This story is starting to consume my brain, folks. I have so many ideas, so many stories I want to tell and I know I’m writing a series so I can tell them later but oh man — this is my first series so it’s hard to know when to introduce certain characters and how much of their stories to share because I plan to share more of their stories in the next couple of books.
I like when a story consumes my brain in some ways, especially with the craziness of the world these days. When a story pushes its way into my mind, there isn’t room for too much else and that’s a nice break for my brain (well, except late at night when I’m mulling over a plot point and a scene idea comes into my head at 1 a.m., when I need to be asleep. Then my brain doesn’t get a break at all.)
To catch up with the rest of the story find the link at the top of the page or click here.
Sit-ups. Alex was actually doing sit-ups in his room. What was he even thinking? The problem was he’d been thinking too much since earlier that afternoon.
About Molly. About Molly at the gym and her skin glowing and her top pulled tight against her and – he lifted his upper body again, bending his torso to touch his knees.
“Fifty-five,” he gasped, the counting pushing away the images rolling around in his mind of Molly.
He hated working out. He didn’t feel the need to workout, just like he had told Liz, because he worked out enough doing his work on the barn. But Jason had mentioned once that working out helped get out frustrations and Alex was definitely frustrated. He was frustrated at himself for not telling Molly how he felt and he was frustrated with the images that played over and over in his head of grabbing Molly in that gym, yanking her to him and kissing her hard, his hands in her hair, showing her how he really felt about her. He’d imagined doing it so many times it was almost real to him.
He laid back on the floor, breathing hard, hands behind his head and closed his eyes, willing the images to go away. Under normal circumstances he would have shared his thoughts of romantic angst with Jason, but this wasn’t normal circumstances. He couldn’t tell Jason he was struggling with an incredibly strong attraction to his younger sister. Not if he wanted to live for more than five minutes.
His phone beeped and he reached for it, grateful for something to distract him from thoughts of Molly.
Hey, big bro. Still working at that farm?
It was his brother, Tyler.
Alex: Hey, little bro. Yeah. Still working at that office?
Tyler: Yeah. For now. Dad is making it hard though.
Alex: A real jerk, huh?
Tyler: You know he is.
Alex: Why do you stay there? It’s not going to make him care about you, you know.
Tyler: You’re not my therapist, Alex. Chill. Anyhow, I like the work here. Been on any good dates lately?
Alex: No. You?
Tyler: A couple. Actually, one really nice one. She’s a lawyer.
Alex made a face.
Alex: “Lawyer? Run away, dude. They’re black widows.
Tyler: Lol. Not this one, she’s a good one.
Alex: OK. If you say so.
Tyler: When you coming down for a visit?
Alex chewed on his bottom lip, thinking how to answer, knowing “when hell freezes over” was too harsh and would make it sound like it was his brother he was trying to avoid instead of his dad.
Alex: Don’t know. Busy season for the farm. Planting, cutting down hay and bailing it. You should come down and help bail. Be a good learning experience for you to get your hands dirty.
Laugh emojis filled the screen.
Tyler: You were the one who always liked to get his hands dirty, remember? Not me. Have fun, bro. I’ll text you when dad finally fires me.
Alex laid back on the floor and laughed at his brother and the fact he was still chasing after their dad after all these years. It seemed like Tyler would never understand that their dad would never care about anything except his business and the money and maybe an occasional mistress or two. Tyler had told Alex a month ago that their dad was dating someone new again, a blond younger than both his sons. It didn’t surprise Alex. He’d been dating women younger than him even before he had divorced Tyler and Alex’s mom.
There were few things Alex could count on in life but one of them was that his dad would always be in a new relationship. The other was that his dad would never care what was going on in his life. He’d heard from his dad four times since he’d moved in with Jason five years ago. Twice to ask him if working on a farm was really what he wanted to do. The last conversation hadn’t gone well at all.
“You have a degree in computer programing, Alex,” his dad had said over the phone in his familiar depreciating tone. “We could use you here in the IT department. And from there, maybe we can move you up into —”
“Thanks, Dad. I’m good here.”
“Farming, Alex? Really? This isn’t what I had in mind for you when —”
“When you what? Abandoned Tyler and I all those years ago?”
“That’s not what happened, Alex. When you get older, you’ll understand that life isn’t always easy.”
“Yeah, hey, have to go dad. Mr. Tanner needs me to clean some cow poop out of the stalls and I’d rather do that then talk to you.”
Most of Alex’s conversations with his dad ended in similar ways and many times he didn’t bother to pick up the phone at all, on the rare occasion his dad did call. He’d guessed the calls came when his mom nagged his dad to call and act like “a real father.” It was a conversation he’d heard over and over throughout his life.
“Act like a real father for once, Michael,” his mother would say on the phone, when she dropped the boys off for weekends with their dad, or when Alex got in trouble in high school or college.
But Michael Stone had rarely acted like a father and Alex never expected him to. What he’d missed out on in Michael Stone as his father, he’d gained in Robert Tanner.
Robert had shown Alex how to be a husband, a father, and a provider in the five years he’d known him. His tenderness with Annie, his fatherly love for Molly and Jason, the way he treated his livestock and his staff with respect. It was hard for Alex not to compare Robert’s successes in fatherhood and adulthood to the failures of his father. What wasn’t hard was knowing that he wanted to model his life after Robert’s instead of Michael’s.
It had taken Alex a couple of years to realize he wanted to be more like Robert, though, and until then he’d drank too much, flirted with too many women, and lived a life far from Robert’s. There were days he felt like he’d never live up to Robert’s life, though, and days he wondered if he was being stupid thinking he could change, be better and be worthy of the Tanners, especially Molly.
Jason’s voice outside the door startled him from his thoughts. “Alex? You in there? Ellie brought over some supper. You want some?”
Alex wasn’t about to turn down one of Ellie’s meals.
“Hey,” he said, opening the door. “Let me get a shower and I’ll be right down.”
Five minutes later he was sitting at the table with wet hair but more than ready for Ellie’s food.
As usual Ellie was smiling and chipper, her long black hair pulled back in a braid down her back. She rushed around the kitchen, setting plates full of food and three plates around the table.
Not only was Ellie perky, pretty, and friendly, but she was an amazing cook. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, peas, and even gravy filled the dishes in front of Alex and Jason. He thought about leaning across the table and asking Jason to remind him again why he hadn’t proposed to Ellie yet, but he thought better of it. He wouldn’t be able to eat with a broken jaw.
Once the food was on the table, Ellie sat down with them and smiled her captivating smile.
“So, how was everyone’s day?” she asked.
Alex shoved a piece of chicken in his mouth, not interested in answering. He knew the question was really meant for Jason anyhow. He was the third wheel.
“Busy,” Jason said. “Still a lot of work to do before we start the haying next week, we have another delivery of the vegetables we have been able to harvest for the farm store, and we’re hoping the rain finally lets up so the corn will grow some more.”
“It really has been a tough year, hasn’t it?” Ellie asked. She reached over and laid her hand on Jason’s, compassion in her eyes. Her small, slender fingers looked almost comical against Jason’s massive, roughed hand.
“It has, but we’ll figure it out somehow,” Jason said, smiling back at her, his fingers encircling her hand, swallowing it.
Looking between the two love birds, Alex felt slightly sick to his stomach but also a pang of jealousy at their obvious devotion to each other. He hoped to have a relationship like theirs someday. Jason and Ellie had dated on and off since high school but exclusively since Jason came back from college. Both of them had grown up on farms, their parents knew each other, and Alex always imagined they’d met at a square dance. Or maybe it was on corn picking day. Either way, they were one of the most perfect couple’s he’d ever seen, which again, made him both sick and jealous.
Unlike the girlfriends of his other friends Ellie didn’t care when Jason hung out with Matt and Alex and didn’t try to push her way into their guys’ nights. She didn’t make fart jokes or participate in burping contests like Molly, but she was still a farm girl, not afraid to get her hands dirty and put in the hard work.
Alex grinned as he watched them the rest of the dinner, both of them pretty much oblivious to his presence. He looked forward to harassing Jason about them making googly eyes at each other later when Ellie had left.
Pulling up to the farm store, Molly sat outside in her truck, bleary-eyed and unmotivated. She’d barely been able to sleep last night, thinking about Alex and his . . . well, weirdness and about how much she did not want to come to the farm store this morning. She propped her forehead against the steering wheel and groaned. She was in no mood to be perky and she needed to be perky by the time the customers arrived. Some days she took on the motto “fake it until you make it.” Some days, face perkiness was the only way to make it through their day.
“Is this the only milk you have?” a woman had asked last week, looking at her over a pair of sunglasses, one eyebrow raised.
“Yes, ma’am. That’s the company the local farmer’s supply to.”
“Okay, because I’m a vegan and I need something that doesn’t come from a cow.”
“Oh. Well, then . . .”
Molly had had to pause because what she wanted to say was “If you’re vegan, why are you in a store that clearly sells cow milk?” but she glanced at the woman’s cart, full of vegetables and flowers, and decided to cut her some slack. At least she was supporting farmers in her own way.
“Then, I’m sorry,” Molly said. “We don’t carry non-diary options at this time. Maybe you can try the local Weis?”
“You know this little store needs to move with the times,” the woman said unloading the items from her cart to the counter. “Milk from mammals is a thing of the past. The only ones who should be drinking cows milk are baby cows.”
“Mmmm,” Molly responded adding up the items on the cash register. “That will be $75.50.”
If the woman hadn’t been spending so much Molly might would have told her to shove off, but the money was welcome and needed in a time when local farmers were struggling. The money from the Tanner’s store didn’t only benefit the Tanners. It also benefited several families who supplied inventory – from locally raised and butchered pork, beef, and chicken to eggs, homemade furniture and hand-sewn blankets and quilts. Losing customers could mean losing income for these families as well.
Thankfully the woman left without anymore comments, though a ‘thank you’ would have been nice.
Some days Molly wondered if this would be her entire life; sitting in her family’s story, being lectured by people who called themselves “woke” about what to eat and how to live. She wondered if she’d always be just the farmer’s daughter.
Walking into the store through the backdoor she heard her Aunt Hannah talking in the office.
“I am nervous about the meeting, yes. And I’m nervous because I don’t know how we are going to come up with the money to pay off this loan.”
Molly paused outside the closed door.
“Let’s talk to Bill and see what can be worked out,” her Uncle Walt said softly.
“I would have talked to Bill a long time ago if I had known what was going on,” Hannah said curtly.
“Hannah, Robert told me he explained why —”
“I know,” Hannah interrupted, her voice less tense than before. “I’m sorry. I’m just anxious. I’ve been looking at the numbers this morning. They aren’t great. I’m worried we won’t be able to do this, Walt.”
Numbers? What numbers? Molly’s mind was racing. Was the farm in trouble? And if so, why hadn’t her parents told her?
Her hand hovered over the door handle and she thought about walking in and asking Hannah what was going on, but thought better of it. If her family wanted her to know what was going on, they’d tell her, and, to be honest, she felt too drained to add anymore to her mental que to think about.