Before I share this week’s chapter, I just want to thank those who read my stories on here and comment, or even don’t comment. This past week I became very overwhelmed with thoughts of where I am in life versus were I think I should be in life. I guess I was being a bit like Ellie and Molly. I thought about how I should be further in life and how I wish I had started this writing stuff much earlier in my life. Then I started to feel down because sometimes my work isn’t recognized, even though I don’t mind it isn’t recognized (it’s a weird condundrum in the life of an introvert – waiting to be noticed, yet really, really not wanting to be noticed at the same time).
I started to compare my journey to the journey of other writers and those other writers are so far ahead of me in their journey so I feel less than. It’s all silly, of course. We all have our own path to take and some of us will be wildly popular and successful and some of us will just be moderately so or not at all. In the last few years I have looked at success in a different way than I used to. I used to base it on how popular I was or wasn’t.
Now I base it on whether I am having fun or feeling fulfilled in what I’m doing, even if my audience is small or non-existant. By the second definition, I am successful right now. I’m finishing novels I started and learning more each time. I’m having fun teaching my kids and taking photographs and cooking dinner and occassionally (very ocassionally) remembering to wash and fold my laundry and load the dishwasher (it’s my husband’s fault for being so good at all of that. *wink*)
I have enjoyed the connections I have made through my writing. I may have only one or two people who comment on my posts a week but after a couple of years of not having any in-person friends, those comments mean more to me than any award or any wide-spread popularity do. You may think I’m just saying that, but if you knew how lonely I’ve been since 2017, then you would know I am not just saying that. I truly mean it.
But enough of the sentimental ramblings. On to the continuing story of Jason and Ellie’s stubborness and internal struggles. What will happen this week? Will they be reminded they still love each other, or instead realize they are further apart than they ever were? Read on to find out.
If you are a new reader here, I share a chapter from my WIP each Friday, and sometimes Saturday, on my blog. There are typos, grammatical issues and even plot holes at times because this is a first, second, or third draft that hasn’t gone to my editor yet. If you see a typo, feel free to kindly let me know in the comments. Sometimes the error has already been fixed on my copy, sometimes not.
To catch up on the rest of the story click HERE.
The majority of the guests had wished Franny a happy birthday and said their goodbyes leaving the Lambert and Tanner families the only people left in Franny’s backyard.
Molly propped her chin on her hand and frowned at the wood pile on the edge of the property. “I miss that old tree already.”
“Yeah, I do too,” Franny said with a sigh. “But it needed to come down. It could have blown over onto the house or the chicken coup. It was old. Older than me even.”
She nudged Molly in the side with her elbow. “Your granddaddy and I had our first kiss under that tree.”
“Really? I didn’t know that. How old were you?”
Franny stared at the spot where the tree used to be, her gaze wistful. “I was 16. He was a mature 18.” She winked. “He was a good kisser, I’ll tell you that. A year later he was in Vietnam.”
Ellie propped her chin on her hand. “How long was he there?”
“He did two tours. So, he was over there a year, came home for six months and went back for another year. We got married during his leave.” She reached across the table from her seat in a lawn chair and patted Walt’s hand. “Walt was conceived during that six-month break.”
Walt winced. “Mom. Did you really have to use the words ‘Walt’ and ‘conceived’ in the same sentence?”
Franny scowled. “Good grief, Walt. Grow up.”
The rest of the family laughed, and Walt joined in.
He pointed out toward the woodpile. “Seriously, though, Jason, Alex, Brad. There are axes in the woodshed. I bet you could have that chopped up for us and stacked in less than an hour.”
Jason leaned back on the picnic table on his elbows. “Yeah, we probably could but I’ve got to head up and see if the guys have delivered the supplies for the goat barn yet.”
Brad smirked. “What’s wrong, cuz? Afraid of a little competition?”
Jason’s eyes narrowed and Ellie caught the edge to his response. “Everything doesn’t have to be a competition. I thought we’d just do it as a team. Working together. Like a family.”
Brad laughed. “What’s the fun in that?” He pounded Jason on the back. “Come on. We’ll split the logs into piles of even sizes and see who can get done with their pile first.”
Alex cracked his knuckles, keeping his eyes on Brad. Jason had told Ellie years ago the two had never really hit it off. She had a feeling Alex was itching for a chance to show Brad up.
“Now we’re talking.” Judi climbed up on the top of the picnic table, using the bench as a place for her feet. “Pull up a chair, girls. This is going to be a good show.”
Ellie’s chest constricted as she swung around on the bench to face the wood pile. She had a good feeling Judi was about to embarrass her. As usual.
Molly moved to sit next to her. “Men. They never grow up.”
Franny chuckled. “I’m surprised my boys didn’t pick up axes themselves.”
Molly nodded toward her dad. “Dad probably would if it wasn’t for his leg.”
“And my dad probably would if it wasn’t for his ribs,” Ellie added.
A second later Ellie sucked in a sharp breath as Jason tugged his shirt up over his head, tossing it to the ground, and reached for an ax. She glanced at the women sitting around her to make sure her gasp hadn’t been loud enough for them to hear. They either hadn’t heard her, or they all had good poker faces. She knew Judi wouldn’t have held back if she’d heard that unguarded response.
Brad laughed and shook his head. “Apparently, Jason can only swing the ax if his shirt is off.”
Alex smirked, slapping Jason’s bicep. “He never misses an opportunity to show off all that hard work from the gym.”
Ellie didn’t have to turn her head to know the whistle she heard was from Judi. She’d heard the same sound last week in the barn, right before Judi launched her one-woman heckling onslaught against her. “Wow, El, look at that. Maybe he’s trying to woo you back with his amazing six pack. Or is that an eight-pack.”
Ellie glared, glad the men were smack talking and couldn’t hear Judi.
“Be quiet, Judi.”
“Seriously, how did you let that go? He’s even more built than the last time I saw him.”
Molly made a face. “Please. This is my brother we’re talking about. Talking about his abs is making me queasy.”
“This should make you feel better, then.” Judi jutted her chin toward the men as Alex pulled his T-shirt over his head. She propped her elbow on her knee, her chin on her hand. “Heeey. He’s not half bad either. Now who else do I get to ogle? Oooh. There he is.” Brad’s shirt was suddenly missing as well. “Bradley’s not looking half bad himself.”
Ellie rolled her eyes and dropped her head against her hand. Why couldn’t Judi just shut up already? She wanted to crawl into a hole somewhere. A hole where she could privately admire Jason’s physique, but still a hole. And why did these men always have to be so competitive? One takes their shirt off and all of them have to? Good grief. Molly was right. Men never do grow up.
Robert stepped on the other side of the pile of logs with Walt, folding his arms across his chest, propping his good leg on the stump. He and Walt and Bert, Jason and Molly’s uncle by marriage, had already separated the logs into even wood piles. Robert looked down at his watch. “Alright, boys, I’ll tell you when to start. The first one who finishes their pile wins.”
For the next twenty minutes there was a good deal of grunting, flying wood, and sweaty backs and biceps as the three men worked their way through their individual piles. The contortion of Brad’s face showed he had underestimated the effort behind chopping logs into wood stove sized pieces. Jason had clearly chopped wood before. His pile was shrinking exponentially faster than the piles of the other two. Alex was slightly ahead of Brad but was beginning to lose ground and Ellie wondered the sweat on his hands making his grip loosen.
Ellie tried to pretend she wasn’t enjoying the show, but her body’s reaction was giving her away. She knew without even looking at a mirror that her face was flushed both from the pleasure of watching Jason and the effort to not let anyone know about that pleasure.
“It’s clear milk does a body good, isn’t it, Ellie?”
She would have expected that comment from Judi. The fact that it came from Franny both startled and amused her. She cleared her throat and shifted her body away from Franny to avoid giving the woman the satisfaction of seeing her smile at the remark. It was clear she wasn’t fooling the older woman by trying to pretend she didn’t care about what was happening in front of her. She snatched her empty cup up from the table and walked back to the punch bowl. Franny watched her with a wry smile the entire way, but Ellie didn’t make eye contact, knowing if she did, she might burst into laughter or cry. Her emotions were so fragile at this point she wasn’t sure which would happen.
“Looks like Jason’s got it,” Walt announced. “One more chop and — yep! Jason’s finished first! Do we want to go for second?”
Alex swung the ax over his head. “Might as well. We’ve got to get the rest of this pile chopped up anyhow.”
Ellie kept her back to it all, not wanting to see Jason wipe the sweat off his face and — she blew a breath out — his chest. She was also definitely not interested in watching Alex and Brad’s show down.
“I’ll take one of those.”
Blast it. She couldn’t catch a break. She poured a cup of punch and silently prayed, “Please, Lord, let him have a shirt on.”
Jason’s shirt was back on, a fact that gave her both relief and disappointment. He drank the punch in one gulp and dragged a hand across his mouth. “Good punch. Molly said it was your grandmother’s recipe.”
She shrugged and smiled. “It was probably a million grandma’s recipe from the 80s. Not exactly rocket science.”
He looked inside the empty cup. “Actually, I remember this punch. I’m pretty sure we had it at more than one of your birthday parties over the years.” He leaned over to place the cup on the table, his hand brushing her arm. He was a few inches away from her now, his eyes locked onto hers. His voice dropped into a deep, smooth tone that sent a tingle up her arms. “Brings back a lot of memories.”
That one sentence shouldn’t have caused her brain to spin, but it did. Her body was betraying her again. She touched her hand to her throat, tried to brush it off that she was scratching an itch, but really, she could feel her heartbeat pounding wildly underneath her fingertips. She willed her mind not to focus on those memories, some more passionate than others.
Instead of answering with words she simply nodded and slyly moved her gaze from his to the
grotesque display of masculinity across the yard. She tipped her head in the direction of the competition.
“Looks like Alex will pull out a win.”
“He should. He was close behind me. I knew he wouldn’t beat me though.”
Jason lifted an arm, curled a bicep, kissed it, and winked. He laughed as she rolled her eyes. “Sorry. I couldn’t resist joking. To be honest, I was a little nervous. Alex has been working out himself and working even harder on the farm. Those guns of his might rival mine soon.”
Ellie snorted a small laugh. “Which should make Molly happy.”
Jason winced and made a face. “Don’t remind me.”
“Still not comfortable with it, huh?”
“About as comfortable as I am with sleeping on a bed of nails.”
Cheers and applause rose up from the tables. Alex had already raised his arms in victory and Ellie wrinkle her nose in disgust, only imagining what smells were emanating off him. Then again, Jason had been working hard too. Sweat still beaded his forehead and stained the armpits and collar of his shirt, but the smell coming off him . . .
Well, it wasn’t bad at all. Not at all.
It was — good grief. Dare she even think it?
She pulled a strand of her hair back and hooked it behind her ear. Her thoughts were getting out of control. Her heart was trying to overrule her mind and she knew that could spell disaster in the future. Disaster because she might forget about Jason withholding his past from her, about how that might be a pattern he’d carry into their future, even if he said it wouldn’t.
It was time to head home. Her parents had driven her and Judi, though. She had to convince them it was time to go too.
“Welp, girls, shall we head home and get the milking done?”
Her dad’s question was perfectly timed.
Ellie glanced at Jason who was watching her while he drank more punch.
“We should,” she said, trying to calm her breathing.
Judi, standing next to Brad, looked less than pleased at the prospect of leaving but followed along dutifully.
“Pick you ladies up at 6?” Brad called after them.
Judi’s dejected expression brightened. “We’ll be there.” She smirked, pushing a hip out. “With bells on.”
Ellie inwardly groaned and outwardly glowered at Judi. She hadn’t agreed to go, but part of her felt like she should, to keep her younger sister out of trouble.
“You going too, El?”
There was no way she could miss the way Jason’s eyes narrowed as he watched the exchange, waiting for her to answer Brad.
She’d lived most of her life barely living, only doing what was safe and easy. She needed to branch out and at this point, Jason really didn’t have much to say about where she went or who she went with.
“Sure. It will be fun.”
Even as the words left her mouth, she wondered how it had become so easy for her to lie in the last several months, if not the last two years when she’d started lying to Jason about her doctor’s appointments. She tried not to notice Jason turning away, walking toward his truck, but she did. What was he thinking? Was he upset she’d agreed to go somewhere with Brad and Judi? Especially with Brad? Did he even care? Maybe he simply had a goat enclosure to finish building and what Ellie did wasn’t even registering on his radar. Maybe her repeated rejection had pushed him to the point where he simply didn’t care anymore.
She slumped back against the backseat and pulled the door closed, her throat aching at the thought he didn’t care anymore because she knew, no matter what facade put up in front of him, she cared for him as much as she ever had.
“You can go with us, Jason, if you want.”
Brad’s invitation hadn’t been sincere, and Jason knew it. It’s why he hadn’t even turned around to answer but instead kept walking toward the truck. He’d already kissed his grandmother’s cheek and said his goodbyes. He had work to do.
“Got a barn to build.”
“We’re not going until later. It’s not a sin to go have some fun once in a while, you know.”
A sick ache rolled around in the pit of Jason’s stomach as he drove away, knowing Brad didn’t actually want him to ride along. His invitation had been mocking, a way to remind Jason that Ellie had agreed to go somewhere with him.
Between seeing Brad and Ellie talking on the front porch and catching Brad smiling at Ellie more than once throughout the day, his gaze roaming the full length of her, Jason had a very good feeling that Brad had lied to him that day in the barn.
There was no doubt about it in Jason’s mind.
Brad had his sites set on Ellie.
Ready, aim, fire.
He was trying to step in and take Jason’s place.
Jason gunned the engine.
There was no way that was going to happen.