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.
“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.
“In the pitch dark?”
“Without a flashlight?”
I cleared my throat and rubbed my hands nervously across my arms.
“Umm . . .yes?”
“Did you scream a few moments ago?”
“Yes, that was me.”
“I thought it was a dying cat, so I came out to see what was going on.”
I giggled. “A dying cat? I sounded like a dying cat?”
Judson laughed loudly. “Well, yeah.”
“So, you were going to come out here and do what with the dying cat?”
“I don’t know!” he said, still laughing. “Maybe put it out of its’ misery.”
He jerked his head toward the house. “It’s cold out here. Do you want to come in?”
I looked at the front porch and shook my head, shivering. “I don’t think – I mean, I don’t know if it would be right to go into the house of a man I’m not married to in — uh, well, the middle of the night.”
I thought he might laugh at me but instead, he nodded in apparent understanding. “Okay, well, then come up on the porch and I’ll get a blanket to put around your shoulders. You shouldn’t be out here alone at this time of night. There could be bears or — some other crazy Pennsylvania creature out here.”
I snorted a small laugh, pretending the idea of bears being along this road was absurd and I’d never thought of such a thing. “Bears. Yeah. Right.”
Up on the porch I sat on the step while Judson went inside and returned with a quilt. He draped it around my shoulders and sat next to me, leaning his back against the porch column, one leg up, one stretched down on the top step. Had I really just suggested I shouldn’t go into his home because it might not look right? First of all, who was going to see us at this time of night on a dark, rural road? The cat? Secondly, as if being in his home the other day in broad daylight couldn’t have been construed by some as inappropriate behavior as well.
Judson propped his forearm arm on his knee. “Blanche. Seriously. What are you doing out here?”
I looked at him in the dim porch light, at the fading bruises under his eye and along his cheek, a choking pain searing through my chest.
Oh please, Lord, don’t let me start crying, I might not stop.
But it was too late. Without warning, I lost the fight to hold in my emotions and began to sob. It was as if a dam broke. I pressed my hands against my face and sobbed, tears soaking my face.
“Blanche, what’s going on?” Judson’s voice was full of shock and concern. He touched my arm gently. “Did something happen? Did Hank come back or —”
I shook my head behind my hands. “No. No. Nothing like that,” I choked out, trying to wipe the tears from my face with my hands.
Judson lifted a corner of the quilt and dabbed my cheeks with it. “What is going on?”
I turned my face away from him, trying to stop the tears.
“You really could have been hurt the other night with Hank and it’s my fault.”
“How was it your fault that Hank was a jerk and I chose to step in? We already talked about this. That was my choice.”
I pulled the quilt tight around me. “It’s like everything I do hurts someone else.”
Judson laughed softly. “Well that’s a little self-centered isn’t it?” he asked.
I sniffed and looked at him through tears. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You seem to think you have so much power you are the cause of the pain of others. Can you also use your powers for good?”
I sighed. “That’s not what I meant. I just meant that people get hurt trying to help me because of my stupid —”
“Stepping in with Hank was my choice,” Judson interrupted, his tone sharp. “Protecting you was my choice.”
He turned toward me, pushing my hair back from my face. When he spoke again his tone was tender, husky.
“Loving you is my choice. And your safety is worth whatever pain I’m in right now.”
The serious tone of his voice sent a ripple of exhilaration from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. How could he still love me, after all the ways I’d pushed him away over the last two years?
I swiped my hand across the tears streaming down my cheeks. I couldn’t imagine I looked very nice, my face splotchy and red from the crying.
A heavy sensation of anticipation settled in the center of my chest as he spoke. “Why won’t you just let me love you, Blanche? Why can’t you stop thinking so much and just,” he stood impulsively and tossed his arms out to his side in frustration, looking down at me. “I don’t know, feel! Feel something and let that be your guide, not your thoughts or your ‘what if’ worries.”
My excited feeling was being replaced with a growing annoyance and I wasn’t sure I had the emotional fortitude to handle the roller coaster of feelings
How stupid can he be? Doesn’t he know what happens to women when they go through life guided by their feelings? I stood to face him, the quilt sliding off my shoulders, landing in a pile on the porch floor.
“I did ‘just feel’ once upon a time,” I snapped, my voice breaking with anger, as I tossed my arms out to mock his gesture. “With Hank. I didn’t think. I just went with my feelings and took a risk. And where did it get me? Beat up. A pregnant teenager with no clue how to raise a baby. It got me shame. It got me guilt because my son has been growing up without a father — ”
“Blanche, stop it.” Judson’s voice was sharp and loud as he interrupted me. I stepped back, startled. “Stop using Hank Hakes as a measuring stick for every situation in your life, for every man that walks into your life. Hank is a stellar example of what a man shouldn’t be, but not every man is Hank Hakes.”
He walked toward me briskly, cupping my face in his hands. “I am not Hank Hakes, Blanche. I love you and I want you to tell me how you feel about me – not what you fear will happen if you let yourself love me. For God sake, Blanche, if this whole thing with my dad has taught me anything, it’s that life is short, too short to wait to tell people how we feel. I have spent too many nights aching to speak to you, aching to hold you, aching for you to let me in.”
We were only inches apart now. I couldn’t take my eyes off his. My gaze focused on the flecks of green scattered in the blue of his iris. His hands on my skin woke a passion and need in me I knew had always been there but had tried to ignore.
“I know how I feel about you Blanche. I know I can’t stop thinking about you, worrying about you, wondering what you’re doing when we’re not together. I know when we are together I find myself memorizing every little gesture you make, quirk you have, wondering how it’s possible that simply being with you calms me like nothing else, like no one else, does.”
I searched his eyes, saw in them tenderness and searching of his own. I didn’t understand why he seemed to love me so fiercely. I didn’t understand how I deserved someone who wanted healing for me as much as I wanted it for myself.
I knew he was right. Realizing how short and fragile life was had been what had brought me here tonight. I had come here to tell Judson I was afraid to love him, to be loved by him but also that I didn’t want a life ruled by fear and anger. Why couldn’t I just say it?
“Oh, Judson. I’m sorry.”
The words rushed out of me as if an emotional dam had burst, tears flowing before I could even try to fight them back.
“I’m so sorry I keep acting like you’re even remotely like Hank. You’re not. You’re so wonderful and beautiful and sweet and I want to know all there is to know about you. I want to know what you think about all those books on your bookshelves and how you made all that furniture and what you did in the summer with your brother when you were a little boy and what your favorite food is.”
“I want to know what you think about God and if you’ve ever gone swimming in the ocean. I want to know it all but I’m so afraid to know it all.” I choked out a sob. “I don’t have to let myself love you, Judson. I just do. Even when I don’t want to. And yes, it frightens me because I don’t want Jackson to be hurt again, but I also don’t want to be hurt again. I kissed you at the lake because I wanted to kiss you. I felt an insane physical attraction to you, but it scared me because I needed something more. I didn’t want any decision I made to be based on physical attraction because I took that path before and it didn’t end well.”
I gasped in a breath and tears slipped down my face as Judson kissed my forehead, then my cheek, pulling back to look at me.
“But, I also don’t want to hold my feelings for you in any longer,” I whispered. “I know now that I love you beyond appearance, that I love your heart as much as I love your soft lips and your beautiful eyes.”
Judson grinned. “You think my eyes are beautiful?”
My face flushed warm. “I think all of you is beautiful.”
His grin had widened and I actually thought I saw red flush along his cheekbones as he laughed softly.
“You know, C.S. Lewis once said that to love at all is to be vulnerable.”
“Have you been talking to my Dad?”
“My Dad quoted that same thing from C.S. Lewis a few weeks ago.”
Judson laughed again. “Great minds think alike apparently.”
He pressed his forehead against mine. “Blanche, I’m scared too. Loving you is scary because I don’t want to hurt you either and I know I could someday, but I know I could never treat you the way Hank treated you. I know I will do anything in my power to protect you, to protect Jackson, and to protect your heart.”
My body relaxed as he spoke, a peace settling over me at each word. When he tilted his head and gently pressed his mouth against mine, I surrendered to how tender love could be. Unlike that day at the lake, I accepted each second of the kiss, each tender touch. His hands slid from my face, pushed into my hair, and cradled the back of my head. I clutched the front of his shirt, worried he might pull away like I had at the lake.
I didn’t want him to pull away. I didn’t want him to stop kissing me. I didn’t want him to stop showing me how much he truly loved me.
His hands slipped from my hair, moving down my back, resting in the small of it as he gently pulled me against him. When he pulled away and started to speak, I laid a finger against his lips. I shook my head. I didn’t want to talk about anything anymore. I wanted to feel all the emotions I hadn’t let myself experience when I’d kissed him before.
His mouth found mine again and pleasure coursed through me as his mouth moved to my neck and then my throat, kissing a trail across my skin. I slid my hands into his hair, clutching it, focused only on the fire each touch of his mouth and hands lit inside me.
I don’t know how long we stood there holding each other, lost in the moment, forgetting all we’d been worried about, but when he finally pulled back to look at me we were both breathing hard and he was laughing.
“That felt —”
I tipped my head back and let my hair fall back across my shoulders.
“Like freedom,” I said, finishing his sentence.
He laughed and I kissed him again, enjoying the softness of his hair between my fingers.
“Blanche,” he whispered hoarsely a few moments later. “I need to drive you home.”
I pulled his head down to mine again to resume our kiss, but he stepped back taking my hands in his, clasping them together and holding them against his chest.
I could feel his heart pounding fast under my hands.
“I need to take you home now,” he said firmly, looking me in the eyes. He spoke quickly. “If I don’t, I’m afraid . . .” He shook his head slowly. “Of what we might do.”
I looked at him in surprise, warmth rushing from my chest into my cheeks. I knew what he was saying and that he was right, though I’d never intended that when I’d started walking to see him earlier. My own heart was pounding as fast as his, my thoughts spinning; the perfect storm for clouded judgment and choices that might be regretted later.
I signaled I understood by a quick nod of my head. He left me standing on the porch and grabbed his truck keys from inside the house. We drove to my parents’ house in silence, and he shut the engine off in the driveway. I was trembling and I knew it wasn’t from the chill in the air.
Stretching his arm across the back of the seat he looked at me and let out a long sigh. “So, we talked and … yeah … that was good.”
“I’m glad we got that talk out of the way and know how we feel now.”
I gasped and then giggled as he reached out and clutched my hair at the back of my head, tilting my head back gently and pressing his mouth firmly against mine. I giggled. When was the last time I had actually giggled?
“We’ll talk more later today,” he whispered when he pulled his mouth from mine several moments later. “Now get out of here before your daddy chases me off with a shotgun.”
I laughed. “I don’t think that’s going to happen with you. He likes you too much.”
His hand touched my arm gently as I opened the door and I turned to look at him.
His expression was tender as he cupped my cheek against his hand. “Is it too soon to say I love you? Because I do.”
The words flowed over me like warm water. I leaned close to him, laid my hand against his cheek, and brushed my lips against his. “I hope it isn’t because I love you too, Judson.”
I watched him drive away, as I pulled my sweater tight around me and then slipped inside the house. Inside my room, under the covers I closed my eyes, struggling to fall asleep, wondering what my future held now that I’d told Judson T. Wainwright I loved him and knew he loved me too.