complained, smoothing her skirt.

“All of my sons served in the military,” Grandmother Martha said, “and if nothing else, they were gentlemen and humanitarians. They fought for equality even though the rest of Jersey were against it during the war!”

“Oh, come now, Grammy. Even the Massachusetts boys want nothing to do with the colored cadets—and their families were abolitionists of the worst sort!” Fred said.

“I was an abolitionist!” Martha reminded her grandson.

“And why do you still keep Betty? And why do we have Lucretia?” Fred asked.

“Lucretia and Betty are paid handsomely for their services and are free to leave and seek work elsewhere,” Graham replied.

“Handsomely? I know what they make—at least Lucretia—less than a private in the army and with no chance of promotion,” Fred said with a sneer.

“We pay above the going rate!” Graham said. “And I won’t allow you to compare Betty or Lucretia to slaves—are privates in the army slaves?”

“In the end, Father, I’d rather not turn the holidays into a trial. We’ll win our case in the new year if it comes to that. Not a single witness would dare come forward against me.”

“What are you saying?” Graham asked.

“I just mean to say that . . . that no one would dare present false testimony. Cadets pride themselves on honesty. As an upperclassman, I have done what’s best for the institution and Cadet Streeter,” Fred said. “He should have gone home long before getting drunk and almost killing himself walking the Palisades alone at night.”

“Must we only talk about ugly things when it’s Christmas? Let’s not ruin things for Martha. She must have plans of her own and looks worn out. Are you tired, dear?” Margaret asked.

“No, I’m not tired, Margaret. It’s more that I am disgusted by my grandchildren and their clear lack of remorse.”

“Everyone at the Point is against us because we’re not rich,” Fred contended.

“See, Graham, I told you they need more money!” Margaret scolded.

“Stop this nonsense—we give them all the money they’re permitted to have in their accounts!” Graham replied. “I don’t know why you boys came here and got your grandmother involved.”

“Fred figured you’d never come here for us since you’re huffed at Grammy,” Buck said.

Fred shot him a menacing look.

“I’d be happy enough if you all stayed away,” Martha said. “I hate to be reminded of my failures, but I suppose I have to put you all up for the night.”

“Oh, no-no-no, WE are leaving at once,” Margaret said.

“Don’t be a fool, Margaret. I’m not driving in this weather at night,” Graham said.

Fred rolled his eyes. “You’d never do as a soldier, Father.”

“Fred, you ignorant, obnoxious fool,” his grandmother said. “As smart as you think you are you should know that your mother will come down with an obscure ailment if she sits in the weather too long. Your father is using good judgment for a change.” Martha sent the grown children to bed upstairs in the rooms that once belonged to her sons.

“Land sakes, this room is a tundra!” Thankful whispered.

“Befitting the old ice witch, herself,” Buck grumbled with a weak laugh and cough.

Fred snored, peaceful as a kitten on the little cot next to the bed Buck lay upon. Thankful jumped from her cot and got in beside Buck for warmth. “Shove over, Buck and shh! Grammy will hear us laughing and give us the lash!”

Thankful teased him the way she used to, but Buck was grim. “Thankful, this time I really think I’m done in with Fred. I feel sort of bad about it.”

“Well, that’s new—you feeling bad,” Thankful laughed. “But not to worry—Fred never catches it.”

“That’s what I’m thinking about. Fred’s on a mission and now I’m tangled in it and I don’t think it’s good.”

Thankful giggled. “You look eight years old in that cap. Does it hurt? Your head I mean?”

“No. Well, yes it does. But don’t tell. It’s embarrassing. I wish I were eight again. I could just do things different.”

Thankful pat his shoulder dreamily. “The past is done. Good night.”

Buck sighed. “Thanks for those words of wisdom.” He closed his eyes, knowing he would not sleep. He hadn’t for months. Buck slid from bed and pulled out the chair tucked beneath his father’s childhood desk covered with rocks and bones. He shivered before the window and stared out at the frozen countryside.

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

**Featured Image: Giuseppe De Nittis – Winter Landscape [c.1880] Flickr.com

FICTION: Two Roads Diverge In The Snowy Woods

The road less traveled isn’t always a good one.

Buck’s parents stayed at the Hotel Thayer during his recovery. After a week Margaret had the look of a child kept in at recess.

“Graham, won’t he ever speak up again?” Margaret whispered. “He had such a manly voice like my brothers.”

Graham shook his head. “Buck, you’re up and alive much faster than anyone would have dreamed. For that we must be thankful.”

But Buck hadn’t a mind for gratitude. He returned to class with great fanfare. Sympathy poured out on him now that hadn’t dared express itself in summer. Buck shook it off like a rooster cleaning its feathers. Drill and artillery kept his attention, but not much else.

Fred, making use of the many plebes eager to bone popularity with upperclassmen, ordered them to find and deface anything of Streeter’s. They tripped him in line and spilled his food, but Streeter remained solid and nothing satisfied Fred quite enough. Streeter’s grades held slightly above average, and he conducted himself with a calm assuredness.

Exams now loomed right before the holidays. Fred, making a surprise visit to Buck’s room, found his brother, blouse untucked and face unshaven, staring at a piece of string on his desk.

“Buck, old fellow, have you finished your studies?”

Buck shifted in his seat. He opened his mouth, but Fred must strain to hear. “I was about to . . .” Buck crumpled a piece of stationary and threw it towards the wastebasket, missing.

“This room is a cesspool, Buck.”

“So?”

Fred sighed. “Get dressed.”

Buck made no effort to move.

“Buck, there’s something I need you to do tonight. We should have done it long ago.”

Buck tried to speak, but hacked up phlegm and spit into a teacup.

Fred shook his head at the cup. “An officer has to be able to shout out orders, Buckie. Damn, this is a sorry state of affairs altogether. Get up now.”

Fred wrapped Buck’s neck with a scarf retrieved from the pile of clothes on his bed and flopped the soft hat Thankful had sent on Buck’s head.

Buck pulled on his coat and followed Fred to Streeter’s room.

“All you have to do is pretend, yet again, that you forgive him, Buck.”

“No!” Buck squeaked.

“Oh, don’t worry. Streeter will believe you. After all you’ve got a track record for such stupidity,” Fred said and slapped Buck’s shoulder.

Buck shoved his hands in his pockets.

“So, you’ll get him to come into the dark, and I’ll take it from there. This prank will surely make Streeter think twice about staying at the academy.”

“Will you be satisfied then?” Buck whispered.

“We will be more than satisfied,” Fred replied. “Now go make friends again and do it fast. I have plans for later.”

“Study?”

“Ha-ha. I’ve finished my studies days ago. I have my priorities straight, Buck Crenshaw—now go!”

Fred met with two plebes at the end of the hall and walked out into the night. Buck turned back to the closed door and knocked.

“Buck!” Streeter let him in. Through the window a carpet of shine covered the stone structures of the academy as snow fell.

“Streeter, I. . .”

“Buck, you know, I’ve only stayed on here in hopes that you would forgive me. I figured that if you could hold up maybe I would try as well.”

Buck considered escaping back to his room, but knew that he must stop being so drawn in by people. Buck was still trying to convince himself of this as they came out into the wintry landscape. Fred and his friends jumped Streeter, pulling a pillowcase over his head.

“Buck!” Streeter cried, but Fred said, “Remember how he abandoned you!”

They dragged Streeter along the steep little paths where the young ladies picked flowers in summer. Buck followed a few paces behind. So far nothing too terrible happened and Buck felt a small thrill seeing Streeter roughed up and frightened. He almost enjoyed being a part of something with his brother again.

After a long march, they came to a very secret place. No one spoke. One of the cadets, a pudgy and pathetic plebe, who couldn’t hold fast to even one friend, produced a rope and knife. They pulled Streeter’s boots off, throwing them into the soggy underbrush. Tying his ankles together, they nicked him with the knife when cutting the rope a few times.

“Fred,” Buck wheezed.

“Shut up, Buck!” Fred yelled as he yanked rope around Streeter’s wrists. He pulled out his own knife and again cut Streeter.

“Stop it!” Buck whispered and pulled Fred by the shoulder.

Fred shoved Buck back. The plebes dragged Streeter and kicked him a few times. Fred laughed. “Come now, Buck, be a man for once in your life! You’re so damned soft—like Father and Uncle Oliver, too! You’ll never get a girl now the way you look and think about your career—what he’s done to it! Be a man!”

Buck ran up and kicked Streeter’s body with everything he had in him, just once. He heard a rib crack, but Streeter didn’t cry out. Fred and the others laughed.

“Fred, this is wrong,” Buck said.

“You’re a caution, Buckie, after just breaking his bones!”

The plebes pulled Streeter up, only to knock him down again and the pillowcase slipped off exposing Streeter’s terrified expression.

“He won’t be making exams in the morning, I figure. Come on fellows. Let’s go for drinks at Benny Haven’s. Leave him. We’ll have him fetched after our tests,” Fred said.

“But it’s too cold,” Buck said.

“Stop being a mother hen. Streeter wants to be in the army so bad, let him see what it’s like in Dakota.” Fred walked off.

Buck followed, quietly protesting, but he glanced back as the two plebes rolled Streeter over the Palisades.

“Oh, God!” Buck ran to the ledge.

Streeter’s body lay precariously on a narrow bit of rock five yards below.

“He’s dead!” Fred exclaimed. “What the hell did you go and do that for, boys?”

Buck caught a satisfaction in Fred’s tone that shocked him. “We’re murderers!” Buck cried.

Fred slapped him hard. “No. It was an accident. He slipped. That’s all.” Fred scurried down the slick ridge to Streeter, untied him and threw the ropes as far off into the night as he could.

“But Fred, the boots and the cuts! And I was the last to be seen with him!”

“Speak up, you fool. I’m tired of this act! We’ll say that you and Streeter were drunk.”

“Drunk? Everyone will know it’s a lie!”

Fred shook Buck. “I can’t hear you when you whisper. Everyone will be happy—don’t you see that?”

“Fred, I don’t see it.”

“Then you are no cadet. It’s too late to change anything. We’ll say that Streeter must have lost his way in the woods.”

Streeter moaned. The plebes ran.

“God damn those idiots!” Fred complained. “Well, maybe we should send him over the edge and put him out of his misery.”

“We have to save him! This is too much!” Buck choked out.

Voices called from the woods.

“It’s the guard!” Fred threw his knife over the cliff and ran with Buck following.

It was long after midnight when Buck came back to his room. Carter was awake. By the light of a candle Buck pulled his boots off and wiped the mud and snow from them. His coat, scarf and hat, he kept on, but still he quaked in the cold.

“Buck,” Carter whispered, “is everything all right? Shall I make us tea?”

Buck threw his boots beneath his bed and climbed under the blankets. Carter slipped his feet into his old reveilles and came to sit beside Buck.

“Friend, where were you tonight?”
Buck’s insides roiled. “I was drinking.” His teeth chattered.

“Come now, how am I to believe it—with exams in a few hours,” Carter laughed.

“I was drinking—with Streeter—but he’s lost somehow—I don’t know how—or where,” Buck’s lips turned blue with terror. “The guard came, I guess. Well, we heard something or someone. Then I came home.”

His old friend surveyed him. “You’d never leave another cadet behind. Wait a minute; I see it clearly now. Bully for you—finally you’ve gotten Streeter back! So the guards will find him drunk, you say? Perfect! Well done, Buck. It took a while, but finally you got it right. I won’t say a word. Oh, so he’ll probably miss exams, too! Ha! This is just perfect.”

Buck turned to the wall.

“Oh, yes, you’re quite right, Buck; we must get our rest for tomorrow,” Carter said and walked to his side of the room. He turned back. “Buck, are you . . . feeling unwell? You’re not sick or anything?”

Buck waved him off in the half light.

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

FICTION: Family Friction

Mothers and fathers aren’t always wonderful. As Cadet Buck Crenshaw recovers from a severe allergic reaction, he’s forced to suffer a visit from his parents.

The night passed into a dreary day with rain pelting the roof of the infirmary. Fred cursed his parents for taking so long to arrive, but Buck showed signs of recovery. His cheeks and tongue shrunk back to normal, but he couldn’t speak. His neck throbbed, but no one explained things to him.

Fred met his parents at the door with a weary sigh. “The worst is over.”

Margaret ran to Buck and gasped. “There’s an awful hole in his neck, Graham! Oh, it’s more hideous than his face!” She threw herself onto the narrow cot, causing Buck to be greatly discomfited.

“Margaret, will you ever have any sense? Get off him at once!” Graham demanded and swooped in for his own examination. His revolted expression spoke volumes. “I just don’t like the look of things.”

“Doctor Law is a hero, I tell you,” Fred said. “If he hadn’t cut Buck open he’d be in a box right now.”

Margaret groaned and pulled a chair beside Buck, wiping her eyes.

Graham looked over his son more as a doctor than a father, probing and prodding, running his fingers over Buck’s scarred forehead and feeling his pulse more than once. He looked so angry that Buck wondered if he really wanted to be there and then Graham left.

“That bastard!” Fred grumbled and took Buck’s hand. “Don’t pay any attention to him. Mama and I are here.” They were quiet for a long while.

“Now, you MUST come home, Buck. I can’t stand another upset like this—I’ll go mad!” Margaret said.

“Buck is too big to go home, Mama. He’s a fighter and will win the day,” Fred assured her.

Margaret kissed Buck’s hand. “I suppose you’re right. Fred, you are so unlike your father—you’re real and decent. I feel honored to have you as a son.”

Fred hugged his mother just as Graham returned and the room went quiet again.

Graham blew his nose and his eyes were red. “The doctor says you may be well enough in a few weeks to go back to class, son, but they tell me you haven’t been keeping up your studies—I don’t understand.”

Margaret cried out. “Is now the time to be worrying about our near-dead son’s scores in arithmetic? How very cold!”

“Margaret, close your mouth for once!” Graham came to the foot of his son’s bed. “I don’t give a damn about the grades, exactly—it’s you, Buck. There’s more going on than you boys allow us to know, and it’s troubling.”

“Don’t trouble yourself, Father. I have everything under control,” Fred said.

Graham glared at him. “I bet, Fred.” He tapped Buck’s foot under the blanket with all the tenderness he could muster. “I’m here for you, Buck, if ever. . .”

Buck moved his leg.

Graham sighed. “Buck, when will you ever learn? You really should come home. I’ll take time off from work—maybe we could travel when you’re well.” He could say no more. He wiped his eyes.

“Father, Buck will recover. Won’t he?” Fred asked.

“Graham, dear, what are you on about traveling?” Margaret asked. “When is the last time you took me anywhere? Why must you always think of yourself? Maybe you should send me and the girls—and Buck—to Europe or someplace and you stay home! Buck should be with his mama.”

Fred sneered at his parents. “I doubt Buck wants to go anywhere with either of you. It’s here he needs to be to prove he can’t be beaten by the likes of Milford Streeter.”

“I’m sure that unfortunate cadet didn’t mean to hurt Buck,” Graham said.
“Milford Streeter is a danger to all cadets, Father. He distracts us all from proper training by turning us against each other. His mishaps have ruined Buck’s reputation and have nearly killed him—what more should I put up with?” Fred asked.
“Doctor Law says that Cadet Streeter was soundly rebuked. The boy feels terrible. He can’t help how he was raised. There are even people in my practice who have more confidence in home remedies than doctors.”

“The people you visit with are stupid low-lifers! Hardly West Point material. Streeter must go!” Fred replied.

“You had better not do anything, Fred,” Graham warned. “Worry about your own life.”

“No, I’m not like you. I worry about others—my family and friends,” Fred replied.

Buck punched his fist against the bed.

Fred said, “Don’t fret, Buckie, we’ll do what’s right.”

Graham squeezed past Fred and took Buck’s chin tenderly. “Buck, we depend on you to do what’s right.”

“That’s a fine thing to say in front of Fred!” Margaret complained. “No wonder he’s such trouble.”

“Margaret, Fred chooses his trouble. He’s never listened to a thing I say.”

“That’s because it’s nonsense!” Margaret said, motioning for Fred not to listen to his father.

“Coming from you, I almost laugh!” Graham remarked. “When have you ever given our children any encouragement or sound advice? You’ve made them as spoiled and shallow as you are!”

“How dare you!” Margaret cried. “Is it my fault you were always so busy with other people’s children you never explained how you’d like the children raised?”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have been so damned lazy,” Graham shot back. “Maybe you should have done some housework once in a while or taught the children a moral or two. Maybe then you wouldn’t be so fat and bitter now!”

Margaret stomped her foot. “Maybe you should look in the mirror!”

Buck closed his eyes, wishing they would leave and finally they did. Only Fred remained. He paced the room and then turned to Buck.

“Oh, Buck, I know you too well and you cannot let our ignoramus father lead you astray. You’ve avoided the mirror, but here it is. I do it not to hurt you but to strengthen your resolve. Here, just look at what Streeter’s done. You can forget marriage and promotions and–come now, Buck, be a man, don’t get upset like a sniveling girl.”

No words came that even remotely caught the black horror of discovery. A burning rage pulsed through Buck.

“Bully for you, Buck. I’m glad to see that fire in your eyes—maybe you’ll grow a backbone yet. We’ll sort out this Streeter thing together—just like the old days. Remember how we got Willy Weldon good all those times? That was real frolic, wasn’t it?”

Buck cringed at the thought of how they bullied their childhood enemy. But this was different. Streeter humiliated him by standing for colors against him even! He’d taken every joy from him. Buck knew that for once he must do the right thing.

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

FICTION: Cold War

After an uneasy truce, Milford Streeter arrives with a cure for Buck Crenshaw’s catarrh (cold), but it all goes terribly wrong . . .

After a tentative knock at the door, Streeter let himself in. “Buck,” he whispered.

“What are you doing here?”

“Your catarrh, sir. I’ve come with a poultice and my grandmother’s famous potion to help you,” Streeter explained.

“Thank you, Streeter, but I prefer the surgeon’s cures if bed rest doesn’t help.”

“My whole family swears by this recipe, and it’s good for energy. I take it myself when I’m feeling low and it does some good. Go on . . . it tastes bad, but . . .”

“All right, I’ll try the medicine, but not the poultice. I have a big class tomorrow and a little extra energy can’t hurt.” Buck sipped the bottle. “That wasn’t too bad. How long before it starts to work?”

“Not long, sir.”

“Thanks, Streeter. You had better go now,” Buck said more as an order than a suggestion, but as Streeter made for the door, Buck worried. “Streeter, my throat feels funny.”

“What do you mean? Is it sore?”

“No . . . it feels . . .” Buck scratched his neck. “It’s not right. It’s itchy.”

“That doesn’t happen, usually.” Streeter stepped closer in alarm.

“Streeter, what’s wrong?” Buck’s face tingled and his tongue thickened.

“I don’t rightly know, but land sakes, you’re puffing up!” Streeter ran into the hallway and then ran back.

Buck wheezed with his hands at his throat and couldn’t speak. His eyes and nose streamed mucus and tears.

“Please, God, help me!” Streeter repeated over and over. He opened a window and had one leg out when Carter and Whittaker arrived.

“By God! Look at Buck!” Carter cried. “Shit, Whittaker, run and get Doctor Law! Now! He’s going blue!” Carter slapped Buck’s face. “Buck, can you speak?” He shook him as Whittaker ran off to get the doctor. “What the hell have you done to him, Streeter?”

“Nothing! He was like this when I arrived!”

Carter spotted the bottle and picked it up. “What’s this?”

Streeter said nothing.

“He’s dying, you dumb darkie—and you’ve poisoned him. Haven’t you?” Carter let Buck fall back on the bed and pounced on Streeter.

Cadets poured into the tiny room rushing to break the fight, but Streeter clawed and pounded Carter until they were pulled apart just as Whittaker returned with the doctor.

“Carter! What’s happened?” Fred cried as he rushed in.

“That bastard poisoned him!”

Doctor Law pushed past them and went over to Buck. “My Lord!” he exclaimed. “What have you boys been up to?” He took up the empty bottle on the bed and glanced at Streeter.

“I only tried to help him, doctor,” Streeter confessed. “It’s my grandmother’s cure for catarrh. I even drink it.”

“He used a darkie voodoo spell on my brother!” Fred said to the others and lunged at Streeter, who threw a powerful fist at Fred, sending him reeling into the others.

“BOYS! A cadet is dying and you’re fighting!” The doctor scolded and took a small knife and tube from his kit.

“What are you doing?” Fred cried.

“Your brother can’t breathe—it’s the only way—we have to cut an airway.”

Just as the doctor made the incision, Fred pulled him back and blood began to run.

“Damn you, Fred. There’s no time! Your brother’ll be dead and now you’ve made a mess of it!” Doctor Law pushed him away and cut a little more. The jagged line turned red as the doctor inserted the tube and stitched it in place. Buck’s eyes swelled shut, but natural color returned to his puffed face.

Fred, in tears, punched the wall. “Will he live, doctor? Will he? It’s my fault. I told him to make up to Streeter!”

The cadets stared at Fred’s admission.

“It’s obviously a reaction to whatever Streeter gave Buck,” the doctor began.

“Kill the bastard!” a cadet said.

The doctor ignored the cadets. “Mr. Streeter, what in heaven’s name was in your cure?”

“Just sage and goober peas and oil—no poison at all! I only tried to help!” Streeter cried.

“That’s a lie! You’ve been out to ruin my brother from the start! And now you go and murder him!” Fred sat beside his brother.

The room grew close and small with outraged cadets, but the tough old Doctor Law pushed the boys into the hallway. “Behave as Christians, men. Streeter has made a terrible blunder, but it was no act of viciousness. How was he to know that his friend might suffer a reaction to goober peas? Surely you see that it’s not a potion one would use with murderous intent. Say your prayers for our poor Buck. He’ll need every last one. Now get out of here. Corporal Whittaker, go and have word sent to Buck’s parents. Tell them the situation is grave.”

Fred jumped up. “GRAVE?” And he sobbed again.

Carter took his shoulder, but Fred grabbed him by the neck. “You little piece of shit! You sold my brother out—and don’t think I’ll ever forget it! If you were a real friend, you wouldn’t have left him alone with that darkie. I’ll get you! You’ll see, you piss ant! Your days are numbered.”

Carter paled and left the room.

Streeter stood in the shadows.

“Fred, your brother could die quite soon or from inflammation at the neck later,” the doctor explained.

“I’ll kill myself! I will! If he goes, I want to die!” Fred raved. “I’m gonna make them all pay dearly!”

“Now, Fred Crenshaw, control yourself. Your brother needs your prayers, not . . .”

“Go to hell, doc!”

“Mind your manners, son. This may be the last time you have with Buck . . .” The doctor faltered. He’d grown fond of Buck during his stay at the infirmary.

The doctor’s upset focused Fred on his brother, and he wept more bitterly. “Please don’t leave me, Buck. I promise to take better care of you. Why were you so stupid to let that Streeter poison you?”

Streeter stepped forward, but the doctor waved him off. “Mr. Streeter, go to the adjutant at once and explain yourself.”

“I’m afraid of the others, sir.”

“As well you should be. Get out of my sight at once! Bringing your Negro ways into this school—how dare you try to do my job!”

Streeter raced from the room as if to get a running start from the cadets.

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

*Featured Image courtesy Kansas Historical Society

FICTION: Mixed (Up) Motives

“Buck, sometimes, I believe you’re too like a girl. Streeter doesn’t deserve any sympathy. How many times must I say it? Trust me; you’ll regain your self-respect if you stick with me,” Fred assured him. “Now, just pretend to be friends again with Streeter so we can have some fun with him.”

November came on with biting winds blasting over the Plain and sending the last bits of summer weed and debris across the paths at West Point. Buck found his opportunity to reconcile with Streeter one grey afternoon. Buck liked the winter, but this year the chill gnawed into the slow-to-heal gash at his head. Wearing a hat only aggravated the wound more. Buck shivered feeling hungry and out of sorts, but here came Streeter. They could pass each other without a word as they had done for the past few weeks, but then Buck would have to suffer another day with Fred on his back.

“Mr. Streeter . . .” Buck called over the wind in his deep and strong voice.

Streeter, taken aback, stopped in his tracks, his eyes hungry for reconciliation. “Yes, sir?”

Buck pulled his shoulders up close and tightened his collar before speaking. “Um, Streeter, I . . .”

“Sir, permission to interrupt?”

Buck sighed in annoyance. “What?”

“Sir, I’ve had so much time to consider things—the way I was with you on the first day back in the barracks—you were right. I was a coward. I never should have left you at the stables and I was a complete ass to speak to you the way I did in your room. If a fellow can’t stand on his own then he doesn’t deserve to be a cadet.”

Buck had imagined a different type of encounter. “Streeter, I . . .”

“Sir, I just want to say that if one day I could be half as brave as you, I’d be satisfied. To stand alone for another—well, I guess when push came to shove I failed. When I came to you I was angry that you didn’t forgive me, but you were right not to.”

Buck swallowed hard. He coughed, fighting a cold. “Streeter, I, I suppose I can forgive you.”

“Sir, I sincerely hope you will—though I don’t deserve it.”

“Yes, well, we all make mistakes in judgment,” Buck said.

“Sir, I intend to pay you back—all I owe you,” Streeter replied, “but it will take some time. I’ve sent word to my father to sell off my horses—but they’re not worth $400.”

“Will you pay back the money you took from Fred, Streeter?”

Streeter’s face turned grim. “I don’t know what you mean. I owe him nothing!”

Buck’s features tightened and his violet eyes averted. “No matter. It’s all in the past.”

Streeter gave him an odd look. “Sir, you’re such an inspiration. I’ve never met anyone who so valiantly disregards popular opinion to march to his own beat. One day I think you will be some sort of a hero.”

“No, only an officer in the army. Streeter, I’ve got to go now. I’m chilled to the bone and have the catarrh.” He coughed and walked off.

Streeter called after him, “I don’t know how I’ll make it the winter if it gets any colder than this.”

Buck’s stomach turned.

Back at the barracks, Buck climbed the stairs to his room. The dim light of autumn filtered between the regulation curtains. The friendly smell of coals in the stove comforted him not a bit. Carter dressed and gathered his text books.

“Buck, are you sure you won’t come and practice recitations with the fellows? We miss your wit.”

“Is that so? Well, I feel dull today—so I’ll give it a miss this time,” Buck replied as he leaned back onto his unmade bed.

“Blast it, Buck. I thought by now you would have forgiven us.”

“I have,” Buck lied. “I just don’t want to study. I know the work.”

“Buck, you haven’t studied in weeks and it begins to show. You’ll be written up for sure over the state of your bed and all.”

“I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry.” Buck propped up his pillow with a rough punch and lay back hand behind his head.

Carter came to his bedside. “I didn’t say I was worried. I only feel sorry for you—to watch you turn away from friends and throw away all that’s good in life—it’s sad.”

“I’ve only turned away from what bores me,” Buck said. “Carter, you’re an unremarkable cadet. As a friend though, I thought you had the admirable traits of loyalty and decency. I confess I even tried to model myself after you, but I was naïve.”

“Buck, what do you want from me? I made a mistake. But you were with Streeter quite a lot.”

“Listen, I don’t give a damn anymore what happened this summer. Streeter will be made to pay for what he did, but don’t for a second think I trust you. Fred was right all along. No one is to be trusted but family.”

“Well, I’m glad to see that Streeter will get his, but Fred is just dangerous,” Carter said.

Buck waved him off. “Then I guess it’s good to be on his side.”

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