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. I shared Chapter 16 of this story yesterday.
Catch up with the rest of the story HERE.
Loud music thumped under Ellie’s feet, in her brain, and through her veins. She could barely form a thought against the onslaught of dance music bouncing out a rhythm every second. Colorful lights flickered across the mass of bodies on the dance floor making the scene look otherworldly and, through the eyes of someone as sheltered as Ellie, demonic.
Men and women writhed against each other, whooped and screeched, the sounds reminding her of mating calls in the wild. Judi was out there somewhere, letting loose her own mating call of sorts, giggling and jumping, singing along to the music, degrading herself exactly like Ellie knew she would.
The tables were for standing only so Ellie stood at one, leaning both elbows on it, spinning the glass of ginger ale around on its surface, wishing she’d never agreed to tag along.
Brad had tried more than once to pull her into the chaos, but she’d resisted each time, finally confessing that a headache was pulsing against her temples. It wasn’t a lie. The pain was now slamming against the inside of her head at the same tempo as the dance song blaring from the speakers.
Within a half an hour, Brad was back, hair damp around the edgest, eyes bright with adrenaline. He said something she couldn’t hear over the music. She cupped her hand to her ear, even though she didn’t really want to know what he was saying.
He leaned close, his lips grazing the skin under her ear. “I asked if you’re sure you don’t want to dance.”
He laid his hand over hers as he spoke then raised it and trailed his fingertips across her wrist and slowly up her arm.
She shook her head. “I’m sure.”
“You need to have some fun once in a while, Ellie. Let off some steam.”
His other hand had slipped to the small of her back, a place too intimate for his hand to be in her opinion.
She shifted her body until his hand dropped away. “I’m good. Really.”
He shrugged a shoulder, frowned, and stepped away. “Okay then. I’ll find Judi. She’s always good for some fun.”
The comment sent a chill through Ellie. What had that meant? Judi was always “good for some fun”? They’d come up here with four other people and met six more. Weren’t any of the other women in the group good for some fun, so to speak? Or were they all paired up with other men? Either way, Ellie didn’t like the idea she’d essentially offered her sister up like a lamb to the slaughter simply because clubs had never been, and never would be, her so-called “scene.” Of course, she’d also wanted to stay as far away as possible from Brad and his roaming hands.
She lifted herself up on the tips of her high heeled shoes — shoes she’d only worn once before and were now pinching her feet like a lobster about to be boiled in a pot of hot water. Craning her neck. she tried to catch sight of Judi. Her sister had downed two beers and a mixed drink shortly after they’d arrived, disappearing into the mob, rarely seen from since, other than one trip to the bathroom.
Judi’s hair was blond now, after convincing Missy to give her highlights the other day. Ellie switched from looking for honey blond hair to looking for bleached blond hair and spotted Judi in the middle of the dance floor, under the spinning lights, arms flailing like a drowning victim. In front of her Brad was gyrating, though Ellie supposed some might define it as dancing. He moved an arm around Judi until the front of their bodies touched while they danced. Judi tipped her head back, exposing her throat and Brad lowered his head until his lips touched the nape of her neck.
Ellie made a face as Judi curled her fingers in Brad’s hair. This evening had worn out its welcome. She slammed the glass on the table, setting her jaw tight as she stomped into the pulsating crowd, pushing through sweating, perfume drenched bodies to grab her sister’s arm. Judi wrenched her arm away and used both hands to push Ellie back, pressing them against her chest.
“Back off! Just because you’re a dried-up old prude, doesn’t mean I have to be.”
Ellie gasped and fell backward into a solid body behind her. Hands grabbed at her, a derisive laugh coming from whoever belonged to them. She looked over her shoulder, glaring into dark brown eyes connected to a leering 20-something year old.
“Hey, baby. If you wanted to meet me, all you had to do was say ‘hello.’”
Ellie clutched at his hand still on her hip and pulled it away from her. “Get off of me.”
The younger man laughed again, his eyes roaming across her, and her stomach churned.
She had clearly underestimated the strength of a fully-intoxicated Judi.
Judi had turned her back on Ellie and resumed her Dirty Dancing-style moves with Brad. He raised his eyes to look at Ellie over Judi’s shoulder, his sneer highlighted by multiple colors flashing across his face. His hands slid down Judi’s backside and cupped both cheeks of her bottom as he held Ellie’s gaze,as if to say, “You could have had some fun, could have protected Judi, but now I’m having fun with her instead.”
He flicked the tip of his tongue out across his lips, his eyes wild.
She shuddered at the evil in his eyes and movements, turned slowly, and broke his intense, mocking gaze. Wrapping her arms around herself as she walked, she rubbed her upper arms, wishing again she was at home in her apartment, curled up on the couch, sipping tea and watching a Hallmark movie.
She pulled her phone out and as if on instinct clicked on Jason’s name. She stared at it for several seconds, her fingertip tracing each letter. What would she even say to him if she texted?
My sister is in worse shape than I thought she was?
I never should have come up her with Brad?
Why did you never tell me about Lauren? Do you think of her when you kiss me? Are you worried I’ll be horrible in bed if we get married because I’ve never had any experience with a man beyond you?
She sucked down the rest of her ginger ale, her eyes still on her phone then scrolled down and clicked on Lucy’s name.
She tapped out a text that bordered on an SOS.
Judi out of control. Never should have come.
Several minutes passed before the response came.
Lucy: Sorry. I was giving Lexi her bath. What’s going on?
Ellie scowled at the dance floor. She’d rather be Lucy right now, wrapped up in calm, domestic bliss instead of out here, trapped among wolves and ravenous lions.
Ellie: Judi’s out on the dance floor practically having sex with her clothes on with Brad. They’re both drunk. He’s mad I don’t want to dance. What made me think I could keep her from making a fool out of herself?
Lucy: You’re a good person, that’s why. And you’re a good sister. You love her. You’re worried about her and as much as she drives you crazy, you still want to protect her.
Ellie: I guess.
Lucy: Sorry we missed your grandma’s birthday party. How did it go? Did you have to see Jason?
Ellie: Of course, I had to see Jason. It’s his grandmother. I saw him all afternoon. With his shirt off while he split wood. It was torture.
Lucy: LOL. Girl, you just need to admit how much you still love him. You two need to talk this out. Your heart belongs to him, and you know it.
Ellie chewed on her lower lip, swirling the ice in her glass with her finger.
Yeah, she thought with a sigh, but is his heart still mine?
Jason looked around the barn and noticed the only other one there was Molly. Somehow in the last several weeks they hadn’t been alone together anywhere, and he’d been glad. It had meant she couldn’t bring up what she’d heard in the church parking lot that day. He had hoped wouldn’t have to try to explain to yet another woman in his life what happened in college. Maybe he’d get lucky, and he still wouldn’t have to.
“You’re actually on your own?”
Molly looked up from the bottle she was filling for the calves and smile. “Yes. Alex is out mixing feed. Why? Should we be connected at the hip all the time?”
“You shouldn’t be, but you normally are.”
Molly scowled at him. “Very funny.”
She stood and placed the lid on the bottle then placed the bottle in a bucket and reached for another empty bottle. “Hear anything from the builders for the new bottling plant and milking parlor yet?”
Jason shook his head. “No. So far we’ve only got the plans for the goat barn. Still can’t believe everyone is on board with this. What do you think? Is it going to work or are we spreading ourselves too thin?”
Milk poured from the spout into the bottle. Molly would feed the calves as soon as the bottles were filled. “I’m worried about the goats, but I think the A2 milk is going to be a good thing. Keeping the cows separate will be a challenge unless we can get another heifer barn built at the same time. And that’s if we can get that grant, we applied for through Tina’s office.”
Tina Shipman was their local state representative and a family friend. Her staff had been optimistic about their chances, but the grant would only cover about half of the project at this point. The rest would need to come from loans or a federal grant they’d applied for around the same time they’d applied for the state one.
He took the bottle from her and placed it in the bucket. “If we apply for the loan and all of these changes do work out, we should be able to have it paid off within the first year.”
She agreed. “It would definitely help us secure things more financially if it does pan out the way Dad and Uncle Walt hope.”
She screwed a lid off another bottle. “Hey, Jase, I wanted to ask you something.”
His chest tightened. Here it came. The conversation he’d been dreading.
He placed another empty bottle next to her.
“Listen, I know you overheard Ellie and me in the parking lot that day so if this is about that, let me explain first.”
“You don’t have to explain. It’s none of my business.”
“I’m sure you’re thinking the worst of me about now and I can’t blame you, I —”
“Jason.” Molly straightened, a half-filled bottle in her hand. “I don’t think the worst of you. It sounds like you screwed up in college somehow and your upset about it, not like you were bragging.”
Upset was an understatement, but he decided Molly didn’t need to hear about how deep his shame went. There was only so much a sister should have to hear about her older, supposed-to-be more mature brother. “Yeah. I am upset about it. Have been for years.”
She stooped to fill the rest of the bottle. “I gathered from what you and Ellie were saying that it had something to do with a girl. I figured that maybe,” she looked up, hesitating. “Maybe you slept with this girl?”
Jason took the bottle from her and screwed the lid on. “Yeah. I did. Not a proud moment for me or a nice memory and a one-time thing.”
Two more bottles and it would be time to feed the calves. He’d like to leave Molly to it and go finish fixing the sensor on the robot feed pusher they’d installed a few years ago. Without it, feeding the cows would be a very lengthy process tonight, complete with manually sweeping the feed into the cow’s troughs.
“Whatever happened to the girl?”
Jason looked up, startled by the question. Up until a couple of weeks ago, he’d never given it much thought. When he’d asked Alex if he’d ever heard, he was disheartened at the answer.
“I’m — uh — not exactly sure. Alex looked her up on some social media site and said it looks like she’s not married and is still pretty messed up.” Jason looked at the floor, shoving his hands deep in his front jean pockets. He kicked at the barn floor with the tip of his boot, knocking dirt and manure off it.
“I can’t help feeling that I had a part in that. To her I was probably just another guy who used her for what they wanted and tossed her aside.” He shook his head, rubbed the side of his hand against his chin, under his bottom lip, and winced. “You know, for years I’ve made her the villain in my story – when I talked to Alex about it and when I thought about it. Instead, I was the villain. I was the one who could have shown her something different, who could have not slept with her and shown her she was as worthy of being loved even if she wasn’t laying down. All girls like Lauren really want is to be loved. She equated sex with love instead of understanding that love can be shown in other ways too. Most of the guys she had sex with didn’t love her. I didn’t even love her. I was drunk and depressed and used her to take my mind off being hurt by Ellie. I’ve lived with that guilt for years but always hid the guilt behind anger — at Lauren, at myself and even at Ellie.”
Molly placed the last bottle in the bucket and laid a hand against his arm. “Neither of you were the villain in the story, Jason. You were just two people who both made bad choices. Pray for Lauren. It’s all you can do at this point.”
“Yeah.” Jason lifted one pail and handed the other to Molly. “Sorry I went on that rant. I just figured that’s what you wanted to talk to me about so — ”
Molly took the pail and walked toward the calf pens. She looked over her shoulder, talking as he followed her. “Actually, I was just going to ask you if you thought Alex would like a new hat for his birthday or if he’s too attached to the one he has. Then I was going to ask if I did decide to get him a hat if you would help me pick it out because I put two in my shopping cart at that hat place online.”
Jason inwardly groaned. He’d just spilled his heart out to his sister and she’d only wanted to buy a gift for Alex. Seriously? “I guess I shouldn’t have assumed.”
Molly stopped at the calf pen, grinning as she kneeled down to offer an all-black bull calf the first drink. “Nope. You shouldn’t have. We all know what the proverbial ‘they’ say about assuming.”
Jason tipped a bottle to a smaller heifer calf, black except a white stripe across her back. “Yep, and I certainly feel like one.”
Talking about his past with his sister wasn’t something he ever thought he’d be doing. Now that the conversation was over, though, it was like a burden had been lifted. A small portion of the burden anyhow. He still felt the heaviness of what he’d done and of not telling Ellie.
Footsteps behind him signaled they weren’t alone anymore.
“Want to trade?” Alex dragged the back of his hand across his forehead.
Jason narrowed his eyes. “So what you’re saying is, you want me to go finish mixing the feed so you can hang out with Molly.”
Alex grinned and reached for the bottle. “Yeah. Pretty much.”
Jason jerked his head toward the barn door. “Get out of here, lover boy. There will be plenty of time later for you two to make googly eyes at each other. After we’re done with work.”
Alex sighed and slid an arm around Molly’s waist. “That’s fine. I guess I’ll just give her a long good-bye kiss before I head back to the mixer.” He pulled her against him, his eyes drifting to her mouth. “While you’re standing here. Right next to us.”
Jason shrugged a shoulder and reached for another bottle so he could feed two calves at once. “Doesn’t bother me. I can handle it.”
Alex wasn’t lying. The kiss was long and slow, and by the end Jason was fighting nausea. He wasn’t going to back down, though. Alex was always trying to get out of the hard work. If they started kissing again, though . . .
“Oh, come on!” Jason shoved the bottle at Alex. “Take it. I’ll finish mixing the feed. Take a cold shower when you’re done, both of you.” Jason paused in the doorway and used two fingers to point at his sister and best friend. “Wait. Let me clarify. A cold shower alone. In separate bathrooms. In separate houses and preferably in separate counties.”
Molly’s eyebrows darted upward and her mouth dropped one. “Jason!”
“I’m serious. My rifle’s in my truck and I won’t hesitate to use it.”
Alex clicked his tongue. “Jason Andrew Tanner.” He propped his hands on his waist and shook his head in a mock scolding motion. “You are so violent. You should really see someone about that.”
Jason snorted out a laugh as he walked toward the skid steer. “As long as you behave yourself, you’ve got nothing to worry about, Stone.”
He glanced over his shoulder at Molly and Alex laughing as they fed the calves. That’s right. Keep them working. It would help keep their hands off each other.