Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter, Chapter 29

Anyone else ready for an escape from reality?

Some of you probably won’t be happy with me today because I’m going to leave you on a cliffhanger. However, I will post Chapter 30 tomorrow so you’re not left hanging for too long.

I’ve been posting these chapters since April. I can’t believe it, but I have. I’ve been working on this particular story for a couple of years now, off and on anyhow.
As always, there will probably be typos, missing words, etc. as this is a novel in progress. If you find some of these typos, etc., please feel free to let me know in the comments or via the contact form so I can fix them. I’ve seen some really dumb mistakes on my chapters long after they were published here and I’m always amazed someone didn’t say something about them so I could fix them. Ha!

If you would like to catch up to the rest of the story you can do so HERE or at the link at the top of the page. Or, you can wait until February 2021 when I publish it on Kindle (after rewrites, editing, etc.).


Chapter 29

“No, Mom, I won’t hear of it.”

Robert held his hand out toward his mom and shook his head. “We are not selling this property or this house to cover that loan. This house has been in our family for generations. I appreciate the offer, but that’s not the answer.”

Franny sighed and slid her glasses off, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Robert, we can’t hold on to all this property forever and if it will help save the rest of the business then we need to consider it.”

“Mom. No. I’m not allowing —”

“There is no allowing anything on your part. This house and property are in my name and my name alone. I will make the final decision, not you.”

Robert sat in the recliner that had been his father’s and propped his elbows on his knees, looking at his mother. Her jawline had that familiar set of a woman who was not to be deterred. Her eyes were flashing with determination and her lips were pressed firmly together. Worst of all was her unwavering gaze that told him she’d made up her mind.

She wanted to move into an apartment close to Betty and Frank. It would be less upkeep and the sale of the house and property would go to help pay off the loan. Robert appreciated her offer, but at this point, the deadline to pay off the loan was closing in and the sale would take longer than they had. Thankfully, they’d be able to pay off a large portion of it with the proceeds combined from the sale of the corn, the milk sales, and profits from the farm store over the last month.

“Mom, I know it’s up to you. The decision is yours, but at this point, the sale would take a while and it wouldn’t be in time to go toward the loan.”

 Franny sighed. “Well, I guess I can hang on to the house for a bit longer. Who knows, maybe I can give it to Molly to live in when she gets married. “

Robert raised an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes. “Married? Have you heard something I haven’t?”

Franny laughed softly and leaned back against the couch. “Don’t get all flustered now. I haven’t heard a thing. I’m just thinking about her future. I’m sure she’ll get married someday.”

“To Alex?”

“I don’t know who. I’m just saying, our Molly is a good catch for any man, and she might want to stay close to her family. We don’t know.”

“Or she could want to leave the farm, see what else is out there for her,” Robert countered.

“True. That’s all up to Molly, but just in case she wants to stay close to her family, raise her children here, then —”

“Children?” Robert scoffed. “Mom, let’s slow down a bit okay? I haven’t even wrapped my head around her kissing my farmhand let alone let my mind go to her being married or having children.”

Franny chuckled. “Good grief, Robert. You need to get with the program and realize Molly isn’t a little girl anymore. She’s a grown woman with her own path to carve out in life.”

“I know that mom, but I think you would agree that even though she’s a grown woman, she will always be my little girl.”

Franny tilted her head and smiled. She leaned forward and covered her son’s rough, hard-worked hands with her much smaller ones. “Just like you will always be my sweet boy.”

A grin tugged Robert’s mouth upward. “Thanks, Mom. I love you too.”

***

Molly had been avoiding Alex all day and she knew he could tell. He’d tried more than once to reach for her hand and she’d pulled away each time, reaching for a shovel or a bucket or anything so she wouldn’t feel his skin against hers and lose control of her senses every time he was around. She couldn’t miss his looks of confusion, the way he’d looked at her with narrowed eyes from the main barn doorway on his way to the lower barn as if trying to figure out why she’d turned so cold in such a short time. 

Several times during the day she snuck looks at him, trying to decide if he was the type of person who would have confessed his love for a woman only a couple of weeks after taking another woman he barely knew home from the bar and sleeping with her. There was part of her who couldn’t imagine it, but part of her that thought it was possible, not because he was a horrible person, but because she knew Alex used things like alcohol and women to distract himself from the difficulties in life. 

She knew he had strained relationships with both of his parents. Maybe he’d been trying not to think about that. Still, if he had loved her for years as he said, then why would he have taken Jessie home instead of telling her how he felt? Why had it taken him so long to tell her anyhow? Alex Stone wasn’t someone who was afraid of women and there was no way he was afraid of her. There was nothing special or intimidating about her. She wasn’t beautiful and tall and leggy like Jessie Landry. She was just Molly. Boring, fat, plain, and forgettable Molly Tanner.

She swallowed hard, walking toward the chicken coop, shaking her head at the tears stinging her eyes. A few nights ago, she was overcome with emotion by the words Alex spoke, and by the way, he held her tenderly. Now she was wondering if that had all been an act, even though she truly couldn’t comprehend it had been. She drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and silently prayed for God to reveal the truth to her and stop her racing mind.

Warmth against the back of her neck a few moments later as she collected the eggs sent a shiver of panic rushing through her. She could smell his aftershave and it was clouding her thoughts. Why did he have to stand so close?

She snatched up the eggs and quickly moved to the next nesting box to move away from him.

He moved with her, stepping even closer until his front was almost touching her back. “Hey, you’ve been avoiding me all day. What’s going on?”

She didn’t turn around. She knew if she looked at him, she’d burst into the tears she’d been fighting back all day.

“Nothing’s going on. I’m fine.”

He laughed softly. “Yeah, um, I know ‘I’m fine’ is code for ‘something is wrong’ in women speak.”

He touched her arm gently and for a brief second, she pictured herself leaning back into him so he could hold her. “Molly, talk to me.”

She slid past him and carried the basket of eggs out of the chicken coup, walking back toward the barn without answering him. She could hear his footsteps quickening behind her. Where did she think she was going to go that he wasn’t going to follow? The bathroom was the only option, and she was fairly certain he would block her way if she tried to get to the house. 

His hand caught hers as she stepped inside the feed room door. Trying to pull loose she moved toward the middle of the room, but he pulled her gently back toward him until she was facing him.

His voice was firm. “Talk to me. I need to know why we’ve gone from making out one day to you not even acknowledging I’m alive the next. What happened between a few days ago and today?”

His hand gripped hers tightly. She closed her eyes, praying the tears would disappear. 

When she opened her eyes, she was staring straight into a pair of captivating blue eyes clouded with genuine concern and confusion. At that moment she couldn’t imagine Alex would ever lie to her and that fact terrified her because she knew she was about to ask him a question she didn’t want to know the answer to.

She asked it quickly and bluntly before she chickened out and ran for the house. 

“Did you sleep with Jessie Landry?”

Alex’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “No. Why would you even ask that?”

“Because Jessie says you did.”

He released his grip on her hand. “And you believe her?”

She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment and shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t really, no. I’ve known Jessie for years and I can’t remember her ever being a very honest person.”

He stepped back from her, hands on his hips, turning to look at the field across the road. Panic began to surge through her. He’d already denied it but now he had withdrawn, and she wondered if that meant there was some truth to Jessie’s story. When he turned back toward her, his expression was serious.

“I didn’t sleep with her, but I did bring her back to my place that night.” He walked toward her until he was standing a few inches in front of her, his eyes glistening as he spoke. “I took her home because I wanted to take my mind off you because I didn’t think I was good enough for you, Molly. I still don’t. I saw you with Ben that day outside the church and I thought something was going on between you. I figured it was because he was better than me. I went to the bar a couple of nights later, Jessie was hanging all over me and I didn’t want to think about how I wasn’t good enough for you anymore so I brought her back home.” He looked at the barn floor, shaking his head. “The entire time she was there, though, all I could think about was you.”

Warmth spread through Molly’s chest and her face flushed. 

He swallowed hard and brought his gaze back to hers again. “That’s the truth. I don’t expect you to believe me because you know my past, you know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I promise you that this was not one of them. I never should have taken her home. I never should have gotten drunk that night. I kissed Jessie, I almost slept with her, but I didn’t.” He pushed his hand through his hair, laughing softly. “She definitely was not happy about that, but I couldn’t help it. It was you I wanted. Not her.”

“I meant what I said Molly. I’m in love with this farm, I’m in love with this family and more importantly, I’m in love with you. Do you really think I lied about that? That I could lie about that?”

She opened her mouth and closed it again, unsure how to answer. Did she really think he’d lied? She couldn’t even imagine he had, yet she was afraid to fully trust he hadn’t. Fully trusting meant opening her chest and letting her heart be exposed in a way she hadn’t allowed since she dated Ben.

“Molly?”

The hurt in his eyes shot daggers through her heart and she wanted to tell him she believed him, she trusted him, she loved him as much as he said he loved her but she couldn’t seem to move beyond her fear.

She reached out and laid her hand against his upper arm. “Alex, I —”

The back door to the feed room swung open and Jason filled the opening as he guzzled soda from a can and burped loudly. “Oops did I interrupt some kind of lover’s spat?”

She thought her head was going to explode.

She didn’t even know her brother had a clue about her and Alex’s relationship and at this point, she didn’t even care. 

She swung to face him. “Excuse me?”

Jason stepped into a square of light on the barn floor made from an opening above the door. “You heard me.” He winked and pointed to her then to Alex and back to her again. “I know all about you two.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “What — how — I mean just seriously, what is wrong with my family? You all have the worst timing on the planet and act like I can’t have a life of my own.”

Jason’s eyes widened and he blinked at her innocently. “What do you mean? I didn’t say you couldn’t have your own life, I just —”

“Interrupted me,” Molly snapped. “Interrupted me again. Like everyone else in this family has done every time Alex and I are together. I’m sick of all of you sticking your nose in my business.”

Jason looked at Alex who raised his arms slightly from his side and shrugged. Jason looked back at his sister and sighed. “I just can’t win with women right now, can I?”

Molly folded her arms across her chest her cheeks bright red. “Apparently not. Now get lost. This is a private conversation.”

It was Jason’s turn to roll his eyes. “Fine, I’ll leave but I needed to ask Alex if he can run down and check on dad first.”

Molly cocked a leg to one side, folded her arms across her chest, and glared at her brother. “Why?”

“Because Dad has been down in the field by the lower barn for two hours. It shouldn’t take him two hours to plant rye in that area and I wanted to know if Alex would go see if the tractor broke down again. Dad didn’t take his phone with him.”

Molly was certain her blood pressure was at a dangerous level at this point. “Why can’t you do it?”

“Because Uncle Walt is on his way over with Troy and we’ve got to move those heifers up to the upper barn before the storm moves in.”

Alex stepped between the siblings and held a hand toward each of them. “Hey, guys, truce, okay? I’ll head down and check on Robert.” He turned toward Molly, his back facing Jason. “Can we finish this discussion when I get back? I want to talk this out, okay?”

Molly nodded, touching his arm gently. “Yes. I want to too.”

For the first time since they’d started talking a small smile tugged at Alex’s mouth. “Good,” he said softly.

Jason groaned. “Gross. I don’t need to see you two swoon over each other. I’m going to go wait outside for Uncle Walt.”

Alex laughed softly as Molly stuck her tongue out at Jason’s back. 

He stepped toward her, leaned in, and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“We’ll talk?” he asked softly, cupping his hand against her face.

A faint smile tugged at her mouth. “We will.”

Molly watched Alex climb into his truck from the feed room’s doorway. On the horizon behind him, dark clouds were inching toward the farm, threatening to pound the ground with rain for the third time that week. She pushed her hand back through her hair, anxious to continue their conversation but feeling relieved that they had at least broached the issue instead of letting it fester.

***

As he drove toward the lower field, Alex’s mind was filled with what else he wanted to tell Molly when he got back to the barn. He wished their conversation hadn’t been interrupted — again. Did she believe him? What had she been about to say? He knew Jason hadn’t meant to interrupt their conversation but part of him wanted to tell his friend off – from a distance where Jason couldn’t shove him again, of course. Alex’s chest and back were still aching from the encounter a few days before.

He should have known Molly would eventually find out about Jessie, but at the same time, she’d told him she already knew about his past and still loved him. The memory of her words gave him hope that she’d been about to tell him she believed him and understood why he hadn’t told her about Jessie before. And then there had been the way she had touched his arm before he left, telling him she wanted to talk more. That was a good sign, right? It had to be. 

He drove slowly over the small dirt road that connected the upper and lower fields of the Tanner’s farm, his mind focused completely on Molly until he came up over the hill and looking down saw the underside of Robert’s tractor facing toward him instead of the cab. That definitely wasn’t normal. Was Robert trying to fix it? If he was, how did he get it up on its’ side? Alex’s chest tightened. Robert couldn’t have pushed it over on his own.

He quickly scanned the grassy area around the overturned tractor for Robert, terror gripping him when he didn’t see him.

“Please let him be in the barn,” he prayed, gunning the accelerator. 

The moment he slammed his foot on the brake and threw the truck into park he knew Robert wasn’t in the smaller storage barn. His chest constricted as he shoved the truck door open. 

He could already see Robert’s body pinned underneath the 1960 Ford tractor that had originally been Ned’s. 

Oh, God

He started running.

“Robert! Robert! Talk to me!”

Robert’s torso and legs were under the main part of the tractor, his pale face visible, glazed eyes looking up at the darkening sky.

Dark red pooled around his upper body.

Book Review: Wooing Cadie McCaffery by Bethany Turner

These days it’s nice to have something light to read and while Wooing Cadie McCaffery by Bethany Turner had some serious topics, it dealt with them in a lighter way than most books might have.

The book is definitely Christian, yes, but it isn’t a preachy Christian fiction book. It’s very real, authentic and points out some of the struggles within the Christian faith, especially when it comes to relationships, sex before marriage, and dating in general.

Lest I make this sound like a serious book, however, let me assure you there is some serious humor in this book. Humor and characters you will fall in love with. Cadie is an employee in the accounting department of a sports channel similar to ESPN. Her best friend, Darby, works with her in the same department.

Cadie’s boyfriend is Will Whitaker, a researcher within the company who will eventually become more of a face of the company when he lands a big story.

The book begins with Cadie and Will meeting each other but continues four years later when Cadie has just about given up on Will ever proposing to her. And since he won’t propose she wonders if their relationship has any real future. An incident within them leads Cadie to break up with Will and Will to strive to become the man she wants him to be and “woo” her back. Humor abounds during this process, involving Cadie and Will, their boss Kevin, who is a retired famous NBA player, Darby, and Cadie’s parents.

Cadie is a hopeless romantic, which is part of her problem throughout the book. She seems to think her life will play out like a romantic comedy, but is thrown off kilter when life instead starts to play like a tragedy.

Cadie’s mother is a well-known personality within the Christian world and the host of a show on a church network. There are times Cadie feels like nothing she does is right in her mother’s critical eyes and when she and Will separate she dreads telling her mother about the incident that led to the breakup, afraid her mother will lecture her about her failings as a Christian.

Cadie’s parents certainly don’t make it any easier on Will either, since he feels they’ve already told him he doesn’t measure up for their daughter. Adding to the complication for Will is the fact that the career he always wanted is taking off just as his personal life is crumbling. He’s almost ready to give up the career to win Cadie back, though, and he decides to recreate scenes from some of her favorite romantic movies to do it, which definitely allows for some hilarity to ensue.

This book switches between first and third person every other chapter and at first I found that distracting, but Turner pulled it off by creating an entertaining plot and lovable characters. All of Cadie’s chapters are told in the first person and all of Will’s in the third. This allowed Turner to let the reader see into the mind of each of the characters throughout the book.

For anyone looking for a fun, light ride, with a little bit of emotion tossed in, and who isn’t these days, then I would definitely recommend this one.



Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 19

In case you missed it, I posted Chapter 18 yesterday because we all need a distraction from the news of the world today, or just other stresses in our lives. Or at least I do because this week has been stressful for me. The one highlight of the week is that I have finished the first draft of A New Beginning and am now beginning rewrites, revisions and all that jazz, hoping to publish it on Kindle sometime in the Spring.

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

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

 


Chapter 19

The waiting room at the adoption agency wasn’t exactly what I would call welcome. Walls that had probably once been a sterile, eggshell white were now dull and stained. A few metal chairs and a coffee table with magazines scattered on top of it sat in the center of the room. In one corner a desk with a stained blue chair pushed against it was gathering dust. In the other corner, a plant revealed its synthetic status by the dust on its leaves.  In some ways, the room reminded me more of a prison cell than a waiting room.

Edith’s hands were red from wringing them for half an hour now. I took her hands in mine to keep her from ripping the skin off and she managed a smile, worry clearly etched across her face.

Jimmy, chewing on a toothpick, paced in front of the small smeared window facing a brick wall, pushing his hand back through his sandy brown hair. Every few moments he looked at the floor, then back out the window, then at the closed door of the room. As I wished for the tenth time someone would come in to update us on what was happening, the door to the room opened and a plump woman with grey-streaked, frizzy blond hair and black cat-eye glasses stood in the doorway with a clipboard. Dressed in a blue blouse untucked from her grey skirt and covered with a gray suit jacket she looked flustered as she walked briskly into the room.

A teenage girl with straight blond hair and stooped shoulders walked behind her, her eyes lowered. Thin except for the small round belly protruding against the fabric of a flower-covered peasant blouse, she looked like she should be in a line at school, waiting to go to recess, not waiting to sign her baby away. The hem of her blue denim skirt rested a few inches above the knees, her legs covered by bright red tights.

“I’m sorry we took so long, Mr. and Mrs. Sickler,” the woman with the clipboard said, glancing up and stretching her hand out to Edith first and then Jimmy. “I’m Sandra Tyler, your social worker. Lily was running a little late. I should have updated you but my other appointment ran a little long.”

“We understand,” Edith said then gestured toward me. “I hope it’s okay we brought my sister Blanche as moral support.”

Sandra smiled at me and shook my hand as well. “Of course it is. I’m sure Lily is happy to meet anyone who will be a part of her baby’s adoptive family.” She gestured toward the chairs. “Please. Let’s all sit and get to know each other a little.”

Lily lowered herself gently into one of the metal chairs, her belly spilling over the top of the skirt under the blouse. Sunken eyes with dark circles under them looked out from the small, round face. She bit her bottom lip and bounced her foot, looking at Jimmy and Edith, as if sizing them up.

Sandra cleared her throat.  “So, this Lily. She’s a young lady from here in the city and she’s due three months from now. We’ve been helping Lily with her addiction and she was just released from rehab a couple of weeks ago. Lily, this is Jimmy and Edith, the couple you chose from the files we showed you. Do you have any questions for Edith and Jimmy?”

Lily shrugged, folding her arms across her chest. “Yeah. I guess.” She looked at Sandra from under heavy eyelids and then at Edith and Jimmy. “Have you got a lot of room for kids?”

“Oh yes,” Edith said. “We live in a small town with a lovely backyard and both our parents have homes in the country with plenty of space for a child to run and play in.”

Lily’s mouth tipped upward slightly. “How come you don’t have kids of your own?” she asked abruptly.

Sandra looked startled at the question. “Lily, honey, that might be a little too personal,” she said softly.

“No. It’s okay,” Edith said quickly. “I don’t mind.” She smiled at Lily. “We lost a baby a few years ago and haven’t been able to have any more children since then. She was stillborn.”

Lily looked at the floor and shifted in the chair, her smile gone. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “That sucks.” She looked up at Edith through blond bangs. “Doesn’t really seem fair someone like you not being able to have a baby and someone like me – someone screwed up like me – getting knocked up by some guy who don’t even love me anymore.”

Edith swallowed hard and looked at Jimmy. “Well, Lily, I don’t … I mean, you’re not…”

Sandra interrupted. “What Edith means, Lily is that you’ve made some mistakes in life but you’re fixing those mistakes and one way you’re doing that is doing the right thing for your child and giving him or her to a loving couple to take care of him or her.”

Edith nodded and I could tell she was grateful for Sandra stepping in. “Right, Lily. You’re trying to make up for all that now.”

Jimmy cleared his throat and leaned forward slightly.

“So, how have you been doing, Lily ? Feeling pretty good ?”

Lily shrugged again and slumped slightly in the chair. “Yeah,” she squeezed her forearm and looked at the floor. “Been keepin’ clean from the drugs. They’ve got me in some program. I think it’s workin’.”

She kept her eyes downcast as her lower lip started to tremble. “Wish I’d never started all that junk in the first place.” She sniffed and dragged her hand across her nose. “I’m not ready for a baby at my age. I’m only 15. Can’t believe I let that guy talk me into doing that just for a hit off his pipe.”

My breath caught in my chest and I did my best not to gasp out loud. She was only 15 and pregnant. I had been a mess at 17 when I found out I was pregnant. She must have been terrified.

Tears rolled down Lily’s cheeks and dropped off her chin. Edith stood and kneeled in front of Lily, laying her hand over hers. “It’s going to be okay, Lily. You’re getting help. You’re getting on the right path and we’re going to take care of your baby, okay?”

Lily nodded, accepting the tissue Sandra offered her and wiping her face, then blowing her nose. She laid the crumpled tissue back in Sandra’s hand. The social worker looked at it with a small grimace and tossed it into the trash can next to her.

“You seem like good people,” Lily said softly.  “I’m really excited for you to have this baby.”

After a few more minutes of conversation, Lily asking if Edith had painted the nursery and how old she and Jimmy were, Sandra suggested Edith and Jimmy plan another meeting with Lily in a month and everyone agreed.

“I feel a lot better about it all now that I’ve met you,” Lily said as we all stood, her nose still red from when she’d cried.

“We’re so glad to have been able to meet you, Lily,” Jimmy said.

Lily nodded, sniffed and laid her hand against her belly. “I’m glad you’re taking my baby. I’m in no shape to take care of it and the daddy don’t – doesn’t want it. I think it’ll be happier with nice people like you.”

When the door closed, we all looked at each other and I could tell none of us were sure how to react.

Edith sat in a chair and let out a breath. “Whoa. That was . . .”

Her voice trailed off as she shook her head.

“Crazy,” Jimmy said, sitting next to her. “How does a kid that young get in a situation like that? Where were her parents?”

“Maybe on the streets just like her,” I said with a shrug. “Who knows.”

Edith leaned forward, pressing her hand against her forehead. “Are we doing the right thing? Taking this baby from this girl? What if – I mean, maybe we could–”

“Edith, she’s too young to raise this baby on her own,” Jimmy interrupted. “We can give this child a better life.”

“And then what happens to Lily?” Edith asked, tears suddenly pooling in her eyes. “If her parents don’t care about her now and the father has left her – who else is around to care for her? And what about when she gets older and realizes what she’s done, that she gave up her baby?”

Jimmy leaned back in the chair and pushed his hands back into his hair. “I don’t know Edith. I just don’t know. But we can’t trust her to take care of that baby on her own either. We live too far away to keep an eye on her – what else can we do?”

We sat in silence, looking at the floor, feeling a heaviness as we heard doors open and close in the hallways beyond the room we were sitting in. I wondered how many other waiting rooms were in this building, how many other young mothers were struggling to decide how or if they could care for their babies. I thought how I could have been that mother if I had chosen Hank or drugs or anything else over Jackson, if I hadn’t had the support system I had had in Miss Mazie, Hannah,  and my family.

When Sandra came back into the room, she handed a stack of papers to Jimmy and Edith.

“This is the preliminary paperwork you’ll need to sign. Of course, nothing is finalized until the baby is born and you and Lily sign the final papers the day of the birth.” She flipped the pages and pointed out where Edith and Jimmy needed to sign.

“What happens to Lily after the baby is born?” Edith said, her hand hovering over the stack of paper.

“What do you mean?” Sandra asked.

“I mean, does anyone keep an eye on her or help her through all this? It’s a big step, isn’t it, giving up your baby?”

Sandra sat back in the chair and sighed. “Yes, it is but most young girls like Lily move on with their lives and, sad to say, many of them return to the streets or the drugs or even, well, more unpleasant occupations.”

Edith winced. “Where are Lily’s parents?”

Sandra shook her head. “She only has her mother and that’s who brought her in, I’m afraid. She knows Lily can’t take care of this baby and the mother isn’t in any shape to do it either. She’s an alcoholic, living in an apartment complex in one of the worst parts in town. Quite frankly, I’m grateful she came here at all instead of trying to get Lily a back alley abortion somewhere.”

I felt sick to my stomach hearing what other young desperate mothers might turn to instead of adoption. I remembered Hank suggesting the same when I became pregnant, though thankfully he retracted the suggestion. I hadn’t understood what he meant back then when he’d suggested ending the pregnancy, but now I knew more and my heart ached that procedures like that were even possible.

“Mr. and Mrs. Sickler, listen,” Sandra laid the papers on the small coffee table and leaned toward them. “I know this is hard and scary and I think it’s wonderful you are so worried about Lily, but what she is doing is right for this baby. She can’t care for the baby on her own. The father isn’t even in the picture; we aren’t even sure who he is. Her mother is in worse shape than she is. You’re doing the right thing taking this baby. Otherwise, he or she will end up in foster care, bouncing from family to family. Your concerns for Lily are admirable, but the truth is, we just can’t save everyone.”

Edith was quiet on the way home and I knew she was thinking about what Sandra had said and struggling with her worry for Lily.

Fiction Thursday: “A New Beginning” Chapter 13

This is part of a continuing story, which you can catch up on here or at the link at the top of the page, under A New Beginning.

Want to read the first part of Blanche’s story? Find A Story to Tell on Kindle and/or Kindle Unlimited.
I had some “complaints” (notice the teasing quotes) last week that people would have to wait a week to read the cliffhanger from last week so I moved it up a day. I actually had two complaints because I really only have two people reading the story. Hahaha! Or at least two people commenting (which is NOT a complaint by me, just explaining it’s not like the complaints came in droves or that they were real complaints. Should I stop over-explaining now? Okay. I shall.)

Also, guess what! I’m glad that I rewrite and edit my books once I share them in chapters on my blog because I have been using the wrong name for one of my characters. Blanche’s mother-in-law is Marion, not Marjorie! Yikes! So sorry Marion! First, she had a horrible life with a horrible husband and son, and now her story is being told incorrectly because the author is messing up her name.

Check back tomorrow for Chapter 14 of the story.

 

 


Chapter 13

I had been so drugged when Jackson was born, I couldn’t remember what the doctor had done to make him cry. Or did he just cry by himself? I wracked my brain then remembered a delivery scene in a book I’d read and quickly turned the baby on her back, clearing mucous from her nose and mouth with my fingers and then flipped her again so her chest was against my palm as I smacked her back firmly.

Nothing.

I smacked her again, a little harder this time, as Emmy cried.

I was beginning to sob now, terrified.

“Oh Jesus, please let this baby breathe.”

I rubbed the baby’s back, feeling her solid against my hand and closed my eyes, slapping her hard again.

The sudden gasp that came from the tiny form after the third slap, tiny arms jerking out to her sides, sent relief rushing through me.

“Oh, Jesus! Thank you!”

Little Faith’s scream was the best sound I’d ever heard.

I laid her against Emmy’s chest and pulled my coat off, laying it across both of them. Tears streamed down Emmy’s face as she held Faith close to her.

The wind whipped against the car and snow pelted the windshield and windows. Looking on either side of us I could only see white. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see the road even if I had been able to stop my legs and hands from shaking.

I turned the heat up and looked in the backseat for the blanket I knew Daddy kept there.

“I was a Boy Scout,” he’d told me when I had teased him one time about the blankets and other supplies he had in the car. “You know their motto -”

“Yes, Daddy. Always be prepared.”

This was one time I was glad Daddy was prepared. I tightened the blanket around Emmy and Faith and then reached over and turned the radio on. Elvis crooned over the speakers.

“We should at least have some music while we wait to see if this snow slows down,” I said.

Emmy smiled, tears in her eyes as she watched Faith root for her first meal outside the womb. “We did it, Blanche. She’s here!”

I stroked Emmy’s hair and smiled down at Faith snuggled against her. I hoped the gas lasted until the snow slowed down and I could safely pull onto the road again. I should have listened to Mama about the snowstorm.  Emmy and I should have waited to go to the movies another night. I should have known she would be right. It seemed like Mama was always right and I knew I needed to start tuning myself into my own intuition if I was going to be as instinctual as she always seemed to be.

Emmy laid her head back against the door and smiled weakly as we listened to the next song by a new group from England called The Beatles.

“Such a weird name for a band,” Emmy laughed. “What do you think of their music?”

“I actually like them,” I said. “Edith is all about Elvis still, but I love I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

Emmy looked out the windshield as snow began to cover it. I knew we were both trying to keep our minds from being filled with worry.”

“Did you see on the news when they came into JFK?” she asked. “Can you believe how stupid those girls acted? I can’t imagine acting so stupid over a bunch of long-haired boys, I don’t care how good their music is.”

I laughed. “As someone who acted stupid over a boy when she was young, I guess I can’t say much. But. . .that was a little ridiculous.”

After another five minutes I could see the road slightly between the snowflakes. I didn’t want to wait much longer; I knew Emmy and Faith should be at the hospital and the umbilical cord still needed to be cut. Keeping with his “Always Be Prepared” motto, I knew Daddy had a knife in the glove compartment, but the lack of sanitation kept me from trying it.

“We’re only about ten minutes away. I’m going to try to get back on the road.”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” Emmy asked nervously.

“The road is definitely covered, but I don’t think it was cold enough before for the road to have been frozen underneath. I need to get you to the hospital.”

“Okay, then, let’s head out and pray for God to protect us.”

Even as I pulled the car back onto the road I wondered if I was making the right decision. Another couple of inches of snow had fallen on the road in the hour we’d been off the road. I began to sing to try to distract myself from intrusive thoughts about what could happen, remembering a song my Grandma used to sing.

The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide, A Shelter in the time of storm; Secure whatever ill betide, A Shelter in the time of storm.”

Emmy sang with me. “Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land. A weary land, a weary land; Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land, A Shelter in the time of storm.

We sang as I drove at 10 miles an hour, hands wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, leaning forward and squinting through the windshield wipers moving fast  to keep up with the snow. Emmy sang the next song clearly, her voice soft and angelic. I had forgotten how well she could sing.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”

A loud explosion interrupted her singing and at the same moment I felt the steering wheel jerk to the right and yank me off the road and into a field full of snow. We both screamed as I gripped the wheel to try to take control back, but it was too late. The car’s front end had slammed into an embankment and what looked like smoke billowed in front of us, obscuring our view.

I slammed the car into park when it hit the embankment and turned toward Emmy to check that she and Faith were okay. Emmy held Faith against her, her eyes wide.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

Emmy nodded but didn’t answer audibly.

“I’ll see what happened,” I said, opening the driver-side door.

Snow pelted me in the face and soaked my hair as I slid and skidded in the slushy snow toward the front of the car. I didn’t need to go far before I saw our problem – a blown front tire. I knew I had no idea how to change a tire, even though Daddy had shown me only a week ago, but I also knew Daddy most likely had a spare in the trunk. I shuffled toward the back of the car, then remembered I’d need a key to unlock the trunk. I shuffled again toward the front of the car and turned off the ignition, sliding out the key before venturing out again to unlock the trunk.

There was a spare tire and a jack right where I thought it would be, but I doubted I’d be able to lift the car with the jack and change a tire with the snow pelting me in the face and piling up around me. Still, I had to try so I kneeled in the snow, glad I was at least wearing jeans and boots, but regretting I hadn’t even brought gloves with me. Apparently, I hadn’t listened to Daddy’s motto as well as I should have over the years.

Ten minutes later I couldn’t feel my fingers and the jack had broke. I climbed back in the car and turned up the heat.

“No luck?”

I shook my head. Emmy was nursing Faith and I tightened the blankets around them.

“We’ve got to get you to the hospital. We’re not far away. I think I’m going to walk to see if I can  . .”

“No! You can’t leave me, Blanche!”

“Emmy, I have to find a phone to call an ambulance or someone to come help us. We can’t wait much longer.”

Emmy reached out with one hand and clutched my arm. “Stay! Someone will come, I’m sure!”

“I don’t even know how much more gas we have . . .”

“Don’t leave me. I’m so scared, Blanche.”

Emmy was trembling and I was worried that she’d lost too much blood or was dehydrated. Images of Edith collapsing against me flashed in my mind but I refused to imagine the same happening to Emmy. I slid close to her and hugged her against me, looking down at Faith in her arms.

“It’s going to be okay, Emmy. We’re going to make it through this. Someone has to come along soon.”

I hoped we weren’t too far off the road for someone to find us. I leaned my head against Emmy’s shoulder and began to pray.

“Jesus, give Emmy and me your peace right now. Hold us in your arms. Watch over us as we wait for someone to come. We know we are in your watch care.”

The wind howled around us as I began to quietly sing another hymn.

Dusk was upon us and Emmy had drifted to sleep with Faith against her when the roar of a car engine drowned out the wind and the click of sleet on the car windows. Feeling physically drained only moments before a new burst of energy rushed through me as I wiped the condensation from the window and squinted through the falling snow.

Tears of relief stung my eyes at the sight of Jimmy rushing through the snow and ice toward us. Emmy woke as the driver’s side door squeaked open.

“Blanche! Are you two okay?” Jimmy asked, trying to catch his breath, his cheeks flushed red.

“All three of us are doing okay but we could sure use some help getting to the hospital,” I said.

“Three? What – oh my gosh!”

Jimmy cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled against the wind.   “They’re here! Bring the blankets! Emmy’s had the baby!”

The rushed footsteps crunching in the snow were almost as welcome of a sound as Faith’s cries had been. I stepped out of the car as Daddy and Judson reached the bottom of the hill.

“You can’t do anything easy, can you, Emmy-lou?” Judson teased as he laid the blankets across her and the baby.

“My middle name is Anne and you know it, Judson Thomas,” Emmy said with a weak smile.

“I’ll get my jack from the back of the truck,” Jimmy said.

Judson gently closed the passenger’s side door and ushered me toward the back of the car where Daddy was standing, ready to roll the spare tire to the front of the car.

“When you two didn’t come home we panicked,” Daddy said. “We panicked even more when the sheriff stopped by looking for Emmy.”

“Looking for Emmy?”

His eyebrows were furrowed with concern as he glanced back at the car and lowered his voice. “Sam’s been shot.”

I gasped and suddenly felt shaky. “Shot? Is he alive?”

“He’s at the hospital,” Jimmy said, taking the jack and wheel wrench from Daddy. “That’s all we’ve been told. We don’t want to upset Emmy, especially now, so I don’t think we should tell her yet. What do you guys think?”

Daddy agreed. “Let’s get the tire on, get some gas in the tank and head to the hospital. When we get there, you go with Emmy, and Judson, Jimmy and I will find out how Sam is.”

I felt tears stinging my eyes, but I blinked them away quickly. I was barely able to manage a nod, as a wave of exhaustion suddenly rushed over me.

Daddy placed his hands gently on each of my shoulders. “We need to be strong for Emmy right now, okay?”

I nodded again and took a deep breath, determined to not let Emmy see the fear or worry gnawing at my insides.

“Go sit in the car and get warmed up,” Daddy said. “Don’t think the worst about Sam yet.”

I sat in the back seat and made sure Emmy and Faith were warm, trying to slow my racing thoughts. Sam had been shot. How bad was it? Was he even alive?

When Daddy and Judson had changed the tire and filled the gas tank with gas from a container in the back of Judson’s truck, Daddy slid into the front seat next to Emmy and smiled reassuringly.

“Alright, little lady. Let’s get you and that baby to the hospital and make sure you’re both okay.”

Emmy smiled weakly. “Thank you, Mr. Robins and I – um – I’m sorry about your upholstery.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d rather not think about that at the moment,” Daddy said, grimacing.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 9

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.

This week I pushed through some of the blockages I had in the story, so hoping that continues and I can finally finish it and begin some heavy editing. Of course, as I edit that could change some of what you are reading here, but the final draft will be published as an ebook on Kindle and other locations sometime in the spring.

As always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle. 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.


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Edith took the platter I had been carrying as I stepped through her front door. “Fried chicken, huh? I just read an article about how fattening fried foods are.”

I rolled my eyes. “And I just read an article about how unhealthy it is to take all the good tasting food out of your life.”

Edith set the platter on her table and then reached for a pitcher of lemonade and a bowl of salad, setting them on the table.

“Hey, ladies, Emmy’s walking up the front walk,” Jimmy said walking in the back door. “Or should I say, she’s waddling up?”

I smacked him gently on the arm. “Jimmy!”

“What? She’s waddling! I can’t help it. I think she’s carrying twins.”

“Don’t say that to her,” Edith whispered. “I don’t want her to feel bad.”

I opened the front door and took the plate of brownies from Emmy, stepping back so she could walk through to the couch, where I knew she’d want to sit.

“A few more weeks and I’m free,” she gasped, falling back onto the cushions, her belly pushed out.

“Free?” I laughed. “Oh, honey, your belly will be free, but your job only gets harder after the baby is here.”

Emmy closed her eyes and sighed.

“Oh, don’t remind me,” she said, then smiled. “But I know it will be worth it then, when I can finally hold this baby in my arms.”

“You girls going to be okay here alone?” Jimmy asked, snatching a brownie. “Your dad and I are taking Jackson and Judson fishing up at the lake today, so we won’t be around to save you if you set the oven on fire or Emmy gets stuck in the couch.”

Emmy scowled at Jimmy and playfully tossed a pillow at his head.

“Why are you taking Judson?” I asked.

“Why not?” Jimmy asked. “He’s a cool guy and we like showing him how to be a real country boy.”

“She thinks Mama and Daddy are trying to set her up with him,” Edith laughed. “And that Daddy is prepping him to be part of the family.”

I scowled at her as I helped Jackson with his jacket.

“Mama is trying at least,” I said.

“What’s ‘setting up’ mean?” Jackson asked, reaching for his fishing pole.

“Nothing,” I said quickly, kissing his forehead. “Don’t you worry about it, honey.”

Jimmy grinned and snatched his fishing pole from behind the door then raised his hands in front of him as a sign of surrender and headed toward the door.

“I’m stepping out of this conversation. Have fun with your gathering, ladies.”

I watched Jackson follow Jimmy down the sidewalk toward Jimmy’s truck, his jeans slipping down slightly in the back as he walked. It was hard to believe that he was already 6-years old. It hurt me he didn’t have a father to help set an example for him, but I was happy Jimmy and Daddy were there to be the men in his life.

“Why do you keep avoiding Judson anyhow?” Edith asked as the front door closed.

“I’m just not interested,” I said.

Emmy struggled to push herself up out of the cushions of the couch.

“Why not?” she asked. “He’s cute, polite  . . .  a member of my family, which means he’s got to be a great person.”

I shrugged. “I’m just not. He’s nice enough but who knows how long he’ll even stay here. He’s only here to learn more about construction from your dad and then he’ll be gone.”

Emmy shrugged. “Yeah, but that could take years. I mean, he’s renting a home here, says he loves this area. He could decide to stay here forever and besides – you agree he’s good looking right?”

I rolled my eyes, sitting in the recliner and leaning my head back against the back of it and groaning. “Yes, he’s good looking, but looks, as we know, can be very deceiving.”

I tipped my head up, raised an eyebrow and looked at Emmy and Edith. “You get my drift?”

Edith shrugged and poured herself a glass of lemonade.

“Not every good-looking apple is rotten,” she said, grinning.

Emmy shifted forward on the couch and looked at Edith. Now both of them were grinning, a sight that aggravated me.

“And that apple really is very good looking,” Emmy said. “Those blue eyes against that dark hair…handsome like all the male members of my family. ”

Edith smirked.

“And I bet he’s got some muscles under that construction shirt. He’d have to with all that lifting and hammering he does.”

“You two are starting to sound like Mama!” I cried. “Are we going to bake some cookies and make popcorn for the Dick VanDyke Show tonight or are we going to talk about my love life?”

Emmy wheezed as she pushed herself to a standing position. “Or your lack of a love life.”

I turned and scowled at her.

She raised her hands slightly at her side and shrugged.

“They say pregnant women get something called brain fog,” she said with a grin. “Blame my sassy mouth on the baby. I’ll be right back. I have to pee again.”

When Emmy waddled back into the room a few moments later, Edith set a tray of egg sandwiches on the coffee table and sat on the couch next to Emmy.

“Speaking of babies – I’ve been wanting to talk to you ladies about something.”m

My heart started pounding fast.

“Are you -?”

Edith interrupted me by raising her hand and shaking her head. “No. No. Nothing like that. We still can’t seem to get pregnant, but Jimmy and I have been talking a lot lately about other ways to start a family.”

I sat on the chair across from the couch. “Adoption?”

Edith nodded and wrung her hands nervously. “Yes. But I’m scared. What if this isn’t the right thing to do? What if it – what if it falls through or what if we don’t bond with the child, because he or she isn’t ours biologically?”

I leaned forward and took my sister’s hands in mine. “Edith, you’re starting to sound like me. That’s not like you. At the risk of sounding like Mama, have you prayed about this?”

“Oh yes, Jimmy and I both have. We’ve been praying about it together every day. I – I called an adoption agency last week and they’ve asked us to drive down and fill out an application. They were very nice, but I still – I just don’t know if this is the right thing to do.”

“Well, if it isn’t the right thing to do, God will stop it,” Emmy said. “That’s how I figure it, anyhow. Maybe it’s not the soundest theology but it’s what I think.”

Edith smiled, reaching one hand out to hold Emmy’s and the other to hold mine. “Okay, ladies. Then our job is to pray together that Jimmy and I make the right decision and that if adoption is the path God wants us to take, a child will be placed with us.”

We all agreed we would pray for God’s wisdom and I prayed silently for Edith’s heart to be protected.

***

“Blanche, sit down.” Stanley gestured to the chair in front of his desk sans cigar as I handed him my column. “I have a question for you.”

The suggestion to sit was an unusual one for Stanley and made me nervous. Usually, he merely nodded for me to lay the column on his desk while talking on the phone or typing away on his typewriter before telling me to have a good day.

“Can I get you a glass of water?” he asked as I sat down.

I shook my head, bewildered. I noticed his face was clean-shaven, his hair neatly combed and his shirt and pants a little less wrinkled than usual. Instead of leaning back in his chair with a cigar he sat in it with his back straight, then leaned forward slightly, elbows propped on the desk.  His hazel eyes locked on mine as he spoke.

“Blanche, I’d like you to start writing some feature stories for us. One a week to start with. What do you think?”

He was offering me an actually paying job? I was dumbfounded.

“I – I don’t know what to say. I’ve never interviewed people before and I –“

“You’re a good writer, Blanche. You’re easy to talk to. People like you. You’d be writing fluff pieces. Stories about old men who grow 60-pound squashes in their backyard and women who win pie-baking contests 25 years in a row. Easy, softball stories. I think you can do it and those kinds of stories sell newspapers. Why don’t you think about it and let me know when you bring your column next week? What do you say?”

I cleared my throat. “Well, okay, I can tr–”

“Great,” Stanley spoke over me. Interrupting people seemed to be a habit with him, as if his brain moved in tune with the days breaking news and he was afraid slowing his words would let his competition beat him to the punch. “I’m sure you’ll realize it’s a good idea. Now, on another, entirely different, matter . . .”

Stanley shifted nervously in his chair, leaned back and crossed one leg over the other, uncrossed it again, and leaned forward in his chair. He cleared his throat, coughed and took a quick sip from his coffee mug.  I waited for the quick flow of words that normally came, but instead there was only awkward silence.

“This is awkward for me to ask, Blanche.”

A rush of nervous energy shot through me. Good grief, what was making this man so nervous? Why were his eyes darting from me to the top of his desk and back to me again? Oh no. He wasn’t going to ask me out, was he? I’d already turned Thomas down the year before. Were newspaper men somehow attracted only to anxious, introverted wallflower types? Not to mention, the man was old enough to be my father and my actual father couldn’t stand him.

“Blanche, how well do you know Marjorie Hakes?”

Relief washed over me. I wouldn’t have to turn down advances from an older man today after all. “Oh. Well, I –“

“I mean, I know you know her son, or you knew him, or .. well, you know what I mean.”

I felt the sudden urge to giggle at the way Stanley was stammering and stumbling over words.

“Yes, I was married to Hank at one time,” I said. “It’s not a secret to anyone in this little town.”

“Right,” Stanley said. “But, I mean, I don’t know what your relationship is with his mother now and if you are close to her or not …”

“Actually, I visit her once or twice a week so she can see her grandson.”

“Oh, yes, right. Of course. That makes sense. Very nice of you.”

Stanley paused and slid a cigar from a box on the corner of his desk. He stuffed it in the corner of his mouth but didn’t light it. Pulling it from his mouth he propped it between his forefinger and middle finger and started to say something then closed his mouth again. He cleared his throat and returned the cigar to the corner of his mouth.

“Stanley?”

“Yes?”

“Why are you asking me about Marjorie?”

“Oh, yes.” He cleared his throat again and I thought about suggesting he take another drink of his coffee to wash down that frog in his throat but the conversation was dragging on long enough as it was.

“I see Marjorie every morning at the diner and I – uh–” he coughed softly and leaned back in his chair, looking briefly at the top of the desk before raising his eyes to mine. “Do you think she would go out with me?”

I bit my lower lip to hold back the laughter. I had never seen Stanley look so anxious and laughter might make it worse. I pondered how to answer his question. I had a feeling Marjorie had put up walls around her heart the same way I had around mine and I wasn’t sure she’d be willing to open herself up again. I didn’t want to discourage Stanley, but I wasn’t sure if I should encourage him either.

I wanted happiness for Hank’s mom, but suddenly I wanted to protect her the way I had been protecting myself. Stanley didn’t seem like the most stable or compassionate person at times. I worried that working as a newspaper editor for so long had jaded him and Marjorie didn’t need a hard-hearted man; she needed someone who could be what Henry Hakes never was. Someone who would treasure her, treat her like a woman should be treated. I wondered how much Stanley knew about her marriage to Hank’s father and the abuse she had suffered. I didn’t feel it was my place to tell him.

“I think there is a possibility she will say yes,” I said finally. “I think there is also a possibility she will say ‘no.’ I know that is not the answer you were probably hoping for but I’m not sure how she feels about opening herself up to new relationships since her husband passed away. She’s . . . been through a lot. It could be hard for her to – well, to trust again.”

Stanley looked at me over folded hands, his elbows propped up on the desk, the cigar between his thumb and forefinger. “I’ve heard stories about her marriage,” he said. “I’ve heard stories about your marriage.  Neither of them were easy, from what I understand. So, I’m cognizant of the need to go slow here, if that’s what your getting at.”

Maybe Stanley wasn’t as jaded as I thought. “Yes. That was what I was getting at.”

Stanley combed his fingers back through his hair and straightened his tie. “Thank you, Blanche. That’s all I needed. Think about the feature writer position, okay? I’d like to have you on board.”

I hoped the tenderness I’d heard in Stanley’s voice when he talked about Marjorie was sincere and that I was seeing the real Stanley under his sometimes tough veneer. I hoped he wouldn’t break Marjorie’s heart the way her late husband and son had.

Stanley spoke as I reached for the doorknob. “Hey, before I forget, Thomas is the one who suggested I call you about writing the feature stories. He said you’re a good writer and I agreed. And you know,” he leaned his arm casually on the desktop in front of him and smirked. “I think Thomas may be a little sweet on you.”

Standing with my hand still resting on the doorknob I turned slightly and sighed. Could it be that even Stanley was trying to set me up with a man?

“Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind,” I said as I opened the door and stepped into the noisy newsroom.


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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 5

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

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

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


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

“Did you catch anything?” Mama asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I rolled my eyes.

“Mama, please.”

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

“Mama…”

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

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

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

“Mama, stop it,” I hissed.

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

Mama chuckled and grinned at me.

“Hey, that might work.”

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

Daddy stepped onto the porch and held his hand out.

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

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

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

“I wouldn’t want to intrude …..”

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

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

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

“Hey, Blanche.”

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

“Hey, yourself. How’s it going?”

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

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

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

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

Jackson skipped into the kitchen and looked up at Judson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let me help you with that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miss Mazie’s hearty laugh filtered through the receiver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blanche?”

“Mmmhmm?”

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

“Yes, ma’am.”

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

“Yes, ma’am.”

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

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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 4

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


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Protect us from what?”

“From the bears in the field.”

I laughed. “What bears in the field?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“Do you ever hear from him?”

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

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

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

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

“No, what does a garden club do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: Lessons about self-publishing my first novel

A Story to TellLast week I published my first novel on Amazon Kindle. I self-published, something often looked down upon by authors, writers in general and the culturally elite. But I did it anyhow because I figure life is too short to sit around and talking about writing a book, or how to write a book, or talk about other writers and how they write books, and then talk some more about how to get a publisher to publish your book, how to find an agent, how to get a contract, blah, blah, blah and then NEVER do it. (Yes, I realize that sentence was a run-on!)

For this week’s fiction Friday I thought I would share some lessons I’ve learned from delving into the world of self-publishing.

I’ve seen a lot of those writers who talk about how and what they want to write, but never write it, – especially on Youtube – and last week I turned 42. I’m really tired of talking about it and just wanted to finally do it –  for the heck of it, I guess you would say. Of course, now I wish I had taken a more time, but, so far, it’s fun and I have other novels I am working on and will be taking a lot more time on.

Do I hope to make money from the book? No, not really. Would it be cool if I did earn some money from it? Sure. But I’m not counting on it and that makes it a lot more fun. I’m definitely not counting on selling paperback books since the process of uploading one and having it formatted correctly on Amazon is very difficult and, so far, is driving me crazy. The paperback is definitely not formatted correctly, but I’m hoping I can remedy that this weekend.

Formatting a book for Kindle isn’t as difficult because there is an app you can download for it from the Kindle Direct Publishing, which you sign into using your Amazon account, if you have one. If you don’t have one, you can obviously set one up. You can also add an “add-on” to Word to help format the book for paperback but that’s where I got confused because I am stumped on how to add headers and page numbers. Hopefully I will figure it out for future books.

We live in a broken world, Blanche. Only God can mend us. We just have to pray he mends the broken hearts because that’s the only way to mend this broken world.”

First,  a little about online writing forums. Writing forums can be both good and bad. Writers get a lot of advice from other writers in writing forums, some of it good, some of it bad and some of it completely bizarre. I’ve found a lot of advice in writing forums to be negative and discouraging honestly. They encourage you to write, but then they set up about a hundred hoops you need to jump through before you ever do anything with that writing and they tell you all those hoops are required. If you don’t jump through the hoops, you’ll never make it as a real writer. Sometimes I think maybe it is okay if I’m never a “real writer” if there is so much drama to be one.

After you’re in one of these groups for awhile you could start to lose sight of everything you loved about writing and if you’re not careful you will be like me and question everything you’ve already written and everything you’re going to. When I starting writing A Story to Tell I just enjoyed seeing where the story was going and looked forward each night (which is when I find the time to write) to “telling” (writing) another part of it. Then I made the mistake of sharing part of it in a writing group.

“This is so cliche,” one person wrote.

“This is laughable. You can’t be serious,” another one wrote.

Not exactly encouraging. I almost wanted to give up, but then I remembered this is supposed to be fun and I’m writing it for people who need a distraction from life, not for literary critics.

Other advice in the writing forums included writing then rewriting, rewriting, rewriting and rewriting until your eyes bleed. After you rewrite you share it with strangers, called beta readers, and those beta readers tell you everything they hate about it and what you should fix. So you rewrite to please the beta readers, according to the people in the writing forums. And then you give it to another beta reader who says what they don’t like so you change what you wrote. Apparently, in the end, your book is no longer yours but written by a ton of beta readers. I’m being sarcastic, of course.

You really don’t have to take the suggestions of all the beta readers, but it is a good idea to have someone else read your book and help you with possible plot holes or errors. They are simply suggestions and usually are meant to help you improve. I learned with this book that in the future I need to be very careful of the beta readers I choose and to give them plenty of time to read said book. Otherwise, I will receive an angry (though warranted) message from the beta reader and when trying to explain myself will stick my foot further into my mouth. Not that I speak from experience. Also, beta readers should be strangers but friends and family can help catch typos and grammar issues (like missing commas, which I always have an issue with). I’ve learned through this experience to choose beta readers who are familiar with and enjoy the genre you write, as well. Otherwise you may completely bore your beta reader or have them provide suggestions that wouldn’t work for your book.

The biggest lesson I learned from publishing my first book is that everything in life you want to accomplish is a royal pain the bottom, super complicated, and that sometimes it is a royal pain in the bottom and complicated because we let too many people in on the project, all of whom have their own opinions on our books, our photography, our creative project and our lives. We have to remember that we can’t please everyone and we shouldn’t when it’s our story to write.

Yes, make sure your work is proofed and maybe even ask for suggestions on how to improve, or tighten the story line, but in the end don’t let the opinions of others change the vision of the story you have.

I’m sure I’ll have more lessons to share later, including a lesson on how to set up page numbers on Word documents because I still haven’t figured out how to do that.

I am working on the second part of Blanche’s story now, but won’t be ready to share it for a while. Next week, I plan to introduce a character from another novel I’m working on, The Farmer’s Daughter.

Fiction Friday: ‘A Story To Tell’ Chapter 19

This week’s Fiction Friday has a trigger warning for anyone who might be bothered by scenes of domestic violence. I think, however, this will satisfy the thirst for Hank’s blood that some of my followers have had throughout this story. (You know who you are.) This week also brings us closer to the end of this part of Blanche’s story, with a plan for a second part to start sometime in October or November. I’ll be publishing the complete first part of the story in ebook form on Sept. 19 and possibly paperback at a later date.

Need to catch up on the story? Find the rest of the chapters here or at the link at the top of the page.


Escape Blue View Instagram Post “I made you your favorite this morning,” I told Hank, setting a plate full of sausage and pancakes in front of him.

He dragged his hand through his hair, his eyes heavy with sleep.

“Where did you get the money for this?” he asked, his voice gruff.

“Mama and Daddy gave me some as a gift before I left,” I said, ignoring his tone as I poured him a cup of coffee. “And then I’ve been saving a little bit out of the grocery money each week.”

I was determined to show love to Hank, even when he wouldn’t show it to me. Lillian had encouraged me to pray for Hank and I had been, every day since Jackson and I had come back from Edith’s wedding two weeks before.

“What are you so happy for?” he snapped. “We’ve got no money. I’m getting less hours at work. I’m not getting any gigs and you just sit here smiling like an idiot every day.”

I took a deep breath.

“I just believe it is good for us to try to look at the positives in life instead of the negatives,” I said, even though I felt anger rising up inside me.

I stood from the table and started to clear my dishes from the table, placing them in the sink.

He gulped down his coffee and slammed his cup on the table. His hand was suddenly tight around my wrist and I winced as he stood and pulled me hard against him and roughly pressed his mouth against mine.

“I can see some positives today,” he said as he pulled his mouth away a few moments later, sliding his hands down my hips and pressing himself against me. “I can see my wife, looking good, feeling good, smiling at me and I can see there’s no baby hanging on her for once.”

I let him pull me roughly to the bedroom as Jackson napped on the couch. The image of Hank’s hands on the woman in the bar flashed in my mind, as he clutched at my dress, pulling at the buttons, and trailing his mouth across the bare skin he exposed. I remembered that Lillian had said sometimes we had to show love to our spouse even when we didn’t feel it. I wanted to try my best to show Hank I loved him, even though I didn’t feel it at the moment. I had hoped our marriage was redeemable, despite Hank’s betrayal.

If I showed Hank love maybe he’d love me again and we could go back to the way things used to be when we first met. I winced as we fell onto the bed and he covered my mouth with his again, still holding my wrists tight in his hands.

My body was sore when Hank left to go back to work, but I hoped I’d done what a wife should do for her husband. I hoped I’d done what God would have wanted me to do.

***

“There he is!” Hannah scooped one-year-old Jackson into her arms and put him on her hip. “The birthday boy!”

She kissed his chunky cheek and danced in a circle as he giggled, a beautiful sound to my ears. Lizzie skipped into the kitchen and looked at her mom holding another baby.

“Don’t get attached, mommy,” she said bluntly. “We don’t need another one of those.”

She skipped away and Miss Mazie and I burst into laughter at her precocious comment.

“Oh, my word, how do you keep from laughing at her?” I asked.

“I do my best not to because laughing only encourages her,” Hannah said, smiling.

She sat Jackson in a highchair she’d brought with her to Miss Mazie’s and slid lemonade and a cake out of the refrigerator, placing them on the table.

“Thank you for celebrating Jackson’s big day,” I said. “I know he won’t remember it, but I still think it should be celebrated.”

“Of course, it should!” Miss Mazie said. “Celebrating a baby’s birthday is as much for us as it is them.”

Jackson patted his hands onto the highchair tray and grinned as he watched Hannah and I pour lemonade and cut cake.

“Hank wasn’t really interested in a party because he said Jackson wouldn’t remember it.” I shrugged and chose not to add that Hank wasn’t even really interested in Jackson at all.

Hannah sighed.

“Men, I swear. Sometimes they are so clueless.”

I nodded and turned to see Miss Mazie watching me intently.

“What happened to your arm, Blanche?” She asked.

I pulled my gaze away quickly. That woman seemed to have some six sense as if she could read me with her eyes and I didn’t want her to read what was really happening at home. I looked at the fading burn and laughed slightly.

“Oh, just being a klutz as usual and burned myself on the stove,” I said, pouring more lemonade for Hannah’s children, refusing to look at Miss Mazie. “Complete accident but, boy, did it hurt.”

Miss Mazie cleared her throat.

“Mmmmhmm,” she hummed, then quietly, almost under her breath, “My mama had a lot of ‘accidents’ too over the years. I know how much they can hurt.”

I kept my eyes lowered, though I could feel her eyes boring into me, urging me to tell her the truth.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Buffy and her girls over to help us celebrate,” Hannah said, as her children each took a glass of lemonade and ran into Miss Mazie’s dining room. I was grateful for the change of subject “She’s been having a rough time lately and I thought it would be good for her to get out a little bit.”

I struggled to imagine what Buffy would be struggling with. She was young, beautiful, even if her smile seemed plastered to her face somehow, and the wife of a well-loved pastor. I knew even the beautiful and well-polished struggled, though, and I mentally scolded myself for judging Buffy based on her appearance and, quite frankly, her name.

“Of course, she’s welcome,” Miss Mazie said. “Has she . . .lost another one?”

Hannah nodded solemnly.

“Her second,” Hannah said. “I know you’d been praying so I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing. She was about three months along this time.”

My heart sank at the words, realizing that Buffy must have suffered a miscarriage, something I’d once heard Mama talk about when it happened to a cousin of mine. I couldn’t imagine such a loss, the physical and emotional toll.

“How are you doing, sweetie?” Miss Mazie asked after Buffy had come in, poured lemonade for her children, and sat the table with a piece of cake and lemonade of her own.

“I’m doing okay,” Buffy said, with her familiar plastic smile. “I mean, it’s been tough, yes, but I’m grateful for the children I do have. And it’s important, I think, to put a good face on for the members of the church. No one wants to see a pastor’s wife crying all the time.”

Miss Mazie reached out and laid her hand over Buffy’s.

“Honey, even the pastor’s wife needs to be comforted sometimes,” she said softly.

Buffy smiled faintly, her lower lip quivering. She swiped at a tear that escaped the corner of her eye, smudging her mascara.

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

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

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

Buffy cried harder and I stiffened, unsure how to handle her outburst.

“As if being brought up by a mother who told me that I was only worth something if I married well and raised beautiful children wasn’t already more than I could handle,” Buffy said, anger in her voice. “Sometimes being a Christian, believing it all, is simply too much. Where was God when my baby died? I’ve always done what I was supposed to do. I took care of the children while Jeffrey went to seminary. I cleaned the house and made the dinners and organized the church dinners. I read my Bible every morning and go to Bible study. I’ve done it all right, but still, I suffer.”

She shook her head again and rubbed her crumpled handkerchief roughly against her face.  Hannah, Miss Mazie and I watched her take a long, ragged breath in stunned silence. She looked around the table at each of us and her angry expression quickly faded into a look of horror.

“I can’t believe I just completely flipped out like that,” she said. “I’m so sorry. You poor ladies. We were supposed to be celebrating Jackson’s birthday and I just – I just completely fell apart.”

Hannah smiled. “What better place to fall apart than among friends?” she asked.

Buffy laughed softly as she tried to wipe the black from her face.

“Even the pastor’s wife deserves to flip out once in a while,” Miss Mazie said, clutching Buffy’s hand and squeezing it. “God’s not afraid of your anger Buffy. Let Him have it. Even when we feel He isn’t there, He is, and our emotions are from him, so your anger doesn’t surprise him one bit.”

Buffy nodded. “I must look awful,” she said.

I leaned forward and laid my hand over her other hand, suddenly overcome with compassion for the woman I’d thought had it all.

“You look beautiful,” I told her.

She smiled at me through the tears.

“Oh, thank you. I feel like I’m a mess – “

“I do believe it was your husband who once told us that beauty comes from ashes,” Hannah said.

Buffy nodded, letting the tears flow freely again as Miss Mazie and I held her hands.

“It’s not that I don’t believe,” she said after a few moments of crying, her voice breaking. “It’s just sometimes – life seems harder than I can handle. And sometimes . . . sometimes God just seems so far away.”

“It is in the moments he seems the farthest away, that He is the closest,” Miss Mazie said.

Buffy managed a smile.

“I will try to remember that, Miss Mazie,” she said. “You certainly are a blessing to me and our church.”

My heart ached for Buffy’s pain even as watching her mask being pulled away was eye-opening for me. I couldn’t imagine feeling as if I always had to look and act the part of the pastor’s perfect wife.

“Well, enough of this crying,” Buffy said, pulling her hands away from ours and wiping her eyes with her handkerchief again. “If I’m meant to have more children, then God will provide them. That’s how I have to think about it from now on.”

Hannah wet a dishcloth and started to wipe the mascara from Buffy’s face.

“I hope you brought your make up with you,” she teased. “You’ll definitely need to reapply.”

Buffy laughed freely, tipping her head back to let Hannah wipe under her eyes and along her cheeks. A few moments later, a ruddy-faced toddler rushed into the kitchen crying and fell into Buffy’s lap. She lifted the boy against her and kissed the top of his head.

“He fell into the table!” Lizzie yelled from the living room. “And it weren’t my fault!”

Hannah laid her hand against her forehead and sighed.

“Lord, give me strength,” she muttered.

Buffy hugged the little boy, burying her face in his red-blond curls and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she was smiling – a real, genuine, non-fake smile.

“I love you, sweet boy,” she said. She looked at us as we watched her. “If God only gives me this beautiful boy and his sister, then I will be blessed beyond measure.”

We all smiled at her, then each other, and I looked at Jackson in the high chair next to me, his face covered in cake, his smile wide and contagious. He giggled at me and spit chocolate down his chin. I laughed, feeling the happiest I had in a long time, knowing that he was my blessing, despite my mistakes.

***

 “Where were you all night?”

I looked up from the sink where I was washing dishes, confused. Hank was standing in the bedroom doorway, bleary-eyed. He staggered toward the table and sat, slumping in the chair, glowering at me.

“I came home for dinner and you weren’t here,” he snapped.

He had stumbled into the bedroom after work a few hours earlier, falling asleep with a bottle of bourbon in his hand. This was the first I’d seen him since then. I could have easily asked him where he’d been most of the previous night and many nights before, but I’d been up all night with Jackson and wasn’t in the mood for confrontation.

“I was at Hannah’s,” I said, drying my hands off on a dishtowel. “I told you I was going there to have cake and ice cream for Jackson’s birthday. I asked you if you wanted to go and, of course, you refused, just like you always do when I want you to spend time with Jackson.”

Hank slammed his hands on the table and stood, knocking the chair back and stepping toward me, towering over me.

“I told you not to hang around that nigger lady anymore!” he hissed, spit hitting my face.

“Hank, you’re drunk,” I said tightly, angry at how he spoke about Miss Mazie. “You just don’t remember that I told you I was going to Hannah’s. And don’t call Miss Mazie that na‑.”

The blow knocked me to the floor, leaving me desperately gasping for breath, searing pain coursing through my side and head. I hadn’t even seen it coming.

“Don’t you ever talk back to me!” Hank hissed, his hand still balled into a fist.

When I finally dragged air into my lungs, burning pain spread through my chest, I felt as if I was standing neck-deep in water with weights tied to my ankles. I reached up to feel warm, sticky fluid on my face, pouring from my nose. I pulled my hand away and stared in disbelief at the dark, red blood. My head was throbbing, my ears roaring, and I felt blood dripping down onto the back of my neck.

I felt like I was someone else, floating outside of my body, watching something horrible unfold, but unable to stop it. Hank hand’s clutched at the hair on the top of my head and he dragged me to my feet bring my face close to his.

“Why couldn’t you just do what you were told?” he asked, the smell of alcohol filling my nostrils.

I tightened my fists and spit blood and saliva in his face a second before the second blow came. Down on my hands and knees, I gasped for air again, the roar in my ears fading to high pierced ringing as Hank loomed over me, a shadowed, blurry figure in the corner of my eye.

Jackson abruptly screamed from our bedroom, drowning out the ringing and I looked toward the bedroom, through a veil of red, at the same time Hank’s head jerked toward the sound.

Hank drained the last of the alcohol and staggered through the bedroom doorway, into the darkness. I lurched forward, reaching out for his shirt, trying to stop him, but fell to the floor, the room spinning violently. I tasted metal and I spit blood onto the pea-green linoleum of the kitchen floor.

The sound of glass shattering against a wall splintered through the apartment, sending panic shooting through me. I struggled to my feet, the room still spinning.  I closed my eyes, praying for it to stop, knowing I needed to get to Jackson. I stumbled toward the bedroom, grasping the door frame, touching a stinging pain on the back of my head, squinting in confusion at blood on my hand, bright red, still trying to make sense of what was happening.

Hank was standing over the crib, his face close to Jackson who had pulled himself up to a standing position, holding on to the railing, his red face streaked with tears as he screamed. The whiskey bottle was shattered on the other side of the room.

“Hey there, little boy,” Hank slurred. “What you cryin’ about?”

I slammed against Hank, shoving him aside and swiftly lifted Jackson out of the crib, clutching him against me.

“Don’t you touch him!” I shouted, my hand against the back of Jackson’s head, pressing his face gently against my chest as I moved away from Hank and backed against the bedroom wall. “Don’t you dare touch him!”

I felt like something had snapped inside me. If Hank was going to hurt someone, let it be me, but I wasn’t going to let him touch our son.

Hank started laughing, staggering around the room, lit only by the streetlights outside. Jackson was still crying, terrified.

“Oh, looky here,” Hank said, leering at me. “Little ole’ Blanche finally got her voice.”

He laughed again, leaned close to my face and sneered.

“Whatcha’ going to do with it now you got it?”

He lurched away from me and staggered to one side, almost falling, still laughing. I started for the bedroom door, but he stepped in front of me, his face twisted in an ugly grimace.

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

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

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

He was like a man possessed by the devil and in that moment, I wondered if he was the devil. The physical beauty I had once seen in him was distorted by his rage-filled screaming.

He lunged toward me, tripped on the edge of the carpet, falling forward on his face. I moved quickly around him, toward the bedroom doorway but his hand grabbed my ankle, pulling hard. I cried out in pain, lost my balance, and started to fall forward. I turned quickly and fell on my back with Jackson in my arms, against my chest, his screams piercing my ears. Hank struggled to stand, propped himself up on his hands and knees, still holding on to my ankle, his laughter maniacal until he was consumed with a coughing fit.

I took advantage of the moment and yanked my leg out of his hand, panic and rage rushing through me as I kicked him full in the face. Crazed screams came from him, like a pig being slaughtered. I started to sob, a mix of terror and anger, kicking harder, striking him repeatedly between the eyes with the heel of my shoe.

“Get your hands off of me!” I screamed then let loose a string of curse words I didn’t even know were in me.

My foot contacted his face over and over and blood sprayed up his face from his nose and then spilled onto the floor in a rush of red. He looked up at me with glazed, unseeing eyes, closing them seconds before his face hit the floor. I stood on trembling legs, my chest on fire as I struggled to breathe between sobs and screams.

Blood pooled under Hank’s head, staining his face and hair.  I could hear labored snorts being dragged through his broken nose. He was breathing but he wasn’t moving, and I knew I needed to move fast before he regained consciousness.

I quickly grabbed Jackson’s blanket, two journals, my Bible, and a few clothes, shoving it all into a canvas bag with one hand, Jackson on my hip. I checked Jackson for cuts and bruises as I rushed toward the front door, flinging it open and running down the stairs to the apartment building front door, looking over my shoulder at Hank’s prostrate form on the bedroom floor.

“What’s going on down there?!” a woman yelled down the stairwell from the second floor as I reached the front door and slammed it open.

I could feel warm blood on my face as I walked briskly into the crisp night air, walking briskly in the direction of Miss Mazie’s. I didn’t want to go to Hannah, to scare her young children with all the blood. Ten minutes into my walk Jackson began to quiet, falling asleep to the rhythm of my steps. I was breathing hard, seething inside, uttering angry epitaphs under my breath, wishing Hank could hear every one of them.

I had been walking for about ten minutes when a car pulled up next to me as I walked. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the lights on the roof and my chest tightened.

“Ma’m? Do you need a ride?” I could barely hear the officer’s voice over the pounding of my heart.

I kept walking, looking down, hiding my face in Jackson’s blanket. I shook my head. Someone from the apartment building must have called the police. I didn’t know whether to be angry or grateful.

“Ma’m, please. I can see you’re bleeding. Let me give you a ride to the station or anywhere else you need to go.”

“Thank you, but I’m fine,” I said, my voice hoarse.

I was shaking, clutching Jackson, terrified and in pain, head spinning, the sidewalk tilting.  The officer had lowered his head so he could look at me through the passenger side window. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. His expression was soft, concerned.

“Ma’m? Who did this to you? I can take you somewhere safe. Please. Let me help you.”

I stopped walking and the car stopped next to me. I looked back toward the apartment building, watching to make sure Hank wasn’t following me. The officer opened the passenger side door. I hesitated, looking back at the apartment building again. When I slid into the passenger seat and pulled the door shut, I winced as pain shot thorough my rib cage. I rubbed Jackson’s back as he cried in his sleep.

The officer handed me a handkerchief and I took it, pressing it against my nose to try to stop the bleeding.

“My name is Officer Judson,” he said. “I’d like to take you down to the station. We can file a report against whoever did this to you.”

I shook my head.

“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t want to do that.”

“I think we should get you checked out at the hospital at least,” he urged.

I shook my head again. “I’m okay. Please, just take me to my friend’s house.”

I gave him Miss Mazie’s address, barely able to speak as my top lip swelled.

“Did your husband do this to you?” he asked, pulling the car away from the curb and into the street.

I looked ahead, afraid to answer, trying not to cry.

“We can stop by the police station if you . . .”

“No,” I said firmly, shaking my head again. “I don’t want to do that. I just want to get my baby somewhere safe.”

I swallowed hard, the urge to cry suddenly gone, replaced again by anger.

“But thank you,” I said.

I realized my nose was stuffed and guessed blood was drying inside it. I touched it and felt a large bump in the center. I wondered if it was broken.

“Okay, I understand,” Officer Judson said, and we drove in silence the five minutes to Miss Mazie’s. “I might not agree, but I understand.”

As I reached for the handle, I felt the officer’s hand on my arm and turned to look at him.

“I’ll be praying for you,” he said, his blue eyes filled with compassion. “If you change your mind, about filing a report, stop by the station and ask for me. We will make sure whoever hurt you is punished.”

“Thank you,” I whispered.