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.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 6 & 7

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. Also, sorry about the lack of indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. I can’t seem to figure out how to make that happen in WordPress.


As the nights get colder and we snuggle under covers, warm cups of tea and a book in our hands, let us embrace how life slows down to give us time to experience life around us in a simpler way. Don’t look at winter as just a time for dreary weather, cold winds, or snow to shovel this year. Instead, see it as what it can be – a time to pause, reflect and reconnect with those in your family as you wait for the warmth to come again.

I finished the last paragraph of my column, pulled the page from the typewriter and slid it into the envelope so I could drop it off at the newspaper office the next day. I pulled my sweater close around me as I stood and looked out my bedroom window at the leaves falling from the maple tree in our backyard. The colors weren’t as brilliant this autumn as they had been in previous years but mixed among the dark oranges and browns were a few bright yellow and red bursts of foliage across the hills that surrounded our small valley.

Jackson had been in school a little over a month now and while he had cried the first day I took him, he seemed to love it now. I missed him terribly during the day and I anxiously watched the clock, walking to the school every day to meet him outside. My heart melted at how his face lit up when he saw me, leaving behind the friends he’d been talking to so he could run to me and throw his arms around me. I walked with him back to the shop each day and we waited there for Daddy to finish at the office, pick us up and take us home.

I was happy to see him growing but struggling with it at the same time. He was growing so fast. His childhood seemed to be rushing by and I wanted to stop time and just enjoy it all a little more. I’d never thought I’d be a mother and now I could barely remember life before Jackson.

“Hey, Mama.”

I turned to see Jackson looking up at me, one of his toy trucks clutched in his hands.

“Hey, squirt. What are you doing?”

“I’m pretending I’m a truck driver and I’m gonna dig a hole in the backyard.”

“That sounds fun.”

I sat on the edge of my bed and lifted him into my lap, pressing my face into his soft brown hair.

“How are you liking school?”

Jackson scrunched up his nose, spinning the wheels on his truck. “It’s okay, I guess. ‘cept for all that writing and numbers. That stuff’s borin’. But I like when we get to do that recess thing. And lunch is good, unless we have meatloaf. They don’t know how to make it like Grandma.”

I knew recess was his favorite part of the day by how hard I’d had to scrub his pants clean lately.

“Mama, how come I don’t have no brother or sister?”

The way children could change a topic so abruptly amazed me. I knew questions like this one would come one day and while I dreaded them, I knew being honest was important. Still, I wondered how honest I should be with a 6-year old.

“Well, honey, because right now Mommy and you live with Grandpa and Grandma and there really isn’t room for a brother or sister.”

I felt confident that while my answer didn’t address the lack of a husband to help provide a sibling, it still wasn’t a lie.

“Oh.” Jackson furrowed his little eyebrows and scrunched his nose again. “Well, if we move away, can I have a brother or sister?”

“Do you really want to move away from Grandpa and Grandma?”

“No. I like living here, but I want a brother too.”

“What if you had a sister one day instead?”

“No. That won’t happen. I’d have a brother.”

“Are you sure about that? You know you don’t get to choose, right?”

“What would I do with a sister? I don’t wanna play with no dolls or dresses.”

“Honey, some girls like to climb trees and play with trucks too, you know. I always did.”

Jackson scrunched up his face like he was deep in thought.

“Well, then, maybe I can have a sister, I guess.”

I kissed his cheek and hugged him close. “For right now, you don’t need to worry about that, though. Why don’t you and I bake some cookies after dinner?”

“Chocolate chip?”

“What other kind is there?”

“Cool.”

I watched as he slid from my lap and ran from the room, his toy tightly clutched in his hand. There were some days I liked that it was just Jackson and me, but other days I found myself aching for a father for Jackson and a man to love me. I didn’t like, however, that my family, and apparently even Emmy, thought any gaps in my life could be filled with a man.  I knew for a fact that a man wasn’t the answer to all the problems in a woman’s life and, if anything, a man seemed to complicate it more.

Hank had certainly complicated my life, first with his attention and then with how he’d treated me not long after we were married. The arrival of Judson was threatening to complicate things too, but I was determined not to let it – at least not in a romantic way. I had a feeling even a friendship with him would throw a wrench in the regularly scheduled program that was my current life.

***

“What made you leave with Hank that day, Blanche?”

Six months after I’d returned home with Jackson and Edith had apparently decided it was time I share my thoughts behind leaving my family. I focused on the apples I was peeling for the apple pie and tried to decide how to answer without sounding like a silly schoolgirl. But there wasn’t any way I wouldn’t sound silly or trite. I had been a schoolgirl and I had been silly. My thoughts were immature; my idea of what life should be skewed by romance novels and Ava Gardner movies.

“I thought I loved him,” I said finally, still not making eye contact with Edith. “I was very stupid and naïve. I know that now.”

“I didn’t ask you to make you feel bad, Blanche. I just really wanted to know. I never really asked you. I guess I figured it was none of my business, even though I was dying to know since I never expected you to do that.”

I laid the knife down and gnawed gently at my nails, a habit I’d picked up on the days I wasn’t sure which Hank was coming home from work.

“I think,” I started, with a shrug. “That’s partly why I did it. No one expected me to. Everyone seemed to always know what I was going to do, what I was supposed to do, who I was supposed to be. Mama and Daddy seemed to have my life planned out for me. Everyone saw me as boring and predictable and you – well, you weren’t. In the back of my mind I guess I wanted to prove everyone wrong. I wanted to write my own story and I wanted Hank to be in it. I did love him, or the version of him I imagined in my mind. I didn’t know . . .” I starred out the window at a car driving by the house. “Well, who he really was underneath the charm and handsome façade.”

Edith picked an apple from the bowl and started peeling it. “I’m sorry I made you feel that way. It was never my intention. Honestly, I had no idea.”

I laughed softly. “Edith, I’m not blaming you. It was how I felt at the time. Feelings are not always facts, as we know.”

“True,” Edith said. “And what we think are facts are sometimes simply facades – like the idea I was always spontaneous or fun, or whatever you thought I was. You must know by now that I was simply a lost girl who never accepted my parents’ or God’s love as being enough. I thought I had to have a bunch of boys love me too.”

She shook her head as she tossed the slices into the pie crust. “I was so foolish back then. I guess you and I were foolish together. Thankfully God protected us from doing any worse harm to ourselves or anyone else and brought us back to our senses.”

“I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to come back to mine,” I said, feeling tears in my eyes. “And I wish it hadn’t taken Hank beating me to wake me up. I did bring harm to at least one person – Jackson.”

Edith reached across the table and cupped her hand against my cheek.

“What’s done is done and it’s time to move forward. For both of us.”

Over the years, I did my best to move forward, as Edith had said, rebuild the relationships I’d damaged when I left but I was still stuck, especially when it came to building new relationships. I wasn’t only disinterested in navigating the world of romance; I wasn’t even interested in meeting new people. My experience with Hank had left me with a healthy dose of mistrust, not only in others, but also in myself. When I was younger, I had trusted myself to make the right decisions, to know by how a situation felt whether it was right or not. Leaving with Hank had felt right at the inexperienced age of 17 had moved forward with a confidence I no longer possessed.

Edith poured hot water over my tea bag and set the milk and sugar next to me. “Part of that moving forward means reaching for those dreams you had for your future before you left. So, what did you imagine you’d do with your life one day, before you met Hank Hakes?”

I stirred milk into my tea and shook my head. “Those were just childish thoughts, Edith. Like a lot of the thoughts I had back then.”

“You wanted to be a writer. I remember that. Why don’t you start writing? Even if it’s just for yourself. You still keep a journal right? Oh! Why don’t you submit a column to the local paper? You could write about small-town life, the weather, whatever. People around here really love those types of columns and our paper needs that. Take a sample column over to the editor and see what happens.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Why not? What do you have to lose?”

I laughed. “Certainly not my pride. I lost that a long time ago.”

“Oh, stop it, Blanche. Just go for it. You never know what will happen and there is no use living in the past. We’re moving forward, remember? This is just one more step you can take to do that.”


Check out the latest chapters for this story every Friday here on the blog and also follow me on Wattpad.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 5

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. Also, sorry about the lack of indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. I can’t seem to figure out how to make that happen in WordPress.


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Daddy and Jackson were standing in the doorway with wet, muddy boots dripping water on the rug in the front room.

“Did you catch anything?” Mama asked.

“Not much,” Jackson said, feigning sadness, his hands behind his back.

“Oh well, at least you had fun,” Mama said with a knowing smile.

Jackson slid his arm from behind his back, holding up a stack of fish hanging on a long section of fishing wire and grinned.

“Well, we did catch these,” he said with a proud smile.

“You little trickster,” I said, taking the fishing line from his hand and kissing his cheek. “Now I suppose you expect Grandma and I to clean these for dinner.”

He laughed. “Well, of course, Mama. I don’t want to see no fish guts.”

Daddy grinned, rubbing his hand across Jackson’s hair.

“Take your boots off kid and we’ll tell the lady folk about our excursion.”

Jackson was my Daddy’s shadow. They fished together, worked on the car, mowed the lawn, cut down trees, and fixed any appliance that needed to be fixed. Wherever Daddy was, Jackson wasn’t far behind him and I could tell Daddy loved it, especially since he’d never had a son of his own to talk to about mechanics and so-called “manly things.”

As I reached over to shut the door, I caught sight of a blue truck pulling into the driveway and sighed.

“What in the world is he doing here?” I asked as Judson stepped out of the truck and waved.

It had four months since I’d been reintroduced to Judson and it seemed like I was seeing him everywhere lately – at Emmy’s, at church, at the diner when Emmy and I went for lunch during the week, and now at my own home since Daddy kept inviting him over to borrow tools or help with odd jobs. It also didn’t help he had moved into Mr. Worley’s old tenant house, less than a mile from our house.

Mama looked over my shoulder and smiled, waving back at Judson.

“I think I know what he’s doing here,” she said.

I rolled my eyes.

“Mama, please.”

“Well, I’m just saying. He’s single. You’re single…”

“Mama…”

“Knock it off you two,” Daddy said, pulling his boots off. “I know what he’s doing here. He’s bringing my pruning saw back. I loaned it to him to cut back some of the branches at his place. Stop reading into it.”

Judson lifted the saw out of the back of the truck and walked toward the porch, still smiling.

“He does have a lovely smile,” Mama whispered behind me.

“Mama, stop it,” I hissed.

Daddy pushed past us. “Good grief, Janie. Why don’t you just get a lasso and brand him already?”

Mama chuckled and grinned at me.

“Hey, that might work.”

I pressed my hand against my forehead. “Lord, Jesus, give me strength,” I said, copying Mama’s gesture when she was stressed.

Daddy stepped onto the porch and held his hand out.

“Judson! Hello! How did the saw work for you?”

“Great, Mr. Robbins and I managed not to lose any limbs in the process.” Judson laughed as he walked up onto the porch. He took Daddy’s outstretched hand and shook it.

“Jud, I’ve told you before – call me Alan,” Daddy said, holding the screen door open. “Why don’t you stay for dinner? I’m sure a bachelor like yourself would like a good, home-cooked meal for once. Blanche and Janie are going to fry up some fish for dinner. Jackson and I just caught them down at the pond.”

“I wouldn’t want to intrude …..”

“Oh, you wouldn’t be intruding,” Mama said. “Get on in here. We have plenty of food and plenty of room at the table.”

I smirked as I walked to the kitchen with the fish, my back to the front door, recognizing my Mama’s familiar ploy. For the last couple of years, she had composed a rotating list of potential suitors for me and Judson seemed to be on the top of that list since she’d met him at Emmy’s.

I listened to Judson and my parents chatting in the living room for a few moments and then Daddy excused himself to clean up from his fishing trip and Mama took Jackson upstairs to change out of his muddy clothes.

“Hey, Blanche.”

I smiled over my shoulder, cutting into the fish on the counter.

“Hey, yourself. How’s it going?”

“Can’t complain. The rain finally stopped so it looks like we’ll be able to pour the concrete at the new pharmacy location in Tannersville. I’ll be glad to finally get that job done.”

He stepped behind me and looked over my shoulder. I could smell his cologne and couldn’t deny he smelled better than I expected for a man who had just been cutting branches outside his home.

“Where did you learn how to debone fish like that?”

“Mama and Daddy. I don’t enjoy it, but it’s a handy skill to have when you have a dad who likes to take his grandson fishing.”

Jackson skipped into the kitchen and looked up at Judson.

“I caught all those fish, Judson,” he said proudly. “Grandpa helped me, but I did most of it. I even took the hook out of that big one over there. He ate half the worm!”

“Way to go, buddy,” Judson said. “I don’t know a thing about fishing so I know I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

“Sure, you could. You can go fishing with me and Grandpa next time we go.”

Judson smiled and leaned back against the counter across from me. “I may just take you up on that. If you agree to put the worms on the hook for me. I could never do that.”

Jackson shrugged. “Nothing to it. Just don’t think about their guts squirting out on your hand when you shove the hook through.”

Judson grimaced and then laughed. “Gee, thanks, kid. I never actually thought of it that way before.”

I smiled at Judson, tossing a row of bones on top of the pile I’d already started. “My kid is nothing if not graphic in his descriptions.”

“I’m going to go dig a hole!” Jackson said skipping past us and out the back door.

Judson watched the door close and grinned. “Man, to be young again and find excitement in merely digging a hole.”

I reached for the flour in the turntable next to Judson, set it on the counter and opened the cupboard, reaching up for the bowl. I silently grumbled about my short stature as my fingertips grazed the edge of the bowl. I raised myself on my tiptoes but still couldn’t fully grasp the edge to lift it down.

“Let me help you with that.”

Judson’s hand grazed my arm as he reached over me for the bowl. He looked down at me as he handed it to me, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“Good thing I was here, or you would have been climbing on a chair and falling off or something.”

He was standing too close. I had to move away before I noticed the color of his eyes, or the masculine shape of his jaw, or anything about him at all.

“I have to get dinner done,” I said softly. “Maybe we can talk after dinner.”

“Sure thing. Can’t wait to taste the fish.”

I noticed a tremble in my hand as I pulled the eggs from the refrigerator. I cracked the eggs in a bowl and dipped the first piece of fish. My heart was pounding and a flush of heat filled my chest and rushed into my face. I hated the way my body reacted when Judson was close to me.

The first time I had experienced it we had been at church. At church of all places.

He had sat in our row and during the singing there weren’t enough hymnals so I stepped closer to let him look at mine. The strong timbre of his voice startled me, and I looked up to see if it was truly coming from his mouth. It was. His eyes were focused forward and I became fascinated with the way the muscles moved in his jaw as he sang. I pulled my gaze back to the hymnal moments later but then my eyes were drifting over his hands, noticing the shape of them and from there, my eyes drifted up to a tanned forearm and bicep. I wished to myself it wasn’t such a warm day and he wasn’t wearing a short-sleeved shirt. I closed my eyes and tried to control my thoughts. Church was nowhere to be noticing the shape of a man’s arms, the timber of his voice, his jaw, the blue of his eyes, the smell of his cologne…

Lord, Jesus,” I had prayed to myself. “Keep my mind focused on you and not on a man. That’s how I got in trouble before. I don’t want to go down that road again.

As soon as the singing was finished, I stepped quickly away from Judson and gently ushered Jackson to sit between us so there would be no chance of me noticing anything remotely attractive about Judson T. Waignwright.

I’d been making similar attempts to distance myself ever since. If I saw him in the supermarket I chose a different aisle. If he was across the street and saw me, I waved and then ducked into a store, as if I had meant to go there in the first place. If he was having dinner at Emmy and Sam’s I quickly made an excuse not to stay. I didn’t need him anywhere near me, clouding my mind and sending my heart racing, making me forget that I had built walls around my life and heart for a reason.

Mama helped me finish dinner and we set the table, adding an extra place for Judson. I made sure to sit him at the end of the table, across from Daddy and between Mama and Jackson, a good place for me to avoid accidentally grazing a hand against his or for him to try to start a conversation with me.

As I placed the last for next to a plate, I caught sight of Judson standing in the living room, looking at the photo of my uncle Jason hanging on the wall over the couch. Jason was wearing his Marine uniform in the photo, his broad smile identical to Daddy’s.

Daddy stepped behind Judson. “That’s my brother, Jason. He was killed in Korea. 1952.”

Judson turned to face Daddy, his expression somber. “I’m so sorry to hear that, Mr. Robbins. What a huge sacrifice your family made for our country.”

Daddy nodded, swallowing hard, and then gestured toward the set table. “It was hard for us, yes, but he died doing what he loved – serving his country.”

“You can sit here,” I told Judson, pulling the chair at the end of the table out.

“Did you ever serve, sir?” Judson asked Daddy after Mama said the prayer.

Daddy handed Judson the plate of fish. “I was drafted during World War II but it was at the end of the war. I never saw combat. The war ended before I was ever shipped out. Jason was my baby brother. The youngest of us four kids. He always wanted to be in the Army so he signed up right after high school. A year later he was in Korea and six months after that they shipped him home in a box.”

“That’s one reason I don’t like to talk about our country going to war again. I don’t want other families to have to go through what ours did.”

Daddy cleared his throat and I knew it was to try to keep tears at bay.

“I won’t make this a political discussion,” he said with a small laugh. “That isn’t appropriate dinner conversation.”

Judson nodded in agreement. “I don’t mind a little political banter but I understand what you mean about it not being great for dinner conversations. For what it’s worth, though, I agree with you and hope our country stays out of the situation in Vietnam. We have no business being there.”

Part of me was glad to see Daddy and Judson conversing about politics so easily but another part of me wanted to growl in frustration. It seemed the farther away I tried to get from Judson, the closer my family got to him. Keeping my distance certainly wasn’t going to be easy.

***

“You can’t keep living in a pause when your life deserves to move forward.”

I thought about what Pastor Frank had said from the pulpit a couple of weeks ago as I laid back on my bed on a warm Saturday afternoon. Sunlight reflected off the hand mirror I had laid on top of my dresser, casting rainbows across the ceiling.

“Your story isn’t over because something horrible happened to you. God is writing your story and He wants you to let Him walk with you through it to victory – to a well-deserved ending,” Pastor Frank had said. “Your story will end with God getting the glory out of every situation in your life. Maybe you were loved once and then that love ended, and you think you can’t be loved again. But you can be loved again, and you are already loved by your Father in Heaven.”

Laying on my back on the top of the bedspread I thought about how my life had been on pause for five years now. I wouldn’t let anyone too close to me or Jackson and I was still living with my parents when I could have easily rented a house or apartment. I spent most of my nights alone when I could have been involved in more activities in the community.

It was as if I was afraid to really live, afraid I would mess up again and the happy state I was now in would crumble around me. The ringing of the phone pulled me from my thoughts. Mama and Daddy were outside watching Jackson ride his bike so I knew I’d have to go down the stairs and pick up the phone.

“Hey, baby girl, how are you doing?” Miss Mazie’s voice on the other end of the phone was sweet and comforting.

Miss Mazie, the sweet woman with the skin dark like chocolate and the discerning spirit that could also see through all my lies. I’d met her after church one Sunday in Syracuse during a time when I was newly married, lonely, homesick and at the beginning of an unplanned pregnancy. She had been like a second mother to me when I was so far away from my own. Her thick Mississippi accent brought a smile to my face as I sat on the couch and leaned back to enjoy our conversation.

“I’m not doing too bad. How’s life been treating you, Miss Mazie?”

“Well, it’s been treating me real good. Real good.”

“Jackson and I are still talking about our last trip up to see you.”

Miss Mazie’s hearty laugh filtered through the receiver.

“That was a good visit. I couldn’t believe how much that boy had grown!”

“And I couldn’t believe how much Hannah’s kids had grown,” I said. “And Buffy’s, especially the new baby, who isn’t even a baby anymore.”

“Nope, she’s three already. Kind of hard to believe – she’s such a miracle baby and livin’ right up to that designation.”

Buffy’s youngest daughter, Patty, wasn’t even supposed to be born after Buffy had suffered a series of miscarriages over the years. About a year after I left God had blessed Buffy and her husband, the pastor of the church I’d attended, with another baby and she’d come despite a number of complications that left Buffy on bedrest for the last month of her pregnancy.

“And how is your daughter doing?” I asked Miss Mazie Any more babies on the horizon for her?”

“Oh, glory! Didn’t I tell you? She’s got twins on the way, Blanche! Can you believe it?”

I thought about Isabell, the tender way she’d bandaged my head and wrapped my ribs after I stumbled into her mother’s house, a bloody mess that night. It was our first meeting. What a way to meet a person, blooding dripping down the back of my neck and my lip swollen three times its’ size.

“I can’t imagine how she’ll continue working as a nurse with twins and two others at home,” I said. “But she’s an amazing lady and I know she can do it.”

“Well, she’s planning to take a break from nursing after the twins are born,” Miss Mazie said. “She’s finally realized she doesn’t have to be super mom to be walking in the place God called her to be in. It’s an answer to my prayers. It was hard watching her try to do so much and never take time for herself to rest. Of course, she won’t have much time to rest with all those youngin’s but at least she won’t be caring for them and working at the same time.”

I sighed and bit my lower lip, trying to decide if I’d bring the topic of Hank up with Miss Mazie or not.

“Miss Mazie…remember when you asked me about Hank when we were up there? If I’d forgiven him for what he’d done?”

“Oh yes, honey. I was probably a bit too bold there, but you know I know how hard that forgiveness is to come by for us. Forgiveness is so important because of the prison it puts us in.”

“I know,” I said. “And I wanted to tell you I’ve thought about it a lot lately and I think I can start trying to forgive him now. I can’t say I’m all the way there, but I’ve been able to at least pray for him. His father abused him. He never felt like he was good enough. We got pregnant with Jackson so young – I think it was all just too much for him, not that I want to make excuses for how treated me.”

“That’s a good step, honey,” Miss Mazie said. “A very important one. Every time you feel you can’t forgive him you ask God to help you to do it. Only with God can we do what we feel we never can. Now, okay, honey, so you’re working on forgiving Hank. But what about yourself? Have you forgiven yourself?”

I didn’t answer her. I couldn’t because I knew I hadn’t. I coiled the phone cord around my finger, crossed one leg over the other and bounced my foot.

“Blanche?”

“Mmmhmm?”

“Forgiving ourselves is the hardest thing to do, I know, but God doesn’t want you living like you don’t deserve happiness. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“There is a bright future out there for you, honey. Don’t dim it by living in self-loathing.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Okay, now. Lecture over. Fill me in on how everyone else is. How are Edith and Jimmy and Emmy and that sweet husband of hers? How are your mama and daddy? And is Jackson riding his bike yet? Tell me it all. I don’t have much of a life, so I have to live it through all of you.”

I laughed and then I filled Miss Mazie in on all she had asked me to, conveniently leaving out any mention of Judson “J.T.” Waignwright.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 4

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


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Chapter 4

I ushered Jackson upstairs to his bath on the eve of his Kindergarten debut, hoping playtime with his toy boats and submarines would be short and bedtime story time even shorter. It had been a long day and my body was screaming at me to lay down and cover it with a warm comforter and quilt.

Even on the days I was beyond tired, I looked forward to tucking Jackson into bed at night, snuggling next to him and reading Winnie the Pooh or Dr. Seuss.

“Read it again, Mommy,” he said as I finished Green Eggs and Ham for the second time.

“I think we’ve read it enough, sweetheart. You need to get some rest because tomorrow is your first day of Kindergarten.”

Jackson pushed out his bottom lip. “I don’t want to go to Kindergarden, Mommy. I want to stay here with you and Grandma.”

“We’re going to miss you, but you are going to love Kindergarten. You’re going to meet new friends and learn new things and –“

“But who is going to protect you and Grandma?”

“Protect us from what?”

“From the bears in the field.”

I laughed. “What bears in the field?”

“Grandpa said he saw a bear in the field on his way to work and what if it and its family comes to the house when I’m gone?”

“Well, what would you do if you were here?” I asked, enjoying listening to the way his mind worked.

“I would get grandpa’s gun and shoot them and make those bears into a bear rug for you and Grandma to sit on and drink hot cocoa on!”

I pulled him against me, laughing as I kissed his cheek. “And we would be so happy if you did that for us, but I don’t think any bears will come to our house. Bears are as afraid of us as we are of them.”

Jackson pushed against me and buried his face into my stomach.

“I still don’t want to go to Kindergarden, Mommy. It doesn’t sound like my type of garden at all.”

I rubbed his back and leaned back against the headboard, closing my eyes for a moment as he softly cried.

It seemed impossible to me he was already six and starting school in the morning. Stroking his soft, brown hair, I thought back to the first few days after I’d brought him home from the hospital. I’d been so lost and terrified as a first-time mother at the age of 19. Mama had stayed with me a few days, showing me how to change Jackson’s diapers, pat his back to bring out burps, and rock him to sleep.

“I know it seems scary, Blanche, but it’s going to be okay,” Mama said, stroking my hair as I clung to her the day she left.

“Oh, Mama,” I sobbed, sitting on the floor, my head in her lap. “How could I have been so stupid to have a baby already? I don’t know anything about babies. What if I can’t do this?!”

“You can do this, Blanche,” Mama said softly. “I know you can. You’ve never given up on anything you’ve set your mind to and I know you love this baby. You loved him even before he was born, didn’t you?”

I nodded, remembering how I’d talked to Jackson when he was in my womb, telling him about the book I was reading, or the meal I was cooking, or what the weather was like that day.

“All you have to do is love him and it will be just fine,” Mama said, rubbing my back as I cried. “Ask God to give you wisdom and strength for each moment as it comes and do your best not to let your mind race into the future, tangling itself up in the questions of ‘what if.’.”

Mama laughed. “I think two of the worst words for a mother are ‘what if.’ Or maybe the worst three words: “But what if . . .”

The day Mama left I never felt more alone in my life. I knew Hank wouldn’t be any help taking care of a baby he hadn’t even wanted.

Peering at Hannah Harrison through the crack in the front door of our apartment, the day after Mama left, I hesitated. She looked like a model on the front of a fashion magazine – soft blond curls, curves in all the right places filling out her pencil skirt and white, fluffy sweater. I closed the door, my hand on the bolt. I didn’t want someone as well put together as Hannah to know how little I knew about life; how incompetent I was as a mother and a wife. Still, I needed someone to tell me it was going to be okay now that Mama was back in Pennsylvania with Daddy and I decided to take a chance that Hannah might be that person.

“It’s going to be just fine,” she told me, taking a screaming Jackson into her arms, sitting on our couch and laying him across her lap while she rubbed the gas out of his belly. She made it look so easy.

Her words echoed Mama’s: “You just keep loving this baby, Blanche and you’re going to be okay.”

So many decisions in my life had hinged on my love for Jackson. Leaving Hank, coming back home, the jobs I had taken, the promise I’d made to keep us both from being hurt again. When Thomas Fairchild, the cub reporter at the paper, had asked me out on a date three years ago, I’d turned him down gently but quickly. Even if I had been interested in him, I had to think about Jackson and how my dating would affect him. I couldn’t risk him getting attached to someone I wasn’t sure about; his small heart broken if the relationship failed.

I looked down at my lap and saw that Jackson had cried himself to sleep. I lightly brushed an already drying tear from his soft, ruddy cheek with my finger and studied his perfectly shaped mouth and the comforting familiarity of his boyishly round face.

A rush of panic suddenly gripped me as I studied him. Though I had reassured my child only moments before that he would love his first day of school my mind began to race with fear. The heavy ball in the pit of my stomach that had been forming for weeks, months even, had clearly settled in to stay.

I didn’t want to let him go. I didn’t want him out of the safety of my or my Mama’s care. I wanted to hold him for as long as possible, keep him with me instead of sending him off into a world full of hurt, anger and dangers.

I curled myself around his body; the body of a boy who felt too fragile and small to send off into the unknown and closed my eyes, reveling in the feel of him warm against me, wishing we could stay this way forever.

My grandmother once told me that being a mother was like walking through life with your heart outside your body. Only after I’d had a child of my own did I understand what she meant.

So many times in the months after Jackson was born I’d wondered if my parents had felt the same about me and Edith when we were young – that unending, unconditional love that only seemed to magnify each day.

“Of course we did and still do,” Mama told me at 3 a.m. one morning when Jackson was 15 months old.

Jackson had fallen asleep only a few moments before after hours of crying from teeth trying to break through his lower gum. Mama rubbed clove oil on his gum, an old trick she’d learned from her mother. Within minutes he was asleep in her arms and she was standing in the kitchen, holding him in her arms, his head against her shoulder as we talked. Leaning back against the kitchen counter, her dark hair fell loose around her shoulders, her blue robe tied closed over her nightgown.

“Seeing you in pain, hearing you cry, it was like being hurt ourselves,” Mama said. “And when you made mistakes and faced the consequences, we never rejoiced. We always felt the pain with you and wished we could make it better. Watching you make mistakes — That was just as hard, sometimes even harder. We had to let you make them, we knew that, but it was so hard.”

“It must have been really hard to know what a mistake I’d made when I left with Hank.”

Mama smiled. “Yes, but there was also a hope that maybe I was wrong. I hoped it would all work out and Hank would turn out to be better than what others said he was. If I had known how bad he really was, I would have been beside myself with worry and would have been up there dragging you home.

She laughed softly. “Now, Daddy? He never doubted Hank’s lack of character.”

I laughed too. I could almost hear Daddy telling Mama Hank was hopeless.

I sipped tea, now cold in my mug. “Sometimes I worry about being a mom because we can do everything in our power and our children can still get hurt or break our hearts. It scares me. It scares me I won’t be as good as you were at having faith it will all work.”

Mama stroked the back of Jackson’s head and swayed a little in place. “You think your daddy and I always knew what we were doing? We definitely doubted ourselves throughout your childhood and yes, definitely after you left with Hank. We wondered what we had done wrong, what we hadn’t taught you that led to you leaving without speaking to us first. We felt we hadn’t been accessible enough for you to feel like you could talk to us and talked about how we could change that in the future, once your daddy dealt with the anger, of course.”

I felt tears in my eyes, and knew exhaustion was making my emotions even more raw. “You and Daddy did such a good job with us, Mama. Maybe you didn’t feel like it after I left, but it wasn’t anything you did. It was my own selfishness and pride.” I drew the back of my hand across my eyes to wipe away the tears. “I was so stupid. How could I have been so stupid? I’m so glad Grandpa and Grandma weren’t here to see me.”

Mama stood next to me and rubbed my back with her free hand as I cried.

“Life is made up of stupid decisions that we didn’t think were stupid when we made them,” she said. “But you took responsibility for your actions, you walked away from Hank when he became violent and you’re raising your son on your own — ”

“Well, with you and Daddy’s help,” I interjected.

“Yes,” Mama said. “But Blanche, you didn’t run away from Jackson when life got tough. You set your mind to being the best mother you could for him and you’re still doing it. I think those are all things your grandparents would have been very proud of you for.”

Jackson shifting in his sleep pulled me from my memories. I laid him back on his pillow, pulled the covers around him, kissed his forehead and stood to turn out the lights.

“Protect him tomorrow, Father and most of all, protect his tiny, innocent heart.”

***

A young Hank, maybe 11 or 12 stared back at me from the photo on Marjorie Hake’s wall. I’d seen it many times over the years since I’d been bringing Jackson to visit his grandmother and each time I studied I wondered what path Hank’s life had taken to transform him from innocent to broken. I’d brought Jackson to see his grandmother after his first day of Kindergarten. He’d been excited to tell her about his day and then darted outside to play with a homemade cookie in his hand.

A teacup clinked in a dish behind me. “It seems so long ago,” Marjorie said. “A lifetime ago, really.”

“Do you ever hear from him?”

“No. Never. And I’m never sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Eloise Carter told me last year her son had seen him in a bar in Syracuse maybe two years ago and he said he was moving out west. That’s all I know.” She looked at the photo as I sat down across from her. Still. After all these years. That’s all I know about him.”

“He wasn’t always so angry and selfish, you know. He was a good boy, always willing to help me around the house, take care of his little brother, protect me from Henry. He could never make his father happy, though. Never.”

Tears pooled in her eyes. “I truly think inside he’s a lost little boy who doesn’t know how to tame the emotions raging inside him. Not that any of this excuses how he acted, how he treated you. It never will. But it is a little insight into what transformed him into who he became, I suppose. If only I’d . . .”

She sipped her tea and shrugged. “Well, that’s in the past. Nothing can be done to change the past. I’m beginning to accept that life doesn’t always turn out the way we hoped or expected. And life is getting better now, brighter even, despite all the mistakes I made and all I’ve lost. Did I tell you I joined the garden club?”

“No, what does a garden club do?”

Marjorie laughed, and pushed a strand of her chin length hair behind her ear. “We talk about gardens and what we should do with our gardens and how to grow gardens. It’s very titillating conversation.”

I sat across from her and stirred cream into my tea. “Marjorie, I’ve never told Jackson about Hank.”

She looked at me, tea cup braced between her hands. “I know,” she said. “And I haven’t either. I can’t imagine what we’d say to him. He’s too young to understand. Maybe someday, but not now. I think it’s the right thing, keeping his father a topic to be discussed when he’s older.”

Sunlight poured across Marjorie’s dining room, wallpaper with pink roses she’d had installed the year after her husband died. She wanted to change everything about her life, she said, and after the bright wallpaper and hardwood floors, she’d had her hair cut short into a modern bob. When Edith spun the chair around so Marjorie could see herself in the mirror the reaction was visceral and sudden. Her head fell into her hands and she cried at the transformation. It was a visual representation of her internal revolution.

Out the dining room window in the backyard, Jackson drove his dump trucks through the mud, the front of his shirt and jeans stained brown.

Marjorie reached over and laid her hand over mine. “I know I’ve said it before, Blanche, but thank you so much for bringing Jackson to see me. Watching him grow up has been such a blessing and has filled so many empty places in my heart.”

“Actually, Marjorie,” I said, squeezing her hand. “Our visits have done the same for me.”

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 3

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


Chapter 3

“Why do you keep blaming yourself for what Hank did to you?”

Emmy’s question a year after I left Hank still echoed in my mind. I hadn’t known how to answer it then but later I questioned why I shouldn’t blame myself.

I was the one who had allowed Hank to treat me the way he had. I was the one who had left my family to be with him. I had been the one who had been too stupid, too trusting, to see who he really was. I was the one who had to learn the hard way that I couldn’t trust anyone, not even myself.  I couldn’t protect my child or my own heart so how could I ever trust myself to judge if another man was or wasn’t the same as Hank?

Even now I wondered what Hank had ever seen in me.  I’d never looked like my voluptuous older sister, was never outgoing, and never sought attention from boys. Sometimes I wondered if he thought I was someone he could control, instead of someone he wanted to love. It was obvious the night I saw him kissing that other woman at the bar that I’d never been enough for him and if I wasn’t good enough for him maybe I’d never be good enough for any man.

Hank and I met at a dance Daddy almost didn’t let me go to. Hank had leaned next to me, smashing his cigarette into the ashtray behind me, whispering that he’d save the next dance for me. That night I’d felt a rush of excitement I’d never felt before.

Secret meetings in our backyard in the middle of the night transformed into stolen kisses, intimate touches and eventually Hank begging me to run away with him. And I did run away with him. Two-hundred miles from home to a strange city, lonely and frightened, especially when I became pregnant only six months after we were married. When I told him I was pregnant, Hank changed from caring to detached and angry.

I’d never told anyone except Emmy and Lillian, our pastor’s wife, about the last time I saw Hank before he moved out west. I was in a children’s consignment shop in Dalton, about a year after Daddy chased Hank off, when I saw him through the front window, standing with a group of men outside the hardware store across the street. I stepped back behind a wrack of clothes, hoping he wouldn’t see me.

“Those men are nothing but trouble.”

I jumped at the sound of store owner, Jane Doan’s voice. She was standing behind me, looking over my shoulder at the men and scowling.

“My husband says Billy Martin has been talking about forming a KKK group up just over the state border in Winton. And look at those other idiots. Just toddling along with him like lemmings.”

Emmy walked over to stand next to Joan. “Isn’t that – “

“Yes,” I said curtly. “It is.”

“He looks rough,” Emmy said.

I studied Hanks unshaven face, sunken eyes, crooked nose, where I’d broken it the year before. “He does.”

“You were always too good for that man,” Jane said, all of us still looking out the window. “Still are.”

“What do you think they’re up to?” Emmy asked.

“I don’t know but it can’t be anything good,” Jane said. “Some of the men from church are talking about running them out of town, letting them know their kind isn’t welcome here. I bet you that Hank hasn’t even gone to see his mama. He wouldn’t dare with his daddy around, I guess.”

I thought about the conversation I’d had with Hank that one day in the apartment, how he said he was going to come back to our town and tell Lillian she wasn’t welcome.

“You have to know something, Blanche,” Hank had said, lifting his glass of milk and looking at me. “Those people aren’t as smart as us. They don’t think like we do. We can’t have them coming up here and demanding to be treated the same as us like they’re trying to do down South. They want to take our jobs, our women. Just look at that dumb preacher – I guess they want to take the men too, infiltrate their way into our world and taint our bloodlines.”

My chest tightened at the memory of what he’d said and I found myself clutching the cross necklace around my neck Edith had recently given me as a gift.

Emmy laid her hand against my shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Blanche. We’ll stay right here until he’s gone.”

Hank laughed with the men as they loaded supplies into the back of one of the men’s truck. There were boards and ropes and I hoped I was imagining a can of gasoline behind one of the boxes.

“Emmy…” I said softly, then bit my bottom lip, changing my mind.

I didn’t want to tell her what Hank had said. I didn’t want her to know he had been even worse than I had told her and that I’d stayed with him even after he’d said and done such horrible things. I didn’t want to admit that for so long I thought I could change Hank, or if I couldn’t, God would, and he would be kind again. I wondered how I had ever let myself fall so hard for him. The gentle kisses he had once given me seemed so far away now.

As the truck drove away, Hank and two other men climbing into the back, I closed my eyes briefly and asked God to keep Lillian safe. Then, I felt like I should ask him to keep Hank safe too, even though I still wasn’t sure how to feel about Hank now. I struggled with the idea that I needed to forgive him the way Christ had forgiven me. Knowing I needed to do it and actually doing it were two different things.

Pounding on our front door woke me several hours later. Looking at the clock through bleary eyes I saw it was 2 a.m. Daddy was standing at the front door as I descended the stairs, tying my robe closed at my waist. Over his shoulder I saw John Hatch standing on our front porch.

“Alan, we have a problem at the pastor’s house. Someone’s burned a cross on their front lawn and threw a rock through their front window. Lillian and Frank are terrified, of course, but even worse, Frank is worried about what kind of stress this is putting on Lillian and the baby.”

I sucked in a deep breath and held it as I listened. I regretted not saying anything about seeing Hank in town. Had he been involved? I didn’t know and wondered if I could have stopped what had happened if I had simply told someone what Emmy and I had seen earlier.

“Tell them to come here tonight,” Mama said as I reached the end of the stairs and Daddy reached for his coat behind the door.

Daddy nodded, reaching for his shotgun. “I’ll bring them back with me.”

“What are you going to do with that gun, Alan?”

“Hopefully nothing,” Daddy told Mama, standing in the open doorway. “The worst I plan to do is fire a warning shot. You know I have experience with that.”

Mama kissed Daddy’s cheek. “Just be careful.”

We watched Daddy and John drive into the darkness and fear gripped my heart. My mind was returning to the “what if” questions I had asked so often as a young child and teenager. What if my choice not to say anything about seeing Hank and those men together led to something horrible happening to Daddy or John or Lillian and Pastor Frank?

“I’ll get the guest room ready,” I said, thinking and worrying as I climbed the stairs.

Lillian’s face was swollen from crying when she walked in our front door, Pastor Frank helping to support her. Her dark brown, almost black hair hung around her face and shoulders loose, a change from how I usually saw it pulled tightly into a braid that hung down her back or looped into a bun on top of her head. A red flush highlighted her light brown complexion along her cheek bone and under her red-rimmed eyes.

Mama took her hand and led her to the couch. “I’ve made you some tea. You just relax and take your shoes off and I’ll bring it to you.”

“Thank you, Janie,” Lillian said softly as Pastor Frank and Daddy walked toward the kitchen with Mama.

Lillian slid her coat off and settled into the couch, as I pulled the afghan my grandmother had made my mother when she was a child from the back of the couch and laid it across Lillian’s shoulders.

She pulled the afghan around her and then reached out and took my hand. Her eyebrows were furrowed with concern. “Blanche…. I don’t know if I should tell you this or not, but one of the men – I can’t be sure because they were wearing masks…”

“You think one of the men was Hank.”

Lillian nodded, her expression grim.

“Someone called his name and the voice sounded like his.”

I sat next to her and slid an arm around her shoulder. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. I – I saw him in town today. I should have said something, but I – I didn’t know for sure. I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through tonight and I’m so sorry that he may have been involved.”

Lillian leaned against me, patting my shoulder. “You have no need to apologize for his actions. But thank you for your tender heart. It’s the balm I needed after this crazy night.”

“I can’t believe this is happening in our town,” Pastor Frank said as he walked into the living room, his voice breaking. He rubbed his hand across his face, shaking his head.

Daddy put his hand on Frank’s shoulder. “They’ve been having them down South, but here? In Pennsylvania? Our world is upside down, pastor. I think you know this is more than a war against flesh and blood. This is a spiritual war.”

“Yes,” Pastor Frank agreed. “It is. And we know just how to wage that battle.”

He kneeled in the middle of our living room floor and gestured for us to do the same. We reached for each other hands and bowed our heads as Pastor Frank prayer for protection for his family and anyone else who might be targeted by the men. He ended the prayer by asking God to change the hearts of the men.

We weren’t alone in our disbelief over what had happened. The next day the town council called an emergency meeting and asked the county sheriff to attend.

“We need to make it clear we don’t want this kind of hatred in our town,” Mayor Matthew Tanner said, his jaw tight. “Sheriff, is there anything you can do?”

“We’re already working with the state police in both states to round these men up and file charges against them for harassment and anything else we can charge them with,” Sheriff Matthew Evans said, standing from his seat in the front row. “I can assure you we will do all we can to protect the citizens of your town but also the citizens of this county.”

Jason Finley, a local farmer, stood up and cleared his throat, holding his straw hat in his hand. He rarely spoke other than to say “good morning” if someone said it to him and he almost never initiated conversations.

There was a quiver in his voice as he spoke. “I think what’s important about all this, is that we make sure that the pastor and his wife know that we don’t think like those men do in this town. Miss Lillian is the only person of color in our town. We know she was the main one they wanted to scare and we need to let them know we’ll have none of that here. Miss Lillian and the Porters, over in Spencer; shouldn’t have to be afraid because – because of the color of their skin. She’s a good woman and her husband is a good man. They take care of our community and it’s time we took care of them. I’d like to gather a group of you to go over tomorrow morning and clean up the mess that was left. I hope you’ll meet me at their home around 8 a.m.”

Jason sat quickly, looking at the floor as several around him nodded in agreement.

I reached over and took Lillian’s hand, squeezing it. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and managed a smile.

In the morning their front yard was full of people from the town, repairing the front window, sweeping glass from the front porch and digging up the charred ground where the cross had burned. Standing in their front room, glass around me, tears flowed freely. I kneeled by the bucket of soapy water and drenched the sponge, wrung it out, and began to scrub at the racist epitaphs scrawled in red paint across their front fence.

Oh God,” I prayed to myself as I scrubbed.  “Touch the hearts of these men and show them that we are all made in your image.”

I never said anything to Mama and Daddy, or Hank’s mother, about Hank being one of the men and Lillian, Jane, and Emmy didn’t either. A month later Mrs. Hakes told me Hank had moved out west and I prayed to God he stayed there, hopefully for the rest of my life.

 

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 2 Part 2

Just issuing a “warning” again: If you haven’t read the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, you might not want to read A New Beginning, which is the second part of her story. You can find the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle or in Paperback, on Amazon (after December 17 it will be on all ebook readers and on other paperback sellers). However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning. Also this week, there is a *trigger warning* for anyone who has suffered a miscarriage. There is nothing too graphic but just in case it brings up some difficult memories.

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


 

Light, Shadows & Magic (2)As I rode in the back of Daddy’s new Oldsmobile with Jackson, on the way home from Emmy’s, I thought about that awful night almost four years ago at the hospital.

I had held Edith against me as she sobbed, her body trembling. The delivery room smelled of antiseptic and blood and nurses worked to clean Edith’s legs and change the blood-soaked sheets.

“It’s going to be okay,” I told her, though I really wasn’t sure how it was going to be okay.

Nothing was okay about Edith going into labor so early and her baby girl being delivered already dead. I was shaking, trying not to cry so I could be strong for her. Guilt consumed me. I’d done everything wrong, eloping with a man who turned out to be abusive, throwing my education and a chance at a career away, yet Edith was the one being punished.

Edith’s crying stopped abruptly and she went limp against me. I looked down at her pale face, her eyes closed. Panic seized me and I could barely breathe.

“Edith?” I shook her gently. “Edith?”

Her head flopped back away from me, toward the pillows on the bed.

“Edith!” I screamed.

A nurse rushed toward us, reaching for Edith’s wrist and laying two fingers against Edith’s neck.

“She’s just unconscious,” the nurse told me then darted out the door, calling for the doctor.

The doors to the delivery room burst open moments later and the doctor rushed in with Jimmy behind him.

“Edith?” Jimmy stepped toward the bed, but the nurse stood in front of him.

“Let the doctor check her,” she said. “Just hold on.”

I was still sitting on the edge of the bed, holding Edith’s hand, trembling with shock. I looked at Jimmy, his eyes filling with tears.

“She’s lost a lot of blood,” the doctor said, laying his hand on my shoulder. “We are going to start a blood transfusion and we need you to step outside while we prep her. We’ll be out to talk to your family when we have a better idea what is going on.”

Jimmy helped me stand, his hand on my arm. I stumbled with him out into the dimly lit hallway to the waiting room.

Mama stood from where she’d been sitting, holding Daddy’s hand, and I fell into her arms, crying against her chest, shaking.

“The baby – the baby didn’t make it,” Jimmy said his voice breaking with emotion. “They’re giving Edith a blood transfusion now. She’s lost a lot of blood.

“Oh, dear Jesus.” Mama gasped the words through her tears.

Her arms tightened around me as Daddy began to pray out loud.

“Father, we commend the spirit of Edith and Jimmy’s baby into your arms and we humbly ask you now to spare our Edith, keep her safe, bring her back to us while always understanding that it is your will that will be done. Amen.”

Daddy’s voice was loud and clear, full of love, yet tinged with sadness.

Mama, Jimmy and I echoed the amen, before collapsing into chairs to wait for the doctor. I drifted to sleep against Mama’s shoulder, jerking awake an hour later as the doctor entered the waiting room. The expression on his face was relaxed, relieved. “She’s lost a lot of blood and she’s weak, but I think the worst is over.”

“Thank God,” Mama said, her eyes red from crying.

“I don’t want you to think this is going to be an easy recovery,” the doctor said, his tone somber. “She’ll be here several days and will need weeks to recover, but –“ He smiled wearily. “We’re in better shape than we were a couple hours ago.”

Jimmy stepped forward and took the doctor’s hand.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you.”

The doctor’s eyes rimmed with tears as he clasped Jimmy’s hand. “Of course, young man. I’m sorry we couldn’t save the baby.”

“You did the best you could,” Jimmy said.

As the doctor turned to leave, Jimmy stopped him.

“Doctor?”

“Yes?”

“Will we – will she –“

The doctor smiled weakly, clearly exhausted. “You’ll be able to try again, if that’s what you’re asking, yes. Not right away, but eventually, yes. This was just a fluke, you might say. I don’t expect it will ever happen again.”

Jimmy wiped his hand across his face to wipe away the tears.

“Thank you, sir.”

“When can we see her?” I asked.

“You can go in anytime but keep the visits short. She needs her rest.”

Mama hugged me and Daddy hugged us and then we pulled Jimmy in with us. We stood in the middle of the waiting room and cried together, mourning and rejoicing at the same time.

Daddy and I watched Edith sleep that night, him sitting in a chair next to her bed, me curled up in a chair near the window. We’d sent Jimmy and Mama home to rest, knowing they’d return tomorrow and send us home to rest. The fading daylight cast a pink hue across the room and left a chill in the air.

Edith looked so frail against the pillow. Her skin blended in with the sterile white of the hospital sheets. I stood and brushed her hair back off her forehead, watching her sleep, remembering all our nights together as children, before our teenage years, before she decided I was a boring stuck in the mud.

“Blanche, do you think there is really a God up there?” she asked one night as we laid in our beds in the dark.

“Yes,” I said confidently.

“Why?”

“Well, I can’t imagine all the beauty of the world came together by accident.”

“What about all the ugliness of the world?”

I laid there, silent, thinking.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.

“Why doesn’t God stop the evil of the world? Like why are there wars? Why did Uncle Jason have to die in Korea?”

I wiped at tears with the back of my hand.

“I don’t know,” I said again. “But one day we’ll know, and we’ll all understand why God didn’t stop it. I guess it’s like Pastor Frank said, God gave us free will and sin was chosen by Adam and Eve. Once sin entered our world even innocent people suffered. I don’t know why Uncle Jason died but I know we will see him again one day.”

Edith sighed in the darkness and I swore I could hear her eyes rolling.

“Oh, Blanche, sometimes you’re just so naïve and trusting.”

Now, in this hospital room filled with wires and IVs and beeping machines, Edith and I seemed to be reversed in our beliefs.

“God has a plan,” she had whispered to me when she woke up, after the first round of blood loss, before drifting off again into another round of deep sleep.

“A plan for what?” I wanted to ask. “A plan to take away your baby? A plan to let Hank become bitter and abusive?”

I was angry at God, but I didn’t know if that was a proper emotion to feel. I was angry that God had taken Edith’s baby. I was angry that it seemed like Edith was being punished when she’d made up for all her past mistakes and was doing all the things the Bible said was right to do in the sight of God. Why wasn’t I the one being punished for my mistakes?

I heard a soft sigh and looked over at the chair where Daddy was sitting, leaning forward, his head in his hands.

“Daddy? Are you okay?”

I heard him softly crying and tears dripped through his fingers.

“I’m sorry, Blanche,” he whispered.

“Sorry? For – ”

“I’m sorry I let my anger over what you did drive a wedge between us for so long. I’m sorry I made you feel like you couldn’t come to me when Hank started hurting you. I’m sorry I -” His voice caught with emotion – “didn’t protect you from Hank. All I keep thinking is how I could have lost both of you. My God. What would I have done without both of my girls?”

I walked over and knelt in front of Daddy, pulling his hands from his face. His eyes were swollen from crying. I kissed his forehead.

“It’s okay, Daddy. I took for granted how much you loved me and how you were trying to protect me when you told me to stay away from Hank. I’m sorry it took me so long to admit that what I did was wrong.”

Daddy leaned his forehead against mine and we sat in the floor of Edith’s hospital room, in the glow of a setting sun, crying together. It was the forgiveness we both needed.

“So, Blanche…” Mama’s voice cut through my memories and I looked up at her, wiping tears from my face. “Oh. Why are you crying? Are you okay?”

Mama looked concerned and reached over the back seat, reaching for my hand.

“I was just thinking about Edith,” I said as her fingers encircled mine.

“I know, sweetie. We never know what God’s plans are, though. Things could change for Edith and Jimmy and maybe they’ll be blessed with the baby they’ve always wanted, just as Emmy and Sam are. We can’t give up hope.”

She pulled her hand away to grab a tissue from her purse. “You’ve got to start taking tissues with you places if you’re going to be sniffing and weeping like your mama.”

I laughed as I wiped the tears and blew my nose.

“Your nose is snotty, Mama,” Jackson informed me.

“Thank you, honey. I would never have known if you hadn’t told me.”

My sarcasm was lost on my son.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “Glad to help.”


Do you have a fiction story you’ve shared on your blog? Leave me a link in the comments so I can check it out. If I figure out how to offer a link-up on my blog, I plan to start doing that in future weeks!

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 2 Part I

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

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


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Chapter 2

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

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

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

“Still no pipe, eh, Alan?”

“Nope.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, I – well, I –“ John stammered.

“John Hatch! Really!”

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

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

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

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

Jackson tugged at my hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Mrs. Stanton! I’m six now!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you mind if I join you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He spread his arms out, bowed slightly and smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judson turned his body toward me and leaned forward slightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: He Leadeth Me

This week for Fiction Friday I am sharing an excerpt of a book I hope to work on more in 2020 and release at the end of that year or in 2021. It is going to involve a lot more research than my other books.

The book will follow the story of American missionary Emily Grant and Irishman Ensign Henry Reynolds of the Royal Air Force in the early 1940s, during World War II. Emily is a young woman from rural Pennsylvania who has traveled to India with a missionary to work in the mission field. Henry is stationed with his unit in a part of India where there is fighting among Muslims and Christians. The couple meets and realizes they both have a similar interest of bringing the Gospel of Christ to the people of India.

I see this book as being the first of at least two books, if not more, maybe a series.

As always, this is a work in progress and there is bound to be typos or the need for editing.
You can read a copy of my first self-published book, ‘A Story to Tell‘ on Kindle by clicking HERE.


The rain was pouring down in sheets, not drops and Emily Grant felt the heavy weight of uncertainty at the sight of the empty platform. He’d promised he’d be here to meet her. She knew he might have been delayed but she’d been standing here for over an hour already.

Her hope of not having been abandoned at the station of this small Indian village was fading into the fog encroaching around her.

Pulling the collar of her coat closed with one hand she clutched the handle of her suitcase in the other and sat on the bench, unsure of her next move. She needed a moment to think and maybe even to cry.

A month before today she had been swept away by his Irish charm and cornflower blue eyes but now she sat with her body cold from the damp clothes hanging off her and wondered how she could have been so naive.

Of course, it was clear now. His words had only been whispered to her to make him feel superior in his game of manipulation. He seemed sincere, telling her of his plans to teach the gospel to the people of India once his time with the Royal Air Force was complete, impressed that she planned to do the same.

He was probably laughing with his Air Force buddies right now about how he’d pretended to care and even talked her into traveling to visit him where his squadron had been moved to a month ago, 30 miles from the mission she was working at.

Had he simply lied during all those conversations they’d had, about believing God had bigger plans for him than being a farmer or an airman? She stared at the rain pounding into the ground, turning the red clay-like dirt of India into thick mud.

“Emily?”

A man’s voice, though gentle, startled her and she gasped as she turned. The man standing at the edge of the platform was wearing a tweed jacket and a fedora pushed back on his head. His expression was soft and kind as he took the hat off and held it to his chest.

“I’m sorry to scare you and to keep you waiting,” he said softly. “Henry called us this morning and asked if we could meet you at the station, but the rain –“

He gestured out to the sheets of rain still soaking the ground. “Our car got stuck in some mud along the road and it took me a bit to push it out.”

She felt her muscles relax as she stood to face him.

“Oh. Well- thank you. I have to admit I was beginning to wonder.”

She held her hand out and he took it. His palms felt rough and calloused and the grip was firm but gentle.

“I’m John O’Donnell. My wife and I are the pastors of the local mission church. Henry’s been restricted to the barracks and he hoped you’d agree come to stay with us on your own until he can leave again.”

She felt relieved maybe she hadn’t been tricked by the handsome Irish cadet after all.

“Thank you, Pastor O’Donnell. Henry mentioned I would be staying with a missionary and his wife he had met here. He said you are originally from near where he grew up. I just thought – well, I thought he would meet me here and we would drive to your home together.”

John smiled. “Call me John. And, yes, we are originally from Belfast, about an hour from where Henry grew up in Northern Ireland. I’d say it’s a bit of divine providence he was stationed in this country at the same time we are.”

He reached for her suitcase.

“Nellie, my wife, is waiting for us at the house. She’ll be glad to have another lady in the house to chat with. She’s been preparing a meal for you, sure you’d be hungry.”

Emily was definitely hungry after a three-hour train ride with little more to eat than a package of crumbling crackers and water from the canteen she had packed in her bag. Her stomach still wasn’t completely used to the spices from the Indian cuisine she had been eating at the mission since arriving three months ago. The train had moved slowly, stopping repeatedly to pick up more people than the cars could even hold. Each seat was crowded with three or four people and Emily could still smell the bodies, the goats and the lunches some of the travelers had packed.

John placed her suitcase in the back seat of the car and held the front door open for her. She climbed in, relieved to be out of the drenching rain they had run through from the platform.

John closed his door firmly and turned the engine.

“Tell me, Emily, what part of the States are you from?”

“Pennsylvania. A tiny little farm town no one has ever heard of.”

“Pennsylvania. Ah. I have family there. In the city of Scranton. An aunt and uncle. Visited them once as a teenager and was amazed with the steam engines. I was less amazed with the food at first but it grew on me.”

Emily nodded. “Scranton is about two hours from where I’m from. I’m sure the food was different for you but I can imagine the food here has been even more of a shock?”

John laughed and nodded as he pulled the car on to the muddy dirt road.

“My stomach is finally settling,” he admitted with a grin. “I think I’d much rather have one of those American hot dogs than the spicy curry on some days, but even that is beginning to become a favorite of mine.

Emily noticed small lines along the edges of his eyes as he smiled.  Flecks of gray were mixed in the dark brown of his hair.

“Henry was certainly flustered when he called this morning. He’d much rather have been here to greet you, but what a blessing we are so close to the station.”

She looked down at her hands folded in front of her and felt her cheeks flush warm. She was uneasy at the idea that this man and his wife had to accommodate her after she’d agree to visit this small village for a few days to get to know the Irish airman she’d met a couple of months earlier.

She felt like a silly school girl. She wished she had a more noble and mature reason for her journey north.

“Yes, it worked out nicely,” she said softly over the sound of the windshield wipers and pounding rain.

“There has been violence in Hyderabad,” he said. “They locked down the area late last night and Henry only found time this morning to call and ask for our help. He was very concerned about you being left at the station.”

Emily felt the uneasiness she’d been feeling about Henry’s absence begin to fade at this news. It was duty that kept him from her, not indifference. When would she learn not to judge so quickly?

John glanced at her with an amused grin.

“He seems quite fond of you.”

Her cheeks flushed again and without thinking, she put her hand against the warmth.

“Oh. Well, we barely know each other.” She was struggling for words. “But this was a lovely chance to get to know him better.”

John laughed.

“My wife and I got to know each other better about 25 years ago. I can only hope you two will have the same success.”

Emily smiled and glanced at him then back out the windshield. “I don’t know about that just yet. We’ve only known each other a month.”

John was still smiling. “Time is of no matter if the match is made by God.”

A small house was taking shape in the mist kicked up by the rain. The car slowed.

“This is us,” John said.

Emily placed her hat back on her head and prepared for the soaking. She kept her eyes on her steps to keep from slipping. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw chickens, a young cow, and two goats in a makeshift shed to one side of the house.

“Get on in here! Out of that rain!” a friendly Irish accent called out as they reached the stone stairs. The smell of something wonderful cooking in the oven was the first thing Emily noticed once inside the small house. As she took her hat off she looked up into bright hazel eyes and a beautiful smile.

“I thought this rain might have washed ye’ both down the river,” John’s wife laughed as she took Emily’s coat and hat and placed them on a hook behind the door.

“I’m Nellie. So happy to have you, dear Emily. Any friend of Henry’s is a friend of ours.”

Nellie hugged Emily close as if she was a long lost relative. Emily was surprised by the greeting but also felt comforted.

“Thank you, so much. It’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m so grateful to you both.”

“Let’s get some food in you, shall we?” Nellie gestured toward the table.

“You must be famished. John will take your bag to the guest room.”

The beef roast, steamed potatoes and carrots, and homemade bread were a welcome meal after two months of curry and spice. Emily felt emotion rise in her as each bite reminded her of meals at home-cooked by her mother. She suddenly remembered the letter in her pocket telling her about life at the farm and how proud she and her father were, but also how worried. She’d read it again later, before bed, along with Henry’s last letter, which came just before she packed to head to the station.

“So, Emily, Henry has told us so much about you,” Nellie dished more carrots onto her plate. “His face just lit up when he told us about meeting you. He says you are working at the mission and orphanage there. John and I know the couple who founded the orphanage – James and Margaret. Are they well?”

“Oh yes. Very much so. They are both getting older, but no one can seem to slow them down,” Emily said. “They’ve been amazing, letting me stay on even when the rest of our mission group traveled back home to Pennsylvania.”

“And the children? Still as many as there used to be?”

“Yes. If not more. So much poverty – their families simply can’t afford to care for them.”

“Henry says you hope to stay in India? Help the orphanage?”

“That is my hope, yes, but we will see if my family agrees.”

Emily looked down at her plate and felt her cheeks flush.

“I must admit, I felt a little – foolish when I asked them if I could come here to visit Henry,” she said. “Pastor James was so supportive. He must have known I’d be safe here with you.”

Nellie smiled at her.  “We’ve known James and Margaret since we came here. They’ve been mentors to us. We’re honored that they would entrust you to us. How long will you be able to stay.”

“Only a week.”

John dished more potatoes on her plate.

“Grew these in the garden out back,” his voice was full of pride . “The soil here isn’t the same as in Ireland. Took us awhile to figure out how to get to them to grow the way we like them, but they finally taste like home.”

“They’re delicious and remind me so much of my home too.”

She felt tears hot in her eyes and looked down at her plate. She hadn’t expected the emotion and felt ashamed of seeming weak in front of people who had sacrificed so much in the last three years to serve the people of this area of India. Nellie laid her hand on Emily’s and squeezed it a little.

“You must be so homesick. Let me brew you a cup of tea, love.”

“Oh, thank you. I’m so sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

“It’s been a long day,” John said. “A lot of traveling, then all that waiting, all the unknowns. I’m sure your soul is as exhausted as your body.”

After tea had been enjoyed Nellie urged Emily to rest before the evening meal.

“I’d rather help you clean up,” Emily said but after Nellie insisted she rest, Emily finally agreed. Within minutes after she laid on the top cover of the small cot in the tiny, dark room she was in a deep sleep.

_____

Fiction Friday: The Librarian

For this week’s Fiction Friday I’m sharing part of a story I’m working on, a character I’m developing. As always, this is a work in progress and it hasn’t yet been proofed, so there can always be typos or errors in it. Feel free to let me know about typos in the comments.

My first novel is for sale on Amazon Kindle.


Ginny Jefferies unlocked the back door of the library and slipped inside as quickly as she could, slamming the door behind her and standing in the darkened doorway. She hoped no one had seen her enter, thinking that the library was already open. There were hours posted on the front door, but people rarely read them and often tried to open the door no matter the time.

“Can’t I just slip inside and grab that new Jan Karon book?” Mrs. Fraley had said one morning, waving at Ginny as she rushed across the parking lot in the pouring rain.

“I don’t even have the system up to check you out, but we’re open in an hour,” Ginny said, holding her umbrella against a gust of wind.

Mrs. Fraley clasped her bright pink rain hat against her head with both hands.

“Well, it will just take moment and you can write it down that I took it out,” she said, insistent. “I’ve been waiting for months for that book.”

“I’m not even sure if it’s been checked out or not.. .” Ginny started.

“All I need to do is check real quick,” Mrs. Fraley pushed past her.

Ginny shook the umbrella off inside the door, peeling her wet clothes off as Mrs. Fraley rushed across the front of the library in search of the book.

“You open?” Dan Bennett’s head appeared inside the door she’d forgot to lock behind her. He didn’t wait for her to answer. “Good because I need to print an important paper off for my insurance man. Wouldn’t you know it, the printer ran out of ink just last night.”

“I haven’t actually turned the computers on yet –“ Ginny started.

“No problem at all,” Dan said with a wave of his hand, stepping inside. “I’ll get them for you. One less thing for you to do this morning.”

“Ah, okay, but I-“

The door opened again.

“Is it time for storytime yet?” Mary Ellis was holding the hand of two toddlers with a third young child standing behind her, all three of them dripping water on the carpet inside the door.

“Storytime isn’t for another two hours,” Ginny said, hoping to usher them back outside.

“That’s okay,” Mary said pushing past her. “Well, just spend some time in the children’s room. You still have those blocks and toys here right? The kids will love that and it’s better than trying to entertain them at home.”

“I – -oh – dear,” Ginny decided then and there to make her entrance into the library as incognito as possible from then on.

Ginny leaned back against the closed door and sighed. So far so good. No one was pounding on the door and she seemed to have made it in unseen. She looked around the two-story library, lit only by the curved windows above the shelves on one side of the main room, and enjoyed the silence. Sunlight streamed in through a high window on the main floor, pouring light across the Women’s Literature section.

The building was the former Spencer Family mansion, built in 1901 and deeded to the town in 1967 to be used as a community library. Walls had been knocked down, floors removed, to create a large open room for six-foot high bookshelves, ten rows on each floor. The Spencer family patriarch, J.P. Spencer, had left the building to the library association in his will, much to the fury of his remaining family members, a son who already lived in a mansion on the other end of town and a daughter from a previous marriage who had never even lived in the town. J.P.’s family had founded the railroad company in the town in the mid-1800s, making the company the second largest employer in the county at one time, next to farming. These days railroad and farming were dying out, fading away like an actual physical newspaper.

Ginny refrained from turning the main lights on, still hoping to remain in silence at least until her first cup of coffee was finished. She plopped down in the plush chair at the front desk and stared blankly at the row of computers, urging her brain to turn on before she turned them on. The computers were fairly new, especially the ones in the gaming stations in the library basement.

The introduction of computers that ran video games was not something Ginny had been in favor of. The library board had overruled her, insisting they were needed to stay with the times and appeal to the younger generation. For Ginny, the library was a place to read, a place to fill a child’s head with knowledge, not somewhere for them to destroy brain cells playing ridiculous games on a computer.

“Well, who knows, maybe when they are done playing their games they’ll wander up the stairs and find books!” Frank Rouse had said during the meeting, talking with his hands, as usual, long arms flapping around like a chimpanzee on speed as he talked. “We’ve got to move into the future, Ginny or become a relic of the past. It isn’t me driving the demand, it’s society. We need to meet that demand or simply watch libraries be boxed up with the rest of the artifacts.”

Artifacts and relics. It was all Frank seemed to be able to talk about since he’d hit the age of 65 and Ginny wondered if it was because he felt like he was becoming both. There were days she knew she felt like it and she was 10 years younger than him.

With a deep sigh, Ginny walked back to the office in the back of the building flipped the light switch and walked to the coffee pot she’d brought in herself to keep her and her assistant Sarah awake for the day. As the dark roast brew hit her nostrils she closed her eyes and thought about how she’d bucked the stereotypical trend of being a spinster librarian, but sometimes she wished she hadn’t.

Ginny had been the librarian of the Spencer Valley Memorial Library for 20 years and married to Stan Jeffries, a small-town real estate star, for 30 years. Stan served two counties through Jeffries Real Estate and two years prior had been named Real Estate Agent of the year for this region of Pennsylvania. Stan and Ginny didn’t spend as much time together as they used to, but they had settled into a comfortable routine, especially since their last child had moved out a few years ago, and that was more than some couples had. Still, Ginny had recently begun to wonder if being a spinster would actually be less lonely than her marriage had become.

Sipping hot coffee 15 minutes later, she flicked her fingers across the row of light switches in the main room. Fluorescent highlighted the bookcases and tables, the children’s room, and the doorway of the conference room. The rectangle over the mysteries and thrillers section was still flickering, making her feel slightly off balance. She’d have to ask the volunteer maintenance man, George Farley, who was also the town’s funeral home director, self-proclaimed town historian, and director of the local community theater, to help her change it this week.

She picked up a book from the return pile and did what she always did to start her day – opened the book and inhaled the smell of ink and paper deep into her lungs. She loved the smell of books. She loved the feel of a book. She wasn’t a fan of what others called “ebooks.” She didn’t want to hold some device in her hand, she wanted to touch a book, hold it and lose herself into another world with each turn of the page.

Ginny had been reorganizing the bookshelves in the library for the last few weeks. Becoming more involved in her work meant she didn’t have to focus on how dull and mundane her life had become since the last of her children had moved out of the house the year before.

“If only one of them would give me a grandbaby already,” she said with a sigh as she sat at her desk and turned on the computer to start entering the returned books into the system. The switch from paper filing to computers was another update she had briefly fought against before admitting typing information into a computer was easier than pulling open drawers and flipping through rows of index cards.

The back door squeaked open and Ginny’s assistant Sarah Shultz slipped in quickly and slammed the door behind her, leaning against it as if to hold back some kind of nefarious onslaught.

“I think Ed Pickett just saw me from the diner front window,” she said breathlessly. “He knew I was coming here. He could be here any minute.”

“Oh good grief. It’s way too early and way too Monday for Ed,” Ginny said sipping her coffee and closing her eyes. “I hope he finally reads the hours on the front door.”

Ed, the incessantly question asking Ed.

“Do you think I’d like the new John Grisham book or the new Tom Clancy?”

“Should I try out this new book by this woman author? I don’t usually read women authors. Too much estrogen for me.”

“I’ll just sit over here with these books, read the first chapter of each and decide which one I’ll check out. Okay?”

Then there was that time he had read the same book she was reading.

“Ah, that’s a good one,” he said, leaning one elbow against the front desk. “Too bad he killed the love interest off in the last chapter. I really liked her.”

Sarah lifted the strap of her messenger bag over her head and laid it behind the front desk.

“Rough weekend?” she asked Ginny.

Ginny shrugged. “Boring one.”

“We need to get you a new hobby,” Sarah said.

Ginny bit her tongue.

Sarah was well-meaning but 24, bubbly and clueless about getting old. Ginny adored her but wanted to slide a book about menopause across to her and show her her future.

“I can’t imagine what I’d do,” Ginny smirked. “The library is my life.”

“Or so the library board thinks,” Sarah quipped.

Ginny snorted.

“God forbid I am not here at all times,” she said, walking toward the drop off box.

“Or be thinking about anything other than new programs,” Sarah called after her.

“And keep up the perfect appearance in the community,” Ginny called back, practicing her royal wave.

Ginny gathered the books in her arms and carried them back to the desk and stacked them on top of the returns from the previous day.

“You start entering them in,” Sarah said. “And I’ll start putting them back in their rightful places.”

“Get them done as quick as you can and make sure you get yourself some coffee,” Ginny said. “Ed will be here at the strike of 9, I’m sure.”