Yes, Chapter 11 is broke up into two parts for the blog this week because, to me, this chapter is too long for a blog, but not too long for a book. No idea what I’m talking about? Me either, but I rambled about chapter size last week on the blog and still couldn’t decide how I feel about long chapters.
I will be sharing part two tomorrow because, quite frankly, some of my readers need a good, light distraction right now (and luckily my fiction isn’t too hard hitting.)
Anyhow, if you would like to catch up on the story, you can find the other chapters HERE. There are links to my other works of fiction at the top of the page, as well, including The Farmer’s Daughter, Quarantined (a short story), Rekindle (the start of another story story), and links to my two books for sale on digital platforms.
Alex woke from a sound sleep to someone pounding on the front door. It was his morning off from the barn. The morning Taylor Bundle came to help out and Alex got to sleep in but missed out on joking with Molly.
“Jason! Are you in there!? If you’re sleeping in, well, get up!”
Alex rubbed his eyes, listening to Molly yelling from the front porch. He threw the covers aside, hoping something hadn’t happened at the farm.
He staggered down the stairs in a pair of old sweatpants and it wasn’t until he had unlocked the door and swung it open that he remembered he’d forgotten to grab a shirt.
A strange rush of energy pulsated through the center of Molly’s chest at the sight of a bare-chested Alex standing groggily in the doorway.
“Hey,” he said, mid-yawn. “What are you doing here?”
“Um. Oh. Hey.”
Molly’s mouth was suddenly dry, and she felt a rush of warmth in her cheeks as she struggled to remember why she was standing on Jason and Alex’s front porch at this time of the morning. She seemed to have forgotten who she even was for a moment.
Good grief. Alex even looked good yawning. Her eyes fell on a small tattoo on the skin just below his tanned collarbone. An eagle sitting on a globe. All these years working with him and she’d never noticed he had a tattoo. She’d seen him with his shirt off before, but she’d never let her eyes linger. Why had she never let her eyes linger? She might have enjoyed the hard work in the barn more if she had.
She noticed he was looking at her, his hair ruffled, one eyebrow cocked, waiting for her to answer his question. He’d asked her a question. What was it again?
“Oh. Yes. I was — I mean, I’m on my way, or I was on my way to the rummage sale but the truck broke down down the road and I didn’t want to, — well, Jason was closer than going back to get Dad so I was hoping I could talk to Jason.”
Alex yawned again and leaned against the door frame.
“He took Ellie out antiquing or something. I don’t remember what he said, exactly. I was sleeping. Or trying to. You want me to look at it?”
“No. Well, yes, but actually I need a ride to the rummage sale first. Mavis has me on the baked goods tables this morning and I don’t want to listen to her scold me about being late if I don’t show up on time. Any way you could drive me to town?”
Alex rubbed his fingers across his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, willing himself to wake up more. Alone in the truck with Molly. While groggy.
This might be fun.
“Uh . . . yeah . . . just let me throw on a shirt and I’ll be right out.”
No need to throw on a shirt, Molly thought.
“Yeah, sure,” she said out loud. “No problem. Take your time. I’ve still got a bit before I’ve got to be there.”
Molly turned back toward the road as Alex shut the door and let out a long breath.
Take your time. Getting a shirt on. Covering up all that beauty.
What a way to start a day. First, a broke down truck, which was a bad start, but then seeing Alex shirtless, a definite improvement.
“Why would a woman from church scold you for your truck breaking down?” Alex asked when he climbed into his truck next to her ten minutes later.
He pushed his hand through his hair and, unfortunately, had pulled a t-shirt on. He was eating a piece of toast as he shifted the truck into drive and pulled onto the dirt road.
“What do you mean?”
Alex shrugged. “I mean, she’s a Christian. Shouldn’t she be all nice and stuff? And forgiving?”
Molly looked out the window and leaned against her hand. “Well, yeah, she should but . . . well, sometimes human nature gets in the way I guess.”
Alex shoved the last piece of toast in his mouth, talking with his mouth full. “She sounds like she should read her Bible more.”
Molly laughed. “A lot of us should read our Bible more, but yeah, she should.”
Fencing and cow pastures rushed by and Molly thought about how even she should be reading her Bible more.
“You should get rid of that truck, you know.”
Alex shifted topics of conversation as quickly as he did gears, and it made Molly smile as she looked at him.
“It’s a piece of junk.”
“I like my piece of junk.”
“You could get a nice sedan or something.”
“Out here? And why? Because I’m a girl? So, you think girls shouldn’t drive trucks. Is that it?”
She smirked at Alex, waiting for his response. He looked out through the windshield, his arm hanging lazily over the steering wheel, grinning. She recognized that look well; a look that said he was about to roast her like he often did in the barn.
“You know it’s not because you’re a girl,” he said, not taking his eyes off the road. “You’re one of the manliest girls I’ve ever met.”
Molly didn’t even hesitate to ball her hand into a fist and smashing it straight into his upper bicep, her eyes narrowed and her jaw tight, but a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
He laughed loudly. “What? You are! You burp louder than most guys I know, and I know women say they don’t fart but that time you blamed it on the cow? Yeah, I didn’t buy that for a second.”
“I didn’t fart!” Molly cried through the laughter. “It was Betsy!”
Alex was laughing harder now.
“That poor cow,” he said. “She gets blamed for so much of your gross behavior.”
“My gross behavior? You spit loogies on the ground all the time.”
“It’s not my fault I have an abundance of phlegm.”
She laughed and pushed at him gently with her hand.
“I didn’t need to know that, Alex Stone.”
Alex smiled, glancing at her, enjoying the sound of his name when she said it. They laughed for the rest of the drive, harassing each other about various sounds they’d made while working in the barn, or jokes they’d passed back and forth that probably shouldn’t have been said at all.
Molly wiped tears of laughter from her eyes as Alex pulled into the parking lot. She opened the truck door as he parked it in front of the basement door.
“Thanks for the lift,” she said climbing out. “I can get a ride home after I’m done.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I should come in and see if they’d have anything I’d want.”
Molly shut the truck door and leaned on it to talk through the window. “I doubt it, unless you need a new purse or some heels”
Alex shrugged. “I don’t need those, no, but Jason said they have some electronics this year. Maybe I’ll come check it out.”
“Okay,” Molly said, turning toward the church basement door. “I’m heading in. I’ll see you there.”
Alex leaned his head against his hand, smiling, watching her walk away for a few moments before pulling his truck into a parking space.
Inside, the baked goods table was already half-filled and the rest of the tables were set up and ready for customers.
“There you are!” Maddie whispered loudly when Molly approached the table. “I was afraid you weren’t coming and then I’d be stuck listening to Mavis complain all morning about your failure to keep commitments.”
Molly rolled her eyes. “She’d already started that speech, huh?”
Maddie nodded. “Of course. I’m heading back to the children’s section. Pray for me.”
“I definitely will.”
Molly straightened the cakes and cookies, displaying them along the table, separating each kind of cookie and each style of cake and then propping up the pies so people could see them better. She waited for the first customers of the day and watched Alex walk through the electronics aisle, looking over old computers and stereos.
On the tables spread across the basement, various items sat on tables for sale; old televisions, lamps, pots and pans, dishes, books, sunglasses, toys, video games, and even a motorcycle helmet. A few early birds were already perusing the merchandise that, if sold, would help the church with various projects throughout the year, including putting a new roof on the church.
Molly had attended the Spencer Valley United Methodist Church since she was a child up until a year ago. Her parents and grandparents had always attended the church. Molly, however, had fallen in love with a church across town that featured more upbeat music and a younger congregation over all. Even though she no longer attended the church she continued to help with fundraisers and other events, which was why she couldn’t avoid Mavis’ overly critical eye.
She liked the church and the other people who attended, though, including Maddie and the new pastor and his wife. Joe and Emily. They had arrived at the church a little less than a year ago, shortly after her grandfather passed away and about the same time her grandmother had stopped attending church.
Molly liked Pastor Joe’s easy going demeanor and outgoing personality and Emily’s sweet nature. Molly couldn’t pinpoint why but she felt a sadness in Emily when she talked to her and she wondered it was because Emily still felt out of place in her fairly new surroundings.
“Well, hey, I didn’t expect to see you here today.”
The familiarity of the voice made Molly turn her head to see if it could really be him. It could be and it was. Ben Oliver was standing in front of her with a broad smile, looking surprisingly even more handsome than the last time she had seen him five years ago at his grandmother’s funeral.
His hair was cut high and tight, his dark brown eyes sparkled, and a small dimple pricked the skin next to his mouth when he smiled.
She now wished she hadn’t rushed out of the house so quickly, throwing on a Confederate Railroad t-shirt and a pair of jeans and pulling her hair back into a loose ponytail on top of her head.
She tried to act non-plussed by his presence. “Ben, hey. What a surprise. Jason said you were in town.”
“Yeah, just came back a couple weeks ago.”
Molly decided to look busy. She straightened the cookies and stacked a couple of the pies. “Staying long?”
Ben nodded, watching her work. “For good actually. I’m opening a law office in Waverly.”
Waverly was a half an hour from Spencer Valley. And half an hour away from Molly, which she was fine with.
“Oh. So, you’ll be living there then?”
“I’m not sure yet. For now I’m living with my parents while I look for a place, either here or there. Actually, I’m here today with my mom.” He laughed. “She’s looking for a new purse.”
He smiled and picked up a bag of cookies. “Hey. You always made amazing cookies. Chocolate chip if I remember right.”
Yes, Ben, I did make cookies. For you. Like it mattered.
“Yep. I used to. I don’t really make cookies anymore.”
A woman with dark brown hair hanging down her back and a strained expression on her face approached the table. Two young children hopped up and down beside her while she held their hands tightly.
“I want the chocolate ones!” A little girl with blond curls cried.
“I want peanut butter!” Her brother said loudly as he hopped in place.
Molly guessed their ages to be about four and them to be twins. Their mother looked exhausted as she let go of their hands and struggled to open her change purse. “I’ll take one of each.”
Molly slid them across the table and accepted her money, watching them shove cookies into their mouth as they darted toward the toy section.
“Wow,” Ben said watching the children leave. “That was – well, a lot of energy.” He smiled at her and she felt the old familiar rush of warmth travel from her stomach to the top of her head.
“Did you make anything on this table?” he asked.
“Just some cakes with my mom. They’re the ones over there.”
“Oh man. Those are your mom’s cakes? I’m definitely getting one of those. Her cakes are one of the highlights of my youth.” He walked to the other side of the table and began to look through the cakes. Over his shoulder Molly saw Alex studying a laptop, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration.
This is insanely awkward, Molly thought to herself, unable to shake the memory of Ben’s comments about her the day in the convenience store. Stop pretending to be nice, Ben.
She was grateful to see Liz walking toward her a few moments later, a broad smile on her face, an attractive pink bag hanging over her shoulder.
“I told you I wouldn’t leave you to deal with Old Battleax on your own.”
Molly tilted her head toward Ben, her eyes wide.
Liz looked at Ben, back to her and then mouthed. “No way. Ben? What is he doing here?”
Molly shrugged and rolled her eyes. Liz flung her purse on the chair next to Molly and placed a hand on each hip. “Well, well, well,” she said loudly. “Benjamin Oliver. Surprised to see you show your face here in Spencer Valley again.”
Ben smiled broadly as he looked at Liz, the container carrying one of Annie’s chocolate cakes in his hand. “Liz! Hey! You look great!”
“Ben, hey. You still look like a jerk.”
“Liz!” Molly hissed.
Ben laughed softly and shook his head. “It’s okay, Molly. Liz has never liked me, if you remember.”
“Liz has never trusted you,” Liz shot back with a scowl. “And rightly so, I’d say.”
Ben slid the cake across the table toward Molly. “People can change, Liz. Learn from their mistakes.” He smiled tightly. “Don’t you think? Hey, how’s Gabe doing?”
Molly winced internally. This was getting messy.
“I left him,” Liz said coldly.
“Oh, well, see we do learn from our mistakes, I guess.” Ben smirked and Molly shook her head because it was apparent he still had his quick tongue.
Molly placed the cake in a bag, watching Liz and Ben watch each other, feeling the tension in the air.
“That’s $4.50,” she said quickly to interrupt the stand-off.
Ben’s charming smile had returned as he turned toward Molly, handing her a $5 bill. “Keep the change,” he told her. “It’s for a good cause. And listen, Molly, I’d really like to talk to you sometime. If you have time? I didn’t expect to see you here today, but I had planned to track you down at some point.”
Molly nodded outwardly but shook her head inwardly. “Yeah, sure, that would be fine. I’ll be around.”
Out of the corner of her eye she watched Alex sauntering toward the table, a used laptop under one arm and a cowboy hat propped on top of his own. As if the awkward moment couldn’t get even more awkward.
“Well, you were wrong,” he said to her cheerfully. “It turns out they did have a couple things I wanted.”
His gaze traveled from Molly to Liz’s tense expression and then to Ben standing awkwardly with a bag of cake in one hand and his wallet in the other.
“Oh, hey, did I interrupt something?” Alex asked.
“No, not at all,” Liz said. She tipped her head at Ben. “Ben here was just leaving.”
Ben? Alex looked Molly’s ex-boyfriend up and down, taking in his light blue polo shirt, tan khakis, brown leather belt and dark brown loafers. He wanted to laugh out loud. This was the great Ben Oliver? He definitely looked like a lawyer – overdressed, sneaky, and weak.
“Ben,” he said with a forced welcoming smile. “Nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Ben looked surprised. “Oh? You have? I’m sorry. You are . . .”
“This is Jason’s friend Alex,” Molly said quickly. “He works for Dad.”
She cleared her throat and focused on some crumbs on the table, brushing them away.
“Ah, a farm boy, eh?” Ben grinned and looked from Alex to Molly. He winked. “Does he say ‘As you wish?’ to you?”
Molly’s face grew warm. She knew what Ben was referring to, especially because The Princess Bride had been her favorite movie to watch with him when they had been dating. Wesley, the farm boy, would always say “as you wish” to Buttercup, the farmer girl, when she’d ask him to fetch something for her, and in the book the author wrote that “as you wish” was code for “I love you.”
Ben had never said “as you wish” to her.
Molly started to speak, but didn’t even know how to respond. Was Ben mocking her? Was he mocking Alex? She wasn’t even sure at this point.
Alex laughed and slapped Ben on the back with one solid movement of his hand. “Oh, Ben. You’re just as witty as Jason and Molly described you. Of course, that’s what I say to Molly. I mean, who wouldn’t be honored to travel through the Fire Swamp with someone like Molly? Right?”
He smiled at Ben a little longer than Molly felt he needed to. She caught Liz smirking on the other side of Ben.
Ben laughed a laugh that sounded slightly nervous. “Right. Of course. Very funny.”
“Well,” Alex said with an exaggerated sigh. “I would love to stay here and talk more but I’ve got manure to shovel, cows to milk, hay to fork into the stables. You know, all those ‘farm boy’ things we ‘farm boys’ do.”
He turned quickly toward Molly and slid his hand under her elbow, leaning close to her. “I had fun this morning. See you later okay?”
He winked, brushed his mouth against her cheek, and walked through the door, leaving her and Liz staring at him in bewildered surprise.
“Oh,” Ben said after a few moments. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know you two were …”
“He’s just a co-worker,” Molly blurted.
Liz smothered a snicker behind her hand and sat in the chair behind the table.
Ben nodded and shrugged. “Oh, okay, well —”
“Molly, there are more cakes in the kitchen that need to be brought out.”
Mavis’ spoke over Ben and Molly was grateful for the interruption.
“No problem, Mavis. I’ll be right there.” She turned to face Ben. “I’m so sorry. Duty calls. Catch up later?”
Ben nodded. “Yeah. Yeah. Sure. No problem.”
Molly walked quickly back toward the kitchen, her face ablaze with shock, embarrassment, and confusion. First, seeing Ben out of the blue and then Alex acting weird.
What in the world was Alex even doing? Was he trying to make it look like they were dating? For what purpose? For whose benefit? For hers? For Bens? . . . for his? She didn’t know what he was doing but she knew she was going to have to talk to him about it later at the barn. And Molly knew Liz was going to want to talk about it as soon as she arrived back at the table with the extra cakes