Welcome to the fifth 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.
You can catch up on chapters HERE.
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.
Snow and ice crunched under Alex’s feet as he walked to the barn. The snow had started to stick overnight, but not enough to leave much more than a dusting. Inside the barn, Robert and Jason were already preparing the cows for milking.
Molly was busy cleaning the stalls to prepare for fresh bedding to be laid down. It wasn’t until a couple hours later that he and Robert were alone, preparing the feed for the afternoon milking.
Robert looked up at him as he measured the nutrients to pour in for the calves’ feed. “How’s your project going?”
Robert laughed. “Mine either.”
“What’s happening with yours?”
“Supply issues. Limited time. Yours?”
Robert yawned. “Think you’ll get it done?
Alex nodded. “Burt is working on the engine and I’m working on the exterior. Even with that one part for the engine delayed, I think we’ll pull through.”
“Good. We can’t let our girls down, can we?”
Alex laughed softly. “No. We can’t. Even though they don’t even know what we are doing.”
Robert started filling the calf bottles. “They don’t, but I know they will appreciate whatever we do for them. We’re two lucky men.”
A muscle jumped next to Alex’s eye. Was Robert about to venture into the topic of conversation his brother-in-law and mother had? The subject needed to be changed as quick as possible.
“Yes, we are. Hey, I’m off to repair that fence in the upper field. Don’t want to take a chance on the new bull getting out.”
He walked briskly toward the door before Robert could ask him anything about his “intentions with Molly” or some similar line of conversation. Inside his trucks he let out a quick huff of breath.
Crisis averted. For now, anyhow.
He had grown close to Robert, a man who had been like a father to him more than his own had ever been. Sometimes that made dating Robert’s daughter even more awkward. Alex still vividly remembered the night the man had walked in on them kissing in the barn about a year and a half ago. He’d thought Robert was either going to punch him or have a heart attack, or maybe both – the heart attack after he punched him.
Despite the awkwardness, Alex was grateful for the Tanners and the way they had become like family to him.
Before coming to live with Jason, Christmases had been awkward, especially after his parents had divorced. Alex was glad he’d been in college when they divorced and that there had been some happy Christmases when he was younger, even though his dad was rarely home and his parents argued often. There had been a few traditions he and his brother had tried to keep alive, even when the relationship between his parents started to sour, around the time Alex was 11.
Decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving was one tradition they held on to, sometimes decorating it alone while their parents hissed insults at each other in the next room.
They kept that tradition alive until they both had gone to college. Then Sam had started working for their dad, taking the road their dad had wanted for both of his sons, and the distance only grew between them. For the last five years, Alex had spent his Christmases with the Tanners and had either called or texted Sam instead of visiting. A couple of years ago he had driven four hours to Baltimore the week before Christmas to meet up with Sam and his current girlfriend, Brittany.
Even though he and Sam kept in contact Alex wouldn’t define their relationship as close, especially as Sam became more and more like their father – obsessed with his career and looking like he had it all together, whether he did or not. Alex still held good memories of Sam, though, and didn’t want to completely lose the fragile relationship they had.
Parking his truck next to the fence line in the upper field, Alex reached for his phone and started to text.
“Hey. Wanted to connect and see if you want to meet up after Christmas this year for some lunch somewhere. I could meet you halfway or head down to Baltimore. Let me know.”
He clicked send, a large part of him hoping Sam would decline or didn’t answer at all. Sliding the phone back into his pocket he looked out over the field, the yellow and brown grass dotted with snow. Seven years ago, he’d stood here with Molly’s grandfather, Ned Tanner. Alzheimer’s had already started showing itself, but the man was connecting well that day. Alex was shocked by how quickly the disease had progressed and how Ned went from chatting away to slipping away within only a couple of years.
In some ways he was grateful that heart failure had claimed the man three years after the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, sparing his family from having to experience the man forgetting them altogether. Yes, there were days he briefly mixed up a family member or forgot that Molly, for example, was his granddaughter, but in the end, he’d at least known who Franny was.
Alex could still remember Ned’s words that day they’d stood in this field.
“If you love the land, it will love you back, did you know that, boy?”
“No, sir, I guess I didn’t until I came here.”
“Then it’s good you came here. We’re glad to have you. Hope you know that at least.”
At that point, he’d only been at the Tanners a year but had already felt like family. Robert, Annie, Jason, Franny, and especially Ned had all made sure of that.
He’d met Ned a few times before moving up to stay permanently and he wished he’d been able to know him longer before he became sick.
“Thank you for letting me work with you, sir,” he’d said to Ned.
Ned had clapped a large hand on his shoulder and squeezed, gray-blue eyes glistening, either from the wind or emotion. “Thank you for working so hard and being the extra support we’ve needed now that I’m getting all old and gray.” He’d flashed a captivating grin that had made Alex chuckle and reassure the man he wasn’t washed up yet.
Alex had never experienced acceptance like that before, other than his own grandfather, who he’d lost while he was in high school. His father had rejected him time and time again, telling him he’d better “get it together” if he wanted to be part of the business. Alex didn’t want to be part of the business, though. He’d gone to college to get a degree in computer programming on the off chance he did work with his dad, but he knew his dad wanted him at a desk, crunching figures and making deals, not in the IT department. Sitting at a desk wasn’t the future Alex wanted. When Jason had invited him to come work and live on the farm, he’d jumped at the opportunity.
Taking a deep breath of cold, winter air, he closed his eyes briefly, the image of Ned forefront his mind. “Miss you, Ned. Thanks for everything.”
He shook his head as he opened his eyes. “Man, these Tanners have made me all sappy. I need to get a grip.” He wiped a hand across the dampness on his cheek and pulled a hammer out of the toolbox to start repairing the fence.
He’d learned a few important lessons from the Tanner men over the years and one of them was if you wanted to stop thinking too much, you went to work.
Robert stood and grimaced as his knee cracked. He shouldn’t have been kneeling that way. His leg still wasn’t a hundred percent since the accident and it never may be again.
The pain would be worth it, though, just to see Annie’s smile.
The pieces were coming together nicely. Soon he would be able to paint it, but hopefully the bolts to affix the chain to the swing would come soon.
His own father’s words came to him as he leaned back against the tractor behind him and reached for the mug of coffee he’d brought.
“You’re sure, Robert? You’re only 18 and –”
“You and mom were even younger, Dad. What’s this really about?”
“It isn’t about anything. I just want to be sure this is what you really want.”
“Dad, being married to Annie and running the farm with you is what I really want. She wants to be in farming too. We’ve thought about it. A lot.”
Ned had patted his back briefly and nodded. “Okay, then, you have my permission to talk to her parents about marrying her. I’ll support you both however I can.”
And Ned had supported them, day in and day out. That support had come in finances, yes, but also in advice, in emotional support, in love that Robert could still feel to this day.
Ned’s physical body was gone, but his loving, hardworking spirit definitely lived on in his family.
Robert reached for the phone in his pocket as it rang, deciding he’d look at the caller ID this time to see if he wanted to answer it.
He’d better answer it.
“Where are you at? Have you seen the weather yet?”
“No, what’s coming?”
“Maybe a foot. Starting tonight.”
Robert let out a breath. “Better get the chains on the big tractor. The plow is already on the truck but we’ll need to be able to clear a space for the milk truck to get in in the morning if they can even get here.”
“That’s not all. The heater in the barn is on the blink again.”
“That’s not good at all. I’ll be up in ten to take a look.”
“Up from where?”
No use trying to keep it all from Jason. He needed all the help he could get at this point. “The shed in the lower field. I’m working on a surprise for your mom. The key word here is surprise, okay? So zip your lips about it.”
Jason laughed. “So that’s where you’ve been slipping off to every afternoon. No problem. I can keep a secret.” He paused. “Well, better now than I used to be able to.”
Robert reached for his gloves and the key to the truck. “Call Walt about the heater too. He knows more about this new one than I do. I’ll see you soon.”
Outside in the truck he looked out over the field in front of him, a field he’d laid in after the accident, the tractor pinning him down. Running a farm wasn’t easy, not by a long shot, but he was glad to be alive to do it, even on the days when challenges rose up faster than the river after a heavy rain. “It’s good to be alive, Lord.” He smiled and started the truck. “Good to be alive.”