Creatively and Faithfully Thinking: God Can Fill In the Gaps

What I like about writing is what I like about photography. In photography you create your vision through the lens, including composition and framing. After you create the image in the camera, you transfer it to your computer and in your computer you can use various programs to further transform the image and complete your vision, if you so choose.

In writing you start with a rough draft, and that rough draft is the basic foundation of what you want to write. It’s essentially the skeleton of your blog post or short story or novel or book. The second, third, fourth and final drafts are building around that initial frame until you have a final product that is well built, polished and pretty to look at. Well built, polished and pretty to look at it doesn’t mean what you photographed or wrote has any feeling to it, though, and here is where I run into problems as a creator.

When I was attempting to be a professional photographer, seeing my services to families, people wanted well-polished and pretty. They didn’t care so much about emotion, and that’s where the disconnect came for me. I cared more about emotion and storytelling than well-polished and pretty. I find I have this same issue in writing. I’m not always great at being technically perfect in my writing. I don’t always add the descriptions or flowery language that others do. I don’t always explain myself or my story well. It’s not always “technically perfect”. I’m more concerned about emotion and the story than nitty-gritty details.

I have to learn to slow down in writing and focus a little more on the description, though, because in writing, descriptions help the emotion and the storytelling. We all have areas to improve on in our creative endeavors and there are times I focus too much on what I’m not doing well instead of on what I hopefully will do better in the future.

Sometimes I worry, like so many of us do, that the shortcomings I possess when I create will affect how God uses my creation. The good thing is that God can use anyone no matter their shortcomings, or the shortcomings they perceive they have. Dallas Jenkins, writer and director of The Chosen series, talks often about how he is giving God his loaves and his fishes, and that God will multiply what he gives for God’s glory. He is, of course, referencing the story in the Bible where there were only five loaves of bread and two fix and Jesus multiplied that food so there was enough to feed a multitude of people.

What an amazing idea that God can take our offering, no matter how small, and multiply it so it touches someone else. When God gets ahold of what we create, even if it isn’t technically perfect and pretty, he makes it beautiful, powerful, and exactly what we need to convey his message of hope and love to a hurting world. If he can create beauty out of ashes, then he can create something outstanding out of what we perceive as barely standing.

Of course, we should always strive to improve, to learn more, to hone our craft, but while we do, we (I) have to remember that God will fill in the gaps and make our meager offerings even more than we could have ever hoped for.

Quarantined Release Date and is Quarantined a horror story or a romance?

For those who have been following the Quarantined story, I thought I’d let you know that the Kindle version (edited and in some places rewritten) releases on Oct. 20, 2020.

Someone asked me this week if Quarantined is a horror story or a romance. Of course, I saw the humor in the question, under the circumstances our world has been facing, but no, the novella is not a horror story. But is it a romance? Well. . . yes, in a way. A romance without the “guy meets girl, guy falls in love with girl” part of the story. The main characters of Quarantined, two married couples, have already met and fallen in love and in the case of one couple, have fallen out of love (or at least it appears they have).

I don’t see a lot of romances out there these days where the couple is already married and is now hoping to reconnect, or maybe has no interest at all in reconnecting.

This idea for Quarantined came to me during the start of lockdown back in April. I was stuck inside my house with my husband and children and for the most part it was a pleasant experience, but online I read about women who were unhappy to be stuck at home with a spouse they couldn’t stand. I began to wonder about people who would were quarantining with a person they didn’t want to be married to anymore. What would that be like? Would the situation push them further apart or would they realize they still loved each other and decide to fight for their marriage?

Looking for a way to distract myself from the stress of the daily news, but also from our move, which had been turned upside down at the time, I started sharing the story of Liam and Maddie on my blog. Later, though, I added the story of Matt and Cassie (I have since changed her name to Cassidy because I was finding that switching between Maddie and Cassie confusing and figured readers might as well).

So, Quarantined is a romance in the sense there are affectionate feelings between a man and a woman and there are kissing scenes that might make a non-romance fan roll their eyes. But isn’t a love-at-first-sight romance that will lead you through the detailed story of a how a couple meets and falls in love. This is a story about what happens after those new love feelings fade and grow instead into a deeper, long-lasting, yet still passionate (at times) love.

For those who haven’t yet read the story, here is a description of the novella:

Liam and Maddie Grant are set to sign divorce papers any day now. Liam is already packing to move out. Their plans are put on hold, though. when Liam comes home to tell Maddie he’s been exposed to a new virus that is shutting down the country and part of the world. He tells her that since he’s exposed her she’ll have to be in quarantine as well. Now the couple is locked down for the next 14 days. During that time they find themselves face to face with the issues that split them apart in the first place. Before it’s all over they’ll have to decide if they want to sign the divorce papers or try again.

Across the city, Liam’s brother United States Senator Matthew Grant is quarantined with his wife and children, wondering if his marriage could end up on the same path as his brothers. While stuck at home, Matt realizes he’s lost sight of what really matters since becoming a senator. He and his wife Cassidy have drifted apart and he wonders if he has put his family at risk by serving as a senator during a hyper-political time for our nation.

Now he must decide if he wants to run for re-election, continuing to try to help his constituents, or walk away from the job that has brought his family stress and heartache.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 7

Catch up with the rest of The Farmer’s Daughter, a continuing story, at the link at the top of the page or HERE. You can also read my short romance story Quarantined about Liam and Maddie Grant, an estranged couple who get caught in quarantine together.


“I had to explain to the woman that CBD oil is not pot and she will not get high off of it,” Liz said, sliding her shoes off and sliding her legs under her on the couch. “I mean, what did she think, we were selling pot plants in the store? So, she said she’d think about buying the oil the next time she’s in. I don’t know, at least the conversation with this lady was way tamer than the one with that guy with the rash . . .”

Liz shuddered at the memory.

“I did not need that much detail about how fast his rash had spread, or where it had spread to.”

Molly handed Liz a glass of iced tea and sat next to her.

“You certainly have some interesting stories from that health food store,” Molly said, shaking her head. “I’m afraid my stories aren’t that exciting – unless you want to hear about the udder infection one of our cows had and how I had to apply udder cream on her every morning for two months.”

Liz’s face scrunched up in disgust.

“That’s right up there with the rash dude,” she said, grimacing.

“So, Liz, tell me – what’s up with you and Matt?”

Liz shrugged. “We’ve gone out twice now. He’s nice, I guess. Even if he is a friend of your dorky brother.”

“He is a little older than you and I’d hate to see you rush into anything,” Molly said. “It’s only been a couple of months since you —”

“I know,” Liz interrupted. “Since I told Gabe to get lost. Matt and I have just gone to a couple of movies and bowling. We’ve talked, hung out, but neither of us is really interested in anything serious.”

Molly sipped her tea, sitting next to Liz. “I don’t mean to be nagging, or too motherly. I just don’t want to see you get hurt again.”

“Oh, Molly, don’t worry about it. I know you are just trying to protect me. That’s what friends do.”

Gabe and Liz had dated since their senior year of high school. They’d taken a break while Liz attended a two-year business course at the local community college and Gabe had decided to attend a four-year college four hours away. The relationship picked up, gaining intensity when Gabe graduated and opened a physical therapy office in town. The relationship was tumultuous at its best, chaotic at its worst.

The day Liz called Molly, sobbing into the phone, Molly knew it was over. Liz had finally had enough of Gabe flirting with other women and was certain he had cheated on her after she’d agreed to move in with him.

“It’s not my bra,” she’d told Molly. “It’s someone else’s bra, in our apartment. How could I have been so dumb?”

“You’re not dumb, Liz,” Molly told her. “You may have ignored your intuition but you’re not dumb.”

Molly helped Liz move out of the apartment, back to her parents and had also helped her resist picking up her cell when Gabe tried to reach her. Liz had sunk into a deep depression for three weeks after the break-up, feeling as if she’d walked away from everything her parents had taught her and she’d learned at church when she moved in with Gabe. Molly reminded her there was forgiveness and healing from any shame she felt.

“You know, I don’t know how I would have made it without you,” Liz said, sitting her glass down on the end table by the couch. “I’d probably still be in that apartment listening to Gabe tell me that it would never happen again – for the twentieth time.”

“Not necessarily,” Molly said. “You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. You would have finally had enough and cut him off, even without me.”

Liz placed her hands together on her lap and focused on Molly.

“Enough about me. It’s time to talk about you, Molly. It’s time to get you out and about a little bit. The annual summer benefit dance for the fire company is coming up in a few weeks. Let’s find you a date and go together. Maybe I’ll take Matt.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “You know I don’t go to dances.”

Liz laughed. “No one dances at that thing. Not really. It’s mainly for eating, talking and, for some people, an excuse to get drunk.”

Molly scooped her hair up in her hand and wrapped a scrunchy around it.

“I don’t even know who I’d go with. But I don’t mind tagging along with you for fun. Even if I do hate socializing with – well, anyone.”

Liz and Molly both laughed.

Liz’s eyebrows raised and Molly knew that meant Liz thought she had a brilliant idea. “Molly, why don’t you ask Alex to go with you?”

“Liz, no.” Molly shook her head, holding up her hands in front of her as if to stop that suggestion right in its tracks.

“Why not?”

“It’s just – I don’t know – he’s my brother’s friend and we work together and —”

“And that’s enough excuses,” Liz interrupted. “He’s good looking. He’s funny. It’s not like you’re asking him to get married. You’re just asking if he wants to go to the banquet with you.”

“He’s also older than me.”

“By like five or six years, not twenty,” Liz said. “You should just ask him.”

Molly drank the rest of her iced tea and walked toward the kitchen.

“I’ll think about it, but I don’t think so. He won’t want to take me. He hates dances as much as I do.”

Liz sat back against the arm of the couch and slid her feet up on the cushions, sighing.

“What we really need to talk about is what you brought up the other day at sewing club. About how you’re thinking of spreading your wings and branching out from the farm. What about asking Liam Finley at the Journal about some freelance work or writing a column? Or you could start a blog. That could be a way of branching out without making a drastic change.”

Molly’s face scrunched up in disgust at the mention of Liam Finley. In some ways, he was the stereotypical small-town newspaper editor – sleazy, unshaven, frequently intoxicated and a womanizer. He was not, however, balding, or fat. She also didn’t necessarily see the Spencer Journal as the highest form of journalistic integrity, but then again, it was better than some in an age of declining integrity overall for journalism.

“I never even finished my degree,” Molly said.

Liz shrugged. “I doubt Liam would care and you could raise the quality of that paper if you submitted a column.”

Molly didn’t like the idea of writing for the small newspaper in the town neighboring hers. She’d always imagined writing for larger publications, but everyone had to start somewhere she supposed.

“How do you know Liam anyhow?” Molly asked.

Liz rolled her eyes. “He was a friend of Gabe’s.”

Molly grimaced. “That doesn’t make me feel any better about submitting any of my writing to him then.”

Liz shrugged again. “Eh. He’s okay. A little messed up but he’s more level headed than I’d expected. He and Gabe mainly went out drinking a lot together. And he only made a pass at me once. He’s good at what he does, though, and seems to be able to separate the personal from the professional.”

“Well, I’ll think about it,” Molly said. “Who knows. Maybe doing something different means leaving Spencer.”

Liz leaned forward, eyes narrowing. “Molly Tanner. You are not seriously considering leaving me alone in this God-forsaken dump of a town, are you? Don’t you dare.”

Molly sighed and tipped her head back against the couch. “I don’t know, Liz. All I know is I feel so . . . stuck. So stagnant. So . . . I don’t even know what.”

Molly didn’t like the smirk on her friend’s face.

“Maybe you need a little excitement,” Liz said, raising her eyebrows. “And asking Alex to that dance certainly would be exciting.”

Molly playfully tossed a pillow at Liz, laughing. “Liz, stop it! Why don’t we just change the subject? Are you going to go with the ladies group with Tuesday?”

“You can change the subject, lady, but I’m going to keep on you until you ask Alex to take you to the banquet,” Liz said, sipping her tea. “And yeah, I think I’ll go this week. Jane cut the hours for the store back on the weekends now, so I don’t have to be there late anymore.”

“Good! It will be nice to have you there,” Molly said. “I’m not sure what we’re discussing this week, but it will be a good time for fellowship with other women.”

Liz grinned. “Molly, you sound so ‘holy’ anymore. Listen to you. ‘Fellowship with other women.’ Why don’t you just say, ‘We’re going to hang out with some other women.’?”

Molly laughed. “Yeah, I guess I am starting to use a lot of,” she made quote marks with her fingers. “Christianese these days. I’ll try not to do that anymore.”

“It’s okay,” Liz said. “As long as you don’t try to pray a demon out of me.”

Molly almost snorted tea out of her nose. “I don’t think there is any chance of me doing that.”

She leaned forward, reaching for the remote. “Hey, let’s take advantage of your day off and watch a movie.”

“As long as it isn’t anything with Russell Crowe, I’m fine.”

“What’s wrong with Russel Crowe?” Molly asked, looking through her brother’s old stack of DVDs.

Liz rolled her eyes. “He was Gabe’s favorite actor and we had to watch every movie he ever made. Now I can’t see a clip of Gladiator without thinking of Gabe.”

Molly slid a Harrison Ford movie in and sat back on the couch, but found herself unable to concentrate on the movie as she considered Liz’s suggestion about asking Alex to the banquet. Still struggling with how to interpret Alex’s recent change in behavior, she couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of sitting next to him at a banquet, trying to make small talk without making it obvious everyone else would think they were on an official date.

Of course, asking him to go with her to the banquet could clarify the matter and then she wouldn’t have to wonder anymore. Then again, it could also complicate the situation even further. If she was honest with herself, she was terrified to find out why Alex had been acting strange around her. What if he was simply toying with her to have a story to tell his friends at the bar? She knew he couldn’t be interested in her romantically. She definitely wasn’t his type. Her hips were three times the size of the women he usually dated. Molly glanced at her chest. Well, her chest might be about the same size. She shook her head, trying to focus on the movie again.

Maybe Alex wasn’t acting differently at all. Maybe her restlessness was distorting everything around her, including her friendship with Alex.

She pushed her thoughts of Alex away, forcing herself to figure out what Harrison Ford was telling his female costar. She needed to worry more about what direction her life was taking, or wasn’t taking, than Alex Stone. It would all work out eventually — when she figured out what direction she needed to take to help her feel less . . . Less what? Trapped? Yes. Trapped. That’s how she felt. Trapped in her stagnant, boring life.

So, trapped that she was starting to hallucinate and see things that weren’t even there – like a change in the way Alex looked at her and a change in the way she was seeing him. It must be stress causing her to notice his smile more, the way his eyes sparkled in the sunlight, his long fingers and strong hands, the way his jeans fit . . . She closed her eyes and bit her lower lip, trying to stop her thoughts from spiraling out of control. What other explanation of her confused thoughts and feelings was there than stress? She couldn’t actually have feelings for goofy, obnoxious Alex.

“Harrison Ford still looks amazing for his age, doesn’t he?”

Liz’s comments broke into her thoughts.

“He certainly does,” Molly agreed. “I never thought I’d think a man in his 70s was attractive, but he has proven me wrong.”

With a small laugh to herself, she pushed the thoughts about Alex aside and instead joined Liz in commenting on the movie and admiring Harrison Ford. She could figure out how she felt about Alex and her life on the farm later. 

Quarantined: A Short Story Part 5

I feel like I’m overwhelming my blog with fiction (and posts in general), but, oh well, I guess. People seem to be following along and enjoying the stories so I’ll keep going. Plus, it’s good to give readers a lot of options that aren’t related to current events.

Quarantined was not a planned project. It came to me very fast and just poured out of me so I thought I’d share to my fiction loving readers (thanks for following along, by the way.) You can find the rest of the parts at the following links: Part 1, Part 2,Part 3, and Part 4. I’ll be posting the final part Sunday or Monday. For other fiction, you can check out the 35 chapters of A New Beginning, which will be published at a later date on Kindle (so you don’t have to click chapter to chapter if you haven’t been following along) or A Story To Tell, which is on Kindle now. By the way, this blog is not aimed at selling products, so I don’t mean to share about my book on every fiction post. My books are priced very low but I wanted somewhere I could place them where people could read them in full instead of skipping from chapter to chapter and I chose Amazon because I have a Kindle. I have found some other options since then for future books. Anyhow…let’s get on with the story, shall we?!



 They hadn’t spoken to each other for four days, other than for her to ask if the doctor had called and him to say ‘not yet,’ and him to ask if she wanted some lunch or dinner and her to say ‘I’ll make my own.’

He’d locked himself in his office, dealing with the fall out for his brother’s delay in quarantining himself after his interaction with the ambassador; writing press releases and using video chat features to do interviews with major news commentators.

She’d locked herself in the bedroom, writing bits and pieces of her novel in between pouring over news sites; scrolling through social media feeds for personal stories from those who had had the virus and were recovering. She wondered if she and Liam would eventually face the same situation, or would they be worse with one of them admitted to an ICU somewhere.

In the evenings she binged watched Parks and Recreation while eating ice cream or popcorn, grateful she’d stocked up on groceries even before Liam had told her about the quarantine. Liam spent his nights straightening boxes, speaking to his brother through video conferencing and binge-watching Bosch, the crime show about a rugged, hard-edged Los Angeles Police Department detective just what he needed to distract him from the restlessness he felt.

“So, how’s it going with Maddie?” Matt had asked via video messaging on night seven of their quarantine as he’d leaned back on his couch and cracked open a soda. His gaze wandered off to one side, toward something behind his computer before Liam could answer. “Jason. Stop hitting your sister. I don’t ca—you know what, just go outside. In the backyard. You’re allowed to go in the backyard. . . . I don’t know. Hit the ball. Chase the dog. I don’t care. Just get out for a while. Take your brother and sister with you . . . Hey! I’m still in charge around here. Do what I say!”

He looked back at Liam through the screen. “Fun times over here. I can’t wait until this thing is over.”

Liam scoffed. “It’s only been three days for you, dude. If you can’t handle three days with your wife and kids, you’re in serious trouble.”

Matt grinned. “Yeah. I know. First world problems, right? Anyhow, what’s up with you and Maddie. I see you’re still alive, so she hasn’t stabbed you yet.”

Liam winced and rubbed his hand across the back of his neck. “Not for a lack of wanting to, I’d imagine.” He sat back against the headboard of the bed, arms across his chest. “We had it out the other night. The stuff she accused me of doing — you wouldn’t even believe it. Affairs, spending more time at work than with her, not supporting her after the miscarriages. It was all a bunch of crap.”

“Well?”

Liam scowled at his brother. “Well, what?”

“Did you do those things?”

“You know I didn’t, Matt.”

“Then why is it bothering you so much? Don’t be so defensive. You know you didn’t do anything wrong so let her rant.”

Liam shifted on the bed, focusing his gaze out the window. “I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t support her like I should have after the miscarriages. And she’s pretty accurate about working too much too.”

“And the affairs?” Matt asked.

“No!” Liam snapped, looking back at his brother. “I didn’t have an affair.” He paused, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “I could never do that to Maddie. You know that. We haven’t been getting along, yes, but I . . . I could never hurt her that way.”

He furrowed his eyebrows and leaned closer to the screen of his laptop. “Do you really think I could do that?” he asked his brother.

Matt laughed. “Liam, no, I don’t, and I don’t know if Maddie really does either, but she’s scared. She obviously doesn’t feel secure in her relationship with you to think that. I don’t think you or Maddie really want this divorce. You’re both just afraid to do the work it will take to keep this thing going. It’s going to hurt, little brother, but I think you two need to work things out. I think you still love your wife or what she said to you wouldn’t have hurt so much.”

Liam shook his head and clicked his tongue. “Matt Grant. The hard-headed, some might say, pig-headed, youngest-ever head of the intel committee showing that he’s also a marriage counselor.”

The brothers laughed easily together.

“Seriously, though, Liam,” Matt said, leaning closer to the screen now. “Let me give you some brotherly advice: make darn sure this divorce is truly what you want before you sign those papers. You and Maddie have something special. Always have. I don’t want to see you throw this away without really thinking it through. Okay?”

Liam let out a long breath, tapping his fingers along the touchpad of the laptop.

Matt pressed him further. “Promise me you’ll think really hard about all of this while you two are locked up in there, okay?”

Liam nodded. “Yeah. Okay. Thanks, Matt.”

Three nights later, on the tenth night of quarantine, Liam packed it in early, shutting off his phone and laptop around 10 p.m. and sliding under the covers, drained and glad he hadn’t yet experienced any coughing, muscle aches, or a sore throat. His mind was racing, filled with thoughts of work, thoughts of what this virus might mean to his parents, his older aunt and uncles, and anyone else whose health might be more vulnerable.

 His thoughts were also filled with Maddie.

She was sitting in the room down the hall, but she might as well have been thousands of miles away with all the interaction they’d had this past week.

Matt was right. Liam still loved Maddie and he was beginning to wonder if she had any love left for him.

Sleep had just begun to slip over him when he heard a soft knock on his door. He didn’t answer. He rolled over and closed his eyes tighter.

The door squeaked open and then footsteps, soft across the floor. What did she want? He was too tired for another fight.

“Liam?”

Maddie’s voice was barely audible. He ignored her.

She spoke a little louder. “Liam?”

He ignored her again.

She sighed in the darkness, he felt, rather than saw, her turn back toward the open doorway.

“What?”

Silence fell over the room and he heard a breath drawn in deep and slowly let out again.

“Will you hold me?”

He rolled over, squinting in the darkness, trying to make out her face to decide if she was serious or not.

“Just hold me. Nothing else.”

He wondered if this was some kind of trick. He squinted again, trying to see if her hand was behind her back; if she might suddenly draw a knife from there and stab him.

“Please?”

She seemed to be serious. Very. He heard a vulnerability in her tone that he hadn’t heard in a long time.

“Um . . . yeah. Okay.”

She lifted the sheet and comforter, sliding next to him, her body warm, her feet cold. Her feet had always been cold and she’d always slid them up his legs to warm them, making him squirm but laugh at the same time. Sometimes he’d asked if she needed the rest of her warmed up too and often she’d say yes and he’d snuggled close and nibbled at her earlobes.

He wasn’t going to ask her tonight if she needed warming up.

She laid her head on his shoulder, a hand on his chest over his heart and closed her eyes. She remembered how comforting the soft thump of his heartbeat had been for most of their marriage.

They laid in the dark listening to each other breathe until she whispered: “I tried to stay away from the news but it’s like watching a train wreck. I can’t seem to look away.”

“I know,” he said softly.

“People are scared.”

“Yeah.”

“They’re convinced they’re all going to die.”

“They’re not. Fear does crazy things to your mind.”

Silence settled over them again.

She laughed softly again. “Yeah. Like that time you had that spider on your arm when we were driving to my parents and you almost drove us into a river.”

Liam snorted a laugh. “Well, spiders are scary, what can I say? All those legs. . .” he shuddered. “It’s just creepy.”

Silence settled over them again.

“Liam?”

He stared into the darkness, at the light of the streetlight bleeding in under the blinds. “Yeah?”

“If this kills one of us —”

“Maddie, this isn’t going to kill either one of us. I already told you we don’t even know if my test is positive. And most of the cases are mild, especially in our age group. We’re not in the highest risk age group. Okay?”

“But if it does . . . I want you to know. . .” Maddie took a deep breath and spoke fast and softly as she exhaled. “I’ve always loved you. Even when I didn’t like you.”

Liam laughed softly.

“Thanks. I guess.”

“And, Liam?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought you had to fix me. Only God can fix my broken heart.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Silence settled over them again and he laid his hand over hers, over the one laying on his chest.

“Maddie?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought I didn’t care. I’m sorry I let my career become more important than our marriage.”

He had been trying not to be aware of her body warm against his, of the smell of her shampoo, of how soft the skin on her arm felt under his hand, of how her closeness made his heart rate increase. But he was aware of it. All of it. Much more than he wanted to be.

He slid his hand slowly up her arm, resting it just below her shoulder, squeezing gently.

He gently pressed his lips against the top of her head, her closeness suddenly intoxicating. “I love you, Maddie. Despite it all. I love you.”

He listened to her breathe and for a moment he thought she had fallen asleep.

 “I’m so tired. . .” she whispered against his neck, her breath warm. He could tell she was fading fast.

“Sleep,” he said softly. “We can talk more in the morning. It’s not like we’re going anywhere.”

She slept but he couldn’t. Not now with her tucked against him soft and warm, kicking his thoughts into high gear. He hadn’t expected her to come to him for comfort. He hadn’t expected it, but he welcomed it and loved having her so close, even if it was only physically.

 Had she meant what she said? That she still loved him? Maybe it had been the stress and the worry talking. The exhaustion even. He wasn’t sure but what he was sure of was that those words had sparked a warm, comforting fire in the center of his chest. He closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her hand over his heart, trying to switch his brain off and knowing he’d meant it when he’d told her he still loved her.

Fiction Friday: A New Beginning, Chapter 32

If you missed it, I posted Chapter 31 of A New Beginning yesterday.

Thoughts on the story so far? Let me know in the comments!

As always, this is a story in progress so there will be typos, missing words and maybe even plot holes. Feel free to let me know about them in the comments. I’ll be editing and fixing them before the final publication later this spring.

A New Beginning is a sequel to A Story to Tell but you don’t need to read A Story to Tell to understand and follow along with A New Beginning. The link to the chapters of A New Beginning, in order, can be found HERE or at the link at the top of the page.

 


Chapter 32

“How close do you think I was to dying that night with Hank?” I asked Emmy six months after I’d left Hank.

Emmy looked at me with furrowed eyebrows. “Why would you ask that? Did you really think he was going to kill you that night?”

I hugged a pillow to my chest. “I honestly don’t know. It’s how it felt that night, yes. The look on his face  . . . Emmy, it was horrible. It was like he wasn’t even human.”

I thought about the conversation and Emmy’s question back to me as I pulled my legs up into my stomach, curled up under my covers, in my own bed, after finally returning home with Edith, Jimmy, Lily and the new baby, who Lily had named Alexander Josiah.

How close had I been to dying that night? Did it make me a horrible person to think Hank really could have been capable of killing me? Was he truly that horrible of a person? I pictured his fist hitting Judson’s face, the anger radiating off of him when he’d watched Judson and I through his truck window as we drove away. He was full of anger, of bitterness, but was he capable of killing?

I wondered if he would be capable of killing if he ended up in Vietnam. I squeezed my eyes tight against the darkness, willing sleep to come. Why was I thinking about all of this now? My body was heavy with exhaustion. I’d worked longer hours at the shop the last two days, trying to catch up on the work I’d been behind on after the extended trip to the city with Edith and Jimmy. I hadn’t even stopped to see Judson, or call to see how he was, but I’d thought of him almost constantly.

I rolled to my back, stared at the ceiling, then rolled to my side and closed my eyes again.

I could have died that night, I thought to myself. Emmy and I both could have died that night in the storm. Life is so short. Life is so fragile. I’ve barely been living all these years. Why am I doing this to myself? Why am I so afraid to take risks?

I threw the covers off me, sat up and swung my legs over the bed, my thoughts racing. I was wasting my life and pushing people away and for what? For nothing. I was doing it all under the guise that I could somehow keep anything bad from happening to me, simply by controlling every situation, every feeling. But feelings weren’t something I could control and right now I was fighting against admitting my feelings for Judson were much more than simple friendship.

I quickly dressed and slid my shoes on, sneaking down the hallway and the stairs, glancing at the clock in the living room on my way through. 11:30 at night. What was I even thinking, taking a walk at this time of night, heading to see the one person who wanted me to enjoy life as much I did? I knew I’d never sleep if I didn’t tell Judson I’d wanted to kiss him that night at the lake and I wished I hadn’t run away.

I felt almost like I was in high school again, sneaking out to see Hank, as I tip-toed past my parent’s room and walked gingerly down the stairs. I wasn’t in high school again, though, and I wasn’t going to see Hank. I didn’t feel guilty about this late-night escape.

The crisp air stinging my nose and eyes as I walked down the dirt road toward Judson’s reminded me that winter was almost here. Above me, the night sky twinkled with stars and a full moon was showing bright just above the treetops. Somewhere across the fields one of Mr. Worley’s cows mooed from either in his pasture or inside the barn.

Movement in the brush as I walked past a barren cornfield on one side and a tangled thicket on the other startled me. My breath and steps quickened. A terrifying thought hit me like a rock between the eyes. What if there was a bear in the bushes?

Oh my gosh. It is a bear. I am going to be eaten by a bear while being a fool and walking out of my house in the middle of the night to tell a man who has probably forgotten me about since I hadn’t even called him in more than a week to check on him that I – that I what?

I stopped walking, breathing hard, my breath floating white in front of me in small quick puffs.

I looked up at the stars, the cloudless, dark sky, and heard the rustling again in the bushes. I swallowed hard and started walking faster. What was I even going to tell Judson? And why hadn’t I taken the car? What had I been thinking? I had a child to take care of. How would my parents tell him I had been eaten by a bear while walking off in the middle of the night to go see some man.

A black, furry blur rushed at me from the bushes and I screamed in terror, holding my arms up to block the attack of the bear.

But the attack never came.

I slowly lowered my arms and opened my eyes, squinting in the moonlight. A plump black cat yowled at me as it sauntered toward me as if to mock me for my fear. It darted past me, back toward our house. I remembered at that moment why I had never been a fan of cats.

I looked back toward our house, then back the other way, down the road, at the bend in it, knowing Mr. Worley’s tenant house where Judson lived was a hundred feet away. If I went home, I could crawl back into bed and forget about this night and my foolishness. If I walked to Judson’s I took the chance he was asleep but then again, what was I going to even say if he was awake?

Standing in the middle of this old dirt road I’d driven and walked on a thousand times I closed my eyes and felt the tears hot behind them. I thought about the fight with Hank, the bruises on Judson’s face, the way his eye had been swollen the next day. Absent-mindedly I walked, kicking at the dirt, pulling my sweater closer around me, wondering why I always seemed to cause everyone pain.

When I reached Judson’s front yard, I stood looking at the light glowing from his front window. Was he inside reading a book? Building a table?

On a date?

My heart lurched at that thought. I drew in a deep breath but couldn’t bring myself to walk onto the front porch.

Blanche Robbins, what are you doing? I thought with a hand pressed against my forehead. Go home and gather your thoughts before you make a fool out of yourself.

I turned to leave and screamed for the second time that night, this time at a figure standing behind me shining a light in my face. I held my hands up against the blinding light.

“Blanche? What are you doing out here?”

I recognized the smooth Southern accent immediately. I squinted in the light.

Judson lowered the flashlight and stepped toward me in the darkness.

“I – I was taking a walk,” I gasped.

“At midnight?”

“Uh…yes?”

“In the pitch dark?”

“Yes?”

“Without a flashlight?”

I cleared my throat and rubbed my hands nervously across my arms.

“Umm . . .yes?”

“Did you scream a few moments ago?”

“Yes, that was me.”

“I thought it was a dying cat, so I came out to see what was going on.”

I giggled. “A dying cat? I sounded like a dying cat?”

Judson laughed loudly. “Well, yeah.”

“So, you were going to come out here and do what with the dying cat?”

“I don’t know!” he said, still laughing. “Maybe put it out of its’ misery.”

He jerked his head toward the house. “It’s cold out here. Do you want to come in?”

I looked at the front porch and shook my head, shivering. “I don’t think – I mean, I don’t know if it would be right to go into the house of a man I’m not married to in — uh, well, the middle of the night.”

I thought he might laugh at me but instead, he nodded in apparent understanding.  “Okay, well, then come up on the porch and I’ll get a blanket to put around your shoulders. You shouldn’t be out here alone at this time of night. There could be bears or — some other crazy Pennsylvania creature out here.”

I snorted a small laugh, pretending the idea of bears being along this road was absurd and I’d never thought of such a thing. “Bears. Yeah. Right.”

Up on the porch I sat on the step while Judson went inside and returned with a quilt. He draped it around my shoulders and sat next to me, leaning his back against the porch column, one leg up, one stretched down on the top step. Had I really just suggested I shouldn’t go into his home because it might not look right? First of all, who was going to see us at this time of night on a dark, rural road? The cat? Secondly, as if being in his home the other day in broad daylight couldn’t have been construed by some as inappropriate behavior as well.

Judson propped his forearm arm on his knee. “Blanche. Seriously. What are you doing out here?”

I looked at him in the dim porch light, at the fading bruises under his eye and along his cheek, a choking pain searing through my chest.

Oh please, Lord, don’t let me start crying, I might not stop.

But it was too late. Without warning, I lost the fight to hold in my emotions and began to sob. It was as if a dam broke. I pressed my hands against my face and sobbed, tears soaking my face.

“Blanche, what’s going on?” Judson’s voice was full of shock and concern. He touched my arm gently. “Did something happen? Did Hank come back or —”

I shook my head behind my hands. “No. No. Nothing like that,” I choked out, trying to wipe the tears from my face with my hands.

Judson lifted a corner of the quilt and dabbed my cheeks with it. “What is going on?”

I turned my face away from him, trying to stop the tears.

“You really could have been hurt the other night with Hank and it’s my fault.”

“How was it your fault that Hank was a jerk and I chose to step in? We already talked about this. That was my choice.”

I pulled the quilt tight around me. “It’s like everything I do hurts someone else.”

Judson laughed softly.  “Well that’s a little self-centered isn’t it?” he asked.

I sniffed and looked at him through tears. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You seem to think you have so much power you are the cause of the pain of others. Can you also use your powers for good?”

I sighed. “That’s not what I meant. I just meant that people get hurt trying to help me because of my stupid —”

“Stepping in with Hank was my choice,” Judson interrupted, his tone sharp. “Protecting you was my choice.”

He turned toward me, pushing my hair back from my face. When he spoke again his tone was tender, husky.

“Loving you is my choice. And your safety is worth whatever pain I’m in right now.”

The serious tone of his voice sent a ripple of exhilaration from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. How could he still love me, after all the ways I’d pushed him away over the last two years?

I swiped my hand across the tears streaming down my cheeks. I couldn’t imagine I looked very nice, my face splotchy and red from the crying.

A heavy sensation of anticipation settled in the center of my chest as he spoke. “Why won’t you just let me love you, Blanche? Why can’t you stop thinking so much and just,” he stood impulsively and tossed his arms out to his side in frustration, looking down at me. “I don’t know, feel! Feel something and let that be your guide, not your thoughts or your ‘what if’ worries.”

My excited feeling was being replaced with a growing annoyance and I wasn’t sure I had the emotional fortitude to handle the roller coaster of feelings

How stupid can he be? Doesn’t he know what happens to women when they go through life guided by their feelings?  I stood to face him, the quilt sliding off my shoulders, landing in a pile on the porch floor.

“I did ‘just feel’ once upon a time,” I snapped, my voice breaking with anger, as I tossed my arms out to mock his gesture. “With Hank. I didn’t think. I just went with my feelings and took a risk. And where did it get me? Beat up. A pregnant teenager with no clue how to raise a baby. It got me shame. It got me guilt because my son has been growing up without a father — ”

“Blanche, stop it.” Judson’s voice was sharp and loud as he interrupted me. I stepped back, startled. “Stop using Hank Hakes as a measuring stick for every situation in your life, for every man that walks into your life. Hank is a stellar example of what a man shouldn’t be, but not every man is Hank Hakes.”

He walked toward me briskly, cupping my face in his hands. “I am not Hank Hakes, Blanche. I love you and I want you to tell me how you feel about me – not what you fear will happen if you let yourself love me. For God sake, Blanche, if this whole thing with my dad has taught me anything, it’s that life is short, too short to wait to tell people how we feel. I have spent too many nights aching to speak to you, aching to hold you, aching for you to let me in.”

We were only inches apart now. I couldn’t take my eyes off his. My gaze focused on the flecks of green scattered in the blue of his iris. His hands on my skin woke a passion and need in me I knew had always been there but had tried to ignore.

“I know how I feel about you Blanche. I know I can’t stop thinking about you, worrying about you, wondering what you’re doing when we’re not together. I know when we are together I find myself memorizing every little gesture you make, quirk you have, wondering how it’s possible that simply being with you calms me like nothing else, like no one else, does.”

I searched his eyes, saw in them tenderness and searching of his own. I didn’t understand why he seemed to love me so fiercely. I didn’t understand how I deserved someone who wanted healing for me as much as I wanted it for myself.

I knew he was right. Realizing how short and fragile life was had been what had brought me here tonight. I had come here to tell Judson I was afraid to love him, to be loved by him but also that I didn’t want a life ruled by fear and anger. Why couldn’t I just say it?

“Oh, Judson. I’m sorry.”

The words rushed out of me as if an emotional dam had burst, tears flowing before I could even try to fight them back.

“I’m so sorry I keep acting like you’re even remotely like Hank. You’re not. You’re so wonderful and beautiful and sweet and I want to know all there is to know about you. I want to know what you think about all those books on your bookshelves and how you made all that furniture and what you did in the summer with your brother when you were a little boy and what your favorite food is.”

“I want to know what you think about God and if you’ve ever gone swimming in the ocean.  I want to know it all but I’m so afraid to know it all.”  I choked out a sob. “I don’t have to let myself love you, Judson. I just do. Even when I don’t want to. And yes, it frightens me because I don’t want Jackson to be hurt again, but I also don’t want to be hurt again. I kissed you at the lake because I wanted to kiss you. I felt an insane physical attraction to you, but it scared me because I needed something more. I didn’t want any decision I made to be based on physical attraction because I took that path before and it didn’t end well.”

I gasped in a breath and tears slipped down my face as Judson kissed my forehead, then my cheek, pulling back to look at me.

“But, I also don’t want to hold my feelings for you in any longer,” I whispered. “I know now that I love you beyond appearance, that I love your heart as much as I love your soft lips and your beautiful eyes.”

Judson grinned. “You think my eyes are beautiful?”

My face flushed warm. “I think all of you is beautiful.”

His grin had widened and I actually thought I saw red flush along his cheekbones as he laughed softly.

“You know, C.S. Lewis once said that to love at all is to be vulnerable.”

“Have you been talking to my Dad?”

“What?”

“My Dad quoted that same thing from C.S. Lewis a few weeks ago.”

Judson laughed again. “Great minds think alike apparently.”

He pressed his forehead against mine. “Blanche, I’m scared too. Loving you is scary because I don’t want to hurt you either and I know I could someday, but I know I could never treat you the way Hank treated you. I know I will do anything in my power to protect you, to protect Jackson, and to protect your heart.”

My body relaxed as he spoke, a peace settling over me at each word. When he tilted his head and gently pressed his mouth against mine, I surrendered to how tender love could be. Unlike that day at the lake, I accepted each second of the kiss, each tender touch. His hands slid from my face, pushed into my hair, and cradled the back of my head. I clutched the front of his shirt, worried he might pull away like I had at the lake.

I didn’t want him to pull away. I didn’t want him to stop kissing me. I didn’t want him to stop showing me how much he truly loved me.

His hands slipped from my hair, moving down my back, resting in the small of it as he gently pulled me against him. When he pulled away and started to speak, I laid a finger against his lips. I shook my head. I didn’t want to talk about anything anymore. I wanted to feel all the emotions I hadn’t let myself experience when I’d kissed him before.

His mouth found mine again and pleasure coursed through me as his mouth moved to my neck and then my throat, kissing a trail across my skin. I slid my hands into his hair, clutching it, focused only on the fire each touch of his mouth and hands lit inside me.

I don’t know how long we stood there holding each other, lost in the moment, forgetting all we’d been worried about, but when he finally pulled back to look at me we were both breathing hard and he was laughing.

“That felt —”

I tipped my head back and let my hair fall back across my shoulders.

“Like freedom,” I said, finishing his sentence.

He laughed and I kissed him again, enjoying the softness of his hair between my fingers.

“Blanche,” he whispered hoarsely a few moments later. “I need to drive you home.”

I pulled his head down to mine again to resume our kiss, but he stepped back taking my hands in his, clasping them together and holding them against his chest.

I could feel his heart pounding fast under my hands.

“I need to take you home now,” he said firmly, looking me in the eyes. He spoke quickly. “If I don’t, I’m afraid . . .” He shook his head slowly. “Of what we might do.”

I looked at him in surprise, warmth rushing from my chest into my cheeks. I knew what he was saying and that he was right, though I’d never intended that when I’d started walking to see him earlier. My own heart was pounding as fast as his, my thoughts spinning; the perfect storm for clouded judgment and choices that might be regretted later.

I signaled I understood by a quick nod of my head. He left me standing on the porch and grabbed his truck keys from inside the house. We drove to my parents’ house in silence, and he shut the engine off in the driveway. I was trembling and I knew it wasn’t from the chill in the air.

Stretching his arm across the back of the seat he looked at me and let out a long sigh. “So, we talked and … yeah … that was good.”

“It was.”

“I’m glad we got that talk out of the way and know how we feel now.”

“Me too.”

I gasped and then giggled as he reached out and clutched my hair at the back of my head, tilting my head back gently and pressing his mouth firmly against mine.  I giggled. When was the last time I had actually giggled?

“We’ll talk more later today,” he whispered when he pulled his mouth from mine several moments later. “Now get out of here before your daddy chases me off with a shotgun.”

I laughed. “I don’t think that’s going to happen with you. He likes you too much.”

His hand touched my arm gently as I opened the door and I turned to look at him.

“Blanche….”

His expression was tender as he cupped my cheek against his hand. “Is it too soon to say I love you? Because I do.”

The words flowed over me like warm water. I leaned close to him, laid my hand against his cheek, and brushed my lips against his. “I hope it isn’t because I love you too, Judson.”

I watched him drive away, as I pulled my sweater tight around me and then slipped inside the house. Inside my room, under the covers I closed my eyes, struggling to fall asleep, wondering what my future held now that I’d told Judson T. Wainwright I loved him and knew he loved me too.

Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning Chapter 29

Ya’ll ended up with an extra chapter last week. Don’t expect another extra chapter this week. *wink*

As always, this is a first draft of the story and also 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, this is a work in progress so there are bound to be words missing or other typos. Maybe even plot holes. Feel free to tell me about them in the comments. 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.


Chapter 29

I knocked softly on Judson’s door the next morning and waited nervously on the porch. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t asked him how his father was recovering from the surgery and if they’d been able to work through any of their issues. It seemed like I would be forever self-focused. I’d had an entire 20-minute car ride the night before to focus on someone other than myself and I hadn’t even bothered.

Daddy had taken Jackson to school that morning on his way to work and I had taken the day off after Edith called late the night before to tell me Lily’s baby had been born. It was a boy and Edith asked me to travel with her and Jimmy to pick him up that afternoon. It was a nice morning for a walk from our house to the Worley’s and I needed it. It had given me time to think about everything that had happened the night before, though my mind was still spinning from it all.

I knocked again but when there was no sound inside, I decided he must have gone to work. As I started back down the steps to walk home, I heard the door open behind me.

A groggy voice greeted me. “Hey.”

I turned to see Judson standing in the doorway in a white undershirt and his jeans from the night before, blood dried near the knee. Part of his cheek was swollen and dark blue, almost purple, the eye barely open. I could see the edge of the cut above his eye on the other side under the bandage Mama had placed there. His hair was disheveled and he was unshaven and for some reason the combination made my stomach feel funny in the middle – funny in a good way. I had the same sudden urge I’d had the night before to kiss away all the pain.

“I’m so sorry to wake you.” I felt my knees tremble as I spoke. Why were my knees trembling? I’d spoke to Judson many times before. Today wasn’t any different. Was it?

“I just realized that I’d forgotten last night to ask you how your dad was,” I continued, hoping I didn’t sound as awkward as I felt.

Judson laughed softly and leaned against the door frame, blinking in the bright sunlight. “It’s okay. You were a little preoccupied.” He jerked his head toward the kitchen. “Come on in and we can talk while I make myself some coffee.”

He looked down at himself and rubbed his hand across his chin as I stepped inside. “And after I wash up and shave. I have to head into the job site later. Uncle James gave me the morning off when he heard what happened.”

You don’t need to shave, I thought to myself. You look fine the way you are. Boy do you look fine.

“Did he hear what happened from you?” I asked out loud as I walked past him inside.

Judson grinned. “Not me. Thomas. You know how newspaper men are. They like to spread the news.” He gestured toward the chair across from the couch. “Sit if you like. Excuse the mess. I fell asleep on the couch last night.”

I moved a book aside and sat in the chair, looking at the tangled mess of blankets on the couch, as Judson disappeared down the hallway toward the bathroom. I looked at the book, laying on the floor where I had placed it, John Steinbeck emblazoned on the front. I picked it up, flipping pages as the sound of running water filtered through the bathroom door down the hallway. I had to do something to distract myself from the thought that Judson was just beyond that door, not wearing a stitch of clothing.

We have only one story,” I read to myself. “All novels, all poetry, are built on the never ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.”

Standing, I carried the book to the bookcases along the wall in the dining room, sitting where other people placed china cabinets. I trailed my fingers along the binding of the books, reading the names of the authors, Orwell, Tolkien, Shakespeare, Golding, Fleming, Lewis — as in C.S. Lewis. Good grief, no wonder Judson got along so well with my father.

I touched the edge of the bookcase in front of me, rubbing my hand down the smooth side, knowing Judson had most likely built it and much of the rest of the furniture in the house. My eyes focused on a picture over the mantle above the fireplace. A woman stood in black and white against a backdrop of ivy, her dark hair and dark eyes captivating against pale skin, her head tipped back in an obvious laugh. I guessed by her clothes that the photo was taken some time in the 1930s.

A couple stared out at me from another photo, the woman looking similar to the woman in the larger photo, but older, the man looking almost exactly like Judson but older, his hair thinning slightly, his arms wrapped tightly around the woman. I wondered if they were Judson’s parents. Two small boys were posed against a tobacco barn in another photo. Both boys were wearing denim overalls, shirtless, the youngest missing his front teeth, his hair standing in several directions on top of his head. Looking closer I realized the oldest was the Judson I remembered from our childhood, freckles spread across his nose. Judson walked out of the bathroom, rubbing a towel across his wet hair, as I studied the photograph with a small smile, remembering how obnoxious he’d been back then.

“That’s me and my brother,” he said, standing behind me. A sweet smell of aftershave and shampoo washed over me. “I’m sure you can see I’m the better looking one.”

I winked and walked over to the couch, starting to fold the blankets. “Uh-huh. I see that.”

“You don’t have to clean up after me, you know,” Judson laughed from the kitchen, pouring water into the coffee pot. “Like Hank said last night, I’m a big boy.”

He sat down on the couch a few moments later and patted the cushion next to him as I laid the folded blanket across the back. “Come sit down while the coffee brews and I’ll tell you about my visit down South.”

I winced as I saw the bruises and cuts up closer. “You look worse today than last night.”

He laughed. “Well, gee thanks and I was just going to say you look much better this morning.” He reached over and pushed a strand of hair that had fallen out of my bun behind my ear like he had the day in the barn. “No problems last night?”

I leaned back against the arm of the couch. “None. Now tell me how your dad is.”

Judson propped his arm across the back of the couch. “He’s recovering but it’s going to take a bit. His heart might be weak for a long time, maybe forever but he’s better than he was.”

“Did you two work anything out?”

“No big make up scene, no, but we were at least able to be civil to each other.”

“Well, that’s a start at least.” I pointed toward the photograph on the wall. “Is that him in that photograph?”

Judson nodded. “Yep. That’s him and my mom a few years ago. And that’s my mom in high school in the other photograph. My dad took the photo. It’s one of my favorites so I asked if I could have a copy of it. Dad had it by his hospital bed after the surgery too, but told Mom it paled in comparison to having her there in person. Dad wasn’t always the best with me, but he is definitely much better at being a husband.”

He stood and walked into the kitchen toward the coffee pot. “Hey,” he said over his shoulder. “What did Thomas mean when he said he hoped things would be less complicated with me now?”

Ugh. Thomas. I had hoped Judson would forget about that.

“Oh, who knows,” I said with a wave of my hand, hoping to change the subject. “It’s Thomas.”

“Yeah. Thomas. The guy you went out with while I was gone.”

I laughed. “Yeah. I wasn’t exactly the person he had on his mind that night. I told you he’s dating Midge Flannery, right?”

“Isn’t her dad the pastor at the Methodist Church?”

“Yes.”

“And she’s dating Thomas? Seriously?”

“Yeah. I know, but Thomas said maybe she’ll help him turn over a new leaf. Let’s just hope it’s not the other way around.”

Judson laughed from the kitchen. I could see him through the doorway, adding creamer and sugar to his coffee. I tried not to stare at him as he moved between the refrigerator and the counter, but I was like a deer caught in headlights, my gaze drifting over his broad shoulders and finely toned arms.

“Did you want a cup of coffee?”

“What?” I looked away as he glanced at me “Oh. No. Um… actually, you know what? I’m not really a coffee fan.”

“Oh. How about a glass of juice instead?”

“I’d much more prefer that. Yes.”

My gaze fell on the bruises on Judson’s cheek as he leaned over to place the juice on the coffee table in front of me a few moments later, my heart aching. He was in pain because of me and I didn’t like it. He sat next to me, sipping the coffee.

“It doesn’t hurt as bad as it looks,” he said, as if reading my mind.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“What are you sorry for?”

“For Hank. For causing you to be in pain, for —”

Judson laughed, interrupting me. “You didn’t cause me any pain. I’m the one who inserted myself into that situation. I could have handled it a lot better than I did. I didn’t have to keep letting him egg me on. All I had to do was take you by the arm and lead you to my truck, but like I said last night – I wanted him to pay.”

He rubbed his chin, wincing slightly. “I’m not proud of myself but I guess I wanted him to feel what it’s like to be on the other end of a beating. The only problem is that verse in the Bible: ‘Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.’ I guess I didn’t trust the Lord to bestow vengeance on Hank in the way I wanted and took it upon myself. I shouldn’t have done that. Of course, it didn’t help that Emmy she filled me in on what else Hank had done to you.”

He looked at me and I saw regret in his eyes. I felt warmth rush into my face. I knew Emmy had told him about Hank cheating on me and I couldn’t decide if it made me angry or not that she had. I had realized long ago that Hank’s choosing another woman over me had made me feel unworthy and incapable of being truly loved by another man. It had made my insides ache with embarrassment.

Telling Emmy and Edith, and then much later Mama and Daddy, had been humiliating, even though they all insisted the issue was his, not mine. Knowing that Judson now knew I hadn’t been  — dare I even think it — woman enough for my husband, was like having a deep secret exposed to the light. It was a secret I somehow felt would make Judson look at me like Hank once had, not only as someone who wasn’t pretty enough, but also someone who couldn’t fulfill her husband’s physical or emotional needs.

I lowered my eyes, picking at a thread on the bottom of my shirt.

“She told you that?”

“Yeah, I hope it doesn’t upset you, but it sort of slipped out when she was in one of her ranting modes a couple weeks ago.” He rubbed his hand across his chin and winced. “You know how she gets.”

I laughed softly, my eyes still on my shirt. “Oh, I do.”

Judson took a sip of his coffee. “I called to update her on my dad and she told me Hank had been in town. She said after all he’d done to you, he had better not try to see you. After cheating on you and smacking you around, he was worthless, she said, and she didn’t want him near you or Jackson. I think if she’d had a gun in her hand she would have gone after him like your dad did all those years ago.”

I tipped my head at Judson, narrowing my eyes. “So, you already knew Hank had been in town when you acted indignant last night that I didn’t tell you.”

Judson placed the coffee mug on the corner of the coffee table, laying his arm over the back of the couch and grinned.

“Yeah. Just trying to make you feel like a heel for not telling me.”

His grin faded into a more serious expression and his voice lowered to a soothing, comforting tone. “Listen, I’m sorry he did that to you. I can’t imagine any man tossing you aside for someone else. You’re worth much more than that.”

I bit my lower lip, tears stinging my eyes. I shook my head to shake them away and push down the emotion. “It’s fine. That was a long time ago.”

I cleared my throat and blinked the tears away, looking up at him. “For what it’s worth, I appreciate what you did for me last night.”

I reached over and laid my hand over his, but immediately felt awkward being so intimate and pulled my hand back, laying it in my lap.

He looked at me and his smile sent my heart pounding hard in my chest. Looking into his blue eyes, I was transported back to that night at the lake, his lips against mine, his arms around me when I’d started to run away.

He reached down and enclosed his hand around mine. He rubbed the top of it with his thumb, then lifted it, his mouth grazing the palm. His voice was barely a whisper. “For what it’s worth, I would do it again.”

The way he was speaking, his gaze never wavering from mine, made me consider jumping away before he moved any closer, but I didn’t need to worry about it. A knock on the front door startled us both and I pulled my hand quickly from his, not sure if I was relieved or disappointed.

“I guess I should get that,” he said with a sigh.

I recognized Marion’s voice as he opened the door. “Oh Judson! You look awful!”

“Well, Mrs. Hakes, thank you,” Judson laughed. “This is the second time today someone has told me that. You, however, look lovely.”

Stepping inside Marion laid her hand against the side of Judson’s face, tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry for what Hank did to you. I just stopped at Alan and Janie’s to check on Blanche this morning and they told me what had happened. I’m so sorry for what he did to you. If I had known he was back in town, I would have warned Blanche.”

Judson took Marion’s hands in his and looked her in the eye. “Mrs. Hakes, you have nothing to apologize for.”

“He’s my son . . .”

“He’s not your responsibility anymore, ma’am,” Judson said firmly. “He’s a grown man.”

Marion nodded, a tear slipping down her cheek as Judson hugged her gently. “And besides. I’m fine. I’m sore but I’m in better shape than I could be.”

Marion walked over to me and sat down, taking my hand. “Hank called me this morning and said he’s leaving for bootcamp. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him again anytime soon.”

Edith and Jimmy appeared in the doorway as Marion spoke, concern etched on both their faces. It was like a full-on family reunion at this point and I realized my family had some of the worst timing of anyone I’d ever met.

“Judson!” Edith cried, rushing toward Judson. “Oh, you look just awful! Are you okay? We stopped to pick up Blanche and Mama said she had come to check on you and filled us in.”

“I’m fine,” Judson said again. “Really. All of your concern is certainly appreciated. Although, can you all stop saying how awful I look? I’m starting to get depressed.”

Jimmy stepped inside the door, standing behind Edith. “Please tell me you nailed him good,” he said, then catching Marion’s eye he cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Mrs. Hakes. I mean —”

Marion laughed as she wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. “It’s perfectly fine, Jimmy. A good beating is what Hank needed.”

After a few more moments of conversation, Marion said she would leave Judson alone to get ready for work and I followed Edith and Jimmy to their car, hugging Judson quickly before I left. He stood on the porch, leaning against the porch column as he watched us drive away. I looked back at him, knowing we would eventually need to talk about all the tender moments between us, the kisses and the gentle touches that were waking my soul to the possibility of love. And I knew I would eventually have to decide what all those moments meant for the walls I had built around me.

Creatively Thinking: Why I blog my novels as I write them

I don’t think a lot of people are worrying about this, but I thought I’d share today why I blog my novels as I write them (or shortly after).

It’s probably not the best marketing move to put my novels on my blog, chapter by chapter, but, well, I’ve never been good at that marketing stuff, for one, but also, I like the interaction I receive when I share my novels on my blog. The interaction is worth more me to than the money, although you might have to remind me of that when we are pinching pennies to get groceries some weeks.

I like that my handful of blog readers interact with each chapter and share with me their impressions or their ideas for how the story should unfold. Based on those impressions, and impressions of friends or family, I adjust and rewrite the story before the final publication. Or sometimes I rewrite it because I like it better. Putting the story up on my blog also forces me to finish it and to edit it chapter by chapter because one, I have “fans” waiting to read the rest of the story (okay, I have maybe 20 people reading and four that comment, but I don’t mind writing it for just those people. I’m not even kidding.) and two, it also forces me to focus on each chapter individually, write before I copy it to the blog to publish it.

I am sure some authors (am I really one of those? I don’t know. . .but it sounds good, right?) wouldn’t want to share their books on their blogs. They’d rather write them, leave them on their computer and then one day get their nerve up and send it to a literary agent, hope the agent picks them up and pitches their book to a publisher and that publisher signs them and their book is marketed to millions and then they become a millionaire. Sharing the book on their blog could mean no one will ever pay them for the book because the readers can simply read the book for free on the blog, right?

Not necessarily.

In my case, I only have about 360 blog subscribers and of those 360, only about 5 interact with me on a regular basis and only about 20 actually follow the stories I share on the blog. Not only that, but of those who might find my blog, how many of them will really want to scroll from chapter to chapter for free, versus buying the book later on Amazon in it’s completed form, or at least “borrowing it” through Kindle Unlimited?

Probably not that many.  In addition, once I’ve shared the chapters on my blog, I take down the page that links to each chapter and replace it with an excerpt and a link to my book on Amazon, or wherever else I might choose to sell them in the future. In the end, sharing the novel on my blog is a motivator for me, but also a nice distraction from other stresses in life (like the news) and from what I’ve heard from those who read it, it’s also a nice distraction from them.

I don’t expect that my novels will ever win awards, but they’re already winning me something else – a little bit of sanity and a whole lot of distraction.

And while I’m on the subject of sharing my novel on here, I have two new chapters scheduled this week: one tomorrow and one Friday.

I am in the midst of writing a new novel called The Farmer’s Daughter, but I haven’t yet decided if I will share it here as part of Fiction Friday or not. I have a feeling, though, it’s a story some of my regulars will really like. I’ve shared a little of it on here before.

It’s the story of Molly Tanner, who still lives on her parents farm at the age of 25 and wonders if there is a life for her beyond the farm. At the same time she’s pondering this, she notices that farmhand Alex Stone is paying more attention to her, but she’s not sure why. Five years older than her and her brother’s best friend, Alex is battling some demons of his own, mainly that he’s falling for Molly but he doesn’t feel like he’s good enough for her. He covers his pain from his low self-esteem and his lack of attentative parents growing up by drinking a lot and dating women.

Other characters are Molly’s brother, Jason, her parents Robert and Annie, her grandmother, Franny, and her best friend, Liz. Robert and Annie are facing their own concerns throughout the book as Robert fights to keep the family farm, which he and his brother have now turned into a farming enterprise, running.

This will be the first book in a series, but I’m not going to overwhelm you with the other characters and their backstories. At least not yet!

 

Creatively Thinking Guest Post: How to Find Creative Inspiration from Journaling in 2020

This is a guest post from Thao Nguyen at Reedsy.com. I was not compensated for this post and any opinions within are the writers and not my own (though I also believe in the power of journaling). I have not used Reedsy much and can not claim to be an expert on the site, but from what I’ve seen, I really like it! So feel free to check it out. I know I will be checking it out more. 


Journaling has been making a spectacular comeback. In an age of fast-everything — from food to fashion to even social interaction — the tranquility of sitting down and expressing yourself the old-fashioned way, with a pen and on paper, sounds soothing to many.

Beyond its surprising mental and physical health benefits, journaling is also a great way to find, nurture, and connect with your creativity. And this creative impetus is not something that only creators — writers, designers, artists — have. Think back to your childhood, to the unpredictable whims and the odd logic that may have been dismissed as being childish as you grow older; they’re all still there for you to tap into! Creativity doesn’t have to mean splattering paint and brandishing words — it can also be looking at situations differently, better organizing your life and goals, and finding new solutions to your problems.

So how can you reconnect to that imaginative part of your brain? Let’s see how keeping a journal can help you get there!

What is journaling?

Journaling can be anything — writing, doodling, structuring your days, etc. — so long as it involves getting things down, often with a pen and notebook, on a regular basis. The last bit is the important thing: journaling is all about routine. Some people do it every day, others make time for it once a week. You can tailor it to your schedule and habits, as long as you do it consistently.

Revisit, reflect, refine

A consistently maintained journal is an album of your life. It can help you see how you’ve changed, what you can improve on, or where things might have gone wrong if you’re having trouble. From there, you can gain new perspectives and find fresh ways to overcome challenges, or strengthen the things that make your life good.

For writers and artists, it’s a great way to jot down ideas, some of which may come to you in one moment and disappear in the next. You can revisit these little notes and sketches and develop them further, even if it’s been weeks after you’ve had those little revelations. It’s like planting a seed and watching it grow.

Moreover, journaling is also a great way to be organized. If you’re a writer, you may wish to record and reflect on your process, whether you’re learning to structure your book, develop a writing style, or hoping to take your project to the next stage and publishing it. Here’s where a journal can really come in handy. Staying organized not only helps you succeed in your endeavors, but keeps your head clear, so you don’t end up accidentally stifling your creativity under confusion and chaos.

How to journal for creativity

There is no correct way to journal because it’s a deeply personal activity. It’s merely a visualization of your thoughts, and it’s only for you to peruse, so be true to yourself and do it the way you feel like doing it. That said, here are some wonderful journaling methods to consider that will help your creativity flourish.

  1. Freewriting

Freewriting is just what it sounds like — where you take a seat and write freely! For 10-15 minutes every day, perhaps at the start or end of your day, just scribble down anything that comes to mind. There’s no restriction on what you can write about — it can be an emotional reaction, something interesting you’ve observed that day, or your gratitude for life (which is a very popular topic for journaling).

These uncensored and unvarnished writings will let your thoughts and creativity flow, with nothing to silence them. Without the distraction of other people (or, more likely, your phone and laptop), freewriting leaves you in the sole company of your imagination.

  1. Responding to prompts

On the other hand, if you’d rather have more structure to your journaling, consider responding to writing prompts. As this is more demanding than freewriting, choose prompts that speak to you and create a short story once every week or month. And since we’re being creative here, why not write a poem, or sketch a comic, if you feel like it? No matter which medium you choose, there are few better ways to be creative than bringing stories to life.

  1. The bullet journal method

Finally, we have the bullet journal method. Its creator, designer Ryder Caroll, described it as a “mindfulness practice” in which you map out your life on blank pages. In such a journal, you’ll have calendars, weekly plans, and monthly reflections. In addition to that, you can have pages reserved for anything you want to do — whether that is doodling, recording mantras, or, if you’re a writer, mind-mapping your next project.

For those who are more artistic, this is a chance to use your skills and create a book that really reflects your mind. This method requires you to take time once a month to go through what’s happened recently and draw out a plan for the next 30 days. It’s a beautiful way to declutter your thoughts, pick up on forgotten ideas, and momentarily escape the hustle and bustle of life.

From uninhibited scribblings to methodically planning your months, these are some suggestions for you to nourish and cultivate your creativity. It’s sometimes hard to manage this in a world so full of noise, but if journaling tells you anything, it is that inspiration really comes from within, and it’ll come to you if you give yourself the time to discover it.


Thao Nguyen is a writer at Reedsy, a platform that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She enjoys writing non-fiction, especially the historical kind, and is delighted by the prospects that self-publishing provides for aspiring authors nowadays.

Fiction Thursday: A New Beginning Chapter 22

Here we are at another Fiction Thursday.  I can’t believe I’m already at Chapter 22 for A New Beginning.  I love to know what you think of the story or what direction you think it should take, so please feel free to share it in the comments.

As always, you can catch the first part of Blanche’s story, A Story to Tell, on Kindle, but you don’t need to read it to understand what is happening in 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.


“Blanche.”

When I heard my name and felt the hand against my arm, I was back in that dimly lit apartment with Hank, adrenaline rushing through me like a lightening bolt, Jackson screaming in my ear. I closed my eyes tight against the terror raging inside me, balled my hand into a fist and without thinking swung at Hank, making solid contact with his face.

Only it wasn’t Hank holding his face when I opened my eyes. It was Thomas. My hand throbbed from the impact and I rubbed the knuckles with my other hand.

“What was that for?!” Thomas shouted, a hand against his cheek, red spreading across the skin.

“Oh, Thomas! I’m so sorry! I thought you were someone else.”

“Is this how you greet people?! By punching them?!”

The door to the hardware store was opening, the bell on the front at the top of the it ringing, but I couldn’t see who was coming out. I grabbed Thomas’ hand, pulling him with me down the sidewalk.

“Please…,” I pleaded. “Don’t be so loud. Just follow me.”

“Don’t be so loud? You just slugged me! I’m going to be loud! What is going on?”

I yanked at his hand and he followed me down the street to my shop, still holding his hand against his cheek and grumbling. Once inside I pulled the shades, turned the open sign to closed and locked the door.

“Blanche… what is going on?”

Thomas was touching his cheek and wincing, moving his jaw side to side. “I don’t think you broke anything at least, but I bet I’ll get a shiner.”

He looked at me with confusion and concern.

“You’re trembling like a leaf. Who are we hiding from? Is someone stalking you?”

I peeked through the blind across the front window. Hank was walking out of the hardware store now, toward D’s Diner. A chill shivered through me and I hugged my arms across my chest. I had no idea why he was in town or if he would even look for me but the thought of him being so close by after all this time left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Thomas stood behind me and I knew he was watching Hank too.

“Is that . . .?”

“Yes,” I said quickly so he wouldn’t say his name. “It is.”

“What’s he doing here?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t want to see him.”

We both stood in silence for a few moments as Hank walked into the diner.

“So… what exactly happened between you two anyhow?” Thomas asked when I turned away from the door and sat in the chair next to my sewing machine.

“Nothing pleasant,” I mumbled, leaning back in the chair, arms folded across my chest.

“Derek said he heard Hank tried to come see you one time and your daddy shot him in the foot.”

I rolled my eyes. “Derek likes to tell stories. I’ve known him since second grade and he was always in trouble for making up whoppers. But, he’s close. Daddy shot at him to warn him off.”

Thomas turned a chair around and straddled it, leaning his arms on the back of it. “Derek said he thought your dad should have shot him. He said you came back to the area with two black eyes, a crooked nose and a baby.”

I patted the bun on top of my head and pushed a stray hair back off my forehead, remembering the day Daddy had driven me into town to sign the divorce papers. I hadn’t wanted to leave the house, to let anyone see the bruises and the scars.

“I won’t allow that boy to have his name,” Daddy had said as I signed my name on the bottom of the divorce intent papers, my hand trembling. I couldn’t focus on what Daddy was saying. I had been thinking about Hank, wondering if he’d even sign the papers and make the divorce quick and easy, worrying about my son growing up without a father. I didn’t care what last name my son had, as long as he was safe from Hank and able to move past the fact his mother had been foolish enough to run away with a man who had become abusive and unrecognizable to the man her mother thought he was.

“I was an idiot,” I said, looking up at Thomas. “I didn’t see the warning signs, or maybe I just didn’t want to see them. When I did it was too late and I was trapped in the never ending circle of thinking I could somehow change a man who didn’t want to be changed. It took him punching me in the face, breaking my nose, a couple ribs and almost my skull for me to wake up and get away from him.”

Thomas’ eyebrows shot up. “He broke your nose and your ribs? What kind of man does something like that?”

“A drunk one.”

Thomas stood and peered through the blinds again. His voice was cold when he spoke. “He better not show his face here today. That son of a -”

“I don’t think he will,” I said quickly, even though I wasn’t sure.

Thomas sat back on the chair, facing me, his arms folded across the top of the chair. He propped his chin on his arm, his blond hair falling across his forehead. “You’ve been through a lot, huh?”

I shrugged, sliding a piece of fabric through the sowing machine to try to distract myself. “Yeah, but a lot of people have.”

“You’re a strong lady, Blanche. No joke about it. Now I understand why you built that wall around you.”

I held the pants up to inspect the hem. “What wall?” I said with a wink, looking around the pants at him. “I’m a perfectly open person.”

Thomas laughed, grinning at me, still leaning his chin on his arm. “Yeah, that’s why it has taken us almost four years to have a real conversation. And why you won’t go out with me.”

I sighed. “Thomas. . .”

“I know. It’s not me, it’s you.” He grinned.

“It’s not that. It’s just . . .”

“You don’t have feelings like that for me.”

“No. I’m sorry.”

“It’s that guy with more muscles in his pinky than I have in my whole body isn’t it?”

I laughed. “What?”

“That J.T. who works with Stanton Construction. He’s a beast of a sexy man the ladies in the office say and I’ve seen him talking to you.”

I knew the laughing fit I was having might make Thomas feel worse, but I couldn’t help it. “Beast of a sexy man? Who even talks like that?”

“Minnie for one,” Thomas said.

“Yeah, she would talk like that,” I said through the laughter. “But, Thomas, I’m not in a relationship with Judson, I–”

“You definitely want to be in one with the way you look at him, according to Minnie.”

“Thomas, Minnie is a little dramatic. And listen, you’re a nice guy . . .”

Thomas sighed and shrugged. “But. There is always a ‘but.’ Listen, it’s okay.” He held up his hand, turned his head, and let out a dramatic sigh. “I’ve been pushed into the role of the friend before.”

He grinned and pushed his hair off his forehead. “I’m sure I’ll survive. Somehow.”

The pounding on the door startled us both and we jumped to our feet.

Thomas held his hand up to me, signaling me to wait behind the sewing table. He moved the blinds slightly and his expression relaxed.

“It’s Emmy,” he said, unlocking the door.

Emmy was a wall of sound. “Oh my gosh, Blanche! Hank is at D’s Diner. Did you know he is in town? I couldn’t believe it. He walked right in and sat at the front counter and ordered a black coffee and a full breakfast. I panicked and tried to run out of there, but he saw me and nodded at me. He said ‘Hey, Emmy,’ all calm and confident like and tipped his head in a nod. I didn’t know what to do. I just stared at him and took off, but then I didn’t want him to see where I was going so I shot down the alley by Mary’s Florist and came here the back way, but I hope he didn’t see me and figure out where you are and. . .”

“Emmy! Calm down!” I took my friend’s hands and gently pulled her toward a chair.

“You’re going to pass out,” Thomas laughed as Emmy sat down.

Emmy was breathing hard. “I just couldn’t believe it. I never expected to see him here again. Not after – you know – I just thought he’d stay away forever. Or at least I hoped he would.”

My heart was racing as I thought about Jackson at school. What if Hank was here to try to see Jackson? Did the staff at the school know they couldn’t let Hank see Jackson? I’d never told Jackson about his father and who he really was.

“Jackson . . .” I whispered.

“He’s at school,” Thomas said. “He’s fine. Don’t let your mind even go there.”

Emmy leaned back in the chair and shook her head. “Look at us. Cowering here in the dark over someone who doesn’t even matter anymore. Like he’s some kind of mass murderer or something.”

“He isn’t quite that, no, but I still don’t want to see him,” I said.

“Looks like you won’t have to,” Thomas said peering through the blind again. Looking over his shoulder, we watched Hank climb into his pick-up, slamming the door behind him, revving the engine and driving down the street, away from the shop.

Emmy sighed with relief. “Thank God he’s gone. At least for now.”

She turned to look at us, her eyebrows furrowed.

“What were you two doing in here with all the blinds pulled anyhow?”

Thomas tipped his head toward the floor, but I could see a smirk pulling at his mouth.

“I saw Hank through the window of the hardware store,” I said quickly. “And . . . uh . . . ran into Thomas while I was trying to get here to hide so he came with me.”

“Yeah. She ran into me all right,” Thomas said, touching his hand to the red spot on his cheek.

Emmy’s gaze traveled between us. “Uh-huh. Okay. That all sounds a little fishy, but I’ll just leave it – for now anyhow.” She turned slightly so her back was to Thomas and tipped her head, looking down her nose at me. She lowered her voice. “I’ve got to get back to the office, but we’ll talk more about this later. If you know what I mean.”

She pointed two fingers at her eyes first and then at mine, one eyebrow raised.

“You’d better go,” I said, ushering her toward the door.

I smiled as the door closed behind Emmy and then sat in the chair she’d vacated, my heart still pounding fast and hard in my chest.

“You okay?” Thomas asked.

I nodded, but my limbs felt weak as the adrenaline began to fade.

“I should get back to work,” I said softly. “I have a dress I need to finish for a lady from Spencer and that pair of pants for Pastor Frank.”

Thomas pushed himself off the counter and slid his hands in his jean pockets.

“Okay. Well, I need to get back to the paper anyhow. Of course, I don’t like the idea of leaving now – in case you need me.”

I laughed. “I’ll be fine. Daddy’s not far away if I need someone to rescue me.”

Thomas turned toward me, his hand on the doorknob. “Hey, have you talked to your mother-in-law about how things are going with Uncle Stan?”

Marion. I needed to call her and tell her about Hank.

“A little. I think it’s going well. Have you asked Stan?”

Thomas grimaced. “Ew. No. Why? Men don’t talk about that stuff.” He opened the door and leaned against the door frame. “Let me know if you need anything okay? Will I see you tomorrow?”

I’d forgotten about the weekly editorial meeting scheduled for the next morning. Stanley had asked me a couple of weeks ago to attend the first meeting of the month so he could give me assignments for feature stories. It looked like I’d be taking that job whether I wanted to or not.

“Yep,” I said. “I’ll see you there.”

Thomas rubbed his cheek. “Just make sure you don’t punch me in a greeting when we see each other.”

I stepped through the doorway and watched Thomas walk back toward the newspaper office. I knew most women would consider him attractive — more than attractive — with his blond hair, blue eyes, masculine jawline, a small dimple in his chin and an amazing smile. Even I found him physically attractive, despite his frequent cocky attitude. It was probably that attitude holding me back, but I knew it was also something else – someone else, no matter how much I tried to deny it.

***

When I closed the door to the shop, I reached for the phone to make sure Marion knew about Hank.

“I was getting ready to call you actually,” she said after I told her why I had called. “He came last night but I didn’t want to alarm you. He told me this morning he was going up to New York state to visit some friends, so I hoped he’d leave the area before you saw him. The more I thought about it, the more nervous I got, though, so I’d just picked up the phone to call you when you called.”

“Did he say why he was here?”

“He said he hadn’t seen me for a long time and wanted to check in. He needed a place to crash before he headed up to see his friends. He slept on the couch because his old room has been transformed into my sewing room.”

“Where has he been all this time?”

“He says Ohio. We didn’t talk much. He came late and fell asleep after I fixed him some food. I was so nervous, Blanche. I wanted to call you last night, but I didn’t want him to hear me talking to you and give him ideas. He did see my photo of Jackson, asked how he was. I told him he was a wonderful boy and doing well and that was the end of it. I think he’d been drinking. He was a little glazed over . . .if you know what I mean.”

I certainly did.

“Blanche, have you told your parents he’s here?”

“Not yet, no.”

“Make sure you do, okay? I really don’t think he’ll try to see you, but  . . .”

“Thank you, Marion. I know you’re worried, but I’ll be fine. I can handle myself. Hey, I’m going to go and get some projects done before I pick Jackson up at school. Let me know if you need anything, okay?”

We said our goodbyes, but I knew Marion was still concerned and she wasn’t the only one. I laid my hand on the phone several times, preparing to call Daddy and let him know what was going on, each time shaking my head and going back to the pants I was hemming for Pastor Frank, determined not to get Daddy into one of his riled states.

I snatched the phone off the receiver and dialed the school.

“No. No one has stopped in asking to see Jackson,” Mrs. Ellery, the school secretary, said, sounding slightly confused when I asked. “Should someone have?”

“No, not at all. Can you just make sure you call if someone does stop in to see him?”

“Of course, Blanche.” There was a moment of silence and then, “We’d never let him go with anyone but you. Don’t you worry, okay?”

I hung up, guessing Mrs. Ellery had started to put two and two together. We lived in a small county and I knew there were more than a few people who knew my history with Hank and why Jackson never had two parents at parent-teacher conferences or school shows.

I started walking to the school a half an hour before dismissal, looking over my shoulder as I walked, wishing I had told Daddy about Hank being in town, and praying Hank didn’t show up to try to see Jackson.

“Hi, Mama!”

Jackson flung his arms around my middle and pushed his face against me as he ran from the school.

“Hey, buddy! Did you have a good day?”

“Yes! Kenny Frasier said he had a bullfrog at home and says I can come see it one day. Can I?”

“Sure, you can. We’ll find time to go over sometime soon.”

“Did you know bullfrogs eat flies?”

“I did.”

“Do you think flies taste good?”

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t try one to see.”

“Me either.”

Jackson skipped as he walked, talking away, stopping to look at bugs every few skips.

A block from the office I looked up from the bug we had stopped to watch crawl across the sidewalk and saw Daddy walking briskly toward me, his face flushed.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he puffed at me before he even reached me.

“Well, I…wait, what are we talking about?” I asked as Jackson and I started walking again.

Daddy fell in step with me and whispered, “You know what I’m talking about. That he was in town.”

“I was going to tell you on the way home. He didn’t come to see me and I didn’t want to upset you. Marion said he’s on his way to see friends in New York. How did you even find out? Did Emmy tell you?”

“Emmy knew? No, she didn’t tell me. Sam Baker came to the office a few moments ago and told me he’d seen him at D’s this morning. He thought I knew and asked if I had my shotgun ready. How does everyone know about that shotgun story anyhow?”

I laughed. “I have no idea. I didn’t tell anyone, did you?”

Daddy cleared his throat as we slowed down to wait for Jackson to study another bug. “Well, maybe one or two people. At the diner. A couple months afterwards.”

I shook my head and laughed. “Daddy. . .”

“Well, he deserved it and everyone knew it,” he said, looking at the ground sheepishly, rubbing his hand through his hair. “You came home with a baby and a black eye and people put two and two together and I wanted to make sure they knew I didn’t let him get away with it.”

I stopped and hugged Daddy. “Thank you for standing up for me, Daddy.”

Daddy hugged me back and then we continued to walk toward the shop. “I think we should leave early today,” he said as Jackson skipped into the shop. “You know . . . just in case.”

“I’m not about to change my routine for him, Daddy. Go on back to work and I will see you at five. I’ll call you if I need you.”

My hand trembled as I closed the door, watching Daddy walk back to his office, listening to Jackson play with his trucks behind me, hoping Marion had been right and Hank had actually left town.