Welcome to the ninth chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but it 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.
“I wish I could tell you I have good news.”
Terry Harper’s expression already let Robert know the parts hadn’t arrived, even before he’d spoken.
“Couldn’t get them here in time?”
“Holiday shipping delays. It will be here the week after Christmas instead.”
Robert chewed on his bottom lip. “Where did you say the store is again?”
“Between Harrisburg and Lancaster. Maybe a three-hour drive.”
Robert nodded, rubbing his chin. “Give me the address. Maybe I’ll take a drive down.”
“I’d be glad to do it but there’s a storm coming in. You sure you can’t just show Annie what you’ve got so far and give it to her after Christmas?”
Robert shrugged a shoulder. “I could, but it wouldn’t be the same.”
Terry scribbled an address on a piece of paper. “Well, if you decide to go just be safe. I’ve heard another storm is coming in and PennDOT isn’t great about taking care of that lower stretch of the highway. There was a ten-car pile-up down that way three winters ago.”
Back in the truck, Robert dialed Bert’s number.
“Where did you say that part was for the engine?”
“York, Pa. Down below Harrisburg. Why?”
“I’m heading that way to pick up some bolts for the swing, why don’t I just grab it while I’m in the area. I’ll need some help making up an excuse for my absence, though.”
“That’ll be hard to do. How about I call Brad instead? He can run down, and everyone will think he’s picking up a delivery for the store.”
Brad Tanner was Robert and Bert’s sometimes-reliable-sometimes-not nephew.
“I don’t know. I need it back here as quick as possible and it would mean pulling another person into the secret. Brad’s not known for keeping secrets well.”
He wasn’t known for staying sober well, either, he thought but didn’t say out loud.
Still, Bert was right, Brad could slip away from the farm easier than him.
“Okay, I’ll give him a call and see if he can head down for me. Give me the address of your place.”
Luckily Brad seemed delighted at the prospect when he was asked. Standing in the upper barn at Walt’s farm, he nodded enthusiastically and promised he wouldn’t let the secret for either project slip.
“No problem, Uncle Rob.” He took the pieces of paper with the address. “It will be nice to get out of the area for a bit too.”
Robert hesitated before turning away. Last year Brad had been in a car accident with Jason’s wife Ellie. For several hours the family had feared the worst when her car was found, but Ellie wasn’t in it. Brad had been in the car with her but somehow he’d ended up back at Walt’s house without Ellie.
It turned out Ellie had decided to hike over the hill for help and had fallen into an abandoned well. It was like something out of a movie, but Jason and Alex had found her and were able to call for help to pull her out. Brad had been drunk at the time. Since then he had apologized more than once, but Jason was still struggling with forgiving him. Brad also seemed to be trying his best to be a better person by working hard for the family at the farms and the family farm store.
“Thanks, Brad. I appreciate you being willing to help out. If the roads get dicey, though, head back. This isn’t life or death. It’s just something nice we’re doing for Annie and Molly.”
Brad laughed and pushed a hand back through his red-blond hair, reminding Robert again how much he looked like his mom, Marcia. “No worries. I’m stupid, but not that stupid.” He winked and walked toward the house. “I’m going to give Dad a heads up on what I’ll be doing. I’ll just tell him it’s for a pickup and leave it at that. You know how bad he is at keeping secrets.”
Robert snorted a laugh. “Yeah, Brad, I know.”
On the way back to the farm, Robert took a detour, turning onto the road that led to an overlook on the hill where he could look down on most of Spencer Valley. His breath sparkled the air as he stepped out of the truck. Snow and branches crunched under his boots as he walked to an opening of tree branches that allowed him to look down on his farm and the rest of the snow covered Valley below him.
From there he could see his farm, his mom’s house where the original farm had been, his brother’s farm, which had once belonged to a neighbor of his great-grandfather’s, the Lambert’s farm, and other houses dotted in between.
When he’d been young, the Valley had been mainly open fields of farmland and while much of the area was still farmland, there were also spaces now being filled in with houses or other structures as farmers were forced to sell their land to try to make ends meet. Farming had never been easy but in recent years it had become even more of a struggle with rising costs and falling income.
Robert was grateful his family had been able to diversify with the farm storm and by bottling and selling A2 milk. He was grateful they were still able to do what they love. It was hard work, no doubt about it, but it was worth it to be able to put food on their tables and the tables of people all around the area and the country.
As the setting sun sent a splash of pink and orange along the horizon, his gaze fell on a star on the hill across from him. It was probably a three mile drive to reach it. He was amazed he could see it so well from where he was. He knew it was Jerry Franklin’s star, the one he’d built and put up every year on the hill behind his house to remind those who saw it of the real reason for the season, of a gift and a hope that was for any time of year – that stretched beyond the season of Christmas.
He swept snow off a log that had fallen and sat on it, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and focused on the star.
“Thank you, Father, for the gifts you have given, for my family, my livelihood, my faith and for most of all your son.”
He closed his eyes against the tears, feeling the loss of his earthly father again this year but also the hope of a future in heaven when he would see him again, embrace him and thank him for all he’d done for his family here on this side of his everlasting home.
After several moments of praying and thanking God, he stood and drew in a ragged breath. It had felt good to take a few moments in the rush of finishing Annie’s gift and trying to stay on top of all the issues at the farm to just pause and be thankful; to remember that what really matters in life is not the gifts, not the busyness, not feeling like you have it altogether, but the presence of family and the ultimate offering of redemption from a creator to his creation.
As he walked back to the truck he spotted a section of Princess Pine and stooped to gather some as his father had used to do when they’d walked in these woods together. He’d use it to decorate the Bible, opened each year to Luke 2: 8-12 and the nativity scene, which is father had carved 40 years ago.
Inside the truck he flipped on the local Christian radio station and smiled as O Come, O Come Emmanuel played. It fit his mood perfectly and he hummed along as he drove home.
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