Welcome to Chapter 26 of A New Beginning. Are you all still looking over your shoulder to see if Hank shows back up?
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. This book will be published in full later this spring on Kindle and other sites.
Let me know what you think should happen next and what you think of the story so far in the comments.
“You invited Stanley Jasper? Here? To our house? For dinner?”
Daddy was in disbelief. “Janie, honey, what were you thinking?”
Mama turned from the sink, propping a hand on her hip. “I was thinking, Alan, that I wanted to invite Marion and her new friend to lunch when I saw them outside the supermarket yesterday. Is that so horrible?”
Daddy sighed and tossed his newspaper onto the table with a gentle flick of his wrist. “Well, no. It’s not so horrible, I guess. It’s just . . . well, you know how I feel about Stanley Jasper.”
Mama turned back to the counter and cracked open an egg over the frying pan. “Yes, I do, and I also know that you are a good Christian man who can handle being polite to another child of God for one afternoon for the sake of a lovely woman who needs a second chance at happiness in her life.”
Daddy snorted. “Well, I suppose,” he said. “But if she needs happiness, she should choose someone other than a bleeding heart liberal like Stanley.”
I clasped my hand to my mouth, trying not to let Daddy see me about to laugh at the conversation unfolding in front of me.
“Who knows,” Mama said, cracking another egg. “Maybe Stanley isn’t the man you think he is.”
Daddy rolled his eyes. “And maybe Khrushchev and I should have tea and crumpets after work tomorrow.”
I was grateful when Jackson skipped into the kitchen and asked if he could have chocolate milk with his breakfast, ending the discussion.
When Marion and Stanley arrived later that evening, Daddy had calmed down and put on a nice sweater and tie and combed his hair.
“Stanley,” Daddy said stiffly, shaking Stanley’s hand when he walked through the door.
“Alan,” Stanley said with a curt nod. “Good to see you again.”
This is going to be such a fun evening, I thought to myself sarcastically, wondering how stilted the dinner conversation would turn out to be.
The conversation flowed along smoother than I thought, with Daddy and Stanley managing to avoid politics and foreign relations and Mama, Marion and I dominating the conversation with comments about the latest fashions and our plans for what to plant in our flower beds in the spring.
After dinner Mama suggested we chat in the living room to let dinner settle, while she brewed a cup of coffee and cut slices of pie.
“So, Stanley – are you a fan of baseball?” Daddy asked, sliding his hands along the arms of his chair.
Stanley nodded, clearing his throat. “Well, yes. I’ve always been a Phillies fan.”
Daddy nodded back. “They’re not having too bad of a year this year.”
“Doing well,” Stanley agreed. “Yep. Doing well.”
Silence fell over the room. I could feel the tension in the air and tried to think of a way to break it.
“I like baseball!” Jackson declared from the living room floor where he was playing with his trucks.
Laughter filtered around the room. Daddy ruffled Jackson’s hair. “That’s right. You do. We’ll sign you up for the local team when you get a little older.”
“Do you like to pitch or hit better?” Stanley asked Jackson.
“That’s a good thing,” Stanley laughed. “You can be an all-around player.”
“And he’ll be the best player out there because he’s my grandson,” Marion said, kneeling down and kissing Jackson’s cheek.
“Aw, Grandma!” Jackson said, rubbing his cheek. “Not when there’s company here!”
We all laughed again as Mama walked into the living room with a tray with the pie and coffee. She set the tray on the table, arranging plates in front of each person.
“Strawberry rhubarb okay for everyone?” she asked.
Stanley smiled. “Well, Mrs. Robbins, that’s just about my favorite pie and I don’t get it very often.”
Mama picked the tray back up and propped it under her arm. “Now, Stanley, please call me Janie.”
“Of course, Janie,” Stanley said. “Thank you.”
Stanley’s eyes wandered to the record player across the living room as he took a bite of pie. He tilted his head to get a better look at the records in the rack underneath it.
“I see someone is a Hank Williams fan,” he said, standing and sliding record out of the stack. “Emily and I used to dance to his songs at little dance hall near our house when we first met.” He cleared his throat after a few moments of looking at the front of the record and looked up at us. “Sorry. Emily was my wife. She passed away 15 years ago.”
He swallowed hard. “Cancer.”
Daddy looked down at the floor briefly and cleared his throat as well. I began to see that clearing throats was something men did when they were nervous, embarrassed, or having difficulty controlling their emotions.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Stanley,” Daddy said. “That must have been very hard on you.”
Stanley nodded and placed the record back on the rack. “It was, but, well, being able to spend time with Marion has been a nice respite after so many years of grieving.”
He smiled at Marion and pink spread across her cheeks as she lowered her face and smiled back.
Daddy stood and walked to the rack. “You know what song Janie and I like to dance to?” He slid a Patsy Cline record out. “This one…”
He opened the record player and slid the record on the turntable, gently dropping the needle on to it.
I Fall to Pieces crooned throughout the living room. Jackson sat next to me on the couch, pulling his knees up to his chest and leaned against me.
Daddy held his hand out to Mama. “Care to dance, Janie?”
Mama laughed. “Alan, not here . . .”
“Why not? Come on. Stanley and Marion can dance too. Us old folks can get some moves in tonight.”
Mama’s cheeks flushed red like Marion’s had a few moments earlier. She laid her hand in Daddy’s. Daddy gently pulled her close, his arm around her waist, his hand holding hers. She slid her other arm around his back and leaned her head against his shoulder as they swayed.
Stanley grinned and took Marion’s hand in his. I smiled as Marion moved smoothly into his arms, looking the happiest and most comfortable she’d looked since the day I’d met her.
The couples danced slowly to the music, Stanley and Marion smiling at each other, Mama and Daddy lost in the moment, hanging on to each other, swaying. As I watched them, I wondered if this would be me someday – dancing in my living room with my husband, swept up in the moment, feeling at home not in a house but in his arms.
After an hour of more songs and more dancing, laughing and sharing stories, I looked down and noticed Jackson had fallen asleep against me. I nudged him gently, knowing he had become too big for me to carry.
“Come on, kid. Let’s head upstairs.”
He leaned against me and looked up at me bleary-eyed as we walked up the stairs. I helped him take his shirt and pants off, slipping pajama tops and bottoms on him.
“Mama? When is Judson coming home?”
“I don’t know, honey. He’s still helping his family.”
Judson had been gone for over a month now and there were few days that went by when Jackson didn’t ask when he was coming home.
“I miss him.”
“I know, sweetie. I miss him too.”
I knew I wasn’t lying when I said I missed Judson.
Jackson changed into his pajamas and then climbed into bed, yawning. I tucked him into bed and kissed his forehead.
“Do you think Judson is ever going to come back?”
I pulled the covers up over his shoulder and sat on the edge of the bed. Judson had called twice since he’d left. The last time we had talked had been a week ago. We’d talked briefly and he’d given me an update on his father, on repairs he’d made around the house while he was there and said he hoped to be home in a couple more weeks. Jackson had asked to talk to him before we could discuss anything else and then Judson had said family had arrived and he needed to go.
“He said he would,” I told Jackson. “I know you miss him, but he has to be there for his family right now.”
“He promised he’d come back.”
“Yes, he did. So, he’ll be back.”
As I changed into my nightgown for bed, I thought about what I’d told Jackson and hoped I hadn’t lied. Judson had promised, but people had a way of breaking promises, something I knew too well. Sliding under the covers, I wondered if I was hoping Judson would return for Jackson’s sake, or for mine.
“I am so excited to finally meet Miss Mazie in person,” Edith said from the backseat of Emmy’s blue Chevy. “Jackson, honey, take your finger out of your nose.”
I snickered, looking back at my sister pulling Jackson’s finger away from his nose while he giggled.
“Good luck with convincing him to stop that,” I said.
A baby seat sat next to Emmy, Faith snuggled in a pile of warm blankets. Emmy was driving, her hand tapping on the steering wheel to the beat of The Supremes, her head tilting from side to side as she sang along. We’d left early that day to travel to see Miss Mazie, Hannah and Buffy, for only the third time since I’d left almost seven years before. It was the first visit with Emmy and Edith.
“I’m so glad Sam didn’t have to work today and I could drive us,” Emmy said, pausing in her singing. “It’s so fun to have a girl’s day!”
Sunlight streamed through the trees as we drove and I rolled the window down to enjoy the breeze, unusually warm for October. The autumn leaves spread bright colors across the hillsides. The day was perfect and a chance for me to forget about my confusion about Judson and for Edith to take her mind off Lily and the baby.
It seemed impossible it had been eight years since I had driven this road in the passenger seat of Hank’s truck, his hand on my thigh, our future out in front of us like the empty road we were on. I remembered leaving, thinking how I didn’t want to live alone and how Hank was my ticket to adventure and love for the rest of my life. I was so naïve, so oblivious to the reality of married life and life in general.
“Hey, turn here,” I said as we entered the city.
I watched the apartment buildings rise up before us as we got closer, unchanged; rusted fire escapes hanging loosely on the sides, vines crawling up the outside walls, laundry hanging on lines stretched between windows. Inside one of those apartments, on the fifth floor, I’d crossed from innocent teenager to confused and lost young woman.
“Pull over here.”
Emmy pulled into a parking space in front of the building where Hank and I had lived and I stepped out and looked up at the window of the apartment we had lived in.
“You’re too young to know what love is,” Mama told me the night Daddy
caught Hank kissing me in our backyard. “What you have right now is lust.”
Mama had been right. My feelings for Hank might have been tinged with love but they were highlighted by a healthy dose of lust. I had never felt more alive than when he touched me and kissed me in the moonlight. A rush of desire I’d never known before coursed through me the first time he pressed his mouth against mine and that desire consumed me to the point of selfishness and self-destruction.
I closed my eyes, picturing the night in our sparsely decorated apartment when I’d told Hank I was pregnant, six months after we’d been married; the night the veil of fantasy was stripped away.
He had stood over me, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“It probably isn’t even mine.” He repeated it, pacing in front of me as if he’d struck on an idea and was thinking how to use it. “It probably isn’t even mine.”
He tossed the empty whiskey bottle at the wall behind my head and it shattered, glass raining around me. I screamed in terror and fell to the floor on my knees, my hands over my head. His fingers encircled my upper arm and he pulled me up to look at him, his eyes wild.
“That’s it isn’t it? It isn’t even mine!” He shouted the words at me. “Maybe you’re just a whore like your sister.”
His face twisted in a terrifying scowl and I turned my head from the overwhelming
stench of alcohol on his breath.
“You’re just a little whore, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”
I opened my eyes to stop the memory and while I couldn’t see the window from where I stood I knew it was there – the bedroom where I’d held Jackson against me while Hank screamed and danced around the room like a man possessed.
“What do you think you’re going to do?” he had asked. “You gonna try to leave me? You gonna try to take my son from me?”
Suddenly he screamed, veins popping out on his neck, eyes wild, words unintelligible except for a few obscene curses.
“The hell you will!” he screamed. “The hell you will!”
He’d lunged at me and I had fallen with Jackson in my arms.
Like a man possessed by the devil he flailed and screamed and in that moment I had wondered if he really was the devil; the physical beauty I had once seen in him distorted by his rage-filled screaming.
I had only been able to get away because he’d fallen to the floor, grabbing my foot on the way down. I had kicked him full in the face in that split second adn I could still hear his crazed screams in my mind as he clutched at me. Closing my eyes in the bright sunlight, I could still see the blood spraying from his nose and spilling onto the floor; his glazed, unseeing eyes looking at me and then closing before his head fell down into the blood.
A hand touched my shoulder.
“Come on,” Edith said. “We don’t need to keep standing here with all those memories rushing at you. Let’s head down to see Miss Mazie’s. She’s expecting us.”
I drew in a deep breath and nodded, pausing to look at Jackson through the back window, through the reflection of the apartment building on the glass, asleep against the door. The memories were hard. My decisions led to pain for both Jackson and me, but at the same time, if I’d never left with Hank, I’d never have had my son.
Miss Mazie’s house looked almost the same as it did the day I’d left to go back home. The small white house stood close to other, similarly built white houses, rose bushes blooming on either side of the steps leading to the porch. A hanging basket overflowing with small purple flowers swung gently in the breeze. A porch swing looked inviting and cozy on one side of the porch. I remembered nights sitting there, chatting with Miss Mazie about her life, then gently swaying back and forth, a dozing Jackson in my arms.
Standing on the porch, her walker helping to support her, Miss Mazie waved as we pulled into the driveway. Her skin, dark like chocolate, was still smooth on her face, almost, as if she hadn’t aged at all.
“Oh, honey, you get on up here and hug my neck,” she called to Jackson as he skipped up the stairs to her.
She kissed his cheek and laughed, her plump body jiggling as she held him against her.
“You’re like a big fluffy pillow!” Jackson declared, pressing his face against her stomach.
Miss Mazie laughed even harder. When she finally let him out of her embrace, she reached out for me and pressed her soft cheek against mine.
“Honey, you look so good,” she cooed. “Now you introduce me to everyone else and then come on in so I can hold that baby.”
After introductions we entered the house to wait for Buffy and Hannah to arrive with their children. The noise rose considerably when they did and I was grateful the weather was warm enough to send the children outside into the backyard to play. Hannah’s daughter Lizzie announced she would take charge of the younger children, even though her brother was the oldest.
Lizzie was almost unrecognizable to me now. Gone were the pigtails and freckles she’d had when I first met her with Hannah on a cold winter day outside the church the day after I’d learned I was pregnant with Jackson. Her straight blond hair hung down her back, held back from her face with a pink head band. At 13 she no longer stuck her finger in her nose but stood straight with her chin held high and a book hugged against her chest with one arm. Gone were the outfits of denim overalls with tiny pink flowers, replaced by a light pink polo top and an adorable plaid skirt, a pair of pink t-strap Mary Janes completing the ensemble.
Lizzie held her hand out to Jackson. “Come, Jackson. Let’s go play on the swing.”
Even her tone exuded maturity. I watched her lead my son out the backdoor with the other children following behind, in awe of the young lady she had become.
“I can’t believe how much she’s grown,” I said to Hannah as we made sandwiches in the kitchen. “She was so pretentious a young child.”
Hannah tossed her head back and laughed, blond curls falling down her back. “She has now added a touch of impertinence to her growing list of attributes. And oh, my goodness, she still doesn’t know when to hold her tongue, but she’s slowly starting to develop a small amount of tact at least.”
I glanced out the back door at a little girl with blond curls tight on her head giggling and chasing Jackson around a bush in Miss Mazie’s yard. I realized she must be Buffy’s youngest, the baby who had come after three miscarriages. She was the miracle child, the child who had opened my eyes to the need to not judge a book by its cover.
Buffy, the pastor’s wife, had always seemed so proper, well put together and popular, but at the same time always wearing a mask that never allowed anyone to see the real her.
The day she sat in Miss Mazie’s kitchen and began to pour out her heart about the losses of her children and her doubts of God’s goodness and faithfulness, I had seen my own judgmental heart.
“So many people don’t know what it’s like,” she had said abruptly that day, shaking her head. “to always have to be on. To always have to be – perfect. To look like you have it all together all the time, so no one suspects that sometimes you don’t even know if you believe what your husband is preaching up there.”
Tears rushed down Buffy’s cheeks, streaking her face with mascara.
“Do you know what it’s like to hear that God never gives you more than you can handle and have those words echo over and over in your mind while you watch a nurse carry a small box out of the room that you know holds the baby you carried for three months? Isn’t this more than I can handle?”
I remembered my heart breaking at her words and feeling shame at having judged her as someone who never suffered.
Now here was the baby she thought she’d never have, giggling and playing in the autumn sunlight.
“She’s beautiful,” I said as Buffy stood next to me.
“Thank you. She’s the part of our family we never realized we needed.”
“How are your other children and Pastor Jeffrey?”
“They are doing wonderful. You know we didn’t think we would be at this church for this long but it’s home now and such a blessing. The church is growing and Jeffrey is the happiest I’ve seen him in years.”
I was happy to see my friends living lives of joy after their struggles and I knew I was on the same path, no matter what my heart decided about Judson.
I found a seat in the living room on a chair next to Miss Mazie’s recliner.
“Now, Blanche, what’s this I hear from Jackson about his friend Judson who he says is about his mama’s age?” Miss Mazie shuffled into the living room from the dining room. “He says this friend doesn’t have a wife and is related to his Aunt Emmy.”
Emmy almost spit out the ginger ale she was drinking. I shot her a warning glare.
“Sorry,” Emmy mouthed, looking at the floor, her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh.
When had my son found time to get Miss Mazie alone and spill the beans to her about Judson anyhow? This was one of the times I regretted my son had the gift of gab, which seemed like a curse right now.
“He’s a good friend to Jackson and our whole family,” I said with a smile.
Emmy raised her eyebrows at me and smirked.
“Who are we talking about?” Buffy asked as she and Hannah walked into the room with pitchers of lemonade and plates of sandwiches.
“Judson T. Wainwright, my handsome cousin from the South,” Emmy told her. “He moved up about a year ago to work in my dad’s construction business.”
Emmy glanced at me, caught sight of my scowl, and cleared her throat. “He has been a good friend to all of us.”
I could tell she was trying not to tease me, knowing how confused I was feeling after the night at the pond.
“Oooh,” Hannah said, sitting in a chair across from me. “I think I need to hear more about this man.”
Buffy sat on the couch, leaned her elbows on her knees, propped her chin in her hands, and looked at me with wide eyes. “So, is he a suitor of yours, Blanche?”
“I think he’d suit her just fine if she’d allow herself the chance to get to know him better,” Edith blurted.
The women laughed as I blushed.
“Now, now ladies, let’s not embarrass poor Blanche,” Miss Mazie said waving her hand as she sat in her recliner. She smiled at me and reached over to take my hand. “Blanche will find someone when she’s ready.”
“It’s okay, Miss Mazie,” I said. “I know they are only teasing me because both of them know how hard it’s been for me to let my guard down since Hank.”
Miss Mazie was still holding my hand. “We all know how much Hank hurt you, baby, but don’t let your heart be hardened against all men. There are many good ones out there. Don’t you forget, God created us in his image – male and female – to compliment each other. Now that I’ve said that, though, you make sure you wait for the right man to come along, okay, now? Pray about it.”
On the drive home that night I thought about how Miss Mazie and Emmy had both implored me to pray about how I felt about Judson. Why did I always seem to forget about prayer when I was struggling with a situation? The only problem was, I wasn’t sure how to pray. Should I pray for God to take away my feelings for Judson to protect my and Jackson’s heart, or should I pray for my heart to be softened toward the idea of Judson being more than a friend to me?