Creatively Thinking: When You’re Okay Not Writing Deep and Praiseworthy books

I was so excited a couple of weeks ago when Robin W. Pearson won a Christy Award for her book A Long Time Comin’.

It was such a well-deserved award for a book I loved.

She worked on this book for years and years – I believe she said 20-years in one interview.

Amanda Dykes, another Christy Award winner also worked on her book, Whose Waves These Are for about eight years.

After listening to an interview with these women, I started to think, “Should I be working on my books for years and years and years, polishing them and using beautiful, detailed descriptions and literary writing like these ladies did? Maybe I’d be a more accomplished writer and person if I did. “

Maybe, I thought.

Probably, I thought.

My books would probably be better, I thought.

But then I thought: There is a place for every type of book. Readers love deep, thoughtful, densely written books, but they also enjoy lighter reads that aren’t as deep. Or at least I do. There are seasons in my life when I need something lighter. There are seasons in my life when I can handle something deeper. Ebs and flows. So there needs to be writers who can offer light and there needs to be authors who can offer deep.

Of course, there are those authors who offer a mix of both, which I feel Robin does very well.

Will my books change anyone’s life?

Maybe, but probably not. Will they offer a distraction when they need it the most?

Yeah, I hope so.

Sometimes something light that takes our mind off of things is just as welcome as something that leaves an imprint on our soul.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 34

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

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

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


Chapter 34

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

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

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

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

“Mom, I’m fine —”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Molly’s my girlfriend, Mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex exchanged a look with Molly and rolled his eyes.

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

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

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

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

“I had a lot going on.”

“You ignored Sam’s calls too.”

“Like I said —”

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

“No. I’ll call him later.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“You okay?”

He nodded. “Yep.”

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

“Maybe you should just rest today.”

“Too much work to be done.”

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

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

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

 She knew he’d share when he was ready.

Or he wouldn’t.

 It was up to him.

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

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

“The Lavender Inn?”

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

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

He shook his head. “Nope.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Molly?”

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 28

I’m pushing through The Farmer’s Daughter, hoping to finish the first draft so I can gut it later. Ha. Seriously, I like the story, there are just some parts I want to change a bit. Sharing the chapters of my book on my blog helps motivate me to complete the books, knowing I can always change things later. If I had a bigger following than I do, I probably wouldn’t share a semi-first draft of my novels on my blog, but I like my small “following” and how you’re all supportive and give me ideas for future chapters, and even future books.

A reminder to my blog readers who read Quarantined, it is out on Kindle now. For this week only I am offering it for $.99 on Kindle to allow my blog readers time to download it at the lowest price. If you don’t have a Kindle but would like a copy, let me know, and we’ll figure out a format that works for you. If you miss the deal, don’t worry, the book will only be $1.99 in the Kindle store since it is less than 100 pages.

To catch up on the rest of The Farmer’s Daughter, find the link at the top of the page or click HERE. Or you can wait until February when I release it in Kindle on 2.21.21


Chapter 28

Alex stretched his legs in front of him under the table at Lenny’s Diner, leaned back in the chair and groaned softly.

Matt chuckled. “Doing okay over there, farm boy?”

Alex rubbed his shoulder. “I always forget how much work it is to get the farm ready for winter. My muscles have been screaming at me.”

Their friend Troy, sitting across from Alex, winked at him. “Sounds like you need a night out.”

Alex shrugged. “Nah. I’m good. I just need a hot shower and a good night of sleep.”

Matt was still in his police uniform and Alex couldn’t help but notice the appreciative glances cast in the officer’s direction from many of the women in the diner. As usual, Matt was oblivious. He had to return to work after this impromptu lunch Alex had invited him to.

Troy worked for the Tanner’s, helping with the additional farmland the company had added a few years ago and he’d rode to town with Alex to pick up a part for one of the tractors at the local hardware store.

“We haven’t seen you at the bars lately, Alex,” Troy said as the waitress brought the drinks. “What’s up with you?”

I’m growing up, Alex wanted to say.

“Just been enjoying some solitude,” he said instead, deciding not to add that he was actually enjoying that solitude with Molly when they could find time alone.

He found it uncanny that at the same moment he thought of Molly she appeared out front of the restaurant, talking to the librarian. What was the librarian’s name again? He thought Molly had said her name was Ginny. They’d been attending art classes together.

He started to smile as an idea struck him; a way to make his friends think he hadn’t lost his way with women, when he knew he had and didn’t mind at all.

“What do you boys think about Jason’s sister? She’s good looking, right?”

Matt raised an eyebrow. “Um. Yeah. She is, but you better not be noticing.”

Alex laughed, looking out the window at Molly. “Why?”

“Because Jason will kick your butt for checking out his little sister,” Matt answered with a tone that signaled he thought Alex had lost his mind.

Troy shrugged. “I don’t know, she’s a little too big for me. Nice girl though.”

Alex took a sip of his soda, still watching Molly talking with the librarian, and then smirked.

“She’s just right for me. I like a girl with some meat on her bones.” He winked at his friends. “More for me to hold on to.”

Matt rolled his eyes. “Dude. You’re so going to end up with a bloody nose if Jason ever hears you talking like this.”

Troy laughed and punched Alex in the arm.

“Yeah, seriously, Stone you better watch it. Jason will kick your butt to next week if he hears you talking like that about her.”

Alex looked at Troy and Matt and rubbed his thumb and index finger along his unshaven chin. “I bet I can get her to go out with me”

Matt shook his head. “You’re too old for her. She doesn’t want to go out with an old man like you.”

Alex’s grin widened. “Hey, she’s only a few years younger than me. I bet you she will.” He stood up from the table. “I’ll be right back.”

“Dude! Don’t make an idiot out of yourself!” Troy called after him.

“More than you already are anyhow,” Matt added with a laugh.

Alex stepped into the sunlight on the sidewalk as Ginny climbed into her car.

“Thanks for letting an old lady share with you, Molly,” she said.

Molly laughed softly. “I’m so grateful you did and stop calling yourself old.”

When Ginny drove away Alex walked toward Molly, knowing he was in full view of Matt and Troy.

“Hey, beautiful,” he said softly, stepping behind her. “What was that all about?”

Molly turned and the smile she flashed him made his heart pound. He hadn’t expected his body to react so viscerally to being so close to her, not now, after he’d already told her how he felt, and she’d said she felt the same.

“Hey, yourself. You know Ginny, don’t you? She’s the librarian down at the Green Leaf Library. We were just chatting about – life, I guess you’d say.” She tipped her head slightly, still smiling “What are you doing in town?”

He jerked his head toward the diner front window. “Just having some lunch with the guys.”

Molly glanced throw the window and saw Troy and Matt watching and smiling, which made her wary.

“Uh huh. What are you boys up to?”

“I told them I was going to ask you out.” He stepped closer and laid a hand against her waist. “Want to help me have some fun with them?”

Molly’s cheeks flushed warm. She twisted her finger in her hair, as Alex stepped closer to her. He slid his other arm around her waist and pulled her closer.

“Out here? On the street? Where everyone can see?”

He moved his head closer to hers. “I doubt anyone will even notice the farm hand kissing the farmer’s daughter on a public street.”

Molly glanced around her at the cars and trucks on Main Street, people walking with their heads down, looking at their phones. She knew he was right. None of those people cared about two people they didn’t know sneaking a kiss on the sidewalk. She looked back at Alex, smiling as he leaned closer and caught her mouth with his.

She closed her eyes and the kiss lingered before he slowly pulled away.

“See you later,” he said softly, taking her hand in his.

Molly laughed softly, shaking her head. “I have no idea what is going on but, yes, I’ll see you later.”

Before she walked away, he pulled her back toward him and kissed her briefly again, then looped his thumbs through his belt loops and watched her walk to her truck across the street.

Matt and Troy were shaking their heads and laughing as he walked back to the table a few moments later.

Matt smirked, cocking an eyebrow as he sipped his soda.  “You’re already seeing her, aren’t you?”

Alex sat down, looking smug. “Maybe.”

“And Jason doesn’t know?” Troy asked.

“Not yet but her dad does,” Alex said. “He caught us a couple weeks ago. I figure he’s told Annie by now too.”

Both of Matt’s eyebrows were up now. “Caught you? Dude! Caught you doing what?!”

Alex raised his hands and shook his head. “Kissing. He caught us kissing in the barn. That’s all.”

“I don’t think Jason is going to like it,” Troy said shaking his head.

“Me neither,” Matt agreed. “He knows you too well.”

Alex shrugged. “He’ll be fine. I’m not who I used to be. He knows that.” He looked at the two men who were watching him with wide, unblinking eyes. “I’m changing. For Molly. She’s worth it.”

Matt grinned as he set his drink down on the table and looked over Alex’s shoulder. “Well, I hope you’re right about Jase, because here he comes now and he does not look happy.”

Alex turned in his seat to see Jason walking through the backdoor of the diner. He raised his hand to wave but paused mid-wave as he noticed Jason wasn’t actually walking. He was storming across the diner like a freight train. Combined with the fact he was as big as a freight train, Alex had a feeling this wasn’t going to end well.

He stood slowly. “Hey, Jase, you okay?”

“Am I okay?” Red flushed up into Jason’s face from his gigantic neck. “Why don’t you tell me what you’ve been doing behind my back with my little sister?”

Matt and Troy looked at each other.

Troy winced.

Matt grimaced.

“This is going to be better than the game,” Troy whispered nodding at the television screen behind the counter.

Matt nodded, his eyes fixated on the scene before him.

Alex’s eyebrows furrowed. “What do you mean what I’ve been doing with Molly?”

Jason towered over Alex, nostrils flared. “You know what I mean, Alex. Don’t play games. I was over at the gym just now and saw you kissing Molly.” He took another step toward Alex. “What are you doing messing around with my sister?”

Alex didn’t take his eyes off Jason’s, anger rising in him at the tone of Jason’s voice. “I’m not messing around with her, Jason. I’m in love with her.”

Troy raised his eyebrows at Matt and mouthed the words, “In love? Whoa!”

“She’s my baby sister,” Jason snapped. “You’re too old for her.”

Alex looked at Jason with an amused expression. “She’s a grown woman, bud, and I’m only four years older than her not ten or twenty.” He laughed and propped his hands on his hips. “It’s not exactly like I’m robbing the cradle.”

Jason’s jaw was so tight Alex expected his teeth to shatter at any moment. “She doesn’t need someone like you messing her head all up,” he hissed, practically nose to nose with Alex now.

“Someone like me?” Alex’s heart pounded in his ears. He wasn’t amused anymore. He folded his arms across his chest.  “What’s that supposed to mean? We hang out every night and you trust me to help run your family’s business but now I’m what? A piece of garbage? I’ve never done anything to hurt you or your family. Why would I start now? My past is in the past. You know that.”

Jason tipped his face toward the floor, opening and closing his hands, snorting through his nose like an angry bull before he moved his eyes back to Alex’s again. “This is my sister, Alex.” He riser his eyes again, pointing aggressively at his own chest. My sister. I don’t want you playing your games with my sister.”

Red spread from Alex’s cheeks to his ears. “You need to calm down, Jason. I’m not playing games with Molly. I already talked to your dad about this after he caught us in the barn the other night and he — ”

Jason grabbed Alex by the front of his shirt and yanked him forward, almost off his feet.

 More people had started watching. Matt and Troy stood up and stepped back from the table. This was indeed better than the game, but it was also getting dangerous. Matt wasn’t sure if he was going to be needed professionally or not.

“He caught you? Caught you doing what?” Jason growled at Alex.

Alex put his hands on Jason’s large fists, which were curled way too close to his throat, and tried to pull them away.

“He caught us kissing,” Alex growled. “That’s all I’ve done with Molly, Jason. That and fall in love with her.”

Jason let go of Alex’s shirt and shoved him back hard, sending him skidding across the hardwood floor on his back.  Alex winced and looked up to see Jason breathing hard, standing with his arms at his sides like a WWE wrestler about to grab his opponent and slam his head into the ground.

Even he looked surprised he’d pushed Alex. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I need some time to think,” he said softly before turning and walking toward the back door.

Pushing himself off the floor, Alex looked at everyone watching him, most of them smiling with amusement.

“Go watch your race,” he told them, smiling. “Nothing to see here.”

Matt patted him on the back as he sat down at the table.

“Well,” Matt said. “That went much better than I thought it was going to. You still have all your teeth.”

Troy nodded in agreement. “Yeah and your jaw isn’t broken. Yet. So, there’s that.”

 “Yet. Yeah.” Alex rubbed his jawline and laughed softly.  “Maybe I’ll sleep in my truck tonight instead of going home.”

The more Alex thought about it, though, the more Jason’s reaction ticked him off and by the time he’d finished his lunch and headed back to the farm with Troy his heart was racing in anticipation of the conversation he knew he was going to have to have with Jason.

He dropped Troy off back at the farm and head back to the house to try to cool down before he encountered Jason again.

When he saw Jason’s truck in the driveway he parked, but hesitated going in. He knew his blood was boiling and a conversation with his friend probably wouldn’t end well if he talked to him now. Then again, if he let the anger fester the conversation would be even worse.

He opened the front door and headed straight for Jason who was in the kitchen making a sandwich, knowing he might regret it in a few moments.

“What was that all about earlier?”

Jason kept making the sandwich, ignoring him. Alex knew he heard him though. Red was spreading up his neck to his face and he was working the muscles in his jaw as he clenched and unclenched it.

After a few moments he turned to face Alex, leaning back against the counter and crossing one leg over the other, and pressing his palm against the counter. “So, tell me, Alex, are you making Molly another one of your conquests?”

“No, Jason, I’m not. I don’t want to be like that anymore. You know that. I told you that after that night with that girl from the bar.”

“Jessie.”

“Yeah. Jessie.”

“She has a name, Alex. Her name is Jessie. She’s not just that girl from the bar and Molly isn’t just that girl in the barn. Get it? She’s my sister. She’s a real person with real feelings and I don’t want you toying with her and wandering off when something better comes along.”

Alex seethed with anger. “That’s not what this is about, Jason. Don’t you get it? Molly isn’t just some one-night stand for me. She’s different.”

Jason folded his arms across his chest and tipped his head slightly to one side. “Some one-night stand? What have you been doing with my little sister, Alex?”

“Jason, I already told you – nothing. I mean, something but not that. I’ve only kissed her, I swear to you. I wouldn’t do that. I don’t see Molly that way. Well, I mean, I see her that way but I —”

Jason took a step forward, unfolding his arms. “You better get your tongue untied, Alex and tell me what you mean.”

Alex slid his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. “I want something different with Molly. I feel something deeper for Molly. Deeper than a physical connection. I love her personality and talking to her and just being with her, as much as I like,” Alex dropped his gaze from Jason’s and kicked at the kitchen floor with the tip of his boot, his hands in his pockets. “As much as I like looking at her.” He looked up at Jason again. “Jason, I love Molly. I’ve loved her for a long time and I’ve never made a move on her, tried to seduce her, whatever you want to call it. Don’t you think if I thought of her as just some conquest I would have made a move before now? I cracked about three months ago. She was running herself down and . . .”

Alex tossed his arms out to his side and cursed. “Jason, I had to show her she was worth more than she thought, that she was worth something to me, that I love her the way she is and wanted her the way a man wants a woman no matter what she thinks of herself. I wanted her to know that what I see isn’t what she sees.”

A deep scowl clouded Jason’s expression as he took another step toward Alex, his arms still folded tight across his chest. “So, you showed her in what way?”

“I kissed her, Jason,” Alex snapped. “I already told you. For God sake, do I have to keep going into detail about this? Some things are allowed to be private between a man and a woman, even if the woman is your sister. All you need to know is that I did not ‘deflower’ your sister.”

Jason tipped his head down, a smile crossing his lips reducing the anger he’d been feeling. He looked up at Alex again, trying not to laugh. “Dude. Did you just use the word ‘deflower’?”

Alex laughed softly, glad for even a small break in the tension. “Yeah. So?”

Jason laughed out loud and playfully punched Alex in the arm. “I’m just about to believe you on all this. I think my sister has screwed you all up in your head. You’re definitely not the Alex I’m used to.”

Alex rubbed his arm, wishing Jason had pulled the punch a little more.

“Yeah, and maybe that’s a good thing,” he said, his smile fading into a more serious expression.

Jason nodded. “Yeah. Maybe it is.”

Alex rubbed the back of his neck, stepped back, and leaned against the door frame. “Give me a chance, okay, Jason? Give me a chance to prove I’m changing.”

Jason shook his head, turning back to his sandwich on the counter and taking a bite. “I want to, Alex. I do. It just makes me nervous knowing my sister is involved and that if you fall back into your old ways, she’s the one who is going to get hurt.”

“I understand,” Alex said. “But I can tell you, I’m doing all I can to make sure she doesn’t get hurt.” He shrugged and stepped forward from the doorway. “Help keep me in line, if you’re worried. Help me be a better man. For Molly.”

Jason remained quiet for a few moments, eating his sandwich without looking up. He wanted to be there for his friend, and he wanted to protect his sister at the same time. He only hoped he could do both. He shoved the last bite of sandwich in his mouth, wiped his hands on his pants, and then held out his hand toward Alex. When Alex took it he pulled him in close for a hug.

“I’ll do the best I can, buddy.”

Alex clapped Jason on the back. “Thanks, Jase.” He pulled out of the hug. “Listen, though, let’s get one thing clear. I like hugging your sister way more than I like hugging you.”

Jason laughed and shoved Alex gently back.

“Whatever, dork.” He leaned back against the counter. “Hey, you know I’m not perfect either. I made my share of mistakes in college. You’ve never ragged on me about them, or told anyone, and I want you to know I really appreciate that.”

Alex nodded. “No problem, bud. None of that was my story to tell. I’ve always known it was up to you to tell the people in your life about your life back then. And I’ve always known that even if you do tell them, they’ll still love you, just like I do.”

Jason drank the last of the water in his glass and set in in the sink. “Yeah, maybe. I don’t know about that.”

He turned back toward Alex. “Listen, just because I’m agreeing to try to help you become a better person,” He stepped toward his friend, pointed at him as he narrowed his eyes. “doesn’t mean I still won’t kick your butt if you hurt, Molly. Got it?”

Alex nodded. “Got it.” He let out a long breath. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

***

“So, this is exciting.” Molly slid in the seat across from Liz at Pam’s Diner, which wasn’t owned by, or even employed, a Pam. “Us. Out. Together. Alone. Without a tracker in your neck from your parents, I hope.”

Liz laughed. “Yeah. I know. Honestly, I think they were afraid to let me out of their sight, but when you actually showed up to pick me up, they knew I wasn’t lying about us going out together.”

Molly was glad Liz and her parents had finally talked and that Liz was staying with them while she decided her next step.

“So, you guys talked?”

Liz nodded.

“What did they say?”

Liz sighed. “That they love me. That they’re sorry they had no idea what was going on. They’re blaming themselves. I honestly didn’t expect that.” She twirled her straw in her ice water. “I don’t know, maybe I’ve been too hard on my parents all these years. My mom literally sobbed and said she felt like the worst mother ever. She hugged me and promised to pay more attention, begged me to never try that again.”

“What did they say about the baby?”

“Surprisingly, they didn’t lecture me. They didn’t point out my mistakes.” Liz turned her head toward the window, tears glistening in her eyes. She swallowed hard and shook her head slightly. “They told me they loved me and that that my mistakes don’t define me.”

She looked back at Molly and swiped at a tear that escaped the corner of her eye. “They’re really happy about becoming grandparents and told me they will help however they can.”

Molly smiled and squeezed her friend’s hand. “That’s awesome news. How are you feeling about it all, though?”

Liz let out a shaky breath. “I’m terrified. Most women would be excited, but I don’t feel excited at all. I just feel absolute terror at the idea of being a mother.”

 The waitress set down their drinks and Liz took a long drink from hers.

“I’m not ready for this, Molly. Not at all. I’m not mature enough. I mean, I know I’m closing in on 30 but my head is in the clouds half the time and I obviously don’t  know how to cope with my toxic thoughts or feelings. How can I raise a child? I’m going to give birth to an irresponsible, insecure, emotionally unstable hypochondriac.”

Molly laughed softly, but then shook her head. “Liz, you may be jumping the gun a bit on deciding who your child is going to be. You’re also selling yourself short. That’s not who you are. You’re strong. You’re smart. You’re loving. But the truth is, you can’t do it alone. You’re going to need to ask God to help you.”

More tears filled Liz’s eyes and she nodded. “I know. I’m just too embarrassed to talk to God right now.”

Their conversation paused as their food was placed in front of them.

“Do you think God doesn’t know your heart?” Molly asked as the waitress left. “He knows your shame and he’s already covered that with the sacrifice of his son. Remember?”

Liz looked out the window, wiping her eyes again. “I’m trying to remember that, yes. I’m just going to need a little longer, I think.”

She sniffed and blew her nose on a napkin. “Matt showed up at the hospital. A couple days after I was admitted.”

“I’m sorry? What?” Molly’s eyes widened. “That’s a huge development. What happened?

“He heard about my overdose from his co-worker who showed up with the ambulance. I was so out of it I don’t even remember a cop being there. Matt said the guy knew we’d gone out a couple times and thought Matt already knew. He had asked Matt if I was okay.”

“Oh. Wow.”

“Yeah. So, that was awkward.”

“So, what did you say to him?”

Liz took a bite of her burger. “I thanked him for checking on me and just told him my life was pretty messed up right now so I didn’t think I could keep going out with him.”

“And he said?”

Liz laughed. “Molly, now you sound like me with you and Alex, which reminds me — how is all that going?”

Molly held up a hand. “Tell me about Matt first and then I’ll tell you.”

Sighing, Liz wrinkled her nose at the memory of her conversation with Matt. “He told me if I ever needed anything to call him but that he understood. And, no, I did not tell him I am pregnant.” She sipped from her soda. “Now, tell me about you and Alex. How are things going? Still exchanging kisses behind the hay bales?”

Molly swirled a fry around her plate. “Um.. . yeah, you could say that. Dad walked in on us one night last week.”

Liz raised an eyebrow, her burger part way to her mouth. “He walked in on you? One night?” She set the burger down on the plate. “Explain. Now.”

“We were kissing,” Molly said with a laugh. “That’s all. It was a truly amazing kiss, though.”

Liz stared with wide eyes, her chin propped on her hands. “What did your dad say?”

“Honestly? He acted like I was 15 instead of an adult.” She scoffed as she picked at the bun on her chicken sandwich. “He was all flustered and saying things like ‘how long has this been going on?’ It was like I was caught kissing a Capulet.”

Liz blinked in confusion. Molly rolled her eyes. She tried to think of a more modern example that Liz might understand.

“It was like I was dating someone from a rival clique on a CW show.”

Liz nodded. “Oh. I see.” She started eating again. “Yeah. Your dad really does need to realize you’re an adult now. You know what would help drive that home for him?”

Molly smirked. “Eloping with an older man?”

Liz leaned slightly over the table toward Molly. “Are you planning to do that?”

“No!”

Liz held her hands up in front of her. “Okay, okay. So instead, I think you should move in with me like we talked about. You know I can use the support and well, you can use it as a way to push yourself out of the nest already.”

As Molly opened her mouth to answer Jessie Landry and Maggie Baker appeared as if out of nowhere at the end of the table. Molly had Liz had graduated from high school with Hannah. Jessie was a couple of years older, but Molly knew of her and, more importantly, her dating habits.

 “Hey, girls,” Maggie said with a friendly head tilt. “Do you mind if we join you? All the other tables are full.”

Maggie had always been polite enough, Molly thought, but she was a horrible judge of character, hence her hanging out with Jessie.

The pair shoved their way into the booth — Maggie next to Molly, Jessie next to Liz — without waiting for an answer.

Molly and Liz shot each other surprised looks.

“Thanks, girls, we appreciate it,” Jessie said reaching over to Liz’s plate and snatching a French fry. She turned her attention to Molly, plastering a broad, fake smile on her face. “Oh my gosh, Molly, I haven’t seen you in forever. How are you?”

Molly’s muscles tensed. “Good.”

Jessie’s eyes slid down from Molly’s eyes to her chest and back. “You look . . . well, great. Have you lost weight?”

Maggie smiled apologetically and spoke before Molly could answer. “Sorry we busted in on your private conversation, ladies. We were just starving. We’ve been at the gym.”

Molly shrugged. “It’s fine.”

 She slid her gaze over to Jessie busy eating Liz’s fries.

Jessie and Maggie placed their orders when the waitress came back to refill Liz and Molly’s drinks. When the waitress left Jessie turned her attention to Liz.

“Liz, where have you been? I haven’t seen you at Woody’s in weeks.”

Liz shifted uncomfortably and sipped her soda. “Been busy at work.”

Jessie smirked. “Oh. Is that what they’re calling it these days?”

Liz scowled. “Excuse me?”

“Never mind,” Jessie said with a small laugh, looking at Molly. “Hey, Molly, doesn’t that sexy Alex Stone work at your family’s farm?”

Liz raised an eyebrow at Molly who cleared her throat. “Yes. He does.”

Jessie’s smirk seemed permanently plastered to her face and Maggie was shaking her head and smiling.

Jessie leaned back, stretching an arm along the back of the booth behind Liz. “It must be fun looking at him all day. He’s hot.”

Molly eyed Jessie suspiciously. “Yeah. I guess so.”

Liz caught Molly’s eye and jerked her head toward the front door. “Let’s go,” she mouthed.

“Wasn’t he the guy you went home with a few weeks ago?” Maggie asked Jessie.

Jessie pushed the tip of finger in her mouth to suck off the salt from the fries. Light bounced off her calve-high silver boots as she crossed one long leg over the other. “Uh-huh.”

“So?” Maggie watched her expectedly. “Is he a good kisser or what?”

The smile on Jessie’s face was what Molly could only describe as a smug leer. “Well, I don’t like to kiss and tell, but…” The giggle that escaped Jessie grated on Molly’s nerves. “Let’s just say that lifting hay bales isn’t the only thing Alex Stone is good for.”

The waitress set Maggie and Jessie’s food down in front of them.

“Come on, Jess, spill the beans,” Maggie said. “It was more than kissing, wasn’t it?”

Jessie winked, stabbing a fork into her salad. “It was definitely a night to remember.”

Liz shot Molly a look that spoke volumes. She knew that Liz was sending her a warning message to stay calm.

“Stay calm,” was almost exactly what Liz said when they were outside, walking toward Molly’s car after Liz had skillfully changed the subject from Alex, telling Maggie and Jessie she had to get back to work.

“Promise me you’ll talk to him, Molly.”

Molly let out a long breath and tilted her head back to look at the sky, blinking back tears.

“Molly, look at me.”

She looked at Liz. The tears were threatening to spill over.

“Talk to him,” Liz urged. “Don’t take Jessie’s word for it. You know what kind of person she is. You know she’s a liar and she’s, well, I hate to say it, but she’s a . . . ahem . . .very loose woman.”

Jessie’s “loose” reputation is what worried Molly the most, considering Alex had once had a somewhat similar reputation when Jason had first brought him to the farm.

She rubbed a finger across a tear that had escaped from the corner of her eye. “That’s the nice way to say it, I guess.”

“Molly.” Liz placed a hand on Molly’s shoulders. “Promise me. Talk to Alex.”

Molly nodded slowly, taking a deep breath. She closed her eyes and willed the tears away. “I will. Later. For now, let’s go grab some ice cream before I drive you back to jail. I mean, your parents.”

Liz looped her arm through Molly’s. “Actually, you’re going to drop me off at the store. Linda wants to talk to me about what shifts I can work. I’ll walk back to my parents.”

“Liz —”

“Molly, I’ll be fine. Really. I’ve got to get back on my feet sometime and you can’t babysit me forever, okay? I want you to go back to the farm and talk to Alex. Straighten this out before it gets out of hand.”

Molly nodded, but as she walked back to her car, the idea of ice cream abandoned, her stomach ached and emotion clutched at her throat. Alex had told her only a week ago that he loved her and wanted to take things slow. Was he lying? Was she another notch in his bedpost like her grandmother had said? Or was there another reason he had said he wanted to take things slow? Maybe she wasn’t as attractive to him as Jessie Landry was to him.

Then there was that whole thing outside of the diner. Maybe kissing her had been a bet he’d wanted to win. She remembered the kiss on the overlook and shook her head. That kiss had been too amazing to be faked. And the way he’d looked at her? The words he said? She’d gotten to known Alex really well in five years and she knew when was lying. There was no way he had been lying.

“Molly, this is stupid,” she said out loud, pounding the steering wheel. “Jessie Landry is a liar. You know that.” She rubbed her fingers across her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “You are not in the middle of a romance novel where the man finally tells the woman he loves her and then the woman finds out a secret and they break up. This is real life. I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this.” She sighed and turned the key in the ignition. “Now, stop talking to yourself like a crazy person and go talk to Alex.”

By the time she reached the farm, though, her internal dialogue had swung back and forth between trusting Alex and believing Jessie so many times she couldn’t even think straight.

She pushed the truck into park and turned the engine off, staring at the open barn door, chewing on her lower lip, her stomach still aching. She was grateful she had work to do in the barn for the rest of the day and could use it as an excuse to not talk to Alex. She knew she couldn’t avoid him forever, but she needed to for now because she didn’t want to confront him with her emotions as raw as they were at this moment.

A New Beginning: Free on Kindle today and tomorrow

I wanted to make sure I told any Kindle readers that my second book A New Beginning is free on Amazon right now (until Saturday, Oct. 17). I am including a small excerpt of the book here and you can read a longer one by clicking HERE.



Five years later I could still vividly remember the moment I broke Hank Hakes’ nose with my foot after he broke mine with his fist. I could still hear the sick crunch of bones under my heel and still clearly see in my mind his glazed eyes before they closed, and his face fell into a pool of blood on the carpet.

I knew if I didn’t remember how Hank had beat me and I had fought back, I might let my walls down, leaving my son and me vulnerable again. I wasn’t about to let that happen.

Maybe that’s why I felt so uncomfortable when my best friend Emmy Lambert said she couldn’t wait for me to meet her cousin J.T. from North Carolina. I didn’t like the idea that she might be trying to set me up.

The truth was, I had met J.T. Wainwright years before when we were both children, and the memory wasn’t one that overwhelmed me with an interest to meet him again. He’d been a scrawny kid with big ears, messy red-brown hair, and freckles all over his dirt-smudged nose. He had also been loud, obnoxious and downright rude. Imagining that in a 27-year-old man wasn’t making the meeting any more appealing for me.

Emmy insisted she wasn’t trying to set me up. “J.T. is moving up to work with daddy in his construction business and I thought it would be good to introduce him to some people up here.”

She’d invited my sister and brother-in-law and my parents. Perfect proof that she wasn’t trying to get me alone with him, she claimed.

I finally agreed to attend the dinner, hoping Emmy would change the subject.

She didn’t. Instead, Emmy tapped her finger against her chin, her eyes focused on the ceiling in a thoughtful expression. “But, if I was setting you up, J.T. would definitely be a good one to set you up with. He’s handsome, well-built, a former football player, and Southern, which is always a plus.”

I knew Emmy had added the Southern reference because she still considered herself Southern, even though her family had moved from North Carolina a little over a decade ago.

“Emmy, you know I’m not interested in dating.”

“I’m just saying. You know. In case you change your mind.”

“I can assure you, Emmy, I won’t.”

Emmy sighed. “Blanche, you have to get back on the dating horse someday.”

I cocked at eyebrow at her. “Do I really? Because Jackson and I are happy the way things are now.”

“But what if a man simply adds to your happiness? Not every man is like Hank, you know.”

It was a blessing not every man was like my first husband, but that didn’t mean I was interested in starting a relationship with another one and take that risk.

After I’d left Emmy at her father’s office, I’d walked back to my sewing shop down the street to meet my older sister Edith.

“Oh, Blanche! I just love the dress!”

Edith twirled in front of me, the dress I’d made for her swirling around her in a blur of dark red.

She slid her hands down the front, resting them on her hips and admired herself in the full-length mirror. “Do you think Jimmy will like it?”

I stuck the pin I had been holding between my lips into the pincushion next to the sewing table and stood, admiring the view of my older sister filling out the dress. I didn’t have to look at how it fit her to know her husband would love the dress she was wearing.

“He likes anything you wear, you know that. You could wear a garbage bag and he’d fall all over himself trying to get to you.”

Edith tipped her head back and laughed, dark curls spilling across her bare shoulders. “You think so? Even with all this extra weight I have on my hips?”

“I know so.”

Edith turned, admired herself in the mirror eyes traveling down below her waist.

“It doesn’t make my – “

“Your bottom is fine,” I said with a laugh. “But I can loosen the fabric a little in that area if you like.”

Edith wrinkled her nose and tipped her head to one side as she studied her reflection. “Nah, I think this is going to work fine for our anniversary dinner. More than fine. You’ve done such a beautiful job, Blanche. Thank you so much.”

Edith, who possessed curves in all the right places, had always been beautiful, but she never seemed to believe it. As a teen and young adult, she’d always needed some sort of reassurance of her beauty and worth. At one time in our lives that reassurance came from the attention of boys – lots of boys.

But six years ago, Edith began to see herself through the eyes of someone more important than the next boy in line – God. When she realized God loved her for who she was – faults and all – her opinion of herself shifted and she began to understand that she was loved – not for what she did or how she looked, but for who she was inside. Even with that realization Edith still had days she worried about her appearance. What was different now was that she worried exclusively about how one specific person saw her – her husband, and one-time high school sweetheart, Jimmy Sickler.

Jimmy ran a car repair business with his father and was someone I’d always wanted to see Edith marry but never thought I would. He was too sweet and polite for her during a phase of her life when only loud and adventurous would do. His looks, with soft brown hair and dark brown eyes, could have been described as more “choir boy” than “bad boy” and for a couple of years bad boys were on the top of Edith’s dating cue.

When Edith finally learned to see herself the way God saw her, she began to realize her worth wasn’t in how many boys loved her. She also realized Jimmy had been the one constant in her life, always there to comfort and support her even when she seemed to reject him.

I unfurled a roll of fabric, spreading it across the cutting table. “Allie Davenport wants a summer dress in this fabric, what do you think?”

Edith snorted, tipped her chin up slightly and looked at herself in the mirror, pulling the top of the dress slightly down to reveal her shoulders.

“I think Allie should worry more about the fact that everyone in town knows she’s running around behind Larry’s back with Jason Taylor than a summer dress.”

“Edith! That’s awful!”

Edith raised her eyebrows and propped a hand on her curvy hip.

“I know it’s awful. Larry proposed to her only a month ago – she’s going to break his heart.”

Edith had changed a lot since we were children, especially after she had started attending church more and even more so when she married Jimmy, but she still possessed a tendency to gossip and judge.

“God’s still working on me,” she liked to remind me.

I knew what she meant. God had been working on me in the last five years, but he still had a lot of work to do. There were many days I looked at myself in the mirror, measuring tape hanging around my neck, a pencil tucked behind my ear, and laughed at the irony of someone who had once hated sewing now working as a dressmaker. As a teenager, I couldn’t thread a needle, let alone create an entire fashionable outfit for the women in town or hem pants for the men. While I had once silently cursed the idea of attending sewing classes with my mom and sister, sewing now supported me and my 6-year old son Jackson.

“So, why do you think Emmy wants you to meet her cousin?” Edith asked, still admiring the dress in the mirror.

“She says she just wants him to know some people in town now that he’s moved up here to work with her dad, but she’s probably like everyone else who thinks Blanche needs a man to fix her.”

Edith frowned and pursed her lips together in a disapproving expression as she turned to face me. “Everyone? I’ve never said you need a man to fix you, so not ‘everyone’ says that.”

I sighed and folded the fabric for Allie’s dress, laying it on a shelf behind me. “Well, Mama and Daddy and Emmy then. Not you. Still, I don’t know why they all don’t understand that I like life the way it is right now. I’m content. Jackson is happy. We’re doing well.”

Edith folded her arms and leaned back against the sewing table, a smile tugging at her lips. “And you don’t have to let anyone in and risk being hurt again. Good plan.”

I playfully tossed a rolled-up piece of tissue paper at her. “Borrowing a saying from Emmy, ‘hush your mouth.’”

Edith laughed. “Well, it’s true and you know it is.”

We turned our heads at the sound of the front door opening and saw our father standing there, briefcase in hand, grinning as he saw Edith trying to reach to unzip the dress from behind.

“Well, you look nice, Edith,” he said. “Special occasion?”

Edith smirked and shook her head, tugging at the zipper. “Daddy…you know it’s Jimmy and my anniversary next week.”

“Oh? Is it? I must have forgotten.”

Edith playfully slapped her hand against Daddy’s shoulder as she walked past him toward the changing room. “Very funny, Daddy.”

Edith had only mentioned her upcoming anniversary several times a day for the last two weeks. We knew Daddy hadn’t forgotten.

Gray speckled Daddy’s sandy brown hair and small wrinkles marked the skin along his eyes. He took his suit coat off and started to loosen his tie.

“You ready to head home, kid?” he asked me. “Mama’s making fried chicken for dinner and I bet she’d love a break from that crazy kid of yours.”

I laughed, knowing my mama never called my son crazy and loved the days she spent with him; playing with him, cooking him lunch, and helping him prepare for Kindergarten, which he would start attending in a few months.

“I’m anxious to see him,” I said, gathering my measuring tape, scissors, and extra thread spools and shoving them in the top drawer of the sewing table. “But I doubt Mama wants a break from him.”

Daddy smiled. “I have to agree. She does love that boy.”

Edith stepped out of the dressing room in a button-up pink shirt and a flared light blue skirt, hooking her long, curly hair into a ponytail. “Speaking of being anxious to see someone, I’ve got a husband to head home to and cook up some dinner for.”

She hugged me quickly and kissed Daddy’s cheek. “Thanks again, Blanche. I’ll swing by next week to pick it up. I don’t want Jimmy to see it until that night.”

***

I’d spent the first year after my divorce floundering, trying to get my footing as a single mom at the age of 20. I stayed home with Mama, helping her cook and clean and care for Jackson, but rarely left home, even for church. Instead, I kept  myself emotionally locked up in the solitude of shame. Eventually, I took a part-time job at the library, began attending church again, and visiting the sewing circle meetings with Mama on Wednesday nights. I also started writing a column for the local newspaper.

I’d left the library job when Doris Thompson asked me if I’d be interested in helping her in the sewing shop. I agreed and a year later Doris semi-retired, working three days a week at first and then one day. Six months ago, she’d signed the business over to me and remained on as landlord only, collecting monthly rent from me.

“I have to stop and drop my column off to Stanley before we head out,” I called over my shoulder to Daddy.

Walking down the sidewalk, I slid a folded stack of papers out of my handbag.

Daddy grunted with disgust as he opened the driver’s side door. “I’ll wait for you in the car. I can only feign politeness for so long with that man.”

A faint smile pulled at my mouth as I remembered Daddy’s dinner rant a few months ago about editor Stanley Jasper’s editorial.

“What’s that fool even talking about, saying we should get involved in the Vietnam conflict?” Daddy slapped the folded newspaper onto the table. “There is no way we should be sending our boys over there. Who does that man think he is? Moves in here from the city and then acts like he knows it all. I have half a mind to go into that office and tell that editor what an ignoramus he is.”

And Daddy did go into the newspaper office, but he came out even angrier than when he’d gone in. Stanley had refused to budge and told Daddy if he had a problem with the editorials that ran in the paper, he was welcome to stop buying it.

Stanley’s name was off-limits in our house from then on. Daddy wasn’t thrilled with me submitting a column to the newspaper but said maybe my lifestyle column would help to offset the drivel Stanley wrote on the opinion page each Sunday.

The newspaper office buzzed with the noise of reporters on the phone, typewriter keys clicking, the press in the back running, and sports reporters commenting on the latest home run by Mickey Mantel.

Reporter Jerry Simms looked up from his typewriter, sliding a pencil behind his ear. He jerked his head toward Stanley’s office door on the other side of the office. “You know the drill. Hand it to Stanley so he knows it’s here.”

I found Stanley where I usually did when I came in to drop off my column; behind his desk in the middle of a cloud of cigar smoke, pounding out a story on the typewriter.

Stanley wasn’t originally from Dalton. He’d grown up in Philadelphia, a transplant, referred to by many in the county as a “flatlander,” a term used affectionately when people agreed with him and with a sneer when they disagreed with him.

Leaning back in a large, black leather chair, his feet propped on top of the desk, a sheet of paper in one hand, a cigar in the other, his black hair, streaked with gray, was disheveled as usual. Circles darkened the skin under his eyes, his jawline was unshaven, his clothes wrinkled, his shirt untucked.

He moved the paper to one side as I stepped inside the door and stuffed the cigar in the corner of his mouth.

“Good column last week, Blanche,” he said around the cigar. “I never thought I’d get so caught up in the story of a pregnant cat.” He shrugged and pulled the cigar from his mouth, holding it between his index finger and thumb. “It’s like I’ve told you before, small town people eat that stuff up.”

I was never sure if the comment about small-town people was a compliment, but I always chose to accept it as one since it was as close as Stanley was probably going to get about a column he saw as “soft news.” In journalism lingo, soft news was considered low priority and traditionally thought of as inferior to the harder news.

“Well, this week we have an update on the cat and her kittens,” I said. “I’m sure the small-town folk you speak of will love that too.”

The newspaper’s typesetter, Minnie Wilkes, sashayed her way into the office and snatched the column from the top of Stanley’s desk.

She turned and looked at me with bright green eyes and long, dark eyelashes, made even darker by heavy, black eyeliner and purple-blue eye shadow. “Hey, Blanche. I’m so glad to have your column to typeset. It’s way more interesting than the political stuff Stanley writes.”

Stanley rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Minnie. Your opinion is duly noted, though not asked for.”

Minnie winked at me on her way out of the office.

Stanley stuffed the cigar back in his mouth and moved the paper he was holding back in front of his face.

“Keep up the folksy stuff, Blanche. It sells papers. And that’s what we’re in the business of doing — selling papers.”

Outside the office, standing in the sunlight, I looked out at the town I’d gone to high school in and thought how strange it was to still be in the place I’d thought I’d left behind that day I’d left it as a teenager.

In front of me, the town square was postcard-worthy, a gazebo in the middle of it. Behind the square sat one of the oldest banks in the state, Community State Bank, and next to the bank the Dalton Theatre, built-in 1893 and only renovated twice since then. Down on the other end of the street, Bert’s Pharmacy was wedged between an antique shop and D’s Diner, and a few blocks over was Holden’s Supermarket. Across the street from the supermarket was the post office and two blocks away from the post office was the building where I’d spent many of my days after school, waiting for Daddy to finish at the office and drive us home – The Dalton Public Library.

I’d never felt like I’d fit in at school or in this town and that feeling was even more prominent after I’d returned with a baby and no husband. There were days I was sure the eyes of judgement were upon me when I walked around town, but the feeling was probably something I’d conjured up in my own mind. Since coming home, I had earned a General Education Diploma, started attending church again, began running my own business, writing for the local paper, and slowly working my way back into the community.

I still struggled with feeling out of place. I still kept my eyes downcast most of the time, but more and more I lifted my eyes and met kind expressions and nods of greeting. Eventually, I began to feel less like the outcast I’d always thought I was.

“So, Blanche. . .”

Anytime Daddy started a sentence with “So, Blanche. . .” I knew he was about to suggest something I needed to do or should have done.

I shut the passenger side door behind me, tossed my coat into the backseat and looked at him, bracing myself for whatever conversation we were about to have.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been thinking . . .”

A ‘So, Blanche’ and a ‘I’ve been thinking….’ in less than thirty seconds meant this was going to be an uncomfortable conversation.

“Yes?”

“I think I should teach you how to drive so you can have a little more freedom.”

I let my breath out in a heavy sigh. I wasn’t interested in learning how to drive, perfectly content with Mama or Daddy driving me where I needed to go. I was completely intimidated at the idea of learning how to push in a clutch and shift gears and everything else that went along with driving.

“You’re almost 25, Blanche,” Daddy continued. “You’ve been home five years now. I don’t mind driving you where you need to go, but I think it’s time you start, you know, spreading your wings a little bit, gaining some independence. I love having you and Jackson living with us, you know that, but someday, well, you will – or you could – you might – meet someone and . . .”

“Daddy . . .”

“Well, you might. I mean there are plenty of eligible, good men in this county and it is possible you will, you know . . . Ah. You might want to drive out and meet him somewhere or —”

“Daddy. . .”

I knew he and Mama were old school and felt Jackson needed both a father and a mother, but I wasn’t willing to marry someone just to fulfill my parents’ wish that I be a married mother instead of a single one.

It was hard for me to believe it had been five years since I had left Hank and returned home with a one-year-old on my hip and a heart full of hurt.

Hank had come looking for me a month later and Daddy was waiting for him with a shotgun.

Hank looked at the dirt a few feet in front of him in shock. “Y-you could have killed me, you crazy old man!”

“I could have, and I still can,” Daddy told him. “Now go before I have to.”

When the taillights faded into the darkness that night, I closed my eyes against the tears and wondered if Hank would try to come back again someday.

He never did.

His mama, Marion, told me one day when I took Jackson for our weekly visit that she’d received a letter from Hank a year after I’d left him, saying he planned to move out west. That was the last she’d heard from him. I knew it broke her heart that her oldest son never contacted her, but I could tell that seeing Jackson helped relieve the pain.

I’d seen Hank once before he left to go out West, but he hadn’t seen me, and I never told my family about it. I didn’t know if I ever would.

“I’ll think about the driving lessons,” I told Daddy.

Now, let’s change the subject, I prayed.

“Well, you know, that’s all I can ask,” Daddy said, clearing his throat, looking at the road in front of him. “I guess.”

I looked out at the road too, watching as the paved road faded to dirt, dust billowing around the car as Daddy turned down the road that would take us home. I closed my eyes, tired from the long day, but also fighting back thoughts and emotions I had tried to bury for five years.

I despised myself for letting Hank Hakes abuse me with his mouth and his hands for the three years I’d been married to him. For five years I had been consumed with an inability to forgive Hank or myself for all that had happened after I’d run away with him at the age of 17. Abusing me seemed to finally give him the power his abusive father had stripped from him during his childhood.

The night I left him, he’d shoved me against a table, dragged me by my hair and tried to stop me from leaving our apartment with our son by grabbing my leg and yanking me to the floor. I could remember it all like it had happened yesterday; how I’d reached behind my head and saw the blood on my hand, how he’d hissed at me: “Why couldn’t you have just done what you were told?” and then swung around and staggered into our room, toward our screaming baby. I remembered how he’d danced around the room in a drunken rage after I’d pushed him away from Jackson, laughing in my face.

“Oh, looky here,” Hank had said, leering at me. “Little ole’ Blanche finally got her voice.”

He laughed again, leaned close to my face and sneered.

“Whatcha’ going to do with it now you got it?”

When I fought back, kicking him in the face, knocking him out, leaving him in a pool of blood, I ran to my friend Miss Mazie’s house and never looked back.

More than fighting to forgive myself for leaving with Hank at 17, I couldn’t seem to find a way to forgive myself for the danger I’d put Jackson in by staying with Hank; how I’d caused Jackson to have a life without a father.

In that first year after I left, life unfolded around me like a movie I was a part of but had no say in. I came home to my parents, a father who had barely spoken to me in three years, and a mother who welcomed me with open arms but somehow blamed herself for my smashed nose and bruised face. I pushed the emotion of those years with Hank deep inside me and the darkness of it all lingered in the furthest caverns of my heart for two years, eventually leaving me in a state of emotional numbness.

Slowly I began to feel again – laugh again, trust again, hope again, at least when it came to my family and my future. I had no interest in a romantic relationship of any kind, though, and still didn’t. I wasn’t about to let anyone break down the walls I had built around my life and heart, walls to protect me, but more importantly Jackson. I had exposed my son to darkness and pain once before. I refused to do it again.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 27

I was going to make this a break week, but I decided I’d share this chapter, even though I have a lot of reworking I want to do with it in the end. To catch up on the rest of the story click HERE.

My novella Quarantined will be on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited Oct. 20.





Alex felt the tension in the barn the entire morning. Robert moved around him, completing chores, without actually looking at him other than a curt nod when he had first walked in. Jason, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice Robert’s cold demeanor toward him.

Alex tried to ignore the tension but as the morning went on, frustration swelled inside him until he couldn’t hold it in any longer.

When Jason left to cut more corn stalks down Alex took a deep breath, tossed the dirty rag on top of a bucket, and walked to where Robert was inspecting a hoof of one of the cows. Standing above him, he propped his hands on his hips and cleared his throat.

“Robert, I think we need to talk.”

Robert didn’t look up from the cow. “Ah. So it’s Robert today is it?”

Alex closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. “Sir, with all due respect Molly is a grown woman. She’s nearly 27 and she can make up her own mind about who she wants to be involved with romantically.”

Robert stood and reached for the tube of ointment on the shelf behind him, still not looking at Alex. He kneeled down again by the cow. “How long has this been going on, Alex? I mean, you’ve been here five years …”

“No, sir. Not the whole time. We’ve just been getting closer in the last few months. I mean, my feelings for her started to change three years ago but I tried to ignore them. I was able to, for the most part and we became friends.”

Robert cleaned out the cow’s foot and applied the ointment, not responding.

Alex stood and watched him, his hands still on his hips. “Okay. Well, I guess I said all I needed to. So —”

“She’s been hurt before.”

Alex scoffed. “Yeah, by an immature boy.”

Robert stood and looked at Alex pointedly. “There are such things as immature men too, Alex.”

Alex felt heat in his face and looked away, focusing on the cows in the pasture.

“I don’t feel that’s me anymore, sir. You’ve been around me five years. You’ve seen me grow and, I hope, improve as a man. I don’t intend to hurt Molly.”

Robert nodded. “Yeah. Well, no one intends to hurt a woman.”

“I won’t hurt, Molly, Robert.”

“We always hurt people we love, without meaning to.”

“I won’t hurt her like Ben did.”

Robert replaced the ointment on the shelf and turned toward Alex, folding his arms across his chest.

“Just make sure you don’t.” He rubbed his chin for a few moments, looking at Alex. “I think a lot of you, Alex. You know that. You’re like a member of the family. But Molly? she’s my baby girl.”

The roar of the tractor passing by interrupted the conversation for a few moments and Alex slid his hands in the front pockets of his jeans.

“I understand,” he said as the tractor continued toward the lower field. “I want to protect Molly too, sir. I truly do.”

Robert unfolded his arms and turned to pick up a bucket of feed for the chickens. He walked toward the doorway, stopped, and looked back over his shoulder. “Does Jason know?”

“No sir, not yet. I mean Molly barely knows at this point how I feel about her. We just wanted to be sure we knew where this was going before we said anything.

Robert laughed and shook his head. “And where is it going?”

The color on Alex’s face could only be described as pure crimson. He cleared his throat and looked at the ground. “It’s . . . uh . . . yeah, it’s going well. That’s all I know at this point.”

A tilted smile crossed Robert’s mouth. “Telling Jason should be fun for you.

Alex shrugged. “I’m not worried. He’ll be fine.”

Robert picked up the buckets again and continued toward the door. “That’s his baby sister you were kissing. I’m not sure “fine” is how he will be.”

Alex’s smile faded into a worried expression as he turned back toward a stall and reached for a pitchfork. He’d have to tell Jason about him and Molly at some point.

He rubbed his hand along his jaw and chin, thought about how much he liked not having a shattered jaw, and decided he’d think more about how he’d break it to his best friend he was in a relationship with his little sister.

***

Annie heard the screen door slam shut from the front of the house. She twisted slightly from the counter where she was peeling potatoes for lunch.

Her husband shuffled into the kitchen and sat in a chair with a heavy sigh.

Leaning forward he leaned his arms on his knees and rubbed his hands across his face. He’d been working hard, and she was worried about him. She knew if he asked him if she was okay, he’d say he was fine, but she could tell he wasn’t fine. Not at all. He was exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed.

“We need to talk,” he said after a few moments.

She turned and pressed her palms against the edge of the counter, leaning back against it. “About?”

He leaned against his hand, his mouth set tight. “About Alex Stone and our daughter.”

Annie nodded, a slight smile tugging at her mouth. “Oh. That.”

Robert’s head jerked up and he looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Excuse me? ‘Oh. That.’? You sound like you already know about this.”

“I sound like I knew about it because I did,” Annie said with a brief shrug.

“What do you mean you knew?”

“Your mom asked me two weeks ago if you knew yet. She’d seen them kissing in the field out back and was concerned but she asked me not to say anything to Molly. She figured Molly would talk to us eventually.”

Robert stood and rubbed his hand across his forehead, pacing from one side of the kitchen to the other.

“In the field? Out back?” He shook his head, hands on his hips as he paced. “Is there anywhere they won’t make out?”

Annie laughed. “Robert, stop pacing. You’ll raise your blood pressure.” She turned around and started filling the pot of potatoes with water. “I don’t know that it was a make out session per say. It was just a kiss that I know of. Anyhow, I told Franny you didn’t know yet, but that I would keep an eye on things.”

Robert stopped pacing and looked at his wife. “So, you’ve been keeping an eye on things but didn’t think you should fill me in on it?”

“I didn’t want to get you too worked up unless there was something to get worked up about.”

“You don’t think there is something to get worked up about?”

Annie shrugged sitting the pot on the back burner on the stove. “I hope there isn’t. I mean, we’ve raised Molly well and I think she’s responsible enough not to do anything too crazy.”

Robert scoffed. “Oh yeah? Well, I caught them making out in our barn last night. In the middle of the night. I think that’s a bit crazy, don’t you?”

Annie frowned, eyebrows furrowed. “Were they clothed?”

Robert’s mouth dropped open as he stared at his wife. “Were they clothed? Yes, they were clothed, but what difference does it make? Plenty of things can be done with clothes on.”

Annie smirked and trailed her hand up her husband’s arm. “We know that firsthand, don’t we, Robert Tanner?”

Red spread across Robert’s cheeks and ears. “Annie, don’t change the subject here. What are we going to do about this?”

Annie smiled as she stepped closer to him, pushing her fingers through his hair. “I think the subject is a pleasant one to change to really.” She kissed his forehead. “But as for Alex and Molly, we’re not going to do anything for now. Molly is a grown woman. I’m glad to talk to her about being careful, about making sure she knows what she’s doing. I’ll even talk to her about how we raised her to delay a sexual relationship until she’s married, but I’m not going to tell her she can’t see Alex, if that’s what you’re saying.”

Robert sighed. “I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t even know what I think about all this or how I feel. Alex is like one of the family, but . . .”

Annie looped her arms around Robert’s neck. “But you’re worried because we know he’s had some drinking issues and may have dated a few women who had ‘questionable’ backgrounds for lack of a better term.”

Robert nodded. “Yes, Annie. I am worried. I mean he says he loves her, and she says she loves him, but emotions are such confusing things and maybe he only loves the idea of her or maybe he’s using her to —”

“People can change, Robert. We’ve watched Alex change a lot in the last five years. He told you he loves our daughter?”

Robert rubbed a hand across his eyes and held it there for a few moments. “Yes. He said he’s fallen in love with her.”

He looked at his wife — whose head was tipped and whose face held that expression women get when watching a scene in a movie where the hero professes his love for the heroine — and groaned.

“Don’t look like that. Not about our little girl.”

Annie laughed softly, holding her arms out in a gesture indicating innocence. “What do you mean?”

Robert grimaced. “You’re acting like it’s all sweet and romantic.”

The way his wife tipped her head back and laughed sent his eyes rolling to the ceiling.

“But it is romantic,” she insisted sliding her arms around his neck again as he sat on the edge of the kitchen table. She pressed her forehead against his. “How about we take this issue to the only one who can protect our little girl. Okay?”

He sighed and nodded.

 “Pray, Robert,” she whispered.

Robert’s arms slid around his wife’s waist and he closed his eyes to focus on the desires of his heart for his daughter and even for Alex. His muscles relaxed as he began to pray out loud for the protection of Molly, of her heart, of her sweet, gentle spirit, and of her physical body.

“Amen,” Annie said when he was done.

She looked down at him and he realized the anxiety he’d been feeling had left him. His wife’s dark green eyes captivated him, making him forget, at least briefly, about his worry for Molly.

Annie leaned close until her mouth was close to his ear. “The kids aren’t here right now,” she whispered.

“No, they’re not.”

“You came in for a lunch break, right?”

An amused grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Yes.”

Her lips grazed his earlobe as she spoke and desire sizzled through him. “Is it only food that you’re hungry for?”

He pushed her hair off her neck and pressed his mouth against her bare skin. “You know it’s not.”

He grabbed her mouth with his, his hands slipping to her waist as he gently pulled her against him.

When Annie pulled her mouth from his several moments later, he was breathing hard. She stepped back from him, slid her hand down to take his, and walked toward the stairs, tugging gently to indicate she wanted him to follow her. “Come on, Robert Charles. Let me help you get your mind off some things this afternoon.”

He followed his wife willingly, smiling broadly, feeling less like an almost 50-year old man and more like a newly married 19-year old, his concern for Molly at least temporarily forgotten.

Quarantined Release Date and is Quarantined a horror story or a romance?

For those who have been following the Quarantined story, I thought I’d let you know that the Kindle version (edited and in some places rewritten) releases on Oct. 20, 2020.

Someone asked me this week if Quarantined is a horror story or a romance. Of course, I saw the humor in the question, under the circumstances our world has been facing, but no, the novella is not a horror story. But is it a romance? Well. . . yes, in a way. A romance without the “guy meets girl, guy falls in love with girl” part of the story. The main characters of Quarantined, two married couples, have already met and fallen in love and in the case of one couple, have fallen out of love (or at least it appears they have).

I don’t see a lot of romances out there these days where the couple is already married and is now hoping to reconnect, or maybe has no interest at all in reconnecting.

This idea for Quarantined came to me during the start of lockdown back in April. I was stuck inside my house with my husband and children and for the most part it was a pleasant experience, but online I read about women who were unhappy to be stuck at home with a spouse they couldn’t stand. I began to wonder about people who would were quarantining with a person they didn’t want to be married to anymore. What would that be like? Would the situation push them further apart or would they realize they still loved each other and decide to fight for their marriage?

Looking for a way to distract myself from the stress of the daily news, but also from our move, which had been turned upside down at the time, I started sharing the story of Liam and Maddie on my blog. Later, though, I added the story of Matt and Cassie (I have since changed her name to Cassidy because I was finding that switching between Maddie and Cassie confusing and figured readers might as well).

So, Quarantined is a romance in the sense there are affectionate feelings between a man and a woman and there are kissing scenes that might make a non-romance fan roll their eyes. But isn’t a love-at-first-sight romance that will lead you through the detailed story of a how a couple meets and falls in love. This is a story about what happens after those new love feelings fade and grow instead into a deeper, long-lasting, yet still passionate (at times) love.

For those who haven’t yet read the story, here is a description of the novella:

Liam and Maddie Grant are set to sign divorce papers any day now. Liam is already packing to move out. Their plans are put on hold, though. when Liam comes home to tell Maddie he’s been exposed to a new virus that is shutting down the country and part of the world. He tells her that since he’s exposed her she’ll have to be in quarantine as well. Now the couple is locked down for the next 14 days. During that time they find themselves face to face with the issues that split them apart in the first place. Before it’s all over they’ll have to decide if they want to sign the divorce papers or try again.

Across the city, Liam’s brother United States Senator Matthew Grant is quarantined with his wife and children, wondering if his marriage could end up on the same path as his brothers. While stuck at home, Matt realizes he’s lost sight of what really matters since becoming a senator. He and his wife Cassidy have drifted apart and he wonders if he has put his family at risk by serving as a senator during a hyper-political time for our nation.

Now he must decide if he wants to run for re-election, continuing to try to help his constituents, or walk away from the job that has brought his family stress and heartache.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 26

I’ve been finishing up editing and final drafts of Quarantined this week, so I wasn’t sure if I’d share a chapter this week, but I guess this chapter is fairly finished enough to share. It will probably go through three more drafts before I’m completely finished with it. I’m looking for Advanced Readers for Quarantined who would be willing to read it and add a review for it on Amazon when it is released, so please let me know if you are interested.

To catch up with the rest of the story of The Farmer’s Daughter click HERE or the link at the top of the page.


The inside of the barn next to the birthing stall was warm, a shelter against the chilly night air, the sweet smell of hay filling Molly’s nostrils. She leaned against the top rail of the gate around the stall and smiled at the newborn calf walking on unsteady legs in the hay around her mother.

She reached through the gate and gently rubbed the head of the light brown Jersey cow named Dandelion. “Good job, Mama. Good job.”

Watching the calf be born had been what she needed to take her mind off her worries, at least for a little while. She’d been lucky enough to walk in the barn just as the calf’s hooves were starting to appear. While she’d wondered at first if she might have to help Dandelion deliver her first calf, in the end the mother cow had done it all on her own and Molly had only had to wipe the afterbirth from the calf’s nose.

It hadn’t been her first time seeing a calf being born but it had been one of the first times she’d paused and really watched the calf try to walk and interact with her mother. Propping her chin on her hand she realized that the last half hour, watching the calf being born, then the new mother and her baby, had been the only time in the last week her mind hadn’t been racing.

She had definitely been thinking about Alex during the last week, but she’d also been worried about Liz, the farm, her grandmother, and her own future. Once the calf was born, she did what she should have done all along. She’d closed her eyes and asked for God’s help.

“I’m leaving this all in your hands, Lord,” she’d whispered.

She knew she would steal her worries back again at another time, though. Like always, shed have to pray the prayer a few more times before she finally let it all go.

The sound of footsteps drew her eyes from the new family to the doorway, and she was surprised to see Alex walking toward her. He’d left hours ago, looking exhausted after a long day of work. Wearing a thick brown corduroy coat with a white wool collar and his brown cowboy hat, Molly thought he looked like he should be on the front of a romance novel.

He and Jason had been busy cutting down corn all week and she’d been busy with Hannah updating the farm stores inventory. Seeing him now, looking amazing, his eyes bright as they watched her, caught her emotions off guard and made her realize how much she’d missed him, or rather, how much she’d missed being held by him.   

He hadn’t shaved in a few days and though she’d once found that unappealing in a man, it somehow made him even more attractive.

He stepped next to her, sliding his hands in his front jean pockets.

“Hey, gorgeous,” he said with a grin. “What a nice surprise.”

She smiled and lightly touched the wool along the collar of his coat.

“You look cozy. What are you doing out here?”

He tipped his head and smiled sheepishly. “Well, I started wondering about Laurel too – if she’d had the calf yet.” He shrugged. “I’ve only been here a couple of times when it happened, and I guess I wanted to see it again. Were you here when it was born?”

Molly nodded and then smiled. “It was pretty cool. Watching a new life come into the world always is.”

Alex leaned on the fence and looked in at the calf as it walked on unsteady legs and looked for its mom’s udder.

The cow leaned down and started licking the calf, cleaning it with her long pink tongue.

“Heifer or a bull?”

“Heifer,” Molly answered.

“Ah, good, then this one gets to stay.”

 After a few moments Alex turned from the fence post and sat on the barn floor next to the support beam, leaning back against it. He patted the floor next to him. “Come. Sit with me. I’ve barely seen you all week.”

She accepted the offer, exhausted from a long day and tossing and turning part of the  night. He slid an arm around her, and she welcomed the warmth his body gave off as she leaned against him. She’d only worn a thin sweater when she’d left the house, not realizing how cold it was outside.

“I can’t believe how cold it is,” she said with a yawn.  “It’s only the beginning of September.”

He nuzzled her cheek. “I don’t mind. It means I have an excuse to cuddle you more.”

She smiled and looked up at him. “I’ve missed you this week.”

“I’ve missed you too.”

He slid his hand in hers and intertwined his fingers with hers. “How’s it going at the store?”

“Good.” She laid her other hand over his. “We’re expanding some of our products, offering some handmade furniture for sale, working with local artists to draw people into the store and also bring the artists some business. I think it’s really going to give the store the shot in the arm it needs. Aunt Hannah is talking to Dad and Uncle Walt about adding a small café with homemade baked goods and sandwiches and soups.”

He smiled. “And coffee?”

“Of course, we will offer coffee. If we decide to move forward with it. Right now we aren’t sure how we’ll pay for it and we know a loan isn’t an option since we still have the first one to pay off.”

He pulled her close again and kissed the top of her head.

“It will get paid off. There has to be a way.” Silence settled over them for a few moments and Molly yawned.

He looked over at her again. “So, hey, I’ve been wanting to ask you, what’s going on with Liz?”

She tilted her head to look over at him. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I saw you two leaving the hospital last week when I was leaving the gym and I just wondered if Liz was okay. Or . . .” He looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “You’re okay, right?”

She shifted so he could see her amused grin. “First, yes, I’m okay, but second, you were at the gym?”

He laughed softly and she enjoyed watching pink spread across his cheeks.  “Yeah. Just thought I should try to get in shape a little more. Plus, it helps me get my mind off things. But, don’t change the subject. What’s up with Liz?”

You really don’t have to get in shape, You’re already in fine shape, she thought remembering how she’d noticed his toned bare arms earlier in the week when he’d been driving the tractor across the field to cut down the corn. She decided she wouldn’t bring that up at the moment. She was having too much fun watching him squirm.

“What do you have to get your mind off of?”

He shook his head, then smirked. “Next subject.”

“But —”

“Tell me about Liz first.”

Molly sighed, tipping her head back against the column.

 “This going to bring the mood down a bit. You sure you want to know?”

A look of concern furrowed Alex’s brow. “Is she sick?”

Molly shook her head. “Not exactly. No.” She grimaced softly. “She tried to kill herself.”

Alex’s eyebrows shot up. “She what? How?”

“She took a bunch of pills, but she panicked and called an ambulance.”

“Why would she do something like that?”

Molly bit her lower lip then released it. “She’s pregnant. With Gabe’s baby.”

Alex’s expression definitely showed his shock. “Gabe? That moron who cheated on her and —”

“Yes, but you can’t tell anyone,” Molly said quickly. “Especially, Matt. Liz told me it was okay to share with my family, and you, but she really doesn’t want other people to know. Especially Matt. She’s completely embarrassed and ashamed.”

Alex blew out a soft whistle. “Wow. That’s heavy. She’s keeping the baby, right?”

Molly nodded. “I don’t think she wanted to at first, but I said I’d help her. We’re talking about getting an apartment.”

Alex shook his head. “That’s crazy. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”

“Liz promised me I wouldn’t tell anyone. It was so hard not having anyone to talk to about it, though. I was terrified, shocked, so afraid I might say the wrong thing to her. I really could have used some advice about how to handle it all.”

Alex lifted her hand and kissed the top of it. “You’d never say the wrong thing. You’re her best friend.” His expression was serious again . “How are you handling it all?”

Molly shrugged, lifting her head again. “I’m definitely worried about Liz. It totally freaks me out that I could have lost her, first, but second, I — well, let me clarify first. I don’t want to be in the situation Liz is in. I definitely am not ready for a baby and I definitely don’t want to be starting parenthood as a single mom, but,” Molly bit her lower lip and rolled her eyes up to the top of the barn. “it sounds so weird, but I feel like life is passing me by. Neither Ben nor Liz have started families the way I would, but they’re living life, real lives. They’re experiencing life and I’m just . . . floating along.”

Alex smiled and pushed her hair back from her face. “But now you’re floating along with me. That’s different, right?

“Yes.” She turned her body toward him more. “Yes it is. And it complicates things because sometimes I want to experience life with you in other ways.”

Oh my gosh. He’s going to think you’re talking about marriage. Molly, stop talking before he runs away screaming.

“At the same time, I don’t want to have the same regrets Liz has about the ways. . .” He was watching her with an ambiguous expression. Where was she even going with this? She needed to stop talking. Now. Or five minutes ago really. “. . . um. . . the ways she has experienced life.”

She bit her lower lip and closed her eyes. “Oh, my word. I’m so sorry. I’m not making sense.”

Alex laughed softly, turning his body more toward hers. “Actually, you are making sense. To prove that point, let me tell you about why I’ve been going to the gym.”

She opened her eyes slowly and his smile had faded. He sighed and tipped his head back. After a few moments he tipped his head back up and looked at her, deciding to be open with her.

“I work out to take my mind off you.”

Molly tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “You don’t want to think about me?

“I do but I think about you too much and when I think about you, I think about how much I want to be with you.”

She smiled, rubbing the top of his hand. “You are with me. Every day in the barn.”

“No, I mean…be with you. In other ways. In . . . um . . . ah.” He laughed and looked out through the open barn door, rubbing his chin. “In other more intimate ways.” He looked at her, tipping his head like he was looking down his nose over a pair of glasses.  “Shall we say?”  

Heart pounding fast in her chest, she drew her breath in sharply and held it. She was catching his drift now.

“Oh.”

She’d never imagined anyone wanting to be with her in that way. The fact he’d said it and was now looking at her with such an intense expression made her feel slightly lightheaded.

“You seem surprised. Are you surprised that I think of you that way or that I’m fighting not to think of you that way?”

“Uh. . .both?”

His smile returned as he laid his other hand over hers. “I definitely think of you that way, but . . .” He pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “I don’t want to rush things with you Molly.”

She nodded slowly, her eyes locked on his. “I understand.”

“I hope you do because I think that’s what you were trying to say about how Liz and Ben started their families. They rushed things. They took some steps out of order and you want to experience life, but you don’t want to experience it in the wrong order. Am I right?”

Molly nodded again as he reached up and cupped his hand along her jawline. “You’re different than any other woman I’ve ever met, Molly. You’re special. I’ve been really immature in the past when it comes to women and broke some hearts, including my own. I’d never forgive myself if I broke yours. You’re too important to me. I want to take things slow with you. Do this right.”

He laughed softly as she watched him, her dark green eyes wide and her gaze unwavering. He wished he knew what she was thinking. She look terrified and suddenly what was funny for one moment wasn’t in the next.  His smile faded. Maybe he’d made a mistake telling her how he felt.

What if he messed up everything with her? Including their friendship. What if he failed at taking things slow? Because right now, with her so close to him, her body warm, her lips amazingly kissable, her skin so soft against his hand, taking things slow didn’t seem very appealing.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have kissed you that day on the overlook.” The words came out of him before he even fully thought them through.

Hurt and confusion immediately registered in her eyes. “I’m sorry?”

He knew he needed to clear up the confusion he’d caused as quick as possible. “I wanted to kiss you. I’d wanted to for a long time. That’s not it.

She tipped her head slightly to one side. “Then what do you mean?”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have stirred up those feelings in you.” He looked away again, down at his fingers intertwined with hers. “I’m not good enough for you, okay? I’m sort of messed up. I don’t want to mess you up too.

When he looked up at her again a few seconds later, the hurt had faded, and softness replaced confusion as she reached up and laid her palm against his cheek. “How are you messed up?

Alex shook his head, looking away again. “I just am.”

“Look at me, Alex.”

He didn’t want to look at her. He couldn’t bear for her to see the vulnerability in his eyes. He was already feeling like a sappy fool. He moved his gaze to hers, though, curious about what she wanted to tell him.

“I’ve worked with you for five years,” she said softly. “I’ve gotten to know you pretty well. I feel like you and I have shared some pretty intense moments and also some really stupid ones. Besides Liz, I think of you as one of my closest friends. Yes, sometimes you drink too much, you flirt too much, and sometimes you seem a little closed off, but I still don’t see how you’re messed up.”

Alex raised his eyebrows. “You, uh… you know about the drinking?

“Yes, and the women. My grandma calls them ‘those blond floozies.’”

Alex laughed softly, shaking his head. “Then why are you even sitting here? You know I’m a mess. Apparently, Franny also knows I’m a mess and I’m going to try not to think about how she knows about my dating history.”

Molly moved closer, her hand still on his face.

Why did she have to move closer? He was having a hard enough time focusing on taking things slow as it was. His gaze dropped to her mouth briefly, then moved back to her eyes.

Focus, Alex. Focus.

“Yes, but you’re a beautiful mess,” she whispered. “and I don’t think those things you do are who you really are. I think you do those things to forget you’ve been hurt and pretend you never have been.”

Alex swallowed hard, staring at this beautiful woman he’d fallen for. It was as if she could see straight through him and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Tears stung his eyes for the first time in years and he turned his head quickly, taking her hand in his and sliding it away from his face, holding it against his chest instead.

For God sake he was not going to cry in front of Molly.

He swallowed hard, trying to hide the emotion in his voice. He couldn’t hide his feelings from her, though, and he knew it. He looked at her, captivated by the way she watched him, the tenderness in her eyes and voice when she spoke.

“You didn’t wake anything in me, Alex Stone. It was already there. I was just too afraid to believe you could ever feel the same.”

She leaned over and touched her lips to his briefly, then moved her head back slightly and smiled. He pushed her hair back from her face, cupping his hand against her cheek, caressing it. He wanted her to kiss him again and hoped he could control his emotions when she did, sticking to what he’d told her about taking things slow.

She moved her head closer again and his resolve to take things slow began to crumble. Her mouth against his felt amazingly right as he pulled her closer.

Caught up in the moment his hands slid down her back, across her side and along her hip, inching toward her thigh. Molly reached down and lifted his hand from her thigh and pressed it against her waist.

“If we are going to move slow, you’re going to have to be careful with those hands,” she whispered with a grin.

He laughed as he leaned in to kiss her again. “Yes, ma’am.”

Losing track of their surroundings as the kiss deepened neither of them heard the creaking of the barn door opening. It was the sound of someone clearing their throat loudly that startled them both. Alex pulled away quickly from Molly, turning his head toward the open barn door. Robert stood with his hands on his hips, his face flushed red.

Alex jumped to his feet and yanked his hat off, holding it to his chest, but wasn’t sure why. He wasn’t in church and the national anthem wasn’t being played but somehow Alex felt like he needed to show respect to the man who had been more like a father to him than his own.

 Of course, kissing the man’s daughter in a dark barn in the middle of the night probably wasn’t the best way to show that respect.

“Umm. . . .Hey, Mr. Tan—”

Robert looked at Alex with raised eyebrows.

“Hey, Mr. Tanner? Hey, Mr. Tanner?” Robert’s tone definitely revealed a level of anger Alex hadn’t yet seen in the man in the five years he’d known him. “You just had your hands all over my daughter and now it’s ‘Hey, Mr. Tanner?’”

Alex held his hat in front of him, rolling the rim tight against his palm.

“Uh…. Yes?”

Robert thought the vessels in his neck might burst. Molly brushed hay from her jeans as she stood. Her cheeks flushed warm under her father’s fiery gaze and her legs wobbled like wet dishrags.

“What the – how long has this – when did you even – “

Robert slapped his hand against his thigh. He was so shocked and angry he couldn’t even talk.

“Mr. Tan-”

“How far has this gone?!” Robert suddenly bellowed. “I mean what have you been doing with my daughter and for how long, Alex?”

“Oh, sir, I haven’t – I mean we haven’t – I mean it’s only been —”

Alex couldn’t believe he was having this conversation with the father of the woman he’d just been kissing. He struggled for words, feeling more like a teenager than a 30-year old man.

Robert’s gaze only seemed to intensify. “It’s only been what, Alex?”

Alex looked at the barn floor, rubbing his hand across his chin.

Robert didn’t like the small smile playing across his mouth.

“It’s just been hugging and . . . um . . .” He shrugged. “Some kissing.”

Robert’s heart pounded fast and hard in his chest. He briefly imagined himself having a heart attack right here in his own barn with his daughter and hired hand watching him. Would they call an ambulance, or simply leave him there while they continued their make out session?

“And?” Robert urged Alex to elaborate while also not wanting him to elaborate.

Alex looked up and the mischievous smile was gone.

“There is no ‘and’, sir,” he said firmly. “It’s just been kissing. I swear to you. I never took advantage of Molly that way, sir.”

Robert looked at Molly, whose head was tipped down toward the barn floor, red spreading across her cheeks.

“Molly?”

She looked at him and he saw a mix of fear and sadness in her eyes.

“It’s only been kissing ,” she said softly, her eyes rimmed with tears.

Robert tossed the gloves he had been holding at the barn wall, not sure if he believed them and not sure if his daughter was crying because she’d been caught, because she was lying, or because she wished there had been more than kissing.

Good, Lord, he couldn’t even believe he was thinking such a thing about his baby girl. Hadn’t he just been teaching her how to ride her bike yesterday? But she was almost 27 — next week in fact. She wasn’t a baby anymore. He had to accept that she was a — he could barely think the words, let alone say them —  a grown woman.

He wanted to curse, but hadn’t cursed since he’d started going to church more regularly ten years ago.

“Mr. Tanner, I —”

“Stop, calling me Mr. Tanner, Alex.” Robert’s jaw tightened as he spoke, his words clipped. “Call me Robert already. You’ve always called me Robert before.”

Alex took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “Robert, I know this doesn’t look good, but I promise you we were only kissing, and we were kissing because I kissed Molly and I didn’t kiss Molly just for fun. I kissed – have been kissing Molly —”

“Been kissing Molly?” Robert’s eyebrows shot up again. “And how long have you been kissing my daughter?”

Alex cleared his throat again.

“Off and on for a few weeks,” he said talking quickly, nervously scratching the back of his head. “But that’s not really the point. The point is —”

“Yes? What is the point?” Roberts eyes narrowed.

“The point is I care about Molly very much. I care about her and . . .” Alex looked at Molly, who was looking at the barn floor. “I love Molly.”

Molly raised her eyes and met Alex’s gaze.

“I love Molly,” he said again as their eyes locked, the corners of his mouth tilting upward.

Robert looked between his daughter and his hired hand and shook his head. He didn’t know how he felt about all of this, but he knew he couldn’t leave them alone in the barn with the way they were looking at each other. He felt too young for grandchildren.

“Alex, I think you need to go – uh – cool down a little and get a couple hours of sleep.” He said. “It will be milking time soon soon.”

He turned toward his daughter. “Molly, go to the house and we’ll discuss this more tomorrow, or later this morning as it stands now.”

Alex started toward Molly but caught Robert’s warning expression out of the corner of his eye.

“Go, Alex.”

“Yes, sir.”

Alex winked at Molly and walked into the darkness toward his truck.

She walked around her dad, clutching a flashlight. “Molly?”

She stopped the doorway and looked at her dad. “Do you feel the same way about Alex that he does about you?”

She lowered her eyes and nodded, terrified at how much she did feel the same about Alex.

“Go to bed,” Robert said softly.

He leaned against the stall and let out a heavy sigh. He had a lot more things to think about now than a pregnant cow.

***

Alex snatched his phone from the seat next to him as he drove. His mind was racing as he thought about how he’d just told Molly he loved her, in the most unconventional way – in front of her father while her father glared at him from across the barn.

“You love me?”

The sound of her voice on the other end of the phone sent a rush of energy through him. He had a feeling he wouldn’t be getting any sleep tonight. Pulling his truck into the driveway of his and Jason’s house he laughed softly. “Yes, I love you, Molly Tanner.”

“Were you just saying that to get out of trouble?”

“I don’t think telling your dad I love his little girl after he caught me making out with her in his barn is a way to get out of trouble. I think it actually dug me in further.”

She laughed softly and he could tell she was trying to be quiet. Was her dad standing behind her with his arms folded across his chest, a shot gun hanging on the wall behind him like in one of those old movies? The thought of it made him want to laugh because he knew that wasn’t the Robert he knew. Then again, he’d never been caught kissing Robert’s daughter before.

“I love you, Alex.”

“I love you, Molly. Get some sleep.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to.”

He laughed. “Me either.”

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Bits and Pieces

Truth be told, this weeks chapter is pieces of two chapters as I’m reworking parts of the story. This week I’ll include a snippet between Molly and Robert but also a snippet that will be in Jason’s novella later. I’m looking forward to fleshing out Jason’s story but also his and Ellie’s characters in a novella I plan to call The Farmer’s Son. That will also allow me to focus more on Robert and Jason’s relationshp.



To catch up on the full story click HERE.


Crickets chirped and fireflies blinked in the field.

There was a chill in the air and Molly knew before long winter would arrive and bring with it cold nights and even colder mornings in the barn. Local farmers, including her dad, were already preparing to cut down the dying corn stalks to eventually grind up for feed.

She buttoned her sweater and pushed the porch swing a little to make it sway as she looked out into the dark, thinking about Alex and remembering their kiss from the day before. He’d been right; working together in the barn after that passionate half hour had been awkward. They did their best not to smile too much in front of Jason or her dad or Cody and the other workers who came in and out of the barn throughout the rest of the day.

She did  her best not to smile when his hand grazed her arm as he handed her the pitchfork and he told her later that night on the phone he’d done his best not to grab her, pull her into a stall and kiss her again.

“We’ll be having our first frost before we know it.”

She looked up to see her dad walking out of the darkness from the direction of the barn.

“Not looking forward to the snow, that’s for sure,” she said, though she couldn’t help think how nice it would be to cuddle Alex close on a cold winter night, if they could find somewhere to cuddle without anyone else seeing. She wondered how long they’d keep their relationship secret, or how long they’d be able to. Watching her dad wince as he walked onto the porch and sit on swing next to her, she also wondered how her parents would feel about her and Alex.

“Knee bothering you again?”

Robert shrugged. “It’s always bothering me. A lot of people have it a lot worse.”

“You could slow down a little.”

Her dad looked at her with a mock look of disgust. “And why would I want to do that? Sounds boring to me.” He smiled and slid his arm around her shoulder and hugged her against him. “Plus, I have too much work to do to make sure we pay off this loan in time.”

Molly sighed. “Oh yeah. That.”

Robert reached his other arm around her and hugged her tighter, propping his chin on the top of her head as she rested her cheek against his chest.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the loan before, kid. I didn’t mean to keep things from anyone. I guess I just got cocky. Walt and I both did. We thought we’d be able to pay it off and . . .” Her dad sighed. “and never have to tell anyone we’d sunk the business so far into a hole in the first place, I guess. Apparently, we forgot about Luke 8:17. What is hidden will be seen. And what is out of sight will be brought into the open and made known.”

Molly hated hearing the guilt in her dad’s voice. “You were trying to help, not deceive, Dad. It’s going to work out somehow. Besides, now that we all know we can help find a way to pay it off.” She sat up and looked at him, smiling. “No man is an island after all.”

Robert laughed softly. “Good reminder kid. I guess I just got too wrapped up in wanting to fix it all myself. I thought I could protect the family from the struggle.”

“We’re a family. We’re supposed to struggle together.”

He slid a strand of her hair behind her ear and cupped her chin in his hand. “How did you get to be so smart?”

“I learned it from watching you and mom, you know that.”

He shook his head. “More like your mom.”

She sat back against the swing as he let her face go and together they tipped their heads back and looked up at the stars scattered against an almost pitch black sky.

“Molly?”

“Yeah?”

“I know you won’t always want to stay here with me and your mom. When you’re ready, it’s okay with us. You know that, right?”

“Yeah. I do.”

“Okay. Just checking.”

***

He hadn’t even noticed her standing in the doorway. Not at first anyway. When he did notice her, he couldn’t stop his eyes from sliding over her slender figure cradled in a low cut, tight black tank top, and a blue denim skirt with a hemline that hovered a few inches above her knees. A pair of black, calf high boots completed the outfit.

“Hey, Jason. You looked good out on the field today.”

She bit her lower lip, watching him pull a gray t-shirt over his head and down across his bare chest and then growled softly in approval. “You look good now too.”

There had been so many nights over the years, especially recently, when Jason closed his eyes and saw her in his mind’s eye, hating himself all over again.

Lauren Phillips.

Tall. Blond. Shapely.

Attractive like Ellie but totally opposite in her personality and tone. Ellie’s sweetness was natural, God-given, and genuine. Lauren’s sweetness was an act, a way to get into the heads of men she’d set her sights on and had decided she wanted to conquer. At least that’s how he saw her looking back.

Still, no matter how many ways Jason tried to villainize Lauren, he knew he couldn’t. He’d made the decision to accept her offer, to let her attention lull him into what he’d hoped would be a pleasure filled distraction from the distorting thoughts ruling his brain that third year at college.

He and Ellie had decided to take a break from their relationship before he left for his sophomore year of college. Actually, Ellie had decided. He’d simply agreed because he’d thought she would change her mind in a couple of months. She didn’t and he didn’t try to change it for her. Maybe he should have. He was completely lost without her – without her friendship because that’s what their relationship was — a friendship as much as it was a romantic relationship.

Jason had been brought up in a Christian family, taught that a person was supposed to live within boundaries that God set for them. But those boundaries felt suffocating and boring while he was at college and he wondered if the boundaries were worth it. The boundaries kept him focused on what he didn’t, and couldn’t have. That’s how he felt then anyhow

When Lauren kissed him that night after a party, pulling him toward an open bedroom door in her apartment, he knew he was crossing a boundary he’d set for himself years ago and he didn’t even care anymore. For that brief time, he forgot who he was and it felt amazing.

At first it felt amazing.

Then the guilt set in like a heavy chain around his neck.

It had all been so rushed. The alcohol had blurred his senses, confused his thoughts, tossed him into a world of chaos. She was dressing before he’d even had time to wrap his mind around it all.

He’d woke up a few hours later in his dorm room, Alex standing over him, his expression mixed with concern and confusion.

“Hey, Jase. You okay?”

He’d moved in with Alex at the beginning of the second semester of his sophomore year to remove himself from the peer pressure of living with a bunch of football players in a frat house downtown. Alex, who he’d met his freshman year during an English Lit class hadn’t offered him the break from temptation he’d been hoping for.

Alex had talked him into visiting bars, meeting women – meeting Lauren. Part of him could have blamed Alex like he tried to blame Lauren, but none of it had been either of their fault. He’d made his own decisions and now he had to live with them.

While he had decided that short time in college that his Christian beliefs cut all the fun out of his life, he had later realized that fun without boundaries could lead to dire consequences.

He’d almost lost his football scholarship that year after showing up late to too many practices and showing up more than once with a hangover. He avoided Lauren after their encounter in her bedroom, ignoring her phone calls and telling her that one night she’d knocked on his dorm room door that he had homework to do.

“I guess you got what you wanted,” she snapped, arms folded across her chest, standing in the doorway as he tried to close the door. She lifted an eyebrow and smirked. “Or maybe I just got what I wanted.”

He refocused himself for the remainder of that year and for the next year after that. All he wanted was his degree so he could learn how to make sure his family’s business survived and then he would go home to the farm. During the second half of his junior year he also realized he wanted to go back to Ellie. Along with God she was an anchor for him and he’d let go of them both and it had sent him spinning out of control.

Alex’s reaction to his mortified feelings after sleeping with Lauren were less than supportive. At least at first.

“You got with Lauren Phillips? That girl is hot. She wouldn’t even give me the time of day. What have you got that I don’t?” Alex slapped the back of his hand against Jason’s right bicep. “Oh yeah…these.”

Jason vomited in an empty container from the Chinese restaurant.

Alex made a face. “You’re throwing up after sleeping with a hot woman? Is it the alcohol or maybe you need to tell me something else? Like maybe you don’t like women? Maybe you like —”

“Alex!” Jason wiped his hand across his mouth, looking for a paper towel to clean himself off. “I like women. I am definitely attracted to women. That’s not it. If it was, I wouldn’t be in this situation right now.”

“What situation? Wait. Didn’t you use —”

“I just mean the whole Lauren situation. Geeze, Alex. Don’t make this worse than it is.”

Jason sat back, pressing his hands to his face. “I’m not the kind of guy who just jumps in bed with a woman I don’t even know. You know that.”

“You mean like me?”

“That’s not what I meant, I just mean that I wanted to have a connection with the woman I – with whoever I first — I mean…”

“Oh.”

Alex wasn’t sure what to say. He didn’t want to make fun of his friend for this revelation for a couple of reasons. One, he admired Jason for his integrity, his morals, and his sense of romanticism, even if he didn’t have any of those himself. And two, he liked his front teeth and didn’t want Jason to punch them out of his head.

Alex shrugged scooting himself back onto the top of the dresser, his legs hanging down. “Okay, listen. You made a mistake. That’s all. It’s not the end of the world. Just cut Lauren loose and take some time to think about things. About what you really want. This is college. This where we screw up and learn our lessons, right?”

Jason had definitely learned a lesson from the experience, but he wished he hadn’t had to.

The front door slammed open and Alex stepped inside.

Present day Alex; Alex six years later but in some ways the same ole’ Alex.

He brought with him the noise of the storm outside, which pulled Jason out of his thoughts.

Alex’s clothes were drenched, clinging to him as he pushed the door closed. Sliding his cowboy hat off, he propped it on the hook next to the door, then paused and looked at Jason, sprawled on the couch on his back.

“All the lights are off and you’re listening to sad country music. This can’t be good.”

“It’s not sad music. It’s Chris Ledoux.”

“Who you only listen to when you’re sad.” A crack of thunder rattled the window and lightening lit the sky outside. “Did you talk to Ellie?”

“No, not yet.”

“So, you’re just sitting here stressing about talking to Ellie?”

Jason tipped his head back against the arm of the couch, his long legs stretched across the faded grey cushions, one arm laying across his forehead, the other one hanging off the couch.

“Yeah. That and remembering college.”

Alex winced as he pried his wet button up shirt off and tossed it toward the laundry room. “Ah, man, no. This can’t be good.”

He reached flicked the light switch for the overhead light to ‘on.’  “You can’t sit here sitting in the dark reflecting on past mistakes. It’s not healthy.”

Jason burped and reached for the can of soda on the coffee table. Alex kicked at an empty bag of potato chips. “Um…this isn’t healthy either. Where are your regular veggie sticks and protein shakes?”

Jason sighed and rolled on his side to face the back of the couch, feeling like a pouting teenager.

Alex pulled his wet tank top off and walked behind the couch toward the hallway leading to the bathroom. “Okay, listen. I’m going to go get dried off and changed. When I come back, I need you to sit up and tell me what’s going on.”

“Will you have your shirt on when you come back? Because I don’t need to see that.”

Alex scoffed and slapped his hand against his bare chest. “Of course, you need to see this. Who doesn’t?”

“You really want me to answer that?”

“Shut up.”

When Alex came back a few moments later he smacked the bottom of  Jason’s feet and told him to shove over and sit up. Cracking open a can of soda he’d grabbed out of the fridge on the way back to the living room he sat where Jason’s feet had been and took a long drink before speaking.

“Come on, man. What’s going on? Talk to your old friend Alex while you flush all that junk out of your system with this,” he squinted at the label on the water bottle. “Electrolyte enhanced mineral water.”

Jason groaned and sat up, accepting the bottle as Alex handed it to him. He leaned his elbows on his knees and sipped from the bottle, staring at the turned off television.

The rain had slowed down and the thunder was fading. The sound of raindrops against the metal porch roof filled the silence as Alex waited for Jason to talk.

“I just don’t how Ellie will feel when I tell her about Lauren.”

“I know, man, but you’ve got to tell her. It’s the right thing to do.”

Jason looked over his shoulder at his friend. “Since when did you become so ethical?”

Alex pushed his fist gently against Jason’s arm. “Since I started living with you. Blame yourself.”

Jason shrugged and nodded while he drank from the bottle of water. When he looked back at Alex he didn’t see the grin he expected to see. Instead, Alex’s joking demeanor had faded and  his expression had become serious.

“I can’t help feeling some of this is my fault.”

Jason looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

Alex leaned back against the arm of the couch, propping his leg up on the coffee table and sliding an arm behind his head. “You were a good guy when you came to MU. Squeaky clean.” He shrugged his shoulders as he sipped from the soda. “I think I broke you or something.”

Leaning forward, Alex rubbed his hand against his chin, under his bottom lip. “I talked you into going to bars, into drinking. I’m the reason you met Lauren. Maybe I’m the reason you, how do you Christians say it? Compromised your morals?”

Jason laughed, shaking his head as he stood from the couch. “Alex, you didn’t force me to sleep with Lauren Phillips. I did that all on my own. I’m the one who screwed that up. It wasn’t your fault. I’m also the one who made the decision to go with you to those bars and parties.” He pushed his hands into his hair and shook his head again. “If anyone should feel guilty it’s me for not influencing you in a more positive way, telling you that you didn’t need to go out and drink way your childhood pain or find your worth in the way hot women looked at you. I should have taken you to church with me and showed you that there’s more to you than rugged good looks and a charming personality. For that matter I should be doing that now.”

Alex leaned back again and slid his hands behind his head, grinning. “So, you mean you should be my spiritual guide?”

“Well, maybe, yeah. Someone has to help you. You’re a mess.”

Alex playfully tossed a pillow at Jason’s head. “Thanks, jerk, but we’re talking about you. Not me. So, what are you going to do about Ellie?”

Jason stood with his hands on his hips, tipped his head back and looked at the ceiling. “I’m going to tell her. As soon as I get my nerv —”

And that’s when he saw her.

Ellie.

Standing in the doorway between the living room and kitchen. Her long, dark brown hair damp from the rain outside, stray strands of it clinging to the side of her face.

Jason thought his heart would pound out of his chest as their eyes met. Sweat beaded across his forehead as if he’d just worked out at the gym for an hour and his legs gave their best impression of spaghetti underneath him.

“Ellie. Hey. What are you doing here?” he asked instead of what he wanted to ask, which was: “How long have you been standing there?”

“I – uh . . .” Ellie’s voice trailed off, emotion catching her words and strangling them. She looked at the floor quickly and swallowed hard.

“The back door was open. I was going to sneak in and surprise you two with a pie I baked earlier.”

Alex straightened on the couch and cleared his throat, quickly looking at the floor. “Um. Excuse me. I have to. . . uh . . . I’m just going to go head up to bed early.”

He shot a sympathetic look at Jason, but Jason wasn’t looking at him. He was staring at Ellie, his mouth partly open, but no sounding coming out.

With one foot on the bottom step Alex closed his eyes and grimaced as he heard Ellie’s question: “Who’s Lauren Phillips?”

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.