Molly was tired of looking at her phone, waiting for Jason or her mom to call her with an update. She knew Jason was anxious to head home, take his mind off things by getting back to work. They’d agreed he would head home in a couple of days and they would switch places.
Her mom had sounded exhausted, yet still in good spirits, when she’d talked to her the night before. Molly wished she could make it all better, take away the fear she’d heard in her mom’s voice. None of it seemed real. Her dad should be with her right now in the barn, or at least out in one of the fields planting rye not laying in a hospital bed four hours away.
Looking out the barn door as she filled the bottles for the calves, she squinted at the sun bouncing off the hood of Cecily’s Jaguar as it pulled into the driveway and headed toward the barn. She hadn’t spoken to Alex since he’d taken his mother to dinner, but he knew Cecily had planned to head back to Baltimore today.
Molly stepped outside, watching the woman step out of her car, struck again with how out of place she looked on a farm in her expensive clothes and designer boots. She was also struck, again, how different Alex was from his mother
“Good afternoon, Cecily.” She smoothed her hands along her jeans, sucked in her stomach, still thinking of the way Cecily had looked her up and down at the house the day before and her comment about the ‘leggy blonds.’ “Alex isn’t here right now. He is up at one of the other fields.”
Cecily slid her sunglasses on. “That’s fine. I just thought I’d say goodbye before I headed back.”
Molly slid her phone out of her pocket. “Let me call him down for you.”
Cecily shook her head and held her hand up. “You know what? No. That’s okay. I doubt he’d want to see me anyhow. I’m afraid he didn’t find me in very good shape last night.”
She cleared her throat and looked at the ground briefly then back up at Molly again. “Have you heard anything about your father?”
“Just that he’s the same as before.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Cecily looked out at the cows in the pasture. “It’s tough for you all without him, I’d imagine.”
Molly nodded, sliding her phone back in her coat pocket. “Yes. It definitely is. We’ve been trying to pay off a loan and the deadline was coming up this week, so that’s made it a little harder too.”
Cecily’s eyebrows furrowed as she turned her gaze back to Molly. “A loan?”
Molly kicked at the dirt with the tip of her boot, wishing he hadn’t said anything about the loan. “Yeah, well, dad and Uncle Walt were trying to help make ends meet during a tough time and got behind. It will work out though.”
“So, what’s going to happen now?”
“We were able to pay off part of it at the end of summer.” Molly moved her gaze across the field, away from Cecily’s curious gaze, suddenly uncomfortable discussing her family’s personal business and wondering why she had started to in the first place. “And this morning my uncle got a call from the bank. They granted a six month hardship deferment after they heard about what happened to my dad.”
“Wow.” Cecily frowned. “I’ve never heard of a bank doing something like that.”
“It’s a small town,” Molly said. “Everyone knows everyone and for the most part people seem to want to help other people. We didn’t expect that, but we’re grateful.”
Cecily rubbed her hands across her arms as a breeze moved strands of hair across her face.
“What will happen when the deferment is up though? Will you be able to keep the farm?”
Molly shrugged a shoulder. “I’m not sure. We always seem to manage somehow. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
Cecily looked out across the fields again, shielding her eyes from the sun. “Your family has a nice farm here.”
“Thank you.” Molly shoved her hands deep in the pockets of her coat and gestured toward the west. “Further down is the farmland that used to be my grandparents. Both sets of grandparents actually. One lived at the first farm and the other one about a mile past that. Alex lives with Jason at my mom’s parents’ old place. Beyond that is land my family bought years ago to create Tanner Enterprises to try to help other farmers either stay in business or sell and move on.”
Cecily nodded slowly, following Molly’s gesture toward land she couldn’t see.
“It really is impressive what your family has done here, Molly. My husband would be amazed at their ingenuity and resolve not to give up.” She looked at Molly. “He sells and buys real estate for a living. He’s made the bulk of his money off multi-million dollar deals. Much different than what all of you are dealing with, of course, but he’d still be impressed.”
She pressed her lips together for a moment, opened her mouth to say something and closed it again.
She cleared her throat. “What do you think your parents would say if I wrote them a check to help pay off that loan?”
Molly’s eyes widened. “Oh. Well, I don’t know, but Mrs. — I mean, Cecily, it’s a lot of money and —”
Cecily waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Money isn’t an issue.” She was playing with her necklace, sliding the charm up and down the chain. “Would they feel like it was charity if I wrote them a check? They’re hard workers. Maybe they wouldn’t want to feel like someone was pitying them. I don’t want them to feel that way. It’s just —”
Cecily took a step forward, pressed the charm against her bottom lip, and tilted her head, narrowing her eyes. “I wasn’t a very good mother, Molly. I’m sure you’ve heard that from Alex.”
Molly didn’t know how to answer so she didn’t. She simply watched Cecily as she turned her head to watch the sunset.
“It’s okay,” Cecily said without looking at her. “You don’t have to tell me. I know.” She turned her head to look at Molly again. “I can’t give Alex back all those years where I wasn’t who I should have been to him. I think at this point saying ‘I’m sorry’ would sound hollow and cold somehow. The only way I’ve ever known how to show my boys I care about them is to buy them things.” A slight smile tugged at one side of her mouth. “Sad, I know.”
She shook her head slightly and smoothed her hands down her skirt. “I know I can’t buy Alex’s love, but he loves this farm. He loves your parents and brother, and from watching how he looked at you yesterday, I can tell he loves you too. If helping your family will help Alex be happy then it’s what I want to do.”
Molly took a deep breath. She was afraid to say anything that might offend this woman she barely knew but she still felt it needed to be said. “Cecily, as much as that money would help my family, I really believe Alex needs to hear from you that you care about him. That’s what he needs.”
Cecily looked down at her pink high heels, twisted the tip of one in the dirt, and laughed softly. “It sounds so easy when you say it.” She drew in a deep breath and hugged her arms tight around herself. “Maybe I’ll try that, but until then will you talk to your mother? Ask her if she’ll allow me to help.”
Molly smiled, pushing a strand out of her face as a breeze blew at it. “I’ll ask.”
Cecily rubbed her arms against the cold. “Thank you.”
She started to turn toward her car, wind whipping at her hair. Molly had already been bold when she told this woman she barely knew that she needed to talk to her son, so she decided to be bold again.
“Would you like to stay for lunch?”
Cecily turned back toward her.
“I was just going to cook some chicken for me and Alex,” Molly said. “and bring my grandmother down to eat with us. Why don’t you stay?”
Cecily chewed on her lower lip for a moment, then released it. “Thank you, Molly, but I think I’d better get on the road.” She opened the driver side door, then paused, holding on to it and looking over the edge. “Tell Alex I said good-bye and I’ll be in touch.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to wait for him?”
Cecily shook her head. “No. That’s fine. I think he’s happier when I’m not around.”
When the door to the car closed, Molly felt the heaviness of a family’s brokenness in Cecily’s words. Her family life had been so much different than Alex’s. Her relationship with her parents was so much different. She couldn’t help but feel guilt that she had been given two parents who loved her and loved each other.
While she’d heard the stories about Alex’s mother, she now saw a reason for the walls Alex had built around himself, for the destructive behavior he had engaged in to try to forget it all. She’d sensed a sadness in Alex for as long as she’d known him, but now she had seen that same sadness behind the eyes of the woman who had given birth to him, a woman that Molly had a feeling wanted a real relationship with her son, but didn’t know how to make it happen.
Walt sipped coffee from the mug and let out a long sigh.
“Now that was definitely needed,” he said with a contented smile. “That’s good coffee, Molly. Not as good as mine, but good nonetheless.”
Molly chuckled. “Your coffee tastes like tar, Uncle Walt. Anything has to be better than that.”
Walt gasped in mock shock. “Molly Tanner. How could you? I’m your favorite uncle.”
Bert rolled his eyes and laughed. “Yeah, right. You know I’m her favorite uncle.”
“Boys. Boys. Settle down.” Hannah sat across from Molly with her own cup of coffee. “We all know she loves both of you.” She stirred cream and sugar into her coffee and sipped it. “But she loves me more.”
Franny, sipping tea instead of coffee, raised a mischievous eyebrow. “And she loves me more than all of you, so that settles that.” She winked at Molly who laughed and took her hand, squeezing it gently.
“I love all of you,” Molly said. “Now, what is this meeting all about?”
Leaning back against the kitchen counter, Alex folded his arms across his chest and watched the exchanges with what looked to Molly like an amused expression. She poured creamer in her coffee and leaned back in the chair, looking at Walt.
“It is about some ideas your aunts and I have had about how to keep our farms, the store, and Tanner Enterprises as a whole making us a profit,” Walt said, rubbing his chin, his elbow propped on the table. “I mentioned some of this to Annie last night when she called, and she said she was on board with it but wanted us to discuss it all together as a group.”
The only one who wasn’t there was Walt’s wife, who was manning the store with Ellie while they were all at Robert and Annie’s farm, and Jason who was returning the next day.
“There’s a young kid in the next county over who mentioned to me at one of the 4H shows that his younger brother has a milk allergy,” Walt continued. “He’s allergic to the protein. While doing some research about milk allergies for a school paper, this kid found out about something called A2 milk, which I had briefly heard about at one point. Some Jersey cows produce this A2 milk, which is apparently easier for some people to digest. The kid said a simple genetic test using the hair of the cow can help determine if a cow produces A2 milk or not. It could be an expensive endeavor to start, but if some of our cows produce this milk, it could be another revenue source for the store.”
Hannah nodded. “There are a lot of people out there who are sensitive to dairy but who would still like the health benefit of milk. We have people who mention their sensitivity to dairy a lot in the store. This could help them and us.”
Molly and Alex listened as her aunt detailed additional ideas for the country store, including items to add to the café she had already suggested they add.
“We thought an indoor patio near the greenhouse would be a nice addition,” she said. “That might not come right away, of course. We have to see if the café takes off first.”
Walt looked between Molly and Alex. “We wanted to discuss all of this with you two because we’d love for Molly to help with the advertising and promotion, maybe by starting one of those things on the internet.” He looked at Hannah. “What did you call it again?”
Hannah rolled her eyes. “Really, Walt. You need to move into the 21st century.” She winked at him and looked at Molly. “A website and a blog. I know you’re good at writing and thought that might be up your alley.”
Walt looked at Alex. “And Alex, we’re hoping that you’ll stay on and help us with the construction of a new milking station for the A2 cows, if we have any, and maybe in the future a bottling plant. We think you could run it. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, a lot of drive, and from what I can see, you really care about this farm.” He paused a moment, rubbed his stubbled chin. “So, what do you think? Will you stay on? Help us out?”
Molly’s eyes moved to Alex and she drew in a slow breath, holding it, waiting for his answer. She didn’t have to wait long.
“Yes, sir. I’d be glad to stay on.”
She let her breath escape slowly.
Walt smirked. “I’m sure my having a pretty niece is a good incentive to stay, eh?”
Alex laughed, looked at the ground and rubbed the back of his neck.
Was he actually blushing? Molly smothered a smile behind her hand.
He looked up, caught her eye, held her gaze. “It certainly is, Walt. It certainly is.”
Hannah smiled at Molly. “So, Molly, what do you think? Is this something you’d be interested in as well?”
“It is,” Molly said. “The only thing we have to do now is sell the idea to Dad.”
Everyone nodded, a somber tone settling over them.
“Don’t worry,” Franny said finally. “I’ll make him see the positives of it. I’m his mother, after all. He has to listen to his mother, right?”
Everyone agreed, but Molly knew they were all hoping they’d have a chance to pitch their idea to Robert, that he’d wake up again so they could.