Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thursday's Teaser - Sweetwater by Mickey Minner

Today's excerpt is from Sweetwater by Mickey Minner. It is the first story in the Sweetwater Saga. Read it here

"'Bout time for the stage to arrive," Ed broke into Jesse's thoughts as he stepped out onto the boardwalk and stood next to her.  Looking across the street, Jesse noticed that people were beginning to gather at the stage station.

"New schoolteacher is supposed to be on the stage," Ed said excitingly.

"Yep," Jesse answered thinking 'that explains the crowd of single men waiting for the stage today.'  There seemed to have been little else discussed in town for the past several weeks since Mayor Perkins had announced that a schoolteacher would be arriving from Denver to take on the duties at the schoolhouse. 
The town had built the school last summer but it had stood empty because the town lacked a qualified teacher.

Jesse's ears picked up the sounds of beating hoofs and slapping leather.  The cries of the stage driver yelling commands to his team of straining horses announced the stage's impending arrival.  Moments later, the coach could be seen where the road broke from the forest.  The stage thundered into Sweetwater and skidded to a stop in front of the stage station, a choking cloud of dust filled the air and covered everything and everyone it came into contact with.

Jesse looked across the street as the passengers began to step from the stage.  A young woman was helped from the coach and the small gathering of single men surged towards her.  'That must be the new schoolteacher', Jesse thought as she reached up and removed her stetson, releasing a shower of shoulder length reddish, brown hair.  Using the sleeve of her shirt, Jesse wiped the sweat from her brow and waved the stetson in front of her face to clear the dust kicked up by the stage.

At the same moment, the young woman stepped away from the stage.  Getting her first look at the town of Sweetwater, she turned to observe the side of the street where Jesse stood.  The motion of Jesse's hat attracted her and her eyes fell upon the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.  A pair of sapphire eyes locked onto a pair of auburn eyes and the world seemed to stand still for both women.

"Hey, are you alright?" Ed asked Jesse as she drew in a startled breath and slumped against the boardwalk's post.  The sound of Ed's voice allowed Jesse to break her gaze, she jammed the stetson back on her head and stepped down into the street.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said to Ed as she walked around her buckboard.  Climbing up onto the seat, she immediately urged the team forward.  Ed shrugged his shoulders at Jesse's rapid departure and then stepped off the boardwalk, crossing the street to join the crowd by the stage.

Jesse concentrated on the dusty road in front of her trying not to think of what had just happened.  But, as she looked down at the reins her hands held, she saw that they were shaking.  "What the heck?" Jesse muttered to herself as she left the new schoolteacher and her crowd of instant admirers behind.

Jennifer stood in the dusty street surrounded by several young men all speaking at the same time, but she heard nothing but the beating of her own heart.  She watched as the buckboard carried the auburn haired woman away from her and wondered why she had an almost uncontrollable urge to run after it.


 "Let me through," a man was elbowing his way through the young men surrounding the new arrival.  He finally came to a stop directly in front Jennifer and grabbed her smaller hands in his beefy ones, shaking them heartily.

"Miss Kinsington, it is so nice to finally make your acquaintance," the man said enthusiastically.  His actions taking Jennifer's attention away from the retreating buckboard.  She turned to find a middle-age, balding man barely as tall as herself but much wider and with a bushy mustache that hung down hiding his mouth, it's hairs blowing out from his face with every word he spoke.

"Please allow me to introduce myself," he continued pumping Jennifer's hands up and down.  "My name is Perkins, Miles Perkins.  I am Sweetwater's Mayor and it is I who arranged for your position," the mayor continued, always ready to take credit for any project he had any part of, no matter how small his contribution might have been.  And, in this case, it had actually been the mayor's wife that had insisted he make arrangements for a schoolteacher so that she could be free of their children for some part of the day.  Mayor Perkins had known that if he didn't quickly follow his wife's instructions, he would be spending cold nights in the old shed behind his house.  But, regardless of how it had come about, a schoolteacher was now in town and Mayor Perkins was taking the credit.

Jennifer smiled sweetly at the man as she extricating her hands from his, her arms feeling like the bones had come loose after the vigorous shaking.  "I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Perkins."

"You can call me Mayor.  Everyone does," the mustache billowed as several not too well hidden groans could be heard from the crowd pressed around them.

"Do you have any luggage?" the mayor asked.

"Just the one," Jennifer indicated the small, canvas travel bag she had removed from under the seat inside the stage.  Many of the young men surrounding them offered to carry the bag for Jennifer but she insisted on taking it herself.  It wasn't very large and she could easily carry it.  Besides, the last thing she wanted was a brawl to break out amongst the young men begging for her attention.

"Go on, now," Mayor Perkins instructed the un-welcomed men.  "I'm sure your employers expect you to be earning your pay and not lolli-gagging about.  Now scoot, the lot of you."  Mayor Perkins took Jennifer's arm and started to walk down the street in the same direction that the buckboard had taken.  As they walked, he pointed out the purpose of the scattered buildings they passed.

"That is, as you know, the stage station," the mayor pointed to the small, adobe building that looked to be ready to fall in on itself "and telegraph office.  The telegraph hasn't reached Sweetwater yet but you can have a message sent by stage to the nearest telegraph office.  You will probably want to send your folks a message letting them know that you have arrived safely in Sweetwater."  Jennifer nodded in agreement to the mayor even though she had no intention of sending a message to her family and providing her whereabouts to them.

"That, there, as you can see, is the general store," he pointed across the street where Ed was back standing again in the shade of the boardwalk.  Ed waved to the mayor and his charge, "that's Ed Granger, he runs the store for his no good brother-in-law."  Jennifer smiled and waved back at Ed.

"Now, that's the town hall and jail," Mayor Perkins indicated the buildings adjoining Ed's store.  "And, next to the jail is the town's newspaper, The Gazette.  Over here," the mayor was now pointing to the near side of the street again, "that's the Oxbow Saloon and not a decent place for a young lady like yourself" the mayor informed her.  "Behind the Oxbow, are the stables and blacksmith.  Most of the town folk live up at this end of town, you'll have a chance to meet everyone at the social in your honor tomorrow evening."

Jennifer thought his description of "this end of town" rather an overstatement for a town no bigger than a couple of city blocks back home.  But, she kept her thoughts to herself instead asking, "and, where is the schoolhouse?".

"Right over there," the mayor stopped and pointed to a building sitting atop a small knoll on the other side of a creek that ran out of the forest behind the stables and flowed past the Oxbow before paralleling the road out of town.  A foot bridge allowed access across the creek and a gravel path lead to the schoolhouse.  "We'll be having the social there, so you can get acquainted with it then.  It's all ready for you to start your lessons.  Books and supplies already purchased and waiting for you."

Jennifer had wanted to see the schoolhouse first but decided that tomorrow would be soon enough.  Besides, the sun was reaching its peak in the cloudless sky and she was more than ready to get out of its blazing heat.  So, without comment she continued to follow the mayor down the dusty street.  Other than what were obviously private homes, there was only one other building in the direction they were walking.  A two story structure that looked to be newly painted with new curtains hanging in its many windows.  A large painted silver slipper graced the side of the building facing the stage road.  And, standing in the shade in front of the building stood the buckboard.

"This is the Silver Slipper," the mayor was telling Jennifer.  "The town has arranged for you to have a room here, it's the closest thing Sweetwater has to a rooming house.  Jennifer's heart nearly jumped from her chest.  Mistaking, Jennifer's reaction for uneasiness, the mayor hastened to add, "no reason to fear, Miss. Kinsington.  The Slipper is a very respectable place now that Jesse is running it.  Clean rooms and the best food in town.  Jesse will take good care of you, you have my personal guarantee on that."

Jennifer followed the mayor up the steps to the Silver Slipper's wide porch.  It wrapped entirely around the building provided places to enjoy the coolness of its shade regardless of the time of day or the season.  The edge of the porch was protected by crossed rails between the support posts and the rails were topped with a wide flat board providing a sturdy place to sit if one so desired.  The shade of the porch felt wonderful after the heat of the street and Jennifer had to stop herself from flopping down in one of the many chairs scattered about the porch.

"Mayor Perkins, it is good to see you again," a stout woman opened the door to the building.  "This must be our new schoolteacher." smiling broadly, she held out a hand to Jennifer.

"Yes, this is Miss Kinsington.  I believe you are to have a room ready for her," Jennifer noticed that Mayor Perkins addressed the woman arrogantly but she seemed not to take any offense to his manner.

"Of course," the woman gently squeezed the hand Jennifer offered before releasing it.  "Welcome to the Silver Slipper, Miss Kinsington.  Do come in.  I've just finished makin' a fresh batch of lemonade.  Perhaps you would like to join me," the woman opened the door wide to allow Jennifer and the mayor to enter.

Jennifer was disappointed that this was not the woman she had seen earlier.  This woman appeared to be of the same age as Jennifer's mother but had obviously seen a great deal more of life.  She stood of average height and though she looked to be somewhat frail, Jennifer was sure that the woman leading her into the building could easily outwork most men.  She seemed genuinely friendly towards Jennifer, unlike Mayor Perkins who accompanied the two women inside, and Jennifer instantly liked the older woman.

"Thank you, Miss Jesse,"

"Oh, dear," the woman chuckled.  "I'm not Jesse."

"I'm sorry," said Jennifer confused.  "I thought Mayor Perkins said..."

"I said that Jesse owns the Slipper.  This is Bette Mae, she helps run the place for Jesse," the mayor quickly filled Jennifer in.

"Oh," said Jennifer, "I apologize."

"There's no need," the woman stopped her.  "Now, please sit and have some of this here lemonade.  Jesse is workin' in her office but you'll have plenty of time to meet her later."  Bette Mae had expected Jesse to meet the schoolteacher and was surprised that she hadn't appeared from her office.

Jennifer dropped down into the closest chair.  "I'd love a glass," she said as she placed her bag on the floor next to the chair.

"Good," Bette Mae poured a large glass and handed it to Jennifer.  "How about you, Mayor?"

"No, thank you.  I must be getting back to my other duties.  A moment of your time, please, Bette Mae," the mayor motioned that he wished to speak to the woman privately.

"I'll be right back.  You jus' help yourself to refills," Bette Mae told Jennifer before following the mayor back out onto the porch.

Jennifer studied the room in which she sat.  Several tables similar to the one she occupied were spaced about the room.  Each table was covered with a linen tablecloth and a small arrangement of fresh flowers were placed in the center of each table.  Silverware was set out on the tables ready to be used by any diner that might request a meal.  This was obviously the dining room of the establishment but it was also so much more.  Jennifer was surprised to see against the far wall, bookcases overflowing with books.  In front of these, a varied arrangement of overstuffed chairs and settees made an inviting place to spend a few moments or hours enjoying the written word.  Curiosity got the better of her and Jennifer rose from the table crossing the room to see what kind of books would be found on the shelves.  She was amazed at the wide range of titles and authors.

"You like to read?" Bette Mae's question surprised Jennifer in her search.  "Now, that was a silly question to be askin' a schoolteacher, wasn't it?"

Jennifer smiled at the woman, "what is that saying, no question is a silly question as long as you are really interested in the answer."  Jennifer returned to the table and her glass of lemonade.  "This is wonderful, thank you.  And, to answer your question, I love to read.  I've spent many an hour in the library back home.  Some of the best afternoons of my life."

"Oh," Bette Mae was surprised that a girl as pretty as Jennifer would be forced to spend afternoons within the stuffy walls of a library.  "And, where would home be, Miss Kinsington?"

"Please call me Jennifer."  Not wanting to discuss the home she had so recently left, Jennifer quickly changed the subject to the mayor's private discussion with Bette Mae, "is everything alright with the arrangements?"

Bette Mae picked up on the subject change but being from the west where you didn't ask too many questions, she let it pass.  "Everything is fine.  He was just making sure that Jesse understood the importance of looking after you while you're staying here at the Slipper.  As if Jesse would take such a thing any way but seriously.  Mayor Perkins can surely be a pompous ass given half a chance," Bette Mae laughed.  "Oh, excuse my language, child."

Jennifer smiled at the woman, she had heard much worse than that when her father was on one of his numerous rampages.  "I imagine he takes some getting used to.  He about shook my arms right out of their sockets before I could get my hands out of his," she laughed remembering the mayor's energetic greeting.

"That he most definitely does," Bette Mae joined in her laughter.  "Well, I suspect you'd like to see your room and freshen up.  Maybe even take a nap.  Ridin' that stage can shake the fillin's loose in your teeth.  Not to mention the dust them horses kick up."

"It certainly wasn't quite what I had imagined," Jennifer agreed as she rose from the chair.

"Well, let's get you settled then," Bette Mae picked up Jennifer's bag refusing to listen to her protests.  She led Jennifer to a staircase midway between the bookcases.

As she climbed the stairs, Jennifer noticed for the first time an alcove tucked behind the staircase with a closed door marked 'private'.  She wondered if it led to the office of the mysterious Jesse.


Sweetwater by Mickey Minner - 94 pages  
Jesse has been forced to find her own way in life when her parents literally sell the family ranch out from under her. Jennifer has followed her dreams and traveled over a thousand miles to avoid living the life her father had planned for her. When their paths cross in the small frontier town of Sweetwater, Jesse is being framed for rustling cattle and soon finds herself facing a lynch mob. Jennifer feels compelled to come to Jesse's assistance, a woman she barely knows. Can they uncover the evidence to clear Jesse's name in time to save not only her life but also the chance to explore the growing feelings they are experiencing for each other?

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