I don’t know about you, but the news has been depressing lately me (what? You couldn’t tell by my post yesterday? Ha!). I’m doing my best to avoid it, but sometimes it can’t be helped and it filters in. To try to offset the depressing news, I thought I’d offer a distraction by sharing an extra chapter this week, although this chapter may start a little depressing, it will end on a happy note. Chapter 17 will be on the blog tomorrow for Fiction Friday.
You will find a link to the previous chapters I have posted HERE or at the link at the top of the page.
You can find the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
Sam’s left eye was swollen shut and bruises spread out from under the bandages around his middle. An IV stretched from a bag of fluid to his arm and an oxygen cannula was pressed under his nose, the hose hooked over his ears.
Sitting on a chair across from his bed I watched him sleep and thought about the first time Emmy had told me about meeting him. She’d called me when I was still with Hank, gushing about the boy with the brown hair and dark eyes, the strong jawline and determination to become a police officer. She’d met him at the small community college an hour from home and at first, he’d only asked if she’d like to study history with him. From that point on I heard stories about his hand accidentally touching hers and how it had made her feel, long looks into each other’s eyes and, finally, Sam asking her if she’d have coffee with him.
The afternoon of their wedding the rain fell hard and heavy on the roof of the church, almost drowning out their voices as they said their vows, but unable to mask the smiles on their faces or the look of adoration in Emmy’s eyes at each word Sam uttered. Emmy had always been worried about Sam’s job and the danger it put him in and now here she was with those fears being realized.
Dark circles streaked the skin under his eyes, his face almost as pale as the sheets on the hospital bed. I ached to hear his laughter and see his eyes light up when he shared one of his latest work-related escapades.
“Oh, Sam . . .”
Emmy’s voice was soft behind me and I stood to take the wheelchair from the nurse. The nurse nodded sympathetically and patted my arm as she turned to leave.
“I think he looks worse today than yesterday,” Emmy said, tears rimming her eyes.
“You know bruises always look worse the second day,” I told her, helping her into the chair next to the bed.
Emmy slid her hand into Sam’s, watching him closely as he slept. His fingers were limp against her palm as she lifted his hand and kissed the back of it.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” she asked. “Having a baby and watching your husband recover from being shot all the span of a few days? It seems like a wonderful dream and a horrible nightmare rolled into one.”
I touched the top of Emmy’s head, leaned over and kissed it, then hugged her close. We’d been friends since seventh grade when she had moved here from North Carolina; as close as sisters, spending nights together giggling about our favorite actors, sometimes our favorite book characters. Looking at her now it was hard to imagine her as the innocent preteen, laying on her back on her bed, her dark hair spread out over the pink bedspread, wondering if she’d ever get married or have children.
She was more like Edith and most other girls. I was always the odd one out, rarely considering a future of marriage or children. None of that interested me. A domesticated life with a good man seemed so foreign and unattainable to me. Not to mention I wasn’t really fond of young children as a preteen or teen. The only future I pondered was full of exploring, learning and reading, maybe even travel. I daydreamed about big adventures far from home while Emmy and Edith filled scrapbooks with wedding ideas and window shopped for wedding dresses.
“It’s going to be okay, Emmy,” I told her as she cried against me.
She nodded, unable to speak between the sobs. I wasn’t sure why I had told her it was going to be okay when I really wasn’t sure it was going to be okay.
“What has the doctor said?”
Emmy leaned back in the wheelchair and reached for a tissue next to the bed. She wiped her eyes and face with it.
“He said there’s still a chance there has been spinal cord damage. The bullet was so close to that area. It could be weeks before we know for sure if he will be able to walk again.” Fresh tears slipped down her cheeks. “Or we could know within days. Whenever he wakes up.”
I helped Emmy back to her room before I left the hospital, passing her mother and Sam’s parents on my way out. After quick hugs and updates, I sat in Daddy’s car with my hands on the steering wheel, feeling selfish as I pondered if I would ever have a connection with someone the way Emmy did with Sam. I’d never really had that connection with Hank. Our connection was more physical than emotional and though I longed for the physical connection with a man again, I ached almost more for an emotional one.
I pushed the thoughts aside, closing my eyes and saying a prayer for Sam before I pulled back onto the road to head toward home.
“The mother was a junkie,” Edith said slowly as she picked at the edge of the tablecloth in our parent’s dining room. “The agency said she has been in rehab and picked us to adopt her baby. They want us to go down to meet her.”
Mama took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, okay… how do you two feel about this?”
Jimmy reached over and gently held Edith’s hand. They smiled at each other, tears rimming Edith’s eyes.
“We’ve been praying and we think it’s what we should do,” Edith said softly.
“But we’re still nervous,” Jimmy admitted. “The birth mother could change her mind at any point before the adoption is finalized. And with this being an open adoption — well, we aren’t sure what involvement the mother will have, but at this point, the agent we are working with said she isn’t interested in any involvement. She’s simply too young to be a mother.”
I knew Mama well enough to know her furrowed eyebrows and downcast eyes were caused by worry that Edith and Jimmy might have to face the unimaginable pain of having the child taken from them if the mother changed her mind.
Still, I also knew our parents would support my sister and Jimmy in whatever decision they made.
“We will be praying,” Daddy said, reaching across the table to take Edith’s hands in his. “We all know you two are going to be amazing parents.”
Edith let out a shaky breath. “I hope so, Daddy.”
“We know so,” Mama said brightly. “Now, no more of that worrying and wondering. I’m excited to be a grandma again so let’s just cast down all imaginations and bring all thoughts captive to Christ like our favorite verse says.”
Mama smiled and pushed a piece of pie across the table at Edith. “Now, eat some more pie and let’s make this a celebration!”
Laughter broke out around the table as I stood to answer a knock at the door.
“Sorry I’m late,” Marion said standing in the doorway.
Her smile was broad, her skin appearing younger than I’d ever seen it. She walked inside and I helped her take her coat off. “Stanley and I went for some coffee after church and I lost track of time.”
“Stanley, huh?” Mama called from the dining room. “Come on in here, Marion and fill us in on how things are going!”
Marion’s cheeks were flushed and she sheepishly smiled as we walked into the dining room.
“Grandma!” Jackson rushed toward her and tossed his arms around her waist.
Marion kissed the top of his head. “Hey, sweet boy. What are you up to today?”
Jackson looked up at her with bright green eyes and grinned. “Grandma, Aunt Edith says you have a new boyfriend. Am I going to have another grandpa soon?”
While my face burned with embarrassment, Marion tipped her head back and laughed heartily, hugging Jackson to her.
“Oh, my boy,” she giggled like a young woman. “You are so funny and smart. But let’s not rush anything. Stanley is a good friend and that’s all for now, okay?”
Jackson sighed. “Okay, Grandma, but I don’t like you over at that house being all lonely. I think you need a man to keep you company.”
My family snickered at my son’s words while I stood in bewilderment wondering who had indoctrinated my child to believe a woman needed a man to survive, but also finding it sweet he was concerned about his grandmother’s potential loneliness.
“Jackson, I think it’s time to go sit have some of Grandma’s pie and let the adults talk now,” I told him, kissing his cheek.
He sighed again. “Okay, Mama, but I swear, you just never let me have any fun.”
Mama’s face was red with laughter when we sat back at the table. “Oh, Blanche, this child’s sass is total payback for the attitude you gave your daddy and me when you were growing up.”
Daddy grinned. “And it’s so sweet to watch.”
“Why don’t you two just eat your pie and interrogate Marion about Stanley and leave me out of it?” I laughed.
After dessert, I walked Marion to her car, sliding leftovers Mama had packed for her onto the passenger side seat.
“So, you’re enjoying your time with Stanley?” I asked.
Marion leaned back against the closed driver side door of the car and looked out at the sun setting, the orange glow pouring across her face almost like a spotlight. Her smile was peaceful, wistful even.
“He’s much different than I ever expected, Blanche. Much different that you probably expected too. He’s gentle and thoughtful, calls during the day to check on me. Sure, he’s a little rough around the edges about some things, after all these years in newspapers but it hasn’t jaded him the way I thought it would have. He lost his wife you know.”
“Yes, Thomas told me.”
“He really loved her and at first he was afraid to talk about her, but I let him know it was okay. I wish I could have met her.” Marion laughed and shook her head. “Although I guess that would be awkward now that I’m dating her husband. I hope she would have liked me – if she had met me.”
“You just used the word dating,” I teased.
Even in the fading glow of the sunset, I could see the red flushed across her cheeks. She pressed her hand to her mouth and giggled like a young girl.
“Oh, I did, didn’t I?”
I felt awkward asking my ex-mother-in-law about her dating life but, at the same time, I couldn’t seem to stop my curiosity.
“So… has he kissed you?”
Marion laughed and looked away for a moment then back at me with a broad smile.
“Yes, and it was wonderful.”
I hugged her and we laughed together, the warmth of the sun still on us.
“Oh, Blanche,” she leaned back to look at me. “There can be love again after heartache and hurt. I want you to know that. I want you to know there will be love again one day. Pure, gentle love. Not every man is hard and hurtful. There are good men out there. Don’t be afraid to love again someday, okay?”
I laid my hand against the face of the woman Hank’s father had bruised with his fists many times and saw in her eyes genuine joy, joy I hoped I could have within myself someday. I nodded to let her know I understood her message to me, hugged her again and opened the car door for her.
Standing in the driveway long after she left, I watched the sun slip behind the hill, an orange and pink glow spreading along the horizon’s edge. I basked in the happiness I had felt radiating off her when I finally walked back to the house, letting it carry me through the rest of the evening.