I’ve enjoyed working on this story. I’ll be honest that there are some weeks I’m behind on writing and I’m not sure I’ll be able to pull off a chapter for Friday, but I work on the novel anyhow because I deserpately want to escape from the real world right now. I need to focus on something other than the news. As much as I try to stay away from it, the news seems to creep in – either by over hearing someone complain about it or reading the letters to the editor from the local paper or a family member mentioning it in passing. So right now I have my fiction world to live in and then when I’m in reality (don’t worry, I’m still in reality 90 percent of the time *wink*) I’m planning for homeschool that starts next week.
As always, this is a work of fiction in progress. What I share on the blog is not the final draft of the novel or novella I’m working on. I reread, rewrite, and rework the stories a few times before I finally publish them on Kindle or Barnes and Noble. I also try to fix typos, plot holes, and punctuation issues in the final draft and have it proofed and edited. If you see errors in the chapters I post on the blog, feel free to send me a note on my contact form (link at the top of the page) so I can make the corrections, if I haven’t caught them aready.
To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE.
Sweat pooled in areas Alex didn’t even know it could pool as he stacked haybales, shoveled manure, and laid straw in the stalls. He had decided the harder he worked the more he could take his mind off how stupid he’d acted two nights ago. It was also taking his mind off the way Molly kept watching him with a concerned expression. And off Molly in general.
It was two days before she finally said something. She stood next to the wagon, hands on her hips, head tipped, and raised an eyebrow. “You’ve been quiet this week. You okay?”
He stacked another haybale. “Yep. Fine.”
She caught her lower lip between her teeth and let it out again. “Are you mad at me?”
Alex lifted a haybale, then set it down and looked at her with a furrowed eyebrow. “No. Why would I be mad at you?”
“I don’t know. You’ve barely talked to me the last couple days.”
Alex stretched to place the haybale on the top of the pile, turned toward her and used the bottom of his t-shirt to wipe sweat from his face. The move revealed smooth, tanned skin below his belly button and just above his jeans, which made Molly draw in a quick, sharp breath.
She looked away quickly so he wouldn’t notice her staring.
He finished wiping his face and dropped the edge of the shirt, placed his hands on his hips and shrugged again. “I’ve just had a lot on my mind. I’m not mad at you.”
Molly wasn’t sure if she should ask what he’d had on his mind or not. Maybe he would think she was prying.
She cleared her throat, shifted her weight to her other leg and kicked at a pebble on the barn floor, focusing on it instead of his blue eyes with flecks of green. She felt like she was in high school again. Why couldn’t she just talk to him like an adult, like she had for the last five years, instead of acting like something had changed between them?
“Oh. Okay. Well, good then. I’ll let you get back to work.”
Alex’s gaze drifted through the open barn door and followed the path of a car pulling into the driveway. He nodded his head toward it as Molly looked at him. “Looks like you have a visitor.”
Ben’s black BMW looked out of place among the beat-up farm trucks and tractors, with the silo that desperately needed a new coat of paint as a backdrop. In fact, Ben looked out of place in a pair of khakis, a dress shirt, black dress shoes and a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses.
He stepped out of the car, looking in her direction as he slid the sunglasses off and smiled.
“Hey,” she said back as she walked toward him. “What brings you to Casa De Tanner?”
He laughed, that deep throated laugh that used to send a tingle of excitement through the center of her chest.
“Your parents actually. They invited my parents for dinner and told them to bring me along. I guess they all felt sorry for sad Ben sitting around without any friends.”
Molly held her hand up to block the sunlight and watched Ben’s dad pull his modest gray sedan behind his son’s luxury car.
“Oh, okay. Well, I had no idea. It will be nice to have you.”
Ben lifted a hand briefly in greeting to Alex who was now standing in the doorway. “Alex, hey. How’s it going?”
Alex nodded briefly, his jaw tight. “Fine.”
“Looks like you’ve been working hard today.”
Alex rolled his tongue along the inside of his cheek, contemplating biting it to keep himself from saying what he really wanted to say. “Uh-huh. Farms are like that. The hard work and all.”
Ben cleared his throat and made a clicking noise with his mouth like he was trying to think what to say next. “Yep. Well, anyhow . . . good luck with that. Talk to you later.”
Alex turned back toward the barn, his eyes narrowing and his muscle tense. “Yeah. Talk to you later.”
Annie stepped onto the front porch of the farmhouse, an apron around her waist. “Alex,” she called. “why don’t you head up and get a shower and come back for dinner. It will be a bit before it’s ready.”
Alex paused and leaned one arm against the barn door. “Ah, no. Thank you, though. I’ve got some more bales to stack before it gets dark. Take a rain check?”
“I’ll hold you to it. Just make sure you get something to eat, okay? I don’t want you making yourself sick out there.”
Annie turned her attention to Ben and his parents. “Sylvia, Richard. Hello. Ben, good to see you again.”
Ben and his parents followed Annie into the house and Molly turned to watch Alex walk back into the barn. She felt a pang of disappointment that he wouldn’t be joining them for dinner. He was a regular sight at their table but there were days he’d missed, of course, so why did it bother her so much he wouldn’t be at the table tonight?
“That was an amazing dinner as always, Mrs. Tanner.”
Annie cleared away Ben’s dish and reached for Molly’s as well. “Thank you, Ben. That’s nice of you, but please call me Annie. We’re both adults now.”
Ben laughed softly, pink flushing along his cheeks. “Of course, Annie. Old habits die hard.”
Annie winked. “Similar to how we can’t ever seem to call our teachers by their first name even when we’re adults.”
Everyone agreed that was true and laughed, sharing their own similar stories before everyone wandered to the living room to sit and chat.
Molly found her eyes wandering out the side window, toward the barn, wondering how Alex was, if he was okay. After several moments she excused herself to the front porch to think, letting Ben and her parents catch up and discuss politics, the weather, religion, and probably ten other things people aren’t supposed to talk about in mixed company. Luckily, Robert and Annie could talk about those topics with Ben and his family because most of the time they were all on the same page.
She sat in one of the chairs facing the ban and looked for Alex, to see if his mannerisms had changed, if he seemed any less tense than he had the last couple of days.
“Someone looks thoughtful today.”
Ben’s smile was something between Hollywood heart throb and boy next door. Once upon a time that smile would have made Molly lightheaded and giggle. Those days were long gone and she wondered if he knew that or if someday she’d have to tell him.
Ben sat in a matching chair across from her. Her grandfather, Ned, had made the matching chairs as a 25th anniversary gift for her parents. Molly was glad she had chosen one of them instead of the porch swing that held way too many memories for her involving the man standing across from her.
Ben was a man now, something that Molly needed to remember. He wasn’t the boy who had broken her heart all those years ago and he’d already apologized for that. She needed to let it go.
Ben had changed, he’d grown, he’d matured, emotionally as well as physically. His jawline was more square now, his shoulders more broad, his face revealing almost a decade of hard-learned lessons which luckily hadn’t stolen any of his good looks.
“Have you found an apartment yet?”
Ben nodded as he took a drink from his glass of water. “Yep. Moving in next week. It’s about a block from my office.”
Molly ran her hand along the smooth wood arm of the chair as movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. She glanced across the yard at Alex walking back into the barn then turned her attention back to Ben.
“What about you, Molly? Have you thought about getting your own place?”
Molly thought back to her conversation a few days earlier with Liz about moving in with her to help with the baby. “Yeah, actually. I have.”
“You’re old enough to live on your own now, you know?” Ben winked and set the glass on the small wooden table between the chairs. Water droplets from condensation dripped down the side of his glass, reminding Molly how much the humidity had spiked in the last couple of hours.
She sighed and smiled, knowing he was teasing but feeling a twinge of annoyance. “Yes, Ben, I do realize that.”
Ben’s smile faded. He must have sensed the tension in her response. “Listen, I’m just teasing. Don’t take me seriously. I know you like to be closer to the farm so you can help.”
“Oh, Ben, I know you’re kidding.” She waved at him in a dismissive gesture. Her aggravation wasn’t really directed at him. It was at herself for never actually making a change and letting her life grow stale and predictable instead.
“I do like being close to the farm but, yes, I am looking at finding my own place soon. It won’t be too far away, though. I still plan to keep working on the farm. For now, anyhow.”
Molly shrugged. “I should probably figure out what I want to do with my life at some point.”
Ben leaned back in the chair, propping his ankle on his knee and laying an arm casually across his ankle.
“Isn’t this what you want to do with your life? There’s nothing wrong with working a farm.”
“No, there isn’t but sometimes I wonder if there is something else out there for me.”
Molly held her glass between two hands, rubbing her thumbs along the top of it. Her eyes drifted toward the open barn door, focusing on Alex has he lifted more hay bales. She wondered what was on his mind while he worked, why his eyebrows were furrowed and his jaw set tight.
He must be almost done with that load. He’d been working all afternoon. He’d shed the button up shirt, hanging it over the fence outside, and his white tank top was stained with dirt and sticking to his skin. Sweat glistened across the back of his neck and across his biceps. He probably smelled awful, but to Molly he looked amazing and she was having trouble remembering what Ben had asked her.
“Um . . .Hello?” A soft laugh from Ben snapped her back into the moment as she realized she still had no idea what she would do with her life besides farming. “Honestly, I have no idea yet.”
Watching Alex instead of talking to Ben was rude and she knew it. She needed to focus her attention on her visitor.
“So, have you figured out what you’re going to do about Angie and Amelia?”
Ben paused as he drank his water and grinned. “Well, you’re a bit more blunt than you used to be.”
Molly laughed, warmth rushing to her cheeks. “Oh. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to —”
Ben waved his hand, smiling. “No. It’s fine. But, no, I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet. I know I can’t keep burying my head in the sand, though. I can’t keep pretending this situation isn’t looming over me like a dark cloud.”
“Don’t you want to know what she’s like?”
Ben looked confused for a moment.
“Amelia, Ben. Don’t you want to know what she’s like? She is your daughter.”
Ben cleared his throat and shifted forward slightly then leaned back in the chair. Red had colored his cheeks and the tops of his ears. “Um, yeah. I do actually. I’m terrified, though. What if she hates me? Even worse, what if she likes me and I screw it up?” He winced. “And then there’s Angie. I know she hates me so that will be plenty awkward.”
A warm breeze brushed Molly’s face and she looked up to see the dark clouds she’d been expecting finally inching toward the farm.
“It will be awkward, yes, but if I was in your shoes, I couldn’t imagine spending my life with that huge ‘what if’ hanging over my head. I’d also hate to think of you having to face Amelia in the future and answering her if she asks you why you never tried to meet her.”
The lines along Ben’s eyes crinkled as he stood from the chair and stretched his arms over his head. He leaned against the porch railing, sliding his hands in his front jean pockets.
“You always were good at driving a point home.”
Not always, Molly thought as she watched Alex lift his tank top off, wipe his face and chest with it and toss it into the back of his truck before reaching for the button up short sleeve shirt and slid it back on it again. He stood in the doorway of the barn, his back to her as he buttoned it.
Ben coughed against his hand in an attempt to grab her attention.
“So, Alex has been here awhile, huh?”
She looked at him, but her mind was clearly somewhere else for several seconds.
“Huhm? Oh, yeah. About five years. He was Jason’s roommate in college.
“Seems like a good guy. Hard worker.”
“Yeah. He is.”
Ben jerked his head toward the barn. “How long have you had feelings for him?”
“What? I don’t ha —”
“Your cheeks are flushed, Molly and you haven’t been able to take your eyes off of him the whole time we’ve been talking.”
Molly coughed nervously. “It’s not that. It’s just, he seemed down today so I was just wondering if he was okay.”
Ben raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Uh-huh. I see.”
“What? I’m serious.”
Ben nodded, his expression still serious, his eyes focused on hers. “I hope he’s good enough for you.”
Molly pulled her gaze from his and looked at the porch floor, shaking her head slightly. “He’s just a friend.”
“We’re not dating anymore, Molly. You don’t have to lie to me.”
He stepped closer to her, reached down, and briefly touched her under her chin, bringing her eyes back to his. “More importantly, don’t lie to yourself. That look in your eye when you were watching him? It speaks the truth about how you feel about him. If you care about him, tell him. Don’t be like me.”
The sky opened up after Ben and his parents left and soaked the ground, bringing much needed rain to the wilting corn crop in the field. From her bedroom window, Molly watched Alex walk to his truck, climb inside and drive away, thinking about what Ben had said.
Was she lying to herself about how she really felt about Alex? She chewed on a fingernail as the truck disappeared down the road toward Jason and Alex’s house, knowing she was. Her feelings for him were definitely developing into something stronger than friendship. It sounded so cliché, but most days he was the first person she thought of in the morning and the last person she thought of at night.
She rubbed her eyes. They were dry and red. She needed sleep. It was early, the sun had barely set, but she had a long day ahead of her, including a trip to the hospital after milking to check on Liz.
As she crawled under the covers she felt relief about one thing at least — she wouldn’t have to tell Ben she didn’t have feelings for him anymore. It was clear he already knew.