A Christmas in Spencer Valley: Beyond the Season Chapter 12

Here we are on the final chapter of our Christmas story! That means we are almost to Christmas! So exciting. Let me know in the comments what you thought of the story.

The story was shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but it will be fully edited once it is complete.

You can catch up on chapters HERE.

If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,

The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.

Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.

Chapter 12

The house smelled of frying bacon, brewing coffee, pancakes, and if he wasn’t mistaken, grits, something his family ate only on special occasions. It was a dish passed down my his mother’s Southern relatives.

Robert had talked Molly and Ellie into keeping Annie in the kitchen while he and Jason worked on installing the swing.

Hannah had brought Franny over and Walt and Marcia were on their way. Leon and Eleanor were driving from town.

A surge of energy rushed through Robert as they put the final touches on the swing. He stepped back when they were done and took a deep breath. Morning sunlight glistened off the silver of the new chain and the white surface of the swing seat.

Jason hung an arm loosely on his shoulder. “She’s going to love it, Dad. You did a beautiful job. Shall we go get some breakfast before we bring her out?”

Robert nodded. “Definitely. We need to get your grandmas here first. They’ll see it on the way in, so grab them if you can and tell them it’s a secret.”

“Will do.” Jason opened the front door. “But let’s see if we can help the women get the food done faster so we can eat.”

Neither of them was much help as they both picked at pieces of bacon but finally the table was set and everyone had arrived to gather for breakfast around the dining room table, which Robert had extended to fit them all.

Robert asked them all to take each other’s hands and they bowed their heads and thanked God for their time together, for his son, and Robert especially thanked God that he was still alive to be with his family.

“Amen,” Franny echoed as he finished the prayer. “That goes for me too.”

Everyone laughed and began to eat.

Nervous energy buzzed through Robert as breakfast began to wind down.

He took a deep breath. “Everyone, can I have your attention? I need to ask Annie to come outside with me for a few moments before we begin opening gifts.”

Walt chuckled. “Rob, can’t you wait to make out with your wife until later?”

Robert shook his head, a faint smile playing across his lips as he stood from the table and held his hand out to Annie. “No, sorry. I can’t.”

Annie gasped and playfully slapped his hand. “Robert Tanner! You stop. Now what’s going on?”

Robert gestured for the rest of the family to go out ahead of him and once they were on the porch and in the yard, he walked Annie onto the porch, hoping she wouldn’t peak through the front window. The gasp that slipped from her when she stepped through the door and saw the swing sent relief flooding through him.

“Oh my goodness! Is that our swing?” She placed a hand over her mouth, tears filling her eyes. Everyone in the family cheered and held up their phones to record the moment, something Robert still wasn’t used to. When she was able to speak again, her voice cracked with emotion. “This is beautiful. Did you do all of this?”

Robert gestured into the yard. “I refurbished it, but Brad helped get the parts, Jason helped with the painting and hanging it up and the rest of the family helped keep the secret when they saw it on their way in.”

Annie wiped tears away as she wrapped her arms around Robert’s neck and kissed him.

“Should Jase and I grab your gift, Annie?” Alex asked from where he was standing next to Molly on the porch.

Robert pulled back from the embrace, confusion etched on his face. “What’s all this?”

Annie smiled. “You weren’t the only one keeping a secret.”

Jason and Alex lifted a dark stained bench down from the back of Jason’s truck a few minutes later and carried it to the porch, placing it on the side opposite the swing.

Robert’s chest tightened as Annie’s hand slid down to his. She laughed. “Looks like we both had ideas for somewhere we can sit on the porch. When we get tired of swinging, we can sit on the bench.”

Robert walked to the bench, fingering the back of it. His throat thickened with emotion. “Is that –” His voice caught. “One of the pews that Dad made?”

Annie nodded. “Yes. Walt helped me refurbish it.”

A tear slipped down Robert’s cheek. “Thank you, honey.” He looked at his brother, while pulling Annie against him. “Thank you, Walt. This is beautiful.”

He sat down on the bench and took a deep breath, looking out at his family bundled up in winter coats, smiling back at him. Gratitude consumed him.

 After a few moments of watching them laugh and joke with each other he stood again. “If everyone wants to wait out here just a few more moments, I think Alex has a special gift he’d like to show Molly.”

The family all turned to Alex expectedly and Robert tried not to chuckle as pink flushed across the young man’s cheeks. It was clear what the family expected the gift to be, and Robert had a feeling they might be disappointed, but also delighted at what it really was.

“Take it away, Alex,” he said. “It’s your turn.”


“Close your eyes!”

Alex listened to Jason’s playful admonishment as he walked to Ned’s truck, parked behind the barn.   When he pulled the truck up in front of the house Jason had both of his hands over Molly’s eyes while they both laughed.

“Keep your eyes closed,” Jason taunted through a laugh.

“Okay, you can uncover them,” Alex said as he exited the truck and slammed the door behind him.

“Now?” Jason grinned while Molly tried to pull his hands away. “Are you sure?”

Molly clawed at Jason’s hands for a moment, then licked her palm and reached up to drag it across his cheek.

Jason removed his hands, jumping back, and rubbed at his cheek. “Ah man! You’re gross! What’s wrong with you?”

Molly’s laughter faded as her gaze fell on the truck. Her eyes moved slowly, taking it all in and then she drew in a ragged breath. Alex’s chest tightened when her expression crumpled, and the tears began to flow. He’d known she’d be emotional but had no idea the emotion would sweep over her so completely.

A collective “aw” went up from the women in the family. Alex hesitated then stepped closer cautiously. “Are you – is it, okay?”

She clutched at his shoulders and leaned into him, sobbing against his shirt. “Oh Alex, it’s beautiful. I can’t believe you did this.”

He slid his arms around her, choked up himself now. “Bert and I did. Jason helped too. And Brad drove three hours to get us the last part we needed.”

Looking on the porch and in the yard, he saw tears in the eyes of most of Molly’s family members, especially Franny and Robert. Bert gave him a thumbs up sign and Jason pointed a finger gun at him and pretended to fire.

“Do we seriously have to go back in the house and try to follow these show offs?” Walt asked loudly, bringing a round of laughter from the group. “I don’t think anything will top these gifts.”

As if on cue, the sound of sleighbells filled the air, and everyone turned toward the road. Alex shook his head and laughed as he watched Matt leading a horse-drawn sleigh across the freshly fallen snow, Liz sitting next to him in the seat.

The tension that had built up in Alex’s muscles released as he kept an arm around Molly while they watched the sleigh stop in front of the house. Sunlight glistened off the red paint and the silver of the runners on the bottom.

Matt pulled the reigns back quickly as the sleigh slowed. “Whoa!”

He grinned as he looked out at the crowd gathered in front of the house. “Hello, Tanners. I didn’t know we’d have a welcoming committee.” He winked at Alex. “Looks like you weren’t the only one with a big Christmas surprise.”

He stepped out of the sleigh and held a hand out to help Liz step down. Her dark hair had spread across her shoulders, flowing from a blue knitted cap.

Alex looked at the sleigh in awe. He ran his hand over the smooth curve of wood along the back of it. “This is the one your dad started, right?”

Matt looked at the sleigh proudly. “Yep. This is it. I finally decided to finish it, like Dad would have wanted.” He slid an arm around Liz’s shoulder. “Liz was very surprised when I told her we were going for a ride in something special.”

Alex watched as Matt quickly stepped away from Liz, turned toward her, and dropped to one knee, pulling a small box from his coat pocket. “I think this might surprise her even more, though.”

Liz and Molly gasped at the same time.

The next few minutes were a blur of activity. Liz crying and saying, ‘yes’, hugging Matt, them kissing, Molly hugging Liz, Annie hugging Liz, Robert shaking Matt’s hand, Alex shaking Matt’s hand, Jason shaking Matt’s hand  . . .Around they went.

After a few moments of congratulations, Matt said he should get the horses out of the cold and Robert offered the barn and invited him and Liz inside. The rest of the family turned to go back in the house, Liz talking to Ellie, showing her the ring.

Alex realized he had almost been holding his breath in all the excitement.

Molly leaned close to him as Matt began to unhook the horses. “I have to tell you, I was afraid you were going to do something like that today. I would have been so embarrassed.” She laughed softly, whispering. “Plus, proposals on Christmas day are so cliché, right? I’m thrilled for Liz, though.”

He hooked an arm around her waist. “Then I’m glad I didn’t have that in my bag of surprises today.” He kissed the top of her head. “Hey, I’m going to help Matt with the horses. I need to find out where he got them.”

She smiled. “See you inside then. I want to go get a look at that ring.”

Alex reached in his coat pocket for the gloves he’d been trying to wear more regularly now, knowing he’d need them to help Matt. When he yanked one out of his right pocket, a box tumbled out with it, clanking against the ice on the ground.

Panic surged through him, and he stooped quickly in case Molly turned around to see what the noise had been. While stooping, though, pain ripped through his lower back and left him down on one knee, cold seeping through his jeans. His foot slipped forward, kicking the box and sending it skittering across the ice, into Molly’s path.

It seemed like an eternity before she paused and looked at it, then bent and picked it up. She turned slowly. “Oh, Matt, I think you dropped your –”

Alex watched her gaze fall to him kneeling in front of her, color draining from her face. She took a step back, her lips parting slightly. “What are you – are you –?”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Robert, Matt, and Jason stop what they were doing and turn to look at him. His heart raced and he couldn’t feel his hands.

“Oh, Alex. I – I – I didn’t mean – I shouldn’t have said what I said about –”

He held up his hands. “Wait. Let me explain. It’s my back. It’s locked up. That box just fell out of my pocket, and I tried to get it but accidentally kicked it with my foot and now I’m stuck down here and . . .”

He couldn’t read Molly’s expression for a moment, but he thought he saw a flicker of disappointment before a smile replaced her shock. She laughed and reached out her hands. “Oh. I see. Let me help you up.” He stood slowly with a grimace, and she handed him the box. “I jumped the gun there. I’m so embarrassed. Here’s your box.” Her cheeks flushed pink. “Whatever it is. Anyhow, I’m so embarrassed. Really.”

As she turned to walk back into the house, a brilliant blaze of memories flicked across his mind at warp speed, all the moments between them rushing at him in a visual cacophony.

He stopped her, grabbing her wrist. “Molly, wait.”

Looking in her beautiful green eyes, he suddenly wanted to see the ring on her finger. The ring Franny had given him earlier that day.

The ring Ned had placed on Franny’s finger all those years ago. The ring Franny had told Alex two weeks ago she’d held on to for him, in case he decided he wanted to propose to Molly someday.

It wasn’t that he felt pressured to propose. Suddenly he wanted to propose. More than anything he’d wanted before. He wanted this ring on her finger and to soon have her arm looped through his as they walked down the aisle into a future they would experience together.

The memory of a dream he’d had years ago came flooding into his mind – a dream where he and Molly were outside Franny’s farmhouse, with children playing in the front yard on a swing set, and a baby on Molly’s hip.

He tried to speak but no sound came.

“Alex?” Molly reached up and touched his cheek. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t know if I’m ready,” he blurted. “I don’t know if you’re ready, but I know I love you and that I can’t see spending the rest of my life with anyone else. Honestly, this scares me out of my mind.” He shook his head and laughed, tears pricking his eyes as he opened the box with shaky hands. “This isn’t a very good proposal, I know, but it’s all I’ve got.”

Molly laughed through the tears, holding out her hand and letting him slip on the ring. “I’ll take what you’ve got, Alex Stone. Any day and any season.”


The creek of the swing and the tap of his foot on the porch floor broke the silence of the night. Robert and Annie’s breath sparkled in front of them, intermingled and dissipated again. In front of them, in the yard, snowflakes dotted the air, falling on snow that had already fallen in the days before.

He took a sip from the mug of cocoa in his hand and pulled his wife against him.

“The day worked out okay, didn’t it?”

She nodded and yawned. “It did.”

“Alex is going to be an official member of the family soon, it looks like.”

“It does.”

“Life is good Annie Tanner.”

“Life is good Robert Tanner.”

He clinked his mug against the one in her mitten-covered hands. “Here is to a new season of life. May it bring us much joy as this one has.”

A Christmas in Spencer: Beyond the Season Chapter 11

We are almost to the final day of this story! Isn’t that crazy?! That means we are almost to Christmas too! So exciting. What do you think will happen in the last chapter? Let me know in the comments!

Welcome to the eleventh chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but it will be fully edited once it is complete.

You can catch up on chapters HERE.

If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,

The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.

Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.

Chapter 11

Chaos reigned in the Tanner household the day before Christmas and Robert couldn’t wait to escape it. Six women were laughing, mixing, baking, bumping into each other and when he’d come into the house for lunch, they’d asked him to taste test three different kinds of cookies, which wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t needed to get back to the shed to finish the swing.

“Which one, Dad? The gingerbread or the molasses?”

“Um.” He spoke with a mouthful of cookie. “They’re both really good. I think we should have both.”

Liz laughed. “We’re going to cook both. Molly and I just want to know which one you liked better.”

He raised an eyebrow and looked between the two young women. “Is this some kind of competition? Because I don’t want to be the judge of some kind of competition between you two.”

Liz looked at him with wide, innocent eyes. “Robert, of course, this isn’t some kind of compe—”

“It’s totally a competition,” Molly said quickly. “And I’m your daughter so you’d better pick my cookie.”

The other women, which included his mother, his wife, Annie’s mother, Ellie, and his sister all laughed and gathered behind Molly and Liz, pausing in their work.

Robert’s gaze slid to the women, then back to Molly who had leveled a steady gaze on him, a small smile pulling at her mouth. He swallowed the bite of cookie. “I like them both. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

He quickly excused himself to the sound of laughter before any of the women could stop him, snatched his coat off the hanger by the back door, and headed out the door.

Alex was on his way to the house from the barn. Robert grabbed his arm gently. “You don’t want to go in there. It’s a madhouse.”

Alex’s brow dipped in concern as he looked from Robert to the backdoor. “What do  you mean?”

“There are a lot of women in there and they’ll try to make you taste test their food and then make you choose sides by saying which recipe is better.”

Alex grinned and gently removed Robert’s hand from his arm. “That sounds like heaven. See you in an hour.”

Robert shook his head and turned back to the barn. That young man would change his mind when two women watched him intently and waited for an answer. No man wanted to tell a woman that their recipe wasn’t as good as someone else’s.  Not if they knew what was good for them.

Brad had pulled through much to his and Alex’s relief, despite a two-day snowstorm that had delayed his trip until two days before Christmas.

Robert had put the bolts on the swing early that morning and Bert was finishing up the engine. Alex had finished the paint job and planned to pick up the truck the next morning.

 After Robert hooked on the chains, he and Jason would load the swing onto the back of the truck and drive it down to the house covered with a tarp so he could install the swing early Christmas morning. He’d enlisted Molly to keep Annie busy in the kitchen while he installed it.

After chores were completed in the barn and dinner was eaten in a kitchen now emptied of the fairer sex, Robert and Annie showered and dressed and drove to town for the Christmas Eve service. Alex, Molly, Jason, Ellie, Liz, Isabella, and Matt met them there, along with Matt’s mother, brother and sister, and Liz’s parents. Liz’s sister and family also attended, which marked the first time since they’d moved back to Spencer that they’d been able to attend a service as a family.

Robert slid his hand over Annie’s as the music began. The church was lit with candles lining the aisles and spread across the stage and altar up front. Wreathes of pine decorated the wall along the stage and behind the choir and the pastor.

Rush had been the word of the day for the last few weeks and now the entire family seemed to be taking a collective breath and letting the peace of the season seep into their souls, soothe aching muscles physically and worried hearts spiritually.

When the music started to signal that the cantata would begin soon, Robert’s shoulders relaxed, he sat back in the pew, and he closed his eyes. He let the music wash over him and push away any thoughts about what needed to be done tomorrow — for Christmas day’s celebration and on the farm. Farmers never had holidays which meant the cows would still need to be milked and fed and stalls cleaned. Most of the day would be set aside for family time, though. Any repair projects could wait.

Muffled laughter caused him to open his eyes and look around for the source of amusement. Soon the laughing spread and he turned slightly in his pew just in time to see a black and white cat stroll nonchalantly down the center aisle toward the stage. He watched it, eyes narrowing.

Without looking away from the cat he reached over and tapped Annie’s arm.

“Hey, is that —“

“Yes, it is. Whose truck did she climb in the back of this time?”

Scout, one of their barn cats, had climbed in the back of a pickup at least twice before at the farm, once hitching a ride to Walt’s farm and another time to the farm store. This was the first time she’d made it to town, though.

The cat walked up the steps, stretched her long body out, and lay down on the top step as the congregation watched with smiles.

“I’d better go get her,” Robert whispered as the pastor stepped out on the stage.

Annie pulled her lower lip between her teeth briefly, then released it. “Yeah. Maybe you’d better.”

z“Well, I see even the domesticated pets are here tonight to worship the birth of our savior,” Pastor Joe said with a smile. “In Psalm 148 it says, ‘Wild animals and all cattle, small creatures, and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and maidens, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”

Scout had curled up into a ball now, ready for a nap. “I think we’ll just let this visitor stay for now. There must be something comforting to him or her about our church and that, to me, is a very high compliment indeed.”

Robert sat back in the pew again, shaking his head and laughing. For the next hour and a half, the cat napped, waking up only when Robert scooped her up after the cantata was over. He placed her in the cab of the truck with him and Annie, both of them unable to stop laughing over her sudden appearance.

They’d been taught that God had a sense of humor, Robert thought as he drove home, the cat in Annie’s lap. Hopefully, he’d found the humor in Scout’s attendance at a service to honor him


The sun had just started to rise over the horizon when Alex left the barn after the morning chores to head for town.

“Hey! Where are you off to?” Molly called after him. “We’re going to have a full family breakfast soon.”

He glanced over his shoulder. “I’ll be back soon, don’t worry. I have something I need to grab in town.”

He left her standing outside the barn with confusion etched on her face. It couldn’t be helped, though. He’d agreed to meet Bert at the shop and pick up the truck and then they’d both drive back for breakfast and lunch at the Tanner’s for the day.

When he reached the shop Bert had already pulled the truck outside. The men stood and admired the new paint job on the truck, the shine on the bumpers, and even the new tires.

“It looks good, Alex it really does.” Bert smiled, eyes glistening. “My father-in-law would have been really proud to see it in such good shape.”

Alex stepped around to the front of the truck, hands at his waist as he admired the final product. “You had a lot to do with it, more than me even.”

“You did the paint job, shined it up. Reminds me of when I first saw Ned with it. Hannah was in the passenger seat next to him. She was the most beautiful creature I’d ever laid eyes on. I never thought she’d give me the time of day that day let alone let me marry her a decade later when we were both old enough to get married.” He winked. “We were only 15 when we first met.” He laughed, touching the back of a finger across the bottom of his eye, and turned away. He pulled a handkerchief from his coverall pocket. “Sorry, I got so emotional there. Didn’t expect that.”

Alex patted his shoulder. “Hey, no problem. Memories are powerful, especially when they are good ones.”

Bert blew his nose and wadded the handkerchief up, shoving it back in his pocket. “My marriage has been a good one, kid. I guess that’s why I keep pushing you to propose to Molly. I want you two to experience the happiness we have. Being married, making that commitment to be there for each other no matter what, in front of all your friends and family – I don’t know. There’s something fulfilling about it.”

Alex pulled his cowboy hat down low on his head and nodded. “I know, Bert, I appreciate it.”

Bert sniffed and tossed a set of keys to him. “Anyhow, here are the keys. I’ll follow you in your truck and meet you at the house.”

Alex slid behind the steering wheel of the 1976 Chevy, cranked the window down, and closed the door. “I have to take a detour, so I’ll meet you there.”

Bert grinned. “Another gift to pick up?”

Alex touched a finger to his hat. “I’m keeping that under my hat, but I’ll see you at Robert and Annie’s for breakfast. Don’t eat all the bacon on me.”

Alex started the truck and listened to it rumble for a few minutes, then slid his hand across the surface of the new red upholstery on the truck seat. He hadn’t thought they’d be able to replace that too, but in the end, Jason had helped and they’d pulled it off.

He took a deep breath and shifted the truck into gear, nodding to Bert again as he pulled the truck out of the parking lot. Turning the radio on, a favorite song came on and he hummed along, turning the truck toward the road that would lead him to Molly, but first her grandmother.

A Christmas in Spencer: Beyond the Season Chapter 10

Welcome to the ninth chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but it will be fully edited once it is complete.

You can catch up on chapters HERE.

If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,

The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.

Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.

Chapter 10

Molly unhooked the ponytail she’d had her hair pulled up in and let her curls fall down across her back and shoulders. “Alex, I’m perfectly capable of making the drive to Burdett and back on my own.” She folded her arms across her chest and tipped her head slightly, narrowing her eyes. “Wait a minute. It’s not me you’re worried about, is it? It’s your truck.”

Alex laughed. “No! I am not worried about my truck. You’re a perfectly capable driver. There are snow squalls expected though and I –”

“You thought what? Think you can stop the snow squalls from happening?” She let out a small laugh. “Alex, I’ve been driving these roads in the winter a lot longer than you have. I’ll be fine. Promise. You really need to rest your back.” She pulled her lower lip between her teeth briefly and let it go again. “But if you really want to go then I wouldn’t mind the company. I’ll drive though so you can push the seat back and relax.”

Now that the freezers at the store were fixed, more inventory could be added to them and there was a delivery of fresh goat milk and cheese a half an hour away. Molly had volunteered to go, but Alex had overheard and didn’t like the idea of her out on her own in possibly bad weather.

Worrying about her was foolish, and he knew it. Like he’d told many people over the years, including Molly herself, she could handle any situation that rural life threw her. She didn’t need him to protect her. Truthfully, though, he did want to try to protect her. He also wanted her company after a busy few weeks of barely seeing her due to work on the farm, recovering from his injury, and painting the truck.

Once inside his truck, she flicked on the radio, pushing buttons until she found a station playing Christmas music. She pulled her hair back up into the ponytail again and he found his gaze focusing on the skin exposed at the back of her neck. He resisted the urge to trail his fingertips along it.

She made a face as she clicked the seatbelt in, then wiggled back and forth a little in the seat.

He quirked an eyebrow. “What’s the matter with you? You have an itch on your rear or something?”

She laughed, a small dimple dotting the skin next to her mouth. “No. It’s just your truck feels so — I don’t know – clunky.”

He scowled. “Clunky?”

“Yeah, like too big or something.”

“It’s a four-wheel drive. Heated memory seats. Maximum horsepower. Back-up camera. GPS integrated into the dashboard. State of the art paint job. What’s not to love?”

She sighed, shifting the truck into gear. “It’s lovely. It’s just not my truck.”

Oh. Right. That.

He reached over and laid his hand over hers. “Hey, I know. It will be back soon. Have you got ahold of Bert?” Hopefully not. “What did he say?”

“I did actually.”


“He said the engine was in pretty bad shape so he’s working on it. He had some other jobs to finish up first.” Not a lie. Good job, Bert. She lifted her shoulders briefly then dropped them again. “I don’t mind, really. I’m just glad to hear it might be able to be saved.”

If Brad was able to pick up that part tomorrow then the verdict should be that it would definitely be able to be repaired, not maybe.

Houses decorated with Christmas lights, a few with Christmas-themed inflatables in the front yard, slid by as they drove toward Spencer. They drove around the town via the by-pass when they reached town limits and headed on to Burkett, another 25-minute drive beyond.

Alex closed his eyes and enjoyed Molly’s singing as she crooned out carol after carol, mixed in with a few country hits and a couple of worship songs.

“Did I ever tell you about the time Grandpa picked me up in this truck from elementary school?”

Her question came out of the blue, halting her singing.

He’d started to doze and jerked awake to listen to her. “No, actually. I don’t believe you have.”

“He pulled up in front of the school and honked the horn. We were letting out early because of weather and he’d volunteered to get me so I’d get home faster than I would have on the bus. About a mile from home, we hit that bridge over Shaver’s Creek and the snow started falling faster. Right after the bridge there was a left turn and Grandpa hit the accelerator and did a donut right at the end of the road. The truck turned all the way around, 360, and ended up facing back the way we were supposed to be going.”

Alex chuckled. “That totally sounds like something Ned would do. Or did he do it on purpose?”

She looked at him, meeting his smile with hers. “Of course he did it on purpose. He thought it was the funniest thing ever to see my eyes almost bug out of my head, he said. Later he said it might not have been the smartest move because we could have flown over the embankment into the creek by the road, but in the moment it sure was fun. For him anyhow. For me, I almost wet myself. I thought we were going to die.”

The story reminded Alex of his own grandfather. “My grandfather did something similar when he took me flying one time. He had a private pilots license. He took the plane into a nosedive and just when I thought we were going to crash into a mountainside he ripped it back up again. I was ten and I’m not going to lie, I did pee myself just a little bit.”

They laughed together as Molly turned into Brookings Family Goat Farm’s driveway. Josiah Brookings met them outside the barn and within fifteen minutes they had the inventory loaded in Alex’s truck.

“You two be safe out there,” Josiah said as he shook Alex’s hand. “The weather says we’re supposed to get snow squalls.”

“We should be fine. Molly’s driving and she’s a lot safer than I am. Take care and see you next month.”

Josiah waved as he walked back up the long drive to the house, leaving Alex and Molly standing in an orange ring of light under the light pole.

Alex paused, reaching down and scooping up a handful of snow, smirking as he packed it. Molly was already starting to climb into the truck when he tossed the ball, striking her in the shoulder.

She turned quickly, mouth dropping open. “Alexander Stone, what do you think you’re doing?”

He grinned, reaching down for more snow. “Just some minor physical therapy for my back. It’s good to do some light stretches for it.”

She pointed at him. “You drop that snowball.” She took a step back, now waggling the finger at him. “Don’t you dare start something that I’m going to finish.”

He tossed the snowball at her, snow shattering down the front of her winter coat as the ball hit her chest. “Molly Tanner, you know I’m the snowball fight champion five years running. Don’t let your mouth write a check your bottom can’t cash.”

Molly snickered as she stooped to gather snow in her hands. He grunted a few seconds later when a snowball hit him in the thigh. After that the snowballs flew fast and furious. He kept his distance and then decided the one way to win was to get close and get as much snow down the back of her winter coat as possible. She anticipated his move though and put her hands up to block him, which resulted in a brief wrestling match, during which she slipped and started to fall. He caught her under her arms and helped her regain her balance, laughing hard. She stepped back away from him in a fit of laughter and leaned her against the truck, breathing hard. Placing one hand on either side of her he leaned close, catching his breath.

“Looks like I win.”

She smiled, a sparkle in her eyes. “You didn’t win, you cheated. You clearly pushed me onto that patch of ice.”

“I clearly did not push you. You were just overcome by my snowball throwing power.” He moved his head closer to hers. “Besides, anytime I get to be this close to you, I win.”

Her voice was a whisper, her mouth a mere inch from his. “I remember another time we were pushed up against your truck like this.”

“I remember it too. Fondly.”  His lips grazed her cheek, then her mouth.  “Very fondly.”

She smiled as he lowered his head toward hers. They stood there for several moments, her arms around his waist as they kissed, snowflakes falling around them, before she pulled her mouth away slowly.

“We’d probably better get on the road in case it starts getting slick out.”

He reluctantly agreed and they climbed back into the truck cab, him wincing as a light pain shot through his back.

While Christmas songs weren’t what he’d normally listen to alone in the truck, he pushed the seek button until he found one, simply so he could hear Molly sing. He seemed to be catching her love for the season.

Ten minutes into their drive the road in front of them disappeared in a blur of white. He noticed Molly’s knuckles turning white. “You okay?”

She nodded quickly. “Yes. I’m fine.”


“A little bit.”

“You want to pull over?”


He laughed as she maneuvered the truck gently off the road. “I thought you could handle driving in this weather.”

“I can and one way of handling it is knowing when to pull over and when not to.”

She shifted the truck into park. “The squall should pass soon. This will give us time to chat because I realized today that I have never asked you if you have any favorite Christmas movies.” She held up her hand as he started to answer. “Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. I’m not debating that again.”

He smiled as he propped his hands behind his head. “It is a Christmas movie, but I’ll let you believe what you want. As for other Christmas movies, I haven’t really watched a ton, but I guess It’s A Wonderful Life is good. Miracle on 34th Street. White Christmas.”

She flipped her hair over her shoulder and laughed. “Jason made you watch those with him, didn’t he?”

“Of course, but I liked them. What’s the one we watched together last year?”

“Christmas in Connecticut.”

“Yeah, that one wasn’t too bad.” He grinned and lowered his arms, leaning toward her. “Of course, anything is good as long as I’m with you.”

She placed a finger on his lips and tipped her head toward the windshield. “Looks like the snow squall has let up. We’d better keep going if we want to get back to Spencer.”

He smiled against her finger. “If you say, so, but there’s nothing wrong with stealing some kisses while we’re here.”

She kissed him briefly. “I’d like that, but I need to get back to pick Liz up from the library. The heat is broken in her car. Mom and Dad said I can borrow their car tonight.” She turned back to the steering wheel and placed her hand on the shift lever but didn’t move it. Her gaze drifted out in front of them, at the road now visible. “You know, this is the first Christmas since we lost grandpa that I really feel happy about Christmas again. This time of year used to give me such a warm feeling but so much about it seemed dull and lifeless since losing Grandpa. This year feels different. I don’t know why.” She sighed, eyes glistening. “There is something wildly beautiful about the spirit of Christmas, the way it reminds us all to take time to pause and tell those we love how much they mean to us.” She pulled her hand briefly from his and wiped at her damp cheek. “Sorry. I don’t know why I’m so sappy tonight.”

He leaned across the seat and kissed her cheek. “I don’t mind sappy if it’s coming from you.”

She squeezed his hand then looked out the windshield. “Looks like that snow squall has cleared up. Let’s see how much closer we can get to home.” He gazed out the window at the now clear sky that moments before had been swirling with white. Stars sparkled against a dark blue sky. She was right. There was something wildly beautiful about Christmas, especially when he saw it through her eyes.  

A Christmas in Spencer Valley: Beyond the Season Chapter 9

Welcome to the ninth chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but it will be fully edited once it is complete.

You can catch up on chapters HERE.

If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,

The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.

Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.

Chapter 9

“I wish I could tell you I have good news.”

Terry Harper’s expression already let Robert know the parts hadn’t arrived, even before he’d spoken.

“Couldn’t get them here in time?”

“Holiday shipping delays. It will be here the week after Christmas instead.”

Robert chewed on his bottom lip. “Where did you say the store is again?”

“Between Harrisburg and Lancaster. Maybe a three-hour drive.”

Robert nodded, rubbing his chin. “Give me the address. Maybe I’ll take a drive down.”

“I’d be glad to do it but there’s a storm coming in. You sure you can’t just show Annie what you’ve got so far and give it to her after Christmas?”

Robert shrugged a shoulder. “I could, but it wouldn’t be the same.”

Terry scribbled an address on a piece of paper. “Well, if you decide to go just be safe. I’ve heard another storm is coming in and PennDOT isn’t great about taking care of that lower stretch of the highway. There was a ten-car pile-up down that way three winters ago.”

Back in the truck, Robert dialed Bert’s number.

“Where did you say that part was for the engine?”

“York, Pa. Down below Harrisburg. Why?”

“I’m heading that way to pick up some bolts for the swing, why don’t I just grab it while I’m in the area. I’ll need some help making up an excuse for my absence, though.”

“That’ll be hard to do. How about I call Brad instead? He can run down, and everyone will think he’s picking up a delivery for the store.”

Brad Tanner was Robert and Bert’s sometimes-reliable-sometimes-not nephew.

“I don’t know. I need it back here as quick as possible and it would mean pulling another person into the secret. Brad’s not known for keeping secrets well.”

He wasn’t known for staying sober well, either, he thought but didn’t say out loud.

Still, Bert was right, Brad could slip away from the farm easier than him.

“Okay, I’ll give him a call and see if he can head down for me. Give me the address of your place.”

Luckily Brad seemed delighted at the prospect when he was asked. Standing in the upper barn at Walt’s farm, he nodded enthusiastically and promised he wouldn’t let the secret for either project slip.

“No problem, Uncle Rob.” He took the pieces of paper with the address. “It will be nice to get out of the area for a bit too.”

Robert hesitated before turning away. Last year Brad had been in a car accident with Jason’s wife Ellie. For several hours the family had feared the worst when her car was found, but Ellie wasn’t in it. Brad had been in the car with her but somehow he’d ended up back at Walt’s house without Ellie.

It turned out Ellie had decided to hike over the hill for help and had fallen into an abandoned well. It was like something out of a movie, but Jason and Alex had found her and were able to call for help to pull her out. Brad had been drunk at the time. Since then he had apologized more than once, but Jason was still struggling with forgiving him. Brad also seemed to be trying his best to be a better person by working hard for the family at the farms and the family farm store.

“Thanks, Brad. I appreciate you being willing to help out. If the roads get dicey, though, head back. This isn’t life or death. It’s just something nice we’re doing for Annie and Molly.”

Brad laughed and pushed a hand back through his red-blond hair, reminding Robert again how much he looked like his mom, Marcia. “No worries. I’m stupid, but not that stupid.” He winked and walked toward the house. “I’m going to give Dad a heads up on what I’ll be doing. I’ll just tell him it’s for a pickup and leave it at that. You know how bad he is at keeping secrets.”

Robert snorted a laugh. “Yeah, Brad, I know.”

On the way back to the farm, Robert took a detour, turning onto the road that led to an overlook on the hill where he could look down on most of Spencer Valley. His breath sparkled the air as he stepped out of the truck. Snow and branches crunched under his boots as he walked to an opening of tree branches that allowed him to look down on his farm and the rest of the snow covered Valley below him.

From there he could see his farm, his mom’s house where the original farm had been, his brother’s farm, which had once belonged to a neighbor of his great-grandfather’s, the Lambert’s farm, and other houses dotted in between.

When he’d been young, the Valley had been mainly open fields of farmland and while much of the area was still farmland, there were also spaces now being filled in with houses or other structures as farmers were forced to sell their land to try to make ends meet. Farming had never been easy but in recent years it had become even more of a struggle with rising costs and falling income.

Robert was grateful his family had been able to diversify with the farm storm and by bottling and selling A2 milk. He was grateful they were still able to do what they love. It was hard work, no doubt about it, but it was worth it to be able to put food on their tables and the tables of people all around the area and the country.

As the setting sun sent a splash of pink and orange along the horizon, his gaze fell on a star on the hill across from him. It was probably a three mile drive to reach it. He was amazed he could see it so well from where he was. He knew it was Jerry Franklin’s star, the one he’d built and put up every year on the hill behind his house to remind those who saw it of the real reason for the season, of a gift and a hope that was for any time of year – that stretched beyond the season of Christmas.

He swept snow off a log that had fallen and sat on it, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and focused on the star.

“Thank you, Father, for the gifts you have given, for my family, my livelihood, my faith and for most of all your son.”

He closed his eyes against the tears, feeling the loss of his earthly father again this year but also the hope of a future in heaven when he would see him again, embrace him and thank him for all he’d done for his family here on this side of his everlasting home.

After several moments of praying and thanking God, he stood and drew in a ragged breath. It had felt good to take a few moments in the rush of finishing Annie’s gift and trying to stay on top of all the issues at the farm to just pause and be thankful; to remember that what really matters in life is not the gifts, not the busyness, not feeling like you have it altogether, but the presence of family and the ultimate offering of redemption from a creator to his creation.

As he walked back to the truck he spotted a section of Princess Pine and stooped to gather some as his father had used to do when they’d walked in these woods together. He’d use it to decorate the Bible, opened each year to Luke 2: 8-12 and the nativity scene, which is father had carved 40 years ago.

Inside the truck he flipped on the local Christian radio station and smiled as O Come, O Come Emmanuel played. It fit his mood perfectly and he hummed along as he drove home.

A Christmas in Spencer: Beyond the Season Chapter 8

Welcome to the eighth chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but will be fully edited once it is complete.

You can catch up on chapters HERE.

If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,

The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.

Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.

Chapter 8

Robert stood back and inspected his work.

His hands ached from the cold. Holding a paint brush wearing gloves had proved too difficult.

The swing itself was ready to go but there were still bolts to be added to attach the chain the swing would hang from. He planned to swing by the hardware store later in the day and see if they were in yet. For now, he had to swing by the house and grab the lunch that Annie had made for his mother and drive it down to her.

When the lunch was retrieved, along with a quick hug from Annie who was on her way to church to finish decorating for the Christmas Eve service, he drove up the hill to his mother’s house, shooing away chickens as he walked down her sidewalk. While the rest of the farm operation had gone to Robert and Walt, Franny had opted to keep a flock of chickens and dutifully fed them and collected their eggs each morning. She said it would give her something to do and a reason for the family to still come visit her if they knew she had all the fresh eggs.

Robert shook his head and laughed. As if they wouldn’t visit her if the chickens weren’t there.

He knocked gently on the front door before opening it. “Mom? I’ve got some lunch for you.”

“I know you do. Get on in here.”

The house was warm, cozy, and smelled of fresh bread – just like when he’d been growing up. A fire was roaring in the woodstove and Robert smiled, knowing she’d loaded it herself this morning from wood Alex and Jason had cut up for her. She was getting older, but she could still outwork most people half her age.

Across from the woodstove in the other corner was a small fake tree that he knew Molly and Alex had helped her decorate the week before. It was sitting in a stand his father had made for a real tree. Franny had said she didn’t have the energy or patience to clean up pine needles any more so she’d purchased the fake tree.

Family photos dotted the wall next to the tree and Robert let his gaze slide over them as he took off his coat and muddy boots. The photo of him, his dad, his brother Walt and his sister Hannah caught his attention as he pulled off his second boot. They were standing in front of the cow barn. He had been about 16, his brother 14 and Hannah 11.

The three of them had never known a life without hard work and determination, with a little bit of heartache thrown in. They’d never known a life without the joy of seeing the good results of all those aspects of life either. Farming wasn’t easy, but it was rewarding in more ways than providing a living.

The lessons Robert had learned and passed down to his children were more valuable than any check from the milking company or from the bottom line at the store. There were some days, however, he had to remind himself of that.

“You coming in or did you fall asleep standing up?”

His mother had stepped into the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, a small smile tugging at her mouth.

He closed the door behind him and headed toward the kitchen. “I’m guessing Annie called to let you know I was bringing you lunch.”

Franny set two plates on the table. “She did, and I made some biscuits to go with it. You’re eating with me, aren’t you?”

He laid the containers of food on the table. “I had planned on it, yes, and I’m even more willing now that I know you made biscuits. I hope you didn’t go to the trouble of homemade.”

Franny huffed out a breath. “Robert Theodore when have you ever known me to make biscuits out of a box or can?”

He laughed and held up a hand as if to defend her verbal blow. “Never.”

“Exactly. Now sit yourself down. I’m sure you’re more than ready to eat after the long days Annie says you’ve been pulling lately.”

He sat as she instructed, taking her hand as she sat to his right and said a quick blessing.

The interrogation began as he served her mashed potatoes and stew fried chicken.

“So what’s been keeping you out so late these days?”

He knew she was fishing for information on how the farm was doing. “This and that. Odds and ends. Like always.”

“Did you get the heat fixed in the barn?”

“We did. It took a bit but got it working before the temps dropped down this week.”

“Walt said it was the second time this month. Did you call the people who put it in and tell them?”

Robert smiled. “I did, yes. They’re coming out Friday to take a look.”

Franny gave a satisfied nod. “Good. They should fix it at no cost. It’s been nothing but trouble since they put it in.” She paused long enough to butter her biscuit and take a bite. “Now, I have something I want to talk to you about. I’d preferred if Annie was here too, but I think I’ll go ahead and take the opportunity since I actually have you in front of me.”

He nodded. “Go ahead.”

“I don’t know if Molly mentioned to you what I talked to her and Alex about last week.”

He shook his head and took another bite of chicken. “She didn’t.”

“I’m thinking of moving into Shady Pines next year.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You are? Why?”

“I think it’s time to pass this house on to someone else.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Molly and Alex.”

He coughed gently. “Excuse me?”

“Robert, don’t be naïve. You know that boy is going to eventually get up the courage and propose to your daughter and when he does and they finally get married, they’re going to need a place to stay. This house is perfect as a starter house. Somewhere for them to raise some children.”

He set his fork down on his plate. “But do you really want to move off the farm into town? The houses down there are pretty close together.”

“Well, yes, they are, but at my age it might be good to have people close by.”

“Mom, if you’re really determined to give this house to Molly, you know you’re welcome to come live with me and Annie.”

Franny made a face. “Oh, Robert, you know we’d never survive living together again. Plus, you and Annie are finally alone again. You don’t need your mother breaking in on kissing sessions.”

Robert laughed. “We’d adapt. We can make sure our kissing sessions only happen after you’ve gone to bed. Like when we were teenagers.”

Franny laughed with him. “Listen, it’s something to think about anyhow. I’ll think about your offer, but I really believe that moving into town will be good for me. It will be a change and I’ll be closer to Leon and Eleanor and we can play cards together without them having to worry about driving home from here late at night. Leon’s eyesight isn’t what it used to be.”

Robert knew his father-in-law’s eyesight wasn’t as good as it had once been. He’d started saying so himself.

“Okay, let’s think on it, then. It’s not like we have to make a decision right away. We don’t even know if Alex is planning on proposing any time soon.”

Franny sipped from her glass of water. “I hope sooner.” She looked around the kitchen, letting her gaze drift into the living room. “The place will need some fixing up, but I think you’ve trained Alex enough over these last six years for him to be able to handle it.”

The idea of his mom no longer living up the road from him left a funny feeling in Robert’s chest – a feeling that was a mixture of sadness and fear. What if his mom needed him? It would take him 20 extra minutes to get to her instead of the five it took now. What if she developed health problems and what if –.  

He took a deep breath, held it a few seconds and let it out quietly. There would always be what ifs and they could address each of them as they each came up. Plus, moving her in with him and Annie was something he and Annie had already discussed in the last year or so. He knew Franny could be a challenge, but taking care of her in her later years would be something he’d be glad to do after all she’d done for him over the years.


It had been three days since the doctor had told him to rest and Alex couldn’t stay at the house any longer. For one, Matt had invited Liz over and Bella was with her grandparents. The couple probably wanted some time alone to watch a movie and snuggle together on the couch. More importantly, though, he had to finish the paint job on the truck.

Bert had already installed the engine and was finishing it up today – if a part he needed arrived that was.  

“It’s about time you got here,” Bert said as soon as he walked in the door. “I just had to have Troy chase off Molly by telling her that Hannah needed to talk to her about how they’re going to handle the situation at the store without the freezers for another week. It wasn’t a lie, but still – it was a close call. She almost walked back here.”

Alex worked to take off his coat, grimacing with each movement.  “Thanks for keeping her away. I appreciate it.”

Bert frowned. “What’s up with you? You look like you’ve been hit by a truck.”

“A concrete floor actually. I fell through the roof of the calving barn last week.”

“Oh man. So that was the accident you were talking about. I’m surprised you’re walking. How did the calves fare?”

“They’re completely fine. Little buggers just wanted to know what I was doing in their sleeping area.” He tossed his coat over a chair and reached for the spray paint can. “Now let’s get these doors painted so I can finish the rest of the truck in the next few days. How is it going with the engine?”

Bert winced. “Still need one part. A supplier about three hours away has it but doesn’t have a truck coming until the end of the week.”

Alex didn’t like the sound of that. “Maybe we’re not going to make it.”

Bert  slapped a hand hard on Alex’s back. “Now, now, my boy let’s not be negative.”

Alex groaned. “I could be more positive if you stop slamming your hand on my sore back.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry about that.” Bert wiped some grease off a car part and laid down to slide under the truck. “So, have you thought anymore about that whole proposal thing?”

Alex placed a painting mask and respirator over his face. “You know, I’d like to talk about it but I don’t think you’ll be able to hear me well under this mask so I’m going to get to work.”

“What?” Bert called from under the truck.

“Exactly,” Alex mumbled glad to have avoided the topic again.

A Christmas in Spencer: Beyond the Season Chapter 7

Welcome to the seventh chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but will be fully edited once it is complete.

You can catch up on chapters HERE.

If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,

The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.

Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.

Chapter 7

There had been more than one Christmas over the years when Annie and Robert had questioned if they’d be able to provide gifts for the children. Farming didn’t always provide a consistent income. Some years weather made bringing in a profit a challenge. Other years it might be sick cows, falling down buildings, or broken equipment.

That inconsistency had certainly taken its toll on the family’s emotions over the years, but Robert felt like it had also brought them closer. Annie had certainly been his one constant during all the turmoil, besides God.

Christ had been the ultimate anchor for both of them. Without him and his provision, they never would have made it through the trials, the heartbreaks, and the day-to-day uncertainty of life as a farmer.

The seats at Grace Community Church were soft now, unlike when Robert had first started attending twenty years ago. Hard pews had filled the sanctuary back then. They had been pews his own father had helped build, along with the rest of the church, sometime in the early 1960s. Robert couldn’t remember the exact date the church was built but he could remember that for years he had no interest in attending church. He’d been too busy and too independent to think about God in high school and afterward. During those difficult first years with Annie, he’d relied on his own strength to make it through, rarely asking for help from God or thanking him.

That change came slowly, so slowly he thought Annie might give up and walk away, taking the children with him, when he refused to go to church with her. She never gave up hope, though. She prayed for him, loved him, and kept inviting him. It wasn’t a rock bottom moment that sent him back to the hard pews at Grace Community.  It was love and a realization that there was more to life than getting up and milking cows, working on the farm all day, milking cows again, and falling asleep early in the evening just to start it all over again. It was the beauty of the sunrise and the sunsets.

The days he thought he wasn’t going to make it and the farm wasn’t going to make it but they did. It was the smile of his daughter, the laughter of his son, and the feel of his wife’s arms around him. He knew all those blessings couldn’t be something he’d earned or something he deserved. Someone greater than him had given him it all as a gift and he needed to start thanking that someone. It was the same God his parents had raised him to believe in, but he had rejected not out of anger but simple apathy.

Standing outside the church, Robert leaned leaning back against his truck and waited for Annie to stop chatting with town librarian Ginny Jefferies and her husband, Stan. He took a deep breath and took in the view of the church, decorated inside and out to celebrate the birth of Christ. It reminded him that no matter what happened with his gift for Annie, Christ was the ultimate gift of Christmas. The joy and peace He brought to his and Annie’s life could never be matched with physical, earthly gifts.

A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as Annie walked toward him, her Bible tucked in her arm, against her chest.

“What’s so funny?”


“You look like you’re going to laugh.”

He shook his head. “Nothing’s funny. Our life is just beautiful. As beautiful and wonderful as you are.”

Annie’s eyebrows raised. “Wow. That’s sweet of you. What did I do to deserve such praise?”

He leaned forward and pressed his lips to her forehead. “Just by being yourself.”

She leaned back and looked up at him, eyes glistening. Reaching up, she laid a gloved hand against his cheek, and then, without a word, she kissed him, where anyone walking out of the church and to their cars could see them. Robert was sure no one would be offended by the public display of affection. Couples their age would be glad to see an older couple who wasn’t embarrassed to show their love for each other. The younger couples would probably smile and say –

“I hope we’re still in love like that when we’re their age.”

Jason snorted a laugh and Robert pulled back from the kiss and made a face at him. Ellie’s arm was looped through Jason’s and she tapped her husband’s arm with a gentle admonishment.

Robert motioned his son away. “Go on, ya’ whippersnapper. Get on out of here and let an old couple have a kiss.”

Annie playfully tapped his shoulder. “Old? Speak for yourself.”

She winked and pulled out of his embrace to head to the car, sliding her hand down to his. “Come on, old man. We can pick up our kissing session when we get home.” She looked over her shoulder at Jason and Ellie and winked. “Now that all our children are out of the house and living their own lives, we have more private time for such things.”

Inside the car, she pulled her gloves off, laid them on her lap, and intertwined her fingers with his. He raised her hand and kissed it before shifting the car into gear and heading out of the parking lot and down the road toward home.


Another searing pain shot from Alex’s lower back to his upper. He gritted his teeth and clutched the side of the bed. The painkillers he’d taken two hours ago weren’t even touching the pain and he was beginning to reluctantly agree with Molly that he might need to visit a doctor. The pain was coming in spasms now. No surprise since he’d fallen from a height of maybe ten feet. He was lucky he hadn’t broken any bones.

Robert and Annie had urged him to go to a doctor, but he’d declined. He had, however, accepted a couple of ice packs after a hot shower and a warm cup of tea made by Molly. The attention she’d given him, checking on him every hour before he fell asleep, then checking again first thing in the morning, had been nice too.

What wasn’t as nice was the fact he’d missed the tree lighting and then the church – which he’d finally started attending with the family about six months ago – and three days of working on the truck. Molly had connected by video with him for the tree lighting, which also included caroling. She also filled him in on the sermon. Caroling had never been his thing in the past, but for some reason, hearing the hundred or so people gathered around the tree sing Silent Night had caused his throat to tighten with emotion. He’d desperately wanted to be there with Molly in that moment, though he wasn’t sure if he’d been able to hold back the tears. He must be getting old with all these sentimental emotions rearing their ugly heads.

He hadn’t necessarily understood everything Molly shared with him about the sermon, but living in the hopeful spirit of Christmas beyond the actual season had made sense to him.

“Pastor Joe said Christmas is something we can always carry with us in our heart because Christ’s love is something that will be with us no matter the time of year,” Molly told him. “Being a Christian is an all-year-round celebration. Not simply a once or twice a year event.”

All of that made sense to Alex, even as he was still trying to figure out what being a follower of Christ meant.

Bert had found almost all the parts they needed for the engine, pulled off the bumpers to be replaced with new ones, and even found a new pair of headlights. He was leaving the rest of the paint job for Alex. That was if Alex could figure out how to move off the bed without pain spasming through his back.

The door to his bedroom opened as the latest spasm eased up. He raised his eyes slowly and squinted at Jason and his roommate, Matt McGee, standing in the hallway looking in.

“Yep.” Jason nodded. “You’re right, Matt. He looks like garbage.”

Matt folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the doorframe. “I told you. Now we’re going to have to do something about it.”

Alex glared. “Both of you go away.” The last thing he needed right now was their harassment.

Matt stepped into the room and stood over him, hands on his hips. If Alex didn’t know him so well he might have looked intimidating standing there in full uniform for his job as a police officer with the Spencer Police Department.

“Come on, Stone. We’re taking you to the doctor.”

“No. You are not.”

Jason stepped behind Matt and looked over his shoulder. “I’m going to take one arm and Matt is going to take the other and we’re going to hoist you into Ellie’s car, so you don’t have to climb up into my truck, and I’m driving you to town.” He stepped around Matt and wrapped a large hand around Alex’s bicep. “Now come on, we’re not taking no for an answer.”

Alex groaned as he sat up and then let them both swing his arms around their shoulders. “I need shoes and my wallet.” He winced. “And maybe a tranquilizer like we used on the bull last year.”

“One step at a time, bud,” Matt said with a smile. “You can do this.”

“Yeah,” Jason added. “We need you to get better, so I don’t have to keep doing all your work.”

Half an hour later Alex tightened his jaw against the pain as the doctor helped him from the exam table.

Dr. Cartagenese handed him a prescription. “Like I said the best medicine for this, besides these muscle relaxants is bed rest. At least five days worth. I know you work at the Tanners and they aren’t good about resting when they’re injured or sick.” He winked. “Don’t be like them, okay?”

No way. He didn’t have five days to lay in bed.

“Thanks, Doc. I’ll take that into consideration.”  

Outside in the passenger seat of Liz’s car, though, he’d already considered it, and he was going to give himself two days to rest, and then it was back to working on the truck or he’d never get it completed by Christmas.

Jason closed the car door for him and walked back to the driver’s seat.

“What’d he say?” he asked as he started the car.

Alex sat back in the seat slowly. “He gave me muscle relaxants and if it doesn’t get better he wants me to have x-rays.”

“Anything else?”

“Yeah. Bedrest, but I’m not going to do that.”

“If bed rest will help you heal faster, you probably should.”

“Don’t have time.”

“I can pick up your work at the farm. It’s no problem. I can’t remember you taking more than a couple sick days in the entire time you’ve worked with us.”

Alex gritted his teeth against the pain again, closing his eyes. He let out a breath a few minutes later as the pain lessened again. “It’s not that. I’m working on a gift for Molly. I need to get it done.” He glanced at Jason. “You can’t tell Molly, okay? It’s a surprise.”

Jason’s eyebrows raised and he tipped his head down a bit to encourage Alex to continue.

“A surprise for Christmas.”

A small smile started to play across Jason’s lips. “Oh yeah?”

Not Jason too. “It’s not what you might think. I’m fixing up your grandpa’s truck for her.”

Jason turned onto Main Street to head out of town. “Oh. Hey. That’s great.” He genuinely looked pleased. “What all are you doing to it?

“New paint job, new engine. The works. Almost all of my savings is going into it.”

“What else needs to be done?”

“I have the body sanded and two doors painted. I need to get the body finished. Bert is going to help some but he’s also finishing up the engine and he’s got a full shop of cars that need to be worked on for actual customers.”

Jason shrugged. “I can help.”

Alex closed his eyes, suddenly exhausted. “You’ve got enough work to do.”

“I can take some time away from the farm to help with the truck.” He gently tapped Alex’s shoulder with his fist. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure my sister knows it was your idea and you did most of the work.”

“Me and Bert actually.”

“You and Bert. Okay.” A sly smirk pulled at the corners of Jason’s mouth. “Sooooo. You’re not planning any other surprises for Molly, are you?”

Alex narrowed his eyes. “Like what?

Jason held up his left hand and pointed to his ring finger. “You know.”

Alex groaned. “Put your hands back on the wheel and no! Not you too! First Bert then Franny and now you. What is it with you Tanners?”

Jason laughed. “Well, what can I say? Great minds think alike, buddy.”

Alex looked out the window at the houses flying by, many of them decorated with bright lights for Christmas. He hated the idea of being laid up at the house, unable to work on the farm or the truck. He hadn’t always been a hard worker, but for the last six years since moving to Pennsylvania, all he’d known was hard work. Silence settled over the truck as his mind drifted to a mental list of all the work he still had to do before Christmas.

“So, are you?”

Jason’s question pulled him from his thoughts. “Am I what?”

Jason cleared his throat. “Proposing to Molly.”

Alex rolled his eyes up to the ceiling of the truck. “That wasn’t part of the plan, no.”

Jason nodded. “Okay, well if it does become part of the plan, I want you to know —” He reached over and gripped Alex’s shoulder with one hand and squeezed gently. “You have my blessing. I know I harass you and Molly about your relationship but you’re my best friend, and there’s no one else I’d like to have as my brother-in-law.”

Alex nodded. “Thank you, Jase. I appreciate that. I do.”

Jason turned the heat up and the radio on. “Listen, I’m going to head down to Bert’s in the morning after I go to the gym. I’ll see what I can help with. At least take it easy a couple of days. No man is an island, Stone. Don’t be like us Tanners. Take the help when it’s offered.”

Alex grimaced against the pain. “At this point, I really don’t have a choice.”

A Christmas in Spencer: Beyond the Season, Chapter 6

Welcome to the sixth chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but will be fully edited once it is complete.

You can catch up on chapters HERE.

If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,

The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.

Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.

Chapter 6

“That’s a lot more snow than they were calling for.”

Alex looked out the front window into a barely lit front yard at the Tanners. He’d spent the night at Robert and Annie’s instead of heading back to Matt McGee’s place, which he guessed was his place for now, at least until Matt proposed to Liz and he was back to finding a new place to stay. He’d already been displaced when Ellie had moved in with Jason after the wedding, but he hadn’t minded. There was only so much affectionate newlywed behavior he could handle in a day.

Molly had spent the night at her parents too, sleeping in her old room while he crashed in Jason’s old room, which they now called the guest room.

Robert stepped next to him. “We’ll have to see what it ends up being when all is said and done. I’m going to get my coat on and go make sure it’s staying off the roof of that back barn. I should have fixed up that one spot before now.”

Actually, Alex could have easily fixed that weak spot in the roof over the calf barn himself. He’d been too distracted with Molly’s gift to tackle it. “I’ll head out instead. You stay in here this time. You can have the next round.”

He knew they’d both be awake most of the night, checking on the barn, making sure the new heating system was still working. The system was supposed to be top of the line, but so far it had been rating at the bottom. The fact it had stopped working right when it was supposed to be working, and less than a year after being installed, didn’t instill a lot of faith in Alex that they’d chosen the right company to help upgrade the barn.

The upgrade had come with the construction of a bottling plant to process A2 milk, a type of milk that allowed consumers with a dairy protein allergy to still be able to drink milk. The milk was being sold at the Tanners’ farm store and a few other small markets across the state. Not all of the Tanners’ cows had the A2 gene, which meant the operation was small and hadn’t yet paid off all the improvements and additions that had been undertaken, but Alex was confident it would someday.

When he walked to the calf barn an hour later, his worst fears had been confirmed. The roof was sagging worse than it had been the day before. Forecasters’ predictions of one foot was quickly turning into two feet and the storm wasn’t supposed to stop for another six hours at least.

Finding a ladder in a shed, he propped it against the back wall of the barn, slid on a pair of gloves and hooked the shovel under his arm. Snow pelted him in the face as he made his way up and he wished he’d grabbed that knitted cap Molly had tried to make him wear the other day.

The shovel scraped against snow as he tried to push the shovel into it. It took an effort to push it down and lift it but when he finally did he began flinging the snow off, knowing he probably should have told someone in the house what he was doing. Twenty minutes into shoveling he felt the roof under him sag and he raised his arms out to his side to catch his balance.

 A loud crack split the silence and he braced his legs in place on either side of the weaker part of the roof. A few seconds later it didn’t matter because the roof gave way under his feet anyhow. Suddenly he was in mid-air, falling and then crashing hard onto the concrete floor of the barn below, in the middle of a calving pen. Splinters of wood and shingles rained down on him, into his face and across his body. He raised his arms quickly as clumps of snow followed, slamming into his chest.

Pain shot through his back and down his legs. He grimaced, laying his head back against the shredded woodchips of the pen and groaned as small eyes watched him and a calf bleated a protest at having her warm, cozy evening interrupted.

He gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut, lifting one arm slowly, then the other. He tried his legs next. Everything was moving at least. He was grateful that he hadn’t hit his head on impact. Warm breath huffed against his cheek. He slowly opened an eye, closing it again as calf slobber hit his skin.

“Hey, little lady. Move back a bit, will you?”

He felt more warm air on him and knew he was being inspected by small, curious baby cows.  He grunted as he opened his eyes and worked to sit up.

He admonished himself. “Idiot.”

He managed to make it to a sitting position then rolled to his hands and knees and pushed himself back on his calves before slowly standing, a low growl rumbling in his chest. He was already in pain, but he was definitely going to feel this even more in the morning. He took two steps forward to make sure nothing was broken, then patted the calf nuzzling the hem of his coat.

“Nothing exciting in there, bud, promise.”

He tipped his head back and looked through the hole in the roof, snowflakes speckling the dark sky and falling into his eyes.

He huffed out a frustrated breath and reached for his phone in his back pocket, wincing when he saw the crack across the screen. He tapped the screen, but it wouldn’t respond.

Luckily the barn wasn’t too far of a walk from the house.


Looks like he wasn’t going to have to walk. Molly must have realized how long he’d been gone.

He cleared his throat, hoping his voice wouldn’t give away how rough his body felt. “Yeah. Back here.”

“You’ve been out here a long time. What are you –” She gasped as she came closer. “Oh my gosh! Did you just fall through the roof? Are you okay?”

She quickly pulled open the door of the pen and walked toward him briskly, laying her hands against his arms and chest.

If he told her he wasn’t okay, would she keep touching him all over? He grinned at the thought. “Yeah, I’m okay. I think anyhow. I’m moving at least.”

She touched a hand to his forehead. “Did you hit your head?”

He started to shake his head then winced at the pain slithering down the back of his neck. “No, but my neck isn’t doing great.” He pressed a hand against his lower back. “Or my back.” He winked. “Maybe you better keep checking me for bruises.”

She took his hand, shaking her head. “Come on. Let’s get you to the house. Maybe we should take you to the –”

He held up a hand. “I don’t need a hospital. I’m fine.”

“Then lets at least get you back to the house and into a bed.”

He grinned. “I like the sound of you wanting to get me into a bed, Molly dear, but not until we’re married.” She laughed and he looked up at the hole in the roof. “But seriously, I need to get this hole fixed first. I can’t have your dad out here trying to do it by himself.”

Molly cocked an eyebrow. “You mean like you were doing?”


She turned and started to walk away. “Come on, I’ll get some wood and we’ll climb up together. We can at least get it temporarily fixed for tonight to keep the snow off these babies and then we can do a more permanent job in the morning.”

“Molly –“

She turned to face him again. “What? I’m a farm girl, Alex Stone. Don’t tell me to go back in the house and get warm. I’ll climb up first and shovel the roof and then you can hand the boards up to me so I can hammer them in place.”

He watched her walk to the back room in amazement. He knew for a fact there were parts of her life where she wasn’t confident, but when it came to hard work there wasn’t a bit of doubt in her. She knew how to do anything and everything on the farm as well, or many times even better, than any of the men.

Still, the protective side of him wanted to send her back in the house. He didn’t want to see her get hurt. The snow was falling fast and the roof was sagging in other spots. It could easily send her crashing down too.

An hour later they finished the job without either of them falling through or off the roof. The snow was removed, the hole was temporarily patched, and they both headed toward the house. He stopped her before she could open the back door, though, pulled her against him abd slid a gloved hand behind her head, kissing her hard on the mouth. She returned the kiss by clutching the front of his coat and holding on.

She pulled back a few minutes later, dragging in a ragged breath. “What was that about?”

“Just felt the need to kiss you.”

“Do you feel the need to kiss me again?”

He smiled and kissed her again as snow swirled around them and she slipped her arms around his neck.

That was the one great thing about snow. It was the perfect excuse for a warm kiss and embrace.

A Christmas in Spencer: Beyond the Season, Chapter 5

Welcome to the fifth chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but will be fully edited once it is complete.

You can catch up on chapters HERE.

If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,

The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.

Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.

Chapter 5

Snow and ice crunched under Alex’s feet as he walked to the barn. The snow had started to stick overnight, but not enough to leave much more than a dusting. Inside the barn, Robert and Jason were already preparing the cows for milking.

Molly was busy cleaning the stalls to prepare for fresh bedding to be laid down. It wasn’t until a couple hours later that he and Robert were alone, preparing the feed for the afternoon milking.

Robert looked up at him as he measured the nutrients to pour in for the calves’ feed. “How’s your project going?”

“Not great.”

Robert laughed. “Mine either.”

“What’s happening with yours?”

“Supply issues. Limited time. Yours?”


Robert yawned.  “Think you’ll get it done?

Alex nodded. “Burt is working on the engine and I’m working on the exterior. Even with that one part for the engine delayed, I think we’ll pull through.”

“Good. We can’t let our girls down, can we?”

Alex laughed softly. “No. We can’t. Even though they don’t even know what we are doing.”

Robert started filling the calf bottles. “They don’t, but I know they will appreciate whatever we do for them. We’re two lucky men.”

A muscle jumped next to Alex’s eye. Was Robert about to venture into the topic of conversation his brother-in-law and mother had? The subject needed to be changed as quick as possible.

“Yes, we are. Hey, I’m off to repair that fence in the upper field. Don’t want to take a chance on the new bull getting out.”

He walked briskly toward the door before Robert could ask him anything about his “intentions with Molly” or some similar line of conversation. Inside his trucks he let out a quick huff of breath.

Crisis averted. For now, anyhow.

He had grown close to Robert, a man who had been like a father to him more than his own had ever been. Sometimes that made dating Robert’s daughter even more awkward. Alex still vividly remembered the night the man had walked in on them kissing in the barn about a year and a half ago. He’d thought Robert was either going to punch him or have a heart attack, or maybe both – the heart attack after he punched him.

 Despite the awkwardness, Alex was grateful for the Tanners and the way they had become like family to him.

Before coming to live with Jason, Christmases had been awkward, especially after his parents had divorced. Alex was glad he’d been in college when they divorced and that there had been some happy Christmases when he was younger, even though his dad was rarely home and his parents argued often. There had been a few traditions he and his brother had tried to keep alive, even when the relationship between his parents started to sour, around the time Alex was 11.

Decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving was one tradition they held on to, sometimes decorating it alone while their parents hissed insults at each other in the next room.

They kept that tradition alive until they both had gone to college. Then Sam had started working for their dad, taking the road their dad had wanted for both of his sons, and the distance only grew between them. For the last five years, Alex had spent his Christmases with the Tanners and had either called or texted Sam instead of visiting. A couple of years ago he had driven four hours to Baltimore the week before Christmas to meet up with Sam and his current girlfriend, Brittany.

Even though he and Sam kept in contact Alex wouldn’t define their relationship as close, especially as Sam became more and more like their father – obsessed with his career and looking like he had it all together, whether he did or not. Alex still held good memories of Sam, though, and didn’t want to completely lose the fragile relationship they had.

Parking his truck next to the fence line in the upper field, Alex reached for his phone and started to text.

“Hey. Wanted to connect and see if you want to meet up after Christmas this year for some lunch somewhere. I could meet you halfway or head down to Baltimore. Let me know.”

He clicked send, a large part of him hoping Sam would decline or didn’t answer at all. Sliding the phone back into his pocket he looked out over the field, the yellow and brown grass dotted with snow. Seven years ago, he’d stood here with Molly’s grandfather, Ned Tanner. Alzheimer’s had already started showing itself, but the man was connecting well that day. Alex was shocked by how quickly the disease had progressed and how Ned went from chatting away to slipping away within only a couple of years.

In some ways he was grateful that heart failure had claimed the man three years after the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, sparing his family from having to experience the man forgetting them altogether. Yes, there were days he briefly mixed up a family member or forgot that Molly, for example, was his granddaughter, but in the end, he’d at least known who Franny was.

Alex could still remember Ned’s words that day they’d stood in this field.

“If you love the land, it will love you back, did you know that, boy?”

“No, sir, I guess I didn’t until I came here.”

“Then it’s good you came here. We’re glad to have you. Hope you know that at least.”

At that point, he’d only been at the Tanners a year but had already felt like family. Robert, Annie, Jason, Franny, and especially Ned had all made sure of that.

He’d met Ned a few times before moving up to stay permanently and he wished he’d been able to know him longer before he became sick.

“Thank you for letting me work with you, sir,” he’d said to Ned.

Ned had clapped a large hand on his shoulder and squeezed, gray-blue eyes glistening, either from the wind or emotion. “Thank you for working so hard and being the extra support we’ve needed now that I’m getting all old and gray.” He’d flashed a captivating grin that had made Alex chuckle and reassure the man he wasn’t washed up yet.

Alex had never experienced acceptance like that before, other than his own grandfather, who he’d lost while he was in high school. His father had rejected him time and time again, telling him he’d better “get it together” if he wanted to be part of the business. Alex didn’t want to be part of the business, though. He’d gone to college to get a degree in computer programming on the off chance he did work with his dad, but he knew his dad wanted him at a desk, crunching figures and making deals, not in the IT department. Sitting at a desk wasn’t the future Alex wanted. When Jason had invited him to come work and live on the farm, he’d jumped at the opportunity.   

Taking a deep breath of cold, winter air, he closed his eyes briefly, the image of Ned forefront his mind. “Miss you, Ned. Thanks for everything.”

He shook his head as he opened his eyes. “Man, these Tanners have made me all sappy. I need to get a grip.” He wiped a hand across the dampness on his cheek and pulled a hammer out of the toolbox to start repairing the fence.

He’d learned a few important lessons from the Tanner men over the years and one of them was if you wanted to stop thinking too much, you went to work.


Robert stood and grimaced as his knee cracked. He shouldn’t have been kneeling that way. His leg still wasn’t a hundred percent since the accident and it never may be again.

The pain would be worth it, though, just to see Annie’s smile.

The pieces were coming together nicely. Soon he would be able to paint it, but hopefully the bolts to affix the chain to the swing would come soon.

His own father’s words came to him as he leaned back against the tractor behind him and reached for the mug of coffee he’d brought.

“You’re sure, Robert? You’re only 18 and –”

“You and mom were even younger, Dad. What’s this really about?”

“It isn’t about anything. I just want to be sure this is what you really want.”

“Dad, being married to Annie and running the farm with you is what I really want. She wants to be in farming too. We’ve thought about it. A lot.”

Ned had patted his back briefly and nodded. “Okay, then, you have my permission to talk to her parents about marrying her. I’ll support you both however I can.”

And Ned had supported them, day in and day out. That support had come in finances, yes, but also in advice, in emotional support, in love that Robert could still feel to this day.

Ned’s physical body was gone, but his loving, hardworking spirit definitely lived on in his family.

Robert reached for the phone in his pocket as it rang, deciding he’d look at the caller ID this time to see if he wanted to answer it.


He’d better answer it.

“Where are you at? Have you seen the weather yet?”

“No, what’s coming?”

“Maybe a foot. Starting tonight.”

Robert let out a breath. “Better get the chains on the big tractor. The plow is already on the truck but we’ll need to be able to clear a space for the milk truck to get in in the morning if they can even get here.”

“That’s not all. The heater in the barn is on the blink again.”

“That’s not good at all. I’ll be up in ten to take a look.”

“Up from where?”

No use trying to keep it all from Jason. He needed all the help he could get at this point. “The shed in the lower field. I’m working on a surprise for your mom. The key word here is surprise, okay? So zip your lips about it.”

Jason laughed. “So that’s where you’ve been slipping off to every afternoon. No problem. I can keep a secret.” He paused. “Well, better now than I used to be able to.”

Robert reached for his gloves and the key to the truck. “Call Walt about the heater too. He knows more about this new one than I do. I’ll see you soon.”

Outside in the truck he looked out over the field in front of him, a field he’d laid in after the accident, the tractor pinning him down. Running a farm wasn’t easy, not by a long shot, but he was glad to be alive to do it, even on the days when challenges rose up faster than the river after a heavy rain. “It’s good to be alive, Lord.” He smiled and started the truck. “Good to be alive.”

A Christmas in Spencer: Beyond the Season, Chapter 2

Welcome to the second chapter of a twelve-chapter story I am sharing on the blog. This is being shared with minimal editing, just for fun, but will be fully edited once it is complete.

If you would like to read more about the characters in this story, you can find full-length novels on Amazon for purchase or on Kindle Unlimited HERE,

The first three chapters of the first book, The Farmer’s Daughter, can be found HERE.

Once all the chapters have been shared here, I’ll be providing a free Book Funnel link to blog readers and placing the story on Amazon for 99 cents.

Chapter 2

“You ready to learn how to paint a vehicle the right way, Mr. Stone?”

Alex winced and made a face. “Yes, as long as you stop calling me Mr. Stone. It makes me think of my dad and I’m nothing like him.”

Burt laughed and pounded his hand on Alex’s back. “Okay, then, Alex, let’s get started. The first thing we have to do is sand the paint off this old truck and get it ready for a new coat.”

“So, we can make it look new but what about the engine? Are we going to be able to save it?”

Burt’s smile faded briefly. “Save it, no. Replace it, I hope so.  The biggest issue is finding a new engine for a truck this old. It’s definitely testing my scavenger-hunting skills right now.”

Alex rubbed his chin, nervous energy buzzing through him. “Let’s at least get the paint job started. Maybe we can set it up somewhere as a display if nothing else.”

Burt retrieved a large box of supplies from the other side of his garage and carried it to the truck, setting it down at Alex’s feet. “Tell me something. Is there anything else you plan to do along with presenting her with a newly refurbished truck?”

Alex laughed. “What, spending half my savings on fixing up her grandpa’s truck isn’t a big enough Christmas gift?”

Burt’s eyes glistened mischievously. “I’m not saying that, but, I mean – will you, possibly, be planning to present her with — ” He raised his hand and tapped his wedding band on his ring finger. “A lovely piece of jewelry?”

Warmth rushed from Alex’s chest up into his face. He choked on the coffee he’d been sipping and continued to cough for several seconds.

Burt’s laughter echoed off the high ceilings of the garage. “I’m guessing the answer to that question is a big no.”

Alex worked to recover, wiping a hand across his mouth. “I hadn’t really – I mean, that wasn’t part of the plan right now, no.”

Burt reached into the box for the sander. “My niece is a sweet young lady, Alex. Don’t let her slip away.”

Alex shook his head. “No, sir. I don’t intend to.”

Burt straightened and winked. “Then you might want to think about securing her long-term presence in your life with a ring. A fancy one. With a gold band and a diamond.”

Alex took a deep breath and let it out again. “No pressure or anything, though, right?”

Burt pushed a sander into his chest. “None at all. Now let’s get to work on your first surprise. You can mull the possibility of the other one over for a bit, but don’t wait too long. You’re going to need some time to pick out the ring.”

Alex swallowed hard. This harassment was most likely some sort of cosmic payback for how he’d harassed Jason about his need to propose to Ellie a couple of years ago.

There was no denying he loved Molly. More than he’d ever loved anyone before. Marriage, though? He’d seen what happened to his parents. Marriage didn’t always mean happily ever after, and it was a reality that weighed heavy on him and made him hesitant to do the one thing he wanted to do but was too afraid to.


Robert shivered, pulling the door to the shed closed behind him. In front of him sat a pile of boards he needed to cut to size, sand down, and put together in the next six weeks.

To the right of the boards sat a broken porch swing, tilted on its side and propped up against a piece of old farm equipment. A rusted chain, broken in two places, had been draped over the back of it.

A faint smile tilted his mouth upward as he looked at the broken remains of the swing.

In his mind he was sitting on that same porch swing on Annie’s parents’ front porch, the setting sun casting light pink across her skin, transforming an ordinary evening into an extraordinary one. He’d leaned forward, his 18-year-old heart pounding out a high-speed rhythm as he tilted his head to press his lips gently to hers.

The kiss was innocent and brief, but it had sent a rush of energy skittering through his entire body. He had been wanting to do that for over a year and the fact he’d gathered up his courage to do so made him proud.

Her parents had been away at an adult fellowship at the church that night, and she’d stayed home with her younger sister, who had been inside coloring and watching a cartoon. She’d leaned back from the kiss and smiled, touching a hand to her cheek and then her fingertips to her lips. Then she’d shocked him and leaned in for another kiss that he had welcomed. What was as welcome was the sound of footsteps inside the house, the front screen door bursting open, and the teasing voice of Annie’s sister Brenda.

“Are you two kissing? Eewww! That is so gross and I am totally telling mom and dad!”

Removing the swing from the front porch ten years ago had been emotionally hard for Robert, but the chains had rusted out and the boards on the seat were splintering. He’d planned to repair the swing sooner, but time had gotten away from him and now most of the boards were in even worse shape. The entire swing would need to be replaced at this point, but it would be worth it to see her face light up 33 years after they’d first sat there together.

That’s if he could finish the project in between milking cows, running the farm, and helping his sister with the family farm store.

Keeping it a secret from Annie would be hard since she could read him so easily, always able to tell when he was hiding something, even something good.

Already this morning she’d asked him what he had planned for the day, where he’d be and if he needed any help. She’d been by his side since the day they’d married, a constant support, a partner in life as much as in marriage. Her protective nature had kicked into high gear after his accident and she’d quickly joined forces with his daughter and mother in frequently checking up on him, asking if he was too tired or needed her to tag along and lend a hand.

Right now, though, what he needed most was for her to check on him less. Otherwise, she’d find out the surprise before he could reveal it on Christmas.

He started at the sound of a phone ringing. Getting used to carrying one of those smartphones around and actually answering it had definitely been a challenge in the last year but if he didn’t answer it, family members came looking for him.

The caller ID told him someone was calling from Harper’s Hardware.


“Yeah. Hey, Terry, got those bolts I ordered?”

Terry Harper let out a breath on the other end of the phone. “Wish I could say I did. I called the supplier again and it looks like those bolts are out of stock just about everywhere. There’s some kind of supply chain issue out west.”

“California, I’ll bet.”

“Probably, yeah.”

“You said you don’t have any other bolts in stock similar, though, right?”

“Right.” Terry sounded as disappointed as Robert. “Is there any other way you can complete your project without them?”

Robert shook his head, even though the owner of Harper’s Hardware couldn’t see him. “Unfortunately, no. Anything else won’t be sturdy enough for what I need it for.”

“What’s your deadline?”

“I’d like to have it done by Christmas Eve. Sooner if possible so I can install it.”

Terry huffed into the phone. “Hmmm. Well, I’ve got one other supplier I can try. I’ll give them a call and see what we can do.”

“Thanks, Terry. I really appreciate this.”

“Of course. You know I’d do anything to help you make Annie smile. She’s a good woman. She deserves the best.”

Robert smiled, looking at the pile of wood he hoped to transform into her gift. “Yes, she absolutely does.”

A beep in his ear alerted him he had another call. He thanked Terry again and said good-bye before answering his brother Walt’s call.

Like usual, Walt didn’t bother with a greeting. “We got a problem.”

“What’s up?”

“A fuse has blown on the freezers at the store. A whole row is out.”

Robert’s eyes widened. “A whole row of freezers?”

“Yes, and if we don’t get that product somewhere cold, we’re going to lose it. Has Benny Jenson still got that freezer truck?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll give him a call. I’ll get a hold of Jason and Alex and send them up ahead of me.”

“I’ve got Brad going too. We’ll need all hands on deck.”

Robert pondered the pile of wood and huffed out a brief sigh as he hung up.  He looked at the broken swing one more time before he closed the shed door and headed to his truck.