Welcome to the seventh 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.
There had been more than one Christmas over the years when Annie and Robert had questioned if they’d be able to provide gifts for the children. Farming didn’t always provide a consistent income. Some years weather made bringing in a profit a challenge. Other years it might be sick cows, falling down buildings, or broken equipment.
That inconsistency had certainly taken its toll on the family’s emotions over the years, but Robert felt like it had also brought them closer. Annie had certainly been his one constant during all the turmoil, besides God.
Christ had been the ultimate anchor for both of them. Without him and his provision, they never would have made it through the trials, the heartbreaks, and the day-to-day uncertainty of life as a farmer.
The seats at Grace Community Church were soft now, unlike when Robert had first started attending twenty years ago. Hard pews had filled the sanctuary back then. They had been pews his own father had helped build, along with the rest of the church, sometime in the early 1960s. Robert couldn’t remember the exact date the church was built but he could remember that for years he had no interest in attending church. He’d been too busy and too independent to think about God in high school and afterward. During those difficult first years with Annie, he’d relied on his own strength to make it through, rarely asking for help from God or thanking him.
That change came slowly, so slowly he thought Annie might give up and walk away, taking the children with him, when he refused to go to church with her. She never gave up hope, though. She prayed for him, loved him, and kept inviting him. It wasn’t a rock bottom moment that sent him back to the hard pews at Grace Community. It was love and a realization that there was more to life than getting up and milking cows, working on the farm all day, milking cows again, and falling asleep early in the evening just to start it all over again. It was the beauty of the sunrise and the sunsets.
The days he thought he wasn’t going to make it and the farm wasn’t going to make it but they did. It was the smile of his daughter, the laughter of his son, and the feel of his wife’s arms around him. He knew all those blessings couldn’t be something he’d earned or something he deserved. Someone greater than him had given him it all as a gift and he needed to start thanking that someone. It was the same God his parents had raised him to believe in, but he had rejected not out of anger but simple apathy.
Standing outside the church, Robert leaned leaning back against his truck and waited for Annie to stop chatting with town librarian Ginny Jefferies and her husband, Stan. He took a deep breath and took in the view of the church, decorated inside and out to celebrate the birth of Christ. It reminded him that no matter what happened with his gift for Annie, Christ was the ultimate gift of Christmas. The joy and peace He brought to his and Annie’s life could never be matched with physical, earthly gifts.
A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as Annie walked toward him, her Bible tucked in her arm, against her chest.
“What’s so funny?”
“You look like you’re going to laugh.”
He shook his head. “Nothing’s funny. Our life is just beautiful. As beautiful and wonderful as you are.”
Annie’s eyebrows raised. “Wow. That’s sweet of you. What did I do to deserve such praise?”
He leaned forward and pressed his lips to her forehead. “Just by being yourself.”
She leaned back and looked up at him, eyes glistening. Reaching up, she laid a gloved hand against his cheek, and then, without a word, she kissed him, where anyone walking out of the church and to their cars could see them. Robert was sure no one would be offended by the public display of affection. Couples their age would be glad to see an older couple who wasn’t embarrassed to show their love for each other. The younger couples would probably smile and say –
“I hope we’re still in love like that when we’re their age.”
Jason snorted a laugh and Robert pulled back from the kiss and made a face at him. Ellie’s arm was looped through Jason’s and she tapped her husband’s arm with a gentle admonishment.
Robert motioned his son away. “Go on, ya’ whippersnapper. Get on out of here and let an old couple have a kiss.”
Annie playfully tapped his shoulder. “Old? Speak for yourself.”
She winked and pulled out of his embrace to head to the car, sliding her hand down to his. “Come on, old man. We can pick up our kissing session when we get home.” She looked over her shoulder at Jason and Ellie and winked. “Now that all our children are out of the house and living their own lives, we have more private time for such things.”
Inside the car, she pulled her gloves off, laid them on her lap, and intertwined her fingers with his. He raised her hand and kissed it before shifting the car into gear and heading out of the parking lot and down the road toward home.
Another searing pain shot from Alex’s lower back to his upper. He gritted his teeth and clutched the side of the bed. The painkillers he’d taken two hours ago weren’t even touching the pain and he was beginning to reluctantly agree with Molly that he might need to visit a doctor. The pain was coming in spasms now. No surprise since he’d fallen from a height of maybe ten feet. He was lucky he hadn’t broken any bones.
Robert and Annie had urged him to go to a doctor, but he’d declined. He had, however, accepted a couple of ice packs after a hot shower and a warm cup of tea made by Molly. The attention she’d given him, checking on him every hour before he fell asleep, then checking again first thing in the morning, had been nice too.
What wasn’t as nice was the fact he’d missed the tree lighting and then the church – which he’d finally started attending with the family about six months ago – and three days of working on the truck. Molly had connected by video with him for the tree lighting, which also included caroling. She also filled him in on the sermon. Caroling had never been his thing in the past, but for some reason, hearing the hundred or so people gathered around the tree sing Silent Night had caused his throat to tighten with emotion. He’d desperately wanted to be there with Molly in that moment, though he wasn’t sure if he’d been able to hold back the tears. He must be getting old with all these sentimental emotions rearing their ugly heads.
He hadn’t necessarily understood everything Molly shared with him about the sermon, but living in the hopeful spirit of Christmas beyond the actual season had made sense to him.
“Pastor Joe said Christmas is something we can always carry with us in our heart because Christ’s love is something that will be with us no matter the time of year,” Molly told him. “Being a Christian is an all-year-round celebration. Not simply a once or twice a year event.”
All of that made sense to Alex, even as he was still trying to figure out what being a follower of Christ meant.
Bert had found almost all the parts they needed for the engine, pulled off the bumpers to be replaced with new ones, and even found a new pair of headlights. He was leaving the rest of the paint job for Alex. That was if Alex could figure out how to move off the bed without pain spasming through his back.
The door to his bedroom opened as the latest spasm eased up. He raised his eyes slowly and squinted at Jason and his roommate, Matt McGee, standing in the hallway looking in.
“Yep.” Jason nodded. “You’re right, Matt. He looks like garbage.”
Matt folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the doorframe. “I told you. Now we’re going to have to do something about it.”
Alex glared. “Both of you go away.” The last thing he needed right now was their harassment.
Matt stepped into the room and stood over him, hands on his hips. If Alex didn’t know him so well he might have looked intimidating standing there in full uniform for his job as a police officer with the Spencer Police Department.
“Come on, Stone. We’re taking you to the doctor.”
“No. You are not.”
Jason stepped behind Matt and looked over his shoulder. “I’m going to take one arm and Matt is going to take the other and we’re going to hoist you into Ellie’s car, so you don’t have to climb up into my truck, and I’m driving you to town.” He stepped around Matt and wrapped a large hand around Alex’s bicep. “Now come on, we’re not taking no for an answer.”
Alex groaned as he sat up and then let them both swing his arms around their shoulders. “I need shoes and my wallet.” He winced. “And maybe a tranquilizer like we used on the bull last year.”
“One step at a time, bud,” Matt said with a smile. “You can do this.”
“Yeah,” Jason added. “We need you to get better, so I don’t have to keep doing all your work.”
Half an hour later Alex tightened his jaw against the pain as the doctor helped him from the exam table.
Dr. Cartagenese handed him a prescription. “Like I said the best medicine for this, besides these muscle relaxants is bed rest. At least five days worth. I know you work at the Tanners and they aren’t good about resting when they’re injured or sick.” He winked. “Don’t be like them, okay?”
No way. He didn’t have five days to lay in bed.
“Thanks, Doc. I’ll take that into consideration.”
Outside in the passenger seat of Liz’s car, though, he’d already considered it, and he was going to give himself two days to rest, and then it was back to working on the truck or he’d never get it completed by Christmas.
Jason closed the car door for him and walked back to the driver’s seat.
“What’d he say?” he asked as he started the car.
Alex sat back in the seat slowly. “He gave me muscle relaxants and if it doesn’t get better he wants me to have x-rays.”
“Yeah. Bedrest, but I’m not going to do that.”
“If bed rest will help you heal faster, you probably should.”
“Don’t have time.”
“I can pick up your work at the farm. It’s no problem. I can’t remember you taking more than a couple sick days in the entire time you’ve worked with us.”
Alex gritted his teeth against the pain again, closing his eyes. He let out a breath a few minutes later as the pain lessened again. “It’s not that. I’m working on a gift for Molly. I need to get it done.” He glanced at Jason. “You can’t tell Molly, okay? It’s a surprise.”
Jason’s eyebrows raised and he tipped his head down a bit to encourage Alex to continue.
“A surprise for Christmas.”
A small smile started to play across Jason’s lips. “Oh yeah?”
Not Jason too. “It’s not what you might think. I’m fixing up your grandpa’s truck for her.”
Jason turned onto Main Street to head out of town. “Oh. Hey. That’s great.” He genuinely looked pleased. “What all are you doing to it?
“New paint job, new engine. The works. Almost all of my savings is going into it.”
“What else needs to be done?”
“I have the body sanded and two doors painted. I need to get the body finished. Bert is going to help some but he’s also finishing up the engine and he’s got a full shop of cars that need to be worked on for actual customers.”
Jason shrugged. “I can help.”
Alex closed his eyes, suddenly exhausted. “You’ve got enough work to do.”
“I can take some time away from the farm to help with the truck.” He gently tapped Alex’s shoulder with his fist. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure my sister knows it was your idea and you did most of the work.”
“Me and Bert actually.”
“You and Bert. Okay.” A sly smirk pulled at the corners of Jason’s mouth. “Sooooo. You’re not planning any other surprises for Molly, are you?”
Alex narrowed his eyes. “Like what?
Jason held up his left hand and pointed to his ring finger. “You know.”
Alex groaned. “Put your hands back on the wheel and no! Not you too! First Bert then Franny and now you. What is it with you Tanners?”
Jason laughed. “Well, what can I say? Great minds think alike, buddy.”
Alex looked out the window at the houses flying by, many of them decorated with bright lights for Christmas. He hated the idea of being laid up at the house, unable to work on the farm or the truck. He hadn’t always been a hard worker, but for the last six years since moving to Pennsylvania, all he’d known was hard work. Silence settled over the truck as his mind drifted to a mental list of all the work he still had to do before Christmas.
“So, are you?”
Jason’s question pulled him from his thoughts. “Am I what?”
Jason cleared his throat. “Proposing to Molly.”
Alex rolled his eyes up to the ceiling of the truck. “That wasn’t part of the plan, no.”
Jason nodded. “Okay, well if it does become part of the plan, I want you to know —” He reached over and gripped Alex’s shoulder with one hand and squeezed gently. “You have my blessing. I know I harass you and Molly about your relationship but you’re my best friend, and there’s no one else I’d like to have as my brother-in-law.”
Alex nodded. “Thank you, Jase. I appreciate that. I do.”
Jason turned the heat up and the radio on. “Listen, I’m going to head down to Bert’s in the morning after I go to the gym. I’ll see what I can help with. At least take it easy a couple of days. No man is an island, Stone. Don’t be like us Tanners. Take the help when it’s offered.”
Alex grimaced against the pain. “At this point, I really don’t have a choice.”