Chapter 2: Breakfast at the Corner Cafe

Ed felt Polly’s hand on his arm, but he said nothing. He didn’t like the way she’d begun acting as though she owned him. Sometimes, though, it was better to just let things go.

Like Linnie Mae Sparks.

He stared after her wagon as it rolled down Main Street.

“Come on, Ed.” Polly tugged at his arm. “We have a lot to get done this morning, and I’m hungry.” Her lips formed a playful pout.

“Right.” With Polly clinging to his arm, he pushed open the door of the cafe. “Morning, Elmer. Morning, Mackie.” He nodded to the owner and to the shy, dark-eyed girl who stood at her father’s side. She’d worked at the cafe from the time she’d been big enough to carry a tray, but Mackie Ledbetter still got nervous and clumsy when customers came in. Ed always tried to encourage her, tried to draw her out a bit. He smiled her way, hoping to put her at ease.

Polly nudged him. She guided him toward a table and stood waiting until he’d pulled out her chair for her. More and more, it seemed, the woman had come to expect things from him. Things Ed had no intention of giving.

Not things like pulling out a chair. That was the least of it. Things that had to do with what women called being a couple. He and Polly were friends, sure enough, and they’d been spending a good many hours together over the last few weeks, but that didn’t make them a couple. Not by a long shot.

Ed took his seat, picked up the menu and studied it, noting the new prices written in with an ink pen. Cost of living seemed to go up every day.

Already Polly was chattering at him from across the table. He caught a word or two, figured it wasn’t anything too consequential, and went on reading.

Chapter 2 BreakfastA moment later, she tapped him on the arm. “I swear, you haven’t heard a thing I’ve been saying. And put down that menu.” Polly reached across the table and snatched it from his hands. “It’s not like you don’t know what you want. You’ll have two poached eggs, black coffee, toast, and hashed brown potatoes, same as you have every morning.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Mackie grinning.

“The usual, Mr. Ferguson?”

He nodded. But Mackie didn’t move. “Something wrong?” he asked.

The girl shifted her weight from one foot to the other and rocked back and forth, apparently trying hard to decide whether or not to say what was on her mind. When she leaned closer, her brown eyes widened.

“Was that really Linnie Mae Sparks you was talking to? That’s who Pa said it was. Is she coming back now? Is she going to be in the show? And did you come up with a part for me yet?” Mackie’s voice cracked on the last question.

Ed’s heart went out to the girl. She was almost eighteen now and had a head filled with dreams. Big dreams. Unrealistic dreams. Mackie wanted to be a star someday, and maybe she had some talent hidden deep down inside somewhere, but she didn’t have near enough confidence.

Ever since Polly had rooked Ed into directing the special Founder’s Day performance at the new Barn Theater going up, he’d been pestered by one aspiring actress after another. Mackie had begged and pleaded for a chance, and he’d given her one. In fact, he’d given her a slew of chances. But every time she stepped in front of an audience— even if it was only him, Polly, and a couple other cast members— Mackie got tongue-tied, turned beet red, and went running off. Ed promised he’d think of some role the girl could play that wouldn’t require her to talk. He hadn’t come up with anything yet.

Polly cleared her throat. “Yes, Mackie, that was Linnie Mae, but no, she is not going to be in the show. Now, run along and get our food.” When Mackie nodded and hurried away, Polly rapped her knuckles on the table. “Ed? You did hear me, right? I don’t want you getting any ideas. Linnie is not going to be in our show.”

Chapter 1: A Wall of Lies

What’s happening: Linn Sparks has come face to face with her former love, Ed Ferguson, after an absence of seven years.

This time, she must speak up. She would not allow him to upset her. Before looking at him, she tightened her grip on the reins, then lifted her chin to face the man. “Please, Ed, don’t call me by that childish name. “I’m not Linnie Mae any longer. I’ve grown up now.”

“I’ll say you have.” He rubbed the back of his neck, and grinned again. But then, his grin turned stiff, almost cold. His eyes narrowed, their color darkening to gunmetal gray. Ed stepped back. “What am I supposed to call you?” he asked, crossing his arms over his broad chest. “Who are you now?” His unyielding gaze swept her from head to toe.

“Linn. Just Linn.” She turned her head away. Usually, she enjoyed being the center of attention— especially masculine attention— but she felt oddly uncomfortable with the way Ed now scrutinized her.

Like she was a stranger.

Like he knew nothing about her.

Like he no longer cared.

Of course, who could blame him if he hated her? She deserved it. She ran her fingers over the leather traces, worn and smooth from years of use. The motion calmed her. Her troubled thoughts faded.

Linn brought a practiced smile to her face and looked up again. “It’s been nice seeing you, but I really need to get out to the farm.”

She lifted the reins, prepared now to move on and prove to him once and for all that she no longer needed him, no longer wanted him, no longer felt even the slightest emotion being near him.

But the wall of lies crumbled around her when she saw Polly Washburn hurrying toward Ed. Linn cringed as the woman reached him and took hold of his arm.

“Sorry, I’m running a bit late this morning.” Her high-pitched voice grated on Linn’s already-frazzled nerves. Polly smiled at Ed, then turned to flash a brilliant smile toward the wagon and its tight-lipped occupant. She lifted a hand and waggled her fingers.

“Bye now, Linnie Mae.”

“Get up, there!” Linn squeezed her eyes shut and flicked the reins, giving the old mule its head. It didn’t matter where she went. She didn’t care how fast or how far. Any place would be better than the middle of Main Street watching Ed and Polly walking away… together.

Ed? With Polly? Her mind reeled at the thought.

One thing, at least, had changed in Brookfield. And Linn didn’t like it.

Her chin trembled, and her lips quivered. Tears threatened to fall. She was about to lose control. She could not allow that.

Get hold of yourself, Miss Sparks.

A sharp voice inside her head— a voice that sounded very much like the one that belonged to her manager, Clarence Gray— brought her up short. Clarence had a way of quickly snapping her back to attention whenever her mind wandered, a way of helping her re-focus her thoughts on things that really mattered.

Returning to her senses, Linn drew back on the reins. She stopped the wagon, then shook her head, resisting the urge to turn and look behind her.

“You didn’t need him then, and you most certainly don’t need him now.”

Chapter 1: Past Becomes Present

What’s happening: Stage star Linn Sparks continues on toward her parents home after quickly dismissing a former friend, Polly Washburn. 

Pleased at how deftly she’d handled the encounter with Polly, Linn eased up, letting the mule have its head.

“Whoa, boy, not too fast,” she warned when the wagon picked up speed. She tightened her hold on the reins once more, then jerked back— hard— when she caught sight of a man approaching, headed, no doubt, for Ledbetter’s Corner Cafe.

Hat in hand, he moved with slow, easy strides, his pace gentle, yet purposeful. The movements marked him as a man very much in control of himself— and the world around him. Her heartbeat quickened. Whenever she made a list of reasons why she didn’t want to come back to Brookfield, Ed Ferguson was always number one.

She should drive on, she knew, but Ed Ferguson was the sort of man who made women stop and take notice. It was a natural reaction, as instinctive as petting a hound dog when it wagged its tail, or stroking a kitten’s ears when it curled up in your lap and purred.

Her heart pounded. Sometimes when she stepped on stage, she felt flutters, but this was a thousand times more powerful… and a thousand times more dangerous. She could lose herself too easily to this man.

Fighting to regain her composure, Linn drew in a long, deep breath, just as she’d learned to do early in her career. She let the breath out slowly and dared to look.

He’d been handsome at eighteen. Now the boy she’d once loved had become a man, and Linn’s gaze raked shamelessly over his lean, hard body. Her next breath caught in her throat. Her hands yearned to reach out, to touch the strong, square jaw, and to run her fingers through his thick, dark hair as she’d done so many times before.

From where she sat high atop the driver’s bench, Linn could not see Ed’s eyes clearly, but she knew their pure, gray color. His eyes had always soothed her, had somehow possessed power enough to make her believe that everything in her world would be all right, so long as she could be with him, so long as he loved her.

She lowered her gaze, suddenly ashamed of the reckless, unabashed way she stared at him.

“Hello, Ed,” she said, when he drew near enough to hear. Thank goodness for her years of vocal training! Nothing in her tone belied her nervousness. But her hands trembled as she pushed a stray auburn curl away from her cheek.

Ed stopped mid-stride. He looked up, and his slate-colored eyes grew wide.

“Well, I’ll be go to hell,” he said in a quiet voice. Linn winced at the quaint midwestern colloquialism. Her ears had grown accustomed to more refined speech. For a moment, Ed said nothing more. He just stood staring at her as though trying to grasp the reality of her presence there on the dust-covered streets of Brookfield. At last, he grinned. The morning sunlight glinted on his neat, even, white teeth. The grin broadened.

“It sure is good to see you, Linnie Mae.”

She bristled and started to tell him she was no longer Linnie Mae, but his powerful gray-eyed gaze lingered upon her, making it impossible for her to speak. Heat rushed to her cheeks. Her face must be as red as her hair. And, good Lord! Why hadn’t she worn a hat? She must look a mess, and with that hot sun beating down, she’d sprout a whole new crop of freckles on her nose.

“I should probably go now,” she said. Looping the reins around her hands, she turned away.

“No, not yet.” Ed stepped up to the wagon. “Give me a minute to look at you, Linnie. It’s been a while.”

“On the Way Home” – Writing the Scene

Putting a Scene Together

It all starts with conflict. That’s the key element in every scene. It’s the reason the scene exists in the first place, so for me, it makes sense to build scenes around it. Whenever I sit down and plan a scene, I start by identifying the central conflict that’s going to occur.

In this scene, Linn has arrived in town only a short time before. She intends to conduct a bit of business and return to San Francisco as soon as possible. In this scene — as with others in the story — Linn believes she is far superior to the “simple folks” in Brookfield.

As the scene begins, she’s already rented a wagon and is driving toward her parents’ farm. There was no real conflict involved in renting the wagon, therefore no need to show that happening.

In developing this scene, I looked first at the conflict that would happen. Linn is going to have a somewhat unpleasant encounter with a former friend, Polly Washburn.

Here’s the moment at which that happens:

“Why, Linnie Mae Sparks! Is that really you?”

This is the central conflict, a sudden change that disrupts Linn’s intentions. It’s a single line of dialogue that upsets Linn for a lot of reasons, although I don’t spell them all out.

In this scene, Polly’s appearance takes Linn by surprise. To keep her off-guard, I made sure she was busy tending to another problem — an argument with a stubborn mule.

“Now, listen, you stubborn old thing, I’ve got a notion to send you to the glue pits if you—”

Once I’d identified the central conflict of the scene, I considered Linn’s immediate reaction. I used a negative word to describe Polly’s voice, and showed Linn’s surprise.

At the sound of the squealing voice, Linn let go of the mule and whirled around.

Basically, what I did was to write the middle of the scene first. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself, though, so next I thought about when, where, and how the scene would begin.

I used a quick summary to reveal that information:

A short time later, she climbed aboard a rented wagon, lifted the reins in her hands, and slapped them over the mule’s broad back.

That’s the beginning. What about the ending? Just when and how should a scene end? Scenes come to an end when they’ve served their purpose. I had several reasons for writing this particular scene. I needed to introduce Polly to the story, continue building on Linn’s negative attitude toward the people of Brookfield, and, in general, make Linn as uncomfortable as I could. Once I’d accomplished those goals, it was time to end the scene with Linn driving away:

Looking straight ahead, she took hold of the thick leather reins. The old mule must have sensed Linn’s desire to move on. The wagon lurched forward.

In between the beginning and the end, a lot of things can happen within a scene — in addition to the central conflict in the middle. Usually, there’s a specific action — often a line of dialogue — that “brings the scene to life”. I think of it as the point where a director might yell, “Action!” while making a film.

The scene with Linn begins with her slapping the reins over the mule’s back. To bring it more fully to life, I also gave her a few words to speak:

“Go on, there! Get up!”

I added that stubborn mule to make Linn a little frustrated, and to further play up her dislike for the little town, I worked in a little backstory information about her and her glamorous life in San Francisco.

Had she forgotten how to handle a buckboard? She hadn’t driven one in years. In San Francisco, she paid a kindly older gentleman to transport her about town in a fine, open carriage.

Of course, I also had to give some thought to how I would describe Polly — from Linn’s point of view. This meant putting myself in Linn’s head, imagining what her thoughts would be.

Like Brookfield itself, Polly had not changed an iota. Well, maybe she looked a trifle older, and maybe she’d added a few pounds to her skinny frame, but she still wore her mousy-brown hair in that loose bun at the back of her neck, and she still dressed in those simple shirt-waisted frocks. Although she and Polly had once been the best of friends, with one look, Linn knew the two of them no longer had anything in common. No doubt Polly was married now, probably had a houseful of noisy children, and spent her days cooking, cleaning and tending to farm chores.

Scenes serve many different purposes in fiction-writing, not the least of which is moving the story forward. What would happen after this unexpected encounter between two former friends? Again, my main goal here was to show Linn’s bad attitude, her unwillingness to accept the people of Brookfield, and her inability to relate to this simple way of life. Linn’s intention here is in keeping with her original plan to get away from Brookfield as quickly as possible.

“Sorry, but I’m in a bit of a rush right now.” She gave Polly a little wave, waggling her fingers in that affected manner she’d adopted since being on stage. With a swish of her long skirts, Linn climbed aboard the wagon again.

I also used this scene as an opportunity to once again hint at a little backstory information.

Who was it Polly had mooned over back in high school? Billy McGregor? One of the Loonsfoot boys? It didn’t matter, and Linn didn’t care to waste any time finding out.

Did you catch that reference to the Loonsfoot family? Maybe. Maybe not. I included the information here in a very innocuous way, and quickly dismissed any thoughts. As Linn herself quickly tells the reader, it didn’t matter.

Oh, but maybe it will.

I hope you’re enjoying the story. I hope, too, you enjoy looking behind the scenes a bit and learning more about how I write my stories.