Special Saturday Fiction: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 3 Part 2

I somehow skipped part 2 of Chapter 2 when sharing excerpts from my latest work in progress so I posted that part yesterday. Today I am posting the second part of Chapter 3.

For anyone new here, I post a piece of fiction or a serial story I am working on each Friday. The excerpt is a work in progress and will go through various drafts and rewrites before I publish it anywhere in the future.

To catch up with the rest of the story click HERE or find the link at the top of the page. You will also find a link to The Farmer’s Daughter under the “books for sale” tab. Or at least I hope you will because at the time of writing this, I was working on updating my blog header. On the page for The Farmer’s Daughter, you can read an excerpt and find out where to purchase a copy of the full novel.


6 a.m.

His dad had given him the morning off, telling him Troy would fill in for him, but Jason hadn’t been able to sleep. His mind was still racing over his “proposal” to Ellie. Which hadn’t been a proposal, but she thought it was a proposal so  . . . yeah. It was a proposal. And he was glad. He wanted to marry her, start a family with her, but they needed to start that life together off on the right foot and right now it was standing square on the wrong one.

He closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but visions of what might happen when he talked to Ellie swirled in his mind. He pushed those images away by trying to focus on his to-do list for the day but then his mind spun off into a hundred what-ifs about the future of the farm.

At 6:30, he gave up on sleep and headed to the gym in Spencer. After a 30-minute workout it was on to the local Agway in Spencer. He needed some new fencing for the chicken pen and his mom had also asked for some for her garden to keep the deer away from her lettuce and green beans. He’d grab some breakfast at Denny’s Diner on the way back and try to take his mind off on trying to figure out the right time to talk to Ellie.

He nodded at Daniel Stanton on his way out of the Agway. “Mornin’.”

“Hey, Jason. You’re in town early.”

“Yeah, had the morning off from the barn.”

“Troy filling in?”

“Yeah. Hopefully it will still be standing when I get back.”

Daniel laughed, pulling his green John Deere cap further down on his head. “Let’s hope so. Troy is a bit spacy at times. Hey, how’s Alex holding up this morning?”

Jason shrugged, reaching for the fencing from one of the employees, a teenager, probably about 16, but everyone was looking younger and younger to Jason these days. “I don’t know. Haven’t seen him yet today. Why?”

Daniel laughed. “Nothing. Just had his hands full last night when he left Marty’s.”

Jason cocked an eyebrow. “Hands full?”

“Yeah. With Jessie Landry.”

Jason cleared his throat as he lifted the fencing into his truck. “Oh. I don’t know.” He grinned, trying to hide how uncomfortable he was with the idea of Alex bringing someone like Jessie Landry back to their place. “I’ll have to ask him later when I see him.”

Daniel nudged Jason in the arm with his elbow. “He’s probably still trying to recover. She’s a firecracker. See you tomorrow at the gym?”

Jason loaded the last of the fencing. “Unless something more important comes up.”

Like if I have to slap some sense into Alex instead, he thought, slamming the tailgate closed.

When he pulled the truck into the driveway an hour later, after a stop the diner and his parents to drop off the fencing, Alex’s red and black pickup was still parked in front of the house.

Not a good sign.

In fact, it might be a sign he was back to his old ways.

The door to the old farmhouse needed to be painted. It creaked open.

It needs to be oiled too.

Jason didn’t close it quietly. It slammed hard behind him and he took the old wooden stairs beyond the living room two at a time.

He pounded on the bedroom door across from the bathroom with his fist “Alex! Yo! You gettin’ up today?”

A groggy groan emanated from behind the door.

“I’ve already been to the barn and back,” Jason said. “And the gym. And the hardware store. And Denny’s.”

Silence.

“Hello?”

He heard a thud and then . . . more silence.

Then finally, “Yeah. Comin’. Just . . .” Another groan. “I’ll be right down.”

Yep. Alex is definitely back to his old ways.

That meant late nights at the bar, strange women calling his cellphone, and hangovers in the barn that Jason tried to distract his dad from.

Jason made sure to slam cupboard doors and clank a spoon loudly into a bowl downstairs.

Footsteps on the stairs moved slow but steady until Alex slumped into a chair at the table.

Jason tried to remind himself what Alex did with his life wasn’t his business. Still, he hated to see him turn back to a path that had left him vulnerable to be hurt and hurt others. Plus, Jason’s family was personally invested in Alex now, not only as an employee but essentially another member of the family.

 “Cereal?”

Alex nodded. “Sure.”

Jason pushed the cereal toward him and reached for milk in the refrigerator.

“You go out last night?”

Alex poured milk on his cereal without looking up. “Yeah.”

“Daniel Stanton said you left the bar last night with Jessie Landry hanging all over you.”

Alex scowled at his bowl, still not looking up. “If Daniel Stanton already told you I was at the bar, then why did you ask if I went out?”

Jason shrugged, folding his arms across his chest. “So, you ended up back up here?”

“Yeah.”

“I didn’t see her this morning when I got up. Is she still asleep?”

“Yeah. I mean, no. I – sent her home. Or rather, she left. In a bit of a huff, really.”

“So, you didn’t sleep with her?”

Alex shook his head, shoving a spoonful of cereal into his mouth.

Jason leaned back, reaching for his coffee cup on the counter and sipping from it. He winced. It was cold, which wasn’t surprising since it was four hours old. “Really? Well, that’s new. What happened?”

Alex glared, milk dripping down his chin. He dragged the back of his hand across his mouth.

“What does that mean, Jase? You act like I’m some man-whore or something. It’s not like I’m bedding girls every night.”

Jason laughed and shook his head. “Not every night, no.”

“Actually, if you’ll remember, I haven’t brought a girl back here in almost two years. Maybe even longer.”

Jason rubbed his hand across the stubble on his chin. He probably shouldn’t push the issue any further, but with the way Alex had been acting around Molly, he needed to know if Alex was looking at her as another conquest.

“So, you’re not bringing them back to our place, maybe you’re — ”

“I’m not,” Alex snapped, shoving the last of the cereal into his mouth and gulping the remaining milk down.

“Okay. Okay.” Jason leaned back against the counter, crossed one leg over another. “Don’t be so touchy.”

The chair tipped back as Alex pushed himself back from the table and stood abruptly.

“I’m not the jerk you act like I am, Jason.” His jaw was tight. He turned and walked back toward the stairs. “I’m going to get a shower.

He knew he pushed Alex too far, but he also knew Alex had changed for the better over the last few years and he didn’t want to see all his hard work go down the drain. Alex had told him more than once over the years that he wanted to be a better man. He wanted to drink less and work harder and that’s what he’d been doing up until last night.

Jason rolled his eyes and shook his head, pouring the coffee down the drain. What was he even doing? Considering his own past history of lying he had no right to act like Alex’s moral guide.  He’d never developed the drinking the problem Alex had and he definitely hadn’t gone out with as many women as Alex, but he still wasn’t any better than Alex simply because he attended church and Alex didn’t.

He’d tried hard the last few years to forget that period of time in college, especially that one night, to redeem himself, and create a better version of himself by attending church, leading Bible studies, taking care of his family. The Bible said he didn’t need to work for his forgiveness, but he couldn’t shake the feeling he did.

It should matter more to him what God thought, but there was no denying that to him nothing mattered if Ellie didn’t forgive him for what he’d done.

What Ellie would think of him when she found out? Would she understand that Lauren Phillips had meant nothing to him? That his time with Lauren had been a distraction from his hurt, his loneliness, his confusion over why Ellie had wanted a break in their relationship?

He was going to have to find out soon what Ellie thought because he wanted that all on the table before they announced their engagement. There was a good chance when Ellie heard it all she would decide she didn’t want to be engaged anymore anyhow.

Fiction Friday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 2 Part 2

I can’t seem to find where I posted this section of Chapter 2. If it is a repeat, I apologize. If not, then you have a little more information here about Ellie’s background especially.

For anyone new here, I post a piece of fiction or a serial story I am working on each Friday. The excerpt is a work in progress and will go through various drafts and rewrites before I publish it anywhere in the future.

To follow along with The Farmers’ Sons click HERE, or find the link at the top of the page.




Chapter 2 Part 2

Hair pulled back. Check.

Slacks with no scuff marks and no wrinkles. Check.

New shirt, freshly ironed. Check.

Ellie sighed, looking at herself in the entryway mirror at the preschool. She had no idea why she felt the need to be so well dressed for a group of 4 and 5-year-olds. Maybe she really was uptight, like her sister always said. Uptight, snooty, too-perfect, or whatever negative term Judi could describe her to prove that Judi was the fun sister and Ellie was the boring one.

She sighed again, sliding a beret in place to hold back a stray strand of hair.

That wasn’t fair. It wasn’t likely Judi was trying to prove anything about their differences. She probably didn’t even care; the same way she didn’t care about most things.

 It was Ellie who was stuck on the fact that Judi had always been more carefree, while Ellie felt like she had been born a little old lady. A little old lady who made lists planning out her life, organized her books in alphabetical order, and who’s clothes were hung by style and color coordination in her closet.

She tightened her ponytail, cocking an eyebrow as she inspected her shirt again and touched up her lipstick. It was the same color of lipstick she’d worn the night Jason had proposed to her.

The night her life had gotten back on track and she’d been able to write, “marriage and children” back onto that list she’d written out in high school.

 “Hi, Miss Ellie!”

She looked down into bright green eyes under a shock of red hair. “Hey, there, Timmy.” She leaned forward on knees slightly bent to bring herself down more to Timmy Murray’s level. “How are you this morning?”

“Mommy says I’m constipated.”

“Oh.” Ellie made a face. “Well, that’s not very good. Is your belly hurting?”

Timmy shrugged. “Nope. Just can’t poop. What are we doing at playtime today?”

Ellie held a laugh back. She didn’t want Timmy to think it was funny he couldn’t “poop.”

“It’s a surprise. You’ll have to wait and see.”

Timmy rolled his eyes. “Why do big people always make us wait for everythin’?”

Once again Ellie marveled at the verbal capability of this particular 4-year-old as she took his hand and led him into the classroom.

“Timmy, there you are.”

Ellie’s friend and co-worker Lucy Allen patted the table in front of Timmy’s chair. “Remember, we don’t leave the room unless we’re given permission.”

“I saw Miss Ellie and thought I should say ‘hello’.”

Lucy winked at Ellie, flipping strands of red-blond hair over her shoulder.

“You still need to ask permission, bud. Okay, let’s all get into our good morning circle to share about our weekend and then Miss Ellie will read us a new book, ‘Sleep, Big Bear, Sleep.’”

Lucy sighed as the children filed from their chairs and gathered on the rug.

“Welcome back from the weekend, Miss Ellie.” She wore a weary smile as she leaned back against the edge of the desk. “Was it a good one?”

Ellie placed her bag on the desk and took a sip of the tea in her mug. A mix of honey and lemon hit her taste buds. She wished she could tell Lucy how good her weekend really had been.  “It was. Yours?”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Long. My mother-in-law came to visit. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love Margaret, but everything is thrown off when she’s there. The kids don’t want to go to bed, she bakes all these cookies and they’re all on a sugar high . . .”

The kids.

Ellie’s chest constricted.

She’d gotten used to her friends talking about their children, but today it only seemed to highlight the fact she was the only one of her friends who didn’t have children to talk about. Well, there was Molly, of course, but she didn’t talk to Molly about children much, or her hope for them. Talking to her boyfriend’s sister about wanting to have babies with her brother would be awkward all around.

 “…but it was a nice weekend overall. Mary Anne went home this morning and I have to admit that it is a little lonely without her. The kids loved her bedtime stories. . . Hey, you okay?”

Ellie looked up, reaching across the desk for the book. Time to change the subject before Lucy asked too many questions about her weekend. “I am, but if I don’t start reading soon, those kids are going to get themselves into even more trouble.” She winked and gently nudged Lucy’s arm on her way to the center of the room.

“Brittany, hands to yourself. No, I don’t care if Matthew sat in your spot. Choose another spot.”

She sat herself in the chair in front of the kids and opened the book. “So, everyone, are we ready for a new book with a new character? A loveable bear I have a feeling is going to become a favorite.”

“Yeah!” All their little voices blended together.

“Okay, well, this story starts — ”

“Miss Ellie?”

A sigh. “Yes, Timmy?”

“How come you aren’t married?”

A catch in her chest. “Timmy, honey, it’s story time, not question-and-answer time.”

“My mommy says you’re old enough to be married, but you aren’t.”

A tightening jaw. “Well, Timmy, your mommy —“

Lucy cleared her throat and clapped her hands quickly. “Let’s focus on story time, Timmy, okay?”

Ellie shot Lucy a grateful smile. She really hadn’t been sure what was going to come out of her mouth. She looked at Timmy and winked again.

“I’m sure Timmy understands it’s time to use our ears for listening and not our mouth for talking now. Right, Timmy?”

Timmy nodded and stuck his thumb in his mouth, eyes wide.

Ellie took a deep breath and plunged forward with the book, hoping to make it through the day without verbally snapping any of these poor children’s heads off. It wasn’t their fault she was an almost 30-year-old woman who wasn’t married, didn’t have children, and hadn’t told her fiancé that they might never even have those children.

Lucy cornered her at lunchtime.

“That question from Timmy seemed to unsettle you a little. You okay?”

She nodded, tucking her shirt in, and brushing crumbs left over from her sandwich off the tabletop and into her hand.

“I am. Or will be.”

“Still no proposal?”

She hesitated, not wanting to lie to Lucy but also not wanting to break her agreement with Jason not to tell anyone until he gave her a ring.

Lucy leaned close. “Ellie Lambert, I can see it all over your face. Something happened this weekend. You’re not going to leave me in the dark, are you? Your very best friend in the whole wide world besides Trudy, who doesn’t count since she abandoned us.”

Ellie sipped her lemon water and laughed. “Trudy didn’t abandon us. She got married. It wasn’t her fault Brett got transferred to Detroit.”

Lucy rolled her eyes, popping the last bite of her carrot in her mouth. “It was more like she was sentenced to Detroit. Anyhow, what happened this weekend? Hurry.” She nodded toward the children giggling at their lunch table a few feet away. “The natives are getting restless.”

Ellie poured the crumbs into the waste basket behind her desk. “I never thought it would take Jason so long to propose and I thought I’d be so excited when it happened, but now — I don’t know. It was just  —”

“Wait. He proposed? This weekend!” Lucy leaned over and hugged her. “How did he do it? Did he get down on one knee?”

“No. We were in his truck. He was driving and —”

He proposed while he was driving?

“Well, sort of. He — well, I —”

Ellie’s face flushed. “I cornered him and asked him when he was going to marry me.”

Lucy snorted a laugh, almost spitting out her lemonade. “That’s one way to get the ring, I guess.”

Ellie lowered her voice even more. “The thing is, he didn’t even have a ring. I ambushed the poor guy.”

“But, he did propose right?”

“He said he was going to that night.”

“Then why didn’t he have a ring?”

Ellie sat back, pulled her bottom lip between her teeth, and released it again. “I — I don’t know. He said he hadn’t had a chance to get it yet, or something. I don’t remember. I was just so excited and he seemed happy so . . .”

Lucy loaded the remainder of her lunch in her bag. “He seemed happy or terrified?”

Ellie laughed softly and shook her head, placing her lunch bag by her purse. “Happy, Lucy. Really.”

“Miss Ellie, Brenda says her booger is bigger than mine. Make her stop.”

Without turning around Ellie pressed her hand against her eyes, the other hand on her hip. “Lucy, is Timmy holding a booger on his finger right now?”

The sharp intake of breath alerted Ellie to the answer before Lucy even said the words. “Unfortunately, yes.”

The rest of the conversation about the proposal would have to wait until later. Ellie reached for a handful of tissues and turned to address the Great Booger Debate, a smile tugging at her mouth.

***

Bright sunlight cut through the clouds, sending sparkles of light dancing across the dew blanketing the ground. Jason looked out over the field, sweat trickling down the back of his neck. His dad was already out, cutting a path through the field on the tractor, preparing the ground for another round of corn to be planted.

Tanner Enterprises was definitely a family-run business and the burden of keeping it running wasn’t all on his shoulders, but Jason still felt the weight of helping to run a 400-acre farm and an out branch of businesses which employed a staff of 50.

 Watching his dad, Jason knew Robert Tanner was tired. He’d been tired for a long time, but this was a different kind of tired. A tired that Jason could see was leaving the 49-year-old man physically and emotionally drained at the end of each day. Jason knew his dad was angry at himself for having taken a loan out against the family business without telling his family and even angrier that circumstances beyond his control had made it impossible to repay the loan by the deadline. The mere fact he’d had to take a loan at all was like a kick to the gut for Robert.

“I don’t know Jason. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to take out that loan if we hadn’t lost your grandfather.”

But Jason had a feeling the need for a loan would have come, even if Ned Tanner had lived longer. It had been a year since Jason’s grandfather had passed away. Really, though, the dementia had taken Ned Tanner away from his family several years before his soul actually left his body.

Jason could still see the faraway look in his grandfather’s eyes that one day five years ago when he’d asked him where the accounting books were. Robert and Walt had already taken over the business, but Ned had the financial records at his house and Robert had asked Jason to pick them up. The records had always been there, and the family had agreed when the brothers took over that Ned would continue to keep them in his filing cabinet in his office in the house. When Jason had asked for the books to take to the tax preparer, though, his grandfather had drawn a blank.

“Accounting books? Doesn’t Hannah have those?”

“No, Grandpa. We agreed you’d keep them in the filing cabinet.”

“I have a filing cabinet?”

Jason had laughed softly. “Very funny, Grandpa.”

He could tell from his grandfather’s expression, though, that he wasn’t joking. Ned looked genuinely confused.

“What books should I have again?”

Jason’s eyebrows had furrowed in concern. Did his grandfather really not remember where he’d always kept the books?

Within a few moments, though, it was as if the fog in Ned’s mind had lifted. “Oh. Yes. The accounting books. They’re in the third drawer of that green filing cabinet in the corner of the office upstairs. The key is in my sock drawer. I’ll get it for you this afternoon.”

Jason had felt some relief at the return of clarity, but a couple of months later Ned had forgotten other things, small at first, like where he’d left his keys or if he’d gassed up the tractor. Eventually, though, he’d sat longer on a hay bale in the barn or on a chair on Robert’s front porch, staring out at the fields, trying to remember what he’d been about to do. The day Robert drove him home, tired and near tears because he couldn’t remember which direction to turn his truck to get back to his house, it was clear something was seriously wrong.

“Alzheimer’s.”

The doctor’s diagnosis hit the family hard. Jason could still remember clearly the small gasp from his mother, the way her hand flew to her mouth, pressed there for several moments as tears rimmed her eyes when Robert had told her.

Robert had told Jason that Franny, Jason’s grandmother, had asked the doctor, “How long?”

“How long?” The doctor looked at her in confusion.

“How long before he’s completely lost to us?”

The doctor hadn’t felt the dementia would move fast, but it did. Faster than anyone expected. The worsening heart failure had moved even faster, and within three years of the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Ned had been gone.

If it hadn’t been for his desire to keep his father’s dream alive, Robert might have given up and walked away from farming altogether the day they’d buried Ned in the family plot in the small cemetery behind the now empty country church down the road. The fact Jason and Molly, Walt and his family still had a passion for the farm had helped keep him going, but the other day Jason had seen his father looking at the letter from the bank he’d stuffed in his back pocket. Jason had looked over his dad’s shoulder and Robert had shared the news with him about the danger the business was in.

Both of them had felt the heaviness of grief again–grief over the loss of Ned, but also the pending grief at failing at the only job either of them had ever had and ever wanted to do.

Jason watched his dad turn the tractor back toward the barn and then turned back toward the barn to complete his own morning work so he could take off to the gym, one of the few places where he could work out his stresses.

“Hey, Jase?” He looked up at the sound of his dad’s voice after the tractor had been parked. Robert was standing next to the tractor, one arm propped against it.

The pig nudged the bottom of the bucket in Jason’s hand and snorted in impatience. “Yeah?”

“You have a lot on your mind lately?”

Jason shrugged a shoulder and tilted the bucket, some of the slop landing on the pig’s head, the rest on in the trough. “Uh. No. Not really. I mean,” he slid his cap back, scratched his head, and pulled the cap back down again. “Why?”

“You were supposed to tighten the bolts on these tires the morning.”

 “Oh.” Jason made a face. “Yeah. Right.”

“Right. Luckily, I could feel they were loose before I got too far out this morning.”

Jason cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry about that.”

Robert shrugged. “It’s no big deal. I’m not mad, but you’ve seemed a little distracted lately. Is there anything you need to talk about?

Jason shook his head. “Nope.” He rubbed dirt off his hand with a rag. “I guess my mind was on something else. I’ll be more careful in the future.”

Robert rubbed his chin, pondered his son for a moment, then nodded. “Okay, well, you let me know if you need to talk.”

Jason turned back to working on the feed machine. “Definitely.”

But no. He would not talk to his dad about what was on his mind.

It was bad enough he was going to have to tell Ellie at some point if he wanted to start their marriage on a path of honesty. The last thing he needed was having his dad, the man he’d looked up to his whole life, learn about his past mistakes as well.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Now For Sale. The book that is.

I don’t have an excerpt from The Farmer’s Son this week because I am working on a section and haven’t quite finished it yet. I do however, want to remind blog readers that The Farmer’s Daughter is available for sale on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Ebooks are available on Smashwords, Barnes&Noble and Amazon. A print version is currently only on Amazon until I figure out how to design the back cover for B&N.

I would like to send a couple of free copies to readers who supported me while writing it so if you are interested please let me know in the comments and then send me an email at lisahoweler@gmail.com and I will send an ebook copy to you.

The first two chapters of The Farmer’s Daughter is available here on the blog. Excerpts from A New Beginning and Rekindle are also available.

To catch up on what I’ve shared with The Farmer’s Son, click HERE.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Son Chapter 3 Part 1

I was too wrapped this past week with last minute changes and corrections to The Farmer’s Daughter before publishing it next week to sit down and work on The Farmer’s Son much this week. Hopefully, I’ll have more time this upcoming week. I did have this short part I could share.

To catch up on the rest of the story, click HERE. If you were a reader of The Farmer’s Daughter on here , I’m offering a limited amount of ebooks for free. Let me know in the comments or via the contact form if you are interested.


The day Jason came into the store after he came back from college, Ellie couldn’t take his eyes off of him.

Had he been working out? Even more than before he left for college?

She shouldn’t be looking at him, right? Was she lusting? They’d just talked about this at Bible study.

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again to take in the full view of him.

She wasn’t lusting. She was simply . . .she pulled her lip between her front teeth, then released it again . . . admiring God’s handiwork.

She’d seen Jason over Christmas break a few months before, but his biceps seemed even larger, even more well-toned now. There were light brown whiskers along his jawline and that coupled with the faded blue jeans, a nicely fitting gray T-shirt and a blue and white checkered flannel shirt gave him a rugged, should-be-on-the-front-of-GQ vibe.

Standing across the store, close to the new display of spring flowers, he was talking to his Uncle Walt, one hand on his hip as he gestured with the other.

Ellie was mesmerized.

She felt like she was in high school again, wishing he’d look her way, flash her one of his drop-dead gorgeous smiles.

A customer had stepped to the counter, stepping into her line of sight, blocking her view temporarily.

After the customer left, Jason was gone. Disappointment settled like a hard rock in the center of Ellie’s chest. It really was like high school again.

“Hey.”

She’d gasped and turned, almost slamming into him as he stepped from the back office area.

“Sorry.”

He’d smiled. That smile. The smile she’d wanted to see.

He leaned one side against the doorframe, crossed his arms across his chest, “Didn’t mean to startle you, but didn’t want to miss the chance to say ‘hello’ either.”

Warmth spread from her chest to the top of her head, and she giggled.

Good grief. This was ridiculous.

She’d dated Jason from her senior year of high school up until two years ago. It wasn’t like he was someone she didn’t know. She knew him. Very well. And she wanted to know him very well again.

They’d started chatting until another customer came and then he’d left, saying he’d stop by again the next day.

He did stop by the next day.

And the day after that until he finally asked if she’d like to go to the movies.

She’d agreed and their relationship was on again, almost as if they hadn’t taken that two-year break starting at the beginning of his junior year of college.

“You all there, kid?”

“Hmm?”

Ellie looked up from the cow’s udder she’d been cleaning, pulled out of her memories.

Her dad grinned.

“I told you Patrick will be here soon, so you don’t have to help if you have somewhere to be.”

“Oh. No. It’s no problem. My mind just wandered a little.”

“To anywhere important?”

Ellie laughed softly. “Just  . . . life stuff, I guess you’d say.”

Thomas Lambert nodded at his daughter, but his brow furrowed as he looked at her. “Hey, are — uh — things okay with you and Jason?”

Ellie stood and faced him. “They’re fine. Why?”

“No reason. I mean, you’ve just seemed quiet since you came back from your date with him the other night.”

Ellie wiped her hands and stepped around to reach for the milking attachment. “Actually, it was a nice date. I think I’ve just been working a lot of hours between the two jobs lately, plus trying to keep up with the ladies Bible study I’ve been teaching. I’m probably spreading myself a little thin.”

Her dad started preparing a cow across the aisle for milking. “At least you’re recognizing it this time. You’ve always pushed yourself a little too hard.”

“Someone has to since Judi never does,” she mumbled and immediately regretted it.

She couldn’t advise the ladies in her study to speak in love if she didn’t do it herself.

Her dad sighed as he worked. “Ellie, hon’, you need to let your bitterness against Judi go. It’s going to eat you up inside.”

Ellie nodded and kicked at the ground with the tip of her boot. She knew he was right, and she’d tried many times to let it go. She needed to keep trying.

She was grateful when a truck pulled up in front of the barn, interrupting their conversation. Patrick was the high school student her dad had recently hired and this wasn’t his truck, but she could see him in the passenger side. She tipped her head to see around the glare of the sun, curious who was behind the wheel. When she spotted the driver, her heart sank.

Oh. Perfect. Just perfect.

The driver stepped out of the car and touched a hand to the brim of his baseball cap. “Mornin’ Ellie. Thought you’d be at the school already.”

Did all the Tanner men have that same smile, same rugged jawline, sparkling green eyes, and naturally flirtatious charm?

It seemed so.

“Brad.” Her dad stepped into the sunlight and reached out, taking Bradley Tanner’s hand. “What brings you out today?”

Bradley jerked his head toward Patrick. “Pat’s truck broke down and I spotted him up the road here, so I gave him a lift.”

Thomas nodded. “Thanks, Brad appreciate it. How is it going? Back for a visit?”

“It’s going good. Back working at the farm.”

“Permanently?”

“Yep.”

Ellie laughed softly. “Discovered city life wasn’t for you, huh?”

Bradley grinned, slid his hands into his front pockets. “The city couldn’t handle me.”

Ellie had already turned toward her car, so she knew he couldn’t see her when she rolled her eyes. She waved over her shoulder. “See you boys later. I’ve got a shift at the store.”

“So, I’ll see you later?”

She glanced at Bradley as she slid behind the steering wheel and cocked an eyebrow.

“I’ll be there later with some deliveries,” he said, with a grin she knew too well. “I’ll see you there.”

She shut the door with a curt nod and a forced smile, started the car and pulled away quickly.

Bradley Tanner.

Jason’s cousin.

Back in Spencer Valley for good.

“Just great,” she grumbled as she hit the dirt road leading to town. “Just what I need.”

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Son Chapter 2 Part I

I didn’t take as much time as I would have liked to work on The Farmer’s Son this week but I came up with a lot of ideas and Ellie shared a lot more about herself with me so I can flesh her character out in the future. If you want to read previous installments of this story, you can find the links on a new page I’ve set up HERE.

The first book in this series, The Farmer’s Daughter, is up for pre-order now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and releases on February 23. If you were following that story here on the blog and would like a free copy, please send me your email address via the contact form and I will send you a copy via Bookfunnel.

You can read the first two chapters of The Farmer’s Daughter HERE.


Chapter 1

He remembered well the feel of his grandfather’s large hands around his, rough and calloused. Grease and mud stained his grandfather’s knuckles, lines of age stretched across them, patterns telling the story of a long life lived fully. The fingers of the elderly man completely enveloped his much smaller, child hands.

“Put your hands here.”

His hands moved Jason’s smaller ones to the top and left on the steering wheel. “Yep. Right at the 10 and 2.”

Jason looked at his grandfather. “10 and 2?”

“Yep. Just like on a clock. That’s the position you put your hands in.”

“Oh.”

“This is a big machine, Jason. We have to respect it. We treat it right and it will treat us right. And we always practice safety. Right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So, right now, until you’re old enough to control it, you can only ride this with me or your daddy, okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

“See that tree over there?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We’re going to steer our tractor that way and dig up our soil in a straight line to prepare it for the planting.”

Jason had nodded, a curt nod of affirmation, his jaw tight, his eyes looking straight ahead.

Even as a child he’d been serious, focused on the job to be done. Farming was serious business. His grandfather had taught him that. His father had taught him that. And now he was learning it on his own.

There was no room for error, but there were also no guarantees. The life of a farmer was at the whim of nature, the rise and fall of the milk market, the unknown variables that left them never sure what might hit them next.

That uncertainty was exhausting at times, but Jason wouldn’t have it any other way. Not even now, a year after he’d lost his grandfather to heart failure and the burden of running the business was on the shoulders of him, his father, and uncle.

Well, and Alex.

Jason couldn’t deny how much an integral part of the business his best friend had become since he’d moved in with him five years ago.

The only thing Jason didn’t like so much was the way Alex had been looking at his sister lately. It wasn’t the same look he’d given girls in college, no, but close. The pair of them had joked with each other in the barn almost from the first day Alex had come home with Jason and even more so when Molly had stopped taking classes at the local community college and been home more, working in the barn and the family’s country store. Lately, though, that teasing had become tinged with — Jason made a face as he looked out over the field behind the barn, disgusted at the thought — sexual tension.

The “s-word” was one word he’d never wanted to say in the same sentence with his sister, but especially with Alex in there too. Alex had been a partier in college. A partier, a flirt, someone who liked to date women and leave them. Jason didn’t really believe Molly would have any interest in Alex, who she’d often described as obnoxious and overbearing, but if she did, he was definitely not going to be a fan of that development and might even strangle Alex.

It was true, Alex was more than a friend to him; he was like the brother he’d never had, but if he made a move on Molly? Jason wasn’t sure he could stomach it.

“Hey. You zoning out?”

Speak of the devil.

Jason yawned, stretched his arms up and out to his side. “Yeah, I guess. Just thinking about how the corn doesn’t want to grow right now and we need to get that loan paid off and —”

“And you’re overthinking again, bud.” Alex punched him in the arm. “Come on. One thing at a time. You’re starting to sound like your dad.”

Jason grinned and nodded. “Yeah. True. I’m also starting to sound like a woman. Worrying all the time.”

Alex winced. “You better hope Molly doesn’t hear you talking like that. She’ll kick your butt.”

Jason turned and headed back toward the open barn door. “Well, if Molly was a woman, I’d be worried about that.”

“I heard that, Jason!”

Alex elbowed Jason, lowered his voice. “You know she has supersonic hearing.”

Molly peered around the door of the barn and made a face at Jason. “You know I can take you in a fight, so you better watch it.”

Jason laughed, but knew Molly could beat him in a fight. No, she wasn’t bigger than him by any means, but she was quick, shifty, and tough.

Despite seeing her as tough, Jason had agreed with his dad that they were better off not telling her about the overdue loan. The one that could mean losing the business, or at least part of it, if it wasn’t paid off.

They weren’t telling her yet anyhow. Or Jason’s mom, Annie. Or, for that matter, Aunt Hannah or Aunt Laura.

The women would be told when the men had a better idea how they were going to pay it off before the deadline at the end of the summer. His dad and uncle would be meeting with the bank the next week, and everyone would know more then.

They had taken the loan out to keep the business afloat after hardships over the last few years. The brothers —  Jason’s father and uncle — had hoped to pay the loan off at the end of the summer, but with a poor harvest the year before, that plan had fallen through. Now the bank was calling in the loan and Jason’s father Robert had warned him of the possibility the family would need to sell off part of the land or equipment.

Jason knew that hiding it all from the women in the family would probably be seen as sexist to some, but he also knew his father and uncle had only been trying to shelter the women from any more stress.

Losing Jason’s grandfather, Ned, the previous year had knocked the family off kilter, and they were still trying to claw themselves to the surface of a new normal.

“I’m off to the store,” Molly said, walking from the barn. “You men going to be okay without this ‘manly woman?’”

Alex leaned back against the barn door, folded his arms across his chest, and Jason caught him looking Molly up and down as he smirked.

“I think we’ll manage okay,” he said.

An uneasy feeling settled in Jason’s chest, but he brushed it aside.

Alex and Molly were always joking and that’s all this was. Another joke.

He bumped Alex’s shoulder with his on the way back to the barn. “Come on, loser. Let’s get back to work.”

Alex pushed himself away from the wall and followed Jason. “Everything go okay with Ellie last night?”

Jason sighed, a weird sound coming from such a masculine figure. “Yeah. Sort of.” He glanced at Alex while he loosened a bolt on the engine. “She thinks I proposed.”

Alex lifted an eyebrow. “Thinks you proposed? Um, I might need a little more of an explanation on this one. Usually, a guy proposes, or he doesn’t.”

 “Well, I was going to propose, but I needed to talk to her about something first and then she brought it up and then she just thought — It’s too confusing to explain.”

“So, you’re engaged.” Alex reached for a pitchfork. “That’s great, right? Why don’t you look happier? Don’t men usually look happier when they get engaged?”

“It is. I guess. It’s just . . .”

“You’re nervous about getting married?”

“A little but it’s not that. It’s just, I’ve never told Ellie about what happened in college.”

Alex spoke through a yawn, his expression clueless. “What happened in college?”

Jason starred at him for a few moments with raised eyebrows. Alex continued to look blank for a full minute, then his eyes widened in realization. “Wait. You mean what happened with Lauren Phillips? You never told Ellie about that?”

Jason shook his head. “I was really embarrassed, man. That experience was a low point for me, and it wasn’t even —ugh, just never mind. The point is that I never told Ellie because I was embarrassed and because I didn’t know how she would feel about it.”

“But you guys weren’t even dating then.”

“I know, but it still was wrong, Alex. That’s not how I wanted my first time to be. I wanted it to be with someone I loved. Someone I planned to spend my entire life with. And yeah, I know it sounds lame, but I wanted it to be with someone I was married to.”

Alex shrugged one shoulder and smiled. “Yeah, it sounds a little lame, but it also sounds really sweet and romantic.” He made a face and shuddered. “Yuck. Dude, I think you’re rubbing off on me with all your sentimental crud. Next thing I know we’ll be watching chick flicks together.”

Sleepless in Seattle isn’t bad.”

Alex held up his hands. “Jase, I am not watching chick flicks with you. Calm down. Don’t start making a list in your head.”

Jason leaned back against the edge of a stall, one arm propped up on the metal frame, looking at the ground, thinking.

Alex cleared his throat. “Jason, you know Ellie loves you. She’s going to understand. Just talk to her.”

Jason nodded, but didn’t look up from the dirt. “Yeah, I hope she does.” He lifted his gaze to look at Alex, his eyes glistening. “Because if she doesn’t . . .” He shook his head, swallowed hard, and looked out at the fields across from the house. “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Alex pounded him gently on the back. “Don’t even think that way. Come on. Let’s get to work. It will take your mind off things. Plus, the more stressed you are, the harder you work, and I’ll have less to do.”

Jason shook his head and laughed softly. He knew Alex was trying to cheer him up, in his own way, and he was grateful for it, but he also knew he could only distract himself for so long. He’d have to face the music with Ellie sooner rather than later, and he’d better start thinking about how he was going to do it.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Son Chapter 1

I introduced the first part of The Farmer’s Son last week. If you would like to read the prologue, you can click HERE.

This is a story in progress, a rough draft in many ways, so there will most likely be plot holes, typos, etc.

The first book in this series, The Farmer’s Daughter, is up for pre-order now on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Chapter 1

A year earlier

His heart was racing, his palms damp with sweat. His stomach felt tight, sick.

What had he been thinking? Was he really going to do this tonight? Was he really going to tell his longtime girlfriend about his past and let the chips fall where they may?

Jason took a deep breath and tightened his hands on the steering wheel until his knuckles faded white. Yes, he was. He was doing this because he needed the burden off his shoulders, and he needed to know how Ellie would feel about him after he told her. He couldn’t keep waiting, torturing himself with the worry of what might be.

He and Ellie had gone to school together since junior high, but it wasn’t until his junior year he really noticed her, or she had noticed him, or he guess he would say they noticed each other. It was in history class, and Mr. Prawley had placed them in a group together to work on a project. Before that they’d seen each other at 4H meetings or when Robert took Jason with him to pick up equipment he’d borrowed from Ellie’s dad Jerry.

Late one night after working on their project about Pennsylvanian history, they found themselves laughing about their shared interest in old movies.

“Cary Grant is the epitome of old-fashioned suave and charm,” she’d said, pretending to swoon, her hand against her forehead when they watched North by Northwest together at his parents.

He grinned, a teasing glint in his eye. “I agree, but I’m the epitome of modern suave and charm, right?”

She’d tipped her head back and laughed, and he wasn’t sure if she was enjoying his humor or mocking him.

“Ginger Rogers was a very underrated actress,” he announced after they watched Vivacious Lady at her parents’ house.

“I agree,” she had said and smiled.

Wow. That smile.

That smile that was for him and only him.

It took his breath away.

That smile and her soft, long black hair against that pale skin, those large dark eyes and her sweet round face — what a knockout combination.

He’d taken her to the movies twice, dinner once, lunch three times and attended youth group with her every Wednesday for two months before he’d finally worked up the courage to kiss her. And now, here he was working up the courage to ask her to marry him, but first he had to tell her about what had happened during the break they’d taken when they’d both been in college–at two different colleges.

Those two years in college when he’d been without her, when they had taken a break from dating to see “how things developed” as she had said, were the loneliest and most confusing two years of his life. He’d felt like a ship out at sea without a compass. Returning home from college, to the farm and to her had anchored him again. He couldn’t even imagine losing that anchor again.

God, please don’t let me lose her.

 He caught sight of movement out of the corner of his eye and turned his head to see her stepping off the front porch, down the steps, watching him as she walked. Her smile was broad, captivating.

His breath caught in his throat. His eyes followed the length of her body as she walked, and he bit his lower lip. Even after all these years, she still took his breath away.

She was so beautiful.

“I can’t do this, God,” he whispered as she reached the truck and opened the door.

“Hey.” She slid into the truck seat and had her arms around his neck and her mouth on his before he could ask God for strength. Once she was in his arms, her kiss clouded his mind. She smelled of lilac and vanilla scented shampoo. The skin along her neck was soft as he kissed it and then moved his mouth up along her jawline, her ear and back to her mouth.

“We should probably head out to the restaurant,” she said breathlessly a few moments later. She tipped her head to one side, her hand against his chest. “Before we go too far.”

Jason cleared his throat and nodded. “Right. Of course.”

He grinned as he turned back to the steering wheel and she hooked her seatbelt. “But it wasn’t as if things would get too far with us parked outside your parent’s house. Not before your dad shot me.”

Ellie laughed. “Jason, Daddy wouldn’t shoot you.”

“I beg to differ.”

Ellie shook her head. “He loves you. You know that.”

“But he wouldn’t like me making out with you in my truck.”

“No, probably not,” Ellie said with a wink. “Unless we were married, of course.”

Jason swallowed hard.

Married.

There it was.

The one word hovering in his mind 24/7, waking him up at night, giving him near panic attacks daily.

“Right,” he said nervously, pushing his foot on the accelerator slightly, willing his truck to move them faster toward the restaurant where they could talk about the food, the weather, the farm, anything but marriage.

They drove in silence for a few moments, farmland and trees and open fields passing them by.

“Jason?”

Hurry up, truck.

“Yeah?”

“Are you ever going to ask me to marry you?”

Jason’s hand jerked on the steering wheel as he nearly jumped out of his seat from shock. The truck swerved over the center line and then back again into the right lane. Ellie gasped and clutched her hand around Jason’s upper bicep as he regained control of the truck.

She was breathless when she spoke. “Oh gosh. Sorry. I just — I shouldn’t have blurted it out like that, but I knew if I didn’t say something now, I would lose my courage.”

Jason slowed the truck down and pulled off into an empty parking lot in front of an abandoned convenience store. He slid the gear into park and turned to look at Ellie.

“What would make you ask that right now?” he asked, his eyebrows furrowed.

Was she reading his mind? They’d been together so long he wouldn’t be surprised.

“I — I don’t know. I just — ” Tears rimmed her eyes. “I’m sorry, Jason. Are you angry?”

Jason shook his head. “No. Not at all. I’m sorry.” He reached over and took her hand in his. The frightened expression on her face sent stabbing guilt shuddering through him. He let go of her hand and cupped his palm against her face.

“It’s not that at all. It’s just that I was actually going to talk to you about that tonight, and it surprised me that it was on your mind too.”

A tear slipped down Ellie’s cheek and his heart ached even more. He swiped at it with the palm of his thumb.

“Of course, it is on my mind, Jason. I’ve wanted to marry you since high school. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to have your children. But sometimes I feel like you don’t want any of that at all.”

“No, El, that’s not true. I do want that. All of it.”

“Then why aren’t you asking me to marry you?”

“I — well, I was going to —”

Ellie’s eyes grew wide and her eyebrows shot up. “Oh! Were you going to ask me tonight and I totally ruined your plans?”

“Well, I —”

“Oh, Jason! I’m so sorry! I ruined your plan.”

“No, that’s okay. It’s just —”

Her mouth was on his again before he could explain. The expression of sheer delight on her face when she pulled back, her arms still around his neck, sent warmth bursting through his chest.

“You know I don’t need a big fancy proposal. All I want is you. Of course I’d say ‘yes’ no matter how you asked.”

She was kissing him again, and he was forgetting what he’d been going to say. Her body was so warm and solid against his and her lips so soft. Her hands were in his hair and he couldn’t focus. Slowly his thoughts began to clear and that’s when the panic set in.

Wait a minute. Did she think he had just proposed, and she was saying yes?

She peppered his cheek and neck with kisses. “Oh, Jason! I’m so excited! I’ve been waiting for this moment for years!”

 Yes, she thought he’d just proposed, and she was saying ‘yes’.

“I know. I have been too, but I —”

She cut his sentence short again. “Are you okay? I’m so sorry I ruined the surprise.”

“No, it’s okay, I mean — It’s just that I —”

Her large brown eyes were watching him with hopeful expectation, with joy, with complete and utter adoration. There was no way he could tell her about his past now; ruin her night completely.

“I don’t have a ring,” he blurted.

She tipped her head back and laughed. “I don’t care about a ring, silly! We can worry about that later, or not at all. You know I don’t care about stuff like that.”

“But it’s a symbol, and it’s important, El. I should get you a ring.”

Ellie kissed him gently and shook her head. “Later. I just want us to enjoy this moment together for now.”

Jason swallowed hard. He wanted to enjoy the moment too, but he knew he couldn’t keep his secret forever. Ellie needed to know sooner rather than later. He wouldn’t tell her tonight, though. He’d already made his mind up about that. They would go to dinner, celebrate their engagement and then later, another day, he’d tell her what she needed to know and let her make up her own mind about whether she still wanted to spend the rest of her life with him.

***

Standing outside her house, her parents inside, watching TV and reading the paper, Ellie Lambert took a deep breath and felt giddy butterflies in the center of her stomach. She tipped her head back, breathed in the cool night air, the smell of autumn leaves, and giggled.

She giggled like a young girl without a care in the world.

She wanted to tell the entire world, to scream it from the rooftops.

She couldn’t, though.

They had agreed they wouldn’t tell anyone about their engagement for a couple of more weeks at least so they could choose a ring together.

“I wanted to have the ring first, so you can show your friends, but I—”

“I know. I ruined it for you. I’m so sorry, Jason.”

He’d kissed her and told her she hadn’t ruined anything, but she knew she had. Why couldn’t she have been patient and waited for him to propose on his own?

Well, maybe because she had been waiting for him to propose for almost five years now and he never would. She had to ask. She had to know if they had a future or not.

In two more months, she’d be 29, and she was still living at home with her parents, working two part jobs, with her life really going nowhere. She loved her life; it wasn’t that. It was that she felt like she was in limbo, between the life of a young adult and the life of an actual adult.

Her sister, Judi, was living the life of an actual adult, even though she was two years younger. Judi was living in New York City after moving there four years ago.

Her real name was Judy with a “y” but in an attempt to be cooler and, in Ellie’s mind, stand apart from others, she started spelling her name with an “i” in junior high school. It irritated Ellie that everyone, including her parents, catered to her, went along with the ridiculous spelling, like they went along with every other eccentric, off the wall thing Judi did.

Ellie didn’t want to live somewhere chaotic like Judi. She wanted to be married, with children, building a life with Jason in their own home, in the same small town they’d grown up in. Farming would be their life, of course. She knew that, and she was fine with it. Farming was in both of their blood. They were both farm kids, even though she spent more time at the Tanner’s Country Store and Little Lambs Daycare as a preschool teacher in town than on the farm these days.

“Ellie?”

She tipped her head down, bit her lower lip to force the smile away, as she looked at her mom standing in the doorway.

“Hey, mom.”

“You’re home early, aren’t you?”

“Well, Jason had to get up extra early tomorrow.”

“Oh, I see. Everything’s okay then?”

It’s amazing. It’s wonderful. It’s spellbindingly perfect.

“Yep. All good.”

“Okay. Good. I was just a little worried since you hadn’t come in yet. Your dad and I are heading to bed in a few.”

Ellie trailed her fingers along the railing along the stairs. “I think I’ll stay out a few minutes longer.”

Her mom smiled, nodded, and closed the door, leaving Ellie with her thoughts. Thoughts. So many of them. She had a wedding to plan now, and she still couldn’t wrap her mind around that fact.

A wedding.

She sat on the top step, under the pale light of the porch, and felt a frigid chill she knew wasn’t from the night air.

Rubbing her hands across her arms, thinking about how she was about to marry a man she hadn’t even been honest with for all these years she let out a shaky breath. Yes, she’d been honest when she said she loved him. Yes, she’d been honest when she told him she wanted to marry him, have children with him. But there was something she hadn’t told him, and she wondered how he would react when she did.

He’d probably be less upset than she imagined, but she still couldn’t shake that fear that he’d be crushed. He would be the first person beside her parents to know this about her. She should have told him years ago, not right before their wedding.

She felt the tears hot in her eyes, pressed her hands to them and let out a shaky breath.

God, please let him forgive me for not telling him before. I can’t lose him.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Son Prologue or beginning of chapter 1 or, yeah, I don’t know yet

For those of you who read The Farmer’s Daughter installents here, I know you are wondering what happened to Jason Tanner’s part of the story so this week I am starting back in the beginning, a bit, for any new readers. I will follow the story of Jason and Ellie and Robert and Annie (maybe even Molly and Alex a little) for the next few weeks, if I can figure out what I am doing with the story. The thing is, I want to start the book off with some excitement, but if I do that, I want it to be after Jason and Ellie had their issues (if you already know this story, you know what the issue is). At the same time, I don’t want to toss out all that background with their story so I’m trying to figure out if I should start at one point and go back or if that would be confusing. Anyhow, regardless, this is something I wrote up this week in case I decide to go with the whole “here is the story after Jason and Ellie talked about Lauren.” It’s very rough, will be rewritten at some point, but I’m still going to share it for my blog readers.

For anyone new, Fiction Friday is where I share a work in progress. Often this is the start of a future novel for me and it’s usually a first draft so there are often typos, plot holes, and it may not be the most polished piece of fiction ever. I share my work in progress on here for fun and to get feedback from my blog readers. I often change it before I put it up on Amazon or B&N to sell as ebooks. I’m less concerned about selling the books than in having fun with interacting with my blog readers.

Anyhow, enjoy reading Jason’s continuing story.

Prologue or beginning of Chapter 1

Smoke choked at his throat, burned his eyes, but he kept walking.

He had to.

The woman’s voice was full of panic. “Help me! I’m over here!”

“Don’t move, Mrs. Weatherly. I’m coming. Keep talking to me okay?”

A series of coughs to his right.

He changed direction, kept walking, slammed his arm off a door frame, glad the fire suit was padded. Air puffed into his mask from his oxygen tank, but the smoke was still stifling, and he wondered if it would overtake him before he could get to her.

He couldn’t hear her coughing anymore.

“Mrs. Weatherly?”

Nothing but the crackling of the flames licking up the wall, across the ceiling of the kitchen.

“Ann?”

His foot hit something solid, almost sent him sprawling. He regained his balance, crouched, felt the floor since he couldn’t see through the smoke and felt a back, then an arm.

“Ann, it’s me, Jason Tanner. Can you hear me?”

A soft cough from the direction of the body told him she was at least alive, but most likely overcome by the smoke to answer.

“I’m going to lift you and we’re going to get out of here, okay? Try to stay calm. You’ll be on my shoulders. It will be the easiest way for me to carry you.”

“John.”

“No, ma’am. It’s Jason. You’re going to be okay.”

“John . . .”

He found her arms, slid his hands under the trunk of her body and swung her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. He couldn’t carry her through the back door. It was already engulfed in flames. He reached out to feel the wall and when he found it, he made his way along it until he felt the open doorway to the dining room.

If he hadn’t visited this home many times over the last year to deliver produce to Ann and John Weatherly from the country store on his way home, he wouldn’t have known that the kitchen led to the dining room, the dining room to the living room, a short hallway and then the front door. He winced when his hip slammed into the dining room table, or at least he thought it might be the table. The smoke was billowing from the kitchen now, filling the rest of the house. Above him he heard crackling, breaking wood, fire ripping across the ceiling, shredding the wooden beams between the floors.

“John . . .”

“We’ll be out soon, Mrs. Weatherly.”

But he wasn’t really sure of that. He had thought the living room was right in front of him, but now he was bumping against walls he didn’t remember being there. Had he turned wrong and ended up in the laundry room instead? Or maybe even a bathroom. He felt out with a gloved hand, touched a wall, then something hard, metal. It was the washer. He was in the laundry room. The laundry room that didn’t have a door or window. He had to turn around, and he worried he might hit Mrs. Weatherly’s head when he did. He slid her down from his shoulder, both worried and glad she was a thin, frail woman in her 70s. He cradled her in his arms like he would a child..

Smoke was coming from below and above him now. He knew the fire must be spreading across the top floor, and he wondered how long it would be before it fell down on him.

“Jason!”

Chief Cody Bracken’s voice boomed from somewhere to his right. He felt for the wall, moved forward a few steps and stopped when his foot kicked the edge of the doorway.

“Jason! Are you in there?!”

“I’m coming!”

His breath fogged up the shield of his helmet. He was even more blind than before, but now he at least had the sound of Cody’s voice to follow.

“Jason! The roof is about to collapse!”

Shuffling he tried to ignore the crackling and snapping above him. With the next step, a firm hand gripped the front of the turnout gear and yanked him forward into bright light and cool air.

“Guys! We got a patient!”

Mrs. Weatherly was lifted from his arms and he stumbled forward, pulling at the mask, falling to the ground in his hands and knees as he gulped fresh air into his lungs. Behind him he heard the snapping of wood and the shattering of glass, and he knew the top floor was caving in. Two hands snatched him under his arms and dragged him forward across the grass, further away from the burning house, as he continued to gag and gasp for air.

“Did Denny get out?!” he yelled as soon as he could breathe again.

He looked up, his vision blurry with sweat and smoke. Denny was guzzling water a few feet away by the fire truck, pouring it over his head and then drinking again. Two other firefighters, James Lantz and Duane Trenton, stood above Jason,breathing hard, wiping sweat and soot from their faces. Jason had a feeling they were the ones who had dragged him across the yard.

Cody hooked an arm under Jason’s, help to his feet. “No one is sure where Mr. Weatherly is. Denny was in looking for him, but the flames in the dining room pushed him back. Did you see him?”

Jason shook his head, taking the fresh water bottle Denny offered him. “I could barely see anything in there. Mrs. Weatherly was in the kitchen. If anyone else was in there I didn’t see them.”

He sucked the water down in one gulp, looked up at the firefighters still battling the flames, trying to save the house even though they all knew it was going to be a total loss.

“Breathe in.”

Brittany Manahan pressed an oxygen mask against his face and hooked the band behind his head. “Sit.”

Brittany, an EMT with the Spencer Valley Ambulance Company, wasn’t afraid to order the first responders around if it was for their own good.

Jason sat on the ground, legs up, propping his arm on his knees as he breathed deep, coughed, and breathed deep again.

He remembered Mrs. Weatherly’s pleading voice inside the house. “John.”

Oh God. No.

“Cody!” He pulled the oxygen mask off his nose. “John is still inside!”

He leapt to his feet but Cody pivoted, press his hands against his chest. “Slow down there, big guy. You aren’t going anywhere. The second floor’s collapsed. There’s nothing we can do.”

“She tried to tell me. Mrs. Weatherly. Ann. She — she couldn’t breathe and was passing out, but she was calling for John. I didn’t understand.

Cody shook his head. “You couldn’t have carried them both out. You had her and needed to get her out first. It wasn’t your fault. We’ll know more when the fire is out. Maybe John is at the store or somewhere else. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

Jason nodded pressed the oxygen to his face again and breathed in deep, glancing to his right and watching the paramedics attending to Mrs. Weatherly, giving her oxygen as she laid prostrate on her back on the stretcher.

Part of him knew Cody was right. He couldn’t have carried both Mr. and Mrs. Weatherly out of that house, but if he had only stopped to listen, to understand what Mrs. Weatherly had been saying, he could have tried. He could have pushed forward only a few more feet. Maybe Mr. Weatherly had been on the floor near his wife. He pushed his hand through his hair, clutched at it and let out a long breath into the oxygen mask. Or maybe John Weatherly hadn’t even been home when the fire broke out. Maybe he’d pull into that driveway in his old blue 1970 Lincoln Continental and be perfectly healthy and alive.

Jason slumped back against the side of the fire truck, fought the emotion choking at his throat. Something deep in his gut told him John would not pull into the driveway, not today. Never again. He was inside that house, now almost down to the ground, flames shooting up from the rest of the first floor. Ann Weatherly hadn’t mistaken Jason for her husband. She’d been trying to tell Jason her husband was still in the house.

His jaw tightened as he heard the ambulance siren wail, saw the red lights swirling. It took him back nine months before, to that rainy day in the lower field, when it had been his dad being loaded into an ambulance.

He had felt emotion stuck in his throat that day in the lower field and head had swallowed it down hard, shoving the fear of losing his father tight inside the same hollow spot in his chest where he’d shoved his heartache over Ellie.

He hadn’t had time for emotion then, and he didn’t now.

He shoved his guilt over John Weatherly right against his shame from that night with Lauren Phillips, right against the grief he still felt over the loss of his grandfather, right against the hurt he’d caused Ellie.

Maybe one day all that hurt would crack his chest wide open for all the world to see, but right now he had to get back to the fire hall, take off his gear, clean up and get back to his full-time job at his family’s farm.

This job was a volunteer gig.

The one he’d taken to take his mind off his guilt, his shame, his worries about his dad who was still recovering, but most of all off Ellie.

Fiction Friday: The Secrets We Hold

I don’t have a new series to start for Fiction Friday, but I did write a very short beginning to the book in the series that will be about Liz and her journey dealing with an unexpected life change.

I won’t be sharing it here yet. I probably won’t start a new serial fiction story until the new year.

The working title for Liz’s story is The Secrets We Hold.



Guilt twisted in the center of Liz Cranmer’s chest. She’d lied to her best friend.

Not exactly lied.

Simply left some details unspoken.

Still, Molly had left the hospital thinking she knew everything about why Liz had swallowed half a bottle of painkillers.  

There was so much Molly didn’t know, so much Liz didn’t want her to know.

Part of Liz wished panic hadn’t led her to call for an ambulance.

Liz had let Gabe charm her again, the alcohol letting her believe him when he said he was sorry for how he’d hurt her.

“It was my fault,” she’d told Molly.

And it was. Everything that had happened that night and everything she was facing now was her fault. She’d screwed up. Again. Like she always did.

And now her life would never be the same.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 37

We are here. The last chapter of The Farmer’s Daughter.

Of course, I do still have to finish Jason’s story for regular readers and I will get there! Eventually. Ha!

To catch up on the rest of the story click HERE.


Chapter 37

“I told you that you weren’t going to die, old man.”

Alex propped his foot against the bottom of the hospital bed, leaned back in the chair across from Robert’s bed, and looked at his employer with a smug expression.

Robert took a sip of his coffee and smiled. “Who you calling old man? I could outwork you any day.”

Alex grinned. “You’ll have to get better soon so you can prove that claim.”

Robert still looked like hell, two weeks after he’d come out of the coma and moved to a rehab facility closer to Spencer, but he was awake and alive and that was enough to make Alex feel better.

Shifting slightly, Robert grimaced as he pushed himself up more into a sitting position. Alex stretched his legs out further and folded his hands across his stomach. The brief silence that followed unnerved him. Why did he feel like there was a serious conversation coming?

“Alex, I need to ask you a question.”

Alex’s muscles tightened. He had been here twice now since Robert woke up and so far, they hadn’t spoken once about his relationship with Molly. Somehow, he felt that was about to change.

“Where are you in your relationship with God?”

The question was as bad as Alex had been worried it would be. It wasn’t about Molly, yet he knew it was at the same time.

 “I’m going to be honest, Robert.”

Robert folded his arms across his chest, nodded. “I prefer honesty.”

“Honestly, I never really believed in him. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that since I’ve come to work on your farm and fallen in love with Molly that I’m suddenly converted and planning to sign up to the mission field.”  Alex leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. “But, something is changing in how I think about faith – and I guess I’d say God. I’ve watched some things happen that I can’t explain away. One of them is you sitting here talking to me. I’ve also had conversations with Molly that really got me thinking. There is still a lot about the Bible that I don’t understand but – I’m studying it some and I’m more open to learning about God more than I’ve been before.”

Robert rubbed his hand along his chin, his previously unreadable expression relaxing into a comfortable smile.  “That was a good, honest answer.” He folded his arms across his chest. “Unfortunately, I have another hard question.”

Alex’s mouth went dry. Nothing could be worse than the God question, right?

“Yes, sir?”

“Are you sleeping with my daughter?”

Alex gulped. Actually gulped. Something he thought people only did in books or movies. This was definitely harder than the God question, but he was glad he could give an answer that wouldn’t get him shoved out of the window behind him and to the pavement six stories below.

“No sir.”

Robert cocked an eyebrow. “Are you just telling me that because you know I can’t get out of this bed yet to whip you?”

Alex laughed softly. He listened to footsteps in the hallway and hoped it was Molly coming to rescue him. “No, sir, because I know you can send Jason after me instead.”

“That’s true.” Robert smiled. “So, you are being honest with me.”

“Robert, I respect Molly too much to rush into a physical relationship with her. I know how she feels. I know how your family feels. I can’t say it isn’t because I don’t —” flushing bright red along ears. “I mean, it’s not —” He rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, sat back in the chair and broke eye contact with Robert. Why hadn’t he started over explaining himself. He’d answered the question. He should have left it at that. “I just respect her and you, sir. That’s all.”

Robert laughed as the door opened and Molly and Annie walked in.

Molly looked between the two men, her smile fading. “Uh-oh. Alex looks uncomfortable. Dad looks slightly delighted. This isn’t one of those conversations that dads and boyfriends have where the Dad says, ‘I don’t want you to see my daughter anymore is it?’”

Robert smiled. “No, it isn’t. You’re a grown woman. I can’t tell you who to date.” He winked at Alex. “It was just one of those conversations where I tell Alex if he hurts my little girl, I’ll have Jason throw him through the wood shredder.”

“Dad!”

Robert laughed weakly, coughed, and held his side. “Sorry. I just wanted to see the look on your faces.”

“Well, now you did, so that’s enough of that,” Annie said straightening Robert’s blankets and smiling. “It’s time for you to get some rest before your next rehab session and it’s time for Alex and Molly to get back to the farm.”

Robert held his hand up. “I know. I know.” He looked at the doorway as Jason walked in. “First, though, I need to talk to all of you about something.”

Jason and Alex leaned back against the table across the room, posing almost identical to each other, arms folded across their chests, one leg crossed over the other.

“Walt called me this morning,” Robert started. “He said he was holding a check to cover the remainder of our loan and then some. It was made out to Tanner Enterprises and dropped off by some sort of delivery service. He wants to know what we want to do with it.” Robert moved his gaze to Alex. “It’s from someone named Cecily Burke.”

Alex’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “How would my mom have known anything about the loan?”

Molly coughed softly and held up her hand. “Well, that’s because I blabbed it without thinking the day she left. She wanted me to ask mom if she could help but with everything else going on, I never thought about it again. I didn’t tell her the amount, though.”

“Maybe the bank told her the amount,” Jason suggested.

Robert shrugged. “I don’t know but what I do know is I don’t feel right taking her money to try to fix the problem I created.” He rubbed his chin for a few moments and sighed. “But I don’t want to reject her either. I don’t think this was only to help out Tanner Enterprises.” He caught Alex’s gaze. “I think she wanted someone else to know she cares.”

Alex shifted uncomfortably, shoved his hands in his front jean pockets and stared at the tip of his work boots.

“It’s a very nice gesture,” Annie said. “Why don’t we take a couple of days and talk it over. In the meantime, I’d like to get ahold of your mother, Alex, and thank her for her offer to help.”

Alex nodded, even though he didn’t really relish the idea of his two worlds colliding.

“Now, we are all going to head home, Robert is going to rest and,” Annie looped her arm through her son’s. “I’m going to ride with Jason and he’s going to tell me what’s been going on with him and Ellie.”

Jason’s eyebrows darted upwards. “Uh, we are? I don’t remember agreeing to this.”

Annie winked. “I’m your mother. Of course, you agree.”

Jason looked over his shoulder at Alex with a pleading expression as his mother dragged him toward the door, but Alex simply shrugged. He knew he couldn’t save his friend from a conversation that was certain to be about why Jason’s relationship with Ellie had dissolved.

In his truck ten minutes later, he looked at Molly curled up against the passenger side door, yawning, hair pulled back from her face in a ponytail, looking beautiful. They hadn’t had a lot of time alone lately. He wanted to remedy that. And soon. It had been far too long since he’d held her close, touched her soft curls, kissed her mouth. The moment he pulled his truck into the Tanner’s drive to drop her off, he planned to do all of those things and at this point, he didn’t care who interrupted them.

***

She felt the rhythm of his heart under her cheek, the warmth of his arms around her, the smell of aftershave and hay sweet. It didn’t even matter to her that the cold of winter was creeping in through her coat, nipping at her cheeks and nose.

Molly still couldn’t figure out what Alex saw in her; why someone so beautiful and charming seemed to want her. But she was accepting it as much as she could, day by day, sometimes pinching herself when they were at a movie or out to lunch or nights like this when he was holding her close under the stars.

They’d actually been going on dates, something she’d rarely done since Ben. Movies, bowling, even karaoke one night where they’d both just watched others and agreed neither of them would ever see each other on that stage.

Their relationship in the barn hadn’t changed much, other than him yanking her behind a wall or door to kiss her every other day. They still joked and shot one-liner insults at each other throughout the day. One difference was Molly no longer felt comfortable competing in burping contests, wondering if her winning the loudest burp might be a turn off for Alex in the long run. Another difference was Alex no longer allowed her self-depreciating comments when he was around.

“Why do you say those things about yourself?” He asked one day after milking. He’d taken her hand and was pulling her through the barn door, leading her to the back of the barn. “You’re none of the things you say you are.” He backed her slowly against the outside wall of the barn, propped a hand on either side of her head. “You’re beautiful, Molly. I know that and I’m pretty sure God knows that.”

She’d tried to respond but his mouth on her’s had stopped her and she let herself focus only on his kiss, ignoring the doubt. “I love you, Molly,” he’d whispered against her ear a few moments later. “Every single, beautiful,” a wry smile crossed his lips as he trailed his finger down her throat. “Inch of you.” He laughed softly. “I’d better stop that while we’re out here where anyone could see us, I suppose.”

Molly had laughingly agreed, and they’d returned to work.

Now they were together again, and he said similar things. Sometimes she wondered if he’d ever get sick of trying to convince her how much he loved her.

“So, this is it, then, huh?”

She looked up at him  and smiled. “It? In what way? Are you saying goodbye forever simply because I’m moving in with Liz?”

Alex laughed. “I mean, so this is it for today. I have to leave you here with that crazy friend of yours and drive back to the farm alone.”

“I heard that, Alex!” Liz called from inside the apartment where she was unpacking Molly’s clothes.

He pulled the apartment door closed. “And now you can’t hear anything.”

“Yes,” Molly said looping her arms around his neck. “But I’ll see you in the morning and I appreciate you helping me move the last couple of days.”

“You’re welcome.” He kissed her softly, drew back, then kissed her again, and she lost track of where they were as the kiss intensified and he pulled her against him.

The opening of the door startled them both, brought them back to their surroundings.

“Are you going to stand out there making out all night or are you going to come in and unpack?”

Alex sighed and pressed his forehead against Molly’s. “Are you sure this was a good idea?”

Molly smiled. “I’m sure. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Night-night, Alex.” Liz gave him a quick wave and wink.

“Night, Liz,” he mumbled as he walked back to his truck.

Molly watched him drive away, rubbing her hands across her arms against the cold of the night. So much had changed in the last few months, but also in the last year. Her father was home, still recovering, she and Alex were getting closer every day, the country store was expanding, and Cecily’s check was helping keep the farm and business afloat for a little longer. Still, there seemed to be so many loose ends for her to worry about.

 As she walked back into the house and started to unpack, she wondered what had happened between Jason and Ellie. She hoped they’d be able to work it out and get back together.

She thought about Liz, seven months pregnant, still feeling guilty about how she’d gotten to this point in her life, avoiding Matt, though he seemed to care about her.

Ginny feeling stagnant in her life.

Ben and his reluctance to meet his daughter.

Alex’s reluctance to speak to his parents or about his father’s diagnosis. 

It was all a bit overwhelming.

She couldn’t figure it all out right now, though.

She had unpacking to do, a country store to help run, and a new relationship to enjoy.

She’d have to think about everything else later.