Fiction Friday: Mercy’s Shore (The Shores of Mercy) Chapter 6

This is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, and after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE.

Chapter 6

Judi turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of the parking space in front of her apartment abruptly, barely giving herself time to check the side mirrors.

She was late. As usual.

Her sister Ellie had invited her to supper at the farmhouse ten miles outside of town and that supper was set to start in ten minutes.

Judi glanced at the clock on her dashboard. Make that seven minutes.

Apparently, Judi was never going to become organized like Ellie, no matter how hard she tried. Was it her fault that her favorite Brad Pitt movie had come on while she was finishing straightening her hair? Or that her ice cream had melted on the coffee table, and she had rushed to clean it up before it dried?

Okay, yes. All those things were technically her fault, because if she’d been paying attention to the clock, she wouldn’t have been distracted by either of them. But Brad Pitt. Come on. She had such little excitement left in her life anymore. She had to have some enjoyment.

She appreciated her sister helping her work out a deal with the landlord for the apartment she now lived in, allowing Judi to take over the two-year lease Ellie had signed when she’d thought she and Jason weren’t getting married.

What a mess that engagement had been. Judi still couldn’t figure Ellie out sometimes. While she’d comforted Ellie before she and Jason worked things out, Judi still felt Ellie’s reason for being mad at Jason was dumb.

In high school Ellie and Jason had promised they’d be each other’s first. First as in first person they slept with. They’d taken a break in college, though, so Jason had been tempted and slept with a girl on campus. Yeah, so Jason waited almost nine years to tell Ellie about it and dragged his feet on proposing because he’d been dreading telling her, but still — Judi didn’t get it. It wasn’t like Jason slept with the girl when he and Ellie were a couple.

Judi shrugged at the memory of her sister’s dilemma as she watched the town setting fade into farmland and wide open spaces, trees slowly becoming green after a long winter and cornfields almost ready to be planted.

Ellie was much more old-fashioned than Judi. Way more old fashioned.

Okay, so it would be nice if she met a guy one day and they were both each other’s first but for Judi that ship had already sailed. There was no going back to redo that.

First there was that one time in high school and it almost set sail again that night with Jeff. The only difference with Jeff was it wouldn’t have been her choice. She winced at the memory of that night with Jeff and then at the memory of the high school interaction. The high school one had been seriously awkward, emotionally and physically uncomfortable, and definitely not what she thought it was going to be at all. It was something she had never told Ellie about, and she never wanted to.

There was a part of her that felt guilt about it all, but what good would it do to sit and feel guilt about something she couldn’t go back and change? It had happened, she had regretted it and wished she’d waited for someone more special, someone who hadn’t moved out of the area a month later, but such was life. Everyone had regrets but not everyone had to be like Ellie and let those regrets weigh them down for years on end.

There were a lot of people who were surprised when they found out she was related to Ellie and not only because they didn’t have the same hair color. Of course, Judi’s blond hair wasn’t natural. She’d started dying it in high school to be different from her sister. It had once been almost as dark brown as Ellie, but her hair had always featured a few more blond streaks.

People were surprised they were sisters because she and Ellie were so different in their personalities and how they looked at life. Judi didn’t dwell on past mistakes or worry about the future like Ellie, and she felt that was okay. Pushing back thoughts about her past helped her move toward the future and so far, that strategy was working well for her.

She pulled in front of Judi’s farmhouse fifteen minutes late and noticed there was already a black pickup parked next to Jason’s gray pickup and Ellie’s small blue sedan. That meant Alex Stone, Jason’s best friend, and Molly, Jason’s sister, had also been invited.  

Wonderful.

Always fun to be the fifth wheel.

Wherever Molly was, Alex wasn’t far behind, especially after the two had started dating more than a year ago.

The farmhouse was small, but attractive, especially after Jason and Alex had started fixing it up with new siding and shutters after the wedding. Winter had paused their renovations, but Judi was sure they’d be starting the improvements again as spring continued. Prior to Jason and Ellie moving in, the house had been a bachelor pad for Alex and Jason.

Glancing at her phone as she reached for it, she noticed Rachel had tried to reach her again. She knew it was to talk about the situation with Jerry the other night at the meeting, but she didn’t want to talk about it. Jerry was weird and that was all there was to it. She wasn’t going to drink herself into oblivion because some old guy who couldn’t get his life together didn’t like her.

“Nice ride!”

She looked up as she climbed out of the car and saw Alex sitting on the porch railing, jean clad legs hanging over it, a soda in one hand.

“Yep! It is.”

Alex pushed his familiar black cowboy hat back off his forehead and tipped his head up, revealing a rugged, unshaven jawline. Sunlight flickered across his blue eyes. “How much are the payments on it?”

Judi reached for her purse and shook her head, her back to Alex. Men and cars, so predictable.

“Too much,” she answered as shut the door of the small red compact sports car she’d purchased when she was still living in the city.

The payments were too much. She wasn’t just offering a smooth retort. If she didn’t find a more lucrative job soon the car was going to go the way of her fancy New York City apartment and designer clothes shopping habit — into the category of how life used to be.

She couldn’t help but notice Alex’s well-toned arms as she walked up the steps toward the front door. A black t shirt with an image of country singer Clint Black emblazoned on the front was stretched against his chest and biceps, which were nowhere near as large as Jason’s, but much larger than they had been when he’d first moved to Spencer Valley almost seven years ago to work with Jason on the farm.

There weren’t many men in this small, rural area who had muscles as large, or a body as toned as Jason’s, much to Judi’s disappointment. Not that she ogled Jason, since he was her brother-in-law and, in some ways, almost like a brother to her since she’d known him practically her entire life.

Alex jerked his head toward the front door. “You’re just in time. Ellie’s about to put the food on the table.”

“Oh good, then hopefully I’ll avoid a scolding about being late.” Judi smiled to let Alex know she was teasing.

She and Ellie had been at each other’s throats for a number of years, always bickering or verbal poking at each other, but last year that had all changed when Judi thought her sister had died in a car accident driving a drunk Brad Tanner back to his house.

It wasn’t that there weren’t still days the two snipped at each other, but it definitely wasn’t at the intensity it had once been. Judi couldn’t seem to put her sarcastic and biting remarks completely behind her, though, a habit she knew was left over from the days when her jealousy of Ellie had consumed her. That jealousy still remained but it floated on calmer waters now, speckled with a healthy dose of admiration for her older sister.

Inside the house, Ellie was being the perfect housewife. She wasn’t technically a house wife since she worked as a preschool teacher four days a week and the rest of the time either helped Jason on the farm or at the farm store.

“Hey!” Ellie set a bowl down on the table and reached out her arms as soon as she saw Judi enter the dining room, enveloping her in a quick, but firm hug. Judi had pulled away from hugs from her sister for years and was trying her best to get used to them now. She did her best to return the hug and not be as awkward as she used to be.

Ellie had pulled her chestnut brown hair back in a tight ponytail and she was dressed more casual than normal, sporting a pair of black capris and a light blue crew neck blouse. Judi was used to seeing her wearing a button up shirt or a sweater, khaki pants, and dress shoes for work. Ellie didn’t dress down very often, though she had relaxed considerably since getting married.

Ellie gestured toward the table as she turned to go back into the kitchen. “So glad you had a night off and could join us. Go ahead and grab a seat.”

Molly walked in from the kitchen with a salad and set it on the table. Her long, curly, reddish-brown hair was hanging loose and she was wearing loose fitting shirt and a pair of blue jean shorts.

Second to Ellie, Molly was someone Judi wished she could be like. Molly had always been sweet and cheerful, no matter what life threw at her. She’d struggled with her weight for years and Judi didn’t envy that, however. Looking good in a designer shirt and pair of jeans was more important to Judi than being sweet.

The table was full of fried chicken, sweet potatoes, salad, green beans, and homemade biscuits. All of it was food Judi knew she shouldn’t be eating, but it looked good, and she knew, based on her sister’s cooking talent, that it would taste good too.

After a prayer from Jason, they began passing food and Alex and Jason began talking about the farm, the continuing expansion of the Tanner’s farm store, and an upcoming inspection of the Tanner’s bottling plant.

Judi was fine with them talking amongst themselves. It meant she didn’t have to share about her week.

“Judi. You’ve been quite tonight. How was your week?”

Well, it was nice while it lasted.  Why did Ellie feel she had to include her in everything? Including the conversation.

“It was okay.” She shoved a bite of sweet potato in her mouth, hoping this would satisfy her sister, but knowing it wouldn’t.

“So, is it true you pulled out in front of Ben Oliver last week before he hit a tree?”

She glared over her glass of water at Alex as she took a drink. His good looks didn’t make up for that big mouth of his. She would have asked how he even knew about the accident, but then she remembered he was currently staying with Matt McGee, who’d obviously blabbed her personal business one morning over coffee.

Ellie looked up from her plate, eyes wide. “Did you have an accident? Are you okay? Why didn’t you call?”

Judi focused her scowl on Alex. “Thank you, Alex. So appreciative you blabbed that.” Thanks to him Ellie was peppering her with concerned questions and soon her phone would be blowing up with the same questions from her parents.

Alex grinned as he reached for the plate of chicken. “No problem. Always here to help.”

She looked at Ellie, purposely tipping her head away from Alex and wishing she hadn’t given up flipping people off in an effort to be a kinder, gentler Judi. She made sure to speak in a matter of fact one to deflect any deeper questions.

“I’m fine. The car’s fine. He swerved to miss me and hit the tree.”

She reached across the table for the plate of chicken sitting next to Alex, being sure to shoot him another annoyed scowl. His return smirk and wink was infuriating.

“Was he okay?” Ellie asked, concerning etching her brow.

“Yeah, he’s fine,” Judi said around a mouthful of chicken. “He has a concussion and a broken ankle. He’s out of the hospital, though. I saw him at the AA meeting last night.”

When her phone rang, she reached for her purse and pulling it out she checked the caller ID.  She didn’t recognize the number so she sent it to voicemail and dropped the phone back into the purse.

Molly reached for the pitcher of tea and poured a glass. “That’s great to know he was at an AA meeting. I know he’s been sober for a couple of years but it’s good to stay connected somewhere.”

Judi raised an eyebrow. “Ben’s a recovering alcoholic?”

The color from Molly’s face visibly drained. “Oh. I thought that he — I mean, I thought he must have shared that at the meeting.”

Judi shook her head slowly. “No. He didn’t. He was there to support a client. The guy with him said he’d had experience with AA meetings though. I didn’t know what he meant.”

She also hadn’t stayed to find out since she’d wanted to get as far away from discussions about Jerry’s blow up on her as possible.

She was surprised that Molly knew so much about the guy who had dumped her in high school to date Easy Angie. Apparently, they had talked since Ben moved back to the area.

Molly swallowed hard. “I probably shouldn’t have shared that.”

Judi shrugged and stabbed at a piece of lettuce with her fork. “Doesn’t matter to me. I’m not going to tell him you said anything. We didn’t exactly hit it off after the accident, so I don’t plan on interacting with him on a regular basis.”

Molly cleared her throat and managed a faint smile. “Thanks. I don’t know if all of that is common knowledge or not and I hate him to think I violated his privacy somehow.”

Judi snorted a laugh. “It’s nice of you to worry about him because it’s not like he worried too much about you when he dumped you in high school for that Angie Phillipi.”

“Judi!”

Ah, there it was. Ellie’s familiar scolding tone.

Judi didn’t even bother to look up from her plate and see Ellie’s raised eyebrows. “What? It’s true. He was a total jerk to Molly. Everyone knows it.”

Alex leaned back in his chair and slid an arm around Molly’s shoulder. “Good thing he was too, or I might have had to steal Molly away from him.” He winked as Judi looked up. Judi rolled her eyes and resisted the urge to gag.

“Besides, Ben and I had a good talk about that, and he did apologize,” Molly added. “It was high school. We all do stupid things in high school.”

Judi knew Molly didn’t know about all the stupid things she’d done in high school, but the comment felt like a small kick in the gut or at least a pinch in the arm. She wasn’t about to sit and dwell on why the comment bothered her, though. Life was too short to look in the rearview mirror.

“That’s good to hear,” she said instead, looking at Molly. “Really. I always thought that was totally crappy of him. You were way better than Angie ever was.”

Molly tipped her head to one side and smiled. “Thank you, Judi. That’s sweet. It did hurt but his apology helped a lot.”

“Whatever happened to Angie anyhow?” Jason asked standing with his empty plate and heading toward the kitchen.

“Last I heard her parents moved down to Lancaster,” Ellie said. “I’m not sure where Angie ended up though.”

Judi picked up her plate and carried it into the kitchen as Jason walked back toward the dining room. “You know who else was at the meeting?” She didn’t wait for an answer to her inquiry. “Brad.”

Jason scoffed on his way by her. “That’s a shock. Doubt he’ll stick with it.”

Judi placed her plate in the open dishwasher, tempted to set it in backward to drive her Obsessive Compulsive  sister crazy, but finally deciding against it. “Me too, honestly,” she called over her shoulder. “But no one thought I’d stick with it this long either.”

“I thought he’d move back to the city after the accident, actually,” Jason said as Judi walked back into the dining room. “Instead, I have to see him every day at work.”

Judi laughed as she sat back down. “Same here.”

“Is he a big of an idiot there as he is everywhere else?” Jason asked as Ellie sat a stack of small plates on the table.

“Of course, he is,” Judi responded with an eye roll.

Ellie placed a pie in the center of the table, which Judi knew was made from scratch by her sister, from the crust to the filling.

 Ellie began to cut the pie.  “Hey, who knows. Maybe he’s finally growing up. This could be a good thing. Instead of mocking him, we should be praying for him.”

Judi felt a familiar sarcastic retort on the tip of her tongue, one that would ridicule Ellie’s tendency to turn everything into a Bible lesson. She held the comment in, though, knowing Ellie was being her genuinely sweet self by offering the suggestion.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting about topics other than the lives of all the alcoholics the Lamberts and Tanners knew.

Judi didn’t look at her phone again until she was in the car, ready to drive home. She clicked on the play button from the voicemail left by the unfamiliar number as she pulled out onto the dirt road in front of the house.

“Hello, Miss Lambert. My name is Brent Decker and I’m an attorney from New York City. I’m hoping you can get back to me at your earliest convenience on a matter involving a Jeffery Brock.”

Judi pushed the off button on the phone before the man left his phone number.

She was not returning that phone call.

Jeff Brock was one of those regrets she didn’t intend to let weigh her down and what had happened with him was another incident she intended to leave in her rearview.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 6 & 7

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Hey, Mama.”

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

“Hey, squirt. What are you doing?”

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

“That sounds fun.”

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

“How are you liking school?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chocolate chip?”

“What other kind is there?”

“Cool.”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Why not? What do you have to lose?”

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

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


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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 1

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

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

You can find links to each chapter HERE, or at the top of the page.


 

Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Five years later I could still vividly remember the moment I broke Hank Hakes’ nose with my foot after he broke mine with his fist. I still heard the sick crunch of his bones under my heel like it was yesterday and could still clearly see in my mind his glazed eyes before they closed and his face fell into a pool of blood on the carpet.

I knew if I didn’t remember how Hank had beat me and I had fought back, I might let my walls down, and then my son and I would be left vulnerable again. I wasn’t about to let that happen.

Maybe that’s why I was so uncomfortable when my best friend Emmy Lambert said she couldn’t wait for me to meet her cousin from North Carolina. The truth was, I had met J.T. Waignwright years before, when we were both children, and the memory wasn’t one that overwhelmed with me an interest to meet him again. He’d been a scrawny kid with big ears, messy brown hair, and freckles all over his dirt-smudged nose. He had also been loud, obnoxious and downright rude. Imagining that in a 27-year-old man wasn’t making the meeting any more appealing for me.

“This isn’t an attempt to set you up, Blanche, I promise,” Emmy insisted. “J.T. is moving up to work with daddy in his construction business and I just want to introduce him to some people up here. I’ve invited your sister and brother-in-law and your parents too.”

I finally agreed to attend the dinner, hoping Emmy would change the subject.

Emmy tapped her finger against her chin, her eyes focused on the ceiling. “But, if I was setting you up, J.T. would definitely be a good one. He’s handsome, well-built, a former football player, and Southern, which is always a plus. . . .”

I knew Emmy had added the Southern reference because she was originally from North Carolina as well.

“Emmy, you know I’m not interested in dating anyone.”

“Okay. Okay. I was just saying…in case you change your mind.”

“I can assure you, I won’t, Emmy.”

Emmy sighed. “Blanche, you have to get back on the dating horse some day.”

“Do I really? Jackson and I are happy the way things are now. We don’t need anyone messing things up for us.”

“But what if a man simply adds to your happiness? Not every man is like Hank, you know.”

I handed Emmy the papers Daddy had asked me to drop off for Emmy’s father and smiled. “That’s something we can discuss another time. I’m meeting Edith back at the shop for a dress fitting.”

Stepping out onto the street into the sunlight I paused and smiled, shaking my head as I laughed at how Emmy had tried to “sell me” on her cousin. I knew she meant well and wanted to see me happy, but I was among the few in my life who didn’t feel I needed a man to make me happy.

Not long after my conversation with Emmy, I was in my small sewing shop with my older sister while she tried on the dress I had made her.

“Oh, Blanche! I just love the dress!”

Edith twirled in front of me, the bottom of the dress swirling around her in a blur of dark red.

She slid her hands down the front and resting them on her hips, she admired herself in the full-length mirror. “Do you think Jimmy will like it?”

I stuck the pin I had been holding between my lips into the pincushion next to the sewing table and stood, admiring the view of my older sister filling out the dress I’d made for her. I didn’t have to look at how it fit her to know her husband was going to love the dress she was wearing.

“He likes anything you wear, you know that. You could wear a garbage bag and he’d fall all over himself trying to get to you.”

Edith tipped her head back and laughed, dark curls spilling across her bare shoulders. “You think so? Even with all this weight I have on my hips?”

“I know so.”

Edith turned, admired herself in the mirror by looking back over her shoulder, eyes traveling down below her waist.

“It doesn’t make my – “

“Your bottom is fine,” I said with a laugh. “But I can loosen the fabric a little in that area if you like.”

Edith wrinkled her nose and tipped her head to one side as she studied her reflection. “Nah, I think this is going to work fine for our anniversary dinner. More than fine. You’ve done such a beautiful job, Blanche. Thank you so much.”

Edith had always been beautiful, but she never seemed to believe it. As a teen and young adult, she’d always needed some sort of reassurance that she was beautiful and wanted. At one time in our lives that reassurance came from the attention of boys – lots of boys. But six years ago, Edith began to see herself through the eyes of someone more important than the next boy in line – God. When she realized God loved her for who she was – faults and all – her opinion of herself shifted and she began to understand that she was loved – not for what she did or how she looked, but for who she was inside. Even with that realization Edith still had days she worried about her appearance. What was different now was that she worried exclusively about how one specific person saw her – her husband, and one-time high school sweetheart, Jimmy Sickler.

I unfurled a roll of fabric, spreading it across the cutting table. “Allie Davenport wants a summer dress in this fabric, what do you think?”

Edith snorted, tipped her chin up slightly and looked at herself in the mirror, pulling the top of the dress slightly down to reveal her shoulders

“I think Allie should worry more about the fact that everyone in town knows she’s running around behind Larry’s back with Jason Taylor than a summer dress.”

“Edith! That’s awful!”

“I know it’s awful. Larry proposed to her only a month ago – she’s going to break his heart.”

Edith had changed a lot since we were children, especially after she had started attending church more and even more so when she married Jimmy, but she still possessed a tendency to gossip and judge.

“God’s still working on me,” she liked to remind me.

I knew what she meant. God had been working on me as well in the last five years and he still had a lot of work to do. There were many days I looked at myself in the mirror, measuring tape hanging around my neck, pencil tucked behind my ear, and laughed at the irony of someone who had once hated sewing now working as a dressmaker. As a teenager, I couldn’t thread a needle, let alone create an entire fashionable outfit for the women in town or hem pants for the men. While I had once silently cursed the idea of attending sewing classes with my mom and sister, sewing was now supporting me and my 6-year old son Jackson.

“So, why do you think Emmy wants you to meet her cousin?” Edith asked, still admiring the dress in the mirror.

“She says she just wants to reintroduce him to us so he knows some people in town now that he’s moved up here to work with her dad,” I said. “But she’s probably like everyone else who thinks Blanche needs a man to fix her life.”

Edith frowned as she turned to look at me, then pursed her lips together in a disapproving expression. “Everyone? I’ve never said you need a man to fix you, so not everyone says that.”

I sighed as I folded the fabric for Allie’s dress and laid it on a shelf behind me. “Well, Mama and Daddy and Emmy then. Not you. Still, I don’t know why they all don’t understand that I like life the way it is right now. I’m content. Jackson is happy. We’re doing well.”

Edith folded her arms and leaned back against the sewing table, a smile tugging at her lips. “And you don’t have to let anyone in and risk being hurt again. Good plan.”

I playfully tossed a rolled-up piece of tissue paper at her. “Hush your mouth, as Emmy always says.”

Edith laughed. ‘Well, it’s true and you know it is.”

The front door to the shop opened and our father stepped inside, briefcase in hand, grinning as he saw Edith trying to reach to unzip the dress from behind.

“Well, you look nice, Edith,” he said. “Special occasion?”

Edith smirked and shook her head, tugging at the zipper. “Daddy…you know it’s Jimmy and my anniversary next week.”

“Oh? Is it? You’ve only mentioned it ten times in the last few days. I must have forgot.”

Edith playfully slapped her hand against Daddy’s shoulder as she walked past him toward the changing room. “Very funny, Daddy.”

“You ready to head home, kid?” he asked me. “Mama’s making fried chicken for dinner and I bet she’d love a break from that crazy kid of yours.”

I laughed, knowing my mama never called my son crazy and loved the days she was able to spend with him, playing with him, cooking him lunch and helping him prepare for Kindergarten, which he would start attending in a few months.

“I’m anxious to see him,” I said, gathering my measuring tape, scissors, and extra thread spools and shoving them in the top drawer of the sewing table. “But I doubt Mama wants a break from him.”

Daddy smiled. “I have to agree. She does love that boy.”

Edith stepped out of the dressing room in a button-up pink shirt and a flared light blue skirt, hooking her long, curly hair into a ponytail. “Speaking of being anxious to see someone, I’ve got a husband to head home to and cook up some dinner for.”

She hugged me quickly and kissed Daddy’s cheek. “Thanks again, Blanche. I’ll swing by next week to pick it up. I don’t want Jimmy to see it until that night.”

Locking the door to the shop, I thought about how I’d spent the first year after my divorce floundering, trying to get my footing as a single mom at the age of 20. I stayed home with Mama, helping her cook and clean and care for Jackson, but rarely left home, even for church, keeping myself emotionally locked up in the solitude of shame. Eventually, I took a part-time job at the library, began attending church again and visiting the sewing circle meetings with Mama on Wednesday nights. I also started writing a column for the local newspaper.

I’d left the library job when Doris Thompson asked me if I’d be interested in helping her in the sewing shop. I agreed and a year later Doris semi-retired, working three days a week at first and then one day. Six months ago, she’d signed the business over to me and remained on as landlord only, collecting a reasonable monthly rent from me.

“I have to stop and drop my column off to Stanley before we head out,” I called to Daddy over my shoulder, walking down the sidewalk and sliding a folded stack of papers out of my handbag.

Daddy grunted and looked disgusted as he opened the driver’s side door. “I’ll wait for you in the car. I can only feign politeness for so long with that man.”

I grinned as I walked, remembering Daddy’s dinner rant a few months ago about editor Stanley Jasper’s editorial about the war in Vietnam.

“What’s that fool even talking about, saying we should get involved in the conflict over there?” Daddy said, fuming as he read the paper. “There is no way we should be sending our boys over there. Who does that man think he is? Moves in here from the city and then acts like he knows it all. I am telling you – I have half a mind to go into that office and tell that editor what an ignoramus he is.”

And Daddy did go into the newspaper office, but he came out even angrier than when he’d gone in. Stanley’s name was off-limits most days and Daddy wasn’t thrilled with me submitting a column to the newspaper but said maybe my lifestyle column would help to offset the drivel Stanley typed out on the opinion page each Sunday.

The newspaper office was buzzing with the noise of reporters on the phone, typewriter keys clicking, the press in the back running, and sports reporters commenting on the latest home run by Mickey Mantel.

“Latest column, Blanche?”

Reporter Jerry Simms looked up from his typewriter, sliding a pencil behind his ear. He jerked his head toward Stanley’s office door on the other side of the office. “You know the drill. Hand it to Stanley so he knows it’s here.”

Stanley wasn’t originally from Dalton. He’d grown up in Philadelphia and was a transplant, referred to by many in the county as a “flatlander,” a term used affectionately when people agreed with him and with a sneer when they disagreed with him.

Stanley’s brown hair was speckled with gray and disheveled, as usual. His jawline was unshaven, circles darkened the skin under his eyes, and his clothes were wrinkled, his shirt untucked.  He was sitting where he usually was when I come in to drop off my column, behind his desk in the middle of a cloud of cigar smoke. Leaning back in a large leather chair, his feet were propped on top of the desk, a sheet of paper in one hand, the cigar in the other. He moved the paper to one side as I stepped inside the door and stuffed the cigar in the corner of his mouth.

“Good column last week, Blanche,” he said around the cigar. “I never thought I’d get so caught up in the story of a pregnant cat.” He shrugged and pulled the cigar from his mouth, holding it between his index finger and thumb. “Small town people eat that stuff up. Who knew?”

I wasn’t sure if the comment about small-town people was meant to be a compliment but I chose to accept it as one since it was as close as Stanley was probably going to get about a column he saw as “soft news.” In journalism lingo, soft news was considered low priority and traditionally thought of as inferior to the harder news. From what I could see, though, it was often the “soft news” that created more of a buzz at the local diner in a small town each morning.

“Well, this week we have an update on the cat and her kittens,” I said. “I’m sure the small-town folk you speak of will love that too.”

The newspaper’s typesetter Minnie Wilkes sashayed her way into the office and snatched the column from the top of Stanley’s desk.

She turned and looked at me with bright green eyes and long, dark eyelashes, made even darker by heavy, black eyeliner and brown eye shadow. “Hey, Blanche. I love typesetting your column. It’s way more interesting than the political stuff Stanley writes.”

Stanley rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Minnie. Your opinion is duly noted, though not asked for.”

Minnie winked at me as she walked out of the office again.

Stanley stuffed the cigar back in his mouth and moved the stack of papers he was holding back in front of his face.

“Keep up the folksy stuff, Blanche. It sells papers. And that’s what we’re in the business of doing, selling papers.”

Outside the office, standing in the sunlight I looked out at the town I’d gone to high school in and sighed. In front of me was the town square, a gazebo in the middle of it. Behind it was one of the oldest banks in the state, Community State Bank, and next to the bank was the Dalton Theatre, built-in 1893 and only slightly renovated since then. Down the other end of the street next to me was Bert’s Pharmacy and a few blocks over was Holden’s Supermarket. Across the street from the supermarket was the post office and two blocks away from the post office was the building where I’d spent many of my days after school, waiting for Daddy to finish at the office and drive us home  – The Dalton Public Library.

I’d never felt like I’d fit in at school or in this town and that feeling was even more prominent after I’d left Hank and returned. There were days I was sure I could feel the judging eyes of people on me when I walked into Bert’s Pharmacy or Holden’s Supermarket when really the feeling was probably something I’d conjured up in my own mind. Since coming home I had earned a General Education Diploma, started attending church again, was running my own business, writing for the local paper, and slowly working my way back into the community.

I still struggled with feeling out of place, still kept my eyes downcast most of the time, but more and more I was able to raise my eyes and see kind expressions and nods of greeting. It was beginning to feel like maybe I wasn’t the outcast I’d always thought I was.

“So, Blanche. . .”

Anytime Daddy started a sentence with “So, Blanche. . .” I knew he was about to suggest something I needed to do or should have done.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been thinking . . .”

I knew then the conversation was going to be an uncomfortable one. A ‘So, Blanche’ and an ‘I’ve been thinking….’ in less than thirty seconds? This was going to be interesting.

“Yes?”

“I think I should teach you how to drive so you can have a little more freedom.”

I let my breath out in a heavy sigh.

“You’re almost 25, Blanche,” Daddy continued. “You’ve been home five years now. I don’t mind driving you where you need to go, but I think it’s time you start, you know, spreading your wings a little bit, gaining some independence. I love having you and Jackson living with us, you know that but someday, well, you will – or you could – you might – meet someone and . . .”

“Daddy . . .”

“Well, you might. I mean there are plenty of eligible, good men in this county and it is possible you will, you know . . . Ah. You might want to drive out and meet him somewhere or – “

I could tell Daddy was nervous by the high number of “you knows” he was uttering. I knew he and Mama were “old school” and felt Jackson needed both a father and a mother, but I wasn’t willing to marry someone just to look good to others or fulfill my parents’ wish that I be a married mother instead of a single one.

It was hard for me to believe it had been five years since I had left Hank and returned home with a one-year-old on my hip and a heart full of hurt.  In the same way, I could remember the night I fought back, I could still hear the gunshot echoing in my parents’ house the night I thought Daddy had killed Hank.

“Y-you could have killed me, you crazy old man!” Hank had sputtered in disbelief, looking at the ground in front of his feet in shock.

“I could have, and I still can,” Daddy told him. “Now go before I have to.”

When the taillights faded into the darkness that night I closed my eyes against the tears and wondered if Hank would try to come back again someday. He never did. His mama told me one day when I took Jackson to see her, like I did every week, that she’d got a letter from Hank a year after I’d left him, saying he was moving out west. That was the last she’d heard from him. I knew it broke her heart that her oldest son never contacted her, but I could tell that seeing Jackson helped relieve the pain. I’d seen Hank once before he left to go out West, but he hadn’t seen me, and I never told my family about it. I didn’t know if I ever would.

“I’ll think about the driving lessons,” I told Daddy, hoping he would change the subject now.

“Well, you know, that’s all I can ask, I guess,” Daddy said, clearing his throat, looking at the road in front of him.

I looked out at the road too, watching as the paved road faded to dirt, dust billowing around the car as Daddy turned down the road that would take us home. I closed my eyes, tired from the long day, but also fighting back thoughts and emotions I had tried to bury for five years.

I was still consumed with an inability to forgive Hank or myself for all that had happened after I’d run away with him at the age of 17. I despised myself for letting him abuse me with his mouth and his hands. The times Hank shouted me down or tightened his hands around my wrist or arm seemed to finally give him the power his abusive father had stripped from him during his childhood.

The night I left him, he’d shoved me against a table, dragged me by my hair and tried to stop me from leaving our apartment with our son by grabbing my leg and yanking me to the floor. When I fought back and broke away, I ran to my friend Miss Mazie’s house and never looked back.

More than fighting to forgive myself for leaving with Hank, I couldn’t seem to find a way to forgive myself for the danger I’d put Jackson in by staying with Hank; how I’d caused Jackson to have a life without a father.

In that first year after I left Hank, life unfolded around me like a movie I was a part of but had no say in. I came home to my parents, a father who had barely spoken to me in three years, and a mother who welcomed me with open arms but somehow blamed herself for my smashed in nose and bruised face. I pushed the emotion of those years with Hank deep inside me and the darkness of it all lingered in the darkest caverns of my heart for two years, eventually leaving me in a state of emotional numbness.

Slowly I began to feel again – laugh again, trust again, hope again, at least when it came to my family and my future. I had no interest in a romantic relationship of any kind, though and still didn’t. I wasn’t about to let anyone break down the walls I had built around my life and heart, walls to protect me, but more importantly Jackson. I had exposed my son to darkness and pain once before. I refused to do it again.

I wouldn’t let my guard down for someone who could shatter the life I’d built for us like Hank almost had. Protecting Jackson, giving him a life free of hurt was my only goal and I made sure I stayed away from anyone who could threaten our security.

Oh. So that’s why writing book two has been such a challenge.

I have been having a hard time writing the second part of Blanche’s story and I think it is because I had so much fun sharing the first part on my blog and interacting with some of my readers about it as I went along, and I haven’t been doing that with this book.

A-Story-to-Tell

I was able to go back and make changes before I published the book on Kindle, but sharing it in pieces and receiving feedback as I wrote it, was fun. I’ve heard this is similar to how Wattpad works, but I don’t know if I’m really interested in sharing it with that many people. I don’t mind sharing it with the few people who read my blog, however, because my blog readers are cool people, with similar tastes, who aren’t afraid to give me polite pointers.

I’ve also been struggling with Blanche sharing with me the second part of her story like she did the first part. I’m fairly certain I just heard many of you say to yourselves: ‘I’m sorry what? You think your character is talking to you? How many drugs are you on?” I know. It sounds weird but, yes, sometimes I feel like my characters tell me their stories in bits and pieces and I wake up (because they don’t tell me when I’m awake apparently) and jot down what they’ve shared with me, flushing it out later.

The first part of Blanche’s story came out pretty quickly, but now I’m struggling with what happens since she’s (SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST STORY) left Hank and come home to live with her parents. I already have plenty of ideas and a few chapters in rough draft form, though, so it is coming together. The second part of the story will introduce a few new characters but also continue the story of other characters in Blanche’s life.

Will Hank find redemption, like my dad is vying for? Or will he disappear completely from the scene? We will have to wait and see – including this writer who hasn’t totally decided what will happen with Hank yet.

And what about the arrival of Blanche’s friend Emmy’s cousin? What role will Judson “J.T.” Waignwright play, if any? And then there is Edith, Blanche’s older sister. How is married life (and parenthood?) treating her? When we left her she was expecting. Hank’s mom was also on scene, hoping to have a relationship with her grandson, and searching for her own healing from her own abusive marriage.

What will happen to Emmy and who is Stanley Jasper?

We’ll see every Friday, starting this Friday when I start sharing chapters from “A New Beginning,” the sequel toA Story to Tell.”

When people support you even when you feel like you stink

I put a notice on my blog Facebook page yesterday that I had some paperback copies of my book because a couple of people I know had asked about them. I wasn’t thinking about it as an advertising opportunity, I simply wanted to find a way to let those people know I had a few copies.

More people asked for books than I had so I had to order some more, but that’s not the point of today’s post. Today’s post I thought I would talk about how hard it is for me to put myself out there. I don’t like to be seen. I like to hide. I don’t like to share. I like to keep it all to myself. I don’t want to be famous and pray every day I never am. I never feel what I have to offer is as good as what someone else has to offer. In other words, I’m human.

A Story to Tell, my first attempt at a novel, isn’t a masterpiece. I actually wish I had taken a little more time to work on it before I put it out, but I wanted to throw it out on Kindle by my birthday to simply say I accomplished a goal. Because my self-esteem swirls around a toilet bowl half the time, I handed my books out today with apologies for it not being the best it can be. Yes, I apologized for them buying my book. I know. I’m such a weirdo.

I told my brother people were probably buying my book because they felt sorry for me. Isn’t that awful? It may be true, or it may be true that they don’t expect the book to be good, or blow them away, but they are simply trying to support me. Apparently, the idea of people supporting me is a foreign concept, but it shouldn’t be since people have done so in the past. The last couple of years have been a little lonely, yes, but people have still supported me and that’s what was happening with requests for copies of my book.

I told myself today, ‘They are buying it to support you and even if the book stinks, at least they said: “Hey, you tried and we’re recognizing that.””

Maybe it isn’t that some of my friends see something great in what I wrote but maybe it is that they see potential and they want to support it.

Now if only I could see my own potential. If only we could all see our own potential.

So often others see potential in us that we don’t see.

So often God sees potential in us that we don’t see.

We see rejection.

We see failure.

We see fell short.

We see we should be further.

We see not enough.

But God sees: “I’m trying.”

God sees: “I put myself out there.”

God sees: “I obeyed and displayed the gifts God gave me and each time I do it, I pray he helps me to get better.”

God sees us as enough.

God sees as we are right where we need to be.

God sees what will be even when we see only what isn’t.