Ya’ll ended up with an extra chapter last week. Don’t expect another extra chapter this week. *wink*
As always, this is a first draft of the story and also 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, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. Maybe even plot holes. Feel free to tell me about them in the comments. 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.
I knocked softly on Judson’s door the next morning and waited nervously on the porch. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t asked him how his father was recovering from the surgery and if they’d been able to work through any of their issues. It seemed like I would be forever self-focused. I’d had an entire 20-minute car ride the night before to focus on someone other than myself and I hadn’t even bothered.
Daddy had taken Jackson to school that morning on his way to work and I had taken the day off after Edith called late the night before to tell me Lily’s baby had been born. It was a boy and Edith asked me to travel with her and Jimmy to pick him up that afternoon. It was a nice morning for a walk from our house to the Worley’s and I needed it. It had given me time to think about everything that had happened the night before, though my mind was still spinning from it all.
I knocked again but when there was no sound inside, I decided he must have gone to work. As I started back down the steps to walk home, I heard the door open behind me.
A groggy voice greeted me. “Hey.”
I turned to see Judson standing in the doorway in a white undershirt and his jeans from the night before, blood dried near the knee. Part of his cheek was swollen and dark blue, almost purple, the eye barely open. I could see the edge of the cut above his eye on the other side under the bandage Mama had placed there. His hair was disheveled and he was unshaven and for some reason the combination made my stomach feel funny in the middle – funny in a good way. I had the same sudden urge I’d had the night before to kiss away all the pain.
“I’m so sorry to wake you.” I felt my knees tremble as I spoke. Why were my knees trembling? I’d spoke to Judson many times before. Today wasn’t any different. Was it?
“I just realized that I’d forgotten last night to ask you how your dad was,” I continued, hoping I didn’t sound as awkward as I felt.
Judson laughed softly and leaned against the door frame, blinking in the bright sunlight. “It’s okay. You were a little preoccupied.” He jerked his head toward the kitchen. “Come on in and we can talk while I make myself some coffee.”
He looked down at himself and rubbed his hand across his chin as I stepped inside. “And after I wash up and shave. I have to head into the job site later. Uncle James gave me the morning off when he heard what happened.”
You don’t need to shave, I thought to myself. You look fine the way you are. Boy do you look fine.
“Did he hear what happened from you?” I asked out loud as I walked past him inside.
Judson grinned. “Not me. Thomas. You know how newspaper men are. They like to spread the news.” He gestured toward the chair across from the couch. “Sit if you like. Excuse the mess. I fell asleep on the couch last night.”
I moved a book aside and sat in the chair, looking at the tangled mess of blankets on the couch, as Judson disappeared down the hallway toward the bathroom. I looked at the book, laying on the floor where I had placed it, John Steinbeck emblazoned on the front. I picked it up, flipping pages as the sound of running water filtered through the bathroom door down the hallway. I had to do something to distract myself from the thought that Judson was just beyond that door, not wearing a stitch of clothing.
“We have only one story,” I read to myself. “All novels, all poetry, are built on the never ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.”
Standing, I carried the book to the bookcases along the wall in the dining room, sitting where other people placed china cabinets. I trailed my fingers along the binding of the books, reading the names of the authors, Orwell, Tolkien, Shakespeare, Golding, Fleming, Lewis — as in C.S. Lewis. Good grief, no wonder Judson got along so well with my father.
I touched the edge of the bookcase in front of me, rubbing my hand down the smooth side, knowing Judson had most likely built it and much of the rest of the furniture in the house. My eyes focused on a picture over the mantle above the fireplace. A woman stood in black and white against a backdrop of ivy, her dark hair and dark eyes captivating against pale skin, her head tipped back in an obvious laugh. I guessed by her clothes that the photo was taken some time in the 1930s.
A couple stared out at me from another photo, the woman looking similar to the woman in the larger photo, but older, the man looking almost exactly like Judson but older, his hair thinning slightly, his arms wrapped tightly around the woman. I wondered if they were Judson’s parents. Two small boys were posed against a tobacco barn in another photo. Both boys were wearing denim overalls, shirtless, the youngest missing his front teeth, his hair standing in several directions on top of his head. Looking closer I realized the oldest was the Judson I remembered from our childhood, freckles spread across his nose. Judson walked out of the bathroom, rubbing a towel across his wet hair, as I studied the photograph with a small smile, remembering how obnoxious he’d been back then.
“That’s me and my brother,” he said, standing behind me. A sweet smell of aftershave and shampoo washed over me. “I’m sure you can see I’m the better looking one.”
I winked and walked over to the couch, starting to fold the blankets. “Uh-huh. I see that.”
“You don’t have to clean up after me, you know,” Judson laughed from the kitchen, pouring water into the coffee pot. “Like Hank said last night, I’m a big boy.”
He sat down on the couch a few moments later and patted the cushion next to him as I laid the folded blanket across the back. “Come sit down while the coffee brews and I’ll tell you about my visit down South.”
I winced as I saw the bruises and cuts up closer. “You look worse today than last night.”
He laughed. “Well, gee thanks and I was just going to say you look much better this morning.” He reached over and pushed a strand of hair that had fallen out of my bun behind my ear like he had the day in the barn. “No problems last night?”
I leaned back against the arm of the couch. “None. Now tell me how your dad is.”
Judson propped his arm across the back of the couch. “He’s recovering but it’s going to take a bit. His heart might be weak for a long time, maybe forever but he’s better than he was.”
“Did you two work anything out?”
“No big make up scene, no, but we were at least able to be civil to each other.”
“Well, that’s a start at least.” I pointed toward the photograph on the wall. “Is that him in that photograph?”
Judson nodded. “Yep. That’s him and my mom a few years ago. And that’s my mom in high school in the other photograph. My dad took the photo. It’s one of my favorites so I asked if I could have a copy of it. Dad had it by his hospital bed after the surgery too, but told Mom it paled in comparison to having her there in person. Dad wasn’t always the best with me, but he is definitely much better at being a husband.”
He stood and walked into the kitchen toward the coffee pot. “Hey,” he said over his shoulder. “What did Thomas mean when he said he hoped things would be less complicated with me now?”
Ugh. Thomas. I had hoped Judson would forget about that.
“Oh, who knows,” I said with a wave of my hand, hoping to change the subject. “It’s Thomas.”
“Yeah. Thomas. The guy you went out with while I was gone.”
I laughed. “Yeah. I wasn’t exactly the person he had on his mind that night. I told you he’s dating Midge Flannery, right?”
“Isn’t her dad the pastor at the Methodist Church?”
“And she’s dating Thomas? Seriously?”
“Yeah. I know, but Thomas said maybe she’ll help him turn over a new leaf. Let’s just hope it’s not the other way around.”
Judson laughed from the kitchen. I could see him through the doorway, adding creamer and sugar to his coffee. I tried not to stare at him as he moved between the refrigerator and the counter, but I was like a deer caught in headlights, my gaze drifting over his broad shoulders and finely toned arms.
“Did you want a cup of coffee?”
“What?” I looked away as he glanced at me “Oh. No. Um… actually, you know what? I’m not really a coffee fan.”
“Oh. How about a glass of juice instead?”
“I’d much more prefer that. Yes.”
My gaze fell on the bruises on Judson’s cheek as he leaned over to place the juice on the coffee table in front of me a few moments later, my heart aching. He was in pain because of me and I didn’t like it. He sat next to me, sipping the coffee.
“It doesn’t hurt as bad as it looks,” he said, as if reading my mind.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“What are you sorry for?”
“For Hank. For causing you to be in pain, for —”
Judson laughed, interrupting me. “You didn’t cause me any pain. I’m the one who inserted myself into that situation. I could have handled it a lot better than I did. I didn’t have to keep letting him egg me on. All I had to do was take you by the arm and lead you to my truck, but like I said last night – I wanted him to pay.”
He rubbed his chin, wincing slightly. “I’m not proud of myself but I guess I wanted him to feel what it’s like to be on the other end of a beating. The only problem is that verse in the Bible: ‘Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.’ I guess I didn’t trust the Lord to bestow vengeance on Hank in the way I wanted and took it upon myself. I shouldn’t have done that. Of course, it didn’t help that Emmy she filled me in on what else Hank had done to you.”
He looked at me and I saw regret in his eyes. I felt warmth rush into my face. I knew Emmy had told him about Hank cheating on me and I couldn’t decide if it made me angry or not that she had. I had realized long ago that Hank’s choosing another woman over me had made me feel unworthy and incapable of being truly loved by another man. It had made my insides ache with embarrassment.
Telling Emmy and Edith, and then much later Mama and Daddy, had been humiliating, even though they all insisted the issue was his, not mine. Knowing that Judson now knew I hadn’t been — dare I even think it — woman enough for my husband, was like having a deep secret exposed to the light. It was a secret I somehow felt would make Judson look at me like Hank once had, not only as someone who wasn’t pretty enough, but also someone who couldn’t fulfill her husband’s physical or emotional needs.
I lowered my eyes, picking at a thread on the bottom of my shirt.
“She told you that?”
“Yeah, I hope it doesn’t upset you, but it sort of slipped out when she was in one of her ranting modes a couple weeks ago.” He rubbed his hand across his chin and winced. “You know how she gets.”
I laughed softly, my eyes still on my shirt. “Oh, I do.”
Judson took a sip of his coffee. “I called to update her on my dad and she told me Hank had been in town. She said after all he’d done to you, he had better not try to see you. After cheating on you and smacking you around, he was worthless, she said, and she didn’t want him near you or Jackson. I think if she’d had a gun in her hand she would have gone after him like your dad did all those years ago.”
I tipped my head at Judson, narrowing my eyes. “So, you already knew Hank had been in town when you acted indignant last night that I didn’t tell you.”
Judson placed the coffee mug on the corner of the coffee table, laying his arm over the back of the couch and grinned.
“Yeah. Just trying to make you feel like a heel for not telling me.”
His grin faded into a more serious expression and his voice lowered to a soothing, comforting tone. “Listen, I’m sorry he did that to you. I can’t imagine any man tossing you aside for someone else. You’re worth much more than that.”
I bit my lower lip, tears stinging my eyes. I shook my head to shake them away and push down the emotion. “It’s fine. That was a long time ago.”
I cleared my throat and blinked the tears away, looking up at him. “For what it’s worth, I appreciate what you did for me last night.”
I reached over and laid my hand over his, but immediately felt awkward being so intimate and pulled my hand back, laying it in my lap.
He looked at me and his smile sent my heart pounding hard in my chest. Looking into his blue eyes, I was transported back to that night at the lake, his lips against mine, his arms around me when I’d started to run away.
He reached down and enclosed his hand around mine. He rubbed the top of it with his thumb, then lifted it, his mouth grazing the palm. His voice was barely a whisper. “For what it’s worth, I would do it again.”
The way he was speaking, his gaze never wavering from mine, made me consider jumping away before he moved any closer, but I didn’t need to worry about it. A knock on the front door startled us both and I pulled my hand quickly from his, not sure if I was relieved or disappointed.
“I guess I should get that,” he said with a sigh.
I recognized Marion’s voice as he opened the door. “Oh Judson! You look awful!”
“Well, Mrs. Hakes, thank you,” Judson laughed. “This is the second time today someone has told me that. You, however, look lovely.”
Stepping inside Marion laid her hand against the side of Judson’s face, tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry for what Hank did to you. I just stopped at Alan and Janie’s to check on Blanche this morning and they told me what had happened. I’m so sorry for what he did to you. If I had known he was back in town, I would have warned Blanche.”
Judson took Marion’s hands in his and looked her in the eye. “Mrs. Hakes, you have nothing to apologize for.”
“He’s my son . . .”
“He’s not your responsibility anymore, ma’am,” Judson said firmly. “He’s a grown man.”
Marion nodded, a tear slipping down her cheek as Judson hugged her gently. “And besides. I’m fine. I’m sore but I’m in better shape than I could be.”
Marion walked over to me and sat down, taking my hand. “Hank called me this morning and said he’s leaving for bootcamp. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him again anytime soon.”
Edith and Jimmy appeared in the doorway as Marion spoke, concern etched on both their faces. It was like a full-on family reunion at this point and I realized my family had some of the worst timing of anyone I’d ever met.
“Judson!” Edith cried, rushing toward Judson. “Oh, you look just awful! Are you okay? We stopped to pick up Blanche and Mama said she had come to check on you and filled us in.”
“I’m fine,” Judson said again. “Really. All of your concern is certainly appreciated. Although, can you all stop saying how awful I look? I’m starting to get depressed.”
Jimmy stepped inside the door, standing behind Edith. “Please tell me you nailed him good,” he said, then catching Marion’s eye he cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Mrs. Hakes. I mean —”
Marion laughed as she wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. “It’s perfectly fine, Jimmy. A good beating is what Hank needed.”
After a few more moments of conversation, Marion said she would leave Judson alone to get ready for work and I followed Edith and Jimmy to their car, hugging Judson quickly before I left. He stood on the porch, leaning against the porch column as he watched us drive away. I looked back at him, knowing we would eventually need to talk about all the tender moments between us, the kisses and the gentle touches that were waking my soul to the possibility of love. And I knew I would eventually have to decide what all those moments meant for the walls I had built around me.