Fiction . . . uh . . . Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter, Chapter 19 Part 2

Yes, I wrote another long chapter so this is part two of Chapter 19 and you can find part 1 HERE. To catch up with the rest of the story, which I feature every Friday, click HERE or find the link at the top of the page. This is a “novel in progress” and when it is finished I usually toss it up on Kindle for friends, family, and blog readers to read in full (after I fix plot holes, edit, rewrite and hopefully fix typos).


Sitting at the bar with his third bottle of beer in front of him, Alex dragged his hands through his hair and wished he could drink until he couldn’t think anymore. He knew he couldn’t, though. He’d finished the days chores, but Robert could need him at any time of the day. He hated the idea of Robert seeing him with glazed over eyes or a hangover. That had happened only once before and Alex had felt the stinging rush of humiliation when Robert sent him out of the barn and ordered him to sleep it off. Thankfully Robert had accepted his apology.

It wasn’t the first time in his life Alex had felt the sting of humiliation. In fact, he’d felt it many times in his life and often when a man much better than him had to correct him on one of his many mistakes.

“You need to make a decision on what kind of man you want to be, Alexander Timothy Stone,” his grandfather had said to him as they drove away from the jail one night in his grandfather’s old pick up.

Col. Paul Madigan. Career Marine. Retired by the time Alex was in high school; just in time to whip his own grandson into shape. Or at least try to.

Even at 67 he had still been an imposing man. Six feet tall, broad shoulders and chest, square jawline

“What do you think you’re proving pulling all this stuff, boy?” his grandfather had asked him. “You’re not proving that you’re a real man. You’re not proving you’re better than your father. Is that what you’re trying to do? Get his attention? It’s not going to work. You know that. Your father doesn’t care about anyone other than himself, boy. You better think about what you want for your future, who you want to be. You want to be someone your future children can be proud of.”

His grandfather’s jaw clenched, his hands gripping the steering wheel tight. He’d let out a long breath and then shook his head.

“I know one thing, though, boy, no matter what you do, I won’t top loving you. I know there’s a man inside that body of a boy. I know there is a man who wants to be better, who wants to be what a man should be – responsible, trustworthy, and able to provide for his family. A man people will want to look up to one day, not shake their heads at.”

Alex had wanted to be a better man, to be what his grandfather had wanted him to be and somedays he thought he was on the way to being that better man, but today he really didn’t care anymore.

He needed a break from trying to be better. It was exhausting.

Country music blared from the speakers and cigarette smoke filtered across the bar like the haze filtering across his mind. The bar was sparsely crowded with only two other people sitting on actual bar stools near him, the rest scattered around the dimly lit inside of the bar, sitting at tables or leaning against the pool tables.

Blond hair spilled over his shoulder, interrupting his thoughts. Someone leaned against his back, a clearly feminine arm draping over his shoulder, a strong smell of alcohol and perfume hitting him.

“Hey, farm boy. You look like you need a friend.”

He glanced over his shoulder, his face now inches away from the face of a woman he’d met in the same bar a few months before. What was her name again?

 He struggled to remember.

 Jenny?

Jackie?

Julie?

The woman’s smile was broad, her eyelids heavy under dark blue eyeshadow. Her bright red lipstick matched her blouse which featured a low cut v-neck that clearly revealed her cleavage. “Remember me?”

“Uh. . .yeah. . . hey … Jackie.”

She rolled her eyes and giggled.

“Jessie, silly.”

Jessie. Right. Jessie Landry.

“Right. Jessie. Hey. How’s it going?”

Jessie slid onto the stool next to him and leaned an elbow on the bar. “Good, but you look like you’ve seen better days.”

Alex shrugged, taking another swig of beer. “Yeah. I guess.”

Jessie smiled slyly and tipped her head. “Fight with your girlfriend?”

A slight smile tugged at Alex’s lips at he looked at her.

“No girlfriend to have a fight with.”

“No wife either?” Her tone was playful now as she slide her hand along the bar toward is arm.

“No woman to speak of,” he said, looking back toward the stack of bottles behind the bar.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jessie push her lower lip out and tip her head to the other side. She crossed one long leg over another, her high heels clicking on the bottom rung of the stool.

“Aw. That’s so sad. Someone so good looking shouldn’t be so alone.”

Alex laughed softly and shook his head. He knew a flirt when he saw one, even with all the alcohol in his system, and this Jessie Landry was definitely one of those.

Music thudded from the jukebox on the other side of the bar. Bodies pushed into the center of the room, moving and swaying to the rhythm. Jessie slid off the bar stool and began to dance next to him. That’s when he noticed her too short mini skirt and her too tight bright red shirt. She tugged at his arm as she danced, hips moving from side to side.  

“Come on. Dance with me. It will make you feel better.”

“I don’t dance,” he said with a smirk, sipping the beer.

She leaned close to him and winked. “Then just stand out here with me and I’ll dance around you, silly.

His senses dulled by the beer, Alex staggered from the stool as she grabbed his hand, letting her lead him to the center of the floor. She gyrated slowly in front of him, her straight blond hair bouncing back and forth across her back and shoulders as she moved down to the floor and back up again, sliding her hands up his legs seductively.

He watched her through bleary eyes, drowsy from the beer, admiring her slender form and the way her body curved in all the right places.

When a slow song came on, she slid her arms around his neck and stepped close to him, pressing her body into his. He questioned himself briefly about why she was being so forward — they’d only met once or twice before, yet here she was dancing with him liked they’d been dating for months. He dismissed the thought almost as quickly as he’d thought it as she tipped her head back, revealing a long bare neck, the top of her shirt pulling down and drawing his eyes to where he knew he shouldn’t be looking.

Her voice was whiny as she flipped her head back up and pressed her forehead against his. “It’s so boring here tonight. We should think of something else we could do…” She trailed her finger down the front of his shirt, letting her eyes drift down and then up again, then leaned close and seductively whispered the last word. “Together.”

Alex watched her for a moment, lowered his eyes to her full lips and shrugged. Why not? It wasn’t as if someone Molly would ever be interested in someone like him. An alcoholic loser like him. A heathen someone like Ben Oliver might say. Why not take his mind of Molly and how he wouldn’t ever be good enough for her?

He grinned at Jessie and laid his hand against her thigh. A familiar need pulsated within him.

Her jerked his head toward the door. “You want to get out of here? I know somewhere we can have a lot more fun.”

Jessie giggled and nodded. She took his hand as he broke their embrace, and followed him out into the parking lot. When she climbed up into his truck and closed the door behind her, she slid next to him and laid her hand on his upper thigh, rubbing it gently as he shifted the truck into gear.

He drove toward the house, glad to know he’d soon have a way to take his mind off Molly, his failures, and his confusion about life in general.

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 Friday: “A New Beginning” Chapter 15

I just wanted to take a moment to thank all those who have been following A New Beginning, whether you comment or not. I know I tease those who comment sometimes (like joking with those who “complained” about there being cliffhangers) but I hope it’s never misunderstood how much I appreciate your likes, comments and even views. Writing is an escape for me. Much like photography and blogging, it has been a lifeline for me during my most depressed or stressful times in life. The fact that others are enjoying what I’m writing means more to me than many of you will ever know.  The fact that others tell me they actually care about what I’m writing is an added bonus.

You can find more about the first book about Blanche at the link at the top of the page, along with an excerpt. It is available on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

If you have read it there and liked it, I’d love if you leave me a review or share it with others on your blog or social media. For those who read the story when it was on the blog, I did add to it, change a few things and tighten a few others. I even changed the first paragraph to allow for an immediate jump into the action.


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Chapter 15

The sound of the phone ringing downstairs woke me from a sound sleep. I stared at the clock, groggy and disoriented.

2 p.m. I’d slept through half the day.

“Blanche! Are you awake honey?” Mama called from the bottom of the stairs.

“Am I downstairs?” I mumbled to myself. “Then I’m not awake.”

“Yes!” I called, trying to sound cheerful. “Just now.”

“Thomas from the paper is on the phone.”

I stumbled down the stairs, completely uninterested in talking to anyone, let alone Thomas Fairchild, after the day and night I’d had the day before.

“Hey, Robbins. I hear you had an exciting day yesterday.”

“Yes. How did you hear?”

“I’m a journalist. I know all.” Thomas laughed. “Seriously, I overheard Emmy’s mom at the post office this morning. I wanted to know if you’d let me interview you for a story I’m working on it. It’s going to tie in with our coverage of Sam being shot.”

Interview me? Why me?

“Uh…. I don’t think so. I’m not really….”

“You’re the happy part of the story, Blanche,” Thomas interrupted. “The inspirational, heart-wrenching part. The part that breaks up the depressing news in the paper. The part that sells papers, as Stanley would say.”

“Listen, Thomas, I just woke up, I was up all night and I haven’t even checked in to see how Sam or Emmy are yet . . .”

“I called the hospital this morning,” Thomas said. “Emmy and the baby are great and Sam is in stable condition after the surgery. So how about you meet me at the Twilight Rose Café down the street from the hospital and then go check on them? We’ll discuss the story and see if you want to be a part of it or not.”

I sighed and rubbed my eyes. Apparently, nothing I said was going to deter Thomas from pursuing an interview with me. Stanley hadn’t changed from calling him his “cub reporter” to his “bulldog reporter” for nothing.

“I’ll meet you at 3:30 at the café,” I said with a yawn.

When I reached the café, Thomas was sitting at a table in the back corner of the café, wearing a polo shirt and a pair of khaki pants, scribbling away in a notebook and sipping coffee from a paper cup. He looked like a stereotypical newspaper reporter: handsome, well-dressed and preoccupied with the story he was after. His blond hair was cut slightly shorter than the first time I had met him but still left enough bangs so he still had to flip his head back to move them out of his eyes.

“Hey, there, hero,” he said as I approached his table, motioning to the chair across from him. “You look pretty good for someone who was up all night.”

I yawned as I sat down and looked at him through bleary eyes. “I’m barely functioning,” I said.

“So, listen, I know you don’t want to let me interview you, but people love these heartfelt stories. It’s a nice break from the hard, sad news and politics. And besides, you owe me. I got you that job writing feature stories for us.”

I laughed. “I haven’t even decided if I’m going to take that job.”

Thomas waved to the woman behind the counter. “Hey, Annie, a cup of coffee for my friend here and a couple of raspberry scones.”

“I don’t really drink coffee.”

“Yeah, but you need some,” Thomas said. “And you’re going to take that job. The world – or at least our little area of it – needs Blanche Robbins writing stories for them. They may not know it yet, but they do.”

The waitress placed two scones and a mug of coffee in front of me. She wore her dark hair in a tight ponytail and her full lips were highlighted with bright red lipstick. A blue sweater and short black skirt fit nicely on her slender form.

“Thanks, Annie,” Thomas said with a wink.

I glanced at the waitress and suddenly realized I knew her. It was Annie Tanner, a mother of three who had gotten pregnant in high school and married Billy Tanner, much to the disapproval of the ladies in my sewing circle.

I watched Thomas’ eyes follow Annie as she walked away. He grinned at me. “She’s nice to look at at the end of a workday. Or the beginning. Or even in the middle.”

I rolled my eyes. “She’s the mother of three and married you know.”

Thomas shrugged and poured creamer in his coffee as he smirked at me. “Doesn’t mean I can’t admire what I can not have.”

He broke a piece of his scone off. “You know I enjoy watching you when you leave too.”

I felt my face grow warm and looked at the top of the table. “Thomas, I am much too tired for your teasing today.”

“I’m not teasing,” Thomas said. “And, hey, maybe we can count this as that date I asked you out on a couple years ago.”

“Uh, no we can’t.”

Thomas sighed. “You’re no fun, Blanche. Fine, no date. But at least make this trip worth my while and agree to let me interview you and tell the community a heart-lifting story that could have been a tragedy.”

I relented to the interview, anything that would let me return home to my family and my bed quicker.

“Just don’t make me sound like some hero, Thomas. I just did what I had to do,” I said as he pulled out his notepad and pen.

Thomas grinned. “I’m pretty sure that’s what all heroes say. ‘I just did what I had to do.’

I rolled my eyes and tossed a napkin at him playfully.

When the interview was done, I asked Thomas if the paper had been told anything about the man who shot Sam.

“Yeah, some guy in a junkyard up in the corner of the county close to the New York state border. Sam was trying to bring him in for burglary. Coward shot Sam from behind and took off. The cops are looking for him today. I’ll be heading up to the barracks later today to see what else I can find out. Derrick is working on the story too.”

He leaned back and draped his arm over the back of the chair. “So, what’s your story, Blanche? Is reporting something you’ve always wanted to do?”

I sipped the coffee and winced. I hated coffee. Why did I keep letting men tell me I needed it?

“No. I don’t really want to be a reporter. I just like to write.”

“Well, you’ll have to do a little researching and reporting for any writing you do, so this job will be good training for that.” Thomas grinned again. His grin was getting on my nerves and I wasn’t sure if it was my lack of sleep or just him.

I looked at the coffee, stirring in creamer and sugar, wishing I was at home and asleep in bed.

“My main job is being a mom, Thomas. Not writing. You do know I’m a mom right?”

Thomas was still grinning as he sipped his coffee. “I’ve read your columns, Blanche. I know you’re a mother.

“So, tell me, Thomas, how did you even get into reporting? Is it something you always wanted to do?”

Thomas broke off another piece of the scone, tipped his head back and dropped it in his mouth. “Yeah. I mean, I haven’t always wanted to do it. When I was five I wanted to be a firefighter, but I guess you could say it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I always imagined myself somewhere with a lot higher circulation, though. Maybe national. I started in Philadelphia, interned at the city paper there, but didn’t get offered a job. Uncle Stanley offered me a job here for some experience, so here I am.”

“Stanley’s your uncle?”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t like to tell a lot of people, so it doesn’t look like he’s playing favorites,” Thomas said.

I picked up the scone, realizing how hungry I actually was.

“So, your uncle,” I said, realizing this might be my chance to learn a little more about the man who wanted to date Marion. “Was he ever married before?”

Thomas leaned forward slightly, letting out a breath leaning his elbows on the table. For once his gestures lacked the cocky swagger. His expression was hard to read as he looked up at me.

“Yeah,” he said softly, tapping the eraser end of the pencil on the tabletop, his expression somewhat distant. “He was. To my Aunt Margaret. She was my dad’s sister.” He cleared his throat. “She died when I was about 12. Cancer. I was very close to her. It was hard on the whole family, of course, but . . . yeah..well, anyhow, Stanley was shattered. A year or so after she passed he was looking for a way out of town, saw this job advertised in the papers back home and grabbed the chance to try to run away from the memories.”

He swallowed hard and coughed softly.

It was the first time since I’d met Thomas that I’d seen him look serious about anything.

“Anyhow,” he said, twirling the pencil on the table. “It’s been nice knowing someone in the business who can help me learn the ropes and it’s been nice to be around Uncle Stanley again too.”

He shrugged. “Plus, I’ve grown to like this tiny county and the people in it.”

He smiled and winked, the cocky attitude I was familiar with returning for a supporting role to his more serious tone. “Including you. Even if you won’t go out with me.”

I leaned back, studying Thomas for a moment as he ate the rest of the scone and sipped his coffee. I wondered if I had misjudged him the last couple of years I’d known him. Maybe he wasn’t the one-dimensional, arrogant, flirting playboy I’d thought he was.

“Hey,” he said, looking over my shoulder. “Speak of the devil. Someone else must have had the same idea about meeting here today.”

I turned to see Stanley and Marion sitting down at a table near the entrance. Marion looked nervous, her hair pulled back and pinned up on top of her head. The blue dress she wore fit modestly on her slender form and matched nicely with the stylish black heels. I smiled as I saw she’d taken my advice on the outfit and the hairstyle.

“Good for Uncle Stanley,” Thomas said, softly chuckling. “It’s about time he got back on the dating scene.”

I turned back around and took another bite of my scone.

“Do you know the woman?” he asked. “I’ve seen her around but not sure I’ve ever met her.”

“She’s my former mother-in-law.”

“Really?”

“Yep. My ex’s long-suffering mother and I’m very happy to see her out enjoying life again. Her husband died a few years ago. My ex doesn’t have any contact with her and her other son rarely stops in to see her even though he lives a couple counties away.”

I decided not to mention my initial misgivings about her going on a date with Stanley.

“I hope they find some joy together,” Thomas said, watching them. “Even if it’s just in getting back out into the world again.”

I looked over Thomas’ shoulder. “Is that a back door? Maybe we can sneak out before they see us. I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” Thomas said following my gaze. “I think it is and that’s a good idea. Come on, I’ll pay and we’ll sneak out. Let the old folks have a little privacy.”

I squinted against the sunlight outside, my eyes heavy, from never fully waking up. I wasn’t as familiar with the town of Sawyer as I was with Dalton and I looked down the street at picturesque shops and a row of old fashion gas street lamps lining Main Street, feeling as if I had stepped back in time in some ways.

“Want to take a walk before you head over to check on Emmy and Sam?” Thomas asked. “There’s a spot by the river I think you’d like.”

We buttoned our coats, pulled on our hats and started to walk.

The walkway along the river paralleled Main Street and took us down under the large bridge that crossed the Susquehanna River and brought visitors to Sawyer from the main highway to the main part of town. Flowers, trees, and well-kept hedges had been planted along the walkway and even with the flowers not in bloom the landscaping was eye-catching.

“I don’t think I’ve ever walked this way,” I said. “I didn’t even know this view was here.”

Thomas winked, sipping the coffee he’d carried with him from the shop. “That’s why I’m here – to help you explore the beauty that is around you.” He gestured his arms out over the view of the river. “Look upon the beauty that is our lovely county, nestled here in the rolling green hills of Pennsylvania or as some call those hills – ‘the Endless Mountains’.”

“I know what these mountains are called, Thomas,” I said. “I’ve lived here all my life you know.”

“Ah, yes,” he said, sitting on a wooden bench and leaning back. “Are you sure that’s something you want to announce to the world? That you’ve always lived in one place and never explored life outside your tiny bubble?”

He patted the bench next to him and I sat on the end of the bench and watched a hawk fly over the water toward the opposite shore.

“I haven’t always lived here,” I said. “I was gone for a few years at least.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I lived in New York state for a while with my ex.”

“I heard before that you had an ex,” Thomas said. “So, tell me about this ex. What kind of man left you to raise your little boy by yourself? I know I seem like a huge flirt who shuns responsibility but even I know that’s a garbage move.”

I shook my head, knowing I didn’t want to talk about Hank, that I was tired of talking and thinking about Hank.

“We were just too young.”

I could feel Thomas’ eyes on me. “He really hurt you, didn’t he?”

I leaned back on the bench and nodded. “Yeah. In more ways than one.”

Thomas sighed and sipped from the coffee cup.

“I moved up here after I caught my girlfriend cheating on me,” he said bluntly.

He laughed softly, shaking his head. “Man, she did a number on me. We shared everything, dated since 10th grade. She was sweet, beautiful, and smart. I never thought  . . . well, anyhow. We were young too. Maybe I was just too cocky, ignored her too much during college. I don’t know. I never expected her to run off with my best friend but when she did it woke me up pretty good.”

He leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “Maybe you’ve figured out by now my cocky attitude is a cover up in some ways.”

I smirked. “What, like underneath it all you’re a sweet, hurt little boy?”

I immediately regretted the comment, knowing the lack of sleep was only heightening my tendency to be snarky.

Thomas winced. “Ouch. You’re savage today, aren’t you?”

“Sorry. I – you just joke a lot and I was just – sorry.”

Thomas grinned and blew a kiss at me. “No worries. I like a savage woman.”

“Thomas. . .”

He tipped his head back and laughed, his nose crinkling.

“I love flirting with you. You resist it so strongly. It’s fun to watch you squirm. Seriously, though, most of this really is a cover. I’m not as smarmy as I seem and I don’t really pursue women the way I pretend. I’m good with being single right now. Maybe someday – but for now? I’m focusing on my career, on writing a book, and on getting to know nice people in this county like you.”

I watched him warily but didn’t see the normal swagger in his body language, the playful grin normally there. His expression was serious, his mannerisms relaxed and friendly.

“Don’t take this the wrong way but do you find it hard to let people in?” Thomas asked. He leaned back against the bench again, stretching his arm across the back of it.

“Because honestly,” he said, before I could answer the question. “I do. I don’t like the idea of opening myself up, only to be hurt. I’d have to imagine that’s even harder for you and what you’ve probably been through.”

I watched the hawk land on the spindly branch of a tree and wondered how vulnerable I truly wanted to be with a man I’d only ever known to be flippant and flirty before today. I cleared my throat.

“Yes,” I said finally. “It is hard. And it’s scary but it’s even harder for me because I have Jackson to protect.”

“Ah, yeah,” Thomas said with a quick nod. “That would be a challenge. Keeping a wall around yourself is one thing but you and your child? That’s an entirely different ball game. Like, you can keep yourself all locked up inside, but the danger of causing your son to be afraid to love too? I wouldn’t want that responsibility at all.”

I scowled at Thomas. “Well, thanks. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.”

Thomas laughed softly, cleared his throat and stood. “So, anyhooo…maybe we should head back up to our cars and you should go see Emmy and Sam before I stick my foot in my mouth again.”

Thomas opened the door to Daddy’s Olds for me when we reached the street. “Think about that job, okay, Blanche?” he said. “I think you’d be good at it. Truly.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said, sliding behind the steering wheel.

He closed the door and peered through the window. “Good. And thank you for the walk.” My muscles tensed as he leaned through the window and kissed my cheek.

He leaned back slightly and looked me in the eye. “Don’t be afraid to live again, Blanche. Don’t let that jerk take that away from you. From what I’ve heard and what you said today, he doesn’t deserve to have that power over you.”

Driving down the street toward the hospital, I knew Thomas was right. Hank Hakes was still living in my head, still controlling me from the inside. I had to find a way to take that control back, live life without the fear of being hurt the same way I’d been hurt by Hank.

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

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

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

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

 


Chapter 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ask me what?” Daddy asked.

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

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

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

“Yes, Daddy. Your car.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Daddy!”

Emmy laughed and flipped her hair over his shoulder.

“Oh, Mr. Robbins! You’re so funny!”

Daddy chuckled but then levied a serious look at her.

“But, seriously – can you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh, with Blanche?”

Emmy and I laughed, knowing he meant the car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sherry joined Emmy and I as we laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 8

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that?!” I snapped.

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

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

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

“You’re a hard worker,” he said.

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

“You’re angry at me, aren’t you?”

I shrugged. “No. It’s fine.”

His laughter made me even more annoyed. Blast him.

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

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

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

I swallowed hard and cleared my throat.

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

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

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

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

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

“You should keep your hair down.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

“No problem . . . Stanley.”

“Did you go to school for writing?”

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

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

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

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

Stanley kept walking, stopping briefly at the next desk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I looked over my shoulder and saw him grinning broadly.

“What? Don’t you ever get asked out?”

“Not really. No.”

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

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

He slid the glasses on, still grinning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 6 & 7

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Hey, Mama.”

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

“Hey, squirt. What are you doing?”

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

“That sounds fun.”

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

“How are you liking school?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chocolate chip?”

“What other kind is there?”

“Cool.”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Why not? What do you have to lose?”

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

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


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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 5

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

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

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


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

“Did you catch anything?” Mama asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I rolled my eyes.

“Mama, please.”

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

“Mama…”

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

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

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

“Mama, stop it,” I hissed.

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

Mama chuckled and grinned at me.

“Hey, that might work.”

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

Daddy stepped onto the porch and held his hand out.

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

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

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

“I wouldn’t want to intrude …..”

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

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

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

“Hey, Blanche.”

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

“Hey, yourself. How’s it going?”

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

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

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

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

Jackson skipped into the kitchen and looked up at Judson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let me help you with that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Mazie’s hearty laugh filtered through the receiver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blanche?”

“Mmmhmm?”

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

“Yes, ma’am.”

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

“Yes, ma’am.”

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

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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 4

If you want to catch the beginning of Blanche’s story, you can read it on Kindle and Kindle Unlimted.  However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning.
As always, this is the first draft of a story. There will be typos and in the future, there will be changes made, some small, some large and as before I plan to publish the complete story later as an ebook. Also, sorry about the lack of indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. I can’t seem to figure out how to make that happen in WordPress.


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Protect us from what?”

“From the bears in the field.”

I laughed. “What bears in the field?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“Do you ever hear from him?”

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

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

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

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

“No, what does a garden club do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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