Anyone else ready for an escape from reality?
Some of you probably won’t be happy with me today because I’m going to leave you on a cliffhanger. However, I will post Chapter 30 tomorrow so you’re not left hanging for too long.
I’ve been posting these chapters since April. I can’t believe it, but I have. I’ve been working on this particular story for a couple of years now, off and on anyhow.
As always, there will probably be typos, missing words, etc. as this is a novel in progress. If you find some of these typos, etc., please feel free to let me know in the comments or via the contact form so I can fix them. I’ve seen some really dumb mistakes on my chapters long after they were published here and I’m always amazed someone didn’t say something about them so I could fix them. Ha!
If you would like to catch up to the rest of the story you can do so HERE or at the link at the top of the page. Or, you can wait until February 2021 when I publish it on Kindle (after rewrites, editing, etc.).
“No, Mom, I won’t hear of it.”
Robert held his hand out toward his mom and shook his head. “We are not selling this property or this house to cover that loan. This house has been in our family for generations. I appreciate the offer, but that’s not the answer.”
Franny sighed and slid her glasses off, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Robert, we can’t hold on to all this property forever and if it will help save the rest of the business then we need to consider it.”
“Mom. No. I’m not allowing —”
“There is no allowing anything on your part. This house and property are in my name and my name alone. I will make the final decision, not you.”
Robert sat in the recliner that had been his father’s and propped his elbows on his knees, looking at his mother. Her jawline had that familiar set of a woman who was not to be deterred. Her eyes were flashing with determination and her lips were pressed firmly together. Worst of all was her unwavering gaze that told him she’d made up her mind.
She wanted to move into an apartment close to Betty and Frank. It would be less upkeep and the sale of the house and property would go to help pay off the loan. Robert appreciated her offer, but at this point, the deadline to pay off the loan was closing in and the sale would take longer than they had. Thankfully, they’d be able to pay off a large portion of it with the proceeds combined from the sale of the corn, the milk sales, and profits from the farm store over the last month.
“Mom, I know it’s up to you. The decision is yours, but at this point, the sale would take a while and it wouldn’t be in time to go toward the loan.”
Franny sighed. “Well, I guess I can hang on to the house for a bit longer. Who knows, maybe I can give it to Molly to live in when she gets married. “
Robert raised an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes. “Married? Have you heard something I haven’t?”
Franny laughed softly and leaned back against the couch. “Don’t get all flustered now. I haven’t heard a thing. I’m just thinking about her future. I’m sure she’ll get married someday.”
“I don’t know who. I’m just saying, our Molly is a good catch for any man, and she might want to stay close to her family. We don’t know.”
“Or she could want to leave the farm, see what else is out there for her,” Robert countered.
“True. That’s all up to Molly, but just in case she wants to stay close to her family, raise her children here, then —”
“Children?” Robert scoffed. “Mom, let’s slow down a bit okay? I haven’t even wrapped my head around her kissing my farmhand let alone let my mind go to her being married or having children.”
Franny chuckled. “Good grief, Robert. You need to get with the program and realize Molly isn’t a little girl anymore. She’s a grown woman with her own path to carve out in life.”
“I know that mom, but I think you would agree that even though she’s a grown woman, she will always be my little girl.”
Franny tilted her head and smiled. She leaned forward and covered her son’s rough, hard-worked hands with her much smaller ones. “Just like you will always be my sweet boy.”
A grin tugged Robert’s mouth upward. “Thanks, Mom. I love you too.”
Molly had been avoiding Alex all day and she knew he could tell. He’d tried more than once to reach for her hand and she’d pulled away each time, reaching for a shovel or a bucket or anything so she wouldn’t feel his skin against hers and lose control of her senses every time he was around. She couldn’t miss his looks of confusion, the way he’d looked at her with narrowed eyes from the main barn doorway on his way to the lower barn as if trying to figure out why she’d turned so cold in such a short time.
Several times during the day she snuck looks at him, trying to decide if he was the type of person who would have confessed his love for a woman only a couple of weeks after taking another woman he barely knew home from the bar and sleeping with her. There was part of her who couldn’t imagine it, but part of her that thought it was possible, not because he was a horrible person, but because she knew Alex used things like alcohol and women to distract himself from the difficulties in life.
She knew he had strained relationships with both of his parents. Maybe he’d been trying not to think about that. Still, if he had loved her for years as he said, then why would he have taken Jessie home instead of telling her how he felt? Why had it taken him so long to tell her anyhow? Alex Stone wasn’t someone who was afraid of women and there was no way he was afraid of her. There was nothing special or intimidating about her. She wasn’t beautiful and tall and leggy like Jessie Landry. She was just Molly. Boring, fat, plain, and forgettable Molly Tanner.
She swallowed hard, walking toward the chicken coop, shaking her head at the tears stinging her eyes. A few nights ago, she was overcome with emotion by the words Alex spoke, and by the way, he held her tenderly. Now she was wondering if that had all been an act, even though she truly couldn’t comprehend it had been. She drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and silently prayed for God to reveal the truth to her and stop her racing mind.
Warmth against the back of her neck a few moments later as she collected the eggs sent a shiver of panic rushing through her. She could smell his aftershave and it was clouding her thoughts. Why did he have to stand so close?
She snatched up the eggs and quickly moved to the next nesting box to move away from him.
He moved with her, stepping even closer until his front was almost touching her back. “Hey, you’ve been avoiding me all day. What’s going on?”
She didn’t turn around. She knew if she looked at him, she’d burst into the tears she’d been fighting back all day.
“Nothing’s going on. I’m fine.”
He laughed softly. “Yeah, um, I know ‘I’m fine’ is code for ‘something is wrong’ in women speak.”
He touched her arm gently and for a brief second, she pictured herself leaning back into him so he could hold her. “Molly, talk to me.”
She slid past him and carried the basket of eggs out of the chicken coup, walking back toward the barn without answering him. She could hear his footsteps quickening behind her. Where did she think she was going to go that he wasn’t going to follow? The bathroom was the only option, and she was fairly certain he would block her way if she tried to get to the house.
His hand caught hers as she stepped inside the feed room door. Trying to pull loose she moved toward the middle of the room, but he pulled her gently back toward him until she was facing him.
His voice was firm. “Talk to me. I need to know why we’ve gone from making out one day to you not even acknowledging I’m alive the next. What happened between a few days ago and today?”
His hand gripped hers tightly. She closed her eyes, praying the tears would disappear.
When she opened her eyes, she was staring straight into a pair of captivating blue eyes clouded with genuine concern and confusion. At that moment she couldn’t imagine Alex would ever lie to her and that fact terrified her because she knew she was about to ask him a question she didn’t want to know the answer to.
She asked it quickly and bluntly before she chickened out and ran for the house.
“Did you sleep with Jessie Landry?”
Alex’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “No. Why would you even ask that?”
“Because Jessie says you did.”
He released his grip on her hand. “And you believe her?”
She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment and shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t really, no. I’ve known Jessie for years and I can’t remember her ever being a very honest person.”
He stepped back from her, hands on his hips, turning to look at the field across the road. Panic began to surge through her. He’d already denied it but now he had withdrawn, and she wondered if that meant there was some truth to Jessie’s story. When he turned back toward her, his expression was serious.
“I didn’t sleep with her, but I did bring her back to my place that night.” He walked toward her until he was standing a few inches in front of her, his eyes glistening as he spoke. “I took her home because I wanted to take my mind off you because I didn’t think I was good enough for you, Molly. I still don’t. I saw you with Ben that day outside the church and I thought something was going on between you. I figured it was because he was better than me. I went to the bar a couple of nights later, Jessie was hanging all over me and I didn’t want to think about how I wasn’t good enough for you anymore so I brought her back home.” He looked at the barn floor, shaking his head. “The entire time she was there, though, all I could think about was you.”
Warmth spread through Molly’s chest and her face flushed.
He swallowed hard and brought his gaze back to hers again. “That’s the truth. I don’t expect you to believe me because you know my past, you know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I promise you that this was not one of them. I never should have taken her home. I never should have gotten drunk that night. I kissed Jessie, I almost slept with her, but I didn’t.” He pushed his hand through his hair, laughing softly. “She definitely was not happy about that, but I couldn’t help it. It was you I wanted. Not her.”
“I meant what I said Molly. I’m in love with this farm, I’m in love with this family and more importantly, I’m in love with you. Do you really think I lied about that? That I could lie about that?”
She opened her mouth and closed it again, unsure how to answer. Did she really think he’d lied? She couldn’t even imagine he had, yet she was afraid to fully trust he hadn’t. Fully trusting meant opening her chest and letting her heart be exposed in a way she hadn’t allowed since she dated Ben.
The hurt in his eyes shot daggers through her heart and she wanted to tell him she believed him, she trusted him, she loved him as much as he said he loved her but she couldn’t seem to move beyond her fear.
She reached out and laid her hand against his upper arm. “Alex, I —”
The back door to the feed room swung open and Jason filled the opening as he guzzled soda from a can and burped loudly. “Oops did I interrupt some kind of lover’s spat?”
She thought her head was going to explode.
She didn’t even know her brother had a clue about her and Alex’s relationship and at this point, she didn’t even care.
She swung to face him. “Excuse me?”
Jason stepped into a square of light on the barn floor made from an opening above the door. “You heard me.” He winked and pointed to her then to Alex and back to her again. “I know all about you two.”
Molly rolled her eyes. “What — how — I mean just seriously, what is wrong with my family? You all have the worst timing on the planet and act like I can’t have a life of my own.”
Jason’s eyes widened and he blinked at her innocently. “What do you mean? I didn’t say you couldn’t have your own life, I just —”
“Interrupted me,” Molly snapped. “Interrupted me again. Like everyone else in this family has done every time Alex and I are together. I’m sick of all of you sticking your nose in my business.”
Jason looked at Alex who raised his arms slightly from his side and shrugged. Jason looked back at his sister and sighed. “I just can’t win with women right now, can I?”
Molly folded her arms across her chest her cheeks bright red. “Apparently not. Now get lost. This is a private conversation.”
It was Jason’s turn to roll his eyes. “Fine, I’ll leave but I needed to ask Alex if he can run down and check on dad first.”
Molly cocked a leg to one side, folded her arms across her chest, and glared at her brother. “Why?”
“Because Dad has been down in the field by the lower barn for two hours. It shouldn’t take him two hours to plant rye in that area and I wanted to know if Alex would go see if the tractor broke down again. Dad didn’t take his phone with him.”
Molly was certain her blood pressure was at a dangerous level at this point. “Why can’t you do it?”
“Because Uncle Walt is on his way over with Troy and we’ve got to move those heifers up to the upper barn before the storm moves in.”
Alex stepped between the siblings and held a hand toward each of them. “Hey, guys, truce, okay? I’ll head down and check on Robert.” He turned toward Molly, his back facing Jason. “Can we finish this discussion when I get back? I want to talk this out, okay?”
Molly nodded, touching his arm gently. “Yes. I want to too.”
For the first time since they’d started talking a small smile tugged at Alex’s mouth. “Good,” he said softly.
Jason groaned. “Gross. I don’t need to see you two swoon over each other. I’m going to go wait outside for Uncle Walt.”
Alex laughed softly as Molly stuck her tongue out at Jason’s back.
He stepped toward her, leaned in, and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be right back, okay?”
She nodded. “Okay.”
“We’ll talk?” he asked softly, cupping his hand against her face.
A faint smile tugged at her mouth. “We will.”
Molly watched Alex climb into his truck from the feed room’s doorway. On the horizon behind him, dark clouds were inching toward the farm, threatening to pound the ground with rain for the third time that week. She pushed her hand back through her hair, anxious to continue their conversation but feeling relieved that they had at least broached the issue instead of letting it fester.
As he drove toward the lower field, Alex’s mind was filled with what else he wanted to tell Molly when he got back to the barn. He wished their conversation hadn’t been interrupted — again. Did she believe him? What had she been about to say? He knew Jason hadn’t meant to interrupt their conversation but part of him wanted to tell his friend off – from a distance where Jason couldn’t shove him again, of course. Alex’s chest and back were still aching from the encounter a few days before.
He should have known Molly would eventually find out about Jessie, but at the same time, she’d told him she already knew about his past and still loved him. The memory of her words gave him hope that she’d been about to tell him she believed him and understood why he hadn’t told her about Jessie before. And then there had been the way she had touched his arm before he left, telling him she wanted to talk more. That was a good sign, right? It had to be.
He drove slowly over the small dirt road that connected the upper and lower fields of the Tanner’s farm, his mind focused completely on Molly until he came up over the hill and looking down saw the underside of Robert’s tractor facing toward him instead of the cab. That definitely wasn’t normal. Was Robert trying to fix it? If he was, how did he get it up on its’ side? Alex’s chest tightened. Robert couldn’t have pushed it over on his own.
He quickly scanned the grassy area around the overturned tractor for Robert, terror gripping him when he didn’t see him.
“Please let him be in the barn,” he prayed, gunning the accelerator.
The moment he slammed his foot on the brake and threw the truck into park he knew Robert wasn’t in the smaller storage barn. His chest constricted as he shoved the truck door open.
He could already see Robert’s body pinned underneath the 1960 Ford tractor that had originally been Ned’s.
He started running.
“Robert! Robert! Talk to me!”
Robert’s torso and legs were under the main part of the tractor, his pale face visible, glazed eyes looking up at the darkening sky.
Dark red pooled around his upper body.