Welcome to Fiction Friday where I share part of a fiction story in progress. I shared Chapter 22 yesterday so be sure to check it out.
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.
My mind was full of thoughts of Hank the next day as I washed the dishes, sweat beading my forehead and neck from the heat pulsating through the kitchen window. Looking up I watched Daddy and Judson working on the lawnmower, Judson’s forehead smeared with grease after he’d dragged his hand across it to wipe the sweat away. Judson’s presence at our house more than a couple of times a week to help Daddy with this or that project had become uncomfortable for me. I was grateful he had accepted Mama’s invite for dinner only once since we’d kissed.
I still couldn’t believe I had kissed him in the first place. I’d barely wrapped my mind around that fact before Hank showed up in town. Now I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around anything at all. I looked at the plate in my hands and realized it was the third time I had washed it.
I jumped at the sound of Judson’s voice and turned to see him standing in the doorway, wiping sweat off his brow, the top two buttons of his shirt unbuttoned, a smile tilting his mouth upwards.
“Let me get you some water,” I said, quickly turning away from him.
Blast him. Even covered in sweat and grease he was good looking.
“Thanks,” he said. “I’ll take that offer, but I actually came in to let you know I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks.”
I filled the glass as he spoke.
“I’m heading down to North Carolina to be with my parents while Dad has heart surgery. Not sure how long it will take. My little brother is at college and can’t come help out so I offered to be there.”
He sat on a chair at the table as I set the glass of water next to him, then turned to fill another one for me.
“Whose gonna go fishing with me?”
Jackson was standing in the doorway, lower lip trembling.
“Hey, buddy,” Judson said, leaning forward, arms propped on his knees. “You’ve got your grandpa to go fishing with. You’ll be okay until I get back.”
“Yeah, but he doesn’t make voices for the fish like you do.”
Judson grinned, laughing softly. “Well, you’ll have to make the voices for them until I get back, okay?”
Jackson bit his lower lip, his hands deep in his pants pockets. He sniffed. “What if you don’t come back?”
I held my breath. Judson kneeled down in front of Jackson, one knee on the ground, the other propped up and his arm across it. “I’ll be back, kid. In a couple of weeks. I promise. I’m just going to check in on my family. Okay?”
Jackson nodded, still looking at the ground, tears in his eyes.
“Listen, you take care of your mama while I’m gone and when I come back we’ll go fishing and for a hike and maybe even ride Mr. Worley’s old tractor together.”
Jackson nodded, looking at the floor, bending his foot back and forth, like I always did when I was nervous. “Yeah. Okay.”
He wrung his hands in front of him for a few moments, his lower lip trembling.
“I don’t have a daddy you know,” he blurted suddenly.
My chest tightened. I had no idea where this conversation was going and I almost stepped forward to take Jackson’s hand to end it as quickly as possible. Something held me in place, though. I sat staring at the exchange. It was like a car accident I couldn’t look away from. I gulped a mouthful of water to distract myself from the nerves buzzing in my stomach.
Judson nodded as he stood, rubbing his hand along the side and back of his neck, wincing slightly.
“Yeah, buddy, I know.”
“Maybe you can be my daddy.”
I almost choked on the water I was drinking.
Judson cleared his throat and looked at the floor. He looked up at me briefly as I tried to force the water back down my throat. He looked back down at Jackson again, putting a hand on my son’s shoulder. “You know what, kid? I’m your buddy and I’m here for you whenever you need me, okay?”
“Okay,” Jackson said with a shrug. “Want to go throw the ball out front? You can use Grandpa’s glove.”
Judson grinned and ruffled Jackson’s hair. “You bet, buddy. I’m not leaving for a few more days, so I’ve got plenty of time for that. Let’s go.”
Judson looked at me, raising his eyebrows and letting out a breath. I could tell the conversation had made him as uneasy as it had me.
I felt like I’d been holding my breath the entire exchange, except for the moment I’d almost choked on the water. As the door closed behind Judson and Jackson. I sat in a kitchen chair, clasping a hand against my forehead.
“This single mom thing is not for the faint of heart,” I mumbled to myself.
I felt the same a week later when Judson stopped by to say goodbye to Jackson, reaching down to hug him close. Jackson pulled away with tears in his eyes.
“You gonna come back, right?”
Judson places his hands on Jackson’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “Yes, buddy. I am coming back. I promise you.”
My chest constricted with worry as I watched my son hug Judson tightly, knowing that my fears of him becoming too attached to someone who might not stick around were coming true. When Judson pulled away from Jackson he stood to face me.
He leaned over to hug me and I let him but something inside me held me back from leaning completely into him. My muscles tightened and I pulled back, ending the embrace abruptly.
“I hope it all goes well,” I said stiffly, folding my arms across my chest and feeling awkward, knowing I was tossing up walls because I didn’t want to admit I felt like I might crumble into a pile of confused emotions at any moment .
I couldn’t deny the look of disappointment on Judson’s face as he stepped back and nodded.
“I will,” he said, then smiled slightly. “If I write you, will you write back?”
I folded my arms across my chest, trying to smile. “Of course.”
He nodded, eyes on the floor, as he slid his hands into his pockets. “Or, I guess I could call too.”
“Yes, I guess you could,” I said, looking at the floor.
Why won’t he just go away? I thought to myself.
I needed him to leave so I could figure out how to feel about what I’d done, about him, about everything related to us. I didn’t know how to interpret the quickening of my pulse as he had hugged me, the aching feeling inside me urging me to dart upstairs to my room and cry.
He pulled his cowboy hat down on his head. “Okay. Well, I’ll see you soon.” His footsteps faded across the porch and into the grass.
I pushed the door closed against the sound of his truck engine and stood with my hand still pressed against it as Jackson ran out the back door to swing on the tire swing. I leaned my forehead against the smooth wood, closed my eyes and let out a long breath.
“Did you tell him Hank had been in town?” Mama’s voice behind me startled me out of my thoughts.
I turned and sighed, leaning back against the door, my hands behind me.
“No. Why should I?”
“I just thought he’d like to know. I mean you two are . . . well, friends at least, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Mama, but he doesn’t need to know anything about it. I’m fine. Hank is gone and I don’t see him coming back.”
I was grateful when the phone rang a few moments later and snatched it off the receiver to avoid continuing the conversation with Mama.
“What is going on with you and Thomas?”
I groaned inwardly. This conversation with Emmy wasn’t going to be any easier.
“Nothing is going on with Thomas and me,” I said with a heavy sigh.
“You two were in a dark room together . . .”
“Because I was hiding from Hank.”
“Oh, good grief. He was just standing outside the hardware store when I saw Hank and I didn’t want us to be standing there when Hank came out. And I may have punched Thomas thinking it was Hank.”
“You punched him? In the face?” Emmy burst into laughter. “I thought his cheek looked swollen but I didn’t want to ask. So, what about Judson?”
“What about him?”
Emmy sighed. “Blanche, I know something happened between you two at the lake two weeks ago and you keep changing the topic when I try to bring it up.”
I pressed my hand against my forehead and looked back toward where Mama had been standing before. I couldn’t see her and hoped she wasn’t anywhere she could hear me.
“I kissed Judson.”
I thought my best friend was going to have a stroke. “You what?!”
“I kissed him and I shouldn’t have and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“We have to talk about it! How do you feel? Did you like it? Do you like him? What did he say? What did he do?”
“What? I need to know.”
“The kiss was nice. That’s all I’ll say.”
Emmy squealed on the other end of the phone and I cringed, uninterested in acting like a school girl over something causing me such internal conflict.
“I knew it! I knew you two would hit it off and you more than hit it off!”
“Emmy, I’m not ready for anything like that …. I — ” The tears forming in my eyes surprised me. “I’m afraid, Emmy.”
“Afraid of being hurt or how you felt?”
“Both,” I admitted.
“I know I can’t promise that you won’t get hurt, Blanche, but Judson is a good man. I’m not only saying this because he’s my cousin. He’s a good man and I know . . .”
Her voice trailed off and she sighed. “I guess I should say I think he truly has feelings for you. He worries about you and I’ve seen the way he looks at you in church.”
Good grief. Was church the new place to check out the opposite sex?
“Yes. In church. I’m sorry. I noticed. He watches you and I can tell he wants to talk to you but . . . I don’t know. I think he’s trying to give you your space.”
I leaned back against the wall in the kitchen and slid to the floor, hugging my knees against me. “I don’t know, Emmy. It’s just all very confusing.”
“Have you tried praying about it?”
“About how I feel about Judson? That just feels – weird.”
Emmy laughed. “Blanche, God cares about every part of our lives, even the romantic parts. I think this is one of the biggest issues you should be taking to him.”
“What do I even say, ‘Lord, please help me to not have feelings for this man?”
“Do you have feelings for him?”
I let out an exasperated sigh. “Emmy, I’m just saying that I don’t know how to talk to God about this.”
“Well, how do you talk to God about anything else? Just talk to him the same way about this you would any other issue you bring before him.”
I knew Emmy was right. So why was it so hard for me to just do it?