This is a warning: If you haven’t read the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, you might not want to read A New Beginning, which is the second part of her story. You can find the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle or in Paperback, on Amazon (after December 17 it will be on all ebook readers and on other paperback sellers). However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning.
As always, this is the first draft of a story. There will be typos and in the future, there will be changes made, some small, some large and as before I plan to publish the complete story later as an ebook.
You can find links to each chapter HERE, or at the top of the page.
Five years later I could still vividly remember the moment I broke Hank Hakes’ nose with my foot after he broke mine with his fist. I still heard the sick crunch of his bones under my heel like it was yesterday and could still clearly see in my mind his glazed eyes before they closed and his face fell into a pool of blood on the carpet.
I knew if I didn’t remember how Hank had beat me and I had fought back, I might let my walls down, and then my son and I would be left vulnerable again. I wasn’t about to let that happen.
Maybe that’s why I was so uncomfortable when my best friend Emmy Lambert said she couldn’t wait for me to meet her cousin from North Carolina. The truth was, I had met J.T. Waignwright years before, when we were both children, and the memory wasn’t one that overwhelmed with me an interest to meet him again. He’d been a scrawny kid with big ears, messy brown hair, and freckles all over his dirt-smudged nose. He had also been loud, obnoxious and downright rude. Imagining that in a 27-year-old man wasn’t making the meeting any more appealing for me.
“This isn’t an attempt to set you up, Blanche, I promise,” Emmy insisted. “J.T. is moving up to work with daddy in his construction business and I just want to introduce him to some people up here. I’ve invited your sister and brother-in-law and your parents too.”
I finally agreed to attend the dinner, hoping Emmy would change the subject.
Emmy tapped her finger against her chin, her eyes focused on the ceiling. “But, if I was setting you up, J.T. would definitely be a good one. He’s handsome, well-built, a former football player, and Southern, which is always a plus. . . .”
I knew Emmy had added the Southern reference because she was originally from North Carolina as well.
“Emmy, you know I’m not interested in dating anyone.”
“Okay. Okay. I was just saying…in case you change your mind.”
“I can assure you, I won’t, Emmy.”
Emmy sighed. “Blanche, you have to get back on the dating horse some day.”
“Do I really? Jackson and I are happy the way things are now. We don’t need anyone messing things up for us.”
“But what if a man simply adds to your happiness? Not every man is like Hank, you know.”
I handed Emmy the papers Daddy had asked me to drop off for Emmy’s father and smiled. “That’s something we can discuss another time. I’m meeting Edith back at the shop for a dress fitting.”
Stepping out onto the street into the sunlight I paused and smiled, shaking my head as I laughed at how Emmy had tried to “sell me” on her cousin. I knew she meant well and wanted to see me happy, but I was among the few in my life who didn’t feel I needed a man to make me happy.
Not long after my conversation with Emmy, I was in my small sewing shop with my older sister while she tried on the dress I had made her.
“Oh, Blanche! I just love the dress!”
Edith twirled in front of me, the bottom of the dress swirling around her in a blur of dark red.
She slid her hands down the front and resting them on her hips, she admired herself in the full-length mirror. “Do you think Jimmy will like it?”
I stuck the pin I had been holding between my lips into the pincushion next to the sewing table and stood, admiring the view of my older sister filling out the dress I’d made for her. I didn’t have to look at how it fit her to know her husband was going to love the dress she was wearing.
“He likes anything you wear, you know that. You could wear a garbage bag and he’d fall all over himself trying to get to you.”
Edith tipped her head back and laughed, dark curls spilling across her bare shoulders. “You think so? Even with all this weight I have on my hips?”
“I know so.”
Edith turned, admired herself in the mirror by looking back over her shoulder, eyes traveling down below her waist.
“It doesn’t make my – “
“Your bottom is fine,” I said with a laugh. “But I can loosen the fabric a little in that area if you like.”
Edith wrinkled her nose and tipped her head to one side as she studied her reflection. “Nah, I think this is going to work fine for our anniversary dinner. More than fine. You’ve done such a beautiful job, Blanche. Thank you so much.”
Edith had always been beautiful, but she never seemed to believe it. As a teen and young adult, she’d always needed some sort of reassurance that she was beautiful and wanted. At one time in our lives that reassurance came from the attention of boys – lots of boys. But six years ago, Edith began to see herself through the eyes of someone more important than the next boy in line – God. When she realized God loved her for who she was – faults and all – her opinion of herself shifted and she began to understand that she was loved – not for what she did or how she looked, but for who she was inside. Even with that realization Edith still had days she worried about her appearance. What was different now was that she worried exclusively about how one specific person saw her – her husband, and one-time high school sweetheart, Jimmy Sickler.
I unfurled a roll of fabric, spreading it across the cutting table. “Allie Davenport wants a summer dress in this fabric, what do you think?”
Edith snorted, tipped her chin up slightly and looked at herself in the mirror, pulling the top of the dress slightly down to reveal her shoulders
“I think Allie should worry more about the fact that everyone in town knows she’s running around behind Larry’s back with Jason Taylor than a summer dress.”
“Edith! That’s awful!”
“I know it’s awful. Larry proposed to her only a month ago – she’s going to break his heart.”
Edith had changed a lot since we were children, especially after she had started attending church more and even more so when she married Jimmy, but she still possessed a tendency to gossip and judge.
“God’s still working on me,” she liked to remind me.
I knew what she meant. God had been working on me as well in the last five years and he still had a lot of work to do. There were many days I looked at myself in the mirror, measuring tape hanging around my neck, pencil tucked behind my ear, and laughed at the irony of someone who had once hated sewing now working as a dressmaker. As a teenager, I couldn’t thread a needle, let alone create an entire fashionable outfit for the women in town or hem pants for the men. While I had once silently cursed the idea of attending sewing classes with my mom and sister, sewing was now supporting me and my 6-year old son Jackson.
“So, why do you think Emmy wants you to meet her cousin?” Edith asked, still admiring the dress in the mirror.
“She says she just wants to reintroduce him to us so he knows some people in town now that he’s moved up here to work with her dad,” I said. “But she’s probably like everyone else who thinks Blanche needs a man to fix her life.”
Edith frowned as she turned to look at me, then pursed her lips together in a disapproving expression. “Everyone? I’ve never said you need a man to fix you, so not everyone says that.”
I sighed as I folded the fabric for Allie’s dress and laid it on a shelf behind me. “Well, Mama and Daddy and Emmy then. Not you. Still, I don’t know why they all don’t understand that I like life the way it is right now. I’m content. Jackson is happy. We’re doing well.”
Edith folded her arms and leaned back against the sewing table, a smile tugging at her lips. “And you don’t have to let anyone in and risk being hurt again. Good plan.”
I playfully tossed a rolled-up piece of tissue paper at her. “Hush your mouth, as Emmy always says.”
Edith laughed. ‘Well, it’s true and you know it is.”
The front door to the shop opened and our father stepped inside, briefcase in hand, grinning as he saw Edith trying to reach to unzip the dress from behind.
“Well, you look nice, Edith,” he said. “Special occasion?”
Edith smirked and shook her head, tugging at the zipper. “Daddy…you know it’s Jimmy and my anniversary next week.”
“Oh? Is it? You’ve only mentioned it ten times in the last few days. I must have forgot.”
Edith playfully slapped her hand against Daddy’s shoulder as she walked past him toward the changing room. “Very funny, Daddy.”
“You ready to head home, kid?” he asked me. “Mama’s making fried chicken for dinner and I bet she’d love a break from that crazy kid of yours.”
I laughed, knowing my mama never called my son crazy and loved the days she was able to spend with him, playing with him, cooking him lunch and helping him prepare for Kindergarten, which he would start attending in a few months.
“I’m anxious to see him,” I said, gathering my measuring tape, scissors, and extra thread spools and shoving them in the top drawer of the sewing table. “But I doubt Mama wants a break from him.”
Daddy smiled. “I have to agree. She does love that boy.”
Edith stepped out of the dressing room in a button-up pink shirt and a flared light blue skirt, hooking her long, curly hair into a ponytail. “Speaking of being anxious to see someone, I’ve got a husband to head home to and cook up some dinner for.”
She hugged me quickly and kissed Daddy’s cheek. “Thanks again, Blanche. I’ll swing by next week to pick it up. I don’t want Jimmy to see it until that night.”
Locking the door to the shop, I thought about how I’d spent the first year after my divorce floundering, trying to get my footing as a single mom at the age of 20. I stayed home with Mama, helping her cook and clean and care for Jackson, but rarely left home, even for church, keeping myself emotionally locked up in the solitude of shame. Eventually, I took a part-time job at the library, began attending church again and visiting the sewing circle meetings with Mama on Wednesday nights. I also started writing a column for the local newspaper.
I’d left the library job when Doris Thompson asked me if I’d be interested in helping her in the sewing shop. I agreed and a year later Doris semi-retired, working three days a week at first and then one day. Six months ago, she’d signed the business over to me and remained on as landlord only, collecting a reasonable monthly rent from me.
“I have to stop and drop my column off to Stanley before we head out,” I called to Daddy over my shoulder, walking down the sidewalk and sliding a folded stack of papers out of my handbag.
Daddy grunted and looked disgusted as he opened the driver’s side door. “I’ll wait for you in the car. I can only feign politeness for so long with that man.”
I grinned as I walked, remembering Daddy’s dinner rant a few months ago about editor Stanley Jasper’s editorial about the war in Vietnam.
“What’s that fool even talking about, saying we should get involved in the conflict over there?” Daddy said, fuming as he read the paper. “There is no way we should be sending our boys over there. Who does that man think he is? Moves in here from the city and then acts like he knows it all. I am telling you – I have half a mind to go into that office and tell that editor what an ignoramus he is.”
And Daddy did go into the newspaper office, but he came out even angrier than when he’d gone in. Stanley’s name was off-limits most days and Daddy wasn’t thrilled with me submitting a column to the newspaper but said maybe my lifestyle column would help to offset the drivel Stanley typed out on the opinion page each Sunday.
The newspaper office was buzzing with the noise of reporters on the phone, typewriter keys clicking, the press in the back running, and sports reporters commenting on the latest home run by Mickey Mantel.
“Latest column, Blanche?”
Reporter Jerry Simms looked up from his typewriter, sliding a pencil behind his ear. He jerked his head toward Stanley’s office door on the other side of the office. “You know the drill. Hand it to Stanley so he knows it’s here.”
Stanley wasn’t originally from Dalton. He’d grown up in Philadelphia and was a transplant, referred to by many in the county as a “flatlander,” a term used affectionately when people agreed with him and with a sneer when they disagreed with him.
Stanley’s brown hair was speckled with gray and disheveled, as usual. His jawline was unshaven, circles darkened the skin under his eyes, and his clothes were wrinkled, his shirt untucked. He was sitting where he usually was when I come in to drop off my column, behind his desk in the middle of a cloud of cigar smoke. Leaning back in a large leather chair, his feet were propped on top of the desk, a sheet of paper in one hand, the cigar in the other. He moved the paper to one side as I stepped inside the door and stuffed the cigar in the corner of his mouth.
“Good column last week, Blanche,” he said around the cigar. “I never thought I’d get so caught up in the story of a pregnant cat.” He shrugged and pulled the cigar from his mouth, holding it between his index finger and thumb. “Small town people eat that stuff up. Who knew?”
I wasn’t sure if the comment about small-town people was meant to be a compliment but I chose to accept it as one since it was as close as Stanley was probably going to get about a column he saw as “soft news.” In journalism lingo, soft news was considered low priority and traditionally thought of as inferior to the harder news. From what I could see, though, it was often the “soft news” that created more of a buzz at the local diner in a small town each morning.
“Well, this week we have an update on the cat and her kittens,” I said. “I’m sure the small-town folk you speak of will love that too.”
The newspaper’s typesetter Minnie Wilkes sashayed her way into the office and snatched the column from the top of Stanley’s desk.
She turned and looked at me with bright green eyes and long, dark eyelashes, made even darker by heavy, black eyeliner and brown eye shadow. “Hey, Blanche. I love typesetting your column. It’s way more interesting than the political stuff Stanley writes.”
Stanley rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Minnie. Your opinion is duly noted, though not asked for.”
Minnie winked at me as she walked out of the office again.
Stanley stuffed the cigar back in his mouth and moved the stack of papers he was holding back in front of his face.
“Keep up the folksy stuff, Blanche. It sells papers. And that’s what we’re in the business of doing, selling papers.”
Outside the office, standing in the sunlight I looked out at the town I’d gone to high school in and sighed. In front of me was the town square, a gazebo in the middle of it. Behind it was one of the oldest banks in the state, Community State Bank, and next to the bank was the Dalton Theatre, built-in 1893 and only slightly renovated since then. Down the other end of the street next to me was Bert’s Pharmacy and a few blocks over was Holden’s Supermarket. Across the street from the supermarket was the post office and two blocks away from the post office was the building where I’d spent many of my days after school, waiting for Daddy to finish at the office and drive us home – The Dalton Public Library.
I’d never felt like I’d fit in at school or in this town and that feeling was even more prominent after I’d left Hank and returned. There were days I was sure I could feel the judging eyes of people on me when I walked into Bert’s Pharmacy or Holden’s Supermarket when really the feeling was probably something I’d conjured up in my own mind. Since coming home I had earned a General Education Diploma, started attending church again, was running my own business, writing for the local paper, and slowly working my way back into the community.
I still struggled with feeling out of place, still kept my eyes downcast most of the time, but more and more I was able to raise my eyes and see kind expressions and nods of greeting. It was beginning to feel like maybe I wasn’t the outcast I’d always thought I was.
“So, Blanche. . .”
Anytime Daddy started a sentence with “So, Blanche. . .” I knew he was about to suggest something I needed to do or should have done.
“I’ve been thinking . . .”
I knew then the conversation was going to be an uncomfortable one. A ‘So, Blanche’ and an ‘I’ve been thinking….’ in less than thirty seconds? This was going to be interesting.
“I think I should teach you how to drive so you can have a little more freedom.”
I let my breath out in a heavy sigh.
“You’re almost 25, Blanche,” Daddy continued. “You’ve been home five years now. I don’t mind driving you where you need to go, but I think it’s time you start, you know, spreading your wings a little bit, gaining some independence. I love having you and Jackson living with us, you know that but someday, well, you will – or you could – you might – meet someone and . . .”
“Daddy . . .”
“Well, you might. I mean there are plenty of eligible, good men in this county and it is possible you will, you know . . . Ah. You might want to drive out and meet him somewhere or – “
I could tell Daddy was nervous by the high number of “you knows” he was uttering. I knew he and Mama were “old school” and felt Jackson needed both a father and a mother, but I wasn’t willing to marry someone just to look good to others or fulfill my parents’ wish that I be a married mother instead of a single one.
It was hard for me to believe it had been five years since I had left Hank and returned home with a one-year-old on my hip and a heart full of hurt. In the same way, I could remember the night I fought back, I could still hear the gunshot echoing in my parents’ house the night I thought Daddy had killed Hank.
“Y-you could have killed me, you crazy old man!” Hank had sputtered in disbelief, looking at the ground in front of his feet in shock.
“I could have, and I still can,” Daddy told him. “Now go before I have to.”
When the taillights faded into the darkness that night I closed my eyes against the tears and wondered if Hank would try to come back again someday. He never did. His mama told me one day when I took Jackson to see her, like I did every week, that she’d got a letter from Hank a year after I’d left him, saying he was moving out west. That was the last she’d heard from him. I knew it broke her heart that her oldest son never contacted her, but I could tell that seeing Jackson helped relieve the pain. I’d seen Hank once before he left to go out West, but he hadn’t seen me, and I never told my family about it. I didn’t know if I ever would.
“I’ll think about the driving lessons,” I told Daddy, hoping he would change the subject now.
“Well, you know, that’s all I can ask, I guess,” Daddy said, clearing his throat, looking at the road in front of him.
I looked out at the road too, watching as the paved road faded to dirt, dust billowing around the car as Daddy turned down the road that would take us home. I closed my eyes, tired from the long day, but also fighting back thoughts and emotions I had tried to bury for five years.
I was still consumed with an inability to forgive Hank or myself for all that had happened after I’d run away with him at the age of 17. I despised myself for letting him abuse me with his mouth and his hands. The times Hank shouted me down or tightened his hands around my wrist or arm seemed to finally give him the power his abusive father had stripped from him during his childhood.
The night I left him, he’d shoved me against a table, dragged me by my hair and tried to stop me from leaving our apartment with our son by grabbing my leg and yanking me to the floor. When I fought back and broke away, I ran to my friend Miss Mazie’s house and never looked back.
More than fighting to forgive myself for leaving with Hank, I couldn’t seem to find a way to forgive myself for the danger I’d put Jackson in by staying with Hank; how I’d caused Jackson to have a life without a father.
In that first year after I left Hank, life unfolded around me like a movie I was a part of but had no say in. I came home to my parents, a father who had barely spoken to me in three years, and a mother who welcomed me with open arms but somehow blamed herself for my smashed in nose and bruised face. I pushed the emotion of those years with Hank deep inside me and the darkness of it all lingered in the darkest caverns of my heart for two years, eventually leaving me in a state of emotional numbness.
Slowly I began to feel again – laugh again, trust again, hope again, at least when it came to my family and my future. I had no interest in a romantic relationship of any kind, though and still didn’t. I wasn’t about to let anyone break down the walls I had built around my life and heart, walls to protect me, but more importantly Jackson. I had exposed my son to darkness and pain once before. I refused to do it again.
I wouldn’t let my guard down for someone who could shatter the life I’d built for us like Hank almost had. Protecting Jackson, giving him a life free of hurt was my only goal and I made sure I stayed away from anyone who could threaten our security.