So, I have restarted The Farmers Sons (name subject to change). I mean trashed the other chapters and started all over. I have not, however, trashed the prologue. Not yet anyhow. I will most likely try to figure out how to add it to later to the story, but probably will not have Jason be a volunteer fire fighter. He won’t have time for that with trying to run the farm with his family, while Robert is recovering.
The previous draft was steering the story in a direction far away from how I imagined Jason and Ellie’s story going and it also needed tighter writing. This next draft will still include some of the elements of the previous versions.
For anyone who is new here, I share a chapter from the (almost) first draft of a novel I am working on each Friday. The chapter will most likely have typos, grammatical errors, missing comas, and even plot holes and it’s not the final version of the novel that I release at a later date.
I share the stories and publish the novels for fun so feel free to comment. The first book in this series is also available for sale on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and various other sites. You can find more info about that HERE.
The sun cut across the barren field, slicing it in half, leaving one side to the darkness, the other to the light. A similar scene played out inside Jason Tanner. A metaphorical sun worked hard to push back the darkness, leaving him split in the middle, one part dark, one part light; one part hope, the other part hopeless.
Bitter coffee burned at the edges of his exhaustion but did nothing to clear the fog in his mind. How many days had it been? Nine? Maybe ten since he’d slept more than five hours a night, waking before dawn, stumbling to his pickup, driving to the barn, fingers numb from cold, watching his breath puff misty white around him.
This morning was no different, other than he’d actually remembered to brew himself a pot of coffee. He had poured half into his thermos and left the other half for Alex. They’d both need a few more pots to get through this week, this day even.
Alex stepped next to him on the farmhouse front porch, mug in hand. “This coffee is awful.”
Jason winced, not from the insult but in agreement as the sludge slid down his throat. “The worse it is, the more it will wake us up.”
Alex sipped coffee from his mug, scowling at Jason over the edge. “Is that like ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger?’”
If there was any consolation to where Jason found himself it was that he wasn’t alone in the weariness that had seeped into his marrow in the last five months.
He looked at it in the eyes of each of them — his sister, his best friend, his mother, his uncle, and most of all his father, sitting helpless in a chair on the porch each morning, his eyes completing tasks his body couldn’t, not yet anyway.
He tightened the lid to the thermos, jerked his head behind him toward the kitchen. “Fill the other thermos and let’s get going. The cows don’t care how tired we are.”
Alex grunted. “I’m not sure I want to drink anymore of this. Maybe I can use it to clean the rust off that old tractor behind the barn instead.”
They climbed into separate pickups, pulling up to the barn, one behind the other. Molly stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, waiting for one of them more than the other. She looked through Jason and he had a feeling she wouldn’t have even noticed if he hadn’t been there.
Alex’s arms slid around her waist and pulled her close, a sight Jason still wasn’t comfortable with. He wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to his little sister and his best friend dating each other, but he’d been too tired since his father’s accident to let it bother him much more than sending a shudder of disgust through him from time to time.
“Save that for later.” His tone denoted a touch of teasing, spun together with genuine aggravation. “We’re behind schedule.”
They locked eyes, small smiles playing at the corners of their lips. It was obvious they were ignoring him. He’d have to start the milking without them. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Alex pull Molly closer and lower his mouth to hers. Revulsion tinged with jealousy swirled in his stomach. Revulsion over Alex kissing his little sister right there, outside the barn door where Jason had to see it; jealousy because he wished he was holding Ellie the same way. He didn’t know if she’d ever let him hold her that way again.
Several agonizing moments of listening to smooches and laughter later, Alex playfully bumped him in the arm on his way to gather the feed. “It’s never too late for a sweet kiss from your sister, buddy.”
His teasing did nothing to make Jason feel less uncomfortable. “Dude, seriously. Stop that. I don’t even want to know.”
There were moments he regretted convincing Alex to move up to the farm, like right now, bogged down with thoughts of Alex kissing Molly. Most days, though, Alex was like family, as much as a brother as he was a best friend.
His dad’s voice came from behind him. “Are we ready for the big release?”
He’d never get used to seeing his dad leaning on that cane and hoped soon he wouldn’t need it.
“Yep. Just finished up.”
It was an annual tradition for the family to release the cows into the pasture from the barn where they’d been sheltered from the cold weather of winter. It was also a tradition for them to do it together. Jason wasn’t surprised his dad didn’t plan to miss it, making his way to the barn with Jason’s mom beside him.
Robert Tanner tipped his head toward his daughter. “Molly, do the honors.”
The cows were already standing at the gate, anxiously sniffing the cool spring air. They surged forward within seconds after Molly pulled back the gate and stepped aside.
She affectionally patted a couple on their rumps as they passed. “Get on out there, girls.”
Jason propped his arms across the top bar of the fence, watching the young heifers kicking up their legs, bumping into each other, mouths open, stretched into almost human looking smiles. It was his favorite time of year, letting them loose from their six months inside the barns, six months of being protected from wind and rain, cold and snow.
Robert leaned on the cane with both hands. “Now, that’s a sight I like to see.”
Jason nodded in silent agreement. “It was always Grandpa’s favorite time of year too, other than harvesting the sweet corn.”
Robert laughed softly. “Yeah, he did like his sweet corn.”
Annie Tanner propped a hand on her husband’s shoulder, watching the cows spread out across the hillside. “More like addicted to it.”
Jason pulled his eyes from the joyful scene in the pasture, leaning back against the fence, gesturing at his dad’s leg. “So, two weeks and that cast will be all the way off, huh, old man?”
Robert cocked an eyebrow, folding his arms across his chest. “What’s with you and Alex calling me old man? You both know I could kick your rear ends across this pasture even with a broken leg.”
A broken leg? More like a shattered leg when a tractor had tipped on it four months ago.
“We rarely have survivors when a tractor falls on a farmer.”
The words from the doctor had been chilling but accurate. Eerily accurate. Somehow Robert Tanner survived what so many other farmers hadn’t, thanks to the stump of an old maple tree left from when Ned Tanner cut it down five years before. Jason was grateful time had gotten away from them and they had never got around to pulling the stump from the ground.
Besides the shattered femur, Robert had also had a cracked pelvis, a puncture wound to his back, a collapsed lung, and internal bleeding. It was the bleeding that had led to a minor stroke during surgery and a six-week coma. The cracked pelvis was proving the most difficult to heal physically. Robert’s loss of independence had been the hardest to heal emotionally.
Jason grinned at his dad. “Looking forward to you pulling your weight around here again.” The smile broadened. “Old man.”
Robert lifted a hand from the cane and playfully punched his son in a muscular bicep. “Go clean those stalls out, little boy. Do it right or this old man will show you a thing or two about what it means to be a real man.”
Jason laughed and tapped his dad gently on the shoulder as he walked by.
You’ve already shown me what it means to be a real man, he wanted to say, but didn’t. He didn’t have time for sentimental pauses in his day. There was too much work to do, too many stalls to clean out, too many hours to spend distracting himself from the hole Ellie had carved in his heart two days earlier outside the church.
The sight of her standing outside the sanctuary talking to her friend Lucy had taken his breath away. She’d cut her hair short. Gone were the dark, straight strands that had fallen down her back in a long braid since he had known her. Her hair was still straight but hit just below her ears now. curved along the smooth, delicate line of her jaw..
He ached to reach out, trace that line with his fingertips, slide his hand behind her head and kiss away the distance between them.
The open laughter she’d been sharing with Lucy a few seconds earlier faded the moment her eyes met his. She looked away immediately, but in that brief moment he’d watched her face transform from cautious joy to closed down indifference.
He should have taken it as a sign to continue into the sanctuary and leave her alone. Unfortunately, he’d never been good at listening to others, or to his own intuition.
He slid his eyes from her to Lucy, now standing in awkward silence, her head tipped toward the floor. “Good morning, Lucy. Having a nice weekend?”
Lucy glanced up, flashed a tight smile. “Yes. I am. You?”
“It’s been okay.”
What was he going to say? It’s been torture, miserable, like being stranded in the middle of a raging sea during a storm without a lifeboat? It was true, but it wasn’t exactly the pre-church banter most people engaged in. Not to mention it was none of Lucy’s business how his weekend had really been. He had a feeling she was part of the problem, part of the reason Ellie had been ignoring his calls.
Lucy’s hazel eyes darted to Ellie, then back to Jason. She let out a quick, quiet breath, chasing it with, “Well, I’m going to go find a seat, so . . . yeah.” She leaned her head close to Ellie, her hand on her forearm, as if they were sharing a secret. It was futile. Jason still heard her, her whisper echoing in the now empty lobby. “You going to be okay?”
Ellie nodded, flashed a quick, obviously tense smile. “I’ll meet you inside.”
Lucy nodded back, looked at Jason, opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again. She looked away, turning her attention to Frank Troutman standing in the entryway with the bulletins. Frank smiled, handed Lucy a bulletin, and she cast one more look at Ellie over her shoulder before going inside.
Ellie bent her ankle back and forth, looked past him out into the parking lot, both hands hugging her Bible to her chest like a shield against him.
“I miss you.”
The words flew out of him before he even realized he was saying them out loud.
Something flashed in her eyes.
An emotion he couldn’t read.
He couldn’t read her. At all. He wasn’t used to that, to her closing herself off to him.
Her hands hugged the Bible closer against her.
“I miss you too.”
The words were what he’d wanted to hear, but not in the monotone, emotionless way she said it. Her voice was detached, a thousand miles away from meaning anything. Her gaze moved from side to side, focusing anywhere but on him.
She’d never talked to him in that tone, at least not before the afternoon she’d overheard him talking to Alex.
The memory of that moment had sent a chill straight through him. He felt the same heaviness as that day, the same all-consuming desire to pull her close; to tell her again how sorry he was, how wrong he was to wait so long to tell her the truth.
“The service is about to start.” Her voice silenced his internal dialogue. “We’ll talk later, okay?”
He grabbed on to her words. “When will we talk? I’ve been trying to talk to you for almost four months.”
A muscle in her jaw jumped. Her eyes met his, darkened emotion smoldering there. “I said I needed time, Jason.”
“I know what you said but — “
“We need a break, Jason, okay?”
“We’ve been taking a break.”
“I need a break. A long break.”
He could hear the strain in her voice, the struggle to keep her tone low and even. The doors to the sanctuary closed as the worship team started the music. She gestured curtly toward the glass doors leading outside and darted past him, shoving the front doors open. He followed, taking a step back when she swiveled to face him, eyes flashing. There was no mistaking her emotion now.
It was pure rage.
Let her be angry.
He wanted answers, and he wasn’t waiting anymore to get them.
“How long of a break? A few days? A couple of weeks? Months? Permanently?”
She raised her hand, palm out, against the assault of questions, peppering at her like bullets out of a howitzer.
“I don’t know. Stop asking me.” Each word snapped out of her like sharped-edge glass cutting at his skin.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out again. Her expression had softened when she met his gaze again.
“I don’t know who I am anymore, Jason. Who I ever was, really. I built my identity around you, around us, for so long and now . . .”
The wall was up again. Her tone flat as she lowered her gaze to the asphalt of the parking lot. “You’re not who I thought I was. Nothing feels the same. I don’t feel the same. I need to see what life is like without you for a while, decide if —”
He didn’t even try to hide his anger. “Decide what? Is this like college again? When you wanted a break? Whatever that meant.”
“I didn’t want a break. You wanted the break, Jason.”
Her recollection skills were clearly lacking. He scoffed, pointed his finger at her accusingly. “No. You said we should take a break and figure out if we were supposed to be together. That if we missed each other, that would tell us what we needed to know. I didn’t want a break, Ellie. You did. You were the one who couldn’t make up you mind. And now you can’t again. Apparently, I’m the only one of us that doesn’t have to ask if we’re meant to be together. I know we’re supposed to be together.”
Her cheeks flushed. “I only suggested the break, Jason.” She folded her arms tight across her chest. “You were the one who seemed thrilled with the idea. Obviously you didn’t miss me that much or you wouldn’t have — ”
“No.” The rumbling timbre of his protest echoed across the parking lot. “No way. That is not fair. I told you what happened. I told you how I thought you didn’t want me. How lonely and messed up I was in college. I told you how upset I was after that night, how I — .”
Her words spilled over his, drowning them out. She tossed her arms to the side. “You told me all that seven years after the fact. Seven years, Jason. I mean, if you hid that from me, what else did you hide from me? What else are you hiding from me now?”
Jason shook his head, hands on hips, looked at the black surface under his feet to calm the storm raging inside him. An ant climbed toward a crack in the asphalt, running along an uneven line of tar. He focused on it, on the freedom it had, and for a split second considered stomping the life out of it to keep it from having the freedom he couldn’t. He lifted his eyes back to hers, releasing the ant from his judgment, killing his own peace with what he said next.
“There’s nothing else, Ellie, but if you don’t feel you can trust me then fine.” His voice trembled under the effort to rein in the rage. “Take your break or whatever it is you’re calling it. Throw away everything we’ve had together for the last ten years. Walk away. If that’s what you want, do it.”
A breeze caught her hair, whipped a few strands across her face. She didn’t push them away. “Jason, don’t be a jerk. How did you think I was going to take all this? Finding out the man I thought saved himself for me was sleeping around in college behind my back?”
He tossed his arms up, slammed them down against his legs. “I wasn’t doing anything behind your back. You’d broke up with me. And I wasn’t sleeping around!” His voice thundered. He took two steps toward her and held up a shaking finger a few inches from her face. “It was one mistake. One stupid mistake. I told you that.”
She met his rage, gaze for gaze, harsh words for harsh words, slapping his hand away from her. “If it was so stupid, why didn’t you tell me when we started dating again? Why did you wait?”
He stepped back, laughed darkly. “What like how you told me about going out with my cousin? Oh wait. You didn’t tell me about that. I found that out from Brad.”
He didn’t miss the fleeting flash of surprise in her eyes before a facade of calm concealed it. She regarded him with a well-practiced poker face, saying nothing.
He didn’t back down. “Yeah. That’s right. You had secrets too, so maybe I should be worried about what you’re not telling me.”
She suddenly gulped back a sob, tears filling her eyes. When she stepped back from him she raised her arm in front of her face, as if to protect herself, as if he’d physically slapped her. In one quick move she pivoted, her back to him, walking swiftly across the parking lot toward her car. He chased after her, reached out, grasped her around her upper arm.
The growl in her voice when she wrenched free stunned him. “Don’t touch me.”
She sucked in a ragged breath, swiped the back of her hand across her tear soaked face, and worked at the key in the door of her car, her entire body trembling.
Panic curled up into his throat, threatening to choke the air out of him. His head felt like a hot-air balloon and the earth intangible around him. “Ellie, we can work this out. Don’t do this.”
She wouldn’t look at him. The lock clicked open, and she slid the key out, flung the door open. Her grief-stricken expression as she looked at him from the driver’s seat dissolved his anger into desolation.
“I don’t think we can, Jason. I really don’t. It’s like I don’t even know you, like everything you are, that we were, was a lie.”
The slam of the door reverberated in his ears long after she closed the door and sped away. He didn’t know how long he stood there, his mind numb from a conversation that had reeled out control.
When he turned toward the church, he saw Molly ashen faced, arms hugged around her as if to protect her from the truth she’d overheard, the truth of who her older brother really was.