Here we are at another Fiction Thursday. I can’t believe I’m already at Chapter 22 for A New Beginning. I love to know what you think of the story or what direction you think it should take, so please feel free to share it in the comments.
As always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle, but you don’t need to read it to understand what is happening in A New Beginning. 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.
When I heard my name and felt the hand against my arm, I was back in that dimly lit apartment with Hank, adrenaline rushing through me like a lightening bolt, Jackson screaming in my ear. I closed my eyes tight against the terror raging inside me, balled my hand into a fist and without thinking swung at Hank, making solid contact with his face.
Only it wasn’t Hank holding his face when I opened my eyes. It was Thomas. My hand throbbed from the impact and I rubbed the knuckles with my other hand.
“What was that for?!” Thomas shouted, a hand against his cheek, red spreading across the skin.
“Oh, Thomas! I’m so sorry! I thought you were someone else.”
“Is this how you greet people?! By punching them?!”
The door to the hardware store was opening, the bell on the front at the top of the it ringing, but I couldn’t see who was coming out. I grabbed Thomas’ hand, pulling him with me down the sidewalk.
“Please…,” I pleaded. “Don’t be so loud. Just follow me.”
“Don’t be so loud? You just slugged me! I’m going to be loud! What is going on?”
I yanked at his hand and he followed me down the street to my shop, still holding his hand against his cheek and grumbling. Once inside I pulled the shades, turned the open sign to closed and locked the door.
“Blanche… what is going on?”
Thomas was touching his cheek and wincing, moving his jaw side to side. “I don’t think you broke anything at least, but I bet I’ll get a shiner.”
He looked at me with confusion and concern.
“You’re trembling like a leaf. Who are we hiding from? Is someone stalking you?”
I peeked through the blind across the front window. Hank was walking out of the hardware store now, toward D’s Diner. A chill shivered through me and I hugged my arms across my chest. I had no idea why he was in town or if he would even look for me but the thought of him being so close by after all this time left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Thomas stood behind me and I knew he was watching Hank too.
“Is that . . .?”
“Yes,” I said quickly so he wouldn’t say his name. “It is.”
“What’s he doing here?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want to see him.”
We both stood in silence for a few moments as Hank walked into the diner.
“So… what exactly happened between you two anyhow?” Thomas asked when I turned away from the door and sat in the chair next to my sewing machine.
“Nothing pleasant,” I mumbled, leaning back in the chair, arms folded across my chest.
“Derek said he heard Hank tried to come see you one time and your daddy shot him in the foot.”
I rolled my eyes. “Derek likes to tell stories. I’ve known him since second grade and he was always in trouble for making up whoppers. But, he’s close. Daddy shot at him to warn him off.”
Thomas turned a chair around and straddled it, leaning his arms on the back of it. “Derek said he thought your dad should have shot him. He said you came back to the area with two black eyes, a crooked nose and a baby.”
I patted the bun on top of my head and pushed a stray hair back off my forehead, remembering the day Daddy had driven me into town to sign the divorce papers. I hadn’t wanted to leave the house, to let anyone see the bruises and the scars.
“I won’t allow that boy to have his name,” Daddy had said as I signed my name on the bottom of the divorce intent papers, my hand trembling. I couldn’t focus on what Daddy was saying. I had been thinking about Hank, wondering if he’d even sign the papers and make the divorce quick and easy, worrying about my son growing up without a father. I didn’t care what last name my son had, as long as he was safe from Hank and able to move past the fact his mother had been foolish enough to run away with a man who had become abusive and unrecognizable to the man her mother thought he was.
“I was an idiot,” I said, looking up at Thomas. “I didn’t see the warning signs, or maybe I just didn’t want to see them. When I did it was too late and I was trapped in the never ending circle of thinking I could somehow change a man who didn’t want to be changed. It took him punching me in the face, breaking my nose, a couple ribs and almost my skull for me to wake up and get away from him.”
Thomas’ eyebrows shot up. “He broke your nose and your ribs? What kind of man does something like that?”
“A drunk one.”
Thomas stood and peered through the blinds again. His voice was cold when he spoke. “He better not show his face here today. That son of a -”
“I don’t think he will,” I said quickly, even though I wasn’t sure.
Thomas sat back on the chair, facing me, his arms folded across the top of the chair. He propped his chin on his arm, his blond hair falling across his forehead. “You’ve been through a lot, huh?”
I shrugged, sliding a piece of fabric through the sowing machine to try to distract myself. “Yeah, but a lot of people have.”
“You’re a strong lady, Blanche. No joke about it. Now I understand why you built that wall around you.”
I held the pants up to inspect the hem. “What wall?” I said with a wink, looking around the pants at him. “I’m a perfectly open person.”
Thomas laughed, grinning at me, still leaning his chin on his arm. “Yeah, that’s why it has taken us almost four years to have a real conversation. And why you won’t go out with me.”
I sighed. “Thomas. . .”
“I know. It’s not me, it’s you.” He grinned.
“It’s not that. It’s just . . .”
“You don’t have feelings like that for me.”
“No. I’m sorry.”
“It’s that guy with more muscles in his pinky than I have in my whole body isn’t it?”
I laughed. “What?”
“That J.T. who works with Stanton Construction. He’s a beast of a sexy man the ladies in the office say and I’ve seen him talking to you.”
I knew the laughing fit I was having might make Thomas feel worse, but I couldn’t help it. “Beast of a sexy man? Who even talks like that?”
“Minnie for one,” Thomas said.
“Yeah, she would talk like that,” I said through the laughter. “But, Thomas, I’m not in a relationship with Judson, I–”
“You definitely want to be in one with the way you look at him, according to Minnie.”
“Thomas, Minnie is a little dramatic. And listen, you’re a nice guy . . .”
Thomas sighed and shrugged. “But. There is always a ‘but.’ Listen, it’s okay.” He held up his hand, turned his head, and let out a dramatic sigh. “I’ve been pushed into the role of the friend before.”
He grinned and pushed his hair off his forehead. “I’m sure I’ll survive. Somehow.”
The pounding on the door startled us both and we jumped to our feet.
Thomas held his hand up to me, signaling me to wait behind the sewing table. He moved the blinds slightly and his expression relaxed.
“It’s Emmy,” he said, unlocking the door.
Emmy was a wall of sound. “Oh my gosh, Blanche! Hank is at D’s Diner. Did you know he is in town? I couldn’t believe it. He walked right in and sat at the front counter and ordered a black coffee and a full breakfast. I panicked and tried to run out of there, but he saw me and nodded at me. He said ‘Hey, Emmy,’ all calm and confident like and tipped his head in a nod. I didn’t know what to do. I just stared at him and took off, but then I didn’t want him to see where I was going so I shot down the alley by Mary’s Florist and came here the back way, but I hope he didn’t see me and figure out where you are and. . .”
“Emmy! Calm down!” I took my friend’s hands and gently pulled her toward a chair.
“You’re going to pass out,” Thomas laughed as Emmy sat down.
Emmy was breathing hard. “I just couldn’t believe it. I never expected to see him here again. Not after – you know – I just thought he’d stay away forever. Or at least I hoped he would.”
My heart was racing as I thought about Jackson at school. What if Hank was here to try to see Jackson? Did the staff at the school know they couldn’t let Hank see Jackson? I’d never told Jackson about his father and who he really was.
“Jackson . . .” I whispered.
“He’s at school,” Thomas said. “He’s fine. Don’t let your mind even go there.”
Emmy leaned back in the chair and shook her head. “Look at us. Cowering here in the dark over someone who doesn’t even matter anymore. Like he’s some kind of mass murderer or something.”
“He isn’t quite that, no, but I still don’t want to see him,” I said.
“Looks like you won’t have to,” Thomas said peering through the blind again. Looking over his shoulder, we watched Hank climb into his pick-up, slamming the door behind him, revving the engine and driving down the street, away from the shop.
Emmy sighed with relief. “Thank God he’s gone. At least for now.”
She turned to look at us, her eyebrows furrowed.
“What were you two doing in here with all the blinds pulled anyhow?”
Thomas tipped his head toward the floor, but I could see a smirk pulling at his mouth.
“I saw Hank through the window of the hardware store,” I said quickly. “And . . . uh . . . ran into Thomas while I was trying to get here to hide so he came with me.”
“Yeah. She ran into me all right,” Thomas said, touching his hand to the red spot on his cheek.
Emmy’s gaze traveled between us. “Uh-huh. Okay. That all sounds a little fishy, but I’ll just leave it – for now anyhow.” She turned slightly so her back was to Thomas and tipped her head, looking down her nose at me. She lowered her voice. “I’ve got to get back to the office, but we’ll talk more about this later. If you know what I mean.”
She pointed two fingers at her eyes first and then at mine, one eyebrow raised.
“You’d better go,” I said, ushering her toward the door.
I smiled as the door closed behind Emmy and then sat in the chair she’d vacated, my heart still pounding fast and hard in my chest.
“You okay?” Thomas asked.
I nodded, but my limbs felt weak as the adrenaline began to fade.
“I should get back to work,” I said softly. “I have a dress I need to finish for a lady from Spencer and that pair of pants for Pastor Frank.”
Thomas pushed himself off the counter and slid his hands in his jean pockets.
“Okay. Well, I need to get back to the paper anyhow. Of course, I don’t like the idea of leaving now – in case you need me.”
I laughed. “I’ll be fine. Daddy’s not far away if I need someone to rescue me.”
Thomas turned toward me, his hand on the doorknob. “Hey, have you talked to your mother-in-law about how things are going with Uncle Stan?”
Marion. I needed to call her and tell her about Hank.
“A little. I think it’s going well. Have you asked Stan?”
Thomas grimaced. “Ew. No. Why? Men don’t talk about that stuff.” He opened the door and leaned against the door frame. “Let me know if you need anything okay? Will I see you tomorrow?”
I’d forgotten about the weekly editorial meeting scheduled for the next morning. Stanley had asked me a couple of weeks ago to attend the first meeting of the month so he could give me assignments for feature stories. It looked like I’d be taking that job whether I wanted to or not.
“Yep,” I said. “I’ll see you there.”
Thomas rubbed his cheek. “Just make sure you don’t punch me in a greeting when we see each other.”
I stepped through the doorway and watched Thomas walk back toward the newspaper office. I knew most women would consider him attractive — more than attractive — with his blond hair, blue eyes, masculine jawline, a small dimple in his chin and an amazing smile. Even I found him physically attractive, despite his frequent cocky attitude. It was probably that attitude holding me back, but I knew it was also something else – someone else, no matter how much I tried to deny it.
When I closed the door to the shop, I reached for the phone to make sure Marion knew about Hank.
“I was getting ready to call you actually,” she said after I told her why I had called. “He came last night but I didn’t want to alarm you. He told me this morning he was going up to New York state to visit some friends, so I hoped he’d leave the area before you saw him. The more I thought about it, the more nervous I got, though, so I’d just picked up the phone to call you when you called.”
“Did he say why he was here?”
“He said he hadn’t seen me for a long time and wanted to check in. He needed a place to crash before he headed up to see his friends. He slept on the couch because his old room has been transformed into my sewing room.”
“Where has he been all this time?”
“He says Ohio. We didn’t talk much. He came late and fell asleep after I fixed him some food. I was so nervous, Blanche. I wanted to call you last night, but I didn’t want him to hear me talking to you and give him ideas. He did see my photo of Jackson, asked how he was. I told him he was a wonderful boy and doing well and that was the end of it. I think he’d been drinking. He was a little glazed over . . .if you know what I mean.”
I certainly did.
“Blanche, have you told your parents he’s here?”
“Not yet, no.”
“Make sure you do, okay? I really don’t think he’ll try to see you, but . . .”
“Thank you, Marion. I know you’re worried, but I’ll be fine. I can handle myself. Hey, I’m going to go and get some projects done before I pick Jackson up at school. Let me know if you need anything, okay?”
We said our goodbyes, but I knew Marion was still concerned and she wasn’t the only one. I laid my hand on the phone several times, preparing to call Daddy and let him know what was going on, each time shaking my head and going back to the pants I was hemming for Pastor Frank, determined not to get Daddy into one of his riled states.
I snatched the phone off the receiver and dialed the school.
“No. No one has stopped in asking to see Jackson,” Mrs. Ellery, the school secretary, said, sounding slightly confused when I asked. “Should someone have?”
“No, not at all. Can you just make sure you call if someone does stop in to see him?”
“Of course, Blanche.” There was a moment of silence and then, “We’d never let him go with anyone but you. Don’t you worry, okay?”
I hung up, guessing Mrs. Ellery had started to put two and two together. We lived in a small county and I knew there were more than a few people who knew my history with Hank and why Jackson never had two parents at parent-teacher conferences or school shows.
I started walking to the school a half an hour before dismissal, looking over my shoulder as I walked, wishing I had told Daddy about Hank being in town, and praying Hank didn’t show up to try to see Jackson.
Jackson flung his arms around my middle and pushed his face against me as he ran from the school.
“Hey, buddy! Did you have a good day?”
“Yes! Kenny Frasier said he had a bullfrog at home and says I can come see it one day. Can I?”
“Sure, you can. We’ll find time to go over sometime soon.”
“Did you know bullfrogs eat flies?”
“Do you think flies taste good?”
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t try one to see.”
Jackson skipped as he walked, talking away, stopping to look at bugs every few skips.
A block from the office I looked up from the bug we had stopped to watch crawl across the sidewalk and saw Daddy walking briskly toward me, his face flushed.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he puffed at me before he even reached me.
“Well, I…wait, what are we talking about?” I asked as Jackson and I started walking again.
Daddy fell in step with me and whispered, “You know what I’m talking about. That he was in town.”
“I was going to tell you on the way home. He didn’t come to see me and I didn’t want to upset you. Marion said he’s on his way to see friends in New York. How did you even find out? Did Emmy tell you?”
“Emmy knew? No, she didn’t tell me. Sam Baker came to the office a few moments ago and told me he’d seen him at D’s this morning. He thought I knew and asked if I had my shotgun ready. How does everyone know about that shotgun story anyhow?”
I laughed. “I have no idea. I didn’t tell anyone, did you?”
Daddy cleared his throat as we slowed down to wait for Jackson to study another bug. “Well, maybe one or two people. At the diner. A couple months afterwards.”
I shook my head and laughed. “Daddy. . .”
“Well, he deserved it and everyone knew it,” he said, looking at the ground sheepishly, rubbing his hand through his hair. “You came home with a baby and a black eye and people put two and two together and I wanted to make sure they knew I didn’t let him get away with it.”
I stopped and hugged Daddy. “Thank you for standing up for me, Daddy.”
Daddy hugged me back and then we continued to walk toward the shop. “I think we should leave early today,” he said as Jackson skipped into the shop. “You know . . . just in case.”
“I’m not about to change my routine for him, Daddy. Go on back to work and I will see you at five. I’ll call you if I need you.”
My hand trembled as I closed the door, watching Daddy walk back to his office, listening to Jackson play with his trucks behind me, hoping Marion had been right and Hank had actually left town.