A Moment in Time

Recently I began work on a new story, one that revisits the fictional town of Sunset, Colorado — the setting for “Not the Marrying Kind”. I loved the little town, and most of all I adored the characters who’d come into my head as I penned the story of Kat Phillips and Joshua Barron. I wanted to go back and spend more time in Sunset.

This new story isn’t yet titled. Originally I called it “What a Real Man Does” because it’s the story of Tom Henderson, a handsome, blond-haired, blue-eyed cowboy who, in “Not the Marrying Kind”, was mentioned in this conversation between Kat and her friend, Lucille. They’re discussing men, in general, and Joshua Barron, in particular.

“What would you know about men anyway?” Lucille tittered and waved her hand in the air, dismissing both Kat and her opinions. “You’ve probably never even been kissed.”

“Kissing isn’t all that great. Tom Henderson smooched me a couple times last summer. At the barn dance.” It wasn’t much of a kiss, actually. More like he’d slobbered on her. She shuddered at the thought and quickly changed the subject. “By the way, when is your sister coming?” The oldest of the McIntyre clan had married and moved away a few years earlier. Matilda and her husband made it a point to visit every summer.

“What? Who cares about Matilda? We’re talking about Joshua Barron.”

“I don’t want to talk about him. I don’t think it’s right to talk about a man behind his back. It seems impolite or something.”

“That’s because you’re…” She hesitated.

“I’m what?”

“Well, inexperienced, to put it bluntly. You never talk about the men in your life because there aren’t any.” Lucille laughed and lifted her chin an inch or two higher. “Tom Henderson doesn’t count,” she added. “He’s not a real man. He’s just an overgrown boy.”

In the new story, Tom proves himself to be a real man, indeed, and yep, you’ve probably guessed it. He falls in love with Lucille McIntyre.

But Tom has a lot to overcome. He’s truly quite a character. Ever hear the old question, “Hey, you born in a barn or something?” Well, Tom was. Literally. His drunken whore of a mother made a wrong turn one April morning after leaving the outhouse. Tom’s birth was attended by a curious mare…and maybe that accounts for his uncanny affinity with horses.

But, I digress.

Needless to say, Tom’s been put down, laughed at, and ridiculed throughout his life. He’s had no real education to speak of, his mother ended up in prison on manslaughter charges, and his dreams of someday having a ranch of his own and raising fine horses…well, that dream is so far away it’s barely a speck on the horizon.

Until one moment in time…a moment when Tom goes back to the wretched, disgusting cabin where he was raised. His best friend, Caleb Bryant, goes with him, standing back as Tom comes face to face with the horrors and shame of his past.

Tom Henderson visits his boyhood home.

Here’s a bit from the new story, that crucial moment when Tom first realizes that maybe he can make something of himself:

This was where he’d been born, where he’d been raised. Memories swept over Tom like a cold autumn chill. He remembered it too well. The untended garden where Ma did her best to grow a few vegetables, the filthy, grime-streaked windows that nobody could get clean, and the tattered blankets still stacked in musty corners. Even squatters didn’t want the place.

Choking back his emotions, he pushed open the door. Ma’s big double bed still held center stage in the tiny cabin. That’s where she did her business, entertained her gentlemen callers, and Tom and Sally were sent out to play or else locked in the storeroom with a couple blocks Ma called toys. But no matter where he and his sister were sent, they still heard the grunts and moans, the creaking bed. Tom learned earned early on what was happening.

He’d been scared once, afraid Ma was being hurt, He hadn’t stayed in the closet like Ma told him. But when he came in to help her, she boxed him on the ears and threatened to horsewhip him if he ever walked in on her again while she was working.

How much did Sally understand? Tom often wondered if his little sister realized what went on in Ma’s dirty, stained bed. Maybe she was too innocent, too fundamentally good, or maybe she just loved Ma enough that it didn’t matter.

God always took the good ones too soon, and that must be why Sally was gone now.

The house looked as horrifying as the day he’d left it. Tom closed the door, bolted it, and wished the wind would come along and blow the whole thing down into a heap. If it could just disappear, maybe the past could disappear along with it, maybe he could forget all the pain and all the anger, all the hurt.

Tom sank down onto the ground and leaned against the locked door. He had to fight hard for breath. “Nothing here I want, and damned sure nothing here anybody needs,” he told Caleb. “I don’t know why I bothered riding all the way out to this God-forsaken place.”

Caleb nodded. He didn’t look Tom’s way but kept his gaze on his hands as he rolled a smoke. “Always hard, I think, to go back in time.” He licked the cigarette paper and pressed it together. “Man’s better off to keep his thoughts on the present.”

Tom plowed through his long blond hair with frustrated fingers. “Yeah, suppose so.”

“And then, there’s always the future.” Caleb took a long drag on his cigarette. “You given much thought to it?”

“Not really. No point thinking about things you can’t have.”

“Who says you can’t have them?” Caleb asked.

Tom’s head jerked up. For as long as he could remember, he’d been told he’d never amount to a hill of beans, that he’d end up swinging from some noose, or rotting away in some jail. He was a bastard. Worse still, a whore’s bastard. Nobody had use for that sort of man.

But Caleb didn’t see him that way. Caleb, by God, was damned stupid enough to think every man deserved a chance to make something of himself. And why the hell not?

Tom wished with all his heart that he could have the things he’d been denied as a child. Not the material things. That didn’t matter. The love. The respect. The laughter, the kindness, the happiness, the joy. He’d never known any of those things before, and now Caleb said he could get whatever he wanted?

Damn but what did he know that Tom didn’t?

He was going to listen. He was going to learn.

And nobody would ever put Tom Henderson down again.

Writing these words left me stunned and somewhat shaken up emotionally. I felt Tom’s pain, but even more, I felt his sudden surge of hope, that startling immediate recognition that maybe…just maybe…things could be better.

All it took was one moment in time, a few simple words from somebody who believed in possibilities.

Do we ever take time to encourage others? Or are we always so busy living our own lives that we fail to see when those around us are hurting? Sometimes all it might take to change a life is a word or two of kindness.

After sharing this quiet moment in time between Tom and Caleb, I hope to become more aware of the emotional needs of others. I challenge you to do the same, to open not only your eyes and ears, but also your heart. Reach out to others, share a word or two of encouragement when needed.

Love is a powerful force. Maybe hope is even more powerful.

* * * *

I don’t want to give away too much of this new story, of course, but Tom’s desire to make a better life is sparked not only by his love for Lucille, but by his niece — a squalling, blue-eyed baby left behind by his sister’s death. She has no name, but Tom decides to call her Faith. He has a long fight ahead of him, however, if he wants to keep her.

Readers, I’d love your thoughts about the title for this story. Please help me choose! Feel free to suggest a title of your own.

Note: “Not the Marrying Kind” is scheduled for release in January 2014 from Secret Craving Publishing. Tom Henderson’s story will be the second of many more stories to come from Sunset, Colorado.

Thanks for your help!

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