Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 21

If you didn’t catch yesterday’s chapter, and you’ve been following along, you might want to read that before you read this chapter so you won’t be too confused and so you can find out what “big moment” Blanche had on her step to pulling herself out of her Hank funk.

As always, you can find the other chapters at the link at the top of the page, or HERE and you can find the first part of Blanche’s story in A Story to Tell on Kindle or Kindle Unlimited.  The Kindle edition is on sale for $1.99 until February 19th (which is about all the marketing I have done for this book.)


Chapter 21

Light, Shadows & Magic (2)

Folding the dress I’d altered for Fannie Jones, I decided I’d deliver it to her at the library on my way to lunch with Emmy at the diner. The weather had cooled some, the sun was bright, and I knew a walk would do me good and might help slow my racing thoughts.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, I noticed the temperature had grown milder since two weeks earlier when we’d been at the lake. As I walked, barely noticing the cars passing by or the owner of the shoe shop setting up an outside display, I wondered if it had been the heat that had led me to be so reckless with Judson that night. Maybe I could blame the kiss on heatstroke if he tried to talk to me about it in the future.

So far, though, he hadn’t tried to talk to me about it. I’d seen him briefly at church, making sure to sit in a pew far from him. He’d stopped at our house once to talk to Daddy about how to remove a hornets’ nest from a bush behind his house, but I’d kept myself busy hanging clothes on the line and then rushing back inside to start dinner, making sure not to look up as he talked to Daddy and then left in his truck. I knew I couldn’t avoid him forever, though, and that eventually, he’d want to talk about it. I had no idea what I’d say to him, but I knew the kiss had been a mistake I didn’t intend to repeat.

Glancing into the flower shop as I neared the library, I recognized Stanley standing near the front, pondering two arrangements on the counter. His head turned slightly and looking at me, he raised his hand and waved me inside.

“Blanche! Just the person who can help me.”

“Oh? How can I do that?”

He placed his hand gently on my back and ushered me toward the counter where Millie Baker stood with an amused smile.

“Which one of these two arrangements speaks to you?”

“Um… .speaks to me?”

“Yes. Which one says something to you?”

“Well, what should it be saying?” I asked.

“Well, it should . . . uh  . . . say …,” I’d never seen Stanley’s cheeks flush red before. He looked at the floor, hands on his hips, wearing his signature red suspenders, wrinkled khakis, and button-up dress shirt, without a suit coat. He coughed nervously.

“I guess it should say, I’ve enjoyed your,” he cleared his throat, rocking back on his heels and still looking at the floor. “company.”

I grinned and winked at Millie, who was stifling a giggle behind her hand. I looked at the flower arrangements, one with bright yellow and pink carnations interspersed with baby’s breath and lavender lilies, the other full of deep red roses and surrounded by baby’s breath.

“Let’s see,” I tapped my fingers on the top of the counter, studying the arrangements. “I would go with this one,” I touched the vase with the carnations. “Because if you go with this one,” I moved my hand to the one full of roses. “It could imply you’ll be getting down on one knee soon.”

Millie failed to hold the laughter in when Stanley looked at me with wide eyes. He snatched the one with the pink and yellow carnations and laid two bills on the counter. “I’ll take this one,” he said stiffly. “Keep the change.”

He turned abruptly and walked quickly out of the shop.

“Blanche, you’re awful,” Millie giggled. “He looked like a deer in the headlights when you suggested this one should go with a proposal.”

“I didn’t mean to frighten him,” I laughed. “I was just being honest.”

Millie straightened some tulips in a vase. “You know, he’s been in here before, but he could just never decide what kind of flowers to buy for her. It’s so cute really. How nervous he gets. It’s totally changed my mind about him. He’s much different than those editorials he writes. He is a lot more. . .,” she tapped her chin with her finger and looked thoughtful. “complex than I thought.”

“It just goes to show we can’t always judge a book by its cover, I guess,” I said. “Anyhow, I have to get this dress over to Fannie at the library.”

Millie waved at me, looking through the tulips. “Have a good day and good luck getting away from her when she starts chatting.”

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about getting away from Fannie’s chatting since she was cornered at the front desk with a woman asking where she could find books about crocheting. I slid the package with the dress on the desk and waved at Fannie instead.

“I’ll be down after work to drop off payment, Blanche,” Fannie said, looking up from the card catalog. “Thank you so much!”

I rushed outside, glad not to have to deflect Fanny’s stories about her bunions or her husband’s indigestion. I didn’t mind her stories or chatting with her, but I had a stack of projects back at the shop I needed to finish.

Opening the door to the library, a smiling Lillian Steele greeted me. “Oh! Blanche! Long time no see, honey!”

I hugged the pastor’s wife as I stepped into the sunlight and stepping back I saw her hand tightly holding the hand of a little girl. Wide brown eyes stared back at me under a pale yellow sunhat.

“Well, hello, Annabelle,” I said, leaning down closer to Lillian’s daughter. “How are you this morning?”

Annabelle pulled her Mama’s hand across her face and peered around it, a shy smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “I’m okay, Miss Robbins.”

Annabelle was Lillian’s middle child. She’d been pregnant with her oldest, Benjamin, the day Hank and his friends had lit a cross on the pastor’s front lawn. I knew Benjamin was at school. I guessed the baby, born only three months ago, must be home with Pastor Frank.

“How are you feeling?” I asked Lillian. “Getting your energy back yet?”

“Much faster than I thought I would,” Lillian said, flipping a long strand of black hair over her shoulder. “Hey, we’re starting a new Bible study next month at the church. I’d love to have you there if you have time.”

I’d attended Bible studies with the ladies of the church many times since I’d been a teenager, but I still felt a twinge of guilt thinking back to that first time I’d lied to my parents, using a Bible study as an excuse to leave with Hank one night. I’d told my parents I was attending a Bible study at Lillian’s home when I’d really sneaked out to meet Hank. He’d taken me to a bar that night and I’d had my first taste of beer. Granted, I’d never grown accustomed to the taste of alcohol and hadn’t had any since that night, but the fact I’d lied to my parents and used Lillian to get away with it weighed heavy on my mind long after I’d left Hank and returned home.

“I’d love to, Lillian. I should be able to, but I’ll check with Mama and Daddy and see if it will work with their schedule.”

Lillian leaned in for another hug. “So glad to hear it. I’ll get you the exact date and time at church on Sunday.”

I held the door open for Lillian and Annabelle and as I closed it behind them I smiled, happy to know the local chapter of the KKK wasn’t as active as it once was and that Pastor Frank and Lillian hadn’t been afraid to stay in the community even after hate had tried to drive them away.

My stomach growled, reminding me it was lunchtime. I glanced at the clock in the town square. I had agreed to meet Emmy at the diner in ten minutes.

Passing the hardware store on the way to the diner, I glanced at the front window and caught my reflection. I paused, turned toward the window, and looked at the hair tight in a bun on my head and the plain, blue skirt, and blue striped knit top I was wearing.  I may have been curvier than I had been as a teenager, but I was, in so many ways, still plain, boring Blanche.

I sighed, pushing a strand of hair back into the bun. I leaned closer to the glass, touched my fingers along the skin under my eyes and wondered if it was the reflection or if there really were bags appearing there. I squinted at the skin under my eyes, and slowly my reflection faded as I looked through the window, my eyes focusing on a man standing at the front counter, handing the cashier money.

I leaned closer to the window, trying to get a better look at the man between the reflections of the cars and people passing by on Main Street. Suddenly I felt dizzy with disbelief. My heart lurched in my chest.

It couldn’t be.

But it was.

My ex-husband was standing on the other side of the glass, less than five feet away from me.

The sounds of the town bustling through life that afternoon faded under the sound of my heart pounding hard in my ears.

It was definitely him.

Hank Hakes was standing at the front counter of the hardware store, slightly turned from me and I knew he hadn’t seen me yet. I stood in place as if struck with a tranquilizer dart, starring at the familiar crooked smile, the brown hair pushed back off the forehead, the clean-shaven jaw and the long fingers on the hand that had once touched me gently and then later formed the fist that broke my nose.

I looked away quickly, my breath stuck in my chest, my thoughts suddenly racing. I started walking, head down, hoping I could get to the shop and lock the door before Hank saw me.

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 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 6 & 7

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Hey, Mama.”

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

“Hey, squirt. What are you doing?”

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

“That sounds fun.”

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

“How are you liking school?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Chocolate chip?”

“What other kind is there?”

“Cool.”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Why not? What do you have to lose?”

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

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


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

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 2 Part 2

Just issuing a “warning” again: If you haven’t read the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, you might not want to read A New Beginning, which is the second part of her story. You can find the first part of Blanche’s story on Kindle or in Paperback, on Amazon (after December 17 it will be on all ebook readers and on other paperback sellers). However, you don’t have to read the first part to be able to enjoy A New Beginning. Also this week, there is a *trigger warning* for anyone who has suffered a miscarriage. There is nothing too graphic but just in case it brings up some difficult memories.

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)As I rode in the back of Daddy’s new Oldsmobile with Jackson, on the way home from Emmy’s, I thought about that awful night almost four years ago at the hospital.

I had held Edith against me as she sobbed, her body trembling. The delivery room smelled of antiseptic and blood and nurses worked to clean Edith’s legs and change the blood-soaked sheets.

“It’s going to be okay,” I told her, though I really wasn’t sure how it was going to be okay.

Nothing was okay about Edith going into labor so early and her baby girl being delivered already dead. I was shaking, trying not to cry so I could be strong for her. Guilt consumed me. I’d done everything wrong, eloping with a man who turned out to be abusive, throwing my education and a chance at a career away, yet Edith was the one being punished.

Edith’s crying stopped abruptly and she went limp against me. I looked down at her pale face, her eyes closed. Panic seized me and I could barely breathe.

“Edith?” I shook her gently. “Edith?”

Her head flopped back away from me, toward the pillows on the bed.

“Edith!” I screamed.

A nurse rushed toward us, reaching for Edith’s wrist and laying two fingers against Edith’s neck.

“She’s just unconscious,” the nurse told me then darted out the door, calling for the doctor.

The doors to the delivery room burst open moments later and the doctor rushed in with Jimmy behind him.

“Edith?” Jimmy stepped toward the bed, but the nurse stood in front of him.

“Let the doctor check her,” she said. “Just hold on.”

I was still sitting on the edge of the bed, holding Edith’s hand, trembling with shock. I looked at Jimmy, his eyes filling with tears.

“She’s lost a lot of blood,” the doctor said, laying his hand on my shoulder. “We are going to start a blood transfusion and we need you to step outside while we prep her. We’ll be out to talk to your family when we have a better idea what is going on.”

Jimmy helped me stand, his hand on my arm. I stumbled with him out into the dimly lit hallway to the waiting room.

Mama stood from where she’d been sitting, holding Daddy’s hand, and I fell into her arms, crying against her chest, shaking.

“The baby – the baby didn’t make it,” Jimmy said his voice breaking with emotion. “They’re giving Edith a blood transfusion now. She’s lost a lot of blood.

“Oh, dear Jesus.” Mama gasped the words through her tears.

Her arms tightened around me as Daddy began to pray out loud.

“Father, we commend the spirit of Edith and Jimmy’s baby into your arms and we humbly ask you now to spare our Edith, keep her safe, bring her back to us while always understanding that it is your will that will be done. Amen.”

Daddy’s voice was loud and clear, full of love, yet tinged with sadness.

Mama, Jimmy and I echoed the amen, before collapsing into chairs to wait for the doctor. I drifted to sleep against Mama’s shoulder, jerking awake an hour later as the doctor entered the waiting room. The expression on his face was relaxed, relieved. “She’s lost a lot of blood and she’s weak, but I think the worst is over.”

“Thank God,” Mama said, her eyes red from crying.

“I don’t want you to think this is going to be an easy recovery,” the doctor said, his tone somber. “She’ll be here several days and will need weeks to recover, but –“ He smiled wearily. “We’re in better shape than we were a couple hours ago.”

Jimmy stepped forward and took the doctor’s hand.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you.”

The doctor’s eyes rimmed with tears as he clasped Jimmy’s hand. “Of course, young man. I’m sorry we couldn’t save the baby.”

“You did the best you could,” Jimmy said.

As the doctor turned to leave, Jimmy stopped him.

“Doctor?”

“Yes?”

“Will we – will she –“

The doctor smiled weakly, clearly exhausted. “You’ll be able to try again, if that’s what you’re asking, yes. Not right away, but eventually, yes. This was just a fluke, you might say. I don’t expect it will ever happen again.”

Jimmy wiped his hand across his face to wipe away the tears.

“Thank you, sir.”

“When can we see her?” I asked.

“You can go in anytime but keep the visits short. She needs her rest.”

Mama hugged me and Daddy hugged us and then we pulled Jimmy in with us. We stood in the middle of the waiting room and cried together, mourning and rejoicing at the same time.

Daddy and I watched Edith sleep that night, him sitting in a chair next to her bed, me curled up in a chair near the window. We’d sent Jimmy and Mama home to rest, knowing they’d return tomorrow and send us home to rest. The fading daylight cast a pink hue across the room and left a chill in the air.

Edith looked so frail against the pillow. Her skin blended in with the sterile white of the hospital sheets. I stood and brushed her hair back off her forehead, watching her sleep, remembering all our nights together as children, before our teenage years, before she decided I was a boring stuck in the mud.

“Blanche, do you think there is really a God up there?” she asked one night as we laid in our beds in the dark.

“Yes,” I said confidently.

“Why?”

“Well, I can’t imagine all the beauty of the world came together by accident.”

“What about all the ugliness of the world?”

I laid there, silent, thinking.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly.

“Why doesn’t God stop the evil of the world? Like why are there wars? Why did Uncle Jason have to die in Korea?”

I wiped at tears with the back of my hand.

“I don’t know,” I said again. “But one day we’ll know, and we’ll all understand why God didn’t stop it. I guess it’s like Pastor Frank said, God gave us free will and sin was chosen by Adam and Eve. Once sin entered our world even innocent people suffered. I don’t know why Uncle Jason died but I know we will see him again one day.”

Edith sighed in the darkness and I swore I could hear her eyes rolling.

“Oh, Blanche, sometimes you’re just so naïve and trusting.”

Now, in this hospital room filled with wires and IVs and beeping machines, Edith and I seemed to be reversed in our beliefs.

“God has a plan,” she had whispered to me when she woke up, after the first round of blood loss, before drifting off again into another round of deep sleep.

“A plan for what?” I wanted to ask. “A plan to take away your baby? A plan to let Hank become bitter and abusive?”

I was angry at God, but I didn’t know if that was a proper emotion to feel. I was angry that God had taken Edith’s baby. I was angry that it seemed like Edith was being punished when she’d made up for all her past mistakes and was doing all the things the Bible said was right to do in the sight of God. Why wasn’t I the one being punished for my mistakes?

I heard a soft sigh and looked over at the chair where Daddy was sitting, leaning forward, his head in his hands.

“Daddy? Are you okay?”

I heard him softly crying and tears dripped through his fingers.

“I’m sorry, Blanche,” he whispered.

“Sorry? For – ”

“I’m sorry I let my anger over what you did drive a wedge between us for so long. I’m sorry I made you feel like you couldn’t come to me when Hank started hurting you. I’m sorry I -” His voice caught with emotion – “didn’t protect you from Hank. All I keep thinking is how I could have lost both of you. My God. What would I have done without both of my girls?”

I walked over and knelt in front of Daddy, pulling his hands from his face. His eyes were swollen from crying. I kissed his forehead.

“It’s okay, Daddy. I took for granted how much you loved me and how you were trying to protect me when you told me to stay away from Hank. I’m sorry it took me so long to admit that what I did was wrong.”

Daddy leaned his forehead against mine and we sat in the floor of Edith’s hospital room, in the glow of a setting sun, crying together. It was the forgiveness we both needed.

“So, Blanche…” Mama’s voice cut through my memories and I looked up at her, wiping tears from my face. “Oh. Why are you crying? Are you okay?”

Mama looked concerned and reached over the back seat, reaching for my hand.

“I was just thinking about Edith,” I said as her fingers encircled mine.

“I know, sweetie. We never know what God’s plans are, though. Things could change for Edith and Jimmy and maybe they’ll be blessed with the baby they’ve always wanted, just as Emmy and Sam are. We can’t give up hope.”

She pulled her hand away to grab a tissue from her purse. “You’ve got to start taking tissues with you places if you’re going to be sniffing and weeping like your mama.”

I laughed as I wiped the tears and blew my nose.

“Your nose is snotty, Mama,” Jackson informed me.

“Thank you, honey. I would never have known if you hadn’t told me.”

My sarcasm was lost on my son.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “Glad to help.”


Do you have a fiction story you’ve shared on your blog? Leave me a link in the comments so I can check it out. If I figure out how to offer a link-up on my blog, I plan to start doing that in future weeks!