I grew up with a dad who had been a sergeant in the U.S. Army and a National Guardsman after that, so you might not be surprised to learn that my life was pretty regimented. Toys and other belongings had to be stowed – one of those place for everything and everything in its place deals. Dressing casual wasn’t a problem – I was allowed to wear pants or shorts, or if I chose, I could wear dresses and skirts. Revealing was not allowed, though, and rumpled was not acceptable. So my mom ironed. A lot. And while my dad didn’t perform any sort of inspection, he noticed little details.
I was also expected to be up and at the day (even in the summer) by 6 or 7 a.m. To be truthful, I’m not sure that was his rule so much as I went to bed so early at night that I was up at first light. And no lounging around the house watching morning TV in my pajamas for me. I had chores (nothing I couldn’t handle, always age-appropriate) and being up meant it was time to get dressed and get at those chores. My dad was so regimented that when he and my mom had their house built in a brand new subdivision in Livonia, Michigan, he insisted the plans for the curvy (and I thought appealing) sidewalk leading to the house be made straight. My dad appreciated a good squared off angle. I swear he couldn’t SEE circles (or maybe he just refused to acknowledge them).
But Dad (known to the world as James M. Springsteen) was full of wisdom and good advice. To this day, close to 22 years following his death I remember his motto: There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way. You should always make sure you do things the right way.
When I wrote the first Echoes of Orson’s Folly book, Lifeline Echoes, I needed a father figure for my hero, Ryan. Since the story primarily takes place on a ranch in Wyoming, I was thinking of a Robert Redford type for my hero’s dad, Justin McGee. But the outward picture of Justin is just that, an outward picture. I needed to build a man of substance. For that, I turned to my dad and our relationship, which was sometimes tough and regimented, but always filled with love, even when I did things that let him down.
Back in the planning stages of Lifeline Echoes, I had no idea it was possible for a secondary character to take on such a strong dynamic. But Justin did just that. In Lifeline Echoes, readers were already telling me they were in love with Ryan’s father. By the time I rolled Elusive Echoes off my computer, I recognized Justin is actually the backbone of the stories. He’s not just the father to my heroes, brothers Ryan and Sean McGee (Lifeline Echoes and Elusive Echoes), but a father figure to at least half the fictional town as far as I can tell, and I’ve had some readers tell me they see their own father in Justin. I know I see a lot of my own father in him, even parts I didn’t intentionally put there. So far he hasn’t told his kids the right way/wrong way thing, but I expect it to happen any book now.
He smelled the cigar smoke when he hit the door to the porch.
“Evening,” his father greeted easily.
“You let Sandy leave.” Ryan tossed the words at his father without stopping.
“Was I supposed to stop her?” Justin calmly surveyed his son.
Ryan paused his forward momentum. “Yes. She’s safe here.”
A pained expression crossed Justin’s face and he slapped at a mosquito on his neck. “She’s got a business, boy. She has to tend to it or she won’t have it long.”
“She needs to be safe—I need her to stay safe.” Ryan moved toward his car.
His father’s quiet voice stopped him. “Ry, I haven’t been in a position to give you advice in a lot of years, so maybe you’ll think it’s late for me to be starting now.” Justin waited for Ryan to meet his eyes. “Maybe if I’d spoken up more when you were younger, things would be different. But I can’t change the past. I can see you love this gal.”
Justin pulled out a cigar, studied it, then slid it back into his pocket.
Not caring that he showed his impatience this time, Ryan jiggled his car keys.
“Son, you came home missing something. Or maybe missing someone. Did you go looking for what you’re missing—maybe hoping to find it in Miss Sandy?”
The car keys fell to the porch with a clink. Frowning, Ryan stooped to retrieve them. Only the fear that echoed his father’s kept his anger at the invasive nature of the question in check. Still, he couldn’t keep the chill out of his voice. “She say something to you?”
Justin chuckled. “Nothing I didn’t already see.” He shook his head. “She doesn’t deserve to be your second choice, son. And as long as you keep yourself walled off, separating the pieces of your life you don’t want to talk about, you aren’t making her your first.”
The breath rushed from Ryan’s lungs with the emotional sucker punch. “It’s not like that. We haven’t had time—”
Justin’s pointed stare halted Ryan in mid-denial. There had been plenty of time, lots of opportunities, he realized. He’d always found a way around the subject, reasons not to talk.
“You know,” his father continued, “Love comes with a lot of things. Happiness, responsibility . . . fear. Open up to her. If she loves you, she’ll understand anything you have to tell her. But don’t smother her with everything you’re feeling right now, son. She isn’t one who’s going to take easy to that kind of love.”
Forcing himself to take a deep, calming breath, Ryan asked, “Are you telling me not to see her tonight?”
Justin shook his head. “I’m strongly suggesting, son, that if you woke up from your nap, missed your girl, and wanted to see her, maybe hold an enlightening conversation, she’ll take it a lot more kindly than the attitude you’re wearing right now.”
The emotions gripping Ryan suddenly drained out of him, and he nodded. Then he chuckled. “You’re the second person today to give me that advice.”
“Really,” Justin said in a droll tone. “Who would be the first?”
Ryan drew a deep breath, blew it out. Avoiding his father’s sharp stare, he mumbled his answer. “Sandy.”
Justin’s hearty laughter followed Ryan to his car. “You know, a lady usually likes to get a call first before a gentleman drops in on her. Gives her time to spruce up a mite.”
Ryan could feel the warm smile spreading over his face as he reached for his cell and called up Sandy’s number.
>I hope you’ve enjoyed this taste of Justin from Lifeline Echoes. Watch for him in Elusive Echoes, Sean’s story, too.
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