If you didn’t catch yesterday’s chapter, and you’ve been following along, you might want to read that before you read this chapter so you won’t be too confused and so you can find out what “big moment” Blanche had on her step to pulling herself out of her Hank funk.
As always, you can find the other chapters at the link at the top of the page, or HERE and you can find the first part of Blanche’s story in A Story to Tell on Kindle or Kindle Unlimited. The Kindle edition is on sale for $1.99 until February 19th (which is about all the marketing I have done for this book.)
Folding the dress I’d altered for Fannie Jones, I decided I’d deliver it to her at the library on my way to lunch with Emmy at the diner. The weather had cooled some, the sun was bright, and I knew a walk would do me good and might help slow my racing thoughts.
Stepping onto the sidewalk, I noticed the temperature had grown milder since two weeks earlier when we’d been at the lake. As I walked, barely noticing the cars passing by or the owner of the shoe shop setting up an outside display, I wondered if it had been the heat that had led me to be so reckless with Judson that night. Maybe I could blame the kiss on heatstroke if he tried to talk to me about it in the future.
So far, though, he hadn’t tried to talk to me about it. I’d seen him briefly at church, making sure to sit in a pew far from him. He’d stopped at our house once to talk to Daddy about how to remove a hornets’ nest from a bush behind his house, but I’d kept myself busy hanging clothes on the line and then rushing back inside to start dinner, making sure not to look up as he talked to Daddy and then left in his truck. I knew I couldn’t avoid him forever, though, and that eventually, he’d want to talk about it. I had no idea what I’d say to him, but I knew the kiss had been a mistake I didn’t intend to repeat.
Glancing into the flower shop as I neared the library, I recognized Stanley standing near the front, pondering two arrangements on the counter. His head turned slightly and looking at me, he raised his hand and waved me inside.
“Blanche! Just the person who can help me.”
“Oh? How can I do that?”
He placed his hand gently on my back and ushered me toward the counter where Millie Baker stood with an amused smile.
“Which one of these two arrangements speaks to you?”
“Um… .speaks to me?”
“Yes. Which one says something to you?”
“Well, what should it be saying?” I asked.
“Well, it should . . . uh . . . say …,” I’d never seen Stanley’s cheeks flush red before. He looked at the floor, hands on his hips, wearing his signature red suspenders, wrinkled khakis, and button-up dress shirt, without a suit coat. He coughed nervously.
“I guess it should say, I’ve enjoyed your,” he cleared his throat, rocking back on his heels and still looking at the floor. “company.”
I grinned and winked at Millie, who was stifling a giggle behind her hand. I looked at the flower arrangements, one with bright yellow and pink carnations interspersed with baby’s breath and lavender lilies, the other full of deep red roses and surrounded by baby’s breath.
“Let’s see,” I tapped my fingers on the top of the counter, studying the arrangements. “I would go with this one,” I touched the vase with the carnations. “Because if you go with this one,” I moved my hand to the one full of roses. “It could imply you’ll be getting down on one knee soon.”
Millie failed to hold the laughter in when Stanley looked at me with wide eyes. He snatched the one with the pink and yellow carnations and laid two bills on the counter. “I’ll take this one,” he said stiffly. “Keep the change.”
He turned abruptly and walked quickly out of the shop.
“Blanche, you’re awful,” Millie giggled. “He looked like a deer in the headlights when you suggested this one should go with a proposal.”
“I didn’t mean to frighten him,” I laughed. “I was just being honest.”
Millie straightened some tulips in a vase. “You know, he’s been in here before, but he could just never decide what kind of flowers to buy for her. It’s so cute really. How nervous he gets. It’s totally changed my mind about him. He’s much different than those editorials he writes. He is a lot more. . .,” she tapped her chin with her finger and looked thoughtful. “complex than I thought.”
“It just goes to show we can’t always judge a book by its cover, I guess,” I said. “Anyhow, I have to get this dress over to Fannie at the library.”
Millie waved at me, looking through the tulips. “Have a good day and good luck getting away from her when she starts chatting.”
Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about getting away from Fannie’s chatting since she was cornered at the front desk with a woman asking where she could find books about crocheting. I slid the package with the dress on the desk and waved at Fannie instead.
“I’ll be down after work to drop off payment, Blanche,” Fannie said, looking up from the card catalog. “Thank you so much!”
I rushed outside, glad not to have to deflect Fanny’s stories about her bunions or her husband’s indigestion. I didn’t mind her stories or chatting with her, but I had a stack of projects back at the shop I needed to finish.
Opening the door to the library, a smiling Lillian Steele greeted me. “Oh! Blanche! Long time no see, honey!”
I hugged the pastor’s wife as I stepped into the sunlight and stepping back I saw her hand tightly holding the hand of a little girl. Wide brown eyes stared back at me under a pale yellow sunhat.
“Well, hello, Annabelle,” I said, leaning down closer to Lillian’s daughter. “How are you this morning?”
Annabelle pulled her Mama’s hand across her face and peered around it, a shy smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “I’m okay, Miss Robbins.”
Annabelle was Lillian’s middle child. She’d been pregnant with her oldest, Benjamin, the day Hank and his friends had lit a cross on the pastor’s front lawn. I knew Benjamin was at school. I guessed the baby, born only three months ago, must be home with Pastor Frank.
“How are you feeling?” I asked Lillian. “Getting your energy back yet?”
“Much faster than I thought I would,” Lillian said, flipping a long strand of black hair over her shoulder. “Hey, we’re starting a new Bible study next month at the church. I’d love to have you there if you have time.”
I’d attended Bible studies with the ladies of the church many times since I’d been a teenager, but I still felt a twinge of guilt thinking back to that first time I’d lied to my parents, using a Bible study as an excuse to leave with Hank one night. I’d told my parents I was attending a Bible study at Lillian’s home when I’d really sneaked out to meet Hank. He’d taken me to a bar that night and I’d had my first taste of beer. Granted, I’d never grown accustomed to the taste of alcohol and hadn’t had any since that night, but the fact I’d lied to my parents and used Lillian to get away with it weighed heavy on my mind long after I’d left Hank and returned home.
“I’d love to, Lillian. I should be able to, but I’ll check with Mama and Daddy and see if it will work with their schedule.”
Lillian leaned in for another hug. “So glad to hear it. I’ll get you the exact date and time at church on Sunday.”
I held the door open for Lillian and Annabelle and as I closed it behind them I smiled, happy to know the local chapter of the KKK wasn’t as active as it once was and that Pastor Frank and Lillian hadn’t been afraid to stay in the community even after hate had tried to drive them away.
My stomach growled, reminding me it was lunchtime. I glanced at the clock in the town square. I had agreed to meet Emmy at the diner in ten minutes.
Passing the hardware store on the way to the diner, I glanced at the front window and caught my reflection. I paused, turned toward the window, and looked at the hair tight in a bun on my head and the plain, blue skirt, and blue striped knit top I was wearing. I may have been curvier than I had been as a teenager, but I was, in so many ways, still plain, boring Blanche.
I sighed, pushing a strand of hair back into the bun. I leaned closer to the glass, touched my fingers along the skin under my eyes and wondered if it was the reflection or if there really were bags appearing there. I squinted at the skin under my eyes, and slowly my reflection faded as I looked through the window, my eyes focusing on a man standing at the front counter, handing the cashier money.
I leaned closer to the window, trying to get a better look at the man between the reflections of the cars and people passing by on Main Street. Suddenly I felt dizzy with disbelief. My heart lurched in my chest.
It couldn’t be.
But it was.
My ex-husband was standing on the other side of the glass, less than five feet away from me.
The sounds of the town bustling through life that afternoon faded under the sound of my heart pounding hard in my ears.
It was definitely him.
Hank Hakes was standing at the front counter of the hardware store, slightly turned from me and I knew he hadn’t seen me yet. I stood in place as if struck with a tranquilizer dart, starring at the familiar crooked smile, the brown hair pushed back off the forehead, the clean-shaven jaw and the long fingers on the hand that had once touched me gently and then later formed the fist that broke my nose.
I looked away quickly, my breath stuck in my chest, my thoughts suddenly racing. I started walking, head down, hoping I could get to the shop and lock the door before Hank saw me.