Welcome to Fiction Thursday, a day to take your mind off weird life things you might be facing (like me with our house move. Someone send chocolate! Stat!).
A New Beginning is definitely longer than A Story to Tell but I can assure you, we are getting close me to the end. In fact, we will miss likely reach the end of the story next week.
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.
Jimmy opened the door to the stairwell and a fluorescent light flickered above our heads. I gagged as a nauseating stench filled my nostrils.
“Oh my gosh, did something die in here?” I asked, a chill rushing through me.
“Or, someone,” Jimmy said.
Jimmy shook his head. “Let’s try not to think about it and just get this over with. We’ll knock on her mother’s door, see if she’s there, and if we don’t find her, we’ll just get out of here and keep looking.”
I looked up the darkened stairwell, flanked by light green, paint-chipped walls, and a rusted metal railing.
“If we can make it out of here,” I said. “I read a book like this one time and –”
“Don’t tell me,” Jimmy interrupted. “I don’t want to know.”
I nodded as we started to climb the stairs. On the first landing, I saw movement in the dark shadows in the corner and screamed when a rat darted over my foot and down the stairs.
“Nice place,” Jimmy said stepping back to watch it descend. “God, I hope Lily isn’t here.”
The seventh-floor hallway was dimly lit like the stairwell and the lobby.
“It’s apartment 14,” I said, wanting to find the apartment as quickly as we could so we could leave again.
To keep my thoughts from lingering on what we might find inside, I quickly knocked on the door with a crooked number 14 hanging next to it. Jimmy gently moved me to the side as he stepped in front of the door.
“At least let me feel a little like a man by trying to protect my sister-in-law.”
Laughter and voices from a television filtered through the door but no footsteps. Several moments passed and still no one answered. Jimmy knocked firmly on the door again.
“Hello. Is anyone in there? We are looking for a girl named Lily.”
Within a few moments, locks snapped open in succession on the other side of the door. The face of the woman who looked at us through bloodshot eyes around the crack in the door was gaunt and pale. A small bruise formed a circle on her cheek under her right eye.
“Lily ain’t here,” the woman snapped. “Leave me alone.”
A strong odor of alcohol wafted from the woman as she spoke.
“Are you her mother?” I asked.
“None of your business!”
“Do you know where she is?” Jimmy asked.
“No. Now get out of here.”
As she started to close the door a voice cried out from somewhere in the apartment, distorted and full of pain.
“Help me! It won’t stop!”
The woman continued to push the door closed but Jimmy quickly placed his foot between the door and the doorframe.
“Let us in.”
He pushed at the door with his hands and the woman stumbled back, cursing. “You’ve got no right,” she spat, a half-empty bottle of whiskey clutched in one hand.
A tattered nightgown hung on her slender frame as she staggered after Jimmy toward a dimly lit living room. Lily was laying on the couch with her knees pulled up to her chest, the light blue capris she wore stained red between and down her legs. Jimmy, kneeled next to the couch, reaching out then pulling his hands back. I could tell he wasn’t sure if he should touch the young girl or not.
I rushed to the couch and kneeled next to Jimmy, leaning over Lily.
“Lily, we have to take you back to the hospital,” I told her, smoothing damp hair back from her pale face. “Something is clearly wrong.”
The woman, who I assumed was Lily’s mother, scoffed and flopped into a stained recliner in the corner of the room. The stench of blood and body odor triggered my gag reflex and I turned my head away from Lily, struggling to hold back the vomit.
“You aren’t taking her anywhere,” the woman snarled. “She made her bed and she can lie in it. Little whore got herself knocked up so now the good Lord is punishing her for her sins.”
Anger rose in me and I couldn’t hide it when I spoke. “That is not how God works. He doesn’t punish us for our sins by hurting us more than we have already hurt ourselves. That’s why Jesus came. To take that pain and punishment for us.”
The woman glared at me and took a swig from the whiskey bottle. “Oh, I see, one of those religious types, are you?”
Lily’s eyes were barely open and she was breathing fast.
“Am I gonna die?” she asked me weakly.
Jimmy stood. “Not if I can help it.”
He leaned down and lifted Lily’s small frame in his arms, holding her against him. She looked even smaller than she had the first day we met her as her head flopped against his shoulder.
“Come on kid.” Jimmy’s voice was soft and soothing. “We’re getting you out of here.”
“Just let her die!” the woman yelled, her face twisting in anger. “It’s what she deserves.”
“Mama. . .” Lily’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Stop.”
Jimmy paused in the doorway, looking back at the woman. “I’ll pray for you, ma’am. I hope you can get some help because from what I can see, you don’t deserve to be a mother.”
I heard, rather than saw, the woman spit at my back as I followed Jimmy down the hallway toward the apartment door.
I was grateful to find the elevator empty this time when we entered it. Jimmy kept his eyes on the numbers above the door, unshed tears rimming them, threatening to spill down his face. A man with hollow, dead eyes watched us from a tattered, brown and red upholstered chair in the lobby when the elevator doors opened. Jimmy walked briskly past him and through the parking lot, cradling Lily against him.
I slid into the backseat with Lily, her body heavy and limp against me.
“Jimmy, hurry,” I urged. “She’s lost a lot of blood and she’s so weak. I’m scared.”
Images of Edith the night she lost the baby intruded on my mind as Jimmy pulled onto the road and accelerated.
Tears stung my eyes when we arrived at the hospital and I watched Jimmy carry Lily into the hospital, cradling her like a father should, like her parents probably never had. I prayed as I walked behind them.
“Lord, please be with Lily. Don’t take her. She’s so young.”
“I’ll wait here with Lily,” Jimmy said as nurses helped lower Lily to a stretcher. “Head up and let Edith know what’s going on.”
I agreed and watched him disappear into an exam room. The emotions I’d been holding down bubbled up as I sat on a cold metal chair in the waiting room, leaning my head down and closing my eyes. I clutched the seat of the chair and let the tears fall.
I ached for Lily.
I ached for Daddy and Mama.
I ached for Jackson.
I sucked in a ragged breath.
I ached for Judson.
I thought about the last time I’d been in a room waiting for news about a patient. I’d had company then. Judson. I wanted to be held by him right now, knowing his arms around me would help all of this seem less scary, less hopeless. I wanted to hear his voice, to hear him tell me everything was going to be okay, even if he didn’t know if it would be.
I remembered his shoulder warm against my cheek when I’d fallen asleep that night in the waiting room, how he’d asked me on the way home if he could take me to a movie sometime.
And the kiss.
I remembered the kiss by the lake and thought about it as walked toward the maternity ward to update Edith, darkness spreading across the sky outside.
“Isn’t he just perfect?”
Edith cradled the newborn as she walked back and forth in the hospital room, bouncing him slightly as he whimpered.
I had to admit he was a beautiful baby. His little red face and slightly mishappen head from his journey through the birth canal didn’t take away from his overall sweet appearance, completed by a tiny nose and plump, rosy cheeks.
“Have you decided on a name yet?”
Edith shook her head. “Jimmy and I want Lily to name him. If she wants to. He’s her baby.”
I stretched my legs out in front of me, pain shooting through my lower back. The plan had been to stay only one night at a motel after Jimmy and Edith met their new son and signed the papers, but the trip had stretched out to three after the situation with Lily. Now my back was letting me know that the hard, single hotel bed was something meant for short stays, not long ones.
Thankfully, Lily was healing with proper care and we would be leaving the next day to return home. She was on antibiotics for the infection that had started after she hadn’t fully passed the placenta after delivery. The anemia and dehydration she had developed along with the infection were being corrected with extra fluids and a blood transfusion.
“Edith, you’re adopting this baby,” I told my sister. “He’s your baby. You can name him what you want.”
Edith watched the baby for a few moments then looked up at me. “Jimmy thinks we should take the baby and Lily home with us.”
“Edith . . .”
“I know it sounds crazy, Blanche, but she doesn’t have anyone to help her. She was pretty much forced into this adoption by her mother and whoever the father was. We can help her take care of this baby and maybe give her a better life than she’d have if she stayed here.”
I watched my sister slide her finger into the small hand of the baby, listening to his soft breathing as he slept, not knowing whether to be sad or overjoyed. My heart ached for Edith to have a baby of her own, but I was also in awe of her compassion for Lily and her desire to take her in.
“The doctor said they’ll release Lily in the morning,” Edith said. “Jimmy has already talked to her about coming home with us. She’s scared, but she wants to. I don’t know about the legality of it all, but Sandra said she’ll work with us and see if we can become her legal guardian.”
I realized I’d been wringing my hands as Edith spoke; twisting my hands and fingers much like she had been the day we first met Lily. Taking in a teenage girl and a newborn at the same time? I wondered if my sister had really thought this through. Lily had grown up on the streets. I’d seen the environment she’d been brought up in, the woman who was supposed to be the most nurturing person in her life but had instead been the cruelest. Helping her take care of a newborn wasn’t going to be easy and might even be impossible without a lot of heartache for Edith and Jimmy and maybe even Lily.
“Edith, are you sure this is what you want to do?”
“Blanche, I’m not sure of anything in life some days, but what I am sure of is that Lily needs love and she needs help raising this baby. I was ready to take her baby as my own, but I can see now that Jimmy and are meant to rescue two lives, not just one.”
I sat in a chair by the hospital room window, looking at my sister, thinking about how different she was from the self-centered girl I’d grown up with. I had my misgivings about the plan she and Jimmy had but, then again, I had become so cautious after my failure to see Hank for who he really was I was almost paralyzed in life. At least Edith was taking a risk to find happiness for her, Jimmy and two other people. I had left taking a risk behind long ago, not even willing to risk admitting my feelings for Judson, afraid to trust my own judgment after it had failed me so miserably when I was younger.
“I’ll support you, Edith,” I told her, standing and hugging her gently. “Whatever you decide.
I looked down at the tiny newborn in my sister’s arms.
Edith leaned into my hug. “I’m sorry you’ve had to spend these extra days here. How is Jackson doing without his Mama?”
“He seemed to be doing well when I spoke to him last night,” I said. “I’m pretty sure he is being spoiled rotten by Mama and Daddy. It also helps he’s a little more independent these days.”
It was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact my son would be eight years old in a couple of months.
Edith cocked an eyebrow and grinned. “And how is Judson doing without his Blanche?”
Edith giggled and I glared at her. “Really, Edith?”
“What? You know he’s head over heels in love with you. I mean, he put himself out there for you with Hank. It’s obvious he wanted to protect you.”
Some things never change and it was obvious Edith would never stop teasing me.
“I’m sure he’s doing just fine,” I told her.
“Have you called him?”
“No. I’ve been too busy making sure you and Lily are okay.”
“But aren’t you wondering if he is okay?”
I sat in a chair and leaned my head back against it.
I was wondering if he was okay if his cuts were healing, his back where Hank had slammed him into the truck and I was even wondering if he was thinking about me while I was gone.