Welcome to the third chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but will be fully edited once it is complete.
If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,
The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.
Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.
Alex’s muscles screamed for a break as he carried another heavy box of meat to Benny Johnson’s freezer truck. They’d been working to save the store’s frozen inventory for two hours now and he had caved and put on a pair of gloves in the first thirty minutes, much to Molly’s amusement.
Once the meat and dairy were inside the truck, they’d work on fixing the blown fuse for the freezers, or call the company who installed them, whichever got the job done first.
He’d been in the middle of sanding the original, chipping paint off Molly’s truck when Robert had called. Before the call about the freezers, he’d been grateful for the break from farm work to work on the surprise and he was glad he had Robert as a co-conspirator or it might not have worked. Of course, Robert had him as a co-conspirator too. He had a feeling there would be more than once in the next few weeks that they would have to chase either Annie or Molly off the scent of what they were up to.
His phone rang as he carried another box to the freezer truck. He ignored it at first, but then thought it might be Molly needing to be picked up from the farm to come help.
He should have looked at the caller ID first.
“Well, it’s about time you picked up your phone. I thought maybe the one cell tower the county had fallen down or something.”
He grimaced, his jaw tightening. “Good afternoon to you too, Mom.”
“I had to call you, I suppose, since you never call me.”
For obvious reasons, Mom, is what he wanted to say, but literally bit the inside of his cheek to keep from saying it.
His mom had been generous in giving the Tanners a check to help save their farm a couple of years ago and he appreciated it but now she seemed to think it was a blank check to have the relationship with him they’d never had while he was growing up.
“You know I’m sure your father would like you to come home for Christmas.”
Ah his father. The man who never spoke to him, other than to help him how much he’d failed in life.
“Is that what he said?”
“Well, no, but –“
“Mom. You’re divorced from the man. Have you even talked to him?”
“Briefly, yes. Three months ago. He wanted to make sure you and your brother knew about his diagnosis.”
“And that’s all?”
“Yes, but I feel certain he’d want to see you.”
“Isn’t his cancer treatable? I mean it’s been two years since we first learned about it and Sam hasn’t said much about it when we talk.”
His mother sniffed with indignation on the other end of the line. “Yes, from what I understand it is. They caught it early so that’s good. And Sam’s talking to you?”
He chose to ignore the Sam question. “I’m glad to hear that about the cancer but no, I won’t be back for Christmas. I have plans with Molly.”
Another sniff, this one with a little less indignation than the first. “Oh. I understand. Molly’s a sweet girl. And of course, her mother has replaced me in your life so – “
You can’t replace something that was never there in the first place, is what he wanted to say, but, again, didn’t.
“I know. I know. Nothing can replace the love of a mother. Well, maybe you can bring Molly for a visit in February. Richard and I will be in Spain in January. Actually, if you aren’t coming for Christmas, I guess we will take that trip to the Caribbean after all. Your brother is staying with his girlfriend’s family this year in Cancun. I guess it will be another Christmas without seeing the children I gave birth to.”
He rubbed a gloved hand along the back of his neck, massaging the aching muscles there. “I’ll give you a call on Christmas, Mom.” Guilt pricked at his conscience briefly. “And maybe I can get down to see you after you get back from Spain.”
The sigh on the other end of the line denoted a change in tone. “I hope you can. Richard has had the whole west wing of the house remodeled and we also enlarged the pool. We have plenty of spare rooms so be sure to bring Molly along. That reminds me – is she ever going to be my daughter-in-law or are you forever going to be dating?”
“I mean I was just wondering – “
“Have a nice day. Bye-bye.”
He slid his finger over the call end button and slid the phone into his back pocket.
Carrying heavy boxes of meat in the freezing cold seemed a lot less like a hardship after that conversation.
Molly’s hair — pressed down with a pink knitted hat — framed her face as she carried a box of dairy products toward him. Her brother must have brought her from the farm. “Have you heard anything about my truck?”
Then again – this conversation might not be too much fun either.
He shrugged a shoulder and took the box from her. “All I know is that it’s being worked on. I’m sure it’s fine. It’s only been a week and a half, Mol. What is it you’re always saying? Patience is a virtue?”
Molly sighed. “I know, but I miss it.”
He grinned. “What, you don’t like cozying up to me in my truck?”
Molly smiled and hooked her arm in his. “Of course I like that, but I also like the freedom of having my own vehicle.”
He leaned over and kissed the top of her head. “I’m sure it will be done soon and when it is, it will be as good as new.”
Or close to it anyhow.
“Before I forget, Grandma invited us to lunch next week. She says she hasn’t seen us enough lately and to come over for some homemade lasagna.”
Alex laughed softly. “What’s she talking about? We see her every Sunday for lunch.”
“Yeah, but that’s the whole family. She says she wants a day with just the two of us.”
Alex grinned. “Works for me. It’s not like being fed some of her amazing lasagna is a bad thing.”
“Oh, and are you going to help us decorate at mom and dad’s next week?
“Of course. I did last year, didn’t I?”
Molly smirked. “No. You didn’t actually. You watched some action movie with Jason while you were supposed to be decorating.”
“I decorated the outside with your dad and Jason. I figured the inside stuff was up to you girls.”
“Excuse me?” She folded her arms across her chest and raised an eyebrow. “Are you trying to say that decorating is a woman’s job?”
He shook his head briefly. “No. Just that women are better at decorating inside.”
She laughed softly. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Jason helped one year and just draped the garland over a couple of windows and said that was good enough.” She kissed his cheek. “I’m going for some more boxes. Get back to work, handsome.”
As he carried the box to the truck a few minutes later, his mind shifted to Franny’s invitation. He wondered if the woman had ulterior motives. Robert’s mother had dropped hints more than once about his future with Molly, at least twice during family dinners where she’d kept her gaze on him for several uncomfortable moments before he, or someone else, changed the subject to break the tension.
She was a sweet woman, but she was also direct, and he knew he needed to have an answer for her if she was going to try to corner him about his future with Molly. An answer that wouldn’t lock him into anything but would halt her personal interrogation. An answer he’d have to start thinking about now if he wanted to escape unscathed.
Robert stood from the kitchen chair and straightened. Stretching his arms above his head, he winced at the pull along his ribcage.
“You should have let the boys do all that heavy lifting.”
The admonishing nature of his wife’s words would have irritated him if there wasn’t a large amount of compassion behind the scolding.
“I’m not an invalid, Annie. I can do some lifting.”
She stepped forward and touched his shoulder. “I know you’re not an invalid, but you are getting older.”
He stiffened at the words. “I’m not ancient. Lifting a few heavy boxes won’t hurt me at all.”
Annie rubbed her hands along his shoulders, then slid them down his arms, laying her head against his back. “I know. I’m sorry. I just worry about you.”
He looked over his shoulder at the top of her head. “I know you do, and I appreciate it.”
The day the tractor tipped over onto him and pinned him underneath, he wasn’t sure he’d have any more moments together with Annie like this. Laying there as rain poured down on him and Alex tried to free him, he’d asked Alex to help take care of her and Molly when he was gone. He’d really thought he’d hugged her the last time before he’d left to mow that field.
Now her breath was warm through his shirt as she sighed. He closed his eyes as she hugged her arms around him. They stood there for several minutes before he turned and pulled her against his chest.
She rested her cheek against his shoulder. “I’m thinking there will be at least fourteen for Christmas dinner this year. Do you think we should kill the turkey or eat ham?”
“I’m good with either.”
“I can’t wait to have them all together. Do you think we should invite Liz and her family?”
“No, hon’. I think Liz and her family will have their own Christmas together. Probably with Ginny and Stan now that Clint and Tiffany are back in town. Like they did at Thanksgiving.” He kissed the top of her head. “We don’t have to feed all of Spencer Valley you know.”
Annie laughed softly. “Oh, I know, but –”
He smiled. “You just want to take care of everyone. That’s one of the many things I love about you.”
It’s how Annie had always been. First, she’d taken care of him, then she’d taken care of him and the children.
She’d done her best to take care of her parents until they had decided it was time to move into a nursing community in town. Now she still took care of them, but in a different way, comforted that they lived close to friends who would notify her if anything went wrong.
She and Molly had taken care of his father when he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and slowly slipped away, passing away a few years ago. They still took care of his mother Franny, even though she was as independent as ever at the age of 73, living on her own at the original farmhouse up the road. And now she wanted to take care of Molly’s best friend, but Liz had her own family, including her sister Tiffany who had recently moved back to the area.
“Well, what do you think. Will Alex propose to Molly this Christmas?”
The question jolted him from his thoughts. “What?” He wrinkled his nose. He hadn’t thought of that possibility. He thought the kid was just fixing up Molly’s truck for her, not fixing to put a ring on her finger. “Maybe? I don’t know.”
She pulled back and looked up at him. “How would you feel if he did? Do you think they’re ready?”
His muscles tightened. He didn’t like to think of his little girl getting married. Even to Alex, who he loved as a member of the family already. “Is anyone ever ready, really?” He smiled down at her. “We were only 19 when we got married. Were we ready?”
She locked her hands behind his back. “There are days I still wonder if we are ready, my dear.”
He cupped a hand against her cheek. “I’m ready for anything as long as you’re with me.”
He kissed her as she smiled, lifting his other hand so he cradled her face. When the kiss deepened, his swirling thoughts about the store, the farm and the Christmas surprise faded. Even after 30 years she had a way of clouding his senses, pulling him under her spell until nothing else mattered other than the warmth of her body soft against his while she kissed away his worries.