Boondock Ramblings

Sunday Bookends: I finished three books? Who am I?! And other non-important information

Welcome to my Sunday Bookends post where I talk about my previous week, including what I’m reading, watching, listening to, writing and doing.

What I’m Reading

I had to document this for prosperity’s sake, I finished three books last week: The Cat Who Knew A Cardinal, Journey to ChiYah, and the second book in the Rembrandt Stone series, No Unturned Stone by David James Warren. Three books? I can usually barely finish one! It’s a miracle! Anyhow . . .

I am trying to read the first three books in the Rembrandt Stone series because I am participating in a blog tour for the fourth book in August. I received an advanced reader’s copy of book four this past week and am excited to jump into it. First, though, I have to finish book three, Sticks and Stone, which I started Friday and am already halfway through. The books are written serially, coming out every three months or so, and are only about 50,000 words.

The series is written by two well-known Christian fiction writers, James L. Rubart and Susan May Warren, and Warren’s sons, David Warren, but it is not a Christian fiction book. This is a time-travel thriller series. The books are fairly clean but do have some language and descriptions that some more sensitive readers of CF would not be very happy with. I mean, one of my characters not my book said “hell” and two women almost fainted when they let me know they were offended. In these books there is talk of drinking, drug use, premarital sex, murder, sexual assault, alcoholism, and various other topics without anyone getting a good tongue lashing or the main character dropping to his knees in repentance. While there is “talk”, though, there are no graphic descriptions, so the books are still quite clean.

I reviewed Journey to ChiYah by Kimberly Russell earlier this week.

I have not reviewed any of the Rembrandt Stone books yet but will in August.

I never review The Cat Who books, since they are comfort reading to me, but this one was one of the better ones I have read over the years. There are 29 books in the series (people with OCD are tweaking right now, but the author died before the 30th book could be finished and bring the total of books to a more unified number) and I have read probably about 10 of them over the years. I have a long way to go to read them all, in other words.

With those books behind me, I am on to book three in the Rembrandt Stones series, as I mentioned above, and will probably start book four, Set in Stone later in the week.

Also, this week I have started The Rhise of Light by Max Sternberg, which is a fantasy novel, something I don’t normally read. Max is in a writing group I am in, however, and I’ve heard good things about it. I’ve started it and so far, I am hooked.

Little Miss and I are still on The Little House in the Big Woods.

The Boy is not reading a boon because, “it’s summer, Mom. Come on.”

What’s Been Occurring

Last week every day was filled with two little girls as I helped my neighbor watch her great-granddaughter who is a year older than Little Miss. In the afternoons I took the girls to a two-hour Bible camp called The Good News Camp at a local church. On the first day, my daughter was almost the only child, but I called my neighbor to see if her great-granddaughter had arrived yet. She had so I asked her little friend if she would like to attend as well.

For the rest of the week, two teenagers played with and taught the girls Bible lessons, driving a half an hour each way. They had another camp near us in the morning and I felt bad they had to spend their afternoon with only two children, but the girl told me that they hold a camp even if they only have one child. I tried to drum up more interest in the camp via my dad’s Facebook (he has more friends than me on there. Mainly because he used to be addicted to Facebook and sometimes still is but usually only in the winter) but no one took us up on it and the girls were the only two for the entire week.

They didn’t mind because the teenagers played games with them and were essentially their daily playmates each day.

Before and after camp, Little Miss’s little friend would come to the house and play. Neither of the girls are “bad.” They are simply very energetic and always coming up with new ideas of what to do. I love that they are coming up with new ideas of what to do but I would prefer that they ask me before they initiate activities that will result in paint being spread all over our hardwood floors or them possibly being bit by a snake. Yes, they are still looking for the many garter snakes living on our street and in our yard.

This week we have a break from camp, but not from little girls as the other little friend’s sister comes to stay and will probably be visiting throughout the week. She’s a little less adventurous than her older sister. She and Little Miss sit and play Barbies for hours. I might actually get some writing done. We will see. The week after this week, there is another Vacation Bible School event being held by four local churches in our community. I am going to try to take Little Miss to that as well so she has more interaction with children her own age.

What I’m Writing (Blog and Otherwise)

I’m finishing edits of Harvesting Hope this week. The book goes live on Amazon on August 12 and is available for preorder for blog readers for 99 cents. While I’m editing, I’m also working on book three. I’m not doing a lot of writing at this point, just brainstorming. I’m still trying to decide if the book will be only about Ginny Jefferies, the 53-year-old librarian, or also about Liz, Molly’s best friend. My mom and a friend of ours are helping me hammer out the plot and I was quite shocked how quickly they suggested I kill a character off. That probably won’t happen, but I appreciate their suggestions (or not).

This week on the blog I shared:

Hometown Views: Libraries (a new feature with Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs). Next week we are focusing on schools.

A little fiction on Thursday: Harvesting Hope Chapter 25

Fiction Friday: Harvesting Hope Chapter (I don’t know. I’ve lost count. Oh wait…I remember now) 26

Saturday Fiction: Harvesting Hope Chapter 27 and 28 (final chapters)

What I’m Watching

This week I continued watching Jonathan Creek, a British crime show,but wondered why. The show completely went off the rails in the fourth season. Not only was one of the main characters replaced, but the plot of the shows went downhill big time. Apparently, they hired new writers who had no idea what they were doing. It was also odd to hear an f-bomb being dropped in a show which had minimal swearing previously. That was a bit jarring. I will probably keep watching just to see how far in the gutter the show goesZ

The husband and I continued to watch Lovejoy, a British show about an antique dealer who always seems to get himself into trouble.

Later this week, we are planning to go see the 1951 movie The Maltese Falcon in a theater about an hour from us. The theater is showing old movies for a reduced ticket price as a promotion.

Last night my husband picked an episode of Miami Vice for us to watch, which was different for me since when I was a kid and it was actually on TV, I was not allowed to watch it. “All those half naked women!” my mom would say. Not only that but it came on very late on Fridays and I was supposed to be in bed.

My husband wanted to show me what I had been missing and let’s just say by my repeated utterances of “this is ridiculousness”, I don’t think I missed much. Not even the repeated scenes of Don Johnson with his shirt off did anything for me.

Favorite Blog Posts from the Week

I probably won’t remember to do this every week, but I do save my favorite blog posts on my phone app so I can share them later, in case I do remember to add this in my weekly round-up posts.

A Major Fault – Fuel for the Race

A Short Story on Perseverance For His Purpose

Flash Fiction – Micro 60 Prompts by PenWending

For the Love of Words on Hope, Hearts, and Heroes

What I’m Listening To

This song has been on repeat most of the week:

That’s my week in review. Let me know what you’re reading, watching, or doing in the comments.

Saturday Fiction: Harvesting Hope Chapter 27 and 28 (final chapters)

Just a reminder to blog readers who either didn’t follow along or missed some chapters, you can either go back and read them here for the next two weeks or you can preorder an ebook copy for $.99 HERE. The price will go up the week after the release date of August 12.

This is the final two chapters of the story. Both have been rewritten a couple of times but are still in the editing process.

Chapter 27

Ellie rolled on to her side and winced. She’d been in bed all day, had taken the painkillers for her ankle, and yet her muscles still ached. It was ridiculous to imagine they wouldn’t hurt, of course. What did she expect after a car accident, a two-mile hike in the dark woods, and a fall into a mineshaft? That she would feel like dancing?

She reached for her phone on the bedside table and scrolled through the text messages.

Lucy. Molly. A couple of ladies from church. Emily, the pastor’s wife. Even Brad. She’d ignored Brad’s, of course. She didn’t have the energy to deal with what had happened the night of the accident. He was apologetic, asking how she was, but she wasn’t sure she could let him off the hook so easily. It was clear he needed help and she wasn’t going to be that source of help. Maybe she should give him Pastor Joe’s number.

Another one from Molly. Sent an hour ago.

Liz was on her way to the hospital with Matt McGee. Huh. What was Liz doing with Matt McGee? She’d have to question Molly about that later.

At the top of her messages was one from Jason.

Thinking of you. Your mom updated me earlier. Hope to see you soon when you’ve rested. I love you.

She smiled as she read it again. I love you.

She hoped he’d feel the same when she told him she was even more of a hypocrite than he thought. She’d spent the last seven, almost eight months, angry at him for not telling her what had happened in college. All the while, she’d also had secrets, something about her he didn’t know.

Really, though, she didn’t even know if it was true.

She only knew what the doctor had said at her appointment almost two years ago. How it would be harder for her to have children and maybe even impossible. Her symptoms had been worse the last several months. To her that wasn’t a good sign. Not at all.

A soft knock on her old bedroom door drew her from her thoughts.

Judi looked around the door. “Can I come in?”

Ellie shifted to a sitting position, making room for her sister on the bed. Circles darkened the skin under Judi’s eyes. “Dinner was great. Where did you learn to cook like that?”

Judi laughed, shrugging a shoulder. “My roommate in the city is in culinary school. She gave me some tips. I overcooked the fish a little, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

Ellie rubbed her eyes and yawned. “I didn’t notice it was overcooked at all. It was seasoned perfectly too. If you stick around, I’ll have to have you make some dinners from now on.”

Judi visibly stiffened but still leaned back against the pillow beside Ellie. She’d pulled her hair into a pony tail and was wearing a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt, far removed from the flashier and more revealing outfits she’d been wearing since she arrived.

“Remember when we used to do this during thunderstorms?” she asked. “I’d crawl into bed with you, and you’d tell me everything was going to be okay and sing me that song —”

I Will Cast All My Cares Upon Him. I remember.”

Judi leaned her head against Ellie’s shoulder. It had been a long time since she’d shown anything close to affection to her family, especially Ellie.

Her voice broke when she spoke again. “I thought you were dead, Ellie.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I never should have left the scene. It was so stupid.”

 “I shouldn’t have said all those horrible things to you. I know you don’t mean to be so perfect all the time.”

Ellie laughed softly. “Judi, I’m not perfect. You know that. I screw up all the time. I just don’t talk about it because — I guess because I don’t want anyone to know.”

Judi nodded against her shoulder, and they fell into a comfortable silence. The clinking of dishes downstairs from her parents washing and putting away dishes filled the break in their conversation. Soon her Dad would fall asleep in his recliner in front of whatever movie he’d picked out for them to watch.

A small sob came from Judi and Ellie looked down, not sure if she was still upset about the accident or something else.

“I can’t go back to the city.” Judi’s voice was barely above a whisper.

Ellie leaned back, slid an arm around Judi. “Why? Jude, what happened? Please tell me. What’s going on?”

She wanted to ask what was going on with Jeff, but she wasn’t sure how Judi would take it that she’d seen the message.

“I was so stupid, El.” Judi choked back another sob. “I knew eventually it would all get out of control but if I stopped then I’d remember I wasn’t special like you. I’d remember I don’t have any talents or brains, so I just kept being the life of the party.”

“That’s not tr —”

“It is. I’ve always been the dumb one. The dumb blond who just likes to have fun because she can’t do anything else. You’ve always been the smart, good girl who Mom and Dad can brag about.”

Tears stung Ellie’s eyes. “I never meant to make you feel that way.”

Judi sat up and twisted herself to face Ellie, brushing the edge of her hand against her cheek. “It wasn’t you. It was me. It was how I saw it. I was so jealous of you. I felt like I could never measure up. That’s why I moved to the city. Well, that and I really have always thought Spencer is a boring little town.”

Ellie laughed softly.

Judi rolled her eyes. “I wanted to find adventure and excitement and that’s what I did.” More tears came and Ellie reached out and took Judi’s hands in hers.

“Judi, tell me what’s going on. I’m listening this time, okay?”

Judi nodded, pulling one hand away to snatch a tissue from the bedside stand. She wiped the corner of her eyes as she spoke. “I went out with the hot guy from work. The one I told you about that one time we were on the phone.”

Ellie remembered. The phone call where Judi hadn’t pointed out Jason’s proposal hadn’t really been a proposal.

“He was drop dead gorgeous and interested in me.” She rolled her eyes again. “I should have known then something was up. He wanted me to go back to his place after dinner so,” she shrugged and shook her head, looking at the ceiling. “I did. His hands were on me after the first drink. I tried to enjoy it at first, thought maybe we’d just end up making out, but he was pretty rough and getting rougher. I tried to push him away, but he didn’t like that. So . . .”

She started to cry harder, hugging her arms around her middle, looking at the wall.

Ellie’s heart raced, her skin chilled. “Judi.” She placed her hands on her sister’s slim shoulder, afraid to ask the next question. “Did he – did this man assault you? Please. Tell me the truth.”

Judi shook her head. “No. Almost, but no. He pulled my shirt up and my pants down, but I kicked him pretty hard in the nads. He fell off me and hit his head on the coffee table. He was furious and told me to get out, so I ran to the door and left. My shirt was torn, I had a bloody lip. My roommate knew something had happened. She wanted me to call the police, but I just wanted to forget about it. Forget about how stupid I’d been to go back to his place. Forget that I was such a failure and that I deserved it because I flirted crazy with him and gave him all these signs and —

“Judi, did you tell him you wanted to sleep with him?”

Judi shook her head, sobbing against her hand.

“Then you didn’t do anything wrong other than maybe going back with him to his place. Even if he assumed you wanted to sleep with him once you said ‘no’ then he needed to stop. What he did was wrong. You get that, right?”

Judi shrugged a shoulder as she wiped a tissue across her cheek. “Yes and no. I mean, he was wrong, but I never should have gone there and —”

“That doesn’t mean you deserved it. Do you understand?”

Judi nodded slowly, pressing her hand to her mouth.

Ellie shifted closer to her and pulled her against her with one arm. “So, what are you going to do? What about your job?”

“They fired me last week for not showing up. My roommate wants me to come back, but she understands if I don’t. She said Jeff keeps showing up and asking where I am.”

Time to be honest and confess to Judi about the message. “He’s been texting you too, hasn’t he?”

Judi nodded and pulled back. “How do you know?”

“I saw a message. By accident. I wanted to talk to you about it, but you were drunk and then, well, you know. ”

“I blocked his number last night. He’s afraid I’m going to the police because Selina told him I was.”

“Selina’s the roommate?”

Judi nodded. “She hates Jeff and wants him to be charged, but I can’t report him for something he never got the chance to do.”

“But he would have if you hadn’t kicked him, right? What if there are other girls who didn’t get away?”

Judi looked at Ellie with red and swollen eyes. “I don’t know. What if no one believes me?”

“It’s up to you, but even if they don’t, at least you tried.” Ellie hugged her again. “You don’t have to decide now. You don’t have to decide anything now.”

Judi sniffed. “I do soon. The rent is due in two weeks, and I only have so much in my savings. It’s either stay here or go back to New York and try to get another job and chance running into Jeff again.”

Ellie stroked her sister’s hair. “Whatever you decide, I’ll support you.”

They stayed that way for a few minutes, Judi with her head against Ellie’s shoulder, Ellie stroking her hair, before Judi spoke again.

“Dad said he saw Jason sleeping in his truck in the hospital parking lot this morning.”

Ellie looked out the window at the sun pushing through the thin laced curtains, casting patterns on the floor. She thought about all the afternoons she’d sat in this room, watching those same patterns, daydreaming or reading instead of doing her homework. Part of that time she’d daydreamed about Jason, about living on a farm with him and growing old together.

Judi sighed. “He was probably afraid to leave you alone again.” She tilted her head up to look at Ellie. “You’re going to marry him, right?”

Ellie played with the fringe on the bedspread, a small smile tilting one corner of her mouth upward. “I put him through a lot. Maybe he doesn’t even want to marry me anymore.”

Judi snorted a small laugh. “Yeah, right. That man is completely enamored by you. He worships the ground you walk on. There is no way he doesn’t want to marry you. Plus, I’m guessing he put you through some stuff too. It takes a lot to send you over the edge. I’d say he’s not innocent by any means.”

Innocent, no. Apologetic and contrite, yes.

“We’re both pretty messed up to be honest.”

“Yeah, but you’re messed up together. It’s kind of romantic.”

“It’s romantic to be messed up?”

“No. It’s romantic to be messed up with someone else so you can help each other not be messed up.”

Ellie lifted an eyebrow and frowned at her sister. “Who told you that?

Judi smiled. “I’m really not sure. I might have heard it on a CW show.”

Ellie snorted out a laugh. “I guess it’s an interesting thought. In theory at least.”

She listened to Judi breathing and for a minute she thought she’d fallen asleep. “Don’t tell Mom and Dad what I told you, okay?” Judi whispered. “Not yet. If we tell them then I have to tell them how messed up I’ve been and I’m not ready for that.”

Ellie smoothed her sister’s hair back from her face. “Okay. For now, but I want you to talk to them at some point. They love you. They’re going to want to help you however they can. But be warned, Dad may want to enact some redneck justice on this Jeff guy.”

Judi tipped her head back and laughed. “Redneck justice? Oh man! I can just see him up there in the city with a shotgun. Getting tackled in the subway by the NYPD.”

Ellie laughed at the visual. “I can see the NY Post headline now. ‘Farmer Father Brings Justice To Big Apple.”

The sisters giggled until their sides hurt. Ellie gasped in air in between laughter. “Judi, do you realize you said ‘nads’ when you were telling me what you did do that guy?”

Judi snorted. “I know. I’ve been in the city too long. A couple of my friends are from Brooklyn, and they use that term all the time.”

They caught their breath, wiping their eyes, and Ellie was glad that this time the tears were from laughter. She and Judi hadn’t laughed like this in years.

Judi curled up against her again and yawned. “We should take a nap before Jason gets here.”

“Before Jason gets here?”

Judi pulled the cover up over her shoulder. “Yeah. You know he won’t be able to stay away for long. He’ll be here shortly. Definitely before dark.”

Ellie looked out the window at the dirt road in the distance that cut a parallel path to their cornfield. If Jason really did come, what would she say to him? She wasn’t sure, but she knew she needed to tell him the truth, even though she wasn’t exactly sure what the truth was.

Her phone dinged. Another text message. She smiled as she read it.

Molly: It’s a girl. I didn’t even make it to the hospital before she was born. I’ll let you know the name when I know.

Chapter 28

Hope to see you soon. When you’ve rested.

That’s what he’d texted to her.

It was true, but not the full truth.

He had wanted her to rest, recover from all she’d been through.

But he also wanted to see her immediately. It had taken everything he had not to turn into her parents’ drive on the way back from the hospital, pull in front of the house, scoop her up and hold him in his arms; to prove to himself that she was alive and safe.

By evening he couldn’t wait any longer.

Alex laughed as Jason walked from the barn to his truck. “I can’t believe you’ve waited this long.”

“Who says I’m going to see Ellie?”

Molly stood in the barn doorway, arms folded across her chest. “Your face is flushed, you’ve been distracted all day, and a half an hour ago we saw you looking like a lovesick puppy while you stared at your phone. You’re going to see Ellie and it’s about time.”

Jason grinned, sliding behind the steering wheel. “You two are the new Sherlock and Watson. Congrats.”

“Don’t forget to bend the knee when you ask her,” Alex called after him.

This was one time Jason wished Alex and Molly were distracted by each other instead of his love life. “Don’t forget to take photos of Liz’s baby and send them to me.”

He jumped into the truck, slammed the door shut, and shifted it into gear.

Looking in his rearview mirror he saw a car pulling in behind him. He slid the gear shift back into park. Climbing out, he watched Alan Weatherly slide out of the driver’s seat of the small gray Lexus.

The small woman who exited the car on the passenger side, reached out to Jason immediately. “Jason, I was hoping to catch you before the funeral tomorrow. I’ve been trying to get here to see you for a week now , but everyone wanted me to rest.”

He took Ann’s hands, guilt clutching at his chest. Tears glistened in her eyes as she spoke. “I wanted to see you in person to thank you for saving me from the fire. I’m sorry it took me so long. They made me stay in the hospital for a few days after the fire and then Alan and the girls have been helping me get settled in at Twin Oaks. I’m a few doors down from your grandparents.”

“Ann, I —”

“Now, Jason.” She tipped her head and raised her eyebrows to silence him. “I’ve talked to Cody, and I know what you’ve been thinking. John’s death wasn’t your fault. He was gone before you ever got there. I was saying my goodbyes when the smoke overtook me. I should have gotten out before the smoke got so bad, but the idea of leaving him there even though I knew he was gone — well, it was too hard for me to bear, I suppose.”

Jason nodded, his throat thick with emotion. “I wish I’d been able to bring him out for you.”

Ann smiled and clutched his hands tighter. “He was already home, Jason. All that was left was a shell.” She took a step toward him, leaned up on her tip toes and kissed his cheek. When she stepped back her eyes were bright. “Because of you, I’m going to be able to see my grandchildren grow up. My oldest graduates next year and my youngest starts Kindergarten in another month. I would have missed all that if it wasn’t for you.”

She let go of his hands and touched his shoulder gently. “Now, I don’t want to keep you. You were on your way somewhere.” She winked. “I hope you were on your way to see that lovely Ellie Lambert. Cody told me about her ordeal when I stopped at the fire hall to see if you might be there. I wanted to thank all of them too. Brought them a pie. Of course.”

Jason laughed. Of course she’d brought them pie. “Yeah. I actually am on my way over there.”

“Good. But before I go . . . Al, grab Jason’s pie.”

The small white box had Jason’s name on it.

 “Ann, you didn’t have to do this.”

Alan handed Jason the box and grinned. “She made ten of them and we’ve been dropping them off all over.”

Ann smiled and laid a hand against Jason’s arm. “Baking helps me to keep my mind off things. My daughter-in-law helped me make a few more for the dinner tomorrow as well. You’ll be sure to come say ‘hello’ to me when you visit your grandparents, won’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And I know Tanner’s Country Store delivers to Twin Oaks so I’m sure I’ll be putting in at least a few small orders.

“Anytime.”

“And!” She held up a finger, her eyes sparkling. “You be sure to come visit me with those beautiful babies you and Ellie have.”

His face flushed warm, and he tipped his head toward the ground, clearing his throat. “Yes, ma’am. We will be sure to do that.”

Ann craned her neck to look around his shoulder and waved toward Alex and Molly who had stepped up to the barn doorway. “Hello, kids. Alex, I hope you take Molly off the market officially soon. Neither of you are getting any younger.”

After the way Alex had harassed him earlier, Jason enjoyed the flush of pink that spread across his friends cheeks and ears.

“That’s right, Alex,” Jason called as he closed Ann’s door behind her. “You aren’t getting any younger. Better get a move on with all that proposal stuff.”

Alex waved at him dismissively. “You just worry about you, big boy.”

When Jason pulled into the Lambert drive ten minutes later, his chest was tight, and his palms were damp on the steering wheel. He pushed the truck into park and took a deep breath. Maybe he was having a heart attack. If he was, then he wouldn’t have to work up the nerve to talk to Ellie and find out how she really felt about him. Yes, she’d let him hold her and kiss her in that mine shaft, but that was a stressful situation. Maybe her mind had cleared, and she’d remembered how upset she’d been with him.

Tom met him on the front porch. “What took you so long?”

“You too?” Jason looked at him with an amused smile.  “That’s pretty much what Molly just said to me.”

Tom leaned against the porch railing, sipping from a mug. “I saw you in the hospital parking lot this morning. Sleep in your truck all night?”

Jason tipped his head toward the ground, hands at his waist. “Yeah.” He didn’t want to explain why he hadn’t come in, though he was sure Tom could figure it out. At least he was somewhat cleaner than he had been this morning, even if he had been working all day.

Tom tilted his head to the side, toward the front door. “You want to come in?”

Jason looked up, meeting the gaze of the man he hoped would be his future father-in-law. “Yes, sir.”

“She’s upstairs in her old room. Sore and tired still but doing okay.”

The creak of the front door brought Jason’s eyes up and he and Tom turned toward the front door.

“Actually, she’s down here. But still sore and tired.” She looked at Jason and he couldn’t look away. Her dark brown eyes captivated him, made him forget her dad was even there. She was wearing a pair of blue denim shorts and a white tank top covered by a patterned shirt tied at the waist. He rarely saw her so dressed down. It was breathtaking.

 “I needed some fresh air.” Her words reminded him he should take a breath of air before he passed out.

Tom held the door open for his daughter and walked inside after she stepped outside. He pushed the inside door closed firmly, which Jason took as a sign that he was giving them privacy.

She sat on the front porch swing. “I was going to sit on that top step, but I’m not sure I can get back up again with this ankle.”

He stepped up on the porch and leaned one side against the support beam, sliding his hands in his jean pockets. “How you feeling tonight?”

She shrugged a shoulder. “Sore. And pretty stupid. Walking away from that accident scene wasn’t very bright. Have you heard how Brad is?”

He shook his head. He hadn’t and he didn’t care how Brad was. “Probably sleeping it off somewhere. He’ll bounce back. Always does. How’s Judi?”

“She’s doing okay actually. She’s asleep upstairs in my old room.”

“Where you should be.”

Ellie leaned back and stretched her arms out in front of her. “I slept a lot earlier this afternoon. Too restless to sleep. Brain won’t shut down.” She leaned back against the porch swing. “How are you doing?”

“Fine. Hurts a little where the stitches are, but I’m starting to get used to stitches.”

She tilted her head, and a small smile tipped a corner of her mouth up. Seeing the compassion in her eyes verses the anger he’d been used to seeing in the last several months was soothing. “I don’t just mean physically. How is your heart?”

She always did have a way of getting to the point. “Still hurting. Ann stopped by just before I came here. She hugged me. Told me it wasn’t my fault. Clint told me the same thing. Said John had a heart attack and was dead before the flames hit him. I still feel guilty, though. Still feel like if I had pulled him out, maybe something could have been done.”

“You don’t know that though.”

“Yeah. I think the not knowing is the hardest. He was a good man. He didn’t deserve to die that way.”

“No, he didn’t, but we know where he is now, who is holding him.”

Jason nodded looking down. “Yeah. We do. It does provide some comfort.”

A few seconds of silence stretched between them. Chirping birds and the meow of a cat filled the silence before she spoke again. “So, Liz’s baby is a girl, huh?”

He grinned. “Molly messaged you too, huh? I think she’s texted the whole county. Yeah. She hasn’t picked a name yet. Molly and Alex are headed over in a few to see them.”

“Molly said Matt took her to the hospital. What was that about?”

Jason laughed softly. “I’m not totally sure, honestly. Something I plan to ask Matt about as soon as I get a chance.”

He kicked at the porch floor with the tip of his boot, watched the dirt from the barn fall off and join dirt that was probably from Tom’s barn. He knew they were dancing around why he was really here, like they’d been dancing around other issues for far too long now.

“El, listen I —”

“I’m a hypocrite, Jason.”

He jerked his head up, eyebrows knitted together. “What are you —”

“I was mad at you for hiding your past from me, but I’ve been lying to you for two years,.”

Her hands gripped the edge of the seat of the swing, her legs pushed out, feet against the porch floor, keeping it from swinging. She kept her gaze lowered, focused on her feet.

“You haven’t been lying. You’ve been scared.”

She looked up quickly, met his gaze.

He sat next to her on the swing. “I heard you tell that doctor what medicine you were on and about your procedure. I shouldn’t have been listening, but I was outside the door. I didn’t want to leave you. Finding you felt like a dream, and I was afraid if I left, I’d wake up and you’d actually be dead. I should have realized all these years how bad things were. I should have known how much pain you were in each month. I looked it up online as soon as I left the hospital. Why didn’t you ever tell me how bad it had gotten?”

Ellie looked at the floor again and tears dripped off her cheek and down her chin. She shook her head and looked out over the corn field next to the house. “I was in denial. If I told you what was really happening, then I’d have to admit what that doctor told me might be true.”

At the touch of his hand against her cheek she turned to look at him. “If we can’t have children, it will be hard on both of us, but all I’ve really ever wanted was you, Ellie. Just you. Children or not. Farming or not. None of it matters if I don’t have you.”

He kept his gaze on hers. He wanted her to know he was all in. All in on the conversation and on her. “I know you think I might be holding more back from you, but I’m not. I promise you. I want to be completely open from now on. My life is an open book and on the first page you’ll find a declaration of my love for you.”

He slid a hand to the back of her neck, watching her expression transform from worried, to relaxed. He’d dreaded the possibility of still seeing anger or hurt in her eyes, but he didn’t see either of those emotions. He saw tenderness that flowed across her entire face, that opened her mouth slightly as if she was about to say something. Instead, she leaned forward and touched her mouth softly to his. She moved her arms around his neck and slid her body against his side. He turned so he could pull her into the curve of his body, deepen the kiss.

He smiled as he pulled his mouth away a few moments later. “Was that a kiss goodbye or a kiss hello?”

She laughed. “Definitely a kiss hello.”

He stood, slid his hand in his front jean pocket and felt a tremble rush through his fingers as he pulled out the box. “I still want to marry you, Ellie. I don’t know if you want to marry me, but I want you to know that you’re the only woman for me. That’s always been true. This ring is yours, if you want it and if you don’t, I can understand that too.”

A wry smile pulled her mouth upward. “You just carry rings around in your pockets?”

He laughed. “Only when I know I want to ask my best friend to be my wife.”

The tears didn’t hide her smile, but they came, renewed and flowing freely as she looked at him. She laughed through the tears, holding a trembling hand toward him. He held her hand but looked into her eyes before he slid the ring on.

“Wait. I’m doing it wrong again.” He lowered himself to one knee, still holding her hand. “I’m supposed to be down here, and I’m supposed to say Elizabeth Alexandra Lambert, will you spend the rest of your life with me?”

She shook her head, choked out a sob and pressed a hand under his elbow. “No. Get up. The way you were doing it was fine.”

Sitting next to her he slid the ring on her finger, but it stopped part way, just above her knuckle. They both began to laugh.

“This is Grandma’s ring. She wanted you to have it so I —”

Ellie wiped tears along the corner of her eyes with the edge of her hand. “It’s perfect.”

“I have another ring. One I bought in high school. One I wished I’d given you back then. It’s at the house. I can go get it.”

“No.” She shook her head, smiling.  “We’ll resize Franny’s. This is the ring I want. I can wear the other one too, but this is the ring that will remind me that we can get through anything, as long as we’re together.”

He nodded as she curved her fingers around the ring, clutching it hard.

He pulled her against his side with one arm, leaning back on the swing. In front of them, the sun had dipped below the horizon. A soft orange and golden glow spread along the edges of the silhouetted hills. A cow mooed in the barn and one of the barn cats slipped up on the porch and rubbed against Jason’s leg.

“We still have a lot to talk about,” he said.

“Yeah. We do.”

He looked out toward the corn field, ready to be harvested in the next week for silage. Sunlight glinted off the silk peering out from some of the husks.

“Being the wife of a farmer isn’t easy.”

 “Being the daughter of one isn’t easy either.” She intertwined her fingers with his. “Plus, a very wise woman, one who gave birth to the man I’m going to marry, once told me that the wife of a farmer is a farmer as much as her husband is.”

“You think Pastor Joe will marry us? Even after our craziness in his office?”

She laughed. It was a beautiful sound. “Yeah. I think he will. He’s called me twice to check on me and ask about you.”

He looked at her mouth as he spoke, thinking about how he should have kissed her that day at the church instead of arguing with her. “Think he’ll marry us this weekend? Behind our house?”

She tilted her head back, narrowing her eyes. “Our house? What are you going to do with Alex?”

“Kick him out, of course.”

Her laughter continued to be a balm to his soul. “Shouldn’t we tell him that first?”

He shrugged, a small tugging at one side of his mouth. “He’ll adapt. He can sleep in the hayloft at mom and dad’s.”

She sighed, pressing her cheek against his shoulder. “Five days isn’t very long.”

He curled his fingers in the hair at the base of her neck as she looked up at him. “No. It’s not.”

“I won’t have enough time to buy a dress or prepare food and no time to send out invitations.”

“No. You won’t.”

She smiled, her gaze still locked on his.  “It sounds perfect.”

He kissed her mouth softly again, losing himself in the feel of her mouth under his, her body curved against his, the way she was exactly where he belonged — in his arms. When he pulled his mouth away a few minutes later, she curled her legs up next to her on the seat of the swing and pressed her cheek against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and looked out over the cornfield again.

Tomorrow he had fields of alfalfa to plant, an architect to meet with about the construction of the new milking parlor for the A2 cows, a tractor to fix and a goat barn to finish. Tonight, though, he had a front porch swing to sit on, a sunset to watch, and the woman he loved to get to know again.

Her voice faded to a whisper. “We’re watching an old movie tonight.”

“Oh yeah? Which one?”

Shall We Dance, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Want to stay?”

He leaned down, kissed the top of her head, and breathed in deep the smell of her shampoo. “Yeah. I want to stay.”

Fiction Friday: Harvesting Hope Chapter (I don’t know. I’ve lost count. Oh wait…I remember now) 26

I only have two chapters left to complete the story after this one so I will be posting the final two chapters tomorrow morning. Also, I just wanted to let my blog readers know that I will not be posting a lot of advertisements for purchasing my books anymore.

I have found I enjoy sharing on here and then giving you a link to the book on Amazon, if you so desire it, in full more than trying to become a “successful indie author”. I would actually offer it for free but some of my friends and family aren’t technically inclined (much like me at times!) so it’s easier for them to simply order it from a site and have it go to their Kindle and I can’t figure out how to offer it for free on there. I am sure there is a way and I’ll keep studying it.

I do want to remind blog readers again that you want a paperback, please let me know and I will order one for you at a better cost. I will eventually set up a way to do that on here.

Anyhow, enough of all the rambling (which probably isn’t making sense anyhow).

If you are a new reader here, I share a chapter from my WIP each Friday, and sometimes Saturday, on my blog. There are typos, grammatical issues and even plot holes at times because this is a first, second, or third draft that hasn’t gone to final editing yet. If you see a typo, feel free to kindly let me know in the comments. Sometimes the error has already been fixed on my copy, sometimes not.

Catch up with the rest of the story HERE. Don’t feel like reading the book in a series of chapters each Friday? Preorder the book HERE. Do you want to read the first book in the series? Download it HERE. 

Chapter 26

Jason had called Alex and informed him he wouldn’t be back at the house that night. The last time he’d left Ellie, she’d been hurt in an accident and lost overnight and half of a day.

Rena had ordered him home for some rest.

He’d told her he would do that.

He hadn’t lied.

He curled a jacket he’d found in the back seat under his head and stretched out across the front seat of his truck, propping his legs against the driver side door.

He was going to get some rest.

Just not at home. He’d made certain not to say he was going home for the rest, so he didn’t lie.

He winced, the muscles in his back screaming in pain. Sitting back up, he fumbled with the glove compartment door, pulling out a bottle of ibuprofen. The doctor had offered him something harder, but he declined, in case Ellie need him.

A knock on the driver’s side window startled him and when he turned his head, he met the gaze of Clint O’Malley.

He opened the door, grimacing as he stepped out. Every movement seemed to send pain shooting through him, even in places he didn’t think should be hurting. “Clint. Hey.”

“You okay?” Clint asked, his brow dipped in concern.

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t recommend falling down a mineshaft anytime soon.”

Clint chuckled. “I’ll take that recommendation to heart.” He thrust his hands into his front pants pocket. “So, listen, I don’t mean to bother you, but I got some news today I needed to pass on. John Weatherly didn’t die in that fire. He was dead before the flames ever hit him. Heart attack. We got the toxicology report today. The fire marshal’s interview with Ann corroborates what the report says. John dropped a pan of hot oil on the stove, probably when his heart seized up. The oil hit the gas flames and spread. Ann was in the living room watching Jeopardy and only noticed something was wrong when the fire alarm went off and the house started filling with smoke. By then the fire was spreading up the kitchen wall. She was trying to drag John out when you got there.”

Jason leaned back against the closed door of his truck and pushed his hand through his hair, holding it there for a few moments. “Wow. Okay. Thanks for letting me know, Clint.”

Clint patted his shoulder briefly. “You’re welcome. Now you can stop blaming yourself.”

Jason opened his mouth to answer, but Clint spoke over him. “You Tanners are good people. When Cody told me what happened, I knew it would weigh heavy on you.”

Jason let out a breath. “Yeah. Thank you again, Clint.”

Clint nodded. “I’m pleased I didn’t have to declare Ellie dead today. I worried about that all day, dreading the possibility of the phone ringing and Cody telling me they’d found her body.”

“I’m glad you didn’t either. It all seems like a dream at this point.”

Clint laughed, slapped his hand against Jason’s shoulder. “It is a dream, kid. A very wonderful, real dream.”

Stretching back in the truck a few minutes later, Jason closed his eyes, his muscles relaxing fully for the first time in months. Sleep was dragging at him, trying to pull him under, but he needed to make a call first.

Lucy answered on the second ring. “Jason, hey. How are you?”

“Sore, but okay.”

“Rena said you were pretty beat up. I still can’t believe all this craziness. I went from planning Ellie’s funeral to bawling from sheer shock and joy she was had found her alive. It’s like some crazy made-for-TV movie.”

Jason laughed in the midst of a yawn, not an easy feat. “It was surreal, that’s for sure. So, uh, listen, I need to ask you something. When they brought Ellie in, the doctor asked her if she was on any medications. They didn’t want anything she was taking to interact with whatever they gave her for the pain. She told them she was on something called Orilissa. She and I have barely talked in eight months, so I figured this must be something new. I looked it up online and it says it’s to treat endometriosis. Has her condition gotten worse? Because the only thing I thought she took for that was over-the-counter painkillers.”

Lucy didn’t answer for a few minutes. He heard a sharp intake of air and then it being let out farther, slowly. “I think this is something you should talk to her about.”

Jason rubbed the stubble on his chin. “I guess that means you’re not going to tell me about the procedure she said she’d had, either. She told the nurse about that too. Some kind of laparoscopic thing. My phone rang, and I wasn’t able to hear what else she said.”

“Yeah. That’s what that means. I’m still telling you to talk to Ellie. I hope you’re not mad at me, it’s just —” Lucy sighed. “Things have been weird with you two and I don’t want to get in the middle of anything. Make it worse, you know?”

Jason laughed. “I’m not mad. Don’t worry.”

And he wasn’t mad.

He was, however, worried.

Very worried that what Ellie had wanted to talk to him about in that mineshaft could mean his relief that she was healthy and whole would be short-lived.

***

“I can’t talk to him.”

Rena looked over the outfits she’d laid out for Ellie to choose from. “Honey, you have to. He deserves to be told the truth. Especially if you two are getting back together.” Rena looked up, holding a red shirt with frills around the collar. She raised an eyebrow, a small smile pulling her mouth upward. “You two are getting back together, right?”

Ellie touched her fingertips to her lips, remembering how Jason had kissed her after he’d found her and how she had kissed him back. “Yes.”

“Then you don’t have a choice. You need to be honest with him.” Rena handed her a skirt and a shirt. “Now go get dressed so we can get you home. I think it’s best if you stay with us a couple of days. You can’t be climbing stairs with the way your ankle is.”

Taking the shirt, Ellie slid off the bed slowly, wincing. “I’ll be fine. I can —”

“You’re coming home with us, El, don’t argue.” Her dad’s voice brought her gaze up.

He was smiling, but she could tell he meant business. He leaned his side against the door frame. “We thought we’d lost you, kid. Give us some time to remind ourselves we didn’t. I’ve already planned a movie night for us tonight at home. Your mom will make brownies and I’ll make the popcorn.”

Ellie laughed. “I think maybe I should make the popcorn. You burned it last time.”

Rena smirked. “Even though the bag clearly said only a minute and a half in the microwave.”

Tom shot a mocking hurt expression at his wife and daughter. “Me? Burn popcorn? No. I’m a popcorn master.”

Ellie walked toward the bathroom to change. “Where’s Judi?”

“At the house, waiting for you,” Tom said. “I know you girls have had a rough time of it lately, but she was really shook up yesterday. She’s cooking you some lunch.”

As she pulled a skirt up over her legs, careful to keep the weight off her ankle, Ellie thought about how upset Judi had been at the hospital the night before. She’d hugged Ellie repeatedly, tears streaming down her face, telling her she was sorry about how she’d acted. How long would that contrition last? Ellie wasn’t sure, but for now she’d accept it. If Judi slipped back into her old ways, at least Ellie knew her sister loved her, enough to be glad she wasn’t dead anyhow.

Slipping her shirt over her head, she winced at the stiffness in her muscles. She needed to talk to Judi about that message on her phone. Now wasn’t the time to bring it up, though. She hoped she could find the time before Judi went back to the city. If Judi went back to the city at this point. To Ellie, it seemed like her sister had no intention of going back to her life in New York and maybe this Jeff guy was the reason.

***

Jason groaned as he sat up in the front seat and squinted in the sunlight streaming through the windshield.

Sleeping in his truck had been a bad idea. A terrible idea. He gritted his teeth in pain, lifted his arm, and sniffed. He made a face and shook his head.

 Sure, he could easily walk into the hospital and check on Ellie, but he felt awful and smelled worse. At this point, it would have been better if he’d gone home last night and taken a shower and then come back to the hospital this morning. He hadn’t wanted to risk it, though. The idea of going home while Ellie was in a hospital bed, even if it was only for observation, hadn’t been remotely appealing to him.

He pushed his hands back through his hair, tried to smooth it down and squinted at himself in the rearview mirror. It wasn’t working. He looked like he’d been on an all-night binger. He looked like Brad. Until the night before last, he’d had no idea how far Brad had fallen. Watching him drunk in the bar, staggering around like an alcoholic, had been eye-opening, to say the least. His behavior had to have been breaking his parents’ hearts. They hadn’t raised him that way and the way he was acting was a slap in their face.

After a quick check in with Alex, he searched his truck for breath mints, still trying to decide if he should go see Ellie. Maybe he could wash up in the hospital bathroom.

Looking up, he realized the decision had been made for him. Ellie was being wheeled to Tom’s waiting car at the curb. She was on her way home. Her ankle was in a soft cast that stretched part way up her calf, but otherwise she looked fine.

More than fine.

It was a miracle.

From here, he couldn’t see the mark he knew was on her head from where she’d hit the windshield when the car had flipped over, but he was certain it was taking on a purplish hue.

He wanted to kiss that bruise and any other part of her she’d let him kiss. He wanted to dart from the truck, run to her and tell her again how sorry he was, how he’d wished he’d never met Lauren Phillips, but more importantly, how he wished he’d been honest with her right after he came back from college. He never should have withheld his past from her. He never would again.

Ellie looked up and smiled at her dad as he slid his hand under her arm and helped her to her feet. Rena moved to the other side of Ellie, and Ellie laughed. He knew she was probably telling her parents what she’d told him as they loaded her into the ambulance the day before. “I’m fine. Really. It could have been so much worse.”

He’d leave the Lambert family to their reunion for now.

There would be plenty of time for him to talk to her later.

About them, but also about any of her past she hadn’t shared with him.

A little fiction on Thursday: Harvesting Hope Chapter 25

To relieve the stress of a couple of my readers, I am posting Chapter 25 early this week.

To catch up on the rest of the story, click HERE.

Chapter 25

Jason’s breath caught, and he braced himself for the worst.

“She’s in a hole or a shaft or something,” Alex said. “I can see the top of her head and her shirt.”

They ran together, but Alex grabbed the back of his shirt before he reached a dip in the ground. “Wait! The wood’s rotted out. I don’t know what this is, but it was covered by boards. I almost fell in with her.”

Jason stood back, frantically scanning the boards for the weak spots, his eyes moving to the hole in the middle of them. “Did she answer you?” He tossed his backpack to the side.

“No.”

“Ellie?!” He dropped to his knees next to the boards and started lifting them, tossing them to the side. Alex joined him until a wider gap was open, revealing a large swatch of darkness.

“Is this an old well?” Alex asked.

Jason shook his head, stepping gingerly toward another row of boards. “Old mine shaft.”

“Why is it still here? I thought they filled all those in.”

“They should have but a lot of companies abandoned them when the coal rush was over.”  He tossed another board behind him and inched forward. “Ellie?!” He didn’t hear a response. “This is Old Man Barkley’s land. He died two years ago, and his kids sold off the farmland in sections. I don’t know who owns this land now, but they probably have no idea the shaft is even here. Ellie?!”

Why wasn’t she answering? Had she hit her head on the way down? Was she —

“Jason?”

His heart rate increased, and he jumped across two boards to the other side of the hole, flopping into the dirt next to the entrance. He flicked the flashlight feature of his cellphone on and pointed it into the darkness. The light barely reached four feet down.

“Alex, there’s a flashlight in my backpack.”

Alex tossed the light to him, and he caught it, though he wasn’t sure how with the way his hands were shaking. He flicked the light on and tilted it into the darkness, terrified at what he might find.

A sob choked out of him when he saw Ellie’s dirt-streaked face looking up at him from maybe 20 feet down, her eyes blinking in the light’s brightness. A faint smile pulled at her mouth, her eyelids drifting closed.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” He laughed through the tears. “You’re alive.”

He couldn’t even believe it. He’d been planning her funeral an hour ago while they hiked up a hill, and now he was hearing her voice.

Her laughter was the most amazing sound he’d ever heard, even if it was barely audible. “Yeah. I am. How did you even find me? I didn’t think anyone would ever find me.”

He looked over his shoulder. “Alex, call Cody. Tell him where we are and how to get here. We’re going to need more rope and a backboard. I’m going in.”

“We should wait for the first responders,” Alex said, lifting his phone to his ear. “What if the shaft caves in?”

Jason hesitated, pushing himself back from the edge. He hadn’t waited at the Weatherlys. If he had, they would have been digging two bodies out of the rubble. Ellie wasn’t in as desperate of a situation, though. What if he made the situation worse? He sat up and kicked another board back, then laid back on his stomach and felt the side of the shaft. The dirt and rock seemed solid enough. He was going to risk it, just like he’d risked carrying Ann out of the burning house. He only hoped that this time his choice wouldn’t result in the loss of another life.

“Cody, can you hear me?” Alex practically shouted into the phone as Jason turned himself to move backward into the shaft. He grabbed Jason’s flashlight and directed the beam of light into the shaft. “You’re breaking up. Yeah. We found her.”

Jason gripped the dirt next to the shaft entrance, swung his legs in, and lowered himself by bracing his boots against the side. Hard rock pulled up his shirt, ripped at his stomach, but he barely noticed. He lowered himself until he was gripping the grass and dirt without only the tips of his fingers, moving his feet, trying to find a place to grip with his feet.

The dirt broke under his hands at the same moment it broke under his boots, and he felt himself sliding down the shaft wall, dirt falling down as he moved toward the bottom. Darkness enveloped him. A searing pain shot up through his lower back to the space between his shoulder blades as he slammed against solid rock. He gasped in a breath, but nothing came. No air. Nothing but sheer panic surging through his body as his chest tightened even more.

When his breath finally came, it came with a sound that reminded him of the bray of the donkey his uncle Walt had owned years ago.

His shirt was sticking to his back, and he had a feeling the warmth wasn’t caused by sweat.

“Jason?!” The panic in her voice sliced through his heart, making him more desperate to get to her, touch her and make sure she was real.

He felt along the wall with his hands, on his knees, the light from the flashlight suddenly gone. “Alex? Where’s the light?”

Alex didn’t answer, so he kept feeling the wall until he felt skin soft against his fingertips. He stood slowly and in the next second, a hand clutched the front of his shirt, and he felt a body warm against his. He slid his arms around the body, the smell of Ellie’s shampoo pushing through the smell of dirt and mold and possibly something dead a few feet away. Leaning back against the rock behind him, he held her against him, afraid he was trapped in a dream, and someone would wake him up soon and tell him Ellie really wasn’t alive, but dead under her car in the creek.

Daylight was bright above them, but the shaft seemed to suck the light away so he could only see the light above, not around.

“Alex!”

The light from the flashlight illuminated the section of the shaft where they were sitting. Jason glanced down at Ellie and saw tears streaking through the dirt on her cheeks.

“I was afraid to get too close to the edge,” Alex called down. “The ground was giving away, and I didn’t want more dirt coming down on you guys. I’m leaving the flashlight here while I give Cody directions. I have to move down the hill. I keep losing the signal.”

Jason gently cupped his hand behind Ellie’s head, feeling along the back of her neck. “Are you hurt?”

She shook her head slowly. “No. Just my ankle and my pride. I’m sorry I left the scene. I know I —”

His mouth smothered her words as he kissed her hard, trying to convince himself she was real. He dragged his mouth away a few moments later, and she gasped for breath and clutched at the front of his shirt again.

“You’re alive,” he repeated, his throat thick with emotion.

“Very much,” she whispered. “Alive and feeling very stupid for thinking I could take a shortcut to get help. I ignored all those driver’s ed videos that told me never to leave the scene of an accident. I was a total idiot.”

He kissed her again, softer this time. “You’re alive. That’s all I care about.”

The small smile pulling the corners of her mouth upward let him know she hadn’t minded the kisses and maybe even welcomed them.

He could hear Alex on the phone above them. The beam of light tilted toward the opposite wall. Jason titled his face upward and felt her arms slid around his neck and her palm against his cheek. When he looked down, she curled her fingers in his hair at the top of his head and pressed her mouth to his. The kiss was soft, slow, and spine tingling, making him forget about the pain he was in. He could only imagine the pain she must be in, and he hoped the kiss was helping her forget it, too.

“Cody said they’re going to use your phone’s location signal to find us,” Alex called down, causing Ellie to draw back and tilt her head back to look upward. “They’re heading up with four wheelers the Bradley family is loaning them.” He pointed the light down more directly. “I’ll hold this until they get here. Is she injured?”

Jason focused his gaze on her, smiling. “Just her ankle and her pride.”

She smiled and pressed her cheek against his shoulder, closing her eyes.

He pressed one hand against the small of her back, the other behind her head, sinking his fingers in her dirt-peppered hair. “How did you even get here?”

Her head remained against his shoulder as she spoke. “I was so stupid. Once I got out of the car and dragged Brad to the bank, I looked for my phone but couldn’t find it under the water. It was too dark. I knew where the road was but thought I could get to the Bradley’s faster over the hill and call for help. The moon went behind the clouds, though, and I got turned around and then I got more than turned around. I got completely and utterly lost. I thought I could see lights in the valley, so I started walking that way and that’s when I must have hit the rotten boards and fallen through. I don’t remember much other than coming to with pain in my ankle and the moon shining above me through a small hole in the wood.”

He kissed the top of her head and leaned back against the wall, marveling at the fact he was holding her, that God has answered his prayer and she was still alive.

“Alex, call Judi,” he shouted.  “Her number is in my recent calls. She called me about 20 minutes ago.”

Ellie lifted her head and he looked down at her. “Judi called you?”

“Yeah. Right before we found you. She was practically hysterical. She wants you to know she’s sorry and loves you.”

“Oh.” Her eyes swam with tears, and he used the palm of his thumb to wipe them as they spilled from the corners. She drew in a shaky breath and let it out again. “Jason, I need to talk to you about  something. I need to —”

Jason shook his head. “I should have told you long ago about what happened in college. I should have let you deal with it in your own way, not pressured you to forgive me.”

Ellie laid her hand on the back of his neck. “I know, Jason, but I need to talk to you about something el—”

“Cody’s coming up with hill with the rest of the guys.” Alex’s voice spoke over hers. “Tom too. He’s on one of the ATVs”

Jason looked down at Ellie as the rumble of engines drew closer and smiled. “Time to get you out of here.” He tilted his head, so he was looking at Alex again. “Tell Cody that there is dirt around this section, but there might be soft spots over the tunnel farther back. He’d better keep the four wheelers back some.”

“Will do.” Alex disappeared from the opening.

“Jason, please, before they get here, I need to talk to —”

“There will be plenty of time to talk when we get out of here.”

He kissed her softly again.

“I know we can talk then, but Jason —”

Shouting voices and the roar of engines drowned out her voice and Jason felt rather than heard her sigh as she leaned against him.

She tightened her arms around his neck. He saw the pain in her face, the exhaustion in her eyes, and he knew there was something she wanted to tell him. Right now, though, all he cared about was bringing her to safety. Now that he knew she was alive, everything else could wait.

***

Everything had happened so fast after Jason and Alex found her. Once the fire fighters had figured out a way to safely lift her, after determining her only injury was to her ankle, they’d helped her on to an ATV with Jason behind her. Riding down the hill her back against his front, her dad on an ATV behind them, she felt secure, calm, somehow at home.

All her concerns about who he’d once been had disappeared in the mine shaft when she’s thought she’d never see him again. Sitting in a small hole underground for ten hours had given her a lot of time to think.

To think. To talk to God.

And to listen to her heart, which ached at the thought she might die without telling Jason how much she loved him; how much it meant to her he’d been nothing but wonderful since they had met. Yes, he’d kept part of his past from her, but he could have easily told her without the apology..

“Sometimes it takes almost losing it all to realize what we have,” she whispered to her mom later that night as she drifted off to sleep in the hospital.

Rena smiled through the tears at her daughter, kissed her forehead and sat back in a chair next to the bed. “I’m still afraid if I fall asleep, I’ll wake back up in the nightmare I was living all day when I thought you were dead.”

Ellie’s eyes fluttered closed, but she forced them open again. Her Dad and Judi had gone home an hour ago.

“I want to go home,” Ellie whispered.

Rena pushed the hair off her forehead. “Sleep. The doctor said you can go home tomorrow. He wants to be sure you ‘re fully rehydrated and that there are no complications from that bump you took on your head. I still can’t believe you only managed to fracture your ankle when you fell in that old mine. It could have been a lot worse.”

Ellie’s eyes were closed. She had curled up on her side, hand under her chin, as if she were thinking. She could barely think, though. Sleep pressed down on her. “Jason . . .”

An amused smile tugged at the corners of Rena’s mouth. “He’s fine, honey. I already told you. Some stitches in his back and a muscle or two pulled, but they released him and he’s coming back in the morning to see you.” She laughed gently. “Of course, he wanted to stay, but I made him go home. He was a mess. Exhausted, blood-shot eyes, covered in dirt, arms and face all scratched up.” Rena rubbed Ellie’s hand. “You both need rest. There’ll be plenty of time for you to talk to each other later.”

Ellie managed a nod and then she was quiet, her breathing slow and even.

Hometown Views: Libraries

Today Erin from Still Life, With Cracker Crumbs and I are debuting a feature we are calling Hometown Views. Every other week we will focus on a different aspects, locations, or landmarks of our differing towns (or city in Erin’s case).

This week we are sharing photos and thoughts about our local libraries. Erin lives in a more urban area, and I live in a smaller, more rural area. We both have a few different libraries we can choose from that we have visited, but we both have one library that means more to us than others.

The library building in the town we lived in prior to moving to our current home, was a beautiful facility and like most of the seven libraries in the county I grew up in, was built in the late 1800s, specifically to be a library.

Spalding Memorial Library, Athens, Pa.

It has three stories filled with books and a fourth story which houses the local museum. The museum features artifacts from Native Americans who originally settled the area, various historical objects from the area, uniforms and weapons from a variety of wars, and old photographs. It’s a small space but packed full of fascinating items.

I didn’t take a lot of books out there over the years, but we did attend various events there and I was at the library a lot covering events when I worked at the newspaper. I also let my children jump in mud puddles outside of that library one rainy day while patrons gawked at me like I had three heads. Good times.

Another library in a beautiful building sits next to the newspaper building (now abandoned, sadly) where I used to work. The library features two or three levels of bookshelves, accessible by metal stairs and ladders. There used to be a children’s section in the back. A few years ago, the library purchased an old carriage house behind the library building, and converted it into children’s wing, opening up the rest of the library for computers and more rows of adult or reference books.

While there is a good selection of libraries in our little rural area, for me, the library that means the most to me is in the town I now live in.

This library is actually in the county next to the county where I grew up, however, I lived only about five miles outside of this town up until I was about 25. I then married and moved 45 minutes north, where I lived for 18 years.

I remember coming home from the library with plastic library bags full of books. Mom would have one or two bags and I had one. We’d walk into the house and Dad would say, “More books? How will you even have time to read all of those?”

Well, Dad, not having a ton of friends helps with that. My friends were inside the books. Okay, not totally. I did have friends, but my friends liked to read too so there were times we didn’t hang out and during those times we read.

The library was and is small. There are three or four aisles with books on either side and then a small children’s room.

A recent program in the children’s room of the Sullivan County Library, Dushore, Pa.

All on one floor. Yes, that’s it, but when I was a kid, it was enough for me. I actually don’t remember ever picking books out of the children’s room. I read books that were probably too old for me, in some ways, but not inappropriate in any way, so I chose from the main shelves.

The rows of books are off to the right and back.

I was in love with The Cat Who books, which I, of course, still talk about on here (I finished reading one just this past weekend and have a blog post in the works about my love for the series). I also signed out quite a few Beverly Cleary books. Christian Fiction was another genre that caught my attention there.

I loved walking the aisles, running my fingertips over the spines of the books, picking them up and opening them, breathing in deep the smell of ink and paper, knowing that soon I’d be transported away from my sometimes boring life and into a world fresh and new to me.

My kid at the library in the town we currently live in. Excuse the cellphone quality.

I was so excited to move to this town and be able to go to the library again. But then I remembered my recent phobia of signing out library books and worrying about damaging them, which makes me take them back before I’ve even finished them. The phobia started in our previous hometown, because if I forgot to return a book that library would call, then text, then call, then text and so on until I returned it. I felt like a criminal. It was just easier to order books on Kindle or buy them at library sales.

The last straw was when I ran into a member of the library staff and mentioned to her I was bringing a replacement for a book I’d lost to the library. She told me not to worry but then let me know that if people don’t return books, the library has been known to send a report to the local district magistrate’s office. Gulp. That return book was in their hands the very next day after that and I never signed out another book from them. (But, no, I do not really believe she was threatening me. She was just sharing the libary’s new policies.)

You Know What didn’t help with my excitement about the little library here last year since I couldn’t peruse the shelves for almost a year. Then I became annoyed at our local library a few weeks ago because they continued to advertise their summer reading program, as if new people could join, but it was full. I had missed the deadline by a few days, but I called the library and asked if I could slide my daughter in. They never returned my call, so I called again. Still no call. When I finally was able to catch up to someone, they told me the program was full and my daughter could not attend.

It was fine that they had capped the program because they don’t have a lot of space but what was annoying was that they would advertise the program in the local newspaper as if children could attend, even though they couldn’t. So, I was a bit snitty with the lovely ladies who volunteer there and even though I apologized profusely for being jerky, I still feel super shy about going back in again. That’s why some of the photos I will share here are from my cellphone a couple years ago and from their website. That’s right, I’m a big scaredy cat to go there right now, even though they forgave me and said it was totally understandable that I had been annoyed. When I do go in, I will take them a big box of baked goods from the local bakery. A bakery called — I love this — The Mad Bakers.

I do love the library and I do love what they do for the community so I feel super, super guilty about being a jerk. I make sure to donate them or promote them whenever I can.

For a tiny library, they really do have a lot of variety of books. They have a great deal of Christian Fiction, which is popular in our area, but they also have a great deal of mysteries, popular books, and this month they added 65 new titles of tons of genres to their shelves. They hold a variety of programs throughout the year for all ages, but especially children and families.

We loved this magic show we attended there at the beginning of June.

In many ways, they are the center of the tiny community here (of 600 people in the entire town).

Another library I want to mention is one I visited once or twice as a child and teenager. That library, located in the little town of New Albany, Pa. was completely destroyed in 2018 when it was knocked of it’s foundation by rising flood waters. Quite a few people in our state have heard about the library because it was washed off it’s foundation and came to rest in the middle of a major highway. Or at least part of it came to rest there.

The New Albany Library before a flash flood knocked it off it’s foundation and into the middle of a highway. It was a surreal scene!

It was hit by flooding the week before it was knocked off it’s foundation, but I don’t think anyone thought that whole building, with a concrete foundation, would go down.

There was an apartment upstairs and the people who lived there were rescued by a member of the fire department who lived next door and whose home also was damaged. His home was again damaged last week in flooding.

Some of the damage from the library’s Facebook page in August 2018.
The library after it was pushed back off the highway so traffic could go through town. The highway is a major highway for truck traffic, etc.

The rest of the library, including books and documents, were scattered across the street, down the street, and downstream.

The library is still gone. The funding the governor (who came to inspect the site) and the state promised would come to replace it was never provided. The funding the county mentioned they might be able to obtain to rebuild it, also never came. Land has been donated to build a new library building, but so far there are no funds to complete the project. The state will also not allow the borough to go into the creek behind the space to clean it out and keep flooding from happening again so the residents of the borough again suffered damage last week when they, again, had flash flooding.

Following the Pennsylvania governor when he toured the site. I took photographs for the paper my husband was working for at the time.

There is a small little library-like set up in town, in front of the church, far away from where it normally floods. Books are placed in a structure that resembles an old British phone booth and patrons can take a book and replace it with another book.

Growing up I only visited the library a few times, but it was cozy and housed a great deal of local history. Its loss was a huge hit to a small town that has already taken many hits over the years.

Thanks for joining me for a tour of the libraries in my area. Now I hope you will hop over to Erin’s blog and check out her post about the libraries she attends and enjoys.

Book Review: Journey to ChiYah by Kimberly Russell. A deeply allegorical journey of our walk with Christ.

Book Title: Journey to ChiYah

Author: Kimberly Russell

Genre: Christian fiction/Christian fantasy

Goodreads Description: JADE PEPPERDINE HAS A PROBLEM

Her life is crumbling beneath the weight of the past, events of the present, and fears for her future. Things need to change, but she doesn’t know where to start.Answers come in the form of an unexpected opportunity when Jade finds herself stuck in a mythical land. She meets Mayor Dudley, who insinuates she is emotionally broken and in need of repair … a fact she’d just as soon ignore. He offers to help her get home if she is willing to face her issues through a process of restoration. Frightened and skeptical yet out of options, Jade grudgingly agrees. And soon figures out that change is a journey, not a destination.Come along on the adventure of a lifetime, and maybe you’ll find someone you never knew you lost: Yourself. 

Excerpt from the author (Thank you, Kim!):

Abaddon’s eyes darkened black like coal. “My idea is simple. You’ve got a gal coming in soon that I think will be perfect for this experiment.” He clucked his tongue. “Thirtyish, a bit, chubby, works in a library. Same tired scenario as the others. Past issues affecting her present. Fear and insecurities. Blah, blah, blah.”

Watch it. She’s one of mine.”

Abaddon’s mouth tightened. “Aren’t they all? Just send her off to gather her journey relics like always, but if I can get them away from her, she stays with me, and I get the Avnet, too.”

Mayor grunted in distaste. No wonder his nemesis’ name meant destruction in Hebrew. He opened his mouth to put the rogue in his place then hesitated. Maybe he could use Abaddon’s plan against him and teach him a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget. A deterrent against future complications.

But at what price? Did he really want to potentially position one of his own in harm’s way? No, but assigning his top emissaries to the case would keep her safe. The unsuspecting woman would be fine, and Abaddon would get what he so richly deserved. And it wouldn’t be the Avnet.

Mayor pushed to his feet. “Fine. Do what you have to.” He whirled and threw a scowl over his shoulder, “But you cannot hurt her. I’m warning you.”

“Oh, I won’t.” Abaddon shot him an evil leer. “Not much, anyway.”

My Review: 5 starts out of 5



Some who read the title of the book will be perplexed and think, “I don’t think this is the book for me,” but they would be wrong. This is a book for everyone.

The book is “fantasy”, I suppose you might say, but it is also deeply allegorical to our journey through life and especially our journey with God and Christ.

This book will transport you to a world of restoration, healing, redemption, and personal revision. It will remind you that we do not merely war against flesh and blood, but “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

The book takes the reader on a fantastical journey with Jade Pepperdine, a 30-something woman who has faced her fair share of heartache, rejection, and flattened self-worth.

Hook yourself in, readers. This is a work of fiction but for many it will be a hard dose of reality wrapped up in a gentle embrace.

After an accident tosses Jade, quite literally, upside down, she finds herself in a mystical land, which she at first believes is part of a dream. She soon learns that ChiYah is very real indeed. A group of five eccentric helpers come alongside her to help her battle her way through the various dangers of ChiYah to reach her personal healing.

But reaching restoration won’t come easy for Jade. She’s agreed to the quest Mayor Dudley has offered to her, albeit grudgingly, so she can go back to her reality in “the real world” working at a library and fending off her overly critical mother. Now she has to sidestep the traps along the way, including unassuming attacks from a mysterious stranger who hopes to cause her to stumble and come work for him instead.

Journey to ChiYah is a book that will have you looking inside yourself, maybe not liking what you see, and then considering taking your own quest to make peace with every part of you  — the happy parts, the grumpy parts, the sometimes unreasonable parts, the parts that have been hurt, the parts that have been rejected, the parts that still have hope left in them.

Russell is a talented writer who uses well-written, engaging fiction laced with humor, well thought out dialogue, and entertaining characters to drive her point home. She uses fiction and prose to touch on so many issues we frail humans deal with, including anxiety, anger, unforgiveness, self-deprecating behavior, distrust, insecurity, a critical spirit.

Most of all, though, she uses her talent to point us to the only one who can heal us of the issues that threaten our joy — a Heavenly Father who wants to take us on a journey that might seem difficult but in the end will lead us into a meadow of peace, even with the chaos of life swirls around us.

Sunday Bookends: A little bit of fishing, way too much rain, and I might actually finish three books this week

Welcome to my Sunday Bookends post where I talk about my previous week, including what I’m reading, watching, listening to, writing and doing.

This week our area was plagued by storms that caused some serious flooding, but luckily not widespread.

Every day we had a storm or at least a crazy downpour, and I started to tell my children they needed to get activities done before our usual afternoon storm.

Roads near us eroded and some are currently impassable.

A small town near me that suffered a great deal of damage two years ago, suffered again, only this time the library had already been washed into the center of a major highway so the high water couldn’t wash that way at least. This time there is an abandoned house about to fall into a creek because rushing water had washed away the creekbank and the ground around it.

Scout, our mischievous kitten, darted out to attempt adventure one day, but was stuck in one of the many storms when I couldn’t capture her to come back inside. I went out to check on my garden in between storms and she slunked across the yard from the neighbor’s outdoor patio, drenched. Usually she runs away from us when she is outside but this time she came right to me and seemed fairly happy when I scooped her up to carry her inside.

Last Sunday, again in between storms, my dad and Little Miss visited Dad’s pond for an impromptu fishing session.

They caught a couple of fish and let them go. While down there, I also startled a couple of fawns and they darted into the woods and a few minutes later two foxes started to call to each other.

On Thursday, I had to drive to our county seat to drop some paperwork off at the assessor’s office. I wanted to take the paperwork in and return home, but Little Miss had other ideas. She wanted to explore the town. Honestly, there isn’t much to explore in the town. Downtown has a handful of buildings, mostly county offices, a nursing home, and several homes. On a backstreet is the school campus, which includes the high school (grades 7 to 12) and elementary school all in one location. The school is the only school in the entire county, population 6,000 or so.

Somehow Little Miss sniffed out the only restaurant in town, a little cozy café. We ordered some fries and mozzarella sticks and while waiting for them, I received a call on my cellphone from the security man at the courthouse. I had left my keyfob for the van. The hook for it broke a few weeks ago so I can’t hook it to my keychain right now. I had placed it in the basket to go through the metal detector and forgot to take it out.

The man called the assessor’s office to see if they had my name and number. He knew how to find me by the sign-in sheet, but also because I was apparently the only person who had entered the courthouse all day. When we walked back to retrieve the key, he met me at the front door and after I mentioned I was taking some photos of the courthouse to share on my blog, he suggested we visit the museum at the back of the building.

Little Miss said she wanted to go but I later learned that was because she thought they would have dinosaur bones. She was sorely disappointed when it turned out they only had local artifacts such as military uniforms from various wars, weapons from the same wars, old pictures, and various other historical items. She also didn’t enjoy when the volunteer and I struck up a conversation about homeschooling that lasted for 45 minutes.

Our lives are so boring, that that short trip, which took about to and a half hours when it should have taken about 30, was the highlight of our week.

What I’m Reading

You are not going to believe this, or actually you will, but I am still reading the same books I’ve been reading for a couple of weeks now. However, I am almost done with The Cat Who Knew A Cardinal by Lilian Jackson Braun.

I also finished the first book in the Rembrandt Stone series, Cast the First Stone by David James Warren and started book two, No Stone Unturned. I am reading No Stone Unturned on my Kindle. I listened to the first one on Audible.

They are very quick, easy reads, written in serial form. The fourth on releases in August. I will probably have the second book finished by the end of today.

I will also most likely finish Journey to ChiYah by Kimberly Russell early this week.

Books I hope to read next include book three of the Rembrandt Stone series and the fourth book of the Walt Longmire series.

Little Miss and I started Little House in the Big Woods this week after finding Farmer Boy. We skipped Little House in the Big Woods when we started the series so we went back to read it.

What I’m Watching

For our anniversary, my husband and I went out to dinner and then we returned home and watched a movie without the kids, which is a rarity. The movie was Twilight with Paul Newman (my favorite actor), James Gardner, Susan Sarandon, and Gene Hackman. It was an interesting mystery and apparently when it came out in 1997, it bombed, which is sad because I thought it held up pretty good.

It probably came out around the same time as Titanic or something.

I’ve also been continuing to watch Jonathan Creek, a British mystery show and in traditional British fashion they are changing characters on me with little warning.

I have also been enjoying To The Manor Born, a British sitcom from the 70s.

Last Sunday I watched the final episode of season two for The Chosen. I am really looking forward to season three, whenever that comes out.

What I’m Writing

I’m writing…stuff. Mainly I’m finishing edits on Harvesting Hope and have started a new story that will probably be called A New Chapter.

What I’m Listening To

I’m still enjoying listening to the Unashamed podcast with three of the men from Duck Dynasty, but I’m very behind.

I also enjoyed listening to a sermon by Pastor Steven Furtick that I missed half of last week.

That’s my week in review. How about you? What are you reading, writing, watching, doing or listening to these days? Let me know in the comments.

Special Fiction Saturday: Harvesting Hope Chapter 24

I am late posting today because I was hosting an author party on a Facebook group I am moderating. Regular readers here know I despise Facebook but a couple of months ago I joined again so I could be part of a readers’ group on there. I stumbled on to this other group as well and they needed a new administrator. I volunteered to help, but at the last minute the other person said they didn’t want to help, so there I was with a group to help run on my own. On a platform I despise. So I go on FB to post there and the other group and briefly on my author page and leave.

Anyhow, here is chapter 24. Regular readers know the drill, where the links are for past chapters, etc., etc.. I won’t bore you with all those links again. Let me know what you think the comments, as always. Also, sorry for another cliffhanger.

Chapter 24

Jason fell into the water on his hands and knees, trying to see the rest of the back seat and under the car. Maybe her body was trapped there, under the hood or roof or trunk. The car seemed to be smashed firmly into the muck and mud of the creek, though, not enough room for a body. Unless. . . he choked down the panic burning his throat, looked around behind him, searching the water and bank frantically.

Could she have been thrown from the car? He looked at the windshield under the water and it was cracked but not shattered.

He stood again, his clothes clinging to him, and shielded his eyes, looking downstream.

“Could she have —” He swallowed hard. “Been swept downstream?”

Denny shook his head. “I don’t see how. This creek’s not deep enough and there’s no current.

Jason pivoted in the water, facing them. “Then where is she?”

Denny raked a hand through his hair. “We’ll need to get a wrecker down here, something to flip this car over and be sure —”

“I don’t think she’s there,” Cody said abruptly.

Denny clutched his hair and blew out a breath. “I don’t want to think that way either, but she could be. We have to be realistic.”

Cody turned toward Denny, lowered his voice. “I’m not trying to be morbid, but I think we’d see some sign that she’s under there.”

Denny looked at the water, nodding. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”

“What about a bear? Could a bear have —”

“Kyle!” Cody’s voice was sharp as he jerked his head toward Jason who was still looking from one side of the bank to the other.

“Bears don’t usually eat cadavers.” The authoritative voice of the coroner silenced the group. Clint O’Malley tripped over a few stones on his way to the car but managed to stay upright. He stood calf deep in water next to Cody, frowning. “Are you boys telling me you called me out here without an actual person for me to declare dead?”

Cody placed his hands on his hips and cleared his throat, looking down at the water then glancing back up at Jason before he looked at Clint. “Ellie Lambert is missing.”

Clint looked at Jason standing a few feet away from him with a dazed expression on his face and blew out a quick breath, following it up with a curse word.

 He nodded at Cody. “Understand. What are our options here? Could she have survived and left the scene?”

Kyle, Denny, and Cody looked at each other and fell silent. Finally, Cody spoke. “Yeah, I think that’s a real possibility. We have to explore it at least.”

Clint looked at the car again. “You should also lift this car up and see what you find underneath it. Just to be sure.”

Jason’s chest constricted and his stomach burned. The idea of her pinned down by two tons of metal, her body mangled beyond recognition left him cold, even as the humidity was rising. Dark clouds hovered along the horizon, visible through the trees. If a storm wasn’t coming, there was at least going to be a shower. Rain would wash away any clues if Ellie had somehow walked away.

“Cody!” Tucker Everly’s voice echoed into the ravine. “We have a possible witness and survivor up here.”

Jason’s head jerked up, his brow furrowed as he looked up at Tucker, who’d been among the volunteers he’d trained with the most when he’d started with the department a few months ago.

“Luke found Brad Tanner along the road about a mile up. He has a gash on his head and his face is a mess. He can’t remember anything about last night but woke up along the bank by the creek this morning. He says he vaguely remembers being in the car with Ellie last night.”

All the men’s eyes were on Jason again.

“I drove him home last night,” Jason said, more to himself than anyone else. “I don’t understand. Why would he be in Ellie’s car?”

He stood and started climbing the bank toward the road, confusion and anger rising with each step. “Where is he?”

Tucker grabbed his hand and helped him the last few steps, then nodded toward a maroon pickup pulling in.

“Luke just pulled in with him.”

By the time Jason reached the passenger side of the truck at a full on jog, his mood had reached a dangerous level of rage. Brad opened the door, and he didn’t even wait for him to climb out. He grabbed the front of his cousin’s shirt and dragged him out, slamming him hard against the side of the truck. “Where is she?” the question hissed out of Jason between clenched teeth. “What happened?”

Brad held his hands up, palms out, shaking his head. “Jason, I don’t know. I can’t remem—”

Jason slammed his back hard against the truck again. “Tell me what happened or I swear I’ll  —”

“Jason!” Luke grabbed his arms, pulled him back. “He wreaks of booze and shows all the signs of a concussion. He’s not going to be any help in this shape. The EMTs need to look at him.”

Jason tightened his grip on Brad’s shirt, breathing hard, jaw tight, eyes focused on Brad’s scrunched up face, his eyes squeezed tight as if waiting for Jason to punch him. Jason slammed Brad back against the truck again “They can look at him after I finish with him.”

“Jason!” Alex’s voice behind Jason distracted him long enough for one of the EMTs to grab one of his arms while Alex grabbed the other.  “This isn’t helping.”

Alex and the EMT pulled until Jason let go of Brad’s shirt. Alex pressed a hand against Jason’s chest. “You need to calm down.”

Jason shook them both off with a jerk of his arms and walked to the side of the road, sitting on a stump next to a tree. He propped his arms on his knees and clenched his fists in front of him as Alex walked over and stood above him.

“When did you get here?” he asked Alex.

“Maybe ten minutes ago. Cody filled me in. I was on my way down the bank when I saw you coming up.” He knelt next to Jason, propped on his own knee. “Walt called your dad. He heard the chatter on the scanner.”

Jason’s head jerked up. “Did they say Ellie’s name on the scanner?”

Alex shook his head. “No. Just that there was a car in the water. Walt thought it might be Brad. He didn’t come home last night, but no one thought much of it. He’s been doing that a lot since he got back.” He placed a hand on Jason’s shoulder, his voice low. “They’re going to start a search, spread out and walk in a circle about a mile away to see if they can find any sign of her. They’ve also got a team coming in from Wyoming County to walk the creek with them and another water search and rescue crew.”

Jason looked at the ground, nodding. After a few seconds of silence, he stood abruptly. “Okay. I’m going to head out then. Can you call her parents, fill in Molly and Mom?”

Alex stood. “Yeah, but I’m going with you.”

Jason nodded. “That’s fine. I’m not waiting for the search teams, though. You’ve got five minutes to meet me on the other side of the creek.”

He pivoted and started down the embankment, not giving Alex any time to respond.

The way Clint squeezed his shoulder on his way back to his truck left a hard lump of dread in Jason’s gut.

“Call me if I’m needed,” he said softly.

God, please, don’t let us need him, Jason prayed as he collected gear from his truck and headed down the embankment toward the creek.

“Where are you going, Jase?”

He ignored Cody’s question, kept walking through the creek, past the wreckage of the car, and toward the embankment on the other side.

“Just keep your phone on you in case you need us, or we need you,” Cody called after him.

Alex fell in step with him when he reached the top of the bank on the other side of the wreckage and started toward a more wooded area.

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think she went looking for help? If so, why didn’t she just go on the road?”

“I don’t know.”

“She should have had a cell on her —”

“I don’t know.”

Alex fell silent and they continued to walk, sweat beading on their skin and soaking their backs.

“It just needs to rain already,” Alex mumbled.

“If it rains, I won’t be able to find her tracks.” He didn’t add, “If there are any,” because he didn’t want to think there wouldn’t be.

“Good point.”

The humidity sucked air from his lungs with each breath and a crack of thunder signaled they should seek shelter rather than keep walking, but he wasn’t about to stop. If Ellie was alive, he was going to find her. If she wasn’t alive, he still needed to find her. Her family needed closure. He’d hurt them so much already. He couldn’t hurt them again.

At the top of the hill the woods faded into a wide open field. Jason stopped walking and bent over, hands on knees, catching his breath, chest burning.

Alex did the same. “How can we both be in such good shape, yet that hill almost kill us?”

“The humidity isn’t helping.”

“How much further should we walk? If she was injured she —”

“I don’t know.”

There was a lot he didn’t know.

Fire still burned through his chest when he stood up and started walking again.

God, please. Help me find her.

In twenty minutes, they had walked the length of the field, down over a hill, and back up another one. Jason turned and looked behind him, estimating they had already walked a mile and a half from the accident scene. She couldn’t have walked this far, could she have? Maybe she hadn’t been able to walk. Dear God, maybe she was under that car. Maybe the wrecker had come, helped overturn the car and her body was lifeless in that creek bed. He clasped his hands behind his head, breathing hard. Pressing his arms against his head, he intertwined his fingers, and choked back a sob.

“God,” he hit his knees, pressed his hands into the dirt in front of him, bowing his head toward the ground. “Please, please don’t take Ellie from me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for my stubbornness. For all my mistakes. Please, give me a second chance with her.”

In a few minutes, after sobbing until his chest and back ached, he became aware of Alex kneeling beside him, his hand on his back. They stayed that way for several minutes and when Jason sat back, he noticed Alex’s face was damp as well.

Alex shook his head, dragging a hand across his cheeks, and stood. “We’re not giving up. Come on. Maybe she tried to take a shortcut over this hill to get to the Bradley farm and call for help.”

Jason dragged his hand across his face and stood slowly. “That sounds like something she’d do. Go to get help for even a moron like Brad.” He brushed the dirt off his jeans and spit at the ground. “He better have some answers for me when I get back.”

“We can think about that later.” Alex started down the hill. Jason started to follow him when his phone rang. He didn’t recognize the caller ID, but answered it anyhow, hoping it was a member of the fire department, telling him they had found her. Alive.

“Jason?”

“Judi?”

“Jason, have you found her?”

“No. Not yet.”

Judi’s voice broke. “They flipped her car over and she’s not there. Where is she? Where is my sister?”

“I don’t know, Judi. I’ll keep looking. Are you with your parents?”

Judi’s sobs came through the phone. “Yes. I’m at their house. Jason, if you find her, however you find her, you have to tell her I’m sorry. We had a big fight the other night and I told her I hated her and that I hated being her sister —” Her voice faded to a tearful whisper. “Oh God. I don’t hate her. God, please don’t let her be dead.”

He wanted to offer her encouragement, but he wasn’t sure how, when his heart felt as hopeless as hers at the moment. “Judi.” His voice broke and he tried again. “Judi, I want you to pray. If you can’t pray, ask your parents to pray with you. As soon as I know anything I’ll call you. Keep your phone next to you, okay?”

He could almost see Judi in his mind nodding as he heard her crying. “Okay. I will.” She took a deep breath. “Jason?”

He looked out over the farmland in front of him, red barns, cows in fences, fields being planted with sileage to feed the cows in winter. “Yeah.”

“She loves you so much. I don’t know why she’s being so stubborn right now, but she’s always loved you and I know she still loves you.”

He swallowed hard, tears blurring his vision. The way she referred to Ellie in the present tense made his heart ache with a glimmer of hope that she still was in the present tense. “Thank you, Judi. Keep the phone next to you.”

“Jason!”

He’d lost sight of Alex, but now he could hear him shouting from somewhere on the other side of the hill.

He took off in the direction of the voice, almost catching his foot in a groundhog hole as he ran. Alex was running toward him, his face flushed. “I found her.”

Fiction Friday: Harvesting Hope Chapter 23

Just a note to regular readers: I will be putting this book up on Kindle on August 12. I’ve lowered the preorder price to $.99 so my blog readers can get it cheap and then once the book goes on sale I’ll be raising the price. I can also send a mobi or ePub version to you through Bookfunnel for free so if you are interested please let me know and either leave me your email here in the comments or send one to me at lisahoweler@gmail.com so I can send it along August 12.

Bookfunnel will have you upload the book yourself to your reading app so if you prefer not to do that, you can do the option on Amazon. If you want a paperback, please order through me and I will mail you one. It will be cheaper than what Amazon charges for books (I only make about a $4 profit from what they charge).

If you are a new reader here, I share a chapter from my WIP each Friday, and sometimes Saturday, on my blog. There are typos, grammatical issues and even plot holes at times because this is a first, second, or third draft that hasn’t gone to my editor (eh, husband) yet. If you see a typo, feel free to kindly let me know in the comments. Sometimes the error has already been fixed on my copy, sometimes not.

Catch up with the rest of the story HERE. Don’t feel like reading the book in a series of chapters each Friday? Preorder the book HERE. Do you want to read the first book in the series? Download it HERE. 

Chapter 23

Jason snatched up the scraper and walked toward the stalls, knowing without looking in a mirror his face was showcasing the happiness he felt inside. As soon as this job was finished, he was heading to town to see Ellie. His muscles tensed in anticipation at the thought of seeing her, holding her, kissing her. The fact she’d almost let him kiss her, despite everything, gave him a sense of hope he hadn’t had in months, and certainly hadn’t had at all earlier this week.

“Walt’s got the part we need for the skid steer.” His dad’s voice startled him out of his thoughts. “Can you head up and grab it when you’re done here?”

He smiled, not really thinking about the part at all. “Yeah. No problem.”

“Just be careful. Walt says the fire department is stopping cars at the bottom of the hill down from his place.”

“Okay.”

Robert narrowed his eyes. “You okay, kid? You’re acting a little off. You seem a little — well, distracted.”

Jason propped the scraper against the wall and laughed. “Yeah. I’m okay. Really okay. I’m more than okay.”

Robert raised an eyebrow. “You drunk?”

Jason shook his head, catching the sparkle in his dad’s eye. “Only in love.”

“With Ellie still, I hope.”

“Absolutely.”

Robert smiled as he walked toward the back of the barn. “Then carry on.”

A half an hour later Jason stretched his arms over his head and listened to the bones along his spine crack. He climbed in the truck, thinking about the night before, wishing he hadn’t had to deal with Brad. After he picked up the part for the skid steer, he was flooring it to the preschool and waiting for Ellie in the parking lot. He wasn’t about to let her out of his sight again.

He tapped her name on his phone before pulling out onto the road.

“Hey, this is Ellie. Leave me a message and I’ll be get back in touch with you as soon as I can.”

He smiled. Even her voicemail was sweet.

“Hey, El. It’s Jason. Thought maybe you’d like to grab lunch at Bonnie’s today? I’m heading to Walt’s for a part for the skid steer, have a couple more things to do at the farm, and then I can pick you up outside the school. I’ll try again in a bit and see what you think.”

He tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. Everything looked brighter today. The sun on the grass, its light filtering through the trees, leaving misshapen patterns on the road in front of him, the wild summer flowers blooming. The sky wasn’t totally blue, a few dark clouds were threatening rain, but even the clouds didn’t bring him down. His heart still ached over the loss of John but today his grief was buffered by hope. Hope for reconciliation with the woman he’d wanted to marry since he was 18-years old.

Blue and red lights blinked in front of him, and he pressed the brake, stopping when junior firefighter Nate Baker waved a white flag at him. Fire trucks, the vehicles of volunteer fire fighters, and an ambulance were parked in a line along the road.

He leaned his head toward his open window as Nate stepped toward him. “Hey, kid. What’s going on?”

Nate, 16-years old, jerked his head toward broken trees at the edge of the embankment. “Car over the bank. They’re down there checking it out now.”

“Any injuries?”

Nate shrugged a shoulder. “Don’t know yet. They just told me to slow the traffic down.”

Jason studied the broken trees and rubbed his chin, rough from stubble. He’d been too distracted with thoughts of Ellie to shave this morning. “I’ll see if they need any help.” He reached out the window and pounded Nate on the shoulder. “Keep up the good work, bud.”

Shifting the truck into park he watched Cody walk through the broken trees toward the road. The fire chief looked up as Jason exited his truck, the expression on his face when he caught sight of Jason indecipherable. Jason narrowed his eyes, trying to read the chief’s expression. Was the accident fatal?

Cody met him at the top of the embankment, immediately placing his hands on Jason’s shoulders. “Jason, hey, what are you doing here?” He was breathless, sweat beading his brow.

“I was on my way to pick up something from my uncles and saw you guys here.” Jason craned his neck, looking over Cody’s shoulder. “Do you need help?”

Cody squeezed his shoulders, shaking his head and pushing gently until Jason was forced to take a couple steps back. “No. We’re good. We’ll call you if you we need you.”

Jason cocked an eyebrow. “What’s going on with you? You’re acting weird. Did I do something to upset you? Did you find out something about the fire?

Cody swung an arm around his shoulder and started walking, pulling Jason with him. “I’d tell  you if I was upset with you. No worries there. And nothing about the fire. It’s just that we’ve just got this covered.”

Jason looked over Cody’s shoulder as they walked, looking through the leaves and tree limbs. He caught sight of the blue bumper of a car at the bottom of the embankment and stopped walking, pulling from Cody’s grip. “Whose car is that?”

“Jason, you need to go home, okay?”

Why had he even asked whose car it was? He knew whose car it was.

“Jason!”

He ran full force toward the wooded area and was met by Denny and Kyle Barton on their way up the hill.

Denny’s eyes met his, his mood somber. “Jason, you need to stay up there.”

Jason shook his head, kept walking. “That’s Ellie’s car.”

The two men put up their hands to block him. “Jason, stay here until we —”

Jason was practically shouting now. “Where’s Ellie?” The men had their hands on him now, trying to hold him back. “Where is she?”

He pushed back against them, panic clutching at his throat until he could barely breathe. He broke past the men, pushing them aside, barreling through the underbrush and trees, briars cutting into his skin as he ran. He stopped running when he hit the clearing, stopped, breathing hard, and looked down at the creek bed.

Ellie’s car was on its roof, upside down in the water. Other volunteer fire fighters were making their way to it, pushing brush aside to get there, but it didn’t look like any of them had reached it yet. Behind him branches and twigs broke under the weight of the men who’d tried to keep him back.

“We haven’t gotten down there yet, Jason.” Cody shouted from behind him. “We were on our way down when Jay radioed that you’d pulled in. Stay here until we know what we’re dealing with.”

Jason shook his head. “No. I have to —”

Denny clutched a hand around his forearm. “Listen, Jason. If she’s in there, you don’t want to remember her this way. Okay?”

Jason yanked his arm free, walking forward. “If she’s in there, I need to get her out. No matter what —” His voice broke and he drew in a ragged breath. He shook his head, leaning forward on his knees, the scene before him blurring. His chest ached, tightened like a vice against his lungs.

Dragging the back of his hand across his face he straightened and started making his way over the boulders along the creek bank. Another firefighter, Will Barton, Kyle’s father, was standing behind the car and put his hand up to stop him, but Cody’s voice echoed among the trees.

“Let him go, Will.”

Will shook his head. “Not alone, I won’t.”

He placed a hand on Jason’s back, following him deeper into the water.

Water Jason’s shoes and jeans, but he didn’t even notice. He was vaguely aware of Cody and Denny and the other men navigating their way down the bank and boulders to join him. Otherwise, he was entirely focused on the smashed driver’s side window submerged part way in the water.

“Oh God,” he whispered. “God, help me bring my Ellie home to her family.”

The only way to see what was inside was to lean over. From where he was now, the water now thigh deep, he could only make out what looked like a sweater moving in the water, hanging through the window. He lowered himself, water rushing up over his lower body, trying to brace himself for whatever awaited, but knowing nothing could prepare him if Ellie was in there dead.

A sob choked out as he looked inside the window, at water ripping over the steering wheel and Ellie’s purse floating in the water below the passenger seat. His gaze moved from the front to the back of the car, and he straightened, shaking his head and pressing the heel of his palms against his closed eyes.

“Jason, I’m coming.” Denny shouted to him as he made his way over the rocks and through the water. “Don’t try to get her out until I get there.”

Jason sobbed again, trying to shake himself awake from the nightmare. This couldn’t be happening.

“She’s not here.”

Denny balanced himself on the side of the car. “What? What do you mean?”

Jason opened his eyes and looked at Denny, breathing hard. “She’s not here. The car’s empty.”