Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning, Chapter 24

Is it really possible we are in Chapter 24 of A New Beginning? Well, I guess it is! If you haven’t read Chapters 22 and Chapter 23 from last week or are even further behind, I will warn you that there are spoilers ahead!
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I caused a bit of a stir last week by bringing Hank back into town and maybe into Blanche’s life. We will have to wait and see if he is gone for good like his mother and Blanche believe he is.

Blanche also struggled more with trying to figure out how she feels about Judson.

This week I started another story on Wattpad, which, if you don’t know, is a site with a lot of stories written by (excuse the following term) horny teenagers. This is not meant to be offensive to teenagers but there really is some x-rated and poorly written fiction on this site. Why then am I posting there? Because already I’ve had a couple of adult authors (not authors of ‘adult fiction’ necessarily) give me some pointers to help me tighten up my story. I may, or may not, continue to share The Farmer’s Daughter on Wattpad. I hope to have the final book version of it out on Kindle sometime in the fall or winter of 2020. I am only on the first draft of that novel, which will be first in a series.

Okay. Enough rambling. On to the chapter for this week. As always, this is a first draft of the story and as always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. You do not need to read A Story to Tell to follow 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.


Chapter 24

“Hey, Blanche!”

Thomas waved at me from across the street as I locked the door to the shop. The sun caught his blond hair as he swept it off his forehead. Daddy had climbed into the car and Jackson was standing next to me, swinging a rock on a string.

“The rock is my pet, Mama, since you won’t let me have a dog,” he told me when I’d picked him up at school.

He’d been trying to convince me to get him a dog for a couple of years. Apparently, his sad expression while he tugged the rock along behind him was his latest attempt.

Thomas crossed the street and stopped in front of us, looking down at the rock. “Is that the latest toy craze? Or a failed yo-yo?”

Jackson pushed his lower lip out. “It’s my pet. Because Mama won’t let me have a dog.”

Thomas looked at me with wide eyes and mock horror. “Why, Mama! How can you be so cruel? Look at this poor child with his rock when he could have a ball of fluff licking his face, following him around, being his best friend like dogs are for all little boys.”

I scowled at Thomas.

He grinned and laughed at me. “Ouch,” he said, leaning down so his face was closer to Jackson’s. “Is that the look your Mama gives you when you’ve done something wrong?”

Jackson nodded, his eyebrows raised. “I think you’re in trouble,” he whispered in Thomas’ ear.

Thomas held his hand out to Jackson and Jackson took it. “My name’s Thomas. Looks like us boys have to stick together in this dog thing. I’ll work on your Mama for you about this dog thing, if you let me take her with me tonight to hear a band play a few miles away. What do you say?”

Well the very nerve, I thought, placing my hands on my hip. He hadn’t even asked me, just assumed I would go. “Thomas . . .”

He smiled at me. “What? I’m just trying to help the kid out here.” He winked at me. “And maybe myself.”

Jackson bit his lower lip and placed his finger against his chin, looking up at the sky as if he was thinking.

“Okay, Thomas,” he said. “You can take Mama to hear that band if you tell her she should let me have a dog.”

I shook my head, placing my other hand on my other hip and glaring at both of them. I pointed my finger at Jackson, trying not to smile. “Young man, you remember that it isn’t only my decision about the dog. We’re living with Grandpa and Grandma. It’s up to them too.”

“What’s up to us too?” Daddy asked from behind me.

“Getting a dog,” I said.

Daddy sighed, patting Jackson on the head. “We’ll take about this later, kid.”

A muscle in Thomas’ jaw jumped as he cleared his throat and held his hand out toward Daddy “Hey, you must be Blanche’s, Dad. I’m Thomas. I work with her at the paper.”

Daddy looked at Thomas’ hand for a moment, did a little throat clearing of his own and then took it. He nodded. “Thomas. Night to meet you.”

We all stood there in awkward silence for a few moments, the sound of cars passing by on the street the only sound, before Thomas finally spoke again. “I was just asking Blanche if she would like to go with me to hear a friend of mine that’s playing in a band up in Nichols. I thought we could head out now and grab some dinner there.”

“Actually, you didn’t really ask me,” I pointed out.

Thomas grinned. “Well, in a roundabout way, I did.”

Daddy looked at Thomas, then me and back to Thomas and shrugged. “She’s a grown woman now, as much as I hate to admit it. It’s up to her.”

I was having a hard time reading Daddy’s expression as he looked at me, but I wasn’t sure if he was happy with the idea of me leaving with Thomas. I felt the pressure of needing to answer one way or another with both Daddy and Thomas looking at me. Maybe a night out was what I needed to take my mind off my confusing feelings about Judson and my worry about Hank returning again.

“Sure,” I said. “If Daddy is okay with a night with his grandson.”

Daddy nodded. I worked at deciphering his expression, but still couldn’t read it.

“I’d be glad to take him home, get him fed, and,” he leaned down to look Jackson in the eye. “take him fishing!”

“Yeah!” Jackson cried, jumping up and down, grabbing his grandpa’s hand. “Come on! Let’s go!”

I watched Daddy and Jackson walk down the street toward Daddy’s car and felt a twinge of regret at not leaving with them. I wasn’t one to make spontaneous decisions and on the rare occasion I did, it always made me feel uneasy.

Thomas gestured to a bright blue Chevy El Camino parked across the street and bowed slightly. “Madam.”

I looked at the car, studying the long lines, the sun reflecting off the sleek, blue paint. “Why am I not surprised this is your car?” I asked.

“Why? Because it’s a chick magnet?”

I rolled my eyes as he opened the door.

“Listen, I know what you’re thinking,” he said, climbing into the driver’s side. “This isn’t a date, okay? I actually asked Midge Flannery first. You know Pastor Jenson’s daughter over at the Methodist Church? But she came down with a cold.”

I grinned. “A real cold, or . . .”

“Hey! Watch it. Yes, a legit cold. I saw her myself. Red nose and eyes even. I took some soup over to her apartment before I decided to ask you.”

“Oh. I see. I’m your second choice.”

“Well, yes, actually, you are,” he said, starting the car. He grinned at me again and winked. “But, we’re just friends so that’s okay, right?”

“Yes, actually it is,” I said as he pulled the car away from the curb, hoping he would remember we were just friends as the night went on. “So, who is the friend we’re going to see?”

Thomas clicked on the radio. “Jerry Fritz. The new sports reporter. He’s the bass player.”

Dean Martin crooned over the radio and Thomas turned the knob.

A man on the radio screamed through the speaker:

“I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction

‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try

I can’t get no, I can’t get no…”

This time I reached over and turned the knob.

“What?” Thomas said. “You don’t like the Rolling Stones.”

I made a face. “No. They’re sleezy.”

Thomas snickered. “I think that song is my theme song.”

I ignored his comment and turned up the radio.

“Stop! In the name of love!” I sang to the song on the radio, putting my hand out in front of me, wiggling like Diana Ross. “Before you break my heart.”

Thomas watched me with wide eyes, glancing from the road to me, then back again.

“Look at you lettin’ loose!”

I stopped singing and laughed, shaking my head. “I don’t know what I was thinking. And focus on the road.”

“You’re thinking that it’s time to let your hair down, Blanche. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

I touched the bun on top of my head, then smoothed my hair to make sure there were no strands out of place.

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” I said.

“Why not? You should let your hair down. I bet you look beautiful with your hair falling down around your shoulders.”

I looked out the window and thought about the day in the barn with Judson, how he’d told me I looked nice with my hair down. I touched the back of my head and closed my eyes and remembered how he’d told me the same thing at the lake. I could almost feel Judson’s hand in my hair as he pulled me closer. I thought about the day he’d left and how I’d barely let him hug me, how I’d pulled back, physically and otherwise. Why had I been so cold? I was driving my own self crazy at this point trying to figure out why I was acting so strange.

I shook my head at Thomas. “I don’t even have a comb to pull through it. It would be a mess.”

“Messy is sexy,” Thomas said with a wink.

I looked at him raised eyebrows, tipping my head. “Are you sure you want to go out with a pastor’s daughter?”

Thomas tipped his head back and laughed. “Maybe she’ll help me turn over a new leaf. Seriously, though, this is tame compared to what I used to be like. I promise you I’ve come a long way.”

“Yikes. I think I’m glad I know you now then.”

The bar was crowded when we arrived, the band already on stage. The bass player nodded at Thomas while he played, and Thomas nodded back.

Thomas gestured toward a couple standing up from a table in the corner. “Looks like that one is opening up. Let’s grab it.”

He pulled my chair out for me and brushed crumbs off the top of the table. Looking around the room, I realized how out of place I felt. I viewed diners and drinkers through a haze of cigarette smoke that stung my nose and eyes. The sickly-sweet smell of alcohol pulled at my stomach, memories of Hank staggering in after work rushing at me fast.

I hadn’t been in a bar since the night I’d witnessed Hank kissing that other woman. I had found my mind wandering to that night often over the years, wondering what had ever happened to her. Had Hank started dating her officially after I left? Maybe he’d even married her. Or maybe he’d done to her what he’d done to me. I was pulled from my memories by Thomas snapping his fingers in front of me.

“Hey, kid, where’d you go?”

“Oh. Sorry. I just haven’t been in a bar in a long time.”

“Back in your other life, huh?”

“You could say that.”

“Tell me about it when I get back. I’m going to order a burger and a beer. What can I get you?”

“A burger sounds good. Just a ginger ale to drink, though, please.”

Thomas sighed. “Of course.”

Watching the people around me sipping alcoholic drinks or gulping mouthfuls of beer, I realized how sheltered my life had become since coming home and it was something I didn’t mind. What had I been thinking agreeing to come here with Thomas? I’d rather have been home, curled up on the couch with Jackson, watching Gunsmoke. While I had once thought my life would somehow become exciting after I left with Hank, I now realized I preferred my quiet nights at home.

Thomas handed me my drink and as I took a sip, he held out his hand.

“Johnnie said he’d bring our burgers out to us when they’re done. Want to dance?”

I looked up at him, shaking my head, my chest constricting. I hadn’t danced in years.

Thomas leaned over me and spoke loudly over the music. “Come on. We’re dancing as friends.” He held up his hands in front of him. “No hanky-panky. I promise.”

He held out his hand again and I took it reluctantly. Leading me out into the middle of the other people dancing, he laid his hand against my lower back, stepping close to me as a fast song faded into a slow song. I took his other hand and slid my arm around his waist, feeling almost as awkward as I had the night I’d first danced with Hank as a 17-year old girl.

Thomas winked at me playfully. “Now, if you said right now you had feelings for me, I would throw all the friend stuff right out the window.”

I slapped his shoulder playfully.

“Thomas!”

He laughed as we danced, swaying to the music. When a faster song came on he stepped back and we watched the people around us dance. He shrugged at me and tried his best to mimic the steps as I laughed.

He leaned close to shout over the music. “I’m not really a dancer. Can you tell?”

I watched him shuffle his feet and stumble and laugh. He was right. He wasn’t a dancer. But I wasn’t one either and soon we were laughing at each other.

When the band stopped playing a few minutes later we stopped to applaud.

“We’re going to take a break and be back in 15 minutes,” the singer said, tipping his hat.

Sitting down at the table again, I took a drink from my ginger ale and noticed our burgers and fries had been delivered while we were dancing.

“What were you thinking about earlier?” Thomas asked, reaching for a fry and dipping it in ketchup. “When you zoned out on me.”

I drank more of the ginger ale, wishing I could change the subject.

“Just about the past.”

“Something the old man did to you?”

I laughed. “Well, he wasn’t exactly an old man, but he was my husband at the time, yes.”

“Did he do something bad to you at a bar?”

“You could say that.”

Thomas’ expression faded from teasing to serious. “Did he – hurt you – physically?” He held his hands up quickly. “Wait. No. You don’t have to tell me. This is supposed to be a night full of fun, not bad memories.”

“It’s okay. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just. . .” A sudden lump formed in my throat and I found myself unable to speak about the night I’d watched the blond woman with the low cut dress kiss Hank hard on the mouth and him kiss her back. “It was nothing,” I choked out.

Thomas looked at me with furrowed eyebrows, taking a swig of the beer.

“Nothing I can talk about anyhow without crying apparently,” I said, swallowing hard.

I was determined not to cry. I’d pushed tears so far down for so long I sometimes wondered if I could cry anymore.

“The more you tell me about this guy,” Thomas said, his jaw tight. “the more I wish I had walked into D’s that day and punched him straight in the face.”

“You’re not the only one who wants to do that, but really, it was a long time ago. It’s better just to leave it. It only bothers me once in a while and tonight some of the memories came back, that’s all. And really, I’m just not a bar person. I don’t drink, I haven’t got a clue how to dance, and cigarette smoke gives me a headache.”

Thomas grinned. “In other words, you’re a complete square.”

“Yep. And I like it that way.”

Thomas leaned back in the chair, watching me. “I do too. You’re fine the way you are. Not saying that in a flirting way, but you don’t have to be someone you aren’t. I think you know that by now.”

“I’m getting there. Enough about me, though. I want to know what you like about Midge.”

Thomas didn’t hesitate. “She’s cute.”

I sighed and pressed my hand against my forehead. “Thomas. Besides her being cute.”

“Okay. Okay.” Thomas tipped the chair back on two legs as he hung his arms over the back of it. “She’s sweet, smart and makes me want to . . .,” he looked at the ceiling, bit his lower lip and tipped his chair back down, light crimson seeping into his cheeks as he looked at me. He laughed softly and shook his head, looking at the top of the table and pushing at his napkin. “She makes me want be a better person, I guess you would say.”

He rubbed his hand across his face and shook his head. “That sounded so cheesy. I can’t believe I just said that. I’m so embarrassed.”

I tipped my head back and laughed loudly. It felt so good to laugh and release the tension I’d been holding in recently.

“If I was Midge and I heard that, I would melt inside. Thomas! You should tell her how you feel! What are you waiting for?”

Thomas looked at me his face, and even his ears, bright red now. “I’ve only taken her out twice. I can’t tell her that.”

“Okay,” I conceded. “Maybe you can’t tell her yet, but, soon, okay?”

A thought hit me as I took another bite of the burger.

I wiped my mouth with a napkin. “Wait, a minute, Thomas. Weren’t you harassing me about not going out with you just a couple of weeks ago? Why did you even care if you were dating Midge?”

Thomas winked, taking a sip of his beer. “That was more about making you feel guilty than really thinking you’d go out with me. I already knew you had a thing for Judson.”

Biting into my burger I shook my head at him.

“Hey, I told you the truth about Midge and how I feel about her, so now it’s your turn. How do you really feel about Judson?”

I shoved a fry in my mouth as I considered how to change the subject but didn’t need to worry. Thomas’ eyes drifted past me and his eyebrows furrowed. “Speaking of Midge. . .What is she doing here?”

I turned to follow his gaze and saw Midge standing next to a man at the bar, talking with her hands, looking upset. She pulled a thick woolen coat around her as the man responded, wiping her nose with a tissue and blowing into it. Thomas cleared his throat and continued watching the exchange. I had a feeling Thomas was thinking what I was, wondering what Midge was doing at the bar if she’d told him she had a cold.

The man stood abruptly, shaking his head, turned and shoved the man behind him hard to the ground.

“Patrick!” Midge shouted. “Stop it!”

“You’ve been pestering me all night and I’ve had enough of it!” the man Midge had called Patrick shouted as he stood over the man on the ground.

Midge pulled at the arm of the man she’d been talking to. “Patrick, you need to come home with me.”

“I’m old enough to make my own decisions, Midge!” Patrick yelled, facing Midge. “Go home!”

Midge threw up her arms in frustration, walking away from the bar and pushing her way through the crowd. Thomas crumpled his napkin and tossed it onto his empty plate, watching Midge stomp in our direction.

“Midge?”

Midge Flannery was petite with a small round face, a cute nose and dark brown curls that fell to her shoulders. I’d known of her since we were both children and though I didn’t know her well, she had a reputation for being sweet, quiet, and well composed. This was the first time I’d ever seen her look flustered and disheveled. She pushed a curl back from her face and I noticed her eyes were red rimmed, her nose looked sore, and she was wheezing slightly.

“Thomas! What are you doing here?” She glanced at me, then back at Thomas.

“I could ask the same thing. I thought you were sick.”

Midge sighed and covered her mouth as she coughed. “I am sick. I came down here because the bartender called our house and told me my brother was drinking too much and to get him out of here. I drove up here so my dad wouldn’t find out Patrick is completely out of control with the drinking. Patrick refuses to come with me, though and I’m too tired and sick to mess with him this time.”

She looked at me and scowled, a hand on her hip. “But it looks like you found a replacement for me anyhow, Thomas Fairchild. Now I don’t have to feel guilty for canceling on you.”

I stood and held my hands up. “Now, Midge. Wait. I’m only here with Thomas as a friend. He was just telling me . . .” I glanced at Thomas whose face had paled as I spoke, probably worried what I was going to say. “Um… Thomas told me he’d asked you to come but you were sick and asked if I would come as a friend.”

Midge’s expression softened, but I could still see unshed tears in her eyes. “Oh. Well, I guess that’s better than what I thought.”

“Do you want me to see if I can convince Patrick to leave with you?” Thomas asked.

Midge nodded, blowing her nose again. “You can try, but honestly, I don’t think it will help.”

A half an hour later, Midge and I followed a beer-soaked Thomas and a staggering Patrick Flannery into the parking lot. Midge and I had both stifled laughs behind our hands when Patrick threw a mug of beer into Thomas’ face, thinking he was someone else. Out in the parking lot we were still laughing as Thomas helped Patrick into the car.

“Real sorry about that, buddy,” Patrick said, slurring his words. “I swear I thought you were Danny harass- harassing me . . . me . . ” he hiccupped in Thomas’ face. “again.”

“It’s okay, big boy,” Thomas said with a grimace. He patted Patrick’s shoulder as Patrick fell into the backseat of the car. “Let’s just get you home.”

Thomas shut the door and turned toward Midge and me, his eyebrows raised. “Whew. That was not the adventure I was expecting tonight. Your brother is as strong as an ox.”

Midge smiled. “I’m just glad he didn’t punch you. We’d be on our way to the emergency room.”

“Are you going to be okay getting him home?” Thomas asked.

“He’ll sleep on the way there and I’ll either drag him inside or let him lay and let Daddy find him in the morning and handle it,” Midge said, flipping her hair over her shoulder.

She laid her hand on Thomas’ arm, tipped her head to one side, and smiled. “Listen,” she said, her nose clearly stuffed from the cold. “I hope you’ll ask me out again, Thomas. When I’m over my cold.”

Thomas smiled. “I certainly plan to.”

Midge stood on her tip toes and brushed her lips against Thomas’ cheek.

“I hope I didn’t give you my cold by doing that,” she said.

I stepped back and moved toward Thomas’ car slowly, feeling like I was eavesdropping on a private moment.

As I turned toward his car, I saw Thomas out of the corner of my eye lean down and briefly press his mouth against Midge’s.

“If you did, it would totally be worth it,” he said softly.

I smirked when he slid into the driver’s seat a few moments later. “Well, it looks like things are progressing nicely in the Midge department,” I said with a wink.

“They certainly are,” he said with a grin, starting the car. “They certainly are.”

We laughed about the evening and sang to the music as we drove and when he pulled the car into my driveway, I saw Jackson standing on the front porch, his hands on his hips.

“Where have you been, young lady?” he said as I stepped out of the car.

I giggled as Thomas stepped around to where I was standing.

“I was out with Thomas listening to some music.”

“You should have been home an hour ago.”

Jackson’s eyebrows were furrowed, his mouth pressed tight into a thin line.

I kissed his cheek as I stepped onto the porch. “We had to help a friend before we could leave.”

His scowl softened and he lowered his hands from his hips. “Well, if you were helping a friend, I guess it is okay.”

Thomas stood next to me and laughed. “Hey, kid, thanks for letting me take your mom with me tonight.”

Jackson folded his arms across his chest and eyed Thomas suspiciously.

“You smell like beer,” he told Thomas. “Mama says beer makes people mean and she doesn’t like people who smell like beer.”

Thomas glanced at me and winced. “Ouch. Your Mama is a tough lady, but yeah, she’s right. Beer can make people mean. Luckily I never even finished my beer tonight. I smell like beer because some guy dumped his on me. Crazy, huh?”

Jackson wasn’t swayed from his indignation. “I think it’s time for you to leave,” he said firmly. “I bet you didn’t even talk Mama into getting me a dog.”

“Jackson, that’s enough,” I said, my tone even sharper than his had been. “Head in and up to bed. You should have been there an hour ago . I’ll be in to read you a book and tuck you in. Now go.”

Jackson turned but kept his gaze on Thomas until he finally walked through the front door.

“Wow,” Thomas said. “I don’t think you need to worry about anyone ever messing with you again. That’s one tough kid.”

“Yeah, he loves his Mama but sometimes he seems to forget who the parent is.”

Thomas stepped off the porch, walking toward his car. “Thanks for a fun night, Blanche and hey, remember what you said about me needing to tell Midge how I feel?”

“Yes. . .”

“If you have feelings for Judson you need to do the same.”

He grinned, tossing his keys into the air and catching them behind his back.

“See you around the office. Oh and get your kid a dog.”

After reading Jackson his book and kissing him goodnight, I tiptoed to my room and closed the door behind me. Undressing I thought about my night, about dancing with Thomas and about what Thomas had said. I also thought about the realization I’d come to when Thomas and I had been dancing; how I had wished I was in Judson’s arms instead of Thomas’.

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