Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 23

Welcome to Fiction Friday where I share part of a fiction story in progress. I shared Chapter 22 yesterday so be sure to check it out.

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 on with A New Beginning.

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


Chapter 23

My mind was full of thoughts of Hank the next day as I washed the dishes, sweat beading my forehead and neck from the heat pulsating through the kitchen window. Looking up I watched Daddy and Judson working on the lawnmower, Judson’s forehead smeared with grease after he’d dragged his hand across it to wipe the sweat away. Judson’s presence at our house more than a couple of times a week to help Daddy with this or that project had become uncomfortable for me. I was grateful he had accepted Mama’s invite for dinner only once since we’d kissed.

I still couldn’t believe I had kissed him in the first place. I’d barely wrapped my mind around that fact before Hank showed up in town. Now I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around anything at all. I looked at the plate in my hands and realized it was the third time I had washed it.

“Hey.”

I jumped at the sound of Judson’s voice and turned to see him standing in the doorway, wiping sweat off his brow, the top two buttons of his shirt unbuttoned, a smile tilting his mouth upwards.

“Let me get you some water,” I said, quickly turning away from him.

Blast him. Even covered in sweat and grease he was good looking.

“Thanks,” he said. “I’ll take that offer, but I actually came in to let you know I’ll be gone for a couple of weeks.”

I filled the glass as he spoke.

“I’m heading down to North Carolina to be with my parents while Dad has heart surgery. Not sure how long it will take. My little brother is at college and can’t come help out so I offered to be there.”

He sat on a chair at the table as I set the glass of water next to him, then turned to fill another one for me.

“Whose gonna go fishing with me?”

Jackson was standing in the doorway, lower lip trembling.

“Hey, buddy,” Judson said, leaning forward, arms propped on his knees. “You’ve got your grandpa to go fishing with. You’ll be okay until I get back.”

“Yeah, but he doesn’t make voices for the fish like you do.”

Judson grinned, laughing softly. “Well, you’ll have to make the voices for them until I get back, okay?”

Jackson bit his lower lip, his hands deep in his pants pockets. He sniffed. “What if you don’t come back?”

I held my breath. Judson kneeled down in front of Jackson, one knee on the ground, the other propped up and his arm across it. “I’ll be back, kid. In a couple of weeks. I promise. I’m just going to check in on my family. Okay?”

Jackson nodded, still looking at the ground, tears in his eyes.

“Listen, you take care of your mama while I’m gone and when I come back we’ll go fishing and for a hike and maybe even ride Mr. Worley’s old tractor together.”

Jackson nodded, looking at the floor, bending his foot back and forth, like I always did when I was nervous. “Yeah. Okay.”

He wrung his hands in front of him for a few moments, his lower lip trembling.

“I don’t have a daddy you know,” he blurted suddenly.

My chest tightened. I had no idea where this conversation was going and I almost stepped forward to take Jackson’s hand to end it as quickly as possible. Something held me in place, though. I sat staring at the exchange. It was like a car accident I couldn’t look away from. I gulped a mouthful of water to distract myself from the nerves buzzing in my stomach.

Judson nodded as he stood, rubbing his hand along the side and back of his neck, wincing slightly.

“Yeah, buddy, I know.”

“Maybe you can be my daddy.”

I almost choked on the water I was drinking.

Judson cleared his throat and looked at the floor. He looked up at me briefly as I tried to force the water back down my throat. He looked back down at Jackson again, putting a hand on my son’s shoulder. “You know what, kid? I’m your buddy and I’m here for you whenever you need me, okay?”

“Okay,” Jackson said with a shrug. “Want to go throw the ball out front? You can use Grandpa’s glove.”

Judson grinned and ruffled Jackson’s hair. “You bet, buddy. I’m not leaving for a few more days, so I’ve got plenty of time for that. Let’s go.”

Judson looked at me, raising his eyebrows and letting out a breath. I could tell the conversation had made him as uneasy as it had me.

I felt like I’d been holding my breath the entire exchange, except for the moment I’d almost choked on the water. As the door closed behind Judson and Jackson. I sat in a kitchen chair, clasping a hand against my forehead.

“This single mom thing is not for the faint of heart,” I mumbled to myself.

I felt the same a week later when Judson stopped by to say goodbye to Jackson, reaching down to hug him close. Jackson pulled away with tears in his eyes.

“You gonna come back, right?”

Judson places his hands on Jackson’s shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “Yes, buddy. I am coming back. I promise you.”

My chest constricted with worry as I watched my son hug Judson tightly, knowing that my fears of him becoming too attached to someone who might not stick around were coming true. When Judson pulled away from Jackson he stood to face me.

He leaned over to hug me and I let him but something inside me held me back from leaning completely into him. My muscles tightened and I pulled back, ending the embrace abruptly.

“I hope it all goes well,” I said stiffly, folding my arms across my chest and feeling awkward, knowing I was tossing up walls because I didn’t want to admit I felt like I might crumble into a pile of confused emotions at any moment .

I couldn’t deny the look of disappointment on Judson’s face as he stepped back and nodded.

“I will,” he said, then smiled slightly. “If I write you, will you write back?”

I folded my arms across my chest, trying to smile. “Of course.”

He nodded, eyes on the floor, as he slid his hands into his pockets. “Or, I guess I could call too.”

“Yes, I guess you could,” I said, looking at the floor.

Why won’t he just go away? I thought to myself.

I needed him to leave so I could figure out how to feel about what I’d done, about him, about everything related to us. I didn’t know how to interpret the quickening of my pulse as he had hugged me, the aching feeling inside me urging me to dart upstairs to my room and cry.

He pulled his cowboy hat down on his head. “Okay. Well, I’ll see you soon.” His footsteps faded across the porch and into the grass.

I pushed the door closed against the sound of his truck engine and stood with my hand still pressed against it as Jackson ran out the back door to swing on the tire swing. I leaned my forehead against the smooth wood, closed my eyes and let out a long breath.

“Did you tell him Hank had been in town?” Mama’s voice behind me startled me out of my thoughts.

I turned and sighed, leaning back against the door, my hands behind me.

“No. Why should I?”

“I just thought he’d like to know. I mean you two are . . . well, friends at least, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Mama, but he doesn’t need to know anything about it. I’m fine. Hank is gone and I don’t see him coming back.”

I was grateful when the phone rang a few moments later and snatched it off the receiver to avoid continuing the conversation with Mama.

“What is going on with you and Thomas?”

I groaned inwardly. This conversation with Emmy wasn’t going to be any easier.

“Nothing is going on with Thomas and me,” I said with a heavy sigh.

“You two were in a dark room together . . .”

“Because I was hiding from Hank.”

“With Thomas?”

“Oh, good grief. He was just standing outside the hardware store when I saw Hank and I didn’t want us to be standing there when Hank came out. And I may have punched Thomas thinking it was Hank.”

“You punched him? In the face?” Emmy burst into laughter. “I thought his cheek looked swollen but I didn’t want to ask. So, what about Judson?”

“What about him?”

Emmy sighed. “Blanche, I know something happened between you two at the lake two weeks ago and you keep changing the topic when I try to bring it up.”

I pressed my hand against my forehead and looked back toward where Mama had been standing before. I couldn’t see her and hoped she wasn’t anywhere she could hear me.

“I kissed Judson.”

I thought my best friend was going to have a stroke. “You what?!”

“I kissed him and I shouldn’t have and I don’t want to talk about it.”

“We have to talk about it! How do you feel? Did you like it? Do you like him? What did he say? What did he do?”

“Emmy!”

“What? I need to know.”

“The kiss was nice. That’s all I’ll say.”

Emmy squealed on the other end of the phone and I cringed, uninterested in acting like a school girl over something causing me such internal conflict.

“I knew it! I knew you two would hit it off and you more than hit it off!”

“Emmy, I’m not ready for anything like that …. I — ” The tears forming in my eyes surprised me. “I’m afraid, Emmy.”

“Afraid of being hurt or how you felt?”

“Both,” I admitted.

“I know I can’t promise that you won’t get hurt, Blanche, but Judson is a good man. I’m not only saying this because he’s my cousin. He’s a good man and I know . . .”

Her voice trailed off and she sighed. “I guess I should say I think he truly has feelings for you. He worries about you and I’ve seen the way he looks at you in church.”

“In church?”

Good grief. Was church the new place to check out the opposite sex?

“Yes. In church. I’m sorry. I noticed. He watches you and I can tell he wants to talk to you but . . . I don’t know. I think he’s trying to give you your space.”

I leaned back against the wall in the kitchen and slid to the floor, hugging my knees against me. “I don’t know, Emmy. It’s just all very confusing.”

“Have you tried praying about it?”

“About how I feel about Judson? That just feels – weird.”

Emmy laughed. “Blanche, God cares about every part of our lives, even the romantic parts. I think this is one of the biggest issues you should be taking to him.”

“What do I even say, ‘Lord, please help me to not have feelings for this man?”

“Do you have feelings for him?”

I let out an exasperated sigh. “Emmy, I’m just saying that I don’t know how to talk to God about this.”

“Well, how do you talk to God about anything else? Just talk to him the same way about this you would any other issue you bring before him.”

I knew Emmy was right. So why was it so hard for me to just do it?

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning Chapter 4

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


Light, Shadows & Magic (2)Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Protect us from what?”

“From the bears in the field.”

I laughed. “What bears in the field?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“Do you ever hear from him?”

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

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

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

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

“No, what does a garden club do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A Story to Tell’ Chapter six

This is part of a serial fictional story I’m sharing on my blog once a week. Did you know that Catcher in the Rye was actually released as a serial first? I didn’t, until this week. Did you know I never read Catcher in the Rye? Gasp! I know. I’ll have to remedy that ASAP.

You can find links to the other parts of the story below:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five


 

Lisa R. Howeler

One day when I was in ninth grade, I saw Edith sitting outside the ice cream shop next to Eddie Parker on my way home from school. The way she laughed every time he spoke made me roll my eyes. No one was that funny. I couldn’t figure out why talking to a boy made her act like she’d lost part of her mind. I vowed never to give up my brain for the attention of some boy.

When I was a junior in high school I must have forgotten about that day. I wouldn’t say I gave up any part of me for Hank’s attention, at least at first, but I know there were times I threw caution and common sense not only into the wind but into the gutter.

I was surprised by how many nights I was able to leave the house in the middle of the night without my parents hearing me. There were some nights Hank came but I couldn’t slip out because Mama and Daddy were still awake chatting in their bedroom or sitting in the living room watching Ed Sullivan.

On those nights I kneeled at the window and waved him away. He’d take a drag on his cigarette, blow a stream of smoke into the dark and blow me a kiss before he left with a shrug and a smirk. When I could slip away I always made sure I wasn’t wearing shoes and I tip-toed across the floor, skipping the boards I knew squeaked.

The mornings after we met I was always tired, but I knew Mama thought it was because I’d been up late reading.

“When I started singing it made my dad angry and I liked that,” Hank said one night as we sat under the maple. “He never liked anything I did. I didn’t even cry the night he kicked me out. I was glad to finally be free. I was only 16 at the time.”

He flicked a leaf at the ground and stared at it wistfully.

“Where did you go?” I asked.

“I went to live with my grandma at first, but then she died so I found a place in town and got a job,” he said. “I won’t lie that I miss my mama and grandma a bit – at least their cooking, but I’m doing al’right on my own. I can cook a mean can of beans.”

He laughed and I laughed with him.

“I saw you with your mama at church on Sunday,” I told him.

He nodded.

“She asked me to take her so I did. The old man never does anymore. Too busy drinking on Saturday night to get up early on Sunday morning. I’m not much for that religion stuff, but I’ll go for mama.”

I could tell he seemed interested in changing the subject by the way his gaze drifted to the field lit by the dim light of the moon.

“So, what new books you been reading?” he asked.

“I started reading Catcher in the Rye,” I said with a shrug. “Mrs. Libby at the library gave it to me, but I don’t know what I think about it. It’s about this kid who is sort of depressed all the time and rebelling against his parents. It’s kind of new I guess.”

Hank grinned.

“Maybe you’re not sure you like it because it’s too close to how your life is right now,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean – aren’t you rebelling against your parents by being out here with me?” he asked. “Maybe you’re a little like that guy in the book.”

I shook my head.

“I’m nothing like him,” I said. “I’m not that depressed or moody.”

He was smiling at me.

“Well, most of the time,” I admitted, thinking how I had yelled at Edith that morning to stop stealing my clothes. “But I love my parents. It’s just – I don’t know – sometimes they try to tell me what I’m going to be and I don’t like that.”

“They try to live their lives through you,” Hank said. “It’s a parent thing. I was lucky. My dad just hated me. He’s never cared what I did with my life. And Mama is too afraid of Daddy to care much about what I do. I think that’s easier because now I just live my own life. I don’t have to answer to anyone but me and most of the time I don’t even answer to me.”

I looked at him again, watching as he pulled leaves off the tree while leaning against the fence post. He was wearing a white undershirt with a plaid button up shirt over it and a pair of faded blue jeans and black dress shoes. His hair was long in the front. While we talked he pushed his hand through his hair and pushed the longer strands back on his head and I could see his eyes better.

Even though the moon was only a quarter moon and the light by the old shed was dim, I could see how beautiful the shape of his mouth was.  I hated how I wished he was kissing me again. I felt silly and childish at the way my stomach felt like butterflies were alive in my belly as I studied him.

“Why do you care what I’m reading anyhow?” I asked.

“Because I like to know what you like,” he said and shrugged. “I don’t read a lot so I like to know what kind of stories spark your interest. Plus, if you tell me all about what is in those books, then I don’t have to take the time to read them. More time for singing and playing and dancing with pretty girls.”

He noticed my eyes dropped to the ground when he mentioned dancing with pretty girls.

“Now, don’t you worry, little Chatterbox. I’m only dancing for fun. I’d much rather be dancing with you, but you won’t come with me.”

I shifted my weight from one leg to the other.

“You know I can’t –“ I said, softly. “My parents –“

He sighed. “I know, I know. Your parents would blow a gasket. But I don’t get it. What have they got against me anyhow? I’ve never done anything to them. They don’t even know me.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Daddy just said you like a lot of women and aren’t good to be around.”

Hank threw a handful of leaves at the ground and laughed.

“Yeah, I like women. I like a lot of women,” he was smiling and watching me as he moved closer to me. “And right now, I like the woman who is right in front of me.”

I didn’t close my eyes until his mouth was on mine. I loved the smell of him. I loved how his hands felt when they fell to my waist and pulled me against him. I loved when he deepened the kiss and slid his hands into my hair.

“You feel good, Blanche,” he whispered against my ear, his hands slipping up to the middle of my back, then starting to slide down.

I pushed his hands away and stepped back from him.

He cleared his throat.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “Sometimes my hands get away from me. It just felt right to move them there.”

“I know, but I don’t want to – to –“

“And I won’t ask you to,” he said, his finger under my chin, gently lifting my face to look at him. “I won’t. You hear? Not until I put a ring on that finger and the preacher says we’re married.”

Ring? Married? I was surprised by his use of the words. They held a heaviness in them I wasn’t ready for. I still had another year of school and I knew Daddy would never let me marry him.

I nodded silently and he kissed me again.

“Hey. I was thinking. Let’s meet somewhere else one day,” he said, still holding me. “Can you sneak out on a Saturday? I’ll drive us to town and we can watch a movie.”

“I don’t know. What if someone sees us together?” I asked.

“We’ll go in separately. You meet me in the back when the lights go off.”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on. It will be fun. Don’t you want to have some fun once in a while?”

I did want to have some fun. It was time someone had fun besides Edith and the characters in my books.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said.

“I’ll meet you at the bottom of the hill in my truck about 6:15. Wear your best dress. Tell your Daddy you’re going to Bible study or something.”

I laughed softly because I knew Daddy would believe me about the Bible study, but then I felt guilty about even considering lying to my daddy.

“I’ll try,” I said as he kissed my neck.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “Now get your butt back inside before your parents catch us and your daddy shoots me.”

His hand slapped my bottom as I turned to run toward the house. I looked over my shoulder and smiled. He was smiling back.

I’d never felt so alive.

The state of our world today

I was very anxious about several situations the other night, feeling restless and bitter about the actions of others, in my world, in the world in general. I knew I should be reading the Bible instead of scrolling through social media and seething so I left my phone behind and grabbed my Bible when I went into the backyard to watch the dog. Isaiah has been bookmarked since Easter when I was reading about the prophecy of Christ’s death and resurrection.

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When I read Isaiah 65: 1-5, a few pages after that prophecy (Isaiah 53: 1-12), I felt like I was reading a message for today.

“I was sought by those who did not ask for Me;

I was found by those who did not seek Me.

I said, “Here I am, here I am,”

To a nation that was not called by My name.

I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people,

Who walk in a way that is not good,

According to their own thoughts;

A people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face;

Who sacrifice in gardens,

And burn incense on altars of brick;

Who sit among the graves,

And spend the night in the tombs;

Who eat swine’s flesh,

And the broth of abominable things is in their vessels;

Who say, ‘Keep to yourself,

Do not come near me,

For I am holier than you!”

These are smoke in My nostrils,

A fire that burns all day.­”

Isaiah 65: 1-5

Things aren’t great in our world right now. We have a lot of hatred, a lot of horrible things being said by people who are supposed to be leaders. We are at a crossroads in our nation and sometimes the choices we have to make are frightening, but none of this is new to God. There has always been upheaval in the world.

There have always been people who have denied him and even spit in His face, figuratively and literally. There is nothing new under the sun for God. He created this world, He gave humans free will, He knows our past and our future. He knows the time He will send his son to gather us home.

Sometimes it is hard for me to remember all this when babies are being torn from their mother’s wombs and people say they aren’t babies they are blobs.

It’s hard to remember when babies and adults are dying at the borders of nations, not only our own, looking for a better life, but politicians won’t agree on how to help them.

It’s hard to remember when so many children are lost and looking for their identities, impatient to grow up and state too soon who and what they are.

But even in those moments, God is here.

I don’t know why He doesn’t pluck us all out of this confusion and set us straight, stop all the sadness and horror from happening in the world; it’s something I argue with Him about often. What I do know is one day it will all make sense and one day those who deny Him won’t be able to anymore.

Fiction in Progress: A Story to Tell Part III

This is part III of a fiction story I’m working on called “A Story to Tell”.  You can find Part I HERE and part II HERE

Don’t want to click from chapter to chapter? Find the book in full on Kindle HERE. 


 

Mama went to quilting club in the church basement on Tuesday nights. She usually took me and if Edith wasn’t in class she went too.

I didn’t like to sow. I wasn’t any good at it and often pricked my finger on the needles.

“So, Blanche. What do you think you’ll do after graduation?” Millie Baker asked me as she pulled the thread through her quilt piece.

“I really don’t know,” I answered honestly.

I hadn’t thought of what I’d do after graduation. It was a year away and I was just trying to survive my junior year. The only thing I liked to do was read and write but I couldn’t make a living reading and I’d never shown anyone anything I’d written before.

“I think she’d do well as a secretary,” Alice Bouse said with a smile. “She enjoys writing and I could see her typing away on a typewriter pretty easily.”

Fran Tressel nodded approvingly.

“I could see her doing that as well,” she said. “She’d be personable and easy to talk to.”

Other women around the circle nodded and murmured in agreement, talking about me as if I wasn’t there or have my own mind to make up.

“It’s not a bad profession,” Jan Spencer said with a grin.

Jan was the secretary for the school district superintendent and the rumor was she was paid generously for her work. I chose to ignore other rumors about Jan’s close friendship with the assistant superintendent, one that his wife didn’t appreciate.

“And just remember, hon’ there is no rush on gettin’ married,” Betty Bundle said, chewing gum and randomly licking her finger so she could pull apart fabric to stretch out and cut for her project.

Betty’s dirty blond, bleached hair was always piled on top of her head in a messy bun and her earrings were so big they looked like golf balls hanging from her ear lobes. She was a waitress at the local diner and she didn’t have every Tuesday off but if she did she was at sewing club, making me feel like I wasn’t alone with my lack of sewing talent.

“She doesn’t need to worry about that. She isn’t even dating,” Mama said.

My face felt hot. It was true, but there was no need for her share it with all the women in the sewing circle.

“No? A cute little thing like you? I can’t imagine why you don’t have the boys falling all over you,” Betty said holding a stretch of fabric up in front of her and scrunching her face in disgust at the mistake she’d made.

The women were busily sewing, some at machines, some by hand. Millie was shaking her head at the mistake she’d made in her quilt block.

“It’s just not like it was when we were young,” she said. “Young girls today have some time before they have to find a husband and start having kids. Don’t be like that Jenkins girl, Blanche.”

There were a few clicks of the tongues and “mmhmms” from the gathered women.

“I don’t even think she’d turned 16 when she had that baby,” Alice Simms said. “Her whole life had to be put on hold. Just a shame. And now she’s just popping them out like candy.”

“What’s she up to now? Four? Good grief. She’s just ruining her figure,” Doris Landry said with a snort.

“Well, at least she loves them,” I said.

I looked around the room worried about the reaction I would receive from such a comment during a full on complaining session. I didn’t usually speak out but it came out before I’d even fully thought it through. A few of the women glanced at me in surprise. The rest simply nodded as they knitted and sowed, showing they agreed with what I’d said.

“I mean, she cares for them. And they seem to love her too,” I said softly, looking back at my disaster of a project. “I’m sure it’s not easy but – well, maybe it’s worth it at the end of the day.”

Betty winked at me.

“That’s a good point, Blanche. It really is,” she said. “She seems pretty happy – even with starting so early and with that Billy Tanner not giving her much of a life with his job as a farm hand.”

A few of the other women nodded in agreement while some scowled disapprovingly at the mention of Billy. They seemed pleased to push the blame on Billy for the situation now instead of Annie.

“I was 15 when I had my first baby,” 80-year old Jessie Reynolds said quietly from the rocking chair at the end of the row of women. “but that was a long time ago. I was a baby with a baby. That’s the way it was done back then. It wasn’t too shocking for a girl to get married at 14. Our parents couldn’t always afford to take care of us and if a good man could, then we were married off.”

“I would not have enjoyed living back then,” Emily Langer said with a shake of her head. “I can’t imagine being married off to some dirty old man.”

“My man wasn’t dirty at all,” Jessie said with a small laugh. “He was the sweetest man I’d ever met. But I’m sure there were many marriages that weren’t as pleasant as ours.”

Jessie looked at me.

“Blanche, honey, you’re smart. You know that and we all know it. You don’t have to rush into family right away,” she leaned forward, put her hand on mine and smiled. “You take your time. Find a career that will make you happy and see what the world is all about before you rush into getting married and having babies, okay?”

I nodded. I didn’t want any kids right now or maybe even ever. I’d never even babysat one and didn’t like the smell of them. Not only that but their noses were always runny and sometimes they puked for no reason at all.

“Oh, Blanche is probably going to stay home with me for awhile after graduation anyhow,” Mama said. “She can help me at home until she decides on a man to marry. I think she’ll be a housewife, just like me.”

Mama smiled at me and I didn’t know whether to smile back or not. I tried to smile and then looked back at the quilt pieces on my lap and wondered if I really wanted to be just like Mama – an obedient wife who spent most of her days cooking and cleaning and her nights volunteering for the church rummage sale or at the sewing and quilting club.

I didn’t want to rush into a marriage, but I also didn’t want to be stuck in this town my whole life. A career that would take me to adventure sounded good to me.

I felt a bit of annoyance as well at the idea that Mama had already planned my life out for me and the rest of the women seemed to want to do the same. It was my life anyhow. What say did they have in it? I pushed the needle in and out of the fabric aggressively as I thought and then mumbled a curse word under my breath when the needle dug into my fingertip again.

“What’s that, Blanche?” Jessie asked.

“I was just telling my thread and needled to cooperate,” I said forcing a smile.

I sucked the blood off my finger and vowed to find a way to get out of sewing group the next week.

*******

It was a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in May when I saw Hank again. I hadn’t seen him in four months. Mama wanted me to pick up milk and eggs at the supermarket for her while she looked for material for a new summer dress at Missy’s Sew and Fabric across the street.

The wide aisles of the small, family-owned supermarket were almost empty and I shivered in the refrigerator section. When I pulled the milk off the shelf and turned around, I gasped at the sight of him standing in the aisle, hat tipped back, a toothpick in one corner his mouth and a few strands of light brown hair laying across his forehead. He grinned and took the toothpick out of his mouth. His green eyes were bright with amusement.

“Hey there, Blanche,” he laughed as he spoke. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

The one corner of his mouth tilted a little higher than the other when he smiled

I hated the way the sight of him made my heart pound in my chest, how the sight of that crooked smile made my knees feel weak. I hated that I noticed again how beautiful his eyes were. I knew my face had flushed pink under his gaze.

I stepped around him without responding, too embarrassed to speak, knowing Daddy wouldn’t want me to, but he followed me to the eggs.

“Making a cake?” he asked.

“No,” I kept my eyes on the eggs, on the floor, anywhere but on him.

“I’ve been thinking about you,” he said.

I’d been thinking about him too but I didn’t want him to know that.

“When can I see you again?” he asked.

I didn’t answer but still he followed me.

“Can I swing by tonight?”

He kept talking as I walked, trailing behind me. “I’ll throw a rock at your window. If you want to see me, come out so we can talk.”

I hurried to the cashier with my heart pounding and a rush of butterflies in my stomach. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t excited that he wanted to see me. I tried to tell myself I didn’t care.

When the rock hit my window that night, I laid there for a long time with the moonlight pouring in on my bed. I did want to see him, but I remembered what daddy had said. What if it all was true? If it was true then why was Hank picking me to talk to? I wasn’t special like all those other girls.

I wasn’t even pretty. My brown hair frizzed in the humidity unless I kept it tied back in a pony tail. My skin was almost always pale, except the dark circles that seemed to always show up under my eyes in the spring. I was scrawny and my hips seemed to just fall in a straight line, unlike Edith’s that curved seductively and made every dress look attractive on her. If all that wasn’t bad enough, I wore thick black glasses when reading or at school.

I rolled to my side, my arms under my head, squeezing my eyes closed tight, thinking.

What if daddy saw me sneaking out into the darkness? I knew he’d be furious. And what if I fell for Hank and then found out it had all been a joke he’d set up with his friends so he could make fun of me? I wrestled with my thoughts in the darkness, opening my eyes, staring at the blue glow of the moonlight casting a patch of light on the rug on the floor by the window.

I heard the clink of another rock against the window and looked at Edith. She was still asleep.

I tiptoed to the window, looking out at him looking up at me, waiting. He grinned and waved from the side yard, standing next to mama’s rose bush. I took a deep breath and decided to quickly find out what he wanted, then run right back to bed.

I raised myself on my tip toes, moving slowly across the floor, past Mama and Daddy’s closed bedroom door, pressing my back against the stairwell wall to avoid steps I knew would creak under me.

Hank took my hand as I stepped off the porch, leading me across the yard and down through the field to the maple tree before he spoke.

“Hey, girl, I knew you’d come out,” he said with a small smirk, still holding my hand as he turned around.

“I don’t know why you’d even want to talk to me,” I said softly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m not anyone special.”

“You’re special to me,” he said. “I like you. You’re sweet, smart, and I know if we start talking you’ll open right up to me – like a rose in bloom.”

My hand felt small and sweaty in his.

“I want to know more about you,” he said, squeezing my hand. “Like what do you want to do when you get out of this town? What do you do for fun? You ever been to a movie? I know you don’t dance but do you ever want to?”

He was talking softly, standing close to me. I heard genuine interest in his questions. I shifted nervously and cleared my throat.

“I ..uh…I like to read,” I said, feeling stupid, kicking at the dirt with my shoe, head down. “I like movies – like anything with Ingrid Bergman or Cary Grant. Sometimes Daddy takes us to the theater. I don’t know about dancing. I’m not good at it.”

“How do you know you’re not good at it if you’ve never tried?”

I shrugged.

I decided I should try to be polite and ask him a few questions as well.

“Where’d you learn to play guitar like that?”

“From my uncle,” he said, letting go of my hand and searching the front pocket of his jacket for a cigarette. “He was in a band and showed me how to play when I was just a tot.”

He leaned against the tree, lighting the cigarette. The spark of the flame lit his face briefly and I felt my heart pounding faster as I caught a glimpse of his eyes, his lashes dark and long.

“ I feel free when I play, you know? I don’t have to make anyone happy,” he said. “I just have to play that music and let it take me out of my head and out of that room and out of this crappy little town.”

He folded his arms across his chest, watching me.

“What about you, Chatterbox?” He asked. “You don’t want to spend your whole life here, do you?”

I knew I didn’t want to always live in this village, in the midst of farms and not much else, but I didn’t feel like I could say it. I wanted to go to all those places I read about in my books at night, huddled under the covers with a flashlight. I’d never told anyone about my dreams and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

“Come on, now, be honest with me,” he said. “There is more out there for you isn’t there? I’ve heard about you from my little brother and his friends. They say you like to read. What do you read about?”

I looked up at him and wondered why he wanted to know anything about me.

“I read about places far away,” I heard myself blurt out the words and realized no one except Emmy, and maybe Mama, had ever acted interested in what I thought. “I read about adventures far away. I love anything with a good story and maybe a –“

My gaze fell to the grass, glistening silver in the moonlight.

“A good romance,” I said, embarrassed I had admitted my affection for romantic stories in front of someone who probably knew more about romance than I ever would.

Hank laughed softly and blew a long trail of smoke into the darkness.

“I like a good romance,” he said, smirking and looking me up and down .

I felt my face grow hot under his gaze. I shifted my weight nervously from one foot to the other and twirled a strand of hair around my finger.

“Why you looking so shy, Chatterbox? Hasn’t any boy ever acted interested in you?”

I shook my head.

“No. Never.”

“Well, they must be blind. Those boys are missing out and they don’t even know it.”

“I’m a nerd.” I shrugged. “I don’t dance and I don’t flirt and I don’t dress all up like Edith and those other girls.”

He laughed then remembered he was supposed to be quiet and glanced quickly at the house. After a few seconds of watching the dark house to make sure no lights came on, he grinned at me.

“All those other girls are just putting on an act,” he whispered. “ Don’t you let them intimidate you. Besides that might be what little boys look for in a girl but it’s not what men look for.”

He tossed the cigarette down and stepped closer to me.

“You’re a pretty little thing, Blanche,” he said softly. “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not. Shoot. I couldn’t take my eyes off you at the dance that night.”

He pushed my hair back from my face and I looked up at him.

“I still can’t,” he said softly.

My muscles tensed as he cupped my cheek in his hand. I wanted to run away and hide but I wanted to stay right where I was at the same time.

I closed my eyes and felt the warmth of his skin against my cheek. I kept my eyes closed as I felt his mouth graze my forehead and then my cheek and then my lips. He pulled back slightly then leaned close again and covered my mouth with his, gently, as he slid his arm around me and pulled me against him. The kiss lingered for a few moments before I felt panic rush through me.

I pulled away quickly and shivered.

“I have to go inside now. Before my parents – “

He was watching me with a smile and my heart was pounding.

“Can I see you again?” he asked.

“Yes. I mean no. I mean – I don’t know.”

The grass was moist with dew as I ran back toward the house and gingerly opened the front door so I wouldn’t wake anyone. Upstairs I slid my shoes off and crawled into bed, still in my dress. I pulled the covers around me and tried to stop shivering. When I closed my eyes I could still feel his arms around me and his lips against mine.

 

Fully Alive Part 3

For the first part of this work in progress click HERE. For the second part, click HERE.

This is a work in process and there will most likely be typos and changes to it in the future.


The busy sounds of people rushing by to complete their daily chores quieted as Jairus pushed the door to the synagogue closed. He leaned against the door and closed his eyes for a moment as he tried to quiet his racing thoughts.

Jairus focused on the words he had said to Josefa the night after the teacher had healed her.

Healed her? Brought her back to life?

Is that really what had happened?

Even now it was all too unbelievable to him.
He wondered, did he really believe this man, this Jesus was the true Messiah as he had told Josefa?

Maybe he had been wrong to say so. He’d spent his whole life studying the scrolls, learning of Moses and Elijah, about the prophecies of the Messiah. Now here he was almost completely convinced the man he had followed in the street, begging for him to come and heal his only daughter was indeed the Messiah. He knew he was being ridiculed behind his back by the other leaders of the synagogue for asking for Jesus’ help but he couldn’t deny what he had witnessed that day.

He remembered Josefa’s fever and how she’d no longer been able to stand. Miriam, his wife, had soaked cloth and laid it across Josefa’s forehead, hoping the cool water from the stream would revive her. For days they sat by her cot, holding her hand, Miriam weeping as Josefa moaned and faded in and out of consciousness.

 

“You know I told you about this teacher, this man they call Jesus? Miriam, are you listening? He’s been healing people. I saw him heal a man’s hand in the synagogue last week. The leaders were upset because it was the sabbath, but I saw the man’s hand. It was diseased, scarred, withered but Jesus held it, touched it and the hand was whole again.”

 

Miriam dabbed her eyes with her shawl as her husband spoke, barely listening as she watched her daughter’s breathing become more and more shallow. Dark circles were now under Josefa’s eyes.

 

“I will go to him, ask him to come,” Jairus was speaking again. He was pacing the floor, rubbing and pulling at the hairs of his beard as he always did when thoughts overwhelmed him.

 

“Do we now believe in such men who call themselves healers?” Miriam asked, weary from worry.

 

Josefa’s body shuddered with a convulsion. Miriam rushed to her, held the girl’s small frame against her chest. Josefa’s breathing became labored, shallow. Jairus saw the panic in his wife’s eyes and felt it rising in himself as well.

“We are losing her! Go! Go to this teacher and ask him to come!” Miriam’s voice was filled with fear. “He’s our only hope now!”

Jairus’ heart pounded as he ran from the house, out onto the crowded paths, pushing his way through travelers and locals and animals being led to market. He could see a crowd around a man in front of him. They were all moving one direction, calling out “Jesus!” Questions were being asked, some voices mocked, some sounded hopeful.

An image of Josefa’s pale frame flashed in Jairus’ mind and he tried to move faster, pushing more people aside. His chest felt tight, his breath more labored. Was this man he was trying to reach a heretic as the synagogue leaders and other rabbis said? What if he was crazy like the man who was called John the Baptist, who was covered in dirt and smelled and had spoke of a healer and prophet who would come to save the Jews?

Jairus’ foot caught a stone and he felt himself falling. The sand flew into his face and pebbles cut at his palms. As he pushed himself up he felt tears hot and stinging his eyes. He would never reach Jesus now.

He saw sandal clad feet before him and looked up.

“Let me help you,” a man with kind eyes and a smile held a hand out to him.

Jairus took it and stood slowly.

“Thank you,” he barely looked at the man, instead searching the crowd to see where Jesus had gone.

“Do you seek Jesus?” The man asked.

“Yes,” Jairus said, breathless.

“Come. I’m one of his followers. I will help you to him.”

Jairus looked at the man, noticed his unkempt beard and slightly frayed clothes. He nodded at him, seeing kindness and concern in his gaze.

The man gently touched the shoulders of those around them and people began to move aside. Ahead of them Jairus saw Jesus had paused and turned to the crowd. His eyes focused on Jairus who suddenly felt unsure, uneasy. Jairus dropped his gaze to the ground, overwhelmed with worry for his daughter and overwhelmed with the presence of a man who had performed so many miracles. His body felt weak from running, from being awake for so many days watching over his daughter.

He felt his knees give way and he fell to the ground before Jesus.

Sobs wracked his body as he lost control of control his emotions.

“Jesus,” he gasped out the name.

A sob choked his words and he thought he wouldn’t be able to finish.

“Jesus, my little girl is dying. Please. Come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”

He felt tears rush down his face and he was startled by emotions he usually tried to keep locked inside.

He felt a hand on his head, on the covering he wore there.

“Come, rise and let us go to her,” Jesus voice was calm, gentle.

 

His followers helped Jairus to his feet and Jesus motioned for him to lead the way to his home. The crowd surged around Jesus and they all began to move with him, as if one combined force, following Jairus. Several moments of chaos followed and Jairus felt a rush of frustration as the crowd pushed between him and Jesus.

“Jesus! What does God ask of us?”

“Jesus, what happens when we die?”

“Jesus, will I find wealth?”

People cried out as they walked. They pushed against each other, each person wanting to get closer to the man so many were talking about.

“Who touched me?”

Jairus faintly heard Jesus’ voice over the noise of the crowd but he could barely hear what he was saying. He tried to push forward in the crowd, looking over his shoulder every few steps to see if Jesus was following.

“I felt power go from me,” Jesus spoke louder to one of his followers. He stopped and turned to look behind him. “Who has touched me?”

The people in the crowd murmured and grew quiet.  Jairus stopped to see why Jesus wasn’t following.

“Master, there are people all around you and you are asking ‘who touched me?’” one of Jesus’ disciples laughed slightly as he spoke. His tone was incredulous, tinged with annoyance.

Jairus knew this was the man called Peter – a local fisherman who now followed Jesus. Many whispered surprise Peter, known as brash and abrupt, was following a teacher of God.

“Somebody touched me, for I perceived power going out from me,” Jesus said.

His eyes scanned the crowd around him but no one answered. They looked at each other confused and unsure why Jesus was concerned.

A woman’s voice could be heard softly, barely above a whisper.

“It was me.”

“Who is speaking?” One of Jesus’ disciples asked. “Please, come forward. Answer the teacher.”

The crowd moved aside and a woman, head down, moved toward the front. She dropped to her knees, her head bowed low, her clothes tattered and stained. She clutched her hands before her and tears dripped off her face and into the dirt.

Jairus felt anxious. He wanted to grab Jesus by the arm and drag him forward, back to his house and his daughter, but at the same time he was entranced by the scene unfolding before him.

The woman glanced upwards at Jesus.

“It was me,” she said softly.

“I knew if I could just touch the hem of your robe…”

Her gaze fell again on the ground.

“I’ve been to every doctor. I’ve been bleeding for 12 years. No one will come near me, teacher. I am unclean.”

Some in the audience winced and a few stepped away from her, covering their mouths.

Tears continued to stream down her face.

“I have tried everything. I heard of your miracles and I knew – if I just touched the hem..”

Her fingertips grazed the edge of his robe again. She could barely speak as she sobbed.

“Master, the bleeding. I can feel- it’s stopped. Something is … something is …..different.”

Jairus felt his heart pounding heart and fast. If this woman was sure she had been healed, if she was saying simply touching the hem of his garment was enough to heal her then he was indeed a powerful man, a messenger of God. If healing flowed from him so easily then there was hope for Josefa.

Jesus kneeled before the woman, reached out and took her hands in his. He touched her chin and lifted her face toward his.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

Jesus kissed her forehead gently and wiped the tears from her face. He stood and helped her to stand with him.

“Go in peace.”

A sob escaped her lips and she kissed Jesus’ hand as she held it. She backed slowly away.

“Thank you. Thank you.”

A hush had settled over the crowd. Some of the women dabbed their eyes and men talked quietly to each other, shaking their heads with furrowed eyebrows.

Jairus felt a sense of urgency rushing through him, tensing his muscles. He needed Jesus to hurry. He felt at hope at what he had seen and he wanted the same for his Josefa and his family.

“Jesus, my daughter… please …”

Jesus turned toward him and nodded.

“Of course, let us go…”

Jairus felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Josiah, his servant from home, standing next to him, his face stained with tears and dirt.

“Master, there is no need to hurry now. Josefa-“ his voice trailed off and Jairus began to shake his head.

“There is no need to bother the master now,” Josiah said. “She’s – “

“No! No!” Jairus wouldn’t let him finish.

He felt bile rushing up into his throat and his hands began to shake. He pressed his hands to his head, as if trying to wake himself from a dream.

“Josefa…” he felt the tears hot on his face and he clutched his robe against him as pain seared through his chest. “Oh God. God help me.”

He looked up as Jesus touched his arm.

“Do not be afraid. Believe.”

Jesus’ eyes were kind but Jairus’ mind was reeling. If only Jesus had moved faster. If only that woman hadn’t stopped them. Josefa would still be alive and her laughter would still fill their home.

“She’s gone,” he told Jesus. “We cannot save her now. You can not heal her. If only – ”

Jesus looked over Jairus’ shoulder, his gaze moving above the crowd.

“Come, lead me to your home.”

Jairus did as Jesus told him but his legs felt as if they were weighted down. Before they even reached the corridor where his home was he could hear the wailing and knew mourning had already begun.

 

Mourners were outside the home, trying to comfort Miriam, who was clearly in shock as she pulled at her clothes and repeated “no. no. no.”
Jairus rushed toward his wife, grasped her by the shoulders and pulled her against him. She clutched at his clothes and shoved her face into his chest.

“She’s gone. She’s gone. Oh, Jairus. Our little girl is gone.”

Jesus pushed forward in the crowd. He laid his hand against Miriam’s back to comfort her.

“There is no need for tears,” he said with a gentle firmness. “The girl is not dead. She is merely sleeping.”

An angry voice shouted over the noise of the crowd.

“She’s dead! You give these people false hope!” a man shouted.  “You are a liar and a fool! Like all who have come before you!”

Other voices joined in agreement.

“You say you can heal but you only bring hallow promises to these people,” a man sneered.

Jesus stood with his back to the crowd, kneeling down beside Miriam and Jairus.

“Send these people away and come inside with me,” he instructed. “Peter, James, John, come with me.”

Jairus opened his eyes to the sound of someone moving inside the temple, interrupting his thoughts and memories of that day.

“Jairus? Is that you?”

He recognized the voice of Ezra, another leader in the synagogue.

“Yes, Ezra. Good morning.”

Ezra walked toward him holding scrolls.

“Have you come to help me organize these for the scribes?” his mouth lifted in a wry smile.

“I did not but I am glad to help,” Jairus said returning the smile.

The men laid the scrolls on the table next to a bottle of ink.

“I do not know how so much has become in disarray in here – and outside,” Ezra said.

He looked at is friend and noticed Jairus was pulling at his beard, as he often did when deep in thought.

“Tell me, Jairus. How is Josefa recovering?”

Jairus smiled. “Well. She is well. It is – dare I say it? A miracle indeed.”

Ezra nodded but his expression grew serious.

“Jairus, I must ask you – I’ve heard many talk of what happened with Josefa. Is it true, what they say? Was she dead before Jesus arrived?”

Jairus felt his muscles tense. He was unsure what Ezra hoped to learn with his questions. He pondered how to answer, but knew telling the truth might encourage Ezra to help him understand more what had happened.

“Miriam and her hand maiden said there was no breath. She was cold when I entered the home and I felt no heartbeat beneath my hand. Her skin –“ he felt his breath catch in his throat and he paused to choke back emotion. He shook his head as if to shake the image from his mind. “Her skin was pale, tinged with blue. And… so cold.”

Ezra put his hand on his friend’s arm and squeezed it slightly.

“You’ve been through much, my friend,” Ezra said.

He opened a scroll to read it’s contents, rolled it again and stuck it back in a space in the temple wall.

“What do you believe happened that day?” Ezra asked.

“I don’t know, friend. I truly don’t. All I know is she was gone and when Jesus came she arose at his bidding. He took her hand and instructed her to rise and live and she did.”

“After all you have seen .. .” Ezra paused in stacking the scrolls and turned to look to Jairus “After meeting this man who calls himself the Son of God – who do you say he is?”

Jairus realized he didn’t know how to answer. He had seen Jesus do miraculous things and heard of even more. He believed his daughter was still living because Jesus touched her, but was he truly the son of Jehovah or was he simply a great teacher, so holy Jehovah used him to heal.

He looked Ezra in the eyes, opened his mouth to answer and then closed it again.

“Ezra – I wish I could say, but truly, I do not know what to believe about this man.”

Why I didn’t want to tell my son about the death of Anthony Bourdain

I didn’t even know him.

Not really.

But yet it was almost like losing a close friend.

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Photo by the Wall Street Journal digital artwork by Lisa R. Howeler

I’d had a crappy night of sleep with two sick kids and I had reached for my phone to see what time it was. There it is was on my screen- a note from my sister in law expressing shock to the obituary story she had attached.

“No. It isn’t possible.”

I thought this over and over in my bleary-eyed, not fully awake state.

The man who had taken me around the world so many times without me even having to leave my house was dead. I typed out the word “nooo!” to my sister-in-law, as if that word would stop it from being true.

I felt numb and sick to my stomach. It must have been his heart, I thought.

Or something he ate.

He was always eating weird things and something finally got him. Or a car accident or his plane went down while they were traveling to somewhere exotic.

My heart sank when I clicked the link. I was in shock when I read the words.

Suicide?!

Suicide?

Suicide.

It’s like the word wouldn’t even make sense to me.

Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide.

I follow him on social media and recently I had noticed he was looking thin and tired but he travels a lot so I figured he was exhausted. It had been a stressful couple of years. A whirlwind break-up followed by a whirlwind romance and then all that traveling.

Now all that traveling I loved to watch him do was over and the only trip he’d most likely be making was a one-way flight back to the states to be buried.

Suicide.

I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the horror of it all and the horror for Eric Ripert, his best friend, to find him that way. And his daughter. Oh, my heart ached and my head felt funny at the thought of her being told.

I’ve never been a traveler – partially because of finances and partially because I’ve lived a life of fear. Tony made me want to live a life of courage in my small world and if I couldn’t go to all those fancy places just yet I could at least watch him visit them. My son learned about much of the world from a very young age while his dad and I traveled with Tony.

We let him watch episodes we probably shouldn’t have at 4 and 5 and he was introduced to death on an episode where a pig was slaughtered. Granted, this was the age when “No Reservations” was already streaming so we could fast forward the scene, but my kid is wise beyond his years and he knew what was happening despite our attempts to shield him.

We haven’t been able to shield him much these last couple years – not from heartache and anxiety and death. First, the big loss was our dog of 14 years, the dog that had always been his. Then it was a 17-year-old cat, again there all his 11 years. Then the worst blow came four days after Christmas this year when he lost his great-aunt, who had lived with his grandparents since he was four. His head was spinning. School pressure was mounting. Panic attacks were becoming the norm.

We’ve walked through it with him with every loss, every question, every tear, and every crying storm. All the advice says you have to tell your child directly and bluntly about the person who has died so they don’t feel they are being lied to or misled.

When I told my son about his great aunt I was apparently too blunt. I was so nervous because I’d never had to tell him something so hard – not even the death of his dog could compare to this. I blurted out “Dianne died.”

Died. I used the word died because all the articles I found on Google told me to. “Don’t use the words ‘passed on’ or ‘went to a better place,’” the proverbial “they” said. “It needs to be clear to the child the person is dead and never coming back.”

I was so numb from the sudden loss I really didn’t think it through because that advice was for young people, not 11-year olds who clearly know the meaning of the word “dead” but would also understand the term “passed away” would mean the same thing.

He clearly knows what death is and here I was that morning knowing I needed to rip the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death off like a band-aid but, ugh, crap and darn it all to hell, I simply didn’t want to. Especially because I had to add the word “suicide” to the ripping.

“For a little while today I’ll shelter him,” I told myself. “We don’t have cable so he won’t hear it there.”

And all the traditional advice says the news of death must come from someone the child loves so I knew I couldn’t shelter him for long.

The ripping started with the lifting of the edge and then just one fast, hard pull. When I told him he said “oh that’s sad,” but he didn’t take it as hard as I thought. He did, however, express the same denial I did when I told him they thought he’d taken his own life.

“That’s just not possible,” he said. “I don’t believe that part of the story.”

We both agreed it wasn’t possible and we comforted ourselves in our denial of it all.