Welcome to Chapter 4 of The Farmers’ Sons.
As always this is a work in progress so this chapter will probably change in content and definitely with typos before a future publication as an ebook.
To catch up on the story click HERE.
Spencer was a small town, quieter than a city, but still nosier than a small farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Instead of drifting off to the sound of crickets and peepers, the squeal of tires, revving of diesel engines, laughter from people leaving the bar down the street, and the occasional whoop of a teenager pulling a late night wheelie for his friends bombarded Ellie’s ears. She’d purchased a white noise machine after a sleepless first week. The synthetic sound of running water had finally helped her drift off and stay asleep.
Tonight, though, she’d scrolled through all the sounds her machine offered and nothing was working.
Chirping birds, jungle sounds, a train bumping on the tracks, the whir of a fan, the hum of an air conditioner.
None of them could drown out her racing thoughts, her memories of the night Jason had not-actually proposed. She still couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid not to notice he’d never actually said the words. It had taken a conversation with Judi a week later to make her question if he really had intended to propose that night or not.
She’d been organizing her bookshelf in her room at the farm when the buzz of the cellphone startled her. As she remembered the call, she realized organizing her bookshelf was apparently a favorite pastime for her. She had shoved Pride and Prejudice back into the “A” section of the bookcase and checked the caller ID.
Oh, great. This should be fun.
“Heya, sister of mine. Tell me you’re somewhere exciting doing something that would make me proud.”
Ellie rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, kneeling back in front of the bookcase. “I’m in my room. Organizing books.”
Judi snorted. “Why am I not surprised? You’re so predictable, El.”
A car horn sounded in the background and a mix of car engines and voices filtered through the receiver.
Ellie slid another book onto the shelf. “On your way to work?”
“I’m at a café, actually. They have the best lattes and blueberry scones, and a beautiful veranda overlooking Central Avenue. So, what’s up with you. Anything new?”
Nothing I’m going to tell you about.
“Nope. I’m predictable. Like you said.”
Judi’s laughter grated on Ellie’s nerves. “Predictable, loyal, dedicated, and perfect. That’s my big sister. Still living with mom and dad, I suppose?”
Ellie bristled. “You know I am.”
Judi’s laugh was infuriating. Ellie pictured her wearing a pair of sunglasses, her honey brown hair spilling down her back, bright red lipstick, her head tipped back as she laughed.
“You’re such a trooper, Ellie. Helping mom and dad out and working two jobs. Always showing off. You know, you really should move up here with me. Expand your horizons. Kick the dust off that cruddy little town already.”
Ellie slammed a book into the bookcase. Tension grabbed at the back of her neck, spread down her shoulders. “Judi, you know I can’t.”
“Why?” There was a long slurp, and a muted snorting laugh, following by words dripping with sarcasm. “Oh, right . . . Jason.” Ellie could practically hear the eye-roll. “Your dud of a boyfriend who hasn’t even proposed to you after all these years.”
The tension clutched at Ellie’s jaw, slithered down her chest. “Actually—”
“Wait.” There was a clink on the other end of the line, probably Judi’s glass of peach iced tea on the surface of the table. She always drank peach tea with a twist of lemon. “Did he actually propose?”
Ellie immediately regretted even starting down this path. “Well, sort of —”
“Sort of? What do you mean, sort of? He either has or he hasn’t.”
Ellie closed her eyes against the onslaught of interrogation from her younger sister. She pressed her fingertips against her temple. “He did.”
Judi’s excitement was palpable. Her breath quickened. Ellie could picture her leaning forward, darkly lined eyeliner framing wide green eyes. “What did he say? How did he do it? Tell me everything.”
Ellie felt a pulsating rhythm under her fingertips. “Actually, I asked him if he was eve going to propose. He almost drove off the road and then he said he was going to talk to me about marriage that night, actually.”
Judi’s excitement had waned some. Her tone flattened. “Soooo… wait. You asked him first about it? That’s sort of weird. Like, did he actually say the words?”
“Uh. Yeah. The words.” Judi’s tone indicated she thought Ellie should understand her meaning. “You know, like, ‘will you marry me Elizabeth Alexandria Lambert and make me the happiest man in the world?’”
The thumping rhythm in Ellie’s temple had increased, pushing an ache through the rest of her head. “You’ve been watching way too many romantic movies, Jud.”
A long sigh huffed against her ear. “Well, did he at least say, ‘will you marry me?’ And give you a ring?”
The phone tightened in her hand, and her jaw ached from clenching it. “No. He didn’t say that, and he didn’t have the ring with him.”
Standing at the window across from her bed, Ellie had looked out at her dad driving a tractor into the field. Her mother had been hanging a sheet onto the clothesline between the maple trees in the side yard.
“But you said he said he was going to talk to you about it at dinner, so why wouldn’t he —”
“I don’t know.” Ellie was snapping now. “He just didn’t.”
More slurping and the click of well-manicured nails on a tabletop.
“Well, that’s not very romantic.” Ellie didn’t have to see Judi to know she was making a face. “But at least you two are finally getting married. This has dragged out long enough. Do mom and dad know?”
Turning from the window, an anxious buzz hummed in her ears, and she marched to the laundry basket to quiet it. She cradled the phone against her shoulder and ear.
Blue top, tan khakis, blue and green striped socks. Red top, light blue denim capris, white socks with red hearts. White ruffled shirt, light blue pencil skirt, tan high heels.
“No. No one knows yet except us and now you. We want to keep it that way, so keep this between us. We’re going to announce it at the firemens banquet in August. After he gets the ring.”
A series of giggles in the background made it sound like Judi was at a wild party. Her voice faded to muffled mumbling. “Miranda! Heya! Yeah! I’ll be right over, sweets. I’m talking to my sister.” Her voice was louder again. “Calm down, Els-Bells, I won’t tell anyone. I promise. But let me know when I can because I totally want to tell Melanie Fitzgerald – oops, I mean Stanton — I forgot she got married.”
Ellie folded another series of clothes into a coordinating outfit, sliding them in a drawer, scrunching her face in a questioning expression. “Why Melanie?”
“Because we were all friends in high school and she’d be so happy for you. Plus, she bet me $20 Jason would never propose that last time I was home.”
Ellie pulled the phone from her ear and scowled at it. Judi had been friends with Melanie, not her. She thought about reminding her sister is this fact, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Judi was still stuck in high school.
“Okay, Judi, I’ve got to go.” She slammed the dresser drawer shut. “I’ve got a shift at the farm store in a half an hour.”
Judi’s voice was far away again. “A refill on the peach tea with a twist of lemon, the summer breeze salad with grilled chicken, avocado , cucumber, no tomatoes, and a light balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Right. That’s perfect.” The patronizing click of the tongue made Ellie wince and pull the phone back from her ear again. “Oooh, Ellie,” she cooed. “You’re such a good girl. Helping the Tanners, helping at the farm, teaching those little kiddies. You’re such a saint. So steadfast and dependable.” Judi sighed and if it had been anyone else, Ellie would have interpreted her tone as sentimental. “Anyhoo, have to go. The new guy from the men’s department is here. I’m going to see if he wants to join me and the girls for lunch. Talk later.”
The phone went dead.
Ellie sat on the bed, tossing the phone onto the bedside table.
Steadfast and dependable.
She knew Judi really meant.
Boring and predictable.
Ellie had quit her part-time job at the Tanner’s store the week after she found about Jason and the girl at college, rented an apartment in town and marched down to Missy’s one Saturday morning and asked for this haircut. It had been a long time coming. The need to change and the changes themselves.
Rolling onto her back and staring at the ceiling in the darkness, she huffed out a sigh.
Changing her appearance and her location wouldn’t change how she’d had to rearrange her life plans again, though. During her senior year of high school, the list had read, valedictorian, graduation, Bachelors in Education, career, marriage, children.
When Jason had suggested the break in college, she’d added question marks to marriage and children. But when they’d started dating again five years ago, she’d been able to add marriage and children back.
Now, though, she’d scratched a thick dark line through the words in her journal. She didn’t know if she’d ever add them back.
“Hey, Jason.” Molly called to him from the back room of the store. “We’ve got an order here for Mr. and Mrs. Weatherly. Can you drop it off on your way by?”
He’d just delivered a few hundred pounds of locally produced beef and pork from the meat packing plant two hours away, still had stalls to shovel and a tractor to fix, but dropping a delivery off to two of the nicest people he knew wouldn’t be a problem.
Molly smiled as he lifted the box. “You don’t mind because Mrs. Weatherly always gives you cookies when you stop.”
He was just glad she wasn’t looking at him the way she’d looked in the parking lot of the church a few weeks ago. He still hadn’t talked to her about it and didn’t know how.
“Cookies, a pie, a piece of cake. Whatever she’s baked that day. What can I say? She loves me.”
His sister rolled her eyes and laughed. “You keep taking those cookies and that stomach of yours is going to grow.”
He shrugged a shoulder. “I’ll just work it all off at the gym the next morning.”
When he reached the Weatherly’s, Ann Weatherly was on the front porch with a smile, wearing a white apron with a border of red cherries running across the bottom.
“Jason Tanner, you’re a sweetheart.” She opened the door for him. “Put it right on the kitchen table there and then I’ll get you a piece of apple pie. I just took it out of the oven.”
He set the box down and held his hand up. “No, no, Mrs. Weatherly. I don’t need any pie. Really.”
She propped her hands on her hips. “I can tell you’ve been working hard already today, and I know you Tanner boys, you’ve got more work to do. I bet the pie would help you get through the rest of your day.”
Jason wasn’t great with ages, but he knew Ann had gone to school with his grandmother. Her husband, John, was probably about her age, maybe a little older. Saying ‘no’ to her would be like saying ‘no’ to one of his grandmother’s.
She gestured toward the table. “Go on and sit down. I’ll cut you a piece.”
Smiling, he shook his head at her persistence. His gaze drifted across the kitchen — the patterned plates displayed in a row on a shelf above the stove, the 1960s-era flowered wallpaper, cast-iron pans hanging on the wall below the cupboards — then wandered down the hallway leading to the dining room, photos hanging on the wall. He walked down the hallway, looking at photos of Ann and John with their children and grandchildren smiling laughing. Here was one of Ann and John on their wedding day. There was one with their daughters, Mary and Ellen and son Alfred. They were older than Jason, probably closer to his parents’ ages, living out of the area now.
Jason felt a twinge of emotion in his chest as his eyes roamed over the photos, an emotion he couldn’t pin down. It was a mix of loss, disappointment, and heartache at the thought he might never have a wall like this, full of photos of his own wife and children.
He ate the pie while listening to Mrs. Weatherly talk about her grandchildren, her plans for her garden, and John’s trip to town to pick up seeds for said garden.
Their conversation reminded him of conversations with his grandmothers. It also reminded him how lucky he was to have a job where he could take time to sit down and chat after delivering food that he and his family had helped grow.
Driving home later in the afternoon, Jason reflected on the conversation with his grandmother Franny a month before Ellie learned about his night with Lauren. Watching his normally outgoing grandmother withdrawal in the last year and a half, become a shell of her former self, had been hard, almost as hard as watching his grandfather fade behind the fog of Alzheimers. She had been avoiding many family gatherings and activities she used to enjoy, including church. Only in the last few months had he seen some of the melancholy fall away.
Franny had ushered him into the kitchen that day, sitting at the table as he unloaded the soup has mom had sent. “That’s very nice, hon’. You tell Annie thank you for me.” She smiled. “What happened? You draw the short straw to bring your cantankerous grandmother dinner?”
Jason laughed, bending down and kissing Franny’s cheek. “Now, grandma, you know I love coming to see you. We all do. Molly had an art class, Dad was working on that broken tractor, and I actually asked to bring it.”
Jason sat on the chair across from his grandmother and leaned back, stretching his legs out.
He decided to jump right into it, not pull any punches. “So, what’s going on with you, Grandma? You know you can talk to me.”
Franny avoided his eyes, stirring her spoon in the soup she’d dipped out. “I’m fine, Jason.”
“You’re anything but fine. Out with it. Is it your eyes?”
She shot him a glare. “You always were too observant for your own good, Jason. How did you know about my eyes?”
“I’ve noticed you bumping into tables when I’ve been here, squinting through your glasses. Plus, there was that whole driving into the back of the dump truck thing.”
She cleared her throat. “Well, yes, I am concerned about them. As for the dump truck — well, yes, I misjudged the distance between it and my car.”
“Misjudge or didn’t see it well?” She didn’t offer a verbal response. Her raised eyebrow and scowl were answer enough. “Do you think it could be macular degeneration?”
“I don’t know.” Her eyebrows furrowed. “I’ve heard of that but I’m not really familiar with it.”
Jason hooked his hands behind his head, keeping the conversation casual. “Ellie’s grandma has it. Her eyesight is slowly deteriorating, but maybe yours isn’t that bad. We can go see Dr. Fisher. Maybe you just need a prescription.”
Franny lifted her finger. “Ah, now. Speaking of Ellie —”
“Grandma, we’re talking about you right now.”
“We’ll get back to that. Let’s talk about Ellie and you.” She slapped her hand on the table. “Why haven’t you proposed to that girl yet?”
“Jason, honey, she’s the girl for you. You believe that, right?
Jason laughed softly and cleared his throat, unfolding his arms from behind his head and shifting in the chair. “Yes, Grandma. I do.”
“Then what are you waiting for?”
Jason softly groaned and covered his face with his hands, leaning his head back. This conversation had definitely gone off the rails. “Grandma. . .”
“Don’t let her get away from you, Jason. Do you hear me?”
Jason looked at his grandma, his face flushed but a smile tugging at his mouth. “Yes, ma’am. I hear you, but right now we are talking about your eyesight. I can drive you to Dr. Fisher. Let’s find out what’s going on. It may not be as bad as you think, okay?”
Franny sipped from her glass of water, a small smile flicking across her lips. “Okay. I’ll make you a deal, Jason Andrew Tanner. I’ll let you take me to Dr. Fisher if you agree to propose to that lovely Ellie.” She reached her hand out toward her grandson. “Deal?”
Jason tipped his head back again and let out a deep laugh. He shook his head and chewed his lower lip for a moment, rubbing his chin as he looked at his grandmother’s hand. If he did this, it would mean no more avoiding talking to Ellie about his college mistakes.
His large hand enveloped her much smaller one. “Yeah, okay, grandma. Deal.”
A month later Franny had her cataracts removed, and he’d been ready to confess all to Ellie.
If only he hadn’t failed to hold up his side of the bargain.
Franny knew something had happened between him and Ellie, and he knew she wanted to ask, but so far, he’d been able to avoid her. A family lunch was planned at her house next weekend. He had a feeling she’d corner him before the day was out.