I was going to make this a break week, but I decided I’d share this chapter, even though I have a lot of reworking I want to do with it in the end. To catch up on the rest of the story click HERE.
My novella Quarantined will be on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited Oct. 20.
Alex felt the tension in the barn the entire morning. Robert moved around him, completing chores, without actually looking at him other than a curt nod when he had first walked in. Jason, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice Robert’s cold demeanor toward him.
Alex tried to ignore the tension but as the morning went on, frustration swelled inside him until he couldn’t hold it in any longer.
When Jason left to cut more corn stalks down Alex took a deep breath, tossed the dirty rag on top of a bucket, and walked to where Robert was inspecting a hoof of one of the cows. Standing above him, he propped his hands on his hips and cleared his throat.
“Robert, I think we need to talk.”
Robert didn’t look up from the cow. “Ah. So it’s Robert today is it?”
Alex closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “Sir, with all due respect Molly is a grown woman. She’s nearly 27 and she can make up her own mind about who she wants to be involved with romantically.”
Robert stood and reached for the tube of ointment on the shelf behind him, still not looking at Alex. He kneeled down again by the cow. “How long has this been going on, Alex? I mean, you’ve been here five years …”
“No, sir. Not the whole time. We’ve just been getting closer in the last few months. I mean, my feelings for her started to change three years ago but I tried to ignore them. I was able to, for the most part and we became friends.”
Robert cleaned out the cow’s foot and applied the ointment, not responding.
Alex stood and watched him, his hands still on his hips. “Okay. Well, I guess I said all I needed to. So —”
“She’s been hurt before.”
Alex scoffed. “Yeah, by an immature boy.”
Robert stood and looked at Alex pointedly. “There are such things as immature men too, Alex.”
Alex felt heat in his face and looked away, focusing on the cows in the pasture.
“I don’t feel that’s me anymore, sir. You’ve been around me five years. You’ve seen me grow and, I hope, improve as a man. I don’t intend to hurt Molly.”
Robert nodded. “Yeah. Well, no one intends to hurt a woman.”
“I won’t hurt, Molly, Robert.”
“We always hurt people we love, without meaning to.”
“I won’t hurt her like Ben did.”
Robert replaced the ointment on the shelf and turned toward Alex, folding his arms across his chest.
“Just make sure you don’t.” He rubbed his chin for a few moments, looking at Alex. “I think a lot of you, Alex. You know that. You’re like a member of the family. But Molly? she’s my baby girl.”
The roar of the tractor passing by interrupted the conversation for a few moments and Alex slid his hands in the front pockets of his jeans.
“I understand,” he said as the tractor continued toward the lower field. “I want to protect Molly too, sir. I truly do.”
Robert unfolded his arms and turned to pick up a bucket of feed for the chickens. He walked toward the doorway, stopped, and looked back over his shoulder. “Does Jason know?”
“No sir, not yet. I mean Molly barely knows at this point how I feel about her. We just wanted to be sure we knew where this was going before we said anything.
Robert laughed and shook his head. “And where is it going?”
The color on Alex’s face could only be described as pure crimson. He cleared his throat and looked at the ground. “It’s . . . uh . . . yeah, it’s going well. That’s all I know at this point.”
A tilted smile crossed Robert’s mouth. “Telling Jason should be fun for you.
Alex shrugged. “I’m not worried. He’ll be fine.”
Robert picked up the buckets again and continued toward the door. “That’s his baby sister you were kissing. I’m not sure “fine” is how he will be.”
Alex’s smile faded into a worried expression as he turned back toward a stall and reached for a pitchfork. He’d have to tell Jason about him and Molly at some point.
He rubbed his hand along his jaw and chin, thought about how much he liked not having a shattered jaw, and decided he’d think more about how he’d break it to his best friend he was in a relationship with his little sister.
Annie heard the screen door slam shut from the front of the house. She twisted slightly from the counter where she was peeling potatoes for lunch.
Her husband shuffled into the kitchen and sat in a chair with a heavy sigh.
Leaning forward he leaned his arms on his knees and rubbed his hands across his face. He’d been working hard, and she was worried about him. She knew if he asked him if she was okay, he’d say he was fine, but she could tell he wasn’t fine. Not at all. He was exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed.
“We need to talk,” he said after a few moments.
She turned and pressed her palms against the edge of the counter, leaning back against it. “About?”
He leaned against his hand, his mouth set tight. “About Alex Stone and our daughter.”
Annie nodded, a slight smile tugging at her mouth. “Oh. That.”
Robert’s head jerked up and he looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Excuse me? ‘Oh. That.’? You sound like you already know about this.”
“I sound like I knew about it because I did,” Annie said with a brief shrug.
“What do you mean you knew?”
“Your mom asked me two weeks ago if you knew yet. She’d seen them kissing in the field out back and was concerned but she asked me not to say anything to Molly. She figured Molly would talk to us eventually.”
Robert stood and rubbed his hand across his forehead, pacing from one side of the kitchen to the other.
“In the field? Out back?” He shook his head, hands on his hips as he paced. “Is there anywhere they won’t make out?”
Annie laughed. “Robert, stop pacing. You’ll raise your blood pressure.” She turned around and started filling the pot of potatoes with water. “I don’t know that it was a make out session per say. It was just a kiss that I know of. Anyhow, I told Franny you didn’t know yet, but that I would keep an eye on things.”
Robert stopped pacing and looked at his wife. “So, you’ve been keeping an eye on things but didn’t think you should fill me in on it?”
“I didn’t want to get you too worked up unless there was something to get worked up about.”
“You don’t think there is something to get worked up about?”
Annie shrugged sitting the pot on the back burner on the stove. “I hope there isn’t. I mean, we’ve raised Molly well and I think she’s responsible enough not to do anything too crazy.”
Robert scoffed. “Oh yeah? Well, I caught them making out in our barn last night. In the middle of the night. I think that’s a bit crazy, don’t you?”
Annie frowned, eyebrows furrowed. “Were they clothed?”
Robert’s mouth dropped open as he stared at his wife. “Were they clothed? Yes, they were clothed, but what difference does it make? Plenty of things can be done with clothes on.”
Annie smirked and trailed her hand up her husband’s arm. “We know that firsthand, don’t we, Robert Tanner?”
Red spread across Robert’s cheeks and ears. “Annie, don’t change the subject here. What are we going to do about this?”
Annie smiled as she stepped closer to him, pushing her fingers through his hair. “I think the subject is a pleasant one to change to really.” She kissed his forehead. “But as for Alex and Molly, we’re not going to do anything for now. Molly is a grown woman. I’m glad to talk to her about being careful, about making sure she knows what she’s doing. I’ll even talk to her about how we raised her to delay a sexual relationship until she’s married, but I’m not going to tell her she can’t see Alex, if that’s what you’re saying.”
Robert sighed. “I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t even know what I think about all this or how I feel. Alex is like one of the family, but . . .”
Annie looped her arms around Robert’s neck. “But you’re worried because we know he’s had some drinking issues and may have dated a few women who had ‘questionable’ backgrounds for lack of a better term.”
Robert nodded. “Yes, Annie. I am worried. I mean he says he loves her, and she says she loves him, but emotions are such confusing things and maybe he only loves the idea of her or maybe he’s using her to —”
“People can change, Robert. We’ve watched Alex change a lot in the last five years. He told you he loves our daughter?”
Robert rubbed a hand across his eyes and held it there for a few moments. “Yes. He said he’s fallen in love with her.”
He looked at his wife — whose head was tipped and whose face held that expression women get when watching a scene in a movie where the hero professes his love for the heroine — and groaned.
“Don’t look like that. Not about our little girl.”
Annie laughed softly, holding her arms out in a gesture indicating innocence. “What do you mean?”
Robert grimaced. “You’re acting like it’s all sweet and romantic.”
The way his wife tipped her head back and laughed sent his eyes rolling to the ceiling.
“But it is romantic,” she insisted sliding her arms around his neck again as he sat on the edge of the kitchen table. She pressed her forehead against his. “How about we take this issue to the only one who can protect our little girl. Okay?”
He sighed and nodded.
“Pray, Robert,” she whispered.
Robert’s arms slid around his wife’s waist and he closed his eyes to focus on the desires of his heart for his daughter and even for Alex. His muscles relaxed as he began to pray out loud for the protection of Molly, of her heart, of her sweet, gentle spirit, and of her physical body.
“Amen,” Annie said when he was done.
She looked down at him and he realized the anxiety he’d been feeling had left him. His wife’s dark green eyes captivated him, making him forget, at least briefly, about his worry for Molly.
Annie leaned close until her mouth was close to his ear. “The kids aren’t here right now,” she whispered.
“No, they’re not.”
“You came in for a lunch break, right?”
An amused grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Yes.”
Her lips grazed his earlobe as she spoke and desire sizzled through him. “Is it only food that you’re hungry for?”
He pushed her hair off her neck and pressed his mouth against her bare skin. “You know it’s not.”
He grabbed her mouth with his, his hands slipping to her waist as he gently pulled her against him.
When Annie pulled her mouth from his several moments later, he was breathing hard. She stepped back from him, slid her hand down to take his, and walked toward the stairs, tugging gently to indicate she wanted him to follow her. “Come on, Robert Charles. Let me help you get your mind off some things this afternoon.”
He followed his wife willingly, smiling broadly, feeling less like an almost 50-year old man and more like a newly married 19-year old, his concern for Molly at least temporarily forgotten.