Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 30

As promised, here is another chapter, or part of one, for a special fiction Saturday. I know there are many of us who would love a distraction from the news right now.

To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE. I posted Chapter 29, yesterday.




Chapter 30

A sob choked out of Alex, bile rising into his throat.

“Oh, God, no.”

He fell to the ground next to Robert gently touching his shoulder, dragging in a ragged breath.

He leaned closer. “Robert, I’m going to get this tractor off you. You’re going to be okay.”

Robert swallowed hard and blinked his eyes. It was Alex’s first indication he was still alive.

The saturated ground must have given away under Robert, tipping the tractor into the ravine, onto its side, trapping him underneath it.

Robert tried to raise his hand, but it fell again to his side. “Alex. . .”

Alex shook his head. He had to get this tractor off Robert. He had to find out where the blood was coming from. He could tell by Robert’s labored breathing he wouldn’t last much longer if he couldn’t draw a deeper breath. The tractor was crushing his sternum and ribcage.

“Don’t talk. I’ll be right back. I need a lever or something to help me get this off you.”

Robert shook his head weakly. “Too . . .heavy.”

Alex reached for his phone in his back pocket.

It wasn’t there.

He ran to the truck, searching the front seat frantically. He cursed, remembering he’d left it at the house that morning. Running to the barn he ripped the door open and ran inside, looking for something he could wedge under the tractor to lift it.

He found a 2×4 and hooked it under his arm, dragging back to the tractor. Wedging it under the hood of the tractor, which was now embedded into the soil that had been softened by the recent rain, he pushed down on it, let up when he realized it wasn’t in the group deep enough and wedged it further down.

“Alex . . .”

He ignored Robert as he shoved the end of the 2×4 deeper into the ground. The wind had picked up and rain began to pelt his face. When he thought the board was wedged in deep enough, he pushed down, relieved as the tractor began to rise. He realized he wasn’t sure what he was going to do once he got the tractor up off the ground, if he even could, but it was a start.

The crack of the board under the weight of the tractor sounded like a gunshot.

Alex closed his eyes against the pain as the jagged end of the broken board ripped across his ribcage and sliced a gash into his flesh. He was afraid to open his eyes again and see that he had hurt Robert worse in his impatience.

He held his arm across his side and quickly crawled to Robert, leaning over so he could block his face from the rain.

“Are you okay?”                                            

“Alex, stop.” Robert’s voice was barely audible. “Listen . . . please.”

Alex started to stand again. “I’m going to go get help, Robert.”

Robert weakly grabbed Alex’s arm. “Listen to me.”

Alex leaned closer, tears stinging his eyes. “I don’t have time to —”

Robert’s words gasped out in short bursts as he tried to drag air into his lungs. “If I . . . don’t make it  . . .” He grimaced and dragged a breath in sharply. “I need you . . . and Jason to take care of Annie . . . and Molly.”

Alex shook his head. “Robert, you’re going to be fine. Don’t talk like that.”

Robert swallowed hard, gasping in a breath. “But if I don’t …”

 Alex shook his head again. “Not talking about it. You’re going to be fine.”

“Alex,” Robert grabbed his wrist tightly with all the strength he had left. “Please. Promise . . .”

Alex tightened his jaw, fighting back emotion. “I promise, Robert. I promise I’ll take care of Molly and Annie, but you’re going to be there to help me.”

The sound of a truck brought Alex’s head up. His heart rate increased at the sight of Molly pulling her truck in behind his.

“It’s Molly, she’ll —”

“No.”  Robert’s words came out in short gasps. “Don’t  . . . .let her  . . . see me like . . . this. Stop her.”

Alex ran full force up the hill as Molly started walking toward him. Her face fell as soon as she saw him.

“Alex! You’re bleeding! What happened?”

He grabbed her by the shoulders. “I’m fine, but I need you to go to the house. Okay? Call an ambulance on the way and then get Jason.”

“What’s going on?” Molly strained to look around him. “Where’s my dad?”

He cradled her face in his hands. “Molly, look at me.”

Panic flashed across her face as she gripped his upper arms. “Alex, is my dad under that tractor?”

“Molly —”

“Alex! Tell me!”

She tried to pull away. “Daddy!”

Alex tightened his hands on her face. “Molly! Look at me!”

Tears filled her eyes as she focused her gaze on his. Her eyes pleaded for him to tell her that her dad wasn’t under the tractor. He wished he could tell her that.

“Your dad is talking to me. That’s a good sign. I need you to call an ambulance and then I need you to call Jason and tell him to get down here. Then go back to the house and wait with your mom. Got it? Your dad doesn’t want you here, okay?” Her eyes darted away from his briefly, back toward the tractor. He moved closer to her, his hands still on her face. “Do you understand?”

Molly nodded slowly, taking a deep breath, choking back a sob. “Okay.”

“Go.”

As Molly ran toward her truck. Alex ran to the barn, searching for something to protect Robert from the rain. He found a tarp, pulling it across the tires of the tractor until it made a tent over the man who had taught him more about life than anyone else, other than his grandfather. Robert’s breaths were shallow, his eyes closed.

Alex shivered, his clothes soaked from the rain hitting him like ice pellets. Glancing at his ripped shirt he grimaced at the sight of dark red blood oozing from a deep gash across his ribs and upper abdomen. Searing pain pulsated through him as he propped the tarp up, the movement stretching the wound open further.

“You’re bleeding,” Robert said softly.

Alex shrugged a shoulder. “I’m fine.  No more talking. Save your air for breathing, okay?”

Robert’s eyelids closed as he nodded slowly.

It seemed like an eternity before Alex heard Jason’s truck pulled in next to his.

“Alex?! Dad?!”

Alex stepped around the tractor. “Down here!”

Jason stared at his father’s motionless form for a brief second before ripping the tarp back and propping his hands against the tractor’s mud covered back tire.

“Get on the other side!” He shouted at Alex to be heard over the rain. “Push when I tell you to!”

“What if the tractor falls again?” Alex shouted back.

“Just push!”

Metal and rocks sliced at Jason and Alex’s hands as they pushed until the tractor rolled back enough that it wasn’t laying on Robert anymore. Alex dragged a hand across his face to try to see through the rain, a sick ache clutching at his stomach at the way Robert’s legs were grotesquely twisted away from each other.

The blaring squeal of an ambulance siren drowned out Jason’s voice as he fell to the ground to speak to Robert. Alex didn’t need to know what Jason was saying. Whatever it was, it was between a father and son. He turned his face away, choking back emotion as he heard bits and pieces  between the blares of the siren.

“Jason . . .”

“Save your energy, Dad. We’ll talk at the hospital.”

“Jason.” Robert struggled to draw a breath in. “I love you.”

Jason’s voice broke as he spoke. “I love you too, Dad. You’re going to be fine, okay?”

Alex and Jason both stepped back as several local volunteer fire fighters pulled in behind the ambulance, jumping out of their trucks and rushing across the soaked field, two of them almost falling as their feet slipped in the mud. Tarps were expertly erected to protect them and Robert from the rain.

Alex recognized most of the men, many of whom Jason had introduced him to over the years; former classmates of Jason’s, local business owners who also served as volunteer fire fighters, even the mayor of Spencer.

After they examined Robert, assessing the extent of his injuries, several of the fire fighters and the EMTs gathered around him and Robert quickly, yet somehow still gently, from the ground to a backboard. From there they carried him toward the back of the ambulance, doing their best to shield him from the rain,

Molly’s truck pulled in behind Alex’s as the EMT’s reached the back of the ambulance, Annie rushing from the passenger side. Her hair, usually pulled up on top of her head, had fallen loose and was soaked, matted against her face.

One hand reached toward the ambulance, another holding her sweater closed. “Robert!”

Alex turned quickly and met her, his arms grasping her against his chest as she strained to reach the stretcher. She sobbed, clutching Alex’s arms, straining against him, her face streaked with tears and raindrops.

“Annie!” one of the EMTs shouted over the sound of the rain and the growl of the ambulance engine. “Robert’s asking for you. You can ride with us.”

Alex let Annie go and watched through the tears he’d been trying hard to hold back as she stumbled toward the back of the ambulance. He dragged a blood covered hand across his cheek to wipe tears and raindrops from his face and saw Molly as she turned away from the scene, her face pale, hand pressed against her mouth, and eyes wide.

He took a step, reached out for her, and then collapsed as blackness stretched across his vision.

***

Visions of her dad’s pale face against the white sheet of the stretcher in the back of the ambulance merged with visions of Alex lying unconscious at her feet, bleeding from his stomach and side. This morning she’d woke up simply looking forward to lunch with her best friend. The day had spiraled out of control very fast starting with Jessie and now here she was, 8 hours later, sitting next to her brother in his pickup, speeding toward the hospital behind two ambulances, one carrying her father, the other carrying the man she’d fallen in love with.

She’d used up most of her tears and now sat staring through the windshield with bloodshot eyes, feeling numb and emotionally spent.

“You okay?”                                                                                        

She glanced at Jason. “I don’t know. You?”

Her brother laughed softly. “Hardly.”

They drove in silence for a few more moments, the sound of tires on the pavement humming a rhythm.

Jason cleared his throat. “So, what did I walk in on today with you and Alex?”

Molly rolled her eyes and leaned her head against the window. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Did he screw it up already?”

Molly glared. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Jason shrugged. “It’s just Alex. He screws up stuff sometimes.”

“We just had to talk about something I’d heard,” Molly said with a sigh.

“About Jessie Landry?”

She lifted her head and looked at him with raised eyebrows. “How do you know about that?”

He shrugged again. “He told me about it.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he’d brought her back to the house, but told her he couldn’t sleep with her, and she left in a huff.”

“Do you believe him?”

Jason glanced at her, then back to the road. “Yeah, I do. She wasn’t there when I got home from being out with Ellie, and she wasn’t there in the morning. Plus, he was pretty annoyed when I harassed him about it.” A smile flicked across his mouth. “I didn’t know what stopped him then but now I have to wonder . . .” He glanced at her again. “Maybe it was not something, but someone.”

After a couple moments of silence, he glanced at her again. “Do you believe him?”

She sighed, watching houses and farms speed by the window. Alex had already told her it had been someone that had stopped him from sleeping with Jessie and that someone was her.

“Yeah,” she said softly. “I do.”

She tipped her head against the window again, looking out at the ambulance taillights fading in front of them. She closed her eyes briefly and rubbed them, wishing she was in the ambulance with Alex, hoping he was okay. Bradley Lester, one of the ambulance crew who she’d graduated with, had told her he thought it was blood loss that had knocked Alex unconscious, but they’d know more at the hospital.

A thought struck her.

“How did you know about me and Alex?”

The sun had dipped below the horizon and bright red streaked between streaks of yellow.

A slight smile tugged at Jason’s mouth. “I saw you two kissing outside the diner the other day.”

“Oh.”

Jason made a face. “It made me want to throw up.”

Molly laughed at her brother, knowing she shouldn’t, but saying it anyhow. “Not me.”

Jason stuck his tongue out and made a gagging noise. “Yuck.”

 They drove for a few more minutes in silence. They were almost to the hospital.

“Were you mad?”

He grinned. “Heck yeah. I almost punched Alex out. Instead I just shoved him across the diner.”

Molly looked at her brother with wide eyes. “Why did you do that?”

Jason flicked the turn signal for the hospital exit. “Because you’re my sister. Alex is my best friend, but he’s not great with relationships. I didn’t want you to be another casualty to his inability to commit.”

Molly thought about her conversation with Alex that night in the barn. He knew he’d made mistakes in the past. He wanted to change, he’s said, and she couldn’t help but believe him.

“I think he’s trying to change,” she said softly.

“Yeah. He is.” Jason stopped at a stoplight and looked at her. “And you’re the reason why.”

Molly blew out a long breath. “I don’t think I’m —“

“You are, Molly.” The light was still red, and he was still looking at her. “You’re worth any man changing for. Don’t ever doubt that.” He laughed softly as the light flicked to green. “He’s probably going to screw up things from time to time, but he told me he loves you and I believe him, even if it makes me nervous. I promised I’d help him change.”

He grinned as he turned the truck into the hospital driveway. “I also promised I’d beat him to a pulp if he hurts you.”

Molly punched her brother’s shoulder playfully. “Ah, having your brother promise to beat the crap out of someone for you. That’s sibling love right there.”

Jason pulled into the parking lot next to the emergency room entrance and shifted the truck into park. Molly’s mind raced from Alex to her Dad.

“They’re going to be okay, Mol.”

She nodded, blowing out a shaky breath.

“Did you call Ellie?” she asked as they made their way toward the emergency room.

Jason didn’t answer for a few moments. His eyebrows had dipped low, his eyes narrowed. “No. Not yet.”

She looked at him, confused. “Do you want me to call her? I think she’d want to know.”

He shook his head and chewed at the inside of his lip. “No. That’s fine. I’ll call her later. Things are just —” He let out a sigh. “Confusing right now.”

“Confusing how?”

 He shrugged. “Alex isn’t the only one who knows how to screw up a good thing.” He opened the hospital door for her. “Come on. Let’s find Dad and Alex and we can’t talk about my love life another time.”

Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined Chapter 4

Welcome to Chapter 4 of Quarantined. Let me know in the comments if you are following along and what you think should happen next.

Since this is a novella there will be less chapters than the other stories I share on my blog, which will be good for some of you who don’t have time to read a longer story.

To catch up with the story you can click HERE.

Chapter 4

Maddie and Liam hadn’t spoken to each other for four days, other than for her to ask if the doctor had called and him to say ‘not yet,’ and him to ask if she wanted some lunch or dinner and her to say ‘I’ll make my own.’

He’d locked himself in his office, dealing with the fall out for his brother’s delay in quarantining himself after his interaction with the ambassador; writing press releases and using video chat features to do interviews with major news commentators.

She’d locked herself in the bedroom, writing bits and pieces of her novel in between pouring over news sites; scrolling through social media feeds for personal stories from those who had had the virus and were recovering. She wondered if she and Liam would eventually face the same situation, or would they be worse with one of them admitted to an ICU somewhere. Who even knew at this point since he’d lied to her about having the virus in the first place? She should have been happy it wasn’t confirmed, but she was furious he had lied to her and it made her wonder how many more times he’d lied to her.

In the evenings she binged watched Parks and Recreation while eating ice cream or popcorn, grateful she’d stocked up on groceries even before Liam had told her about the quarantine. Liam spent his nights straightening boxes, speaking to his brother through video conferencing and binge-watching Bosch, the crime show about a rugged, hard-edged Los Angeles Police Department detective; just what he needed to distract him from the restlessness he felt.

“So, how’s it going with Maddie?” Matt asked via video messaging on night seven of Liam’s quarantine as he’d leaned back on his couch and cracked open a soda.

His gaze wandered off to one side, toward something behind his computer before Liam could answer. “Tyler. Stop hitting your sister. I don’t ca—you know what, just go outside. In the backyard. You’re allowed to go in the backyard. . . . I don’t know. Hit the ball. Chase the dog. I don’t care. Just get out for a while. Take your sisters with you . . . Hey! I’m still in charge around here. Do what I say!”

He looked back at Liam through the screen. “Fun times over here. I can’t wait until this thing is over.”

Liam scoffed. “It’s only been three days for you, dude. If you can’t handle three days with your wife and kids, you’re in serious trouble.”

Matt grinned. “Yeah. I know. First world problems, right? Anyhow, what’s up with you and Maddie? I see you’re still alive, so she hasn’t stabbed you yet.”

Liam winced and rubbed his hand across the back of his neck. “Not for a lack of wanting to, I’d imagine.” He sat back against the headboard of the bed, arms across his chest. “We had it out the other night. The stuff she accused me of doing — you wouldn’t even believe it. Affairs, spending more time at work than with her, not supporting her after the miscarriages. It was all a bunch of crap.”

“Well?”

Liam scowled at his brother. “Well, what?”

“Did you do those things?”

“You know I didn’t, Matt.”

“Then why is it bothering you so much? Don’t be so defensive. You know you didn’t do anything wrong so let her rant.”

Liam shifted on the bed, focusing his gaze out the window. “I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t support her like I should have after the miscarriages. And she’s pretty accurate about working too much too.”

“And the affairs?” Matt asked.

“No!” Liam snapped, looking back at his brother. “I didn’t have an affair.” He paused, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “I could never do that to Maddie. You know that. We haven’t been getting along, yes, but I . . . I could never hurt her that way.”

He furrowed his eyebrows and leaned closer to the screen of his laptop. “Do you really think I could do that?” he asked his brother.

Matt laughed. “Liam, no, I don’t, and I don’t know if Maddie really does either, but she’s scared. She obviously didn’t feel secure in her relationship with you to think that.”

Liam sighed. “Yeah, well, it’s not like I helped that feeling any. I told her I already had the virus.”

Matt shook his head and rubbed his eyes. “Oh, Liam, Liam. When will you ever learn? Never lie to a woman. When she finds out she thinks that means you’ve never told the truth about anything and you’re really a secret agent whose been living a double life.”

Liam flopped back on the bed and groaned. “I know. I know. I’m an idiot.”

“Yes, you are. Seriously, though, I don’t think you or Maddie really want this divorce. You’re both just afraid to do the work it will take to keep this thing going. It’s going to hurt, little brother, but I think you two need to work things out. I think you still love your wife or what she said to you wouldn’t have hurt so much.”

Liam shook his head and clicked his tongue, rolling to his side and propping himself up on his elbow. “Senator Matthew Grant. The hard-headed, some might say, pig-headed, youngest-ever head of the homeland security committee showing that he’s also a marriage counselor.”

The brothers laughed easily together.

Matt leaned closer to the screen, his expression fading from jovial to more serious. “Liam, lLet me give you some brotherly advice. Make sure this divorce is truly what you want before you sign those papers. You and Maddie have something special. Always have. I don’t want to see you throw this away without really thinking it through, okay?”

Liam let out a long breath, tapping his fingers along the touchpad of the laptop.

Matt pressed him further. “Promise me you’ll think really hard about all of this while you two are locked up in there, okay?”

Liam nodded. “Yeah. Okay. Thanks, Matt.”

The brothers said their goodbyes and Liam closed the laptop and laid back on the bed. The last thing he wanted to do was think long and hard about anything else, especially his marriage. Thinking about it all made him hurt more, but he knew Matt was right. He knew he had to be sure that this divorce was truly what he wanted, not simply something he was doing because he didn’t want to face the tough questions, work through the tough issues. In the end, though, it didn’t matter if he wanted to work through the issues. Maddie had to want to work through them too and if she didn’t, then, well, all this thinking about it all would be completely pointless.

***

With the children in bed, it was just Matt and Cassie alone in the living room. Alone. Together. With a canyon of silence between them.

Matt slumped further down on the couch, drumming his fingers on the cushion. He had no idea what to do with himself without hearings to plan for, committee meetings to gather research for, or statements to draft for the press. He should probably be on the phone with John and Liam, preparing their plan of action for when they got back into the office in the next week or so. He looked at his phone on the end of the couch, but didn’t feel any motivation to reach for it.  In fact, he didn’t feel any motivation at all to deal with his job, especially the press.

He’d already drafted a statement with John. There really wasn’t anything else to say. For now anyhow. He was sure in the next day or so he’d be getting calls from other senators looking to set up virtual meetings to draft various bills or establish plans of action for the current situation, but for now his phone had gone silent and he should enjoy the silence while he could. He would have enjoyed it, if it just wasn’t so weird.

He felt his forehead. Maybe he was coming down with that virus after all. He’d been going full bore at his job for two years straight now, but today he’d finally hit some kind of wall. He wasn’t even motivated to reach for the remote and watch television.

He looked over at Cassie sitting sideways on a chair, her legs hanging over the arm of it, her head bent over a book. She was wearing a pair of hot pink short-shorts, a loose fitting white t-shirt and her hair was falling out of a messy bun she’d piled on top of her head. Her long legs were as shapely and attractive as the first day he’d met her. His eyes followed the length of them from her bare toes to the edge of her shorts and remembered the many times his hand had traveled that path over the years.

Desire swelled in his chest as he thought about the night they’d celebrated his win. She’d worn that black skirt with the slit in the side, the slit that went from the middle of her thigh to her knee. Only she hadn’t even known the skirt had that slit until she was at his victory speech and he’d laughed later in the back of Liam’s car when he had watched her try to hold the pieces together, her cheeks flushed pink. Cassie always was fairly modest in how she dressed and he knew she never would have worn the dress if she hadn’t been rushed. The election results came in earlier than expected and she’d snatched the skirt out of her closet, the skirt she’d purchased a few days before but hadn’t had a chance to try on. She knew Matt’s acceptance speech was going to be closely watched by many since he had run against a long-time senator who had been thrown in the middle of a scandal the year before.

“I can’t believe I wore this skirt to your acceptance speech,” she hissed. “I can imagine what the press will be saying tomorrow.”

“That you’re gorgeous?”

“Or that I’m a floozy.”

Matt tipped his head all the way back and laughed. “A floozy? What happened right there? Did we just teleport back to the 40s?”

Cassie punched Matt in the upper arm, giggling. “Shut up.”

Back at the house, the children staying with Cassie’s parents, Matt had stood behind Cassie as she unhooked her necklace and took her earrings out.

“For what it’s worth,” he said, stepping closer, reaching out to touch the edge of the skirt. “I really like this skirt.”

“Oh, you do, do you?”

His finger found the slit and slipped inside, touching the skin there, on her upper thigh.

His mouth touched her bare neck, his voice husky as he spoke. “All I wanted to do was get back here with you. No kids. All alone. Finally.”

She turned, smiling, sliding her arms around his neck. “And what can we do here, all alone?”

He didn’t need words to answer her question. His mouth found hers while he gently pushed her back toward the bed, lowering her to it.

“You okay over there?”

 Cassie’s voice interrupted the memory of his hand traveling up that leg, under that skirt, that night.

“Huh? Oh yeah. Good. I’m good.”

“You miss work, don’t you?”

“Um. No. Actually. I don’t. And that weirds me out a little.”

“Oh.”

She shrugged and turned back to her book. “This break is probably just showing you how burned out you are.”

“I’m not burned out.”

Cassie was back into her book. “Mmm. If you say so.”

Am I? he wondered

Matt sat up straighter and leaned forward on his knees toward Cassie.

“We haven’t spent a lot of time together lately, have we?

She glanced up from the book, eyebrows raised slightly.

“No. Not really, but you’ve been busy. I understand.”

“Do you want to spend more time together? I mean, maybe you’re bored with me? Our life here together?”

Cassie laughed. “Matt, where is this all coming from?” She closed the book. “Is this because of Liam and Maddie?

Matt shrugged. “Yeah. Maybe. It’s got me thinking a lot, I guess.”

“So? What’s the verdict? Are Liam and Maddie getting a divorce?”

Matt sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, they’ve been meeting with a divorce attorney. The only reason they missed the last meeting was because of this craziness.”

He looked at Cassie, watched her watching him and wondered again if Cassie would ever want to divorce him. If she did, he wouldn’t blame her. He’d dragged her into this crazy political world, under a never-satisfied microscope of public scrutiny. The same with the kids. What had he been thinking? Of his constituents? The future of the country? Or had it really just been of himself and his own desire to reach a certain level of success?

Cassie blew out a breath. “Wow. Now they are stuck together in that house. That has to be super awkward.”

“Yeah. Liam said Maddie accused him of cheating on her.”

Cassie’s eyes widened. “No way.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, did he?”

“Cassie! You know Liam wouldn’t do something like that.”

“I don’t think he would, no, but . . .”

“But what? Men do those things because we’re all jerks, is that what you mean?”

“I’m not saying that but long hours, all those pretty women around, he and Maddie so distant after the miscarriages, especially after the last one.”

Matt was uncomfortable with his wife’s line of thinking. He stood and walked toward the kitchen for a glass of juice. Did Cassie really think his little brother would cheat on Matt? If she thought that then what did she think of him? He’d been working long hours too. Around a lot of pretty women, many of them more than willing to sleep with a senator to work their way up the ladder in their careers. Was Cassie drawing a line between the possibility that Liam had cheated to the possibility he had too?

He poured the juice and heard her footsteps behind him. “I’m sorry, Matt. I really can’t see Liam doing that, no. Your brother has just been under a lot of pressure and —”

“Being under pressure doesn’t lead to affairs, okay? Or not all the time anyhow.”

Cassie raised her eyebrows and held up her hands. “Okay. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight. I was just trying to enjoy a quiet night for once with a book. I’ll leave you alone.”

Matt turned toward her. “Cassie, I didn’t mean to start a fight either. I just —”

“It’s fine.” Cassie walked to him and kissed his cheek. She stepped back and looked him in the eyes. “You just need to unwind. You’ve been put through the ringer by the media, members of congress, and now Liam’s drama. I don’t blame you for being tense. Why don’t you go watch one of your favorite shows? I’m going to turn in early.”

“You don’t need to turn in early.”

Her mind had been made up though. She was weary of discussing Liam and politics and viruses and . . . life, quite frankly.

“I really do need to,” she said softly, already at the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. “See you in the morning, Matt.”

Matt finished his juice and shuffled back to the living room. Watch one of his favorite shows? He didn’t even have any favorite shows. Not current ones anyhow. He never had time to watch television anymore. He sat on the couch and slumped in the corner of it again, even further down this time than before.

He didn’t have time for anything anymore other than political fights and trying to put out fires. He pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. Dang it. What had he been thinking dragging his family through all of this? Just, seriously, what had he been thinking?

He had been thinking he could help people, change things in Washington. Most days, though, he felt like he was a hamster on a wheel in its cage, getting nowhere fast. Maybe he’d made the wrong decision deciding to run for re-election this year. He’d accomplished most of what he’d set out to do to help his constituents and then some, but there were days it was as if those wins were eroded by the opposition until they were losses again.

Laying his arm across his eyes he sighed and tried to think clearly. He needed to decide if this re-election was really what he wanted, for one, but also if it was really what was best for his family.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 34

In case you missed it, I shared Chapter 33 of A New Beginning yesterday. I will be sharing the final chapter in a special Fiction Saturday tomorrow.

In case you missed my short story series, Quarantined, you can find the first part HERE.

You can pick up the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle for $2.99 (or free until April 10 if you have Kindle Unlimited. )

I’ve also been writing a short story called Quarantined about an estranged couple who get stuck in their house together during a “virus outbreak” without really going into what the virus is or much about the situation surrounding it.


Chapter 34

I hooked my braid up on top of my hair with a hair pin, smiling as I saw Judson’s reflection in the mirror grinning at me.

“Need any help?”

“I think I can manage,” I told him with a smile.

He sauntered toward me and placed his hands on my arms. I looked at our reflection together in the mirror, a mix of contentment and excitement rushing through me. I closed my eyes and leaned back against him as he lowered his mouth to my neck.

“Are you sure we have to go this wedding?” he asked in a husky tone, his mouth now on my ear. “We could just stay here and —”

I turned to face him, laying my finger against his lips. “You know we can’t do that. This is a big day for Marion and Stanley.”

His arms were solid around my waist, his mouth turning upward into a grin under my finger. “I know, but I can dream, can’t I?”

I took my finger away and kissed him, my hands against his chest, reveling in how I could kiss him mouth the way I had wanted to for so long.

“Gross!”

Judson and I laughed at Jackson standing in the doorway with a disgusted expression on his face.

“Come on, we’re going to be late to the wedding,” Jackson grumbled. “You can be all kissy later.”

“Okay, buddy,” Judson said, stepping away from me and ruffling Jackson’s hair.

“Hey! I just combed that!” Jackson laughed, pushing his hand away.

“See you three at Marion’s!” Mama called from her bedroom as she hooked an earring in.

“If your mother ever finishes getting ready,” Daddy whispered as we passed him in the living room.

“I heard that, Alan!” Mama called.

Sitting together inside Judson’s truck a few moments later, Jackson between us, I reflected on how close the three of us had become in the last six months since Judson and I had told each other how we felt. We saw each other almost every day either at lunch at the diner or at dinner at my parents’ house. In some ways, it was like my parents had already made him a member of the family, even without a ring on my finger.

A faint smile crossed my lips as I remembered a day a week ago when Judson had been working on the construction of a new hardware store in town. Two young women had apparently left their office for lunch and were sitting across the park from the site, chatting and watching the work being done.

“Can’t beat the view from here,” the one with her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail said with a wink.

“Oh?” I asked.

“Those construction workers are easy on the eyes,” the other one, a brunette with hair spilling across her shoulders said, popping the top off her Pepsi.

“Are they now?” I asked slyly, following their gaze to where Frankie Benjamin, Tyler Simpson, Emmy’s dad and Judson were busy on the roof.

The two women were sitting at a picnic table, facing the site as they ate.

“Which one would you pick?” the blond asked, taking a small bite from her sandwich.

“Definitely the one in the white tank top,” the brunette answered. “He’s a cutie.”

She was talking about Frankie, who I knew was single and looking.

“For me it’s the one in the blue T-shirt,” the blond said, biting her lower lip.

I watched Judson climb down the ladder from the roof, the blue T-shirt he was wearing highlighting his sculpted upper arms perfectly. His faded blue jeans weren’t looking too bad on him either.

“Which one would you like to go out with?” the blond asked me with a wink.

I smiled, my gaze still focused on Judson. “The one with the blue shirt really is something else, isn’t he?”

The brunette gently tapped her friend in the arm. “I told you,” she said. She looked back up at me. “I’ve been enjoying watching him for two days now.”

“Ah. I see.”

Judson looked up as he started to climb back up the ladder, saw me and smiled broadly before dropping his tools into the back of his truck and heading toward me.

“Oh. My. Gosh.” The brunette tapped her friend in the arm again. “He’s coming this way.”

My heart was pounding as I watched at the way he was watching me as he walked, his smile broad, his eyes intensely focused on mine. When he reached me and placed his hands on either side of my waist and pulled me gently toward him, I felt the same weakness in my knees I’d felt the night we’d kissed on his porch.

“Hey,” he said softly.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the women watching me with surprised expressions.

“Hey,” I said back.

“I missed you while you were gone. Did you have a good trip to see Miss Mazie?”

I giggled. Honestly giggled. Since when had I started doing that?

“I’ve only been gone since yesterday.”

“Yesterday was a long time ago. I’ve had to go all this time without being able to hold you or kiss you. I want to hold and kiss you now but I’m pretty sweaty and I don’t want —”

I knew it was juvenile, but I wanted to make sure those women knew who Judson belonged to, so to speak. Before he could finish his sentence, I wrapped my arms around the back of his neck and pulled his head down to mine.

I let my mouth linger on his lower lip as I pulled away several seconds later, making sure I gave those gawking women a good show.

“This is certainly the best job site visit I’ve ever had,” he said with a small laugh.

“I brought you some lunch,” I told him. “I can head back to the car to grab it if you want.”

He grinned down at me and I let go of his check. “I’d like that,” he said. “Let me get it for you. We can sit on the back of the truck and eat.”

As Judson walked toward Daddy’s car I smiled sweetly at the women. “Enjoy your lunch, ladies.”

I practically skipped toward Judson’s truck, feeling both foolish and giddy, leaving the women watching me with stunned expressions.

I laughed softly at the memory as Judson drove toward Marion’s.

“What’s so funny?” he asked.

“Oh, nothing,” I said. “Just thinking about last week with those women at your job site.”

He smirked. “You mean when you planted one very long, passionate kiss on me to show those women who I belonged to?”

I tipped my head back and laughed while Jackson squirmed.

“Ah, man. Gross. Can you two just knock it off already?”

At Marion’s, guests were already gathering in her backyard for her wedding with Stanley. They had planned a small event with a few friends and family and Pastor Frank officiating.

 “I’m going to go see if Marion needs anything,” I told Judson, walking up the front steps.

Inside the front door, my stomach lurched at the sight of a man talking to Thomas and Midge in the living room. He had the same long nose, green eyes and attractive square jawline as Hank, but his features were softer, his mannerism more relaxed.

Marion stepped off the bottom step of her stairs, her hair piled on top of her head, a flowing, purple dress showing off her slender figure.  

She smiled at me and touched my elbow. “Blanche, come in and say hi to Tom.”

Tom turned toward me, his smile warm and inviting.

“Blanche,” he said stepping forward with his hand outstretched. “Good to see you again.”

It seemed strange I had only met the younger brother of my ex-husband once before, but he’d left the area after high school and hadn’t returned until after his father had passed away. Even when he had returned, his visits had been brief and I often avoided Marion’s during them to make sure she had plenty of time alone with him.

I smiled and took his hand. “Hey, Tom. Looks like we have two Tom’s here today.”

Thomas grinned and winked at me. “Yeah, but I’m the better looking one, right?”

Midge nudged Thomas gently in the side with her elbow. “Oh, Thomas. You’re so silly.”

The way she looked at him, though, showed she definitely thought he was the best looking Thomas in the room.

Hank’s brother laughed good-naturedly at their banter. He looked at Jackson who had walked through the doorway and was now standing behind me.

“Hey, is this Jackson?” He held his hand out and Jackson looked at for a moment, then took it. “Nice to meet you, bud. I’m your Uncle Tom.”

“Nice to meet you,” Jackson said in the adult tone he’d been speaking in more in the last year.  

I could tell he wasn’t sure what to make of the man standing before him and was trying to determine how exactly the man was his uncle, especially since he’d never met him before. It wasn’t lost on me his mental wheels had been turning more now that he was 9-years old, wondering who his biological father really was. He’d seen photos of Hank at Marion’s, knew she was his grandmother and knew most children had two sets of grandparents. More than once he’d started a conversation I thought would end up with a discussion about his father, but at the last minute he’d changed the subject. I struggled with deciding if I should press the subject with him or not.

Tom looked at me and smiled. “I can see you’ve done a great job raising him, Blanche.”

“Thank you, Tom.”

“I hope we can talk later. I’m going to go see where they need me for the ceremony. I’m walking Mama down the aisle.”

I watched him walk across the room to Marion, who was now talking to an attractive red headed woman in a red blouse and white skirt. Tom leaned over and kissed the cheek of the redhead and then smiled at his mother. I let out a long breath, not even realizing until then that I had holding it practically the whole time Tom was talking to me.

I was glad to see him here to support his mother, happy to see how happy it made her, but hoped there weren’t any other surprises in store for me.

“Hey, buddy, I’ve got us a seat in the front row,” Judson told Jackson as he walked inside the house. “It’s a great spot to watch your mom being your grandma’s maid-of-honor.”

My muscles relaxed when we were all outside in the yard, music drifting from a record player Stanley had set up. It had been silly for me to worry Hank might be here somewhere. I knew Marion would have told me. As far as she and I both knew he was in basic training in North Carolina still. We hadn’t heard from him since the night he and Judson had fought outside my shop.

For more than six months I had felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I refused to let that weight come back, especially during such a wonderful time for Marion.

I stood behind Marion as Pastor Frank led them through their vows, much like I had with Edith the day she married Jimmy. I watched Stanley watching Marion as the pastor spoke, his eyes brighter than I could ever remember them, his smile warm and only for Marion. A small tremble shuddered through Marion’s hand as he slid the ring on her finger and I knew it was anticipation of good things to come for her life.

When I realized Judson was watching me, I couldn’t read his expression. As our eyes locked a smile flitted across his lips and I desperately wanted to know what he was thinking at that moment. Jackson sat next to him, looking incredibly bored. Next to Jackson sat Lily, a small smile tugging at her mouth as she watched the exchange of the vows. She seemed enamored with the entire process. Edith held Alexander facing out on her lap and he clapped his hands, giggling as Stanley promised to “take this woman and to have and to hold her.”

My gaze slid across the rows at Mama and Daddy holding hands; at Thomas with his arm across the back of Midge’s chair, smiling broadly; at Midge watching him adoringly; at Tom and his wife sitting next to each other and his wife taking his hand in hers, gently rubbing the top of it with her thumb.

Like I had at Edith’s wedding, I felt a twinge of envy at this beautiful moment, at this time when family and friends could show their love and support of Marion and Stanley’s marriage. I’d run off with Hank, so I had never experienced that moment and longed to have a similar experience one day.

Pastor Frank’s voice pulled me from my reverie.

“And now by the power invested in me by the state of Pennsylvania, I pronounce you husband and wife.”

The reception was simple with finger foods and homemade desserts and tables set up around the yard. Lily and Jackson took turns pushing each other on the tire swing and joy rushed through me at the sight of Lily being the child she had probably never had the chance of being before.

“Hey, Blanche.”

I turned with a plate full of cut up veggies and cheese and smiled at Tom.

“It was a really nice ceremony,” I said.

“It was,” Tom agreed. “Listen. . . This is going to sound weird, but I wanted to catch you while I’m here and tell you that I’m sorry for how Hank treated you. I know I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I feel I need to apologize on behalf of my family somehow. He has a lot of anger in him. I know. I had it too. It’s why I stayed away so long.”

He leaned against the tree we were standing next to, folding his arms casually across his chest. “But that anger is like a cancer. It will eat you up inside and destroy you and everyone around you. I almost let it and would have if I hadn’t found God and Mary. I’ve been praying for my brother, hoping he will find his way out of the darkness someday before it’s too late.”

I laid my hand against his shoulder. “Thank you, Tom.”

He nodded then glanced over my shoulder toward where Judson was sitting talking to Mama and Daddy. He looked back at me again with a smile. “It looks like you found someone who will treat you right and I’m so happy for you, Blanche. This new beginning is certainly something you deserve.”

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?”

“Uh…yes?”

“In the pitch dark?”

“Yes?”

“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?”

“What?”

“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.

“Blanche….”

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 Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 30

If you missed it, I posted Chapter 29 of A New Beginning to the blog 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 30

“What do you mean she just left the hospital?”

Jimmy’s voice was heavy with anger.

Sandra, standing across from him, her eyes bloodshot, shook her head. “The nurse came back to the room and she was gone. She’d gotten dressed in the night, left the baby and the signed adoption papers in the crib and left.”

Edith held the baby boy against her chest, her hand against his back as she swayed in place.

“So, Lily is alone out there somewhere?” she asked. “After just giving birth to her first baby.”

Sandra nodded, her eyebrows furrowed with worry. “Yes, and with this being her first and her so young, it was a rough delivery too.”

“Why would she do this?” Jimmy asked. “And how did your agency let this happen?”

Sandra sat on a chair next to the empty hospital bed, shaking her head, tears in her eyes. Edith gently laid the sleeping baby in the crib next to the bed.

I had seen myself in Lily that first day I met her. Now I saw myself even more in her actions. I remembered outside the church three months after I’d left Hank, unable to move from the car, terrified to step foot inside the building where I felt God lived. God, who must be as ashamed of me as I was of myself. Shame had kept me away from God for three years and it was shame telling me now I wasn’t worth being loved by Judson or anyone else. Lily most likely felt the same.

“She’s ashamed,” I said softly.

Jimmy looked at me. “What’s that, Blanche?”

I cleared my throat. “Lily is ashamed of who she has become. Or, I think, anyhow. It’s probably why she took off. She’s ashamed of who she became, though she might not even realize it’s shame making her act out the way she is. She’s too young. But I also can’t imagine it would be very easy for her to see her baby being given to another family, even if she knows it is the right thing to do. She feels like she let the baby, and herself, down.”

I felt tears hot in my eyes as I looked at Edith and Jimmy. “I should know. I felt the same way.”

Jimmy reached out and laid his hand over mine as Edith sat next to me and slid her arm around me, kissing my forehead.

“You never let anyone down, Blanche,” she whispered.

“I know but it’s how I felt. And I think it may be how Lily is feeling now. That and sheer terror.”

Sandra pressed a tissue against her eyes, crying softly.

“Just like I feel I let her down,” she whispered through the tears. “Lily came to us for help and now I can’t help her. I should have never left her alone in this hospital. I should have known she would make a run for it.”

She looked up, her eyes red, then shook her head a little. “No matter. This baby is yours. The paperwork has been signed already. All you need to do is sign it too. He needs someone to take care of him.” She stood and smiled at the baby in the crib. “You’re going to be wonderful parents and as for Lily –” she turned away from the baby and struggled to smile. “I’m going to keep looking for her and be there for her as much as she’ll let me.”

Jimmy stood, reaching for his jacket. “I’m going to help you look. Let’s head out now. How long has she been gone?”

“Mr. Sickler, this isn’t your problem,” Sandra said, wiping her nose.

“I’m not leaving a child out on the street.” A muscle in Jimmy’s jaw jumped as he spoke. “Lily is a child who just gave birth to a child. She should not be out on the street. Where would she go? Someone in your organization has to know. Where does her mother live?”

Sandra shook her head. “Mr. Sickler, I —”

“Then I’ll go on my own.”

I’d rarely seen Jimmy angry. His nostrils flared at each word, his movement were abrupt as he jerked his coat on, and his eyes flashed with anger.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I have a lot of faith in this agency to find her and care for her,” he snapped, pointing at Sandra. “I am really starting to question if she was pushed into this adoption and what will happen to her when it hits her that her baby is gone.”

Sandra’s eyebrows raised and her mouth opened slightly, as if she was about to say something, then thought better of it and closed her mouth again. She sat on the chair next to the hospital bed and covered her face with her hands.

Edith stood and touched Jimmy’s arm. “Jimmy, calm down. You’re not being fair to Sandra. We don’t know what exactly happened. Plus, you don’t know the city. How can you possibly find her?”

Jimmy clenched and unclenched his hands, standing in the doorway. I could tell he was trying to keep his anger under control.

“She may have gone to her mothers,” Sandra said softly, moving her hands from her face. She took a deep breath and stood. “I can get you her address, but I have to warn you, Lily’s mother, Martha, isn’t a nice woman. She’s often drunk and abusive.”

Jimmy snatched up his keys and pulled on his jacket. “All the more reason to make sure Lily isn’t there.”

Sandra left the room to get the address and I reached for my own coat. “I should go with you. Lily might feel more comfortable with a woman there.”

Jimmy nodded in agreement. “I think you’re right. Let’s get going.”

He leaned down and kissed Edith’s forehead. “Pray,” he told her.

He paused to lightly touch the top of the baby’s head before he walked through the door.

“Mr. Sickler, I know you mean well, but I really wish you would let us handle this,” Sandra said as she handed Jimmy a small piece of paper with an address written on it.

Jimmy ignored Sandra’s pleas, walking briskly past her and down the hallway. I did my best to keep up with him. In the car, he clutched the steering wheel, his knuckles white.

“I can’t even believe this. How could they let that young girl out of their sight? She must be terrified.”

“Try to stay calm, Jimmy. We don’t know what happened yet.”

Jimmy shifted the car into gear and pulled out onto the road. We were riding in his bright red Chevy Chevelle, but I had a feeling the car would be traded in before too long for a more family-friendly vehicle. Switching from his usual more sporty cars would be an adjustment for Jimmy, but I knew he wouldn’t mind the sacrifice if it meant a safer and more spacious drive for his growing family.

As I watched him drive, I thought about one of the first times I had met him. I’d been hearing about him for months from Edith before I met him, but the night he finally came to the house to pick up Edith for a date, I had been struck by his calm demeanor, his sweet personality, and his charming smile. He was a far cry from the boys Edith usually dated. Before Jimmy, she had been pursued cocky and aloof boys who paused by the mirror near the front door to drag a comb through their hair before leaving the house.

When Edith eventually decided Jimmy wasn’t exciting enough for her, she went back to the arrogant variety, prompting Daddy to ask about Jimmy one night at dinner.

“Whatever happened to that Sickler kid? I liked him.”

Edith had rolled her eyes as she stabbed a spear of broccoli.

“Oh, Daddy,” she groaned. “You would like the most boring boy I’ve ever gone out with.”

“There’s nothing wrong with boring,” Daddy said, looking at Edith for several seconds to make sure she caught his meaning.

After I’d left with Hank and she’d started going to church more, Edith’s entire view of the world changed and somehow Jimmy Sickler wasn’t boring anymore. She saw him for what he’d always been – someone who had loved her through all her past mistakes and all the ways she’d hurt and rejected him. I remembered the letter she’d sent me, telling me Jimmy had asked her out again after church one Sunday. It wasn’t until I came home, after they were married, that Edith shared with me how Jimmy’s tender love for her, despite the way she’d acted when she was younger, had softened her heart and revealed her true feelings for him.

Jimmy was as sweet now as he’d been when we’d first met and over the years, I’d seen many sides of him — goofy, annoyed, overjoyed, brokenhearted and excited. But on this night, driving through inner-city Philadelphia, looking for Lily, I saw a new side of Jimmy; an angry, determined side that showed he was bent on rescuing the young girl who had claimed a part of his heart.

The city stretched before us, the streets dimly lit, dilapidated buildings rolling past the car window, their outside walls stained with graffiti of various colors.

I bit my lower lip as we crossed a bridge, looking out the windshield at the city looming before us. Apartment and office buildings filled the landscape. I spotted a gas station at the end of the bridge and gestured toward it.

“Jimmy, pull over a minute.”

“Do you see the street we need?”

“No. Just pull over. I think we should pray.”

Jimmy pulled the car into the parking lot and turned off the engine. He let out a long breath as if trying to exhale all the tension he was feeling and turned toward me, bowing his head. I laid my hand over his and bowed my head as well.

“Father,” I prayed. “We are asking for you to help us today. Lily is lost, Lord. She’s scared. She may be in pain. Please, Jesus, help us to find her and bring her back with us to the hospital, but, Lord, if we can’t find her, we ask that you keep her safe in your arms.”

Jimmy let out another long breath and started the car again. “Thanks. I needed that. Okay, which street do we need?”

I could feel a calmness coming off him that I hadn’t felt before and his jaw had relaxed some.

I looked at the paper Sandra had handed Jimmy. “Poplar Street. Twin Rivers Apartments. Sandra wrote here that it’s two miles north of the hospital.”

I followed Sandra’s directions, looking on my right for Poplar Street. When we saw it, Jimmy pulled onto it and the sign for the building appeared immediately, the paint chipped. Jimmy pulled into a space in the parking lot and sat back in his seat looking up at the building, which towered at least eight stories above us. I knew we both felt completely out of place in a city so large after spending almost our whole lives in the country. Jimmy let out a long breath.

“You wait here,” he said. “Keep the doors locked.”

I opened the car door. “I’m going with you.”

“Blanche now is not the time to be stubborn. This doesn’t look like the safest neighborhood.”

“Then I’ll go alone.” I pushed the door closed and buttoned my coat.

Jimmy mumbled something under his breath as he stepped out of the car and followed me. I figured it was a good thing I hadn’t really heard what he said, though I swore I heard the words Robbins, women, and stubborn somewhere in there.

I looked through smudged windows into a dimly lit lobby as we approached the front doors. A crack stretched up from the bottom of one of the panels of glass in the double front doors, spreading up to the top.  The door’s hinges groaned as Jimmy pulled it open to reveal a lobby décor of stained brown and green couches, faded green wallpaper, and orange carpet worn down from years of people walking over it.

“Which floor?” Jimmy asked.

“Seventh.”

Jimmy sighed. “Of course, it is. I’m such a country bumpkin. I’ve never even been in an elevator before. Have you?”

“Once, but never past the third floor.”

Standing in front of the smudged, glossy silver doors before us we looked at each other, sighed and then shrugged. I hesitantly pushed the up button.

The couple groping each other inside the elevator when the doors opened with a grating noise were oblivious to us. Jimmy and I stared, reluctant to step in the elevator during their make-out session.

The man pulled his mouth from the woman’s abruptly with a loud sucking noise and glared at us through narrow slits. “You got a problem?”

I shook my head. “No. Just didn’t want to interrupt.”

The couple parted and the man, wearing a leather jacket and faded blue jeans, slid his hands in his back pockets and leaned against the wall. The fluorescent lights in the elevator glistened off his slicked back hair. A curl in the front flopped over his forehead. He jerked his head to one side.

“What floor?” he asked gruffly.

Jimmy stepped in first and stood between me and the couple. “Seven.”

The woman smirked, her eyes moving down the length of me and back to my face. “You’re not from around, here are you?”

My plain blue skirt, faded red polo shirt, and tan flats screamed country girl next to her black, leather mini skirt, rainbow striped halter top, large hooped earrings, and black high heels. Chewing gum loudly, she twirled bleached blond hair around her index finger and snapped a bubble between her bright red lips. She giggled, swiveling her attention to Jimmy and leaning forward slightly, the move revealing the top of her breasts.

“We’re just visiting,” Jimmy said quickly looking away from her, keeping his focus on the numbers above the elevator door.

The man pushed the number seven on the panel, without looking at it directly, still concentrating his attention on us. I averted my eyes from his steely stare, looking at the stained tiled floor, gasping softly when the elevator dropped slightly then started to rise, my stomach feeling like it had sunk to my feet.

Jimmy slid his arm around me and pulled me close against him as the elevator rose and the couple watched us, the man now leaning against the elevator wall with his arm laying lazily over the woman’s shoulders.

Small bits of paper, dirt and cigarette butts cluttered the elevator floor. A cockroach scurried across a crumpled newspaper and I bit my lip, holding in the scream I desperately wanted to let out. The man slammed the tip of his boot onto the cockroach and twisted his foot, a sick crunch signifying the insect was no longer living. He smirked as he drew the boot back and dragged insect remains in a reddish-brown smear across a tan tile.

Jimmy hooked his hand around my elbow and propelled me from the elevator within seconds after the doors squeaked open.

“This is only the sixth floor,” the girl called after us.

“That’s okay,” Jimmy said over his shoulder. “We need to stretch our legs a little.”

Laughter filtered through the door as it closed, drowned out by the grinding noise of the elevator’s gears as it continued on its’ journey to the seventh floor and beyond.

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

Creatively Thinking: Why I blog my novels as I write them

I don’t think a lot of people are worrying about this, but I thought I’d share today why I blog my novels as I write them (or shortly after).

It’s probably not the best marketing move to put my novels on my blog, chapter by chapter, but, well, I’ve never been good at that marketing stuff, for one, but also, I like the interaction I receive when I share my novels on my blog. The interaction is worth more me to than the money, although you might have to remind me of that when we are pinching pennies to get groceries some weeks.

I like that my handful of blog readers interact with each chapter and share with me their impressions or their ideas for how the story should unfold. Based on those impressions, and impressions of friends or family, I adjust and rewrite the story before the final publication. Or sometimes I rewrite it because I like it better. Putting the story up on my blog also forces me to finish it and to edit it chapter by chapter because one, I have “fans” waiting to read the rest of the story (okay, I have maybe 20 people reading and four that comment, but I don’t mind writing it for just those people. I’m not even kidding.) and two, it also forces me to focus on each chapter individually, write before I copy it to the blog to publish it.

I am sure some authors (am I really one of those? I don’t know. . .but it sounds good, right?) wouldn’t want to share their books on their blogs. They’d rather write them, leave them on their computer and then one day get their nerve up and send it to a literary agent, hope the agent picks them up and pitches their book to a publisher and that publisher signs them and their book is marketed to millions and then they become a millionaire. Sharing the book on their blog could mean no one will ever pay them for the book because the readers can simply read the book for free on the blog, right?

Not necessarily.

In my case, I only have about 360 blog subscribers and of those 360, only about 5 interact with me on a regular basis and only about 20 actually follow the stories I share on the blog. Not only that, but of those who might find my blog, how many of them will really want to scroll from chapter to chapter for free, versus buying the book later on Amazon in it’s completed form, or at least “borrowing it” through Kindle Unlimited?

Probably not that many.  In addition, once I’ve shared the chapters on my blog, I take down the page that links to each chapter and replace it with an excerpt and a link to my book on Amazon, or wherever else I might choose to sell them in the future. In the end, sharing the novel on my blog is a motivator for me, but also a nice distraction from other stresses in life (like the news) and from what I’ve heard from those who read it, it’s also a nice distraction from them.

I don’t expect that my novels will ever win awards, but they’re already winning me something else – a little bit of sanity and a whole lot of distraction.

And while I’m on the subject of sharing my novel on here, I have two new chapters scheduled this week: one tomorrow and one Friday.

I am in the midst of writing a new novel called The Farmer’s Daughter, but I haven’t yet decided if I will share it here as part of Fiction Friday or not. I have a feeling, though, it’s a story some of my regulars will really like. I’ve shared a little of it on here before.

It’s the story of Molly Tanner, who still lives on her parents farm at the age of 25 and wonders if there is a life for her beyond the farm. At the same time she’s pondering this, she notices that farmhand Alex Stone is paying more attention to her, but she’s not sure why. Five years older than her and her brother’s best friend, Alex is battling some demons of his own, mainly that he’s falling for Molly but he doesn’t feel like he’s good enough for her. He covers his pain from his low self-esteem and his lack of attentative parents growing up by drinking a lot and dating women.

Other characters are Molly’s brother, Jason, her parents Robert and Annie, her grandmother, Franny, and her best friend, Liz. Robert and Annie are facing their own concerns throughout the book as Robert fights to keep the family farm, which he and his brother have now turned into a farming enterprise, running.

This will be the first book in a series, but I’m not going to overwhelm you with the other characters and their backstories. At least not yet!

 

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 25

If you missedChapter 24, I posted it yesterday for Fiction Thursday.

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.


Photo with Text Overlay Autobiography Book Cover (2)Chapter 25

A few days after my night out with Thomas, I kicked off my shoes inside the door and flopped on the couch, my eyes heavy with exhaustion. Despite months of trying to avoid Stanley and Thomas about the freelance featuring writing job, I’d finally taken my first assignment: interviewing Sam about how he was adjusting to work after being shot eight months before.

After a long week of starting a dress for Ellie Tanner for her sweet 16, hemming three sets of pants for Mrs. Jefferies five boys, and interviewing Sam for the newspaper, I wanted to eat some dinner and curl up with a good book on the couch.

“Hey, Mama!”

Jackson skipped out of the kitchen with the phone receiver in one hand, the base in the other, the cord trailing behind him.

“Guess who’s on the phone?!”

I yawned. “I don’t know, bud, who is it?”

“Judson! And he called to talk to me! But now he wants to talk to you! I’m not done telling my story yet, though. Hold on.” He put the receiver back to his ear. “And then Grandpa and I went fishing after school because Mama went to dinner with that guy from the newspaper. Not the old one who is going to be my grandpa, but the younger one with the Flash Gordon hair. And when they came home, he smelled like beer and I told him that Mama doesn’t like people to drink beer and he said he understood but someone had just poured beer on him so that’s why he smelled like it. Okay. You can talk to Mama now! Bye, Judson!”

I stared at my son in horror as pushed the receiver into my hand and ran up the stairs toward his room. I wasn’t ready for a conversation with anyone after such a long day, but I definitely wasn’t ready for one with Judson now that my son had blabbed to him about my night out with Thomas. How was I going to explain that to Judson? What would I say, ‘Well, yes, Judson I did kiss you by the lake that night and then a few weeks later went out with another man. Apparently, I’m breaking out of my shell at a high rate of speed now.’

I held my hand over the mouthpiece, rolled my eyes, and then cleared my throat before speaking.

“Hey, Judson.”

“Hey.” I was surprised by the pleasure I felt at surge through me as I heard his voice. “Just the person I wanted to talk to.”

I had this sinking feeling he might want to talk to me about that night at the lake, the kiss, the outburst, all of it.

I pulled the phone into the kitchen and sat on the floor, away from Mama in the laundry room and Daddy in his office working on paperwork he’d brought home.

“How are things going?” I asked. “How’s your Dad?”

“Dad came through the surgery okay. He’s still at the hospital recovering.”

“I’m glad to hear. Do they know how long he’ll be in?”

“Probably a few more days.”

I picked at a piece of dirt under my fingernail, unsure what to ask next, but knowing I needed to ask something to avoid any other, more uncomfortable topics. “How’s your mom?”

“Tired but hanging in there. My brother called from college to check in. He’ll be up this weekend to visit.”

A silence fell over us and I knew there was so much unsaid between us that neither of us knew where to start.

“So . . .” Judson’s voice trailed off.

Oh, God, help me, he’s going to talk about it.

“You went out with Thomas, huh?”

Oh, he’s going to talk about Thomas. Well, that’s awkward too.

“Oh, well . . yes, but just to hear a band at a place up in Nichols. One of his friends was playing with the band and he asked if I would like to ride along.” I knew if I rambled much more, I would sound even more guilty, but then why did it matter if I sounded guilty. It wasn’t as if Judson and I were in a relationship.

“Was it fun?” Judson asked in a tone of voice I couldn’t exactly recognize. It bordered somewhere between mocking and polite.

“Actually, yes,” I said. “The band was great and it was nice to go somewhere different, get out of the area. I met some new people. They seemed nice.” I cleared my throat. “Listen, I heard Jackson talking to you. I can explain about Thomas smelling like beer. . .”

“You don’t have to. It’s not really my business  . .. just because you kissed me a couple of weeks ago.”

I twirled the phone cord tight around my finger until it turned red and slightly purple. I took a deep breath. “Yeah, so anyhow, Thomas’ friend, girlfriend, whatever, was trying to get her brother home and her brother threw beer on Thomas when he thought he was someone else.

“Ah. I see.”

An awkward silence settled over us and I bit my lower lip, trying to think what else to say to avoid the topic I knew we should be discussing.

“So we’re just not going to talk about what happened at the lake that night?” he asked abruptly.

I drew in a sharp breath. “Judson . . .”

“You kissed me.”

I chewed on my thumbnail as I tried to figure out how to answer.

“Yes, I know I did, Judson, but . . .”

“You admit you kissed me then, right?”

“Yes, but. . .”

“Because I was going to kiss you but I thought I was being too forward. Imagine my surprise when you kissed me instead.”

“Judson, I know I kissed you, but listen, it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that.”

He laughed. “It was the nicest mistake I’ve ever been a part of.”

“It’s just … I shouldn’t have …” I let my voice trail off. I didn’t know how to explain why I shouldn’t have kissed him that night.

“You shouldn’t have kissed me or shouldn’t have enjoyed it?”

I nearly chewed my nail off trying to figure out how to answer. I let out a long breath, deciding I’d try changing the subject.

“Is the weather nice down there?”

Judson cleared his throat. “Okay. Have it your way. But we’re going to have to talk about it sometime, Blanche. So…Yeah. It is. Warm.”

There was another long gap in the conversation as my mind raced. I could hear voices in the background on Judson’s end, laughing, sharing stories. Restlessness hung heavy in the silence between us.

“Cool down up there yet?” he asked finally. I could hear a hint of annoyance in his voice.

“Yeah. Maybe we will actually have autumn here soon.”

“Maybe we can take a walk together in the leaves when we get home.”

“Sure, that would be nice.”

I twisted the phone cord around my finger again, listening to the faint hum of conversations on his end, Jackson in his room upstairs playing with his cars on my end, reading frustration behind Judson’s silence.

“I miss you, Blanche.”

His words revealed an ache in the middle of my chest that I began to recognize as a sense of loss at no longer seeing Judson in town or in our backyard helping Daddy or throwing the ball with Jackson. I was missing him too, even if the rest of my feelings about Judson were complex and mixed up inside.

“I miss you too,” I said softly.

“Is it okay if I call again?”

“Yes. Please do.”

After a ‘goodbye’ we both hung up and I sat alone in the dimly lit living room, in the confines of a suffocating loneliness I hadn’t expected to feel. I leaned my head back against the wall, my hand on the receiver, and started a mental list of all the reasons I shouldn’t feel so lost with Judson gone. I knew I had a long, sleepless night ahead of me.

Creatively Thinking Guest Post: How to Find Creative Inspiration from Journaling in 2020

This is a guest post from Thao Nguyen at Reedsy.com. I was not compensated for this post and any opinions within are the writers and not my own (though I also believe in the power of journaling). I have not used Reedsy much and can not claim to be an expert on the site, but from what I’ve seen, I really like it! So feel free to check it out. I know I will be checking it out more. 


Journaling has been making a spectacular comeback. In an age of fast-everything — from food to fashion to even social interaction — the tranquility of sitting down and expressing yourself the old-fashioned way, with a pen and on paper, sounds soothing to many.

Beyond its surprising mental and physical health benefits, journaling is also a great way to find, nurture, and connect with your creativity. And this creative impetus is not something that only creators — writers, designers, artists — have. Think back to your childhood, to the unpredictable whims and the odd logic that may have been dismissed as being childish as you grow older; they’re all still there for you to tap into! Creativity doesn’t have to mean splattering paint and brandishing words — it can also be looking at situations differently, better organizing your life and goals, and finding new solutions to your problems.

So how can you reconnect to that imaginative part of your brain? Let’s see how keeping a journal can help you get there!

What is journaling?

Journaling can be anything — writing, doodling, structuring your days, etc. — so long as it involves getting things down, often with a pen and notebook, on a regular basis. The last bit is the important thing: journaling is all about routine. Some people do it every day, others make time for it once a week. You can tailor it to your schedule and habits, as long as you do it consistently.

Revisit, reflect, refine

A consistently maintained journal is an album of your life. It can help you see how you’ve changed, what you can improve on, or where things might have gone wrong if you’re having trouble. From there, you can gain new perspectives and find fresh ways to overcome challenges, or strengthen the things that make your life good.

For writers and artists, it’s a great way to jot down ideas, some of which may come to you in one moment and disappear in the next. You can revisit these little notes and sketches and develop them further, even if it’s been weeks after you’ve had those little revelations. It’s like planting a seed and watching it grow.

Moreover, journaling is also a great way to be organized. If you’re a writer, you may wish to record and reflect on your process, whether you’re learning to structure your book, develop a writing style, or hoping to take your project to the next stage and publishing it. Here’s where a journal can really come in handy. Staying organized not only helps you succeed in your endeavors, but keeps your head clear, so you don’t end up accidentally stifling your creativity under confusion and chaos.

How to journal for creativity

There is no correct way to journal because it’s a deeply personal activity. It’s merely a visualization of your thoughts, and it’s only for you to peruse, so be true to yourself and do it the way you feel like doing it. That said, here are some wonderful journaling methods to consider that will help your creativity flourish.

  1. Freewriting

Freewriting is just what it sounds like — where you take a seat and write freely! For 10-15 minutes every day, perhaps at the start or end of your day, just scribble down anything that comes to mind. There’s no restriction on what you can write about — it can be an emotional reaction, something interesting you’ve observed that day, or your gratitude for life (which is a very popular topic for journaling).

These uncensored and unvarnished writings will let your thoughts and creativity flow, with nothing to silence them. Without the distraction of other people (or, more likely, your phone and laptop), freewriting leaves you in the sole company of your imagination.

  1. Responding to prompts

On the other hand, if you’d rather have more structure to your journaling, consider responding to writing prompts. As this is more demanding than freewriting, choose prompts that speak to you and create a short story once every week or month. And since we’re being creative here, why not write a poem, or sketch a comic, if you feel like it? No matter which medium you choose, there are few better ways to be creative than bringing stories to life.

  1. The bullet journal method

Finally, we have the bullet journal method. Its creator, designer Ryder Caroll, described it as a “mindfulness practice” in which you map out your life on blank pages. In such a journal, you’ll have calendars, weekly plans, and monthly reflections. In addition to that, you can have pages reserved for anything you want to do — whether that is doodling, recording mantras, or, if you’re a writer, mind-mapping your next project.

For those who are more artistic, this is a chance to use your skills and create a book that really reflects your mind. This method requires you to take time once a month to go through what’s happened recently and draw out a plan for the next 30 days. It’s a beautiful way to declutter your thoughts, pick up on forgotten ideas, and momentarily escape the hustle and bustle of life.

From uninhibited scribblings to methodically planning your months, these are some suggestions for you to nourish and cultivate your creativity. It’s sometimes hard to manage this in a world so full of noise, but if journaling tells you anything, it is that inspiration really comes from within, and it’ll come to you if you give yourself the time to discover it.


Thao Nguyen is a writer at Reedsy, a platform that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She enjoys writing non-fiction, especially the historical kind, and is delighted by the prospects that self-publishing provides for aspiring authors nowadays.