Here we are to the final chapter of A New Beginning. That you to those of you who followed me on this journey and for sharing your thoughts. I plan to have the Kindle version of this book up sometime in April after it has been proofed, edited and even revised.
The sun was bright, glistening off the cars in the church parking lot and through the leaves of the trees. Judson’s fingers were intertwined with mine as we walked out of the church, on our way to Edith and Jimmy’s for lunch.
Judson let go of my hand as we walked toward the top step and looped his arm through Jessie’s while she slowly made her way down the front steps.
“Here, Miss Jessie,” he said in his smooth Southern accent. “Let me help escort you down the stairs.
His Southern politeness always sent tingles of adoration rushing through me.
Jessie looked up at him with an expression of delight. “Oh my! Such a Southern gentleman!” she declared.
Judson laughed softly as they progressed slowly to the next step. “Anything for you Miss Jessie.”
“Now, Judson, if that is indeed true, I need to ask you a serious question.”
“Are you going to marry Blanche soon or what? You two have been holding hands and looking all sweet at each other for quite a while now. I’m not getting any younger and I’d like to see her happily married before I die. Now, how about you move along and just ask her to marry you already?”
Judson looked startled and laughed. “Well, Miss Jessie. It’s really up to Blanche if she wants to marry me. I’m game if she is.”
Jessie snorted. “’I’m game if she is,’” she said in a mocking tone as she paused on the bottom step. “Will you just listen to that? Young people today, I tell you. What kind of proposal was that, young man? I thought you were a Southern gentlemen. You better do it right.”
Judson grinned, looking at me. A rush of butterflies swirled in my stomach. I recognized that grin as the same one he’d had before he tossed me in the lake the week before and the one that crossed his face when he dropped a fishing lure that looked like a spider on my lap a few weeks before that. What was he about to do?
I pressed my hand against my cheeks in disbelief when he stepped off the last step with Miss Jessie and dropped to one knee in the dirt at the end of the church stairs, in front of everyone walking out of the service. My face flushed warm and I knew it must be red.
“Blanche Robbins,” he said, holding his arms out to his side dramatically, exaggerating his Southern accent even more. “Will you consent to be my wife?”
I walked down the last two steps, Jackson behind me, and stood in front of Judson, unsure if I should laugh or cry.
He leaned closer to me, looked up and whispered, “I don’t have the ring yet, but Miss Jessie ordered me to do it right and to hurry up about it so I figured I better listen and obey.”
I glanced at Jessie and tried not to laugh. “I’ll consent to be your wife, Judson T. Wainwright,” I said in my best Southern accent, curtseying slightly.
“Whoo-hoo!” Emmy’s voice broke over the splattering of applause from those standing outside the church as Judson stood and drew me close, kissing me gently. “I knew my plan would work,” she giggled. “And it only took three years.”
Miss Jessie patted Judson the shoulder. “Thank you, young man. You’ve made this old lady very happy. Now, don’t take your time planning the big day. Hurry up so I can be there.”
Judson and I laughed as we hugged her.
Several members of the church shook our hands as they walked by to their cars, congratulating us.
Judson leaned close to Jackson, who was now standing behind me. “Hey, buddy, is this okay with you?”
Jackson grinned a familiar mischievous grin, sliding his hands into his front dress pant pockets and leaned against the railing next to the stairs. “I get to call you dad when you two get married, right?”
Judson’s teasing grin faded into a more serious expression. Tears glistened in his eyes. “Absolutely, kid. If that’s what you want.”
“It is,” Jackson said, his tone matter-of-fact and displaying a maturity that surprised me, but also made my heart swell.
Daddy walked toward us, hands in his pockets, standing in a pose almost identical to Jackson’s.
“Well, I guess gone are the days of the man asking the father’s permission first,” he said, a mischievous grin on his face.
Judson looked alarmed and I could tell he was worried Daddy was really upset. “Oh sir, I’m so — ”
Daddy laughed loudly and slapped Judson hard on the back.
“No worries, my boy, I would have given you that permission. You’re like family to us already.”
Judson shook his hand. “Thank you, sir.”
Edith, Emmy and Lily surrounded me, Emmy holding Faith, Lily cradling Alexander.
“We’ve got to start planning!” Edith cried.
“We should have a June wedding,” Emmy said. “Or September. With all the leaves falling down around you. Outside, by the lake, where you first kissed.”
Edith turned to look at Emmy, then back at me.
“You two first kissed at the lake? Why didn’t I hear about this? You mean that weekend we went out there all together?”
I sighed. “We can talk about it on the way to your house for lunch.”
Edith kept talking. “Did he kiss you or did you kiss him? Is that why you were so quiet on the ride to the adoption agency that day?”
I walked toward the car as she continued to talk, laughing, and hugging Jackson close.
“We’re finally giving you the wedding you deserve,” Mama said, smiling through the tears, three months after Judson’s public proposal. “This dress you made is so beautiful.”
She lifted the veil and laid it back on top of my head. “And you are so beautiful too.”
She cradled my face in her hands and kissed my cheek.
“Thank you, Mama.”
Edith was a giddy mess on the other side of the room. “It’s almost time! I am so excited! My little sister is getting married!”
Emmy was almost as giddy. “And now my best friend is going to be my cousin-in-law!”
Lily, whose demeanor had brightened slowly over the last year, smiled in amusement at the giddy display before her, pushing a strand of blond hair off her shoulder.
“You look beautiful, Lily,” I said. “I’m so glad you agreed to be a junior bridesmaid.”
She lowered her eyes sheepishly, her cheeks flushed red. “Thank you for asking me,” she said softly.
I had been apprehensive about Edith and Jimmy bringing Lily home with them, but now I couldn’t imagine life without her. She’d been quiet, withdrawn, and frightened her first few months at their home. Eventually, though, she began to open up more, finding interests that girls her age should have. Her mother had signed papers to make Edith and Jimmy her legal guardians six months earlier.
Edith enrolled her in school and took care of Alexander during the day, bringing him with her to the shop most days, sometimes asking Mama to help watch him. In the evenings, Lily helped to care for Alexander, changing his diapers, giving him his bath and laying him down at night after his final bottle. Edith and Jimmy both wanted Alexander to call Lily “mom” when he was old enough to talk and referred to themselves simply by their first names. While Lily called them by their first names, I could see that she saw them as her parents.
The door to the Sunday School room opened and Marion peeked around it.
“I have your something old,” she said with a smile.
She stepped into the room and handed me a small, delicate white handkerchief with pink flowers embroidered in the corners.
“This was my mother’s,” she said. “She gave it to me and now I want to give it to you.”
“Marion, I can’t take this…”
She laughed and winked. “Oh, sure you can. I carried it with me at my wedding with Stanley and so far that’s going well so it must be good luck.”
I tucked the handkerchief into the sash of the dress. “Thank you, Marion.”
“I have your something blue,” Emmy said, sliding a small blue flower into the curls piled on top of my head.”
“And you’re already wearing my something borrowed,” Edith said, gesturing to my shoes. “Don’t forget those are mine. I want them back after the wedding.”
I looked around the room at the women who were and had become family to me, suddenly feeling overwhelmed with emotion. I knew Miss Mazie, Hannah and Buffy were all waiting in the sanctuary with the rest of the guests.
As a teenager, I’d never imagined myself married and then when I married, I’d never imagined myself divorced. Once divorced I felt my chances at love were gone, but here I was, about to be married again, this time to someone who not only loved me and my son but also God. And here were the women who had helped me through it all, standing with me to rejoice in what I saw as a happy beginning after an unhappy season in my life.
“Okay, come on,” Edith said waving her hands in front of her eyes as tears welled in them. “Blanche is about to cry. Mama is about to cry. I’m about to cry. And if we cry we are all going to ruin our make-up. Blanche, reapply your lipstick and let’s get this show on the road. There is a handsome man upstairs waiting to marry you and a handsome boy standing next to him waiting to hug you both.”
I sat on a bench next to the window and looked in my purse for the lipstick. My hand touched an envelope I had shoved in there earlier that morning. I’d found it in the mailbox and when I saw the postmark, had quickly shoved it in my purse so no one else would see it. I slid it out and looked at it for a few moments before opening it.
“What’s that?” Edith asked, zipping up the back of Emmy’s dress.
“It’s a letter,” I said, staring at the words on the paper.
“From Vietnam,” I said softly. “From Hank.”
Edith and Emmy looker at each other and then walked over to stand next to me, looking over my shoulder. Mama and Marion joined them.
Just writing to let you know they shipped me to Vietnam four months ago. I won’t lie, it’s hell over here. I’m getting what I deserve and I know it. If I don’t make it back, tell Jackson his daddy was an idiot for never getting to know him.
I folded the letter, slid it back in the envelope and slid the envelope between the pages of my Bible, placing Hank where I should have placed him a long time ago – into the hands of God.
I flipped my veil over my face. “Come on, ladies. Let’s go. I have a new beginning waiting for me.”