Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter, Chapter 29

Anyone else ready for an escape from reality?

Some of you probably won’t be happy with me today because I’m going to leave you on a cliffhanger. However, I will post Chapter 30 tomorrow so you’re not left hanging for too long.

I’ve been posting these chapters since April. I can’t believe it, but I have. I’ve been working on this particular story for a couple of years now, off and on anyhow.
As always, there will probably be typos, missing words, etc. as this is a novel in progress. If you find some of these typos, etc., please feel free to let me know in the comments or via the contact form so I can fix them. I’ve seen some really dumb mistakes on my chapters long after they were published here and I’m always amazed someone didn’t say something about them so I could fix them. Ha!

If you would like to catch up to the rest of the story you can do so HERE or at the link at the top of the page. Or, you can wait until February 2021 when I publish it on Kindle (after rewrites, editing, etc.).


Chapter 29

“No, Mom, I won’t hear of it.”

Robert held his hand out toward his mom and shook his head. “We are not selling this property or this house to cover that loan. This house has been in our family for generations. I appreciate the offer, but that’s not the answer.”

Franny sighed and slid her glasses off, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Robert, we can’t hold on to all this property forever and if it will help save the rest of the business then we need to consider it.”

“Mom. No. I’m not allowing —”

“There is no allowing anything on your part. This house and property are in my name and my name alone. I will make the final decision, not you.”

Robert sat in the recliner that had been his father’s and propped his elbows on his knees, looking at his mother. Her jawline had that familiar set of a woman who was not to be deterred. Her eyes were flashing with determination and her lips were pressed firmly together. Worst of all was her unwavering gaze that told him she’d made up her mind.

She wanted to move into an apartment close to Betty and Frank. It would be less upkeep and the sale of the house and property would go to help pay off the loan. Robert appreciated her offer, but at this point, the deadline to pay off the loan was closing in and the sale would take longer than they had. Thankfully, they’d be able to pay off a large portion of it with the proceeds combined from the sale of the corn, the milk sales, and profits from the farm store over the last month.

“Mom, I know it’s up to you. The decision is yours, but at this point, the sale would take a while and it wouldn’t be in time to go toward the loan.”

 Franny sighed. “Well, I guess I can hang on to the house for a bit longer. Who knows, maybe I can give it to Molly to live in when she gets married. “

Robert raised an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes. “Married? Have you heard something I haven’t?”

Franny laughed softly and leaned back against the couch. “Don’t get all flustered now. I haven’t heard a thing. I’m just thinking about her future. I’m sure she’ll get married someday.”

“To Alex?”

“I don’t know who. I’m just saying, our Molly is a good catch for any man, and she might want to stay close to her family. We don’t know.”

“Or she could want to leave the farm, see what else is out there for her,” Robert countered.

“True. That’s all up to Molly, but just in case she wants to stay close to her family, raise her children here, then —”

“Children?” Robert scoffed. “Mom, let’s slow down a bit okay? I haven’t even wrapped my head around her kissing my farmhand let alone let my mind go to her being married or having children.”

Franny chuckled. “Good grief, Robert. You need to get with the program and realize Molly isn’t a little girl anymore. She’s a grown woman with her own path to carve out in life.”

“I know that mom, but I think you would agree that even though she’s a grown woman, she will always be my little girl.”

Franny tilted her head and smiled. She leaned forward and covered her son’s rough, hard-worked hands with her much smaller ones. “Just like you will always be my sweet boy.”

A grin tugged Robert’s mouth upward. “Thanks, Mom. I love you too.”

***

Molly had been avoiding Alex all day and she knew he could tell. He’d tried more than once to reach for her hand and she’d pulled away each time, reaching for a shovel or a bucket or anything so she wouldn’t feel his skin against hers and lose control of her senses every time he was around. She couldn’t miss his looks of confusion, the way he’d looked at her with narrowed eyes from the main barn doorway on his way to the lower barn as if trying to figure out why she’d turned so cold in such a short time. 

Several times during the day she snuck looks at him, trying to decide if he was the type of person who would have confessed his love for a woman only a couple of weeks after taking another woman he barely knew home from the bar and sleeping with her. There was part of her who couldn’t imagine it, but part of her that thought it was possible, not because he was a horrible person, but because she knew Alex used things like alcohol and women to distract himself from the difficulties in life. 

She knew he had strained relationships with both of his parents. Maybe he’d been trying not to think about that. Still, if he had loved her for years as he said, then why would he have taken Jessie home instead of telling her how he felt? Why had it taken him so long to tell her anyhow? Alex Stone wasn’t someone who was afraid of women and there was no way he was afraid of her. There was nothing special or intimidating about her. She wasn’t beautiful and tall and leggy like Jessie Landry. She was just Molly. Boring, fat, plain, and forgettable Molly Tanner.

She swallowed hard, walking toward the chicken coop, shaking her head at the tears stinging her eyes. A few nights ago, she was overcome with emotion by the words Alex spoke, and by the way, he held her tenderly. Now she was wondering if that had all been an act, even though she truly couldn’t comprehend it had been. She drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and silently prayed for God to reveal the truth to her and stop her racing mind.

Warmth against the back of her neck a few moments later as she collected the eggs sent a shiver of panic rushing through her. She could smell his aftershave and it was clouding her thoughts. Why did he have to stand so close?

She snatched up the eggs and quickly moved to the next nesting box to move away from him.

He moved with her, stepping even closer until his front was almost touching her back. “Hey, you’ve been avoiding me all day. What’s going on?”

She didn’t turn around. She knew if she looked at him, she’d burst into the tears she’d been fighting back all day.

“Nothing’s going on. I’m fine.”

He laughed softly. “Yeah, um, I know ‘I’m fine’ is code for ‘something is wrong’ in women speak.”

He touched her arm gently and for a brief second, she pictured herself leaning back into him so he could hold her. “Molly, talk to me.”

She slid past him and carried the basket of eggs out of the chicken coup, walking back toward the barn without answering him. She could hear his footsteps quickening behind her. Where did she think she was going to go that he wasn’t going to follow? The bathroom was the only option, and she was fairly certain he would block her way if she tried to get to the house. 

His hand caught hers as she stepped inside the feed room door. Trying to pull loose she moved toward the middle of the room, but he pulled her gently back toward him until she was facing him.

His voice was firm. “Talk to me. I need to know why we’ve gone from making out one day to you not even acknowledging I’m alive the next. What happened between a few days ago and today?”

His hand gripped hers tightly. She closed her eyes, praying the tears would disappear. 

When she opened her eyes, she was staring straight into a pair of captivating blue eyes clouded with genuine concern and confusion. At that moment she couldn’t imagine Alex would ever lie to her and that fact terrified her because she knew she was about to ask him a question she didn’t want to know the answer to.

She asked it quickly and bluntly before she chickened out and ran for the house. 

“Did you sleep with Jessie Landry?”

Alex’s eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened. “No. Why would you even ask that?”

“Because Jessie says you did.”

He released his grip on her hand. “And you believe her?”

She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment and shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t really, no. I’ve known Jessie for years and I can’t remember her ever being a very honest person.”

He stepped back from her, hands on his hips, turning to look at the field across the road. Panic began to surge through her. He’d already denied it but now he had withdrawn, and she wondered if that meant there was some truth to Jessie’s story. When he turned back toward her, his expression was serious.

“I didn’t sleep with her, but I did bring her back to my place that night.” He walked toward her until he was standing a few inches in front of her, his eyes glistening as he spoke. “I took her home because I wanted to take my mind off you because I didn’t think I was good enough for you, Molly. I still don’t. I saw you with Ben that day outside the church and I thought something was going on between you. I figured it was because he was better than me. I went to the bar a couple of nights later, Jessie was hanging all over me and I didn’t want to think about how I wasn’t good enough for you anymore so I brought her back home.” He looked at the barn floor, shaking his head. “The entire time she was there, though, all I could think about was you.”

Warmth spread through Molly’s chest and her face flushed. 

He swallowed hard and brought his gaze back to hers again. “That’s the truth. I don’t expect you to believe me because you know my past, you know I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I promise you that this was not one of them. I never should have taken her home. I never should have gotten drunk that night. I kissed Jessie, I almost slept with her, but I didn’t.” He pushed his hand through his hair, laughing softly. “She definitely was not happy about that, but I couldn’t help it. It was you I wanted. Not her.”

“I meant what I said Molly. I’m in love with this farm, I’m in love with this family and more importantly, I’m in love with you. Do you really think I lied about that? That I could lie about that?”

She opened her mouth and closed it again, unsure how to answer. Did she really think he’d lied? She couldn’t even imagine he had, yet she was afraid to fully trust he hadn’t. Fully trusting meant opening her chest and letting her heart be exposed in a way she hadn’t allowed since she dated Ben.

“Molly?”

The hurt in his eyes shot daggers through her heart and she wanted to tell him she believed him, she trusted him, she loved him as much as he said he loved her but she couldn’t seem to move beyond her fear.

She reached out and laid her hand against his upper arm. “Alex, I —”

The back door to the feed room swung open and Jason filled the opening as he guzzled soda from a can and burped loudly. “Oops did I interrupt some kind of lover’s spat?”

She thought her head was going to explode.

She didn’t even know her brother had a clue about her and Alex’s relationship and at this point, she didn’t even care. 

She swung to face him. “Excuse me?”

Jason stepped into a square of light on the barn floor made from an opening above the door. “You heard me.” He winked and pointed to her then to Alex and back to her again. “I know all about you two.”

Molly rolled her eyes. “What — how — I mean just seriously, what is wrong with my family? You all have the worst timing on the planet and act like I can’t have a life of my own.”

Jason’s eyes widened and he blinked at her innocently. “What do you mean? I didn’t say you couldn’t have your own life, I just —”

“Interrupted me,” Molly snapped. “Interrupted me again. Like everyone else in this family has done every time Alex and I are together. I’m sick of all of you sticking your nose in my business.”

Jason looked at Alex who raised his arms slightly from his side and shrugged. Jason looked back at his sister and sighed. “I just can’t win with women right now, can I?”

Molly folded her arms across her chest her cheeks bright red. “Apparently not. Now get lost. This is a private conversation.”

It was Jason’s turn to roll his eyes. “Fine, I’ll leave but I needed to ask Alex if he can run down and check on dad first.”

Molly cocked a leg to one side, folded her arms across her chest, and glared at her brother. “Why?”

“Because Dad has been down in the field by the lower barn for two hours. It shouldn’t take him two hours to plant rye in that area and I wanted to know if Alex would go see if the tractor broke down again. Dad didn’t take his phone with him.”

Molly was certain her blood pressure was at a dangerous level at this point. “Why can’t you do it?”

“Because Uncle Walt is on his way over with Troy and we’ve got to move those heifers up to the upper barn before the storm moves in.”

Alex stepped between the siblings and held a hand toward each of them. “Hey, guys, truce, okay? I’ll head down and check on Robert.” He turned toward Molly, his back facing Jason. “Can we finish this discussion when I get back? I want to talk this out, okay?”

Molly nodded, touching his arm gently. “Yes. I want to too.”

For the first time since they’d started talking a small smile tugged at Alex’s mouth. “Good,” he said softly.

Jason groaned. “Gross. I don’t need to see you two swoon over each other. I’m going to go wait outside for Uncle Walt.”

Alex laughed softly as Molly stuck her tongue out at Jason’s back. 

He stepped toward her, leaned in, and kissed her cheek. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

She nodded. “Okay.”

“We’ll talk?” he asked softly, cupping his hand against her face.

A faint smile tugged at her mouth. “We will.”

Molly watched Alex climb into his truck from the feed room’s doorway. On the horizon behind him, dark clouds were inching toward the farm, threatening to pound the ground with rain for the third time that week. She pushed her hand back through her hair, anxious to continue their conversation but feeling relieved that they had at least broached the issue instead of letting it fester.

***

As he drove toward the lower field, Alex’s mind was filled with what else he wanted to tell Molly when he got back to the barn. He wished their conversation hadn’t been interrupted — again. Did she believe him? What had she been about to say? He knew Jason hadn’t meant to interrupt their conversation but part of him wanted to tell his friend off – from a distance where Jason couldn’t shove him again, of course. Alex’s chest and back were still aching from the encounter a few days before.

He should have known Molly would eventually find out about Jessie, but at the same time, she’d told him she already knew about his past and still loved him. The memory of her words gave him hope that she’d been about to tell him she believed him and understood why he hadn’t told her about Jessie before. And then there had been the way she had touched his arm before he left, telling him she wanted to talk more. That was a good sign, right? It had to be. 

He drove slowly over the small dirt road that connected the upper and lower fields of the Tanner’s farm, his mind focused completely on Molly until he came up over the hill and looking down saw the underside of Robert’s tractor facing toward him instead of the cab. That definitely wasn’t normal. Was Robert trying to fix it? If he was, how did he get it up on its’ side? Alex’s chest tightened. Robert couldn’t have pushed it over on his own.

He quickly scanned the grassy area around the overturned tractor for Robert, terror gripping him when he didn’t see him.

“Please let him be in the barn,” he prayed, gunning the accelerator. 

The moment he slammed his foot on the brake and threw the truck into park he knew Robert wasn’t in the smaller storage barn. His chest constricted as he shoved the truck door open. 

He could already see Robert’s body pinned underneath the 1960 Ford tractor that had originally been Ned’s. 

Oh, God

He started running.

“Robert! Robert! Talk to me!”

Robert’s torso and legs were under the main part of the tractor, his pale face visible, glazed eyes looking up at the darkening sky.

Dark red pooled around his upper body.

Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined Chapter 11 and Epilogue

Welcome to the final chapter of Quarantined. To catch up with the story click HERE.


Chapter 11

John was laughing, holding one of the national newspapers that most people referred to as a “gossip rag.”

“Matt, have you seen this?”

John tossed the paper, front page up, onto Matt’s desk.

Normally Matt found himself seething with anger when he saw an inaccurate or misleading headline but this time he simply tipped his head back and laughed loudly.

“Ah, man, this press conference might be fun,” he said with a grin, tying his tie. “You think they’ll ask me about it?”

John tossed another gossip newspaper on the top of the desk and nodded. “I’d guess someone will. TMZ is covering it too.”

“TMZ? I’m not Jay-Z or Beyonce. Are you serious?”

Matt was laughing harder now as he snatched up the folder with his notes and walked briskly toward the office door. “Come on, let’s do this. Cassie, you want to watch this one? This one could be fun.”

Cassie glanced at the front page of the paper as she walked toward the door then stopped, took a few steps backward and looked at the paper again.

“Is that me? In a robe? Where was that photographer even at to get that photo?”

Her eyes were wide as she followed Matt down the hallway. “Matt, we need to install a fence and better security. That’s an invasion of privacy.”

A splattering of camera flashes and shutter clicks met Matt when he reached the end of the stairs of the capitol and stood in front of the members of the press, many of them shoving cellphones and microphones at him. Cassie and John stood behind him, listening to a variety of questions related to the current uncertain situation with a possible deadly virus moving across the country and what Matt intended to do about other pressing national security issues when the Senate was back in session.

Matt answered the questions and was preparing to wish the reporters a good day when a reporter called to him.

“Representative Grant, is it true that while you were supposed to be quarantined with your family you had another woman at your house, in your backyard? Neighbors say they saw you kissing her and leading her into your garage.”

Several cellphones and microphones were shoved back toward him.

Matt shot the reporter a surprised expression, one eyebrow raised. “I have no idea what you are referring to Patrick. Please enlighten me.”

Patrick O’Donnell held up the paper with the photograph of Cassie straddling Matt in their backyard on the lawn chair.

“That doesn’t look like a neighbor saw me. That looks like a photographer saw me.”

Patrick pressed him. “Then you don’t deny this is you in the photo?”

“No, I don’t.”

Smirks filtered across the press pool, pens moving feverishly across reporter notebooks.

“I also don’t deny that the woman in the photo is my wife, Cassie.”

A female reporter in the front of the group rolled her eyes and shoved her pen in her pocket, clearly uninterested in the story now that she knew he’d simply been with his wife.

“She dyed her hair to try something different with her appearance. And what you see there is the culmination of a wonderful at-home date night while I was in quarantine. It was a great make out session that we later moved to the privacy of our garage so we could have amazing married sex without waking our children. Yes. There really is such a thing as great married sex.”

Cassie gasped softly and clasped her hand over her mouth. John laughed and shook his head.

“Aw man…” he said.  “Looks like the old Matt has come back to us.”

Matt’s expression was a cross between angry and amused. “Any more questions?”

Laughter spread across the press pool. Patrick’s face flushed bright red as he joined in the laughter. “No, Senator. I think that answers my question.”

Matt cleared his throat, his eyes moving across them, his smile fading.­ “With that behind us, I have an announcement to make.”

The cameras that had been turning off clicked back on. Phones were shoved toward him to record his words. Pens will slid out of pockets again.

“This will be my last term as a senator from the great state of Ohio.”

Cassie gasped for the second time in only a few minutes. Her husband was apparently full of surprises today. He hadn’t told her he was going to tell a group of national reporters about their sex life and he hadn’t told her he had decided not to run for reelection. What had changed his mind? She looked at John and noticed he didn’t have the same surprised expression on his face that she did.

“Did you know?”

He nodded, a smile tugging at one side of his mouth. He looked slightly sheepish, rubbing his hand along the back of his neck. “You mean he didn’t talk to you yet? He said he was planning to. Um . . . Yeah.  Well, we’ve been talking about it, but I didn’t know he was going to announce it today.”

“What led to this decision?” a reporter asked.

“My heart,” Matt responded with a small smile, looking up and catching Cassie’s eye.

Matt answered a few more questions then stepped away from the podium and walked toward Cassie and John, reaching for Cassie’s hand. They didn’t speak until they were locked inside the elevator with John.

Matt spoke before Cassie could. “I know. I’m sorry. I should have told you I’d made this decision, but I can’t put our family through this anymore, Cassie. I can’t put you through this anymore.”

He slid his arms around her waist and pulled her gently against him. “I don’t know what our future holds, but I am thinking private practice again. John has agreed to be my paralegal and I’ll find something for Liam to do too, some way for him to use that PR degree of his.”

“Are we going back to Ohio?”

Matt nodded. “I really think that would be best at this point, yes.” He cupped her chin in his, searching her eyes. “What do you think? I know I should have asked you before I made the announcement, but what do you think?”

Cassie smiled. “I think Tyler is going to be upset leaving his friends, but I think you made the right decision. We will all adjust.”

Matt kissed her briefly as the doors to the elevator opened. Bright sunlight pouring in from the glass doors of the capitol building bounced light off the floor and chandeliers, prompting all three of them to reach for their sunglasses.

Matt paused and turned toward John. “I’m heading home for the afternoon, John. I’ll call later and we’ll discuss this more.”

John nodded. “Sounds good. Liam and I will get the releases together for you to look at.”

Matt slid his arm around Cassie’s waist as they walked nodding at a couple members of the press, a few senators and two congressmen as they walked toward the back parking lot toward their car.

Matt lifted his phone as it rang and smiled as he read the caller ID.

“Hey, Liam.”

“What was that? I thought we were going to draft a press release when I got in this afternoon.”

“I know. Sorry. The timing just felt right.”

Liam laughed. “Classic Matt response. Seriously, it was fine with me, I just didn’t expect you to announce it so quickly. I’ll work with John on a press release with more details this afternoon. And, hey, that whole thing with Cassie was hilarious.”

Matt laughed, his hand on the door to his car. “It was but at the same time it was concerning. I don’t like the idea of the press being able to access our property that way. I think stepping out of the limelight for the next few months should help alleviate some of that until we can get back to Ohio. Anyhow, things still getting better with you and Maddie?”

“We’ve barely left this bed all morning, does that answer your question?”

Matt winced and made a face. “Dude, as happy as I am that you and Maddie are getting things back on track, I did not need to know that.”

Liam burst into laughter. “I didn’t mean it that way.” Matt could hear Maddie laughing in the background. “We’re watching movies together. That’s all. For now, anyhow.”

“Ah man, I have to go. Too much information, Liam.”

Cassie slid into the passenger seat as Matt slid behind the steering wheel.

“So, what’s the verdict? Things still getting better over there?”

“I’d say so. They’ve been in bed all day.”

Cassie made the same face Matt had made a few moments earlier. “Oh, that’s what you meant by too much information. I mean I’m happy for them, but that’s more than I needed to know.”

“He said they’re watching movies.”

Cassie laughed, flipping back a strand of her now blond-streaked brown hair. “Yeah, sure that’s all they’re doing. But good. That means that both of the Grant brother’s marriages are on the right track then.”

Matt leaned toward his wife and cupped his hand against her face, sliding his thumb along her cheekbone. “Yes. That is exactly what that means.”

Epilogue

“Pregnant? Really?”

A smiled tugged at Matt’s mouth, even though he’d considered teasing his wife for a moment and pretending to be upset at whatever important news she said she had to tell him. This announcement, though, had genuinely brought a smile to his face. Yes, the children they had were exhausting. Yes, this news was definitely a shock and surprise. But also, yes, he loved his children, they were a blessing, and if God was giving them another blessing, he was more than ready to accept it.

Cassie caught her lower lip between her teeth then let it slide out again. “Are you upset?”

“Upset? Do I look upset?” He pulled Cassie gently against him and kissed her mouth gently. “This is wonderful news, Cassie.”

“Even now, with our future up in the air? With you getting ready to leave the Senate and rebuilding your law firm?”

“Even now, Cassie.” He looked at her with a furrowed brow. “I don’t know why you’re shaking. Were you that nervous to tell me?”

Cassie nodded, tears rimming her eyes even though a smile was pulling at her mouth. “I know it was silly, but yes, I was that nervous. Not just to tell you, but what it might mean for ”

Matt wiped at the tear that escaped the corner of her eye with the palm of his thumb. “We’ll make it work. I’m not worried about that.”

When his cellphone rang he let it go to voicemail, not even bothering to see who it was. Whoever it was could call back.

Cassie wiped at the tears on her cheeks. “I wonder what the kids will think.”

“Tyler might not be very happy, but I think the girls will love the idea of a baby to take care of.”

His cellphone rang again. Cassie nodded toward it. “Maybe you’d better take that. You’re not out of the Senate yet. It could be important.”

Matt shrugged. “Doubt it.” He reached for the phone anyhow, glancing at the caller ID.

It was coming out of Washington, that’s all he knew, and it was probably Senate business, but that business could wait.

He placed the phone down again and slid his arm back around Cassie, holding her close. “I don’t have time for spam right now. I’ll listen to it later. Right now my focus needs to be on this family and,” he smiled as he touched Cassie’s belly. “This new baby.”

***

Matt rubbed his hands across his eyes and yawned. He’d been ignoring his phone and emails all day. He and Cassie had talked about the new baby, told the children, had dinner, spent some time watching a movie and holding each other and now Cassie was asleep upstairs. He’d stumbled into his office to catch up on phone calls and see what he’d been missing. One voicemail was from John, asking him to call him back, another was a call from a member of the media, and the third was from Liam, asking him about his plans for Labor Day weekend.

He reached over to click off the desk lamp as the phone rang again. He lifted it, glancing at the caller ID and yawning again. 202 area code. Someone in Washington again. He rolled his eyes, ready for his day to be over, but he decided he had better take the call this time. This same number had called four times today already.

“Senator Grant?”

“Yes?”

“Hello. Glad I finally caught you. This is Alexander Marshall, Chief of Staff for the president. We noticed on the news that you’ve decided not to run for re-election this year.”

The White House? Really? Matt definitely new Alexander’s name but he needed to feel this conversation out; make sure it was actually him.

“Um, yeah. Hello, Mr. Marshall. Yes, I felt that I’d accomplished at least most of what I wanted to do here, for my constituents and that I should —”

“We understand, Matt, may I call you Matt? And I certainly would want you to call me Alexander.”

“Yes. Sure. Of course, you can call me Matt.”

He was beginning to think this really was Alexander Marshall. He certainly had the same New York accent as Alexander Marshall.

“We understand why you’re stepping down Matt, but to be blunt, we don’t think your job is done here in Washington yet. You’ve propelled a lot of the goals of our party forward in some very high-profile ways. Listen, Matt while we here at the White House, specifically the president, respect your decision to stay home with your family, we are willing to offer you a position on the president’s cabinet, which would keep you in Washington and close to your family while also still being able to serve your country, something we know is very important to you.”

Matt sat up straighter in his chair as Alexander continued speaking. His exhaustion was fading, adrenaline kicking in fast.

“As you know the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has stepped down and this is the position the president has personally asked us to approach you about and have you consider taking on. Would you be willing to at least consider this offer and get back to us by the end of the week with your answer?”

Matt’s mouth had gone dry. He shook his head as if to wake himself from the dream he was sure he was having. The president wanted him on his cabinet? Was this really happening?

“Uh, yes. Yes, of course I will consider it Mr. Marshall – um, Alexander.”

“Great. That’s great. I hope to hear by this week that you’ll be joining our team.”

As he hung up Matt felt a twinge of guilt. Had he just said he’d consider a job on the president’s cabinet, on the same day he’d promised his wife he’d consult everything with her from now on, especially if it affected the entire family? Indeed, he had.

 He let out a long breath. He had to talk to Cassie about this sooner rather than later. He couldn’t keep the news from her. They’d have to discuss it and make a decision.

Whatever that decision was, though, he knew they’d make it together – as a family.

Extra Fiction Thursday: Quarantined, a novella, Chapter 6 and 7

*Warning: This week’s chapter deals with the topic of miscarriage.

Normal disclaimer: The fiction I share here is not usually the final draft. It also isn’t normally the first draft. Either way, it is edited and rewritten before the final “publication” as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

If you’d like to catch up on the story you can do so HERE.

I welcome feedback, suggestions and corrections.


Chapter 6

The bundle in Maddie’s arms, swaddled in a blue and white hospital blanket, had been so tiny, motionless. Liam wanted to run out of the room and never look back, but he knew he couldn’t. That was his baby in there, in  his wife’s arms; his baby who hadn’t lived. His legs felt like lead weights as he stepped across the room, nodding at the nurse who looked at him with concern and compassion, tears in her eyes.

The nurse’s hand on his shoulder was warm as he moved to stand next to the bed, looking down at Maddie. Eyes still on the small, lifeless face peeking out from the blanket, Liam sat next to his wife, sliding his arm around her as she cried. Maddie’s hair was soft against his face as he buried it there to try to hold the tears in.

“I thought it would be different this time,” she said through the tears. “I thought this time we’d make it.”

The three other miscarriages had been early in the pregnancies and one of them had been what the doctor’s called a blighted ovum – an empty sac, or a baby that never grew enough to be picked up by the ultrasound.

Liam kissed the top of Maddie’s head and closed his eyes. “I know, Maddie. I know. Me too.”

And he had thought they’d be bringing a baby home. The nursery had been ready, the baby clothes purchased, the crib set up. When the doctor told them that the placenta had ruptured and the baby wasn’t going to survive Liam’s ears had started ringing. When he learned Maddie might be lost too, colorful lights mixed with blackness faded across his vision.

A deep breath and a head shake had kept him from hitting the ground, but the doctor still took three long steps toward him and grabbed his arm to steady him.

“Please, Mr. Grant. Sit. We’re going to do everything we can to save your wife.”

In the midst of grief was joy that Maddie had survived; that even if he couldn’t carry a baby home with him, he still had Maddie. Sitting in the dimly lit den in the back of the house, he chewed at the nail on his thumb as he remembered that horrible day and the days that followed.

There was no denying those first few months had been beyond difficult. Maddie was stoic most days, angry others. Then there were the days she spent sobbing almost uncontrollably behind the closed bedroom door, unable to get out of bed and face life, or even face him. He comforted Maddie as best as he could, tried to be gentle, tried to understand her grief and most of all he tried not to burden her with his own grief.

He had to be strong for her. She wasn’t capable of helping him heal when she couldn’t heal herself; he knew that. He also knew he should have relied more on God to heal them both, but he was angry at God; furious that God had not only let him down, but most of all that he had let Maddie down.

All Maddie had ever wanted was to be a mother. Blow after crushing blow eviscerated that dream.

Liam blamed God.

He had been raised to believe God wanted his people to prosper not suffer, that he loved them. If that was true, then why had this so-called compassionate God let Maddie suffer so much and so often?

After the loss of the baby, who he and Maddie named Abrielle, Liam buried himself in work at the public relations firm he’d been employed by during that time. When he wasn’t working, he did his best to make Maddie happy — making her dinners, making sure she had quiet time, and not pressuring her to go back to work at the small magazine she’d been working at.

She was never happy, though. She didn’t want to take the medicine the therapist had suggested. She didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t answer phone calls from her parents or come out of her room for visits by Cassie or her friends. She didn’t want him to hold her and tell her it was going to be okay.

 Many days it seemed like it was him she wasn’t happy with. He finally  gave up trying to make her happy. Maybe he should haven’t have given up. Maybe if he hadn’t, she wouldn’t have wanted the divorce.

He stood from the loveseat in the den and paused at the window, looking out at the side yard, barely lit by the half moon. He rubbed his chin, biting the inside of his lip.

“I want a divorce.”

Those had been her exact words and she’d said it without even flinching, other than a small muscle jumping in her right eye, right above the small scar she’d gotten when she fell off her bike at 8-years old. Liam had used to kiss that scar, then her cheek, on his way to her mouth.

He hadn’t really wanted a divorce, but he had known in that moment it was what Maddie wanted.

She felt he’d never been there for her, that he had abandoned her.

If she felt that way, there was no changing her mind, no matter how many times he reminded her of how often he had been there.

He shook his head and drank the last of his soda down.

Maybe after the divorce, they would find the healing and peace neither of them could find when they were together.

***

Maddie poured herself a glass of milk and squeezed in a large helping of chocolate syrup. She knew it wasn’t right, but during stressful times she reached for comfort food and that comfort food was usually full of fat and sugar.

Walking to the back deck she flopped in a lawn chair and guzzled the milk, looking out at an empty backyard, a backyard she had once thought would house a swing set, a tiny kiddie pool, and a sandbox.

She could still remember the conversation she’d had with Cassie after the loss of Abrielle.

“What is wrong with my body? Women’s bodies are supposed to grow babies! It’s natural! That’s what all the books say! I guess I’m just not natural.”

Cassie — beautiful, sweet and fertile Cassie, pregnant with baby number three — shook her head and reached out to take her hand.

“Maddie, that isn’t true. There isn’t anything wrong with you. If there is a medical reason you can’t carry a baby to term the doctors will find it. Having a medical reason for the miscarriages doesn’t mean you’re not a real woman.”

Maddie had known Cassie was right, but she still struggled with toxic thoughts, thoughts that told her that her body had failed her, but more importantly, Liam. She’d seen Liam with his nieces and nephews. She knew he’d be a wonderful father and she’d wanted to make him that father. It had never happened, though, and no matter how many times someone told her it wasn’t her fault, she knew it was.

She leaned back in the lawn chair and closed her eyes against hot tears.

It was her fault Liam wasn’t a dad.

It was her fault their marriage had fallen apart.

What had happened to her? When had she become so miserable? When had she become someone that even she wouldn’t want to be around? No wonder Liam had jumped at the opportunity to divorce her.

He needed someone who had as much passion for life as he did, who wasn’t miserable and depressed and cold.

“God,” she whispered, her eyes still closed. “How did I get here, at this miserable, lonely place? Why did you abandon me here?”

A tear slipped down her cheek and she brushed it away quickly with the back of her hand, choking out a small laugh. Maybe you’re asking why I abandoned you, huh? She shook her head. I don’t know anymore, Lord.  I don’t know where I’ve been or even who I am.

She pulled her knees up to her chest, bowing her head against them, letting the tears flow.

Father, help me let Liam go, so he can be happy again.

Chapter 7

Tiny fingers and toes, pudgy arms and pudgy legs. Cassie kissed Tyler’s newborn nose, tears streaming down her face part from exhaustion but also joy.

“I can’t believe he’s here,” Matt whispered near her ear and when she turned her head, she saw that her husband’s face was streaked with tears too.

There were days it felt like Tyler had been born yesterday, not the 13-years it actually was. Thirteen years. So much had happened during that time. Two more pregnancies and two more children, her retirement from social work, Matt’s campaign. . . . How had it all gone by so fast?

There were times Cassie thought she should have done more with her life by now, but there were other times she was happy with where she was. She’d decided to send the children to a small, private Christian school the year before last when Matt’s national profile had increased. She began volunteering there regularly, helping the children at the school sign out library books or teaching them art. Best of all, she was able to see her own children throughout the day, keep an ey on them and make sure they weren’t approached by anyone from Matt’s political world. So far, the media had left the children alone, even when they hadn’t left her alone.

The story on the opinion page of the Post last year had questioned her involvement with the school. If Senator Matt Grant’s children attended a Christian school where his wife also volunteered, could he be trusted to treat all of his constituents fairly? What about the Muslim children? Or the Buddhists? Or even the Jewish?

“How will Grant’s faith influence his oath of office to represent all of his constituents?” the columnist asked.

“It won’t,” Matt told a reporter who posed the same question at a press conference a few days later. “My faith is what inspires me to care about all of my constituents. I believe God created them and called for me to love them as he has loved me and them.” He told her later he had smiled easily, winking at the reporter good-naturedly, even though inside he had felt unsettled by the question. “And you, Jim. He has called for me to love even you.”

The critics continued to squawk, though, and after that Cassie decided to no longer read or listen to the news. She tried instead to focus all her attention on her children and family. She had buried herself in volunteering, in reading, in her Bible study, in anything to try to drown the critical voices of the world out.

She was beginning to realize now, though, that she’d also drowned out Matt and her marriage, subconsciously pushing aside anything she thought might threaten her family’s safety. Pouring herself a glass of milk she leaned back against the counter and winced. Did she really think being close to Matt was a risk to their safety? If anything, being closer to him should have been a comfort in a sea of chaos.

If she had been feeling like she had been in a sea of chaos, alone on a storm-tossed ship in the middle it, then how had Matt been feeling? He’d been the one at the brunt of it, the one taking the hits and, in almost every way, the one shielding the rest of the family from the blows.

Walking into the living room, sipping the milk, she watched Matt in the backyard with the children, tossing a rubber ball between each of them. He tipped his head back and laughed when it bounced off Gracie’s forehead and she tumbled backwards, giggling. Tyler picked it up and tossed it to Lauren, who quickly dropped it, giggling too much to hold on to it.

 Lauren bent to pick it up and Matt lunged for it at the same time, snatching it from her then gently bouncing it off her forehead, sending her into another fit of giggles. Cassie couldn’t hear what they all were saying, but she knew the children were finding whatever Matt was saying funny by their laughter and wide grins.

Cassie hadn’t seen Matt this relaxed and joyful in at least two years, probably longer. She watched him as he tossed the ball, his muscles still well defined and toned after all these years, visible underneath the t-shirt pulling against his stomach as he lifted his arms to catch the ball, stop it from sailing over the fence into the neighbor’s pool.

An ache filled her chest, moved up her throat, threatened to spill tears down her face. She bit her lip, trying to hold back the emotion but it didn’t work. Tears pooled in her eyes, streaked her cheeks and she let them roll, knowing they were as full of joy as they were sadness. She was so grateful for this time with her family, with Matt, but she was also sad that she hadn’t tried to have more of it in the last couple of years.

Matt deserved so much more from her. More of her attention, more of her comfort; simply more of her. She needed to stop holding back and lower her walls. She needed to be sure she was supporting him in every facet of life.

Running for re-election may not have been something she wanted, but it was something he wanted. He was running because he felt it was not right for the people who had voted for him, but his family.

“Lord, help me to be what Matt needs me to be for him,” she whispered, wiping another tear away. “Help us to both lay down what we want for what you want. For what you need us to do in this time.”

***

On the tenth night of quarantine, still with no sign of illness, Liam headed to bed early, shutting off his phone and laptop around 10 p.m. He slid under the covers, emotionally and physically drained. He was glad, though, that he hadn’t yet experienced any coughing, muscle aches, or sore throat. His mind was racing, filled with thoughts of work, thoughts of what this virus might mean to his parents, his older aunt and uncles, and anyone else whose health might be more vulnerable.

 His thoughts were also filled with Maddie.

She was sitting in the room down the hall, but she might as well have been thousands of miles away with all the interaction they’d had this past week.

Matt was right.

Liam still loved Maddie.

Sadly, it was growing more obvious that Maddie didn’t feel the same way about him. The anger she had for him radiated off her each time they passed each other in the house. He didn’t even try talking to her. She’d spoke her piece. Her mind was made up about their marriage.

To her it was over, and he needed to accept that.

Sleep had finally begun to slip over him when he heard a soft knock on his door. He rolled over and closed his eyes tighter, ignoring it. Ignoring her. Another knock. He pulled the blanket up around his shoulders.

The door squeaked open and then footsteps, soft across the floor.

What did she want? He was too tired for another fight.

“Liam?”

Maddie’s voice was barely audible. He ignored her again.

She spoke a little louder. “Liam?”

Silence.

She sighed in the darkness and he felt, rather than saw, her turn back toward the open doorway.

He rolled his eyes. “What?”

Silence fell over the room and he heard a breath drawn in sharply and slowly let out again.

“Will you hold me?”

He rolled over, squinting in the darkness, trying to make out her face to decide if she was serious or not.

“What?”

“Just hold me. Nothing else.”

Was this some kind of trick to lull him into a false-sense of security? He squinted again, trying to see if she was holding a weapon of some kind.

“Please?”

She seemed serious.

Very.

He heard a vulnerability in her tone he hadn’t heard in a long time.

“Um . . . yeah. Okay.”

She lifted the sheet and comforter, sliding next to him, her body warm, her feet cold. Her feet had always been cold, and she’d always slid them up his legs to warm them, making him squirm but laugh at the same time. There was a time he’d asked if she needed the rest of her body warmed up too and there was a time she’d say ‘yes’ and he’d snuggled close and nibbled at her earlobes.

He wasn’t going to ask if she needed warming up this time.

Surprise opened his eyes wide as she laid her head on his shoulder, a hand on his chest over his heart and closed her eyes.

They laid in the dark listening to each other breathe until she whispered: “I tried to stay away from the news but it’s like watching a train wreck. I can’t seem to look away.”

His voice as soft. “I know.”

“People are scared.”

“Yeah.”

“They’re convinced they’re all going to die.”

“They’re not. Fear does crazy things to your mind.”

Silence settled over them again.

She laughed softly again. “Yeah. Like that time you had that spider on your arm when we were driving to my parents and you almost drove us into a river.”

Liam snorted a laugh. “Well, spiders are scary, what can I say? All those legs. . .” He shuddered. “It’s just creepy.”

Silence stretched between them again.

“Liam?”

He stared into the darkness, at the light of the streetlight bleeding in under the blinds. “Yeah?”

“If this kills one of us —”

“Maddie, this isn’t going to kill either one of us. I already told you we don’t even know if my test is positive. And most of the cases are mild, especially in our age group. We’re not in the highest risk age group. Okay?”

“But if it does . . . ” Maddie took a deep breath and spoke fast as she exhaled. “I want you to know . . . I’ve always loved you. Even when I didn’t like you.”

Liam laughed softly.

“Thanks. I guess.”

“And, Liam?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought you had to fix me. Only God can fix me.”

Crickets chirped outside. A dog barked somewhere down the street. Liam closed his eyes and let out the breath he’d been holding.

 “Yeah. I know.”

He laid his hand over hers, the one laying on his chest.

“Maddie?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry you thought I didn’t care. I did care. I’ve always cared.”

He had been trying not to be aware of her body warm against his, of the smell of her shampoo, of how soft the skin on her arm as he trailed his fingertips down it, of how her closeness made his heart rate increase.

But he was aware of it.

All of it.

Much more than he wanted to be.

He slid his other arm under her and she slumped into him as he moved his hand slowly up her arm, resting it just below her shoulder. He squeezed it gently then lightly touched his lips against the top of her head, her closeness suddenly intoxicating. “I love you, Maddie. Despite it all. I love you.”

He listened to her breathe and for a moment he thought she had fallen asleep.

 “I’m so tired. . .” she whispered against his neck, her breath warm. He could tell she was fading fast.

“Sleep. We can talk more in the morning.” He looked at the ceiling, barely visible in the darkness from the orange glow of the streetlight outside. “It’s not like we’re going anywhere.”

She slept but he couldn’t. Not now with her tucked against him soft and warm, kicking his thoughts into high gear. He hadn’t expected her to come to him for comfort. He hadn’t expected it, but he welcomed it and loved having her so close, even if that closeness was only physically.

 Had she meant what she said? That she still loved him?

Maybe it had been the stress and worry talking. The exhaustion even.

The only thing he was sure of was that those words had sparked a warm, comforting fire in the center of his chest. He closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her hand over his heart, trying to switch his brain off, knowing he’d meant it when he’d told her he still loved her.

Spring has finally sprung in Pennsylvania but it’s always possible another snow storm will come

“There are robins on the hill,” my dad said and we rushed to the windows and “ooohed” and “aahed” because in Pennsylvania we know that the sight of the robins in our yards means spring has sprung. Sure, the grass may still be brown and yellow, the trees may still be naked, and the flowers aren’t yet budding, but when the robins appear, back from their trip South, we know it won’t be long.

Soon there will be flowers (and for our family sneezing), warm days spent at the playground (though we already squeezed a playground visit in this week),

I have to be honest, during our first warm day this spring, I found myself briefly wishing for cold again. After months of waiting for weather warm enough to get the children out of the house, I felt a rush of anxiety at having to talk to people again while walking the dog and pushing my daughter up the hills on her bicycle. I’m anti-social at heart (which is weird, considering the 13 years I worked in newspapers) and find the older I’ve become the more I prefer sitting at home, reading a book, writing nonsense on here, or watching another episode of “Somebody Feed Phil.”

Not having to wear a coat to walk to the car or around the block was welcome for those three warm days, before cold weather set back in, though. I walked to the local diner on the second warmer day, after a family friend invited me for lunch. I was fed what was possibly grass with some dried cranberries, the smallest sunflower seeds I’ve ever seen and a pile of oregano. Apparently, I’m not as “natural” as I like to think and found myself wishing the black beans sprinkled on as my source of protein was a huge steak.

Showing that I’m not yet prepared for the normal warm weather walking of five paces behind my daughter on her bike while trying not to let the dog yank me onto my face on the sidewalk on her short leash, I decided to try to cut corners and let the dog pull my daughter on her bike. I wasn’t really going to leave the leash hooked there long, but truly thought the dog might pull her forward a few inches instead of yanking the bike onto its side and leaving my preschooler laying under it at the exact moment a local police officer drove by.

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The officer’s SUV slowed down and he looked through the tinted window at me as I lifted her off the sidewalk and checked her skinned elbow and grabbed the dog’s leash to keep her from running away. He gave me a thumbs up as if to ask “You okay?” and I gave one back to let him know I was and then waved a ‘thank you’.  One thing that is nice about small-town life is the local police presence.

He drove away and I looked closer at the mark on her arm was about the size of the top of a pin, but you would have thought she had almost lost her arm the way her lower lip was pushed out and she started making demands we turn around and go home. In the past two weeks, she’s become very attached to bandaids and seems to think she needs them on even the smallest scratches.

Even her animals are receiving their own bandages, especially if the dog happens to grab on to one of them and run off with it. Also in the past two weeks, she has become much more stressed about – well, everything. I had a feeling what she needed more than a bandaid was a nap after a couple of hours at the playground earlier with her dad and even more running through the house chasing the dog, before our walk.

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By Friday night the warm air had faded and I was receiving texts from my husband, who was at work, reminding me to turn on the heat. I refused, telling him it was still warm out and I wouldn’t close the windows and turn the heat on until I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes. This resolved faded shortly after that declaration and I found myself craving a warm cup of tea and the shawl that used to be my aunts. 

For now I’m happy to sink back into a little bit of introvert isolation, content with the excuse that it’s simply too cold to go outside and interact with others. And who knows, maybe we will have a March blizzard like last year and I’ll have even more of an excuse to stay inside.

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