Every Friday, or every other Friday, I share a piece of fiction I am working on. There are often typos or plot holes and the story may change later.
So, this current story is in the very rough draft stages, but what isn’t in the rough draft stage is it’s predecessor, The Farmer’s Daughter which is available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes and Noble and releases on February 23
Catch up with the previous parts of The Farmer’s Son HERE.
Chapter 1 Part 2
Hair pulled back. Check.
Slacks on with no scuff marks, no wrinkles. Check.
New shirt, freshly ironed. Check.
Ellie sighed, looking at herself in the entryway mirror at the preschool. She had no idea why she felt the need to be so well dressed for a group of 4 and 5-year olds. Maybe she really was uptight, like her sister always said. Uptight, a perfectionist, or whatever negative term Judi could describe her to prove that Judi was the fun sister and Ellie was the boring one.
That wasn’t fair. Judi probably wasn’t trying to prove anything about their differences. She probably didn’t care. It was Ellie who was stuck on the fact that Judi had always been more carefree, while Ellie felt like she had been born a little old lady.
Even as children Ellie had liked to keep all her toys tidy while Judi left hers strewn all over the bedroom floor, her Barbie dolls with haircuts she’d inflicted on them and her My Little Ponies with marker drawings on their buttocks. Ellie liked hers to be kept pristine, in the shape they’d arrived in.
She cringed still today at the memory of her sister’s toys and the condition of her room when she was a teenager — clothes, books, shoes and homework all strewn across the floor, her bed unmade. Across the hall, Ellie’s room looked more like a sales ad for a furniture store, books neatly stacked on shelves, clothes hanging in color coordinated sections in the closet, bed freshly made, shoes stacked on the floor of the walk-in closet in segregated groups of formal and casual.
As an adult, Ellie still liked her possessions to be clean, perfectly, or almost perfectly, aligned, and most importantly, in order.
Not that she was obsessive about it. She didn’t scold people if they removed a book from the bookcase and didn’t put it back in its place–in alphabetical order and by genre, as she had arranged them. She simply placed the book back where it belonged with a smile, usually after they had left, though not correcting their mistake while they were there was often anxiety inducing for her.
She didn’t smack Jason’s dirty boots off the coffee table if he propped them there, which he rarely did, but alarm bells did go off in her mind, and she often had to fight back the urge to shout, “Don’t put your feet there! Can’t you see I just cleaned there?!”
There was an order to her life plan too, and she liked it that way. She scheduled and planned events to happen at a certain time and in a certain way. Of course, things were a little out of order from what she’d once thought they would be, but that was okay. With Jason’s proposal, her life was back on track again.
Sure, she’d had to scribble out the plan she had written in her journal during her senior year, more since college graduation.
The one that read:
B.S. in Education.
Now it read:
B.S. in Education.
The plan had been thrown off a bit with her and Jason deciding to take a break from their relationship during college, or rather Jason making that decision. No problem. She had her education to focus on and when she wasn’t in class, she worked on her family’s farm and a local diner in town.
She’d expected to get a job in teaching immediately after graduation, but her plan was changed again for a few months when there were no positions available locally. She’d considered moving out of the area, like Judi had done, but . . .
Jason. She knew he’d wanted the break, but she still cared about him. Maybe after college they could reconnect.
So, she stayed on at the farm, then took a part time at the Tanner County Store, Jason’s family’s business. The business where she could watch Jason bring deliveries in and lift heavy boxes and where she knew he’d eventually have to talk to her, which he did. After they started dating again, a job opened up at Little Lambs Daycare, which meant she could pencil career back in after B.S. in Education.
Like that, her plan was back on track again.
But then, Jason didn’t propose that year. Or the year after. Or . . . Well, it had now been five years of Ellie wondering when, or even if, the rest of her plan was going to work out.
At least she loved her job, though. And now that Jason had proposed, things were moving in the right direction. Her plan was unfolding.
Marriage and after marriage, children.
That’s if I can have children.
No. She wouldn’t think that way.
She would have children.
But only after marriage.
So, career and marriage had switched places.
No big deal.
All that mattered was that her life was back on track now.
She tightened her ponytail, cocked an eyebrow as she inspected her shirt again and touched up her lipstick.
“Hi, Miss Ellie!”
She looked down into bright green eyes under a shock of red hair. “Hey, there, Timmy.” She leaned forward on knees slightly bent to bring herself down more to Timmy Murray’s level. “How are you this morning?”
“Mommy says I’m constipated.”
“Oh.” Ellie made a face. “Well, that’s not very good. Is your belly hurting?”
Timmy shrugged. “Nope. Just can’t poop. What are we doing at playtime today?”
Ellie held a laugh back. She didn’t want Timmy to think it was funny he couldn’t “poop.”
“It’s a surprise. You’ll have to wait and see.”
Timmy rolled his eyes. “Why do big people always make us wait for everythin’?”
Once again Ellie marveled at the verbal capability of this particular 4-year-old as she took his hand and led him into the classroom.
“Timmy, there you are.”
Ellie’s friend and co-worker Lucy Allen patted the desk in front of Timmy’s chair. “Remember, we don’t leave the room unless we’re given permission.”
“I saw Miss Ellie and thought I should say ‘hello’.”
Lucy winked at Ellie, who was hiding a smile behind her hand.
“You still need to ask permission, bud. Okay, lets all get into our good morning circle to share about our weekend and then Miss Ellie will read us a new book, ‘Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep.’”
Lucy sighed as the children filed from their chairs and gathered on the rug.
“Welcome back from the weekend, Miss Ellie. Was it a good one?”
Ellie placed her bag on the desk and took a sip of the tea in her mug. “It was. Yes. Yours?”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “Long. My mother-in-law came to visit. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love her, but everything is thrown off when she’s there. The kids don’t want to go to bed, she bakes all these cookies and they’re all on a sugar high . . .”
The kids. Ellie felt like the only one of her friends who didn’t have kids to talk about. Most of the time it didn’t phase her but for some reason it caught her off guard today, probably because marriage and kids were on her mind after Jason’s proposal. The fact she would have children so much later in life than all of them had bothered her before, but today it was weighing even heavier on her mind. She’d always tried her best not to be resentful each time a friend announced they were expecting, each time they came in with a tiny newborn in their arms. Each time, though, pangs of jealousy pressed against her on all sides and she often had to turn away and compose herself before she plastered a smile to her face and offered congratulations.
“…but it was a nice weekend overall. Mary Anne went home this morning and I have to admit that it is a little lonely without her. The kids loved her bedtime stories. . . Hey, you okay?”
Ellie looked up, reaching across the desk for the book. Time to change the subject before Lucy asked too many questions about her weekend. “I am, but if I don’t start reading soon, those kids are going to get themselves into even more trouble.” She winked to cover the fact she was covering something and gently nudged Lucy’s arm on the way back. “Brittany, hands to yourself. No, I don’t care if Matthew sat in your spot. Choose another spot.”
She sat herself in the chair in front of the kids and opened the book. “So, everyone, are we ready for a new book with a new character? A loveable bear I have a feeling is going to become a favorite.”
“Yeah!” All their little voices blend together.
“Okay, well, this story starts — ”
A sigh. “Yes, Timmy?”
“How come you aren’t married?”
A catch in her chest. “Timmy, honey, it’s story time, not question-and-answer time.”
“My mommy says you’re old enough to be married, but you aren’t.”
A tightening jaw. “Well, Timmy, your mommy —“
Lucy cleared her throat and clapped her hands quickly. “Let’s focus on story time, Timmy, okay?”
Ellie shot Lucy a grateful smile. She really hadn’t been sure what was going to come out of her mouth. She looked at Timmy and winked again.
“I’m sure Timmy understands it’s time to use our ears for listening and not our mouth for talking now. Right, Timmy?”
Timmy nodded and stuck his thumb in his mouth, eyes wide.
Ellie took a deep breath and plunged forward with the book, hoping to make it through the day without verbally snapping any of these poor children’s heads off. It wasn’t their fault she was an almost 30-year-old woman who wasn’t married, didn’t have children, and hadn’t told her fiancé that they might never even have those children.
Bright sunlight cut through the clouds, sending sparkles of light dancing across the dew blanketing the ground. Jason looked out over the field, sweat trickling down the back of his neck. His dad was already out, cutting a path through the field on the tractor, preparing the ground for another round of corn to be planted. Alex was in the barn, clearing out the stalls with Molly and Troy, one of the Tanner’s employees. Jason’s mom Annie was in the house cooking breakfast and later she had a meeting in town with the local ladies auxiliary to plan for an upcoming fundraiser.
Walt, Jason’s uncle, was in the lower barn and his aunt Hannah was at the farm store a mile down the road. Jason’s cousin, Bradley, Walt’s only son, was picking up meat from the meat packing plant to be delivered to the store and Hannah’s children, all three in junior high, were working their summer jobs packing shelves at the store.
Tanner Enterprises was definitely a family-run business and the burden of keeping it running wasn’t all on his shoulders, but Jason still felt the weight of helping to run a 400-acre farm and an out branch of businesses which employed a staff of 50.
Watching his dad, Jason knew Robert Tanner was tired. He’d been tired for a long time, but this was a different kind of tired. A tired that Jason could see was leaving the 49-year-old man physically and emotionally drained at the end of each day. Jason knew his dad was angry at himself for having taken a loan out against the family business without telling his family and even angrier that circumstances beyond his control had made it impossible to repay the loan by the deadline. The mere fact he’d had to take a loan at all was like a kick to the gut for Robert.
“I don’t know Jason. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to take out that loan if we hadn’t lost your grandfather.”
But Jason had a feeling the need for a loan would have come, even if Ned Tanner had lived longer. It had been a year since Jason’s grandfather had passed away. Really, though, the dementia had taken Ned Tanner away from his family several years before his soul actually left his body.
Jason could still see the faraway look in his grandfather’s eyes that one day five years ago when he’d asked him where the accounting books were. Robert and Walt had already taken over the business, but Ned had the financial records at his house and Robert had asked Jason to pick them up. The records had always been there, and the family had agreed when the brothers took over that Ned would continue to keep them in his filing cabinet in his office in the house. When Jason had asked for the books to take to the tax preparer, though, his grandfather had drawn a blank.
“Accounting books? Doesn’t Hannah have those?”
“No, Grandpa. We agreed you’d keep them in the filing cabinet.”
“I have a filing cabinet?”
Jason had laughed softly. “Very funny, Grandpa.”
He could tell from his grandfather’s expression, though, that he wasn’t joking. Ned looked genuinely confused.
“What books should I have again?”
Jason’s eyebrows had furrowed in concern. Did his grandfather really not remember where he’d always kept the books?
Within a few moments, though, it was as if the fog in Ned’s mind had lifted. “Oh. Yes. The accounting books. They’re in the third drawer of that green filing cabinet in the corner of the office upstairs. The key is in my sock drawer. I’ll get it for you this afternoon.”
Jason had felt some relief at the return of clarity, but a couple of months later Ned had forgotten other things, small at first, like where he’d left his keys or if he’d gassed up the tractor. Eventually, though, he’d sat longer on a hay bale in the barn or on a chair on Robert’s front porch, staring out at the fields, trying to remember what he’d been about to do. The day Robert drove him home, tired and near tears because he couldn’t remember which direction to turn his truck to get back to his house, it was clear something was seriously wrong.
The doctor’s diagnosis hit the family hard. Jason could still remember clearly the small gasp from his mother, the way her hand flew to her mouth, pressed there for several moments as tears rimmed her eyes when Robert had told her.
Robert had told Jason Franny, Jason’s grandmother, had asked the doctor, “How long?”
“How long?” the doctor had repeated, confused.
“How long before he’s completely lost to us?”
The doctor hadn’t felt the dementia would move fast, but it did. Faster than anyone expected. The worsening heart failure had moved even faster, and within three years of the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Ned had been gone.
If it hadn’t been for his desire to keep his father’s dream alive, Robert might have given up and walked away from farming altogether the day they’d buried Ned in the family plot in the small cemetery behind the now empty country church down the road. The fact Jason and Molly, Walt and his family still had a passion for the farm had helped keep him going, but the other day Jason had seen his father looking at the letter from the bank he’d stuffed in his back pocket. Jason had looked over his dad’s shoulder and Robert had shared the news with him about the danger the business was in.
Both of them had felt the heaviness of grief again–grief over the loss of Ned, but also the pending grief at failing at the only job either of them had ever had and ever wanted to do.
Jason watched his dad turn the tractor back toward the barn for a few moments and then turned back toward the barn to complete his own morning work so he could take off to the gym, one of the few places where he could work out his stresses and think at the same time.
“Hey, Jase?” He looked up at the sound of his dad’s voice several moments later. Robert was standing next to the tractor, one arm leaning against it.
“You have a lot on your mind lately?”
Jason shrugged a shoulder. “Uh. No. Not really. I mean, why?”
“You were supposed to tighten the bolts on these tires the morning.”
Jason made a face. “Oh. Yeah. Right.”
“Right. Luckily, I could feel they were loose before I got too far out this morning.”
Jason cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry about that.”
Robert shrugged. “It’s no big deal. I’m not mad, but you’ve seemed a little distracted lately. Is there anything you need to talk about?
Jason shook his head. “Nope.” He rubbed dirt off his hand with a rag. “I guess my mind was on something else. I’ll be more careful in the future.”
Robert rubbed his chin, pondered his son for a moment, then nodded. “Okay, well, you let me know if you need to talk.”
Jason turned back to working on the feed machine. “Definitely.”
But no. He would not talk to his dad about what was on his mind. He wasn’t about to tell anyone in his family about his college mistakes. Not now, not ever.
It was bad enough he was going to have to tell Ellie at some point if he wanted to start their marriage on a path of honesty. He had a feeling he wouldn’t be able to hide his personal failures from her for much longer.