If you missed it, I posted Chapter 29 of A New Beginning to the blog yesterday.
Thoughts on the story so far? Let me know in the comments!
As always, this is a story in progress so there will be typos, missing words and maybe even plot holes. Feel free to let me know about them in the comments. I’ll be editing and fixing them before the final publication later this spring.
A New Beginning is a sequel to A Story to Tell but you don’t need to read A Story to Tell to understand and follow along with A New Beginning. The link to the chapters of A New Beginning, in order, can be found HERE or at the link at the top of the page.
“What do you mean she just left the hospital?”
Jimmy’s voice was heavy with anger.
Sandra, standing across from him, her eyes bloodshot, shook her head. “The nurse came back to the room and she was gone. She’d gotten dressed in the night, left the baby and the signed adoption papers in the crib and left.”
Edith held the baby boy against her chest, her hand against his back as she swayed in place.
“So, Lily is alone out there somewhere?” she asked. “After just giving birth to her first baby.”
Sandra nodded, her eyebrows furrowed with worry. “Yes, and with this being her first and her so young, it was a rough delivery too.”
“Why would she do this?” Jimmy asked. “And how did your agency let this happen?”
Sandra sat on a chair next to the empty hospital bed, shaking her head, tears in her eyes. Edith gently laid the sleeping baby in the crib next to the bed.
I had seen myself in Lily that first day I met her. Now I saw myself even more in her actions. I remembered outside the church three months after I’d left Hank, unable to move from the car, terrified to step foot inside the building where I felt God lived. God, who must be as ashamed of me as I was of myself. Shame had kept me away from God for three years and it was shame telling me now I wasn’t worth being loved by Judson or anyone else. Lily most likely felt the same.
“She’s ashamed,” I said softly.
Jimmy looked at me. “What’s that, Blanche?”
I cleared my throat. “Lily is ashamed of who she has become. Or, I think, anyhow. It’s probably why she took off. She’s ashamed of who she became, though she might not even realize it’s shame making her act out the way she is. She’s too young. But I also can’t imagine it would be very easy for her to see her baby being given to another family, even if she knows it is the right thing to do. She feels like she let the baby, and herself, down.”
I felt tears hot in my eyes as I looked at Edith and Jimmy. “I should know. I felt the same way.”
Jimmy reached out and laid his hand over mine as Edith sat next to me and slid her arm around me, kissing my forehead.
“You never let anyone down, Blanche,” she whispered.
“I know but it’s how I felt. And I think it may be how Lily is feeling now. That and sheer terror.”
Sandra pressed a tissue against her eyes, crying softly.
“Just like I feel I let her down,” she whispered through the tears. “Lily came to us for help and now I can’t help her. I should have never left her alone in this hospital. I should have known she would make a run for it.”
She looked up, her eyes red, then shook her head a little. “No matter. This baby is yours. The paperwork has been signed already. All you need to do is sign it too. He needs someone to take care of him.” She stood and smiled at the baby in the crib. “You’re going to be wonderful parents and as for Lily –” she turned away from the baby and struggled to smile. “I’m going to keep looking for her and be there for her as much as she’ll let me.”
Jimmy stood, reaching for his jacket. “I’m going to help you look. Let’s head out now. How long has she been gone?”
“Mr. Sickler, this isn’t your problem,” Sandra said, wiping her nose.
“I’m not leaving a child out on the street.” A muscle in Jimmy’s jaw jumped as he spoke. “Lily is a child who just gave birth to a child. She should not be out on the street. Where would she go? Someone in your organization has to know. Where does her mother live?”
Sandra shook her head. “Mr. Sickler, I —”
“Then I’ll go on my own.”
I’d rarely seen Jimmy angry. His nostrils flared at each word, his movement were abrupt as he jerked his coat on, and his eyes flashed with anger.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I have a lot of faith in this agency to find her and care for her,” he snapped, pointing at Sandra. “I am really starting to question if she was pushed into this adoption and what will happen to her when it hits her that her baby is gone.”
Sandra’s eyebrows raised and her mouth opened slightly, as if she was about to say something, then thought better of it and closed her mouth again. She sat on the chair next to the hospital bed and covered her face with her hands.
Edith stood and touched Jimmy’s arm. “Jimmy, calm down. You’re not being fair to Sandra. We don’t know what exactly happened. Plus, you don’t know the city. How can you possibly find her?”
Jimmy clenched and unclenched his hands, standing in the doorway. I could tell he was trying to keep his anger under control.
“She may have gone to her mothers,” Sandra said softly, moving her hands from her face. She took a deep breath and stood. “I can get you her address, but I have to warn you, Lily’s mother, Martha, isn’t a nice woman. She’s often drunk and abusive.”
Jimmy snatched up his keys and pulled on his jacket. “All the more reason to make sure Lily isn’t there.”
Sandra left the room to get the address and I reached for my own coat. “I should go with you. Lily might feel more comfortable with a woman there.”
Jimmy nodded in agreement. “I think you’re right. Let’s get going.”
He leaned down and kissed Edith’s forehead. “Pray,” he told her.
He paused to lightly touch the top of the baby’s head before he walked through the door.
“Mr. Sickler, I know you mean well, but I really wish you would let us handle this,” Sandra said as she handed Jimmy a small piece of paper with an address written on it.
Jimmy ignored Sandra’s pleas, walking briskly past her and down the hallway. I did my best to keep up with him. In the car, he clutched the steering wheel, his knuckles white.
“I can’t even believe this. How could they let that young girl out of their sight? She must be terrified.”
“Try to stay calm, Jimmy. We don’t know what happened yet.”
Jimmy shifted the car into gear and pulled out onto the road. We were riding in his bright red Chevy Chevelle, but I had a feeling the car would be traded in before too long for a more family-friendly vehicle. Switching from his usual more sporty cars would be an adjustment for Jimmy, but I knew he wouldn’t mind the sacrifice if it meant a safer and more spacious drive for his growing family.
As I watched him drive, I thought about one of the first times I had met him. I’d been hearing about him for months from Edith before I met him, but the night he finally came to the house to pick up Edith for a date, I had been struck by his calm demeanor, his sweet personality, and his charming smile. He was a far cry from the boys Edith usually dated. Before Jimmy, she had been pursued cocky and aloof boys who paused by the mirror near the front door to drag a comb through their hair before leaving the house.
When Edith eventually decided Jimmy wasn’t exciting enough for her, she went back to the arrogant variety, prompting Daddy to ask about Jimmy one night at dinner.
“Whatever happened to that Sickler kid? I liked him.”
Edith had rolled her eyes as she stabbed a spear of broccoli.
“Oh, Daddy,” she groaned. “You would like the most boring boy I’ve ever gone out with.”
“There’s nothing wrong with boring,” Daddy said, looking at Edith for several seconds to make sure she caught his meaning.
After I’d left with Hank and she’d started going to church more, Edith’s entire view of the world changed and somehow Jimmy Sickler wasn’t boring anymore. She saw him for what he’d always been – someone who had loved her through all her past mistakes and all the ways she’d hurt and rejected him. I remembered the letter she’d sent me, telling me Jimmy had asked her out again after church one Sunday. It wasn’t until I came home, after they were married, that Edith shared with me how Jimmy’s tender love for her, despite the way she’d acted when she was younger, had softened her heart and revealed her true feelings for him.
Jimmy was as sweet now as he’d been when we’d first met and over the years, I’d seen many sides of him — goofy, annoyed, overjoyed, brokenhearted and excited. But on this night, driving through inner-city Philadelphia, looking for Lily, I saw a new side of Jimmy; an angry, determined side that showed he was bent on rescuing the young girl who had claimed a part of his heart.
The city stretched before us, the streets dimly lit, dilapidated buildings rolling past the car window, their outside walls stained with graffiti of various colors.
I bit my lower lip as we crossed a bridge, looking out the windshield at the city looming before us. Apartment and office buildings filled the landscape. I spotted a gas station at the end of the bridge and gestured toward it.
“Jimmy, pull over a minute.”
“Do you see the street we need?”
“No. Just pull over. I think we should pray.”
Jimmy pulled the car into the parking lot and turned off the engine. He let out a long breath as if trying to exhale all the tension he was feeling and turned toward me, bowing his head. I laid my hand over his and bowed my head as well.
“Father,” I prayed. “We are asking for you to help us today. Lily is lost, Lord. She’s scared. She may be in pain. Please, Jesus, help us to find her and bring her back with us to the hospital, but, Lord, if we can’t find her, we ask that you keep her safe in your arms.”
Jimmy let out another long breath and started the car again. “Thanks. I needed that. Okay, which street do we need?”
I could feel a calmness coming off him that I hadn’t felt before and his jaw had relaxed some.
I looked at the paper Sandra had handed Jimmy. “Poplar Street. Twin Rivers Apartments. Sandra wrote here that it’s two miles north of the hospital.”
I followed Sandra’s directions, looking on my right for Poplar Street. When we saw it, Jimmy pulled onto it and the sign for the building appeared immediately, the paint chipped. Jimmy pulled into a space in the parking lot and sat back in his seat looking up at the building, which towered at least eight stories above us. I knew we both felt completely out of place in a city so large after spending almost our whole lives in the country. Jimmy let out a long breath.
“You wait here,” he said. “Keep the doors locked.”
I opened the car door. “I’m going with you.”
“Blanche now is not the time to be stubborn. This doesn’t look like the safest neighborhood.”
“Then I’ll go alone.” I pushed the door closed and buttoned my coat.
Jimmy mumbled something under his breath as he stepped out of the car and followed me. I figured it was a good thing I hadn’t really heard what he said, though I swore I heard the words Robbins, women, and stubborn somewhere in there.
I looked through smudged windows into a dimly lit lobby as we approached the front doors. A crack stretched up from the bottom of one of the panels of glass in the double front doors, spreading up to the top. The door’s hinges groaned as Jimmy pulled it open to reveal a lobby décor of stained brown and green couches, faded green wallpaper, and orange carpet worn down from years of people walking over it.
“Which floor?” Jimmy asked.
Jimmy sighed. “Of course, it is. I’m such a country bumpkin. I’ve never even been in an elevator before. Have you?”
“Once, but never past the third floor.”
Standing in front of the smudged, glossy silver doors before us we looked at each other, sighed and then shrugged. I hesitantly pushed the up button.
The couple groping each other inside the elevator when the doors opened with a grating noise were oblivious to us. Jimmy and I stared, reluctant to step in the elevator during their make-out session.
The man pulled his mouth from the woman’s abruptly with a loud sucking noise and glared at us through narrow slits. “You got a problem?”
I shook my head. “No. Just didn’t want to interrupt.”
The couple parted and the man, wearing a leather jacket and faded blue jeans, slid his hands in his back pockets and leaned against the wall. The fluorescent lights in the elevator glistened off his slicked back hair. A curl in the front flopped over his forehead. He jerked his head to one side.
“What floor?” he asked gruffly.
Jimmy stepped in first and stood between me and the couple. “Seven.”
The woman smirked, her eyes moving down the length of me and back to my face. “You’re not from around, here are you?”
My plain blue skirt, faded red polo shirt, and tan flats screamed country girl next to her black, leather mini skirt, rainbow striped halter top, large hooped earrings, and black high heels. Chewing gum loudly, she twirled bleached blond hair around her index finger and snapped a bubble between her bright red lips. She giggled, swiveling her attention to Jimmy and leaning forward slightly, the move revealing the top of her breasts.
“We’re just visiting,” Jimmy said quickly looking away from her, keeping his focus on the numbers above the elevator door.
The man pushed the number seven on the panel, without looking at it directly, still concentrating his attention on us. I averted my eyes from his steely stare, looking at the stained tiled floor, gasping softly when the elevator dropped slightly then started to rise, my stomach feeling like it had sunk to my feet.
Jimmy slid his arm around me and pulled me close against him as the elevator rose and the couple watched us, the man now leaning against the elevator wall with his arm laying lazily over the woman’s shoulders.
Small bits of paper, dirt and cigarette butts cluttered the elevator floor. A cockroach scurried across a crumpled newspaper and I bit my lip, holding in the scream I desperately wanted to let out. The man slammed the tip of his boot onto the cockroach and twisted his foot, a sick crunch signifying the insect was no longer living. He smirked as he drew the boot back and dragged insect remains in a reddish-brown smear across a tan tile.
Jimmy hooked his hand around my elbow and propelled me from the elevator within seconds after the doors squeaked open.
“This is only the sixth floor,” the girl called after us.
“That’s okay,” Jimmy said over his shoulder. “We need to stretch our legs a little.”
Laughter filtered through the door as it closed, drowned out by the grinding noise of the elevator’s gears as it continued on its’ journey to the seventh floor and beyond.