We are on Chapter 9 already of The Farmer’s Daughter and I will tell you I’m not sure what’s coming after Chapter 11 because I haven’t hit a writer’s block but I have hit a challenge of where I want to put certain chapters or events and how I want to write a couple of them. I also worry about the chapters I share on the blog being too long, but well, if they are too long for you, just don’t read them. *wink*
Let me know in the comments if you’re falling in love with the characters as much as I am and what direction you hope to see the story take.
If you want to follow the rest of The Farmer’s Daughter, from the beginning, click HERE.
Alex cracked open a soda and leaned back against the porch railing of the old farmhouse, looking out over the recently harvested fields and breathing in deep the smell of freshly cut hay. He missed his normal beer, but alcohol had become too much of a crutch for him these last few years. He was doing his best to drink less beer and more water and soda.
He rubbed his hand across the stubble on his chin and jawline, pondering if he should shave it off before he headed back to the barn after lunch. He’d been clean shaven when he first arrived at the Tanner’s farm, five years ago. He couldn’t even believe that next week would make it five years exactly. So much had changed for him since that day.
“Hey, Dad, this is Alex. He needs a job,” Jason had said a few moments after they had walked in the Tanner’s farmhouse, two years after their college graduation. He was grinning while Alex’s face flushed red with embarrassment. He felt like a loser whose friend had to find a job for him because he was too inept to find one himself.
Robert, sitting at the kitchen table, peered around the newspaper he was reading and looked Alex up and down, a somber look on his face.
“Know anything about farming?” he asked.
“No, sir,” Alex said honestly, shoving his hands down in his jean pockets nervously. “But I’m willing to learn.”
Robert laid the paper down, leaned back in his chair and frowned. He tapped his fingers on the table and then a smile slowly tilted his mouth upward.
“It’s a good thing Jason already mentioned you might be coming home with him. We need a hired hand to help around the farm. My wife’s parents’ home will be able to move into by the end of the week since they’re moving to a condo in town.”
Robert stood and reached his hand out toward Alex. Alex took it, shaking it firmly.
“Glad to have you on board,” Robert said.
In the next year, Alex worked hard, wanting to please the man he saw care for his family, day in and day out, rarely taking a break, on constant call with farm work, first with his father and brother and then when the elder Tanner passed away, his brother and son. He’d watched Robert try hard to help his fellow farmers, buying their land when they could no longer farm, offering them jobs on his farm or at the family’s farm store. He’d been there when Robert’s father had disappeared further into dementia, then passed away, and he’d watched the family’s farm store expand from selling organic meats and dairy, eggs and vegetables to now offering flowers, plants, and even farming and gardening equipment.
Over those years, Robert had become like a father to Alex, teaching him how to work hard, how to run a business, and more importantly, how to care for a family. So far, though, Alex wasn’t anywhere near starting a family, or ready to care for one on his own. There were days he wasn’t even sure this was what he wanted for his future – to work on a small family farm in the middle of nowhere.
But there were other days, when he looked back on a day filled with accomplishments, when he could sit back and smell the freshly harvested field, that he could imagine himself living his whole life growing food in the soil, caring for the cows that gave the nation its’ dairy, and helping a family support themselves through the work of their hands.
Annie had become the mother he’d never had in his own – caring, nurturing, and understanding. After six months of living in the home Annie had grown up in and working for her husband, he’d found himself sick with a cold and alternating between shivering and burning up as he cleaned out the stalls.
“Alex, you need to come inside and let me make you some tea and honey,” Annie said, standing in the barn doorway, dressed in brown overalls and a thick winter coat.
“I’m okay, Mrs. Tanner, but th – “
“Don’t argue, young man,” Annie said. “You’ll be no good to anyone if that junk gets into your lungs. Get on in here. Robert can do without you for a few hours. You’ll have some tea and lay down in the spare room. No use arguing.”
She turned quickly and began walking toward the house.
Robert stood up from where he’d been inspecting the underside of a cow and jerked his head toward his retreating wife.
“You’d better listen to her. When she gets something into her head, she won’t let it go. Besides, Henry is coming in at 10 and I know he can help us while you rest.”
Inside the house, Annie set a cup of steaming hot tea in front of him at the table.
“Try leaning over that and breathing it in. It will help your nose loosen up.”
Alex nodded and did as he was told.
“Did your mom do this to you when you were young? I bet she did. All my bossing around is probably making you feel like a little boy again.”
Alex stared at the steam swirling up toward him and thought about his mom, how she’d almost never been maternal, though he was sure she had loved him and his brother. When he and Sam were sick, she had sent them to their rooms and set toast and juice in front of them and turned on a cartoon. She never felt foreheads or took temperatures, but sometimes took them to the doctor if the illness hit them hard enough.
“My mom wasn’t really – uh- maternal,” he said with a shrug. “She loved me and Sam. She just didn’t know how to be . . . comforting, I guess you would say.”
Annie turned from the stove and looked at him with furrowed eyebrows. “I’m sorry to hear that. That must have been hard for you and your brother.”
Alex shrugged again. “In some ways. But we turned out okay. I always considered us lucky. We were well fed, had whatever we wanted, except the attention of our parents, of course. They didn’t beat us, so there’s that at least.”
Annie sighed and held her hand against Alex’s forehead.
“But a little love shown shouldn’t have been too much to ask. You’re burning up. I’ll get that spare room set up for you. I want you to sip that tea and then I’ll give you a dose of elderberry syrup and pull out the Vapo rub and put it by the bed. I’ll make chicken soup for lunch.”
Alex shook his head as she walked toward the stairs, amazed at her kindness, especially toward someone who wasn’t even a member of her family. It wasn’t long, though, that Alex began to feel like a member of the family. Jason had already been like another brother. Robert became his surrogate father, Annie his surrogate mother. Even Franny and Ned treated him like he was one of their own, or at least Ned did before he forgot who almost everyone was.
And then there was Molly.
Beautiful, sweet Molly.
He let out a deep breath, clutched at his hair and lowered his head into his hands, trying to shake the image of her shapely figure backlit by the setting sun, standing across from him in the barn. He remembered clearly the day he’d first noticed how beautiful she’d become, how grown up she was looking. It had been three years ago and they had been talking about their favorite music, where they saw themselves in ten years, and what the future held for small family farms, a topic Alex never imagined he’d be concerned with.
“I guess I figured I would be writing for a major magazine or newspaper by now,” Molly said, leaning back against a hay bale, sliding her arms behind her head. “Maybe that’s just not what God has planned for me or maybe I messed up his plans by not finishing my degree. I don’t know. Do you think we can mess up God’s plans?”
Alex felt uneasy but tried not to show it.
“Not sure,” he said casually, leaning on the rake handle. “I’ve never thought much about God, let alone if He, She, or They, has ever directed my path in life. If a higher power is up there, it would have been nicer if he’d directed my life in a few different directions over the years.”
The sunlight pouring in from the window high in the top of the barn hit Molly’s hair and highlighted her red-blond curls. Her skin was smooth, her eyes bright, her shirt pulled tightly against her full, shapely figure. His pulse quickened and he quickly looked away from the curve of her throat, knowing his gaze would keep slipping lower if he let it. He mentally scolded himself, feeling like a dirty old man until he remembered they were still both in their 20s at the time, him only four years older. It wasn’t as if he was old enough to be her father.
Molly looked over at him, moving her arms from behind her head and leaning on her elbow against the hay bale.
He saw compassion in her eyes as she spoke. “But, don’t you think that one of the greatest gifts God could have given us is our own free will? We make our own decisions and sometimes we make the wrong ones because we don’t listen to what God is telling us so maybe it isn’t that he didn’t direct our life but we didn’t follow his directions.”
Alex laughed and shook his head. “I’m not the one you want to have a deep theological discussion with.” He tapped his temple with his finger. “There’s nothing deep in here.”
Molly smiled and his stomach quivered in a way he’d never felt before. “I highly doubt that, Alex Stone. I have a feeling there’s a lot more to you than you let on.”
She tossed a handful of straw at him and skipped past him on the way to the house. He’d watched her walk away, his eyes lingering on her retreating figure before he took a deep breath and softly exhaled a curse word.
“Dang, Molly Tanner, how’d you get so beautiful?” he’d asked himself out loud, maybe a bit too loud. He’d looked around quickly to make sure Jason or Robert weren’t somewhere behind him.
For two years now he had tried to ignore the way she was starting to affect him – the pounding heart, the rush of excitement that rumbled through his veins when he heard her voice or saw her walking across the yard toward the barn.
Why couldn’t he just make a move on her already? He’d never felt afraid to tell, even show a girl how he’d felt – until he met Molly. Molly was different, but he couldn’t really explain how. Maybe it was because he’d developed a friendship with Molly before he’d started feeling a strong attraction to her. Before meeting Molly, he’d always acted on instinct, moving into a physical relationship even if he hadn’t spent time getting to know the woman.
He knew it wasn’t only a fear of rejection stopping him from telling Molly how he felt. He worried how Robert, Annie and Jason would react. Would they see him as someone who had taken advantage of their kindness simply to get close to their beautiful daughter and sister? He couldn’t imagine losing their respect and love, yet he also couldn’t imagine his future without telling Molly how he felt.
Rejection and fear of the reactions of others, including Molly’s, wasn’t Alex’s only concern, though. He’d had a fear of attempting longtime commitment for years, always afraid he’d end up like his parents – in a loveless marriage of convenience. What if he told Molly how he felt, only to pull away from her in fear, refusing to open himself up to her fully and hurting her in the process? Could he even open himself to her? He couldn’t deny he was afraid to try. He’d never been able to do open himself up with any other woman. When they’d tried to go deeper than surface level, he’d broken it off and walked away from them, ignoring their calls or visits.
At one point he’d even considered leaving the farm, going back to Maryland, looking for work in computers, so he didn’t have to face his feelings for Molly. His attraction to her had always been stronger than the fear, though, and he’d stayed on, happy simply to be near her.
Now, though, he wanted to be more than near her, more than simply a co-worker. He wanted to be her confidant and her to be his. And he wanted to hold her, to show her he felt a tenderness for her he’d never felt for anyone else. More than simply wanting a relationship with her, he somehow felt he needed it.
Mavis Porter was already busy giving orders in the church basement when Molly arrived with the Tanner’s contributions of chocolate and carrot cakes two days before the sale.
“We’ll need someone to man the purse and the shoe areas,” Mavis said, clipboard in hand, her blue-gray hair piled on her head in a tight bun, her face long and mouth pursed together.
“I’m available,” Dixie West said, though Molly noticed the reluctance in her voice.
Mavis scribbled on the clipboard.
“Dixie in purses and shoes,” she said, focused on the clipboard. “Perfect.” She spoke to Molly without even looking up.
“Molly, are those the cakes from you and your mom?”
Molly opened her mouth to answer.
“Good,” Mavis said before Molly could answer, her eyes still focused on the clipboard. “Put them over in the kitchen with the others. I have you down to watch the table from 8:30 to noon on Saturday. Will that do?”
Molly opened her mouth to answer.
“Good,” Mavis said, again before Molly could answer. “Make sure you’re on time this year, please.”
Mavis swung around and marched across the basement floor, never looking up from her precious clipboard.
Molly sighed and carried the box with the cakes to the kitchen. One day she was going to find a way to stand up to Mavis Porter, but today was apparently not that day.
“On bake sale duty again?” Maddie Simpson asked, unloading her own cakes onto the counter in the kitchen.
“Of course,” Molly said. “At least she only put me on for four hours this time, unlike last year when I had to sit there all day.”
“I’m on kids clothes again this year,” Maddie said with an eye roll. “I have the morning shift.”
Molly winced. “That might be worse than the baked goods table.”
“All those moms ripping apart the table, looking for the cutest clothes in the just the right sizes,” Maddie said, shaking her head. “And then the pushing and the shoving when two moms grab the same outfit. Last year I thought we were going to have to call Reggie to break them apart.”
Molly laughed, thinking of Chief Reggie Stanton pushing his way between two battling moms, his large belly a barrier between them. Reggie led a small police force of five police officers, including himself. The small town of Spencer was lucky not to have a high crime rate, but the Spencer Police Department was there to break up fist fights, respond to car accidents and fires, and answer the call if someone locked themselves out of their car or a cat got stuck up a tree.
The chief was there to oversee it all and sometimes he even managed to do something. It wasn’t unusual to see Reggie standing to one side shouting orders to one of his officers.
“That’s right, Sgt. McGee. Get him down and you can cuff him while I read him his rights.”
“Don’t be afraid to stand up to, ‘im, Billy. He’s not that much bigger than you.”
“If you keep running that mouth of yours, I’ll have Officer Wilson here take you outside and read you your rights, you understand?”
Reggie even managed to yell orders for the driver to stop when Officer John Vanfleet was dragged down Route 220 at 25 mph while trying to open the car door of a suspected drunk driver.
“Stop! If you don’t stop, I’ll have you up on charges of attempted murder!” he yelled, not even bothering to try to chase the car.
It took two other officers to jump into the passenger side window and rip the car into neutral, finally stopping it.
For all his moments of laziness, though, Reggie was still the glue that held the force together, always willing to go to bat for his officers at the borough council meeting, asking for better healthcare or raises or even new uniforms or equipment.
Alice Bouse walked into the kitchen and sat a box of pies on the counter.
“What duty did you get this year?” she asked Molly.
“Manning the bake sale, like every year,” Molly said
“She’s nothing if not predictable,” Alice said with a heavy sigh. “I’m stuck on the register for the first half of the morning. I hate that job. That’s where people try to haggle us down in our prices. Every year I have to remind people ‘this is for charity.’ It really gets old after a while.”
“We’re all old,” Helen Maynard said slinging her box onto the counter and pulling out bags of homemade cookies, already labeled for sale.
“No, I said, the price haggling gets old,” Alice said.
“That too,” Helen said.
Emily Fields, Pastor Joe’s wife entered the kitchen with a box of pies.
“Is this where I should put the baked goods?” she asked softly.
“This is the place,” Molly said with a smile and a lavish gesture toward the counter.
“So glad you are contributing, Mrs. Fields,” Helen said. “Your pies are fantastic. That blueberry one you made for the potluck supper for the graduates at church was outstanding.”
Emily’s straight auburn hair pushed back off her face with a dark blue head band, highlighted her pale skin and bright green eyes.
She laughed and her cheeks flushed red, making her skin even more iridescent. “Oh, thank you. Pies seem to be the only thing I can bake. I have the innate talent of ruining even boxed cakes and burning all cookies. And please call me Emily. Mrs. Fields makes me feel so old.”
“You’re definitely not old,” Maddie laughed. “You’re one of the youngest pastor’s wives we’ve had at this church since I first started attending as a child.”
Alice started stacking Emily’s pies next to hers. “But you know who is old? Millie Baker. Did you all hear about what she did?”
Molly and the others shook their head.
“Well, she thought she was hitting the brake in her car this morning outside the Dollar General but instead she hit the accelerator and drove right into the side of the building.”
“No!” Maddie said. “Is she okay?”
“Yep, but the store isn’t,” Helen said. “Lew Derry was behind the counter and Lanny Wheeler said it was the fastest he’d ever seen him move, considering he’s usually high on that weed he smokes.”
“My goodness,” Alice said, shaking her head. “Someone is going to have to tell Millie she can’t drive anymore. She’s not safe on the road. That Dollar Store could have been the playground and that brick wall could have been a child.”
Helen shook her head. “Well, I’m not telling her. She’ll probably hit me with that cane of hers. Make her daughter do it.”
Molly laughed. “I should have my Aunt Hannah do it. She’s the one who told my grandmother she shouldn’t be driving anymore when she drove into the back of that garbage truck.”
“How did she take it?” Maddie asked.
“Not well,” Molly said. “We caught her behind the wheel last week.”
“So maybe Hannah isn’t the best person to talk to Millie,” Alice laughed.
“It’s not Aunt Hannah’s fault. Grandma is terribly stubborn.”
Helen took a chocolate chip cookie out of one of her bags and bit into it.
“How’s your grandma been doing anyhow?” she asked. “Besides driving into the back of garbage trucks. Since your grandpa passed, I mean.”
Molly took out the last of her cakes and sighed. “She’s struggling, to be honest, but she wouldn’t want me to share that with anyone else so I probably shouldn’t be. . .”
Emily laid her hand against Molly’s arm. “We’ll be praying for her.”
“Thank you,” Molly said. “I’d appreciate that. Losing Grandpa was hard enough but now having to admit she doesn’t see as well as she used to — it’s just been hard on her.”
Joe huffed into the kitchen carrying a cardboard box filled to the top with pies.
“Are those more of Emily’s pies?” Alice asked.
“Sure are,” Joe said. “Best blueberry pie around.”
“Oh wow!” Maddie said. “You must have been baking for days! These look great. I am definitely going to be picking up one.”
Across the room Mavis gestured, showing Jeffrey Staples where to move the tables and chairs for the sale.
Pastor Joe glanced through the open window as he unloaded the pies. “So, I see Mavis’ organization skills come in handy for this rummage sale. What a blessing to have someone with that gift in our church.”
“I didn’t realize that being bossy was a God-given gift,” Maddie said with a snort.
Pastor Joe laughed. “Well, I think maybe it can be. Even if we don’t always see it that way. Those with that gift often keep us on track.”
Molly smiled as she helped the pastor stack the pies. “They also keep us closer to God while we pray for him to give us strength to deal with them.”
The other ladies laughed and nodded their heads in agreement while Pastor Joe just smiled and shook his head, deciding he would keep his comments to himself.