Welcome to another edition of The Farmers’ Sons, which has been renamed Harvesting Hope for it’s novel release at the end of the summer. This is a serial fiction, which I share each Friday and ocassionally Saturday.
Jason stared in horror at Tom’s pale face and motionless body. He reached out slowly then jerked his hand back, startled, as Tom groaned and slowly rolled to his back. Tom’s voice rose barely above a whisper as he moved his hand around to touch his own side.
“When did you Tanner’s install a train in your back pasture?”
“Tom, I’m so sorry. He almost never charges like that. Maybe once every couple years.”
Tom laughed softly then wince. “We must have really pissed him off then.”
Jason lifted Tom’s hand, saw red drops staining the ground, and swallowed hard. Old Bert had hit his mark, but Jason wasn’t sure how much damaged he’d managed to inflict.
“I’m going to call for help. Don’t move, okay?”
Tom nodded weakly. “It’s probably not as bad as it looks.” He winced again. “Or feels.”
With the phone cradled between his cheek and shoulder, Jason waited for 911 to pick up while he gently lifted Tom to get a better look at his back. Red was spreading across Tom’s shirt. Jason pulled off his own shirt and bunched it up against Tom’s back, pressing it firmly in place while he gave 911 his location. He hoped the pressure would stop the bleeding.
The dispatcher gave him directions on how Tom should lay until the ambulance arrived. “Keep him still as much as you can,” she said. “There may be broken bones or internal bleeding. The ambulance will be there soon. And keep the pressure on.”
Jason was glad to have the dispatcher on the other end of the phone because he was having a hard time remembering his training as he watched Tom close his eyes. First his dad last year, now Tom. It was a trend he didn’t welcome.
“They’ll be here soon, Tom.”
Tom nodded and grimaced. “It hurts about as bad as that kidney stone I passed last year, but I’m okay.”
Jason did his best to cover his rising panic with a laugh. “I remember that stone. Ellie was beside herself with worry.”
Tom closed his eyes briefly. “Yeah, she thought I had cancer.”
Jason grinned. “How did you know that? I thought she only told me that.”
“I know her too well,” Tom answered. “It was written all over her face.” He shifted his arm under his head. His shirt and jeans were coated in a layer of dirt. “Don’t blame yourself for this, Jason. It wasn’t your fault.”
Jason looked down the road, willing the ambulance to come faster.
“Jason, don’t ignore me.” Tom’s voice was firm. “I’ve known you long enough to know you’re going to blame yourself. This was no one’s fault. Except ornery Old Bert’s.”
Jason was grateful when he heard the sound of a car approaching and didn’t even mind that it was his truck instead of the ambulance. At least this way he didn’t have to answer Tom.
Molly jumped from the truck and approached them quickly. The color had already drained from her face. She took on a grayish hue as she kneeled next to Tom.
“The ambulance is on the way,” Jason told her then briefed her and Alex on what had happened.
“Jason told me you took Liz to the hospital.” Tom’s voice was tinged with pain, but he was smiling. “Do we have a new resident in Spencer Valley?”
Alex shrugged. “No new baby yet. False alarm.”
Jason was glad for the chance to laugh, at least a little. “I told her she wasn’t in labor.”
Molly unhooked the flannel shirt she’d had tied around her middle and balled it into a pillow for Tom.
“You Tanners sure know how to take care of a guest.” Tom laughed then winced again.
After Tom was loaded into the ambulance a half an hour later, Jason sat back along the dirt road, his arms propped on his knees. He stared at his trembling hands, stained with Tom’s blood. Letting out a shaky breath, he closed his eyes and clenched his fists, fighting nausea and dizziness.
“I’ll head up and tell Rena,” Molly said, squeezing his shoulder. “I’ll also call Ellie.”
He nodded and looked up to see her holding a paper towel. He took it and worked at scrubbing the blood from his skin.
“Come on.” Alex held his hand out. “We’ll drop Molly off at her truck and head back to the hospital.” He smacked Jason on his bare back as he pulled him to his feet. “I’m starting to get use to the place. Let’s stop and get you a shirt first, though. We don’t need your six pack causing pandemonium among the nurses.”
ELLIE’S HAND SHOOK she opened the door to her car and stepped out into the hospital parking lot. The black asphalt was still damp from the passing thunderstorms earlier in the day.
Her legs wobbled under her and she wasn’t sure she’d make it to the emergency room entrance without collapsing. She had rushed across town from her apartment, calling Judi as she drove.
She’d tried reaching Judi on her cell three times in the last fifteen minutes. She wasn’t picking up. She tried again before walking inside the hospital.
“Judi, where are you? Pick up!”
Voice mail. Again. When Judi had said she was going to visit friends, Ellie had thought she meant locally. Maybe she’d meant her friends in the city, not the ones she’d left behind in Spencer.
The hallway leading to the emergency room was blocked by a tall white desk with a receptionist sitting at it.
The receptionist didn’t look up from her computer as Ellie approached.
“My father was being brought in my ambulance. Can you tell me if he’s here yet?”
Shoulder length, straight black hair, featuring a solitary purple streak down the left side, framed the receptionist’s face. “Name?”
Immaculate, extended hot pink fingernails clicked over the computer keys. “He’s here. Exam room three.”
The woman, who could have been anywhere from 30 to 50, pushed her tongue through light pink gum and blew a bubble out and up to the height of her nose. Ellie’s gaze focused on her dark purple lipstick as the bubble popped, the gum’s remnants spreading over the woman’s lips. The receptionist shook her head and sucked the gum back in her mouth, her eyes on the computer, her index finger pointing at Ellie’s left shoulder. “You need to wait in the waiting room across the hall. I’ll let you know when you’re allowed back.”
“But it’s my —”
The woman’s finger retained it’s original position while her other hand glided over the surface of the keyboard and her gaze remained on the computer screen.
Ellie emitted a frustrated huff of air as she walked into the waiting room, sitting down in a blue plush chair with tan wooden arms. She tapped her foot impatiently against the freshly cleaned linoleum. An elderly woman sitting across from her held a purse on her lap, hugging it to her chest. Her chin rested on her chest and a soft snore whiffled from her nose.
Ten minutes passed before Ellie heard the emergency room door slide open again. She watched the door expectedly. Molly had said Rena had declined to be driven to the hospital. She was driving herself. It wasn’t her though.
Her stomach tightened at the sight of Jason and Alex standing at the front desk. She should have expected them, but her mind had been on her father’s condition not on the chance she might see her ex-boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. Had she just thought that? Well, he was her ex now. Wasn’t he?
She prayed to God they wouldn’t come into the waiting room.
It was one of many unanswered prayers she’d expressed lately. They walked in a few moments later, Jason’s gaze shifting away from hers quickly as he sat in a chair to her right, against the wall..
Alex sat next to her. “Any news?”
She shook her head, keeping her eyes downcast. She couldn’t help noticing spots of red on the legs of Jason’s jeans. A lump formed at the base of her throat. “No. Not yet.”
Several minutes of awkward silence followed. Alex tapped his hand on the arm of the chair and Jason leaned his elbows on his knees and stared at the floor, periodically adjusting his brown John Deere cap.
“I told him I could handle it.” Jason’s voice, barely audible, broke the silence. He didn’t look up from the waiting room floor.
Ellie folded her hands in her lap, her gaze focused on her red and blue slip on shoes.
“Well, he’s always been stubborn,” she said finally, feeling like she should say something.
Alex laughed, rubbed a hand across his unshaven jaw. “Guess it runs in the family.”
Ellie and Jason both looked at him sharply. He pushed himself up in the chair and cleared his throat. “Too soon?”
The receptionist materialized in the doorway like a haunting visage, tapping a pen on the doorframe.
“You with Tom Lambert?”
Ellie and Jason stood, speaking in unison “Yes.”
The receptionist pointed the pen at Ellie. “You’re the daughter, right?”
“You can come back.” The melancholic figure pointed the pen at Jason. “You can wait here. Unless you’re the son?”
Jason shook his head. He wasn’t, but he’d almost been his son-in-law. The realization seemed especially painful at the moment.
Ellie stepped around Jason, pausing when his hand touched her forearm. Lifting her eyes, she stared into glistening green eyes she’d lost herself in so many times before.
“I’m sorry.” Her lips parted to respond, but she wasn’t sure what to say. What was he apologizing for? Her dad? What had happened in college?
“I shouldn’t have let him help,” he whispered.
She swallowed hard, nodded. Part of her thought that after their break-up Jason would simply disappear from her life, her family’s life. Obviously it was an absurd thought. They lived in a small farming community, he lived down the road from her parents’ house, and they’d all known each other for years. Of course, they’d interact with each other in some way. Even in ways that would lead to physical and emotional pain.
Her voice was nearly toneless. “Okay.”
The word fell flat against what she could tell was a sincere apology. She hated it, but she didn’t have time to focus on his feelings. Her father was laying in an emergency department exam room, and she had no idea what his condition was. How Jason felt wasn’t her priority right now.
His hand slipped from her arm as she walked toward the exit of the waiting room. At the same moment she entered the hallway, her mother walked through the emergency room doors. She reached for Rena’s hands to steady herself, provide distraction from the way she’d walked away from Jason as if she didn’t believe he was actually sorry.
Somehow, at that moment, for so much more than what had happened to her dad, sorry wasn’t enough.