Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 32

If you missed it, I posted Chapter 31 of A New Beginning 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.


Chapter 32

“How close do you think I was to dying that night with Hank?” I asked Emmy six months after I’d left Hank.

Emmy looked at me with furrowed eyebrows. “Why would you ask that? Did you really think he was going to kill you that night?”

I hugged a pillow to my chest. “I honestly don’t know. It’s how it felt that night, yes. The look on his face  . . . Emmy, it was horrible. It was like he wasn’t even human.”

I thought about the conversation and Emmy’s question back to me as I pulled my legs up into my stomach, curled up under my covers, in my own bed, after finally returning home with Edith, Jimmy, Lily and the new baby, who Lily had named Alexander Josiah.

How close had I been to dying that night? Did it make me a horrible person to think Hank really could have been capable of killing me? Was he truly that horrible of a person? I pictured his fist hitting Judson’s face, the anger radiating off of him when he’d watched Judson and I through his truck window as we drove away. He was full of anger, of bitterness, but was he capable of killing?

I wondered if he would be capable of killing if he ended up in Vietnam. I squeezed my eyes tight against the darkness, willing sleep to come. Why was I thinking about all of this now? My body was heavy with exhaustion. I’d worked longer hours at the shop the last two days, trying to catch up on the work I’d been behind on after the extended trip to the city with Edith and Jimmy. I hadn’t even stopped to see Judson, or call to see how he was, but I’d thought of him almost constantly.

I rolled to my back, stared at the ceiling, then rolled to my side and closed my eyes again.

I could have died that night, I thought to myself. Emmy and I both could have died that night in the storm. Life is so short. Life is so fragile. I’ve barely been living all these years. Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I so afraid to take risks?

I threw the covers off me, sat up and swung my legs over the bed, my thoughts racing. I was wasting my life and pushing people away and for what? For nothing. I was doing it all under the guise that I could somehow keep anything bad from happening to me, simply by controlling every situation, every feeling. But feelings weren’t something I could control and right now I was fighting against admitting my feelings for Judson were much more than simple friendship.

I quickly dressed and slid my shoes on, sneaking down the hallway and the stairs, glancing at the clock in the living room on my way through. 11:30 at night. What was I even thinking, taking a walk at this time of night, heading to see the one person who wanted me to enjoy life as much I did? I knew I’d never sleep if I didn’t tell Judson I’d wanted to kiss him that night at the lake and I wished I hadn’t run away.

I felt almost like I was in high school again, sneaking out to see Hank, as I tip-toed past my parent’s room and walked gingerly down the stairs. I wasn’t in high school again, though, and I wasn’t going to see Hank. I didn’t feel guilty about this late-night escape.

The crisp air stinging my nose and eyes as I walked down the dirt road toward Judson’s reminded me that winter was almost here. Above me, the night sky twinkled with stars and a full moon was showing bright just above the treetops. Somewhere across the fields one of Mr. Worley’s cows mooed from either in his pasture or inside the barn.

Movement in the brush as I walked past a barren cornfield on one side and a tangled thicket on the other startled me. My breath and steps quickened. A terrifying thought hit me like a rock between the eyes. What if there was a bear in the bushes?

Oh my gosh. It is a bear. I am going to be eaten by a bear while being a fool and walking out of my house in the middle of the night to tell a man who has probably forgotten me about since I hadn’t even called him in more than a week to check on him that I – that I what?

I stopped walking, breathing hard, my breath floating white in front of me in small quick puffs.

I looked up at the stars, the cloudless, dark sky, and heard the rustling again in the bushes. I swallowed hard and started walking faster. What was I even going to tell Judson? And why hadn’t I taken the car? What had I been thinking? I had a child to take care of. How would my parents tell him I had been eaten by a bear while walking off in the middle of the night to go see some man.

A black, furry blur rushed at me from the bushes and I screamed in terror, holding my arms up to block the attack of the bear.

But the attack never came.

I slowly lowered my arms and opened my eyes, squinting in the moonlight. A plump black cat yowled at me as it sauntered toward me as if to mock me for my fear. It darted past me, back toward our house. I remembered at that moment why I had never been a fan of cats.

I looked back toward our house, then back the other way, down the road, at the bend in it, knowing Mr. Worley’s tenant house where Judson lived was a hundred feet away. If I went home, I could crawl back into bed and forget about this night and my foolishness. If I walked to Judson’s I took the chance he was asleep but then again, what was I going to even say if he was awake?

Standing in the middle of this old dirt road I’d driven and walked on a thousand times I closed my eyes and felt the tears hot behind them. I thought about the fight with Hank, the bruises on Judson’s face, the way his eye had been swollen the next day. Absent-mindedly I walked, kicking at the dirt, pulling my sweater closer around me, wondering why I always seemed to cause everyone pain.

When I reached Judson’s front yard, I stood looking at the light glowing from his front window. Was he inside reading a book? Building a table?

On a date?

My heart lurched at that thought. I drew in a deep breath but couldn’t bring myself to walk onto the front porch.

Blanche Robbins, what are you doing? I thought with a hand pressed against my forehead. Go home and gather your thoughts before you make a fool out of yourself.

I turned to leave and screamed for the second time that night, this time at a figure standing behind me shining a light in my face. I held my hands up against the blinding light.

“Blanche? What are you doing out here?”

I recognized the smooth Southern accent immediately. I squinted in the light.

Judson lowered the flashlight and stepped toward me in the darkness.

“I – I was taking a walk,” I gasped.

“At midnight?”


“In the pitch dark?”


“Without a flashlight?”

I cleared my throat and rubbed my hands nervously across my arms.

“Umm . . .yes?”

“Did you scream a few moments ago?”

“Yes, that was me.”

“I thought it was a dying cat, so I came out to see what was going on.”

I giggled. “A dying cat? I sounded like a dying cat?”

Judson laughed loudly. “Well, yeah.”

“So, you were going to come out here and do what with the dying cat?”

“I don’t know!” he said, still laughing. “Maybe put it out of its’ misery.”

He jerked his head toward the house. “It’s cold out here. Do you want to come in?”

I looked at the front porch and shook my head, shivering. “I don’t think – I mean, I don’t know if it would be right to go into the house of a man I’m not married to in — uh, well, the middle of the night.”

I thought he might laugh at me but instead, he nodded in apparent understanding.  “Okay, well, then come up on the porch and I’ll get a blanket to put around your shoulders. You shouldn’t be out here alone at this time of night. There could be bears or — some other crazy Pennsylvania creature out here.”

I snorted a small laugh, pretending the idea of bears being along this road was absurd and I’d never thought of such a thing. “Bears. Yeah. Right.”

Up on the porch I sat on the step while Judson went inside and returned with a quilt. He draped it around my shoulders and sat next to me, leaning his back against the porch column, one leg up, one stretched down on the top step. Had I really just suggested I shouldn’t go into his home because it might not look right? First of all, who was going to see us at this time of night on a dark, rural road? The cat? Secondly, as if being in his home the other day in broad daylight couldn’t have been construed by some as inappropriate behavior as well.

Judson propped his forearm arm on his knee. “Blanche. Seriously. What are you doing out here?”

I looked at him in the dim porch light, at the fading bruises under his eye and along his cheek, a choking pain searing through my chest.

Oh please, Lord, don’t let me start crying, I might not stop.

But it was too late. Without warning, I lost the fight to hold in my emotions and began to sob. It was as if a dam broke. I pressed my hands against my face and sobbed, tears soaking my face.

“Blanche, what’s going on?” Judson’s voice was full of shock and concern. He touched my arm gently. “Did something happen? Did Hank come back or —”

I shook my head behind my hands. “No. No. Nothing like that,” I choked out, trying to wipe the tears from my face with my hands.

Judson lifted a corner of the quilt and dabbed my cheeks with it. “What is going on?”

I turned my face away from him, trying to stop the tears.

“You really could have been hurt the other night with Hank and it’s my fault.”

“How was it your fault that Hank was a jerk and I chose to step in? We already talked about this. That was my choice.”

I pulled the quilt tight around me. “It’s like everything I do hurts someone else.”

Judson laughed softly.  “Well that’s a little self-centered isn’t it?” he asked.

I sniffed and looked at him through tears. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You seem to think you have so much power you are the cause of the pain of others. Can you also use your powers for good?”

I sighed. “That’s not what I meant. I just meant that people get hurt trying to help me because of my stupid —”

“Stepping in with Hank was my choice,” Judson interrupted, his tone sharp. “Protecting you was my choice.”

He turned toward me, pushing my hair back from my face. When he spoke again his tone was tender, husky.

“Loving you is my choice. And your safety is worth whatever pain I’m in right now.”

The serious tone of his voice sent a ripple of exhilaration from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. How could he still love me, after all the ways I’d pushed him away over the last two years?

I swiped my hand across the tears streaming down my cheeks. I couldn’t imagine I looked very nice, my face splotchy and red from the crying.

A heavy sensation of anticipation settled in the center of my chest as he spoke. “Why won’t you just let me love you, Blanche? Why can’t you stop thinking so much and just,” he stood impulsively and tossed his arms out to his side in frustration, looking down at me. “I don’t know, feel! Feel something and let that be your guide, not your thoughts or your ‘what if’ worries.”

My excited feeling was being replaced with a growing annoyance and I wasn’t sure I had the emotional fortitude to handle the roller coaster of feelings

How stupid can he be? Doesn’t he know what happens to women when they go through life guided by their feelings?  I stood to face him, the quilt sliding off my shoulders, landing in a pile on the porch floor.

“I did ‘just feel’ once upon a time,” I snapped, my voice breaking with anger, as I tossed my arms out to mock his gesture. “With Hank. I didn’t think. I just went with my feelings and took a risk. And where did it get me? Beat up. A pregnant teenager with no clue how to raise a baby. It got me shame. It got me guilt because my son has been growing up without a father — ”

“Blanche, stop it.” Judson’s voice was sharp and loud as he interrupted me. I stepped back, startled. “Stop using Hank Hakes as a measuring stick for every situation in your life, for every man that walks into your life. Hank is a stellar example of what a man shouldn’t be, but not every man is Hank Hakes.”

He walked toward me briskly, cupping my face in his hands. “I am not Hank Hakes, Blanche. I love you and I want you to tell me how you feel about me – not what you fear will happen if you let yourself love me. For God sake, Blanche, if this whole thing with my dad has taught me anything, it’s that life is short, too short to wait to tell people how we feel. I have spent too many nights aching to speak to you, aching to hold you, aching for you to let me in.”

We were only inches apart now. I couldn’t take my eyes off his. My gaze focused on the flecks of green scattered in the blue of his iris. His hands on my skin woke a passion and need in me I knew had always been there but had tried to ignore.

“I know how I feel about you Blanche. I know I can’t stop thinking about you, worrying about you, wondering what you’re doing when we’re not together. I know when we are together I find myself memorizing every little gesture you make, quirk you have, wondering how it’s possible that simply being with you calms me like nothing else, like no one else, does.”

I searched his eyes, saw in them tenderness and searching of his own. I didn’t understand why he seemed to love me so fiercely. I didn’t understand how I deserved someone who wanted healing for me as much as I wanted it for myself.

I knew he was right. Realizing how short and fragile life was had been what had brought me here tonight. I had come here to tell Judson I was afraid to love him, to be loved by him but also that I didn’t want a life ruled by fear and anger. Why couldn’t I just say it?

“Oh, Judson. I’m sorry.”

The words rushed out of me as if an emotional dam had burst, tears flowing before I could even try to fight them back.

“I’m so sorry I keep acting like you’re even remotely like Hank. You’re not. You’re so wonderful and beautiful and sweet and I want to know all there is to know about you. I want to know what you think about all those books on your bookshelves and how you made all that furniture and what you did in the summer with your brother when you were a little boy and what your favorite food is.”

“I want to know what you think about God and if you’ve ever gone swimming in the ocean.  I want to know it all but I’m so afraid to know it all.”  I choked out a sob. “I don’t have to let myself love you, Judson. I just do. Even when I don’t want to. And yes, it frightens me because I don’t want Jackson to be hurt again, but I also don’t want to be hurt again. I kissed you at the lake because I wanted to kiss you. I felt an insane physical attraction to you, but it scared me because I needed something more. I didn’t want any decision I made to be based on physical attraction because I took that path before and it didn’t end well.”

I gasped in a breath and tears slipped down my face as Judson kissed my forehead, then my cheek, pulling back to look at me.

“But, I also don’t want to hold my feelings for you in any longer,” I whispered. “I know now that I love you beyond appearance, that I love your heart as much as I love your soft lips and your beautiful eyes.”

Judson grinned. “You think my eyes are beautiful?”

My face flushed warm. “I think all of you is beautiful.”

His grin had widened and I actually thought I saw red flush along his cheekbones as he laughed softly.

“You know, C.S. Lewis once said that to love at all is to be vulnerable.”

“Have you been talking to my Dad?”


“My Dad quoted that same thing from C.S. Lewis a few weeks ago.”

Judson laughed again. “Great minds think alike apparently.”

He pressed his forehead against mine. “Blanche, I’m scared too. Loving you is scary because I don’t want to hurt you either and I know I could someday, but I know I could never treat you the way Hank treated you. I know I will do anything in my power to protect you, to protect Jackson, and to protect your heart.”

My body relaxed as he spoke, a peace settling over me at each word. When he tilted his head and gently pressed his mouth against mine, I surrendered to how tender love could be. Unlike that day at the lake, I accepted each second of the kiss, each tender touch. His hands slid from my face, pushed into my hair, and cradled the back of my head. I clutched the front of his shirt, worried he might pull away like I had at the lake.

I didn’t want him to pull away. I didn’t want him to stop kissing me. I didn’t want him to stop showing me how much he truly loved me.

His hands slipped from my hair, moving down my back, resting in the small of it as he gently pulled me against him. When he pulled away and started to speak, I laid a finger against his lips. I shook my head. I didn’t want to talk about anything anymore. I wanted to feel all the emotions I hadn’t let myself experience when I’d kissed him before.

His mouth found mine again and pleasure coursed through me as his mouth moved to my neck and then my throat, kissing a trail across my skin. I slid my hands into his hair, clutching it, focused only on the fire each touch of his mouth and hands lit inside me.

I don’t know how long we stood there holding each other, lost in the moment, forgetting all we’d been worried about, but when he finally pulled back to look at me we were both breathing hard and he was laughing.

“That felt —”

I tipped my head back and let my hair fall back across my shoulders.

“Like freedom,” I said, finishing his sentence.

He laughed and I kissed him again, enjoying the softness of his hair between my fingers.

“Blanche,” he whispered hoarsely a few moments later. “I need to drive you home.”

I pulled his head down to mine again to resume our kiss, but he stepped back taking my hands in his, clasping them together and holding them against his chest.

I could feel his heart pounding fast under my hands.

“I need to take you home now,” he said firmly, looking me in the eyes. He spoke quickly. “If I don’t, I’m afraid . . .” He shook his head slowly. “Of what we might do.”

I looked at him in surprise, warmth rushing from my chest into my cheeks. I knew what he was saying and that he was right, though I’d never intended that when I’d started walking to see him earlier. My own heart was pounding as fast as his, my thoughts spinning; the perfect storm for clouded judgment and choices that might be regretted later.

I signaled I understood by a quick nod of my head. He left me standing on the porch and grabbed his truck keys from inside the house. We drove to my parents’ house in silence, and he shut the engine off in the driveway. I was trembling and I knew it wasn’t from the chill in the air.

Stretching his arm across the back of the seat he looked at me and let out a long sigh. “So, we talked and … yeah … that was good.”

“It was.”

“I’m glad we got that talk out of the way and know how we feel now.”

“Me too.”

I gasped and then giggled as he reached out and clutched my hair at the back of my head, tilting my head back gently and pressing his mouth firmly against mine.  I giggled. When was the last time I had actually giggled?

“We’ll talk more later today,” he whispered when he pulled his mouth from mine several moments later. “Now get out of here before your daddy chases me off with a shotgun.”

I laughed. “I don’t think that’s going to happen with you. He likes you too much.”

His hand touched my arm gently as I opened the door and I turned to look at him.


His expression was tender as he cupped my cheek against his hand. “Is it too soon to say I love you? Because I do.”

The words flowed over me like warm water. I leaned close to him, laid my hand against his cheek, and brushed my lips against his. “I hope it isn’t because I love you too, Judson.”

I watched him drive away, as I pulled my sweater tight around me and then slipped inside the house. Inside my room, under the covers I closed my eyes, struggling to fall asleep, wondering what my future held now that I’d told Judson T. Wainwright I loved him and knew he loved me too.

Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning Chapter 29

Ya’ll ended up with an extra chapter last week. Don’t expect another extra chapter this week. *wink*

As always, this is a first draft of the story and also as always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. You do not need to read A Story to Tell to follow A New Beginning.

Also, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. Maybe even plot holes. Feel free to tell me about them in the comments. To follow the story from the beginning, find the link HERE or at the top of the page. This book will be published in full later this spring on Kindle and other sites.

Let me know what you think should happen next and what you think of the story so far in the comments.

Chapter 29

I knocked softly on Judson’s door the next morning and waited nervously on the porch. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t asked him how his father was recovering from the surgery and if they’d been able to work through any of their issues. It seemed like I would be forever self-focused. I’d had an entire 20-minute car ride the night before to focus on someone other than myself and I hadn’t even bothered.

Daddy had taken Jackson to school that morning on his way to work and I had taken the day off after Edith called late the night before to tell me Lily’s baby had been born. It was a boy and Edith asked me to travel with her and Jimmy to pick him up that afternoon. It was a nice morning for a walk from our house to the Worley’s and I needed it. It had given me time to think about everything that had happened the night before, though my mind was still spinning from it all.

I knocked again but when there was no sound inside, I decided he must have gone to work. As I started back down the steps to walk home, I heard the door open behind me.

A groggy voice greeted me. “Hey.”

I turned to see Judson standing in the doorway in a white undershirt and his jeans from the night before, blood dried near the knee. Part of his cheek was swollen and dark blue, almost purple, the eye barely open. I could see the edge of the cut above his eye on the other side under the bandage Mama had placed there. His hair was disheveled and he was unshaven and for some reason the combination made my stomach feel funny in the middle – funny in a good way. I had the same sudden urge I’d had the night before to kiss away all the pain.

“I’m so sorry to wake you.” I felt my knees tremble as I spoke. Why were my knees trembling? I’d spoke to Judson many times before. Today wasn’t any different. Was it?

“I just realized that I’d forgotten last night to ask you how your dad was,” I continued, hoping I didn’t sound as awkward as I felt.

Judson laughed softly and leaned against the door frame, blinking in the bright sunlight. “It’s okay. You were a little preoccupied.” He jerked his head toward the kitchen. “Come on in and we can talk while I make myself some coffee.”

He looked down at himself and rubbed his hand across his chin as I stepped inside. “And after I wash up and shave. I have to head into the job site later. Uncle James gave me the morning off when he heard what happened.”

You don’t need to shave, I thought to myself. You look fine the way you are. Boy do you look fine.

“Did he hear what happened from you?” I asked out loud as I walked past him inside.

Judson grinned. “Not me. Thomas. You know how newspaper men are. They like to spread the news.” He gestured toward the chair across from the couch. “Sit if you like. Excuse the mess. I fell asleep on the couch last night.”

I moved a book aside and sat in the chair, looking at the tangled mess of blankets on the couch, as Judson disappeared down the hallway toward the bathroom. I looked at the book, laying on the floor where I had placed it, John Steinbeck emblazoned on the front. I picked it up, flipping pages as the sound of running water filtered through the bathroom door down the hallway. I had to do something to distract myself from the thought that Judson was just beyond that door, not wearing a stitch of clothing.

We have only one story,” I read to myself. “All novels, all poetry, are built on the never ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.”

Standing, I carried the book to the bookcases along the wall in the dining room, sitting where other people placed china cabinets. I trailed my fingers along the binding of the books, reading the names of the authors, Orwell, Tolkien, Shakespeare, Golding, Fleming, Lewis — as in C.S. Lewis. Good grief, no wonder Judson got along so well with my father.

I touched the edge of the bookcase in front of me, rubbing my hand down the smooth side, knowing Judson had most likely built it and much of the rest of the furniture in the house. My eyes focused on a picture over the mantle above the fireplace. A woman stood in black and white against a backdrop of ivy, her dark hair and dark eyes captivating against pale skin, her head tipped back in an obvious laugh. I guessed by her clothes that the photo was taken some time in the 1930s.

A couple stared out at me from another photo, the woman looking similar to the woman in the larger photo, but older, the man looking almost exactly like Judson but older, his hair thinning slightly, his arms wrapped tightly around the woman. I wondered if they were Judson’s parents. Two small boys were posed against a tobacco barn in another photo. Both boys were wearing denim overalls, shirtless, the youngest missing his front teeth, his hair standing in several directions on top of his head. Looking closer I realized the oldest was the Judson I remembered from our childhood, freckles spread across his nose. Judson walked out of the bathroom, rubbing a towel across his wet hair, as I studied the photograph with a small smile, remembering how obnoxious he’d been back then.

“That’s me and my brother,” he said, standing behind me. A sweet smell of aftershave and shampoo washed over me. “I’m sure you can see I’m the better looking one.”

I winked and walked over to the couch, starting to fold the blankets. “Uh-huh. I see that.”

“You don’t have to clean up after me, you know,” Judson laughed from the kitchen, pouring water into the coffee pot. “Like Hank said last night, I’m a big boy.”

He sat down on the couch a few moments later and patted the cushion next to him as I laid the folded blanket across the back. “Come sit down while the coffee brews and I’ll tell you about my visit down South.”

I winced as I saw the bruises and cuts up closer. “You look worse today than last night.”

He laughed. “Well, gee thanks and I was just going to say you look much better this morning.” He reached over and pushed a strand of hair that had fallen out of my bun behind my ear like he had the day in the barn. “No problems last night?”

I leaned back against the arm of the couch. “None. Now tell me how your dad is.”

Judson propped his arm across the back of the couch. “He’s recovering but it’s going to take a bit. His heart might be weak for a long time, maybe forever but he’s better than he was.”

“Did you two work anything out?”

“No big make up scene, no, but we were at least able to be civil to each other.”

“Well, that’s a start at least.” I pointed toward the photograph on the wall. “Is that him in that photograph?”

Judson nodded. “Yep. That’s him and my mom a few years ago. And that’s my mom in high school in the other photograph. My dad took the photo. It’s one of my favorites so I asked if I could have a copy of it. Dad had it by his hospital bed after the surgery too, but told Mom it paled in comparison to having her there in person. Dad wasn’t always the best with me, but he is definitely much better at being a husband.”

He stood and walked into the kitchen toward the coffee pot. “Hey,” he said over his shoulder. “What did Thomas mean when he said he hoped things would be less complicated with me now?”

Ugh. Thomas. I had hoped Judson would forget about that.

“Oh, who knows,” I said with a wave of my hand, hoping to change the subject. “It’s Thomas.”

“Yeah. Thomas. The guy you went out with while I was gone.”

I laughed. “Yeah. I wasn’t exactly the person he had on his mind that night. I told you he’s dating Midge Flannery, right?”

“Isn’t her dad the pastor at the Methodist Church?”


“And she’s dating Thomas? Seriously?”

“Yeah. I know, but Thomas said maybe she’ll help him turn over a new leaf. Let’s just hope it’s not the other way around.”

Judson laughed from the kitchen. I could see him through the doorway, adding creamer and sugar to his coffee. I tried not to stare at him as he moved between the refrigerator and the counter, but I was like a deer caught in headlights, my gaze drifting over his broad shoulders and finely toned arms.

“Did you want a cup of coffee?”

“What?” I looked away as he glanced at me “Oh. No. Um… actually, you know what? I’m not really a coffee fan.”

“Oh. How about a glass of juice instead?”

“I’d much more prefer that. Yes.”

My gaze fell on the bruises on Judson’s cheek as he leaned over to place the juice on the coffee table in front of me a few moments later, my heart aching. He was in pain because of me and I didn’t like it. He sat next to me, sipping the coffee.

“It doesn’t hurt as bad as it looks,” he said, as if reading my mind.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“What are you sorry for?”

“For Hank. For causing you to be in pain, for —”

Judson laughed, interrupting me. “You didn’t cause me any pain. I’m the one who inserted myself into that situation. I could have handled it a lot better than I did. I didn’t have to keep letting him egg me on. All I had to do was take you by the arm and lead you to my truck, but like I said last night – I wanted him to pay.”

He rubbed his chin, wincing slightly. “I’m not proud of myself but I guess I wanted him to feel what it’s like to be on the other end of a beating. The only problem is that verse in the Bible: ‘Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.’ I guess I didn’t trust the Lord to bestow vengeance on Hank in the way I wanted and took it upon myself. I shouldn’t have done that. Of course, it didn’t help that Emmy she filled me in on what else Hank had done to you.”

He looked at me and I saw regret in his eyes. I felt warmth rush into my face. I knew Emmy had told him about Hank cheating on me and I couldn’t decide if it made me angry or not that she had. I had realized long ago that Hank’s choosing another woman over me had made me feel unworthy and incapable of being truly loved by another man. It had made my insides ache with embarrassment.

Telling Emmy and Edith, and then much later Mama and Daddy, had been humiliating, even though they all insisted the issue was his, not mine. Knowing that Judson now knew I hadn’t been  — dare I even think it — woman enough for my husband, was like having a deep secret exposed to the light. It was a secret I somehow felt would make Judson look at me like Hank once had, not only as someone who wasn’t pretty enough, but also someone who couldn’t fulfill her husband’s physical or emotional needs.

I lowered my eyes, picking at a thread on the bottom of my shirt.

“She told you that?”

“Yeah, I hope it doesn’t upset you, but it sort of slipped out when she was in one of her ranting modes a couple weeks ago.” He rubbed his hand across his chin and winced. “You know how she gets.”

I laughed softly, my eyes still on my shirt. “Oh, I do.”

Judson took a sip of his coffee. “I called to update her on my dad and she told me Hank had been in town. She said after all he’d done to you, he had better not try to see you. After cheating on you and smacking you around, he was worthless, she said, and she didn’t want him near you or Jackson. I think if she’d had a gun in her hand she would have gone after him like your dad did all those years ago.”

I tipped my head at Judson, narrowing my eyes. “So, you already knew Hank had been in town when you acted indignant last night that I didn’t tell you.”

Judson placed the coffee mug on the corner of the coffee table, laying his arm over the back of the couch and grinned.

“Yeah. Just trying to make you feel like a heel for not telling me.”

His grin faded into a more serious expression and his voice lowered to a soothing, comforting tone. “Listen, I’m sorry he did that to you. I can’t imagine any man tossing you aside for someone else. You’re worth much more than that.”

I bit my lower lip, tears stinging my eyes. I shook my head to shake them away and push down the emotion. “It’s fine. That was a long time ago.”

I cleared my throat and blinked the tears away, looking up at him. “For what it’s worth, I appreciate what you did for me last night.”

I reached over and laid my hand over his, but immediately felt awkward being so intimate and pulled my hand back, laying it in my lap.

He looked at me and his smile sent my heart pounding hard in my chest. Looking into his blue eyes, I was transported back to that night at the lake, his lips against mine, his arms around me when I’d started to run away.

He reached down and enclosed his hand around mine. He rubbed the top of it with his thumb, then lifted it, his mouth grazing the palm. His voice was barely a whisper. “For what it’s worth, I would do it again.”

The way he was speaking, his gaze never wavering from mine, made me consider jumping away before he moved any closer, but I didn’t need to worry about it. A knock on the front door startled us both and I pulled my hand quickly from his, not sure if I was relieved or disappointed.

“I guess I should get that,” he said with a sigh.

I recognized Marion’s voice as he opened the door. “Oh Judson! You look awful!”

“Well, Mrs. Hakes, thank you,” Judson laughed. “This is the second time today someone has told me that. You, however, look lovely.”

Stepping inside Marion laid her hand against the side of Judson’s face, tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry for what Hank did to you. I just stopped at Alan and Janie’s to check on Blanche this morning and they told me what had happened. I’m so sorry for what he did to you. If I had known he was back in town, I would have warned Blanche.”

Judson took Marion’s hands in his and looked her in the eye. “Mrs. Hakes, you have nothing to apologize for.”

“He’s my son . . .”

“He’s not your responsibility anymore, ma’am,” Judson said firmly. “He’s a grown man.”

Marion nodded, a tear slipping down her cheek as Judson hugged her gently. “And besides. I’m fine. I’m sore but I’m in better shape than I could be.”

Marion walked over to me and sat down, taking my hand. “Hank called me this morning and said he’s leaving for bootcamp. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him again anytime soon.”

Edith and Jimmy appeared in the doorway as Marion spoke, concern etched on both their faces. It was like a full-on family reunion at this point and I realized my family had some of the worst timing of anyone I’d ever met.

“Judson!” Edith cried, rushing toward Judson. “Oh, you look just awful! Are you okay? We stopped to pick up Blanche and Mama said she had come to check on you and filled us in.”

“I’m fine,” Judson said again. “Really. All of your concern is certainly appreciated. Although, can you all stop saying how awful I look? I’m starting to get depressed.”

Jimmy stepped inside the door, standing behind Edith. “Please tell me you nailed him good,” he said, then catching Marion’s eye he cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Mrs. Hakes. I mean —”

Marion laughed as she wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. “It’s perfectly fine, Jimmy. A good beating is what Hank needed.”

After a few more moments of conversation, Marion said she would leave Judson alone to get ready for work and I followed Edith and Jimmy to their car, hugging Judson quickly before I left. He stood on the porch, leaning against the porch column as he watched us drive away. I looked back at him, knowing we would eventually need to talk about all the tender moments between us, the kisses and the gentle touches that were waking my soul to the possibility of love. And I knew I would eventually have to decide what all those moments meant for the walls I had built around me.

A special ‘Saturday Fiction’: A New Beginning Chapter 28

Am I really doing this? Caving to popular opinion and sharing an extra chapter of A New Beginning this week? Well, of course, I am. Why? Because it’s my blog and I can do what I want to. That’s why! Ha! So, here it is, Chapter 28 of A New Beginning. You can find Chapter 26 and Chapter 27 HEREor by looking back to Thursday and Friday’s posts.

As always, this is a first draft of the story and as always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. You do not need to read A Story to Tell to follow A New Beginning.

Also, as always, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. To follow the story from the beginning, find the link HERE or at the top of the page. This book will be published in full later this spring on Kindle and other sites.

Let me know what you think should happen next and what you think of the story so far in the comments.


Chapter 28

The wrestling match that followed was nothing like the choreographed fights I’d seen in the movies. I watched the messy, overly masculine display in disbelief. Hank slammed his shoulder into Judson’s chest, shoving Judson off the sidewalk and into the street onto his back with Hank following him. Hank’s fist hit Judson’s face twice before Judson swung up and caught Hank under the chin with his arm, sending Hank’s head back hard. Hank staggered back, off Judson, who he’d been practically sitting on, and stumbled, falling onto his back.

Blood dripped from Judson’s nose as he stood over Hank and then he leaned down, swiftly grabbed Hank by the hair and pulled him to a standing position, bringing his arm back to punch Hank in the face. Hank moved his head quickly and lunged forward, grabbing Judson around the waist, pushing him across the street and slamming him hard against the driver’s side door of Judson’s truck, denting it.

Judson grunted and gasped for breath, then drew his knee up into Hank’s chest, slamming his elbow down into Hank’s back at the same time. His knee caught Hank straight in the face as Hank started to fall to the ground. Hank fell to the ground, a sick groaning sound choking out of him as he lay on his side, trying to catch his breath.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed movement to my right further down the sidewalk. Thomas stretched and yawned outside the newspaper office door. Our gazes connected as his yawn ended.

“Hey! There you are,” he called. “I was on my way to check on – oh. What’s this all about?”

He swaggered down the sidewalk, grinning and then stood next to me, leaning against the dress shop door and watching as Hank stood up fast, swung at Judson and caught him in the eye.

Thomas winced. “Ouch.”

He leaned toward me, whispering. “Who are we rooting for?”

He didn’t wait for me to answer.

“I’m betting on the big guy,” he said gesturing toward Judson.

Judson staggered back, off-balance, then lunged for Hank again, shoving him hard onto the ground, falling next to him as his fist hit Hank’s face, under the eye.

Hank tried to kick at Judson as Judson yanked Hank to his feet by his shirt and brought his knee up into Hank’s stomach.

The blood pouring from Hank’s nose and mouth reminded me of that night in the apartment. He stayed on the ground this time, on his hands and knees, retching vomit and blood onto the asphalt as Judson towered over him.

Thomas grimaced. “I thought about stepping in, but it looks like Judson’s got it covered,” he said. “I’m guessing that’s the ex on the ground there, puking his guts out.”

I nodded, still watching the surreal scene before me with wide eyes.

Judson was breathing hard, hands at his side, still clenched into fists. He turned his head and spit blood and saliva onto the street

“Finish puking then get up and get out of here,” he snarled at Hank’s back.

Judson’s nose and mouth were bleeding and he dragged the back of his hand across his face, looking at the blood with a small laugh. He looked so different, covered in blood, his hair damp with sweat, breathing hard from the fight, laughing at the sight of his own blood. I wasn’t sure how to look at him now, how to process what had just happened and the anger that had spilled from him in such a violent display. I could practically smell the testosterone radiating off of him — musky, sweaty and metallic.

Judson walked away from Hank, stepped around me and shut the door to the dress shop, nodding at Thomas.

“Thomas. Good evening.”

Thomas nodded. “Hey, Judson. Good job. Want me to call the police to come take care of this guy?”

“Nah. He’ll be fine when he’s done throwing up. Luckily, it’s past deadline so you won’t need to write this up for the paper, will you, Thomas?”

Thomas winked at Judson. “I think we can keep this one out. For now. But, man, it would make a good story to tell and I bet more than a few people in this little town would love to read it.”

“Night, Thomas,” Judson said, a hint of hardness in his voice.

Thomas sighed. “Yeah. Yeah. Night.” He walked back toward the newspaper office, looked over his shoulder and grinned again. “Take care, Blanche!” he called. “I think you picked a good one, for what it’s worth. Maybe things won’t be so complicated now.”

Judson laid his hand gently on my back and jerked his head toward his truck. “Let’s go,” he said. “I’m driving you home.”

He slammed the passenger side door closed behind me and walked around to the other side, climbing behind the steering wheel. I watched Hank stagger toward his truck through the windshield. He paused and threw up again before climbing into the driver’s side. Hank looked at us through blood-stained hair as Judson revved the engine and ripped onto the street.

“You okay?” Judson asked as we drove, flexing his swollen hand.

“Am I okay?” I looked at him, at the blood still trickling from a cut on his head and a split lip. “You’re the one bleeding.”

“I’m fine. You okay?”

I nodded, but I wasn’t okay. Tremors of anxiety were rushing through my limbs and I was trying to hold in panicked tears. What would Hank have done if Judson hadn’t stopped him? Maybe nothing. Maybe he only wanted to finish talking to me. Maybe he only wanted to say goodbye because he thought he was going to die in Vietnam and instead I’d stood there and watched Judson beat the crud out of him in the street, though he’d gotten a few good hits on Judson as well.

“I thought you were in North Carolina,” I said. “How did you even know he was there?”

“I got back into town a couple hours ago and ran some invoices into the office for Uncle James. I saw him talking to you through the front window and it didn’t look like a friendly conversation so I realized it must be him.”

“He was here a couple months ago,” I said. “But he didn’t stop to see me then.”

Judson glanced at me. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I shrugged. “He left town, as far as I knew, and I didn’t see why I should bother you with it. Marion said he went to visit some friends in the next county and I thought he had left for good. I should have known he’d be back again. He said he came back to tell me he’d signed up to join the Army to avoid jail.”

I studied the cut above Judson’s eye, guilt turning in my stomach.

“Those cuts will need to be cleaned out.”

“Let’s just get you home.”

After a few moments of silence, he laughed, reaching across me and opening the glove compartment. He pulled out a grease-stained rag and wiped it across his face, smearing some of the blood.

“That jerk is going into the Army? Seriously?” He snorted, shaking his head, his eyes on the road. “He’s going to get his butt shot up on day one. That’s my prediction. It will probably be friendly fire too.”

I swallowed hard. Hank had hurt me. He wasn’t any nicer now than he had been seven years ago. Still, I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of him being “shot up” by anyone, friendly or otherwise.

Silence settled over us again as Judson drove.

“Do you think he’ll try to see Jackson?” I asked softly, not sure if I was asking Judson or myself.

“Not if he knows what’s good for him,” Judson mumbled, shifting gears.

I leaned my head against the window, closed my eyes against the tears, wondering if I’d ever be free of the bizarre world I’d walked myself into all those years ago.

I felt Judson’s hand warm on mine and looked over at him. “I’m sorry, Blanche.”

“What for?”

“For what you’re going through. For what he put you through. And I’m sorry I made it worse. My temper got the best of me. I couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d done to you, how he’d hurt you. How he’d abandoned Jackson and you. I wanted him to pay.”

He laughed slightly and grinned. “I just didn’t expect him to be so wiry and quick. He hit harder than I thought he would too.”

I laughed with him. “I’m not going to lie, you two looked like total idiots out there wrestling like gorillas.”

Judson glanced at me, then back at the road, smiling. “Well, I looked like an idiot for you, you know.”

I squeezed his hand with mine, leaned over and kissed his cheek. “I know. And I appreciate it.”

He glanced at me again, then back at the road and I saw a faint smile flit across his mouth before it set into a thoughtful frown. I wondered what he was thinking about, but a sudden exhaustion swept over me, ending my curiosity. I knew the adrenaline rush from earlier was fading. As I looked out into the darkness through the windshield, I saw Hank’s face again in my mind, leering at me as he reminded me we had made Jackson together. I shuddered, rubbing my chilled arms.

“You okay?” Judson asked again.

“It’s all just starting to hit me, I guess.”

I felt something soft and heavy hit my lap. Looking down I saw Judson’s brown, leather winter coat there.

“Cover up with that and rest. I’ll have you home soon.”

I pulled the coat up over the front of me like a blanket, covering my bare arms and part of my face. The smell of Judson’s cologne swept over me, tripping my heart into a fast-paced clip. I closed my eyes again and this time Hank’s face was replaced with memories of Judson’s hand on the back of my head, up in my hair when he’d deepened that kiss by the lake. I began to wish the coat was his arms wrapped around me, sheltering me from the chill of the night, soothing my anxious soul.

I leaned my head back against the seat, the steady rhythm of the truck tires on the pavement lulling me far away from thoughts of Hank and into peaceful thoughts of my bed at home.

“Come inside,” I said when Judson pulled the truck into our driveway fifteen minutes later. I rubbed my eyes to try to chase away the weak feeling the fading adrenaline had left behind. “Let me take care of those cuts for you.”

“It’s fine. I can —”

“Stop arguing and come in the house,” I said firmly, giving him my best scolding scowl.

Judson watched me with a smile as I climb out of the truck. “Well, yes, ma’am.”

Jackson flung open the front door before we reached it. “Mama! Where have you been? It was getting late and Grandma was getting worried. We did bath time without you and – whoa!” Jackson’s eyes grew wide as Judson stepped into the light. “Judson, what happened to you?” he asked, staring up at Judson.

Judson looked at me and I could tell he was unsure of how to answer the question. “Uh . . . well, you see. . . .”

“Judson was helping Mama get rid of a bad person,” I interrupted quickly. I looked at Judson. “And your mama is very grateful for his help.”

Mama looked at me, her eyebrows raising. “Jackson, honey, why don’t you go up and pick out a book for us to read at bedtime?”

“Aw, Grandma! I wanna hear what happened.”

Daddy laughed and gently swatted Jackson on his bottom with a rolled-up newspaper. “Listen to your grandmother, boy.”

“But when am I gonna find out what happened?” Jackson asked.

“When you’re older,” I said.

Jackson’s shoulders slumped as he walked up the stairs. “I miss out on all the fun,” he grumbled. “And you always say, ‘when you’re older’.”

The door to his room clicked closed and Daddy looked at Judson. “Is the bad guy who I think he is?”

“Yes, sir,” Judson said.

“Does he look worse than you?” Daddy asked.

“Yes, sir.”

Daddy clapped Judson hard on the back. “That’s my boy!”

Judson winced and I knew his back hurt from where Hank had slammed him into the side of the truck.

“Alan!” Mama admonished. “We shouldn’t celebrate violence.”

“Janie,” Daddy said with a tip of his head so he could look over his reading glasses at Mama. “It’s Hank we’re talking about. A good swift kick in the rear is what he needs.”

He looked at Judson with a grin. “Did you kick him in the rear?”

Judson shook his head and laughed softly. “No, sir, but I did nail him in the face and the gut pretty good.”

Daddy leaned back, a broad smile on his face.

Mama scowled at Daddy, her lips pressed tight together. “Come into the bathroom, Judson. I’ll get the first aid kit. You need those cuts cleaned out.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Judson tried to look serious even as he and Daddy exchanged proud smiles.

“You okay?” Daddy asked me as Judson followed Mama down the hallway.

I flopped onto the couch on my back, draped my arm across my face, and closed my eyes, sighing in exasperation.

“Yeah, sure, Daddy.” I knew my tone betrayed my annoyance. “My ex-husband was a jerk to me – again – and this guy who I’m . . . I’m … who is . . .”

I stopped talking, realizing I had no idea how to describe Judson’s role in my life. I sat up on the couch, shaking my head as I unhooked my shoes and slid them off my feet.

Daddy sat in his chair and looked at me thoughtfully, his chin in his hand, tapping his finger against his bottom lip.

“Yes?” he said. “Who you’re —? What?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You don’t know what? You don’t know if you are okay or you don’t know how to feel about Judson?”

“I don’t know how to feel about any of it,” I responded curtly. “Everyone seems to think I need a man to protect me, complete me, fix me. I don’t need a man to fix me, Daddy. And I can handle myself, which should have been proven when I broke Hank’s nose that night.”

Daddy leaned back in his chair, eyebrows furrowed.

“What makes you think that ‘everyone’, as you say, thinks you need a man to be complete or ‘fixed’?”

Before I could even answer he continued. “I’ve never said that. Your mother has never said that. We know you can handle yourself but there’s nothing wrong with letting someone help you. There’s also nothing wrong with having someone to share life with. Your family and friends just want you to be happy.”

“And I can be happy without a man,” I said firmly.

Daddy nodded. “True. You can.” He folded his arms across his chest and smirked. “But none of this answers my questions. One, are you okay, and two, who is Judson to you?”

The mischievous glint in my dad’s eyes both aggravated and amused me. I bit my lower lip and gazed out the front window at the lights from the Worley’s farm. “First, I’m not entirely okay, no. I just had a confrontation with my abusive ex-husband and I’m pretty shook up from it and as for the second question . . .” I stood up. “I don’t have time to answer the second question because I have to go read my son a book.”

Daddy picked up his book. “Okay, kid. Have it your way, but you’re going to have to figure it out for your sake, and Judson’s, at some point.”

I had finished reading Jackson his book, with him asleep before it was finished. I slipped away when I heard Judson and Daddy talking downstairs.

“Thank you, Mrs. Robbins,” Judson was saying as I stepped down the stairs. “I’m going to head home and try to get some sleep before work tomorrow. I’ll swing by and pick you up, Mr. Robbins.”

Daddy nodded. “Thank you, Judson. Appreciate it.”

That’s when I remembered I had left Daddy’s car parked outside the newspaper office.

I walked with Judson to the door, reaching out to touch his arm as he started to turn the doorknob. A shiner was already starting to turn purple on his cheek and under his eye.

“Thank you, Judson,” I said softly. I leaned up and kissed the bruise on his cheek gently. “For everything.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, leaning close and brushing his mouth against my cheek.

His face lingered close to mine for a few moments and my eyes focused on his mouth, the bottom lip slightly swollen. I felt a sudden urge to kiss it as if it was a booboo that could be healed by a kiss. I stepped back quickly instead and looked at the floor.

“Good night, Judson.”

When I closed the door, I turned to see Mama sitting on the arm of Daddy’s chair and them both watching me. Mama’s expression reminded me of someone who had just laid eyes on a puppy. All that was missing was Mama cooing “aw”. A slight smiled tugged at Daddy’s mouth and I could tell he was trying not to laugh.

“Isn’t there anything on TV tonight you two can watch?” I asked.

“Well, of course, there is, but this was much more interesting,” Mama said, winking at me.

I rolled my eyes, feeling like a teenager again as I flounced up the stairs to go to bed.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 21

If you didn’t catch yesterday’s chapter, and you’ve been following along, you might want to read that before you read this chapter so you won’t be too confused and so you can find out what “big moment” Blanche had on her step to pulling herself out of her Hank funk.

As always, you can find the other chapters at the link at the top of the page, or HERE and you can find the first part of Blanche’s story in A Story to Tell on Kindle or Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle edition is on sale for $1.99 until February 19th (which is about all the marketing I have done for this book.)

Chapter 21

Light, Shadows & Magic (2)

Folding the dress I’d altered for Fannie Jones, I decided I’d deliver it to her at the library on my way to lunch with Emmy at the diner. The weather had cooled some, the sun was bright, and I knew a walk would do me good and might help slow my racing thoughts.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, I noticed the temperature had grown milder since two weeks earlier when we’d been at the lake. As I walked, barely noticing the cars passing by or the owner of the shoe shop setting up an outside display, I wondered if it had been the heat that had led me to be so reckless with Judson that night. Maybe I could blame the kiss on heatstroke if he tried to talk to me about it in the future.

So far, though, he hadn’t tried to talk to me about it. I’d seen him briefly at church, making sure to sit in a pew far from him. He’d stopped at our house once to talk to Daddy about how to remove a hornets’ nest from a bush behind his house, but I’d kept myself busy hanging clothes on the line and then rushing back inside to start dinner, making sure not to look up as he talked to Daddy and then left in his truck. I knew I couldn’t avoid him forever, though, and that eventually, he’d want to talk about it. I had no idea what I’d say to him, but I knew the kiss had been a mistake I didn’t intend to repeat.

Glancing into the flower shop as I neared the library, I recognized Stanley standing near the front, pondering two arrangements on the counter. His head turned slightly and looking at me, he raised his hand and waved me inside.

“Blanche! Just the person who can help me.”

“Oh? How can I do that?”

He placed his hand gently on my back and ushered me toward the counter where Millie Baker stood with an amused smile.

“Which one of these two arrangements speaks to you?”

“Um… .speaks to me?”

“Yes. Which one says something to you?”

“Well, what should it be saying?” I asked.

“Well, it should . . . uh  . . . say …,” I’d never seen Stanley’s cheeks flush red before. He looked at the floor, hands on his hips, wearing his signature red suspenders, wrinkled khakis, and button-up dress shirt, without a suit coat. He coughed nervously.

“I guess it should say, I’ve enjoyed your,” he cleared his throat, rocking back on his heels and still looking at the floor. “company.”

I grinned and winked at Millie, who was stifling a giggle behind her hand. I looked at the flower arrangements, one with bright yellow and pink carnations interspersed with baby’s breath and lavender lilies, the other full of deep red roses and surrounded by baby’s breath.

“Let’s see,” I tapped my fingers on the top of the counter, studying the arrangements. “I would go with this one,” I touched the vase with the carnations. “Because if you go with this one,” I moved my hand to the one full of roses. “It could imply you’ll be getting down on one knee soon.”

Millie failed to hold the laughter in when Stanley looked at me with wide eyes. He snatched the one with the pink and yellow carnations and laid two bills on the counter. “I’ll take this one,” he said stiffly. “Keep the change.”

He turned abruptly and walked quickly out of the shop.

“Blanche, you’re awful,” Millie giggled. “He looked like a deer in the headlights when you suggested this one should go with a proposal.”

“I didn’t mean to frighten him,” I laughed. “I was just being honest.”

Millie straightened some tulips in a vase. “You know, he’s been in here before, but he could just never decide what kind of flowers to buy for her. It’s so cute really. How nervous he gets. It’s totally changed my mind about him. He’s much different than those editorials he writes. He is a lot more. . .,” she tapped her chin with her finger and looked thoughtful. “complex than I thought.”

“It just goes to show we can’t always judge a book by its cover, I guess,” I said. “Anyhow, I have to get this dress over to Fannie at the library.”

Millie waved at me, looking through the tulips. “Have a good day and good luck getting away from her when she starts chatting.”

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about getting away from Fannie’s chatting since she was cornered at the front desk with a woman asking where she could find books about crocheting. I slid the package with the dress on the desk and waved at Fannie instead.

“I’ll be down after work to drop off payment, Blanche,” Fannie said, looking up from the card catalog. “Thank you so much!”

I rushed outside, glad not to have to deflect Fanny’s stories about her bunions or her husband’s indigestion. I didn’t mind her stories or chatting with her, but I had a stack of projects back at the shop I needed to finish.

Opening the door to the library, a smiling Lillian Steele greeted me. “Oh! Blanche! Long time no see, honey!”

I hugged the pastor’s wife as I stepped into the sunlight and stepping back I saw her hand tightly holding the hand of a little girl. Wide brown eyes stared back at me under a pale yellow sunhat.

“Well, hello, Annabelle,” I said, leaning down closer to Lillian’s daughter. “How are you this morning?”

Annabelle pulled her Mama’s hand across her face and peered around it, a shy smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “I’m okay, Miss Robbins.”

Annabelle was Lillian’s middle child. She’d been pregnant with her oldest, Benjamin, the day Hank and his friends had lit a cross on the pastor’s front lawn. I knew Benjamin was at school. I guessed the baby, born only three months ago, must be home with Pastor Frank.

“How are you feeling?” I asked Lillian. “Getting your energy back yet?”

“Much faster than I thought I would,” Lillian said, flipping a long strand of black hair over her shoulder. “Hey, we’re starting a new Bible study next month at the church. I’d love to have you there if you have time.”

I’d attended Bible studies with the ladies of the church many times since I’d been a teenager, but I still felt a twinge of guilt thinking back to that first time I’d lied to my parents, using a Bible study as an excuse to leave with Hank one night. I’d told my parents I was attending a Bible study at Lillian’s home when I’d really sneaked out to meet Hank. He’d taken me to a bar that night and I’d had my first taste of beer. Granted, I’d never grown accustomed to the taste of alcohol and hadn’t had any since that night, but the fact I’d lied to my parents and used Lillian to get away with it weighed heavy on my mind long after I’d left Hank and returned home.

“I’d love to, Lillian. I should be able to, but I’ll check with Mama and Daddy and see if it will work with their schedule.”

Lillian leaned in for another hug. “So glad to hear it. I’ll get you the exact date and time at church on Sunday.”

I held the door open for Lillian and Annabelle and as I closed it behind them I smiled, happy to know the local chapter of the KKK wasn’t as active as it once was and that Pastor Frank and Lillian hadn’t been afraid to stay in the community even after hate had tried to drive them away.

My stomach growled, reminding me it was lunchtime. I glanced at the clock in the town square. I had agreed to meet Emmy at the diner in ten minutes.

Passing the hardware store on the way to the diner, I glanced at the front window and caught my reflection. I paused, turned toward the window, and looked at the hair tight in a bun on my head and the plain, blue skirt, and blue striped knit top I was wearing.  I may have been curvier than I had been as a teenager, but I was, in so many ways, still plain, boring Blanche.

I sighed, pushing a strand of hair back into the bun. I leaned closer to the glass, touched my fingers along the skin under my eyes and wondered if it was the reflection or if there really were bags appearing there. I squinted at the skin under my eyes, and slowly my reflection faded as I looked through the window, my eyes focusing on a man standing at the front counter, handing the cashier money.

I leaned closer to the window, trying to get a better look at the man between the reflections of the cars and people passing by on Main Street. Suddenly I felt dizzy with disbelief. My heart lurched in my chest.

It couldn’t be.

But it was.

My ex-husband was standing on the other side of the glass, less than five feet away from me.

The sounds of the town bustling through life that afternoon faded under the sound of my heart pounding hard in my ears.

It was definitely him.

Hank Hakes was standing at the front counter of the hardware store, slightly turned from me and I knew he hadn’t seen me yet. I stood in place as if struck with a tranquilizer dart, starring at the familiar crooked smile, the brown hair pushed back off the forehead, the clean-shaven jaw and the long fingers on the hand that had once touched me gently and then later formed the fist that broke my nose.

I looked away quickly, my breath stuck in my chest, my thoughts suddenly racing. I started walking, head down, hoping I could get to the shop and lock the door before Hank saw me.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 2 Part I

Just issuing a “warning” again: If you haven’t read the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, you might not want to read A New Beginning, which is the second part of her story. You can find the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle or in Paperback, on Amazon (after December 17 it will be on all ebook readers and on other paperback sellers). However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning.

As always, this is the first draft of a story. There will be typos and in the future, there will be changes made, some small, some large and as before I plan to publish the complete story later as an ebook. Also, sorry about the lack of indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. I can’t seem to figure out how to make that happen in WordPress.

Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Chapter 2

Standing on the front steps of the church, Daddy was sliding his fingers into his front shirt pocket while he looked out over the parking lot and pulling them out again. He looked lost and I knew why. He missed the pipe Mama had talked him into giving up three months earlier, and was reaching for it out of habit. I’d seen him do it many times before.

He was still struggling with what to do with himself when the women in his life left him waiting. In the past, he’d pass the time loading the tobacco, lighting the pipe and puffing away, starring into space and thinking, or if he was at home, reading a book or the paper. I almost felt sorry for him. Mama had recently read in Life Magazine about smoking being dangerous and she wasn’t about to watch him smoke his way into an early grave, she told him one night after dinner.

I watched from the church lobby as John Hatch walked through the front door and stood next to Daddy, sliding a cigar from his front shirt pocket and sticking it in the corner of his mouth as he dug in his jacket pocket for a lighter.

“Still no pipe, eh, Alan?”


“You know you can stand up to your wife, right? You are the man of the house.”

“Yeah. I know. I just – well, I don’t want to. Plus, she’s probably right. Smoking probably isn’t healthy, like those doctors have been saying.”

John flicked the lighter and held the flame to the end of the cigar. He sucked in a long drag, blew a plume of smoke from his nose and mouth and let out a long, contented sigh.

“There are few pleasures left in life at our age, Alan, and no one is going to tell me what I can’t smoke or drink. Besides, all those studies are usually bunk anyhow. They’ll come out with a new one next year that will tell us all that smoking is actually healthy. Those scientists and doctors are always changing their minds.”

Daddy watched John with what looked to me like an envious expression.  He nodded as John spoke.

Someone bumped against my arm and I watched as John’s wife Barbara stepped briskly through the front door, snatched the cigar from her husband’s hand and tossed it over the stair railing.

“Are you out here smoking on church property?” she asked indignantly.

“Well, I – well, I –“ John stammered.

“John Hatch! Really!”

Barbara shook her head and shot John a scolding scowl on her way past him.  “That’s so disrespectful,” she mumbled as she stomped down the stairs.

“You know, John, you can stand — ” Daddy started.

“Yeah, yeah. Well, sometimes it’s just not worth the battle. Have a good day, Alan.”

Daddy winked at me through the doorway as John walked down the stairs looking defeated and I smiled back at him, shaking my head as I tried not to laugh.

Jackson tugged at my hand.

“When we going to Aunt Emmy and Uncle Sam’s?” he asked. “I’m hungry. That preacher just kept going on and on and – “

“That’s enough Jackson,” I said, glancing up at Pastor Steele, who was standing by the door, watching Jackson and stifling a laugh behind his hand.

Mama walked toward me, her purse looped over her arm, her Bible tucked against her chest under the other arm. “Are we ready to head on over to Emmy’s for some lunch?”

I felt my stomach tighten. I truly hoped the planned afternoon lunch at Emmy’s was nothing more than her attempt to introduce her cousin to some people in town and not to “fix me up” in some way. She’d promised me it wasn’t, but maybe she’d changed her mind since then.

Emmy’s parents, James and Ellie Stanton, were already at Emmy’s house when we arrived.

Ellie, her greying hair cut short and curled in a tight perm, hugged me as I walked inside. “Blanche, sweetie, so happy you could make it.”

She ruffled Jackson’s hair. “And look at you, you’re getting’ so big!”

“Hey, Mrs. Stanton! I’m six now!”

“I know you are! I can’t even believe it. Just three more months and you’ll be in my class in school! I can’t wait to see you every day.”

Jackson grinned and then darted past Ellie to pet the Stanton’s aging terrier.

Ellie was the kindergarten teacher at Dalton Elementary. She’d taken the job shortly after her family had moved here from North Carolina when her husband took a job at the local DuPont plant. When James was laid off three years year after they arrived, he started a construction business, relying on the skills he’d learned as a young man when he had worked for a local construction company in high school.

“Emmy’s in the kitchen and I’m sure Edith and Jimmy will he here soon,” James said as he closed the front door behind us.

In the kitchen Emmy was standing at the counter, slicing carrots for the salad. When she saw me, she laid her knife down and walked over to hug me, then gestured to a tall, broad shouldered man leaning against the counter. I hadn’t noticed him until I’d stepped all the way through the kitchen doorway.

“You remember J.T., don’t you, Blanche?”

The man standing before me looked nothing like the little boy I remembered from my childhood. I remembered a scrawny child with a long neck and narrow chin, reddish brown hair that stuck out in all directions, and a face that begged to be slapped. This man was muscular with a square, masculine jawline. The blue eyes were in sharp contrast to dark brown, almost black hair. His smile was inviting and warm, far removed from the childish smirk I remembered.

He held out his hand. “Hey, Blanche. I go by Judson now actually. J.T. is what my family still calls me though.”

“Ah, yes, family nicknames,” I said as I took his hand. “Always a challenge to shake.”

His hand was warm around mine, his palms rough from what I imagined were years of working construction.

“Actually, I’ve seen you since we were kids, but you probably don’t remember,” he said.

He was right. I didn’t remember meeting him since we were older. I was sure I would have remembered him if I had. That charming smile, coupled with a well filled out chest and arms weren’t something that could easily be forgotten as far as I was concerned.


“At your sister’s wedding. We had a deep conversation about the lack of diversity in the desserts of our respective regions of the country. I was up visiting for a couple of weeks with my parents and Emmy had invited me to tag along.”

Suddenly I remembered the exchange – an exchange held when I was in the midst of one of the most confusing times of my life, imprisoned in a loveless, abusive marriage and unsure what to do about it. My distracted mindset would have accounted for my failure to notice Judson’s appearance at the time.

“Yes, we did!” I said. “Cottage cheese fruit salad for us up north and red velvet cake for the South.”

I chose not to add how I’d admired his sweet personality and his smooth Southern accent the day I had briefly spoke with him at Edith’s reception, wishing my husband had been as sweet.

Judson laughed. “That’s right. See? It was very memorable and deep.”

I laughed and then realized we were still holding hands. I pulled my hand away and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw Emmy watching me with a sly grin. I refused to look at her fully, promising myself that if she was watching me for the reason I thought she was, I’d bow out of this lunch early and give her a piece of my mind later.

“Do you need any help in here?” I asked Emmy.

She tossed the carrots into the salad bowl with the lettuce and turned to check the roast in the oven. “I’ve got everything under control for once. Why don’t you two head out to the living room to visit with Sam and everyone else?”

Emmy’s husband was already entertaining my parents and his in-laws with stories from his job as a deputy for the county sheriff department. His brown eyes were glistening with the exhilaration of regaling friends with his occupational escapades.

“I’m not even kidding,” he said, shaking his head. “I pulled up to the accident and the guy is just sitting there on the ground, empty beer cans all around him. He’s bleeding from the head and I said, ‘Sir, have you been drinking tonight?’ He looks up at me and in a slurred voice says, ‘No, sir, officer, sir. I don’t even drink. Not me. Noooo, sir.’ Meanwhile he wreaks of alcohol, I’m crunching empty beer cans under my boots, and his motorcycle is wrapped around a tree.

“He can’t even stand up for the sobriety tests, he was nowhere near his nose and he was zig zagging everywhere. I said, ‘Sir, you’re sure you haven’t been drinking? It would be easier if you just told the truth.’ He says, ‘Sir, I am a staunch teetotaler. I would never, ever, ever…’ and that’s when he tripped and blacked out at my feet. We loaded him into the back of the squad car and threw him in the cell for the night to dry out.”

Edith and Jimmy arrived in the middle of Sam’s next story. After everyone was introduced, Emmy’s roast with steamed potatoes and carrots was served.

Emmy stood at her chair at the end of the table and our gazes all shifted to look at her as the meal finished. “So, everyone, I’m sure you’re wondering why I invited you all today and yes, partially, I invited you to meet J.T. and welcome him to our little town, but I – we –“ She reached for Sam’s hand before continuing, squeezing her fingers tight around his. “also have some other news I want to share with you. Sam and I are . . . expecting!”

An audible celebration filled the room and hugs were given. I was elated at the idea of my best friend having a baby, but I also felt a twinge of sadness, knowing the news might be difficult for at least one person in the room. From across the table I saw Edith’s smile fade briefly as she swallowed hard and I knew she was trying to hold back the tears. The smile returned as quickly as it had faded, though, as she stood to hug Emmy.

“I’m so happy for you!” Any sign of the tears were now gone, and I knew she was happy for Emmy, but I also knew there was an ache deep inside her.

After dinner, Emmy served her mother’s famous double chocolate cake and then everyone stood and stretched, patting bellies, and settled in the living room to resume discussions they’d started around the table. Jackson settled in the middle of it all, on the floor with the toy trucks he’d brought with him. The soft hums of pretend engines acted as background noise for conversations about memories of the year before when President Kennedy had been shot, the Civil Rights movement and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s latest speech.

I carried my glass of lemonade onto Emmy’s front porch for some fresh air, sitting on the porch swing to admire the afternoon sun glistening off the surface of the stream running alongside Emmy and Sam’s front yard. Next to the stream was a small path that led to a gazebo where Emmy and Sam could sit and overlook their property, complete with a small chicken coup out back and a barn to house a horse and a few pigs.

Emmy and Sam had moved to this small rural homestead two years ago, opting to live outside of the small-town atmosphere where Emmy had spent most of her junior high and high school years, living with her parents in a large home on Main Street. She was now living in the country, five miles away from my parents’ home, and we were as close friends as we’d been before I’d left with Hank. We spent our evenings either on the phone or taking a walk in the country to talk and laugh. During the days, Emmy visited me at my shop on her breaks from her job as the secretary for her dad’s construction company or we had lunch at D’s Diner down the street.

She was the main person I had relied on for support during the darkest days after I left Hank, other than Miss Mazie and my friend’s Hannah and Buffy, who I had called often since I’d left.

“Do you mind if I join you?”

I looked up to see the sun hitting Judson’s blue eyes as he stepped onto the porch with a glass of lemonade.

“Of course, not. There’s plenty of room on the front porch.”

Judson smiled and I felt an odd rush in my stomach. Shifting my gaze back to the stream, I willed the feeling away. I didn’t know anything about the man Judson was now and I refused to be swept up by physical attraction like I had been with Hank all those years ago.

Judson leaned back against the railing of the porch and took a sip of the lemonade. “So, tell me Blanche, what have you been up to all these years?”

How did a divorced single mom who’d run away with an older man two weeks before her senior year of high school answer such a question? Lie or be honest? I chose to be what I hadn’t been for so long – honest and blunt.

“I dropped out of school, ran away with an older man, got married, had a son and got divorced. Now I live with my parents and my son and work as a dressmaker. I also write a column about smalltown life for the local newspaper.” I paused to sip from the glass of lemonade, winking at Judson over the edge of the glass. “That’s my Rebel Without a Cause story. So, how about you, J.T. Waignwright. What have you been doing all these years?”

I pronounced Judson’s name with an over exaggerated Southern accent and a slight wag of my head, grinning.

Judson choked back a laugh and I thought he was going to spit lemonade out his mouth and nose. He coughed and then grinned. “Well, okay then. That’s one way to fill me in. I can tell that you’re no longer the shy little girl I remember from my childhood.”

I laughed. “Definitely not shy. Sometimes life forces us to change to survive.”

Judson studied me for a moment, then smiled as his eyes trailed from my face down the rest of me and back to my face again. “You’re also not the scrawny wisp of a girl with the big hair anymore. I remember Emmy telling me at the reception who you were, and I didn’t believe it. You had definitely changed –.” His grin widened. “For the better.”

I felt my muscles tense at his comments. I hoped he wasn’t trying to flirt. I wasn’t interested in flirting. I leaned my head against my hand, my elbow propped on the arm of the swing, remembering how tough my life had been at the time of the reception. “I wasn’t in the best place in my life back then.”

Judson nodded. “You didn’t look very happy that day.” His eyes focused on mine, his expression serious. “But you still looked lovely in that lavender dress with the purple lilies tucked in your hair.”

Warmth rushed from my chest into my cheeks as I lifted my head and studied his face for a few moments before abruptly looking past him at the oak tree in the front yard. I hoped my cheeks weren’t showing the embarrassment I felt. How had he remembered what I was wearing that day or what kind of flowers were in my hair?

“Thank you,” I mumbled, unsure how to handle the compliment.

Judson cleared his throat and sat up on the porch railing, leaning back against the support post.

“So, what about me? What have I been up to, you asked. Well, I played football in high school. It knocked that obnoxious attitude I’d had as a young kid out of me – I’m sure you remember that attitude from the summers I spent here with Emmy. I was named quarterback of the year for the state of North Carolina my senior year. My dad was sure I was on my way to play college ball, complete with scholarships.

“He already had my life mapped out for me. He was sure I’d have a stellar football career, earn my business degree and then follow him into the world of supermarkets – opening them, running them and making sure his chain grew. I got that scholarship, started playing ball at the University of North Carolina, and I even started business school, but I realized pretty quickly it wasn’t what I wanted. None of it. I hated football and I hated business school. I quit the football team and dropped out of college. I thought Dad was going to have a stroke.”

He laughed at the memory and took another drink of lemonade.

“I wanted to go to a trade school to learn how to build things, like Uncle James. It was a hobby of mine in high school that had started to become more of a passion. Daddy kicked me out of the house, so I got a job at a tobacco farm and moved into a run-down apartment over some guy’s garage. I paid my own way through trade school. When I wasn’t in class, I was in the fields and when I wasn’t in the fields I was in class or studying. It was a two-year program and when I was done training, I was offered a job with a local construction company. I worked there about a year, but when I told Uncle James about my interest in running my own construction company one day, he offered to let me come up here and work with him for awhile, learn the ropes. Since my dad was barely talking to me, I took the offer and here I am.”

He spread his arms out, bowed slightly and smiled.

“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” he said.

“Well, welcome,” I said. “I hope it all works out the way you hope.”

He sat next to me on the swing, leaned back and draped his arm over the back of the swing.

“So, what’s everyone do for fun around here?” he asked. “I’m not sure I’ll have much time for fun with all the jobs Uncle James has lined up in the next few months but if I do, I’d like to know what I can look forward to.”

I snorted out a laugh. “This is Bentley County. There isn’t much to do for fun. You could tip some cows I guess.”

Judson grinned. “Tipping cows sure sounds like a good time to me, unless one gets tipped on me. But come on. There must be a theater, a dance hall or two, something like that.”

“Yes, there is a theater and sometimes there are dances at the fire hall. And there is a drive-in about an hour north in New York state.”

Judson turned his body toward me and leaned forward slightly.

“So, tell me, Blanche Robbins, what do you do for fun?”

I barely had time to even ponder the question, let alone answer it.

“Mama?” Jackson’s voice called to me from the living room. “Aunt Edith says to ask you if I can have some ice cream.”

I smiled and winked, nodding toward the front door. “Fun? What’s that? I’m a mama. There’s no time for fun.”

“Yes!” I called through the open screen door. “Tell Aunt Edith you can have some ice cream.”

Judson was still watching me, still smiling. “Well, Blanche, if you ever find that you do some time for fun, I’d be much obliged if you’d let me know so maybe we can search this county high and low for something fun to do together.”

There was no question now Judson T. Waignwright was flirting with me. I cleared my throat and stood.

“I think I’ll have some ice cream with Jackson.”

I left Judson sitting on the porch swing, hoping he took my departure exactly as I meant it – a signal to him that I wasn’t interested in any romantic gestures he might be making.

Oh. So that’s why writing book two has been such a challenge.

I have been having a hard time writing the second part of Blanche’s story and I think it is because I had so much fun sharing the first part on my blog and interacting with some of my readers about it as I went along, and I haven’t been doing that with this book.


I was able to go back and make changes before I published the book on Kindle, but sharing it in pieces and receiving feedback as I wrote it, was fun. I’ve heard this is similar to how Wattpad works, but I don’t know if I’m really interested in sharing it with that many people. I don’t mind sharing it with the few people who read my blog, however, because my blog readers are cool people, with similar tastes, who aren’t afraid to give me polite pointers.

I’ve also been struggling with Blanche sharing with me the second part of her story like she did the first part. I’m fairly certain I just heard many of you say to yourselves: ‘I’m sorry what? You think your character is talking to you? How many drugs are you on?” I know. It sounds weird but, yes, sometimes I feel like my characters tell me their stories in bits and pieces and I wake up (because they don’t tell me when I’m awake apparently) and jot down what they’ve shared with me, flushing it out later.

The first part of Blanche’s story came out pretty quickly, but now I’m struggling with what happens since she’s (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST STORY) left Hank and come home to live with her parents. I already have plenty of ideas and a few chapters in rough draft form, though, so it is coming together. The second part of the story will introduce a few new characters but also continue the story of other characters in Blanche’s life.

Will Hank find redemption, like my dad is vying for? Or will he disappear completely from the scene? We will have to wait and see – including this writer who hasn’t totally decided what will happen with Hank yet.

And what about the arrival of Blanche’s friend Emmy’s cousin? What role will Judson “J.T.” Waignwright play, if any? And then there is Edith, Blanche’s older sister. How is married life (and parenthood?) treating her? When we left her she was expecting. Hank’s mom was also on scene, hoping to have a relationship with her grandson, and searching for her own healing from her own abusive marriage.

What will happen to Emmy and who is Stanley Jasper?

We’ll see every Friday, starting this Friday when I start sharing chapters from “A New Beginning,” the sequel toA Story to Tell.”

Fiction Friday: ‘A Story To Tell’ Chapter 19

This week’s Fiction Friday has a trigger warning for anyone who might be bothered by scenes of domestic violence. I think, however, this will satisfy the thirst for Hank’s blood that some of my followers have had throughout this story. (You know who you are.) This week also brings us closer to the end of this part of Blanche’s story, with a plan for a second part to start sometime in October or November. I’ll be publishing the complete first part of the story in ebook form on Sept. 19 and possibly paperback at a later date.

Need to catch up on the story? Find the rest of the chapters here or at the link at the top of the page.

Escape Blue View Instagram Post “I made you your favorite this morning,” I told Hank, setting a plate full of sausage and pancakes in front of him.

He dragged his hand through his hair, his eyes heavy with sleep.

“Where did you get the money for this?” he asked, his voice gruff.

“Mama and Daddy gave me some as a gift before I left,” I said, ignoring his tone as I poured him a cup of coffee. “And then I’ve been saving a little bit out of the grocery money each week.”

I was determined to show love to Hank, even when he wouldn’t show it to me. Lillian had encouraged me to pray for Hank and I had been, every day since Jackson and I had come back from Edith’s wedding two weeks before.

“What are you so happy for?” he snapped. “We’ve got no money. I’m getting less hours at work. I’m not getting any gigs and you just sit here smiling like an idiot every day.”

I took a deep breath.

“I just believe it is good for us to try to look at the positives in life instead of the negatives,” I said, even though I felt anger rising up inside me.

I stood from the table and started to clear my dishes from the table, placing them in the sink.

He gulped down his coffee and slammed his cup on the table. His hand was suddenly tight around my wrist and I winced as he stood and pulled me hard against him and roughly pressed his mouth against mine.

“I can see some positives today,” he said as he pulled his mouth away a few moments later, sliding his hands down my hips and pressing himself against me. “I can see my wife, looking good, feeling good, smiling at me and I can see there’s no baby hanging on her for once.”

I let him pull me roughly to the bedroom as Jackson napped on the couch. The image of Hank’s hands on the woman in the bar flashed in my mind, as he clutched at my dress, pulling at the buttons, and trailing his mouth across the bare skin he exposed. I remembered that Lillian had said sometimes we had to show love to our spouse even when we didn’t feel it. I wanted to try my best to show Hank I loved him, even though I didn’t feel it at the moment. I had hoped our marriage was redeemable, despite Hank’s betrayal.

If I showed Hank love maybe he’d love me again and we could go back to the way things used to be when we first met. I winced as we fell onto the bed and he covered my mouth with his again, still holding my wrists tight in his hands.

My body was sore when Hank left to go back to work, but I hoped I’d done what a wife should do for her husband. I hoped I’d done what God would have wanted me to do.


“There he is!” Hannah scooped one-year-old Jackson into her arms and put him on her hip. “The birthday boy!”

She kissed his chunky cheek and danced in a circle as he giggled, a beautiful sound to my ears. Lizzie skipped into the kitchen and looked at her mom holding another baby.

“Don’t get attached, mommy,” she said bluntly. “We don’t need another one of those.”

She skipped away and Miss Mazie and I burst into laughter at her precocious comment.

“Oh, my word, how do you keep from laughing at her?” I asked.

“I do my best not to because laughing only encourages her,” Hannah said, smiling.

She sat Jackson in a highchair she’d brought with her to Miss Mazie’s and slid lemonade and a cake out of the refrigerator, placing them on the table.

“Thank you for celebrating Jackson’s big day,” I said. “I know he won’t remember it, but I still think it should be celebrated.”

“Of course, it should!” Miss Mazie said. “Celebrating a baby’s birthday is as much for us as it is them.”

Jackson patted his hands onto the highchair tray and grinned as he watched Hannah and I pour lemonade and cut cake.

“Hank wasn’t really interested in a party because he said Jackson wouldn’t remember it.” I shrugged and chose not to add that Hank wasn’t even really interested in Jackson at all.

Hannah sighed.

“Men, I swear. Sometimes they are so clueless.”

I nodded and turned to see Miss Mazie watching me intently.

“What happened to your arm, Blanche?” She asked.

I pulled my gaze away quickly. That woman seemed to have some six sense as if she could read me with her eyes and I didn’t want her to read what was really happening at home. I looked at the fading burn and laughed slightly.

“Oh, just being a klutz as usual and burned myself on the stove,” I said, pouring more lemonade for Hannah’s children, refusing to look at Miss Mazie. “Complete accident but, boy, did it hurt.”

Miss Mazie cleared her throat.

“Mmmmhmm,” she hummed, then quietly, almost under her breath, “My mama had a lot of ‘accidents’ too over the years. I know how much they can hurt.”

I kept my eyes lowered, though I could feel her eyes boring into me, urging me to tell her the truth.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Buffy and her girls over to help us celebrate,” Hannah said, as her children each took a glass of lemonade and ran into Miss Mazie’s dining room. I was grateful for the change of subject “She’s been having a rough time lately and I thought it would be good for her to get out a little bit.”

I struggled to imagine what Buffy would be struggling with. She was young, beautiful, even if her smile seemed plastered to her face somehow, and the wife of a well-loved pastor. I knew even the beautiful and well-polished struggled, though, and I mentally scolded myself for judging Buffy based on her appearance and, quite frankly, her name.

“Of course, she’s welcome,” Miss Mazie said. “Has she . . .lost another one?”

Hannah nodded solemnly.

“Her second,” Hannah said. “I know you’d been praying so I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing. She was about three months along this time.”

My heart sank at the words, realizing that Buffy must have suffered a miscarriage, something I’d once heard Mama talk about when it happened to a cousin of mine. I couldn’t imagine such a loss, the physical and emotional toll.

“How are you doing, sweetie?” Miss Mazie asked after Buffy had come in, poured lemonade for her children, and sat the table with a piece of cake and lemonade of her own.

“I’m doing okay,” Buffy said, with her familiar plastic smile. “I mean, it’s been tough, yes, but I’m grateful for the children I do have. And it’s important, I think, to put a good face on for the members of the church. No one wants to see a pastor’s wife crying all the time.”

Miss Mazie reached out and laid her hand over Buffy’s.

“Honey, even the pastor’s wife needs to be comforted sometimes,” she said softly.

Buffy smiled faintly, her lower lip quivering. She swiped at a tear that escaped the corner of her eye, smudging her mascara.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” she said abruptly, shaking her head. “To always have to be on. To always have to be – perfect. To look like you have it all together all the time, so no one suspects that sometimes you don’t even know if you believe what your husband is preaching up there.”

Tears suddenly rushed down Buffy’s cheeks, streaking her face with black mascara.

“Do you know what it’s like to hear that God never gives you more than you can handle and have those words echo over and over in your mind while you watch a nurse carry a small box out of the room that you know carries the baby you carried for three months? Isn’t this more than I can handle?”

Buffy cried harder and I stiffened, unsure how to handle her outburst.

“As if being brought up by a mother who told me that I was only worth something if I married well and raised beautiful children wasn’t already more than I could handle,” Buffy said, anger in her voice. “Sometimes being a Christian, believing it all, is simply too much. Where was God when my baby died? I’ve always done what I was supposed to do. I took care of the children while Jeffrey went to seminary. I cleaned the house and made the dinners and organized the church dinners. I read my Bible every morning and go to Bible study. I’ve done it all right, but still, I suffer.”

She shook her head again and rubbed her crumpled handkerchief roughly against her face.  Hannah, Miss Mazie and I watched her take a long, ragged breath in stunned silence. She looked around the table at each of us and her angry expression quickly faded into a look of horror.

“I can’t believe I just completely flipped out like that,” she said. “I’m so sorry. You poor ladies. We were supposed to be celebrating Jackson’s birthday and I just – I just completely fell apart.”

Hannah smiled. “What better place to fall apart than among friends?” she asked.

Buffy laughed softly as she tried to wipe the black from her face.

“Even the pastor’s wife deserves to flip out once in a while,” Miss Mazie said, clutching Buffy’s hand and squeezing it. “God’s not afraid of your anger Buffy. Let Him have it. Even when we feel He isn’t there, He is, and our emotions are from him, so your anger doesn’t surprise him one bit.”

Buffy nodded. “I must look awful,” she said.

I leaned forward and laid my hand over her other hand, suddenly overcome with compassion for the woman I’d thought had it all.

“You look beautiful,” I told her.

She smiled at me through the tears.

“Oh, thank you. I feel like I’m a mess – “

“I do believe it was your husband who once told us that beauty comes from ashes,” Hannah said.

Buffy nodded, letting the tears flow freely again as Miss Mazie and I held her hands.

“It’s not that I don’t believe,” she said after a few moments of crying, her voice breaking. “It’s just sometimes – life seems harder than I can handle. And sometimes . . . sometimes God just seems so far away.”

“It is in the moments he seems the farthest away, that He is the closest,” Miss Mazie said.

Buffy managed a smile.

“I will try to remember that, Miss Mazie,” she said. “You certainly are a blessing to me and our church.”

My heart ached for Buffy’s pain even as watching her mask being pulled away was eye-opening for me. I couldn’t imagine feeling as if I always had to look and act the part of the pastor’s perfect wife.

“Well, enough of this crying,” Buffy said, pulling her hands away from ours and wiping her eyes with her handkerchief again. “If I’m meant to have more children, then God will provide them. That’s how I have to think about it from now on.”

Hannah wet a dishcloth and started to wipe the mascara from Buffy’s face.

“I hope you brought your make up with you,” she teased. “You’ll definitely need to reapply.”

Buffy laughed freely, tipping her head back to let Hannah wipe under her eyes and along her cheeks. A few moments later, a ruddy-faced toddler rushed into the kitchen crying and fell into Buffy’s lap. She lifted the boy against her and kissed the top of his head.

“He fell into the table!” Lizzie yelled from the living room. “And it weren’t my fault!”

Hannah laid her hand against her forehead and sighed.

“Lord, give me strength,” she muttered.

Buffy hugged the little boy, burying her face in his red-blond curls and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she was smiling – a real, genuine, non-fake smile.

“I love you, sweet boy,” she said. She looked at us as we watched her. “If God only gives me this beautiful boy and his sister, then I will be blessed beyond measure.”

We all smiled at her, then each other, and I looked at Jackson in the high chair next to me, his face covered in cake, his smile wide and contagious. He giggled at me and spit chocolate down his chin. I laughed, feeling the happiest I had in a long time, knowing that he was my blessing, despite my mistakes.


 “Where were you all night?”

I looked up from the sink where I was washing dishes, confused. Hank was standing in the bedroom doorway, bleary-eyed. He staggered toward the table and sat, slumping in the chair, glowering at me.

“I came home for dinner and you weren’t here,” he snapped.

He had stumbled into the bedroom after work a few hours earlier, falling asleep with a bottle of bourbon in his hand. This was the first I’d seen him since then. I could have easily asked him where he’d been most of the previous night and many nights before, but I’d been up all night with Jackson and wasn’t in the mood for confrontation.

“I was at Hannah’s,” I said, drying my hands off on a dishtowel. “I told you I was going there to have cake and ice cream for Jackson’s birthday. I asked you if you wanted to go and, of course, you refused, just like you always do when I want you to spend time with Jackson.”

Hank slammed his hands on the table and stood, knocking the chair back and stepping toward me, towering over me.

“I told you not to hang around that nigger lady anymore!” he hissed, spit hitting my face.

“Hank, you’re drunk,” I said tightly, angry at how he spoke about Miss Mazie. “You just don’t remember that I told you I was going to Hannah’s. And don’t call Miss Mazie that na‑.”

The blow knocked me to the floor, leaving me desperately gasping for breath, searing pain coursing through my side and head. I hadn’t even seen it coming.

“Don’t you ever talk back to me!” Hank hissed, his hand still balled into a fist.

When I finally dragged air into my lungs, burning pain spread through my chest, I felt as if I was standing neck-deep in water with weights tied to my ankles. I reached up to feel warm, sticky fluid on my face, pouring from my nose. I pulled my hand away and stared in disbelief at the dark, red blood. My head was throbbing, my ears roaring, and I felt blood dripping down onto the back of my neck.

I felt like I was someone else, floating outside of my body, watching something horrible unfold, but unable to stop it. Hank hand’s clutched at the hair on the top of my head and he dragged me to my feet bring my face close to his.

“Why couldn’t you just do what you were told?” he asked, the smell of alcohol filling my nostrils.

I tightened my fists and spit blood and saliva in his face a second before the second blow came. Down on my hands and knees, I gasped for air again, the roar in my ears fading to high pierced ringing as Hank loomed over me, a shadowed, blurry figure in the corner of my eye.

Jackson abruptly screamed from our bedroom, drowning out the ringing and I looked toward the bedroom, through a veil of red, at the same time Hank’s head jerked toward the sound.

Hank drained the last of the alcohol and staggered through the bedroom doorway, into the darkness. I lurched forward, reaching out for his shirt, trying to stop him, but fell to the floor, the room spinning violently. I tasted metal and I spit blood onto the pea-green linoleum of the kitchen floor.

The sound of glass shattering against a wall splintered through the apartment, sending panic shooting through me. I struggled to my feet, the room still spinning.  I closed my eyes, praying for it to stop, knowing I needed to get to Jackson. I stumbled toward the bedroom, grasping the door frame, touching a stinging pain on the back of my head, squinting in confusion at blood on my hand, bright red, still trying to make sense of what was happening.

Hank was standing over the crib, his face close to Jackson who had pulled himself up to a standing position, holding on to the railing, his red face streaked with tears as he screamed. The whiskey bottle was shattered on the other side of the room.

“Hey there, little boy,” Hank slurred. “What you cryin’ about?”

I slammed against Hank, shoving him aside and swiftly lifted Jackson out of the crib, clutching him against me.

“Don’t you touch him!” I shouted, my hand against the back of Jackson’s head, pressing his face gently against my chest as I moved away from Hank and backed against the bedroom wall. “Don’t you dare touch him!”

I felt like something had snapped inside me. If Hank was going to hurt someone, let it be me, but I wasn’t going to let him touch our son.

Hank started laughing, staggering around the room, lit only by the streetlights outside. Jackson was still crying, terrified.

“Oh, looky here,” Hank said, leering at me. “Little ole’ Blanche finally got her voice.”

He laughed again, leaned close to my face and sneered.

“Whatcha’ going to do with it now you got it?”

He lurched away from me and staggered to one side, almost falling, still laughing. I started for the bedroom door, but he stepped in front of me, his face twisted in an ugly grimace.

“What do you think you’re going to do?” he asked. “You gonna try to leave me? You gonna try to take my son from me?”

Suddenly he was screaming, veins popping out on his neck, eyes wild, words unintelligible except for a few obscene curses.

“The hell you will!”  he screamed. “The hell you will!”

He was like a man possessed by the devil and in that moment, I wondered if he was the devil. The physical beauty I had once seen in him was distorted by his rage-filled screaming.

He lunged toward me, tripped on the edge of the carpet, falling forward on his face. I moved quickly around him, toward the bedroom doorway but his hand grabbed my ankle, pulling hard. I cried out in pain, lost my balance, and started to fall forward. I turned quickly and fell on my back with Jackson in my arms, against my chest, his screams piercing my ears. Hank struggled to stand, propped himself up on his hands and knees, still holding on to my ankle, his laughter maniacal until he was consumed with a coughing fit.

I took advantage of the moment and yanked my leg out of his hand, panic and rage rushing through me as I kicked him full in the face. Crazed screams came from him, like a pig being slaughtered. I started to sob, a mix of terror and anger, kicking harder, striking him repeatedly between the eyes with the heel of my shoe.

“Get your hands off of me!” I screamed then let loose a string of curse words I didn’t even know were in me.

My foot contacted his face over and over and blood sprayed up his face from his nose and then spilled onto the floor in a rush of red. He looked up at me with glazed, unseeing eyes, closing them seconds before his face hit the floor. I stood on trembling legs, my chest on fire as I struggled to breathe between sobs and screams.

Blood pooled under Hank’s head, staining his face and hair.  I could hear labored snorts being dragged through his broken nose. He was breathing but he wasn’t moving, and I knew I needed to move fast before he regained consciousness.

I quickly grabbed Jackson’s blanket, two journals, my Bible, and a few clothes, shoving it all into a canvas bag with one hand, Jackson on my hip. I checked Jackson for cuts and bruises as I rushed toward the front door, flinging it open and running down the stairs to the apartment building front door, looking over my shoulder at Hank’s prostrate form on the bedroom floor.

“What’s going on down there?!” a woman yelled down the stairwell from the second floor as I reached the front door and slammed it open.

I could feel warm blood on my face as I walked briskly into the crisp night air, walking briskly in the direction of Miss Mazie’s. I didn’t want to go to Hannah, to scare her young children with all the blood. Ten minutes into my walk Jackson began to quiet, falling asleep to the rhythm of my steps. I was breathing hard, seething inside, uttering angry epitaphs under my breath, wishing Hank could hear every one of them.

I had been walking for about ten minutes when a car pulled up next to me as I walked. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the lights on the roof and my chest tightened.

“Ma’m? Do you need a ride?” I could barely hear the officer’s voice over the pounding of my heart.

I kept walking, looking down, hiding my face in Jackson’s blanket. I shook my head. Someone from the apartment building must have called the police. I didn’t know whether to be angry or grateful.

“Ma’m, please. I can see you’re bleeding. Let me give you a ride to the station or anywhere else you need to go.”

“Thank you, but I’m fine,” I said, my voice hoarse.

I was shaking, clutching Jackson, terrified and in pain, head spinning, the sidewalk tilting.  The officer had lowered his head so he could look at me through the passenger side window. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. His expression was soft, concerned.

“Ma’m? Who did this to you? I can take you somewhere safe. Please. Let me help you.”

I stopped walking and the car stopped next to me. I looked back toward the apartment building, watching to make sure Hank wasn’t following me. The officer opened the passenger side door. I hesitated, looking back at the apartment building again. When I slid into the passenger seat and pulled the door shut, I winced as pain shot thorough my rib cage. I rubbed Jackson’s back as he cried in his sleep.

The officer handed me a handkerchief and I took it, pressing it against my nose to try to stop the bleeding.

“My name is Officer Judson,” he said. “I’d like to take you down to the station. We can file a report against whoever did this to you.”

I shook my head.

“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t want to do that.”

“I think we should get you checked out at the hospital at least,” he urged.

I shook my head again. “I’m okay. Please, just take me to my friend’s house.”

I gave him Miss Mazie’s address, barely able to speak as my top lip swelled.

“Did your husband do this to you?” he asked, pulling the car away from the curb and into the street.

I looked ahead, afraid to answer, trying not to cry.

“We can stop by the police station if you . . .”

“No,” I said firmly, shaking my head again. “I don’t want to do that. I just want to get my baby somewhere safe.”

I swallowed hard, the urge to cry suddenly gone, replaced again by anger.

“But thank you,” I said.

I realized my nose was stuffed and guessed blood was drying inside it. I touched it and felt a large bump in the center. I wondered if it was broken.

“Okay, I understand,” Officer Judson said, and we drove in silence the five minutes to Miss Mazie’s. “I might not agree, but I understand.”

As I reached for the handle, I felt the officer’s hand on my arm and turned to look at him.

“I’ll be praying for you,” he said, his blue eyes filled with compassion. “If you change your mind, about filing a report, stop by the station and ask for me. We will make sure whoever hurt you is punished.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.

Fiction Friday: A Story To Tell Chapter 11

This is part of a serial story I share part of every Friday for Fiction Friday. Are you reading along with Blanche’s story? If you need to catch up, you can find the links to the other parts HERE, or at the link at the top of the page.

The sound of the ceiling fan barely drowned out the sound of the couple next door arguing. The humidity was stifling, the sheets sticky against my bare skin. My gaze traveled along the crack in the paint chipped ceiling above my head. I couldn’t sleep and I was hyper-aware of every sound, every smell, every touch. I felt Hank’s bare back against mine, hot, sweaty like mine and closed my eyes tight against the anxiety.

Even with Hank asleep next to me, I felt insanely alone. I missed my own room, my own bed. I missed talking with Edith. I missed Mama cooking breakfast in the mornings and Daddy sitting in his chair smoking his pipe, reading G.K. Chesterton in the evening. I missed feeling safe.

The judge’s office where Hank and I had got married was dark and smelled of stale cigars. We drove to the office before Hank had even shown me the apartment.

“I made the appointment last week,” Hank said, grinning as he parked the truck. “I knew you were going to come with me.”

My legs were weak as we walked up the steps of the courthouse, Hank’s hand tightly gripping mine. The courthouse towered above us, larger than any building this smalltown girl had ever seen.

The judge was kind, but I could feel the sting of disapproval in his gaze as it moved from me to Hank then back to me again.

“You’re sure you’re 18?” he asked me.

I nodded but didn’t speak.

“I just can’t believe we forgot that birth certificate,” Hank was saying, nervously shifting from one foot to another. “It means a lot to us that you’re doing this for us without it.”

The judge looked at Hank for a moment, then glanced out the window, appearing deep in thought.

“I’ll sign this, but I want you to know I’m not comfortable with it,” he said.

“I understand, sir, but you have nothing to worry about,” Hank said. “We’re old enough to know what we’re doing.”

I knew I wasn’t old enough to know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I was doing at all. Each time I repeated after the judge I was simultaneously asking myself if this was right, wondering if I’d regret it all.

“By the power vested in me by the state of New York, I pronounce you – “ The judge looked from Hank to me and back to Hank and cleared his throat. “Man and wife.”

When we left with the certificate we celebrated with a trip to a local diner, eating hamburgers and fries, sharing a milkshake, making plans about our future. We giggled, feeling like two young kids, which, really, we were.

Hank already had a job at the local factory and on the weekends he played and sang at local clubs for extra money. He sang to me from the stage, green eyes focused on me, so I felt like we were the only two in the room.

“Lee says I’ve got some real talent,” he told me as we walked back to the apartment one night. “He says he can get me some more gigs around town and hey – have you heard this new song by Hank Williams? It’s great! Lee played it for me at the club last night when I stopped after work. I’m going to try to learn it so I can play it at my next gig.”

His eyes lit up when he talked about his music and I loved to see him happy. I thought we’d always be happy like we were that first six months; late nights at the club, kissing and laughing as we fell into bed, bodies intertwined.

I started to enjoy cooking for him, making sure his food was hot and on the table when he got home from work like Mama had done for Daddy. I walked to a small market two blocks from our house and bought ingredients for dinner, never exactly sure what I was doing or how to cook it, learning as I went.

Hank would tell me I was a wonderful cook, even if I burned it, grabbing me around the waist, pulling me into his lap to kiss me.

When Hank was at work, I washed his work clothes in a small washing basin and dried them on a line that rolled out between the buildings.

As the days went by, I began to realize I was becoming exactly what Mama had said I would become. I loved being with Hank and I loved when he said I was a good cook, even though I knew I wasn’t. I washed his clothes, did my best to keep the apartment clean, but I’d left home to show Mama and Daddy I could be more than they thought I could be and now I was turning into exactly what Mama said I would be.

“I can’t sleep.”

Hank’s voice broke through my thoughts.

“Me neither.”

Hank rolled over to his back and slid his arms behind his head.

“I don’t know, maybe I’m never going to do anything with my music,” he said. “I hate that factory job. It’s wearing me down, Blanche.”

“You’ve only been there six months,” I said. “I’m sure it will get better. And the music will come. You said Lee said you’re great and I already know you are.”

I leaned down over him and covered his mouth with mine.

“You always know how to make me feel better,” he said when I pulled away.

He reached up and sank his hands into my hair and pulled my head down for another kiss.

“Get over here and take my mind off things, girl.”

He turned toward me and pulled me against him, laughing, kissing me fully on the mouth. I closed my eyes and thought about how I felt like I could never be happier than I was right now – his hands gently caressing me, his skin warm against mine.


I pressed the side of my face against the tiled floor of the bathroom and closed my eyes, my body curled up around the toilet. The coolness of the floor against my face was welcome after a night of throwing up. The vomiting had been ongoing for two weeks and was draining me of my energy. I knew it was more than a stomach bug. My belly felt empty and full at the same time. When I ate I rarely kept food down and the reflection looking back at me in the mirror each morning was pale and gaunt.

I knew something was horribly wrong, but I was too afraid to visit a doctor. I was afraid to call Mama or Daddy, Edith or Emmy. I was afraid even to pray. I had convinced myself God was punishing me for my sins. Hank and I had been married six months and I still hadn’t asked God to forgive me for leaving my family and running away with Hank.

“Blanche, you need to go to a doctor,” Hank said, standing in the doorway of the bathroom, groggy and leaning against the door frame. “You can’t keep sleeping and throwing up all day and night. Maybe he can give you something to make it stop.”

Later that morning I staggered into a doctor’s office, frail and my hair uncombed.

“Make it stop?” The doctor looked at me with a bewildered expression. “No, I can’t make it stop, but your sickness should go away in a month or so as you move out of the first trimester.”

I stared at him blankly. “First trimester?”

“You don’t get it, do you?” he asked a clipboard in his hand.

I shook my head, afraid if I opened my mouth, I’d throw up on him.

He placed a bottle of pills in my trembling hand, closed my fingers around it with his hand and looked me squarely in the eyes.

“This should help the nausea,” he said, his words slow and even. “You’re about three months along if the information you gave me is correct. Your due date is about seven months from now.”

Then, as if to reiterate the point he was trying to get across to me, he said, “You’re pregnant, young lady. Congratulations.”

I opened my mouth to speak and promptly threw up on his shoes.

No one had ever told me how it felt to have a baby growing inside. We didn’t talk about those things in my family. Maybe Mama would have told me when I got older – if I had waited, but I hadn’t, and Hank had been the one to show me what men and women did when they were married. I knew that’s how babies were made because I’d read about it in books, but I didn’t think it would really happen to me, not until I was ready, not this soon.

I walked back to the apartment, stopping three times to throw up in garbage cans or along the sidewalk along fences. Inside the apartment I gingerly took my coat off and stumbled to the couch, laying across it on my back.

“So, what did the doctor say?” Hank asked, walking out of the bedroom, rubbing his eyes.

I laid my arm across my eyes, gulping back bile, my stomach empty of the breakfast I’d tried to eat that morning. I sat up slowly and looked at him, trembling.

“He says I’m pregnant,” I said, terrified at the words.

Hank looked at me, incredulous. I could smell a mix of bitter and sweet in the room.

“You’re what?”


“How did you let that happen?” he snapped.

I looked at him, shocked.

“I – I didn’t let it,” I stammered. “It just happened.”

I suddenly felt overwhelmed with exhaustion and anger.

“It’s not like you didn’t have anything to do with it,” I said sharply.

He walked toward the kitchen, snatched a half-empty bottle of whiskey from the counter and gulped some down, wiping his hand across his mouth.

“I don’t want to take care of any baby,” Hank said, anger thick in his words.

He drank more of the whiskey, his eyes narrowing, slightly glazed, as he looked at me.

“Is it even mine?” he asked suddenly.

I looked at him, trembling now, my head spinning. Did he really think I was seeing someone else behind his back? I had started attending an evening class at a small community college, studying to become a secretary, about a month after we had arrived and when I wasn’t there I was at the library. The teacher of the class had accepted me even though I didn’t have my high school diploma, telling me we’d work out how I would pay for the classes later.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“I don’t know what you do here while I’m at work,” he snapped. “Do I? You could be doing anything.”

He stood over me, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“It probably isn’t even mine,” he said. He repeated it, pacing in front of me as if he’d struck on an idea and was thinking how to use it. “It probably isn’t even mine.”

He tossed the empty whiskey bottle at the wall behind my head and it shattered, glass raining around me. I screamed in terror and fell to the floor on my knees, my hands over my head.

His fingers encircled my upper arm and he pulled me up to look him, his eyes wild.

“That’s it isn’t it? It isn’t even mine!” He shouted the words at me. “Maybe you’re just a whore like your sister.”

His face was twisted in a terrifying scowl and I turned my head from the overwhelming smell of alcohol on his breath.

“You’re just a little whore, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”

He was shouting and he pulled his hand back to hit me.

I closed my eyes, turning my face away from him, waiting for the blow. He wasn’t the Hank I had fallen in love with. He had turned into someone I didn’t even know – a monster with a beautiful face.

The blow never came.

He let go of my arm and I fell to the floor on my side, sobbing. I looked up and his hard expression had softened. He stumbled back a few steps, drawing his hand across his face, shaking his head as if to shake himself sober.

“I’m sorry, Blanche,” he said softly. “I’m drunk. I don’t know what I’m saying. I’m sorry I raised my hand to you. I don’t want to hurt you or .. or..” His eyes drifted to my stomach. “Or the baby.”

His gaze stayed on my stomach for a few moments, then he looked away, rubbing his hand across his face again, then through his hair and down the back of his neck.

“I’m going out for a while,” he said hoarsely. “We’ll talk about this when I sober up.”

The door clicked closed behind him, between us, and I sat at the kitchen table, laid my head on my arms and cried.

A Story to Tell Chapter 10

Need to catch up on Blanche’s story? Find the link to the previous chapters Here, or at the link at the top of the page. Following Blanche’s story? Let me know in the comments.


“He wanted to explain how people were never quite what you thought they were.” 
― William Golding, Lord of the Flies

At dinner one night I tried to talk to Daddy about the book I was reading.

“It’s called Lord of the Flies and it’s about some boys who are shipwrecked on an island,” I said.

“Mmmhmmm,” Daddy said, finishing the food on his plate.

“The boys in the book are trying to figure out who they are and what it means to be an adult or in society,” I said. “It’s sort of sad but makes me think.”

Daddy continued to eat, took a drink of his iced tea, and looked at the picture on the wall behind me.

Edith was at one of her beauty classes and Mama was beginning to clear the table. I felt tears welling up, wishing Daddy would treat me like his little girl again.

“Aren’t you ever going to talk to me again, Daddy?” I asked tears in my eyes.

Daddy tossed his napkin aggressively onto his plate.

“Maybe you should be reading your Bible instead of a book about boys on an island,” he snapped. He sat, elbows propped up on the table, looking at me with an angry expression, fingers together, under his chin.

“And why would I talk to you when you didn’t talk to me,” he continued. “I never expected this from you, Blanche. I thought you had a good head on your shoulders. Now I’ve got two daughters to try to keep from destroying their lives by running around with worthless boys. I can’t even imagine what you were thinking and I don’t know where to even start with you. I don’t know if I even want to start trying to figure all this out with you.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy, I never meant to upset you –“

“Never meant to upset me? You never even thought of me,” Daddy snarled. “You never thought of me or your mother. You never thought of anyone but yourself. You didn’t think of how people would talk or judge your parents if it got out you were seeing someone like – like – that man.”

“But no one knows – “

“And they’re not going to because you’re not going to see that fool again. Do you understand me?”

I nodded and looked at my hands clutched together on my lap.

“That’s all I’m going to say about all of this.”

Mama had stepped into the dining room from the kitchen, ready to be the peacemaker she always was.


“No. Not tonight, Janie. I’m still too angry.”

Daddy pushed his chair back from the table, stood quickly and stomped from the dining room while I sat at the table, Mama’s hand on my shoulder as I cried.

At that moment I felt like Daddy would never love me again.



When Emmy slipped the letter into my hand I knew it was from Hank.

“He saw me at the market and asked me to give it to you,” she whispered as we stood by the bookshelf I was stacking. I shoved the letter in my skirt pocket to read later, looking back over my shoulder at Mrs. Hall, the librarian.

“Is your daddy still mad as a hornet?” She asked.

“He barely talks to me,” I said.

Emmy leaned back against a book shelf, huffing a book to her chest.

“Tell me, Blanche, what’s it like to be kissed by a man?” She asked, a wistful expression on her face. “Is it wonderful?”

I immediately felt embarrassed that I was the one Emmy was asking. These were questions we usually asked Edith.

“It’s definitely better than I thought it would be,” I admitted, unable to keep my smile contained.

“Does he smell as good as he looks?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

I leaned against the opposite bookshelf and closed my eyes.

“And his hands – they are so manly and . . . I don’t know. . . sexy,” I said remembering how his touch had felt last time we had been together. “I just love when he touches me.”

I opened my eyes and watched Emmy’s eyes widen.

“How does he touch you?” She asked, sounding slightly alarmed.

“Oh, Emmy, nothing like that,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I mean, I know he wants to do more and the other day he tried to reach up my shirt, but I don’t let him. I’m not that kind of girl. You know that.”

“Do I?” Emmy’s eyes were still wide.

“Emmy! Yes. You do.”

“I didn’t even know you were seeing Hank.”

“No one knew I was seeing Hank,” I said. “I didn’t even know what I was doing with Hank. I just liked talking to him and I liked that he liked me.”

Emmy smiled and patted the pocket where the letter was.

“I don’t know why you keep talking in the past tense. It’s clear he doesn’t think of it that way,” she said. “Open it – what’s it say?”

“Emmy, we really need to get you a boyfriend,” I teased.

I pulled the letter from my pocket and opened it, looking over the books to see if Mrs. Hall, the librarian, was still at her desk. She was looking down at a book opened in front of her on the desk.


I’m no good at writing letters but I didn’t know how else to tell you I want to meet you again soon. It’s too risky to try to meet at your house. I don’t feel like pulling bullets out of my back. Meet me under the bridge tomorrow at noon if you can get away. I need to hold you in my arms again.



Emmy whispered a squeal which I didn’t think was possible.

“Love Hank? Oh my gosh. He loves you! It’s so exciting! Are you going to meet him?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m supposed to be working here but I do get a lunch break about that time. Maybe he can meet me somewhere here in town.”

“You think you’re going to marry Hank?”

“Good grief, Emmy,” I said rolling my eyes. “I haven’t even decided if I’m going to meet him tomorrow, let alone marry him. I’m only in high school.”

I didn’t tell her he’d already asked me to marry him.

I quickly wrote a note back for Emmy to take to him on her walk home and handed it to her.

“I’ve got to get back to work, but I’ll talk to you later,” I told her.

I thought about Hank as I slid books back into their spots on the shelves.

“I don’t know, maybe I could do something with my music,” he told me one night before Daddy caught us. “Music takes me away from everything. I feel alive when I sing, especially one of my own songs. It would be a lot of hard work if I ever wanted to make a go of it and I definitely can’t live around here if I want to do something like that.”

He sighed and leaned back against the fence along the field, under the maple tree.

“Maybe I’m just being crazy, but it’s good to have dreams, right?”

I smiled at him and laid my hand against his face, suddenly overcome with tenderness for the boy I saw in the growing man.

“It is very good to have dreams,” I told him.

He laughed and took my hand in his, kissing my palm and then pressing it against his chest.

“You’re too sweet for me, Blanche,” he said, kissing my cheek.

He shook his head and let go of my hand, turning from me, his hands on the fence, looking at the moonlit field.

“I’m just sick of this town, you know?” he said, tightening his grip on the wood. “I’m sick of the people. I’m sick of the smell of cow poop and I am sick of being told I’ll never be anything because my old man tells everyone I’m worthless. I’m getting out of this place, Blanche.”

He turned and took my hands in his. “Come with me and we’ll make a life of our own,” he said, his eyes bright, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “We’ll go find a new life and I’ll play music and you can read books and eat ice cream; get fat for all I care. There won’t be anyone to tell us who or what we’re going to be.”

“I can’t do that,” I looked down at the tip of my shoe and bent my ankle back and forth.

“Why not?” he touched my chin with his fingertips, and I looked up into his deep green eyes and my knees felt like bread that had been kneaded too long.

“My daddy would be so mad. He doesn’t like you.”

“Your daddy doesn’t like me ‘cause he knows you’re better than this little garbage farm town and I can take you away from it.”

I looked away. I didn’t know if Hank was right about how Daddy felt about him that night, but now, stacking the books in the quiet library, I knew how Daddy felt and I knew he’d be even more furious if he knew Hank wanted me to run away with him.

I met Hank behind the drugstore on my lunch break the next day, looking over my shoulder, anxious and wringing my hands, afraid someone would see us.

“I’m serious about leaving, Blanche,” Hank said. “I’m going to do it and soon. I want you to come with me.”

He stepped closer, touched me under my chin and kissed me gently. “Don’t you want to find something more exciting than this old town? These old people who want to tell us what to do?”

I closed my eyes, breathed in the smell of his cologne, let the feel of his hands against my skin fill my mind and lifted my face toward his. When his mouth covered mine I thought about Mama’s words to me about the difference between lust and love. What I felt for Hank was love, I was sure of it. I wanted to be in his world and experience life with him. I wanted to let him touch me and kiss me, teach me what love was all about.

I nodded slowly, my eyes still closed.

“I’m going to save up some money and then I’ll send a letter to you through Emmy,” he said, taking my hands in his, pressing his forehead against mine. “We’ll find a day to leave this town and never look back. We’re going to start our own life together.”

Two months later, a week before my senior year was supposed to start, I was holding a letter in my hand. It was one of many that Hank had been mailing to his cousin Jerry who had slid them on to Emmy, but somehow I knew this letter was different. My fingers trembled as I opened it, Emmy watching me, alternating between biting her lower lip and her fingernails.


It’s time to take our leap of faith. Old man Porter fired me yesterday and I’m getting out of this place. I’ve already found a job in Syracuse. The manager of a factory promised me a job on the manufacturing floor if I get up there next week. I’m going up to find a place for us to live and I’ll be back to pick you up in two weeks. If you want to come with me and start a life together meet me under our bridge May 22.



“What’s it say?” Emmy asked anxiously, trying to peek at it.

I folded it, looked at her, my best friend since seventh grade, and lied.

“He just says he loves me and wants to see me again sometime behind the drugstore.”

Emmy smiled but then her expression shifted to worry.

“I don’t know, Blanche,” she said. “Maybe you shouldn’t be sneaking around with him, you know? I mean, I know you really like him, but your parents would be really upset. They really love you – they probably think they’re protecting you.”

I hugged her and stood back, my hands on her shoulders.

“You don’t have to worry, Emmy,” I said. “They don’t have to protect me from anything. Hank loves me. Things will settle down eventually and they’ll accept Hank. It’s all going to be fine.”

I knew I was only telling Emmy what she wanted to hear. I didn’t believe my parents would ever accept Hank and I wasn’t sure if my parents were trying to protect me or control me. All I knew was I was sure Hank loved me and I was catching the fire he had to start a new life somewhere else together.


I could hear birds outside the window and Edith snoring softly in her bed. The Worley’s cows were mooing in their fields down the road and I could smell the bacon Mama was cooking.

It was the Saturday I was supposed to meet Hank. I’d barely slept the night before, my mind swirling around and around as I tried to decide what to do. I wanted to be with Hank, but I still had a year left of school and it was about to start. I knew if I left Mama and Daddy would never speak to me again.

I closed my eyes and pictured Hank, handsome and smiling, his promises of a better life still fresh in my mind. I thought about his kisses and the way my heart seemed to skip when he said my name. I thought about how I wished I could heal the wounds his father had inflicted on him. I thought about how Mama already had my life planned out for me. I thought how Daddy wouldn’t even talk to me and maybe he never would again, whether I left with Hank or not.

I remembered what Mama had said that night daddy caught us. “Sometimes we have to move past our feelings and do what we know is right.”

Then I remembered that record of Elvis skipping.

So lonely I could die…so lonely I could die…so lonely…

Holding the crumpled letter, I knew what was right. I knew I didn’t want to be so lonely one day that I could die.

When I reached Hank’s truck, parked by the bridge, I was breathing hard. I felt like I had escaped into one of my books. Edith was at the movies with Billy Tanner. Daddy was at the office finishing paperwork for the Bishop Oil account. I’d told Mama I was taking muffins to Mrs. Grant up the hill and I had thrown them into a basket and skipped out the door before she could ask why.

I had dropped my pillowcase filled with some clothes, my journal, my Bible and a copy of The Three Musketeers into the bushes under my bedroom window.

Hank was smiling as I climbed into the cab. He slid his arm around my middle, pulling me across the seat against him. I giggled as he kissed me and then whooped like he was at a rodeo.

“I knew you’d come,” he said. “This is going to be a new life for both of us. I have so much to tell you. You’re going to love the apartment I found. I booked a couple gigs. I’ve got a job at the factory and I found a judge who’s going to marry us. . . ”

I took a deep breath when I heard about the judge and getting married. Was I really doing this? Was I really leaving my family, throwing away my senior year and running away with a man to a city four hours from home?

As Hank pulled the truck out onto the road, I knew I really was doing all those things. I was writing my own story, not letting it be written for me. I was finding my own story to tell.