Here we are to … Chapter 17? And I am still posting this story here on the blog? Eh, why not … it’s a distraction for some people from the depressing and super weird news these days. This week I have to place a trigger warning on my post as there is some domestic violence and I want to warn anyone who has had to deal with similar issues. It’s not too graphic, but still – it’s there. For those worried Blanche’s story will never have happiness – well, you’ll just have to keep reading and see what happens but I will warn you things may seem worse before they get better for a bit. Hang in there!
Also, please remember I haven’t had all of these chapters proofread. Sometimes they have a quick spellcheck but my editor/husband says he won’t read the story until it’s all complete – even though I’d like him to proof it as I go along. Sigh.
Need to catch up on the story? You can find links to the other chapters HERE or at the link at the top of the page.
I picked up the sleek black receiver and placed it against my ear as Edith started speaking in an excited and loud tone, barely even saying “hello.”
“Blanche! It’s me! Edith!”
I opened my mouth to answer, but she continued talking.
“Oh Blanche!” she cried. “I have to tell you what just happened! I wanted you to be the first to know. Jimmy proposed today. He got right down on one knee at the shop and pulled out a ring! I was so excited! Blanche, can you believe it?”
I could and I couldn’t believe it. I could believe Jimmy had been sweet enough to propose in such a romantic way, but I couldn’t imagine Edith married, a housewife like Mama and me.
“You’ll be my matron of honor, right?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Oh good! I’m so excited!” Edith squealed. “We’re planning a wedding for about three months from now. The service will be at the church, the reception at the social hall. It will be casual, nothing too fancy, but of course my dress will be gorgeous. Daddy said he’ll drive me to one of those big shops in Williamsport and I can pick out whichever dress I want. Oh, Blanche! You should see the ring. It’s small, but so pretty, with the brightest diamond in the middle.”
I looked at my ring finger, remembering I didn’t have an engagement ring, or even a wedding band.
“That – sounds great,” I said softly, trying to sound cheerful.
“Do you –“Edith paused. “Do you think Hank will come?”
I shook my head; glad she couldn’t see me.
“I’m sure he will,” I said forcing myself to sound cheerful. “And of course, I’ll bring Jackson.”
“Oh my gosh! I can’t wait to hold my little nephew finally!” Edith said. “I bet he’s getting big! Is he crawling yet?”
“No. Miss Mazie – a lady from church – says that doesn’t happen for a few more months.”
Edith laughed. “Well, you know how little I know about babies,” she said. “I never liked babysitting and wasn’t really interested in kids, but then you weren’t either. I never pictured you as a mother, to be honest.”
“Well, neither did I,” I admitted. “But I really do like it. He’s a sweet boy – I can’t imagine my life without him.”
“I’m so glad to hear that Blanche,” Edith said, and I could tell she was being genuine. In fact, Edith had seemed more genuine than ever since she’d started attending Bible study and church more. In some ways I felt like I was finally seeing the real Edith.
“I’ll call back and update you on the exact date and plans,” Edith said. “I can’t wait!”
I hung up and smiled, thinking about how only a couple of years ago Edith had been focused on how many boys she could get to ask her out in a week and now she was planning her wedding to one of the sweetest boys in town. I let the happiness for her carry me throughout the day.
When I dropped Jackson off at the Harrison’s, with plans to surprise Hank at the bar, I felt like I was abandoning my baby.
“Mama will be back soon,” I told Jackson, kissing his head as Hannah held him.
“He’s going to be fine, Blanche,” Hannah assured me. “You just go and have some fun and take a little break.”
Lizzie looked at me with a solemn expression from where she was sitting at the table.
“Is that the only dress you have?” she asked bluntly.
I look down and realized I was wearing the same dress I had worn Sunday.
“No,” I said, smiling slightly. “But I only have two nice dresses, so I chose this one for tonight.”
“Okay, well that’s a nice one so it will do,” she said, turning back to the picture she was drawing at the table.
Hannah gave me an apologetic look and sighed.
“Sorry, Blanche – she’s got her – well, my quick tongue.”
I smiled and thanked Hannah for watching Jackson.
I used the change I’d found in a jar on the dresser in our room for the taxi to take me to the bar. I couldn’t wait to surprise Hank, hoping to see the joy he used to have when he sang to me in those early days.
The bar was foggy with cigarette smoke and dimly lit. Small round tables filled the room, the people sitting at them, talking, smoking and sipping alcoholic beverages. The stage in front of them was empty, the band on a break. I scanned the room, looking for Hank as a man with dark, slicked backed hair stepped in front of me.
“Hey, pretty lady,” he said with a grin. “Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for my husband,” I said, standing on my tiptoes to look over his shoulder and around him.
“And who would that be?” he asked, stepping in front of me again as I tried to step around him.
He snorted. “Hank is married?” He looked me up and down and I felt heat flush through me. “To you?”
He looked over his shoulder, smirking.
“Hank’s right over there, Mrs. Hakes.” His tone was mocking as he stepped aside.
Hank was across the room, standing near the bar and my heart skipped at the sight of him pushing his hand through his hair, his back to me. He laughed and I pictured the muscle in his jaw jumping as he smiled like it always did. I couldn’t wait to throw my arms around him and feel the rush of excitement I used to feel when he looked at me and smiled. I started to walk toward him, then stopped, stepping behind a wooden column to hide, my heart pounding fast as I peered around it.
There was a woman sitting in front of Hank on the bar stool, leaning toward him seductively and smiling. The fabric of her bright red dress, cut into a v down the front, billowed around her long, shapely legs, the hem falling slightly above her knees.
Hank laid his hand against her knee and my gaze followed it as it slowly slid up her leg until it was under her skirt, against her thigh. She threw back her head and laughed, dark curls falling down her back, her arms laying across his shoulders. Her bright white teeth were in sharp contrast to her dark red lipstick. She tipped her head down again until Hank’s face was level with hers and bit her lower lip, her eyelids heavy as she pressed her forehead against his. Hank tilted his head and kissed her hard, opening her mouth under his, as she pushed her hands into his hair.
There was no misunderstanding what I was seeing. They were kissing and touching each other in front of everyone and didn’t care who saw. The kiss lingered for several moments until Hank pulled away and stepped back, reaching for his guitar.
Bile burned my throat and a chill cut through me. I stood in place, staring, thoughts spinning out of control. Then as if someone clapped their hands and startled me out of my dazed state, I took a sharp intake of breath, backing away quickly and stumbling out the door into the street, hoping Hank didn’t see me. I heard the man who had pointed Hank out to me laughing as the door closed.
Walking briskly to the alley next to the bar, I doubled over, vomit rushing into my mouth and out onto the pavement.
I heard a man’s voice behind me.
“Have too much to drink, little lady?”
I shook my head and wiped my mouth.
“Just a little under the weather,” I said quietly.
“You need a ride home?” he asked and when I looked up, he was leering at me with eager eyes.
I felt cold shiver through me again, despite the warm night.
“No,” I said firmly. “I’m here with someone else and I’d like to be left alone.”
His expression darkened.
“Fine. Be that way you little – “
I walked quickly by him, down the sidewalk in the direction of our apartment, praying he wouldn’t follow me. He didn’t.
Inside our apartment I leaned back against the closed door, slid to the floor, my chest heavy and my head light. All those late nights. All those nights he’d never come home. Hank wasn’t only drinking and playing music all night, like he told me, like I’d thought.
I wondered who the woman was, if she was the only one. My mind flicked from one thought to the next, fast and out of control. I thought about the signs I missed, the one’s I’d ignored. Did I smell perfume on him one night and assume it was simply from him playing at the bar? He had been barely touching me, especially since Jackson had been born. How could I have been so stupid not to see that he didn’t love me anymore?
What did she have that I didn’t? What made her more important than me and Jackson? And if he wanted her then why was he still coming home to me? What did I do to make him run to her? Wasn’t I enough?
Maybe it wasn’t what she had but what she didn’t have that made Hank want her over me. I looked at my stomach. She didn’t have a baby and a pouch of fat left from carrying that baby. I stood, stumbled into the bathroom and looked at my pale, tear-stained face in the mirror. Maybe she was older and wiser and more fun in all the ways that women should be more fun to men. I definitely wasn’t experienced in how to make men happy in the bedroom.
Maybe if I was more fun Hank would look at me again the way he’d looked at her, though I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen him look at me with the desire he’d looked at her with.
I wiped the tears off my face, staggered toward the kitchen and poured a glass of milk, guzzling it and then looking at the empty glass.
I needed to waste time before I went back to Hannah’s to pick up Jackson. I didn’t want Hannah, with her three perfect children and her perfect smiling, handsome husband, to ask why I was back so soon. I didn’t want her, or anyone, to know how stupid I was, how naïve and immature.
“I’m so pathetic,” I said out loud, plopping into the chair at the table, staring at the empty glass. “Sitting here crying in my milk like a stupid little girl. Which is all I really am. A stupid little girl who messed up her life trying to be someone she wasn’t.”
How could I have been so stupid to think Hank would always want only me? Only boring, pale, scrawny, boring ole’ me.
I laid my head on my arm on the table and cried hard until I felt enough time had passed to go pick up Jackson. I reached into my purse and searched for cover-up, patting it across my face, hoping it would cover the splotches from the crying.
I did my best to smile when I arrived at the Harrison’s door.
“Did you have a good time?” Hannah asked hopefully.
“Yes, thank you so much for watching him,” I told her, taking Jackson from her arms and cradling him.
“If you ever need us to watch him again, let us know,” Matthew said, waving at me from the kitchen.
I knew I wouldn’t.
Hank staggered through the door at almost 1 a.m. that night. I pulled the covers tight around me and squeezed my eyes closed as he dug through the ice box for food. I wanted to scream at him, to ask who she was and why he’d been touching her that way, but I laid there, still and tired, knowing I wasn’t in the mood for a fight.
“Must be nice you can sleep like that when I’m out working hard, paying all the bills.”
His breath smelled of alcohol and his words were cold as he leaned close to me in the dark. I tried to hold my anger in, tried to keep the part of Daddy I knew was in me locked inside.
“You should be up making me a hot meal,” Hank snapped, unlacing his boots.
I kept my eyes closed. I let him run his mouth while I pretended to sleep. I knew eventually he’d pass out and by the morning he’d forget all about whatever he had been mad about tonight, just like always.
In the morning, getting ready for work with a hangover, he was still mad.
“Why weren’t you waiting for me last night?”
He was glaring at me from bloodshot eyes.
I sat his eggs in front of him and gasped as his hand clutched my wrist and twisted.
“You’re hurting me,” I winced.
“And you’re not answering me,” Hank snarled. “I expect you to answer me when I talk to you. Do you understand?”
I nodded, trying to pull my hand loose. He wrenched me toward him, so my face was in front of his.
“Next time I get home late you better be awake and waiting for me, Blanche. I expect my woman to be here when I need her, for whatever I need her for. That’s your job. Got it?”
I nodded, tears hot on my face.
He shoved me back from him and I fell back onto the stove, crying out as my arm touched the still hot burner.
“You got something to take care of that?” he asked as he stood and snatched his jacket off the back of the chair.
“Yes,” I said, running my hand under the cold water in the faucet.
“Good. I’ll be home for dinner, and I expect it to be on the table and hot when I get here.”
The front door slammed closed as I looked for bandages in the bathroom, tears of pain and anger spilling down my face and onto the front of my dress.
If this was how God answered prayers, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know anymore about God and His ways. I’d made mistakes but I didn’t deserve to be treated the way Hank was treating me.
I poured peroxide over the burn and gritted my teeth. This wasn’t what I had signed up for when I’d left with Hank, imagining a new life, full of possibilities. I wrapped my arm with a rag I found in the closet and cursed under my breath.
“This isn’t what my life is going to be, Hank Hakes,” I hissed at the door and then tossed the empty frying pan at it.
Jackson woke at the sound of the pan hitting the door and began screaming. I lifted him from the crib, holding him against me, fury at Hank rushing through me.