NOVEL EXCERPTS

This Month – Hard Goodbyes and IN BETWEEN TIME

HARD GOODBYES

Chapter 1

Southeast Wyoming Near Fort Laramie 1860

At thirty-seven, Ally Hart remains attractive, a beauty, at least for now. She’s lost so much weight though, leaving her almost too thin, forcing her to tug at her loose hanging blouse continually. The cursed thing won’t stay on her shoulders, and the way it droops exposes too much of her neck and chest.

Considering himself to be her new knight in shining armor, Elijah Yancy sits worrying about her welfare across her dimly lit kitchen. “Mrs. Hart,” he begins while rubbing his fingers across the green plaid tablecloth covering her table, “I don’t believe you can stay out here all by yourself.” Elijah, likely in his seventies, unassuming, but a gentle spirit lacks any education. “With Mr. Hart dead, this place is too dangerous for you.”

Ally’s thoughts drift back to an earlier time before life stopped being normal. She glances over at Elijah, who appears to want to say something else. When he doesn’t, she gives him a sweet smile and apologizes for not hearing what he said. Most people still practice reluctance, caution about mentioning her husband’s death. She buried him only a week ago. Elijah repeats his concerns, complete with the details of how her husband died.

“I’ll be fine. Friends check in on me,” she says, as much to convince herself as her roughshod friend. “Would you like another slice of pie?”

“Well, if you don’t mind. Cherry is my favorite.”

Ally, the name her friends call her, instead of Alice, cuts him another sizeable slice. “Let me refill your coffee.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Elijah forks into the fresh pie. “Delicious, Mrs. Hart, best cherry pie I’ve ever ate.”

Ever eaten, Ally thinks but doesn’t say. Trying to correct Elijah’s speech would be like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Ally, an unpretentious woman with light brown hair, fancies herself quite a baker, but not in an uppity way. She bakes well, decidedly well, but she is no braggart. She smiles at her new guardian, accepting the compliment as she sits the tin cup of coffee in front of him.

“I hope I’m not too forward,” Elijah says, watching her walk over and gaze out a window. He hesitates as if waiting for her approval. “But I don’t see how you’ll survive out here, with no man around. I mean, you have friends, but not many,” he adds, making for a somewhat awkward moment. “Why, if you don’t count the Army, we ain’t got enough people within fifty miles of here to hold a revival meeting.”

Ally turns toward the window and sighs. Being late in the day with the sky turning to a rusty color, her thoughts slip back to evenings spent sitting on the porch with her husband.

Often, she would sip tea, listening to Sam play an old harmonica. Because Sam had been talkative, while Ally was somewhat quiet, the harmonica playing substituted for conversation. That was fine because their talks left Ally unsatisfied. While Sam rambled about any topic, for her, their discussions were about—nothing. What else would they be about? Nothing, or at least nothing exciting, ever happened out here.

Sam reveled in discussing the weather, the cattle, how much he fancied a meal she cooked. A discussion about painting the house kept him interested all evening. How long would it take, what color should they paint the shutters? If they ever got any shutters. Those talks bored Ally. She stopped feigning interest. Once, she enjoyed talking about having a family, what life would be like with kids running around. However, having children failed. Children and all dreams were far out of her reach.

Sam brought her out here years earlier. Right to the day he died, he dreamed of raising massive herds of cattle, of becoming a celebrated cattleman. Yet, the dreams never materialized. The years were only marginally successful. Occasionally, they faced some Indian trouble; not much, no killings, only a few stolen cows. Two dry summers and one bone-chilling snow-filled winter killed off several head of their stock. Still, Sam never gave up; he always found reasons for optimism.

Ally considered herself a realist, and her reality put her alone in the woeful middle of damn nowhere. Her circumstances scared her, but strong and practical, she did not run away as soon as Sam died. In truth, Ally lacked the money to leave, and pitifully, any place to go. With Sam’s death, Ally’s most trusted friend was Daniel Starrett, the man who helped raise her and her sister after her parents died. At the time, he was a young attorney in a small Missouri town where she grew up. Now he was growing old as a judge in St. Louis.

Everything, well, everything she hoped for, was unreachable. Ally wondered if the desolation she now lived with would ever go away. She questioned whether she would again experience a single evening without being lonely. Her disheartening situation would defeat other women. Or kill them, but not Ally. She wasn’t going to let hard times defeat her. She still had her home, not the one she wanted, but a home. As far as the emptiness and loneliness? She would beat those demons as well. Elijah Yancy might not understand how she could prosper, but she would.

IN BETWEEN TIME

Volstead and Fourteen-Year Supply –

Chapter 1

Acquaintances, not close friends, acquaintances said C.J. spoke with a slight Georgia drawl. Odd, he had never been to Georgia. Reading today’s headlines, he was indifferent about Alabamans unveiling a monument to the Boll Weevil. On the positive side, baseball banning tobacco juice-covered spitballs pleased him.

Handsome—according to several women—smart, athletic, his personal life pleased him, except for his name, Cecil James Elliott. He hated his name, Cecil, that awful name his mother gave him.

He didn’t care much for his mother, not after her hospitalization in 1910. Everything in the hospital room had been white, even her gown. All the white was depressing. Regardless of circumstance, even in depressing white hospital rooms, mothers should reassure twelve-year-old sons, not tell them they want to die. She told him she wanted to die on a Wednesday. Wednesday, October 5th. The day their relationship began to shatter. Now, in 1919, he referred to himself as C.J., and they barely spoke.

C.J. rejoiced about spitballs and his mother being out of his life. With prohibition passed, she would have worn him out, blathering about how grand forced teetotaling would be. To provoke her, he would have argued prohibition would only increase crime. Yes, no relationship with her was best, especially since she disdained the Irish.

Her absence meant he didn’t need her approval of Maggie O’Sullivan, Maggie Kathryn O’Sullivan, an opinionated Irish girl. Shrewd, stubborn, enticing, and sassy that one was, but, oh, she was pretty: soft red hair, beguiling eyes as green as the emerald isle itself, a warm skin tone, tall, willowy, and a hint of an Irish lilt in her voice. He knew the first time he saw her; she would be his muse. He decided it was time to tell her.

“Your muse?” she laughed, pulling her collar up and her red felt beret down over newly bobbed hair.

“Yes, my muse,” C.J. responded conceitedly. “Surely, a Mount Holyoke girl understands what a muse is.”

“Of course, I do,” Maggie replied while noticeably, intentionally noticeably, looking at the novel in her arm—The God of the Seas. “I’m just astounded an Amherst boy does.”

Happy to take her bait, C.J. obligingly glanced at the title of the novel. “Scandalous,” he decried.

“You know what they say about Holyoke girls and Smith girls,” Maggie grinned, increasing the swiftness of her gait. C.J. rushed to catch up with her. “Elliott,” she said, calling him as she always did by his last name, “You should head back home before this starts to stick.”

Stick? The snow could hardly be called flurries. Still, arguing with this girl was pointless. He argued himself mindless, trying to make her stop calling him by his last name. He remained Elliott. Surrendering to her, he muttered something about “Saturday then?”

“Yes, Saturday. And don’t you dare be late.” As Elliott turned to leave, she grabbed the back of his coat. “Elliott, aren’t you going to give me a goodbye kiss?” He leaned down to kiss her on the lips, but she turned her face and tapped on her cheek.

Grace Brown, in Maggie’s opinion, was the perfect roommate. Friendly, sweet, neat, and tidy, she never tried to sneak a male in the room. Grace came from a moneyed family in Bar Harbor, Main. Money was unimportant to Grace. “Have a good time with the beau?” Grace always showed attentiveness to Maggie’s social life.

Maggie tossed her coat and beret on her bed. Something Grace would never do. “Lovely,” she breathed. Sitting down in front of her mirror, she brushed her hands through her now short hair. It looked redder at this length. “My folks aren’t going to like this bob.”

“Why’d you do it then?” Grace asked.

“Why not? It’s not their hair.” Maggie gave her hair a good tussle, disheveling red spikes in every direction. She loved the bob and side bangs and gave them one more good tussle before hanging up her coat and putting the beret in a drawer, mostly because Grace would like that. Flopping on her bed and picking up her novel, she held the book in both hands, at arm’s length above her head, she began to laugh. “Elliot called The God of the Seas scandalous. I don’t think he thinks it proper for my reading.”

“It’s probably not,” Grace chuckled.

“I asked him if he knew what they say about Holyoke and Smith girls,” Maggie snickered, naughtiness in her voice, which Grace loved.

“You mean Smith girls to bed, Holyoke girls to wed?” Grace asked.

“Oh, child, they only say it that way at Holyoke,” Maggie stood up, laughing. “Time to eat. Let’s go; I’m completely famished.”

Leaving their room, heading down the stairs to the dining room, Maggie remained chatty. “I’m going out with Elliott Saturday night. Want to do something together?”

“I wish,” Grace said, “but Bill says he has something special planned for Saturday night. I think he’s going to ask me to his parents’ house for Christmas.”

“Christmas? Christmas is next week. Isn’t it a little late to ask you now?”

Grace smiled at Maggie. “Maybe he’s hoping so.” As they walked into the dining room, a formal affair, for a college dormitory, complete with white table cloths for evening meals, Grace asked Maggie about C.J.’s plans for Christmas.

“Elliott’s? Who knows?” Maggie said, sounding disinterested. “I think his family is all dead, except for his mother. And they’re alienated.” Grace suggested Maggie should take Elliott home with her for Christmas. “With me?” Maggie squealed. Well, squealed with dignity. “Three days and nights on a train together? My mother would fairly fall over dead. My father . . . my father, would probably send Elliott to the gates of Heaven.” Maggie paused before patting Grace’s arm. “Truth be told, I’m hoping the weather gets even worse, and I won’t be able to go home for Christmas. Tulsa be damned as far as I’m concerned.”

A girl with too curly blond hair, a student from England, who everyone called “Curls,” asked if she might join them. Maggie, in her best Irish brogue, replied. “‘Tis, a private conversation, be away with yourself.” The blond girl rolled her eyes and called Maggie “such a pain in the arse.” She sat down with two other girls, who got a laugh out of O’Sullivan’s behavior.

Once Curls left, Grace became chatty. “Maggie O, you should marry C.J. before prohibition kicks in, in January. If you wait, you won’t have any champagne at your wedding.”

Maggie peered at Grace across the top of her teacup. Blowing on the orange pekoe before taking two sips and declaring it too hot. “Marry Elliott? He hasn’t asked me.”

“He will,” Grace assured, quieting Maggie. That unsettled her—marriage. Now there was a serious commitment.

Elliott’s roommate, and best friend, a New Yorker named Sam Taylor, loved golf and Scotch. Elliot wasn’t much of a golfer and abhorred Scotch. Still, they got along, spending most of their free time discussing girls, women, Sam called them. Sam complained since C.J. started spending all his womanizing time with this Maggie O’Sullivan, he became boring. He lectured C.J. about how exclusively courting a woman you weren’t bedding wasted a young man’s virility. When C.J. mentioned Tulsa being Maggie’s hometown, Sam couldn’t believe it. “She’s from Tulsa? You never told me that. It only gets worse, an OKIE.”

For Elliot, Saturday took forever to arrive. This Irish girl controlled his every thought. Studying for the first time became a challenge. Around six Saturday evening, he swung his midnight blue 1917 Jeffery Touring car, complete with black fenders and window curtains, up to the curb in front of Brigham Hall, one of the more magnificent residences at Holyoke.

He rushed up the stairs three at a time and went through the large white entry doors. He smiled at the girl sitting at the front desk and announced he was calling for Maggie O’Sullivan. The girl was wearing red lipstick, too bright red, Elliott believed. She picked up the telephone and rang the third floor. “Tell Maggie O her beau is here . . . wearing a lavender suit, blue shirt, and purple tie.” She didn’t mention his shirt had a white collar and white French cuffs.

“You must be tough,” she said, flashing a seductive smile.

“Tough enough to wear a Lavender suit,” Elliot replied, shooting her his best John Barrymore smirk.

The girl laughed; Elliott hoped at his charm, not suit. “A lavender suit doesn’t make you tough,” the girl said. “Just brave.”

“Elliott! Where on earth is your coat?” Maggie came bouncing down the dark wooden stairs cocooned in a fur-collared maroon wrap coat elongating her silhouette. The coat with a below the waist belt hovered past mid-calf, showing a bit of her black skirt and side buttoned, cream-colored Victorian ankle boots. She topped everything off with a black and tan cloche hat with a burgundy flower.

First, Elliott smiled, then he whistled. Maggie bounced into his arms. He gave her a quick whirl and a peck on the cheek. “Very striking,” the girl at the front desk said, offering a little mock applause.

Maggie curtsied, “We’re going bowling,” she laughed.

To be sure the front desk girl didn’t draw any wrong impressions, Elliott shook his head and cleared up his exact plans for the evening. “Steaks at Bull Edwards and the premiere of The Cinema Murder,” he said proudly.

At Bull Edwards, Elliott ordered oysters as appetizers without consulting. Upon their arrival, she chased hers with two swallows of Elliot’s dark beer. “I wonder if the ban on drinking will hurt oyster sales?” she asked, sliding another out of its shell and into her mouth.

“Sam knows a fella in New York with a fourteen-year gin supply,” Elliott said, helping himself to the last oyster. “He says the man has an opportunity for us as ‘distributors.’ He says there’d be a lot of money.”

Maggie’s Irish eyes were not smiling. “So, you plan to become a bootlegger?” That vexed the girl. Her ire baffled Elliott. “I don’t believe I care for your roommate,” she snapped. “I’ve been around bootleggers. Oklahoma has some dry counties, you know.”

Bootleggers? Who said anything about being a bootlegger? Elliott was now in a place he didn’t want to be, and his instinct told him he better depart—quick. “I’m not going to be a bootlegger. Or a rum runner,” he quickly added. His face flushed, and he fiddled at the knot of his tie. “I was joking.”

“Bloody Hell, you were. “

Bloody Hell? Elliott thought that an English term, not Irish. “I was joking,” he protested again.

Maggie took a sip of her wine, shooting her beau a dirty look. “That’s bitter,” she declared. “Order me a different glass.” Elliott waved a waiter over and obliged, asking for a sweeter vintage. He decided this was time for discretion, not explanations, so he decided to sit silently. He didn’t even make eye contact. Thankfully, dinner arrived promptly, right before the hopefully satisfactory new wine.

Maggie found the new wine pleasing and the dinner delightful. Content she made her point regarding rum-running and gin distribution, the matter dropped, resolved to her satisfaction. Elliott decided life with this redhead would be exciting. But damn, she was pretty.

Snow was falling when they arrived at the movie stadium, so he let Maggie out at the front door and then parked the car. Once inside, Elliott brushed the snow off his suit and wondered why he had not brought an overcoat. He forgone sensibility for vanity. They bought chocolate-covered caramels and hot cider for treats before finding seats as the silent newsreel started. When Marion Davies, at last, appeared on the screen in The Cinema Murder, Maggie laid her head on Elliott’s shoulder and whispered, “she’s utterly shameful.”

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