Fiction Friday: A New Chapter Chapter 16

Welcome to Fiction Friday where I post a chapter from my current work in progress. There are often typos, plot holes, etc. in these chapters that I will fix in the future before I self-publish the book.

To catch up with the story, click HERE.

Chapter 16

Keith slid his sunglasses back on as they stepped outside the community hall.  “Well, that was fun. I’ll have to try this again sometime.”

Ginny tossed her art bag into the passenger side of her car. “It was. I haven’t sketched a live model since college.”

Ginny looked across the parking lot for Liz as she closed the car door. She saw her driving out of the parking lot and raised her hand in a quick wave. Her brow furrowed when Liz kept driving, looking straight ahead.

“I hope everything is okay with Liz,” she said, watching the car turn out of the parking lot. She turned and watched Matt climb into his truck. Had something happened between them? She’d have to ask Liz later.

Keith straddled his motorcycle and zipped up the leather jacket. “Ginny, I’d love to get together with you and Stan for dinner sometime.”

Ginny turned away from watching Liz’s car to look at Keith, trying to picture him and Stan sitting next to each other at a table. The thought made her a little woozy. “Oh, that would be nice.”

Keith winked before he slid his helmet on. “I’ll give you a call and we can find a day that will work for all of us. Tell ole’ Stan I said, ‘hey’.”

Ginny nodded then watched him drive away before sliding behind the steering wheel and letting out the breath she realized she’d been holding. How would that go down? Telling Stan her ex-boyfriend sent his greetings? She hadn’t even told Stan that Keith was back in town. Then again, Stan didn’t seem to hear much she said these days so it probably wouldn’t matter.

It had been nice to see Keith and even nicer how he’d noticed her haircut and complimented her. She knew she shouldn’t have enjoyed the dimple in his cheek when he smiled at her or the jokes they’d shared during the class, but she had. It was the most — how could she explain it?

Noticed. That was the word.

It was the most noticed she’d felt in years.

Her phone rang as she pushed the key in the ignition.

“Sorry I didn’t say goodbye before I left.” Liz sounded tired. “I guess I was preoccupied.”

“I wondered what was going on. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just — yeah. It’s fine really.”

“Well, I tried to catch you before you left. I was wondering if you have time to stop by the house before you head home. I wanted to talk to you about a job idea.”

“Sure.” Liz sounded a little more cheerful now. “I have time.”

Ginny’s phone rang again as she pulled out onto the road. She tapped the speaker button.

“Hey, hon’. Just letting you know I won’t be home for dinner. I’m meeting Matt out at that property the commercial company is interested in.”

Ginny bit her tongue. How was this any different than any other day lately? “Okay.” She clipped the word out. She didn’t feel like saying much else.

“Talk later. I’m running into a dead zo—”

Ginny scowled at the phone and tossed it on to the seat next to her. Pulling into her drive a few moments later, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She really needed to pray about her attitude toward Stan. Having this much anger for one’s spouse wasn’t healthy or what God would want.

“Lord, help me calm down,” she whispered as she shut off the engine. “Or I might just smack him.”

She noticed the inside screen door was open as she walked up the front sidewalk and she knew she hadn’t left it open. Maybe it had been Stan.

Walking inside she glanced around the living room for anything out of the ordinary and all appeared well until she spotted a suitcase on the floor by the doorway leading to the dining room.

She recognized the black and brown case as the one they’d given Olivia when she’d left for college the year before.

Before she could call her daughter’s name, she heard the clink of glass against a countertop. She found Olivia in the kitchen pouring lemonade over ice in a tall glass.

“Olivia! What are you doing here?”

Olivia raised an eyebrow as she listed the glass. “Well, thanks, Mom. What a nice way to greet your daughter.”

Ginny embraced her youngest and stepped back. “Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie.” She took in Olivia’s blond hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, her heavy eyelids and make up free face. “I just wasn’t expecting you for a few more weeks. Is something wrong?” She didn’t need to ask really. She knew the answer.

Olivia sighed, sipping the lemonade. She shrugged a shoulder. “I just don’t fit in in California anymore, Mom.”

Ginny tipped her head slightly and looked at her daughter quizzically. “But you love California.”

Olivia shrugged her shoulder again. “Maybe not as much as I thought.”

Ginny tossed her bag onto the kitchen island and slipped easily into mom-mode, without realizing what she was doing. “Livvie, have you dropped out of school?”

Olivia opened her mouth to speak at the same moment Liz called from the front of the house.

“Ginny, are you here?”

Ginny kept her gaze on Olivia as she answered. “In the kitchen, hon’”

She didn’t miss the quirk of her daughter’s brow when she called Liz hon’.

Liz stepped into the kitchen with the car seat looped over one arm. Ginny took it from her and set it on the island in front of her. “Hello, little Bella. Did you have a good nap at our art class?”

She began unhooking the safety harness, anxious to hold the little one she’d come to love. “We were just at an art class. Bella’s mama and I have been taking art classes and today we had to sketch a live model.” She cradled Bella in her arms and smiled, delighted to see Bella trying to smile back. “Olivia, you know Liz.”

Oliva nodded. “Yeah. Hey, Liz. Nice to see you. I heard you had a baby. She’s beautiful.”

Ginny thought she heard slight tension in her daughter’s words, but she didn’t have the mentally energy to deduce the reason.

“How has California been?” Liz asked sliding onto a stool. “Your mom says you love it.”

Oliva sighed and reached for a cracker from a box open on the counter. “I think love is in past tense now. Honestly, I think I made the wrong decision.”

Liz winced. “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”

A brief silence settled over the room as Ginny continued to talk to Bella. Olivia munched on a cracker and Liz pretended to straighten the books sitting on the edge of the island.

Olivia cleared her throat. “Well, I don’t want to interrupt you two. I’m bushed from the trip anyhow. I’m going to head up and crash for a bit.”

“You don’t have to leave.” Ginny turned her attention away from the baby to Olivia. “I just wanted to talk to Liz about a job opportunity at the library.” She stretched one arm out to hug her daughter. “I’m so glad you’re home, Olivia. We can talk about everything else later, okay?”

Olivia nodded and walked toward the stairs, carrying her glass of lemonade. “I’m sure we will. I’d better rest up for this one. Where’s Dad?”

The muscles in Ginny’s face and neck tightened at the question and she hoped neither of the women noticed. “He’s looking at a property and then I’m sure he’ll be home.”

Oliva snorted on her way up the stairs. “Some things never change. That man is a workaholic.”

Ginny let out a slow breath and sat on a stool next to Liz. “That was certainly a surprise. I had no idea she was coming home. I’m happy to see her, but . . . Well, anyhow, you don’t need to hear about all that.” She winked at Liz. “I wanted to talk to you about a possible job at the library. It would only be part time for now, but we need someone for the childrens’ story hour. You’d help create programs for the story hour and other special events during the month and then fill in on Sara’s day off. What do you think?”

Liz made a face. “Oh gosh. I don’t know. I’m not good with children.”

Ginny laughed. “You’d better start practicing. You have one, you know.”

“Yeah, but she’s mine.” Liz laughed. “I just don’t like other people’s children.”

Ginny sat Bella back in the seat and walked to the cupboard for some tea. “At least think about it. It probably won’t be enough to support you and Bella, but it could help until you can find a full-time position.”

“I’ll definitely think about it. I really appreciate the offer.”

Ginny pulled out a box of tea and two mugs. “It will have to be approved by the board, of course, but they had already asked me to start putting out my feelers for someone. They asked about a month ago, but I got distracted with planning the fundraiser. That’s next weekend, if you want to come. It’s an afternoon tea and silent auction. Not the most adventurous event I’ve ever planned but I am still resisting the wine tastings they want me to do.”

She dropped tea bags into the mugs and filled the kettle. “The board thinks a wine tasting is a hip and progressive fundraiser, but they haven’t thought ahead to what can happen when some of the members of the community decide to do a little too much tasting, if you know what I mean.”

Liz sighed. “I definitely know what you mean.”

Ginny bit her lower lip, mentally chiding herself for bringing up the topic of drinking. Liz had already mentioned to her that alcohol had been a vice for her when she’d been living with Gabe. Time to change the subject. “So, everything okay with you and Matt?”

Her back was to Liz, but she desperately wanted to turn around and gauge Liz’s expression when she asked that question.

“Yeah. It’s fine.”

Ginny knew that defensive tactic well.

It’s fine. Code words for, “Things are not fine.”

She turned and slid a plate of cookies toward Liz. “You seemed upset when you left today. Are you sure things are fine?”

Liz took a bite out of a cookie and chewed slowly, her gaze focused on the window over the kitchen sink. It took a few seconds for her to answer. “Matt’s as nice as can be and I guess that’s the problem right now. He seems nice but he lied to me about something, and it’s really been bothering me. I just haven’t had a lot of time to figure out how to address it since I started classes.”

Ginny sat back on the stool while she waited for the water to boil. “What did he lie about?”

Liz glanced at her then at the stack of books in front of her. She hesitated a few seconds before speaking. “He never told me he was the responding officer that night in my apartment.”

Ginny’s eyes widened as she realized she was the one who had spilled those beans. “Oh, Liz. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“I would have found out eventually. What bothers me is that Matt never told me. He let me believe another officer had responded. I mean, I should have guessed. Spencer only has six officers and Matt works the night shift a lot. The odds that he would be there were pretty good.”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, watching Bella kick her feet and smile. “I didn’t have just have a fall that night. I know it’s what a lot of people think, but it wasn’t a normal medical emergency.”

She bit her lower lip, her eyes glistening. Ginny’s chest constricted. She’d known there was more to Liz’s story, but she’d never wanted to ask. The pain etched on Liz’s face was evident and while Ginny felt honored that Liz wanted to share the truth with her, she also wanted to blurt out that Liz shouldn’t feel the need to confess anything, that whatever happened that night wasn’t as important as how Liz was trying to live her life now.

“I tried to kill myself.”

Even though Ginny had already started to fill in the blanks, it didn’t make hearing the words any easier. She decided to not be a mother and pepper Liz with questions or pull her into an embrace, instead letting her share as much or as little as she wanted.

“I took five pregnancy tests. I couldn’t believe it. I thought about all I had done in the last year and a half that had gone against who I was, how disgusted in me that my parents already were, how disgusted I was in myself. I panicked.” Tears slipped from the corners of Liz’s eyes, rolling down her cheeks. “I just wanted to make it all stop. The shame. The voices in my head telling me I was horrible, and I’d always be horrible. I knew I couldn’t have a baby. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I took a handful of the painkillers I’d had left over from my knee surgery and waited to fall asleep, but within seconds of swallowing them I was panicking again.”

She let out a shaky breath and looked at Ginny. “I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want the innocent life inside of me destroyed. I tried to throw the pills up while I called 911. I threw up some but not enough and I was already blacking out when I heard pounding on the door.”

She closed her eyes and gasped in a breath. “I’m so ashamed Ginny. I’ve never told anyone else what happened that night. I lied to my parents, to Molly and to Matt and after awhile I even started to believe the lie myself. I’ve tried to pretend that I didn’t do any of that, but I can’t pretend anymore. It’s all unraveling and what I don’t understand is why Matt keeps sticking around. I’m messed up. He knows that. Maybe he just pities me.”

Ginny shook her head. “No. I don’t believe that. He cares about you, Liz. We all do. I’m so sorry you’ve held on to this for so long.”

Liz wiped at the tears on her cheeks and then accepted the tissue Ginny handed her and blew her nose.

The whistle of the kettle brought Ginny back to her feet. She pulled the kettle from the burner and poured the water in the waiting mugs. “The way you need to think about it is that Matt knows all these things about you, yet he still cares for you. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? It’s kind of like how God cares about us despite our failings.”

Liz narrowed her eyes, a small smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “Ginny Jefferies, did you just compare Matt McGee to God? Seriously?” She laughed through her tears. “I mean, I know half the town thinks he’s a saint, but come on. Let’s not push it.”

Ginny laughed loudly, her hand against her chest. “Oh no. I didn’t even realize how that sounded. No, of course I am not comparing Matt to God. Matt is a man. He’s not perfect and he was wrong to lie to you about that night, but Liz.” She leaned forward and covered Liz’s hand with hers. “You need to talk to him about it. I’m sure he had a good reason. He loves you. You may not believe it, but I can see it. He loves you and if he doesn’t tell you soon, I’m going to kick him in his behind as motivation.”

Liz mocked gasped. “Ginny! I thought you were a sweet Christian woman and here you are talking about kicking people in the butt.”

Ginny winked. “Well, sometimes even sweet Christian women reach their limits.”

Liz shook her head and laughed softly. “Matt and I are friends, Ginny. That’s all. He’s a good friend. He’s been there for me when I’ve needed him the most and that’s why it bothers me so much that he was there that night and didn’t say anything. It’s just yet another humiliating experience of mine he’s witnessed.”

Ginny smiled as she watched Liz blow her nose again and accept another tissue to wipe the tears from her cheeks. Someday this young lady was going to wake up and realize what she had right in front of her and Ginny hoped it didn’t take years for it to happen.

Dropping a spoonful of honey in her tea, Ginny stirred it slowly and thought about how she’d reached her limit with more than just Matt McGee not admitting his feelings for Liz. She knew she should practice what she’d preached to Liz and tell Stan how she was feeling. Unfortunately, Stan hadn’t been very open to conversations lately and telling him how she felt might have to be done during a full-on blow-out argument at this point.

Book Review with CelebrateLit: Saving Mrs. Roosevelt

Celebrating Saving Mrs. Roosevelt

About the Book

Book: Saving Mrs. Roosevelt

Author: Candice Sue Patterson

Genre: Christian Fiction/Historical/Adventure

Release date: December 2021

Saving Mrs. Roosevelt World War 2 Fiction

Shirley Davenport is as much a patriot as her four brothers. She, too, wants to aid her country in the war efforts, but opportunities for women are limited. When her best friend Joan informs her that the Coast Guard has opened a new branch for single women, they both enlist in the SPARs, ready to help protect the home front.

Training is rigorous, and Shirley is disappointed that she and Joan are sent to separate training camps. At the end of basic training, Captain Webber commends her efforts and commissions her home to Maine under the ruse of a dishonorable discharge to help uncover a plot against the First Lady.

Shirley soon discovers nothing is as it seems. Who can she trust? Why do the people she loves want to harm the First Lady? With the help of Captain Webber, it’s a race against time to save Mrs. Roosevelt and remain alive.Click here to buy your copy (Celebrate Lit Affiliate Link)

My Review

Saving Mrs. Roosevelt is a great book to get yourself lost in. The story carries you along easily, so easily don’t notice it’s 1 in the morning and you should have been asleep hours ago. It had me biting my nails until the very end.

The characters are intriguing, captivating and people I, for one, would be honored to get to know.

Patterson does a great job of dropping breadcrumbs of information related to the mystery of the book, keeping readers guessing throughout as to who might be involved in a plot to harm Mrs. Roosevelt. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, she sends you down another path full of questions that you know you need the answers to

There is romantic tension in the book, but it isn’t overdone or makes you want to roll your eyes and gag at all. It is subtle and sweet.

If you like historical fiction, light and sweet romance, and intrigue, then this is the book for you.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Celebrate Lit. I was not required to write a positive review. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

About the Author

Candice Sue Patterson studied at the Institute of Children’s Literature and is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives in Indiana with her husband and three sons in a restored farmhouse overtaken by books. When she’s not tending to her chickens, splitting wood, or decorating cakes, she’s working on a new story. Candice writes Modern Vintage Romance—where the past and present collide with faith. Her debut novel How to Charm a Beekeeper’s Heart was a 2012 ACFW First Impressions finalist and made INSPYs Longlist for 2016.

Candice Patterson Author of Saving Mrs Roosevelt

More from Candice …

The idea for Saving Mrs. Roosevelt literally came overnight. I had just finished writing a contemporary romance set in Maine, centered around a harbor town where lobstering is prevalent. My agent called me and told me about the Heroines of WWII series and asked if I’d be interested in writing a WWII novel. If so, I needed to come up with a story and proposal fast because spots were limited and filling quickly. My mind was so consumed with research of the lobster industry that I felt I couldn’t clear my brain fast enough to come up with another story on such short notice. That’s when I started wondering how I could take the knowledge I already had and make it work for a WWII novel. I googled Maine during WWII, came across an article that mentioned the SPARs, and the idea for Saving Mrs. Roosevelt was born.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the Nancy Drew deep inside me figured out a unique way to merge lobstering with espionage.

Though the plot is purely fiction, there are some characters and events that are historically accurate that were fun to include as well. I love Maine, but I’m Hoosier born and raised, and in my SPAR research, I discovered that Dorothy C. Stratton–the woman the Coast Guard asked to direct the SPARs–was the Dean of Women at Purdue University in Indiana. She was a woman of true character, grace, and strength. I knew right away she needed a cameo in my story.

Within twenty-four hours of receiving my agent’s call, I had plotted the entire story and sent a proposal. Weeks went by, and as fall ushered in its beautiful colors, my husband surprised me with a trip to Monhegan Island, Maine. We walked the trails, ate amazing seafood, and took in the gorgeous view. While on the island, my agent called again, this time to let me know that Barbour had contracted Saving Mrs. Roosevelt. What a special moment it was to be standing on the very shoreline where the book is set when I received the good news.

Since the book is set in Maine where the heroine works on a lobster boat with her father, I wanted to share my favorite recipe for Maine blueberry pie.

Maine Blueberry Pie

Ingredients:

2 Pie crusts

1 quart of fresh Maine blueberries

1 ½ tbsp lemon juice

Freshly grated nutmeg

¼ c light brown sugar

¼ c white sugar

¼ c flour

2 tbsp tapioca for thickening (if the berries are juicy)

 Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place the berries into a large bowl, add lemon juice, and toss. Add the remaining ingredients and toss until the berries are well coated with the flour and sugars mixture. Line the pie plate with one crust. Put the berries into the pie plate and top with a solid or lattice-top crust. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the berries are bubbly and the crust is golden brown.

Giveaway

Saving Mrs. Roosevelt Amazon gift certificate giveaway

To celebrate her tour, Candace is giving away the grand prize package of a $25 Amazon gift card and a copy of the book!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.Click here to enter the giveaway

Fiction Friday: Harvesting Hope (formerly The Farmers’ Sons) Chapter 13

I almost didn’t post this chapter this week because it will probably be changed, maybe even gutted, before the final publication later this summer. I knew if I didn’t post today, though, I would lose my consecutive posting streak. Today makes eight days straight of posting. Amazing, right? No, it isn’t. I know. My life is sad. *wink*

Seriously, though, it is possible this chapter will change quite a bit before publication. If you would like to catch up and read the previous chapters I have posted here, you can click HERE.

For those who are new here, I post a chapter from a fiction story I am working on every Friday and somewhere down the road I publish the chapters as a full novel on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (and sometimes other digital services).

You can catch the first book in this series on Amazon.


Chapter 13

“Come on, Ells Bells.” Judi’s tone was mocking “You can’t be angry at me forever.”

Ellie’s hands tightened on the steering wheel and her jaw tightened. Why did her sister have to be such an immature jerk all the time?

Judi pulled her hair into a ponytail. “I’m going with you to help Dad milk cows. At 4 a.m. This makes up for me not being at the hospital, right? You can lighten up now.”

And you can be quiet now, Judi.

She chose not to respond out loud, instead pushing her foot down on the accelerator to make the trip go faster. She was too tired to deal with Judi.

Fortunately, Judi popped her earbuds in for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, she sang along to her music loudly and off-key.

There wasn’t any time to talk to Judi once they arrived at the farm and Ellie was grateful for that. Their dad was already in the barn and Jason’s truck was in the driveway. She sent Judi to prepare the feed for the calves. That should keep her busy. And quiet even longer.

Jason had been coming every morning and afternoon since the accident, even though her dad had told him he and Patrick could handle it. As far as she understood from her dad, he was helping with the milking at their farm and then heading back to his farm to help Molly and Alex, putting in a full day on both Tanner’s farms and the farm store, and also going on some calls with the fire department.

Watching him lift a back of feed supplement, his biceps bulging like a body builder’s, she wondered when he found time to sleep. Uttering the words, “we need a break” had been easy on the surface but now, at the sight of his back muscles rippling his T-shirt, she couldn’t deny how hard it was to ignore the physical attraction she’d always had for him. That attraction wasn’t easily severed, no matter the status of their relationship. She turned away quickly, focusing on cleaning the udders of the cows. Her dad followed her, hooking up the milking machines.

She spent the rest of the morning doing her best to avoid Jason. When he brushed past her on his way to the back of the barn to retrieve the scraper for clearing out the stalls, she felt that familiar surge of butterflies in her stomach. Trying her best to ignore it, she kept working and didn’t look up. She couldn’t risk her attraction to him making her forget what he’d done.

A trip to the birthing stalls in the back of the barn should distract her until the milking and stall cleaning was done.

The tiny calf next to its’ mother was still wet in the first stall when she turned the corner.

“Well, hey there Sunflower. Looks like Dad was right. You dropped today, huh?”

She stepped into the stall and the cow rose from her laying position. A quick look at the space between its legs confirmed it was a heifer calf.

“Hey, there, little girl. Guess you’ll be staying with us. Hope you’re a good milker like your mama.”

When Ellie turned, she noticed a tremble in the mother’s legs. She touched the cow’s side, sliding her hand across her stomach and neck. The tremble was spreading. When she touched the cow’s ears and felt how cold they were, she knew the cow was in trouble.

 “Hey, girl. It’s okay. We’ll get you some help.”

She stepped out of the stall and called across to the other section of the barn. “Dad, do you still keep the CMPK in the back room?”

Tom leaned over a stall. “Yeah. Whose got milk fever?”

“Sunflower.”

She heard a quiet sigh. “I’ll be back to help.”

Jason’s voice came from somewhere behind her. “I got it, Tom.” She flinched and turned to see him walking toward her, rubbing dirt off his hands onto his jeans. She’d always wondered how he looked so amazing even covered in dirt and cow manure. Today was no different.

She didn’t really want his help, but this was a two-person job. As she ran the bottle of calcium under warm water, she thought about how hard it would have been for her dad to help her get the IV into the cow with his ribs wrapped up. While she would have preferred Jason wasn’t there, she was glad he was now that Sunflower needed treatment.

Jason was waiting with Sunflower, rubbing her neck, when Ellie came back with the bottle of calcium and mineral mixture.

“You want to hold her head or put the IV in?” he asked.

Bumping her hip against Sunflower’s rump to encourage her to enter the recovery stall, she handed Jason the bottle and tubing at the same time. “I’ve got her head.”

“Sure you can hold her?”

Her scowl was his answer.

He shrugged. “Okay then.”

Ellie climbed over the metal fencing, stroked Sunflower’s head for a few seconds. Then she threaded the rope attached to the cow’s harness through the fence slats, winding the rope around the top bar and pulling tight until Sunflower’s head was pulled up and to the side, exposing her neck.

“Got it?” Jason had already knelt down, the needle in his hand, ready to insert it.

She nodded and he tapped along the cow’s neck with a finger, searching for the main vein.

Sunflower jerked her head when he tried to put it in. The needle grazed her neck. Blood hit the floor and Jason’s shoes.

“She didn’t like that.” He grimaced. “Tighten that rope so she stays still.”

Ellie’s jaw tightened. “It is tight.”

“Not tight enough.” Jason’s voice was about as tight as her jaw. “She’s going to jerk that head back and I’m going to hit the wrong vein. If you can’t handle it then you can put the needle in, and I’ll hold her head.”

“I can handle it, Jason,” she snapped. “I’ve done it plenty times before, you know that.”

Jason held a hand up. “Okay. Sorry.” His words had softened, but his tone hadn’t. “Calm down. Let’s just get this taken care of. She’s looking more unsteady by the moment. I don’t want to risk her dropping down.”

Ellie jerked the rope against the top rail of the fence, pulling the cows head even higher. Reaching around she patted the cow’s head. She didn’t want to take her frustration with Jason out on the cow, who already wasn’t feeling well.

The needle punctured the neck and Jason straightened. “Got it.” He lifted the bottle and tubing up to let the liquid drip down. “She should be feeling better soon. Keep the rope tight.”

“Yes, sir, bossman,” Ellie hissed through clench teeth.

Jason raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“Nothing.”

Jason looked at her over the extended arm as he held the bottle. “I’m just trying to help here, El. I’m here for your dad, not you, so you can check the attitude.”

His words clipped out at her fast and tight. Not even her anger at him could distract her from the flecks of brown in his green irises. She  clenched her jaw again, her lips pressed in a thin line as she held the rope tight and turned her head away, keeping her eyes focused on the sun rising above the horizon.

Five minutes later the bottle was empty, and Jason slid the IV out. “Done.” He glared at Ellie, wrapping the IV hose around the empty bottle. “You’re free to go, my lady.”

She glared back but when he lifted his shirt to wipe the sweat off his brow, she saw the skin just above the edge of his jeans and an involuntary rush of delight coursed through her. Goosebumps slid across her skin and her heartrate increased.

When he walked past her, she smelled the musky scent of his aftershave and her stomach flip-flopped. Why couldn’t her brain remind the rest of her body she was angry at him?

 “Tom, if you don’t need anything else from me, I’m going to head out.”

Tom leaned back against the wall by the barn door, one arm wrapped around his middle. Ellie wondered when he’d last taken his painkillers.

“No problem, Jason. You’ve been a great help. The girls can finish up.”

Jason nodded, glancing at Ellie. “I’m sure they can. I can head over this afternoon for the milking if you like.”

Didn’t he have an entire farming enterprise to help run? Why did he keep volunteering to help her dad?

“I’ll be here,” she said. “We should be fine.”

Jason tipped his head and kept walking. “Alright then.” His tone was cold.

Ellie walked to the doorway and watched him pull away, emotions jockeying for position. In the end, sadness won over and clutched at her throat, squeezing tight. It’s not like she could blame Jason for being angry. Even she knew she wasn’t exactly being fair about all this. He’d apologized repeatedly, asked to sit down and talk to her, and when she’d repelled all his efforts, he’d given her space. Was it his fault that now she was interpreting his accommodating her as indifference to what he’d done and how it had affected her?

A high-pitched whistle sounded in the barn behind her. “Daaaang, El. You could have cut the tension in here with a knife.” Judi’s laugh grated on her nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard. “The only question is if it was angry tension or,” Judi lowered her eyelids and voice seductively. “Sexual tension.”

Tom cleared his throat. “That’s enough, Judi. Did you finishing feeding the calves?”

Judi folded her arms across her chest and rolled her eyes. “Almost but I have eight more. Come on, El. Help your little sister out. Melanie’s taking me to a restaurant in Kirkwood for lunch and I need to hurry up and get this done so I can get a shower.”

Help her out? Sure, why not? It wasn’t like Ellie hadn’t already done most of the work anyhow while Judi complained about the feed not mixing and the mud oozing around her boots. Anyone who didn’t know Judi would have thought she hadn’t grown up on a farm.

“Fine.” Ellie stomped through the barn door and turned toward the calf enclosures. “Let’s add another thing to my list of chores since you’re morning has been full of such arduous effort.”

Judi made a face as she followed her sister. “There you go with the big words again. Making sure you let us all know you’re the smartest one in the room. Or should I say the barn.”

Ellie ignored her sister’s jab. She didn’t have the mental energy for it after her verbal sparing with Jason. Judi followed her, though, and wouldn’t let up. She was like a dog with a bone now, or like that vindictive swan who had followed Ellie around the pond, screeching and flapping its wings after Ellie accidentally disturbed it while it was nesting.

“Seriously, El. What’s with you and Jason anyhow? If looks could kill he’d be six feet under by now.”

Ellie picked up a feeding bottle and tuned Judi out. As if she was going to tell her sister what had actually happened, how she felt betrayed because Jason had given to someone else what Ellie had always wanted for herself — his first sexual experience. Even saying it to herself sounded ridiculous. What kind of never-ending mocking would she endure from Judi if she admitted it out loud?

 Judi didn’t subscribe to the same values Ellie did. She marched to the beat of her own drummer and though they’d never discussed it, Ellie guessed by comments Judi had made in the past that saving herself for marriage wasn’t on Judi’s list of priorities.

“Okay.” Judi tightened the band holding her ponytail in place. “Don’t tell me. If you want to be a childless spinster for the rest of your life, what do I care?”

Ellie’s stomach tightened, a wave of nausea overtaking her. Why couldn’t Judi leave well enough alone? Why did she have to bring children into it? She had a knack for finding Ellie’s vulnerable spot and thrusting comments at her like daggers, clearly thirsty for the fatal blow.

Ellie looked up from the calf she was feeding, eyes flashing. “What are you doing here, Judi?”

Judi smirked, picking up a bottle. “Whatever do you mean, dear sister? I’m feeding calves. Helping our father. Being responsible. Making you happy.”

Her snarky responses weren’t soothing Ellie’s already bristling attitude.

“No.” Ellie snapped the word out, looking over her shoulder. “Why are you here? Back in Spencer again? Shouldn’t you be in the city eating at fancy restaurants, club hopping, and pretending your life is better than everyone else’s?”

Judi averted her gaze but kept the smirk in place. “What? You don’t like having your baby sister here in person for you to look down on? Would you prefer I leave so you can have all the attention like normal and abhor me from a distance instead?”

The bottle made a loud sucking noise as Ellie yanked the nipple from the calf’s mouth, preparing to face Judi and offer her a retort. Milk dripped down the calf’s chin, though, and she bawled out a pathetic cry until Ellie popped the nipple back in.

“Yeah, like I’m the one always craving for attention.” Ellie kept her back to Judi. “I don’t know why I even bother talking to you. All you ever do is blame me for your inability to function as an actual adult. Grab that other bottle and start feeding the calves on the other side or we’ll never get done.”

Judi snatched up the other bottle and snorted a derisive laugh. “You know all about blaming, don’t you, El-bell? Like how you’re blaming Jason for your breakup when it’s probably something you did — like refusing to put out unless he proposed.”

Ellie dropped the bottle. The sting of the slap startled her as much as it did Judi.  Judi gasped in a sharp breath, her expression emanating shock for a split second before it morphed into amusement.

Ellie looked at her hand as if it was a part of someone else’s body. The mark on Judi’s cheek blazed bright red. The tears that streaked her face didn’t come from pain but laughter.

“Wow.” She looked proud of herself. She could barely speak between the laughter. “Pushed the right button that time, didn’t I? Looks like Elizabeth Alexandria isn’t so perfect after all.”

Ellie clenched her burning hand tight at her side and pivoted quickly, stomping back toward the house, heart pounding. Judi’s mocking laugh haunted her the entire way.

“Are you girls done?” her mom called from the kitchen. “I made you pancakes and bacon and those muffins you —”

Ellie slammed the bathroom door closed, drowning out her mother’s perky greeting. She slid down the door, and dropped her head in her hands, her body shaking with sobs.

Stupid Judi. Why had she let her get to her like that? She’d been trying to pick a fight with Ellie since she’d arrived two weeks ago, and she had just given her what she wanted.

Confrontation and fights thrilled Judi, made her feel alive, sent adrenaline rushing through her veins like a skydiver every time they opened the door of the plane and jumped into open air. Judi was addicted to drama the same way she was addicted to avoiding being an adult. Ellie had just given her the drug. There was no way it was going to satiate her, either. She’d be back for more, at Ellie’s expense, there was no doubt about that.

Fiction Friday: Harvesting Hope Chapter 11

I have been trying to hit my self-imposed deadline of Monday to have the first draft of this book finished, but I don’t believe I am going to hit it so I’ve extended the deadline another two weeks. I may not need that extension, however, after kicking out 2500 words for a very exciting section later in the story yesterday. The section was so exciting and stressful for me, I had to take several breaks, during which my son made fun of me for being upset over the people in my head, because he thinks he’s funny. More on that another day. And know that he was just teasing.

For now the tentative release date for this book August 5, but it could very well be pushed to the end of August.

Let me know in the comments what you think of the story so far.

To read the other chapters from this story, click HERE.

———-

Chapter 10

“Two cracked ribs and a wound that luckily looked worse than it was. The horn scraped less than an inch below the surface and hit a small artery, which is why it bled so much.”

She’d given the update with her eyes focused on Alex instead of Jason and then she’d left to go back to her dad.

When she’d turned away, Jason had felt the familiar heaviness in his chest, the one that had been there since the day she’d told him she needed a break. A break from him. The heaviness stayed there on the drive home and Alex could see it.

“You okay?”

Jason shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah. Worried about Tom. That’s all.”

“He’s going to be fine. You heard Ellie.”

Jason nodded, shifted the truck into a lower gear and jammed his foot on the accelerator, pulling into the left lane to pass another car. “Yeah. I heard her tell you he’d be fine.”

Alex cleared his throat. “You noticed that too, huh?”

“She probably blames me.” Jason lifted his foot off the accelerator and glided the truck back into the right lane. “Like she’s blaming me for everything else these days.”

“You don’t know that. She said she didn’t. She’s probably just tired, worried about her dad.” Alex shook his head, looking out the window. “Things are going to work out between you two. They have to. I can’t imagine one of you without the other.”

Jason let out a breath, trying to keep himself from driving too fast, knowing he only wanted to get back to the farm so he could throw himself into work and forget about it all.

“Thanks, Alex. I appreciate you trying to make me feel better.”

He appreciated it, but it wasn’t necessarily helping. All he’d really wanted to do in that hospital waiting room was pull Ellie against him, wrap his arms around her, and make sure she knew he’d be there for her no matter what. At this point, he needed to start accepting he might never be able to do that again.

“WHERE WERE YOU?” Ellie couldn’t hide the anger in her voice, standing across from her sister in her parent’s living room. She hissed the question out between clenched teeth, her arms folded tightly across her chest.

“I was at Melanie’s.” Judi shrugged and flopped across the couch, propping her foot on the arm of it. She waved her hand dismissively. “Chill out. Dad’s fine. They didn’t even keep him overnight.”

“We could have used your help getting him home, but as usual, you were unreachable.”

Judi made a face. “As usual? What’s that supposed to mean? And what’s so hard about getting him home? Put him in the car and drive him here. Big deal.”

“There was medicine to pick up at the pharmacy, there was helping him to his room and getting his pillows, there was —”

Judi sighed, loudly and flung her arms in the air. “Oh my gosh, Ellie. You handled it fine. Stop being so dramatic. You’re better at all that stuff anyhow.”

Ellie slammed her purse into a chair and propped her hands on her hips, glowering at her younger sister. “I’m better at that stuff because I’ve always had to do it since you were always off playing around.”

Judi stood and walked toward the kitchen. “You could have played around too, El, but you were always too busy trying to be the good little church girl and mom and dad’s favorite.”

Following her sister, Ellie tried to lower her voice, not sure how much their voices might carry up the stairs to her parents’ bedroom. “Someone had to help on this farm. Someone had to be responsible.”

Judi poured a glass of milk and reached for the chocolate syrup in the door of the fridge. She stood with her back to her sister, one leg cocked to the side, dirty blond hair swishing as she stirred the chocolate into the milk.

“Someone had to be responsible,” she said in a mocking tone as she stirred. “Someone has to be an adult. Someone has to be so uptight they could poop out diamonds.”

She turned, leaned back against the counter and smirked. “You know, this is probably why Jason and you aren’t together anymore. Who wants an uptight, bossy, closed off shrew as a girlfriend?”

The insult stung but Ellie wasn’t about to let Judi know. She tightened her jaw and clenched her fingers around the back of a kitchen chair. “I’m not the issue here, Judi. You are. You are the one who is never around when your family needs you and if it makes you feel better to insult me then go ahead, but it’s not going to change the fact that all you’ve ever cared about is yourself.”

Judi’s slurp let Ellie know that nothing she said was going to matter. Judi would never feel an ounce of guilt for her behavior.

Ellie turned abruptly, shaking her head as she headed up the stairs to see if her parents needed anything. Once they assured her they were fine, she told them she was going for a drive and would be back to help with dinner.

In the car, though, she didn’t know where to drive. She had nowhere to go. In the past when she was overwhelmed or ready to scream in frustration she went to Jason’s or at least the Tanners. Both of those options were out of the question this time and she didn’t know how to feel about that. She turned her steering wheel to the right, pressed her foot on the brake and pulled her car over to the side of the road, pressing her forehead against the steering wheel. She jerked the car into park and let the tears flow.

Stupid Judi anyhow. Why did she have to say that about Jason?

They weren’t together anymore because Jason hadn’t been open with her. It wasn’t because she was too uptight and closed off.

Right?

Maybe Jason had never told her about what had happened in college because she was all of those things. Was she such a horrible person he didn’t even feel he could be honest with her? Was she really such a perfectionist that he was afraid telling her about his mistakes would shatter her so-called perfect world? Yes, he probably was.

Tears soaked her face and she brushed them away quickly. She didn’t have time for crying. If Jason had felt she was too closed off and would be too uptight about what he’d done in college then it was a good thing they weren’t together anymore. Who knew what else he had decided was wrong with her over the years.

She took a deep breath, held it, and swallowed hard. When she let her breath out, she shook her head a little to try to shake off the negativity pressing around her. The setting sun cast a red-brown glow on the dirt of the road in front of the car. Her gaze drifted toward a small, cozy-looking farmhouse further down, across a newly planted field on the right. The farmhouse, white, with red shutters, was flanked by two maple trees. She couldn’t see it from where she was parked, but she knew there was a small chicken coup and a tire swing hooked to a tree limb behind it.

Franny Tanner’s. Jason’s grandmother and the Tanner family matriarch. The woman Ellie considered her third grandmother, the one living closest to her since one of her grandmothers now lived out of the area and the other had passed away when she was a child. She hadn’t seen Franny since she’d broke it off with Jason almost six months ago and it broke her heart. She hadn’t known how to explain it all to the woman who had had such a wonderful marriage of 55 years before Ned passed away almost two years ago. Their love had been something to strive for, to look up to, not just for Ellie and Jason but anyone who met them.

She still remembered holding Franny’s hand at the funeral. She was on one side of her, Molly on the other. Franny didn’t cry the entire funeral. The only time the tears came was when the casket was carried out. Jason, Robert, Walter, Brad, and Alex had all been pallbearers.

“There goes my heart,” Franny had whispered, standing next to the pew, grasping Ellie and Molly’s hands for support.

Even now the memory brought tears to Ellie’s eyes. Now her tears came not only for the woman who’d lost her soulmate and best friend but because Ellie had once imagined she’d have what Franny and Ned had.

With Jason. Now, she didn’t know if she’d ever  experience a love as true as Franny and Ned’s had been.

She dabbed a tissue to the corner of her eyes, soaked up the moisture, and crumpled the tissue into her hand. She couldn’t stay out here all night. It was getting late, and she’d offered to make her parents dinner. Yes, once again she had chosen to be the responsible one. All she wanted to do was go home and fall asleep reading a book but instead, as usual, she would be the adult while Judi was the childish one having all the fun.

Fiction Friday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 4

Welcome to Chapter 4 of The Farmers’ Sons.

As always this is a work in progress so this chapter will probably change in content and definitely with typos before a future publication as an ebook.

To catch up on the story click HERE.

***

Spencer was a small town, quieter than a city, but still nosier than a small farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Instead of drifting off to the sound of crickets and peepers, the squeal of tires, revving of diesel engines, laughter from people leaving the bar down the street, and the occasional whoop of a teenager pulling a late night wheelie for his friends bombarded Ellie’s ears. She’d purchased a white noise machine after a sleepless first week. The synthetic sound of running water had finally helped her drift off and stay asleep.

Tonight, though, she’d scrolled through all the sounds her machine offered and nothing was working.

Chirping birds, jungle sounds, a train bumping on the tracks, the whir of a fan, the hum of an air conditioner.

None of them could drown out her racing thoughts, her memories of the night Jason had not-actually proposed. She still couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid not to notice he’d never actually said the words. It had taken a conversation with Judi a week later to make her question if he really had intended to propose that night or not.

She’d been organizing her bookshelf in her room at the farm when the buzz of the cellphone startled her. As she remembered the call, she realized organizing her bookshelf was apparently a favorite pastime for her. She had shoved Pride and Prejudice back into the “A” section of the bookcase and checked the caller ID.

Oh, great. This should be fun.

“Hello, Judi.”

“Heya, sister of mine. Tell me you’re somewhere exciting doing something that would make me proud.”

Ellie rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, kneeling back in front of the bookcase. “I’m in my room. Organizing books.”

Judi snorted. “Why am I not surprised? You’re so predictable, El.”

A car horn sounded in the background and a mix of car engines and voices filtered through the receiver.

Ellie slid another book onto the shelf. “On your way to work?”

“I’m at a café, actually. They have the best lattes and blueberry scones, and a beautiful veranda overlooking Central Avenue. So, what’s up with you. Anything new?”

Nothing I’m going to tell you about.

“Nope. I’m predictable. Like you said.”

Judi’s laughter grated on Ellie’s nerves. “Predictable, loyal, dedicated, and perfect. That’s my big sister. Still living with mom and dad, I suppose?”

Ellie bristled. “You know I am.”

Judi’s laugh was infuriating. Ellie pictured her wearing a pair of sunglasses, her honey brown hair spilling down her back, bright red lipstick, her head tipped back as she laughed.

“You’re such a trooper, Ellie. Helping mom and dad out and working two jobs. Always showing off. You know, you really should move up here with me. Expand your horizons. Kick the dust off that cruddy little town already.”

Ellie slammed a book into the bookcase. Tension grabbed at the back of her neck, spread down her shoulders. “Judi, you know I can’t.”

“Why?” There was a long slurp, and a muted snorting laugh, following by words dripping with sarcasm. “Oh, right . . . Jason.” Ellie could practically hear the eye-roll. “Your dud of a boyfriend who hasn’t even proposed to you after all these years.”

The tension clutched at Ellie’s jaw, slithered down her chest. “Actually—”

“Wait.” There was a clink on the other end of the line, probably Judi’s glass of peach iced tea on the surface of the table. She always drank peach tea with a twist of lemon. “Did he actually propose?”

Ellie immediately regretted even starting down this path. “Well, sort of —”

“Sort of? What do you mean, sort of? He either has or he hasn’t.”

Ellie closed her eyes against the onslaught of interrogation from her younger sister. She pressed her fingertips against her temple. “He did.”

Judi’s excitement was palpable. Her breath quickened. Ellie could picture her leaning forward, darkly lined eyeliner framing wide green eyes. “What did he say? How did he do it? Tell me everything.”

Ellie felt a pulsating rhythm under her fingertips. “Actually, I asked him if he was eve going to propose. He almost drove off the road and then he said he was going to talk to me about marriage that night, actually.”

Judi’s excitement had waned some. Her tone flattened. “Soooo… wait. You asked him first about it? That’s sort of weird. Like, did he actually say the words?”

“The words?”

“Uh. Yeah. The words.” Judi’s tone indicated she thought Ellie should understand her meaning. “You know, like, ‘will you marry me Elizabeth Alexandria Lambert and make me the happiest man in the world?’”

The thumping rhythm in Ellie’s temple had increased, pushing an ache through the rest of her head. “You’ve been watching way too many romantic movies, Jud.”

A long sigh huffed against her ear. “Well, did he at least say, ‘will you marry me?’ And give you a ring?”

The phone tightened in her hand, and her jaw ached from clenching it. “No. He didn’t say that, and he didn’t have the ring with him.”

Standing at the window across from her bed, Ellie had looked out at her dad driving a tractor into the field. Her mother had been hanging a sheet onto the clothesline between the maple trees in the side yard.

“But you said he said he was going to talk to you about it at dinner, so why wouldn’t he —”

“I don’t know.” Ellie was snapping now. “He just didn’t.”

More slurping and the click of well-manicured nails on a tabletop.

“Well, that’s not very romantic.” Ellie didn’t have to see Judi to know she was making a face.  “But at least you two are finally getting married. This has dragged out long enough. Do mom and dad know?”

Turning from the window, an anxious buzz hummed in her ears, and she marched to the laundry basket to quiet it. She cradled the phone against her shoulder and ear.

Blue top, tan khakis, blue and green striped socks. Red top, light blue denim capris, white socks with red hearts. White ruffled shirt, light blue pencil skirt, tan high heels.

“No. No one knows yet except us and now you. We want to keep it that way, so keep this between us. We’re going to announce it at the firemens banquet in August. After he gets the ring.”

  A series of giggles in the background made it sound like Judi was at a wild party. Her voice faded to muffled mumbling. “Miranda! Heya! Yeah! I’ll be right over, sweets. I’m talking to my sister.” Her voice was louder again. “Calm down, Els-Bells, I won’t tell anyone. I promise. But let me know when I can because I totally want to tell Melanie Fitzgerald – oops, I mean Stanton — I forgot she got married.”

Ellie folded another series of clothes into a coordinating outfit, sliding them in a drawer, scrunching her face in a questioning expression. “Why Melanie?”

“Because we were all friends in high school and she’d be so happy for you. Plus, she bet me $20 Jason would never propose that last time I was home.”

Ellie pulled the phone from her ear and scowled at it. Judi had been friends with Melanie, not her. She thought about reminding her sister is this fact, but it wouldn’t have mattered. Judi was still stuck in high school.

 “Okay, Judi, I’ve got to go.” She slammed the dresser drawer shut. “I’ve got a shift at the farm store in a half an hour.”

Judi’s voice was far away again. “A refill on the peach tea with a twist of lemon, the summer breeze salad with grilled chicken, avocado , cucumber, no tomatoes, and a light balsamic vinaigrette on the side. Right. That’s perfect.” The patronizing click of the tongue made Ellie wince and pull the phone back from her ear again. “Oooh, Ellie,” she cooed. “You’re such a good girl. Helping the Tanners, helping at the farm, teaching those little kiddies. You’re such a saint. So steadfast and dependable.” Judi sighed and if it had been anyone else, Ellie would have interpreted her tone as sentimental. “Anyhoo, have to go. The new guy from the men’s department is here. I’m going to see if he wants to join me and the girls for lunch. Talk later.”

The phone went dead.

Ellie sat on the bed, tossing the phone onto the bedside table. 

Steadfast and dependable.

She knew Judi really meant.

Boring and predictable.

Ellie had quit her part-time job at the Tanner’s store the week after she found about Jason and the girl at college, rented an apartment in town and marched down to Missy’s one Saturday morning and asked for this haircut. It had been a long time coming. The need to change and the changes themselves.

Rolling onto her back and staring at the ceiling in the darkness, she huffed out a sigh.

Changing her appearance and her location wouldn’t change how she’d had to rearrange her life plans again, though. During her senior year of high school, the list had read, valedictorian, graduation, Bachelors in Education, career, marriage, children.

When Jason had suggested the break in college, she’d added question marks to marriage and children. But when they’d started dating again five years ago, she’d been able to add marriage and children back.

Now, though, she’d scratched a thick dark line through the words in her journal. She didn’t know if she’d ever add them back.

***

“Hey, Jason.” Molly called to him from the back room of the store. “We’ve got an order here for Mr. and Mrs. Weatherly. Can you drop it off on your way by?”

He’d just delivered a few hundred pounds of locally produced beef and pork from the meat packing plant two hours away, still had stalls to shovel and a tractor to fix, but dropping a delivery off to two of the nicest people he knew wouldn’t be a problem.

“You bet.”

Molly smiled as he lifted the box. “You don’t mind because Mrs. Weatherly always gives you cookies when you stop.”

He was just glad she wasn’t looking at him the way she’d looked in the parking lot of the church a few weeks ago. He still hadn’t talked to her about it and didn’t know how.

“Cookies, a pie, a piece of cake. Whatever she’s baked that day. What can I say? She loves me.”

His sister rolled her eyes and laughed. “You keep taking those cookies and that stomach of yours is going to grow.”

He shrugged a shoulder. “I’ll just work it all off at the gym the next morning.”

When he reached the Weatherly’s, Ann Weatherly was on the front porch with a smile, wearing a white apron with a border of red cherries running across the bottom.

“Jason Tanner, you’re a sweetheart.” She opened the door for him. “Put it right on the kitchen table there and then I’ll get you a piece of apple pie. I just took it out of the oven.”

He set the box down and held his hand up. “No, no, Mrs. Weatherly. I don’t need any pie. Really.”

She propped her hands on her hips. “I can tell you’ve been working hard already today, and I know you Tanner boys, you’ve got more work to do. I bet the pie would help you get through the rest of your day.”

Jason wasn’t great with ages, but he knew Ann had gone to school with his grandmother. Her husband, John, was probably about her age, maybe a little older. Saying ‘no’ to her would be like saying ‘no’ to one of his grandmother’s.

She gestured toward the table. “Go on and sit down. I’ll cut you a piece.”

Smiling, he shook his head at her persistence. His gaze drifted across the kitchen — the patterned plates displayed in a row on a shelf above the stove, the 1960s-era flowered wallpaper, cast-iron pans hanging on the wall below the cupboards — then wandered down the hallway leading to the dining room, photos hanging on the wall. He walked down the hallway, looking at photos of Ann and John with their children and grandchildren smiling laughing. Here was one of Ann and John on their wedding day. There was one with their daughters, Mary and Ellen and son Alfred. They were older than Jason, probably closer to his parents’ ages, living out of the area now.

Jason felt a twinge of emotion in his chest as his eyes roamed over the photos, an emotion he couldn’t pin down. It was a mix of loss, disappointment, and heartache at the thought he might never have a wall like this, full of photos of his own wife and children.

He ate the pie while listening to Mrs. Weatherly talk about her grandchildren, her plans for her garden, and John’s trip to town to pick up seeds for said garden.

Their conversation reminded him of conversations with his grandmothers. It also reminded him how lucky he was to have a job where he could take time to sit down and chat after delivering food that he and his family had helped grow.

Driving home later in the afternoon, Jason reflected on the conversation with his grandmother Franny a month before Ellie learned about his night with Lauren. Watching his normally outgoing grandmother withdrawal in the last year and a half, become a shell of her former self, had been hard, almost as hard as watching his grandfather fade behind the fog of Alzheimers. She had been avoiding many family gatherings and activities she used to enjoy, including church. Only in the last few months had he seen some of the melancholy fall away.

Franny had ushered him into the kitchen that day, sitting at the table as he unloaded the soup has mom had sent. “That’s very nice, hon’. You tell Annie thank you for me.” She smiled. “What happened? You draw the short straw to bring your cantankerous grandmother dinner?”

Jason laughed, bending down and kissing Franny’s cheek. “Now, grandma, you know I love coming to see you. We all do. Molly had an art class, Dad was working on that broken tractor, and I actually asked to bring it.”

Jason sat on the chair across from his grandmother and leaned back, stretching his legs out.

He decided to jump right into it, not pull any punches. “So, what’s going on with you, Grandma? You know you can talk to me.”

Franny avoided his eyes, stirring her spoon in the soup she’d dipped out. “I’m fine, Jason.”

“You’re anything but fine. Out with it. Is it your eyes?”

She shot him a glare. “You always were too observant for your own good, Jason. How did you know about my eyes?”

“I’ve noticed you bumping into tables when I’ve been here, squinting through your glasses. Plus, there was that whole driving into the back of the dump truck thing.”

She cleared her throat. “Well, yes, I am concerned about them. As for the dump truck — well, yes, I misjudged the distance between it and my car.”

“Misjudge or didn’t see it well?” She didn’t offer a verbal response. Her raised eyebrow and scowl were answer enough. “Do you think it could be macular degeneration?”

“I don’t know.” Her eyebrows furrowed. “I’ve heard of that but I’m not really familiar with it.”

Jason hooked his hands behind his head, keeping the conversation casual. “Ellie’s grandma has it. Her eyesight is slowly deteriorating, but maybe yours isn’t that bad. We can go see Dr. Fisher. Maybe you just need a prescription.”

Franny lifted her finger. “Ah, now. Speaking of Ellie —”

“Grandma, we’re talking about you right now.”

“We’ll get back to that. Let’s talk about Ellie and you.” She slapped her hand on the table. “Why haven’t you proposed to that girl yet?”

“Grandma…”

“Jason, honey, she’s the girl for you. You believe that, right?

Jason laughed softly and cleared his throat, unfolding his arms from behind his head and shifting in the chair. “Yes, Grandma. I do.”

“Then what are you waiting for?”

Jason softly groaned and covered his face with his hands, leaning his head back. This conversation had definitely gone off the rails. “Grandma. . .”

“Don’t let her get away from you, Jason. Do you hear me?”

Jason looked at his grandma, his face flushed but a smile tugging at his mouth. “Yes, ma’am. I hear you, but right now we are talking about your eyesight. I can drive you to Dr. Fisher. Let’s find out what’s going on. It may not be as bad as you think, okay?”

Franny sipped from her glass of water, a small smile flicking across her lips. “Okay. I’ll make you a deal, Jason Andrew Tanner. I’ll let you take me to Dr. Fisher if you agree to propose to that lovely Ellie.” She reached her hand out toward her grandson. “Deal?”

Jason tipped his head back again and let out a deep laugh. He shook his head and chewed his lower lip for a moment, rubbing his chin as he looked at his grandmother’s hand. If he did this, it would mean no more avoiding talking to Ellie about his college mistakes.

His large hand enveloped her much smaller one. “Yeah, okay, grandma. Deal.”

A month later Franny had her cataracts removed, and he’d been ready to confess all to Ellie.

If only he hadn’t failed to hold up his side of the bargain.

Franny knew something had happened between him and Ellie, and he knew she wanted to ask, but so far, he’d been able to avoid her. A family lunch was planned at her house next weekend. He had a feeling she’d corner him before the day was out.

Fiction Friday: The Farmers’ Sons Chapter 1 (restart)

So, I have restarted The Farmers Sons (name subject to change). I mean trashed the other chapters and started all over. I have not, however, trashed the prologue. Not yet anyhow. I will most likely try to figure out how to add it to later to the story, but probably will not have Jason be a volunteer fire fighter. He won’t have time for that with trying to run the farm with his family, while Robert is recovering.

The previous draft was steering the story in a direction far away from how I imagined Jason and Ellie’s story going and it also needed tighter writing. This next draft will still include some of the elements of the previous versions.

For anyone who is new here, I share a chapter from the (almost) first draft of a novel I am working on each Friday. The chapter will most likely have typos, grammatical errors, missing comas, and even plot holes and it’s not the final version of the novel that I release at a later date.

I share the stories and publish the novels for fun so feel free to comment. The first book in this series is also available for sale on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and various other sites. You can find more info about that HERE.


The sun cut across the barren field, slicing it in half, leaving one side to the darkness, the other to the light. A similar scene played out inside Jason Tanner. A metaphorical sun worked hard to push back the darkness, leaving him split in the middle, one part dark, one part light; one part hope, the other part hopeless.

Bitter coffee burned at the edges of his exhaustion but did nothing to clear the fog in his mind. How many days had it been? Nine? Maybe ten since he’d slept more than five hours a night, waking before dawn, stumbling to his pickup, driving to the barn, fingers numb from cold, watching his breath puff misty white around him.

This morning was no different, other than he’d actually remembered to brew himself a pot of coffee. He had poured half into his thermos and left the other half for Alex. They’d both need a few more pots to get through this week, this day even.

Alex stepped next to him on the farmhouse front porch, mug in hand. “This coffee is awful.”

Jason winced, not from the insult but in agreement as the sludge slid down his throat. “The worse it is, the more it will wake us up.”

Alex sipped coffee from his mug, scowling at Jason over the edge. “Is that like ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger?’”

If there was any consolation to where Jason found himself it was that he wasn’t alone in the weariness that had seeped into his marrow in the last five months.

He looked at it in the eyes of each of them — his sister, his best friend, his mother, his uncle, and most of all his father, sitting helpless in a chair on the porch each morning, his eyes completing tasks his body couldn’t, not yet anyway.

He tightened the lid to the thermos, jerked his head behind him toward the kitchen. “Fill the other thermos and let’s get going. The cows don’t care how tired we are.”

Alex grunted. “I’m not sure I want to drink anymore of this. Maybe I can use it to clean the rust off that old tractor behind the barn instead.”

They climbed into separate pickups, pulling up to the barn, one behind the other. Molly stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, waiting for one of them more than the other. She looked through Jason and he had a feeling she wouldn’t have even noticed if he hadn’t been there.

Alex’s arms slid around her waist and pulled her close, a sight Jason still wasn’t comfortable with. He wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to his little sister and his best friend dating each other, but he’d been too tired since his father’s accident to let it bother him much more than sending a shudder of disgust through him from time to time.

“Save that for later.” His tone denoted a touch of teasing, spun together with genuine aggravation. “We’re behind schedule.”

They locked eyes, small smiles playing at the corners of their lips. It was obvious they were ignoring him. He’d have to start the milking without them. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Alex pull Molly closer and lower his mouth to hers. Revulsion tinged with jealousy swirled in his stomach. Revulsion over Alex kissing his little sister right there, outside the barn door where Jason had to see it; jealousy because he wished he was holding Ellie the same way. He didn’t know if she’d ever let him hold her that way again.

Several agonizing moments of listening to smooches and laughter later, Alex playfully bumped him in the arm on his way to gather the feed. “It’s never too late for a sweet kiss from your sister, buddy.”

His teasing did nothing to make Jason feel less uncomfortable. “Dude, seriously. Stop that. I don’t even want to know.”

There were moments he regretted convincing Alex to move up to the farm, like right now, bogged down with thoughts of Alex kissing Molly. Most days, though, Alex was like family, as much as a brother as he was a best friend.

His dad’s voice came from behind him. “Are we ready for the big release?”

He’d never get used to seeing his dad leaning on that cane and hoped soon he wouldn’t need it.

“Yep. Just finished up.”

It was an annual tradition for the family to release the cows into the pasture from the barn where they’d been sheltered from the cold weather of winter. It was also a tradition for them to do it together. Jason wasn’t surprised his dad didn’t plan to miss it, making his way to the barn with Jason’s mom beside him.  

Robert Tanner tipped his head toward his daughter. “Molly, do the honors.”

The cows were already standing at the gate, anxiously sniffing the cool spring air. They surged forward within seconds after Molly pulled back the gate and stepped aside.

She affectionally patted a couple on their rumps as they passed. “Get on out there, girls.”

Jason propped his arms across the top bar of the fence, watching the young heifers kicking up their legs, bumping into each other, mouths open, stretched into almost human looking smiles. It was his favorite time of year, letting them loose from their six months inside the barns, six months of being protected from wind and rain, cold and snow.

Robert leaned on the cane with both hands. “Now, that’s a sight I like to see.”

Jason nodded in silent agreement. “It was always Grandpa’s favorite time of year too, other than harvesting the sweet corn.”

Robert laughed softly. “Yeah, he did like his sweet corn.”

Annie Tanner propped a hand on her husband’s shoulder, watching the cows spread out across the hillside. “More like addicted to it.”

Jason pulled his eyes from the joyful scene in the pasture, leaning back against the fence, gesturing at his dad’s leg. “So, two weeks and that cast will be all the way off, huh, old man?”

Robert cocked an eyebrow, folding his arms across his chest. “What’s with you and Alex calling me old man? You both know I could kick your rear ends across this pasture even with a broken leg.”

A broken leg? More like a shattered leg when a tractor had tipped on it four months ago.

“We rarely have survivors when a tractor falls on a farmer.”

The words from the doctor had been chilling but accurate. Eerily accurate. Somehow Robert Tanner survived what so many other farmers hadn’t, thanks to the stump of an old maple tree left from when Ned Tanner cut it down five years before. Jason was grateful time had gotten away from them and they had never got around to pulling the stump from the ground.

Besides the shattered femur, Robert had also had a cracked pelvis, a puncture wound to his back, a collapsed lung, and internal bleeding. It was the bleeding that had led to a minor stroke during surgery and a six-week coma. The cracked pelvis was proving the most difficult to heal physically. Robert’s loss of independence had been the hardest to heal emotionally.

Jason grinned at his dad. “Looking forward to you pulling your weight around here again.” The smile broadened. “Old man.”

Robert lifted a hand from the cane and playfully punched his son in a muscular bicep. “Go clean those stalls out, little boy. Do it right or this old man will show you a thing or two about what it means to be a real man.”

Jason laughed and tapped his dad gently on the shoulder as he walked by.

You’ve already shown me what it means to be a real man, he wanted to say, but didn’t. He didn’t have time for sentimental pauses in his day. There was too much work to do, too many stalls to clean out, too many hours to spend distracting himself from the hole Ellie had carved in his heart two days earlier outside the church.

***

The sight of her standing outside the sanctuary talking to her friend Lucy had taken his breath away. She’d cut her hair short. Gone were the dark, straight strands that had fallen down her back in a long braid since he had known her. Her hair was still straight but hit just below her ears now. curved along the smooth, delicate line of her jaw..

He ached to reach out, trace that line with his fingertips, slide his hand behind her head and kiss away the distance between them.

The open laughter she’d been sharing with Lucy a few seconds earlier faded the moment her eyes met his. She looked away immediately, but in that brief moment he’d watched her face transform from cautious joy to closed down indifference.

He should have taken it as a sign to continue into the sanctuary and leave her alone. Unfortunately, he’d never been good at listening to others, or to his own intuition.

He slid his eyes from her to Lucy, now standing in awkward silence, her head tipped toward the floor. “Good morning, Lucy. Having a nice weekend?”

Lucy glanced up, flashed a tight smile. “Yes. I am. You?”

“It’s been okay.”

What was he going to say? It’s been torture, miserable, like being stranded in the middle of a raging sea during a storm without a lifeboat? It was true, but it wasn’t exactly the pre-church banter most people engaged in. Not to mention it was none of Lucy’s business how his weekend had really been. He had a feeling she was part of the problem, part of the reason Ellie had been ignoring his calls.

Lucy’s hazel eyes darted to Ellie, then back to Jason. She let out a quick, quiet breath, chasing it with, “Well, I’m going to go find a seat, so . . . yeah.” She leaned her head close to Ellie, her hand on her forearm, as if they were sharing a secret. It was futile. Jason still heard her, her whisper echoing in the now empty lobby. “You going to be okay?”

Ellie nodded, flashed a quick, obviously tense smile. “I’ll meet you inside.”

Lucy nodded back, looked at Jason, opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again. She looked away, turning her attention to Frank Troutman standing in the entryway with the bulletins. Frank smiled, handed Lucy a bulletin, and she cast one more look at Ellie over her shoulder before going inside.

Ellie bent her ankle back and forth, looked past him out into the parking lot, both hands hugging her Bible to her chest like a shield against him.

“I miss you.”

The words flew out of him before he even realized he was saying them out loud.

Something flashed in her eyes.

An emotion he couldn’t read.

He couldn’t read her. At all. He wasn’t used to that, to her closing herself off to him.

Her hands hugged the Bible closer against her.

“I miss you too.”

The words were what he’d wanted to hear, but not in the monotone, emotionless way she said it. Her voice was detached, a thousand miles away from meaning anything. Her gaze moved from side to side, focusing anywhere but on him.

She’d never talked to him in that tone, at least not before the afternoon she’d overheard him talking to Alex.

The memory of that moment had sent a chill straight through him. He felt the same heaviness as that day, the same all-consuming desire to pull her close; to tell her again how sorry he was, how wrong he was to wait so long to tell her the truth.

“The service is about to start.” Her voice silenced his internal dialogue. “We’ll talk later, okay?”

He grabbed on to her words. “When will we talk? I’ve been trying to talk to you for almost four months.”

A muscle in her jaw jumped. Her eyes met his, darkened emotion smoldering there. “I said I needed time, Jason.”

“I know what you said but — “

“We need a break, Jason, okay?”

“We’ve been taking a break.”

I need a break. A long break.”

He could hear the strain in her voice, the struggle to keep her tone low and even. The doors to the sanctuary closed as the worship team started the music. She gestured curtly toward the glass doors leading outside and darted past him, shoving the front doors open. He followed, taking a step back when she swiveled to face him, eyes flashing. There was no mistaking her emotion now.

It was pure rage.

Let her be angry. 

He wanted answers, and he wasn’t waiting anymore to get them.

“How long of a break? A few days? A couple of weeks? Months? Permanently?”

She raised her hand, palm out, against the assault of questions, peppering at her like bullets out of a howitzer.

“I don’t know. Stop asking me.” Each word snapped out of her like sharped-edge glass cutting at his skin.

 She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out again. Her expression had softened when she met his gaze again.

“I don’t know who I am anymore, Jason. Who I ever was, really. I built my identity around you, around us, for so long and now . . .”

The wall was up again. Her tone flat as she lowered her gaze to the asphalt of the parking lot. “You’re not who I thought I was. Nothing feels the same. I don’t feel the same. I need to see what life is like without you for a while, decide if —”

He didn’t even try to hide his anger. “Decide what? Is this like college again? When you wanted a break? Whatever that meant.”

“I didn’t want a break. You wanted the break, Jason.”

Her recollection skills were clearly lacking. He scoffed, pointed his finger at her accusingly. “No. You said we should take a break and figure out if we were supposed to be together. That if we missed each other, that would tell us what we needed to know. I didn’t want a break, Ellie. You did. You were the one who couldn’t make up you mind. And now you can’t again. Apparently, I’m the only one of us that doesn’t have to ask if we’re meant to be together. I know we’re supposed to be together.”

Her cheeks flushed. “I only suggested the break, Jason.” She folded her arms tight across her chest. “You were the one who seemed thrilled with the idea. Obviously you didn’t miss me that much or you wouldn’t have — ”

“No.” The rumbling timbre of his protest echoed across the parking lot. “No way. That is not fair. I told you what happened. I told you how I thought you didn’t want me. How lonely and messed up I was in college. I told you how upset I was after that night, how I — .”

Her words spilled over his, drowning them out. She tossed her arms to the side. “You told me all that seven years after the fact. Seven years, Jason. I mean, if you hid that from me, what else did you hide from me? What else are you hiding from me now?”

Jason shook his head, hands on hips, looked at the black surface under his feet to calm the storm raging inside him. An ant climbed toward a crack in the asphalt, running along an uneven line of tar. He focused on it, on the freedom it had, and for a split second considered stomping the life out of it to keep it from having the freedom he couldn’t. He lifted his eyes back to hers, releasing the ant from his judgment, killing his own peace with what he said next.

“There’s nothing else, Ellie, but if you don’t feel you can trust me then fine.” His voice trembled under the effort to rein in the rage. “Take your break or whatever it is you’re calling it. Throw away everything we’ve had together for the last ten years. Walk away. If that’s what you want, do it.”

A breeze caught her hair, whipped a few strands across her face. She didn’t push them away. “Jason, don’t be a jerk. How did you think I was going to take all this? Finding out the man I thought saved himself for me was sleeping around in college behind my back?”

He tossed his arms up, slammed them down against his legs. “I wasn’t doing anything behind your back. You’d broke up with me. And I wasn’t sleeping around!” His voice thundered. He took two steps toward her and held up a shaking finger a few inches from her face. “It was one mistake. One stupid mistake. I told you that.”

She met his rage, gaze for gaze, harsh words for harsh words, slapping his hand away from her. “If it was so stupid, why didn’t you tell me when we started dating again? Why did you wait?”

He stepped back, laughed darkly. “What like how you told me about going out with my cousin? Oh wait. You didn’t tell me about that. I found that out from Brad.”

He didn’t miss the fleeting flash of surprise in her eyes before a facade of calm concealed it. She regarded him with a well-practiced poker face, saying nothing.

He didn’t back down. “Yeah. That’s right. You had secrets too, so maybe I should be worried about what you’re not telling me.”

She suddenly gulped back a sob, tears filling her eyes. When she stepped back from him she raised her arm in front of her face, as if to protect herself, as if he’d physically slapped her. In one quick move she pivoted, her back to him, walking swiftly across the parking lot toward her car. He chased after her, reached out, grasped her around her upper arm.

The growl in her voice when she wrenched free stunned him. “Don’t touch me.”

She sucked in a ragged breath, swiped the back of her hand across her tear soaked face, and worked at the key in the door of her car, her entire body trembling.

Panic curled up into his throat, threatening to choke the air out of him. His head felt like a hot-air balloon and the earth intangible around him. “Ellie, we can work this out. Don’t do this.”

She wouldn’t look at him. The lock clicked open, and she slid the key out, flung the door open. Her grief-stricken expression as she looked at him from the driver’s seat dissolved his anger into desolation.

“I don’t think we can, Jason. I really don’t. It’s like I don’t even know you, like everything you are, that we were, was a lie.”

The slam of the door reverberated in his ears long after she closed the door and sped away. He didn’t know how long he stood there, his mind numb from a conversation that had reeled out control.

When he turned toward the church, he saw Molly ashen faced, arms hugged around her as if to protect her from the truth she’d overheard, the truth of who her older brother really was.



Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 36

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

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

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




Chapter 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not yet, God, please. Not yet.”

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

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

“Oh God. No.”

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

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

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

“Clear!”

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

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

“Oh God. God help him.”

***

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

“Mind if I put this one in?”

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

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

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

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

“If Dad comes home —” Molly had started.

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

“Yes,” Molly said. “When.”

They were half an hour from the hospital now.

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

“What’s that smile for?”                                

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Fiction Saturday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 35


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



Chapter 35
Molly was tired of looking at her phone, waiting for Jason or her mom to call her with an update. She knew Jason was anxious to head home, take his mind off things by getting back to work. They’d agreed he would head home in a couple of days and they would switch places.

Her mom had sounded exhausted, yet still in good spirits, when she’d talked to her the night before. Molly wished she could make it all better, take away the fear she’d heard in her mom’s voice. None of it seemed real. Her dad should be with her right now in the barn, or at least out in one of the fields planting rye not laying in a hospital bed four hours away.

Looking out the barn door as she filled the bottles for the calves, she squinted at the sun bouncing off the hood of Cecily’s Jaguar as it pulled into the driveway and headed toward the barn. She hadn’t spoken to Alex since he’d taken his mother to dinner, but he knew Cecily had planned to head back to Baltimore today.

Molly stepped outside, watching the woman step out of her car, struck again with how out of place she looked on a farm in her expensive clothes and designer boots. She was also struck, again, how different Alex was from his mother

“Good afternoon, Cecily.” She smoothed her hands along her jeans, sucked in her stomach, still thinking of the way Cecily had looked her up and down at the house the day before and her comment about the ‘leggy blonds.’ “Alex isn’t here right now. He is up at one of the other fields.”

Cecily slid her sunglasses on. “That’s fine. I just thought I’d say goodbye before I headed back.”

Molly slid her phone out of her pocket. “Let me call him down for you.”

Cecily shook her head and held her hand up. “You know what? No. That’s okay. I doubt he’d want to see me anyhow. I’m afraid he didn’t find me in very good shape last night.”

She cleared her throat and looked at the ground briefly then back up at Molly again. “Have you heard anything about your father?”

“Just that he’s the same as before.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Cecily looked out at the cows in the pasture. “It’s tough for you all without him, I’d imagine.”

Molly nodded, sliding her phone back in her coat pocket. “Yes. It definitely is. We’ve been trying to pay off a loan and the deadline was coming up this week, so that’s made it a little harder too.”

Cecily’s eyebrows furrowed as she turned her gaze back to Molly. “A loan?”

Molly kicked at the dirt with the tip of her boot, wishing he hadn’t said anything about the loan. “Yeah, well, dad and Uncle Walt were trying to help make ends meet during a tough time and got behind. It will work out though.”

“So, what’s going to happen now?”

“We were able to pay off part of it at the end of summer.” Molly moved her gaze across the field, away from Cecily’s curious gaze, suddenly uncomfortable discussing her family’s personal business and wondering why she had started to in the first place. “And this morning my uncle got a call from the bank. They granted a six month hardship deferment after they heard about what happened to my dad.”

“Wow.” Cecily frowned. “I’ve never heard of a bank doing something like that.”

“It’s a small town,” Molly said. “Everyone knows everyone and for the most part people seem to want to help other people. We didn’t expect that, but we’re grateful.”

Cecily rubbed her hands across her arms as a breeze moved strands of hair across her face.

“What will happen when the deferment is up though? Will you be able to keep the farm?”

Molly shrugged a shoulder. “I’m not sure. We always seem to manage somehow. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

Cecily looked out across the fields again, shielding her eyes from the sun. “Your family has a nice farm here.”

“Thank you.” Molly shoved her hands deep in the pockets of her coat and gestured toward the west. “Further down is the farmland that used to be my grandparents. Both sets of grandparents actually. One lived at the first farm and the other one about a mile past that. Alex lives with Jason at my mom’s parents’ old place. Beyond that is land my family bought years ago to create Tanner Enterprises to try to help other farmers either stay in business or sell and move on.”

Cecily nodded slowly, following Molly’s gesture toward land she couldn’t see.   

 “It really is impressive what your family has done here, Molly. My husband would be amazed at their ingenuity and resolve not to give up.” She looked at Molly. “He sells and buys real estate for a living. He’s made the bulk of his money off multi-million dollar deals. Much different than what all of you are dealing with, of course, but he’d still be impressed.”

She pressed her lips together for a moment, opened her mouth to say something and closed it again.

She cleared her throat.  “What do you think your parents would say if I wrote them a check to help pay off that loan?”

Molly’s eyes widened. “Oh. Well, I don’t know, but Mrs. — I mean, Cecily, it’s a lot of money and —”

Cecily waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Money isn’t an issue.” She was playing with her necklace, sliding the charm up and down the chain. “Would they feel like it was charity if I wrote them a check? They’re hard workers. Maybe they wouldn’t want to feel like someone was pitying them. I don’t want them to feel that way. It’s just —”

Cecily took a step forward, pressed the charm against her bottom lip, and tilted her head, narrowing her eyes. “I wasn’t a very good mother, Molly. I’m sure you’ve heard that from Alex.”

Molly didn’t know how to answer so she didn’t. She simply watched Cecily as she turned her head to watch the sunset.

“It’s okay,” Cecily said without looking at her. “You don’t have to tell me. I know.” She turned her head to look at Molly again. “I can’t give Alex back all those years where I wasn’t who I should have been to him. I think at this point saying ‘I’m sorry’ would sound hollow and cold somehow. The only way I’ve ever known how to show my boys I care about them is to buy them things.” A slight smile tugged at one side of her mouth. “Sad, I know.”

She shook her head slightly and smoothed her hands down her skirt. “I know I can’t buy Alex’s love, but he loves this farm. He loves your parents and brother, and from watching how he looked at you yesterday, I can tell he loves you too. If helping your family will help Alex be happy then it’s what I want to do.”

Molly took a deep breath. She was afraid to say anything that might offend this woman she barely knew but she still felt it needed to be said. “Cecily, as much as that money would help my family, I really believe Alex needs to hear from you that you care about him. That’s what he needs.”

Cecily looked down at her pink high heels, twisted the tip of one in the dirt, and laughed softly. “It sounds so easy when you say it.” She drew in a deep breath and hugged her arms tight around herself. “Maybe I’ll try that, but until then will you talk to your mother? Ask her if she’ll allow me to help.”

Molly smiled, pushing a strand out of her face as a breeze blew at it. “I’ll ask.”

Cecily rubbed her arms against the cold. “Thank you.”

She started to turn toward her car, wind whipping at her hair. Molly had already been bold when she told this woman she barely knew that she needed to talk to her son, so she decided to be bold again.

“Would you like to stay for lunch?”

Cecily turned back toward her.

“I was just going to cook some chicken for me and Alex,” Molly said. “and bring my grandmother down to eat with us. Why don’t you stay?”

Cecily chewed on her lower lip for a moment, then released it. “Thank you, Molly, but I think I’d better get on the road.” She opened the driver side door, then paused, holding on to it and looking over the edge. “Tell Alex I said good-bye and I’ll be in touch.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait for him?”

Cecily shook her head. “No. That’s fine. I think he’s happier when I’m not around.”

When the door to the car closed, Molly felt the heaviness of a family’s brokenness in Cecily’s words. Her family life had been so much different than Alex’s. Her relationship with her parents was so much different. She couldn’t help but feel guilt that she had been given two parents who loved her and loved each other.

While she’d heard the stories about Alex’s mother, she now saw a reason for the walls Alex had built around himself, for the destructive behavior he had engaged in to try to forget it all. She’d sensed a sadness in Alex for as long as she’d known him, but now she had seen that same sadness behind the eyes of the woman who had given birth to him, a woman that Molly had a feeling wanted a real relationship with her son, but didn’t know how to make it happen.

***

Walt sipped coffee from the mug and let out a long sigh.

“Now that was definitely needed,” he said with a contented smile. “That’s good coffee, Molly. Not as good as mine, but good nonetheless.”

Molly chuckled. “Your coffee tastes like tar, Uncle Walt. Anything has to be better than that.”

Walt gasped in mock shock. “Molly Tanner. How could you? I’m your favorite uncle.”

Bert rolled his eyes and laughed. “Yeah, right. You know I’m her favorite uncle.”

“Boys. Boys. Settle down.” Hannah sat across from Molly with her own cup of coffee. “We all know she loves both of you.” She stirred cream and sugar into her coffee and sipped it. “But she loves me more.”

Franny, sipping tea instead of coffee, raised a mischievous eyebrow. “And she loves me more than all of you, so that settles that.” She winked at Molly who laughed and took her hand, squeezing it gently.

“I love all of you,” Molly said. “Now, what is this meeting all about?”

Leaning back against the kitchen counter, Alex folded his arms across his chest and watched the exchanges with what looked to Molly like an amused expression. She poured creamer in her coffee and leaned back in the chair, looking at Walt.

“It is about some ideas your aunts and I have had about how to keep our farms, the store, and Tanner Enterprises as a whole making us a profit,” Walt said, rubbing his chin, his elbow propped on the table. “I mentioned some of this to Annie last night when she called, and she said she was on board with it but wanted us to discuss it all together as a group.”

The only one who wasn’t there was Walt’s wife, who was manning the store with Ellie while they were all at Robert and Annie’s farm, and Jason who was returning the next day.

“There’s a young kid in the next county over who mentioned to me at one of the 4H shows that his younger brother has a milk allergy,” Walt continued. “He’s allergic to the protein. While doing some research about milk allergies for a school paper, this kid found out about something called A2 milk, which I had briefly heard about at one point. Some Jersey cows produce this A2 milk, which is apparently easier for some people to digest. The kid said a simple genetic test using the hair of the cow can help determine if a cow produces A2 milk or not. It could be an expensive endeavor to start, but if some of our cows produce this milk, it could be another revenue source for the store.”

Hannah nodded. “There are a lot of people out there who are sensitive to dairy but who would still like the health benefit of milk. We have people who mention their sensitivity to dairy a lot in the store. This could help them and us.”

Molly and Alex listened as her aunt detailed additional ideas for the country store, including items to add to the café she had already suggested they add.

“We thought an indoor patio near the greenhouse would be a nice addition,” she said. “That might not come right away, of course. We have to see if the café takes off first.”

Walt looked between Molly and Alex. “We wanted to discuss all of this with you two because we’d love for Molly to help with the advertising and promotion, maybe by starting one of those things on the internet.” He looked at Hannah. “What did you call it again?”

Hannah rolled her eyes. “Really, Walt. You need to move into the 21st century.” She winked at him and looked at Molly. “A website and a blog. I know you’re good at writing and thought that might be up your alley.”

Walt looked at Alex. “And Alex, we’re hoping that you’ll stay on and help us with the construction of a new milking station for the A2 cows, if we have any, and maybe in the future a bottling plant. We think you could run it. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, a lot of drive, and from what I can see, you really care about this farm.” He paused a moment, rubbed his stubbled chin. “So, what do you think? Will you stay on? Help us out?”

Molly’s eyes moved to Alex and she drew in a slow breath, holding it, waiting for his answer. She didn’t have to wait long.

“Yes, sir. I’d be glad to stay on.”

She let her breath escape slowly.

Walt smirked. “I’m sure my having a pretty niece is a good incentive to stay, eh?”

Alex laughed, looked at the ground and rubbed the back of his neck.

Was he actually blushing? Molly smothered a smile behind her hand.

He looked up, caught her eye, held her gaze. “It certainly is, Walt. It certainly is.”

Hannah smiled at Molly. “So, Molly, what do you think? Is this something you’d be interested in as well?”

“It is,” Molly said. “The only thing we have to do now is sell the idea to Dad.”

Everyone nodded, a somber tone settling over them.

“Don’t worry,” Franny said finally. “I’ll make him see the positives of it. I’m his mother, after all. He has to listen to his mother, right?”

Everyone agreed, but Molly knew they were all hoping they’d have a chance to pitch their idea to Robert, that he’d wake up again so they could.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter Chapter 34

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

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

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


Chapter 34

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

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

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

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

“Mom, I’m fine —”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Molly’s my girlfriend, Mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alex exchanged a look with Molly and rolled his eyes.

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

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

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

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

“I had a lot going on.”

“You ignored Sam’s calls too.”

“Like I said —”

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

“No. I’ll call him later.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“You okay?”

He nodded. “Yep.”

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

“Maybe you should just rest today.”

“Too much work to be done.”

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

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

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

 She knew he’d share when he was ready.

Or he wouldn’t.

 It was up to him.

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

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

“The Lavender Inn?”

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

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

He shook his head. “Nope.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Molly?”

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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