Well, readers, I’m going to confess that I’m a bit stuck on Blanche’s story after about Chapter 14 so — any suggestions to how you think her story should go? Let me know in the comments. I do have some ideas and some ideas somewhat, (dare I even say it since I’m a writer who writes by the seat of her pants?) plotted out.
If you want to catch the beginning of Blanche’s story, you can read it on Kindle and Kindle Unlimted. However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning.
If you want to read A New Beginning’s chapters that have been posted so far, you can find themhere (or at the top of the page).
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.
The hay bale I was trying to catch slipped through my arms and cut scratches across my skin, even through the thick flannel shirt I was wearing, causing me to immediately regret volunteering to help Daddy, Judson and Jimmy stack hay bales at Mr. Worley’s barn.
“You should catch the bales like this,” Judson said, bending with his knees, his arms out a little further than mine had been. “Instead of what you were doing. You might be able to stack a little faster.”
I didn’t know why but the way he instructed me on how to catch hay bales irritated me and made me want to tell him to shove his opinions where the sun didn’t shine. He was the one lofting the bales too high from the back of the truck.
I hoped Jimmy came back from gathering more hay bales from the field soon so he could help with the stacking and I didn’t have to deal with Judson on my own.
I literally bit my tongue to hold back my comment as another bale fell out of my arms. I knew we’d never finish the job if Judson didn’t start throwing me the bales from the wagon the right way. When the third bale slammed hard against my chest, my resolve crumbled.
“You’re throwing them too high!” I shouted.
Judson shrugged. “I’m not throwing them too high. You’re just not catching them right. Why don’t I come up there and help you?”
“Why don’t I come up there and help you?” I mumbled to myself in a mocking tone.
“No. I’m fine,” I said, catching the next bale and carrying it to the growing pile of hay bales at the back of the loft.
As I turned around, a hay bale flew at me, almost hitting me in the face.
“What was that?!” I snapped.
Judson winked at me and grinned as I swiped a strand of hair out of my face. “It was you being too slow and not following my advice.”
I propped my hand on my hip and glared down at him, desperate for a retort but afraid what might come out if I opened my mouth. I turned instead and picked up the pieces from the haybale that had crumbled. When the job was finally finished my face, shirt and jeans were damp with sweat and stained with dirt. I sat on a hay bale, breathing hard.
I looked up at the glass of iced tea Judson was handing to me.
“You’re a hard worker,” he said.
I still felt annoyed at him over his comments, so I simply nodded, standing and wiping the dirt off my face as I took the glass. Like I cared if he thought I was a hard worker.
“You’re angry at me, aren’t you?”
I shrugged. “No. It’s fine.”
His laughter made me even more annoyed. Blast him.
“You are! Hey, I was just trying to help. Besides, you finally got the hang of it after you started catching them the way I told you to.”
I glanced at him standing at the edge of the loft, muscular arms folded across his broad chest, grinning, his blue eyes glinting with amusement. I clenched my jaw and hoped the warmth I felt in my face wasn’t showing as flushed crimson on my cheeks.
I couldn’t figure out why his grin was infuriating me so much, but I had a feeling it was because I didn’t like the idea that he thought he could tell me what to do and how to do it. When I’d left Hank I’d been determined that no one, especially a man, would ever tell me what to do again. But it was ridiculous. Judson wasn’t like Hank. He wasn’t trying to control me. He’d only been trying to help. Was I ever going to get past the feelings Hank had left in me?
I swallowed hard and cleared my throat.
“Yes, well, thank you. We got the job done and that’s all that matters.”
Judson leaned back against a pile of bales, pushing his legs out in front of him and looked at me as he drank from his own glass of tea. “I’m not sure what to make of you, Blanche, but I’m beginning to think I’m not your favorite person.”
I glanced up at him in surprise. “I’m – what?”
“You avoid eye contact with me. You duck into stores when I walk toward you on the street. I’ve noticed you’ve been laying your Bible at the end of your pew during church, as if you’re holding a spot for someone else, but no one else ever comes and when I talk to you I sense every word I say irritates you.”
Several strands of hair fell out of the ponytail I’d pulled my hair into earlier in the day. I yanked the hair tie out and let my hair fall around my shoulders as I prepared to put it back up again. I drew the strands all into one hand, the hair tie in the other. I knew I was buying time to try to think of how to answer Judson. I couldn’t believe he’d noticed all the times I’d tried to avoid him and felt guilty that he thought it was because I didn’t like him.
“You should keep your hair down.”
I paused with my hands on my hair and looked up to see Judson watching me intently, his expression serious.
“You look beautiful with your hair down,” he said, leaning forward, his elbows propped on his knees as he watched me.
I knew my face was red with embarrassment now. “Thank you,” I mumbled but still pulled the hair back and slid the hair tie around it tightly.
He cleared his throat and stood. “Well, it’s late and I’d better get home and get some dinner in me before I head to bed. I’ve got an early day on the construction site tomorrow.”
“Judson – it isn’t that – I mean, it’s not that I don’t –“
I had no idea how to explain why I’d been trying to keep him at a distance.
He walked toward me, stopping in front of me and smiled.
“It’s okay, Blanche. You don’t have to explain.” He pushed a strand of hair off my forehead and hooked it behind my ear. “Maybe one day you’ll decide I’m not so bad to have around.”
He winked and walked past me, climbing down the ladder of the hayloft. I closed my eyes and held the cold tea glass against my throat.
I thought about a quote I’d read one time by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was killed during World War II.
“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.”
To be interrupted by God was one thing but sometimes it was hard to know if it was God interrupting or someone else was. And, to be honest, I wasn’t ready for any interruptions in my life that would threaten the life I’d built for me and Jackson. I hated that I saw a friendship with Judson as a threat to our current contentment. Maybe it was because I was worried Judson wanted more than a friendship.
The first time I’d walked into Stanley Jasper’s office my legs were weak. I felt like I needed to sit down but I didn’t want to sit down until I’d been asked, so I stood there, clutching a folder with two column samples and trying not to sweat.
Stanley sat, typing furiously on his typewriter without looking up, a cigar tucked in the corner of his mouth, a cup of coffee next to him and the surface of his desk cluttered with newspapers and sheets of typing paper. Some pages were crumpled up and tossed to the side, obviously tossed there out of frustration. The editor was unshaven, his hair sticking up in front as if he’d clutched his hair in anger one too many times, his clothes wrinkled and his shirt haphazardly tucked in.
The click of the typewriter keys filled the room, blending in with the more muffled sounds of the rest of the newsroom outside the closed door. I wondered how long it would take him to look up from the typewriter but wasn’t sure I should interrupt his train of thought in case he was writing up a big story for the next day’s paper.
“Blanche!” he declared suddenly, causing me to jump back slightly. He stood and thrust a hand at me over the desk.
I reached out and took his hand and he jerked my arm up and down in a quick movement before releasing it.
He gestured to a brown, leather chair with a ripped seat across from his desk while simultaneously ripping a page from his typewriter and tossing it on top of a pile of other pieces of paper. “Please, sit.”
“I liked your columns,” he said as he sat. “What made you send them in?”
“Well, I – I – like to write and my sister – I mean, well I –“
Stanley pulled the cigar from his mouth and starred at me for a moment, a wry smile curling his mouth. “Huh, I can see you’re more articulate in writing.”
I laughed softly and shook my head. “I’m sorry. I’m a little nervous –
Stanley spoke in a rhythm similar to his typing. “No reason to be nervous. I liked your columns. Down home stuff. We need more of that light stuff in our paper. I’d like to run a column by you once a week. No pay, just my heartfelt appreciation. What do you think?”
He had stopped talking so abruptly I hadn’t been ready to answer. “Oh. Well, I, yes, that would be fine.”
“Great. We’ll use these first two you sent in and then you can start submitting one each Tuesday so we can typeset it and have it ready for Thursday. Sound good?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “What’s that in your hand? More columns?”
I nodded and handed them across to him. He snatched the folder flipped it open, scanned the pages and nodded. “Great! I’ll read these over and let you know what I think.”
“Thank you,” I managed to choke out, trying to keep up with the pace of the conversation.
“So,” Stanley leaned back slightly in his chair, propping the cigar in one hand as he looked back at me. “Local girl, right?”
“Don’t call me sir. It makes me feel old. Stanley’s fine.”
“No problem . . . Stanley.”
“Did you go to school for writing?”
“Well, no, I didn’t – I just write for myself, I guess, you’d say.”
“It’s paid off. You’re a good writer.” He stood and walked around the desk and flung his office door open, letting in the sounds of the newsroom. “Let me show you around and introduce you to the staff, or the staff that’s here anyhow. A lot of them work at night after they cover council meetings.”
“You’ve met Minnie. She’ll be the one typesetting your columns each week.”
Minnie nodded, dark curls bouncing, even darker eyelashes fluttering. “Nice to meet you, Blanche. Looking forward to reading your columns.
Stanley kept walking, stopping briefly at the next desk.
“This is Danny Post. He’s our sports editor, writer and photographer, all rolled up in one nerdy package.”
The balding man with glasses smiled as he stood and shook my hand. Standing at about my height, I guessed his age to be around 50 and him to be someone who wrote about sports because he most likely had never played any.
“Nice to meet you,” he said in a voice softer than I imagined a sports editor having.
I managed brief greetings to each person as Stanley clipped through the introductions like a drill sergeant, pausing at each desk only long enough to rattle off a name and a title and an occasional good-natured jab.
“This is Thomas Fairchild our cub reporter,” Stanley said standing in front of the last desk in the newsroom. “We call him a cub because he’s young and new and one time we caught him eating out of the dumpster outback because he makes so little money here he was looking for dinner. Thomas, this is Blanche. Try not to corrupt her when she comes in to drop off her columns okay?”
Thomas grinned as he looked up from his computer, green eyes sparkling beneath strands of dirty blond hair laying across his forehead. “I’ll try but I can’t promise,” he said, his eyes drifting from my face to glance down to the top of my blouse.
He winked and tilted his head to move his bangs out of his face. I immediately felt uneasy and hoped the introductions were over for now. Luckily, they were and I thanked Stanley for his time and walked quickly through the newsroom and down the street toward the dress shop.
The next time I saw Thomas it was two weeks later when I dropped off my column. The newsroom was quiet with much of the staff missing. I assumed it was either a lunch break or they were in a staff meeting. Thomas was sitting at the front desk, sipping from a cup of coffee, the phone receiver tucked between his shoulder and the side of his face.
“Yep. Yep. Yep. I think that sounds like a great story, Mr. Tanner. Of course the Simpson’s cows breaking loose and taking a swim in the church pond is worthy of a story. Yep. I’ll head out now and see you shortly.”
I handed him my column and gave him my best sympathetic look. “Good luck with that one.”
“Want to go with me? I could use someone to grab some photos of the wading cows while I chat with the pastor and the farmer. The staff photographer’s out to lunch.”
“Nah. I don’t think so. I’ve got to head back to the shop to help Doris.”
He shrugged. “Well, suit yourself, but I’m telling you, this is going to be some hard-hitting news.”
“And that’s why I’m glad I’m only a volunteer columnist,” I said.
Thomas grabbed his coat and slid it on, then reached for a camera on the desk behind him.
“You should be a writer you know,” he said. “I mean writing more than just columns. We could use a good writer like you to write some feature stories for us. I have a feeling you’d shine more as a writer for us than you ever would in a dress shop.”
“Well, thank you but I don’t think so.”
“You should think about it,” he said, walking around the desk as I walked toward the front door. “And then you should think about going out with me.”
I snorted a laugh as we walked out in the sunlight together. “Excuse me?”
I looked over my shoulder and saw him grinning broadly.
“What? Don’t you ever get asked out?”
“Not really. No.”
“Well, that’s a shame. Those guys are missing out.”
He winked at me, sliding a pair of sunglasses out of his jacket pocket. “So? Are you going to go out with me, or what?”
He slid the glasses on, still grinning.
My throat felt tight as I realized he was serious. The sun hit the blond highlights of his hair and I couldn’t deny he was attractive. Still, there was too much of Hank’s charming personality and boldness in him for my liking.
“Thank you, Thomas, but I’m not really – I mean, I don’t — ”
I suddenly realized I had no idea how to turn down a request for a date since I’d only ever been asked once and that had, obviously, ended badly.
“I’m not dating anyone right now,” I blurted. “It’s complicated, but I really do appreciate the invite.”
He was still smirking. “That was the nicest rejection anyone has ever given me.” He tossed his head back to move his bangs off his forehead again. “I’ll be sure to try again and see if every rejection is as nice as this one.”
I laughed at his determination. “Have fun with the cows, Thomas.”
His invitation had been a surprise to me, to someone who thought Hank’s pursuing me had been a fluke, but it had also been unwelcome to a young girl uninterested in frivolous romantic pursuits.
Lisa R. Howeler is a writer and photographer from the “boondocks” who writes a little bit about a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She’s published a fiction novel ‘A Story to Tell’ on Kindle and also provides stock images for bloggers and others at Alamy.com and Lightstock.com.