Truth be told, this weeks chapter is pieces of two chapters as I’m reworking parts of the story. This week I’ll include a snippet between Molly and Robert but also a snippet that will be in Jason’s novella later. I’m looking forward to fleshing out Jason’s story but also his and Ellie’s characters in a novella I plan to call The Farmer’s Son. That will also allow me to focus more on Robert and Jason’s relationshp.
To catch up on the full story click HERE.
Crickets chirped and fireflies blinked in the field.
There was a chill in the air and Molly knew before long winter would arrive and bring with it cold nights and even colder mornings in the barn. Local farmers, including her dad, were already preparing to cut down the dying corn stalks to eventually grind up for feed.
She buttoned her sweater and pushed the porch swing a little to make it sway as she looked out into the dark, thinking about Alex and remembering their kiss from the day before. He’d been right; working together in the barn after that passionate half hour had been awkward. They did their best not to smile too much in front of Jason or her dad or Cody and the other workers who came in and out of the barn throughout the rest of the day.
She did her best not to smile when his hand grazed her arm as he handed her the pitchfork and he told her later that night on the phone he’d done his best not to grab her, pull her into a stall and kiss her again.
“We’ll be having our first frost before we know it.”
She looked up to see her dad walking out of the darkness from the direction of the barn.
“Not looking forward to the snow, that’s for sure,” she said, though she couldn’t help think how nice it would be to cuddle Alex close on a cold winter night, if they could find somewhere to cuddle without anyone else seeing. She wondered how long they’d keep their relationship secret, or how long they’d be able to. Watching her dad wince as he walked onto the porch and sit on swing next to her, she also wondered how her parents would feel about her and Alex.
“Knee bothering you again?”
Robert shrugged. “It’s always bothering me. A lot of people have it a lot worse.”
“You could slow down a little.”
Her dad looked at her with a mock look of disgust. “And why would I want to do that? Sounds boring to me.” He smiled and slid his arm around her shoulder and hugged her against him. “Plus, I have too much work to do to make sure we pay off this loan in time.”
Molly sighed. “Oh yeah. That.”
Robert reached his other arm around her and hugged her tighter, propping his chin on the top of her head as she rested her cheek against his chest.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the loan before, kid. I didn’t mean to keep things from anyone. I guess I just got cocky. Walt and I both did. We thought we’d be able to pay it off and . . .” Her dad sighed. “and never have to tell anyone we’d sunk the business so far into a hole in the first place, I guess. Apparently, we forgot about Luke 8:17. What is hidden will be seen. And what is out of sight will be brought into the open and made known.”
Molly hated hearing the guilt in her dad’s voice. “You were trying to help, not deceive, Dad. It’s going to work out somehow. Besides, now that we all know we can help find a way to pay it off.” She sat up and looked at him, smiling. “No man is an island after all.”
Robert laughed softly. “Good reminder kid. I guess I just got too wrapped up in wanting to fix it all myself. I thought I could protect the family from the struggle.”
“We’re a family. We’re supposed to struggle together.”
He slid a strand of her hair behind her ear and cupped her chin in his hand. “How did you get to be so smart?”
“I learned it from watching you and mom, you know that.”
He shook his head. “More like your mom.”
She sat back against the swing as he let her face go and together they tipped their heads back and looked up at the stars scattered against an almost pitch black sky.
“I know you won’t always want to stay here with me and your mom. When you’re ready, it’s okay with us. You know that, right?”
“Yeah. I do.”
“Okay. Just checking.”
He hadn’t even noticed her standing in the doorway. Not at first anyway. When he did notice her, he couldn’t stop his eyes from sliding over her slender figure cradled in a low cut, tight black tank top, and a blue denim skirt with a hemline that hovered a few inches above her knees. A pair of black, calf high boots completed the outfit.
“Hey, Jason. You looked good out on the field today.”
She bit her lower lip, watching him pull a gray t-shirt over his head and down across his bare chest and then growled softly in approval. “You look good now too.”
There had been so many nights over the years, especially recently, when Jason closed his eyes and saw her in his mind’s eye, hating himself all over again.
Tall. Blond. Shapely.
Attractive like Ellie but totally opposite in her personality and tone. Ellie’s sweetness was natural, God-given, and genuine. Lauren’s sweetness was an act, a way to get into the heads of men she’d set her sights on and had decided she wanted to conquer. At least that’s how he saw her looking back.
Still, no matter how many ways Jason tried to villainize Lauren, he knew he couldn’t. He’d made the decision to accept her offer, to let her attention lull him into what he’d hoped would be a pleasure filled distraction from the distorting thoughts ruling his brain that third year at college.
He and Ellie had decided to take a break from their relationship before he left for his sophomore year of college. Actually, Ellie had decided. He’d simply agreed because he’d thought she would change her mind in a couple of months. She didn’t and he didn’t try to change it for her. Maybe he should have. He was completely lost without her – without her friendship because that’s what their relationship was — a friendship as much as it was a romantic relationship.
Jason had been brought up in a Christian family, taught that a person was supposed to live within boundaries that God set for them. But those boundaries felt suffocating and boring while he was at college and he wondered if the boundaries were worth it. The boundaries kept him focused on what he didn’t, and couldn’t have. That’s how he felt then anyhow
When Lauren kissed him that night after a party, pulling him toward an open bedroom door in her apartment, he knew he was crossing a boundary he’d set for himself years ago and he didn’t even care anymore. For that brief time, he forgot who he was and it felt amazing.
At first it felt amazing.
Then the guilt set in like a heavy chain around his neck.
It had all been so rushed. The alcohol had blurred his senses, confused his thoughts, tossed him into a world of chaos. She was dressing before he’d even had time to wrap his mind around it all.
He’d woke up a few hours later in his dorm room, Alex standing over him, his expression mixed with concern and confusion.
“Hey, Jase. You okay?”
He’d moved in with Alex at the beginning of the second semester of his sophomore year to remove himself from the peer pressure of living with a bunch of football players in a frat house downtown. Alex, who he’d met his freshman year during an English Lit class hadn’t offered him the break from temptation he’d been hoping for.
Alex had talked him into visiting bars, meeting women – meeting Lauren. Part of him could have blamed Alex like he tried to blame Lauren, but none of it had been either of their fault. He’d made his own decisions and now he had to live with them.
While he had decided that short time in college that his Christian beliefs cut all the fun out of his life, he had later realized that fun without boundaries could lead to dire consequences.
He’d almost lost his football scholarship that year after showing up late to too many practices and showing up more than once with a hangover. He avoided Lauren after their encounter in her bedroom, ignoring her phone calls and telling her that one night she’d knocked on his dorm room door that he had homework to do.
“I guess you got what you wanted,” she snapped, arms folded across her chest, standing in the doorway as he tried to close the door. She lifted an eyebrow and smirked. “Or maybe I just got what I wanted.”
He refocused himself for the remainder of that year and for the next year after that. All he wanted was his degree so he could learn how to make sure his family’s business survived and then he would go home to the farm. During the second half of his junior year he also realized he wanted to go back to Ellie. Along with God she was an anchor for him and he’d let go of them both and it had sent him spinning out of control.
Alex’s reaction to his mortified feelings after sleeping with Lauren were less than supportive. At least at first.
“You got with Lauren Phillips? That girl is hot. She wouldn’t even give me the time of day. What have you got that I don’t?” Alex slapped the back of his hand against Jason’s right bicep. “Oh yeah…these.”
Jason vomited in an empty container from the Chinese restaurant.
Alex made a face. “You’re throwing up after sleeping with a hot woman? Is it the alcohol or maybe you need to tell me something else? Like maybe you don’t like women? Maybe you like —”
“Alex!” Jason wiped his hand across his mouth, looking for a paper towel to clean himself off. “I like women. I am definitely attracted to women. That’s not it. If it was, I wouldn’t be in this situation right now.”
“What situation? Wait. Didn’t you use —”
“I just mean the whole Lauren situation. Geeze, Alex. Don’t make this worse than it is.”
Jason sat back, pressing his hands to his face. “I’m not the kind of guy who just jumps in bed with a woman I don’t even know. You know that.”
“You mean like me?”
“That’s not what I meant, I just mean that I wanted to have a connection with the woman I – with whoever I first — I mean…”
Alex wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t want to make fun of his friend for this revelation for a couple of reasons. One, he admired Jason for his integrity, his morals, and his sense of romanticism, even if he didn’t have any of those himself. And two, he liked his front teeth and didn’t want Jason to punch them out of his head.
Alex shrugged scooting himself back onto the top of the dresser, his legs hanging down. “Okay, listen. You made a mistake. That’s all. It’s not the end of the world. Just cut Lauren loose and take some time to think about things. About what you really want. This is college. This where we screw up and learn our lessons, right?”
Jason had definitely learned a lesson from the experience, but he wished he hadn’t had to.
The front door slammed open and Alex stepped inside.
Present day Alex; Alex six years later but in some ways the same ole’ Alex.
He brought with him the noise of the storm outside, which pulled Jason out of his thoughts.
Alex’s clothes were drenched, clinging to him as he pushed the door closed. Sliding his cowboy hat off, he propped it on the hook next to the door, then paused and looked at Jason, sprawled on the couch on his back.
“All the lights are off and you’re listening to sad country music. This can’t be good.”
“It’s not sad music. It’s Chris Ledoux.”
“Who you only listen to when you’re sad.” A crack of thunder rattled the window and lightening lit the sky outside. “Did you talk to Ellie?”
“No, not yet.”
“So, you’re just sitting here stressing about talking to Ellie?”
Jason tipped his head back against the arm of the couch, his long legs stretched across the faded grey cushions, one arm laying across his forehead, the other one hanging off the couch.
“Yeah. That and remembering college.”
Alex winced as he pried his wet button up shirt off and tossed it toward the laundry room. “Ah, man, no. This can’t be good.”
He reached flicked the light switch for the overhead light to ‘on.’ “You can’t sit here sitting in the dark reflecting on past mistakes. It’s not healthy.”
Jason burped and reached for the can of soda on the coffee table. Alex kicked at an empty bag of potato chips. “Um…this isn’t healthy either. Where are your regular veggie sticks and protein shakes?”
Jason sighed and rolled on his side to face the back of the couch, feeling like a pouting teenager.
Alex pulled his wet tank top off and walked behind the couch toward the hallway leading to the bathroom. “Okay, listen. I’m going to go get dried off and changed. When I come back, I need you to sit up and tell me what’s going on.”
“Will you have your shirt on when you come back? Because I don’t need to see that.”
Alex scoffed and slapped his hand against his bare chest. “Of course, you need to see this. Who doesn’t?”
“You really want me to answer that?”
When Alex came back a few moments later he smacked the bottom of Jason’s feet and told him to shove over and sit up. Cracking open a can of soda he’d grabbed out of the fridge on the way back to the living room he sat where Jason’s feet had been and took a long drink before speaking.
“Come on, man. What’s going on? Talk to your old friend Alex while you flush all that junk out of your system with this,” he squinted at the label on the water bottle. “Electrolyte enhanced mineral water.”
Jason groaned and sat up, accepting the bottle as Alex handed it to him. He leaned his elbows on his knees and sipped from the bottle, staring at the turned off television.
The rain had slowed down and the thunder was fading. The sound of raindrops against the metal porch roof filled the silence as Alex waited for Jason to talk.
“I just don’t how Ellie will feel when I tell her about Lauren.”
“I know, man, but you’ve got to tell her. It’s the right thing to do.”
Jason looked over his shoulder at his friend. “Since when did you become so ethical?”
Alex pushed his fist gently against Jason’s arm. “Since I started living with you. Blame yourself.”
Jason shrugged and nodded while he drank from the bottle of water. When he looked back at Alex he didn’t see the grin he expected to see. Instead, Alex’s joking demeanor had faded and his expression had become serious.
“I can’t help feeling some of this is my fault.”
Jason looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Alex leaned back against the arm of the couch, propping his leg up on the coffee table and sliding an arm behind his head. “You were a good guy when you came to MU. Squeaky clean.” He shrugged his shoulders as he sipped from the soda. “I think I broke you or something.”
Leaning forward, Alex rubbed his hand against his chin, under his bottom lip. “I talked you into going to bars, into drinking. I’m the reason you met Lauren. Maybe I’m the reason you, how do you Christians say it? Compromised your morals?”
Jason laughed, shaking his head as he stood from the couch. “Alex, you didn’t force me to sleep with Lauren Phillips. I did that all on my own. I’m the one who screwed that up. It wasn’t your fault. I’m also the one who made the decision to go with you to those bars and parties.” He pushed his hands into his hair and shook his head again. “If anyone should feel guilty it’s me for not influencing you in a more positive way, telling you that you didn’t need to go out and drink way your childhood pain or find your worth in the way hot women looked at you. I should have taken you to church with me and showed you that there’s more to you than rugged good looks and a charming personality. For that matter I should be doing that now.”
Alex leaned back again and slid his hands behind his head, grinning. “So, you mean you should be my spiritual guide?”
“Well, maybe, yeah. Someone has to help you. You’re a mess.”
Alex playfully tossed a pillow at Jason’s head. “Thanks, jerk, but we’re talking about you. Not me. So, what are you going to do about Ellie?”
Jason stood with his hands on his hips, tipped his head back and looked at the ceiling. “I’m going to tell her. As soon as I get my nerv —”
And that’s when he saw her.
Standing in the doorway between the living room and kitchen. Her long, dark brown hair damp from the rain outside, stray strands of it clinging to the side of her face.
Jason thought his heart would pound out of his chest as their eyes met. Sweat beaded across his forehead as if he’d just worked out at the gym for an hour and his legs gave their best impression of spaghetti underneath him.
“Ellie. Hey. What are you doing here?” he asked instead of what he wanted to ask, which was: “How long have you been standing there?”
“I – uh . . .” Ellie’s voice trailed off, emotion catching her words and strangling them. She looked at the floor quickly and swallowed hard.
“The back door was open. I was going to sneak in and surprise you two with a pie I baked earlier.”
Alex straightened on the couch and cleared his throat, quickly looking at the floor. “Um. Excuse me. I have to. . . uh . . . I’m just going to go head up to bed early.”
He shot a sympathetic look at Jason, but Jason wasn’t looking at him. He was staring at Ellie, his mouth partly open, but no sounding coming out.
With one foot on the bottom step Alex closed his eyes and grimaced as he heard Ellie’s question: “Who’s Lauren Phillips?”