First, please don’t get mad at me for this week’s cliffhanger. I swear I didn’t set it up that way. Second, 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.
Thomas sat on the edge of the desk I was sitting at and grinned. “That story you did on Sam was great. What are you working on for us tonight?”
I looked up from the typewriter and sighed. After a long day of work, I didn’t want to be sitting in a dimly lit and slightly stinky, male-dominated newspaper office and writing anything, but I had a Friday deadline, it was Wednesday and had only a couple of hours a day to work on the story after work.
“A story about a survivor of Pearl Harbor but I’m having a horrible time piecing it all together.”
I flipped through the wrinkled pages of notes on top of the desk. “I wanted to write it at home but my typewriter is out of ribbon and I’ve discovered I don’t write as legibly as I once did since Stanley told me it looked like chicken scratch when I submitted my column last week.”
Thomas laughed. “I can’t read my own handwriting either, don’t worry about it. Besides, now you won’t have to bring your copy in when you’re done. You can just leave it on Millie’s desk for her to handle tomorrow.”
“Hey, how are things going with Midge?”
Thomas grinned and pushed his hand back through his hair. “Good. Actually, really good. You probably won’t believe this but she’s even convinced me to go to church. I’ve met her Dad. I’m not sure what he thinks of me, but I think I might be winning him over.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
“But, wait a minute – what about you? What’s up with you and muscle man?”
“Thomas . . .”
“Okay. Judson. What’s up with you and Judson?”
“He’s been in North Carolina for two months now, helping his family after his dad’s heart surgery. We’ve talked a couple of times on the phone and – it’s just complicated.”
Thomas raised his eyebrows. “Oooh..complicated is always interesting. Want to fill me in on what that means?”
I shook my head and laughed. “No. I do not want to fill you in.”
I lifted the papers around me, looking for my notes where Mr. Harper had shared about hearing the Japanese planes while he was in the canteen with a group of friends.
“You know, it might help if I had all my notes here. I think I left the rest of my notes at the shop. I’m going to go grab them. I’ll be back in a few moments.”
“Take your time,” Thomas called as I reached the office door. “We’re here practically all night. Or at least I will be. I have to write up a boring town council meeting. And when you get back you can tell me what’s so complicated between you and Judson.”
The crispness in the evening air as I stepped outside the newspaper office, signified Fall had officially, and finally, arrived. Walking down the sidewalk toward the shop, I looked up at the leaves of the maple trees hanging like a canopy over the street. Pausing for a moment under the streetlight outside the shop, I tipped my head back, closed my eyes, and breathed in the smell of autumn; leaves on the ground, coffee brewing in the newspaper office, someone’s wood-burning furnace freshly lit.
A cold chill shivered through me. I opened my eyes but kept them focused on the stars dotted across the night sky.
I didn’t have to turn around to know who was standing behind me.
As I turned I saw the familiar smirk, the brown hair with loose strands hanging across his forehead and bright green eyes, the mouth that tilted up on one side when he said my name; the mouth that had given me my first kiss and what I once thought would be my last.
My voice sounded foreign to me, hollow and strained when I was finally able to speak. “What are you doing here, Hank?”
He smirked and slid his fingers back through his hair, pushing the loose strands out of his eyes. I stepped back against the closed shop door. I knew that look and nothing good came with it.
“That’s about the greeting was I expectin’,” he laughed. “That or something involving a lot of curse words. Good to see you too, Chatterbox.”
I bristled at his repeated use of the nickname he’d given me when we’d first met. I studied his face, clean-shaven, his expression hinting at the hardness I had been used to seeing when we were married.
“What are you doing here?” I repeated.
He slid his hands in his pant pockets and casually leaned back against the light pole in front of the store. His demeanor gave off the air of arrogance I was accustomed to from him. “I was hoping to talk to you a little.”
“It’s not a good time.”
“Well, when would be a good time?”
“There won’t ever be a good time.”
Hank rubbed his hand across his face and snorted a small laugh. “Come on, Blanche. Can’t we call it even? I mean, I broke your nose and you broke mine, right? We’re on a level playing field now, don’t you think?”
I could tell he hadn’t changed at all. He wasn’t even going to apologize for the way he’d treated me, not that I had ever really expected he would.
“What do you want, Hank?”
He gestured toward the shop door. “Can I come in and talk?”
“We can talk right here.”
He slid a cigarette from his front shirt pocket, propping it in his mouth as he searched for a lighter inside his jacket. He lit the cigarette and took a long drag on it before pinching it between his thumb and forefinger and blowing out a stream of smoke toward me.
“So, you found yourself someone new since you left me?” he asked.
“That’s none of your business.”
He laughed, taking another puff of the cigarette. “Well, in case you care, I found someone new.”
“Does that bother you?”
“Not a bit. You found someone new before I ever left you.”
He watched me through narrow eyes, smoke pouring from his mouth and nose. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.”
His laugh was raspy, like footsteps across a gravel walkway. “That’s a bunch of bull and you know it. I never took none of those women into my bed.”
“It’s any of those women and at least you admit there were other women.”
He spit at the ground next to him, narrowing his eyes at me again. “You always did have to let me know you were smarter than me, didn’t you?”
I tightened my hand into a fist as I took a step back, my jaw clenched.
He shrugged and tapped ashes off the tip of the cigarette with his index finger. “Well, I didn’t come to talk about any of that anyhow. I just came to tell you that you won’t have to worry about seeing me again for a long while. I head out to bootcamp in a week.”
I folded my arms across my chest. “Bootcamp? You?”
“Yeah. Me. Don’t sound so surprised. I haven’t exactly been livin’ the lap of luxury since you left. I got picked up for petty theft a couple times, once for beating up some loser who deserved it, and two months ago I got nailed for hot wiring a car.”
He shrugged. “Last week when I was visiting my old buddies up in New York some old cop arrested me and said I was trying to steal money from some bar up there. It was total crap. Someone else did it and pinned it on me, but the judge told me I could sign up or spend two years in jail. I chose to sign up. One year and I’m back out again,” he waved his arms out to one side, bowing slightly. “debt to society paid. I go to boot camp next week and from there, who knows.”
He shrugged again, took another draw on the cigarette. “Probably Nam.” He chuckled, shaking his head. “Can you even believe it? Me fightin’ in a war. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the head?”
I didn’t answer him, just watched him blow smoke into the dark, my hand on the door to the dress shop, my muscles tense, ready to duck inside if he stepped any closer.
He looked at me under heavy eyelids, head slightly tipped back, one hand in his pocket, the other holding the cigarette between his forefinger and thumb. I wondered how much he’d had to drink before he came here.
“What?” he said. “You ain’t got nothing to say?”
“What do you want me to say?” I asked, unsure of how I felt about what he’d just told me; how I should feel.
The idea of Hank in the military, maybe being sent to Vietnam wasn’t anything I’d ever imagined. I’d never seen an ounce of bravery or nobility in him and I didn’t see it now either.
“You don’t have to say nothing,” Hank snapped. “I just came back to tell Mama and thought I’d tell you too.”
I opened the door to the shop and stepped back toward the open doorway. “Okay. You’ve told me. You can leave now.”
He dropped the cigarette and ground it into the dirt with the tip of his boot. “Take care of my boy while I’m gone, Blanche.”
His boy? I was incensed at the way he referred to my son after years of never even contacting me to ask about him.
“You don’t get to call him ‘your boy’,” I hissed, my voice shaking in anger. “And I’ve been taking care of him all these years just fine. Without your help.”
I clipped out the last words through clenched teeth.
Hank smirked, rubbing the stubble on his chin. “Well, sure I get to call him my boy.” He stepped closer to me, a swagger in his step, his gaze traveling from my face, down the length of my body and back up to my face again. “I helped make him, didn’t I?”
My face flushed warm and I turned to walk into the shop, ready to slam the door in his face. I gasped as a hand clutched my arm near the elbow.
“Hey, I’m not done talking to you,” Hank said sharply, twisting me toward him.
“Yes, you are, Hank.”
The voice, hard and cold, came from somewhere outside the shop. I looked through the doorway, past Hank startled to see Judson standing on the sidewalk, hands at his hips, glaring eyes focused on Hank, his jaw clenched tight. I hadn’t even realized he was back from North Carolina.
Hank’s familiar smirk returned as he tipped his head back and laughed loudly, letting go of my arm.
“Oh, here we go.”
He clapped his hands a couple of times and walked back onto the sidewalk, standing in front of Judson. “What’s this? The boyfriend come to protect you?”
Judson stepped between Hank and me, folding his arms across his chest, not responding to Hank’s mocking questions.
“I’m at a disadvantage here,” Hank said to Judson. “You know me, but I don’t know who the hell you are.”
Judson’s eyes remained focused on Hank’s.
“I’m telling you the conversation is over,” Judson said, his voice as steady as his gaze.
Hank folded his arms across his chest as well and there the two men stood, like two rams ready to slam their horns together.
Hank sneered and poked Judson in the chest. “Why don’t we let Blanche decide who she wants to talk to, big boy?”
Judson’s eyes narrowed. “I’m trying to be patient, here, Hank, but I don’t think you’re hearing me. You need to leave. Now.”
“Listen, buddy, I’m here to talk to Blanche. Not you.”
Judson stared at Hank, jaw clenched, not responding.
“Strong and silent type I guess,” Hank said with a soft laugh. “I want five more minutes alone with Blanche. You can stand out here if you want but–”
“Not going to happen,” Judson said.
Hank tipped his head back, rolling his eyes. “Come on. Enough of this game of chicken already. I talk to Blanche then I leave and you can have her and do whatever you want with her for all I care. How hard is that for you to understand? Or are all those muscles strangling your brain?”
Hank turned and started to step toward me again, but Judson grabbed his arm, shoving him back hard against the outside wall of the shop.
“Judson! Stop!” I cried.
I was afraid what Hank would do, but I also realized Judson had a good 50 pounds on him.
Anger flashed in Hank’s eyes as he stepped away from the wall. “So, this is the way we’re going to do it, huh?”
“It’s totally up to you,” Judson said, his arms folded back across his chest. “You can leave, or I can make you leave.”
Hank’s voice was cold. “I’d like to see you try.”