Lorna & Tristan #3
20th Century Historical Fiction / Romance
Date Published: 03-21-2023
Stephen feels he is marked from day one to lose the ones he loves. His
mother dies giving birth to him, and his alcoholic father makes sure Stephen
never forgets it. To block out his father’s hate, fists, and belt,
young Stephen loses himself in his imagination. Stories become his closest
companions and barricades against a family that never wanted him. Once he
can look his father in the eye, Stephen swears he will never be the monster
his old man is. He vows he will become a published author, if for no other
reason than to prove his father wrong.
While his dreams of being a bestselling novelist and falling in love come
true, Stephen has much to prove to himself before he can write his own happy
ending. Set against the backdrop of Prohibition-era Cleveland, Stephen
fights the same alcoholic demons that plagued his father as he tries to
begin a life free from his family. He meets equally headstrong Julie and is
smitten, but their marriage is as fractured as his career is solid. He can
find ten ways to write about being in love, but he has a hard time
translating love on the page to love in real life. Julie slips between his
fingers like sand, and Stephen sees his father staring back when he looks in
Try as he might to rewrite his life, even going so far as to change his
name, he has to wonder if he is the author or the killer of love.
At eighteen, I stood taller than my father. No one had come to my graduation ceremony—no big surprise. Afterward, I returned to my house. We’d moved out of the rundown dump along the Cuyahoga River, for with the passing years, Dear Daddy had climbed the career ladder. With the twenties well underway by that point, the auto industry was booming. Mr. George Richardson, Sr. could turn on the charm when needed, and he used it at his job to great effect. That he could devote himself to his work proved he could have devoted himself to his family…to me.
But no matter where I laid my head, no matter which of the three houses I’d been forced to live in while growing up, none had been my home.
We weren’t so wealthy as to live in one of the leftover mansions from Millionaires’ Row along Euclid Avenue or in the esteemed residences of Bratenahl just east of downtown Cleveland along the lakeshore. The Fifth City, as Cleveland was called back then, was changing. The wealthy had shifted east to the so-called “Heights.” Our dilapidated first city home had new construction beside it. Towers that seemed to touch the sky were underway. My pal Ben and I were leaning toward making a buck working with such projects.
The old man and I inhabited an oversized brick home along Liberty Boulevard. He feigned at making a better name for himself to the outside world. A different woman would come over every weekend. He even threw parties with some of his buddies from work, but I knew him better. His parties were as empty as Jay Gatsby’s. I’d read Fitzgerald’s work shortly after its release the previous year and found it mirrored the current times and trends well. As for how I saw my father in that fiction, I guessed from his vacant stares into the bottom of a bottle, where he thought he could somehow erase my mother’s absence.
So, it was no surprise when I entered the living room that second Saturday in June to find my father in his easy chair, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.
“Where’d you get this round of giggle juice?” I motioned toward his empty bottle.
My father scowled, the heavy creases framing his mouth deepening. He dropped the dead soldier, and it rolled until it stopped at my foot. I picked up the bottle, shook my head, and tossed it aside. It gave a satisfying shatter.
Prohibition hadn’t stopped the old guy from getting zozzled whenever the urge hit.
“What d’you want?” He got to his feet.
I stepped up to him, and he recoiled.
“I’m leaving,” I said.
“Then what’re you waitin’ for? Get outta here!” He pointed with a quivering finger toward the front door.
“I have a few things to say first.”
My father gazed up at me and seemed to shrink more. “Well, out with it.”
“I’m a writer. I’ve been writing stories since I was a little kid, and you won’t stop me.”
He snorted. “What do I care about those rags?”
“I thought you’d like to know, Father, that you inspired me.”
He squinted, then raised his eyebrows. “Huh? What’s that?”
“Your hatred inspired me to imagine a life better than this hellhole, and you”—I poked his chest, hard—“are the villain.”
He raised his fist, but I caught it before he struck. As I pushed back with the force of a stronger, younger man, his legs buckled, forcing him into his chair.
“You come to gloat, boy?” His words were the only weapon he had left.
“I came to tell you the truth. I pity you, Father. You’re pathetic.”
His gaze dropped to his lap. The man reached into his pocket and fumbled for another cigarette, then lit it with shuddering hands. Letting out a long plume of smoke, he said, “Maybe, but the fruit don’t fall from the tree.” He jabbed the cigarette at me.
I shook my head. “I’ll never be like you.”
A hollow laugh filled the room. He laughed until coughs overtook him. Then he went quiet, until a sob escaped. “No matter what you think, boy, you can’t change who you are. You were born a killer. No fancy dreamin’ will take away your reality. You think I haven’t tried?”
I turned and took a few steps until I stood on the threshold to the outside. Glancing back at my father, I knew that would be the last time I saw him. “Maybe you should’ve tried harder.”
Maybe you should’ve loved me.
About the Author
Cynthia Hilston is a stay-at-home mom of three young kids, happily married,
and lives in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Writing has always been like another
child to her. After twenty years of waltzing in the world of fan fiction,
she stepped away to do her debut dance with original works of fiction,
although she still dabbles in fan fiction.
In her spare time – what spare time? – she devours books,
shamelessly watches Hallmark movies and When Calls the Heart, pets her
orange and black kitties, looks at the stars, drinks wine or coffee with
good friends, and dreams of what other stories she wishes to tell.