Excerpt from The Promise of Christmas Forevermore: A Mackinac Island Novella

1899, Mackinac Island, Michigan

With anticipation already built up within her, the moment Amelia stepped out of the cold and into the warmth of the Grand Hotel, her heart pitter-pattered with the thrill of what she was about to do. Mister Rutherford “Buck” Buchanan stood just inside the door greeting his guests.

She homed in on him, lifting her chin, relaxing her shoulders, and breathing deeply to accentuate her beguiling decolletage. It worked. His eyes veered away from the young woman in front of him and landed on her. She smiled brilliantly. He nodded with a sly grin.

This might be easier than she’d ever imagined.

After a long and festive dinner, with lively conversation and rowdy revelers, he approached Amelia. “Perhaps we could find a quieter spot.” He said it with such aplomb it seemed clear he assumed Amelia wanted a private conversation as much as he did. He was right.

“Yes. Please.”

Neither of them bothered to glance back to notice that half the people in the room stared at them out of curiosity. Buck took Amelia’s elbow and guided her into a small parlor and closed the door.

The fire had not been lit in that room, but warmth from the dining room next door filtered in to make it tolerable. Still, Buck took off his jacket and settled it on Amelia’s shoulders. Without speaking, they went to the windows to take in the view once again.

“Do you mind?” he asked, pulling a cigar out of the pocket of the jacket she now wore. “I admit, I’ve been waiting to partake.”

“No, I don’t mind at all.” She truly didn’t mind, pleased that he felt comfortable enough with her to engage in something he enjoyed. “I like the smell of cigars. My father and grandfather smoke them on occasion.”

He lit it with a match, took a long puff, and blew the smoke away from her. “So what do you make of all this?” He gestured around the room with cigar in hand, causing smoke to swirl around them.

Amelia inhaled the scent she associated with manliness and it struck her that she liked this Rutherford “Buck” Buchanan much more than she’d anticipated. “Make of this?” she asked.

“I’ve arranged this entire affair so that we could properly meet. I thought your birthday would be the perfect time for me to ask if I may court you, Miss McIntyre.”

Ah, there it was. He wanted to “court” her. She wanted more.

“Please, call me Amelia. If we’re going to ‘court,’ we need to go by our first names.”

She liked the way he studied her, smoke twirling up toward the ceiling as he puffed away on his cigar.

“I assume that means I have your permission,” he said.

“You assume correctly, perhaps. There are a few things we need to discuss first.”

“Such as?”

“I don’t intend to waste my time on a man who doesn’t want to marry.”

He chuckled in a way that indicated he felt entirely sure of himself. He sauntered over to the fireplace, stumped out his cigar on the inside brick, and set it on the mantle. When he came back to her, he stared her in the eyes, took her hands in his, and said, “You needn’t worry about that. I want to marry you.”

Amelia’s heart soared. She had to calm herself to finish what she wanted to say to be sure this bargain would give her everything she desired.

“You don’t know me,” she noted.

“We can get to know each other later. Besides, I know what you want. I ascertained that from all the gossip I’ve heard about the renowned attorney’s daughter who’s rejected every offer of courtship she’s ever been presented with. You want money, and I have it. When I saw you last summer – yes, I saw you in the park and you didn’t so much as glance my way – when I saw you there, I knew you were the one for me. I’ve been finagling a plausible way to meet you ever since.”

“I see.” She let go with one hand, still holding the other, and ran her fingers along his cravat, a simple gesture that excited her. “So you’re saying that you know I want to marry you for your money, and I know you want to marry me for my … what would you call it?”

He chuckled. “Well, certainly for your feminine wiles. But it’s more than that. You’re independent. Your refusal to snatch up a handy marriage proposal proves that. And you’re smart. I think you have a loving heart, as well. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be so close to your family. And, I must admit, if you’re anything like the women in your family, I can’t imagine ever being bored. I want a companion, Amelia, not just a showpiece.”

“That’s quite a great compliment. Thank you. I’ll do my best to live up to it. If we marry, there must be no other women.”

His eyes twinkled in merriment. “Pfft. I assure you, there will be no others. You will be more than enough to keep me, shall we say, a contented husband. Now, as long as we’re setting up rules for our marriage, I have one, too.”

“What might that be?”

“I will provide you with whatever you desire within the limits of my financial status, which I admit is considerable, but it is not a bottomless pit. I work hard for every dime I make. I trust you will respect that. I will build a home in Detroit as you like it. I will build or buy you a cottage here on the island if you wish. We will travel as often as my work allows if that is your desire. I’ll buy you a giant diamond engagement ring. We can go on an outrageous honeymoon. In return, I expect appreciation in the form of respect and honor.”

She ran a forefinger down his cheek and felt him shutter with delight at her touch. “You need not worry. I will be a faithful and respectful wife. Although, I hope you don’t expect total obedience.”

“I wouldn’t dare.”

“One more thing.”

“There’s more?” he teased, feigning shock. It delighted her that he wasn’t afraid to poke fun at her. In fact, he wasn’t afraid of her at all like her other suiters had been.

“I hope to have children.”

“I will be more than happy to accommodate that.”

Finally, he took her in his arms and they kissed, a coming together so sweet Amelia’s knees almost gave way. They kissed again, more intently, and she thrilled upon realizing that this stranger pleased her immensely.

But there was yet another thing she needed from him. She took a deep breath to clear her head lest she let her body’s heightened state of exhilaration divert her from her most important demand.

They parted and she gazed into his tantalizing eyes.

“There’s one more one-more-thing,” she said.


Homecoming Queen – A Look Back

It’s autumn, homecoming season for schools and universities. I published my first novel twenty years ago, based on my own experience as homecoming queen at Central Michigan University in 1970. It wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds. In fact, it wasn’t glamorous at all.

Nowadays I seldom think about it but when I do, I’m pleased with how my book reveals all that I learned in the time between the actual event and the writing of the fictional story that tells a lot of truths.

Things that made me feel beaten up as it was happening eventually made me laugh – at the very least smile – and still do today. I learned a lot of hard but valuable lessons. Consequently, the memories now conjure up a wellspring of warm appreciation.

It occurs to me that if I were to run into a young person today who was disappointed in their homecoming like I was, be it because they were a football player who lost the game or a girl without a date, and if I tried to tell them it would be okay because that one event wouldn’t hold sway over their future, I know they wouldn’t believe me. More likely, they wouldn’t care what I had to say. Living is quite immediate when we’re young.

In my case, inexperience and innocence kept me from fully appreciating the positive side of that event, which initially left me feeling deflated and isolated. Interestingly, I now see that I was anything but isolated and, consequently, there was no reason to feel deflated.

It started when I decided, after four years of college (I was on a 5-year-plan) and three years of working in a restaurant (I had to work a lot; I was financially independent), that I wanted to spend a summer working in a resort town where I’d make more money. Luckily, I found a job at a “supper club.”

As required, I reported to work a day before my first shift to be fitted for a “uniform.” To my surprise, that turned out to be a teeny-tiny costume. I swear, even after that, I had no clue. I was working my first shift before I realized it was a house of burlesque. A classy one, true, with a fabulous blusey band, good food, lots of booze, opulent decor, and – yes – strippers. But these were dancers of the old-fashioned order who truly put on a performance.

That story is a book unto itself, but suffice it to say I learned a lot that summer. I also came away with one of my best life-long friends, Lottie the Body.

Lottie loved pulling shy, self-conscious people up on stage and encouraging them to loosen up. That included me. She’d pull me up there and have me follow her dance moves. (There was no stripping, of course, during this part of her show.) For her, it was all about dancing and fun and life. She was pure joy.

Fast forward to a college dance club that fall. After work one night, I went out with my roommates. A man approached me and said he loved the way I danced. (Thank you, Lottie.) In that era, the band played a lot of Louie Louie, Proud Mary, and Rolling on a River. I loved the music. The man asked if their Veteran’s Club – they were Vietnam War veterans – could sponsor me for homecoming queen. Shocked and delighted, I said sure. I didn’t mention that I was sure I couldn’t possibly win. Beautiful sorority girls were always homecoming queen.

There was one other problem I had to tell them about. The spring before, I’d joined a college group that traveled to Washington, D.C., to protest the war. These guys had fought in that war. My group was entirely peaceful and totally respected returning soldiers. We didn’t want them to die in battle. They listened to me explain all that and were fine with it. They didn’t much like that war, either.

Between school and work I didn’t have a lot of time to campaign. When I did, I wore jeans and a sweater. The other candidates who were sponsored by sororities and fraternities wore gowns and stoles. I didn’t own a gown or a stole. They put up full-color posters; our zero budget only allowed for small fliers we could print off on school printers. The others were beautiful young women. I’ve always been more “sturdy.”

A young man I did not know showed up at my crumby apartment the day prior to the election. He annnouced that he was chairman of the homecoming committee and wanted to inform me that I needed to drop out. It seemed I wasn’t the “kind of girl” they wanted to represent their college. Not my college, mind you. His. I’d been a war protester. I’d worked at a strip club. (How he knew that, I had no idea.) I wasn’t in a sorority.

I refused. He got mad. We verbally sparred. He stormed out red-faced and fuming.

The next day I won the election by a landslide.

The committee insisted the Vets must have cheated. They invalidated the election and held another one. I won by even more. The committee asked the college president to rescind my eligibility. He refused.

Of course, I realized students weren’t voting for me – they didn’t even know me – as much as they were voting against the establishment. But that was okay. I was supremely honored. I conjured up a fantasy that now my life would magically change for the better. Doors would open. Men would line up to ask me out. A fabulous job offer would fall my way.

Homecoming turned out to be a beautiful autumn day. There was a parade and the game. It was the ball in the evening when things fell apart. My date showed up drunk. At first we had a good time at the dance but didn’t stay long because he was about to pass out. I drove him to his place in his car, left him in a sound sleep, and walked home across a muddy field in my long white outfit, red velvet robe, and (once) white satin pumps. I yanked off my crown and carried it – no reason to wear it anymore.

By eleven o’clock I was in a pizza parlor with my roommate chowing down to drown my sorrows. I’d combed out my ginormous helmet hairdo and put in pigtails and thrown on jeans. I sported a blotchy, puffy face from crying. My date and I were supposed to have gone to a party the Vet’s held after the ball. I couldn’t contact anyone there (no cell phones back then) and had no transportation. So pizza next door to my apartment with my roommate was the only option I saw for “celebrating.”

We couldn’t help overhearing two guys arguing at the table next to ours. “That’s our homecoming queen,” one said. The other took a gander. “No it isn’t. Our homecoming queen would be a lot cuter than that.” My roommate reached out to console me, but I was beyond being insulted or consoled. We finished our pizza and went home. Big whoop.

The next day, that rude chairmen of the homecoming committee showed up at my apartment again, this time demanding that I give back the crown. Again, he insisted I didn’t deserve it. I told him to get lost. But wouldn’t you know, the moment I was trying to shove him out the door, he spied the crown sitting on my roommate’s skull candle on a shelf. He grabbed the little sparkly tiara and was out of there before I could say boo.

Clearly, my big event was over. No fabulous job offers. No gorgeous men. I went back to work the next day, the reality hitting that I was not Cinderella. The prince was not coming with my shoe. I didn’t even have my cheap rhinestone crown.

But when I look back on that now, I see a marvelous life-changing event:

  1. The Vietnam Veterans, and the Booster Club that joined in, were incredibly kind to nominate me in the first place. I was and to this day am still profoundly honored.
  2. All those students, thousands of them, voted for me. I never had a chance to properly thank them. But I did get to experience that kind of bountiful support.
  3. I also now know, after many years of living, that one event seldom changes everything. That day was all too typical of highly anticipated events. (How many weddings have you seen go wrong? Lots. Or worse, how many fabulous weddings have you seen where the couple gets divorced shortly thereafter? You get my point.) One day doesn’t change a life. It’s all the days put together that matter.
  4. I had to stand up to a bully. I may not have done that very well, but it showed me I’d be running into arrogant brutes like that all my life. Now I handle them with aplumb.
  5. I still stand up for what I believe, like I did in protesting war. In fact, after all these years, I find that I’m still protesting war.
  6. I’m now adept at considering options to solve a problem. When I had no transportation to the Vet’s party, which I desperately wanted to attend to show my appreciation, I saw only one option: don’t go. Yet, that pizza parlor was full of students, some who I knew and many who had driven there. And there was a phone there I could have used to call women I worked with, many who were married and had cars. I even could have walked back to the ball and asked around. Somebody would have given me a ride. I let embarassment and self-pity keep me from being pro-active.
  7. Asking for help has taken conscious effort throughtout my adult life, but I now do it very well. That old belief that I had to do everything myself is long gone. I suspect it stemmed from feeling inadequate if I couldn’t figure something out myself. Nah uh. No more.
  8. I learned there is no quick, easy ticket to success. As disappointing as that was at the time, that awareness has served me well throughout my life.
  9. Dancing may not solve all our problems, but I’m convinced that if people would relax and listen to the music and dance more often, our world would be a better place.

There are more perks to that disastrous event. Now I laugh at the pizza parlor scene. I spent years adoring Lottie’s friendship and would never have given that up because some entitled brat thought I shouldn’t have known her. The irony of the crown on the skull candle slays me. I couldn’t make this stuff up. As a writer, this kind of stuff feeds my stories.

Harkening back to the beginning of this article, would young adults believe what I’ve said here? That things going wrong aren’t always wrong? That making things right is an option that’s always there for us? No, they most likely would not listen. I wouldn’t have.

But I’m not worried. I know they’ll be okay as long as they don’t give up. So my best advice that they might heed? Take a breath, absorb the music, and dance. Always enjoy the dance.

For more, here’s my novel, fiction based on real events: