After taking a break last week I’m back this week with Chapter 15. Things might start to pick up this week with Alex and Molly, but you will have to see.
You can find the link to the rest of the story so far HERE, or at the top of the page.
Molly looked at the scale and growled. She’d lost five pounds. Five lousy pounds in three weeks. After eating tasteless food, drinking so much water with lemon she was floating away, and working out until her brain had practically melted, she’d only lost five pounds.
She sat on her bed then flopped back on it hard, laying on her back and staring at the ceiling. Why had she suddenly become so obsessed with weight loss anyhow? Was it her increasing attraction to Alex? The weird way he was now acting toward her? The sudden reappearance of Ben? Her strong urge to leave the farm and find out if there was something out there for her?
She knew deep down that it was all of those things.
Everything in her life during this season was making her want to lose weight and fast. She was tired of being boring, fat Molly. She was tired of looking in the mirror and crying. She was tired of being winded when she finished working in the barn. Then again, she’d always been winded after working in the barn, even before she’d gained the weight, so maybe losing weight wouldn’t solve that problem.
She rolled on her side and looked out her window. She needed to get back to the barn and clean out the stalls before the cows came in from the field for milking. She needed to get back to the routine and mundane.
Same old, same old.
Just like at the farm store.
Except it wasn’t really the same old, same old at the barn recently. Her relationship with Alex was changing, though she couldn’t exactly say how, and that had changed the dynamic in the barn, not in a bad way exactly; just different. She didn’t know what she thought about that change. She didn’t have time to think about it now, though. There was work to do. She’d have to think about Alex later.
Inside the barn Alex was shoveling old hay out of the hayloft to make room for fresh hay. Wearing a white, sleeveless shirt and stained blue jeans he paused in between throws to wipe sweat off his forehead and wave at Molly as she walked in. Molly waved at him without much enthusiasm, even as she admired how good his shirt looked on him.
Jason was holding a plate of cookies, choosing one off the top and passing the plate toward Molly.
“Hey, Aunt Hannah dropped off some cookies. Grandma’s recipe. Have one.”
“No, thank you.”
Molly kept walking, reaching for the shovel.
“What’s with you lately anyhow?” Jason asked, following her and pushing the plate toward her. “Eat a cookie, Molly. You’re always eating that salad crap. You’re becoming like Liz.”
Molly glared over her shoulder at her brother and pushed the shovel into the pile of manure.
“It wouldn’t be so bad to be like Liz,” she mumbled. “Pretty and cute and skinny.”
“Whatever,” Jason said, rolling his eyes. “Just eat a cookie already.”
Anger seethed through Molly. Why was her brother so clueless? “I don’t want a cookie, Jason. Fat girl doesn’t want a cookie. Okay? Why don’t you just shut up already?”
Jason swallowed the bite of cookie, watching his sister with wide eyes. “I didn’t call you fat. What’s your problem? I wasn’t serious, I was just —”
“Just stating the obvious, I know. The obvious that your sister is always going to be fat and therefore she shouldn’t even try to lose the weight, right? I get it. I’m fat and I’ll always be fat.”
Jason swallowed hard and looked up at Alex for help. Alex’s surprised expression and somewhat blank stare wasn’t any help at all.
Tears hovered on the edge of Molly’s eyes when she tossed the shovel into the manure pile and stomped by Jason, brushing her hand across her face quickly.
“I’m going for a drive,” she snapped walking toward the open barn door.
“Molly, I didn’t mean anything,” Jason called after her. “I’m sorry. You’re not fat, okay?”
Alex climbed down from the hayloft and patted his friend’s shoulder. “I’ll go check on her. She’ll be okay.”
Jason sat on a haybale and tossed the remainder of the cookie into a pile of hay, leaning his arms on his knees. “Yeah. Okay.”
Alex left him with his chin in his hand, looking at the floor with furrowed eyebrows and a creased forehead, an expression mixed with concern and confusion on his face.
Alex caught up to Molly as she flung the door to her truck open. He reached out quickly and wrapped his hand around hers, snatching the keys from her hand.
“Hey, lady, you look a little too stressed to be driving. Let me, okay?”
Molly brushed her hand across her face again. She didn’t not need Alex to drive her anywhere. Especially when she was feeling fat, ugly, out of shape and her face was splotchy from crying.
“I’m fine,” she snapped. “Give me my keys.”
Alex held the keys out away from her as she reached for them. “Now, now. Calm down. I want to take you somewhere.”
He stepped back and opened the driver’s side door. “Let me drive.”
Molly stood outside the truck with her arms tightly folded across her chest. “Get in,” Alex said, jerking his head toward the passenger side and turning the key in the ignition. “Let’s see what this piece of junk can do.”
Molly folded her arms across her chest, stomped to the passenger side and slid in, furious, sad, and annoyed all at the same time. Alex revved the engine, grinning. “Let’s hope the engine doesn’t fall out before we get out of the drive.”
Molly scowled at him. “Don’t make fun of this truck,” she snapped. “It was my grandpa’s truck and it’s all I have left of him.”
Alex’s grin faded and he nodded. “I know. I’m sorry. I’ll take good care of it.”
The farm faded out of view, replaced by open fields, then wooded areas, groves of trees and open spaces, places where deer wandered into on cool summer mornings and where her grandfather used to set up a deer stand when he was able to hunt.
When Alex pulled into a space between a grove of maple trees she knew exactly where she was. The farthest end of her family’s property, where, when you got out of your car and walked toward rolling hills at eye level, you could overlook the entire farm and some of the additional land the Tanner’s had purchased over the years.
She hadn’t been here since her grandfather had died. It had always been too painful.
Alex shut the truck engine off and opened the door. “Come on. Follow me.”
Molly slumped down in the seat for a moment, fighting back emotions. She didn’t want to follow him and be reminded of all she’d lost when she lost her grandfather. She finally pushed open the door, listening to the familiar squeak, knowing she should oil it but finding it comforting somehow since it’d always made that noise when she wrote in it with her grandfather.
Alex sat on a tree that had fallen over since Molly had been there last. He patted the tree next to her and she sat next to him, feeling anxious, awkward, and like she’d rather crawl inside a hole than be here with him so close to her and her feeling so disgusted with her physical appearance.
Alex took a deep breath and let it out again. He hadn’t felt nervous until now, sitting alone with Molly practically in the middle of nowhere. He’d driven her here so he could tell her she wasn’t fat, she was beautiful and smart and worth so much more than what she thought she was. But now, he found himself struggling to share with Molly his true feelings, not the joking, teasing feelings they usually shared with each other.
He let out a slow breath. “Your grandpa took me up here once right before sunset a year or so after I started working here,” he started. “He told me the history of this farm, about his struggles, about his dream of passing it down to his children and grandchildren. He gave me a little history of his family, his children, his grandchildren, even you and Jason. He was proud of all of you, Molly. Very proud.”
“Talking to him gave me a whole new perspective about working here. It made me see it as more than a job, but as a way of living – taking care of the land, taking care of the livestock and taking care of family. You know I didn’t have a great family life growing up. It was everyone for themselves. We weren’t really a team like your family is. I think that’s why I’ve fallen in love with his place.”
And with you, he wanted to add, but didn’t.
“Because your family has accepted me as part of the team. Your family loves you as you are, Molly. They wouldn’t love you anymore if you lost all that weight you think you need to lose to be good enough.”
Tell her you love her the way she is too, Alex. Dang it already. Just tell her.
Alex clearly saw light pink spread along Molly’s cheeks as she looked down at the ground and kicked at the dirt with her mud-covered boot. God, how he wanted to kiss that cheek, kiss that pink away, and tell her she didn’t need to be embarrassed, tell her she was beautiful just the way she was.
“Thank you, Alex. That means a lot. It really does.”
He heard the emotion in her voice, catching in her throat.
He needed to kiss her. Right now. The sun was setting, casting a pink and purple hue across them. There was a light breeze, the smell of summer heavy in the air. It was the perfect moment. He watched her looking at the ground, sitting on the tree, a tear slipping down her cheek and he wanted to kiss that tear away then kiss her mouth and make her forget about everything that was making her cry.
He reached out and gently laid his hand over hers. “Molly . . .”
The buzz of his cellphone startled him, and he dug quickly in his pocket to silence it, but it was too late. It had already ruined the moment.
“That’s probably, Jason,” Molly said, standing and stepping toward the truck. “He’ll need help getting the cows back in. We’d better head down. I’ve still got to shovel the stalls out.”
“Yeah.” He looked at the phone. “It is him.”
Dang it all to hell, Jason, he grumbled to himself. You’ve got the worse timing.
Following her to the truck his heart pounding with a mix of adrenaline from almost kissing her and disappointment that he hadn’t actually done it, he wondered how she would have reacted if he had taken her face in his hands like he wanted to and kissed her softly, finally tasting the sweet red lips he stared at so often.
“Where are you?” Jason asked when he returned the call while they drove down the dirt road.
“Just up on the hill looking at the farm. We’re on our way back.”
He wondered what Jason would say if he knew he’d almost kissed his sister on top of that hill. Maybe he wouldn’t say anything. Maybe he’d simply grab Alex around the throat and throttle him until he lost air. He wasn’t sure, but he was glad he didn’t have to find out. Not yet anyhow.
“I miss Ned, you know,” he said as they drove. “He was a good guy. Reminded me of my own grandfather.”
“Is your grandfather still alive?”
“No. Both of mine are gone actually. One to lung cancer right after I graduated college. The other committed suicide before I was born.
Molly winced. “Ow. That must have been awful for – your mom or your dad?”
“My dad. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why he was such an awful dad, you know? He really didn’t have his dad long enough to teach him how to be one.”
“I can see how that would happen. What about your other grandfather? Did you know him well?”
“Very. He’s the grandfather who literally dragged me out of a jail cell by my ear when I was 18 and told me I wasn’t going to ruin my life. He made me work at his garage that whole summer and the next year and then insisted I go to college. If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably still be in a jail cell somewhere.”
He pulled his shirt collar down with one hand, revealing the tattoo. “I got this in his memory, so I’d never forget what he did for me, how much he wanted me to succeed.”
I wish I could look at with pride, knowing I’ve lived up to what he wanted for me, instead of in shame, he thought as he let go of the collar.
Molly smiled, watching him, grateful he was showing her a tender side she’d hadn’t seen very often before, a side usually covered up with jokes and laughter and gentle teasing.
“How did you end up in jail anyhow?” she asked.
Alex laughed and shook his head as he shifted gears. The truck groaned a protest. “Punched a guy at a football game because he tried to get with a girl I liked. I was such a loser back then.”
He decided to leave off that he’d also been drunk at the time and the stunt had landed him in jail because it was his second offense, his second time getting in a drunken fight in less than six months. His third offense had been breaking and entering at his dad’s business, stealing a car and taking it for a joy ride. His grandfather had bailed him out each time, the last time with a strict warning that it was the last time he’d help him. The next time he’d leave him in the jail cell and to face the consequences.
“We all do stupid things when we’re young,” Molly said.
Alex scoffed. “I bet you’ve never done anything stupid.”
Molly looked out the windshield at the farm now coming into view. She thought about telling Alex about how she was being stupid now, falling for him when he was completely out of her league. She could tell him how she was stupidly wishing he’d pull this truck over and kiss her until she didn’t have to think about the farm anymore, or her weight, or wonder how he really felt about her.
“Dating Ben was stupid,” she said finally. “Making out with a guy I met at community college behind the bleachers was pretty stupid too.”
Alex’s eyebrows raised. “I’m sorry? What?! Are you serious?”
Molly laughed and dropped her face into her hands. “Yes. Ugh. It was such a weak moment. I was lonely and Ben had dropped me a year before and the guy was interested in me and guys aren’t usually interested in me so . . .”
I’m interested in you. Very.
Alex shrugged and cleared his throat. “Well, that is a bit of interesting information I didn’t know before. The making out session aside, you were very young and from what it sounds like to me, Ben was very stupid when he walked away from you.”
Molly tipped her head to the side and raised an eyebrow. “How did you know Ben walked away?”
Alex cleared his throat, pulling into the driveway for the farm. “It’s just . . . uh . . . the impression I got one day when I . . uh. . .” he laughed softly. “Well, I overheard your parents one day in the barn. I wasn’t eavesdropping. Exactly anyhow. I was just getting feed and they were talking and —”
Molly wasn’t sure how she felt about her parents talking about her relationship with Ben, in private, let alone where other people might overhear them. “What were they saying?”
“Just that — Listen, it wasn’t anything bad. They just . . .” he glanced at her, trying to gauge her annoyance level on a scale of one to ten. She looked to be about a four, so he plowed ahead. “They were just worried about you because they felt Ben hurt you more back then than you let on. I stepped away when I heard what they were talking about. It wasn’t right for me to be listening in.”
Molly chewed on her bottom lip. “Oh. Well, that was sweet of them really.” She shrugged. “But I’m okay. That was so long ago.”
She was not okay, but she was not about to tell Alex she was not okay.
She felt a sudden urge to jump out of the truck and run. She didn’t want to talk about Ben at all, let alone with Alex. And did she really just tell him about the guy she kissed from community college? The only other person who knew about that was Liz.
Alex’s hand around her wrist was firm, yet gentle. “Hey.”
She turned to look at him, the door to the passenger side open and her ready to climb out and head to the barn to finish her work.
His blue eyes were brighter than she’d ever remembered them being, or maybe she simply hadn’t looked at them as closely as she was now. Were those flecks of green always there?
“I know you said the truck is all you have left of your grandpa,” he said. “But it isn’t true. Your grandpa taught you a lot so what’s left of him is still inside you. Just like what my grandpa taught me is still inside me.”
He laughed and shook his head. “Of course, I haven’t always listened to it, but it’s there.”
A smile tugged at Molly’s mouth. She moved her other hand to cover Alex’s, feeling a rush of energy when her skin touched his.
“Thank you, Alex,” she whispered, her hand lingering on his..\ “That really means a lot.”
Kiss her, Alex. For God sake, just kiss her already
Her eyes focused on his for a few seconds longer and then her hand slipped from his, her skin soft against his rough palm.
“You’re welcome,” he whispered.
Molly closed the door to the truck and walked back to the barn, Alex watching her until she disappeared inside. He leaned back and chewed at the nail on his thumb, a habit he’d recently picked up, thinking, silently cursing himself for chickening out, for keeping silent when he should have told Molly how he really felt about her. He climbed out of the truck, heading back to the barn, knowing that conversation would now have to wait for another day.