We all need distractions these days so I’m doing Fiction Thursday again this week. It may seem like there has been a lull in Blanche’s story, but things will be picking up again, don’t worry. Most of my rough draft for A New Beginning is finished, so I’ll probably be offering two chapters a week for the next few weeks.
As always, feel free to comment on the story’s direction or details in the comments. The chapters I share here are initial drafts (for the most part) and are revised, rewritten and edited later.
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.
“Well, Sam, two more weeks and you’ll be back on duty,” I said, handing Sam a cup of coffee.
He shook his head as he sipped from the coffee. “I can’t even believe it’s been seven months since I was shot and Faith was born.”
“None of us can,” I said, sitting in a chair across from him. “It’s a total miracle you’re still here with us.”
I thought back to the weeks and months that had followed Sam being shot. The damage to his spinal cord had taken months to heal, but eventually, it did enough to allow him to return to his job. Being unable to work or even participate in activities he had before the shooting left Sam depressed and angry most days. Using two canes with cuffs that pressed into his forearms helped him maneuver around the house, but thoughts of walking freely outside the house to hunt like he’d used to, or even to go to church, were far from his mind. The idea he’d ever return to work as a sheriff’s deputy was even further from his mind.
After months of physical therapy at our local hospital, he was able to walk better and the scars inside his back were almost healed. I know I wasn’t alone at my shock and relief that the doctor had signed off on his return to work a week earlier.
Looking across the room, Sam smiled and I followed his gaze to Faith sleeping in a blanket on the floor.
“There were two miracles that day,” I said.
“That’s true,” Sam said, still smiling and watching Faith.
Emmy walked in holding a cup of tea and sat next to Sam on the couch.
“I think I’m going to invite J.T. over for dinner tomorrow night. We haven’t seen him in weeks, not since he’s been working on that big job in Binghamton.” She turned toward me. “Have you seen him lately?”
I shrugged. “Only at church, but I haven’t really had a chance to speak to him. He’s usually gone by the time I’m done chatting.”
Emmy’s eyebrows furrowed and she frowned. “I’m worried about him. We haven’t seen him as much since Faith was born. I hope he’s okay.”
I headed toward the kitchen, knowing I’d been thinking about Judson, but determined not to let Emmy know I had. Truthfully, I had noticed his changed demeanor in the last few months, feeling a distance between us when he greeted me at church.
Was he angry I’d never agreed to go to a movie with him? He hadn’t actually asked me again after that day he’d driven me home from the hospital. Our interactions had been brief and fairly cold. He would smile at me if he saw me on the street or in the diner, but he rarely stopped to talk. I knew I should have reached out, but I was hesitant, afraid of my feelings. Now I was afraid his feelings toward me had developed into anger or ambivalence.
So, what if his feelings have changed toward me? I asked myself as I my teacup out in the sink.
I needed to keep myself detached from anyone who could threaten my secure life with Jackson. Still, I had found myself missing how he used to ask me how my day was if we saw each other at the diner, or how our handshakes lingered during the greeting time at church.
I also missed him tipping his hat as he drove by in his truck on the way to work.
He was still wearing the beard he’d had when I’d seen him that day at the theater and I had to admit it was growing on me and did little to distract me from his already attractive appearance.
“Maybe you should come over when I invite him,” Emmy said from the living room, pulling me from my thoughts.
When I didn’t answer, she didn’t seem to notice, continuing to craft her plans in an out-loud brainstorming session.
“Oh wait! We should all go fishing instead! That would be fun! Jackson would love it too! Let’s do that! What do you think, Blanche?”
“Sure,” I said, distracted, as I finished washed the cup. “That would be nice.”
Emmy sighed from the couch. “I think J.T. just needs some cheering up. We got some bad news about Uncle Ray last week. I know their relationship has been strained since J.T. left college.”
“Bad news?” I asked.
“Doctors say his heart is weaker than they thought. He might need surgery but even then, they aren’t sure if the surgery will help.”
I sat on the chair in the kitchen and thought about Judson and how his worry for his father might be one reason he’d seemed so distant recently. Maybe it wasn’t because I had never accepted his invitation to the movies.
“Did he tell you he’s thinking of going down to visit his family in a couple of weeks?” Emmy asked, breaking through my thoughts.
“No. Like I said, I haven’t really spoken to him in a while.”
Sam winced as he shifted on the couch and I knew his ribs were still sore. “So, what’s the deal with you two anyhow?” he blurted, looking up at me over his coffee cup.
I looked at him in confusion. “Deal with us? What does that mean?”
“Do you like him or what?” Sam asked.
Emmy slapped him gently in the arm. “Sam!”
“What? I’ve seen the way he looks at her and the way she flushes all red when he’s around.”
I was sure I was flushing red now, but I didn’t know I’d done it around Judson. I cleared my throat. What did Sam mean the way he looked at me? I’d never noticed Judson looking at me.
“Well, it’s getting late. I need to head home and get Jackson ready for bed.”
Sam shifted forward and looked at me with a more serious expression “I’m sorry, Blanche. I didn’t mean to pick on you. I really thought maybe. . .”
“I barely know him, Sam. He’s nice, but I’m not interested in a relationship with anyone.”
I stood and reached for my coat. “I know you mean well, and I do appreciate you being concerned for my romantic well-being, but truly, I’m happy single right now.”
Emmy stood and hugged me. “It’s okay not to be ready for a relationship. Sam is just – well, a dork,” she looked over her shoulder and scowled at her chuckling husband. “But we do want you to be happy and if you are happy outside of a relationship then we’re happy for you.”
Sam grinned as he stood. “That was a whole lot of happys but yes, we are happy if you are.” He pulled my coat closed around me. “And if you are happy alone, with no one to love you the way I love Emmy, then…”
I playful pushed at him and laughed. “Sam Lambert! Knock it off!”
I left, smiling at my friends’ gentle teasing, but still worried about Judson and wondering how he was taking the news about his father. As I drove home, passing by the Worley’s old tenant house where he was living, I considered stopping but hesitated at the thought of being alone with him.
Good grief, Blanche. What do you think is going to happen? You’re not some crazed, desperate woman. I sighed. Yet anyhow.
I pulled the car in front of the Worley tenant house and noticed a light in the front room. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door to Daddy’s Oldsmobile but didn’t get out.
You’re just being a friend, Blanche. There’s nothing wrong with that.
My hand hovered over the door, ready to knock but pausing to listen to the music filtering from inside the house instead. Frank Sinatra singing one of my favorite songs. I listened for a few more moments and then knocked. The music continued. Maybe he couldn’t hear me. I knocked again, louder and the music turned off. When the door opened, Judson stood in the open doorway, his clothes, face, and beard covered in sawdust.
“Blanche! Hey!” He was holding a chisel and piece of wood. “What are you doing here?”
“I was just driving by and — thought I should che – see how . . . I mean, Emmy was worried about you, so I thought I would stop and check in on you.”
I mentally chided myself for being so flustered. Why was I so flustered? Maybe it was how the sun caught his blue eyes, or the small scar on his chin I’d just noticed, or the way his shirt fit across his shoulders.
“Oh. Well, thanks. I’m good. Just working on some woodworking projects. I’m building a table for Mr. Worley. Want to come in and see it?”
He stepped back, revealing a well-furnished room with paintings of oceans and scenery on the wall and cozy, yet modern furniture. In the middle of the living room a partially built table was laying on it’s top with the legs already installed. Even from where I stood, I could see that the legs were carved with intricate patterns and detail.
I stepped past him, my eyes on the table.
“This is beautiful,” I said, tracing the patterns with my fingertips. “I had no idea you did this kind of work.”
He set the chisel down and dusted his pants and shirt off. “It’s relaxing for me and, of course, it comes in handy for construction jobs.” He snatched a rag off the top of a table and wiped his hands. “So, what brings you by?”
I hesitated asking him about his dad, but didn’t know how else to explain my visit.
“Emmy told me about your dad. Are you okay?”
He leaned back against a small bookcase and folded his arms across his chest. I wondered if he had made the bookcase as well.
“Yeah. I’m okay. I mean – I’m worried for him, but,” he shrugged. “I’m sure it will all turn out fine.”
His answer was short and sweet and that was fine. I don’t know what I’d expected him to say or do. Pour his heart out to me?
“Oh,” I said. “That’s good.”
“I mean –” he rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, looking at the floor. “I guess I don’t know how to feel actually. I’m worried for him but . . . I’m angry at him too.” He folded his arms again and shook his head. “I love him, but he was hard on me and we butted heads so often. I feel guilty I dropped out of college, but yet I’m glad that I didn’t let him determine my future.”
He looked at me and laughed softly, rubbing his beard. “My emotions are pretty mixed up in other words.”
“I can tell,” I said.
“That’s about as introspective as I’m going to get for now,” he said, grinning. “Hey, can I make you some tea or get a glass of water or something?”
“No, but thank you,” I said. “Really. I have to head home and get Jackson ready for bed. He likes me to read a book to him before he falls asleep.”
I looked at the floor, feeling suddenly awkward and anxious. I moved toward the door, smiling up at him then looked at the floor again. I felt like I was in high school again, standing in a social hall where I didn’t feel social at all.
“I understand. Jackson is a great kid. You’re very lucky.”
“I really I am.”
I glanced at the coffee table as I walked toward the door and noticed a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
“Are you reading that?” I asked, pointing toward it.
“Just started it a couple of days ago. I’d heard a lot of good things about it and thought I should try it.”
“I really loved it,” I said. I hadn’t realized he was a reader as well. “What do you think so far?”
“I love it too,” he said. “I love Scout. Can you imagine having a kid like her? I think that would be awesome. I have a hard time putting books down at night and end up bleary-eyed on the site some mornings.” He laughed. “Most of the guys just assume it’s because I was out drinking the night before. They’d never imagine it’s because I’m a nerd.”
“It gets even better the further you get in,” I told him. “And being a nerd isn’t the worst thing in the world, you know. Take my word for it.”
“Yeah,” he laughed again, smiling as he reached for the doorknob and opened the door. “I know.”
I looked up at him, studying his blue eyes, my eyes drifting down his square jawline and across the light-brown beard with tinges of red.
“So… what’s with the beard?” I asked abruptly.
What’s with the beard? Why did I ask that?
He tilted his head back and laughed. “Well, that question came out of left field. What? Don’t you like it?”
“No. I mean, yes, I mean, it’s fine. I was just curious. It really doesn’t matter if I like it or not. It’s your face.”
His smile did something to my insides I couldn’t describe. “I grew it to combat the winter cold, to be honest,” he said. “Winters up here are cold for this Southern boy. But, now that the weather is warmer, it’s starting to itch and annoy me and trimming it isn’t much fun either.”
He leaned against the door frame, standing close to me, and folded his arms across his chest. “Think I should shave it off?”
I shrugged. “Like I said. It’s your face.”
“Yeah, but would you like my face better if it was gone?” He watched me intently, grinning.
“I think that’s a trick question and I’m not taking the bait,” I told him as I stepped out onto the porch.
“Ah, you’re no fun.”
I flinched when he laid his hand against my arm.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” he said as I turned toward him. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted to thank you for stopping by.”
Why had I reacted that way? Flinching at his touch as if he was Hank? Would I ever not think of Hank when I was near another man?
“Of course,” I said, silencing my mental chatter. “I hadn’t talked to you in a while and I just thought I – well, Emmy was concerned so I thought I’d check on you for her.”
“Was Emmy the only one concerned for me?”
I smiled and shook my head. He seemed incapable of talking to me without saying something that sounded like flirting, but maybe I was reading too much into it. I looked at the floor of the porch and stepped down the stairs.
“Have a good night, Judson,” I called over my shoulder. “I enjoyed our visit.”
As I slid behind the steering wheel, I looked up to see him leaning against the doorway. The way his masculine frame was backlit against the light in the front room leading me to pause in admiration before I turned the key in the ignition.
I let out a long breath as I drove away, wondering why I’d thought I could visit him and not feel the rush of attraction I had been fighting so hard to keep at bay. I’d have to stop any impromptu visits like that in the future if I intended to keep my emotional walls intact.