Life has been crazy in my neck of the woods, but revising Chapter 2 to share here this week helped distract me a little. Hopefully, it will actually post because my parents’ house (where we are staying for a while) has some pretty awful WiFi. That has been both a blessing and a curse. I’ve been frustrated at times being unable to access things online I’d like to but it’s also been a blessing because I am cut off in many ways from the negative news of the world. I can’t scroll Facebook or even access news sites at certain points in the day and I’m actually liking that.
If you missed Chapter 1, you can find the link HERE.
The Spencer Valley Community Center was the gathering place on Thursday nights for half the town of Spencer, population 3,000. In one conference room, the Spencer Valley Historical Society was meeting to discuss the upcoming history fair and fundraiser. In another room, there was a painting class, ages teen to 90s.
At the end of the hall a dance class was being held in the main gathering area and in a small conference room behind the kitchen, the Spencer Sewing and Knitting Club was holding its weekly gathering for amateurs and experts alike.
Molly was an amateur, which was clear from how she was sucking her index finger after stabbing it the third time in ten minutes while trying to learn to cross-stitch. She wasn’t even sure why she was at the sewing club. She’d never been interested in creating anything with thread and needle. She was usually at the community center for painting or sketching classes. When her friend Liz had invited her to the sewing club meeting she’d agreed, simply to break up the monotony of her evenings at the milking barn.
Molly laid her project down on her lap and rubbed her eyes.
“I haven’t been able to sleep all week,” she said through a yawn. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Liz Cranmer, Molly’s friend since seventh grade sat across from her in a cushioned wooden chair, her red-blond hair tied back in a neat ponytail.
“It’s all that worrying you do,” Liz said, matter-of-factly. “You have too much cortisol in your system.”
Oh, here we go again, Molly thought, fighting the strong urge to roll her eyes.
Liz was a self-proclaimed natural health expert. She was also a well-known hypochondriac. A half-filled water bottle with ice and freshly cut lemons sat next to her chair, which she sipped throughout the meeting.
“I don’t even know what cortisol is,” Molly said. She immediately regretted admitting her lack of knowledge.
Liz laid her project on her lap and looked up. “That’s what your adrenals make when you’re stressed. It’s a hormone that is produced by your body to try to help you —”
“Adrenals. They’re glands that sit on top of your kidneys.”
“Do they help me pee? Because I’m peeing fine.”
The other women, sitting on couches or chairs in a semi-circle, were starting to giggle.
“Oh boy. Here we go again,” Mildred McGee said with a shake of her head.
“No, they don’t help you pee,” Liz said. “They help regulate your flight or fight response.”
“By making me pee?” Molly asked.
“They aren’t related to peeing,” Liz said impatiently, rolling her eyes. “Anyhow, you need to buy some supplements to regulate your adrenals. Are you tired all day and wide awake at night?”
Molly sipped coffee from a thermos next to her and shook her head. If Liz wasn’t diagnosing herself with unusual ailments she read about in some magazine or online, then she was diagnosing her friends.
Ginny Jefferies, the town’s 50-year-old librarian, sighed. “Oh, Liz. You’ve been reading too many medical sites again. You know you’re a hypochondriac.”
“Well, I didn’t say I had it,” Liz pointed out. “I said Molly did.”
Louise McGroarty smiled and looked over her bifocals at Liz and Molly in amusement as she looped another piece of yarn around her needle.
“I don’t have adrenal issues,” Molly sighed. “I’ve just been thinking too much lately.”
“What have you been thinking about?” Liz asked.
“I don’t know. Life in general, I guess. Like what I want to do with mine besides working on the farm.”
“Molly, honey, you only live once and if you want to see what life is like beyond this town then you should finish that degree you started all those years ago and see where it takes you,” Louise said as she tied off a piece of thread. “You’re almost 30, kid. It’s beyond time to figure out what you want in life and get on with it.”
“I’m 26, not almost 30,” Molly said.
“26 is the new almost 30,” Jessie Newberry, the mayor’s secretary, said with a grin.
Molly sighed. She had been sighing a lot lately.
“Really though, I like living on the farm,” Molly said. “It’s what I’m used to.”
“What you’re used to isn’t always what is best for you, honey,” Ginny said, pushing a needle through her project.
“Exactly. Besides helping your family, and maybe us wonderful ladies,” Lydia Walmsley smiled as she gestured around the room. “What else is keeping you in this town?
As if on cue, the side door to the community room opened and a quiet hush fell over the women as they looked up from their projects. Molly followed their gazes and watched Alex walking toward her wearing a dirty pair of jeans and a stained white t-shirt. The expressions on the women’s faces made it seem like he was strutting down a catwalk on fashion week in Paris instead of into the community room in his farm clothes.
“Hey,” he said, stopping and standing in front of her, hooking his thumbs through his belt loops. “Your mom wants to know if you can stop by the store on the way home and pick up some more flour and sugar for the rest of the cakes.”
She furrowed her eyebrows and smiled slightly. “You don’t know how to buy flour and sugar?”
“You know I always buy the wrong thing,” Alex said with a grin, pushing his fingers back through his ruffled brown hair.
Molly noticed that almost all the women were watching her and Alex, or more accurately Alex as if Alex was standing shirtless under a waterfall.
“I can pick it up,” she told him. “Now get out of here and go be productive somewhere.”
Alex offered a mock salute. “Sure thing, drill sergeant,” Alex said. He turned to walk away and then looked over his shoulder and smirked. “Have fun sewing and knitting, ladies.”
Liz looked at Molly with one eyebrow raised, her back to Alex.
“We sure will, Alex,” she said. “You have a good day now.”
Alex walked through the doorway, his back to the women. “Oh, I plan to.”
As the door closed firmly behind Alex, Liz smirked.
“And that, my dear ladies, is what is really keeping Molly Tanner in Spencer Valley,” she said as warmth rushed into Molly’s cheeks.
“Ooooh…” several of the women cooed together as Molly rolled her eyes.
“That could not be further from the truth,” she said.
“He’d keep me here,” Maddie Simpson said with a smile. “I’d just follow him around anywhere like I was a lost puppy dog.” The other women laughed in agreement.
Hannah Barks fanned her chest with her hand. “Same here. Oh my, Molly, where have you been hiding him?”
“I haven’t. He’s been working at our farm for the last five years. Of course, unless you live at the local bars or attend a rodeo you’ve probably never met him.”
“Sounds like someone is trying to pretend she’s not interested,” Allie Jenkins said with a smirk.
Molly started to fold her project as she shook her head.
“I’m going to go get those baking supplies for mom to avoid the wrath of Mavis.”
“No matter what you do, you’ll never avoid the wrath of Mavis,” Ginny said with a snort.
The other women laughed and nodded in agreement.
“Isn’t that the truth?” Allie said. “That woman is never happy.”
Liz shoved her project into her bag quickly. “I’ll follow you,” she told Molly.
Outside in the parking lot, the sun was just starting to set. Golden light poured across the small town of Spencer, making it look almost picturesque. Molly always thought that if it hadn’t been for several dilapidated, abandoned buildings along Main Street and the empty shoe factory on the edge of town, her hometown could be mistaken for one of those quaint villages in a Hallmark movie.
Many of the homes were well maintained, fairly new siding, matching shutters, the stereotypical white picket fence surrounding the neatly mowed front and back yards. The homes that were less maintained were where every book and movie always placed them – on the other side of the train tracks and well out of view of most visitors, who usually looked for the small, unique shops on Main Street instead.
The tracks were mainly used to transport cars to and from the railcar repair station. The repair center was the last remnant of the railroad company that once employed the majority of the town, helping to facilitate its growth more than 100 years ago, along with farming and the local medical center. When train transportation became less prominent, its demise was part of what started the town down the slippery slope of its economic decline.
Across from the community center was St. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church; one of many churches in town. Molly looked up at the building, a tall cross illuminated from behind and adhered to the front of the stone structure, near the middle of the bell tower. In front of it was a statue of Mary and in front of Mary were a bouquet of fresh flowers that someone must have placed there earlier in the day.
The small farming community was host to a variety of small churches, representing a variety of the main Christian denominations. While Molly had always admired the stunning architecture and stained-glass windows of the Catholic Church, her idea of how to approach her faith had led her to what was called a “non-denominational church” thirty minutes away, in the neighboring town of Millsburg. The church hadn’t hitched itself to any one denomination and this was a concept that appealed to Molly.
“So, are you really thinking of leaving the farm?” Liz asked after she had finished chatting with the ladies and met Molly in the parking lot.
“I don’t know,” Molly admitted. “I like helping dad and mom with the farm. I like helping with the cows and at the farm, working at the farm store, and I even like collecting the eggs from those cranky hens. On some days I can’t really see myself doing anything else, but on other days – I don’t know. I just want something different.”
Liz flipped a strand of hair off her shoulder. “I hear you. Change is good. Why do you think I left my job at the school district? I needed something more exciting than answering phones and scheduling the superintendent’s meetings.”
“You work at a health food store,” Molly said with a laugh. “Is that really more exciting?”
Liz tilted her head and laughed. “Sometimes it is actually. Yes. Last week a woman came in and asked if the crystals we have would help her to realign her shakra. I don’t even know what a shakra is. I just told her it was possible and left off that I had no idea.”
Reaching their cars, Liz unlocked hers and tossed her bag into the passenger seat. She leaned back against the closed door.
“But enough about me, back to you. You’ll have to think about what you want to do beyond the farm, but I know one thing you can do now: come to the gym with me and get in shape and snag that sexy Alex.”
Molly unlocked her own car and shook her head at her friend. “Liz, no. Alex is — well, Alex. And he wouldn’t be interested in me at all anyhow.”
“I highly doubt that’s true and besides, are you interested in him?”
Molly raised her arm and looked at an imaginary watch. “Oh, my. Look at the time. Don’t you have a cat to get home and feed, Liz?”
Liz sighed as she turned to slid into the front seat. “Go ahead, Molly Tanner. Chase away your best friend who is only trying to help you lose your —”
Molly waved over her shoulder at her friend. “Bye, Liz. Will I see you at the ladies’ group Tuesday?
“I don’t know.” Liz shrugged. “I might have to work. Jane has been out sick this week.”
Jane Wilcox was Liz’s boss and the owner of Nature’s Best Health Food Store. Molly thought that for someone who touted healthy living and eating she sure was sick a lot.
“Well, I hope you can come. We’re studying Esther this week.”
“Again? Oh my gosh, I get it,” Liz said with an eye roll. “Esther was wonderful and we should all be like Esther.”
“There are a lot of good lessons in her story, but, no, we can’t all be like her,” Molly said. “I’m sure she wasn’t perfect. We’re only hearing one story of her life.”
Liz laughed. “I know, like how Facebook and Instagram only show the highlights of someone’s life. I’ll see what I can do. Drive home safe, lady. And for Godsake, don’t let Mavis rope you into manning that bake sale table again.”
Pulling the door closed Molly thought about how Liz felt she needed to change her looks to get the attention of a man. She was probably right, still it was weird thinking about the need to become someone you weren’t simply to be paid attention to by the opposite sex. What happened when the man found out Molly wasn’t who he had thought she was? That would certainly be an awkward transition unless the woman simply pretended to be someone else the rest of her life.
Molly shuddered as she drove, thinking about a woman she had known who was doing exactly that and was probably miserable because of it. Dana Priester always had her hair styled perfectly, her make up just so, her clothes always the latest design, and a smile always plastered on her face. How awful it must be for her to always have to be “on” and never be allowed to let down her hair and simply be herself. Then again, Molly thought with a shrug, maybe stuck up and fake was who Dana really was.
Just as awkward as Liz’s suggestion that she get in shape to catch a man was the man Liz had mentioned. Molly had definitely found her mind wandering more than once to Alex’s handsome appearance but she had never thought about trying to “win him over” or “catch him.” Alex was — well, Alex. He was simply there. Her brother’s best friend, her dad and uncle’s employee, her co-worker, for lack of a better word.
He was attractive, easy to talk to and fun to be around but Molly knew he would never be anything more than those things to her. He was too attractive, too charming, and maybe even too fun for her. There was no way he would ever be interested in someone like her; someone who weighed more than she should, didn’t pay much attention to her feminine side and who he most likely merely thought of as his best friend’s little sister who he worked with at the barn.
Passing the town limits and relaxing as the comforting sight of fields of hay rose up around her, Molly shifted her thoughts from Alex to the ladies’ group and how it had been helping her study the Bible more. She still had a long way to go before she felt as “spiritual” as some of the women in the group, who seemed to trust God in every step of their lives, but she felt more equipped to handle life than she had five years ago when her grandfather was first diagnosed and she had started caring for him.
She knew she should have been praying more about what God wanted for her life too, but she’d prayed she had prayed a lot when her Grandfather’s health had taken a turn for the worse and never heard an answer. Why would God now give her an answer about what steps she should take in her life? And even if he did give her answers, how would he give her answers?
She knew answers from God weren’t like an audible voice from the clouds, but she had been seeking answers about her next step in life for seven years and, yet, here she was, almost 26, and feeling stuck in a deep, boring, frustrating rut. She didn’t know if leaving the farm was what she needed to get out of it, but she knew she needed some kind of change and she needed to make that change sooner rather than later.