A Story to Tell: Chapter 8 rewrite

Hey, everyone! I’ll be posting Chapter 10 of Blanche’s story on Friday, but I wanted to post this rewrite of Chapter 8, which very well could be rewritten again in the future because I haven’t even begun full rewrites or editing of the book. Thanks to Kat at The Lily Cafe for the suggestions for part of this rewrite.

At some point, if I get brave enough to send this story to a publisher, I’ll probably stop sharing chapters on here and send anyone following the story to an Amazon page to buy the book. *wink* But I’m nowhere near that at this point, so until then, enjoy the story, ya’ll (she added ya’ll to pretend she had an interesting Southern personality, which she actually didn’t possess at all.). And, as always, if you’re reading along, let me know in the comments! You can find a link to the previous chapters here: 


 

Chapter 8

“How old are you anyhow?” I asked Hank, laying back in the grass, looking up at the star-filled sky.

He leaned up on his elbow and grinned.

“How old do you think I am?” he asked.

“My friend Emmy says you’re like 24,” I said.

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing I look older or not.” He laughed and pushed his hand back through his hair.

“I’m 21,” he said, then laid back on the grass, his arms behind him. “But I feel like I’ve lived enough life to fill two lifetimes since the old man kicked me out.”

“Is it scary living alone?” I asked.

“Maybe at first, but not now,” he said. “I’m used to it. I like coming and going when I please, no one to tell me ‘no’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that.”

“Isn’t it lonely?”

He shrugged. “Sometimes.”

He leaned up on his elbow again and grinned at me.

“It’s not so bad lately, now that I have you,” he said.

I smiled, hands folded across my stomach as I looked at the stars.

“You know, Blanche, you’re the only one who really seems to care about what I think and wants to know about me,” he said.

I looked at him, smiling.

“I feel the same way about you,” I said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt calmer than I do when I’m with you,” he said softly. He twirled a strand of my hair around his finger as he spoke.  “You know, when I first took off on my own, I did miss Mama and my little brother. Judson – he’s my little brother – he always looked up to me. I felt bad when I came home drunk one night and he saw me. He looked so sad because I wasn’t acting like the Hank he used to know. I tried not to drink as much after that when I went to parties. But then later I got drunk and I wrecked the old man’s car and I guess that was the last straw for him. He hit me so hard that night my head vibrated. But at least he was hitting me that night and not mama.”

His voice was full of sadness. I rolled to my side, leaning my head on my arm, laying my other hand against his face.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“For what?” he asked.

“That your daddy treated you and your mama so awful.”

His eyes searched mine for a few moments before he leaned over me and covered my mouth with his, sinking his fingers in my hair.

“You’re a sweet, girl, Blanche,” he said as he pulled his mouth away. “I definitely don’t deserve you.”

“No, sir, you don’t,” I said, smiling as I sank my fingers into his hair and pulled his head toward me, kissing him hard.

“What the hell are you doing out here?”

My daddy’s voice, booming, cut through the silence of the night. Hank jumped back from me and I felt my heart pounding so hard I thought I was going to faint. My knees felt weak as I stood and I had to grab on to the fence to stay standing. My ears were roaring and for a moment I thought I had gone deaf from the shock. Hank stood and calmly brushed the dirt and grass from his clothes.

“Well, hey there, Mr. Robins,” Hank tried to look confident as Daddy stomped toward us in the dark.

“Hey there?! Hey there?!”

I’d never seen Daddy’s face look the way it did that night. Rage flashed in his eyes and his mouth was twisted in a grimace. He reminded me of a picture I’d seen of the devil in my grandma’s Bible one time.

“You little… ”

Daddy’s voice was practically a growl and the curse word he uttered was sharp and sent a cold chill rushing through me. I’d never heard Daddy swear before.

His fist hit Hank’s face and Hank hit the ground. Blood was trickling from Hank’s mouth when he lifted himself to his feet and I could hear daddy breathing hard.

“Don’t you ever touch my daughter again!” his finger was pointed at Hank and it was shaking.

“I wasn’t doing anything wrong.” Hank spat blood on the ground.

“Get off my property!” Daddy shouted.

“I’m not going anywhere unless Blanche wants me to. This was a private meeting,” Hank snarled back.

“You don’t have a ‘private meeting’ with a little girl!”

“She isn’t a little girl! She’s practically a grown woman!” Hank yelled back. “This isn’t the 30s, old man. Girls her age are getting married and having babies by now.”

“You son of a – “Daddy grabbed Hank by the front of his shirt and then swung at him again. Hank moved and daddy almost fell onto the ground but righted himself and started to lunge toward Hank again.

Suddenly I was angry. I was angry at Daddy for always treating me like a child. I was angry at him for punching Hank. I was angry at Mama for deciding my life for me. I was angry at Edith for always getting the attention. I was angry at the boys at school. I was angry at Hank for yelling at Daddy. I was angry at life. I didn’t want to be stuck in this town my whole life and I was sick of people acting like I was going to.

“I’m out here because I wanna be!” I shouted over Daddy and Hank, as startled as them at the angry tone of my voice.

Daddy’s face was red as he stepped away from Hank and turned to face me.

“What did you say?!” he said, half snarling, half screaming, like a rabid dog.

I’d never seen him so angry but I kept yelling anyway, my fury overriding my common sense.

“I like talking to Hank and I’m tired of being told what to do! Hank’s the only one who treats me like a real person and not a baby!”

Daddy wrapped his big hand around my upper arm and dragged me across the field toward the house.

“You were doing a lot more than talking when I came out here!” Daddy was speaking through gritted teeth. “And don’t you ever speak to me the way you did just now. Not ever!”

He whipped me around like a rag doll, looking at Hank, his voice shaking.

“Hank Hakes, you get off my property before I get my gun and show you I know how to use it!”

Hank was smirking.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Robbins. I’ll do whatever you say,” he chuckled sarcastically, turned, but then paused and turned back toward Daddy and me.

“I’ll see you another day, Blanche!” he called, only making Daddy angrier.

Daddy’s footsteps were long and brisk and I couldn’t keep up. I fell when we were almost to the house, stones cutting into my legs as Daddy continued to drag me.

“Get up!” He yelled as tears spilled hot down my cheeks.

Mama was standing in the doorway when we reached the front porch, her expression revealing shock and horror.

“My God, Alan! What is going on?” She cried reaching out for me.

“Your little girl has been sneaking around with that Hank Hakes and I’ll have none of it! I won’t have two little whores in my house!”

He tossed me at mama’s feet and walked toward his truck.

“Jessie, I am too angry to think. I’m going for a drive.”

The truck sped away, out the drive and down the dirt road by our house, kicking stones and dirt up from the tires. Hank’s truck had already disappeared down the road in a cloud of dust.

I saw Edith through my tears, standing at the bottom of the stairs. I knew she’d heard what Daddy had said about having two whores in the house. Her face was scrunched up, tears staining her face.

Mama knelt next to me and for a moment I thought she might start yelling as well. Instead she took the edge of her gown in her hand, wiping the tears off my face.

“Come on, get up,” she said. “I’ll make us some cocoa and we’ll have a talk. Edith, you come down too.”

I slumped into a chair at the kitchen table and looked at my shin, covered in dirt and blood. My hair was in my face, full of dirt.

Edith sat across from me with her arms folded across her chest. She had wiped her tears away and a small smile was playing across her mouth.

I didn’t want to be the brunt of her mocking jokes today.

“Well, at least it’s you who is in trouble this time,” she said with a sneer. “I sure as heck didn’t see that coming.”
“Shut up,” I hissed at her.

Mama handed me a wet towel then poured milk into a pan on the stove.

“Clean yourself off,” she told me sharply and sat down. “And both of you shut up.”

I saw the creases in the corners of her eyes, creases I hadn’t noticed before. Her hair had fallen out of her rollers in a couple of places and she looked tired, more tired than I had seen her look in a long time.

“So, what’s going on with you?” She said softly. “What happened out there?”

I wiped the blood from my leg and didn’t look at her. I shrugged. I didn’t want to talk about it. I was embarrassed, but more than that, I was still angry.

“Were you with Hank?” she asked bluntly.

I winced as I wiped the dirt on my leg away to reveal a small gash. Blood trickled down my shin.

I nodded as she stood to find bandages and peroxide. The medicine cabinet door slammed in the kitchen.

“What do you see in him?” she asked a few moments later, kneeling in front of me, cleaning the gash.

I grimaced as fresh tears sprung to my eyes from the pain.

“He listens to me. He doesn’t think I’m a stupid little girl and he doesn’t call me a nerd,” I told her.

“You like the attention he gives you, don’t you?” Mama asked.

I nodded, wiping tears off my face with the back of my hand.

“That attention is all well and good right now, but with someone like Hank I’m afraid it wouldn’t last,” Mama said. “He’s a lot of talk. He’s a lot of ‘right now’ but not a lot of ‘what will be.’ Do you understand what I mean?”

I didn’t. I shook my head and looked at her through the hair that was still in my face.

She pushed the strands away from my eyes and hooked them behind my ears.

“Blanche, he likes what he sees but I’m afraid he likes a lot of what he sees. I know your daddy is angry right now, but it’s because we’ve seen men like Hank before. He doesn’t come from a good background and those type of men don’t stay in one place, or with one person, for very long.”

I looked away and felt my lower lip quivering.

“I love him,” I said quietly. I hadn’t even admitted it to myself yet, but it was true.

Edith laughed ruefully.

“I knew you’d be the one to fall for the bad boy,” she said. “It’s always the quiet ones.”

“Be quiet, Edith,” Mama instructed. She turned to look at me. “You’re too young to know what love is. What you have right now is lust.”

She stood and went to the stove, poured the milk in mugs and mixed the cocoa in.

When she sat again, she leaned across the table and took my chin in her hand, made me look her in the eye.

“Blanche, you need to be honest with me right now – has Hank ever told you he loves you?”

“No,” I said softly.

“Has he – has he – talked you into doing things that only married people are supposed to do?”

Mama looked worried.

Edith looked expectant as she watched me closely over the rim of her mug, eyes wide.

I looked back at Mama.

“No, ma’m,” I said firmly. “He’s kissed me and that’s all.”

Mama studied my eyes for a few moments and let my chin go. Out of the corner of my eye I couldn’t tell if Edith was relieved or disappointed in my answer.

“Okay,” she said. “I believe you. I know you feel like you’re in love, but I agree with your daddy. You need to stay away from Hank. It might be hard, but you have to understand that sometimes we have to move past our feelings and do what we know is right. Are you listening?”

I didn’t agree with her, but I was listening.

I nodded.

“Now, you girls finish your cocoa and get back to bed. You’ve both got church in the morning and I don’t plan to let you miss it. You need it more than ever right now.”

When Edith and I started up the stairs Mama called to Edith.

“Edith, I hope you heard all that I said to Blanche tonight,” she said, firmly. “It applies to you as well.”

Edith rolled her eyes and flounced up the stairs.

“Yeah, I heard you, but Blanche is getting more action these days than me, so it’s not like you have anything to worry about,” she grumbled as she stomped into our room.

A story to tell Chapter 9

Have you been following along with Blanche’s story? Let me know in the comments! To catch up to the story find the links to the other chapters at the end of this one.

 


Chapter 9

The few weeks after Daddy caught me were what I would call overwhelmingly tense. He didn’t speak to me. He didn’t speak to Edith. He barely spoke to Mama.

He left for work early and came home late. Dinners were silent and then he went to his chair to read his paper. I went to my room to do my homework or disappear inside a book.

Edith was quiet as well. She barely looked up from her plate at dinner. I knew she was thinking a lot about what Daddy thought of her. I hadn’t seen her flirting with boys as much lately, even though they flirted with her.

I listened to Daddy at first. I didn’t see Hank and he didn’t try to see me. I went to school and came home, helped Mama with the chores, went to church and did my best to be the Blanche I’d been before Daddy had caught me. I even visited that Bible study Lillian had suggested I attend, and I tried my best to really listen to the stories the women shared.

“Ladies, did we all get a chance to read the chapter in Proverbs about a virtuous woman?” Fran Sampson asked opening her Bible.

All the women opened their Bibles and I opened mine. I read:

Proverbs 31:10-31 “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands. She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.  She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.  She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.”

I decided not to comment too much, unsure what it was all supposed to mean. It sounded like to be a real woman I needed to be perfect and make wool. I couldn’t even sow, let alone make wool. And what did it mean to “girdeth her loins?” What were loins? It all sounded fairly ridiculous to me.

The women around me, most of them much older, nodded and smiled in agreement. Apparently, it made sense to them, then why couldn’t I figure it out?

“What do we think about this verse?” Fran asked, looking around the room.

I looked around the room too, hoping someone would enlighten me.

“Well, of course, it is probably unrealistic to believe we can live up to all of this, but it’s a wonderful guideline,” April Spencer said encouragingly.

April always had a sweet smile, perfect white teeth, blond hair, milky-white skin. Her daddy had been a farmer and her husband was a farmer and she looked like she should be on an ad for dairy products.

“It’s more of a goal to strive toward, something to work toward, rather than a list of how we need to be, I believe,” Lillian said.

The women around the room nodded in agreement and I felt a little more relieved about the passage, even if I didn’t understand all the words.

I decided I would think about the beginning of the passage: “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.

I thought I could handle that much, at least, when I got married. I could “do no harm” and I could make sure a husband could always trust in me.

***

I was walking with a basket full of baked goods Mama had asked me to take to the neighbors the evening before the last day of school when Hank pulled up in his truck. I was about a half a mile from home, on the dirt road, and along the edge of the Worley’s hay field, the grass high.

“I’ve missed you,” he said as he drove along next to me.

“I can’t talk to you,” I said, keeping my eyes on my steps as I walked.

“Haven’t you missed me?” he asked.

I had, but I couldn’t tell him.

“Come on, Blanche. I haven’t seen you in weeks. Go for a drive with me.”

I kept walking, trying to ignore him.

“Your daddy won’t find out. We’ll drive down by the covered bridge.”

I shook my head.

I wanted to be the good girl again. It had been easier when I was the good girl. Daddy had loved me when I was the good girl.

“Not now, Hank.”

“Suit yourself, but I’m going to try again,” he said and sped up, driving past me, his truck disappearing down the dirt road in a cloud of dust.

He did try again, two weeks after school ended. I had taken a walk to try to decide if I should apply for a summer job at the library and to think about what I wanted to do after I graduated the next year.

This time when he pulled up, I looked up from the road and our eyes met. I felt a funny feeling in my stomach, a mix of fear and excitement.

He was as handsome as he’d ever been.

“Come on, Blanche,” he pleaded. “I have to see you. Just take a little drive with me. I miss our talks and want to see how you are..”

I hesitated. I thought about Bible study and how we’d talked about resisting temptation. I felt like God wasn’t helping very well with keeping temptation from me.

“I can’t talk long,” I said.

Hank’s grinned. “I’ll take any time with you I can get.”

When I climbed in the front seat Hank’s smile sent heat rushing through me. He leaned in and kissed me hard. I knew I shouldn’t lean into the kiss, but I did, reaching out and sinking my fingers into his soft, brown hair. It felt so good to hold him and to be held by him. My body reacted as he opened my mouth under his and clutched at my hair.

“Girl, I’ve missed that mouth,” he said breathlessly, kissing me again.

We spent an hour kissing and talking under the covered bridge, his hands gliding where they shouldn’t be, but me liking it and reveling in the feel of his mouth on my skin. I was starting to understand what Edith had meant that night when she said that one day I’d understand how nice it was to have a man who paid attention to me.

“We can’t ever be apart that long again,” he said, leaning back to look at me. “What have you been up to?”

He kissed my neck.

“Trying to decide what I want to do after high school,” I told him, closing my eyes.

“What do you mean what you want to do?”

His mouth moved to my earlobe.

“Like, what career will I have,” I said, distracted with his hand gliding up my leg. “Mama says maybe I will be a housewife like her, but I don’t know if that’s what I want to do. I want more – you know?”

“I do know, yes,” Hank said leaning back to look at me. “I want more too. I want to get out of this area. I want to be away from all the people who tell me who I should be and who I never will be.”

He sat up, laid his arm across his propped up knee.” Why don’t you come with me? If you’re going to be a housewife, you can be my housewife.”

I laughed a little as he grinned.

“You can cook me some good food and wash my clothes and I’ll make crazy love to you,” he said.

“Is that a proposal?” I asked with a roll of my eyes. “If it was, it wasn’t a very good one you know.”

Hank laughed.

“What if it was a proposal?” he asked, flipping a piece of my hair off my shoulder with his finger.

I shook my head and laughed.

“Hey, girl, I’m serious.”

I looked up at his face and I felt weak. His expression was serious, his eyes watching me intently.

“Oh, Hank – I’m too young to get married,” I said softly.

“You’re not too young. You heard what I told your daddy. A lot of girls your age are already having babies.”

Hank grinned.

“You wanna have babies with me some day?” he asked.

I swallowed hard. I’d never thought about having babies. I shook my head.

“Not really,” I said honestly. “Or at least not now.”

“If I ever have babies, I want it to be with you,” Hank said, lightly touching the buttons of my shirt then trailing his fingertips along my collarbones

I only knew a little about where babies came from, and I knew what Hank wanted to do might lead there. I wasn’t ready for babies. I didn’t even like holding someone else’s baby.

“I have to go,” I said abruptly and pushed his hands away.

“Come on, Blanche. Just a little longer,” he kissed my neck and slid his hand across my stomach under my shirt.

I pushed his hands away again and stood up abruptly.

“My parents are going to wonder where I am and I’m pretty sure my daddy was serious about that gun,” I said.

Looking down at him I felt a rush of warmth move from my chest into my cheeks. He was so handsome, and I still couldn’t figure out what he saw in me. I knew if he asked me to marry him again I would say yes, just so I could spend my life looking at him.

But I didn’t want him to ask me to marry him again. My head was spinning. I was as confused about my present as I was about what I wanted for my future.

I knew Hank didn’t want to, but he drove me back to the end of our road, kissing me hard before I jumped out of the truck, like he wanted me to know who I belonged to. I smoothed my hair down and pulled the bottom of my shirt over the top of my skirt as I walked back to the house, ready to be the good girl for Mama and Daddy again.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

 

A Story to Tell Part 8: Your Sin Will Find You Out

This the eighth part of my fiction story A Story To Tell. The story isn’t really broken into chapters, but bite-size sections for the blog. When I start to rewrite and tighten the story I’ll figure out chapters. To catch up with the story find the links at the end of this section of the story.


A Story To Tell (1)

“How old are you anyhow?” I asked Hank, laying back in the grass, looking up at the star filled sky.

He leaned up on his elbow and grinned.

“How old do you think I am?” he asked.

“My friend Emmy says you’re like 24,” I said.

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing I look older or not.” He laughed and pushed his hand back through his hair.

“I’m 21,” he said, then laid back on the grass, his arms behind him. “But I feel like I’ve lived enough life to fill two lifetimes since the old man kicked me out.”

“Is it scary living alone?” I asked.

“Maybe at first, but not now,” he said. “I’m used to it. I like coming and going when I please, no one to tell me ‘no’ or ‘you shouldn’t do that.”

“Isn’t it lonely?”

He shrugged. “Sometimes.”

He leaned up on his elbow again and grinned at me.

“It’s not so bad lately, now that I have you,” he said.

I smiled, hands folded across my stomach as I looked at the stars.

“You know, Blanche, you’re the only one who really seems to care about what I think and wants to know about me,” he said.

I looked at him, smiling.

“I feel the same way about you,” I said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt more calm than I do when I’m with you,” he said softly. He twirled a strand of my hair around his finger as he spoke. “You know, when I first took off on my own, I did miss Mama and my little brother. Judson – he’s my little brother – he always looked up to me. I felt bad when I came home drunk one night and he saw me. He looked so sad because I wasn’t acting like the Hank he used to know. I tried not to drink as much after that when I went in to parties. But then I wrecked the old man’s car and I guess that was the last straw for him. He hit me so hard that night my head vibrated. But at least he was hitting me that night and not mama.”

His voice was full of sadness. I rolled to my side, leaning my head on my arm, laying my other hand against his face.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“For what?” he asked.

“That your daddy treated you and your mama so awful.”

His eyes searched mine for a few moments before he leaned over me and covered my mouth with his, sinking his fingers in my hair.

“You’re a sweet, girl, Blanche,” he said as he pulled his mouth away. “I definitely don’t deserve you.”

“No, sir, you don’t,” I said, smiling as I sank my fingers into his hair and pulled his head toward me, kissing him hard.

“What the hell are you doing out here?”

My daddy’s voice, booming, cut through the silence of the night. Hank jumped back from me and I felt my heart pounding so hard I thought I was going to faint. My knees felt weak as I stood and I had to grab on to the fence to stay standing. My ears were roaring and for a moment I thought I had gone deaf from the shock. Hank stood and calmly brushed the dirt and grass from his clothes.

“Well, hey there, Mr. Robins,” Hank tried to look confident as Daddy stomped toward us in the dark.

“Hey there?! Hey there?!”

I’d never seen Daddy’s face look the way it did that night. Rage flashed in his eyes and his mouth was twisted in a grimace. He reminded me of a picture I’d seen of the devil in my grandma’s Bible one time.

“You little… ,”

Daddy’s voice was practically a growl and the curse word he uttered was sharp and sent a cold chill rushing through me. I’d never heard Daddy swear before.

His fist hit Hank’s face and Hank hit the ground. Blood was trickling from Hank’s mouth when he lifted himself to his feet and I could hear daddy breathing hard.

“Don’t you ever touch my daughter again!” his finger was pointed at Hank and it was shaking.

“I wasn’t doing anything wrong.” Hank spat blood on the ground.

“Get off my property!” Daddy shouted.

“I’m not going anywhere unless Blanche wants me to. This was a private meeting,” Hank snarled back.

“You don’t have a ‘private meeting’ with a little girl!”

“She isn’t a little girl! She’s practically a grown woman!” Hank yelled back. “This isn’t the 30s, old man. Girls her age are getting married and having babies by now.”

“You son of a – “Daddy grabbed Hank by the front of his shirt and then swung at him again. Hank moved and daddy almost fell onto the ground but righted himself and started to lunge toward Hank again.

Suddenly I was angry. I was angry at Daddy for always treating me like a child. I was angry at him for punching Hank. I was angry at Mama for deciding my life for me. I was angry at Edith for always getting the attention. I was angry at the boys at school. I was angry at Hank for yelling at Daddy. I was angry at life. I didn’t want to be stuck in this town my whole life and I was sick of people acting like I was going to.

“I’m out here because I wanna be!” I shouted over Daddy and Hank, as startled as them at the angry tone of my voice.

Daddy’s face was red as he stepped away from Hank and turned to face me.

“What did you say?!” he said, half snarling, half screaming, like a rabid dog.

I’d never seen him so angry but I kept yelling anyway, my fury overriding my common sense.

“I like talking to Hank and I’m tired of being told what to do! Hank’s the only one who treats me like a real person and not a baby!”

Daddy wrapped his big hand around my upper arm and dragged me across the field toward the house.

“You were doing a lot more than talking when I came out here!” Daddy was speaking through gritted teeth. “And don’t you ever speak to me the way you did just now. Not ever!”

He whipped me around like a rag doll, looking at Hank, his voice shaking.

“Hank Hakes, you get off my property before I get my gun and show you I know how to use it!”

Hank was smirking.

“Yes, sir, Mr. Robbins. I’ll do whatever you say,” he chuckled sarcastically, turned, but then paused and turned back toward Daddy and me.

“I’ll see you another day, Blanche!” he called, only making Daddy angrier.

Daddy’s footsteps were long and brisk and I couldn’t keep up. I fell when we were almost to the house, stones cutting into my legs as Daddy continued to drag me.

“Get up!” He yelled as tears spilled hot down my cheeks.

Mama was standing in the doorway when we reached the front porch, her expression revealing shock and horror.

“My God, Alan! What is going on?” She cried reaching out for me.

“Your little girl has been sneaking around with that Hank Hakes and I’ll have none of it! I won’t have two little whores in my house!”

He tossed me at mama’s feet and walked toward his truck.

“Jessie, I am too angry to think. I’m going for a drive.”

The truck sped away, out the drive and down the dirt road by our house, kicking stones and dirt up from the tires. Hank’s truck had already disappeared down the road in a cloud of dust.

I saw Edith through my tears, standing at the bottom of the stairs. I knew she’d heard what Daddy had said about having two whores in the house. Her face was scrunched up, tears staining her face.

Mama knelt next to me and for a moment I thought she might start yelling as well. Instead she took the edge of her gown in her hand, wiping the tears off my face.

“Come on, get up,” she said. “I’ll make us some cocoa and we’ll have a talk. Edith, you come down too.”

I slumped into a chair at the kitchen table and looked at my shin, covered in dirt and blood. My hair was in my face, full of dirt.

Edith sat across from me with her arms folded across her chest. She had wiped her tears away and a small smile was playing across her mouth.

I didn’t want to be the brunt of her mocking jokes today.

“Well, at least it’s you who is in trouble this time,” she said with a sneer. “I sure as heck didn’t see that coming.”

“Shut up,” I hissed at her.

Mama handed me a wet towel then poured milk into a pan on the stove.

“Clean yourself off,” she told me sharply and sat down. “And both of you shut up.”

I saw the creases in the corners of her eyes, creases I hadn’t noticed before. Her hair had fallen out of her rollers in a couple of places and she looked tired, more tired than I had seen her look in a long time.

“So, what’s going on with you?” She said softly. “What happened out there?”

I wiped the blood from my leg and didn’t look at her. I shrugged. I didn’t want to talk about it. I was embarrassed, but more than that, I was still angry.

“Were you with Hank?” she asked bluntly.

I winced as I wiped the dirt on my leg away to reveal a small gash. Blood trickled down my shin.

I nodded as she stood to find bandages and peroxide. The medicine cabinet door slammed in the kitchen.

“What do you see in him?” she asked a few moments later, kneeling in front of me, cleaning the gash.

I grimaced as fresh tears sprung to my eyes from the pain.

“He listens to me. He doesn’t think I’m a stupid little girl and he doesn’t call me a nerd,” I told her.

“You like the attention he gives you, don’t you?” Mama asked.

I nodded, wiping tears off my face with the back of my hand.

“That attention is all well and good right now, but with someone like Hank I’m afraid it wouldn’t last,” Mama said. “He’s a lot of talk. He’s a lot of ‘right now’ but not a lot of ‘what will be.’ Do you understand what I mean?”

I didn’t. I shook my head and looked at her through the hair that was still in my face.

She pushed the strands away from my eyes and hooked them behind my ears.

“Blanche, he likes what he sees but I’m afraid he likes a lot of what he sees. I know your daddy is angry right now, but it’s because we’ve seen men like Hank before. He doesn’t come from a good background and those type of men don’t stay in one place, or with one person, for very long.”

I looked away and felt my lower lip quivering.

“I love him,” I said quietly. I hadn’t even admitted it to myself yet, but it was true.

Edith laughed ruefully.

“I knew you’d be the one to fall for the bad boy,” she said. “It’s always the quiet ones.”

“Be quiet, Edith,” Mama instructed. She turned to look at me. “You’re too young to know what love is. What you have right now is lust.”

She stood and went to the stove, poured the milk in mugs and mixed the cocoa in.

When she sat again, she leaned across the table and took my chin in her hand, made me look her in the eye.

“Blanche, you need to be honest with me right now – has Hank ever told you he loves you?”

“No,” I said softly.

“Has he – has he – talked you into doing things that only married people are supposed to do?”

Mama looked worried.

Edith looked expectant as she watched me closely over the rim of her mug, eyes wide.

I looked back at Mama.

“No, ma’m,” I said firmly. “He’s kissed me and that’s all.”

Mama studied my eyes for a few moments and let my chin go. Out of the corner of my eye I couldn’t tell if Edith was relieved or disappointed in my answer.

“Okay,” she said. “I believe you. I know you feel like you’re in love, but I agree with your daddy. You need to stay away from Hank. It might be hard, but you have to understand that sometimes we have to move past our feelings and do what we know is right. Are you listening?”

I didn’t agree with her, but I was listening.

I nodded.

“Now, you girls finish your cocoa and get back to bed. You’ve both got church in the morning and I don’t plan to let you miss it. You need it more than ever right now.”

When Edith and I started up the stairs Mama called to Edith.

“Edith, I hope you heard all that I said to Blanche tonight,” she said, firmly. “It applies to you as well.”

Edith rolled her eyes and flounced up the stairs.

“Yeah, I heard you, but Blanche is getting more action these days than me, so it’s not like you have anything to worry about,” she grumbled as she stomped into our room.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

 

‘A Story to Tell’ Chapter six

This is part of a serial fictional story I’m sharing on my blog once a week. Did you know that Catcher in the Rye was actually released as a serial first? I didn’t, until this week. Did you know I never read Catcher in the Rye? Gasp! I know. I’ll have to remedy that ASAP.

You can find links to the other parts of the story below:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five


 

Lisa R. Howeler

One day when I was in ninth grade, I saw Edith sitting outside the ice cream shop next to Eddie Parker on my way home from school. The way she laughed every time he spoke made me roll my eyes. No one was that funny. I couldn’t figure out why talking to a boy made her act like she’d lost part of her mind. I vowed never to give up my brain for the attention of some boy.

When I was a junior in high school I must have forgotten about that day. I wouldn’t say I gave up any part of me for Hank’s attention, at least at first, but I know there were times I threw caution and common sense not only into the wind but into the gutter.

I was surprised by how many nights I was able to leave the house in the middle of the night without my parents hearing me. There were some nights Hank came but I couldn’t slip out because Mama and Daddy were still awake chatting in their bedroom or sitting in the living room watching Ed Sullivan.

On those nights I kneeled at the window and waved him away. He’d take a drag on his cigarette, blow a stream of smoke into the dark and blow me a kiss before he left with a shrug and a smirk. When I could slip away I always made sure I wasn’t wearing shoes and I tip-toed across the floor, skipping the boards I knew squeaked.

The mornings after we met I was always tired, but I knew Mama thought it was because I’d been up late reading.

“When I started singing it made my dad angry and I liked that,” Hank said one night as we sat under the maple. “He never liked anything I did. I didn’t even cry the night he kicked me out. I was glad to finally be free. I was only 16 at the time.”

He flicked a leaf at the ground and stared at it wistfully.

“Where did you go?” I asked.

“I went to live with my grandma at first, but then she died so I found a place in town and got a job,” he said. “I won’t lie that I miss my mama and grandma a bit – at least their cooking, but I’m doing al’right on my own. I can cook a mean can of beans.”

He laughed and I laughed with him.

“I saw you with your mama at church on Sunday,” I told him.

He nodded.

“She asked me to take her so I did. The old man never does anymore. Too busy drinking on Saturday night to get up early on Sunday morning. I’m not much for that religion stuff, but I’ll go for mama.”

I could tell he seemed interested in changing the subject by the way his gaze drifted to the field lit by the dim light of the moon.

“So, what new books you been reading?” he asked.

“I started reading Catcher in the Rye,” I said with a shrug. “Mrs. Libby at the library gave it to me, but I don’t know what I think about it. It’s about this kid who is sort of depressed all the time and rebelling against his parents. It’s kind of new I guess.”

Hank grinned.

“Maybe you’re not sure you like it because it’s too close to how your life is right now,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean – aren’t you rebelling against your parents by being out here with me?” he asked. “Maybe you’re a little like that guy in the book.”

I shook my head.

“I’m nothing like him,” I said. “I’m not that depressed or moody.”

He was smiling at me.

“Well, most of the time,” I admitted, thinking how I had yelled at Edith that morning to stop stealing my clothes. “But I love my parents. It’s just – I don’t know – sometimes they try to tell me what I’m going to be and I don’t like that.”

“They try to live their lives through you,” Hank said. “It’s a parent thing. I was lucky. My dad just hated me. He’s never cared what I did with my life. And Mama is too afraid of Daddy to care much about what I do. I think that’s easier because now I just live my own life. I don’t have to answer to anyone but me and most of the time I don’t even answer to me.”

I looked at him again, watching as he pulled leaves off the tree while leaning against the fence post. He was wearing a white undershirt with a plaid button up shirt over it and a pair of faded blue jeans and black dress shoes. His hair was long in the front. While we talked he pushed his hand through his hair and pushed the longer strands back on his head and I could see his eyes better.

Even though the moon was only a quarter moon and the light by the old shed was dim, I could see how beautiful the shape of his mouth was.  I hated how I wished he was kissing me again. I felt silly and childish at the way my stomach felt like butterflies were alive in my belly as I studied him.

“Why do you care what I’m reading anyhow?” I asked.

“Because I like to know what you like,” he said and shrugged. “I don’t read a lot so I like to know what kind of stories spark your interest. Plus, if you tell me all about what is in those books, then I don’t have to take the time to read them. More time for singing and playing and dancing with pretty girls.”

He noticed my eyes dropped to the ground when he mentioned dancing with pretty girls.

“Now, don’t you worry, little Chatterbox. I’m only dancing for fun. I’d much rather be dancing with you, but you won’t come with me.”

I shifted my weight from one leg to the other.

“You know I can’t –“ I said, softly. “My parents –“

He sighed. “I know, I know. Your parents would blow a gasket. But I don’t get it. What have they got against me anyhow? I’ve never done anything to them. They don’t even know me.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Daddy just said you like a lot of women and aren’t good to be around.”

Hank threw a handful of leaves at the ground and laughed.

“Yeah, I like women. I like a lot of women,” he was smiling and watching me as he moved closer to me. “And right now, I like the woman who is right in front of me.”

I didn’t close my eyes until his mouth was on mine. I loved the smell of him. I loved how his hands felt when they fell to my waist and pulled me against him. I loved when he deepened the kiss and slid his hands into my hair.

“You feel good, Blanche,” he whispered against my ear, his hands slipping up to the middle of my back, then starting to slide down.

I pushed his hands away and stepped back from him.

He cleared his throat.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “Sometimes my hands get away from me. It just felt right to move them there.”

“I know, but I don’t want to – to –“

“And I won’t ask you to,” he said, his finger under my chin, gently lifting my face to look at him. “I won’t. You hear? Not until I put a ring on that finger and the preacher says we’re married.”

Ring? Married? I was surprised by his use of the words. They held a heaviness in them I wasn’t ready for. I still had another year of school and I knew Daddy would never let me marry him.

I nodded silently and he kissed me again.

“Hey. I was thinking. Let’s meet somewhere else one day,” he said, still holding me. “Can you sneak out on a Saturday? I’ll drive us to town and we can watch a movie.”

“I don’t know. What if someone sees us together?” I asked.

“We’ll go in separately. You meet me in the back when the lights go off.”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on. It will be fun. Don’t you want to have some fun once in a while?”

I did want to have some fun. It was time someone had fun besides Edith and the characters in my books.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said.

“I’ll meet you at the bottom of the hill in my truck about 6:15. Wear your best dress. Tell your Daddy you’re going to Bible study or something.”

I laughed softly because I knew Daddy would believe me about the Bible study, but then I felt guilty about even considering lying to my daddy.

“I’ll try,” I said as he kissed my neck.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “Now get your butt back inside before your parents catch us and your daddy shoots me.”

His hand slapped my bottom as I turned to run toward the house. I looked over my shoulder and smiled. He was smiling back.

I’d never felt so alive.

Fiction Friday: A Story To Tell Chapter Five

Welcome to Fiction Friday, where I share a piece of fiction I’m working on.  Right now I’m in the middle of sharing a story I’m developing into a novel.
IF you haven’t been following along, or need to remind yourself of the previous parts of the story, I’ve provided links to the other parts below:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Don’t want to click from chapter to chapter? Find the book in full on Kindle HERE. 


 

Lisa R. Howeler

I loved the smell of books. I loved the feel of them in my hands. My favorite place to be, if I wasn’t in my room reading, was in the library, curled up against a bookcase in the fiction section. I fell into new and mysterious worlds when I was reading. My boring life faded away into someone else’s adventure. I spent so many days wishing the boring away.

Edith didn’t like to read. She found her excitement in the real world. We were the complete opposite for so many years. She liked her dark hair to be curled and each curl to be in its place. She liked her clothes to be the latest in fashion and to hug her curves, but not too close, so there was at least a little left to the imagination of the boys who watched her when she walked by.

She was confident and frequently had a smart or a flirty remark on the tip of her tongue.

I was the quiet, sometimes painfully shy younger sister she and her friends didn’t know how to talk to. I give Edith credit, though – she tried her best to pull me forward in life, encouraging, or rather nagging, me to experience more than a simple story in a book.

“Daddy, can Blanche and I go to the matinee while you finish your paperwork at the office?” Edith looked at Daddy and batted her eyes, chin on her folded hands.

Daddy didn’t always fall for Edith’s little eye flutters but on this particular day he must have decided she looked a lot like the little girl he used to bounce on his knee because he agreed.

“I’ll drop you off at 2 and you’d better be out front when the movie ends,” Daddy said.

Edith and I agreed.

“And what’s playing anyhow?” He asked.

“‘The Harder They Fall,’ with Humphrey Bogart,” Edith told him.

Daddy was a big fan of Humphrey Bogart. Edith knew he’d have a hard time saying ‘no’ to letting us see Boggie.

“I like that Humphrey Bogart,” Daddy said from behind his newspaper. “He’s a man’s man.”

And he was a man’s man that day on the big screen too. I couldn’t take my eyes off him but Edith’s eyes were on Jimmy Sickler a row over from us, sitting with Annie Welles. I couldn’t read the expression on Edith’s face. It seemed to switch back and forth between angry and hurt.

“I loved it. What did you think?” I asked Edith at the end as we filed to the front of the theater to wait for Daddy.

Edith shrugged.

“It was okay, I guess.”

I knew she’d missed half of it watching Jimmy and Annie.

“Hey, Edith.”

Jimmy’s voice made my sister look up sharply and I saw fire in her eyes. I only liked drama in my books and wished I wasn’t standing between them. Edith’s gaze trailed to Annie standing next to Jimmy, patting her hair into place. Her tense expression quickly softened and she smiled.

“Well, hello, James,” she said sweetly. “Did you two enjoy the movie?”

“We did,” Jimmy said. “Thanks for asking. You’re looking nice this afternoon.”

He turned his attention to me. “Hey there, Blanche. Some sister time, huh?”

His smile was sweet. I always thought Jimmy was one of the most polite boys Edith went out with. His brown hair was always combed neatly to one side and his bright blue eyes were captivating.

I nodded and smiled.

“Did you like the movie?”

“I did. I like Humphrey Bogart a lot.”

I knew I had no idea how to talk to boys and looked at the sidewalk to avoid Jimmy’s gaze, hoping he wouldn’t ask me anymore questions.

I could see Daddy’s Oldsmobile coming down the street toward the theater.

“You two have a good day,” Edith winked at Jimmy and her voice was even sweeter than before, almost too sweet, like sugar on top of a sugar cookie.

She leaned close to Jimmy, hand on his shoulder, mouth close enough to his ear to graze his skin and whispered. I could see Annie’s face just beyond Jimmy’s left shoulder. Her dark red lipstick made her pursed lips look like a cherry on its’ stem and her eyelids were half closed in a furious glare.

I cringed inwardly at Edith’s embarrassing display.

Jimmy’s cheeks and ears flushed pink and he looked as embarrassed as I felt. Edith’s hand slid down his bare arm as she backed away and then a slight smirk tilted her lips as she glanced at the stewing Annie.

Jimmy reached his arm back to pull Annie close to him, his jaw tight.

“Good to see you ladies,” he said curtly as he stepped past us.

Edith’s smile had faded into a scowl and by the time we slid into the backseat of the car the scowl was fading into obvious hurt.

“Good movie?” Daddy asked.

“Oh yes! You’ll love it,” I told him. “You should take Mama next weekend.”

Daddy and I chatted about the movie while Edith sulked, one leg crossed over the other, her foot bouncing and her arms folded across her chest. She snapped the door open and slammed it closed when we pulled up to the house, stomping up the front steps.

Daddy raised his eyebrows and looked at me questioningly.

I shrugged.

“Boy troubles,” I said.

Daddy shook his head. His eyebrows furrowed slightly into a scowl

“That girl and those boys.”

Now it was his turn to look sour as he climbed out of the car.

“I don’t know why I even go out with the boys around here,” Edith said when I walked into our room. She tossed her sweater on her bed. “They don’t really like me. They don’t really want to know me or what I think or what I feel.”

She flopped back on the bed, laying on her back and starring at the ceiling.

“What do you mean? All the boys love you,” I said, confused.

“They don’t love me. They love what I give them,” Edith said.

I saw tears in her eyes.

A chill cut through me.

“What do you mean what you give them?” I asked nervously.

Edith blew her nose into her handkerchief and folded her knees up against her chest.

“Edith…you aren’t giving those boys – I mean, you’re not really…” I felt sick to my stomach.

Edith had her head on her knees and wouldn’t look at me.

“Not everything,” she mumbled. “Just enough to keep them coming for more.”

I sat on my bed and didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure what “just enough” was and didn’t even want to know what “more” was. Mama said I didn’t need to know what men and women did when they were alone, besides kissing, but I’d heard a lot what “it” was at school, in books, and from Emmy, who had an older brother.

“Why do you need them to like you so much?” I asked softly.

Edith shrugged. “I don’t need them to like me, but I like them to,” she said. “It’s nice to be adored and paid attention to, you know?”

“Mama and Daddy love you and – “

Edith snorted. “Please. Daddy likes you more than me. You’re smarter and do better in school and he knows you’ll do something with your life. I’ll just be a hairdresser.”

I rolled my eyes. “That’s not true. You can be whatever you want to be. Times are different than when Mama was a girl,” I said. “Besides, Mama thinks I’ll just stay home and be a housewife. She doesn’t think I can be anything else.”

Edith wiped the tears off her cheeks with the back of her hand.

“You’re going to be more than a housewife. Don’t you let them tell you what you can be,” she said. “I’m just not good enough to be anything other than someone who cuts hair and files nails and I know that. And by the way, getting attention from your parents is way different than getting it from a cute boy. Someday you’ll understand that.”

I laid on my side on my bed and leaned on my arm.

“Are you and Jimmy even going steady?” I asked.

Edith laid there in silence for a few moments and sighed.

“I don’t know. We’ve never discussed it. But – I guess I thought we were. I guess I didn’t realize how much I liked him until I saw him with that silly Annie Welles. I just thought – I guess I thought if I reminded him what I could give him that Little Miss Prude won’t he’d want to forget about her.”

Edith wiped her hand across her face.

I flopped back on my bed on my back.

We both laid there for a few moments in silence.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a hairdresser,” I said finally. “They make women look pretty and they get to gossip all day.”

Edith laughed softly, sat up, and drew her hands down over her hair to straighten it.

“Well, those are two things I enjoy so maybe it won’t be so bad,” she said and smiled.

I sat up to look at her.

“Maybe Jimmy’s different than the other boys, Edith. Maybe he doesn’t only want one thing.”

Edith rolled her eyes and slid the record player from under her bed.

“All boys want that one thing from girls. Another lesson you’ll learn as you get older.”

She paused as she lifted a box of chocolates off her nightstand.

“Blanche? You know you don’t have to give it to them right?”

“Give them what?” I asked feigning innocence.

“You know what, Blanche. Don’t play games with me. You’ve got more going for you than I do. You don’t have to – well, you know – there’s a lot more reasons for a boy to like you.”

I touched her hand and she looked at me.

“There are a lot more reasons for a boy to like you too, Edith,” I said.

She looked away from me, and smiled a little as she shook her head.

“You’re too nice, Blanche.”

She placed a Frank Sinatra record on the turn table and we ate chocolate and spent the rest of the afternoon talking about boys we thought were cute and the newest fashions she’d read about at her beauty classes.

It took her mind off Jimmy Sickler and Annie Welles and my mind off my sister basing her worth off what a man thought of her.

“I’ll never be like her,” I told myself, not knowing then that we often become who we don’t want to be.

Fiction in Progress: A Story to Tell Part III

This is part III of a fiction story I’m working on called “A Story to Tell”.  You can find Part I HERE and part II HERE

Don’t want to click from chapter to chapter? Find the book in full on Kindle HERE. 


 

Mama went to quilting club in the church basement on Tuesday nights. She usually took me and if Edith wasn’t in class she went too.

I didn’t like to sow. I wasn’t any good at it and often pricked my finger on the needles.

“So, Blanche. What do you think you’ll do after graduation?” Millie Baker asked me as she pulled the thread through her quilt piece.

“I really don’t know,” I answered honestly.

I hadn’t thought of what I’d do after graduation. It was a year away and I was just trying to survive my junior year. The only thing I liked to do was read and write but I couldn’t make a living reading and I’d never shown anyone anything I’d written before.

“I think she’d do well as a secretary,” Alice Bouse said with a smile. “She enjoys writing and I could see her typing away on a typewriter pretty easily.”

Fran Tressel nodded approvingly.

“I could see her doing that as well,” she said. “She’d be personable and easy to talk to.”

Other women around the circle nodded and murmured in agreement, talking about me as if I wasn’t there or have my own mind to make up.

“It’s not a bad profession,” Jan Spencer said with a grin.

Jan was the secretary for the school district superintendent and the rumor was she was paid generously for her work. I chose to ignore other rumors about Jan’s close friendship with the assistant superintendent, one that his wife didn’t appreciate.

“And just remember, hon’ there is no rush on gettin’ married,” Betty Bundle said, chewing gum and randomly licking her finger so she could pull apart fabric to stretch out and cut for her project.

Betty’s dirty blond, bleached hair was always piled on top of her head in a messy bun and her earrings were so big they looked like golf balls hanging from her ear lobes. She was a waitress at the local diner and she didn’t have every Tuesday off but if she did she was at sewing club, making me feel like I wasn’t alone with my lack of sewing talent.

“She doesn’t need to worry about that. She isn’t even dating,” Mama said.

My face felt hot. It was true, but there was no need for her share it with all the women in the sewing circle.

“No? A cute little thing like you? I can’t imagine why you don’t have the boys falling all over you,” Betty said holding a stretch of fabric up in front of her and scrunching her face in disgust at the mistake she’d made.

The women were busily sewing, some at machines, some by hand. Millie was shaking her head at the mistake she’d made in her quilt block.

“It’s just not like it was when we were young,” she said. “Young girls today have some time before they have to find a husband and start having kids. Don’t be like that Jenkins girl, Blanche.”

There were a few clicks of the tongues and “mmhmms” from the gathered women.

“I don’t even think she’d turned 16 when she had that baby,” Alice Simms said. “Her whole life had to be put on hold. Just a shame. And now she’s just popping them out like candy.”

“What’s she up to now? Four? Good grief. She’s just ruining her figure,” Doris Landry said with a snort.

“Well, at least she loves them,” I said.

I looked around the room worried about the reaction I would receive from such a comment during a full on complaining session. I didn’t usually speak out but it came out before I’d even fully thought it through. A few of the women glanced at me in surprise. The rest simply nodded as they knitted and sowed, showing they agreed with what I’d said.

“I mean, she cares for them. And they seem to love her too,” I said softly, looking back at my disaster of a project. “I’m sure it’s not easy but – well, maybe it’s worth it at the end of the day.”

Betty winked at me.

“That’s a good point, Blanche. It really is,” she said. “She seems pretty happy – even with starting so early and with that Billy Tanner not giving her much of a life with his job as a farm hand.”

A few of the other women nodded in agreement while some scowled disapprovingly at the mention of Billy. They seemed pleased to push the blame on Billy for the situation now instead of Annie.

“I was 15 when I had my first baby,” 80-year old Jessie Reynolds said quietly from the rocking chair at the end of the row of women. “but that was a long time ago. I was a baby with a baby. That’s the way it was done back then. It wasn’t too shocking for a girl to get married at 14. Our parents couldn’t always afford to take care of us and if a good man could, then we were married off.”

“I would not have enjoyed living back then,” Emily Langer said with a shake of her head. “I can’t imagine being married off to some dirty old man.”

“My man wasn’t dirty at all,” Jessie said with a small laugh. “He was the sweetest man I’d ever met. But I’m sure there were many marriages that weren’t as pleasant as ours.”

Jessie looked at me.

“Blanche, honey, you’re smart. You know that and we all know it. You don’t have to rush into family right away,” she leaned forward, put her hand on mine and smiled. “You take your time. Find a career that will make you happy and see what the world is all about before you rush into getting married and having babies, okay?”

I nodded. I didn’t want any kids right now or maybe even ever. I’d never even babysat one and didn’t like the smell of them. Not only that but their noses were always runny and sometimes they puked for no reason at all.

“Oh, Blanche is probably going to stay home with me for awhile after graduation anyhow,” Mama said. “She can help me at home until she decides on a man to marry. I think she’ll be a housewife, just like me.”

Mama smiled at me and I didn’t know whether to smile back or not. I tried to smile and then looked back at the quilt pieces on my lap and wondered if I really wanted to be just like Mama – an obedient wife who spent most of her days cooking and cleaning and her nights volunteering for the church rummage sale or at the sewing and quilting club.

I didn’t want to rush into a marriage, but I also didn’t want to be stuck in this town my whole life. A career that would take me to adventure sounded good to me.

I felt a bit of annoyance as well at the idea that Mama had already planned my life out for me and the rest of the women seemed to want to do the same. It was my life anyhow. What say did they have in it? I pushed the needle in and out of the fabric aggressively as I thought and then mumbled a curse word under my breath when the needle dug into my fingertip again.

“What’s that, Blanche?” Jessie asked.

“I was just telling my thread and needled to cooperate,” I said forcing a smile.

I sucked the blood off my finger and vowed to find a way to get out of sewing group the next week.

*******

It was a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in May when I saw Hank again. I hadn’t seen him in four months. Mama wanted me to pick up milk and eggs at the supermarket for her while she looked for material for a new summer dress at Missy’s Sew and Fabric across the street.

The wide aisles of the small, family-owned supermarket were almost empty and I shivered in the refrigerator section. When I pulled the milk off the shelf and turned around, I gasped at the sight of him standing in the aisle, hat tipped back, a toothpick in one corner his mouth and a few strands of light brown hair laying across his forehead. He grinned and took the toothpick out of his mouth. His green eyes were bright with amusement.

“Hey there, Blanche,” he laughed as he spoke. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

The one corner of his mouth tilted a little higher than the other when he smiled

I hated the way the sight of him made my heart pound in my chest, how the sight of that crooked smile made my knees feel weak. I hated that I noticed again how beautiful his eyes were. I knew my face had flushed pink under his gaze.

I stepped around him without responding, too embarrassed to speak, knowing Daddy wouldn’t want me to, but he followed me to the eggs.

“Making a cake?” he asked.

“No,” I kept my eyes on the eggs, on the floor, anywhere but on him.

“I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.

I’d been thinking about him too but I didn’t want him to know that.

“When can I see you again?” he asked.

I didn’t answer but still he followed me.

“Can I swing by tonight?”

He kept talking as I walked, trailing behind me. “I’ll throw a rock at your window. If you want to see me, come out so we can talk.”

I hurried to the cashier with my heart pounding and a rush of butterflies in my stomach. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t excited that he wanted to see me. I tried to tell myself I didn’t care.

When the rock hit my window that night, I laid there for a long time with the moonlight pouring in on my bed. I did want to see him, but I remembered what daddy had said. What if it all was true? If it was true then why was Hank picking me to talk to? I wasn’t special like all those other girls.

I wasn’t even pretty. My brown hair frizzed in the humidity unless I kept it tied back in a pony tail. My skin was almost always pale, except the dark circles that seemed to always show up under my eyes in the spring. I was scrawny and my hips seemed to just fall in a straight line, unlike Edith’s that curved seductively and made every dress look attractive on her. If all that wasn’t bad enough, I wore thick black glasses when reading or at school.

I rolled to my side, my arms under my head, squeezing my eyes closed tight, thinking.

What if daddy saw me sneaking out into the darkness? I knew he’d be furious. And what if I fell for Hank and then found out it had all been a joke he’d set up with his friends so he could make fun of me? I wrestled with my thoughts in the darkness, opening my eyes, staring at the blue glow of the moonlight casting a patch of light on the rug on the floor by the window.

I heard the clink of another rock against the window and looked at Edith. She was still asleep.

I tiptoed to the window, looking out at him looking up at me, waiting. He grinned and waved from the side yard, standing next to mama’s rose bush. I took a deep breath and decided to quickly find out what he wanted, then run right back to bed.

I raised myself on my tip toes, moving slowly across the floor, past Mama and Daddy’s closed bedroom door, pressing my back against the stairwell wall to avoid steps I knew would creak under me.

Hank took my hand as I stepped off the porch, leading me across the yard and down through the field to the maple tree before he spoke.

“Hey, girl, I knew you’d come out,” he said with a small smirk, still holding my hand as he turned around.

“I don’t know why you’d even want to talk to me,” I said softly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m not anyone special.”

“You’re special to me,” he said. “I like you. You’re sweet, smart, and I know if we start talking you’ll open right up to me – like a rose in bloom.”

My hand felt small and sweaty in his.

“I want to know more about you,” he said, squeezing my hand. “Like what do you want to do when you get out of this town? What do you do for fun? You ever been to a movie? I know you don’t dance but do you ever want to?”

He was talking softly, standing close to me. I heard genuine interest in his questions. I shifted nervously and cleared my throat.

“I ..uh…I like to read,” I said, feeling stupid, kicking at the dirt with my shoe, head down. “I like movies – like anything with Ingrid Bergman or Cary Grant. Sometimes Daddy takes us to the theater. I don’t know about dancing. I’m not good at it.”

“How do you know you’re not good at it if you’ve never tried?”

I shrugged.

I decided I should try to be polite and ask him a few questions as well.

“Where’d you learn to play guitar like that?”

“From my uncle,” he said, letting go of my hand and searching the front pocket of his jacket for a cigarette. “He was in a band and showed me how to play when I was just a tot.”

He leaned against the tree, lighting the cigarette. The spark of the flame lit his face briefly and I felt my heart pounding faster as I caught a glimpse of his eyes, his lashes dark and long.

“ I feel free when I play, you know? I don’t have to make anyone happy,” he said. “I just have to play that music and let it take me out of my head and out of that room and out of this crappy little town.”

He folded his arms across his chest, watching me.

“What about you, Chatterbox?” He asked. “You don’t want to spend your whole life here, do you?”

I knew I didn’t want to always live in this village, in the midst of farms and not much else, but I didn’t feel like I could say it. I wanted to go to all those places I read about in my books at night, huddled under the covers with a flashlight. I’d never told anyone about my dreams and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

“Come on, now, be honest with me,” he said. “There is more out there for you isn’t there? I’ve heard about you from my little brother and his friends. They say you like to read. What do you read about?”

I looked up at him and wondered why he wanted to know anything about me.

“I read about places far away,” I heard myself blurt out the words and realized no one except Emmy, and maybe Mama, had ever acted interested in what I thought. “I read about adventures far away. I love anything with a good story and maybe a –“

My gaze fell to the grass, glistening silver in the moonlight.

“A good romance,” I said, embarrassed I had admitted my affection for romantic stories in front of someone who probably knew more about romance than I ever would.

Hank laughed softly and blew a long trail of smoke into the darkness.

“I like a good romance,” he said, smirking and looking me up and down .

I felt my face grow hot under his gaze. I shifted my weight nervously from one foot to the other and twirled a strand of hair around my finger.

“Why you looking so shy, Chatterbox? Hasn’t any boy ever acted interested in you?”

I shook my head.

“No. Never.”

“Well, they must be blind. Those boys are missing out and they don’t even know it.”

“I’m a nerd.” I shrugged. “I don’t dance and I don’t flirt and I don’t dress all up like Edith and those other girls.”

He laughed then remembered he was supposed to be quiet and glanced quickly at the house. After a few seconds of watching the dark house to make sure no lights came on, he grinned at me.

“All those other girls are just putting on an act,” he whispered. “ Don’t you let them intimidate you. Besides that might be what little boys look for in a girl but it’s not what men look for.”

He tossed the cigarette down and stepped closer to me.

“You’re a pretty little thing, Blanche,” he said softly. “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not. Shoot. I couldn’t take my eyes off you at the dance that night.”

He pushed my hair back from my face and I looked up at him.

“I still can’t,” he said softly.

My muscles tensed as he cupped my cheek in his hand. I wanted to run away and hide but I wanted to stay right where I was at the same time.

I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of his skin against my cheek. I kept my eyes closed as I felt his mouth graze my forehead and then my cheek and then my lips. He pulled back slightly then leaned close again and covered my mouth with his, gently, as he slid his arm around me and pulled me against him. The kiss lingered for a few moments before I felt panic rush through me.

I pulled away quickly and shivered.

“I have to go inside now. Before my parents – “

He was watching me with a smile and my heart was pounding.

“Can I see you again?” he asked.

“Yes. I mean no. I mean – I don’t know.”

The grass was moist with dew as I ran back toward the house and gingerly opened the front door so I wouldn’t wake anyone. Upstairs I slid my shoes off and crawled into bed, still in my dress. I pulled the covers around me and tried to stop shivering. When I closed my eyes I could still feel his arms around me and his lips against mine.