Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined, a novella, Chapter 6 and 7

*Warning: This week’s chapter deals with the topic of miscarriage.

Normal disclaimer: The fiction I share here is not usually the final draft. It also isn’t normally the first draft. Either way, it is edited and rewritten before the final “publication” as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

If you’d like to catch up on the story you can do so HERE.

I welcome feedback, suggestions and corrections.


Chapter 6

The bundle in Maddie’s arms, swaddled in a blue and white hospital blanket, had been so tiny, motionless. Liam wanted to run out of the room and never look back, but he knew he couldn’t. That was his baby in there, in  his wife’s arms; his baby who hadn’t lived. His legs felt like lead weights as he stepped across the room, nodding at the nurse who looked at him with concern and compassion, tears in her eyes.

The nurse’s hand on his shoulder was warm as he moved to stand next to the bed, looking down at Maddie. Eyes still on the small, lifeless face peeking out from the blanket, Liam sat next to his wife, sliding his arm around her as she cried. Maddie’s hair was soft against his face as he buried it there to try to hold the tears in.

“I thought it would be different this time,” she said through the tears. “I thought this time we’d make it.”

The three other miscarriages had been early in the pregnancies and one of them had been what the doctor’s called a blighted ovum – an empty sac, or a baby that never grew enough to be picked up by the ultrasound.

Liam kissed the top of Maddie’s head and closed his eyes. “I know, Maddie. I know. Me too.”

And he had thought they’d be bringing a baby home. The nursery had been ready, the baby clothes purchased, the crib set up. When the doctor told them that the placenta had ruptured and the baby wasn’t going to survive Liam’s ears had started ringing. When he learned Maddie might be lost too, colorful lights mixed with blackness faded across his vision.

A deep breath and a head shake had kept him from hitting the ground, but the doctor still took three long steps toward him and grabbed his arm to steady him.

“Please, Mr. Grant. Sit. We’re going to do everything we can to save your wife.”

In the midst of grief was joy that Maddie had survived; that even if he couldn’t carry a baby home with him, he still had Maddie. Sitting in the dimly lit den in the back of the house, he chewed at the nail on his thumb as he remembered that horrible day and the days that followed.

There was no denying those first few months had been beyond difficult. Maddie was stoic most days, angry others. Then there were the days she spent sobbing almost uncontrollably behind the closed bedroom door, unable to get out of bed and face life, or even face him. He comforted Maddie as best as he could, tried to be gentle, tried to understand her grief and most of all he tried not to burden her with his own grief.

He had to be strong for her. She wasn’t capable of helping him heal when she couldn’t heal herself; he knew that. He also knew he should have relied more on God to heal them both, but he was angry at God; furious that God had not only let him down, but most of all that he had let Maddie down.

All Maddie had ever wanted was to be a mother. Blow after crushing blow eviscerated that dream.

Liam blamed God.

He had been raised to believe God wanted his people to prosper not suffer, that he loved them. If that was true, then why had this so-called compassionate God let Maddie suffer so much and so often?

After the loss of the baby, who he and Maddie named Abrielle, Liam buried himself in work at the public relations firm he’d been employed by during that time. When he wasn’t working, he did his best to make Maddie happy — making her dinners, making sure she had quiet time, and not pressuring her to go back to work at the small magazine she’d been working at.

She was never happy, though. She didn’t want to take the medicine the therapist had suggested. She didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t answer phone calls from her parents or come out of her room for visits by Cassie or her friends. She didn’t want him to hold her and tell her it was going to be okay.

 Many days it seemed like it was him she wasn’t happy with. He finally  gave up trying to make her happy. Maybe he should haven’t have given up. Maybe if he hadn’t, she wouldn’t have wanted the divorce.

He stood from the loveseat in the den and paused at the window, looking out at the side yard, barely lit by the half moon. He rubbed his chin, biting the inside of his lip.

“I want a divorce.”

Those had been her exact words and she’d said it without even flinching, other than a small muscle jumping in her right eye, right above the small scar she’d gotten when she fell off her bike at 8-years old. Liam had used to kiss that scar, then her cheek, on his way to her mouth.

He hadn’t really wanted a divorce, but he had known in that moment it was what Maddie wanted.

She felt he’d never been there for her, that he had abandoned her.

If she felt that way, there was no changing her mind, no matter how many times he reminded her of how often he had been there.

He shook his head and drank the last of his soda down.

Maybe after the divorce, they would find the healing and peace neither of them could find when they were together.

***

Maddie poured herself a glass of milk and squeezed in a large helping of chocolate syrup. She knew it wasn’t right, but during stressful times she reached for comfort food and that comfort food was usually full of fat and sugar.

Walking to the back deck she flopped in a lawn chair and guzzled the milk, looking out at an empty backyard, a backyard she had once thought would house a swing set, a tiny kiddie pool, and a sandbox.

She could still remember the conversation she’d had with Cassie after the loss of Abrielle.

“What is wrong with my body? Women’s bodies are supposed to grow babies! It’s natural! That’s what all the books say! I guess I’m just not natural.”

Cassie — beautiful, sweet and fertile Cassie, pregnant with baby number three — shook her head and reached out to take her hand.

“Maddie, that isn’t true. There isn’t anything wrong with you. If there is a medical reason you can’t carry a baby to term the doctors will find it. Having a medical reason for the miscarriages doesn’t mean you’re not a real woman.”

Maddie had known Cassie was right, but she still struggled with toxic thoughts, thoughts that told her that her body had failed her, but more importantly, Liam. She’d seen Liam with his nieces and nephews. She knew he’d be a wonderful father and she’d wanted to make him that father. It had never happened, though, and no matter how many times someone told her it wasn’t her fault, she knew it was.

She leaned back in the lawn chair and closed her eyes against hot tears.

It was her fault Liam wasn’t a dad.

It was her fault their marriage had fallen apart.

What had happened to her? When had she become so miserable? When had she become someone that even she wouldn’t want to be around? No wonder Liam had jumped at the opportunity to divorce her.

He needed someone who had as much passion for life as he did, who wasn’t miserable and depressed and cold.

“God,” she whispered, her eyes still closed. “How did I get here, at this miserable, lonely place? Why did you abandon me here?”

A tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it away quickly with the back of her hand, choking out a small laugh. Maybe you’re asking why I abandoned you, huh? She shook her head. I don’t know anymore, Lord.  I don’t know where I’ve been or even who I am.

She pulled her knees up to her chest, bowing her head against them, letting the tears flow.

Father, help me let Liam go, so he can be happy again.

Chapter 7

Tiny fingers and toes, pudgy arms and pudgy legs. Cassie kissed Tyler’s newborn nose, tears streaming down her face part from exhaustion but also joy.

“I can’t believe he’s here,” Matt whispered near her ear and when she turned her head, she saw that her husband’s face was streaked with tears too.

There were days it felt like Tyler had been born yesterday, not the 13-years it actually was. Thirteen years. So much had happened during that time. Two more pregnancies and two more children, her retirement from social work, Matt’s campaign. . . . How had it all gone by so fast?

There were times Cassie thought she should have done more with her life by now, but there were other times she was happy with where she was. She’d decided to send the children to a small, private Christian school the year before last when Matt’s national profile had increased. She began volunteering there regularly, helping the children at the school sign out library books or teaching them art. Best of all, she was able to see her own children throughout the day, keep an ey on them and make sure they weren’t approached by anyone from Matt’s political world. So far, the media had left the children alone, even when they hadn’t left her alone.

The story on the opinion page of the Post last year had questioned her involvement with the school. If Senator Matt Grant’s children attended a Christian school where his wife also volunteered, could he be trusted to treat all of his constituents fairly? What about the Muslim children? Or the Buddhists? Or even the Jewish?

“How will Grant’s faith influence his oath of office to represent all of his constituents?” the columnist asked.

“It won’t,” Matt told a reporter who posed the same question at a press conference a few days later. “My faith is what inspires me to care about all of my constituents. I believe God created them and called for me to love them as he has loved me and them.” He told her later he had smiled easily, winking at the reporter good-naturedly, even though inside he had felt unsettled by the question. “And you, Jim. He has called for me to love even you.”

The critics continued to squawk, though, and after that Cassie decided to no longer read or listen to the news. She tried instead to focus all her attention on her children and family. She had buried herself in volunteering, in reading, in her Bible study, in anything to try to drown the critical voices of the world out.

She was beginning to realize now, though, that she’d also drowned out Matt and her marriage, subconsciously pushing aside anything she thought might threaten her family’s safety. Pouring herself a glass of milk she leaned back against the counter and winced. Did she really think being close to Matt was a risk to their safety? If anything, being closer to him should have been a comfort in a sea of chaos.

If she had been feeling like she had been in a sea of chaos, alone on a storm-tossed ship in the middle it, then how had Matt been feeling? He’d been the one at the brunt of it, the one taking the hits and, in almost every way, the one shielding the rest of the family from the blows.

Walking into the living room, sipping the milk, she watched Matt in the backyard with the children, tossing a rubber ball between each of them. He tipped his head back and laughed when it bounced off Gracie’s forehead and she tumbled backwards, giggling. Tyler picked it up and tossed it to Lauren, who quickly dropped it, giggling too much to hold on to it.

 Lauren bent to pick it up and Matt lunged for it at the same time, snatching it from her then gently bouncing it off her forehead, sending her into another fit of giggles. Cassie couldn’t hear what they all were saying, but she knew the children were finding whatever Matt was saying funny by their laughter and wide grins.

Cassie hadn’t seen Matt this relaxed and joyful in at least two years, probably longer. She watched him as he tossed the ball, his muscles still well defined and toned after all these years, visible underneath the t-shirt pulling against his stomach as he lifted his arms to catch the ball, stop it from sailing over the fence into the neighbor’s pool.

An ache filled her chest, moved up her throat, threatened to spill tears down her face. She bit her lip, trying to hold back the emotion but it didn’t work. Tears pooled in her eyes, streaked her cheeks and she let them roll, knowing they were as full of joy as they were sadness. She was so grateful for this time with her family, with Matt, but she was also sad that she hadn’t tried to have more of it in the last couple of years.

Matt deserved so much more from her. More of her attention, more of her comfort; simply more of her. She needed to stop holding back and lower her walls. She needed to be sure she was supporting him in every facet of life.

Running for re-election may not have been something she wanted, but it was something he wanted. He was running because he felt it was not right for the people who had voted for him, but his family.

“Lord, help me to be what Matt needs me to be for him,” she whispered, wiping another tear away. “Help us to both lay down what we want for what you want. For what you need us to do in this time.”

***

On the tenth night of quarantine, still with no sign of illness, Liam headed to bed early, shutting off his phone and laptop around 10 p.m. He slid under the covers, emotionally and physically drained. He was glad, though, that he hadn’t yet experienced any coughing, muscle aches, or sore throat. His mind was racing, filled with thoughts of work, thoughts of what this virus might mean to his parents, his older aunt and uncles, and anyone else whose health might be more vulnerable.

 His thoughts were also filled with Maddie.

She was sitting in the room down the hall, but she might as well have been thousands of miles away with all the interaction they’d had this past week.

Matt was right.

Liam still loved Maddie.

Sadly, it was growing more obvious that Maddie didn’t feel the same way about him. The anger she had for him radiated off her each time they passed each other in the house. He didn’t even try talking to her. She’d spoke her piece. Her mind was made up about their marriage.

To her it was over, and he needed to accept that.

Sleep had finally begun to slip over him when he heard a soft knock on his door. He rolled over and closed his eyes tighter, ignoring it. Ignoring her. Another knock. He pulled the blanket up around his shoulders.

The door squeaked open and then footsteps, soft across the floor.

What did she want? He was too tired for another fight.

“Liam?”

Maddie’s voice was barely audible. He ignored her again.

She spoke a little louder. “Liam?”

Silence.

She sighed in the darkness and he felt, rather than saw, her turn back toward the open doorway.

He rolled his eyes. “What?”

Silence fell over the room and he heard a breath drawn in sharply and slowly let out again.

“Will you hold me?”

He rolled over, squinting in the darkness, trying to make out her face to decide if she was serious or not.

“What?”

“Just hold me. Nothing else.”

Was this some kind of trick to lull him into a false-sense of security? He squinted again, trying to see if she was holding a weapon of some kind.

“Please?”

She seemed serious.

Very.

He heard a vulnerability in her tone he hadn’t heard in a long time.

“Um . . . yeah. Okay.”

She lifted the sheet and comforter, sliding next to him, her body warm, her feet cold. Her feet had always been cold, and she’d always slid them up his legs to warm them, making him squirm but laugh at the same time. There was a time he’d asked if she needed the rest of her body warmed up too and there was a time she’d say ‘yes’ and he’d snuggled close and nibbled at her earlobes.

He wasn’t going to ask if she needed warming up this time.

Surprise opened his eyes wide as she laid her head on his shoulder, a hand on his chest over his heart and closed her eyes.

They laid in the dark listening to each other breathe until she whispered: “I tried to stay away from the news but it’s like watching a train wreck. I can’t seem to look away.”

His voice as soft. “I know.”

“People are scared.”

“Yeah.”

“They’re convinced they’re all going to die.”

“They’re not. Fear does crazy things to your mind.”

Silence settled over them again.

She laughed softly again. “Yeah. Like that time you had that spider on your arm when we were driving to my parents and you almost drove us into a river.”

Liam snorted a laugh. “Well, spiders are scary, what can I say? All those legs. . .” He shuddered. “It’s just creepy.”

Silence stretched between them again.

“Liam?”

He stared into the darkness, at the light of the streetlight bleeding in under the blinds. “Yeah?”

“If this kills one of us —”

“Maddie, this isn’t going to kill either one of us. I already told you we don’t even know if my test is positive. And most of the cases are mild, especially in our age group. We’re not in the highest risk age group. Okay?”

“But if it does . . . ” Maddie took a deep breath and spoke fast as she exhaled. “I want you to know . . . I’ve always loved you. Even when I didn’t like you.”

Liam laughed softly.

“Thanks. I guess.”

“And, Liam?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought you had to fix me. Only God can fix me.”

Crickets chirped outside. A dog barked somewhere down the street. Liam closed his eyes and let out the breath he’d been holding.

 “Yeah. I know.”

He laid his hand over hers, the one laying on his chest.

“Maddie?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought I didn’t care. I did care. I’ve always cared.”

He had been trying not to be aware of her body warm against his, of the smell of her shampoo, of how soft the skin on her arm as he trailed his fingertips down it, of how her closeness made his heart rate increase.

But he was aware of it.

All of it.

Much more than he wanted to be.

He slid his other arm under her and she slumped into him as he moved his hand slowly up her arm, resting it just below her shoulder. He squeezed it gently then lightly touched his lips against the top of her head, her closeness suddenly intoxicating. “I love you, Maddie. Despite it all. I love you.”

He listened to her breathe and for a moment he thought she had fallen asleep.

 “I’m so tired. . .” she whispered against his neck, her breath warm. He could tell she was fading fast.

“Sleep. We can talk more in the morning.” He looked at the ceiling, barely visible in the darkness from the orange glow of the streetlight outside. “It’s not like we’re going anywhere.”

She slept but he couldn’t. Not now with her tucked against him soft and warm, kicking his thoughts into high gear. He hadn’t expected her to come to him for comfort. He hadn’t expected it, but he welcomed it and loved having her so close, even if that closeness was only physically.

 Had she meant what she said? That she still loved him?

Maybe it had been the stress and worry talking. The exhaustion even.

The only thing he was sure of was that those words had sparked a warm, comforting fire in the center of his chest. He closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her hand over his heart, trying to switch his brain off, knowing he’d meant it when he’d told her he still loved her.

Fiction Thursday: Fully Alive Chapter 2

Here we are at Holy Week! I know it seems odd that we will be celebrating Easter this weekend without full church services, but we can worship together at our computers and celebrate that Christ is Risen. I didn’t even think about that I was sharing this Biblical fiction story in the Easter season, but I suppose it is fitting.

If you missed the first chapter of Fully Alive, you can find it HERE.


The busy sounds of people rushing by to complete their daily chores quieted as Jairus pushed the door to the synagogue closed. He leaned against the door and closed his eyes for a moment as he tried to quiet his racing thoughts.

He focused on the words he had said to Josefa the night after the teacher had healed her. Healed her? Brought her back to life?

Is that really what had happened?

Even now it was all too unbelievable to him. He wondered, did he really believe what he had told Josefa? That this man, this Yeshua was the true Messiah that the prophets had spoken of?

Maybe he had been wrong to say so; to tell his daughter this man must be the true savior of his people. He’d spent his whole life studying the scrolls, learning of Moses and Elijah, about the prophesies of the Messiah. Now here he was almost completely convinced the man he had followed in the street, begging for him to come and heal his only daughter was indeed the Messiah. He knew he was being ridiculed behind his back by the other leaders of the synagogue for asking for Yeshua’s help but he couldn’t deny what he had witnessed that day.

He remembered Josefa’s fever and how she’d no longer been able to stand. Myriam, his wife, had soaked a cloth and laid it across Josefa’s forehead, hoping the cool water from the stream would revive her. For days they sat by her cot, holding her hand, Myriam weeping as Josefa moaned and faded in and out of consciousness.

Jairus had paced the room, rubbing his beard. He stopped and looked at his wife kneeled over their daughter. “You know I told you about this teacher, this man they call Yeshua?” Myriam was looking at Josefa, not responding, merely crying. “Myriam, are you listening? He’s been healing people. I saw him heal a man’s hand in the synagogue last week. The leaders were upset because it was the sabbath, but I saw the man’s hand. It was diseased, scarred, withered but Yeshua held it, touched it and the hand was whole again.”

Myriam dabbed her eyes with her shawl as her husband spoke, barely listening as she watched her daughter’s breathing become more and more shallow. Dark circles were now under Josefa’s eyes.

“I will go to him, ask him to come,” Jairus was speaking again. He paced again, rubbing and pulling at the hairs of his beard as he always did when thoughts overwhelmed him.

“Do we now believe in such men who call themselves healers?” Myriam asked softly, her shoulders slumped forward, her body weary from worry.

Josefa’s body shuddered with a convulsion. Myriam gasped and lifted her daughter, holding the girl’s small frame against her chest. Josefa’s breathing was now labored. Jairus saw the panic in his wife’s eyes and felt it rising in himself as well.

“We are losing her! Go! Go to this teacher and ask him to come!” Myriam’s voice filled with fear. “He’s our only hope now!”

Jairus’ heart pounded as he ran from the house, out onto the crowded paths, pushing his way through travelers and locals and animals being led to market. He could see a crowd around a man in front of him. They were all moving one direction, calling out “Yeshua!” Questions were being asked, some voices mocked, some sounded hopeful.

An image of Josefa’s pale frame flashed in Jairus’ mind and he tried to move faster, pushing more people aside. His chest felt tight, his breathing more labored, reminding him of how old he was getting now. Was this man he was trying to reach a heretic as the synagogue leaders and other rabbis said? What if he was crazy like the man who people called John the Baptist, the man who was covered in dirt and smelled? This John the Baptist, Yochanan the Immerser, had spoken of a healer and prophet who would come to save the Jews. Was this Yeshua that man?

Jairus’ foot caught a stone and he felt himself falling. Dirt flew into his face and pebbles cut at his palms. As he pushed himself up he felt tears hot stinging his eyes. He would never reach Yeshua now.

His head still down he saw a pair of sandal clad feet against the dirt.

“Let me help you.”

Jairus looked up as a man with kind eyes and a smile held a hand out to him. He took it and stood slowly.

“Thank you.”

Jairus barely looked at the man, instead searching the crowd to see where Yeshua had gone.

“Do you seek Yeshua?”

“Yes.”

“Come. I’m one of his followers. I will bring you to him.”

Jairus looked at the man, noticed his unkempt beard and slightly frayed clothes. He nodded at him, seeing kindness and concern in his gaze.

The man gently touched the shoulders of those around them and people began to move aside. Ahead of them Jairus saw that Yeshua had paused and turned to the crowd. His eyes focused on Jairus who suddenly felt unsure, uneasy. Jairus dropped his gaze, overwhelmed with worry for his daughter and overwhelmed with the presence of this man who had performed so many miracles. His body felt weak from running, from being awake for so many days watching over his daughter.

His knees give way suddenly and he fell to the ground before Yeshua. Sobs wracked his body as he bowed low, losing control of his emotions.

“Yeshua.”

He gasped out the name.

“Yeshua.”

 A sob choked his words and he thought he wouldn’t be able to finish speaking.

“Yeshua, my little girl is dying. She is my only daughter. Please. Please, come and lay hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”

Tears streamed warm on his face and he shook his head as if to shake them away. He was startled by emotions he usually kept locked inside. A hand touched his head, on the covering he wore there. He sat back on his knees, lifted his face upwards and stared into the eyes of the man he had once seen heal a man’s shriveled hand, an act that had enraged other leaders in the synagogue.  

“Come.” Yeshua’ voice was gentle, yet firm. “Rise and let us go to her.”

Two followers of Yeshua helped Jairus to his feet and Yeshua motioned for Jairus to lead the way to his home. The crowd surged around them as they tried to move forward, moving with them, as if one combined force, following Yeshua. Several moments of chaos followed and Jairus felt a rush of frustration as the crowd pushed between him and Yeshua.

“Yeshua! What does God ask of us?”

“Yeshua, what happens when we die?”

“Yeshua, will I find wealth?”

People pushed against each other; each person wanting to get closer to the man being called a healer and a prophet, each wanting answers to benefit their own life.

Jairus faintly heard Yeshua’ voice over the noise of the crowd.

“Who touched me?”

Jairus tried to push forward in the crowd, looking over his shoulder every few steps to be sure Yeshua was following.

“I felt power go from me,” Yeshua spoke louder to one of his followers. He stopped and turned to look behind him. “Who has touched me?”

The people in the crowd murmured and grew quiet.  Jairus stopped to see why Yeshua wasn’t following him, panic growing in the pit of his stomach.

“Master, there are people all around you and you are asking ‘who touched me?’” one of Yeshua’ disciples scoffed. His tone was incredulous, tinged with annoyance.

Jairus knew this was the man called Kefa, or Peter – a fisherman from Gailee who now followed Yeshua. Many whispered in surprise that Peter, known as brash and abrupt, was following a teacher of God.

 “Somebody touched me,” Yeshua said. “For I perceived power going out from me.”

 His eyes scanned the crowd around him, but no one answered. People looked at each other confused and unsure why Yeshua was concerned. Why did it matter who touched him? Many people had probably touched him, without even meaning to.

 Suddenly a woman’s voice could be heard barely above a whisper.

“It was me.”

Then louder, over the murmurs of the crowd. “It was me.”

“Who is speaking?” another of Yeshua’ disciples asked. “Please, come forward. Answer the teacher.”

The crowd moved aside and a woman, head down, moved toward the front. She dropped to her knees trembling, her head bowed low and covered with a shawl, her clothes tattered and stained. Tears dripped off her face and into the dirt as she clutched her hands before her.

Jairus swallowed hard, shifting in place, anxious. He wanted to grab Yeshua by the arm and drag him forward, back to his house and his daughter, but at the same time he was entranced by the scene unfolding before him. He couldn’t look away.

The woman glanced upwards at Yeshua.

“It was me,” she said softly. “I knew if I could just touch the hem of your garment…”

Her gaze fell again to the ground. She let out a shaky breath. “I heard all that was said about you. About who you are. About what you can do. . . Rabbi, I’ve been bleeding for 12 years. No one will come near me. I am unclean. I’ve been to every doctor, but no one can help me. No one has ever healed me.”

Some in the crowd winced and a few stepped away from her, covering their mouths.

Tears continued to stream down her face.

“I have tried everything. I heard of your miracles and I knew – if I just touched the fringes of your robe – the fringes – that healing would come.

Her fingertips grazed the edge of his robe again. She could barely speak as she sobbed.

“And it did. It did. The healing came the moment my fingertips grazed the tzitziyot of your robe. I felt it. I felt it stop. The pain stopped. It all stopped.” Soft murmurs of awe rippled through the crowd, mingling with her sobs.

Jairus’ heart pounded hard and fast. If this woman was saying that simply touching the hem of the rabbi’s garment was enough to heal her, then he was indeed a powerful man, a messenger of God. If healing flowed from him so easily then there was hope for Josefa.

Yeshua kneeled before the woman, reached out and took her hands in his. He touched her chin and lifted her face up to look at him.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

Yeshua kissed her forehead gently and wiped the tears from her face. He stood and helped her to stand with him.

“Go in peace.”

A sob escaped her lips again and then she smiled and laughed loudly with joy. She kissed Yeshua’ hand as she held it, still laughing. Then she backed slowly away.

“Thank you,” she said, tears of joy now spilling down her face. “Thank you.”

A hush had settled over the crowd. Women dabbed their eyes and men talked quietly to each other, shaking their heads with furrowed eyebrows, trying to make sense of what they had witnessed. Jairus felt a sense of urgency rushing through him, tensing his muscles. He needed Yeshua to hurry. New hope surged within him at what he had seen and he wanted the same for Josefa and his family.  

“Yeshua, my daughter… please …”

Yeshua turned toward him again.

“Of course. Let us go…Lead me to her.”

Jairus felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Josiah, standing next to him, his face stained with tears and dirt.

“Master, there is no need to hurry now. Josefa . . .” his voice trailed off and Jairus began to shake his head. “There is no need to bother the teacher now. She’s —”

“No! No!” Jairus wouldn’t let him finish.

He felt bile rushing up into his throat and his hands began to shake. He pressed his hands to his head, as if trying to wake himself from a dream, rocking slightly where he stood.

“Josefa…” he felt the tears hot on his face and he clutched his robe against him as pain seared through his chest. “Oh Adonai. Adonai help me.”

He looked up as Yeshua touched his arm.

“Do not be afraid.” Yeshua’s voice was soft, comforting. “Just keep trusting.”

Yeshua’s eyes were kind but Jairus’ mind was reeling. If only Yeshua had moved faster. If only that woman hadn’t stopped them. Josefa would still be alive and her laughter would still fill their home.

“She’s gone,” he told Yeshua. “We cannot save her now. You can not heal her. If only . . .”

Yeshua looked over Jairus’ shoulder, his gaze moving above the crowd.

“Come. Lead me to your home.”

Jairus did as Yeshua told him but his legs felt as if they were weighted down. Before they even reached the corridor near his home he could hear the wailing and knew the mourning had already begun.

Mourners were outside the home, trying to comfort Myriam, who was clearly in shock as she pulled at her clothes and repeated “No. No. No.”  
Jairus rushed toward his wife, grasped her by the shoulders and pulled her against him. She clutched at his clothes and shoved her face into his chest.

“She’s gone. She’s gone. Oh, Jairus. Our little girl is gone.”

Yeshua pushed forward in the crowd. He laid his hand against Myriam’s back to comfort her.

“There is no need for tears,” he said with a gentle firmness. “The girl is not dead. She is merely sleeping.”

An angry voice shouted over the noise of the crowd.

“She’s dead! You give these people false hope! You are a liar and a fool! Like all who have come before you!”

Other voices joined in agreement.

“You say you can heal but you only bring hallow promises to these people,” a man sneered.

Yeshua stood with his back to the crowd, kneeling down beside Myriam and Jairus who had collapsed together into the dirt by their front door.

“Send these people away and come inside with me,” he instructed. “Peter, James, John, come with me.”

Jairus opened his eyes to the sound of someone moving inside the temple, interrupting his thoughts and memories of that day.

“Jairus? Is that you?”

He recognized the voice of Ezra, another leader in the synagogue.

“Yes, Ezra. Good morning.”

Ezra walked toward him holding scrolls.

“Have you come to help me organize these for the scribes?” his mouth lifted in a wry smile.

“I did not but I am glad to help,” Jairus said returning the smile.

The men laid the scrolls on the table next to a bottle of ink.

“I do not know how so much has become in disarray in here – and outside,” Ezra said.

He looked at is friend and noticed Jairus was pulling at his beard, as he often did when deep in thought.

“Tell me, Jairus. How is Josefa recovering?”

Jairus smiled. “Well. She is well. It is – dare I say it?”

Ezra nodded but his expression grew serious.

“Jairus, I must ask you – I’ve heard many talk of what happened with Josefa. Is it true, what they say? Was she dead before Yeshua arrived?”

Jairus felt his muscles tense. He was unsure what Ezra hoped to learn with his questions. He pondered how to answer, but knew telling the truth might encourage Ezra to help him understand more what had happened.

“Myriam and her hand maiden said there was no breath. She was cold when I entered the home and I felt no heartbeat beneath my hand. Her skin . . .” he felt his breath catch in his throat and he paused to choke back emotion. He shook his head as if to shake the image from his mind. “Her skin was pale, tinged with blue. And… so cold.”

Ezra laid his hand on Jairus arm and squeezed it gently.

“You’ve been through much, my friend,” Ezra said.

He opened a scroll to read its contents, rolled it again and stuck it back in a space in the temple wall.

“What do you believe happened that day?” Ezra asked.

“I don’t know, friend. I truly don’t. All I know is she was gone and when Yeshua came she arose at his bidding. He took her hand and instructed her to rise and live and she did.”

“After all you have seen .. .” Ezra paused in stacking the scrolls and turned to look to Jairus “After meeting this man who calls himself the Son of God – who do you say he is?”

Jairus realized he didn’t know how to answer. He had seen Yeshua do miraculous things and heard of even more. He believed his daughter was still living because Yeshua touched her, but was he truly the son of Jehovah or was he simply a great teacher, so holy Jehovah used him to heal?

He looked Ezra in the eyes, opened his mouth to answer and then closed it again. “Ezra – I wish I could say, but truly, I do not know what to believe about this man.”

Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning, Chapter 26

Welcome to Chapter 26 of A New Beginning. Are you all still looking over your shoulder to see if Hank shows back up?

As always, this is a first draft of the story and as always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. You do not need to read A Story to Tell to follow A New Beginning.

Also, as always, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. To follow the story from the beginning, find the link HERE or at the top of the page. This book will be published in full later this spring on Kindle and other sites.

Let me know what you think should happen next and what you think of the story so far in the comments.


 

Photo with Text Overlay Autobiography Book Cover (2)Chapter 26

“You invited Stanley Jasper? Here? To our house? For dinner?”

Daddy was in disbelief. “Janie, honey, what were you thinking?”

Mama turned from the sink, propping a hand on her hip. “I was thinking, Alan, that I wanted to invite Marion and her new friend to lunch when I saw them outside the supermarket yesterday. Is that so horrible?”

Daddy sighed and tossed his newspaper onto the table with a gentle flick of his wrist. “Well, no. It’s not so horrible, I guess. It’s just . . . well, you know how I feel about Stanley Jasper.”

Mama turned back to the counter and cracked open an egg over the frying pan. “Yes, I do, and I also know that you are a good Christian man who can handle being polite to another child of God for one afternoon for the sake of a lovely woman who needs a second chance at happiness in her life.”

Daddy snorted. “Well, I suppose,” he said. “But if she needs happiness, she should choose someone other than a bleeding heart liberal like Stanley.”

I clasped my hand to my mouth, trying not to let Daddy see me about to laugh at the conversation unfolding in front of me.

“Who knows,” Mama said, cracking another egg. “Maybe Stanley isn’t the man you think he is.”

Daddy rolled his eyes. “And maybe Khrushchev and I should have tea and crumpets after work tomorrow.”

I was grateful when Jackson skipped into the kitchen and asked if he could have chocolate milk with his breakfast, ending the discussion.

When Marion and Stanley arrived later that evening, Daddy had calmed down and put on a nice sweater and tie and combed his hair.

“Stanley,” Daddy said stiffly, shaking Stanley’s hand when he walked through the door.

“Alan,” Stanley said with a curt nod. “Good to see you again.”

This is going to be such a fun evening, I thought to myself sarcastically, wondering how stilted the dinner conversation would turn out to be.

The conversation flowed along smoother than I thought, with Daddy and Stanley managing to avoid politics and foreign relations and Mama, Marion and I dominating the conversation with comments about the latest fashions and our plans for what to plant in our flower beds in the spring.

After dinner Mama suggested we chat in the living room to let dinner settle, while she brewed a cup of coffee and cut slices of pie.

“So, Stanley – are you a fan of baseball?” Daddy asked, sliding his hands along the arms of his chair.

Stanley nodded, clearing his throat. “Well, yes. I’ve always been a Phillies fan.”

Daddy nodded back. “They’re not having too bad of a year this year.”

“Doing well,” Stanley agreed. “Yep. Doing well.”

Silence fell over the room. I could feel the tension in the air and tried to think of a way to break it.

“I like baseball!” Jackson declared from the living room floor where he was playing with his trucks.

Laughter filtered around the room. Daddy ruffled Jackson’s hair. “That’s right. You do. We’ll sign you up for the local team when you get a little older.”

“Do you like to pitch or hit better?” Stanley asked Jackson.

“Both!”

“That’s a good thing,” Stanley laughed. “You can be an all-around player.”

“And he’ll be the best player out there because he’s my grandson,” Marion said, kneeling down and kissing Jackson’s cheek.

“Aw, Grandma!” Jackson said, rubbing his cheek. “Not when there’s company here!”

We all laughed again as Mama walked into the living room with a tray with the pie and coffee. She set the tray on the table, arranging plates in front of each person.

“Strawberry rhubarb okay for everyone?” she asked.

Stanley smiled. “Well, Mrs. Robbins, that’s just about my favorite pie and I don’t get it very often.”

Mama picked the tray back up and propped it under her arm. “Now, Stanley, please call me Janie.”

“Of course, Janie,” Stanley said. “Thank you.”

Stanley’s eyes wandered to the record player across the living room as he took a bite of pie. He tilted his head to get a better look at the records in the rack underneath it.

“I see someone is a Hank Williams fan,” he said, standing and sliding record out of the stack.  “Emily and I used to dance to his songs at little dance hall near our house when we first met.” He cleared his throat after a few moments of looking at the front of the record and looked up at us. “Sorry. Emily was my wife. She passed away 15 years ago.”

He swallowed hard. “Cancer.”

Daddy looked down at the floor briefly and cleared his throat as well. I began to see that clearing throats was something men did when they were nervous, embarrassed, or having difficulty controlling their emotions.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Stanley,” Daddy said. “That must have been very hard on you.”

Stanley nodded and placed the record back on the rack. “It was, but, well, being able to spend time with Marion has been a nice respite after so many years of grieving.”

He smiled at Marion and pink spread across her cheeks as she lowered her face and smiled back.

Daddy stood and walked to the rack. “You know what song Janie and I like to dance to?” He slid a Patsy Cline record out. “This one…”

He opened the record player and slid the record on the turntable, gently dropping the needle on to it.

I Fall to Pieces crooned throughout the living room. Jackson sat next to me on the couch, pulling his knees up to his chest and leaned against me.

Daddy held his hand out to Mama. “Care to dance, Janie?”

Mama laughed. “Alan, not here . . .”

“Why not? Come on. Stanley and Marion can dance too. Us old folks can get some moves in tonight.”

Mama’s cheeks flushed red like Marion’s had a few moments earlier. She laid her hand in Daddy’s. Daddy gently pulled her close, his arm around her waist, his hand holding hers. She slid her other arm around his back and leaned her head against his shoulder as they swayed.

Stanley grinned and took Marion’s hand in his. I smiled as Marion moved smoothly into his arms, looking the happiest and most comfortable she’d looked since the day I’d met her.

The couples danced slowly to the music, Stanley and Marion smiling at each other, Mama and Daddy lost in the moment, hanging on to each other, swaying. As I watched them, I wondered if this would be me someday – dancing in my living room with my husband, swept up in the moment, feeling at home not in a house but in his arms.

After an hour of more songs and more dancing, laughing and sharing stories, I looked down and noticed Jackson had fallen asleep against me. I nudged him gently, knowing he had become too big for me to carry.

“Come on, kid. Let’s head upstairs.”

He leaned against me and looked up at me bleary-eyed as we walked up the stairs. I helped him take his shirt and pants off, slipping pajama tops and bottoms on him.

“Mama? When is Judson coming home?”

“I don’t know, honey. He’s still helping his family.”

Judson had been gone for over a month now and there were few days that went by when Jackson didn’t ask when he was coming home.

“I miss him.”

“I know, sweetie. I miss him too.”

I knew I wasn’t lying when I said I missed Judson.

Jackson changed into his pajamas and then climbed into bed, yawning. I tucked him into bed and kissed his forehead.

“Mama?”

“Yes?”

“Do you think Judson is ever going to come back?”

I pulled the covers up over his shoulder and sat on the edge of the bed. Judson had called twice since he’d left. The last time we had talked had been a week ago. We’d talked briefly and he’d given me an update on his father, on repairs he’d made around the house while he was there and said he hoped to be home in a couple more weeks. Jackson had asked to talk to him before we could discuss anything else and then Judson had said family had arrived and he needed to go.

“He said he would,” I told Jackson. “I know you miss him, but he has to be there for his family right now.”

“He promised he’d come back.”

“Yes, he did. So, he’ll be back.”

As I changed into my nightgown for bed, I thought about what I’d told Jackson and hoped I hadn’t lied. Judson had promised, but people had a way of breaking promises, something I knew too well. Sliding under the covers, I wondered if I was hoping Judson would return for Jackson’s sake, or for mine.

***

“I am so excited to finally meet Miss Mazie in person,” Edith said from the backseat of Emmy’s blue Chevy. “Jackson, honey, take your finger out of your nose.”

I snickered, looking back at my sister pulling Jackson’s finger away from his nose while he giggled.

“Good luck with convincing him to stop that,” I said.

A baby seat sat next to Emmy, Faith snuggled in a pile of warm blankets. Emmy was driving, her hand tapping on the steering wheel to the beat of The Supremes, her head tilting from side to side as she sang along. We’d left early that day to travel to see Miss Mazie, Hannah and Buffy, for only the third time since I’d left almost seven years before. It was the first visit with Emmy and Edith.

“I’m so glad Sam didn’t have to work today and I could drive us,” Emmy said, pausing in her singing. “It’s so fun to have a girl’s day!”

Sunlight streamed through the trees as we drove and I rolled the window down to enjoy the breeze, unusually warm for October. The autumn leaves spread bright colors across the hillsides. The day was perfect and a chance for me to forget about my confusion about Judson and for Edith to take her mind off Lily and the baby.

It seemed impossible it had been eight years since I had driven this road in the passenger seat of Hank’s truck, his hand on my thigh, our future out in front of us like the empty road we were on. I remembered leaving, thinking how I didn’t want to live alone and how Hank was my ticket to adventure and love for the rest of my life. I was so naïve, so oblivious to the reality of married life and life in general.

“Hey, turn here,” I said as we entered the city.

I watched the apartment buildings rise up before us as we got closer, unchanged; rusted fire escapes hanging loosely on the sides, vines crawling up the outside walls, laundry hanging on lines stretched between windows. Inside one of those apartments, on the fifth floor, I’d crossed from innocent teenager to confused and lost young woman.

“Pull over here.”

Emmy pulled into a parking space in front of the building where Hank and I had lived and I stepped out and looked up at the window of the apartment we had lived in.

“You’re too young to know what love is,” Mama told me the night Daddy

caught Hank kissing me in our backyard. “What you have right now is lust.”

Mama had been right. My feelings for Hank might have been tinged with love but they were highlighted by a healthy dose of lust. I had never felt more alive than when he touched me and kissed me in the moonlight. A rush of desire I’d never known before coursed through me the first time he pressed his mouth against mine and that desire consumed me to the point of selfishness and self-destruction.

I closed my eyes, picturing the night in our sparsely decorated apartment when I’d told Hank I was pregnant, six months after we’d been married; the night the veil of fantasy was stripped away.

He had stood over me, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“It probably isn’t even mine.” He repeated it, pacing in front of me as if he’d struck on an idea and was thinking how to use it. “It probably isn’t even mine.”

He tossed the empty whiskey bottle at the wall behind my head and it shattered, glass raining around me. I screamed in terror and fell to the floor on my knees, my hands over my head. His fingers encircled my upper arm and he pulled me up to look at him, his eyes wild.

“That’s it isn’t it? It isn’t even mine!” He shouted the words at me. “Maybe you’re just a whore like your sister.”

His face twisted in a terrifying scowl and I turned my head from the overwhelming

stench of alcohol on his breath.

“You’re just a little whore, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”

I opened my eyes to stop the memory and while I couldn’t see the window from where I stood I knew it was there – the bedroom where I’d held Jackson against me while Hank screamed and danced around the room like a man possessed.

“What do you think you’re going to do?” he had asked. “You gonna try to leave me? You gonna try to take my son from me?”

Suddenly he screamed, veins popping out on his neck, eyes wild, words unintelligible except for a few obscene curses.

“The hell you will!”  he screamed. “The hell you will!”

He’d lunged at me and I had fallen with Jackson in my arms.

Like a man possessed by the devil he flailed and screamed and in that moment I had wondered if he really was the devil; the physical beauty I had once seen in him distorted by his rage-filled screaming.

I had only been able to get away because he’d fallen to the floor, grabbing my foot on the way down. I had kicked him full in the face in that split second adn I could still hear his crazed screams in my mind as he clutched at me. Closing my eyes in the bright sunlight, I could still see the blood spraying from his nose and spilling onto the floor; his glazed, unseeing eyes looking at me and then closing before his head fell down into the blood.

“Blanche.”

A hand touched my shoulder.

“Come on,” Edith said. “We don’t need to keep standing here with all those memories rushing at you. Let’s head down to see Miss Mazie’s. She’s expecting us.”

I drew in a deep breath and nodded, pausing to look at Jackson through the back window, through the reflection of the apartment building on the glass, asleep against the door. The memories were hard. My decisions led to pain for both Jackson and me, but at the same time, if I’d never left with Hank, I’d never have had my son.

Miss Mazie’s house looked almost the same as it did the day I’d left to go back home. The small white house stood close to other, similarly built white houses, rose bushes blooming on either side of the steps leading to the porch. A hanging basket overflowing with small purple flowers swung gently in the breeze. A porch swing looked inviting and cozy on one side of the porch. I remembered nights sitting there, chatting with Miss Mazie about her life, then gently swaying back and forth, a dozing Jackson in my arms.

Standing on the porch, her walker helping to support her, Miss Mazie waved as we pulled into the driveway. Her skin, dark like chocolate, was still smooth on her face, almost, as if she hadn’t aged at all.

“Oh, honey, you get on up here and hug my neck,” she called to Jackson as he skipped up the stairs to her.

She kissed his cheek and laughed, her plump body jiggling as she held him against her.

“You’re like a big fluffy pillow!” Jackson declared, pressing his face against her stomach.

Miss Mazie laughed even harder. When she finally let him out of her embrace, she reached out for me and pressed her soft cheek against mine.

“Honey, you look so good,” she cooed. “Now you introduce me to everyone else and then come on in so I can hold that baby.”

After introductions we entered the house to wait for Buffy and Hannah to arrive with their children. The noise rose considerably when they did and I was grateful the weather was warm enough to send the children outside into the backyard to play. Hannah’s daughter Lizzie announced she would take charge of the younger children, even though her brother was the oldest.

Lizzie was almost unrecognizable to me now. Gone were the pigtails and freckles she’d had when I first met her with Hannah on a cold winter day outside the church the day after I’d learned I was pregnant with Jackson. Her straight blond hair hung down her back, held back from her face with a pink head band. At 13 she no longer stuck her finger in her nose but stood straight with her chin held high and a book hugged against her chest with one arm. Gone were the outfits of denim overalls with tiny pink flowers, replaced by a light pink polo top and an adorable plaid skirt, a pair of pink t-strap Mary Janes completing the ensemble.

Lizzie held her hand out to Jackson. “Come, Jackson. Let’s go play on the swing.”

Even her tone exuded maturity. I watched her lead my son out the backdoor with the other children following behind, in awe of the young lady she had become.

“I can’t believe how much she’s grown,” I said to Hannah as we made sandwiches in the kitchen. “She was so pretentious a young child.”

Hannah tossed her head back and laughed, blond curls falling down her back. “She has now added a touch of impertinence to her growing list of attributes. And oh, my goodness, she still doesn’t know when to hold her tongue, but she’s slowly starting to develop a small amount of tact at least.”

I glanced out the back door at a little girl with blond curls tight on her head giggling and chasing Jackson around a bush in Miss Mazie’s yard. I realized she must be Buffy’s youngest, the baby who had come after three miscarriages. She was the miracle child, the child who had opened my eyes to the need to not judge a book by its cover.

Buffy, the pastor’s wife, had always seemed so proper, well put together and popular, but at the same time always wearing a mask that never allowed anyone to see the real her.

The day she sat in Miss Mazie’s kitchen and began to pour out her heart about the losses of her children and her doubts of God’s goodness and faithfulness, I had seen my own judgmental heart.

“So many people don’t know what it’s like,” she had said abruptly that day, shaking her head. “to always have to be on. To always have to be – perfect. To look like you have it all together all the time, so no one suspects that sometimes you don’t even know if you believe what your husband is preaching up there.”

Tears rushed down Buffy’s cheeks, streaking her face with mascara.

“Do you know what it’s like to hear that God never gives you more than you can handle and have those words echo over and over in your mind while you watch a nurse carry a small box out of the room that you know holds the baby you carried for three months? Isn’t this more than I can handle?”

I remembered my heart breaking at her words and feeling shame at having judged her as someone who never suffered.

Now here was the baby she thought she’d never have, giggling and playing in the autumn sunlight.

“She’s beautiful,” I said as Buffy stood next to me.

“Thank you. She’s the part of our family we never realized we needed.”

“How are your other children and Pastor Jeffrey?”

“They are doing wonderful. You know we didn’t think we would be at this church for this long but it’s home now and such a blessing. The church is growing and Jeffrey is the happiest I’ve seen him in years.”

I was happy to see my friends living lives of joy after their struggles and I knew I was on the same path, no matter what my heart decided about Judson.

I found a seat in the living room on a chair next to Miss Mazie’s recliner.

“Now, Blanche, what’s this I hear from Jackson about his friend Judson who he says is about his mama’s age?” Miss Mazie shuffled into the living room from the dining room. “He says this friend doesn’t have a wife and is related to his Aunt Emmy.”

Emmy almost spit out the ginger ale she was drinking. I shot her a warning glare.

“Sorry,” Emmy mouthed, looking at the floor, her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh.

When had my son found time to get Miss Mazie alone and spill the beans to her about Judson anyhow? This was one of the times I regretted my son had the gift of gab, which seemed like a curse right now.

“He’s a good friend to Jackson and our whole family,” I said with a smile.

Emmy raised her eyebrows at me and smirked.

“Who are we talking about?” Buffy asked as she and Hannah walked into the room with pitchers of lemonade and plates of sandwiches.

“Judson T. Wainwright, my handsome cousin from the South,” Emmy told her. “He moved up about a year ago to work in my dad’s construction business.”

Emmy glanced at me, caught sight of my scowl, and cleared her throat. “He has been a good friend to all of us.”

I could tell she was trying not to tease me, knowing how confused I was feeling after the night at the pond.

“Oooh,” Hannah said, sitting in a chair across from me. “I think I need to hear more about this man.”

Buffy sat on the couch, leaned her elbows on her knees, propped her chin in her hands, and looked at me with wide eyes. “So, is he a suitor of yours, Blanche?”

“I think he’d suit her just fine if she’d allow herself the chance to get to know him better,” Edith blurted.

The women laughed as I blushed.

“Now, now ladies, let’s not embarrass poor Blanche,” Miss Mazie said waving her hand as she sat in her recliner. She smiled at me and reached over to take my hand. “Blanche will find someone when she’s ready.”

“It’s okay, Miss Mazie,” I said. “I know they are only teasing me because both of them know how hard it’s been for me to let my guard down since Hank.”

Miss Mazie was still holding my hand. “We all know how much Hank hurt you, baby, but don’t let your heart be hardened against all men. There are many good ones out there. Don’t you forget, God created us in his image – male and female – to compliment each other. Now that I’ve said that, though, you make sure you wait for the right man to come along, okay, now? Pray about it.”

On the drive home that night I thought about how Miss Mazie and Emmy had both implored me to pray about how I felt about Judson. Why did I always seem to forget about prayer when I was struggling with a situation? The only problem was, I wasn’t sure how to pray. Should I pray for God to take away my feelings for Judson to protect my and Jackson’s heart, or should I pray for my heart to be softened toward the idea of Judson being more than a friend to me?

Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning, Chapter 24

Is it really possible we are in Chapter 24 of A New Beginning? Well, I guess it is! If you haven’t read Chapters 22 and Chapter 23 from last week or are even further behind, I will warn you that there are spoilers ahead!
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I caused a bit of a stir last week by bringing Hank back into town and maybe into Blanche’s life. We will have to wait and see if he is gone for good like his mother and Blanche believe he is.

Blanche also struggled more with trying to figure out how she feels about Judson.

This week I started another story on Wattpad, which, if you don’t know, is a site with a lot of stories written by (excuse the following term) horny teenagers. This is not meant to be offensive to teenagers but there really is some x-rated and poorly written fiction on this site. Why then am I posting there? Because already I’ve had a couple of adult authors (not authors of ‘adult fiction’ necessarily) give me some pointers to help me tighten up my story. I may, or may not, continue to share The Farmer’s Daughter on Wattpad. I hope to have the final book version of it out on Kindle sometime in the fall or winter of 2020. I am only on the first draft of that novel, which will be first in a series.

Okay. Enough rambling. On to the chapter for this week. As always, this is a first draft of the story and as always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. You do not need to read A Story to Tell to follow A New Beginning.

Also, as always, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. To follow the story from the beginning, find the link HERE or at the top of the page.


Chapter 24

“Hey, Blanche!”

Thomas waved at me from across the street as I locked the door to the shop. The sun caught his blond hair as he swept it off his forehead. Daddy had climbed into the car and Jackson was standing next to me, swinging a rock on a string.

“The rock is my pet, Mama, since you won’t let me have a dog,” he told me when I’d picked him up at school.

He’d been trying to convince me to get him a dog for a couple of years. Apparently, his sad expression while he tugged the rock along behind him was his latest attempt.

Thomas crossed the street and stopped in front of us, looking down at the rock. “Is that the latest toy craze? Or a failed yo-yo?”

Jackson pushed his lower lip out. “It’s my pet. Because Mama won’t let me have a dog.”

Thomas looked at me with wide eyes and mock horror. “Why, Mama! How can you be so cruel? Look at this poor child with his rock when he could have a ball of fluff licking his face, following him around, being his best friend like dogs are for all little boys.”

I scowled at Thomas.

He grinned and laughed at me. “Ouch,” he said, leaning down so his face was closer to Jackson’s. “Is that the look your Mama gives you when you’ve done something wrong?”

Jackson nodded, his eyebrows raised. “I think you’re in trouble,” he whispered in Thomas’ ear.

Thomas held his hand out to Jackson and Jackson took it. “My name’s Thomas. Looks like us boys have to stick together in this dog thing. I’ll work on your Mama for you about this dog thing, if you let me take her with me tonight to hear a band play a few miles away. What do you say?”

Well the very nerve, I thought, placing my hands on my hip. He hadn’t even asked me, just assumed I would go. “Thomas . . .”

He smiled at me. “What? I’m just trying to help the kid out here.” He winked at me. “And maybe myself.”

Jackson bit his lower lip and placed his finger against his chin, looking up at the sky as if he was thinking.

“Okay, Thomas,” he said. “You can take Mama to hear that band if you tell her she should let me have a dog.”

I shook my head, placing my other hand on my other hip and glaring at both of them. I pointed my finger at Jackson, trying not to smile. “Young man, you remember that it isn’t only my decision about the dog. We’re living with Grandpa and Grandma. It’s up to them too.”

“What’s up to us too?” Daddy asked from behind me.

“Getting a dog,” I said.

Daddy sighed, patting Jackson on the head. “We’ll take about this later, kid.”

A muscle in Thomas’ jaw jumped as he cleared his throat and held his hand out toward Daddy “Hey, you must be Blanche’s, Dad. I’m Thomas. I work with her at the paper.”

Daddy looked at Thomas’ hand for a moment, did a little throat clearing of his own and then took it. He nodded. “Thomas. Night to meet you.”

We all stood there in awkward silence for a few moments, the sound of cars passing by on the street the only sound, before Thomas finally spoke again. “I was just asking Blanche if she would like to go with me to hear a friend of mine that’s playing in a band up in Nichols. I thought we could head out now and grab some dinner there.”

“Actually, you didn’t really ask me,” I pointed out.

Thomas grinned. “Well, in a roundabout way, I did.”

Daddy looked at Thomas, then me and back to Thomas and shrugged. “She’s a grown woman now, as much as I hate to admit it. It’s up to her.”

I was having a hard time reading Daddy’s expression as he looked at me, but I wasn’t sure if he was happy with the idea of me leaving with Thomas. I felt the pressure of needing to answer one way or another with both Daddy and Thomas looking at me. Maybe a night out was what I needed to take my mind off my confusing feelings about Judson and my worry about Hank returning again.

“Sure,” I said. “If Daddy is okay with a night with his grandson.”

Daddy nodded. I worked at deciphering his expression, but still couldn’t read it.

“I’d be glad to take him home, get him fed, and,” he leaned down to look Jackson in the eye. “take him fishing!”

“Yeah!” Jackson cried, jumping up and down, grabbing his grandpa’s hand. “Come on! Let’s go!”

I watched Daddy and Jackson walk down the street toward Daddy’s car and felt a twinge of regret at not leaving with them. I wasn’t one to make spontaneous decisions and on the rare occasion I did, it always made me feel uneasy.

Thomas gestured to a bright blue Chevy El Camino parked across the street and bowed slightly. “Madam.”

I looked at the car, studying the long lines, the sun reflecting off the sleek, blue paint. “Why am I not surprised this is your car?” I asked.

“Why? Because it’s a chick magnet?”

I rolled my eyes as he opened the door.

“Listen, I know what you’re thinking,” he said, climbing into the driver’s side. “This isn’t a date, okay? I actually asked Midge Flannery first. You know Pastor Jenson’s daughter over at the Methodist Church? But she came down with a cold.”

I grinned. “A real cold, or . . .”

“Hey! Watch it. Yes, a legit cold. I saw her myself. Red nose and eyes even. I took some soup over to her apartment before I decided to ask you.”

“Oh. I see. I’m your second choice.”

“Well, yes, actually, you are,” he said, starting the car. He grinned at me again and winked. “But, we’re just friends so that’s okay, right?”

“Yes, actually it is,” I said as he pulled the car away from the curb, hoping he would remember we were just friends as the night went on. “So, who is the friend we’re going to see?”

Thomas clicked on the radio. “Jerry Fritz. The new sports reporter. He’s the bass player.”

Dean Martin crooned over the radio and Thomas turned the knob.

A man on the radio screamed through the speaker:

“I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction

‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try

I can’t get no, I can’t get no…”

This time I reached over and turned the knob.

“What?” Thomas said. “You don’t like the Rolling Stones.”

I made a face. “No. They’re sleezy.”

Thomas snickered. “I think that song is my theme song.”

I ignored his comment and turned up the radio.

“Stop! In the name of love!” I sang to the song on the radio, putting my hand out in front of me, wiggling like Diana Ross. “Before you break my heart.”

Thomas watched me with wide eyes, glancing from the road to me, then back again.

“Look at you lettin’ loose!”

I stopped singing and laughed, shaking my head. “I don’t know what I was thinking. And focus on the road.”

“You’re thinking that it’s time to let your hair down, Blanche. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

I touched the bun on top of my head, then smoothed my hair to make sure there were no strands out of place.

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” I said.

“Why not? You should let your hair down. I bet you look beautiful with your hair falling down around your shoulders.”

I looked out the window and thought about the day in the barn with Judson, how he’d told me I looked nice with my hair down. I touched the back of my head and closed my eyes and remembered how he’d told me the same thing at the lake. I could almost feel Judson’s hand in my hair as he pulled me closer. I thought about the day he’d left and how I’d barely let him hug me, how I’d pulled back, physically and otherwise. Why had I been so cold? I was driving my own self crazy at this point trying to figure out why I was acting so strange.

I shook my head at Thomas. “I don’t even have a comb to pull through it. It would be a mess.”

“Messy is sexy,” Thomas said with a wink.

I looked at him raised eyebrows, tipping my head. “Are you sure you want to go out with a pastor’s daughter?”

Thomas tipped his head back and laughed. “Maybe she’ll help me turn over a new leaf. Seriously, though, this is tame compared to what I used to be like. I promise you I’ve come a long way.”

“Yikes. I think I’m glad I know you now then.”

The bar was crowded when we arrived, the band already on stage. The bass player nodded at Thomas while he played, and Thomas nodded back.

Thomas gestured toward a couple standing up from a table in the corner. “Looks like that one is opening up. Let’s grab it.”

He pulled my chair out for me and brushed crumbs off the top of the table. Looking around the room, I realized how out of place I felt. I viewed diners and drinkers through a haze of cigarette smoke that stung my nose and eyes. The sickly-sweet smell of alcohol pulled at my stomach, memories of Hank staggering in after work rushing at me fast.

I hadn’t been in a bar since the night I’d witnessed Hank kissing that other woman. I had found my mind wandering to that night often over the years, wondering what had ever happened to her. Had Hank started dating her officially after I left? Maybe he’d even married her. Or maybe he’d done to her what he’d done to me. I was pulled from my memories by Thomas snapping his fingers in front of me.

“Hey, kid, where’d you go?”

“Oh. Sorry. I just haven’t been in a bar in a long time.”

“Back in your other life, huh?”

“You could say that.”

“Tell me about it when I get back. I’m going to order a burger and a beer. What can I get you?”

“A burger sounds good. Just a ginger ale to drink, though, please.”

Thomas sighed. “Of course.”

Watching the people around me sipping alcoholic drinks or gulping mouthfuls of beer, I realized how sheltered my life had become since coming home and it was something I didn’t mind. What had I been thinking agreeing to come here with Thomas? I’d rather have been home, curled up on the couch with Jackson, watching Gunsmoke. While I had once thought my life would somehow become exciting after I left with Hank, I now realized I preferred my quiet nights at home.

Thomas handed me my drink and as I took a sip, he held out his hand.

“Johnnie said he’d bring our burgers out to us when they’re done. Want to dance?”

I looked up at him, shaking my head, my chest constricting. I hadn’t danced in years.

Thomas leaned over me and spoke loudly over the music. “Come on. We’re dancing as friends.” He held up his hands in front of him. “No hanky-panky. I promise.”

He held out his hand again and I took it reluctantly. Leading me out into the middle of the other people dancing, he laid his hand against my lower back, stepping close to me as a fast song faded into a slow song. I took his other hand and slid my arm around his waist, feeling almost as awkward as I had the night I’d first danced with Hank as a 17-year old girl.

Thomas winked at me playfully. “Now, if you said right now you had feelings for me, I would throw all the friend stuff right out the window.”

I slapped his shoulder playfully.

“Thomas!”

He laughed as we danced, swaying to the music. When a faster song came on he stepped back and we watched the people around us dance. He shrugged at me and tried his best to mimic the steps as I laughed.

He leaned close to shout over the music. “I’m not really a dancer. Can you tell?”

I watched him shuffle his feet and stumble and laugh. He was right. He wasn’t a dancer. But I wasn’t one either and soon we were laughing at each other.

When the band stopped playing a few minutes later we stopped to applaud.

“We’re going to take a break and be back in 15 minutes,” the singer said, tipping his hat.

Sitting down at the table again, I took a drink from my ginger ale and noticed our burgers and fries had been delivered while we were dancing.

“What were you thinking about earlier?” Thomas asked, reaching for a fry and dipping it in ketchup. “When you zoned out on me.”

I drank more of the ginger ale, wishing I could change the subject.

“Just about the past.”

“Something the old man did to you?”

I laughed. “Well, he wasn’t exactly an old man, but he was my husband at the time, yes.”

“Did he do something bad to you at a bar?”

“You could say that.”

Thomas’ expression faded from teasing to serious. “Did he – hurt you – physically?” He held his hands up quickly. “Wait. No. You don’t have to tell me. This is supposed to be a night full of fun, not bad memories.”

“It’s okay. It wasn’t anything like that. It was just. . .” A sudden lump formed in my throat and I found myself unable to speak about the night I’d watched the blond woman with the low cut dress kiss Hank hard on the mouth and him kiss her back. “It was nothing,” I choked out.

Thomas looked at me with furrowed eyebrows, taking a swig of the beer.

“Nothing I can talk about anyhow without crying apparently,” I said, swallowing hard.

I was determined not to cry. I’d pushed tears so far down for so long I sometimes wondered if I could cry anymore.

“The more you tell me about this guy,” Thomas said, his jaw tight. “the more I wish I had walked into D’s that day and punched him straight in the face.”

“You’re not the only one who wants to do that, but really, it was a long time ago. It’s better just to leave it. It only bothers me once in a while and tonight some of the memories came back, that’s all. And really, I’m just not a bar person. I don’t drink, I haven’t got a clue how to dance, and cigarette smoke gives me a headache.”

Thomas grinned. “In other words, you’re a complete square.”

“Yep. And I like it that way.”

Thomas leaned back in the chair, watching me. “I do too. You’re fine the way you are. Not saying that in a flirting way, but you don’t have to be someone you aren’t. I think you know that by now.”

“I’m getting there. Enough about me, though. I want to know what you like about Midge.”

Thomas didn’t hesitate. “She’s cute.”

I sighed and pressed my hand against my forehead. “Thomas. Besides her being cute.”

“Okay. Okay.” Thomas tipped the chair back on two legs as he hung his arms over the back of it. “She’s sweet, smart and makes me want to . . .,” he looked at the ceiling, bit his lower lip and tipped his chair back down, light crimson seeping into his cheeks as he looked at me. He laughed softly and shook his head, looking at the top of the table and pushing at his napkin. “She makes me want be a better person, I guess you would say.”

He rubbed his hand across his face and shook his head. “That sounded so cheesy. I can’t believe I just said that. I’m so embarrassed.”

I tipped my head back and laughed loudly. It felt so good to laugh and release the tension I’d been holding in recently.

“If I was Midge and I heard that, I would melt inside. Thomas! You should tell her how you feel! What are you waiting for?”

Thomas looked at me his face, and even his ears, bright red now. “I’ve only taken her out twice. I can’t tell her that.”

“Okay,” I conceded. “Maybe you can’t tell her yet, but, soon, okay?”

A thought hit me as I took another bite of the burger.

I wiped my mouth with a napkin. “Wait, a minute, Thomas. Weren’t you harassing me about not going out with you just a couple of weeks ago? Why did you even care if you were dating Midge?”

Thomas winked, taking a sip of his beer. “That was more about making you feel guilty than really thinking you’d go out with me. I already knew you had a thing for Judson.”

Biting into my burger I shook my head at him.

“Hey, I told you the truth about Midge and how I feel about her, so now it’s your turn. How do you really feel about Judson?”

I shoved a fry in my mouth as I considered how to change the subject but didn’t need to worry. Thomas’ eyes drifted past me and his eyebrows furrowed. “Speaking of Midge. . .What is she doing here?”

I turned to follow his gaze and saw Midge standing next to a man at the bar, talking with her hands, looking upset. She pulled a thick woolen coat around her as the man responded, wiping her nose with a tissue and blowing into it. Thomas cleared his throat and continued watching the exchange. I had a feeling Thomas was thinking what I was, wondering what Midge was doing at the bar if she’d told him she had a cold.

The man stood abruptly, shaking his head, turned and shoved the man behind him hard to the ground.

“Patrick!” Midge shouted. “Stop it!”

“You’ve been pestering me all night and I’ve had enough of it!” the man Midge had called Patrick shouted as he stood over the man on the ground.

Midge pulled at the arm of the man she’d been talking to. “Patrick, you need to come home with me.”

“I’m old enough to make my own decisions, Midge!” Patrick yelled, facing Midge. “Go home!”

Midge threw up her arms in frustration, walking away from the bar and pushing her way through the crowd. Thomas crumpled his napkin and tossed it onto his empty plate, watching Midge stomp in our direction.

“Midge?”

Midge Flannery was petite with a small round face, a cute nose and dark brown curls that fell to her shoulders. I’d known of her since we were both children and though I didn’t know her well, she had a reputation for being sweet, quiet, and well composed. This was the first time I’d ever seen her look flustered and disheveled. She pushed a curl back from her face and I noticed her eyes were red rimmed, her nose looked sore, and she was wheezing slightly.

“Thomas! What are you doing here?” She glanced at me, then back at Thomas.

“I could ask the same thing. I thought you were sick.”

Midge sighed and covered her mouth as she coughed. “I am sick. I came down here because the bartender called our house and told me my brother was drinking too much and to get him out of here. I drove up here so my dad wouldn’t find out Patrick is completely out of control with the drinking. Patrick refuses to come with me, though and I’m too tired and sick to mess with him this time.”

She looked at me and scowled, a hand on her hip. “But it looks like you found a replacement for me anyhow, Thomas Fairchild. Now I don’t have to feel guilty for canceling on you.”

I stood and held my hands up. “Now, Midge. Wait. I’m only here with Thomas as a friend. He was just telling me . . .” I glanced at Thomas whose face had paled as I spoke, probably worried what I was going to say. “Um… Thomas told me he’d asked you to come but you were sick and asked if I would come as a friend.”

Midge’s expression softened, but I could still see unshed tears in her eyes. “Oh. Well, I guess that’s better than what I thought.”

“Do you want me to see if I can convince Patrick to leave with you?” Thomas asked.

Midge nodded, blowing her nose again. “You can try, but honestly, I don’t think it will help.”

A half an hour later, Midge and I followed a beer-soaked Thomas and a staggering Patrick Flannery into the parking lot. Midge and I had both stifled laughs behind our hands when Patrick threw a mug of beer into Thomas’ face, thinking he was someone else. Out in the parking lot we were still laughing as Thomas helped Patrick into the car.

“Real sorry about that, buddy,” Patrick said, slurring his words. “I swear I thought you were Danny harass- harassing me . . . me . . ” he hiccupped in Thomas’ face. “again.”

“It’s okay, big boy,” Thomas said with a grimace. He patted Patrick’s shoulder as Patrick fell into the backseat of the car. “Let’s just get you home.”

Thomas shut the door and turned toward Midge and me, his eyebrows raised. “Whew. That was not the adventure I was expecting tonight. Your brother is as strong as an ox.”

Midge smiled. “I’m just glad he didn’t punch you. We’d be on our way to the emergency room.”

“Are you going to be okay getting him home?” Thomas asked.

“He’ll sleep on the way there and I’ll either drag him inside or let him lay and let Daddy find him in the morning and handle it,” Midge said, flipping her hair over her shoulder.

She laid her hand on Thomas’ arm, tipped her head to one side, and smiled. “Listen,” she said, her nose clearly stuffed from the cold. “I hope you’ll ask me out again, Thomas. When I’m over my cold.”

Thomas smiled. “I certainly plan to.”

Midge stood on her tip toes and brushed her lips against Thomas’ cheek.

“I hope I didn’t give you my cold by doing that,” she said.

I stepped back and moved toward Thomas’ car slowly, feeling like I was eavesdropping on a private moment.

As I turned toward his car, I saw Thomas out of the corner of my eye lean down and briefly press his mouth against Midge’s.

“If you did, it would totally be worth it,” he said softly.

I smirked when he slid into the driver’s seat a few moments later. “Well, it looks like things are progressing nicely in the Midge department,” I said with a wink.

“They certainly are,” he said with a grin, starting the car. “They certainly are.”

We laughed about the evening and sang to the music as we drove and when he pulled the car into my driveway, I saw Jackson standing on the front porch, his hands on his hips.

“Where have you been, young lady?” he said as I stepped out of the car.

I giggled as Thomas stepped around to where I was standing.

“I was out with Thomas listening to some music.”

“You should have been home an hour ago.”

Jackson’s eyebrows were furrowed, his mouth pressed tight into a thin line.

I kissed his cheek as I stepped onto the porch. “We had to help a friend before we could leave.”

His scowl softened and he lowered his hands from his hips. “Well, if you were helping a friend, I guess it is okay.”

Thomas stood next to me and laughed. “Hey, kid, thanks for letting me take your mom with me tonight.”

Jackson folded his arms across his chest and eyed Thomas suspiciously.

“You smell like beer,” he told Thomas. “Mama says beer makes people mean and she doesn’t like people who smell like beer.”

Thomas glanced at me and winced. “Ouch. Your Mama is a tough lady, but yeah, she’s right. Beer can make people mean. Luckily I never even finished my beer tonight. I smell like beer because some guy dumped his on me. Crazy, huh?”

Jackson wasn’t swayed from his indignation. “I think it’s time for you to leave,” he said firmly. “I bet you didn’t even talk Mama into getting me a dog.”

“Jackson, that’s enough,” I said, my tone even sharper than his had been. “Head in and up to bed. You should have been there an hour ago . I’ll be in to read you a book and tuck you in. Now go.”

Jackson turned but kept his gaze on Thomas until he finally walked through the front door.

“Wow,” Thomas said. “I don’t think you need to worry about anyone ever messing with you again. That’s one tough kid.”

“Yeah, he loves his Mama but sometimes he seems to forget who the parent is.”

Thomas stepped off the porch, walking toward his car. “Thanks for a fun night, Blanche and hey, remember what you said about me needing to tell Midge how I feel?”

“Yes. . .”

“If you have feelings for Judson you need to do the same.”

He grinned, tossing his keys into the air and catching them behind his back.

“See you around the office. Oh and get your kid a dog.”

After reading Jackson his book and kissing him goodnight, I tiptoed to my room and closed the door behind me. Undressing I thought about my night, about dancing with Thomas and about what Thomas had said. I also thought about the realization I’d come to when Thomas and I had been dancing; how I had wished I was in Judson’s arms instead of Thomas’.

Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning Chapter 22

Here we are at another Fiction Thursday.  I can’t believe I’m already at Chapter 22 for A New Beginning.  I love to know what you think of the story or what direction you think it should take, so please feel free to share it in the comments.

As always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle, but you don’t need to read it to understand what is happening in A New Beginning. Also, as always, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. To follow the story from the beginning, find the link HERE or at the top of the page.


“Blanche.”

When I heard my name and felt the hand against my arm, I was back in that dimly lit apartment with Hank, adrenaline rushing through me like a lightening bolt, Jackson screaming in my ear. I closed my eyes tight against the terror raging inside me, balled my hand into a fist and without thinking swung at Hank, making solid contact with his face.

Only it wasn’t Hank holding his face when I opened my eyes. It was Thomas. My hand throbbed from the impact and I rubbed the knuckles with my other hand.

“What was that for?!” Thomas shouted, a hand against his cheek, red spreading across the skin.

“Oh, Thomas! I’m so sorry! I thought you were someone else.”

“Is this how you greet people?! By punching them?!”

The door to the hardware store was opening, the bell on the front at the top of the it ringing, but I couldn’t see who was coming out. I grabbed Thomas’ hand, pulling him with me down the sidewalk.

“Please…,” I pleaded. “Don’t be so loud. Just follow me.”

“Don’t be so loud? You just slugged me! I’m going to be loud! What is going on?”

I yanked at his hand and he followed me down the street to my shop, still holding his hand against his cheek and grumbling. Once inside I pulled the shades, turned the open sign to closed and locked the door.

“Blanche… what is going on?”

Thomas was touching his cheek and wincing, moving his jaw side to side. “I don’t think you broke anything at least, but I bet I’ll get a shiner.”

He looked at me with confusion and concern.

“You’re trembling like a leaf. Who are we hiding from? Is someone stalking you?”

I peeked through the blind across the front window. Hank was walking out of the hardware store now, toward D’s Diner. A chill shivered through me and I hugged my arms across my chest. I had no idea why he was in town or if he would even look for me but the thought of him being so close by after all this time left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Thomas stood behind me and I knew he was watching Hank too.

“Is that . . .?”

“Yes,” I said quickly so he wouldn’t say his name. “It is.”

“What’s he doing here?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t want to see him.”

We both stood in silence for a few moments as Hank walked into the diner.

“So… what exactly happened between you two anyhow?” Thomas asked when I turned away from the door and sat in the chair next to my sewing machine.

“Nothing pleasant,” I mumbled, leaning back in the chair, arms folded across my chest.

“Derek said he heard Hank tried to come see you one time and your daddy shot him in the foot.”

I rolled my eyes. “Derek likes to tell stories. I’ve known him since second grade and he was always in trouble for making up whoppers. But, he’s close. Daddy shot at him to warn him off.”

Thomas turned a chair around and straddled it, leaning his arms on the back of it. “Derek said he thought your dad should have shot him. He said you came back to the area with two black eyes, a crooked nose and a baby.”

I patted the bun on top of my head and pushed a stray hair back off my forehead, remembering the day Daddy had driven me into town to sign the divorce papers. I hadn’t wanted to leave the house, to let anyone see the bruises and the scars.

“I won’t allow that boy to have his name,” Daddy had said as I signed my name on the bottom of the divorce intent papers, my hand trembling. I couldn’t focus on what Daddy was saying. I had been thinking about Hank, wondering if he’d even sign the papers and make the divorce quick and easy, worrying about my son growing up without a father. I didn’t care what last name my son had, as long as he was safe from Hank and able to move past the fact his mother had been foolish enough to run away with a man who had become abusive and unrecognizable to the man her mother thought he was.

“I was an idiot,” I said, looking up at Thomas. “I didn’t see the warning signs, or maybe I just didn’t want to see them. When I did it was too late and I was trapped in the never ending circle of thinking I could somehow change a man who didn’t want to be changed. It took him punching me in the face, breaking my nose, a couple ribs and almost my skull for me to wake up and get away from him.”

Thomas’ eyebrows shot up. “He broke your nose and your ribs? What kind of man does something like that?”

“A drunk one.”

Thomas stood and peered through the blinds again. His voice was cold when he spoke. “He better not show his face here today. That son of a -”

“I don’t think he will,” I said quickly, even though I wasn’t sure.

Thomas sat back on the chair, facing me, his arms folded across the top of the chair. He propped his chin on his arm, his blond hair falling across his forehead. “You’ve been through a lot, huh?”

I shrugged, sliding a piece of fabric through the sowing machine to try to distract myself. “Yeah, but a lot of people have.”

“You’re a strong lady, Blanche. No joke about it. Now I understand why you built that wall around you.”

I held the pants up to inspect the hem. “What wall?” I said with a wink, looking around the pants at him. “I’m a perfectly open person.”

Thomas laughed, grinning at me, still leaning his chin on his arm. “Yeah, that’s why it has taken us almost four years to have a real conversation. And why you won’t go out with me.”

I sighed. “Thomas. . .”

“I know. It’s not me, it’s you.” He grinned.

“It’s not that. It’s just . . .”

“You don’t have feelings like that for me.”

“No. I’m sorry.”

“It’s that guy with more muscles in his pinky than I have in my whole body isn’t it?”

I laughed. “What?”

“That J.T. who works with Stanton Construction. He’s a beast of a sexy man the ladies in the office say and I’ve seen him talking to you.”

I knew the laughing fit I was having might make Thomas feel worse, but I couldn’t help it. “Beast of a sexy man? Who even talks like that?”

“Minnie for one,” Thomas said.

“Yeah, she would talk like that,” I said through the laughter. “But, Thomas, I’m not in a relationship with Judson, I–”

“You definitely want to be in one with the way you look at him, according to Minnie.”

“Thomas, Minnie is a little dramatic. And listen, you’re a nice guy . . .”

Thomas sighed and shrugged. “But. There is always a ‘but.’ Listen, it’s okay.” He held up his hand, turned his head, and let out a dramatic sigh. “I’ve been pushed into the role of the friend before.”

He grinned and pushed his hair off his forehead. “I’m sure I’ll survive. Somehow.”

The pounding on the door startled us both and we jumped to our feet.

Thomas held his hand up to me, signaling me to wait behind the sewing table. He moved the blinds slightly and his expression relaxed.

“It’s Emmy,” he said, unlocking the door.

Emmy was a wall of sound. “Oh my gosh, Blanche! Hank is at D’s Diner. Did you know he is in town? I couldn’t believe it. He walked right in and sat at the front counter and ordered a black coffee and a full breakfast. I panicked and tried to run out of there, but he saw me and nodded at me. He said ‘Hey, Emmy,’ all calm and confident like and tipped his head in a nod. I didn’t know what to do. I just stared at him and took off, but then I didn’t want him to see where I was going so I shot down the alley by Mary’s Florist and came here the back way, but I hope he didn’t see me and figure out where you are and. . .”

“Emmy! Calm down!” I took my friend’s hands and gently pulled her toward a chair.

“You’re going to pass out,” Thomas laughed as Emmy sat down.

Emmy was breathing hard. “I just couldn’t believe it. I never expected to see him here again. Not after – you know – I just thought he’d stay away forever. Or at least I hoped he would.”

My heart was racing as I thought about Jackson at school. What if Hank was here to try to see Jackson? Did the staff at the school know they couldn’t let Hank see Jackson? I’d never told Jackson about his father and who he really was.

“Jackson . . .” I whispered.

“He’s at school,” Thomas said. “He’s fine. Don’t let your mind even go there.”

Emmy leaned back in the chair and shook her head. “Look at us. Cowering here in the dark over someone who doesn’t even matter anymore. Like he’s some kind of mass murderer or something.”

“He isn’t quite that, no, but I still don’t want to see him,” I said.

“Looks like you won’t have to,” Thomas said peering through the blind again. Looking over his shoulder, we watched Hank climb into his pick-up, slamming the door behind him, revving the engine and driving down the street, away from the shop.

Emmy sighed with relief. “Thank God he’s gone. At least for now.”

She turned to look at us, her eyebrows furrowed.

“What were you two doing in here with all the blinds pulled anyhow?”

Thomas tipped his head toward the floor, but I could see a smirk pulling at his mouth.

“I saw Hank through the window of the hardware store,” I said quickly. “And . . . uh . . . ran into Thomas while I was trying to get here to hide so he came with me.”

“Yeah. She ran into me all right,” Thomas said, touching his hand to the red spot on his cheek.

Emmy’s gaze traveled between us. “Uh-huh. Okay. That all sounds a little fishy, but I’ll just leave it – for now anyhow.” She turned slightly so her back was to Thomas and tipped her head, looking down her nose at me. She lowered her voice. “I’ve got to get back to the office, but we’ll talk more about this later. If you know what I mean.”

She pointed two fingers at her eyes first and then at mine, one eyebrow raised.

“You’d better go,” I said, ushering her toward the door.

I smiled as the door closed behind Emmy and then sat in the chair she’d vacated, my heart still pounding fast and hard in my chest.

“You okay?” Thomas asked.

I nodded, but my limbs felt weak as the adrenaline began to fade.

“I should get back to work,” I said softly. “I have a dress I need to finish for a lady from Spencer and that pair of pants for Pastor Frank.”

Thomas pushed himself off the counter and slid his hands in his jean pockets.

“Okay. Well, I need to get back to the paper anyhow. Of course, I don’t like the idea of leaving now – in case you need me.”

I laughed. “I’ll be fine. Daddy’s not far away if I need someone to rescue me.”

Thomas turned toward me, his hand on the doorknob. “Hey, have you talked to your mother-in-law about how things are going with Uncle Stan?”

Marion. I needed to call her and tell her about Hank.

“A little. I think it’s going well. Have you asked Stan?”

Thomas grimaced. “Ew. No. Why? Men don’t talk about that stuff.” He opened the door and leaned against the door frame. “Let me know if you need anything okay? Will I see you tomorrow?”

I’d forgotten about the weekly editorial meeting scheduled for the next morning. Stanley had asked me a couple of weeks ago to attend the first meeting of the month so he could give me assignments for feature stories. It looked like I’d be taking that job whether I wanted to or not.

“Yep,” I said. “I’ll see you there.”

Thomas rubbed his cheek. “Just make sure you don’t punch me in a greeting when we see each other.”

I stepped through the doorway and watched Thomas walk back toward the newspaper office. I knew most women would consider him attractive — more than attractive — with his blond hair, blue eyes, masculine jawline, a small dimple in his chin and an amazing smile. Even I found him physically attractive, despite his frequent cocky attitude. It was probably that attitude holding me back, but I knew it was also something else – someone else, no matter how much I tried to deny it.

***

When I closed the door to the shop, I reached for the phone to make sure Marion knew about Hank.

“I was getting ready to call you actually,” she said after I told her why I had called. “He came last night but I didn’t want to alarm you. He told me this morning he was going up to New York state to visit some friends, so I hoped he’d leave the area before you saw him. The more I thought about it, the more nervous I got, though, so I’d just picked up the phone to call you when you called.”

“Did he say why he was here?”

“He said he hadn’t seen me for a long time and wanted to check in. He needed a place to crash before he headed up to see his friends. He slept on the couch because his old room has been transformed into my sewing room.”

“Where has he been all this time?”

“He says Ohio. We didn’t talk much. He came late and fell asleep after I fixed him some food. I was so nervous, Blanche. I wanted to call you last night, but I didn’t want him to hear me talking to you and give him ideas. He did see my photo of Jackson, asked how he was. I told him he was a wonderful boy and doing well and that was the end of it. I think he’d been drinking. He was a little glazed over . . .if you know what I mean.”

I certainly did.

“Blanche, have you told your parents he’s here?”

“Not yet, no.”

“Make sure you do, okay? I really don’t think he’ll try to see you, but  . . .”

“Thank you, Marion. I know you’re worried, but I’ll be fine. I can handle myself. Hey, I’m going to go and get some projects done before I pick Jackson up at school. Let me know if you need anything, okay?”

We said our goodbyes, but I knew Marion was still concerned and she wasn’t the only one. I laid my hand on the phone several times, preparing to call Daddy and let him know what was going on, each time shaking my head and going back to the pants I was hemming for Pastor Frank, determined not to get Daddy into one of his riled states.

I snatched the phone off the receiver and dialed the school.

“No. No one has stopped in asking to see Jackson,” Mrs. Ellery, the school secretary, said, sounding slightly confused when I asked. “Should someone have?”

“No, not at all. Can you just make sure you call if someone does stop in to see him?”

“Of course, Blanche.” There was a moment of silence and then, “We’d never let him go with anyone but you. Don’t you worry, okay?”

I hung up, guessing Mrs. Ellery had started to put two and two together. We lived in a small county and I knew there were more than a few people who knew my history with Hank and why Jackson never had two parents at parent-teacher conferences or school shows.

I started walking to the school a half an hour before dismissal, looking over my shoulder as I walked, wishing I had told Daddy about Hank being in town, and praying Hank didn’t show up to try to see Jackson.

“Hi, Mama!”

Jackson flung his arms around my middle and pushed his face against me as he ran from the school.

“Hey, buddy! Did you have a good day?”

“Yes! Kenny Frasier said he had a bullfrog at home and says I can come see it one day. Can I?”

“Sure, you can. We’ll find time to go over sometime soon.”

“Did you know bullfrogs eat flies?”

“I did.”

“Do you think flies taste good?”

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t try one to see.”

“Me either.”

Jackson skipped as he walked, talking away, stopping to look at bugs every few skips.

A block from the office I looked up from the bug we had stopped to watch crawl across the sidewalk and saw Daddy walking briskly toward me, his face flushed.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he puffed at me before he even reached me.

“Well, I…wait, what are we talking about?” I asked as Jackson and I started walking again.

Daddy fell in step with me and whispered, “You know what I’m talking about. That he was in town.”

“I was going to tell you on the way home. He didn’t come to see me and I didn’t want to upset you. Marion said he’s on his way to see friends in New York. How did you even find out? Did Emmy tell you?”

“Emmy knew? No, she didn’t tell me. Sam Baker came to the office a few moments ago and told me he’d seen him at D’s this morning. He thought I knew and asked if I had my shotgun ready. How does everyone know about that shotgun story anyhow?”

I laughed. “I have no idea. I didn’t tell anyone, did you?”

Daddy cleared his throat as we slowed down to wait for Jackson to study another bug. “Well, maybe one or two people. At the diner. A couple months afterwards.”

I shook my head and laughed. “Daddy. . .”

“Well, he deserved it and everyone knew it,” he said, looking at the ground sheepishly, rubbing his hand through his hair. “You came home with a baby and a black eye and people put two and two together and I wanted to make sure they knew I didn’t let him get away with it.”

I stopped and hugged Daddy. “Thank you for standing up for me, Daddy.”

Daddy hugged me back and then we continued to walk toward the shop. “I think we should leave early today,” he said as Jackson skipped into the shop. “You know . . . just in case.”

“I’m not about to change my routine for him, Daddy. Go on back to work and I will see you at five. I’ll call you if I need you.”

My hand trembled as I closed the door, watching Daddy walk back to his office, listening to Jackson play with his trucks behind me, hoping Marion had been right and Hank had actually left town.

Fiction Thursday: ‘A New Beginning’ Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

 


Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bad news?” I asked.

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

“Oh.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you like him or what?” Sam asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I stepped past him, my eyes on the table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” I said. “That’s good.”

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

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

“I can tell,” I said.

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

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

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

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

“I really I am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, you’re no fun.”

I flinched when he laid his hand against my arm.

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

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

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

“Was Emmy the only one concerned for me?”

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

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

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

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

Fiction Thursday: ‘A New Beginning’ Chapter 16

I don’t know about you, but the news has been depressing lately me (what? You couldn’t tell by my post yesterday? Ha!). I’m doing my best to avoid it, but sometimes it can’t be helped and it filters in. To try to offset the depressing news, I thought I’d offer a distraction by sharing an extra chapter this week, although this chapter may start a little depressing, it will end on a happy note. Chapter 17 will be on the blog tomorrow for Fiction Friday.

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

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


Chapter 16

Sam’s left eye was swollen shut and bruises spread out from under the bandages around his middle. An IV stretched from a bag of fluid to his arm and an oxygen cannula was pressed under his nose, the hose hooked over his ears.

Sitting on a chair across from his bed I watched him sleep and thought about the first time Emmy had told me about meeting him. She’d called me when I was still with Hank, gushing about the boy with the brown hair and dark eyes, the strong jawline and determination to become a police officer. She’d met him at the small community college an hour from home and at first, he’d only asked if she’d like to study history with him. From that point on I heard stories about his hand accidentally touching hers and how it had made her feel, long looks into each other’s eyes and, finally, Sam asking her if she’d have coffee with him.

The afternoon of their wedding the rain fell hard and heavy on the roof of the church, almost drowning out their voices as they said their vows, but unable to mask the smiles on their faces or the look of adoration in Emmy’s eyes at each word Sam uttered. Emmy had always been worried about Sam’s job and the danger it put him in and now here she was with those fears being realized.

Dark circles streaked the skin under his eyes, his face almost as pale as the sheets on the hospital bed. I ached to hear his laughter and see his eyes light up when he shared one of his latest work-related escapades.

“Oh, Sam . . .”

Emmy’s voice was soft behind me and I stood to take the wheelchair from the nurse. The nurse nodded sympathetically and patted my arm as she turned to leave.

“I think he looks worse today than yesterday,” Emmy said, tears rimming her eyes.

“You know bruises always look worse the second day,” I told her, helping her into the chair next to the bed.

Emmy slid her hand into Sam’s, watching him closely as he slept. His fingers were limp against her palm as she lifted his hand and kissed the back of it.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” she asked. “Having a baby and watching your husband recover from being shot all the span of a few days? It seems like a wonderful dream and a horrible nightmare rolled into one.”

I touched the top of Emmy’s head, leaned over and kissed it, then hugged her close. We’d been friends since seventh grade when she had moved here from North Carolina; as close as sisters, spending nights together giggling about our favorite actors, sometimes our favorite book characters. Looking at her now it was hard to imagine her as the innocent preteen, laying on her back on her bed, her dark hair spread out over the pink bedspread, wondering if she’d ever get married or have children.

She was more like Edith and most other girls. I was always the odd one out, rarely considering a future of marriage or children. None of that interested me. A domesticated life with a good man seemed so foreign and unattainable to me. Not to mention I wasn’t really fond of young children as a preteen or teen. The only future I pondered was full of exploring, learning and reading, maybe even travel. I daydreamed about big adventures far from home while Emmy and Edith filled scrapbooks with wedding ideas and window shopped for wedding dresses.

“It’s going to be okay, Emmy,” I told her as she cried against me.

She nodded, unable to speak between the sobs. I wasn’t sure why I had told her it was going to be okay when I really wasn’t sure it was going to be okay.

“What has the doctor said?”

Emmy leaned back in the wheelchair and reached for a tissue next to the bed. She wiped her eyes and face with it.

“He said there’s still a chance there has been spinal cord damage. The bullet was so close to that area. It could be weeks before we know for sure if he will be able to walk again.” Fresh tears slipped down her cheeks. “Or we could know within days. Whenever he wakes up.”

I helped Emmy back to her room before I left the hospital, passing her mother and Sam’s parents on my way out. After quick hugs and updates, I sat in Daddy’s car with my hands on the steering wheel, feeling selfish as I pondered if I would ever have a connection with someone the way Emmy did with Sam. I’d never really had that connection with Hank. Our connection was more physical than emotional and though I longed for the physical connection with a man again, I ached almost more for an emotional one.

I pushed the thoughts aside, closing my eyes and saying a prayer for Sam before I pulled back onto the road to head toward home.

***

“The mother was a junkie,” Edith said slowly as she picked at the edge of the tablecloth in our parent’s dining room. “The agency said she has been in rehab and picked us to adopt her baby. They want us to go down to meet her.”

Mama took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, okay… how do you two feel about this?”

Jimmy reached over and gently held Edith’s hand. They smiled at each other, tears rimming Edith’s eyes.

“We’ve been praying and we think it’s what we should do,” Edith said softly.

“But we’re still nervous,” Jimmy admitted. “The birth mother could change her mind at any point before the adoption is finalized. And with this being an open adoption — well, we aren’t sure what involvement the mother will have, but at this point, the agent we are working with said she isn’t interested in any involvement. She’s simply too young to be a mother.”

I knew Mama well enough to know her furrowed eyebrows and downcast eyes were caused by worry that Edith and Jimmy might have to face the unimaginable pain of having the child taken from them if the mother changed her mind.

Still, I also knew our parents would support my sister and Jimmy in whatever decision they made.

“We will be praying,” Daddy said, reaching across the table to take Edith’s hands in his. “We all know you two are going to be amazing parents.”

Edith let out a shaky breath. “I hope so, Daddy.”

“We know so,” Mama said brightly. “Now, no more of that worrying and wondering. I’m excited to be a grandma again so let’s just cast down all imaginations and bring all thoughts captive to Christ like our favorite verse says.”

Mama smiled and pushed a piece of pie across the table at Edith. “Now, eat some more pie and let’s make this a celebration!”

Laughter broke out around the table as I stood to answer a knock at the door.

“Sorry I’m late,” Marion said standing in the doorway.

Her smile was broad, her skin appearing younger than I’d ever seen it. She walked inside and I helped her take her coat off. “Stanley and I went for some coffee after church and I lost track of time.”

“Stanley, huh?” Mama called from the dining room. “Come on in here, Marion and fill us in on how things are going!”

Marion’s cheeks were flushed and she sheepishly smiled as we walked into the dining room.

“Grandma!” Jackson rushed toward her and tossed his arms around her waist.

Marion kissed the top of his head. “Hey, sweet boy. What are you up to today?”

Jackson looked up at her with bright green eyes and grinned. “Grandma, Aunt Edith says you have a new boyfriend. Am I going to have another grandpa soon?”

While my face burned with embarrassment, Marion tipped her head back and laughed heartily, hugging Jackson to her.

“Oh, my boy,” she giggled like a young woman. “You are so funny and smart. But let’s not rush anything. Stanley is a good friend and that’s all for now, okay?”

Jackson sighed. “Okay, Grandma, but I don’t like you over at that house being all lonely. I think you need a man to keep you company.”

My family snickered at my son’s words while I stood in bewilderment wondering who had indoctrinated my child to believe a woman needed a man to survive, but also finding it sweet he was concerned about his grandmother’s potential loneliness.

“Jackson, I think it’s time to go sit have some of Grandma’s pie and let the adults talk now,” I told him, kissing his cheek.

He sighed again. “Okay, Mama, but I swear, you just never let me have any fun.”

Mama’s face was red with laughter when we sat back at the table. “Oh, Blanche, this child’s sass is total payback for the attitude you gave your daddy and me when you were growing up.”

Daddy grinned. “And it’s so sweet to watch.”

“Why don’t you two just eat your pie and interrogate Marion about Stanley and leave me out of it?” I laughed.

After dessert, I walked Marion to her car, sliding leftovers Mama had packed for her onto the passenger side seat.

“So, you’re enjoying your time with Stanley?” I asked.

Marion leaned back against the closed driver side door of the car and looked out at the sun setting, the orange glow pouring across her face almost like a spotlight. Her smile was peaceful, wistful even.

“He’s much different than I ever expected, Blanche. Much different that you probably expected too. He’s gentle and thoughtful, calls during the day to check on me. Sure, he’s a little rough around the edges about some things, after all these years in newspapers but it hasn’t jaded him the way I thought it would have. He lost his wife you know.”

“Yes, Thomas told me.”

“He really loved her and at first he was afraid to talk about her, but I let him know it was okay. I wish I could have met her.” Marion laughed and shook her head. “Although I guess that would be awkward now that I’m dating her husband. I hope she would have liked me – if she had met me.”

“You just used the word dating,” I teased.

Even in the fading glow of the sunset, I could see the red flushed across her cheeks. She pressed her hand to her mouth and giggled like a young girl.

“Oh, I did, didn’t I?”

I felt awkward asking my ex-mother-in-law about her dating life but, at the same time, I couldn’t seem to stop my curiosity.

“So… has he kissed you?”

Marion laughed and looked away for a moment then back at me with a broad smile.

“Yes, and it was wonderful.”

I hugged her and we laughed together, the warmth of the sun still on us.

“Oh, Blanche,” she leaned back to look at me. “There can be love again after heartache and hurt. I want you to know that. I want you to know there will be love again one day. Pure, gentle love. Not every man is hard and hurtful. There are good men out there. Don’t be afraid to love again someday, okay?”

I laid my hand against the face of the woman Hank’s father had bruised with his fists many times and saw in her eyes genuine joy, joy I hoped I could have within myself someday. I nodded to let her know I understood her message to me, hugged her again and opened the car door for her.

Standing in the driveway long after she left, I watched the sun slip behind the hill, an orange and pink glow spreading along the horizon’s edge. I basked in the happiness I had felt radiating off her when I finally walked back to the house, letting it carry me through the rest of the evening.