This Part II of A Story To Tell, a short story I’m working on. You can find Part I HERE.
“Blanche, don’t argue with me. We need someone to help make the sandwiches and keep the punch bowl filled. This is the biggest fundraiser for the ladies’ auxiliary.”
Mamma was flipping pancakes and cracking eggs for breakfast.
“Mama. I just can’t go to that banquet.”
I felt panicked and my hands had gone numb.
What if he was there? I couldn’t believe Mama was making me help with the annual spring banquet for the ladies auxiliary.
“Did you hear who is playing at the banquet?” Edith had bounded into the room pulling curlers out of her hair.
She didn’t wait for anyone to answer.
“Billy Ray’s Jamboree Band.”
We all looked at her with blank expressions.
“That’s the band Hank is in.”
Edith looked at me with a knowing smile.
“Oh. Well, who is Hank?” Mama asked as she poured a glass of milk for Daddy.
“No one,” I spoke over Edith and glared at her again.
“I don’t want to see you talking to that Hank Hakes, if that’s who you’re referring to,” Daddy said sharply and stood to leave. “I’m heading to work. I’ll be late today, so don’t try to keep supper warm for me.”
He leaned over and kissed mama goodbye. He looked at me with a warning scowl.
Edith was still smirking at me when I went to my room to finish brushing my hair before school.
The night of the banquet I tried to stay in the kitchen, well away from the dancing and the music. I could see Hank through the kitchen window, standing there with a gray suit coat, clean shaven, hair slicked back, green eyes sparkling. I noticed then the dimple in his chin and the way his mouth tilted up on one side when he said the word “lovely.”
“Blanche, did you put the punch out?”
Mama’s voice startled me and I almost dropped the dish I was drying.
I carried the punch bowl to the front table as the music ended and I heard Hank say “We’re going to take a break for a bit while you enjoy some of the food the ladies are making.”
When I heard his voice behind me my breath caught.
“Hey, there my little chatterbox. What brings you here tonight?”
He was standing behind me and he looked as good as he had at the dance two weeks ago.
“I’m helping in the kitchen,” I said quickly. “I should get back to it.”
“What’s your hurry? Stay here and talk to me a little bit. I’d love to get to know you a little more. Like, for starters – what’s your name?”
I thought about what Daddy had told Edith and hesitated. Hank was pouring himself a class of punch and looked at me expectedly as he took a sip.
“It’s – Blanche,” I said, my voice cracking into a whisper.
“What’s that? I didn’t catch it.”
He tilted his head and leaned toward me.
I cleared my throat.
“Blanche. Ah. That’s a lovely name to go with a lovely girl.”
His mouth tilted up on one side when he said the word lovely, just like it did when he sang.
“So, Blanche…you’re a quiet little thing. How old are you?”
I hesitated again. I was a child and he knew it. A silly, plain child with no personality.
“Mmmm…young. Pretty. Smart too I bet.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“You look smart.”
“I don’t know if people can really look smart.”
I was surprised I had spoken so boldly.
“Well, you might be right about that. It’s hard to tell just by looking at someone.”
I saw Daddy looking at Hank from across the room as he spoke to the mayor. I felt my muscles tense and I could barely hear Hank over my heart pounding in my ears.
“I guess maybe I’m talking too much,” he said.
I looked up and Daddy was next to us. His eyes were on Hank and I saw darkness there.
Hank met his gaze.
“Hey, there, Mr. Robins. How you doin’ t’night?”
“I’m just fine, Hank. Is there anything I can help you with?”
Daddy’s voice was cold.
“Well, no sir. Blanche has been helpin’ me jus’ fine t’night.”
I couldn’t even look at Daddy.
“Blanche, your mother will be needing you in the kitchen now, I’d imagine,” Daddy said tightly. He looked intensely at Hank. “Good night, Hank.”
Hank grinned and sipped his punch.
“You have a good night too, sir,” he said with a sardonic twist of his mouth.
He turned toward me as Daddy stood there, watching us, and leaned toward me. His lips grazed my cheek.
“Hope to see you again soon,” he whispered.
Redness had rushed into my daddy’s face and across his ears.
“Blanche Robins, don’t you ever talk to that boy again. Do you hear me?” Daddy was seething when Hank left.
“Yes, sir,” I said quietly and hurried toward the kitchen to help make more punch.
The car ride that night on the way home was quiet. I could feel daddy’s anger from the back seat.
“What’s so wrong with that Hank Hakes anyhow?” Edith asked suddenly and boldly.
“He’s free with the whiskey and his attention to women – a lot of women,” daddy snapped, knuckles white on the wheel. “He’s bad news and I don’t want you girls around someone like him.”
Edith sighed and then looked at me and winked. I felt heat rush through me and hoped I never saw Hank Hakes again.