I started to post Chapter 21 last night to schedule for this morning and then realized I hadn’t actually finished Chapter 21. Oops. So I finished it this morning. I’d written most of it in my head already anyhow, which is probably why I thought I had finished it.
Anyhow, as regular readers know, my fiction Thursday and Fridays are usually novellas or novels in progress, which means there will be changes before I publish it in the future as an ebook or paperback. One change I have a feeling is going to come when I rework The Farmer’s Daughter is moving Jason and Ellie’s story into a separate novella in between The Farmer’s Daughter, book one of the Spencer Chronicles, and The Librarian, book two of the Spence Chronicles. That novella will most likely be called . . . The Farmer’s Son because I am oh so original. *wink*
With that being said, I don’t want to leave my blog readers hanging so I’ll still try to keep Jason and Ellie’s story in the chapters I share here. My thought is that if I break this off into a novella in the future, I can flush out Jason and Ellie’s characters more without bogging down Alex and Molly and Franny’s story in this book.
Sometimes I think it’s silly I share these books as I write them, but then I think “well, life is short. Just have fun with it.” Plus I like the feedback from my few readers because it helps me decide and craft the remainder of the story (and sometimes it helps me decide to chop off chapters all together).
Thanks for sticking around this long (if you did). I’ll be quiet now and get on with the story.
“How much trouble is the farm in, Robert?”
Franny’s question sent Robert’s eyes up to the ceiling in frustration. He was grateful his back was to his mother the same way it had been when his sister had cornered him a few weeks ago. How did the Tanner women have such a sixth sense about the bad news of life? He poured himself a cup of coffee and carried it with his mother’s tea to her kitchen table.
“Hannah been talking to you?”
Franny sipped the tea, reached across the table and spooned a heaping spoonful into her cup. “She’s been hinting, but not exactly talking. You know how she is.”
Robert definitely knew how she was. He sat on the chair across from his mother and sipped his coffee once, twice, three times before he spoke. He sat the cup down, cupping his hands around it, looking at it instead of his mother.
“We’re in a tough spot, Mom.”
“We’ve been in tough spots before.”
“This may be the toughest. I don’t know how much longer we can hang on, to be honest.”
Franny stirred a spoonful of honey into her tea and sipped it, waiting for her son to continue. She knew he would. He always did. Like Ned, he was thoughtful, contemplating the words before he said them.
“What I don’t get is why I can’t keep this farm running the same way Dad did.” Robert looked up at his Mom. “I took out a loan. Dad would never have done that. He only spent what he had or what he saved up for.”
When Robert fell into silence again, looking out the kitchen window into the field across the road, the same field his father had farmed for years and his father before him, Franny decided she needed to offer her son the encouragement she’d been unable to offer since she’d lost Ned. She had been a wife, yes, but she was still a mother and she needed to start acting like one, even if her children were fully grown.
“This isn’t the same farm your dad had, Robert. You’ve added more property, other farmers and farmland. You and your dad and brother did the right thing trying to diversify the business. How were you to know that milk prices would fall even further than they did in 1985? None of this is your fault. It’s circumstances out of your control.”
“No, your dad never took loans out. But milk prices were better back then. Other expenses were lower. He could manage to save up. You don’t have that luxury anymore.” Franny leaned over and laid her hand on Robert’s. “You’re doing the best you can, son. I know that. Farming runs in your blood. You’ll figure this out.”
Robert’s eyes stung with tears and he looked away quickly.
His voice broke when he spoke. “Thank you, Mom.”
“Don’t be afraid to cry, Robert. There’s nothing wrong with crying.”
Robert nodded but he still couldn’t look at her. If he saw her eyes, the compassionate eyes of the woman who raised him and his sister and brother, who held the family and the farm together for his while life and who had suffered so much over the last few years, he might completely break down and he wasn’t about to do that. Instead he laid his hand over hers, swallowed hard, focused his attention on the field and nodded again.
“You’re a good boy, Robert.”
“Thank you, Mama,” he managed finally through the tears.
Alex’s head was pounding. His mouth was dry. He felt like his eyes had been glued shut.
Squinting against the sunlight pouring in from his bedroom window he recognized the feeling, which he hadn’t had in years.
He definitely had a hangover.
“Alex! You ever getting up?”
Jason’s voice outside his bedroom door was loud.
“I’ve already been to the barn and back.”
“Yeah. Comin’. Just . . .” Alex rubbed his hands across his face and forced himself to sit up. The pain in his head throbbed now, a steady pulse of pain that felt as if his brain would push out through his forehead. “Yeah. Be right down.”
Jason banged cupboard doors and loudly clanked spoons into bowls when he reached the kitchen. Alex winced against the noise, each clank another pain shooting through his head.
Jason leaned back against the counter and watched his friend sleepily pour cereal from the box to the bowl. Alex’s hair was pushed up in several different directions, dark circles creased the skin under his eyes, and he was moving slower than a zombie in a cheap b-movie.
“You go out last night?”
Alex poured milk on his cereal without looking up. “Yeah.”
“Daniel Stanton said you left the bar last night with Jessie Landry hanging all over you.”
“If Daniel Stanton already told you I was at the bar, then why did you ask if I went out?”
Jason shrugged, folding his massive arms across his massive chest. Alex wasn’t always pleased at how massive his friend was, especially when he wasn’t sure where a conversation was going and how his massive friend might choose to end it.
“So, you ended up back up here?”
Alex kept his eyes on the cereal. “Yeah.”
“I didn’t see her this morning when I got up.”
“Yeah. I mean, no. I – sent her home. Or rather, she left. In a bit of a huff really.”
“So, you didn’t sleep with her?”
Alex shook his head, shoving a spoonful of cereal into his mouth.
Jason leaned back, reaching for his coffee cup on the counter and sipping from it. “Really? Well, that’s new. What happened?”
Alex glared, milk dripping down his chin.
“What does that mean, Jase? You act like I’m some man-whore or something. It’s not like I’m bedding girls every night.”
Jason laughed and shook his head. “Not every night, no.”
“Actually, if you’ll remember, I haven’t brought a girl back here in almost two years. Maybe even longer.”
“So, you’re not taking them back to our place, maybe you’re —”
“I’m not,” Alex snapped, shoving the last of the cereal into his mouth and gulping the remaining milk down.
“Okay. Okay.” Jason looked quizzically at Alex, folding his arms across his chest again. One leg was casually crossed of the other one. “What’s up with you anyhow? You’re touchy this morning.”
Alex wiped the milk off his chin with the back of his hand.
“I’m just not the jerk you act like I am,” he grumbled, walking toward the backstairs that led to the upstairs bathroom. “I’m going to get a shower and head up to the farm to help your dad.”
Standing in the shower, the hot water kicking up steam around him and pouring over his bare skin, Alex cursed under his breath, knowing his best friend knew better than anyone what a pig he’d been much of his life; how he’d distracted himself from the hard moments in his life with the company of a cold beer or a warm, sexually aroused woman more times than he cared to admit.
He leaned his hands against the wall of the shower and let the water pour over his head and back, wishing the hot streams making paths across his body could wash away the shame the same way it was washing away the sweat from the night before.
After drying off and pulling on his usual faded blue jeans and a t-shirt he felt more alert and moved quickly downstairs, guzzling a glass of orange juice before reaching for his keys.
Jason was still in the driveway when he walked outside, checking under the hood of his truck.
Alex stood by the truck, sliding his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. He cleared his throat. “Hey, sorry I was so sharp earlier.”
Jason looked up from where he had leaned over the truck with a wrench and shook his head slightly. “Actually, I’m sorry I harassed you about your night out. It’s none of my business.”
The sun was brighter than Alex had realized when he first stepped outside. He winched and reached in his front shirt pocket for his sunglasses, sliding them on. “Everything go okay with Ellie last night?”
Jason sighed, which was a weird sound coming from such a masculine figure. “Yeah. Sort of.” He glanced at Alex while he loosened a bolt on the engine. “She thinks I proposed.”
Alex lifted an eyebrow. “Thinks you proposed? Um, I might need a little more of an explanation on this one. Usually a guy proposes or he doens’t.”
“Well, I was going to propose but I needed to talk to her about something first and then she brought it up and then she just thought . . . you know what? It’s too confusing to explain.”
“So, you’re engaged. That’s great. Why don’t you look happier? Don’t men usually look happier when they get engaged?”
Jason used a rag to wipe grease off his hands as talked. “It is. I guess. It’s just . . .”
“You’re nervous about getting married?”
“A little but it’s not that. It’s just, I’ve never told Ellie about what happened in college.”
Alex spoke through a yawn, his expression clueless. “What happened in college?”
Jason starred at him for a few moments with first furrowed eyebrows then raised ones. Alex continued to look blank for a full minute then his eyes widened in realization. “Wait. You mean what happened with Emily Barker? You never told Ellie about that?”
Jason shook his head and tossed the dirty rag into the front seat of his truck. “I was really embarrassed, man. That experience was a low point for me and it wasn’t even —ugh, just never mind. The point is that I never told Ellie because I was embarrassed and because I didn’t know how she would feel about it.”
“But you guys weren’t even dating then.”
“I know but it still was wrong, Alex. That’s not how I wanted my first time to be. I wanted it to be with someone I loved. Someone I planned to spend my whole life with. And yeah, I know it sounds lame, but I wanted it to be with someone I was married to.”
Alex shrugged one shoulder and smiled. “Yeah, it sounds a little lame, but it also sounds really sweet and romantic.” He made a face and shuddered. “Yuck. Dude, I think you’re rubbing off on me with all your sentimental crud. Next Thing I know we’ll be watching chick flicks together.”
“Sleepless in Seattle isn’t bad.”
Alex held up his hands. “Jase, I am not watching chick flicks with you. Calm down.”
He grinned and then realized even grinning made his head hurt. He let the grin fade, partially because of the headache and partially because Jason was leaning back against the front of the truck now, one arm propped up on the metal frame, looking at the ground, thinking.
“Jason, you know Ellie loves you. She’s going to understand, okay? Just talk to her.”
Jason nodded, but didn’t look up from the dirt. “Yeah, I hope she does.” He lifted his gaze to look at Alex, his eyes glistening. “Because if she doesn’t . . .” He shook his head, swallowed hard and looked out at the fields across from the house. “I don’t know if I’m going to make it without her.”