We are getting closer to the end of this story and I just wanted to let regular readers know that the book will not be called A New Chapter when I am done with it and publish it in book form. Last week it struck me that I already have A New Beginning and now I was going to call this book A New Chapter. It seemed a bit lazy on the naming side so I have changed A New Chapter to Beauty From Ashes and at this point it is scheduled to be released in full on April 26. I haven’t decided if I will keep the book in Kindle Unlimited or not yet.
For those who are new here, I share a chapter of a novel in progress on Fridays for Fiction Friday but sometimes I also share a part on a Thursday or Saturday. The version I share here often changes before I push publish on the final book down the line.
Chapter 21 Part I
A cool breeze brushed Ginny’s hair back as she stepped out onto the sidewalk. She rubbed her hands across her arms and breathed in the smell of winter on its way.
“I was going to suggest we go for a walk, but maybe it’s a little too chilly for that.” Keith tilted his head toward the riverwalk across the street as he zipped his coat. “What do you think?”
It was chilly and she needed to get home, yet part of her wasn’t ready to go home. She was still angry at Stan, disappointed that he’d stood her up once again.
She zipped her coat up under her chin. “I could go for a walk. I need to burn some calories after that desert.”
The river was high, the streetlights lining the riverwalk reflecting a bright, blue-tinted white off the surface. The town of Clarkston had installed the riverwalk ten years ago, but replaced the electric lights with LED a year ago to be more energy efficient. Ginny understood the need to care about the environment, but she missed the cozy orange glow of the old streetlights.
“It’s cold but it’s beautiful.” Keith paused at one of the observation areas and leaned on the metal railing, looking out across the river. “I remember kayaking in this river with my dad. We tipped one,” he pointed toward a bend island further down river. “right about there. I thought I was going to drown but the old man grabbed the front of my vest with one hand and yanked me all the way to the island. The kayak floated to the other shore. There were no cellphones back then, as you know, so we waited, not sure what we were going to do. I was pretty sure I could swim to the other side.” He winced. “But dad wasn’t so sure. The water was pretty deep and there was a current there. We were lucky a fisherman came by an hour later and rescued us.”
Ginny stood next to him and smiled. “You were a lot more adventurous than I was as a teen. I can’t remember ever climbing into a kayak. You couldn’t get me to climb into one now either.” She laughed. “Then again, maybe it would spice up my life a little bit.”
She regretted saying it as soon as it was out of her mouth. Why was she sharing the need to spice up her life with a man she barely knew? Sure, she’d known him years ago, in high school, but not now. He was practically a stranger, even if they did have some shared memories and had been talking to each other off and on the last few weeks.
Keith turned and leaned back on the railing. “It’s never too late to add some excitement to your life, you know. I could take you kayaking.”
Ginny laughed. “And you’d be dragging me out of the river, I’m pretty sure.”
Keith winked. “I wouldn’t mind that. Much more rewarding than that time I had to push a dead beaver out of the way.”
Ginny made a face. “Oh gross. I’m not sure that’s the adventure I’d like to have.”
Keith’s laugh was rich and sent a rush of energy through Ginny. It was nice to hear a man relaxed enough to let out an authentic laugh. He pushed off the railing and started walking again. She fell in step with him, her muscles relaxing as she began to enjoy the freedom and lightness of the night. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been able to simply talk with another adult — well, beside Liz — without feeling like what she said wasn’t important.
Keith sighed. “I feel like I’ve missed a lot of the good things of life, Gin. I worked a lot during my marriage. Missy and I weren’t compatible. Not at all. But it didn’t help I was at the office more than I was home. I don’t want to keep missing out on life. I don’t want it all to pass me by while I’m on a conference call or sitting in a boardroom somewhere.”
He slid his hands in his jean pockets as he walked. “Maybe this is just a getting old thing. Do you ever feel like you’ve missed out on life?”
Boy, did she. “In some ways, yes.” She bit her lower lip, not sure how much she felt comfortable sharing. “There are a lot of things I wished I had done. I wish I had traveled more, tried more new things. That’s why I was at the art class, actually. I wanted to try something new, or, well, a little old for me since I took some art classes in college. I wanted something just for me again. Reading used to be just for me but then I became a librarian, and we don’t have the time for reading people think we do. We’re shelving and checking books out, but we aren’t reading them very often.”
She pulled her hood up to block the breeze. “It’s weird but when you’re a mom you feel like you’re whole life revolves around your children when they are home and then when they move out, well, you wonder what the purpose of your life is.” She smiled faintly. “I know. It’s silly.”
“No.” Keith stopped walking and turned toward her and she stopped too. “It’s not silly. It’s real. Life is real and messy and yeah, sometimes we lose our way in it and forget that it’s not only about making money or raising kids or making our spouses happy. Life is also about being happy, experiencing every last drop of being alive there is until we aren’t alive anymore.” He threw his hands out to his side. “Don’t you miss feeling alive, Ginny? I do. I miss feeling like I did when I was a teenager – that my future was unmapped and it was ripe for excitement and adventure and all the things that make life worth living.”
Yes, she missed feeling alive. She sighed. She missed feeling alive with Stan.
“I want to feel alive again, Ginny and when I’m with you, that’s how I feel.”
His gaze focused on hers. “I kissed you on that water tower. Do you remember?”
Ginny’s cheeks flushed warm, panic bubbling up inside her fast, ready to explode through her body and send her running up the sidewalk along the river and back to her car. “Yes, I remember.”
“It was a nice kiss.” The step he took toward her was full of purpose and the shock of it left her frozen, unable to move away. “A kiss full of life.”
The sudden movement of his hand behind her head brought a gasp from her throat and she put her hands up, but his mouth was already on hers. She pressed her hands against her chest, planning to push him away, but the kiss was fierce, hot, sending flames skittering through her blood stream, awakening what had been asleep for too long. Her mind clouded, the pleasure of his mouth against her making her forget where she was and who she was for a few second. She let the kiss linger without even thinking how wrong it was.
His hand on her lower back pulled her against him and the kiss deepened, but as it did, she saw Stan in her mind, his smile, his laughter, the flash of passion in his eyes when he lowered his mouth to hers so many times over the years — the Stan she used to know so well.
She pulled back quickly, gasping for a breath, yanking herself from Keith’s embrace, her hands still out in front of her. “Keith. I’m a married woman.”
“Ginny, I’m sorry.” He stepped toward her, but she pushed her hands toward him again and he stopped moving his arms still out as if he was holding her. “You’re a beautiful woman and it drives me crazy that Stan doesn’t seem to notice that. You’re smart, bright, funny, engaging. . .You deserve better than some man who is married to his job.”
Ginny hugged her arms around her and shook her head, closing her eyes. “I shouldn’t have let you do that, Keith.”
“Why? I felt you come alive in my arms, Ginny.” Keith set his hands on his waist and gestured toward her. “You clearly needed to be reminded you’re still a vibrant, passionate woman. Admit it. That kiss made you feel alive again.”
For a few seconds, it had. He was right. But it had also made her feel weak with guilt and horror at betraying her wedding promise to Stan. She’d promised to have and to hold, for better or for worse, not to let an ex-boyfriend kiss her when she felt neglected and lonely.
“I’ve had a wonderful night, Keith, but I need to go home.”
She turned, walking briskly toward the top of the riverwalk, her arms still hugged tight around her.
Keith’s footsteps behind her only quickened her steps. His hand on her wrist stopped her and she turned to look at him.
The confidence was gone, replaced with an expression she read as contrition. “I’m sorry.” He swallowed hard. “I got caught up in the moment, in my own desires to feel alive again.” He closed his eyes briefly as he shook his head. “It was wrong. You’re married and —” He looked at her again. “I’m just sorry. Can you forgive me?”
She folded her hands in front of her face, blew on them to try to chase the chill away. “I do forgive you, if you forgive me for leading you on.”
Keith laughed. “You didn’t lead me on. You were just being your normal sweet, amazing self and I took advantage of it. I didn’t plan on doing that, just so you know. It was the atmosphere, the good conversation, how beautiful you looked in the moonlight. It was like we were in high school again. I suddenly regretted walking away from you and letting Stan have you.”
Ginny stepped back again. “You didn’t let Stan have me, Keith. I chose him.” She gestured toward the direction of her car. “I need to go. It’s late.”
“Can we still talk sometimes?”
She shook her head, turning away from him. “No, I don’t think that would be a good idea.” She looked over her shoulder. “I hope things work out with your business and you enjoy your time back in Spencer.”
She saw him standing in the middle of the sidewalk, watching her, as she turned the corner to head toward her car. The tears came when he was out of sight, flowing freely, cooling on her cheek as soon as they fell. Her body trembled as she walked, horror slicing through her. How had she let herself lose track of reality back there?
What[lh1] was she even thinking walking along the river after a dinner alone with a man who wasn’t her husband? What had happened to her? Stan wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t as if he was abusing her, beating her, screaming at her. He was inattentive, yes, but he didn’t deserve this – for her to be going behind his back, kissing another man.
She quickly unlocked the door of her car and slid behind the steering wheel, slamming the door closed and locking the door. Clutching the steering wheel, she pressed her forehead against the middle of it and sobbed.
“You are so, so stupid, Ginny Jefferies. So stupid.” The sobs came fast and hard, causing her to gasp for breath as an ache spread from her chest up her throat.
“God, what has happened to me? Who have I become? Forgive me, Father. Forgive me for being swept away by Keith’s charm, for losing sight of the commitment I made to Stan on our wedding day. Can you forgive me?”
She turned the ignition, checked her side mirror, and yanked the car out of the parking space, pressing her foot on the accelerator.
“Forgive me, Father.” The words choked out of her as she drove, fighting past the tears. “Forgive me for what I did. And please, please let Stan forgive me too.”