I have been working quite a bit on this story this week and I have this feeling I am going to stress some of my readers (okay, like all three of you lovely ladies who follow and support me) out with this one. It can’t be helped. It’s the way the story needs to go, but, well, brace yourselves. Luckily, for today’s post, you don’t have to brace yourselves quite as much. Today will be a little less stressful.
For anyone who is new here, this is a continuing story. It is a semi-first draft that I edit more later through a few more drafts before it hits as a self-published ebook and paperback sometime in the future.
If you’d like to catch up on the rest of the story, feel free to click HERE.
Fingers trailed up the back of his neck, the tips of them rubbing the side of his head where he’d buzzed the hair to keep him cool during the summer.
The sweet smell of the vanilla rose perfume he’d bought her for Valentine’s Day circled around him. He’d watched her roll it on the inside of her wrist a few moments before.
Her mouth moved from his neck to his cheek, and she giggled as he pulled her down onto his lap and wrapped an arm around her waist.
A cool breeze cut across his skin warm from the summer sun as her mouth found his. His mind was clouded with her, the smell of her perfume, the feel of her skin against his, the way she nibbled at his lower lip.
A loud thud startled him. Panic surged through Jason as black spread across his vision like sentient ooze. The bright blue sky, the sun stretching gold across the rising corn in the field, and Ellie’s beautiful face and long dark hair faded until all that remained was pure black.
In one second he’d felt her warm, soft, and yet solid against him and in the next he felt nothing, other than the softness of his mattress under him.
He was alone.
Flat on his back. Staring at a pale white ceiling his great-grandfather had built and painted sometime in the 1920s.
Jason groaned and pressed the heel of his hands against his eyes, wishing he could fade back into the dream, back to that summer day with Ellie on his lap. A different time. A beautiful time when Ellie had still loved him.
The thud must have been Alex trying to cook breakfast downstairs. That couldn’t be good. If he didn’t get up, the whole house might go up in flames.
He stretched his arms over his head as he sat up on the edge of his bed, wincing as the muscles in his back contracted painfully. What remained after that pain subsided was the dull ache that had settled between his neck and shoulders over the last few days.
Between going out on calls with the fire company, helping Tom in the morning and fixing fences that had been damaged over the winter in the afternoon, he barely had time to think and that was exactly what he wanted. Patrick Donavon had come back from his school trip yesterday and planned to be back to help Tom this morning. That had taken one thing off Jason’s plate but not wanting to have too much down time in his schedule he’d volunteered to pick up the supplies for the goat enclosure early that morning and then finish the day by clearing the land before the contractors came later in the week. In between, there would be a birthday party for his paternal grandmother, Franny.
When he stumbled into the kitchen, Alex stared at him over a coffee cup. “You look like hell.”
Jason glared. “You haven’t exactly looked like model material either lately.” He snorted a tired laugh. “Or ever.”
Alex handed him a mug filled with something that closely resembled the tar the department of transportation used to patch the highway.
Jason sniffed it and made a face. “I’m going to need a lot of creamer and sugar to choke this down.”
Alex slurped a mouthful of the sludge from his mug. “Consider yourself lucky I made the coffee. You’ve been falling down on your job.” Alex winced and frowned at the cup, then shook his head and shrugged. “Besides, you’re going to need the extra caffeine if you’re going to keep working at this pace.”
Jason grabbed the creamer from the fridge, pouring it until the coffee turned a golden brown. “I can’t work as long today. We’ve got Grandma’s party this afternoon.”
Alex stretched his arms over his head and yawned. He’d become more muscular in his arms and chest in the last few months. His belly had also lost its small pouch and was instead flat and toned. Jason had a feeling it had to do with him trying to impress Molly. While Alex had once established a staunch campaign against attending gyms, he started going three times a week with Jason shortly after starting his relationship with Molly. The development brought Jason a great deal of amusement considering how many times Alex had made fun of him for keeping up the gym tradition he’d started when he played football in high school and college.
“Trust me, I know about the party,” Alex said, snatching an egg from the basket next to the fridge and cracking it in the pan on the stove. “Molly has me carrying the food up to Franny’s in about an hour and setting up the tables in the backyard. I think I’ve also been pegged to set up the tent. I could use your help for that.”
Jason dragged a hand through his hair. “I wonder if Gram knows about all the effort being put into this. She never has liked a lot of pomp and circumstance when it comes to celebrating her. She’s been even more on edge about it since Grandpa died.”
Alex shrugged. “I don’t know but hopefully if she’s unhappy she’ll take it out on Molly and Annie and not me. My ears are still blistering after buying her that winter coat last year. Most people thank me for gifts, not tell me I shouldn’t be spending that kind of money on them.”
Jason tossed a piece of bread into the toaster and pushed the lever down, smiling and shaking his head. “That’s Grandma. You know she loved it, though. You remember her at the Christmas cantata. Showing that coat off, telling everyone what a,” Jason made air quotes with his fingers and rolled his eyes. “sweet boy you are. It was sickening really.”
Alex drank the last of his coffee and playfully punched Jason in the upper arm. “Ah, you’re just jealous because she likes me more than you these days.”
The knife scraped across the toast as Jason buttered it. It wasn’t a very filling breakfast, but his stomach had been too messed up lately in the mornings for him to eat much more.
“She’s going to like me even less after today when I tell her that Ellie and I are officially not together anymore,” he said with a grimace as he sat in the chair and a muscle in his back pulled.
Alex tipped his egg onto a plate. “Good luck with that, dude. Just be glad she doesn’t have a cane yet. She’d probably be beating you around the head and shoulders with it if she did.”
When he heard his grandmother call his name from the kitchen a few hours later, Jason was happy she didn’t have a cane. The sharpness in her tone warned him he was in trouble. He was outside the back yard and still heard her call.
He felt like a boy of 12 not a man of 30 when he saw her narrowed eyes and lips pressed tight together. Her short-cropped hair still showed quite a bit of color mixed in with the gray, despite turning 73 two days earlier.
“Hey, Gram. You’re looking good.”
Franny hummed, “mmmhmmm,”, folding her arms across her chest and leaning back in the kitchen chair she was sitting in. “Did you just get here? Because I didn’t see you come in here earlier and give me a hug.”
He shot a look at Molly standing at the counter cutting up watermelon. She was trying not to laugh, glancing at him but avoiding his gaze.
“No, ma’am.” He hugged his grandmother and then slid into a chair at the table. “I was outside helping Alex finish setting up the tent. I’m sorry I didn’t come in first.”
Franny rolled her eyes. “Oh yes, the tent. Your sister here apparently thinks I’m some kind of queen who needs a canopy to stand under so my subjects can come pay homage to me.”
Jason laid a hand against his chest and bowed forward. “You deserve all the honor you are shown, m’lady.”
His grandmother gently slapped a hand against his cheek. “Don’t you try to butter me up, Jason Andrew. Your sister here was just telling me that you and Ellie aren’t talking right now. What’s that all about?”
Jason scowled at Molly who shrugged her shoulders and winced. “I thought you told her already. Sorry.”
He rubbed his hand across the back of his neck and held it there a few moments, pulling down, imagining if he pulled harder his whole head would come off and he wouldn’t have to have this conversation.
“We’re taking a break.”
Franny snorted her disapproval. “A break. What’s that mean? There’s no need for a break from the woman you’re in love with.”
Jason sighed and propped his arms on the table, pressing the tips of his fingers together in a triangle. “She wanted the break.”
One eyebrow raised as Franny folded her arms across her chest. “And why would she want a break?”
The Tanner family was notorious for interrupting during important moments and Jason wished someone, anyone, from his family would walk in at that moment and distract his grandmother from her interrogation. There was no way he wanted to share his past mistakes with her. The drinking, maybe. His grandfather had struggled with that for a few years himself. Everyone in the family knew that. But telling his sweet grandmother — either of his grandmothers actually — about his night with Lauren Phillips? No way. He decided compromise would be the best policy in this situation.
“I messed up in college and didn’t tell Ellie about it until recently because I was ashamed,” he said finally. “She’s rightly upset at me and said she’d like some time apart to think about things.”
Molly placed slices of watermelon on a platter, and he watched her out of the corner of his eye, wondering what she was thinking, if she thought he should tell their grandmother all of it. He knew Molly had been able to piece together what he’d done from the part of the conversation between him and Ellie she’d overheard that day at the church. Alex had already told him he hadn’t told Molly, even when she’d asked him if he knew. He’d told her to speak to Jason because it was Jason’s story to tell, not his.
Franny unfolded her arms, but her eyebrows were still furrowed, and she was watching Jason with eyes like a hawk trained on its’ prey.
“Jason.” She leaned back in her chair and tilted her head. “I know you love Ellie. I know Ellie loves you. There is no doubt in my mind you two are meant to spend the rest of your lives together.”
He stared at the top of the table, drumming his fingers lightly against it, afraid to look at his grandmother.
She spoke sharply. “Look at me.”
He looked up and his chest constricted at the unexpected sight of tears in Franny’s eyes.
She leaned forward and pressed his hand down onto the table under hers, stopping his tapping. “She’s worth fighting for. Do you believe that?”
He swallowed hard and nodded slowly.
Without taking her eyes off Jason she gestured toward the hallway leading to the stairs. “Molly girl, I want you to go up to my room and grab the blue box that’s on top of my dresser. Would you do that for me?”
Franny kept her hand on Jason’s, wrapping her fingers around his. “Life throws us curveballs, kid. This family has had a few in recent years between losing your grandpa, almost losing the business, and your dad’s accident. Sometimes we can’t catch the balls being thrown at us fast enough. I know I’m still reeling from the one that hit me.” She squeezed his hand tighter. His eyes stung at the sight of a tear slipping down her cheek.
“Grandma, I’m sor—”
“Shh.” She shook her head and wiped the tear away quickly. “This isn’t about me.”
Molly had returned with the box and laid it on the table next to her grandmother. “I’m going to step outside,” she said. “And help Alex set up the tables.”
Franny gestured for Molly to sit down. “You can stay for his. Go on, sit down.”
Molly sat in the chair across from Jason and the siblings looked at each other questioningly and shrugged as Franny opened the box.
She took out a gold ring with a diamond, turned Jason’s hand over and placed it in his palm, then folded his fingers around it. “This is my engagement ring. I haven’t been able to wear it for a few years now thanks to arthritis swelling up my fingers. I want you to take it and hold on to it.”
He shook his head. “Grandma, I can’t do that. Ellie doesn’t want anything to do with me and —”
Franny’s palm was smooth against his work-roughened hands. “Take it. You’re going to need it one day soon. I’m sure of it. It won’t be long before you both realize how much you need each other and start running toward each other instead of away.”
“Grandma, I can’t take your ring.”
Franny shook her head. “I don’t need it anymore. Your grandfather is right here, in my heart. That ring is a symbol of our engagement, and this ring,” her wrinkled finger touched the gold band with small diamonds embedded in it on her left ring finger. “This represents our union, our life together after we said, ‘I do.’ It represents love, passion, tears, joy, sorrow, heartbreak and eternal hope.” She reached over and laid both hands on his. “But both of them are just a symbol. What our marriage truly was lives on in our children and grandchildren.”
She looked at Molly, a small smile tugging at one side of her mouth. She pointed to the ring still on her finger. “That’s why I’m holding on to this ring for Molly someday.” The smile broadened when Alex stepped up to the screen at the back door. “Or should I say for Alex to give to Molly.”
Alex opened the screen door and walked inside, his eyebrows dipping in confusion. He took a sip of the soda he was holding. “Holding on to what for Alex to give to Molly?”
He looked between Jason and Molly and then at Franny. “What did I miss?”
Jason stood, the ring still in his hand, and patted Alex on the shoulder with his other hand. “You’ll find out one day, bud.”
He leaned down and kissed Franny on the cheek. She handed him the box and he set the ring back inside. “I’ll take it for now, Grandma, but I can’t make any promises.”
She smiled, reached up and patted his hand. “The only promise I want from you is that you’ll fight the good fight for Ellie. She’s worth it and so are you.” She stood slowly and moved toward the back door. “Now, let’s get this party over with. I’m not getting any younger.” She looked over her shoulder, patted her hair, and winked. “Obviously.”