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 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 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 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.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 37

After beginning the tweaking process for the final draft of The Farmer’s Daughter (still rewriting, etc.), I now know it will not be a full 37 chapters. That seems like too many chapters to me somehow, but I guess it doesn’t matter if those chapters are short. Who knows!

I have ideas rolling around in my head for the next installment in the Tanner family’s saga, mainly about Jason, which I know some of you wanted to know the outcome of.

I posted Chapter 36 of the story yesterday and you can catch up on anything you missed HERE.

For those who have been reading along, how do you think the book should end? I have ideas, have already written an ending, but I’m not sure I’ll keep it or not. I want it to lead into the other books, but I’m not really sure how to do that yet. Let me know of ideas on how to, or of some good book series you’ve read that do so!


“Mom?”

Annie’s eyes were red-rimmed, her face streaked with tears. Alex had never seen Annie in such rough shape, and it rattled him. She was trembling as he helped her to her feet.

“What happened?” He heard the fear in Molly’s voice.

“I — Robert — your dad —”

Annie shook her head. She couldn’t seem to form words. Alex wanted to shake her out of it and hug her at the same time. Thankfully Molly was there so he didn’t have to figure out how to handle the situation his own.

She quickly pulled her mother into an embrace.

“Your dad was having a seizure and they rushed me out. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Alex looked at the closed hospital room door, turning his gaze away from the heart wrenching scene in the hallway. His limbs had gone cold and his chest was constricting with panic. He listened to the sound of Annie crying and silently cursed the direction this was all taking. Robert was supposed to be getting better, not worse.

He leaned back against the hallway wall and slid his hands in his pockets, unsure what he could do to help comfort the women holding each other in front of him. He wasn’t good at comforting. He never had been.

It seemed like hours before the hospital room door opened, but really it had only been fifteen minutes since he and Molly had arrived.

A disheveled looking doctor with graying hair stepped out of the room and dragged a hand across the back of his neck. “Mrs. Tanner?”

Annie had pulled out of Molly’s arms. She nodded weakly.

“Your husband has had a scare, but he’s stable now. We think he had a reaction to one of the medications we were using to keep his blood from clotting. We’ve stopped that medication and will see how he is in a couple of hours. For now, though, he’s not seizing, and his breathing and heart rate are normal. The only not so good news is that although his brain waves are normal, we won’t know for sure how the stroke affected him cognitively until he comes out of the coma.”

Annie pressed her hand to her mouth, tears flowing freely.

“So, this wasn’t another stroke?” Molly asked.

The doctor shook his head. “No. Thankfully, not.” He gestured toward the door. “You’re welcome to go back in. I’ll be back to check on him before I leave for the day.”

Annie nodded, her face streaked with tears. “Thank you.”

The doctor nodded in return, his smile slight, revealing exhaustion.

Alex waited until Molly and Annie walked inside and then followed them, sitting on the other side of the room as they approached the bed. Annie slid her hand under one of Robert’s  and Molly held the other. A half an hour later, after the women talked, cried, and talked some more, Alex decided they needed a break. He stood, laying his hand against Molly’s back.

“You two need some lunch. Go. I’ll stay with Robert.”

“I appreciate that but —”

He interrupted Annie. “Go. You’ll be no good to him if you collapse.”

She nodded, a faint smile crossing her worn expression. Her hand against his face was warm. “Thank you, Alex. I’m so glad you’re here.”

She hugged him briefly before she and Molly walked into the hallway. Her tenderness toward him was something foreign to him in some ways, after growing up in a family that rarely showed affection, but it was also familiar in that it was how Annie had always shown him love.

Alex pulled the chair closer to the bed, sitting and leaning back. He stretched his legs out in front of him, pulling his hat down across his face, and folding his hands across his stomach. He didn’t feel like praying again. He wasn’t sure prayers worked. Instead, he was going to take the time to at least try to calm his racing thoughts and hope that Robert would pull through all of this and be the same, good man he’d been before.

***

The sound of choking, coughing, and gagging woke Alex. He hadn’t expected to fall asleep in the chair, but he also hadn’t expected to wake up to find three nurses around the bed, leaning over Robert, comforting him.

“It’s okay, Mr. Tanner.”

 “You’re in the hospital.”

“You’ve been in a coma.”

“You might feel funny because we’ve had you on some medicine.”

“Your throat might be sore because we had you intubated part of the time.”

“Don’t try to get up, sir.”

Alex stood, looking over one of the nurse’s shoulders so Robert could see him. Robert’s body stilled, his breathing slowing.  The nurse stepped aside so Alex could stand closer to the bed.

He looked down into glazed eyes not sure if they were seeing anything or not.

“Hey.”

Robert swallowed hard, closed his eyes briefly, opened them again.

 “Hey.”

Robert’s voice was raw, barely above a whisper.

Emotion clutched at Alex’s throat and moisture spread across his eyes.

“You would pick a time when Annie isn’t here to wake up, wouldn’t you?”

A faint smile tilted one corner of Robert’s mouth upward.

“You —” He swallowed hard. Tried again. “You  . . .take  . . care of . . .” His voice was halting. “My girls?”

“As much as they would let me, sir. You have some stubborn, independent women in your life.”

The faint smile again, eyes drifting closed again. “Take care of Annie and Molly.”

Alex scoffed. “You’re going to take care of them. You’re awake. That’s a good sign.”

Robert closed his eyes and then opened them again. Alex could tell he was fighting to keep them open.

“I’ll take care of Annie,” he whispered, reaching out and grasping Alex’s forearm. His grasp was stronger than Alex expected. “You take care of Molly.”

As emotion threatened to spill over, Alex knew he had to pull his gaze away, get one of the nurse’s attention, break the moment. “His wife and daughter are in the cafeteria – they need to know he’s awake. Can you stay with him while I —”

“I’ll find them,” the nurse said. “I’m sure he’d rather have his son here with him.”

Alex shook his head. “No, I’m not his son. I’m just —”

“Like a son.” Alex looked back at Robert saw him watching him, felt his hand squeezing his forearm. He managed a slight nod of his head. “Like a son.”

Alex pinched the bridge of his nose between his finger and thumb and closed his eyes tight against the tears. He fought the emotion hard, but a tear managed to slip through, down his cheek and dripped on to his coat sleeve.

He glanced at Robert, saw his eyes were still open, still watching him, his smile faint but widening.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 36

We are winding down to the end of The Farmer’s Daughter. I’ve been sharing chapters here since April and I’m in the middle of edits, revisions, rewrites and all that jazz. I finished the book last week, but I am still reworking chapters and scenes and trying to decide what I need to add and remove.

As always, this is a work in progress and there could be typos, plot holes, etc. Please feel free to tell me about them in the comment section or by using the contact form. This is a chapter I will definitely be working on because I didn’t get the chance to read and edit again like I normally try to do before I post it.

You can catch up with the rest of the story HERE or at the link at the top of the page. If you are new here, you can read an excerpt of my novel A New Beginning here or an excerpt of Rekindle here.




Chapter 36

Annie ran her fingertips along the veins on the back of Robert’s hand. Up and down. Back down to his fingertips, sliding her hand under his and intertwining her fingers with his.

Lifting his hand, she pressed the back of it against her cheek, closed her eyes, and remembered their wedding night and so many nights afterwards when his hands had gently caressed her skin. She thought of the many times his hands had cradled her face, stroked her hair when she cried, clasped her hands as she prayed.

“I don’t know how to help her, Robert,” she’d whispered one night two weeks ago as they laid in bed. “She’s restless. I think she wants to see if there is a life for her off the farm, but this is all she’s ever known. Part of me wants to shove her out the door and say ‘go find what’s out there for you’ and part of me wants to hold on to her.”

He’d kissed her forehead and nodded. “I know. I feel the same way. I even hinted to her that it’s okay to leave if she wants to. I can’t imagine waking up and not seeing her at the breakfast table, but maybe she does need to explore a life away from here.”

Annie had sighed and intertwined her fingers with his, the same way she was now. “And then there is Jason and Ellie . . .”

Robert had laughed softly. “Annie, you can’t stay up all night worrying about our adult children. We can’t fix everything for them. They have to do some of it themselves.”

Annie had sighed and closed her eyes against the moonlight spilling in from the bedroom window. “I know,” she whispered. “I know. But what do you think happened between them that they’re not talking?”

Robert rubbed her arm gently and kissed her forehead one more time. “Go to bed, Annie.”

She wondered if these hands, laying here now, so still, would ever do those things again, touch her, comfort her. What would she do without him if he didn’t pull out of this? Never before had she so clearly understood the pain her mother-in-law had faced a year ago as she held her husband’s hand, begging God not to take him home.

“Not yet,” Franny had said, tears in her eyes. “Not yet, Lord.”

And now Annie was saying the same, praying for a man in the prime of his life, who had so many years ahead of him, who meant the world to her.

“Not yet, God, please. Not yet.”

She laid her head against Robert’s hand clutched in hers and closed her eyes, the tears falling freely. Her head jerked up fast seconds later at the garbled sound of choking.

At the sight of Robert’s body convulsing, his muscles tightening like a rope being yanked hard upwards, she cried out and stood from the bed, letting go of his hand. His body stiffened, then convulsed again.

“Oh God. No.”

 Two hands gripped her shoulders, pulled her back away from the bed, let her go. A nurse stepped around her swiftly; the nurse who a few moments ago had been on the other side of the room filling out paperwork. The young woman’s hand moved expertly, pushed a button then grabbed Robert by both arms, holding him down against the bed.

In minutes the room became a blur of blue and green, nurses and doctors, pushing past her, reaching, mashing buttons, leaning over her husband, calling out words and terms she didn’t understand.

She clutched her shirt at her chest, backed against the wall and stared in horror at it all. Wild beeps blistered her ears then a long beep that bore its way into her mind.

“Clear!”

Her heart raced at the word, bile rose in her throat, cold shivered through her.

“Oh God,” she whispered. She slammed her back against the wall, sliding down it, darkness drifting across her vision, her world falling apart around her.

“Oh God. God help him.”

***

They were in Alex’s truck for the drive to the hospital this time and Molly was looking at  a stack of country music CDs and a container of toothpicks in the console.  She flipped through the CDs and pulled out George Straight.

“Mind if I put this one in?”

He leaned back in the seat, draped one arm over the steering wheel, the other over the back of the seat as he settled into the groove of the 65 mph speed limit. “Not at all.”

It had been a month since Robert had fallen into the coma, a little less since Alex’s mom had visited. Molly hadn’t asked about their conversations and Alex hadn’t offered.

They had both spent their time working on the farm, at the country store, and discussing Walt and Hannah’s ideas with Jason when he’d come home from the hospital after spending almost a week staying at a nearby hospital with Annie. Jason had stayed home this time, promising Molly he would find time to work things out with Ellie, straighten out whatever he had broken.

Molly had made a promise of her own to Liz. When Robert came home, Molly would move into an apartment with Liz, to offer support and be there when the baby was born.

“If Dad comes home —” Molly had started.

“Not “if”, Molly,” Liz had said. “When.”

“Yes,” Molly said. “When.”

They were half an hour from the hospital now.

A smile tugged at the corner of Alex’s mouth as George’s smooth tone drifted from the speakers.

“What’s that smile for?”                                

He shook his head. “Just thinking about how this song makes me think of you.”

Warmth rushed through the center of her chest. “Really?”

He kept his eyes on the road, but he was smiling. “Sure. A goodbye kiss is all I need from you.” He glanced at her. “And a hello one for that matter.”

She looked out the front windshield, a shy smile crossing her face, unsure how to take him sharing with her that certain songs made him think of her.

“Did you listen to country before you came here?”

He shook his head, smiling. “No. Never. I used to go in my room and blast Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, or anything else that was loud and could block out my parents and later my thoughts.”

Molly stretched her legs out in front of her and settled back against the seat, enjoying learning more about him, the sound of his voice. “What made you start listening to country?”

“If you remember, I had to listen to it.” He grinned. “It’s all you guys every played in the barn. Eventually, though, it grew on me. The lyrics spoke to me about things I’d always wanted but never had and started wondering if I could have.”

Molly laughed. “Women in Daisy Dukes in the back of a pick-up with a keg of beer?”

Alex tipped his head back and laughed. “No. I’d had some of that before.” Red spread across his cheeks and he cleared his throat. “All that wasn’t what I really wanted or needed. It was the other kind of country songs that caught my attention. The ones about the land, small towns, good people, and,” he reached over and took her hand in his, brought it to his mouth and kissed the back of it. “A good woman.”

Molly’s heartrate increased, watching him as he watched the road, starting to believe that he truly meant what he was saying, which was both thrilling and terrifying.

Silence settled over them for a few moments, the sound of the tires on the highway the only sound. 

He broke the silence first. “You know something else?” He rubbed the top her hand with his thumb. “Your dad has been more of a father to me than my dad ever was.”

He looked in the side mirror, pulled into the other lane. His smile faded and a distant expression crossed his face. “When mom was here, she told me my dad has cancer.”

Molly’s eyebrow furrowed in concern, even though he didn’t exactly seem upset. His tone was neutral, more matter-of-fact than anything else.

“You okay?”

 “Oddly, yeah.” He pulled into the other lane, both hands on the wheel. “I mean I should be sad or worried, right? But I don’t feel anything. I’m not worried about him or sad or angry or . . .” He paused and looked at her again, frowning briefly, shrugging. “Well, anything. It’s normal for there to be some kind of drama with my dad. This is just another time I’m supposed to care, but don’t.”

Molly had never not cared about her dad, but in Alex’s case she could understand why he found it hard to care for the man who had essentially abandoned his wife and children. Still, finding out his father had cancer had to have been a shock.

 “I know.” Alex shook his head. “It’s not normal not to care when you find out your dad has cancer. I probably need some kind of therapy.”

Molly laid her hand against his upper arm. “Therapy may be in order someday, yes, but a brain can only process so much and you’ve had a lot happen in a short time. Cut yourself some slack.”

Looking up at the exit sign for the hospital, Alex blew out a breath. “Yeah. I’ll try. One good thing is that they caught it early from what Sam said. The doctors are optimistic that he’ll beat it.”

Molly moved closer as he pulled into a parking space, kissing his cheek as he pushed the truck into park. “I’ll be here if you need me, okay?”

He smiled and kissed her briefly on the mouth. “I know. Thank you.” He tilted his head toward the door. “Come on. Enough about my dad. Let’s head in and check on yours.”

Molly walked into the hospital, hopeful her mom would tell her good news but when she saw her mom sitting on the floor in the hallway, her legs hugged to her chest, her forehead on her knees, she knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 35


Welcome to a special Fiction Saturday and another chapter of The Farmer’s Daughter. If you want to catch up on the rest of the story click HERE. I posted Chapter 34 yesterday.



Chapter 35
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.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 34

This week’s chapter is a little bit longer. The chapters in the final book will probably be longer than what I usually post here, which will reduce the number of chapters in the final book. Also, for those who have been following this story for awhile, you might be wondering what will happen with Jason and Ellie. I haven’t forgot that I need to finish that part of the story and will add it as a separate part at some point in the future. Honestly, I’ve been so focused on finishing the storyline with Robert, Alex, and Molly, that I haven’t gone back to decide what will happen with Jason and Ellie. I’ll keep you updated, in other words.

To catch up with the rest of this story click HERE or find the link at the top of the page.

To pick up a copy of my other books see the link at the top of the page under “Books for Sale.”


Chapter 34

Cecily Madigan Burke stepped inside the Tanner’s farmhouse with two swift, long steps, paused in the living room, and slowly slid her sunglasses off, taking it all in.

Alex could only imagine what she was thinking as she looked around at the walls covered in family photos, at the comfortable couches and chairs, the woodstove, and the cozy farmhouse kitchen. It was nothing like her three story, 10-bedroom mansion in the Baltimore suburbs. Unlike the Tanner’s house, nothing about where she lived felt like a home.

“Mom.” He snapped his fingers in front of her face. “What are you doing here?

She huffed a breath out and propped a hand on her hip. “What am I doing here? I had to hear about my own son being injured from his best friend instead of him and he asks what I’m doing here?”

“Mom, I’m fine —”

“You’re fine? Really? You don’t look fine. You’re all bandaged up and bruised. You wouldn’t answer my phone calls, so I finally called Jason.”

In one quick movement Cecily swung around to look at Molly who was still standing in the doorway with a stunned expression.

Cecily tipped her head to one side, lips pursed, and stuck her hand out. “Hello. I’m Cecily, Alex’s mom. Apparently, my son isn’t going to introduce us.”

Alex sighed and shoved one hand in his front jean pocket and gestured between his mom and Molly with the other. “Mom, this is Molly. Molly, this is mom.”

He tipped his head at his mom and raised an eyebrow as Molly took her hand. “Happy?”

“Nice to meet you,” Molly said quickly, apparently still trying to recover from Cecily’s sudden appearance.

Cecily let her hand drop, pursed her lips, and studied Molly, looking her up and down. “Ah, yes. Jason’s sister. Alex has mentioned you.”

Alex noticed his mom didn’t tell Molly it was nice to meet her too.

“Molly’s my girlfriend, Mom.”

Cecily looked Molly up and down again, slower this time, her cheeks sucked in slightly. “Oh. Well, okay. That’s different. You usually date tall, leggy blonds.”

Alex rubbed a hand across his eyes, closed them, and pinched his nose between his finger and thumb. “Mom, how did you find me?”

Cecily slid her jacket off and sat on the couch, crossing one leg over the other. “I know how to use the internet, Alex. I’m not a total moron. I just punched in the Tanner’s address, told Harold to put the directions into the Jags GPS, and here I am.”

Harold? Really? Apparently his mom had claimed his stepdad’s assistant as her own.

Alex scoffed. “You drove here alone? You?”

Cecily raised an eyebrow and narrowed her eyes. “Yes, Alex. All by my little ole’ self. Now, are you going to tell me what happened?” She glanced at Molly. “Or am I going to have to ask Molly here what happened?”

Alex tried to suck in the exasperated breath quietly but failed. “I got hurt trying to lift a tractor off Robert. He’s in critical condition. I’m fine. Just a few stitches.”

For the first time, Cecily’s tense demeanor faded. Her eyebrows lifted and her mouth fell open slightly. “A tractor fell on Robert? Are you serious?”

She swung her head to look at Molly. “Is your father okay?”

Molly looked startled at having the attention turned to her so quickly. She glanced at Alex then back to Cecily. “Oh. Well.” She started to stammer. Watching his mother unnerve someone wasn’t a new thing for Alex, but he didn’t like that Molly was his mother’s target this time.

“I – I’m not sure,” Molly choked out. “He had surgery yesterday for a broken leg and cracked pelvis and, um, well, during surgery he had a small stroke so he’s in a coma right now.”

Cecily looked genuinely concerned and that surprised Alex. “Oh my. I had no idea.” She smoothed her hand across her pleated pants and cleared her throat. “I’m so sorry. Alex speaks very highly of your father. Much more highly than he does of his own father but then, I can’t blame him for that, of course.”

Alex exchanged a look with Molly and rolled his eyes.

“Can I get you something to drink or eat, Mrs. Burke?” Molly asked.

“Call me Cecily, please. I’ve never been good at being a Mrs. Not with Alex’s dad and not now. And I’d love a glass of water with a splash of lemon if you have it.”

Molly smiled as Alex flashed a look of annoyance at his mom behind her back. “We definitely have that. I love a splash of lemon in my water myself.”

Cecily watched Molly walk into the kitchen and then looked at Alex. “You ignored my calls.”

“I had a lot going on.”

“You ignored Sam’s calls too.”

“Like I said —”

His mom waved her hand dismissively. “I know. You had a lot going on.” She leaned back on the couch. “Did you ever call Sam back?”

“No. I’ll call him later.”

She cocked an eyebrow. He hated when she cocked an eyebrow. “So, you don’t have any idea what’s going on?”

Alex shook his head. “No. Is something going on?”

Cecily accepted the glass of water from Molly and took a sip. “That’s good water. Very fresh. Thank you, dear.”

Molly stepped toward the door. “Listen, I’m going to head out to the barn to check on Uncle Walt. You catch up with your mom, okay? So nice to meet you, Mrs. —”

Cecily raised her hand and shook her head. “Again, please, Cecily is fine.”

“Nice to meet you, Cecily,” Molly said.

Alex looked over his mom’s head and mouthed, “Don’t leave me.”

 “Good luck,” she mouthed back with raised eyebrows.

Cecily sat on the couch patting the cushion next to her as the front door closed. “Sit, Alex. We need to talk.”

***

Alex looked sore and beat down as he walked toward the barn from the house. Molly had watched his mom drive away in her silver Jaguar about ten minutes earlier and she wondered if it was his side that was making him walk slowly, or the conversation with Cecily.

“You okay?”

He nodded. “Yep.”

He kept walking toward the stalls, pushing his hands back through his hair and clutching it there for a moment before he reached for a shovel.

“Maybe you should just rest today.”

“Too much work to be done.”

“Uncle Walt and Hannah are here. Troy too.”

He shook his head as he reached for a shovel. “I need to keep my mind off things. This will help.”

She didn’t want to push for information about what all he needed to keep his mind off of. Was it just her dad or was it whatever his mom had talked to him about?

 She knew he’d share when he was ready.

Or he wouldn’t.

 It was up to him.

“Is your mom driving back to Baltimore already? I could have made up the spare room for her.”

Alex pushed the shovel gently between the cow’s hooves, scooping manure and hay. “Actually, she’s going to stay overnight at that bed and breakfast in town. I forgot the name.”

“The Lavender Inn?”

“Yeah. That one. I’m not sure it will be up to her standard of living, but I’m sure she’ll whip them into shape in no time.”

Molly stuffed her hands deep into her coat pocket. “I’m going to head out to the store, see if they need anything there.” She kicked at the dirt with the tip of her boot. “Do you need anything?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

She turned, leaving him in the barn, working and clearly not interested in talking about his mother’s visit.

On her way to the store she called Liz to update her. After she’d filled her in on her dad and Alex’s condition, she decided to tell her about Alex’s morphine-induced rambling.

“Whoa.” Liz blew out a long whistle. “That’s a Hallmark movie moment right there.”

 “I’m starting to think he was pranking me,” Molly responded. “Maybe he wasn’t as out of it as I thought.”

Liz laughed. “I doubt it. Has he said anything since then?”

“No. I don’t think he remembers anything after those painkillers kicked in.”

Molly heard her friend sigh on the other end of the phone. “Molly, why don’t you think Alex could really feel that way about you?”

Molly paused at a four way stop, empty fields on either side of her and a red, paint-chipped barn in front of her. Her chest constricted. She didn’t want to answer the question.

“Molly?”

“Yeah.”

“I knew you were still there. You hadn’t had time to hit that dead spot yet,” Liz said. “Listen, I’m going to tell you something that you would tell me if the situation was switched. You need to start believing Alex really loves you. I’m your best friend and I know you think that you aren’t pretty enough or good enough or whatever enough for a good-looking guy to be in love with you, but you are, Mol. You’re way too focused on your weight and it’s obvious Alex isn’t. He loves you for you.”

Molly pulled her lower lip between her teeth and left it there while she turned toward the main road into Spencer. All the doubt about anyone loving her even though she wasn’t a size four wasn’t going to disappear with a simple pep talk from Liz, but she knew her friend meant well, and she knew she needed to work on believing that Alex truly loved her, despite the flaws she saw in herself.

“You know,” she said finally. “I have a feeling that I’ll be saying something similar to you one day, Liz. Like how you seem to think you’re not worthy of happiness because of your past mistakes or —”

Liz hissed out a few breaths to mimic static. “What’s that? Molly, you still there? I think I’m losing you. Did you hit that dead spot?”

“Very funny, Liz. I am actually almost at that dip. I’ll call you later and we will finish this conversation.”

Molly shook her head as she pushed off on the phone and laid it in the seat next to her. Liz was right. She needed to accept that Alex really loved her, but she had doubted her worth for so long she didn’t know how to break out of the pattern. It was something she couldn’t do alone, she knew that. It was also something that wouldn’t come over night, no matter how much she wanted it to.

Her thoughts drifted from Alex to her dad as she hit the main road to head to the store.

Jason had texted her while she’d been in the shower. There was no change in her dad’s condition, and she couldn’t help wonder if there ever would be. Would he ever come home and if he did, would he be the same man he’d been before the accident?

***

Alex had been looking forward to another night with Molly, but she’d chosen to spend the night with her grandmother, who was having a tough time after losing her husband only a year and a half ago and now her son being in critical condition.

He knew it was the right thing for her to do, not only so she could be with Franny, but to remove the temptation that would come if they were alone again. With her trying to distract herself from worrying about her dad and him trying not to think about his dad or how his mom was staying at an inn 15 minutes down the road, they were both in dangerously vulnerable emotional spaces in their minds. That vulnerable mental status could very well lead to a vulnerable physical status and he had committed to Molly, and himself, to not rushing things.

Now, instead of watching a movie with Molly, he was standing outside The Lavender Inn, scowling at the front door, dreading having another conversation with his mother and regretting he’d agreed to her request to take her he’d take her to dinner before she left for Baltimore in the morning.

At this point he wished he hadn’t decided to give up alcohol. He could certainly use a belt of something strong before he faced her again. He let out a long breath and took a step toward the front door, which opened quickly before he got there.

“There you are.” His mother swept past him wearing a puffy silver jacket, a pair of blue slacks, and pink high heels. “Does this town have any good restaurants or should we just swing by a convenience store and buy some packaged meat and cheese?”

Alex recognized the sweet smell that overtook his senses as his mom passed. It clearly wasn’t her perfume. She’d been drinking and by the way she was listing toward the left he had a feeling she’d worked her way through the mini-bar over the last several hours since she’d left the farm.

He pressed his hand against the truck door as she tried to open it. “I don’t think you’re in any shape to go out, Mom.”

She turned to look at him, scowling. “We’re going. We have a lot of things to talk about.”

“Like?”

Anger flashed in her eyes. “Like how you never talk to me.” She stepped toward him, speaking through clenched teeth. “Like how you blame me for your father leaving us.”

Alex rolled his eyes. He didn’t have the emotional reserve for this conversation after the week he’d had.

He grabbed his mother under her elbow and turned her toward the inn. “You’re drunk. Come on. You’re going back inside.”

She wrenched her arm out of his hand. “You!” She pointed at him and staggered backward. “You act like I’m – I’m too stupid to know that you and Sam hate me. You always hated me. After all I did for you!”

Alex put his hands on his hips and bit the inside of his lip to keep himself from causing any more of a scene than his mother already was. Thankfully no one was outside to see her. “We don’t hate you.” He grabbed her arm gently and pushed her toward the front door of the inn. “Come on. Let’s get you back to your room so you can rest. You need to sleep this off.”

She swung to face him, her face smeared with tears and mascara. “I did not drive your father away. I was never good enough for him. I wasn’t pretty enough. I was never skinny enough. I- I – I wasn’t strong enough or something and that’s why he left us for that woman and —”

Alex placed his hands on his mom’s upper arms and turned her toward him. “Dad left you because of his problems, Mom. It wasn’t something you did. Now come on. I’m taking you back to your room.”

Cecily nodded slowly, closing her eyes as the tears rolled down her cheeks. She slumped against Alex as he hooked an arm around her waist and led her back into the inn.

She fumbled in her purse for her key when they reached her room, swaying too much to slide it into the lock. Alex pushed it in for her and helped her into the dark room.

When she collapsed onto the bed, still crying, he saw for the first time his mother for what she was, maybe what she’d always been: a lost, confused, and betrayed woman who used her internal pain to lash out at others. He should have felt more compassion for her in that moment, but his emotional well was dry, especially for the woman who had never really been a mother to him.

He sat on the chair across from her as she sniffled and pulled the comforter up around her shoulders, not even bothering to slip off her designer boots. Leaning back, he watched her a few moments, until her sobbing quieted and her breathing fell into a rhythmic pattern.

He didn’t know how to feel about this latest breakdown. Mostly he felt annoyance, bordering on anger. He’d seen so many of these shows over the years, most of them fueled by too much alcohol, that he’d grown numb to them. Was it all an act this time too? Like all her other performances? A ploy for sympathy? Simply an opportunity to paint herself the victim again?

He didn’t know. Maybe this time there was sincerity in her tears. Sadly, he didn’t really care if there was.

Maybe there was some legit guilt on her part. He probably should have said even more, comforted her more, but he truly didn’t have it in him. He didn’t feel the compassion he knew he should feel for a woman who was obviously in search of reassurance that she wasn’t as bad as she thought she was. The problem was, he couldn’t lie and tell her she’d been an amazing mother. He couldn’t summon the tenderness a son should have for his mother. It simply wasn’t there. It had been drowned out by resentment and bitterness he knew he’d have to address one day.

As he left the room and the inn, climbing back into his truck, he knew one thing. He’d rather be cuddled up with Molly, instead of driving home on a cold autumn night, alone, thinking about how dysfunctional his family had been his whole life.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 33

Thank to you 21:25 books for the review of A New Beginning on her blog and then for her interview with me the following day.

This week there was a lot of thinking about this current book and what I want to happen and how I want it to end so that it will leave the door open for a continuing story of Molly and Alex, Liz, Ginny, Jason and Ellie, etc. I fall asleep dreaming about my characters and hoping by morning they will tell me which direction it all needs to go. The picture is definitely clearing up but I am already able to tell that there are some gaps in the story that still need to be filled in during revisions.

If you want to catch up with the rest of the story, you can do so HERE or by clicking the link at the top of the page.

As always, this is a novel in progress so there are bound to be typos, plot holes, etc. and you are welcome to let me know about them via the contact form or in the comments.


Molly closed her eyes against the darkness, the thrumming of tires on asphalt lulling her into a much needed sleep. When she woke up, Alex was parking the truck in the driveway and she was staring at the darkened windows of her parents’ house, a painful reminder that they weren’t there and her dad was in a coma at a hospital four hours away.

She wished she hadn’t agreed that she and Alex should come home and get some rest while Jason and her mom crashed at a hotel down the street from the hospital. Her world was upside down and she didn’t know if it would ever be right side up again.

“You going to be okay alone?”

She shook her head, still looking at the house.

Wiping her fingertips across the damp skin under her eyes she looked at him, his face barely lit by the light from the light pole next to the barn. “I really don’t think I can be here without them.”

She looked at the house again. “I’d stay with Liz but she’s still at her parents. I could crash at grandma’s, I guess.”

“You could, but I don’t know if the best thing for a woman Franny’s age is someone pounding on her door at midnight.”

Molly laughed softly. “Yeah. You’re probably right.”

“You want me to stay?” He shrugged a shoulder. “I can sleep on the couch.”

She knew she should say ‘no’. The idea of being alone with him when she felt so vulnerable scared her, but the idea of being in her parents’ house without them, alone with the thoughts that her dad might not ever come back here again, absolutely terrified her.

“Yes.”

She thought he might hesitate, but instead he jumped out, briskly walked to her side of the truck, and opened the door for her.

“Come on, then. We can do this.” He took her hand in his. “Together.”

Flicking on the lights in the house, they stood in the doorway frozen, as if they were both afraid to take a step inside.

He let out a breath. “Wow. I don’t like this at all.”

“Too quiet.”

“Much too quiet.”

They stood there for a few seconds longer and then he walked inside, snatched up the remote and turned on the TV. “That’s better. It’s not as quiet now.”

Molly laughed, wiping tears from her cheeks. “That works.” She stepped inside and tossed her jacket on the back of the couch, pushing the door closed behind her. “How about a snack and movie?”

She’d almost said, ‘before bed’, but that would have sounded wrong. So wrong. She was glad she hadn’t said it.

Alex flopped on the couch and propped his feet on the coffee table. “Absolutely.”

Molly looked at him with a mocking expression of disapproval.

“Do you seriously have your dirty boots on my mom’s coffee table?”

“Oh, crud.” He slid his feet back down again. He winced. “Don’t tell Annie.”

Molly laughed as she turned to walk back into the kitchen.

When they were sitting together on the couch a half an hour later, watching an old Humphry Bogart movie she’d suggested, a bowl of popcorn on her lap, she was definitely aware of how close he was, how warm his arm was against hers, but she was also bone tired.

She was thankful she was bone tired. Even if he had made a move, she wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it. As her eyelids grew heavy, she thought about their conversation on the way to the hospital and what he’d said when she’d been worried about paying off the loan.

“We’ll figure it out.”

She’d liked the way he’d said it, how it showed that he saw himself as part of the family. Five years ago, he’d walked into the barn for the first time, clean shaven, quiet and withdrawn. He’d had walls up she didn’t think would ever come down. They weren’t completely down, but they were falling piece by piece and she was grateful she was beginning to see sides of him she’d previously only seen glimpses of.  

Leaning her head against his shoulder she closed her eyes, drifting to sleep, the voices of Humphrey and Lauren Bacall fading in and out between images of the cows in the field, her dad laughing from the back of the tractor, and Alex’s smile the day he’d kissed her at the overlook.

***

Alex woke to the sound of the shower running upstairs and a cow mooing in the pasture behind the farmhouse. Sunlight poured in through the front windows and the small window in the front door. He grabbed at his side as he sat up, wincing in pain. He knew he had a bag of painkillers in the truck, but he was leery of taking them again considering the crazy trip they’d sent him on a couple of days before. He’d ask Molly if she had any Tylenol or Ibuprofen when she came down instead.

He kept his hand against his side as he limped toward the kitchen, hoping Molly wouldn’t mind if he made himself some coffee. In the kitchen, he found the coffee already brewing and a plate of eggs and bacon on the counter with a note next to it.

Eat. Don’t argue. You can have the shower next.

How had she woken up without him even knowing, brewing coffee and cooking breakfast to boot? He’d either been extremely tired or she’d been extremely quiet. Either way, he was grateful for the coffee and the food. It would help give him fuel for the day he had planned. He’d be late to the barn, but he had chores to do to keep his mind busy and make sure Walt and Hannah didn’t have too much extra work on them. There was a full staff willing to help, he knew that , but after five years of being Robert and Jason’s right hand man he didn’t want to let them down now when they needed him the most.

Sipping coffee hot and black a few moments later, he was suddenly struck with how domesticated this all felt. The woman he loved was upstairs in the shower and she’d made him breakfast. He was getting ready to start his workday and he wouldn’t be surprised if she followed him to the barn to work with him.

Was this how Robert and Annie felt? Like a team? Two people working toward the same goals – putting food on their table but also the tables of their employees and consumers.

He added cream and sugar to the coffee, sipping it as he wandered into the living room and looked at the photos on the wall, photos he’d seen before, but never really studied close.

There was Jason and his dad standing next to a cow with a number clipped on its’ ear and a ribbon around its’ neck. Jason was probably 12 and Alex guessed the competition to be related to 4-H. The next photo was Molly riding a bike on the dirt road outside the house, her dad behind her, balancing the bike with his hand. Her grin was mesmerizing, her beautiful curls trailing behind her, blowing in the wind. She was probably seven or eight

His eyes moved across the images, the moments and memories that made up a life of the family he’d fallen in love with. His gaze stopped at Robert and Annie’s wedding photo. He’d already been told they had married right after high school and Jason had been born a few months after Annie turned nineteen. He couldn’t imagine starting a family at such a young age.

 He could barely imagine starting one now at his age. Still, there were those images he’d had in his mind that night in the barn when he was kissing Molly. Those images of Molly holding a baby on her hip. Some part of him must have been able to imagine his future with children in it. His children. His and Molly’s children.

Seeing those visions that night had been one of the most surreal moments of his life. He had never experienced such a visceral moment with a woman and the experience had completely terrified him.

He didn’t intend to ever tell anyone what he’d seen so clearly in his mind’s eye..

Rubbing his hand across his face and the back of his neck, he hoped the coffee kicked in soon. In that brief moment as he sipped his coffee and heard the bathroom door open he pictured himself in the emergency room, hooked up to an IV, Molly next to him, her head bent down close to his. He almost choked on his coffee as the moment rushed back in sickening clarity.

He had told her about the visions. He remembered it now.

He shook his head, rubbed his hand across his mouth, down his chin.

No.

He must have dreamt it.

That painkiller had hit him hard.

He hadn’t known what was real and what wasn’t that night and he still wasn’t sure. He took a deep breath and let it out again.

Yes, it had been a dream. It had to have been.

 He hadn’t said anything to her. Right?

Molly stepped off the bottom step, her hair damp, her skin glowing, wearing a pair of jeans that fit her curvy figure perfectly and a clean, crisp flannel shirt that he knew meant she planned to head to the barn. He looked at her over the edge of the mug and tried to decide if he really had told Molly about seeing her with that baby on her hip, her parents in the backyard pushing a child on a tire swing and Ellie pregnant in the front yard, holding an apple pie. He was sure it would all come back to him over the next few days and until then he decided not to bring it up. It was too mortifying, too frightening to think that he might also have told her he knew he was going to marry her one day.

The key word was “one day.” What if she’d thought ‘one day’ meant today’?

She tilted her head to one side, narrowed her eyes. “You okay?”

“Hum?” He realized he was still staring at her, both hands cupped around the mug of coffee. He lowered the mug and smiled. “Oh yeah. I’m great. Thanks for breakfast and the coffee.” He gestured toward her. “Are you thinking of heading to the barn? I was going there myself after I clean up.”

“Yeah. I want to see if Uncle Walt needs any help.  Speaking of help, when you’re done washing up, I’ll help those bandages. The doctor said to change them once a day, remember?”

He shrugged. He hadn’t had time since he’d left the hospital. “I can handle it.”

A half an hour later, though, he was sitting in the living room shirtless embarrassed to admit to Molly he couldn’t get the bandage tapped to his back so it would cover the stitches which stretched from his stomach to around his side.

“It looks better than it did a couple of days ago,” she said after she’d pulled the old bandage off. “Did I tell you I almost passed out when they started to clean it out?”

He grinned. “No, you didn’t tell me that. A strong farm girl like you couldn’t handle the sight of blood?”

She didn’t smile when she lifted her head to look at him. “Not yours. No.”

He lifted his arm as she taped the bandage to his skin with the medical tape. Her damp curls grazed his cheek as she worked, and he breathed in deep the smell of her shampoo.

Was it wrong to kiss a woman when her dad was in critical condition in a hospital four hours away? He wasn’t sure but before he gave himself time to think about it, he kissed her cheek softly, hoping she’d turn her head so he could kiss her mouth next. She did and the kiss was sweet and long and enough to make him forget the events of the last few days, at least temporarily.

When she pulled her mouth away slowly several moments later her hands were in his hair, his hands were on her hips, he had pulled her against him, and they were both breathless. She slowly let his hair slide through her fingers as her hands fell to his bare shoulders and she leaned back to look at him.

“I’m going to tape the rest of this up and go check on Uncle Walt,” she said softly. “Because if I keep kissing you, we’re going to get into trouble.”

He smiled and nodded. “Understand.”

And truly, he did understand.

He tried to calm his racing heart as she finished with the bandage and then stepped away from him, turning to walk toward the front door.

“See you in the barn,” she called over her shoulder as he buttoned his shirt.

When she opened the door, though, she started and stepped back surprised to see an attractive blond woman in her mid-50s, wearing a pair of sunglasses, and a light pink suit coat and pants, standing there with her arms folded across her chest and dark red lips pursed together.

Alex, standing and buttoning his shirt, looked at the woman in surprise. “Mom?”