Am I really doing this? Caving to popular opinion and sharing an extra chapter of A New Beginning this week? Well, of course, I am. Why? Because it’s my blog and I can do what I want to. That’s why! Ha! So, here it is, Chapter 28 of A New Beginning. You can find Chapter 26 and Chapter 27 HEREor by looking back to Thursday and Friday’s posts.
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.
The wrestling match that followed was nothing like the choreographed fights I’d seen in the movies. I watched the messy, overly masculine display in disbelief. Hank slammed his shoulder into Judson’s chest, shoving Judson off the sidewalk and into the street onto his back with Hank following him. Hank’s fist hit Judson’s face twice before Judson swung up and caught Hank under the chin with his arm, sending Hank’s head back hard. Hank staggered back, off Judson, who he’d been practically sitting on, and stumbled, falling onto his back.
Blood dripped from Judson’s nose as he stood over Hank and then he leaned down, swiftly grabbed Hank by the hair and pulled him to a standing position, bringing his arm back to punch Hank in the face. Hank moved his head quickly and lunged forward, grabbing Judson around the waist, pushing him across the street and slamming him hard against the driver’s side door of Judson’s truck, denting it.
Judson grunted and gasped for breath, then drew his knee up into Hank’s chest, slamming his elbow down into Hank’s back at the same time. His knee caught Hank straight in the face as Hank started to fall to the ground. Hank fell to the ground, a sick groaning sound choking out of him as he lay on his side, trying to catch his breath.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement to my right further down the sidewalk. Thomas stretched and yawned outside the newspaper office door. Our gazes connected as his yawn ended.
“Hey! There you are,” he called. “I was on my way to check on – oh. What’s this all about?”
He swaggered down the sidewalk, grinning and then stood next to me, leaning against the dress shop door and watching as Hank stood up fast, swung at Judson and caught him in the eye.
Thomas winced. “Ouch.”
He leaned toward me, whispering. “Who are we rooting for?”
He didn’t wait for me to answer.
“I’m betting on the big guy,” he said gesturing toward Judson.
Judson staggered back, off-balance, then lunged for Hank again, shoving him hard onto the ground, falling next to him as his fist hit Hank’s face, under the eye.
Hank tried to kick at Judson as Judson yanked Hank to his feet by his shirt and brought his knee up into Hank’s stomach.
The blood pouring from Hank’s nose and mouth reminded me of that night in the apartment. He stayed on the ground this time, on his hands and knees, retching vomit and blood onto the asphalt as Judson towered over him.
Thomas grimaced. “I thought about stepping in, but it looks like Judson’s got it covered,” he said. “I’m guessing that’s the ex on the ground there, puking his guts out.”
I nodded, still watching the surreal scene before me with wide eyes.
Judson was breathing hard, hands at his side, still clenched into fists. He turned his head and spit blood and saliva onto the street
“Finish puking then get up and get out of here,” he snarled at Hank’s back.
Judson’s nose and mouth were bleeding and he dragged the back of his hand across his face, looking at the blood with a small laugh. He looked so different, covered in blood, his hair damp with sweat, breathing hard from the fight, laughing at the sight of his own blood. I wasn’t sure how to look at him now, how to process what had just happened and the anger that had spilled from him in such a violent display. I could practically smell the testosterone radiating off of him — musky, sweaty and metallic.
Judson walked away from Hank, stepped around me and shut the door to the dress shop, nodding at Thomas.
“Thomas. Good evening.”
Thomas nodded. “Hey, Judson. Good job. Want me to call the police to come take care of this guy?”
“Nah. He’ll be fine when he’s done throwing up. Luckily, it’s past deadline so you won’t need to write this up for the paper, will you, Thomas?”
Thomas winked at Judson. “I think we can keep this one out. For now. But, man, it would make a good story to tell and I bet more than a few people in this little town would love to read it.”
“Night, Thomas,” Judson said, a hint of hardness in his voice.
Thomas sighed. “Yeah. Yeah. Night.” He walked back toward the newspaper office, looked over his shoulder and grinned again. “Take care, Blanche!” he called. “I think you picked a good one, for what it’s worth. Maybe things won’t be so complicated now.”
Judson laid his hand gently on my back and jerked his head toward his truck. “Let’s go,” he said. “I’m driving you home.”
He slammed the passenger side door closed behind me and walked around to the other side, climbing behind the steering wheel. I watched Hank stagger toward his truck through the windshield. He paused and threw up again before climbing into the driver’s side. Hank looked at us through blood-stained hair as Judson revved the engine and ripped onto the street.
“You okay?” Judson asked as we drove, flexing his swollen hand.
“Am I okay?” I looked at him, at the blood still trickling from a cut on his head and a split lip. “You’re the one bleeding.”
“I’m fine. You okay?”
I nodded, but I wasn’t okay. Tremors of anxiety were rushing through my limbs and I was trying to hold in panicked tears. What would Hank have done if Judson hadn’t stopped him? Maybe nothing. Maybe he only wanted to finish talking to me. Maybe he only wanted to say goodbye because he thought he was going to die in Vietnam and instead I’d stood there and watched Judson beat the crud out of him in the street, though he’d gotten a few good hits on Judson as well.
“I thought you were in North Carolina,” I said. “How did you even know he was there?”
“I got back into town a couple hours ago and ran some invoices into the office for Uncle James. I saw him talking to you through the front window and it didn’t look like a friendly conversation so I realized it must be him.”
“He was here a couple months ago,” I said. “But he didn’t stop to see me then.”
Judson glanced at me. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I shrugged. “He left town, as far as I knew, and I didn’t see why I should bother you with it. Marion said he went to visit some friends in the next county and I thought he had left for good. I should have known he’d be back again. He said he came back to tell me he’d signed up to join the Army to avoid jail.”
I studied the cut above Judson’s eye, guilt turning in my stomach.
“Those cuts will need to be cleaned out.”
“Let’s just get you home.”
After a few moments of silence, he laughed, reaching across me and opening the glove compartment. He pulled out a grease-stained rag and wiped it across his face, smearing some of the blood.
“That jerk is going into the Army? Seriously?” He snorted, shaking his head, his eyes on the road. “He’s going to get his butt shot up on day one. That’s my prediction. It will probably be friendly fire too.”
I swallowed hard. Hank had hurt me. He wasn’t any nicer now than he had been seven years ago. Still, I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of him being “shot up” by anyone, friendly or otherwise.
Silence settled over us again as Judson drove.
“Do you think he’ll try to see Jackson?” I asked softly, not sure if I was asking Judson or myself.
“Not if he knows what’s good for him,” Judson mumbled, shifting gears.
I leaned my head against the window, closed my eyes against the tears, wondering if I’d ever be free of the bizarre world I’d walked myself into all those years ago.
I felt Judson’s hand warm on mine and looked over at him. “I’m sorry, Blanche.”
“For what you’re going through. For what he put you through. And I’m sorry I made it worse. My temper got the best of me. I couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d done to you, how he’d hurt you. How he’d abandoned Jackson and you. I wanted him to pay.”
He laughed slightly and grinned. “I just didn’t expect him to be so wiry and quick. He hit harder than I thought he would too.”
I laughed with him. “I’m not going to lie, you two looked like total idiots out there wrestling like gorillas.”
Judson glanced at me, then back at the road, smiling. “Well, I looked like an idiot for you, you know.”
I squeezed his hand with mine, leaned over and kissed his cheek. “I know. And I appreciate it.”
He glanced at me again, then back at the road and I saw a faint smile flit across his mouth before it set into a thoughtful frown. I wondered what he was thinking about, but a sudden exhaustion swept over me, ending my curiosity. I knew the adrenaline rush from earlier was fading. As I looked out into the darkness through the windshield, I saw Hank’s face again in my mind, leering at me as he reminded me we had made Jackson together. I shuddered, rubbing my chilled arms.
“You okay?” Judson asked again.
“It’s all just starting to hit me, I guess.”
I felt something soft and heavy hit my lap. Looking down I saw Judson’s brown, leather winter coat there.
“Cover up with that and rest. I’ll have you home soon.”
I pulled the coat up over the front of me like a blanket, covering my bare arms and part of my face. The smell of Judson’s cologne swept over me, tripping my heart into a fast-paced clip. I closed my eyes again and this time Hank’s face was replaced with memories of Judson’s hand on the back of my head, up in my hair when he’d deepened that kiss by the lake. I began to wish the coat was his arms wrapped around me, sheltering me from the chill of the night, soothing my anxious soul.
I leaned my head back against the seat, the steady rhythm of the truck tires on the pavement lulling me far away from thoughts of Hank and into peaceful thoughts of my bed at home.
“Come inside,” I said when Judson pulled the truck into our driveway fifteen minutes later. I rubbed my eyes to try to chase away the weak feeling the fading adrenaline had left behind. “Let me take care of those cuts for you.”
“It’s fine. I can —”
“Stop arguing and come in the house,” I said firmly, giving him my best scolding scowl.
Judson watched me with a smile as I climb out of the truck. “Well, yes, ma’am.”
Jackson flung open the front door before we reached it. “Mama! Where have you been? It was getting late and Grandma was getting worried. We did bath time without you and – whoa!” Jackson’s eyes grew wide as Judson stepped into the light. “Judson, what happened to you?” he asked, staring up at Judson.
Judson looked at me and I could tell he was unsure of how to answer the question. “Uh . . . well, you see. . . .”
“Judson was helping Mama get rid of a bad person,” I interrupted quickly. I looked at Judson. “And your mama is very grateful for his help.”
Mama looked at me, her eyebrows raising. “Jackson, honey, why don’t you go up and pick out a book for us to read at bedtime?”
“Aw, Grandma! I wanna hear what happened.”
Daddy laughed and gently swatted Jackson on his bottom with a rolled-up newspaper. “Listen to your grandmother, boy.”
“But when am I gonna find out what happened?” Jackson asked.
“When you’re older,” I said.
Jackson’s shoulders slumped as he walked up the stairs. “I miss out on all the fun,” he grumbled. “And you always say, ‘when you’re older’.”
The door to his room clicked closed and Daddy looked at Judson. “Is the bad guy who I think he is?”
“Yes, sir,” Judson said.
“Does he look worse than you?” Daddy asked.
Daddy clapped Judson hard on the back. “That’s my boy!”
Judson winced and I knew his back hurt from where Hank had slammed him into the side of the truck.
“Alan!” Mama admonished. “We shouldn’t celebrate violence.”
“Janie,” Daddy said with a tip of his head so he could look over his reading glasses at Mama. “It’s Hank we’re talking about. A good swift kick in the rear is what he needs.”
He looked at Judson with a grin. “Did you kick him in the rear?”
Judson shook his head and laughed softly. “No, sir, but I did nail him in the face and the gut pretty good.”
Daddy leaned back, a broad smile on his face.
Mama scowled at Daddy, her lips pressed tight together. “Come into the bathroom, Judson. I’ll get the first aid kit. You need those cuts cleaned out.”
Judson tried to look serious even as he and Daddy exchanged proud smiles.
“You okay?” Daddy asked me as Judson followed Mama down the hallway.
I flopped onto the couch on my back, draped my arm across my face, and closed my eyes, sighing in exasperation.
“Yeah, sure, Daddy.” I knew my tone betrayed my annoyance. “My ex-husband was a jerk to me – again – and this guy who I’m . . . I’m … who is . . .”
I stopped talking, realizing I had no idea how to describe Judson’s role in my life. I sat up on the couch, shaking my head as I unhooked my shoes and slid them off my feet.
Daddy sat in his chair and looked at me thoughtfully, his chin in his hand, tapping his finger against his bottom lip.
“Yes?” he said. “Who you’re —? What?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“You don’t know what? You don’t know if you are okay or you don’t know how to feel about Judson?”
“I don’t know how to feel about any of it,” I responded curtly. “Everyone seems to think I need a man to protect me, complete me, fix me. I don’t need a man to fix me, Daddy. And I can handle myself, which should have been proven when I broke Hank’s nose that night.”
Daddy leaned back in his chair, eyebrows furrowed.
“What makes you think that ‘everyone’, as you say, thinks you need a man to be complete or ‘fixed’?”
Before I could even answer he continued. “I’ve never said that. Your mother has never said that. We know you can handle yourself but there’s nothing wrong with letting someone help you. There’s also nothing wrong with having someone to share life with. Your family and friends just want you to be happy.”
“And I can be happy without a man,” I said firmly.
Daddy nodded. “True. You can.” He folded his arms across his chest and smirked. “But none of this answers my questions. One, are you okay, and two, who is Judson to you?”
The mischievous glint in my dad’s eyes both aggravated and amused me. I bit my lower lip and gazed out the front window at the lights from the Worley’s farm. “First, I’m not entirely okay, no. I just had a confrontation with my abusive ex-husband and I’m pretty shook up from it and as for the second question . . .” I stood up. “I don’t have time to answer the second question because I have to go read my son a book.”
Daddy picked up his book. “Okay, kid. Have it your way, but you’re going to have to figure it out for your sake, and Judson’s, at some point.”
I had finished reading Jackson his book, with him asleep before it was finished. I slipped away when I heard Judson and Daddy talking downstairs.
“Thank you, Mrs. Robbins,” Judson was saying as I stepped down the stairs. “I’m going to head home and try to get some sleep before work tomorrow. I’ll swing by and pick you up, Mr. Robbins.”
Daddy nodded. “Thank you, Judson. Appreciate it.”
That’s when I remembered I had left Daddy’s car parked outside the newspaper office.
I walked with Judson to the door, reaching out to touch his arm as he started to turn the doorknob. A shiner was already starting to turn purple on his cheek and under his eye.
“Thank you, Judson,” I said softly. I leaned up and kissed the bruise on his cheek gently. “For everything.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, leaning close and brushing his mouth against my cheek.
His face lingered close to mine for a few moments and my eyes focused on his mouth, the bottom lip slightly swollen. I felt a sudden urge to kiss it as if it was a booboo that could be healed by a kiss. I stepped back quickly instead and looked at the floor.
“Good night, Judson.”
When I closed the door, I turned to see Mama sitting on the arm of Daddy’s chair and them both watching me. Mama’s expression reminded me of someone who had just laid eyes on a puppy. All that was missing was Mama cooing “aw”. A slight smiled tugged at Daddy’s mouth and I could tell he was trying not to laugh.
“Isn’t there anything on TV tonight you two can watch?” I asked.
“Well, of course, there is, but this was much more interesting,” Mama said, winking at me.
I rolled my eyes, feeling like a teenager again as I flounced up the stairs to go to bed.