Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 12

As I said yesterday,  I felt like putting up two chapters from A New Beginning this week. Chapter 11 was up yesterday and I’m sharing Chapter 12 today, but next week I’ll probably be back to one chapter a week.

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

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

 


Chapter 12

The cold air stung my nose and face as we rushed toward Daddy’s car, rubbing our arms as we slid inside.

I cranked the heat up in the car and turned the radio on as Emmy wedged herself behind the wheel.

“Ooh, I just love this car,” she cooed as she turned the key in the ignition. “It’s so smooth and shiny and ..” she slide her hands over the dashboard, a dreamy smile on her face. “…new.”

I laughed as she wiggled back and forth in the seat, as if dancing in place.

“Don’t wiggle too much,” I warned. “I don’t want you wiggling that baby out of you in Daddy’s new car.”

Emmy slid the shift lever into drive and laughed. “Oh no. This baby can’t come yet. I still have to finish the nursery.”

As we pulled onto Main Street, Emmy glanced at me and raised an eyebrow. “So,” she said. “Let’s talk about how you feel about seeing Judson out with Sherry.

I rolled my eyes, feeling like I had rolled my eyes more in the last few months than I had in my entire life.

“I know you had hoped to set me up with him, but it doesn’t matter to me who he goes out with.”

Emmy’s raised her eyebrows.

“Excuse me! I was not trying to set you two up!”

I tipped my head slightly. “Really? I’m not naïve little Blanche anymore, remember? I know when my best friend is trying to set me up. You can act innocent if you want but we’ve already discussed the efforts of friends and family trying to find a man for little ole’ Blanche. Seriously, though, why would I care? He’s perfectly welcome to go out with whomever he wants.”

“I don’t know,” Emmy said. “I guess I just thought you looked a little uncomfortable sitting next to him while he sat next to Sherry.”

“Well, sure, I felt uncomfortable. It was their date. I couldn’t figure out why Judson would invite us to sit with them.”

Emmy smirked, that blasted one eyebrow still raised. “Hmmm…maybe because he realized how much he’d rather have been on a date with you instead of Sherry when he saw you standing there in the lobby of the theater looking so lovely.”

“Emmy . . .”

“What? It’s possible. My cousin doesn’t share a lot with me, but he did ask me quite a few questions about you after he met you in the fall.”

“I know, Emmy, you told me, but I’m sure he was simply being polite.”

“I’m fairly certain he was being more than polite. . .”

“Well, if he had been, he wouldn’t be on a date with Sherry would he?”

Now it was Emmy’s turn to roll her eyes. “Blanche, it doesn’t help that you avoid him at every chance . . .”

“Who told you that?”

“I’m not blind, Blanch,” Emmy said. “I’ve watched you purposely switch seats at church. A month ago, I watched you from the window of our office walk to the other side of the street when you saw him walking toward you from the diner. You’re clearly trying to avoid him, but I don’t think you’re trying to avoid him because you don’t like him. I think you like him much more than you want to admit.”

I looked at the snow starting to cover the road in front of us. “And I think you should focus more on driving and less on concocting conspiracy theories.”

Emmy’s laugh faded into a strained wince as she hunched slightly over the steering wheel.

I laid my hand against her shoulder. “you okay?”

“Just a slight cramp. I’m sure it’s just Braxton Hicks. No big deal. And don’t change the subject. Admit it. You’re avoiding Judson because you’re attracted to him and you’re-”

Emmy grimaced and bit her lower lip. Her grip had tightened on the steering wheel and I noticed her knuckles were white.

“Something is going on, Emmy. What is it?”

Emmy gasped and glanced toward the floor of the car. “Oh Blanche, I think something is wrong.”

“What do you mean something is wrong?” I asked Emmy, watching her face lose color.

“I just felt something – weird . . .”

“What?! What did you feel?”

“Like something – something – popped . . . where it shouldn’t.”

“Was there a rush of water?”

“I don’t know.” She looked at the seat between her legs as she drove. “I think so. Oh no! The seat is soaked! What do I do, Blanche!”

A cold chill shuddered through me but I tried to stay calm. I knew we still had plenty of time, even if her water had broke.

“You stay calm, first,” I said. “It’s going to be fine. We have some time. Babies don’t come as soon as the water breaks. Just keep driving and we’ll head straight to labor and delivery and I’ll call Sam when we get there.

Emmy’s face paled and I knew I had to change the subject as quickly as possible.

“Let’s talk about something else,” I said quickly.

“Like what?! The weather?!” I could tell Emmy was panicking.

I looked out at the snowflakes swirling in front of us and the haze settling on the mountain tops around us. The snow was starting to pile up on the edges of the pavement and the road was wet now.

“Um…maybe not. How about the movie. Did you like it?”

“Blanche! I am about to give birth in your dad’s new car if I don’t get to the hospital! Paul Newman kissing Shirley MacClaine is not what I want to think about right now.”

“Right. Well . . . how about we talk about our plans for this summer?”

Emmy’s face had contorted in a grimace and her foot was tapping the break. “Blanche, I have a horrible pain. Is this normal?”

Now I was starting to panic. Why was she asking me what was normal? I’d only had one baby. I wasn’t the labor expert.

“Yes. It’s normal,” I assured her, deciding not to mention this probably meant her contractions had started already. “It’s going to be fine. This is just the very early stages of labor.”

The fact her contractions seemed to already be starting so soon after her water broke was alarming to me but I didn’t want her to know I was anything but confident that we’d make it to the hospital.

“Was that a contraction?! It was, wasn’t it?! Isn’t that what you have when you’re in actual labor?”

“Yes, but they will be far away to start with and then get closer together. There is plenty of time.”

“Blanche, you have to drive. I can’t drive if I’m going to be having these waves of pain.”

I felt anxious about driving in the snow, but I knew Emmy was right. I started to agree with her and tell her to get out so I could climb in the driver’s side but she rambled on, apparently determined to convince me.

“There’s nothing to it. You’ve driven a tractor before. I’ve seen you. I know you can drive a car. I’ll tell you how to shift the gears if we need to. It’s just I don’t know if I can keep driving because of the -” She grimaced. “The discomfort I’m having.”

My heart was pounding faster. “Emmy, I can drive. Don’t worry about that but, please, oh, please don’t have this baby in the car. In Daddy’s car.”

“I know it’s your daddy’s car,” Emmy said through clenched teeth. “Let’s stop talking about it being Alan Robbin’s new car. I am not having my baby in your daddy’s car.” She pulled the car to the side of the road and slid it into park. I quickly jumped out and ran around the front of the car, as she slid to the passenger side.

My hands were shaking as I hooked the seatbelt and placed my hands on the steering wheel. I knew I could drive the car fine at a reasonable speed, but a reasonable speed wasn’t what we needed right now. I needed to get Emmy to the hospital in Sawyer quickly and that was a 40-minute drive.

“Blanche, what –“ Emmy gasped again. “I mean, how close –” Her words started coming out between winces. “How close are contractions supposed to be?”

I glanced at her as she gritted her teeth and clutched the door handle. “You need to breathe slowly through each contraction,” I told her, something I had learned only after I had had Jackson.

I wish I had known it before. Her contractions seemed too close together so soon after her water broke. I wondered if we would even make it to the hospital. What was I going to do? I didn’t know how to deliver a baby. I’d read about women having babies in many of the books I had read and one time a lady gave birth on Gunsmoke, but the show didn’t show what actually happened.

“I don’t know how to deliver a baby!” I blurted, as if stating that fact out loud was going to help the situation.

“You’ve had one!”

“Yes, but I was on the other end!”

Beads of sweat dotted Emmy’s forehead as she let out a long breath and pushed herself up a little in the seat.

“You might not have to worry about it,” she said, her expression relaxing and her breathing beginning to slow down some. “I think the contractions are slowing down now.”

I let out my own deep breath. “Thank, God.”

I started making a mental list of what we would need to do once we arrived at the hospital, besides walking Emmy through the emergency room to labor and delivery. I would need to make some phone calls. Sam for one.

“Where is Sam today? We’ll need to call him when we get to the hospital.”

“I’m not sure. He’s on assignment somewhere in the western part of the county. Honestly, I was a little worried about it. Some guy that’s been running a burglary ring has been on the loose in a really remote area. They were backing up the state police to try to arrest him. I was hoping he’d be home when we got there.”

“Well, let’s hope he is so he can head up to the hospital to be with you.”

“I hope so.” I heard Emmy’s voice crack as she spoke.

I reached over and took her hand in mine. “It’s going to be okay, Emmy. You can do this.”

She nodded but tears were streaking her face. “I’m scared, Blanche.”

I tried to sound confident, even though I was afraid too. “Nothing to be afraid of. Women have babies every day.”

I glanced at Emmy and she caught my eye. I knew we were both thinking about Edith and the baby she’d lost.

“Women have healthy, beautiful babies every single day and you’re going to be one of those women,” I said firmly.

Emily nodded but closed her eyes against the tears. When I glanced at her again her face seemed even more pale that before, her eyebrows furrowed, and I could tell another contraction had hit.

“It’s going to be fine.” My words were aimed at reassuring us both.

We drove for several moments in silence as Emmy focused on breathing through the contractions and I focused on the road, which was now covered with a thin layer of snow; the sight sending fear shivering through me. My foot gently tapped the brake as a deer darted across the road in front of us. I knew deer always traveled in groups and continued to drive slow in case another one decided to cross.

I drew on my mother’s advice for how to face fear and began to recite Bible verses about peace and God’s protection as the snow began to fall faster, forcing me to lift my foot off the accelerator and focus on the lines in the middle of the road.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Umm.. Umm…” I paused, trying to think of another verse. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Emmy cried out in pain. I reached out to take her hand again and winced as she squeezed it hard.

“But now, this is what the Lord says…” Her grip loosened slightly. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

The windshield wipers were barely keeping up with the snow now. I pulled my hand from Emmy’s and turned the wipers to the highest setting.

“Blanche  . . .”

“We’re going to be there soon,” I said, though I knew we had at least 20 more minutes to drive and even longer if the weather got worse.

“Blanche! I think I feel . . . something is happening!”

“Emmy, you can’t . . .”

“This baby is coming!”

“Don’t push!”

“I’m not trying to!”

My eyes darted along the road as I drove, desperate to find a house or at least a place to pull off. I should have stopped somewhere earlier to call Sam, or my parents or Mr. and Mrs. Stanton, anyone, but there weren’t many places to stop between Dalton and Sawyer and we’d already blown by the road to my house into desperation to get Emmy to the hospital.

Now we were in the proverbial middle of nowhere with miles and miles of nothing but trees and empty fields flying by in a blur.  A small dirt road appeared in front of us and I gently moved the car to the end of it, slamming it into park as I turned my attention to the crying Emmy. I’d been denying the baby was coming for 20 minutes but I knew it was time to accept this was really happening. Emmy was going to give birth to her baby in my daddy’s new car and I had to focus, even though my mind was racing and images of all that could go wrong were forming faster than I could dismiss them.

“Can you move your legs?” I asked. “You’re going to need to turn and put them up here so we can see just what’s happening.”

I wasn’t even sure if getting a better look would help me know what was happening. When I was 11, I’d watched our cat give birth on Daddy’s side of the bed. Daddy had been equally horrified and in awe. I had to wonder how he’d feel about Emmy now giving birth in his red and white shiny and new Olds. I imagined his reaction would be similar to the one he’d had when we’d all stood and stared at Mittens – though he probably wouldn’t mutter plans for revenge on Emmy like he had Mittens. I knew watching Emmy give birth would be nothing like watching Mittens and trembled as terror gripped me.

I helped Emmy lean back against the door, her legs facing me as we worked to slide her undergarments and hose off.

“Blanche! We can’t do this here!”

“We’re going to have to. The baby’s head is there!”

I smiled at Emmy, even though my heart was pounding so hard I could hear it in my ears and feel it in my throat. “Lots of dark hair!”

When Emmy bore down the rest of the head emerged and I cupped my hands around it but then it disappeared again.

“Emmy, push!”

“I can’t!”

“You have to push!”

“I can’t!”

Emmy was crying, her breath coming out in short panicked gasps.

“Emmy! Look at me! You have to slow your breathing or you could pass out. Don’t look away from me.”

I had to think of some way to get her to focus.

God, help me,” I prayed silently.

I leaned close to Emmy as an idea came to me. “I want you to focus on me and say ‘I can do all things through Christ.’ Say it over and over if you have to but those are the only words I want you to think about. Got it?”

Emmy nodded, her face soaked with tears.

I tightened my hand on her knee and looked her in the eye.

“Say it, now!”

Emmy sobbed, her hair matted against her forehead with sweat. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” she whimpered, her eyes clenched closed.

“Look at me!”

She looked at me, tightening her jaw.

“Say it again.”

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”

“Now, push down right now like you’re going to poop.”

If it had been under different circumstances I know Emmy and I would have laughed at the poop comment but we didn’t have time. Emmy tightened her jaw again, kept her eyes on me and bore down.

I felt a tiny head and shoulders against my hands.

“Again!”

Emmy screamed and pushed again but the rest of the baby still wasn’t out yet.

“Again!”

After two more pushes I was holding a wet, heavy and warm baby girl in my hands.

“It’s a girl, Emmy! It’s Faith!”

The baby was solid, slippery and motionless.

Panic ripped through me. Why wasn’t Emmy’s baby moving? The gray color of her skin was terrifying. Images of Edith holding a limp, grey colored baby in her arms flashed through my mind and I began to sob.

God, please. No.

I could tell Emmy was tired, but she was also starting to realize something wasn’t right.

“Blanche. Why isn’t she crying? Don’t babies usually cry?”

Yes. Babies usually cried and this baby wasn’t crying.

God, help me, please.”

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 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 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: Another excerpt from He Leadeth Me

I’m sharing another excerpt from He Leadeth Me for this week’s Fiction Friday. This story is not yet published but hopefully will be in the summer of 2020. As always, this is a rough draft and there could be typos, missing words and the like. Let me know in the comments if you want but know they’ll probably be fixed on the final draft. 😉

My first novel is also on Kindle.

He’d asked her if she would take a walk with him after dinner and she’d been nervous, but she’d agreed. They walked for half an hour, chatting about the dinner they’d had, the weather in India, the weather in their perspective countries, the work they were each doing in India when suddenly he stopped, turned toward her and held his hand out.

“Have you had the chance to dance in the moonlight in India yet?”

His uniform had been replaced with khakis and a plain white button-up shirt like those commonly worn by the Indian men. His dirty blond hair was combed over to one side and though she couldn’t see his eyes clearly in the moonlight, she knew they were blue because she’d caught herself staring at them before when they were talking.

She looked nervously at her feet, unsure how to react to this pivot in their conversation. “I can’t say I have.”

“Well, come on,” he said with one corner of his mouth turned up. “Let’s be brave and see what happens.”

“There’s no music.”

“I can hum a tune or two.”

His hand was warm, the palms rough from days of working hard to build hangers for the Indian Air Force planes. He gently pulled her closer and placed his other hand lightly against her waist but pulled it back again.

“My apologies. Is it ok if my hand rests there?”

She immediately felt embarrassed and looked down at her feet.

“Um… yes? I guess so.”

She was ashamed to admit she had no idea how to dance and had never had a man ask to dance with her.

His hand barely touched her as he began to sway and gently guide her movements.

“Over in Killarney

Many years ago,

Me Mother sang a song to me

In tones so sweet and low.

Just a simple little ditty,

In her good old Irish way,

And l’d give the world if she could sing

That song to me this day.

“Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Too-ra-loo-ra-li,

Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, hush now, don’t you cry!

Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Too-ra-loo-ra-li,

Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, that’s an Irish lullaby.”

She couldn’t look up as he sang. Her heart was pounding and her head felt light.

What would her father think if he knew she’d come to India to care for orphans and tell others about the love of God but now she was dancing in the moonlight with an Irish airmen? And if Pastor James saw them? What might be said? Thoughts raced fast through her mind but she couldn’t seem to pull away, reveling in the feel of her hand in his and the smell of his cologne. She’d met him only a couple weeks before at the market, looking for vegetables and lamb for the mission and orphanage kitchen, and now here she was letting him lead her in a dance in the heat of the Indian summer.

He stopped singing, leaned back so he could look into her face and she looked up to see his blue eyes staring into hers.

“Tell me Emily Grant, the American girl with the very Scottish name, have you ever thought that God has made you for something more?”

The muscle in his jaw jumped a little as he started talking about what he expected for his future, not waiting for her answer.

“I mean, I grew up with my family, on a farm, thinking ‘There must be more to life than this.’ My brother loved farming, the shoveling of manure, and rounding up cows, but I just knew there was something more for me and I knew when I saw those children at the mission, my something more was here in India or at least in helping others.”

“Does it sound arrogant to say I believe God has a plan for me? A plan to show others His love not by what I say but by what I do? Is that what brought you here to India with your mission group? Did you think God would do something grand? That life could be something more and beautiful; the more you showed love and felt it back?”

Emily didn’t know what to say. She felt her face growing warm.

She knew exactly what Henry meant but she’d never known how to explain it. Her parents couldn’t understand why she had signed her name to the list to travel to India with the missionary who had been visiting their small rural church in Pennsylvania. They were worried for her safety, terrified she’d be killed by people her father called “Devil Worshippers” and “dark skinned heathens.” Emily had read the Bible. She believed God had created all humans and if that was true, then he had also created the Indian people and He loved them as much as he loved a white-skinned American farmer’s daughter.

“It doesn’t sound arrogant,” she said. “It sounds true and real and wonderful. I believe God has a plan for me, but I truly don’t understand it yet. All I knew was something inside me said I needed to follow Pastor James and Margaret here.”

Henry was still looking at her, eyes intensely focused on hers.

When his eyes glanced to her mouth as she spoke she tensed, suddenly self-conscious.

“Maybe God meant us to be here at the same time. For us to experience all this beauty together, ” he said, his voice slipping into a whisper.

He was too close.

Her heart was pounding too fast.

And when his lips touched hers it was too soon.

They’d only known each other two weeks and she hadn’t come to India to fall in love. She’d come to learn more about God’s will for her life.

She pulled away from him quickly and looked quickly at the ground.

“I’m past curfew at the mission. They’ll be concerned about me.”

She walked into the darkness before he could speak.

“Let me at least walk you home,” his voice followed her. “It’s dark and dangerous here at night.”

She paused and nodded an acceptance of his offer.

He fell in step beside her, silent as they walked. When they reached the gate of the mission she placed her hand on the gate and he reached out and wrapped his fingers around her hand.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to overstep. I’ve never been so bold before. Will ya’ forgive me, Emily? I’ve enjoyed our time together. I hope you won’t disapprove of seeing me again.”

“It’s okay. I’m just – it’s – I’m here to be a servant to the mission. I shouldn’t get distracted. I don’t know – I just – wasn’t ready.”

She felt foolish as she spoke.

Wasn’t ready for what? To be loved? To let this young airman who spoke of wanting to serve God love her?

“I have to get to bed. We have open clinic in the morning for the village women. Thank you for the dance Henry.”

She pulled her hand from his and rushed through the gate, closed it and walked down the path toward the mission.

In her room, with the door closed behind her, she touched her fingertips to her lips, closed her eyes and remembered the warmth of his mouth on hers. She breathed deep, shook her head to clear her mind of the memory, and reached for her Bible to take her mind off the distraction she felt God didn’t want her to have.

A Story to Tell: Chapter 8 rewrite

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

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


 

Chapter 8

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

He leaned up on his elbow and grinned.

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

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

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

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

“Is it scary living alone?” I asked.

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

“Isn’t it lonely?”

He shrugged. “Sometimes.”

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

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

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

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

I looked at him, smiling.

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

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

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

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“For what?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

“What the hell are you doing out here?”

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

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

“Hey there?! Hey there?!”

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

“You little… ”

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

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

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

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

“Get off my property!” Daddy shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hank was smirking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Were you with Hank?” she asked bluntly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked away and felt my lower lip quivering.

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

Edith laughed ruefully.

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” I said softly.

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

Mama looked worried.

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

I looked back at Mama.

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

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

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

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

Edith rolled her eyes and flounced up the stairs.

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