Fiction Friday: The Next Chapter. Chapter 11

To catch up with other parts of this novel in progress, click HERE.

Chapter 11

Encounter Church wasn’t only the largest church in the area when it came to congregation size. Its building stretched much further than any other church structure in Spencer Valley and anywhere in a 60-mile radius.

The building housed a full-size gym with a basketball court, a moderately large sanctuary set up stadium-style, a state-of-the-art sound system, and separate rooms that stretched down long, well-lit hallways and served as a spacious nursery, two conference rooms, and six adult Sunday School rooms.

In the lower level, there were rooms for Sunday School from kindergarten to high school, as well as a kitchen stocked and furnished as if it was in a culinary school.
This wasn’t the church Matt had grown up in and it wasn’t the type of church he ever saw himself being a member of up until a couple of years ago.

Now, though, he couldn’t imagine attending anywhere else. The music was outstanding, the pastor’s sermons were electrifying, and the congregation had become like family to Matt, even more so after his dad passed away.

“Matt! Good morning!” Jake Landers stood from the table he’d been sitting at in the Sunday School room and held out a hand.

“Glad to have you with us tonight.”

Matt took the older man’s hand and shook it firmly. “Glad to be here. I finally got a Wednesday night off.”

Jake shook his head as he sat. “I don’t know how you do it, kid. You go 1,000 miles an hour all day every day and still look refreshed.”

Matt laughed as he sat his Bible down and reached for an empty mug by the Keurig machine. “I might look refreshed, but I don’t often feel it.”

He waited for the mug to fill with the hazelnut cream flavored coffee he had chosen and then stirred in a dash of creamer and a packet of sugar. By the time he was done, the room was filling up with more men and they were seating themselves in the comfy chairs set up in a circle around the room.

He had been trying to attend this men’s group for a couple of months now. He needed this pick-me-up, the reminder that he wasn’t alone in his struggles and in sometimes feeling emotionally and spiritually drained.

The session turned out to be exactly what he needed and when it was over, he felt a renewed energy as he walked toward the gym to meet with a group of teenage boys he had agreed to mentor through a bi-monthly youth Bible study.

When it concluded, he challenged the seven boys to a pick-up game of basketball while they waited for their parents. The game reminded him he wasn’t young as he used to be and despite being a police officer, he also wasn’t as in shape as he should be.

“See you next week for a rematch, old man,” Trevor Banks called to him as he left the gym.
Matt grinned and waved back. “Challenge accepted, Stretch. I’ll be ready for you next time.”

He collected his Bible and notebook from the floor against the wall and as he looked up, he saw the head pastor Taylor Jenson strolling toward him, his charismatic smile firmly in place.

“Matt. Good evening.” He spoke in his familiar, smooth Southern accent that hadn’t faded in the least in the ten years since he’d lived in the north. He stuck out his hand and once again Matt was struck with how tall the man was and how the cowboy boots he wore with his crisp blue jeans and polo shirts made him even taller and even a more imposing figure.

“Pastor. How’s it going?”

“Good. The Bible study go well?”

Matt nodded and filled the pastor in on the young men and how each one was doing.

“That’s great, Matt.” Taylor slid his hands in his front pockets and propped his side against the gym wall. “Listen, I need to talk to you about something.”

Matt propped his Bible under his arm, hoping the pastor wasn’t asking him to take on another commitment. His schedule was completely booked.

Taylor looked at the floor and tugged at his earlobe, a move Matt had seen before, usually when Taylor was about to bring up a tough subject he really didn’t want to address. “I had a couple calls today from some members of the congregation. A couple of them were parents, a couple weren’t. They had some concerns about you leading the youth after what they read in the paper this week.”

“What they read in the paper?” Matt wasn’t following. What had been in the paper that might — “Oh. The birth announcement.”

Taylor winced and brought his gaze back up. “Yeah. That.”

Matt’s words about not caring what others thought about the announcement echoed back in his mind. Maybe he hadn’t thought this all the way through.

“They’re just a bit concerned about you leading the youth, being an example to them if you’ve had a child out of wedlock.”

Taylor was rubbing the back of his neck now, then held his hand there. “I didn’t know what to say to them. I didn’t even know you’d had a baby until someone showed me the announcement. I mean, I had seen you with Liz, taking her to some appointments, but I had no idea you were even dating.”

Matt blew out a breath and chewed on the inside of his bottom lip for a few minutes. “We’re not.”


“No, I mean — it’s just. Liz and I are friends. I’m not her baby’s father. I told the nurse I was to keep Liz from having to connect her baby to the real father. I asked the nurse not to send the announcement to the paper, but I guess there was some kind of mix up.”

Taylor whistled, his hand still on the back of his neck as he tipped his head back. “Oh, man. That’s crazy.” He tipped his head back down and laughed softly. “I had a feeling there was a bigger story here. Sounds like you were trying to do the right thing.” He kicked at the gym floor with the tip of his boot. “It’s put us in a tough spot here at the church, though. I don’t want to reveal your private business but at the same time, I don’t know how to answer the parents without doing that very thing.”

Matt pushed his hands into his jean pockets and shook his head. “I don’t want to put the church in a difficult position. Why don’t I just step down for a bit, until I figure out how to handle this? I told Liz we should just ignore it, go on with our lives, and maybe I should explain it to some people, but I don’t know how to do it without making Liz look bad.”

Taylor sighed. “I really hate to do that to you, Matt. You’re an important part of this church, a leader to these boys.”

“But I’ll also be gone in a couple of weeks. You’ll have to find someone new to step in anyhow. I’ll just step down a little early.”

Taylor nodded. “That’s true. I guess that will save us both from the awkwardness.” He rubbed his hand across his chin. “I really am sorry about this. You’re a good guy, Matt. If there is anything I can do, please let me know. Can I pray for you at least?”
“Of course. Prayer is always welcome.”

Taylor took the time to pray for Matt left and then men shook hands. A few minutes later Matt was behind the steering wheel of his truck, laughing to himself. If he wasn’t leaving for the academy in a couple of weeks that conversation would have caused him more concern. He easily could have been offended that the church members who had a concern hadn’t approached him before they approached the pastor. At the same time, their concern made sense. Who would he be to tell a group of boys that waiting to have sex before marriage would protect their hearts and their bodies if he himself had been sleeping with a woman he wasn’t married to?

It did feel a bit like a betrayal that part of the congregation had made up their mind about him without even asking about the situation, but he wouldn’t have been able to ask someone about something so personal either.

He could just imagine approaching a person whose name had been listed as the father of someone’s baby when no one even knew they were in a relationship. “Hey, so . . .um . . . About this baby thing . . .”

Yeah. It would definitely be an awkward conversation to have.

He turned the radio on and tapped his hand against the steering wheel to a Christian song playing on his favorite radio station.

It was his decision to tell that nurse he was Bella’s father. No, he hadn’t thought it through, but he had to live with it and in the end, it would be worth it, as long as it meant Bella and Liz wouldn’t have any official ties to Gabe Martin.


“I can’t believe I did it.”

Ginny turned her head and tilted it to get a better look at her hair. While it had previously fallen across her shoulders when she let it down, it now stopped at ear level. She blew out a slow breath, tilting her head up again. What was Stan going to think about this impulsive move? She truly wasn’t sure.

Liz stood behind her, admiring her own shorter cut. “It looks fantastic, Ginny. Seriously. You’re drop-dead gorgeous. Just wait until Stan sees you. He won’t be able to keep his hands off you.”

Ginny’s chest tightened. Wouldn’t he, though? He was certainly able to keep his hands off her a lot these days. She couldn’t even remember the last time he’d hugged her, let alone held her in his arms.

“Well, I don’t know about that, but your cut certainly came out great. It will be a lot easier to manage for you, which will be great for when you start back next week.”

Liz pulled her lower lip between her teeth, still looking at her hair in the bathroom mirror, pulling the strands against her jawline. “I can’t believe my maternity leave is already over. It was nice of Linda to even give it to me. I don’t think it was easy for her to give me that much time off.”

She ruffled her hair and pouted. “Look, I look like a brunette Taylor Swift that time she chopped her hair. Well, the haircut does at least. Not the rest of me.”

Ginny cocked an eyebrow. “Who?”

Liz snorted. “A pop singer whose music I don’t even like.”

“Oh. Well, I’m old. That’s probably why I’ve never heard of her.”

“Be glad. You’re not missing much other than a lot of sappy songs about broken hearts.”

Ginny touched her finger to her chin. “Oh wait. Is she the one who breaks up with men and then writes songs about her breakups?”

Liz laughed as she picked up a brush and pulled it across her hair. “Yes. That’s her. Maybe I should have written a song after I left Gabe. I might could have made a few bucks.”

She turned and looked at Ginny, at the way Missy had angled her hair so it was short in the back and longer along the sides. Ginny looked ten years younger, if not more. Her entire persona seemed brighter now. Maybe this would help raise the heaviness the woman had around her some days. Maybe her husband would see her and whisk her out the door for a fancy dinner, bringing a bright spot to her day. She certainly deserved it.

“Is Stan going to be home tonight?”

Ginny shook her head. “No. We’re going to a real estate banquet together. He’s up for real estate agent of the year for the region.”

Liz’s eyebrows raised. This was a change from Ginny’s usual answers to questions about Stan. Most of the time he was away on business or not home at all. “That’s awesome. He’s finally taking a night away from work and taking you out to boot. Way to go Stan.”

Soft pink spread along Ginny’s cheekbones as she hooked an earring in. “Yeah, it should be a nice night out. We haven’t been out in —” The pink darkened to crimson. “Well, a while anyhow.”

Liz leaned back against the dresser behind her and gnawed at her thumbnail, pondering the color along Ginny’s cheeks. Was it brought on by anticipation or something else?

“Do you think he’ll win?”

“He has before and he’s been even busier this year so I’d be surprised if he doesn’t.”

Liz didn’t hear the excitement in Ginny’s voice she thought she should. She studied the woman for a moment then let her gaze drift across Ginny’s bedroom to the lightly -colored dresser and the mirror attached to it, the queen-sized bed set up high off the ground, covered in what looked like a handmade quilt of various colors, to the peach-colored walls and pillows that matched the walls. The headboard and armoire against the wall near the bed matched the dresser she was leaning against and a walk-in closet was open on the other side of the room.

“This is a beautiful house, Ginny.”

“You’ve never been in here?” Ginny turned her while adjusting her other earring. “I thought you were here for the engagement party.”

Liz shook her head. “Just the backyard. I was so focused on feeling out of place and left out I barely noticed even that.” She walked toward the walk-in closet. “I would say I’ve matured since then but it’s a work in progress, as you know. Hey.” She reached for a black gown hanging in the closet. “This is lovely. You should wear this tonight.” A white blouse with a silver sheen caught her eye and she reached for it too. “Oh, and you could put this over it. It would set off your eyes.”

She turned to see Ginny blushing again. “You think so? I don’t know. Maddie bought that for me two years ago and I just — well, I never — I didn’t have anywhere to wear it. I thought about wearing it to last year’s banquet but it seemed a little too . . .” Her voice trailed off and she shrugged. “Revealing? Sexy? I don’t know.”

Liz laid the dress and blouse on the bed. “It’s hot is what it is and you will look hot in it. Stan isn’t even going to want to go to the banquet when he sees you in it. He’s going to want to get you right back out of it again.”

The blush had spread to Ginny’s neck and chest now and she laid a hand at the nape of her neck as if to stop it.
“Oh — well, I don’t know about that but I — I mean, I could wear it, I guess.”

Liz walked to the dresser and flipped open the jewelry box. “I bet you have a necklace that would go great with this.” She shut the box abruptly and turned away from it. “Oh, my word. What am I doing? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be getting into your things like that.”

Ginny laughed and opened the box again. “Actually, I would appreciate your advice and opinion. I haven’t really dressed up in a while. I do have a couple necklaces that might work.”

The women looked through the necklaces for a few moments. Liz pulled her gaze away when her phone dinged. She reached for it and checked the message.

She sighed. “It’s McGee. Asking what to bring for dinner.”

Ginny swung around with a gold necklace in her hand and placed a hand on her hip. “Dinner, eh?”

Liz scowled playfully. “Calm down. It’s like a potluck dinner. Molly, Alex, Ellie, and Jason are all going to be there too. Then we’re going to watch Ellie and Jason’s wedding video.”

She texted a response and tossed the phone onto the bed. “Matt and I are just friends. Like I told you.”

Ginny held the necklace up in front of her while she looked in the mirror. “A friend who is clearly in love with you. I get it.”

Liz scoffed. “He is not in love with me. He’s just a good friend. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good friend. He’s been there for me in the worst moments of my life and in the best. He brought me food when I was too big and sick to get around when I was pregnant. He drove me to a few appointments when my car broke down. He, well, obviously delivered Bella. He’s also stopped by plenty of times and held her while I cleaned the apartment or took a nap. He’s just a good guy. You know that. He’s good to everyone.”

Ginny held up another necklace, narrowing her eyes as she studied her reflection in the mirror. “He’s not as good to everyone as he is to you, and I can’t say I’ve ever heard him say he was in love with you, but I do know that he was very upset when you had that fall at your apartment last year.”

Liz’s chest constricted and a lump pushed up into her throat. Her hand trembled as she straightened the dress she’d lain on the bed, averting her eyes from Ginny. “What do you mean?”

“Stan said Matt asked for prayer for you during the men’s Bible study a couple nights after you were taken to the hospital. He didn’t give any details, but said there had been an accident and he’d arrived before the ambulance.”

The room suddenly seemed small and tight as Liz sat on the edge of the bed and took a deep breath. Matt was at her apartment that night? She’d known there was an officer there, but she’d been told it was Tom Landry, Matt’s older partner. If

Matt had been there, why had he never told her?

The idea of him seeing her, barely conscious, at the worst moment of her life. Bile clutched at her throat and she gagged.
Ginny whirled to look at her. “Uh-oh. Are those tacos we stopped for causing an issue?”
She shook her head against Ginny’s concern then changed her mind and nodded. “Actually, yes, they are a little. Will you excuse me?”

She found the bathroom down the hall, doubled over the toilet as she shut the door, and gagged again. She closed her eyes tight, desperate to remember the voices that night. Had Matt’s been one of them? She couldn’t remember. She needed to remember.

Dear God . . . Please no.

So when she’d first lied to him, said she’d accidentally taken too many pills from a prescription for painkillers for her knee, he’d known all along. He’d most likely even known she was pregnant. She wretched into the toilet bowl, grasping the seat as colors played across her vision.

Reaching for a piece of toilet paper, she wiped it across her mouth and shook her head. He’d never said a thing. He hadn’t told her he already knew. That had been almost a year ago. And he’d never said a thing. She couldn’t believe it.
He had now twice seen her at her most vulnerable. If the earth opened up right now and swallowed her whole she wouldn’t have been totally fine with it.

“Really God? How much more do you need to punish and humiliate me for what I did?”

She stood and turned the sink on, cupping a handful of water to wash her mouth out with. She pictured herself in the bathroom floor of her apartment that night, desperately trying to get the pills to come back up again. She hadn’t wanted to die. Not really. She’d simply panicked. She hadn’t wanted the baby to die either. She hadn’t even really accepted there was a baby yet.

In those moments when she shoved those pills in her mouth, she had told herself it was the best way to keep her parents from finding out how she’d been living, from Molly being disappointed in her, from feeling the same day after day. But at the moment she stuck her finger back against her tonsils a different kind of panic had set in. A panic that she might actually die, that she’d never had a chance to say goodbye to Molly or her sister.

There was a baby to think about. The baby hadn’t done anything to deserve a death sentence. She had to stop the pills from taking effect and there was no way they wouldn’t. She’d downed half a bottle of opioid painkillers.

Praying to God, she had begged while vomit trickled down her chin. It obviously wasn’t enough vomit to bring the pills back up because blackness had encroached across her vision quickly. She had chased the darkness away with a deep breath that was more like a gasping scream.

“Jesus! Save me!”

She couldn’t even feel the phone in her hand when she’d hit the 9 and collapsed against the cool linoleum.

A knock on the bathroom door ripped her from the memory and back to the present. She tried to gather herself, remind herself she wasn’t in her old apartment, begging to live. She was at Ginny’s and she needed to get it together already. She splashed her face with water and snatched the hand towel to dry herself off.

“Liz? Honey? You okay in there.”

“Yes, I’m fine. I’ll be right out.”

There she went again, lying. How many times in her life was she going to tell everyone she was fine when she clearly wasn’t?

No matter.

She smoothed her newly cropped hair back, took a deep breath, and forced what she hoped was a natural-looking smile on her face.

Faking happiness had become like breathing to her.

This time would be no different.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 25

If you missedChapter 24, I posted it yesterday for Fiction Thursday.

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

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

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

Photo with Text Overlay Autobiography Book Cover (2)Chapter 25

A few days after my night out with Thomas, I kicked off my shoes inside the door and flopped on the couch, my eyes heavy with exhaustion. Despite months of trying to avoid Stanley and Thomas about the freelance featuring writing job, I’d finally taken my first assignment: interviewing Sam about how he was adjusting to work after being shot eight months before.

After a long week of starting a dress for Ellie Tanner for her sweet 16, hemming three sets of pants for Mrs. Jefferies five boys, and interviewing Sam for the newspaper, I wanted to eat some dinner and curl up with a good book on the couch.

“Hey, Mama!”

Jackson skipped out of the kitchen with the phone receiver in one hand, the base in the other, the cord trailing behind him.

“Guess who’s on the phone?!”

I yawned. “I don’t know, bud, who is it?”

“Judson! And he called to talk to me! But now he wants to talk to you! I’m not done telling my story yet, though. Hold on.” He put the receiver back to his ear. “And then Grandpa and I went fishing after school because Mama went to dinner with that guy from the newspaper. Not the old one who is going to be my grandpa, but the younger one with the Flash Gordon hair. And when they came home, he smelled like beer and I told him that Mama doesn’t like people to drink beer and he said he understood but someone had just poured beer on him so that’s why he smelled like it. Okay. You can talk to Mama now! Bye, Judson!”

I stared at my son in horror as pushed the receiver into my hand and ran up the stairs toward his room. I wasn’t ready for a conversation with anyone after such a long day, but I definitely wasn’t ready for one with Judson now that my son had blabbed to him about my night out with Thomas. How was I going to explain that to Judson? What would I say, ‘Well, yes, Judson I did kiss you by the lake that night and then a few weeks later went out with another man. Apparently, I’m breaking out of my shell at a high rate of speed now.’

I held my hand over the mouthpiece, rolled my eyes, and then cleared my throat before speaking.

“Hey, Judson.”

“Hey.” I was surprised by the pleasure I felt at surge through me as I heard his voice. “Just the person I wanted to talk to.”

I had this sinking feeling he might want to talk to me about that night at the lake, the kiss, the outburst, all of it.

I pulled the phone into the kitchen and sat on the floor, away from Mama in the laundry room and Daddy in his office working on paperwork he’d brought home.

“How are things going?” I asked. “How’s your Dad?”

“Dad came through the surgery okay. He’s still at the hospital recovering.”

“I’m glad to hear. Do they know how long he’ll be in?”

“Probably a few more days.”

I picked at a piece of dirt under my fingernail, unsure what to ask next, but knowing I needed to ask something to avoid any other, more uncomfortable topics. “How’s your mom?”

“Tired but hanging in there. My brother called from college to check in. He’ll be up this weekend to visit.”

A silence fell over us and I knew there was so much unsaid between us that neither of us knew where to start.

“So . . .” Judson’s voice trailed off.

Oh, God, help me, he’s going to talk about it.

“You went out with Thomas, huh?”

Oh, he’s going to talk about Thomas. Well, that’s awkward too.

“Oh, well . . yes, but just to hear a band at a place up in Nichols. One of his friends was playing with the band and he asked if I would like to ride along.” I knew if I rambled much more, I would sound even more guilty, but then why did it matter if I sounded guilty. It wasn’t as if Judson and I were in a relationship.

“Was it fun?” Judson asked in a tone of voice I couldn’t exactly recognize. It bordered somewhere between mocking and polite.

“Actually, yes,” I said. “The band was great and it was nice to go somewhere different, get out of the area. I met some new people. They seemed nice.” I cleared my throat. “Listen, I heard Jackson talking to you. I can explain about Thomas smelling like beer. . .”

“You don’t have to. It’s not really my business  . .. just because you kissed me a couple of weeks ago.”

I twirled the phone cord tight around my finger until it turned red and slightly purple. I took a deep breath. “Yeah, so anyhow, Thomas’ friend, girlfriend, whatever, was trying to get her brother home and her brother threw beer on Thomas when he thought he was someone else.

“Ah. I see.”

An awkward silence settled over us and I bit my lower lip, trying to think what else to say to avoid the topic I knew we should be discussing.

“So we’re just not going to talk about what happened at the lake that night?” he asked abruptly.

I drew in a sharp breath. “Judson . . .”

“You kissed me.”

I chewed on my thumbnail as I tried to figure out how to answer.

“Yes, I know I did, Judson, but . . .”

“You admit you kissed me then, right?”

“Yes, but. . .”

“Because I was going to kiss you but I thought I was being too forward. Imagine my surprise when you kissed me instead.”

“Judson, I know I kissed you, but listen, it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that.”

He laughed. “It was the nicest mistake I’ve ever been a part of.”

“It’s just … I shouldn’t have …” I let my voice trail off. I didn’t know how to explain why I shouldn’t have kissed him that night.

“You shouldn’t have kissed me or shouldn’t have enjoyed it?”

I nearly chewed my nail off trying to figure out how to answer. I let out a long breath, deciding I’d try changing the subject.

“Is the weather nice down there?”

Judson cleared his throat. “Okay. Have it your way. But we’re going to have to talk about it sometime, Blanche. So…Yeah. It is. Warm.”

There was another long gap in the conversation as my mind raced. I could hear voices in the background on Judson’s end, laughing, sharing stories. Restlessness hung heavy in the silence between us.

“Cool down up there yet?” he asked finally. I could hear a hint of annoyance in his voice.

“Yeah. Maybe we will actually have autumn here soon.”

“Maybe we can take a walk together in the leaves when we get home.”

“Sure, that would be nice.”

I twisted the phone cord around my finger again, listening to the faint hum of conversations on his end, Jackson in his room upstairs playing with his cars on my end, reading frustration behind Judson’s silence.

“I miss you, Blanche.”

His words revealed an ache in the middle of my chest that I began to recognize as a sense of loss at no longer seeing Judson in town or in our backyard helping Daddy or throwing the ball with Jackson. I was missing him too, even if the rest of my feelings about Judson were complex and mixed up inside.

“I miss you too,” I said softly.

“Is it okay if I call again?”

“Yes. Please do.”

After a ‘goodbye’ we both hung up and I sat alone in the dimly lit living room, in the confines of a suffocating loneliness I hadn’t expected to feel. I leaned my head back against the wall, my hand on the receiver, and started a mental list of all the reasons I shouldn’t feel so lost with Judson gone. I knew I had a long, sleepless night ahead of me.

Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning, Chapter 24

Is it really possible we are in Chapter 24 of A New Beginning? Well, I guess it is! If you haven’t read Chapters 22 and Chapter 23 from last week or are even further behind, I will warn you that there are spoilers ahead!



I caused a bit of a stir last week by bringing Hank back into town and maybe into Blanche’s life. We will have to wait and see if he is gone for good like his mother and Blanche believe he is.

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

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

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

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

Chapter 24

“Hey, Blanche!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I scowled at Thomas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Getting a dog,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why? Because it’s a chick magnet?”

I rolled my eyes as he opened the door.

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

I grinned. “A real cold, or . . .”

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

“Oh. I see. I’m your second choice.”

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

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

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

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

A man on the radio screamed through the speaker:

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

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

I can’t get no, I can’t get no…”

This time I reached over and turned the knob.

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

I made a face. “No. They’re sleezy.”

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

I ignored his comment and turned up the radio.

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

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

“Look at you lettin’ loose!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, kid, where’d you go?”

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

“Back in your other life, huh?”

“You could say that.”

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

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

Thomas sighed. “Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I slapped his shoulder playfully.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just about the past.”

“Something the old man did to you?”

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

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

“You could say that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep. And I like it that way.”

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

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

Thomas didn’t hesitate. “She’s cute.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biting into my burger I shook my head at him.

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

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

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

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

“Patrick!” Midge shouted. “Stop it!”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas smiled. “I certainly plan to.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You should have been home an hour ago.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. . .”

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 10

Welcome to Fiction Friday, where I share a fiction story I’m working on or a novel in progress. If you share serial fictions on your blog as well please feel free to share a link to your latest installment, or the first part, in the comment section.

Right now I’m sharing from a novel in progress, A New Beginning, which is the sequel to A Story to Tell, now available on Kindle. As always, there may be typos, left out words or even awkward sentence structures I didn’t yet catch. This is a first draft so there will be changes before I publish it as an ebook in the Spring of 2020.

Are you caught up with Blanche’s story or do you have some reading to do? This week we continue with some take-it-easy character building, but there will be some excitement next week. Do you want to know what?

Well, I’m not telling you. You can read it next week. So there!

As always, you can find the links to the other parts of the story here and if you have any comments on how the story is going so far, or any ideas for future chapters, let me know in the comments!

Chapter 10

“Here we go. Chicken salad sandwich and fries for Blanche and a small salad for Edith.”

Betty Bundle’s hot pink, looped earrings bounced as she placed our plates in front of us. She stood for a moment, one on her hip, the other hovering out to her side, smacking gum like a cow with its cud as she looked down at Edith.

“Is that really all you’re going to eat, hon’?”

Edith glanced up at Betty without lifting her head. “Yes, Betty,” she said with a sigh. “That’s all I’m going to eat today.”

“Eatin’ a salad is like eatin’ air, you know,” Betty said. “You need something more substantial than air to get you through the day.”

Edith sighed, stabbing a piece of lettuce with her fork. “Thank you, Betty. I appreciate your input, but I’m eating light today. My stomach isn’t feeling the best.”

Betty pursed her lips and furrowed her eyebrows, folding her arms across her chest. “Well, I guess but you make sure you get something later. It’s not healthy eating so little and if you’re trying to lose weight, well, you don’t need to. You understand me?”

“You’re starting to sound like my mom, Betty,” Edith laughed. “Don’t you have another table to wait on?”

Betty sighed and flounced across the diner toward another table, tablet in hand as she reached for the pen she’d propped behind her ear.

“So . . .” I sipped my iced tea and cleared my throat. “Is your stomach feeling off for any reason?”

Edith sipped her water. “I think it’s nerves. The adoption agency called this morning. Jimmy and I have been approved for adoption. Now we just wait for the phone call that says someone has chosen us to adopt their child”

“Oh, that’s great!” I cried.

My sister’s hand trembled as she stabbed at a tomato. “It’s getting real now, Blanche,” she said. “We’re really doing this and I’m not going to lie, I’m terrified.”

I reached across the table and took her hand. “It’s going to be okay, Edith. You and Jimmy are going to be amazing parents, you know that.”

“It’s not just the parenting that scares me. It’s the idea that we might fall in love with this baby, or child and then the mother changes her mind. I can’t imagine that heartbreak. Blanche, I think I know why you put up walls around yourself now. I’m afraid to be hurt again. I’m afraid to . . .”

She shook her head and I could see she was trying to hold back the tears. “I’m afraid,” she said a few moments later, her voice cracking. “To love this child in case we lose him or her the same way we lost Molly. Jimmy and I made a space in our hearts for our baby girl and then I came home from the hospital with empty arms.”

Edith wiped her eyes with her napkin. “I couldn’t bare to hold a child and fall in love with that child, only to have that child taken from me.”

“You’re acting like me, Edith,” I said. “You’re thinking of all the worse case scenarios and letting them guide your decisions in life, when you don’t even know if they’ll ever come to pass. That’s no way to live.”

Edith blew her nose and laughed softly. “Physician heal thyself,” she said with a smirk.

I bit into a fry and leaned my head on my hand, sighing.

“This isn’t about me, it’s about you,” I told her. “We are psychoanalyzing you today. My session can be tomorrow.”

Edith wiped her eyes again and smiled. “Well, at least you know I can empathize with you now and I understand the fear of letting anyone else into your life. I think this is something you and I will have to work on together. We will have to do what Lillian said during Bible study a couple of weeks ago: feel the fear and do it anyhow.”

The ding of the bell on the front door announced the arrival of Emmy, Judson and a few more of the workers from the construction business. Judson and the other men took up two booths on the other side of the diner while Emmy slid in the booth next to me, her belly almost touching the table.

“I said I was coming to lunch and the whole lot of them spilled out after me like a gaggle of schoolchildren,” she said picking up the menu. “The stench behind me was all-encompassing. Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking agreeing to be Daddy’s secretary and having to put up with this group of dirty, sweaty gorillas every day.”

I sipped my iced tea and laughed at the drama in my best friend’s voice. “You love it and you know it,” I said. “All those men fawning all over you, especially now that you’re expecting. ‘Yes, Miss Emmy.’ ‘ Can I hold the door for you, Miss Emmy?’ ‘Let me get you a glass of water, Miss Emmy.’”

Emmy looked at me in mock shock. “Blanche Robbins, that is not true.” She looked back at the menu. “They get me lemonade, not water. Plain water is evil.”

Betty returned to take Emmy’s order.

“You know, Blanche,” she said smacking away at her gum. “There’s a lot of good lookin’ men over there. At least one of them has got to be single. Maybe you should—-”

“Good grief, Betty! Not you too!”

“What? I’m just sayin’ — You’re still a young girl, you know. You don’t have to act like such an old woman. Go out on some dates, have some fun already.”

Another person trying to fix me with a man.

“Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match…” I sang at Betty. I slipped into my regular voice as I shook my finger at her teasingly. “Don’t you join the Fix Blanche Cause being headed by the rest of my friend’s and family, Betty. I don’t need a man to make my life better.”

Betty blew a bubble of gum at me, standing with a hand on her hip. “Well, I didn’t say anything about it being better but it might be a bit more interesting.”

I mimed a person writing in an order notebook, moving my hand across the top of the table. “Why don’t you just take Emmy’s order and go play matchmaker somewhere else, Betty.”

Betty shrugged and took Emmy’s order as I’d suggested.

“Don’t blame me if you end up old and alone,” she said with her dry wit as walked back toward the kitchen. “I tried to help but you jus’ wouldn’t listen.”

As she walked from the table I sighed and ignored the giggles from Emmy and Edith, wondering who else would be next to remind me I needed a man to have a better life.


“Now, Blanche, you tell me, is this dress just too fancy for an old lady like me?”

86-year old Jessie Reynolds was modeling the dress I’d made for her in front of the mirror, holding herself steady with her cane and lightly touching the bun her long, white hair was twisted up in.

“No, ma’am. I think it’s just perfect.”

“Not too risqué?”

I snorted a laugh. “No, ma’am.”

She looked over her shoulder and winked at me. “Hmmm..maybe you better start over and add a little flare to it then.”

“Now, Jessie. . .”

The elderly woman laughed and sat back in the chair across from me. “I still have a little spunk left in me, you know. Maybe I can snag myself a new man before I walk across that rainbow bridge.”

“Oh my goodness,” I laughed again and shook my head. I poured some tea into a teacup and set it on the plate next to Jessie.  “And which man do you have your eye on?”

“Well, that Bill Sprowles just lost his wife a year or so ago. He might be a bit lonely.”

Jessie and I laughed together. “Ah, well, you know I’m just teasing you. A woman doesn’t need to have a man to be happy, does she?”

“No, ma’am. She doesn’t.”

“But it certainly is nicer when she does. Now, tell me, Blanche, have you thought about dating again?”

I shook my head and laughed. “I should have known that was coming. Jessie, you’re a troublemaker.”

“Have to keep myself busy somehow at my age.”

“Honestly, I haven’t really been worried about it. I’ve had Jackson to take care of and this shop to run. I’m happy where I’m at, Jessie.”

Jessie sipped her tea. “I do know what you mean. Sometimes it’s easier to stay where we are and not allow change. But maybe in the future you’ll be ready to let someone else into your world and I hope you won’t be afraid to do so when the time comes.”

Although I didn’t enjoy discussing my love life, even with Jessie, I knew she meant well, and her blunt humor made the conversation less painful than it would have been with others. “Thank you, Jessie. I’ll keep that in mind if that time ever comes.”

“Oh no. Not ‘if’, Blanche, honey. When.” She winked at me over the edge of the teacup and giggled. “Plus, I need you to hurry up. I’m not a spring chicken and you need to have a nice big wedding with a nice, handsome man before I die.”

“Okay, Jessie,” I said. “Let’s get you out of that dress so I can get to work on making the alterations and have it ready for you by tomorrow.”

To myself I added: “And so I can rush you out of this shop before you start suggesting men for me to marry.”

As Jessie left the shop, Marjorie stepped in, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“Blanche, do you know anything about Stanley Jasper?”

“Just that he’s the editor of the paper,” I said, choosing not to add that he’d asked me about his intention to ask her out to dinner.

“Well, the strangest thing just happened with him at the diner. He asked me if I’d like to have dinner with him some night.”

I feigned innocence as I looped some thread around a spool and slid it into a drawer. “Oh? Well, what did you say?”

Marjorie picked at a piece of lent on her coat. “I didn’t know what to say so I asked him if I could think about it.” She shrugged. “He said that was fine, but, I don’t know . . . I’m not ready to — I mean I’ve never thought about dating again. I’ve just . . .  well, I’ve just never really thought about it. I don’t even know what to say. I guess I figured I was too old for such things.”

“Marjorie, you’re never too old for companionship but I understand,” I said. “It was nice of him to ask but you’re not sure you’re ready to open yourself up again.”

She nodded, sitting on the hard metal chair across from me. “I know you can relate to that, to putting up walls and being afraid to pull them down again; afraid to be hurt again.”

She sighed and tipped her head slightly, staring at the sewing machine with a far off look. Sitting with the front window as a backdrop, sunlight behind her, making the light grey streaks in her hair appear blond, she looked more like a young girl than a 55-year old woman

“I just don’t know what to do,” she said softly, wistfully almost, caught up in her thoughts.

“Well, it’s entirely up to you,” I said. “I think you did the right thing telling  him you needed some time to think about it.”

A small smile tugged at her mouth. “It was nice being asked – having someone actually seem . . . interested in me, I guess you’d say.”

I smiled as I leaned back against the sewing table, happy to hear a hint of joy and excitement in her voice and curious to know if she’d eventually accept Stanley’s invitation.

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 and

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 1

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can assure you, I won’t, Emmy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, Blanche! I just love the dress!”

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

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

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

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

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

“I know so.”

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

“It doesn’t make my – “

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Edith! That’s awful!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Latest column, Blanche?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, Blanche. . .”

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


“I’ve been thinking . . .”

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


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

I let my breath out in a heavy sigh.

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

“Daddy . . .”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little extra fiction – The Farmer’s Daughter

I thought I’d share some extra fiction today,  beyond the story I’ve been working on with “A Story to Tell,” even though it isn’t Fiction Friday. This is the beginning of another novel in process, The Farmer’s Daughter. This is the story of Molly Tanner, who thought that by now she’d be living away from her family with a career of her own, but instead is still living on her parent’s dairy farm in rural Pennsylvania. Now 26 she begins to wonder what the future will hold for a girl whose whole life has been working on her family farm and selling produce at her family’s farm store.

“Okay, cow.”

Molly Tanner spoke through gritted teeth. “You want a fight? You’ve got one.”

She grabbed the harness of the usually docile Jersey, jerking hard to pull the cow forward. The cow stretched her neck, looking bored while she chewed her cud, ignoring Molly’s efforts to lead her the 100 yards from the pasture to the barn, her feet firmly planted in the mud.

Molly pulled harder and gasped as the rope slipped out of her hands and she fell backward into the mud and manure.

Up at the barn Molly’s brother, Jason, and the hired hand, Alex Stone, were watching her. Her brother was holding a bucket of feed for the pigs and Alex was leaning against the doorframe of the barn door, chewing on a piece of sweet grass.

“What do you think she’s doing down there?” Alex asked, arms folded across his chest.

“Looks like she’s arguing with Lilly-belle again,” Jason said.

“Should we help her?” Alex asked.

“Probably,” Jason said.

Neither man moved to help. Instead, Jason poured the grain mixture into the feeding bin in the pig’s pen and Alex tossed the chewed grass at the ground and hooked his thumbs in his belt loops, still watching Molly.

Sitting there on her butt in cow poop, rain falling on her, Molly thought how this moment represented where her life had ended up since she’d graduated high school eight years ago.

She was still living on her parents’ farm in rural Pennsylvania, still sleeping in her old room, her mom still cooking her meals and washing her clothes. Molly thought by now she’d be out on her own, with her own career, her own life. As it was, she didn’t even know what career she’d have outside of farming. Working on a farm was all she’d ever known and all she’d ever wanted – at least until recently when she’d started to wonder what else the world might offer a 26-year old with no degree and little knowledge of the world other than how to milk a cow and sell produce at her parent’s small farm store.

“Listen here, girl, it’s time to get in that barn,” Molly said, pushing herself off the ground, lecturing Lily-belle. “I’m tired. It’s been a long day of milking and cleaning out all that poop you and your friends make. And I’m not done yet. I still have to help Mom bake cakes for the church rummage sale next week. You know how much I hate that bake sale, so come on, give me a break, okay?”

Molly looked into the deep brown eyes of the cow and realized how pathetic she must look standing shin-deep in mud, covered in cow manure, talking to a cow as if the cow could understand her. Her life really was swirling down the proverbial toilet.

“Good grief, she’s a mess,” Jason said from the barn, shaking his head. “You’d better go rescue her.”

“Hey!” Alex shouted. “What’s going on down there? We’re ready to start the milking!”

Alex’s voice booming across the cow pasture brought a curse word to Molly’s lips, which she immediately felt guilty about.

“If you’re so impatient then you get this stubborn cow moving!” she shouted, tugging hard at the harness again.

Molly heard the sound of boots thumping heavy in the mud behind her and watched in disbelief as Alex reached over her shoulder, took the harness from her hands and Lily-belle moved forward with him.

“Are you kidding me?!” Molly shouted. “I’ve been trying to get her to move for 20 minutes!  What did you do differently?”

Alex looked over his shoulder and smirked as the cow followed him

“I guess the ladies just like me.”

“You wish,” Molly grumbled loud enough for him to hear.

“Molly, why don’t you just head in and get cleaned off,” Robert Tanner said to his daughter as she stumbled through the barn doorway. “You can start helping your mom with those cakes. Alex, Jason and I can finish up the milking.”

“I’ll take you up on that offer,” Molly said. “Maybe I can even manage a shower before bed for once.”

“That would definitely be a good thing,” Jason said with a look of disgust. “You smell like the pigs.”

Molly shot a glare at her brother and turned to walk back toward the house.

“And you smell like the gas that comes out of their behinds!” she shouted over her shoulder.

“Always have to have the last word, don’t you?” Jason shouted back.


“Whatever back at you!”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Robert said. “I’ll have the last word.”

Molly watched the sun slipping behind the hills that hugged the Tanner’s 250-acre farm as she walked. The sunset, a mix of orange with a streak of pink, made the fields of the farm look almost mystical. She knew she’d never get sick of this view, of these sunsets at the end of a long day. She walked into the chicken coop to look for eggs she knew her mom would need for the cakes.

The last few years had definitely been a challenge for the Tanner family. They had watched their once strong patriarch, Robert’s father, Ned, fade away, trapped in a mind riddled with dementia. Around the same time Ned’s dementia had progressed, the family farm had plunged toward bankruptcy, as two years of heavy rain and flooding killed the corn and hay crops, leaving the family with little feed for their cattle.

Robert and his brother Walt’s decision to increase the farm’s organic produce inventory had helped save the business, but only barely. Now the family joined other farmers in the area in another crisis – a surplus of milk and decline in demand.

“I swear, if one more person tells me they drink almond milk I’ll scream,” Jason said one day, climbing down from the tractor and slamming the door closed. “It’s not milk. You can’t milk an almond. Milk comes from mammals. It’s false advertising. They should call it almond juice. Plus, who knows what’s in that stuff – it isn’t only almonds, that’s for sure.”

Walking back toward the house, trying to wipe dirt from her face, but instead only wiping more onto it, Molly paused again to look out the fields of the farm. The green of the corn was starting to peek up from the soil and soon they’d be harvesting it, if the rain would ever stop. It would be the third year of harvesting without her grandfather, the first since he’d passed away from heart failure at the end of last summer.

“Are you going to stand there all day or are you going to bring those eggs into the house?”

Her mom’s voice and laughter startled her and she turned away from the sunset.

“Sorry,” Molly said. “I was just admiring the sunset.”

“I know it’s beautiful,” Annie Tanner said. “But I need to get those cakes started. A sunset will wait. Mavis Porter won’t.”

Annie looked at her daughter and sniffed. “What were you doing out there? Rolling in the manure? Head upstairs and get a shower before we start on these cakes.”

Molly inwardly cringed at the mention of Mavis, the woman who had overseen the Spencer Valley Methodist Church rummage sale for 20-years straight. Mavis had a knack for making anyone feel less than, her thin face pursed into a permanent look of disapproval. Molly hoped she wouldn’t be roped into manning the baked goods table again this year. Mavis seemed to think it was ironic to have the fat girl guarding the cakes and cookies at the annual rummage sale.

“I can’t believe there are any cakes left,” a middle school-aged boy said one year, looking Molly up and down from across the church basement while his friends laughed.

“There were probably even more before she came in,” another boy said, as they all snickered.

She pretended she didn’t hear them as she counted the change in the money box.

Molly wasn’t proud of the weight she’d gained over the years, but no matter what she did she couldn’t seem to get back down to her high school weight of 118. She missed when she was in junior high school, thin and limber and not the butt of little boy’s jokes.

With long brown hair that curled when wet and plenty of curves, she possessed a clearly feminine shape. She was not what some might call grotesquely obese. Still, she wasn’t happy with the extra cushion to her belly, backside, and thighs she’d developed in high school. She wished she’d never heard the term “saddlebags” beyond what was hooked to the actual saddle of a horse. Drying off in front of the bathroom mirror she kept her eyes downcast, hoping to avoid a full view of what her body had become over the years.

Three cakes were baked and cooling on the dining room table when Molly heard her father’s truck pulling into the driveway of the house.

Her father’s red Ford needed to be replaced. The old truck was Robert Tanner’s pride and joy and a gift from his father when Robert had taken over the farm. Annie kept urging him to invest in a new one, but each time she did he responded with: “It gets me where I need to go and when it won’t no more then I’ll get a new one.”

Molly watched as her dad climbed out of the driver side, more gingerly than he had even a year ago. He’d been up since 4 a.m. to oversee the milking of the cows, the shoveling of the manure, the preparations to mow the field and she knew the last few years had been as physically rough on her dad as it had been emotionally.

Alex slid out of the passenger side easily and walked toward the house. He wore the same style of faded blue jeans and brown work boots he did every day. A white t-shirt was dirt-stained under a blue button-up, shirt sleeve plaid shirt. Molly couldn’t deny Alex’s rugged good looks quickened her pulse at times, but he was six years older than her, obnoxious and preferred the bar when she preferred solitude with her journal.

“Are you coming to dinner tonight, Alex?” Annie asked from the doorway.

“I don’t like to intrude and I smell like – ..”

Annie interrupted before he could finish.

“Jason is visiting Elsie tonight so there is already an extra place at the table for you,” she said. “Wash up and head on in. I’m dipping it up now.”

“Good day in the fields?” Molly asked after the prayers had been said and the food was on the plates.

“The John Deere finally broke down,” Robert said, breaking a piece off a chicken breast.

“Will John come and look at it?” Annie asked.

Alex and I can take care of it in the morning after milking,” Robert said nodding toward Alex. “It will make a late start, but I hate to spend the money if I know we can fix it here.”

Alex grinned. “Robert forgets I’m not good with the tractors, just the trucks,” he said. “But I’ll see what I can do.”

“I have faith in both of you,” Annie said with a smile.

Quiet settled over the dining room. The clanking of forks against plates was soon the only sound. Molly felt the tension in the air like someone wanted to say something but didn’t know how to. Her dad cleared his throat and she felt apprehension curl in her stomach.

“We got a letter from the co-op today,” he said.

“How bad are the numbers?” Annie asked and spooned more potatoes on Alex’s plate.

“Worse I’ve seen in five years,” Robert was somber. “It’s going to hurt a lot of farmers. Even with the organic market, I think it may even hurt us. There were also more farms that went out of business this year.”

Molly felt sick at the thought of even more of their friends being forced to sell their farms. She had attended too many auctions last year, hugged too many farmers wives, watched too many farm families weep as their lives were sold to the highest bidder.

“I don’t understand how the buyers can keep getting away with his,” Annie said, shaking her head. “It’s like the harder we all work, the more we get punished. We make the milk, they raise the prices and barely pass anything on to us.”

Molly pushed her potatoes around her plate as silence settled over the small group.

“We just have to give this over to God,” Robert said softly. “It’s all I know how to do anymore. Keep plugging ahead somehow and pray God shows us which direction to take. We’ve got the store, we are offering organic meats and products, something many people seem interested in now. It’s all we can do.”

The family and Alex nodded but they all felt the dread and the worry, like a sojourner without a compass.

Robert Tanner had been working on his family’s farm for more than 50 years and in the last 10 years, the farm had expanded to include farmland once owned by neighbors who had sold family businesses after the decline in milk prices had devastated them financially. Robert and his father Ned had offered area farmer’s a fair price and in some cases had even given them jobs in Tanner Enterprises. The farmers were able to keep their homes and remain in the area, if they wanted to, with the Tanners taking over their planting, harvesting, and milking.

Robert was proud of how he and his brother Walter had been able to grow the family business his grandfather had started almost 100 years ago, but he was also tired. It hadn’t been easy to keep a small farm, let alone a big one, operating in the black and it was getting harder each year. Diversifying what the farm produced and adding a farm store had increased profits enough to keep food on his, and his employees’, tables, but there were some days Robert wondered when the other shoe was going to drop and his dream of being a farmer would die.


Looking for other fiction? Catch up on my novel in progress: ‘A Story to Tell’ Here.

I’m also working on a Biblical novella, which you can find excerpts of here or at the link above under Fully Alive