Welcome to Fiction Friday, where I share a fiction story I’m working on or a novel in progress. If you share serial fictions on your blog as well please feel free to share a link to your latest installment, or the first part, in the comment section.
This week I pushed through some of the blockages I had in the story, so hoping that continues and I can finally finish it and begin some heavy editing. Of course, as I edit that could change some of what you are reading here, but the final draft will be published as an ebook on Kindle and other locations sometime in the spring.
As always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. Also, as always, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. To follow the story from the beginning, find the link HERE or at the top of the page.
Edith took the platter I had been carrying as I stepped through her front door. “Fried chicken, huh? I just read an article about how fattening fried foods are.”
I rolled my eyes. “And I just read an article about how unhealthy it is to take all the good tasting food out of your life.”
Edith set the platter on her table and then reached for a pitcher of lemonade and a bowl of salad, setting them on the table.
“Hey, ladies, Emmy’s walking up the front walk,” Jimmy said walking in the back door. “Or should I say, she’s waddling up?”
I smacked him gently on the arm. “Jimmy!”
“What? She’s waddling! I can’t help it. I think she’s carrying twins.”
“Don’t say that to her,” Edith whispered. “I don’t want her to feel bad.”
I opened the front door and took the plate of brownies from Emmy, stepping back so she could walk through to the couch, where I knew she’d want to sit.
“A few more weeks and I’m free,” she gasped, falling back onto the cushions, her belly pushed out.
“Free?” I laughed. “Oh, honey, your belly will be free, but your job only gets harder after the baby is here.”
Emmy closed her eyes and sighed.
“Oh, don’t remind me,” she said, then smiled. “But I know it will be worth it then, when I can finally hold this baby in my arms.”
“You girls going to be okay here alone?” Jimmy asked, snatching a brownie. “Your dad and I are taking Jackson and Judson fishing up at the lake today, so we won’t be around to save you if you set the oven on fire or Emmy gets stuck in the couch.”
Emmy scowled at Jimmy and playfully tossed a pillow at his head.
“Why are you taking Judson?” I asked.
“Why not?” Jimmy asked. “He’s a cool guy and we like showing him how to be a real country boy.”
“She thinks Mama and Daddy are trying to set her up with him,” Edith laughed. “And that Daddy is prepping him to be part of the family.”
I scowled at her as I helped Jackson with his jacket.
“Mama is trying at least,” I said.
“What’s ‘setting up’ mean?” Jackson asked, reaching for his fishing pole.
“Nothing,” I said quickly, kissing his forehead. “Don’t you worry about it, honey.”
Jimmy grinned and snatched his fishing pole from behind the door then raised his hands in front of him as a sign of surrender and headed toward the door.
“I’m stepping out of this conversation. Have fun with your gathering, ladies.”
I watched Jackson follow Jimmy down the sidewalk toward Jimmy’s truck, his jeans slipping down slightly in the back as he walked. It was hard to believe that he was already 6-years old. It hurt me he didn’t have a father to help set an example for him, but I was happy Jimmy and Daddy were there to be the men in his life.
“Why do you keep avoiding Judson anyhow?” Edith asked as the front door closed.
“I’m just not interested,” I said.
Emmy struggled to push herself up out of the cushions of the couch.
“Why not?” she asked. “He’s cute, polite . . . a member of my family, which means he’s got to be a great person.”
I shrugged. “I’m just not. He’s nice enough but who knows how long he’ll even stay here. He’s only here to learn more about construction from your dad and then he’ll be gone.”
Emmy shrugged. “Yeah, but that could take years. I mean, he’s renting a home here, says he loves this area. He could decide to stay here forever and besides – you agree he’s good looking right?”
I rolled my eyes, sitting in the recliner and leaning my head back against the back of it and groaning. “Yes, he’s good looking, but looks, as we know, can be very deceiving.”
I tipped my head up, raised an eyebrow and looked at Emmy and Edith. “You get my drift?”
Edith shrugged and poured herself a glass of lemonade.
“Not every good-looking apple is rotten,” she said, grinning.
Emmy shifted forward on the couch and looked at Edith. Now both of them were grinning, a sight that aggravated me.
“And that apple really is very good looking,” Emmy said. “Those blue eyes against that dark hair…handsome like all the male members of my family. ”
“And I bet he’s got some muscles under that construction shirt. He’d have to with all that lifting and hammering he does.”
“You two are starting to sound like Mama!” I cried. “Are we going to bake some cookies and make popcorn for the Dick VanDyke Show tonight or are we going to talk about my love life?”
Emmy wheezed as she pushed herself to a standing position. “Or your lack of a love life.”
I turned and scowled at her.
She raised her hands slightly at her side and shrugged.
“They say pregnant women get something called brain fog,” she said with a grin. “Blame my sassy mouth on the baby. I’ll be right back. I have to pee again.”
When Emmy waddled back into the room a few moments later, Edith set a tray of egg sandwiches on the coffee table and sat on the couch next to Emmy.
“Speaking of babies – I’ve been wanting to talk to you ladies about something.”m
My heart started pounding fast.
“Are you -?”
Edith interrupted me by raising her hand and shaking her head. “No. No. Nothing like that. We still can’t seem to get pregnant, but Jimmy and I have been talking a lot lately about other ways to start a family.”
I sat on the chair across from the couch. “Adoption?”
Edith nodded and wrung her hands nervously. “Yes. But I’m scared. What if this isn’t the right thing to do? What if it – what if it falls through or what if we don’t bond with the child, because he or she isn’t ours biologically?”
I leaned forward and took my sister’s hands in mine. “Edith, you’re starting to sound like me. That’s not like you. At the risk of sounding like Mama, have you prayed about this?”
“Oh yes, Jimmy and I both have. We’ve been praying about it together every day. I – I called an adoption agency last week and they’ve asked us to drive down and fill out an application. They were very nice, but I still – I just don’t know if this is the right thing to do.”
“Well, if it isn’t the right thing to do, God will stop it,” Emmy said. “That’s how I figure it, anyhow. Maybe it’s not the soundest theology but it’s what I think.”
Edith smiled, reaching one hand out to hold Emmy’s and the other to hold mine. “Okay, ladies. Then our job is to pray together that Jimmy and I make the right decision and that if adoption is the path God wants us to take, a child will be placed with us.”
We all agreed we would pray for God’s wisdom and I prayed silently for Edith’s heart to be protected.
“Blanche, sit down.” Stanley gestured to the chair in front of his desk sans cigar as I handed him my column. “I have a question for you.”
The suggestion to sit was an unusual one for Stanley and made me nervous. Usually, he merely nodded for me to lay the column on his desk while talking on the phone or typing away on his typewriter before telling me to have a good day.
“Can I get you a glass of water?” he asked as I sat down.
I shook my head, bewildered. I noticed his face was clean-shaven, his hair neatly combed and his shirt and pants a little less wrinkled than usual. Instead of leaning back in his chair with a cigar he sat in it with his back straight, then leaned forward slightly, elbows propped on the desk. His hazel eyes locked on mine as he spoke.
“Blanche, I’d like you to start writing some feature stories for us. One a week to start with. What do you think?”
He was offering me an actually paying job? I was dumbfounded.
“I – I don’t know what to say. I’ve never interviewed people before and I –“
“You’re a good writer, Blanche. You’re easy to talk to. People like you. You’d be writing fluff pieces. Stories about old men who grow 60-pound squashes in their backyard and women who win pie-baking contests 25 years in a row. Easy, softball stories. I think you can do it and those kinds of stories sell newspapers. Why don’t you think about it and let me know when you bring your column next week? What do you say?”
I cleared my throat. “Well, okay, I can tr–”
“Great,” Stanley spoke over me. Interrupting people seemed to be a habit with him, as if his brain moved in tune with the days breaking news and he was afraid slowing his words would let his competition beat him to the punch. “I’m sure you’ll realize it’s a good idea. Now, on another, entirely different, matter . . .”
Stanley shifted nervously in his chair, leaned back and crossed one leg over the other, uncrossed it again, and leaned forward in his chair. He cleared his throat, coughed and took a quick sip from his coffee mug. I waited for the quick flow of words that normally came, but instead there was only awkward silence.
“This is awkward for me to ask, Blanche.”
A rush of nervous energy shot through me. Good grief, what was making this man so nervous? Why were his eyes darting from me to the top of his desk and back to me again? Oh no. He wasn’t going to ask me out, was he? I’d already turned Thomas down the year before. Were newspaper men somehow attracted only to anxious, introverted wallflower types? Not to mention, the man was old enough to be my father and my actual father couldn’t stand him.
“Blanche, how well do you know Marjorie Hakes?”
Relief washed over me. I wouldn’t have to turn down advances from an older man today after all. “Oh. Well, I –“
“I mean, I know you know her son, or you knew him, or .. well, you know what I mean.”
I felt the sudden urge to giggle at the way Stanley was stammering and stumbling over words.
“Yes, I was married to Hank at one time,” I said. “It’s not a secret to anyone in this little town.”
“Right,” Stanley said. “But, I mean, I don’t know what your relationship is with his mother now and if you are close to her or not …”
“Actually, I visit her once or twice a week so she can see her grandson.”
“Oh, yes, right. Of course. That makes sense. Very nice of you.”
Stanley paused and slid a cigar from a box on the corner of his desk. He stuffed it in the corner of his mouth but didn’t light it. Pulling it from his mouth he propped it between his forefinger and middle finger and started to say something then closed his mouth again. He cleared his throat and returned the cigar to the corner of his mouth.
“Why are you asking me about Marjorie?”
“Oh, yes.” He cleared his throat again and I thought about suggesting he take another drink of his coffee to wash down that frog in his throat but the conversation was dragging on long enough as it was.
“I see Marjorie every morning at the diner and I – uh–” he coughed softly and leaned back in his chair, looking briefly at the top of the desk before raising his eyes to mine. “Do you think she would go out with me?”
I bit my lower lip to hold back the laughter. I had never seen Stanley look so anxious and laughter might make it worse. I pondered how to answer his question. I had a feeling Marjorie had put up walls around her heart the same way I had around mine and I wasn’t sure she’d be willing to open herself up again. I didn’t want to discourage Stanley, but I wasn’t sure if I should encourage him either.
I wanted happiness for Hank’s mom, but suddenly I wanted to protect her the way I had been protecting myself. Stanley didn’t seem like the most stable or compassionate person at times. I worried that working as a newspaper editor for so long had jaded him and Marjorie didn’t need a hard-hearted man; she needed someone who could be what Henry Hakes never was. Someone who would treasure her, treat her like a woman should be treated. I wondered how much Stanley knew about her marriage to Hank’s father and the abuse she had suffered. I didn’t feel it was my place to tell him.
“I think there is a possibility she will say yes,” I said finally. “I think there is also a possibility she will say ‘no.’ I know that is not the answer you were probably hoping for but I’m not sure how she feels about opening herself up to new relationships since her husband passed away. She’s . . . been through a lot. It could be hard for her to – well, to trust again.”
Stanley looked at me over folded hands, his elbows propped up on the desk, the cigar between his thumb and forefinger. “I’ve heard stories about her marriage,” he said. “I’ve heard stories about your marriage. Neither of them were easy, from what I understand. So, I’m cognizant of the need to go slow here, if that’s what your getting at.”
Maybe Stanley wasn’t as jaded as I thought. “Yes. That was what I was getting at.”
Stanley combed his fingers back through his hair and straightened his tie. “Thank you, Blanche. That’s all I needed. Think about the feature writer position, okay? I’d like to have you on board.”
I hoped the tenderness I’d heard in Stanley’s voice when he talked about Marjorie was sincere and that I was seeing the real Stanley under his sometimes tough veneer. I hoped he wouldn’t break Marjorie’s heart the way her late husband and son had.
Stanley spoke as I reached for the doorknob. “Hey, before I forget, Thomas is the one who suggested I call you about writing the feature stories. He said you’re a good writer and I agreed. And you know,” he leaned his arm casually on the desktop in front of him and smirked. “I think Thomas may be a little sweet on you.”
Standing with my hand still resting on the doorknob I turned slightly and sighed. Could it be that even Stanley was trying to set me up with a man?
“Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind,” I said as I opened the door and stepped into the noisy newsroom.
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.