Boondock Ramblings

A little bit about a lot of things

Anyone else ready for an escape from reality?

Some of you probably won’t be happy with me today because I’m going to leave you on a cliffhanger. However, I will post Chapter 30 tomorrow so you’re not left hanging for too long.

I’ve been posting these chapters since April. I can’t believe it, but I have. I’ve been working on this particular story for a couple of years now, off and on anyhow.
As always, there will probably be typos, missing words, etc. as this is a novel in progress. If you find some of these typos, etc., please feel free to let me know in the comments or via the contact form so I can fix them. I’ve seen some really dumb mistakes on my chapters long after they were published here and I’m always amazed someone didn’t say something about them so I could fix them. Ha!

If you would like to catch up to the rest of the story you can do so HERE or at the link at the top of the page. Or, you can wait until February 2021 when I publish it on Kindle (after rewrites, editing, etc.).


Chapter 29

“No, Mom, I won’t hear of it.”

Robert held his hand out toward his mom and shook his head. “We are not selling this property or this house to cover that loan. This house has been in our family for generations. I appreciate the offer, but that’s not the answer.”

Franny sighed and slid her glasses off, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Robert, we can’t hold on to all this property forever and if it will help save the rest of the business then we need to consider it.”

“Mom. No. I’m not allowing —”

“There is no allowing anything on your part. This house and property are in my name and my name alone. I will make the final decision, not you.”

Robert sat in the recliner that had been his father’s and propped his elbows on his knees, looking at his mother. Her jawline had that familiar set of a woman who was not to be deterred. Her eyes were flashing with determination and her lips were pressed firmly together. Worst of all was her unwavering gaze that told him she’d made up her mind.

She wanted to move into an apartment close to Betty and Frank. It would be less upkeep and the sale of the house and property would go to help pay off the loan. Robert appreciated her offer, but at this point, the deadline to pay off the loan was closing in and the sale would take longer than they had. Thankfully, they’d be able to pay off a large portion of it with the proceeds combined from the sale of the corn, the milk sales, and profits from the farm store over the last month.

“Mom, I know it’s up to you. The decision is yours, but at this point, the sale would take a while and it wouldn’t be in time to go toward the loan.”

 Franny sighed. “Well, I guess I can hang on to the house for a bit longer. Who knows, maybe I can give it to Molly to live in when she gets married. “

Robert raised an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes. “Married? Have you heard something I haven’t?”

Franny laughed softly and leaned back against the couch. “Don’t get all flustered now. I haven’t heard a thing. I’m just thinking about her future. I’m sure she’ll get married someday.”

“To Alex?”

“I don’t know who. I’m just saying, our Molly is a good catch for any man, and she might want to stay close to her family. We don’t know.”

“Or she could want to leave the farm, see what else is out there for her,” Robert countered.

“True. That’s all up to Molly, but just in case she wants to stay close to her family, raise her children here, then —”

“Children?” Robert scoffed. “Mom, let’s slow down a bit okay? I haven’t even wrapped my head around her kissing my farmhand let alone let my mind go to her being married or having children.”

Franny chuckled. “Good grief, Robert. You need to get with the program and realize Molly isn’t a little girl anymore. She’s a grown woman with her own path to carve out in life.”

“I know that mom, but I think you would agree that even though she’s a grown woman, she will always be my little girl.”

Franny tilted her head and smiled. She leaned forward and covered her son’s rough, hard-worked hands with her much smaller ones. “Just like you will always be my sweet boy.”

A grin tugged Robert’s mouth upward. “Thanks, Mom. I love you too.”

***

Molly had been avoiding Alex all day and she knew he could tell. He’d tried more than once to reach for her hand and she’d pulled away each time, reaching for a shovel or a bucket or anything so she wouldn’t feel his skin against hers and lose control of her senses every time he was around. She couldn’t miss his looks of confusion, the way he’d looked at her with narrowed eyes from the main barn doorway on his way to the lower barn as if trying to figure out why she’d turned so cold in such a short time. 

Several times during the day she snuck looks at him, trying to decide if he was the type of person who would have confessed his love for a woman only a couple of weeks after taking another woman he barely knew home from the bar and sleeping with her. There was part of her who couldn’t imagine it, but part of her that thought it was possible, not because he was a horrible person, but because she knew Alex used things like alcohol and women to distract himself from the difficulties in life. 

She knew he had strained relationships with both of his parents. Maybe he’d been trying not to think about that. Still, if he had loved her for years as he said, then why would he have taken Jessie home instead of telling her how he felt? Why had it taken him so long to tell her anyhow? Alex Stone wasn’t someone who was afraid of women and there was no way he was afraid of her. There was nothing special or intimidating about her. She wasn’t beautiful and tall and leggy like Jessie Landry. She was just Molly. Boring, fat, plain, and forgettable Molly Tanner.

She swallowed hard, walking toward the chicken coop, shaking her head at the tears stinging her eyes. A few nights ago, she was overcome with emotion by the words Alex spoke, and by the way, he held her tenderly. Now she was wondering if that had all been an act, even though she truly couldn’t comprehend it had been. She drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and silently prayed for God to reveal the truth to her and stop her racing mind.

Warmth against the back of her neck a few moments later as she collected the eggs sent a shiver of panic rushing through her. She could smell his aftershave and it was clouding her thoughts. Why did he have to stand so close?

She snatched up the eggs and quickly moved to the next nesting box to move away from him.

He moved with her, stepping even closer until his front was almost touching her back. “Hey, you’ve been avoiding me all day. What’s going on?”

She didn’t turn around. She knew if she looked at him, she’d burst into the tears she’d been fighting back all day.

“Nothing’s going on. I’m fine.”

He laughed softly. “Yeah, um, I know ‘I’m fine’ is code for ‘something is wrong’ in women speak.”

He touched her arm gently and for a brief second, she pictured herself leaning back into him so he could hold her. “Molly, talk to me.”

She slid past him and carried the basket of eggs out of the chicken coup, walking back toward the barn without answering him. She could hear his footsteps quickening behind her. Where did she think she was going to go that he wasn’t going to follow? The bathroom was the only option, and she was fairly certain he would block her way if she tried to get to the house. 

His hand caught hers as she stepped inside the feed room door. Trying to pull loose she moved toward the middle of the room, but he pulled her gently back toward him until she was facing him.

His voice was firm. “Talk to me. I need to know why we’ve gone from making out one day to you not even acknowledging I’m alive the next. What happened between a few days ago and today?”

His hand gripped hers tightly. She closed her eyes, praying the tears would disappear. 

When she opened her eyes, she was staring straight into a pair of captivating blue eyes clouded with genuine concern and confusion. At that moment she couldn’t imagine Alex would ever lie to her and that fact terrified her because she knew she was about to ask him a question she didn’t want to know the answer to.

She asked it quickly and bluntly before she chickened out and ran for the house. 

“Did you sleep with Jessie Landry?”

Alex’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “No. Why would you even ask that?”

“Because Jessie says you did.”

He released his grip on her hand. “And you believe her?”

She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment and shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t really, no. I’ve known Jessie for years and I can’t remember her ever being a very honest person.”

He stepped back from her, hands on his hips, turning to look at the field across the road. Panic began to surge through her. He’d already denied it but now he had withdrawn, and she wondered if that meant there was some truth to Jessie’s story. When he turned back toward her, his expression was serious.

“I didn’t sleep with her, but I did bring her back to my place that night.” He walked toward her until he was standing a few inches in front of her, his eyes glistening as he spoke. “I took her home because I wanted to take my mind off you because I didn’t think I was good enough for you, Molly. I still don’t. I saw you with Ben that day outside the church and I thought something was going on between you. I figured it was because he was better than me. I went to the bar a couple of nights later, Jessie was hanging all over me and I didn’t want to think about how I wasn’t good enough for you anymore so I brought her back home.” He looked at the barn floor, shaking his head. “The entire time she was there, though, all I could think about was you.”

Warmth spread through Molly’s chest and her face flushed. 

He swallowed hard and brought his gaze back to hers again. “That’s the truth. I don’t expect you to believe me because you know my past, you know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I promise you that this was not one of them. I never should have taken her home. I never should have gotten drunk that night. I kissed Jessie, I almost slept with her, but I didn’t.” He pushed his hand through his hair, laughing softly. “She definitely was not happy about that, but I couldn’t help it. It was you I wanted. Not her.”

“I meant what I said Molly. I’m in love with this farm, I’m in love with this family and more importantly, I’m in love with you. Do you really think I lied about that? That I could lie about that?”

She opened her mouth and closed it again, unsure how to answer. Did she really think he’d lied? She couldn’t even imagine he had, yet she was afraid to fully trust he hadn’t. Fully trusting meant opening her chest and letting her heart be exposed in a way she hadn’t allowed since she dated Ben.

“Molly?”

The hurt in his eyes shot daggers through her heart and she wanted to tell him she believed him, she trusted him, she loved him as much as he said he loved her but she couldn’t seem to move beyond her fear.

She reached out and laid her hand against his upper arm. “Alex, I —”

The back door to the feed room swung open and Jason filled the opening as he guzzled soda from a can and burped loudly. “Oops did I interrupt some kind of lover’s spat?”

She thought her head was going to explode.

She didn’t even know her brother had a clue about her and Alex’s relationship and at this point, she didn’t even care. 

She swung to face him. “Excuse me?”

Jason stepped into a square of light on the barn floor made from an opening above the door. “You heard me.” He winked and pointed to her then to Alex and back to her again. “I know all about you two.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “What — how — I mean just seriously, what is wrong with my family? You all have the worst timing on the planet and act like I can’t have a life of my own.”

Jason’s eyes widened and he blinked at her innocently. “What do you mean? I didn’t say you couldn’t have your own life, I just —”

“Interrupted me,” Molly snapped. “Interrupted me again. Like everyone else in this family has done every time Alex and I are together. I’m sick of all of you sticking your nose in my business.”

Jason looked at Alex who raised his arms slightly from his side and shrugged. Jason looked back at his sister and sighed. “I just can’t win with women right now, can I?”

Molly folded her arms across her chest her cheeks bright red. “Apparently not. Now get lost. This is a private conversation.”

It was Jason’s turn to roll his eyes. “Fine, I’ll leave but I needed to ask Alex if he can run down and check on dad first.”

Molly cocked a leg to one side, folded her arms across her chest, and glared at her brother. “Why?”

“Because Dad has been down in the field by the lower barn for two hours. It shouldn’t take him two hours to plant rye in that area and I wanted to know if Alex would go see if the tractor broke down again. Dad didn’t take his phone with him.”

Molly was certain her blood pressure was at a dangerous level at this point. “Why can’t you do it?”

“Because Uncle Walt is on his way over with Troy and we’ve got to move those heifers up to the upper barn before the storm moves in.”

Alex stepped between the siblings and held a hand toward each of them. “Hey, guys, truce, okay? I’ll head down and check on Robert.” He turned toward Molly, his back facing Jason. “Can we finish this discussion when I get back? I want to talk this out, okay?”

Molly nodded, touching his arm gently. “Yes. I want to too.”

For the first time since they’d started talking a small smile tugged at Alex’s mouth. “Good,” he said softly.

Jason groaned. “Gross. I don’t need to see you two swoon over each other. I’m going to go wait outside for Uncle Walt.”

Alex laughed softly as Molly stuck her tongue out at Jason’s back. 

He stepped toward her, leaned in, and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“We’ll talk?” he asked softly, cupping his hand against her face.

A faint smile tugged at her mouth. “We will.”

Molly watched Alex climb into his truck from the feed room’s doorway. On the horizon behind him, dark clouds were inching toward the farm, threatening to pound the ground with rain for the third time that week. She pushed her hand back through her hair, anxious to continue their conversation but feeling relieved that they had at least broached the issue instead of letting it fester.

***

As he drove toward the lower field, Alex’s mind was filled with what else he wanted to tell Molly when he got back to the barn. He wished their conversation hadn’t been interrupted — again. Did she believe him? What had she been about to say? He knew Jason hadn’t meant to interrupt their conversation but part of him wanted to tell his friend off – from a distance where Jason couldn’t shove him again, of course. Alex’s chest and back were still aching from the encounter a few days before.

He should have known Molly would eventually find out about Jessie, but at the same time, she’d told him she already knew about his past and still loved him. The memory of her words gave him hope that she’d been about to tell him she believed him and understood why he hadn’t told her about Jessie before. And then there had been the way she had touched his arm before he left, telling him she wanted to talk more. That was a good sign, right? It had to be. 

He drove slowly over the small dirt road that connected the upper and lower fields of the Tanner’s farm, his mind focused completely on Molly until he came up over the hill and looking down saw the underside of Robert’s tractor facing toward him instead of the cab. That definitely wasn’t normal. Was Robert trying to fix it? If he was, how did he get it up on its’ side? Alex’s chest tightened. Robert couldn’t have pushed it over on his own.

He quickly scanned the grassy area around the overturned tractor for Robert, terror gripping him when he didn’t see him.

“Please let him be in the barn,” he prayed, gunning the accelerator. 

The moment he slammed his foot on the brake and threw the truck into park he knew Robert wasn’t in the smaller storage barn. His chest constricted as he shoved the truck door open. 

He could already see Robert’s body pinned underneath the 1960 Ford tractor that had originally been Ned’s. 

Oh, God

He started running.

“Robert! Robert! Talk to me!”

Robert’s torso and legs were under the main part of the tractor, his pale face visible, glazed eyes looking up at the darkening sky.

Dark red pooled around his upper body.

We don’t need psychologists or statisticians to tell us that depression and anxiety are running rampant these days, especially in the United States where we are on the cusp of an election (or right after an election if you are reading this after next week). Between toxic political news (which appears to be happening in more countries than just the United States) and stories about a spreading virus, many people are having a hard time combatting negative thoughts and feelings. Every day there seems to be something new to worry about related to those two issues, and throw those two topics in with our everyday worries and you have the perfect storm for a near, or full, mental breakdown.

Many of us are looking for a break from it all and that’s where unhealthy coping mechanisms step in. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. Some of those unhealthy coping mechanisms include avoidance, turning to alcohol or food to comfort, looking for distractions we may regret later, smoking, eating the wrong food, watching too much television (which could include porn or something else aimed at distracting us but which could harm us in the long run if addiction develops).

If you’re like me, you’re looking for ways to combat depression and anxiety. These are issues for me even when a contentious election or increasing virus numbers isn’t in the news. I thought that today I’d offer ten ways to try to combat depression and anxiety in this season, both for readers and myself. 

  1. Turn off the news. I’ve offered this advice many times on the blog. I want to clarify that this is not an order, it’s a suggestion and it’s a suggestion I’m giving for your sanity. When I suggest you turn off the news, I don’t mean that you never check in to see what is going on that you may need to know, but I don’t believe we need to be completely immersed in the news the way some of us have been for the last several months, maybe even the last several years. If you can’t completely turn off the news (like my husband, who works in media), or don’t want to, then consider reducing your news consumption. Maybe instead of checking a news site first thing in the morning, you set a time during the day when you check the news and also set a time limit. 

I suggest five minutes is all you need these days. If I scroll through a news site for even two minutes I feel my tension and anxiety increasing and eventually, depression settles over me like a dark cloud. Let’s be honest, positive news doesn’t sell these days. Our brains are hardwired to seek out the negative and we can find that in the national media, which they know and grab on to. The national news knows they are addictive, they know you want to hear what’s wrong with the world today because we all have a basic instinct to want to protect ourselves. What better way to protect ourselves than to know what negative events are happening in the world so we can decide if they are a threat to our well-being or not? Right? You may not consciously think that way, but truly I believe our subconscious drives us to read the negative headlines for that reason.

There are so many things you can do other than watch the news and I’ll list some of those suggestions in the tips below but for now, a few ideas are watching comedies, reading, organizing or cleaning out your closets, picking up a new hobby, calling your friends, calling your mother or father, offering to help a neighbor with chores, taking a walk, scream at the sky (sorry, had to had that for fun, but it really is a nice stress reliever. I’d suggest not doing this if you live in a more urban area unless you warn your neighbors first).

Images like this available at Lightstock.com

2. Turn off your phone notifications (except messages or calls from emergency contacts). Couple this with turning off the news. I don’t know about you but constant alerts from my phone unnerve me and distract me from what I really need to be doing. The more distractions I have the more unorganized and off-kilter I feel throughout the day. Whether it’s an alert from a social media app, texts from people who stress you out, a breaking news message, or even spam calls, just shut them off. You don’t need that all day long. Our bodies weren’t wired to have to be on constant alert but with the introduction of cellphones, being constantly “in the know” seems to have become normal. 

We are all wired differently so what might be anxiety-inducing for some won’t cause the reaction for another person. 

If constant alerts don’t raise your anxiety, great! But if they do, then they need to go for your sanity. Imagine how nice it would be not to have to be “on-call” all day long. It’s one thing to be on-call for your family and their needs but an entirely different thing to be constantly available for the media or people and apps that serve little purpose for us other than to attempt to influence us.

3. Start your day off with a calm routine. This is a reminder for me because I often find myself starting my day by snatching up my phone and reading a news site or something negative before I even get out of bed. I’ve got into this habit in the last four years to make sure no one has killed the president yet, because I believe even people who despise our current president know what complete upheaval to our nation that would cause. 

I always plan to log on to a news site for a few moments, but then there I sit, scrolling down the page for a good ten or fifteen minutes, reading horrible headlines about horrible things that have happened to people, or could happen to people. It’s no way to start the day. 

A better way would be to wake up and read a Bible verse or listen to a worship song, or if you are not a person of faith, wake up and read a positive attribution or a positive quote and listen to music that lifts your spirits. 

Do any of these things before you do anything else (except maybe going to the bathroom) or while you are eating your breakfast. Don’t open yourself up to negativity in your day before you have to. 

Part of your morning routine could be writing in your gratitude journal or making some sort of list of what you are grateful for. If you’re a list maker in general, listing your goals for the day could be calming for you because it may help you feel more grounded and organized. Simply sitting on your front porch looking out at the front yard or a beautiful view you may have, sipping your coffee, milk, or tea, before the day even begins is another positive and calming way to start your day.

Images like this available at Lightstock.com

4. Take a social media break. If you’ve read this blog very long, you know this suggestion is a popular one for me because I have seen a benefit from it. My anxiety and depression are 90 percent better when I’m not logging onto social media throughout the day. Honestly, when I scroll through social media, my brain feels completely overwhelmed and starts to race. Take note if it does the same for you. For me, posts or articles being shared don’t even have to be about something negative. It’s simply there is too much information on there for my brain to take in.

Like the suggestion of shutting off the news, you may not want to take a complete break from social media. Instead, setting a time limit for social media use can be beneficial. I would suggest not only setting a limit in your mind, but setting an actual limit on an actual timer, either on your phone or computer, watch, or even an old-fashioned egg timer. If you only want to be on social media for five minutes, set your alarm for five minutes and when that five minutes is up, log off, no matter what. 

So many of us don’t have healthy boundaries with social media and setting time limits can help make our relationship with social media something that enhances our day, not hampers it. 

5. Pick up a new, fun hobby. Hobbies are a great distraction from the stresses of life and sometimes those hobbies can even develop into something more. Is there an activity you enjoy doing now, or once enjoyed, that could become a hobby for you? When people think of hobbies they often think of stamp collecting or model making, but there are so many activities you can toss into the hobby category including photography, writing poetry, baking, playing an instrument, getting involved in a sport, collecting objects, art, board games (ex. Chess or Checkers), reading, painting, sketching, quilting, sewing, knitting. . . the list goes on and on.

Images like this available at Lightstock.com

6. Listen to music. Take time out of your day to listen to some music you enjoy and that calms you. You could do this while participating in other stress relievers such as taking a walk, relaxing in a bath, exercising, or preparing for bed. Music can make everyday chores seem less time consuming (well, except washing dishes. I don’t feel like anything makes that feel less time consuming and boring). If you can’t have music on throughout the day where you are, then maybe you can take music breaks throughout the day instead. Sit somewhere for even five minutes and listen to a couple of favorite songs. You’ll be surprised how much better it will make you feel.

I’m sharing some of my favorite music here to help give you a start and ideas for music that can help perk up, or mellow out, your day.

Listening to this helped me feel more positive about cooking dinner this week. Go figure.

7. Read more (uplifting, light, or silly books). Reading more, in general, can be a nice distraction from the things that are getting us down, but reading lighthearted, funny, or sweet books can help even more during stressful, toxic times. I’ve crawled inside books more and more these last couple of years and especially in the last six months. Of course, reading a book can’t actually solve our problems and eventually, we have to face them head-on, but we can use reading to help balance our emotions as we prepare to face the challenges of life. In other words, we can escape from reality for a little while so that when we face reality again it might not seem as daunting.

8. Journal. Sometimes writing your feelings out can help put some things in perspective for you. Writing about what you are anxious or depressed about in a private place, where no one else can see it, can help you organize your thoughts and feelings.

Images like this available at Lightstock.com

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, expressing yourself through writing can help control the symptoms of anxiety and depression by: 

  • Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns
  • Tracking any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them
  • Providing an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors

I once journaled all the time, almost every day, from junior high up until my son was about 5 or 6. After that, I journaled less and I did find myself struggling to organize my thoughts even more and prioritize what I was struggling with during a particular season. I haven’t been journaling lately, but I do have a journal app on my phone where I jot down a few thoughts here and there. In the past, all my journals were physical and I’m thinking about starting that again. 

There is something about sitting down with an actual pen and paper versus typing on a phone or computer that helps me to channel my thoughts better and get them out. Writing in a physical journal can also help eliminate distractions that a device or computer would bring. I suggest shutting off your phone or silencing it when you are writing in your journal. You don’t have to carve out a large amount of time to journal either. Even a few minutes a day can help organize your thoughts, or simply record the positives of your day. If you don’t feel comfortable writing your thoughts down, then try a gratitude journal, which is a place you can write down what you are grateful for. Focusing on what you are grateful for in your life can often make the negatives less prominent. 

Just a reminder: You don’t have to buy a fancy, leather-bound journal to write in. Any cheap notebook will do the job just as well.

9. Connect with nature. Taking some time out of your day to walk or visit nature can help slow things down. There are a variety of ways you can do this, even if you live in a more urban setting. Maybe you don’t have time to find a place to take a hike, but even a few minutes outside, taking a few deep breaths can help calm your nerves a little and maybe even lift your spirits. Some suggestions to connect with nature include:

  • Sit on your front porch and watch the squirrels climb the trees or the birds eat worms in your front yard. 
  • Taking a walk, jog, or hike
  • Search for leaves or different varieties of trees
  • Bird or animal watch
  • Getting out on the water through rafting, boating, or fishing
  • Collecting pretty rocks

10. Focus on your faith. Our faith can be a huge benefit to our emotional wellbeing, but only if we focus on it and not on all the rest of the stresses of the world. As a Christian, I know I feel so much worse when I don’t get into God’s word or listen to sermons that point to Christ. As I mentioned about a week ago, it’s so important to keep our focus on God, the ultimate author of our stories, no matter what our circumstances. Starting your day off with a verse, or a devotional can help you focus more on your hope in a power greater than the chaos swirling around you. If you are not a Christian but follow a faith, find something encouraging from that part of your life to help keep you grounded throughout the day. For me, that means not only reading the Bible or listening to a sermon on Sundays. Reading a portion of the Bible, a devotional, or listening to music throughout the day helps keep my focus on what is important in life — and that is not the craziness going on in our world today.

Images like this available at Lightstock.com

Bonus tips to combat depression and anxiety:

  • Practice meditation and deep breathing
  • Participate in low impact exercise
  • Help out your neighbors
  • Talk to a friend, or reconnect with one you haven’t talked to in a long time
  • Invite an elderly neighbor to dinner (if you and they are comfortable with that)
  • Adopt a nursing home and send cards or other needed items to them
  • Walk your pets
  • Write your memoirs for your family
  • Adopt a rescue animal
  • Take a long, warm, bubble bath
  • Practice Yoga
  • Make Christmas presents
  • Learn crafts
  • Follow some new bloggers (Hahaha!)

So, these are some of my “off-the-top-of-the-head” tips to help combat depression and anxiety in the age of COVID and toxic politics. I’d love to hear some of your ideas becauses I can always use more for myself. Please leave them in the comments so we can help each other through a challenging mental health season.

Sunday Bookends is my week in review, so to speak. It’s where I share what I’ve been up to, what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been watching, what I’ve been listening to, and what I’ve been writing. Feel free to share a link or comment about your week in the comments.

What I’m Reading

I finished two books this week and there isn’t even a full moon. It’s some kind of miracle.

I finished Silas Marner early in the week and really enjoyed it (after making fun of it a few weeks ago). The book has romance, intrique, and a sweet storyline of redemption and forgiveness. For those who have never read it, here is a description:

In this heartwarming classic by George Eliot, a gentle linen weaver named Silas Marner is wrongly accused of a heinous theft actually committed by his best friend. Exiling himself to the rustic village of Raveloe, he becomes a lonely recluse. Ultimately, Marner finds redemption and spiritual rebirth through his unselfish love for an abandoned child who mysteriously appears one day in his isolated cottage.

My son and I will be watching the movie with Sir Ben Kingsley next week.

I also finished Expired Refuge, Last Chance County Book One by Lisa Phillips which was a Christian supense book without the heavy-handed Christian message. God is mentioned, yes. Forgiveness is talked about, yes. But it’s not all throughout the book and doesn’t distract from the action for those who aren’t interested in a Christian message. I had a hard time putting it down because of the non-stop action. I actually thought the action was a bit too non-stop at some points, but it was still a good, distracting read.

The book’s description:

She’ll never accept his help.

He’ll never stop trying to protect his town.

Mia Tathers is an ATF Special Agent. It’s not like she needs Conroy to protect her. However, when it becomes clear someone is recreating her biggest mistake, Mia has to face her own inability to forgive Conroy for what he took from her. It’s the only way she’ll stay alive.

In this town, Police Lieutenant Conroy Barnes is the one who fixes problems. When a blast from the past shows up, bringing danger with her, he vows to keep her safe. But the clock has expired on her refuge. Death is knocking, and Conroy is determined not to let it in.

This week I’m hoping to finish Charles Martin’s book The Dead Don’t Talk.

I also felt really bad about being so negative about Fannie Flagg’s book last week. I mean, what do I know? I’m no award winning author. And some people may prefer a story where it is just “told” to them instead of “shown.”

What I’m Watching

I’ve been watching Signed, Sealed, Delivered on the Hallmark app through Amazon.

There was only one season of the show, with ten episodes, and it was followed by eleven made for TV films.

Just a warning if you watch Episode 9 & 10 especially, get a box of tissues and settle in. I couldn’t handle episode 9 (warning, it deals with rape, but in a very different way and nothing is shown) and had to fast forward it. I cried like a baby through a good part of Episode 10.

What I’m Writing

I released Quarantined on Kindle last week. It is 99 cents until later this week.

I also shared a chapter of The Farmer’s Daughter for Friday Fiction.

What’s Been Occuring

Our weather suddenly warmed up this week, just to drop back down again by the weekend. We had temperatures in the 70s with high humidity and by Saturday we were wearing our winter coats. That’s Pennsylvania for you. Other than the weather, we really didn’t have anything too exciting happen this past week. I spent most of my days teaching the kids, walking up and down the street with my daughter and her little friend, and working on The Farmer’s Daughter (as well as finishing Silas Marner).

Photos of the week

I’m pushing through The Farmer’s Daughter, hoping to finish the first draft so I can gut it later. Ha. Seriously, I like the story, there are just some parts I want to change a bit. Sharing the chapters of my book on my blog helps motivate me to complete the books, knowing I can always change things later. If I had a bigger following than I do, I probably wouldn’t share a semi-first draft of my novels on my blog, but I like my small “following” and how you’re all supportive and give me ideas for future chapters, and even future books.

A reminder to my blog readers who read Quarantined, it is out on Kindle now. For this week only I am offering it for $.99 on Kindle to allow my blog readers time to download it at the lowest price. If you don’t have a Kindle but would like a copy, let me know, and we’ll figure out a format that works for you. If you miss the deal, don’t worry, the book will only be $1.99 in the Kindle store since it is less than 100 pages.

To catch up on the rest of The Farmer’s Daughter, find the link at the top of the page or click HERE. Or you can wait until February when I release it in Kindle on 2.21.21


Chapter 28

Alex stretched his legs in front of him under the table at Lenny’s Diner, leaned back in the chair and groaned softly.

Matt chuckled. “Doing okay over there, farm boy?”

Alex rubbed his shoulder. “I always forget how much work it is to get the farm ready for winter. My muscles have been screaming at me.”

Their friend Troy, sitting across from Alex, winked at him. “Sounds like you need a night out.”

Alex shrugged. “Nah. I’m good. I just need a hot shower and a good night of sleep.”

Matt was still in his police uniform and Alex couldn’t help but notice the appreciative glances cast in the officer’s direction from many of the women in the diner. As usual, Matt was oblivious. He had to return to work after this impromptu lunch Alex had invited him to.

Troy worked for the Tanner’s, helping with the additional farmland the company had added a few years ago and he’d rode to town with Alex to pick up a part for one of the tractors at the local hardware store.

“We haven’t seen you at the bars lately, Alex,” Troy said as the waitress brought the drinks. “What’s up with you?”

I’m growing up, Alex wanted to say.

“Just been enjoying some solitude,” he said instead, deciding not to add that he was actually enjoying that solitude with Molly when they could find time alone.

He found it uncanny that at the same moment he thought of Molly she appeared out front of the restaurant, talking to the librarian. What was the librarian’s name again? He thought Molly had said her name was Ginny. They’d been attending art classes together.

He started to smile as an idea struck him; a way to make his friends think he hadn’t lost his way with women, when he knew he had and didn’t mind at all.

“What do you boys think about Jason’s sister? She’s good looking, right?”

Matt raised an eyebrow. “Um. Yeah. She is, but you better not be noticing.”

Alex laughed, looking out the window at Molly. “Why?”

“Because Jason will kick your butt for checking out his little sister,” Matt answered with a tone that signaled he thought Alex had lost his mind.

Troy shrugged. “I don’t know, she’s a little too big for me. Nice girl though.”

Alex took a sip of his soda, still watching Molly talking with the librarian, and then smirked.

“She’s just right for me. I like a girl with some meat on her bones.” He winked at his friends. “More for me to hold on to.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Dude. You’re so going to end up with a bloody nose if Jason ever hears you talking like this.”

Troy laughed and punched Alex in the arm.

“Yeah, seriously, Stone you better watch it. Jason will kick your butt to next week if he hears you talking like that about her.”

Alex looked at Troy and Matt and rubbed his thumb and index finger along his unshaven chin. “I bet I can get her to go out with me”

Matt shook his head. “You’re too old for her. She doesn’t want to go out with an old man like you.”

Alex’s grin widened. “Hey, she’s only a few years younger than me. I bet you she will.” He stood up from the table. “I’ll be right back.”

“Dude! Don’t make an idiot out of yourself!” Troy called after him.

“More than you already are anyhow,” Matt added with a laugh.

Alex stepped into the sunlight on the sidewalk as Ginny climbed into her car.

“Thanks for letting an old lady share with you, Molly,” she said.

Molly laughed softly. “I’m so grateful you did and stop calling yourself old.”

When Ginny drove away Alex walked toward Molly, knowing he was in full view of Matt and Troy.

“Hey, beautiful,” he said softly, stepping behind her. “What was that all about?”

Molly turned and the smile she flashed him made his heart pound. He hadn’t expected his body to react so viscerally to being so close to her, not now, after he’d already told her how he felt, and she’d said she felt the same.

“Hey, yourself. You know Ginny, don’t you? She’s the librarian down at the Green Leaf Library. We were just chatting about – life, I guess you’d say.” She tipped her head slightly, still smiling “What are you doing in town?”

He jerked his head toward the diner front window. “Just having some lunch with the guys.”

Molly glanced throw the window and saw Troy and Matt watching and smiling, which made her wary.

“Uh huh. What are you boys up to?”

“I told them I was going to ask you out.” He stepped closer and laid a hand against her waist. “Want to help me have some fun with them?”

Molly’s cheeks flushed warm. She twisted her finger in her hair, as Alex stepped closer to her. He slid his other arm around her waist and pulled her closer.

“Out here? On the street? Where everyone can see?”

He moved his head closer to hers. “I doubt anyone will even notice the farm hand kissing the farmer’s daughter on a public street.”

Molly glanced around her at the cars and trucks on Main Street, people walking with their heads down, looking at their phones. She knew he was right. None of those people cared about two people they didn’t know sneaking a kiss on the sidewalk. She looked back at Alex, smiling as he leaned closer and caught her mouth with his.

She closed her eyes and the kiss lingered before he slowly pulled away.

“See you later,” he said softly, taking her hand in his.

Molly laughed softly, shaking her head. “I have no idea what is going on but, yes, I’ll see you later.”

Before she walked away, he pulled her back toward him and kissed her briefly again, then looped his thumbs through his belt loops and watched her walk to her truck across the street.

Matt and Troy were shaking their heads and laughing as he walked back to the table a few moments later.

Matt smirked, cocking an eyebrow as he sipped his soda.  “You’re already seeing her, aren’t you?”

Alex sat down, looking smug. “Maybe.”

“And Jason doesn’t know?” Troy asked.

“Not yet but her dad does,” Alex said. “He caught us a couple weeks ago. I figure he’s told Annie by now too.”

Both of Matt’s eyebrows were up now. “Caught you? Dude! Caught you doing what?!”

Alex raised his hands and shook his head. “Kissing. He caught us kissing in the barn. That’s all.”

“I don’t think Jason is going to like it,” Troy said shaking his head.

“Me neither,” Matt agreed. “He knows you too well.”

Alex shrugged. “He’ll be fine. I’m not who I used to be. He knows that.” He looked at the two men who were watching him with wide, unblinking eyes. “I’m changing. For Molly. She’s worth it.”

Matt grinned as he set his drink down on the table and looked over Alex’s shoulder. “Well, I hope you’re right about Jase, because here he comes now and he does not look happy.”

Alex turned in his seat to see Jason walking through the backdoor of the diner. He raised his hand to wave but paused mid-wave as he noticed Jason wasn’t actually walking. He was storming across the diner like a freight train. Combined with the fact he was as big as a freight train, Alex had a feeling this wasn’t going to end well.

He stood slowly. “Hey, Jase, you okay?”

“Am I okay?” Red flushed up into Jason’s face from his gigantic neck. “Why don’t you tell me what you’ve been doing behind my back with my little sister?”

Matt and Troy looked at each other.

Troy winced.

Matt grimaced.

“This is going to be better than the game,” Troy whispered nodding at the television screen behind the counter.

Matt nodded, his eyes fixated on the scene before him.

Alex’s eyebrows furrowed. “What do you mean what I’ve been doing with Molly?”

Jason towered over Alex, nostrils flared. “You know what I mean, Alex. Don’t play games. I was over at the gym just now and saw you kissing Molly.” He took another step toward Alex. “What are you doing messing around with my sister?”

Alex didn’t take his eyes off Jason’s, anger rising in him at the tone of Jason’s voice. “I’m not messing around with her, Jason. I’m in love with her.”

Troy raised his eyebrows at Matt and mouthed the words, “In love? Whoa!”

“She’s my baby sister,” Jason snapped. “You’re too old for her.”

Alex looked at Jason with an amused expression. “She’s a grown woman, bud, and I’m only four years older than her not ten or twenty.” He laughed and propped his hands on his hips. “It’s not exactly like I’m robbing the cradle.”

Jason’s jaw was so tight Alex expected his teeth to shatter at any moment. “She doesn’t need someone like you messing her head all up,” he hissed, practically nose to nose with Alex now.

“Someone like me?” Alex’s heart pounded in his ears. He wasn’t amused anymore. He folded his arms across his chest.  “What’s that supposed to mean? We hang out every night and you trust me to help run your family’s business but now I’m what? A piece of garbage? I’ve never done anything to hurt you or your family. Why would I start now? My past is in the past. You know that.”

Jason tipped his face toward the floor, opening and closing his hands, snorting through his nose like an angry bull before he moved his eyes back to Alex’s again. “This is my sister, Alex.” He riser his eyes again, pointing aggressively at his own chest. My sister. I don’t want you playing your games with my sister.”

Red spread from Alex’s cheeks to his ears. “You need to calm down, Jason. I’m not playing games with Molly. I already talked to your dad about this after he caught us in the barn the other night and he — ”

Jason grabbed Alex by the front of his shirt and yanked him forward, almost off his feet.

 More people had started watching. Matt and Troy stood up and stepped back from the table. This was indeed better than the game, but it was also getting dangerous. Matt wasn’t sure if he was going to be needed professionally or not.

“He caught you? Caught you doing what?” Jason growled at Alex.

Alex put his hands on Jason’s large fists, which were curled way too close to his throat, and tried to pull them away.

“He caught us kissing,” Alex growled. “That’s all I’ve done with Molly, Jason. That and fall in love with her.”

Jason let go of Alex’s shirt and shoved him back hard, sending him skidding across the hardwood floor on his back.  Alex winced and looked up to see Jason breathing hard, standing with his arms at his sides like a WWE wrestler about to grab his opponent and slam his head into the ground.

Even he looked surprised he’d pushed Alex. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I need some time to think,” he said softly before turning and walking toward the back door.

Pushing himself off the floor, Alex looked at everyone watching him, most of them smiling with amusement.

“Go watch your race,” he told them, smiling. “Nothing to see here.”

Matt patted him on the back as he sat down at the table.

“Well,” Matt said. “That went much better than I thought it was going to. You still have all your teeth.”

Troy nodded in agreement. “Yeah and your jaw isn’t broken. Yet. So, there’s that.”

 “Yet. Yeah.” Alex rubbed his jawline and laughed softly.  “Maybe I’ll sleep in my truck tonight instead of going home.”

The more Alex thought about it, though, the more Jason’s reaction ticked him off and by the time he’d finished his lunch and headed back to the farm with Troy his heart was racing in anticipation of the conversation he knew he was going to have to have with Jason.

He dropped Troy off back at the farm and head back to the house to try to cool down before he encountered Jason again.

When he saw Jason’s truck in the driveway he parked, but hesitated going in. He knew his blood was boiling and a conversation with his friend probably wouldn’t end well if he talked to him now. Then again, if he let the anger fester the conversation would be even worse.

He opened the front door and headed straight for Jason who was in the kitchen making a sandwich, knowing he might regret it in a few moments.

“What was that all about earlier?”

Jason kept making the sandwich, ignoring him. Alex knew he heard him though. Red was spreading up his neck to his face and he was working the muscles in his jaw as he clenched and unclenched it.

After a few moments he turned to face Alex, leaning back against the counter and crossing one leg over the other, and pressing his palm against the counter. “So, tell me, Alex, are you making Molly another one of your conquests?”

“No, Jason, I’m not. I don’t want to be like that anymore. You know that. I told you that after that night with that girl from the bar.”

“Jessie.”

“Yeah. Jessie.”

“She has a name, Alex. Her name is Jessie. She’s not just that girl from the bar and Molly isn’t just that girl in the barn. Get it? She’s my sister. She’s a real person with real feelings and I don’t want you toying with her and wandering off when something better comes along.”

Alex seethed with anger. “That’s not what this is about, Jason. Don’t you get it? Molly isn’t just some one-night stand for me. She’s different.”

Jason folded his arms across his chest and tipped his head slightly to one side. “Some one-night stand? What have you been doing with my little sister, Alex?”

“Jason, I already told you – nothing. I mean, something but not that. I’ve only kissed her, I swear to you. I wouldn’t do that. I don’t see Molly that way. Well, I mean, I see her that way but I —”

Jason took a step forward, unfolding his arms. “You better get your tongue untied, Alex and tell me what you mean.”

Alex slid his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. “I want something different with Molly. I feel something deeper for Molly. Deeper than a physical connection. I love her personality and talking to her and just being with her, as much as I like,” Alex dropped his gaze from Jason’s and kicked at the kitchen floor with the tip of his boot, his hands in his pockets. “As much as I like looking at her.” He looked up at Jason again. “Jason, I love Molly. I’ve loved her for a long time and I’ve never made a move on her, tried to seduce her, whatever you want to call it. Don’t you think if I thought of her as just some conquest I would have made a move before now? I cracked about three months ago. She was running herself down and . . .”

Alex tossed his arms out to his side and cursed. “Jason, I had to show her she was worth more than she thought, that she was worth something to me, that I love her the way she is and wanted her the way a man wants a woman no matter what she thinks of herself. I wanted her to know that what I see isn’t what she sees.”

A deep scowl clouded Jason’s expression as he took another step toward Alex, his arms still folded tight across his chest. “So, you showed her in what way?”

“I kissed her, Jason,” Alex snapped. “I already told you. For God sake, do I have to keep going into detail about this? Some things are allowed to be private between a man and a woman, even if the woman is your sister. All you need to know is that I did not ‘deflower’ your sister.”

Jason tipped his head down, a smile crossing his lips reducing the anger he’d been feeling. He looked up at Alex again, trying not to laugh. “Dude. Did you just use the word ‘deflower’?”

Alex laughed softly, glad for even a small break in the tension. “Yeah. So?”

Jason laughed out loud and playfully punched Alex in the arm. “I’m just about to believe you on all this. I think my sister has screwed you all up in your head. You’re definitely not the Alex I’m used to.”

Alex rubbed his arm, wishing Jason had pulled the punch a little more.

“Yeah, and maybe that’s a good thing,” he said, his smile fading into a more serious expression.

Jason nodded. “Yeah. Maybe it is.”

Alex rubbed the back of his neck, stepped back, and leaned against the door frame. “Give me a chance, okay, Jason? Give me a chance to prove I’m changing.”

Jason shook his head, turning back to his sandwich on the counter and taking a bite. “I want to, Alex. I do. It just makes me nervous knowing my sister is involved and that if you fall back into your old ways, she’s the one who is going to get hurt.”

“I understand,” Alex said. “But I can tell you, I’m doing all I can to make sure she doesn’t get hurt.” He shrugged and stepped forward from the doorway. “Help keep me in line, if you’re worried. Help me be a better man. For Molly.”

Jason remained quiet for a few moments, eating his sandwich without looking up. He wanted to be there for his friend, and he wanted to protect his sister at the same time. He only hoped he could do both. He shoved the last bite of sandwich in his mouth, wiped his hands on his pants, and then held out his hand toward Alex. When Alex took it he pulled him in close for a hug.

“I’ll do the best I can, buddy.”

Alex clapped Jason on the back. “Thanks, Jase.” He pulled out of the hug. “Listen, though, let’s get one thing clear. I like hugging your sister way more than I like hugging you.”

Jason laughed and shoved Alex gently back.

“Whatever, dork.” He leaned back against the counter. “Hey, you know I’m not perfect either. I made my share of mistakes in college. You’ve never ragged on me about them, or told anyone, and I want you to know I really appreciate that.”

Alex nodded. “No problem, bud. None of that was my story to tell. I’ve always known it was up to you to tell the people in your life about your life back then. And I’ve always known that even if you do tell them, they’ll still love you, just like I do.”

Jason drank the last of the water in his glass and set in in the sink. “Yeah, maybe. I don’t know about that.”

He turned back toward Alex. “Listen, just because I’m agreeing to try to help you become a better person,” He stepped toward his friend, pointed at him as he narrowed his eyes. “doesn’t mean I still won’t kick your butt if you hurt, Molly. Got it?”

Alex nodded. “Got it.” He let out a long breath. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

***

“So, this is exciting.” Molly slid in the seat across from Liz at Pam’s Diner, which wasn’t owned by, or even employed, a Pam. “Us. Out. Together. Alone. Without a tracker in your neck from your parents, I hope.”

Liz laughed. “Yeah. I know. Honestly, I think they were afraid to let me out of their sight, but when you actually showed up to pick me up, they knew I wasn’t lying about us going out together.”

Molly was glad Liz and her parents had finally talked and that Liz was staying with them while she decided her next step.

“So, you guys talked?”

Liz nodded.

“What did they say?”

Liz sighed. “That they love me. That they’re sorry they had no idea what was going on. They’re blaming themselves. I honestly didn’t expect that.” She twirled her straw in her ice water. “I don’t know, maybe I’ve been too hard on my parents all these years. My mom literally sobbed and said she felt like the worst mother ever. She hugged me and promised to pay more attention, begged me to never try that again.”

“What did they say about the baby?”

“Surprisingly, they didn’t lecture me. They didn’t point out my mistakes.” Liz turned her head toward the window, tears glistening in her eyes. She swallowed hard and shook her head slightly. “They told me they loved me and that that my mistakes don’t define me.”

She looked back at Molly and swiped at a tear that escaped the corner of her eye. “They’re really happy about becoming grandparents and told me they will help however they can.”

Molly smiled and squeezed her friend’s hand. “That’s awesome news. How are you feeling about it all, though?”

Liz let out a shaky breath. “I’m terrified. Most women would be excited, but I don’t feel excited at all. I just feel absolute terror at the idea of being a mother.”

 The waitress set down their drinks and Liz took a long drink from hers.

“I’m not ready for this, Molly. Not at all. I’m not mature enough. I mean, I know I’m closing in on 30 but my head is in the clouds half the time and I obviously don’t  know how to cope with my toxic thoughts or feelings. How can I raise a child? I’m going to give birth to an irresponsible, insecure, emotionally unstable hypochondriac.”

Molly laughed softly, but then shook her head. “Liz, you may be jumping the gun a bit on deciding who your child is going to be. You’re also selling yourself short. That’s not who you are. You’re strong. You’re smart. You’re loving. But the truth is, you can’t do it alone. You’re going to need to ask God to help you.”

More tears filled Liz’s eyes and she nodded. “I know. I’m just too embarrassed to talk to God right now.”

Their conversation paused as their food was placed in front of them.

“Do you think God doesn’t know your heart?” Molly asked as the waitress left. “He knows your shame and he’s already covered that with the sacrifice of his son. Remember?”

Liz looked out the window, wiping her eyes again. “I’m trying to remember that, yes. I’m just going to need a little longer, I think.”

She sniffed and blew her nose on a napkin. “Matt showed up at the hospital. A couple days after I was admitted.”

“I’m sorry? What?” Molly’s eyes widened. “That’s a huge development. What happened?

“He heard about my overdose from his co-worker who showed up with the ambulance. I was so out of it I don’t even remember a cop being there. Matt said the guy knew we’d gone out a couple times and thought Matt already knew. He had asked Matt if I was okay.”

“Oh. Wow.”

“Yeah. So, that was awkward.”

“So, what did you say to him?”

Liz took a bite of her burger. “I thanked him for checking on me and just told him my life was pretty messed up right now so I didn’t think I could keep going out with him.”

“And he said?”

Liz laughed. “Molly, now you sound like me with you and Alex, which reminds me — how is all that going?”

Molly held up a hand. “Tell me about Matt first and then I’ll tell you.”

Sighing, Liz wrinkled her nose at the memory of her conversation with Matt. “He told me if I ever needed anything to call him but that he understood. And, no, I did not tell him I am pregnant.” She sipped from her soda. “Now, tell me about you and Alex. How are things going? Still exchanging kisses behind the hay bales?”

Molly swirled a fry around her plate. “Um.. . yeah, you could say that. Dad walked in on us one night last week.”

Liz raised an eyebrow, her burger part way to her mouth. “He walked in on you? One night?” She set the burger down on the plate. “Explain. Now.”

“We were kissing,” Molly said with a laugh. “That’s all. It was a truly amazing kiss, though.”

Liz stared with wide eyes, her chin propped on her hands. “What did your dad say?”

“Honestly? He acted like I was 15 instead of an adult.” She scoffed as she picked at the bun on her chicken sandwich. “He was all flustered and saying things like ‘how long has this been going on?’ It was like I was caught kissing a Capulet.”

Liz blinked in confusion. Molly rolled her eyes. She tried to think of a more modern example that Liz might understand.

“It was like I was dating someone from a rival clique on a CW show.”

Liz nodded. “Oh. I see.” She started eating again. “Yeah. Your dad really does need to realize you’re an adult now. You know what would help drive that home for him?”

Molly smirked. “Eloping with an older man?”

Liz leaned slightly over the table toward Molly. “Are you planning to do that?”

“No!”

Liz held her hands up in front of her. “Okay, okay. So instead, I think you should move in with me like we talked about. You know I can use the support and well, you can use it as a way to push yourself out of the nest already.”

As Molly opened her mouth to answer Jessie Landry and Maggie Baker appeared as if out of nowhere at the end of the table. Molly had Liz had graduated from high school with Hannah. Jessie was a couple of years older, but Molly knew of her and, more importantly, her dating habits.

 “Hey, girls,” Maggie said with a friendly head tilt. “Do you mind if we join you? All the other tables are full.”

Maggie had always been polite enough, Molly thought, but she was a horrible judge of character, hence her hanging out with Jessie.

The pair shoved their way into the booth — Maggie next to Molly, Jessie next to Liz — without waiting for an answer.

Molly and Liz shot each other surprised looks.

“Thanks, girls, we appreciate it,” Jessie said reaching over to Liz’s plate and snatching a French fry. She turned her attention to Molly, plastering a broad, fake smile on her face. “Oh my gosh, Molly, I haven’t seen you in forever. How are you?”

Molly’s muscles tensed. “Good.”

Jessie’s eyes slid down from Molly’s eyes to her chest and back. “You look . . . well, great. Have you lost weight?”

Maggie smiled apologetically and spoke before Molly could answer. “Sorry we busted in on your private conversation, ladies. We were just starving. We’ve been at the gym.”

Molly shrugged. “It’s fine.”

 She slid her gaze over to Jessie busy eating Liz’s fries.

Jessie and Maggie placed their orders when the waitress came back to refill Liz and Molly’s drinks. When the waitress left Jessie turned her attention to Liz.

“Liz, where have you been? I haven’t seen you at Woody’s in weeks.”

Liz shifted uncomfortably and sipped her soda. “Been busy at work.”

Jessie smirked. “Oh. Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

Liz scowled. “Excuse me?”

“Never mind,” Jessie said with a small laugh, looking at Molly. “Hey, Molly, doesn’t that sexy Alex Stone work at your family’s farm?”

Liz raised an eyebrow at Molly who cleared her throat. “Yes. He does.”

Jessie’s smirk seemed permanently plastered to her face and Maggie was shaking her head and smiling.

Jessie leaned back, stretching an arm along the back of the booth behind Liz. “It must be fun looking at him all day. He’s hot.”

Molly eyed Jessie suspiciously. “Yeah. I guess so.”

Liz caught Molly’s eye and jerked her head toward the front door. “Let’s go,” she mouthed.

“Wasn’t he the guy you went home with a few weeks ago?” Maggie asked Jessie.

Jessie pushed the tip of finger in her mouth to suck off the salt from the fries. Light bounced off her calve-high silver boots as she crossed one long leg over the other. “Uh-huh.”

“So?” Maggie watched her expectedly. “Is he a good kisser or what?”

The smile on Jessie’s face was what Molly could only describe as a smug leer. “Well, I don’t like to kiss and tell, but…” The giggle that escaped Jessie grated on Molly’s nerves. “Let’s just say that lifting hay bales isn’t the only thing Alex Stone is good for.”

The waitress set Maggie and Jessie’s food down in front of them.

“Come on, Jess, spill the beans,” Maggie said. “It was more than kissing, wasn’t it?”

Jessie winked, stabbing a fork into her salad. “It was definitely a night to remember.”

Liz shot Molly a look that spoke volumes. She knew that Liz was sending her a warning message to stay calm.

“Stay calm,” was almost exactly what Liz said when they were outside, walking toward Molly’s car after Liz had skillfully changed the subject from Alex, telling Maggie and Jessie she had to get back to work.

“Promise me you’ll talk to him, Molly.”

Molly let out a long breath and tilted her head back to look at the sky, blinking back tears.

“Molly, look at me.”

She looked at Liz. The tears were threatening to spill over.

“Talk to him,” Liz urged. “Don’t take Jessie’s word for it. You know what kind of person she is. You know she’s a liar and she’s, well, I hate to say it, but she’s a . . . ahem . . .very loose woman.”

Jessie’s “loose” reputation is what worried Molly the most, considering Alex had once had a somewhat similar reputation when Jason had first brought him to the farm.

She rubbed a finger across a tear that had escaped from the corner of her eye. “That’s the nice way to say it, I guess.”

“Molly.” Liz placed a hand on Molly’s shoulders. “Promise me. Talk to Alex.”

Molly nodded slowly, taking a deep breath. She closed her eyes and willed the tears away. “I will. Later. For now, let’s go grab some ice cream before I drive you back to jail. I mean, your parents.”

Liz looped her arm through Molly’s. “Actually, you’re going to drop me off at the store. Linda wants to talk to me about what shifts I can work. I’ll walk back to my parents.”

“Liz —”

“Molly, I’ll be fine. Really. I’ve got to get back on my feet sometime and you can’t babysit me forever, okay? I want you to go back to the farm and talk to Alex. Straighten this out before it gets out of hand.”

Molly nodded, but as she walked back to her car, the idea of ice cream abandoned, her stomach ached and emotion clutched at her throat. Alex had told her only a week ago that he loved her and wanted to take things slow. Was he lying? Was she another notch in his bedpost like her grandmother had said? Or was there another reason he had said he wanted to take things slow? Maybe she wasn’t as attractive to him as Jessie Landry was to him.

Then there was that whole thing outside of the diner. Maybe kissing her had been a bet he’d wanted to win. She remembered the kiss on the overlook and shook her head. That kiss had been too amazing to be faked. And the way he’d looked at her? The words he said? She’d gotten to known Alex really well in five years and she knew when was lying. There was no way he had been lying.

“Molly, this is stupid,” she said out loud, pounding the steering wheel. “Jessie Landry is a liar. You know that.” She rubbed her fingers across her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “You are not in the middle of a romance novel where the man finally tells the woman he loves her and then the woman finds out a secret and they break up. This is real life. I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this.” She sighed and turned the key in the ignition. “Now, stop talking to yourself like a crazy person and go talk to Alex.”

By the time she reached the farm, though, her internal dialogue had swung back and forth between trusting Alex and believing Jessie so many times she couldn’t even think straight.

She pushed the truck into park and turned the engine off, staring at the open barn door, chewing on her lower lip, her stomach still aching. She was grateful she had work to do in the barn for the rest of the day and could use it as an excuse to not talk to Alex. She knew she couldn’t avoid him forever, but she needed to for now because she didn’t want to confront him with her emotions as raw as they were at this moment.

Welcome to my weekly Randomly Thinking post where I share random thoughts that pop into my head throughout the week. Enter at your own risk.

  • Sometimes I get up in the morning and I straight up drink out of the maple syrup bottle like I’m kicking back some whiskey (which I don’t drink). I’m not going to apologize for that. It makes me feel very Canadian. And fat. It makes me feel fat. But I’m okay with that. It’s worth it for the taste of maple syrup.

I’m having the worst run of luck with books and movies lately. They start out well but crash and burn either in the middle or right at the end, making me feel like I’ve wasted my time. It’s made me a little gun shy to try anything new, but if I don’t try new books and movies, I could miss out on a good one. It’s a catch 22.


  • I’m watching a show about the dead letter office in the post office. Part of the time the letters can’t be delivered because the address of the addressee is smudged and sometimes it is because the post office messed it up. It’s odd to see a show admit that the post office can mess things up in a day and age where we are being told the post office could never lose anything. Ahem. Moving on…One of the biggest things that bothers me about the show is how they essentially ruin lives and shrug it off for the most part. Sometimes they have guilt and I understand they are trying to get the letters or packages back to the owners to make up for the errors but in the last one I watched, a man’s son died and he never even had a chance to talk to him because the post office lost a letter his son sent to him. Had he got the letter, he could have seen his son before he died. I still like the show, however. That’s my only complaint and concern, which I can overlook for the sake of the story, but less so if it was real life.

  • As a woman who is getting older, I recognize when I have a “hormone shift” by how fast I cry over things other people probably wouldn’t cry over. My cycle is irregular these days, thanks to getting older, so the calendar isn’t always a good judge of when “Aunt Flow” is coming. What is a good judge is if I cry when my husband says things like “This year will probably be his (our son’s) last year to go trick-or-treating. He’s a teenager now.” Without warning I ended up sobbing while trying to peel and apple for our daughter. Good grief.

  • My husband is pretty sure the area deer are out to get him after he hit that doe with his car last week. We don’t know if the deer made it or not. My husband said she hit the front of the car, rolled up onto the windshield and the roof, and kept going. Somehow the roof wasn’t damaged. He had to drive our van to an assignment later that week and on the way back he looked to his right at an intersection (a middle-of-the-nowhere intersection) and saw a group of doe just watching him. Last night he was on his way back from the store and our neighborhood deer (these are the does who walk through our backyard a couple times a week) were standing in the street, one of them just watching him as he paused to let her cross. Another one had darted out in front of him on the way home earlier in the day, after he got his car back (with the new windshield). He’s definitely feeling like he is in the crosshairs of the local deer. He said it made him feel like this clip. (I do not condone the language in the clip, or the show itself, of course. I’m sure anyone whose been reading this blog knows Family Guy is not my type of show, but if it is yours, that’s okay.).

  • I use a certain season salt from Redmond Sea Salts that I just love but a couple of months ago I couldn’t buy it on Amazon anymore. It felt like the toilet paper crisis all over again. I even went to their site. The salt was out of stock there. I couldn’t imagine there had been a rush on salt during lockdown but since people are cooking more at home, maybe there had been. Anyhow, last week the company had the salt in again so I ordered a couple of canisters to make sure I can have it for awhile. Now that that issue has been resolved we have to figure out why we can’t find paper plates anywhere anymore. I told my husband to load up on the toilet paper just in case. By the way, I am purposely not telling you which season salt it is. I want to be sure I can get it when I want it again. *wink*

  • All the leaves are almost off all of our trees and I don’t like it. I don’t like naked trees. I prefer they put their clothes on. That’s right. I’m that big of a prude. Plus I know it means snow is right around the corner.

  • Is the actor on Murdock Mysteries wearing eyeliner? I believe he is.

  • When Erin at Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs mentiond she was watching Sherlock, it reminded that I think Benedict Cumberbatch is the best television Sherlock. The best television movie series (from the 1980s) Sherlock is Jeremy Brett. Both portrayals of him explored his darker side and his opium addiction and were acted by superb, high quality actors.

  • Due to a variety of factors, my family and I haven’t been in a real church in a pretty long time. My son’s impression of the service we attended a couple of weeks ago went like this: “First you had the guy who kept repeating himself to get the service to last until noon (he didn’t), then you had you and Grandma doing a drug deal with her trying to give you money (it was for a book that a member of the church had bought), and you trying to give me whatever snakeoil you had in your purse (it was essential oil and I was trying to help him wake up by sniffing it.).”

These are my random thoughts for the week. What are some of your random thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

This post by Heather Dawn on Every Small Voice? Wow. Nail on head. Fear is driving so many to forget their humanity. Please click over and read her thoughtful post today.

Never have I experienced hate from a complete stranger like I did yesterday. Let me explain: I was on a field trip with my two homeschooling children. We did all the right things: kept our distance from people, wore our masks, and respected the rules. While walking from room to room, sometimes we had to […]

That Which Defiles —

Sunday Bookends is my week in review, so to speak. It’s where I share what I’ve been up to, what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been watching, what I’ve been listening to, and what I’ve been writing. Feel free to share a link or comment about your week in the comments.

What Has Been Occurring

Tuesday morning I woke about the time my husband was leaving for work and sent him a text instead of leaving my warm bed, to tell him I loved him and to have a good day. When I closed my eyes to try to go back to sleep (but never did), I thought about the winding road he drives on to get to work and how it’s made even more dangerous by the threat of deer running out in front of cars and large water trucks taking up more than half of the already narrow road. I prayed for his safety and dozed for a few more moments before starting my day.

Little Miss and I took Zooma the Wonderdog to a local groomers so at the end of the day, when Hubby pulled into the driveway, I let the dog out so he could see her new “do”. The kitten snuck out at the same time and I was chasing her when I noticed my husband was looking very annoyed at the front of his car, taking photos of it with his phone. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. When I saw the smashed in windshield I hugged him and told him I was glad he was alive. More than one fatal accident in our area has been caused by a deer going all the way through a front windshield so the fact he was still standing meant more to me than having to figure out how to pay to fix the damage. The deer hit the left fender, rolled up over the windshield and the top of the car and my husband thinks it kept going. All he knows is that he didn’t see if after that.

Our insurance claimed we had some huge deductible so they won’t cover any of the repairs. Par for the course in our life. We will deal with the repair somehow. I’m just glad we didn’t have hospital expenses or a funeral on top of the car damage.

Other than that, our week was fairly routine and very boring. It was so boring I didn’t even pick up my camera this week so the only photos you’ll have for this week are from the smashed windshield. I would share with you the photos of how awful our dog looks after going to the groomers but one, she looks awful, (little tiny head and huge body because it was the like the groomer only half did the job), and two, I haven’t been able to get her to sit still long enough to get it. My pups long hair I love was pretty much butchered and we’ve decided we will do her grooming from now on.

What I’m Reading

I read a Fannie Flagg book last week and to say I was underwhelmed is an understatement. I was totally shocked at how the entire book “told” a story but never “showed” anything. There were no character descriptions and the dialogue was like I was reading Fannie’s outline for the book. It was like reading a tenth grade book report instead of an actual book. It was just the oddest thing because she’s a New York Times best seller and I couldn’t figure out how based on this book. The story was good, but the telling of it was…well, just a “telling.”

The book was The All-Girls Filling Station Last Reunion. The premise was truly interesting, but the way she just stated the story instead of showing us what happened was so strange. I think maybe she sent her outline for the novel and the publisher accidentally published it and was too embarassed to admit their mistake and retract it.

Listen, I’m not the best writer either but this read like a teenager telling a blow-by-blow telling of their day. In fact, most teenagers could have added more feeling and description to this novel than Fannie did.. Fannie Flagg, as sweet as she seems in real life, should have hired someone to add descriptions and inflections to her novel to make the reader really feel like they were there instead of feel like tey were being presented an oral pesenation on how paint dries.

So, the bottom line? I agreed with this Amazon review: “Although the story was good, the writing was amateur, which is surprising. Fannie Flagg has been one of my favorite writers, but this book was a complete let down. In good writing, the reader gets lost in the story, with no sense of the fact that he or she is in a fictional world. As I read this novel, I was aware at all times of the writing. The character development was often trite and under developed. There was far too much telling of the story–and not nearly enough showing. The story had potential, and with more development, could have been fabulous. Unfortunately, it just fell short.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never try Fannie Flagg again, of course. She’s a good storyteller (She wrote the book that the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was based on) and maybe this book was just a fluke.

I’m still reading Silas Marner and guess what? Once I got over Elliot’s tendency to “over describe” (I know, first I complain about an author that never describes and then I complain about one that describes too much. I’m never happy), and the older language (the book was written in 1861), I got caught up in the story and have been enjoying it. Unfortunately, because the language is a little more of a challenge than the other books I’ve been reading, I can’t read it late at night or I fall asleep. I feel bad I complained about it last week, and the week before, as if I was suffering through reading it. The story really is interesting. There is something for everyone in this one — romance (of sorts), a sweet story about an outcast who wants to adopt a little girl, a traitourous brother, a family scandal and family secrets.

The Boy and I are reading this as part of his Economics/English curriculum (from Notgrass) and he has gotten so into the story he’s been reading ahead of what I assign to him, which is fine by me. I like to see him engaged in something other than Minecraft or Harry Potter (though I don’t mind either of them. I just like that he’s broadening his horizons.).

As if I don’t have enough to read I’m also finishing Charles Martin’s book, which I mentioned last week, and just started Expired Refuge (Last Chance County Book One) by Lisa Phillps.

What I’m Watching

My husband and I watched a couple more episodes of Shakespeare & Hathaway Season 3 on Britbox and last night we watched Death on the Nile, a Hercule Poirot movie from 2004 staring Emily Plunt and David Suchet (who is well known for playing Poirot from 1989 to 2013.). This version of Death on the Nile was a television movie. A remake is being released this year starring Gal Gadot and Kenneth Branagh. See it in a theater near — oh, never mind. See it on your TV later this year.

For those who don’t know, Shakespeare & Hathaway is a fairly light crime show about a private detective team. They became a team sort of by accident. The woman, Luella Shakespeare, came to PI Frank Hathaway, to find out if her fiance is cheating on her. After the investigation the two become a team as she goes into business with him. It’s a fairly formuliac show, but I still like it and the reporte between the two main characters. Sebastian, Frank’s assistant, makes the show even better.

I’m also watching some rather sappy Hallmark movies. I’d rather not talk about that, though.

What I’m Writing

I’m still working on The Farmer’s Daughter (even though I did not share a chapter on Friday, but instead lamented on how I’m hating the story right now) and on Tuesday Quarantined, the novella, will publish on Amazon. On the blog I published:

Faithfully Thinking: Keep Your Eyes Focused on Christ, Not on the Storm;

Randomly Thinking: Pets are Trying to Kill us and Are Cats Inherhently Evil? I Say Yes.

and I shared a guest blog post on Blessings by Me about ways to support your immunity.

As I mentioned above, I don’t have any Photos of the Week this week but will be sure to take some this week to share for next week.

How about you? What’s been happening in your life? What are you reading, watching, writing, listening to, etc.? Let me know in the comments.

As Christians, we are called to keep our eyes on Christ, but this can be such a hard thing to do when so many other things and people are vying for our attention.

No year has made this struggle more prominent than in 2020.

This year has been like a roller coaster ride gone out of control.

We can shut off all the news, block ourselves out of all the social media sites imaginable, but if you’re like me, you can still feel “it”  — the perpetual tension in the air.

Between coronavirus, politics, social issues, moral issues, poverty, personal financial struggles, and family relationships breaking down, many of our heads are spinning. We don’t know where to focus, or more importantly, who to focus on.

I’ve found myself focusing too much on politicians and media; people who can’t provide me the peace I’m seeking.

I heard two sermons this week that focused on putting our focus back on the one who can help calm the storms within us, even as chaos reigns around us.

When the world is raging around me, I find it hard to keep anxiety from raging within me as well.

Jesus has called us to let him settle the storm within us, but we can only do that if we realize that, ultimately, he is in total control of our world.

Does it look like God is in control right now?

I know there are days it doesn’t look this way to me, but that is because I am looking at earthly situations. I am looking at what is tangible and right in front of me and not at the battles within the hidden realms.

“Hidden realms?” you might ask yourself. “Has Lisa gone all Lord of the Rings on me?”

Well, yes, and no. J.R.R. Tolkein was a Christian and he knew that there is a world beyond our own – a world where demons and the Prince of this World battle against the heavenly hosts for our souls.

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. – Ephesians 6:12

The fact we are never completely in control of our own life is a hard concept for anyone to accept, Christian or not.

We can’t stop our car from slamming into a deer when there was no time to hit the brakes.

We can’t stop the hurricanes from destroying our lives, or cancer from taking our loved ones.

We can’t stop people from not liking us.

We can’t control what happens all around us on a daily basis.

What we can do is remind ourselves who is with us during the turbulent times.

The pastor at my parents’ church talked last week about the disciples being on a boat when a storm came up. Jesus wasn’t on the boat when the storm came, but walked to them from the shore, on the water. They thought he was a ghost.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus said simply “Come.”

He didn’t say “Oh, that’s not safe. Nah. Don’t do that. I mean, look at the storm raging around you. There is no way you are going to make it.”

He said, “Come.”

And he said “come” because he knew the power to keep Peter calm during the storm was in his control.

Peter did what Jesus said and began to walk on the water, on his way to Jesus’ outstretched hand, but then he looked around at the waves thrashing around him, the wind buffeting him — pushing and pulling at him — rain hitting him the face, and he panicked.

He lost sight of Christ and he began to sink.

How many times have we lost sight of Christ in our own lives and let the chaos of the world overwhelm us and drown out the Lord’s voice?

For me, it is so many times. So many times, it is embarrassing.

We can’t control the world raging around us.

We can’t control viruses.

We can’t control social unrest.

We can’t control elections or politicians (no matter how much we wish we could.).

What we can control is our trust in a God that is more powerful than our fear.

There was another time that a storm raged around the disciples and Jesus, but Jesus slept through it. The disciples were amazed, maybe even annoyed. “How can he sleep when the waves are battering this boat back and forth?” they might have said to each other.

Jesus wasn’t worried, though. He knew and still knows, who is in control.

As the pastor told us Sunday, “Jesus is saying to you, ‘I created you. I formed you. I redeemed you. I have called you by name. What wind? What waves? What are you afraid of? I will always be faithful to you.’”

The pastor also said, “Jesus is in the boat with us.”

What a comforting thought — that we are not in the storms of life alone. Jesus is with us even as the winds howl and the water rises around us.

The words “God is in control” is something we can say with joy in our hearts because that means we don’t have to worry anymore. We can give our fears over to him, walk away and let the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) ) settle over us.

We can close our eyes, take a deep breath, and remind ourselves that Jesus is in the boat with us.

He’s in the midst of the storm and he calms the storm within us.

“You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”
-Isaiah 26:3-4

I wanted to make sure I told any Kindle readers that my second book A New Beginning is free on Amazon right now (until Saturday, Oct. 17). I am including a small excerpt of the book here and you can read a longer one by clicking HERE.



Five years later I could still vividly remember the moment I broke Hank Hakes’ nose with my foot after he broke mine with his fist. I could still hear the sick crunch of bones under my heel and still clearly see in my mind his glazed eyes before they closed, and his face fell into a pool of blood on the carpet.

I knew if I didn’t remember how Hank had beat me and I had fought back, I might let my walls down, leaving my son and me vulnerable again. I wasn’t about to let that happen.

Maybe that’s why I felt so uncomfortable when my best friend Emmy Lambert said she couldn’t wait for me to meet her cousin J.T. from North Carolina. I didn’t like the idea that she might be trying to set me up.

The truth was, I had met J.T. Wainwright years before when we were both children, and the memory wasn’t one that overwhelmed me with an interest to meet him again. He’d been a scrawny kid with big ears, messy red-brown hair, and freckles all over his dirt-smudged nose. He had also been loud, obnoxious and downright rude. Imagining that in a 27-year-old man wasn’t making the meeting any more appealing for me.

Emmy insisted she wasn’t trying to set me up. “J.T. is moving up to work with daddy in his construction business and I thought it would be good to introduce him to some people up here.”

She’d invited my sister and brother-in-law and my parents. Perfect proof that she wasn’t trying to get me alone with him, she claimed.

I finally agreed to attend the dinner, hoping Emmy would change the subject.

She didn’t. Instead, Emmy tapped her finger against her chin, her eyes focused on the ceiling in a thoughtful expression. “But, if I was setting you up, J.T. would definitely be a good one to set you up with. He’s handsome, well-built, a former football player, and Southern, which is always a plus.”

I knew Emmy had added the Southern reference because she still considered herself Southern, even though her family had moved from North Carolina a little over a decade ago.

“Emmy, you know I’m not interested in dating.”

“I’m just saying. You know. In case you change your mind.”

“I can assure you, Emmy, I won’t.”

Emmy sighed. “Blanche, you have to get back on the dating horse someday.”

I cocked at eyebrow at her. “Do I really? Because Jackson and I are happy the way things are now.”

“But what if a man simply adds to your happiness? Not every man is like Hank, you know.”

It was a blessing not every man was like my first husband, but that didn’t mean I was interested in starting a relationship with another one and take that risk.

After I’d left Emmy at her father’s office, I’d walked back to my sewing shop down the street to meet my older sister Edith.

“Oh, Blanche! I just love the dress!”

Edith twirled in front of me, the dress I’d made for her swirling around her in a blur of dark red.

She slid her hands down the front, resting them on her hips and admired herself in the full-length mirror. “Do you think Jimmy will like it?”

I stuck the pin I had been holding between my lips into the pincushion next to the sewing table and stood, admiring the view of my older sister filling out the dress. I didn’t have to look at how it fit her to know her husband would love the dress she was wearing.

“He likes anything you wear, you know that. You could wear a garbage bag and he’d fall all over himself trying to get to you.”

Edith tipped her head back and laughed, dark curls spilling across her bare shoulders. “You think so? Even with all this extra weight I have on my hips?”

“I know so.”

Edith turned, admired herself in the mirror eyes traveling down below her waist.

“It doesn’t make my – “

“Your bottom is fine,” I said with a laugh. “But I can loosen the fabric a little in that area if you like.”

Edith wrinkled her nose and tipped her head to one side as she studied her reflection. “Nah, I think this is going to work fine for our anniversary dinner. More than fine. You’ve done such a beautiful job, Blanche. Thank you so much.”

Edith, who possessed curves in all the right places, had always been beautiful, but she never seemed to believe it. As a teen and young adult, she’d always needed some sort of reassurance of her beauty and worth. At one time in our lives that reassurance came from the attention of boys – lots of boys.

But six years ago, Edith began to see herself through the eyes of someone more important than the next boy in line – God. When she realized God loved her for who she was – faults and all – her opinion of herself shifted and she began to understand that she was loved – not for what she did or how she looked, but for who she was inside. Even with that realization Edith still had days she worried about her appearance. What was different now was that she worried exclusively about how one specific person saw her – her husband, and one-time high school sweetheart, Jimmy Sickler.

Jimmy ran a car repair business with his father and was someone I’d always wanted to see Edith marry but never thought I would. He was too sweet and polite for her during a phase of her life when only loud and adventurous would do. His looks, with soft brown hair and dark brown eyes, could have been described as more “choir boy” than “bad boy” and for a couple of years bad boys were on the top of Edith’s dating cue.

When Edith finally learned to see herself the way God saw her, she began to realize her worth wasn’t in how many boys loved her. She also realized Jimmy had been the one constant in her life, always there to comfort and support her even when she seemed to reject him.

I unfurled a roll of fabric, spreading it across the cutting table. “Allie Davenport wants a summer dress in this fabric, what do you think?”

Edith snorted, tipped her chin up slightly and looked at herself in the mirror, pulling the top of the dress slightly down to reveal her shoulders.

“I think Allie should worry more about the fact that everyone in town knows she’s running around behind Larry’s back with Jason Taylor than a summer dress.”

“Edith! That’s awful!”

Edith raised her eyebrows and propped a hand on her curvy hip.

“I know it’s awful. Larry proposed to her only a month ago – she’s going to break his heart.”

Edith had changed a lot since we were children, especially after she had started attending church more and even more so when she married Jimmy, but she still possessed a tendency to gossip and judge.

“God’s still working on me,” she liked to remind me.

I knew what she meant. God had been working on me in the last five years, but he still had a lot of work to do. There were many days I looked at myself in the mirror, measuring tape hanging around my neck, a pencil tucked behind my ear, and laughed at the irony of someone who had once hated sewing now working as a dressmaker. As a teenager, I couldn’t thread a needle, let alone create an entire fashionable outfit for the women in town or hem pants for the men. While I had once silently cursed the idea of attending sewing classes with my mom and sister, sewing now supported me and my 6-year old son Jackson.

“So, why do you think Emmy wants you to meet her cousin?” Edith asked, still admiring the dress in the mirror.

“She says she just wants him to know some people in town now that he’s moved up here to work with her dad, but she’s probably like everyone else who thinks Blanche needs a man to fix her.”

Edith frowned and pursed her lips together in a disapproving expression as she turned to face me. “Everyone? I’ve never said you need a man to fix you, so not ‘everyone’ says that.”

I sighed and folded the fabric for Allie’s dress, laying it on a shelf behind me. “Well, Mama and Daddy and Emmy then. Not you. Still, I don’t know why they all don’t understand that I like life the way it is right now. I’m content. Jackson is happy. We’re doing well.”

Edith folded her arms and leaned back against the sewing table, a smile tugging at her lips. “And you don’t have to let anyone in and risk being hurt again. Good plan.”

I playfully tossed a rolled-up piece of tissue paper at her. “Borrowing a saying from Emmy, ‘hush your mouth.’”

Edith laughed. “Well, it’s true and you know it is.”

We turned our heads at the sound of the front door opening and saw our father standing there, briefcase in hand, grinning as he saw Edith trying to reach to unzip the dress from behind.

“Well, you look nice, Edith,” he said. “Special occasion?”

Edith smirked and shook her head, tugging at the zipper. “Daddy…you know it’s Jimmy and my anniversary next week.”

“Oh? Is it? I must have forgotten.”

Edith playfully slapped her hand against Daddy’s shoulder as she walked past him toward the changing room. “Very funny, Daddy.”

Edith had only mentioned her upcoming anniversary several times a day for the last two weeks. We knew Daddy hadn’t forgotten.

Gray speckled Daddy’s sandy brown hair and small wrinkles marked the skin along his eyes. He took his suit coat off and started to loosen his tie.

“You ready to head home, kid?” he asked me. “Mama’s making fried chicken for dinner and I bet she’d love a break from that crazy kid of yours.”

I laughed, knowing my mama never called my son crazy and loved the days she spent with him; playing with him, cooking him lunch, and helping him prepare for Kindergarten, which he would start attending in a few months.

“I’m anxious to see him,” I said, gathering my measuring tape, scissors, and extra thread spools and shoving them in the top drawer of the sewing table. “But I doubt Mama wants a break from him.”

Daddy smiled. “I have to agree. She does love that boy.”

Edith stepped out of the dressing room in a button-up pink shirt and a flared light blue skirt, hooking her long, curly hair into a ponytail. “Speaking of being anxious to see someone, I’ve got a husband to head home to and cook up some dinner for.”

She hugged me quickly and kissed Daddy’s cheek. “Thanks again, Blanche. I’ll swing by next week to pick it up. I don’t want Jimmy to see it until that night.”

***

I’d spent the first year after my divorce floundering, trying to get my footing as a single mom at the age of 20. I stayed home with Mama, helping her cook and clean and care for Jackson, but rarely left home, even for church. Instead, I kept  myself emotionally locked up in the solitude of shame. Eventually, I took a part-time job at the library, began attending church again, and visiting the sewing circle meetings with Mama on Wednesday nights. I also started writing a column for the local newspaper.

I’d left the library job when Doris Thompson asked me if I’d be interested in helping her in the sewing shop. I agreed and a year later Doris semi-retired, working three days a week at first and then one day. Six months ago, she’d signed the business over to me and remained on as landlord only, collecting monthly rent from me.

“I have to stop and drop my column off to Stanley before we head out,” I called over my shoulder to Daddy.

Walking down the sidewalk, I slid a folded stack of papers out of my handbag.

Daddy grunted with disgust as he opened the driver’s side door. “I’ll wait for you in the car. I can only feign politeness for so long with that man.”

A faint smile pulled at my mouth as I remembered Daddy’s dinner rant a few months ago about editor Stanley Jasper’s editorial.

“What’s that fool even talking about, saying we should get involved in the Vietnam conflict?” Daddy slapped the folded newspaper onto the table. “There is no way we should be sending our boys over there. Who does that man think he is? Moves in here from the city and then acts like he knows it all. I have half a mind to go into that office and tell that editor what an ignoramus he is.”

And Daddy did go into the newspaper office, but he came out even angrier than when he’d gone in. Stanley had refused to budge and told Daddy if he had a problem with the editorials that ran in the paper, he was welcome to stop buying it.

Stanley’s name was off-limits in our house from then on. Daddy wasn’t thrilled with me submitting a column to the newspaper but said maybe my lifestyle column would help to offset the drivel Stanley wrote on the opinion page each Sunday.

The newspaper office buzzed with the noise of reporters on the phone, typewriter keys clicking, the press in the back running, and sports reporters commenting on the latest home run by Mickey Mantel.

Reporter Jerry Simms looked up from his typewriter, sliding a pencil behind his ear. He jerked his head toward Stanley’s office door on the other side of the office. “You know the drill. Hand it to Stanley so he knows it’s here.”

I found Stanley where I usually did when I came in to drop off my column; behind his desk in the middle of a cloud of cigar smoke, pounding out a story on the typewriter.

Stanley wasn’t originally from Dalton. He’d grown up in Philadelphia, a transplant, referred to by many in the county as a “flatlander,” a term used affectionately when people agreed with him and with a sneer when they disagreed with him.

Leaning back in a large, black leather chair, his feet propped on top of the desk, a sheet of paper in one hand, a cigar in the other, his black hair, streaked with gray, was disheveled as usual. Circles darkened the skin under his eyes, his jawline was unshaven, his clothes wrinkled, his shirt untucked.

He moved the paper to one side as I stepped inside the door and stuffed the cigar in the corner of his mouth.

“Good column last week, Blanche,” he said around the cigar. “I never thought I’d get so caught up in the story of a pregnant cat.” He shrugged and pulled the cigar from his mouth, holding it between his index finger and thumb. “It’s like I’ve told you before, small town people eat that stuff up.”

I was never sure if the comment about small-town people was a compliment, but I always chose to accept it as one since it was as close as Stanley was probably going to get about a column he saw as “soft news.” In journalism lingo, soft news was considered low priority and traditionally thought of as inferior to the harder news.

“Well, this week we have an update on the cat and her kittens,” I said. “I’m sure the small-town folk you speak of will love that too.”

The newspaper’s typesetter, Minnie Wilkes, sashayed her way into the office and snatched the column from the top of Stanley’s desk.

She turned and looked at me with bright green eyes and long, dark eyelashes, made even darker by heavy, black eyeliner and purple-blue eye shadow. “Hey, Blanche. I’m so glad to have your column to typeset. It’s way more interesting than the political stuff Stanley writes.”

Stanley rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Minnie. Your opinion is duly noted, though not asked for.”

Minnie winked at me on her way out of the office.

Stanley stuffed the cigar back in his mouth and moved the paper he was holding back in front of his face.

“Keep up the folksy stuff, Blanche. It sells papers. And that’s what we’re in the business of doing — selling papers.”

Outside the office, standing in the sunlight, I looked out at the town I’d gone to high school in and thought how strange it was to still be in the place I’d thought I’d left behind that day I’d left it as a teenager.

In front of me, the town square was postcard-worthy, a gazebo in the middle of it. Behind the square sat one of the oldest banks in the state, Community State Bank, and next to the bank the Dalton Theatre, built-in 1893 and only renovated twice since then. Down on the other end of the street, Bert’s Pharmacy was wedged between an antique shop and D’s Diner, and a few blocks over was Holden’s Supermarket. Across the street from the supermarket was the post office and two blocks away from the post office was the building where I’d spent many of my days after school, waiting for Daddy to finish at the office and drive us home – The Dalton Public Library.

I’d never felt like I’d fit in at school or in this town and that feeling was even more prominent after I’d returned with a baby and no husband. There were days I was sure the eyes of judgement were upon me when I walked around town, but the feeling was probably something I’d conjured up in my own mind. Since coming home, I had earned a General Education Diploma, started attending church again, began running my own business, writing for the local paper, and slowly working my way back into the community.

I still struggled with feeling out of place. I still kept my eyes downcast most of the time, but more and more I lifted my eyes and met kind expressions and nods of greeting. Eventually, I began to feel less like the outcast I’d always thought I was.

“So, Blanche. . .”

Anytime Daddy started a sentence with “So, Blanche. . .” I knew he was about to suggest something I needed to do or should have done.

I shut the passenger side door behind me, tossed my coat into the backseat and looked at him, bracing myself for whatever conversation we were about to have.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been thinking . . .”

A ‘So, Blanche’ and a ‘I’ve been thinking….’ in less than thirty seconds meant this was going to be an uncomfortable conversation.

“Yes?”

“I think I should teach you how to drive so you can have a little more freedom.”

I let my breath out in a heavy sigh. I wasn’t interested in learning how to drive, perfectly content with Mama or Daddy driving me where I needed to go. I was completely intimidated at the idea of learning how to push in a clutch and shift gears and everything else that went along with driving.

“You’re almost 25, Blanche,” Daddy continued. “You’ve been home five years now. I don’t mind driving you where you need to go, but I think it’s time you start, you know, spreading your wings a little bit, gaining some independence. I love having you and Jackson living with us, you know that, but someday, well, you will – or you could – you might – meet someone and . . .”

“Daddy . . .”

“Well, you might. I mean there are plenty of eligible, good men in this county and it is possible you will, you know . . . Ah. You might want to drive out and meet him somewhere or —”

“Daddy. . .”

I knew he and Mama were old school and felt Jackson needed both a father and a mother, but I wasn’t willing to marry someone just to fulfill my parents’ wish that I be a married mother instead of a single one.

It was hard for me to believe it had been five years since I had left Hank and returned home with a one-year-old on my hip and a heart full of hurt.

Hank had come looking for me a month later and Daddy was waiting for him with a shotgun.

Hank looked at the dirt a few feet in front of him in shock. “Y-you could have killed me, you crazy old man!”

“I could have, and I still can,” Daddy told him. “Now go before I have to.”

When the taillights faded into the darkness that night, I closed my eyes against the tears and wondered if Hank would try to come back again someday.

He never did.

His mama, Marion, told me one day when I took Jackson for our weekly visit that she’d received a letter from Hank a year after I’d left him, saying he planned to move out west. That was the last she’d heard from him. I knew it broke her heart that her oldest son never contacted her, but I could tell that seeing Jackson helped relieve the pain.

I’d seen Hank once before he left to go out West, but he hadn’t seen me, and I never told my family about it. I didn’t know if I ever would.

“I’ll think about the driving lessons,” I told Daddy.

Now, let’s change the subject, I prayed.

“Well, you know, that’s all I can ask,” Daddy said, clearing his throat, looking at the road in front of him. “I guess.”

I looked out at the road too, watching as the paved road faded to dirt, dust billowing around the car as Daddy turned down the road that would take us home. I closed my eyes, tired from the long day, but also fighting back thoughts and emotions I had tried to bury for five years.

I despised myself for letting Hank Hakes abuse me with his mouth and his hands for the three years I’d been married to him. For five years I had been consumed with an inability to forgive Hank or myself for all that had happened after I’d run away with him at the age of 17. Abusing me seemed to finally give him the power his abusive father had stripped from him during his childhood.

The night I left him, he’d shoved me against a table, dragged me by my hair and tried to stop me from leaving our apartment with our son by grabbing my leg and yanking me to the floor. I could remember it all like it had happened yesterday; how I’d reached behind my head and saw the blood on my hand, how he’d hissed at me: “Why couldn’t you have just done what you were told?” and then swung around and staggered into our room, toward our screaming baby. I remembered how he’d danced around the room in a drunken rage after I’d pushed him away from Jackson, laughing in my face.

“Oh, looky here,” Hank had said, leering at me. “Little ole’ Blanche finally got her voice.”

He laughed again, leaned close to my face and sneered.

“Whatcha’ going to do with it now you got it?”

When I fought back, kicking him in the face, knocking him out, leaving him in a pool of blood, I ran to my friend Miss Mazie’s house and never looked back.

More than fighting to forgive myself for leaving with Hank at 17, I couldn’t seem to find a way to forgive myself for the danger I’d put Jackson in by staying with Hank; how I’d caused Jackson to have a life without a father.

In that first year after I left, life unfolded around me like a movie I was a part of but had no say in. I came home to my parents, a father who had barely spoken to me in three years, and a mother who welcomed me with open arms but somehow blamed herself for my smashed nose and bruised face. I pushed the emotion of those years with Hank deep inside me and the darkness of it all lingered in the furthest caverns of my heart for two years, eventually leaving me in a state of emotional numbness.

Slowly I began to feel again – laugh again, trust again, hope again, at least when it came to my family and my future. I had no interest in a romantic relationship of any kind, though, and still didn’t. I wasn’t about to let anyone break down the walls I had built around my life and heart, walls to protect me, but more importantly Jackson. I had exposed my son to darkness and pain once before. I refused to do it again.