Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning, Chapter 26

Welcome to Chapter 26 of A New Beginning. Are you all still looking over your shoulder to see if Hank shows back up?

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

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

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


 

Photo with Text Overlay Autobiography Book Cover (2)Chapter 26

“You invited Stanley Jasper? Here? To our house? For dinner?”

Daddy was in disbelief. “Janie, honey, what were you thinking?”

Mama turned from the sink, propping a hand on her hip. “I was thinking, Alan, that I wanted to invite Marion and her new friend to lunch when I saw them outside the supermarket yesterday. Is that so horrible?”

Daddy sighed and tossed his newspaper onto the table with a gentle flick of his wrist. “Well, no. It’s not so horrible, I guess. It’s just . . . well, you know how I feel about Stanley Jasper.”

Mama turned back to the counter and cracked open an egg over the frying pan. “Yes, I do, and I also know that you are a good Christian man who can handle being polite to another child of God for one afternoon for the sake of a lovely woman who needs a second chance at happiness in her life.”

Daddy snorted. “Well, I suppose,” he said. “But if she needs happiness, she should choose someone other than a bleeding heart liberal like Stanley.”

I clasped my hand to my mouth, trying not to let Daddy see me about to laugh at the conversation unfolding in front of me.

“Who knows,” Mama said, cracking another egg. “Maybe Stanley isn’t the man you think he is.”

Daddy rolled his eyes. “And maybe Khrushchev and I should have tea and crumpets after work tomorrow.”

I was grateful when Jackson skipped into the kitchen and asked if he could have chocolate milk with his breakfast, ending the discussion.

When Marion and Stanley arrived later that evening, Daddy had calmed down and put on a nice sweater and tie and combed his hair.

“Stanley,” Daddy said stiffly, shaking Stanley’s hand when he walked through the door.

“Alan,” Stanley said with a curt nod. “Good to see you again.”

This is going to be such a fun evening, I thought to myself sarcastically, wondering how stilted the dinner conversation would turn out to be.

The conversation flowed along smoother than I thought, with Daddy and Stanley managing to avoid politics and foreign relations and Mama, Marion and I dominating the conversation with comments about the latest fashions and our plans for what to plant in our flower beds in the spring.

After dinner Mama suggested we chat in the living room to let dinner settle, while she brewed a cup of coffee and cut slices of pie.

“So, Stanley – are you a fan of baseball?” Daddy asked, sliding his hands along the arms of his chair.

Stanley nodded, clearing his throat. “Well, yes. I’ve always been a Phillies fan.”

Daddy nodded back. “They’re not having too bad of a year this year.”

“Doing well,” Stanley agreed. “Yep. Doing well.”

Silence fell over the room. I could feel the tension in the air and tried to think of a way to break it.

“I like baseball!” Jackson declared from the living room floor where he was playing with his trucks.

Laughter filtered around the room. Daddy ruffled Jackson’s hair. “That’s right. You do. We’ll sign you up for the local team when you get a little older.”

“Do you like to pitch or hit better?” Stanley asked Jackson.

“Both!”

“That’s a good thing,” Stanley laughed. “You can be an all-around player.”

“And he’ll be the best player out there because he’s my grandson,” Marion said, kneeling down and kissing Jackson’s cheek.

“Aw, Grandma!” Jackson said, rubbing his cheek. “Not when there’s company here!”

We all laughed again as Mama walked into the living room with a tray with the pie and coffee. She set the tray on the table, arranging plates in front of each person.

“Strawberry rhubarb okay for everyone?” she asked.

Stanley smiled. “Well, Mrs. Robbins, that’s just about my favorite pie and I don’t get it very often.”

Mama picked the tray back up and propped it under her arm. “Now, Stanley, please call me Janie.”

“Of course, Janie,” Stanley said. “Thank you.”

Stanley’s eyes wandered to the record player across the living room as he took a bite of pie. He tilted his head to get a better look at the records in the rack underneath it.

“I see someone is a Hank Williams fan,” he said, standing and sliding record out of the stack.  “Emily and I used to dance to his songs at little dance hall near our house when we first met.” He cleared his throat after a few moments of looking at the front of the record and looked up at us. “Sorry. Emily was my wife. She passed away 15 years ago.”

He swallowed hard. “Cancer.”

Daddy looked down at the floor briefly and cleared his throat as well. I began to see that clearing throats was something men did when they were nervous, embarrassed, or having difficulty controlling their emotions.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Stanley,” Daddy said. “That must have been very hard on you.”

Stanley nodded and placed the record back on the rack. “It was, but, well, being able to spend time with Marion has been a nice respite after so many years of grieving.”

He smiled at Marion and pink spread across her cheeks as she lowered her face and smiled back.

Daddy stood and walked to the rack. “You know what song Janie and I like to dance to?” He slid a Patsy Cline record out. “This one…”

He opened the record player and slid the record on the turntable, gently dropping the needle on to it.

I Fall to Pieces crooned throughout the living room. Jackson sat next to me on the couch, pulling his knees up to his chest and leaned against me.

Daddy held his hand out to Mama. “Care to dance, Janie?”

Mama laughed. “Alan, not here . . .”

“Why not? Come on. Stanley and Marion can dance too. Us old folks can get some moves in tonight.”

Mama’s cheeks flushed red like Marion’s had a few moments earlier. She laid her hand in Daddy’s. Daddy gently pulled her close, his arm around her waist, his hand holding hers. She slid her other arm around his back and leaned her head against his shoulder as they swayed.

Stanley grinned and took Marion’s hand in his. I smiled as Marion moved smoothly into his arms, looking the happiest and most comfortable she’d looked since the day I’d met her.

The couples danced slowly to the music, Stanley and Marion smiling at each other, Mama and Daddy lost in the moment, hanging on to each other, swaying. As I watched them, I wondered if this would be me someday – dancing in my living room with my husband, swept up in the moment, feeling at home not in a house but in his arms.

After an hour of more songs and more dancing, laughing and sharing stories, I looked down and noticed Jackson had fallen asleep against me. I nudged him gently, knowing he had become too big for me to carry.

“Come on, kid. Let’s head upstairs.”

He leaned against me and looked up at me bleary-eyed as we walked up the stairs. I helped him take his shirt and pants off, slipping pajama tops and bottoms on him.

“Mama? When is Judson coming home?”

“I don’t know, honey. He’s still helping his family.”

Judson had been gone for over a month now and there were few days that went by when Jackson didn’t ask when he was coming home.

“I miss him.”

“I know, sweetie. I miss him too.”

I knew I wasn’t lying when I said I missed Judson.

Jackson changed into his pajamas and then climbed into bed, yawning. I tucked him into bed and kissed his forehead.

“Mama?”

“Yes?”

“Do you think Judson is ever going to come back?”

I pulled the covers up over his shoulder and sat on the edge of the bed. Judson had called twice since he’d left. The last time we had talked had been a week ago. We’d talked briefly and he’d given me an update on his father, on repairs he’d made around the house while he was there and said he hoped to be home in a couple more weeks. Jackson had asked to talk to him before we could discuss anything else and then Judson had said family had arrived and he needed to go.

“He said he would,” I told Jackson. “I know you miss him, but he has to be there for his family right now.”

“He promised he’d come back.”

“Yes, he did. So, he’ll be back.”

As I changed into my nightgown for bed, I thought about what I’d told Jackson and hoped I hadn’t lied. Judson had promised, but people had a way of breaking promises, something I knew too well. Sliding under the covers, I wondered if I was hoping Judson would return for Jackson’s sake, or for mine.

***

“I am so excited to finally meet Miss Mazie in person,” Edith said from the backseat of Emmy’s blue Chevy. “Jackson, honey, take your finger out of your nose.”

I snickered, looking back at my sister pulling Jackson’s finger away from his nose while he giggled.

“Good luck with convincing him to stop that,” I said.

A baby seat sat next to Emmy, Faith snuggled in a pile of warm blankets. Emmy was driving, her hand tapping on the steering wheel to the beat of The Supremes, her head tilting from side to side as she sang along. We’d left early that day to travel to see Miss Mazie, Hannah and Buffy, for only the third time since I’d left almost seven years before. It was the first visit with Emmy and Edith.

“I’m so glad Sam didn’t have to work today and I could drive us,” Emmy said, pausing in her singing. “It’s so fun to have a girl’s day!”

Sunlight streamed through the trees as we drove and I rolled the window down to enjoy the breeze, unusually warm for October. The autumn leaves spread bright colors across the hillsides. The day was perfect and a chance for me to forget about my confusion about Judson and for Edith to take her mind off Lily and the baby.

It seemed impossible it had been eight years since I had driven this road in the passenger seat of Hank’s truck, his hand on my thigh, our future out in front of us like the empty road we were on. I remembered leaving, thinking how I didn’t want to live alone and how Hank was my ticket to adventure and love for the rest of my life. I was so naïve, so oblivious to the reality of married life and life in general.

“Hey, turn here,” I said as we entered the city.

I watched the apartment buildings rise up before us as we got closer, unchanged; rusted fire escapes hanging loosely on the sides, vines crawling up the outside walls, laundry hanging on lines stretched between windows. Inside one of those apartments, on the fifth floor, I’d crossed from innocent teenager to confused and lost young woman.

“Pull over here.”

Emmy pulled into a parking space in front of the building where Hank and I had lived and I stepped out and looked up at the window of the apartment we had lived in.

“You’re too young to know what love is,” Mama told me the night Daddy

caught Hank kissing me in our backyard. “What you have right now is lust.”

Mama had been right. My feelings for Hank might have been tinged with love but they were highlighted by a healthy dose of lust. I had never felt more alive than when he touched me and kissed me in the moonlight. A rush of desire I’d never known before coursed through me the first time he pressed his mouth against mine and that desire consumed me to the point of selfishness and self-destruction.

I closed my eyes, picturing the night in our sparsely decorated apartment when I’d told Hank I was pregnant, six months after we’d been married; the night the veil of fantasy was stripped away.

He had stood over me, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“It probably isn’t even mine.” He repeated it, pacing in front of me as if he’d struck on an idea and was thinking how to use it. “It probably isn’t even mine.”

He tossed the empty whiskey bottle at the wall behind my head and it shattered, glass raining around me. I screamed in terror and fell to the floor on my knees, my hands over my head. His fingers encircled my upper arm and he pulled me up to look at him, his eyes wild.

“That’s it isn’t it? It isn’t even mine!” He shouted the words at me. “Maybe you’re just a whore like your sister.”

His face twisted in a terrifying scowl and I turned my head from the overwhelming

stench of alcohol on his breath.

“You’re just a little whore, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”

I opened my eyes to stop the memory and while I couldn’t see the window from where I stood I knew it was there – the bedroom where I’d held Jackson against me while Hank screamed and danced around the room like a man possessed.

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

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

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

He’d lunged at me and I had fallen with Jackson in my arms.

Like a man possessed by the devil he flailed and screamed and in that moment I had wondered if he really was the devil; the physical beauty I had once seen in him distorted by his rage-filled screaming.

I had only been able to get away because he’d fallen to the floor, grabbing my foot on the way down. I had kicked him full in the face in that split second adn I could still hear his crazed screams in my mind as he clutched at me. Closing my eyes in the bright sunlight, I could still see the blood spraying from his nose and spilling onto the floor; his glazed, unseeing eyes looking at me and then closing before his head fell down into the blood.

“Blanche.”

A hand touched my shoulder.

“Come on,” Edith said. “We don’t need to keep standing here with all those memories rushing at you. Let’s head down to see Miss Mazie’s. She’s expecting us.”

I drew in a deep breath and nodded, pausing to look at Jackson through the back window, through the reflection of the apartment building on the glass, asleep against the door. The memories were hard. My decisions led to pain for both Jackson and me, but at the same time, if I’d never left with Hank, I’d never have had my son.

Miss Mazie’s house looked almost the same as it did the day I’d left to go back home. The small white house stood close to other, similarly built white houses, rose bushes blooming on either side of the steps leading to the porch. A hanging basket overflowing with small purple flowers swung gently in the breeze. A porch swing looked inviting and cozy on one side of the porch. I remembered nights sitting there, chatting with Miss Mazie about her life, then gently swaying back and forth, a dozing Jackson in my arms.

Standing on the porch, her walker helping to support her, Miss Mazie waved as we pulled into the driveway. Her skin, dark like chocolate, was still smooth on her face, almost, as if she hadn’t aged at all.

“Oh, honey, you get on up here and hug my neck,” she called to Jackson as he skipped up the stairs to her.

She kissed his cheek and laughed, her plump body jiggling as she held him against her.

“You’re like a big fluffy pillow!” Jackson declared, pressing his face against her stomach.

Miss Mazie laughed even harder. When she finally let him out of her embrace, she reached out for me and pressed her soft cheek against mine.

“Honey, you look so good,” she cooed. “Now you introduce me to everyone else and then come on in so I can hold that baby.”

After introductions we entered the house to wait for Buffy and Hannah to arrive with their children. The noise rose considerably when they did and I was grateful the weather was warm enough to send the children outside into the backyard to play. Hannah’s daughter Lizzie announced she would take charge of the younger children, even though her brother was the oldest.

Lizzie was almost unrecognizable to me now. Gone were the pigtails and freckles she’d had when I first met her with Hannah on a cold winter day outside the church the day after I’d learned I was pregnant with Jackson. Her straight blond hair hung down her back, held back from her face with a pink head band. At 13 she no longer stuck her finger in her nose but stood straight with her chin held high and a book hugged against her chest with one arm. Gone were the outfits of denim overalls with tiny pink flowers, replaced by a light pink polo top and an adorable plaid skirt, a pair of pink t-strap Mary Janes completing the ensemble.

Lizzie held her hand out to Jackson. “Come, Jackson. Let’s go play on the swing.”

Even her tone exuded maturity. I watched her lead my son out the backdoor with the other children following behind, in awe of the young lady she had become.

“I can’t believe how much she’s grown,” I said to Hannah as we made sandwiches in the kitchen. “She was so pretentious a young child.”

Hannah tossed her head back and laughed, blond curls falling down her back. “She has now added a touch of impertinence to her growing list of attributes. And oh, my goodness, she still doesn’t know when to hold her tongue, but she’s slowly starting to develop a small amount of tact at least.”

I glanced out the back door at a little girl with blond curls tight on her head giggling and chasing Jackson around a bush in Miss Mazie’s yard. I realized she must be Buffy’s youngest, the baby who had come after three miscarriages. She was the miracle child, the child who had opened my eyes to the need to not judge a book by its cover.

Buffy, the pastor’s wife, had always seemed so proper, well put together and popular, but at the same time always wearing a mask that never allowed anyone to see the real her.

The day she sat in Miss Mazie’s kitchen and began to pour out her heart about the losses of her children and her doubts of God’s goodness and faithfulness, I had seen my own judgmental heart.

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

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

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

I remembered my heart breaking at her words and feeling shame at having judged her as someone who never suffered.

Now here was the baby she thought she’d never have, giggling and playing in the autumn sunlight.

“She’s beautiful,” I said as Buffy stood next to me.

“Thank you. She’s the part of our family we never realized we needed.”

“How are your other children and Pastor Jeffrey?”

“They are doing wonderful. You know we didn’t think we would be at this church for this long but it’s home now and such a blessing. The church is growing and Jeffrey is the happiest I’ve seen him in years.”

I was happy to see my friends living lives of joy after their struggles and I knew I was on the same path, no matter what my heart decided about Judson.

I found a seat in the living room on a chair next to Miss Mazie’s recliner.

“Now, Blanche, what’s this I hear from Jackson about his friend Judson who he says is about his mama’s age?” Miss Mazie shuffled into the living room from the dining room. “He says this friend doesn’t have a wife and is related to his Aunt Emmy.”

Emmy almost spit out the ginger ale she was drinking. I shot her a warning glare.

“Sorry,” Emmy mouthed, looking at the floor, her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh.

When had my son found time to get Miss Mazie alone and spill the beans to her about Judson anyhow? This was one of the times I regretted my son had the gift of gab, which seemed like a curse right now.

“He’s a good friend to Jackson and our whole family,” I said with a smile.

Emmy raised her eyebrows at me and smirked.

“Who are we talking about?” Buffy asked as she and Hannah walked into the room with pitchers of lemonade and plates of sandwiches.

“Judson T. Wainwright, my handsome cousin from the South,” Emmy told her. “He moved up about a year ago to work in my dad’s construction business.”

Emmy glanced at me, caught sight of my scowl, and cleared her throat. “He has been a good friend to all of us.”

I could tell she was trying not to tease me, knowing how confused I was feeling after the night at the pond.

“Oooh,” Hannah said, sitting in a chair across from me. “I think I need to hear more about this man.”

Buffy sat on the couch, leaned her elbows on her knees, propped her chin in her hands, and looked at me with wide eyes. “So, is he a suitor of yours, Blanche?”

“I think he’d suit her just fine if she’d allow herself the chance to get to know him better,” Edith blurted.

The women laughed as I blushed.

“Now, now ladies, let’s not embarrass poor Blanche,” Miss Mazie said waving her hand as she sat in her recliner. She smiled at me and reached over to take my hand. “Blanche will find someone when she’s ready.”

“It’s okay, Miss Mazie,” I said. “I know they are only teasing me because both of them know how hard it’s been for me to let my guard down since Hank.”

Miss Mazie was still holding my hand. “We all know how much Hank hurt you, baby, but don’t let your heart be hardened against all men. There are many good ones out there. Don’t you forget, God created us in his image – male and female – to compliment each other. Now that I’ve said that, though, you make sure you wait for the right man to come along, okay, now? Pray about it.”

On the drive home that night I thought about how Miss Mazie and Emmy had both implored me to pray about how I felt about Judson. Why did I always seem to forget about prayer when I was struggling with a situation? The only problem was, I wasn’t sure how to pray. Should I pray for God to take away my feelings for Judson to protect my and Jackson’s heart, or should I pray for my heart to be softened toward the idea of Judson being more than a friend to me?

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 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: 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!

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.

“Emily?”

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.

_____

Fiction Friday: Lessons about self-publishing my first novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is so cliche,” one person wrote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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