Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning, Chapter 24

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



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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 24

“Hey, Blanche!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I scowled at Thomas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Getting a dog,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why? Because it’s a chick magnet?”

I rolled my eyes as he opened the door.

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

I grinned. “A real cold, or . . .”

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

“Oh. I see. I’m your second choice.”

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

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

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

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

A man on the radio screamed through the speaker:

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

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

I can’t get no, I can’t get no…”

This time I reached over and turned the knob.

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

I made a face. “No. They’re sleezy.”

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

I ignored his comment and turned up the radio.

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

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

“Look at you lettin’ loose!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, kid, where’d you go?”

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

“Back in your other life, huh?”

“You could say that.”

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

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

Thomas sighed. “Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I slapped his shoulder playfully.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just about the past.”

“Something the old man did to you?”

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

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

“You could say that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yep. And I like it that way.”

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

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

Thomas didn’t hesitate. “She’s cute.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biting into my burger I shook my head at him.

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

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

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

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

“Patrick!” Midge shouted. “Stop it!”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas smiled. “I certainly plan to.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You should have been home an hour ago.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. . .”

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 3

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.

Chapter 3

“Why do you keep blaming yourself for what Hank did to you?”

Emmy’s question a year after I left Hank still echoed in my mind. I hadn’t known how to answer it then but later I questioned why I shouldn’t blame myself.

I was the one who had allowed Hank to treat me the way he had. I was the one who had left my family to be with him. I had been the one who had been too stupid, too trusting, to see who he really was. I was the one who had to learn the hard way that I couldn’t trust anyone, not even myself.  I couldn’t protect my child or my own heart so how could I ever trust myself to judge if another man was or wasn’t the same as Hank?

Even now I wondered what Hank had ever seen in me.  I’d never looked like my voluptuous older sister, was never outgoing, and never sought attention from boys. Sometimes I wondered if he thought I was someone he could control, instead of someone he wanted to love. It was obvious the night I saw him kissing that other woman at the bar that I’d never been enough for him and if I wasn’t good enough for him maybe I’d never be good enough for any man.

Hank and I met at a dance Daddy almost didn’t let me go to. Hank had leaned next to me, smashing his cigarette into the ashtray behind me, whispering that he’d save the next dance for me. That night I’d felt a rush of excitement I’d never felt before.

Secret meetings in our backyard in the middle of the night transformed into stolen kisses, intimate touches and eventually Hank begging me to run away with him. And I did run away with him. Two-hundred miles from home to a strange city, lonely and frightened, especially when I became pregnant only six months after we were married. When I told him I was pregnant, Hank changed from caring to detached and angry.

I’d never told anyone except Emmy and Lillian, our pastor’s wife, about the last time I saw Hank before he moved out west. I was in a children’s consignment shop in Dalton, about a year after Daddy chased Hank off, when I saw him through the front window, standing with a group of men outside the hardware store across the street. I stepped back behind a wrack of clothes, hoping he wouldn’t see me.

“Those men are nothing but trouble.”

I jumped at the sound of store owner, Jane Doan’s voice. She was standing behind me, looking over my shoulder at the men and scowling.

“My husband says Billy Martin has been talking about forming a KKK group up just over the state border in Winton. And look at those other idiots. Just toddling along with him like lemmings.”

Emmy walked over to stand next to Joan. “Isn’t that – “

“Yes,” I said curtly. “It is.”

“He looks rough,” Emmy said.

I studied Hanks unshaven face, sunken eyes, crooked nose, where I’d broken it the year before. “He does.”

“You were always too good for that man,” Jane said, all of us still looking out the window. “Still are.”

“What do you think they’re up to?” Emmy asked.

“I don’t know but it can’t be anything good,” Jane said. “Some of the men from church are talking about running them out of town, letting them know their kind isn’t welcome here. I bet you that Hank hasn’t even gone to see his mama. He wouldn’t dare with his daddy around, I guess.”

I thought about the conversation I’d had with Hank that one day in the apartment, how he said he was going to come back to our town and tell Lillian she wasn’t welcome.

“You have to know something, Blanche,” Hank had said, lifting his glass of milk and looking at me. “Those people aren’t as smart as us. They don’t think like we do. We can’t have them coming up here and demanding to be treated the same as us like they’re trying to do down South. They want to take our jobs, our women. Just look at that dumb preacher – I guess they want to take the men too, infiltrate their way into our world and taint our bloodlines.”

My chest tightened at the memory of what he’d said and I found myself clutching the cross necklace around my neck Edith had recently given me as a gift.

Emmy laid her hand against my shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Blanche. We’ll stay right here until he’s gone.”

Hank laughed with the men as they loaded supplies into the back of one of the men’s truck. There were boards and ropes and I hoped I was imagining a can of gasoline behind one of the boxes.

“Emmy…” I said softly, then bit my bottom lip, changing my mind.

I didn’t want to tell her what Hank had said. I didn’t want her to know he had been even worse than I had told her and that I’d stayed with him even after he’d said and done such horrible things. I didn’t want to admit that for so long I thought I could change Hank, or if I couldn’t, God would, and he would be kind again. I wondered how I had ever let myself fall so hard for him. The gentle kisses he had once given me seemed so far away now.

As the truck drove away, Hank and two other men climbing into the back, I closed my eyes briefly and asked God to keep Lillian safe. Then, I felt like I should ask him to keep Hank safe too, even though I still wasn’t sure how to feel about Hank now. I struggled with the idea that I needed to forgive him the way Christ had forgiven me. Knowing I needed to do it and actually doing it were two different things.

Pounding on our front door woke me several hours later. Looking at the clock through bleary eyes I saw it was 2 a.m. Daddy was standing at the front door as I descended the stairs, tying my robe closed at my waist. Over his shoulder I saw John Hatch standing on our front porch.

“Alan, we have a problem at the pastor’s house. Someone’s burned a cross on their front lawn and threw a rock through their front window. Lillian and Frank are terrified, of course, but even worse, Frank is worried about what kind of stress this is putting on Lillian and the baby.”

I sucked in a deep breath and held it as I listened. I regretted not saying anything about seeing Hank in town. Had he been involved? I didn’t know and wondered if I could have stopped what had happened if I had simply told someone what Emmy and I had seen earlier.

“Tell them to come here tonight,” Mama said as I reached the end of the stairs and Daddy reached for his coat behind the door.

Daddy nodded, reaching for his shotgun. “I’ll bring them back with me.”

“What are you going to do with that gun, Alan?”

“Hopefully nothing,” Daddy told Mama, standing in the open doorway. “The worst I plan to do is fire a warning shot. You know I have experience with that.”

Mama kissed Daddy’s cheek. “Just be careful.”

We watched Daddy and John drive into the darkness and fear gripped my heart. My mind was returning to the “what if” questions I had asked so often as a young child and teenager. What if my choice not to say anything about seeing Hank and those men together led to something horrible happening to Daddy or John or Lillian and Pastor Frank?

“I’ll get the guest room ready,” I said, thinking and worrying as I climbed the stairs.

Lillian’s face was swollen from crying when she walked in our front door, Pastor Frank helping to support her. Her dark brown, almost black hair hung around her face and shoulders loose, a change from how I usually saw it pulled tightly into a braid that hung down her back or looped into a bun on top of her head. A red flush highlighted her light brown complexion along her cheek bone and under her red-rimmed eyes.

Mama took her hand and led her to the couch. “I’ve made you some tea. You just relax and take your shoes off and I’ll bring it to you.”

“Thank you, Janie,” Lillian said softly as Pastor Frank and Daddy walked toward the kitchen with Mama.

Lillian slid her coat off and settled into the couch, as I pulled the afghan my grandmother had made my mother when she was a child from the back of the couch and laid it across Lillian’s shoulders.

She pulled the afghan around her and then reached out and took my hand. Her eyebrows were furrowed with concern. “Blanche…. I don’t know if I should tell you this or not, but one of the men – I can’t be sure because they were wearing masks…”

“You think one of the men was Hank.”

Lillian nodded, her expression grim.

“Someone called his name and the voice sounded like his.”

I sat next to her and slid an arm around her shoulder. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. I – I saw him in town today. I should have said something, but I – I didn’t know for sure. I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through tonight and I’m so sorry that he may have been involved.”

Lillian leaned against me, patting my shoulder. “You have no need to apologize for his actions. But thank you for your tender heart. It’s the balm I needed after this crazy night.”

“I can’t believe this is happening in our town,” Pastor Frank said as he walked into the living room, his voice breaking. He rubbed his hand across his face, shaking his head.

Daddy put his hand on Frank’s shoulder. “They’ve been having them down South, but here? In Pennsylvania? Our world is upside down, pastor. I think you know this is more than a war against flesh and blood. This is a spiritual war.”

“Yes,” Pastor Frank agreed. “It is. And we know just how to wage that battle.”

He kneeled in the middle of our living room floor and gestured for us to do the same. We reached for each other hands and bowed our heads as Pastor Frank prayer for protection for his family and anyone else who might be targeted by the men. He ended the prayer by asking God to change the hearts of the men.

We weren’t alone in our disbelief over what had happened. The next day the town council called an emergency meeting and asked the county sheriff to attend.

“We need to make it clear we don’t want this kind of hatred in our town,” Mayor Matthew Tanner said, his jaw tight. “Sheriff, is there anything you can do?”

“We’re already working with the state police in both states to round these men up and file charges against them for harassment and anything else we can charge them with,” Sheriff Matthew Evans said, standing from his seat in the front row. “I can assure you we will do all we can to protect the citizens of your town but also the citizens of this county.”

Jason Finley, a local farmer, stood up and cleared his throat, holding his straw hat in his hand. He rarely spoke other than to say “good morning” if someone said it to him and he almost never initiated conversations.

There was a quiver in his voice as he spoke. “I think what’s important about all this, is that we make sure that the pastor and his wife know that we don’t think like those men do in this town. Miss Lillian is the only person of color in our town. We know she was the main one they wanted to scare and we need to let them know we’ll have none of that here. Miss Lillian and the Porters, over in Spencer; shouldn’t have to be afraid because – because of the color of their skin. She’s a good woman and her husband is a good man. They take care of our community and it’s time we took care of them. I’d like to gather a group of you to go over tomorrow morning and clean up the mess that was left. I hope you’ll meet me at their home around 8 a.m.”

Jason sat quickly, looking at the floor as several around him nodded in agreement.

I reached over and took Lillian’s hand, squeezing it. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and managed a smile.

In the morning their front yard was full of people from the town, repairing the front window, sweeping glass from the front porch and digging up the charred ground where the cross had burned. Standing in their front room, glass around me, tears flowed freely. I kneeled by the bucket of soapy water and drenched the sponge, wrung it out, and began to scrub at the racist epitaphs scrawled in red paint across their front fence.

Oh God,” I prayed to myself as I scrubbed.  “Touch the hearts of these men and show them that we are all made in your image.”

I never said anything to Mama and Daddy, or Hank’s mother, about Hank being one of the men and Lillian, Jane, and Emmy didn’t either. A month later Mrs. Hakes told me Hank had moved out west and I prayed to God he stayed there, hopefully for the rest of my life.


Fiction Friday: He Leadeth Me

This week for Fiction Friday I am sharing an excerpt of a book I hope to work on more in 2020 and release at the end of that year or in 2021. It is going to involve a lot more research than my other books.

The book will follow the story of American missionary Emily Grant and Irishman Ensign Henry Reynolds of the Royal Air Force in the early 1940s, during World War II. Emily is a young woman from rural Pennsylvania who has traveled to India with a missionary to work in the mission field. Henry is stationed with his unit in a part of India where there is fighting among Muslims and Christians. The couple meets and realizes they both have a similar interest of bringing the Gospel of Christ to the people of India.

I see this book as being the first of at least two books, if not more, maybe a series.

As always, this is a work in progress and there is bound to be typos or the need for editing.
You can read a copy of my first self-published book, ‘A Story to Tell‘ on Kindle by clicking HERE.

The rain was pouring down in sheets, not drops and Emily Grant felt the heavy weight of uncertainty at the sight of the empty platform. He’d promised he’d be here to meet her. She knew he might have been delayed but she’d been standing here for over an hour already.

Her hope of not having been abandoned at the station of this small Indian village was fading into the fog encroaching around her.

Pulling the collar of her coat closed with one hand she clutched the handle of her suitcase in the other and sat on the bench, unsure of her next move. She needed a moment to think and maybe even to cry.

A month before today she had been swept away by his Irish charm and cornflower blue eyes but now she sat with her body cold from the damp clothes hanging off her and wondered how she could have been so naive.

Of course, it was clear now. His words had only been whispered to her to make him feel superior in his game of manipulation. He seemed sincere, telling her of his plans to teach the gospel to the people of India once his time with the Royal Air Force was complete, impressed that she planned to do the same.

He was probably laughing with his Air Force buddies right now about how he’d pretended to care and even talked her into traveling to visit him where his squadron had been moved to a month ago, 30 miles from the mission she was working at.

Had he simply lied during all those conversations they’d had, about believing God had bigger plans for him than being a farmer or an airman? She stared at the rain pounding into the ground, turning the red clay-like dirt of India into thick mud.


A man’s voice, though gentle, startled her and she gasped as she turned. The man standing at the edge of the platform was wearing a tweed jacket and a fedora pushed back on his head. His expression was soft and kind as he took the hat off and held it to his chest.

“I’m sorry to scare you and to keep you waiting,” he said softly. “Henry called us this morning and asked if we could meet you at the station, but the rain –“

He gestured out to the sheets of rain still soaking the ground. “Our car got stuck in some mud along the road and it took me a bit to push it out.”

She felt her muscles relax as she stood to face him.

“Oh. Well- thank you. I have to admit I was beginning to wonder.”

She held her hand out and he took it. His palms felt rough and calloused and the grip was firm but gentle.

“I’m John O’Donnell. My wife and I are the pastors of the local mission church. Henry’s been restricted to the barracks and he hoped you’d agree come to stay with us on your own until he can leave again.”

She felt relieved maybe she hadn’t been tricked by the handsome Irish cadet after all.

“Thank you, Pastor O’Donnell. Henry mentioned I would be staying with a missionary and his wife he had met here. He said you are originally from near where he grew up. I just thought – well, I thought he would meet me here and we would drive to your home together.”

John smiled. “Call me John. And, yes, we are originally from Belfast, about an hour from where Henry grew up in Northern Ireland. I’d say it’s a bit of divine providence he was stationed in this country at the same time we are.”

He reached for her suitcase.

“Nellie, my wife, is waiting for us at the house. She’ll be glad to have another lady in the house to chat with. She’s been preparing a meal for you, sure you’d be hungry.”

Emily was definitely hungry after a three-hour train ride with little more to eat than a package of crumbling crackers and water from the canteen she had packed in her bag. Her stomach still wasn’t completely used to the spices from the Indian cuisine she had been eating at the mission since arriving three months ago. The train had moved slowly, stopping repeatedly to pick up more people than the cars could even hold. Each seat was crowded with three or four people and Emily could still smell the bodies, the goats and the lunches some of the travelers had packed.

John placed her suitcase in the back seat of the car and held the front door open for her. She climbed in, relieved to be out of the drenching rain they had run through from the platform.

John closed his door firmly and turned the engine.

“Tell me, Emily, what part of the States are you from?”

“Pennsylvania. A tiny little farm town no one has ever heard of.”

“Pennsylvania. Ah. I have family there. In the city of Scranton. An aunt and uncle. Visited them once as a teenager and was amazed with the steam engines. I was less amazed with the food at first but it grew on me.”

Emily nodded. “Scranton is about two hours from where I’m from. I’m sure the food was different for you but I can imagine the food here has been even more of a shock?”

John laughed and nodded as he pulled the car on to the muddy dirt road.

“My stomach is finally settling,” he admitted with a grin. “I think I’d much rather have one of those American hot dogs than the spicy curry on some days, but even that is beginning to become a favorite of mine.

Emily noticed small lines along the edges of his eyes as he smiled.  Flecks of gray were mixed in the dark brown of his hair.

“Henry was certainly flustered when he called this morning. He’d much rather have been here to greet you, but what a blessing we are so close to the station.”

She looked down at her hands folded in front of her and felt her cheeks flush warm. She was uneasy at the idea that this man and his wife had to accommodate her after she’d agree to visit this small village for a few days to get to know the Irish airman she’d met a couple of months earlier.

She felt like a silly school girl. She wished she had a more noble and mature reason for her journey north.

“Yes, it worked out nicely,” she said softly over the sound of the windshield wipers and pounding rain.

“There has been violence in Hyderabad,” he said. “They locked down the area late last night and Henry only found time this morning to call and ask for our help. He was very concerned about you being left at the station.”

Emily felt the uneasiness she’d been feeling about Henry’s absence begin to fade at this news. It was duty that kept him from her, not indifference. When would she learn not to judge so quickly?

John glanced at her with an amused grin.

“He seems quite fond of you.”

Her cheeks flushed again and without thinking, she put her hand against the warmth.

“Oh. Well, we barely know each other.” She was struggling for words. “But this was a lovely chance to get to know him better.”

John laughed.

“My wife and I got to know each other better about 25 years ago. I can only hope you two will have the same success.”

Emily smiled and glanced at him then back out the windshield. “I don’t know about that just yet. We’ve only known each other a month.”

John was still smiling. “Time is of no matter if the match is made by God.”

A small house was taking shape in the mist kicked up by the rain. The car slowed.

“This is us,” John said.

Emily placed her hat back on her head and prepared for the soaking. She kept her eyes on her steps to keep from slipping. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw chickens, a young cow, and two goats in a makeshift shed to one side of the house.

“Get on in here! Out of that rain!” a friendly Irish accent called out as they reached the stone stairs. The smell of something wonderful cooking in the oven was the first thing Emily noticed once inside the small house. As she took her hat off she looked up into bright hazel eyes and a beautiful smile.

“I thought this rain might have washed ye’ both down the river,” John’s wife laughed as she took Emily’s coat and hat and placed them on a hook behind the door.

“I’m Nellie. So happy to have you, dear Emily. Any friend of Henry’s is a friend of ours.”

Nellie hugged Emily close as if she was a long lost relative. Emily was surprised by the greeting but also felt comforted.

“Thank you, so much. It’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m so grateful to you both.”

“Let’s get some food in you, shall we?” Nellie gestured toward the table.

“You must be famished. John will take your bag to the guest room.”

The beef roast, steamed potatoes and carrots, and homemade bread were a welcome meal after two months of curry and spice. Emily felt emotion rise in her as each bite reminded her of meals at home-cooked by her mother. She suddenly remembered the letter in her pocket telling her about life at the farm and how proud she and her father were, but also how worried. She’d read it again later, before bed, along with Henry’s last letter, which came just before she packed to head to the station.

“So, Emily, Henry has told us so much about you,” Nellie dished more carrots onto her plate. “His face just lit up when he told us about meeting you. He says you are working at the mission and orphanage there. John and I know the couple who founded the orphanage – James and Margaret. Are they well?”

“Oh yes. Very much so. They are both getting older, but no one can seem to slow them down,” Emily said. “They’ve been amazing, letting me stay on even when the rest of our mission group traveled back home to Pennsylvania.”

“And the children? Still as many as there used to be?”

“Yes. If not more. So much poverty – their families simply can’t afford to care for them.”

“Henry says you hope to stay in India? Help the orphanage?”

“That is my hope, yes, but we will see if my family agrees.”

Emily looked down at her plate and felt her cheeks flush.

“I must admit, I felt a little – foolish when I asked them if I could come here to visit Henry,” she said. “Pastor James was so supportive. He must have known I’d be safe here with you.”

Nellie smiled at her.  “We’ve known James and Margaret since we came here. They’ve been mentors to us. We’re honored that they would entrust you to us. How long will you be able to stay.”

“Only a week.”

John dished more potatoes on her plate.

“Grew these in the garden out back,” his voice was full of pride . “The soil here isn’t the same as in Ireland. Took us awhile to figure out how to get to them to grow the way we like them, but they finally taste like home.”

“They’re delicious and remind me so much of my home too.”

She felt tears hot in her eyes and looked down at her plate. She hadn’t expected the emotion and felt ashamed of seeming weak in front of people who had sacrificed so much in the last three years to serve the people of this area of India. Nellie laid her hand on Emily’s and squeezed it a little.

“You must be so homesick. Let me brew you a cup of tea, love.”

“Oh, thank you. I’m so sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

“It’s been a long day,” John said. “A lot of traveling, then all that waiting, all the unknowns. I’m sure your soul is as exhausted as your body.”

After tea had been enjoyed Nellie urged Emily to rest before the evening meal.

“I’d rather help you clean up,” Emily said but after Nellie insisted she rest, Emily finally agreed. Within minutes after she laid on the top cover of the small cot in the tiny, dark room she was in a deep sleep.