What if you were counted among hundreds of civilians wrongly charged with treason?
Creighton Branagan is one of the few men still residing in the mill village of Roswell, Georgia, at the closing stages of the American Civil War. His deafness excludes him from military service and condemns him as an outcast.
Mae Parrish’s dissatisfaction extends to a life of too much work and too little joy. She forms a wary alliance with Creighton when they are included among hundreds of southern textile workers arrested for treason and deported to northern prisons under Federal guard. Their crime: manufacturing Confederate uniforms.
Clingstone chronicles their arduous journey by wagon and train, followed by an emotional internment rife with privations and disease. It is during the course of these hardships that their resilience is repeatedly tested, and their pact of survival deepens into a steadfast love that withstands even the deepest self-inflicted wounds of war.
“You refuse to speak at the mill. Why let everyone believe you’re mute?”
The moment her lips began moving, Creighton’s fascinating silver eyes dipped to her mouth, and it took all of Mae’s concentration to continue speaking. Somehow the sight of him studying their movement threatened her composure. She felt breathless and slightly off-balance and suddenly feared she’d picked up some strange illness from ingesting dirty creek water.
Can’t understand me.
“How can you know that for certain? You’ve never tried to speak at work.”
For a moment it seemed as if he would erase the words and write a new message, but instead he simply underlined the previous text, emphasizing them.
“If you spoke at work ‘stead of writing on this ridiculous slate, maybe everyone wouldn’t treat you like they do,” Mae suggested. “You ever considered that?”
His smoky stare heated and shot off a spray of angry sparks.
Easier this way.
“Easier? Don’t you think your life would be easier if you tried bein’ like everyone else?”
Can’t be like everyone else. Always be different.
“I’ve never read anything so wretched, not in all my days.” She made a face. “Your nephew seems to think you’re smarter than most because you’ve learned to read lips and talk without ever hearin’ sounds. If people knew that about you, if you let them know you’re able to speak, maybe you’d get a fair shake. Very few people at the mill can read, but surely everyone there could learn to understand your odd speech eventually.”
Creighton straightened abruptly, as if her words had somehow filled his spinal column with indignant molten lead. The nub of chalk clicked angrily against the board.
Odd speech? You’ve just made my point.
“You look ready to start foaming at the mouth. What did I say wrong? It is odd. You sound like you’re speaking through your nose.”
“I’m only tryin’ to help.” Mae jerked the slate from his hands and ran with it, stopping only when she had a tree to place safely between them. “If you practiced with someone other than a six-year-old brat, your speech— such as it is—would likely improve. Practice with me.”
“Practice makes perfect. Stop glaring at me and say something.”
Just as he’d predicted, Mae’s face remained an uncomprehending mask.
“No need to bite my head off. Shoutin’ makes it harder to understand you, not easier.”
In a show of frustration, Creighton scrubbed his hands in his hair, making the ends stick up in odd juxtapositions. He settled for linking his fingers together on top of his head when what he really wanted to do, his eyes threatened, was wrap them around her delicate stalk of a neck.
“Stop running your words together. They sound like one long sentence. Pause a moment between each word and put a bit more effort into its pronunciation. You’re not makin’ the sounds correctly. Watch my lips and repeat after me.” With a combative smile, she gripped the tree trunk and leaned playfully to the side. “Say ‘My nephew is an unruly devil child.’”
He glowered at that.
“I give. He isn’t a devil child at all. Merely…scrappy. Let’s start off with a less heated topic.” Mae tilted her head, awaiting inspiration. “I’m Mae Parrish, by the by. I don’t think we’ve ever been properly introduced. I work on the spinning floor. You got my permission to call me Mae. We don’t stand on formalities in these here parts. May I call you Creighton?”
He paused a moment, then flicked the fingers of his right hand, a twitch of indifference.
“Such enthusiasm. Back to your lessons,” she encouraged. “Let’s practice introductions, shall we? Say that you’re pleased to make my acquaintance or some such-and-such pleasantry. Then I’ll return with a humorous remark.”
“Gah may mah slah bahk.” He stepped close and tugged the chalkboard into his possession before Mae could secure her grip. “Nawt gah ahway un leaf may ahlawn.”
“There now,” she approved. “I’ve no idea what you just said, but leastways you separated your words this time. Progress! Though I suspect there wasn’t anything in there about making my acquaintance? Or bein’ pleased about it?”
He snorted contemptuously.
My sore shoulder is about as pleased to meet you as your limb was to meet Owen.
“We’re back to that? I only hit you because I thought you intended to murder Coralie.”
Her statement gave each a moment’s hesitation. It had been an absurd fear made all the more outlandish by mentioning aloud. Creighton’s scornful expression said she was no great pearl.
“Coralie and I live together in the company apartments,” Mae defended. “Neither of us got family in Roswell, and so we share a set of rooms because it’s cheaper.” She showed a smile, hoping to appease him with humor. “I couldn’t have managed the expenses on my own if you’d killed her. So I’m not a bloodthirsty woman, understand? Just a practical one.”
He stared at her, unamused.
“It was only a prank. We didn’t mean any real harm by it,” she hastened, “and that’s the ring of truth. But it was wrong. I see that now. I shouldn’t have let Coralie take it into her head. Can we be friends now?”
“Yes, friends. Don’t you want a friend?”
His answer to that was the slightest narrowing of his eyes, as if he was dubious of such an offer and might harass Mae into recanting merely by squinting at her.
He abruptly ceased squinting. He blinked rapidly for a moment or two before forming the most impassive expression Mae had ever seen. She smiled, her flagging confidence restored. She was not a beautiful woman, but she knew she was pleasing in a rosy-cheeked sort of way. She took a step closer to him.
“Would you like to kiss me?”
He lazily stared down his nose and said nothing, but that didn’t deter her in the slightest. Her offer of a kiss had come out of nowhere, and she knew he was discomfited. Truly, so was she. What had compelled her to make such an offer? Atonement? Unlikely. A way to soothe her vanity? Perhaps. Creighton Branagan’s surprising talent of making her feel inferior with a single squinty look was aggravating. But in all likelihood, her reason was simpler than that. Suddenly her greatest earthly concern was stealing a kiss from that gypsy mouth.
“Or maybe I’ll just kiss you,” she proposed. “Got anything to say about that?”
I live in a small town in central Illinois surrounded by cornfields and wind turbines. My career working with children diagnosed with extreme behavioral disorders has taught me the importance of balancing work with leisure time. I love to decompress after a long week by reading a book in the hammock beneath my crabapple tree. Writing has always been an interest of mine, and Clingstone is my first venture into the world of self-publishing. My other creative pursuits include gardening and landscape design, photography, and uncompleted DIY projects that keep multiplying. I enjoy riding my bike and kayaking, and I’ve been known to take along my dogs Annie and Pearl when I’m feeling particularly daring and want to threaten life and limb. I own a Coca-Cola memorabilia collection that is slowly consuming my kitchen and dining room; my favorite piece is a vintage pedal car from the 1960s. I’m a tropical fish hobbyist and also have a small aboveground pond (another DIY project!) filled with fat goldfish that are amazingly friendly.
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