Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 21

I started to post Chapter 21 last night to schedule for this morning and then realized I hadn’t actually finished Chapter 21. Oops. So I finished it this morning. I’d written most of it in my head already anyhow, which is probably why I thought I had finished it.

Anyhow, as regular readers know, my fiction Thursday and Fridays are usually novellas or novels in progress, which means there will be changes before I publish it in the future as an ebook or paperback. One change I have a feeling is going to come when I rework The Farmer’s Daughter is moving Jason and Ellie’s story into a separate novella in between The Farmer’s Daughter, book one of the Spencer Chronicles, and The Librarian, book two of the Spence Chronicles. That novella will most likely be called . . . The Farmer’s Son because I am oh so original. *wink*

With that being said, I don’t want to leave my blog readers hanging so I’ll still try to keep Jason and Ellie’s story in the chapters I share here. My thought is that if I break this off into a novella in the future, I can flush out Jason and Ellie’s characters more without bogging down Alex and Molly and Franny’s story in this book.

Sometimes I think it’s silly I share these books as I write them, but then I think “well, life is short. Just have fun with it.” Plus I like the feedback from my few readers because it helps me decide and craft the remainder of the story (and sometimes it helps me decide to chop off chapters all together).

Thanks for sticking around this long (if you did). I’ll be quiet now and get on with the story.


Chapter 21

“How much trouble is the farm in, Robert?”

Franny’s question sent Robert’s eyes up to the ceiling in frustration. He was grateful his back was to his mother the same way it had been when his sister had cornered him a few weeks ago. How did the Tanner women have such a sixth sense about the bad news of life? He poured himself a cup of coffee and carried it with his mother’s tea to her kitchen table.

“Hannah been talking to you?”

Franny sipped the tea, reached across the table and spooned a heaping spoonful into her cup. “She’s been hinting, but not exactly talking. You know how she is.”

Robert definitely knew how she was. He sat on the chair across from his mother and sipped his coffee once, twice, three times before he spoke. He sat the cup down, cupping his hands around it, looking at it instead of his mother.

“We’re in a tough spot, Mom.”

“We’ve been in tough spots before.”

“This may be the toughest. I don’t know how much longer we can hang on, to be honest.”

Franny stirred a spoonful of honey into her tea and sipped it, waiting for her son to continue. She knew he would. He always did. Like Ned, he was thoughtful, contemplating the words before he said them.

“What I don’t get is why I can’t keep this farm running the same way Dad did.” Robert looked up at his Mom. “I took out a loan. Dad would never have done that. He only spent what he had or what he saved up for.”

When Robert fell into silence again, looking out the kitchen window into the field across the road, the same field his father had farmed for years and his father before him, Franny decided she needed to offer her son the encouragement she’d been unable to offer since she’d lost Ned. She had been a wife, yes, but she was still a mother and she needed to start acting like one, even if her children were fully grown.

“This isn’t the same farm your dad had, Robert. You’ve added more property, other farmers and farmland. You and your dad and brother did the right thing trying to diversify the business. How were you to know that milk prices would fall even further than they did in 1985? None of this is your fault. It’s circumstances out of your control.”


“No, your dad never took loans out. But milk prices were better back then. Other expenses were lower. He could manage to save up. You don’t have that luxury anymore.” Franny leaned over and laid her hand on Robert’s. “You’re doing the best you can, son. I know that. Farming runs in your blood. You’ll figure this out.”

Robert’s eyes stung with tears and he looked away quickly.

His voice broke when he spoke. “Thank you, Mom.”

“Don’t be afraid to cry, Robert. There’s nothing wrong with crying.”

Robert nodded but he still couldn’t look at her. If he saw her eyes, the compassionate eyes of the woman who raised him and his sister and  brother, who held the family and the farm together for his while life and who had suffered so much over the last few years, he might completely break down and he wasn’t about to do that. Instead he laid his hand over hers, swallowed hard, focused his attention on the field and nodded again.

“You’re a good boy, Robert.”

“Thank you, Mama,” he managed finally through the tears.

***

Alex’s head was pounding. His mouth was dry. He felt like his eyes had been glued shut.

Squinting against the sunlight pouring in from his bedroom window he recognized the feeling, which he hadn’t had in years.

He definitely had a hangover.

“Alex! You ever getting up?”

Jason’s voice outside his bedroom door was loud.

Too loud.

“I’ve already been to the barn and back.”

“Yeah. Comin’. Just . . .” Alex rubbed his hands across his face and forced himself to sit up. The pain in his head throbbed now, a steady pulse of pain that felt as if his brain would push out through his forehead. “Yeah. Be right down.”

Jason banged cupboard doors and loudly clanked spoons into bowls when he reached the kitchen. Alex winced against the noise, each clank another pain shooting through his head.

“Cereal?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

Jason leaned back against the counter and watched his friend sleepily pour cereal from the box to the bowl. Alex’s hair was pushed up in several different directions, dark circles creased the skin under his eyes, and he was moving slower than a zombie in a cheap b-movie.

“You go out last night?”

Alex poured milk on  his cereal without looking up. “Yeah.”

“Daniel Stanton said you left the bar last night with Jessie Landry hanging all over you.”

“If Daniel Stanton already told you I was at the bar, then why did you ask if I went out?”

Jason shrugged, folding his massive arms across his massive chest. Alex wasn’t always pleased at how massive his friend was, especially when he wasn’t sure where a conversation was going and how his massive friend might choose to end it.

“So, you ended up back up here?”

Alex kept his eyes on the cereal. “Yeah.”

“I didn’t see her this morning when I got up.”

“Yeah. I mean, no. I – sent her home. Or rather, she left. In a bit of a huff really.”

“So, you didn’t sleep with her?”

Alex shook his head, shoving a spoonful of cereal into his mouth.

Jason leaned back, reaching for his coffee cup on the counter and sipping from it. “Really? Well, that’s new. What happened?”

Alex glared, milk dripping down his chin.

“What does that mean, Jase? You act like I’m some man-whore or something. It’s not like I’m bedding girls every night.”

Jason laughed and shook his head. “Not every night, no.”

“Actually, if you’ll remember, I haven’t brought a girl back here in almost two years. Maybe even longer.”

“So, you’re not taking them back to our place, maybe you’re —”

“I’m not,” Alex snapped, shoving the last of the cereal into his mouth and gulping the remaining milk down.

“Okay. Okay.” Jason looked quizzically at Alex, folding his arms across his chest again. One leg was casually crossed of the other one. “What’s up with you anyhow? You’re touchy this morning.”

Alex wiped the milk off his chin with the back of his hand.

“I’m just not the jerk you act like I am,” he grumbled, walking toward the backstairs that led to the upstairs bathroom. “I’m going to get a shower and head up to the farm to help your dad.”

Standing in the shower, the hot water kicking up steam around him and pouring over his bare skin, Alex cursed under his breath, knowing his best friend knew better than anyone what a pig he’d been much of his life; how he’d distracted himself from the hard moments in his life with the company of a cold beer or a warm, sexually aroused woman more times than he cared to admit.

He leaned his hands against the wall of the shower and let the water pour over his head and back, wishing the hot streams making paths across his body could wash away the shame the same way it was washing away the sweat from the night before.

After drying off and pulling on his usual faded blue jeans and a t-shirt he felt more alert and moved quickly downstairs, guzzling a glass of orange juice before reaching for his keys.

Jason was still in the driveway when he walked outside, checking under the hood of his truck.

Alex stood by the truck, sliding his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. He cleared his throat. “Hey, sorry I was so sharp earlier.”

Jason looked up from where he had leaned over the truck with a wrench and shook his head slightly. “Actually, I’m sorry I harassed you about your night out. It’s none of my business.”

The sun was brighter than Alex had realized when he first stepped outside. He winched and reached in his front shirt pocket for his sunglasses, sliding them on. “Everything go okay with Ellie last night?”

Jason sighed, which was a weird sound coming from such a masculine figure. “Yeah. Sort of.” He glanced at Alex while he loosened a bolt on the engine. “She thinks I proposed.”

Alex lifted an eyebrow. “Thinks you proposed? Um, I might need a little more of an explanation on this one. Usually a guy proposes or he doens’t.”

 “Well, I was going to propose but I needed to talk to her about something first and then she brought it up and then she just thought . . . you know what? It’s too confusing to explain.”

“So, you’re engaged. That’s great. Why don’t you look happier? Don’t men usually look happier when they get engaged?”

Jason used a rag to wipe grease off his hands as talked. “It is. I guess. It’s just . . .”

“You’re nervous about getting married?”

“A little but it’s not that. It’s just, I’ve never told Ellie about what happened in college.”

Alex spoke through a yawn, his expression clueless. “What happened in college?”

Jason starred at him for a few moments with first furrowed eyebrows then raised ones. Alex continued to look blank for a full minute then his eyes widened in realization. “Wait. You mean what happened with Emily Barker? You never told Ellie about that?”

Jason shook his head and tossed the dirty rag into the front seat of his truck. “I was really embarrassed, man. That experience was a low point for me and it wasn’t even —ugh, just never mind. The point is that I never told Ellie because I was embarrassed and because I didn’t know how she would feel about it.”

“But you guys weren’t even dating then.”

“I know but it still was wrong, Alex. That’s not how I wanted my first time to be. I wanted it to be with someone I loved. Someone I planned to spend my whole life with. And yeah, I know it sounds lame, but I wanted it to be with someone I was married to.”

Alex shrugged one shoulder and smiled. “Yeah, it sounds a little lame, but it also sounds really sweet and romantic.” He made a face and shuddered. “Yuck. Dude, I think you’re rubbing off on me with all your sentimental crud. Next Thing I know we’ll be watching chick flicks together.”

“Sleepless in Seattle isn’t bad.”

Alex held up his hands. “Jase, I am not watching chick flicks with you. Calm down.”

He grinned and then realized even grinning made his head hurt. He let the grin fade, partially because of the headache and partially because Jason was leaning back against the front of the truck now, one arm propped up on the metal frame, looking at the ground, thinking.

“Jason, you know Ellie loves you. She’s going to understand, okay? Just talk to her.”

Jason nodded, but didn’t look up from the dirt. “Yeah, I hope she does.” He lifted his gaze to look at Alex, his eyes glistening. “Because if she doesn’t . . .” He shook his head, swallowed hard and looked out at the fields across from the house. “I don’t know if I’m going to make it without her.”

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 2

Life has been crazy in my neck of the woods, but revising Chapter 2 to share here this week helped distract me a little. Hopefully, it will actually post because my parents’ house (where we are staying for a while) has some pretty awful WiFi. That has been both a blessing and a curse. I’ve been frustrated at times being unable to access things online I’d like to but it’s also been a blessing because I am cut off in many ways from the negative news of the world. I can’t scroll Facebook or even access news sites at certain points in the day and I’m actually liking that.

If you missed Chapter 1, you can find the link HERE.

 


The Spencer Valley Community Center was the gathering place on Thursday nights for half the town of Spencer, population 3,000. In one conference room, the Spencer Valley Historical Society was meeting to discuss the upcoming history fair and fundraiser. In another room, there was a painting class, ages teen to 90s.

At the end of the hall a dance class was being held in the main gathering area and in a small conference room behind the kitchen, the Spencer Sewing and Knitting Club was holding its weekly gathering for amateurs and experts alike.

Molly was an amateur, which was clear from how she was sucking her index finger after stabbing it the third time in ten minutes while trying to learn to cross-stitch. She wasn’t even sure why she was at the sewing club. She’d never been interested in creating anything with thread and needle. She was usually at the community center for painting or sketching classes. When her friend Liz had invited her to the sewing club meeting she’d agreed, simply to break up the monotony of her evenings at the milking barn.

Molly laid her project down on her lap and rubbed her eyes.

“I haven’t been able to sleep all week,” she said through a yawn. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Liz Cranmer, Molly’s friend since seventh grade sat across from her in a cushioned wooden chair, her red-blond hair tied back in a neat ponytail.

“It’s all that worrying you do,” Liz said, matter-of-factly. “You have too much cortisol in your system.”

Oh, here we go again, Molly thought, fighting the strong urge to roll her eyes.

Liz was a self-proclaimed natural health expert. She was also a well-known hypochondriac. A half-filled water bottle with ice and freshly cut lemons sat next to her chair, which she sipped throughout the meeting.

“I don’t even know what cortisol is,” Molly said. She immediately regretted admitting her lack of knowledge.

Liz laid her project on her lap and looked up. “That’s what your adrenals make when you’re stressed. It’s a hormone that is produced by your body to try to help you —”

“My what?”

“Adrenals. They’re glands that sit on top of your kidneys.”

“Do they help me pee? Because I’m peeing fine.”

The other women, sitting on couches or chairs in a semi-circle, were starting to giggle.

“Oh boy. Here we go again,” Mildred McGee said with a shake of her head.

“No, they don’t help you pee,” Liz said. “They help regulate your flight or fight response.”

“By making me pee?” Molly asked.

“They aren’t related to peeing,” Liz said impatiently, rolling her eyes. “Anyhow, you need to buy some supplements to regulate your adrenals. Are you tired all day and wide awake at night?”

Molly sipped coffee from a thermos next to her and shook her head. If Liz wasn’t diagnosing herself with unusual ailments she read about in some magazine or online, then she was diagnosing her friends.

Ginny Jefferies, the town’s 50-year-old librarian, sighed. “Oh, Liz. You’ve been reading too many medical sites again. You know you’re a hypochondriac.”

“Well, I didn’t say I had it,” Liz pointed out. “I said Molly did.”

Louise McGroarty smiled and looked over her bifocals at Liz and Molly in amusement as she looped another piece of yarn around her needle.

“I don’t have adrenal issues,” Molly sighed. “I’ve just been thinking too much lately.”

“What have you been thinking about?” Liz asked.

“I don’t know. Life in general, I guess. Like what I want to do with mine besides working on the farm.”

“Molly, honey, you only live once and if you want to see what life is like beyond this town then you should finish that degree you started all those years ago and see where it takes you,” Louise said  as she tied off a piece of thread. “You’re almost 30, kid. It’s beyond time to figure out what you want in life and get on with it.”

“I’m 26, not almost 30,” Molly said.

“26 is the new almost 30,” Jessie Newberry, the mayor’s secretary, said with a grin.

Molly sighed. She had been sighing a lot lately.

“Really though, I like living on the farm,” Molly said. “It’s what I’m used to.”

“What you’re used to isn’t always what is best for you, honey,” Ginny said, pushing a needle through her project.

“Exactly. Besides helping your family, and maybe us wonderful ladies,” Lydia Walmsley smiled as she gestured around the room. “What else is keeping you in this town?

As if on cue, the side door to the community room opened and a quiet hush fell over the women as they looked up from their projects. Molly followed their gazes and watched Alex walking toward her wearing a dirty pair of jeans and a stained white t-shirt. The expressions on the women’s faces made it seem like he was strutting down a catwalk on fashion week in Paris instead of into the community room in his farm clothes.

“Hey,” he said, stopping and standing in front of her, hooking his thumbs through his belt loops. “Your mom wants to know if you can stop by the store on the way home and pick up some more flour and sugar for the rest of the cakes.”

She furrowed her eyebrows and smiled slightly. “You don’t know how to buy flour and sugar?”

“You know I always buy the wrong thing,” Alex said with a grin, pushing his fingers back through his ruffled brown hair.

Molly noticed that almost all the women were watching her and Alex, or more accurately Alex as if Alex was standing shirtless under a waterfall.

“I can pick it up,” she told him. “Now get out of here and go be productive somewhere.”

Alex offered a mock salute. “Sure thing, drill sergeant,” Alex said. He turned to walk away and then looked over his shoulder and smirked. “Have fun sewing and knitting, ladies.”

Liz looked at Molly with one eyebrow raised, her back to Alex.

“We sure will, Alex,” she said. “You have a good day now.”

Alex walked through the doorway, his back to the women. “Oh, I plan to.”

As the door closed firmly behind Alex, Liz smirked.

“And that, my dear ladies, is what is really keeping Molly Tanner in Spencer Valley,” she said as warmth rushed into Molly’s cheeks.

“Ooooh…” several of the women cooed together as Molly rolled her eyes.

“That could not be further from the truth,” she said.

“He’d keep me here,” Maddie Simpson said with a smile. “I’d just follow him around anywhere like I was a lost puppy dog.” The other women laughed in agreement.

Hannah Barks fanned her chest with her hand. “Same here. Oh my, Molly, where have you been hiding him?”

“I haven’t. He’s been working at our farm for the last five years. Of course, unless you live at the local bars or attend a rodeo you’ve probably never met him.”

“Sounds like someone is trying to pretend she’s not interested,” Allie Jenkins said with a smirk.

Molly started to fold her project as she shook her head.

“I’m going to go get those baking supplies for mom to avoid the wrath of Mavis.”

“No matter what you do, you’ll never avoid the wrath of Mavis,” Ginny said with a snort.

The other women laughed and nodded in agreement.

“Isn’t that the truth?” Allie said. “That woman is never happy.”

Liz shoved her project into her bag quickly. “I’ll follow you,” she told Molly.

Outside in the parking lot, the sun was just starting to set. Golden light poured across the small town of Spencer, making it look almost picturesque. Molly always thought that if it hadn’t been for several dilapidated, abandoned buildings along Main Street and the empty shoe factory on the edge of town, her hometown could be mistaken for one of those quaint villages in a Hallmark movie.

Many of the homes were well maintained, fairly new siding, matching shutters, the stereotypical white picket fence surrounding the neatly mowed front and back yards. The homes that were less maintained were where every book and movie always placed them – on the other side of the train tracks and well out of view of most visitors, who usually looked for the small, unique shops on Main Street instead.

The tracks were mainly used to transport cars to and from the railcar repair station. The repair center was the last remnant of the railroad company that once employed the majority of the town, helping to facilitate its growth more than 100 years ago, along with farming and the local medical center. When train transportation became less prominent, its demise was part of what started the town down the slippery slope of its economic decline.

Across from the community center was St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church; one of many churches in town. Molly looked up at the building, a tall cross illuminated from behind and adhered to the front of the stone structure, near the middle of the bell tower. In front of it was a statue of Mary and in front of Mary were a bouquet of fresh flowers that someone must have placed there earlier in the day.

The small farming community was host to a variety of small churches, representing a variety of the main Christian denominations. While Molly had always admired the stunning architecture and stained-glass windows of the Catholic Church, her idea of how to approach her faith had led her to what was called a “non-denominational church” thirty minutes away, in the neighboring town of Millsburg. The church hadn’t hitched itself to any one denomination and this was a concept that appealed to Molly.

“So, are you really thinking of leaving the farm?” Liz asked after she had finished chatting with the ladies and met Molly in the parking lot.

“I don’t know,” Molly admitted. “I like helping dad and mom with the farm. I like helping with the cows and at the farm, working at the farm store, and I even like collecting the eggs from those cranky hens.  On some days I can’t really see myself doing anything else, but on other days – I don’t know. I just want something different.”

Liz flipped a strand of hair off her shoulder. “I hear you. Change is good. Why do you think I left my job at the school district? I needed something more exciting than answering phones and scheduling the superintendent’s meetings.”

“You work at a health food store,” Molly said with a laugh. “Is that really more exciting?”

Liz tilted her head and laughed. “Sometimes it is actually. Yes. Last week a woman came in and asked if the crystals we have would help her to realign her shakra. I don’t even know what a shakra is. I just told her it was possible and left off that I had no idea.”

Reaching their cars, Liz unlocked hers and tossed her bag into the passenger seat. She leaned back against the closed door.

“But enough about me, back to you. You’ll have to think about what you want to do beyond the farm, but I know one thing you can do now: come to the gym with me and get in shape and snag that sexy Alex.”

Molly unlocked her own car and shook her head at her friend. “Liz, no. Alex is — well, Alex. And he wouldn’t be interested in me at all anyhow.”

“I highly doubt that’s true and besides, are you interested in him?”

Molly raised her arm and looked at an imaginary watch. “Oh, my. Look at the time. Don’t you have a cat to get home and feed, Liz?”

Liz sighed  as she turned to slid into the front seat. “Go ahead, Molly Tanner. Chase away your best friend who is only trying to help you lose your —”

Molly waved over her shoulder at her friend. “Bye, Liz. Will I see you at the ladies’ group Tuesday?

“I don’t know.” Liz shrugged. “I might have to work. Jane has been out sick this week.”

Jane Wilcox was Liz’s boss and the owner of Nature’s Best Health Food Store. Molly thought that for someone who touted healthy living and eating she sure was sick a lot.

“Well, I hope you can come. We’re studying Esther this week.”

“Again? Oh my gosh, I get it,” Liz said with an eye roll. “Esther was wonderful and we should all be like Esther.”

“There are a lot of good lessons in her story, but, no, we can’t all be like her,” Molly said. “I’m sure she wasn’t perfect. We’re only hearing one story of her life.”

Liz laughed. “I know, like how Facebook and Instagram only show the highlights of someone’s life. I’ll see what I can do. Drive home safe, lady. And for Godsake, don’t let Mavis rope you into manning that bake sale table again.”

Pulling the door closed Molly thought about how Liz felt she needed to change her looks to get the attention of a man. She was probably right, still it was weird thinking about the need to become someone you weren’t simply to be paid attention to by the opposite sex. What happened when the man found out Molly wasn’t who he had thought she was? That would certainly be an awkward transition unless the woman simply pretended to be someone else the rest of her life.

Molly shuddered as she drove, thinking about a woman she had known who was doing exactly that and was probably miserable because of it. Dana Priester always had her hair styled perfectly, her make up just so, her clothes always the latest design, and a smile always plastered on her face. How awful it must be for her to always have to be “on” and never be allowed to let down her hair and simply be herself. Then again, Molly thought with a shrug, maybe stuck up and fake was who Dana really was.

Just as awkward as Liz’s suggestion that she get in shape to catch a man was the man Liz had mentioned. Molly had definitely found her mind wandering more than once to Alex’s handsome appearance but she had never thought about trying to “win him over” or “catch him.” Alex was — well, Alex. He was simply there. Her brother’s best friend, her dad and uncle’s employee, her co-worker, for lack of a better word.

He was attractive, easy to talk to and fun to be around but Molly knew he would never be anything more than those things to her. He was too attractive, too charming, and maybe even too fun for her. There was no way he would ever be interested in someone like her; someone who weighed more than she should, didn’t pay much attention to her feminine side and who he most likely merely thought of as his best friend’s little sister who he worked with at the barn.

Passing the town limits and relaxing as the comforting sight of fields of hay rose up around her, Molly shifted her thoughts from Alex to the ladies’ group and how it had been helping her study the Bible more. She still had a long way to go before she felt as “spiritual” as some of the women in the group, who seemed to trust God in every step of their lives, but she felt more equipped to handle life than she had five years ago when her grandfather was first diagnosed and she had started caring for him.

She knew she should have been praying more about what God wanted for her life too, but she’d prayed she had prayed a lot when her Grandfather’s health had taken a turn for the worse and never heard an answer. Why would God now give her an answer about what steps she should take in her life? And even if he did give her answers, how would he give her answers?

She knew answers from God weren’t like an audible voice from the clouds, but she had been seeking answers about her next step in life for seven years and, yet, here she was, almost 26, and feeling stuck in a deep, boring, frustrating rut. She didn’t know if leaving the farm was what she needed to get out of it, but she knew she needed some kind of change and she needed to make that change sooner rather than later.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 21

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

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


Chapter 21

Light, Shadows & Magic (2)

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh? How can I do that?”

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

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

“Um… .speaks to me?”

“Yes. Which one says something to you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned abruptly and walked quickly out of the shop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It couldn’t be.

But it was.

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

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

It was definitely him.

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

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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 19

In case you missed it, I posted Chapter 18 yesterday because we all need a distraction from the news of the world today, or just other stresses in our lives. Or at least I do because this week has been stressful for me. The one highlight of the week is that I have finished the first draft of A New Beginning and am now beginning rewrites, revisions and all that jazz, hoping to publish it on Kindle sometime in the Spring.

You will find a link to the previous chapters I have posted HERE or at the link at the top of the page.

You can find the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. 

 


Chapter 19

The waiting room at the adoption agency wasn’t exactly what I would call welcome. Walls that had probably once been a sterile, eggshell white were now dull and stained. A few metal chairs and a coffee table with magazines scattered on top of it sat in the center of the room. In one corner a desk with a stained blue chair pushed against it was gathering dust. In the other corner, a plant revealed its synthetic status by the dust on its leaves.  In some ways, the room reminded me more of a prison cell than a waiting room.

Edith’s hands were red from wringing them for half an hour now. I took her hands in mine to keep her from ripping the skin off and she managed a smile, worry clearly etched across her face.

Jimmy, chewing on a toothpick, paced in front of the small smeared window facing a brick wall, pushing his hand back through his sandy brown hair. Every few moments he looked at the floor, then back out the window, then at the closed door of the room. As I wished for the tenth time someone would come in to update us on what was happening, the door to the room opened and a plump woman with grey-streaked, frizzy blond hair and black cat-eye glasses stood in the doorway with a clipboard. Dressed in a blue blouse untucked from her grey skirt and covered with a gray suit jacket she looked flustered as she walked briskly into the room.

A teenage girl with straight blond hair and stooped shoulders walked behind her, her eyes lowered. Thin except for the small round belly protruding against the fabric of a flower-covered peasant blouse, she looked like she should be in a line at school, waiting to go to recess, not waiting to sign her baby away. The hem of her blue denim skirt rested a few inches above the knees, her legs covered by bright red tights.

“I’m sorry we took so long, Mr. and Mrs. Sickler,” the woman with the clipboard said, glancing up and stretching her hand out to Edith first and then Jimmy. “I’m Sandra Tyler, your social worker. Lily was running a little late. I should have updated you but my other appointment ran a little long.”

“We understand,” Edith said then gestured toward me. “I hope it’s okay we brought my sister Blanche as moral support.”

Sandra smiled at me and shook my hand as well. “Of course it is. I’m sure Lily is happy to meet anyone who will be a part of her baby’s adoptive family.” She gestured toward the chairs. “Please. Let’s all sit and get to know each other a little.”

Lily lowered herself gently into one of the metal chairs, her belly spilling over the top of the skirt under the blouse. Sunken eyes with dark circles under them looked out from the small, round face. She bit her bottom lip and bounced her foot, looking at Jimmy and Edith, as if sizing them up.

Sandra cleared her throat.  “So, this Lily. She’s a young lady from here in the city and she’s due three months from now. We’ve been helping Lily with her addiction and she was just released from rehab a couple of weeks ago. Lily, this is Jimmy and Edith, the couple you chose from the files we showed you. Do you have any questions for Edith and Jimmy?”

Lily shrugged, folding her arms across her chest. “Yeah. I guess.” She looked at Sandra from under heavy eyelids and then at Edith and Jimmy. “Have you got a lot of room for kids?”

“Oh yes,” Edith said. “We live in a small town with a lovely backyard and both our parents have homes in the country with plenty of space for a child to run and play in.”

Lily’s mouth tipped upward slightly. “How come you don’t have kids of your own?” she asked abruptly.

Sandra looked startled at the question. “Lily, honey, that might be a little too personal,” she said softly.

“No. It’s okay,” Edith said quickly. “I don’t mind.” She smiled at Lily. “We lost a baby a few years ago and haven’t been able to have any more children since then. She was stillborn.”

Lily looked at the floor and shifted in the chair, her smile gone. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “That sucks.” She looked up at Edith through blond bangs. “Doesn’t really seem fair someone like you not being able to have a baby and someone like me – someone screwed up like me – getting knocked up by some guy who don’t even love me anymore.”

Edith swallowed hard and looked at Jimmy. “Well, Lily, I don’t … I mean, you’re not…”

Sandra interrupted. “What Edith means, Lily is that you’ve made some mistakes in life but you’re fixing those mistakes and one way you’re doing that is doing the right thing for your child and giving him or her to a loving couple to take care of him or her.”

Edith nodded and I could tell she was grateful for Sandra stepping in. “Right, Lily. You’re trying to make up for all that now.”

Jimmy cleared his throat and leaned forward slightly.

“So, how have you been doing, Lily ? Feeling pretty good ?”

Lily shrugged again and slumped slightly in the chair. “Yeah,” she squeezed her forearm and looked at the floor. “Been keepin’ clean from the drugs. They’ve got me in some program. I think it’s workin’.”

She kept her eyes downcast as her lower lip started to tremble. “Wish I’d never started all that junk in the first place.” She sniffed and dragged her hand across her nose. “I’m not ready for a baby at my age. I’m only 15. Can’t believe I let that guy talk me into doing that just for a hit off his pipe.”

My breath caught in my chest and I did my best not to gasp out loud. She was only 15 and pregnant. I had been a mess at 17 when I found out I was pregnant. She must have been terrified.

Tears rolled down Lily’s cheeks and dropped off her chin. Edith stood and kneeled in front of Lily, laying her hand over hers. “It’s going to be okay, Lily. You’re getting help. You’re getting on the right path and we’re going to take care of your baby, okay?”

Lily nodded, accepting the tissue Sandra offered her and wiping her face, then blowing her nose. She laid the crumpled tissue back in Sandra’s hand. The social worker looked at it with a small grimace and tossed it into the trash can next to her.

“You seem like good people,” Lily said softly.  “I’m really excited for you to have this baby.”

After a few more minutes of conversation, Lily asking if Edith had painted the nursery and how old she and Jimmy were, Sandra suggested Edith and Jimmy plan another meeting with Lily in a month and everyone agreed.

“I feel a lot better about it all now that I’ve met you,” Lily said as we all stood, her nose still red from when she’d cried.

“We’re so glad to have been able to meet you, Lily,” Jimmy said.

Lily nodded, sniffed and laid her hand against her belly. “I’m glad you’re taking my baby. I’m in no shape to take care of it and the daddy don’t – doesn’t want it. I think it’ll be happier with nice people like you.”

When the door closed, we all looked at each other and I could tell none of us were sure how to react.

Edith sat in a chair and let out a breath. “Whoa. That was . . .”

Her voice trailed off as she shook her head.

“Crazy,” Jimmy said, sitting next to her. “How does a kid that young get in a situation like that? Where were her parents?”

“Maybe on the streets just like her,” I said with a shrug. “Who knows.”

Edith leaned forward, pressing her hand against her forehead. “Are we doing the right thing? Taking this baby from this girl? What if – I mean, maybe we could–”

“Edith, she’s too young to raise this baby on her own,” Jimmy interrupted. “We can give this child a better life.”

“And then what happens to Lily?” Edith asked, tears suddenly pooling in her eyes. “If her parents don’t care about her now and the father has left her – who else is around to care for her? And what about when she gets older and realizes what she’s done, that she gave up her baby?”

Jimmy leaned back in the chair and pushed his hands back into his hair. “I don’t know Edith. I just don’t know. But we can’t trust her to take care of that baby on her own either. We live too far away to keep an eye on her – what else can we do?”

We sat in silence, looking at the floor, feeling a heaviness as we heard doors open and close in the hallways beyond the room we were sitting in. I wondered how many other waiting rooms were in this building, how many other young mothers were struggling to decide how or if they could care for their babies. I thought how I could have been that mother if I had chosen Hank or drugs or anything else over Jackson, if I hadn’t had the support system I had had in Miss Mazie, Hannah,  and my family.

When Sandra came back into the room, she handed a stack of papers to Jimmy and Edith.

“This is the preliminary paperwork you’ll need to sign. Of course, nothing is finalized until the baby is born and you and Lily sign the final papers the day of the birth.” She flipped the pages and pointed out where Edith and Jimmy needed to sign.

“What happens to Lily after the baby is born?” Edith said, her hand hovering over the stack of paper.

“What do you mean?” Sandra asked.

“I mean, does anyone keep an eye on her or help her through all this? It’s a big step, isn’t it, giving up your baby?”

Sandra sat back in the chair and sighed. “Yes, it is but most young girls like Lily move on with their lives and, sad to say, many of them return to the streets or the drugs or even, well, more unpleasant occupations.”

Edith winced. “Where are Lily’s parents?”

Sandra shook her head. “She only has her mother and that’s who brought her in, I’m afraid. She knows Lily can’t take care of this baby and the mother isn’t in any shape to do it either. She’s an alcoholic, living in an apartment complex in one of the worst parts in town. Quite frankly, I’m grateful she came here at all instead of trying to get Lily a back alley abortion somewhere.”

I felt sick to my stomach hearing what other young desperate mothers might turn to instead of adoption. I remembered Hank suggesting the same when I became pregnant, though thankfully he retracted the suggestion. I hadn’t understood what he meant back then when he’d suggested ending the pregnancy, but now I knew more and my heart ached that procedures like that were even possible.

“Mr. and Mrs. Sickler, listen,” Sandra laid the papers on the small coffee table and leaned toward them. “I know this is hard and scary and I think it’s wonderful you are so worried about Lily, but what she is doing is right for this baby. She can’t care for the baby on her own. The father isn’t even in the picture; we aren’t even sure who he is. Her mother is in worse shape than she is. You’re doing the right thing taking this baby. Otherwise, he or she will end up in foster care, bouncing from family to family. Your concerns for Lily are admirable, but the truth is, we just can’t save everyone.”

Edith was quiet on the way home and I knew she was thinking about what Sandra had said and struggling with her worry for Lily.

Fiction Thursday: ‘A New Beginning’ Chapter 18

We all need distractions these days so I’m doing Fiction Thursday again this week. It may seem like there has been a lull in Blanche’s story, but things will be picking up again, don’t worry. Most of my rough draft for A New Beginning is finished, so I’ll probably be offering two chapters a week for the next few weeks.

As always, feel free to comment on the story’s direction or details in the comments. The chapters I share here are initial drafts (for the most part) and are revised, rewritten and edited later.

You will find a link to the previous chapters I have posted HERE or at the link at the top of the page.

You can find the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. 

 


Chapter 18

“Well, Sam, two more weeks and you’ll be back on duty,” I said, handing Sam a cup of coffee.

He shook his head as he sipped from the coffee. “I can’t even believe it’s been seven months since I was shot and Faith was born.”

“None of us can,” I said, sitting in a chair across from him. “It’s a total miracle you’re still here with us.”

I thought back to the weeks and months that had followed Sam being shot. The damage to his spinal cord had taken months to heal, but eventually, it did enough to allow him to return to his job. Being unable to work or even participate in activities he had before the shooting left Sam depressed and angry most days. Using two canes with cuffs that pressed into his forearms helped him maneuver around the house, but thoughts of walking freely outside the house to hunt like he’d used to, or even to go to church, were far from his mind. The idea he’d ever return to work as a sheriff’s deputy was even further from his mind.

After months of physical therapy at our local hospital, he was able to walk better and the scars inside his back were almost healed. I know I wasn’t alone at my shock and relief that the doctor had signed off on his return to work a week earlier.

Looking across the room, Sam smiled and I followed his gaze to Faith sleeping in a blanket on the floor.

“There were two miracles that day,” I said.

“That’s true,” Sam said, still smiling and watching Faith.

Emmy walked in holding a cup of tea and sat next to Sam on the couch.

“I think I’m going to invite J.T. over for dinner tomorrow night. We haven’t seen him in weeks, not since he’s been working on that big job in Binghamton.” She turned toward me. “Have you seen him lately?”

I shrugged. “Only at church, but I haven’t really had a chance to speak to him. He’s usually gone by the time I’m done chatting.”

Emmy’s eyebrows furrowed and she frowned. “I’m worried about him. We haven’t seen him as much since Faith was born. I hope he’s okay.”

I headed toward the kitchen, knowing I’d been thinking about Judson, but determined not to let Emmy know I had. Truthfully, I had noticed his changed demeanor in the last few months, feeling a distance between us when he greeted me at church.

Was he angry I’d never agreed to go to a movie with him? He hadn’t actually asked me again after that day he’d driven me home from the hospital. Our interactions had been brief and fairly cold. He would smile at me if he saw me on the street or in the diner, but he rarely stopped to talk. I knew I should have reached out, but I was hesitant, afraid of my feelings. Now I was afraid his feelings toward me had developed into anger or ambivalence.

So, what if his feelings have changed toward me? I asked myself as I my teacup out in the sink.

I needed to keep myself detached from anyone who could threaten my secure life with Jackson. Still, I had found myself missing how he used to ask me how my day was if we saw each other at the diner, or how our handshakes lingered during the greeting time at church.

I also missed him tipping his hat as he drove by in his truck on the way to work.

He was still wearing the beard he’d had when I’d seen him that day at the theater and I had to admit it was growing on me and did little to distract me from his already attractive appearance.

“Maybe you should come over when I invite him,” Emmy said from the living room, pulling me from my thoughts.

When I didn’t answer, she didn’t seem to notice, continuing to craft her plans in an out-loud brainstorming session.

“Oh wait! We should all go fishing instead! That would be fun! Jackson would love it too! Let’s do that! What do you think, Blanche?”

“Sure,” I said, distracted, as I finished washed the cup. “That would be nice.”

Emmy sighed from the couch. “I think J.T. just needs some cheering up. We got some bad news about Uncle Ray last week. I know their relationship has been strained since J.T. left college.”

“Bad news?” I asked.

“Doctors say his heart is weaker than they thought. He might need surgery but even then, they aren’t sure if the surgery will help.”

“Oh.”

I sat on the chair in the kitchen and thought about Judson and how his worry for his father might be one reason he’d seemed so distant recently. Maybe it wasn’t because I had never accepted his invitation to the movies.

“Did he tell you he’s thinking of going down to visit his family in a couple of weeks?” Emmy asked, breaking through my thoughts.

“No. Like I said, I haven’t really spoken to him in a while.”

Sam winced as he shifted on the couch and I knew his ribs were still sore. “So, what’s the deal with you two anyhow?” he blurted, looking up at me over his coffee cup.

I looked at him in confusion. “Deal with us? What does that mean?”

“Do you like him or what?” Sam asked.

Emmy slapped him gently in the arm. “Sam!”

“What? I’ve seen the way he looks at her and the way she flushes all red when he’s around.”

I was sure I was flushing red now, but I didn’t know I’d done it around Judson. I cleared my throat. What did Sam mean the way he looked at me? I’d never noticed Judson looking at me.

“Well, it’s getting late. I need to head home and get Jackson ready for bed.”

Sam shifted forward and looked at me with a more serious expression “I’m sorry, Blanche. I didn’t mean to pick on you. I really thought maybe. . .”

“I barely know him, Sam. He’s nice, but I’m not interested in a relationship with anyone.”

I stood and reached for my coat. “I know you mean well, and I do appreciate you being concerned for my romantic well-being, but truly, I’m happy single right now.”

Emmy stood and hugged me. “It’s okay not to be ready for a relationship. Sam is just – well, a dork,” she looked over her shoulder and scowled at her chuckling husband. “But we do want you to be happy and if you are happy outside of a relationship then we’re happy for you.”

Sam grinned as he stood. “That was a whole lot of happys but yes, we are happy if you are.” He pulled my coat closed around me. “And if you are happy alone, with no one to love you the way I love Emmy, then…”

I playful pushed at him and laughed. “Sam Lambert! Knock it off!”

I left, smiling at my friends’ gentle teasing, but still worried about Judson and wondering how he was taking the news about his father. As I drove home, passing by the Worley’s old tenant house where he was living, I considered stopping but hesitated at the thought of being alone with him.

Good grief, Blanche. What do you think is going to happen? You’re not some crazed, desperate woman. I sighed. Yet anyhow.

I pulled the car in front of the Worley tenant house and noticed a light in the front room. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door to Daddy’s Oldsmobile but didn’t get out.

You’re just being a friend, Blanche. There’s nothing wrong with that.

My hand hovered over the door, ready to knock but pausing to listen to the music filtering from inside the house instead. Frank Sinatra singing one of my favorite songs. I listened for a few more moments and then knocked. The music continued. Maybe he couldn’t hear me. I knocked again, louder and the music turned off. When the door opened, Judson stood in the open doorway, his clothes, face, and beard covered in sawdust.

“Blanche! Hey!” He was holding a chisel and piece of wood. “What are you doing here?”

“I was just driving by and — thought I should che – see how . . . I mean, Emmy was worried about you, so I thought I would stop and check in on you.”

I mentally chided myself for being so flustered. Why was I so flustered? Maybe it was how the sun caught his blue eyes, or the small scar on his chin I’d just noticed, or the way his shirt fit across his shoulders.

“Oh. Well, thanks. I’m good. Just working on some woodworking projects. I’m building a table for Mr. Worley. Want to come in and see it?”

He stepped back, revealing a well-furnished room with paintings of oceans and scenery on the wall and cozy, yet modern furniture. In the middle of the living room a partially built table was laying on it’s top with the legs already installed. Even from where I stood, I could see that the legs were carved with intricate patterns and detail.

I stepped past him, my eyes on the table.

“This is beautiful,” I said, tracing the patterns with my fingertips. “I had no idea you did this kind of work.”

He set the chisel down and dusted his pants and shirt off. “It’s relaxing for me and, of course, it comes in handy for construction jobs.” He snatched a rag off the top of a table and wiped his hands. “So, what brings you by?”

I hesitated asking him about his dad, but didn’t know how else to explain my visit.

“Emmy told me about your dad. Are you okay?”

He leaned back against a small bookcase and folded his arms across his chest. I wondered if he had made the bookcase as well.

“Yeah. I’m okay. I mean – I’m worried for him, but,” he shrugged. “I’m sure it will all turn out fine.”

His answer was short and sweet and that was fine. I don’t know what I’d expected him to say or do. Pour his heart out to me?

“Oh,” I said. “That’s good.”

“I mean –” he rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, looking at the floor. “I guess I don’t know how to feel actually. I’m worried for him but . . . I’m angry at him too.” He folded his arms again and shook his head. “I love him, but he was hard on me and we butted heads so often. I feel guilty I dropped out of college, but yet I’m glad that I didn’t let him determine my future.”

He looked at me and laughed softly, rubbing his beard. “My emotions are pretty mixed up in other words.”

“I can tell,” I said.

“That’s about as introspective as I’m going to get for now,” he said, grinning. “Hey, can I make you some tea or get a glass of water or something?”

“No, but thank you,” I said. “Really. I have to head home and get Jackson ready for bed. He likes me to read a book to him before he falls asleep.”

I looked at the floor, feeling suddenly awkward and anxious. I moved toward the door, smiling up at him then looked at the floor again. I felt like I was in high school again, standing in a social hall where I didn’t feel social at all.

“I understand. Jackson is a great kid. You’re very lucky.”

“I really I am.”

I glanced at the coffee table as I walked toward the door and noticed a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

“Are you reading that?” I asked, pointing toward it.

“Just started it a couple of days ago. I’d heard a lot of good things about it and thought I should try it.”

“I really loved it,” I said. I hadn’t realized he was a reader as well. “What do you think so far?”

“I love it too,” he said. “I love Scout. Can you imagine having a kid like her? I think that would be awesome. I have a hard time putting books down at night and end up bleary-eyed on the site some mornings.” He laughed. “Most of the guys just assume it’s because I was out drinking the night before. They’d never imagine it’s because I’m a nerd.”

“It gets even better the further you get in,” I told him. “And being a nerd isn’t the worst thing in the world, you know. Take my word for it.”

“Yeah,” he laughed again, smiling as he reached for the doorknob and opened the door. “I know.”

I looked up at him, studying his blue eyes, my eyes drifting down his square jawline and across the light-brown beard with tinges of red.

“So… what’s with the beard?” I asked abruptly.

What’s with the beard? Why did I ask that?

He tilted his head back and laughed. “Well, that question came out of left field. What? Don’t you like it?”

“No. I mean, yes, I mean, it’s fine. I was just curious. It really doesn’t matter if I like it or not. It’s your face.”

His smile did something to my insides I couldn’t describe. “I grew it to combat the winter cold, to be honest,” he said. “Winters up here are cold for this Southern boy. But, now that the weather is warmer, it’s starting to itch and annoy me and trimming it isn’t much fun either.”

He leaned against the door frame, standing close to me, and folded his arms across his chest. “Think I should shave it off?”

I shrugged. “Like I said. It’s your face.”

“Yeah, but would you like my face better if it was gone?” He watched me intently, grinning.

“I think that’s a trick question and I’m not taking the bait,” I told him as I stepped out onto the porch.

“Ah, you’re no fun.”

I flinched when he laid his hand against my arm.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” he said as I turned toward him. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I just wanted to thank you for stopping by.”

Why had I reacted that way? Flinching at his touch as if he was Hank? Would I ever not think of Hank when I was near another man?

“Of course,” I said, silencing my mental chatter. “I hadn’t talked to you in a while and I just thought I – well, Emmy was concerned so I thought I’d check on you for her.”

“Was Emmy the only one concerned for me?”

I smiled and shook my head. He seemed incapable of talking to me without saying something that sounded like flirting, but maybe I was reading too much into it. I looked at the floor of the porch and stepped down the stairs.

“Have a good night, Judson,” I called over my shoulder. “I enjoyed our visit.”

As I slid behind the steering wheel, I looked up to see him leaning against the doorway. The way his masculine frame was backlit against the light in the front room leading me to pause in admiration before I turned the key in the ignition.

I let out a long breath as I drove away, wondering why I’d thought I could visit him and not feel the rush of attraction I had been fighting so hard to keep at bay. I’d have to stop any impromptu visits like that in the future if I intended to keep my emotional walls intact.

Fiction . . . Thursday? Yep. A New Beginning Chapter 11

I’ve decided to share an extra chapter of A New Beginning this week on the blog. Why? I don’t know. Why not? Call it a New Year’s gift. Plus, I wanted to get some of the more exciting portions of what I’ve been working on, knowing all this could change when I work on the second and final drafts in February and March.

As always, this is an initial draft so there will probably be typos, missing words, maybe even plot holes. I take feedback from the blog and other sources to help me rectify those issues, but for now, I’m simply sharing a story for fun.

Need to catch up? Find the link to the other chapters HERE or at the top of the page. Want to read the first part of Blanche’s story? Find A Story to Tell on Kindle.

 


Chapter 11

Emmy was definitely sporting the “pregnancy glow” as she sat across from me on the couch in my parents’ living room almost nine months after she had told us all she was expecting. Her face lit up even more when I mentioned Daddy had been giving me driving lessons.

“If you can drive now, then let’s drive to Dalton and see a movie together! We can have a girl’s day out!”

“I don’t even have my license yet,” I said. “I go next week for the test.”

“Well, then I can drive! Oh, but Sam dropped me off. Oh! I’d have to drive — oooh…”

I didn’t like the expression on Emmy’s face. I knew what she was thinking and it wasn’t going to go over well. Daddy was proud of his Oldsmobile, bought new only the year before. He’d had his old car for 20 years. Mama and I thought he’d never get rid of it but were thrilled when he came home with the new car one night, told us all to get in and drove us to Dalton for ice cream. He washed it every Saturday afternoon during warmer weather and even built a carport to protect it in the winter.

I wasn’t sure he was going to be willing to let Emmy and I drive it even 20-minutes away to see a movie.

Daddy walked into the living room with a slice of pie on a plate in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

I lowered my voice to a whisper. “You ask him. You’re a guest. He might be more willing to say ‘yes’ to you.”

“Ask me what?” Daddy asked.

Emmy sighed and coughed softly. “Mr. Robbins? I was just wondering . . . see, Sam went to work after he dropped me off and he was going to pick me up later, but Blanche and I would love to go to a movie. Would it be possible for us to borrow your car?”

Daddy looked at Emmy as he shoved a forkful of Mama’s blueberry pie into his mouth.

“My car?” he asked around a mouthful of pie.

“Yes, Daddy. Your car.”

He swallowed. “Well, I don’t know…I mean… I guess . . .”

I could tell Daddy was nervous and I imagined he was more concerned about his car than Emmy and I but I wasn’t about to say it out loud.

“Daddy, we’ll be careful, I promise. Emmy said she’ll drive since I’m not totally confident yet. She’s been driving a lot longer than me.”

He cleared his throat again and his gaze drifted to Emmy’s stomach. He tipped his head so he was looking over his reading glasses at her.

“You sure you can reach the pedals in your condition, young lady?”

“Daddy!”

Emmy laughed and flipped her hair over his shoulder.

“Oh, Mr. Robbins! You’re so funny!”

Daddy chuckled but then levied a serious look at her.

“But, seriously – can you?”

Emmy sighed. “Yes, Mr. Robbins. I can reach the pedals in a car just fine still.”

Daddy sighed and lifted the keys from the table next to his chair.

“Well, go on then. You girls be careful and don’t hang around in town too long afterward. I heard we’re supposed to get snow this afternoon.”

He hesitated as he handed the keys to Emmy holding tight to them for a moment as she reached for them.

Emmy smiled at him. “You have to let them go, Mr. Robbins.”

“Yeah, I know. Just .. well, be careful with her.”

“With Blanche or the car, Mr. Robbins?”

“Uh, with Blanche?”

Emmy and I laughed, knowing he meant the car.

“We’ll take good care of the car, Daddy,” I said as we reached for our coats and headed toward the door. I leaned down and kissed Jackson on top of the head. “Be good for Grandma and Grandpa.”

“Will you bring me a treat?” he asked.

“I can bring you back some theater popcorn, what do you think?”

“Okay,” he said. “If you get me chocolate too, you can go.”

Daddy chuckled as lifted Jackson into his lap and winked at me. “He’s definitely your kid.”

Jackson looked at his grandpa. “We gonna watch the baseball game on the TV, Grandpa?”

I smirked. “And he’s definitely your grandson.”

“Where are you girls headed?” Mama asked as she walked into the room with a cup of tea. “We’re supposed to get snow today. I don’t think you should be out on the roads. It could start early.”

I kissed her cheek. “I’m sure we’ll be fine, Mama. I heard the forecast on the radio earlier and it’s not supposed to start until this evening. We’ll be back long before then.”

Emmy giggled as she shoved herself behind the steering wheel a few moments later.

“Your daddy might have been right. I almost can’t fit back here.”

When we reached the theater I felt like a young girl again, out on the town with my friend, only this time my friend’s belly was poked out like she had swallowed a watermelon and I knew I needed to be home before dark so I could give my son a bath and tuck him into bed.

After we’d purchased our tickets we waited for popcorn and snacks. “Well, look whose here!” Emmy called as I turned toward the theater a few moments later, a soda in one hand, a bag of popcorn in the other.

 

Judson, standing with Sherry Fenton, who I would have graduated with, if I had graduated high school, reached out to hug Emmy.

“Judson! So happy to see you finally socializing!” Emmy leaned toward him.

I hadn’t seen him in three months and almost didn’t recognize him. He’d grown a full beard but his eyes were still the same bright blue, his dark hair still long across his forehead, and his smile still aggravatingly attractive.

Sherry’s reddish blond hair was coiffed on the top of her head in a modern hairstyle, her dark eyelashes framed under dark blue shadow. My eyes fell to her low cut blouse and moved back up to her bright red lipstick.

“Whoa there, kid, be careful you don’t tip yourself over,” Judson teased Emmy. “I don’t know if we could get you back up again.”

Emmy playfully slapped his arm. “You hush up, J.T., I know all kinds of secrets about you I could spill right now in front of your date.”

Judson held his hands up as if in surrender. “Now, now. Slow down there. You know I was only teasing. I guess it’s the perfect day for a movie. You two want to sit with us?”

Emmy enthusiastically agreed before I could protest and we soon found ourselves a foursome, with Sherry in the seat on the inside, next to Judson, and me on the other side of him with Emmy on the end of the aisle in case the baby kicked her bladder and sent her running to the bathroom. I was glad the movie started before we all had to make small talk.

Sitting there, in the dark, Judson’s arm brushing against mine, I thought about the day in high school Edith had gone to a movie with me and spent most of the movie watching Jimmy with Annie Welles. Edith had been so jealous she could barely contain her fury when she’d left the theater. She’d channeled that anger into a lewd, flirty  moment with Jimmy and later admitted to me that she and Jimmy had never established they were an exclusive item, so she had no right to be jealous.

I noticed Sherry watching Judson as he watched the movie. Her eyes traveled across his face and down his arms, a small smile playing across her lips. I couldn’t explain why I felt so annoyed at the idea of the two of them together. I knew it wasn’t because I would have preferred Judson had asked me out. Why would he ask me out? I’d made it clear I wasn’t interested in him by avoiding him, making our conversations short and sweet, and shoving any remote attraction to him deep down inside me. If it hadn’t been clear to him before, our interaction in Mr. Worley’s barn at the end of the summer had driven my position home. I had no claim to him and no right to feel uncomfortable with the way Sherry was laying her hand against his and smiling.

I was determined not to be silly like Edith had been when we were younger and she had seethed with jealousy over Jimmy. The difference was that Edith had actually dated Jimmy while I’d only met Judson a few times and had a few spars with him while I tried to make sure he kept his distance. He’d clearly taken the hint and moved on, if he had even been interested in the first place.

“So, what did you think of the movie?” he asked when the movie ended and we slid our coats on.

“It was different seeing Paul Newman in a comedy,” I said. “But he pulled it off, didn’t he?”

“He can pull anything off with those blue eyes,” Sherry said with a wink.

“Well, I suppose that’s true,” I laughed.

“He’s always been one of my favorites and he didn’t disappoint,” Emmy added.

Judson cleared his throat as we walked into the lobby. “Well, maybe I should just leave you ladies alone to discuss Paul.”

Sherry joined Emmy and I as we laughed.

“Oh, dear, is someone feeling left out?” Sherry asked, laying her hand against Judson’s shoulder.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” he sighed, feigning hurt. “I’ll just think about Shirley while you all talk about Paul.”

Sherry playfully slapped his arm. “Well, let’s hope not,” she scoffed. “That woman needed more clothes on.”

Sherry turned to Emmy and me as she slid her scarf around her neck. “Emmy, Blanche. I’m so glad we bumped into you. This was really fun.”

Why did she have to be nice and pretty? It made it hard to dislike her.

And I had to admit she was right. It had been nice watching the movie as a group.

“It really was,” I said sincerely as I buttoned my coat.

Emmy was cheerful, maybe too cheerful. “We will have to do it again sometime.”

I wasn’t sure I would go that far, but it was a nice sentiment.

Outside the theater, we all glanced up at the milky haze that had settled over the town. Large flakes were drifting from the murky clouds and landing in our hair and on our coats.

“We’d better head out before this gets worse,” I said.

Judson nodded as Sherry looped her arm through his. “Agreed. You ladies drive careful.”

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 10

Welcome to Fiction Friday, where I share a fiction story I’m working on or a novel in progress. If you share serial fictions on your blog as well please feel free to share a link to your latest installment, or the first part, in the comment section.

Right now I’m sharing from a novel in progress, A New Beginning, which is the sequel to A Story to Tell, now available on Kindle. As always, there may be typos, left out words or even awkward sentence structures I didn’t yet catch. This is a first draft so there will be changes before I publish it as an ebook in the Spring of 2020.

Are you caught up with Blanche’s story or do you have some reading to do? This week we continue with some take-it-easy character building, but there will be some excitement next week. Do you want to know what?

Well, I’m not telling you. You can read it next week. So there!

As always, you can find the links to the other parts of the story here and if you have any comments on how the story is going so far, or any ideas for future chapters, let me know in the comments!


Chapter 10

“Here we go. Chicken salad sandwich and fries for Blanche and a small salad for Edith.”

Betty Bundle’s hot pink, looped earrings bounced as she placed our plates in front of us. She stood for a moment, one on her hip, the other hovering out to her side, smacking gum like a cow with its cud as she looked down at Edith.

“Is that really all you’re going to eat, hon’?”

Edith glanced up at Betty without lifting her head. “Yes, Betty,” she said with a sigh. “That’s all I’m going to eat today.”

“Eatin’ a salad is like eatin’ air, you know,” Betty said. “You need something more substantial than air to get you through the day.”

Edith sighed, stabbing a piece of lettuce with her fork. “Thank you, Betty. I appreciate your input, but I’m eating light today. My stomach isn’t feeling the best.”

Betty pursed her lips and furrowed her eyebrows, folding her arms across her chest. “Well, I guess but you make sure you get something later. It’s not healthy eating so little and if you’re trying to lose weight, well, you don’t need to. You understand me?”

“You’re starting to sound like my mom, Betty,” Edith laughed. “Don’t you have another table to wait on?”

Betty sighed and flounced across the diner toward another table, tablet in hand as she reached for the pen she’d propped behind her ear.

“So . . .” I sipped my iced tea and cleared my throat. “Is your stomach feeling off for any reason?”

Edith sipped her water. “I think it’s nerves. The adoption agency called this morning. Jimmy and I have been approved for adoption. Now we just wait for the phone call that says someone has chosen us to adopt their child”

“Oh, that’s great!” I cried.

My sister’s hand trembled as she stabbed at a tomato. “It’s getting real now, Blanche,” she said. “We’re really doing this and I’m not going to lie, I’m terrified.”

I reached across the table and took her hand. “It’s going to be okay, Edith. You and Jimmy are going to be amazing parents, you know that.”

“It’s not just the parenting that scares me. It’s the idea that we might fall in love with this baby, or child and then the mother changes her mind. I can’t imagine that heartbreak. Blanche, I think I know why you put up walls around yourself now. I’m afraid to be hurt again. I’m afraid to . . .”

She shook her head and I could see she was trying to hold back the tears. “I’m afraid,” she said a few moments later, her voice cracking. “To love this child in case we lose him or her the same way we lost Molly. Jimmy and I made a space in our hearts for our baby girl and then I came home from the hospital with empty arms.”

Edith wiped her eyes with her napkin. “I couldn’t bare to hold a child and fall in love with that child, only to have that child taken from me.”

“You’re acting like me, Edith,” I said. “You’re thinking of all the worse case scenarios and letting them guide your decisions in life, when you don’t even know if they’ll ever come to pass. That’s no way to live.”

Edith blew her nose and laughed softly. “Physician heal thyself,” she said with a smirk.

I bit into a fry and leaned my head on my hand, sighing.

“This isn’t about me, it’s about you,” I told her. “We are psychoanalyzing you today. My session can be tomorrow.”

Edith wiped her eyes again and smiled. “Well, at least you know I can empathize with you now and I understand the fear of letting anyone else into your life. I think this is something you and I will have to work on together. We will have to do what Lillian said during Bible study a couple of weeks ago: feel the fear and do it anyhow.”

The ding of the bell on the front door announced the arrival of Emmy, Judson and a few more of the workers from the construction business. Judson and the other men took up two booths on the other side of the diner while Emmy slid in the booth next to me, her belly almost touching the table.

“I said I was coming to lunch and the whole lot of them spilled out after me like a gaggle of schoolchildren,” she said picking up the menu. “The stench behind me was all-encompassing. Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking agreeing to be Daddy’s secretary and having to put up with this group of dirty, sweaty gorillas every day.”

I sipped my iced tea and laughed at the drama in my best friend’s voice. “You love it and you know it,” I said. “All those men fawning all over you, especially now that you’re expecting. ‘Yes, Miss Emmy.’ ‘ Can I hold the door for you, Miss Emmy?’ ‘Let me get you a glass of water, Miss Emmy.’”

Emmy looked at me in mock shock. “Blanche Robbins, that is not true.” She looked back at the menu. “They get me lemonade, not water. Plain water is evil.”

Betty returned to take Emmy’s order.

“You know, Blanche,” she said smacking away at her gum. “There’s a lot of good lookin’ men over there. At least one of them has got to be single. Maybe you should—-”

“Good grief, Betty! Not you too!”

“What? I’m just sayin’ — You’re still a young girl, you know. You don’t have to act like such an old woman. Go out on some dates, have some fun already.”

Another person trying to fix me with a man.

“Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match…” I sang at Betty. I slipped into my regular voice as I shook my finger at her teasingly. “Don’t you join the Fix Blanche Cause being headed by the rest of my friend’s and family, Betty. I don’t need a man to make my life better.”

Betty blew a bubble of gum at me, standing with a hand on her hip. “Well, I didn’t say anything about it being better but it might be a bit more interesting.”

I mimed a person writing in an order notebook, moving my hand across the top of the table. “Why don’t you just take Emmy’s order and go play matchmaker somewhere else, Betty.”

Betty shrugged and took Emmy’s order as I’d suggested.

“Don’t blame me if you end up old and alone,” she said with her dry wit as walked back toward the kitchen. “I tried to help but you jus’ wouldn’t listen.”

As she walked from the table I sighed and ignored the giggles from Emmy and Edith, wondering who else would be next to remind me I needed a man to have a better life.

***

“Now, Blanche, you tell me, is this dress just too fancy for an old lady like me?”

86-year old Jessie Reynolds was modeling the dress I’d made for her in front of the mirror, holding herself steady with her cane and lightly touching the bun her long, white hair was twisted up in.

“No, ma’am. I think it’s just perfect.”

“Not too risqué?”

I snorted a laugh. “No, ma’am.”

She looked over her shoulder and winked at me. “Hmmm..maybe you better start over and add a little flare to it then.”

“Now, Jessie. . .”

The elderly woman laughed and sat back in the chair across from me. “I still have a little spunk left in me, you know. Maybe I can snag myself a new man before I walk across that rainbow bridge.”

“Oh my goodness,” I laughed again and shook my head. I poured some tea into a teacup and set it on the plate next to Jessie.  “And which man do you have your eye on?”

“Well, that Bill Sprowles just lost his wife a year or so ago. He might be a bit lonely.”

Jessie and I laughed together. “Ah, well, you know I’m just teasing you. A woman doesn’t need to have a man to be happy, does she?”

“No, ma’am. She doesn’t.”

“But it certainly is nicer when she does. Now, tell me, Blanche, have you thought about dating again?”

I shook my head and laughed. “I should have known that was coming. Jessie, you’re a troublemaker.”

“Have to keep myself busy somehow at my age.”

“Honestly, I haven’t really been worried about it. I’ve had Jackson to take care of and this shop to run. I’m happy where I’m at, Jessie.”

Jessie sipped her tea. “I do know what you mean. Sometimes it’s easier to stay where we are and not allow change. But maybe in the future you’ll be ready to let someone else into your world and I hope you won’t be afraid to do so when the time comes.”

Although I didn’t enjoy discussing my love life, even with Jessie, I knew she meant well, and her blunt humor made the conversation less painful than it would have been with others. “Thank you, Jessie. I’ll keep that in mind if that time ever comes.”

“Oh no. Not ‘if’, Blanche, honey. When.” She winked at me over the edge of the teacup and giggled. “Plus, I need you to hurry up. I’m not a spring chicken and you need to have a nice big wedding with a nice, handsome man before I die.”

“Okay, Jessie,” I said. “Let’s get you out of that dress so I can get to work on making the alterations and have it ready for you by tomorrow.”

To myself I added: “And so I can rush you out of this shop before you start suggesting men for me to marry.”

As Jessie left the shop, Marjorie stepped in, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“Blanche, do you know anything about Stanley Jasper?”

“Just that he’s the editor of the paper,” I said, choosing not to add that he’d asked me about his intention to ask her out to dinner.

“Well, the strangest thing just happened with him at the diner. He asked me if I’d like to have dinner with him some night.”

I feigned innocence as I looped some thread around a spool and slid it into a drawer. “Oh? Well, what did you say?”

Marjorie picked at a piece of lent on her coat. “I didn’t know what to say so I asked him if I could think about it.” She shrugged. “He said that was fine, but, I don’t know . . . I’m not ready to — I mean I’ve never thought about dating again. I’ve just . . .  well, I’ve just never really thought about it. I don’t even know what to say. I guess I figured I was too old for such things.”

“Marjorie, you’re never too old for companionship but I understand,” I said. “It was nice of him to ask but you’re not sure you’re ready to open yourself up again.”

She nodded, sitting on the hard metal chair across from me. “I know you can relate to that, to putting up walls and being afraid to pull them down again; afraid to be hurt again.”

She sighed and tipped her head slightly, staring at the sewing machine with a far off look. Sitting with the front window as a backdrop, sunlight behind her, making the light grey streaks in her hair appear blond, she looked more like a young girl than a 55-year old woman

“I just don’t know what to do,” she said softly, wistfully almost, caught up in her thoughts.

“Well, it’s entirely up to you,” I said. “I think you did the right thing telling  him you needed some time to think about it.”

A small smile tugged at her mouth. “It was nice being asked – having someone actually seem . . . interested in me, I guess you’d say.”

I smiled as I leaned back against the sewing table, happy to hear a hint of joy and excitement in her voice and curious to know if she’d eventually accept Stanley’s invitation.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 9

Welcome to Fiction Friday, where I share a fiction story I’m working on or a novel in progress. If you share serial fictions on your blog as well please feel free to share a link to your latest installment, or the first part, in the comment section.

This week I pushed through some of the blockages I had in the story, so hoping that continues and I can finally finish it and begin some heavy editing. Of course, as I edit that could change some of what you are reading here, but the final draft will be published as an ebook on Kindle and other locations sometime in the spring.

As always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. 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.


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Edith took the platter I had been carrying as I stepped through her front door. “Fried chicken, huh? I just read an article about how fattening fried foods are.”

I rolled my eyes. “And I just read an article about how unhealthy it is to take all the good tasting food out of your life.”

Edith set the platter on her table and then reached for a pitcher of lemonade and a bowl of salad, setting them on the table.

“Hey, ladies, Emmy’s walking up the front walk,” Jimmy said walking in the back door. “Or should I say, she’s waddling up?”

I smacked him gently on the arm. “Jimmy!”

“What? She’s waddling! I can’t help it. I think she’s carrying twins.”

“Don’t say that to her,” Edith whispered. “I don’t want her to feel bad.”

I opened the front door and took the plate of brownies from Emmy, stepping back so she could walk through to the couch, where I knew she’d want to sit.

“A few more weeks and I’m free,” she gasped, falling back onto the cushions, her belly pushed out.

“Free?” I laughed. “Oh, honey, your belly will be free, but your job only gets harder after the baby is here.”

Emmy closed her eyes and sighed.

“Oh, don’t remind me,” she said, then smiled. “But I know it will be worth it then, when I can finally hold this baby in my arms.”

“You girls going to be okay here alone?” Jimmy asked, snatching a brownie. “Your dad and I are taking Jackson and Judson fishing up at the lake today, so we won’t be around to save you if you set the oven on fire or Emmy gets stuck in the couch.”

Emmy scowled at Jimmy and playfully tossed a pillow at his head.

“Why are you taking Judson?” I asked.

“Why not?” Jimmy asked. “He’s a cool guy and we like showing him how to be a real country boy.”

“She thinks Mama and Daddy are trying to set her up with him,” Edith laughed. “And that Daddy is prepping him to be part of the family.”

I scowled at her as I helped Jackson with his jacket.

“Mama is trying at least,” I said.

“What’s ‘setting up’ mean?” Jackson asked, reaching for his fishing pole.

“Nothing,” I said quickly, kissing his forehead. “Don’t you worry about it, honey.”

Jimmy grinned and snatched his fishing pole from behind the door then raised his hands in front of him as a sign of surrender and headed toward the door.

“I’m stepping out of this conversation. Have fun with your gathering, ladies.”

I watched Jackson follow Jimmy down the sidewalk toward Jimmy’s truck, his jeans slipping down slightly in the back as he walked. It was hard to believe that he was already 6-years old. It hurt me he didn’t have a father to help set an example for him, but I was happy Jimmy and Daddy were there to be the men in his life.

“Why do you keep avoiding Judson anyhow?” Edith asked as the front door closed.

“I’m just not interested,” I said.

Emmy struggled to push herself up out of the cushions of the couch.

“Why not?” she asked. “He’s cute, polite  . . .  a member of my family, which means he’s got to be a great person.”

I shrugged. “I’m just not. He’s nice enough but who knows how long he’ll even stay here. He’s only here to learn more about construction from your dad and then he’ll be gone.”

Emmy shrugged. “Yeah, but that could take years. I mean, he’s renting a home here, says he loves this area. He could decide to stay here forever and besides – you agree he’s good looking right?”

I rolled my eyes, sitting in the recliner and leaning my head back against the back of it and groaning. “Yes, he’s good looking, but looks, as we know, can be very deceiving.”

I tipped my head up, raised an eyebrow and looked at Emmy and Edith. “You get my drift?”

Edith shrugged and poured herself a glass of lemonade.

“Not every good-looking apple is rotten,” she said, grinning.

Emmy shifted forward on the couch and looked at Edith. Now both of them were grinning, a sight that aggravated me.

“And that apple really is very good looking,” Emmy said. “Those blue eyes against that dark hair…handsome like all the male members of my family. ”

Edith smirked.

“And I bet he’s got some muscles under that construction shirt. He’d have to with all that lifting and hammering he does.”

“You two are starting to sound like Mama!” I cried. “Are we going to bake some cookies and make popcorn for the Dick VanDyke Show tonight or are we going to talk about my love life?”

Emmy wheezed as she pushed herself to a standing position. “Or your lack of a love life.”

I turned and scowled at her.

She raised her hands slightly at her side and shrugged.

“They say pregnant women get something called brain fog,” she said with a grin. “Blame my sassy mouth on the baby. I’ll be right back. I have to pee again.”

When Emmy waddled back into the room a few moments later, Edith set a tray of egg sandwiches on the coffee table and sat on the couch next to Emmy.

“Speaking of babies – I’ve been wanting to talk to you ladies about something.”m

My heart started pounding fast.

“Are you -?”

Edith interrupted me by raising her hand and shaking her head. “No. No. Nothing like that. We still can’t seem to get pregnant, but Jimmy and I have been talking a lot lately about other ways to start a family.”

I sat on the chair across from the couch. “Adoption?”

Edith nodded and wrung her hands nervously. “Yes. But I’m scared. What if this isn’t the right thing to do? What if it – what if it falls through or what if we don’t bond with the child, because he or she isn’t ours biologically?”

I leaned forward and took my sister’s hands in mine. “Edith, you’re starting to sound like me. That’s not like you. At the risk of sounding like Mama, have you prayed about this?”

“Oh yes, Jimmy and I both have. We’ve been praying about it together every day. I – I called an adoption agency last week and they’ve asked us to drive down and fill out an application. They were very nice, but I still – I just don’t know if this is the right thing to do.”

“Well, if it isn’t the right thing to do, God will stop it,” Emmy said. “That’s how I figure it, anyhow. Maybe it’s not the soundest theology but it’s what I think.”

Edith smiled, reaching one hand out to hold Emmy’s and the other to hold mine. “Okay, ladies. Then our job is to pray together that Jimmy and I make the right decision and that if adoption is the path God wants us to take, a child will be placed with us.”

We all agreed we would pray for God’s wisdom and I prayed silently for Edith’s heart to be protected.

***

“Blanche, sit down.” Stanley gestured to the chair in front of his desk sans cigar as I handed him my column. “I have a question for you.”

The suggestion to sit was an unusual one for Stanley and made me nervous. Usually, he merely nodded for me to lay the column on his desk while talking on the phone or typing away on his typewriter before telling me to have a good day.

“Can I get you a glass of water?” he asked as I sat down.

I shook my head, bewildered. I noticed his face was clean-shaven, his hair neatly combed and his shirt and pants a little less wrinkled than usual. Instead of leaning back in his chair with a cigar he sat in it with his back straight, then leaned forward slightly, elbows propped on the desk.  His hazel eyes locked on mine as he spoke.

“Blanche, I’d like you to start writing some feature stories for us. One a week to start with. What do you think?”

He was offering me an actually paying job? I was dumbfounded.

“I – I don’t know what to say. I’ve never interviewed people before and I –“

“You’re a good writer, Blanche. You’re easy to talk to. People like you. You’d be writing fluff pieces. Stories about old men who grow 60-pound squashes in their backyard and women who win pie-baking contests 25 years in a row. Easy, softball stories. I think you can do it and those kinds of stories sell newspapers. Why don’t you think about it and let me know when you bring your column next week? What do you say?”

I cleared my throat. “Well, okay, I can tr–”

“Great,” Stanley spoke over me. Interrupting people seemed to be a habit with him, as if his brain moved in tune with the days breaking news and he was afraid slowing his words would let his competition beat him to the punch. “I’m sure you’ll realize it’s a good idea. Now, on another, entirely different, matter . . .”

Stanley shifted nervously in his chair, leaned back and crossed one leg over the other, uncrossed it again, and leaned forward in his chair. He cleared his throat, coughed and took a quick sip from his coffee mug.  I waited for the quick flow of words that normally came, but instead there was only awkward silence.

“This is awkward for me to ask, Blanche.”

A rush of nervous energy shot through me. Good grief, what was making this man so nervous? Why were his eyes darting from me to the top of his desk and back to me again? Oh no. He wasn’t going to ask me out, was he? I’d already turned Thomas down the year before. Were newspaper men somehow attracted only to anxious, introverted wallflower types? Not to mention, the man was old enough to be my father and my actual father couldn’t stand him.

“Blanche, how well do you know Marjorie Hakes?”

Relief washed over me. I wouldn’t have to turn down advances from an older man today after all. “Oh. Well, I –“

“I mean, I know you know her son, or you knew him, or .. well, you know what I mean.”

I felt the sudden urge to giggle at the way Stanley was stammering and stumbling over words.

“Yes, I was married to Hank at one time,” I said. “It’s not a secret to anyone in this little town.”

“Right,” Stanley said. “But, I mean, I don’t know what your relationship is with his mother now and if you are close to her or not …”

“Actually, I visit her once or twice a week so she can see her grandson.”

“Oh, yes, right. Of course. That makes sense. Very nice of you.”

Stanley paused and slid a cigar from a box on the corner of his desk. He stuffed it in the corner of his mouth but didn’t light it. Pulling it from his mouth he propped it between his forefinger and middle finger and started to say something then closed his mouth again. He cleared his throat and returned the cigar to the corner of his mouth.

“Stanley?”

“Yes?”

“Why are you asking me about Marjorie?”

“Oh, yes.” He cleared his throat again and I thought about suggesting he take another drink of his coffee to wash down that frog in his throat but the conversation was dragging on long enough as it was.

“I see Marjorie every morning at the diner and I – uh–” he coughed softly and leaned back in his chair, looking briefly at the top of the desk before raising his eyes to mine. “Do you think she would go out with me?”

I bit my lower lip to hold back the laughter. I had never seen Stanley look so anxious and laughter might make it worse. I pondered how to answer his question. I had a feeling Marjorie had put up walls around her heart the same way I had around mine and I wasn’t sure she’d be willing to open herself up again. I didn’t want to discourage Stanley, but I wasn’t sure if I should encourage him either.

I wanted happiness for Hank’s mom, but suddenly I wanted to protect her the way I had been protecting myself. Stanley didn’t seem like the most stable or compassionate person at times. I worried that working as a newspaper editor for so long had jaded him and Marjorie didn’t need a hard-hearted man; she needed someone who could be what Henry Hakes never was. Someone who would treasure her, treat her like a woman should be treated. I wondered how much Stanley knew about her marriage to Hank’s father and the abuse she had suffered. I didn’t feel it was my place to tell him.

“I think there is a possibility she will say yes,” I said finally. “I think there is also a possibility she will say ‘no.’ I know that is not the answer you were probably hoping for but I’m not sure how she feels about opening herself up to new relationships since her husband passed away. She’s . . . been through a lot. It could be hard for her to – well, to trust again.”

Stanley looked at me over folded hands, his elbows propped up on the desk, the cigar between his thumb and forefinger. “I’ve heard stories about her marriage,” he said. “I’ve heard stories about your marriage.  Neither of them were easy, from what I understand. So, I’m cognizant of the need to go slow here, if that’s what your getting at.”

Maybe Stanley wasn’t as jaded as I thought. “Yes. That was what I was getting at.”

Stanley combed his fingers back through his hair and straightened his tie. “Thank you, Blanche. That’s all I needed. Think about the feature writer position, okay? I’d like to have you on board.”

I hoped the tenderness I’d heard in Stanley’s voice when he talked about Marjorie was sincere and that I was seeing the real Stanley under his sometimes tough veneer. I hoped he wouldn’t break Marjorie’s heart the way her late husband and son had.

Stanley spoke as I reached for the doorknob. “Hey, before I forget, Thomas is the one who suggested I call you about writing the feature stories. He said you’re a good writer and I agreed. And you know,” he leaned his arm casually on the desktop in front of him and smirked. “I think Thomas may be a little sweet on you.”

Standing with my hand still resting on the doorknob I turned slightly and sighed. Could it be that even Stanley was trying to set me up with a man?

“Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind,” I said as I opened the door and stepped into the noisy newsroom.


Lisa R. Howeler is a writer and photographer from the “boondocks” who writes a little bit about a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She’s published a fiction novel ‘A Story to Tell’ on Kindle and also provides stock images for bloggers and others at Alamy.com and Lightstock.com.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 8

Well, readers, I’m going to confess that I’m a bit stuck on Blanche’s story after about Chapter 14 so — any suggestions to how you think her story should go? Let me know in the comments. I do have some ideas and some ideas somewhat, (dare I even say it since I’m a writer who writes by the seat of her pants?) plotted out.

If you want to catch the beginning of Blanche’s story, you can read it on Kindle and Kindle Unlimted.  However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning.

If you want to read A New Beginning’s chapters that have been posted so far, you can find themhere (or at the top of the page). 

As always, this is the first draft of a story. There will be typos and in the future, there will be changes made, some small, some large and as before I plan to publish the complete story later as an ebook. 


 

The hay bale I was trying to catch slipped through my arms and cut scratches across my skin, even through the thick flannel shirt I was wearing, causing me to immediately regret volunteering to help Daddy, Judson and Jimmy stack hay bales at Mr. Worley’s barn.

“You should catch the bales like this,” Judson said, bending with his knees, his arms out a little further than mine had been. “Instead of what you were doing. You might be able to stack a little faster.”

I didn’t know why but the way he instructed me on how to catch hay bales irritated me and made me want to tell him to shove his opinions where the sun didn’t shine. He was the one lofting the bales too high from the back of the truck.

I hoped Jimmy came back from gathering more hay bales from the field soon so he could help with the stacking and I didn’t have to deal with Judson on my own.

I literally bit my tongue to hold back my comment as another bale fell out of my arms.  I knew we’d never finish the job if Judson didn’t start throwing me the bales from the wagon the right way. When the third bale slammed hard against my chest, my resolve crumbled.

“You’re throwing them too high!” I shouted.

Judson shrugged. “I’m not throwing them too high. You’re just not catching them right. Why don’t I come up there and help you?”

“Why don’t I come up there and help you?” I mumbled to myself in a mocking tone.

“No. I’m fine,” I said, catching the next bale and carrying it to the growing pile of hay bales at the back of the loft.

As I turned around, a hay bale flew at me, almost hitting me in the face.

“What was that?!” I snapped.

Judson winked at me and grinned as I swiped a strand of hair out of my face. “It was you being too slow and not following my advice.”

I propped my hand on my hip and glared down at him, desperate for a retort but afraid what might come out if I opened my mouth. I turned instead and picked up the pieces from the haybale that had crumbled. When the job was finally finished my face, shirt and jeans were damp with sweat and stained with dirt. I sat on a hay bale, breathing hard.

I looked up at the glass of iced tea Judson was handing to me.

“You’re a hard worker,” he said.

I still felt annoyed at him over his comments, so I simply nodded, standing and wiping the dirt off my face as I took the glass. Like I cared if he thought I was a hard worker.

“You’re angry at me, aren’t you?”

I shrugged. “No. It’s fine.”

His laughter made me even more annoyed. Blast him.

“You are! Hey, I was just trying to help. Besides, you finally got the hang of it after you started catching them the way I told you to.”

I glanced at him standing at the edge of the loft, muscular arms folded across his broad chest, grinning, his blue eyes glinting with amusement. I clenched my jaw and hoped the warmth I felt in my face wasn’t showing as flushed crimson on my cheeks.

I couldn’t figure out why his grin was infuriating me so much, but I had a feeling it was because I didn’t like the idea that he thought he could tell me what to do and how to do it. When I’d left Hank I’d been determined that no one, especially a man, would ever tell me what to do again. But it was ridiculous. Judson wasn’t like Hank. He wasn’t trying to control me. He’d only been trying to help. Was I ever going to get past the feelings Hank had left in me?

I swallowed hard and cleared my throat.

“Yes, well, thank you. We got the job done and that’s all that matters.”

Judson leaned back against a pile of bales, pushing his legs out in front of him and looked at me as he drank from his own glass of tea. “I’m not sure what to make of you, Blanche, but I’m beginning to think I’m not your favorite person.”

I glanced up at him in surprise. “I’m – what?”

“You avoid eye contact with me. You duck into stores when I walk toward you on the street. I’ve noticed you’ve been laying your Bible at the end of your pew during church, as if you’re holding a spot for someone else, but no one else ever comes and when I talk to you I sense every word I say irritates you.”

Several strands of hair fell out of the ponytail I’d pulled my hair into earlier in the day.  I yanked the hair tie out and let my hair fall around my shoulders as I prepared to put it back up again. I drew the strands all into one hand, the hair tie in the other. I knew I was buying time to try to think of how to answer Judson. I couldn’t believe he’d noticed all the times I’d tried to avoid him and felt guilty that he thought it was because I didn’t like him.

“You should keep your hair down.”

I paused with my hands on my hair and looked up to see Judson watching me intently, his expression serious.

“You look beautiful with your hair down,” he said, leaning forward, his elbows propped on his knees as he watched me.

I knew my face was red with embarrassment now. “Thank you,” I mumbled but still pulled the hair back and slid the hair tie around it tightly.

He cleared his throat and stood. “Well, it’s late and I’d better get home and get some dinner in me before I head to bed. I’ve got an early day on the construction site tomorrow.”

“Judson – it isn’t that – I mean, it’s not that I don’t –“

I had no idea how to explain why I’d been trying to keep him at a distance.

He walked toward me, stopping in front of me and smiled.

“It’s okay, Blanche. You don’t have to explain.” He pushed a strand of hair off my forehead and hooked it behind my ear. “Maybe one day you’ll decide I’m not so bad to have around.”

He winked and walked past me, climbing down the ladder of the hayloft. I closed my eyes and held the cold tea glass against my throat.

I thought about a quote I’d read one time by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was killed during World War II.

“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.”

To be interrupted by God was one thing but sometimes it was hard to know if it was God interrupting or someone else was. And, to be honest, I wasn’t ready for any interruptions in my life that would threaten the life I’d built for me and Jackson. I hated that I saw a friendship with Judson as a threat to our current contentment. Maybe it was because I was worried Judson wanted more than a friendship.

***

The first time I’d walked into Stanley Jasper’s office my legs were weak. I felt like I needed to sit down but I didn’t want to sit down until I’d been asked, so I stood there, clutching a folder with two column samples and trying not to sweat.

Stanley sat, typing furiously on his typewriter without looking up, a cigar tucked in the corner of his mouth, a cup of coffee next to him and the surface of his desk cluttered with newspapers and sheets of typing paper. Some pages were crumpled up and tossed to the side, obviously tossed there out of frustration. The editor was unshaven, his hair sticking up in front as if he’d clutched his hair in anger one too many times, his clothes wrinkled and his shirt haphazardly tucked in.

The click of the typewriter keys filled the room, blending in with the more muffled sounds of the rest of the newsroom outside the closed door. I wondered how long it would take him to look up from the typewriter but wasn’t sure I should interrupt his train of thought in case he was writing up a big story for the next day’s paper.

“Blanche!” he declared suddenly, causing me to jump back slightly. He stood and thrust a hand at me over the desk.

I reached out and took his hand and he jerked my arm up and down in a quick movement before releasing it.

He gestured to a brown, leather chair with a ripped seat across from his desk while simultaneously ripping a page from his typewriter and tossing it on top of a pile of other pieces of paper. “Please, sit.”

“I liked your columns,” he said as he sat. “What made you send them in?”

“Well, I – I – like to write and my sister – I mean, well I –“

Stanley pulled the cigar from his mouth and starred at me for a moment, a wry smile curling his mouth. “Huh, I can see you’re more articulate in writing.”

I laughed softly and shook my head. “I’m sorry. I’m a little nervous –

Stanley spoke in a rhythm similar to his typing. “No reason to be nervous. I liked your columns. Down home stuff. We need more of that light stuff in our paper. I’d like to run a column by you once a week. No pay, just my heartfelt appreciation. What do you think?”

He had stopped talking so abruptly I hadn’t been ready to answer. “Oh. Well, I, yes, that would be fine.”

“Great. We’ll use these first two you sent in and then you can start submitting one each Tuesday so we can typeset it and have it ready for Thursday. Sound good?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “What’s that in your hand? More columns?”

I nodded and handed them across to him. He snatched the folder flipped it open, scanned the pages and nodded. “Great! I’ll read these over and let you know what I think.”

“Thank you,” I managed to choke out, trying to keep up with the pace of the conversation.

“So,” Stanley leaned back slightly in his chair, propping the cigar in one hand as he looked back at me. “Local girl, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t call me sir. It makes me feel old. Stanley’s fine.”

“No problem . . . Stanley.”

“Did you go to school for writing?”

“Well, no, I didn’t – I just write for myself, I guess, you’d say.”

“It’s paid off. You’re a good writer.” He stood and walked around the desk and flung his office door open, letting in the sounds of the newsroom. “Let me show you around and introduce you to the staff, or the staff that’s here anyhow. A lot of them work at night after they cover council meetings.”

“You’ve met Minnie. She’ll be the one typesetting your columns each week.”

Minnie nodded, dark curls bouncing, even darker eyelashes fluttering. “Nice to meet you, Blanche. Looking forward to reading your columns.

Stanley kept walking, stopping briefly at the next desk.

“This is Danny Post. He’s our sports editor, writer and photographer, all rolled up in one nerdy package.”

The balding man with glasses smiled as he stood and shook my hand. Standing at about my height, I guessed his age to be around 50 and him to be someone who wrote about sports because he most likely had never played any.

“Nice to meet you,” he said in a voice softer than I imagined a sports editor having.

I managed brief greetings to each person as Stanley clipped through the introductions like a drill sergeant, pausing at each desk only long enough to rattle off a name and a title and an occasional good-natured jab.

“This is Thomas Fairchild our cub reporter,” Stanley said standing in front of the last desk in the newsroom.  “We call him a cub because he’s young and new and one time we caught him eating out of the dumpster outback because he makes so little money here he was looking for dinner. Thomas, this is Blanche. Try not to corrupt her when she comes in to drop off her columns okay?”

Thomas grinned as he looked up from his computer, green eyes sparkling beneath strands of dirty blond hair laying across his forehead. “I’ll try but I can’t promise,” he said, his eyes drifting from my face to glance down to the top of my blouse.

He winked and tilted his head to move his bangs out of his face. I immediately felt uneasy and hoped the introductions were over for now. Luckily, they were and I thanked Stanley for his time and walked quickly through the newsroom and down the street toward the dress shop.

The next time I saw Thomas it was two weeks later when I dropped off my column. The newsroom was quiet with much of the staff missing. I assumed it was either a lunch break or they were in a staff meeting. Thomas was sitting at the front desk, sipping from a cup of coffee, the phone receiver tucked between his shoulder and the side of his face.

“Yep. Yep. Yep. I think that sounds like a great story, Mr. Tanner. Of course the Simpson’s cows breaking loose and taking a swim in the church pond is worthy of a story. Yep. I’ll head out now and see you shortly.”

I handed him my column and gave him my best sympathetic look. “Good luck with that one.”

“Want to go with me? I could use someone to grab some photos of the wading cows while I chat with the pastor and the farmer. The staff photographer’s out to lunch.”

“Nah. I don’t think so. I’ve got to head back to the shop to help Doris.”

He shrugged. “Well, suit yourself, but I’m telling you, this is going to be some hard-hitting news.”

“And that’s why I’m glad I’m only a volunteer columnist,” I said.

Thomas grabbed his coat and slid it on, then reached for a camera on the desk behind him.

“You should be a writer you know,” he said. “I mean writing more than just columns. We could use a good writer like you to write some feature stories for us. I have a feeling you’d shine more as a writer for us than you ever would in a dress shop.”

“Well, thank you but I don’t think so.”

“You should think about it,” he said, walking around the desk as I walked toward the front door. “And then you should think about going out with me.”

I snorted a laugh as we walked out in the sunlight together. “Excuse me?”

I looked over my shoulder and saw him grinning broadly.

“What? Don’t you ever get asked out?”

“Not really. No.”

“Well, that’s a shame. Those guys are missing out.”

He winked at me, sliding a pair of sunglasses out of his jacket pocket. “So? Are you going to go out with me, or what?”

He slid the glasses on, still grinning.

My throat felt tight as I realized he was serious. The sun hit the blond highlights of his hair and I couldn’t deny he was attractive. Still, there was too much of Hank’s charming personality and boldness in him for my liking.

“Thank you, Thomas, but I’m not really – I mean, I don’t — ”

I suddenly realized I had no idea how to turn down a request for a date since I’d only ever been asked once and that had, obviously, ended badly.

“I’m not dating anyone right now,” I blurted. “It’s complicated, but I really do appreciate the invite.”

He was still smirking. “That was the nicest rejection anyone has ever given me.” He tossed his head back to move his bangs off his forehead again. “I’ll be sure to try again and see if every rejection is as nice as this one.”

I laughed at his determination. “Have fun with the cows, Thomas.”

His invitation had been a surprise to me, to someone who thought Hank’s pursuing me had been a fluke, but it had also been unwelcome to a young girl uninterested in frivolous romantic pursuits.


Lisa R. Howeler is a writer and photographer from the “boondocks” who writes a little bit about a lot of things on her blog Boondock Ramblings. She’s published a fiction novel ‘A Story to Tell’ on Kindle and also provides stock images for bloggers and others at Alamy.com and Lightstock.com.