Sunday, October 4, 2015

Statewide Marco Polo Match!

Head's up, y'all. My town is pretty much underwater right now. I have no doubt we're gonna be declared a federal disaster area before it's over, if it hasn't already.

I lived through Hurricane Hugo, and I ain't never seen anything like this shit that's going on here right now. I currently live on a high ridge made of sharp sand, so my place is okay, but I can't really go anywhere and I don't know how long power and internet is going to hold.

If it holds, I'm gonna keep to my normal posting schedule. If you don't hear from me, I'm sitting in the dark holding a flashlight and hoping I don't have to pull the kayaks out, and you'll hear from me when you hear from me.

On the upside, if I don't lose internet and/or power, looks like Riders & Kickers will be released next week!

Stay dry!


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Chapter 294: The Mote and the Beam

He knows. The acid roiling in Iris’ stomach would not abate. She sat at her dressing table and wondered if it would be possible to simply slip out of town unnoticed. Staring reproachfully at herself in the mirror, she squinted at the tired-eyed, frightened woman looking back at her. You didn’t really think this through, did you? Was it worth it?

“Yes” she whispered defiantly. “I’d do it again.”  She dropped her head into her hands and sighed, closing her eyes. The stage isn’t going west because of the trouble right now. Going back eastward doesn’t make sense.

It bothered her that the last time she’d Mr. Monahan, he’d been angry. But worse than that, he’d had been hurt. She didn’t know what was going on with him, but she did know that seeing pain on his face cut her more deeply than it should. The law’s not after me, lass, he’d said in his lilting brogue. His voice echoed in her memory, haunting her. The law’s not after me. The statement had felt heavy, accusatory. He knows. He has to know.

The glass of the dressing table mirror in her rented room was old, the silver back worn to gray at the edges. Her reflection was dim and ghostly, the worry lines in her brow and around her eyes softened, and she had the feeling of looking into the past, at the woman she’d been back east. Back when everything was ledgers and numbers and formulas, all written out in plain black and white with no shades of gray.

She got up and walked over to the bed, bending to pull her suitcase from the dark space underneath. The feel of the worn leather handle in her grip sent a pang of regret through her. He wasn’t lying about learning to read, she thought. That much is true. Think, Iris! It doesn’t make any sense that he’s here looking for you! He’s been here in Green River too long for you to think that. Stop being so paranoid!

A June beetle was hurling itself against the glass outside of the dark window, rattling against the pane in sharp, vexing clicks and pops. But he knows now. And he’s hiding...something. I can’t risk it. I can’t risk staying here.

“Ohh...” she groaned to herself, jerking the suitcase from beneath the bed and heaving it atop the coverlet. “I don’t want to leave.” She stopped, staring at the trunk and trying to will herself to start packing. The weight of defeat was heavy inside her, and the hurt in Mr. Monahan’s deep blue eyes haunting her conscience like a murdered ghost.

The June bug outside rattled against the glass and she wondered how the impact didn’t shatter the insect’s armor. She turned to look, annoyed. A pebble skipped across the glass and fell away into the darkness. Her mouth dropped open.
She drew in a deep, breath, heart in her throat, and reluctantly approached the window, peering down into the yard of the boarding house.

Mr. Monahan stood in the dim pool of light spilling from one of the downstairs windows, the yellow light turning his boyishly tousled hair to copper. He was looking up at her, his hands shoved into the pockets of his trousers. She raised the sash and stuck her head out. "Mr. Monahan, what...?"

“I was a Roach Guard in Manhattan, so I was,” he said, cutting her off, one blue eye crinkling as he winced at his own words. “Lived in the Five Points where there’s a lot of trouble, so mostly kept criminals from making off with liquor shipments that belonged to other criminals. Got stabbed in a nasty brawl, so I did. Sodding miracle I made it out with me life. Me face isna on a poster, lass. I’m just another sod with a gun, and me crime is fighting more sods with guns, none of whom anyone gives a toss about. So, aye. I spent quite a bit of me time skirting the law, so I have.”

He stood there, looking up at her, and gave her a shrug as she stared. “I’m a gormless eedjit, lass. I was embarrassed for you to know. Have you heard enough yet? I can show you me scar." He gave his shirtail a hard yank and flipped the loose end of it over up over his ribs. She caught a glimpse of a long white streak lancing across the taut, well-muscled ripple of his narrow waist, and felt heat instantly flood her face. “It was a dead wicked knife, so it was,” he went on, dropping his shirtail back down so that it hung, lopsided, tangled in his suspenders. "So that's the truth of it, lass. Now you know."

She opened her mouth, and then closed it. It was suddenly unbearably stuffy in her room. He was involved in criminal activity in...New York? That's what he's hiding? Her mind raced.  He doesn't know about me. That's not what this was about at all. She didn't know what to say, and didn't think her tongue could form coherent words even if she did. He just bared his soul to me, she thought. I've been lying to him the whole time, and all the while thinking he was hiding his intentions. All this time, he simply didn't want me to think badly of him. How could I be such a hypocrite?

"Aye, then," he was saying, roaching back his tousled locks with one hand. "I'm back off to the Green, so I am. G'night, lass. See you in..."

"Wait," she said, heart in her throat. "Don't go yet."

She left him standing in the yard as she fumbled with her suitcase, her hands shaking on the buckles. Throwing it open, she carefully slid the sheet of frayed paper she kept hidden under the silk lining in the bottom of the case. She carried it to the window and stuck her head back out, anxiously looking around for him. "Mr. Monahan, are you still there?"

"Oh, aye, so I am."

She hesitated, feeling as though she were releasing the last piece of floating debris from a shattered ship. "I want to show you something." She released the paper, watching it flutter downwards, like a fledgling learning to fly. She was trembling.

He reached for it, snatching it out of the air. The world stopped spinning.

"Lass," he said, incredulously. "Is this...a wanted poster?"


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Road Home: No regular chapter this week, Updates

Howdy all,

Gonna forgo my regular chapter this week for a couple reasons. First and foremost, I have been working on Riders & Kickers. Four proofs on this thing. I got The Green and Lynch's Boys in two goes. Riders & Kickers is half the size of those and for some reason, has taken more work to get done.

I can't decide if I am more picky or if I am simply distracted. It's been a hell of a year, most of which has gone by in dreamlike and often painful blur.

Anyways, I kicked the third proof copy back this week, so keep your fingers crossed.

The other thing is that I am having to read over the chapters that will comprise the next, and final, book. Yes, we are coming up on the end of the trail. I've got to end this somewhere, and I want to make sure everything's tied up all nice and neat before I'm done. So like the other books before it, I have to re-read it to make sure it pans out right. We have a little ways to go...a couple more miles.  The idea of finishing makes me as sad as it does happy. I've been doing this so long, I'm a little scared to stop.

Between re-reading Riders & Kickers until I want to puke, and sitting down and reading chapters 200+ as if I were just a reader, I can't write. Too much going on in my head. Fortunately, I'm almost done reading. I think I'll be back on track next week. But I don't want to rush it. Gotta do it right. I really do feel like I am  riding tired through the purple dusk with a warm, yellow light shining through the trees ahead of me. A few more fresh horses, and we'll be home.

See you next week.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Chapter 293: When Only the Moon Rages

“Hey, senorita...”

Rosie jerked her head around at the sound of Luis’ voice in the doorway to her borrowed room, faint heat instantly warming her cheeks.

His tousled head popped into the doorway, a sweet smile playing about his lips. Dark, weary circles lurked under his eyes, but there was a glow in his face that made her heart leap inside her.
“I want to show you something,” he said, an uncharacteristic shyness in his tone. “Can I come in?”

“Of course!” She stood up, her hand unconsciously going up to smooth her hair. “Is everything alright?” The sight of him made her giddy, her mind replaying, once again, how it felt when he’d kissed her. She knew she was blushing, and the thought of how pink her cheeks must surely be turning made her blush even more.

He was carrying what looked like an old ammunition crate. walking over to Mr. Bender’s writing desk and carefully setting it down. “I made something to help me remember my letters,” he said. “I want to see what you think of it.”

“You made something?” Rosie stared at the battered box as if it contained the lost treasure of El Dorado. “When did you have time? I know how hard you’ve been studying, so...”

Luis was opening the box and poking carefully through the straw inside. “This is studying, senorita,” he said, a dimple appearing in his brown cheek. “It’s easier to understand when I can put my hands on it. It’s not finished, an’ I’m still working on it.” He pulled out a clay shape about the size of a letter envelope and held it up to her. It took her a beat to realize she was looking at the letter R, fashioned of river clay and expertly painted with twining, blooming rosemary branches. Her mouth dropped open and her heart pounded in her ears.

“I made the R first. It’s the prettiest one,” he said, his own cheeks going pink. “The rest ain’t so fancy.”

“Luis...” she breathed, unable to say more. She took the letter from him, holding it carefully. It was perfectly sculpted, the painted leaves and flowers gracefully rendered in masterfully blended hues of blues and greens. The skill this must have taken to make... She exhaled, unable to find words. “Luis,” she said again.

He was beaming, pulling out two more. “I have maybe half of them done so far,” he explained, holding out an A, painted over with crawling red ants, and a B dotted with blueberries. “These ones ain’ so pretty, but they work for what I need, yes?”

Rosie sat down, clutching the R to her chest, overwhelmed. She looked again at the letter in her hands. “I...” she shook her head. “I had no idea you could...that you...”  She wanted to cry, or laugh, or both. “Luis, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“ like it?”

“I don’t even know what to say”, she said, looking up at him with something akin to worship. “It’s incredible.”

He was laying them out on the desk, caressing each shape with his fingers and saying the letter name. The F was shining with painted green fish scales. H was spotted like a painted Indian pony. E had a pair of yellow-lashed blue eyes peering from the top horizontal.

“See?” he said, clearly excited, arranging the sculpted shapes on the desk with practiced hands. “I can lay them out on the table to spell words. Easier that way.”

“Luis, I’m so proud of you. She carefully placed the R back on the table and stood up, nearly overcome with emotion. “I really am.”

His eyes met hers. “Really?”

“Yes.” She reached for him, wrapping her arms shyly around him and hugging him, closing her eyes. This is too much. He’s incredible. There’s no end to his surprises. “You haven’t even been sleeping. Have you.”

His arms tightened around her, and she felt him sigh, holding her close. Her bones were dissolving. She could feel the thrum of his voice in his chest when he spoke.

“Not really, senorita,” he sighed happily. “Too much bouncing around inside my head. I had to do this. I’m thinking about asking Wash if he wants to use them, too.”

Rosie smiled against his shoulder, reveling in the warmth of him. “You’re so sweet. What about your bet?”

“Senorita,” he said, letting his face drop down to rest his cheek against her head. He let out a hitching sigh, as if he'd just washed up on a riverbank after spending the night clinging to a floating log. “Your arms are around me and I can read. What bet?”

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Chapter 292: Convergence

Storm’s anger had been simmering inside him the entire time they'd ridden towards the Lakota village. It was all he could do to contain it. The Voices of Rage and Terror were snarling inside him like rabid wolves, jerking hard against the chains that barely held them at bay. His skin felt hot, and sweat that had nothing to do with the day’s warmth slid down his spine, making him shiver. He’d discarded the borrowed blue army jacket back at the fort. He had figured it made no sense at all to wear something that would completely eliminate any chance he might have for getting out of this mess alive.This mess was Collin's doing. Lundy Bad Medicine had been more right than he ever knew about the man being dangerous.

He glanced at Lynch, riding beside him in silence on Black. The man’s craggy face seemed chipped of flint, and Storm was sure he’d never seen his employer look so old.

There was a chill between them that Storm didn’t expect to be able to repair. The back of his scalp ached where he’d smacked it on the wall of the cabin when Lynch had shoved him, and his throat burned, bruised from the angry fingers around his neck. I’m not going to have a job after this, he thought. I suppose I’m lucky enough to be alive after that fiasco in the cabin. If we didn’t have a bigger problem right now, I suspect I wouldn’t be. It pained him that Lynch was angry with him. He had nothing but respect for his employer, and the knowledge that Lynch was furious enough to lay hands on him added to his already wretched state of mind.

“Mister Lynch,” he said, keeping his voice low. “We’re riding into a Lakota village that just got attacked by the army. You understand that they might kill us outright.”


Storm nodded, his eyes fixing on the trail ahead, trying not to think about how vulnerable and helpless he felt. He didn’t care if his hawk feather...his Medicine...was gone, as long as Fiona still had it with her, wherever she was. Maybe it will protect her. If it doesn’t, if she... He squeezed his eyes shut against the thought. Then it doesn’t matter anyway. He opened his eyes, looking around. “Someone’s up ahead.”

Lynch’s hand went to his sidearm. “You heard something?”

“I can tell there’s horses...and...” Something invisible was crawling across his chest, phantom fingers making his skin tingle, like ants right before they start to sting. He stopped, gasping, and he saw the brave behind a stand of pinyons, aiming a arrow directly at his heart. “Lynch...” He held up his hands, showing them empty. 

The warrior was about his same age, haggard but fierce. Drying blood flecked his bare chest and streaked across his face in cracking stripes. His eyes bored into Storm’s.

“I know the village was attacked by bluecoats,” Storm said quickly in Lakota. “We had people there. We’re not hostile to you.”

The warrior opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say anything, he was interrupted by a husky, familiar twang. “Oh, shitfire, I might’ve reckoned you weren’t far behind.” Jesse stepped out of hiding, uncocking a pistol. “Didn’t expect to see Mister Lynch, though. You heard what happened?”

Storm’s mind was reeling in confusion. He glanced at Lynch who was staring at Jesse, stunned. Lynch’s eyebrows had all but disappeared underneath his hat. “What the hell?” the old man rasped. “Hanson?”

Jesse was wearing Lakota clothing. Blood had streaked down the collar and side of his leather shirt, and a dirty bandage showed over his collarbone. He was unshaven, with the remnants of sunburn peeling from his stubbled cheeks. He gestured at them, saying “Eagle Bone, they’re friends. Family.” It took Storm a beat to realize he’d said it in Lakota, and another one to realize his own mouth was hanging open. The Lakota warrior let his aim drop to the ground, relaxing his bow.

Did he...what did I just...marda. “Yeah, I...Jesse, how did you get out here and what...I mean...?” The  words stumbled stupidly out of Storm's mouth as he processed the impossible scenario before him. He shook his head, trying to shrug out of his shock...accept it, the Voice of Reason whispered to him. He’s here. You can ask why and how later. “Yeah, we know,” he said, clearing his throat. “Where’s Fiona and Dev?”

“She got drug off by Hezekiah Stone. Dev’s back at the village being tended. Stone shot him. Give us a second to get our horses. We’re goin’ after her.”

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Chapter 291: Shattered

Rosie was glad that Miss Lily was letting her help put the supplies away. Helping out in the kitchen made her feel useful, like she belonged there. She still felt a bit like a guest here at the station, and figured helping out with the chores would help her adjust to the idea that this was, for the time being, her home. And Miss Lily was kind and gentle and welcoming, and Rosie had liked her immediately.

The ride home from town after school had been awkward and tense. She knew that Wash was not himself. She knew from his near-silence most of the way home and how short and humorless he’d been unloading the supplies into the kitchen. And worse, he had failed to indulge in his usual habit of loitering in the kitchen while Miss Lily went about preparing for supper. Instead, he had muttered something about target practice and disappeared She figured he had to be down by the river now, judging from the faint, muffled popping of uniformly-spaced gunshots echoing in the surrounding hills.

She hefted the sack of flour she was holding into the flour bin and watched Miss Lily haul a kettle of water over to one of the stoves. “Is it safe to go down there?” she asked, pointing in the direction of the river. “I’m not going to get myself shot, am I?”

Miss Lily looked up, her kind, gray eyes worried. “You can go down there, honey. They shoot against a steep slope, aiming away from the station.” She gave Rosie a knowing look. “I can tell something’s bothering Wash. It’s not like him to be so quiet like that.”

“Yes’m,” Rosie nodded. “I want to see if he’s alright.”

The woman gave Rosie a faint, gentle smile. “I think maybe you should.”

Rosie dusted her hands off and headed out into the yard, into the warmth of the late afternoon. She strode across the dusty yard, to where the worn footpath threaded through the tall yellow grass and cottonwoods and led to the river.

She could smell the tang of saltpeter, and hear the gurgle of water tumbling through rocks. A magpie chattered somewhere in the trees. “Wash?”

“Aye, lass?” He’d paused in the act of aiming his pistol at a row of tin cans and bottles lined up on a fallen tree, and quickly lowered the gun, uncocking it. The afternoon sun shafted through the blue haze of gunpowder smoke, and broken glass glittered on the ground beneath the tree. From the look of it, this was where the crew came to shoot at targets.

“Go ahead,” she said, nodding at the gun in his hand. “I...don’t think I’ve ever seen you shoot. They say you’re fast.”

She had hoped to lighten his mood, but the heavy look on his face stayed put. Why is he so sad? Fear fluttered through her. Is he having second thoughts about me being here? Has he decided that he’s made a mistake?

He swept a messy copper forelock out of his eyes and turned back to the fallen tree, and before she even realized he was moving, a barrage of gunshots made her jump as the cans and bottles exploded. He mouth dropped open. She didn’t realize it was even possible to fire a pistol that quickly.

Wash looked grim as he reholstered his pistol. “Aye, lass,” he muttered unhappily. “I’m fast, so I am.” The tone in his voice was not one of pride. He sounded almost ashamed or embarrassed. “Is everything alright?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I came out here to ask you the same thing.” She stepped towards him timidly. “Wash...” she blurted, terrified of what he might say. “I can tell you’re upset about something. Are you thinking maybe I should go?” “Are you reconsidering having me stay here? You’re not yourself today, ever since you and Mister Hungerford came to get us in the wagon. And I...well, I was worried about you. I don’t want...”

“No.” Wash’s shoulders slumped and he shook his head adamantly. “No, Rosie, lass, it’s not that that. Jaysus.” He stalked over to the tree, gingerly brushed off the jagged remains of a whiskey bottle, and sat down. “I’m sorry I worried you,” he murmured, giving her a sheepish look. “Of course I don’t want you to go. It’s you making it bearable around here, so it is.”

Rosie wondered if he could see her deflating with relief.  “Oh,” she said in a small voice. If he sent me away...I think I might die of heartbreak. “Then why do you seem so sad?”

He shook his head, roaching his hair back, and giving her a bitter attempt at a smile. “I made this mess me own stupid self, me bonny girl. Miss Sullivan’s afraid to be around me.”

“What?” The idea was ludicrous. Afraid? Of Wash? “Why? How did you...”

“All but accused me of lying, so she did.”

Rosie’s mouth dropped open again. She snapped it shut, feeling indignation and the urge to leap to his defense welling inside her. “Why would she...”

“Oh, because I am lying to her, sure. I haven’t been honest with the woman since I met her.” He slid off the tree and started pacing as he talked. “I haven’t figured out exactly how to tell her I’m a criminal from a slum.”

It took her a few moments to process all this. A criminal? It had occurred to her that he might be a man who’d lived outside the law, but hearing him admit wasn’t at all how she imagined it might be. This was Wash, gentle, freckle-faced Wash, who was trying to take care of her and who cared deeply for his friends. Wash who had saved her. She walked over and carefully blew the sparkling shards of glass away and sat down beside him. “You’re not a criminal,” she said quietly. “Wash, I don’t know what you did before now...but I don’t care. Who you are now is all that matters.”

His face was flushed, and he looked distraught and in pain, and she realized it was almost physically painful to see him so unhappy. “Wash...” she said. “Everyone here thinks so highly of you. Why do you care what she thinks?”

He glanced at her, meeting her gaze, before staring into the dust at his feet. “Because...well, because I do.”

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Chapter 290: All 'Round My Hat

Wash hoisted the bag of flour off his hip and into the bed of the wagon, where it landed in a dusty cloud. He twitched his nose, wiping his face with the back of his arm. “Aye, I think that’s the last of it, so it is.”

The kitchen back at the station had been sorely in need of supplies by the time Miss Lily, Saint, and Hellbender had returned from their trip to Point of Rocks. And Mister Thomason at the mercantile had been very happy to see Wash and Bender when they’d walked in. In all honesty, Wash had been happy to be there. Standing in the tidy shop stacked high with household goods felt calming. Like things were easing back into some semblance of normalcy.

Beside him, Bender heaved the last sack up besides the one Wash had loaded. “Do we eat this much?” he said, looking a little perplexed.

“Aye, we do when it’s Miss Lily doing the cooking.” Wash pulled his hat brim down against the glare of the afternoon sun and dusted the loose flour from his hands onto his thighs.

Bender shook his head, raising an eyebrow skeptically. “How about we cool off with some sarsaparilla before we head back, yeah?”

“Aye, let me just...” He narrowed his eyes, focusing on the figure headed up the street towards the wagon. That’s Miss Sullivan. She’s headed this way... He felt his pulse quicken, an unbidden excitement rippling through him. “Go along with you, lad,” he said, watching the teacher approach. “I’ll catch up.”

Bender gave the approaching figure a knowing appraisal, nodded, and headed down the wooden sidewalk towards the Silver Star. “Take your time, mate,” he said, a knowing half-smile twitching in the corner of his mouth.

Wash pulled his hat from his head and held it in front of him, the sudden brightness of the sunlight feeling like arrows piercing his eye sockets. “How’s things, Miss Sullivan?”

“Good day, Mr. Monahan,” she said, her smile tight as she stepped past him on her way towards the mercantile doorway. It was as if she swept a winter gust with her as she walked, an air of tension so thick Wash could almost see it shimmering in the air like a mirage.

“I’m...” he cocked his head, wondering at her demeanor. She seemed pleasant enough, but back home, his life had often depended on reading people. Miss Sullivan was not happy. And he couldn’t shake the feeling that she was not happy because of him. What did I do? “I enjoyed supper last night, so I did,” he ventured, watching her closely. I wouldn’t mind...”

She turned, facing him, and there was a sadness in her eyes that startled him. “Mister Monahan...” She paused, collecting her thoughts. “I will continue to tutor you. You are doing well on your lessons, and I am glad for that. But do not think our contact will be anything other than...” she shook her head. “We will meet at the schoolhouse with Missus Plunkett from now on.”

...what? his eyebrows shot skyward. “Aye lass,” he said, his face flushing with confused heat. “Why...what...?” He felt self-conscious and embarrassed, and had no idea why. He couldn’t help but notice her own face was flushing pink as well. “Did I do or say something...?”

“No, I just think...”

“I’ve offended you somehow, so I have.”

“No.” She drew in a deep breath. “Mister Monahan, I know your business is your business and you don’t have to tell me anything about your past...but...” Her words fell over themselves in an awkward tumble. “I don’t know who you are, sir.”

Jaysus. She’s sodding right. Wash closed his eyes, mentally chastising himself. He stepped up onto the wooden sidewalk, where the sun wasn’t so brutal. She flinched, stepping back, and Wash felt one of the stitches holding his heart together start to come unraveled. “You know who I am, lass,” he said quietly. “I’m just a sad, gormless bloke that works as a coach guard because I can’t do anything else.”

“Mister Monahan...” she said, shaking her head. “We both know you did do something else before you came here. Because you didn’t work for the company. Did you.”

Wash’s face was burning. Suddenly, he was six years old and about an inch tall. “Does it matter, lass?” he muttered, thoroughly undone and humiliated. “Why is it so important?”

“Because I have to think there’s a reason you feel you can’t be honest.”

“Oh, and there it is.” He felt another stitch inside him pull, tearing, leaving a hole. “I suppose I could say the same, couldn’t I?” he said defensively. He thought about the look on her face when she’d told him she had come all the way out the Green from back east ‘looking for work’. He’d known she was hiding something even then. “I suppose you’re a lucky lass, to find the one and only job open from the east coast to Green River.”

Miss Sullivan’s mouth dropped open. “What are you implying, sir?”

“Nary a thing. I’m just saying I asked you and you avoided answering it. So I’m thinking we both have our secrets we’d rather keep buried, so we do.”

She was looking at him with a mixture of resentment and sadness in her eyes, and Wash realized he was bleeding inside, the pieces of his bruised heart becoming loose and rattling around in his chest. She’ she...afraid? Of me? “What sort of things are you thinking about me, lass? You think maybe me face is on poster or something? That I’m some sort of outlaw, and the law’s on me tail?”
She visibly recoiled, startled, as if she’s been slapped. Her face went pale.

He shoved his hands in his pockets, his shoulders slumping. “The law’s not after me, lass,” he said, feeling hurt and angry.

She drew in a deep breath, and let it out in a shaking sigh. Her hands were trembling. “I don’t think that about you, Mister Monahan,” she said, her voice almost a whisper. “I’ll be back in the classroom at the usual time, if you want to continue.”

She turned away, and instead of going into the mercantile, she headed quickly down the sidewalk, her heeled footfalls on the dusty boards fading away down the street.