In case you missed it, I shared Chapter 33 of A New Beginning yesterday. I will be sharing the final chapter in a special Fiction Saturday tomorrow.
In case you missed my short story series, Quarantined, you can find the first part HERE.
You can pick up the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle for $2.99 (or free until April 10 if you have Kindle Unlimited. )
I’ve also been writing a short story called Quarantined about an estranged couple who get stuck in their house together during a “virus outbreak” without really going into what the virus is or much about the situation surrounding it.
I hooked my braid up on top of my hair with a hair pin, smiling as I saw Judson’s reflection in the mirror grinning at me.
“Need any help?”
“I think I can manage,” I told him with a smile.
He sauntered toward me and placed his hands on my arms. I looked at our reflection together in the mirror, a mix of contentment and excitement rushing through me. I closed my eyes and leaned back against him as he lowered his mouth to my neck.
“Are you sure we have to go this wedding?” he asked in a husky tone, his mouth now on my ear. “We could just stay here and —”
I turned to face him, laying my finger against his lips. “You know we can’t do that. This is a big day for Marion and Stanley.”
His arms were solid around my waist, his mouth turning upward into a grin under my finger. “I know, but I can dream, can’t I?”
I took my finger away and kissed him, my hands against his chest, reveling in how I could kiss him mouth the way I had wanted to for so long.
Judson and I laughed at Jackson standing in the doorway with a disgusted expression on his face.
“Come on, we’re going to be late to the wedding,” Jackson grumbled. “You can be all kissy later.”
“Okay, buddy,” Judson said, stepping away from me and ruffling Jackson’s hair.
“Hey! I just combed that!” Jackson laughed, pushing his hand away.
“See you three at Marion’s!” Mama called from her bedroom as she hooked an earring in.
“If your mother ever finishes getting ready,” Daddy whispered as we passed him in the living room.
“I heard that, Alan!” Mama called.
Sitting together inside Judson’s truck a few moments later, Jackson between us, I reflected on how close the three of us had become in the last six months since Judson and I had told each other how we felt. We saw each other almost every day either at lunch at the diner or at dinner at my parents’ house. In some ways, it was like my parents had already made him a member of the family, even without a ring on my finger.
A faint smile crossed my lips as I remembered a day a week ago when Judson had been working on the construction of a new hardware store in town. Two young women had apparently left their office for lunch and were sitting across the park from the site, chatting and watching the work being done.
“Can’t beat the view from here,” the one with her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail said with a wink.
“Oh?” I asked.
“Those construction workers are easy on the eyes,” the other one, a brunette with hair spilling across her shoulders said, popping the top off her Pepsi.
“Are they now?” I asked slyly, following their gaze to where Frankie Benjamin, Tyler Simpson, Emmy’s dad and Judson were busy on the roof.
The two women were sitting at a picnic table, facing the site as they ate.
“Which one would you pick?” the blond asked, taking a small bite from her sandwich.
“Definitely the one in the white tank top,” the brunette answered. “He’s a cutie.”
She was talking about Frankie, who I knew was single and looking.
“For me it’s the one in the blue T-shirt,” the blond said, biting her lower lip.
I watched Judson climb down the ladder from the roof, the blue T-shirt he was wearing highlighting his sculpted upper arms perfectly. His faded blue jeans weren’t looking too bad on him either.
“Which one would you like to go out with?” the blond asked me with a wink.
I smiled, my gaze still focused on Judson. “The one with the blue shirt really is something else, isn’t he?”
The brunette gently tapped her friend in the arm. “I told you,” she said. She looked back up at me. “I’ve been enjoying watching him for two days now.”
“Ah. I see.”
Judson looked up as he started to climb back up the ladder, saw me and smiled broadly before dropping his tools into the back of his truck and heading toward me.
“Oh. My. Gosh.” The brunette tapped her friend in the arm again. “He’s coming this way.”
My heart was pounding as I watched at the way he was watching me as he walked, his smile broad, his eyes intensely focused on mine. When he reached me and placed his hands on either side of my waist and pulled me gently toward him, I felt the same weakness in my knees I’d felt the night we’d kissed on his porch.
“Hey,” he said softly.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the women watching me with surprised expressions.
“Hey,” I said back.
“I missed you while you were gone. Did you have a good trip to see Miss Mazie?”
I giggled. Honestly giggled. Since when had I started doing that?
“I’ve only been gone since yesterday.”
“Yesterday was a long time ago. I’ve had to go all this time without being able to hold you or kiss you. I want to hold and kiss you now but I’m pretty sweaty and I don’t want —”
I knew it was juvenile, but I wanted to make sure those women knew who Judson belonged to, so to speak. Before he could finish his sentence, I wrapped my arms around the back of his neck and pulled his head down to mine.
I let my mouth linger on his lower lip as I pulled away several seconds later, making sure I gave those gawking women a good show.
“This is certainly the best job site visit I’ve ever had,” he said with a small laugh.
“I brought you some lunch,” I told him. “I can head back to the car to grab it if you want.”
He grinned down at me and I let go of his check. “I’d like that,” he said. “Let me get it for you. We can sit on the back of the truck and eat.”
As Judson walked toward Daddy’s car I smiled sweetly at the women. “Enjoy your lunch, ladies.”
I practically skipped toward Judson’s truck, feeling both foolish and giddy, leaving the women watching me with stunned expressions.
I laughed softly at the memory as Judson drove toward Marion’s.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Just thinking about last week with those women at your job site.”
He smirked. “You mean when you planted one very long, passionate kiss on me to show those women who I belonged to?”
I tipped my head back and laughed while Jackson squirmed.
“Ah, man. Gross. Can you two just knock it off already?”
At Marion’s, guests were already gathering in her backyard for her wedding with Stanley. They had planned a small event with a few friends and family and Pastor Frank officiating.
“I’m going to go see if Marion needs anything,” I told Judson, walking up the front steps.
Inside the front door, my stomach lurched at the sight of a man talking to Thomas and Midge in the living room. He had the same long nose, green eyes and attractive square jawline as Hank, but his features were softer, his mannerism more relaxed.
Marion stepped off the bottom step of her stairs, her hair piled on top of her head, a flowing, purple dress showing off her slender figure.
She smiled at me and touched my elbow. “Blanche, come in and say hi to Tom.”
Tom turned toward me, his smile warm and inviting.
“Blanche,” he said stepping forward with his hand outstretched. “Good to see you again.”
It seemed strange I had only met the younger brother of my ex-husband once before, but he’d left the area after high school and hadn’t returned until after his father had passed away. Even when he had returned, his visits had been brief and I often avoided Marion’s during them to make sure she had plenty of time alone with him.
I smiled and took his hand. “Hey, Tom. Looks like we have two Tom’s here today.”
Thomas grinned and winked at me. “Yeah, but I’m the better looking one, right?”
Midge nudged Thomas gently in the side with her elbow. “Oh, Thomas. You’re so silly.”
The way she looked at him, though, showed she definitely thought he was the best looking Thomas in the room.
Hank’s brother laughed good-naturedly at their banter. He looked at Jackson who had walked through the doorway and was now standing behind me.
“Hey, is this Jackson?” He held his hand out and Jackson looked at for a moment, then took it. “Nice to meet you, bud. I’m your Uncle Tom.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jackson said in the adult tone he’d been speaking in more in the last year.
I could tell he wasn’t sure what to make of the man standing before him and was trying to determine how exactly the man was his uncle, especially since he’d never met him before. It wasn’t lost on me his mental wheels had been turning more now that he was 9-years old, wondering who his biological father really was. He’d seen photos of Hank at Marion’s, knew she was his grandmother and knew most children had two sets of grandparents. More than once he’d started a conversation I thought would end up with a discussion about his father, but at the last minute he’d changed the subject. I struggled with deciding if I should press the subject with him or not.
Tom looked at me and smiled. “I can see you’ve done a great job raising him, Blanche.”
“Thank you, Tom.”
“I hope we can talk later. I’m going to go see where they need me for the ceremony. I’m walking Mama down the aisle.”
I watched him walk across the room to Marion, who was now talking to an attractive red headed woman in a red blouse and white skirt. Tom leaned over and kissed the cheek of the redhead and then smiled at his mother. I let out a long breath, not even realizing until then that I had holding it practically the whole time Tom was talking to me.
I was glad to see him here to support his mother, happy to see how happy it made her, but hoped there weren’t any other surprises in store for me.
“Hey, buddy, I’ve got us a seat in the front row,” Judson told Jackson as he walked inside the house. “It’s a great spot to watch your mom being your grandma’s maid-of-honor.”
My muscles relaxed when we were all outside in the yard, music drifting from a record player Stanley had set up. It had been silly for me to worry Hank might be here somewhere. I knew Marion would have told me. As far as she and I both knew he was in basic training in North Carolina still. We hadn’t heard from him since the night he and Judson had fought outside my shop.
For more than six months I had felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I refused to let that weight come back, especially during such a wonderful time for Marion.
I stood behind Marion as Pastor Frank led them through their vows, much like I had with Edith the day she married Jimmy. I watched Stanley watching Marion as the pastor spoke, his eyes brighter than I could ever remember them, his smile warm and only for Marion. A small tremble shuddered through Marion’s hand as he slid the ring on her finger and I knew it was anticipation of good things to come for her life.
When I realized Judson was watching me, I couldn’t read his expression. As our eyes locked a smile flitted across his lips and I desperately wanted to know what he was thinking at that moment. Jackson sat next to him, looking incredibly bored. Next to Jackson sat Lily, a small smile tugging at her mouth as she watched the exchange of the vows. She seemed enamored with the entire process. Edith held Alexander facing out on her lap and he clapped his hands, giggling as Stanley promised to “take this woman and to have and to hold her.”
My gaze slid across the rows at Mama and Daddy holding hands; at Thomas with his arm across the back of Midge’s chair, smiling broadly; at Midge watching him adoringly; at Tom and his wife sitting next to each other and his wife taking his hand in hers, gently rubbing the top of it with her thumb.
Like I had at Edith’s wedding, I felt a twinge of envy at this beautiful moment, at this time when family and friends could show their love and support of Marion and Stanley’s marriage. I’d run off with Hank, so I had never experienced that moment and longed to have a similar experience one day.
Pastor Frank’s voice pulled me from my reverie.
“And now by the power invested in me by the state of Pennsylvania, I pronounce you husband and wife.”
The reception was simple with finger foods and homemade desserts and tables set up around the yard. Lily and Jackson took turns pushing each other on the tire swing and joy rushed through me at the sight of Lily being the child she had probably never had the chance of being before.
I turned with a plate full of cut up veggies and cheese and smiled at Tom.
“It was a really nice ceremony,” I said.
“It was,” Tom agreed. “Listen. . . This is going to sound weird, but I wanted to catch you while I’m here and tell you that I’m sorry for how Hank treated you. I know I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I feel I need to apologize on behalf of my family somehow. He has a lot of anger in him. I know. I had it too. It’s why I stayed away so long.”
He leaned against the tree we were standing next to, folding his arms casually across his chest. “But that anger is like a cancer. It will eat you up inside and destroy you and everyone around you. I almost let it and would have if I hadn’t found God and Mary. I’ve been praying for my brother, hoping he will find his way out of the darkness someday before it’s too late.”
I laid my hand against his shoulder. “Thank you, Tom.”
He nodded then glanced over my shoulder toward where Judson was sitting talking to Mama and Daddy. He looked back at me again with a smile. “It looks like you found someone who will treat you right and I’m so happy for you, Blanche. This new beginning is certainly something you deserve.”